Mustang: The First 50 Years DVD review

Mustang 50 Years DVD reviewIf you know me, you know I love Mustangs. Probably more than any other car on the road. And if you know Mustangs, you know that the original muscle car just turned 50. Like a lot of Mustang fans, I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic about that. Today’s Mustang is fantastic, of course, but I can remember so many outstanding Mustangs that came before it. To fully appreciate what the modern Mustang has become, you’ve got to look at the entire body of work.

That’s why I was so excited to come across Mustang: The First 50 Years, a new documentary that’s sold as a two-DVD set. With a running time of two hours and 30 minutes, Mustang really gets into the details of each of the first five Mustang generations, unearthing a bunch of interesting facts in the process. Did you know, for example, that the Mustang was going to be called “Cougar” until right before it began production? At the last minute, the marketing folks decided that a wild horse was a better fit than a killer cat, so they shelved “Cougar” until it reappeared on Mercury’s version of the first-gen Mustang. The documentary is full of neat little anecdotes like that, and even old Mustang guys like me will end up learning a thing or two.

I’ll tell you another thing the film got me thinking about: my favorite Mustangs ever. There’s a number of interviews with both enthusiasts and Ford insiders, and the question “What’s your favorite Mustang?” is a frequent one. The 1965 Shelby GT350 is a popular answer, and I get that — it’s fast, rare and beautiful — but these days I find myself gravitating toward a couple of the later first-gen models. The 1971 Mach 1 has aggressive, over-the-top styling that I love, and you could get it with the 429-cubic-inch Cobra Jet V8, so that’s one of ‘em. The other is the 1969-’70 Boss 429, which has basically the same 7.0-liter V8 and fastback styling that’s right up there with the best you’ll ever see. If I had my druthers (in other words, if I had just a few more coins in my piggy bank), both of those would be in my garage. The film takes you through every meaningful Mustang for the past six decades, including some great vintage driving footage, so you’ll have ample opportunity to reflect on your top picks.2015 Ford Mustang

I should shut up now and let you go enjoy the show, but before I sign off, I want to share one more thing that I really enjoyed. At the end of the second DVD, you’re gonna want to keep watching through the credits, because what’s waiting on the other side is a treasure trove of old Mustang television commercials. It’s really fascinating to see how car ads have evolved over time. I’m guessing a long take of the new 2015 Mustang driving on sand dunes alongside a prancing white stallion wouldn’t really resonate with current shoppers, but it made sense to the Ford team in the ’80s, and that’s just one highlight among many. You really get a sense of how significant it is for one car to be successful for 50 years and counting. Mustang: The First 50 Years made me feel especially proud to be a Mustang fan, and I bet it’ll do the same for you.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve seen the film. I’d love to get a conversation going about some of the history behind this classic car.

Keep Your Racing Edge – Even During Parenthood

Mustang and DadI got two grown kids of my own, and thankfully they’re out of the house. (You can’t count on that these days.) Now that we’re empty-nesters, I can drive whatever I want, and believe me, I do. But back when the kids were around, I had to make some compromises. Being a car guy through and through, it wasn’t the easiest adjustment to make.

I made it, though, and today I want to tell you that story. In a nutshell, what I realized was that you can make family vehicles fun if you try — and you don’t have to get rid of your pride and joy in the garage, either. Here are my tips for keeping that racing edge, even with the young ‘uns around.

  1. Choose Your Family Car Wisely

When it’s time to get a bigger car for family duty, the first thing you gotta do is make sure it’s fun to drive. Trust me, if you end up with some cheesy crossover SUV that hates fun, you’re gonna be mad at the world every time you start it up. So shop around, do your due diligence, and get a family rig that puts a smile on your face. If I were buying right now, my first choice would be the Dodge Durango R/T with its big 5.7-liter V8 and engaging rear-wheel-drive handling. You could go smaller with a Mazda CX-5 or Ford Escape crossovers, both of which have a real sporty feel, or you could even go bigger with the Mazda CX-9. But skip the boring stuff, okay? And for godsakes, don’t get a minivan.

  1. Accessorize

Advance Auto Parts has a whole bunch of accessories for any kind of ride, and that includes family-mobiles. Let me give you a few examples of how you can spice things up. A great place to start is the exhaust — throw a MagnaFlow performance muffler on there and check out the sweet rumble you get when you put your foot down. Any car guy will tell you that a K&N performance air filter gives you a little shot in the arm as far as both horsepower and fuel economy are concerned. Tell you what, just check out AAP’s whole collection of performance parts and see what fits your budget. Remember, the way the car comes from the dealership is just the beginning; you can customize it any way you please and maximize the fun factor, even with family-oriented rides.

