Sunday, August 26, 2007

Seriously Long Term Car Test - 2002 Mazda Protege 5

I purchased my 2002 Mazda Protege 5 new in June 2002 and as of my writing this I have racked up more than 60,000 miles. The car wasn't my first choice and I was actually at the Mazda dealer to drive a Protege ES sedan but they didn't have one with a manual transmission which was a requirement for me. The salesman suggested that I drive the Protege 5 since it was basically the same and they had some with manual transmissions. Well, after that test drive I decided that I wanted to buy the car. I had previously test drove Honda Civics both new and used as well as some slightly used Accords.

I'd never owned a Mazda and I've always been a big fan of Hondas but the Protege came with so much more than the Civics and Accords for a lower price. The Protege 5 had four wheel disc brakes, 16 inch alloy wheels with sport tires, a front strut tower brace and more horsepower standard than the Civic at a lower price. The suspension on the Protege 5 was also much sportier than the Civic. In fact the Protege 5 may be the best handling front wheel drive car I've ever driven. Plus it's just a hell of a lot of fun to drive for an economy car that cost around $15,000 new.

One of the things I've really come to appreciate about Mazda is that they seem to engineer sportiness into every vehicle they make. That whole ZOOM ZOOM thing isn't a gimmick. Every car they make from the bottom of the line economy car , to the minivans and SUVs, to the sports cars are engineered to be fun to drive. In that respect, I think they are kind of like Japan's version of BMW, or what BMW used to be. I mean, what other car company makes a minivan available with a manual transmission and sport suspension(Mazda 5)?

The 2.0L DOHC 4 cylinder in the Protege only makes 130HP but the gearing in the 5 speed trans makes it seem quicker than it is. Gas mileage is rated at 25city/31hwy and I average about 30mpg on regular unleaded with a daily mix of about 75% highway 25% stop and go driving. On a couple of long road trips I've taken the car has averaged around 33mpg with the A/C cranking.

I don't really have many complaints about the car. The biggest one is probably the manual transmission. The shifter is pretty flimsy and the whole tranny and shifter seem to feel weak and fragile to me. That being said, I haven't had any issues with the tranny at all in the 60,000+ miles I've driven aside from an occasional clutch shudder which is a known issue with the Protege. The car is a bit noisy on the highway where the engine turns about 4000 RPMs at 80MPH, a drawback of the aggressive trans gearing. Road noise and engine noise are very noticeable but I don't really mind. Other than that there is nothing negative to report with this car.

In the 5 years I've owned the car it has never been back to the dealership once. No warranty work needed and only routine maintenance required, which I performed myself. Regular oil and filter changes every 5000 miles with Mobil One oil, tires rotated every 10,000 miles, air filter changed every 10 - 15,000 miles, transmission oil changed once at about 30,000 miles, new tires and alignment at 55,000 miles and I just replaced the front brake rotors as well as front and rear pads at 60,000 miles. That's all that I've needed to do and the car has never let me down. It's still a lot of fun to drive and provides a lot of utility thanks to it's 4 door hatch/wagon styling. The suspension seems to be getting a little tired as it doesn't seem to handle quite as well as it used to. Those wonderful New Jersey roads have taken their toll on the struts. The engine purrs just like new and it has never burned even an ounce of oil.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Most Recalled 2007 Vehicles

Surprisingly for many, foreign cars lead the pack this year. GM which lead last year with over 900,000 recalled vehicles last year only had around 30,000 this year. Even more surprising is that a Toyota was second on the list.

Here they are:

1. Volkswagen Beetle
Number of vehicles: 1,002,000
Problem: Brake light switch malfunction due to incorrect installation.

2. Toyota Sequoia
Number of vehicles: 533,124
Problem: Premature ball jointg wear resulting in noise, increased steering effort and reduced vehicle self-centering.

3. Jeep Liberty
Number of vehicles: 149,605
Problem: On vehicles equipped with Valeo heating, ventilation and a/c systems, the blower motor may overheat.

4. Nissan Altima
Number of vehicles: 140,582
Problem: Sufficiently hot objects entering the air filter housing through the intake system may cause the air filter to ignite.

5. Hyundai Tucson
Number of vehicles: 128,300
Problem: NHTSA tests indicated that a small adult driver, not wearing a seatbelt, involved in a frontal or near frontal crash showed that the air bag deployment resulted in an insufficient margin of compliance.

6. Dodge Nitro, Jeep Wrangler
Number of vehicles: 80,894
Problem: The integrated power module was programmed with software that may allow the engine to stall under certain conditions.

