Mini John Cooper Works Convertible

Cute only goes so far. Fast and cute goes a lot farther (comments posted about girls you knew in college will be deleted upon reciept).

But fast and cute will cost you money, just like that girl in college (I'm invoking one-time editor/founder privilege).

This is the story of the Mini John Cooper Works Convertible. Its base price is $10,000 and change more than a base Mini Cooper Convertible, but that ten grand buys you the difference between 118 horsepower and 208....between a top speed of 123 and a top speed of 146...while giving up only 3 miles per gallon in both city and highway fuel economy (the EPA says 25 city/33 highway).


It also gets you a six-speed manual Getrag transmission, 17 inch alloy wheels with run-flat tires, and red Brembo front brake calipers. All of which covers going and stopping. And it handles like a slot car.


Inside, it's six-way adjustable sport seats with height adjustment, an on-boarad computer, a leather three-spoke steering wheel and the Sport button...which produces quicker throttle and steering response....neither of which was in short supply to begin with.

This is one of those cars that will put a grin on your face that will take days to go away.

No, $34,700 for a Mini convertible isn't cheap....nor is the $38,400 as-tested price (Mini threw in a cold weahter package, premium package with alarm, automatic air conditioning and chrome interior and exterior accents), Xenon headlights, custom paint, a Bluetooth and USB/iPod adapter (frankly, Mini's got....what's the German word for cojones?...charging $500 for that piece...which most automakers are including free of charge)...and white turn signal lights ($100? Really?) .

But find another convertible with this blend of speed, handling and fuel economy...and then find one anywhere near $38,400....much less $34,700.

A truly exciting car today...and, because it's likely to sell in smallish numbers, a collector's performance machine you'll be glad you kept years from now.


Toyota Highlander 4 Cylinder and Hybrid Review

A four-cylinder Highlander would have been considered a great leap backwards just a couple of years ago. Now it looks like an inspired move.

187 horsepower turns out to be adequate to move this mid-size SUV, and the resulting gas mileage (20 city/27 highway) is nearly identical to the much smaller 6-cylinder RAV4, which gets 21 city/27 highway.

Not only that, but the 4-cylinder Highlander I drove for a week was optioned sensibly (upgraded audio system, cold weather package, convenience package, manual rear air conditioning, the third row seat package, the towing prep package, cargo and floor mats and a tow hitch with wiring harness added less than $4,000 to the $25,705 base price)...resulting in a bottom line 2 grand lower than the V6 RAV 4.

More SUV...less money...essentially the same gas mileage. In this economy, that sounds like a strong package.

UPDATE: The polar opposite of the brilliance of the 4-cylinder Toyota Highlander is the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Seven miles more per gallon in the city, true...but two fewer on the highway (27 city/25 highway)...with a base price $16,000 higher. That's right...the starting price is $41,020. And Toyota loaded our tester with enough options to hit $49,086 (an Extra Value Package discount brought the final number down to $48,386).

That's 20 grand more for the same vehicle with a different powerplant, a higher trim level and more options. As with so many hybrids, the Highlander is fine to drive, makes you feel good about your relationship to the environment and all that....but can't win the value argument.


Volvo S60 Pedestrian Detection

I have mixed feelings on this one....part of me thinking that the driver should determine when to brake (having assessed what's around him) and the other part acknowledging the intent and likely reduction of car-pedestrian accidents.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Volvo S60 Pedestrian Detection (1:57)


Honda Crosstour 4WD EX-L NAV Review

Companies don't have ideas. The people that work for them do.

People retire, die and are replaced by other people with other ideas.

Nothing lasts forever.

Nobody's perfect.

No, TireKicker has not become the official journal of the obvious. I'm reminding myself how we can go from a 25-year string of absolutely brilliant products (virutally everything Honda built from the 1976 Accord onward) to the Honda Crosstour.


