Saturday, June 30, 2012

Le Jazz Hot Swings at Speisekammer in Alameda

Grainy cell phone shot of Mehling, Rocha, Fontaine (L-R)
It's Friday evening. After a week of work (or, in this case, searching diligently all day for it), I needed to hear some good music. I found that the Speisekammer Restaurant was featuring Le Jazz Hot, a quartet or trio version of the famous Hot Club of San Francisco, with no cover, so there I went.

When I arrived, the place, which sprawls south and west, was full in the main bar area, so I stood and listened until I located a seat at the bar. The musicians had started a little before I arrived. It was the trio playing tonight, and I saw three familiar faces playing French Gypsy Jazz that I'd researched in advance online.

Paul Mehling is the leader and founder, and "godfather of American gypsy jazz." Inspired by many artists, but none more than the great Django Reinhardt, he plays the guitar like nobody I've ever heard, his fingers flying across the fingerboard while he seems to be effortlessly watching his hands.The man is a true marvel, and gave us many fine solos throughout the evening.

Isabelle Fontaine sang beautifully while keeping the rhythm that this kind of music requires of a non-soloing guitar. There is no drummer in this kind of trio--but who needed one? Isabelle grew up in France with the sounds of Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, and Yves Montand. She spent decades playing music of the 1950's in France. Lucky for us, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area now, where we who live here can enjoy her lively and also subtle performance.

Young Sam Rocha, a native Californian, has been playing serious bass since the age of 16, having won contests, scholarships, and much acclaim and appreciation. This evening he was playing a bass strung with old-fashioned gut strings and set up much like one would be in the 1930's--when this style of performing was the norm. His hands moved over the large fingerboard of the bass with ease, and he got lots of solos to show off his chops.

A special treat was the lovely Varese, who came up and sang in each set for a few numbers, bringing to life the blues style of Bessie Smith and other artists of early to mid-20th century jazz. Standing up to the old-fashioned mike, she evoked the mood of those heady days. She sings gigs on her own, but likes to join Le Jazz Hot when they are performing locally. The audience enjoyed her immensely.

Many of the songs were not familiar to me, but all were enjoyable. I recall hearing What is This Thing Called Love, which Isabella sang in a way very different from the Frank Sinatra version with which I am most familiar. She also sang a version of La Vie en Rose as an encore which would have made Edith Piaf proud.

There's something wonderful about the intimacy of a small venue, with minimal amplification, good quality beer on tap (I sampled both of the dark German beers, which arrived sequentially in their own specially shaped glass steins). The folks sitting at the bar seemed to have met before, so it had the feeling of a casual but special restaurant and a neighborhood bar at the same time. Some day I'll have to come earlier and sample the German cuisine.

See their website for details and be sure to get to one of their upcoming performances.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hayward Municipal Band - a Community and Family Tradition

Besides the sign, it looked like this 2008 photo today.
What could be better than a fine summer afternoon spent hearing live music in the park--for free? The Hayward (California) Municipal Band has been delivering the goods since 1957! I enjoyed their concert today sitting outside on a perfect 70-degree day.

The band, nattily attired in their match powder blue coats with pocket patch and caps and contrasting black trousers, sat in the Tony Morelli Bandstand and played a pleasing variety of music. Ably conducted by Kathy Meier, and emceed by her brother, Mark Morelli, the show kept the folks on the grassy fields happy. Tony Morelli, for whom the bandstand is named, directed the band from almost the beginning (1960), and when he died the baton was passed to his daughter, Kathy (Meier). She has been with the group since the age of three, when she started passing out programs--and joined as a flutist at 15.

Today's show, as always, began with the National Anthem. We are used to hearing someone sing it at the ballpark, but done by an excellent instrumental ensemble it gives me goosebumps--kind of thrilling! Small American and California flags were displayed appropriately on the bandstand.

The show was programmed to not stay too long on one particular kind of music, so it then transitioned to an uptempo Spanish march, Amparito Roca. Next, the mood shifted again to a more standard classical work, the Finale from Dvorak's New World Symphony. This is a favorite classical music piece that is probably somewhat familiar to many people who are not classical music "fans."

