Saturday, November 26, 2011


Today was our annual Rides-N-Smiles event.
By “our,” I refer to the Southern Automotive Media Association. 
When we first formed this group nearly five years ago now, one of our first officers, Bill Adam (a former champion racer) said one event he would like to see the organization get involved in was to a day giving seriously ill children rides in dream cars around a race track.
He had been part of an event back in Canada, where he grew up after leaving Scotland.
Everybody thought that was a great idea. After all, we have a Speedway right in our backyard, so-to-speak, in Homestead. Should be a snap, right?
Well, it look us a bit more doing to get this event going that most reasonable folks might have expected, but the balking had nada to do with the speedway or the car manufacturers.
Both stepped right up with the speedway donating the use of the facility for the day and manufacturers immediately agreed to provide the cars.
Believe it or not, the difficult thing was to find get the children to provide rides for.
This may be a bit of a revelation, at least it was on our part, but some people who run organizations whose purpose is to provide support for seriously ill children and their families seem to be more interested in raising money for their own projects than to take part in something sponsored by somebody else, even when that somebody else is going to do all the heavy lifting and all they had to do was get the children to the speedway.
In fact, at least one group (which will remaining nameless, because overall they do good work, I think) sent Bill paperwork to fill out to sponsor a fundraiser.
Before Bill gave up in frustration, I told him I would call some friends of mine in marketing at Baptist Children’s Hospital, which is part of the extensive Baptist Health South Florida hospital and healthcare service system down here in South Florida (hence the system’s name).
They had children from cancer support groups and with other serious illness they were looking to give a day of cheer. They do fantastic work there. When I was working at another job, they once gave me a tour of the preemie ward, where there were prematurely born children weighing hardly more than a pound being tended to. And they were saving their lives.
So we had our children, and on Nov. 1, 2008, we had our first Rides-N-Smiles event.
You can read it about it if you want by going to our website at, then clicking on events on the front page. There you’ll find accounts of our monthly meetings and other events, including Rides-N-Smiles. They are in reverse chronological order, and Rides-N-Smiles coverage will be found among the November dates.
A couple of years ago, because of the speedway’s schedule, we moved the event to the on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. That has remained the date since. And last year, we expanded the list of children to include those from Miami Children’s Hospital.
This year we had soldiers from the local VA hospital and other military outlets come and help escort the children out to the cars. They got rides as well in the afternoon.
All in all, it was our biggest and best Rides-N-Smiles event yet, with a big number of participants and the kind of weather (sunny, temperature in the low-80s) South Florida tourist directors are always bragging about.
I am posting this blog before all the pictures from today’s event have been posted to our website, and one of our members also sent a video link that I’m sure will be posted later.
The above picture, by the way, is of Angel, one of my passengers, and me. Angel asked some of us to sign the back of his shirt after his ride.
I didn’t have much time to take many pictures since I was driving the Dodge Challenger SRT pictured here. I also snapped the red Audi R8 on the track, then got all artsy-fartsy with the reflection of pit row in the windows above Victory Lane at the speedway in the other shot on this blog.
As I note, there will be much better coverage at our website. If you like to see kids having fun (not to mention a few adults as well) check it out sometime.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Sometimes I fear the luxury car segment is going to drown in alphabet soup.
Luxury imports long have filled their portfolios with a multitude of alpha-numeric designations, and even Cadillac and Lincoln, which once went by full names like El Dorado and Town Car, have succumbed.
Now it’s the Caddy CTS, DTS, STS, and SRX (with the XTS and ATS coming) and the Lincoln MKS, MKT, and MKZ. Only the Escalade (Caddy) and Navigator (Lincoln) survive among full names.

If that’s not enough, luxury automakers append tags like V and S and R to separate the run-of-the-mill luxury models with their upgraded “performance” brethren. Plus Mercedes has the AMG-tuned models in its fleet.
I’m not complaining here, mind you. I love to drive any and all of them. I’m just having trouble keeping up.
Infiniti has joined the party now with its IPL line, IPL being shorthand for Infiniti Performance Line, the first model of which is the IPL G Coupe.
What Infiniti has done is taken a G37 Coupe Journey and given it not just more juice under the hood (up 18 horsepower to 348 total and a mild jump to 278 pound-feet of torque for the 3.7-liter V6) but tuned the suspension, steering, and exhaust systems for more sportier performance as well.