I'll usually recall my dad's car dealer friend Jim Ellis' words ("there's an ass for every seat") when considering styling and then default to a phrase like "a matter of taste".

But....no. The Crosstour is ugly. Not quite Pontiac Aztek ugly...but ugly. And with a blind spot the size of....well, a 1976 Accord.

I know BMW started the big four-door hatchback thing with the X6, but if BMW jumped off a building......

What's wrong with it? Well...let's put it this way...it's an Accord...with four-wheel drive, an open hatch instead of a trunk, the aforementioned blind spot, the aforementioned ugliness, and in the case of our tester a price sticker of $36,930....or more than 5 grand more than the bottom line for a loaded Accord EX-L V6 with navigation.

Would you?

Me, either. And, not seeing a bunch of these on the street, I'm guessing most people are passing.

If there is in fact a market for something beyond the Accord sedan in terms of versatility and capability, the best move would be to bring back the Accord station wagon. No, it wasn't much of a hit last time around, but wagons were at their low point in terms of appeal...there's a revival going on now. And the Accord's new larger platform could make for a truly useful machine.

A good looking one you could see out the back of.



L.A. City Council Exempts Red Light Cams From Arizona Boycott

A few weeks ago, the city where I was born and lived until age 9, Los Angeles,  made a great big hairy deal about boycotting the state where I live now, Arizona, over its passage of SB1070, which requires police to enforce laws on illegal immigration identical to those in both California and federal law.  The boycott meant the city of L.A. refused to do business with Arizona, its cities and businesses based in the state.

But that's not important now. At least when it comes to the city's red-light cameras, supplied and operated by American Traffic Solutions of....Scottsdale, Arizona.

Standing by the boycott would have meant shutting down the cameras. And if that had happened, and someone had been killed at an intersection with a formerly working red light camera, city councilman Richard Alarcon said "the media would have a field day".

So, the council voted 13-0 to temporarily exempt the red-light camera program from the boycott.

Full story with a fascinating insight (no matter which side you take on the immigration enforcement issue) into politicians unanimously voting to sustain a program that loses the city money and is of dubious success in terms of accident reduction from The Los Angeles Times.

2011 Ford Mustang V6 Convertible Review

Front 3/4 view of 2011 Ford Mustang Convertible

Blue was, for most of my life, my favorite color. Three of my cars were blue. But there is something about Ford's Grabber Blue that really doesn't work for me. It's hard to explain...it photographs better (see above) than it looks in person. At least to me. And, apparently, to several other people who've mentioned "that hideous, cheap shade of blue they're painting Mustangs in now" to me.

That's probably sacrilege in Dearborn, where Ford is headquartered. In fact, I understand what it is they like about Grabber Blue. They identify it with this:

                         Front 3/4 view of 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429

That is the 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 429. Built solely for the purpose of making its monster 429 cubic inch, 375 horsepower (a deceptively low number quoted by Ford...reality was more like 500hp) engine eligible for NASCAR racing in the midsize Torino, it was very likely the hairiest, most brutal muscle car of its time...and given that the era was ending...it would stand as the ultimate example of brute power until the arrival of the Dodge Viper more than 20 years later.

They built them in 1969 and 1970....but in 1970, one of the new colors available was Grabber Blue. And it seemed like any Boss 429 in the buff books of the day was a Grabber Blue model. At age 14, that seemed like a lot of cars. Now I know it was probably one or two getting shipped around to the fortunate few journalists allowed to test it.

In 1970, only 500 Boss 429s were built and only some of those were Grabber Blue. I never saw one in person until decades later at Barrett-Jackson.  But I saw plenty of these:

                        Front 3/4 view of 1972 Ford Maverick Grabber

And these:

                       1974-1977 Ford Pinto

So many, in fact, that when I see Grabber Blue, I think of Mavericks and Pintos, not Boss 429s. And that's probably true of most of us old enough to remember the 70s.

So do this: Get your new 2011 Mustang V6 convertible in a color other than Grabber Blue.

