New Car: Prius

Amber had been driving a Corolla for a while, which was unacceptable. So we decided to get a new car for her.

One of the major requirements was that its gas consumption be better than the Corolla (city 26mpg, Hwy 36mpg, combined 30mpg).

From the short list fitting that requirement, we decided to check out Honda Insight, Lexus CT200h and Toyota Prius.

We did not like the Honda Insight. It looked and drove like a small, underpowered car with no coolness factor. It was also smaller than the Prius and had worse gas mileage.

The Lexus CT200h was nice. In terms of the engine and platform, it seemed very similar to the Prius with the Lexus touch of higher end comfort and a little bit more sportiness. It was a little more expensive than the Prius with compatible features. The bottom line was us was the size. My G35 coupe has very little trunk space and a tall adult cannot sit in the back seat. So we wanted a family car that could fit us.

The Prius is a nice car. It does feel a little different driving than a regular gasoline engine car. Also the higher end trims feel and look nicer than what one expects of Toyota cars.

We considered waiting for the 2012 model but since there are going to be no changes to the regular model and we weren’t interested in the upcoming plugin hybrid or the wagon, we decided to get the 2011 model.

We got the Prius Four with the solar sunroof option. The solar sunroof basically keeps the car at outdoor temperature when it is parked out in the sun so that the inside of the car doesn’t turn into an oven, important here in HOTlanta! It also contains the navigation system and my daughter is fascinated by the speech recognition of the system.

We got a 1.85% APR for a 5 year loan and got the car last week.

Of course, we are crazy, so as soon as we got the Prius, we headed to North Georgia on a long drive.

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Abu Dhabi

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The Formula Rossa roller coaster was really fast and the Formula 1 simulation was a lot of fun too.

North Georgia Snake Run

Over the Christmas break, a friend was visiting and we decided to head to our usual haunts in North Georgia. We hiked part of the Appalachian trail from Woody Gap.

In addition, we wanted to do our usual scenic drive through the Blue Ridge there. However, we realized that a good description of what Jim Baker named Snake Run is not available on the web any more (except in the wayback machine here.) So here is a description I salvaged as written by Jim Baker:

A scenic and challenging 250 mile day trip that crosses Blue Ridge four times.

One of the problems with communicating about various fun drives is that a road rarely offers the same challenges for very long. A road may have ten miles of totally insane turns, but be otherwise tame and boring. When a fair amount of time is required to get there to begin with, there needs to be more driving time to make it worthwhile. So a good run recommendation should tie several different roads together to stay in the twisties.

This run was mapped out by CSR from Miata.net, and I’ve run it twice, once as a performance run with other Miatas, and again the following weekend with his wife as a leaf-run. It’s called the “Snake Run” for a ten-mile portion of the run for want of a better collective name.

The route:

GA 60 from Dahlonega to Suches, GA 180 from Suches to US 19/129, US 129 South to Alt 75, Alt 75 North to GA 348 (Richard Russell Scenic Highway), GA 348 to GA 180, GA 180 to GA 180 Spur (Brasstown Bald), GA 180 from Brasstown Bald to GA 17/75, GA 17/75 South to Helen.

Mileage:

About 250 miles round-trip from Atlanta, depending on how you get to and from the run. About 90-100 of it is the actual run, and the run itself takes two-three hours to complete, depending on traffic and how much you care about your car. The entire trip can be done in just half a day.

Getting there:

From Atlanta, Dahlonega is most easily reached via GA 400/US 19. Take 400 north from Atlanta, and turn left at the intersection with GA 60. There are several gas stations here and more (plus various food) in Dahlonega just 5 miles further north on 60.

Take the opportunity to gas up in Dahlonega. There is only one gas station on the run, and it’s only 16 miles further up the road. There are three places to stop for snacks on the way, so that isn’t as important.

