The Truth About Cars » Question of the Day http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 02 Aug 2015 16:00:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » Question of the Day http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com QOTD: What’s the Stupidest Automotive Feature? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-whats-the-stupidest-automotive-feature/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-whats-the-stupidest-automotive-feature/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 10:43:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1129913 I think it’s time to discuss something that we should’ve brought up a long time ago: the stupidest automotive feature. Oh, sure, we’ve discussed the worst automotive feature, and the best automotive feature, and the automotive feature you wish you had, like spiked tires that could cut through ice and offending road users. But what […]

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2004 Chrysler Crossfire Rear Retractable Spoiler

I think it’s time to discuss something that we should’ve brought up a long time ago: the stupidest automotive feature.

Oh, sure, we’ve discussed the worst automotive feature, and the best automotive feature, and the automotive feature you wish you had, like spiked tires that could cut through ice and offending road users.

But what about the stupidest feature?

I ask this because I think there are a lot of unnecessary automotive features out there in today’s world; items that have no basis or bearing for real life use, or customer desire, brought to us by automakers who are hellbent on coming out with a vehicle that offers the highest possible level of gadgets and equipment so they can use the phrase “BEST IN CLASS” over and over in their ads.

Interestingly, however, I don’t believe the stupidest feature is one of these newfangled ideas that seems to exist for the sheer sake of existing. I believe the stupidest feature is actually an oldie. And it is: a retractable spoiler.

For those of you who don’t know what a retractable spoiler is, allow me to explain. You’re cruising along in your Porsche, or your Bugatti Veyron, or your Volkswagen Corrado, and you hit a certain speed, which is usually something inexplicable like 47 miles per hour or 87 kilometers per hour. And then the spoiler shoots out for no apparent reason other than to alert drivers on the road that you’re in a sporty car.

I’ve never really understood the purpose of this retractable spoiler. Ninety-nine percent of the time, when you see it sticking out on a Porsche 911, the driver is just cruising down the interstate. That’s because the spoiler is designed to deploy based on speed, not driving style, apparently in some bizarre effort to keep your car on the road should you begin to experience the effects of a massive windstorm.

The funny thing is these spoilers are never adequately sized to actually do anything. They’re just there to be spoilers, so you can tell your friends you have a cool spoiler that extends out at speed as if you’re in a race car, when in reality the spoiler is the size of a license plate and it wouldn’t have any effect on any vehicle larger than a Hot Wheels.

So why does this spoiler exist? I really do think it’s for bragging rights. But that’s not the worst part.

2010 Porsche Panamera Turbo Adaptive Motion Rear Spoiler

Oh, no. The worst part is that the retractable spoiler in most modern Porsche models actually can be extended at the push of a button. I want you to consider this. If you decide you need a spoiler on the back of your car, Porsche actually lets you push a button in order to extend it and get you ready for all that serious track use.

Except, of course, this isn’t how anyone uses the spoiler. The only people who actually push that spoiler extender button are the same type of people who drive around wealthy shopping areas looking around to ensure people are looking at them. These are the worst people in the world. The spoiler button is not a spoiler button. It is an asshole button.

So what people do, when they push the asshole button, is they cruise around — not on the race track, or even a drag strip — but just around town, driving like normal, making sure everyone sees how cool their car is because they have a spoiler. Nothing makes a Panamera V6 look cooler, they think, than if you extend the rear spoiler.

But surely, the retractable spoiler is not the single stupidest feature in the world. There are a wide range of stupid features, and I’m sure I can count on you to inform everyone of your personal favorites. However, I must warn you: it’s going to be hard to top the asshole button.

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QOTD: Do You Care About Mitsubishi? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-do-you-care-about-mitsubishi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-do-you-care-about-mitsubishi/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 14:00:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1126441 I am going to make a couple assumptions about Mitsubishi, our loyal TTAC readers, and where the two intersect. For one, I don’t think a single person who comments or reads TTAC on a regular basis owns a Mitsubishi built after 1993. Also, I am going to make an educated guess that not a single Mirage […]

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2015 Mitsubishi Mirage ES

I am going to make a couple assumptions about Mitsubishi, our loyal TTAC readers, and where the two intersect.

For one, I don’t think a single person who comments or reads TTAC on a regular basis owns a Mitsubishi built after 1993. Also, I am going to make an educated guess that not a single Mirage owner reads automotive websites or blogs or any information source that offers proper opinions on Mitsubishi’s smallest of offerings.

Last — but certainly not least — I am going to point out there aren’t many people who read TTAC that care about Mitsubishi in the slightest. This, my friends, isn’t just a guess.

Every morning, after sitting down with my thick-as-tar coffee and obligatory morning bagel, I check the previous day’s traffic to see what articles have done well and what ones haven’t. I was almost certain that Mitsubishi’s announcement last week would set off a shockwave of interest throughout the automotive enthusiast community, whether it be out of actual concern or pure schadenfreude.

I wasn’t the only one who thought this. Tim was certain of this, too, providing us a quick recap of Mitsubishi’s sales in the U.S. since 2002. Even Matt Hardigree at Jalopnik found the Mitsubishi situation interesting enough to spend some time behind a keyboard to smash out an excellent editorial about the state of the U.S. manufacturer-gone-importer arm of the Japanese marque. He even linked to our Mitsubishi Doomsday Clock post by the second paragraph, the good friend that he is. (It should be noted when Jalopnik posts a link in our direction, we are usually in for a fair amount of additional traffic than a typical day.)

Yet, even with those pieces in place, do you know what people found more interesting?

A crashed Mazda MX-5 Miata replaced by Mazda.

That’s right. The fact that nearly 1,200 Illinoisans will likely lose their jobs was completely supplanted in popularity by a single MX-5 being destroyed by a pickup truck.

For what it’s worth, there isn’t much to report about Mitsubishi these days other than the company has increased overall sales due in part to the Mirage, a low-margin offering built in Thailand. It’s difficult to get excited about a car that’s typically sold below MSRP since first being imported to the United States. A 20-year-old Lada would garner more intrigue from our fringe set of readers.

It’s also difficult to take Mitsubishi seriously on the surface. Its car lineup consists of the aforementioned Mirage, an eight-year-old compact Lancer (that we first saw in Tokyo as a concept 10 years ago!), a performance model based on the Lancer that’s in its last year of production, and an electric vehicle that’s been uncompetitive (and more expensive than its competitors) from day one. Even Mitsubishi’s SUV lineup has been relegated to also-ran status next to the much more modern offerings of its Japanese, Korean and American competitors.

