small fish, big f'in pond

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Volvo S40

When I first saw this car on the National rental lot I thought, "Cool! Something not from GM!" Annnnnd that's where most of the good feelings ended.

Looks: I must admit, Volvo has done a good job of updating the looks of its lines to be less grandpa and more yuppie. I really like the way the body lines flow front to back. Their decades long legacy of cars modeled after cardboard boxes has come to an end. Let us have a moment of silence please.

Interior: Again very nice ... excellent attention to detail. I'm not sure about that compartment BEHIND the climate control/radio console though. Good luck fishing shit out of there while driving. The seats were firm, supportive, and incredibly well bolstered. This of course tends to give the impression that the car can ...

Handle: (ing) but it can't. It can't for shit. You want to know what's really sad is I guarandamntee I could outrun this S40 on a road course with any of the Impalas, Malibus, or Monte Carlos I've rented. The S40 understeers with the slightest provocation. And when the rear finally decides to follow suit, it does so suddenly and unexpectedly. So you go from an understeer to a snap oversteer. Despite its relatively light weight (3200 lbs), the S40 is horribly balanced.

Drivetrain: And here's the worst. I've always wondered how you go about balancing an I-5 engine. And the short answer is, you don't. It vibrates a LOT. What is the motivation here for such a stupid engine configuration? More power? No, there's plenty of I-4s that make that much HP. And speaking of power, you wouldn't think 168 HP dragging 3200 lbs would be that bad, but it just feels anemic. You really have to wring that motor out to get moving. People love to bash on Honda 4 bangers for having no low-end, but of all the Hondas I've driven, none of them felt as weak as this P.O.S. off the line. The automatic transmission doesn't help matters much either. It loves to hunt gears, and the shifting can only be described as violent. It got the point where I'd drive down the interstate with it in 3rd gear in manual mode just to get it to stop hunting and lurching.

So in closing, it's a nice try, Volvo. You're obviously targetting a younger demographic with this car, and I think if we stop at appearances and creature comforts then you win. After we move past the facade however you lose.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"Since mandarin collars are short and do not fold over, neckties are not worn with mandarin-collared dress shirts. It is socially acceptable (and fashionable) to wear a mandarin-collared shirt with a suit at many moderately formal occasions — even though no tie is worn"
Hell yes, I win. Fuck ties.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hokay ... about a month ago I saw one of my favorite bands in concert for the first time at the Orlando House of Blues.


And until that time if you'd asked me who gave the best live performance EVAR the answer would've been easy.

Weird Al

If you've never seen him in concert, go now before you die. If it's not one of the most thoroughly entertaining and engaging performances you've ever seen, I'll pay for your ticket. I'm lying.

Could Guster have possibly trumped Weird Al? I'm not sure, but it's a damn close race. Their drummer is quite possibly a deity of sorts. I think he only used drumsticks for 2 songs. The rest of the time he was just beating on them with his hands. Listen to Amsterdam then think about that. And you know it's a good concert when you like the live performances of songs that you never liked on the albums e.g. Airport Song. But then I have to wonder ... why the f' didn't they record that version?

so yeah, they roxors

Monday, February 12, 2007

Car Review - Part 3!

For this past month, I grabbed a Chevy Malibu Maxx LT

The "Maxx" stands for Maxximum Ugly. A coworker asked me what it looked it, and my answer was, "It looks like a 70's station wagon fucked a Grand Prix and they had a retarded baby." I honestly rented this car with the full intent of getting the biggest turd National rental had to offer. I ended being a bit surprised though.

Looks: I think we've covered the ugly part

Interior: Ahh yes, there's the refrigerator like interior I expect from General Motors! Cheapy, creaky plastic abounds. However, the instrumentation is very nice. The gauge pod is quite pretty and easy to read. The center console is also pleasant and easy to use. And those heated seats are noyce on these cold D.C. mornings. The seats are also very comfortable ... sometimes a little too comfortable after you've put in a 14 hour day. :-/ Visibility is quite good other than feeling like you're 30 yards from the back glass. Big glass + narrow pillars = I can see shit. The hatchback is largely vestigal. It doesn't seem like I'm getting much more cargo room unless I pull out the privacy panel. I do however like the little cargo netted compartments on either side of the trunk.

