30 Days of Instagram

Well, I did it. I set out at the beginning of August to post a photo on Instagram every day for a month, and I successfully achieved that goal. Why did I do this, well you can read that here. Essentially, I did it to see how much discipline and planning doing something as “simple” as posting on Instagram each day would require. 

Consistency is key to build any following on social media, blogs, or any form of digital content. I took the baby steps approach by starting with Instagram, a platform I am on every day seeing what automotive journalists, photographers, and “influencers” are up to. It’s a fun, visual medium that I find very useful and entertaining. 

How did it go? 

Most days, I found this exercise a lot of fun. I wanted the process of posting something each day to make me pay attention to my environment more, and find the interesting things in the normal routine. The funny thing is, even though I have a pretty fun job with interesting things in the office, my normal routine is still pretty much like any other cubicle-dweller out there. Outside of a few interesting items around the office, the rest of the area and routine is pretty standard, which means boring. So I really needed to pull myself out of the routine to find things of interest, which was fun. 

Just a lowrider doing lowrider things…

It turns out that paying attention to your environment outside the ordinary is fun and kind of good for you. Crazy right? Not that the photos and comments I posted were earth-shattering revelations, it is social media after all. But my normal routine now includes being a little more mindful of whether I have done anything outside the norm each day.

Will it Continue?

That is the $100,000 question, right? I don’t know if I will stick to posting something every day, or writing a blog post every week. But I will take this experience and use it to break myself out of routines as much as possible. Thankfully, the next few months will be eventful as I get back to the racetrack for work. Then, after a few events, I will be leaving my job, selling our house, and moving. So you know, nothing really going on there.  

I look forward to pursuing a new career as a freelance journalist and photographer because observing and documenting my environment will kind of be my job. So no time to get better at it than right now. 

New Gear!

Recently, I added a new (to me anyway) camera to my arsenal specifically to help document street photography and candid portraits. It is a Leica D-Lux Typ 109 point and shoot. It is so much more portable than my Sony A7ii and has a fantastic aperture range making it extremely flexible. I’m still learning how to use it as the menus and controls are very different from the Sony architecture, but I am very happy with my eBay purchase. 

My “new” Leica

This camera will certainly not replace the Sony for track photography or more “creative” projects, but I think it’s going to be a strong workhorse for me, I hope. Of course, if this camera makes me want to shoot exclusively with Leica gear, I might have to harvest an organ or two because their stuff is mucho expensive. Time to get to work!

The Pressure to Post!

As I wrote in the last article, I don’t think I have enough interesting things to say to write a new blog post everyday. Even every week would be tough, but I could probably take a picture each day. So two weeks ago, I started my experiment to post a photo on Instagram every day. So far, so good.

I admit not every photo I’ve posted has been one I took that day, but I have posted one each day for two weeks now. The “pressure” to come up with something interesting to share each day has been real, especially on the days I’m working from home.

Look Around

I hoped the need to come up with something each day would help me become a better photographer by forcing me to see my everyday environment differently. In that respect, I think this little experiment is working. Even if its because I know I “have” to post something, I find myself looking around my environment a lot more, which is naturally leading me to see more interesting things.

This experiment caused me to think about future photography projects and ideas much more, for which I am grateful. I’ve had a few locations and ideas in my head for a while, but now I’m starting to act upon them. Photography is something you need to practice a lot, and I’ve enjoyed doing it so far.

Go do the thing

I finally went to a parking garage nearby for a sunset shoot with the Boxster. The sunset I was hoping for didn’t materialize, no clouds or brilliant pinks and reds. I worked with what I had, and I am happy with how some of the photos came out. Even this simple exercise served as a great reminder that I have a lot to learn.

Slow shutter speed, light-trail photography always inspires me, but I haven’t done much of it. I recently saw a photographer on Instagram post some photos of highway traffic at night which inspired me to give it a shot. There is a bridge nearby that goes over I-95 and is kind of perfect for some night photography because a cement barrier protects the sidewalk on the bridge. I took some test shots during the day using a neutral density filter to get an idea of the setup and settings that will work best.

Southbound I-95

The tests helped me come up with a plan for the real thing. Now I need the weather to improve so I can head to the bridge at night and capture some great photos. I’ll post the best ones on my gallery page, as usual. Stay tuned!

Discipline Required

The intent of this blog is to a) be a place for me to post “columns” to practice my writing, and b) a place to post photographs as I work at being a better photographer. The ultimate goal for the page is to showcase for my work as I transition from having a “normal” job to being a freelance writer and photographer.

So far, I would give myself a solid C- grade on both goals. When you look at blogs espousing advice on “how to be a successful blogger,” the one theme you see throughout is consistency. Whether its writing or photography, you have to do the thing to get better. And if you want to build a following for a blog, consistent content is key. If consistency is defined as an article a month, kind of, I am killing it!

Unfortunately, that is not the definition of consistency, which is why pretty much no one sees this site. Part of this is because I have not devoted myself to full-time blogging or photography. After all, I still have a regular job. Part is because it still feels weird for me to write something thinking that other people are interested.

Confidence

I admire the good YouTube vloggers who are comfortable on camera and put themselves out there. I would be uncomfortable doing that. Not because I don’t want to be on camera, but because it would feel arrogant to think people want to hear what I have to say.

