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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Wed, Sep 1, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

For the latest edition of The Best Cars To Drive In Rush Hour Traffic, go to 2005 Best Cars.   THE LA CAR BLOG

September 30, 2004 THE BEST OF THE BEST All of the vehicles that made this list are outstanding for driving in rush hour traffic. However, if winners have to be picked from each category, this is how it looks: Best Isolation Chamber - Volkswagen Phaeton Building the most structurally rigid cabin has its advantages. So does having the best sound system. Volkswagen's new Phaeton has both. Best Green Car - Honda Civic GX  As a result of current California law, the compressed natural gas-powered Honda Civic GX is the only new car that qualifies for single-occupant access in the carpool lanes. The governor just signed a bill that will give the Honda Civic Hybrid, Honda Insight, and Toyota Prius the same access. However, the Feds need to give the nod. If they do, the advantage will go to the new Prius. Until then, it's the GX with a huge advantage.. Best SUV - Audi allroad 4.2L With its A6 platform, mighty 4.2-liter V8 motor, and height-adjustable suspension, the Audi allroad is the only show in town that combines the best attributes of SUVs and cars for rush hour traffic purposes.  Best Truck - Nissan Titan Crew Cab SE Its interior is not quite up to the standards set by the new Ford F-150 Lariat, but the outstanding performance of the Titan's V8 is trumps the Ford. It's enough to dart in and out of traffic, and the Titan does so with a decent ride. Wait, There's More There are a couple of cars that don't quite fit the aforementioned profiles, but they certainly deserve to be on the list: Chrysler 300C This is truly one of the great bargains of the year. Where else can you get a rear-wheel drive car with full-independent suspension based on the Mercedes E-Class, and a 'Hemi' engine for under $35,000? Okay, the Dodge Magnum can deliver the same. However, the 300C makes this list due to its superior visibility all-around. The ride approaches the isolation chamber, which the mighty V8 turns it into a virtual hot rod. Mini Cooper Nothing can dart in and out of traffic like a Mini Cooper. Not only does it provide go-kart-like handling and corning, the Cooper has outstanding visibility all around. It's enough to inspire confidence while making lane changes in rush hour traffic.  That's the whole list, and we're sticking to it - at least until the next great rush hour traffic vehicle comes along.     

- RN


THE BEST CARS TO DRIVE IN RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC - PART 6 September 29, 2004 TRUCKS Like SUVs, trucks enjoy a high seating position and the ability to look over the tops of the traffic in front of you. Unlike SUVs, trucks usually don't have the blind spot to the right rear of the vehicle. Unfortunately, trucks, by and large, ride like trucks. Nowhere is this more evident than in the smaller pickups, which are generally stiffly sprung to allow them to do their principal duty - i.e., haul a load. The worst example of this is the outgoing Nissan Frontier 4X4 quad cab, which has a ride that can make your teeth chatter on parts of the 710 freeway. Still, improvements are being made, and there are a couple of trucks that make the rush hour traffic test:: Ford F-150 4-Door SuperCrew Lariat  The new Ford F-150 sets a new standard among full-size pickups, and the Lariat has the nicest interior of them all. It sets a new standard for creature comforts. The ride quality won't be confused with a Lexus, but has one of the best rides you'll find in a pickup truck. The 5.4-liter engine has good but not outstanding acceleration. Still, it's V8 smooth, with adequate passing power. Nissan Titan Crew Cab SE It doesn't have the interior creature comforts of the F-150 Lariat, but the Titan has a mighty motor. Its standard 5.6-liter engine provides outstanding acceleration. Good enough to give you the confidence to dart in and out of traffic. Both ride quality and handling are better than average for a pickup truck.  What's Not On The List Cadillac Escalade EXT (too many blind spots), Lincoln Mark LT (hasn't been tested, but looks promising), small pickups (worse than average ride quality, but we'll be testing the new Frontier and Tacoma to see they're better).   

Next up: Those that defy categories, and the best of the best.