7. Suzuki Forenza, Reno
Number of vehicles: 75,697
Problem: Front seatbelt tongue may not latch into buckle and may release without the button being pressed.

8. Volkswagen Passat, Passat Wagon
Number of vehicles: 58,800
Problem: 2.0-liter equipped vehicles may have a vacuum line that may fracture and become disconnected at low temperatures. Also, the wiper motor may fail during heavy rain due to moisture in the motor.

9. Chrysler Sebring, Chrysler 300, Dodge Caliber, Dodge Magnum, Dodge Charger, Dodge Nitro, Jeep Compass, Jeep Liberty, Jeep Commander, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler
Number of vehicles: 50.665
Problem: The ani-lock brake software may cause the rear brakes to lock during certain braking conditions.

10. Infiniti G35 Coupe
Number of vehicles: 23,934
Problem: Headlights may fail to meet federal safety standards.

11. Chevrolet Aveo
Number of vehicles: 17,676
Problem: Certain 1.6-liter equipped vehicles involved in a severe frontal crash have the potential to suffer a fuel line rupture in the engine bay along with short circuits that may lead to the fuel pump continuing to run resulting in a fuel leak onto the ground.

12. Nissan Versa
Number of vehicles: 16,309
Problem: The terminals for the passenger-side seat-belt tension-sensor harness connector may have been damaged during the manufacturing process possibly resulting in a loss of electrical continuity causing the occupant detection system to become inoperative.

13. GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook
Number of vehicles: 13,032
Problem: The sensing and diagnostic module, which controls the function of front air bags, may not operate properly causing the front air bags to fail to deploy in a frontal crash. Also, the air-bag warning lamp on the instrument panel may fail to provide warning that the system is inoperative.

14. Ford Expedition
Number of vehicles: 10,061
Problem: The front and rear tires on the driver's side of affected vehicles may have been damaged at the center tread during production.

Monday, August 13, 2007

August 2007 Dream Car of the Month - Ferrari 288 GTO

Conceived in the mid 1980s as a Group B race car to compete with the Porsche 961 (a 640HP race version of the 959), it was built on the Ferrari 308 platform and is the only other Ferrari to wear the GTO name besides the legendary 1962 250 GTO. Due to Group B homoligation rules 200 cars had to be built for the public. Unfortunately, since Ferrari and Porsche were the only two manufacturers entered in the Group B series and due to a rash of racing deaths, the series was cancelled. The GTO and the 961 never met on the track. Ferrari took the cars built for the race series, detuned them, slapped in an interior and sold them to the public. Total production numbers are stated as between 272 and 277 depending on where you get your info.

Though based on the 308, the GTO used a longitudinally mounted twin turbocharged 2.8l V8 as opposed to the 308's 3.0l naturally aspirated, transversely mounted V8 engine. The longitudinal orientation in the GTO along with the turbos and intercoolers consumed the area that was used in the 308 for the rear trunk space. Even that wasn't enough so the car was stretched. The overall length of the GTO is about 4 inches longer than the 308. This engine was good for 600+HP in race trim and was detuned to 400HP/366TQ at 11.6psi for the street. The body was composed of exotic materials for the day. Only the doors were steel, the rest of the car was a mix of kevlar, aluminum and fiberglass to keep the weight as low as possible. The result was a curb weight of about 2550lbs which combined with the powerful engine launched the 288 GTO to 60 in the mid 4s and blasted the 1/4 mile in the mid to high 12s. Top speed was over 190MPH. Staggering performance for 1985.

288 GTO Evoluzione

There were also five 288 GTO Evoluzione models built which added extensively revised bodywork and aerodynamics that greatly resemble the Ferrari F40 that followed the 288. The Evo boasted as much as 650HP and it is believed that only 2 examples survive today. One of which is owned by non other than one of the worlds richest men and Ferrari fanatic, the Sultan of Brunei.

This car has always been one of my favorite Ferraris. Its understated in it's appearance unlike the other cartoonish supercars of it's day as well as the Ferraris that followed (F40 and F50). It's performance was mind blowing 20+ years ago and it can still hold it's own today. It truly deserves to be considered one of the greatest supercars of all time.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Can It Be?....A New Racing Network Coming To TV !

As if on cue after my anti NASCAR rant, I find out about this new racing network that is trying to get off the ground. The Racing Network is currently taking a poll on their website to gauge the interest in a non-NASCAR dedicated network. Like Speed Channel used to be before they became the NASCAR network. I think it's a great idea and I hope they go forward with it.