Posts By: Jack Baruth

By on February 24, 2017

2015 Ford Mustang V6 shift paddle

You know how I know that things are getting pretty good in the automotive world? Because we’ve gone from a world where new cars lock their brakes and ignite their gas tanks and delaminate their tires with murderous yet monotonous regularity to a world where people get authentically upset when the fake stitching on their dashboard doesn’t look convincing enough. Our grandparents expected to have to grease their axles every thousand miles and rebuild their engines every 50,000, but we’ve turned into princesses whose posteriors are perfectly primed to detect the mere suggestion of a spherical inconsistency ten mattresses down.

I’m not just talking about the boss man here at TTAC being triggered by a wobbly hood release. I’ve been complaining about the paint and carpet in my Accord for three years now. Prior to that, I recall being very disappointed in the fact that one of my Phaetons only had the stamped-steel parallelogram trunk arms instead of the forged Campagnolo pieces that my other car had. It kept me up at night. I didn’t like opening my trunk in any sort of elevated company.

Of course, we’re not so quick to complain about getting 270 horsepower in the Accord that used to come with 110, or the five LCD screens that replaced plain mechanical gauges, or the vastly better NVH isolation. We want Rolls-Royce interiors and W126 mechanicals at Kia Rio price points. That’s because we now live in a consumer culture where we define ourselves by what we consume, not by what we produce. And it’s also because we’re kind of stupid about how the automotive sausage is made.

The truth of the matter is that all modern automakers skimp. They skimp all over the place, on all sorts of things, and they hope to heaven that you either don’t notice or don’t care. This is true whether we’re talking about the Chevy Sonic or the Bentley Mulsanne. You just have to pick and choose where you’re willing to have the skimping take place. Which reminds me of a great story about the 1996 Taurus …

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By on February 23, 2017

Jiffy Lube in Durham, Image: By Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Last year, I told you that your quick-lube place was probably snitching on you to your insurance company — and to Carfax. Did you make any changes in the way you have your car serviced because of that? I’m thinking that you did not, because you probably have nothing to hide. A surprising number of the commenters on that article were on the side of the insurance companies and Carfax, and their rationale was generally some variant on “I’m not going to commit insurance fraud, nor will I commit odometer fraud, so why should I care if my car’s mileage is in a database somewhere?”

Earlier this week, Scott Adams learned the hard way what you, the TTAC reader, already know about the relationship between small auto business and Big Data. For him, however, the lesson might come at a major cost. Because this time, the data was wrong.

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By on February 22, 2017

It’s been about seven months since I ran out of warranty in my 2014 Accord EX-L V6 6MT. We’re now just a touch over 45,500 miles at the third anniversary of purchase, and I’ll confess I’m starting to get a little itchy about the idea of keeping a new car for this long. Only four […]

By on February 21, 2017

When Mercedes-Benz brought the W201 platform here as the somewhat oddly named 190E 2.3, it was immediately nicknamed the “baby Benz.” The successor to that car, yclept “C-Class” to fit precisely within Daimler-Benz’s new idiot-compatible nomenclature, became known as the “Cheap-Class” at Mercedes-Benz dealerships. The car you see above, piloted by Danger Girl at Sebring […]

By on February 17, 2017

Mitsubishi Eclipse

Five and a half years ago, I took a rented Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder on an impromptu tour of Los Angeles with one of the coolest girls I ever dated. But not even my extreme sentimentality regarding the lady in question and the nights we spent together could make me overlook the nontrivial flaws that utterly spoiled the final-generation descendant of the original Disposable Speed Machine.

It was not a good car, to put it mildly.

Yet if I’d known that the Eclipse name would one day be attached to YAFC (Yet Another Fucking Crossover) I imagine that I would have cherished that poky little droptop just a bit more than I did. This is particularly true considering the fact that the original Eclipse was a genuinely thrilling and important automobile. It was a turbocharged all-wheel-drive sports coupe with big power, wicked handling, a sleek shape, and a sensible price tag — and it hit the dealerships back when most family sedans had 130 horses and beam rear axles. I’d like to respect that, for just a moment. I’d like to remind everybody that the Eclipse was once something special.

