Last October, I wrote a series of articles comparing economical family sedans from the Land of the Rising Sun. Numerous readers challenged me to perform a similar comparison of similar cars from American manufacturers. Define “American.” [ED: just step back from the can of worms and walk away.] This time ’round, I’ve tested the Ford Fusion S, Chevrolet Malibu LS, and Chrysler Sebring LX with automatic transmissions and common, entry level features. While I anguished to find positive or negative attributes that would distinguish one Japanese car from another, evaluating the relative virtue of the American’s was a slam dunk piece of cake. In distant third place: the Chrysler Sebring LX.
Posts By: William C Montgomery
Public relations people say the darndest things. Shills for the car companies that chose to speak to the press at the 2009 Dallas Auto Show were no exception. The folks at Chevy are still, “excited about the Camaro,” a full three years after they excitedly announced the product. What impressive stamina they have. Buick intends to, “shatter the myth that Buick only builds sedans for old people.” Good luck with that. Chrysler Corp. claims twenty-four new cars and trucks under development. “If tax payers can support us, we’ll have some sweet products for you to test drive.” Goodie, maybe I’ll get to drive another redesigned Sebring. That’d be super sweet! But the biggest story coming from the show is what the PR refused to talk about.
If you like to drive like your hair’s on fire, deciding between the athletic American 2008 Chevrolet Corvette hardtop coupe and the Bavarian corner carver 2008 BMW 335i is a bit like choosing between cocaine and cocaine. If you’re a more sensible motorist, it’s like choosing between A.H. Hirsch 16 Year Old Reserve Pot Stilled Sour Mash Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Schloss Rüdesheim VSOP brandy. in either case, the question is a matter of taste and price. Hence this test: which performance car offers the better buzz for $40k?
“Screw you, Steve McQueen and your fancy Mustang! I wanna ‘Vette!” I shouted (to no one) while tearing a rift in the space-time continuum through the peaceful pastoral Texas countryside. Clearly, I was imbibing heartily from a bottle of Chateau Corvette, vintage 2008. But I forgot myself. And my objectivity. I was there to perform a head-to-head comparison between said ’08 Chevy hardtop and an ’08 BMW 335i. Unlikely rivals, to be sure. But both are answers to the same question spoken in the quintessential voice of their respective source countries, America and Germany. Both are powerful sports cars designed to appeal to aging upper middle class drivers that can afford to treat themselves to something sporty and nice, just not too expensive. In this case, both cars were available at CarMax for just under $40K.
Ah, the first snow of the year. The frozen blanket transforms even the ugliest landscapes into crystalline sanctuaries. Crisp air fills the lungs and the inevitable homey smell of a wood fire tells of a distant warming hearth. Earth’s annual metamorphosis triggers a few moments when we get to live a dream stolen from the cover of an old December issue Saturday Evening Post. But for too many, this winter wonderland fantasy is abruptly cut short by the sickening sound of exploding metal, glass and plastic, because the first snow of winter also invites a rash of traffic accidents.
Gentlemen, start your tractors. LiveScience reports that scientists have discovered a diesel fuel-making fungus that outperforms existing bio-fuel production methods. Current bio-fuel processes are dependent on enzymes to convert cellulose into sugar before microbes are used to ferment the sugar into ethanol. Gliocladium roseum, the newly-found hungry fungus, inhabits in certain Patagonia rainforest trees. It feeds on cellulose to produce hydrocarbons called “myco-diesel.” With G. roseum, you skip the the sugar conversion and fermentation process. If this process can be commercialized, it could contribute to making bio-diesel a long-term viable alternative to pumping crude out of the earth. If not, not.
Does the future of going green mean packing gravel into the tailpipe of your car? Maybe. MIT’s Technology Review reports that Columbia University researchers have discovered that magnesium rich rock formations know as peridotite absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The rock reacts with carbon-dioxide to create calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. The researchers optimistically predict, “that the carbon-sequestration rate in rock formations in Oman could be increased to billions of tons a year–more than the carbon emissions in the United States from coal-burning power plants, which come to 1.5 billion tons per year.” The rock is also found in California and New Guinea. Researchers believe that fracturing and heating the rock would increase its ability to trap large amounts of CO2. Right now, the researchers are only looking at large-scale commercial applications. But who knows, the time may come when a peridotite filter might find its way under your car.
When I set out on a comparison test like this, I have one main question in mind: if I were in the market to buy a new car for my family, which one of the cars tested would I buy? I love supple leather seats, premium sound systems, grippy wide tires and an engine with the torque of a diesel freight train. But the reality at this time is that my employer, one of the world’s largest financial institutions, has lost billions of dollars in recent quarters. Its epic balance sheet can now be described as fragile. As a financial controller, I see first-hand how budgets are being drawn in asphyxiatingly tight. I know that I’m not alone in feeling nervous about my future in this economy. So which of these family sedans would I buy? The Mazda Mazda6 i Sport.
Second place sucks. Witness the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics’ squad in Beijing last summer. Pony tails drooped and tears streamed down their be-sparkled cheeks when gold medals were hung on the necks of the young (we swear they’re at least sixteen!) Chinese Olympic team. My heart goes out to Nissan, whose excellent 2009 Altima 2.5 sedan fell just short of the 2009 Mazda Mazda6 i Sport in this comparo.
This morning I rolled out of bed, performed my morning ablutions, downed a bowl of Raisin Bran, dropped my sons off at school and started my stop-and-go commute to work. A never-ending stream of blinking taillights precedes me up and down the interstate through the pre-dawn din. Wannabe comedians inanely chatter and squawk through my radio. Finally my exit arrives: a lightly traveled mile-long arcing two-lane spur that connects interstate to turnpike. In a brief burst of adrenaline energy that widens my bleary eyes, I break away from the gridlock and shoot up the ramp. In third gear I push up to 80 mph as my car confidently hunches down and steers precisely through the sweeping turn. By the time I join the turnpike I coast down and assimilate into the flow of the traffic. These brief thrills make me glad that I opted for a sportier, nimble handling family sedan. But I drive an ’01 Accord. The 2009 Accord LX is no fun at all.