I Bought An Okay Toyota 4Runner Because of Michigan Part Two

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It’s hard to believe, but I’ve already lived on the outskirts of Detroit for over year now. And while I have extremely strong opinions on the city, and the state itself, I’m not here to shit where I eat. But I have learned a few automobile-related items during my elongated state in the north.

For one, the roads are horrendous. And when I saw horrendous, I mean that some of the roads here aren’t even paved. They’re just rocks scattered around in a way to look like a road. I have absolutely no idea why this is the way it is. And the roads that are paved are almost as bad, as they’re riddled with massive ruts, bumps, and potholes. Again, I’m not sure why the roads here are worse than a third-world country’s.

Winter isn’t a joke here. In Northern Virginia, we would get a healthy slathering of snow every year. It would dip into the low 20’s and, if you were lucky, you’d see a couple of inches of the cold white stuff on Christmas. In Michigan, it snows almost every day in winter, and temperatures drop into the negatives. So 4WD and snow tires are a must, as is a reliable car.

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Toyota 4Runner, All Photos By: Joel Patel

After learning these important facts about the state, I went out and bought a 1996 Toyota 4Runner for $2,700 and drove it up from Virginia to Michigan. The car was in pretty rough shape, but it made the journey without a hitch and has served me well. But 4WD stopped working as soon as snowfall hit and I’m not planning on doing another winter without that.

So, I did what any right-minded enthusiast would do and went back down to Virginia and bought another 4Runner. Why another 4Runner? Well, I already have the necessary tools, know-how, and manual to work on the car. Plus my neighbors have two of the exact same vehicles – same year, color, and all – and I wanted to mimic them to fit in.

The latest addition to my garage is a ’02 with just under 170,000 miles. It’s an SR5 Special Edition model with dark gray paint, gray cloth seats and, get this, everything works. Four-wheel drive works perfectly – the guy took us on a joy ride through his backyard, so I know it works this time – the seats aren’t mangled, the trunk is original, and it doesn’t need anything for the near future. In other words, it’s one of the nicest vehicles I’ve purchased in the past few years.

And the best thing about the SUV is that it cost me just $4,000. And it has a rear differential locker. I mean come on. I was searching the entire time I was in Michigan for a vehicle in Virginia, and when I stumbled upon this one, I couldn’t believe that it was still for sale.

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As usual, getting the machine was a hassle. Between running errands with my family, running back and forth between Washington, D.C. and Virginia, I barely made it on time to the meeting time that the seller and I agreed to. And when we got there, it took us (my father, fiancé, and mom) nearly two hours to check out the 4Runner from top to bottom.

It had a few dents here and there, and could’ve used a good cleaning on the inside and outside, but other than that, it was in extremely good condition. And on my short time schedule, I didn’t have any time to do a tune-up, not that it needed one.

So a few days after purchasing the SUV, I drove it roughly 550 miles from Northern Virginia to Royal Oak, Mich. And while the ’02 and ’96 are nearly identical, the vehicles couldn’t have been more different on the trip up.

The ’96 was a racket to drive. The steering feel was sketchy, at 70 mph the 4Runner allowed so much road noise in that speaking with a passenger was difficult, and night-time driving was terrible thanks to a blinding LED light strip that the previous owner used to make sure that the driver could see how fast they were going.

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The ’02 4Runner on the other hand was quiet, comfortable, and enjoyable to drive. At 80 mph, the SUV ran straight and true without a fuss. The five-speed transmission, which doesn’t sound like a complete upgrade from the four-speed unit in my ’96, sat in between 2,000 and 2,500 rpm at highway speeds, making for an enjoyable trip.

Usually, I switch off with my girlfriend (who’s my fiancé now) halfway through the journey – somewhere in Ohio – and take an hour break. But roughly four hours into the journey, something strange happened. The car threw an engine code. The check engine light came on, which was shortly followed by the VSC Trac light and VSC ABS light.

Strange, as 4Runners are known for being incredibly reliable and I’ve never seen a check engine light cause two other lights to come up. It was also a little scary, as we had just entered into Ohio and had approximately five hours left. So we drove for a little bit longer and found a rest stop to check out the vehicle.

I checked the regular items, oil, fluids, loose wires, and sensors, anything that would cause a check engine light to randomly come up without any warning signs. I couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary, so we set a route to the local Advance Auto Parts to get the car diagnosed. While they will read engine codes for free, I decided to purchase an OBDII reader for $100.

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The codes that popped up were a little unnerving – C1201 Engine Control System Malfunction and P0770 Shift Solenoid E Malfunction. Seeing those codes are a little scary, especially when there are five hours left to go on the road trip. After spending some time looking the codes up and researching what would cause them to pop up, I learned that the cheapest option would be a transmission oil change and the most expensive one would be to get a transmission overhaul.

Knowing that, I simply cleared the codes, and continued on the way to Michigan. Oddly enough, the vehicle didn’t miss a beat until we were 30 minutes away from our house. The same lights reappeared, yet again without a discernable sign, leaving me to believe that the issue must have something to do with the transmission fluid, which I’m sure is quite old.

When the light came on a second time, I didn’t even bothering pulling over, as I was just a few miles away from the house. But what I did do as soon as I got home was place a massive order on Amazon for 13 quarts of Valvoline synthetic transmission fluid, five quarts of Mobil 1 synthetic 75W-90 gear oil, and a new transmission filter.

