Monday, 25 June 2018

The Crew 2

In case you didn't know, there is a game that has been around a while called The Crew.

Building on concepts seen and used in other titles of the genre, such as Need for Speed, Test Drive Unlimited, Forza Horizon and a few others, Ubisoft had taken the more appealing elements (at least to me) from these and packaged them into their own open world driving experience. 

Although limited to a time and distance compressed version of the continental United States, there was still a lot to see and accomplish, be it in singleplayer, multiplayer, storyline or free-roam modes. Along the way, Monster Trucks, motorcycles and even Police vehicles were added, adding new elements and missions to explore, raising the skill bar and the "to do" list for accomplishments.

Over the last two-ish years, I was fortunate enough to find time to play the X-Box One version quite a bit and later, got my hands on a free PC edition, which I dabbled in a little. However, like most things, events in real life took away a lot of spare gaming time I had available at home or I wandered off to other projects.

A short while ago, I was lucky enough to receive an email about being a part of The Crew 2 Closed Beta (which wasn't really a Beta as far as I am concerned, more like a demo version of the game, with very limited progress) and later, the Open Beta. Both my son and I had a blast during the Closed Beta, since we were able to play online together (a major disappointment when I installed the PC version and discovered it wasn't server linked to the X Box players). We both agreed that The Crew 2 was improved version of the original The Crew, with the addition of  speed boats and sport planes.

When the short windowed Closed Beta period ended, life stepped in and stole all my time away again, until the Open Beta began. My son wasn't interested in playing this time around, since any progress he made was reset, but I found a few moments to capture at least the first race, showing off all three elements of gameplay....

Thursday, 21 June 2018

10 Days In May, or Absence and Disappointment, Part 5

Continued from It Fell From The Sky.

Thanks to the mysterious appearance of a basketball sized boulder and no options to avoid it, my Dodge Dart was dead. As it was being loading on the back of the recovery vehicle, my first thoughts flashed forward to how I was going to get to work, since the current job I was one required me to drive a considerable distance daily.

During my roadside phone conversation with the insurance claims agent, I was reminded that I had declined the "if you are in an accident, you can get a loaner car from us until it's fixed," coverage when I renewed my insurance, a mere seven days before. So, how was I going to get to work now?

Lucky for me, my wife just happened to have a car I could borrow.

There is a funny story, based on a lot of miscommunication at the time of how we (as a family) wound up with a 2016 Honda HRV and one of these days I might tell that tale. Nevertheless, it had been a fixture in our lives for nearly there years, at the time of this posting.

It easily outlived the ownership cycle of a few foolish-in-hindsight purchases I made during it's tenure.

Now, I had used the Honda before as a means of maintaining employment, driving to and from a ski resort a considerable ways out of town for a job I had with another security company, a few years before. My wife kept the 2004 Ford Freestar (the story of it's departure is here) for her own means purposes, since the newer, lower mileage HRV was more likely to complete the daily round trips without mechanical incidents.

Despite some scary looking road conditions during that era, the HRV proved to be very capable of handling it, thanks to decent winter tires.

Thanks in a huge part to having opposite schedules (she worked during daylight hours, I drove both to, from and worked when most normal people should be sleeping), being reduced down to one vehicle and not running into any timing conflicts could be achieved.  

However, it seemed during those ten days that nature was trying to keep my on my toes for road hazards. A collision with wildlife could be just as disastrous as hitting another boulder, or if the circumstances were totally not in my favor, deadly.

Sorry to end this part on a bit of an anticlimactic note, but the week and a half back and forth trips in the HRV turned out to be boring and routine....

....the excitement would come after that, when I got a call from the Chrysler about my Dart.

Monday, 18 June 2018

RVR Roadtrip

If you have been following along recently, reliving the last year in my Dodge Dart, up to the "Day of Doom," was the topic of my recollection. Before I complete that tale, I have decided to throw continuity out the window and share a recent road trip in the new-to-me Mitsubishi RVR.

