Tag Archives: Cars

1984 Chrysler Fifth Avenue

I have a soft spot for the Mopar M-bodies like this Chrysler Fifth Avenue; there’s something appealing in its stubborn traditionalism. In the junkyard, the car called to me like a  boxy, vinyl-topped beacon. I had to look while I could, knowing that Fifth Avenue sightings are increasingly fleeting.
The car was bigger in person than I thought it would be, this being the smallest of the American full-size offerings of the time and based upon the Plymouth Volare/ Dodge Aspen compacts. I pulled up on the  door handle and saw the rose red and warm woodgrain of the interior. The button-tufted velour  felt soft yet springy, undoubtedly a plush place to sit. The steering wheel was of that familiar design Chrysler used in the 80s with the two spokes pointing to the bottom of the thin rim. The shining pentastar emblem in the center made me wish Chrysler displayed it as prominently today.

img_4114Chrysler made some of the more interesting radio designs during the 80s-90s, the one in this Fifth Avenue looking slick with a shining metallic face and techy fonts. Before I shut the door, I grabbed the end of the column shifter and imagined dropping the three speed TorqueFlite into drive.

I lifted the hood which sprung up nicely; why do we bother using prop rods and hydrolics? A messy a dirty 318ci LA V8 was what I saw and what powered all of these M-bodies towards the latter end of production. It wheezed out 140hp but make up for it with 246 pound-feet of torque.

Its an imposing car; the fender louvres, shining grill, and quad headlamps with turn signals atop project sinisterness. Perhaps what really makes this car stick out is simply age. Its creased angularity, common 33 years ago when it was made, is far removed from the smooth curves of the sheetmetal surrounding it. No obvious concessions were made to aerodynamics in the pursuit of formality.
I walked away from the big, white chrysler, feeling sad the forlorn relic will never again see the road. It looked striking and dignified even as it sat doomed in the junkyard.



Jeep Wrangler YJ

Among many enthusiasts is the notion that Wranglers stopped being good when Jeep went to the JK platform in 2006; likely a similar feeling to what Jeepers thought in 1987 when the YJ replaced the CJ-7. The  square headlights and bent grill of the YJ must have been what the plastic fenders and V6’s mean today in the JK. Those who malign the JK embrace the preceding Wranglers. However, there is a little bias against the square headlights of the YJ regardless of however good the vehicle underneath is. For this, the YJ has been overshadowed by the succeeding TJ (1997-2006), yet it is still a quintessential classic Jeep in ways that the JK can’t replicate.

Everything is metal on a YJ, despite the fact it originates from the late eighties and nineties. The grill is metal, the fenders are metal, and the tub has familiar slab-sidedness and gentle curves around the rear corners. It has exposed screws, wipers that haphazardly just lay across the windshield, and the top-heavy, nearly rickety, profile that ended with the JK. On the right rear corner of Wrangler, the magic words, “4.0L High Output” can be seen on models built after 1991. But back to that later; the YJ initially got off to a shaky start in its introductory year of 1987. It had a messily-designed plastic dash that replaced the flat metal unit in the CJ and a couple of weak, carbureted engine choices, the AMC 258 cubic inch straight six and the 150 cubic inch AMC inline-four. The 1987 Wrangler looked far removed from the CJ; it sat lower and wider for increased stability. But most noticeable and what was considered sacrilege to the more dedicated fans were those square headlights, they seemed to corrupt the familiar face of the Jeep in some eyes. By being the replacement for the CJ and by having those controversial headlights, the YJ has an inescapable stigma of not being a worthy successor to the CJ.