However, if Mitsubishi played a different game, I think we would care. If Mitsubishi was more honest about the products it does offer and wasn’t hellbent on ruining the little bit of remaining goodwill it has with enthusiasts, we might actually give a shit. When a car company has virtually no exciting product in the pipeline, people don’t see the brand’s disappearance as much of a loss. Even those who’ve bought Mirages are likely not to care as there’s not a single vehicle within the Mitsubishi lineup for them up “step up” to at trade-in time once the Lancer is put out to pasture.

When Suzuki tanked, while I cared to a degree, very few other people did. Most of my positive emotion invested in Suzuki was deeply rooted in a childhood spent being driven in and learning to drive on Suzuki products. Sure, they were cheap, disposable SUVs with little to offer in the creature comfort department (our first Sidekick was completely devoid of power options, A/C and gear selection was dictated by the driver), but at least Suzuki’s offerings were unique and provided a niche choice in the market. Even toward Suzuki’s end days, the Grand Vitara was an enchanting option with rear-wheel drive and a ladder-type frame beneath its unibody coverings. Oh — and you could still get a proper manual transmission! (Let’s not talk about the Kizashi or any of the number of Korean-built Daewoo rebadges. Or the Equator.)

What does Mitsubishi have that sets it apart from any other automaker?

Unlike Suzuki, however, I think Mitsubishi will survive, whether it deserves to or not. In a marketplace where virtually anyone can get a loan, Mitsubishi will likely thrive on small vehicle sales until the financial bubble bursts. Hopefully by then, for Mitsubishi’s sake, the company will have one or two new products that elicit some amount of interest in customers besides those who’d otherwise be relegated to a “buy here, pay here” lot.

And even with all that, even if Mitsubishi survives — or even thrives — after their latest shedding of production assets and we report on a brand new Lancer or EVO-esque SUV, I don’t think a single person will care. Maybe we will have enough budget by then to crash a Miata on our own just for the page views.

What say you, B&B? Do you care about Mitsubishi in its current form? Is it even still a curiosity at this point? Or is Mitsubishi simply a lacklustre brand that’s had its clearcoat fade in the sunlight for far too long?

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QOTD: How Do People Make Decisions On a Test Drive? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-how-do-people-make-decisions-on-a-test-drive/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-how-do-people-make-decisions-on-a-test-drive/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 11:16:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1124529 I recently had the opportunity to test drive an automobile, and I remembered why I hate it so much: because test drives are insanely short. They’re not just a little short. They’re wildly, absurdly, ridiculously short. Some test drives last for eight minutes, even though you will likely own the vehicle you’re driving for several […]

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Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 8.13.35 AM

I recently had the opportunity to test drive an automobile, and I remembered why I hate it so much: because test drives are insanely short.

They’re not just a little short. They’re wildly, absurdly, ridiculously short. Some test drives last for eight minutes, even though you will likely own the vehicle you’re driving for several years, you will pay tens of thousands of dollars for it, and you will spend several hours in it every day of your life.

Obviously, we know why this is: dealers don’t want to waste time with test drives. They want these things to go by quickly, so the cars don’t accumulate very many miles, and then they want you to get back into the showroom and start arguing over the price. This is how they get ya. The more time you spend arguing over the price, the more you want the car. “I don’t really want this car,” you think to yourself. “But I’ve already devoted six hours to arguing about the price. So I’d better get it.” This is how Chevrolet sold so many Cobalts.

But is the car buying public really content with these test drives?

The last test drive I took when I was buying a car for myself was in the summer of 2013. I was at a Cadillac dealer, and I was buying a CTS-V station wagon, and the guy allowed me to take the car about seven miles. “Just go up to the light and turn around,” the salesperson said. “That’ll show you how it handles.”

Yes, a U-Turn on a busy street shows me everything I need to know about handling.

Now, I bought that car anyway, because the truth is I didn’t really care how it drove. I had read all the magazine reviews, and watched all the videos, and I knew that I would probably love the car based on the fact that I heard it was excellent from a wide range of trusted journalistic sources, and also Road & Track.

But how does a normal person make a decision based on something as short as a test drive?

Here’s what I mean: you go to the Honda dealer and you’re interested in a Pilot. This is a family car you’ll have for the next five to eight years, until the moldy Doritos smell between the seats gets so bad that you trade it in on an MDX.

Now, when you’re buying a Pilot, you have a LOT of needs. For instance: it has to carry car seats. You have to be able to communicate with your kids in the third row. You have to be able to get grandma in and out of the back seat. You have to be able to store all your children’s accessories back there, like your diaper bag, and your clothes change bag, and your childproofing bag, and your large selection of wet wipes. You have to be able to fit it in your driveway, to pair it with your phone, to go over the bump near your house without too much drama. How the hell are you supposed to figure out all this stuff… from a ten minute test drive?

The funny thing is, I’ve never really seen anyone ask about a longer test drive. I sold cars for a while, and nobody really pushed me very hard to let them take the car out for an extended test. Once, a guy came in and said he would buy a used Pontiac Vibe if we let him take it home so we could see if his tuba fit in the back. So we let him take it home, his tuba fit in the back, and he bought the car. For me, that was the extent of the extended test drive market.

So here’s my question: is today’s society actually OK with the state of modern test drives? Do we find it acceptable that you buy a brand new car without taking it for more of a spin than a quick jaunt around the block? And more importantly: if you’ve ever taken an extended test drive, exactly how did you negotiate it? And what was the dealer’s response when you asked?

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QOTD: When Will Pickups Cost $100,000? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-will-pickups-cost-100000/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-will-pickups-cost-100000/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 11:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1122289 An unnamed product planner for an unnamed truck company candidly told me off the record once: “There is no ceiling for trucks right now. It’s incredible.” He’s right. Ford’s announcement yesterday of a truck that’ll likely sniff $60,000 to start is a far cry from your grandfather’s Ram that he bought for three dairy cows […]

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2016 Ford F-150 Limited

An unnamed product planner for an unnamed truck company candidly told me off the record once: “There is no ceiling for trucks right now. It’s incredible.”

He’s right. Ford’s announcement yesterday of a truck that’ll likely sniff $60,000 to start is a far cry from your grandfather’s Ram that he bought for three dairy cows and a handful of sawdust.

Reuters reported that the average sale price for a full-size pickup is $42,429, which is 30-percent higher than it was six years ago. Certainly, trucks don’t have 30-percent more stuff or 30-percent more anything to justify the price hike. Truckmakers are just being good ol’ capitalists and testing what the market will bear.

And apparently it’ll bear a lot.

It’s hard to say if trucks have reached Nero-levels of excess yet, but it’s only a matter of time before the bubble bursts — after all, economics follows the law of gravity too. Who builds and when will it leave the factory with a six-figure tag? It’ll come sooner rather than later, is my guess.

