I once drove off the road, screaming, at 80mph. Why? I was in love. When love turns blind, men do irrational things. As far as healthy, loving relationships go, the one presaging my off-highway excursion was a malignant tumor wrapped in an iron lung. I imagine that owning a Pontiac Solstice GXP is a similar affair. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury; the prosecution calls her a “femme fatale on wheels.” I ask you: how could something this beautiful be so damn dangerous?
Category: Review Podcasts
You may have noticed this website tends to celebrate performance automobiles. While this predilection for dynamic distraction places us within the media mainstream, it doesn’t square with urban car culture. I'm sure you know that car owners who inflict double-dubs on their whips happily sacrifice ride and handling on the altar of, gulp, style. Even so, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve seen the light. Thanks to the Mercedes SL550, I now know middle aged white people can stunt and floss with the best (worst?) of them.
The moment I dropped the hammer on the Porsche Cayman S, an entirely unexpected emotion welled-up inside: fear. I was holding the wheel of the world’s best sports car on a perfectly-groomed country road and I couldn’t fully commit to a corner. I wasn’t afraid of crashing— the Cayman is far too accomplished and forgiving and electronically mindful for that. I was afraid of the unknown. What if some dumb ass pulled out of a hidden drive without looking? What if a child’s bike suddenly appeared just beyond the apex of a turn? My sightlines were good, but my nerves were shot. I suppose that’s what happens when you spend too much seat time in a Honda Odyssey.
My automotive odyssey began in a Ford Pinto. I didn't need Ralph Nader to tell me that The Blue Oval's first sub-compact was a death trap. The Pinto was so nasty on so many levels I'm surprised it didn't spontaneously combust in shame. Then again, why would it? Ford had no shame. Like the rest of the Big Three, their greed, arrogance and incompetence handed the small car market to the Japanese. As far as I can tell, nothing much has changed in the last 35 years. Once again, gas prices are squeezing cash-strapped motorists. Once again, domestics don't have a compelling answer. And once again, Toyota does: the Toyota Yaris.
Do without any optional frills (power windows, remote keyless, a radio) and an autobox Yaris Liftback will set you back about twelve large. If the repo man has never darkened your drive and you have a grand to put down (or are willing to also do your own shifting), payments are within spitting distance of $200. That's to own the car, not a lease with a phone book's worth of fine print. And not just any car, but a brand spankin' new, made-in-Japan, everyone's-sister-knows-it'll-never-break Toyota. A Hummer driver spends twice as much just to keep the tank topped off. Speaking of which, you get over 35 mpg in a Yaris, with a three-year bumper-to-bumper hakuna mutata.
Fit. That's a good one. At the exact moment that America's obese SUV's are giving the country petrochemical chest pains, Honda invites us to get healthy. Why chug-a-lug gas and stagger around like a big-bellied lummox when you can sip petrol and sashay around town with all the moral superiority of a marathoner? OK, but getting fit involves sacrifices: unpleasant bending, less grunt, no street cred, etc. Or does it? Let's face it: the less we give up, the higher the likelihood we'll do it. Does the Honda Fit let us frugalize without fear?
Toyota is the master of the pastiche. The company's designers never met a Mercedes they couldn't morph, or a Bangled BMW they couldn't bootleg. Granted, capturing the essence of a rival's design without ending up on a hard bench outside the World Intellectual Property Organization is something of an art form. But quite what Toyota had in mind with the FJ Cruiser is hard to fathom. In one sense, they're finally getting 'round to ripping themselves off: riffing on the FJ40 Land Cruiser's riff on the original Jeep. On the other hand, anyone who clocks the FJ Cruiser's brick-like bearing and doesn't think Hummer just isn't trying hard enough– which ain't something you can say about Toyota. Ever.
From the front, the FJ Cruiser is a Lego Transformer. Funky chunky bumpers– complete with molded silver "wings"– combine with a cylindrical light assembly, swooping sides and a gun slit front window to create a mondo-bizarre snap-to-fit aesthetic. The FJ's hood– which looks like a half-submerged bomber hangar– doesn't quite work. But it's Henry Moore to the side profile's Dali-esque dissonance. The FJ's rear windows makes the SUV look like it's sagging in the middle, while the gigantic C-pillars are almost as funny (both humorous and peculiar) as the mini-flares over the rear arches. And the FJ's back end makes the full-size spare hanging on the door look like a child's inflatable pool.