The 4.0-liter inline six had multi-point fuel injection, and, in the Wrangler, produced 180 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. With this engine, the YJ makes all the classic Jeep noises and the torque seven-slot hearts desire. It has two leaf-sprung solid axles, probably the last light-duty vehicle to have them. The interior is a lot more comfortable than it has any right to be, it’s a sparse box with slap-dash design. But thanks to its proportions, the YJ feels very capacious. There are no airbags to worry about, just a wide, thin rimmed steering wheel with three stainless steel spokes. It has the high doorsills, and thin doors that swing open and closed lightly and freely. The mirrors are spindly, vertically oriented rectangles. It’s unmistakable for anything else.

In the age of the CJ, the YJ likely looked like a soft caricature. Square headlights are still brought against it, even today. That aside, the YJ is a premier example of what a classic Jeep is. It immerses you in an experience that personifies what the JK tries to be. It is an elemental and unique machine with the pull, roar, and sheet metal people have known and loved.


1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited

In Limited trim, the Jeep Grand Cherokee represents the best of what SUVs were in the 1990s. This decade,  a sweet spot for SUVs, was a time between the watered-down vehicles following and the elemental vehicles of prior years. 1994, the year of the featured Grand Cherokee, was also a year in which the last vestiges of traditional American luxury still had influence in automotive design. Enter the pillow topped tan seats, gold-trimmed lattice wheels, gold emblems, and fake plastic wood of the Limited. The first generation (ZJ) Grand Cherokee arose from the AMC era with the Concept 1 of 1989, but unlike the XJ Cherokee, reeks of design principles defining the contemporary Chrysler. Those surprisingly stiff, yet luscious-looking leather seats look at home in any puffed-up K-based Fifth-Avenue. The overhead console, with its green dot-matrix computer, looks like nothing but Chrysler.

What made the ZJ great was the dimension of substance in combination of its fanciful accoutrements. It had two coil-sprung solid axles and, of course, the soulful and stout 4.0 liter inline-six. The powertrain was longitudinal, as it should be in an SUV, and transfer cases offered low range gearing. It had a Uniframe design, common to all closed Jeep SUVs in the 80’s and 90’s, that unified the frame and body  into a single structure.


The exterior is, in essence, an XJ Cherokee of larger dimensions with more concave sides and rounder edges. Square headlights and taillights have a stacked look to them, but are flush and smooth with the tidy body. The Limited in particular has prominent gold colored strips on the monochromatic bumpers and ribbed cladding; who can’t love a little bit of flash. The interior is posh with the squishy flat seats but unlike many classic SUVs, has appreciably spacious and efficiently designed accommodations. The gold theme continues with a 120 watt Infinity Gold stereo.

Nearly everything was perfect about this pure white ’94 ZJ. The paint, often peeling down to the bare metal on these, shown dazzlingly bright against the cold drizzle. Doors shut tightly and easily; aside from some cracked leather, it was free of the buy here pay here aura of impending death by neglect. But unfortunately, being a ’94, the engine spins a dubious Chrysler four-speed as opposed to the rock-solid AW-4 four-speed in 1993. At over 180 thousand miles, it could have only so much life left. But this perfect example of what is, on paper, the perfect SUV has a fresh transmission ready for the years and miles to come.

2012 BMW 328i

The BMW 3-series is a seamless concoction of practicality, shocking composure, and understated style. All 3-series have been the objects of raving and fanatical praise by all who drive them and have driven them since its inception. The tested 2012 328i proves the accolades are well deserved and the ravings justified.

BMW created the niche of car it excels in so much so with the humble “New Class” cars. The upright 2002 derivative demonstrated that a conservatively designed and tall proportioned body could be mixed with precision engineering and performance. The unassuming 2002 was and is a desirable car while circumventing brashness and inefficiency. The mentality of doing more with less continued to the e21 3-series introduced in 1977. The blocky e30, sleek e36 and e46, and e90 superseded it, each car maintaining the reputation of the 3-series. The latest F30 3-series was a quite frightening prospect to BMWs following when shown to the world for the 2012 model year. It grew into an intermediate size, discarded the beloved and spectacular naturally aspirated inline-six, and threatened the hallmark of BMW’s unequivocally good steering with an electric assist. Furthermore it played along with BMW’s newest naming scheme and confusing model proliferation with the discontinuation of the coupe and convertible and the introduction of the aesthetically challenged GT. Contrary of what BMW’s abandonment of its former unyielding reservation beginning in the early 2000s may convince, the F30 is an undeniable improvement over its predecessor.