  1. Don’t Sell Your Sports Car

Here’s my last bit of advice: if you’ve got an automotive baby in the garage, don’t sell it unless you absolutely need the cash. Because here’s the thing — if your kids grow up around a great sports car or muscle car, that’s how they’re gonna follow in your footsteps and be car enthusiasts themselves. Take your kids out for rides, and show ‘em how to install that air filter or exhaust. As a parent, you get to shape your kids’ interests from the earliest days, and if you ask me, that’s right when they should start spending some quality time with you in the garage.

Your Thoughts

Have you gone down this road as a car enthusiast and a parent? Are you about to start? Tell me some other ways that you think parents can keep their racing edge.

 

Editor’s note: Dad, if you’ve still got racing in your blood, hit up Advance Auto Parts for great deals on racing accessories and more. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Top 3 Favorites from the 2014 LA Auto Show

What do you get when you combine the hottest new cars on the planet with a city that’s defined by the automobile?

You get the 2014 LA Auto Show, of course. And I was lucky enough to score an invite to this year’s Press Days, so I got to wander through the LA Convention Center, rub elbows with all the industry folks and check out the latest rides firsthand.

With over 30 world debuts this year, the show was as action-packed as ever. But if you know me, you know I’m not afraid to play favorites. Check out my three favorite cars from the 2014 LA Auto Show.

1. Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang

Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang

I’m a diehard Mustang guy, in case you haven’t heard, so I’m always fired up when there’s a new Mustang in town. But here’s the thing — you don’t have to be a Mustang fan to appreciate the 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang. You just have to appreciate high-revving naturally aspirated engines and manual transmissions, because both come standard on the GT350. In fact, you can’t even get an automatic if you want one. That’s how serious this machine is.

I love the Shelby because it fixes everything I don’t like about the regular Mustang GT. The standard exhaust system is far too restrictive, muffling the GT’s 5.0-liter V8 almost beyond recognition, but the GT350 gets a free-flowing setup that sounds fantastic. I should mention that the Shelby’s 500-plus-horsepower engine is more than just a massaged version of the GT’s V8; it’s a unique design that displaces 5.2 liters and employs a flat-plane crankshaft, just like a Ferrari V8, which is why it revs to 8,200 rpm and sounds so pure. The handling’s tighter, the brakes are bigger…you name it, the Shelby does it better. This is the ultimate Mustang, no doubt about it. If I were going to buy a new Mustang, I’d definitely make it a Shelby GT350.

2. Jaguar F-Type

Jaguar F-Type

The F-Type coupe/roadster is Jaguar’s Porsche 911 fighter, and the 2016 model inches closer to 911 territory. For one thing, you can get a manual transmission now, although only with the supercharged V6 engine — the supercharged V8 remains automatic-only. For another, the V8 convertible is now rated at 550 horsepower, just like the V8 coupe, erasing the drop-top’s previous 55-hp deficit. And get this, every V8 model will come standard with all-wheel drive going forward, so if you want a rear-drive F-Type V8, you’ll be looking at a 2015 model or earlier.

I’m a little bummed about that, because the rear-drive V8 was born to drift and do big smoky burnouts. It was an enthusiast’s dream; the AWD system won’t let you have quite as much fun. But it’s safer, no doubt, for inexperienced drivers who might accidentally unleash more of those 550 horses in a corner than they’re ready for. And remember, the Porsche 911 Turbo employs all-wheel drive, too. All in all, the 2016 F-Type is a step forward for Jaguar’s most capable sports car. Maybe next year they’ll unveil the model I’ve been waiting for — an F-Type V8 with rear-wheel drive and the manual shifter.

3. BMW X5 M

BMW X5 M

I’ve made it clear in my columns that I’m not a big fan of the modern turbo craze, but I make an exception for heavy SUVs, because they really benefit from a turbocharged engine’s massive low-end torque. That torque is the stuff that launches you quickly off the line, and the all-new BMW X5 M’s 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 has got an astounding 553 lb-ft of it. Do you remember the turbodiesel Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDI? I’ll never forget the dump-truck torque it delivered, and guess what — it had 553 lb-ft, too. So the gasoline-powered X5 M matches the Touareg V10 diesel in the stump-pulling department, and oh yeah, it’s got 567 horsepower as well, not to mention a new eight-speed automatic (replacing the old six-speed) with a launch-control mode.

Zero to 60, if you’re wondering, takes 4 seconds flat, putting the porky X5 M in a virtual dead heat with the abovementioned Jaguar F-Type V8.

I’ll tell you another thing I like about the X5 M: it finally makes the new X5’s body look right with its standard staggered-width 21-inch wheels. To my eye, the lesser X5 models’ wheels look too small; they’re dwarfed by all that metal above. But the 21s are proportional. They’re what this truck needs to look its best.

I’ve never really had a thing for superfast SUVs, but I’m not gonna lie, I dig the idea of having one of these babies in my driveway.

