Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cadillac ATS - the car you should at least consider

Interesting set of circumstances led to me having a Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD model as a rental car for a day on a business trip. First of all this is a car I've been interested in driving since it has gotten positive press coming out as a BMW 3-Series competitor, and second I've been interested to experience the "new" Cadillac as a brand. I was more than a little surprised to see this car show up as a rental of all things. That was just the start of the surprises. In summary for those that don't want to read further, the car is very comfortable, incredibly engaging to drive, and is really sharp and attractive inside and out. Just an all around great car and truly reminded me of the "old" BMW driving experience.

 Exterior - it is what it is and what it looks like in pictures. It's the new Cadillac styling and I find it pretty attractive. The rear exhaust treatment and apron I think look fantastic. The car is sporty and shapely without being obnoxious. Not a lot to say about that!

 Suspension- really one of the true highlights of the car. Body roll is nearly non-existant, yet the ride is compliant. It's "sporty" in that you will feel the bumps, but they are damped in such a way they make no real noise in the car, the chassis stays balanced, and they aren't intrusive. The pavement is flat out bad around Madison right now, and I drove over some terrible rodes and was amazed at how well it soaked it all up. Truly impressive to get such a responsive handling and turn in feel without getting a jarring ride. Perfect for driving every day and still being confident in hitting the twisties when the mood strikes.

 Brakes and electronic nannies - the brakes are fantastic, no nose dive, great feel, great linearity. I grouped electronic nannies in here because I have to say the ABS system and traction control were fantastic on some bad ice. Like all traction control it steps in too early and a bit too aggressively, but to my surprise worked genuinely well. And you can shut it off.... that's perfect!

 Transmission/drivetrain - One of the biggest surprises was with this being an AWD model that it wasn't numb. It is clearly rear biased and the rear would start to ease out first, but the traction was there and the steering still engaging. When I've been in AWD BMW's they lose a LOT over the RWD versions. This AWD Caddie was fantastic and so much more communicative than the BMW baseline I'm familiar with. If for some reason the RWD is even more engaging... wow. The automatic transmission (it's a rental what do you expect) was the usual... you don't have the control so the downshifts and the upshifts are never quite what you want. That said the manual mode was actually very good, shifts were quick in response to your request and it let you hold RPM's where you wanted. Again, nicely done.

 Engine - a turbocharged Cadillac. And a good one. No real noticeable turbo lag, a great overall engine tone and exhaust note, strong linear power that is beautifully smooth. Just absolutely impressive. I was in awe of the engine almost as much as the steering and suspension. It's THAT good. At 272 horsepower it's not going to light the world on fire in a 3500 lb car, but it was plenty adequate and truly fun to drive. At highway speed it passed and merged and hustled when you wanted to and how you wanted to.

 Steering - this is one of those things that BMW had the market cornered on before. If you wanted sharp intuitive steering you got a BMW... move over.. get a Cadillac. Best steering I've ever seen in a car. Just perfectly weighted and does what you want before you even think about it. It really gives you confidence to steer through corners and it really feels like the car does everything you want it to.

 Handling - Steering and suspension really cover it, but it's just worth emphasizing again that the car handles beautifully. You just want to carry speed in to corners and feed the throttle in right out of the. Absolutely engaging and fluid and confidence inspiring. Beautiful handling. You have to experience it yourself to really get it, but wow does it drive great!

 Quality - The overall impression of materials and looks is extremely high end. That said there was some quibbles. The steering wheel had a weird plastic click and squeak as you turned it. There as a vent for the side windows that didn't sit truly flush with the dash. The whole center stack is a big glossy plastic piece that while it looks high end is just a lot of gloss and finger print magnetism. There were also some switch buttons that had uneven gaps around them. Overall the look and feel was fantastic, but there were definitely some "I'm American made" type quality gaffs that were a bit jarring considering how great the rest of the car was. There were really nice touches like the leather-esque stitched dash panels. The aluminum brushed trim has polished accent images on portions of it. The dash system has haptic touch and the CUE entertainment center worked great with my phone and overall seemed easy to use.

 When it comes down to it, for about 35K this is a heck of a lot of car that performs fantastic. I haven't been that impressed by a car in a long time. Truly, it is a car you NEED to consider if you are looking at any kind of sport sedan or luxury sport vehicle. Worth the look... or just see if you can rent one for a day from Enterprise ;)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sanka, you dead?