Osser' Beguine Again (a pun) brought more Latin rhythms to the bandstand, contrasting nicely with Ralph Vaughn Williams' Sine Nomine--an uplifting hymn. This piece had a nice xylophone part in it, and while it started out in a sharply defined four-to-the bar structure, it softened as it progressed--a satisfying transition.

Outdoor concerts are not like indoor performances. Here' you're going to hear birds chirping (they seemed to favor certain pieces and parts thereof) and an occasional baby crying. Because it's a picnic, my sensitive ears picked up the crinkle of a chip bag a few times, and at one point dogs started yapping at each other behind me. There were some conversations, too, but it wasn't really a problem.

The first half included the Cheerio March, which featured an audience participation section (LA LA LA first and then whistling in the second). I participated in the first, since I can't whistle proficiently.

No Man is an Island, 16th-Century poet John Donne's words put to music, provided a showcase for band Manager Lolita Morelli, wife of Tony and mother to Kathy and Mark, to sing for us. She also added California Here I Come, which I think is a crowd favorite. A medley from Camelot, including Camelot, Follow Me and If Ever I Should Leave You, preceded the intermission.

I got a chance to meet and talk with Lolita and Kathy during the intermission break. It's easy to see their great enthusiasm for the band.

The second half got everyone moving with the stirring Drums of America, which gave the percussionists a chance to shine. Then came music from Wildcat, a broadway play from 1960 that starred Lucille Ball in the original New York production. Then, an interesting piece--John Philip Sousa's 1912 With Pleasure, that had a ragtime feel rather than a march beat. I didn't know he wrote those.

When I was attending the Castro Valley Community Band concert last week (also conducted by Kathy Meier), they did a medley of Chicago songs (the group, not the city) that knocked my socks off. This show, it was a medley of John Denver tunes, including Leaving on a Jet Plane, Country Roads, and Rocky Mountain High. The musicians' skill playing this piece demonstrated their mastery of different styles, as this had nothing to do with a march or a Latin style composition. My only wish was that the medley had included the bridge from Country Roads, but in a medley, you have to stick with the main themes, and those were clearly delineated.

Where to go next to show their versatility? It was Gershwin. The group got the syncopated Jazz feeling exactly right, doing what was one of the highlights of the afternoon for me. So much of the work of Mr. Gershwin is part of the American musical consciousness--and the band really did it justice here, with Sentimental Rhythm, I've Got Rhythm, Someone to Watch Over Me, and more.

OK, it was a band concert on a Sunday afternoon in the park, so what better way to conclude the show but to return to basics with the always popular The Stars and Stripes Forever. It bookended the show nicely with the National Anthem up front, and got everyone clapping along.

This concert is part of a series provided by the City of Hayward in conjunction with the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District. It started last week and runs through July 24th--each one on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Hayward's Memorial Park. Admission is free, so you can bring a picnic (no alcohol) and have a great time. Check the band's blog for an advance look at the program.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hyundai Genesis Coupe - Moving Up Again

Photo: Victor Llana (
Hyundai, and its sister division, Kia, have been on a happy upswing for a while now. I like to think that they took Toyota and Honda as the models of success, although whether there's an actual correlation between the two Korean brands and the two Japanese ones is debatable.

Think of this. The first Hyundai in the U.S. was the Excel. Excel is something it didn't do--it was pretty poor. It was cheap, though, and you got what you paid for. But then, the cars got progressively better and better, and better looking, too. The Koreans at Hyundai studied the Japanese models just mentioned. So now, you have the excellent Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio at the bottom, the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte a step up, then the midsize Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima. All are doing very well, thank you. I've driven them all.

But what about moving upward? What about giving more performance and luxury? Ask no more. From Hyundai, you can get the Genesis sedan or coupe. Think of it as the Korean Lexus--or Acura. But, unlike those to esteemed brands, there is no separate showroom. You can go into any Hyundai dealership and pick one up today. That saved Hyundai a wad of cash--and the positive vibes rub off on all of the other, more modest vehicles in the fleet. Smart.

