2007 BMW 328

A friend has a 2007 BMW 328. I have been in it for many thousand miles. It is a nice car combining luxury with sportiness. It is reasonably quick, but not a rocket ship. Recently, I noticed a tire was low. It turns out the tire wasn't low, it was completely out of air. It was a run-flat tire, so it just looked low. Not only was the tire low, but so was another. What was worse, there was no display in the car indicating that two tires were out of air. The car did turn to the right when driven (as both tires without air were on the right). When we filled up the tires, the car drove straight. It is currently in the shop and BMW is in the process of fixing it. It took It took about 10 days to fix.

The dealer was basically unable to repair the low pressure sensors. They claim that this was a new feature for BMW (which might be true, but it is an old feature for other cars), and that there is no way to make the system work. As the car's lease expires in 6 months, the owner wasn't too worried. I think this seriously tarnished BMW's reputation about having fine German engineering.

2009 BMW 328

This is a BMW 'courtesy car', from the dealer, while the 2007 BMW 328 gets repaired. It features the new 'i-drive' from BMW which controls almost everything inside the car. There have been many complaints about it, as it takes several operations to change a setting. I think it is great, as long as there is a knowledgeable passenger in the car to use it. I would hate to use it while driving. It does have a nice wide screen LCD display that is well shaded. The GPS looks very nice. It drives quite like the 2007 BMW, which isn't surprising.

The GPS doesn't have a touch screen, rather it uses the i-control to get input. The user interface isn't too bad for entering cities or street names, but not as good as a touch screen keyboard. The routing software is seriously flawed. This is a 2008 product, and GPS costs $2000. There is no excuse for second rate routing software. My Garmin Nuvi 200, 1450 and mio c310 do a better job at routing, and are 10 to 20 times cheaper. This also tarnishes BMW's reputation about having fine German engineering.

2009 Chevy Cobolt

I was in a rental Chevy Cobolt for 2 days. It is a pretty basic car. Crank windows. Manual door locks. No remote trunk release. It did have a pretty nifty digital display on the dash which would display air temperature, coolant temperature, trip computer, tire pressure and the like. It seemed like a decently built car with no frills.

2011 Chevy Cruze

I was in a rental Chevy Cruze for 5 days. It is a pretty basic car. It has an odd dash with fabric rather than plastic for a majority of the dash. There is a high central LCD display which displays temperature, fan settings, and radio information. Pretty handy, but it makes it quite difficult to change the radio for an aftermarket unit. I didn't really like the radio buttons much. They were either misaligned, or oddly designed. Not sure which, but neither is excusable. The most noteworthy feature is an automatic transmission that really sucks. I have driven many cars with automatic transmissions and the Cruze's transmission is the worst one I can recall. It hunts for a gear, it is slow to shift. It does things that are beyond description in a bad way. Other than the transmission which is a deal-breaker, I didn't like the key with buttons to lock and unlock the car. Perhaps it is possible to unlock the door with the key without the alarm going off, but I didn't figure out how to do it. I think the Chevy engineers need to drive a Toyota, VW or pretty much any other civilized car to see how transmissions should work.

2014 Ford Edge

I rented this for 4 days. This is a 'sport utility' vehicle from Ford. It isn't clear why it is a sport utility vehicle. It isn't very sporty. It doesn't have 4 wheel drive. It is basically a sedan with a higher seating position than a standard sedan. It has a clever big LCD display where much of the dashboard should be. It has a nice centrally mounted speedometer. I was unable to find a tachometer. The gas gauge is an electronic display to the left of the speedometer. It wasn't obvious what it was for the first few days I drove it. The large LCD controls far too much of the car. Most of the radio controls are on it. The heating and cooling controls are on it. Of course, you have to look at the display in order to use it. Somehow I managed to switch on the seat heater. The only sign I had was that there was 3 dots under the seats, and one of them was highlighted. I was unsure how to turn off the seat heater, but I was able to totally turn off the temperature controls which seemed to turn off the seat heater. Controls should be usable by touch. Touchscreen displays require you to look at them. A big fail. The radio seemed decent enough. The GPS was not present. Since GPS chips cost about $10, there is no excuse for a new car not to have a GPS. I found out why the vehicle is called the 'edge'. From the drivers seat, the center console has a metal looking trim piece on either side of it. It sticks out in an abrupt way so that a sharp edge digs into your leg. The door has a similar metal looking trim piece that also digs into your leg. These look cool, but feel terrible. I don't recall ever being in a car with such sharp edges around my legs. Mercifully, the defroster control is not on the touchscreen, and I was able to use it when it was raining.

2009 Lexus GS-350

A friend has a Lexus GS-350, and I got to drive it for about 25 miles. This is the base model, which retails for $45,000. It does have the nav package, which raised the retail price to $50,000. It has a 303hp 3.5 liter engine, (which is 0.1 liter bigger than my Tacoma V6, but has 113 more horsepower), and a 6 speed automatic transmission. (The top end GS-350 has a V8 and a 8 speed automatic transmission.) It is pretty similar in size compared to my 2002 Camry, but much more luxurious. The GPS is much better in routing than them 2009 BMW 328, and has a touch screen. It isn't nearly as well shaded as the BMW's, so sometimes it is hard to see. By default they 'keyboard' on the GPS is an ABCDEF keyboard, which is pretty silly, however there is a setting to change it to a QUERTY keyboard. My friend tells me the Bluetooth works but doesn't transfer phone directories seamlessly from an iPhone, unlike the BMW.