- RN


DID HE REALLY GO 205 MPH? September 27, 2004

Old Mobil Gas Sign

The Associated Press is reporting that people across the country are shaking their heads over the kid ticketed for allegedly riding his motorcycle at 205 mph ## some out of disapproval, other because they doubt he went that fast. Ever since a State Patrol pilot clocked Samuel Armstrong Tilley's 2002 Honda RC51 going a quarter-mile in 4.39 seconds on Sept. 18, people in chatrooms, garages and biker bars from Sturgis, S.D., to Los Angeles have been buzzing about the alleged feat on Highway 61 near Wabasha, says AP. "Certainly anyone who flouts the law to that extent is seen by some as a latter-day Robin Hood, flying in the face of authority and doing stuff we all want to do but common sense stops us from," said David Edwards, editor-in-chief of Cycle World, a magazine based in Newport Beach, California. Edwards is among the many experts who doubt Tilley's bike could have gone so fast. "More likely, the cop with the stopwatch had an itchy trigger finger," he told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis. "There are lots of guys who have been spending a lot of money and a lot of years at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah trying to join the official 200 Club and most still haven't done it," Edwards said. He said Tilley's bike would have needed an add-on turbo charger to go above 165 mph. The upshot of all this is that Armstrong stands a good chance to have his citation thrown out if the testimony of any of these experts are introduced at trial.  State Patrol pilot Al Loney, a 27-year veteran, and his superiors stand by their report. Tilley, who graduated from Stillwater High School last year, hasn't returned numerous calls seeking comment. He's due to appear in Wabasha County Court on Oct. 25. Tilley purchased his motorcycle last summer from Tousley Motorsports in White Bear Lake, where he once worked. Tousley President Larry Koch said Tilley is a nice guy, "but I really want to ask him: 'What in the hell were you thinking?"' 

Comment on this blog: Letter to the Editor

THE BEST CARS TO DRIVE IN RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC - PART 5 September 26, 2004 SUVs The popularity of SUVs (sport utility vehicles) appears to have reached an all-time high. Nowhere is this more evident than on the crowded streets and highways of Anytown, USA. They account for roughly half the vehicles on the road. With the high seating position and the ability to look over the tops of the traffic in front of you, SUVs seem to be an obvious choice for rush hour traffic. The high forward view does allow you to see what's going on with the traffic flow beyond the vehicle immediately in front of you.  The problem with many SUVs is that their height creates a blind spot to the right rear of the vehicle. You checked the mirrors and you headed your head, but are you sure you caught that low-slung Miata as you make the lane change to the right? Another factor to consider with SUVs that many are truck-based designs. Despite the sport utility nomenclature, these vehicles, by-and-large, are anything but sporty. On the contrary, a good many offer a duller driving experience than their car counterparts, and some can feel a little more tipsy around corners and curves.  With the aforementioned factors taken into consideration, our list of the best SUVs for rush hour traffic is narrowed considerably: Audi allroad 4.2L The Audi allroad is one of the most car-like 'utes around. That's because it's really a car (the A6 wagon), fortified to handle light off-road duty. Like all Audis, it's a work of art, lavished with one of the nicest interiors you'll ever find. If you want more height on the highway, you can dial it in via the allroad's hydraulic system. The 4.2L is fitted with Audi's formidable V8 engine, which translates into instantaneous acceleration on command. Combine all this with the excellent visibility all around, and you've got one of the best cars for rush hour traffic. BMW X5 4.4i BMW has had its share of recalls and teething problems with the X5, but they seem to have finally gotten all the kinks out. Moreover, they've steadily improved this "sports activity vehicle" to the point where it maintains its status as a benchmark for on-road SUV handling and performance. True, the BMW sedan counterpart performs even better. However, the height elevation of the X5, coupled with the improvements found in the latest version of the 4.4i V8-powered model, makes this a particularly good rush hour choice. Cadillac SRX The interior leaves a bit to be desired for a luxury 'ute, but the SRX delivers in the on-road handling and performance departments. For maximum enjoyment, opt for the 4.6-liter V8 with the Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension. It'll make the SRX comparable to the X5 and FX35/45 around corners and curves. Ford Escape Hybrid The Escape Hybrid makes this list not because of its eco-friendliness. It makes it because its pure hybrid electric and gas motor design translates into a vehicle that's significantly more entertaining that the other small SUVs that flock the freeways. Like the Prius, the Escape Hybrid can operate in pure electric mode at low speeds. That translates to an unusually quiet operation, which is accentuated by the fact that the vehicle shuts off at stops. As only those who've driven a hybrid know, this really lends a sense of calm to the commute. The consumption and energy displays are an entertaining option for this vehicle. Acceleration is about comparable to a V6 (the Escape Hybrid uses an in-line four motor). Visibility is good all around. Best of all, the Escape Hybrid looks to be considerable less expensive than the other SUV hybrid choices from Toyota and Lexus. Infiniti FX35/FX45 Take the platform from the Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35 Sport Coupe, design the vehicle primarily for on-road driving, and you've got the makings of a great SUV for rush hour traffic. The FX is another very car-like SUV, with cornering and overall handling that belies its SUV exterior. The only drawback is its visibility toward the right rear of the vehicle - a common problem with SUVs. The FX makes this list by virtue of its stellar performance in the other essential categories. Porsche Cayenne S/Cayenne Turbo When Porsche and Volkswagen teemed up to develop their debut SUVs, they aimed for an almost impossible goal: To make the best SUV for both on-road and off-road use. They almost succeeded. Both vehicles set new standards for their respective classes. Of the two, the Porsche Cayenne is tuned for better handling than the Touareg, which is already a good handling SUV. In order to maintain its off-road prowess, they had to fortify the chassis for extra stiffness. That, in turn, makes the vehicles on the heavy side. Porsche then maintained the on-road prowess by stuffing some mighty motors into the Cayenne. If you can afford them, you'll be hard put to find any comparable vehicles to the Cayenne S and Cayenne Turbo for both on-road and off-road performance. Subaru Forester 2.5 XT Here's another SUV that benefits in on-road performance due to its car-like design. This tall station wagon-like design has been a favorite of Consumer Reports when compared with other small SUVs. What makes the XT model stand out is its big and beefy turbocharged motor. The 2.5 liter, 210 horsepower four-cylinder engine puts out 235 foot pounds of torque, makingthis a great SUV to dart in and out of traffic. Creature comforts are a little on the light side, and the styling is typically Subaru weird. But, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Toyota Highlander Hybrid The normally-aspired Toyota Highlander is a good but rather dull SUV - even more dull than the Camry that it's based on. We've had the fortune to drive the new hybrid version of the Highlander - and it's better in almost every respect. Not only does it accelerate quicker, it also handles better. In common with the Prius and Escape Hybrid, the Highlander can operate in full electric mode at low speeds, which translates to a smoother and quieter drive. Only at full acceleration does the Highlander Hybrid sound rather noisy - a byproduct of its continuously variable transmission. We haven't driven the Lexus counterpart yet (the RX400h). However, if it's similar to the Highlander Hybrid, you can bet that it'll make this list when it appears in showrooms next year. Volkswagen Touareg V8/V10 TDI The Volkswagen Touareg is built off of the same platform as the Porsche Cayenne, and shares much of its on-road and off-road handling prowess with the more expensive Porsche product. In an interesting turn of events, the Volkswagen version has a much nicer-looking and more luxurious interior than the Porsche. The Touareg is offered in three engines, but we'd choose either the V8 or the V10 TDI. The V8 Touareg, with its six-speed automatic transmission, accelerates with the best of them. The V10 TDI (sold in 45 of the states) is even better - exhibiting the kind of low-end torque that can pull out tree stumps.   