Writing is very different from being on camera, but the thought process is similar. You have to believe what you have to say, how you present an argument, or report on an event matters. That takes a level of confidence that I am still working on; it also takes work to achieve.

Challenge

That leads me to the point of this article, the discipline to consistently produce content. Writing every day is a challenge. Not merely writing, of course, I write dozens of emails every day. They are not worth publishing, they are marginally interesting even to the people to which they pertain. Saying I am going to go from posting something here every month to every day is a ridiculous statement that will only fail. Baby steps people.

In place of doing something that will not work, I will go a slightly different route. Writing and photography both require consistency. I think posting a photo every day is a better challenge for me at this point than posting an article every day. So that is the challenge I accept.

Starting today, I will post a new photo every day on my Instagram account for 30 days. I know they won’t all be great or even interesting. But they will be there because it will force me to start looking at the things I see every day in a new way. We all have interesting things, people, and events around us. We see them so often that they become background scenery and seem ordinary to us.

This challenge will force me to see the “ordinary” in a new way and instill some discipline in my creativity. I will post some updates on the challenge here. But you can see for yourself by following my Instagram account on the right side of the home page (@mydrivingpassion).

The End of the Auto Show… Maybe?

Let’s face it, the Auto Show has been dying for a while. Manufacturers who once spent millions on lavish displays and hospitality booths have left even the major market shows for a few years. Some shows altered timing of the event to find better weather and/or less competition (cough, Detroit).

Then there was a global pandemic, and the lights started to go out at venues once impossible to imagine, like Geneva. If you are a fan of the automobile, you have some knowledge of the Geneva Motor Show, even if you don’t realize it. Geneva is the mother of all car shows. It is the site of some of the most significant and outlandish model reveals in automotive history. You have inevitably seen the model debut photos, even if you didn’t know where they came from.

The 2020 Corvette Stingray Convertible on display in Los Angeles

What Now?

The Geneva Motor Show has been “the” place to debut new and important Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Lamborghini, Bugatti, etc. cars for decades, and in 2020 it didn’t happen. The show was to begin in March. I think we all know how things went for any mass gathering of people in March 2020. It was canceled. Manufacturers already spent millions of dollars, and now had nowhere to show their new shiny toys, so they improvised.

Volkswagen debuted the new eighth-generation Golf to the world via the Internet, as did many others, including the debut of the 992 generation Porsche 911 Turbo. Instead of product specialists pulling the silk sheet off the car in front of thousands of journalists and guests in Geneva, Porsche went with a virtual unveiling live-streamed all over the world.

New Trends

Since the decline of the major automobile shows has been apparent for a while now, the topic of how they will survive is not new. I attended the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2018 and 2019 and saw a change in manufacturer presence in that short period. Off-site reveals of the Mustang Mach E, and the new Land Rover Defender slightly upstaged the 2019 show. At least they were also on display at the auto show itself. The biggest splash of the week in automotive news was seen in person by a select few invitees, and by the world on-line when Tesla unveiled the Cyber-truck.

The new Land Rover Defender 110 at the LA Auto Show

The fact that Tesla chose to unveil this product on their own, and not even have a presence at the LA show was telling. They weren’t alone with private reveals as the new Aston Martin DBX SUV also debuted in Los Angeles, but not at the auto show. Leaving only the chosen few invited journalists and VIPs to the brand’s carefully manipulated show with any access. I believe the future lies in events like this versus big-budget public presentations, and I’m not convinced that’s a good thing.

Downsides?

Having a display at a major auto show is extremely expensive for the manufacturer. But it provides democratization of access that private events do not. In an age when internet and social media influencers are occasionally edging out established journalists at press launches, this might not bode well for readers.

How the public receives information on new models will change if auto shows as we know them disappear. The same is true if invite-only live shows take their place. Anyone with media access can get into the show’s press days to meet with manufacturer representatives, discuss the new car’s features, and physically get in the vehicles. The good news is that getting “media access” is not that difficult if you work in anything tangentially related to the auto industry.

The access is essential, it is the first time journalists can get in the vehicle, assess the comfort of the seats and interior dimensions, touch the switchgear and materials. These tactile experiences are critical to forming a first impression of the vehicle for the consumer and answering initial questions to help them with a purchase.

Limited Impressions

By having access to people from the company, and to the physical product, journalists of every stripe can better convey what the consumer can expect from the vehicle when it goes on sale. The best reviews won’t come along until people get to drive the car, of course, but at least the current model allows initial impressions to get to the public.

When the only people to have this access are small groups, the message gets a little cloudier. Influencers and VIPs are often compensated by manufacturers, because of that, their opinions are suspect at best. The few journalists invited to the private unveiling now have a monopoly on the information, restricting the variety of assessments upon which the consumer can rely.

Reducing access to products also restricts the development of future journalists. My experiences at the LA Auto Show has helped me critically analyze a new vehicle, and that experience will be increasingly important to my future. I’ve also met several people honing their print, photography, and videography skills at these events. If the auto show disappears, so will these career-broadening opportunities.

Is it all bad?

The flip side of this is the benefit to the manufacturers. Having the opportunity to help craft the initial public opinion of their product is vital. The cost of a private vehicle launch with travel, accommodations, food, and access to driving the cars is high, but it is still a fraction of what it costs for a full auto show activation.

