Archive for September, 2012

Carmageddon is back to terrorize Los Angeles this weekend, September 28 – 30, 2012.  As before, a traffic apocalypse is predicted with the closure of Interstate 405 between the intersection of the 101 Freeway and I-10 — IF people don’t stay home or drastically change their travel plans for the weekend. The closure is necessary in order to demolish the rest of the old Mulholland Drive bridge that wasn’t taken down last year.

Here’s LA Metro’s official Carmageddon II video:

Last year, the original Carmageddon was in the middle of July.   I, and many other people, feared the worst and got the hell out of town to relax in sizzling hot Palm Springs.  When I drove back to L.A. on Sunday, I was bracing for backups on surrounding freeways, even though I wasn’t planning on going anywhere near the 405.

What happened that weekend in July 2011 was nothing short of a miracle. People stayed home or stayed in their neighborhood and traffic was the best it’s been since the Los Angeles 1984 Summer Olympics.  It was such a joy to drive on the freeways that Sunday that I shaved an extra 10 minutes off my usual drive from Palm Springs back to West Hollywood.

What will happen this time is anyone’s guess. Since it was so good last time, people may well ignore the warnings and go about their usual business, trying to get around the 405 closure by surface streets. However, the Sepulveda Pass has only one surface street – Sepulveda Blvd. – and the California Highway Patrol says that it will only be open for local traffic (i.e., people who live in the area).

All other north-south traffic between the Valley and the rest of the world is handled by the canyons: Beverly Glen, Benedict, Laurel, Coldwater and the Cahuenga Pass.  Typically, like when one of the canyon passes is closed or blocked (think rain and mud slides), cross town traffic is an unmitigated disaster. Add an hour to your 30 minute drive.

Any unplanned blockage or closure of the 405 for something like a brush fire or an accident snarls traffic all around the freeway for miles in any direction as people try to jockey around and find an alternative.

Let’s hope that all the publicity surrounding Carmageddon II elicits a repeat performance by Angelenos of the first Carmageddon behavior. Stay local – eat, shop and socialize in your own neighborhood.

Here’s what drivers need to know:

  • Full closure of the freeways starts at 12:01 am (midnight),  Saturday September 29, 2012.
  • The CHP will begin closing the freeway on ramps at 7 pm, Friday September 28, 2012.
  • The northbound 405 between the 10 and the 101 freeways will be completely shut down.
  • The southbound 405 will be closed from Burbank Boulevard north of the 101 all the way down to the Getty Center Drive on ramp.
  • While the Sepulveda Pass is the main detour route with no lane closures, officials warn it could get saturated and advise to stay clear of it.
  • Sepulveda Blvd, between the 101 and Getty Center Drive is supposed to be for local traffic only.
  • The Sunset Bridge will be open, but the Skirball Bridge will be closed.
  • Canyon roads and cross mountain traffic in the Valley will be heavily patrolled by LAPD (watch for motorcycle cops with radar guns).
  • Officials recommend the 710 freeway as an alternate for drivers.
  • Stay home or travel with a bike or use the Metro, if necessary.
  • The 405 is scheduled to reopen at Monday October 1 at 5 am. (Hopefully earlier!

Carmageddon Dinner Party – July 2011

Last year, several people snuck on the 405 and took some funny and amazing pictures. Don’t count on getting away with it this time as the CHP will be looking for YOU.  Here’s a message from the CHP:

And just for fun, we bring you “Hitler Rants About Carmageddon” from 2011. It’s particularly funny given the Apple Store and iPhone references considering the crazy sales of the latest iPhone 5 that came out only one week ago:


I’m old enough to remember the original Dodge Dart that “graced” the American roads from 1960 to 1976. Aside from the first generation 1960 – 1961 model years, the Dodge Dart was a platform twin with the decidedly un-sexy Plymouth Valiant.

The original Dart sold well, but the vast majority were soporific, entry-level “compact” (by contemporary standards) family cars. Some performance variants came and went. Remember the Swinger or the Demon? And after some Christian groups complained about the name “Demon” and the use of a devil with a pitchfork in ads, it was renamed the Sport. Gosh, that was original.

