Sunday Morning Cars & Coffee, Aug. 29, 2021

(Pardon the tardiness of this post while I attended to some other pressing matters.)

After the success of our first Cars & Coffee-type event of 2021, we decided to try it again; we even selected the same Dunkin’ Donuts location in Mahwah NJ. We had an enthusiastic turnout, and as much as this group has always enjoyed the morning cruise along country roads, there is something to be said for planting the car in one spot and devoting 100% of your time to chatting up the crowd.

The cars ranged from Corvettes (a C1 and C7), BMWs (a 2002tii and a 135 coupe), Porsches, a Nova, a Grand Prix, and your blogger’s Miata. Having arrived at 8am, much of the crowd was still hanging out at 11. Breakfast was top-notch (as good as a bagel and a hot coffee can get), and the late August weather, never predictable, cooperated. We enjoyed ourselves and we will do it again!

Burton’s C1 Corvette

 

Robert’s C7 Corvette

 

Ken’s Porsche 911

 

Richard L’s Porsche 911

 

Fred’s Pontiac Grand Prix

 

Richard R’s Miata

 

 

A TALE OF TWO BMWs

Both Sal with his 2002 and Art with his 135 were more than generous in offering me a chance to jump behind the wheel for a short spell. I haven’t driven a 2002 in who-knows-how-long, and I’ve never driven a Tii. Sal’s car is somewhat modified in the steering, suspension, and tire departments, although that’s not easy to detect by eye. He has ‘sport’ steering in it, with about a half-turn lock-to-lock (I’m kidding, but not by much). The car started right up, and the throttle response under the mechanical fuel injection was very linear. The 4-speed was easy to shift with a light clutch, and the sweet spot on the road was around 40mph in 3rd gear (not unlike my Alfa). Dashboard ergonomics were German-funky. After 10 minutes, I still never found the windshield wiper control. Visibility with that tall greenhouse is outstanding. Fifty years on, it’s quite easy to understand the revelation that BMW’s little sports sedan brought.

Art’s 2011 135 has just enough connection to the 2002 to see the familial resemblance, but of course, this is a 21st century automobile. All the controls are light, almost too much so, and the 6-speed is a delight to snick through the changes. There may be nothing quite as smooth as an inline-six (except an inline-eight), and BMW’s sixes are known for their sewing-machine precision in sound and performance. Funnily enough, I’m not sure that the dash ergonomics are much of an improvement over the 2002, but that is as much a function of electronics as it is design. For me, the size of this box is perfect, and many of the buff books at the time agreed, citing a 3-series car that had become too bloated. Art sought this out to have a RWD manual tranny ‘sports car’ and he’s got a jewel of one.

 

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

AACA NJ Region Summer Tour, 2021

The New Jersey Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) has had a long tradition of holding summer tours. A tour, as compared to a rally such as the New England 1000, is conducted under much more relaxed circumstances. Tours typically involve leisurely drives along country roads to visit local attractions. Tour participants have the option to caravan together or to follow their own timetables. Planned stops will include sights like museums, parks, and of course eateries. (Rallies require more spirited driving and may encompass TSD [time, speed, distance] measurements of your ‘performance’ versus your fellow competitors.)

Having never partaken of a NJ Regional tour before, and continuing with my pledge to make up for the lost year of 2020, I signed up for my Region’s summer tour, which was held from July 29 through August 2, 2021. A trend I’ve noticed in recent years with both tours and rallies has been to conduct them as “hub tours” or “hub rallies”, which is to say that participants stay at the same hotel for the duration (the hotel effectively operating as the hub), with daily drives heading out in different directions and returning to the same hub each evening. So it was with this event: the Hampton Inn in Sayre PA (a stone’s throw from the NY border) served as the hub hotel, while our daily drives took us into the Finger Lakes Region of NYS each day.

All of the planned visits in which I participated were non-automotive in nature. There were plenty of opportunities to indulge in the local culture, and the significant others who were along for the ride weren’t forced to endure only automotive-related attractions. This tour was museum-heavy, as we stopped at the Corning Glass Museum, the Rockwell Museum (also in Corning), the George Eastman House & Museum and the Strong Museum of Play (both in Rochester), and the Soaring Museum in Elmira. The Corning Glass Museum and Eastman Museum visits were the two I was most looking forward to; the Rockwell Museum (not Norman, but Bob and Hertha, local business owners who collected art and gifted it to the city), and the Soaring Museum (the history of soarers and gliders AKA wingless flight) were pleasant surprises. The Strong Museum was akin to an indoor amusement park overrun with youngsters, but others in the group found it enjoyable.

The weather was outstanding for all but one of the days we were in the area. Unfortunately, the one rainy day occurred on the same day as a planned boat ride on Lake Cayuga, which necessitated the cancellation of our water outing.

There were about 25 people on the tour, mostly Regional members; some folks brought along friends and family members, which was nice to see, and made for an even more diverse group. Of the approximately 12 couples that I counted, 6 drove modern iron, and 6 drove AACA-eligible cars. Excepting the 1930 Ford Model A driven by my friends Dick and Bobbi, the other AACA vehicles were all from the ‘80s and ‘90s, including my 1993 Miata (NOT the newest car on the tour!). A personal thrill was my first ride in a rumble seat, which was offered to me when Dick and Bobbi drove to dinner. (It was easy to get into and less easy to get out of; agility with one’s limbs is a helpful trait when entering and exiting such a conveyance.)

The tour ended on a Monday, and I skipped that morning’s visit to a windshield frame restoration shop as I needed to scoot home a bit early. Would I tour again? Most certainly I would. It’s an additional and wonderfully relaxing way to indulge in the hobby. I would wish for a slightly more varied lineup of activities (not everyone prefers five museum visits in 2.5 days), but having helped organize and having participated in dozens of one-day and multi-day tours, I have great appreciation for the amount of work involved in planning such ventures. The NJ Region put in significant effort to make the event as enjoyable as possible for all.

 

The Corning Museum of Glass parked this Chevy pickup in its lobby and filled its bed with flowers made of glass; the flowers were available in the gift shop.

