Apr 29, 2011

Passport IQ... A Car Guy's I-Phone?

Any review is best done with the actual product.  Unfortunately, countless attempts to reach Escort for a free demo unit have failed (well maybe not "countless").  Why they ignore a blogger of my prominence, I don't know.  Surely they're aware of  my global reach.  Just last month a guy from Australia visited my blog, which is half way around the globe!  (Actually, he was responding to my "naked lady" meta tag).  Anyway, I'll put my hurt feelings aside for now.  So here goes my review with the limited, but exciting, information I do have so far.
I got my first Camaro in May of 1989, got my first license suspension in September that year.
My Passport radar detector  from Cincinnati Microwave bought me 5 months, thanks guys.

I think I might want the new Passport IQ by Escort.  The IQ is the latest tool for serious drivers.   It offers a slew of goodies most sports car drivers want, all in one package.  Navigation, so weekend drives can be free of map and sign reading (reading is bad).  Bluetooth, so  focus can stay on what’s important when driving, like one’s coffee.  Radar/laser detection, to detect stray radar and laser signals.  Lastly, the Defender GPS database, which keeps track of speed traps, traffic cameras etc.   All cool stuff many people may already have.  But, now that it all can have just one cord; you can cut down on accidental strangulations.  So for the sake of safety the Passport IQ must be considered.  The life you save might be your own.

All in one gadgets have burned me in the past.  My current printer scanner fax machines simply sucks at one or two of those tasks.  But, space is limited in most sports cars.  This is definitely worth serious, if not excited, consideration. Decent photos of the the IQ are hard to come by,   Talk about new eh?   www.escortradar.com has some screen shots, but nothing demonstrating the appearance on one's windshield yet.
Navigation is cool.   I’ve never claimed I didn’t love it.  I just hate the way car manufacturers try to reinvent something other’s have already mastered.   My 2006 M3 required I use a dial to select the letters, spelling out my destination.  Also, have you ever tried to update your map software? It cost me  $500 just for a disk.   Lastly, how good is 2006 Nav going to be in your car when it’s 14 years old?  About as good as the car phone found in a ‘96 Mercedes.  It’s just not a wise idea to permanently mount something like a computer in  a car.  Well, perhaps it's okay in a car that you'll keep about as long as your laptop or phone.  But it's not okay in your “last sports car."

My trusty Garmin Nuvi 260W is unmatched. On long business trips the Garmin’s voice is my wife’s trusty travel companion.  Bought this one at Bartell’s Drug Store for $130.
Now nav in concept is great, but I’ll need to know more before I put the IQ on my Christmas list.  A crappy one can really be quite  frustrating, so there are some things I need to know.  First, who is Navigon?  I’ve never heard of them.  Second, it better have a QWERTY keyboard.  Third, how does it search for addresses? No answers exists to any of these questions yet.

I love  Garmin’s user interface  and hope Navigon is similar (otherwise, I may rename it "Navi-goon")  It should search in concentric circles from my current location. I should be able to stop the search when my destination is apparent, rather than waiting to gather up a whole list or enter a city or state.  Who wants to enter a state or city?  That's just dumb. If in Ohio you don’t need directions to a street in Arizona. So what if Arizona comes first alphabetically.    I’ll be waiting so see the IQ in person and get answers to those questions.  Mostly for myself, but I may share them with my 3 readers Craig, Nigel and Catherine.

I find nav frees me to drive and enjoy myself more. Setting up a route ahead of time allows me to look around rather than scan for street signs. My father and grandfather were surveyors, I so reading maps should come more naturally.

Hands free is always a good idea.  I’m anxious to know if it’s any good. The IQ needs to be as good or better than my $20 Motorola M300 hands free. We all know that a crappy hands free setup really irritates everyone.  If  your Bluetooth sucks, people will tire of speaking to you.  For  over $600  I expect  100% of my dazzling personality to transmit clearly.   A good hands free will need good noise reduction too.  For this we’ll just have to wait for some of those Epinion or Amazon reviews.  Not, not all mufflers and motors are the same,  sports cars can have a wide variety of noises.  So here’s hoping Escort knew who was going to buy the IQ and sorted this out.

Driving the 911 with a Motorola M300 has worked well so far.
It uses a AAA battery so you can toss it in the car with some
batteries and never need a charger.