The run:

From Dahlonega, take 60 north to Suches. Two pitfalls: 60 takes a right-hand turn in downtown Dahlonega, and it splits off unmarked from US 19 about 8 miles north of there. Don’t turn until you see a sign for GA 180 on the right. And look for the sign, not a town, because Suches is essentially just a single convenience store.

GA 60 is a great run in its own right, all the way up to Copperhill, TN. This run only takes in about 16 miles of it, however, as it climbs the southern face of Blue Ridge, crosses it, and comes down into Suches. The first really nice twisties are here, but can be spoiled by traffic. 60 is actually a main corridor for local traffic in this area, so it’s pretty well traveled, even though it’s only two lanes.

GA 180 skirts along the northern slope of Blue Ridge and runs for about 30 miles in two sections. The next section of the route takes in the first 10 miles or so and is nicknamed “the Snake”. This road has some very tight twisties, including several hairpins, more esses than you can count, and one genuinely terrifying steep downhill off-camber turn. Take this road cautiously until you are familiar with it. A lot of these turns have zero visibility, and a choice between running into a cliff or falling off of one if you screw up.

Because it’s so impractical, there isn’t much local traffic that doesn’t actually live somewhere along this road. There will be a number of sports cars and motorcycles on any decent day, but these tend to to stay out of your way. The real problem is sightseers; especially during leaf season, this is a very scenic road. Watch out for brake fires and other comedy from people with ordinary cars and no clue what they are doing.

One scenic stop on 180: there is some almost unmarked park about halfway in with a fairly scenic pond that is glass-smooth if the wind is calm. Good photo-op, but otherwise not very exciting. There’s a parking fee of $3, so it may not be worth it to take a break only 20 miles into the run.

GA 180 runs into US 19/129. For those who are into this, Vogel State Park is at right by this intersection. Take a right at this intersection and prepare to stretch your legs. US 19/129 South climbs back up Blue Ridge from the north, and then crosses the ridge and heads down towards Turner’s Corner. Several of the uphill portions of this stretch have a passing lane, which is nice for working out frustrations if you got caught on 180 behind a minivan. There are some nice esses with visible banking transitions here and a few long sweepers that beg to hang the tail out, and visibility is much improved over 180. A decently handling car can go much faster than posted limits here. However, again, this is a fairly major corridor and there’s a lot of slow traffic on it. Be prepared for people who come to almost complete stops right in the middle of turns.

Turner’s Corner, like Suches, basically consists of a single store. I haven’t stopped here but it looks to be of the quaint/folk art/Cracker Barrel-without-the-restaurant school of country stores. It’s a decent place to stop for a Coke.

Continuing on south on 129 (19 splits off at Turner’s Corner) is the most boring part of the route. It will be fairly straight two-lane highway for the next 15 or so miles. Look for GA 75 Alternate on the left about six or seven miles south of Turner’s Corner, and take this turn. Again, fairly smooth, higher-speed roads, nice scenery, but not challenging. Continue on 75 Alternate until you reach GA 348, the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway. Those familiar with the area will recognize that we are now only about two miles from Helen, the end of the run, but we have about 30 miles still to go.

348 is a left turn off 75 Alternate. It will pass north over Blue Ridge again, and for driving challenge, it’s on par with the Snake, very low-visibility turns, major elevation changes, and a lot of variety in the type and severity of the corners. 348 also has easily half a dozen pull-offs for photo-ops. There is some kind of lodge at the ridge gap, but I’ve never stopped there. 348 terminates back on the second leg of GA 180. Take a right turn onto 180.

Unlike the Snake, this portion of 180 is much tamer. It’s more challenging than the portions of 129 and 75 Alt you just left, but it’s higher-speed sweepers rather than tight esses. The major attraction of this leg is 180 Spur, which comes up after about 6 miles on the left and which takes you to the highest point in Georgia that you can reach with a car. The peak of Brasstown Bald is 4,784 feet above sea level, and the parking lot at the foot of the trail is about 400 feet below that. The approach up the spur is steep and insanely twisted. It’s so steep, in fact, that coupled with the elevation, we’ve experienced RPM dropoff in gears higher than second. At the summit there is a small store and a coke machine, if you feel like stopping. Parking is, again, $3, but if you don’t stop you needn’t pay the fee.

