The Truth About Cars » doug demuro The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 15:25:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » doug demuro Frankfurt Motor Show: A Look Back Fri, 13 Sep 2013 17:36:35 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 1.17.27 PM

Well, folks, the time has come: another Frankfurt Motor Show is in the books. Of course, by “Frankfurt Motor Show,” what I really mean is “Frankfurt Motor Show press days.” This is all us journalists care about, and by “us journalists” what I really mean is a bunch of well-paid professional writers and also me.

Anyway: I think we’re all pleased Frankfurt has come and gone successfully. I know I am. And I bet the citizens of Frankfurt feel the same way, since their city can now go back to its usual purpose of serving as an airline hub for Americans traveling to places like Greece.

But for those of you who missed Frankfurt, it’s time to provide a comprehensive, well-written guide to the unveilings at this year’s show. I think Autoblog has it. Instead, I have this:

Aston Martin released an all-new DB9 Centenary Edition with updated wheels and interior parts, eschewing the brand’s usual trend of a) making subtle changes to an existing model, and b) spending the next year trying to convince the automotive press it’s a new vehicle.

Audi used this year’s Frankfurt show to display the new Nanuk Concept, the latest in a series of concept cars intended to remind people Audis weren’t always front-wheel drive lease specials. Unfortunately, the Nanuk is unlikely to see production, largely because it isn’t a front-wheel drive lease special.

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Audi’s other concept, the Sport Quattro, is a plug-in hybrid capable of reaching 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and driving 31 miles on electric power alone. Reached for comment, Elon Musk briefly chuckled before returning to that roadtrip with his kids.

Speaking of plug-in hybrids, BMW showed off its all-new i8, which offers two doors, four seats, and styling that BMW fanboys are currently convincing themselves that they like. Pricing will start around $136,000, though electric-only range is limited to just 22 miles. Reached for comment, Elon Musk laughed heartily before noting he would soon take his kids on a roadtrip “to Mars.”

Chevrolet unveiled its updated 2014 Camaro Convertible, which excited the show’s German attendees until Chevrolet announced it wouldn’t be sold as a five-door hatchback with hubcaps and a 1.2-liter turbodiesel engine.

Infiniti showed off its Q30 Concept, keeping to the brand’s strict rule that it must show off at least one concept car with huge wheels and no door handles at every major auto show. In an official press release about the Q30, Infiniti marketing direction Hughes Fabre used the term “premium-ness,” possibly forgetting that a press release can be edited later.

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The Lamborghini Gallardo special editions have now hit critical mass, as the new LP 570-4 Squadra Corse is actually the exact same vehicle as the Gallardo Performante. When reached for comment, Lamborghini officials noted, “Who cares? Rich people are going to buy it anyway.”

The highlight of Land Rover’s booth in Frankfurt was a facelifted Discovery, known in the States as the LR4. The updated Disco garnered a lot of attention from European media, who photographed the “DISCOVERY” badge on the hood, and convention hall staff, who billed Land Rover for oil stains on the carpet.

Lexus’s big debut in Frankfurt was the LF-NX, a strangely-shaped SUV concept filled with jagged edges, bizarre holes, and unusual creases. After considerable prodding, Lexus admitted the concept was designed “in about 20 minutes, on a conference call.”

The Mercedes S-Class Plug-In Hybrid really excited a lot of people in attendance, although I couldn’t find any of them. Mercedes didn’t announce pricing, though its 19-mile electric-only range supposedly had Elon Musk “in stitches” before he realized there isn’t a single charging station in all of Utah.

Nissan revealed the all-new X-Trail, which will be sold stateside as the Rogue. Female drivers rejoiced, while male car shoppers thought to themselves: Am I comfortable enough with my sexuality to like this?

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Porsche finally revealed its production-ready 918 Spyder, whose incredible, amazing, and tremendous Nurburgring lap record will stand, unbroken, until Ferrari gets around to it.

Maybe my favorite plug-in hybrid debut was the Range Rover Plug-In Hybrid, which is capable of traveling – I am not joking here – one single mile on electric power alone. Land Rover won’t sell this vehicle in the States, presumably out of fear that it will kill Elon Musk from a laughing-induced heart attack.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was everything that happened in Frankfurt. Admittedly, I left out the Volkswagen Golf. But let’s be honest: you will too, when it comes time to buy your next car.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Volkswagen Needs a New Lineup to Reach Its Goals Tue, 10 Sep 2013 11:00:05 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 12.18.20 PM

It’s time to talk about Volkswagen. You know Volkswagen: they make the Jetta, which is possibly today’s most adept compact sedan at churning out lifelong Toyota customers.

I bring up Volkswagen because I wrote a column earlier this week about Volvo, and both of those brands share something in common. Is it that they’re the only car companies that start with “V”? No, not at all. You’re forgetting about Venturi, a sports car maker that somehow went bust despite being located in the global industrial manufacturing powerhouse of Monaco.

No, the thing Volvo and Volkswagen have in common is that both automakers saw a decline in sales last month compared to August 2012. That’s bad news if you’re Volkswagen or Volvo, because the entire rest of the auto industry was up. That’s right: every other brand saw an increase. Even Rolls-Royce had a banner month, eclipsing last August’s total by a whopping five vehicles.

Anyway: the reason I bring this up is that it would seem Volkswagen is in trouble. You see, we already know Volvo is going down. That article a few months ago that said they wouldn’t live to see 2015 proves their demise is imminent, no matter how many LEDs they cram on to the front of the next XC90. So Volvo was down, and we expect them to keep being down until they wither away, leaving people in the Pacific Northwest with nothing to drive. (Don’t worry: they will find a solution that involves hemp.)

But why was Volkswagen down?

Volkswagen, for those of you who don’t know, is the world’s most sales-obsessed corporation. I know this because I’ve read perhaps 4,000 articles about Volkswagen’s obsession with some pie-in-the-sky volume goal for 2018, and I’ve never read a single article that covers any concerns they might have about, oh I don’t know, profitability. In fact, I’ve read so many stories about Volkswagen’s volume goals that you’d think they were punching each article as a retail delivery.

Because of this, I’m going to assume they don’t care about profitability, only volume, which leads me to the point of this column: Volkswagen is desperately in need of a new lineup.

I discovered this on a recent visit to Volkswagen’s website, which I highly recommend visiting if you get excited about the Futura font. Listed there, on Volkswagen’s website, in Futura Light and Future Medium and Futura Bold, is a lineup that does not, under any circumstances, represent a full-line automaker in the United States.

To understand what I mean, let’s turn to SUVs, and let’s turn to Toyota. Toyota sells, at last count, seven different sport-utility vehicles, all of which compete in different segments. I have no idea how Toyota managed to do this. Really, they created micro-segments, skillfully convincing customers that the RAV4, the Highlander, and the Venza are very different cars, purchased by very different people, and you should buy this one because it has the most dealer markup!

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Meanwhile, Volkswagen sells two SUVs. You have the Tiguan, which starts at a reasonable price until you discover it comes standard with a stick shift. Throw some options on and the Tiguan can climb to nearly $40,000, a figure also defined as “roughly 1.5 times what anyone in this segment wants to pay for a car.”

There’s also the Touareg, which starts – starts – at $45,000. Mind you, this is supposed to be Volkswagen’s competitor in the high-volume midsize SUV segment. So how does it compete? Last year, Toyota sold 121,000 Highlanders. Ford sold 128,000 Edges. Chevrolet sold 219,000 Equinoxes. And Volkswagen sold 10,553 Touaregs. Ten thousand five hundred. The Porsche Cayenne, its own sister vehicle, outsold the Touareg by roughly 50 percent.

Things aren’t very different if you turn to VW’s car lineup. Yes, they still sell the Jetta, which competes with glitter for the top spot on the “annual spending by sorority girls” list. And they sell the Passat, which is slowly becoming an acceptable midsize sedan thanks to offers like: Zero percent interest for the rest of your life!

But aside from those two, we have the Golf, which very few people buy; the CC, which even fewer people buy; and the Eos, which – this is entirely true – now starts at $36,000 without any options.

If we go back to Toyota, Volkswagen is missing out in several segments. Scion may not be a force, but it sold 74,000 units last year. The full-size Toyota Avalon accounted for 30,000 sales. And the subcompact Yaris was 31,000. But Volkswagen’s biggest loss to Toyota comes in the world of hybrids. Last year’s Prius sales? 237,000. Last year’s Jetta Hybrid sales? 162. Not thousand. One hundred and sixty two. In fairness, the Jetta Hybrid may not have been on sale the whole year – but I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never actually seen one.

And so, I repeat my point: if Volkswagen plans to hit these crazy volume goals, it’s time to get a new lineup. A few more cars; a few more SUVs. A hybrid. And maybe something made from hemp. After all, someone has to cater to those Pacific Northwest buyers once Volvo leaves.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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I’m Terrified at the Thought of a Redesigned Volvo XC90 Tue, 03 Sep 2013 16:08:22 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 11.46.20 AM

I recently saw some teaser images of an all-new, fully-redesigned Volvo XC90. You may have seen them too. If you did, your reaction was probably fairly mild. Maybe you yawned and drank some coffee. Maybe you resumed scratching yourself just out of view of your boss. But me? I was consumed with pure horror.

Before we cover the reasons behind this, let’s back up a bit.

First, we have to talk about the pictures themselves. What does the phrase “teaser image” mean to you? A couple of blurred photos of a car? A few images of some body panels? The kind of picture a slutty co-worker texts you late at night?

Not this time. In this case, Volvo released a photo of the XC90’s illuminated headlights, with the entire rest of the car shrouded in darkness. You can’t see anything. And yet every single major automotive news outlet picked up this story, proving once again that automaker PR is the easiest job on earth: release a photo of some headlights, create a major buzz. I often think Ferrari could tweet a picture of their latest model’s valve stem and end up on the front page of Automotive News.

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Anyway: the reason for all the secrecy is because Volvo isn’t quite ready to show us the new XC90 yet. In fact, they won’t even bring it to the Frankfurt Auto Show, preferring instead to show off a bizarre concept car that looks like an Audi A5 with tailfins.

And to me, that’s just fine.

You see, I don’t want a new XC90. That’s because I like the current one just fine. In fact, it’s better than just fine: it’s perfect. And now, we must cover that statement with a little background.

The current XC90 came out for model year 2003. Think about that. In the fall of 2002 – some 11 years ago, just as President Bush was settling into office and all major airlines were rushing to declare bankruptcy – Volvo debuted the XC90. As I recall, it was met with virtually unanimous praise for its handsome styling, its crash safety engineering, and the fact that Connecticut soccer moms could finally ditch their station wagons.

And now, here we are, 11 years later. President Bush is settling into retirement. And the airlines were able to pull themselves out of bankruptcy, presumably by charging fees for checked baggage, carry-on baggage, and customers who think about baggage. But the Volvo XC90 is still here, just as it was then, soldiering on with only minor updates.

To give you an idea how unusual that is, some perspective. One: the XC90 is now the second-oldest car on the market. It loses out only to the Mercedes G-Class, which was the vehicle of choice for the smaller dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous Period. And two, here are some cars that came out after the XC90 made its debut:

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But the interesting thing about the XC90 isn’t its longevity. It’s that, after ten years, it still looks great. Seriously: the XC90 looks like the kind of car that would look tremendous if it came out tomorrow. The lines are flowing and gorgeous. That Volvo shoulder crease is perfectly placed. And most rivals look far more ungainly, or at least have a D-pillar the size of a travel trailer.

For those of you doubting my love of the XC90, I’d like to point out that the market agrees with me. Last year, the XC90’s eleventh year on sale without a full redesign, Volvo sold nearly 10,000 units – a figure on par with the Audi Q7, the Lexus GX and the Infiniti FX, and well above the Land Rover LR4, the Range Rover, and the Infiniti EX.

And it’s not heavily incentivized, either. A quick check on Volvo’s website pulls up a lease offer that doesn’t seem tremendously enticing. They rarely offer low-interest financing, and they never provide cash back. That means people are spending big money to buy new XC90s, even though it’s basically the same car you can find used on Craigslist for six grand.

So my worry here is that Volvo will take this car – an icon of the private school dropoff lane – and ruin it. Admittedly, that hasn’t been happening lately in the world of Volvo design. The new S60, for instance, is a marked improvement over the last one, which was itself a beautiful car. And the latest S80 transitioned perfectly from a boring sedan driven by professors to a boring sedan driven by professors who have the option of specifying a refrigerator in the back.