Radar/laser detector.  Hell yes.   I’ve been driving w/out one for a long time now.   I just pay lawyers instead.   Those lawyer fees have climbed recently.    It’s time for something again.  I’m in a holding off till a radar test is done by the magazines.  The shape of the IQ is odd for a radar detector, so they had to change the shape of the receiving antenna.  I’m hopeful, performance is still on par with other premium Escort products, but a new receiver shape means a whole new game, we’ll see.

Valentine did have something figured out with that bogey counter.  It did, however,  require the driver to think a lot.  I'm not prone to thinking much,  I prefer daydreaming.   If you are really focused on your speeding it works fine.   Just moments after posting this blog I've been gifted one from a friend who upgraded to a Passport.   I guess I'm lucky he didn't opt for Escort's  new $80 trade in credit. 
The Defender database.  This is clearly the future of authority avoidance.   Sounds cool doesn't it?  Passport is the best candidate to create a database for traffic cameras and such.   I’m confident they will deliver all they advertise.  Furthermore, I think the GPS tagging of  false alarms  is a great idea too.  For those who don’t know, basically when you mute a false alarm you can have the IQ remember it’s location and never bother you again.  Keep in mind a sneaky cop can hide just beyond the Safeway to mask his/her signal.  But wait: Passport's even got it's own count of radar sources now.  Kind of like the bogey counter on a Valentine-1.  So that old Safeway trick won't work so well any more.   Perhaps they should hide behind Krispy Kreme instead. 

This one was on Craigslist for $650 WTF?  I hope that's not a negative endorsement. 
Good or bad, $650 is not Craigslist pricing.
Other questions come to mind, like ease of mounting, theft deterrence, and wiring options.  Expect to mount and remove the IQ often, and in multiple cars, so it needs to do this well.  Also, it’s not the kind of thing you want to leave on your dash at the shopping mall either.  Not if you want to keep it anyway.  

The Passport IQ could possibly be something we all just can't live without. If you add up the cost of a radar detector, hands free set and nav it  looks like an okay value. That’s only if they execute each of those applications exceptionally.  Furthermore, let's keep in mind, most of us already own excellent examples of these toys separately.  So why buy them all again?  Coolness and clutter reduction, that’s why.  If your car has 3 cigarette lighters; it’s not a sports car, it’s a minivan.  Installing 3 units separately takes up space and is ugly.  It remains to be seen but I’m hoping it's good enough to become the enthusiast’s equivalent to the I-Phone.
While you’re checking it out, might I suggest another interesting offering from Escort, The Smartmirror.  The Smartmirror is a mirror, backup camera, GPS, and hands free system.   It’s cleverly packaged into a rear view mirror.  Might be perfect for that street rod eh?

I tried counting the number of early warning devices I've owned, but there were too many.
Chips detectors, Escort(original), Passport(original),cb radios,Uniden,Cobra,Radio Shack and Fuzz Busters.
It's not that I'm a big speeder, but cant resist cool toys lik these.  Sadly, finding phots of these classics is much harder than you might think.  

Apr 20, 2011

Is Your Daily Driver Sporty Enough?

I didn't think so.

You've got your dream sports car and you are still not fulfilled. I understand, let's hope it is just too cool to squander on daily driving. It could have kindled a passion in you that needs feeding more often than you expected. You haven't failed, you are just inspired. What you need is a new beater sports car, for a daily driver.  Now don't get me wrong. I'm not implying your current sports car or mine is a garage queen. Heck, I drove the Carrera on a gravel road just last weekend, really I did (very slowly).  Not every sports car is cut out for commuting in traffic or languishing in a parking garage 40 hours a week. Heck, my insurance won't even let me drive my sports car to work. Risk is certainly higher for damage/loss in daily driven cars. Besides, you've got all the risks associated with the dog and those Home Depot trips too. A daily driver sports car to beat up on a regular basis may be the answer. It will have to capture the spirit of your passion but execute in with a more abuse tolerant car.

Car's are complicated. Fear of failure is a major reason why people pay for new cars. Cars move fast on the highway and the shoulders are narrow. Nobody wants to spend the morning on the shoulder looking under the hood, besides who brings a ECM scan tool to work anyway? That $500/month your spending is supposed to assure you won't have vehicle failure. But think again, how old were the last 4 broken down cars saw on your commute?  Yep, they were all new (probably electrical failures).  They were Range Rovers too, but thats another blog.  Furthermore, that 60K mile warranty protects you during the most reliable period in any car's life.  Whoopidoo!

