Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Long Island Road Trip Part 1 -- The Cars and the "Trip" part of the trip

On Friday, May 25th, at about 12:30 PM, I stepped into my 2010 Honda Accord EX and embarked on a journey to the center of the earth.  By center of the earth, I mean Moriches, Long Island.  Who knows, if we keep getting rain like we've been getting, Long Island could be at the center of the earth eventually.

Anyway, before I dive too deeply into this post, I want to emphasize the importance of having a road trip buddy.  My good friend Callie rode down and back with me and was an absolutely kickass person with whom to share this trip.

But alas, back to the automotive side of things.  As previously stated, we took the trip in my Accord, and it proved to be a highly agreeable steed.  Here is a little background on the car:

1.  It is just under two years old, and just turned 58,000 miles.  It still drives pretty much the way it did when it was new.

2.  The only work I've had done has been rear brakes at just over 40K miles and new tires at around the same time.  Other than that, it's just been oil changes and tire rotations as dictated by the Oil Life Monitor system.  The car has demanded these services every 9,000 or 10,000 miles.  (I'll save the "should you change your oil every 3,000 miles?" debate for another post.)  There was one recall done that involved the electronic programming of the engine, and when I first took delivery of the car, I had to bring it to a dealer so they could correct the mis-installation of a couple fuses by the dealer who sold me the car.  Otherwise, no warranty repairs or other issues.  Just the aforementioned wear items.  That's why I love Honda products as much as I do.

3.  My car is the midlevel EX trim line, with a five-speed manual transmission.  The exterior color is black and the interior color is ivory with faux-wood trim.  This is an extremely rare combination and I had to buy it out-of-state, as there were none near me in NY.  It gets better . . . the dealer from whom I purchased the car had to have it brought in from ANOTHER state.  That said, they (Balise Honda in Springfield, MA) still sold it to me for $1600 under INVOICE price AND delivered it to my place of residence (an hour and a half from the dealer).  I could have very easily "settled" on a model with an automatic transmission and bought one off of a local lot, but every time I drive my car, I'm reminded of why I'm glad I got the stick-shift version, despite the extra "hurdles".

The trip began at my apartment in Coxsackie, NY and initially took us across the Rip Van Winkle bridge, through Germantown (where I work), and eventually to the Taconic State Parkway.  The Taconic is a free alternative to the I-87 stretch of the NYS Thruway, albeit with a 55 mph speed limit (the Thruway is generally 65 mph), no usable breakdown lanes, a larger presence of deer, and some windy stretches that could prove intimidating to some people when traffic gets thicker.  We made one stop at a Dunkin Donuts near Arlington, which was directly off of the Parkway.  The tight corners in the Parkway on-ramps (as compared to those on the Thruway) lent me a great opportunity to test the Accord's 0 to 60 acceleration.  While it won't rival a muscle car (or even its V6-powered sibling), my car's 190 horsepower 2.4 liter VTEC four-banger performed quite well.  I redlined it in first, quickly shifted into 2nd, and reached my cruising speed in that gear.  A quick skip-shift into 5th, and I set the cruise control and relaxed for a while.  The 0 to 60 run felt like it took between 7 and 8 seconds.  I did have to downshift a couple times to maintain my speed on the uphill stretches of the Parkway.  No biggie, though, as Honda's manual transmissions and clutches are very easy and intuitive to use.  Honda also doesn't cut the throttle when you upshift from first to second, unlike some manufacturers (cough*Hyundai*cough).

I did have to stop for gas in the Bronx, which wasn't as terrible as I thought it'd be.  Thanks to my Tom-Tom GPS, I was able to get off and on the highway fairly easily.  Yes, the city took some patience, but not once did I feel that driving in it was beyond my capability as a driver.

The Long Island Expressway also wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, though the HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lane proved a bit maddening.  At first, it seemed great.  We blew past several cars, but later on, we were moving more slowly than the main lanes.  I eventually ducked out of it and onto the main part of the highway again, and from that point on, traffic moved more quickly.  I did notice also what an enormous effect one or two drivers can have on an entire stretch of traffic.  There were a couple Prius drivers going slower than necessary in the HOV lane, with WIDE gaps in front of them. There was also a Lincoln Aviator in the center lane of the regular highway going about 10 below.  Once I got around these drivers, I was in the clear.  Aggressive lane-changing for the win!

We arrived at our destination about four hours and change after hitting the road.  Some final observations about my car and how it performed on this trip:

1.  Not once did I wish for an automatic transmission, even in the occasional stop-and-go traffic on Long Island.

2.  A USB jack, or at a minimum, Bluetooth audio, would've been useful for my iPhone.  Had Callie not been on the trip with me, I would've had to select my music on my phone.  Either of the aforementioned integrations would have allowed me to "DJ" using my steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and the car's audio unit itself.

3.  The sound system itself is decent, but doesn't compare to the ELS Surround system in a 2010 Acura TSX I recently drive.  Even a subwoofer alone would have helped a bit, and had I gotten the EX-L model, I would've had one.  I wouldn't have been able to get a manual transmission, though, and I would've been about $3K or $4K poorer.

4.  The A/C kept us cool and comfy for the duration of the trip.

5.  Road noise on the highway was OK.  Not as quiet as a Toyota, but far from offensive.

6.  The ride/handling balance was outstanding, and the weighting and road feel served up by the hydraulically assisted steering makes me question hate the trend toward electrically assisted steering systems.

7.  While some people aren't crazy about the very firm seats of my car, and their football-esque lumbar balloons, I love them.  I felt great after driving for such a long time.

8.  Gas mileage was in the high 20s, which I think is pretty good for a full-size car, especially given my occasionally heavy right foot and motorhead tendencies (Honda engines make their best power high in the RPM range, and I tend to exploit that on occasion).

Overall, my Accord was a very good road trip vehicle, and would have been even better with better audio electronics and a hair more noise isolation.

Watch for more posts over the next few days focusing on the weekend itself, and the food I consumed!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Inaugural Post!

I’ve been holding off on my first posts in this blog for a couple weeks now, but I think I have the perfect inspiration.  
Last Friday, I drove to Long Island to watch my college roommate (who also happens to be one of my closest friends) get married.  It was an incredible time!  As this blog is entitled “Cars, chow, and so much more”, I’ll cover all three of those aspects over the next few days, with a heavy emphasis on the “so much more” component due to the nature of this excursion.  
Until I elaborate, though, I offer one piece of advice:  Stay in touch with your friends from high school and college.  This past weekend reminded me on so many levels of the value of friendship, and was one of the absolute best weekends of my life!