Friday, December 30, 2011

Shameless Self-promotion

Harry Pegg (L), Nauman Farooq (C), and Mazda's Susumu Niinai (R) discuss engineering details - Mazda SkyActiv event

You can read my Wheels article about my Best and Worst (automotive) Experiences of 2011 here.

2000 Audi S4 quattro - transmission removal and reinstallation - times 3

Shameless Self-promotion

2012 Jaguar XKR-S Coupe

You can read my Wheels article on my Best and Worst Vehicles driven in 2011 here. Guess which one of these two vehicles was chosen as best?

2011 Nissan Quest LE

Shameless Self-promotion

2011 Volkswagen Jetta GLI - Mosport Driver Development Track

You can find my Toronto Star Wheels preview of Volkswagen's 2011 Jetta GLI here.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Shameless Self-promotion

2012 Hyundai Veloster - AJAC's Best New Sports/Performance Car (under $50,000)
You can find my Wheels coverage of the Best New Sports/Performance (under $50,000) category of AJAC's Canadian Car of the Year TestFest here.

2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i - AJAC's Best New SUV-CUV (over $60,000)

You can find my Wheels coverage of the Best New SUV-CUV (over $60,000) category of AJAC's Canadian Car of the Year TestFest here.

AJAC's 2012 Canadian Car of the Year and TestFest

Category Winners - AJAC's 2012 Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year
The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) holds an annual event dubbed "TestFest" during the last week of October at which every new or substantially redesigned light-duty vehicle has an opportunity to compete. For the past six years, this has taken place at the Niagara District Airport, whose runways are shut down and used as a road course.

Competition occurs first within groups of its peers (categorized as best as possible), and then for the title of overall Best New Car or Best New Utility vehicle. Scores are based on an amalgam of subjective votes by the journalists, test vehicle pricing, and measured scores derived from on-site performance testing. TestFest and the Canadian Car of the Year process are constantly being refined, and this is the only event of its kind in the world.

For several reasons, you won't find models that have either already competed (whether they won or not), been on sale for more than one year, or that have received only minor changes for this coming model year. The most critical of those reasons is logistics; there has to be at least three examples of each competitor on site and available for evaluation, and each must be driven by each voting journalist on the same day for their votes to count. Just getting through the "new and improved" crowd is tough enough - this year's larger categories had 7 entrants (there have been 10 car categories in past years), with the assigned drive route and off road or on-track testing for each car taking approximately 40 minutes just complete. That doesn't count time juggling keys, which are expertly handled by students from Georgian College.

This year (as in years past), journalists were expected to complete their 3 assigned categories, as well as as many additional complete categories were required to bring their total to a minimum of 18 vehicles altogether. That's over the course of the two primary testing days, Tuesday and Wednesday, and votes must be submitted early Wednesday evening. It's tougher than it sounds.

On Thursday, while the category votes are tabulated, journalists are free to drive other vehicles in other categories. (This year there were several electric vehicles available for brief drives in addition to those competing.) Thursday is a chance to drive models you might not otherwise be able to experience, and also a chance to try and guess winners from other categories that you weren't able to complete.

That's because on Friday the category winners are announced, and each journalist is required to drive whichever category winners they haven't yet tested. The votes for overall Car and overall Utility Vehicle are submitted by that evening. The final winners are announced in February at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto.

Five of this year's eleven category winners were Korean, with the Germans claiming all but one of the remaining spots. The Dodge Journey was the sole "domestic" winner, but before you cry "foul", please note that last year's results included five domestics, two of which - the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Edge - went on to claim overall Car and Utility Vehicle wins.

Here, in the order of the photo above, from left to right, are your eleven winners:
  • Hyundai Elantra - Best New Small Car (over $21,000)
  • BMW 1 Series M CoupĂ© - Best New Sports/Performance (over $50,000)
  • Kia Optima LX - Best New Family Car (under $30,000)
  • Mercedes C-Class C350 4MATIC - Best New Luxury Car
  • Dodge Journey - Best New SUV-CUV (under $35,000)
  • BMW X3 - Best New SUV-CUV (over $60,000)
  • Volkswagen Touareg TDI - Best New SUV-CUV ($35,000-$60,000)
  • Kia Optima Hybrid - Best New Family Car (over $30,000)
  • Mercedes S-Class S350 BlueTec 4Matic - Best New Prestige Car
  • Hyundai Veloster - Best New Sports/Performance (under $50,000)
  • Hyundai Accent - Best New Small Car (under $21,000)
As for which ones claim the title, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the Kia Optima LX takes overall Car, and either the Dodge Journey overall Utility Vehicle, though I'd not be surprised to see the VW Touareg or Hyundai Elantra in those places instead. We'll have to wait until mid-February to find out if I'm right.