Next up: Trucks

- RN


THE BEST CARS TO DRIVE IN RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC - PART 4 September 22, 2004 THE GREEN REVOLUTION Green cars - those that carry a pretense of environmental friendliness - have come a long way in recent years. It wasn't too long ago that General Motors and others flirted with electric vehicles. Alas, their range between battery recharging severely limited the distance once could travel. Today, hybrid technology allows for cars to exceed the range of conventional cars before needing refueling. In California, Assembly Bill 71 was passed, allowing single-occupancy driving in high-occupancy vehicle (carpool) lanes for certain cars. These factors and others have yielded a new generation of green cars that make the list of the best cars to drive in rush hour traffic: Honda Civic GX Until the Federal government allows California to carry out its special hybrid vehicle legislation, the only new car allowed in the carpool lanes without a carpool is the compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered Honda Civic GX. The Civic GX runs pretty like like an ordinary Civic - except that the engine in the GX has been named the cleanest internal combustion chamber engine on the planet by the Environmental Protection Agency. The biggest drawback to owning a GX is that not all gas stations offer compressed natural gas. Compounding this problem is the mileage range of the GX, which is not as high as that of an ordinary Civic. For this reason, the Civic GX has been confined for years as an institutional fleet vehicle. That's about to change, however. Honda has now made it easier for consumers to buy the GX (see the link below). Honda says it will also be easier to own and operate one, with the soon-to-be introduced Phill-a home-refueling appliance. Manufactured by FuelMaker Corporation, the device promises to allow refueling of the GX from the comfort of your home garage. For more information on the GX and on the Phill-a home-refueling device, check out the Civic GX site. 

Toyota Prius The Toyota Prius makes the "best car in rush hour traffic" list, but not because of its green credentials. The Prius makes it because it's one of the most entertaining vehicles on the road. Between its ability to operate in pure electric mode at low speeds, to its graphic energy and consumption displays, to its auto-shutdown operation at idle and auto-start function when accelerating - the Prius never fails to entertain. The Prius' electronic acceleration, steering, braking, and shifting also makes it one of the easiest cars to drive. During rush hour traffic, this translates to a very low-effort driving machine. Last, but not least, the car's quiet and vibration-free operation during stops and low-speed, pure electric drives has a remarkable calming effect - a definite plus while cattling through the hustle and bustle of rush hour traffic. 