No mahn! I am still around, and still planning to write more... so keep checking back!!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hail no!

Automotive Tip of the Month: Been working on some idea that I don't have ready yet, but here is a quick tip! For those of you that park your car outside, one of the great summer hazards is hail. We seem to get at least a couple of hail storms every year. Considering most of us have rather expensive deductibles if we carry comprehensive insurance at all, there is a quick and easy way to protect your car. For about 20-60 dollars you can get a simple car cover at a place like Autozone or Wal-Mart. Then, simply cover the roof, hood, and trunk of your car with quilts or moving blankets (cheap at harbor freight!) and then put the car cover on when a storm is predicted. The cover helps prevent the blankets from moving in the wind. I find that moving blankets are pretty effective and are easier to throw in the dryer afterwards so you can store them again than the quilts. Easy way to prevent expensive and annoying damage!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Shortening the lifetime...

Automotive Tip of the Month: Since clearly I can't keep up with every week ;). Lifetime fluids - anything but. A lot of the newer cars come with what the manufacturers call lifetime fluids. The joke among car nuts is that they are lifetime fluids because when the parts associated break, then you change the fluids thus it lasted the lifetime. For example, BMW claims their transmission and rear-end oils are lifetime. If you really let them go much over the 60-100k part failures increase in those areas. Lifetime fluids are better thought of as extended service. So instead of every 30-50k changing them, you should change them every 60-100k. More if you can afford to do so. In other words, in this case, just because the factory says it is okay doesn't mean it really is. This is showing up on oil changes as well. Many manufacturers (BMW among them!) are starting to go to very long service intervals on the oil (some up to 30k!!). While it is justifiable under certain circumstances, and the car can sometimes handle it, why would you really take the risk on something that typically costs you less than 100-200 a year to do regularly? One engine component failure and you'll have more than paid for anything you saved. And I don't mean big things like bearings, pistons, rods, etc. Often sensors (like a cam sensor) will fail because of the buildup of gunk on the sensor, if the oil was changed more regularly it wouldn't happen. I've seen it happen on PCV valves as well. The manufacturers started doing this because for lease and new car owners and those with service included during the first few years it increases customer satisfaction and lowers dealership overhead for those cars. So it is a win for the dealer and in some ways the first owner. Everybody down the line after loses though! When it comes to vehicles, being proactive and doing more than the recommended maintenance often pays off in the end.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sparks Fly...

Automotive Tip of the Week: When it comes to sparkplugs it is more or less all marketing. The biggest difference between spark plugs really is longevity. You are NOT going to get more horsepower by running a platinum or iridium plug over a copper plug. What you will get is more life. Platinum and Iridium plugs are typically rated for 60-100K miles versus copper usually is rated for around 30-50K. The rating really revolves around the fact that the spark actually eats away a little bit of metal every time the spark makes the gap jump. As this happens the gap between the electrode and the ground point (the arch) gradually opens up and becomes too large. This eventually can result in performance problems as the coil may not be able to get a spark to make the gap jump and then you get misfires and poor engine performance. So the decision you need to make is price/cost. If you change plugs yourself and it is easy to do on your car (like on most 4 cylinder cars) you can save a fair amount of money changing plugs yourself with copper plugs running under 2 dollars many times. Iridium plugs can be north of 20 dollars a plug. So If you assume 50k versus 100K intervals you see the Iridium or Platinum plugs don’t save you much. However, if you have a mechanic change the plug as soon as they charge you the 80 dollars in shop labor, there is no difference in cost over the interval and this is why many cars come from the factory with platinum or iridium as it cuts down warranty service costs for the dealer (and provides any easy upsell item if they want to tell you they think plugs need changing!). There are a lot of other items with plugs to talk about including multi-point plugs, heat ranges, “reading” a plug etc. But I’ll leave that for another time and touch on just one other point. Iridium and Platinum plugs are also referred to as fine-wire plugs because of how small the tips of them are. There are some major downsides to this technology. First, it fouls out MUCH easier. So if you are running a customized car (with added turbo or modified injectors etc), you have a car that burns a lot of oil or coolant, has other issues, or is simply older and doesn’t use precise fuel injection you will potentially have a LOT of problems with a fine-wire plug. Copper standard plugs will be much more resistant to those issues. Therefore, stay away from fine-wire on any car that isn’t running perfectly as you’ll likely compound the issues with poor running. The second major drawback is the fine tips are more susceptible to pre-ignition if the heat range of the plug is not correct or again you have a defect in the motor causing it to run poorly or is being overheated. I personally never run fine-wire plugs in any of my cars for those reasons (cost and reliability) as well as others regardless of how high performance the car is or isn’t. Happy Motoring!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Don't come a knockin'....