Are you going?

If so, tell me about your top picks in the comments.

 

Editor’s note: Whatever you drive, keep it running right and looking good with Advance Auto Parts. But online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Crucial Cars: Mazda MX-5 Miata

Mazda MX-5 MiataFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, our lovable Gearhead from Gearhead’s Garage discusses the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s iconic past and previews the all-new 2016 Miata.

If you know me, you know that horsepower’s usually what gets me going. And I mean lots of it. Tire-smoking V8s. Twelve-second quarter-miles. These days I’m thinking lustful thoughts about the new 650-hp Corvette Z06. That’s where my head’s at by default.

But occasionally I make exceptions, and the Mazda MX-5 Miata might be the most notable one. We’re talking about a tiny Japanese roadster that started out with 116 hp and still doesn’t even have 170. Like everyone who loves sports cars, though, I love the Miata. With rear-wheel drive and the Lord’s own manual shifter, it’s like an extension of your body on a winding road. There’s a new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata just around the corner, but before we get to that, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane and remember where Mazda’s one-of-a-kind ragtop came from.

First Generation Miata First Generation

Code-named “NA” and distinguished by its pop-up headlights, the original Miata (1990-’97) took the world by storm with its proper sports-car handling, Japanese reliability and downright reasonable pricing. Like I said, the base 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine made just 116 hp, and the updated 1.8-liter four-cylinder (’94-’97) only gained about 15 hp, depending on the exact year. But the Miata’s painstakingly tuned exhaust system sounded nice and throaty, and that perfect shifter and rear-drive athleticism made it the darling of critics and consumers alike. Plus, the manual folding top couldn’t have been easier to operate. Even today, there are still plenty of first-gen Miatas for sale, at bargain prices and with many more years of service to offer.

Second generation Mazda MiataSecond Generation

The “NB” Miata (1999-2005) basically kept the NA’s 1.8-liter four, bumping output slightly to 140 horses. Speed still wasn’t the Miata’s thing. But fixed headlights and swoopier styling gave it a more contemporary look, and the overhauled interior offered additional luxuries, including a Bose stereo. Like the original, the NB Miata is widely available on the pre-owned market at very appealing prices. But the one I want is the Mazdaspeed Miata, which was sold for 2004-’05 only with a 178-hp turbo four that finally gave the car a proper sense of urgency. Man, what a motor! It’s night and day compared to the regular one, and there’s hardly any turbo lag, which is amazing given how long ago they designed it. Don’t tell Mazda, but the Mazdaspeed Miata is actually a better car than the third-gen model, which was never offered in Mazdaspeed trim.

Third generation Mazda Third Generation

The current Miata is about to be supplanted by the new 2016 model, but it’s had a solid run. Blessed with a new 2.0-liter four making up to 167 hp (you’ll want the version introduced in 2009, with its higher redline and sportier performance), the “NC” Miata was the first to offer genuinely respectable acceleration in base form. It was also bigger and heavier, but not by too much, and thankfully it retained the car’s traditional handling excellence despite deviating from the script with a different suspension design. An unconventional offering was the “PRHT” retractable-hardtop version, which added just 70 pounds to the curb weight but still seemed like overkill, in my opinion, for an elemental little roadster. Overall, the NC Miata was a cute and capable update to the Miata line, but if you ask me, it didn’t really move the needle, especially compared to the NB Mazdaspeed Miata.

2016 Mazda MiataWhat’s Next

Hopefully, that’s where the all-new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata comes in. We don’t know much about its specifications yet, although the word’s out that it’ll have a more fuel-efficient 2.0-liter four. But we do know what it looks like, and whoo boy, that styling’s definitely moving the needle for me. You wouldn’t call this new Miata “cute.” It’s more like a cross between a Honda S2000 and a BMW Z3, and that goes for the sleek, high-quality interior, too. In case it’s not clear, that’s high praise. To me, the 2016 Mazda Miata looks like a real, no-apologies sports car; it’s the first one I’ve actually longed for just based on appearances. I also like that it’s going to be about 300 pounds lighter, which hopefully means it’ll be the quickest base Miata yet. Now, will they finally do another Mazdaspeed Miata after more than a decade? I hope so. But meanwhile, the 2016 Miata looks like a pretty satisfying consolation prize. One thing’s for certain: Mazda’s best-selling roadster won’t stop being a Crucial Car anytime soon.

 

Editor’s note: ready for your next Miata maintenance project? Count on Advance Auto Parts for the best in parts and accessories. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Top Projects To Do While Your Car’s In Winter Storage

Car GarageWhen it’s time to put my pride and joy into winter storage, I can’t help but feel a little pang. You know how it goes — you spend all winter waiting to drive the thing, and then it’s winter again before you know it. But I realized long ago that winter car storage doesn’t have to mean total separation. The car’s right outside in the garage, you know; it’s not like you’ve sent it off to Siberia. In fact, winter’s a great time to catch up on all the little projects you haven’t found the time for yet. Here are a few of my favorites.

