Sunday, 29th of December, 2002
As we discovered when we got off the highway, there happens to be a Ferrari-Maserati dealer down the street too - quite cool. There were three used F335s and a F512 and F550 out in the open, and at least a couple 360 Modenas in the showroom. On the Maserati side, there were about 6 of the new Coupes out - summing up to be the largest collection of Ferraris I've seen in real life. The hotel also happened to be in the International Plaza, where there's a nice food court of good Chinese food - that took care of dinner. They had smoothies with tapioca for only $2 too.
Friday, 27th of December, 2002
Thursday, 26th of December, 2002
Tuesday, 24th of December, 2002
In spite of all the snow and everyone's lack of ability to drive around, Christmas Eve services went on as schedule tonight. Beth played the Pastorale from Handel's Messiah with me during communion at my church. After that, I played for 2 services at St. Paul's, and we presented their big cantata program.
Monday, 23rd of December, 2002
Secondly, even though it has the largest trunk in its class, 14.7 cubic feet, the opening of the trunk is hindered by this gigantic 3 inch protrusion of a hump and then the trunk latch at the bottom, as well as the two latches that release the back seat backs on the top, for a grand total of cutting the trunk opening down from a reasonable 20 inches to 16 inches, which is about standard for a compact car.
In between car shopping I went to a couple junkyards to check out how that kinda stuff works with a friend of mine who was hunting for Neon parts. One of the places was comically named U-Wrench-It, and most were nicely done in that they had the cars all jacked up on rims welded together for optimum part dismantling. We ended up fighting the rear sway bar on a nice Neon, though not having a breaker bar to undo the rusted bolts was frustrating at first. Fortunately, a passer-by presented us the great idea of using a 4-foot long 2" exhaust pipe as our cheater bar, and that worked like a charm. The rachet wasn't too happy, but we got out with the roll bar.
So I took advantage of the late hours on Monday/Wednesday/Fridays of car dealers here in St. Louis and went to check out the Kia Spectra. They only had like 7 there, so I ended up driving an LS sedan with a stick. The first thing I notice is that the left and middle shift gates are farther apart than anything I've driven yet, though nothing I didn't get used to in about 3 shifts. Handling near the center of the wheel was somewhat overassisted but I got used to that feel too, and overall it's not so bad - except the tyres are horrible! They just salted all the roads for the potential snow storm tonight and I was getting torque steer and wheel slipping all over the place. But that's nothing that can't be replaced really easily.
As for the engine, it was pretty boring until I realized the power band is up high - peak torque happens at 4900rpm, and maximum horsepower happens at 6000 rpm, near the 6500 rpm redline. Once I got it up to the 4000 range, it became a lot more happy. And then I realized how much farther I was moving those gears when I hopped back into the Subaru and starting shifting and realized how close everything suddenly became. The clutch was also the lightest clutch I've driven yet, too, which initially only means to me that my left leg won't be as tired in traffic.
Inside, it's a small car, definitely, I mean, it does do U-turns really well, with a 32.2 feet turning radius, and it's snug but not uncomfortable in there. I got comfortable with my adjustable seats, though my head's closer to the top pillar than I've ever gotten in a car, and the back seat involves some leg bending if I sit in it, but it's not even as bad as the Saturn Ion. The extra flexibility of the hatchback would be awesome though.
The Spectra has amazing value! $13160 for a GSX with ABS after rebates will get 4-wheel independent suspension, rear and front stabilizer bars, 11-inch disc brakes all around, and a dashboard that looks interesting very much like the Hyundai Elantra. But features have some pretty good attention to detail, like really pretty halogen headlamps, fog lamps, power mirrors, 14" alloy rims, rear wiper/washer and defroster, auto-off headlamps (though the car still chimed at me for leaving them on, even though the lights were shut off), CD player, 8-way adjustable driver's seat (which I managed to get very comfortable in), dual map lights that were adequately bright, two cupholders in front of the shifter, not in the way of spilling onto the radio or anything, power locks with the two-turn unlock feature, 6-speaker sound system, a front door panel bottleholder, and a rear spoiler. The hatchback even had a cover on it, and the steering wheel and shifters are leather-wrapped. BTW, I can't tell the difference between its shifter and the Hyundai Elantra's. But anyway, it's a sweet deal for the price.