But it’s hard to update an icon, even with the most talented designers in the world. And so I say: Be careful, Volvo. Connecticut soccer moms are watching.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Answers: Missing Automotive Details Fri, 30 Aug 2013 11:00:43 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 10.07.14 AM

Gather ‘round, everyone, because it’s now time for the third installment of my recent “Question of the Day” spurt. Today, I’m listing the answers to my pressing and highly important question, “What automotive details are you missing?” In my original post, I named a few missed details – all brilliant – and asked you to provide your opinion on some others. These are the posts I felt were most deserving of inclusion here. (In other words, these are the posts I most agreed with.)

Automatic Up Windows – davefromcalgary

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I’ve never understood why automakers are willing to include windows and a sunroof that open automatically, but they can’t make the very same windows and sunroof close automatically. User davefromcalgary – a man named Mark who lives in the Des Plaines, Illinois, area – feels the same way. This is a missing detail that you notice a lot, especially if you spend a lot of time going through drive-thrus.

Split Rear Hatches – meefer

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Here’s a feature we all should have. In most SUVs or hatchbacks, you can’t really do much sitting once you’ve opened the tailgate. That’s a shame. The reason for this is that most tailgates are one-piece units that pop up in their entirety, meaning you’d have to slink down to the bumper height if you want to sit down when the tailgate is open.

This isn’t the case in a few cars, such as the Range Rover and the Honda Element. More automakers should adopt this design, or at least consider adopting this design before ultimately banishing it for being too expensive. It’s the thought that counts.

Rain Gutters – drtwofish

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In my Range Rover, the window switches are mounted so close to the exterior of the vehicle that they may as well be on the wing mirror. The result is that when you put down the window and there’s even the slightest bit of rain, or even the residue of rain, the water sloshes down on the window switches and you have to deal with whatever happens when rain gets inside a Land Rover window switch. (In other words: complete vehicle shutdown.)

This problem isn’t the case on cars that have rain gutters, as drtwofish brilliantly points out. Sadly, I don’t think anyone is doing this anymore. It’s a great detail and it’s sorely missed, likely in the name of style.

Turn Signal Lane Changer – ezeolla

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This is a great feature that’s very much missed on cars that don’t have it. Here’s how it works: you want to make a lane change on the highway, but you don’t want to devote any part of your attention to holding down the turn signal lever so people can see where you plan to go. The solution is the “lane changer,” which provides three quick flashes with the slight push of the signal stalk. This feature is sorely missed in vehicles that don’t have it, which is way too many.

Speed Limits on Navigation Systems – jacob_coulter

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I’ve driven cars with this feature and it’s absolutely awesome. Imagine cruising down the road and you realize that you have absolutely no idea what the speed limit is. So you glance down and… there it is! Then you can immediately slow down, or maybe speed up. It doesn’t matter. The point is there’s a clear indication, right there in the gauge cluster, that helps you with this highly important matter. After all, isn’t the speed limit just as important as, say, your battery voltage?

Cornering Lights – most TTAC users

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Automakers, if you’re listening, here’s an easy one: put cornering lights on your vehicles. A few brands already have them, but it seems like a lot of people want them back. This surprises me, as I find them to be rather unhelpful, not unlike memory seating for the passenger side. But people seem to like them.

For those who don’t know, cornering lights activate with the turn signals at low speeds to illuminate the curb you’re about to run over. These days, they’re mostly used on Nissan products.

Vent Windows – most TTAC users

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Here’s another topic suggested by an inordinate amount of the TTAC populace. Another explanation for those who don’t know: vent windows are at the very base and front of a car’s driver and passenger windows. They were common in the past because they could blow some amount of air into the cabin, but not a huge amount of air.

Apparently, people want these to come back. Surely, they were discontinued when mirrors needed to be powered, then heated, then include turn signals, which requires the amount of wiring in a wing mirror to be roughly equal to the amount of wiring in Jamaica.

And so there you have it, folks: today’s missing automotive details. Are you listening, automakers? We don’t have very complex demands. We just want some rain gutters, vent windows, and windows that go up automatically. Is that too much to ask?

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Answers: The Best Automotive Details Tue, 13 Aug 2013 17:26:27 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 12.46.48 PM

A few weeks ago, I asked everyone for their opinions on which items make up the best automotive details. Well, you guys weren’t shy. We got 266 different responses, and while not all of them contained details, many included dozens. Some guy (user Wheeljack) even responded with something like two full pages of details solely from the Merkur Scorpio. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes the TTAC community so great.

Anyway, I went through the list and picked out a few of my favorites from your suggestions. Here goes:

Holden Commodore Very Low Fuel Warning – APaGttH

No, APaGttH has not warned me that I’m low on fuel. Instead, he has revealed possibly the greatest automotive detail ever for a driver like me. I’m referring to the Holden Commodore’s dual-stage fuel reminders: one for low, and one for very low. This is brilliant engineering, although I do have one quibble: Let’s be completely honest. If you know a “very low” light is going to be coming on soon, wouldn’t you start to ignore the “low” light? I know I would. And that’s why I have AAA.

Nissan Around View – LeeK

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One of the coolest modern features in existence is a Nissan system dubbed “Around View.” Here’s how it works: there are four cameras mounted on all four sides of the vehicle. When you’re backing up, you can activate the cameras to get a top-down view of the spot you’re entering. In other words, you can see both sides, the front, and the back. This is perfect for tight parking spots, but it’s even better for nasty curbs. Goodbye, curb rash!!

Buick Regal GS Gauges – kjb911

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We all love the Buick Regal GS. I mean, I certainly love it, and if you don’t then I must ask: What do you hate more, the awesome styling or the loads of well-priced horsepower? (You would answer: “the front-wheel drive,” which is why these posts aren’t Q&A sessions.)

Anyway: the Regal GS has a neat touch suggested by kjb911. When you push the “GS” button, the gauges actually change colors to let you know that it’s time to do some serious driving. Now that is the kind of unnecessary money spending that once catapulted Mercedes to the top of the luxury car world. (Mercedes fell to the bottom when they were sitting around a poorly ventilated conference room in Stuttgart and someone said: I bet it would be cheaper to build cars in Alabama!)

Volkswagen CC Rearview Camera – dmw

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I admit to being totally smitten with this one. Apparently, if you have a rearview camera in your Volkswagen CC like dmw does, it activates by popping out from under the Volkswagen logo on the trunk. One minute, the Volkswagen logo is sitting there like normal, minding its own business; the next, it’s slightly tilted upwards and you can see if you’re about to back over a flowerbed.

This detail, by the way, should also be filed under: “Reasons why you’d never want to own a Volkswagen CC out of warranty.”

Mercedes R-Class Bottle Opener – tatracitroensaab

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This is awesome. The R-Class has two center-mounted cupholders just like virtually every other car on the market, except for my old Lotus Elise which didn’t have two center-mounted anything. But here’s the R-Class trick: pull out the divider between the cupholders, flip it over, and – tada! – it’s a bottle opener. You have to assume the Germans have used this to open every single bottle of beer Gerolsteiner Mineral Water they could find.

BMW Glovebox Flashlight – Car Ramrod

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I know this isn’t unique to BMW, but it’s a good idea that definitely deserves mentioning. For years, BMWs had a small flashlight in the glovebox that was hooked up to a charger powered, presumably, by the engine. The result was there was always a flashlight around if you need it. This is especially helpful for BMW drivers since they’re far more prone to slashed tires after pissing off someone on the street.

Toyota 4Runner Rear Window – all people in other SUVs

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A few folks suggested this, and I can’t believe I forgot it in the original post. For those who aren’t aware, here’s the deal: the 4Runner’s rear window rolls down. Not the side windows for the rear seats (OK, they roll down too). I mean the rear window, behind the cargo area.

Why is this cool? Dozens of reasons. Dogs love it. People who want ventilation love it. But most importantly, it’s cool just because it’s sort of a 4Runner insider thing – and while Toyota could’ve done away with it each time they redesign the 4Runner, they never have. This requires extra engineering for the rear wiper and the tailgate, but they do it anyway.

Mazda Oscillating Vents – deanst

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The pinnacle of Mazda luxury came when they debuted oscillating vents. A lot of people will tell you the Volkswagen Phaeton pioneered this brilliance, but – in modern times, at least – Mazda was the technology leader. With the press of the “swing” button, the vents would swivel back and forth while the air was on, sending heat or cold air to all parts of the cabin.

Chrysler Audio Buttons – Wodehouse

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Through all of Chrysler’s well-documented early-2000s-to-now low points, and there have been many, the brand did one thing absolutely right: audio buttons. Hidden on the back of most Chrysler steering wheels are buttons that control the track, the radio station, the volume, and the stereo mode.

They’re unlabeled, which pisses off car journalists who aren’t familiar with the design. But if you actually own a Chrysler, they become your best friend. Not only do you never have to remove your hand from the wheel to change any audio setting, but they allow Chrysler to leave the rest of the wheel clean and simple. And, unfortunately, full of cheap plastic.

There are many more suggestions to cover, but not enough time – or space – to cover them all! Thanks to everyone who participated and, as always, feel free to suggest more in the space below.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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The Cross-Country CTS-V Wagon Roadtrip Starts Tomorrow Thu, 08 Aug 2013 16:19:24 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-08-08 at 12.04.48 PM

Different cars serve different purposes. Of course, you already know this. You know, for example, that people buy compact cars for fuel economy. People buy minivans to haul other people. And people buy Acuras because they’re confused.

So why do people buy station wagons? For practicality, of course. People buy wagons so they can pack up all their belongings, load them inside the cargo area, and hand the keys to a car transporter who makes constant runs between Greenwich, Connecticut, and Palm Beach.

Of course, here I am thinking of the Mercedes E-Class wagon, a vehicle that’s owned by many esteemed wealthy people, all of whom are still mad at Bernie Madoff. But this behavior isn’t true of all wagons. Some people, after all, purchase their wagons to drive. And I happen to be one of those people.

And that’s why I’m leaving tomorrow morning to go on a cross-country, 5,500-mile roadtrip through 17 states with my station wagon. I’ve decided to devote the remainder of this post to a Q&A session that covers what I can only assume are the questions that you, dear reader, might ask. Here goes:

Q: Are you nuts?

A: Yeah.

Q: Why the hell are you doing this?

A: Because it’s fun! Remember when people used to take roadtrips? It’s a lost art, sort of like those people who churn their own butter. I’m not much of a churner, so I decided to do this instead.

There are two other big reasons. One is that I want to go to this year’s Monterey Car Week and the various Pebble Beach automotive events. And two, my East Coast-born girlfriend wants to see the West. What better way to kill two birds with one stone than by driving to Pebble Beach through the West in the single least-efficient automobile I have ever owned?

Q: Fine, but I want to see pictures. Can I see pictures?

A: I don’t know, can you? (Don’t you hate when people say this? Whenever someone says this to me, I want to condemn them to a life of churning butter.)

The real answer is: yes, you can see pictures. The easiest way will be to follow me on Twitter, where I will be posting constant updates from the road.

Q: Twitter? What am I, a nine-year-old girl?

A: Yeah, I know. Telling people to “follow me on Twitter” is the single most embarrassing thing I have ever done, so if you don’t do it, I won’t be offended in the slightest. With that said, Triple-A follows me on Twitter, though this is probably because, as a Land Rover owner, I am their biggest client.

If you don’t want to go on Twitter, I will also be photo-dumping as often as possible on my website, And I’ll try to post the occasional update here, though you might have to hold out until I get back. After all, what was supposed to be a romantic summer roadtrip has quickly turned into a large-scale automotive event. Like usual.

Q: Are you going to do burnouts in all 17 states?

A: Probably.

Q: What are you bringing with you?

A: Funny you should ask! We will be bringing luggage, more luggage, and (since my girlfriend is coming) even more luggage. We also have extra tires, largely because I don’t want to get stuck calling a tow truck in rural Nevada, where the preferred method of towing involves a lifted Chevy pickup and a fraying rope.

Q: How much is Cadillac paying you for all this free publicity?

A: I know, right? Cadillac, if you’re reading this, can you send me an unsold 2009 DTS? We all know you have them sitting around somewhere.

Q: Will you be stopping anywhere?

A: Yes.

Q: Uh, where?

A: Well, for one thing, we’ll be stopping every 45 minutes or so for fuel. After all, the car can’t even break 18 miles per gallon on the highway, and its fuel tank is roughly the size of a regulation softball. So if you live in any county along the route, be on the lookout for a Cadillac station wagon filled with tires, luggage, and two people who are thinking: Maybe we didn’t need to see the West so badly after all.

We’ll also be stopping at all the major sights. Big Sur. Yosemite. Death Valley. The Grand Canyon. The Gateway Arch. The place in Aspen where John Denver was arrested for driving under the influence after he wrecked his Porsche. The place in Aspen where John Denver was arrested again for driving under the influence, but because driving under the influence is so widely accepted in Aspen, his punishment was that he had to play a concert.

So, basically, we’re seeing all the important sights.

Q: Well, this sounds like fun.