Hopefully, getting all of the dirty fluid out of the gearbox will help ensure that the light never comes on again. But it did show me that the cheaper, older ’96 4Runner, despite being an absolute hunk of garbage, is more reliable than my “new” SUV. Either that or none of the lights on the dash work.

Still, I’m psyched to have a 4Runner that works and works well. And I’m excited to have a key fob again. Once again, it goes to show that you can get a great deal on Craigslist, as long as you’re willing to search, and search, and search.

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It’s Time to Embrace Self-Driving Cars

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As someone that loves all types of vehicles, I find the rise of semi-autonomous vehicles to be frightening. Driving, at least for me, has always been more than just getting from point A to point B – it’s spending quality time with a machine that’s almost alive. A bunch of humans spent years designing, developing, and building the vehicle, the least I could do is thoroughly enjoy the machine and appreciate it for being more than just a hunk of metal.

Self-driving cars take humans out of the question, which essentially downgrades vehicles from characterful machines to personal items that are no different than that new iPhone bulging in your pocket. While a necessary part of enjoying one’s life, it’s no longer an item that has character or substance. And that, understandably, isn’t something that I’m really into.

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Cadillac CT6 Sedan, All Photos By: Joel Patel

But even me, a person that wants to not only save the manuals, but is also a huge fan of the concept of “stripper models,” has to admit that there are some aspects of driving that are tedious. Traffic, for instance, sucks. And I’m originally from the Washington, D.C. area, which was recently rated to have the third worst traffic in the United States. So, I know all about traffic.

Long drives on the highway are also incredibly boring, especially when it comes to spending more than an hour on a major highway. So, while I’m not a huge fan of self-driving features, I can see where they would come in handy. And that’s why I was surprised to fall head-over-heels for a Cadillac CT6 equipped with the automaker’s Super Cruise system.

I recently went on an extensive journey that saw 12 journalists, including myself, go from Cleveland to Chicago and then to Memphis, Tenn. In case your geography is a little rusty, it was nearly 900 miles and covered a span of 13 hours. Thankfully, we were able to do the run over two days.

Before diving into the intricacies of General Motors’ Super Cruise system, it’s important to note that the CT6 sedans we were driving were amazing. They were fitted to the gills with things like massaging seats, Wi-Fi, an upgraded audio system, and other goodies that are way out of my reach. Sticker price on the vehicles we were driving were around $100,000 – way, way out of my reach.

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I’ve spent a little time with the CT6 before and have to say that the sedan is truly a great car. It’s quiet, comfortable, and, with the 3.0-liter twin-turbo, pretty quick. There’s not a lot to dislike with the CT6 and as someone that stays away from American cars, that’s high praise. The addition of the Super Cruise system makes the CT6 even better and helps the sedan straddle the line between luxury and technology.

Super Cruise is GM’s answer to other self-driving systems on the market from Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and more. But unlike those systems, the one on the CT6 has one claim that others can’t match – being the first “hands-free” system on the market. While the majority of automakers exaggerate the specs and capabilities of their vehicles, Cadillac’s system really does allow for hands-free driving.

Getting the vehicle to drive itself, as one would expect, takes a lot of components. The vehicle utilizes a hardware suite, including various sensors and cameras that give the sedan a 360-degree view of its surroundings. The majority of these components are carried over from the regular CT6, but are recalibrated in a special way to give the vehicle its super powers.

The other side of the equation involves LiDAR Map Data, which is a fancy way of saying that GM spent a whole lot of time and money mapping roughly 160,000 miles of highways in North America (that includes Canada) using high-tech LiDAR. The vehicle also has high-precision GPS that can spot the vehicle on the road within two meters of its actual location, which is incredibly good when it comes to the automotive scene.

These items, while they may not sound like anything exactly riveting, give the CT6 the ability to cut the driver out of the equation on certain situations. The other system that the CT6 has over other semi-autonomous vehicles is its Driver Attention System.

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The latter consists of a light bar that changes color on the steering wheel, a driver attention camera that’s located at the top of the steering column, sensors on the steering wheel, and infra-red emitters on the wheel. The camera and infra-red emitters track the driver’s head and eye movements to ensure that his or her face is facing straight ahead, focusing on the road.

Look away for five seconds – and when Cadillac says five seconds, the automaker means five seconds, we timed the thing and it was spot on at five seconds – and the green light bar on the steering wheel starts to flash. Escalation 1, as it’s called, is used to let drivers know that the system recognizes that they’re not paying attention and will turn off soon. Looking ahead or placing a hand on one of the steering wheel’s sensors lets the system know that you’re not watching a cat video on YouTube and all goes back to normal.

Fail to prove your level of alertness to the all-knowing machine and it goes into Escalation 2 where the light bar flashes red, the green steering wheel icon on the gauge cluster turns red, and an ear-piercing chime is emitted or the driver’s seat vibrates. Escalation 2 is the car’s way of letting the driver know that because of their negligence, Super Cruise will be giving control of the car back to the driver.

And when the car goes into its Escalation 2 mode, you’ll want to take control of the vehicle quickly, as the next step – Escalation 3 – is when all hell breaks loose. If the car is in Escalation 2 mode for 10 seconds and the driver doesn’t show the vehicle signs of life, like moving their head, touching the steering wheel, or shifting their eyes to the front of the vehicle, it enters into Escalation 3 where the light bar flashes red, the steering wheel icon turns red, the car emits a chime or vibrates the seat, and a voice prompt comes on to yell at the driver to show signs of life. In addition to the madness, the CT6 will bring itself to a screeching halt and OnStar is alerted.