While that doesn’t paint the best picture for consumers, it is not all bad. Manufacturers re-envisioned some pandemic-era vehicle launches in a way that has had positive results. Instead of packs of journalists flying to a single location to test drive cars, manufacturers have been sending press cars to the journalists. This doesn’t help people trying to break into the business, but it does help the consumer.

Positive Effects

The reviews we are seeing are fascinating in their differences. Journalists are reviewing these vehicles in familiar territory, their own. Rather than the winding roads around Estoril, Portugal, we see reviews in and around New York City, Austin, TX, Park City, UT, and the famous canyons around Los Angeles.

The array of settings has produced more variety in opinions than I have seen in the past, which is exciting. It also allows consumers to see a better view of life with the vehicle in a setting that is more akin to their own. Knowing how the car you’re interested in performed on the pot-hole filled streets of a Northeastern US city is far more applicable than the cobblestones of Majorca.

Change always causes some problems. If the pandemic hastens the death of the traditional auto show, there will be growing pains. My hope is that whatever model rises to vogue offers the public what they need, access to many voices.

Share Your Enthusiasm!

Over the last year or so, I’ve noticed a shift in attitude at some car shows and events, and I like what I see. Doors are opening, literally.

Keep Away

When I first started going to car shows and even entering my car in them, it was with Corvette clubs in Texas. The cars displayed ran the gamut from Corvette’s long history. Cars fully restored to better-than-new condition sat next to brand new models and some so modified it was hard to tell what hadn’t been changed.

Photo Courtesy of SeannyBoy32

One behavior I saw consistently was the “look but don’t touch” attitude. Cars had signs on them, some cute, some threatening, advising people to stay away from the vehicle. Owners clearly spent a lot of time preparing for the show and didn’t want that ruined. I understood and shared the desire to not have a child wipe chocolate covered fingers on my windows, or worse. Being in Texas, having paint scratched by the ever-present dinner plate belt buckle was a real threat.

Years have passed, and I have attended hundreds of shows covering all makes and models with varied levels of seriousness. At the Concours judged level, the do not touch attitude is alive and well. Understandable since judges will ding an entry for the slightest cosmetic flaw. Also because some of these cars are, unlike those Corvettes back in the day, worth well into the six figure range. If you have a Concours level car, and that is your passion, you have sunk hundreds of hours into preparation and do not want someone to be careless with it.

Final Concours preparation underway at the 2019 PCA Parade

Then there are the people with velvet ropes and obstacles set up to keep people a few feet away from their car. It’s one thing to not want people to lean on your car with riveted jeans, or jacket zippers, it’s another to physically block people from admiring it.

However, the attitude I see growing, and the one I have accepted myself, is much more open. The openness is not from a lack of concern over the vehicle, but rather the desire to be a good example.

Genesis

Every car enthusiast has a moment, or a series of moments that cement their love of automobiles. My experience was heavily influenced by TV and movies of the 1980s and 1990s. But there were also occasional rides in cool cars from friends and relatives. Some of my friends were much wealthier than my family, and it wasn’t uncommon to find a BMW, Corvette, Porsche, or Jaguar in their garages.

I was also lucky to have an aunt and uncle who always had something much more fun than our family cars. There were a few Toyota Celicas and even a Pontiac Fiero, that to my adolescent view of the world was the coolest thing ever. These opportunities to look at and ride in “exotic” cars as a kid, paired with a natural desire to go fast, paved the way to a life long obsession with cars and motorcycles.

But what if I never had that opportunity; if my friend’s parents never gave us rides in their Porsches and BMWs? What if my aunt and uncle didn’t take me for rides in their cool cars? What if I went to a car show and every car had a sign that told me to go away? That doesn’t encourage and foster interest in cars.

I am not saying you need to let everyone climb over your cherished ride. Just be inviting, and observant of people when you are near your car at a show. Open the door, allow a child to sit in the seat, explain to them how things work or what the features are.

The Acorn

In a recent article by McKeel Hagerty on his company’s website, he summed this up with a great term, an “acorn story.” Instead of being aloof or standoffish, provide the acorn moment. You never know what will cause someone to fall in love with the automobile. But it’s much more likely to happen through kindness than a “No Trespassing” sign.

The next time you’re at a car show, or a Cars and Coffee, keep an eye out for families wandering around. If a kid shows an interest in your car, if you see the wide eyes of wonder and excitement. Be the one who asks if they want to sit in the driver seat, show them something cool about the car. Maybe they get some dirt on the floor mat, or the seat. It can be cleaned, it’s a car. Your gesture might be the spark that ignites that child’s love of cars, and sets them on the enthusiasts path.

I’ve been humbled by the generosity of many people in my life, and that has shown me I can do better. I’ve seen owners of literal one-of-a-kind, priceless cars usher kids into the driver’s seat to foster their enthusiasm. No car is exempt from these gestures, just owners. I know I’d rather be the acorn story for a future enthusiast, than a jerk with a clean car.

Auto Enthusiasts are Poised for a Fun Summer

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the entire world. Economically, socially, politically, everything is in a state of confusion and, in some cases, fear.