A: Doesn’t it? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go prepare for the trip. In other words: I have to get gas.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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QOTD: What Automotive Details Are You Missing? Wed, 07 Aug 2013 16:40:46 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 12.21.46 PM

OK, folks: time for one last question of the day (for now, anyway). As you know, we’ve covered the best automotive details and the worst automotive details, both of which garnered well over 200 comments. Interestingly, the “worst” thread got about 100 more comments than the “best” thread, proving that we TTACers are a “glass is half empty” kind of crowd.

With that knowledge in mind, I’ve decided to ask one more pressing question: what automotive details are you missing? In other words: you’re driving down the road and you think to yourself: Why the hell doesn’t it have that? And then you get even more upset when someone tells you that the latest subcompact General Motors vehicle does have that, and it’s standard.

These can be from your own car, a friend’s car, or the industry as whole. And with that in mind, let’s get started:

Convertible Top Open/Close With Key Fob

At Porsche, I discovered that all European convertible models have a feature that allows the convertible top to open and close with the press of a key fob button. Hold down the unlock button in your 911 Cabriolet, for example, and the windows and top all go down. Seems brilliant, right?

Except that feature isn’t offered in the States, presumably for liability reasons. You know: because an American will place a baby on the roof of a convertible, press the button, then sue the automaker for $25 million, which will turn into $95 million once the jurors start crying.

Sliding Doors

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If you’ve been to Europe, chances are you’ve seen the Peugeot 1007, which was recently voted the coolest car ever in a scientific poll taken on the Peugeot 1007 Facebook group.

I love the 1007 because it’s unique in one very important way: it features sliding doors, and it isn’t a minivan. The doors aren’t for the rear passengers, you see, but for the front seats. This allows you to park virtually anywhere and get out of your car, making it the exact opposite of the Ford GT.

Swiveling Headlights

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I know, I know, a few luxury cars have this. And that means in about 10 years, all cars will have it. But to me, that moment couldn’t come soon enough. I think swiveling headlights are one of the greatest things currently offered: they save your neck in dark corners, and they seem to shine exactly where you want them to.

Rear-Facing Third-Row Seats


I used to own a car with rear-facing third-row seats, which qualifies me as to be an expert on the hotly contested issue of: Should cars have rear-facing third row seats?

The answer is, of course: yes they should. Because let’s be honest: rear-facing third-row seats pretty much always lead to a happy childhood. Also, for those who believe they aren’t safe, here’s a thought: in a rear-end collision, wouldn’t you rather have your legs get hit than the back of your head? I thought so.

Hands-Free Texting


If you’re like me, you view texting as a necessary evil with which we, as a society, are forced to cope. And if you’re like me, you probably send the occasional text message at a traffic light. Well, guess what? Most people are not like me. Most people are texting at all hours of the day and night, including while driving down the street, the highway, the alley, and, occasionally, the sidewalk.

I recently read a study on texting that said around 60 percent of 13-to-25-year-olds consider it the preferred method of communication. And since texting is so easy to distract us from driving, this is something that automakers will need to integrate better in the coming years. Voice controls? Mind controls? I don’t know. But something.

So, TTAC, what details are you missing? And don’t worry: I promise we’ll have “answers of the day” posts coming soon.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Is It OK To Choose A Weird Car Color? Tue, 06 Aug 2013 18:40:59 +0000 ford_f150_supercab_fx4_yellow_2004 (1)

I was recently driving down a street in my neighborhood and I saw, parked on the street, like everything was completely normal, a late-model Ford F-150 painted bright yellow. Bright. Yellow.

Since I live in an embarrassingly upscale neighborhood, the kind of neighborhood where people hold functions in their backyards, I can only assume this was towed away immediately. But it got me thinking: Why would Ford make this color?

Here’s what I mean. We all know the most popular car colors are silver, white, and black. In fact, I personally own three vehicles, and they’re all painted silver, despite a long search that involved, in each case, guidelines that strictly included the parameter: I do not want silver. (Actually, this isn’t entirely true. For my Nissan Cube, the parameter was: I do not want a Nissan Cube.)

With that knowledge in mind, why would Ford intentionally make it more difficult for their dealers to sell a car by painting it bright yellow? Think about it. Pretend you’re Ford. You live in Michigan. The roads are awful. The only way you can make a left turn is by first making a right turn. The average home costs as much as a pack of Milk Duds. Are you in this mindset?

OK, so you’re Ford, which means you want to sell as many cars as possible, because you’re paying those union workers either way. Shouldn’t you paint every single vehicle silver, black, or white, under the theory that they’ll appeal to the greatest number of buyers?

The answer to this question is obvious: no, you shouldn’t. Undoubtedly, color distribution is a bell curve, just like most things in life. That means for every 50 people who walk into a dealer and say “Please give me silver!” there are at least a few stragglers who actually arrived at Chrysler dealers in 2003 and said: “Oh, I just have to have that PT Cruiser with the wood on the sides!” Interestingly, those people are still around today, and so are all of their cats.

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But this begs an entirely different question, which is: Why would someone want to subject themselves to a weird color? Now pretend you’re the guy who has the yellow F-150. You’re manly. You’re signs on the windshield that said: “BUY ONE, TAKE AS MANY TWO-DOOR FOCUSES AS YOU WANT!” and you chose … yellow.

You have to be pretty secure with yourself to make this decision. You have to be OK with the fact that women will talk about you behind your back and say things like: Oh, I really liked Jim, but he picked me up for our date in a yellow pickup truck! And then they will giggle and get their nails done because this, I have learned from the media, is what women do.

More importantly, you have to be pretty financially secure to choose a yellow pickup. Because when it comes time to sell, you’re going to be screwed. You’ll be up against a thousand other trucks on, all of which are white, or silver, or black, or some other color that will not repel women but rather will make women want to climb inside and announce: Let’s go back to my place. (This is how truck people think.) So you’ll have to price your truck way less than everyone else, and beg potential buyers just to come check it out. Right?


I recently did some searching on AutoTrader and discovered that mileage, model year, and trim level are really the only things that determine asking price. Color is a distant 90th place, right after things like cigarette lighter placement and whether the clock is set properly. And while I don’t have selling price data, I have to assume these dealers have some idea what they’re doing when they set these prices.

You’d think this article would end there, with me suggesting that everyone should go buy a car in whatever color they want, because I’ve spent eleven minutes researching the topic and there’s clearly no downside to owning a pink Honda Pilot.

But it doesn’t quite end there. That’s because there’s still one group of cars where color matters. I am referring, of course, to the fickle world of luxury automobiles, which includes a lot of high-end brands and, occasionally, Acura. These people care about color. These people won’t buy pink. Or green. Or yellow. Or basically any color except for various shades of bluish gray and silverish black and whitish beige, all of which have names like Desert Sea Silver Metallic that were invented by marketing staffers who have never actually seen the color in person.

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That’s proven if you check out used luxury car listings on AutoTrader. As an example, I’ll turn to the Range Rover, which was recently voted the finest car ever made in a poll that included everyone in my home office. This is approximately how 2006 Range Rover pricing works:

Black: $25,000
Silver: $25,000
White: $25,000
Red: Will consider trades for an Oldsmobile Alero

And so, ladies and gentlemen, it turns out that color does matter – but only if you’re looking for a luxury car. If you want a non-luxury model, go ahead and do whatever you want. Unless, of course, that involves a PT Cruiser with wood paneling. Those have a four cat minimum.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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QOTD: What Are The Worst Automotive Details? Fri, 02 Aug 2013 18:30:11 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 12.15.37 PM

It’s time to devote yet another column to automotive details. The sharp-minded among us may be annoyed by this, since I already covered this subject last week. But this time, things are different. This time, it’s negative. And negative sells. I know that because I live in Atlanta, home of CNN, who drives around in large panel trucks with huge printed signs on each side that say: “HAVE YOU SEEN SOMETHING BLOODY? TWEET US!”

Anyway: negative automotive details. I’ve got a few suggestions and, as always, I’m asking for your help to uncover more. For those of you curious as to why I’ve done so many question-and-answer posts lately, I promise there is a reason, namely that I’m going out of town in two weeks and I want to compile all the answers into a few posts that you can read while I’m gone. But also it’s because I love reading the responses, to the point where I was up last time until 2 a.m. Googling “BMW glovebox flashlight.”

Here are my nominations for some of the worst automotive details, based on a few of the cars I’ve owned. Feel free to share yours.

Range Rover Parking Sensors

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It’s hard for me to believe that any single thing is more infuriating than the parking sensors on my Range Rover. (Re-reading this sentence, it sounds like someone who might say: “I just can’t get the temperature of my spa quite right.”) Seriously, though: I often think that I would gladly come home and discover that a burglar entered my home, stole all of my clothes, then let in a two-year-old child who drew all over the walls in Sharpie, all if it meant I no longer had to deal with my Range Rover parking sensors.

This is the problem. I’m backing into a parking space, so the sensors automatically activate. That’s great. They start beeping. Beep. Beep. Beep. Perfect. Then I get closer. Beep beep. Beep beep. Then I get super close. Beeeeeeeep. Exactly what I want to hear. So I stop parking and place the vehicle in park. And what happens next? You guessed it: Beeeeeeeep! Once the sensor goes on, it does not turn off, even if the vehicle is no longer in gear. So you’re parked and maybe you’re waiting for someone, and you just sit there listening to Beeeeeeep! And yes, you can manually turn off the sensor, but then you must manually turn it back on again when you’re trying to leave.

If you happen to know the person who designed these sensors, kindly provide me with their address so I can dispatch a crew of clothes-stealing burglars and creative, marker-wielding two-year-olds.

Mercedes Next Track Steering Wheel

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Owning a Mercedes is an unusual decision that I strongly recommend you only make if you can stomach a) tremendous depreciation, or b) substantial maintenance costs. In fact, it’s often both of those things, and never neither.

The detail that upset me most about Mercedes ownership, however, was none of that. It was the lack of a steering wheel ‘next track’ button.

Allow me to explain. The steering wheel of most Mercedes models, like any luxury car, is covered with buttons. On my 2007 E-Class, the total number was eight, just to be precise. But this is where the anger comes in: of those eight buttons, not one controlled the next stereo track! Instead, we had volume, phone, and four buttons for the “driver information center,” which you use approximately once a month when people ask: What kinda mileage duzzis thing get?

Gated Automatic Transmissions

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I will never in my life understand why gated automatic transmissions exist. One of you out there in readerland probably has a completely valid explanation that makes perfect sense in your mind, but trust me: you’ve never had to explain it to an elderly person in the hot sun.

I once worked at a large rental car agency, and we had to deliver a car to an elderly driver after her previous rental, a Dodge Avenger, broke down. (Shocking, right?) So we brought her a Suzuki Forenza, which has a gated automatic shifter, and I spent the next 30 minutes attempting to explain how it works. Unfortunately, I was at a loss for words when she asked why it works that way. I still am.

Cadillac CTS Foot-Mounted Parking Brake

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Before I got my current CTS-V Wagon, I had a CTS-V sedan, which was a fairly decent car in many ways – except for one glaring detail. No, I’m not talking about the plastic center stack, which derived its material from a Playskool toy. I am instead referring to the foot-mounted parking brake.

You’re probably thinking: What’s the big deal? A lot of cars have foot-mounted parking brakes! And that’s very true. The difference, however, is that most of those cars don’t have manual transmissions. The CTS-V did. That meant there were four pedals in the driver footwell, and the one you never wanted to press was directly next to the one you had to press each time you changed gear.

So, folks, what are your worst automotive details? It’s Friday night and my girlfriend is out of town, which can only mean one thing: 2 a.m. automotive Googling. Bring it on.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Are Failures Really Failures? Thu, 01 Aug 2013 17:57:36 +0000 failures-080113

I think my colleagues would agree that we, as automotive journalists, do not devote enough attention to the burgeoning convertible SUV segment. This is partially my fault. I stood idly by when the segment doubled in size with the 2011 arrival of the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. And again, I’ve hardly batted an eyelash at reports of yet another entrant: the Range Rover Evoque convertible.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to provide a highly useful convertible SUV buyers guide, which you can use later, once the inevitable craze hits, to determine which model is right for you. Here it is:

1. Jeep Wrangler: This is apparently a convertible, although you’d never know it from the number of rich people who drive around in four-door Unlimited models and never take off their body-colored plastic tops, which are manufactured from the same material as their body-colored plastic noses. Although the Wrangler was completely redesigned for the 2007 model year, absolutely nobody believes me when I explain this, preferring instead to think of it as “unchanged since about 1985.” The Wrangler accounts for 100 percent of convertible SUV sales.

2. Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet: This is the market’s other convertible SUV, though I use the term “SUV” loosely. I do not, however, use the term “convertible” loosely, because the Murano CrossCabriolet is absolutely a convertible, a point that’s made clear from the yards of canvas that line its roof without regards to petty things such as outward visibility. The Murano accounts for 100 percent of convertible SUV satire.

So there you have it, folks: a highly comprehensive convertible SUV buyer’s guide. I strongly suggest that you store it in a safe place in case an in-law comes to you this holiday season and says: “I really love my SUV. I only wish it had two doors, no roof, and dangerous structural rigidity. Do you have any recommendations?” Then you will say “YES!” and rush to find my buyer’s guide, only to discover it’s not really all that helpful.

Of course, the truth is that an in-law is unlikely to ask you for convertible SUV advice. That’s because convertible SUVs have been, in large part, utter failures. I am thinking now of the Isuzu Amigo, the Kia Sportage, the Toyota RAV4, and, of course, the Ford Bronco, which was not technically a convertible SUV but became one in nearly all high-speed collisions.

OK, so maybe the Bronco wasn’t a failure. I mean, it certainly worked for OJ. But there’s absolutely no doubt that the rest of those models were.

Or were they?

I’ve been thinking recently about how we, as auto enthusiasts, use the term “failure.” I, personally, use it to describe any vehicle that doesn’t sell very well, such as the Isuzu VehiCROSS, or that new Subaru hatchback they’ve painted to resemble a traffic cone. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I may be using the term all wrong.

Take, for instance, the Lincoln Blackwood, which was the subject of some derision in one of my articles a few weeks ago for failing just as the luxury truck market was taking off. For those who don’t know, here’s how Ford created the Blackwood:

1. Take a Crew Cab F-150. (They have these just lying around.)
2. Change the wheels.
3. Change a few panels.
4. Place that bizarre bed cover on the back.
5. Change the horn pad.

By my calculations, an automaker can complete these steps with five hundred bucks and three hours of union labor, which works out to a total cost of around nine grand. Add that to the cost of the F-150, and you’re looking at a figure that rivals the average incentive spend for each Murano CrossCabriolet sold. But here’s the thing: the Blackwood sold for more than $52,000!

My point here is that I have trouble believing, even once you factor in marketing – of which there was virtually none – that the Blackwood could be a failure. Every one of these trucks was pure profit for Ford, while every one of their mediocre navigation systems was pure misery for Blackwood owners.

You could apply this same argument to several other vehicles we all consider to be failures. The Ford Excursion, for example, lasted for just six model years, all of which Ford spent defending attacks that would not have been any worse if Ford had come out with a vehicle that actually steals human organs in the night. The Excursion had a similar formula as the Blackwood, namely: take a Super Duty truck, slap a new body on it, throw some seats in, and boom! Average transaction price above $40,000.

So I’m wondering if maybe we’ve been to harsh on certain vehicles previously believed to be failures. Maybe some cars really do make automakers money, even if they fail to find mass-market appeal. Except, of course, for the Range Rover Evoque convertible. That thing won’t make money for anybody. But I sure am excited to have one as a service loaner when my Range Rover breaks down.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Where Does Volvo Go From Here? Mon, 29 Jul 2013 15:21:26 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 11.09.46 AM

Let’s talk about Volvo. You know Volvo. It’s your favorite Swedish brand. It’s my favorite Swedish brand. It’s everyone’s favorite Swedish brand, except for 13-year-old boys who are still holding out hope that the local rich guy will buy a Koenigsegg and bring it to Cars and Coffee.

The reason we all love Volvo so much is, of course, its rich and colorful history. Now, I don’t actually know any of this history, but if you contacted Volvo’s PR department I think you’d find that it began in roughly 1966 when Irv Gordon bought that 1800S they’re always putting in ads to prove that Volvo has, on at least one occasion, built a car that didn’t start leaking fluids nine hours after the warranty expired.

Of course, I kid. Volvo used to make many dependable automobiles. I know this because my high school parking lot was full of Volvo 240 sedans and wagons, battle-scarred after years of providing reliable family transportation, that were passed down to adolescent males who used them to drift in the snow.

But Volvo is more than box-shaped family transportation. They’ve had some fun cars, too. Take, for instance, the 850 T-5R, which singlehandedly transformed Volvo’s reputation from a brand that builds boring cars to a brand that builds slightly exciting cars and paints them yellow. And who can forget the highly enjoyable S60R and V70R, which are currently scraping parking curbs all over North America?

It’s cars like these – and several others that I’ve probably forgotten about, since my research for this article consisted primarily of looking out the window – that have earned Volvo so many fans. And that’s why I, like so many of you, was completely dismayed several weeks ago to learn Volvo will disappear in 2014.

Of course, this information didn’t come from Volvo. It came from a website called “Wall Street 24/7,” which I would describe as “middling” except that it has 10 times as many Twitter followers as TTAC. If you’re unsure why I bring this up, it’s because people my age equate “number of Twitter followers” with “importance.” By this sound logic, Justin Bieber is more important than Barack Obama. Some of you may actually agree with that.

Anyway, “Wall Street 24/7” posted an article entitled “Things That Will Disappear in 2014,” and one of those things Volvo, which sent everyone into a frenzy because there’s no way Volvo can disappear in 2014, because if that happens then how will I replace my S60R’s scraped front bumper? Interestingly, the article also cited Mitsubishi, which sent absolutely no one into a frenzy, though it did remind most of us that Mitsubishi still builds cars.

But could the article be accurate?

No. Not at all. The idea of Volvo disappearing next year is ridiculous, considering that Lotus still hasn’t disappeared even though its employees think of Rolls-Royce as a “volume brand.”

But that doesn’t mean things are rosy for Volvo. Last year, they only sold 68,000 cars in the US. That may not sound so bad, but here’s the number from another perspective: during the same timeframe, Mercedes sold 82,000 C-Classes. Yes, it’s true: Volvo sold 20 percent fewer cars, in total, than Mercedes sold C-Classes. Mercedes sold almost four and a half times more cars overall.

So the question is: where does Volvo go from here? Fortunately, I have a two-step plan that I believe will guide them to safety. (Get it? A plan that will guide Volvo … to safety? OK, fine, don’t laugh now, but you’ll be telling that joke at Cars and Coffee.) The plan is:

1. Stop with the sporty stuff. Yes, the 850 T-5R was cool. And the V70R was cool. And the S60R was brightly colored. But that doesn’t mean every Volvo needs an R-Design trim level, big wheels, and a bodykit. Here’s the thing: everyone is going sporty. Even Mercedes – former manufacturer of vehicles with extra-large parcel shelves for tissue box placement – is increasingly becoming a major player in the high-performance realm.

But here’s the thing: not everyone wants sporty. Some people still want a safe, dependable, durable, boring luxury car, which brings us to…

2. Go back to your roots. The Volvo of years past built solid, well-designed cars that were known, above all, for keeping you safe in a collision. The Volvo of today builds a two-door hatchback with challenging rear-seat access. Return to the land of durable and safe, and you’ll find shoppers who want the same. I know this because they’re all still driving 1996 850 wagons with no sunroof and thinking: I hope I don’t crash this, because I’ll have to replace it with something that has a bodykit.

Using my simple strategy, Volvo could easily retake its rightful spot among Brands Whose Demise Isn’t A Possibility in just a few short years. Of course, Volvo won’t get there with only my strategy. They’ll need some help. A testimonial, perhaps. Or few nice pictures. Or maybe a guy who put three million miles on his 1966 1800S.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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QOTD: What Are The Best Automotive Details? Fri, 26 Jul 2013 17:25:57 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 1.13.43 PM

Today’s topic is: details. Or, as Anthony Weiner eloquently puts it while sexting: “deets.”

Details are highly important in the creation of any modern automobile. I wish someone had told this to the people who built my Cadillac. They were less focused on details and more on the big picture, which I believe was something along the lines of: We have to get out of the Renaissance Center by 6 pm or else we’ll have to drive through downtown Detroit in the dark.

So my car is missing a few details. I’ve already discussed the tilt-down mirrors, which most of you described as the single most annoying feature in the history of the automobile, right up there with the hand crank starter. But how about the back windows, which are auto-down but not auto-up? Or the lack of automatic wipers? Or how the rear hatch will only lift when the car is in park, presumably due to some legal department weenie who insisted that otherwise it might open while driving, causing passengers to unbuckle their belts, hurl themselves towards the cargo area, and sue GM for negligence?

Maybe I’m splitting hairs. After all, they got the big stuff right. Like, for example, how it has 556 horsepower. That was an important one, and they really nailed it, and I’m certain of that every time I put my foot down and believe, for a split second, that I’m actually the pilot of Air Nippon’s daily nonstop from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

I was considering details the other day as I sat in the arrivals lane at the Atlanta Airport, frantically pressing the “hatch open” button to get my girlfriend’s bags in the trunk while a police officer yelled at me to move my vehicle. It was at this moment I realized there are still some detail-obsessed car companies out there, and some really cool details, a few of which I will name now. You’re welcome to add more, or at least send this to your friends at Cadillac, though I strongly suggest doing so before 6 pm. Here goes:

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Atomic Tail Lights

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I’m going to say it right now: this is the coolest thing in the car industry today. I know what you’re thinking: The car industry has dual clutch transmissions and V-12 engines and self-leveling suspension and the FORD RAPTOR and you think the coolest thing is the tail lights on a hybrid family sedan?!

And the answer is: yes. Yes I do. That’s because they’re in the shape of an atomic particle, which is cool mainly because they don’t have to be. They could’ve been normal tail lights, or even General Motors tail lights, which light up about nine seconds after the center-mounted brake light comes on.

Volkswagen Golf Hatch Handle

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This is also really cool. You walk up to the back of a Golf. You want to open the hatch. You look around. You push buttons on the key fob. The GTI doesn’t even have a power tailgate that can piss you off for not opening in “Drive.” You have no idea what to do. The bad guys are chasing you. And then you realize: the “VW” emblem doubles as a hatchback handle.

This is one of the better elements in modern automotive design, though I say this as someone who truly believes the Nissan Juke looks pretty nice. It lets the emblem be front and center on the hatch while simultaneously keeping the rear free of clutter from a handle. Perfect.

Volvo Climate Control Switches

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I cannot tell you how many times this situation has happened to me:

1. Passenger gets in.
2. Passenger does not like current temperature.
3. Passenger begins fiddling with controls.
4. Twelve seconds later, the rear heater is on, as is the defroster, and possibly the hazard lights.

In Volvos, this problem is largely eliminated because you control where the air goes by simply pressing a diagram of a human being. This is incredibly easy, unless maybe you’re a dog and you want your tail to be heated. In that case, you simply slobber all over the gear lever until you get home, at which point you can lie in the sun for the rest of the afternoon.

Ford Focus Gas Tank


In a normal car, sheetmetal is placed in some handsome, well-thought-out manner that took a team of stylists six months of hard work to arrange, and then the production people cut out a rather obvious circle somewhere in back so you can put in fuel.

Not so in the Ford Focus hatchback. The Focus hatch’s gas tank is integrated into the lines on the car’s passenger side tail light, which means you can barely even tell it’s there. Of course, the Focus Electric ruins this unique touch by including a circle on a front fender for the electric charger. But that’s probably an EV driver status symbol.

So, TTAC, what are your favorite automotive details? I’m genuinely interested in the answers to this, as everyone seems to know of a few unique touches in their own cars – so please don’t hold back. And if someone from Cadillac happens to stop by: Why the hell do I need to be in Park to switch to a different memory seat setting?

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Are Midsize Coupes Dead and Buried? Thu, 25 Jul 2013 16:57:00 +0000 coupes

Well, folks, I’m sure you’ve heard the news: Nissan is cancelling the Altima Coupe. This, I believe, will affect many of us. You, for instance, might read my opening line and think: I MUST GET ONE BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE. If that’s the case, I strongly suggest visiting a Nissan dealer before supplies dry up, likely sometime in early 2015.

I’d like to devote today’s column to the Altima Coupe’s unusual market segment: two-door versions of midsize sedans. But before we go there, we must cover a little Altima Coupe background. As I recall, these are the main highlights:

1. Sometime in 2007: Nissan announces they’re coming out with the Altima Coupe.

2. July 24, 2013: Nissan announced they’re cancelling the Altima Coupe.

Really, it was a very uneventful life, and I think we’d all agree that if we went on some sort of automotive quiz show where you get covered in slime if you get the question wrong, and the question was “Name all the Nissan models,” (apparently the questions can be statements too) we’d probably get covered in slime, because we’d forget the Altima Coupe, and also the Armada, which is still in production despite the best efforts of the American car-buying public.

