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 

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 

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. 

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.