Texas®

As excited as I am to think about the coming cars from the new Fiat/Chrysler, there seems to be that awful lag time between what will be and what is now. Trapped in that limbo of low standards and trying to make the best of a bad lot is the Chrysler 200.
 
During the Mercedes years, Chrysler benefited hugely from the information transfer that allowed them to base their large cars (300c, Magnum, Charger and Challenger) on the fantastically stout and resilient E-series Mercedes engineering platform. This foundation has allowed for rapid development and execution of well sorted-out cars that literally hit the market here in the states squarely between the eyes. Big, strong and sexy looking; the large cars from Chrysler have become as good as any in the market.
 
After driving the Fiat 500 a couple of weeks ago and loving it, I can only hope Chrysler can find a way of taking one of Fiat’s great middle-sized cars and getting it in the market, ASAP. This time though, critical – almost emergency – was really driven home by every mile I spent behind the wheel of the Chrysler 200 Convertible.
 
The 200 has been touted by Chrysler as the “rebirth” of Detroit, but that baby is still a little premature. While the 200 is leaps and bounds better than the car it replaces, the Sebring, Stratus “Cloud” cars, it is not up to the changes in the market. Chrysler’s middle-of-the-road cars were leapfrogged by the Japaneese back when Toyota introduced the Camry, but now the Korean companies Hyundai and Kia have literally stomped on the Detroit icon. The Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata are proof that you can have a small economical car that works well, and looks great. Unfortunately, it’s like rubbing salt in an injured warrior’s wounds to point that out.
 
This used to be Chryslers forte; building cars just a little cheaper than Ford or GM. The company was looked upon with almost heroic “Mom, Apple Pie, and Baseball-style” Americana reverence, but the number three underdog was standing on a foundation of sand that each new competitor shoveled out a little more. When the global financial crisis hit and Chrysler’s credit lines evaporated, the company ended up spending all their time on survival and the efforts to design a replacement for their small sedans were shelved.
 
I honestly believe that part of the problem during the Venture Capital ownership period at Chrysler was exacerbated by the fact they had installed a senior management team from outside the automotive industry. These non-car guys just didn’t seem to understand the lead times and development investments in such a complex product.
 
The 200 and its Dodge Twin Avenger are the result of a muddling lack of vision.
 
Driving around in the 200 actually made me angry, partially because of how the car was simply not what I thought it would be, but more so because I had read a couple of articles touting how good the car was by so-called journalists or Autowriters whose objectives I have to question.
 
There is a fine line of balance in this business of reviewing cars. In my case, I see my “End User” as the person reading this article trying to find information to make one of their largest financial commitments in their lives. Thankfully, at Best of Texas, I don’t have the issues some local publications have of trying to generate advertising revenue via their editorial content. It is not that the manufacturers directly try to influence the editorial content at a local newspaper, but that business is so dependent on the Auto advertiser the last thing they need to do is annoy or offend an advertiser. This leads to picking up the paper and reading a review that is written by an Advertising Copywriter whose goal is to sell cars – not to give an unbiased opinion.
 
This is why you see canned pieces, rewritten press releases and stock photography in most of the publications out there. It’s just something that has crept into this business and there are very few reviewers out there who have insulated themselves from the pressure of advertising. There are others who have completely sold their souls, and that makes me mad.
 
The other balance point is finding a way to both entertain and inform. If the article is not compelling, the reader’s attention would have long since moved on to the next thing in the visual and technological barrage of information out there.
 
As I was annoyed with the Chrysler 200’s not-quite-there driving inputs, lethargic acceleration and dismal handling, I was thinking that it wasn’t really that awful. After all, if you really want a convertible, I was figuring the 200 would be a reasonable option if it came in around $25-27k. But here is a little secret of how I write my reviews. I purposely don’t look at the information the manufacturer provides to me until I have given the car a chance to either impress or depress me. I don’t look at the price until I have driven it for a couple of days. Oh, wow. When I did, all I could do was think of things I would rather do with $37,000.
 
That is where the anger came in.
 
I can’t in good conscious recommend this car. I might have at a far lower price point, but at 37k there are simply too many better options out there. I could happily own a Fiat 500 and the motorcycle of my choice for that money. Or, if you need a drop-top, I would be driving people out of Chrysler showrooms and down the street to buy a Mustang convertible. I was staggered they could put this car that still has roots back in the K Car days out for that price. For that matter, I know you can find a slightly enjoyed BMW for that money, and let me tell you: The 200 is certainly not in that area.
 
Chrysler needs to run, not walk, to figure out how to rebadge one of Fiat’s platforms, ASAP. Italian car division Lancia has a couple that pop to mind. I really want to see that and it is not every day I say this, but the 200 sure as hell looked better leaving than it did with me.

 

If ever you were going to put together the Car Dream Team or an Automotive All-Star Squad and you were basing it on only the long reputation of the contenders, the idea of taking an Italian car design, building it in Mexico and selling it via Chrysler’s dealer network would get you benched. Or worse, they would put you in a room with really, really thick, cushy wall paper.

For much of the last half of the 20th century this combination would have been considered the holy trinity of build-quality issues and could possibly be the kind of thing that could open a seal in Dante’s descent to hell.

Italians are known for passion, fashion, feisty, high-maintenance exotic cars, and some of the most temperamental unions in the world. Chrysler was known as a leader in the displacement of egomaniac CEO’s and well, lets be nice, the initial push to cheep labor in Mexico was less than problem-free for the car business.

The simple fact that the perpetual emotion machine at Chrysler ground to a halt was not shocking. Every 10 years or so it seems the big three were on the brink of becoming the big two. In the 80’s it was “saved” by Lee Iacocca, and the cheep-as-dirt-quality-vacuum called the K Car. In the 1990’s, it was the LH platform and an over-reliance on trucks and Jeep. In the 2000’s it was, well there’s the problem: it just wasn’t.

As good as ChryCo’s big car products became after the “marriage” to Mercedes, their little cars languished into the Neon – not that bad – then the Caliber, which was easily one of the few cars ever to not exceed the car it was replacing in any way but cost per unit.

I have been rather hard on Chrysler’s small cars for good reason: they simply don’t compete in a global market with the cars they have been building. The closest their small cars have been to acceptable was when they introduced the Neon. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much better than their other small cars had ever been. They could at least see where they had to be. Instead of moving closer with the Caliber, they fell off the truck all together.

Now enter the Italians, via the global automotive company Fiat. If there is one thing they do well – and I mean very well – is build small cars. If you don’t know, Fiat is very much like Ford, a globally integrated technology and car company that is primarily owned and controlled by trust extensions of the founding family. In Fiat’s case, it is one of the wealthiest families in Europe: the Agnelli’s.

Fiat now is the overall holding company that owns Fiat, Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Fiat Light Trucks.

If you were looking for a high drama the Agnelli’s would rival any super-wealthy story Hollywood could muster, but I will get back on focus with the car that has become the brightest little light in Chrysler’s future.

The 500 is small, but through some wonderful automotive origami, it has more usable space than many other cars in the Micro class. At 6’1” and over 185, these days I never found the Fiat to be claustrophobic. And as a matter of fact, I was surprised at how roomy the little thing really was.

With the 500 you will never be on the first-to-call list for helping someone move or for carpooling, but it is amazing how flexible the car really is. I was never at a loss for places to stuff gear bags and other bits into. Honestly, it may not be the car to try and take the foursome and their clubs to the course, but for an in town two person runner, it’s fantastic.

I say two person, but really, if forced, you can put two more in the back. And the 500 actually has more room back there than most micros, but folded down, it is amazing how much stuff can occupy the back of this car.

I have long been a fan of small nimble cars. In the case of the Fiat 500; think more Mini than (not so) Smart car. It’s lithe and agile and a blast to drive when you push the tach up. But realistically, it’s not really the car you would feel comfortable on long highway runs around here.

The Mini is a better driving package than the 500, but it is also north of $10,000 more than the as-tested price of $19.200.00. This included satellite radio and power everything, in a minimalist package that scoots.

Some folks asked if it was a (not so) Smart car while I was driving around, and I guess the size and price might be the principal reason for that. It’s smaller overall than the wheelbase of a Tahoe or Suburban, but it also gets 30/38 EPA MPG ratings. With enthusiastic pedal application and manual gearbox, I was running in the high 20’s to low 30’s during a grin-filled romp around North Texas.

The Fiat 500 and the (not so) Smart car are very comparable on price and even intended market, but with the 500 you get what seems to be a complete, if slightly shrunken, car package. Any time I have experienced the (not so) Smart, it has been with considerable fear and discomfort of knowing it has less power and a smaller overall size than my motorcycle. The lack of power and the idea that a good with a backpack and saddle bags in tow, I could carry more back from the grocery store on two wheels for half the price is the main reason I call it the (not so) Smart.

For many years the only way we got to experience some of these fun little cars from Italy was on vacation or when the neighbor found an old one to work on. Fiat just didn’t really bother with the American market, which now, is a key part of their overall plan.

When they came in to “rescue” Chrysler from bankruptcy proceedings they got more than a nationwide dealer presence, they got some of the savvy and swagger from the perennial underdog in the American market. Their plants in Brampton, Ontario and Toluca, Mexico (where Fiat is building the 500), are considered two of the best manufacturing plants in the world and Chrysler has the absolute best parts acquisition system in the world.

Funny thing: the plant in Brampton was built while Chrysler was being rescued by Renault, and the parts system is one of the main reasons Mercedes rescued Chrysler in the 1990’s.

So hopefully this trip to financial rehab for Chrysler means the lurching from boom-to-bust is over. It was exhausting trying to keep up.

More importantly, they have, for the first time ever, a small car to sell that is actually worth buying. I only hope the Italians can help Chrysler do something interesting with the next Avenger/200 replacement. Just after they picked up the 500, they decided to leave me a 200 convertible. Let me just say the leftovers have spoiled.

Welcome back to the American market. Glad to see ‘ya.

 

In the big world of cars, the interconnected nature of automotive manufacturing on a global scale has made some strange bedfellows over the years. Due to the massive reach of the international conglomerates, we’ve ended up with cars built in Japan with suspensions designed in England, powered by engines built in Spain, with parts from Brazil, Korea and China and to be destined to be sold at your local car lot in McKinney Texas.

The way in which business is interconnected – when one company is down the others are up – there is a strange balance that ebbs and flows like any cyclical business. The fluid nature of the business was abruptly altered when the global financial crisis hit this industry particularly hard. We all know about the big three government bailouts and bankruptcy issues here in the States, but in Europe and Asia, big companies also had to rely on some pretty deft haggling and some even more severe hacking and slashing.

At the end of the day, one of the companies that really has taken a bunch of hits to the teeth has been Mitsubishi. This is a company that builds everything from microprocessors to heavy equipment from flat screen TV’s to ocean-going supertankers. For them the global mire was across almost all its platforms. Disposable income from consumers for luxury items slowed to a trickle and the big infrastructure projects that require the big industrial might of a company like this have also ground to a halt.

Amongst all of this they also had to take a big old molar shaker when Chrysler went bust. For years now Mitsubishi and Chrysler have shared technology, platforms and even manufacturing plants. The old Colt was a re-badge of a Mitsubishi car. The Durango and Dakota were shared truck platforms with the Mitsubishi pickup and SUV line, and Mitsu has become one of the biggest part suppliers to CryCo’s overall operations outside of Magna International.

During this time Mitsubishi had to maintain its own global automotive operations and continue the innovation cycle of new products to keep people coming into their showrooms. Unfortunately, their “Halo” car, the Lancer Evolution (aka the EVO!), ended up paying the price by getting axed (at least here in North America). The Evo is one of those cars that people aspire to, it is a dream of an all-wheel drive, super-handling sports car with shocking turbo-boosted acceleration.

If you are scratching your head right now, not being familiar with what the Evo is, it likely means you’re not male, or over 30. Mitsubishi really did a great job over the years of capturing the Fast and Furious, XGames, and Nintendo generations. Gamers, Geeks and Gearheads know not just the Evo but its primary competitor, the Subaru WRX-Sti, mostly because of their considerable investment in the X-Treme sports market. This market existed long before it became popular in North America. And Mitsubishi has for years dominated international Rally Racing and long distance Enduro races like the Paris-Dakar proving their metal in cars, trucks, heavy trucks all over the world. In the US these racing triumphs were mostly ignored by our NASCAR-centric sports coverage, but as stations like Speed, Fuel.tv, Discovery and even the Travel Channel began showing these races, Mitsubishi developed a devoted following.

This following generation (The G3 Generation) is generally under 30 and powered by energy drinks and high-speed internet connections. The over-the-top capabilities of the EVO also came with a pretty hefty price, well over $40K and unfortunately for Mitsubishi, there were fewer of the 3G generation who could afford to shell out for such a beast. A decision was made someplace along the way to scale the Evo out of North America but knowing how much the brand was reliant on the performance orientation they still had to have something in the quiver to hit the target.

Out of this comes the Ralliart Lancer. While the wick is turned down from the land of the extreme, it’s still a hot enough ticket to punch the pocket and rip up the roads. As the not quite all-the-way-up-variant of the Lancer, it is a great package that will appeal to the same market, just not to the over-the-top crowd. There are tons of aftermarket tuning sources that allow the owner to turn the wick up again and recreate your very own Evo, but at the risk of getting your warranty pulled.

When Mitsubishi dropped off the metallic cobalt blue hot hatch off, the first impression is one of looking at a good looking four seat (Five if you follow the number of belts) with versatile hatchback configuration little flares and flourishes to the Ralliart package that add the appropriate speed racer look. The interior is very neat and trim with everything falling to hand and well appointed full jam option package.

The Lancer handles wonderfully and turns on the long overused dime, squirts through corners and pulls itself down from suborbital with exceptionally well-planted brakes. With the variety of things I have to carry with me in the run of a week, it held up well as I shoved studio gear into the back and it handled it all quite well, indeed.

The biggest problem I had was with the transmission. I will be the first to admit I am an analog guy in a digital world. I automatically default to a proper manual box rather than to the high-tech optional paddle-shifting, dual-clutch, semiautomatic sport boxes. I came up before Grand Turismo at a time that video games were in black and white and you had pong, or pong or later Asteroids. There were no finger-activated, super-realistic racing simulators. I learned how to race in a car, not on a screen, so these semi-auto boxes are just too much technology that’s only truly useful in 10/10ths driving by a driver who has the skills of an Andretti.

I have also spent a significant part of my life either working on cars myself or steering others as a service advisor at a car dealership. I can’t help but see the semi-auto box as a huge warranty risk and possibly the Achilles Heal of a great car. Out of warranty fixing on of these boxes would be most likely cost-prohibitive, and if you are tuning the sport package with some of the off the rack options not necessarily dealer installed the risk of running the semi auto as an expensive thing to brake.

I know a lot of people who ooze over the idea of a paddle shifter in an M3 BMW or an F1 Transmission in a Ferrari, but not me. I would rather rattle a stick around and get the input back via my fingers, toes and seat of the pants. Alas my world of slapping gears and clutches are numbered as some big exotics are no longer offering a manual option at all and others are making manual boxes rare and somewhat exotic themselves.

With the Ralliart Lancer, I would have jumped up and down with enthusiasm if they had sent me the full on manual six-speed but no, I got the more expensive Nintendo transmission. As a matter of considerable annoyance for me, the Ralliart’s wonderful driving, handling and 237 horsepower is not available here with a proper stick and rudder manual, only in the big twin clutch Sportronic. I weep a little knowing this. With the ability to adjust the torque balance from front to rear in the AWD platform and to turn up the shifter sensitivity, there is a lot to like about the car and the box but it falls like techno music on my ears. I don’t like it. I don’t get it, and I guess I am too old to learn to love it.

The thing that really bothers me about it is that you can feel the transmission sitting in a lower gear keeping the revs up in anticipation of spirited driving. The result is great in response to point and shoot driving, but it also keeps the engine spinning, freely drinking down the super unleaded. Yup, the super high-tech transmission costs you in fuel economy. Other than the box I loved the car and coming in with a very thirsty 15-20 combined mpg as I am not one to drive the way the EPA does in its testing the 25 mpg highway really didn’t come to the quick on this one. With a tagged sticker for the fully loaded (including power seats and color GPS) rolling out at $31,755.00, it is a car that is wonderful in its intent but made for people who are accustomed to using their fingertips for everything. As Mitsubishi struggles to re-task themselves across multiple platforms, industries and all around the globe, they have made contradictory statements on if the full EVO will ever return to the US market, or if the Ralliart will be the top of the heap.

Some of the big wigs have stated the Evo is gone and the racing inspiration of innovation for Mitsubishi is dead along with it to be replaced by an investment in hybrid technology. I genuinely hope not.

I’ve been having the strangest argument this week. It’s not just that I’ve been arguing with a car that has me perplexed; really, I do that all the time. It’s the fact the argument seems strangely familiar from someplace, but I can’t put my finger on where it’s from.

The argument is the result of how Mazda’s CX9 crossover minivan SUV is just too smart for my liking. It’s a properly-sized seven passenger minivan that tries all its worth not to be a minivan. The interior proportions are very van-ish with a third-row seat, tons of stowage, and an easy access rear gate. It’s optioned out with GPS, Satellite Radio, heated seats, power everything and tons of usable internal acreage.

So, inside it is a van, outside it’s something else all together.

From curbside, the CX9 is a wagon SUV crossover, really. Good looking and sleek with nice fluid lines wrapped over a great wheel base that drives more like a car than either a bulky van or notchy truck.

It’s not the multiple personalities of the CX9 that I have been arguing with, mind you. It has been the Blind Spot intervention system. The system alerts the driver that there is a vehicle driving along-side and warns of intrusion into the lane when it’s already occupied. I’m sure that if I looked I could have been able to find a sensitivity adjustment for the system, but the shrill squawking of the “OH MY GOD YOU ARE GOING TO DIE” alarm was just unsettling.

The alarm would trigger from the most unobtrusive intrusions. I would be a half a block away from a car turning into a strip mall and OHMYGODYOUAREGOINGTODIE would beep away. And the lane wandering was just as twitchy. I signaled to change lanes coming up to my street and OHMYGODYOUAREGOINTODIE lept to life.

It was as oversensitive as a teenage girl talking about Twilight. Now unlike a Tween Twi-fan I could turn off the incessant tweetalage of the BLiPs. When I did that, the CX9 became a great people mover to move many things beyond just people. The interior is very flexible and can swallow half an isle of groceries or what ever else you might need it to.

This has just enough sport wagon in its minivan mix to make the CX9 one of the best driving options in the over-crowded market. Many of the competitors try deftly to disguise the multi passenger aspect of their CUV or Cross over Utility Vehicle, some try and call a minivan an SUV, others name a wagon as a truck. It always seems to be a little bit of Goldilocks in the recipe, and the Mazda CX9 has the just right aspect handled.

I’m not in the target market for a wagon/SUV/van, but if I were the Mazda would be one of the few I would put on my personal list. It has great curb appeal, excellent driving characteristics full sized passenger and cargo capabilities on a chassis that responds like a car. I generally don’t go for that myself, as I like my trucks to be trucks and cars to be cars. But the market has moved into the Swiss Army Knife approach to the world where a vehicle seems to have to have the capabilities of all the market segments rather than being just one.

Like the Swiss Army Knife in my camera gear that I can use for almost everything, I will never use the corkscrew, but it’s there, none the less. The CX9 has a number of things I would never use, like the third row seating and that pesky BLiPs system. But for most people, I’m sure it’s something they would be more than happy to have.

The CX9 was jammed full of options that took the baseline $33k up to a pretty respectable $38,500.00 and rolls a 17-24 MPG rating from the EPA. My driving around north Texas was pretty much all in-town and I ran in the very low 20’s, so their numbers seem shockingly accurate.

After I discovered the best way of winning my argument was to disable the ability of the offending device that interfered with me, I have now begun rethinking other relationships… but I digress.

For the longest time I’ve been a little confused about how I feel about the Nissan Xterra. Perhaps that’s because it seems to be a little confused on its own.

The first generation of Nissan’s small truck based SUV was introduced in 2000 in the midst of Nissan’s darkest period. Suffering through a full on collapse of the Asian economy. Nissan had fallen victim to the same self-delusion of infallibility that many big companies fall into after decades of success. They started believing their own hype and found themselves overwhelmed by debt.

It became so bad, at one point, Nissan’s product line had not been updated in years, sales were floundering, and quite possibly the strangest automotive savior came to rescue the massive company. French giant Renault came in and partnered with Nissan creating a Franco-Nippon global company referred to as the Renault/Nissan Global Alliance.

At first the mere idea that Renault, which had been an example of a company with a run-away union problem, beset on all sides by strikes and governmental semi-ownership, being anyone’s savior was ludicrous. But after the French government intervened in a series of particularly nasty strikes and corporate revolts in the early 1980’s Renault quietly became a very well-run global company that completely ignored the American market.

Renault was able to bring stability and financial backing to the deal and Nissan really did have some of the most advanced manufacturing abilities, supply chain, and design expertise in the business. A man who is now somewhat of a legend in the business world, Carlos Goshen, was put in charge and Nissan became the company it could only have dreamed about only a few years before.

One of the first new products out of the alliance was the Xterra. Based on the same frame chassis as the “Hard Body” Frontier small pickup trucks, the Xterra hit the market in North America winning the Motor Trend Truck of the year and other accolades. The only problem was Nissan didn’t have a penny to spend on extra marketing and never really reached out to create the image of the Xterra.

That image and the reality of the Xterra (now second generation) is where my confusion lies. The Xterra has been successful, if not a run-away success, in carving out sales in the multi-functional, athletic and adventurous consumer market. You see dozens of Xterras full of dogs, festooned with mountain bikes, canoes and windsurfers strapped to the roof racks criss-crossing their way from softball games to trips to the REI camping store. The adventure sports-minded consumer comprises a huge chunk of their business but the anomaly that they are almost all female makes for a “Huh? How the hell?”.

Nissan managed to land an affluent, well educated, young and mobile market organically. It just grew seemingly by itself as the corporate money was more focused on pumping life into the Crossover market, backing the Rogue and Morano wagon-utes in pursuit of the “soccer mom,” and the counter culture market wrapped itself around the Xterra.

Nissan did toss some of their marketing dollars into music festivals and X-Game festivals, but the legitimate off-road capabilities, ease of use on-road and functionality of the Xterra grew its own market.

The 2011 Xtera PRO-4X provided to Any Driven Sunday is a great example of how building something with the right combination of form and function works really well. It is like driving with an excellent automotive backpack slung over your shoulder. It has dozens of really smart, well conceived and well executed little touches that may not be obvious at first blush. There are pockets, little doors and slots throughout the truck to stick and store the multitude of bits of stuff you don’t even realize you have.

This package is the high water mark on options for Nissan including: leather seating, XM, Bluetooth, GPS, Rockford Fosgate sound system with Ipod/MP3 integration, and pretty much every power option short of air conditioned seats. It is also one of the pricier packages you can load up on at $32,000.00, only the NISMO package comes in higher.

Any full frame truck like the Xterra is going to have a slightly more harsh on-road ride than a “lifted car” crossover, but after spending a week popping and bopping around in the Xterra that rougher ride is just part of the appeal. The truck frame and real off-road abilities on the PRO-4X are just downright fun. As a small UTE the Xterra has the ability to go pretty deep off the beaten path, turn around, and get you home again in one piece.

Side note, The Pro-4X package came with roof-mounted off-road only lights. They are too powerful to be street legal on road and are activated by depressing a switch on the dash when the high-beams are engaged. These are so powerful that when I tested them out sitting in front of my house, I am not sure, but I think a squirrel spontaneously combusted in the tree in front of the truck. It’s like seeing daylight, and yes, they are blindingly bright. This is not something to try and flash at oncoming cars on I-35 as they might blind them and cause a wreck. This is why they are redundantly switched the way they are.

Running with a 261hp truck-inspired variation of Nissan’s corporate-wide 370Z inspired 4liter V6, the Xterra is not exactly a fuel sipper but EPA estimates of 15/20 are really spot on to the reality experienced on, and off, the roads of North Texas.

All these capabilities and real world functionality might just explain why I have been so confused by my feelings for the Xterra. It stems from the fact that the little truck can do so many things well that it has the ability to be a bit of a chameleon. Whether it’s a truck, car, backpack or pelican box on wheels. My confusion, I now realize, was more that the truck can be what ever you want it to be.

 

For most of my life I’ve been familiar with the phrase “His potential is unlimited, if he would only apply himself.” Such was said about me while I was napping in Geography class, staring out the window in Math class and daydreaming in Biology lab. I heard it so much that it became like the sound of the teachers in Charlie Brown “WahWah Wah Wah Wah.

Now, I’ve found myself using the same phrase over and over when referring to General Motors marveling at how the biggest corporation in the world could continue to build the kind of cars they did and yet, still keep going. I think the same answer applies to both myself, and GM, really. I was never challenged by school, it came easy to me and I never tried. GM, in a position of overwhelming market dominance in the early 1970’s, never felt challenged either. They built what they built and people would buy their products simply because it was a GM vehicle.

For me, it wasn’t really until I got out on my own and had to pay for my own schooling that I decided to focus some real effort. For GM, however, it took a near death experience.

There’s nothing quite like nearly dying that can make you appreciate living.

Long before the bankruptcy, GM was trying to right the ship, but it turned out to be too little, too late. There was too much rot; the company had become overburdened and they simply couldn’t pull it off any longer.

I first realized what they were capable of when the first Cadillac CTS-V showed up at my place, I couldn’t believe it was a GM product. It was too solid, too well designed and too fun. It moved my preconceived notions and expectations for what the General was capable of to an entirely different place.

Then during the tumultuous years around the debate of whether the global economy could survive GM’s death, there were still glimmers of hope. The truck range was great, cars were better than they had ever been and GM began to embrace their global abilities, bringing Pontiac a couple of products developed in Australia. It was such a refreshing change, and I began to relax, but literally the week I was driving the exceptional Pontiac G8 GT, Pontiac got axed. At that point, I saw the potential evaporate before my eyes.

Today there is a great deal of attention being paid to the exceptional, game-changing, and innovative Electric Chevy Volt and how it’s going to effect how we think about driving. That’s all well and good, but I have to tell you: I’m more excited about the 2011 Chevy Cruze sitting outside my window. It’s the car Chevy has been capable of for years and now they have finally built it.

The reason I’m excited: Chevy has finally built a “meat and potatoes” car that is just plain great.

The small sedan market is the sweet spot of the automotive business. This is the market segment where you sell in bulk and sales are measured in hundreds of thousands of units per month. Honda’s Civic, Toyota’s Carolla, Ford’s Focus and Chrysler’s 200/Dodge Avenger, among many others, share this big chunk of the sales pie chart. The competition is rather heated, but in every way the Cruze is up to the challenge.

On first blush the Cruze is a good looking chunk of metal, which is where the bizzaro world of the new GM starts altering my life’s expectations. The design is fresh, clean and efficient with curves and creases sculpting around wheel arches and windows and gives the Cruze what one should expect from a more expensive European car. The somewhat sported-up LTZ version has some aero bits in front, fascia and rear deck lid treatments which, again counter to my experience, look like they belong on the car rather than hot glue-gunned out of day-old marshmallows.

Even the simple act of opening and closing the drivers door makes someone experienced in all-things-automotive mutter to himself, “It’s a Chevy? Really?” But in reality, it is when you sit in the handsome, well laid-out and functional interior that you might begin to develop a slight facial tick as you try to process the idea that GM has been capable of building something this good all along, and yet they gave us the Lumina. Such a realization almost makes you angry.

My trip through bizzaro world continued when I fired up the little sedan’s engine. It’s quiet, boasts 24-36 MPG ratings, and has 138 horsepower coming out of a little 4-cylinder turbo. These are really good numbers, even in this fuel-sipping segment, but it is the fact that GM has built such a stout power plant that’s really worth noting. In the past their “Little 4’s” managed to get nicknames like the “Iron Duke” and the “Quad-4”. The Duke was at one time considered innovative (in 1973) when it came. The Quad-4 was GM’s first real foray into multi-valve, non-pushrod engines and it ended up being a poster child for underpowered, noisy boat anchors like the GrandAm and Olds Achieva.

The Cruze is propelled by a six speed automatic in a front-wheel drive configuration that at one time would have been a tremendously bad idea with old school turbo’s creating lane hopping torque steer issues, but GM has managed to shed so much of its old, bad tendencies that when driving the Cruze, it’s just hard to believe that it’s really a GM product.

The transmission is seamless, but does have just the slightest turbo lag between pedal application and motivation, but the ride and dynamics of the car are as good as any car I have ever driven in this market, and far better than most.

A few weeks ago I was a little harsh on Dodge’s Avenger and in driving the Cruze, I have come to the conclusion I should’ve been harsher. I said at that time that I believed the standard of care in the Economy car market needed to be higher and GM just delivered on that expectation. This is a packed-full-of-options car that only rings out at $24,500.00 with a base price of $17,000.00, which is exactly the price point of the Avenger. There is simply no comparison. GM has almost embarrassingly trumped the Dodge and even equals the Civic sedan. I think you even get more car for the dollar with the Cruze than even the Civic or Carolla which is a statement I never ever thought I type.

Over the years, GM has done more to harm their once-dominant place in the market than any competitor could. They seemed to forget the reason they became such a colossal corporation was they built pretty good cars for much of their history. It was someplace along the way that they seemed to change from a “car company” to a “financial services company” that just happened to build cars as one of their core business units.

After their near death experience GM seems to have clarified their mission like I’ve never seen them do before. They put a real car guy, Bob Lutz, in charge of developing world-class cars and he has done just that. The Chevy Cruze really is the product that Chevy has been able to do all along and I am so happy they are now using the tremendous talents and abilities they have at their disposal.

Now, if I could just do the same.

I never thought it would happen to me.

You see, I’ve had a lot of companions lately. Strong, athletic Germans have raced through my life. Elegant Brits have danced with my affections. Fiery Italian exotics come for a short passionate visit, only to be replaced by Nordic beauties. Strong, Midwestern wholesome wonders have stayed for a while and dozens of pretty little things from Asia have stopped by.

Sometimes I grow fond of them – rarely they disappoint – but each leaves me with an impression and when they are gone I long to see the next one. Sometimes I miss the really exceptional ones, remembering them fondly long after they are gone. Honestly some never leave much of an impression at all and I have to struggle to think of anything unique. I see so many, sometimes I don’t really get to know them as well as I should.

I am a little jaded, a little spoiled and generally it takes a lot to impress or get under my skin.

That is why I was surprised when this little one snuck up and stole a little bit of my heart.

Everyone has their own triggers. The things that make them go “Oooh!” For me, I have developed a desire for lack of drama; a low-maintenance, easygoing companion who accepts the burdens of my profession. I often have to carry lots of studio and camera gear with me. I love just happening on a country road in the middle of nowhere and turning in regardless of the road’s condition to see where it goes.

On my personal list of things I absolutely require in a partner is acceptance of my four legged friends. I have two large Labrador Retrievers who love to come with me on these trips. They shed, drool and get remarkably dirty when they try, so you really have to be able to handle them too. In my darkest times they are there for me and I would rather spend my limited free time with them than with most people I deal with. So not being able to accommodate them is really a deal breaker.

When Toyota dropped off the 2011 FJ Cruiser I didn’t expect it to hit me so quickly. It looks like a little Tonka Truck and the version left here really looked like someone at Hasbro should get behind it with a GI Joe package.

When they first introduced the FJ my first impression was mixed, I was somewhat disappointed that it wasn’t bigger. Now that I have been living with it for a week I realize I was wrong. Its size is just right for me.

Those who require more of a functional back seat may find the mini-UTE just a little too compact for them, but for me it’s ideal. The size reminds me a lot of the old Ford Bronco II, before it started getting bigger and bigger under the Explorer name. In some ways it is very much like the original couple of generations of Toyota’s 4Runner, equipped with rubberized floor mats and vinyl weave seats. This is about as low maintenance an interior you can find in the market and cleans up with a wet rag. This is definitely a dog approved truck.

The exterior of the FJ is rather unique as well. The wheels are pushed to the far corners leaving next to no overhangs which makes running up and over objects a breeze. It has a high step in for such a little truck but that also means the undercarriage has no dangling bits to obstruct, snag or drag.

One thing you realize when you are driving the FJ is you become aware how many other FJ’s there are out there. Some are totally stock. But I kept running across customized, dedicated off road FJ’s with beefed up suspensions, winches, off-road light packages and stout roof rack configurations. I gotta tell ya’: I like that a lot. It shows acceptance in a very critical market by those who take their off road abilities seriously.

This is a serious little off-road truck capable of grinding down soggy trails or climbing up rocky wash outs. This is something that is very important to me and being a true truck has its compromises, on road it is a little choppy but you can go places you would have to walk to if you were driving a Rav4.

On the highway, the rounded off cube is a little susceptible to gusty wind, you can feel it pushing the truck around and isn’t exactly a speed demon but I love the total functionality packaging, low maintenance interior and legitimate off road abilities.

It is not a huge truck and that is ok with me. In my world, the back seats would be superfluous anyhow, pretty much always folded flat for cargo and dogs. All of the interior surfaces have an industrial grade feel and look which work well with the overall package.

The FJ is one of those vehicles inspired by something from the past. There was a time that Toyota made these Land Cruisers that were blunt tools rather than the leather wrapped tall station wagons parked in the pick up lane at the Montessori school. It was intended just to be a show car or styling display for the auto show circuit as a “Modern” turn on the 1960’s FJ40. The old truck is still on the road all over the developing world renown for its easy maintenance and rugged reliability.

When the public saw the FJ Toyota suddenly realized they had better figure out how to build it

The demand was there from a public looking for a real S and a capital U in an SUV, rather than a mincing pretender crossover. My preference would be to hit the standard 4.0l V6 and manual transmission. I might even gussy it up a touch with an enhanced wheel package, but more likely I would go with the roof rack.

Pricing runs in starting at 25,900.00 and tops out at pretty reasonable mid-thirties. I was kind of chuckling when I realized the low-end of the price point was available in a two-wheel drive variation. I don’t really see buying this one in 2wd. Simply put: It’s just not appropriate.

I’ve been a fan of the 4Runner for a long, long time, but a couple of years ago the footprint of their go-anywhere-truck started to expand. In order to appeal more to those soccer mom’s and pretend SUV purchasers the 4runner gained weight, size and most notably price. The FJ has filled a down market slot that has captured a pretty sizable chunk of customers who might be shopping it and Jeep’s iconic Wrangler.

The Wrangler is a fantastic vehicle, but decades of build issues have tainted it a bit. But this FJ has, for me, a siren song that draws me to it.

I am smitten. If the guys from Toyota are looking for me on Monday to get their truck back, well, um… I will be back, sometime. I just didn’t want to give it up just yet.

 

There are few car companies – if any – that understand its target market as well as Toyota does. They just don’t miss their mark very often. But when they do, it’s fascinating to watch how they deal with the occasional failure.

When Toyota first entered the full-sized truck market, they indeed missed the mark. The T100 was a very good truck, but it wasn’t a critical or a sales success. It was too small, too tinny, underpowered and underwhelming. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief in Detroit when they saw the T100 was off its target, but not by much.

Those folks in Motown shouldn’t have taken too much ease though. Toyota is a company that has found great success in the Deming methodology of incremental improvement. When they came back with the first Toyota Tundra it was like watching a skilled artillery officer walking his rounds closer to the target.

The first Tundra lobbed in as a 2000 model and landed just shy of the target, again. While not a runaway success, people began to notice how the larger, tougher and more powerful truck was gaining market share and for the first time, the Big Three had some real competition in the full-sized truck market.

Toyota’s legendary quality also began to capture converts, yet the Tundra was still just shy of being an actual full-sized contender. It was a welterweight trying to slug it out with the heavyweights. The Big Three still had the advantage of market share and the most loyal customer base in the world.

At the same time, fellow Asiatic contender Nissan entered the market with the Titan and everyone in Detroit started to look over their shoulders. They knew the next shot fired by Toyota would not miss.

The folks in Detroit responded to the sounds of footsteps by embarking on the biggest reinvestment into their truck lineups in history. Ford, GM and Chrysler stepped up their game like never before and began raising the bar for quality, power and reliability in hopes of maintaining their pieces of the very big, very profitable sales pie.

For its third shot, Toyota put the market on notice that they would not miss. The manufacturer invested millions of dollars to build a brand-spanking new truck factory deep in the heart of the pick-up market: San Antonio, Texas. There they began checking off the boxes on what a full-sized truck needs: They checked the elevation, adjusted for wind and yelled FIRE!

Simply put: Bull’s-eye.

The newest Tundra was introduced with much fanfare, rave reviews and sleepless nights in Detroit where suddenly Toyota and Nissan had legitimate full-sized trucks ready to go toe-to-toe with the big boys.

The Tundra delivered to Any Driven Sunday was one good looking truck: Big, four-door Crew Max 4×4 short bed, black on black with blacked-out grill, and a lifted off-road Rock Warrior package. When I saw it coming around the corner my first reaction was, “Hello, Handsome!”

Lift kit, knobby tires, and modular wheels, just like you might customize a truck after you buy it. Not a bad idea at all. Nissan had sent me a “No Fear” Titan a couple of years ago and I really liked the package they had put together. The Titan’s stance was elevated but the truck still had to be a real truck, and this is.

The interior was dark charcoal cloth and was dripping with optional gear, including a nifty rear cabin window that rolls down, but the thing that I really liked was the placement of Toyota’s back up camera display. I know it’s kind of sad how car manufacturers assume drivers don’t know how to drive and put in safety devices to protect them from themselves, but this one is pretty cool. The rear bumper view is projected in the rearview mirror and is just a smart way to deal with it, really.

You can get into a basic, two-wheel drive, regular cab 6 cylinder for around $24,000.00, and as you ad on bits, the price rolls right up to the $44,000.00+ Rock Warrior CrewMax level. The engine is fantastic and it’s closer to the estimated EPA consumption numbers of 18/24 mpg than most full-sized trucks in the market are.

Part of Toyota’s marketing push into the most American of markets has included getting involved in NASCAR truck racing. The Tundra Racing program, ironically, does not use the same multi-valve V8 as the production truck. The reason for that is how the engine is too modern for NASCAR. In order to compete, the racing division had to retro-engineer a pushrod carbureted engine, something Toyota has never made.

This Tundra is a case study in knowing your market. As Toyota dialed-it-in, the result has just not been a great production truck from them, but their entry into the full-sized truck market has had the residual effect of pushing the other options to be better in response.

This year Nissan is bringing out its first replacement for the Titan, something that has been long delayed, which makes this segment of the truck market something to watch intently.

At this telling, Toyota has not yet moved into the Heavy Duty market, but don’t assume they can’t or won’t. They have a number of Diesel engines at their disposal from the European and Australian Land Cruiser’s and commercial truck lines from subsidiary Hino. As they incrementally move their aim closer and closer to their market sweet-spot, don’t be surprised if they drop one of these in a new Tundra soon

The Tundra is indeed a legitimate contender in the truck market, and it’s an option that I would have to take very seriously if I was looking at a 1/2 ton truck. The only thing is, don’t expect to find a used one for a good price as they maintain their resale value like nothing else in the business.

A few months ago, I started looking at options for a personal vehicle. The Tundra is one I have on my list of vehicles, but at this point I can’t find one that has depreciated to the point I can afford to purchase. I found one that was three years old and the asking price was over 75% of its original price. With almost 100,000 miles on the clock they still were asking that much. I guess that helps prove the point that the Tundra is a desirable option – even used.

Having driven all of the options in this marketplace, Ford, GM, Dodge, Nissan and the Toyota Tundra, any customer would be well served to try it out to see how close to their purchase target Toyota has managed to hit.

As a company Toyota has shown how patient they are and how they deal with missing the target. They didn’t panic, just simply looked at all the data, adjusted their aim and zeroed in closer and closer. The Tundra is a direct hit on full-sized truck market.

A number of years ago my friend, comedian Henry Cho, pointed out there is a tradition in the South, and especially in Texas, if you don’t have something nice to say about someone you just say: “Bless your heart.” It’s a classic, polite-but-biting, passive-aggressive put down.

Your neighbor chops his toe off with his lawnmower: “Bless his heart.” You’ve seen a baby that looks like it may have escaped from either the zoo or a Ringling Brothers Circus, “Bless his heart.” The woman at the office who can’t figure out how to open a link in an email, “Bless her heart.” Dodge rolls out the so-called “new” Avenger? Bless their hearts.

Dodge is in transition. Again. The current Avenger is a mid-life update of the mid-sized four-door sedan that Dodge sells tons of. Unfortunately, such sales figures are thanks mostly to budget-minded rental car companies and not real-life consumers. It was introduced in 2008 as the replacement of the Cloud cars (Stratus and Sebring), just as Dodge was beginning to descend down a very dark road into bankruptcy.

Honestly, Dodge does do a number of things right. They make fantastic full-sized trucks, great full-sized cars, such as the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger. They also make some fun muscle cars like the Dodge Challenger and, well, let’s face it, they own the minivan.

What Chrysler has never done well is build a good small car. It’s the weak hand in a stacked deck. Look back in the same market space and you’ll see a tremendous trend of sad, tepid little cars like the Plymouth Breeze, or the Dodge Reliant K Car. Even before those, however, the Dart and Plymouth Volaré we’re taking up space in lots. Not even Ricardo Montalban could charm his way out of that dud.

Even their smaller cars have a history of being problematic. The first car that I bought myself, with my own money was a Plymouth Horizon, so I have a great deal of hands-on experience dealing with this story. The current smallest Dodge is the Caliber, which replaced the Neon. I’ve referred to this car as one of the worst cars in the market today, as it’s awkward, underpowered and just plain ugly.

I was driving the Avenger around when I had to do a little soul searching on this. I had to wonder if the issue with the car was me, actually. I’ve spent 25+ years reviewing cars and honestly, most of what I end up reviewing are sports, luxury and some pretty high-end rolling stock. So, there I was, sitting in the driver’s seat of the Avenger thinking: “I have more comfortable lawn furniture!” when I then wondered to myself, “Am I a car snob?”

Is the fact that the car is cheap casting such a bad taste in my mouth? I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve driven a lot of other “cheap” cars that are thrifty in a way that seems to have a far more cohesive package.

I also have a fundamental belief that your standard-of-care on an economy model must be higher because the money being invested into the purchase is considerably more of the consumers total worth. If you are buying a $19,000 car, you’re doing so because you really need it. Odds are, you’re buying a car to transport a young family and possibly to get to multiple jobs to keep a roof over your head. Your monthly car note will be the second biggest expense behind your home and every penny has to count.

Further up the food chain of options, where people go out and buy Jaguars, or Land Rovers, the percentage of income-to-vehicle is not nearly as dire. That end of the market has its value, but odds are the customer has never had to take a jar into the “CoinMaster” to make the car payment.

So it’s not really a snobbery thing, after all, I too understand the reality of creating a meal out of offerings from the “Dollar Store,” and pinching a penny ’til Lincoln yells “uncle!” I realized the other day that my wardrobe has come almost exclusively out of Marshall’s and Ross, and the reason I learned auto-mechanics was because of that Plymouth Horizon. For me, it was either: Learn how to fix it myself or start earning more money to pay someone else to do it.

So in a way, I kind of owe part of my career to Chrysler for building such a horrific car back in the 1980’s. And if the Avenger was available then, it would have been one of the best cars in the market, where even into the 1990’s, the bar was higher and this would have been considered a run-away success. As the standard has increased along with the level of competition, I can’t help but say if I were looking for something in this price bracket the Avenger simply would not be the one for me.

Kia, Hyundai and even Ford have far better driving cars in this space, which are head and shoulders above the Avenger.

I spent some time with my friend Tony, who recently purchased an Avenger. In discussing why he made this choice, I understood that it was more of an appliance purchase than it was one of a car enthusiast. His principal automotive need is to get to work, and he looked at the Kia and Hyundai, but the Avenger simply had a bigger back seat for his growing, soccer-playing daughters. The Avenger does have a much bigger back seat than the competition, and as he put it, “I got the biggest car I could get at the price.” He loves his Avenger because it does what he bought it for, but also points out that if the family is going on a trip, they’ll be loading into his wife’s Pacifica.

It’s extraordinarily expensive to bring a new car into the market. From concept to curbside, it takes years and untold millions of dollars. The Avenger’s midlife update is a step in the right direction, at least. It’s better than the Avenger it replaces and in reality, it’s the end of the whimpering line of cars from Detroit.

Chrysler has never really figured out how to build a good small car their new owners, Fiat, specializes in. Not only do they have the experience, designers and desire to excel in this market, they also have that indefinable Italian passion that exudes confidence and flair.

I look forward to what comes out of the new Chrysler as they invest in the replacement for this rental-ready Avenger, as well as its sister car, the Chrysler 200. Sorry, Chrysler: Even with Eminem providing the Detroit-centric theme music for the rebirth of the company, I can’t help but think of another Southernism I once heard an old rancher say: “You can’t polish a turd. Bless your heart.”

 

Watching Dallas-based comedian Aaron Aryanpur on stage is somewhat of a master class in the art of stand-up comedy. He’s controlled, engaging, open and vulnerable; ultimately, he’s relatable and very funny.

His act is built around some common themes of being a young man, striving towards his calling on stage who still has the responsibilities of supporting a young family. Finding the balance in life between performer and father, traveling comedian and provider is not just part of his act but part of his existence. Finding equilibrium in life is thematic throughout both.

Being born and raised in a half-Jewish American, half-Persian Muslim émigré family is where the roots of this struggle grow deep, “I always thought my father was passive aggressive, but the more I learn about Persian culture the more I realize it was not just him, it seems to be something genetic,” says Aryanpur. “There seems to be a plausible deniability factor built into every Persian.”

As a country of deal makers from before the time of Marco Polo and the spice trade, the Persian culture (Iranian to some) is full of contradictions that never seem to be quite explained, fully. For Aryanpur, he was raised in the Jewish side of his upbringing but identifies fully with the Arabic side and has instinctively sought the praise of his Persian father who never seems to quite be able to deliver such approval.

In part of his stage presentation Aaron wanders deftly from stories of corporate frustration, fatherhood, and being married young. He returns repeatedly and skillfully to stories about his interactions with his own father, Sam. It’s amazing watching people in his audience poke and elbow each other as his stories hit close to home.

His dry, near arid humor, has evolved and been influenced by early “British Comedy” icons like Monty Python’s John Cleese, George Carlin and others who never hacked it out telling mere “jokes,” but created thought provoking observations with surgical accuracy.

“I had seen lots of stand up comedy on TV and went to see big theater shows like Carlin, but around 2000, I started coming regularly to the Improv to see the comedy live,” says Aryanpur. A skilled visual artist and graphic designer, Aaron began bringing caricatures he had drawn of the headliners hoping to get an autograph on his artwork. This ultimately pulled the curtain back reviling a view of the Grand and Masterful OZ that compelled him to push further into the world of stand up comedy.

“Because I was a regular, and got to know the wait staff, they would take my drawings back and often the comedians would invite me back to the greenroom. I was lucky to get to meet Mitch Hedberg a few times, and I also got to know some of the local comedians,” he explains. The bug was planted, and Aryanpur started reading everything he could get his hands on about the craft, and he then signed up for Dean Lewis’ comedy workshop.

It was under Lewis’ tutelage that Aaron began to find his voice. “I was lucky, I started at around the same time as Paul Varghese, Raj Sharma, Jason James and a couple of other local guys.” They all were supportive of each other and their desire to stand before the brick façade of the Improv. “Each of us had a different voice, a different delivery but we were all the ones who persevered,” says Aryanpur.

With his graphic skills, Aaron would create the flyers for his counterparts, and when one was working, the others would show their support. Together they moved up the local comedy ladder. “When I was starting out, all the books and people I talked to kept saying the same thing; to become a comedian you needed to ‘go up’ and get time on stage. I always found it frustrating because in order to go up, you had to have been up and getting up only happened if there was an up to get up for,” explains Aryanpur.

Also, his ability to find humor in the complexities of the English language shows some of that early George Carlin influence. “There’s a rule of thumb with comedians that it takes ten years to develop into a real comedian. But when I started, I couldn’t believe that.” Aaron continues, “I thought there was no way it could take that long but here I am ten years later.”

The friendship with the other local headliners like Jason James, Paul Varghese, Mark Agee and others has helped keep each of them on their toes as well. “When you have guys like this who you respect, it drives you to avoid the easy joke, to really work on the craft.” Given Aryanpur’s upbringing in Hebrew school, with a Muslim father at a time that having roots in Iran became somewhat problematic, you can guess he has heard every two Jews and an Arab walk into a bar joke, but Aryanpur doesn’t really tell jokes as much as he tells stories.

Early on in his stand up career, Aryanpur noticed an online video of another “Persian” comic, Maz Jobrani. “I realized I was using a joke that was very similar, so I dropped it. but out of the blue I decided to send Maz an email because I really liked his stuff,” recalls Aryanpur. That random email lead to Jobrani taking a risk on the young unknown, making some phone calls and helping Aaron get some stage-time in some clubs in LA. The two stayed in contact over time, and when Jobrani was headlining with Ahmed Ahmed and Aron Kader, on their Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, Aryanpur was asked to be the opening act in this area.

With some top comedians like Jobrani taking interest, and his getting the chance to feature for national touring acts like John Lovitz and Michael Winslow, Aryanpur keeps making impressions on comedians who have seen his talented delivery and insightful humor. “It is all about networking and making the right contacts. Some of these guys are fantastic, I mean Maz had never met me when he put himself out there for me,” Aryanpur admits. “Another one who was just fantastic to me by making calls and helping me get stage time was Al Madrigal. He called quite a few club bookers and got them to give me a chance.”

It’s a sign of professional respect for Aaron’s abilities when comics who are true professionals and masters of the art take notice of a young man from Dallas, and then take the time to push him forward. Such performers don’t just stick their necks out for anyone.

While featuring this past weekend at the Addison Improv, Michael Winslow was listening to Aaron’s act. He was impressed with his stagecraft. “He is good,” said Winslow.

When others began to notice his talent, and respond to his act, Aryanpur has delved deeper into relationships, family and work with his eye on his craft. “When the audience responds to my stories I really get a charge, then after the show, when people come up and say that my story about something happened to them too, it makes me think I’m on the right track.”

For the most part Aryanpur’s act is clean, perhaps squeaky clean, even, but he’ll modify based on the audience. “When I’m playing a college, I know the stuff about being a dad is not going to play as well because there isn’t a point of reference for a room full of 18-20 year olds. But being able to work clean opens up so many other opportunities like corporate gigs or opening for comics who insist on having clean acts on their show.”

Recently Varghese and Aryanpur were invited to a showcase for “Industry” in Los Angeles. “Nothing has come of it, yet,” Admits Aryanpur. But, the more people who see him the more likely that balance he has maintained will begin to shift favorably.

“I really couldn’t do this if my wife wasn’t so supportive. She can tell if I haven’t been up in a while, there is something gnawing at me.”

If you watch his headlining act this Sunday at the Addison Improv you may get the idea the thing gnawing at him is the double-edged faint praise of his father’s voice as he quotes on his own website, “Surprisingly, he didn’t suck”

The Sunday show also includes friends and fellow local headliners Mark Agee and Jason James on the under card. So, if you’re looking for something to do this Sunday evening, The Addison Improv is definitely going to be the place-to-be, as this line up is second to none in North Texas comedy.

Improv.com

Aaronayranpur.com