1. Paintless Dent Removal

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t do this one myself. I’m not exactly an artistic guy, let’s put it that way. But these paintless dent removal guys really are artists, and they don’t close up shop just because there’s snow on the ground. Since your car’s sitting around all day anyway, why not do an inventory of all the dings and dents on the door and body panels, then have your local dent specialist come by and pop them out? I don’t know about you, but I hate when I bring my car out of storage and notice a nasty little door ding while I’m washing it. If you take action now, a few hundred bucks at the most will buy you peace of mind come spring.

2. Full Hand Wash and Polish

This is definitely a DIY, and for me it’s an annual tradition. When it’s time to store the car, first I hose it down in the driveway to get the surface stuff off, and then I roll up my sleeves and get down to business. All you need is a jug of Turtle Wax Car Wash solution, a nice big sponge and a lot of elbow grease. You’ll want to go over every inch of the sheet metal with that sponge. Try to make it cleaner than it was on the first day of spring. Then wipe all the moisture off with a non-scratching water blade to avert streaks and water spots. For the grand finale, get a hold of an orbital polisher and some high-quality Meguiar’s polish. A whole winter is a long time for a car to sit still; it’s only proper to put it to bed with that like-new shine. Quick tip: Consider a one-step sealant to help prevent rust.

3. Clean and Deodorize Interior

There are countless approaches to cleaning your car’s interior, but when it’s time for winter storage, I focus on two aspects: upholstery and odors. For upholstery, I’ve got leather seats, so I start with Lexol leather cleaning spray, let it dry for an hour, and then finish with plenty of conditioner. If you do that every year, your leather should be good till kingdom come. As for odors, look, even if you’re as careful as I am about keeping food out of the car, things just start smelling musty over time. You can get in front of this problem by treating your interior with Eagle One E1 odor eliminator. I don’t understand how it works — they say the stuff actually changes the chemistry of odor molecules — but it keeps my car smelling fresh all winter long, and that’s all you need to know. Quick tip: Place a few dryer sheets in the cabin, and under the hood. This helps prevent mice from making their way into your car or engine bay and building nests over the winter.

4. Check your cooling system

Check your vehicle’s antifreeze to make sure it protects against even the coldest evenings. To help with this, pick up an antifreeze tester to ensure that your car’s cooling system does not freeze solid.  A cheap antifreeze tester may be the key to a smooth ride next spring. Mine was a lifesaver last year.

5. Fix What Needs Fixing (and maybe some other stuff, too)      

Last but definitely not least, winter is the perfect time to bust out your tool kit and get your hands dirty. Hey, it’s not like you’re going to be busy driving the car, right? Think about all the time you’re saving by not getting behind the wheel — and devote a few of those hours here and there to DIY projects of your choosing.

For instance, I know a lot of folks who put off replacing their spark plugs because the car’s running fine, but why wait for it to start getting rough? Get yourself one of these handy magnetic swivel sockets, if you don’t have one already, and give your engine a new spark for the spring. For those of you who have room to get a floor jack under there and raise your car up, there’s a bunch of sensible preventive maintenance you can do while you’re on your back, including fuel-filter replacement and retorquing all your suspension bolts to factory spec with a quality torque wrench.

A couple other projects worth considering are upholstery repair and chrome upkeep. For the upholstery repair, you’re gonna have to be handier with a sewing machine than I am, but it’s not a terribly difficult job if you’ve got the time. Plan on spending a few days, though, if you have to remove the seat covers for re-stitching — and plan on rejuvenating the foam underneath, too, because if you’ve got rips, you’ve also got cushion compression from years of butts.

As for chrome upkeep, whether you’re talking about wheels, bumpers and tailpipes or headers and such under the hood, you’re gonna want a bottle of Mothers California Gold. Go after any tarnished surfaces with that stuff first. If they don’t get shiny enough for you, I would consider calling in a professional, but you can also get a DIY chrome kit and try to do the job yourself. Be careful, though, because the process involves an acid bath and some pretty freaky chemicals. It’s one you can definitely brag about to the boys if you pull it off.

At the end of the day, you know better than anyone what kind of mechanical TLC your car could use this winter, and now’s the time to do those nagging repairs you’ve been putting off. My suggestion? Make a list of priorities, and check ‘em off one by one until it’s driving season again. Your future self will thank you next year when the car’s performing better than ever. Quick tip: Don’t get stressed out. With the proper prep, you’ll be surpised at how much you can get done before the cold sets in.

Spring’s Around the Corner!

