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Yom Kippur at the Paris Motor Show 2012

Today is “The Day” i.e. The Day of Atonement on the Jewish Calendar. There’s no holier day for The Chosen People. It’s also the first live day of coverage for journalists at the 2012 Paris Motor Show, the first show of the rambunctious Auto Show Season. How do these fit together?

Since we didn’t win the Kia Canada Photography Contest and Twitter gives a more interactive glimpse of the proceedings anyways, let’s see how the world’s largest and most influential automakers fared in Paris today and what they have to atone for as a result. Even with more guilt-assuaging plug-in hybrids than sexy booth babes, you’d better believe they’re still guilty beyond reproach.

In no particular order, the 6 Most Sinful:

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How The Acura RDX Got Swallowed Whole By A $9200 Tuscan Villa

By Peter Dushenski @carenvy

Do you remember the old Acura RDX? The cute one? With the turbo?

Well, forget it.

This, what you see above, is the new Acura RDX. It no longer looks like a bolder and distinctively taller Honda Fit from the future. It’s now gentler, less boyish than before. Acura’s latest tweaks are their most comprehensive yet, but they’ve lead to a far more anonymous iteration of their smallest crossover.

Where the 2007 model was discretely handsome, the 2010 facelift scarred that beauty with silver bird bits. Now, for 2013, the RDX is back to being discrete, except the square chin and dimples have been buffed out by design committees. With renewed inoffensiveness, it would blend seamlessly next to the Equinox at the Chevy dealer. Having found that unique appearances and thirsty turbo engines don’t move metal, the new RDX is more mainstream from beak to tail. It seems like a withdrawal, a reversal of tactics, from more aggressive to more defensive. But where the old RDX swam in a pond of one, the new one is being plopped in the middle of the Atlantic.

So can this softer bird swim?

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Part 2: Finding Black Swan Robustness with the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, and Chevy Aveo

by Peter Dushenski @carenvy

In Part 1 of this two-part exploration, three nimble hatchbacks mounted a front against the best selling vehicle in the world: the Ford F-150. In Part 1, the unassuming hatches took an early 1-0 lead by being more humble on a first date. Let’s see how the trio fares for the final two points of this competition: moving and commuting.

2. Helping Your Friend Move To A New Apartment:

You might have more Facebook friends than Mark Zuckerberg but being that awesome has its drawbacks, especially when you’ve been bragging to your friends about 1) how robust you are, and 2) your new car(s). It’s only a matter of time before one of your minions legion is knocking at your door on a hungover Saturday morning, begging you to help a bro out. If you spent your 67 large on the King Ranch, with its handy tailgate step (aka Man Step), side access steps, and cargo bed extender, you’ll be a prime target every. single. time. Thankfully, the F-150 will impress even your most demanding friends … Beds, furniture, and those uselessly heavy old tube TVs will all find room in the back. There’s nothing quite like a sturdy pick-up for moving trash from one ratty apartment to another. It’s truly tough to beat.

Alternatively, you could take the robust Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, AND Chevy Sonic.

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Part 1: Finding Black Swan Robustness with the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, and Chevy Aveo


by Peter Dushenski @carenvy

In our lifetimes, certainly in my quarter century, the global economy has never been less predictable and the future has never seemed more opaque. It’s been more than four years since the housing bubble burst in the US  and Credit Default Swaps entered popular parlance, yet little seems to have changed. Governments are even deeper in fragilizing debt, global currencies are teetering on the brink, and the world’s largest banking institutions are back to making record profits. If that weren’t enough, education is increasingly incapable of ensuring employment and job prospects in general continue to haunt hopes of lasting recovery. Even if you’re personally unaffected by this, watching any amount of TV news will surely make the world seem a bit bleak.

And yet, we still eat out, we still go to movies and to the bar, and we still buy new cars. Borrowing rates remain low and the luxury market has never been hungrier. By most any measure, the lives of those of us in the western world have never been better. But because the larger picture remains so unsure, we’ve never been more exposed to what the (justifiably arrogant) investor-philosopher Nassim Taleb calls “Black Swans”: highly consequential and equally unpredictable events. Black Swans get more severe the more complex a society and economy become, which is perhaps the only sure bet there is. Their effects become more devastating than we can imagine and, ironically, we’ve never been more vulnerable. It’s about time that we think about ways in which we can protect ourselves, ways in which we can remain robust even when the world goes crazier than Christopher Nolan’s gruesome Gotham.