I just spent a week with the 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe, specifically the 3.8 R-Spec. It impressed the heck out of me with its mighty 3.8-liter 348-horsepower V6 driving the rear wheels. The solid shifter action reminded me of a Nissan 370Z I drove not long ago. The clutch was a little tricky, with quick takeup, so I did stall it a few times at first.

Who would think you could get this kind of entertainment from Hyundai? The sedan exudes Mercedes-like elegance, but this coupe is a brawler. 348 horsepower is more than many Corvettes offer with their V8. And how about 20.4 miles per gallon? Official EPA average is 21 mpg, with 18 City and 27 Highway.

My Becketts Black tester mysteriously did without automatic climate control, which is probably standard in the Sonata, and the USB port is tucked away in a teeny little cubby up front--nice--but without enough room for the iPod, which has to hang out in one of the console cupholders. But despite that, and including lovely red leather bucket seats, the price came to $29,625--including shipping. That feels like a heck of a deal to me.

And now, how about the new Hyundai Equus? It's $60,000! What will they think of next?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Community Bands Give Much to the Public--and the Musicians, too

Castro Valley Center for the Arts - a fine community venue
I had the pleasure last night of hearing a performance by the Castro Valley Adult and Career Education Community Band. It was just a bit over an hour of rousing, happy music from a variety of sources. From the National Anthem (we all stood) at the beginning to Gershwin's American in Paris (a band version), to a medley of music from the band Chicago, it kept going and seemed to move the 300 to 400 in attendance.

Community bands and chamber orchestras are fascinating in their purpose and in their contribution. Members, who are mostly over 55, are nearly always not professionals, or even former pros, but are people who perhaps took up an instrument as early as grade school and then, if they were lucky, kept playing their whole life. Some have taken a long break, resuming after years--or even decades--and are finding pleasure in renewing their commitment. Some, like me, are late bloomers. I began my instrument, the upright bass, at 51.

Although many ensemble members are along in years, but there is nothing missing in these folks' musicality or endurance.Gordan Pappas, who arranged five of the selections the band played last night, had a long career in music education locally and elsewhere. He is a youthful 89. The fine trumpet soloist, Harry Hanover, is 85. He showed off his excellent tone and cascades of notes in one of Mr. Pappas' arrangements of themes from Mozart's Die Fledermaus.

All the pieces had interest, but some were remarkable above that. Young Choi Ying Chiu stepped away from her percussion assignment to solo on the xylophone in Tico Tico. She ran through the challenging piece with her hands a blur while putting out a crowd-stirring performance. Kathy Catanho played a sensitive saxophone solo in What a Wonderful World (originally made famous by the voice of Louis Armstrong). During the Clarinet Polka, the entire clarinet section (and bass player) put on men's fedoras before they took on the up-tempo rendition.

I was impressed when the group took on the Chicago Medley. I tried to restrain myself from singing along to Searching (for an Answer), Color My World and Does Anybody Know What Time it Is?

An encore of  Stars ad Stripes Forever brought the crowd  back to where the show had started and was a well chosen finale.

Kathy Maier directed the nearly 50-person band with vigor and flair. For comic relief, Master of Ceremonies Mark Morelli read from the concert notes and made wisecracks about the conductor and at one point before Fledermaus, cracked a saxophonist joke.

Playing in organized musical groups like this not only please audiences but keeps the musicians young. The effort, discipline and mental stimulation surely make a big difference. Did I mention that this concert was free to the public? I would have paid to hear it.

Be sure to contact the Castro Valley Adult and Career Education office to learn the upcoming schedule for the Community Band and the Chamber Orchestra season, which begins in September. And-- if you once played and want to resume, the band (and orchestra) are always looking for more players.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Here Comes Summer

At this moment, Summer 2012 has officially begun. What will it be like? From the perspective of June 20, it's a big question mark for me.

Being between jobs adds to the uncertainty. While I aggressively prospect for my next opportunity, and the mercury rises and the sun shines for 14 hours a day, I take some comfort in remembering how I've solved this dilemma effectively before.

The secret: Treat your job search like a job. Up at 5:20 a.m. At "work" before 7 a.m. Then, don't knock off until dinner time.

I remember this feeling every year as a kid. School was over and it was hot coming home with an armload of books. Then, in early June, it was suddenly over. I had long days to do whatever I wanted to do. But I squandered it--being a kid. If I knew then what I know now I would have appreciated that open time much more--and worked harder to become a better musician.

Hoping for success as the Summer Solstice begins.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Happy Birthday Paul McCartney--and Brian Wilson Right Behind

Two of my favorite rock artists--and bass players--commemorate the big 7-Oh this week. Paul McCartney, today, June 18. Brian Wilson's is Wednesday, the 20th. What would the '60s have been without them? We'd be in big treble (that's a joke).

Paul was the first rock artist that I paid attention to that played the bass. Yeah, the Stones had a bass player and the Kinks and, well, even the Kingston Trio had David "Buck" Wheat standing with his upright in the shadows as a fourth member. But Paul is the one who made the most of an impression. He is also wonderfully original in his melodic bass lines, which became even more interesting and complex as the Beatles' compositions developed during the 1960s.

I just heard Good Vibrations tonight on the radio and once again realized how much Brian's bass part moved the song along with its throbbing pulse. We think of Brian as the ultimate harmony vocal composer, but the bass part has to accompany and support a song, and he knows how to do it.

What does it mean when your heros are becoming old guys? One scary thought is in realizing how close behind them I am. They were young men when I was a teenager.

Over the years, both men have experienced phenomenal success but great losses as well--Brian his two brothers, Dennis and Carl, and Paul his two musical partners, John and George. But this year, both men are performing special concerts--Paul's for Her Majesty and Brian on tour -- at long last -- with the remaining Beach Boys. I hope they can keep going for quite a while--because I plan, with their inspiration, to keep on going too.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Beatles Live on with Drew Harrison and Friends

Last night I had the genuine pleasure of hearing not only Drew Harrison, who channels John Lennon so well with the Sun Kings, but three other gentlemen who do amazing things with Beatle-related sounds. At the intimate Frog and Fiddle in Alameda, California, Joe Orlando, of The Cryers, joined Drew for satisfying John/Paul harmonies on so many favorites. Then, Michael Barrett stepped in with the "George" harmony and guitar parts.

A special bonus came later in the evening, when Richard Cummins, who is to Paul McCartney what Drew is to John, joined the guys for more Beatle moments. Richard, who drove all the way from Vancouver, B.C. in his yellow Dodge Charger for the gig, played post-Beatles Paul first and then provided more samples of Beatles era songs. He can do Paul from Beatles to Wings to today. It was just plain heaven for this lifelong Beatles nut.

These guys showed off a range of talents. I enjoyed hearing Joe's takes on Elvis, Bobby Darin, and his exceptionally lovely Long Way from Anywhere (off James Taylor's Sweet Baby James LP). Michael Barrett played originals on his own, including a special Beatles-related song that included dozens of song references in it. He also did wonders with Peter Gabriel. I was very pleased with Drew's solo version of Nowhere Man, which had an urgent quality it would have possessed if John had produced it himself in 1970. The evening started with Drew's own worthy compositions. These guys are not just copycats.

You can't go wrong playing Beatles songs, and if we get the quality I heard last night, what could be better? And they are fun guys to talk with as well. The Frog and Fiddle is intimate, and offers some tasty and morerately priced African cuisine too from Soleil's African Cuisine.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Honda CR-V Upgrades a Proven Formula

Photo: Victor Llana (
When I saw photos of the new fourth-generation CR-V before it arrived last fall, it looked an awful lot like the old one. Compared to the mini-Explorer styling of the first two versions, the third-generation CR-V that ran from 2006 to 2011 was a softer, more crossover-looking vehicle. And that's what it was, really--a Honda Civic with lots of carrying space.