Thursday, 19th of December, 2002
Well anyway, I drove it around a little, and the thing felt like a minivan. There was significant rolling on turns due to the high sitting position, and there was only an automatic to drive, and I wonder where the 145 hp went, considering it weighs 2675 pounds. Performance on the onramps was not that much better than my 87 Cavalier was, which is quite a statement. There's a lot of interesting little technology unique to this car though, like a chain instead of a belt for the timing belt, so it has a lifetime life span. In the end, it's a rather cost-effective little package, probably more fun with a stick shift. The sedan starts at $14000 and the SX wagon starts at $15000. If I buy it, something is going to have to convince me this car won't roll over, cause this is the cheapest wagon I've encountered yet.
Wednesday, 18th of December, 2002
Well anyway, I call State Farm again, and instead of admitting that they're just too cheap to rent me a car at an extra $15 per day because I was under 21, they insist that it was Enterprise's policy problem, not their problem. I resisted the urge to continue arguing with the State Farm agent about Enterprise's policy and how she was lying to me, and instead the problem gets solved by my Dad being the rental driver and I would just swap cars with him. But because they made the mistake, I get to drive a Metro for a day.
So while I'm at it, I might as well do a little review on the Metro too. The first thing one notices is how the Metro has 155/80-13 tyres - they look like they came off of a motorcycle. But it's not so bad for a 2000-pound car, though even the light weight does not make turning the steering wheel 3.5 turns lock-to-lock very easy without power steering. And yes, the brake fluid was low in that car, among other interesting noises it makes - it shifts pretty roughly from 2nd to 3rd and makes a horrid scraping noise when the car is moved backwards. Definitely interesting to drive a car that light and with no power steering - one has to wonder how many chances one would get to do that in a lifetime.
So once I got the rental car situated, I went to check out what kind of economy Toyotas are available. The guy basically told me that if I could find an Echo with ABS in the entire country, I should hurry up and buy it because there aren't any. So that's off my list, not a big loss.
Then I test drive the Hyundai Elantra over at Dean Team Automotive. They have a huge inventory over there, and to get between all these cars they conveniently have a golf cart to tote us around in too. In spite of about 40 Elantras I saw back there, only one had ABS, and it was an automatic shifter. I did go and drive a 5-speed, though, cause they promised to try to find me the Elantra with ABS. The way it drove was surprisingly very good. The transmission is nice and logical, with the ratios as wide as the Pontiac, not like the short-ratio Neon, but the torque band is wide enough that there's always a good gear at any speed. The rear seat actually isn't as good as any other car I've sat in so far - it seems the seat sits lower so my long legs are kinda up and lifted off half the seat cushion, but it's acceptable, though nothing like the comfort of the Grand Am, which was good enough for long journeys.
However, the Elantra's trunk actually passed the box test! The opening is nice and large for a change, a combination of a low loading height and a good trunk lid. The actual space inside seemed very large too, as deep as the Neon but taller. The one thing though, is the pass-through area is restricted by a rounded off plastic panel, so loading boxes through the pass-through area is pretty useless. But the fact that it passed the trunk test might overshadow that. Add to that the comparatively attractive price, and I think I have a winner. We'll see what happens.
Though this had little to do with the purchasing decision, I will comment on it. Interior wise, the Neon was impressive the instant I sat down in it, compared to the Focus or Elantra, where everything just says "economy car" about it. But as I spent a decent amount of time in the Elantra, I realized that all of the controls made sense, and there wasn't the "busyness" of the Pontiac Grand Am's interior, as cool as it was. The Neon's made sense too, but there was a certain youthfulness about it, and I can see why it would lure young buyers off the initial impression. It's interesting the vast differences in the same price range.
So all week I've been obsessing over this stick shift car with ABs, and check out what article shows up on CNN Money. "Killing the stick-shift dinosaur - Manual transmissions still have their fans, but are they really better? Not anymore. Not really." It's interesting how the article never claims automatic transmissions offer the same power to a car as a manual - Valdes-Dapena just says that engines are all power enough nowadays that it doesn't matter. Well, any extra power would be good, really, and when it comes to the cars I'm driving, some of these automatics are pretty stupid and unable to find the right gears as quickly as it should. Course, the last sentence is very true: "Maybe you just like knowing that you can pick your own gears." I think that sums it up really well.