 

This automotive-themed display is from the Corning Glass Museum

 

A room from the George Eastman House

 

An engine-powered plane takes off from the Soaring Museum’s runway

 

 

This ’30s-era GMC pickup from inside the Soaring museum was used as a tow vehicle to bring gliders up to speed. Its winch held a rope attached to the glider, and there was a mechanism to disconnect the rope from the plane. In the event that failed, the guillotine was deployed to sever the rope!

 

 

 

 

 

Bill’s 1996 Chevrolet Cavalier

 

Brian’s 1994 Pontiac Firebird

 

Richard’s 1993 Mazda Miata

 

Al’s 1986 Ford Mustang

 

Pete’s 1985 Olds Cutlass

 

Dick & Bobbi with their 1930 Ford Model A

 

Your author about to embark on his first rumble

 

The view from the back

 

 

And the view from the Miata (barn doors up)

 

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

 

Sunday Morning Breakfast Drive, June 6 2021

The group casually known as the Sunday Morning Breakfast Club had its 2nd outing of the post-pandemic year which is 2021 on Sunday, June 6. Since our initial convening was a static Cars & Coffee hangout, we can consider our June event as the first “drive” of the year. As is our long-standing custom, we gathered in the parking lot of the Mahwah Sheraton hotel, and with Google Maps/iPhones/GPS/Waze/paper maps at the ready, we pushed off for our destination. One small change was our earlier-than-usual departure time: 14 people in 11 cars were motoring out of the hotel lot by 8:15 a.m.

Above : Back to our early morning fishing tales

We were headed to the Red Hut Diner on Route 46 in Rockaway NJ, and our planned route encompassed very few turns: Route 287 South to Route 23 North to Route 513 South, then a mile of local roads to Route 46. A nice surprise was picking up our long-time friend Jeff in his BMW Z3, who surprised us by staging himself on Route 513, awaiting our arrival. Good thing we didn’t change the directions from what had been sent out!

The good men and women of the Red Hut Diner were waiting for us; having requested an outdoor table under the tents in the back, the staff obliged us by having a single table ready for us at 9:15. Our server, Lindsay (named after actress Lindsay Wagner she informed us), worked hard to keep the hot coffee flowing our way. The food arrived soon enough, and I heard nary a complaint. My co-defendant Larry and I decided that our inaugural visit to the Red Hut was successful enough that we will put the joint on our regular rotation.

Above : The gang is happy to be back together

De-masked and lacking social distancing, it truly felt like old times again. We enjoy our machinery, but we also have come to learn that we enjoy each other’s company more. Several folks had to take off soon after breakfast ended, but again as is custom, a few die-hards stuck around the parking lot, trying to squeeze in one last comment! We’re back and we hope to get this group out on another Sunday in the not-too-distant future.

Above : Porsche 911 Targa

Above : Corvette C7 coupe

Above: BMW 1-series coupe

Above : Porsche 911 cabriolet

Above : Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce

Above: Mazda Miata

Above: Corvette C8 coupe

Above : Mustang convertible

Above: Chevrolet Nova

Above : Corvette C1

Above: Mercedes-Benz SL550

Above: The waitress took care of us, and we took care of the waitress

Above : Jeff with his ‘wingman’ Gatsby

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Delaware Valley Miata Club Drive, May 23 2021

Just before the pandemic shutdown hit in 2020, I joined the Delaware Valley Miata Club, hoping to connect to an organization that would provide me with an excuse to drive my Mazda Miata a bit more frequently. (Since 2013, when I purchased my 1967 Alfa Romeo, I have put about the same total mileage on the two cars.)  The DelVal Miata Club is very active and organizes frequent drives, about two to four a month during our three-season driving year.

Above: L to R are a blue ND, a red NB, and my black NA

Above: the red NB and blue ND compare back ends

Above: the white NA rides with headlights UP

Alas, this was not to be for me in 2020. Looking at my mileage log, I put 178 miles on the convertible in 2020, an all-time low, and the lowest since I did 762 miles in it in 2012. I vowed to myself that 2021 would be different, and it’s gotten off to a good start. I already have used it in several events, and on Sunday May 23, I participated in my first DelVal Miata Club drive.

Above: my black ’93, with frontal jewelry, showing its face at a Miata club event for the first time

The start point was the parking lot of a strip mall in Flemington, all of 6 miles from me, so that was part of the impetus for me to participate. The planned route was to follow NJ Route 519 north, which we would pick up just a few miles west of Flemington, and drive all the way to Route 206 in Newton, about 75 miles away. There were about 25 Miatas of all generations in the lot when I showed up, and many people seemed to know each other, which was no surprise. I made some idle chat with a few folks, and then the driver’s meeting was held. There was little to discuss other than the revelation that the group was so large, we would split in half, with the second wave departing about 15 minutes after the initial bunch pushed off. I was in the first group, and got myself situated somewhere in the middle.

Above: Driver’s meeting in progress

It was great fun to have a string of Miatas as far as I could see in front of me, and almost as many to my rear. I mentioned earlier that there were cars of all generations. I’ll briefly explain that Mazda has so far built four generations, what insiders refer to as NA, NB, NC, and ND (this based on VIN code). My car, an NA, is of the generation built from model year 1990 to 1997. The NB cars look almost identical to the NA ones; the big giveaway are the exposed headlights on the NB (only the NA had retractable headlights). The NC cars have pronounced fender flares, and sit a bit higher compared to previous cars. There was a retractable hardtop option on the NC. The ND styling is probably the biggest departure of the four generations, but it also brought the car back very close in size and weight to the 1990 version. The ND is also available as an RF (Retractable Fastback) which opens the top but leaves the structure around the rear window in place.

