Tuesday, June 17, 2014

You Complete Me...

I turned 40 last month and in the last almost quarter century of having a driver’s license, I have owned more than 20 Mercedes Benz vehicles and have driven probably twice as many.  I’ve driven them all… from a 1967 SL280 Roadster to a 2014 S550 Sedan…. Big or small, convertible, hatchback, sedan, wagon, SUV, coupe… you name it, I have probably driven it!  And without exception, I have always found something I loved about each Mercedes I’ve driven. Conversely, I have also found something I hated about every one of them!  That never deterred me from owning one, but it always left something to be desired… and perhaps that partially explains why I’ve owned so many cars.

Well, that something to be desired was found last week; when I drove a 2012 E550 Convertible from eCarOne.  And that something I can only refer to as “Completeness.”  This time, I could not find something that I hated about this car!  Maybe all the stars aligned that week or maybe I was in a forgiving mood, or maybe I was just driving the perfect combination of color, style, technology, and power… yeah, I think that was it… LOTS of tire shredding power that takes on a whole other dimension when coupled with top-down open air driving!

I can stop writing here and trust that I have already made my point.  To that, I will not bore you with detail and in-depth review mumbo jumbo… you can go to YouTube for that.  However, I just want to tell you why I loved this car so much and why I had a difficult time finding negatives.  First, the car is just downright beautiful.  The diamond white color is really something to be admired… sure there are many car companies that offer a “pearl” white but not till you compare MB’s diamond white with other “pearls” side by side that you appreciate the depth and dimension of this special color treatment.  And matched with the parchment interior leather and beautiful wood trim and this car was screaming class!  Ok, so it’s another pretty Mercedes… no big deal.  Well, that’s where the “completeness” description comes in. 

This was the E550, yes the Big Mama… a 5 Liter V8 that’s twin turbocharged and mated to an awesome ZF automatic transmission and limited slip differential.  What does that mean?  It means hitting the gas at 30MPH and still breaking the tires loose!  We’re not talking peeling out at the stoplight… we’re talking peeling out while already rolling at a good speed… that’s not just power… that’s power delivery at its best!  It’s one thing to have a high power V8, but it’s another thing to actually be able to deliver the power to the tires with such brute force.  That takes engineering and a great deal of thought.  Let me put it in perspective… the only other Mercedes that I’ve driven that could do that was a CLK63 Black Series… none other.

Other than fantastic power, this car had everything else you’d want; effortless power top operation, excellent sound system, ventilated and heated seats, Bluetooth, backup camera, and even enough room in the backseat for two young adults and room in the trunk for your golf bag.  What else do you want?

I loved this car and I would without question own one.  Go check it out if it hasn’t already been sold to a lucky new owner. 

Mini Me

Last year I drove a Mercedes GL450 from eCarOne for about a week.   That particular week, the GL came in very handy because it was my daughter’s birthday and it was nice to be able to load all the kiddos into one car and haul off to the circus.  I recall writing a very favorite review on the GL and till this day, it remains one of my favorite large SUVs.

Last week (almost exactly a year from driving the GL), I had the chance to drive a 2013 Mercedes GLK250 Bluetec from eCarOne.  At first, I was a bit hesitant to take the little SUV because with all honesty, I never really believed in small SUVs.  I’ve always had a “go big or go home” mentality and to me, a small SUV is almost an oxymoron; sort of like brown tuxedo shoes or a wool swim suit.  I mean what’s the point of giving up handling, acceleration, and sportiness for the sake of just having a little more trunk space and really no more added comfort or seating capacity? 

What’s the point?  Well, after driving the GLK for a week and really putting it to good use, I now get the point.  And the point is that you don’t have to sacrifice performance and comfort in order to get much more cargo capacity than say a comparably priced sports sedan (a.k.a. Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3-Series or Audi A4).  Hold on… Am I really comparing the performance of the legendary BMW sedan to that of a compact SUV?  The answer is no.  Rather, I’m saying that if you want a car that provides you an overall excellent driving experience while giving you tons of cargo space, then you can’t go wrong with the little GLK. 