Design treatments both on the outside, like a standard rear spoiler, and the interior, like sports seats with red stitching, also give the IPL a sportier appearance than the standard G37 Coupe, which is quite handsome in its own right.
Ah, and there’s the rub, as they say.
I’m not sure the IPL offers enough over the regular ole G37 to justify its starting price of about $10,000 higher. For the IPL version, with its seven-speed automatic transmission, standard navigation system, and premium Bose sound system, you’re going to pay around $50,000.
I’ve always been a big fan of the Infiniti’s G lineup since the company boosted it from the G20 that served through the 1990s to the G35 sedan and coupe it introduced for the 2003 model year.
The G37 (which replaced the G35 a couple of years ago) is hard to beat when it comes to sporty performance, a nice sound, and luxury touches inside and out.
In fact, you can take what I wrote about the G25, a somewhat smaller version of the G35, back in July and apply it to the IPL G Coupe. They are in many ways the same, high-class vehicle.
Except the IPL is going to get you moving quicker. Much quicker.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Just a note for now regarding the previous blog about my thoughts on the Joe Paterno situation.
I ran across this piece at as to why Paterno and others did not take more action at the time of the 2002 incident on the Penn State campus.
It goes to the point I was trying to make that although we all may say now that we could have reported the incident to the police or even stepped in to stop Jerry Sandusky, as I have heard some say they would, that is based on the result and outcome.
You would like to think that is what you would have done and perhaps now you would in the future because of this tragic experience.
But looking at it in the context of the time does make it different.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Probably like you, I have had many thoughts and reactions as the scandal at Penn State has unfolded. I have been trying to organize them in my mind in some coherent fashion, but so far have been able to do so.
So here they are, in random order.
First, a caveat. I’m going to ignore my journalistic experience here and not give a lot of background and details on the case. There a couple of reasons for this, No. 1 being that something new seems to be coming out of this every day and in some cases every hour.
No. 2, if you aren’t familiar with the story behind former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged child abuse and the subsequent release of more details involving longtime coach Joe Paterno’s actions and inactions, you probably don’t care to read any further any way.
So here goes my random thoughts:

Joe Paterno
1. It’s obvious now that Joe Paterno (and others, for that matter) should have done more than simply tell his boss when a grad assistant came in and told him he had seen something going on in the locker room involving Sandusky and a young boy. Even Paterno acknowledges that -- now.
I have heard numerous commentators on both TV and radio state  how they would have done things differently. Given the advantage of looking back at the way things have turned out, I have no doubt they would have. Knowing what I know now, I certainly would have called the cops, too.
But looking at it in the context of the time, I have to wonder.
Say someone you know, a coworker you have known for a couple of years, comes in and says he or she has seen someone you have known and trusted for 30 years or more doing something like Sandusky was accused of.
Do you immediately call the police? After all, you haven’t seen it yourself. Or do you talk to the accused first and accept his explanation because this is a person you have known for such a big part of your life? Or maybe you do what Paterno did, which was call his boss.
I’m not saying that makes what Paterno did right. And yeah, when his boss took no action, he (and the grad assistant as well) should have investigated further.
I’m just saying  that when you don’t have the benefit of hindsight, you have a slightly different perspective on things and maybe that affects what you would have actually decided to do. There are many things in my life I would like do-overs on.
I’m not defending Paterno here at all, just taking issue with the smugness and self-assurance that some of the critics display when saying that they would have done things much differently. Maybe they would have. I would have hoped I would have. But maybe they wouldn’t have either.
2. Was it right to fire Paterno?
Yes, it was. End of discussion.
3. But Paterno has done such good over the years. Doesn’t he deserve the right to determine how he goes out?
When it comes to on-the-field stuff, sure, I believe he had the right to determine how he went out. I didn’t like the way Bobby Bowden was kind of unceremoniously shown the door at Florida State.
In fact, Paterno apparently did have that right because one of the reports I heard mentioned that after Paterno had a couple of losing seasons recently, he was asked if it wasn’t time for him to step aside, and he said no, that he would pick the time. And he wasn’t forced out, like Bowden was.
The Nittany Lions are 8-1 this year and though some of that was because of a somewhat soft schedule -- the toughest game so far was against Alabama, and they lost that one, and they nearly lost to Temple as well -- it would seem the program was far from a shambles on the field.
But this went far beyond a won-lost record or even routine collegiate scandals involving recruiting or extra benefits like free tattoos (Ohio State), relationships with agents (North Carolina), and nightclub entertainment (Miami).
This wasn’t an NCAA issue. This is a human issue, and Paterno and others in the administration failed tragically when it came to doing the right thing.
So, yeah, Joe had to go, and not necessarily on his terms.
4. About Joe Paterno. Joe had reached iconic status, not just at Penn State but in college football period. He even had a nickname, JoePa, recognize around the country, and the image of being not just a father figure but more a grandfather, or even, considering his age (84), a great-grandfather.
As reports have mentioned, he did a lot more for the university than simply win football games. He raised money for academics and supported non-athletic functions at the university as well. So he did a lot, tons even, of good.
But a couple of comments he has made in the last day or two I think show another side. They reveal that maybe, just maybe, Paterno was a bit more concerned about himself and wasn’t the 100 percent altruistic person his image projected. 
One was his resignation statement issued earlier in the day of his firing. He stated he was resigning effective at the end of the season and now the Board of Trustees could move on to “far more important matters.” Far more important matters? Um, Joe, you were one of the important matters the board had to deal with.
By stating the board could now move on, Paterno in effect was trying to protect his own backside. He had to know he was done at that point, or he wouldn’t have resigned in the first place. But here he was still trying to dictate the terms of his leaving.
The other was a comment he made late in the night after the trustees’ press conference. Because of the time, you might have missed it.
As students and others gathered outside his house, Paterno came out for a brief moment around midnight and told the students basically to go back home and get some sleep. And that was about it.
He had to know that with group growing in size around the house, and with the emotions as raw as they were, this was headed for trouble, and it was.
Later, according to reports, students rioted and “overturned a TV news van, toppled street lights, shook stop signs, and threw toilet paper” -- according to the story in the Philadelphia Daily News -- all while yelling profanities and demanding the reinstatement of JoePa.
Yeah, right. That’s a good way to get the board to reconsider.
Frankly, I could see this coming as well. So why didn’t JoePa, the guy who says he loves Penn State so much, say something to the crowd outside his house like, “I appreciate your support and and love you all, but you need to go on home. Rioting isn’t going to help anything and hurts Penn State. And if you hurt Penn State, you’re hurting me. So again, thank you for your support, but we must move on.”
Okay, it might not have done that much good. This was a crowd that apparently wanted blood. But it would have been the right thing for Paterno to do.
Instead, he said and did nothing of consequence. Just as he had done nine years earlier when that young grad assistant told him something bad was going on in the locker room involving one of his longtime friends and a small boy.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I had a 2012 Nissan Versa to drive this week and was planning on taking some pictures, as usual, and giving you loyal readers my opinion of this inexpensive entry-level sedan that the Japanese automaker has packed with numerous standard features for its class.
The operative words here are “had a 2012 Nissan Versa” and “was planning.”
To explain, I was on my usual Tuesday routine of heading to the University of Miami football press conference where coach Al Golden would feed us the usual B.S., er, I mean give us insights into the upcoming opponent for the Hurricanes, in this case Florida State this Saturday in Tallahassee.
As I tooled along expressway a couple of minutes behind schedule, I debated whether I should take my usual back way or take the expressway all the way out to Dixie Highway. Dixie Highway (U.S. 1) could be quicker, unless I ran into heavy traffic, always a possibility, if not a likelihood at noon time.
My usual back way didn’t have such a risk with traffic. So I decided that’s what I would do.
Wrong choice.
I eased off the expressway and as I sailed down the ramp I saw to my good fortune that the light at the bottom had just turned green. Sometimes Providence smiles on people in a hurry.
In this case, though, Providence was playing a mean trick.
For though I saw one car to my left on the cross street at the bottom of the ramp had stopped, my view of the closer lane was blocked by the roadway itself.
Just as I reached the street, I saw a Chrysler Town & Country to my left, and it wasn’t stopping. Though my foot was already on the brake to slow it, stomping on it didn’t get the Versa stopped in tie and the minivan clipped its front end.
No, I wasn’t hurt, obviously, or I likely wouldn’t be writing this now, and neither was the other driver. His vehicle came to a stop on down the street and he got out and ran back to check on me.
I told him I was okay, and we both pulled our vehicles off the right-of-way. I don’t know how it is where you live, but that’s what you do down here when nobody at the scene is hurt.
I called the press fleet manager to inform him of the accident, and while on the phone the other driver came up to me with an unusual request. He wanted to get his girlfriend, who owned the minivan and lived just minutes away, to come over before the police arrived so she could say she was driving.
Because, he explained somewhat nervously, he didn’t have a driver’s license. And he was here illegally and had been for six years.
Imagine running across an illegal alien who doesn’t have a driver’s license in Miami. What are the odds?
But it wasn’t a triple play. Thanks to his girlfriend, he did have insurance. Not that that mattered to me. One of the great advantages of driving a press fleet car is that when something like this does happen, the company pretty much takes care of everything.
Not that I have a lot of experience in such matters.
The remarkable thing is that the police didn’t take too long to arrive to take down the report, and the tow truck he called arrived rather quickly as well. He was only a safety officer and doesn’t have arrest power, but he did talk with privately with the other driver and his girl, who had come over anyway. What was said I don’t know.
The officer just took my papers and I explained to him that it was a press fleet vehicle and owned by the manufacturer. He didn’t even ask me what had happened or how the accident had occurred, which, looking back on it, seems odd now.
I had expected a long wait for both really, but maybe there wasn’t going on around the county at the time. My wife had barely gotten there to pick me up before the tow truck arrived.
One of the guys in the tow truck took the info on where to drop the car, the other threw the front fascia, which had been ripped off, into the backseat, and they jacked up the car and were gone in minutes.
If you still would like a review, I must say I was impressed with the way the damage was confined to the front end, though that was more due to the way the accident occurred. The airbags didn’t even go off.
It wasn’t until later in the evening that I got to thinking that if I had been just a tenth of a second or so quicker into that intersection, the guy in the Town & Country would have T-boned me. I’m not sure how the Versa would have held up to that, and I’m glad I didn’t have the opportunity to find out.
As for this damage from this incident, my guess, considering the car’s low cost, would be that this particular Versa would have been totaled and headed for the crusher even if it wasn’t a pre-production prototype, which this one was.
And as for the press conference, I missed it in person but watched a replay later on the athletic department’s website. Golden said the Hurricanes were excited with the opportunity to play Florida State but that it would be a great test.
I didn’t need any more tests this day.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