My God, these guys at Ford have found the afterburners. They've updated and refined the existing Mustang, and fixed the biggest problem with the six...power...while delivering epic gas mileage.

The 2011 V6 has 305 horsepower....one more than the '10 Chevy Camaro V6.  And they've won the mileage wars, too...EPA estimates 19 city/31 highway to the Camaro's 17/29.

                      Instrument panel view of 2011 Ford Mustang

And the best part comes when you get behind the wheel.  The tweaked interior is better put together and made of better materials than last year's. It's smoother and more contemporary, while still giving you that little flash of '60s era Mustang.

Driving? Well, 305 horsepower was Mustang GT territory before....so this gets up and runs...and Mustang has a major edge on the Camaro and Dodge Challenger because it's smaller and lighter...it simply handles better.

The convertible? You can intellectualize all day long about how the fixed-roof Mustang is the way to go in terms of structural rigidity and blah, blah, blah....

It's gorgeous. Pretty women turn and smile. Drive it two blocks on a sunny day and you'll want one. And now, no one will bust you for cheaping or wimping out and going with the V6.

Base price for the V6 convertible: $30,845. As tested (Mustang Club of America Package, 6-speed automatic transmission, 3:31 ratio axle, security package and HID headlamps), $35,000 including delivery.

Chevy intends to fix the power deficit in its 2011 Camaro, but they're stuck with the excess weight. Hands down, the Mustang is the better drive among the new-gen six-cylinder pony cars.

Can't wait to drive the 2011 Mustang GT 5.0 (hint to Ford PR).

Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT Grand Touring Review

This may be the first car I've driven where the name, if put on a badge, would be longer than the car itself.

It is the heaviest and most expensive Miata I've driven in 13 years of professional TireKicking, but I can't say I love it any less (for just how much that is, see last year's review here). And that's because Mazda is now doing the kind of magic that used to be solely the province of Honda.

Retractable hardtops, while offering security from knife-wielding thieves and a lower level of cockpit noise, usually add weight and cost and steal a large chunk of what little trunk space the ragtop version of a car has in the first place.

But Mazda has kept the weight gain to 80 pounds...lighter than putting a passenger onboard. And because of how it folds into place, it takes up less than one cubic inch of trunk space.

That, folks, is just plain brilliant.

Cost? Yes, it's more. In the case of the Grand Touring model, going with the PRHT (let's just call it the "retractable" from here on out) adds $1860 to the tab.  And while $1860 is $1860, that's less than most cars charge for a nav system that will be obsolete by the time you need new tires.

So the starting point for the retractable Grand Touring is $28,400. Yeah, that's a chunk for a Miata, especially when the base Miata Sport softtop starts at $22,960. But here's what you get by going with the Grand Touring:

  • Run-flat tires

  • Xenon headlights

  • Automatic climate control

  • Advanced keyless entry

  • Leather-trimmed  heated seats

  • Bose audio system

  • Sirius satellite radio

  • Bluetooth hands-free phone capability

  • Dynamic stability control

  • Traction control system

In short, a seriously loaded luxury Miata. And Mazda added the Suspension Package (a sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks and limited-slip differential) for $500....which just enhances this real-life version of a slot car. Bottom line: $31,300 including delivery charges.


If you have never driven a Miata, you owe yourself at least a test-drive. They are addictive cars...delivering what the old MGs, Triumphs and Austin-Healys only promised...embarrassing the earnest efforts of the now-dead Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. If you've dismissed them as merely cute, or a "chick car", you're wrong, pure and simple. 68 percent of all Miatas are bought by men, and it's because they are the next-best thing to a Porsche Boxster at a fraction of the price. They reward energetic, involved driving...20 minutes on a winding road will put a smile on your face that will last all day.





