Drew Dowdell

Follow Us for IMPA Fall 2016

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Drew Dowdell    5,000

The International Motor Press Association is holding its Fall 2016 rally this week at the Monticello Motor Club in the Catskill Mountains NY.  I'll be posting to various social media all day today and tomorrow. 

You can follow us on Twitter

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Or I'm just starting our Snapchat channel as CheersandGears

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    • By Drew Dowdell
      Suddenly it’s 1986. There is a lightweight and nimble sports car from a Japanese manufacturer on the market that completely eschews what the American three are doing in the sports car segment. Only, it’s not 1986; vehicle weights have pushed upwards and outwards for past 30 years to the point where Chevrolet is now marketing its top of the line Camaro with a curb weight that makes a 1986 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight look positively anorexic. Sure, Chevy compensates for the chub by equipping the Camaro ZL1 with a tire shredding 580 horsepower V8 and an advanced magnetic suspension that does all the right things keep the Camaro on the tarmac, but eventually it starts to feel like you are piloting the world’s best handling 747. It is raucous and fun, but requires concentration and skill to keep things from going wrong.
      A full paragraph into a Scion FR-S quick drive and I’ve only talked about Chevys and Oldsmobiles. Back in the 1986, Toyota introduced a new Supra. It was not a muscle car in the tradition of the V8 powered pony cars from Detroit, but it had speed and agility from being blessed with a curb weight of about 3,000lbs and a 200 horsepower I-6. It was also intended to be a technological showcase for Toyota. As such, the price tag was relatively high.

      The FR-S is a return to this idea of light weight over raw muscle making the FR-S very refreshing to drive. The FR-S’ single biggest advantage is its low weight platform. At about 2800 pounds with an automatic transmission, the FR-S is a feather-weight in this class. The light weight also allows Toyota to equip the car with a 200 horsepower / 151 lb-ft flat-four engine jointly developed with Subaru to give the FR-S sporty performance without the raw muscle. The flat-four also lowers the center of gravity on the car to further improve cornering.During my drive of the FR-S, I found a light-weight, nimble, and carefree sports car with just enough kick to keep things fun. Low end torque is superb with more than a few instances of chirping the tires unintentionally at take off. Those of you hunting for raw V8 muscle will probably be disappointed, but the FR-S makes up for it with its willingness to be thrown around a corner and an engine note that will please almost any gearhead. Power is routed through a 6-speed manual or automatic to the rear wheels like its Supra predecessor. Steering is quick and precise with only a minor quibble with on-center feel; in either direction just off center, the FR-S doesn’t seem to want to pull back to center nicely. This leaves you making frequent minor adjustments on longer straight roads. Though quite sporty and nimble, the FR-S doesn’t punish you with a harsh ride.

      Toyota pressed the reset button on the interior as well. The interior FR-S is at once modern and retro. My first thought when sitting in the car was the thought that this is what would happen if Toyota tried to re-create the spirit of the ’86 Supra without duplicating the look. This is not a bad thing; it is actually refreshing in an age of highly complicated interiors.Getting in is surprisingly easy for such a low car and I found a comfortable seating position right away. Toyota even equips the FR-S with an old school double-DIN head unit so the owner can swap in something more to his or her own liking if they wish. The head unit does include Bluetooth for hands-free calling, but that’s about the extent of the technology there. The version I drove was an automatic, but the look and gate of the shifter could fool your friends and neighbors into thinking you bought row-your-own. The rear seat is essentially unusable for adults unless the driver is very cramped or very short. Forward visibility is excellent, but I found visibility while backing up to be a bit more limited.
      Checking in with a base price of $24,955 and without high end technology or interior room, the Scion is not a Supra replacement no matter how hard the buff mags wish it. But that price makes the Scion an interesting alternative to the Camaro ($24,245 with steel wheels) and Mustang ($22,995).
      The Scion FR-S was one of my favorite drives during my time in Monticello, NY. It is just the car to hop in and go for a carefree ride on rolling country back roads with the windows down on a nice fall day. I hope to spend more time in one soon.
      The full gallery of pictures from the IMPA Test days is located here and will continue to be built as quick drive reviews are added:

      Year: 2013
      Make: Scion
      Model: FR-S
      Engine: 2.0 Liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder with Direct and Port Injection
      Drive line: Rear wheel drive, 6-speed automatic transmission
      Horsepower @ RPM: 200 @ 7000 RPM
      Torque @ RPM: 151 @ 6400 RPM
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway: 25/34
      Location of Manufacture: Japan
      Base Price: $24,955
      Est. As Tested Price: $25,300
      Drew Dowdell is Managing Editor of CheersandGears.com and can be reached at Drew.Dowdell@CheersandGears.com or on twitter as @cheersngears
    • By Drew Dowdell
      Suddenly it’s 1986. There is a lightweight and nimble sports car from a Japanese manufacturer on the market that completely eschews what the American three are doing in the sports car segment. Only, it’s not 1986; vehicle weights have pushed upwards and outwards for past 30 years to the point where Chevrolet is now marketing its top of the line Camaro with a curb weight that makes a 1986 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight look positively anorexic. Sure, Chevy compensates for the chub by equipping the Camaro ZL1 with a tire shredding 580 horsepower V8 and an advanced magnetic suspension that does all the right things keep the Camaro on the tarmac, but eventually it starts to feel like you are piloting the world’s best handling 747. It is raucous and fun, but requires concentration and skill to keep things from going wrong.
      A full paragraph into a Scion FR-S quick drive and I’ve only talked about Chevys and Oldsmobiles. Back in the 1986, Toyota introduced a new Supra. It was not a muscle car in the tradition of the V8 powered pony cars from Detroit, but it had speed and agility from being blessed with a curb weight of about 3,000lbs and a 200 horsepower I-6. It was also intended to be a technological showcase for Toyota. As such, the price tag was relatively high.

      The FR-S is a return to this idea of light weight over raw muscle making the FR-S very refreshing to drive. The FR-S’ single biggest advantage is its low weight platform. At about 2800 pounds with an automatic transmission, the FR-S is a feather-weight in this class. The light weight also allows Toyota to equip the car with a 200 horsepower / 151 lb-ft flat-four engine jointly developed with Subaru to give the FR-S sporty performance without the raw muscle. The flat-four also lowers the center of gravity on the car to further improve cornering.During my drive of the FR-S, I found a light-weight, nimble, and carefree sports car with just enough kick to keep things fun. Low end torque is superb with more than a few instances of chirping the tires unintentionally at take off. Those of you hunting for raw V8 muscle will probably be disappointed, but the FR-S makes up for it with its willingness to be thrown around a corner and an engine note that will please almost any gearhead. Power is routed through a 6-speed manual or automatic to the rear wheels like its Supra predecessor. Steering is quick and precise with only a minor quibble with on-center feel; in either direction just off center, the FR-S doesn’t seem to want to pull back to center nicely. This leaves you making frequent minor adjustments on longer straight roads. Though quite sporty and nimble, the FR-S doesn’t punish you with a harsh ride.

      Toyota pressed the reset button on the interior as well. The interior FR-S is at once modern and retro. My first thought when sitting in the car was the thought that this is what would happen if Toyota tried to re-create the spirit of the ’86 Supra without duplicating the look. This is not a bad thing; it is actually refreshing in an age of highly complicated interiors.Getting in is surprisingly easy for such a low car and I found a comfortable seating position right away. Toyota even equips the FR-S with an old school double-DIN head unit so the owner can swap in something more to his or her own liking if they wish. The head unit does include Bluetooth for hands-free calling, but that’s about the extent of the technology there. The version I drove was an automatic, but the look and gate of the shifter could fool your friends and neighbors into thinking you bought row-your-own. The rear seat is essentially unusable for adults unless the driver is very cramped or very short. Forward visibility is excellent, but I found visibility while backing up to be a bit more limited.
      Checking in with a base price of $24,955 and without high end technology or interior room, the Scion is not a Supra replacement no matter how hard the buff mags wish it. But that price makes the Scion an interesting alternative to the Camaro ($24,245 with steel wheels) and Mustang ($22,995).
      The Scion FR-S was one of my favorite drives during my time in Monticello, NY. It is just the car to hop in and go for a carefree ride on rolling country back roads with the windows down on a nice fall day. I hope to spend more time in one soon.
      The full gallery of pictures from the IMPA Test days is located here and will continue to be built as quick drive reviews are added:

      Year: 2013
      Make: Scion
      Model: FR-S
      Engine: 2.0 Liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder with Direct and Port Injection
      Drive line: Rear wheel drive, 6-speed automatic transmission
      Horsepower @ RPM: 200 @ 7000 RPM
      Torque @ RPM: 151 @ 6400 RPM
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway: 25/34
      Location of Manufacture: Japan
      Base Price: $24,955
      Est. As Tested Price: $25,300
      Drew Dowdell is Managing Editor of CheersandGears.com and can be reached at Drew.Dowdell@CheersandGears.com or on twitter as @cheersngears
      Click here to view the article
    • By Drew Dowdell
      Is there a more hotly contested automotive segment than the mid-size family sedan market? Every year it seems there is a new darling in this slot and after this year’s media dominance by the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata, Nissan has released its answer to the duo from Korea. Nissan knows that gas prices are foremost on American’s minds these days and with weight being the biggest enemy of fuel economy, responded by dropping the weight on the already light-weight Altima by 80 lbs. while increasing interior space in nearly every dimension. This, combined with some aggressively frugal “gear” ratios in the Altima’s CVT transmission and the addition of direct injection to the 4-cylinder allows for an impressive 38mpg highway and 27 mpg city. They achieved this number without resorting to hybrid technology or turbo chargers. This leads me to believe there is more fuel economy to found in this platform is Nissan decides to start including any or all of those technologies in the Altima.

