Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Devon drives a baby Mercedes Sedan

File:Mercedes-Benz C 350 BlueEFFICIENCY Avantgarde Sport-Paket AMG (W 204, Facelift) – Frontansicht, 29. Oktober 2011, Düsseldorf.jpg

The Mercedes C-class brings legendary Mercedes quality and reputation to a lower more reachable price. This means that you won't have to pay more to get the legendary badge. But does a lower price mean a compromised package?

Performance: There's a handful of engines to choose from. The new base engine is a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 201hp. A 3-liter six-cylinder with 228hp is next in line. Mid-range 3.5-liter six-cylinder has 268hp and the top of the range AMG-tuned 6.3-liter eight-cylinder with 451hp. Pick of the bunch is 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 201hp. It offers good fuel economy, decent pace and a price tag that's hard to resist. If you want the all-wheel-drive you're limited to the 3-liter six-cylinder with 228hp.

Ride & Handling: It isn't as sharp to drive as a BMW 3-series. But one will enjoy the C-class adaptive suspension which automatically sets the suspension to react to each road conditions. If you put it in sport mode, or opt for a sports suspension. You'll be greeted by a firm ride that can be uncomfortable over some surfaces. The C-class feels respectable in handling and is agile enough to entertain most drivers.

Refinement: The C-class filters out noise really well. The four-cylinder emits a distinct grunt when pushed hard. You'll hear the turbo whirl when you're coasting. But this is far from intrusive and annoying. The newly revised automatic transmission feels smooth when upshifting and is very responsive.

Behind the wheel: The C-class has a chunky switchgear for the main heater and stereo functions. This whole design is to make the instrument panel less cluttered. However, the whole design will leave your eyes lingering away from the road a little longer than you'd desire. The driving position is excellent, with plenty of adjustments to get comfortable.

Space & Practicality: The C-class can carry four adults in comfort, a fifth person will be pushing it due to the large transmission tunnel which intrudes into foot space. There's a large boot, and plenty of head and legroom to go around. The optional panoramic sunroof is best avoided because it eats into headroom.

Equipment: Every C-class comes well equipped. You get the typical array of features you'd expect on a car at this price range. However, features like Xenon headlamps, heated front seats and keyless start are optional on some trim levels and standard on others. At this price you'd expect these features to be standard. All-wheel-drive isn't optional across the range either like the BMW 3-series.

Buying & Owning: The C-class isn't a cheap car to buy, but strong resale values help take the sting out of the purchase. The turbo four-cylinder has decent fuel economy so your fuel bill shouldn't be too bad. The AMG with its screaming V8 engine is a hoot to drive, but racks in high running costs.

Quality & Reliability: Mercedes has drastically improved in terms of quality over the years. The newly revised interior feels more upscale than the previous model years. All the plastics feel sturdy and long lasting in quality. JD Power surveys have been positive from customers of the C-class.

Safety & Security: Seven airbags come standard on every C-class. There's even an airbag that protects the driver's knee. There's stability control and optional 4-matic all-wheel-drive system. Deadlocks aren't fitted as standard as Mercedes are against them.

Likes: Fun to drive, spacious and refined on most models, screaming fast AMG V8 performance.

Dislikes: All-wheel-drive not offered on all trims, sport models have a firm ride, some features should be standard across the range.
The C-class offers a little something for everyone. It's not as sharp to drive as a 3-series and its not as stylish as a Audi A4. But you do get a classy sedan that's well equipped and very comfortable to drive on long journeys. It may not beat the 3-series, but it does offer an attractive proposition that's well worth considering.

Devon's Pick: C250 Sport offers a smooth turbo engine with a decent starting price. Though the equipment level isn't the greatest and you'll have to pay extra for few bits that should be standard.

Devon M

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Devon test drives a Scion with IQ

File:Toyota iQ 20090621 front.JPG

The Smart Fortwo isn't the smallest car that you can buy in the U.S. anymore. The Scion IQ is designed to compete with the Fortwo, but there's one thing the IQ can do that the Fortwo cannot. The Scion IQ can seat up to four people in theory. Being only so much larger than the Fortwo, can Scion lure customers away from larger more comfortable alternates.

Likes: Nimble around town, well equipped and easy to park.

Dislikes: Looks like a toy car, boot space doesn't exist if rear seats are in place. The stereo control is fiddly and the styling is rather dorky.

Performance: There's only one engine available for the IQ, that's a 1.33-liter four-cylinder with 98hp. Performance is spirited around town, but on the motorway you'll need to plan out overtaking other vehicles. Getting up to speed takes a little longer than you desire. But the IQ is much more peppier than the Fortwo.

Ride & Handling: The IQ is more comfortable to drive around town than the Fortwo. Thanks to an incredible turning circle and light controls. On faster roads, the IQ struggles to stay composed. There's a fair bit of body lean in bends and the front end runs out of grip quickly. The steering often feels vague and there's vulnerability to side winds. Making long journeys hard work.

Refinement: There's an incredible amount of refinement inside of the IQ. Although the door mirrors produce a bit of wind noise. Road noise is also very hushed. The CVT transmission makes the engine sound buzzy and thrashes when pushed hard.

Behind the wheel: The single stereo control on the steering wheel is very fiddly to operate. But it means the center console has extra space for the driver. However, comfort would be improved if the seat was height adjustbale and the wheel moved for reach as well. The heater is controlled via chunky buttons and dials.

Space & Practicality: The IQ in theory is a four-seater, but in reality there's only room for two passengers. The rear seat isn't big enough for kids and eats into the cargo space. So you'll have to choose between people space or cargo space. The boot is totally nonexistent with rear seats in place.

Equipment: The IQ offers plenty of kit for the money. You get six-speaker sound system, air-con, keyless entry and a cd-player. You'll have to pay extra for auto headlamps, fog lamps, rain sensing wipers and climate control.

Buying & Owning: The IQ is more expensive than the Fortwo, but the IQ is a more comfortable car to drive and live with. The transmission is smoother and the brakes are easier to modulate. However, the sheer size of the car may scare away some buyers. Residual values and resale values are unknown because the IQ isn't available in all states yet.

Quality & reliability: It's too soon to say how well the IQ will stand up in long term reliability. Most of the cars engineering is done by Toyota. So there's a piece of mind that you'll be buying a dependable vehicle.

Safety & Security: You get stability control, nine airbags including one that inflates across the rear screen in the event of a rear-end collision. Deadlocks and an integrated stereo makes life for thieves hard.

The IQ only strong points are its smooth transmission, good gas mileage and ease of use around town. However, like the Fortwo - the IQ isn't composed on faster roads. There really isn't much space for four passengers and many buyers will be scared away due to the small size of the car. However, if you desire a small car that's a little less crude than the Fortwo. The IQ is the perfect car for you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

2011 WINTER CONCERT WRAP-UP: Streetlight Manifesto

Felipe M

We love Streetlight Manifesto around these parts.  So when we found out that they would be coming to Durty Nellie's in Palatine, Pathological Hate was all too eager to see them live again.

February 15, 2011: Durty Nellie's, Palatine, IL-- This was the first time I've ever been to Nellie's, much less for a show at this venue.  It is definitely an impressive establishment as there's a bar and grill walled off from the stage area.  Overseeing both sections of this facility is a second floor that provides a good view of the action below--unfortunately the good view is only supplied for a few people as views gets pretty obstructed rather quickly as people try to muscle their way into the best view possible without spilling theirs or anybody else's drink.  Really the only perk to staying on the 2nd floor is that it plays as the designated drinking area as alcoholic beverages are not allowed in the mosh pit area.  Yeah, I couldn't believe it either!  

Nevertheless, the best feature of Nellie's is that it has two impressively sized telescreens which display the show for those people who don't want to get too close to the action.  It is pretty unique for a small venue like Nellie's to have such a feature as it adds to the show's experience.

The second floor is where we watched Terrible Things' full setlist.  Terrible Things is a group compiled from ex-members of Coheed and Cambria and Hot Rod Circuit.  However, the reason why you would know this band is because it's fronted by ex-Taking Back Sunday member, Fred Mascherino.  Admittedly, I recognized Mascherino, but just wasn't sure where I have seen him before.  Weeks after the show is when I realized who he was.  Nevertheless, the band's sound seemed to be "out-dated" and the energy was just lacking, as the songs were very uninteresting.  However, there was a small fan base that was digging the set so all was not totally lost.

If Terrible Things was a necessary evil to endure that night, then Streetlight Manifesto was ready to send us to hell.  Just like at the show at The Metro in July (of 2010), the mosh pit area was hot!  We're in the middle of winter, but the mosh pit was scorching and humid like a tropical jungle.  The crowd was simply amazing as they knew almost every word to every song and never stopped moving.  No band can constantly keep the crowd moving like Streetlight Manifesto.  I myself had to take a long water break midway through the show as the heat was unforgiving.

