BMEWS
 
Sarah Palin will pry your Klondike bar from your cold dead fingers.

calendar   Thursday - September 06, 2012

Cross My Fingers, Hold My Breath

NO



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I’m off to P-burg to get my old chuggy buggy from the shop. The bill is “only” $575 for a tow and a new set of shifter cables and their installation. Several grease monkeys I know tell me this is a reasonable amount, since the parts are nearly half that number and it’s a 3 hour job by the blue book. Whatever, fine.

I just can’t wait to get my “big” “wide” “fast” “powerful” Saturn back.

This little Chevy Spark I’ve been driving the past week scares the hell out of me.

And I have to take it on the highway, up over Jugtown Mountain and down the back chicanes, in amongst every tractor trailer truck in NJ, to get to P-burg. I’m going to die. That’s why I’m waiting until after Rush Hour is over, even though most of the commuter traffic goes the other way.

A 1.25 liter engine with a mere 85hp (at 6500rpm I think) and a slushy automatic transmission just doesn’t cut it on American roads. Well, maybe it will be Ok in the cities where you only go 3 blocks before stopping. Or maybe it might be just barely Ok out in the flatlands where you can get up to speed and then stay there for a couple hours at a time without turning. But here in western NJ, the hill country, where the roads go up, down, and all around all the time ... this thing is God awful. It is not a driver’s car. I don’t know who’s car it is, but I’m ever so glad it’s not mine.

The transmission is programmed to have a dead point at around 36mph. New Jersey generally has a 40mph speed limit on local roads. So it’s hell to keep the thing at marginal speed, because the car wants to slow down. The transmission is programmed to short shift out of first after about 10 yards, which means the car goes half way across an intersection when the light changes and then slows down. WTF?? Manual downshifting, either out of impatience or a desire to save your own life, is a frequent necessity.

The engine, apparently recently removed from a low performance touring motorcycle, has no power at all until around 5500rpm, and redlines at 7000. Which means you have to wind it up like a CB750 to get it to go even a little bit, and the enjoyment of that high winding moment is mitigated by the mpg monitor telling you the car is currently getting 6mpg. So overall, this car which is sold as getting 38mpg manages no better than 28mpg on the tank, because it’s so damn wimpy you’re beating it like a rented mule just to get anywhere in reasonable time.

Interior comfort? You’ve got to be kidding me. As a typical overweight white guy, all my flab is carried up front. I don’t have a big old butt and big thighs. And yet my mini-booty and thighs hang over the edge of the hard flat “bucket” seat, which is really sized for underfed North Korean women. The foot pedals aren’t bad, and there is a large “dead pedal” area you can brace your left foot in where the clutch ought to be. But I still wind up driving with the square edged driver’s door armrest digging into my left thigh, and the center console cup holder sticking me in the right calf. That sucks. And hurts. And for all it’s high roof and nearly vertical windshield, I still can’t see the stoplights above me at an intersection. Thankfully NJ almost always puts in another light on a pole on the far side of the where the roads cross.

Driving it ... oy vey. Ok, I never actually managed to slide the thing, or to lock up the brakes, and I really doubt that I got it actually airborne. But it felt that way. Nearly every time I drove it.  Short short SHORT wheelbase, high cabin, and the car is so narrow ... I mean, stretch out your right arm: your fingertips are touching the passenger door window. That narrow. And hard flat seats you roll right off of. I’m afraid to push it into a corner the slightest bit ... especially since, “for comfort”, the suspension has been set to medium-porridge and the thing rolls like a log raft in a typhoon. Funny how they managed that and yet at the same time put in double extra jounce in the shocks when you go over sudden bumps.

Driving the Spark in the rain is a thrill I’ll happily leave to others. The car is so small and the body is so thin that road roost - the spray coming off your tires - sounds like gravel being thrown against the underside. It is startling the first time you experience it, and it does not inspire confidence. I’m wondering if the spray is going to knock me over, or if the scrawny little tires (factory inflated to 40psi) are going to hydroplane me right into a ditch.  But I will go to my death in that culvert with a laugh, because the Spark comes with a built in traction control system, anti-lock brakes, and 8 or 10 air bags. They may as well give me a parachute and a life preserver for all the good those things do.

Good features? Hmm. Well, now that I’m taking it back to the rental agency, I’ve figured out how to program the automatic door locks to actually let me out of the car when I turn it off. Well, as long as I remember to put the shift lever in park. All bets are off if I shut down the engine while it’s in “D”, and I think I have to use the remote control to unlock the doors to let me out. This auto-lock shit is for the birds. No thank you, I don’t want any. Same goes for the “you must step on the brake to shift the car out of Park” BS. No. Give me a 6 speed and a clutch, and get out of my life.

Nothing else Drew? Ok, it rides just as nicely as my 16 year old SC-2 that has 280,000 miles on it. Maybe just a little better. As long as the roads are smooth and straight. And the mirrors are stylish, if too small to be at all useful.

My God, I can’t count the number of times I’ve jumped on the brakes in this crate, because I’ll be toodling down some rural road with the speed ever so slowly increasing, and then I’ll spot a sudden bump coming right at me! Nail the brakes, because if you hit that bump at 50, you’re going up up and away. Even at 40. That happens to you just ONCE and the lesson is learned forever: fear the road. The thing has a 93 inch wheelbase ... I’m pretty sure I’ve owned longer motorcycles. It’s just too damn skippy over the the bumps. Stretch it out another foot, drop it down 6 inches, and widen it by at least 6, and it might actually become drivable. Well, as long as you DOUBLE the size of the engine. And put in a real transmission. This car is not safe to drive over 30mph in my opinion. And it sure as hell is just plain ANNOYING to drive it here in New Jersey.

Rental miles driven: about 275

Phew: I survived. You know, I should have something positive to say about the little car.  Um ... ah ... ok, here: it has a perfectly tuned horn that gives forth a pleasing “toot”. It’s the happy kind of sound you might imagine a Parisian mime would make as you choked the last gasp of life out of him. Loud? Raucous? Intrusive, even startling? None of that. It’s exactly the kind of horn Americans DON’T want on their cars.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 09/06/2012 at 07:33 AM   
Filed Under: • planes, trains, tanks, ships, machines, automobiles •  
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