DRIVE!: Out of drag

Aerodynamic cars are sexy and fuel efficient — as Detroit has long known

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

My stylishly fabulous friend from Paris once said, “These are the most uncomfortable shoes ever, but they are Prada.” My partner and I, on the other hand, have become patrons of Cole Haan, purveyor of kicks that are well-made and beautiful but as comfortable as sneakers. With or without a label, style and functionality can go together — especially with automobiles.

Chrysler built a wind tunnel by 1930 and enlisted the help of Orville Wright to explore shapes that would slip through the air more easily. They discovered cars of the time would have gone through the air more easily driving backwards. The result of their work was the Airflow, from 1934 to 1937 an art deco masterpiece that employed streamlining and elegant curves not fully appreciated until the Ford Taurus debuted in the mid-‘80s.

Given the abysmal sales of the Airflow, American automakers wanted no part of engineered styling, choosing instead to splash on chrome and fins. However Germany learned. The VW Beetle and Porsche 356 were influenced by the Airflow’s underlying engineering, and the Audi 5000 and Mercedes from the late ‘70s and ‘80s relied heavily on wind tunnel testing, giving them a timeless style that still doesn’t look dated. Recently, the quest for better gas mileage and battery range pushed aerodynamics forward.

Bugatti’s million-dollar Veyron supercar is one gorgeous hunk of carbon fiber and stays grounded at 268mph with the help of a rear spoiler that raises and pivots automatically. Active aero should be expected on a car of this pedigree, but it is also becoming commonplace on fuel sippers from America, Japan and Korea.

AIR APPARENT  |  Engineered cars allowing wind to move in a path or least resistance have been hallmarks of Mercedes-Benz, above, for decades, and make the million-dollar Bugatti Veyron, top, road candy for the eye.

AIR APPARENT | Engineered cars allowing wind to move in a path or least resistance have been hallmarks of Mercedes-Benz, above, for decades, and make the million-dollar Bugatti Veyron, top, road candy for the eye.

Designers focus on how the car greets new air, where the air flows around and under the chassis and the amount of turbulence-causing drag occurring as wind soars over the rear of the vehicle. A sleek front, smooth undersides, streamlined mirrors and clean break at the tail optimize efficiency. That’s why you are now seeing flat edging at the rear of vehicles, smaller spoilers, fluid mirrors and very tall decklids. The look is most extreme on the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius.

Cars do not need as much grille cooling the engine at higher speeds. To help cars slip through the air, and get the 40 miles of electricity-only driving some promise, automatic shutters close and divert air around the vehicle. They are included on the Kia Optima Hybrid, Ford Focus SFE, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Chevy Cruze Eco, Volt and Malibu Eco. It works: Cruze Eco achieves 44-MPG in highway driving without a hybrid system; the “lightly electrified” 2013 Malibu Eco will achieve 38-MPG. It’s safe to say no cars since the Airflow were fussed over so thoroughly to both look good and go smoothly through the air.

You can easily see the attention to aero on a sedan like the Camry, but the Camaro ZL-1 is special. GM’s Tom Peters and his team went overboard to make sure the hood vents increased downforce, but were also sculpted out of carbon fiber. Ground affects and a subtle rear spoiler were engineered for performance, but styled to be beautiful, like a linebacker who stays tan and smooth with sharp attire.

Any aerodynamicist worth their smoke wand can make cars slippery. Real talent comes from designers who can also make them beautiful. Cars of all types and prices prove designers can pen shapes that are sexy out of drag.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Crossing its T

Hyundai’s potent Sonata 2.0T ups the ante for an already attractive ride

SonataTurbo_171_v2CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

All of the great marques have special models with special letters. Adding an “M” to the back of a BMW changes an accomplished touring machine into an all-out performer.

Hanging “AMG” on the trunk of a Benz instills a tradition of racing and mind-bending acceleration. Put a “V” on a CTS and you’ve got bottled evil.

Sticking a “T” on the back of a Hyundai may not scare the world’s power players, but it might light dirt clods under market-leading mid-sizers.

Mentioning the 2.0T along with the great “alphas” from Germany isn’t completely whack. In the mid-‘90s, a BMW M3 made way with a 286 horsepower V6 engine. The C36 AMG, Mercedes’ first car formally badged with the iconic letters, ran from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds, topping out at 155 … and did it all with just 268 galloping steeds.

I’m darned sure neither of those cars generated the fuel economy ratings or offered up such a cavernous interior as the Hyundai.