In brief, I don't own my 2014 Dodge Dart anymore (that part of my story is still to come) and traded it on a 2015 Mitsubishi RVR. Despite a compromises in features and options, I have enjoyed this Japanese CUV for the last two weeks of around town, stop and go driving. However, I wanted the chance to take the RVR on a much longer trip, really putting the power-train and electronic technology package to the test.

Now, before starting any truly Canadian road-trip, one has to live up to a certain cliché....

The main portion of the trip was to be taken on a route called Highway 97C. This time of year and on that day in particular, it was bare and dry road conditions, with a sunny and cloudless sky overhead. The biggest environmental hazards that could occur during this adventure was strong winds, sudden rain and rockslides. Another thing to be mindful of is breakdowns (either us or some accident that has closed the road in the past) and having a newer, low mileage vehicle doesn't make one immune to that occurring.

Good thing this is late Spring and almost Summer, because the Winter can bring....


 ....dangerous to deadly travel conditions (despite the clear road conditions you see in the last picture).

The road itself brings other unique challenges too, one of them is the changes in elevation. I couldn't tell you what a 6% Grade is other than it's steep and can put a real strain on engines and transmissions going up them, cause premature wear and tear on tires, brakes and driver's nerves coming down them.

Leaving home-base in Kelowna, the drive was mostly uneventful to the halfway point of Logan Lake. Other than driving into a few sections of strong wind, the RVR seemed to perform rather well. Of the three driving modes available, 2WD, 4WD Auto and 4WD Lock, I went with 4WD Auto since it claimed enhanced traction, high speed stability and predictable handling. Cruise Control was engaged and a guiding hand on the wheel took care of the rest.

It turned out, the mileage returns were less that what I was expecting.

Not to make excuses for this, but there are a few rational factors to consider up to this point. One, I have no idea what the driving habits were for the previous owner (who leased the vehicle) or where they went. If the RVR had spent the first part of it's life in the stop and go traffic of a city, yeah, this could be seen as a real surprise and a good, long highway run should set things right again.

Two, 4WD Auto might not have been the best mode to drive in. With a smooth surface and clear weather/road conditions, 2WD might have made the better choice and I selected that for the rest of this first part of the trip.

Three, the 2.0 litre 4 cylinder engine and transmission combination just isn't up to the task of "under a load" highway driving. The RVR isn't really built for speed, putting your foot down, either from a standstill to trying to get the transmission (in Automatic mode) to kick down and pass someone will produce disappointing results. I believe a newer model, with the 2.4 litre and associated transmission might be a better choice that I didn't have/make.

In case I didn't mention already, I wasn't doing this trip solo, my wife and son had decided to tag along. I don't believe having their added weight had that much of a bearing on the road results, something to consider in the grand scheme of things, I suppose.

Nevertheless, we stopped off at a quaint Greek restaurant in Cache Creek for a stretch and some food.

I think the Fuel Averaging Computer was having issues.

I wasn't too impressed with the fuel situation, given the fact I was driving a 4 cylinder powered vehicle in a reasonable fashion (with a family onboard, there are a few things I didn't try while on the road, such as take pictures of things while in motion). At this point, I just shrugged and went off to eat.

A short ways out of Cache Creek was our final destination, a place called Hat Creek Ranch. The plan was to meet up with some other my-side-of-the-family members and hangout for the afternoon. Yeah, that didn't happen and without going into any great, emotional detail, we just left.

From Cache Creek to Kamloops, the drive was equally uneventful as the trip up. I experimented with engaging the Manumatic mode in the transmission and using paddleshifters to drop down gears while passing on hills. That, combined with easing my foot down on the gas seemed to be the thing to do, not mashing the peddle into the floor and going nowhere really. A learning curve I suppose.

We stopped at a gas station in Kamloops for a bathroom break, stretch, drinks and snacks to cover our return trip to Kelowna. Oddly enough, I spotted an older, first generation Mitsubishi Outlander in the parking lot and took it as a photo opportunity and practical comparison. Once all of that was done, back on the road for home.

A minor detour in Merritt for fuel and nothing but clear roads and blue skies the rest of the way. A few more hills and using the new procure to climb and pass was showing that I was doing things correctly, at least according to the RVR.