L.A..'s Arizona Boycott Could Mean End Of Red Light Cams

Los Angeles is among the cities boycotting Arizona's new immigration enforcement law. But where does that leave the city in its dealings with the Arizona-based supplier of its red-light cameras? The story from KABC-TV.

California License Plates May Go Digital, Display Advertising

California is considering a digital license plate. Yes, digital. Stop for four seconds or more and the letters and numbers disappear, replaced by....advertising (and Amber Alerts).

The revenues (higher plate fees, plus ad dollars) would supposedly help the Golden State dig out of its financial hole.  The full story from KABC-TV.


Mercury Dies So That Lincoln May Live

We pretty much did our post-mortem of Mercury five days early...running down the cause(s) of the impending death.

So what happens now? Well, Ford says they're going to devote their energies into revitalizing their Lincoln brand.

On paper, this makes a bunch of sense. The successful model for car sales is one mainstream brand, one luxury (think Toyota/Lexus)...with no definable space for a "middle" brand (GM is bucking that wisdom by keeping Buick).

But where exactly is Ford taking Lincoln? Part of the problem is that for all the talk of how Mercury was done in by being nothing more than some re-badged Fords, it's hard to say Lincoln's in much better shape (the MKZ is a Fusion, the MKX an Edge, the MKS a last-gen Taurus and the MKT a Flex...though those last two are pretty well disguised).

Unique products? Well, there's the Town Car...but that's a dinosaur headed to extinction with no plans for a replacement. Oh, yeah...and they still sell the Navigator. Just not many of them.

Ford says a small car (based on the next Focus) that was supposed to be a Mercury will now be a Lincoln.

Depends on how they do that...but it sounds a little down-market for where Lincoln needs to be.

The TireKicker take? Lincoln needs to take serious aim at Cadillac. They need one car at least as good as the CTS. A CTS-V competitor would have to follow. And, you may have noticed, the CTS is not a re-badged Chevrolet. They need a larger sedan to do battle with the DTS/STS replacement that's coming. They need a crossover to compete with the SRX.  And, if there's a market for a premium sedan below the CTS in the U.S., Lincoln needs to play there, too.

Until and unless the Ford Expedition becomes as good as or better than the Chevy Suburban, Lincoln doesn't need to go chasing the Escalade (especially not the pickup version).

All this means engines, materials, and enthusiasm well beyond what we've seen from Lincoln before...plus a promotion budget to get the message across to buyers (it's been 10 years since Cadillac claimed "Breakthrough" with Led Zeppelin and they're just starting to see the results). And that's going to be way more than combining the money devoted to Lincoln now with what they would have spent on Mercury.

The situation calls for a world-class luxury brand. And until and unless Ford gets that, Lincoln's in danger of being a more expensive Mercury.


Mercury Deathwatch: News Conference at 3PM, Eastern Time

The Detroit News is reporting that Ford has called a news conference for 3PM EST to discuss "brand and product strategy".

Expectation is that means the official announcement that Mercury is joining the scrap heap of once-prominent American car brands, and that a new compact Merc will end up a Lincoln.

Details as they're available.

Feds Probing Floormats In Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan

Doesn't matter what the brand, a poorly installed or wrong-sized floormat can trap accelerator pedals.

NHTSA says it's recieved three complaints that Ford's "All Weather" floormat can trap the gas pedal when laid on top of the standard floor mat.

Read the full consumer advisory here.

Elderly Driver Hits Gas Instead Of Brake, One Dead

A tragic accident in Peoria, Arizona (suburban Phoenix). An 87 year old driver parking at a Walgreens hits the gas instead of the brake, jumps the curb, hits and kills a store employee on break.

Two remarkable things...the car was a Honda, and there was no discussion of unintended acceleration...just an admission from driver and police that it was a case of standing on the wrong pedal.

This incident has a lot of similarities to all the Toyota incidents that have fueled the unintended acceleration frenzy the past few months. And when properly investigated, the end result is the same. If floormats aren't trapping the gas pedal, it's usually driver error.