The auto manufacturing industry is bleeding hundreds of millions of dollars. People are losing jobs, plants are closed, pending vehicle models are being postponed or canceled outright. On top of that, most of the country is under, or just being released from, “stay at home” orders. This situation has ground all race events, cars and coffees, and general enthusiast meet-ups to a halt.

What hasn’t halted, is the enthusiasm and love we all have for cars. If your social media feeds look anything like mine, there is no shortage of content to absorb. There is also the palpable desire for everyone in the car community to go for a drive, and meet up with friends again, soon.

A Path Forward

Once we have figured the path to safely gather in public, gather we will! Granted, Cars and Coffee may look different with a little more space between cars and people, but that’s okay. The fact remains, we will be there admiring each other’s cars, and talking about what we plan to do to them or with them.

I look forward to seeing the innovative masks people will be wearing. Someone has to have created a Calvin pissing on “insert marque here” face mask by now. I can’t wait to walk the parking lot of my local event, coffee in hand. I’ll admire the sweet rides of my local area while trying to figure out how to drink coffee with a mask on.

Most of all, I can’t wait to go for a long, meaningless drive through the country with no particular place to go. Sure, I’ve made a few trips to the grocery store via the “long way.” Forty-five minutes the wrong direction to end up at the store 10 minutes from my house is still an essential trip for food, officer. But it’s not the same as hopping in the car, in this case putting the top-down of my “new” 2005 Boxster, and just driving.

As much damage as the pandemic has inflicted on society, whether through the loss of friends, family, or employment, people will persevere. Especially in a community as passionate as the car community. While some may feel its trivial to focus on a hobby like your car at this time, I couldn’t disagree more.

Embrace Your Passions

Confronting tragedy by bemoaning it and fearing the future is the path of hopelessness and loss. You have to focus on the positive, focus on how you will make things better, and how you will make the people around you better. That is why the auto enthusiast community is robust and will bounce back to have a great summer this year.

By going through adversity, we will appreciate our opportunities, relish the ability to assemble and share our passions. I can’t wait to see the first gathering at Hunt Valley after the “quarantine” is lifted. It will be different, but it will be special all the same.

I’ll be there with my camera, looking at the fantastic cars people have labored over and display with pride. If anything, everyone’s car should be super clean at this point!

Despite all that the world has gone through in the past months, we will come through to establish a new normal (as normal as car folks can be, of course). We will gather again in the morning sun in a parking lot, or race track near you to share stories. We will go for drives or meet-ups at restaurants for dinner, and we will all enjoy each other’s company again, and I can’t wait!

Stay safe, and keep the shiny side up.

Gallery Updates On the Way

Hello there! I have been quite busy at work which has, unfortunately, led me to neglect this blog. I will work to remedy that in the next few weeks.

I was lucky enough to go to the Los Angeles Auto Show in November of 2019 (maybe one of the last of it’s kind?), the Porsche and Mercedes Benz museums in Stuttgart, Germany in December, and the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January. That means I have a lot of photos to go through and post in the gallery section.

Since many people are currently working from home, you might be a little more likely to surf the web when bored and spend some time clicking through galleries. So keep an eye on the blog in the coming days as I’ve already made a few updates, but there is certainly more photography content to come.

Hopefully, I can provide a bit of enjoyment to occupy your time during the current period of social distancing.

Cheers, Ryan.

 

Porsche Taycan Turbo, First Drive

The White Whale

I’ve seen the manufacturer presentations, read the articles, and watched the reviews. I’ve even climbed around inside one at the LA Auto Show, but now it’s sitting in front of me, and I have the key!

Upon initial approach, it looks and feels like a “normal” car. The design is well-executed and modern, but it doesn’t scream out for attention. The Taycan doesn’t rely on exaggerated design cues to look “futuristic.” Unlike some of the initial forays into hybrid and electric automobiles, it’s not an egg or a super-efficient, yet ugly shape. I would hazard to guess that to the untrained eye, or to a non-enthusiast, it will be mistaken for a Panamera. 

 

The interior is well designed and intuitively organized, although the infotainment system will require a little familiarization time for new owners. Not because it is different than other Porsches, but because of new menus and options regarding electric power management. Overall, the interior is very familiar to anyone who’s driven a modern Porsche. There are small touches like the curved display gauge cluster behind the steering wheel that make you realize there’s something different. As does the placement and engagement of the shift lever behind the wheel vs on the center console like the 992. This move is a distinct departure from other Porsches and frees up real estate for more screens and controls.

 

The Taycan shift lever, tucked behind the steering wheel

 

So Many Screens

About the screens and controls, there are a lot of screens, and zero buttons or knobs to control audio and climate control. I won’t go into my normal rant about the lack of tactile controls that can be manipulated without taking your eyes off the road in new cars. But let’s just say that if I were to get into it, the Taycan would be just a notch or two behind every Tesla for my worst offender list of this short-sighted and flawed trend in automotive design. The Taycan has a start button and a few controls on the steering wheel that allow you to handle some of the quick stuff, but anything else is done via a touchscreen. 

All the screens and note the smudgy fingerprints on the center… get used to it

 

The start button is located on the left per Porsche tradition, but now resembles a super-sized version of a home button on older iPads, and when pressed doesn’t initially seem to do much. The gauge display comes to life and a few lights illuminate, but the car is dead silent, making you question for a minute if you did anything at all. 

