Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pimp my (Lexus) ride

Pimping cars isn't limited to classic Chevys or low-riding Hondas or Toyotas. More expensive brands are getting in on the action.
There's a Lexus dealership in South Florida (JM Lexus of Margate)  that claims to be the only full-scale dealer shop that customizes these Lexus cars. Here' s a story from the Sun Sentinel on the tailored Lexus rides and jow they're becoming a growing revenue stream for the dealer

 JM Lexus Custom Creations 2011 Lexus IS 35 F Sport with leather and suede.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Wheel watchers

Here's a South Florida Sun Sentinel article I wrote that looks at five popular places in South Florida for car gazing.  The biggest one is the weekly Friday night car show at the Tower Shops in Davie (photo below) where you see all genres of cars from souped up Jeep Wranglers to classic 1970s Chevys that are lifted with 22-inch rims.

Frank Ardillo, right, talks with J.T. Federici about his 1953 Chevy pickup at the Tower Shops parking lot in Davie. (Jim Rassol, Sun Sentinel / July 14, 2012)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na...Batmobile!

With the opening of the new Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, I thought it might be fun to take a retro ride of former Batmobiles, the most iconic vehicles to emerge from the super-universe. Over the years, the cars have changed dramatically as have the actors who have played Batman. Here's a quick primer.

First up is the TV action series version of Bruce Wayne's clandestine wheels. Producers used a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car as the basis and chose this car because of its bat-esque looking curves.  Although the ABC series lasted from 1966 to 1968, the car lived on. With orange and red-tinged trims, the car is instantly recognizable at traveling auto shows and parties.

A more modern and sleek Batmobile came out of the bat cave for the 1989 Batman movie starring Michael Keaton. This elongated muscle car was based on the Chevrolet Impala chassis. It also rode low to the ground. Bat lowrider? The car also had a retro Art Deco-look to match this darker, grittier interpretation of Gotham City where 1992's Batman Returns was also set.

Hollywood rolled out a new Batmobile for 1995's Batman Forever, which starred Val Kilmer as the dark knight and Chris O'Donnell as young Robin. This roadster, which also had Chevy roots with a 350 high-performance engine, looks like a giant version of a kid's remote control car.

And yet another Batmobile briefly emerged in 1997's Batman and Robin starring George Clooney and again, Chris O'Donnell. Like it's predecessor, this was a roadster with a Chevy heart. Where is that Chevy Batmobile dealer?

The latest Batmobile pulled into theaters in 2005's Batman Begins, the first of a trilogy starring Christian Bale. This is the most dramatically altered Bat car known as the the tumbler. The bulky versions used in these films look more like modified tanks, Hummers on steroids or futuristic military concept vehicles with a detachable bat-pod motorycle. The estimated mpg can't be too Bat-friendly. Where's the Bat Prius?

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Sniffer Test

There's a new report ranking which cars are among the least-toxic when it comes to that infamous new-car smell. (And I thought that smell was a good thing!) The Ecology Center tested vehicle parts such as dashboards, steering wheels, seats and other areas we commonly touch to see which areas gave off chemicals (bromine, lead and cholorine) that could affect our health (allergies, cancer, learning disablities.) Of the 204 cars tested, the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic ranked as the least-toxic.  The study's worst scorers: Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and Kia Soul. To see which cars ranked where, read the rest of the report here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

2012 Honda Civic Review: Civic Minded

The 2012 Honda Civic is a cute but somewhat bland compact sedan. It's like that so-so/semi-cute girl/boy at a party. You notice them because they are there but then your eyes quickly shift over to  something that is better dressed, more stylish and with better curves. In auto speak, that would be the new Hyundra Elantra, Ford Fiesta or Chevy Cruze.   You quickly forget, the Civic who?

I borrowed my friend's Honda Civic for some test drives for this unofficial auto review.

