Wednesday, October 08, 2008

2010 Mercedes-Benz CLK Spy Photo!

I caught a good look (and a photo) of the 2010 Mercedes-Benz CLK pulling out of the parking lot at a winery in Napa, California over the weekend. It was there with a prototype E-class covered in the same camouflage padding and tape.

When I arrived, both cars were parked and had pad-locked covers to prevent peeking and removal. That didn't stop me from sliding under the side to get a look at the belly to realize it was infact a Mercedes and was in fact a coupe (pictured) and a sedan. The coupe I had the most time looking at and realized quickly it was the new CLK test mule.

The CLK had much more angular skin than the current CLK (as did the E-class prototype in the lot). It was difficult to tell exactly what the style would be with so much padding but it will look very different from what we have now, and thankfully so.

A few moments later I was heading into the winery while a group of four Germans were heading out. I noticed one of them dangling a Mercedes smart-key from their hand and knew it had to be the drivers.

I turned around and followed them back to the cars where they proceeded to unlock the covers and get in. One of the drivers started talking to me and although he made a snyde comment about taking the photo, he wasn't angry or forceful. He wouldn't admit to what type of car it was but did say that the "2-doors" should give it away. Yeah, they do. Thanks. He also said he loved his job but the testing was only a fraction of it.

I'd have to say that anytime I could get a prototype German car to drive around the twisty roads of California for a month I couldn't complain about my job either. Napa was just a leisure stop on their test trip; part for the wine and part for the roads. I'm guessing the latter must be addressed before the former or there could be some serious problems.

I'm wondering what it will look like when the camouflage comes off. I guess we'll find out next year!

- Mitch G

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Bill Maher's Religulous

Let me just say... this film is AMAZING! Bill Maher hit it right on the nose with his documentary pointing out the ridiculous nature of "religion," both historic and modern.

Religulous is so well put together and benefits from a substantial amount of research data. The position taken by Maher is not one of an antagonistic nature, only an inquisitive one looking for honesty in others about their religious convictions. If an individual is not certain of their beliefs and has not fully investigated why they follow, it is easy to be offended and angered by the films message. This, however, is the entire point of the film; it is meant to uncork the minds of the masses and get society thinking about WHY they believe and not just about WHAT they believe.

To set the record very straight, Maher isn't in any way attacking "God" in the film. He doesn't even attack faith or sprituality. What he does take a hard stance against is participation in a religious system fueling some of the largest social problems our world has ever seen. We are looking towards a higher power to give us meaning and purpose in this life when we can not find it for ourselves. The fear of being alone and without direction is terrifying to many. The differing beliefs established over the centuries cause us to fight each other physically and emotionally while justifying it with divinity.

Religion, but most importantly religious participation as we know it is a flawed enterprise. There is no hard evidence to prove that one religion is the true and only religion or one God is the true and only God. This is what was examined and argued in the film. If there are so many varying beliefs and practices how can just one of them be so absolutely true? Why is it when religion becomes involved humanity and the value of our existence on this planet, for this lifetime, becomes so trivial?

"Religulous" outlines and exposes the fallacies of religion, both historic and modern, to open the eyes of those jaded by their participation. In turn it opens the door for others to freely voice their independence. The film confirms just how essential and satisfying it can be to think as an individual and be a part of our society--humanity--without direction and unfounded prophecy from a flawed system.

Bottom line, go see this movie. Whoever you are, whatever you believe, it is worth your time just to find out what nearly 16% of Americans believe to be true, or in this case, don't believe to be.

- Mitch G

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Lexus IS-F Review (Finally!)

Well it is probably a little too late for this review as the IS-F has now been on the market for close to a year but I wanted to give my impressions of the little monster car that Toyota built myself.

If history is any indication of trends and future potential then it comes as no surprise that Toyota is no slouch when it comes to performance and class. They pioneered power and presence with the Supra back in the late 80s and early 90s with twin-turbocharged fury. Today, Toyota (and their luxo nameplate Lexus) are still able to produce power and prestige in a tight package gleaming with 21st century refinement and gadgetry--does all of that add up to a true German super-car competitor though? Maybe.

This "package" I speak of is the 2008 (and just arriving in showrooms 2009) Lexus IS-F performance compact sedan. After my drive in the IS-F nearly six months ago, I was pleasantly surprised at how engaging the car was for a Lexus/Toyota production automobile; the steering was quite precise (albeit on the light side) and you felt connected to the road as you would in most non-juiced European sport sedans. This is good for Lexus but doesn't quite meet my expectations based on their marketing plan. The IS-F, however advanced it is, did have traditional "Lexus" features that made it a bit hard for me to fall in love with--namely the quietness of the cabin which takes much away from the car. In your mind you know there is a monster five liter V8 cranking out 416 hp and 371 lb-ft of twist and exhaling through a high-flow quad-pipe exhaust system but you just don't hear much of it... that is until you get past 3,500 revs.

The experience reminds me of a turbocharged four-banger with 20 pounds of boost. The experience with the throttle planted on the floor from a dead stop left much to be desired until you hit that magic number. In the IS-F, 3,500 was that number. You take off with confidence and very little chassis flex but don't feel much from the engine or hear much from the exhuast. Then at 3,500 RPM it was like throwing pure nitroglycerine into the fuel tank and holding on for dear life. Out of nowhere there was a monstrous growl from the engine bay and the exhaust pounded like a woofer at a rave concert behind your head. No Lexus sound dampening material could compete with what was going on now. The tires skipped and you could feel the front end become just slightly lighter than before you were really taking off. The advertised 0-60 time is accurate, clocking in a couple ticks under five seconds during my drive. The 8-speed sequential automatic was confident for having so many gear options but didn't shift as quick as BMW's SMG or Audi's S-tronic systems. If I recall, the AMG Speedshift 7-speed in the C63 was even a bit quicker. The up-side is that cruising on the freeway at the speed limit (sometimes hard to do) yields extremely low revs and thus improves fuel economy. 8-speeds also helps in the 0-60 times of the IS-F but not by a significant margin.

Unfortunately, this was the only time I did feel the IS-F gave you what was advertised. In everyday driving it felt no more exciting than the lesser 350 or even 250 model IS models. The large monoblock ventillated brakes were strong and consistent but didn't give much feedback and the steering just wasn't as predictable or direct as its European competitors. The style is edgy and relatively under the radar but didn't stand out enough for me in comparison to the two standard models in the line.

The interior of the IS-F was nearly identical to the 250 and 350 IS models. The major differences were the "F" badging, revised gauge cluster, thicker steering wheel and heavier seat bolstering. The seats were not as comfortable as I would have liked but did their job keeping you in place. The rest of the car is every bit IS with a plethora of standard features and a simple but loaded option package including all the common goodies: keyless start, backup camera, navigation, premium audio, bluetooth, iPod control, heated leather and plenty of upscale finishes.

It was a decent job done by Lexus; taking a compact luxury sport sedan and picking a fight with the big boys. The downside is that it is still a Lexus and thus doesn't offer the raw, precise and time-tested driving experience you get from the Europeans. For Lexus it is amazing but in the real world it becomes average. The real problem now is that the car asks the same price as the others but wont hold its value like most Lexus models because of the small target market.

In the end, the IS-F can be fun to drive and offers you more than the base IS models on their best days, however, it still doesn't give you what the others can for the same coin. If you are a die-hard Toyota or Lexus fan and want something with kick that not many others will have then this might be the car for you. Just remember... you can't fit anyone but a midget (or your children--who may also be midgets) in the back seat.

- Mitch G

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