An Exhaustive Look at Cars
Back on February 1, among other things, I was riding in a 2019 Nissan Leaf as part of a ride and drive at the Washington Auto Show. My mom was in the driver's seat and I was riding shotgun, having a perfect view of everything happening. The employee running the ride and drive showed us the numerous parking cameras, allowing us to see the curb, below the curve of our hood, and in the back. After working the Leaf's gear selector, based largely on alien technology, we pulled away from the curb and put the Leaf through some basic steps around DC. The Leaf began making a kind of beeping while we were moving slowly. The guide explained that this noise was actually meant to warn pedestrians as total silence could pose hazardous to those of us not in large metal cans. As we accelerated up to the speed limit, it was strange to not have the lurching of the gears shifting or the rumble of the engine.
The Leaf needed a significant amount of pressure on the pedal in order to coast or hold steady, meaning it is more difficult to accelerate and cruise than it usually is. While I can see the utility of one pedal driving for someone who sits in stop-and-go traffic who has gotten used to the system. When it was finally time to return, the Leaf delivered pleasing parking dynamics as a result of its good turn radius and a small size. We then got out and returned to the ride and drive sign-up area, where we did a sort of debrief. I made sure to cop a Nissan Leaf brochure and cap before returning to the heart of the show.
The Wrangler is one of those cars that everyone will recognize, no matter how unsavvy they are about cars. Loads of people buy them, about 240,000 of them in 2018, and while many of them don't off-road, there are plenty who do. The whole market segment of a capable SUV has been dominated by Jeep, with the aging 4Runner, pricey Land Cruiser, and prohibitively expensive G550 being left in the dust. Enter 2020 and we have the Land Rover Defender ready to enter the ring. The Defender's price range overlaps with the Wrangler with the base model at just under $50,000, however can quickly be configured to cost in excess of $100,000.
The Defender sets itself apart from the Wrangler by being an overlander at its core. The Defender is a pure lifestyle vehicle with the aim of making you feel like an explorer. As such, the Defender comes with an Explorer pack. The Explorer pack includes plenty of overlanding gear such as a roof rack, a side-mounted storage box, and a 'raised air intake', which only helps with dust and doesn't increase wading depth beyond the standard 34.5 inches (the Wrangler can only do 30). You can also get the Defender with an air compressor for inflating tires and a hose for washing things down. Yes, you heard correctly, this car comes with a legitimate hose. The hose is connected to an on-board tank that Land Rover says can give a minimum of two minutes of continuous flow, without using batteries. The system uses pressure and can be pressurized using the tap or manually with a hand pump. The Defender seals the overlanding deal with a deployable roof ladder, which folds down and allows easy access to the roof rack.
With all of this gear, the Defender is shaping up to be an incredible vehicle. The Defender comes with so many options for equipment, allowing users to customize the vehicle based on what they want to do with it. You can rock crawl, you can go mudding, you can get the optional I-6 that makes 395 hp and go dune bashing, or you can get the Explorer pack plus a few other functional accessories and spend days overlanding in rough environments. That is what I think the 2020 Defender was made to do.
Usually when you think of off-roading, you picture Jeeps and pickup trucks climbing over big rocks or blasting through mud and sand. What I'm sure you don't picture is a 2018 Ford Explorer displaying abilities that blow out of the water (or in this case sand) all the staged photos in its brochure (without popping a bead). Well that's what I was doing recently in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. The north end of the Outer Banks is home to the town of Corolla, where there are miles of beach to drive on and the neighborhoods are only accessible via 4X4. The way to get there is quite simple; just follow North Carolina Highway 12 until you start seeing signs for the 4WD beach and air-down stations (which you should stop at). Once you have aired-down, all you have to do is keep following the road until it turns into a beach, which is considered a road by Apple Maps.