So you’re thinking: If the Altima Coupe was so forgettable, why did Nissan even sell it? And my answer is: Yeah, why did they even sell it? Just kidding. As always, I have an opinion on the topic. My theory is that Nissan saw holes in the market left by wildly popular vehicles such as the Toyota Solara, the Pontiac Grand Am Coupe, and the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and said: We must compete in this segment.

To me, the crazy thing here isn’t that Nissan decided to build the Altima Coupe in the first place. It’s that they want to cancel it. Keep in mind that this is the same company that builds asymmetrical, box-shaped compact car, a small crossover that looks like a frog, and a midsize SUV with a full soft top convertible, two rear windows, and a $43,000 base price.

In other words: if Nissan doesn’t think it can sell the Altima Coupe, then no one can sell the Altima Coupe.

And this leads me back to two-door versions of midsize sedans. Or, more specifically, to the question: is this segment completely dead?

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, what with all the discussion about the demise of midsize pickups, but midsize coupes are also dwindling in numbers. At this point, I would classify them as the Asian elephant of the automotive world in the sense that they are not yet extinct, but they will be if someone doesn’t do something.

To prove this point, I recently visited the Nissan Altima Coupe configurator, where you can compare the Altima Coupe to its rivals, and I learned that the Altima Coupe has the following rivals:

1. Honda Accord Coupe

I also learned that the Altima Coupe gets far better gas mileage than the Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG, and it has way more interior room than the Audi TT, and the reason this article is so late today probably relates entirely to the fact that I wasted most of the morning comparing the Nissan Altima Coupe to expensive European luxury cars.

Anyway: with the Altima Coupe gone, the Accord Coupe is the only car left in this segment. This is a vast departure from years ago, when we had the aforementioned Solara, Grand Am Coupe, and Monte Carlo, along with the Oldsmobile Alero Coupe, the Mazda MX-6 and Ford Probe, the Mercury Cougar, the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring, and probably a few others which I’ve forgotten and therefore hope I’m not asked about on that automotive quiz show with the slime.

With only one vehicle remaining, I think the segment’s future is pretty bleak. But why? Why are people only now starting to turn their backs on two-door versions of midsize sedans? It’s not like these cars are any less practical than they were eight years ago, when a stunningly large segment of the population – which is any number more than 50 – purchased a Toyota Solara Coupe.

And maybe an even better question is: How does Honda still do it? Even with all competitors eliminated, the Accord Coupe soldiers on, providing reliable transportation for people who believe hacking two doors off an Accord sedan creates a sports car.

Basically, I’m baffled by the whole thing, and so I turn to you, TTAC, for some answers. Is this segment dead and buried? How does Honda still manage? And most importantly: why doesn’t the Nissan Altima Coupe configurator include Ferrari?

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Does Your Car Inspire a Wave? Wed, 17 Jul 2013 18:21:09 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-07-17 at 1.50.24 PM

I’ve had a lot of cars. You’ll know this if you bought my book, in which I detail most of the wonderful cars I’ve owned, and also my 2001 Toyota Prius. For those of you who have never had the chance to experience a 2001 Prius, I strongly suggest you do so immediately, and probably at your local junkyard.

In my time with various cars, I’ve noticed something: some cars wave to each other. What I mean is, you’re cruising down the street, you see another car of the same make and model, the driver waves to you, you wave back, and everyone’s day is a little better because of the entire experience.

Interestingly, I notice this a lot in my Range Rover. I wave to everyone else in Range Rovers, and most of the time, they wave back. This might surprise you, but I believe I’ve figured out why it happens: we’re all such vain assholes that we’re always staring down other Range Rover drivers just to see if the other person is good enough to drive a Range Rover. So I wave, and they feel obligated to wave because I caught them looking at me.

But most cars that wave to one another do it because the owners feel a common bond. A special feeling that says, for instance, we’re both putting up with the same crappy radio buttons. For example:


This was true years ago, but I’m not sure if it still is. Saab owners used to love to stick their keys in the center consoles, activate that strange feature that turns off all the dash lights except the speedometer (in a Jaguar this is called “when it rains”) and then wave to each other in large numbers.

Presumably, this stopped once they came out with that 9-3 that was no longer available as a surprisingly popular thee-door hatchback. But there are still some quirky Saab drivers out there. Do they wave to each other? I’d like to think so. And then they pull over and discuss how to find parts.


Corvette guys always wave to each other. This is kind of cool, because the Corvette spans decades. But they all do it. Even people with C4s.

The reason for this is that, unlike some of the other cars on this list, no one has a Corvette on accident. They all bought the car for its styling, its speed, its sports car handling prowess. Oh yeah, and they’re always looking around to see who notices them.

Jeep Wranglers

This one surprises me most. Jeep Wrangler owners – a highly exclusive group that includes roughly 10 zillion individuals – wave to one another. How does this work? Aren’t you waving virtually every second of every minute? Perhaps this is why the Wrangler is considered so unsafe: owners are always taking their hands off the road to wave to one another.

Vintage Cars in General

Vintage car owners always seem to wave to one another, regardless of exactly what they’re driving. Nothing like a Bugeye Sprite meeting a ’64 Impala on the road and exchanging a wave. Of course, the implication here is: We’re both old folks driving these cars, and our wives haven’t made us stop yet, so hello!


I used to love driving Porsches because we all waved to one another. Actually I waved to other Porsche owners, and other Porsche owners waved back. I have friends with 911s who truly believed they didn’t need to waste their time waving to Boxster owners. And frankly, I encountered Boxsters on the road who didn’t wave back, probably because they weren’t even looking and thought I would snub them.

But it was always fun to wave to another Porsche and get a wave back, unless of course the other Porsche was a six-cylinder Cayenne, in which case the driver was too busy talking on the phone to notice.

So, B&B, do you have a car that inspires a wave? What is it? And if it’s a Jeep Wrangler, try to curtail your waving on the drive home tonight. You might hurt yourself.

@DougDeMuro is the author of humor books Plays With Cars, and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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I Wrote A Book About Cars! Tue, 16 Jul 2013 17:03:01 +0000 pwc1

Well, TTAC, the day has come: I’ve written a book. Not a real book, mind you, but rather an electronic one, which means it may, at any moment, run out of batteries.

My book is called Plays With Cars, which mimics the title of my website, and also my life purpose. It’s available right now on Kindle and Nook, and soon to come for Kobo. If you don’t have a Kindle or Nook, don’t worry: you can still view it using your PC, or your Mac computer, or through the free Kindle app for smartphones and iPads. In other words: you have no excuse for not buying it.

To further prove that, I’ve set the price at $2.99. This is a very small amount of money for which you can purchase basically nothing except this book, or maybe a plastic toy from the grocery store. And I promise this is more entertaining.

Plays With Cars contains many fun car-related stories, including:

- Driving a Lotus Elise without air conditioning across the country in the middle of July
- Visiting the Tail of the Dragon and evading the police using a pontoon boat
- Taking my Lotus to an autocross event, and regretting it
- Bringing my E63 AMG wagon on a mountain run with a Carrera GT
- Buying a Cadillac from someone who was hours away from being deported
- Buying a used Toyota Land Cruiser with 237,000 miles from a public auto auction
- Attempting, unsuccessfully, to sell a Toyota Prius on Craigslist

It also includes reviews of various cars I’ve owned, from a Porsche 911 Turbo to a 2012 Jetta and a first-generation Toyota Prius.

If that doesn’t sell you on it (c’mon folks – a Jetta review!), I’m going to be posting selections once a week for the next few weeks to entice you further. Today’s is from chapter 20, entitled “The Wagon and the Dragstrip” – a story about taking my E63 AMG wagon to a dragstrip in rural North Georgia. Enjoy!



We drove to the dragstrip on a Friday night. In Denver, amateur drag racing was done on Wednesdays, presumably so participants could spend Fridays pursuing some form of entertainment that wouldn’t leave them partially deaf. But in Commerce, we were the entertainment. This was illustrated by the large crowd, which consisted of beer-drinking locals gathered to watch other beer-drinking locals pilot their daily drivers down the strip. Tonight, they would get an extra treat: a Mercedes station wagon driven by three cityfolk who coulda bawt a dually instead.

We arrived around 7 p.m. and paid our $20 entry fee. Before we could race, we had to submit to a tech inspection, which was performed by a local mechanic in NHRA overalls. The inspection consisted of the mechanic a) opening the E63’s hood, and b) remarking on the size of its plastic engine over. He also searched for the battery, but was unable to find it. As a result, he judged the car to be mechanically sound.

We pulled up to the staging area and discovered the interesting assortment of vehicles owned by our fellow drag racers. Some highlights:

1. At least half of the cars in attendance were modified Mustangs and Camaros. The most popular modification, in case you’re wondering, involved junkyard body panel swaps. Oddly, most of these cars had valid license plates, proving that “street legal” means something a little different in North Georgia.

2. There was an SRT-4 that was approximately as loud as a space shuttle launch. This is a mandatory component of dragstrip amateur nights. In fact, the NHRA could shut you down if there isn’t a loud SRT-4 in the vicinity, unless you can prove your venue contains at least one dubiously modified Eagle Talon.

3. Around 20 percent of the entrants were driving pickup trucks, including a few huge diesels with actual smoke stacks. They made so much smoke it looked like someone put wheels on Depression-era Cleveland.

4. The highlight was a Nissan Titan that looked stock except for tiny rear tires that may have come from one of those electric shopping carts they give the elderly at grocery stores.

We piled into the wagon with me behind the wheel for the first run. In the other lane was a red Mustang with a gray front fender. I stopped. The Mustang stopped. I waited for the light, energized by the fact that I would soon be driving a Mercedes station wagon on the same dragstrip where Top Fuel dragsters compete to see who can make it furthest without blowing up.

And then, after a few seconds … GREEN! We were off, way ahead of the Mustang, so far ahead that his next dragstrip conversation may be about where to find Calvin peeing on the Mercedes logo.

It must’ve been a sight to see, but were too consumed with laughter to notice. Here we were, moving quickly down a dragstrip in a three-row station wagon that was savagely beating a modified Mustang. We were also quite comfortable, what with the ventilated seats.

We ended the run several yards ahead of the Mustang. I pulled off the track and drove to the time booth to pick up our time slip. It was there we were informed in no uncertain terms that we had committed about eleven sins of drag racing.

One was too many people in the car. It turns out a car as fast as the E63 couldn’t run with passengers. That was a downer, as I had planned to sit in back and wave to drag-tuned Camaros from the rear-facing third row.

We also committed a helmet violation. It turns out that 13.999 seconds or below requires a helmet. Apparently, an accident without one meant instant death, while a driver who wrecks at 14 or above will walk away with only cuts and scrapes on his soft, helmetless head. This was undoubtedly was established after years of scientific testing from the drag racing people.

So I donned a helmet for the next run and ditched Andrew and Sam. Once again, I arrived at the line, hit the brake and gas, and released the brake when the light turned green. After an initial struggle with traction, the E63 launched with all its might. My time slip said 13.6, now delivered with a warning against spinning my tires at the starting line. Tough crowd.

When I returned to the prep area, Andrew and Sam told me about the announcer. In Denver, the dragstrip was quiet, since no one in their right mind would want to spend an evening doing a play-by-play for an amateur drag racing event. But since this was the happenin’ place to be on a Friday night in rural Georgia, the Atlanta Dragway employed an excitable commentator with a southern accent that rivaled Matthew McConaughey’s in A Time to Kill. Apparently, he had some choice commentary about the wagon that included lines like “mom’s home” and “look at them roof rails!”

To shut him up, I decided we had to run a “twelve,” which is what racers call a quarter-mile time in the twelve-second range. If you “run twelves,” you’re anywhere from 12.00 seconds to 12.99 seconds. Dragstrip precision is shocking.

But it wouldn’t be easy.


@DougDeMuro is the author of humor books Plays With Cars and From My Perspective, and the operator of He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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CTS-V Wagon Update: First Impressions Mon, 15 Jul 2013 17:55:27 +0000 vwag2

I’ve had the Cadillac for about three weeks. During this time, I’ve learned a lot of things. Primarily, I’ve learned that it takes at least three weeks for a new key fob to reach a Cadillac dealer. I find this hard to believe, but I’m reassured by my salesman’s constant phone calls that insist it will arrive “any day now.”

Personally, I don’t think three weeks is long enough to provide a really comprehensive car review. This will shock many readers, since most professional automotive journalists review cars after spending about 45 minutes driving them at carefully controlled automotive press events, most of which include free food. But there’s one big difference: I’m no professional automotive journalist.

Alex Dykes, on the other hand, is a professional automotive journalist, and he is therefore highly capable of reviewing cars after driving them for a short period of time. I know this because I once went on a press drive with Alex. We were driving pre-production luxury cars, which scared the hell out of me, but didn’t seem to bother him. As I recall, it went something like this:


Alex: Ooooh, check out the fit and finish.


