Monday, September 28, 2020

2020 Acura ILX -- Some Thoughts

 One of these days, I'll give a more substantial update and I'll address the insanity that our world has seen over the past several months.   For now, though, my 2003 Acura CL Type-S six-speed is in the shop for a fresh drink of oil, and I'm driving a 2020 Acura ILX Premium sedan for the next day or so.  

Here's a little background on the ILX:

1. It's based on the LAST generation of the Honda Civic (the one sold from 2012 - 2015), and it has been around since 2013 with a few moderate updates here and there, but nothing substantial.  

2.  Over the years, it has gained several touches that make it more of a true Acura and less of a glorified Civic of yesteryear, such as:

-- The 2.4L four-banger and 8-speed dual clutch automatic transmission from the one-size-up TLX.

-- LED headlights and taillights, and the corporate gaping Acura schnoz.  

-- An upgraded infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

-- Outstandingly comfortable leather seats shared with other Acura products, and not with the Civic.  They're even upholstered in a stunning espresso color on the car I'm driving.  

3.  However, in some ways, its last-generation roots are still obvious:

-- The adaptive cruise control cuts out at about 25 mph, and will not slow the car to a stop as it will on other Acuras, or even the current Honda Civic and Accord.  Mildly annoying.  

-- The rearview camera's guidelines don't rotate with the steering wheel unless you upgrade to the Technology Package, and there's a grainy-ness to the camera's display at night.  

-- The steering wheel is shared with none of the current Acura lineup, and as such, it struggles ergonomically with the placement of the many buttons that have been added over the years for features that the original car lacked.  

-- It still has a mechanical handbrake, which I love, but which is odd given that no other vehicle in the Honda/Acura portfolio has one.  It also lacks the "brake hold" function of those cars, which holds the car at a stoplight without requiring pressure on the brake pedal.    

And here's now it functions and drives in the real world, as well as my take on whether it's worth it's approximately $28,000 asking price (which also buys a fully loaded Civic or a nearly loaded Accord, but undercuts probably every other offering from a premium brand).   

1.  The seats are excellent.  They're definitely better than the chairs in the Civic and no worse than those in the Accord.  And the espresso leather is classier than the leather on either of those cars.  

2.  That said, I'd like some more premium interior trim to accompany the stunning leather.  Some wood trim would class it up a bit, and it'd be nice if the memory seat buttons on the driver's door didn't look like an afterthought.  A sliding center console armrest would also be quite nice.   

3.  Even though it only has a four-cylinder motor without a turbocharger, the car is very responsive and the power is delivered in a linear fashion.  And while I'm still bitter that the ILX no longer offers a true stick shift, the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic (physically, it's a manual, but the clutches are automated, so you don't really lose the performance or efficiency advantages of a manual)  is exceptional.  It shifts instantaneously and smoothly, and always keeps the engine in its powerband.  Unlike my 2019 VW Golf Alltrack with its 1.8 liter turbo four, the ILX doesn't run out of steam after you pass 4,000 or so RPM.  It's refreshing.  

4.  The LED headlights are excellent, but not as good as those on my Alltrack, and they don't swivel with the steering like they do on my Alltrack.  At night, swiveling headlights are one of those features that I don't know how I survived without for so many years.  

5.  Ride and handling are very good, and the car is very snappy and fun to drive.  It's also quiet at speed (noticeably more so than the Civic, slightly more so than an Accord, and comparable to my Alltrack).  That said, the car isn't quite as planted as any of the aforementioned cars, due to being built on the LAST generation Civic's platform).  It also understeers (resists hard cornering) noticeably more than my 2003 CL (thanks to the CL's limited-slip differential, which overdrives the outside front wheel when cornering) and my 2019 Alltrack (thanks to the Alltrack's trick all-wheel-drive system, which I believe can do similar tricks with its rear wheels).  

6.  The driver-assist features work well overall (adaptive cruise, lane-keep assist, etc.).  That said, it's disappointing that the car can't slow itself to a stop, which the current Civic, Accord, and everything else in Acura's lineup can do (except maybe the NSX supercar).  If the car had a stick shift, I'd understand it (my Alltrack, with its six-speed stick, has very good adaptive cruise), but on an automatic car, it makes no sense for the adaptive cruise not to function at all speeds.  

7.   The back seat is comparable to that in a Civic, and is nicely finished with the same espresso leather as the front seats, but it's not somewhere my six-foot self would want to ride for any length of time.  If you want to carry more than two adults for more than a minimal amount of time, the Accord is the only car I've referenced in this post that I'd recommend for that purpose (yes, even my VW Alltrack wagon has a fairly small back seat).  

8.  The stereo on the car I'm driving is the mid-level unit out of the three options on the ILX.  It has seven speakers, including a subwoofer, and 360 watts (I think).  It's at least as good as the TOP system in a Civic or Accord, and it's also at least as good as the base systems in several more expensive luxury cars.  It puts out solid bass, has good separation, and is quite powerful.   That said, it does give up a little clarity and cohesiveness to the Fender system in my Alltrack, the Bose system in my 2003 CL, and the 10-speaker ELS surround system that my previous 2012 Acura TL had (and which is offered as the top system on the ILX  with the available Technology package).  If you're an audiophile, I'd strongly recommend getting the Technology package; the ELS audio system is out of this world.  If you're not, you'll probably be fine with this system.  