Which leads us to today’s question(s):

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By on February 15, 2017

audiad

You might not have heard about it, but Audi ran a rather controversial advertisement during the Super Bowl a couple of weeks ago. If the Lords Of The Four Rings wanted to get people talking, they certainly succeeded, although not all the reaction was positive. Right-wing websites screeched that the ad was a “SJW hugbox” or a “feminist fantasy.” At the same time, the decidedly lefty Twitter hive mind was attempting to crucify Audi for offering a weasel-word response to queries about its own compensation policies for women. One rather suspects that the company did not forecast this kind of bipartisan draw-and-quarter when they were laying out their goals for their $10M Super Bowl spend.

My brief analysis of the ad spot was remarkably popular and it was linked out from all over the Internet. It was also very far from the only think piece generated by Audi’s gorgeous but problematic mini-film. The day after the Super Bowl, you could go anywhere from “Arf-com” to the “Last Psychiatrist” sub-Reddit to find a vigorous discussion on the merits of the ad. You’d be hard-pressed at this point to find someone who didn’t have at least a casual opinion on the subject.

With that said, I can give you a few names of some people who clearly didn’t see Audi’s paean to empowered, independent young women who are worth just as much as their male counterparts in the only scale that has ever mattered — cold, hard cash, naturally. These people, rather surprisingly, appear to work for Audi Atlanta’s promotional team.

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By on February 14, 2017

Premier Badge on 2017 Chevrolet Tahoe, Image: © 2017 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

Now after all these years, and no matter what damage it does to the B&B’s conception of me as a redneck reactionary from Bumpkin, Ohio, the story can finally be told: I was a full thirteen and a half years old when I first set foot in an honest-to-nine-pound-baby-Jesus pickup truck. Not the front seat of said all-American conveyance, mind you. The bed of a pickup truck.

The scenario was this: At the time, my high school was about 50-percent residents of a new tournament golf course and about 50-percent residents of the farms that didn’t get absorbed into said course. My pal Brent was dating a hillbilly girl from across the tracks. She had a stunning friend. I suggested a double date. The friend agreed, presumably driven by the kind of self-destructive farm-bound boredom that makes rural kids steal tractors, torture animals, and ingest crystal meth.

One of the girls’ fathers agreed to drive us to the local theater. He showed up at my friend’s house behind the wheel of a light-blue Dodge Ram 150 2WD Regular Cab, festooned in country fashion with a bubble-windowed cap in a fetching combination of gloss white and dull rust. There were silhouettes moving behind those bubble windows. I turned to run; I’d heard a plot summary of Deliverance from my father. But my friend grabbed my shoulder and dragged me to where the overalls-wearing father was dropping the tailgate to reveal not a pack of snarling hounds or a toothless rapist but our dates for the evening, prettily perched on a pair of carpeted boxes covering the wheelwells. “Get in,” Farmer Dad growled.

“I … don’t think I can,” I replied.

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By on February 10, 2017

2018 toyota rav4 adventure

You’d never know it from the Internet, where the Code Of Hammurabi rules with an iron hand and people on the forums are comfortable recommending the death penalty for everything from “stancing” your car to the unjustified application of an AMG badge purchased on eBay — hold on, I kind of agree with that last one — but it is probably not a crime not to use every last iota of your vehicle’s rated capabilities. You’re allowed to own a sportbike without racing it in WERA or doing a 140-mph stand-up wheelie past a police station. It’s morally acceptable for you to purchase a Porsche 911 Targa and never run it in any sort of Targa event whatsoever. And, as difficult as you may find this to believe, not everybody who acquired a Chevy Monte Carlo was a native citizen of, or even a past visitor to, the Principality of Monaco.

