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Wheels '05
Paul Wall, the Raveonettes, Hoobastank and more hit the road
Posted Oct 20, 2005 3:21 PM

Subaru WRX STI
PRICE $32,995 (as tested)
ENGINE 2.5-liter turbo, 300 hp
Paul Wall, a big man in a bigger T-shirt, is tapping at his Sidekick when the car arrives outside his Manhattan hotel. He looks up and flashes his glittering grille, eyeing the ride with something like amusement.

"A Subaru?" says Wall, the Houston rapper whose slow-sizzle major-label debut, The Peoples Champ, was released last month and marched directly to the top of the charts. "I was thinking Bentley or Ferrari, and you brought me a Subaru?"

But it's not just any Subaru. It's the Impreza WRX STI, a factory-tuned race car that hardly differs from the version that regularly tears up the European rally circuit. The all-wheel-drive, turbocharged WRX marks the culmination of the Fast and the Furious tuner movement, in which kids took anonymous four-cylinders and modified them into high-performance machines -- only here, Subaru has already done the work for them.

Wall ambles over to the sparkling blue car -- with its massive spoiler, hood scoop and gold rims that match his teeth -- and plops down in the driver's seat, fixating on the six-speed shifter's titanium knob.

"Dude, I don't drive no stick."

And so Wall rolls over to the passenger seat. Today's test driver will be Wall's bodyguard, Chuck, a beefy guy in a red and silver tracksuit.

At home in H-town, Wall favors big, easygoing rides like Lincolns and Caddies; even his new car, a Mercedes CLS55 AMG, rarely breaks the speed limit. "I'm not in a rush," he says in his Texas drawl. "Drive slow, baby."

Instead, Chuck immediately floors it, and soon we're cruising through town at three times the legal limit. Crossing Ninth Avenue, the car catches air, flying over a coffin-size bump in the road. "This is all stock, right?" Chuck asks. "Shit is fast!"

Chuck's turn at the wheel done, he hands over the keys to his buddy Tim, another member of Wall's entourage. Tim heads toward the West Side Highway, and the boost gauge wiggles wildly as the car roars forward. "Man, that's the all-wheel drive," Tim says, referring to how the car doesn't produce burnouts at the starting line. He darts in and out of heavy midday traffic, popping into the tiniest of gaps and closing on cars with ease.

"Going down in the Subaru!" Wall yells, laughing. "How fast you going?"

"I don't know," Tim answers. "I'm just trying to watch the road!"

Safely back in front of the hotel, Tim and Chuck pop the hood and inspect the engine, an aluminum-alloy block that's one of the lightest on the market. Wall gives the car a final look.

What do you think?

"Not my style," he says. "But whatever, it's all good." (JOSH DEAN)

BMW 325i
PRICE $32,800 (as tested)
ENGINE 3.0-liter inline V-6, 215 hp

Cars are a touchy subject for the Raveonettes right now. The night before, the Danish duo's van was stolen during a Brooklyn warm-up gig for an upcoming tour with Depeche Mode. The van contained all of the genre-bending garage outfit's gear, including a broken guitar pedal cherished by singer-songwriter-guitarist Sune Rose Wagner. He's notably absent this afternoon at bassist Sharin Foo's Manhattan apartment. "He sort of drowned his sorrows last night," Foo says. "Hope you don't mind just me today."

Only an idiot would mind zipping around in the new BMW 325i with Foo as a driving companion. The thirty-one-year-old is looking her usual beautiful, statuesque self as she slides into the leather driver's seat. "I've never driven in New York before -- I'm so excited," she says as she navigates toward FDR Drive. This car marks the first complete redesign in six years for the 3-Series, the car that virtually created the sports sedan upon its inception twenty years ago. BMW tinkered only slightly with its top-selling line, smoothing out its shape and adding thirty-one more ponies under the hood.

"I want to go to six!" Foo says, ogling the car's six-speed shifter. Although traffic proves too clogged for anything but a brief sprint into fourth, the traditional 3-Series zip is readily apparent. "Smooth and fast," notes Foo. "It's got power for a smaller car." She pulls off the FDR and onto the waterfront beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, where the car's aluminum suspension handles the pothole-strewn streets with aplomb. "What's up with the infrastructure here?" she asks (ah, how sweet it is to be an innocent from a Scandinavian socialist utopia).

