Archive for February 2011
“Welcome, would you like a cocktail?” There’s a Best Western on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Across the street at the Andaz Hotel, attractive young hostess greet prestigious members of the automotive press in the lobby with vodka drinks, prepared with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.
An hour before flight 237 departed from SeaTac Airport at 7:10 am, the Travel Security Administration greeted me with the notification that I’d need to dispose of two eight-ounce cans of Red Bull before passing through their terrible carnival of mistrust.
Sixteen ounces of crazy later, I exposed myself to a stranger in an x-ray machine and sat sweating conspicuously at the flight gate.
Peanuts, bathroom, peanuts, bathroom and we were at LAX. A Ford Flex hurried me to a catered lunch close by. At the front entryway, I signed a waiver, was given a nametag and an I-Pod touch.
“It’ll come in handy later on,” Ford said.
There was just enough time to savor a second pulled-pork slider with chipotle mayonnaise before one of Ford’s lovely communication ladies asked the press people to board a massive touring bus parked outside. Onboard the monster people mover monitors dropped down from the overhead compartments as we lumbered from the luncheon parking lot.
Ford’s tour guide stood up and braced himself on the back of the driver’s seat. He asked we turn on our I-Pods and pay close attention to the interactive video on the LCD screens; the special film contained important information on the new Focus that wasn’t to be missed. Furthermore, we were going to be quizzed on the information as we traveled. Whichever passenger logged the most correct answers into their I-Pod during the trip was promised a massive Internet television conceived by Google (the first of its kind).
Our video host was an American Olympic gold medalist skier. Twenty peppy minutes later the entire bus was educated on torque vectoring, kinetic design form language and a number of other key points that would enrich our media coverage of the event. Around this time we arrived at a glistening stretch of parking lot that ran along the pacific coastline. Several dozen 2012 Ford Focuses were parked smartly in a uniform row with their rear bumpers to the ocean.
(See video in new videos)
I was filled with emotions. But why? This mini fleet of Focuses was positioned to go head to head with the likes of Toyota Corolla, a car that conjured up unfortunate personal memories of several regrettable ex-girlfriends. Could the new Focus really be much different?
As my eyes adjusted to the near blinding sun, I noticed that at the front of the Focus, where the old nose used to be, a predominant intake grill now dominated the front end of the car; it looked hungry. A double take and several clarifying twitches of my lazy eye brought me to the realization that this was the very same style of grill that could be found rolling around on the new Fiesta.
Intrigued, I consulted my press release to see if the black beehive was for show or go:
“The all-new Focus features new active grille shutters to block airflow through the cooling system when not required. In addition to an aerodynamic improvement at higher speeds, active grille shutters reduce underhood temperatures at low speeds, increasing thermal efficiency.”
Beyond the grill, the rest of the Focus appeared to have shed any resemblance to an “economy” car, as if the word was synonymous with “boring.” Once again I consulted the trusty release to explain what had happen to the Focus of yore:
“Both new Focus bodystyles share a sporty character, marking the next evolution of Ford’s acclaimed kinetic design form language. With its striking front end, sleek profile, dramatic rising beltline and athletic stance, the new Focus offers a rewarding experience for drivers.”
She looked good, but I had reservations as to whether the driving experience would be rewarding or merely induce flashbacks of puttering to a dog-park in a Corolla with a yappy lap dog tethered to an armrest in the back seat.
Ford seemed confident a good time would be had by all: Our driving instructions had us mapped out on a 120 mile round trip through the winding turns of Mulholland Drive and a slew of other infamously enjoyable roads that cut into the hills and valleys of the region.
The phrase “drive it like it’s not yours” couldn’t be questioned in a situation like this.
Stay Tuned (Video included)
Note from the Author:
Due to my pesky day job, I was unable to finish a series of blogs on “MotorSpaceNW’s Holiday Trip to Fordneyland.” The two cars that I was given a sneak peak to, but was unable to detail as promised were the 2012 Ford Focus all electric model and a concept called the Vertrek – Sorry for the delay. Below are links to articles on both new vehicles from Jalopnik and Motor Trend:
Focus Electric Will Kick The Chevy Volt’s Ass (http://tinyurl.com/4qqv4hs)
First Look: Ford Vertrek Concept (http://tinyurl.com/4vhb8v2)
Follow team Seattle as they compete in Focus Rally America here:
And on Hulu.
Twenty year old rookie Trevor Bayne became the youngest driver ever to win the Super Bowl of NASCAR this Sunday in only his second Sprint Cup race. Throughout the slop-fest, five minute-long replays from cameras with the visual omnipresence of white baby Jesus captured the carnage as a record number of cautions were set. Perhaps more exciting, the race was the first NASCAR competition I had ever attempted to watch the entire way through.