Some folks may even remember the old Civic Wagons, which are a cult collectible now and have their own community (I'd love to find one with low miles and no dents at a reasonable price).

In any case, the new CRV seemed similar to the old one, but when you put the two next to each other, you can see the evolution of the styling. The size is almost identical, but thanks to some clever shaping, the coeefficient of drag is 18 percent less--it runs more smoothly through the air. The new car is more powerful, too, with 185 horsepower coming from the 2.4-liter four-cylinder. A five-speed automatic is standard--so no shifting for yourself anymore.

The EPA gives the car 22 City, 30 Highway (25 mpg average). I  got just 21.5 mpg--I must have been lead footing it. The EPA Green Vehicle Scores are 6 for both Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollution.

You can order a CR-V with all-wheel-drive--a nod to its possible (but unlikely) use offroad--and it'll tack on $1,300. It also steals one mile per gallon.

The rear seats fold down more easily now--you can pull a lever in the rear compartment and drop them. That's handy. I wish the sunvisors were longer--there's no sliding piece or movable pad to block half the sun when it's to the side.

The interior feels like it should--smooth and nicely finished. There has been some complaining about the Civic's cheap materials but this car doesn't feel that way. And it shouldn't. My top-of-the-line EX-L with all-wheel drive, navigation system and leather topped $30,000. That sounds like the price of a luxury car--and as nice as it is, the CR-V is not one of those. That's Acura's job with the RDX.

You can pick up the LX model with two-wheel drive and no extras for $23,325--which sounds a little more like it.

Old School 1987 Honda Civic Wagon
My friend Willie, a sophisticated man who can likely afford whatever he wants, just picked up a '12 CR-V in classy black and loves the car. So maybe $30K isn't unreasonable. The CR-V is more pleasant with each generation. So now--will there be a smaller crossover below the CR-V? Maybe that's where the Fit comes in.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Happy to Play the Blues

I just played bass this afternoon with some talented musicians at Gary Lamb's monthly Blues Jam at the Bistro in Hayward. It was my first time playing there--I've enjoyed listening and drinking good beers on tap before but had never ascended to the small stage.

I must admit I was just a little nervous, since it was a new thing for me, but I didn't really feel unprepared, either. They called out the key and I just jumped in. This was a rite of passage, in a way, because I played with people I'd never met and was able to fit in and sound good. That's a milestone in a bass-playing career that started only nine years ago.

It's not that difficult to play the Blues bass--if you're had some practice. I've been hanging with my buds (dawgs) lately, putting together a show for August 12th, and I think my blues playing has definitely moved up a notch. It's ironic, though. The Blues are about pain and suffering but playing them is such bliss.

The lead guitarists I played with--and listened to later--were amazingly good. That's where the real mind-blowing performances come from. And the bassist who followed me,Vic, was incredible. I took notes--and he was friendly afterwards as we compared bass tattoos. He got terrific sound from his 1964 Fender Precision. We had fine drummers and harmonica wizards as well.

I'll be heading on over there next month to do it again!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

What Can We Do for the Earth?

Glaciers are melting in Antarctica
Today, a story appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle about a new report in the scientific journal Nature about worsening environmental conditions on the Earth. It claims we are closer to a "tipping point," after which it will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to reverse these changes. It's not the first time I've heard this, and once again, I wonder what I can or should do about it.

How should we absorb this information? Yes, there are climate scientists (and some know-nothings) who claim it's all made up or a hoax. I don't think we can deny that changes are occurring. There's a lot of question as to when it will make a difference, though. If it's not ten years, maybe it's 50 or 100. In any case, why not do something about it right now?

I think that, despite the clear and obvious problems, we simply don't want to deal with it. I recognize in myself a distinct urge to think happy thoughts about my next orchestra concert--or meal--or nap. It's hard to imagine any real major shifts in a world we have always taken for granted.