Powah: 217 HP & TQ from the 3.5 V6 which is adequate in a 3500 lbs car. She moves ok. But what you really notice is the responsiveness of both the throttle and transmission. There's virtually no lag! How is that possible in a GM sedan? I don't know, but they did it. When I go to pass I don't get that typical lull period where you wait for the transmission to downshift. It's usually downshifted before my foot gets to the floor. Are you listening, GM? THAT'S how you setup a drivetrain! The brakes are also excellent. I got so used to squishy pedals and over-assisting power brakes, that when I first hit the pedal I thought something was wrong. It was hard as a rock yet it did not require excessive pressure to come to a stop. The feedback from the brakes is confidence inspiring.

Handling: Another big FWD car for you. Yes it understeers. Yes it dives. Yes it loves to spin from a dig. The ass gets very loose in a hard corner. But oh well ... FWD is cheaper! Yay for cheap! :-/ It could be much worse though. Traction is fairly good, and it's a very predictable car. It lets you know how hard you can push it. Suprisingly enough, it wallows a lot less than those Monte Carlos I kept getting. The suspension is very well balanced.

Gripes: My BIGGEST gripe with this car was it's low fuel range. It only takes about 300 highway miles before the idiot light goes off, and the computer starts bitching at you. After a fill-up, the range reported by the computer is 330ish (as opposed to the Monte's which was 430ish). This really sucks when your employer only covers 1 tank of gas per week, and you have a 25 mile commute.


Random thoughts: So GM can still put together a drivetrain. This is good news. In a larger sense, I have to wonder if they accidentally got everything right (well except for the fugly body and being FWD), or if someone took the time and effort to evaluate things like the brake feel, the throttle response, the suspension throw, etc. Hopefully it's the latter. It just doesn't have that slapped together from a parts bin feel that I'm accustomed to from GM. Maybe there is hope for American cars.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Do you fear ageing?

I was thinking about this a couple months ago, when I realized that both of my thumbs are permanently screwed up. My right thumb got peeled back to my wrist due to an ATV accident in my youth. And my left thumb has a nice clump of scar tissue right at the joint from an incident involving a broken porcelain bowl. I’ve since healed, but they’re just not quite as dextrous as they used to be. Great, there goes one of my defining primate characteristics. Then the myriad of broken bones I’ve suffered on top of a bone marrow extraction surgery performed on my pelvis can on a rainy day make me hobble around like a grandmother. I assure you, your body remembers this shit.

Now here I am creeping up on my 31st birthday, and I realize it’s all downhill from here. I will never be as fast as I was in high school. I will injure more easily and heal with more difficulty. I am not indestructable. I am a squishy, fragile, and mortal.

So yeah, I’d worked myself into a fairly gloomy mood when my dad called. Now my dad, much like a lot of people with his years, likes to talk about 2 things.

1. money
2. his aches and pains

Sure enough, he picks # 2 and goes to town. Great, just what I need to hear right about now. “My back hurts, my arms hurt, my legs, my ass, my liver, etc. etc. my body is falling apart .. blah blah blah” Now normally he only has 1 or 2 little owies, but this list was more substantial than most so I of course asked him what the hell he’d been up to. He answers, “Well I cut and stacked 4 cords of woods this weekend, and that's about it.” Now those of you fortunate enough not to have spent a significant number of your childhood weekends cutting and stacking wood might not realize that a cord is a stack of wood 4 feet wide, 4 feet tall, and 8 feet long. 1 cord is a lot of wood. 4 cords is a lot of freaking wood. Working up 4 cords of wood solo with nothing but a chainsaw and a truck is a lot of freaking work.

Now let me give you some context on my father. He was born in 1930. Let that sink in. No, that is not a typo. Yes, this is 2007. That fart is 76 years old, and he just did enough manual labor to put your average yuppie in the ER. He could probably still kick my ass.

I just said, “Dad, your perception of yourself is so incredibly skewed, and I love you for it.”

Thanks dad. I really needed that call. :)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Oh hell yes

Guster is playing the House of Blues in Orlando next month.

Time for a home visit.

I've had like ...uhm 3 or 4 Monte Carlo rentals in a row now because apparently this is the only car National Emerald Club members are allowed to drive. I would love to give a review of a different vehicle, but the opportunity has not arisen. I think this month I will bitch and moan until they downgrade me to Pontiac G6.