The car has a much firmer ride than my Camry, but not nearly as firm as the 2009 BMW 328. The ride is still a bit choppy over a bumpy freeway. The engine is quite quiet, but the tires have quite a bit of road noise. The transmission shifts very quickly and seamlessly. It was very fast going from 70 to 100mph. The mirrors have a slight color tint. I think there is a LCD behind the mirrors, and my friend tells me that they dim and turn bluish at night. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes. I found it hard to find the controls for the side mirrors. It turns out there is a mirror symbol, which doesn't look much like a mirror symbol to me. If you press the nearby button, cleverly labeled 'Press', a small control panel rotates out, and there are mirror and windshield wiper controls on it. It rotates back, and becomes unobtrusive. I would like it if the suspension was better at absorbing bumps. Other than that, I really liked the car.

2005 Lotus Elise

A friend has an Elise, and I spent about two hours in it. It is a very nice sports car. It is mid-engined, and the 'trunk' is located behind the engine. It is pretty small, with the official size being 112 liters (which is just under 4 cubic feet). I found it quite amusing to have a glow in the dark interior release latch. The seats are very thin pseudo racing buckets. They aren't real racing buckets, like the Kevlar honeycomb seat I used to have in my Shelby CSX, but they are reasonably comfortable, and offer significant side support. The interior is quite spartan. There isn't a glove box, but rather an open shelf where you might put small items. The car is left hand drive, and on the far right is a blank panel where controls would go in a right hand drive vehicle. Lotus could have put a small glove box there. This car has a single cup-holder, which was a Lotus option. It telescopes out from under the dash. The door sill is quite wide and high. I found it impossible to get in the car with the top on. After removing the top, it took a bit of effort to get inside the car. Once inside, it took a bit of arm strength to lift myself up out of the seat, before being able to get in the car. The top is a pretty basic cloth top, which I am told is only available in black. It looks nice, but the color isn't very practical in warm climates.

On the road, the Elise was quite quick. The car came with an adjustable sport suspension. It was fine over most roads, but on one freeway it was so bouncy that I literally couldn't see straight. I have been in some cars with stiff suspensions, but this was significantly stiffer than any car I had ever been in. The car is a great toy, but not very practical for every day use.

2013 Tesla S

The bad news is I didn't get to drive the Tesla, but I was only a passenger. The good news is I was in the Tesla for about 180 miles. The center 17 inch display is monstrously big and works quite well. There is a smaller display in front of the driver which is also easy to read. The voice control works much better than the voice control on my Prius. You can select from many options what you want to see on either display. There are some buttons on the steering wheel and you can select what they do. All of these driver selectable options are the opposite of my Prius which has dedicated displays (except for a few you can cycle through on the center display) and dedicated buttons. The exterior lights are nice and bright, but the interior passenger lights are a bit dim for my tastes. Perhaps their brightness is programmable. The interior is quite nice, a bit more like a luxury European car rather than a typical luxury american car. The seats are comfortable and reasonably supportive, but not designed for hard cornering. It is a bit difficult to get in and out of the front seats. However, it is significantly more difficult to get in or out of the rear seats. The rear seats have less headroom than the front seats, and I often hit my head on the headliner. The rear seatbelts are also much tighter than the front seat belts. Perhaps the car is designed for smaller people to sit in the rear. The car is reasonably quiet inside, though some exterior road noise seeps in.

The acceleration of the car is simply stupendous. There is zero delay due to the very wide torque band. I have been in cars that accelerated more strongly (a souped up 427 AC Cobra), but never in a car that had such instant response. There brakes work quite well. Cornering is surprisingly good considering the cars weight of 4,647 lbs. For the Tesla, the center of gravity is quite low, which helps handling. The biggest downside I have heard is the Tesla is a quick wearing on tires.

2017 Prius Prime Plus

A friend bought a Prius Prime Plus. This is the base trim Plug in Prius. Here are some comparisons with my 2012 Plug in Prius. It has a range of 25 miles on electricity (vs @12 miles). It has a 8.8 kWh battery (vs a 4.4 kWh). It can go up to 84 mph in electric mode (vs 63 mph). Overall it is much more advanced than my 2012 Plug in Prius. The car is lighter. There is more sound dampening material on the floor. The electric range is twice as far. The seats are vastly better and have more lateral support. There are 4 LED headlights (the 2012 has halogen bulbs which I replaced with HID). The radio display is 7 inches rather than 6 inches. The crappy center display is still crappy but it is LCD and not vacuum fluorescent. It also has colors. I am still mystified why there is a central display and not a dash display like a real car. The controls around the 7 inch display are less than ideal, but they suck less than the 2012 with a horde of almost identical buttons. At least the entertainment system has 2 knobs (rather than 1 knob). The fan control goes up and down. (The 2012 has a button that if pressed to the right increases the fan and if pressed to the left decreases the fan. Another button turns the fan off). The interior lights look like incandescent bulbs (I replaced all of mine with LEDs). The flying buttress design between the front seats is now gone. The goofy electronic 'shifter' is still present. And best of all, the price is much less than I paid in 2012.

The rear hatch is made out of carbon fiber and is left unpainted inside to show off the carbon fiber. I have read that the 2017 standard Prius has the battery under the rear seat. I am not sure where the battery is in the Prime, but the hatch area is about 3 or 4 inches higher than the bumper, so I suspect that most if not all of the batteries are in the rear hatch area. I wonder if the 2017 Entune (radio software) sucks as much as the 2012 version).

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