I had two drives on this beach, and while both times were fun, the second trip is where I really pushed the limit. If you're into off-roading, you might have heard that sand is tough to drive on. While I love that Explorer and think it's awesome, I know that it's no Rubicon or Raptor, but I was pleasantly surprised when the Explorer didn't have any trouble with getting bogged down in driving on the beach. Whether I was driving in ruts or throttling it on fresh patches of soft Outer Banks sand, the Explorer took it just fine. When you drive in ruts you are less likely to get stuck because the sand is already packed down, however that gets a little old after a while. The only tight spot we got into was on the second trip with my dad and his younger sister (my aunt) and we decided to take one of the turn-offs to cross the dunes and were greeted by a no-vehicles sign positioned oh-so-intelligently behind the dune, where you can't see until you're over the dune. I tried to do a three-point turn to no avail, so I used a turn-around but there was one square, 90-degree turn that I couldn't take and instead plowed into the side of a dune. That was the only time we got stuck. I tried to reverse out of it but I couldn't, and I didn't rock the car out (my pet peeve is shifting from forward to reverse without fully braking). I got out to spot, and the front wheels were digging in. He managed to rock the Explorer out, although he did plow a bit of a path through the side of the dune with the front bumper of the Explorer. Once free he drove off quickly and climbed back over the dune we entered by. I chased after him because knowing his personality he would likely prank me and drive off for maybe a minute.
I quickly rejoined him and took back over, exhausted from my 40 yard sprint over the dune (I must have been doing about 12-15 mph, have you ever run on sand?). We later went inland again, this time it was through some neighborhoods. The roads were still sand, and we saw a wild horse, but things really picked up when we started getting into a wooded area. Those woods brought back memories of wheeling in George Washington National Forest with my dad and his lifted '96 XJ (the trail is called Peter's Mill Run). The best part was a small dip in the road that had turned into a mini lake. It was maybe 30 feet long and just as wide, and had had one of those black plastic drainage tubes running through it. The tube was maybe 15 inches in diameter and was crushed and broken, likely from people driving over it. We went through the water to the sound of two crunches accompanied by two large bumps.
The Explorer handled everything fine, which leads me to say that everyone should try going off-roading, just make sure you don't get in over your heads and have a driver with some experience going with you. There are so many crossovers and SUVs of all sizes that a good number of people have a vehicle that would work. Just make sure that you have something with at least AWD, although preferably something badged as a 4WD.
Has your car ever used its anti-lock brakes? Have you ever drifted off the pavement? Have you slid your rear tires, even just a little? If you answered no to any questions, then keep reading, if not, then you still might find this interesting anyway.
Cars aren't magical, they all have their limits. Certain cars are more capable than others, and cars could always be built to turn a little better, accelerate a little faster, or brake a little shorter, right? What you do to accomplish these things is based on the physics of a car's motion. When an object is at rest, it can exert a finite amount of friction, determined by the materials in contact and the object's weight. When a car turns, accelerates, or brakes, this friction is used to alter the car's motion.
If you're turning and try to accelerate, you are using the car's friction both to turn and to accelerate, which places more load on the tires. The same goes for braking and turning also. Regardless of what you are doing, if the total force that the tires will have to exert to make the car do what you want exceeds their limit, then the tires will slip. Once the tires are fully skidding, they have less friction then they did before they slipped, which is one of the reasons anti-lock brakes exist.
So friction is finite, right? Well, I sorta lied, there are ways to manipulate this limit. Your car's suspension supports the car's weight and connects the wheels to the body. When you brake, have you noticed that the car leans forward until you come to a stop and it jerks back? That's because of the front suspension compressing as you slow down, and then once you stop the brakes aren't doing much to the car's motion (stopped), so the springs decompress and the car kicks backwards a little (or a lot). Remember when I said friction depends on the object's weight? When you brake, your car puts more of its weight on the front tires than when it is coasting, causing the front tires to have increased traction. By braking gently during turns, you can increase your front tires' grip, helping you turn (this is called trail braking). If you brake hard enough or turn tight enough, your car may slide it's rear tires because you have taken so much weight off of them and onto the front tires (this is called oversteer).
When you accelerate, the tires push or pull the car forward (FWD or RWD), which causes the car to lean backwards due to the acceleration, similar to if you've ever floored it and been pressed into your seat. The car leaning back places the weight on the rear suspension, which causes the front wheels to lose grip. If you are accelerating and turning, especially in a FWD car, your front tires are working to power the car, but they also have less weight on them because of how the car's weight shifts when you accelerate. This shifted weight reduces the friction threshold of your front tires, which means that while you might be trying to turn, your car just skids and doesn't turn as fast as you tell it to (this is called understeer).
