Behind the Wheel: 2007 Suzuki Forenza

Before I even begin, let me just say I’m not really a car person anymore. I mean, they’re fine and all, but they’re just not what I would choose.

So with that out of the way, let me tell you about my recent experiences with a Suzuki Forenza. I had to rent this car to drive to Laconia, New Hampshire from New Jersey – a drive of about 6 hours (each way). So I had plenty of time to get to know the car.

First, some pros: the car’s ride is very comfortable – both the suspension and the seats themselves. I’d even say that the seats are more comfortable than in my own car, and the suspension is definitely better at soaking up bumps. At least – as long as there’s not 4 people in the car.

This leads directly into the cons: When it was just me riding, the car was nimble, maneuverable, and the suspension saved me from having a sore rear end on the highways and side-roads I traveled (this last winter in New England has not been kind to the Interstate highway system, nor to the roads in general in New Hampshire). The car turns quite nicely (as you would expect) and all in all it was a pretty quiet ride (although there was a bit of wind noise at highway speed).

BUT… when there were 4 people in the car, the suspension was seriously taxed. Bumps that I had driven over by myself and hardly noticed now thrashed the car so roughly that I was worried my passengers would hit their heads on the roof!

Of course, this is what happens when you design a suspension like that – it really can’t be helped that much, but it’s something to be aware of.

Another downside of this car is that the engine is very, very weak. Seriously. I would go to merge onto highway traffic, put the gas right down to the floor (literally) and the car would putter along at its own pace until it was happy. It wouldn’t down-shift like I expected when I stomped on the gas – and even when it did (or when I did, by manually moving the automatic shift lever), it didn’t make much difference. The car was trying very hard to stay in its “power band,” but quite honestly it just didn’t have one. Given that the engine is rated at 127 HP, I found it surprisingly sluggish for what must’ve been a very light car. I suspect that the engine and transmission were engineered more for fuel efficiency instead of power.

Speaking of which, the car did quite well on the fuel consumption scale – averaging about 33 miles per gallon at highway speeds. I was able to make the entire 350 mile trip on just under a tank of gas (about 12 gallons). So no complaints there.

The other side of the coin, however, is that the car is a bit tricky to handle on the Interstate highways. It is a light car, and it gets blown around easily from the turbulence in the wake of a big truck, and going around a bend in the highway at speed, and hitting a joint (such as from a bridge or from road work) can make the car feel like it’s just done a little jump – which is unnerving at 65 MPH!!

So in the end, a nice enough little car, and probably quite suitable if you do a lot of in-city driving, where it’s small size and lack of acceleration wouldn’t be much of a concern. But if you do any serious amount of driving on big highways, or if you need to carry more than 2 people, I’d look elsewhere. Though for such an inexpensive car, you can’t blame it. Still, I wouldn’t drive it and I’d be hesitant to recommend it to anyone else.

Online Backup with Mozy

It’s a classic tale – a computer person who knows better, knows he (or she) should have a backup, but doesn’t. The results are often quite tragic. Until recently, I was one of those people. I knew I needed a backup system, but I just didn’t get around to making one. And really, without a backup, you’re just counting the time until a disaster occurs.

Part of the problem with setting up a backup system is, frankly, laziness. Backups have traditionally been somewhat labor intensive (or, alternatively, expensive). Generally speaking, my (realistic) options were:

Do a weekly (!!!) backup to DVDs. Not practical because, frankly, I’ve got a shitload of data and it would take dozens of DVDs to hold it all. And even though they’re cheap, DVDs are not free. And really, who has the time to sit and burn dozens of 4 GB DVDs on a weekly (or even monthly) basis? Not me!

Buy an external hard drive (or two). Not practical because hard drives still cost money and aside from a bit of redundancy, I’d really like to have my data be “safe.” Which means off-site. Which means using the trick of buying 2 (or more!) of the exact same type of hard drive and swapping them out on a regular basis, with one stored off-site somewhere safe. This is also not practical because… where am I going to store it? And who has the time to swap disks out all the time, then drive somewhere to keep them safe? (The “classic” alternative, the tape backup, has the same pitfalls as this hard drive solution, and is even more expensive.)

Backup data online. Until very recently, this was not practical because of 2 reasons: #1 – the Internet was too slow and #2 – you couldn’t buy storage space online at a reasonable cost. Thankfully, that has now changed, thanks to – you guessed it – Mozy.

Basically, I chose Mozy for 3 reasons:

  1. Secure backup
  2. Fair price
  3. Runs as a background process

So far, I’m pretty impressed. The setup is easy and the configuration is simple as well – but there are options if you want them (as I do). I like the fact that I can set Mozy up to run at a reduced speed during the day, and to stop backing up if my CPU usage goes above a certain threshold. And it just keeps running in the background, pretty much no matter what I’m doing, which is nice. And so far, I haven’t noticed any performance hit because of it – it’s like it’s not even there.

Of course, my backup is estimated to take about 7 days to complete – but then again, I am backing up a rather large amount of data! (Mozy puts it at about 26 GB – that’s 26 GB of photos, videos, music, documents, 10 years of email, programming projects, game data, and a few other things I can’t quite remember.)

Still, there’s something strangely comforting about knowing my data will be backed up soon. Even if my house burns to the ground, I’ll be able to recover pretty much everything – and that’s what a good backup is supposed to provide.

So, for $4.99/month (which gives you unlimited storage space to back up as much or as little as you like), if you’ve got a fast Internet connection and a lot of data you don’t want to lose, I’d highly recommend Mozy. Because not having a backup can be a lot more expensive – and believe me when I say you’ll really only appreciate that after you’ve lost years of irreplaceable data.

Don’t wait – backup today!

Behind the Wheel: 2006 Chevrolet Impala LS V6

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.
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

Thinking about starting some new driving-related sections here at Core Dump.
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!