The ninth generation Civic LX four-door provides all the basic comforts you might need in a little sedan. This package comes with a sunroof, Blue Tooth, power windows, locks, A/C. The bolstered, microfiber seats suck you in once you plop your bum inside the car. 

The car's futuristic instrument panel sits on a dual-level so you can watch the digital speed monitor flash your speeds of 55 mph and up as you whip and weave on Interstate 95 between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Just to the right of the speedometer is an electronic IMID (intelligent muti-format information display) which reminded me of an iPhone that designers custom-built into the car. The display tells you how much gas you have, how far you can go and provides directions to where you're headed thanks to a nifty navigation system. An auto iPhone. 

The driving is nimble and smooth. You don't feel bumps on the highway or on torn-up Miami roads from endless construction projects because the car deftly absorbs the shocks. The 140 horsepower, 4-cylinder engine has just enough zip to pass cars without hearing the engine w-h-i-n-e. You can also easily squeeze the car into a parking space off Lincoln Road in South Beach or parallel park off Las Olas Boulevard in downtown Fort Lauderdale and yet still have a few inches over between you and the other cars.

Wind-noise was minimal when we weren't blasting Madonna's unappreciated new CD, the Scissor Sisters or some groovy techno beats.  The car was quiet enough to let my friend pass out and snore (he will deny this) in the passenger seat after a night out. As he caught his ZZZs, I had fun playing around with the various features. Front windshield wipers swiftly whooshed back and forth in an hypnotic motion. The radio was easy to use whether I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel to boost the volume or switch stations or by doing it the old-fashioned way - reaching the radio console.

The body: The sihouette of the car looks as if designers used the 2001 Honda Accord Coupe, sanded down the hood and rear and shrunk it in length for a Civic. (I have a working theory that Honda recycles old Accord styles for newer Civic models but that's another blog spot.)

This Civic's front windshield is slanted in such a way that you feel that you can literally touch the road in front of you. This also provides great visibility. From front to back, the Civic's profile is a clean sleek aerodynamic line. The backseat is also comfortable for a man who happens to have dark brown curly hair and who is 5-foot-10-inches tall and 175 pounds.  There was plenty of leg room in back there, which is great for long trips to Disney World or Key West.
Fuel-consumption was a mixed message. My friend says he gets about 28 mpg in mixed city/highway driving or 24 mpg alone in city jaunts. That's a let down from the 32 mpg city/highway combined fuel economy he was hoping to get. "It's not as fuel efficient as advertised,'' he said. "If I had known that, I would have paid a little more and opted for the Toyota Prius."  The Civic's fuel tank only fetches him a total of 218 miles and that's with the special ECON mode which helps reduce gas consumption. You expect more for a gas-friendly reliable car that has ruled as el rey of the small sedan market for decades.

Simply put, the car looks nifty but it doesn't stand out from the pack of more polished looking competitors (the Elantra, the Fiesta, the Cruze).  "The Civic looks better than previous models in that it's not trying to show off,'' my friend said. Overall, the Civic is a cute sensible little carrito. Great to get around the city and for longer commutes from Miami to Fort Lauderdale.  So far, it hasn't given my friend any issues.  Still, he has Prius envy.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

June car sales roar

2012 Ford F Series was the top seller in June.

Unexpected lower gas prices and renewed interest in new car models helped boost  US vehicles sales 22 percent in June from last year. Overall, 1.285 million total vehicles (including cars and light trucks) were sold last month domestically.  Toyota and Honda had the biggest gains (60 percent and 48 percent) with their flagship cars the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord fueling sales. For more information, read this article in USA Today.

Here is a list of the most popular models and their  June.figures.

Sales of the Toyota Camry surged for the Japanese auto giant.

Ford F-series 55,025
Chevrolet Silverado 33,566
Toyota Camry 32,107
Chevrolet Malibu 31,402
Honda Accord 28,924
Ford Escape 28,500
Honda Civic 27,500
Toyota Corolla/Matrix 26,647
Ford Fusion 24,433
Dodge Ram 23,951