As far as the band goes, they are simply marvelous.  The band's setlist was similar to the one in July, 2010, with a few additions here and there, most noticeably  their cover of NOFX's "Linoleum" and a personal favorite of mine, "Failing, Flailing".  Just like the show in July, they synthesized "Point/Counterpoint" with "Keasbey Nights"--that never gets old!  They finished their set with what's quickly becoming my favorite song all time from the band, "Somewhere in the Between."  The encore featured "Linoleum" and just like in July, ended with "The Big Sleep." 

It was a cold, drizzly, winter's day in the Chicagoland area, and it was about two weeks after the biggest snowstorm in Chicago, but the hottest place to be in mid-February of 2011 was at Durty Nellie's as Streetlight Manifesto put out another bombastic show for a terrific crowd.

Make sure to check out last year's 1st Quarter Concert Wrap-Up.

Streetlight Manifesto has also recorded their version of Bad Religion's "Skyscraper."  Be sure to check out our countdown of the 50 GREATEST BAD RELIGION SONGS EVER.

Find out what Devon was also doing during the month of February as he covered the 2011 Chicago Auto Show.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Felipe M.

If you don't know about Thursday and their album Full Collapse, then what are you waiting for?  It wasn't a very popular mainstream album and it did not make a dent in the charts back in 2001 (reaching #178 on the Billboard charts), but the imprint that it has left in the world of music is very prevalent, as it has become a fan favorite in the punk/hardcore/underground scene and has influenced many bands that followed its release.  It is truly a landmark of a gem in independent music.  

So earlier this year, Thursday had announced that they would be touring in support of Underoath where they would play Full Collapse IN ITS ENTIRETY!  I so happened to be there on February 9, 2011 at the House of Blues, Chicago, Illinois.

These old songs are still amazing and they have not aged a bit.  They're as cutting edge as anything that's being released by other bands today.  Thursday playing them live just justifies and confirms that belief.  Another thing that stuck out as these memorable songs were being played live is the fact that, as intense as these songs are, they make you move.  I'm not much of a dancer, but something in these songs just made me want to dance and as I was looking at the crowd, I wasn't alone in this thinking.  I mean, even the song "Concealer," which starts out as a simple head-bobbing tune, eventually becomes a song that you want to dance to.  

The crowd was pretty tamed, but that's at any Thursday show.  Thursday is the only hardcore act where the entire crowd is mesmerized by the band's lead singer (in this case, Geoff Rickly) as there are no cirlce pits, no moshing, and no need for elbows to be up at all times.  It is truly a sight to behold as the entire crowd is usually looking at the stage in awe.  

The band finished their set with a new song from their new album No Devolucion, "Turnpike Divides."  The song was so good, that I had made up my mind that I would go ahead and buy the album on its release date without listening to the other tracks (very rarely do I buy an album without listening to a few tracks first).  

This album will always have a special place for me and I was glad that Thursday decided to pay homage to it.  Outside of the very popular "Understanding in a Car Crash," the other songs are not played very regularly as they should be.  But "Autobiography of a Nation" ("WRITE THESE WORDS BACK DOWN!"), "Cross Out the Eyes," and "Paris in Flames" never gets old ; Hearing songs "A Hole in the World," "I Am the Killer," "Standing on the Edge of Summer," "Wind-Up," and "How Long Is the Night" for the first time live was definitely a treat.  

I wish more bands had the ability to play the 10 year anniversary of any albums.  Albums released in 2001 that I wish would be played live in their entirety are as follows:

To read the 50 GREATEST BAD RELIGION SONGS OF ALL TIME from the very beginning, click here.

Feel free to listen to the greatest NEW YEAR'S EVE song of all time, Thursday's "Jet Black New Year."

Also, check out Devon's interpretation of Thursday's "Autumn Leaves Revisited," along with other Song Facts

Monday, September 26, 2011

Devon hops in the smallest minivan you can buy

The Mazda 5 is living proof that you don't need a large 4x4 to carry a family around in comfort. It's dinky size means that it's a easy to park and good on gas. All while offering a clever six passenger configuration. In the land of the large 4x4, can Mazda convince buyers going small is all the rage?

Likes: Decent amount of space in the cabin, tons of equipment standard for such a low asking price, low running costs and impressive handling.

Dislikes: Firm ride over some surfaces, interior plastics don't feel up to par, may prove to be too small for some families.

Performance: The Mazda 5 comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 160hp. It does a good job of pulling the 5 around town and on the motorway. Fuel economy is decent too. It's not the sportiest engine, and you'll have to rev it hard to get up to speed with the automatic. We'd stick with the base trim for the manual gearbox.

Ride & Handling: The 5 can handle pretty well for a car of its size and weight. However, the trade-off is the ride is a little too firm for some taste. The pay off is solid body control, which is combined with impressive grip and quick steering. This makes the 5 more engaging to drive than other MPVs.

Refinement: The 2.4-liter engine operates very smoothly. There's some wind noise when you pick up speed on the motorway, road noise however is pretty much subdued. All six passengers will love how refined the cabin feels. It's airy and comfortable on long journeys.

Behind the wheel: There's plenty of adjustments for the steering wheel and front seats, so drivers can get comfortable easily. All-round visibility is pretty good thanks to a high driving position, and many functions that can be controlled by the buttons on the steering wheel. The stereo controls on the dash are a bit confusing.

Space & Practicality: The 5 can carry six passengers in somewhat comfort. The second row passengers will feel comfortable, while third row passengers will feel a bit cramped. Plus the boot isn't massive with all the seats up. You'll have to fold down the third row seat to carry anything more than a few suit cases. Headroom and legroom is generous to all but the third row. Which should be left to the kids.

Equipment: The Mazda 5 comes well equipped. Even the base model will satisfy most buyers. Alloy wheels, climate control, stability control and six speaker sound system come standard. Top of the range adds Xenon headlamps, rain sensing wipers, heated front seats and moonroof.

Buying & Owning: The Mazda 5 comes with a low asking price. You'll have to step up to the higher trims to really get the toys that you want. Resale value is strong so your investments will be well protected. Discounts are available, but aren't anything to brag about. Running costs should be low thanks to decent fuel economy.

Quality & Reliability: Mazda's record on mechanical reliability is pretty impressive. So you shouldn't have any worries on that score. The cabin has a solid feel that inspires confidence that the car will last. While many rivals offer classy, soft touch plastics. The 5's is hard, scratchy and rather dour.

Safety & Security: The Mazda 5 comes with advanced front, side impact airbags and side-impact curtain airbags. Traction control, and stability program are standard as well as sophisticated braking system to help you avoid trouble. On the security, all 5's come with both alarm and engine immobilizer.

The Mazda 5 doesn't look like your conventional minivan. It's smaller than a conventional minivan, but that doesn't mean it's not as good. You get a six passenger seating configuration, sliding doors and a long list of features that justify the low asking price. Although the 5 maybe too small for some families, its still a great MPV all round. With responsive handling and low running cost takes the sting out of owning one. Helping the Mazda 5 one attractive offer too good not to consider.

Devon M 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Devon goes Italian Retro

Likes: Decent fuel economy, fun to drive around town, stylish inside out, small size means parking is a breeze.

Dislikes: The ride is jittery and handling isn't up to par with the Mini Cooper, limited boot space and no turbo engine yet available.

Urban city cars are becoming more and more trendy. There's the Smart Fortwo, Mini Cooper and now the Fiat 500. A retro throwback of the original 500. It's small, dinky and cheeky looking. But is that enough to win over hipsters and fashionettes?

Performance: There's only one engine available for the 500 and that's a 1.4-liter four-cylinder with 100hp. It may not seem like a lot, but the 500 is small. So there's plenty of pep around town. On the highway you may struggle to get up to speed, and the automatic gearbox hesitates off line. Making power delivery not as smooth as you'd expect.

Ride & handling: The 500 is a doddle to drive. It's nimble and quite fun to toss around in urban areas. The steering is light, and makes parking a breeze. Outside of the city limits, the 500 doesn't feel as composed as a Mini. Handling isn't as sharp, and the ride feels jittery.

Refinement: Living with the 500 won't be too tiresome. Although wind and road noise is evident when you pick up speed. However, it never gets to an irritating level. The engine is smooth and the transmission once up to speed works seamlessly with the engine.

Behind the wheel: There's no reach adjustments for the steering wheel, but there is height adjustments to help you get comfortable. The simple design of the dash means its easy to use than a knife and fork, and there's all the style you could ever ask for. Look down, and some of the retro appeal goes away. Some of the plastics look cheap, and cost cutting. But you can customize the interior color and styling combinations to suit you.

