Death Valley Torture Test: Three New Pickups, Shocking Failures

Dan Edmunds, who coincidentally works at Edmunds.com but has no other relation to the company that happens to have the same name, to me one is of most interesting automotive experts in the industry. His approach to discussing how things, especially suspension things, work is much more detail orientated than anyone else. 

Some years ago an editor at Edmunds decided to go to a place called which is dry lake in a remote area of the Death Valley National Park. It’s accessible by driving more than 100 miles in the park, on a paved road, and then another 25 miles on a dirt road. But this dirt road is a bit different – it has a dry washboard-like surface but is otherwise free of any challenging obstacles. Looking at the video, it looks like most conventional 2WD vehicles should be get through it. The editor at the time took the first generation Honda Ridgeline. 

Once that editor got off the dirt road and back onto paved road he noticed how poorly the vehicle handled. Long story short, the shock absorbers on that first generation Ridgeline failed miserably. The constant prolonged vibrations at speed and in high temperatures were simply too much for the shocks. Ten years later, at the introduction of the new Ridgeline, Dan Edmunds questions Honda engineers about the new shocks. Honda was more than familiar with Dan’s story and said that they applied changes to the new truck based on it. 

So now Dan took the new Ridgeline to the same Racetrack Playa in the middle of a hot Death Valley. He drove over the same roads, at the same speeds, in similar temperatures. But he wasn’t convinced that the Ridgeline could take the abuse so he brought along two support vehicles: a new Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road (not TRD Pro, wasn’t available at the time) and Nissan Titan XD PRO-4X. Both vehicles were equipped with their off-road packages, giving Dan confidence in their abilities. 

But a funny thing happen. Watch the above video as it is really worth your time. The oscillations of the shocks, the speed, and the temperature yielded some amazing results. Then watch the below video for a less dramatic conclusion. 

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Traxxas Ford Mustang GT 4-Tec 2.0 is the AWD Stang you can afford

Year after year Ford keeps stepping up its game with the Mustang. The will have 460 horsepower out of its five point oh vee eight. With the optional GT Performance Package it won’t be far behind the GT350 around many tracks. But with all those goodies comes a high price. Check off all the boxes and you’re looking to spend over fifty grand on your loaded GT coupe. 

But there is another way, another Mustang. While it does not have a V8 engine, it is all wheel drive and it goes like stink. And, at $279.99 is much more affordable. The only problem with it is that it is one tenth of the size of the real Mustang. But that doesn’t make this any less fun. 

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Comparison: 2017 Volvo V90 Cross Country vs. 2005 Volvo XC70 Cross Country

Despite of many pundits’ outcries, station wagons are not dead. They never really left us. Some of the most popular SUVs are simply jacked-up wagons with body cladding and a promise of a rugged outdoor life. Volvo’s popular Cross Country models were always that, jacked up versions of their conventional models. Their latest offering in this genre is V90 Cross Country – the SUV’ed version of the V90, which is the wagon version of the gorgeous S90 sedan.

In the process of switching owners and generally reinventing itself, Volvo has done an extraordinary job of remaining Volvo. The company’s core designs have been retained but were fortified with more style and technology. But how does this new technology and design of the new V90 Cross-Country compare to a weathered twelve year old XC70 which has always favored function over form?

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Waze is now on Android Auto

Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto have really transformed how we use our smart phones in our cars. Just plug your phone in and bam, instant access to your music, podcasts, s, text messages, and maps. It is not perfect as some applications are limited. The usefulness of the system also varies with the car that it’s used in. It seems to work best in Fords and Audis without a touchscreen are probably the worst. BMW recently stepped up with its new 5-series being the first car to connect to CarPlay wirelessly. 

But one specific app was always missing from CarPlay and Android Auto – Waze, possibly the most driver friendly app in existence. It not only gives directions but it uses real-time date to select the fastest route. It has warnings of construction, debris on road, cars on shoulders, and, most importantly, police speed traps. All those are user reported, so not always fully accurate, but what is?

It was just announced that Waze is now available on Android Auto. Rejoice, Android users. iPhone users may now have another legitimate reason to change to an Android device because it is not expected to come to CarPlay. That’s a shame, too, because it is a great app. Using on one’s phone while driving is not always easy or even legal, as it could be mistaken for the very offensive “texting.” 

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Watch Travis Pastrana’s Record Breaking Run up Mt. Washington

The Presidential Range is a mountain range within the White Mountains in which the highest peaks are named after various presidents. At 6,288.2 feet above sea level, Mount Washington is the highest of them, and is also the highest mountain in the northeast. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s just some hill because you’ve seen the Rockies. It’s a place known for constant weather changes and extreme winds.

Of all those mountains, only the peak of Mt. Washington is easily accessible. There is a cog railroad going up one side and a road going the other. Of course someone, may years ago, had the brilliant and insane idea of racing up that twist 7.4-mile road. For over a hundred years people have been racing up this mountain on foot, on bicycles, and in cars. This year is no different. 