As the farmer said as he stomped on the tomato, it’s catch-up time!

Hope I didn’t lose you there. Never could resist a bad pun, which is a redundant term if I ever heard one.
The aim today is to cover three vehicles that I have driven over the last couple of months which, to keep it simple, I will call SUVs, ignoring whether they are the more trendy crossovers or trucks.

I’m not really sure how many people know the difference or care. To many, if it sits upright and has a liftgate at the rear instead of a trunk, it’s an SUV. Doesn’t matter if it can handle the Rubicon Trail or just a gravel parking lot, it’s still an SUV in common parlance.

So I’m going to treat the BMW X3, the Cadillac SRX, and the Dodge Durango all at once. One wouldn’t necessarily group those particular three together, though they are pretty much in the same price range (from mid-$30s to mid-$40s, plus options).
And this is my blog, and I’m not only the writer, but the editor as well.
So here goes.
The Cadillac SRX hasn’t gotten the attention over the years that its big brother, the Escalade, has, mostly because it didn’t catch on right away with the hip hop music crowd. But apparently it has caught on with someone because it has become one of the company’s big sellers.
It’s easy to see why.
It has gotten some significant upgrades from the previous generation models and now features a 3.6-liter V6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission with “Eco” mode. When you want the advantage of its fuel saving ability, you simply leave it in Drive.
If you want performance, you shift the console lever over to Sport. You can then select gears manually if you want, but you don’t have to. It still operates as an automatic but with different shift points.
The government rates the fuel mileage for the SRX at 17 city, 24 highway, and Cadillac says Eco mode can improve those figures about a mile per gallon.
I’ve always kind of wondered why if an “Eco” mode is promoted as a fuel saver that testing isn’t done separately to give us two sets of numbers, but it isn’t. Probably not worth the effort.

Any way, the SRX delivers enough performance (308 horsepower, 265 pound-feet of torque) to satisfy most drivers in the genre.
The SRX’s strength is in its interior. The quality of materials used in the cabin is of the highest grade, and placement of controls is very user-friendly.
On models equipped with navigation (optional in Luxury trim, standard in Performance and Premium), many of the functions operate off a touch screen that rises from the center stack and can be lowered with the push of a button.
As one who is constantly flitting about the radio dial from Satellite to FM to even AM (there has to be somebody listening to it, and I’m the guy), I find the audio controls on GM models to be very nicely arranged and easy to operate. Since I usually have a car for just a week, I sometimes don’t bother to program presets on the dial, which probably would help ease the operation even more.
If it’s performance you want in addition to the capability of handling five adults plus luggage, then you need to take a look at the X3. As BMW is known for, this is a vehicle that gives you immediate response when you hit the accelerator.
That was the thing I noticed right off, and I was in the xDrive28i, which is the non-turbocharged version of the 3.0-liter inline-6 engine. It pumps out 240 hp and 221 lb.-ft. of torque to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. I can imagine what the turbo xDrive35i with its 300  hp and 300 lb.-ft. of torque must be like.
Yet fuel economy checks in a slightly better than the SRX with figures of 19/25 in the xDrive28i and 19/26 for the xDrive35. There are other factors involved in that, but one is the difference in weight. Curb weight for the X3 is 4,112 pounds and for the SRX it’s 4,277.
The X3, too, has gone through some refining since it was introduced for the 2004 model year. That shouldn’t come as a surprise because that’s what engineers and designers are paid to do -- take a product forward, not backward. (As I sit in on presentations where improvements on a new model are extolled to the detriment of the preceding generation, one thought keeps going through my mind: Is this the car that you will be calling a piece of crap in five years?)
Frankly, I don’t remember ever driving the X3 seven years ago (I’ve slept since then) and even if I had, I still probably wouldn’t remember it unless it was exceptionally bad. So I can’t do a direct comparison.
What I can say is that the ride in the X3 is extremely comfortable and smooth, and, as noted earlier, the engine’s response is exceptional.
What I can’t figure out is why German engineers are so intent on putting in technology that doesn’t make life all that much simpler but complicates it. I’m not talking about iDrive here, which has been modified so that it doesn’t take an instruction sheet to operate it any more. I got the hang of the knob on the X3’s center console right off the bat, though about the only thing I used it for was to change radio stations.

