Road of the Month: Devil’s Punch Bowl


Pasadena was an uncomfortably humid 90 degrees yesterday. To escape the heat, my wife Wendy and I went for a drive out to Devil’s Punch Bowl. At 4,700 ft of elevation with mountains nearby, my reasoning was that it had to be cooler than our apartment turned greenhouse. Sadly, I was wrong. Wendy grew increasingly unhappy as we drove through endless twisty roads further and further into nowhere. The car kept reporting a steady 97 degrees outside. In the last mile, the Devil gave us some slack and lowered the final temperature to 90 degrees, but still not the 72 we were hoping for. Fortunately you stepped out into this view:

Click to view panorama of Devil's Punch

Outside, it was much more pleasant than the temperature suggested. There was a cool desert wind, and at 3PM, the worst was over  and things were already starting to cool down. The small visitor center is packed with interesting display of desert snakes, honey ants (they make honey!), scorpions, and explanations of fossils and local fauna. We spent a half hour there listening to a pink and blond haired young man explain the local wildlife. From the visitor center, there is a one mile loop hike with great views of the surrounding area. Even cooler than the views are the small trails out to the actual Devil’s Punch rock formations. Some skinned knees and dusty shoes are all it takes to scale up these bizarro looking things.

Climbing back down was much trickier and more time consuming, but a great workout.


The drive in is gorgeous and reasonable length to do in a single sitting at about 1.5 hours departing from Pasadena. To catch some mountain views on the way out, take a right on Fort Tejon Rd and continue down Big Pine Rd, which will eventually intersect the 2 Highway. Elevation climbed up to 7,000 ft at one point, and temperatures dropped to a very pleasant 69 degrees. If you time your trip well, you’ll catch some gorgeous sunsets and some great photo opportunities.


Test Drives: Passat and Golf TDI, Charger R/T, Mazda6


I hate shopping for clothes. It’s tedious, and you never know what you’ll get. Sometimes you find something that fits, but it’s not on sale. Other times, there’s 70% off, but all the good sizes are long gone. Now if you love shopping, this is all part of the game, part of the hunt. I hate the process, but at worst, you convert that ugly pair of jeans into work pants – no big deal. Cars aren’t as easy going as jeans, and a helluva lot more expensive. Follow the jump for test drive notes for my top choices for my next car.

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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?

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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!

Eugoogly for Fisker Karma


Fisker Motor’s broke. Bankrupt. All outta the green stuff. It’s a real shame. No, I won’t miss the clever hybrid gasoline-electric range extender powertrain. The performance numbers weren’t stellar (0-60 in 6.3 seconds, 125 MPH top speed), it didn’t have enough range to be a grand tourer (230 miles), and it certainly wasn’t cheap ($100k+). So why do I miss it? Well, just look at it.

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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?

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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?

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Research: 2013 Dodge Charger


I have a weird craving for recent Mopar products. From the swoopy compact Dart, to the unapologetically muscular Charger, and even the self proclaimed “Man Van” Caravan all have an extra shot of attitude and style. I’ve never owned a domestic brand car, let alone a Chrysler, but the unanimous friend consensus was they’re cheap and unreliable, worthy only of rental fleets. Unsatisfied with their anecdotes, I cracked my typing fingers and set about to do some research.


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).

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