9.  The ILX has Apple CarPlay, but it cannot be controlled by the touchscreen.  I thought this would be a problem at first, as I have come to love being able to control CarPlay with the touchscreen on my Alltrack.   That said, the center knob interface is very well-designed.  I could very easily control CarPlay using the knob and back button on the center stack.  And honestly, mounting the CarPlay info higher up on the dash makes it easier to safely use while driving.  

Now, let's talk value.  For the same money as this ILX, you could get a fully loaded Civic or a nearly loaded Accord.  You'd get newer tech (full-speed adaptive cruise, a better backup camera, a more modern infotainment system with touchscreen CarPlay, a more up-to-date gauge cluster that can show more data), better fuel economy (due to those cars' turbo motors and CVTs), slightly better ride and handling (due to those cars' more modern platforms), and more features and amenities in some cases (particularly with the Civic -- rain-sensing wipers, heated REAR seats, etc.).  

However, this Acura does offer some things that neither Honda does, such as a slightly quieter driving experience, nicer interior materials in many cases (particularly the leather seats, though the fake wood trim on the Accord looks more luxurious than the Acura's black plastic), more linear power delivery, a more responsive transmission, slightly better audio, and a longer warranty and a superior dealer experience.    That, and the ILX does come with the prestige inherent in being an Acura instead of a Honda.  

Back in 2013 when it first came out, the ILX was little more than a glorified Honda Civic of its time.  However, seven years (and a newer Civic) later, the ILX has been updated enough to make it feel far more like a true Acura.  It can't hide ALL of its Civic roots, or all of its "last-generation" baggage, but it does enough of the "Acura" things right that it should ABSOLUTELY be considered by anyone currently looking at a new Civic or Accord.  Unless, of course, a manual transmission is a must-have feature, as it is with me, which is why, despite how much I enjoy driving the ILX, I look forward to getting my 2003 CL back with new oil!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

And now, the cars of the 2019 Syracuse Auto Show

Now that I've written about my rental ride for the auto show, it's time to discuss the actual cars on display.  Mike and I will hopefully be doing a joint audio discussion on the cars sometime soon, but here's what jumped out to me:

1.  The Honda Civic Si is one HELL of a car.  It goes for just under $25K and not only is it loaded (dual-zone climate, 10-speaker premium audio, extremely comfortable heated sport seats, and one of the slickest six-speed manual shifters ever installed in a front-drive car), but it has the performance goods to back it up (strong 1.5-liter turbo motor, adjustable drive modes, the aforementioned six-speed stick, etc.).  Honestly, the only two things keeping me from buying one are (a) that the Si model can't be purchased in hatchback form (and the Type-R model, while insanely awesome, is just too track-focused to be used as a daily driver), and (b) that Honda's outstanding driver-assist suite known as Honda Sensing (adaptive cruise control, lane assist, etc.) is not offered on the Si model (inexplicable, because ALL of the "non-sporting" Civics include the suite as standard equipment, even on stick-shift models).

2.  The Honda Accord is the gold standard by which midsize family sedans should be judged.  More spacious than the Ford Fusion, better finished and better equipped than a comparable Toyota Camry, and STILL available with a manual transmission, it's what I'd buy if I were in the market for a family sedan.

3.  If you're in the market for a pickup truck, don't need more than five feet of bed length, and don't need to tow more than 5,000 pounds, you would be a raging idiot not to test drive a Honda Ridgeline.  You won't find a more comfortable or better designed mid-size pickup out there.

4.  The Nissan Kicks was surprisingly impressive, and included Bose headrest-mounted speakers.  Super cool!

5.  The new Toyota Corolla hatchback was surprisingly opulent, comfortable, and well-equipped.

6.  If you're in the market for a minivan and ever intend to carry people in the second row, don't buy a Chrysler Pacifica.  While the Stow-N-Go seats that fold flat into the floor are super convenient, they're far too thinly-padded (out of necessity to fit into the floor) to be comfortable.  The second-row seats in the Honda Odyssey, on the other hand, are as comfortable as most living room easy chairs.

7.  The vehicle with the most compelling "cool factor," in my opinion, was the Jeep Gladiator pickup truck.  Based on the new Wrangler, it truly looked like it could go anywhere, in any conditions.  That, and it was loaded with features, had comfortable seats, and just gave off this vibe of being outrageously "epic."  And you can get it with a manual transmission WITHOUT being forced to skip out on the luxury options.  I'd seriously consider buying one.

8.  The new Kia Forte looked like a great value and a very well-designed and equipped compact car, despite being on display in a relatively low trim level.

9.  The new Volkswagen Jetta, on the other hand, felt like a penalty box on the inside, despite being on display in nearly the top trim level.  Interior materials were atrocious and the amount of hard plastic was absurd.

10.  The updated Mazda6 was quite compelling.  I was hoping to see the redesigned Mazda3 at this show, but I guess I'll have to wait two months for the NY auto show to see that one.

11.  Both the Mazda Miata and its clone, the Fiat 124 Spider, reminded me of how badly I want to someday own a convertible.