All BMW sedans have a shape and design that goes beyond fads and the mainstream. Its a far from polarizing style; its a simplistic and traditional three-box design. With the principles of this design, the 3-series becomes uniquely subtle as it it s the long hood, tall cabin, short deck, and angled rear quarter window convalesce to grant it the essential BMW look. This general appearance is shared with all other 3-series but small details contrast the F30 with its predecessors. Such cues include thinner taillights, a flatter appearing hood, and the perhaps jarring way headlights and kidney grills meet. Both soft and sharp creases in the doors and hood make for cleanly contoured sheet metal. Sensibly sized five spoke rims on the 328i are most welcome.

Like the exterior, the interior is familiar to those acquainted with BMWs, and actually likable to those who are not. The interior of the F30 is amelioration over the innards of the e90.  In a rare instance, the chronic growth of modern automobiles meaningfully benefits a car. The 328i felt airy and lacked the uneasy stuffiness of prior 3-series interiors. The obvious increase in height was a miracle for headroom, a seemingly lower cowl and distanced windshield was another revelation. The rear seating was just as comfortable as the front, undoubtedly a sufficiently spacious place to reside. The seats themselves had a combination of softness and support that reached Goldilocks levels of pleasant compromise. The SensaTec vinyl is as nice as leather for its nicely textured and thick appearance. The unobtrusive, gently curving and sloping dash is covered in black squishy material while doors and bottom of the dash rely on padded material for tactile quality. Atop the dash and embed among a series of contours is a small screen controlled by a tactually satisfying rotary knob. The trunk is rather shallow but measures a decent 13 cubic feet.

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It is while driving that the BMW leaves the best and most indelible impressions. The driver sits low in the car behind a high cowl but thankfully visibility remains mostly unobstructed and a bunker feeling avoided. The electronic gear selector is one of the best, however its needlessly odd operation makes it seem like an unnecessary complication. The steering wheel falls to hand nicely with a perfect diameter and thickness. Take note that the 328i tested was left in the comfort mode strictly for convenience and time constraints. The electrically assisted steering is undeniably different than the hydraulic assisted setup of the prior 3-series, but this may be for the better. The feel is very light but the steering exact and extremely quick; this helps for parking and slow-speed maneuvers. On the road the lightness permits easy cruising as much as it does hard cornering. The MacPherson strut front suspension and multilink rear simply refuse to translate sudden impacts into the cabin beyond distant thumps, while completely silencing the ill effects of bad road textures. This, in sequence with the muffling of wind noise, lets the 328i glide down the road stolidly and relaxingly.

Be not misinformed, the 328i is a true performance car and exhibits the traits of such in corners. The largely imperturbable ride only enhances the drivability of the car by shielding the driver from unwanted pavement disturbances. The absorbency of the suspension and instantaneous responses of the steering makes exuberant cornering and more reserved driving fluid and graceful. Driving power to the rear wheels is the combination of a turbocharged 2.0 liter inline four-cylinder and the widely used ZF eight-speed automatic. The four-cylinder churns out 240 horsepower and 260 lbs-ft of torque and is forcibly fed with a single twin-scroll turbocharger and fueled with direct-injection. The specifications and performance are impressive, but the four has the big shoes of the previous 3.0-liter inline-six it unsuccessfully attempts to fulfill. The unmistakable and undesirable baritone thrumming of a four-cylinder replaces the sweet howl of the six. The torque-rich lower RPMs and muted throbbing sound fail to encourage vicious throttling of the engine. Straighten the right foot and the car tenaciously surges forward and because of the low-end torque, the BMW moves quickly without even having to spin above 3,000 RPMs. Yet the soothingly linear and buttery smoothness of the power delivery of the naturally aspirated inline-six is conspicuously gone from the 328i. Even so, the car is fast; 60 mph takes only 5.8 seconds. The ZF eight-speed has too many gears for this writer’s preferences, but it is likely a boon to efficiency. The EPA rates the 328i equipped with the eight-speed at 23MPG city and 33MPG on the highway. In this application, the eight-speed avoids its avid and rather hectic need to reach the highest gear as soon as possible thereby eliminating that annoyance in normal driving situations. Issues arise when downshifting for hard or moderate acceleration is demanded. A brief hesitation blunts the aloofness of the car, however this may be caused by the fact the 328i was in comfort mode instead of one of the other, sportier driving settings. The brakes were easily regulated but initially a little grabby.