Space & Practicality: The 500 is smaller than the Mini and it has a bigger boot, but the Mini can fit four more comfortably than the 500. Those in the front seat will be comfortable. There's plenty of head and legroom for front passengers, while the rear seats are best left for kids.

Equipment: Entry-level 500s get air-con, cd-player and electric mirrors. You'll have to step up to the sport trim to get alloy wheels and sports suspension. Top of the range offers glass roof, leather wrapped steering wheel and handsfree Bluetooth connectivity for your mobile device.

Buying & Owning: The 500 seems well priced among its rival the Mini Cooper. Even though the turbo form isn't available yet, you can still get a nice 500 for a decent price. Fuel economy is good, so your running costs will be low. Discounts are hard to come-by due to limited supply. Resale value will be high, as the demand for the 500 has exceeded Fiat's expectations.

Quality & Reliability: The plastics used in the cabin feel upscale. They feel sturdy, and match the retro look. Fiat doesn't enjoy the best reliability record, and the 500 has been rated a mere average by JD Power Customer satisfaction survey. With many complaints of the Blue&Me hands-free system and windscreen wipers malfunctioning.

Safety & Security: The 500 comes with front, side, curtain airbags as well as knee airbags. Traction control, anti-lock-brakes all come standard across the range. Deadlocks and alarm system come standard as well to keep theft at bay.

The 500 is trendy and stylish. It's small size makes it a doddle to drive around urban areas. Venture outside of the city limits and the 500 struggles to stay composed. The Mini is a better car all round. It's stylish, fun to drive and a hoot to kick into corners thanks to the BMW tuned suspension. Unlike the Mini, the 500 is cheaper to buy and offers more boot space in a tiny package. If your driving evolves mostly around the city the 500 is for you. Anything more, we'd say stick with the Mini.

Devon M 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Devon test drives a 5-series with split personality

The 5-series Gran Turismo is supposed to be a real Jack of all trade. It's a hatchback with 4x4 driving position and executive saloon interior space. Not to mention the splash of BMW dynamics, but in the times with gas prices rising will BMW be able to convince buyers to consider one?

Likes: Luxurious interior, plenty of space for four, clever tailgate design, effortless engines.

Dislikes: Quite expensive to buy and running costs are high, not as sharp to drive as a BMW should be.

Performance: There are two engines available for the 5-series GT. A 3-liter turbocharged six-cylinder with 300hp and a 4-liter turbocharged eignt cylinder with 400hp. Both engines offer effortless pace and are loads of fun to drive. Picking between the two however depends on the depths of your wallet. All-wheel-drive is optional, too.

Ride & Handling: The 5-series has a smooth ride, but handling isn't as sharp as you'd expect from a BMW. Steering is sharp and the response is great. Both engines provide a high degree of passing power. Put your foot down and you'll feel the turbo kick in. It feels like the 5-series GT is better suited for motorway driving than twisty narrow roads.

Refinement: Wind and road noise are both well suppressed. You'll enjoy a smooth quiet drive in the city and on the motorway. Both engines are hushed at most speeds, the eight-cylinder engine has a lovely grunt when revved hard.

Behind the wheel: There's no doubt that you'll find a driving position that suits you best. The steering wheel adjusts for reach and height, as well as the driver's seat. The dashboard is your typical minimalistic BMW design. Everything feels high quality, but is user friendly and easy to nagivate. However, the fidly iDrive is best avoided.

Space & Practicality: The 5-series GT is strictly a four-seater vehicle. The driver and front passenger will get comfortable easily, and so will rear passengers. The boot isn't massive, but it offers a quirky trick up its sleeve. The trunk can be opened like a saloon, or a hatchback for added versatility. For the price however, we don't think it's really worth paying the premium.

Equipment: The 5-series GT comse well equipped. Even the base model comes with Xenon-headlamps, panorama glass roof, keyless start and parking sensors. You'll need the parking sensors because of the small rear windscreen. This leaves you with big blind spots for merging and parking.

Buying & Owning: The high asking price says it all. It's not cheap, and you'll need deep pockets for the running costs. The turbo six-cylinder returns 30 miles to the gallon on the highway. Discounts are available but not huge, and resale value should prove to be strong.

Quality & Reliability: The interior feels classy and well put together. The materials used feel sturdy and have a long lasting look and feel. Reliability should be good as with all BMWs. However, reliability of the electronics long-term should be a bit of a worry.

Safety & Security: The 5-series GT comes with side-curtain airbags, side impact airbags, traction control and anti-lock-brakes all standard across the range. An engine immobiliser and deadlocks are standard, however an alarm system is optional.

The 5-series GT is like no other car on the road. You may be a little disappointed at its on road dynamics. It doesn't really feel as sharp as a BMW should, and the price is quite high for what it is. There are luxury 4x4s that are cheaper to buy and cheaper to run. So is it a real Jack of all trades? Well it offers decent space for four passengers, and the boot is clever in design. But it fails to be a real luxury 4x4 alternate, and the price is just too high to justify.

Devon M 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Devon figures out the Cube of Nissan

The Nissan Cube is a funky little hatchback that's been sold in Japan for years. It's not the most stylish of Nissan cars, but it surely does stand out. With rivals from Kia and Scion, will the Nissan Cube manage to keep up? Or will it be another case of all style and no substance?

Likes: Roomy interior, generous kit, low running costs, distinctly designed inside out.

Dislikes: Sloppy handling, sluggish engine, odd-ball styling, too much wind noise on the motorway.

Performance: There's only one engine available for the Cube. It's a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 122hp, although the engine is fuel efficient. It doesn't feel up for the job. It offers decent pace around town, but on faster paced roads you'll struggle to get up to speed. The CVT-transmission really does bring the buzz out of the engine, and often robs you off valuable revs when you need it most.

Ride & handling: The Cube feels comfortable because the suspension is set towards comfort, so there's plenty of body-roll in corners. You'll think the car wasn't attached to its chassis. On the motorway, you'll often feel like you're being blown about by cross winds due to the tall body.

Refinement: The cabin is roomy and airy, with very little road noise. Wind noise however will be an issue. The Cube's tall body makes it as aerodynamic as a tower block. So wind noise rushes into the cabin at high levels. The CVT transmission brings the buzz out of the engine. This makes long distance driving a bit tiresome.

Behind the wheel: The front seats are comfortable, but they lack lateral support. The dashboard is easy to navigate. Everything feels user friendly. Forward and rear visibility will be an issue. You'll feel like the windscreen is miles away from you, and those thick B-pillars create massive blind spots.

Space & Practicality: There's plenty of head and legroom in both the front seats and the rear seats. The tall body does give you an airy feel in the cabin. The seats fold down 60/40 to increase cargo space. While the boot isn't massive, it's awkward shape makes getting things in and out a breeze.

Equipment: The Nissan Cube comes well equipped. The base trim comes with air-con, cd-player, 6-way adjustable driver seat and a nifty trip computer. Top of the range models add automatic headlamps, sporty body-kit, and navigation system.

Buying & Owning: The Nissan Cube comes with a low asking price. It's not the most stylish car on the block, but it does offer loads of kit for the money. Discounts are available, and resale value should be good. Running costs are low too, thanks to decent fuel economy.

Quality & reliability: The interior feels well put together. Many plastics feel sturdy and long lasting. Nissan has a solid reliability record. The Nissan Cube should prove to be just as reliable.

Safety & Security: The Cube offers side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control all standard, even on the base trim. Deadlocks, engine immobiliser and an alarm are standard across the range to keep theft at bay.

The Nissan Cube isn't the most stylish car on the block. The interior is roomy, and the kit is generous for the money. However, the Cube's handling is sloppy. The engine isn't really up for the job, and there's too much wind noise on the motorway. It may seem like the Cube is all style and no substance. Even with all the negatives, the Cube still has a market for those who want something out side of the box. Before you consider a Cube however, we highly suggest you look at its rivals first. They're priced the same, but exceed in what the Cube falls short in.

Devon M 

Devon test drives a Mazda family car

When the Mazda 6 was first introduced, it was seen as the sports sedan among family cars. It was stylish, sporty and still had the ability of carrying a small family and their luggage. The new Mazda 6 is bigger, roomier and more practical than the previous generation. Does this mean the Mazda 6 has finally grown up?

Likes: More fun to drive than rivals, roomy interior with a massive boot, large equipment level and sporty exterior looks.

Dislikes: Not as sporty as previous form, some interior trim bits feel cheap, no more wagon option.

