And now, I will rattle on about cars for a while. I stayed in San Diego this weekend to visit with friends, and having learned on the radio earlier in the week that the annual Orange County Auto show is underway, drove up to have a look around. I’ve always loved car shows, even when I’m not in the market for a car; I look at it as an aspect of my basic love of gadgets, of which cars are simply one of the larger examples.
Of course, the one bad thing about car shows is you can usually judge the cars only on their physical appearance, not their performance or handling—obvious important factors in evaluating a car. The Orange County show addresses that in part by hosting test drives outside the convention center, but they weren’t doing those yet on Friday night. Still, it’s nice being able to see a lot of cars up close and compare their looks head to head.
Forget the car-turns-the-wheel-while-you-work-the-gas-pedal crap that the first generation of self-parking cars put you through. Via Autoblog, here’s a video of Junior, Stanford’s entry in the 2007 DARPA Grand Challenge (it took second place) demonstrating without human intervention how I want my next car to park itself:
What’s interesting to me about this—aside from the obvious Transporter-esque bad-assery of it all—is the evident focus on dealing with the full range of possible vehicle dynamics. Developing technologies that allow autonomous vehicles to operate in varied conditions is an important step towards the eventual development of self-driving cars and of course, once those technology mature, genocidal robot overlords. Judging by this, it seems like researchers are making real progress.
There’s another video explaining the technology at work in Junior’s parking maneuver in Autoblog’s original post, and there’s also a related video here of Stanford’s self-driving Audi TT, showing off its ability to negotiate an off-road oval in preparation for its planned assault on Pike’s Peak this September.
One perk of renting from National: their Emerald Aisle program, where you select your own ride from a selection of cars they have set aside for this purpose. That’s how my car this week came to be the Mazda 3 you see here. Driving it reminded me what I most love about every Mazda I’ve driven in the last ten years: their almost supernaturally smooth steering. Seriously, I’m not knowledgeable enough about car mechanicals to say what it is that makes them so good, but there’s something about the 3—and this was true of Mazda 6’s I’ve rented and my Miata as well—that makes the car feel so stable, it’s like it’s running on rails. Power was laughable in my base engine rental, of course, but I’ll bet the turbofied 263 hp Mazdaspeed3 is a good for a few chuckles.
The car is far from my favorite in the styling, department, however, and I wouldn’t have picked it in any color but black; Mazda’s goofy grin motif is unattractive in the extreme. Happily, the dark paint softens the effect considerably.
I was a fan in principle of the Infiniti G convertible roughly five years before there was one, so I’m a bit disappointed to see it get creamed in Car and Driver’s review of luxury drop-tops. Disaffection with heft and flex contributed to a third-place finish behind the BMW 328i and Audi A5:
The Nissan 370Z roadster—same basic bones—came across as reasonably solid in another Short Take. But in our Arizona touring, the G37’s logbook was peppered with reports of chassis tremors and shakes.
Ponderous curb weight is a related issue. The body-shell engineers obviously had to compensate for the loss of the roof structure, and the mechanism associated with the three-piece folding hardtop is heavy. But even so, 4162 pounds—heaviest in this group—is bewildering. The G37 coupe in our 2008 Lightning Lap track stampede weighed 3723 pounds. More to the point, the 370Z roadster scaled in at 3495. The 370Z had a softtop, and the G37 is a more luxurious ride, with more goodies, but that’s still a vast disparity.
A shame, really. I still think the G has the best exterior in the bunch, though I'll grant you the styling on BMW’s E93 3 Series is a big improvement over that of the earlier E46 of which I was not a big fan.
No, I’m not turning this into a car blog, honest. But can you blame if I spotted some interesting cars during my recent time in New Hampshire?
No. Of course you can’t.
Anyway, this specimen I spotted it on the way to lunch one day. It is, if my eyes do not deceive me, a Triumph Spitfire. You don’t see too many of these on the road these days; the last one rolled off the assembly line in 1980, making this piece of rolling automotive history close to thirty at minimum. (The chrome bumper might suggest the car was older still—no later than a ‘78—but of course, there’s no way to know if it’s the original bumper.)
It is irrelevant in nearly every way how much I like or dislike the design of the latest Ferrari. But I’ll still toss out there that I think the 458 Italia (seen here in the wild back in August via Autoblog) looks pretty hot, particularly compared to the F430 it replaces, which never really did much for me.
Side note: I enjoy that Ferrari’s promo site for the Italia lets you play sounds clips of the car starting, accelerating, passing at the track etc. Ferrari clearly understands their target demographic, which essentially = me + a whole boat load of money. And yes, the car sounds fantastic.
…at my hotel here in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, standing out among the rentals that festoon the parking lot: this Ferrari F355 GTS.
Wikipedia says the F355, last built in 1999, is “more common than other Ferraris,” and it’s not even the fastest car around—a base C6 Corvette should beat it to 60 by half a second. Yet somehow, I find the appeal of the cavallino rampante to be undiminished by the car’s life among the hoi polloi.
I don’t happen to be in the market for a German supercar at the moment. But if I were looking to drop $225K on a new ride… the SLS AMG, unveiled at the Frankfurt auto show earlier this month, would be very much in the running. I’m not often a fan of Mercedes styling, but wow, what a beautiful car this is. Car and Driver has a nice review here.
Interestingly, Wired reports that MB is working on an all-electric version of the car. Between that, the Tesla roadster, Porsche’s upcoming electric, and the Fisker Karma, we’re starting to see some electric cars on the market that are actually awesome, instead of just awesomely pretentious. Now if someone would just bring one to market for less than the price of a house…
LaborPains.org: “Ever wondered what a UAW contract looks like? Here is all 22 pounds of it (in this case, Ford’s 2,215 page 2007 master contract; Coke can is for scale and because I was thirsty). I’ll tell you this much, those 2,215 pages don’t include much regarding efficiency and competitiveness.” Click through for the picture—it’s impressive, in its own, sad way.