The Dart soldiered on until is was quietly laid to rest at the end of the 1976 model year. Of course, there was the obligatory “Spirit of ’76” edition — I think all the Detroit automakers introduced some tedious bicentennial models, some complete with red, white and blue theme, stickers and badges.

After decades in the dustbin of history, the rejuvenated Chrysler Group, now controlled by Italy’s Fiat (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino) Automobiles S.p.A., dusted off the venerable nameplate for what is arguably its most important post-bankruptcy product.

The 2013 Dodge Dart

Based on the well-received European market Alfa Romeo (also a Fiat company) Giulietta, the 2013 Dodge Dart put on some weight and size for the bigger North American market. In fact, Dodge boasts that the Dart has interior capacities more in line with mid-size sedans than its compact class.

Styling is a mostly successful pinched version of the much bigger Dodge Charger. It’s a fresh design, replete with Dodge styling cues, that once and for all drives the final nails in the coffins of past Dodge compact disappointments; namely the Neon and the Caliber.

The rear of the 2013 Dodge Dart. In this case, it’s the Limited model with the 1.4L turbo engine with Fiat’s MultiAir technology.

I had the opportunity to briefly test the base Dart SE with the 2.0L 160 hp 148 lb-ft of torque “Tigershark” 4-cylinder engine mated to a new 6-speed automatic. In addition, I drove the 6-speed manual Dart SXT fitted with Fiat’s 1.4L turbo 4-cylinder engine making 160 hp 184 lb-ft of torque with valve induction and timing managed by the company’s MultiAir ™ technology This is the same engine and transmission combo found in the Fiat 500 Abarth.

The base Dart SE starts at $16,790 including destination; but needs at least $2,390 of options to give it a minimum level of kit, some of which should be standard, like Bluetooth and air conditioning. The 6-speed automatic is a $1,100 option that will be fitted to the vast majority of Darts sold in the U.S. I can’t imagine a Dart SE sold in California without the $995 “Value Group” which includes air conditioning, keyless entry and speed-sensitive power locking doors.

A nice vanity shot of the new 2013 Dodge Dart, courtesy of Dodge.

The Dart’s class-leading 106.4 inch wheelbase and front struts combined with an independent rear multi-link suspension did an admirable job of soaking up bumps and rough roads. The electric power steering was light and precise, although I think the Focus has a more driver-focused feeling.

The 2.0 L Tigershark (stupid name for a new family of engines, considering this one doesn’t have much of a bite) engine with variable valve timing bolted to the 6-speed automatic will be the volume drivetrain. People like me would like some more bite to our Tigershark and that will be available later this year in the R/T model with a 2.4L Tigershark 4-cylinder engine sporting “enhanced” MultiAir II ™ technology making 184 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque. The R/T will be available with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.

There are lots of transmission choices for the Dart. All models have a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission as standard. A 6-speed automatic is also available on all models and a 6-speed dual dry clutch transmission is available on the 1.4L MultiAir turbo engine that won the Best New Engine of 2010 award.

Dodge is certainly not willing to admit it, but it blew the introduction of the Dart in July because it didn’t have the 6-speed automatic transmission available. Since 90+ percent of the Darts sold will be equipped with the automatic, dealers couldn’t convince many customers to buy the manual version. That’s bad planning.

Since I keep throwing around the term MultiAir, it might be a good idea to define it. It’s an electro-hydraulic variable valve actuation system that delivers “optimum combustion at any speed under all driving conditions by allowing direct and dynamic control of air intake and combustion.” Basically, it helps the the engine breathe better resulting in increased fuel economy.

My Dart SE was the basic model that you’ll find in the rental fleets. The cabin was sort of a dreary cave, all covered in black plastic and cloth; however, the plastics were as good or better than the competition (Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, VW Jetta, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, etc.). Hard plastics were reserved for lower panels, not the ones in your direct line of site or touch.

This is the interior of the basic Dart SE. If you do opt for an SE, get a lighter interior as the all black looks a bit somber. The two-tone tan interior looks much richer, even if it isn’t.

I think most Dart retail buyers will step up to the better-equipped and competitively-priced SXT models with more standard kit and a slew of high-tech optional equipment found in more costly Chrysler Group products. In fact, the Dart is another prime example of the democratization of technology.

The basic radio unit in the Dodge Dart.