Let’s just get to it. The Sonata’s 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine produces 274 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque — all routed to the front wheels through a near-perfect six-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission. Unlike in the Bimmer and Benz, drivers are confronted with a fair amount of torque steer — two wheels can only be asked to do so much before throwing a regal fit. I’m old enough to remember V8-powered supercars that couldn’t generate those numbers, and they sure as heck didn’t achieve 22/33-MPG city/highway. Another point of interest, the pint-sized Chevy Aveo achieves 25/34- MPG and makes due with a 108-HP engine. Hyundai hit the big boys in their asses.


FITS TO A T | Good gas mileage, a turbocharged engine, sleek interior styling and a nice price make the 2.0T an enviable vehicle for a wide range of tastes. (Photos courtesy Hyundai)

It would be hard to imagine a more pleasing package in which to wrap this mechanical orchestration. Borrowing from the Mercedes CLS four-door coupe, Sonata is a sexy piece with a near-perfect arch running from its wavy chrome grille to its sculpted hood, curved roofline and tapered rear deck. The forms have more of a molded look than metal stamped through presses. Hunkered down over 18-in. alloy wheels and low-profile touring tires, the car looks like it rolled out for a futuristic sci-fi flick. Yet, it has a family-friendly look that is almost huggable.

The love continues inside. Sitting behind the wheel, you could just as easily be piloting the Genesis Coupe as a roomy five-passenger sedan. Big analog gauges, twin-cockpit dash lay-out, huge cupholders, cavernous storage bin in the console and in-dash touch screen that couldn’t be easier to navigate, or use to navigate, work well. Automatic climate control will freeze your tenders; heated seats roast your cushions on cold mornings.

I’m also a fan of the multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather seats, and auto up/down driver window. Fold-down rear seats and a roomy trunk will swallow bicycles and gear like a pack mule stomping up a mountain trail.

Everybody inside can rest assured in their safety. Potential padding comes from dual front, front side and side curtain airbags. Front active head restraints and self-retracting seatbelts keep you in your place. Enhancing the driver’s ability to avoid ugly incidents in the first place are four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, electronic stability control and brake force control to prevent skids under heavy deceleration. An incredibly rigid passenger compartment is protected by engineered crush zones front and rear.

Great driver’s cars have finesse to their motions that draw you in and provide rewards for your attention. The 2.0T’s steering is direct and reacts instantly off center. It is perfectly weighted for a family sedan with sporting intentions. The suspension is firm, but compliant and the brakes are up to the task of stopping a 3,400-lb. automobile. Step into the turbo and it generates smooth torque at virtually any speed. Get on it at Interstate speeds and it will put a beaming smile across your mug. It’s nice that you can buy a perfectly practical car that can also put joy in the life of its driver.

To witness Hyundai upping its technological game two clicks higher, check out the Sonata Hybrid. Aero tweaks clue you in that this is the model that gets a compact-like 35/40-MPG city/hwy. A net of 206 horsepower comes from a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, motor, and advanced lithium polymer batteries. Prices start under $26,000.

Whether you choose the Sonata with a T, the one with batteries, or just the regular 4-cylinder version, you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that Hyundai has out-engineered and out-styled itself into the realm of the world’s best automakers. These are great cars — ones about which you will be proud to tell your friends and look forward to enjoying for many years. For added assurance, the Sonata comes with Hyundai’s standard 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

With an as-tested price of $30,000, competitors include the Buick Regal, Honda Accord, VW Passat and Ford Fusion.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Driver’s seat

Chaz Marie brings country rock to Razzle Dazzle, but it’s a Jeep that brings her there

Razzle Dazzle Days will pump up the jams big time over the weekend with lots of music: “Ice Cream Truck” rapper Cazwell headlines Saturday’s street festival, but he’s got a strong line of supporting acts. Among them, local singer Chaz Marie, who brings some Texas flavor to the bill with her country rock.

The Irving-based singer may not have to travel far to this gig, but she still needs the roominess of her car. With enough space for her gear and guitars, Marie talks up the easy ride of her set of wheels.

— Rich Lopez


Name: Chaz Marie

Occupation: Singer/entertainer

How might we know you? I sing all over the DFW area!

What kind of car do you have? 2002 Jeep Cherokee Laredo Sport.

Have you named her? Yes — her name is Meerie.

Why this car? Simple: I love Jeeps!

Good gas mileage? Meh… depends. It’s 20 city, 22 highway.

What are the rules of your car? You mess it, you clean it. And no complaining about the loud music.

Speed Racer or grandma? Speed. Racer. Definitely.

Best car memory: It’s a pretty simple one, but I just loved that feeling when I first got it and drove it off the lot, all shiny and new.

