Ford Open House December 16, 2014

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

Every so often an opportunity to drive some of the most highly anticipated and admired cars comes up. This is just one of those times. Invited to drive the new Mustang in addition to some other Ford products, I drove the approximately two hours (in rain and LA traffic) to get some much anticipated seat time.

Rain may have deterred some media, but I wasn’t about to let it keep me from trying out some fast ponies. First up was the 2015 Mustang GT Premium finished in Guard Metallic with all the goodies including (but not limited to) Recaro seats, 19” premium painted aluminum wheels, GT Performance Package, navigation and much more.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

Following the pre-selected driving route I was able to get some street driving, freeway and slower neighborhood driving. As you can see in the below video (GT first then Ecoboost), going up the onramp, the GT is super quick with a whole lot of muscle under that seriously good-looking hood. It was comfortable while on the freeway at high-speeds with manageable exhaust and engine noise.

The Performance Package is meant to give the Mustang a more sporty and stiff ride and from the little time I was behind the wheel, stiffened it was. Having that much power under the hood, you need a more planted feeling ride, not a soft cloud-like experience. No one buys a Mustang to not feel the road or hear any noise from the outside. Braking in the GT took some getting used to due to the Brembo 6-piston front brake calipers with large rotors.

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Coming back from my drive and photo session with the GT I took the wheel of Race Red Premium Ecoboost model also outfitted with Recaro seats, 20” bright machined aluminum wheels, voice activated navigation and much more.

You would think going from the GT Mustang with a 5.0 L V8 to a 2.3 L 4-cylinder would be all kinds of disappointing….well, think again. I actually really enjoyed the Ecoboost Premium thanks to it’s slightly lighter front end (due to engine size reduction) and just all around peppy feel. The Ecoboost feels, to me, a more street oriented daily driver. For the car guy/gal that wants a fun, attractive, quick and technology packed car without feeling like a track monster will emerge at any moment.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

I’ve been reading and hearing great things about the Ecoboost, but had to feel it to believe it and I sure believe it. After parking the car I said to the Ford guys and other journalists that I was thinking the entire time I was driving the Ecoboost, what could I get for trade-in on my Miata?

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I determined that in order to make this a well-rounded article that I should at least try the automatic Mustang even if just for a quick romp down the street. That’s all it took for me to want my right hand and left foot back in action. It was a nice drive, but that’s about all I can say about it. The shifts came early, for better fuel economy, which made the engine noise minimal at best. If you can only drive an auto for whatever reason, fine, but before going out and buying one on a Mustang consider learning how to shift. It’s way more fun!

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Going along with the while-you’re-at-it syndrome, I figured why not give the best-selling vehicle in America a try. The F150 Lariat Supercab 4×2 2.7 L Ecoboost took me by surprise! It’s smooth ride, comfortable and high-end cabin made the ultra-tall ride quite pleasant. It was so quiet inside, I almost forgot I was driving something so heavy duty. Thanks to the 2015 F150s all-aluminum body, I took a quick glance at the MPG and couldn’t help but be a little shocked that it was better than the Mustang (for the purposes of this test). I even attempted several U-turns to see just how good the F150s turn radius was, and wow! My eyes have now been opened to the world of trucks.

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2015 Mazda3 S Grand Touring 5-Door Overall Impressions:

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

It seems that a good majority of automakers offer a manual transmission with the smaller, less powerful engine option. Is it from lack of confidence in the standard consumer? Or maybe it’s based on what they think more people will buy. Either way, those of us that like to row our own gears get stuck in a less powerful version of a car that 90-something percent of the American people would never even consider buying.

That’s where Mazda steps in. That 90-something percent of car buyers can have their automatics, more powerful or not. I’ll take the manual version. Not only does Mazda have a reputation for smooth, precise and easy-to-use manual transmissions, but now those who want one in the Mazda3 can have one with the larger of the two engines offered.

Performance:

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

The heart of this Mazda is a Skyactiv-G 2.5 L DOHC 4-cylinder engine with Variable Valve Timing Direct injection pushing out 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque driven by a six-speed manual transmission. This engine is offered in both the S Grand Touring and S Touring models while the Sport, Touring and Grand Touring comes standard with the Skyactiv-G 2.0L DOHC 4-cylinder with Variable Valve Timing Direct Injection producing 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque also offered with an optional six-speed manual.

