Monday, August 27, 2012

The fast and fabulous

Members of the F.A.G.S. from

My Sun Sentinel article on South Florida's only gay car club - Flamingo Auto Group South (F.A.G.S)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Worst cars...ever!

The LA Times has a photo gallery featuring the 10 worst US cars.  Among them: the 1974 Ford Mustang and the 1971 Ford Pinto. (pictured at the left)
By coincidence, those two cars were driven by Sabrina (Kate Jackson) and Kelly (Jaclyn Smith) in the former ABC primetime detective series "Charlie's Angels."    (As Jill Monroe, Farrah Fawcett drove the white Ford Mustang Cobra (sportier Mustang.)

I'd like to add the 1979 Dodge Aspen to the list.
This was my parent's second new-car purchase in the United States after emigrating from Cuba in 1968. My dad was so proud of having bought this car spic-and-span new. With its dark green hue and white-toned top, the car at it's time was a stunner. But it was also a lemon. I was in first grade when we bought it and yet, I remember all the break-downs vividly. The engine belt snapping off at an intersection in Miami's Little Havana. The car's chronic stalls. (Will I make it to school?) The catalyic converter malfunction. The spark plugs had to regularly be replaced. (Which is probably why the car wouldn't start at times.) The muffler blow-out. The slipperty transmission. Battery died every other year.

While the car was comfortable and spacious (the backseat was large enough to easily fit my dirt bike) and the car offered a smooth nice ride, it wasn't reliable.  We never knew whether my dad would arrive atwork each day or whether I would make it back home in Miami Beach after my driving lessons.
And finally, in 1988 after nine long-years, the car finally croaked. We tried to resuscitate it (I don't why) and it crossed-over to car heaven. R.I.P Dodge Aspen.

It's replacement: a new 1989 light-blue Honda Civic sedan LX which was one of the best cars my father ever bought. We still reminisce about that car (which we owned for 10 years and 100,000 miles but that's another future blog post.) And since that Honda purchase, my father has never bought American-made cars again. Ironically, I've been loyal to the Jeep brand (whose parent company owns Dodge.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Used? New? What's the difference?

2012 Ford Focus
There's an interesting article from USA Today that found that the gap between new and slightly used car prices has narrowed.  The article, based on a Kelley Blue Book study, reported that the window between new and used car prices has shrunk for particular models. The article points out how a new 2012 Toyota FJ Cruiser, which costs $28,500 or about  $244 more than a used one.  Or a new 2012 Ford Focus is priced $3,000 on average less than last year's model.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Review: 2012 BMW X3

I managed to borrow my sister's 2012 BMW X3 a few times this summer for this car review. And here's what I found.

This is a sporty luxury compact SUV that doesn't feel like one. The interior is roomy and can comfortably seat a family of four to five adults. The trunk is spacious, accommodating stacks of boxes (a month's worth of groceries) from the local Costco. 

This car comes with a technology package that includes a knob (think of a safe lock that you spin) that allows the driver to easily pick which radio station to listen to on the radio monitor which lists in order -  like a playlist - all the stations on the dial.

The knob sits to the right of the driver for quick access (or you can use the control buttons on the steering wheel to find your music fix.)  With the flip of a switch, that same radio panel converts to a camera mointor showing drivers a bird's eye view of the car and the streetscape in front and the rear.  If the car is too close to another car while parking or pulling into a space, a gentle beep alerts that you're cutting it close.

Another cool feature: the dual A/C controls which allow the driver to have his/her own temperature, let's say at 66 degrees while letting the front-seat passenger maintain his/her own reading, let's say at 71. The fans are strong enough to rustle the strands of a male driver's thick brown curly hair or a woman's blown-out dark brown hair.

Problems ensued with the automatic gear shifter which was small and resembled a remote control for a ceiling fan or a joystick for a video game. It was confusing figuring out how to kick the car in reverse or drive or simply Park. Unlike most cars where you shift the car easily into R, D or P with a click, this stick was slippery and too soft. I kept hitting R when I wanted to go to D and vice versa. My elderly mom who also drove the car had similar issues.

On the road, the car is easy to drive thanks to  nimble handling. The X3 provides a tight grip and soft, smooth ride. You're in a luxury SUV outfitted with leather seats but you feel like you're in an extremely comfortable compact car. Perhaps it's the way the window and the hood are angled, creating the illusion that the road is just right there, within hands reach.
At stops, the car's 240 hp 3.0 liter engine seems to pause and hesitate as you pull away. This was particularly true when driving up the inclines at the Julia Tuttle Causeway or one of the many small bridges that dot Miami Beach.  But once you give the car some pedal-love, it takes off, it's power unleashed. I've never driven a vehicle with such soft suspension - I felt like I was driving on a road made of a Sealey mattress or marshmellow. Bumps, potholes, rocks - I didn't feel nada. Outdoor noise was minimal.

Gas-wise, the SUV takes 16 gallons which can last about 290 miles, getting 19 mph in the city and about 25 mph on the highway. Overall, the X3 provides a comfortable ride with a hefty price tag ($37,000 to $42,000, depending on the trim and packages.)  It's a strong competitor and a looker among others  in its class - the Audi Q5, the Infiniti EX35. But if you're price-conscious and looking for a somewhat similar ride with fewer options, you may want to consider a fully-loaded Volkswagen Tiguan SUV (think: a fat VW Rabbit with extras) or a top-of-the-line Jeep Compass but then you wouldn't have that coveted BMW badge on your grill.