Kelly Blue Book says that a 2012 BMW 328i with the average of 54,782 miles should cost 21,325 dollars. In purchasing or driving a F30 328i is to experience a mostly uncompromised performance vehicle. Ageless styling wraps tight around magical engineering and exceptional comfort. The F30 carries on and improves upon the rear-wheel drive based ingredients of BMW and the 3-series. The 328i has only the most unobtrusive of flaws; flaws only projected because the car faces such high expectations. The trading of the confining interior for a light and roomy habitation, the comfortably light steering, and the untouched principles of clear and accurate handling in combination with driving tranquility show the F30 as a very likable vehicle and a successfully executed BMW.


2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata Sport Automatic

The NC Mazda MX-5 Miata, introduced for the 2006 model year and produced until 2015, is the largest, heaviest and most powerful of all the four generations of MX-5. Nevertheless, Mazda crafted an exhilarating roadster that stays true to the principles that draw people to small and simple sports cars. Lightness, ingenuity, and style all contribute towards the driving experience, culminating in a car that punches above its weight in terms of enjoyment and performance.

The original MX-5 paid homage to revered British roadsters but to the Lotus Europa in particular. Like those roadsters, and the Europa with which it bared a strong resemblance, the Miata adhered to the default front engined, rear-wheel drive format. Power came from a 1.6 liter DOHC inline four-cylinder with 116 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque and moved only 2210 pounds, creating a respectable performance without the use of excessive power. The Miata gained power and safety in 1996 with the utilization of a 1.8 liter four-cylinder and airbags, before a 1998 redesign. Sixteen years after the its introduction, the 2006 MX-5 showed a weight gain of more than 200 pounds, 1.9 inches in length, and 1.8 inches in width. The extra size came with also significantly increased power in the form of the 2.0 liter four-cylinder generating 167 horsepower (158 horsepower when mated to the automatic transmission) and 140 lb-ft of torque. Five or six speed manuals, and a six-speed automatic were available. An aluminum double-wishbone front suspension, and an aluminum multilink rear suspension kept wheels planted. Unfortunately, the NC was unable to retain its predecessors lithe and chiseled looks, and instead appeared considerably more bulbous with the help of prominent fender flares and a blunt nose. Outside of the Miata lineage, its easy to appreciate to the exquisite proportions and uncluttered styling of the NC. The featured 2012 model wears the more expressive grill and headlights, as well as the reworked tail lights first applied for the 2009 model year. As a result of these enhancements, the car looks pleasantly less rounded and takes on a more defined shape.