But I'm worried, and I want to do something.

But what? When? How?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Dodge Dart is the Real Deal

2013 Dart - 1965 model in background
I had a chance tonight to see, touch and drive the new Dodge Dart.Yes, it's a name from the past, but Chrysler's research showed that the moniker was a big hit with both target demographic groups--empty nest boomers who remember the nameplate fondly and young millennials who have positive associations with the word without a memory of the reliable 60's and 70's compact. So, that's the name the car received, apparently just before it debuted.

Our press opportunity was graciously provided in an exciting and amusing venue--Sparky's Hot Rod Garage in San Carlos, California. Amid the hot rods (Sparky started up one for us with a deafening roar), hilarious period signage and mysterious rows of mounted deer heads, we learned a lot more about the first car to combine Fiat's European engineering with American design and planning.

First, we got to take short drives in the two demo vehicles. I sampled a Limited model with an automatic transmission. This is the second highest of five levels, which range from the entry SE through the volume-seller SXT to the performance-oriented Rallye. A fifth, higher-powered R/T model will arrive later this year. The car itself is due to start trickling into Chrysler dealerships later this month.

Some fun was added by the presence of a lovely 1965 Dart coupe. The new and old cars hardly resemble each other at all, but their mission remains the same--to deliver some style and performance in the compact segment of their day's car market. It's just that today, the '65 would be considered a midsize car--not a compact. See the photo for a shot of them together.

We were lucky to have four Chrysler folks presenting the car--the PR Manager, Media Relations Manager, Senior Manager of Product Planning, and Platform Engineer. All four were thorougly knowledgeable and gave us a lot of insight into how the American designers took the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and stretched and modified it for U.S. consumption, giving enormous passenger room with the comfortable, yet firm suspension American drivers prefer. We heard about three engine choices, three transmissions, 12 exterior colors, 14 interior  color and trim combinations, and much more to let the buyers configure their Dart to their exact liking.

Taking the car on the road, I was impressed by its solid feel, tight steering and near silence as it flowed down the road. All Darts should average more than 30 miles per gallon. I'd really like to sample the 1.4-liter turbo model with the manual six-speed transmission.

The sweet Italian platforms offer evocative, but restrained styling and a feeling of quality interior fittings (only a little cheap-looking plastic on the center console).The new Dart is built in Belvidere, Illinois, too, bringing employment and pride to that longtime Chrysler assembly plant.

Even the most basic SE model, at $16,790, including shipping includes things like 10 airbags, four-wheel disc brakes, and power windows. The Limited starts at $20,990, but it includes many extras that people like. The SE gets the 2.0 liter 160-horsepower engine, which should be OK. The 1.4-liter intercooled, turbocharged engine is mightier, and the R/T gets the 2.4-liter, with 184 horsepower. So many choices.

The MultiAir technology tosses out the camshaft and gives electronic control to the intake system, meaning it can run extremely efficiently. Chrysler hasn't had the resources to develop and sell hybrid or electric vehicles, but MultiAir brings conventional power-plants up near hybrid or electric levels--without the complexity and limitations of the super green cars.

The body and interior obviously received lots of attention to let buyers know--this is no Neon or Caliber. This is a real car--with all the quality and style of a larger vehicle. The car has aerodynamic aids throughout for a low coefficient or drag, which, of course, leads to higher fuel economy and a quieter cabin. The Chrysler folks pointed out many areas where wind noise was banished. There are body pans to smooth the wind's path. On most models, the grille shutters down to increase efficiency of airflow under certain conditions.

The game has just become much more interesting. A lot is riding on this vehicle, and the folks from Chrysler are quite proud of it.

The Certainty of Uncertainty

For observant Jews, there's a prayer that you say the first moment that you awaken in the morning. The Hebrew, translated into English, says:

I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.

In a life filled with uncertainty, it seems like a good idea to be thankful for getting to start living another day. It could be your last--or your best. You never know. The word "God" doesn't appear in this prayer, so the person can (and even should) be literally be lying in bed at the time they say it.