I am not sure what they put in their gas in Merritt to give me this kind of range, or is the RVR humoring me once we arrived home?

On a side note, if you happen to be looking for a 2014 Dodge Dart, formally owned by yours truly, I can point you in that direction.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

It Fell From The Sky, or Absence and Disappointment, Part 4

Tuesday, May 5th, 2017, 5:54 am. 50.084684,-119.4990634.

Despite the reputation Westside Road has earned over the years, partly due to geography it was built on and how folks have and continue to drive on it, I really didn't see it as this "all hazardous route" that it has be reported to be over the years. Sure, this stretch of blacktop can be challenging at times and in spots, but being aware of what is going on around you and driving at the prescribed speeds can mitigate most dangers that could possibly appear.

However, this is that one time....

The job itself was straightforward enough, drive to an undisclosed location using Westside Road and keep an eye on seasonal cabins under threat from a landslide that had recently taken place in that area. First priority was to keep curious people away, for safety's sake. The second was to make a call to certain authorities should the hill let go or characters in black ski masks, carrying crowbars happen to appear.

It was starting into the second week of this and nothing exciting to report, save for the occasion deer wandering through the properties, they came and left empty....hoofed.

With my scheduled twelve hour night shift coming to a close and my forty five minute drive home about to begin, I made my preparations to depart. The only noteworthy things to make mention of was passing my boss coming to take over the day shift at the same location and how much my eyes were stinging from being awake during the hours when most other folks should have been sleeping. But, I knew I had enough energy and awareness to end my day safely at home. Or, so I thought.

It was merely twelve minutes into the trip home when the short series of events took place.

I was rounding a fairly gentle right hand bend, with a sloping hill to my right, a thin ribbon of grass and a cold lake below on my left, when a blur of movement caught my attention. Deer, was my first thought, but when my eyes focused, the curious word Rock came out loud from my mouth. A boulder the size of a basketball lands on the road, right in front of me.

I was stunned, but my brain quickly weighted the options. Right into the hillside, or left onto the grass and possibly into the lake? However, with my body tense from what had just transpired, there wasn't anytime to turn. The boulder passes under the front bumper, produces a loud and terrible impact sound and proceeds to get jammed under the oil pan.

Right about here is where time starts to slow right down. 

The impact sound turns quickly into a grinding noise, followed by an uplifting action in the front end of the car, breaking contact between the tires and the road. Turning the steering wheel was an exercise in futility, but I slowly applied the brake, hoping the rear wheels would start to slow the car down in a more controlled manner. A new sound, very similar to small rocks hitting the floor from underneath when driving down a gravel road, could be heard.

With the boulder starting to crumble, the front wheels touched enough pavement to regain control of the car and direct it towards the shoulder. A few bumps coming off the pavement dislodged the remaining chunk of boulder. I loud scrapping sound was produced as it passed from under the car and I coasted to a stop.

Although it felt like hours had past, in reality it had been less than a minute.

The car was dead, either the impact had shorted something out or a fail-safe program had kicked in to preserve the vehicle from further self inflicted damage. I sat there, on the gravel should with shaking hands and a mind trying to review what had just happened. First thing I did, once my senses came back, was call my boss. He was just down the road and after I told him what transpired, he dropped whatever he was doing and was on the way to the scene. The second call was to my wife. That one went a lot better that I thought it could have.

I stepped out of the car and quickly assessed the damage, based on what I could see without exerting too much effort. I was tired and thanks to my "rock and roll" incident, I was now drained of my reserve energy I had stored for the drive home and could barely stand. However, what I could see was the Dart had a destroyed oil pan and torn up plastic skidplate. I was reasonably sure there was some hidden damage that I couldn't see.

With my boss on the scene and my wife on her way to rescue me, I placed a call to the insurance claim line. The woman on the other end was pleasant and polite, very sympathetic to the details I gave her and made the necessary arrangements for the tow truck to come and recover my inoperable conveyance.