Weight distribution is why one person might take an exit ramp at thirty-five and crash due to understeer, someone else might shoot the same ramp at fifty but be completely fine. By knowing these techniques, you can be a safer driver and have more fun (at legal speeds).
April 23, 2019
Trucks are awesome. They're big, tough, and muscular. If you want a car that has the delicate touch of a sledgehammer, then you want a truck ... and a big one. Too hard to park one in a city? If whining's your thing then you can't handle the macho, doesn't-give-a-darn, subtle-as-a-punch-to-the-face personality of a pickup truck. Trucks don't do it halfway, don't hold back, don't know the meaning of minimalism, don't care about the latest apps, and let freedom ring. Trucks like the Ford F-series live large, and when push comes to shove, they can really shove.
The Ford F-series is the best-selling vehicle in America, with approximately 0.9 million being sold domestically in 2018. The F-150 is the lightest vehicle in the F-series, but don't let that deceive you; the F-150 can tow up to 13,200 lbs and haul up to 2,311 lbs. The F-150 currently starts with an MSRP of $28,115 for a base RWD XL model with a single cab and 3.3L V6 engine. A 4x4 truck with a back seat offers incredible versatility, because in addition to being a nice toy on the trails, you can also haul cargo in the bed without encroaching on the passengers, unlike a three-row SUV or minivan and deciding if you need to fold the seats down. Because extended cab trucks have three-seat benches in the front and back, you can seat up to six people, making them capable family-haulers. While this truck can be a cowboy limo with a price of over $70,000, it can also get a spartan workhorse for $30K, or anything in between. Here's how I would do it:
Start with a SuperCab XLT with the 6-1/2' bed and get the 4x4 drivetrain. Next go for the 301A equipment group, which adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, storage under the rear seats, and a larger screen on the instrument panel among other things. Just in case the need to tow something arises, I would add class IV trailer hitch for $95 but skip the trailer tow package which costs $995, since I won't likely be towing frequently. I would snap-up the 5.0L V8 engine in an instant, simply because it's a V8 and the highest output engine available on the XLT. Because I enjoy going off-road, I would get the FX4 off-road package, which most importantly adds skid plates and off-road suspension. I would then add the 18" wheels with the 275/65/R18 all-terrain tires due to their larger diameter, since it is a truck after all, with a 3.73 electronic locking axle and top it all off with the spray-in bedliner, leaving the final price at $45,970. The result: a nicely optioned 4x4 truck that can tackle the trails and work hard, while having a lively engine to make for some fun driving.
Now you may find yourself thinking "Why only the F-150? Why not an F-250 or something even bigger?" Excellent question, and true to the nature of my original point. An F-250 would be an excellent choice if all you want is a giant beast of an automobile, and don't care about the likes of infotainment systems, leather seats, and fancy power features. After all, the F-250 comes with a 6.2L V8 as the base engine! While the F-150 is big and tough, the F-250 is an unstoppable monster for someone who either really needs some extra hauling power, or someone with the guts to drive the beast. Stay on the lookout for related test-drive reviews.
Sooner or later, almost everyone is going to get a car. This will likely occur sometime between 16 and 19, so that is the age-range that will be targeted in this article. In this article we are going to exclude premium brands (BMW, Lincoln, Lexus, Buick, Genesis, etc.) due to affordability.
These little things are cheap, and I mean cheap. Like $12,360 cheap. The Versa doesn't offer too much, but it's small, has a surprisingly spacious interiors, the cloth seats are relatively comfortable, it offers good gas mileage (27 city / 36 highway MPG), a manual transmission comes standard, it doesn't drown you in expensive technology that you don't need, and if your really want you can get it with a spoiler. While this sounds great, the Versa has some drawbacks. The gear selector looks awful. It's made of cheap plastic, and has a two-tone silver and black color scheme that doesn't work at all in real life. I've driven a lot in these things, and while comfy, aren't exactly lookers, inside or out. They're also short on power, 1.6 liters of bland producing 109 hp. I nearly had to floor it once to climb a hill at 35! Only once did the gas pedal stop working completely while I was driving. However, if you want something with a manual transmission that gets the job done for cheap and is a little fun to drive, and don't care that it might not be prettiest, most reliable, or fast, then the Versa might be the car for you.