Performance: There are two engines available for the Mazda 6. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 170hp, and a 3.7-liter six-cylinder with 272hp. Pick of the bunch is the base four-cylinder engine. It's fuel efficient and is very flexible. The six-cylinder is smooth, but commands a premium price.

Ride & Handling: The Mazda 6 has grown a few inches in length, but the sporty nature is still there. The 6 grips really well, and the steering is light yet precise. The ride isn't as comfortable as you might expect, but it's far from uncomfortable.

Refinement: The 6 is a relaxed quiet cruiser. Refinement isn't class-leading, but it's far from cheap. You'll notice a bit of wind noise around the door mirrors, and there's some road noise over rough surfaces. The engines are both very smooth.

Behind the wheel: The 6's cabin feels sporty thanks to the circular air vents and splashes of metallic trim. The dash is user-friendly, although the heater controls are separated from the panel that display their settings. Forward visibility is good, and both the driver seat and steering wheel adjust for reach and height.

Space & Practicality: Front passengers will find the 6 is quite massive. Rear passengers will also feel the same way. There's plenty of head and leg room to go round. The boot also offers tons of space, and the rear seat folds down flat to offer even more space.

Equipment: The base trim comes well equipped. You'll get central locking, air-con, cruise control and traction control. Top of the range trims offer xenon headlamps, back-up camera, dual-zone climate control and blind spot monitoring system.

Buying & Owning: The 6 is priced well among its rivals. You get plenty of kit for the money, and your fuel bill will be low if you stick with the four-cylinder engine. Resale value is strong, and discounts is offered but not anything fantastic.

Quality & reliability: The interior feels like a mixed bag, some plastics look stylish and hardwearing. In some areas though, the plastics feel cheap to the touch. Reliability shouldn't be a worry, as Mazda's reliability record is spotless and the 6 has been rated high in its class.

Safety & Security: Six-airbags, traction control, and anti-lock brakes are all standard across the range. Deadlocks, engine immobiliser and a top-notch alarm make life difficult for thieves.

The Mazda 6 feels like a family car. The sporty dynamics are still there, but the appeal is more grown up. This isn't a bad thing however, the 6 has to compete with the likings of Honda and Toyota. Both offer cars that are popular in the the mid-sized family sedan segment. However, if you want a splash of sportiness, refinement and a more engaging drive. The Mazda 6 is the perfect car for you. It's low base price, large kit level and roomy interior volume makes it a car well worth every cent.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Devon proves BMW does build excellent wagons too!

BMW is known for their big saloon cars and sports activity vehicles. Very little people know that BMW can also make a proper wagon. The 3 series touring is one of those rare vehicles that you'll either hate or love. It's practical, roomy and offers loads of versatility bundled up in one handsome package. But is this enough to lure the wagon hating U.S. buyers?

Likes: BMW road manners, fun to drive factor, minimalistic approach to the interior, nice roomy boot.

Dislikes: No turbo-diesel, can get expensive with options.

Performance: The 3-series only comes in one engine, it's a smooth 3-liter six-cylinder with 230hp. There's plenty of pull, and fuel economy is decent. Some may wish the 3-liter turbocharged six-cylinder with 300hp, or turbo-diesel with 265hp were offered. But keep in mind, the next generation 3-series will arrive in the US in 2013. So maybe there will be a diesel offered in that variation.

Ride & Handling: The 3-series is a driver's car. Whether you choose all-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive is a mere matter of taste. The all-wheel-drive version is the more sensible of the two, but the rear wheel-drive is a real hoot to drive on twisty narrow roads. The 3-series touring has excellent body control, tenacious grip and communicative steering that feels precise.

Refinement: The 3 Series is a quiet car and makes long-distant driving comfortable. The six-cylinder engine operates smoothly, but a turbocharged engine will make the 3 a little more fun to drive. However, the engine it has is simply well made. So there really isn't much to complain about it. The suspension copes well even on some of the roughest surfaces, wind noise is well suppressed on the motorway.

Behind the wheel: BMW has a minimalistic approach to interior designs. It's luxurious looking, but it's not as flashy as an Audi. If you option for the iDrive system, you'll have a distracting and confusing to operate navigation system. It takes a little practice to get used. The driver seat is comfortable, and offers plenty of adjustment to get comfortable. The steering wheel adjust for reach and height as well.

Space & Practicality: Four passengers will fit in the cabin comfortably, a third person in the rear seat will be pushing it. The boot isn't as impressive as a Volkswagen Jetta wagon or Audi A4 Avant. However, you do get underfloor storage and a rear screen that opens separately from the tailgate.

Equipment: There's only two variations of the 3-series wagon. Both offer the same equipment. Only real difference is one  has rear-wheel-drive and the other has all-wheel-drive. You'll get keyless start, leather seats, climate control, rain sensing wipers and Bluetooth connectivity. If you stay away from the options list, you'll walk away with a nice 3-series wagon at a good price.

Buying & Owning: The 3-series wagon is more expensive than the Audi A4 Avant. However, the A4 Avant doesn't offer a six-cylinder like the 3-series and isn't as fun to drive either. In fact, the 3-series wagon will hold its value well. Resale value for BMWs are very strong, so your investments are well protected. The 3-series wagon is a rare find on the used market, so it enjoys strong residual value.

Quality & reliability: This car oozes class, everything feels solid and well constructed. The plastics feel sturdy and long lasting. We won't expect anything less from BMW in terms of reliability.

Safety & Security: The 3 Series scores well in safety. Twin front and side curtain airbags are standard. As well as run flat tires, stability control and emergency brake assist. Deadlocks, engine immobiliser make life harder for thieves. However, an alarm system is optional.

The 3-series wagon is a rare gem. It offers the same blend of performance and driving abilities as the sedan counterpart, but offers a little extra cargo carrying capacity. It's more fun to drive than an Audi A4 Avant, and makes the most sense compared to the BMW X3. If the turbo-diesel were offered on wagon, it would be even more desirable. But for now, you have all the characteristics of a BMW in a family friendly package.

Devon M 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Devon drives the Outlander Sport

Likes: Low running costs, roomy interior, priced well among rivals, stylish and practical.

Dislikes: CVT brings the buzz out of the engine, needs more power, not as sporty to drive as a Nissan Juke.

Compact crossovers are becoming all the rage. They're the same size as compact hatchbacks, but sit higher off the ground. The raised driving height allows for better vision all-round, and the compact size means they're urban friendly. Mitsubishi decided to jump into the game with the Outlander Sport. It's smaller and just as practical as the larger Outlander, but the price is cheaper. Will this be enough to lure buyers to the brand?

Performance: There's only one engine available with the Outlander-Sport. That's a 2-liter four-cylinder with 148hp. Performance is decent around town, but you'll struggle with it on the motorway. The CVT transmission feels like its robbing the engine of its revs. You'll have to work the engine hard to really get the most of it. Fuel economy however is suprisingly good.

Ride & Handling: The Outlander Sport isn't as sporty as the name suggest. There's a fair bit of body lean in corners. However, if you value comfort over ultimate control, the Outlander Sport is the perfect car for you. The supple suspension and big balloon tires does an effective job at absorbing most ruts and bumps.

Refinement: The CVT transmission really does bring the buzz out of the engine. It's far from intrusive, but can make long journeys tiresome. There's very little wind and road noise. On the motorway however, some wind and road noise will sneak into the cabin.

Behind the wheel: It's easy to find a comfortable driving position. THe steering adjust for reach and height, allowing all to get comfortable. The cabin plastics aren't classy, but the whole design and layout of the dashboard is attractive and user friendly. All-round visibility is good thanks to an elevated driving position.

Space & Practicality: The Outlander Sport offers decent space four five passengers. The boot space is decent, and can be increased thanks to split folding rear seats. There are some practical features too, such as hidden storage under the boot floor. The seats fold flat with no need to move the seat base first.

Equipment: All Outlander Sports come well equipped. The base trim comes with seven airbags, active stability control, Fuse hands-free Link System with USB port. Top of the range offers all-wheel-drive, keyless start and climate control.

Buying & Owning: The Outlander Sport undercuts its main rivals. However, the Nissan Juke offers more horespower for the same price. Resale value should be average, and trying to get an Outlander Sport with a discount shouldn't be hard to comeby. Running costs will be low thanks to decent fuel economy.

Quality & reliability: Some of the plastics in the Outlander Sport don't look flashy, but they feel well put together and long lasting. The mechanicals have been tested and tried, and there should be very little worry about reliability. Mitsubishi has a top-notch record in that department.

Safety & Security: All versions come with anti-whiplash head restraints, seven airbags,  brake assist and stability control standard. An alarm system, engine immobiliser and deadlocks are standard across the range to keep theft at bay.