Being robust means being unharmed by (or better yet, benefiting from) volatility. It’s being agile and ready for anything, like a blogger-ninja hybrid. Robustness can be a state of mind, and it should be, but we can also build our lives to be more robust. Reducing or eliminating debt is a great place to start, as is having cash on hand. Diversification, hamstering your assets a little here and a little there, will ensure that when Black Friday returns, you won’t have all your eggs in one basket. Certain forms of insurance can also be used to provide protection from these crippling curveballs.

But let’s say that you want to maintain robustness while also spending $67,000 on your next vehicle (we’re imagining here that you have a healthy income and are already contributing a fair share to savings), where do you start? How can you protect yourself from the next big economic catastrophe while still being ready to go on blind dates, help your friend move, and survive your commute?

For a mere sixty-seven large, you could drive off the lot in the vaquero-flustering Ford F-150 King Ranch EcoBoost, an unimpeachable tool for life on the Prairies with enough charisma to charm milk out of a cow, eggs out of chickens, and wheat out of flour. Hauling your friends to the lake, commanding rush hour traffic, going on a date, off-roading like a high-roller, or dragging your parents’ old furniture to the city dump (like I did) could all be easily accomplished with a visit to your local Ford store. And you could do much, much worse for that kind of money (Z4, anyone?), but is that the best way to spend all that money? Perhaps we should listen to our grandfathers and not spend it all in one place, spending it instead on a trio of (don’t laugh) hatchbacks? Let’s look at a few real life scenarios and decide for ourselves, like big boys.

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CarEnvy Podcast 4

Luke and Peter expand your mind with news and F1. Listen now or click the box to download and enjoy on the road!

Relevant Links:

Danielle Smith’s busty bus:

Ferrari F12berlinetta:

Nissan DeltaWing:

Volkswagen XL1:

F1 Australian GP photos:

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Compact Crossover Challenge: Is It Tired In Here Or Is It Just Me? [Comparison Test]

by Peter Dushenski

Wallpaper paste. Golf. Grass growing. Curling. Watching somebody play videogames. Country music. Baseball. And of course compact crossovers.

You wouldn’t wish any of these exceedingly dry pursuits upon the fatherless punk who picked on you in junior high, much less voluntarily choose to have a conversation about them, and yet, auto manufacturers seem to talk of nothing else. “If it’s not a compact crossover, it won’t sell”, their sharply dressed marketers likely say to their in-office baristas between creative thinking sessions, “and I would know”. Which they do, right?

Customers want economical high-seated hatchbacks, and even if they don’t, it’s remarkably easy to convince them that they do. Most of our lives demand nothing more than a Fiat 500 but wily manufacturers don’t stay in business by producing what people need, merely what they’re willing to pay for. In the year 2012, no manufacturer, from the most luxurious to the most mainstream, can think of a better way to rake in dollar bills than the small raised wagon also known as the compact crossover. Land Rover now has the Evoque, Porsche’s Macan is in the pipeline, and the Ford Escape has been the best selling SUV of any kind for the last 8 years in Canada. We’ve all been convinced that the compact crossover is the panacea for modern life.

But it’s still a very dull class brilliantly disguised as an interesting one, so I assembled two of these supposedly useful devices, both priced around C$37,000, for a comparison test that might actually make sense; unlike, say, a test designed to find the best 6.2L vehicle for owling (Camaro vs Raptor), or the best fwd 4-banger for very small parking spots (iQ vs Explorer). After a week with Honda’s redesigned 2012 CR-V and 12 days with Volkswagen’s redesigned 2012 Tiguan, not to mention several brow-furrowing days trying to determine which one is better to drive/live with/own, this is the painfully boring truth:

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Fiat 500 vs. Honda CR-Z: Imagining Replacements for our Protege5

Let’s put our special hats on – y’know, the ones with the ostrich feathers and Swarovksi sparkles all dipped in yellow gold – and play “what if”.