The Ford Explorer has been around the block a few times. It's been in production since 1990, is currently the top-selling 3- mid-size SUV, and features a fancy full-time 4wd system that utilizes torque vectoring. The Explorer can seat up to 7 passengers, and can be outfitted as a luxury SUV, economy hauler, rugged crossover, or anything between the three. Due to the nature of its size, the Explorer tends to cost a little more than compact crossovers such as the Toyota RAV4, although the difference is not as much as you might expect. The Ford Explorer has a base price $32,365 MSRP, although you can easily crest $50,000 with the available trims and options. The Ford Explorer is a great family car, has plenty of space, great safety ratings, drives smoothly, and is reliable. The downsides to the Explorer are byproducts of its strengths, mainly its size. The Explorer costs more than many smaller vehicles, and its width is noticeable when you are maneuvering in parking garages and on narrow roads.
The Jeep Cherokee (KL) provides great off-road abilities in the package of a compact crossover. The KL is cheaper than a Wrangler (MSRP: $24,795 vs $28,045) and has better on-road handling. The KL gets decent gas mileage, 23 city / 31 highway MPG, versus the Wrangler's 23/25 MPG. The Cherokee Trailhawk comes with a 3.2L V6, producing 270 hp, or a 2.0L turbo-4 with 271 hp and better gas mileage. The Trailhawk costs $33,945 with the V6, and $33,445 with the turbo-4. The cons of the Jeep are that it gets worse gas mileage than many of its competitors and the KL has had a history of recalls related to bad transmission programming, causing the engine to stall.
Toyota re-designed their compact crossover for the 2019 model year, making it look almost like a baby 4Runner. The new RAV4 is meant to be more rugged than the outgoing model, and is surprisingly capable for a compact crossover. While its not Jeep Cherokee level, the RAV4 Adventure can handle some rough stuff. The RAV4 carries an MSRP of $25,500 in the base FWD model, the base hybrid is $27,700, and the off-road Adventure trim costs $32,900. The RAV4 is a bit pricier than other compact crossovers by about $1,000, although if you love Toyota, want an off-road crossover, and don't want the Cherokee's transmission or the Subaru Crosstrek's weak engine, then the RAV4 might be the car for you.
While Ford may be ending the Fiesta sometime in mid 2019, there's still time to buy one of these great little subcompacts. The base S sedan has an MSRP of $14,260, and the Fiesta ST hatchback goes for $21,340, which is surprisingly affordable. The S, SE, and ST-Line get a 5-speed manual transmission or an optional 6-speed PowerShift automatic for $1,095 extra, while the ST gets a 6-speed manual only. The PowerShift has had a history of issues, although Ford is said to have resolved these problems following a lawsuit regarding rough shifts. In any case, the manual is my recommended option for the Fiesta. The Fiesta ST gets a 1.6L EcoBoost 4-cylinder, which produces 197 hp, versus the 1.6L Ti-VCT 4-cylinder on all other Fiestas that produces 120 hp. The Fiesta can also come with Ford's SYNC 3 infotainment system, which is one of the best on the market. Even with the base engine, the Fiesta still feels peppy, and is a great choice as a cheap car especially considering all the tech you can get in it.
The Hyundai Kona is awesome. It has fun styling, an AWD option, an optional electric powertrain, it gets great mileage, and the 1.6L turbo is pretty peppy. If you got an extra 3 grand to pay over the price of a normal top-model Kona, then you can opt for the Iron Man special edition Kona, which gets sweet styling and an Iron Man color scheme. Styling modifications include a redesigned front bumper. Unfortunately and confusingly, this trim deletes the sunroof and fog lights. The Kona's sporty handling is excellent, although comes at the cost of reduced cargo volume and ground clearance relative to competitors such as the Ford EcoSport. The Hyundai Kona starts with an MSRP of $19,990, although the Iron Man edition goes for $30,550.