Going back down the spur is easily the most dangerous part of this run. It’s very tough on the brakes, even with compression braking, and tight turns, gravity and terrified tourists from Vero Beach all conspire against you. Beware.

At the bottom of the spur, a left turn back onto 180 will put you off into a leisurely drive that lets your brakes cool off and your jaw unclench. The next turn is at the end of 180, where it runs into GA 17/75. Take a right turn here, and you are on the last leg of the run.

17/75 South is very much like US 19/129; it crosses Blue Ridge for the fourth and final time of this run, and features uphill passing lanes, higher speed turns and better visibility. 17/75 runs all the way into Helen, the end of our run.

Getting back:

Helen is a nice stop at the end of the run for good sit-down food. There are a lot of restaurants there, mostly German. Alt Heidelberg is particularly good, but get the wurst sampler and avoid the weiner schnitzel. Sometimes, especially during leaf season/Octoberfest, traffic into Helen can look like 5 o’clock rush hour. But if you’ve never seen Helen, you owe it to yourself to see it at least once; imagine if Walt Disney had gotten halfway through making a replica German village, then developed a heroin addiction and died in despair. It’s a tourist trap from hell, with decent German food. The homemade candy shops are also excellent, but, apart from that, unless you are looking for a $500 cuckoo clock or collectible crystal figurines, it’s garbage. The fire hydrants are painted like little people. Helen is over the top, no kidding.

If traffic is too terrible going into Helen, you can take a turn on to 75 Alternate just north of Helen and backtrack your route down that road. A couple of miles down on the left is a country cooking restaurant called, really, The Goofy Rooster. The chicken wings are good.

Whatever you decide, both 75 through Helen and 75 Alternate north of it eventually get back to US 129 north of Cleveland. In Cleveland, you can either continue on 129 to Gainesville and return to Atlanta on 985, or take GA 115 back to your starting point in Dahlonega, and backtrack down 400 from there.

And here is a Google map I created for the drive.

North Georgia

North Georgia has some nice scenery and hikes as well as curvy roads (example: Snake Run) for my G35. Here are some photos of De Soto Falls, Brasstown Bald, Dukes Creek Falls, Anna Ruby Falls and Red Top Mountain State Park.

Since Michelle has gotten a bit older, we have been trying to visit North Georgia for short to medium hikes on a fairly regular basis. Another reason to drive there is my G35 and the curvy roads. For example, we have driven the Snake Run (if that link isn’t working, try this) multiple times. It is a lot of fun.

Here are some photographs taken over the last few months.

These images are from De Soto Falls Trail.

De Soto Falls
De Soto Falls
De Soto Falls
 

Brasstown Bald is the highest peak in Georgia at 4,784 feet (1,458 m).

Michelle and me at the trailhead
View from the summit
Looking 500 ft down at the parking lot
 

Dukes Creek Falls Trail is close to Helen, GA.

Michelle, Amber and me
Dukes Creek
Dukes Creek Falls
 

Anna Ruby Falls are a set of double falls in the same area.

On the trail
Michelle and me
Double falls
 

Red Top Mountain State Park is not really a mountain or even a hill. But it is not too far from home and a good relaxing hike (an easy 5.5 miles) with views of Allatoona Lake.

Michelle and I at the trailhead
Allatoona Lake
Michelle hiking again
 

As the weather has been mild here recently, we might head north again one of these weekends.

My Ride

I never did tell you which car I bought. So here it is: Infiniti G35 Coupe, 6-speed manual transmission with navigation system.

I never told you guys which car I finally bought. So here are a few photos of my car:

Michelle and me in the car
Rear view of my G35
Rear left view of my Infiniti G35
My G35 Coupe's side view
Another view of my G35
Front view of my Infiniti G35 Coupe

As it turned out, we had to order the Infiniti G35. It took more than 3 months to arrive. By that time, we had lost all the excitement of the purchase. However, once we got it, it was fun driving time. As a result, our trips to North Georgia have definitely increased in recent months.