Still, it’s difficult not to feel a minor bit of disdain for the various pretensions that currently animate the automotive market. Not that you’ll pick that up from reading the new-car coverage at Chicago. Most of us don’t feel comfortable doing much more than what’s encapsulated by Pope’s delightful turn of eighteenth-century phrase: Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, / And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer.

Let’s take a break from that not-quite-good-natured approach for a moment.

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By on February 8, 2017

raptor1

A sharp-eyed reader caught this and sent it to me on Monday. There’s been a variety of speculation about the “2017.5 Raptor” ever since a few Raptors with camouflaged rear ends were spotted on public roads late last year — but this truck, as you’ll see, isn’t wearing any disguise.

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By on February 7, 2017

2004 Dodge SRT-4

“Moving on, and getting over,” John Mayer just told us on his new EP, “are not the same, it seems to me.” I’ll second that emotion; I can think of a half-dozen times I’ve broken up with someone then spent months, or years, thinking about them afterwards. But when it comes to cars, some of us can’t even manage to move on. I should have sold my 2004 Boxster S five years ago, but it’s still taking up space in my driveway. I have two motorcycles — a CB550 and a VFR800 Anniversary — that I never ride because I have a CB1100 and a ZX-14R to do their jobs. Don’t even get me started on Danger Girl’s Tahoe Z71; now it’s being used solely to take me and my son to the skatepark once a week. Other than that, it doesn’t move. We could duplicate its functionality with a bike rack, thus saving ourselves all of the expenses that come with a 5,400-pound white elephant of an SUV.

Not everybody’s quite as sentimental and/or dilatory as I am, however. Take my old pal Nick, for example. About six months after my first wife and I took delivery of our 2004-model SRT-4, he bought one of his own. And he did it right, putting on the Stage 3 package almost immediately. When I sold our SRT-4, I made him a deal on all the goodies, including the Kosei wheels. It’s led a relatively charmed life in his possession, and it’s carried him through some of the best (and worst) years of his life, but now that his kids are married or off in their own careers, he’s decided to just let it go.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a particularly interesting decision; “Man Sells Neon So He Doesn’t Have To Put Any More Money In It” is one of those completely unsurprising stories, right up there with “Dog Bites Man” and “New GM Product Wins Motor Trend Award Of Some Type.” But this isn’t just any Neon. It’s a low-production, one-owner car that makes 339 horsepower at the front wheels and was equipped with all the right stuff from Day One. In other words, it’s the modern equivalent of a Superbird or Charger Daytona. Which leads us to a bit of a dilemma.

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By on February 3, 2017

2000 Pontiac Grand Am GT Down On the Junkyard, Image: © 2014 Murilee Martin

Willyam asked: What are some vehicles that were right for only ONE generation, before they went back to being awful? Just one brief, shining, moment… when everything came together and the product was genuinely good, you know? It makes me think of Richard Burton signing:

In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here… in… Camelot!

I won’t spoil the fun by listing all the usual suspects here. Instead, I’ll give you my own eccentric opinion about a moment when a really crappy car became surprisingly desirable.

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By on February 2, 2017

The Internet is in the proverbial tizzy about Audi’s “feminist” Super Bowl advertisement, in which the automaker comes out in favor of equal pay for women.

At first blush, the spot seems to be nothing but the usual corporate slacktivism, a feel-good fluff-vertorial making a “brave stand” in support of an issue that was decided long ago. I’m reminded of Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant portrayal of Commodus in Gladiator, arriving in full armor as soon as he can do so without any risk. “Father, have I missed the battle?” Well, Audi, you’ve missed the war; if there’s a place in the United States where women are actually paid significantly less for doing the same job as men, it’s not evident from what I’m reading.