As a rookie of sorts myself, I missed the opening flag while buying a six-pack of canned Budweiser and a beer cozy at the grocery store.
I lay down on the couch and rested a cozied beer on my stomach, assuming this was the standard protocol. It felt alright. Soon I was asleep. Then awake, then asleep again. I blame the impromptu narcolepsy on a thing called “bump drafting.” From Examiner.com:
“During the course of the race, the commentators were stating how nice it was, unlike any other sport, that the drivers would communicate with other drivers on their radios in order to work as a tag team to push/pull and draft with each other for position. The commentators spoke of this as if this was a great thing, I think for safety it maybe. However, for competition and racing, which is what NASCAR is all about it is dull and boring. These drivers were basically planning for 490 miles or so to run “safe” around the track to stay out of trouble in order to avoid the big crash or any crash so they could be around at the end and contend for the win. How can any true fan of racing call this competition or exciting?” (1)
During one of my awake sessions, I noticed that while the bump drafting had a tendency to lull me to sleep, it was also a very unstable practice that caused a great deal of exciting wrecks. Bloomberg summarized the mayhem:
“Such drafting maneuvers — which increase the risk of engines overheating in the trailing car because of restricted air intake — led to a series of crashes.
Kurt Busch led the 43 cars going into the tribute to Earnhardt Jr. and a lap later his younger brother Kyle Busch spun off after being pushed from behind by Michael Waltrip. Busch called Waltrip’s maneuver “stupidly insane” on his in- car radio before rejoining the race.
On lap 30, David Reutimann’s Toyota spun while being pushed from behind, also by Waltrip. That caused a 15-car collision that forced defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who’s seeking a sixth straight Nascar championship, back to his garage for repairs to his Chevrolet. The melee left Johnson 20 laps behind the leaders, while Waltrip failed to rejoin the race.
Matt Kenseth slammed into an outside wall and out of the race with 66 laps remaining in another drafting incident, and seven laps later Greg Biffle’s Ford clipped Juan Pablo Montoya’s Chevrolet to bring up the 11th caution.
The record-setting 12th caution began with 42 laps to go after Travis Kvapil’s Ford struck a wall. Racing stopped for a 15th time after another drafting error with four laps to go, as Kurt Busch slammed into the back of Regan Smith’s car, sending it spiraling into the outside wall and taking three other cars with him.”(2)
I dropped another Budweiser into my cozy and philosophized that bump drafting was accountable for the most boring portions of the race as well as the most exciting; an automotive paradox if there ever was one.
Somewhere around the last ten laps, the remaining cars began driving balls to the wall, risking everything for a chance at taking home NASCAR’s most coveted prize.
In the wake of the wreckage, the day after his twentieth birthday, Trevor Bayne emerged from the ravaged field to take the checkered flag, outlasting the best NASCAR had to offer, including the sport’s champion, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who spun into a wall on lap 202.
“I’ve never been to a race track with this many people here and to win on this kind of platform is incredible,” Bayne said in a televised interview. “I didn’t know how to get to Victory Lane.”
Bayne indeed did not know how to get to victory lane. He stopped half way there and asked for directions - seriously.
The verdict is still out on whether Bayne got lucky in a record setting Daytona 500 (16 cautions, 74 lead changes). Racing buffs argued that in a field thinned of some of the best the sport has to offer, Bayne merely was in the right place at the right time. From Bleacher Report:
“The book's still out on young Trevor Bayne, and time will tell whether he was lucky, or if he's got the chops to make out big in the sport's top level.
So many questions linger after Sunday's Daytona 500. Can one honestly predict how far a young driver can go? Perhaps the question we should be asking is a bit more presumptuous in nature, but a lot more interesting to discuss:
If the kid could win the Daytona 500 before he was legally able to drink…What will he be able to do behind the wheel in five years?
Will he be a one-and-done like so many others? Will he be the next generation's Jeff Gordon? Will we remember him at all?
None of that matters for young Trevor Bayne on this night. Winning the Daytona 500 does that to you.”(3)
I have a duty, a joyous obligation to take full advantage of any test drive conducted for this blog. Ford made it clear on the interactive bus ride to pick up our press cars that one of the key attributes of their 2012 Focus was a thing called “Torque Vectoring.” I felt very included by its nutshell description:
“Torque vectoring control provides handling characteristics that will flatter novice drivers and reward expert ones.”
