How To Test-Drive a Car Audio System

2011 Audi A8

Driving and music go together like the ocean and salt.

The humble in-car radio started it all, beginning as a luxurious novelty in the 1930s. Today there are people who treasure the pounding of thunderous bass in their cars so much they rank the performance of an audio system over the performance of the engine. Yup, people love their music!

Car salesmen especially love these audio aficionados. I’ve talked with some who judge how easy a sale will be by what the customer does immediately after starting the car for a test drive: If he or she turns the stereo on, the sound quality will sell (or not sell) the car. If the customer turns the stereo off, the salesman knows he will have to work harder to describe the car’s other features.

According to USA Today, Matt Kirsch is a “stereo on” kind of guy. Kirsch is an audio engineer with General Motors and has an intriguing playlist for testing audio setups, which you should check out if you’re an audiophile who likes to test-drive the tunes:

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Hands-Free and Brain-Free Driving


Back in January we spoke some unkind words about the Ford-Microsoft Sync venture. Namely, that super-connectivity (music, phone, media, driver directions, etc.) could only distract drivers from the most important – and hazardous – task at hand. What a stupid thing to say. Everyone loves it, and 80 percent of new Fords are ordered with Sync. Of course people want to be distracted from driving: It’s just too boring.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, recently took personal delivery from Alan Mulally, Ford CEO, of a new Fusion, all Synced out and with media coverage to boot. Steve was so excited that he reportedly exclaimed, “Hehehe! Hahaha! Beautiful, man!” and ran to greet Mulally and the press, assembled for the self-effacing sales pitch you’ll see and hear below.

Don’tcha just love Alan talking about “another node on the big Internet in the sky”? And, as he further said, “We all want to be connected.” Well, pretty soon we will likely have not just the “hands-free functionality” of Sync, but the functionality of hands-free driving—the next step on the road to mass distraction.

Okay, I’m jaundiced, but don’t you think Sync could contribute to driver distraction? Give us your thoughts.


A Prius that sounds like a Lamborghini?

A simple solution to a growing problem

A simple solution to a growing problem

Back in January we wondered what would happen to the sound of acceleration as electric and hybrid cars slowly gain traction on the roads.

In a world of silent electric cars, would we miss the throaty rumble of a V8? Would the weed-wacker whine of a tuned Civic become a distant memory? 

Fear not, fellow cargurus, your Congress is stepping up to bring the noise back to hybrids! And it’s actually pretty cool.

The problem with silent acceleration isn’t just the omission of auditory engine feedback. It turns out driving without a sound is dangerous, especially to children and people who are blind.  

That’s the fundamental thinking behind a bill introduced by Congress this month:

To direct the Secretary of Transportation to study and establish a motor vehicle safety standard that provides for a means of alerting blind and other pedestrians of motor vehicle operation.

A new company called Enhanced Vehicle Acoustics has jumped on the opportunity and has created a device consisting of a computerized control unit and speakers placed under each wheel well that emit the sounds of a conventional gas engine. 

While the main intent of this device is to alert pedestrians that a car is approaching, the company also says that customers will have a choice as to what sounds their cars make.

Imagine your Prius accelerating to the sound of a horse clip-clopping on a cobblestone street. Or emitting the whine of a jet engine. Or roaring like a Lamborghini V12.

Hey, there’s no reason safety can’t be fun!

What sound would you want you electric or hybrid car to make while accelerating?


New York Auto Show: Some Domestic Debuts


It has been one tough year for automakers worldwide, and that’s an understatement. Apparently, they are carrying on bravely in New York, putting the best face on a very shaky situation, showing us a few interesting U.S. cars that may shine their headlights through the gloom.

Let’s take a quick look at the GMC Terrain (GM’s newest crossover utility vehicle), the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the PUMA (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) Project.

Called by some a motorized rickshaw, the PUMA is a project of GM and Segway, makers of that stand-up electric-scooter thing we saw last year. Imagine staid old GM partnering with these guys! I doubt I’d want to do 35 mph in this (its top speed), but test drives, we hear, will be available in the fall. With Hummer soon to disappear, this vehicle goes to the antipodes of high-mass, big-impact design. It’s kind of a delightful joke for GM to do this.

One joke that may bomb is the GMC Terrain, yet another version of the Equinox but with better fuel economy. Four or six cylinders are available. If you buy the four, you’ll get something called Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) technology. “ANC quiets the ride by detecting booming noises in the vehicle and smoothing them out by sending out counteracting sound waves through the audio system’s speakers.”