In the meantime, click this link to read Wheels comprehensive coverage.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Knee-jerk Politics

Earlier today a 25 year-old man lost his life after he crashed his Honda Accord in what police believe was a street race that went wrong. This is unfortunate, and it tends to happen several times per year in the Greater Toronto area. The Toronto Star's article on this (available here) says that 34 people have died in incidents like this in the GTA in the past six years. Without trying to trivialize that or detract from the significance to those involved and their families and friends, that's less than 6, on average, per year. For perspective, 241 people were murdered last year in Toronto. I don't have access to the numbers, but I'll bet that many more than 6 people die each year as a result of inadequate driver training and testing standards.

Why this issue bothers me so much is that politicians and high-ranking police officers with political aspirations (Mr. Fantino, I'm looking squarely at you) leap at this as an opportunity to show how much they care about the safety of the public and taking positive action to do the right thing. That's when we get asinine laws passed like Bill 203, Safer Streets for a Safer Ontario, which resulted in Ontario Highway Traffic Act Regulation 455/07, commonly know as the Street Racing Law. If you have several minutes, you should read it here.

The act contains some good ideas, but also many that are not as productive. The biggest negative is the ability for an officer's discretion to result in your vehicle being towed and impounded for a week, on the spot, while you lose your license for the same period. Additionally, fines from between $2000 to $10,000 apply, and it's possible to face jail time. The towing and impound fees themselves are almost guaranteed to total into the four digit range on their own. Don't own the vehicle? The lucky owner gets to pay the towing and impound fees; it's up to them to get you to pay them back.

Even if you go to court and the charge is dismissed, you are not reimbursed for the towing and impound costs. Have a nice day.

This puts far too much power and responsibility into the hands of the officers, and as far as I'm concerned, violates my right to trial before prosecution. Speeding 50 km/h over is a bit more clear cut, but it should be pointed out that laws already exist that cover many of the actions described in this regulation, and police already had charges like Careless Driving to use their discretion on. What should have happened is that the penalties for those charges should have been increased to meaningful levels, not taken to the political spotlight level that occurred instead.

The latest to jump on the road safety bandwagon is Jim Karygiannis, MP for Scarborough-Agincourt, who according to the Star "released a statement today saying he will introduce a federal bill on limiting speed. Karygiannis wants manufacturers to install a device that will limit the maximum speed of any car to 150 km/h. He proposed a similar bill previously but it died when the election was called last May."

I have a major problem with that. Do I think that we should all be blazing along at over 150 km/h on the 400-series highways? No, I don't, even if I do think that the 100 km/h maximum is antiquated and needs rethinking. That's what greater enforcement and stricter penalties are for. Governing cars to 150 km/h isn't going to prevent deaths such as occurred this morning either. Mr.Karygiannis claims on his website (here) that the two cars were going about 180 km/h. I'm skeptical that the Honda Accord pictured was doing that speed when the driver lost control. Besides, his proposed legislation won't keep morons from doing 80 km/h through residential streets or speeding through school zones. Sure sounds "tough on crime" though. Way to go.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy 25th Birthday, Wheels!

Wheels' chief scribe Jim Kenzie with a copy of the first Wheels section (Dave Cooper/Toronto Star image)
You can find Wheels editor Mark Richardson's article regarding the 25th Birthday of the Star's Wheels section here. While there, you'll also find additional links to looks back and looks forward from several regular contributors and the automakers themselves.

I'm personally proud to have been associated with this section, and am looking forward to as many more years as they'll have me. Wheels' contributors and staff are a good bunch of people who really do share a passion for automobilia and writing, and I think that it comes through in the final product. As the saying goes, "imitated, but never duplicated!"

So here's to another 25 years - at least - of Wheels. Congratulations!

Monday, September 26, 2011

When Engineers Get Bored

Actually, this entry falls more into the "When Engineers Get Stupid" category, though you could argue that to be completely accurate I'd have had to title it "When Engineers Try Stupid Things To Try And Impress Someone In Accounting By Saving The Cost Of Three Fasteners".

Heater fan motor - pre-replacement

From an assembly standpoint, incorporating the heater fan motor assembly into the heater case itself makes a certain amount of sense. Unfortunately, these things do fail. I won't say "occasionally", because in certain applications, it isn't. Consequently, some provision has to made to service it (translation: replace it). In the case of this particular design, you actually cut the heater case open to access the motor assembly.