Above: this blue RF ( retractable fastback) was striking looking; note the custom wheels

Above: the view from the driver’s seat

Back to our drive – we were motoring along at a good clip, a bit above the posted limit, but not too aggressively so, when we came to our scheduled pit stop, a Quick Check, which gave us a chance to fuel up, use the facilities, and grab a cold drink. Then it was back to the cars and back on the road, continuing north on 519, easy to say but less easy to do when foliage sometimes blocks the road signs. It took us a bit over two hours to reach Route 206, where we turned right, and following the cars immediately in front of me, entered a diner parking lot a short distance ahead. This is where I discovered that everyone was on their own for lunch, as most of the remaining Miatas motored past us, on their way to some other eatery.

Above: Quick Check rest stop in progress

About 14 or 15 of us entered the diner and sat. I got to chat up a bit more with some folks I had not seen earlier, and somehow it came out that I also have an Alfa Romeo at home. “That’s YOUR problem!” one woman good-naturedly teased me. I guess they think that their Japanese sports cars are somehow more reliable than my Italian sports car…. We all ate, we all chatted a bit more, then we all left for home, heading in all different directions. Perhaps it’s because the group is new to me, but this was a bit different compared to my own breakfast driving club or the Alfa club. The primary focus of this Miata club is to drive, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I would have preferred if everyone ate together, but that was not up to me, and logistically that may have not been possible, at least not this time. I’ll certainly join this group on future drives, and I’ll try to befriend some more club members.

Above: there is some beautiful scenery in western Jersey

Above: the Miatas managed to stay together on this lightly-traveled road

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Sunday Morning Cars and Coffee, May 2, 2021

Success! Our informal Sunday Morning Breakfast Group, which last held a gathering in September of 2019, managed to put together our own Cars & Coffee-style event this past Sunday. As an unexpected surprise, the “CarParkers” drive event held the same day resulted in dozens of additional cars joining us in the spacious lot of the Dunkin’ Donuts on MacArthur Blvd. in Mahwah NJ.

By 8:30 it was quite crowded

In our own group, we had perhaps a dozen and a half friends show up with their cars. On one hand, it was overwhelming to think that we had not seen each other in over a year and half. On the other hand, like the long-term companions we are, we fell right back into our lively repartee and wasted no time in catching up with each other, while those who procured new rides since our last drive enjoyed showing them off.

Our breakfast haven for the day

Hagerty and CarPark co-sponsored the other drive event along with Dunkin’ Donuts, the basic concept centering around a morning of driving to and meeting up at several Dunkin’ Donuts stores, with the chance to win some giveaways. I had alluded to this event in our own Cars & Coffee invitation, but frankly was expecting at most 10 or 20 other cars. The actual turnout was 3 to 4 times that, with a nice mix of older and newer exotics, including rarities ranging from a Ford Model T fire truck to a Sterling 825.

Can you guess the car?

The breakfast line got a bit long at times, but mask-wearing and social distancing appeared to be at 100% compliance while inside. Outside was much less of a concern; we became unmasked, but our usual bear hugs were on postponement until a later date.

Some cars wore the sponsors’ decal

There was no driving element on this occasion as we knew that time for us to mingle and swap stories would need to take precedence. What surprised me was how much more enjoyable I found this arrangement. Rather than be tied to a table, I was free to wander from subgroup to subgroup, and ended up chit-chatting with more of the guys than otherwise. My drive event co-planner and I are already intending to include a Cars & Coffee event on our rotating schedule for the Sunday Morning Breakfast Group.

I was so distracted by seeing old friends and meeting new ones (talkin’ about you, the young couple in the Suzuki Cappuccno) that I simply failed to photograph every car in the lot. However, the ones that did make it into my Sony are below. Final note about the photos: WordPress seems to have changed the method to see full-size versions of them. For full-screen versions, right-click on the picture, select “Open Image in New Tab”, and then click on the picture again.

Alfa Romeo Spider
BMW 3.0 coupe
BMW E30 3-series convertible
1972 Buick Riviera boattail
Corvette C7
Corvette C8
Ferrari FF
Ford Model T
Porsche Boxster
Datsun 510
Ford Mustang convertible
Saab 900
Jaguar XK
Sterling 825 (interior pic is above)
Mazda Miata ND
Mazda Miata NA
Mercedes-Benz 230/250/280 SL
MG Midget
Toyota Celica Supra
Polestar 1 & Polestar 2
VW GTi
Pontiac LeMans
Porsche 356
The final 8 in our group (from the left)
The final 8 in our group (from the right)

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

DRIVEN: The VW ID.4 Electric Car

“Hey, how you doin’?” Jason exclaimed as I vaulted through the front door of Flemington Volkswagen. He recognized my masked face, even though he hadn’t seen me since 2017, when I returned the Jetta I had leased from him. Like the good salesperson he is, he remembers customers (and admittedly, he was expecting me since I had booked this test-drive with him last week). “I’m just finishing up with this customer and I’ll be with you in a few”. That was fine with me, and gave me a chance to do my own brief walk-around of the ID.4 on the showroom floor.

To bring you up to speed, Volkswagen, after the debacle that was Dieselgate, changed directions as a company. This was partly forced upon them as part of their governmental settlements, and partly done voluntarily as a way to reinvent their future. They have established an all-electric sub-brand called “ID”, with several models already available in Europe. Here in the States, the first of them, the ID.4, has been launched, with online ordering having started a few months ago. The “1st Edition” launch model is sold out.

Once Jason was free, I sat at his desk, we exchanged pleasantries, and I asked him a few questions about the ID.4. He quickly brought me up to speed from the dealer’s perspective: cars are trickling in very slowly; aside from demos, every unit that arrives is pre-sold; if I (or anyone else) want one, it’s best to simply go online and order one; expect to wait ‘about a year’ for it to arrive; and on the chance that someone cancels their order, you might get lucky and move up the line.

He fetched the key and a dealer plate, and gave me a choice to either wait a few more minutes for him to ride along, or take the car out on my own. I told him that I was comfortable doing a solo test drive, so once he showed me the most basics of basics, I was off. Actually, I drove the ID.4 into the back lot to spend a few non-distracted minutes familiarizing myself with the interior controls.