Tuesday, 17th of December, 2002
So I'm trying to practical here, getting something that has a usable back seat and can hold a decent amount of stuff. So I hunt around for cars that would be less expensive than a Hyundai Elantra GT but have acceptable trunks. So I created a rather ambitious test - I found an empty box used to ship computers and threw it in the back of my wagon (which will hold 3 of them with no problem behind the rear seats, or 6 total with the rear seats folded. I wanted to see if some of these sedans will pass this "box test".
The first one I drive is a Pontiac Grand Am SE. Moore Autoplex was advertising all Grand Ams to be $11572, and I decided to give that a shot. Finding a Pontiac in stick shift was the first challenge, and they just so happened to have one silver stick shifter, and I eagerly tried it out. The 5-speed Getrag is a really nice transmission, and the clutch is somewhat heavy with a on/off switch feel to it, but I'm sure the car and driver will bond and that wouldn't be a problem for ownership. The 2.2 Ecotec is nice and torquey too. What was surprising was the in spite of the 14.6 cubic feet of trunk space, the opening is so high above the bumper that the actual opening won't even accommodate the box I brought. So it fails the box test.
The dealer sees my little test and decides to recommend the Vibe, which is also on lots of nice incentives too, but not nearly as good as the Grand Am. Now that's one neat car - seeing the folding front passenger seat in action as a useful surface for a laptop or something was rather neat, and I took one out for a spin. The column-mounted shifter was definitely different, and initially didn't provide too much quicker shifts than a normal car, but that could change in ownership. The base seats are extremely comfortable - a nice treat for a car in this class. This car was a significant level of performance below the Grand Am, though. The 130 bhp Toyota engine just doesn't have the torque in it's 1.8 litres, though it's really happy to rev... and de-rev, making me look like a total fool double-clutching. The tallness of the crossover wasn't a problem at all - for the right price, I decided that was a worthy contender too, especially since it's practical.
But then I remembered - do any of these Pontiacs come with ABS? Oh but the first thing said was "well few people use ABS anyway" as if it were a 6-disc changer or something. In the end, it's just the story of bundling ABS with the enormous packages, causing those "safety-conscience" buyers to shell out a whole lot for their car. So neither of them have ABS - that removes these cars from the list pretty easily, though that's once nice price for a Grand Am...
Next I stopped by a Ford dealer to poke around at the Focus sedan. It looked promising with regards to the "box test", because unlike any other compact car I've seen, it has hydraulic struts to lift the trunk, not the usual space-consuming spring-loaded necks that arch around. However, cab forward has ruined all hopes of the Focus passing that test - the rear window is so far back that the trunk lid is not very long, so the opening is, again, small. So the Focus fails the test too - though they were willing to locate and dealer trade over a Focus SE with ABS, so it's available within a reasonable price.
The next place I test drove at was Royal Gate Dodge. Just talking about the Neon, we stumbled over the topic of 2002 ACR models, and he happened to have two 2001 ACRs sitting in the lot - they've been there for some time now, and been marked down to $15k as a result too. Both the black and blaze red ones have the power packages, and I took the red one for a spin (the black one's battery was dead - it's been sitting for way too long.) Now that's a really nice car, the exhaust note was extremely nice, we're talking like aftermarket territory here, and the way it behaved on the road lives up to its promises. I was thoroughly impressed with how at home I felt in it, everything from the transmission to handling. I got over the initial shock of cab forward really quickly and just a couple minutes was all I needed to feel like I know what the car's doing at all times.
After the ACR, I got a little practical again, and decided that not having any dealer incentives on the ACRs were really going to make it a stretch in terms of an actual purchasing decision, so then I drove a 2003 Neon SXT. Now that's one efficient package - the downgrade from 150 to 132 bhp from the ACR did not make the Neon anemic in any way. In fact, I still felt plain at home in the SXT, though everything was cushioned up a bit - I definitely was not nearly as obvious to me that I was going 65 mph on the highway as it was in the ACR. But the transmission and clutch are the same, very logical and fun to drive. The accelerator took some getting used to, as it has about as much resistance as Mom's GMC Vandura 2500. It made me think I was hitting the brake every time I poked it. As for the box test, the answer is no again, for the same reasons as the Focus: cab forward. The Neon trunk is significantly longer than the Focus, though, but appears not as tall.