The purposeful interior of the Miata is a breath of fresh air in the era of LCD screens and soft-touch materials. Though small, the cabin allows for a comfortable amount of room and is surprisingly ergonomic. The trunk is usefully rectangular, but measures only 5.3 cubic feet. Similarly revitalizing is the rather quaint sound emitted by the inline four and its dual exhausts. It’s a far cry from the loud and obnoxious crackling roars and screams voiced by many of todays sports cars and sedans. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is excellently sized and very nice to grab hold of, but once on the move it communicates the cars motions with an admirable competence and a perfectly weighted feel. The car resides close to the road below and is in its element careening through corners with incredible precision due in part to its 51/49 weight distribution. It corners flatly until pushed hard, after which, body roll sets in and reigns in the driver from doing anything regrettable. The brakes are easily modulated and free from the numb hypersensitivity of others. The brake pedal itself is positioned too near the gas, and the gas too close to the right side of the foot well, a very minor issue. A clutch was not to be found in the tested car for the fact it was an automatic. Some of the shifting can be preformed manually with paddles on the back of the steering wheel and with the gear selector. The Miata’s light weight allows the car to make the most of the power it has so that 60 mph is reached in only 6.8 seconds. It eagerly revs high while accelerating with considerable alacrity and authority.

The cars rather conventional powertrain combined with its lightness produce decent, if not excellent, fuel economy. The EPA rates models equipped with the six speed manual transmission and six speed automatic at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Five speed equipped Miatas gain 1 mpg in city driving. A 2012 Miata Sport with the average of 43,215 miles and an automatic transmission is valued at $14,088 by Kelly Blue Book.

The NC Miata has already been replaced with the next generation, the ND, for the 2016 model year. This new Miata is both faster, and significantly lighter, however the NC is still an incredible car for less money. The car is a precision tool for negotiating corners and in doing so is immense fun. The strangles of incessant demand for more comfort and refinement have been unable to grasp the Miata, and have left driving a high-fidelity experience.

2012 Jeep Liberty Latitude  

        The boxy silhouette of the second-generation jeep Liberty denoted it as a rugged machine, unlike its predecessor which hid its competent mechanicals under a rounded, awkwardly proportioned disguise. Gone was the outside spare tire, bulbous hood, and four-cylinder. In was a standard V6, some extra girth, and sharp styling. 

    Like it’s Jeep contemporaries, the 2008-2012 Jeep Liberty has a tall grill and plastic front fenders separate from the body. The headlights are round, but are contained in rectangular bezels. View it from the side, and its top heavy look becomes apparent; one of the few aspects of the old Liberty to permeate the new look. Inset windows, chrome, and sheet metal bends keep with the theme. As mentioned before, the spare tire was removed from the tailgate leaving a conventional hatch and a cleaner appearance in its place.

    The interior of the tested Altitude model was very comfortable and left good impressions. Many critics admonished the lack of soft touch materials, however the hard plastics do little to detract from the interior. Perhaps the nicest thing in the interior was the thick-rimmed leather wrapped steering wheel. Also pleasant were the comfortable leather seats and the range of adjustment for the power driver’s seat. The rear seat had a reasonable amount of space, although an intrusive hump limited legroom for center passengers. Cargo space appears to be lacking because it is. Only 26.1 cubic feet is found behind the rear seat; this expands to 62.4 cubic feet. Under the floor, a shallow compartment lined with plastic awaits muddy items. 

    On the road, the Liberty is extremely maneuverable and and surprisingly responsive. The hydraulically-assisted rack and pinion steering has a nice amount of resistance and exudes a sense of precision not expected to be found in such a utilitarian vehicle. The low-speed navigation of parking lots is trouble-free thanks to a tight turning circle and excellent visibility. Wind, road, and engine noise where quelled with much success and the ride was mostly comfortable, albeit a bit stiff.   

    Under the angular hood is a 3.7 liter V6 pushing out 210 horsepower and 235 pounds-feet of torque through a smooth four-speed automatic. This powertrain worked just adequately for 4,000-plus pound Jeep, although more power would be greatly appreciated. Two four-wheel drive systems were offered in the Liberty; the part-time Command-Trac system, and full time Selec-Trac. Fuel economy is a demerit of the Liberty. A four-wheel-drive model like the one tested swills 15 gallons of gas per mile in city driving, and 21 on the highway. Two wheel drive allows for a 1mpg improvement in both driving conditions. Towing capacity, however, dwarfs that of the Jeep’s crossover competitors at a hefty 5,000 pounds.