You might be shocked based on a third of my suggestions so far being Fords, especially considering I drive an Explorer, however the Chevy Camaro is a killer performance car. While the interior isn't stellar, it's certainly not bad, considering that the 2018 Camaro SS with the 1LE package could lap the Streets of Willow at 1:20.67 in a Motortrend test, which is faster than the Porsche Cayman GT4, 2014 Audi R8 V10 Plus, and Ferrari 458 Italia. A $46,000 muscle car beating a $230,000 Ferrari! For the 2019 model, a Camaro 1SS 1LE with leather-trimmed cloth RECARO seats and a manual transmission carries an MSRP of $44,495. If you want a convertible I recommend a Camaro 3LT Convertible, that will cost you $38,990, although that includes leather seats, an automatic transmission, and a V6 to replace the V8 from the SS. You can get all versions either as convertibles or as coupes, but a convertible SS would break the bank.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
No surprise here based on the cover image for the article. It seems like the Miata should be on every best list. It has two seats, limiting the number of friends/maniacs that can ride with you. It only comes as a convertible or a targa top, meaning you don't have to shell-out more than the base price to get the open-air feeling. Want something Eco-friendly, then get a Miata. Sure its not a hybrid, but maybe you should actually enjoy the environment instead of getting a hybrid that only tries halfheartedly to save the Earth. Plus, the Miata is actually pretty great in terms of efficiency, getting 26 city / 35 highway MPG, and doesn't have lots of NiCd or Lithium batteries that can leach toxic chemicals. Notice we haven't even gotten to what a great driver's car it is. Back in January, Car and Driver wrote a stellar review of it in their 10Best Cars of 2019 list. The Miata doesn't have the best roadholding ability, or the best 0-60 time by far, 0.92 g and 5.7 sec respectively, however that's not what the Miata's about. The 2019 Miata gets an upgraded 2.0L 4-cylinder, with its power raised from 155 hp @ 6000 rpm to 181 hp @ 7000 rpm. The new engine has a higher redline, 7500 rpm vs the old 6800 rpm, and has 3 lb-ft more torque at a lower rpm than the old model. The Miata also helps you exercise restraint when shopping. You can't buy too many groceries that aren't on the list because they won't fit in the Miata. It only has 4.59 cubic feet of trunk space, so you don't have much space for junk. Now, this sounds great, but you're probably scared, since the only other car celebrated this much was the $45,000 Camaro. No worries, the Miata starts at an MSRP of $26,650 for the soft-top Sport trim, however unless money's really tight, I recommend the Club trim, which comes with sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks, and a limited-slip differential. You can get Brembo brakes, although they're probably not worth a premium of $3770.
I was tearing down a small, windy road. There's a sharp turn ahead! Speed limit: Legally 35mph although the orange signs said the so-called “safe” speed was 10, maybe 20 tops. I can't be sure because I didn't care. I pressed the brake, slowing the little yellow Nissan Versa from 40 to about 30. I released most but not all of the brake pressure as I entered the turn. I cranked the wheel and then transitioned from braking to coasting to four cylinders roaring as I went through the turn. By keeping some pressure on the brake I was improving the grip of my front tires by shifting the Versa's weight distribution towards the front, especially helpful for a front-driver like the Versa.
What I just described to you is the perfect driver's ed behind-the-wheel lesson - one where your teacher is an advanced vehicle dynamics/high-speed driving instructor whose weekend job is teaching driver's ed. It feels incredible to blast through a turn like that, when you're moving fast but in total control.