Infiniti G35 Coupe

We test drove the 6-speed Infiniti G35 Coupe in our search for a car. It is an amazing car with luxury and performance.

Continuing with our car search, we checked out the Infiniti G35 Coupe.

Infiniti G35 Coupe

Here are some pertinent facts:

Power 298 hp 222 kW
Torque 260 lb-ft 353 N-m
Curb Weight to Power Ratio 11.79 lb/hp 7.17 kg/kW

First of all, the G35 Coupe has great looks. It looks similar to the Nissan 350Z and that is why I prefer the coupe over the sedan. It is also roomier than the RX-8 and has more of a luxury feeling. The back seats have more room in all dimensions except for the head due to the curving roof of the car. However, if instead of sitting erect, I slid down a little, I was quite comfortable in the back seat of a G35.

We test drove the 6-speed manual transmission and my impressions are from that car.

As you can see above, there is no lack of power in a G35 and there is lots of it at all engine speeds. It also sounds great when you accelerate. The ride is a little stiffer than RX-8 but still not uncomfortable. It does feel a bit less nimble in its handling than some smaller sports cars but that is ok considering its size and weight.

The stick-shift G35 comes with Y-rated 19 inch summer tires. This might not be a problem in Atlanta, but if we move somewhere where it snows, we will need to get snow tires for the winter which would cost a bunch of money.

Overall, the G35 feels really good. It is a good compromise between comfort, luxury and performance.

See also Edmunds’ road tests of the G35 Coupe.

Mazda RX-8

In our search for a new car, we test drove the Mazda RX-8 last weekend. It rides smoothly, but has less power at low rpms.

As we are looking for a car, we went test driving last weekend.

2005 Mazda RX-8 Shinka

The Mazda RX-8 is a very interesting car. The rotary engine definitely appeals to an engineering nerd like me. But at the same time, I realize that it is the only car using that engine and that could be a negative.

Mazda RX-8 is a nice looking car but sometimes it reminds me too much of Mazda6 and Miata, both of which I am not fond of. Among the available colors, the Black Cherry of the Shinka edition definitely stands out.

When the RX-8 first came out, I thought the reverse-opening rear doors were just a gimmick, but when we checked out the car last weekend, they turned out to be very useful. They will definitely help a lot in taking Michelle’s car seat in and out as well as getting Michelle into the car.

In terms of price, the base price of the RX-8 is very reasonable. However, that doesn’t include much in terms of comfort and the optional packages are expensive. Add leather seats, sunroof and a few other things and the price climbs quite a lot.

Speaking of the sunroof, it reduces the head room which is normal, but that reduction means my head touches the roof of the car. Now I am not a tall person (6 feet or 1.83m), so I didn’t expect that. It’s not a complete deal breaker as I could recline the seat a bit more than my usual position and that would work, but it’s definitely a negative for me.

We took Michelle’s car seat with us when we test drove the RX-8. When the infant car seat is in the rear facing position in the back, the front passenger seat has to be moved quite forward. I can definitely not fit in there, but Amber wasn’t too comfortable either.

During the test drive, the ride was smooth and changing gears was easy. I hadn’t driven a stick-shift in more than 2 years, but I found the stick to be simple and smooth. One downside of the car is that it is a high-rpm engine, so there is not a whole lot of power at low rpms. It does, however, accelerate quite nicely in the 3rd gear.

While the fuel economy of RX-8 is rated by EPA at 18/24 (city/highway) miles per gallon, which is not much lower than 19/26 for Infiniti G35, I have heard that the RX-8 gets poor gas mileage.

Overall, RX-8 is a nice sports car at a decent price. I like it reasonably well but I am not wowed by it. We’ll have to check out Infiniti G35 to make a decision.

You can also read Edmunds’ road tests.