Automotive tip of the week: When it comes to gasoline, use what your car recommends, no more, and no less. I mentioned back a few weeks that additives are generally useless. If you are getting gasoline from Citgo, Shell, BP, Mobil, etc they typically already have a ton of additives and detergents. In some rare cases they only put this in their premium fuels, but it is generally done across the board. So why not use premium, etc? The octane rating - 87, 89, 91, 93, etc only means one thing, the resistance to pre-iginition/detonation/knocking the fuel has. The fuel has no actual extra power or energy per gallon than fuel with a different octane rating, so there is no benefit to the vehicle for MPG or horsepower. The reason part of the myth of more horsepower from higher octane fuel evolved is because high horsepower cars required it. This is a factor of the engine design, not the fuel. A high output vehicle will often use forced induction (turbo or supercharger) or uses high compression pistons etc. These things allow more power to be extracted from an engine, but requires a fuel with high resistance to knocking to be safe. When a low octane fuel is used in those applications the fuel can burn incorrectly and cause severe damage to the engine. The pressure waves from a bad burn (engines burn fuel, they don't explode fuel like people often think, in the rare cases that it does explode it can be a form of very severe detonation and will typically destroy the engine) are what make the "pinging" or "knocking" noise people know detonation to be. So the root of the myth of high octane for more power is the fact that high powered cars employed engines that needed the octane to function, not that there was more power in the fuel. So what happens if you use too low of an octane fuel in a car? In newer cars, not much, but it isn't typically considered safe/good to do. The computers in modern cars know how to adjust the engine programming to use the lower octane fuel safely. You will likely lose some MPG efficiency as well as some horsepower but the odds of damage are somewhat controlled. However, some cars are not well suited to this, and the older you get the more and more dangerous this becomes. If you have a particularly high strung vehicle from a couple decades ago you can easily destroy the engine on a hot day with one bad tank of gas. So as always, follow your owners manual!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thin is in...

Automotive Tip of the Week: Here is a short version of one topic there. The numbers on the oil like 5W30 represent at "room temperature" how thick of an oil it flows like (5) and at operating temp how thick of an oil it flows like at that temp (30). So at low temps it flows like a nice thin 5 oil, and at operating temp it flows like a 30 weight oil. What is a bit counterintuitive, but has to do with how oil behaves at different temperatures, is that even though it is flowing like a heavier 30 oil, at those temps it is actually thinner than if it was a 5 oil at ambient temps. In the end none of this means much to you for your car and matters more for the engineers as long as you follow it. So why do I bring this up? Winter and synthetic oil. Synthetic oil has a bunch of neat properties but we'll talk about just one. Traditional 5W30 oil is usually made from 5 weight oil and then has additives put in it to make it "thicken" (as I just said that is actually not necessarily true) as it heats up so it behaves like a 30 weight oil at temp. Synthetic on the other hand usually goes the other way. It is made from a 30weight stock and then the additives and properties of it allow for it to flow in ways a conventional oil can not at lower temps. What this means is that the bottom number on your oil cap can be considered meaningless when you use synthetic oil. So a car that requests 10W30 (like my BMW) you can put in 0W30 and get the same/better protection as running the recommended oil. So why does this matter? Cold Start. When the engine is cold the oil doesn't flow very well and the most wear occurs. It is also when your starter has to work the hardest to fight the tension the oil creates. By using an oil like 0W30 in your car you get faster turn over, less stress on your starter and battery, and oil flow (not pressure! pressure is meaningless at low temps) is better. So your car will start and run better in cold weather, and you'll get better gas mileage if you drive short distances. Don't believe me? Or are unsure about this whole ignoring the oil cap and manual thing if you are using synthetic? Look at the bottles. Bottles like Mobil1 will say right on it "certified for use in 5W30" on a bottle that is 0W30 and they often market/label it as "green formula" or "better mileage formula" when it is just normal old 0W30. you can learn a lot more on this at if you want...