2014 Mazda6 Touring Impressions

After a couple long trips in the Mazda, I’ve finally gotten a good amount of driving time in.  Many of the miles are highway miles, but several things about the Mazda struck me as distinctly superior in a class of mundane sedans trying to cater to everyone.  After a few drives, I even convinced my Dad to give it a test drive.  Being a long-time Honda and Toyota driver, he was skeptical.  But after a drive, both my Mom and Dad came away impressed, whereas they made almost no positive comments about my Passat.  What makes the Mazda so special?

Continue reading

Long-Term Update: 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE 6MT

As American as apple pie, these two vehicles are.

Date: 1/6/2014
Mileage: 10,038 mi
Avg. Fuel Economy (since last update): 46.4 mpg
Avg. Fuel Economy (lifetime): 46.3 mpg

Our long-term Passat has just returned from its first scheduled service at 10K.  This service was on the house, thanks to VW’s Carefree Maintenance program.  Consisting of an oil and filter change, refilling the AdBlue additive, some inspections, and a tire rotation, it should have been a quick and simple job.  Unfortunately, I also needed them to check out a few other things, including low coolant level, some weird trim pieces, and a noisy clutch pedal.  The cooling system tested fine, and the clutch pedal was deemed “normal.”  I’m not sure I agree that a modern sedan with a price tag approaching $30k should be allowed to make such uncouth noises.  Nonetheless, it seems others have the same issue and nobody has successfully fixed it yet – I can deal with noises as long as they won’t leave me stranded.

Continue reading

Stupid Technology: SiriusXM vs. Pandora

SiriusXM has been on a rough ride in the past decade.  Despite launching as separate entities, economic factors made it clear that the market could not support both of them.  Thus, Sirius and XM decided to merge into one company, and that’s exactly what they did on November 12, 2008.  Since then, car manufacturers who were waiting to see who would win the war have jumped in head first.  Nearly every car and light truck manufacturer in the United States offers SiriusXM Radio today.  I finally gave it a try with the 3-month trial on my 2013 VW Passat, and left unimpressed.  That got me thinking, is there a better alternative?

Continue reading

Stupid Technology: Auto Start-Stop system

On a recent trip to Asia, I got a ride in my uncle’s new car, a 2013 BMW 528i automatic with Auto Start-Stop technology.  In reality, when I got in the car, it didn’t even occur to me that it would have this feature, but it became quickly evident and clearly unacceptable.  You see, this car was purchased for ~$130,000 (US dollar equivalent) in a country where an average engineer starts at $10,000-15,000 a year in salary.  And yet, when this $130,000 machine came to a stop, it abruptly shuddered to a stop.  Then, when my uncle took his foot off the brake, it shuddered when it started up again.  Is this technology really worth the embarrassment of driving a BMW that shudders?  Not really, and here’s why.

Continue reading

Long-Term Update: 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE 6MT

Date: 10/14/2013
Mileage: 6884 mi
Avg. Fuel Economy: 47.7 mpg (U.S. gallons)

The Passat has been with us for 5 months, and continues to impress with its frugality and road manners.  With some more break-in mileage and more time behind the wheel, fuel economy has increased drastically.  Whereas the first few tanks of diesel ran about 42-43MPG, more recent tanks have skyrocketed – a hand calculated 52.9MPG on a recent 900 mile trip, achieved on a single tank of diesel.  That number would have been higher if the first leg hadn’t included massive headwinds – the stats from the second leg were better and are shown below.  A note to fellow TDI owners, though: doing 55-65MPH for 900 miles sure can put you to sleep, so have caffeine on hand!

Continue reading

Long-Term Intro: 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE 6MT


After months of bad luck with my 2007 Honda Accord, I decided that it was time for a change.  I had dealt with the Accord for a while, and it just wasn’t my favorite car.  When the clutch refused to disengage 180 miles from home, that was the last straw.  Bent rims and tickets are one thing, but a clutch issue could have left an average driver stranded.  I limped it home with every trick in the book and started thinking about my next move.  I fixed the clutch issue and sold it off fairly quickly for a great price, but I sold it in San Francisco – 400 miles from home!  I only had a couple days to come up with a solution or drive our trusty road trip vehicle temporarily.  Figuring that driving 20-25MPG trucks and vans would cost me an extra $200 per month, I decided to go take a look at the new VW Passat diesels.  I had driven them before, it just came to an issue of price.  I managed to haggle them down to a great price, and they got me a vehicle, and the rest of the story still needs to be written.  The important question is, how does it drive and compare?

Continue reading

Long-Term Wrap Up: 2012 Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T


Our long-term 2012 Sonata met the end of its time with us, with an extremely low ~12,500 miles on the clock.  The reason was not a mechanical failure or accident, but instead a great deal on another vehicle.  Even though our friend traded in the trusty Hyundai, he adamantly defends it as a great car.  It had all the power he wanted, looked great, and was reasonably fun to drive.  The icing on the cake?  There were absolutely no problems with the vehicle, not even a simple rattle or loose trim piece.  It performed flawlessly in extreme heat and never skipped a beat.

We would, however, like to remind Hyundai owners that the 2.0 Turbo is an engine that needs more maintenance care than other modern engines.  The oil change interval is between 3,000 and 5,000 miles, depending on conditions – a far cry from the 10K intervals that many manufacturers are now preaching.  Also, Hyundai would prefer their owners to use 5W-40, which is harder to find.  They do explicitly state that 5W-30 is acceptable, but 5W-40 will give the best performance.  Given that the direct injection and turbo technologies in this engine demand clean, fresh oil, we would follow their recommendations to a T.  Not doing so could result in costly downtime and an even costlier engine replacement.  The importance of using the right oil with the right oil change interval was underscored by an email that we received regarding a blown Hyundai 2.0T engine with 41K miles on it.  The dealer had been doing oil changes between 7000-8500 miles with 5W-20.  This all led to a spun bearing and a new engine in the vehicle.  The moral?  Be aware of what oil your vehicle calls for, and make sure your dealer is using it!

Review: 2014 Mazda 6 Touring


My trusty 2007 Honda Accord is getting long in tooth.  It is about to turn 140,000 miles as of this writing, and the features are certainly not up to date.  So when I rolled by a Mazda dealer and saw their stash of new 2014 6′s out front, I decided to stop in for a drive.  I wasn’t sure what I was thinking, since I knew no diesels were in stock – perhaps the Bluetooth and Skyactiv gas drivetrain would impress me enough to trade for one?

Continue reading

Stupid Technology: HID headlights


Headlights are an important safety item on every car.  After all, you need to see where you’re headed and what obstacles lie in your path, so that you can avoid them.  That’s why in the last decade, High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights have become increasingly common in cars.  Still, many high volume industry stalwarts like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry have never offered HID headlights.  Why not?

Continue reading

Review: Forza Horizon


This past Black Friday, while tech geeks were lining up for high dollar tv’s and low dollar laptops, both Jerry and I had our eyes peeled for deals on the recently introduced Forza Horizon. When it finally came down to 75% off, Jerry couldn’t pass it up. At $15, it would be a steal even with mediocre reviews, but Horizon was getting wonderful comments from all ends of the globe. So we hunkered down after the LA Auto Show for a weekend of gaming, with me leaving early and unimpressed. Read on to find out why! (Warning: some spoilers ahead).

Continue reading