NoOp's Test Drives

Here are some notes from test drives I did during the holidays. Enjoy, or =
Test drive #1: An all-black, and with what looked like a fine blue metallic=
, Scion FR-S/6-speed auto w/paddle shifters. First, let me say thank you T=
oyota for NOT festooning the FR-S with all sorts of skirts, slats, spoilers=
or using ridiculous overwrought design elements to play homage to the 90=
=92s Fast n=92 Furious boy-racer street machines. Nope, instead they very =
wisely built what I think is a modern classic =96 a nicely proportioned bod=
y with purposeful flowing lines. I especially liked the scalloped lines al=
ong the front fender that runs along the top of the door. Even better, it =
is a design that really does not look like anything else past, or present. =
Overall appearance, inside and out, outstanding =3D A+. Behind the wheel, =
you immediately notice that this car sits very low. The steering ratio is =
tight and has nice feel and balance. The brakes work well and also provide=
nice feel. As for engine power =96 I say it is perfect. The engine provi=
des good torque during tip-in and pulls strongly to redline without soundin=
g strained. While some would argue it needs another fifty horsepower, I sa=
y the current power output matches the car=92s fun-to-drive, toss-able chas=
sis. Demerits =96 get rid of the paddle shifters, they=92re worthless. No=
t to say they don=92t operate correctly, but their function is better serve=
d with the right hand and auto shifter handle on the console. In summary, =
in a few years when these things start hitting the used car market, the arg=
ument to buy a Civic and soup it up is going to be snuffed out. In other w=
ords, Honda, you need to build a competitor quick or your street cred is go=
ing to go down the crapper. =20
Test drive #2: Scion IQ. In my opinion, the best looking micro-car on the =
planet. Kudos to the team that was able to make it look so good with so li=
ttle body-panel real estate to work with. Too bad that good design taste =
did not extend to the interior. The =93eyebrow=94 over the gauge cluster l=
ooked like a =93jazz-it-up=94 attempt, and the height of the center stack l=
ooked like there was a mix up in numbers between the designers and manufact=
uring =96 the result the top of the center stack oddly sits about half-inch=
taller than the top of the dash leaving a weird-looking gap. Other than t=
hese two misses the rest of the interior is good, except for the driver=92s=
seat. During the test drive it felt like I was sitting on a bar stool wit=
h a rounded-off top, that over time, with enough road vibrations, you could=
find your butt vibrated over to sitting on the center console -- needless =
to say, in a word =96 awful. The last miss: A shifter handle knob that was=
loose and did not have an easy way to tighten it up, which these little th=
ings are a shame because the little IQ is fun to drive. It has surprisingl=
y good power. I expected riding lawnmower acceleration, and to find [pedal=
] bike riders tailgating and passing me. But, instead, it is a zippy littl=
e car that is light on its feet. Fun fact: Park it in a parking lot parki=
ng space, turn the wheel all the way to the left/right, put it in drive and=
it will circle within two and half parking spaces and you will end up righ=
t back exactly where you started. Amazing! Pick up the pace and allow it =
to circle a few times and you find yourself dizzier than a kid running arou=
nd, swinging on a pole. In summary for the IQ, put some FR-S seats in this=
thing and I would not have any issue with using it for a daily runabout.