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It sounds kind of crazy. The car essentially goes from being fine and operating on its own to a doomsday setting in just 10 seconds. After the car comes to a halt and the paramedics have arrived on the scene to ensure that you’re alive, Super Cruise is no longer available until the car has been reset.

Cadillac, understandably, didn’t let us see what happened when the car reached Escalation 3. But they did gives us nearly 13 hours and 900 miles of seat time in the car, so I got to know Super Cruise on an intimate level.

Getting the system to take over couldn’t be easier. Drivers have to be on a proper highway with on- and off-ramps, Adaptive Cruise Control has to be on, Teen Driver can’t be on, the Forward Collision System has to be set to alert and brake, and the car’s sensors can’t be obstructed to ensure that the system will work properly. Once all of this is met, drivers have to put the vehicle in the center of the lane, at which point a gray steering wheel icon will appear on the gauge cluster. Once that pops up, all you have to do push the Super Cruise button on the steering wheel and the car is officially driving on its own.

Super Cruise, for the most part, works exceptionally well. The CT6 kept itself in the middle of the lane and a safe distance from the vehicle in front for the majority of the drive. Hands-free driving really is possible and while it’s a little unnerving at first to be right next to a semi-truck in the middle of a highway turn, the car didn’t even come close to crashing into anything beside it.

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On my journey, there were times where I wouldn’t touch the steering wheel, accelerator, or brake pedal for roughly an hour and a half. And other journalists claimed they were easily doing runs of at least a few hours at a time. My runs came to a halt when the vehicle came into a construction zone, which the Midwest is plagued with. Cadillac doesn’t recommend using Super Cruise in a construction zone, and while the system does work relatively well, it darts around, as its systems can’t detect cones and has trouble on roads that don’t have well-defined lines.

A few other issues occurred on the drive, as well, though. When driving in the right lane, the Super Cruise system entered off-ramps that didn’t have any defined lines. After realizing that the vehicle was veering off of its track, it would jerk back to its original lane. The car did this repeatedly and not just to me, but with my driving partner, as well. It was downright frightening at first, but after the first few times, we anticipated the act and held onto the wheel to stop the car from veering into the lane.

The other issue only happened once, but it almost resulted in an accident. When driving in the right lane, a crossover cut the car off while attempting to merge onto the highway. The CT6’s host of sensors didn’t detect the vehicle, speeding along at 80 mph until the last second, when the car relied on its Automatic Emergency Braking system to barely miss rear-ending the vehicle.

Besides those two mishaps, the Super Cruise system worked flawlessly, helping us cover a lot of ground in a luxurious fashion. On the second day, which saw us go from Chicago to Memphis, I didn’t feel fatigued. While on paper, having a system that does the driving for you may not sound that relaxing, it really is. And while Cadillac may adamantly say that you need to be staring out of the front windshield at all times, Super Cruise allows you to relax, check your phone, or take a long, meaningful look at America’s countryside.

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The Super Cruise system is only available on the CT6 sedan at the moment and is standard on the fully-loaded $85,290 variant of the vehicle. The system is also available as a $5,000 package on the Premium Luxury trim that costs $66,290. I’m usually on the side of technology is the devil and needs to be exorcised from vehicles, but if I made enough money, I would totally pay an extra $5,000 for the piece of tech. As an enthusiast, saying that out loud is equivalent of going to the pound to kick a puppy.

Should enthusiasts fear semi-autonomous vehicles? No, I don’t think so. After driving the CT6, drivers have the option of using the system or simply ignoring that it exists. For the moment, drivers can use self-driving technology when they’re bored of driving and turn it off when they decide that they want to be in control again.

What about non-enthusiasts, the people who simply see cars as a way to get from point A to point B? For those drivers, GM’s Super Cruise system will be a godsend. If you’re one of the poor saps that has to drive on the highway to get to work, letting Super Cruise complete the majority of your trip will definitely help. Even if it’s just a short blast on the highway, say 15 minutes or so, Super Cruise is still worth the extra bit of money.

It’s time to get on the semi-autonomous/autonomous bandwagon, because the cars are coming and they’re good.

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Hybrids Are Finally Good Enough to Buy

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As someone that really likes driving, and cars in generally, I’ve never been behind the idea of a hybrid. They’re heavy – thanks to having two powertrains – and, in the real world, aren’t that good at helping consumers save money at the pumps. And when you start to think about all of the extra materials that goes into making hybrids, like the complex battery packs and electric motors, the vehicles aren’t very friendly to the environment either.

My fiancé is the proud owner of a 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid, which she bought after meeting me and I usually joke around with her by saying that if we had met earlier, I wouldn’t have let her purchase the car. It’s not that it’s a bad car, but there’s a lot to be desired when it comes to the powertrain.

The majority of the Optima Hybrid’s grunt comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that is also paired to a 40-horsepower electric motor. Below 62 miles per hour, the sedan runs mostly on electricity or until the driver mashes the throttle, kicking the gasoline engine on.

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All Photos By: Joel Patel

Unfortunately, the transit from electric to gas isn’t exactly smooth, but more of a buck that’s similar to a furious steed attempting to get rid of its rider. The transmission, which is a traditional six-speed unit is dumber than a squirrel, as it struggles to downshift, upshift, and deal with stop-and-go traffic.