The dash layout doesn’t necessarily scream “EV!” but it is spartan by my standards. There are two screens: a small one directly in front of the driver (which moves along with the up-and-down adjustments of the steering wheel, a nice touch), and the larger, primary screen in the center console. There are very few physical controls. The steering column keeps the two conventional stalks for lights and wipers. On the right side of the smaller screen is the “shift quadrant” such as it is: a spring-loaded knob which can be rotated forward or back changes the gearing from P to R to D/B. What’s D/B? It’s your choice between conventional “D” for Drive, or “B” for Drive with regenerative braking. More on that later. A button in the side of the knob engages “P” for parking brake.

The interior, also spartan, is not unattractive, except for that bright white steering wheel. The white interior accents may be part of the launch edition cars, but I would need to see some other color choices in there. I don’t drive with dirty hands (most of the time) but cannot imagine that wheel staying white.

The center screen has all the controls for the HVAC system, sound system, phone, nav, apps, etc. At the bottom of the screen are “slide bars” that don’t physically move, but swiping one’s fingers left or right will raise or lower temperature, volume, etc. There are no conventional knobs. Considering I had no tutorial, I did ok with it, but did not find it as intuitive as other vehicles. However, learning the center screen was not my primary objective: I wanted to experience how the ID.4 drove as an EV.

Tip-in was like the other EVs I’ve driven: the torque is there with zero delay. I should mention right here that ALL 1st Edition ID.4 models are rear-wheel-dive only, with an electric motor only at the rear axle. According to Car & Driver magazine (VW’s website frustratingly hides the vehicle specs, and only presents marketing info with as little technical detail as possible), the RWD car makes 201 horsepower and 229 lb. ft. of torque. Acceleration was perfectly adequate, although it came nowhere near the neck-snapping jolt I experienced in the Polestar 2 (not an apples-to-apples comparison, with a 20 grand difference in prices).

The car was mostly quiet inside, but coast-down produced an annoying sound of a motor winding down. Intentional? Don’t know. The biggest surprise during the test-drive was reverting to “B” mode, and feeling very little in the way of regenerative braking. The only time the car brought itself to a complete stop was at parking lot speeds below 5 MPH. In every normal driving situation, I needed to use the brake pedal. Not a big deal compared to an ICE car, but the fabulous one-pedal driving in the Polestar is not to be had here.

I stopped for a bit, took some pictures, and opened all the cavities. The rear hatch is electrically-powered and opens wide. I did not fold down the rear seats, but the lack of a mechanical drivetrain might make for a smidgen more cargo room (the ID.4’s wheelbase beats its two competitors by several inches). There is no “frunk” storage, that space consumed by other stuff. So resign yourself to putting your shopping bags in the wayback.

Resuming the test-drive, the best I could muster was to tell myself that the driving experience was fine. After a few minutes to become acclimated to the lack of exhaust noise, it drove like many other cars. The touchscreen controls will require a learning curve (I couldn’t figure out how to pair my phone), but VW fans and really anyone looking at small crossovers who’s willing to also consider an EV should add the ID.4 to their shopping list.

I got back to the dealer and returned the key to Jason. We chatted a bit more about electric vehicles in general. He expressed some frustration about the lack of stock from which to sell, but acknowledged that with the sold-out status of the 1st Edition, this might not be a bad problem to have. Then Jason shocked me by stating that VW, as part of the sale price, is offering “free charging” for the first three years of ownership. Sure enough, I found this statement on VW’s website:

The 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 comes with 3 years of unlimited charging at Electrify America DC Fast Chargers at no additional cost. Electrify America chargers can be found along most major highways.

Kudos to VW! That fact alone will go a long way toward alleviating some shoppers’ charging concerns. Jason stressed that the free charging offer also applies to the chargers installed at the dealership. Depending on your proximity to such things, this offer could sway someone on the fence about an EV.

The ID.4 is continuing the trend of building EVs that look normal. Is it new and stylish looking? Yes, somewhat. But it’s not different for the sake of it. As a CUV (compact utility vehicle), it’s sized to go head-to-head with two of the best-sellers in this segment as these specs bear out (figures courtesy of Car & Driver):

 VW ID.4Honda CR-VToyota RAV4
wheelbase (in.)108.9104.7105.9
overall length (in.)180.5182.1181.5
overall height (in.)64.466.567.0
passenger volume (cu.ft.)101103101

Looking at the Monroney, I think that the well-equipped 1st Edtion, at $42,995 plus $1,195 shipping, is a compelling offer. The car is eligible for the full $7,500 Federal tax incentive too. One issue with the 1st Edition is that RWD for most of us in the Northeast is a deal-breaker (the last time VW sold a RWD car here was the 1979 VW Beetle convertible). According to VW’s website, adding a 2nd electric motor to make it AWD adds $3,680 to the check you’re going to write, and the website states that the option isn’t available until “Oct-Dec 2021”. Oh well, you’re waiting for the car anyway.

Points in favor of the ID.4 include a ‘right-sized’ CUV, VW quality, a well-equipped car at this price point, and the bonus of 3 years’ worth of free juice. On the flip side, it’s RWD for now, the regen braking is poor for an EV, the AWD option adds almost four grand to the bottom line, and there’s a long wait for a car once you commit to placing an order. You also need to like that interior.

If price weren’t a factor, I’d jump at the Polestar in the time it takes an electron to (never mind). But price is almost always a factor. The Mustang Mach-E, with a starting price close to the ID.4, offers a nicer interior and (probably) a little less cargo capacity. I personally greatly prefer its looks versus the ID.4. The Mach-E’s AWD option is pricier than it is for the ID.4, and it also lacks the free recharging. The fun part is, more and more EVs are going to be introduced over the next 12-36 months. Competition makes everyone’s game better. If the VW ID.4’s size, shape, and cost hit your sweet spots, go for it. For me, I’m waiting to see what ‘s coming next. I’ll be ready to move into an EV in about two years. I’ll keep you posted.  

What the ID.4 wants to be when it grows up

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

DRIVEN: My weekend with the Polestar 2 EV

Until the day arrives when we are ferried to and fro in anonymous autonomous pods, THIS is the future of human-piloted automotive transportation.