In September 2010, Travis Pastrana set an unofficial record of 6:20.47 seconds to drive up this mountain. His Subaru Rally Team teammate broke that record in 2011 with 6:11.54 and again in 2014 with 6:09.09. On July 9, 2017 Travis Pastrana shattered that record in his 600-hp Subaru WRX STI by racing up that mountain in 5:44.72. And this time the record is official. 

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Attending a NASCAR Cup Series Drivers’ Meeting

Kamil Kaluski July 18, 2017 Motorsports

Last weekend I took my daughter to her first NASCAR race, the Overton’s 301 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Before heading out to the race I reached out to Toyota Racing to see if they had anything going on at the track that day, and they did. One of the things we were invited to was the pre-race drivers’ meeting. That sounded like an amazing, rare, and interesting opportunity all at the same time.

For those not familiar, before each driving event be it autocross, track day, a Lemons race, or a Formula 1 race, there is always a drivers’ meeting. Depending on the occasion, basic rules are underscored and specific issues about the track are addressed such as surface condition, proper pit entry and exit, areas of concern, and changes to the track. Any questions that the drivers may have are also answered.

I have personally attended many of these meetings and I truly value their importance. But I have only attended amateur drivers’ meetings which dumb-down things that even the most obtuse enthusiast should be able to understand. But these guys are professionals – what are their drivers’ meetings like?

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Review: 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor SuperCab

The Raptor really needs no introduction. If you’re reading this you probably already know everything you wanted to know about its 450-horsepower twin-turbocharged engine, ten-speed transmission, Fox suspension, and huge tires. You’ve read the reviews of it driven off-road and seen Ford’s website where the Raptor races across a desert and jumps over dunes. Even those of you who don’t like pickups probably kind of want a Raptor now.

But let’s get honest for a moment. If you were to buy one, what would you do with it? Would you drive it in the desert? Would you traverse mountain passes? Would you ford streams and power through mud pits?

Not likely.

Most of the time you would be driving it on the highway to your day job. There’s nothing wrong with that, life is what it is and we all have bills to pay. So the question is – how is the Raptor when it’s not driven at 12/10ths across the desert?

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Quick Spin: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Most enthusiasts have a hard time appreciating the Toyota Prius mostly because it is a vehicle which has become sort of the symbol of the anti-gasoline world. While it was not first, the Prius has defined what a hybrid vehicle is and has influenced the world with its technology. We now have hybrid luxury sedans, hybrid SUVs, and some of the fastest exotics in production are hybrids, too, and are loved by enthusiasts all over. 

But the Prius remains what it has always been – a more fuel efficient alternative to an econobox. I must admit that while I always appreciated the technology and the fact that Toyota has made this vehicle available to the masses, I never loved it. It handled and drove poorly, the internal combustion engine kept switching on and off while driving, and the design, both inside and out, just seemed weird to me.

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RedBull Global Rallycross – Excellent racing watched by few

Red Bull Global Rallycross makes its debut in Indianapolis this weekend, July 8-9, at Lucas Oil Raceway. What is it? It’s probably some of the best racing one can watch live. 

It’s basically rally racing on a small circuit, between half a mile and a mile in length, with a handful of cars at the same time. The races, like the rally races they’re based on, are over tarmac and dirt with a few jumps thrown in. The small venue allows spectators to be able to watch just about the whole race from one strategic point at the track. The races aren’t too long, either, so those with OCD or requiring frequent bathroom or vaping breaks won’t miss a minute of it.

The teams and the drivers are pretty approachable, too, with all the work done between each race heat under a canopy near the team’s truck. The teams are manufacturer based and sponsored, so fans of Fords, Subarus, VWs, and Hondas can cheer for this own and each automaker has a stand with their factory cars and parts. All of that makes Red Bull Global Rallycross one of the most interesting race series to spectate. 

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Traxxas Land Rover Defender is better than the real thing

While I never played with radio controlled cars I always wanted my kids to be at the least exposed to them. The reason is that there is a lot to learn from RC cars: suspension geometry, gearing, simple electronics and mechanics, maintenance, troubleshooting, and repairs. Doing all of those, and driving the little cars, improves hand-eye coordination, too. It’s a great toy for kids of varying ages and it’s something that parents can do along with them.

After spending hours walking around the four-level garage of the Barrett-Jackson auction, I came upon a Traxxas display near the customer tents. Other than someone once recommending this brand to me, I knew nothing of them. I talked with the company representative and he recommended one of their entry-level sub-$200 models to me over cheapo cars. His reasons were simple: they’re better made, easier to control, faster, and can be repaired. That $20 CVS RC car likely won’t last longer than a set of batteries. He had some valid points. 

Being a fan of realistic toys, Matchbox over Hot Wheels thank you very much, possibly slightly obsessed with Defenders, I was immediately drawn to a great looking Land Rover Defender 110 RC truck. The Traxxas rep told me that this was a crawler rather than a typical all-terrain RC truck. To me that meant ground clearance and gearing. When I got home I went right to the Traxxas website for some research.


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