The placement of the hybrid components, which for the majority of the part are in the trunk, eat into the vehicle’s available cargo space, too. On a day-to-day basis, it’s not such a big deal, but you can’t even fold the rear seats down, which utterly sucks.

The problems don’t stop there, as the sedan, which is rated to get 35 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, doesn’t get those figures. The car usually gets around 30 mpg with mixed driving. With those kind of numbers, a regular ol’ Honda Civic can get better fuel economy figures.

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Needless to say, after experiencing a hybrid for the past five years, I wasn’t too sold on the machines. But a trip to Montana to test out the new Kia Niro changed that and now, I can see the little sliver of light for a hybrid-filled future.

The Niro follows the popular recipe that every consumer wants today: a compact crossover body with tons of features. But the Niro has an ace up its sleeve. While it looks like a crossover, it’s smaller and has the overall profile of a tall hatchback. And its design is a breath of fresh air compared to the hideousness that is the Toyota Prius. When it comes to hybrids, automakers either go way too far or don’t go far enough. The Niro doesn’t have this problem, as it’s just different enough without going overboard.

I also am not a huge fan of crossovers, but with the Niro it works. The high-voltage battery is smartly packaged underneath the trunk, so while it digs into the cargo space, it shouldn’t be that noticeable for the majority of owners. The seats also fold flat, which is a nice touch.

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The most impressive part of the Niro, though, is the vehicle’s powertrain. The Niro is powered by a 1.6-liter that makes 104 hp and an electric motor that’s good for 43 hp. Instead of going with a regular transmission or a CVT, Kia placed a six-speed dual-clutch transmission into the vehicle.

While the powertrain isn’t exactly fast, it does a fine job of propelling the car down the road. And when Kia claims that the range-topping Touring trim can get 46 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, that’s exactly what it can get. Even on Montana’s highways, which have a speed limit of 80 mph, and through the state’s small cities, we managed to get the automaker’s combined rating of 43 mpg. What makes those figures even more impressive is that we weren’t driving economically.

In addition to getting good fuel economy figures, the Niro is also surprisingly agile. The Optima Hybrid we have isn’t really inspiring to drive or enjoyable to go fast in. The Niro, while not as good as other hatchbacks, hides its weight well with little body roll. The brakes are also decent, the steering wheel has a good weight to it, and the dual-clutch gearbox can rifle off changes.

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Kia even put a “Sport Mode” into the Niro that adds more weight to the steering wheel, makes the throttle pedal touchier, and gives the driver manual control over the gearbox. Besides being able to control the gearbox, “Sport Mode” is a gimmick, but its one of the few negatives the Niro has.

What I’m essentially circling around here is that Niro is a damn good car. It’s quiet, especially for a hybrid, doesn’t jerk like a bucking horse, is packed with all sorts of goodies, and actually gets good fuel economy. It’s not just a good hybrid, but a good car. While I’m not a huge fan of crossovers, the hatchback design, as I found out in Montana, makes the Niro a versatile machine.

With Kia cracking the code on hybrids, I’m sure other fuel-efficient vehicles from other automakers have done so, as well, making modern hybrids good enough to actually purchase. If anyone were looking for a crossover/hatchback that’s good on fuel, I would not have a problem recommending a Niro. It’s not just a good hybrid – it’s a darn good car, as well. That’s something I never thought I would say about a hybrid.

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Stirling Soap Company: Margaritas in the Artic Review

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Summer’s officially here, bringing warmer temperatures with it. While temps are reaching insane figures down south, things are a lot more subdued here in Michigan. Still, warm weather is the perfect time to use mentholated products, which is where Stirling Soap Company’s Margaritas in the Artic comes in.

The tub, which wears the iconic polar bear holding a frosty margarita, comes in a 5.8 oz tub for $13.10. It’s one of Stirling’s pricier offerings at $2.24 per ounce, but is still one of the best offerings on the market.

The scent is citrus forward, with lime mingling with booze to create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that really does smell like a margarita. Make no mistake, though, this is a citrus-forward scent with lime making up the majority of it. Stirling Soap Company describes it as, “I can’t taste this Margarita. Probably because I’m drinking it while sitting buck-naked on top of a glacier at the north pole. My skin feels wonderful, though!” The menthol is also quite noticeable out of the tub, despite ranking in at just a “3.75/10” on a cold scale.

When face lathering, Margaritas in the Artic remains mostly the same, with lime coming in at first, and then some booze. The menthol is a lot stronger than what I would call to be just 3.75. To my sensitive face, it’s more like a 7.5 out of 10, which may not be a bad thing for wet shavers that enjoy a cold soap.

The menthol lasts quite a bit of time after the shave, as well, as I can still feel its affects 15 minutes after the shave. The citrus-forward scent doesn’t last that long, though, as the menthol heavily overpowers everything else.

Soap from Stirling, as I’ve covered before, creates a thick, slick, dense lather that provides an excellent vessel to shave with. Post-shave feel is also quite good. For me, the menthol is a little too strong for comfort. It doesn’t burn my face like Stirling’s “Glacial” line, but it’s just a touch over what I would call comfortable.