Volkswagen Passat TDI Some may question the presence of a diesel-motored vehicle car on a green car list, but the high-fuel mileage Volkswagen Passat TDI deserves to be on this list. The Passat TDI (turbocharged direct injection) is a diesel-engine vehicle not to be confused with the noisy, smelly, and dirty diesels of yesteryear. The Europeans in general and Volkswagen in particular have made great strides in diesel technology. The new Passat TDI benefits from VW's latest pumpe düse (pump injectors) design, and is a quantum leap forward from even the TDI design currently offered in the Golf, New Beetle, and Jetta. The 2.0 liter engine in the TDI cranks out a whopping 247 pounds-feet of torque. That's almost equal to the 5.0 liter V8 Mustang GTs of Vanilla Ice fame. However, in the Passat TDI, it's delivered at a much more instantaneous 1900 rpm - that's just a little over idle! This makes the TDI a great car to dart in and out of rush hour traffic. Add to that the TDI's ability to go 25-30 percent farther on a gallon of gas than its four-cylinder, gas-engine counterpart, and you begin to understand why it's on this list. The downside to the Passat TDI is that its only offered in 45 of the Union's 50 states. Although certain aspects of the TDI engine are very low in pollutants, five of the states (including California) bar its sale. If you want an excellent family sedan that gets really good gas mileage, is fun to drive, and you're lucky enough to live in the 45 states where the car is sold, take a serious look at the Passat TDI.  

What's Not On The List Both the Honda Civic Hybrid and Insight need the internal combustion engine to drive at all times, and the electric motor serves to assist the IC engine in acceleration, hill-climbing, etc. Without the ability to run as a pure electric car at low speeds, the Honda hybrids drive too much like ordinary cars to make this list. That can all change if the Federal government grants California the ability to allow certain single-occupant hybrids into the carpool lanes (see "Hybrids in the Carpool Lane (Without a Carpool)"). If that happens, both the Civic Hybrid and Insight automatically make the list.  Next up: SUVs

- RN Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.


THE BEST CARS TO DRIVE IN RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC - PART 3 September 19, 2004 As the saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat. That applies to choices for rush hour traffic vehicles as well. No one type of vehicle has a lock in this category. There are good choices to be had in both car and truck configurations. We start with: THE ISOLATION CHAMBER There is nothing like the calm serenity of a luxury cruiser as it floats along the freeway. For decades, people have commented on Cadillac and Lincoln drivers, and how they seemed oblivious to their surroundings. It may not be the most alert way to travel, but it may provide the best relief for high blood pressure and traffic-induced tension. Part and parcel to a great ride is a great sound system. Who needs a home stereo, when you already spend more time in your car than in your living room? A high quality sound system does absolute wonders for cutting down the apparent time in traffic. Since affordability is an important concern for most commuters, a used, late-model luxury cruiser can be a particularly good buy: Audi A8 Audi's latest A8 may be the best all-around luxury car south of the six figure range. In rush hour traffic, it performs very well, but a couple of others do it better. Its sound system keeps it from being at the top of the list. The Bose system is very good, but in our humble opinion, it doesn't match the Mark Levinson system in the Lexus, nor the premium system in its sister car, the Volkswagen Phaeton. Otherwise, its interior ranks second only to the Phaeton, and its all-wheel drive and aluminum space frame design make it a great handling luxury sedan.  BMW 7-Series When it comes to handling, the BMW 7-Series has no equal in its class. On the tracks of Willow Springs Raceway, the agility of the 7-Series is an eye-opening experience. It handles better than any luxury car has a right to. In rush hour traffic on Highway 5, however, it falls short. The complexity of its i-Drive controls is annoying. Fumbling with the i-Drive knob is the last thing one wants to do when trying to maneuver traffic. Even the turn signal control on the 7-Series is annoying - an instance where a manufacturer decided to fix something that isn't broken. Like some of the other recent BMW designs, the interior aesthetics are disappointing. Spending all that time behind the wheel, it makes it that much nicer if your interior surroundings are better. Despite its idiosyncrasies, the BMW still makes for a good rush hour cruiser. It'll just take some getting used to.       Lexus LS400 When the LS400 first appeared in late 1989, it was the quietest car sold in America. The car was so smooth and quiet, it sent the other luxury car manufacturers back to the drawing boards. The LS400 also marked the first time that a Nakamichi sound system was offered as an option on a production vehicle. The Lexus-Nakamichi system in the LS400 was the best-sounding factory car stereo system money could buy (head and shoulders above the Bose systems available at that time, and the equal of the Mark Levinson premium sound systems now found on new Lexus automobiles). If you can find a used LS400 with the optional Nakamichi system, you've got a great but affordable vehicle for rush-hour traffic. Lexus LS430 Lexus has dialed out some of the pillowly soft ride of the original LS400, making the LS430 a better driver's car. The 430 also has significantly more torque, making it a better car to zip in and out of lanes. If you're lucky enough to have an LS430 with active cruise control (which senses when you're getting too close to the car in front of you) and the Mark Levinson premium sound system, you've got the makings of one of the best cars to drive in rush hour traffic. Lincoln Town Car This is more of an honorable mention. At low speeds, the Town Car is the proverbial isolation chamber. In this mode, the ride is like floating on clouds. The formal roof line blocks off much of the rearward visibility, so you don't have to be bothered with looking at the traffic around you ('just kidding). The large size of the vehicle, however, makes it difficult to maneuver in and out of traffic. Unfortunately, much of the pleasure is lost at higher speeds, where the ride deteriorates and the noise level goes up. At higher speeds, the Town Car is no smoother nor quieter than many smaller cars. The Soundmark Audiophile sound system in the Ultimate and Ultimate L versions of the Town Car include a subwoofer and trunk-mounted CD changer, by the way. Mercedes-Benz S-Class This is the benchmark of luxury cars. In rush hour traffic, it delivers the goods. On the other hand, the current generation of this car has been out for a while, and it's starting to get long-in-the-tooth. The sound system, while good, is no match for the best in this class. The interior is better than the aforementioned 7-Series, but not quite up the standards set by the A8 and Phaeton.    Volkswagen Phaeton Where most people do their driving - on crowded streets and busy highways - this may be the best vehicle this side of the $100,000 mark. Whereas Lexus provides the embodiment of the cocoon car in its LS430, Volkswagen's provides a bank vault on wheels with its Phaeton. VW took great pains to give the Phaeton the most structurally-rigid cabin and chassis it could make, and the dividends pay off in the passenger compartment of the car. The inside of a Phaeton is one of the best places to be in rush hour traffic. It's interior is equaled by no one in its class. Couple this with the best factory sound system we've ever heard, brings the Phaeton to the top of this list.   What's Not On The List A number of cars fit the isolation chamber profile that didn't make the grade on this list: Maybach (too long), Rolls Royce Phantom (too big a blind spot at the rear right quarter), Bentley Continental GT (ditto), Bentley Arnage (too old; sub-par audio system), and others (usually bumped because the audio system didn't make the grade). However, the isolation chamber is not the only approach to rush hour trafficking.  Next up: The Green Revolution

