Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dilemma facing world's big automakers: How to make old technology seem fresh

The wildly overpriced BMW i8, a plug-in hybrid that uses gasoline, was one of the most popular cars on Tuesday at the annual Spring Brake in Bear Mountain State Park, below. Despite the word "brake" in the event title, some members of the International Motor Press Association received speeding tickets from uniformed park police in marked vehicles.

Audi and Porsche were among the automakers that were conspicuously absent. About 20 others -- from Acura to Volkswagen -- did provide vehicles for the ride-and-drive event on twisting two-lane park roads and nearby highways.



By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Aren't you sick of watching all those stupid car commercials on TV every night?

New cars being driven at insane speeds on empty roads or within inches of a male model shouting to be heard over the roar of passing vehicles are experiences so far removed from the challenge of owning a car in the congested metropolitan area.

Did you see the idiotic one showing a Lexus cutting off competing Mercedes-Benz and BMW models in the dessert as it traces the logo of Toyota's luxury brand? 

I saw that commercial again on Tuesday night after returning from an event for auto writers at Bear Mountain State Park, where I got a chance to drive the 2015 Lexus RC-F Coupe, which has a sticker price of $77,720.

It's fast, of course, with a 467-horsepower V-8 that gets only 16 mpg city, and growls through loud performance mufflers.


Lexus v. Tesla

The Lexus costs almost as much as the car I drove to Bear Mountain, my 2015 Tesla Model S, an all-electric luxury hatchback that is an oasis of calm in our noisy world.

But -- like all but one of the cars I tried out -- the Lexus coupe is basically 19th century internal-combustion engine technology disguised as something fresh and new.

Just another dinosaur dressed in couture to join the herd of smelly, noisy cars and SUVs that are destroying the environment and our health.

That Lexus coupe has the same 16 mpg and 25 mpg city/highway fuel-economy rating as the 2015 Dodge Charger R/T Road & Track, which has a V-8 Hemi engine and a sticker of just under $44,000.

Another thirsty car was the big Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG Coupe, powered by a 5.5-liter V-8 with 577 horsepower, described on the company Web site as a "beast that is truly a thing of beauty."

Only one EV

Only Nissan brought an all-electric car, the best-selling Leaf, a quiet, zero-emission wonder that clashed with the Japanese carmaker's gas-guzzling SUVs at the event, including a new Murano and the hulking Infiniti Q80, which is about the size of a minibus.

And there was a long wait to drive Nissan's fearsome GT-R, a four-wheel-drive coupe with an MSRP of $103,000-plus.

So far, at two events for auto writers, I have yet to see Mercedes' green cars -- the all-electric B-Class, which starts at $41,450, or the German automaker's S550 Plug-In Hybrid Sedan, which has an MSRP of $94,400.


'Rock concert' mufflers

You should have heard the mufflers on the BMW M4 Convertible I drove over two-lane roads and on the Palisades Interstate Parkway.

Another participant said the old M4's mufflers sounded like a "symphony," but the new ones are definitely a "rock concert."

Just what we need: A sophisticated, four-wheel version of all those noisy Harley-Davidson motorcycles that disturb us day and night.



American-made performance cars, such as this Chevrolet Corvette, seem cheaply made and unsophisticated when compared to similar European and Japanese models. 


Crude Mustang GT

My second car was a 1966 Mustang GT with a small V-8 engine, a 4-speed manual transmission and what Ford called a fastback, with fold-down rear seats and a pass-through hatch to the small trunk.

It was red, and I kept it for 13 years, even though a rear fender rusted through and I had to replace the water pump several times.

On Tuesday, I drove the boxy 2015 Ford GT Convertible, which seemed heavy and slow compared to competitive cars.

It also seemed cheap: The driver's seat could be adjusted electrically, but you had to use a manual lever to move the seat back.

On two-lane park roads, the performance seemed anemic, compared to all the noise it was making, reminding me of the automaker's stock.

I guess I shouldn't have expected much from the 2015 Mustang after a Ford-provided "breakfast" of coffee, tea, muffins and pastries.

No juice, yogurt or eggs were available.


Not even cat and mouse

New York State Park Police were assigned to the IMPA event, as they have been for the five years it has been held at Bear Mountain.

On Tuesday, there were usually two marked cruisers and uniformed officers in the parking lot that held the new cars, and others deployed on park roads.

This morning, police would not say how many speeding tickets were issued to IMPA members and other park goers on Tuesday.

But at least one auto writer was observed driving a performance car at more than 100 mph on a two-lane park road.