Test drive #3. A black VW Turbo Beetle with an auto. Some may think this =
car=92s big multi-spoke wheels make it look like more Porsche-like. I have=
mixed feeling with that idea. Yea, maybe, but I would prefer to go the fu=
ll retro and swap the turbo wheels for a set of the =93hub cap=94 wheels. =
I liked everything inside except for the rear seat. The seat is very uprig=
ht and has no rake adjustment. If you want to punish someone, throw them b=
ack there for a cross-country tour =96 they=92ll be screaming in agony befo=
re you hit the first state line. Driving the turbo =91Dub was fun =96 the =
steering is quick, the ride is composed and it is pretty quick -- quicker t=
han you=92d think. Step on it, and you=92re snapping shifts off at a good =
clip. Of all the cars we test drove, it was one of my son=92s favorites. =
I thought it was a little tippy feeling, but had to admit I was surprised a=
t how good the new Bug is. =20
Test drive #4. A white VW GTI auto. I like the looks of these little boxe=
s =96 practicality with an attitude, is what I say. The black grill with t=
he red outline looked great. The plaid seats inside, I could live with; my=
son thought it looked dorky. This car to me was everything the turbo Dub =
was and more. My son wasn=92t as impressed and would have opted for the Be=
etle. What can I say, kids. =20
Test drive #5. A white WRX hatch with a 6-speed manual. This was the seco=
nd time I have driven a newer WRX. And each time I come back with the same=
comparison. This car feels like a 5-liter late-80=92s Mustang, but with A=
WD. The thin doors, and the feel of the shifter and steering =96 it=92s un=
canny. And for some reason, even the power delivery. I can=92t explain it=
. Someone else please go drive one and tell me I=92m not crazy. This =93f=
eel=94 is odd for this car though. For all its import street cred, it does=
not feel high-tech to the senses =96 at all! No wonder many muscle car gu=
ys like/own one of these. =20
Test drive #6: A black, bass-ass, 392 SRT Challenger with a 6-speed auto. =
Standing behind it at startup sounded like two little firecrackers went off=
inside the exhaust tips, and the throbbing exhaust note that follows is si=
mply intoxicating. Inside the bruiser is remarkable quiet, until you drop =
the hammer. The guttural sounds that fill the interior are more intimidati=
ng than those made by an adult lion or grizzly bear. As for acceleration, =
I have not been pressed into the seat like that since a ride, years ago, in=
a 502 big-block equipped Malibu. If I owned one of these cars, three thing=
s would happen. 1. Single-digit fuel economy. 2. The navigation system wou=
ld be programed for the nearest drag strip and Woodward Avenue. 3. I would=
be late for work, every day =96 either because I took the long way, or bec=
ause I was pulled over again. This car is what people remember the 60=92s =
muscle cars as being like, except they=92re wrong. This car is better in e=
very way. (Note: The Challenger felt much smaller than during my first tes=
t drive a couple years ago.) =
Test drive #7. A black Hyundai Veloster, non-turbo auto. If you want an ec=
onomy car that looks sporty, this one is for you. My son thought its ride =
and steering felt good, I thought it felt artificial. For me it was the se=
cond Hyundai I=92ve driven recently that did not impress me, at all.=20
Test drive #8. The biggest surprise and the best ride of the day -- a magm=
a red, Nissan 370Z with paddles. To be honest, this has been a take-it-or-=
leave-it car for me. I always thought the styling was interesting, but not=
great, and the reviews I=92ve read never had me wanting to test drive one.=
But this car, in the magma red and with the sport package was stunning. =
Whoever the designer was who picked this color should be promoted; it looks=
fabulous on this car. As for the dynamics, this car is spot-on. It has a=
nice buttoned-down ride and a rather tame in power delivery, until you ham=
mer it. Then it feels like the whole car is one solid piece of metal in th=
e form of a rocket. You don=92t feel any rearing back, no pause, and the r=
ear-end stays planted. Just stay on it and click off shifts in machine gun=
fashion. This is how high-tech is done! Guys who like sport bikes would h=
ave to love driving this car. And if I could have purchased the car, I wou=
ld have =96 in a second. I left it wondering why this car does sell in dro=
ves, it is that good. =20
Test drive #9. A used (17K miles) Mazda Miata with a 6-speed. My first ti=
me ever driving a Miata! This one had some mechanical issues =96 the front=
end tire thump, and squeaky clutch cable. Overall, it felt sort of like t=
he WRX, but obviously with much less power. I could quickly feel how peop=
le become very passionate about them =96 it felt like slipping on an old pa=
ir of jeans, or like you=92ve driven the car before. It instantly feels co=
mfortable, and once you=92re rowing through the gears you feel like you=92v=
e stolen a classic car out of someone=92s garage. Very cool! I get Miatas=
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