- RN Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.


THE BEST CARS TO DRIVE IN RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC - PART 2 September 17, 2004 THE WORST CARS Before we reveal the best cars to drive in rush hour traffic, it's instructive to know which are the worst: Hummer H2 SUV With the high seating position and the ability to look over the tops of the traffic in front of you, SUVs (sport utility vehicles) seem to be a natural to make the "best" list. The forward view does lend the sensation of additional security. However, because of the height of SUVs, the view to the right rear is often obfuscated. You just never know if the mirrors and head-turning will catch that low-profile sports car when making a lane change to the right. Nowhere is that uneasiness more felt than in the Hummer H2 SUV. With the Hummer, you turn your signal on, slowly move to the right, and hope there isn't some small car that your lack of vision didn't catch.    Convertibles With Their Tops Down To some people, this may seem like a no-brainer. But in Los Angeles, it's not all that uncommon to see people driving convertibles on LA freeways with their top down. We've had the opportunity to travel the freeways in a variety of convertibles with the top down. Our conclusion: Between the enhanced exhaust fumes and the brake dust, driving in this mode for extended periods should qualify as an alternative to doctor-assisted suicide. Lowered Hondas and Acuras Driving in a lowered Honda Civic Si or Acura RSX Type S may be the coolest way to arrive at an LA high school ball game, but it's not the most practical mode of transportation in rush-hour traffic. Since they are low to the ground, your view of the traffic around you is limited. Many of these modern-day hot rods have their suspensions stiffened (along with being lowered), and have their exhaust pipes modified to increase performance (as well as noise). Neither of these mods bode well on the freeways. Another consideration: Most of these high-revving imports are lacking in low-end torque. Low-end torque is a quality much desired for sprinting in and out of traffic. Mazda Miata & Toyota MR2 Spyder If you lowered the top of a Miata or MR2 Spyder, you would combine the worst features of both of the aforementioned categories. If you leave the top up, then you still have all the problems described under "Lowered Hondas and Acuras." They also have the problem of being so small that some people have difficulty seeing you. One of our contributing editors has a daughter with a Miata. Within 10 days of buying the car, she was clipped by someone in a tall SUV who didn't see her. With SUVs and trucks dominating the freeways, this concern is even more of a problem than before. Chevrolet Corvette There is certainly no lack of low-end torque here. We drove the car equipped with a manual six-speed transmission, which can provide even more low-end torque. But the one's we tried have a two-gear lockout feature for around-town driving. It is annoying around town; it is an absolute nuisance during rush-hour traffic. Fortunate for commuters, most Corvettes are equipped with automatic transmissions. Unfortunate for commuters, the Corvette has a height problem galore. It is very difficult to see above the dashboard and hood, let alone the traffic around you. Next up: The best.

- RN Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.