Perhaps cash like that could be put to more creative, sports car guy type use.

This Alfa GTV2000 sold recently in Seattle for $12,100.
You think you could put aside $4,000 a year for repairs
if your daily driver was Italian?  I could.

Why not an older car? Any chump can buy a new car. So we're throwing those out immediately.  If you're a real car guy you feed on the nods other car guys give you.  The nods that say, "you're cool, and I'm cool for noticing"   That recognition makes being a car guy worth it.  So, you can do better than a 2 year old Subaru STi.

1993 5.0 Mustang coupe. Not a mullet-punk fastback, but rather a more esoteric selection,
 the 5.0 coupe. It's cheap to fix if you don't get sucked into the aftermarket upgrade vortex.
 Restrain yourself, keep it stock and have an American icon.   This one is currently on Ebay
 for buy-it-now $12,000.

Get a AAA card. Fear of breaking down can be real. It may be an unthinkable risk for some of us, but the odds are slim even in an older car. I recall holding up a lot of pals one weekend w/an urgent roadside valve spring inspection. It was no fun, but being late to open my pharmacy is not even an option. Even if you're confident in your ride, it's wise to prepare a plan ahead of time. Knowing your plan in case of failure can free your soul to soar to new heights of automotive bliss.

Tip top shape, they claim. Found for $4300 on craigslist. For that kind of money you could
rent a car for the longer trips. Heck you could buy one each year and start a salvage yard.
 Know this,  the road noise is high and shifting in traffic can be hard. I'd take one in an instant.
 I'm just short about 4 grand right now.
Cost:  lets say it should be 50% what you could afford to spend on your good sports car. So keep the expenditure reasonable here. If you're spending $50k on your dream car, you should be able to fork over under $25,000 here. Cars that evoke some passion are plentiful in this price range. You need something less common and more interesting to drive to work. Something that can make up for the low price and torn seats with some character and timeless style. Anybody can buy something, lets find or create something instead. That should make much better conversation at the water cooler than any new Lexus.

You don't need to go too old to get huge value. This 1994 968 Coupe has 150K miles,
 and it's only $8,000. Make those monthly payments to yourself instead of GMAC, and
 drive on with a fat bank account and a 4cylinder Porsche like a 924,944 or 968. Besides,
 that tranny or motor that will probably last till 200,000 miles anyway.

M3 $12K 80K miles. Finding an unmolested one is a special occasion these days..
 I'd take one if stock. Better yet, a 4 door would be nice and less likely to be abused.

$9,000 on Craigslist. 120,000 miles is nothing for a 912 or 911. Yes, it will burn oil,
 but oil can be preplaced via a hole under the oil-cap. I'd say that if you budget $20,000
 for one, you can get an amazing car easily. Better yet, spend $9K and keep another $11K
 in the bank for peace of mind. Just don't lose control; this is a daily driver project not a
restoration project.  Usually I'm down on Targas, but not for a daily driver. Why not?

I think it's safe to say we don't want to upstage your "last sports car". So fit and finish are not the goal here. Character is the goal, a car with some and a driver that values it over air filtration and heated seats. Big deal if you're old Alfa or Porsche might be noisy inside. It's against the law to use your phone in the car now anyway. Roll up windows? Good, you need the exercise. Sunroof leaks, then glue it shut (make it pretty though). Car's that are passed over by other enthusiasts may be a great source for daily driving fun. Who cares if the Carfax report is blemished? Unoriginal paint, mismatched serial numbers, and collision repair are all great ways to get value in a daily driver. Just make sure it's still relatively stock, for serviceability and confirm whatever work was done right, or at least is reversible.

It's much easier to rationalize my next move here on my blog.  Wish me luck.

So, no room for the dog or the child seat you say? try my other blog:

Apr 11, 2011

Forget Horsepower

Winning the power race is about as easy (and expensive) as keeping your wife in her mid 20s.  But if you chose wisely, you'll be happy.

Forget horsepower. Blasphemy, I know, but after just discovering that my SUV has more horsepower, and is actually faster than my '98 Carrera I thought I may need to give myself a pep talk. I'm not trying to define what makes a sports car here, but rather simply suggesting a few alternatives to measuring horsepower.  So here goes. 