The control knob on the steering wheel for changing drive modes is well placed and easy to manipulate. What is different in the Taycan than any other Porsche I’ve driven with this feature, is how you can feel the changes being made to the car as you switch from “Normal” to “Sport” and “Sport Plus.” There is an audible, and tactile change as the vehicle manipulates the air suspension settings and prepares the battery for extra performance anticipating more aggressive driving. You can feel a slight vibration in the accelerator pedal as the changes are made, which is something I’m not used to.

One of the best steering wheels in the business

Once I was situated and adjusted my seating position and mirrors, I pushed the shift knob down into Drive, and slowly let off the brake and pressed the gas… err accelerator. The car eased away from the parking spot without a sound, which for someone who only has minimal experience driving electric cars, is a little disconcerting. 

Compared to my old Cayman or my current Macan, the Taycan is closer to the Cayman regarding the seating position, but the interior is roomy and comfortable like the Macan. The overall size of the vehicle is a little smaller than the Panamera, but the interior passenger space feels about the same. All this to say the car is the right size for me, it’s easy to maneuver through parking lots and spaces, and it feels just perfect on the road. 

In traffic, the Taycan Turbo is a delight. The view out the front is reminiscent of any recent Porsche sports car, and I had no problems identifying where the car was in the lane as I drove. The steering is light but responsive. My drive experience wasn’t varied enough to really be able to grade the steering feel in all conditions, but for a typical commute, I had zero complaints. 

Strap In and Hang On

Once traffic cleared and I had an open lane, I decided it was time to feel what this EV acceleration was all about. At most, I used 50% throttle, and we moved through time and space at a rate I have not experienced in a car before. From supercharged and turbocharged small blocks, large displacement big blocks, or twin-turbo flat sixes; nothing I’ve driven or ridden in has matched the shove of this car. Electric torque is, literally, an eye-watering experience; it’s also totally addictive. I want it, I need it now. Anyone have $165K they want to give me? More on that later. 

Once we resumed legal speeds and my brain had, more or less, caught up to what just happened, I drove the car like you normally would on a commute, and it was great. My route placed a few roundabouts in my path, which was a perfect opportunity to feel how the Taycan Turbo felt with some moderate cornering. It was planted even with temps in the mid-30s and sub-par quality roads. It was easy to flick into and out of the turns as I maneuvered through the roundabout as aggressively as traffic and common sense would allow. If there was any body-roll, I couldn’t detect it. I’m sure an opportunity for higher speeds and varying types of corners would present a better opportunity to judge, but beggars can’t be choosers. 

As luck would have it, I encountered a perfectly timed light at a four-way intersection that led directly to a four-lane highway. There wasn’t a single car in front of me in any of the four lanes, so I made my right turn, and as the wheel approached the center, I nailed it. Clearly, I had no telemetry equipment or even a stopwatch, but my perception was that we went from 5 mph to 90 mph in about 3 seconds. I’m sure it was slightly slower than that, but it doesn’t matter because it took longer than any of that for my brain to process it all. Besides, it’s the first few hundred yards that really make this carnival ride. 

You and your passengers have to physically prepare yourself for acceleration, a quick mental checklist before hitting the go pedal. Head against the headrest, check; two hands on the wheel, check; a clear lane for more space than you think you need, check. The next-level surge of power from a sport sedan EV is like the best roller coaster launch you’ve ever experienced, and in the Taycan, you can do it over, and over again. 

The Taycan is fast, as is every dual-motor Tesla and other sporting focused EVs. What is so astounding is how the car jumps forward with seemingly zero effort, it is difficult for your brain to process what is happening due to the lack of normal aural and physical cues. There is no engine vibration, and unless you engage Porsche Electric Sport Sound mode (which we did), there is no audible cue that you are accelerating at an obscene rate. No rising RPMs, no screaming flat-six or roaring V8. There is just the fact that a second ago you were back there, and now you are very far down the road. 

Silent, Not Silent

I mentioned the Porsche Electric Sport Sound option, let’s chat about that. It is a $500 option for the 4S and the Turbo but is standard on the Turbo S model. You can turn it on and off through the main screen on the center console, and I’m sure there is a way to program it with certain drive modes via the “Individual” setting. According to Porsche, the option “enhances the vehicle’s own sound and makes it sound even more emotional – both outside and inside the vehicle.” Since I was driving, I can’t speak for the “outside” part of that statement, but I whole-heartedly agree with the “inside” part. There is no scenario where I would not select this option if I were to buy a Taycan. 

When you activate the Porsche Electric Sport Sound, the car makes sci-fi worthy noises that correspond with acceleration and deceleration. If you close your eyes and think back to any sci-fi movie version of the future from the 80s and 90s with electric cars, it sounds about like that. The hum of an electric motor as it accelerates, a mix of Blade Runner and the Jetsons. I know some people have criticized this tactic, but I loved it. I needed that bridge from an Internal Combustion Engine’s building crescendo to the silence of the EV to help my brain process the entire event.

All EVs share a common trait, they are inherently quiet. Most auto enthusiasts credit sound to be a large part of the visceral feeling they enjoy when driving and therefore are concerned about whether quiet EVs will have the same appeal. After experiencing the Taycan Turbo, I’m not concerned about the lack of noise-related excitement. If anything, I’m concerned about the lack of noise masking how fast you are driving.  