The Outlander Sport isn't as bold as the Nissan Juke, and isn't as fun to drive as a Mini Countryman. You may find there really is no point to the Outlander Sport, but you'll be surprised when you see all that the Outlander Sport has to offer that the others don't. It's affordable, cheap to run, and is far roomier than the Juke and Countryman combined. The top of the range trim adds all-wheel-drive at a cheap price. It's not the most stylish of the bunch, but it sure does offer great value for the money and is versatile enough for small families. If you need a no-nonsense compact crossover, with plenty of space and kit for the money. Look no further.

Devon M 

Devon drives a Saab with crossover styling

Likes: Comfortable front seats, stylish inside out, roomy and well insulated interior, strong turbo engines, decent fuel economy, very well equipped.

Dislikes: Expensive, needs a more powerful engine to cope with added weight, buying one seems rather risky.

Truck based 4x4s are being replaced by car-based 4x4s and crossovers. The Saab 9-3X is basically a 9-3 sports combi with a raised driving height. It's stylish, and offers more all-round versatility with a splash of off-road capability. But will this be enough to pull buyers from the much cheaper Subaru Outback?

Performance: There's only one engine available for the 9-3X, its the same engine used in the 9-3 range. A 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 210hp. It offers decent pace and is very flexible. Fuel economy is decent too, but a more powerful engine is desired to cope with the extra weight.

Ride & Handling: The ride comfort is good considering the higher driving position. Only the worst of potholes upsets the ride. The 9-3X feels more refined on the motorway than the standard 9-3. It's not a great handler, and the steering is rather numb. There's little confidence and will discourage drivers to push on through bends.

Refinement: The 9-3X is generally a quiet car, you can hear noise from the turbo engine. However, the noise is far from invasive. Saab has done an excellent job of insulating the cabin from road noise, although you can feel the suspension crash on the hardest of bumps, you'll never hear it. There's barely any wind noise either. The gearchanges are smooth, and the switchgear feel durable.

Behind the wheel: The 9-3X shares the same interior decor as the standard 9-3. The dashboard has a simple logical design, with many controls within easy reach of the driver's seat. Night Panel keeps eye strain to a minimal in night driving, and the front seats are the most comfortable in its class.

Space & Practicality: There's plenty of room in the front, and plenty of adjustments to get comfortable. Rear passengers have plenty of room, but shoulder room is tight for three passengers. The transmission tunnel intrudes into space too. The boot isn't as large as an Outback, but there's plenty of space to spare. The seats fold 60/40 for extra space.

Equipment: The 9-3X comes well equipped for the money. You get climate control, steering mounted audio controls, rain sensors and alloy wheels. All-wheel-drive is standard, as well as roof rails and a raised driving height.

Buying & Owning: The 9-3X isn't cheap to buy. Prices are higher than that of the Outback. But the 9-3X has more style and substance than the Outback. It's distinctly designed, and offers plenty of kit for the money. Resale vaule isn't its strongest point, and buying a 9-3X right now seems rather risky. With Saab being in the turmoil of problems its in right now. The fate of the company is still unknown.

Quality & Reliability: The cabin feels well put together. There's an attractive dashboard, but durability is a question. The standard 9-3 doesn't enjoy the best reliability record, and the 9-3X shares much of its mechanicals with the standard 9-3.

Safety & Security: Saab is known for safety and security. Top notch anti-theft alarm, engine immobiliser and deadlocks are all standard. ESP, side curtain airbags and ISOFIX child seat mountings all come standard as well.

The 9-3X isn't the cheapest alternate to the Outback, but you do get a nicely appointed interior and many luxury features standard. The all-wheel-drive doesn't have a low-range, so off-road abilities are limited. Fuel economy is decent, and the turbo engine provides flexible driving performance. For the price, there are rivals that offer the same for less cash. However, the Saab has a charm that no other rival can offer. Distinctly designed and comfortable long journey vehicle. If you're willing to dish out the cash, the 9-3X is well worth a look.

Devon M 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Devon test drives a Volkswagen Passat

Likes: Roomy interior, massive boot space, fuel efficient turbo-diesel engine, German Quality is still there, excellent road manners.

Dislikes: Bland styling, interior isn't as classy as previous generations, no wagon option.

The Volkswagen Passat has always been the classy mid-sized sedan choice. It's also been the most expensive. With the new generation of the Passat, Volkswagen wants to capture the market that's dominated by Toyota and Honda. Will Volkswagen have what it takes with the more Americanized Passat?

Performance: There's three engines available with the Passat. A 2.5-liter five-cylinder with 170hp, a 2-liter turbo-diesel with 140hp and a 3.6-liter six-cylinder with 280hp. Pick of the bunch is the 2.5-liter five-cylinder, it makes the most sense financially. It may not offer the fuel economy of the diesel and the oomph of the six-cylinder. It does however offer good pace and decent fuel economy.

Ride & Handling: The Passat is well composed on the motorway, the ride comfort is smooth. The steering is well weighed and offers good feedback. There's minimal effort needed when driving in corners or on the motorway. The suspension does a good job of soaking up most bumps really well.

Refinement: The Passat offers excellent all-round comfort. On the motorway, there's very little wind and road noise. The engines operate smoothly when up to speed. The five-cylinder emits a distinct droan when pushed hard. It's far from intrusive, but can be a bit annoying on long journeys.

Behind the wheel: The front driver seat offers excellent comfort. The steering wheel adjust for reach and for height. The control layout is clear and logical. But the quality feels rather bland and down-graded compared to previous generations. Everything is well laid out and very user-friendly.

Space & Practicality: The Passat is slightly larger than its outgoing model. So rear seat space has nearly doubled. Legroom, headroom and shoulder room is ample. The large transmission tunnel hampers any space for a third person to sit comfortably. The boot is massive and can easily cope with family luggage.

Equipment: The base Passat comes well equipped for the price. Automatic headlamps, central locking, 8-speaker sound system all come standard. You'll have to pay extra for alloy wheels. The top of the range Passat adds leather seats, auto-dimming rearview mirror and climate control.

Buying & Owning: The Passat is priced to compete with the Accord and Camry. Unlike the Camry and Accord, the Passat is a bit more expensive than both vehicles. You'll pay more for the diesel and six-cylinder engines, but your investments will be well secured as Volkswagen has solid resale value.

Quality & Reliability: Volkswagen doesn't enjoy the best reliability record. But in recent years, VW has been managing to turn this around. The Passat should prove to be reliable, with no major worries about the sturdiness of the mechanicals. Some of the plastics used in the interior are a bit of a let down, but will prove to be long lasting.

Safety & Security: Optional keyless entry start system adds an extra degree of theft protection. If that doesn't make you feel secure, the engine has an immobiliser and the doors have a deadlocks. Safety is Volkswagen's middle name. Side curtain airbags, anti-lock-brakes and stability control are standard across the range. The Passat has always scored high in crash safety tests.

The Americanized Passat is a bit of a let down. It doesn't look as classy as previous generations, and there's no wagon variant. However, the price is low and there's a decent amount of kit for the money. Interior space is excellent and the boot is massive. Buying a Passat means you'll have to give up some of the quirks you're used to from Volkswagen, but you're still reassured of its German Quality and excellent road manners. For the price, you're getting a lot of vehicle for the money.

Devon M 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Devon flies the streets in a Saab 9-5

Likes: Swedish style inside out, roomy well laid out interior, you'll stand out from the crowd, smooth turbo engines.

Dislikes: May induce sticker shock, some wind and road noise on the motorway, head restraints pushed a bit too far forward.

Saab has been in dire times. With a transition of ownership and many financial problems almost leading to the company's death. But somehow the brand manages to stay alive. The 9-5 is one of the newest Saabs to show the future of the brand, and the direction of the company's styling. Jumping right into the competition with the BMW 5-series and Audi A6. Will Saab be able to keep up?

Performance: There are two engines available for the Saab 9-5. A 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 220hp, and a 2.8-liter turbocharged six-cylinder with 300hp. Pick of the bunch is the 2-liter turbo engine. It's the most engaging to drive, offers decent fuel economy and makes the most sense financially. The six-cylinder offers good pace, but comes at a price that's a little too expensive for some tastes.

Ride & Handling: The 9-5 handles and drives well. The base suspension feels rather softly sprung, so there's a bit of bodyroll. The sport suspension handles well, but the ride comfort is overly firm. The steering doesn't offer as much feel as you'd expect, but its far from disappointing. There's a three-mode electronic suspension system as an option.

Refinement: Wind and road noise is well supressed in town. On the highway, there's a bit of wind and road noise that enters the cabin. This is far from intrusive, and you'll enjoy the 9-5 on long distance driving. Especially on curves with the sports suspension.