      During the IMPA test days, I drove a 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL. Inside, the Altima has a simple yet handsome interior that feels light and airy even in the charcoal color I sampled. The front seats are excellent and would feel at home in a sports luxury car. The instrument panel gauges have an attractive 3D depth to them and look like an expensive watch; pictures don’t do justice here. Unfortunately, Nissan equipped the Altima with a poorly located foot activated parking brake that I kept catching my sneaker on. The Altima is still a car with a low entry price point, so much of the dash and door panels are made up of hard plastic, but Nissan disguises it well and a few of the controls are in an odd location just above the driver’s left knee, but otherwise the layout is simple and straight forward. Nissan just took over the NYC Taxi cab market with their NV200 but the Altima’s rear seat room felt so huge and the trunk is even larger, that they could aim for the Town Car market with this car as well.In normal city driving, the CVT keeps the 2.5 liter 4-cylinder low in the RPM band, ostensibly for fuel economy reasons, but the other hidden reason for this is that the 2.5 gets rather unrefined the higher it climbs in RPM. This isn’t my first run-in with Nissan 4-cylinders making quite a racket, and I suspect the reason Nissan has gotten away with a rather unrefined 4-cylinder for so long is due to their excellent CVT transmissions keeping the engine calm.
      Over the road, you can feel the lightness of the platform in the corners. Cornering is sharp, but the car feels slightly nose heavy. Noise isolation was another sore spot for me with excess tire and engine noise intruding into the cabin.
      Nissan’s 2013 Altima has all of the basics down to take on the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima as well as the Accord and Camry, but some work to refine the engine and additional power train choices would make it a stronger contender in this competitive market.
      The full gallery of pictures from the IMPA Test days is located here and will continue to be built as quick drive reviews are added:

      Year: 2013
      Make: Nissan
      Model: Altima
      Trim: 2.5 SL
      Engine: 2.5 Liter 4-cylinder with Direct Injection
      Driveline: Front wheel drive, Constantly-Variable Transmission
      Horsepower @ RPM: 182 @ 6000 RPM
      Torque @ RPM: 180 @ 4000 RPM
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway: 27/38
      Location of Manufacture: Smyrna & Decherd, Tennessee and Canton, Mississippi
      Base Price: $21,500
      Est. As Tested Price: $29,920
      Drew Dowdell is Managing Editor of CheersandGears.com and can be reached at Drew.Dowdell@CheersandGears.com or on twitter as @cheersngears
    • By Drew Dowdell
      Is there a more hotly contested automotive segment than the mid-size family sedan market? Every year it seems there is a new darling in this slot and after this year’s media dominance by the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata, Nissan has released its answer to the duo from Korea. Nissan knows that gas prices are foremost on American’s minds these days and with weight being the biggest enemy of fuel economy, responded by dropping the weight on the already light-weight Altima by 80 lbs. while increasing interior space in nearly every dimension. This, combined with some aggressively frugal “gear” ratios in the Altima’s CVT transmission and the addition of direct injection to the 4-cylinder allows for an impressive 38mpg highway and 27 mpg city. They achieved this number without resorting to hybrid technology or turbo chargers. This leads me to believe there is more fuel economy to found in this platform is Nissan decides to start including any or all of those technologies in the Altima.

      During the IMPA test days, I drove a 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL. Inside, the Altima has a simple yet handsome interior that feels light and airy even in the charcoal color I sampled. The front seats are excellent and would feel at home in a sports luxury car. The instrument panel gauges have an attractive 3D depth to them and look like an expensive watch; pictures don’t do justice here. Unfortunately, Nissan equipped the Altima with a poorly located foot activated parking brake that I kept catching my sneaker on. The Altima is still a car with a low entry price point, so much of the dash and door panels are made up of hard plastic, but Nissan disguises it well and a few of the controls are in an odd location just above the driver’s left knee, but otherwise the layout is simple and straight forward. Nissan just took over the NYC Taxi cab market with their NV200 but the Altima’s rear seat room felt so huge and the trunk is even larger, that they could aim for the Town Car market with this car as well.In normal city driving, the CVT keeps the 2.5 liter 4-cylinder low in the RPM band, ostensibly for fuel economy reasons, but the other hidden reason for this is that the 2.5 gets rather unrefined the higher it climbs in RPM. This isn’t my first run-in with Nissan 4-cylinders making quite a racket, and I suspect the reason Nissan has gotten away with a rather unrefined 4-cylinder for so long is due to their excellent CVT transmissions keeping the engine calm.
      Over the road, you can feel the lightness of the platform in the corners. Cornering is sharp, but the car feels slightly nose heavy. Noise isolation was another sore spot for me with excess tire and engine noise intruding into the cabin.
      Nissan’s 2013 Altima has all of the basics down to take on the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima as well as the Accord and Camry, but some work to refine the engine and additional power train choices would make it a stronger contender in this competitive market.
      The full gallery of pictures from the IMPA Test days is located here and will continue to be built as quick drive reviews are added:

      Year: 2013
      Make: Nissan
      Model: Altima
      Trim: 2.5 SL
      Engine: 2.5 Liter 4-cylinder with Direct Injection
      Driveline: Front wheel drive, Constantly-Variable Transmission
      Horsepower @ RPM: 182 @ 6000 RPM
      Torque @ RPM: 180 @ 4000 RPM
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway: 27/38
      Location of Manufacture: Smyrna & Decherd, Tennessee and Canton, Mississippi
      Base Price: $21,500
      Est. As Tested Price: $29,920
      Drew Dowdell is Managing Editor of CheersandGears.com and can be reached at Drew.Dowdell@CheersandGears.com or on twitter as @cheersngears
      Click here to view the article
    • By Drew Dowdell
      Chevy’s first entry into the micro car market is the 2013 Spark. During the IMPA test days, I got to take a spin in a cheeky Spark 2LT with the standard 5-speed manual transmission; a 4-speed automatic is optional. Ingress and egress of the tiny car is easy due to the upright seating position and tall doors. Headroom for such a small car is excellent. Despite being a very low price entry model, every Chevrolet Spark comes with air conditioning, power windows and a full 10 airbags. Rear seat access is just as easy as in the front with a surprising amount of legroom. I doubt I would want to spend 5 hours riding back there, but most spins around town would be fine. The 1LT and 2LT trim levels come with Chevy’s new MyLink infotainment system that includes a 7” color touch-screen. I didn’t play with it during this test drive, but expect it to operate the same as the MyLink in the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco we reviewed previously. The interior is mostly hard plastic as would be expected, but feels very well put together. In fact, my only quibble with the interior would be the rather clunky looking and feeling manual shifter that Chevy borrowed from your Grandpap’s 1987 Chevy S-10.

      The Spark is powered by a 1.25 liter 4-cylinder with 84 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 83 ft-lbs of torque at 4200 rpm. Routed through the 5-speed manual, this is the little engine that could, and with some effort, does. What power you do have comes on quickly and the Spark actually feels peppy to drive. Gearing is such that you can be in 5th gear by 35 mph and as long as you’re not in any hurry, accelerate up to highway speeds. I recognize the Spark is a cost conscious micro car, but it does feel like it needs a 6th gear. This is borne out in two ways: First, at 55 mph, the engine is turning at about 2500 rpm, and while the engine is impressively smooth for such an entry level car, the buzz from the engine does make it into the cabin at these higher RPMs. I wasn’t in a position to take the car faster, but I would probably find the noise from the engine at 70 to be bothersome. The second reason the Spark needs a 6th gear is shown in the fuel economy numbers. The Spark is EPA rated at 32 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. Both the larger Chevy Sonic and Cruze with 6-speed manuals can beat that highway number soundly. Even if Chevy didn’t make a 6-speed manual standard, the ability to option into one at extra cost would be nice. The Spark won’t be winning road rallies any time soon, but in the ride and handling department, the car felt a class above and was actually fun to drive and throw around.The mini-car market is very small in the U.S., and dominated mostly by the SMART Four-Two and more recently the Scion iQ. Seeing what Chevy has done with the Spark makes me think they are about to make a huge splash in the tiny tiny-car market.
      The full gallery of pictures from the IMPA Test days is located here and will continue to be built as quick drive reviews are added:

      Year: 2013
      Make: Chevrolet
      Model: Spark
      Trim: 2LT
      Engine: 1.25 Liter 4-cylinder
      Driveline: Front wheel drive, 5-speed manual
      Horsepower @ RPM: 84 @ 6400
      Torque @ RPM: 83 lb-ft @ 4200
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway: 32/38
      Location of Manufacture: Bupyeong, South Korea
      Base Price: $12,245
      Est. As Tested Price: $15,795
      Drew Dowdell is Managing Editor of CheersandGears.com and can be reached at Drew.Dowdell@CheersandGears.com or on twitter as @cheersngears
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