12.  I'm not sure I've ever sat in an interior nicer than that of the Lexus LS sedan.  They hit a home run with this one, in design, features, and finish.

13.  That said, for approximately $40K to $50K less, the Acura RLX Hybrid's interior didn't suck.  It was also extremely comfortable and opulent, even if it lacked some of the technological whiz-bangery of the Lexus.

14.  While we're talking about Acuras, the new RDX crossover punches far above its price point in terms of interior design, fit, and finish.  The ILX sedan, on the other hand, does not.  It's a glorified version of the 2012 - 2015 Honda Civic, and far inferior to the new Civic.

15.  The Lincoln Navigator's interior was fantastic.  There's no arguing that point.

16.  I sat in a Porsche 911.  The rear seats are laughably small, but it's such a cool car.  I'd love to own one someday.

17.  While I'm sure some of them are brilliant to drive, I wasn't blown away with the interiors of any of the Buicks or Cadillacs on the show floor.

18.  If there's one segment where the domestic carmakers have the imports beaten, it's the full-size truck segment.  The Ford F150, Chevy Silverado, and (especially) the new Ram 1500 pickups are absolutely outstanding vehicles.  The Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan, to put it bluntly, are not.

19.  I didn't hate the Mitsubishi Mirage as much as I thought I would, but the Honda Fit is still better.

20.  Cars as a whole have gotten very good, but not all of them are created equal.  With that in mind, here are my picks (and non-picks) by category (keeping in mind that this is based on my auto show experience, and that driving the cars could change my thoughts:

-- Best compact car:  Honda Civic
-- Runner-Up:  Chevy Cruze and Kia Forte (tie)
-- Most disappointing compact car:  Volkswagen Jetta

-- Best family sedan:  Honda Accord
-- Runner-Up:  Mazda6

-- Best luxury sedan:  Lexus LS500
-- Runner-Up:  Acura RLX

-- Best midsize pickup:  Honda Ridgeline, Jeep Gladiator (tie)
-- Best full-size pickup:  Ram 1500
-- Runners-Up:  Ford F150, Chevy Silverado (tie)
-- Worst pickups (any size class):  Any Toyota or Nissan

-- Best Minivan for people-moving:  Honda Odyssey
-- Best Minivan for cargo-schlepping:  Chrysler Pacifica

-- Best Sports Car:  Chevy Corvette and Porsche 911 (tie)

-- Best two-row crossover:  Honda CR-V
-- Best two-row luxury crossover:  Acura RDX
-- Best three-row crossover:  Honda Pilot
-- Best three-row luxury crossover:  Mercedes-Benz GL-class

-- Best vehicles for their intended task:  Jeep Wrangler, Mazda Miata

-- Best infotainment system:  Fiat-Chrysler's uConnect system
-- Worst infotainment system:  Honda's touchscreen audio systems

-- Best Shifter:  Honda Civic Type-R
-- Worst Shifter:  Ford Fiesta SE

-- Best Rear Seat:  Lexus LS500
-- Worst Rear Seat:  Porsche 911

-- Best Fit and Finish:  Lexus LS500
-- Most Disappointing Fit and Finish:  Volkswagen Jetta SEL, Toyota Camry LE (tie)

-- Best fettuccine alfredo near the show:  Pastabilities in Downtown Syracuse

Now to find a second job driving and reviewing cars.....this is too much fun to only do on occasion!

Car Review -- 2018 Maserati Ghibli SQ4

Hey everyone!  It's been far too long since I've posted here.  I hope you're all doing well!

A couple days ago, I met my buddy Mike in Syracuse for their annual auto show at the OnCenter.  Before I even started the trip, however, things took an unexpected turn at the Enterprise rental car counter.

The previous evening, I decided to rent a car to (a) save mileage on mine and (b) drive something different for shits and giggles.  Enterprise had full-size cars available for $30 for the day, so I figured I'd get a Malibu, Fusion, Altima, or something of the like.  Little did I know that when I showed up to pick up the car, I would be convinced by the guy at the counter to upgrade, for an extra $125, to a Maserati Ghibli SQ4!  I debated in my head for about a minute before enthusiastically agreeing to the upgrade.

For the first hour of the trip, I really didn't like the Maserati, largely because it was not an ideal car for a long highway slog.  The ride was stiff, the seats were decent but not great, there wasn't adaptive cruise control (inexplicable, when a base Honda Civic includes it as standard equipment), the fuel economy wasn't great (between 20 and 25 mpg on the highway at a steady cruising speed, which admittedly is roughly what my 2012 Acura TL gets), the stereo was far inferior to the ELS system in my Acura, the sun visors were criminally small and didn't extend when moved to the side, and anything with a sticker well north of $70K should have a heated steering wheel included as standard equipment.   A new Malibu would've been a better highway ride, as would nearly any full-size car.

I did discover a couple interesting bits about the car, including the fact that parts-sharing is a mixed blessing.  It was disappointing to see power window switches, an engine-start button, a blinker stalk, and a headlight switch that could have come out of nearly any current Dodge, Jeep, or Chrysler vehicle.  However, Fiat-Chrysler makes infotainment systems better than virtually any other automaker, and the Maserati's system was the same ginormous uConnect touch-screen system found in a slew of other FCA products.  It worked brilliantly.  Response time was fast, the menu structure was logical, and it was extremely easy to pair my iPhone and toggle between Apple CarPlay (also brilliantly designed in itself) and the native uConnect screen.