Alex: I wish the navigation screen were a little larger.

At the end of the day, Alex had an entire review written in his mind, while I relaxed by stuffing my face with free food.

So I’m no Alex, which means that – after three weeks and roughly 1,000 miles of ownership – all I have to offer you are these limited first impressions. I will surely expand on them over the coming months once I get a) more familiar with the Cadillac, and b) a working key fob. They are:

1. Handling. Most of my time with the CTS-V Wagon has been spent late at night on empty back roads. That’s because I already have a daily driver, which is a large, lumbering Range Rover that appears to derive most of its handling acumen from vehicles that were rejected by the postal service.

As a result of this, I’m no expert in the world of handling. Yes, I’ve owned a few sports cars, and also a few Mercedes products. But it’s been a while. So I enlisted the help of my friend David for some perspective on the issue. David drives a Porsche and smokes cigars, which means he fits right into the Cadillac demographic. And his verdict was: It’s amazing.

In fact, everyone who has driven the V Wagon so far has said the same positive things about its handling. And not because it’s a wagon. Because it’s a Cadillac.

2. Acceleration. Acceleration is sharp. Not “sharp” as in “This product is quite quick,” which is the way ConsumerReports would describe both the Cadillac and one of those robotic vacuum cleaners that scares your cat. I mean “sharp” as in you floor it and think HOLY CRAP I HOPE A SMALL ANIMAL DOESN’T RUN OUT IN FRONT OF ME OR ELSE IT WILL BECOME SPACE DEBRIS.

Acceleration is so strong that you, as a regular human being who is not trained to operate a 500-horsepower station wagon, would become fearful of putting the gas pedal all the way down. I know this because I, as a regular human being who is definitely not trained to operate a 500-horsepower station wagon, but had another one before this, am quite fearful of flooring the accelerator. Really, a half-stab will do. That’s more than enough to scare your passengers, and any nearby small animals.

3. GM Cost-Cutting. Since you’re reading TTAC, you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. C’mon, you’re thinking, when is this guy going to bash GM? And the answer is: right now.

This is my second GM product. In fact, it’s my second Cadillac. In other words: I am a highly loyal customer, which means I’ve spent considerable time in the Cadillac dealership service department behind a gray-haired woman with a cane asking when she had to come back with her Fleetwood.

Every time I get into a Cadillac, I feel the exact same way: Close, but no cigar. (My friend David is reading this and thinking: “Did someone say cigar?!”) Here’s the problem: GM gets the big stuff right, but they miss out on the details, sort of like a summer intern whose parents know the CEO.

I’ll provide many examples over the coming weeks, but one that sticks in my mind is the fact that the passenger side mirror doesn’t tilt down when I put it in reverse. Worse, there’s no setting to make this happen. I won’t debate the merits of this feature – I personally believe it is the single greatest feature in the history of time, and I am, of course, correct – but even if you don’t like it, you must admit that every single other luxury car has it. Even Saabs. Saabs, ladies and gentlemen.

My Range Rover also has tilt-down mirrors, though I assume they will stop working any day now. You know: about the same time that key fob arrives.

@DougDeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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What’s The Best Wheel? Fri, 12 Jul 2013 17:33:43 +0000
Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 12.34.14 PM

I recently wrote an article entitled “Going Ugly On Purpose.” This was a piece about how automakers are intentionally uglifying their base-level vehicles so people pay more for nicer models. Many of you read this story from start to finish, absorbed the facts, perused the nuances, and then scrolled straight to the comments where you got into a fight about California versus Texas.

I watched this fight with great interest. I’ve been to both California and Texas, and I’ve never lived in either, which puts me in the highly unique position of being one of those guys on the Internet who takes a position without any firsthand knowledge. But I didn’t take a position, and I won’t take one now, though I will say that California, to its credit, does not have to share a border with Arkansas.

The other thing that came out of that article was that some people, and I won’t name names because I don’t want to embarrass Compaq Deskpro, thought the wheels on that SL350 looked good. Actually, it wasn’t just him. My girlfriend texted after the article went up, not to say that she found it informative, or well-written, or humorous, but to announce that she, too, thought the wheels looked good.

Of course, this is a mistaken viewpoint. On an objective basis, those wheels look awful, and Mercedes-Benz executives are currently on vacation in Monaco from the money they’ve made off people who couldn’t upgrade fast enough.

The good news is that everyone else – or at least, those who weren’t fighting about Texas and California – agreed those wheels were awful. This got me thinking: if we agree the SL’s wheel is so bad, could we possibly agree on a wheel that’s good?

Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 12.37.38 PM

My personal favorite wheel comes from the 1995 Ferrari F512M. This was the final iteration of the Testarossa, a car that came out more than a decade earlier. Because the TR was so hopelessly outclassed, even by Lamborghini products (at the time, this was a considerable feat), Ferrari had to do something cool. And that cool thing was this unusual five-spoke wheel design.

I’m not entirely sure what Ferrari calls it, but I believe it looks sort of like a starfish dancing with a brake caliper. In other words: with these wheels, Ferrari had retaken its position as a leader of modern automotive design.

The Volvo S60R wears another handsome wheel. Although it’s just a simple five-spoke alloy with an “R” on one of the spokes, the S60R’s wheel somehow managed to transform a mundane Volvo into an aggressive sport sedan.

Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 12.38.25 PM

The only problem with the S60R’s wheel is the same issue most “performance car” wheels had in the 2000s: it sticks out beyond the tire. That means every S60R wheel in existence is covered in curb rash thanks to careless owners who thought the “R” model just added more features.

So those are my choices. What are yours? I’d like to take the responses and create an article in the coming days about what makes a wheel attractive. Assuming, of course, that we don’t get into another fight about Texas and California.

@DougDeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Going Ugly On Purpose Wed, 10 Jul 2013 16:05:32 +0000 Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 11.51.52 AM

I recently visited the great state of Texas (State motto: “Don’t shoot!”), where I made several highly important observations that I will now share with you. They are:

1. Everyone loves pickups. This matter is not up for dispute. If you walk into a dealership, you will walk out with a brand-new pickup, even if you’re just the FedEx guy dropping off a package.

2. Everyone loves Texas. Nearly all of those pickups are the “Longhorn Package” or the “Lone Star Model” or the “Build A Huge Border Fence Edition.” Also, more than one resident told me a story about how some giant, low-priced national chain restaurant tried to move into a local strip mall, only to be put out of business by a mediocre, Texas-owned fish place.

3. It has not rained in Texas since the Bush administration. Governor Rick Perry responded to this in 2011 by asking Texans to pray for rain over a designated three-day rain-praying period. Interestingly, the governor of my home state, Georgia, attempted a similar thing in 2007, and it only just stopped raining this morning.

But my most interesting Texas-related observation relates to license plates. This won’t surprise regular readers, as I go on license plate-related rants with surprising frequency. There was, for example, that time I made fun of Montana for having a “Quilt Lover” license plate, which resulted in a ricin-laced quilt appearing on my doorstep.

Anyway, the observation is: Texas license plates are really boring. I mean really, really boring. In fact, the latest Texas license plate is so dull that it looks like it was created when someone made a black-and-white photocopy of another state’s license plate.


So why would the proudest state in the union uglify its license plates? Money, of course.

Texas, you see, recently privatized the sale and design of its special license plates. That means some large private company – presumably one that’s based in Texas and has a lot of pickup trucks – now shares profits with the DMV whenever a special plate is sold. So the DMV decided to drum up special plate sales by ditching Texas’s colorful standard-issue license plate, which featured a gorgeous blue sky over rolling, water-starved hills.

Texas isn’t alone in this. Virginia has done it for years. Virginia’s normal plate is a boring white and blue design, while the special tag options include plates for Jimmy Buffett fans, Friends of Tibet, and my personal favorite: one that says “ROBERT E. LEE: THE VIRGINIA GENTLEMAN.”

But Texas and Virginia don’t hold a candle to the true masters: German automakers.


The very worst offender is pictured above, and at the top of this article. If you’re a European (in which case: please send some of your rain to Texas), these are the base wheels on your all-new, 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class. That’s right: unless you pay thousands of dollars for an upgrade, you’re stuck with what can only be described as imitation hubcaps.

While I understand that taste is subjective, these wheels are so bad that Mercedes doesn’t even take press photos with them. Seriously: they’re called the “Stern” design and they’re standard on the SL350. Google that and see if you can find even one photo with these wheels. My bet is you can’t. You wouldn’t know it existed unless you saw the image at the top of this article, which is from a European Mercedes configurator.

In fact, I had to travel to Zurich just for this picture, which proves my unending commitment to providing you, dear reader, with the finest coverage of every single issue. Over there, the base-level SL350 starts at 126,400 Swiss francs, which translates to more than $130,000 in the US – or nearly $138,000 in Canada. With those wheels. You have to pay another $1,500 to upgrade to something else.

Another car that’s famous for sticking you with crappy base wheels is the BMW 5-Series GT. Of course, we all know the 5-Series GT is ugly to begin with, and that can’t be remedied. But it’s made worse by the 535i GT’s base wheels, which make the car look like a cargo van sitting on four cans of tuna turned on their side and surrounded by rubber.


Things wouldn’t look so bad if you could get a set of nice, big wheels, like the ones they offer on the 550i GT. But you can’t do that unless you actually upgrade to a 550i GT. Presumably, some people have actually done this just so their 5-Series GT wouldn’t tip over in hard cornering.

The Porsche Panamera S has the same problem, among many others. The base wheels are awful, and may have been pulled straight off the kind of tiny, diesel-powered hatchback they would only drive in Europe. You have to spend $2,000 to get anything decent, and more than $3,200 to get something really meaty.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 11.47.20 AM

You might be thinking that this is nothing new. Of course they make the base wheels small so that people spend more for the nice ones! But my theory is a little more sinister. I think German automakers make their base wheels not just small, but intentionally ugly, just so people will pay for upgrades.

That’s right: I think, during the development of the car, a bunch of Germans are sitting around a table sharing ideas (Such as: “Ze car must include a very large ashtray”) and one of them reminds everyone that the base wheels have to look like a worn Frisbee. Then they all nod in agreement and drive away in their tiny, diesel-powered hatchbacks.

In other words, German automakers have a lot in common with the Texas DMV. It’s easy to see where this is going: the BMW X5 Quad Cab Texas Edition. With 14-inch base wheels.

@DougDeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Derek And Doug’s Fantastic Crapwagons: E34 M5 Vs. Ur-S4/S6 Fri, 14 Jun 2013 13:00:22 +0000 1993_audi_s4_sedan_quattro_fq_oem_1_500
Derek writes:

One of the things Doug and I wanted to do with this column is to highlight the regional differences in car choices – not just in condition and value but the overall selection. Any surprise that humid, sunny Atlanta has a dearth of Audis while snowy Canada is awash in them?

When Doug proposed covering the E34 M5, I had a bit of a problem on my hands – they’re about as scarce as gun rights advocates in my neck of the woods. Nowadays, an M5 is simply a four-door sedan that foreign exchange students drive around the University of Toronto campus, but back then, the Audi Ur-S4 and Ur-S6 was clearly the high performance sedan of choice.

A search in the classifieds yielded no less than six Ur-S cars for sale, in varying conditions. There was everything from a true crapwagon to a real-life one-owner car, tastefully modified with relatively low km’s on the odometer. A lot of M Cars, AMG models and B5 S4s seem to be bought up by young guys with enough cash to purchase the car, but their maintenance budgets are usually diverted to buying table service and ecstasy tablets at Toronto nightclubs. These cars are easy to spot in the classifieds thanks to the poor grammar of the ad copy, the ugly rims slapped on the cars and the warning against “LOW BALLERZ AND TEST PILOTS”.

Not so with the original S-cars. They all seem to be owned by older, more mature owners who live in nice parts of town and have the money to maintain them meticulously. This car was serviced at a good independent mechanic and has relatively low mileage. It’s a nice balance between condition and price and…oh what the hell, I really like the color and those BBS wheels. I probably don’t have the stomach to deal with the maintenance requirements, but the thought of dashing through the snow with the diffs locked and the turbo signing is mighty tempting. Unless, you know, the right 500E came along…

Doug writes:

Down in Atlanta, we don’t have any Audi S4s, or Audi S6s, or really any sort of Audi except for the Q5.  You might think this is because we don’t get any snow, but the real reason is they’ve all broken down and been shipped to the north, where people care enough to fix them.

Anyway: since we don’t have any high-performance Audis from the mid-1990s, I went looking for some high-performance BMWs.  And it turns out we don’t have many of those, either.

The model I selected was the “E34” BMW M5, which was sold here from 1991 to 1993.  Only three years on the market didn’t bode well for its long-term existence, as just two showed up anywhere near me.