After 48 hours, I didn’t want to give it back. My extended test-drive of a Polestar 2 began when I signed up for a 30-minute drive, and the return text message asked: “would you like to take the car home for the weekend?” (It helps to be good friends with a former colleague who is a Polestar exec.) I didn’t need to be asked twice. I drove up to Volvo/Polestar HQ in Mahwah NJ on Friday afternoon, left my Volvo V60 in the lot, and returned home in the “2”. Sunday afternoon I reversed the process, putting about 200 miles on the vehicle during my time with it.

Picking up the Polestar 2
Kissing cousins

Polestar is a name which has had an ongoing connection to Volvo since the first decade of this century. Starting as Polestar Racing, the company prepped modified Volvos for competition. By 2009, Polestar was the official performance outlet for production cars, analogous to Mercedes-Benz’s AMG or BMW’s Dinan. As Volvo grew under ownership of China-based Geely, Polestar was designated to serve as an upscale, breakout brand for hybrid and fully electric vehicles (EVs). The first Polestar-branded vehicle, Polestar 1, is a two-door hybrid, built in very limited numbers (see Sidebar). The next model to be released, and the first with some volume aspirations, is the Polestar 2, a five-door hatchback sedan.

It simply is not going to be possible to cover everything there is to say about this automobile. I’ve broken down my observations and comments as: the vehicle as an upscale brand, the vehicle as transportation, and the vehicle as an EV.

AS A BRAND

While the desire to project an image of Polestar as a notch above Volvo is understandable, the car has Volvo genes, and that’s a good thing. This isn’t some unknown startup launching its first-ever automobile. (It’s not been widely publicized, but Volvo has been working with EVs at the concept level for at least a decade.) It is comforting to think of this vehicle as “Volvo+”.

Polestar shares space with Volvo’s NJ HQ

These attributes include quality, attractive minimalist (Scandinavian) design, and safety. An exterior walk-around assures the viewer that fit and finish are top-notch. Doors and front and rear lids open and close with authority. Interior components are well-trimmed and operate like precision machinery. It was very easy to find a comfortable seating position and adjust everything to the driver’s needs. Anyone who has spent any time behind the wheel of a late-model Volvo, or indeed any European luxury car will quickly feel right at home.

Volvo has owned “safety” for its entire time in the U.S. market, and although the competition keeps threatening to catch up, Volvo, and now Polestar, work at staying ahead of the pack. There are no optional safety features on the Polestar 2: a full suite of air bags, front and rear collision mitigation, run-off mitigation, cross traffic alert, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, 360 camera, and more, are all standard.

AS A CAR

Eric greeted me at the Polestar pod, informed me that he was expecting me, and told me that my car was ready. The model I was given had two major options: an all-leather interior upgrade, and the Performance Package. My car, finished in black (Polestar calls the color “Void”) was offset by an interior trimmed in gorgeous tan leather with birch-looking wood trim. The most eye-catching accents are the gold calipers (Brembo in front) and matching gold seatbelts. It’s just enough bling to let you know you’re in something special.

Masked Eric in the Polestar pod

Controls were easy to find and intuitive to operate. I set the power seat and mirrors, and adjusted the wheel for reach and rake (it’s manual, which may irk some, but a power-adjustable steering column is overkill).

Gold Brembos behind 20″ wheels, both part of Performance Package

The vertically-oriented center screen uses large-font typeface and large icons, a boon for operating while driving. I didn’t want to be too distracted while driving a car that didn’t belong to me, but I was pleasantly surprised by its ease of use. Polestar uses Google as its screen Operating System, and once your phone is paired, using the various features (navigation, phone calls, plus any app that’s on your phone) is a snap. Voice commands were especially reliable (“Hey Google, navigate me to 777 MacArthur Boulevard in Mahwah New Jersey” was correctly understood on first try each time). This stuff is far from my area of expertise; I’m convinced that if this were my car, I’d learn a lot more about it the more time I spent with it.

There is no “ignition” – with key in proximity, once the driver is seated and belted, the gearshift can be moved from P into either R or D, and a tap on the accelerator (can’t say gas!) starts it rolling. At first, the quiet is eerie. Once you’re at or above 30 mph, tire noise is the predominant sound, but is not obtrusive. The car is so much quieter than an ICE vehicle, and it’s a quiet that you quickly accept, then appreciate.

The Performance Package concerned me, with its 20-inch wheels shod with Continental high-performance summer tires. I expected a harsh ride as a tradeoff for good handling. My concerns were assuaged within the first five minutes of driving. The suspension tuning provided both a quiet and comfortable ride along with rail-like handling.

Once I pulled out of the parking lot, with Nav set for “home”, I was on local roads for about 15 minutes before reaching the Interstate on-ramp. I rounded the curved ramp at about 35, and a quick glance in the mirrors showed that both middle and right lanes of the highway were empty. I said to myself ‘what the hell’, and floored it. The acceleration caught me by such surprise that I slammed the back of my head into the head restraint. The car jumped from about 35 to about 75 in 2.5 seconds. I have never experienced automotive acceleration like that in my life. The problem is it’s addictive: it happens so quickly and so quietly, with so little drama (aside from the self-induced headache) that you’re only discouraged from this behavior by its effect on battery life (and the threat of summonses).

Forward and side visibility are very good to excellent; to the rear, the fixed rear seat head restraints and blocky rear pillars limit your view (which is where the 360 mirror comes in handy). Braking is superb, but really deserves to be discussed as an EV-attribute.

Some final comments about styling: from the front, it looks like a mid-size 4-door car, although you will also notice it sits a little higher than a typical 2021 sedan (the matte black wheel-well trim provides an accent for its slightly higher ride height). From the rear, the hatchback is not obvious (the long sloping rear has become a styling cliché on late model sedans). Opening the hatch and folding the rear seat backs forward reveals a generous cargo hold that it limited only by its lack of a vertical tailgate.