Now, to their credit, the designers of this farce have made cutting the case open fairly simple - there's a clearly delineated circle where you're meant to cut, and the plastic is molded thinner at this point to accommodate the process. A good sharp utility knife will do it, if you're careful not to snap the blade. As this particular part lives on the underside of the heater case, beneath the passenger side of the instrument panel, and is accessed from the passenger side foot-well (a common location for these things), it would help to be triple-jointed or perhaps a retired circus performer.

Cut here... carefully. Getting light-headed yet?

OK, so you've cut the blasted thing out. The problem is, now you've got to somehow install the replacement part. A hot glue gun won't make it happen. (Well, it might, but only if you're truly desperate.) If you've already quoted the customer on this job and the parts counter staffer missed the little footnote on the listing for the fan when you called, you just might consider that option. (Fortunately, we hadn't priced the job yet - we'd just been told to fix it.)

Something's missing here...

No, you need the $62 kit, which is comprised of a stamped steel ring that bridges the gap between the heater case and the piece of the case you cut out earlier (that the fan motor itself bolts to), eight self-tapping screws, a couple of strips of foam (to seal the opening), and an instruction sheet. At least for that price the adapter comes painted.

...that'd be it

Tada! You may now reinstall the new motor assembly and bask in the return of functional heating and cooling.


In most vehicles, this sucker is held in by screws already. Undo them, remove the motor, reinstall, simple. In this one, someone at Delphi re-invented the wheel. It's half asinine, half brilliant. After all, not only do you have to buy a motor, but the adapter too! It's obvious that the whole thing is designed with this in mind - note the pre-molded screw holes. So deviously clever that I just can't bring myself to give it a Jackass Award.

Probably not too many of these cars out there.

So, what vehicle family might you find this in? That would be GM's Epsilon cars; this one was a 2007 Pontiac G6, but I'd bet that the Chevy Malibu and Saturn Aura of the same generation use the exact same setup. Probably not too many of those running around.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Shameless Self-promotion

Press Conference; BMW Stand, Frankfurt Motor Show 2011

You can find my Wheels coverage of the latest high-end exotic and sports concepts from the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show here.

Shameless Self-promotion

2011 Ford Explorer XLT

You can find my Wheels review of Ford's 2011 Explorer XLT here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Shameless Self-promotion

2011 Kia Optima Hybrid

You can find my Wheels article on the new 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Shameless Self-promotion

2011 Ford Fiesta SE

You can read my Wheels review of Ford's 2011 Fiesta SE Hatchback here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jackass Award - Nice Parking Job, Stupid

And here I thought that Pontiacs were "Built for Drivers". Not good ones, apparently, as the owner of this parked G6 clearly proves.

Actually, you have to give this knob some credit, as they have managed to effectively screw up four parking spots at once. That level of inconsideration/incompetence borders on skill.

For this excellence in failure, you, Sir or Madam, are most deserving of a Jackass Award.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Shameless Self-promotion

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

You can find my Wheels review of Porsche's 2011 Cayenne S Hybrid here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

When Engineers Get Bored...

2009 VW Tiguan rear caliper (removed), illustrating servo motor

...they design things like electronic parking brakes, where through the miracle of technology, they replace perhaps $250 worth of handles/pedals and cables with well over $1000 worth of electrical switches, control units, wiring, and servo motors. That is, of course, if they don't also use cables, as in models like the 2010 Subaru Outback.

2009 VW Tiguan parking brake control switch (located in centre console)

Theoretically, an electric parking brake does allow certain things, such as automatic application when the vehicle is placed in park - none that I'm aware of will do that, even if many will release when the throttle is pressed. Auto Hold, as seen here, will hold the vehicle when you come to a stop (until you press the throttle) so you don't have to stay on the brake in traffic, as well as preventing roll-back on inclines. Didn't a manual handbrake also do those things?

Using a switch instead of a handle or lever also potentially frees up space in the centre console which... ...wait a second, the Tiguan's switch is where the hand lever would go. No space gained there.

Well, you do get some added coin storage, I guess, but look at how much coffee has already found its way into the switch due to the proximity to the cupholders. This would, at worst, make a handbrake handle sticky, but it could potentially spell intermittent operation or even death for these two switches, which are not likely cheap to replace.

Speaking of not cheap, when the time comes to replace the rear pads (with or without the rotors), you now need to command the parking brake servo motors open, which requires either a VW-capable bi-directional scan tool, or a specialized, purpose-specific control device, like the one seen below. There is no other way to do the job properly, and you can bet the shop's added costs in equipment will be factored into the job.