  • Scent Pleasantness: 5/10
  • Scent Strength: 6/10
  • Lather Quality: 7/10
  • Price: 10/10

If you’re fan of citrus and booze, or the way a margarita smells, then you can’t go wrong with Margaritas in the Artic. The menthol, though, is stronger than the soap maker claims, so if you have a sensitive face, be mindful of that. The soap is perfect for the summer, as it cools you off and has a wonderful scent that reminds one of warmer weather. If you like menthol, go for a full tub, if you are sensitive to cold stuff, go for a sample first.

Overall: 7

Since When Are High-Powered Muscle Cars Like The Dodge Demon A Bad Thing?

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All Photos By: Dodge

Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but every country is known for carving out its own niche when it comes to the grand scheme of the automotive world. Italy has incredibly provocative supercars, Germany is known for its high-performance luxury cars, and Japan has reliable vehicles that are as fun to drive as suffering through an annual physical.

America has its own little piece of the pie with crappy, poorly built vehicles. But there’s also the heavily-populated section of insanely powerful muscle and pony cars that our great country is known for. Cars like the Hellcat twins from Dodge, Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang, and Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 are all shining examples of what our great country is capable of.

The Charger and Challenger Hellcats are especially noteworthy as, the entire world knows by now, they pump out 707 horsepower – a figure that was once only achieved by top-tier supercars. And when the cars originally came out, everyone rejoiced, let out an American war cry, and proceeded to take money out of college funds to purchase one of the affordably priced muscle cars.Dodge Demon 2Just saying the Hellcat twins’ horsepower figure – 707 hp – out loud begs the question of, where does Dodge go from here? Clearly, the answer was up, as Dodge recently announced the 2018 Challenger SRT Demon – a vehicle that makes the Hellcat twins look like punks. The Demon, as Road & Track reports, was built for enthusiasts looking to compete in NHRA and to scare the heck out of anyone in a straight line.

To do just that, the Demon has a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that cranks out 840 horsepower and 770 lb-ft of torque. Goodness freaking gracious. That’s incredible, amazing, astounding. And it gets even better as the Demon costs $84,995! I mean, come on. How can anyone find something bad about that?

Well, it turns out that someone at Automotive News isn’t happy with Dodge’s decision to sell the Demon to everyone, as the outlet claims it “is so inherently dangerous to the common safety of motorists that its registration as a road-worthy automobile should be banned.”Dodge Demon 3What makes the Demon so demonic – sorry, I couldn’t help it – on the roads? Automotive News claims the muscle car is a “purpose-built drag racer.”

“From its barely legal slick tires to its monstrous acceleration, the Challenger Demon introduced in New York this month is the result of a sequence of misguided corporate choices that places bragging rights ahead of public safety.”

There are though, some problems with Automotive News’, thinking. For one, Dodge offers the “Demon Crate,” which is an optional box of components, including an ECU upgrade, a horsepower bump from 808 to 840, front-runner drag racing wheels, a high-flow conical air filter, and necessary equipment to change tires quickly at a drag strip, reports Road and Track. All of these items are part of an optional package that costs $1.00. No, that’s not a typo. It’s only $1.00, but it’s still optional, meaning consumers that purchase a Demon and the optional Demon Crate know what they’re getting into.Dodge Demon 4And for those that think they can just walk into one of the few dealerships that actually will get a Demon and walk out, you’re wrong. According to Jalopnik, there’s a lengthy Demon Disclosure Form that buyers will have to sign before getting the keys to the muscle car. And the disclosure makes buyers promise to do some pretty crazy things.

For instance, there’s a point where they have to promise to not use any “Track-Use” features on the road, and the Demon’s standard tires, Nitto NT05R drag radial tires, can’t be used on the highway. There’s a lot more, but my favorite one says that customers “shall not move the Vehicle in temperatures below 15* F with the Drag Tires.”

If that doesn’t scare the wits out of buyers, attempting to set down a quick time at the drag strip just might.

The article from Auto News came out before Dodge’s requirements came to light, but still, they don’t think the Demon is safe for the road. Well, dear Auto News, I have some news for you, no car is safe.Dodge Demon 5A car, with its powerful engine that provides an adequate amount of power, tires that help it glued onto the ground, and heavy body that’s meant to look aesthetically pleasing and cocoon the driver in safety, is only as safe as the driver behind it. Take the Ford Mustang for instance. The Pony Car isn’t exactly fast or has specs that would make one’s knees tremble, but still, they’ve become items that strike fear into the hearts of innocent bystanders.

Seriously, there’s a story on a Mustang swerving into a group of bystanders nearly every week. And if those idiotic, infuriating reports reveal anything, it’s that the driver is the liability, not the car. The Demon may be insanely overpowered, but I personally think this 727-horsepower Mustang is more dangerous. The Demon, while boasting a mahoosive amount of power, has the necessary upgrades to help a good driver control the car at high speeds. The aforementioned Mustang has a powerful engine, but none of the other components that should be fitted to a car with that kind of power.

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Sorry, Automotive News, but every single car on the road is dangerous, even the ones with autonomous capabilities. And that comes down to the fact that humans like to text, eat food, read, and multitask while driving a car. Dodge shouldn’t be reprimanded for making the Demon, it should be praised and if you’re upset about it, point your anger towards aging infrastructure, the inadequate way driver licenses are handed out, and the fact that some states don’t require cars to be inspected. Or, more importantly, the fools who pilot the cars.