That is, instead of using technology to cancel the booms and vibrations at their source, these geniuses figured out how to mask them. Guys, what happens if you turn off the sound system? And the grille on this badge-engineered bad boy looks “like a rapper showing off newly purchased gold or silver teeth,” as one blogger (scroll down to GasGuzzler’s comment) put it.

Even in the face of bankruptcy, GM follows its usual practice of rebadging and remarketing the same car with minimal changes in sheet metal. Will U.S. buyers once again fall for this tired gambit? Or will they all Segway into the future?

Ah, but there is good news from Chrysler. Look at this photo of Vice Chairman Jim Press, who drove the Fiat 500 into the show. How did he fit in that car? Does this suggest that Chrysler will impose itself onto Fiat and drive off into the sunset, clutching the wheel to its chest? Now, what kind of rebadging is that?

Chrysler will show off the new 2011 (yes, that’s right) Jeep Grand Cherokee, which may well prove an important means to its survival. That car has certainly languished over the years. Take it from me, I owned a ’93 5.7-liter V8 that inspired no love. Now the GC has got a new high-performing V6, better fuel economy, better off-road capability, and a smoother ride on the street. It’s far better looking, the interior is much improved, and perhaps the GC’s overpriced, high-maintenance, cheesy-trim days are over. The company needs this car.

Tell us what you think of the GM-Segway project. Does it have a future, or is it just a good public relations stunt?


The Best Car Songs… Ever!


The famous Red Barchetta

When I decided to write about the best songs ever about cars, I had a few in mind but was quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of great songs that pay tribute to the automobile. Seriously, I could fill a week’s worth of blogs on this topic alone.

Being a rocker at heart, I’m going to give my absolute favorite songs that both fuel my passion for rocking out while capturing the essence of what it means to fall under the spell of steel and chrome.

You won’t see any Little Deuce Coupes here or take any rides along Route 66. No one will drive a Chevy to the levy, and there will be no whining about getting a T-Bird taken away.

These, friends, are some of the best songs ever about cars (and I know there’s a ton more, so let us know your faves!):

Red Barchetta, Rush

Don’t we all wish we had uncles like the guy in this song? Every time I hear this song I can almost feel the speed and hear the sound of this old Ferrari.

Black Devil Car, Jamiroquai

Let the lyrics speak for themselves: “Riding around in my black devil car I can’t hear a sound because my foot pushing down too hard.”

The Distance, Cake

The story of a determined but lone race car driver… Ever feel like giving up on anything? Listen to this song!

I Can’t Drive 55, Sammy Hagar

“When I drive that slow, you know it’s hard to steer. And I can’t get my car out of second gear! What used to take two hours now takes all day.”

Well said Sammy, put the pedal to the metal!

Fuel, Metallica

The perfect song for driving fast is all about driving fast… Go ahead, quench your thirst with gasoline and turn up the stereo!

Your turn: What are your favorite car songs?


Is Ford alienating youth with newest feature?

How will teens respond to Ford's MyKey?

How will teens respond to Ford's MyKey?

Starting next model year, Ford will begin offering a new feature designed to limit the freedoms teens have while driving mom and dad’s car.

MyKey, as Ford is calling it, will allow parents to limit the top speed of the car, sound a continuous alarm if the seat belt is not buckled and even limit the volume of the stereo system.

The feature will be standard on some 2010 Ford models, beginning with the Focus.

I can see Ford’s strategy here of giving concerned parents a way to control the driving habits of their teens. And I agree with the fact that teens are notoriously bad drivers and probably shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel until they are 17 or 18.

Considering all that, you might think that I’d sing the praises for MyKey, but in fact I despise the idea for one simple reason: trust.

The fact is, America’s legal driving age is 16. Whether I like that or not it’s the law. As legal drivers, we need to trust teens to make the right choices behind the wheel just as much as we trust every other legal driver.

I wonder if Ford has considered this little fact: teens are fickle.

Especially the group of teens known as Generation Y. If these teens feel a lack of trust from a corporation now, they’re less likely to give that corporation their business a couple years down the road.

When it’s time for the teens of today to make their first vehicle purchase, do you think there’s any chance that they’ll buy a Ford? The same company that didn’t even trust them with the radio controls?

This is potentially a huge alienation of the next group of auto buyers, and a real opportunity for brands like Scion to step up and embrace teens with a very simple message: We trust you.

What do you think of MyKey?