Behind the wheel: Saab's interior is designed around the driver. The controls are within easy reach of the finger. Some controls are poorly marked, and are blocked by the gearlever on automatic models. The seats are comfortable, but the head restraints are pushed to far forward. This leaves your neck in a uncomfortable angle.

Space & Practicality: The longer wheelbase means more rear seat comfort than the pervious generation. The cabin is truly enormous, entry into through the rear passenger door is rather low. You'll have to stoop your head down to avoid banging it on the door frame. Rear passenger space is excellent, the the boot is massive. The rear seats fold down to increase space.

Equipment: The base 9-5 comes well equipped. Night panel, electric driver's seat, rain sensors and auto-dimming interior mirror is standard. The six-cylinders offer all-wheel-drive, and the top of the range offers a bodykit with Xenon headlamps and leather sport seats.

Buying & Owning: With Saab's near death in 2010, buying a new Saab seems rather risky. Resale value isn't as strong as its rivals, and finding one won't be easy as Saab isn't currently building any vehicles. But when production restarts, you'll find that Saab's long list of standard equipment is well worth the asking price.

Quality & Reliability: The 9-5 feels well put together. Many materials used feel classy, although some plastics feel hard to the touch. Everything feels quirky like all Saabs should feel. Reliability of the 9-5 has always been higher than the 9-3. So we expect reliability to be about average on the 9-5.

Safety & Security: If there's two things you'll never have to worry about with a Saab, that's safety and security. Side curtain airbags, stability control and anti-whiplash head restraints comes standard across the range. Security provisions include top-notch alarm and immobiliser.

Most people who buy Saab are those who want to stand out against German Rivals. It's distinctly styled, and priced well below that of BMW and Audi. You maybe a little disappointed with this irration of the 9-5. It's not as sporty as the previous form, and the sports suspension has a firm ride. But the 9-5 continues to provide that smile on owners faces that no other brand can provide. It's no wonder owners stay loyal to the brand, and why Saab will continue to be around for generations to come.

Devon M 

Devon takes a look at a Nissan Murano

Likes: Well equipped, smooth six-cylinder engine, roomy and comfortable to drive.

Dislikes: A bit strange looking, no base engine offered, not as sporty to drive as its looks suggest.

Crossovers are becoming more and more popular. They sit lower to the ground, and offer better fuel economy than many truck-based sport utility vehicles. The Nissan Murano uses the same engine from the 350Z, but has been detuned to 260hp. With so many other rivals catching up to the Murano, will this be a case of old dog old tricks?

Performance: There's only one engine available for the Murano, and that's a 3.5-liter six-cylinder. It's the same engine used in the 350Z, but only produces 260hp. Acceleration is brisk and effortless on the motorway, but the CVT-transmission is reluctant to allow the engine to rev. A base engine would be nice for those who seek the Murano's size, but better fuel economy.

Ride & Handling: The Murano isn't as sporty as the 350Z. The body leans in corners, because the suspension is softly tuned. The steering feels numb, and discourages sporty driving. Even though the car grips really well.

Refinement: The Murano is impressingly refined. THere's very little wind and road noise. The engine has a nice snarl when revved hard, but its never intrusive or loud. On the motorway, the Murano feels very comfortable and well laid back.

Behind the wheel: The steering wheel adjusts for reach and height, and the seats adjust eletrically. You won't struggle to find a comfortable driving position in the Murano. What's more, the layout of the controls is hard to find fault. Only hefty rear pillars let it down, but you do get two parking cameras as an option for limited the limited vision.

Space & Practicality: There's an impressive amount of space for five passengers. There isn't a third row seat option like in some rivals. This isn't a bad thing, as the boot is impressively large. The rear seats fold almost flat with a tug lever to increase space.

Equipment: The Murano comes well equipped for the price. Even the base trim comes with push button ignition, six-disc CD-changer and dual zone climate control. Higher trims offer a glass roof and leather seats. Top of the range offers Xenon-headlamps, chrome wheels and power lift tailgate.

Buying & Owning: The Murano is well equipped for the price. Even the base trim will satisfy most buyers. Strong resale values will help protect your investments. You'll need deep pockets to satisfy the six-cylinder's thirst for fuel.

Quality & reliability: The interior has a sense of logic behind it. Everything feels well laid out, and all the controls feel classy. Some switchgear feel cheap, but they feel sturdy and long lasting. Nissan has enjoy excellent reliability, with much not much worry of the mechanicals.

Safety & Security: Stability control is standard across the range, as well as side curtain airbags. Deadlocks, alarm and engine immobiliser make life for thieves hard.

The Murano is a decent crossover that's classy and well balanced for small families. It's not sporty, and looks the part. This may disappoint some buyers, and the lack of a base engine will put off some buyers. The six-cylinder is nice but some rivals offer lower powered engines to make the price more attractive. If you can overlook these few negatives, you'll find the Murano is a well suited crossover for small families.
Devon M 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Devon drives a car with "Bling-Bling" factor

Likes: Stylish exterior styling, roomy for eight passegners, available hybrid model, high-class image.

Dislikes: Seriously expensive starting price, and options will send price sky high. Running costs will be high, bulky size makes it a chore to park and live with in urban areas.

The Cadillac Escalade has been popular since its launch in 1999. There has been no other SUV that has gotten as much hype as the Escalade. Appearing in music videos, being mentioned in song lyrics and seen as the vehicle to have by many Hip/Hop Artists and movie stars. But does the Escalade suffer from all style and no substance?

Performance: The Escalade comes with a 6.2-liter eight-cylinder engine. The base trim comes with 403hp, and a two-mode hybrid with 332hp. The pick of the bunch is the base engine output. It's still quite expensive, but is far cheaper compared to the hybrid model. There's effortless power on the motorway and plenty of towing capability. The Hybrid commands a premium price and not much difference in fuel economy. You'll have to do tons of motorway driving to really get your moneys worth.

Ride & Handling: The Escalade has a soft suspension, which does a good job at isolating occupants from most bumps. But it never feels settled on patchy surfaces, and body movements are poorly controlled. The steering has very little feedback, and the sheer size of the car makes driving on narrow city roads hard work.

Refinement: The big engine is hushed at steady motorway speeds. The V8 emits a lovely rumble under heavy acceleration. Road noise isn't a big problem, but the Escalade is about as aerodynamic as a tower block so wind noise intrudes into the cabin at high levels.

Behind the wheel: You sit high in the Escalade, so all round visibility is good. Shorter drivers will have a harder time getting comfortable. Although the pedals adjust for reach, the steering wheel only adjusts for angle. This makes driving position awkward for some. The heater controls are fiddly too.

Space & Practicality: The Escalade has seating up to eight with a well laid out formation. But you won't get three adults in the third row because shoulder room is tight. The boot isn't massive, and the rear seats don't fold flat. You'll have to remove them to get the full cargo capacity.

Equipment: There are four trim levels available. All of them are well equipped, but the options will send the price soaring. Tri-zone climate control, six-disc CD-changer and parking sensors are standard equipment. Satellite navigation system and rear-seat DVD entertainment system are optional.

Buying & Owning: The Escalade has the bling looks that attracts many premier buyers. You'll need their wages to run one, because the Escalade is quite expensive to run. Fuel economy is low, and the price tag is high. Even the hybrid commands a high premium over the the base engine. The V8 engine is thirsty and you'll struggle in large parking lots and tight urban areas. Insurance rates are high, and theft rates are also high for this vehicle. The Escalade won't hold its value as well as its rivals.

Quality & Reliability: The dash plastics feel and look cheap. Some interior fittings feel flimsy and you can hear lots of rattles and creaks when driving over rough surfaces. Reliability of the electronics may be a bit of a worry.

Safety & Reliability: Twin front and side curtain airbags come standard across the range. The side curtain airbags covers all three rows. Stability control helps keep you on the road. Deadlocks and an alarm is fitted as standard.

The Cadillac offers tons of bling in its styling. It's stylish, and has tons of appeal to high class buyers. But one has to ask themself, is it really worth it? There are rivals that are better to drive, easier to manuever and offer far better gas mileage than the Escalade. You'll buy one for the status of wealth, but there are so many drawbacks to consider. High running costs, iffy reliability record all count against it.

Devon M 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Devon test drives a Mazda 2

The Mazda 2 shares its platform with the Ford Fiesta.  The only difference other than styling is the Mazda 2 offers a more affordable price and has better fuel economy. However, is this enough to convince buyers to consider the 2 over the Toyota Yaris and Kia Rio?
Performance: There's only one engine available with the Mazda 2, and that's a 1.5-liter four-cylinder with 100hp. Fuel economy is excellent, and performance is decent. You'll have to work the engine hard to get the most of it. Unlike the Mazda 2 the Ford Fiesta comes with a six-speed automatic. The 2 has to make due with a four-speed automatic transmission. Opting for the five-speed manual gearbox is the best way to get the most of the 2's 100hp.