But take turn signals. Whoever came up with the idea of having a lever stick out from the left side of the steering came up with something that really needed no further embellishment. You want to turn left, you flick it down and after you make your turn, it clicks back into place. Turn right, tap it up and again, when the turn is completed, it snaps back into place.
For whatever reason, BMW now has it so that when you tug (or push) on the stalk, it snaps immediately back into place. Oh, the lights in front and back continue to blink just as before, but the thing is, if you don’t move the stalk past the first click, it gives the lights just three blips, which is for changing lanes. To keep the signal on until you complete your turn, you have to push or pull the lever all the way down (or up).
Now I’m not saying that’s all that complicated because it’s not. It’s not nearly as bothersome as what BMW’s fellow Teutonic countryman, Mercdes-Benz, does by putting the cruise control lever high up on the steering wheel column so it gets in the way of the turn signal.
I’m just asking here: What’s the point?
BMW engineers have fiddled with turn signals that work perfectly fine just because they can? That would be my guess.
The same thing goes with the way the gear shift lever in the console works, too. It took me a minute to figure out that to shift our of park, I had to hold the button on the side of the knob while making the shift, not just press it and let go.
Those are not complete turnoffs, by the way. The X3 is still a solid vehicle.
Now we come to the Dodge Durango.
In the past, the Durango never would have fit into any piece about SUVs that started off with an SRX and X3.
But Dodge has taken the Durango to a new level -- you’ve probably seen the ads on TV heralding its return after a one-year production hiatus -- and now this is a vehicle worthy of consideration for those who usually do their shopping in higher climes.

The first thing I noticed about it was its upgraded interior. Gone are the hard, cheap plastics from prior Durango models, replaced by soft-to-the-touch materials typical of more expensive vehicles.

The cabin is roomy and functional, and, unlike the SRX and X3, offers third-row seating. And it doesn’t take a contortionist to get back there either. The third and second row seats also easily fold to provide up to 85 cubic feet of cargo capacity.

With a towing package as well, the Durango is a workhorse that looks like a thoroughbred.

It runs well, too. I’d place it between the SRX and X3 in straight-line speed, but its handling was good.
Dodge offers several different power-train combinations on the Durango. The Crew version I drove had a 3.6-liter V6 under the hood mated with a five-speed automatic transmission with rear-wheel drive. That is rated at 290 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque with fuel mileage at 16/23.
You also can get versions of the Durango with power supplied by a 3.6-liter V8 with hp and torque power figures of 360 and 390, respectively, and EPA ratings of 16/22. Also available on some of the five trim levels is all-wheel or four-wheel drive.
I mentioned price earlier, putting all three of the vehicles mentioned in the mid-$30K to mid-$40K levels. The Durango is a bit less expensive than the other two with the Express trim starting at under $30,000.
When you start adding optional equipment, though, the price of the Duango gets up there pretty quick.
The Crew starts at $33,195, but adding such items as navigation,  rear-seat DVD entertainment, a technology group that includes forward collusion and blind-spot warning systems, and navigation and rear-view camera ran the final price up to $43,825.
The X3, which did not have navigation but did have a cold weather package (for Yankees), checked in at $43,875, and the SRX, which did have navigation and a dual-screen entertainment system, carried an MSRP of $46,295.
Of the three, the SRX was a 2012 model, the X3 and Durango 201ls.
There. Now I’m not completely caught up, but I’m better off than that tomato.