Ford’s Top 10 New Features for 2008

You have to give Ford credit for its aggressiveness in designing and marketing its 2008 lineup of cars, SUVs and crossover vehicles, which are just starting to hit showrooms. And if truth be told, a number of the automaker’s vehicles have all the markings of surefire hits. The Ford Escape Hybrid (above) is one such up-and-comer, as are the Ford Edge crossover vehicle (introduced in 2007) and the Taurus X crossover (a rebadged Freestyle that shows promise, though the exterior design needs some tweaking). I also like the Focus, which is a great little entry-level vehicle, and I think the new Ford Taurus (a rebadged Five Hundred) has the possibility of being a breakthrough hit for the automaker.

The 2008 Taurus is an interesting vehicle, in part because of the attention paid to it by Ford’s interior design team. According to press reports, it appears that Ford is determined not to screw up this vehicle. Instead, the automaker is paying close attention to the details, or what is often referred to as the vehicle’s “fit and finish.” Such components as the shift knob, the instrument gauges, the feel of the audio control knobs, and even the sound the door makes when it closes have come under intense scrutiny by designers, who are seeking to create an image of quality.

That’s admirable, and it’s a theme that’s beginning to resonate through the car company. For proof, just take a look at the “Top 10 New Product Features” for 2008 Fords, Lincolns, and Mercurys. A partial list includes the following:

> Ford Sync, a “voice-activated, hands-free, in-car communications and entertainment system.” incorporates Bluetooth technology and USB connectivity to enable drivers to easily integrate their mobile phones and media players with the car’s systems. For instance, you can control your iPod simply by speaking to it. Cool. Developed with Microsoft, the Sync system will be available on 12 Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles later this year, and on all of Ford’s vehicles in two years.

> Voice-activated navigation, which enables hands-free operation, will enable drivers to control the navigation system with more than 100 vocal commands. It will be available on 13 Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles for 2008.

> A capless fuel filler will be standard on 2008 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer models. No need to ever worry again about losing the gas cap. Instead, the capless fuel system opens automatically when a fuel nozzle is inserted, and seals shut automatically when the nozzle is removed.

> Eco-friendly recycled seating surfaces, made from 100-percent post-industrial waste, are installed in the 2008 Ford Escape and Ford Escape Hybrid. This is an industry-first, Ford notes, and should save 600,000 gallons of water, 1.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, and 7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Other Top 10 new product features include a rear-view camera system, an LED ambient interior lighting system, one touch power-assisted flip-and-fold seats in the Taurus X, and a Tailgate Step in the 2008 Ford F-Series Super Duty trucks. All in all, that’s a pretty impressive list. All that remains is to see if drivers respond to these innovations with their pocketbooks.

Air Force Fun: The Audi Roadjet

Audi Roadjet Concept

Not too long ago, Ruben Studdard won American Idol with his stirring rendition of “Flying Without Wings.” While a recent poll revealed that only about 13 people in America remembered that fact, Audi might want to have him on speed-dial for their marketing campaign when they introduce their Roadjet compact concept to European showrooms in the near future. After an eye-opening debut at the January 2006 Detroit Auto Show, Audi has announced that the concept will finally materialize in Europe in the near future.

Audi has made sure to make the ride fun for everyone. It all begins with a unique interior design, which features 3 rows that seat 5. Each front seat has a 7″ screen on the back of its headrest and the second row features a central console where you can store anything from a video game system to an espresso machine.

Got bass? The Roadjet has plenty to spare with its 14 speaker, 1,000 watt audio system. If you need more cargo room, simply fold down the two second row seats and slide down the fifth seat in the back.

While the interior design will impress just about anyone, the Roadjet really shines in its performance and high-tech specs. First, the 3.2 L, 300 hp V6 powertrain features a new 7 speed direct shift gearbox, which switches on a dime with its twin-clutch design. Acceleration from 0-60 mph takes 6.3 seconds and fuel consumption should come out to a solid 22.6 mpg. Best of all, Audi has joined forces with other manufacturers to include “car-to-car communications” transmitters that will allow vehicles to exchange information to help determine traffic patterns, find a parking space, or even save another driver who has veered too far off the road for anyone to see.

As for availability on this side of the pond, don’t get your hopes up. Experts believe that Audi will instead market the more SUV-like Q5 in order to appeal to the American automotive palette. Whenever and wherever it does arrive, expect the Audi Roadjet to keep its wheels on the ground and its hood in the clouds.

For more info, check the following sites:

– Posted by Taeho Lim