Don’t let the chilly season get you down, my friends. Pass the time with some targeted DIY projects, and before you know it, it’ll be time to hit the road again. Any suggestions for some good projects this winter, by the way? Let us know in the comments.

Preview: the 2015 Ford Mustang

mustang-line-lock

Photo credit: Ford Motor Company.

Our resident Gearhead tinkers with the highly anticipated new design of the Ford classic.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, is talking about the new 2015 Ford Mustang. On the one hand, I’m kind of wondering what the fuss is all about. You can still get the sweet 5.0-liter V8 with a manual transmission and more than 420 horsepower, so the apocalypse is definitely not upon us. And although the styling’s longer and leaner, with shades of Aston Martin from the rear three-quarter view, there’s still no doubt about what’s filling your rearview mirror when a 2015 Mustang comes up fast.

But on the other hand, enough has changed about the 2015 Mustang to get a lot of longtime fans worried, and understandably so. Folks are concerned that the soul of the car won’t be the same anymore, having run the twin gauntlets of technological progress and emissions regulations. They want to know that the essential stuff has been preserved. In short, they want the beloved Mustang to ride again, with the same untamed spirit as before.

So I thought to myself, why not do a 2015 Mustang Preview piece? After all, I’m the guy who couldn’t stop talking about how amazing the outgoing Mustang was; I even did a special retrospective piece on the 2014 Mustang GT, concluding that it “might just be considered the best Mustang ever when all’s said and done.” If anyone’s gonna look at the new sixth-generation Mustang with a critical eye, it’s crotchety old me. So let’s do it. Let’s go through a few 2015 Mustang headlines and talk about whether the new ‘Stang has got what it takes to make the faithful proud.

Three Letters: IRS

They stand for “Independent Rear Suspension,” and the 2015 Mustang’s got one for the first time in Mustang history. Yeah, I know, the SVT Cobra had one from 1999-2004, but you know what I mean. This is a big deal. For the first time, every Mustang will have a four-wheel independent suspension. If you don’t like it, hey guy, you’re just gonna have to deal.

Me? Believe it or not, I love it. I always believed that SVT Cobra foreshadowed an IRS across the line for the next generation, and in fact, Ford originally intended just that for the 2005-’14 Mustang. Cost concerns crept in, so they kicked the can down the road. But look, the writing’s been on the wall for a couple decades now. A solid rear axle’s great for the holeshot on a drag strip, but it’s a liability everywhere else — and if you don’t think Ford’s gonna have the 2015 Mustang ready to launch like a champ at the strip, you’re crazy. Otherwise, Mustang people like us will chew up the new ‘Stang and spit it out, and Ford knows it. So we’ll have our holeshots, you can bank on it, and we’ll also have the potential for world-class cornering, even when the pavement’s uneven. That’s what you call progress. I say bring it on.

Two Words: Mustang Turbo

There’ll be plenty of armchair heroes who bag on the new Mustang for offering a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine (with around 310 horsepower, by the way, if the rumors are to be believed). Here’s how you deal with this species: ask them for their thoughts on the Mustang SVO. The SVO, see, was offered from 1984-’86 with, you guessed it, a 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbo engine. Actually, the 2.3 turbo appeared a few years earlier, but you’ll want to focus on the SVO, because it was legit, with up to 205 horsepower and a zero-to-60-mph sprint of 6.8 seconds that was awesome for the day. Point being, there’s a strong precedent for turbocharged four-cylinder Mustang performance; it’s not like Ford’s jumping the shark here. The engine of choice is obviously still the 5.0-liter V8, but don’t dismiss the turbo four — it’ll put down some solid times, in addition to getting the high EPA fuel economy ratings that Ford needs.

One Ford: A Mustang for the Modern World

The “One Ford” mission is to serve all major global markets with the same great products, and the 2015 Mustang is very much on board. For the first time, the Mustang was designed with European and other international customers in mind. That means the interior’s considerably more refined, with improved materials quality and more sports-car intimacy in the cockpit. It means the exterior’s got those Aston Martin affinities I mentioned earlier, though without sacrificing that essential Mustang character.

Mustang50thEdition_05_HR

2015 Ford Mustang 50 Year Limited Edition in Wimbledon White. Photo credit: Ford Motor Company.

To me, this is the best of both worlds. The ‘Stang’s still got attitude, so we Americans should be happy. But now it’s got class, too, which makes it an intriguing option for folks who might otherwise get something like a BMW 3 Series. Detractors will complain that the previous Mustang was more “real” somehow, but I’m going to call them out right now. The truth is, the 2015 Mustang is every bit as real as before; it’s just got a few more manners now, and that’s only going to help Ford’s cause in the global marketplace.

Let’s Talk

Friends, I can’t think of a car this year that’s going to generate more conversation than the 2015 Mustang. What do y’all think about Ford’s new direction here? For or against?