THE BEST CARS TO DRIVE IN RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC September 16, 2004 This journey began after coming to  the realization that the bulk of my driving is spent in rush-hour traffic. Like most people in Los Angeles, I commute from one community to work in another. As consolation, I do get the opportunity (from time-to-time) to commute in vehicles favorably reviewed by the car buff magazines. The cars are great fun on the weekends, but not always the greatest cars for driving in rush-hour traffic. None of the magazine tests address the car's comfort in rush-hour traffic. Indeed, the cars reviewed are often equipped with manual transmissions. Never mind that 95 percent of drivers in the USA own and prefer vehicles with automatic transmissions (okay, we admit that some of the LA Car staff are part of that remaining five percent). The Best Cars To Drive In Rush-Hour Traffic was the first article to appear in LA Car. Since traffic in Los Angeles hasn't gotten any better, the topic is every bit as relevant today as it was when we first published it. Although the topic remains the same, the selections have changed. Much of this has to do with changes that have occurred in the transportation world. For one, California Assembly Bill 71 was passed, allowing single-occupancy driving in high-occupancy vehicle (carpool) lanes for certain cars. Driving in the carpool lane almost always beats driving in the other lanes during high density time periods. Secondly, "green" cars have gotten a lot better. A few years ago, electric vehicles were confined to a driving distance of 70 miles before needing recharging. Today, hybrid technology allows for cars to exceed the range of conventional cars before needing refueling. Which brings us to the current edition of this survey. After having driven numerous vehicles this year and last, we've formed some definite opinions about the best and worst cars to drive while being stuck during the peak hours of traffic. In narrowing this list, we left off some obvious choices. Riding in a chauffeur-driven limousine beats just about anything when it comes to being stuck in traffic. However, if you could afford to have one on a daily basis, you wouldn't be reading this article. Similarly, having the opportunity to drive a different vehicle every week is certainly more interesting than being stuck with the same old wheels for several years. However, that's an option only available to certain automotive journalists. This article has the more conventional commuter in mind. However, that doesn't mean you have to be stuck with boring transportation, as the Blog will reveal in the coming days.

- RN Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.


"Meet the Beast" - Ford's ad campaign for the new F-Series Super Duty

HERE'S A NOVEL IDEA: MAKE BETTER CARS September 13, 2004 In the August 31st LA Car Blog, we reported on the California state legislature passage of AB2628, which allows drivers of the most fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles access into the carpool lane even without a carpool.  Some of us at LA Car were taken aback when Ford Motor Company Chairman Bill Ford complained to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that the plan "amounts to a 'buy Japanese' bill" and a "special-interest measure ... intended for almost exclusive use by Toyota Prius drivers."  What Ford is upset about is that the bill requires single-occupant hybrids in carpools lanes to meet a minimum EPA gas mileage rating of 45 miles per gallon. Ford's new Escape Hybrid gets considerably less. Presently, the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight and Civic are the only vehicles that meet the legislation's 45 mpg requirement. It looks we're not the only ones taken aback by Ford's comments. The Detroit News recently got into the act. Wrote Ann Jobs for TDN, " When will Michiganians realize that Detroit's more-than-20-year-old "Japanese versus domestics" battle cry is worn out and ineffective when it comes to today's legislators and policymakers?"  Job went further, "Did anyone in Dearborn realize - or care - that "the Japanese" comment might offend the bill's co-author, George Nakano? Nakano is a U.S.-born Japanese-American from the Los Angeles area who spent four years in an internment camp in World War II. Did anyone consider that using "the Japanese" argument might not be well received in California, which has the largest Asian population in the country?"

Instead of whining that the 45 mpg bar is too high, Ford should be trying harder to make more fuel-efficient vehicles. According to the EPA, the 2004 Fords earned the lowest average fleet fuel economy of any major car maker selling vehicles in the United States. In fact, the EPA report reveals that Ford has earned the lowest average for every year since 1999 (see the August 8th LA Car Blog). Making more fuel-efficient cars should be job one at Ford Motor Company. - RN Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.


McDONALD'S INTRODUCES DRIVE-IN OUT-SOURCING September 10, 2004 First it was technical support. Then it was customer service. Who'd have thought out-sourcing could extend to drive-in fast food restaurants. According to the International Herald Tribune, that's exactly what's happening at McDonald's franchisees in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Brainerd, Minnesota, and Norwood, Massachusetts. McDonald's has successfully begun outsourcing their drive-thru order-taking to a call center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Accordingly, a Big Mac order shouted into a microphone in Missouri gets typed into a computer in Colorado (and a digital photograph of the customer's car is taken in order to reduce errors) and then clicked back to the originating restaurant's kitchen, which has the order ready in less time. The Tribune reports that the whole process is claimed to be completed in 30 seconds less, on average, with fewer errors than the average McDonald's takes.  Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.


IT'S A BUMPER-TO-BUMPER LIFE September 8, 2004 The average U.S. motorist spends 46 hours each year or nearly two full days stuck in rush-hour traffic jams, according to Reuters.

More specifically, an annual report on Tuesday by the transportation institute at Texas A&M University found Los Angeles to be the worst U.S. city for congestion, based on 2002 federal and state highway data.