Royal Gate Dodge, as a dealer, really impressed me. They have a rather impressive modern service center in the back, where they offer free lifetime oil changes and tire rotations on all the cars they sell, as well as a $100 deduction from all body work. That's a pretty sweet package - now if only I lived closer than 40 minutes from there, I would really feel like I get something out of the free oil change...
In the end, I'd rate all the sedans I've seen today as equivalent - failed the box test, but got kinda close, and interior space is pretty close throughout the range. I also investigated the Focus ZX5, which actually has more room in the hatch than it appears to from the outside. Now I've realized the true versatility of a hatchback is the way stuff goes in the car, more importantly than having raw space in general.
Even though both Ford and Dodge were willing to hunt around for me for cars with ABS, they both tried to play ABS off too. After hearing it from 3 places, I was almost convinced - until I drove east on Forsyth Blvd.
It's been a rather wet day all day, with the densest fog we ever get here lasting way past noon, and things staying slick the rest of the day. But wet or dry, what happened would have happened - there was simply no distance to work with here. Basically, as I traveled east, a 2001 Passat traveling west speedily cut out in front of me making a left turn into his driveway, and the result is a rather loud and intense bang of the front of my Cavalier meeting the passenger side doors of the Passat for a T-bone, which sent it smack into a tree a couple feet away, damaging the driver's side as well. The driver was very responsible and honest about what he did, fortunately, and he, his passenger, and I walked away from the accident.
The damage is done, though, as the front right wheel well is totally smashed in, rendering it rather unmovable, and the radiator was spilling out coolant. The front end, overall, crumpled in about 5-6 inches, but it did it's job - it's pretty bad, the hood was all buckled and the front right quarter panel is totally mangled. The side impact airbags on the Passat did its job too, which deployed, but the main front airbags stayed shut - it's rather nice to know that cars are smart enough to figure out which bags to deploy when. The damage is still pretty bad though, as the right side was smacked in at least 3 inches from what I remember. Interestingly, the U City police department doesn't declare who's at fault in auto accidents anymore, though it didn't really affect me, it's an interesting thing to keep in mind.
So yes, I'm still a firm believer in ABS; there's nothing that I can do to replicate what an ABS system does 100 times a second when the pavement is wet. And it looks like there's no escaping getting a new car now.
Sunday, 15th of December, 2002
Well here's a Wash U event I found out about from somewhere other than Wash U - you'd think because I go to the school, I would know what goes on here. Apparentlyy, for 13 years now, there has been an annual Messiah sing-along at Graham Chapel, and so tonight Hannah and I decided to check it out. Wow, it was awesome. There's nothing like an entire floor of Graham Chapel's worth of pretty good singers singing the chorus part of Messiah while grad students took care of the solos. The instrumental parts were taken care of very well by William Partridge - very nice organ playing. And of course, I got to sing - how many times in life do I get to sing that awesome piece?
Saturday, 14th of December, 2002
Thursday, 12th of December, 2002
I saw one of the most flamboyant displays of University City police power today. I was coming off of I-170N this afternoon, sitting at a stoplight under the bridge, and a blue Ford Ranger comes up and smacks the right back corner of my car and keeps on driving - pulling a right turn and continuing on his way. I flag him down, and he angrily denies hitting me, saying many more words than necessary to convey his point, so I decided it was time to call the cops. Somewhere around Pennsylvania Avenue, there were definitely a couple cops waiting, pulling U-turns and all sorts of stuff, pulling him over, and three more squad cars showed up a little after that - for a total of five U City cops there. Well gosh, all I told the dispatcher was that someone had hit me and isn't stopping, and that he's kinda mad. Well now that I have a chance to get out and look at it, with all the cop cars around, there's definitely a dent in the bumper, but it being only the bumper and not the quarter panel or anything I tell the cops that there's obviously no need to file a claim for this or anything. Of course, in the meantime, this guy in the Ranger is having a fit with the cops up there... so yeah, the incident ended after that relatively quickly and quietly, I think they finally got the guy settled down and it was cool. Fortunately I didn't have to deal with him outside the shouting across the lanes of Olive Blvd. thing.
Monday, 9th of December, 2002
Sunday, 8th of December, 2002
Wednesday, 5th of December, 2002