A bit of background: We couldn’t price out a six-figure truck yet. We were close with Ford’s Super Duty F-250 Platinum, but that topped out at just under $74,000. The most expensive non-luxury vehicle we could make was a Chevrolet Suburban with every option — including a man-made ski mountain, or something on its roof — thrown at it, at just over $80,000. Volvo, who loves that it’s a “premium” brand and not “luxury,” will sell you a luxury-ish XC90 for just over $93,000.

That means bupkis for pickups, however. They follow their own law of profitability right now, evidenced yesterday by the F-150 Limited, which is only limited in the numbers that they’ll sell.

So how about it B&B: When will a pickup cost $100,000?

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QOTD: Is Death Of The Sedan Nigh? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-is-death-of-the-sedan-nigh/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-is-death-of-the-sedan-nigh/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 11:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1120345 Automakers are busy re-jigging their product mix to better meet the crossover hunger of an ever-shifting buying public. Chevrolet is adding a new crossover to their lineup — according to “sources” — that shrinks the Equinox and puts a new, three-row model between it and the Traverse. Mazda has a new cute ute in the forum of […]

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2016 Chevrolet Cruze Front 3/4

Automakers are busy re-jigging their product mix to better meet the crossover hunger of an ever-shifting buying public.

Chevrolet is adding a new crossover to their lineup — according to “sources” — that shrinks the Equinox and puts a new, three-row model between it and the Traverse. Mazda has a new cute ute in the forum of a jacked-up Mazda2. Same with Honda’s HR-V which, by all accounts, is a massive hit out of the gate. Toyota has their new subcompact utility on the way. And Buick — oh, Buick — has finally rectified the Encore’s asthma with a decent puffer.

However, there was news about a new Cadillac ATS Midnight Edition yesterday and we didn’t run it. That’s because nobody, or at least nearly nobody, cares about sedans.

Timothy “Sales, Sales, Sales” Cain says it month after month using his fancy charts. Mid-size sedans are taking a beating. There are winners in the category — the Chrysler 200 and Subaru Legacy come to mind — but their successes are very situational. For the 200, for instance, it probably has more to do with the lack of a mid-size Avenger in the same dealer lot.

While analysts and journalists talk about the “crossover craze” as if it’s a passing fad — like two-tone beige/gold on forest green ’90s-esque paint schemes — I think this crossover migration is now the new normal. Chevrolet currently has five sedans if you count the soon-to-be-gone Chevrolet SS, a car that nobody buys because GM doesn’t even bother to market it beyond sticking the two letters to the front of a swarm of oval-racing silhouette cars. Take that away, Chevrolet has the Sonic sedan, Cruze, Malibu, and Impala — and guess which of those are selling like hotcakes right now? (Hint: I’ll let you use zero fingers to point to the winner.)

Just like our parents, or maybe even their parents, who transitioned away from the traditional family hauler that was the American station wagon; just like we, or maybe even our parents, adopted massive SUVs in the ’90s that drank gasoline like a local varsity cheerleading team attacking well shots after a great home game — then unceremoniously ditched them for hybrids; just like we took up the hybrid torch, ditched the engine altogether, and accepted electric vehicles into our lives … the lowly sedan, a staple of American road-going salesman and fresh-faced professionals looking to put on a good show in office park parking lots across North America, is being phased out in favor of America’s new favorite family car — the crossover.

Should we be sad? Maybe. Probably not. As long as we still have Chargers, I’m happy.

What do you think, Best and Brightest? Are the sedan’s days numbered?

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QOTD: Are Cross-Marque Engine Swaps Blasphemous? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-cross-marque-engine-swaps-blasphemous/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-cross-marque-engine-swaps-blasphemous/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 11:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1107937 I’m a big fan of goofy engine swaps, but I must admit that I get tired of seeing small-block Chevy engines in everything. Still, engine swapping is an American tradition that goes way back, and the rise of online discourse has led to a huge increase in the level of heretic-seeking, brand-loyal, anti-engine-swap sentiment in […]

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QOTD-EngineSwapBlasphemy-610px

I’m a big fan of goofy engine swaps, but I must admit that I get tired of seeing small-block Chevy engines in everything. Still, engine swapping is an American tradition that goes way back, and the rise of online discourse has led to a huge increase in the level of heretic-seeking, brand-loyal, anti-engine-swap sentiment in the last decade or so. Why, our very own Crabspirits may have to go into a witness-protection program after stuffing a Nissan VG30 V6 into his Toyota Cressida, and I’ve received some disapproval for putting a GM engine in a 1941 Plymouth (not a huge amount, because prewar Plymouth fanatics tend to be 115 years old and not so online-savvy). AMC guys wig out when they see an LS in a Javelin, BMW fanatics get all red-faced when they see an E30 with a Detroit V8, and so on with just about any cross-marque swap you can name.

How do you feel?
LeMons_Engine_Swaps-Duratec_Geo-02

Are all such swaps evil and wrong? Some of them? Which ones? So far, fanciers of British cars are the car freaks I’ve found whose members nearly always approve of weird engine swaps, partly because of the tradition of hacking the hell out of British machinery and partly because so many British engines were 50 years obsolete when new.

Whaddya think?

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QOTD: Does Anyone Care About Recalls? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-does-anyone-care-about-recalls/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-does-anyone-care-about-recalls/#comments Fri, 10 Jul 2015 11:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1112641 Another day, another recall. Or, at least, this seems to be the growing trend lately in the automotive industry. Years ago, I remember recalls being a rarity. My mom owns a Ford Escape that she bought new in 2003, and I distinctly remember her thinking about getting something else because she was worried about all […]

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Escape to which mountain?

Another day, another recall. Or, at least, this seems to be the growing trend lately in the automotive industry.

Years ago, I remember recalls being a rarity. My mom owns a Ford Escape that she bought new in 2003, and I distinctly remember her thinking about getting something else because she was worried about all the recalls. It had, at the most, three. This is what used to pass for a high-recall vehicle.

No longer.

In today’s climate, cars are getting recalled all the time. Left and right. Cats and dogs. Every single day there’s a new automotive recall. I just got a recall for my 10-year-old SUV of which I’m the third owner. Nobody is safe.

The funny thing is, the sheer number of recent recalls has sort of desensitized everyone to the recall problem. It used to be when you got a recall notice, you were seriously concerned about safety and worried about your vehicle’s ability to drive down the street without something happening like the vehicle launching you into space because the supplier had unintentionally built 2,400 units with an ejector seat.

But in today’s world, we’ve seen it all. Toyota recalling millions of cars for floor mats and pedal issues. Chevrolet recalling tens of millions of cars for ignition switch problems. Honda recalling every car it has ever manufactured for faulty airbags, including a wide range of cars that didn’t have airbags, because Takata was putting explosive charges in the speedometer.

I think the result is that people just don’t care about recalls anymore.