It had been two hours, from collision to recovery. Now came the longer part of remedy and repair.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Absence and Disappointment, Part 3

Keeping in mind the newest vehicle I owned up to this point was an ex-RCMP, 2001 Chevrolet Impala Part 1 Part 2 Part 3, things come into a much clearer perspective when you continue to read my tale.

April 29th 2017 is a date that will forever be a turning point for me.

For the first time in my life, I walked into a car dealership with enough adult credibility and financial confidence to start and complete the serious process of acquiring a new car. Okay, not brand new, but a whole lot closer to the year I was currently living in than before.

After the disappointment of not moving a whole lot more forward on the my original choice, a 2013 Kia Soul, this 2014 Dodge Dart did have more than just a passing outward resemblance to my old, beloved Impala and the car was "something old, something new" to the revived naming scheme Chrysler was using.

With the test drive out of the way, it was now the "can you really afford this?" portion of the experience. Having bought one house and later, sold it to put a down payment and mortgage another, I was familiar with the misperception of time during the uncomfortable credit check and signing all those forms phase I was about to endure. Granted, this was on a smaller scale, both in size and bottom line cost versus a house, but still....

The first sign that I should have walked away from the deal was when the numbers started to go up rather dramatically. The stickered price was reasonable enough (can't remember the exact figures they were looking for, but there wasn't much effort to haggle those on my part), it was the taxes, dealer fees and a few other things I hadn't considered that kept on piling on, pushing what I would have to pay out upwards. It was a bit of a shock, however, I convinced myself that all of my future payments was going to be worth it.

The deal was sealed a few hours later and I left the lot, ready for new adventures.

Of the course of the next year, I had a mostly problem free and benign ownership experience with the Dart.

When I needed it to take me to work, it started and off we went. For times the family piled in and we went to do whatever, it took us where we wanted to go (or wherever we wound up). For being an office away from home (I sometimes have to drive up to a couple of hours to my destination, only to sit around and stare out the windows of my vehicle for twelve or more hours and then drive home again), there was a bit to be desired, I could never get the driver's seat just right.

The Dart had a lot of cool, almost futuristic features (remember my opening comments on my old Impala?), such as a auto dimming rear view mirror, back up camera, a fob instead of a key to start the thing, large touchscreen infotainment system, bluetooth connectivity, USB ports and a ton of other stuff. Sure, it had things I knew and experienced before, like power windows, tilt steering, traction control (throw ABS in with this) and working air conditioning (that died in my Impala the last year I owned it).

Funny enough, I found the tail lights, something I shouldn't see while driving my own car, to be the best of the futuristic touches.

The downsides started to show-up rather quickly too, more like "unexpected annoyances" than anything serious. For starters, the windows always fogged up under those perfect conditions. Despite my best cleaning efforts, I could never remedy that issue, nor keep the dust at bay. Ever once in a while, the infotainment system would flash a TV style test pattern, a couple of times while driving and the odd time during start up. The key-fob would just pop out from the ignition if I didn't start it right away (happened a few times, irritating to say the least) and I could never get the driver's seat set the way I wanted it (I know I said this before, but worth repeating).

The 2.4 litre Tigershark 4 cylinder engine put out "not bad" power, nothing like my old 3.8 litre Supercharged V6 from the Impala, but I do believe the Dodge was slightly better on gas. The one feature about this engine I could never get used to was the sound it made. When running and idling, it could have passed itself for a Volkswagen diesel, just the way the Mutliair valve system worked I suppose.

The transmission (or more correctly, the transaxle) would do it's own thing sometimes. If I was easy on the gas pedal, things were good, if I mashed it hard while in motion, it would drop into neutral for a split second. That was cool to get a bark out of the exhaust, not so much if I needed an immediate decision and action to speed out of certain danger (thankfully, that never happened).

Overall, the Dodge Dart was a really decent car, solidly built with a lot of "creature features."

Despite it's small list of shortcomings (like that driver's seat, which would continue to be my biggest gripe if I still had the car), I didn't mind the rest. I got me where I needed to go (much to the surprise of some folks I worked with), good on gas, an overall size I was used to and could manage and so on.