Seriously, powerful muscle cars are an integral part of America’s automotive history, and rebuking an automaker for creating something that oozes Red, White, and Blue is as crazy as going to McDonalds for a late night trip and then wondering why you feel like crap in the morning. I for one, applaud Dodge for making the Hellcat twins and the Demon. And I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Stirling Soap Company: Eskimo Tuxedo Review

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The weather in Michigan changes on a dime. Once second, the sun’s out, warming the state to an agreeable temperature. The next minute, massive gusts bring dark clouds with them, covering the sun and dropping temperatures rapidly. Detroit may be on EST, but the weather, as C-Note perfectly put it in the first seasons of Prison Break: “You know what they say about weather in the Midwest: if you don’t like it, wait an hour.”

Either way, it was warm late last month, giving me the ability to try out one of Stirling Soap Company’s summer offerings – Eskimo Tuxedo, which costs $13.50 for a 6 oz. tub ($2.25 an ounce). Now it’s important to note that I’m not a menthol head. I do enjoy the occasional dose of frigid soap, but I don’t use them often. My sensitive face can’t handle overly-mentholated soaps, as the menthol just ends up turning my face red and giving me a burning sensation.

As a warning, when Stirling puts “Glacial” on the label, the stuff is going to be freaking cold. And this scent is also based off of their popular, scents, Sharp Dressed Man, which happens to be one of my favorites. As Stirling puts it, “Our popular Sharp Dressed Man fragrance with enough menthol to make a polar bear buy a timeshare in Florida.”

Don’t think of this a lightly mentholated version of Sharp Dressed Man, because you’ll be shocked if you do. The soap maker claims this is a 10/10 when it comes to the menthol level. And boy does it stand up to it. This stuff is absolutely freezing.

Face lathering this soap, at least for me, is a challenge, as it feels like you’ve just stepped out into a raging blizzard. The soap is so cold, that my face actually feels likes it’s burning throughout the entire first pass. The burning sensation, thankfully, didn’t return on the second or third pass. When loading and directly off of the puck, the scent is mostly menthol with a hint of Sharp Dressed Man.

The lather was just as one would expect from Stirling – a nice, thick, slick vessel to shave with – but I did have some trouble loading the soap. I’m not sure if the extra menthol crystals made the soap softer than the company’s other offerings, but a 20-second load ended with large clumps of soap in the brush.

Scent Pleasantness: 6/10

Scent Strength: 3/10

Lather Quality: 7/10

Price: 10/10

Is this the coldest soap I’ve ever used? No, that trophy goes to Barrister and Mann’s Artique. But Eskimo Tuxedo is still way too cold for me. And despite having a hint of Sharp Dressed Man hidden in the soap, the scent is still overwhelmingly menthol, which I’m not a fan of. If you’ve tried Chiseled Face’s Cryogen, Fine’s Snake Bite, or Artique and thought that those were way too cold, but don’t find regular mentholated items to fit the bill, try Stirling’s Glacial line.

Overall: 6

Stirling Finest Badger Bulbs vs Stirling Finest Badger Fan

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Synthetic brushes are the new craze and, as much as I hate to admit that I’m on any kind of bandwagon, I’ve been enjoying using synthetics almost exclusively for a while. But with the release of Stirling Soap Company’s new lineup of affordable finest badger brushes, I felt compelled to purchase one to try. And then, I felt compelled to try all of them.

My wet shaving history with badger brushes is short and limited to only two – a pure badger Omega brush and a silvertip badger brush from Whipped Dog. I wasn’t a huge fan of either of those brushes, which could’ve been what turned me away from badger brushes.

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Either way, I grabbed a 24mm finest badger shave brush from Stirling with the bulb knot and fell in love. It’s a fantastic brush, and affordable too at just $34.95. But the bug bit me and I wanted to see how the entry-level badger brush fares to the rest of Stirling’s lineup. So, I did what any right-minded wet shaver would do and decided to try all three brushes.

I put all three brushes up against one another on three criteria: looks, ergonomics, and performance. Performance included things like density, backbone, and face feel. While I may state that one brush is better than the other, everyone’s preferences are different and one of the brushes may work better for you. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

Looks

This one is an easy win and one that can be summarized in one word – butterscotch. The 24mm bulb knot in white isn’t ugly, neither is the 26mm bulb in white, but come on, just look at that handle on the 24mm fan knot. And it’s not just the butterscotch coloring that does it, but also the way the brush stands tall and its flowing lines. As far as handles go, the one on the fan knot is my favorite.

Winner: 24mm Fan Knot

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Ergonomics

All three badger brushes have very distinct handles. The 24mm bulb knot is in a goblet-like handle. There’s a nice tapered edge that stops lather from coming down onto your fingers and it feels good enough in your hands. Those with large hands or sensitive nerves will get a hand cramp when lather for an extensive time, but it’s nothing too bad.

The 26mm bulb knot features a large, comfortable handle. It’s the same one from the 22mm synthetic brush (Li’l Brudder) and feels really nice in the hand. It’s meaty, well balanced, and a joy to use. The only downside to the handle on the 26mm bulb knot is that lather constantly makes its way down onto your fingers. It doesn’t matter if I’m bowl or face lathering, I have to rinse the base of the handle off multiple times throughout a shave, which gets annoying. I wish there was more of a lip on the 26mm brush to stop lather from trickling down, but the 26mm handle feels a little better than the 24mm.