The S Grand Touring isn’t the quickest off the line, but once it gets going, this 3 sure sprints through slower traffic with ease. Take it through a mountain road and you wouldn’t know you were driving a front-wheel drive car. Steering input needed is minimal, thanks to power steering and the corresponding ease of the throttle pedal makes spirited drives a treat. To slow the car down from a canyon drive, 4-wheel disc brakes offer plenty of stopping power.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

The Mazda3s manual transmission feels like a knife through butter, sometimes only needing two fingers to shift from gear to gear. While I didn’t wring the crap out of the 3 at Willow Springs, I did take it for a quick run through parts of Mulholland Highway and thanks to the P215/45R18 all-season tires, the car stuck to the road without chirping or squeaking in protest.

While noise level from the engine and exhaust is manageable and even quiet in some cases, I might suggest an upgrade to a Magnaflow or comparable exhaust for some added crackles and pops.

Exterior Appearance and Features:

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

The optional appearance package includes the front air dam, mirror caps, rear hatch spoiler, in addition to a rear bumper skirt, side sill extension, a cargo mat, rear bumper guard and scuff plates that are separate options.

The Mazda3, finished in Blue Reflex Mica, looks especially sporty with the appearance package and added features. Looking at the car from its profile an optional black wheel would really tie in the sleek black trim pieces around the car. Making my choice of optional black wheels even more cool would be to offer them as 19”, further adding to the sporty look filling in more of the wheel well.

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In terms of overall appearance, the 3 is a nice looking car especially considering its large interior and trunk capacity. Two additional options I think would enhance the cars overall appearance would be optional blacked out logos (Mazda3, Mazda logo etc. ) and even offering the sporty appearance package with a lowering kit. But these are things that can easily be done after market, while I do believe offering them as options would attract a younger, more sporty buyer.

Interior Appearance and Features:

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

The interior of the Mazda3 was one of my favorite parts. The color is called Almond and brings a high-end feel to the car further adding to its low-cost appeal. The seats are finished in a two-toned light tan and black with perforated leather and red stitching (wish my Miata had these seats!). Even the shifter and parking brake, boots includes, are finished in attractive leather with red stitching and even the dash shows off some modern metal touches. Another envy of Miata owners is the perfect cup holder placement, especially for manual opters.

The navigation system is standard on the S Grand Touring and looks much higher end that you might expect for a car in this price bracket. My only issue with the navigation system is that it isn’t as easy to operate as it could be. When making a left or right selection to exit a window while inputting an address, simply pushing left or right with the dial doesn’t get you out of the menu, rather you have to then click the arrow to go back. This occurred in various menus but caused a bit of frustration in the navigation portion of the system. This may be more about personal preference after using so many systems, but I’m also going based off the normal person who may not be super tech savvy.

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The head up display comes standard on the S Grand Touring and offers the driver useful information including current speed, turn-by-turn directions and what the cruise control is set to if in use. I’m unfortunately not as tall as my pediatrician predicted I’d be, so I had to adjust the height of the text displayed within the small screen down to my eye level.

Even more importantly was the hands-free Bluetooth system that made hanging up and answering calls with the steering wheel controls easy and safe. The standard Bose speakers also made listening to Christmas music on Sirius XM especially festive after adjusting the sound quality.

Final Thoughts:

My week in the Mazda3 left me with a question I keep asking myself: How is it that I spent more on my Miata than this fully loaded Mazda3? The Mazda3 is an all-around great car with tons of features and creature comforts that I kept wishing were in my Miata. But that’s where less is more comes in. The Miata is built for the true sports car enthusiast that wants a canyon carver, weekend racer and daily driver all in one tiny, fun and iconic package. That’s not who the Mazda3 is geared towards.

If I were car shopping for something under $30,000 with nice styling, ample trunk and rear seat room, 5-doors, a navigation system, hands-free phone, accident warning systems and a manual transmission offered with the larger or two engines, the Mazda3 would be really hard to pass up.

As it sits, the Mazda3 I tested has a total MSRP of $28,385 far less than I spent on my Miata. Really, what more can you ask for in an economy car?