At one point I tossed around the ideas of either keeping it until it just wasn't financially viable (like the warranty ran out, parts prices are through the roof, no time to fix minor/major issues, wheels on the verge of falling off, in other words, most of the vehicles I owned before this one), or use it as a gateway car, perhaps using to step up to a newer Dodge/Chrysler in the future (I kept looking at those new Chargers....Hellcat....Challenger....).

However, the course of my future came crashing into my life like a rock from the sky.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Absence and Disappointment, Part 2

Continued from here.

Although I was crushed by the "unfinanceable" Kia Soul, I didn't walk onto the dealer lot without a short list of alternatives. The recently relaunched (and discontinued) Dodge Dart was on it and there were a few decent examples to pick and choose from.

At the time and in hindsight, I should have left and continued my search for a different vehicle that might have better suited me and my driving style/habits. However, I didn't and opened myself up to the need of "filling the void," now that the Soul wasn't an option. As I stood and starred at the car I would eventually wind up with, I recalled some of the points from amateur/professional reviews I had read on this front wheel drive, Alfa Romeo Giulietta based chassis, sporting a nameplate from years gone by (fitting in rather well with the Charger and Challenger) had created a bit of a "Nouveau Nostalgia." I was starting to seriously consider one, with the persuasive help of the sales person who attached themselves to the moment.

The test drive was an intuitive affair, getting a feel for everything. The steering wasn't nearly as numb as described by a few, the acceleration was spirited with a unique growl, the Alfa Romeo based ride was very comfortable. However, it was the technological features, like the back up camera and touch screen infotainment system, items that some have taken for granted in their current vehicles, was still a new and relatively unknown experience for me. Being a video gamer, this had a strong "intrigue" effect on me.

After running around a directed route, the sales person and I returned to the dealer and started the sale/credit approval process. Part of me felt rather relieved I wasn't leaving the lot empty handed and was about to start my Summer with a new car, the other part was already doubting the decision to move forward with this deal.

Sadly, it wouldn't take long for me to realize which voice in my head I really should have listened to.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Absence and Disappointment, Part 1

In case you have been wondering what has happened to me, automotively speaking, since I posted here last (which turns out to be August of 2017), here is a bit of a comfortable read to bring you back up to speed.

Although I wrote things up very briefly at the time, there were a few details I left out, so let fill you in on those....

Last year, I put in a lot of effort to break my perpetual habit of buying older vehicles. I had always approached those deals with grandiose plans to fix all of the known problems, be crushed when new ones popped up and discourage myself in spending what little time I didn't have to complete a repair task and inevitably, get rid of it. I decided to get into the newer vehicle market and purchase those from a dealer, since I was in the mindset they wouldn't sell me something that would jeopardize their reputation and future vehicle sales due to the speed at which negative press can spread on social media.

After selling off anything that could be labeled as junk, I started my "studies," spending a fair amount of time researching different makes, models and sifting through amateur and professional reviews on everything that interested me. I arrived at the conclusion that the Kia Soul would be my ideal vehicle.

Browsing through local online classifieds, I found a 2013 model at the local Chrysler dealer and proceeded in person to lay my own eyes on it and perhaps, a test drive. The sales person came out and after the procedural "small talk" was out of the way, he collected the keys and we jumped into the black beauty. The test drive was around half and hour, but with the air conditioning blowing, the smooth ride and comfortable leather interior, it felt like an eternity in Heaven.

Needless to say, I was pleased with the Soul SX 2.0 Turbo, the color, the features and above all the, the price seemed to be a near perfect deal. The financing portion of the visit began and the first disappointment came right out of nowhere. "Yeah, seems we can't finance that Soul for you," the sales person informed me. In a crushed tone of voice, my response was "Oh and why not?"

The reason I was given, truth or not, was because the Soul had sustained $10,000 in repaired damages, no finance company would touch it. However, that couldn't stop me for buying it at the sticker price of $11,990 with cash. Yeah, I wasn't interested in that.

Low and behold, the sales person redirected my attention to an option to consider....