After watching the one-minute advertisement carefully, however, I understood feminism, or equal pay, is the last thing Audi wants you to take away from it. The message is far subtler, and more powerful, than the dull recitation of the pseudo-progressive catechism droning on in the background. This spot is visual — and as you’ll see below, you can’t understand it until you watch it and see what it’s really telling you.

Let me tell you up front: chances are you won’t like what Audi has to say.

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By on January 31, 2017

The Mazda MX-5 RF, Image: PRNewsFoto/Mazda Motor Corporation

It’s one of those mysteries that’s really only mysterious to people who don’t understand the American auto market: Why didn’t Mazda bring us the NB-generation coupe? And why didn’t they make a true NC coupe at all? The answer, of course, is very simple. The United States is a big place with unique regulations. If you want to sell a car here, particularly one that would crash differently from the car you’re already selling, you’ve got to put in some real time and money for compliance with those regulations.

There’s also the matter of scale. It’s not that difficult for Mazda to release a small-batch car like the NB coupe in Japan where it has absolute control of the dealer networks and the ability to ship parts from a central warehouse to a service area that’s about 10 percent smaller than the state of California. Things are different in the land of the PowerStroke. Every new vehicle is a major commitment.

Mazda’s product planners didn’t think a hardtop Miata would sell in significant numbers, so they left it at home. The retractable-top NC Miata, on the other hand, was a great idea and it did very well. And now we have a far handsomer take on the same idea, built on a car that most of the pundits agree is a better and more enjoyable drive than its predecessor. So what’s the problem?

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By on January 27, 2017

1992 Ford F-150 Nite Edition, Image: Ford

Yesterday I told a story about a colleague of mine who was lookin’ for love in all the large places. Because this is TTAC, the conversation in the comments quickly turned to the traction merits of various drivetrain systems. You crazy kids. I bet that when most of you think about Fast Times At Ridgemont High, your minds immediately go to the one scene where we get a good look at the voluptuous curves of … Judge Reinhold’s 1960 LeSabre.

We’ve had a lot of conversations about trucks lately, whether it’s a Nissan Frontier, a Toyota Tacoma, or a Honda Ridgeline. You could say that we’re in some kind of trucking phase, and that it might be a while before we get the truck out of here.

So, what the truck do you want?

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By on January 26, 2017

1994 Ford F-150 XLT Regular Cab, Image: Ford

“You two boys come back now, you hear,” the Waffle House waitress said with a smile, putting one check in front of me and one in front of Rodney. “Especially you, hon,” she stage-whispered in my colleague’s direction. As she walked away, I gave the lady a critical look-over. At least 45 — a solid decade and a half older than Rodney, 20 years older than I was — and something told me if she and I both sat on a teeter-totter, I’d be keeping my head to the sky like Maurice White. One of the moles on her linebacker’s neck had sprouted a neat trifecta of thick, dark hairs. I turned back and put my head in my hands.

“When?” I asked.

“Three nights ago,” Rodney replied, “during her break, in the men’s room. And don’t give me your bullshit,” he preemptively snapped, “that woman is a treasure. Some day you’ll appreciate a little meat on the bone, once you get over being an adolescent who is just older. Or maybe you don’t have the requisite equipment to visit all of the territory, and I truly think that I don’t have to be any more explicit than that in a family restaurant.”

“Close your eyes,” I slowly exhaled, “and tell me her first name.” After affecting a chin-on-knuckles pose oddly and perhaps deliberately reminiscent of an African take on Rodin’s infamous sculpture, Rodney threw up his hands.

“Quiet is kept,” he admitted, “it’s temporarily escaped me for now. But you have bigger problems than whether I can or cannot remember the exact details of my many conquests. Don’t you have that idiot kid coming back in with his father on the XLT regular cab? Uh-huh. I thought so. We need to head back. And since I reminded you of your job, of which no grown man should have to be reminded,” Rodney declaimed, his midnight-blue Ralph Lauren overcoat already in his hand as he headed towards the door, “you can pick up this breakfast for me.”

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