Ride & Handling: The Mazda 2 handles just as well as the Fiesta. It's fun to toss it around, even in twisty bends. The 2 corners flat and encourages spirited driving. The ride comfort is firm, but its far from uncomfortable.

Refinement: The 2 feels refined on the motorway. Just like the Fiesta, it has a solid feel. The petrol engine doesn't intrude into the cabin, and wind and road noise is well surpressed. The 2 isn't the most refined in its class, but you'll enjoy it more than its rivals.

Behind the wheel: There's a fuss free dashboard layout. All the controls and dials are within easy reach of the hand. The gear knob is placed high for better reach and less rub against your knee. The steering wheel however doesn't adjust for reach. This will make the driving position awkward for someone.

Space & Practicality: The Mazda 2 is just as practical as the Ford Fiesta. There's plenty of boot space for a car in its class. The interior is roomy for four passengers, adding a fifth passenger is just pushing it. The rear door opening is a bit small for comfortable rear access.

Equipment: Air-conditioning, CD-player and power windows are standard. As well as central locking and traction control. Top of the range trim adds a rear spoiler, sporty body-kit and a chrome exhaust tip. The price difference between the trim levels aren't big.

Buying & Owning: The Mazda 2 is priced lower than the Fiesta. But resale value should prove to be very strong. Fuel economy is excellent, so your fuel bills will be low. Discounts are available but don't expect anything major.

Quality & Reliability: Mazda has a reputation for cars that have solid reliability. The Mazda 2 is no exception to this, all the materials used feel sturdy and long lasting. The Mazda 2 doesn't have the best record in customer satisfaction in JD Power survey, but reliability is above average.

Safety & Security: The Mazda 2 comes with side curtian airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control standard across the range. An engine immobiliser, deadlocks and alarm make life difficult for thieves.

Likes: Stylish inside out, excellent balance of handling and ride comfort, great value for the money, high fuel economy.
Dislikes: A few extra horsepower would be desired, some interior plastics feel cheap.
The Mazda 2 is a purest hatchback. It's not powerful, but when you work the gears its tons of fun. The chassis blends an excellent balance of handling and ride comfort. While the Fiesta has more of an upmarket image, and more expensive options. The Mazda 2 is light weight and offers plenty value for the money.

Devon M

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Devon test drives a Toyota Corolla

Toyota has never been known for building fun to drive vehicles. The Corolla is no exception to this. Although you can get a sporty looking S-trim. There really isn't much fun behind the wheel. With stiff competition from Honda and Kia, will Toyota be able to keep up? Or is this another case of old dog - old tricks?

Likes: Excellent fit and finish, fuel economy, smooth ride comfort.

Dislikes: Dull driving experience, base trim feels rather stingy on features.

Performance: There's only one engine available for the Corolla, and that's a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 138hp. It offers a good amount of pace around town and on the motorway. Fuel economy is also good too. Power hungry may want to look elsewhere, as there's no powerful engine options to match the sporty looks of the S trim.

Ride & Handling: The Corolla feels solid and comfortable when driven gently. Handling isn't sporty, and doesn't encourage you to drive aggressively. The suspension is set more towards comfort rather than agility. So there's bodyroll in turns, but its far from annoying.

Refinement: The Corolla has excellent refinement on the motorway. There's very little wind and road noise. You'll enjoy how smooth and quiet the ride comfort is. The engine operates smoothly, and is quiet at most speeds.

Behind the wheel: The dashboard has a no nonsense layout. Everything feels logically placed and user friendly. The seats adjust for both reach and height. The controls are easy to use and the quality feels rock solid.

Space & Practicality: There's enough room for five adults in the Corolla. There's plenty of head and legroom for both front and rear passengers. There's plenty of boot space as well. The rear seats fold down 60/40 for additional space.

Equipment: The Corolla is priced well among its rivals, but the base trim level loses out on central locking and power windows. You'll have to step up to the higher trims to get features that should be standard across the range. There are rivals that offer them for less than the Corolla.

Buying & Owning: The Corolla holds its value well, so your investments are well secured. The base trim doesn't feel like much of a value, and the sporty looking S trim doesn't feel as sporty as its looks suggest. However, your fuel bill will be low and build quality will be excellent.

Quality & Reliability: All the plastics used feel long lasting. There's a sense of durability behind the interior quality. Reliability should be excellent, as the Corolla has been rated high by its owners in the JD Power survey.

Safety & Security: All Corollas come with an array of safety features standard. ESP, ABS and side curtian airbags come standard across the range. An engine immobiliser comes standard across the range, but you'll have to step up to the higher trims to get deadlocks.

The Corolla has rock solid reliability and feels very well built. It's dependable and offers excellent fuel economy. For those seeking something that's fun to drive may want to venture else where. But for the few that want a car that's aimed at quality and dependability, the Corolla is the car for you.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Felipe M. 

Moving along with the list:

#40.  "Cease"-- THE GRAY RACE (1996): First time I heard this song, it was on the live DVD LIVE AT THE PALLADIUM where lead singer Greg Graffin sings a solo version on piano.  The same version could be heard on Graffin's 1997 solo album American Lesion.  The argument could be made that Greg's version might be better than the band's electric version.  

This is yet another song that plays with the theme of inevitable mortality of mankind.  

Quote--"What pretension, everlasting peace--everything must cease."

#39.  "Doin' Time"-- HOW COULD HELL BE ANY WORSE? (1981): Final song of the original release of their first full length album.  Even as young adults, Bad Religion had their ideals intact.  Just like "Cease," this song also mocks the idea of man's notion of a higher purpose in tangible life and questions the idea of eternal life.

The real treat of this early 1980s hardcore song is near the end where the bass and guitar solo mesh perfectly with each other and takes the listener to some gritty, underground that brings you chills.  All of this climaxes with Greg's voice as he screams "Salvation!"

Quote--"Don't tell me what's wrong or right!  You're losing sight.  You're just going to die anyway!"

#38.  "All There Is"--THE EMPIRE STRIKES FIRST (2004): One of the more popular songs on college radio when the album was released, this song brings back good memories.  This song is also played live on LIVE AT THE PALLADIUM and sometimes makes its way on to current live sets.

The song is more question than answers as the song, once again, questions religion and divinity as the end all reason for existence as Graffin is constantly asking "can that be all there is?"  

Quote--"The walking wounded in a pageant of contenders who balance on a rail of pain for just a pail of rain."

#37.  "Suffer"--SUFFER (1988): This song is still played live as fans go crazy when the introduction is played.  

The song is a cry for the power elite of society to look at the suffering they have produced to the rest of "the masses of humanity."  No matter what time period in man's history, this song is appropriate how so many people work for the right of a few to remain part of the dominant population.  

For prime examples on how this song is appropriate to current events, click here.  For a song that explores the same subject matter, listen to Thrice's "Cold Cash and Colder Hearts" which is a first person perspective on how the power elite look at 90% of the Earth's human population.  Thrice's "Don't Tell and We Won't Ask" from the same album, THE ARTIST IN THE AMBULANCE, finishes that album with the same plea to the power elite to open up their eyes and see how their actions to get richer affects the rest of the world in a negative way.  Thrice and many bands just like them further prove the massive influence that Bad Religion has had on the current punk/hardcore scene.

Quote--"This deformed society is part of the design.  It'll never go away, it's in the cards that way..."

#36.  "Dearly Beloved"--NEW MAPS OF HELL (2007): This is a difficult song to pinpoint its meaning as it could be decipher in so many ways.  However, at its broadest and most vague, perhaps the song is about turning your back on conformity and the resulting consequences it bestows on the individual who wants to follow their own path, such as ridicule and isolation. 

Quote--"Dearly Beloved, make no mistake, despite our traits I've seldom seen.  I can't relate to you."

About Me:

Current Favorite Show: Catching up on BREAKING BAD.  It's been awhile since a drama could move me like this.  Regretfully, I wish I could catch up on THE WIRE.
Currently Listening To: CRACK THE SKYE by Mastodon.  I didn't really like it. Strange since I recently enjoyed listening to Coheed and Cambria.
Currently Watching: Rockies vs Cardinals--Hoping Fernando Salas gets a chance for the save and get me the 10 points I need to win my fantasy game this week.
Currently Finished Reading: THE POSTMAN by David Brin.  Cool story about survival in a post-apocalyptic world, but could be very preachy at times. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Devon test drives a Mini

Likes: Fantastic handling, distinct styling, more fun to drive than most small cars, peppy range of engines.