I noticed this because I’ve started running a lot of Carfax reports over the last few months. I’ve paid for a subscription and I’ve started running reports on a wide range of cars, including vehicles on sale, vehicles I see on the street, vehicles I see on Craigslist. Anything, really. And what I’ve learned: an enormous number of them have open recalls.

What I think happens is people are starting to disregard recall notices more and more because they’re just coming so often. If you have any modern, popular vehicle, you might have four or five recalls currently outstanding, all of which will have parts reach dealers at a different time. That door lock recall? Oh, we’ll have parts in August. The brake spindle bladder? Parts won’t come in until October. But by then, we’ll be out of parts for the door lock recall. Better come in twice.

The interesting thing about this is, the latest climate of recalls has made it so oft-recalled cars are almost entirely unnoticeable. It used to be that if you were thinking about buying a car, and you learned it had been recalled a few times, you wondered if maybe you should consider something else. Somewhere else. Some other brand that isn’t making the kind of death trap that gets recalled a few times.

But now, you see a car that’s been recalled a few times, and you sort of expect it. What hasn’t been recalled, you think. And then you buy it, and you forget all about the recall, because God knows you’re going to get ten more notices in the mail until it’s time to dump it on the next poor sap.

And so I ask: does anyone care about recalls? Do you?

Me, I worry a bit about recalls. When I got my recall notice, I grew a little concerned, because I know this is a safety thing. No, it might not be affecting me right now, but if we’ve moved to the point where they’re doing a recall, it might affect me soon. So I’m a little cautious with these things.

But should I even be worried? Are cars actually made worse than they once were, and that’s why there are so many recalls? Or are automakers just scared of liability issues, so they’re being more cautious?

The public certainly seems to think it’s the second option, based on just how many recalls they aren’t going in for. Me, I’m not so sure. I made sure to ask about my recall the last time my car was at the dealer.

Their response? “Oh, those parts haven’t come in yet.”

Ahh, recalls. Maybe I’ll just forget about it.

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QOTD: Is It Time We Give Up The ‘Save The Manuals’ War? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-is-it-time-we-give-up-the-save-the-manuals-war/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-is-it-time-we-give-up-the-save-the-manuals-war/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 15:00:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1109129 With news that BMW’s M division might give up offering manual transmissions altogether along with the plethora of automatic-only performance options from other automakers on the market, the battle to keep the manual looks bleak. Not only that, but automatics seem to just be the better choice for a number of other non-performance options as […]

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2015 Dodge Challenger 6-speed manual shifter

With news that BMW’s M division might give up offering manual transmissions altogether along with the plethora of automatic-only performance options from other automakers on the market, the battle to keep the manual looks bleak.

Not only that, but automatics seem to just be the better choice for a number of other non-performance options as well.

Let’s set the Mazda MX-5 Miata aside for a moment because we all know putting an automatic transmission in a light-weight, low-power roadster is sacrilege and anyone attempting to buy an automatic Miata should be shipped off to a re-education camp.

For starters, let’s talk about one car that isn’t necessarily driver oriented.

In Alex’s review of the Scion iA yesterday, he points out the automated needs on the lower end of the price scale (emphasis mine):

The iA isn’t the Scion I was expecting, and it isn’t the Mazda I was hoping for either. The iA seems like Mazda’s interpretation of what a Scion should be, and marriage has created a surprisingly good little car. Shoppers will find a well-controlled ride, excellent road manners and impeccable fuel economy all wrapped inside Scion’s warranty and scheduled maintenance, and sold at a Toyota dealer. The combination makes for the most appealing sedan in this segment by a hair. (If Ford mates an automatic transmission to their 3-cylinder turbo Fiesta, it’s game on.)

For those of you who’ve never driven a manual Fiesta, especially one with the 1.0-liter 3-cylinder EcoBoost mill, it’s as close as you can get to driving nirvana in the subcompact segment without adding ST curry. The manual transmission is the perfect amount of notchy and forgiving, and it’s the one vehicle I wish I could use to teach everyone how to drive a car with a stick shift.

But, appreciation for rowing your own these days is limited. The little three-pot Fiesta would likely do a helluva lot better sales-wise if it could be had with an automatic. Instead, those looking for a new car who’ve never driven a manual before immediately dismiss it. That should be expected as learning how to drive on a brand-new $17,000 investment is far from ideal.

Over at General Motors’ Aspirations Division, Cadillac’s last-generation CTS-V was an absolute hoot to drive. When it came out, I was lucky enough to spend time behind the wheels of both the CTS-V Coupe and Sport Wagon (which they should have called Estate). The coupe, equipped with its six-speed automatic, was an absolute blast to drive hard. It also required zero effort to just cruise around as you should do in a Cadillac. On the other hand, the six-speed manual Sport Wagon was more fun when driven in anger, but about 1/10th as relaxing to drive in “Everyday Mode.” If it were my money, even though I’ve grown up my entire life on manual cars, I’d have bought the automatic V — hands down.

What do you think, Best & Brightest? Is it time to give up the “Save The Manuals” war and finally accept computers are better than us as this whole changing-gears business?

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QOTD: Is Motorsport Still Relevant? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-motorsport-still-relevant/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-motorsport-still-relevant/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 15:00:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1108129 I am completely at a loss to think of another sport that tests man and machine as much as motorsport. Maybe bobsledding? Nah, scratch that. Automakers have a history of testing their latest and greatest at road courses, ovals and street circuits all over the world. Some of the best technological innovations have come directly from […]

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SONOMA, CA - JUNE 28:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Crispy Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 28, 2015 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

I am completely at a loss to think of another sport that tests man and machine as much as motorsport. Maybe bobsledding? Nah, scratch that.

Automakers have a history of testing their latest and greatest at road courses, ovals and street circuits all over the world. Some of the best technological innovations have come directly from racing. But, is that still the case? Is racing still the test bed it used to be for what we see on our cars a decade from now? And does it still help automakers capture the hearts and minds of the car-buying public?

Formula 1, the multi-billion dollar single-seater racing series controlled by a British troll, has gone down the rabbit hole of high technology and, to a degree, fuel economy. The new breed of Formula 1 “power units” — as they are now called — are a combination of turbocharged V6 engines and electric drivetrain systems. The days of a relatively simple V10 are over, as is the noise and overall spectacle of a Formula 1 car.

Today’s production cars are certainly becoming more tech laden. However, whether the technology is directly derived from racing is another point entirely. I can’t remember the last time I saw an ad for a piece of technology taken from an automaker’s F1 efforts and applied to a vehicle on the showroom floor.

That’s not to say racing is irrelevant because the technology cannot be directly transferred. Instead, Formula 1 has turned into a marketing exercise disguised as a high-brow sport. Infiniti, and possibly Aston Martin in the future, has sponsored Red Bull Racing for a few years now, but the team has never once used an engine built — or even branded — by Infiniti. Yet, the Cars of the Bulls that are Red still wear multiple Infiniti logos all over their bodywork.