From the outside, the GLK looks small when compared to the average SUV you see on the road today.  In fact, it’s not any longer or wider than a mid-sized sports sedan like an E-Class or 5-Series.  Once you get in the driver’s seat, the overall feel is still the same… you’re in an E-Class and it’s not till you look over your shoulder and see the cavernous rear cargo room that you realize this car is very deceiving!  The rear seat is again not much larger than that of an E-Class but as far as cargo space is concerned, the GLK is phenomenal.  Let me give you real world support to my favoritism…  I had the GLK during a week where I was doing some redecorating at home and accordingly I used it for trips to pick up various items.  I specifically recall one trip where I had two 12x8’ rugs (rolled), several boxes from The Container Store, several large bags of household items, and a full load of groceries.  All I had to do is fold the back seats down and everything fit with no issue… I probably had room for more!  In my opinion, that’s all you should ever try to fit inside the cabin of a vehicle… any more and you should have a truck.

In terms or practical everyday use, the GLK is a winner as expected.  What I did not expect is that the GLK is really a joy to drive.  I was expecting it to drive like… well, like an SUV.  However, this car rides and drives much more like a sports sedan.  In my opinion, it drives much like an E-Class or a C-Class… the steering is very accurate, the suspension is tight and responsive, and it accelerates very well for a car of this size.  There were many times where I had to remind myself that I’m driving an SUV, not a sports sedan.  And I’m someone who is very familiar with sporty driving!  I’ve been driving sports cars and performance sedans for years and I truly feel that the GLK deserves special notice for being a truly outstanding on-road vehicle.  I did not get a chance to test its off-road capabilities, but I think we all know that off-roading is not the purpose this car was built for.  All in all, I thing the GLK is a winner in terms of providing ample cargo room, passenger room, and overall driving enjoyment.

The only quam I have is the diesel!  I live in Texas and had a difficult time finding a gas station that sells diesel.  In terms of performance, I think this diesel powered GLK was excellent (power, torque, and economy) but unless you have plenty of stations around your area that sell diesel, I’d consider the gasoline version.  In either case, you can’t lose.

Till next time, thank you for reading.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

An SUV Fit for a King

My first car in high school was a 1986 Chevy Spectrum that was handed down to me from my mom.  It was maroon with black plastic bumpers, maroon cloth interior (dash, carpet, steering wheel, and all), and sported a little 4 banger making about 80 bHP.  My favorite part about that car was that it was a manual transmission… but that’s all!  Oh, and did I mention it didn't have power steering, ABS, power windows or even a radio!  I was lucky enough that it had a seat belt.

I am fortunate that I've come a long way since my first car nearly 24 years ago.  I just turned 40 this weekend and have been blessed in many ways; from beautiful healthy children to a great career that affords me the opportunity to do things I enjoy.  I’m also blessed with great friends…. that afford me the opportunity to kick the tires of some really kick-ass cars!  For example, last week the guys at eCarOne gave me access to a car that I have always wanted to drive but never really thought about owning.  For a full week, I had the chance to daily drive a 2011 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE.  This car had it all… it was finished in a beautiful combination of metallic black exterior with ivory interior, had the luxury package, rear DVD, and a bunch of other bells and whistles that no Range Rover would be complete without.

The reason I say that I have always wanted to drive it but never thought about owning it is in itself a statement that needs some further elaboration.  You see, to me and perhaps to many others, a Land Rover is not exactly a value proposition.  In general, late model Land Rovers (Range Rover and other models) are expensive relative to their competitors (Mercedes, BMW, Lexus) and in terms of value, they do not offer all the luxury appointments for the same price point.  You may say “So what, who cares about value… it’s a Land Rover.”  Your statement would be correct, but remember this is an SUV we’re talking about.  In the SUV segment, most buyers are seeking good value.  This is not a sports car or a weekend toy… it’s a Utility vehicle and oftentimes value is high on the priority list for SUV buyers.
With that said…. The whole value proposition changes when you look at slightly used Range Rovers.  In just three years, this car has depreciated about 50% of its original purchase price.  As eCarOne is offering this car at about $50k, now it makes much more sense to buy it if you are looking for value.