The winner, though, is the gorgeous, yeah it’s really hard to get over how good the fan knot looks, handle on the 24mm fan knot. It’s meat and tall, meaning that your hand won’t cramp and lather won’t get onto your fingers. There’s a prominent lip to ensure that your hands won’t get slippery either.

Winner: 24mm Fan Knot

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Performance

Just like the “looks” category, this one is just as subjective. Everyone likes something different in a brush, so these are just the things that I noticed and which one works better for me. It won’t necessarily result in a better brush for you, though.

Density, or how many hairs are in a brush when it comes to shaving, is a big thing for me. I like a knot that’s well packed and has little flop, as the majority of synthetics are floppy and aren’t densely packed. When it comes to density the 24mm bulb has it in spades, while the 26mm bulb follows closely behind. The 24mm fan knot, though, is on the floppier side.

Density also plays a role in how much backbone a brush has. Usually, a denser brush offers more backbone and that’s the same story here. The 24mm fan knot splays much easier than the bulb, making it difficult to use on harder soaps. The splay in the fan knot also makes it floppier than the bulbs, which makes it better to paint with, but not necessarily to build a lather with.

Lastly, and this is kind of odd, the tips of the brushes vastly differ. The ones on the 24mm bulb knot have more scritch, but turn into gel when any amount of water comes into contact with them. The tips on the 24mm fan knot and 26mm bulb knot on the other hand, are softer, but aren’t as gel-like. This could’ve been due to the fact that I bought the 24mm bulb knot heavily used and the other two brushes weren’t broken in yet.

Overall, I find the 26mm bulb more appealing when it comes to performance because it’s the densest, has the most backbone, and has the softest tips. And now that I’m using the brush more often, the tips are starting to mimic the ones on the smaller 24mm bulb knot.

Winner: 26mm Bulb Knot

 

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At the end of the day, the 26mm Bulb Knot walks away from the 24mm Fan Knot and the 24mm bulb knot for me. And it’s all because of the way the brush performs. The fan knot, though, is a looker, and I was extremely tempted to just keep the brush because of the gorgeous handle. But the knot wasn’t dense enough, didn’t have enough backbone, and was too floppy. If Stirling wishes to revisit the fan knot in the future, I would strongly urge to put the knot lower into the brush, giving it some much-needed backbone in the process, and put a larger 26mm knot into it for a denser feel.

Overall Winner: 26mm Bulb Knot

At the end of the day, I’m keeping the 26mm bulb knot until Stirling decides to revisit the fan knot. If I had to put the three brushes in order from best to not as good, it would go: 26mm bulb knot > 24mm bulb knot > 24mm fan knot.

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Mickey Lee Soapworks: The Kraken Review

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I’ve already proclaimed my love for aquatic and barbershop scents. I love them both equally and if I had to choose one, it would be a well-done aquatic scent. With that in mind, Mickey Lee Soapworks’ The Kraken should be a 10/10, since it blends both of my favorite scents together.

I’ve tried soaps from Mickey Lee Soapworks before, but The Kraken is my first go at using the soapmaker’s new formula, well the first time I’m officially reviewing the stuff. While I liked the previous scents that I’ve tried before, I wasn’t a huge fan of the lather. But this new stuff is awesome.

The Kraken costs $14.00 for 4 oz. of soap. That brings the stuff to $3.5 per ounce. That’s a little expensive, but it’s certainly not in the realm of things that are overpriced.

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The scent, as Mickey Lee Soapworks describes it as, “We took classic barbershop a step further and incorporated an undercurrent reminiscent of fresh ocean air; hints of salt air, sea kelp and agave.” Unfortunately, the scent comes off as banana to me. I know, it’s weird, but it’s proof that everyone’s nose is different. While my sniffer got banana, my girlfriend’s got lavender. When I purposely told my brain that banana wasn’t there, I got a fresh, clean, and slightly aquatic barbershop scent.

It’s an enjoyable scent, but not one that I would like to use often. The lather, on the other hand, is impeccable. Loading a synthetic brush for 30 seconds winds up with way too much soap. But working the gorgeous white and blue stuff into a lather is incredibly easy. The soap just explodes with minimal effort into a thick, slick lather. It’s one of the easiest soaps I’ve ever used, making it worthy of its $3.50 per ounce price tag.

The new formula is also stellar at post-shave feel. My face feels moisturized and skipping a post-shave product isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The scent, though, doesn’t last very long. I could smell the scent on my hands until the 30-minute mark, which is a shame as the scent strength is a little above medium out of the sample jar.

Scent Pleasantness: 7/10

Scent Strength: 7/10

Lather Quality: 9/10

Price: 8/10

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If you haven’t tried Mickey Lee Soapworks’ new formula, I urge you to try it. The soap is easy to lather, creates an amazing vessel to shave one’s face with, and is well priced. If you enjoy barbershop scents, you’ll definitely likes The Kraken, just don’t be surprised if you happen to smell something else in the tub, like banana, or lavender.

Overall: 8/10

Barrister and Mann: Oceana Review

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Aquatic scents are my second favorite scent, after barbershop ones and on the right day, aquatic ones surpass those classic, clean scents as my go-to fragrances. For 2017, my wet shaving resolution is to make some headway on my numerous, so when I randomly picked Barrister and Mann’s Latha Oceana, I was a happy guy.