Strategic Tools' 30369600 VW/Audi EPB service tool

We won't even get into Volkswagen's corporate fascination with unusual fastener drive systems, such as the "triple square drive" bolts that retain the brake caliper bracket (and, it appears, the wheel bearing assembly too). Thanks for making me spend even more on yet another set of special sockets - they'll complement the metric Allen drive set that already gathers dust in my toolbox between German car repair jobs...

2009 VW Tiguan - rear upright as seen from inboard side

Shameless Self-promotion

Audi e-tron Concept (Frankfurt), front; A1 e-tron, rear

You can read my Wheels coverage of Audi Tech Day on Electromobility and the company's future electrified vehicle plans here. (The uncaptioned image seen there is the instrument cluster of the white Audi A1 pictured above.)

A picture of the R8 mule mentioned can be seen in my earlier post for my Wheels article about my Best and Worst (Automotive) Experiences for 2010 here.

2011 Audi Q5 Hybrid

Friday, February 11, 2011

Shameless Self-promotion

2012 Audi A6 3.0 TFSI quattro

You can find my Wheels preview of Audi's 2012 A6 executive sedan here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jackass Award - Proof That a Mechanic Slept with an Engineer's Wife...

2008 Saturn Vue 3.6 L V6, as seen from below - front is at the top. (See the filter?)

Understandably, service access is not always the top priority when designing a new vehicle; cost and relative ease of production often trump it. I get that.

I also sympathize with the engineers somewhat as they don't always have the big picture, having to design a door hinge or a heater or whatever without specific knowledge of what's around it beyond basic dimensions. This same component - this engine, in this case - also often has to be able to fit into multiple vehicles. That's reality. I get that too.

However, what I don't get, and can't deal with, is stupidity when it comes to stuff that has to be serviced regularly, and oil changes are about the most regular service any vehicle will ever require. An oil filter isn't like a hydraulic valve lifter that will probably last the lifetime of the car. It will be replaced at a pre-determined interval, as many as 50 times in the 250,000+ kilometer life expectancy of the average private vehicle. We're talking several times a year.

So why would anyone put the oil filter in a location that almost guarantees that it will make a mess of the A/C compressor, subframe, and probably the technician? It's an awkward extraction at best.

More critically, why would anybody put it within millimetres of a catalytic converter that's designed to get several hundred degrees of temperature within a minute or so of the vehicle running, so as to virtually ensure that whatever poor sap has to change it will receive severe burns?

You can't tell me that this filter's location didn't receive some amount of consideration, yet there it is. Someone deserves a career of designing glovebox hinges for this one.

It's easy to criticise: what could they have done differently? At the minimum, they could have angled the converter away from the filter - there's clearly space to do so. They could also have made it possible to access it from above (it isn't), or have provided an opening or door in the air deflector to get at it from in front of the subframe (there's almost space for that with this same engine in the larger Lambda models {GMC Acadia, etc.}). Not as preferable, but it could also have been integrated into the oil pan as was the case on the earlier 3.5 litre DOHC Oldsmobile V6.

While GM is by no means alone in doing things like this (everyone does them to some extent), something this dumb feels like it could only be malicious. Proof that a mechanic slept with an engineer's wife...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Credit Where Credit is Due Department

...thanks, Janis.

A tip of the hat must go to Mercedes-Benz, or at least their advertising department, for coming up with this impossible-to-miss, skyscraper-sized poster advert, located immediately across the street from Cobo Hall, site of the 2011 Detroit Auto Show.

It's a clear thumb of the nose to Porsche, who returned to Detroit after a several year hiatus. This has shades of the Audi vs. BMW PR war that's been going on for several years (my favourite - a wall-sized ad for BMWs on a billboard above a Hong Kong Audi dealership). Who say the Germans lack passion?

Shameless Self-promotion

2012 Ford C-MAX

You can find my Wheels coverage of the "people-movers" (vans, larger crossovers, and SUVs) at this year's Detroit Auto Show here.

Shameless Self-promotion

GMC Sierra All-Terrain HD Concept

You can find my Wheels coverage of the "conventional" (non-hybrid, EV, or alternative fuel) concept vehicles at this year's Detroit Auto Show here.

Shameless Self-promotion

Audi R8 e-tron Concept "mule"

2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS
You can find my Wheels article about my Best and Worst Automotive Experiences here.

Shameless Self-promotion

2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 GT
2010 Cadillac SRX 3.0 AWD

You can find my Wheels article on my Best and Worst Cars (test vehicles) for 2010 here. Extra points if you can guess which one of these was Best and which was Worst...

(With apologies for the delay in updating.)