On the other hand, if you drive this car, you will not be thinking about value while you’re smiling from ear to ear at how this car makes you feel while you’re behind the wheel.  I absolutely loved driving this car.  This really is no comparison to any other driving experience.  I can say that with all due honesty because I truly do not place value high on my priority list when it comes to cars.  I would much rather enjoy my car in every way than worry about resale value or bang for the buck.  A car to me is not an investment… it’s a cost and for me it’s an important part of my day and of my overall life experience.  Hence, I don’t seek value when I’m purchasing a car as I do when I’m evaluating a possible financial investment.

Case in point, I purchased a 2014 Maserati new just five months ago.  Now, less than 4,000 miles later that car is probably worth $15k less than I paid for it.  Many folks out there would call me crazy… so be it but is it crazy to spend $100 on a bottle of wine or $200 on dinner or $500 on a pair of Lakers tickets?  How long do any of those experiences last?  To each his own, right?

Now, let’s get back to the Range Rover.  I already briefly stated that I loved it, but let me elaborate.  In comparison to my Maserati Ghibli, the Range Rover Sport does not offer the most bang for your buck when compared to its competitors.  For what I paid for the Ghibli, I could have purchased a much more powerful AMG E63, a BMW M5, or even a Porsche Panamera 4S.  However, none of those cars would have given me the overall experience of owning and driving an Italian luxury sports sedan with such a rich history linked to none other than Ferrari.  By the same token, the Range Rover is a great car for the same money, you could buy a fully optioned out BMW X5 5.0 that is much faster, has more bells and whistles and much for suited for daily street driving than the Rover.  However, you would not be driving a piece of history and an iconic off road vehicle.  Land Rover only makes SUVs and makes them better than anyone else out there.  Land Rovers are internationally recognized as the crème de la crème of SUVs; at home in the African jungle as well as escorting European royalty to the most prestigious events.

I’m not going to go into much detail about this car.  I don’t need to.  If you want value and bang for your buck, then you can’t go wrong with a Lexus GX460 but if you want the pure enjoyment of driving an SUV that makes you feel like royalty, then take this car for a test drive and you’ll understand what I mean.

Thanks for reading and happy driving.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A well kept Mercedes secret!

Mercedes Benz Engineering Mode
When I started looking for a car to replace my 2007 Mercedes E350, I was looking for a bargain. Marc at eCarone helped me pick the perfect car. A 2010 E350 of course. It was a great price. The car did not have navigation. I don't care about navigation, to be honest with you, I prefer using my phone map whenever needed. The only problem was if the car doesn't have navigation, it will not have the wireless bluetooth streaming option; which is something I use all the time.
I went to the Mercedes Dealership to see what it takes to add this option. To my disappointment, they claimed that the option can not be added without adding a full navigation system which is very expensive. It just didn't add up. The car doesn't have navigation, but it has all the ingredients needed to have bluetooth streaming, like audio controls, phone integration and bluetooth. It seemed more like a software change than hardware.

I researched online and came across something called Engineering Mode. I was puzzled because I learnt that you could enable many hidden features on your Command screen. Some of the key features are enabling MP3 playback and enabling playback of multi-region disks.
Press these three keys, "hangup + # + 1" for about 10 seconds. Once you get in there, you have a ton of settings, logs and options to play with. I tried enabling a bunch of different things, but nothing seemed to make much of a difference. The coolest thing was probably the bluetooth audio for wireless streaming, but unfortunately I couldn't get it to connect to my iPhone. It seemed buggy. It will show on the screen as an option, but it won't connect.

I added the option to the screen and I took the car again to the Dealership. I asked to do a software update and voila', problem solved. My car was still under warranty, so it didn't cost me a penny. If the car is not under warranty, it shouldn't cost over a $100 to do the update.