It wasn't until after the show when I took Mike for a spin in the Maserati that it grew on me.  Driving on a mix of city streets, highways, and (most importantly) on-ramps allowed me to explore more of the car's capabilities.  The handling was outstanding; cornering was flat, grip was seemingly endless, and the steering and brakes were responsive and direct.  Hitting a "sport" button next to the infuriatingly complex electronic shift lever opened up the exhaust and allowed the Ferrari-sourced, 424-hp, 3.0 liter turbocharged V6 to sing its full tune.  And holy shit, this car had power.  I drove gingerly for the most part, but when I got it onto an on-ramp, I was able to briefly put the pedal to the metal.  The sheer force with which I was pinned back in my seat combined with the intoxicating Ferrari engine growl to remind me why people buy these cars.  I could now drive back to Albany knowing that I did not make a mistake in paying extra for this car over a standard full-size sedan for the trip.

To summarize, here are the high and low points of the 2018 Maserati Ghibli SQ4:

-- INSANE power and acceleration
-- Excellent steering, handling, and braking
-- Peerless uConnect infotainment system
-- Awesome at its intended function (sports car)

-- Shocking feature omissions for the price
-- Lackluster sound system
-- Infuriating e-shifter
-- Not a great highway cruiser

Would I buy one?  Absolutely not; there are too many better cars for the same price.

Would I drive one again if given the opportunity?  Abso-f***ing-lutely!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

2018 NY Auto Show

I’m currently riding an Amtrak train home after an awesome day at the NY Auto Show.  A few thoughts after spending about four hours checking out an insane number of automobiles:

I’m glad Acura is finally making it possible to equip a four-cylinder TLX with ventilated seats, and I still think the TLX is a lovely ride (I’ve driven nearly every configuration of it as a loaner car over my past few years as an Acura owner), but it has never had the “special sauce” (or excellent manual transmission) that my 2012 TL (its predecessor) has in spades.  

The new Acura RDX is hot shit and I can see it OWNING the small luxury crossover segment when it hits the market mid-year.  Too bad it was locked and I couldn’t sit in it!

The Acura MDX has AMAZING front seats, but its second row isn’t as spacious or comfortable as it should be.  It drives far better than anything its size has a right to drive, especially in sport-hybrid form (I had one as a loaner car a few weeks ago and was blown away by the driving experience, not to mention the exceptional 25+ MPG I averaged after a day of spirited driving).  

Audi had a MANUAL TRANSMISSION A4 on the show floor.  It was awesome!  It had the B&O premium stereo too (700-plus watts and I think 16 speakers) but I couldn’t plug my phone in and sample it because it was disconnected.  I would ABSOLUTELY consider buying a fully-loaded version of this car if I could afford it.  And PROPS to them for offering the stick shift even in the fully loaded Prestige version.  

BMW had about five M products on display, and NONE had a manual transmission.  That’s downright blasphemous.  

That said, another car I would absolutely consider buying if I could afford it is the BMW M2 convertible.  

The wood trim on the dashboard of the BMW M550i is beyond stunning.  So are its front seats and their thigh-supporting cushion extensions (best I’ve experienced).  

Buick’s Regal TourX is a legitimate near-luxury station wagon, and has some serious cargo space.  The interior also looks pretty decent.  If it was offered with a manual transmission, I’d give it a look.  Props to Buick for offering an actual wagon and not just some high-riding crossover junk.  

Cadillac’s interiors are nothing special, but I’d love to drive an ATS-V someday.  Everything I’ve heard seems to indicate that their “driving-fun” factor is as good as, if not better than, BMWs from 20 years ago (which in some people’s eyes qualify as the gold standard).  

Why the Chevy Cruze (a subcompact sedan) has a foot-pedal parking brake (when equipped with the automatic transmission) is beyond me!  And to boot, it’s obnoxiously stiff and hard to operate.  No car smaller than a Honda Accord should have its emergency brake anywhere other than between the front seats.  

I’d love to drive a Camaro ZL1 or any version of the current Corvette.  They’re just awesome.  

I saw a new Chevy Silverado HD crew cab with a manually-shifted 4WD system, using the same insanely cheap selector lever they’ve been using for nearly two decades.  Unbelievable.  

Chrysler’s Pacifica is a way better van than the Town and Country it replaced.  However, I’d take my parents’ 2014 Honda Odyssey over it any day.  I just can’t get justify losing so much second-row seating comfort in the name of being able to fold said seats into the floor.  

Dodge had four Challengers on the show floor, and NOT ONE had a manual transmission.  It’s a muscle-car.  Unacceptable.  

The Ford F150 has one of the only front-row bench seats in which I’d consider occupying the middle position.  They actually did their homework, gave it a decent backrest replete with adjustable headrest and three-point belt, and didn’t treat it like an afterthought.  Actually, as far as full-size pickups go, as nice as the new Ram 1500 is, the F150 is the one to beat IMHO.  