Motor 4 Toys Charity Car Show December 7, 2014

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

For the past eleven years, Motor 4 Toys has brought out members of the car community helping to bring a little joy into thousands of children’s lives. The event is made possible by the donations of unwrapped toys from generous enthusiasts. Car clubs from around LA and surrounding areas come to show off their prized possessions and to bring happiness to children this Christmas. Along with unwrapped toys, donors are able to provide cash/check donations assisting in the purchase of more toys.

This year, an estimated 2,000+ cars showed up, overflowing the large Woodland Hills, CA parking lot. Everything from Mini Coopers to Lotus Elise and even the ultra-rare Bugatti Veyron came out for the show. Automakers brought some exotic examples of new cars including the Alfa Romeo 4C, Viper TA and the Dodge Challenger Hellcat. This turnout has resulted in hopefully more than 43,000 toys (the amount in 2013).

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

If you are still looking for a great cause to contribute to this Holiday season, what could be better than providing a child with endless smiles and joy? There is still time to donate! Visit Motor4Toys.com to make a donation.

Until next year, enjoy some photos of incredible cars that came out for Motor 4 Toys

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LA Auto Show 2014: Jaguar & Interview with #JustinBell

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

The Jaguar F-Type has been to many the re-birth of the sports car for the British automaker. Not since the E-Type has Jaguar really produced a true sports car, until now. The F-Type is known for it’s stunning good looks, ample power and incredible exhaust note. But one thing seemed to always be missing; a proper manual gearbox. Some say a sports car isn’t a sports car without one and others lean more towards the latest technology, more recently dual-clutch transmissions. But one thing is for sure, being in one of the largest sports car markets in the world, Los Angeles will be an important market for the new F-Type 6-speed manual.

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The new 6-speed manual transmission (available in the V6 and V6 S models only) isn’t the only new addition to the F-Type lineup; rather AWD F-Types will also be hitting the streets in 2016 in addition to the R Convertible. The AWD system will be offered as an option in the V6 S Coupe and Convertible and will be standard on the R Coupe and Convertible all accompanied by the quick eight-speed automatic transmission.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

You might be thinking that with the addition of AWD that the F-Type will lose it’s RWD characteristics. Well, that’s where the developers at Jaguar stepped in. In order to keep the RWD characteristics of the F-Type, the AWD system operates on torque-on-demand principle where the system sends 100 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels under normal driving conditions. If the system senses the rear wheels are approaching the limit of available grip, the electronically-controlled center coupling transfers up to 50 percent of the engine’s torque to the front axle.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

If you’re current on all things Jaguar you’ve probably heard of the Project 7 car. Its name is in honor of the seven Jaguar wins at Le Mans. The car is a street-legal two-seater inspired by the Jaguar D-Type, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

Project 7 features a 5.0 L supercharged V8 engine pushing out 575 HP and sprints from 0-60 MPH in just 3.8 seconds with an electronically-limited top speed of 186 MPH. While most of us can’t afford this $165,000 US starting price, here’s a short walk-around video to drool over:

To help make the Jaguar F-Type manual even cooler, Justin Bell, son of racecar driver Derek Bell, drove the less than 5 MPH speeds in front of the Convention Center to show off the new F-Type and say a few words about it. I also wanted to learn a little more about his relationship with Jaguar:

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

TA: What is your relationship with Jaguar?

JB: You meet people in the auto industry and you build a relationship with some because they are just nice people, and that’s how I feel about the Jaguar Land Rover guys, they are just really honest cool people that really love their cars.

I was really lucky….it was two years ago, I got to go to England. They asked me to host this sort of global launch video for the F-Type. No one had really seen it. It was me and Martin Brundle and Christian Danner, and I was representing the States. It was amazing, basically we were the first people, outside of the factory, to drive the car, it was a great insight.

I did the official launch for them and then, of course, it just evolves. I’ve never raced a Jaguar, my dad did, but then I was invited to drive the F-Type manual, it was really cool.

TA: Did you like it?