NASCAR is a completely different can of beer, but the outcome is very much the same. Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota are the only three automakers contesting America’s motorsport of choice after Dodge decided the investment was no longer returning the needed rewards. After all, today’s NASCAR cars are no longer even loosely connected to what you can buy at your local dealer — though a push-rod V8 Camry would be a tempting proposition. The disconnection is compounded when you realize many engines in NASCAR are built by engine builders and not the automakers themselves.

The motorsport that turns left is another marketing exercise — though not as polished in its fan base or technology as Formula 1 — that exists simply to show you what candy you should by, where your should enlist for service, and multiple options for achieving *ahem* stature.

Even IndyCar, with its less ambitious technological aims, is only supplied by two automakers — Chevrolet and Honda — with nary a piece of tech making it to either of their showrooms.

What about club racing? Certain members of TTAC’s roster believe all car reviewers should be track aficionados, possessing the ability to push a Nissan Pathfinder to its physical limits in an effort to deliver the best value to readers. Many of these reviewers are club racers of one flavor or another, whether it be entry-level Spec Miata or top-flight competition at the SCCA Runoffs, but it is difficult to justify club racing as relevant to the general car-buying public. I’ve never once heard “I am extremely interested in XYZ model … but where did it place in the Runoffs this year?” The commercial viability of marketing in such a space is quite small as well as there is virtually no media coverage of club events.

Speaking of media coverage, the three top-level racing series mentioned above have seen their TV viewership dwindle over the years. Formula 1 lost 25 million viewers thanks to a switch to pay TV in Britain and a laundry list of other reasons. NASCAR can’t fill all the seats at their biggest race of the year. And, well, IndyCar is IndyCar. Even as an excuse for dumping large amounts of marketing cash, racing is a case of diminishing relevance.

And just to drive the point home a little bit more: Mazda. They are likely the most recognizable marque at your local road course or autocross and they cross the finish line first more often than any other automaker in America. In terms of sales, Mazda finished 18th last year.

But, that’s just what I think. What about you, Best & Brightest? Is motorsport still relevant in today’s automotive marketplace?

[Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images]

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QOTD: What Really Makes a Car American? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-what-really-makes-a-car-american/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/qotd-what-really-makes-a-car-american/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 14:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1106969 Today is the beginning of the Independence Day holiday in America, which is this beautiful historical moment where we all take a few days off work and light things on fire. It’s also an excellent time to examine precisely what makes a car American. I want to do this because there are a lot of […]

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Today is the beginning of the Independence Day holiday in America, which is this beautiful historical moment where we all take a few days off work and light things on fire. It’s also an excellent time to examine precisely what makes a car American.

I want to do this because there are a lot of Americans out there who will only buy an American car, just like there are a lot of Japanese who will only buy a Japanese car, and a lot of Germans who will only buy a German car, and a lot of South Africans who will only buy cars with bulletproof windows. But in today’s globalized world, what exactly defines a car’s country of origin?

Some would say where the car is manufactured – and that’s reasonable. After all, if a car is built in America, and sold in America by an American car dealership to someone in America, this is a pretty damn American vehicle, correct? You can only get more American if you were to get on a plane and ask personal questions to the stranger sitting next to you, even though they’re obviously trying to read the newspaper.

But wait! There are millions of cars that fit this definition that aren’t made by “American” automakers! The Volkswagen Passat, for example, is built somewhere in the marry-your-cousin hills of East Tennessee by an American factory worker, then shipped to an American dealer by an American truck driver where it’s prepped by an American employee and sold to an American rental car company for use in the commission of an American felony, likely with an American gun.

So is the Passat an American car?

Most people would say no, the Passat is a German car, in the sense that the brand that sells it, Volkswagen, hails from one of those European countries where they smoke cigarettes in corporate offices. Instead, some might say, to be truly American, a car must come from an American brand that has headquarters in America, where they hire many recent Wayne State University graduates to try and figure out whether the Buick Regal should cost $28,936 or $28,934.

The problem with this definition is that many American car companies build their cars in foreign countries. For example: the highly American Chrysler PT Cruiser, which is one of the most American cars of all time based on the total number of elderly owners who enjoy sitting in plastic lawnchairs on their porch, was actually manufactured in Mexico.

This creates a problem when we’re referring to American cars, because – this is an important news bulletin, so pay attention – Mexico isn’t America. Mexico is Mexico. [I thought Texas was Mexico? –MS] It’s an entirely different country, with an entirely different language, and culture, and citizenry, and flavor of Coca-Cola. It is, in fact, a completely different place from the US of A.

So this brings us to another question, which is: Can an American car not be an American car unless it’s made by an American brand and manufactured in America?

If the answer to this is yes, it removes dozens of American cars from our “American car” list. It also removes dozens of foreign cars, even though they often show up near the top of the cars.com “American made” index, which examines just how much of each car actually comes from the United States. Do these cars really deserve to be removed from a listing of American models?

The thing is, it’s just gotten too hard to know for sure. Is a Japanese car really American if the majority of its parts are American and it’s built here? Is an American car not American anymore if it’s built in a foreign country? And most importantly, does anyone really care?

The answer, actually, is a lot of people really care. Many Americans want to buy American, just like many British want to buy British, and many Spanish want to buy Spanish, and blah blah blah. This is why people in Italy buy the Fiat Freemont, thinking it’s an Italian car, even though it’s just a leftover Dodge Journey with a different grille.

And so I ask you, the readers: what exactly makes a car American? What does a car require in order to fit this definition? And in today’s increasingly globalized world, is there even such a thing as a truly “American” car anymore?

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QOTD: What’s the Uncoolest Choice For a 2015 Teenager’s First Vehicle? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/question-day-whats-uncoolest-possible-choice-2015-teenagers-first-vehicle/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/question-day-whats-uncoolest-possible-choice-2015-teenagers-first-vehicle/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 11:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1098633 I just took my chopped, Carson-top-equipped, heavily-customized 1969 Toyota Corona coupe to a local car show and won a trophy without even washing the thing. All but the most tradition-bound angry old coots think the Kustom Korona is pretty cool, but that got me thinking about the reason I’d spent so many years wanting a […]

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I just took my chopped, Carson-top-equipped, heavily-customized 1969 Toyota Corona coupe to a local car show and won a trophy without even washing the thing. All but the most tradition-bound angry old coots think the Kustom Korona is pretty cool, but that got me thinking about the reason I’d spent so many years wanting a cool Corona: my very first car was a 1969 Toyota Corona sedan. A beige Corona sedan, which cost 50 bucks at the corner gas station and had a clattery pushrod four-banger at a time when my peers and I lusted after Detroit muscle cars with tunnel-rammed V8s with Centerline wheels. This was pretty much the uncoolest car possible for a 16-year-old to drive in the East Bay in 1982.

So what’s the 2015 equivalent to that hooptiefied, unidentifiable, squat little Japanese sedan?
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Naturally, such a car would have to be old enough to be sort of battered and depressing, yet not old enough to be interesting in a nostalgia-inspiring way. These days, I think that would be somewhere in the 1990-2005 range, although vehicles outside that range — say, a salvage-title ex-rental ’08 Chevy Aveo or a 600,000-mile white ’88 Sentra sedan — probably qualify. It can’t be anything with distinctive styling or the slightest hint of sportiness and/or luxury, so we can rule out Saabs, Quad-4-engined GM products, and anything made by any of the Japanese luxury marques. Ideally, it would be something that most teenagers can’t identify at a glance, so that the long-suffering owner must answer the sneering “What is this POS?” question over and over and over. And, of course, it must be a car that you can buy for next to nothing.

QOTD-Uncoolest_Teenage_Car2

My vote is for the joyless, generic Daewoo Lanos. Any teenager driving a Lanos now is going to be buried beneath a gigantic heap of Korean-GM uncoolness. What’s your choice?


This Korean-market Lanos ad just makes the car even more uncool, by reminding Lanos owners exactly how little their cars resemble a black panther stalking the streets of Seoul.

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QOTD: Why Do Automakers Care So Much About Sales? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-why-do-automakers-care-so-much-about-sales/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-why-do-automakers-care-so-much-about-sales/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 11:00:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1100425 I always get a little dismayed whenever I hear a car company talking about sales volume targets. Yes, sure, reasonable sales targets are OK. Acceptable sales targets. If Toyota wants to say they’re going to sell one billion Camry units this year because they sold 997 million last year, that’s fine with me. If Honda […]

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I always get a little dismayed whenever I hear a car company talking about sales volume targets.

Yes, sure, reasonable sales targets are OK. Acceptable sales targets. If Toyota wants to say they’re going to sell one billion Camry units this year because they sold 997 million last year, that’s fine with me. If Honda wants to say they’re going to sell 950 million Accords this year because they’re contractually obligated by a higher power to slightly undersell the Camry, that’s fine too. And if Dodge wants to say they’ll sell 100,000 Grand Caravans this year, of which 99,000 are going to Enterprise, and the remaining 1,000 are going to people who don’t know any better, I guess I can accept that.

But I’ve never really understood why automakers set insane volume targets that keep them desperately reaching for sales for the next few decades.

Probably the best example of this is Volkswagen, who announced several years ago that it would sell 800,000 vehicles in the United States by 2018 from its Volkswagen brand alone. This seemed like a totally reasonable goal at the time, because they had just introduced the new Passat, and they would soon be coming out with an SUV, and they were finally starting to understand the US market, and sales were really taking off. Well, last year, they managed 367,000 units, down from 407,000 last year and 438,000 the year before. In other words: 800,000 ain’t gonna happen.

So now Volkswagen is backing off its sales goals, and it looks like an animal retreating from a fight with its tail between its legs. But why did they have to make the goal in the first place? This, I’ll never understand.

I noticed this a lot when I worked in the car world. Automakers were so hell-belt on sales targets and volume goals that they were doing everything they possibly could just to meet these numbers. Fifty fleet sales? A hundred fleet sales? A thousand fleet sales? Turning over employee lease cars more often? Discounted leases? Zero-percent financing? Punching cars as sold the moment they came off the boat? Fortunately, my company never even considered doing most of those – but some automakers weren’t above even that final strategy during the very last weeks of the year.

Here’s what I’ve never understood: it isn’t sales numbers that prove your business is successful. It’s profit. So why the hell are so many automakers targeting sales, and not profit?

The truth is, anyone can sell anything. Pull a random person off the street, put them in a car dealer, and they can sell the entire lot empty in two days if you let them offer their vehicles with a complete disregard for profit. But then the business’s lights won’t stay on, the stock will plummet, the employees will get laid off, etc. etc. etc. It goes on.

From what I understand, Honda seems to be doing it right. My entire life in the business, I’ve been told that the Honda Accord could easily outsell the Toyota Camry, except that Honda refuses to give in to the pressure of profitless, or low-profit, high-volume fleet sales. And this seems to be true: consider every airport rent-a-car station you’ve ever been to, every Enterprise lot, every Budget kiosk. There’s never Honda there. You’re never given a Honda, you never see a Honda in the lot next to you, or the space down the row, or pulling out of the rental car gate. But you do see Toyotas. Honda seems to know these fleet sales are only a way to burnish sales figures, not actually make money. And they’d rather sell those cars to actual consumers at actual dealers who will bring them actual profits.

So I’ve always been curious about this, and now I’m asking you: why the hell does the auto industry focus so severely on sales numbers? Most other industries talk profit: year over year growth, net profits, gross profits, operating income. But in the car industry, we talk sales: overall sales, monthly sales, total sales, with no apparent care in the world whether those sales are making $10,000 per car or $20 per vehicle on a 30-car transaction with Enterprise. Me, I’d rather hear about profits. No, Volkswagen isn’t going to hit its 800,000-car figure. But are its profits increasing? Is it a stable, healthy company? Are they making money? Only then will I be impressed.

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Question of the Day: Ralph Nader, Angel or Demon? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/question-day-ralph-nader-angel-demon/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/question-day-ralph-nader-angel-demon/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:00:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1096817 It’s Monday, so let’s start it off by ignoring the demands of your cruel overseers in The Man’s salt mines and turning to a subject that’s sure to get all automotive enthusiasts riled up: Ralph Nader! First of all, we’re going to add the requirement that you don’t get to talk about the contents of […]

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It’s Monday, so let’s start it off by ignoring the demands of your cruel overseers in The Man’s salt mines and turning to a subject that’s sure to get all automotive enthusiasts riled up: Ralph Nader!
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First of all, we’re going to add the requirement that you don’t get to talk about the contents of Unsafe At Any Speed unless you’ve read the damn book first (if you do, you’ll find that the book has just one short chapter about the Corvair, sales of which were already in the toilet when the book came out in 1965 — mostly thanks to the American car-buying public’s preference for a more traditional compact Chevy). Second of all, this is about Ralph Nader as his activities relate to the automotive industry, so if you’re pissed off about those 97,421 Nader votes in Florida in 2000, too bad — you’ll need to tamp down your rage over Bush’s win and stick to car-related discussion here.