2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class E550 Coupe | P2 PKG, AMG APPEARANCE PKG, PANORAMIC, NAVIGATION in Carrollton, Texas

Google glasses as optional equipment?

Google Glass is Google's attempt to replace the computer in our pockets, i.e. the phone, to a computer that we can wear. It is a hands-free head-mounted intelligent device that can be worn as eyewear. People are already wearing them while driving which is illegal. Cecilia Abadie, from San Diego found out the hard way. She got ticketed  while driving with her smart goggles on.

So why not integrate it into the car system. Well, leave it to the German carmakers to pick up the latest and fanciest gadget and come up with an application for it in their cars. Mercedes is developing a new navigation system that utilizes Google Glass with a voice activated interface in one lens. The Google Glass will be able to guide drivers to their cars, transfer a destination address to the vehicle's navigation system and back to the Glass allowing a walking directions to your final destination.

Drivers will be able to access the Internet and many other applications without distraction. Normally you need to take your eyes off the road and look at the car console screen, but with the Glass, your line of vision will remain on the road.

The Mercedes Benz "vision" is a few years shy from making it into any of their current models. The Glass is not released to consumers yet. But Mercedes is definitely trying to be ready just in case it becomes popular.

Mercedes, and many other luxury automakers, are approaching technology differently. They are adapting new technologies quickly and building new models that are capable of integrating new gadgets. You know you could never predict what future "rich" nerds will be into.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Ultimate Coupe

A few weeks ago I posted my thoughts about a 2014 BMW M6 Grand Coupe that eCarOne let me drive over a weekend.  That car, in my opinion, was probably one of the most complete cars I had ever driven.  It has power, beauty, finesse, and the practicality of four doors.  I enjoyed it so much that sadly I was not looking forward to getting back to my beloved Maserati Quattroporte (which is by far my favorite of all 35+ cars I've owned).

After driving the Bimmer, I really didn't think I'd find anything else that compares in terms of overall driving experience.  But then I started to think about that for a minute and realized that "complete" really depends on what you're looking for.  From my perspective, completeness comes in the combination of power, handling, and practicality.  However, for many others that are not in my situation (family of five), practicality may just take on the form of having a back seat or a decent trunk to put the golf bag.  Handling may not mean taking 30-degree banks at 80mph, and power does not have to be tire shredding power in order to be noticed.  I guess what I'm saying is that completeness comes in many different forms and always depends on the driver's perception.

This leads me to talk a little about the car I had over the last weekend from eCarOne.  As usual, I took my toddler son with me to eCarOne to see what car to blog next.  As soon as we walked into the showroom, my son notices a beautiful white Bentley Continental GT Coupe parked on the floor.  He immediately runs to it and starts inspecting it!  As I'm talking to one of the owners, I realize that I have not yet blogged about a Bentley.  The owner greets my boy and asks him... what car do you want dad to drive today?  My son fearlessly says "the Bentley!"  My friend smiles and looks at me.... and I say, hey you asked him... So, 20 minutes later we're off in a 2008 Bentley Continental GT Coupe.  To be perfectly honest, I was a bit nervous and I'm sure I was not the only one.  This was not a run of the mill GT Coupe that can be had for $70k used... it was a gorgeous fully optioned Coupe with the exclusive Mulliner package.  Although eCarOne priced this car below the Bimmer I had the weekend before, I was still more nervous than ever.  I guess it's because I had never driven a Bentley and didn't know what to expect.

So, I placed my boy's car seat in the back seat and I buckled myself in.  Without any expectations, I started the car (love the left-hand side ignition location... very Porsche).  When the engine came to life, I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful roar... did not expect that.  I then remembered that his is a twin turbo 6.0L V12 engine... this is not a tame cruiser; it's a beast dressed as a princess.  I like to take my son with me to pick up any car from eCarOne because having him with me forces me to take it easy and this is very helpful in getting to know the car first.  During the 20 minute drive home, I can take my time to understand all the features of the car and more importantly to learn about how the car behaves.  I did just that with the Bentley and after putting the car in sport mode and punching the gas a bit, I couldn't wait to get home and drop off my son so that I can take it for a good test drive.