After that brief banzai run, it was back to the mundane afternoon traffic, which around here, means creeping along until your turn approaches. Here, the Taycan Turbo once again became a perfectly normal companion. My drive may have been brief, but I have a better understanding of the appeal of EVs as a daily driver/commuter vehicle. I also have even more hopes for the future of cars as more automotive manufacturers delve into the market Tesla forced them into. 

Touch “buttons” for easy access options

Is it Worth It?

For the practical aspects, the Taycan may not be the best option for everyone. As amazing as the car is, and for all the wonderful improvements Porsche has brought to the luxury EV market (like genuine quality control, consistent panel gaps, reliable build quality), it is wildly expensive and doesn’t have the anxiety-reducing range of a Tesla. The EPA rating for the Taycan model line was recently released and it was disappointing, to anyone who had not been paying attention. Porsche has known for a long time they were not going to have the range of a Tesla Model S or Model 3. They have not publically positioned the car as a “Tesla killer,” but far too many automotive, and non-automotive journalists did before anyone had driven it. However, even knowing that segment-leading range was not a goal of the Taycan, an official range of around 200 miles is a letdown. 

The Taycan is a Porsche first, and an EV second. Porsche eschewed semi-autonomous technology or one-pedal driving that seems to be the main focus of cars from Tesla. Even though several journalists have reported achieving ranges closer to 240 miles than the EPA rating during testing, you still have to expect the average person will be closer to the lower number, especially since Porsche allows the Taycan to do full-power launches at any point in its charge. This is very different from how Tesla manages its battery power where drivers are prevented from harnessing full power after the battery reaches a certain percentage of charge. I’m sure that is just one variable to explain the massive difference in ranges, but certainly not the only one. 

The Taycan Turbo I tested also left me a little disappointed with its interior trimmings. To be clear, I think the layout, ergonomics, and overall design (minus the over-reliance of touch screens) is far better than other EVs; but for $165,000, I want a full leather cabin. The Taycan is not immune to Porsche’s philosophy of making you pay extra for conveniences and options that really should be standard for the price. There is a reason Porsche has one of the best profit margins per vehicle, and while the Taycan is probably not matching the other models, I doubt Porsche is losing money like many other EVs. 

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the Taycan, and if I had the money, I would absolutely buy one.

The Search is Over

A few months ago, I began the search for my latest vehicle in earnest. While the final result may seem a foregone conclusion to some, I did a lot of homework, test driving, and soul searching before making the decision and purchase.

I began the quest with a car that I sincerely admire, but knew was a complete longshot. Pay any attention to automotive media, and you will spot the trends from near-universal praise of sporty wagons to the honest and enduring admiration for products from Mazda. While the list of automotive journalists for whom Miata is always the answer is quite long, the vehicle I drove has also received heaps of praise, the Mazda 3. Specifically, the redesigned-for-2019 Mazda 3 hatchback, with a manual transmission.

The Long Shot

The Mazda 3 hatch punches well above its weight, making what is technically an economy class car feel like an entry-level luxury model. Mazda has bucked the trend with its manual transmission for 2019 in two ways; one, they still offer a manual, and two, it is only available on the top trim level. While some were upset by this move because it adds a few thousand dollars to the cost of entry, I applaud it. The alternative has been far too prevalent where manuals are only available on the base spec from several manufacturers. I want to drive stick, why restrict me with the worst engine, no leather interior, and no tech, ridiculous.

My time test driving the Mazda 3 left me impressed with nearly everything about the car. The interior is not what you expect in a $29K hatchback; it is much closer to an Audi from a few years ago. All the surfaces you touch with regularity are soft and feel rich, the seating is excellent, and the tech is first-rate, to include the heads up display. The steering feel of the Mazda 3 was good as expected, as was the overall driving experience. Almost every aspect of the car was even better than I expected, and I could immediately see why so many journalists sing its praise.

When I parked the car back at the dealership, I was very, very impressed. But I immediately knew I would not be purchasing the vehicle. For many people, this car would be perfect. It has adequate storage, seating (front and back) is quite comfortable, and the driving experience is solid. The downfall for me is that it is comically underpowered. If the Mazda 3 offered a turbocharged version of the current engine, I would have a Soul Red Crystal one in my driveway right now. As it is, the car doesn’t have enough power to satisfy my desires in a daily driver, and that is unfortunate.

The “Twins”

Next up for my testing were the “twins,” the Audi S3 and the Volkswagen Golf R. Both share many components, offer all-wheel drive, and boast the same turbocharged 2.0 L engine. Both cars sound absolutely mint and have superb driving dynamics. The differences come down to interior appointments, transmission, and configuration. The Audi S3 wears a fitted suit (no tie) to the party, while the Golf R sports a Banana Republic hoodie, AG jeans, and a backpack.

The Audi was undoubtedly quick, made all the right sounds, and felt fantastic both pushing it through a twisty backroad and cruising on the highway. I drove a 2017 model with the optional tech package, which gives the car Audi’s “virtual cockpit” display. For those who haven’t seen this, it is a neat party trick. The display swaps out traditional gauges for a 12.3-inch configurable screen which will display a digital version of your “normal” tachometer and speedometer, a 3D “moving map” navigation display with driving information in the corners or a mix of speedometer and other vehicle and infotainment information.