Rear hatch open, rear seats folded, charging cables on the left

Some of you may be thinking “sedans are dead; EVERYONE wants an SUV”. Yes, well, maybe most, but certainly not everyone. It’s time to bring up that T word for the first time (5 letters, ends in A, last name of electrical engineer Nikola, company founded by that guy Elon something….). If sedans are dead, how is Tesla doing so well with its Model 3 sedan, the best-selling EV vehicle in America? “Oh that’s different” you might say. How so? I don’t know Polestar’s future model aspirations, but I think the Polestar 2 neatly splits the difference between “sedan” and “SUV”.

Another view of the folded seats

AS AN EV

Aside from a 10-minute test drive in a BMW i3, and several rides in EVs (most recently, a long test-ride in a Mustang Mach-E), I have not driven a pure EV long enough to get some sense of what day-to-day living with one might encompass. I had that chance this weekend, and I am a convert.

Starting with the driving experience, the quiet, the acceleration, and yet the normalcy of cruising down the highway brings you to the understanding that it’s still a car, and as long as it’s a good car (which the Polestar 2 is), it could be your daily driver.

Earlier, I mentioned braking and said that my comments will fit better under the EV discussion. The “2” has adjustable regenerative braking. The screen calls it One Pedal Drive, and the 3 modes are “off”, “low”, and “standard” (which is full regenerative). When turned off, releasing the ‘go’ pedal will allow the car to coast for as long as momentum and gravity will let it, just like an ICE car. At “full”, the accelerator is like an on/off switch. As soon as it’s released, the car starts to slow down. If you’re at very low speeds, the car stops almost immediately; at higher speeds, it will roll for a few yards, but you’ll sense that the brakes have been applied. If this sounds weird, I gotta tell you: I got used to it in about 30 minutes. One pedal driving. It’s easy. It’s safer. It’s fantastic. I wish all my cars had it!

Center screen, One Pedal Drive options on lower left

I tried the “low” mode and frankly didn’t see the point. It’s an unnecessary compromise. I suspect drivers will either get used to and enjoy “full” or will want it to be as much like an ICE car and turn it off. When you do need to quickly get on that brake pedal, those front Brembos haul this 4,700 lb mass to a stop quickly and quietly. Those batteries are heavy, but the car does not have a heavy feel when driving.

I was provided with charging cables for home use, both 120V and 240V. I do not have a 240 setup at home, so I plugged into a 120 outlet in my garage, snaked the cable under the garage door, and let it charge overnight. Admittedly, the battery was only 25% depleted when I started, but I had a full charge in the morning. I was told that at 120V, a full charge from 0 to 100% would take 24 hours. The 240V charge would happen much more quickly. Owning this vehicle would really require the one-time investment of a dedicated home charger – figure roughly a grand for that.

I cruised by two public charging stations, both within a 15-20 minute ride from my home. Spots were available, but I did not take the time to top off the battery. At one (Charge Point) juice can only be purchased if the app is downloaded to your phone. The other, Electrify America, offers the option of an app or will take a credit card at the charging station.

Don’t even think of parking your ICE car here!

The following comments are true for all EVs, not just Polestars: not enough has been made of the savings in repair and maintenance costs. Starting from the moment of purchase, you will never need to be concerned with spark plugs, engine oil, oil filters, transmission or gear oil, oxygen sensors, charcoal canisters, exhaust systems, radiator coolant, belts, or hoses. There’s nothing to leak. I’m having a difficult time imagining what happens at a dealer service visit: check your tire pressure and fill your washer solvent bottle? Your “consumables” are reduced to tires, brakes, suspension bits like shocks and bushings, wiper blades, light bulbs (less and less of an issue with LEDs), and…what, THE BATTERY? By that time you’ll be trading in for a new one.

 

Even the funnel, Sta-Bil, and drain pan become obsolete

TO THE NAYSAYERS

I know that some of you, including friends and colleagues of mine, don’t agree that the advantages of an EV outweigh the disadvantages. Listen, I get it. You should drive what you want to drive. However, living with this Polestar 2 for 48 hours also brought me to the conclusion that many of the stated opinions why EVs won’t replace ICE cars are excuses. Let’s address some of the commonly-cited issues about EVs:

“Range is too short”

Three factors influence range: the size of the fuel tank (or for EV, energy supply, i.e., the battery); the fuel economy of the engine (for an EV, its ability to efficiently consume that energy as motive power); and finally, the driver’s influence (local vs highway driving, frequent stops, idling, heavy accelerator usage, etc.).

The range on the Polestar 2 with 100% battery is 230 miles. Some critics have knocked that as not up to Tesla standards, and it’s not. But how large a factor is that in the purchase decision? It’s never been for me; fuel economy, yes, but my earliest car purchases were vehicles with 10-gallon tanks, so 30MPG still only netted a range of 300 miles, and that’s if I drove it dry, which I never did. Realistic range was 250-275 miles (and that’s what it is in my Miata, also with a 10-gallon tank).

Committing to a purchase of an EV, I now realize, requires a mental shift and a mindset change. Some planning ahead will help ensure that you’ll get there and back. You do the same thing now with gasoline: if you’re leaving early in the a.m. on a 300-mile trip, you’ll likely fill up the evening before. Why wouldn’t you do the same with an EV? Yes, with an ICE, you’ll always find gas stations to refuel, no waiting. The Polestar 2 has tools to overcome “range anxiety”.

“Range anxiety means I’m nervous about venturing far from home”

Google Maps very happily responds to the voice command “Hey Google, where are the nearest charging stations?” by displaying a list of EV chargers within sight on the map. Amazingly to me, this list includes information about the total number of chargers at the site, and how many are presently occupied.

Choice #1 has 1 of 2 medium-speed chargers open, and both slow chargers open

Wouldn’t that be neat to do for the local Exxon station? “Hey Google, how many Exxon stations are nearby?” and you not only get a map of them, you see that “Ed’s Exxon” has 6 pumps, and 4 are being used at present.

“Ha!” You laugh at this notion. “Who needs that? There’s never a wait at a gas station!”

