On the Road: New Jersey

Boy oh boy do I have a lot to say about driving in New Jersey.

Let’s start with some oddities about the roads in New Jersey first. When you’ve got fairly big road (2 or more lanes) that has intersections with other roads, there are NO LEFT TURNS ALLOWED.

Yes, you read that right. NO LEFT TURNS. If you want to turn left, you generally have to go past the intersection and make a right onto a special loop-back road, and then make your left from the smaller road (i.e. if a big road is crossed by a smaller road, you can make a left from the small road onto the big road, but not vice versa). Sometimes even that’s not allowed, and from the smaller road you have to go across the intersection and take a loop-back on the right to merge back onto the big road (and wait at the intersection… again).

So whenever you want to go left, you have to go right. Yeah. Makes about as much sense as it sounds. (Making U-turns is just about as complicated, in case you were wondering.)

Okay, so crazy road rules aside, let’s just get this out there and say that New Jersey drivers are a bunch of wimps. It rained a bit (actually quite a bit) while I was in New Jersey, and I can understand people slowing down in the rain – but even when there was no rain, if someone was going slow on the highway (like, say, 10 MPH slower than the speed limit), instead of just bunching up around the slow person, ALL of the traffic would slow down… and down… and down… until there was a huge traffic jam, all caused by one slow person (or whatever caused the bunching up in the first place). As a Massachusetts driver, nothing was more infuriating to me. People were braking on the highways ALL THE TIME (and we’re talking Interstate highways here, as in 65 MPH major 4-lanes in each direction highways). And not just braking lightly – braking and slowing down 10 or more MPH, which just completely messed up the flow of traffic. I don’t know how to explain it, other than to say that the drivers there are just wimps or something.

And since people love to rag on Massachusetts drivers (supposedly the worst in the state), let me say that I got cut off more times on the highways in New Jersey than I did the entire trip home (once I was out of New Jersey). And I don’t just mean “cut off” as in someone got in front of me fairly close – I mean “cut off,” as in someone pulled in (without signaling) just a few inches in front of my car. While pulling a big trailer that blocks their rearward view. And then they slowed down.

So, in my completely unprofessional and biased opinion – New Jersey drivers SUCK, and their roads are completely messed up. (By the end of my trip I was wishing out loud for a simple cloverleaf that I could understand and navigate without having to look for special “right turn only” signs.)

Next up in this series: New York!

Behind the Wheel: 2006 Chevrolet Impala LS V6

Since I love to rant, I’ve decided to start writing about every different car I get behind the wheel of. My trip down to New Jersey this week gave me some time in a 2006 Chevy Impala LS – and let me say right now, I didn’t like it. Let’s run down the list, shall we?

First off, some pros: the car, even though it only had a V6, had plenty of power. Going from 30 to 65 MPH was easy, smooth, and most importantly, quick. And the V6 really sips gas – we averaged 26 MPG during the entire trip. That’s better than my 4-cylinder Outlander gets! Of course, that was mostly highway driving, but still!

The climate controls were also quite nice – the dials were easy to use and very classy.

On the minus side, however, the list gets quite a bit longer. Let’s start with the engine – the power in the Impala is great on the highway for passing, but because it’s a front-wheel drive car, it’s very hard to get that power down on the ground when you need it for a quick start – i.e. merging into traffic. The wheels just spin, and although some people might like being able to spin the tires, I consider it wasted power. Of course, I am biased from having AWD, but still – you want to be able to get going by just putting your foot down. In the Impala, you can’t do that – you have to carefully press the gas to make sure you don’t do a burn-out. (And if you have the audacity to really put your foot down, there is QUITE a lot of torque steer!)

And that brings up another issue I have – the gas is quite… well, I’m not sure if I can say “touchy,” but it requires a bit of force to get it moving (the pedal, that is), but at the same time you must modulate it very, very carefully. That equals “not fun” in my book. Also, letting up on the gas does NOT slow the car down – although this may simply be a condition of bigger cars with bigger engines; but as someone who uses engine braking – even just simple “letting up on the gas” – to slow down (especially on the highway), this behavior was… frustrating.
On a similar note, the brakes were most definitely “touchy.” They’re quite powerful, but they come on very quickly when you depress the pedal. Even after driving it for several days, I was still “lurching” occasionally when trying to come to a gradual stop. The car also tended to do quite a nose-dive during hard braking – so much so that it almost felt like the back end of the car was coming up off the ground as you stopped. Not a reassuring feeling!

And while we’re on the subject of the back end of the car, the rear platform in this car is quite high – higher than in my Outlander, which blocks the view when you are trying to back up. It’s rear blind-spot is quite large for a sedan, and big C-pillars didn’t help things. Maybe it’s just me, but I like to be able to see where I’m going when I back up!

Speaking of “back,” my back hurt quite a bit after being in this car for a few hours. The seats are NOT comfortable, even with 8-way power adjustments (including lumbar support, which was – for reasons which I will make clear in a moment – basically useless). The back part of the seat angles backwards (away from the steering wheel) about half-way up, leaving no upper back support. It seemed to be designed for the type of person who likes to drive while half lying down in their seat, rather than sitting upright. Adding lumbar support only amplified the problem, pushing my lower back out while leaving my upper back and shoulders unsupported.

As far as driving experience was concerned, the car handles well on the road – it gives a relatively quiet, smooth ride. It turns well (better than my Outlander, which is NOT known for having a good turning radius) and is fairly stable at high speeds – over all an easy to drive car (once you get it moving).

Interestingly, I saw QUITE a few of these Impalas out on the road during my trip – more so than I saw of Outlanders, anyway! So someone must like them, or else they’re all fleet vehicles (like this one was, being a rental). Overall, I wouldn’t buy the Impala, nor would I recommend it to anyone. The seating position is awful, the gas and the brakes are touchy and the wheels spin way too easily. The rear visibility is awful (although you get a HUGE trunk as a result, which is good, I guess) and without AWD I would never drive it in the winter in New England.

So there you have it – my review of the 2006 Chevrolet Impala LS V6. Coming up next: my thoughts on drivers in other states, starting with… New Jersey!

Behind the Wheel

I think I’m going to start a semi-regular section here at Core Dump.

Actually, I think I’ll start two:

Behind the Wheel: A series where I post my thoughts on the different cars I get to drive (mostly when I rent a car to go somewhere).

On the Road: Everyone always seems to think that people from “other” states drive worse than people of their own “home” state. Well, I’m no different, except that I’m going to write extensively about it!

Stay tuned for updates… it should be fun!

Dangerous Obsession

Man, I need to stop watching Spike TV’s “Powerblock.” Especially the “X-Treme 4×4″ and “Trucks” shows. They both leave me craving some power & a manual shifter – and just enough road/dirt to use ‘em. Awww, yeah.

It also doesn’t help that this weekend they showed me the Dodge SRT-10 truck. Mmm… truck with a Viper V10 engine… yeah.

I think I need to make a new edition of my famous “Driving Fast” CD compliation. I’m up to Volume 3 now; I think it’s time to do some burning – and then take a drive to see how it works out.

Later!