Archive for September, 2009

Almost Too Refined


I am beginning to notice something as I go from driving the Fiesta, to my Mustang track car, to my modified SVT Focus. The Fiesta seems almost too refined. That is not really a bad thing, but more of a surprise. The NVH engineers have done a wonderful job of isolating the driver from the car, but they really did too good of a job. I like having a little vibration of the gas pedal under hard acceleration. I enjoy hearing the intake roar and exhaust note. I like feeling the shifter going into each gear. The Fiesta takes all of that away, which is great if you are normal. Sadly, I am far from normal.

            The current focus on new cars is aiming to have Lexus-like quietness in the cabin, with zero sounds or feeling from the outside world. When I am old and waiting to die, I will be happy with all of that isolation. My heart still beats and I want to feel the engine and the car around me. There needs to be just a little noise and vibration for the driver to interact with so he/she knows what the car is doing. While autocrossing, I could never hear the engine, and nobody else could either. After each run, people would always comment on how the silent the Fiesta was. I am not saying the Fiesta needs a fart can exhaust from Pep Boys, but it does need a little bit more sound coming from the car.

            I look at my SVT Focus and it has the perfect blend of refinement and rawness. The factory SVT exhaust is great for those of us who want a little bit of an aggressive exhaust note, without having your head hurt. The single angle cut exhaust tip is just enough to be noticed, but not outlandish the pipes on my dad’s Shelby GT. The factory air box is also well designed to provide a little intake roar upon opening the throttle body, but not too much to be confused with a kid’s 15 year old Civic with a short ram intake he found on eBay. SVT found the perfect balance between refinement and rawness with the Focus. I pushed the car more towards the raw end of the spectrum by replacing the telephone pole shifter with a shorter, high effort shifter from Steeda. The soft rubber lower transmission bushings were swapped out for Aluminum and hard urethane to limit engine movement under shifting. The urethane also transmits more vibration into the chassis from the engine, so you feel the engine and transmission. The general public would hate to deal with so much mechanical involvement while driving, but I love it.

            What I have concluded is that if you really love driving a car that makes very little mechanical sounds, you will love the Fiesta. That means that 99% of car buyers will rejoice with how refined the car is. Thankfully for me, all of the refinement that takes away the mechanical feel of the Fiesta can be altered. The Fiesta is an outstanding platform, and in fact, exceeds my expectations for what a small car can be. If you are a die hard motorsports enthusiasts, you will be looking towards the aftermarket or hoping for a ST or RS Fiesta. The car needs more interaction between the driver and the mechanics. The plans for my Fiesta are to first install a short-throw, higher effort shifter. The factory shift linkage is lacking feel and the throws are way too long. Next will be some sort of an aluminum/urethane lower motor mount to help stabilize the engine under shifts. Exhaust is the tricky one, since most aftermarket exhausts are too loud or have gaudy tips. I am hoping FSWerks will have something more adult for my Fiesta, since they make some of the best Focus exhaust systems. A few small tweaks should be enough to add a little rawness back into the Fiesta. For a car guy, a little less refinement can be a good thing.


MIAC Autocross Review


            Lessons learned; don’t stay out late at a bachelor’s party and expect to do well autocrossing the next day. Saturday morning started out to look like a great day for autocrossing, with sunny skies and warm temps. The four hours of sleep the night before was going to be a problem, so I stopped by Starbucks for some coffee. Empty stomach, warm temps, lack of sleep, and no breakfast is not what I needed for a day spent dodging cones. Over 80 cars had shown up for the event at My Import Auto Center in Muskegon, and the H-Stock class was the largest class with 11 entries. While walking the course, Brandon mentions that it is the same course as last year. That is great for him since he ran last year, but bad for me since I was out of town for that event. The course was very confusing for me while walking thru it and included doubling back thru the same area but requiring the car to be placed slightly different each time. I do very poorly at tracks with this configuration since I struggle to remember which way to go when I get to that point.

            After the driver’s meeting, I go out to walk the course one last time before running since I am going to be in the first heat. I would be driving first, followed by Brandon, and lastly Todd would run in the last heat. While I quickly tried to walk the course again, Brandon brought the Fiesta to the staging area. I jump in the car, put on my helmet and gloves. A few cars later, I am at the starting gate ready to go. Bring the revs to around 2200 rpm and prepare to dump the clutch. I get cleared to take the course and launch the Fiesta onto the track. After the first turn I hear something flying around in the car. Each corner results in this object hitting the sides of the interior and under braking it flies up into the front passenger foot well. Crap, it is my camera. I must have left it on the back seat. The first run is over and I threw it away trying to figure out what was left in the car. Get back to staging and take the camera out of the car. To my amazement, the silly thing still works. The second run would be even worse as I tried to go faster and missed a gate to end up with a DNF. Unsure of where my mistake was, I decided to run very slow on my third run. After figuring out the course, I tried for a faster run on my last attempt. I did go faster, but not nearly fast enough. I was feeling sick while out on course and was happy to be done running. My last event of the year and the last one for the Fiesta would not be a good one.

            Brandon and Todd ran much better, and Todd placed very well considering 3 of his 4 runs were DNF’s. Brandon took out a few cones which cost him some time, but still did much better than I did. There is no doubt that the Fiesta will be a very good competitor in HS in the hands of a skilled driver. Sadly, I was not able to truly show what the Fiesta can do in competition. Even with my terrible driving, the Fiesta handled outstanding! Some of the issues were not being able to hear the engine with my helmet on and some understeer from coming in too fast at corner entry. The traction control can really hinder a launch and bogs the engine down. A switch is needed to turn it off, and same goes for the stability control. Steering feel and brake modulation was excellent! The stock Pirelli’s seem to handle the abuse of autocrossing better than most tires I have used. I would have liked a wider tire, but these seem to work just fine.

            Overall, I am glad I went to the autocross and had a chance to run the Fiesta again. I feel bad that I threw it all away, but thankfully Brandon and Todd were able to run better. Thanks again to the Furrin Group and My Auto Import Center for putting on this great event!