Dislikes: Options send price sky high, boot space is limited, some controls are confusing to operate.

Performance: There's three engines available with the Cooper. A 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 120hp, and two turbocharged 1.6-liter engines with 181hp and 208hp. The pick of the bunch is the 1.6-liter 120hp engine. Its not the most powerful of the bunch, but it offers a good blend of value and fuel economy.

Ride & Handling: Whichever version you go for, the Mini is tons of fun to drive. It's great on twisty roads and thanks to the go-kart handling and well weighted steering. Around town the Mini is easy to drive, there's a firm ride but its never choppy or uncomfortable.

Refinement: There's a bit of wind noise at highway speeds. The Mini also lets in a bit too much road noise than desired, but its never intrusive. The petrol engines are smooth and well refined, even when worked hard. The gearshift is slick, but the reverse gear is too easily selected when shifting to first.

Behind the wheel: Driver's will get comfy with a wide range of adjustments for both the steering wheel and seat. The dash is a bit too busy, with the large central speedo and awkwardly placed stereo and heater controls. The retro toggle switches put style above ease of use.

Space & Practicality: There's plenty of headroom and legroom for those in the front. Rear passengers have so-so head and legroom. The door opening is low and narrow, this makes getting in and out of the Mini a chore. The boot is small, but the seats fold 50/50 for more space.

Equipment: The Cooper comes well equipped for the money. Air-conditioning, push button start, electric windows, mirrors and central locking are all standard. The Cooper S adds sporty bodywork and sports seats. However, the options list is extensive but you may want to watch what you select. A few too many options will sent the price sky high.

Buying & Owning: It's not cheap, and don't even think about discounts! However, the Mini holds on to your investments well. No other car in its class holds its value as well. Your fuel bills will be decent, and a warranty to cover oil changes and other maintenance is offered standard.

Quality & Reliability: The Mini has a premium image, with many parts and trim looking the part. The Mini has scored well in customer satisfaction surveys done by JD Power. Reliability should prove dependable.

Safety & Security: The Mini has a five-star safety rating on all models. Every trim has side curtian airbags and ISOFIX child seat mountings, and importantly ESP is standard across the range. The Mini has most security parts that make BMWs hard to steal.

It's retro, with a splash of sport and performance. You get a road hugging small car that holds its value well. It's no wonder the Mini is the best selling small car in the U.S. Stay clear of the options list, and you'll have a great valued small car well worth the money.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Is Image Everything? Felipe's Music Manifesto

Felipe M.

I just finished reading David Konow's Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal.  Admittedly a bit dated, it was published in 2002 right as Metallica were about ready to hit rock bottom in their careers.  Nevertheless, it was a very interesting read as every chapter reads more like mini-biographies of not only famous heavy metal acts, but hard rock acts as well such as Led Zeppelin and Kiss--think That Metal Show in book form.  

When reading non-fiction works about the genre, I can't help but to get very excited when the works starts memorializing the "Thrash Metal" movement--usually sandwiched between chapters that speak of bands that wear face paint and make up (i.e. Alice Cooper and the aforementioned Kiss), to bands that insist on wearing as much leather as possible on and off stage (i.e. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc.), before them and bands that cared more about their hair than their own music (or their own well-being, such as Motley Crue, Poison, etc.) after them.  Clearly, I have not hidden the fact that my musical tastes are rooted in punk rock and all of its genres and sub-genres so I can appreciate the existence of bands that developed their imagery based on the ideal to do away with glamour, theatrics, and visible imagery in metal music.  In its place were bands that wore black t-shirts (more often with other bands' logos), black jeans, and black shoes/boots with Anthrax even paving the way to wear shorts on stage.  Also missing from this movement was well-groomed, overly cared for, and chemically enhanced hair as grizzled beards and frizzled and scuzzy hair took over.

I will not be here telling whoever is reading this that they should only listen to this band and not the other band.  You can make that decision for yourself.  Instead, I will share with you the music code that I follow when listening to new bands and I like to think that it is solely based on music and not any other crappy image or gimmick the artist is trying to sell to me.  So without further ado...

  • Rule #1: If you have to wear a mask, excessive make up, or face paint, I don't want anything to do with you or your band.  Kiss, Slipknot, Marilyn Manson--you might garner lot of fans and sell many records, but I want nothing to do with any of you!  Something about covering your face makes it seem to me that you're trying too hard on displaying an image or working too hard on theatrics to worry about your music.  Also makes me wonder what the hell it is you are hiding (not in a cool, mysterious way either).  You can tell me all the reasons why Manson is one of the most artistic people in the world and how Slipknot are uber-talented; I will continue to avoid them like the plague.  

  • Rule #2: Let me preface by saying that I'm a guy who refuses to shave on a daily basis and I only wash my clothes if their longstanding odor isn't too offensive to me.  I also don't care if my haircut is not "punk enough" or if I'm wearing enough black clothes from Hot Topic so the whole world knows I'm expressing myself by letting people know I listen to Punk Rock and Metal music.  Nor do I worry that my lack of tats and piercings make me any less punk or metal.  If I find that a band seems to go out of their way to work a bit too hard on their image, then i-Tuned them off.  Bands like Anti-Flag and AFI come to mind, especially when they signed their first major label deals.  Travis Barker is another guy who went from being a punk rock drummer to being a drummer who has a punk image to go with his "punk attitude."  So to summarize, even if your band is not wearing makeup or funny-looking masks, any attempt to "dress up" is also grounds for dismissal.

When I go to a concert, I don't want to have to wait for a band to come on stage because they don't look "punk or metal enough" to get on stage yet.  Or maybe their "guyliner" isn't quite dark and guy enough yet, but a few coats promises to do the trick.  Or if their Liberty Spikes looks too punk, but not faux enough.  Nope, that just won't do!  Don't get me wrong, I do tolerate and even enjoy music by Anti-Flag, AFI, Green Day, and Blink-182.  But when I see these bands work so hard for their "look" they just simply come off as clowns.   

Yes, the quality of music is always first, but there are plenty of bands out there who don't go out of their way to create that "punk" or "metal" image.  Basically bands who "look like me" always get preferential treatment on my music rotation.  I'm talking about bands like Bad Religion, A Wilhelm Scream, Darkest Hour, The Lawrence Arms, etc.  When I see Hatebreed on stage and you have Jamey Jasta wearing a baseball hat, another band's t-shirt, shorts, and regular boots, I can appreciate that--the dude has nothing to hide and doesn't need much to get on stage, but a mic and his voice.  When i see Darkest Hour lead singer John Henry refuse to take his glasses off for a band photo, I say to myself, "Hey, I wear glasses and this guy looks like a total nerd like I do and we both like our music loud, aggressive, but with substance."  Best of all, we don't go out of our way to look like some sort of circus freak show.  When I see Bad Religion's lead singer, Greg Graffin's clothes and I can't recognize the brand names that he's wearing, I can relate because I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what brand of clothing I'm wearing (that's why I have a girlfriend so I don't have to worry about trivial stuff like that).

Probably the best personification of my decree to decide which bands will be given my valuable attention is the band Against Me!  These guys simply go on stage wearing all black--no corporate sponsored t-shirts, not even band t-shirts.  It's the coolest thing ever to see a band just go on stage and it's just four guys against the world as they put it all on black.  Their "image" is the epitome of what punk rock should be and it's more in spirit of what the genre is all about than any other fashionably conscious, popular faux punk rawk band out there.  

I can't help but think that both the punk and metal scenes are not and should not be about creating an image to appease a mainstream audience who probably does not care about the music as much as they care about the image that is being sold to them.  It's like the band Against Me! sing in their song "Reinventing Axl Rose":

We want a band
That plays loud and hard every night

A simple way to judge a band.  Very hard to quantify such a quality in today's world where attention spans keep getting shorter and shorter and style constantly trumps substance.  Worse, originality in music is pushed to the side for the chance of success by transforming into one of many copy-cat molds.  Because of this brave new world we live in, a lot of these bands have to find themselves a niche in the scene just to get our attention and avoid being accused of being a copy-cat band.  Hell, Kiss have been triumphant since the 1970s with the simple maxim that having a gimmick was better than being good, but unknown musicians who were dirt poor.

I also understand that many of these bands want to make a living out of their passion and not live dirt poor for the rest of their lives.  But for every band that has a gimmick to survive the music business, there has to be a lot more bands that are surviving who--you know?--work really hard at honing their skills in order to make great, memorable music and are making a comfortable living doing so.  At any rate, I'll continue to root for bands who classify with the latter and hoping for nothing but the worst for the bands that can be classified in the former.