How did it drive?

Well, it was definitely solid and fuss-free. It won’t win any speed contests, but the 6-speed automatic did a great job of downshifting when needed and kept the engine in the sweet spot to optimize fuel economy. The brakes felt capable and linear, not spongy. All four wheels get disc brakes as standard equipment. I was also impressed that I didn’t detect any torque steer in normal city driving.

The radio and climate controls were simple and well-placed. The AC strained to overcome the extreme triple-digit desert heat, but managed to cool the cabin by the end of the drive. The manual tilt-telescope steering wheel helped me find a good seating position so that my 6 foot 1 inch frame didn’t feel cramped at all.

The passenger in-seat storage system in the 2013 Dart.

The front passenger seat has a clever in-seat storage system. The cushion pulls forward to reveal a hidden compartment for small items like a wallet or digital camera. I’m not sure how comfortable it would be for the passenger as the seat cushion is thinner. The extra-large glove box can fit a laptop computer or tablet.

The SXT with the 1.4L turbo MultiAir engine had a completely different character. I loved the exhaust note when it was started and revved. I didn’t love the way it drove in traffic. It’s like the engine is dead between 2nd and 3rd gear. What happened to the turbo?

The only way to have fun with the turbo was to get it on open stretches with your right foot mashing the happy pedal. The 6-speed manual was good, but not compared to the amazingly silky unit in the Honda Civic Si. I can’t imagine driving this thing on a daily basis in LA — it would make me scream like a maniac in traffic. If you want the turbo, opt for the 6-speed automatic or the dual clutch unit.

The 6-speed manual transmission available on the 2013 Dodge Dart

Fuel economy is an important selling point for the new Dart. One of the benchmarks set by the U.S. Government was for Chrysler to make a high-volume, 40 mpg car at a factory in the U.S. The Dart, built in Toledo, Ohio at Chrysler’s Belvidere Assembly Plant, fulfills that metric and Fiat’s bonus was an additional 5% ownership stake in Chrysler.

The base Dart SE I drove was rated at 24/27/34 mpg. The Dart SXT, with the 1.4L MultiAir turbo and 6-speed stick was rated at 27/32/39. The base SE is slightly behind its class, but the little turbo equals or slightly beats its competitors.

Wait, wait – there’s more!

In a couple months, you will be able to buy the Dart Aero, a more aerodynamic variant of the 1.4L MultiAir turbo Dart that will get up to 41 mpg with the stick or 40 mpg with automatic. For no real reason, 40 mpg is the new “magic” number in the compact segment and now Dodge has similar bragging rights.

But that’s not all…!

This upgraded interior of the Dart Limited sports red accents, Nappa Leather seats and contrasting red French stitching.

For the enthusiast, you will have to wait a little bit longer to get your hands on the sporty R/T model with the new 16-valve 2.4L Tigershark MultiAir II 4-cylinder engine. It promises to be the really fun Dart. Yeah, it’s right on target (no review is complete without this cliché).

I love all the grown up features that Dodge is offering on the new Dart. In addition to the over 100,000 ways to color customize the Dart, Dodge offers features including automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, Xenon lamps with Smartbeam ™ headlamp control, heated seats and even a heated steering wheel. You can opt for high quality Nappa leather seats with contrasting French stitching.

The reconfigurable TFT instrument display is unique to the Dart in the compact class.

A class-exclusive feature is the optional, full-color TFT (thin film transistor) cluster display replacing the analog dash gauges. It’s totally customizable with countless variations as to how and what is displayed for the individual driver. The optional U-Connect navigation system has Dodge’s intuitive, dazzling 8.4 inch touch screen, nearly identical to the one in the top shelf Chrysler 300. The system incorporates Bluetooth, Satellite Radio, SiriusXM TravelLink, real-time traffic, climate control, and digital media functions.

Other democratized options include dual-zone automatic climate control, rear parking sensors, a rear-view back-up camera, blind spot monitors, keyless entry and start, remote start, HomeLink and voice command.

The optional 8.4 inch full-color touch screen controls many infotainment functions and navigation.

In short, the Dodge Dart may be the new kid on the block, but it’s ready for prime time and ready to grab its share of the multimillion unit, highly-competitive compact car segment.