Car enthusiasts play this game with alarming frequency, but rarely in public. The internal machinations usually happen in the wee hours of a weekend evening, on eBay and Kijiji and after a half-glass of scotch, as we rationalize, justify, and otherwise attempt to coerce ourselves and our significant others into successively wilder purchases. But cower in darkness no more! For it’s high time that we openly share our most bizarre (and reasonable) replacements for our current transports! Ok, as you’ve probably gleaned from the title, our imaginations haven’t led us too far astray, but that’s because these are cars we’d actually buy, not just ones we’d plunk down for if we accidentally inherited the Daryl Katz fortune. And it’s not like we’re in brow-furrowing contemplation between the Corolla and the Matrix here, the 500 and CR-Z are genuinely appealing cars, at least for hatchback-loving urbanites like us.

Regardless of budget (and in fantasyland, the budgets can get pretty wacky), we all have priorities that lean us one way or another, as well as allegiances to certain brands that inadvertently blind us to huge swathes of the marketplace. Personally, we’re proponents of buying used cars so that the most aggressive years of depreciation are allowed to pass harmlessly by. That new car smell? Doesn’t smell as good as saved money smell. Since we’re looking at the used market, it’s also worth mentioning that we’re staunch advocates of mechanical and electrical reliability. No one likes unnecessary trips to the stealer dealer less than we do, so we avoid it at all costs. As such, we personally like to steer away from German cars (an air-cooled 911 is the only car with any chance of breaking that rule of thumb), most American cars, and steer towards Japanese cars. Granted, the newer domestics, particularly Fords, have come a long way in terms of quality and reliability, but none of their current offering quite have the sparkle we’d put in our garage for good. Maybe the Focus ST will change that. The Germans, on the other hand, have almost no hope of changing our perceptions at this point. There is literally nothing scarier than a 5-year-old BMW without warranty.

Since there’s not much out there in the desirable 4-5 year old bracket (unless you’ve got one?) that meets our exacting criteria for fun, reliability, fuel economy, and attractive design, we’re going to have to make do with looking a few years down the road to replace our aging Mazda Protege5. So let’s take a look at what’s on sale today that we’ll want to pick up a good deal on in a couple years.

This series of hurdles pretty much leaves us with the Fiat 500, the adorable Mexican-built city car with character in picche (that’s “spades” in Italian), and the Honda CR-Z, the sportiest hybrid around. Both of these choices are perfectly sized for urban use, fun(ish) to drive, sip fuel like a Starbucks latte, and should prove more reliable than average. But which one should we choose?

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Hydrogen Cars: Power for the Future

Electric cars are being hailed as the future. No, it’s not 1901, but 2011. Over a century ago, gas-powered cars fought for early adopters of horseless carriage technology against electric-powered cars. Yes, what’s old is new again. Except gas won last time. Now, it’s all a bit murky.

Half-upstart/half-vapourware shillers like Tesla and Fisker, as well as old guards like Morgan, are tripping over themselves to electrify your driveway. Despite compromises such as limited range, heavy batteries, and tortuous charge times, car makers (with a little nudge from government regulators) aspire to wean us off petroleum and reduce the carbon emissions from our tailpipes.

And it’s easy to see why. It’s where the money is. Governments are investing in the crucial infrastructure needed to charge the hobbled beasts by installing electric charging points and giving out massive loans to companies who promise to build electric cars in their country. The government has picked a side, which means that you will too.

But there are alternatives, and not just corn-based ethanol – that grotesque shell game that subsidizes American farmers so that they can grow fuel that would otherwise make perfectly good food – but Hydrogen. Yes, it’s a bit combustible (see Hindenburg) and it requires extremely high pressures to be kept stable, but it also allows for refuelling in 5 minutes, a lot less than the 5 hours an electric car currently needs. If Hydrogen received the same kind of government support, it could prove to be a more viable alternative to plug-in electric power. The only way to find out is to invest. Just like these companies are…

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