Saturday, March 16, 2013

Long-Overdue Update

Hey everyone!  It's been a while since I last posted; things have been a bit crazy.  In early February, I music-directed and played piano in a production of Jason Robert Brown's musical "The Last Five Years", and it was quite possibly the best theatrical experience I've ever been involved with (and I've been involved with several incredibly rewarding projects recently).  Without getting all nostalgic and sentimental, I will say that working on that show, and doing so with the people that were involved in it, was a dream come true.

I also did a shitload of recording over my winter break (and the weeks that followed).  It was fun, and a good chance to try out the drum mics I recently acquired.  You can hear some of what I recorded at .  I'm hoping to have some type of album released by the end of calendar year 2013.

Lastly, I've been engrossed in the Germantown HS Drama Club's production of "Into the Woods".  Tech week starts tomorrow afternoon.  If I seem like I'm not around for a week, that's why.  It's a great show, though, and great fun to work on.

Anyway, my good friend Mike came into town from Stamford, CT this weekend to tag along when I went to the Albany Auto Show.  In no particular order, here are my recollections from the trip:

1.  Trying to find the free parking garage in Albany when the St. Patrick's Day parade is going on is a pain in the ass.  I ended up paying $10 to park in a privately-owned garage simply because the roads leading to the free garage were closed.  On the bright side, I got some exercise walking from my car to the show (sans jacket, of course).

2.  The Porsches were locked......of course.......

3.  The Lincoln MKZ was a huge disappointment.  Cheap interior materials, pitifully cramped back seat (especially with respect to headroom), overpriced, etc.  I much preferred its sister car, the Ford Fusion (despite the Fusion's $10K cheaper price tag).

4.  The commonality of electronic parking brakes, electronic shifters, etc. is mildly terrifying.  I can't imagine how screwed someone would be should something go awry.  At least in my cars, I can manually shift into neutral, step on the clutch, or yank the handbrake if I need to act in an emergency.

5.  I was not overly impressed with the Mercedes-Benz models on display.  What I had the biggest problem with was the fact that a $60K E350 didn't include leather upholstery.

6.  The BMW X1's interior was considerably nicer than the (more expensive) 328i they had on display. But why the heck weren't the visor mirrors illuminated?  It's a BMW, for cryin' out loud!

7.  I forgot how nice the Audi A6's interior is.

8.  The Cadillacs on display were pretty disappointing.  Why the heck does the XTS (their closest thing to an AARP-mobile) have a modern electronic parking brake, while the ATS (their sporty offering) has a geriatric foot-pedal parking brake?

9.  The shifter on the Fiat 500 was absolutely terrible.  Shifting it wasn't unlike stirring a bucket of rocks.  Actually, the interior quality of the Fiat was pretty terrible as well.  I can see why they sell it for such a low price.

10.  The Infiniti G37 convertible is a car I wouldn't mind owning.  The folding hardtop is so well-insulated that I thought I was sitting in a full-fledged coupe at first (the door-mounted curtain airbags gave away the fact that it was, in fact, a convertible).

11.  Where the heck was Lexus?

12.  The Acura ILX was disappointing.  It's little more than a glorified, overpriced Civic.  I really wanted to like this car, but I couldn't.

13.  I still think the TSX is an incredible vehicle and an even better bargain.  It won't survive past this model year, though, as it's built overseas and production costs, etc. make it less profitable for Honda to sell the TSX than to sell their American-made products.

14.  The Acura RLX knocked my socks off.  Seats were amazing.  Interior quality was beyond reproach, and better than so many of the (more expensive) German luxury cars on display.  The wood trim was beautiful.  It's supposed to get 30 mpg in the city AND on the highway in hybrid form.  This is one of very few cars that I would consider buying with an automatic transmission; it really is that incredible.

15.  The Toyotas on display didn't do much for me, though the Avalon was surprisingly nice and the interior design impressed me more than I thought it would.  Ditto for the new RAV4.

16.  Hyundai has gone downhill.  I can't think of a better way to put it than that.  Yet I was pleasantly surprised that I fit better in the back of their Accent subcompact than I did in their Sonata full-size sedan.

17.  The 2014 Subaru Forester is much improved over its predecessor.

18.  The new Nissan Sentra was extremely impressive.  Huge interior, nice materials, great seats, plush door armrests, good stereo, great value for the dollar.  I'd have to drive it to see if they cut corners in that area to create such a great interior, but color me impressed.  If only it was available when I went to Indiana this summer.  As you can tell if you read my post from last July, I was NOT very impressed with the previous-generation Sentra.

19.  The Buick Encore is REALLY tiny.  It makes sense that it's a raised Chevrolet Sonic with some more luxury trappings.

20.  The Ford Focus ST was fantastic.  I'd consider it very seriously if I was in the market for a new car.  I still can't stand MyFordTouch, but everything else (seats, space efficiency, value for the dollar, etc.) was awesome.  The Sony stereo system impressed me much more in this car than it did in the 2012 Taurus at the NY Auto Show last year.  I was able to pair my phone to it through Bluetooth and stream some music, and it sounded at least as good as the Monsoon system in my 2002 VW Passat (and that's a really good system).

21.  I was impressed with the number of cars on the floor with manual transmissions.  The Fiat 500's shifter was the only one that really sucked.  Most of the others (Audi S5, Mini Cooper, Ford Focus ST, etc.) were quite good.

22.  On a similar note, I saw a car as rare as a barely-cooked, still moo-ing steak.  They had a Honda Accord coupe with a stickshift.  It's a really rare car, and probably the only one in the area.  Honda (in its infinite wisdom, note the sarcasm) only offers limited color choices in its Accord when a buyer specifies a manual transmission, with the four-cylinder coupe model being the most limited.  In other words, you can have any color you want, as long as it's black.  Seriously.  But they had a black Accord coupe on the floor, and sure enough, it was a 6-speed model.  And it was, without a doubt, the slickest shifter I've ever sampled; it's not unlike running a knife through fresh butter.  It's tragic that they limit its availability so much, as it really is a gem!  Wow!

23.  Honda has absolutely gotten its game back.  The new Accord is world-class (save for a terrible premium sound system), and the V6 version is sports-car quick (5.5 seconds from 0 to 60 mph).  The Odyssey is still the best minivan out there.  The 2013 Civic is significantly improved from the 2012 model.  And the Acura RLX, as previously mentioned, is exceptional.

Ah.....if only I was an automotive journalist with the ability to drive all of these cars.......