Back outside Foo's apartment, the final test is style. "It doesn't look like a BMW," she declares with a pout. "It's too round." Even so, Foo was impressed enough with the car's exquisite handling to ask the requisite question: "Think BMW would give me one?" After all, the duo needs a new ride. (JASON KERSTEN)

Honda FCX Fuel Cell
PRICE Lease only: $500 per month; approx. value $1 million
ENGINE Permanent magnet AC synchronized motor, 107 hp

It doesn't look like a million-dollar car. And idling on a leafy San Fernando Valley street, it doesn't sound like one, either. Actually, the Honda FCX doesn't make any sound at all. That's because the FCX, the first production fuel-cell prototype in the U.S., emits only warm-water vapor. Actress Kristen Bell, the tough-talking teenage sleuth of UPN's cult hit Veronica Mars, puts her hand under the tailpipe and rubs the wet air between her fingers. "That is so rad," she says. "I can't believe it has no emissions."

Pollution is something that the twenty-five-year-old takes very seriously. In the petite blonde's L.A. home, Ziplocs are reused, recycling is paramount, and under no circumstances is water to be left running while doing dishes, brushing teeth or shaving. The only thing that riles her as much as conservation is animal rights -- which is why it's also verboten in the Bell household to kill a bug.

Bell buckles herself in and presses the accelerator. The FCX starts forward with only the tiniest whoosh, like the faint sound of an airport tram leaving the station. "I want this thing," Bell says. "I'd drive it everywhere."

That might be tricky. At the moment, just twenty-two people on the planet (including fifteen Americans) drive these two-door hatchbacks, under special $500-per-month leases offered by Honda as part of its ongoing R&D on the car. Los Angeles, in fact, is one of the few cities with hydrogen filling stations capable of replenishing the fuel cells, which under optimum conditions can provide nearly 200 miles of driving. Like a traditional hybrid, the FCX is actually propelled by an electric motor; the fuel cells merely power it. And also like a hybrid, it stores energy generated during braking. But the FCX doesn't have the pod shape or funky instrumentation of first-generation hybrids such as the Toyota Prius. It looks like a Civic, with a few feet sawed off the back.

"It has such a cute color scheme -- I like the microsuede and this mesh stuff," Bell says, referring to the purplish-blue seats. "It feels like I'm driving in a big North Face backpack!"

Approaching a light that turns from yellow to red, Bell brakes hard and comes to an awkward stop in a crosswalk. "Great brakes!" she says, giggling. To our right is an old man who's clearly pissed to find this silent car blocking his path.

Bell laughs. "What if I'd hit him? It's like, 'I love the environment, but I really don't like old people. It's people who ruin the environment. Kill all the people, and everything is fine!'" Then she smiles sheepishly and yells out the window -- which is closed -- "I'm sorry! It's a fuel-cell car. We're blocking the intersection, but we're not polluting!" (JOSH DEAN)

Lexus RX 400h
PRICE $48,410 (as tested)
ENGINE 3.3-liter V-6/electric, 268 hp

The Lexus RX 400h couldn't have arrived at a more opportune moment. A luxury hybrid SUV that gets a respectable 31 mpg, it's a lush alternative to the conventional gas-guzzling giants now getting squeezed by skyrocketing fuel prices. But for the members of Hoobastank rolling in the Lexus near the beach in Palos Verdes, California, fuel-efficiency is the last thing on their minds. "The big question is whether this thing will help us pick up chicks," says drummer Chris Hesse from the front passenger seat. The L.A. schlock rockers have spent the morning editing lyrics for the upcoming follow-up to their double-platinum second album, The Reason. Singer Doug Robb, Hesse and guitarist Dan Estrin seem glad to be out of the house, munching on Chicken McNuggets amid a roomy interior loaded with goodies, such as a video monitor that displays the area behind the car.

Instead of throwing on some new tracks, Hesse surfs the NASA-grade 210-watt sound system for Tejano music. Just then a blond beach bunny in a BMW convertible cruises past in the opposite direction. Estrin whips a U-turn and floors it. "Easy, dude!" yells Robb, as the acceleration pushes him back into his seat. "I'm gonna spill my barbecue sauce." The Lexus has enough horsepower to slingshot from zero to sixty in just over seven seconds, but since the hybrid has an unconventional transmission that works with four separate power plants, it does so in complete silence.

"This car is smooth," Estrin notes, blowing a stop sign in hot pursuit of the blonde. "What if this turned out like a porno and we all get to fuck the shit out of her?" Eventually the band catches up to its prey atop a hill. "What do you think of our hybrid SUV?" Hesse shouts. The woman smiles, then burns into the intersection.

As Estrin heads back to the beach, he reflects on the merits of the hybrid that neither looks nor feels like your typical hybrid. "This car is kind of like anal sex," he says. "It's not an everyday thing, but when you do it it's cool, and it's good for the planet." (ANDREW VONTZ)

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