The first – and the least desirable – is this 1991 model.  Since it’s on Craigslist, mileage is unlisted.  This is a rule on Craigslist, much like uploading photographs of the vehicle in the smallest size possible.

The seller wants $14,800, which – at first glance – is astronomical.  I say that because the car is wearing offensively large aftermarket wheels, which, to me, is a sign of “I bought the car to look cool and have deferred every single piece of maintenance you can possibly defer.”  But on closer examination, the interior looks to be pristine, which may mean it’s been treated well.  Still: is it worth $14,800?  I have no idea, because the mileage is unlisted.

This white 1991 model on is far more enticing, largely because we know it has 117,000 miles.  We also know it has a lot of recent maintenance, as described in the ad.  Condition is excellent, and – at just $16,000 – it’s only a little more money than the one on Craigslist.

Unfortunately, those two cars are just about the only E34 M5 options available right now.

But it’s two more than the Audi S4 and S6.

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How About Electronic Road Signs? Fri, 14 Jun 2013 11:30:58 +0000 this-light-never-turns-green-1368-1314806212-30

Recently, and with great interest, I read Thomas’s article on electronic license plates. For those of you who haven’t read it, and are therefore hopelessly behind the times, a quick summary:

1. The state of South Carolina, noted location of heavily armed backyard cookouts, is reportedly considering a proposal to switch to electronic license plates.

2. The proposal came from a company that no one’s heard of, presumably based in a split-level condominium located very far from South Carolina.

3. The company has not announced where all the screens will come from, though my personal recommendation is unsold inventory of the Barnes & Noble Nook.

4. The proposal hinges on the fact that – while the electronic license plates will cost something like 17 times more than the current, non-electronic ones – they will announce in huge letters if you haven’t paid your registration fees. This will generate revenue by shaming people into paying registration fees.

5. The state has not yet revealed exactly how the license plates will attach to cars, though we can be sure that, whichever method they choose, it will have dangerous unintended consequences.

6. Eventually, the license plates will be hacked, the state will scrap the program, and the governor will flee to South America to visit his mistress.


I, personally, am not in favor of electronic license plates. But it’s not for the reason you think. While many people are angry about the proposal because they fear government tracking (and by the way: nice timing, South Carolina), I don’t mind being tracked by the government. This stems from the fact that, if the government were to track me, they would quickly discover I am an unemployed writer who spends a lot of money on cookies.

Instead, my disdain for the program largely stems from the fact that I am a license plate aficionado. Essentially, this means that every single license plate that has ever graced one of my cars is assembled on a wall in my home that is now highly reflective. If license plates became electronic, I could no longer do this, which means I would have to buy actual posters or something. This would give me less money for cookies.

So electronic license plates are clearly a bad idea. Fortunately, I’ve devised something better to appease the South Carolina state government who, for the first time in history, wants to be on the cutting edge of something. And that something better is: electronic road signs.

Before you dismiss my idea as unreasonable (and by the way, it is unreasonable), hear me out.

Say you’re cruising along at 2am on a highway where the speed limit is 55. It’s a clear night and there aren’t any cars around for miles, so they flip the switch and the speed limit jumps to 65. So you go a little faster, and they flip it back to 55 before rush hour the next morning.

Alternatively, say you’re driving down a curvy stretch of country highway at 10pm and it’s pouring. They flip the switch and the speed limit drops from 55 to 45, which tells you to slow down. All of these numbers, by the way, are in miles per hour, as I wouldn’t want to attempt any further metric conversions.

Of course, carrying this to its logical conclusion, you could really do anything with electronic signs. For instance: you’re driving along on a normal road, going the speed limit, and suddenly an electronic sign flashes ahead of you that says: “SLOW DOWN: CHICKENS IN THE ROAD.” This is how you know you’re in South Carolina.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: What’s to prevent the police from just changing the speed limit as you drive by? And the answer is: nothing. This would make driving even more exciting, as you constantly have to be aware of the speed limit. That’s completely different from today, when no one knows the speed limit, meaning they just drive at whatever speed they “feel comfortable.”


Admittedly, some places already have rudimentary electronic signs. In Atlanta, for instance, they have enormous lighted billboards over the highway that read: “DISTANCE TO EXIT 222: 9 MILES. TRAVEL TIME: 9 MINUTES.” When you see these signs, you can be sure of precisely two things: one is that reaching exit 222 will take some amount of time other than nine minutes. And two, exit 222 is somewhere between 10 and 14 miles away. But the signs are there, and when it comes to local government, the effort is what really counts.

Still, these signs don’t control your speed, nor do they inform you of wildlife on the road. That’s a job for the South Carolina state legislature, who can have my tin license plate when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

@DougDeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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The Myth of the “Mini”van Mon, 10 Jun 2013 18:22:01 +0000 sienna1

I recently got behind a Toyota Sienna in traffic. This is a fairly common occurrence that usually involves a) changing lanes, and b) speeding up to see whether the children inside are watching SpongeBob SquarePants.

Of course, the children inside are always watching SpongeBob SquarePants, except in this case, where the Sienna didn’t have its rear DVD player on. This is probably because it was an Enterprise rental, likely the result of a cheerful woman behind the counter announcing: “Good news, Mr. Smith! We don’t have any compacts, but I’m going to upgrade you for free!”

This happens to me constantly: I book a subcompact and somehow end up leaving the rental facility in a Dodge Charger with a 2.7-liter V6. The Enterprise employee behind the counter is always stunned when I tell him I don’t consider this an upgrade over a subcompact, or a compact, or riding around on my desk chair.

Anyway: as I passed the Sienna, dismayed that Squidward Tentacles was nowhere to be found, I noticed something entirely different: the Toyota Sienna is enormous.

When I say “enormous,” I don’t mean it’s “a bit big,” like one of those college lecture halls that could, in a pinch, seat everyone in suburban Dallas. I mean it’s so large that I couldn’t see over it in my Range Rover. This is tremendously distressing because I, like all Range Rover drivers, bought mine so that I could sit above everyone else on the road, at least until the air suspension collapses at the very same moment the electronic tailgate fails, causing a small fire as the Range Rover slowly sinks to the ground. (I, like all Range Rover drivers, would respond to this by collecting the insurance payout and immediately buying another Range Rover.)

When I got home, I did some research and discovered the following height information:

- Toyota Sienna height: 69 inches (1752mm)
- My Range Rover height: 73.3 inches (1861mm)

In other words, my Range Rover – the finest off-roader on the planet, according to my Land Rover dealer – is just an iPhone taller than a Toyota Sienna, whose primary purpose is to safely transport children as they watch a cartoon about a talking sponge who inhabits a piece of fruit on the ocean floor. (For those of you that think the Range Rover’s purpose is similar, that isn’t true: I occasionally use its capabilities to drive over parking curbs when I don’t want to back up.)

But the Sienna’s height isn’t its most concerning measurement. Today’s Sienna stands at 200.2 inches long, or – for you metric folks – a whopping 0.005085 kilometers. That makes it more than a foot longer than the egg-shaped 1990s Previa we all love so dearly, unless we’re a mechanic and we have to work on it.


The expanding minivan trick isn’t limited to the Sienna. Compared to the first-gen Odyssey, which was only purchased by New York City taxi drivers, today’s model is longer by 16 inches, or roughly 454 grams. And since Dodge ditched the regular-length Caravan, the modern Grand Caravan has 26.6 inches (2.47 square meters) on the original model. Many of us suspect the Nissan Quest is also longer than its predecessors, but sadly the new model is too ugly to be captured by modern measuring sticks.

There’s also a width issue. Namely: the current Honda Odyssey is almost exactly as wide as the Chevy Silverado. Think about that for a second. The full-size Silverado, which – according to Chevy’s ads – was designed solely to help big, burly men round up cattle, takes up the very same amount of lane as a Honda minivan.

The very term “minivan” is, therefore, a bit of a stretch. That’s further proven when you look under the Sienna’s hood and discover… a giant plastic engine cover. But if you check the web’s finest source for information, Wikipedia, you’ll learn that under that plastic engine cover lurks a 266-horsepower V6 that displaces 3.5 liters, or approximately 12 degrees Celsius.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an epidemic: the minivan is no longer “mini.” The sole exception is the Mazda5, which is actually shorter than several minivans of yore. It also offers about the same power as the supercharged Previa, though none of the charm, primarily because you don’t have to lift up the Mazda5’s passenger seat to change its oil. And where’s the fun in that?


Interestingly, families haven’t grown at the same rate as the minivan. Modern families are about the same size as their mid-1990s counterparts, even though their minivans have nearly a foot more room in each direction.

So I have to ask: why did minivans get so big? Is it all the SpongeBob DVDs they have to haul around? Or maybe it’s the Official Automotive Redesign Law, which states, in no uncertain terms, that every single new vehicle must be larger and more powerful than the one it replaces, until we’re all driving 800-horsepower mobile homes. (Or, if you’re Ford, an 830-horsepower mobile home powered by a 1.7-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.)

Either way: as modern minivans continue to grow, I think we should probably stay away from the term “minivan” altogether. That is, until I get my 800-horsepower mobile home. Then I’ll be able to see over the Sienna in traffic.

@DougDeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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The BMW X5: A Look Back Thu, 30 May 2013 16:18:59 +0000 46is2

Well, folks, the day has come. You’ve shined your shoes. You’ve worn your good suit. You’ve called your wife and excitedly announced: “Honey, I’ll be late tonight!” You’ve refreshed TTAC for days, weeks, months, only to discover that now, finally, they’re here: photos of the all-new BMW X5.

Of course, I’m kidding. You probably saw those X5 photos yesterday on Jalopnik and scrolled right past them, thinking: Do they have any Russian dash cam videos today?

But photos of an all-new X5 are a big deal. That’s because our nation’s streets will soon be flooded with them, each driven by someone who believes that no drive is complete without a little texting. And so, on the occasion of this grand unveiling, I’ve decided to take you through some of the BMW X5’s hallowed history.

It all started in the late 1980s. That’s when BMW decided to pander to Europe’s cold-climate families by offering an all-wheel drive version of its 5-Series station wagon. Prior to that, said families were stuck driving either a) a diesel Mercedes wagon, or b) a Unimog. BMW never sold the 525xiT here in the US, but if it had, I’m sure no one would’ve purchased it.

Anyway: following the runaway success of the 525xiT, which probably even managed to convince a few Swedes not to buy a Volvo, BMW decided to embark on an entirely new project: an SUV. Development began in the 1990s, and by model year 2000, the X5 had hit the streets.

But BMW was late to the party, since Mercedes already debuted the M-Class in 1998. Then again, maybe it’s a good thing Mercedes waited, since the M-Class was 40 percent luxury SUV and 60 percent panel gaps the size of a paper towel dispenser. (Actually, that’s mean: the M-Class is highly important to our nation’s history, since it singlehandedly saved Julianne Moore from being eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex.)

While the first-generation X5 was largely a dull SUV driven by people who compliment each other’s handbags, there are two important models I’d like to point out:

1. The stick shift. Yes, that’s right: from 2001 through 2006, you could get an X5 with a manual transmission. There were a few caveats. Most importantly, it was only available on the six-cylinder engine, which was so gutless it probably would’ve allowed Julianne Moore to be eaten. (For those eager to point out the ML320 had less power, I’d like to remind you that Julianne Moore could’ve hidden in the panel gaps.)


Also: it was a five-speed from 2001 through 2003, then a six-speed in the years that followed. This is important because first was an unusable “crawler gear,” designed for all those people who pull out tree stumps using their X5. (Note: no one has ever done this in the history of the X5. In other words, it was probably featured prominently in a brochure.)

2. The 4.6is. This is a far more important version of the X5. Back then, BMW didn’t want to make an “M” version of its X5 for fear of bastardizing the high-performance division (a fear which went away a few years later one they realized how much money they could make). But they did want to do a performance model. The result was the 4.6is, which was offered from 2002 to 2004.


BMW fans are probably wondering why I’m not including the 2005-2007 4.8is, which was an even higher performance model. There’s a reason for that: it wasn’t available in Estoril Blue. You see, while the X5 4.6is had to make do with only 315 horsepower, the availability of Estoril Blue places it only just behind the Mercedes 300SL Gullwing on the list of “most attractive vehicles ever conceptualized.” I’m not kidding: say what you will about SUVs, but this thing looked awesome. There’s one for sale locally with a red interior, and I would happily buy it, if not for the fact that its annual maintenance budget would be similar to that 300SL Gullwing.

On with our history lesson. In 2007, the X5 reached another milestone: its first redesign. By that I mean: it still looked approximately the same, but it was around 600 pounds heavier.

Actually, while exterior changes weren’t drastic, the interior was heavily updated. For instance: gone was the previous model’s normal transmission selector. In its place was a silver thing shaped like a defective potato chip.