Editor’s note: Got Mustang projects? Advance Auto Parts can help. We’ll get you back to the garage fast—buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Review: the 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid

2014 Infinity Q50 Hybrid 1Our resident Gearhead takes this hotly tipped hybrid for a spin.

Given my loyalty to old-fashioned muscle cars, you might think that “Hybrid” is a dirty word in these parts. But you’d be wrong. Tell you what, I love the idea of an extra electric motor that helps the gas engine do its job. If you design it right, that electric motor will really kick in at low speeds to give you more torque, and it’ll help you when you’re merging and passing, too. Kind of like a modern turbocharged engine without the lag.

Trouble is, most hybrids are all about fuel economy, which means they pretty much hate fun. But I’ve finally found one that’s a little different, and I’m smitten. Let me tell you a few things about my new crush — it’s called the 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid.

1. It’s Fast

And I mean fast. With its 3.5-liter V6 hybrid system, this thing cranks out 360 horsepower! That’s even more than the regular non-hybrid Q50, which stops at 328. It’s not just about the power, either, because this hybrid makes boatloads of low-end torque. It’s like an old big-block V8 the way it rears back and puts down the hammer from a stop. Like I said, when you add an electric motor to the mix, it can give you a real wallop during acceleration. Infiniti gets that. For the record, the Q50 Hybrid will do 0-60 in 4.9 seconds, or almost half a second quicker than the non-hybrid car.2014 Infinity Q50 Hybrid 2

2. It Drives Like a Champ

One thing about hybrids is that they’ve got big old battery packs to run those electric motors, and you’ve got to put that heavy thing somewhere. If you’re not careful, the extra weight can mess up the balance of the car. But Infiniti has positioned the Q50 Hybrid’s battery pack such that it adds a little rearward weight bias without going crazy. The result, if you ask me, is even better balance than the regular Q50. Going around corners in the Q50 Hybrid, I felt like I was driving an honest-to-goodness sport sedan. It just hunkers down and goes, with no understeer and not much body roll, either. Who ever heard of a hybrid that’s this fun to drive?

3. Its Fuel Economy is Amazing

Quick, name a midsize, five-passenger sedan that hits 60 mph in under 5 seconds and gets 31 mpg combined. Let me emphasize the “combined” part, because that’s what the EPA says you can expect for each tank as a weighted average of city (29 mpg) and highway (36 mpg) driving. Most cars with this much speed don’t even break 30 mpg on the highway cycle, and they’re way down in the 20s or even teens for city driving. That’s the other thing about a hybrid car’s electric motor — it takes a load off the gas engine in normal driving, and that means you need less gas to get around.

2014 Infinity Q50 Hybrid 4Sign This Gearhead Up

My test car came in at a shade over $46,000. That’s actually pretty reasonable when you consider that the Q50 Hybrid is a full-on luxury car with leather, navigation, Bose audio, dual electronics displays, you name it. You could easily pay more than twice as much for a Porsche Panamera hybrid that goes 0-60 in 5.2 seconds and only gets 25 mpg combined. I never thought I’d be saying this about a hybrid, but I would really and truly like to own this 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid sedan.

Am I crazy? Have you ever driven a hybrid that made you fall in love? Tell us your story in the comments.

 

Editor’s note: Whether you drive a hot new hybrid or a weathered old gas-guzzler, count on Advance Auto Parts for the best in parts—and even better values.

Snake & Mongoo$e – a tribute to drag racing’s glory days

Snake and MongooseOur resident Gearhead puts his grease gun down to review the new DVD release of this indie drag racing film.

I had a chance to drive a drag-racing car many years ago, and to be quite honest with you, I was too scared to get behind the wheel. Sometimes I find myself wishing I’d taken the plunge. But as I watched the excellent new film Snake and Mongoo$e, I was reminded of just how terrifying these cars can be. I mean, I like speed as much as the next guy — maybe more — but as early as 1970 or thereabouts, professional drag racers were turning quarter-miles in under 7 seconds at over 200 mph. Even as a daredevil teenager, which is what I was back then, that seemed a little too hot to handle.

It made for a great show, though, and no two men were more instrumental to the sport’s growth than Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “Mongoose” McEwen. Initially bitter rivals, the pair formed a partnership in the late 1960s that helped elevate drag racing from fringe spectacle to big-ticket entertainment.

Their most important joint venture was probably the sponsorship agreement they signed in 1970 Snake & Mongoose 3with Mattel’s Hot Wheels franchise, which put the Hot Wheels logo on both men’s cars — and set a precedent for such agreements across professional sports. But the film goes well beyond the boardroom, of course, delving deeply into the complex personal relationship between Prudhomme and McEwen as it evolved through the years.

 Drag racing on the big screen

Now, I’m no movie critic, so when I tell you that I thought the dialogue was mostly by-the-numbers, I want you to take that with a grain of salt. But you know I’m a car guy, so you can trust me when I say that this is one car movie that got my blood pumping. I loved the split-screen cockpit closeups of the Snake and Mongoose, side by side in full protective headgear, with the drag-strip “Christmas tree” lights in the middle.

Another neat idea was the inclusion of archival racing footage from the ’60s and ’70s, reminding you that this isn’t just a popcorn movie; it all really happened. And this flick’s got some star power, too, from a barely recognizable Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) as The Snake to Hollywood veteran Noah Wyle as Mattel executive Arthur Spear.

Sname & Mongoos 2As car films go, I still gotta give the nod to Bullitt as the best of all time, but I think Snake and Mongoo$e is right up there with Senna and another recent car movie, Rush, as far as true stories are concerned. If you’re awestruck like me at the sight of those drag-racing cars thundering down the track, you’re gonna want to take this Snake for a spin.

Snake & Mongoo$e is available on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Check out a clip here:

Preview: 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06Dunno about you, but I’m still getting used to the latest Corvette. They call it the C7, because it’s the seventh Corvette since the original model came out in 1953 — back before most of you all were even born. But in some ways, the C7 is a whole new beginning for the ‘Vette, from its square taillights (they always used to be round) to all those gills and strakes and vents that punctuate its surfaces. It’s an awesome car — you’ll never hear me say otherwise — but it’s not instantly recognizable as a Corvette, and that’s a radical change for a long-timer like me.

There’s one C7 that already looks just right, though, and that’s the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06. Unlike previous Z06 models, which mostly resembled regular Corvettes, the C7 Z06 looks like a racecar without the decals. Two inches wider in front and three in back, with angry-looking creases and folds all over the place, the new Z06 might have the most presence of any car I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to drive one. In the meantime, let’s take a deep dive into what we know so far.

1. Supercharged 625-horsepower V8

Come again? Supercharged? Yeah, you heard right. The 2015 Z06 will be powered by a 6.2-liter, 625-horsepower V8 with an Eaton supercharger tucked into its vee. For better or worse, the naturally aspirated Z06 is now a thing of the past.

My first instinct was to go with “worse,” because the C6 Z06’s 7.0-liter, 505-horsepower V8 is one of the best motors ever to grace an engine bay. I used to say that it ought to be in every car on the road, and I wasn’t completely kidding.

But then I ran up against a cold hard fact: 505 hp is a lot less than 625. Shoot, 625 is almost as much as the C6 ZR1 put out. Plus, superchargers are much better than turbochargers from a drivability standpoint — there’s no throttle lag when you punch it, which means no waiting around for that crazy quick acceleration. If you’re going to go the forced-induction route, that’s the way to do it.

On second thought, then, put me in the “better” camp. It seems pretty clear that the C7 Z06 is going to be a real upgrade under the hood, though I’ll definitely miss the NASCAR growl of the old Z06’s and 427 Vette’s  7.0-liter V8.

2. Best-Handling Corvette Ever?

I know I haven’t driven one yet, but all signs point to this thing being the most rewarding Corvette to drive, period. It’s got huge rubber, of course — the rears are 335/25 ZR-20s — but more than that, the engineers have made a point of making the C7 Z06 at least somewhat friendly at the limit. In the past, pushing a Z06 hard could be hazardous to your health, but this one’s tweaked chassis, intuitive steering and standard magnetic-ride dampers should make it the most user-friendly version yet. If you’re worried about braking power, don’t be — the pizza-size rotors measure more than 14 inches all around.

3. Got Luxury If You Want It

I remember when the first Z06 came out, the C5 model. The interior of that thing was so tacky, it reminded me of an S-10 pickup truck. But hey, it went fast and sounded great, so people were in a forgiving mood. These days, of course, the standards are much higher, especially at the $75,000-$80,000 price point where the C7 Z06 is expected to start.

Fortunately, the new Z06 starts with the regular C7’s vastly improved interior and gets even better. Extended leather trim is standard, as is a flat-bottom steering wheel that reinforces the car’s close ties with the C7.R racer. Available competition seats should provide even more support than the already decent standard chairs. You know what? They’re even offering an eight-speed automatic transmission in the C7 Z06, that’s how civilized it’s become. Naturally, the standard transmission continues to be a manual — the same seven-speed stick that comes in the regular C7.

Talk Amongst Yourselves2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 2

I gotta ask: Is there anyone out there who doesn’t drool at the thought of driving the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06? Is there a better value right now among performance cars? I want to hear what you all think in the comments.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts has great savings on quality auto parts and accessories for Corvettes and just about everything else. Buy online, pick up in store.

Reflections from the Racetrack

You know what, this writing gig has its perks. First I got to go to the 2013 LA Auto Show, and now I’m here to tell you about this annual track-day event for auto writers that I was privileged to attend.

I’ve spent a lot of time daydreaming about driving the world’s best cars, so it was truly humbling to show up at the track that morning and see pretty much all of them lined up in front of me, just waiting to be driven. Jaguar F-Type V8 S? Check. Mustang GT? Check. BMW M6 Gran Turismo? Oh yes. I didn’t know events like this even existed, but boy, was I happy to be on the list.

So I did what any red-blooded car enthusiast would do: I kept going around that track as fast as I could, in as many cars as I could. I drove until the sun went down and they closed the gates. It was transcendent. The only problem is that they don’t do it more than once a year. I could talk your ear off all day, but for brevity’s sake, here are the three cars that really got me going.

3. 2014 Chevrolet Corvette

2014 Corvette Coupe

Photo credit: Chevrolet

I’ll be upfront with you, as always, and say that I don’t like how the new C7 Corvette looks. Never have; maybe never will. The greenhouse reminds me of a GT-R, and so do the headlights. The rear end with its odd black lower valence reminds me of a Lexus LF-A. All the vents and strakes everywhere remind me of a Mercedes McLaren SLR. The square taillights look like they came from a two-year-old Camaro.

If there’s one thing that the C7 Corvette does not remind me, it’s all the beautiful, iconic Corvettes that came before.

But then I drove it, and I decided that as long as I don’t have to look at the thing, it’s awesome. The new V8 pumps out 455 horsepower and makes the car fearsomely fast: try 3.8 seconds to 60 mph, plus chest-flattening thrust from 60 to triple digits. The steering is quick and direct, making this the most nimble Corvette ever. The interior is massively improved, with nice materials everywhere and finally some seats that you won’t want to swap out for aftermarket replacements. As a sports car, the new ‘Vette is a perfect 10, and that makes its challenging styling a lot easier to swallow. Can the Corvette engineers improve on perfection? Of course they can. That’s why there’s a Corvette Z06.

2. 2014 Cadillac CTS

Photo credit: Cadillac.

Photo credit: Cadillac

Now here’s one that I definitely didn’t think would make the cut. I hopped into the new CTS 2.0-liter turbo with a “ho” and a “hum,” figuring I might as well try it out while I was there. After a few hot laps, I hopped out with a “Yeehaw!” You’ve probably heard a lot about the redesigned CTS, but did you know they’ve turned it into a bona fide sport sedan? I drove the M6 Gran Turismo shortly after the CTS, and I couldn’t tell you which one has more responsive steering, or a sharper chassis. It’s that good.

The turbo four-cylinder engine, however, is not that good. It yanks the CTS around capably enough, but acceleration isn’t linear, and it doesn’t sound great either. This is a decent motor that does yeoman’s work in the lesser Buick Regal, for example, but it seems a bit out of place in a $50,000 performance car. The CTS I really want to try is the Vsport with its twin-turbo, 420-horsepower V6–but they didn’t have one on hand, so for now I’ll hold onto the four-cylinder CTS as a tantalizing glimpse of this car’s capabilities.

1. 2014 Dodge Viper

Photo credit: Dodge.

Photo credit: Dodge

What, did you think my top pick would be some Euroweenie luxury car? Obviously, I’m going with the American sports car at its most essential: the purpose-built Dodge Viper. I say that even though the Viper has a much nicer interior now, with fancy materials everywhere and Dodge’s excellent 8.4-inch touchscreen interface. It’s got a new body, too, and the Italian influence of parent company Fiat is apparent in the sleeker front end and almost too-delicate headlights. But from the rear, the Viper’s muscles are as ripped as ever. If there’s a better looking posterior in the automotive world right now, I haven’t seen it.

On the track, the Viper is still enough of a handful that they had a trained race-car driver on hand to assist inexperienced pilots. But with (government-mandated) standard stability control onboard, it’s not the spinout-waiting-to-happen that it used to be. Of course, with a 640-horsepower V10 pumping under that endlessly long hood, disaster is always just an overzealous right foot away. That’s the charm of the Viper, though: unlike the cool, calm and collected Corvette, this Dodge still acts like it wants to tear your head off–so when you complete a few laps without incident, it feels like a real accomplishment. Not surprisingly, the Viper was the only car I lined up for again and again that day. Every other car was less daunting to drive, but none was nearly as much fun.

Let’s Talk

Want to know more about these cars? Ask me anything, my friends. Have you driven any hot new cars on the track lately?

Editor’s note: Whether you drive a fancy performance car—as our Gearhead so eloquently praises—or an old clunker, count on Advance Auto Parts to help keep it running right and looking good. Buy online, pick up in store.