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Spied! Corvette ZR1

29th September 2008

You’ve seen it here first, faithful readers: the newest, baddest Corvette ever – the ZR1. 2 of The Slandy Report’s top reporters spotted the car in a parking lot in Farmington, Michigan tonight. They were overheard exclaiming, “Yellow Corvette!” They are shown here with their prize “catch”. When asked what they were going to do with the $105,000 car, they said they would mount it on the wall of their bedroom because they can’t field dress a moose (or afford the gas).

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Ford Shows Some Class

23rd September 2008

Ford showed an incredible amount of class recently. On the eve of the 100th anniversary of their sometimes hated crosstown rival GM, Ford strategically left blinds open and the lights on to spell “Happy 100 GM”. It’s nice to see that at least some in Ford’s management have shown that, evidence to the contrary, they can be mature grown-ups some of the time. I credit this new found maturity to Alan Mulally, the “outsider” who Bill Ford brought in to shake up Ford’s bureaucracy. Can you see The Deuce doing this?

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As a frequent traveler I frequently have the “privilege” of leaving my personal vehicle at Logan airport and picking up a (seemingly) random vehicle at my destination. Since this is the first review, and a review of a “sporty car” at that, I should mention that my personal vehicle is a 2002 BMW M5. Although it has superb handling, driveability, etc, there is always room for improvement so I would give that vehicle a solid 9 out of 10.

When I arrived at the JFK Hertz I had little expectation of receiving the “Pontiac G6 or equivalent” I had reserved. True to history I was not disappointed. After a brief debacle with a broken window actuator on my first vehicle I was behind the wheel of a 2008 Ford Mustang V6.

Luckily I don’t tend to have more than 1 colleague with me, because the first observation I’ll make is that this is really a 2+2: if you need to sit in the back and your legs will extend beyond the edge of the bottom seat cushion I’d suggest another vehicle. In a pinch I suppose you could carry 4 adults but otherwise they’d all have to be short (as in less than 4′ tall). At 6’2″ I had at most 4″ of room behind my seat. Hopefully this isn’t a newsflash to many of you since pony cars have long had back seats bordering on non-existent, but I thought it worth observing.

For this rental period the weather was generally warm (70F+) and sunny. My driving conditions included open road as well as stop and go traffic, highway and city. I covered 240 miles in the course of 5 days.

So with that, let’s talk about the key attributes. Before I forget, in case you stumble upon this vehicle at auction it is VIN#1ZVHT80N785207193. It had 9074 miles on it when I returned it Sept 19.

Exterior / Fit & Finish
While certainly not as exciting as some of the higher end V8 Mustangs that sport 4 lights across the front (inc. 2 fogs), the base Mustang does maintain the same relatively aggressive styling. Since this particular vehicle was white I wouldn’t say it was intimidating, but it could be if painted black or red.

Fit and finish was excellent. All panels had even gaps that were a consistent 1/8-3/16″ all around. Compared to the Ford vehicles of old, this is a significant improvement. The hood closes with a satisfying thump (and hides a reasonably clean V6 in the engine bay).

The trunk, however, was a different story. Oh, it fit nicely, and closed with a thump — but I couldn’t figure out how to open it from outside the car without the key fob. Turns out that you can’t. I know it’s a small thing, but it can’t be that hard to find a location for a lock and a handle. Once you do find your way inside, the trunk is quite spacious and looks like it would hold 4 sets of clubs (this would be helpful assuming you live close to the course or have friends who are midgets) or a complete set of luggage without too much effort.

The wheels were stylish, but surrounded by large amounts of rubber (215/65R16 are standard, but they look like 15’s with those huge sidewalls). You’ll want to upsize the wheels for looks and handling…


I’ve already touched upon the smallish backseat, but as we said, that is the price of entry in a vehicle like this. Requiring 5 years of Yoga training to be flexible enough to reach the driver’s seatbelt, however, should not be. Be prepared to turn yourself 90 degrees sideways to reach your seatbelt – it will be hanging about 6-8″ behind your left shoulder. Sounds ok, but go ahead and reach 6″ behind your left shoulder right now. Let me know how that goes.

Overall the interior is quite roomy. I had no issue getting myself settled in and had plenty of head room, leg room and shoulder room.

The shifter, while very stylish and comfortable to shift, is somewhat lacking in 1 key area of functionality – indicating what gear you are in. After carefully studying the instrument cluster to find the PRNDL markings, I finally concluded they weren’t there. A large speedo, tach, and few other key gauges were right where they should be, and proved easy to read, but the gear indicator was nowhere to be found. It is, as it turns out, down next to the shifter itself and is actually quite easy to read — if you are looking directly down on it. Unless you are sitting with your chest touching the steering wheel it is all but invisible.

Speaking of steering wheel, kudo’s to Ford to putting a thicker than average steering wheel on a sporty car – it was comfortable to grip and helped the car say “drive me” in a way that thin little wheels don’t. And for putting an Aux input for those of us who have portable mp3 players – minor points off for putting it at the bottom of the armrest storage. Next time let’s put the whole package together and also put radio controls on the steering wheel.

Interior Materials / Fit & Finish

I would characterize the interior fit & finish as very good. Like the outside, the gaps were even and minimal with no unnecessary brakes. The gauges were easy to read and appropriately located while the radio, shifter, and HVAC controls were all located in easy reach for the driver.

The materials… well… Look, I know it is rental car. And rental cars take abuse. But there is no excuse for seat material that is completely stretched out and puckering at less than 10K miles. As a consumer I’d say trade the “Mustang” logo’d fabric for a higher quality material. Thankfully it did not give the usually static shock after exiting the vehicle, but it looked bad.

The only thing worse than the seats was the general lack of anything soft. Dashboard: hard. Door panels: hard. Door panel inserts: hard. Some places are ok – but those should preferably be places I’m not going to rest a body part for long periods of time. Door panels come to mind.

Handling / Performance

An interesting thing happened on the way to the office (ok, on the way out of the Hertz parking lot): I lit up the rear tires and swung the car sideways in the middle of the road about 50′ from the guard shack. No, it wasn’t a mid-life crisis moment or the fulfillment of a childhood dream. In fact, I managed to do the same thing again at the first stop light. Convinced that Hertz had labeled the keys wrong and that I had an 8 instead of a 6 cylinder, I made the turn onto the highway and got on the throttle to see what this “bad boy” could do.

This was when I realized that a) Hertz had indeed given me a 6 cylinder and b) Ford had loaded about 230 of the 240 ft-lbs of available torque into the first 1/16″ of pedal travel. Luckily the engine guys warned the transmission guys — the tranny kicks down smoothly and quickly upon request keeping you in the powerband to take advantage of the relatively anemic 210hp. This provides satisfying driveability, gives plenty of passing power (as long as you are in double-digit speeds), and more importantly, gives you the frequent opportunity to listen to an extremely well tuned exhaust that has a nice rumble and a deep tone bordering on throaty.

Once you get used to the throttle sensitivity and realize that the enormous aspect ratio (i.e. tall) tires are also narrow with limited grip, the car is pretty stable and easy to drive in a straight line. Chirping the tires is no big feat, but you will want to make sure you don’t do so while next to someone who might interpret it as an opportunity to race. While gutsy, it is also heavy, and I’d guess that a Camry would probably give you a run for your money.

Sadly, the world is not a series of straight lines. Despite the engineers best efforts, the roads do occasionally turn. And while the steering was reasonably precisely it didn’t provide a whole lot of road feel. Again, discredit the tires to some extent. The handling was also iffy, and in long standing tradition, bumps in corners can leave the rear end feeling a bit skittish and unsettled. The solution, of course, is to drive only on straight, freshly paved roads. Here’s a suggestion for Ford: instead of spending money re-working old suspensions that still result in a compromise, how about an independent rear suspension?

Fuel Economy

Over the course of the week I logged 240 miles and used 10.7 gallons of gasoline for an average of 22.4mpg. Given that my driving style is somewhat, umm, aggressive, and that I spent considerable time in Long Island commuter traffic, I’d say that most people should expect to get somewhat higher results.


For the ~$20K price tag that one of these cars carries you get quite a bit of car. You won’t blow too many people away off the line, but the car looks good and drives ok. It does, however, have several areas that are in dire need of improvement (interior, handling) before it is a real competitor.

Exterior: 7/10 – good, but getting a bit long in the tooth
Interior: 5/10 – better materials would turn this “ho hum” into “let’s go!”
Handling: 6/10 – live axles have no place on a sporty vehicle
Performance: 7/10 – good job making a low horsepower engine seem stronger
Fuel Economy: 7/10 – good results given the hard conditions.

Overall: 6/10

See you next week with the next installment: Chevy Impala. This IS your fathers Oldsmobile…


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As a long time colleague of Slandy, and frequent SLandy Report visitor, I’ve often wondered how he finds time to research, develop and edit the content. It all seems so transparent and easy – one can only assume that his personal life suffers greatly.

Since parting ways with our esteemed editor a couple years ago and leaving the mid-west to join a non-automotive firm, I’ve gained some additional perspective into what the “average Joe” goes through with vehicle maintenance, purchase, etc. Since my present position has me traveling around the country nearly every week I also get the opportunity to engage in that ritual that we all endure, and generally hate, every time we go on vacation: driving a rental car.

So with that backdrop, I hope that the upcoming weekly reviews of rental cars will prove interesting and useful. Although mostly centered around car, the occasional upgrade should lead to a good cross-section of vehicles. If you have any specific requests for reviews, please feel free to send them along and I’ll see what I can do.

Look for the first installment – the 2008 Ford Mustang V6 – later this weekend…


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Ford is being lambasted in various news media, including Automotive News and Business Week, for excluding the recently introduced Ford Fiesta ECOnetic from the US market. Ford will begin selling a Mexico-produced Fiesta in the US in 2010, but it will not, apparently, sell the ECOnetic here. What is the ECOnetic? It is a higher economy (65 MPG) version of the already high economy (40-45 MPG) Fiesta. It has a Diesel engine, very few creature comforts, low rolling resistance tires and special aerodynamics. According to Business Week, the cost of producing and shipping would require the price to be higher than the $25,700 at which it will sell in Europe. It would, however, be eligible for a $1300 tax credit, bringing the price to $24,400 – approximately comparable to a Toyota Prius, the current darling of the environmental crowd. Ford sources confirm to The Slandy Report that the ECOnetic is not planned for the US market – yet. If fuel prices keep rising, they will likely revisit that decision.

So is Ford making a mistake? Or are they exercising due prudence in spending what little money they have left? The Slandy Report thinks the answer is C – all of the above. The ECOnetic and its engine are made in the UK, where labor, exchange and shipping rates stack the deck against selling the car profitably in the US. There are mitigating factors, however:

• Because the Fiesta will already be produced in Mexico, why couldn’t Ford ship only the engine from the UK for assembly in the Mexican plant? It sure would cost less than shipping the entire car…
• Ford would realize a tremendous PR boost by beating the Prius’ environmental claims (presently the highest mileage vehicle for sale in the US – 48 mpg city, 45 highway) with a North America-produced product – this would help shed the image of selling only big, bloated SUVs and pickups.
• Ford tends to over-analyze everything (I’m not exaggerating) and has the attitude that “if you can’t prove it, it doesn’t exist.” Most reports say that Toyota is just starting to make money selling hybrids. They were willing to lose money for some time because they saw the long-term benefits (PR, future economies of scale, etc.). Ford needs to do the same. Even if they lose money on every ECOnetic they sell here, the car will have a halo effect over the entire company (see previous point). You can’t buy the positive image that car’s economy would give Ford.

Ford can/should limit the availability of the ECOnetic and advertise the hell out of it. Make sure every man, woman and child in the US and Canada knows that Ford sells “the highest-mileage car you can buy.” By limiting availability, they will be able to charge the $25K without any trouble – and without costly incentives. Reduced availability will also create a perceived shortage, which any first-year marketing or econ student knows is the way to create demand and profits. They should look at any loses they do incur as advertising or PR cost – it will be more effective than anything the “marketing communications” staff could come up with.

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2009 VW Routan

14th September 2008

VW has started advertising for its new minivan, the Routan. The ads, which are meant to be amusing, place the tongue squarely in the cheek with some offbeat humor. Brooke Shields stars in the ads, which started to appear this weekend. She implores women to have babies “for love, not the German engineering” in the Routan ads and the mockumentary, which you can see at or It’s actually a clever campaign, which suggests that a steep rise in childbirth is the result of couples wanting to get a Routan and its “German engineering” – not for love. The problem with the ad is that the Routan, though it is a VW, is not engineered by Germans or in Germany. To call it badge-engineered isn’t exactly correct, but this “German-engineered” minivan is actually a Dodge Grand Caravan. The styling difference is significant from the Dodge, but that’s the only difference – styling. The Routan is manufactured in Chrysler’s Windsor, Ontario assembly plant, built alongside the Grand Caravan and the Chrysler Town & Country. The VW’s engines and transmission are from the Chrysler, as is the interior layout. Chrysler kept its Stow n’ Go and Swivel n’ Go seats, as well as its optional table that fits in-between the 2nd and 3rd rows, for itself, however.

So how does VW get away with calling the Routan’s engineering “German”? They apparently revised the Routan’s suspension and steering and improved the driving dynamics to make it feel and handle more like a VW (they also revised the styling, as mentioned above). When they agreed to this arrangement, Chrysler was still part of DaimlerChrysler (a German company), so they might have been able to do nothing and still claim the German connection. Alas, Chrysler is an American company again, so VW had some work to do.

To the casual observer, this child will not look anything like it’s American parents, so many will choose this van simply because it’s not American. How ironic that the leader (and inventor) of minivans since their inception 25 years ago will increase its sales by selling a version whose main selling point is that it is not American.

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Ford unveiled a new logo for its iconic sports car, the Mustang, last week. If you look carefully, you might even notice the difference. Ford has essentially made the pony logo look sleeker and faster than the previous logo. It also sports a new “subtly toned tinted-chrome finish”.

“We wanted to give the Mustang pony a more realistic feel,” said Douglas Gaffka, chief designer for the 2010 Mustang. “We lifted the head to make the pony more proud, tipped the neck into the wind to give it a feeling of greater speed and better balance.

“It’s more chiseled and more defined and looks more like a wild horse,” Gaffka added. “It’s more realistic in terms of proportion to an actual Mustang.”

The new logo will make its debut on the 2010 Mustang, which will go on sale next year. The 2010 Mustang will be redesigned along with the logo.

An interesting aside: the original Mustang pony was facing to the right (because that made it look like the pony was running forward), not the left as it is today. When presented to Ford management for approval, the team was told that the pony should be facing the other direction. Why? Because left is usually associated with “west”, and a wild Mustang is associated with the old west. That’s just a little insight into the decision-making at Ford.

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