The display is crisp, and the options are very well thought out and organized. But this level of technology isn’t enough to overcome the car’s problems. One of those is perceived reliability. When I was looking, Audi issued a recall for all S3s which caused a nationwide de-certification of every Certified Pre-Owned S3 in the country, not exactly a positive omen to the car buyer. The recall was for a problem that could render the passenger airbag inoperative regardless of whether a passenger was in the seat. I asked my salesperson if the CPO status would be reinstated after the recall was complete, he said he wasn’t sure.

Thousands of quality products suffer from recalls, so did this one cause me to eliminate the S3 from consideration? No, the small size and lack of trunk room did; but it didn’t exactly go in the “plus” column for it when I was considering my options. Frankly, due to the parts shared by the cars, I’m surprised the Golf R does not have a similar recall issued for it.

The S3’s brother from another mother was next up. The Golf R automatically had an advantage for me because of its excellent manual transmission. The driving dynamics of the Golf R were not that different from the S3, not unexpected, of course. Changing the driving modes made a noticeable difference in how the car felt, the power was adequate, and it sounded great. With 52.7 cubic feet of cargo room with the back seats down, the Golf R has more storage space than some SUVs, so the interior room was not a problem. The driver’s seat was supportive and comfortable, and the tech was a near match for the Audi as the 2019 Golf R comes standard with a very similar virtual cockpit setup.

Ultimately, the Golf R was good looking (especially in blue!), comfortable, roomy, and fun to drive. So why didn’t I buy one? My decision came down to what I wanted from this vehicle purchase. I wanted a car that could do just about anything, go just about anywhere I need and be fun with more than a hint of luxury while doing so. The Golf R lost out mainly because, while it is immensely more practical, it wasn’t different enough from my Cayman S to fit the bill. The Golf R has nearly identical ground clearance and almost the same size tires as my Cayman. If I didn’t already have a sports car, the Golf R would’ve been tough to turn down, but I do, so it was out.

The Favorite

Enter the Mercedes GLA 45 AMG. My desire for a vehicle with genuine practicality for my lifestyle, luxury, and serious fun-to-drive credibility had a bullseye on this car. It took forever to find one I could test drive. As soon as one would show up anywhere within the free or inexpensive transfer range at Carmax, it was gone before I could get it moving my way. My local Mercedes dealers didn’t have a single used one in stock, and only a handful of new ones. I know the new model has several improvements over the years I could afford, so I wasn’t about to taint myself by driving one of them.

Finally, the same VW dealer who had the Golf R got a 2015 GLA 45 AMG in on a trade. After what seemed an eternity for dealer prep (about a week), I was finally able to drive it. The steering wheel and general feel of the driving position were spot on, the controls were minimalistic but at an expected level for Mercedes, even in an “entry-level” class. The sound of the AMG engine (the most potent four-cylinder engine on a production car when new) was awesome. The driving dynamics were excellent, sporty but not too harsh on bumpy roads, tight and precise during spirited driving, and overall quite a bit of fun. Then there was the exhaust, what a hooligan this car is. In sport mode, the most absurd pops and snarls emanate from the exhaust on acceleration and deceleration. It was loud, startling, and impressive! 

When I began my car search, this is the car I wanted. It’s a little tighter and more compact than the Macan S, a little more “upscale” than the Golf R, and infinitely more usable than the Audi S3. Unfortunately, there were certain things about the Mercedes that ruled it out after my test drive. One of the letdowns was the presence of lower-quality materials in the interior. Once you look below the infotainment and HVAC controls, you could see the hard plastics indicative of cost savings on the GLA line. There’s also a hard plastic plate behind the seat belt anchor that sounds extremely cheap when the belt retracts and makes contact. 

But, the most significant factor for me not purchasing the GLA 45 AMG was the intrusion of the center console into my right leg. I rest my right leg against the center tunnel wall when I drive, and on the Mercedes, there is a protrusion there that dug into my leg as I drove. Regardless of how I positioned myself, this piece was a factor and did not allow me to get comfortable; needless to say, I was disappointed. I truly enjoyed driving the car, it’s powerful but a good drive around town, and I like the somewhat unconventional (some say ugly) styling. Alas, I knew I would never get comfortable in the car, and so it had to be removed from my list. 

The Winner

I honestly struggled with my decision to the very end. Even though my final choice offered everything I was looking for, the Golf R was very close and cheaper. I had to come to terms with the idea that the vehicle that made me the happiest, was also what most enthusiasts consider the bane of the automotive world, a CUV. 

The Porsche Macan S is a fantastic automobile. It offers the utility of a small SUV, the handling dynamics (especially when adequately optioned) of a sports car or hatchback, and the luxury of a top rate German auto manufacturer. In other words, everything I wanted from this vehicle purchase, but at a premium price even used. 

In truth, the price differential of a new Golf R compared to a 2016 or 2017 Certified Pre-Owned Macan S is only a few thousand dollars, but the numbers feel more substantial. Once I resolved myself to spend the extra money and avoid compromising, I set out to find a CPO Macan S that was within my budget and had the options I knew would make it drive the way I desired.