Last Friday, Dave Souza, a fine guitarist with whom I've been playing the blues monthly, died suddenly, on his 64th birthday. I didn't know Dave well, but based on the tremendous outpouring of grief by those who were close he was a great person and a wonderful friend. Dave said he wanted to live to age 64 and he just made it--but he's gone way too soon.

For months, my friend Jennifer Ong mounted a strong campaign for the 20th Assembly district seat. I received no fewer than 12 mailings from her over the weeks leading up to yesterday's contest. I know her and she is a fine, caring and hardworking woman who would make a great assemblywoman. But--with 100 percent of the votes counted, she came in a strong second. Uncertainty.

How do we deal with uncertainty? We could decide to do nothing, for fear of failure, but that makes every day an unhappy one. We could try to set up some things in life that feel certain, but the only truly guaranteed thing in life is its end. Few of us want to spend much time thinking about that, and even then, we normally don't know the day or hour of our final appointment.

I know that every day, after I realize I'm awake, my brain resets to where I am today--what I'm looking forward to, worried about, having to deal with. I'm lucky, because most of my life is filled with happy things--a loving partner, two healthy and handsome grown sons, good health for my age, my own home, a steady job, the chance to play the bass with others, a new car to write about every week... The list goes on. But not one thing on that list is assured. I need to remember to be thankful--but plan for the worst at the same time. I wish I were better at doing both.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Evolution - the HOT Mitsubushi Lancer

Photo: Victor Llana (
I got my chance to drive the enormously powerful Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution recently. It's an interesting product, because it's powerful and firm-riding while being based on a plain four-door sedan. Kind of a Pontiac GTO for today. The big difference between the GTO and the Evo, though, is that this modern muscle car uses a 2.0 liter engine (that's right) that puts out, thanks to turbocharging and intercooling, 291 horsepower and 300 lb.-ft. of torque!

Yes, you read that one right. And it comes with the goods young performance car enthusiasts want. Brembo brakes (that you can see through the 18-inch alloy wheels). A huge rear spoiler that "spoils" the view behind while looking cool (or ridiculous, depending on what you care for. The body ground effects panels below the doors stick out like running boards--very cool, but  don't step on them (there's a warning on them to make sure you don't).

There's always something entertaining about a car that pulls you ahead when you step on the gas pedal. This one does--and sounds fiercer than you might expect with just two liters under the hood (which has two vents and a naca duct, by the way).The engine runs at just over 3,000 rpm at 65 mph so you'll hear the engine a lot on the freeway. My tester sported a five-speed manual with a 0.761 overdrive fifth gear. You can order up a six-speed automatic.

Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) keeps all four wheels gripping the pavement. It's a combination of Mitsubishi's All-Wheel Control and Active Yaw Control, meaning that it sends engine torque to the outside or inside rear wheels depending on available traction, so the wheels with the most grip on the road receive the most power. In addition, three driver-selectable modes let you choose the surface. I found Tarmac (the road), Gravel, and Snow settings--but used only the first.

There are sporty Recaro buckets inside with hard bolsters to keep you in place during the antics you're sure to perform with this beautiful beast. My wife didn't care for them--especially when one bolster surprised her while she was getting into the car. Also reminding you of the sportiness you've got is the billet metal emergency brake handle with "Lancer Evolution" inscribed into it.

My Wicked White tester had a five-speed manual--but you can order up a six-speed automatic. The manual felt solid and mechanical--not the best but rewarding in its authentic feel. I did stall the car a couple of times, though. but if you lived with it that wouldn't happen.

The Lancer is a pretty nice looking car overall, even without the go-fast add-ons, although the huge air intake up front is a little frightening. I drove the non-turbo not hotrod five-door sportback a while ago and it was very pleasant. The issue, if there is one, is that for $35,000 the folks who want the car (young guys) may not be able to afford it, and the people looking for a $35K sports sedan may prefer a BMW 3 series. But for a week it was big fun.