Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Corrupt.org commentary on 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid

I wrote a blog post about the new 2010 Honda Insight hybrid for the website Corrupt.org. Check it out here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Vehicle lighting: Daniel Stern Lighting Consultancy and Supply

Vehicle lighting (headlamps, fog lamps, tail lights, and especially directional bulbs) is more important than most people realize. In the US, we're so used to options on the shelf that when we see a blue-looking headlamp at AutoZone and the manufacturer tells us it'll allow us to see better at night, we take the info at face value, and buy the lamp, thinking we look cool with blue-ish headlamps.

There's also the issue of use: today, on my way to work, it was raining hard and there was a lot of mist & fog in the air, such that visibility was down below 50 feet or so. There were many people who didn't even have their tail lights on, let alone fog lamps. So if you were driving and a person stopped suddenly in front of you, you may not have even known they were there until you saw their brake lights, and by then it would be too late if you were unknowingly following too closely. Unfortunately, fog lamps are used as an odd fashion statement here: "hey, my vehicle came with these cool extra lights, so I'm going to use them!" This is particularly a problem with pickup truck owners: they're already too high up, and have fog lamps, so instead of using their low beams, they use their parking lights (big no-no) and fog lamps. Simply odd; not sure where pickup truck drivers learned this or why they do it, but it's dangerous as almost no one sees your fog lamps, particularly not anyone behind you or directly in front of you.

Then there's directional bulbs. Of course, many people don't even use them when they should. But they cast a wide beam and have little in the way of glare (when they are yellow - fashionable white or red tail lamps are just a bad idea). As such, they should always be used as appropriate.

In Europe, lighting regulations are much more strict. In many countries, all vehicles come with fog lamps, and you can be fined for using them outside of the normal use. My 2002 Mercedes-Benz E320 comes with a rear fog lamp, which some Audis and Volvos also have here in the States (BMW has opted not to include rear fog lamps in their US inventory). The rear fog lamp on the Benz lights up on the driver's side tail light assembly, so an approaching car knows which side of the car they may hit if they approach too quickly, and can effectively maneuver to the appropriate side.

There's an entire science behind vehicle lighting and its effects on the eyes, as well as its effectiveness in certain situations, which depends on which area of the country you live, etc. Daniel Stern Lighting Consultancy & Supply was recommend to me on a Benz board a while back, and Daniel has been great to work with & buy from. He gives his time via email to explain to you what types of bulbs one should use depending on your car and in which area of the country you live. Drop him a line if you're shopping for lighting.

Click here for Daniel Stern Lighting Consultancy and Supply

Monday, May 4, 2009

2009 BMW 1-series

After reading this review of the 2009 BMW 1-series coupe on Boston.com's Auto section, I'm scratching my head. What, exactly, is wrong with this vehicle? The reviewer attempts to explain but loses me:

The price. Our 128i started with a MSRP of $29,200, plus a destination charge of $825. If you could stop there, we could see this as an entry-level sports coupe. However, an array of ``normal'' BMW options pushed the final price to $41,345. We had the Sport package ($1,300), Premium Package ($3,700), Steptronic with paddles ($1,425), Xenon headlights ($800), and Navigation system ($2,100) as the major add-ons. For comparison, a comparable 3-Series has a base price of $33,600 and would be about $45,500 similarly equipped.

The two-part starting "system" is pretentious. Push the key fob into the dash, and then hit the start/stop button. How about reverting to turnkey vehicles?

The cup holders. There's a big one – MINI-style – on the passenger side and another tucked half under the center armrest. It's a bit on the sparse side for Mrs. G who's inclined to embark on a three-hour morning trip with hot tea, Diet Coke and a bottle of water, almost always guaranteeing a pit stop.

Talk about nitpicking...

So my understand after reading his review is that "it drove just great, but man, they need to give me more cup holders, give me the car for less money, and give me more rear seat room in the smallest BMW ever sold that had a rear seat in the first place". Sounds like this reviewer is asking a bit too much out of what's supposed to be not an entry-level luxury car, but a small, sporty coupe that harkens back to the 3-series of the past.

And that's just the problem with this vehicle, isn't it? Positioning.

The 1-series follows in the footsteps of the redesigned 3-series - bigger, wider, and more luxurious than the 3-series vehicles that defined a genre, especially in the early - then late - 1990s. Those cars were sports cars first, sports sedans second - the suspension & handling were perfect for a true driver's car. Then BMW realized at redesign in 2006 that they had millions of potential 3-series buyers and it was BMW's top-selling car stateside. I won't go so far as to say that BMW "sold out" by making the 3-series more consumer friendly, but there was definitely a niche that was vacated when the new 3-series came out. Thus, the 1-series - which delivers, apparently, in all aspects of what 3-series loyalists want that car to be, even today.

Back to the review, cup holders and iPod adapters simply aren't standard equipment in Germany, so they can't be standard equipment here. Not every Benz and BMW that rolls off the factory line in Germany is supposed to be a "luxury car" the way we define it here - piled to the top with electronic gizmos, cup holders, etc. - basically the "living room on wheels for people who kinda like to drive sometimes" mentality we have here in the US. Lexus & Acura, by contrast, made luxury vehicles strictly for the American market, and they were supposed to sit on the same chassis as Camry & Accord vehicles, but deliver in better handling and luxury options. This is more of a history lesson than a car review, but the lesson is that German luxury cars will always require more options to make an equally equipped Lexus. And personally, I'd rather pay more & drive the German car than the Lexus or Acura, after owning & driving all types & realizing that you're paying for a true autobahn-capable vehicle no matter what model you buy (1-series, C-class, S-class, 5-series - even VW Passat).

German cars will always take this kind of heat from reviewers because of the "you get more by paying less" attitude the media maintains toward Japanse counterparts. Still, the 1-series seems to be doing quite well in filling the niche left behind by the current-gen 3-series: a true driver's car that will transport two - and maybe 3, sometimes - adults very comfortably while having that basic, sports-like feel on the interior (a couple cup holders, maybe a fancy stereo if you're willing to pay for it). You're supposed to enjoy driving this car, that's the message BMW is sending, even if it doesn't translate well here in the US.