The average motorist spent 93 hours sitting in peak-hour traffic in Los Angeles compared with, 67 hours in Washington and 50 hours in New York City.

Traffic delays have more than doubled since the early 1980s as more vehicles have packed an aging highway system in large and fast-growing metropolitan areas.

Motorists wasted 5.7 billion gallons of fuel idling in traffic, the study showed.

The annual financial cost of traffic congestion as measured in wasted fuel and lost productivity is estimated at more than $63 billion, compared to $14 billion two decades ago.

The average cost per motorist was $829 per year, up slightly from 2001.

Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor.



Earlier this month (see below), we introduced "Six Degrees of Reparation," wherein we challenged our readers to name a major car company with an unblemished history - i.e., without one or more skeletons tied directly or indirectly to its past. The premise is a variation of a theme from "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," which hypothesized that actor Kevin Bacon can be linked directly or indirectly to just about every American movie made ("Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" is itself a take-off of the John Guare play and movie "Six Degrees of Separation"). 

In our September 4th Blog entry, we reported that readers gave numerous answers but not a single one passed the unblemished test. In this final chapter, we look at the remaining answers provided by readers, and take a stab at what it all means: Tatra - This Czechoslovakian company produced some of the most interesting cars in the early part of the 20th century (the Tatra 77 pictured above was introduced in 1934). Like many other European companies, Tatra fell under Nazi control. In 1939, Tatra was forced to produce trucks for Nazi military use. Honda - A good answer by VWVortex's Sucking Chest Wound and HerrGolf. Honda has a pretty clean record, being a post-World War II creation. Alas, Honda sells engines to General Motors' Saturn Division (see Saab, in Part 2, below). Honda also partnered with Isuzu on the sale of the first Passport and Odyssey (marketed as the Oasis by Isuzu). Isuzu's diesel engines were used for wartime effort by Japan during World War II. Holden - Australia has been a long-time ally, but the company is an affiliate of General Motors (see Saab). By the way, GM also owns Vauxhall in Europe, and has ownership interest in Daewoo, Fiat, Subaru, Suzuki, and Isuzu.   Aston Martin - This may be the vehicle of choice for James Bond, but Aston Martin is owned by Ford (see Volvo, in Part 2, below). Ford also owns Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, and a controlling share of Mazda. 

Lotus - In the 1960s and 70s, Lotus had strong ties with Ford (resulting in the Lotus Ford race cars and the Lotus Cortina production car). Wholly owned by General Motors in the mid-1980s. In 1996, Malaysian car maker Proton purchased a majority share of the company. The Elise currently being imported into this country is powered by a Toyota engine. Seat - This Spanish car company is now owned by Volkswagen (as are Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, and Skoda). The current Volkswagen car company was actually created by the Allied forces after World War II. However, the Beetle was designed by Ferdinand Porsche in response to Adolf Hitler's desire to build a people's car. The KdF Wagen, as it was called before WWII, proved to be very popular for both civilian and military use.   Smart - From the standpoint of relieving the world from traffic congestion, Smart makes some of the most politically correct cars around. The company is owned by DaimlerChrysler (which also owns Jeep, Dodge, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, and Chrysler, as well as a controlling share in Mitsubishi).    Ferrari - A seemingly safe bet, since Ferrari is a post-World War II creation. Ferrari, however, is owned by Fiat (as are Alfa Romeo, Lancia, and Maserati), which built military equipment in support of the Axis powers during World War II. Well, it's the last day of our challenge to readers, and we still have a no-hitter going. Right about now, you may be asking, "what's the point of all this?" There is none - other than to point out the difficulty of trying to purchase a car based on the car company's history and business relations. In reality, virtually all of the car companies today have business ties with each other. For many years, the father of one of our staff members avoided German cars, due to the role that German car companies played during World War II. So, what has he been purchasing instead?  Chrysler products.  - RN Your LA Car Blog comments can be sent to : Letter to the Editor


Henry Ford, with Edsel Ford and Orville Wright to his right


In "Six Degrees of Reparation" (see September 2, 2004 Blog entry), we challenged our readers to name a major car company with an unblemished history - i.e., without one or more skeletons tied directly or indirectly (via its affiliates) to its past. The article was inspired by a listener chastised the hosts of a radio show for not mentioning Mitsubishi's checkered past during a review of one of its cars. It turned out the caller drove a Chrysler product, which is owned by DaimlerChrysler, which owns substantial shares in Mitsubishi and has its own colorful history to contend with. Here's what readers came up with:

Toyota and Nissan - These can be dismissed summarily, since both were involved in Japan's wartime effort during World War II. Volvo - Two suggested Volvo as a company with an unblemished record. Volvo, however, is owned by Ford Motor Company, who's founder was anti-Semitc and admired Adolf Hitler. Many historians also contend that Ford Motor Company profited from slave labor during World War II, when it retained a controlling share of the Ford Werke plant during Nazi occupation. Saab - The Swedish companies are often cited, since they have historically taken neutral positions during the war. Saab, however, is now owned by General Motors. A number of historians contend that GM's German subsidiary, Opel, played a significant role in the Nazi war effort during World War II. GM has also been accused of using forced labor from France and Belgium in 1940, during a time when its Opel operations were being overseen by an American. Rolls Royce - "They built airplane engines for the 'good guys' during the War." Rolls Royce is now owned by BMW, one of a number of German industrial giants (among them, DaimlerChrysler and Volkswagen) that are now paying financial compensation for utilizing slave labor during World War II. Caterham and TVR - It's debatable whether these two British firms qualify as major car companies. In any event, Caterham buys their engines from Vauxhall, which is owned by General Motors. TVR used Range Rover engines in some of their cars. Rover is now owned by Ford. Panoz - Founded in 1989 by Daniel Panoz. Again, whether Panoz can be considered a major car company is also debatable. Panoz, however, used engines from Ford Motor Company (see Volvo). Daihatsu - Prior to becoming Daihatsu, the company was called Hatuodoki Seizo Co., Ltd. Some of the Mitsubishi Zero war planes used Hatsudoki engines. Lamborghini - Lamborghini is now owned by Volkswagen, AG. Renault - Louis Renault was arrested in 1944 for collaborating with Nazi Germany. He died while in custody. Some historians contend that he was poisoned in order to keep him from implicating other French business people. Mazda (Toyo Kogyo) - Ford owns a controlling share in Mazda (see Volvo). Subaru - Subaru is the automotive branch of Fuji Heavy Industries, which manufactured airplanes and other equipment for military use by Japan during World War II. Subaru is now also partly owned by General Motors (see Saab). Citroen - Many readers pointed to French companies. After all, France has been a long-time ally. Both Citroen and its parent company Peugeot, produced equipment (albeit involuntarily) for the Nazi war effort during World War II. Peugeot has resisted attempts to open its archives about its involvement during that period. Hyundai and Kia - Many readers also cited the Korean car companies. Kia, however, has produced cars for Ford (e.g., the Ford Aspire). Kia's parent company, Hyundai, has had a long-time business relationship with Mitsubishi.   Trabant - Here's an example where the car itself was a blemish - a two-cylinder skeleton car whose platform was originally intended for motorcycle use. So far, it's a no-hitter, folks. The challenge is still on: Can you name a car company without a checkered past or present?   

- RN Your answers can be submitted to: Letter to the Editor. The deadline for emailing your answer is September 6, 2004.


Is the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII politically incorrect?


After a local radio car show reviewed some Mitsubishi vehicles, a listener called in to chastise the hosts for not mentioning Mitsubishi's checkered past (presumably, the WWII "Zero" warplane) and present (an affiliate cutting down rainforest trees).  It turns out the caller drove a Chrysler product. Of course, DaimlerChrysler owns a controlling share of Mitsubishi, and has its own colorful history to contend with. Given the globalization of the industry, I wonder if there's a car company out there that doesn't have some perceived skeleton in its closet? Several years ago, a trio of college guys - Craig Fass, Brian Turtle, and Mike Ginelli - came up with the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" (a take-off of the John Guare play and movie "Six Degrees of Separation"). The game - which evolved into a website and later a book - hypothesizes that actor Kevin Bacon can be linked directly or indirectly to just about every American movie made.  The same hypothesis can be applied to carmakers. If someone names a politically correct car company, I bet we can come up with a skeleton or two. The Blog is so confident that the number of unblemished car companies is miniscule that LA Car has agreed to give out complimentary copies of David Magee's "Turn Around - How Carlos Ghosn Rescued Nissan" to readers that can first identify a major car company without an unblemished history.  All readers who identify unblemished car companies will be posted. However, copies of the book will be limited to the first reader of each identified car company. LA Car will be the final arbiter on correct answers.     So, the challenge is on: Can you name a car company without a checkered past or present?   

- RN Your answers can be submitted to: Letter to the Editor. The deadline for emailing your answer is September 6, 2004.




Ford Mustang Stamp

That was LA Car's subtitle when it started back in 1997. Since then, it became Reporting From Car Culture Ground Zero, then From The Heart of Car Culture, to today's The Cars and Culture of Southern California. At all times, however, we aimed to chronicle the Southland's spirit - much like a journal. Now, the diary goes daily. LA Car has always been a great source to come back to from month-to-month, to see what articles and reviews have been added to our rather staggering database. With the LA Car Blog, we give you a reason to come back virtually every day, as we will be posting new blog entries virtually every day or two (well, there will be occasional vacation breaks).

So, go ahead and bookmark We'll be sure to always provide a link to the latest blog entry. In the meantime, welcome to the journal and journey into the cars and culture of Southern California.  

- Roy Nakano

For past LA Car Blog entries, click the following: August 2004 July 2004 June 2004 May 2004 April 2004

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