The Ford Transit van is surprisingly comfortable, and I love that it has a proper handbrake, console shifter, and wiper controls on the RIGHT hand side of the wheel (where God intended all of those controls to be).  Actually, kudos to Ford for (with the exception of the Econoline van) equipping every one of its vans (Aerostar, Windstar, Freestar, and now Transit) with a proper handbrake.  

Honda’s got their shit together.  Not only is the Ridgeline one of the most useful vehicles out there (the bed has a freakin’ TRUNK, replete with drain plugs so it can function as a beer cooler), but it has an IN-BED STEREO, kickass front seats, and one of the best, most comfortable back seats I’ve experienced in ANY vehicle!

Also, the 2018 Accord is fantastic.  A true home run.  And they allow adaptive cruise control and their other safety aids to be ordered in combination with a manual transmission, AND with the upgraded engine.  I NEED to test drive one of these.  It nearly puts Acura to shame, and according to Motor Trend, beat a comparably priced Audi A4 at its own game.  

The Civic Si and Civic Type-R have INCREDIBLE front seats and amazingly precise manual transmissions.  I need to drive both.  Asap.  

The 2018 Odyssey is the van to beat.  

Hyundai’s Genesis G70 is on my short list for my next car.  Kickass interior, amazing stereo, awesome front seats, shitload of features, rear drive, and an available stick shift.  I’d have to drive it, of course, but I was EXTREMELY impressed after sitting in one.  

Nothing in the rest of Hyundai’s line-up truly lit my fire.  

I’d love to own a Jaguar F-Type convertible sometime.  

I did the Jeep off-road experience.  Riding in a 2018 Wrangler as it climbed and descended a 35 degree slope, negotiated a nearly 45 degree sideways tilt, and otherwise wrangled its way around (er, over) other obstacles scared the living shit out of me.  And it was so damn awesome.  I’d do it again.  And I was extremely impressed with the 2018 Wrangler in general.  Well-designed, comfortable, loaded, and still unabashedly true to its roots and to itself.  

The new Lexus LS’s interior, and particularly the back seat, blew me away.  SO opulent.  And the RC and LC sport coupes are downright sexy, inside and out.  

I will never own a Lincoln Navigator, but the newest version’s interior and sheer presence made me not hate it as much as I previously did.  It deserves to have its target clientele shell out absurd sums, because it is absurdly opulent and excessive.  And no longer JUST a re-badged Ford Expedition.  

There’s nothing quite as shit-eating-grin-inducing as sitting in a Mazda Miata with the top down, rowing through the gears, and imagining driving it on a summer day.  

The Mazda3 hatch is quite awesome.  It can be equipped like a luxury car (adaptive cruise, swiveling headlights, heated steering wheel, etc.) and drives very sportily (based on my experience driving my cousin’s 2014 version of that car).  

Mazda’s interiors have improved.  They still don’t nail small details (turn-signal stalk action, for example) as well as Honda/Acura, but other things (dashboard stitching, wood trim) have come a long way and are quite nice.  

I would’ve liked to spend more time in the Mercedes-Benz area, and sit in a few more cars, but it was mobbed.  Everything there looked suitably opulent, though the rear-facing seat in the E400 wagon was laughably small and bolt-upright.  

I would LOVE to drive a Porsche 911, especially after experiencing similar straight-line acceleration in Disney’s Rock n Roller Coaster two days ago.  But alas, they were locked.  

The Subaru Ascent was quite comfortable and nicely designed, and I fit (semi-decently) in the third row.  That’s more than I can say about most midsize crossovers.  The rest of the lineup on display felt, well, like Subarus.  In other words, incredibly functional, slightly quirky, very space-efficient, generally in search of more opulence, and unabashedly unique.  

Nothing at the Toyota booth genuinely moved me.  

Volkswagen was a mixed bag.  I miss the early 2000s, when they genuinely felt like baby Audis (my 2002 Passat wagon feels and looks like a baby Audi A6 from the inside).  The newly-redesigned Jetta’s interior was an enormous disappointment, even in the top-of-the-line version I sampled.  It had a decent feature set with some luxury features, and the virtual cockpit gauge set was undeniably cool, but saying the materials looked like garbage would be unnecessarily kind.  Especially in the back seat, it looked like complete shit.  I can’t remember a bigger interior disappointment in recent memory.  

That said, the Golf R was cool, and is something I’d consider buying.  Ditto for the GTI.  Ditto for the Alltrack wagon.  These actually feel somewhat special from the interior, unlike the new Jetta.  

All said and done, here are the NEW cars I’d consider buying:

Acura MDX Sport-Hybrid Advance.
Audi A4 Prestige 6MT.
BMW M2 convertible (or M240i) 6MT.
Chevy Corvette convertible 7MT.
Dodge Challenger SRT8 or Hellcat 6MT.
Genesis G70 6MT.
Honda Accord Sport 2.0T 6MT.
Honda Ridgeline Black Edition with accessory tent over the bed (it’s super cool).
Honda Civic Si or Type-R.  
Honda Odyssey Elite.
Jaguar F-Type convertible 6MT.
Mazda Miata Grand Touring 6MT.
Mazda3 Grand Touring Hatch 6MT.
Porsche Boxster 6MT.
Porsche 911 Cabriolet 7MT.
Volkswagen Golf R or GTI 6MT.
Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SE 6MT.