    Kelly Blue book says the fair purchase price for a 2008 Jeep Liberty Sport is $12,314. At the other end of the price spectrum, a 2012 in Limited Jet Edition trim should leave one’s wallet $22,888 lighter.

     The Jeep Liberty is not an ideal or recommendable family vehicle. Heavy, inefficient, and impractical when compared to car-based SUVs, it makes little sense to purchase one unless all-terrain capability is a priority. That aside, the Jeep is a characterful and enjoyable alternative to those SUVs who are confined to the road.


Quick Overview: 2014 Kia Sedona

2014 Kia Sedona EX

After a year of absence from the Kia lineup, the Sedona minivan returns for 2014 with significant updates. This will be the last year for the current Sedona as a redesigned van will arrive for 2015. Despite being on the market for more than seven years, the Sedona hides its age well allowing for generally good impressions.

2014  brings a reworked front fascia with two strips of LEDs and a new lower grill.  Chrome strips, and Kia’s corporate “Tiger Nose” upper grill help bring the styling in line with the rest of the lineup.   The headlights are somewhat triangular in their shape and the short hood features a slight bulge that helps to highlight the grill below. The  sharp crease below the side windows  and slightly bulging wheel wells add some character to the van while plastic strips attached across the doors helped keep the Sedona from looking slab-sided. The rear of the van features a large hatch and very tall angular tail lights. Overall, the Sedona’s styling looks modern and clean, if a little plain.

Inside, the van has a commodious, mostly well put together interior. The front leather seats were exceptionally comfortable, and headroom was aplenty. The leather wrapped steering wheel only tilted and did not telescope, perhaps limiting comfort for some drivers. The instrument cluster was easy to read and adequately comprehensive, while the center stack was within easy reach. Controls for the infotainment system and climate control seemed logically placed and a storage bin with various auxiliary power outlets was located below the climate controls. Oddly, the Sedona featured a cigarette lighter and ash tray possibly making it one of the last vehicles sold in the United States to include these features. Towards the bottom of the dash,  cup holders could be pulled out and a small glove box accessed.


A larger glove box providing ample room for napkins, books, and miscellaneous items could be accessed on the passenger side. A small tray located between the front seats offered storage space for only thin items however it could be folded away to create a sizable pathway to the rear of the van. The second row captain’s chairs were very comfortable although they could not be folded into the floor. The third row seat was comfortable as well, and space seemed plentiful. 32.2 feet of cargo space can be used behind the third row seat, while this can be expanded to 80.1 cubic feet when the third row is folded, while 141.5 cubic feet can be found once all of the rear seats are stowed away. Total interior volume is 172.3 cubic feet. The interior was nicely constructed towards the front as many materials were soft to the touch, however the hard plastics used in the rear of the van felt cheap in places.

Equipment and Specifications

The Sedona uses Kia’s 3.5 liter V6  which produces 269 horsepower and 246 pounds-feet of torque and is paired only with a six-speed automatic transmission allowing the Sedona to tow 3,500 pounds. Fuel economy is rated at 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. Two trim levels are available, the base LX and the more upscale EX. Highlights of the LX include sixteen inch steel wheels, cloth seating, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, auxiliary input jacks, a reverse warning system, tire pressure monitoring system, and stability control. The EX  demands $5,000 more over the $25,900 price of the LX and adds seventeen inch alloy wheels , chrome exterior trim, heated side-view mirrors, dual-zone climate control, standard power-sliding doors and power hatch, an optional navigation system with an Infinity sound system, leather seats, powered and heated front seats, and an optional sunroof among other features.


Kia Motors America, Inc. 2014 Kia Sedona Minivan – Trims & Colors. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2014. <http://www.kia.com/us/en/vehicle/sedona/2014/trims&gt;.