I’ve covered one of Barrister and Mann’s Latha line up before and, besides the scent, had nothing but good things to say. The Latha lineup is an absolute steal at $11 for a 4 oz. tub. Despite being part of the soap maker’s “cheaper” lineup of soaps, this stuff is in a league of its own for soaps that cost less than $3.00 an ounce.

In short, the entire Latha line is capable of producing an incredibly slick, protective lather. I caught myself saying, “holy crap, this is slick stuff” when I was attempting to pull my skin when I was shaving. Yes, it’s that good. Barrister and Mann’s products are in the top three soaps I’ve tried and Latha Oceana stands up to the soap maker’s magnificent standards. The scent is also incredibly addictive.

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Here’s how Barrister and Mann describes Oceana: “Light, clean aquatic that goes with everything. A scent that’s perfect for any time!” That’s sweet, simple, and to the point. While I got a sample that had a label that slightly differs from the actual jar, the tub has “aqua, bergamot, sandalwood, and jasmine” plastered on it as the main fragrances of the soap.

Out of the tiny jar, the scent isn’t as simple as the humble description makes it out to be. My nose detects the aqua up front and center, along with the sandalwood in a much more modest way. The bergamot and jasmine bring up the rear to make Oceana a masculine, cologne-type of scent. It’s incredible, and above average on strength scent.

A 45-second load with my faithful Semogue 1305 boar brush provides me with plenty of soap for a three-pass shave. When building the lather, the scent diminishes down to a hint below average and gains a lot more aquatic notes. On the face, it smells like pulling up to a body of water and taking a deep breath in.

It’s the perfect scent for the middle of winter in Michigan and briefly has me thinking about warmer weather.

The lather, and I can’t gush over it any more than I already have, is absolutely superb. The cushion is there in spades, the slickness is good enough to do a second pass without applying another layer of lather, and the post shave left my senstive face feeling nice and moisturized. I could’ve skipped a post shave lotion and been just fine.

My only complaint, and this is a minor one, is the amount of time the scent lingers on my hands. I can barely make out the notes in the soap 30 minutes after the shave. Other than that, Oceana has no faults.

Scent Pleasantness: 9/10

Scent Strength: 7/10

Lather Quality: 9/10

Price: 9/10

I’m teetering between nines and 10s for this soap. And I can only recall a few times I’ve done that before. This is a must have for wet shavers that like a light aquatic scent with Barrister and Mann’s magnificent lather. At this price point, there’s nothing that can beat this. It’s an absolute knockout and only the second soap that has earned a permanent spot in my den.

Overall: 9/10

Mike’s Natural Soaps: Orange, Cedarwood, and Black Pepper Review

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I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I find myself getting into a rhythm when it comes to shaving soaps. After using Mike’s Natural Soaps in their Barbershop scent, I had an itch to continue using a soap from the company, so I reached for their Orange, Cedarwood, and Black Pepper soap.

Unlike other soap makers that charge a flat rate for all of its soaps, Mike’s Natural Soaps differ in price. I’m not sure what causes the increase in prices, it could come down to ingredients, difficulty of mixing the scents, or the fact that it’s made using essential oils and not fragrance oils, but Orange, Cedarwood, and Black Pepper is in the midrange in terms of pricing. A 5 oz. tin of soap costs $14.50, bringing the soap to $2.90 an ounce. That’s not as cheap as the Barbershop scent, but it’s still a reasonable price for an incredible product.

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Out of the tin, Orange, Cedarwood, and Black Pepper is well above average – if you can get the lid off. This poor tin has been damaged to the point where the lid will only come off and go on if the dents are lined up and with a fair amount of effort. The rest of the tin hasn’t faired well either, as there are numerous dents, scratches, and imperfections. The soap, though, which is the most important thing, remains unharmed.

After wrestling with the tin for a few minutes, the whole bathroom is immediately filled with a spicy orange. I’ve recently become a fan of citrus scents that go against the industry standard of lime and have found orange to be one of my favorites. And Mike’s Natural Soaps’ is a fantastic scent. I mostly get orange with the spiciness of the pepper coming at the end. My nose doesn’t get anything more than a subtle hint of the cedarwood, which is fine with me as I’m not a fan of woodsy scents.

Lathering the soap brings out the citrus of the orange more with the black pepper being toned down a bit. It’s by no means an orange only scent, but the orange is the star of the show and gets stronger as the soap is lathered. I really like the scent and, since the cedarwood isn’t really noticeable, is one that I think can be used all year.

The lather, as I’ve covered before, is extraordinary. It has the cushion, slickness, and face feel to rival any soap and the post shave is amazing, as well. My only gripe with Mike’s Natural Soaps is that the soap can be a little hard to lather. But I found an easy way around this. I used my synthetic brush from L&L Grooming, which has an Amack Game Changer knot that has a fair amount of backbone to it. By using a wetter brush and something with a little more backbone, I managed to whip up a great lather in no time.

Scent Pleasantness: 9/10

Scent Strength: 7/10

Lather Quality: 10/10

Price: 9/10 

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This is another grand slam from Mike’s Natural Soaps. If you’re tired of sniffing lime-based citrus scents, I recommend giving orange a whirl. And Mike’s Orange, Cedarwood, and Black Pepper is an outstanding citrus-based soap. The lather is amazing, the scent is incredible, and the price is affordable. The only thing that may hold you back from getting a tin is that it’s constantly sold out.

Overall: 9