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Thread: Speaking of Thanksgiving...

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Speaking of Thanksgiving...



    We're all thankful for the bird on the table -- but how about giving thanks for the design improvements that have made our cars better, safer and more efficient than they've ever been? Maybe in-between mouthfuls -- or during halftime -- take a quick trip to the garage, bow your head a moment and give thanks to the Motor Gods for things like:

    * 300 horsepower engines that get 30 mpg -- As much as you hear jabbering about "gas hogs," the fact is that never before have high-powered vehicles been so fuel-efficient. In the muscle car days of the 1960s, big V-8s were luck to deliver mileage in the mid teens. But today, cars like the 303-hp Monte Carlo SS, 300-hp Mustang GT and 400-hp Corvette are solidly in the mid-high 20s on the highway. And "fast and furious" sport compacts like the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru WRX can do even better -- at the pump as well as at the dragstrip.

    * Planet-friendly and still fun to drive -- Thanks to constant tweaking and refinement, many of today's latest cars produce just fractionally more in the way of tailpipe emissions than a pure electric car. And these are not tinny little econo-boxes, either. The '06 Jaguar XJ Super V8 sedan, for example, meets California's super-strict Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) standards, which means you can ride in Lord of the Manor style -- without feeling occasionally guilty about helping to choke the planet's teeming masses in a blanket of smog.

    * High-tech keeps getting cheaper -- Like microwave ovens and VCRs, automotive electronics such as on-board GPS navigation systems and DVD players began as high-end toys of the rich but are now affordable gadgets for the masses. Many family-priced (under $30k) new cars -- including the Mazda3 and Jeep Liberty -- offer factory-installed navigation systems; safety equipment such as anti-lock brakes and traction/stability control have become almost standard features -- and will be as commonplace on new cars within a couple of years as air conditioning and power windows are today.

    * Really effective headlights -- To get a feel for how many steps we've taken in this department, find a car from the 1970s or even the 1980s and go for a drive on a dark and stormy night. You'll be amazed how weak headlights used to be -- and how perilous night driving was as recently as ten or 15 years ago. Modern High Intensity Discharge and Projector headlights are to yesterday's sealed beam units what a displacement on demand, variable cam timing-equipped modern V-8 is to a Ford flathead from t he 1930s. The latest systems even self-level and steer with you in a corner -- in addition to turning night into daytime at the turn of a switch.

    * All-wheel-drive is everywhere -- This design feature, which used to be found only in a few oddball Audis and Subarus, is now offered in bread and butter family cars like the Ford Five Hundred, wagons like the Chrysler Pacifica, minivans like the Toyota Sienna -- and high-performance sport sedans like the new Lexus IS250 and Infiniti G35. AWD is great because unlike truck-style four-wheel-drive, which is designed for off-road operation and typically works in part-time (2WD) mode on dry, paved roads, AWD constantly sends engine power to the wheels with the most grip, on or off-road. And it's just as great for high-performance driving on dry, paved roads as it is for keeping your car glued to the road in rain or snowy weather -- while truck-style four-wheel-drive is mostly good at wasting fuel and sapping performance (by adding weight) unless it happens to be snowing or you've gone off-road.

    * There are no slow cars anymore -- True, some new cars are much faster than others, but there are no new cars that need 15-30 seconds just to reach 60 mph -- as, for example, the old air-cooled VW Beetle and other econo-boxes of the '70s and '80s did. Today, a typical mid-sized family car can nail 60 mph in about 8 seconds; many do it in 6-7 seconds. The "slow" cars are closer to 10 seconds. If you go back a few years, an 8-second-to-60 mph time was considered sports car quick -- the stuff of V-8 performance cars like the Pontiac Trans-Am. Also, there are few new cars that have any real trouble hitting triple digit speeds -- even a hybrid like the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight can do 100-plus if you keep your foot in it. And the typical mid-sized, V-6 powered family sedan can nail 130-plus -- a supercar top end as recently as the late '80s.

    * They protect us like a warm womb -- Today's cars are more "survivable" than the race cars of the not-so-distant past -- with active (traction and stability control, ABS) and passive (air bags, seat belt pre-tensioners; "crumple zones," etc.) safety features designed to prevent a crash from occurring and protect us against being injured or killed if one happens anyhow. No more steering-wheel-through-the chest, no more being decapitated by the windshield your head just went through. While not death-free, your odds of barrel-rolling a modern car and living to tell the tale (with all your body parts still attached and functioning) is much higher than it's ever been. Even small cars -- which used to be referred to as "death traps" in the business -- are pretty safe, at least compared to the genuine death-mobiles of the '70s, '80s and even early '90s -- before things like air bags and deformable, impact-absorbing body structures became commonplace.

    * We have choices like never before -- Depending on how you do the math, there are something like 600-plus makes/models of cars, trucks, SUVs, crossovers, hybrids and in-betweens to choose from. Everything from micro-sized Scions and Minis to automotive brontosauri like the Nissan Titan and Hummer H1. There are literally cars for every lifestyle, preference, budget -- tailored to please our every whim. And they are more affordable than ever -- with killer financing deals and manufacturer incentives that give buyers an edge like they've never had before. We get to buy the best-built, up-to-date and interesting new cars that have ever been offered to the public -- and we get to do it on our terms.

    It's a lot to be thankful for!


  2. #2
    DonTom
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    Re: Speaking of Thanksgiving...

    AWD is great because

    Weren't you in that Compuserve thread last year where most were explaining how AWD is a dumb and dangerous idea?
    -Don-


  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Speaking of Thanksgiving...

    I'd be surprised if I said that!

    I did write an article explaining that AWD does not equal four-wheel-drive (a term that used to specifically refer to a truck-type system with a two-speed transfer case and Low range gearing).

    Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

    AWD is much better, in general, for street-driven vehicles because it provides better traction/grip on dry pavement/under high cornering loads, etc.

    Truck-type 4WD is superior off-road because of its gearing (and also because it is usually heavier-duty and packaged with higher ground clearance, etc.)

  4. #4
    DonTom
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    Re: Speaking of Thanksgiving...

    I'd be surprised if I said that!

    In that CompuServe thread, many were saying how the AWD can engage when you do NOT want it to and when it does it can be unsafe. Tom's brother has an AWD (new Durango) and I have driven it and there was a time or two in a turn where it felt very unstable. Sort of like a jerk during the turn, where I think the AWD engaged. I assumed it was because of the AWD. My Jeep never felt like that, and it's 4WD at all times (with transfer case, which means it's not AWD).

    -Don-

  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Speaking of Thanksgiving...

    AWD systems typically have a traction-sensitive viscous coupling that automatically diverts power from the slipping wheel(s) to those with better traction. Truck-type 4WD systems are gear-locked into a specific power split, for example, 50-50 (front to rear) when in 4wD. In 2WD, all the power is routed to the rear drive wheels. In AWD vehicles, the 'split" is typically biased toward the front, with some power always going to all four wheels.

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