Above: gas lines, 1979. Photo courtesy of https://www.federalreservehistory.org/essays/oil-shock-of-1978-79

I’m convinced you have short memories. Many of you were driving in 1979, when we had our 2nd fuel crisis of the decade, with OPEC turning off the taps, leading to oil shortages, and eventually, rationing. At that time, I was making an 80-mile round-trip to work, and I could only purchase fuel on “even days” based on my license plate. I could do no extra driving outside of my commute during the week. In 1979, I had range anxiety, although we didn’t call it that.

How stable is the Middle East today compared to 40 years ago? Let’s see: Iran’s nuclear buildup, the wobbly Iraqi government, civil unrest in Syria, the Khashoggi murder by Saudi Arabia; I guess we can expect unlimited oil supplies to continue from the region …. The truth is we don’t know what could happen in one, five, or ten years down the road. I would not bet against another large price jump or oil shortage.

“I can’t charge my car if there’s a power failure”

This is very true. Actually, there are a lot of things you can’t do if there’s a power failure. At my house, loss of power means we can’t charge our phones, keep our refrigerated food cold, wash dishes, take showers, flush toilets, light up rooms after sundown, use the microwave, or watch TV. The last time we had a lengthy, large scale power outage was during Superstorm Sandy in 2011, when the neighborhood lost power for four days. At least we weren’t alone in our misery: a quarter-mile away from me is a Shell gas station. They lost power too. You know what they couldn’t do?

They couldn’t pump gasoline.

“I can’t fill up my car with gas if there’s a power failure”. What WE did, based on the forecast, was fill both cars before the storm arrived. Then we didn’t go anywhere anyway. True, we don’t always know when the power will go out. But if I had an EV and we were expecting a major outage, I’d top up. And probably not go anywhere anyway.

“I’ll miss that incredible thrust from that massive V-8”

Anyone who says that has not driven an EV like the Polestar 2 with its instantaneous 487 lb-ft of torque. End of that discussion.

NITS TO PICK

Trying my best to be objective, there is nothing I found that would be a deal-breaker if I were in the market for an EV in this price range. Like so many other vehicles today, the exterior and interior color palette is limited. To my eye, the “2” looks better in lighter colors. I wish there were interior options between the basic grey/black synthetic and the full-zoot tan leather. My V60 has power-folding rear seat head restraints; I miss them here only because I have them already. The buttons on the side of the little black key fob are ridiculously small for my old eyes (yet admittedly I didn’t need to touch them once). That’s all I can think of.

Basic grey interior; functional and un-fancy
Yeah, at 3x magnification I can see ’em!

HOW DOES IT COMPARE?

I would spec it out in white with the tan leather (I would spring for the upscale interior and skip the $5,000 Performance Package). All Polestars are eligible for the $7,500 Federal Tax Credit. $59,900 plus destination, metallic paint, and leather interior, minus the credit, puts me right at $59,000.  Don’t forget to factor in the fuel and maintenance savings.

I’m hard pressed to think of another $60,000 sedan, ICE or EV, that beats this car in equipment, safety, driving dynamics, and environmental care. Teslas have their advantages, including a dedicated charging network, and extensive range. The Model 3 is smaller and has less equipment than the “2”. The Model S is closer in size, yet is priced starting at $10,000 above the “2”, is no longer eligible for any Federal Tax Credit (no Tesla is), and have you seen that yoke of a wheel? How is that thing even legal? A close competitor might be the Volvo S90; I’d hate to suggest that Polestar would cannibalize its own sibling, and the choice might come down to preferences over things like colors and motive power.

When I was checking out one of the charging stations, a guy in a pickup truck stopped and yelled out the window: “Nice car! What is it?” When I responded “a Polestar”, he asked “where do I get one?” I told him NYC. Hope I made a sale.


SIDEBAR: THE POLESTAR 1

There were seven of these beauties lined up in the same lot where I picked up my loaner. This was my first time seeing this car in person. It’s lower than I expected; at first glance, I called it the “Swedish Camaro” – it has that pony car stance.

On closer examination, I began to see hints of the P1800 coupe from the 1960s. Make note of the jutting grille and the sweep of the roof’s rear pillar. The taillights are current Volvo design language. Hoping for a drive in one of these on my next visit.

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

The Isetta Saga, Chapter 30: Two Events in 2009

It turned out to be an eventful year, 2009, which in retrospect was no surprise at all. It started with me (again) telling my bosses at Volvo that I had every intention of taking voluntary retirement in December, to which they continued to react with disbelief. My recent promotion to Manager of Technical Engineering kept me busy, and my own work ethic wanted to ensure that I would depart without leaving unfinished assignments for others to clean up. I was informed that there would be at least one more business trip to Sweden, likely my last. Finally, I would be turning 55 in March, not a major milestone in my mind, but one that still deserved some reckoning.

I still had the ’68 Mustang, and I still had the Isetta, both tucked safely away in the garage. I had toyed with the idea of selling the Isetta, and even ran a few print ads, which got zero response. Since participation in the New England 1000 classic car rally seemed to be on hiatus for now (we last drove in it in 2007, and wouldn’t again until 2013), I continued to search for new opportunities to show the Isetta. The first such opportunity of the year came about when I saw an ad for the Readington Township Memorial Day parade: the parade organizers were looking for “old cars”.

Various old clunkers are staged before the parade’s start

My entry was accepted, and we trailered the car to the assembly area, a local strip mall. (In fact, we live in Readington Township which is quite large. I considered driving the car there but it would have meant crossing several major thoroughfares.) The variety of vehicles in the parade confirmed for me that there were no limits to vehicle type, as long as the cars were “old”. Volunteers handed us the obligatory red, white & blue accoutrements, and we were off.