2007 SRT8
over 400hp
0-60 just under 5 sec
 1/4 mi 12.7 @ 110.7
1998 Carrera S
under 300hp
0-60 just over 5 sec
1/4 mi 13.5 @ 102
(Still the one I want to drive)

Horsepower (or torque for that matter) alone cannot explain the experience of one car vs. another. How long and how hard a car pushes our body into the seat is basically what we're trying to measure there.  But there is more to it than simply counting the ponies. Dynamically, much more is going on than mere engine output. Even when discussing relatively similar cars like the Corvette ZR1 and ZO6, horsepower alone just doesn't define the experience well. Regardless, we mourn when a car bests ours in the horsepower department. If you are going to find a car to enjoy until the end of time, it's going to have to be about more than hp. 

Horsepower is great if you're comparing the same car before and after modifications.
 Heck, who doesn't love spending the day lashed down to a chassis dyno. 

Power to weight ratio defines an experience much more tactile than horsepower alone. I'm not going to turn this into Wikipedia, but basically a light, powerful car is faster than a heavy car with the same power. Most  fun things in a car happen faster when a car is lighter. Why do you think race cars have no cup holders? Because that Big Gulp is heavy and robs power.

The common consensus is for every 10lb you can lose in a car, you've effectively created 1 additional hp. A perfect ratio is about more than just light cars and powerful motors, but that's a good start. With modern materials and techniques emerging all the time ten, but a good ratio is hard to beat and will satisfy your soul. Clearly, understanding your power to weight ratio beats sitting on your couch Googling up a hp rating.

4 cylinder Turbo Esprit. Not excessively powerful, but it's regarded as a very fast machine.
Later models offered a heavy V8 which may or may not have helped lead to its demise.
 I've seen 4 cylinder models for as little as $16K. You just need to be 5'8" or shorter
 to enjoy one.

The nature of a sports car's power curve defines your acceleration experience. By power curve I mean the linear progression of hp vs. rpm on any dyno sheet. Most people can't look at a curve and tell you what will feel exciting, which is too bad. Often a curve that escalates steeply as the rpms climb can feel quit exhilarating, providing the rpms climb at a satisfactory rate of speed. "Yahoo" is often yelled out when a car climbs in rpm and power at the perfect rate. Flattening this curve, so more power comes on early in the rpm range, is the goal of any complicated intake system. This does not necessarily mean a car will feel more fun, but does mean it will be faster. Good examples of exhilarating climbs up the power curve would be early turbo cars and sport bikes.

Gone, but should not be forgotten. The RX7 rotary motor definitely built power rapidly
 as rpm climbed. Throw in a turbo, and you've got some legendary fun. Being the last
 of its kind, (unless you count the hideous RX8) you have a pretty unique machine.

Up next is power delivery. How power is translated into motion is a huge factor in car satisfaction. Transmissions can soak up power and turn it into boredom or bliss. Clutch design, shifting, gear ratios and torque converters can make or break a sports car experience.  Suspension then delivers that power onto the asphalt in a satisfying or unsatisfying way. Modern electronics can manage some of the shortcomings of a poor suspension design, but I think we would like to think our dream car is truly a masterpiece in both engineering and programming, right?

All excessively powerful rear wheel drive cars. Each car is an indisputably different experience.
One may be over our $50K budget, but analyzing extreme cases helps make my point that these
 cars are different even if they all have similar power output.

Horsepower is a factor, but it is not the factor in evaluating a sports car. Regardless of the different driving dynamics in a car, getting a higher horsepower number may not mean as much as you think.  Hp ratings measured from near the red line may not have an impact on your perception of performance in a street driven car.  Peak power is what everyone reports, but you may find the actual torque curve unimpressive until at high rpm. Heck, many camshaft and intake modifications actually lose power in the rpm range you spend the most time using.  Next time your see a big comparison article don't be like me and just look at the pictures and performance statistics,  read it too.

Look deep into the oil pan that is your soul.  Define what good sports car performance is to you.  Find a minimum horsepower or performance standard if you must, but then move on to the rest.  A sports car is much much more than it's position on a power comparison chart.  Besides, the horsepower race is one you cannot win for long.

Do you think he cares that his car isn't as fast as the Enzo?
Judging from the smile, I'd say no.