JB: It’s always a little frustrating when you can’t drive fast. But I drove it at a wonderful 1-2 MPH and it made nice noises and that was it. It’s just a really nice relationship.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

LA Auto Show 2014: Cadillac

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

The Cadillac V-Series has been a staple of power since its inception in 2004. Many iterations have hit showroom floors and garages since then including the CTS-V Coupe, Sedan and even the ultra cool CTS-V Wagon. An even newer addition is joining the V heritage and that is the 2016 ATS-V available in either sedan or coupe form.

This first-ever ATS-V isn’t the only new kid on the block, rather its 3.6 L V6 revving heart: a twin-turbocharged engine. This first-ever in the V-Series is rated at an estimated 455 HP and 445 lb-ft of torque racing from 0-60 MPH in just 3.9 seconds with a top speed of more than 185 MPH. And it just keeps getting better; all this is backed by a six-speed manual trans! This transmission is equipped with Active Rev Match, no-lift shifting and launch control. Or you could opt for the eight-speed auto also featuring launch control in addition to Performance Algorithm Shift.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

No matter which you choose, you’re stepping into a very capable track machine. Making Cadillac’s case even more evident are these additional features: Brembo high-performance brakes, Magnetic Ride Control, various drive modes including Track, an available downforce-generation track aerodynamics package and functional exterior drivetrain and powertrain cooling and so much more.

With the ATS-V hitting showrooms next spring this thing is sure to sell like twin-turbocharged hotcakes. Until then, enjoy some photos and a couple videos of the car.

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2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Overall Impressions

©2014 Ron Avery

©2014 Ron Avery

There are few things in life more satisfying than starting up an American Muscle Car. Maybe pushing the start button of a 485 HP V8 Hemi engine beast for a week? Yeah, that’ll do it. The 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack changes the common perception of an oversized muscle car with overcompensating power and turns it on its head. This Scat Pack even won over a die-hard European Car nut.

Performance:

©2014 Ron Avery

©2014 Ron Avery

The Challenger R/T Scat Pack has power in spades…and then some. Equipped with a 6.4 L V8 SRT Hemi engine, the Scat Pack pushes out 485 HP and 475 lb-ft of torque. And speaking of torque, the Scat Pack has gobs of it aiding in almost instant off-the-line starts. While having this much power can go to your head, you’ve got to be smooth with the accelerator or the car will just take off without you. Being that the car hits 60 MPH in just 4.2 seconds, it’s easy to see just how much trouble you can get in.

While the very definition of a muscle car in the past may have been just the acceleration and power of the car, today it’s a different story, I did feel that the Scat Pack handled quite well. And to stop all 485 horses, the Scat Pack comes equipped with Brembo 4-piston High-Performance brakes for plenty of stopping power.

While having the option or ability to row your own gears never gets old, the Scat Pack’s ultra-quick eight-speed TorqueFlite paddle-shift automatic transmission does the job. In Normal mode, the shifts come early, in order to conserve fuel, but in Manual mode the car suddenly comes alive. Winding it up is so satisfying while running up against redline the car begs you to shift to the next highest gear. If you aren’t worried about MPG, leave it in Manual mode, it sounds the best and feels the best. You don’t purchase this car to never hear it scream, do you?

Exterior Appearance and Features:

©2014 Ron Avery

©2014 Ron Avery

After receiving several thumbs up and countless offers to drag race it’s obvious this car is even more badass than last years. The 2015 Challenger receives some nice cosmetic changes including a narrower front grille, split LED taillights and unique to the Scat Pack is the Bumblebee Stripe at the rear plus the badges on each side of the car letting everyone know what’s under the hood.

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I felt especially cool in the Scat Pack. The Billet Silver Metallic with Matte black lightweight forged aluminum 20” wheels and the Bumblebee matte black stripe at the rear added some extra cool factor. The car doesn’t need a screaming “Hey look at me!” color to stand out; I actually preferred the clean look of this Scat Pack.

Two exterior tech features that must be mentioned are the rear park assist system and backup camera plus the forward collision warning. The C-pillars on the Challenger make it fairly difficult to see outback, but the rear park assist system warns the driver with increasing beeps as well as displaying the actual distance you are from an object on the navigation screen. That’s where the rear backup camera comes into play, with such a large screen it’s pretty difficult not to see what’s coming up behind you.