My critical options were the Premium package which included heated and cooled seats (comfort), Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), and preferably the Sport Chrono and Air Suspension options (performance). With these criteria, I knew I had to search the entire country, not just my local area if I was going to find one. 

If the GTS model were in my budget, this search would’ve been much more straightforward. I would have only been searching for color as most of these options are standard on the GTS. But, the GTS was out of reach, so I scoured the internet searching for the perfect Macan S. By using a combination of Autotrader.com, Autotempest.com, and the main Porsche website, I was able to find the handful of examples to fit my criteria on the market. Unfortunately for me, the available options within my price range were scarce; and the leads I did find, had a tendency to be sold by the time I called the dealership. 

With my patience wearing thin, I found four candidates that fit the bill, each with a few key traits to differentiate each other. I made a low, but fair, offer on a 2017 based on the location (far away but easy to get to and a fun road trip home) and the options (PASM, 18-way seats, and full leather make a compelling package). The sales rep lectured me on their accurate price based Google market analytics and blah, blah, blah. They didn’t even bother to make a counter-offer, so I moved on to my second choice, a 2016 where the original owner went crazy with the configurator. The car had a full leather, two-tone interior, white face gauges, Sport Chrono, PASM, wood trim, embossed headrests, tow package, and even the Porsche Sport Design package that changed the front fascia and fog lights. It was optioned almost to the price of a GTS when purchased new and was now sitting on a dealer lot priced in line with most other models of similar mileage and condition. 

After a few phone calls and text messages, I made a fair offer and they accepted without any haggling. I immediately regretted it because I probably could’ve gone a little lower and still got it, but oh well. That was a Friday, I booked my flight for Sunday evening and planned my road trip home starting Monday morning. 

I drove just under 1300 miles in two days with a little over 18 hours of driving to get back home with a short stopover to see my parents. Overall the Macan S performed flawlessly, was even sportier and more capable than I thought, and also managed to average 27mpg. I intended to investigate some of the best roads in the country on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but a line of heavy thunderstorms altered my course and restricted the final portion of my journey to the highway. I’ll have to make another trip for that experience. 

After a few weeks of ownership, I don’t regret choosing the Macan S at all. It is everything Porsche says it is and serves as a perfect complement to the Cayman. I look forward to many adventures in this vehicle, and maybe even some “gentle” off-roading

 

The search for a new car

Its time for all my casual surfing of the used car market to pay off, I’ve decided to get another car. There are so many cars I’d like to have, but budget and circumstances are always in play, and this time is no different.

This will be my 21st vehicle, so as you can tell, I’m not the type to hang onto a car for a long period of time. While I’ve owned two cars for more than five years, I usually have a one to two-year turnaround. That alone can pretty much explain my embarrassingly small savings account.

My next car needs to serve specific requirements for me. It has to be fun, luxurious, and it has to be more practical than my Cayman. Since the Cayman is going nowhere, this car will be a second car and will therefore not earn a spot in my diminutive garage. The outside parking status will dictate a few things for me, like color. I am looking to avoid dark colors since they show dirt far more than brighter colors, and my car OCD would drive me crazy with say, a black car.

The Choices

When I decided to get another car, my mind was awash with options. I don’t need much room, just a usable back seat and some cargo capacity for the occasional run to the airport, a trip to Lowes or road trip to visit family on the holidays. The main key for me is the fit, finish and feel of the car. I want something that is a nice place to be, has some style and is not a dull appliance.

I “narrowed” my choices down to a small sedan, a hatchback or a small SUV. I love the Audi A5 and the BMW 2 Series, but I learned with my Cadillac ATS coupe that, even though the back seat is usable, if you have to fold the seats down and put stuff back there, not having a door is a huge pain, so those cars are out.

Hatchbacks are the most practical yet still fun cars out there since we don’t get small sporty wagons in the states. So cars like the Golf R and Mazda 3 are in my sights. I know the power differential between those two is a chasm, but I’ve thought the Mazda 3 is one of the best looking cars in the segment since 2014, and the 2019 redesign is aces. However, my hatchback sights are truly set on the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG. I don’t know of a single auto journalist who hasn’t raved about how crazy-fun that car is, and it has real, usable room. So I have to try it.

As for small sedans, I like the 3 Series, the Mercedes C class, and the Lexus IS350 F Sport. As nice as those sedans are, they have grown a little bloated lately, and a car like the Audi S3 is more my style.

Then there is my obvious love of Porsche, and the vehicle I have admired since its debut, the Macan. After recently living with a Macan for a month while some extensive paintwork was done to my Cayman, I know I like what the Macan has to offer. To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite automotive podcasts, Everyday Driver, I have some driving homework to do.

Homework

For those who have lost count, that’s five cars in three different classes, decisiveness is not always my strong suit. Not only am I spanning a few automotive segments, but also a wide budget. To be clear, outside of the Mazda, nothing I am considering is new. In fact, I am looking almost exclusively at a very narrow segment of the market, Certified Pre-Owned.

Being used vehicles, my choices are actually closer in price than one would initially think. Cross-shopping a Mazda 3 and an Audi S3 or Macan may sound ridiculous, but the used market for luxury German cars makes the prices much closer than you would think. I intend to spend no more money than I need, nor buy a vehicle larger than what my max usage demands, let’s hope I stick to that… this time. Wish me luck!

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