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Nader — who likely would have have languished in obscurity had General Motors not attempted to smear him (in classic clumsy GM fashion) with all manner of Nixonian dirty tricks — pointed out many of Detroit’s shady practices in his book, including odometers set to read fast (to get cars out of warranty more quickly), and made the case that only government regulation could fix the problems of dangerous vehicles and janky consumer-ripoff business practices. Now we have plenty of such regulation on vehicles and a gigantic bureaucracy devoted to the subject. So, overall, do you think the revolution that Nader started was a net win or loss when it comes to what we drive today? Feel free to deliver table-pounding tirades and withering jeremiads, but keep in mind that anybody making personal attacks on other commenters — even those you know to be dangerously wrong — will be impaled on a ’59 Cadillac fin and banned, not necessarily in that order.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

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QOTD: Why Do People Shame You For Having More Car Than You “Need”? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-why-do-people-shame-you-for-having-more-car-than-you-need/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-why-do-people-shame-you-for-having-more-car-than-you-need/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 11:00:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1095665 As many of you know, I drive a Range Rover, which is a giant, gas-slurping SUV that simultaneously kills babies and harms small animals. This is a horrible vehicle, according to the majority of people I meet, and because of it, I’m always being judged for having more car than I “need.” It is, after […]

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Range Rover in Albania. Picture courtesy of autowp.ru

As many of you know, I drive a Range Rover, which is a giant, gas-slurping SUV that simultaneously kills babies and harms small animals. This is a horrible vehicle, according to the majority of people I meet, and because of it, I’m always being judged for having more car than I “need.” It is, after all, overkill.

Right?

Well, I don’t really think so. When people assail me for having “too big” of a vehicle, they’re often referring to its length. So I ran the numbers, and I discovered that my Range Rover – at 194.9 inches in length – stands merely 3.5 inches longer than the current Honda Accord, which is 191.4 inches long. Think about that for a second: the big ol’, heavy, baby-killing, jungle-tackling Range Rover is actually only a USB stick longer than a Honda Accord. In other words, these people have been fooled by marketing that has them convinced the Range Rover is this gargantuan off-road beast, when actually it’s a normal ol’ suburban family hauler.

So then the discussion turns to power – but my Range Rover has only 300 horses, which is just 30 more than a Honda Accord V6. And then I get the inevitable question: well why do you NEED an SUV?

I used to get this question when I had a sports car, too. Certain people – and I’m not going to name names here, but it was my pretentious friends in college and graduate school – would see me in a sports car and ask me why I needed such an impractical, inefficient vehicle. “You could’ve spent way less money and gotten something more efficient,” they would tell me.

The worst example came when I had a Porsche 911 as a company car. Anyone who knows anything about cars knows the 911 is pretty efficient, as sports cars go. It has a small six-cylinder, and not a huge V8. It’s fairly light in weight. And it doesn’t have all that much power. At the time I had mine, the Porsche 911 fuel economy rating was 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

So I posted a photo of this car somewhere on Facebook, and one of my friends replied with a comment along the lines of: Ewww, why would you get such a gas guzzler?

Now, we know the 911 isn’t a gas guzzler, so the very idea of the comment made me laugh. But what was even more disturbing was the fact that the person who posted it drove a Jeep Liberty. Not a Liberty Diesel. Not one of those fuel-efficient Jeep Compasses with a 4-cylinder and a Dodge Caliber chassis and the loudest CVT known to man. No, no. Dude drove a V6-powered Jeep Liberty that probably got 11 miles per gallon in the city on the rare days when it wasn’t having transmission problems.

And yet he was attacking me for having an inefficient gas guzzler.

I suspect the reason people do this is because they’re jealous. You can’t overtly walk up to someone and say to them: I hate you because you drive a Range Rover. So what they do is, they come up with some other reason to hate you, like your vehicle’s size, or its fuel economy, or its horsepower, or whatever. “Oh,” these people say. “I didn’t know you wanted to kill endangered species.” And then they stare at you and wait for your response, so they can see just how much their comment hurt your ego.

The funny thing is, these people have nothing to be jealous about. My Range Rover cost as much as a well-equipped Honda Civic, and it breaks down all the time. This is not an especially special vehicle. But they see the badge, and they become all offended, and then they break into the “Why do you need so much car?” routine.

So today I’m curious if you’ve ever experienced this phenomenon – and if so, what you think the person’s motivations were. I’m also curious how you handle it. Do you defend the car? Apologize for it? Correct the person? Punch them in the face? I need ideas, because nobody seems to believe the whole “only three inches longer than an Accord” thing. Maybe what I need is a tape measure.

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QOTD: Does Anyone Ever Leave a Note After Hitting a Parked Car? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-anyone-ever-leave-note-hit-parked-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-anyone-ever-leave-note-hit-parked-car/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 11:00:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1090881 I’ve lived in urban areas for most of my life. When you do that, your street-parked vehicles will get hit. You walk up to the car and the fender is mashed in or the bumper is bent… and there’s no note left by the perpetrator. In my experience — and I’d say that in my […]

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I’ve lived in urban areas for most of my life. When you do that, your street-parked vehicles will get hit. You walk up to the car and the fender is mashed in or the bumper is bent… and there’s no note left by the perpetrator. In my experience — and I’d say that in my 34 years of driving, I’ve had parked cars hit and damaged enough to notice (some of my cars hid damage very well) at least 25 times. Not once has anyone ever left a note taking responsibility for the damage. I hear that this note-leaving phenomenon has been known to happen, but such a thing falls into the urban-legend category for me. How about you?
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Most of my experiences with parked cars getting bent up took place in that car-killing city, San Francisco, where I lived off and on for a few years in the 1990s. Still, the streets of Denver (where I live now) are rough on parked cars; in a six-month period, my wife’s Outback got sideswiped, my ’92 Civic got its left front fender squished, and my ’66 Dodge A100 had its front bumper snagged and bent beyond repair. If you count my Lexus LS400 getting a dented fender while parked at Shadow Government World Headquarters, that’s four of my vehicles damaged while parked in 2015, and no notes left.

So, have you ever left a note on a car that you hit? Have you ever received such a note?

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QOTD: What’s the Most Cynical Rebadge of All Time? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-whats-the-most-cynical-rebadge-of-all-time/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-whats-the-most-cynical-rebadge-of-all-time/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 11:00:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1091393 Today, we are going to talk about an automobile called the Chevrolet Voltz. Never heard of it? Few have. That’s because it was one of the most bizarre and unusual rebadges of our entire automotive lives. Here’s what happened: Toyota made both Matrix and Vibe at this factory located somewhere in Northern California. At some […]

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2001 Toyota Voltz - Tokyo Motor Show 2011

Today, we are going to talk about an automobile called the Chevrolet Voltz. Never heard of it? Few have. That’s because it was one of the most bizarre and unusual rebadges of our entire automotive lives.

