My name is Satish Kondapavulur. I am what most baby boomers would call “a millennial.” I like Vampire Weekend, streaming movies on Netflix, and playing Gran Turismo. My plans this weekend involve driving to Berkeley, going to whatever eardrum-splitting concert my friends want to see, with my dinner plans probably being a burger and fries from In-N-Out picked up at midnight. My daily driver is a 2002 BMW 530i, one of the best BMWs ever made. My favorite movie is American Graffiti, a film which involves plenty of loud exhausts, racing on city streets, and a 30-year-old Harrison attempting to pass for a teenager. And I liked my Buick LaCrosse test car.
Category: Capsule Reviews
Fifteen years ago, buying a practical luxury car to replace a Honda Accord meant going down to your BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, or occasionally, Audi showroom and coming back with a 5-Series, E-Class, GS, or if you were particularly brave, an A6. All these brands except Audi had SUVs at the time though, but they were hardly replacements for a midsize luxury sport sedan. The Mercedes ML handled like a truck while the RX300 wasn’t exactly intended for the sport sedan driver, something emphasized by the number of moms and AARP members who bought them at the time. Meanwhile, my dad test drove an X5 and 5-Series back to back and promptly bought a 530i.
But no one fifteen years ago would have considered Infiniti, whose only rear-drive sedan was the full-size Q45, which no one bought. A few years later, Infiniti went through a product renaissance, bringing out the Infiniti G35 (which many people bought), the M (the one based on the JDM Nissan Gloria few people bought), and an updated Q45 (which even fewer people bought). In 2003, they also brought out a sporty crossover – the FX. It was meant to compete with the X5, Porsche Cayenne, and XC90, but the FX was dramatically better on-road than off-road compared to most of its competitors. The FX, despite being smaller and not capable of tackling off-road trails, became a sales success for Infiniti.
The last time I saw this car it lay bare and gutted in front of me. The seats had been pulled out, the dash taken apart and wires dangling. The carpets were in the process of being removed. All of this in an effort to find the source of an infestation that had plagued it.
Behold the 2014 Nissan… wait, haven’t we covered the redesigned Rogue already?
Indeed, Winston recently offered a solid writeup on the top-trim Rogue SL with all-wheel-drive, and his findings were largely positive. What if you are on a budget though? How enjoyable is Nissan’s mainstream compact crossover when the heated leather seating, Bose stereo and touchscreen navigation system aren’t included? Sounds like a review of the more mainstream SV trim is in order.
The last time I looked at my 1969 Chevrolet CST/10, it was a pile of disappointment. After reviving it and replacing a freeze plug, it proceeded to pop three more freeze plugs during warm up. Time was beginning to run out, my dad’s house had gone up to market and quickly sold. The truck was a long way away from driving out of Houston, and I needed to get it out of town. Time and money were a factor, I didn’t have time to spend money running a truck and trailer to Houston, just for the CST/10. Thankfully, three things lined up: A truck, a trailer, and a reason to drive to Houston. The truck is a customer’s, who loans the truck out in return for a few favors on the truck’s maintenance. The trailer came from my friend’s rally shop, which I moonlight at. And the Lone Star Region Porsche Club had invited me to partake in their refreshed autocross program at Houston Police Academy just before the closing deadline on my father’s house. Win-win, right? I packed the suitcase, tools and dog, hemorrhaged a gas pump to fill the truck, and blasted to Houston.
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Then something happened. America gradually got older… and bigger. Four door cars went from the plain-jane three square look of the 1980’s, to designs that evoked the priciest of exotics. Advances in steel fabrication and body stamping were just the beginning of what soon became a new era where four door cars completely dominated their two door sisters.
“Why deal with the inconvenience of a two door?” said a buying public knee-deep in aging baby boomers. Why indeed when you could have everything from a Camry to an SUV if you wanted the pretense of a sporty and powerful ride. Hatchbacks soon gave way to oversized coupes, which gave way to the reality that so-called ‘sporty’ designs were now available in every segment of the car market.
When Buick announced that it would not be rebadging the Opel Insignia OPC as the Buick Regal GS, and that instead of the OPC’s all wheel drive and turbocharged V6 we’d be getting a front-drive turbo four performance model, I was a bit skeptical. On paper, the proposed GS just didn’t seem different enough from the turbo model (which I liked well enough as-is) to elicit much initial enthusiasm. But this is why we drive cars instead of just comparing spec sheets: having spent some time alone with the GS, I’m happy to report that my skepticism was entirely unnecessary.
In the highly unlikely event that my father precedes me into the grave, I will have to come up with another way to describe him besides “the late Kevin Baruth”. The old man’s never been late for something in his life. Nor has he even been a terribly, shall we say, easy-going fellow. One of the medals he received in Vietnam was, if I recall correctly, for single-handedly halting the retreat of a disorganized Marine unit after the death of said unit’s commander and forcing them to turn around and advance towards the enemy. I have no trouble imagining how this might have happened; I’d rather shoot it out with a company of NVA regulars than contradict my father.
I mention all of the above for a reason. When I tell my friends that I learned how to drive in a black 1984 BMW 733i, they say, “That’s pretty cool.” When I explain further that it was the relatively rare manual-transmission variant, they say, “That’s even cooler.” It’s difficult to make them understand that it’s tough to learn how to drive in a stick-shift car, tougher to do it in a $36,000 ($77K in today’s money) BMW, and worse yet to do it with someone sitting next to you who might, just possibly, rip your head off at any moment.
I haven’t been to Italy, in 21 years. My cousins and I are having dinner together for the first time in 21 years. If I didn’t already know it, I’d have learned it now: males with Italian blood are obsessed with cars. My cousin Nicola even works for FIAT, in the seaside town of Termoli.
“Are there Fiats at Chrysler stores in Canada now?” he asks.
“Just the 500,” I inform.
“That’s not the real 500,” says Angelo, his younger brother. Two hours later, we’re in my Nonna’s garage. He pulls the tarp off a stunning, perfectly restored 1968 Fiat 595 SS Abarth. “Quest’è la vera Cinquecento!” he informs me.
“TWO HUNDRED BUCKS? Are you serious? That doesn’t sound like enough money.”
No, dear readers, I wouldn’t last ten minutes in the “World Series Of Poker”. I can’t bluff and I usually speak my mind before using that mind to think about the consequences of what I’m saying. In this case, however, it didn’t matter. The guy across the table from me at dinner was bound and determined to sell me his nine-year-old, good-condition, no-options-but-new-tires-all-’round, Plymouth Colt four-speed for the very reasonable price of two Benjamins.
How could I say no?
The Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC 5.0 isn’t a dream car, because it’s obscurity and touring car blueprint is a relative buzzkill. But this Bauhaus-worthy super coupe is a homologated racer much like it’s 300 SL forefather. I’ll skip the basics to focus on unit #1576: a grey market import from a USAF officer stationed in Germany. The current owner, Leif Skare, let me drive this meticulously kept, nearly stock (period correct 15” wheels and AMG front spoiler aside) SLC 5.0 before it heads back to Europe. Perhaps the SLC 5.0 is a dream car, when viewed in the right light. In the right place.