I found an Irish grocery store in Annapolis and got some genuine Irish tea. Holy hell is it good (strong). After working my way through 40 bags of this "breakfast tea" I can safely say that Americans do not know what tea is.

A steaming cup here in front of me .. comforting, smooth, full of caffeine, and black as tar. :D

Work: I talked myself into a new position that actually gives me the authority to fix a lot of the things I kept seeing as opposed to always bubbling issues up to management. Now I have even more work, but I'm less stressed out.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Stress mitigation mantra: Whether or not I get all my crap done, the sun will still rise, and I will (probably) still be alive.



Car Review part 2:

I don't like big cars. I don't like 4 door cars. I don't like front wheel drive. I'm stuck with rentals for the next year, and the 3 aforementioned conditions encompass exactly 96.512375198% of rental car demographics. (and just take my word on that precisely computed statistic) The one National rental vehicle which creates the smallest gag reflex is the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Yes it's big. Yes it's FWD. But hell I'll take 1 out of 3 for the time being. So for the second month in a row, this has been my car.

Looks: Not a bad looking car I must admit. The one I had last month in a deep metallic blue garnered several comments of "badass" from my roommate, and one "beautiful" from some random woman in the Food Lion parking lot. The frontal view is most certainly badass. Seeing one of these bear down on you in your rearview, you will not mistake it for any generic sedan. And the throaty exhaust note even from the base V6 further sets it apart from the average people mover.

Power (Powah): Base engine of course, but not half bad. The 3.5 V6 is good for 211/214 which in a 3400 lbs car isn't the fastest of things, but she'll certainly get up and move when requested via right foot pressure. Crusing at 100 mph+ does not seem to excessively tax this powerplant. ...not that ... I would know about that... uhm .. yeah. But even with the base engine, traction problems abound in this FWD configuration. When I first started driving this car, anything resembling a brisk take-off from a dig would result is prodigious wheelspin and the subsequent engagement of that cursed traction-control system. I have since trained my right foot to accomodate this fact. Fortunately, this car has very little torque-steer. I would love (and hate) to see how it behaves with the optional V8. By the way, the traction control system SUCKS ASS. If you can option it out, do it. It's completely useless. All it does it shuttle the throttle when wheelspin (i.e. impossible acceleration) is detected. So the net effect is to turn your vehicle into a bucking bronco as the throttle cycles open and closed repeatedly. *sarcasm* Oh yes, that does wonders for your traction!

Handling: Surprisingly good. Traction is decent. Suspension is a little stiffer than you might expect from a car of this ilk, but I like that. It offers a good balance of squishyness and handling. If you're looking for a floaty feeling land barge, I suggest you move on. I haven't really tried to push it to its limit in a corner, but from what I can tell it stays fairly neutral. Understeer is moderate. And it doesn't have much tendency to dive. Maybe I just need to push it harder. This car does not deal well with rapid direction changes however. It wants to lean into a curve and stay there. If you change your mind, it'll treat you to quite a bit of rocking and rolling.

Interior: Again not too bad, I like the brushed aluminum accents. I do have some minor gripes. The lack of clickyness on the turn signal stalk really pisses me off. Manually cancelling a turn signal often involves signalling the other direction and then carefully recentering the stalk in that sweet spot. Climate control also seems a little glitchy. For adequate heating on a 45° morning, I barely move the temperature selector into the hot/red part of the dial. Moving it all the way results in the equivalent of half a dozen blow dryers blasting into the cabin. Maybe I'm just not far enough north, but I've never felt anything like that in any other car. Also the temperature dials are these vertically oriented discs which move way too easily and only have about 1.5 inches of travel. Adjusting them on a bumpy road is practically impossible. But overall the fit and finish is pretty good. Well, except for being able to shift the entire center console around by pushing left and right on the gear selector.

Random Thoughts: FWD needs to die a slow, painful death. It's one thing for a lightweight, short wheelbase car, with a torqueless I-4 to be FWD, but quite another for a bruiser like this. I give this car a 6/10. If it were RWD it would get an 8/10. This car offers a balance IMHO. Looks that don't say, "I've given up on life", the way a Camry does. And a compromise between performance and creature comfort that won't beat the shit out of you on daily drives while not leaving you feeling like a castrated puppy at stop lights.