Later that evening, I had a chance to get a little time behind the wheel on my own.  I have to say that this car is really not what I expected.  I figured it would drive like a big Jag, Merc, Bimmer, or Audi but it does not drive like any of those.  First of all, the suspension is so refined and so smooth that it's unlike any other driving experience.  It's sporty but supple at the same time. I really don't know how to explain it, except it's like riding on compressed air.  On the highway, all dips, bumps and uneven surfaces are completely absorbed and go almost unnoticed.  In the corners, the car hunkers down and grips very well through the entire curve, all with very good confidence.  As for steering feel, it's light as you'd expect from a Bentley but not loose.  The cabin is whisper quiet, except when you rev the engine... you hear a subtle yet very throaty exhaust note.  And it's not all show and no go... this thing moves!  There is no shortage of power or torque at any part of the rpm range... it's like a freight train; and why wouldn't it feel that way... it's powered by a monster 6.0L V12 Twin Turbo which makes nearly 500 lb-ft of torque at only 1,600 rpm.  In layman terms, this Bentley generates as much pulling power as TWO Ford F-150 trucks!  And it generates this power as soon as you hit the gas!  Yeah, I like it!

There really is nothing to dislike about this car.  If I said I'd like the steering to be a bit tighter, I would be out of place... because the typical Bentley buyer would love the steering feel just the way it is.  If I said I'd like more rear legroom, then I'd be an idiot... it's a coupe; not a sedan.  Overall, this car is beautiful to look it, beautiful to drive, and at just over $100k from eCarOne, it's attainable at nearly half its MSRP.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Car that Woke me Up!

Last blog I posted was January this year so you could say I’ve been hibernating for most of 2013.  Life has been very hectic to say the least and finding the time has been a bit of a challenge, but when my buddy from eCarOne told me at dinner Friday night that he just got a 2014 BMW M6 Grand Coupe, I felt a rush of adrenaline and all the sudden my hibernation was over!  Every man could you a spark in his life and this is the spark I needed to jump start my blogging engine again.

If you’re reading this, you may assume that eCarOne has not gotten any exciting cars in a while, but that could not be further from the truth.  In fact, in the last several months since I’ve blogged, eCarOne has obtained some phenomenal cars including a handful of Bentleys, two Lamborghinis (one is a Superlaggera), a couple of Ferraris, a couple of Mercedes SLS (a coupe and a roadster), and their usual bevy of awesome AMG Mercedes, M-Power BMWs, and everything else from Porsche to Range Rover.  So, why did this M6 Grand Coupe wake me up?  Well, that’s a good question and I’ll attempt to answer it in the next few paragraphs.

To start, this is a 2014 model with less than 1,000 miles and a $141,000 sticker price (eCarOne is selling it for $18k under MSRP), so this means this car is fully optioned out.  This alone was enough to spark my interest… how did eCarOne get a car that I cannot even find at most BMW dealerships today?  How can I have the opportunity to drive a “brand new” M6 Grand Coupe for a full weekend and pass it up?  I could not even find one at most BMW dealers and if I did, it would be very difficult to arrange for a 15-minute test drive with a nervous salesman riding shotgun telling me to be careful!  No, that’s not my cup of tea… I’ll take this kick-ass 4-door M6 for a weekend and get the full experience (without the nervous salesman riding shotgun!)

So, Saturday morning I took my 3 ½ year old boy (who’s a bigger car nut then I) to eCarOne and dropped off my car to pick up the M6 Grand Coupe.  Finished in a beautiful black sapphire metallic with black leather, I thought it looked really mean (especially with the carbon fiber roof) but then again it looked very understated.  As with most M-Power BMWs, you have to be a bit knowledgeable to be able to tell it’s a special car; otherwise it looks like a 6-series Grand Coupe with the sport package.  The one big hint that it’s not just a 6-series was the huge carbon ceramic brakes finished in bronze... that alone shows this car means business.