The plan was to partner with another member of the automotive press and complete a 120 mile course through the famous driver’s roads of southern California. A local freelance writer introduced himself to me as several dozen strangers did the same, hurriedly pacing the long row of Focuses to find the right combination of transmission and trim package before the next guy swiped their dream car out from under them.
Mike (we’ll call him) and I made pals and nabbed a manual transmission hatchback; it didn’t have all the options but the stick shift was critical if we were to push the car hard enough to discover if we’d be flattered or rewarded by its advanced handling system.
Before long we were lost. Mike had lived in the area for 17 years and assumed he could direct us through a much more enjoyable course than Ford had given us instructions for while still managing to arrive at our designated checkpoint. It didn’t work. Compounding our troubles, our Focus had a manual transmission, which meant it wasn’t equipped with the integrated GPS navigation system that could be found on the upper-end trim packages.
(PAUSE FOR AVAILABLE NORTH AMERICAN OPTIONS OF THE 2012 FORD FOCUS)
-Active park assist
-SYNC with Traffic, Directions and Information (Damn!)
-HD Radio™ with iTunes® Tagging
-Torque vectoring control
-Rear view camera
-Intelligent Access with push-button start
-Wi-Fi access (Double damn! Mike had an I-Phone!)
Mike was embarrassed and apologized profusely for the inconvenience. I reassured him I was just happy to be out of the house. The directional blunder revealed itself as a blessing in disguise when we found ourselves traveling a tight winding portion of road that was littered sporadically with menacing rocks. They had fallen from the crumbling stone ridges that lined the non-cliff side of the pavement. The cliff side of the road was crumbling away to more cliff.
Every fifteen minutes or so we encountered a road crew working to clear the rocky debris or patching up portions of the road that were threatening to give way into the sheer drop of the valley. This was just the sort of challenging environment we needed to see how the Focus would respond under critical face-paced maneuvering. From the press release:
“Ford engineers have enhanced Focus cornering stability and agility with an advanced torque vectoring control system, behaving like a limited-slip differential to constantly balance the distribution of torque between the front wheels. This results in reduced understeer, improved traction and better turn-in.
The system is particularly effective as the car accelerates through corners, applying an imperceptible amount of braking to the inside front wheel so that more of the engine torque goes to the outside wheel with greater traction. This makes the car feel smaller, more agile and responsive.”
The Focus felt particularly small as I powered through a 25mph blind turn to emerge on the other side hurtling towards the massive bucket of a front-loader scraping along the pavement to collect rocks. Luckily the 2012 Ford Focus’ body structure enjoys 30% greater rigidity than the previous model, which complimented the torque vectoring as we darted hard right, skirting the shoulder of the road to avoid an early death via Tonka toy.
Mike and I enjoyed a nervous chuckle and hung a right at the next crossroad to drop back down to Mulholland Drive. David Lynch just happened to be out for his afternoon walk. His description of the plot behind his film, Mulholland Drive made absolutely no sense, but he gave excellent directions on how to get back to Ford’s checkpoint.
Thanks, Dave. Lay off the LSD.
At the car exchange, we enjoyed complimentary ice cream, tacos, and swapped our manual transmission Focus for a dashing purple model outfitted with an automatic dry-clutch six-speed Ford PowerShift tranny. The new setup reduced our fuel consumption “by up to 9% compared to a traditional four-speed automatic.” Under the hood, an all-new 2.0-liter gasoline direct-injection DOHC four-cylinder engine with high-pressure direct injection and twin independent variable camshaft timing was said to make more power than the outgoing model while adding 10% to the fuel economy (40mpg highway).
Perhaps more exciting, this Focus bore the shiny “Titanium” emblem on its rear, which announced to the locals that Mike and I were being swaddled in the opulence of all the aforementioned options. Behind the wheel again, with a lowered confidence in Mike’s sense of direction, I was pleased to find our route back to the hotel was preloaded on the SYNC/MyFord Touch LCD screen. The relief was beset by the heaviness of my conscience.
Unbeknownst to Mike, there was an invisible baby on board: MotorSpaceNW. Unlike a human child, the biggest danger to MotorSpace on the final leg of our trip would be to complete it without pushing the Focus to its limits, especially if we neglected to film such action for publication on the internets.
Mike agreed to hold my camera. Watch the fun on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DumwWrw1ZdI.
Flattered or complimented, I was impressed with the new Focus, and I’m not one to be bought, swindled or lied to.
Also included in new videos is a brief video of a luxurious hotel room on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.
Follow team Seattle as they compete in Focus Rally America here:
And on Hulu.
PART 1: http://tinyurl.com/4ux5yyf