Yes, a VW Beetle IS larger than a certain BMW

 

The King and Queen of the parade pose for a pic

 

 

Appropriately attired, we’re about to take off

 

You can’t be an introvert and ride in an Isetta during a parade

 

The challenge with driving an old car in a parade is maintaining an appropriate speed. Too fast, and you’ll zoom by spectators who’ll barely get to see their reflections in your shiny chrome. Too slow, and you might overheat, or, if you’re driving a stick, you may find yourself slipping the clutch. This parade was S-L-O-W. I had trouble maintaining a steady pace of, oh, about 2.5 mph. More than once I would pop it into neutral and coast, even if that meant leaving a greater distance between my car and the car in front of me. Nevertheless, it was a delightful parade, with Main Street lined with the cheering residents of Readington. The tortoise-like pace, though, bored me, until I got the bright idea to throw the door open while driving. The car can still be steered, however, the door opens both outward AND upward, which blocked my forward view. It was worth it, though, because the crowd (ok, just the kids) went wild with screams and laughter every time I did that.

A different kind of horsepower

Later that summer, I dragged the little red bubble to the Boonton Cruise Night, a Friday tradition in northern NJ. Boonton’s affair is possibly typical for a suburban cruise night, set in the large parking lot of a strip mall anchored by a WalMart, so there’s plenty of regular traffic along with that generated by the car nuts. A pizzeria kept us nourished with food and caffeine, and a few friends showed up. This September outing was the second and final one for the Isetta in 2009. In December, as promised, I retired from Volvo Cars of North America after 23 years of employment. I had no idea what I would do in 2010, but I certainly hoped to have more free time to play with cars.

Two red cars, one just slightly more powerful – note the Isetta Jeopardy board on display

 

The view from the folding chair

 

All photographs copyright © 2020 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Sunday Morning Breakfast Drive, Sep 22, 2019

The last official day of summer turned out to be a near-perfect day for a breakfast drive. Pre-dawn, the air remained cool enough for a light jacket; once ol’ Sol broke above the horizon, or in our case, over  the Mahwah Sheraton, the air temp quickly climbed and didn’t stop climbing until reaching the 80s.

(Part of) the morning lineup

Eleven gentlemen in nine different vehicles made the trek on the 22nd. Six of the nine rides wore German badges (I was surprised the group didn’t demand knockwurst and potato pancakes for breakfast). However, it’s a genial bunch, and we heard nary a complaint about our chosen destination, the Hampton Diner in Newton NJ.

On Route 206 in Newton, if you care to visit- book your party here

We set out from the Sheraton at about 8:35am, with Larry leading the way in his Nova. It was a glorious drive through northern Jersey, dipping into then out of New York State. A planned pit stop was undertaken at a BP gas station in Vernon NJ. To everyone’s surprise, Bill’s Porsche did NOT need fuel, but more than a few of us took advantage of the restroom facility. One patch of rough road brought our speed down to below 30mph for a bit, but all the cars escaped unscathed.

Burton demonstrates the ease of dropping the XK-120’s top

We reached the Diner just before 10:30am, were immediately served coffee, and got our breakfast plates not long after. Thanks goes out to our young waiter who seemed to have a pot of hot java available for refills at a moment’s notice.

Bill makes his point

 

Larry collects the bucks

As is our habit, the conversations continued out into the parking lot, and it was past noon by the time the final vehicles began the return trip home. While tomorrow may be the first day of autumn, that should still give us ample time to fit in one (or two) more breakfast runs this year.

Sal’s E30 BMW

 

Bill’s black 911

 

Peter’s red 911

 

Rich L’s white 911

 

Jeff’s BMW Z3

 

Art’s VW GTi

 

Burton’s Jaguar XK-120

 

Larry’s Chevy Nova

 

Your blogger’s Miata

 

Ours were not the only classics at the diner that morning

 

All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Sunday Morning Breakfast Drive, August 4, 2019

It’s been 10 years or more since the Sunday Morning Breakfast Drives started; my partner-in-crime Larry and I have been spearheading the events for at least the last 6 or 7 years; and the format is almost always the same: rendezvous at the Sheraton Hotel in Mahwah NJ; drive a pre-planned route, with all our vehicles following each other; and arrive at a breakfast joint for food and coffee.

However, we’re always looking for ways to mix things up for our little group, so we decided to try something different this time out. We opted for our own “cars & coffee” type of gathering, in lieu of an actual drive along scenic country roads. So while our participants had to drive to get to today’s destination, The Fireplace Restaurant on Route 17 in Paramus NJ, there was no caravan per se. For consistency though, I still used the word “drive” in the subject line.

A dozen or so cars arrived promptly at 8am in The Fireplace’s parking lot, and as is our wont, we chatty men loitered and gabbed for about 20 minutes before Larry yelled “hey, let’s get some breakfast before it gets too crowded in there!” I confess, one aspect of The Fireplace that I enjoy is that it’s each person on his own for ordering and paying. The usual gig at a diner is for the bill to come to me, and after I’ve calculated the tip and grand total, I’m collecting money from 20 heads. The Fireplace affords me the chance to forego that responsibility.

“When I hit 100 I shifted into 3rd, and passed that Vega like it was standing still!”

After a hearty breakfast, we headed outside to admire the hardware. It’s been a hot summer in NJ, and today was not any different. The temperature differential between 8am and 10am was noticeable, but that did not dissuade us from checking out each other’s rides. Several of our regulars arrived in vehicles we’ve not seen before: Julio in his very original Dodge pickup, and Sal in his “I just bought it yesterday” Alfa spider.

We heard no complaints about lack of a tour, and everyone seemed to enjoy the meal, the cars, and the camaraderie. By 11am or so, the group started to break up and head back, which points out another wonderful aspect of our Sunday runs: most of us are home by early afternoon, leaving the rest of the day free for whatever occupies one’s time on a hot sunny August Sunday. Larry and I promised each other that we’ll get another event on the calendar ASAP.

Bob’s Mustang Cobra

 

Dan’s Porsche 944 cabrio

 

Larry’s Nova

 

Richard’s Miata

 

Bill’s 911

 

Pete’s 911

 

Nick’s Mustang

 

John’s Land Rover Defender

 

Sal’s Alfa Graduate

 

Paul’s Camaro

 

Jeff’s BMW Z3

 

Julio’s Dodge pickup

 

See ya! Til next time…

 

All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.