So, I opened the rear doors (yes a coupe with rear doors) and secured my boy’s car seat.  He got in with no problem and had plenty of leg-room without my having to push the front passenger seat all the way forward.  In essence, this car is a true four door with actual usable space

So here we go.  It took me a few seconds to figure out all the buttons and options.  Essentially, you have a multitude of driving combinations.  You have three settings each for steering, suspension, and throttle (comfort/efficient, sport, super sport).  Then you have the option of fully automatic throttle or manual transmission with steering mounting paddles.  For automatic, you have three settings which control how aggressively the transmission shifts (more aggressive means the transmission holds the gear longer and shifts closer to redline).  All in all without doing the math, you have more than enough setting combinations to suite any taste and any situation.  This may sound overwhelming, but once you’re set to what you like, you can store it to one of two “M” buttons on the steering wheel (like seat memory or radio station memory… easy).

Since I had my boy with me, I took the 20 minute drive home easy and got to know the car a bit. Then later that afternoon on my own, I went out to see what this thing is all about.  At first, I had everything set to aggressive (super sport and manual) then after driving the car for a while I found the setting that best suited me (super sport throttle & suspension, and sport steering).  I set the car on fully automatic with the shift points set at aggressive.  So all this is nice, but how does this thing feel.  In a nutshell, this car is nothing short of phenomenal.  The car felt like an extension of me (not only my arms, legs, body but also my brain).  It’s like the car knows not only where I’m pointing it but also where I want to go next!  Hitting triple digit speeds requires no effort at all, which makes this car not only ultra fun but also very dangerous for the speeding ticket count…. If I owned this car, I’m sure I’d need to have a few lawyers stored on my iPhone!

In addition to all out raw acceleration and speed (sub 4-sec 0-60 & 8.5 sec 0-100), this car is surprisingly nimble.  Despite its two ton plus weight, this thing is glued to the road at any speed and can take any curve with poise and confidence (0.92g lateral acceleration; on par with Porsche 911).  Again, it’s so effortless that it’s almost dangerous for the novice driver… you end up feeling like Michael Schumacher in this car!

How about all other things that you’d expect with a car priced at well over $100k?  Well, this Grand Coupe was equipped with a Bang & Olufsen sound system that puts most home theater systems to shame.  I didn’t know what I’d rather listen to; the fantastic sound coming out of the speakers or the fantastic sound coming out of the exhaust!  Everything else about this car feels perfect, from the infinitely adjustable and deeply supportive sports seats to the thick sporty steering wheel.  BMW has improved the cabin feel tenfold in just the last few years, including but not limited to an awesome navigation system with a screen bigger than the living room TV I grew up with!

All in all, I think this Grand Coupe is a definite home run.  What did I dislike?  Well, if I had to be picky, I’d say the truck should have been equipped with an automatic closing mechanism and the rear brake calipers should have been finished in a solid piece with a BMW logo like the front calipers (now I’m being really picky).

To sum it up, I was not looking forward to driving my Maserati Quattroporte after returning this car to eCarOne and for the first time, I was actually disappointed to drive my beloved QP! The Bimmer Grand Coupe spoiled me rotten!

I hope I’ve provided you some insight into this car, but do yourself a favor and see it for yourself.  I’m glad to be back in the blogging arena and thank you for reading.

2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe | EXECUTIVE PKG, CERAMIC BRAKES, NAV, BANG & OLUFSEN in Carrollton, Texas

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Future of In-Car Technology

Technology is evolving exponentially and we are really seeing it in cars. I took my 8 year old daughter for a ride in my 1989 Mazda Miata. She looked at the window handle and asked:

"What is this for?"
"Old cars did not have power windows" I answered. "We used this handle."
She has never seen one of those before because power windows has been a standard option in almost all models her whole life. And the way things are going, most probably my grandson will not know what a CD is.
Auto makers are getting really good at adapting new technologies. But they are still not there. They used to build cars equipped with older technologies, now its a couple years old, and eventually it will be the current year. And that is not the far future, this is in the next few years. They are building cars that can easily be modified to be integrated with the new Hi-Tech gizmos.
Some of them love to include new technologies right away and some still hang onto old ones. Audi is the pioneer in adopting newer technologies. Some of their 2008 models included cars without CD players. Infinti, on the other hand, still had a tape player in their early FX models. An option that was, by most people, not used at that time.
We could argue that some people still want to have the option. But we are in the technology age, things are evolving at an amazing rate; and we are getting really good at taking on new ones.
Luxury auto makers, like Mercedes, Lexus and BMW are offering celluar capability embedded in the car. They have Apps, similar to what you have on your phone. You can check the weather, search for stores; do things that you usually do on your phone, even check your email. Chevy, on the other hand, is offering a whole new experience. Mylink will be introudced in their 2014 Spark model. This will allow you to sync your phone with the car, and you're phone Apps will appear on the 7 inch screen in the dashboard, mirroring the phone's home screen. You can tap the touch screen as if it's your phone. You can run Google Maps and if you have an iPhone, holding down a button on the steering wheel will launch Siri.
Seeing amazing options like these in a $15000 car is great news. It means that the standard options for cars will change, it will include options suited for the current date. Just like power windows was an option 15 years ago and now it is standard. These technologies will be standard in every car.
Welcome to the "Silver" age of technology. Its not "Golden" yet, but sooner than you think.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Blu-Ray in the car, coming soon to a dealer near you

I love movies and I am a huge fan of high definition. When Blu-ray won the battle against HD format, I was ecstatic. My wife could not see the difference in picture quality. Are you kidding me! The difference is huge. HD resolution is 1280x720 vs. 1920x1080. That’s 921,600 pixels vs. 2,073,600. More than double the pixels.

For those of you who are not familiar with the term. The resolution of a television is the number of pixels in each dimension that the television can display. The higher the resolution is, the better the picture quality. But I am not here to talk about Blu-ray or resolutions. My problem is when I decided to install an entertainment system in my 2009 Cadillac Escalade a few years ago; I could not find an in-car Blu-ray player. They didn’t exist.

I did some research, and supposedly manufacturers were unable to make a 10-inch screen that shows high-definition. Blu-ray came in 2002; this technology was 10 years old and they still could not make a 10-inch Full HD 1080p screen.

I love buying movies. I have a 60” at home. So I buy Blu-ray. Now I have to buy the Blu-ray and the DVD version for the car. I know I can buy the combo pack that comes with both. But that’s not a solution.  Blu-ray took over few years ago and it is growing. DVD will be obsolete soon.

You can argue and say for screens smaller than 40”, 720p is more than enough.  That is correct. As a matter of fact, 1080p resolution is worth it only for 40”-60”. Your eye will not be able to tell difference at a distance. But at this point I’m not worried about picture quality. Just offer me something that plays my Blu-ray discs in my car.

Apparently, Panasonic unveiled the first Blu-ray Player in 2007 Tokyo Motor show. And in 2009 they said they are getting ready to launch it. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi is getting ready to offer there version as well. Still nothing heard from both companies. Until finally in 2011 Engadget reported that “Audiovox shows off the industry’s first in-car Blu-ray player, the AVDBR11” with an MSRP of $349.99. That is the only in-car Blu-ray player I could find.

You know the disappointing part is that, till today, not even a single Car manufacturer offers it; I guess there isn’t a true demand for it because I’m sure they would love to make the extra money. Or maybe DVD is good enough.

And Blu-ray is not stopping at 1080p resolution. The new 4k Ultra HD resolution is the next generation Blu-ray. That will be my next year resolution: 3840x2160. That’s over 8 million pixels.
I will leave it up to you to decide whether DVD is enough or not. But one thing for sure, Blu-ray is the future.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why Customize?

Why do people take perfectly good cars and alter them by adding aftermarket products?  There is no good answer for this question but I'm going to attempt to explain why I personally feel the need to alter a perfectly good car or anything else for that matter.

