Category Archives: Car Culture

2022 Ford Explorer ST To Have Standard Rear-Wheel-Drive

What’s old is new again. Sources tell Ford Authority that the 2022 edition of the Explorer ST will attempt to justify its sporting pretensions by making its currently standard all-wheel-drive an option, and coming with rear-wheel-drive off the shelf.

I remember the original Explorer, which was nothing more than a Ranger with a wagon-style body — literally a grown-up Bronco II. That was rear-wheel-drive, with optional four-wheel-drive, transfer case and all, because it was a truck. Today SUVs bear little resemblance to truck except for their sky-high price tags, and being big, bloated, and way more car than you actually need. And now, all of a sudden, rear-wheel-drive is back, because it’s sporty.

I have fond memories of the Focus ST press car I had for a week. I parked my Subaru BRZ, (a genuine rear-wheel-drive sports car), drove the ST exclusively, and thoroughly enjoyed it. This was in spite of the focus being “wrong wheel drive,” powering the front wheels. It handled well. It stopped well. It had more than enough power. In fact, the only reason I ended up replacing my BRZ with a WRX is because the Subaru dealer hooked me up with a great deal to keep me in a Subaru instead of jumping ship to Ford. I would’ve been happy owning a Focus ST. I definitely would’ve enjoyed its interior more.

To the Explorer ST, I say, “You, sir, are no ST.” I understand that since Ford has axed all their cars except the Mustang from American shores, they have to have something sporty to offer the masses. But the Explorer will never bring a smile to my face the way that Focus ST did. It’s a big lumbering SUV, and nothing can offset the bulk that comes with it. As the great philosopher Montgomery Scott said, “Ye canna change the laws of physics.”

So I find it ironic that Ford feels the need to offer a rear-wheel-drive version of the Explorer ST to scream, “Look! It really is a real performance car, really!” Then again, I also find it ironic that so many manufacturers are going back to rear-wheel-drive for performance applications after insisting on the safety and economy of front-wheel-drive layouts for years. BMW and Mercedes, who practically invented the sport sedan segment, never left rear-wheel-drive behind in the first place.

The 2023 Nissan Z Is the Best Kind of Throwback

Nissan pulled the covers off the long-awaited and seriously overdue successor to the 370Z. At first glance, I think it’s exactly what Nissan needed.

The current version of the car came out as the 350Z way, way back in 2002. It got some minor updates and became the 370Z in 2008 and has remained basically unchanged since, so if you think the 370Z looks dated, that’s because it is. Its replacement, originally thought to be called the 400Z but now known as simply the Z, are both an update and a throwback, all at the same time. The front evokes the twin round headlight design of the original 240Z, while the rear mimics the 1990s 300ZX. It does both of these in a thoroughly modern way.

The Z gets a 400 horsepower, 350 lb-ft, 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, with either a six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. If the suspension is tuned for handling rather than boulevard cruising, it could be quite the formidable sports car once again, as any Nissan with a Z in its name should be.

Jalopnik has a good overview of the new car, as well as five great design details that really make it work visually. Automotive News has more, and points out that Nissan has given us a 400-horsepower twin-turbo sports car in the age of ever increasing electrification. The Drive gives Nissan well-deserved kudos for keeping the manual transmission alive in the new Z.

This Subaru Outback Survived a 500-Mile Desert Race

Say what you will about Subaru’s rust issues and disposable head gaskets. They’re also tough. And not just WRX rally cars. John Frana and Ryan Brumund just ran their mildly modified Subaru Outback (the old Legacy-based wagon, not the modern SUV) in the Best of the Desert race — and finished. Dead last, but hey, they finished! Many off-road-built trophy trucks and UTVs can’t make that claim.

Read all about it at The Drive.

Toyota and Subaru Got the new 86 and BRZ Right

I haven’t gotten my hands on one yet, but Jalopnik has, and they’re impressed. The new version of the Toyobaru twins has cured the complaints people had about the original (full disclosure: I had a 2014 model and LOVED it). The new 2.4-liter boxer engine cures the dreaded torque dip of the old 2.0. The interior doesn’t feel like you’re in a Yaris. The gauge cluster and infotainment work much better than in my old car. And, if you choose the correct option package, the standard Michelin Primacy HP “Prius tires” get an upgrade to the Pilot Sport 4S, The old Pilot Super Sports transformed my BRZ from a drift machine into a grippy track car, so it’s great that they now offer this setup from the factory.

I still want to get my hands on one for myself. Toyota or Subaru, call me.

The Lamborghini Countach Is Back

How many Generation X gearheads had a poster of the Lamborghini Countach on their bedroom walls? Well, the nostalgia craze is alive and well, as Lamborghini announced they’re bringing it back — in an expensive and exclusive way.

Automotive News has all the details, but to summarize: 112 cars, $2.6 million a piece, with a hybrid V12 drivetrain and an attractive body strongly influenced by the original, but updated for modern times. I wonder how many of these will appear on teenager’s bedroom walls?

Travis Pastrana Sets New Mount Washington Record

Nothing is ever fast enough for Travis Pastrana. That includes his previous record time up Mt. Washington of 5:44.72, which he set at the 2017 Climb to the Clouds event. After shooting the Gymkhana 2021 viral video with a custom-built, no-holds-barred, 862 horsepower Subaru WRX STI, he knew he could improve on that time with this car. That’s exactly what he did, setting a new record of 5:28.67 on his first official run up the mountain.

Some people claimed that then-teammate and previous record holder David Higgins was the faster driver. Pastrana himself agreed, as well as the data, as Higgins’ split times were faster than Pastrana’s. Some say Pastrana only got the record because Higgins crashed out on the turn at Cragway. This time, Pastrana proved he has what it takes on his own.

Of course, having the Airslayer STI at his disposal helped. This car was built specifically for Gymkhana 2021 to be the most awesome STI ever, and to no racing class rules whatsoever. It sounded like an angry bumblebee streaking up the mountain. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss Pastrana going by.

Absolutely perfect weather conditions all the way up and down Mt. Washington helped, too. While it rained during Saturday practice and clouds enveloped the top (where I was) during the lunch break between runs, it was dry with clear visibility from bottom to top when it mattered.

Pastrana’s second run was actually slower than his first, 5:41.71. Though it still broke his 2017 record, his faster first run was the one that counted. My theory is that since the new record was already in the books, Travis drove a little harder on his second run. From what I saw 1/4 mile from the finish, his first run was smooth and controlled, while he bobbed and weaved a bit more on his second run. That’s certainly more like his regular driving style, but ironically it was emulating the calm and clean Higgins that made him faster. Travis openly credits Higgins for teaching him most of what he knows about rally driving during their time together at what is now Subaru Motorsports USA.

My question is, what now? The massive effort that Pastrana and Subaru Motorsports USA put in broke the record, but only shaved 13 seconds off his previous time. There can’t be much more time he can drop at this point. More power is great for the straightaways, but there’s only so much grip you can get for the nearly constant turns. The Airslayer STI has massive aero enhancements, but even their usefulness is limited in the tighter corners that require slower speeds. We’ll have to wait and see what other tricks Travis and Subaru Motorsports USA have up their sleeves to pull out at the next one.

Behind the Scenes of the New England Forest Rally

I volunteered to work amateur radio communications for the 2021 New England Forest Rally. It was fun. My camper van served as an excellent mobile communications center. I got to catch up with old friends, from competitors to other volunteers and everyone in between.

You can read all about my adventure at FIXD. You can also watch my Smokey Da Van video about NEFR.