Funniest road trip story? One time, I drove off with my gig book on top! Fortunately, it enjoyed the ride. It stayed on because it got caught in the luggage rack.

What’s in your player right now? Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Deftones, Jack Johnson, Beth Hart, Janis Joplin and Maroon 5.

How do you rate this to previous cars you’ve owned? Seriously, this is the best car I have ever had. It’s classy and it’s fun, but it’s still sporty.

Sexiest thing about your car? Well, me driving it, of course.

Where is one place you would like to drive your car? I would love to take it through the mountains in Colorado to Manitou Springs.

How many gallons does it take to fill? 15.

Gas is a burden on the wallet now. How many gigs do you need to afford one fill-up? Thankfully, just one gig. At least for now.

Ever write a song in your car? Not yet.

So if we see the Jeep at Razzle Dazzle, can we shoe polish it like in high school? Absolutely!

Is this your touring bus? Oh, yes.

How big is your band and how many cars are needed for a gig? We are a five- to six-piece band, but we all usually drive our own cars.

Razzle Dazzle is super gay. How are your LGBT audiences different than your straight or mixed ones? Oh my gosh, gay crowds are so uninhibited. They know how to have a party and enjoy one!  Non-gay crowds do too, but, you know, they just need a little push to get the party started sometimes.

Where can we check your music out? Thanks for asking! You can find me on iTunes, YouTube and at

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

DRIVER’S SEAT: Jenny Block

JENNY ON THE BLOCK | Bisexual author Jenny Block chose the cliche of a car for her new ride: A Subaru.

Occupation: Author, freelance journalist and blogger,

How might we know you? I’m the author of Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage and sex columnist for If you can believe it!

What kind of car do you have? 2011 Subaru Outback. Cyprus green.

Have you named her? I just got her the beginning of February, but I’m toying with calling her the Green Machine or maybe just Greenie. Sigh. Who am I kidding? None of my cars have ever had names.

Subaru is a cliche lesbian ride, but I’ll still ask: Why this car? You never know what we’ll be up to. In the last four years, I’ve taken up all sorts of adventures and this car will be perfect for putting up with all of it.

Good gas mileage? Yup. 29 on the highway and 22 in the city.

What are the rules of your car? No yelling. No playing “Punch Buggy.” No eating if you’re under 18. And I get to pick the music — always.

You have the most modern of modern families. How does this car help? Everyone and everything can pile in: my husband, my girlfriend, my daughter, our dog Walter, the Hula Hoops, the mountain bikes, the climbing equipment. You name it.

Fast driver or grandma? I can’t lie. Grandma. Definitely.

Who drives more — your hubby, girlfriend or you? So far I’m the only one who drives this one. But most of the time we take his car or her car. They never want me to drive when they’re with me. They say I drive too slowly. Go figure.

Best car memory: When I bought it, the guys at Subaru of Plano wanted to take a picture of me with it for some groovy promotion they’re doing where they make you a calendar with a pic of you and your new car. Anyway, we had such a blast doing it. It was during one of those hideous, freezing, snowy days we had, but I insisted they help me onto the top of the car for a picture. And they did. I look like a crazy person in the pic because I’m laughing so hard.

Funniest road trip story? Ask me in six months.

What’s in your CD/mp3 player right now? Jason Mraz, Katy Perry and Brett Dennen.

Stick shift vs. automatic: Automatic.

How do you rate this car to previous ones? I have always had Jeeps and I have always loved them. But this car is amazing. I suppose I’m going to need to give it some time. But I think it might beat out all of my previous rides.

Did any TV commercials sway you about your purchase? Maybe the one about “You never forget your first Subaru.” But, honestly, it was the gang at the Subaru dealer. I just swung by one afternoon to have a look and it was super low pressure. They wanted me to want the car. And I did!

Sexiest thing about your car? Love the moon roof. Everyone looks good in moonlight.

What’s the one new feature you already can’t live without? Heated seats. I know it’s not new in general, but it’s new to me. I didn’t have them in the Jeep. Now I do and I love them.

Where is one place you would like to drive your car? To Enchanted Rock in Fredericksburg, Texas, so we can go climbing and “camp” in the car if the tent freaks out my 11-year-old — or me.

So is this an SUV or a car or what? I think they consider it a crossover. It’s a wagon but it looks more like an SUV and it has a ton of space. Besides, I cannot say I drive a station wagon because that reminds me of the white Dodge Aspen my mom drove in the ’70s. Yick.

Are you a double space parker now that you have a new car? I so do not want to be that girl. I don’t take up two spaces. But I do park way in the back of a parking lot where there is generally less commotion.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright