By on October 9, 2013

528i

Yes, that’s right: it’s now easily possible to blow seventy thousand dollars or more on a two-liter, four-cylinder BMW sedan. The image you see above is not an attempt to make the most expensive 528i possible; it’s simply a car with most of the options. The ones you’d want, like the best sound system and the heated/cooled seats.

Of course, most of the cheapo Funfers you’ll see on the street won’t be loaded like this; they’ll be $53,000 Premium-Packaged specials designed to lease for $600 a month including tax. In other words, they’re base Delta 88s, and the one above is a Delta 88 Royale Brougham. BMW has become Oldsmobile circa 1973, the same way Mercedes-Benz has become Cadillac circa 1973. Were you alive for the Seventies? Did you enjoy the era? I hope you did, because it’s returning. Brougham is back, baby. With a vengeance.

Surely you didn’t think the party would last forever. Surely you didn’t think that the combination of rising fuel prices and rapacious insurance rates and a stagnant economy would produce anything but the conditions that they produced forty years ago. The only difference is that last time, OPEC accidentally burned its consumer-frogs and they jumped out of the pan — into Hondas, into anything with four cylinders, into a President begging Americans to put on a sweater in their own houses. This time the cost of fuel has been turned up relatively slowly and as a result many of us have found ourselves boiling behind the wheel of a Tahoe or Tundra or BMW X5, watching the pump ring past seventy or eighty dollars once or twice every week.

“But wait,” I can hear you saying. “You forgot another reason the cars of the early Seventies sucked: they had ridiculous bumper regulations that put a hundred pound’s worth of steel and hydraulic rams out at both ends of the car.” True… but look at what European pedestrian-safety regulations are doing to modern cars. Today’s EU-compliant car is at least six inches higher at the A-pillar/doorsill interaction point than its immediate predecessor and as much as a foot higher than the sleek Bimmers or Benzes of the Seventies. I’d rather have an old Mercedes SL with the big bumpers. Hell, I do have a Mercedes SL with the big bumpers. I found myself face-to-face with a new SLK350 in traffic the other day. It was like looking up at a minivan.

“Fair enough,” you might respond, “but what about the emissions regulations that hung thermal reactors and first-generation cats and CVCC on once-mighty engines, reducing them to shadows of their former selves?” There’s a modern equivalent to that as well, and as with the pedestrian regulation, it’s coming from the Europeans this time, not Richard Nixon. CO2 “emissions” have become as important to the bureaucrats of Brussels as volatile organics were to California smog regulators in 1973. The only difference is that CARB’s efforts eventually bore tangible fruit, mostly because Los Angeles is pretty far away from China’s coal-burning power plants.

Carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of combustion that occurs at pretty much the rate of combustion, so the only way you can avoid being taxed into the depths of your colon by Euro-regulators is to reduce the amount of fuel you burn. Or, I should say, the amount of fuel you burn during EU testing. This could theoretically be handled with cylinder deactivation but in Europe the authorities often seem to be willing and able to enforce the spirit, rather than the letter, of the law.

Which is how we’ve stumbled into this turbo-four-cylinder stupidity. Let me clearly delineate the hierarchy of common gasoline-burning engine designs for those of you who are new to this, from best and most admirable to least interesting:

Gas turbine a la Chrysler experimental
V-16
V-12
Straight-eight
Straight-six
V-8
Boxer six

The Sea Of Despair across which manufacturers travel when cost, regulations, or packaging considerations make it necessary. Above this line are things you want to drive, below it are compromises.

Boxer four
V-6
Inline four
Inline three

The addition of a turbocharger to any of the engines above does not dramatically change their desirability; witness the degradation of the Audi S5 when it abandoned the sublime, throaty 4.2 V-8 for a blown chugger of a V-6. Supercars are never designed to take one of those compromise engine types; on the rare occasion when one is substituted, as with the Jaguar XJ220, it ruins the car’s desirability. Think about it: the XJ220 didn’t just use any V-6, it used one that was designed and built from the freaking ground up as a competition engine. It used an engine that was in Group B, in a car designed by Williams Grand Prix. Then they turbocharged it on top of that…

…and people still said, “Oh, it’s a V-6″. But if the V-6 is a despicable bastardy born of the necessity to fit more twist under the noses of transverse prole-mobiles, the inline four is yet still more miserable. It’s the community college of engines. It’s poverty and misery on the trot. It’s unbalanced and it sounds lousy and it looks stupid and it is about the last thing you’d ever willingly have in a car. Yes, I know that there are many Honda fans who sing rapturous praises about their paint-shakers, but consider this: the one time that sainted Honda really decided to take a swing at building something that was awesome, without regard for efficiency or even decency, what did they build? Don’t say NSX, dumb-ass; that was meant from the start to be a practical alternative to dreamy V-8-powered Ferraris that were themselves meant to be practical alternatives to dreamier V-12-powered Ferraris.

Honda’s moonshot was the CBX.

The world’s first Japanese straight-six production motorcycle.

Q.
E.
D.

There was a time when all the great luxury cars came with inline sixes, and that time was known as “The Nineties”. Sure, the Jaguar XJ6 had an inline six, as did the majestic, unparalleled E34-generation BMW 535i. But did you know that even Mercedes-Benz had a proper six? It’s true. Even the despised W210 was a straight-six in both gasoline and diesel until the facelift, when a V-6 took over for petrol-power applications. Your humble author managed to win his class in One Lap of America driving one of the last straight-six Mercedes Benz automobiles — the W211 E320 CDI. There are rumors that M-B might bring the straight-six back, but so far the rumors haven’t taken any tangible form. Let’s hope.

If you look at the current sedan range from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Jaguar, however, you won’t see very many of those proper engines. Instead, you’ll see a range of… turbo fours. The bulk of the 3-Series and 5-Series and C-Class and A4 range now runs on the same number of cylinders as the Chevrolet Chevette. And too often, your only option is for a V-6, usually one with a blower of some type hanging off the exhaust.

The bright bulbs at BMW and Benz are already considering the fact that there’s no need to have long noses in the next generation of mid-sizers. A four-cylinder will be the majority engine and a small-displacement V-8 with high-pressure turbos will satisfy the AMG and M crowd. Better to have a short, tall front end for pedestrian impact. As long as you’re doing that, you can move the hip point up to make the transition from CUV to My First Luxury Sedan a little bit more palatable.

But that’s not enough to satisfy the coming regulatory and societal demands. The entry-luxury car needs to be radically lighter and lower-powered to meet 98-gram CO2 requirements. It will need a higher hood and a shorter front overhang and it will need to be oddly-shaped for maximum aero and,

most of all,

it will need to be slower. The Euros have always had slow “luxury cars”, whether we’re talking 516i or 280SEL, but this time around the Americans won’t escape the pain, because the things that make the cars slow will be baked into them. The W126 was available with everything from a 2.8-liter six to a 5.6-liter V-8 but we no longer live in an era where you can engineer that kind of variance into a platform. It’s wasteful. Better to engineer around the four-cylinder and turn up the boost, a la CLA and CLA45.

The sublime everyday excellence of something like a previous-generation 528i or an old W124 300E is going to disappear. Hell, it’s already disappeared. Does anybody think the current BMW sedans are improvements on their predecessors? Of course not. Audi and Mercedes-Benz are starting, frankly speaking, from a lower base so we don’t mourn the old A6 or E320 quite as much — but that doesn’t mean the new cars are in any way outstanding.

We’ve turned a corner, the same way we turned a corner in 1973. Tomorrow’s cars will be slower, uglier, less interesting, less enthusiast-friendly. Forget nostalgia for the E46 — nostalgia for the E90 and E60 is where it’s at now, and it’s justified nostalgia. New cars, with their popcorn-popper forced-induction four-bangers tucked beneath twelve inches of foam padding and plastic modesty panels, are less desirable than they’ve been in forty years.

The auto industry isn’t made up of stupid people. They know what’s going on, same as we do. And they know what the playbook calls for in this situation. They know what the proven success methods are, because they can read a history book and a new-car sales sheet just as well as we can. It’s easy to forget that cars like the Chrysler 300 and Cadillac Coupe de Ville were once performance cars in the Fifties. It’s easy to forget that, once upon a time, the luxury car buyer expected to leave poor people in his dust up a steep hill or down a long highway. BMW and Mercedes-Benz didn’t invent the idea of an expensive car that happened to be faster than what the average man on the street could afford.

Come 1973, even five hundred smog-strangled cubic inches couldn’t make Cadillacs fast enough to matter, the same way the super-puffer AMG four-cylinder won’t really impress anyone by the time it gets dropped in a two-ton E-Class. The underhood arms race has come to an end. Sure, there will continue to be fast cars, the same way you could run thirteens in a Trans Am in 1975, but most mass-market vehicles will be slower than their predecessors in the years to come. The sporting pretensions of the 3-Series and the C-Class will be slowly disassembled by low-power engines and low-rolling-resistance tires. What will be left?

The answer will come easily to anybody who remembers 1975. In place of speed and power and beauty, we will have prestige and upscale appeal and market positioning. You won’t buy a BMW because it smokes down a back road; you’ll buy a BMW because it’s expensive and because it has “DNA” from a car that once smoked down a back road. You’ll buy a Mercedes because it has a three-pointed LED star on it and because you dimly remember taking a ride in a CL65 AMG once. The “heritage” predecessors will appear in the ads more often; one way to know that a brand is bankrupt of ideas is when you see the new cars juxtaposed with the old ones on television.

There will be more toys, more options, more Individual things to make your car more “personal”. More special editions, more shades of window-frame trim, more wheels, more bumper treatments. More gadgets, more connectivity to distract you from the fact that you’re not ripping the tread off the tires down the freeway entrance ramp.

Already we’re seeing engine nomenclature disappear from the trunks and fenders of prestige automobiles as engines shrink and horsepower drops. If the Germans are smart, they’ll eventually dispense with it entirely, replacing badges like “E250″ with simple “E” or “5″ or something like that. The big money options won’t be powerplants anymore; they’ll be complex packages of luxury and technology and interior trim. At some point, somebody is going to need a name for these packages, something to clearly demonstrate to the valet who has the $50,000 four-cylinder BMW and who has the $100,000 four-cylinder BMW. I have a few suggestions. They’re all time-tested and proven to work in situations like this:

Regency
Signature
Ultra
Park Avenue
Fifth Avenue
Limited
Fleetwood
GranVille

Brougham.

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181 Comments on “Avoidable Contact: Return Of The Mack....”


  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    The first requirement of any car – especially a “luxury” one – is reliability.

    Having owned BMW and Mercedes – purchased new – and babied…only to be stranded by their questionable engineering, has convinced me that Germany and I will never again meet.

    It’s Japan, baby.

    Japan.

    I am blessed to be able to afford lots of toys…but they aren’t gonna come from Germany.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      You mean your first requirement. It’s certianly not everyone’s top priority.

      • 0 avatar
        TonyJZX

        the fact that people buy Jaguar Land Rover Aston Martin or anything Italian means that reliability isnt a huge factor.

        if it was we’d all lust after Lexus ES300s and what a terrible world that would be

        • 0 avatar
          wsn

          From people that I know, reliability IS a huge factor.

          Just that they didn’t know that the Germans and Brits are unreliable until they find out. Most people don’t read CR and still trust “German Engineering” before they have first hand experience.

          • 0 avatar
            epsilonkore

            It IS a huge factor for many, and to me, when I see “the well off” sitting in a repair shop, or driving around a “loaner from (insert German luxury brand here)” I chuckle a bit thinking about how much they spent to have THAT experience. Time is money, even more so for the rich.

            Reliability IS a luxury, Lexus/Acura/Infiniti know it and flaunt it. Tesla will probably prove to be, and it looks like Cadillac/Buick/Lincoln are on the path to figuring it out as well (as long as the new flock of Ford ecoboost Turbo’s hold out for the long run).

            I have watched Audi/BMW (and to a lesser extent Mercedes) fluctuate up and down in reliability over the decades, with no clear sign of sustained, predictable improvement. They will have a good run then suddenly twin turbo engines get “free extended warranties” to calm the owners of exploding 335′s, short lived VW 4cyl turbos and trim pieces falling off doors and interiors without provocation. Its enough to drive you mad… or to the arms of boring, but far more predictable (though not perfect) Japanese brands.

          • 0 avatar
            Numbers_Matching

            ‘Just that they didn’t know that the Germans and Brits are unreliable until they find out. Most people don’t read CR and still trust “German Engineering” before they have first hand experience.’

            I’m wondering what the tru delta (intentional-unintentional plug) is now compared to the dark days of the mid 2000′s when DB, BMW and friends saw opportunity to cost reduce by sourcing from former east block countries?

          • 0 avatar
            Nick_515

            Funny you should mention “german engineering.” I have a historian friend, whom I would every now and then tell about the persistent moderate problems our 2000 Jetta used to have (though the engine, transmission, and clutch were champs up to 130k when we sold it).

            He would remind me that “made in germany” was a label created and enforced by the brits, right around or immediately after WWII, to make sure people recognized goods of INFERIOR quality.

            More generally, i feel that Jack answers his own question here. Yea, luxury is not absolute – it’s about the distinction. There is nothing particularly luxurious about an engine or number of cylinders in and of itself – it’s all relative.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            Reliability is for every day transportation – in style. Reliability is definitely not a requirement for the toys. It’s an indulgence for those who can afford both.

    • 0 avatar
      EquipmentJunkie

      I agree with jmo and Tony. I will gladly buy another Mercedes or BMW. My W124 Mercedes is an absolute joy to maintain and service. After looking under their hoods, the Japanese brands will likely never be my purchase list.

      • 0 avatar
        Numbers_Matching

        I’ve never owned a Lexus or Infiniti, but have rented several and been a passenger in many. And that is, in my opinion, their best feature – being a passenger, not a driver. Too soft, too numb, too uninspiring for my taste.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        The W123/4/6 Mercedes are fine vehicles. (I drove a W115 for over a decade, and it was built like a damned tank, for that matter.)

        But the most recent of any of them is *17 years old* – and quality isn’t transitive.

        The rock-solid build of an early-90s E-class doesn’t tell you anything about what you’d get it you were buying a new Merc *tomorrow*.

        Experience with *modern* Toyota/Honda products makes me think you’re suckering yourself by rejecting them over Mercedes … because of 20 years ago.

        • 0 avatar
          Macca

          If you’re going to spend anywhere near $78k on a 528i you’ll invoke all of these platitudes to help assuage that aching buyer’s remorse.

          All of the folks that I know personally that have been adamant about only driving German vehicles always threw in banal comments about German engineering and being “connected to the road”. Naturally – these also tend to be folks that own older models, are generally car-ignorant and haven’t driven *anything* newer, even from the German makes they so dearly love.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            I won’t bloviate because BMW isn’t worth it, so to convey my feelings about BMW of today, here’s my on short, crass sentence:

            BMW can suck my ass.

          • 0 avatar
            tooloud10

            The “connected to the road” comments make perfect sense to me, especially after shopping Japanese crossovers in an effort to replace my BMW X5. The Japanese and domestics simply haven’t yet figured out the right combination of ride compliance and road feel that the Germans mastered years ago. My X5 feels planted to the road, while the stuff from Japan feels like it’s designed to isolate me from the road, even if they still manage to handle “smartly”, for lack of a better word.

            IOW, I’m comfortable saying that I’m not imagining that my German cars have a different feel while going down the road than my Japanese and domestic cars, just like I’m not imagining that the fit/finish and reliability of the Japanese cars is a step up from my German cars.

            People aren’t wrong about German cars, they just aren’t sure how to articulate the feeling because it’s pretty subtle.

    • 0 avatar
      ravenchris

      Reliability can equal vastly improved safety under certain circumstances.

    • 0 avatar

      “The first requirement of any car – especially a “luxury” one – is reliability.”

      Wrong.

      The first requirement of a luxury car is brand prestige. It’s why people are drawn to BMWs and Audis in the first place, despite their relatively sub-par reliability.

      Besides, folks who drive these cars only do so for as long as their lease lets them. Then they dump them back onto the lots for a fresh model and it’s the folks looking for a nice used or CPO example who get hosed.

    • 0 avatar
      krayzie

      Unfortunately I think Japan has also been slipping. Welcome to globalization.

  • avatar
    turbosaab

    “Rear seat entertainment Professional… $2200″

    I look forward to reading Jack’s review of that option. How many hours are included?

  • avatar
    jmo

    “Tomorrow’s cars will be slower, uglier, less interesting, less enthusiast-friendly.”

    When is this going to start happening? A 2011 528i has a 3L six and it goes 0-60 in 7.1 seconds, the 4-cyl goes 0-60 in 6.4.

    The new turbo fours are more powerful than the sixes they replace.

    • 0 avatar
      TonyJZX

      that doesnt mean that anyone really wants a bmw 528 with a turbo 4 in it… not people like jack

      i certainly dont find them interesting but i do kinda like the e92 335i but it doesnt exist as a manual where i am

    • 0 avatar
      Penaloza

      With turbo’s being so common, I don’t think cars will ever get slower. They certainly are not as interesting. The last generation’s M5 with the NA V10 stirs my soul. This was an engine they made for that car and that car alone. The current one has a generic blown V8, similar to the one they put in their other cars.

      Or consider Mercedes’ NA 6.2L monster that is in the E63. I don’t think that one will be around much longer.

    • 0 avatar
      Boff

      Modern turbo 4′s are fabulous in terms of performance and economy (we own one). But why can’t they be made to sound bitchin’ like those that Saab put in the 900 back in the 80′s?

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    i think right now my dream car is an e46 coupe with an LS1 in it

    still no problem where i am

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    Cars without soul. Why bother? I can spend my time on my smartphone. It doesn’t have a soul either.

    • 0 avatar
      Stumpaster

      Drivers without driving souls buy cars without souls. So what. People clinging to the past cause this. If modern enthusiasts bought cars and modded them for soul searching, we may be getting different cars.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    “Today’s EU-compliant car is at least six inches higher at the A-pillar/doorsill interaction point than its immediate predecessor”

    Not the case with the 3 series – back to the E46 or E90 generation. I don’t even think the E30 would have that kind of difference compared to the F30.

  • avatar
    David Walton

    Brilliant.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I think we are entering a point at which engines have reached the point where they are “good enough” for all but niche markets. Unless you track your car, a high-performance Turbo-4 or NA V6 provides enough oomph up to what most drivers are comfortable using day-to-day.

    Even a family-sedan mid-size would leave most luxury cars from a couple of decades ago in the dust… even a humble (decently-spec’d) Camry has better handling and performance than the mentioned nostalgia-mobiles, even if the Camry isn’t nearly as engaging to drive.

    I will agree that a throaty V8 does sound a lot more manly.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      “I think we are entering a point at which engines have reached the point where they are “good enough” for all but niche markets.”

      Kind of like the way computers have become appliances. Ten years ago, I never thought I’d own a computer which was more than five years old, but I’m typing this on my 2008 model iMac with a Core 2 Duo processor and 4 GB of RAM. It still does everything I need an office computer to do.

  • avatar
    jco

    i think there are a long line of inline-4′s that i’d be proud to own. some turbo, some not. probably all japanese. but they were installed in cars a lot lighter than the barges we’re given the choice of now. which is part of your point, i know

    agree that there’s never been a particularly desirable V6. but V8? in my mind there is not a better automotive sound than an american V8. particularly of the Ford variety.

    oh, and when are we seeing the big-bumper SL review?

    • 0 avatar
      Numbers_Matching

      ‘but V8? in my mind there is not a better automotive sound than an american V8′
      I’ve always thought that all cross-plane crank V8s pretty much sound the same – no?

    • 0 avatar
      typhoon

      Without getting too exotic, how about the Alfa Romeo V6, with its polished intake runners and soulful sound, or the Ford/Yamaha SHO V6, with its distinctive intake manifold and high redline?

      If we’re being honest with ourselves, there have been plenty of V6s in economy cars that very many drivers have been happy to have over the base I4s. I had an ’89 Camry with the 2VZ-FE, a 2.5 L DOHC V6, and it was pleasant, refined, sounded like a jet engine (to me) when wound up, and made the car pretty quick for what it was. Let’s face it, more people have enjoyed that engine than the BMW S85.

      Even the 3.7 L Cyclone V6 in the current Mustangs is plenty fast and sounds cool (though certainly different from a V8).

      I think the problem enthusiasts have with I4s and V6s isn’t that they can’t be inspiring or fun but that they’re common. More specifically, that they’ve become too common at the expense of less common, more interesting engine configurations (e.g., the V6 has essentially killed the I6 for most manufacturers because it’s easier to mount transversely). But the unloved, naturally aspirated V6 is fast becoming one of those less common engine configurations that’s going to be devoured by the turbo four, so enjoy them while they last. I think there will come a day when people will long for them, if you can believe that.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        VAG’s VR6 had a nice sound to it, although possibly because it was somewhere between a V6 and I6.

        The 2.0T in the 2015 GTI sounds entertaining enough in the video reviews I have seen. I’m not sure if they cheated and used the speakers the same way Ford does with the Focus ST.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “You won’t buy a BMW because it smokes down a back road; you’ll buy a BMW because it’s expensive and because it has “DNA” from a car that once smoked down a back road.”

    Base-level BMWs have never been the quickest cars on the road. The acceleration isn’t the issue here.

    But I do question whether it makes sense to use a four-cylinder motor in this segment in a US-spec car. A six-cylinder engine would be more refined, and buyers in this class do want refinement. The four-cylinder is fine for the 3-series, but they’re pushing their luck by offering it in the larger cars.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    Jack, you are forgetting the most important development in recent automotive history. The hybrid drive train.

    You yourself proclaimed that the Lexus GS to buy was the hybrid version. Infiniti has their Q50 hybrid which is a modestly decent attempt at a luxury sedan of the future.

    Wait until Cadillac or Lincoln make every vehicle in their lineup a hybrid as standard. They’ll target 25-30 mpg city and 35-40 mpg highway, and instead of the silly nonsense of aiming for 45+ mpg, they will offer copious, luxurious, quiet thrust any time you want to leave the Poors behind.

    The germans won’t know what hit them.

    • 0 avatar

      Wait, haven’t “the germans” been dominating sports car racing for years with diesel and hybrid technology? I like to think they need only sort out the details of bringing that to the US market and we Americans will all have loads of power, luxury and efficiency at our fingertips. Cadillac and Lincoln and Japanese luxury automakers will follow, as they do now.

      • 0 avatar
        Chicago Dude

        The germans have certainly been developing diesel and hybrid technology – at eye-watering prices.

        It’s pretty hard to take BMW seriously on the hybrid front when the hybrid 3 is in the $60,000 range.

        • 0 avatar

          Agreed. I’m happy to lump their pricing difficulties into what I called “the details of bringing that [technology] to the US market.”
          IMO, a Diesel-Electric Hybrid S4 Avant (not an Allroad) might just be worth $60,000.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      “..any time you want to leave the Poors behind.”

      But won’t you have the same speed limit as the Poors?
      And be a juicier target?

  • avatar
    dal20402

    A bunch of nostalgic whining that adds up to nonsense.

    There is a kernel of truth which expresses itself in the fact that a turbo four *sounds* less interesting than just about anything else. Older cars definitely sound better. But the rest of your rant is in pure get-off-my-lawn territory. Jack, I hate to say it, but you’re getting old.

    That S5 you whine about is faster than the previous S5. Today’s 528i will blow the doors off that E34 you talk up so much, and will run even with the 560SEL. The torque curve of modern turbos is much better matched to real-world driving than that of their peaky predecessors. If cars are getting more even in the power department, it’s because modern cars have so much power that more is hard to use safely on public roads.

    We are in a golden age of excess when it comes to automotive speed. Family sedans with uplevel engine options are faster than supercars were 30 years ago. Family sedans with base engines are faster than luxury cars were 30 years ago. And each generation is faster than the last. Two generations ago, a manual, four-cylinder Honda Accord took about eight and a half seconds to get to 60. Today’s Accord Sport is doing it in under seven. The Toyobaru — a car universally panned today for its lack of power — is faster than its big, heavy, six-cylinder Japanese ancestors, unless they have turbos. Even giant pickups are in on the act. An EcoBoost F-150 would beat your 560SEL in a drag race, and it wouldn’t be close.

    Lightening is finally starting to happen — in response to those same CO2 regs you decry — and it’s an unabashed good thing. After generation after generation of each car being heavier than the last, we are seeing substantial weight reductions in everything from the VW GTI to massive SUVs. And… guess what… reductions in cylinder count are part, although far from all, of making that happen.

    And all of this is before we consider the driving characteristics of enthusiast cars with electric motors, which got off to a slow start, but are starting to show up en masse. You have a bunch of hybrid supercars which are leaving their predecessors in the weeds, and their tech will show up in regular sports cars just like it always does. (Remember that the 959 turned into the 911 Turbo within a decade.) Owners are fanatical about the way their Model Ss drive. I think Honda is going to surprise some people with the V6/electric AWD drivetrain (installed in opposing directions – how cool is that?) slated for the upcoming NSX and RLX hybrids.

    You are not seeing the whole picture at all; you’re only seeing the loss of a few things you feel attached to. Open your eyes.

    • 0 avatar
      hanesj75

      +1 to everything you just said…

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      “Today’s 528i will blow the doors off that E34 you talk up so much, and will run even with the 560SEL.”

      … and won’t get 11mpg doing it.

      • 0 avatar
        Therollingwreck

        I take offense to that.. My 560SEL gets at least 16, wink wink. But seriously couldn’t agree more with last statement. Cars continue to perform better with less mpg penalties. If it’s a four cylinder that does it then I say embrace it!

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I think that Jacks been behind the wheel of his Town Car for too long.

    • 0 avatar
      Scott_314

      Agreed. Three points:

      FUEL ECONOMY IS PERFORMANCE.

      CAR MAKERS KEEP GIVING US EXACTLY WHAT WE ASK FOR, including us enthusiasts. Think about the BRZ, or even the 300 SRT.

      PEOPLE ARE SMARTER THESE DAYS. I know it pains us to admit it.

      What I’m saying is, the sound and performance of a naturally-aspirated V8 is still important to a few (not me to be honest), and that’s why they’re still available.

    • 0 avatar
      Alexdi

      I wouldn’t speak for Jack, but I think the major point isn’t that the average speed is slower, but that the dynamic range is lower. You can’t get that giant V8 even if you’d pay for it; it doesn’t exist. If the only thing separating you from the base car is four lines of boost code in ECU, how much prestige are you really getting?

      We’re already seeing it among FWD sedans. For two decades, your choice was between a plebeian four and some truly excellent sixes. All the redesigns are replacing the sixes with blown fours. None of them are as fast in real-world driving and they all sound like vacuum cleaners.

      You know what’s sad? In BMWs line, there isn’t a SINGLE CAR that I want from the current generation. A 135i, sure. Anything else? No. Full stop, no. They’re all barges, even the ones with an almost unlimited budget (e.g., 6-series). The 2L in the 328i is actually a corker of a motor, but now the base car borders on anodyne. If not for the BRZ, this might actually be distressing.

      • 0 avatar
        npaladin2000

        I beg to differ. I currently drive a 4 cyl engine, non-blown, that is better in every way than the V6 I drove 15 years ago. It has more HP than the V6. It has more torque, including low-end, than that V6. It gets better fuel economy. And it’s smoother and sounds better. Prestige doesn’t come from the number of cylinders in the engine. It doesn’t even come from HP, though HP is nice to have. It comes from the plain superiority of the engine, and that’s ultimately decided by the consumer.

        It’s always been a choice between “excellent” and “plebian” engines. It’s just that you were fooled for a long time into thinking “excellent” meant a greater number of cylinders, rather than a more advanced and more refined and overall better engine. Though, in fairness, that’s where they put the research money, so those sixes and eights were the ones that got advanced and refined, while the fours got the Iron Duke treatment.

  • avatar
    The Soul of Wit

    Your rants are poetic, Jack, but will mostly fall on deaf ears because the car-buying public was mostly not yet born in 1973…

    Back in 2005, I told a good friend, “Take a long look and enjoy where we are now…we are in the last golden age of the automobile, and it won’t last much longer.”

    We are now witnessing the turning of the page, the Coda of the automobile. Within 10 years, cars will mostly begin to drive themselves…when that happens, the concept of a ‘driver’s car’ will be rendered obsolete, because computers don’t know from heel-and-toe shifting, throttle-induced oversteer and finding the perfect apex for a rising sweeper….

    **sigh** Somebody cue up “Red Barcheta” for me….

    • 0 avatar
      Numbers_Matching

      ‘Within 10 years, cars will mostly begin to drive themselves…when that happens, the concept of a ‘driver’s car’ will be rendered obsolete’
      So maybe Infiniti and Lexus do have a future?

  • avatar
    Quentin

    I built a reasonably equipped 328xi wagon on BMW’s site over the weekend. $52k. M sport and red leather seats were my only “splurges”. The rest was getting pretty basic things like keyless ignition, heated seats, etc. It sure was pretty, though.

    • 0 avatar
      trackratmk1

      I took a picture of a 3-Series Hybrid sticker this past weekend so I could show my friends. $61,000!!! For a 3-series. A low 30mpg hybrid 3-series. Bet this car will be the depreciation champ of 2013.

    • 0 avatar
      1000songs

      Same – went to test drive the 328d wagon here in Canada. $60k BEFORE 13% tax. Pass.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      And when I see someone in a 3-Series, I think “Yeah, they got a really small BMW.” Not, “Yeah they spent $50K+”

      A Yukon Denali looks like $50K+ though.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Depends on your perspective. To me a Yukon Denali looks like a white Chevy work truck with a bit of extra bling and (until the 2015 arrives) one of the most outdated interiors on the market. The idea that it would be worth $50k is really kind of funny.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Does it? Work trucks are covered and have four doors? I rarely see a white Denali, but when I do it’s pearl – not the flat white of a work truck.

          You may need a new lens prescription.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Same enormous empty unfinished wheelwells, same ugly interior (with slight but inadequate materials upgrades), same suspension designed to haul loads rather than to provide either comfort or handling, same ladder frame taking up space that should rightfully belongs to the interior on a people-carrier, same poor NVH, same evidence of cost-cutting if even slight attention is paid to details.

            It’s a truck with a lot of extra features and some bling. It doesn’t feel expensive or luxurious at all.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Do what I did – buy a 3 yr old cpo wagon and save 40%.

      • 0 avatar
        iantm

        Or do what I did, which was buy an 8 year old former CPO and save 80%. Best of all, the bulk of the depreciation has run its course. That said, I would NEVER recommend that someone who doesn’t/isn’t willing to do their own work buy an out of warranty German car. Especially someone who knows that I’m a european car specialist – I don’t want to get roped into doing free repairs.

    • 0 avatar
      CRConrad

      What’s so basic about keyless ignition?

      Honestly, is it really that much of a chore to put the key in the ignition and turn it?

  • avatar
    dwford

    The success of the Mercedes CLA proves that many luxury buyers are just looking for the badge at an affordable price and don’t have a clue what they are buying. That said, if Mercedes had brought the hatch over as well, I’d be interested. Not a fan of the mini CLS look.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Dang Jack I thought Nissan was Pontiac and Infiniti was Oldsmobile, you know Oldsmobile back in the 60s when when it was the thinking gentleman’s luxury/performance vehicle. A car for the type of guy who read GQ (back in the 60s not the douchebags who read it now) and drank quality liquor and smoked quality tobacco.

    At any rate those names aren’t cool anymore so our brougham equivalents have names like titanium, platinum, touring, limited, special edition, and other alphanumeric bullcrap. I know its like the 70s again when the most luxurious interior doesn’t require you to order the biggest engine. When maximum available power is not required to get maximum heated/cooled everything and 18 way adjustable butt massage then the malaise is back.

    Sigh, guess I’ll buy something large and powerful while I can and then hold on to it until the next horsepower boom happens even if that means waiting for 300 hp electric motors and the battery technology break through that lets them go 300+ miles on a charge.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      “… even if that means waiting for 300 hp electric motors and the battery technology break through that lets them go 300+ miles on a charge.”

      You don’t have to wait long. Looking at the range expectations optimistically, that would be the Tesla Model S. Tesla claims 362 hp and a 300 mile range (@ 55 mph) for the 85 kWh battery.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Dude, who drives 55? ;P

        I live in the Southwestern United States and its 300 miles round trip to Albuquerque 85 mph the whole way. That’s what I’m talking about.

        Even my old 4.6 powered F150 can make the trip on one tank.

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          Basically no one drives 55, except imbeciles in certain stretches of 101 in Marin county, CA. Sometimes they are as slow as 45 mph. I have yet to figure out why.

          Even if Tesla’s range claim is unrealistic they way the car is likely to be used, the technology is very close.

    • 0 avatar
      healthy skeptic

      @PrinicipalDan

      You put your finger on it. Electric motors will (eventually) bust us out of this malaise. Actually, they already can. The batteries just need to get a bit better.

    • 0 avatar
      iantm

      Being able to get all the toys on the smaller displacement models is a bad thing? Then again, I can’t really say much with my X3 3.0i from 05. That said, with my prior cars (02 then an 07 focus), I found myself resentful about the smaller C segment cars being utter crap in terms of interior comfort and features. (which have been addressed with the 2012 redesign)

    • 0 avatar
      CRConrad

      The recent sugar-water fuel cell break-through sounds fabulous. Think about it:

      * You re-charge your electric car as quick as filling up the tank, because filling up the tank — eh, the fuel cell — is exactly what you do.

      * No need for standardizing battery sizes and building up a battery-swap infrastructure; just re-purpose the existing liquid-fuel distribution system.

      * Use domestic agricultural surplus production — no need to even distill it into potentially hazardous (fire, health of abusers) alcohol. America is awash in high-fructose corn syrup already.

      You’ll have your 300/300 electric car before 2020, I think; 2030 at the latest.

    • 0 avatar
      william442

      Well into the 60s, I was winning drag races, at Howland, Ohio, in a tten year old, Olds 98. Slow?It is “nail valve, not head.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    If all things stay the same… The scenario you create exists if everything remains the same. This same article could have been written in the early ’70s, in fact it was, many times, but things didn’t stay the same. The best, fastest, most reliable cars came after the gloom and doom future predictions of what the automobile will become. the circumstances which created those predictions changed and they will again

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      “Doom and gloomers wrong last time” is really glossing over the 25 years of unadulterated crap they sold us in between the predictions and then finding out we were wrong. It was an awfully long break from new cars worth looking at when we were living it instead of reading about it.

  • avatar
    bachewy

    Loved the article. I agree that we’re on the edge of another era of the high-performance cars fading into oblivion. That’s why I bought a ’14 GT500 when I got the chance.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “I agree that we’re on the edge of another era of the high-performance cars fading into oblivion.”

    Today’s six-cylinder Camry could beat a 80s-era 911 Carrera in a stoplight race.

    Performance has become cheaper than ever. How can anyone think that we are suffering from a performance shortage when it’s possible to buy a 250hp minivan?

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      I wonder if the real problem is the one you highlighted – namely, that the gap between the high-performance cars and pedestrian family sedans has been growing smaller.

      At one time, a BMW or Mercedes really did offer much better handling and performance than, say, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme or Ford LTD Landau your parents drove. And that performance differential could be used on public highways.

      Today a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion are hardly wallowing barges. While there is still a performance differential between those cars and an upper-level BMW or Mercedes, I’m not sure people can really use it on public roads. It isn’t safe to drive at 120 mph on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, for example, even in a Mercedes S-Class.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “the gap between the high-performance cars and pedestrian family sedans has been growing smaller.”

        The gap is still pretty large. But you can’t use that performance on public highways (at least not lawfully), as you point out — there is very little use in the real world for a 0-60 time of 4-5 seconds.

        It seems to me that there is a lot of nostalgia wrapped in amnesia. Today’s cars are pretty damned good. By today’s standards, the performance cars of the past delivered so-so acceleration.

        • 0 avatar
          geeber

          I always chuckle when people wail about how “boring” or “average” the contemporary Camry/Accord/Fusion are. They need to spend some time in typical family cars of the 1960s and 1970s. They will realize just how amazing even many of today’s “average” cars really are.

    • 0 avatar
      David Walton

      There are few (if any) owners of old 911s that are under the illusion that the cars are objectively fast. JB and I both have air-cooled 993s that weigh a bit over 3,000 and produce well under 300 hp (when they were new, 18+ years and 100k+ miles ago – they’ve given some up now with age and wear).

      The cars are slow. But still lots of fun. I have driven DeMuro’s CTS-V wagon before and rode in it briely Monday night. It’s very fast but we both agree that the straight line speed is a party trick, not an enduringly endearing character trait.

    • 0 avatar
      johnny_5.0

      Speaking of minivans that aren’t gutless, on my last work trip I ended up with a new Dodge Grand Caravan. I was too tired/lazy to bother swapping for something else and I’d only have it for a day anyway. Based on past (painful) minivan rentals I expected some anemic 4 cylinder. It was clear I had assumed incorrectly just from light throttle pulling out of my stall. Some tire spin while merging onto the loop around the airport had me assuming whatever Pentastar lurked inside wasn’t all that detuned for minivan duty. My tire squealing entrance onto the highway from those damn California stop light on-ramps had me guessing it had to be in the 275hp range. I looked it up when I got to the hotel. Two hundred and eighty three freaking horsepower. A base trim fwd minivan with 283hp seems a bit absurd, but it was glorious…as far as driving a minivan can be entertaining of course. I drove that thing like I stole it the entire day.

      • 0 avatar
        brenschluss

        Ditto. Had a similar experience, only I’d read JB’s review beforehand. “Sorry, we only have a minivan.” Actually asked the guy at the counter, “which engine does this have?” like a dork. He says, “I think a V6.”

        *Yesss.*

        I didn’t even care that the interior was falling apart. Effin’ van hauled ass.

      • 0 avatar
        tooloud10

        I showed up to work one day and there was a new fleet Impala waiting for me to replace my old company car. I thought it was odd that this one had dual exhaust when the old ones all had a single pipe, but I didn’t think much of it until I stepped on the gas hard the first time. Turns out that the base (and only) engine available in the 2012 Impala was a 300hp V6 mated to a 6-speed automatic–basically the same drivetrain as in the higher level Cadillac CTS.

        The car has basically no other options to speak of, but it sure goes like stink. Doesn’t handle too bad either considering its intended purpose.

        It’s hard to find a “bad” new car these days. Those lamenting the loss of performance cars aren’t paying attention.

  • avatar
    Syke

    It nice to see that someone younger than 50 actually understands the glory that was the straight eight. Be it in the more mundane version (Buick Special OHV, 248ci) or it its most absolute glory (Duesenberg J OHC). I’ll always consider myself lucky to have owned the former, and gotten to drive the latter.

    There are something things that make smog worthwhile.

    • 0 avatar
      Pinzgauer

      It is amazing how many Black 1940 Buick Specials with the Straight 8′s still exist here in NY. A few years back I got obsessed with prewar 8 cylinder cars and looked at quite a few of these from Craigslist. Neat car. One I even got to test drive in some snow and got it sideways.

  • avatar
    trackratmk1

    A new version of the malaise era is here, but maybe it is not quite as obvious as the Brougham days. It’s not just about specs or horsepower. It’s about building to lowest common denominator buyers, compromising on everything including brand principles, and leaving just enough to stay sellable.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Now if Honda had only put a moonshot-chassis and (especially)forks to go along with the moonshot engine in the CBX.

    You were talking beauty, sex, style, class . . . . . . . and the ability to tow 98% of the motorcycles then available on the market at a higher top speed than they could reach under their own power. Add on a 6-into-1 aftermarket exhaust with that carillon of header pipes and you’re talking a mechanical beauty that few cars can touch.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      The front end and rear wheel of a 1983 CB1100F bolt on readily. Retains its period looks but with significantly stiffer 41mm fork tubes, and wheels that will mount modern-compound radial tires.

      My regular riding buddy has an ’81 with 9K miles, his second. I have a few VF1100S V65 Sabres that share the styling if not the engine and chassis design … amazing how quickly things changed in the early 80s.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark_MB750M

      I alway considered the CX 500 Turbo more of a moonshot than the CBX. the CBX was hot, but it was essentially the CB750 with 2 more cylinders. Air-cooling, carbureted, and basically more of the same.

      The CX turbo, besides the turbo (at 19 psi!), brought fuel injection, water cooling when all those technologies were fairly exotic. To extend the moonshot analogy, it was an impressive technical achievement, had some spinoff benefits, but ultimately wound up a dead end.

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    And your premise is why I plan to keep my 135i and S2000 for quite some time. Wait – the BMW has an evil turbo and the S2000 has – gasp – a lowly inline 4 “paint shaker”? Then why do I love both cars so much? Guess I am just blinded by the mainstream media, or something. I need to go out and buy a Duesenberg with a straight 8 ASAP! Or maybe anything with carburetors. Then I can be a “real” enthusiast!

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Beautiful piece.
    The majority of people buying those expensive 4 cylinders BMWs wouldn’t know the difference between 4 cylinder and 6.
    The inline 6 was a piece of art.

  • avatar
    rdeiriar

    Not only the engines, chassis setup is affected as well. The BMW F10 is a very good example, in order to achieve minimum roll resistance, the engineers specified a front suspension setup with minimum camber, and an electric power steering system that feels like the volume knob of a high-end japanese stereo. The result? no feedback and a, lets say, very laid-back driving experience

  • avatar
    jz78817

    since when are 60° V6s “paint shakers?” they’re not inherently balanced like an I6, but they’re certainly nothing like the old odd-fire 90° engines. *Those* would rattle your fillings loose, especially with a manual trans.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      I actually had someone ask me a couple days back if my s10 had a V8, nope just a good ole pushrod 3.4 w/o a cat.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        The 60V6 and Buick V6 have this great raspy exhaust note if you open up the pipes…I always enjoy being behind a 3.8 Grand Prix GT/GTP with dual exhausts.

        Unfortunately my Buick is saddled with a resonator that kills the exhaust note and makes the engine sound like crap.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Resonator removal, Yo. And unlike removing the catalytic converter removing the resonator is perfectly legal. When you look at the forums for your favorite cars if it came from the factory with dual exhaust and resonators the first things many enthusiast do is go straight to the muffler shop and have them replace the resonators with a straight pipe.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            Yeah, resonators tend to screw up exhaust notes more than anything else.

            Fun fact: A first-gen Panther Town Car becomes a Mustang GT just by giving it a low-restriction dual exhaust.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The 80-84 generation?

  • avatar
    honfatboy

    “The “heritage” predecessors will appear in the ads more often; one way to know that a brand is bankrupt of ideas is when you see the new cars juxtaposed with the old ones on television.”

    Like this? I was shocked when I saw this last night during the Red Sox-Rays game.

    http://ispot.tv/a/7Iv0

    • 0 avatar
      CRConrad

      Not quite the same thing, is it? The whole thing here was they’d been on CD’s Top-10 list for many years. That is, at least in my book, quite a valid reason to flip through a bunch of cars from, you know, those many years.

  • avatar
    Sceptic

    Best…article…ever…

  • avatar
    old5.0

    I dunno Jack, if there’s a difference between then and now, it’s technology. My grandfather made a habit of trading cars every five years, and so in 1975 he dutifully drove his 4V Cleveland powered 70 Torino down to the Ford lot to trade for a new LTD. After a test drive including a freeway merge that bordered on suicidal, they returned to the lot and shut the car off only to witness it sit there dieseling for the next 90 seconds. Grandpa wisely kept the Torino until late ’83 when he traded it for a new ’84 Crown Vic. It took almost a decade for not only power, but simple functionality to return to an acceptable level for him.

    Without venturing into an argument regarding the rightness or necessity of government regulation, the fact was that in that instance, the automakers were unequipped to meet the lawmaker’s demands, and the results were roughly eight years of truly terrible cars that in many cases were actually less efficient and dirtier than the old, freer-breathing models of the 60′s. Not until 82-83 did the manufacturers begin to overcome the set back. In our case, technology has advanced so far that that a giant, early-70′s style step backward is almost impossible to imagine. A turbo-4 Fusion may not be exciting to the ear as a v-8 Mustang, but a ’75 LTD it ain’t.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    Wow did someone wake up on the wrong side of the gearshift or what? Never before have I heard such whining for days gone by.

    And what’s with the engine overcompensation? There is nothing wrong with a flat-4, they’re fun engines. And as far as the inline 4, clearly someone has not driven a SkyActiv 2.5L. Rule #1 for performance: add lightness. Don’t whine about not having a boat anchor to put under your hood.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    Lamentable as it is, I think it’s overdue that carmakers look into a paradigm shift. We’ve long past the point where additional performance in our cars can be used on public streets. Witness the old LX Concorde of the mid-2000s. 240 hp was enough to invoke traction control in the first two gears if the street surface wasn’t perfect, and by third gear the electronic speed limiter cut in. What, then, was that amount of power good for in that car? Performance has skyrocketed since the 70s, but speed limits have stayed the same or decreased, and nearly all poverty-spec cars are good for 100+ MPH, even though there’s almost nowhere you can hit that kind of speed without the risk of being locked up. Traffic has become dense to the point that most suburban 9-5ers are happy to have the room to hit 60 MPH for more than a few minutes during their commute. Most North Americans also possess the driving skills and discipline of apes, and I certainly wouldn’t trust us to hit the speeds our cars are capable of.

    While all this is happening, fuel has gotten more expensive and we’ve become poorer. It’s only logical that engine output be scaled back; we’re not using the power we have – and can’t afford – now. Europeans don’t drive small cars with small engines because they like it (and the Germans do just fine hitting 120+ MPH in their little four-bangers); it’s because they’re being more realistic about their situation. I think that reality is finally starting to come to North America, too, and eventually we’ll realize that having twice the engine we need or can afford isn’t a “right,” and isn’t worth drowning in debt for.

    I love performance vehicles, but I love a world with sustainable resources and economies more, and even as a gearhead, I’m not willing to trade the latter two just so I can feel shoved into my seat a few seconds a day on my morning commute.

    • 0 avatar
      sutherland555

      100% agree. I literally couldn’t have said it better myself. I just went from a 1999 Civic to a 2013 Mazda3 hatchback. I live in downtown Toronto and drive in mostly urban/suburban traffic. Both have enough power for 95% of my driving needs and more importantly, both are fun cars to drive.

      If you look at the top selling cars in Canada, it’s dominated by compacts (and trucks). The majority of cars I see are compact sedans, hatchbacks and CUVs. The Canadian market is like a hybrid of the European and American market. I think the American market is definitely headed more in the direction of the Canadian market than the American market has traditionally been.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    *sigh* It was a well written rant, but I think the best is yet to come. While European pedestrian safety rules are risking the beauty of the automobile, that aside, I think we can look forward to better cars in future. The current movement towards weight reduction, especially in more plebian cars, will have positive returns in terms of “fun-to-drive” factor over time, especially once some of the big steps are made. I don’t care for turbos, but not everyone is using them. I won’t ever really have the money for “premium” cars, so I will just have to settle for finding fun, cheap stuff. Those cars still exist, always will and low-rolling resistence tires (as the Toyobaru demonstrates) can create a way to experience on the limit thrills at sane speeds (sort of like the nostalgic cars of the past). I don’t care if a minivan or full-size sedan can blow my doors off. I don’t care if high-end luxury cars get slower. I care about having fun in what I can afford, and the future of cheap fun actually looks rosier than the present.

    And Jack, Honda’s moonshot motor wasn’t the CBX, it was the NR750. 32 valves and oval pistons for the win…

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      I agree. In a world full of traffic and low speed limits, if a car can be fun and involving at lower speeds, you can have fun with it more of the time with less use of resources and safety risk. Anyone who’s ever sat behind the wheel of an old British sports car on a sunny day already knows this.

  • avatar
    Dubbed

    I wonder how many in the 1940s lamented the lost of the V-16 or the straight 8 as engine options.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      I liked the straight 8. My very first car in High School in 1963 was an old Buick Straight 8 with Fluid Drive. It lasted me all through HS and was sold to another guy in 1965 who also kept it going.

      The engine being the heart of any vehicle, I would love to own a V16. Hell, I’d like to own a Ford F250 V10 truck again, but just can’t justify it, unless Tundra drops their 5.7L for 2015/2016.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    I loved this article, but the absolute best part for me? Using QED. outstanding, Jack!

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Middle age seems to have creeped up unbeknownst to the beholder. You can ignore it at your peril, but learning to live with it is easier. My newest driver is now 15 years old. The combination of retirement and economy have conspired to keep the “fleet” trapped in narrow confines. I.e., must be cash priced. Affordability based on real green, not monthly payments. Must be self-maintained. If I cannot keep it on the road, find someone who can and sell to them. Must be fun. My old SL is perilously close to failure on two counts, but since its not depreciating I’ll keep finding space. I’ve found that since leaving the business, a lot of what I believed to be common knowledge was mostly my ego trying to prop up my flagging importance. For each of us in the enthusiast ranks, there are 1000 of them. I have been married to one of them for almost 30 years. My young son is also one of them. Likewise my daughter. 25% is market penetration in my own family. It’s no wonder they build Camry and Corolla. I guess the real outlier is that a Corvette and a CTS-V are built for the few who both appreciate them AND can afford them. I am no longer in the demographic of the buyers of BMW and Mercedes, but to keep margins and sales up they have to skew vanilla, yes? I am glad I was able to experience and appreciate both the 60′s horsepower wars and this latest performance boom. I recall feeling a lot like the tone of this article when they announced the numbers for the 1972 model year. I guess, yet again, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “I’ve found that since leaving the business, a lot of what I believed to be common knowledge was mostly my ego trying to prop up my flagging importance.”

      I don’t believe that for a minute. Your experiences and contributions based on your experiences are priceless and would serve well anyone who wants to avoid the mistakes, pitfalls and pratfalls the early pioneers made.

      Don’t discount the importance of your contributions. Others may learn from them since they lack the core experiences the old guys went through.

  • avatar
    gkbmini

    The fun or cool stuff is disappearing. Should this be a surprise to the Gen-X generation growing up in the 70’s? The baby boomers either wrecked it for everyone or exhausted the resources before it was our turn to enjoy the fun or the wealth. Then they became helicopter parents and spoiled their kids. I did have fun as a kid looking at the brochures filled with Broughams and wishing that my dad’s company cars (Impalas) would have am/fm stereos, electric windows and seats, curb lights, wire wheel covers and the other cool options of the 70’s

    • 0 avatar
      tooloud10

      Please. My fleet car daily driver has more horsepower than my Porsche 996. You can buy 500hp turbo SUVs that do 0-60 in four seconds. They make Ford Focuses (Focii?) with 250hp now. BMW makes a 3-series diesel with 425lb-ft of torque.

      And the best part? All of these cars get about double the MPGs that lesser-powered cars got just 20 years ago. The fun isn’t over; some of you guys just don’t recognize it any more.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Most of the fancy V-12, I-8, I-6, and V-8 engines of the past were designed to generate good power and smoothness at minimal cost given the technology of the time. V-8′s replaced most of the other configurations because they were cheaper to build once you could cast a one piece block. The movement to V-6, I-4, I-3 is largely the same; better technology is allowing the smaller engine to produce the same or more power as the old V-8s with the higher MPG and lower CO2 mandated by our esteemed elected officials. The better sound of the V-8 can also be reproduced through the stereo system if desired, although most people probably don’t want to hear the motor at all. The next major evolution will be dramatic reductions in weight, which will further reduce the need for large high cylinder count engines. If you want a V-8 or V-12 you will likely be forced to buy something classic like a 1955 BelAir or 1992 850CSi for weekend enjoyment.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      A dentist/friend took me for a ride in his CSi V12, and “Oh!!!! Whatta feelin’!”

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Or you could throw money away on an E65 BMW 760…

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      In 30 years, this discussion of engine form factors will be as outmoded as talk about ball vs daisy wheel electric typewriters; belt vs direct drive turntables; or CAV vs CLV Laserdiscs. Back in the day, form factor mattered, until some disruptive technologies rendered it moot (in all 3 cases, the computer was the game changer).

      It will only stay relevant when luxury car manufacturers will take a page from the mechanical watch industry and move their antiques upmarket as manufactured analog instruments of precision.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Fuel-economy ranting aside–because I *don’t* think that four-cylinder engines should be price-capped just because they’re smaller—you’ve touched on an important point, which is the fact that BMW, in particular, is pricing its cars out the wazoo. The base 528i, for example, has uninspired wheels and “pleather” seats that look more appropriate in a $19K Civic. I realize that these cars are expensive, but BMWs are supposed to at least look and feel nice the base trims and then progressively get nicer as you pay more and more. Instead, they seem content on figuring out how to optimize a car’s styling so that you really look cheap if you don’t start ticking the options boxes.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      It’s the engineering behind the machine and the demand for them that drives the price.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        Yeah, this myth has been debunked a few times. If a company like BMW has figured out the secret sauce for making arguably the most fun to drive ‘regular’ cars available, how is it that their window regulators fail with alarming regularity?

        Answer: They’re engineered to drive great, but not necessarily with great reliability of subsystems.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      I’m noticing a LOT of price creep in the automotive luxury labels lately, and not just the German ones. The new game seems to be maintaining the same level of luxury pricing on the base models of luxury labels, but cutting their equipment levels even lower than the top trim levels of the mass models.

      Or to get more specific: Anybody else have their nose out of joint that the $35,000 Lexus ES and the $50,000 Acura RLX now come with vinyl seats? The Germans have had this disease forever, but it seems to be catching.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Uh, no. BMWs are the same price or cheaper than they have ever been, adjusted for inflation. Adjusted for content, they are ludicrously cheaper.

      Back in 1984, a base 318i with plastic seats and all of ~100hp cost just under $20K with A/C, which was optional. And note that in 1984 the dollar was flying high enough that the Germans were starting to get concerned about all those grey-market imports. Today, that $20K is ~$45K. A base 320i today with plastic seats and a 180hp TURBO 4, a giant high-res screen in the dash, and an 8spd automatic if you want it is <$33K. A 300hp turbo 6 335i starts at only $43K. Either car has power everything but seats for the base price. In a world of near $35K CAmrys and Ford Fusions, that seems like a bargain to me.

      To put it in perspective, in 1984 a VW Jetta GLI had 90hp, power nothing including steering, and cost almost $9K with A/C. I drove one for many years, fun car. 1/2 the price of the BMW that was no faster. And the GLI was a pretty big price premium over the base Jetta, and either of them was rather more than an equivalent Honda or Toyota.

      • 0 avatar
        Caboose

        Fair, but the other half of your equation, the half you’re not mentioning, is that inflation-adjusted income have certainly not kept pace with inflation-adjusted car-price creep. That proportion of transaction price-to-real income is THE reason for the great age of the American consumer auto fleet.

        News outlets carped that the growing age of the American car fleet was certainly down to the Great Recession, and would certainly start trending down when the economy got back on its feet. Surprise! The jobless “recovery” has the consumer fleet continuing to not shrink in age.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    What a ghastly future we’ll be getting in cars. Make mine a Regency Elite and I’m in.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Oldsmobile 98 Regency Elite Brougham PLEASE oh and set the Way-back Machine to 1977-1979 so I can get a 403 V8.

      If anybody needs me I’ll be out buying a crap load of Scotch-guard for the velour interior to protect it from those “Rear seat entertainment Professionals” Jack mentioned.

      • 0 avatar
        Caboose

        I had a malaise-mobile, and I am not ashamed to say that I miss my ’78 Eldorado BIARRITZ. Red with the red (yes, pillow-top) leather interior and the white half-landau roof. IT had the small engine for that year, so it got reasonably good fuel economy.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Pillow top leather seats should be an option in any luxury car today.

          • 0 avatar
            Caboose

            Aww, lookit the cute little CTS. Oh, you’re fast, are you? But do you have BUTTON TUFTING?!

            Yeah, that’s what I thought…junior.

            And is that bare steel I see on your roof?

            Oh, you’re a sedaaaan. Well, aren’t you special. Seat four, do you? Hmm. Mind if I take a look in your “back seat”? Uh-huh. Son, I’m gonna have to cite you for impersonating a man’s car.

            So you better go back to your bars, your temples…your massage parlors.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    “Brougham is back baby” Um, sorry, I just threw up a little. My memories of the Broughamtastic 70′s cars include seats that swallowed you up like a beanbag chair. A slow rolling/pitching ride that was reminiscent of being on the Queen Mary in a hurricane. And plastichrome trimmed along the edges of plastiwood dashes. Basically a complete misinterpretation of the whole concept of luxury.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I actually threw up a LOT in those days – usually out the back window of the wallowing family barges that my Grandparents drove. Horrid, horrid cars. Though they got worse – in ’84 my Grandfather bought himself a retirement present. One of the brand new FWD Olds 98 Regency Broughams in all it’s Broughmtastic glory. A truly miserable excuse for an automobile. Never ran right, aged like a Times Square hooker. I drove the turd pretty much my entire senior year of high school, because even HE hated the thing, and preferred driving his diesel Suburban. So did I! When my Grandmother retired and stopped commuting they gave me her ’82 Subaru – it was a huge step UP!

  • avatar
    ajla

    So the Grand National’s engine was less admirable than a 301 Grand Prix, the GMC V6 was worse than the Stovebolt, and the Suzuki Verona’s powertrain can thumb its nose at nearly any new car today.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Oh, and one more thing… your example is just proof of something which has been true for a *very* long time: you have to be judicious when buying!

    I just stopped by the BMW site and optioned out my dream 535i. This is not the car I would buy if it were my own money — it’s the car that has literally everything I want. Total price: $68,050, or just less than one Nissan Versa less than your 528i. And I get that inline six you miss so badly.

    What are the differences?

    - No xDrive; too much weight
    - No B&O sound system that is a waste in a moving vehicle anyway
    - No ceramic controls (who cares?)
    - No rear sunshade (I’m in WA… what’s sun?)
    - No soft-close doors; extra weight for no reason
    - No rear-seat entertainment professional… I’m in the front seat!
    - No stupid “Driver Assistance Package”
    - Manual at no cost instead of flappy paddles at extra cost

    I still get all the luxury options I could possibly want, and a somewhat more engaging (as engaging as it can be with the 5er’s particularly bad steering) experience.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      You’ve done a much better job with the option selection!

      $4500 for the B&O upgrade? I wonder if that even gets you much of anything. When my buddy was ordering his B8 Audi S4, we did some comparative listening to both the B&O and base versions. The B&O produced louder bass, but it wasn’t good bass. It also used an extra dash speaker to provide more of that specific type of harsh mid-range that you can only achieve by bouncing it off the windshield. He passed on that option, and we threw an Alpine R8 in place of the factory “subwoofer”, along with an aftermarket amp. We laughed at how thin, light, and cheap that plastic “subwoofer” was. Later he came across a forum thread where someone had upgraded the B&O “subwoofers”. They looked exactly the same, except there were two of them.

      I think B&O is at the point where they’re just selling the name.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    I never owned a car that’s not a four cylinder. Our TSX 2.4 is a great engine f-ed up by stupid software. It spins at 5K rpms without a notice, but it has some weird lumps in torque because of the software, combined with only 5 speed. Not just when the camshaft switches over either. I drove 2.0l ILX loaner and right now it is the worst car I’ve ever driven. Yes, behind my Volvo 240. Again, the problem is in the software.

    Just drove a 328i loaner. Sorry, but that engine is awesome! Better than my mom’s 325i 6-cylinder. That low end torque is something else! Spins high and stays there if I want it to but why would you.

    Then I read the N20′s design details. Yeah, nice engine for a lease but to own it? Never!

    None of this applies to Toyota’s 4 cylinders – they are in a dreary world of their own.

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    You rant about contemporary automotive trends like old men probably used to rant about the very cars you hold fond memories of.

    Every time you play armchair product development I’m never really impressed. It just comes off as old crotchety fear of change.

    Also, I seem to remember you raving about the VW GLI and GTI. Turbo 4s.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    I have to strenuously object to one of your main arguments. You’re blaming the wrong EU regulation for the lousy engine sound of modern Eurotrash. It’s the noise requirements, not the CO2.

    Four-stroke engines with few cylinders sound at least as good as those with many. The sound quality is more dependent on these properties:

    1) Type and restriction of exhaust and intake silencers
    2) Engine operating speed
    3) Primary length of the headers
    4) Presence of a turbocharger

    The plebian four-banger can at least make an exciting howl: (Suzuki GSX-R 1000)

    A four-cylinder turbo engine can sound great: (Colorado State FSAE, turbo Kawasaki four)

    A four-cylinder turbo diesel can sound good: (Detroit Diesel Series 50)

    Finally, your “lowest of the low” produces my candidate for the best-sounding four-stroke engine of them all: MV Agusta 500/3

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9NhLw-nQ7M

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Turbochargers, headers, ad high rpm cannot make an engine sound good, at all.
      Let me put this another way, would dog crap taste good with salt, blue ranch, and garlic salt?

      It’s absolutely Euro emissions regulation and over taxation, nothing to do with sound laws.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Not true. In Europe, the FIAT Abarth has to actually have mufflers to meet the drive-by noise regs. Over here? Not so much, and it sounds absolutely glorious. There are plenty of fine sounding I4s and V6s, most of them Italian, but not all. They aren’t even necessarily super high-revving, though they all do love to rev.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      To most of your examples; I would say that anything sounds good once you’ve got it past 8000rpm. i.e., a GSX-R engine isn’t exactly a plebian four-banger. Not going to go for the obvious that “more is better”, so I’ll only raise you two cylinders:

      /watch?v=6-toj0OVmCc

  • avatar
    TOTitan

    Jack, I agree….which is why I bought a low mileage, CPO, BMW 335d with minimal options in May. It has a I-6 diesel with 425 lb ft of torque that gets 32 mpg on the commute and 40 on the highway. It has the best of both worlds, and I doubt that we will see anything with the 335d’s combination of power, handling, and economy again anytime soon.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      They’re sticking diesels in the 5 series now.

      Diesel tech is the best middle ground until we figure out wireless charging or condensing solar power such that the area of a rooftop of a car can power it.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    Anyone who thinks that power output is the only area in which engines of any given configuration have improved is fooling himself.

    An inline four with a turbo sold today is smoother, quieter, more flexible and more refined than any such engine of even five years ago.

  • avatar

    Hm, I think you may be mistaking the decline for German luxury cars for the decline in luxury cars in general.

    This happens to national car industries all the time – was the mid ’90s a total global meltdown of light, efficient, revvy sports cars, or was it a decline of the Japanese auto industry which had to abandon its crazy niche product plans in the wake of their economy bubble bursting?

    The Germans have been really properly dominating the international luxury car game for at least a decade now, and you’re right to see that they’re in a decline. Is that decline simply a question of world-ending regulations? No. Just take a look at how the European economy has been doing and you can understand why today’s M cars aren’t what they used to be.

    ‘Downsizing’ has been a buzzword for a good half-decade at this point (particularly among German engineers), and I won’t pretend that international regs aren’t a part of that. Still, don’t forget that there are economic concerns specific to some car-producing markets and not others playing a part here.

    It’s always possible that we’ll see proper new luxury car mantle in not too long, just not coming from Germany.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    I’m putting together a proper and complete list:

    Gas turbine a la Chrysler experimental
    V-16
    V-12
    Straight-eight
    Straight-six
    V-8
    Boxer six
    Boxer four
    V-6
    Inline four
    Inline three

    By the wa

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      I accidentally submitted early and WordPress isn’t letting me edit. Here it is:

      I’m putting together a proper and complete list:

      Nuclear fission, a la Ford Nucleon
      Gas turbine, a la Chrysler experimental
      V-16
      W-16
      Wankel 4-Rotor
      Flat-12 (Testarossa)
      Straight-8
      Wankel 3-Rotor
      V-12
      Straight-6
      W-8
      V-8
      Flat-6
      Straight-5
      V-4 (Ford/Saab)
      Flat-4
      Wankel 2-Rotor
      V-6
      Inline-3
      Flat-2 (2CV)
      V-2
      Inline-2
      Inline-4

      Turbos, superchargers, two stroke operation and even, if done properly, hybrid drivetrains, make all of these engines significantly more interesting.

      I replaced boxer with flat because boxer describes a crankshaft operation on top of a cylinder configuration.

      By the way, Honda’s real moon shot engine was an V-4 (not really oval pistoned, but that’s a common description) with 8 connecting rods and 16 valves. And the last car designed by Soichiro Honda was a mid-engine inline-3.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Great article Jack. God help us all.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    @28: It’s actually 1981-1989, the first Town Car sold just as a Town Car and not as a Continental trim level. 1980 was a weird one model year only downsized Continental.

  • avatar

    The vast majority of “luxury” cars sold in North America today have V6 engines.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Epic rant, Jack. Good fun!
    As someone who lived through the 70s as an adult, let me say that we are not encountering a repeat. The 70s were unique in having an oil price SHOCK (as in the price of gasoline doubling in a few months) and in requiring that engines spew fewer unburned hydrocarbons. The combination gave the buyer a choice between a large car that performed absolutely dismally, or — perhaps — a smaller car that was more fun to drive. Mazda introduced the rotary-engined RX-2 with the slogan “the thrill is back!” And, for once, it was no exaggeration.

    What is happened is that the increasingly thick layer of regulation (not just fuel economy and emission) has reduced the variety of cars out there. The number of solutions goes down as the problem gets more complex.

    On the subject of engines: small displacement inline 4s (less than 2 liters) can be quite satisfying: ask anyone who drove an Alfa, or even a Fiat 124 Spyder in the late 1960s. Some V-6s are quite nice: the Yamaha V-6 in the SHO was as nice an engine as you’ll ever find — power increased linearly with engine speed right up to the 7000 rpm redline.

    I will freely admit that the 2.3 liter 4 in my Saab 9-5 Aero is pretty agricultural and, with a big turbo, is pointless to rev much past 4500 rpm. It is the perfect engine for an automatic transmission with lots of gears . . . which is what we’re seeing.

    But today’s cars are hardly comparable to what we all had to put up with in the 1970s, I assure you. The 60′s cars were fun in a certain way: there’s nothing like the sound (or the feel) of a 7-liter V-8 opening up the secondaries of its 4-bbl. carb., dumping gallons of raw gas into the engine, most of which was actually burned before being expelled out the exhaust. Compared to them, the 70s cars were awful, and the early 80s cars were puny and had no road presence.

    But I guarantee you, take today’s hot-foot 35 year old driver and drop him into a 1967 Pontiac GTO and he will soil his pants — not because of the sound and fury of the big V-9, but when he realizes that the car won’t turn or stop in anything like the way he is accustomed to, even in a Camry.

  • avatar
    Jacob

    For about a decade auto geeks had been complaining that in order to compete with ze Germans, Saab needs V6 and V8 engines. Turbo I4 was no enough supposedly. Likewise, the Acura RL was substandard because it didn’t have V8. And what do we see now? Ze premium German sedans come with a lovely I4. E-series soon will not have a V8 as an option (except AMG).

  • avatar
    photog02

    What? No GranSport? Or has BMW already got that covered with the GranCoupe?

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    People didn’t like me comparing big BOF SUVs to big BOF land yachts of the 70′s, and now you’re comparing modern highly engineered works of excessive precision to slappled together hap-hazard dinosaurs from the 70′s.

    Even though I happen to like gutsy inline 4s with turbochargers, I dunno if I’d want them to become mainstream as impractical as they are, they’re best used for sporty appications.

    I do agree that “dialing up” the boost for supposed higher-up models is a bit cheap, but many car companies do this even with 6 and 8 cylinders, just look at NissanInfiniti and VW.

    Otherwise I’d like to know what could possible make a 4.6 Modular V8 anymore “interesting to drive” than a 16 valve turbocharged four, or whatever Vtec wizardry that was used in the S2000.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Anyone else read this with Lewis Black intonation? Maybe the rear seat entertainment, profesional has a golden bowl?

  • avatar
    05lgt

    I remember the CBX. A junior high teacher had one and I would stare at it, the insanely wide block, and the pure majesty of *six* exhaust pipes!

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    The downsides of turbos are turbo lag, which has been much reduced over time, reliability, which has also been much improved over time and lastly added complexity plus cost, which can’t be helped. So, the main issue is then that turbos are bad because of complexity… So WTF are manual transmissions so hated???
    I do agree that luxury cars should offer something special in the engine department though and Turbo’s are becoming pretty common… sort of…

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    The suffering of elites is about all we middle-classers have left to look forward to.

    Great article!

  • avatar
    hurls

    I’ll stipulate the common wisdom here that BMWs are now all pieces of junk driven by striving “sheeples”. That having been said, I am seriously considering buying a 128i (manual, natch!) while I can still get in on the NA inline 6. And my e46 is far from worn out :) I’d note that the 18 MPG city of the 128 is almost as horrible as the 17 MPG city of my ancient and underpowered e46.

    On the other hand, though it’s been horrible in terms of build quality (pistons & rings at 30k, a camshaft replacement at 59k) and equally lacking in character, the 2.0T in my wife’s Audi is pretty much the best engine I’ve ever driven for day-to-day “squirt into a hole in traffic or lazily go up the big hill on the 15 with the cruise control set at 85 without the car downshifting twice” type of driving.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Great rant! I despise the buzzy little turbo 4 bangers as much as you do. They are only good for one thing – surviving a temporary oil supply crisis in Europe, this because you can drive them like grandma and get spectacular mpg. The idea that they can contribute anything meaningful toward reducing global CO2 emissions is demonstrably false, obvious to anyone who has the facts and can perform ordinary multiplication.

    Good news today! The EU has given up on their earlier proposed light vehicle emissions standards for 2020. They would have bumped mandated light vehicle fleet average mileage from about 43 mpg to almost 60 mpg. This move makes sense to me since today’s roughly $100 oil seems to be the peak price, and it is very likely to head down fairly soon because of fracking. Also, Arab Spring looks to have about run its course. The military are back in control in Egypt.

    Maybe now, some of the motor vehicle industry’s prodigious engineering talent can refocus toward solving problems that are really important. Maybe some of them can switch industries and figure out ways to really reduce global CO2 emissions by a meaningful extent.


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