The forward collision warning system is great for instances like traffic that suddenly stops in front of you while not paying attention. It sure gets your attention by transmitting audible sounds for the driver as well as a big red BRAKE in the center display screen right in front of the driver. While this is extremely important to have especially for distracted drivers or those who live in crowded cities, the loud noises the system makes scared me more than the suddenly stopped vehicles in front of me.

Interior Appearance and Features:

©2014 Ron Avery

©2014 Ron Avery

The interior on this car might have been my favorite part, besides the engine of course. Equipped with ultra-plush Suede/Nappa Leather High Performance Seats with the R/T logo, I was in comfort heaven. The seats even featured the optional heating and cooling, which both do the job well. Even down to the heated steering wheel, this is a great cool weather car. If you’re looking for ultra comfortable seats for long trips with a massive engine and tons of technology, this is your car.

The interior is extremely driver focused with the center console all the way up to the navigation screen tapering to the driver’s side of the car allowing the driver to feel in total control. Assuming this driver focused interior was deliberate it’s probably one of the most comfortable, technology packed, driver centric cars out there in this price bracket.

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The navigation system with turn-by-turn directions in the center display in addition to hands-free phone, iPod connect and many other features, it was hard to say goodbye when my week was up. There are many different screen options to choose from in the center display including MPH, MPG, Performance, and when the navigation system is in use, turn-by-turn directions appear there as well.

Not only is tech spot on in the Challenger, the materials everything is covered in are hands down some of the nicest I’ve seen.

Would I get one?

Absolutely! The exterior appearance is killer with some really nice touches; specifically the 20” wheels, Bumblebee Stripe and the updated split LED taillights. The interior makes you feel like you are sitting in more than just a car, rather you are sitting in a car with a much high price tag. As it sits, the car I tested had a total price of $47,360 compared to its base price of $37,495. Sure that’s a lot of money, but not when you look at what you’ve got. A BMW or Mercedes-Benz similarly outfitted would run you well into the $50,000 range, at least. But then you’d be missing the distinctive rumble of an American V8 engine.

I don’t think I’ve yet been genuinely “bummed” to give a car back that wasn’t mine. I really love my cars and would usually rather drive them any day of the week, but when the Scat Pack had to go back I was pretty darn bummed.

But seriously, if you’re looking for a car with retro styling, gobs of power, and so much technology you feel as though your sitting in a smart phone, the Challenger R/T Scat Pack deserves a look. I’d take one, but I’d like to try out a manual transmission first, please.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

LA Auto Show 2014: Ford

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

If you’ve been saying it’s about time for Ford to bring back the Shelby GT350 Mustang, they have heard your prayers. The original Shelby GT350 was launched back in 1965 and established Ford’s performance credentials. There have been many Shelby iterations by Ford since then but this is one of the most iconic performance Mustang nameplates of all time.

I present to you, ladies and gentleman, the all-new Shelby GT350 Mustang. Equipped with Ford’s most powerful naturally aspirated production engine ever, a high-revving naturally aspirated 5.2 L V8 flat-plane crankshaft engine. This is also the first-ever production V8 from Ford with a flat-plane crankshaft, an engine more commonly found in racing or exotic European sports cars. How this works is unlike in a traditional V8 where the connecting rods are attached to the crankshaft at 90-degree intervals, this engine evenly spaces all crank pins at 180-degree intervals, in addition to other unique engine layout specifics. The result is the most powerful naturally aspirated production Ford engine ever pushing out more than 500 HP with a torque peak above 400 lb-ft.

©2014 Toni Avery

©2014 Toni Avery

Ford worked endlessly perfecting the cars balance, engine, stopping power and interior comfort. At the front of the car, a new aluminum hood and fenders assist in further reducing the cars total weight while also improving aerodynamics. Where most cars wear scoops and vents for a cool look, the GT350 features fully functional vents and scoops further adding to the cars racing heritage. While this car works just fine as a daily driver, Ford made sure that those weekend track day owners would be able to take their GT350 out and have some fun.

There is so much more to the GT350 in addition to its unique heart, but for now, enjoy some photos and a walk around video from the auto show.

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I also grabbed some photos of other Ford displays:

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