However, there are a handful of used cars from the past two decades that I’d consider buying just as strongly as anything on the aformentioned list.  But that's a post for another day.  

Goodnight, all!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Waitress on Broadway

Now that I got that last post out of my system, time for something lighter a little less charged.  

As I mentioned in my last post, my sister and her fiancĂ© now live in New York City.  I went down a couple weeks ago to hang with them, check out their awesome new place, and see a couple shows.  We all saw the Birdland Big Band, which was OUTSTANDING and something I'd recommend even to the non-jazzers that read this.  Earlier in the afternoon, however, I visited the TKTS booth and wound up scoring an orchestra seat to Waitress.  I'm really, really glad I did.  

I walked into the theatre not knowing much about the show, aside from some friends having raved about it and knowing that I have enjoyed the few Sara Bareilles songs I had heard (from the show, and otherwise).  I did not expect to be emotionally sucker-punched in the gut, and I certainly didn't expect to have to stand on the side of Broadway for about ten minutes just to mentally center myself.  

The show tackles several topics, ranging from pregnancy to adultery to judgment to stereotypes to, ultimately, happiness and how far one can and should go to reach it.  It does so with a very good modern piano-driven rock score, a very strong cast, convincing staging, and a tight on-stage pit band, among other elements.  None of those individual elements were the absolute best I've seen (it'll be a while before The Last Five Years is unseated as my favorite score), but this show is a quintessential example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  The "whole" of the show absolutely blew me away.  How and why?  It made me think, it made me question, and it made me feel.  And those things are EXACTLY what should happen when someone is exposed to (or dare I say, assaulted) by quality art.  

Among the thoughts that ran through my head as a result of this show:

1.  Is lying OK?

2.  Is cheating OK?

3.  Even if cheating is not OK, is it possible to understand WHY someone might do so?

4.  Can a character still be rooted for despite their imperfections or flaws?

5.  Is "happy enough" truly "happy enough"?  Is "happy enough" even a thing?  Could the answer to that question be different for different people in different situation?

6.  How hard is it to have your opinion of someone changed?  

7.  Can you grow to like, or even love, someone with whom you get off on the wrong foot when you first meet?  

Any of those questions could be argued, and convincing so, any number of ways (except #2, IMHO).  I say that even about the first and third questions, and I would not have said that if not for this show and a couple others I've seen.  Ahh, the power of musical theatre.  

I would LOVE to discuss any or all of the above questions with anyone who'd like to do so, either within or outside the context of Waitress.  However, I want to share a few take-aways before wrapping this up.  

1.  I turned thirty last year, and I've been (and still am) so, so lucky to have had the people and experiences in my life that I've had and still have.  And that's the understatement of the century.  All of that said, I still sometimes think "Holy shit, I'm a third of the way through my life.  To what extent do the things I'm doing and the choices I'm making rev me up and move me toward meeting all of my goals and realizing my potential (both individually and in the bigger picture), and to what extent do they hold me back?"

2.  The protagonist (Jenna) writes a figurative letter to her unborn baby at one point in the show.  I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen the show, but I give Jenna's character so much credit for saying what she says (not easy or widely accepted thoughts, mind you) with such honesty and candor.  

3.  This show reaffirmed my long-time belief against "settling" in any facet of life, because (a) it rarely works and (b) life's too short to spend it wondering if the grass is greener on the other side.  Disclaimer:  I firmly believe that there is a huge difference between settling, and modifying one's choices due to an outside need (caring for a family member or friend comes to mind, but there are other examples).  The latter is sometimes necessary, and can turn out to be rewarding in its own way.  

That it for now.  Like I said earlier, just drop me a line if you want to discuss or debate any of the above, or nerd out about the show itself.  And if you haven't seen the show, do yourself a favor, and go see it.  And leave yourself some time after the final curtain to collect your thoughts.  You'll need it.  

Charlottesville, Cabaret, 2016 Election

It's been far too long since I've updated this thing, and a lot has happened since May 2016.  A few recent things have compelled me to write, so here goes:

I haven't written or said much publicly since Donald Trump was elected last November, and at times I still feel like I'm in a state of disbelief.  Throughout the campaign season, I said time and time again, "We're not that stupid."  "We won't vote him in."  I even foolishly thought at times that Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination would turn a sufficient number of Republicans off to help Hillary or Bernie win the election.

I remember watching in disbelief as the results unfolded on November 8th of last year and wondering how the FUCK we could vote someone in whose hair-trigger temper and Twitter fingers could trigger foreign powers that have the capability to nuke us (look at what's happening with North Korea today)?  Someone who mocked an autistic reporter on the campaign trail?  Someone who appointed people to Cabinet posts with the intent of bastardizing the very organizations they would head up?  Someone who objectifies women and tries to save face by referring to it as "locker room" talk?  Someone who clearly does not see ALL people as equal and deserving of the same basic human rights and protections?  Those are but a few examples.