Driving in general is fun if you do it right, which is why everyone should learn to appreciate it. Just take a car, (Anything works, although ideally not some giant land-yacht SUV.) and go for a drive on some back-roads. Get a feel for the car, see how it responds to steering, braking, and accelerating. Pay attention to things like how much the body rolls when going around corners and how much it leans when braking and accelerating. Then you will enter the realm of the driving enthusiast, where you realize the true purpose of driving: enjoyment. Suddenly, that Miata or 911 you always wanted will start becoming less of a "want" and more of a "need". Once you gain a bit of mastery of your car, you’ll get so much more out of driving to the point where your daily commute might actually feel fresh. You might find yourself gravitating towards the scenic route, you're early, you have time to have some fun. If you have been particularly touched, you might even want to pay a visit to your local car dealer and test-drive some hot-hatches or convertibles. Most of you thought you did everything right by slowing down for a turn, but now you realize that you were dry.
Now that you have a few pointers, you have your foot in the door for understanding other articles that might be a little more advanced, and use them to get from dry to fresh at the drop of a dime.
March 13, 2019
While an excellent all-around vehicle, the recent generation of Ford Explorers don't seem to be rivals to off-road rigs like the Toyota Land Cruiser, Toyota 4Runner, or Land Rover Discovery. Sure, it might be on-par with a Subaru Outback or Jeep Renegade crossover, but the current Ford Explorer isn't able to take on the big leagues without a few modifications. That my friends, is exactly why we're here right now. We want to turn our Ford Explorers into a leaner, meaner, and cheaper version of a Land Rover Discovery. Here are my suggestions on how to do exactly that.
The aggressive horsepower wars of the 1960s came from manufacturers building increasingly powerful cars to snap-up baby boomer cash. They were a time without the EPA and safety-minded killers-of-fun strangling the performance of the muscle cars. Darwin Holmstrom, in his book American Muscle Cars, discusses the origins of the muscle car being marketed to the baby boomers, placing an emphasis on how muscle cars came to be, and evolved as a category of vehicles, before the beginning of the end of the classic muscle car in 1971, where muscle cars slowly turned into sporty-looking personal luxury cars. An example of this is the '81 Camaro Z28, with a 5.7L V8 producing a pathetic 190 hp, an increase over the previous year.
Holmstrom gives a well-rounded history balancing information about the buyer market, the development of the cars, and their performance specs. The modern age is also covered, including the introduction of the sixth-generation Camaro and Mustang, along with the new Charger and the Challenger Hellcat, bringing levels of power double that of the classic era. American Muscle Cars provides a thorough history of the creation and evolution of muscle cars and is a must-read for anyone who loves power in its most raw and unrefined form, while encouraged for all others. "Real muscle cars don't have 19 airbags. Real muscle cars don't have traction control. Real muscle cars don't even have power steering or air conditioning. Real muscle cars don't run every driver input through a committee of computers before obliging said driver. Real muscle cars have big engines ... What more do you need?"
The new Shelby GT500 looks like it’s a beast on the track. With 700+ hp (probably 720), grippy tires, thicker roll bars than the Mustang GT, etc., the GT500 will be no slouch; however, it’s not clear sailing for the blue oval. While the Camaro ZL1 is down over 50 hp, given that the Camaro SS 1LE is competitive with the GT350 (which is a class above the SS 1LE), the ZL1 1LE will be a worthy opponent to the GT500. However, since 2017, rumors have been circulating, along with some confirmed facts, about a 2019/2020 Camaro Z28, which will have 700 hp from a naturally-aspirated 5.5L V8. Given that the GT500 is conservatively estimated to run to 60 in the mid threes, some extra power and even more mind-blowing handling could make the Z28 the king of muscle, given the feats of the ZL1 1LE, the current big kahuna Camaro. The 5.5L LT6 engine for the Z28 is already in testing, and the twin-turbo LT7 should be in the C8 Corvette. I expect the Z28 will have even more ferocious rubber than the ZL1 1LE, so Ford has their work cut out for them. They could try tossing a 3.5L EcoBoost, tuned for about 500 hp in with a hybrid system to try and take the ZL1, and replace the 720 hp 5.2L V8 with a 647 hp EcoBoost plus a 150 hp hybrid system for a total of around 800 hp. Ford said there will be a 2020 hybrid Mustang, why not use that 3.5L they’re so proud of?
I am a high-school student who enjoys almost anything mechanical; cars, robotics, drones, etc. I also enjoy plain driving, vehicle dynamics, and off-road trips.