The new Cadillac Escalade is a mission critical machine. It's one of the few remaining General Motors products whose sales don't depend on Mexican-sized kickbacks and/or a Day-Glo "Closing Down, Everything Must Go" sticker on the windshield. What's more, as a badge-engineered Chevrolet Tahoe, it's only slightly more expensive to build than a Chevrolet Tahoe. In other words, the 'Slade's is a cash cow on factory double dubs, trying to keep it real for GM's ten point six billion dollar man, Rabid Rick Wagoner; know what I mean? No? Let me spell it out for you: if the 'Slade ain't da bomb, it's a nail in the General's coffin. Well guess what? RIP.
Clock those side vents. At the precise moment when Caddy's luxury SUV should swagger into town with unabashed American style, the 'Slade arrives with its main design cue "borrowed" from Land Rover's Range Rover Sport. While the cynical amongst you might assert that the Escalade's target market is no more likely to connect the two vehicles than smoke crack and drive (as if), the fact remains: the porthole plagiarism betrays a staggering lack of confidence and originality. Of course, badge engineering a Chevrolet Tahoe betrays a staggering lack of confidence and originality, but, um… where was I? Something about the enormous gap in the SUV's wheel arches making the 'Slade look like a punk ass bitch? No… that wasn't it. Or was it?
I don't know about you, but I've been feeling sorry for Volkswagen for a while now. VW didn't so much lose their mojo as strap it to the nose of a Titan IVB and fire it into deep space. No disrespect to the world's fifth most populous country, but was anyone really surprised when a Brazilian Golf turned out like German bobo de camarao? Now that Vee Dub's got THAT out of their system, here comes the new, Wolfsburg-built Golf GTI. It's an Old School hot hatch with a Masters in Engineering. Viva VW!
For reasons best left to The International Museum of Marketing Doublespeak, Volkswagen decided to begin their mission-critical US Golf refresh with a two-door. More's the pity. The fifth-gen four-door is a far more handsome beast than the coupe– if only because the Golf's rear portals soften the enormous disparity between the front windscreen's bottom edge and the side windows' lower boundary. This bizarre asymmetry pisses on the Golf's 32-year history of two-box harmony. The resulting rear end trades brand recognition for something vaguely Japanese– as if the Golf suddenly decided to play the Accordian. And then there's the front end's unresolved echo of Audi's unconscionable house snout…
Testing a Gallardo SE in Miami is like sipping Chateau Lafite Rothschild in a public urinal. The little Lambo was born to annihilate the twisting mountain roads surrounding Italy's supercar valley, or flirt with V3 on a derestricted German autobahn. Miami's geometric streets and traffic-choked highways offer the Gallardo driver nothing more than a sinuous onramp and an occasional half-mile sprint– which is plenty damn exciting but about as satisfying as red wine slammers. So, whilst fending-off a frantic flackmeister preoccupied with the definition of the words "driving impression," I guided the baby bull towards the nearest race track.
As I quick-quick-slowed through the cars clogging I-95 North, I was taken aback by the lack of stare and attention given the Gallardo. With its strange combination of diminutive footprint, cab forward stance, drop snout, near horizontal windshield and unrelenting angularity, the Gallardo lacks what native S-Class owners call "uberholprestige": that indefinable yet unmistakable car-isma that convinces fellow road users to move the Hell over. Either that or Floridians are fed-up with the automotive tastes of Bolivian drug lords. In any case, we now know what happens when a Belgian designs a supercar for a legendary Italian nameplate under the wary eye of a German conglomerate; and it ain't what I'd call pretty.
Badge-engineering. You know the drill: take a run-of-the-mill bog standard plain Jane vanilla sort of car, add some external bits and internal pieces, tweak the ride, slap on a more prestigious badge and jack-up the price. More specifically, the "new" Lincoln Zephyr is a Ford Fusion with a modified grill, wood trim, floatier ride, Lincoln logo and an inflated sticker price. So rather than badge engineer my Ford Fusion review, I'm going to tell you what Ford– sorry, Lincoln, should have done with this car.
The obvious answer is nothing. Lincoln needs a front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan like Hummer needs a camouflage SMART (unless they use it as an H2 escape pod). Even if we ignore Lincoln's illustrious past– first betrayed in 1936 by a funny-looking car called a Zephyr– the brand's recent history sets the standard. Exhibitionist A: the Lincoln Continental Mark IV: a huge, thirsty, poorly-built, foul-handling beast from a time when jeans had bells at the bottom. While the infinitely smaller [modern] Zephyr is so safe and reliable it Hertz and boasts twice as much everything room than the old Mark, Lincoln's '70's luxobarge holstered a 7.5-liter V8 with more swagger than Ludacris at a Kapp Alpha Theta. Now THAT'S what I'm talking about.