I have a Rolex watch that came with a stainless steel bracelet and I recently changed this bracelet for a leather strap because I personally felt that it looked better and suited my taste more.  If Rolex made this watch with a selection of custom-made leather straps, I would have opted for that but they don't so I did.

My friend, who I consider a watch aficionado, saw it this weekend and almost punched me for doing something so taboo (in his mind) but then again he said... "well, you put aftermarket wheels on your Maserati so I'd expect this from you."

Ah, my Maserati... let's get back to cars.  I drive a Maserati Quattroporte and although I personally think this is one of the most beautiful sedans on the road today, I really wanted the coupe.  Since I couldn't have the coupe, I decided that I can have my cake and eat it too by improving the performance, sound, and stance of my sedan.

As such, I lowered the stance just a bit, I added aftermarket wheels with wider tires, and I installed much better sounding sports mufflers.

This is the part that gets tricky.... how much is too much?  Well, although it's a matter of personal taste, there are things that you just don't do.  There are many subtle nuances of modifying a car and small mistakes can take you from looking aggressive to looking idiotic.

For example, my car came with 19" polished wheels but there was a factory option for 20" wheels.  As such, I installed 20" wheels on my car and kept within the factory range.  I've seen others install 22" wheels and to me that just looks silly; not to mention it leaves such little tire sidewall that the ride ends up being overly harsh and not at all what you'd want from a premium car like this.

Another example is the lowering.  Again, my car came with the "luxury" suspension but is offered from the factory with a sport suspension (GTS) that is a little lower and a bit stiffer.  I chose to lower my car just a tad more than that but not much.  This gives me the aggressive look and the much improved handling while sacrificing just a little comfort (but not much).  On the other hand, I've seen owners of very nice cars turning them into low riders!  Sure, it's eye catching for a show car but it's completely pointless for the road.  Other than scraping every speed bump and driveway incline, you actually deteriorate the ride and the handling by lowering the car beyond it's neutral point (lower does not always equal better).  We can get into handling dynamics but that's a whole other subject.  Like I said, there is a fine line between improvement and deterioration.  I lowered the car 1" but had I gone 1.5", it would have negated the whole point.

Exhaust and sound.... why would you alter the sound of a Maserati?  Well, the answer is actually fairly easy. The Maserati Quattroporte (and all others for that matter) is equipped with a de-stroked Ferrari 4.2L V8 (the Ferrari F430 has it in a 4.3L version).  As such, it has the potential to sound very exotic, however the car is fitted with very restrictive mufflers in order to make it more of a luxury sedan.  For those of us who enjoy the sound of the beautiful Ferrari V8, it is a must to replace those restrictive mufflers with either Larini or Tubi mufflers that are specifically designed for Italian exotics.  Instantly, the car is transformed from a subdued luxury cruiser to a sexy sounding exotic.  Again, mistakes could be made here.  Had I just gone to a muffler shop and said "remove the cans", I would have ended up with a Harley Davidson and not a Ferrari.  By getting the right parts (and not sparing the expense), I ended up with what I think is fitting for this car.

So, was this post intended for me to talk about my car?  Not really... it's just an example of what I think are tasteful and functional improvements.  Am I bragging?  No, and to show you an example of tasteless and idiotic alterations, let me take a second to tell you about my stupidity from my past....

Several years ago (before I became a little wiser), I purchased a brand new Lexus IS300 and I started by doing the basics such as a little lower stance, wider wheels/tires and a nicer sounding exhaust system.  However, I lost site of what this car really is and instead I ended up going down a modification road I wish I hadn't gone down... I ended up doing a full race suspension, changing the auto transmission to a manual, and doing over $30,000 of engine work; essentially spending more on modifications that the car was worth brand new.  I ended up with a sedan that can outrun motorcycles but it was not a nice car to drive by any means.  I  sold this car with only 15,000 miles for $34,000 which was less than just the modifications.  This was a prime example of what NOT to do with modifications!

In any case, I'm much older now and maybe a little wiser too.  As for the mods I made on my car, I think they're tasteful but I'll let you be the judge: