Monday, July 25, 2016

Driving a crappy car is exhausting.

You might remember a post from a couple of weeks ago where I did 900-odd miles in a Chevy Equinox LT. You might also remember what an utter turd of a car that thing is.
Driving is exhausting, no matter how long or short the journey. In a great car, that works well, you never notice the exhaustion because it's normally not anything to be noticed. It's slight. However when you're driving a badly-engineered car, it can be unbelievably exhausting. That Equinox LT - the one that could barely hit 80mph - was a case in point. I've driven the 450 miles to Vegas a dozen times or more without ever having any issue. But trying to get that Equinox there - well - a different matter. I had to wrestle to keep it in a straight line. I had to be 100% aware of where the gearbox was about to kick down, where the engine wouldn't have enough power to pull off even a simple overtake. I had to plan way the hell ahead - I had to watch for faster-moving traffic behind that I knew I wouldn't be able to get out of the way of. I had to watch to make sure there wasn't an incline ahead that would catch me out mid-overtake. I had to take account of the damned wind direction because once it got into headwind, 70mph was hard enough and 80 was unattainable. I had to make sure there weren't any corners coming up that were more than slight, because the high sidewalls and sloppy handling meant it was a hell of an effort to keep it in-lane when cornering at speed. Well - "at speed" is hard to quantify when it complained like hell the closer I got to 80mph.
Anyway - the end result of all of this was that I faceplanted the bed in the hotel room after getting to Vegas and slept for two hours straight - something I've never previously had to do after that drive. I was mentally shot.
Get a car that has a decent amount of power, with good brakes, a comfy seat and tight steering, and you'll enjoy the drive and arrive alert and awake. Get an utter shitbox like the Chevy Equinox LT and you're risking your life because mentally you'll be at full capacity all the time just trying to drive it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Utah Driver's latest trick - stopping at green lights.

There's a new disease afflicting drivers around where I live - they've started coming to a halt at green traffic lights. I don't know why - I mean apart from the driving population here generally being morons - but I mean there's no actual reason for it. The lights operate they way they always have. Red means stop. Orange means don't enter intersection. Green means go. Only now it seems that green means stop. So far this year I've witnessed no less than 5 rear-end accidents because of this. Accidents where someone just slams on the brakes when they get to a green light and the person behind them runs into the back of them. Because - you know - as any normal logical person would think, they probably also thought that a green light meant "go" not "park at the line".
I've given up hooting, honking and shouting at these idiots now. Now I have a much simpler strategy: I just go around them. So if you're reading this in Utah, and you're afflicting with this weird disease of stopping at green lights, be aware that people are likely to either run into you, or go around you. You're a danger to everyone else on the road and shouldn't have a license.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Chevy: Still building shit.

This weekend I had the misfortune to drive a Chevy Equinox LT AWD on a 900 mile round trip to Vegas and back and let me just say this: it's amazing to me that Chevy even still exist as a brand if this is what they're offering. Who, exactly, is buying this crap? I mean - who, apart from rental companies? I'm wondering if Chevy realize it's 2016 or if they think it's still the mid 1970's?
The model I was driving was a 2016 version with 20,000 miles on it - essentially a new car. According to the Chevy website, the slogan for this car is "love the journey" and with the trim level in the vehicle I was in, it starts just shy of $30,000. Let me tell you, that's $30,000 too much for this pile of shit.
Where to start? The engine maybe? Ok let's talk about the engine. It was a rental, so it had the 2.4L engine which Chevy claim has 182hp/172lbft of torque with a kerb weight of 3788lbs. My daily driver - a Range Rover Evoque - has 240hp and 250lbft of torque from an engine that is 400cc smaller and even though the Evoque weighs 200lbs more, it drives like an actual car. The Equinox drives like the Queen Mary. The engine is slow to respond and wooden, and it's connected to the accelerator pedal via twitter. Bolted to the back of the engine is a thoroughly 1970's 'Murican-built automatic slushbox. Honestly I thought the days of this sort of transmission were long gone. Over the last 16 years, the automatic boxes in my Subarus, Hondas, VWs and Range Rover have all been excellent. The Equinox appears to have a bowl of loose custard for a transmission. With the cruise control set at 80mph, even the slightest hill caused the box to change down. Get on to a steep hill and it kicked down to fourth. Get on to a canyon road and it kicked down to third. So I spent a good portion of the journey to Vegas and back with this fucking thing in third gear, screaming at over 7000rpm and still losing speed going uphill. It's the only car I've driven where a gearbox kickdown results in a lot of noise but no appreciable gain in torque or speed.
It's actually dangerous. When you pull out to overtake, the engine can't muster enough power to accelerate so you end up crawling past the vehicle in front. This isn't too bad on a freeway where everyone is going the same direction but if you were trying to do this on a two-lane road, overtaking a slower vehicle into oncoming traffic, it would be suicidal.
The end result of all this is that this vehicle managed an average of just 19mpg on the freeway. Chevy claim 31mpg on their website, and even accepting that that figure is unachievable, you'd think it might be in the high 20's - something like 25-26mpg. But no - 19mpg. 31mpg is an outright lie and is completely unachievable.
What about the rest of it? The brakes are wooden - and I think that's being kind. They're hard and have no feel to them. The brake assist system is vague meaning you need far more pedal pressure than you'd imagine to get the brakes to engage, and once they do, the brake response is woefully underpowerd for a car of this weight.
The suspension is boaty and vague, making the ride soft and wallowy, adding to the Queen-Mary-like driving experience. The horrible engine, the heavy car, heavy brakes and heavy steering ultimately mean you should stay away from corners at all costs.
The interior is bland and plastic, and not good plastic, but hard, brittle plastic that squeaks and rattles and is offensive to touch. The steering wheel is too big (and connected to a horrendously overpowered power steering system), the rest of the controls are too small and have the added bonus of all being in the wrong place (indicators are where wipers should be and vice versa). The driver's left-side elbow rest (on the door) is solid, unpadded plastic, making it uncomfortable to use on long journeys. The right side (center console) rest is too far back so you can't use it for support at all. The interior is covered in shiny silver plastic and chrome meaning that any amount of sunlight finds something to reflect off. The instrument binnacle is a genius piece of design that does nothing other than reflect the back of the steering wheel if there's any daylight at all. The picture below shows the best-case scenario of what I could see for 900 miles. When the sun came out strong, the reflections were worse than this and the instruments were completely unreadable.
The multimedia system is user-hostile with an interface designed by a blind person. The Bluetooth connectivity is sketchy and tends to forget what device it's connected to on a random basis, forcing you to re-pair devices mid-journey. The backup camera looks like a Super NES game.
I'd like to say the redeeming feature is the way it looks, but it looks like the Chevy designers (and I use the word 'designers' lightly) just threw a lump of clay on the floor and said "that's perfect - add some wheels and we're done".
Overall this car was obviously designed by people who hate cars, for people who hate driving. I can see how it would be an enticing vehicle for someone who works from home so their commute involves never getting into this spiteful piece of engineering. But for anyone else? There's no way any sentient human would willingly buy this.
This leaves me with a slight fear over the Chevy Bolt - their all-electric car that - until this point - I was quite looking forward to. I'm not so sure now. I mean it looks great from the outside but if the inside and the mechanicals are being put together by the same people that are making the Equinox, the Bolt could be terrible.
Which would be sad, because it has the potential to be great.
Chevy's slogan for the Equinox is "Love the journey". Counterpoint: I fucking hated the journey. The journey was the worst part of the weekend thanks to Chevy. This vehicle needs to die in a fire.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Yes, there is such a thing as a zero-star rated car.

In more well-off countries, we're used to seeing cars with 4- and 5-star crash ratings. We're used to airbags and seatbelts and (not including idiots and Trump voters) we accept and understand that these make cars safer. Manufacturers have made amazing advances in crash structures to the point where the most common car crashes are very survivable nowadays.
However the same cannot be said for emerging markets like India, where large, well-established global car manufacturers are selling vehicles that are - without being dramatic - death traps.
Global-NCAP and ADAC (European safety firms) recently performed a series of very normal crash tests on the Renault Kwid, Suzuki Celerio, Suzuki Eeco, Hyundai Eon and Mahindra Scorpio. These were normal tests - offset front crash test, head-on crash tests etc. The sorts of things we're all used to seeing. Every one of those five cars received zero star crash rating, essentially meaning that at 30mph, the car will kill all it's occupants.
When you watch the videos, it's horrifying to see global manufacturers producing cars that suffer such catastrophic failures. In one case (the Renault Kwid) the A-pillar fails so spectacularly that the force of the crash is transmitted all the way to the rear of the C-pillar behind the back seats. Out of a possible 17 points for adult survivability, this vehicle stars a flat 0.0.

These videos illustrate the failure of conscience of modern corporations. All these manufacturers are very capable of manufacturing cars with airbags, crash structures and safety cells. Yet because India is a largely unregulated market, they choose instead to use that market as the source of massive profit by manufacturing cheap-to-build cars, stripped of even the most basic safety features. Obviously it costs less to build such a car, so rather than do the right thing - which would be to value human life and strive to ensure their products meet even the most basic UN crash test requirements - these companies instead take advantage of markets like India, Mexico and Indonesia where drivers are ill-educated about crashes, and where there are no regulations covering even the most basic crashworthiness of vehicles.
Renault, Hyundai and the others should be ashamed of these vehicles. They could have used emerging markets as an opportunity to be global corporate pillars but instead, as always, they pander to the shareholders and the quarterly bottom line.
Things will change next year though - in India at least, front- and side-impact testing will be mandated for all new vehicles meaning Renault, Hyundai and Suzuki will have to find another emerging market with expendable drivers to fleece.
WSJ - Why Some Of India's Best Selling Cars Fail Basic Safety Tests

Monday, June 27, 2016

Changing lanes in an intersection

There's a saying that we all pick and choose which laws to abide and which laws to break. For example I rarely travel at the speed limit and if the other three roads are patently free of traffic, I'll coast through a 4-way stop. This means that (a)I'm honest and (b)I'm like 90% of other drivers even if they claim they never break any laws. When I choose not to abide by traffic laws, I try to ensure it only affects me. Speed isn't killing me or slaughtering the women, children and babies of every driver near me (like everyone nowadays seems to think it will). Rolling through 4-way stops that are completely empty isn't inconveniencing anyone and it helps with fuel economy.
Changing lanes in intersections, however is one thing I won't do because it's a huge inconvenience to everyone else and it's a fantastic conflict point that can cause all manner of problems.
For the most part, people seem to understand that you don't change lanes when going straight through (for the most part) but it seems barely anyone understands that the same is true for when turning corners. For example when you turn out of a side street on to a main road, you should turn into the inside lane. Not swing across into the outside lane, because that's where people will tend to be driving who will be assuming (mostly wrongly) that you're going to use the inside lane.
The same is true for turning across large intersections. This diagram shows where the cars should go (in green) and where they seem to go all the time (in red):
Please, people - don't change lanes in intersections. By all means find some other motoring law to break that doesn't affect anyone. Might I suggest crossing double yellow lines on long, straight mountain roads when the person in front is doing 30 below the speed limit? If there's nothing coming towards you, it's perfectly safe to do this. The bigger problem in this situation is who the hell decided double yellow lines were needed in the first place.

Monday, June 20, 2016

EV charging done wrong.

Last weekend I was thrilled to find that our local REI had installed EV charging stations. (You may remember last year we bought a second hand Nissan Leaf.) I pulled into one of the parking spaces (painted green, with "electric vehicle charging only" painted on the ground), popped the charging port and went to the charging station. They had the option of SAE Combo and CHAdeMO fast chargers, as well as a pair of 240V J1772 level 2 chargers. Our Leaf has a CHAdeMO port so we hooked it up and touched the screen on the charging station to continue. No lights came on. Checked the port - it was connected OK. Then the screen displayed "tap RFID card to start charging" and here's where it all went south.
The charging station we had found is operated by a company called EVGO, which means first of all it's not free. Ok I'm fine with that - it was a pipedream to think we'd be able to charge for free. But there was no mechanism to pay at the charging station. The REI employees didn't sell cards either. So I looked up EVGO to find out what the deal was. 10¢/minute or $1/hour for fast charging - great. Except they only offer that if you subscribe to their service for $15 a month plus taxes.
We spend exactly $8.65 in electricity each month charging our Leaf. Why would I pay nearly double that for a subscription that only then offers me access to charging stations where I then have to pay by the minute?
This is EV charging done completely bass-ackward. It should be a monthly subscription with no cost at the charger. Or better still, there should be no subscription fee, but with bank card readers or NFC payment receivers at the charging station (like we have at gas pumps) then we could pull up and pay-as-we-go for charging.
I have no problem paying to charge our Leaf but I'm not paying an extra $15 for the privilege. Imagine if you had to pay a monthly subscription before you could access the pumps on a petrol station forecourt.....