Since the manual was gone, the only highlight of the 2007-2013 X5 was the availability of the high-performance X5M. Once again offered in a blue color that makes me weak at the knees, the X5M used a turbocharged V8 that made 555 horsepower. I’ve actually driven an X5M on a racetrack, and the experience was quite amazing. It went like this:

1. Slide inside the sporty, glove-like bucket seats.
2. Press the start button; hear the enormous V8 roar to life.
3. Put the potato chip in Drive.
4. Hang on for dear life.

Actually, the X5M was quite composed on the track, as I’m sure the all-new model will be as well. My only hope is that they continue to offer that gorgeous blue color. Even if camouflage would be better for escaping Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Doug DeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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We, The People, Want Hybrid SUVs Tue, 28 May 2013 16:02:41 +0000 tahoe

Today, dear readers, I come to you with some bad news: Chevrolet is cancelling the Tahoe Hybrid. This is a major event. So major, in fact, that – upon reading it – you probably took a deep breath, sat back in your chair, gazed at the computer screen, and thought to yourself: They still make the Tahoe Hybrid?

The answer is: Of course they still make the Tahoe Hybrid! It’s a great car, provided you ignore the sticker price and fuel economy ratings. Actually, if you ignore those, a lot of things become great cars, although the Acura ZDX is still not one of them.

Chevy says it’s cancelling the Tahoe Hybrid because sales weren’t strong enough to justify its presence in the redesigned 2015 Tahoe lineup. Presumably, this is also true of the Silverado Hybrid, which – really – also still exists. And by “still exists,” I mean there are probably about 80 remaining at Chevy dealers across the country, and they’re all 2011 models.

Truthfully, Chevy is probably making the right decision. Of the 69,000 Tahoes they sold last year, just 533 were Hybrids. That means 99.2 percent of Tahoe buyers found it difficult to ignore the sticker price and fuel economy ratings. The other 0.8 percent, of course, were General Motors employees.

But I’m not here to discuss the Tahoe Hybrid. (This would end badly, with me saying things like “I like the stickers” and you vowing to never again read anything I write.) Instead, I want to discuss the giant hole it’s leaving in the hybrid SUV world.

Not surprisingly, the Tahoe Hybrid’s demise also signals the cancellation of its twins, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid and the GMC Yukon Hybrid. That means the hybrid SUV segment now consists solely of the following vehicles, listed below with their base prices and fuel economy ratings:

1. Toyota Highlander Hybrid (28/28) – $41,000
2. Lexus RX 450h (32/28) – $47,000
3. Audi Q5 Hybrid (24/30) – $52,000
4. Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid (20/24) – $63,000
5. Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid (20/24) – $71,000

That’s right: there are only five hybrid SUVs currently on the market. And we really should disregard the Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid, since it only sells to Volkswagen dealers who use it as a service loaner and eventually write it off in a mysterious crash that, by coincidence, involved three other Touareg Hybrids and absolutely no diesel Jettas.


But it’s not the small number of hybrid SUVs that concerns me. Instead, it’s the cost. Not one of these things starts under $40,000, which means that only a select few Americans get to hum down the street and freak out cyclists while driving a huge vehicle that was necessary “because we have dogs.”

That wasn’t always the case. Just a few short years ago, we could buy a Ford Escape Hybrid, which cost $32,000 and got 34 mpg city. But Ford pulled the plug on the Escape Hybrid in favor of its latest strategy, which involves making its engines as small as humanly possible to see if anyone notices.

At this point, I know what you’re thinking, assuming you haven’t already started scrolling down to comment that you really do need a big SUV because you really do have dogs. Your thoughts are: Who the hell cares about hybrid SUVs? I hate SUVs! I hate hybrids! And now, I hate DeMuro!

But, you see, while you might hate SUVs, Americans don’t. We buy them in massive numbers. In fact, I have an SUV, which I bought to take off-road, or, more accurately, to drive on sidewalks past people who won’t turn right on red.

Americans also don’t hate hybrids.  Instead – even though they only make up about 5 percent of the market – it seems we love them.  I know this because every single driver in Atlanta now owns a Prius, a fact they show off by driving the speed limit in the left lane.  Also, I recently saw a Prius with pro-gun bumper stickers, and when hybrid technology has reached the gun lovers, you know you’re on to something.


Of course, you may prefer diesel – but most Americans don’t. And let’s be honest: announcing “I’ve got a hybrid” means a lot more than “I’ve got a diesel” when you’re grabbing lunch after yoga. Plus, if the lunch is at Whole Foods, you’ll get to park up front.

So why hasn’t some enterprising automaker started offering a hybrid SUV with a reasonable base price and a 33 mpg EPA rating? And I mean city miles per gallon, not the Mazda CX-5’s “yes I get 35 mpg, provided you buy the stick shift and never use the air conditioning, and oh yes you know you have to tape the grille, right?”

If Toyota can do it with the Highlander at $40,000, can’t Honda do it with the CR-V at $30,000? It would be the Prius of SUVs, driving the speed limit in left lanes across the country. Only this time, it would have dogs in the back.

Doug DeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Derek And Doug’s Fantastic Crapwagons: Ford SVT Contour Fri, 24 May 2013 12:00:41 +0000 Ford-SVT-Contour. Photo courtesy

(The idea for this series based on the numerous emails sent between Derek and Doug, containing long forgotten cars that have fallen into a derelict state. While our intrepid authors would love to own these cars should they ever win the Powerball, they find it difficult to actually part with the funds required to take them home, especially given the significant reconditioning required. In addition, you’ll see the difference between a snow belt car and a clean car from the south, as both authors compare examples from their respective locales.)

Derek writes:

I remember the SVT Contour for two reasons. Car and Driver once named it as a contender for “Best Handling Car Under $30,000″, and BF Goodrich developed a special tire for it, the KD/W, and featured it prominently in full-page ad spreads.

Being partial to sedans, I have always had a soft spot for the SVT Contour. While it’s often dubbed the “poor man’s 4-door M3″, that’s little more than damming it with faint praise.  The front-drive layout and the Blue Oval badge doomed this car to forever being considered a second-tier sports car, but I have no innate bias against front-drive cars or Ford products. The one thing stopping me from buying one is that most local examples are crap.

The Ford badge is probably a big reason why these cars saw their values plummet like Rosie O’Donnell in a skydiving accident. Many of them ended up rotting in fields, suffering at the hands of incompetent “Performance 2NR types” or winding up as ChumpCar entrants. Even the relatively clean ones have weird red flags like mismatched wheels. If the road salt and wet climate wasn’t bad enough, then Toronto’s “auto enthusiasts” can always find a way to take degrade a once great car.

Then again, there is this one. Not my first choice of color, and a little more than I’d want to pay. But at least the ad is coherent.

Doug writes:

It’s easy to find a Contour SVT in the Atlanta area, provided you’re OK with driving to the kind of faraway suburb where people have addresses like “11467 State Highway 82” and the most common house pet is a pig.

That’s because the Contour SVT was highly popular down south among drivers who realized it would be hard to fit a car seat in a V6 Mustang.  Unfortunately, this means that every Atlanta-area Contour SVT has been through several owners, all of whom, at one point, posted a YouTube video of themselves driving the car that started with: “Watch this!”

But with a friendly climate and the car’s wide availability of parts, a lot of the local Contour SVTs are in reasonably nice shape.  This 1998 model, for example, looks absolutely pristine considering its list price of just $4,000.  And while the seller hasn’t posted the car’s mileage, he has provided his own personal guarantee of “drive anywhere,” which is really just as good.

This 2000 model, offered for just $2,999, also looks pristine, provided you’re OK with the facelift headlights.  This seller also hasn’t listed the mileage, but he did note the car got a new clutch and new brakes at 108,000.  He also says it “sounds great,” which is Georgia speak for “straight pipes” or possibly “hole in the exhaust that requires welding.”

There are a few more SVT Contours on Atlanta Craigslist, all of which boast similar condition and pricing.  (As a bonus, some listings even include the mileage.)  Down here, we sure know how to keep our SVT Contours.  And our pet pigs.


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Doug’s Comparison: Lincoln MKT vs. Lincoln Town Car Mon, 20 May 2013 15:54:47 +0000 mkt_town

I recently wrote an article entitled “Lincoln Can and Will Come Back,” in which I insisted that Lincoln would, someday soon, rise from the ashes and return to its rightful place as a top luxury brand for people who can’t afford an Infiniti. Many of you thought I was crazy, largely because Lincoln’s lineup consists of five re-skinned Fords, all of which share the same name.

But as a patriotic American, I am certain that Lincoln will come back. In fact, I believe its resurgence has already begun, as I will illustrate with a comparison between the Town Car and the MKT. I know what you’re thinking: Why are you comparing the Town Car with a … wait, what the hell is an MKT? Is that a sedan? The answer is: because that’s what Lincoln is doing. You see, Lincoln is telling current Town Car drivers – in other words, airport limo services and Jack Baruth – that the MKT is the Town Car’s rightful replacement. Also, the MKT is not a sedan, but rather a medium-sized hearse that Lincoln calls a crossover.

So let’s see how it stacks up in a comparison.

Interior Room


This is an important category, since the Town Car’s main purpose is shuttling passengers to and from the airport while the driver talks on a cell phone. Let’s start with rear head room. The Town Car has just 37.6 inches, while the MKT boasts a whopping 39 inches. This is wonderful. The last time I was in a Town Car, all I could think was: I fit perfectly, but I cannot comfortably stand a USB stick on my head. That problem is eliminated in the MKT.

Moving on to rear leg room, the Town Car claims 41.1 inches, while the MKT offers 41.8. And point seven inches, ladies and gentlemen, could mean the difference between fully extending your foot and keeping it at a slightly uncomfortable angle. Advantage: MKT. (To anyone eager to remind me that the Town Car offers a stretched wheelbase version with 46.9 inches of leg room, I can only ask: why do you hate America?)


Efficiency is an important category because, as airport limos, the Town Car and MKT will often be left idling for hours in airport parking lots while the driver talks to other airport limo drivers. Also, they will occasionally be driven.

You might think this gives the Town Car an advantage, since the MKT is a truck that weighs as much as a college football stadium. But you’d be wrong. That’s because the fleet-only version of the MKT – dubbed the MKT Town Car in an homage to its fallen comrade – offers a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that isn’t available to the general public. It makes 230 horsepower, which is only nine less than the Town Car’s 4.6-liter V8. And, at 20 mpg city and 28 highway, it’s far more efficient than the Town Car’s 17/25. Advantage: MKT. (Note: this category isn’t called “acceleration.”)


The few Town Cars that aren’t in airport limo service are being driven, rather rapidly, through New York City. As a result, it’s important that Town Car and MKT be light on their feet, which they aren’t. But there are some interesting statistics I must share, which may, for a second, make you think you’re actually reading a legitimate comparison. This is, of course, not true.

Number one: length. The base-level Town Car is 215 inches long. The Town Car L is 221.4 inches long. The MKT, meanwhile, comes in at a spry 207.6 inches. This is a massive difference that strikes me as sort of like comparing a potted plant to a dump truck.

It gets better for the MKT. At 76 inches, the MKT is actually 2.2 inches narrower than the Town Car. And it loses the turning circle comparison by two measly feet. Since that goes against my argument, I will decry it as virtually meaningless. In other words: compared to the Town Car, the MKT is basically a Miata. Advantage: MKT.

Resemblance to a Hearse


Like the windshield wiper normalcy showdown in my LEAF vs. Fit comparison, this is an important category that is far too often overlooked by traditional automotive journalists. Of course, there’s no real comparison: the Town Car looks like a sedan, possibly from the 1980s, while the MKT looks exactly like a hearse. This is especially true of the hearse model. Advantage: MKT.


I have to admit, I thought the Town Car would easily win this category. That’s because I, like you, haven’t looked up Lincoln Town Car pricing since the Clinton era, when the Town Car cost $19,500 and had a vertical rear window. Things have changed since then. What do you expect the Town Car’s base price was in its final model year? $30,000? $40,000? The answer is, with shipping: forty-eight thousand dollars. And that’s before options, which include luxuries like a trunk organizer.

The MKT, meanwhile, starts at a mere $46,000, and presumably far less for the four-cylinder version, which – let’s be honest – is probably incredibly slow and resembles a hearse. Also, the MKT is probably loaded with incentives, which may even include a free trunk organizer. Advantage: MKT.



Clearly, there is no comparison between the Town Car and the MKT: one is an outdated, body-on-frame sedan, and the other is a brilliant crossover with a voluminous interior and a 2-liter four-cylinder that also powers the Ford Focus. Therefore, I am happy to announce that the MKT heralds in the era of Lincoln Motor Company. It just does it very, very slowly, and possibly with a casket in back.

Doug DeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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