I know several people all across the political spectrum, and I have not been able to fathom what could inspire ANYONE to excuse ANY of the above and find it the "lesser of two evils" compared to another candidate.  The Democratic candidates were not perfect, and I was not 100% in love with any of them.  But NONE would have done ANY of what I described above, and certainly not the two that made it the farthest in the race.  I would like to think that those I know who voted for Trump take issue with ALL of the above, and I have faith that that is true, as I see good in them as people.  I really, really hope I'm right.  Part of our job as voting citizens is to make it clear when we're unhappy with our elected officials, so I'd go so far as to challenge any Trump voters I know to make one of the following two choices.  Choice one:  Make it clear through your actions that NONE of what I described above is tolerable from ANYONE, much less an elected official.  Choice two:  Disassociate from me until you find it in yourself to make choice one.  I welcome diversity in every sense, including opinions.  But I don't associate with people who don't view ALL people as equals, or who think any of what I described in the previous paragraph is excusable in a President.

Also, for quite some time, I have questioned the relevance of the Electoral College.  From what I understand, it was designed to ensure that candidates would visit small states on the campaign trail.  Sure, for the first part of our country's history, I can understand that.  However, the internet is now a thing, and it is very widely available on mobile devices and in free public libraries.  Information is out there, and people in small states can access it just as easily as people in large states.  While I'm sure what I mentioned above wasn't the ONLY rationale for the Electoral College, that particular rationale is no longer relevant.  And honestly, I struggle to see the point of something that doesn't serve a purpose other than to potentially distort the popular vote.  Think for a second about the possibility that, had a small handful of people (far fewer than the two million plus voter advantage that Hillary had) lived in another state, Trump would not have won the election.  That thought is sobering.  So is the possibility that a foreign power meddled in the election.  So is the reality that even if corruption is found to have happened, we can't simply go back for a re-do (which I feel is the ONLY fair correction in such a situation).  We live in a Democracy.  We need to ditch the archaic Electoral College, as it no longer serves a viable purpose in our society.

Either way, it happened.  The ball is now in our court to ensure that everything we have worked for over the past several hundred years, and especially recently, doesn't get lost.  Jason Robert Brown wrote a song called "Hope" the day after the 2016 election, and it helped me make some sense of the situation back then.  It also served as a reminder of how much stronger we, as people, are than we may think.  I had wanted to learn that song since it came out, and acquired the sheet music in January.  It came up in conversation with some friends a few days ago, and I revisited it the next day, as I felt it was still very relevant given the course of Trump's presidency thus far.

Barely after I had worked it out and made a pass at recording it (the final product can be found here), I looked at my Facebook feed and learned of the horror of what was happening in Charlottesville.  My sister and her fiancĂ© lived in Charlottesville for three years, until a couple months ago.  Thank God they're now in New York.  I had been to Charlottesville three times within the last year.  It's a beautiful town.  There's a vibrant music scene (which spawned the Dave Matthews Band, one of my favorite musical groups).  That it could be overtaken by such a virulent display of racism, fascism, Nazism, and poison is beyond sickening.  I realized then that the song was far more relevant on that day (Saturday 8/12) than I had even thought.  It's disgusting that this shit is even a thing, and Saturday's events proved that it is alive and well, and I'm sure very largely responsible for the election of Trump to the White House.

I'm also currently music-directing a production of Cabaret.  I won't spoil the show for those who have yet to see it, but it takes place as the Nazis were rising to power in Germany.  The sheer relevance of the show in TODAY'S times is devastating, and there are far too many parallels between the show and our current situation.  Hopefully, the production, as well as other art/music/theater out there, will serve its purpose and help people understand the gravity of what's going on as well as what must be done to stop it.

There's no sugarcoating that the world is a massive shit-show right now.  It's also an incredibly beautiful place.  It's our job to bring the beauty back to the forefront and flush the shit away.  It's up to us to do what we can to stand up for what we believe is right, and to stand up for those who are not viewed as equals.  It's up to us to stand up TO those who don't view all people as equals and deserving of equal rights and protections, both in our personal circles and in our national leadership.  I plan to do my part through music and theatre, but there's a lot that can be done in many ways.

We, as people, are stronger than we may realize.  We're still here, in spite of what each of us has survived so far.  We can do it.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

2015 Acura TLX -- Second Drive Review

It's been a while since I posted!  Hey, everyone!!!

You may recall my post on the 2015 Acura TLX I drove a year and a half ago when my car was being worked on.  While I enjoyed that car, I didn't feel that it was appreciably better than several other cars at its price point.  I commented that the ELS sound system was disappointing, the nine-speed automatic transmission was borderline awful, that the back seat was less-than-huge, and that the car just didn't feel "special", despite being an excellent features-per-dollar value.

Well, I took my Acura in for an oil change, tire rotation, and NYS inspection yesterday, and they put me in another 2015 TLX.  The TLX I drove last year had the Technology Package, which adds items like navigation, the aforementioned ELS stereo, perforated leather seats, lane-keeping assist, and a few other goodies to the base model.  Yesterday's TLX had the Advance Package, which includes all of the Technology Package's items, and adds adaptive cruise control, ventilated front seats, and remote start, among other things.  In other words, it was fully loaded!  The only available option it lacked was Acura's excellent Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system, which I sampled in their MDX SUV.  It essentially gave that large, seven-seat vehicle the handling chops of something much smaller, and it blew me away.  But that's another story entirely.

Anyway, I spent a few hours in the TLX Advance Package yesterday, and ended up liking the car significantly more than I liked the TLX that I drove last year.  I'm not quite sure why.  I think this was partially, but certainly not entirely, due to the additional goodies on the Advance Package model.  Anyway, here are my thoughts:

1.  This car is FAST!  I thought this about the other TLX as well, but it's got BALLS!  It's quieter and smoother than my 2003 CL, which is why it doesn't feel quite as brutally snappy as that car does despite almost certainly being quicker.

2.  The nine-speed automatic transmission still SUCKS.  In this day and age, it's inexcusable for any automatic transmission to shift harshly.  IMHO, Toyota set the standard for smooth automatic transmissions in 1992 with that year's new Camry, and almost every normal (non-DSG, non-CVT) automatic car I've driven or ridden in since about 2000 has shifted with at least reasonable smoothness.  Not this one.  It lurches almost every time when shifting between 2nd and 3rd gear under acceleration, and it's unnecessarily busy.  It has too many speeds for its own good, and is clueless about which one to use at any given time.  That, and though the push-button shifter works more intuitively than I would have expected, the delay between pushing the drive (or reverse) button and the car actually engaging the appropriate gear is unacceptable at best and borderline unsafe at worst.  I would hate to make a three-point turn in this car in any busy city street.  If Acura would drop its outstanding eight-speed dual-clutch automatic (and its conventional floor-mounted shift lever) from the four-cylinder TLX into the V6 model, it would be a far better fit for this car and all of these gripes would be solved.  Or better yet, offer a real, honest-to-goodness six-speed stick shift as an option.

3.  Transmission aside, the ride itself is very smooth and controlled, even with sport mode engaged.  The car handles and steers very impressively as well, though I can't help but wonder how amazingly the all-wheel-drive model would handle, and I wonder if the four-cylinder model would turn a bit more eagerly given the relative lack of mass over the front wheels.

4.  It's a QUIET car.  Hondas and Acuras aren't typically the most serene vehicles, but this one is at least as quiet, if not more so, than I would expect any entry-level luxury sedan to be.

5.  Not only are the front seats heated and ventilated, but said heating and ventilation are automatically controlled based on how the climate control is set.  For example, I set the interior temperature to be 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and the car continuously adjusted the intensity of the seat ventilation to optimally maintain that temperature under my butt as well as all around me.  It was quite awesome.  I have to wonder, though, if the ventilation feature would act as a "fart-trapper".

6.  The ELS stereo seemed far more impressive in this car than in the one I drove a year ago.  It could have been that I sampled different music this time, but it seemed MUCH crisper, with deeper bass and exceptional clarity.  Quite literally, it rocked, and I felt like I was sitting in a concert hall.  It was easily one of the best car stereos I've sampled in a while, and I didn't quite feel that way last time, despite the system being identical.

7.  One of the goodies that is included with the Advance Package is adaptive cruise control.  For those unfamiliar with this technology, it maintains not only a set speed, but a set following distance as well.  It was surprisingly effective, though it took me more searching than I would've liked to find the following distance adjustment, as it wasn't grouped together with the normal cruise control buttons as it is on Honda-branded cars.  I could see myself using this feature quite a bit.

8.  Both of the TLXs I drove had "lane-keeping assist".  This feature reads lane markings and helps keep the car in its lane.  Last time, I tried using it as a hands-off feature, which it will only do for 90 seconds before requiring driver input.  It worked decently but seemed like a gimmick.  This time, I kept my hands on the wheel the entire time with this feature engaged, and it worked like a charm!  The car stayed in its lane nearly flawlessly with very minimal guidance from yours truly.  This is another feature I could see myself using regularly, now that I know how effective it is when used its intended way (as assistance to steering, as opposed to replacement).

9.  With adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist engaged simultaneously, the car essentially drives itself in certain situations.  I'm normally not one to advocate for driverless cars, but these features can definitely be useful.

Overall, I liked the TLX much better this time around.  I liked it enough, in fact, that were I in the market for a new car, I'd give it some serious thought.  The only real deal-breaker is the damn nine-speed automatic transmission.  Acura would need to drop a real manual transmission into it, or at the very least, offer their eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with the V6 engine.  Yes, this car is good enough that I would give it some consideration even with an automatic transmission, and I never thought I would say that about any car (just not the nine-speed unit it currently uses).

Two parting thoughts:

1.  I still love my 2003 CL Type-S six-speed coupe.  Even with nearly 170K miles, it's reliable, comfortable, reasonably practical, quite good on gas given its performance capability, and incredibly fun to drive.  I'm in no hurry to get rid of it.

2.  The new Honda Civic offers most to all of the cool features that the TLX offers, as well as a few that the TLX does NOT offer (such as heated REAR seats), for about $16K less.  I have yet to drive the new Civic, and after sitting in one at an auto show, it does give up a bit of the luxury vibe found in the Acura.  That said, virtually every journalist that has sampled it has RAVED about it, and there's a chance Honda might offer the fully loaded version with a stick shift next year.

And on that note, this guy needs some shut-eye!