Here’s what happened: Toyota made both Matrix and Vibe at this factory located somewhere in Northern California. At some point, Toyota decided it liked the Vibe better (as we all did), so it snatched up some Vibes, converted them to right-hand drive, and sold them in Japan as the Toyota Voltz.

That’s right. The Vibe and Matrix were twins, but Toyota took the Pontiac version and sold it in Japan with a Toyota badge. They didn’t even change the Pontiac front grille – or the Pontiac emblem template, which remained on all the Toyotas when they sold them in Japan.

This is a pretty cynical rebadge. But I don’t think it’s anywhere near as cynical as some of the awful, inappropriate, horrible rebadges that have been forced on us over the years. So today I’m asking you: what’s the very worst rebadge you can think of?

16 - 2000 Pontiac Grand Am GT Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

There are some obvious answers here – like practically everything that came out of America in the ’70s and ’80s. So many different cars were literally just the exact same vehicle with different badges and – sometimes, but not always – different wheels, sold together under a different brand name just to try and convince as many possible people they were different vehicles. Don’t like the Oldsmobile Achieva? Here, try the Pontiac Grand Am!

If you go back through the long history of rebadging, you’ll find it very hard to name one that’s the absolute worst example – but a few attempts come to mind. There was, for example, the Chrysler “LH” cars, which included not just the Dodge Intrepid and Eagle Vision, but three different Chrysler versions – the New Yorker, the LHS, and the Concorde – all based on the same platform.

chrysler-lhs-06 (photo courtsey: motorstown.com)

That was a bad time in Chrysler’s history, and they paid dearly for it later when the bankruptcy regulators came in and Chrysler told them, “Sorry, the reason we went bankrupt is because we have two platforms, one engine, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee.”

2009 Suzuki Equator

Although rebadges don’t happen as much anymore, there have still been some real whoppers in the last few years. Does anyone remember the Suzuki Equator, which was literally just a Nissan Frontier with a Suzuki badge inexplicably placed in front? How about the Volkswagen Routan, which was a mediocre minivan rebadged by an even more mediocre automaker and sold through its mediocre dealers? And then there’s the Nissan NV200, rebadged as the Chevy City Express, and sold to contractors whose cousin is the sales manager at Todd Johnson Chevy-GMC in suburban Fresno.

Passport Rodeo courtesy popularmechanics.com

We also can’t forget some of the weakest 1990s rebadges. Remember the Honda Passport, which they tried to pawn off as a “Honda SUV” in the same vein as the Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Pathfinder? Remember the luxurious Acura SLX, which was a rebadged Isuzu Trooper? And then, do you remember what Isuzu got in return for these rebadges? The Oasis minivan, which was based on the original Honda Odyssey, with four opening doors, four cylinders, and zero interested buyers.

2013 Subaru BRZ. Photo courtesy Subaru.

I personally think the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S are pretty stupid rebadges, too. The automotive community has spent the last two years debating which of these two cars is better, and I’m still trying to figure out how to tell them apart. C’mon, Subaru and Toyota. The least you could do is change the freakin’ wheels.

So I’ve clearly devoted several long minutes to thinking about this issue, and now it’s your turn. What do you think are the most cynical rebadges of all time? What can you not believe they actually thought the consumer would put up with?

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QOTD: It’s 1977 and You’re The Bandit. Do You Buy a Trans Am… or Something Else? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-1977-youre-bandit-buy-trans-something-else/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-1977-youre-bandit-buy-trans-something-else/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 11:00:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1087041 We had a 1970s movie-car QOTD last week, and that was so much fun we’re doing it again! So, here we go: in the beginning of Smokey and the Bandit, when Big Enos challenges The Bandit to fetch 400 cases of that Colorado Kool-Aid, a wad of cash of unspecified thickness gets handed over for […]

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QOTD - Instead of Trans Am Bandit Choice - 610px

We had a 1970s movie-car QOTD last week, and that was so much fun we’re doing it again! So, here we go: in the beginning of Smokey and the Bandit, when Big Enos challenges The Bandit to fetch 400 cases of that Colorado Kool-Aid, a wad of cash of unspecified thickness gets handed over for expenses, including a “speedy car.” As we all know, The Bandit headed straight to the nearest Pontiac showroom and bought himself a brand-new 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. In the film, that car seemed to be the fastest imaginable motor vehicle (thanks to the magic of engine swaps, stunt drivers, and special effects). In reality, however, the ’77 Trans Am was kind of a bloated Malaise Era slug, and The Bandit probably had a lot of better escape-the-smokeys car choices available.

So, in his shoes and with a ’77 Trans Am-sized stack of C-notes, what car would you have bought for that run to Texarkana and back?

Now, the list price of a 1977 Firebird Trans Am was $5,456, but the Bandit’s car had the $556 Hurst Hatch option, the $1,143 Y82 Special Edition option package, the $195 factory CB radio (which itself required one of a number of costly factory sound-system options), and no doubt lots of other price-inflating extras (you think The Bandit and his perfectly groomed mustache would have gone without air conditioning – 442 bucks – in that climate?) we must assume would come in any fully loaded 1977 Detroit car. It’s safe to say you’d be looking at something around $8,000 by the time the dust settled. That gives us a baseline to work with. For the purposes of this exercise we’ll toss in an extra thousand dollars and say you can pick any brand-new, 1977 model-year, street-legal-in-the-United-States car or truck that costs under $9000 (about 35 grand in 2015 bucks). If you don’t have the Standard Catalog or equivalent, you’ll need to at least make an effort to look up ’77 MSRPs online, or just make quasi-plausible guesses. Obviously, the best choice would be to buy something like a cheap used 240Z or Corvette and then spend all the leftover money on aftermarket hop-up goodies, but this option is not allowed here. Likewise, there will be no dealer-installed NASCAR race motors, “brand-new” rally-prepped cars, or other loophole-exploiting workarounds. Available-to-the-general-public, right-off-the-showroom floor, bone-stock 1977 four-wheeled vehicles only!

QOTD - Instead of Trans Am Bandit Choice - Warlock 610px

If the film had been made in 1978, I’d probably go for the Dodge Lil’ Red Express pickup, which was the fastest Detroit production vehicle that year and fully loaded with genuine Burt Reynolds-grade redneck badassness. However, we’re stuck in 1977, which means you could still get the nearly-a-Lil’-Red-Express ’77 Warlock pickup. I’m not sure what the list price for the Warlock package was, but the ’77 D100 Sweptline half-ton started at a mere $4,737, which means you’d have plenty of money left over to get the 170-horsepower four-barrel 360 (sorry, no factory big-block in the D100 that year), floor-shift four-speed transmission, heavy-duty everything, and a CB radio.

QOTD - Instead of Trans Am Bandit Choice - RX4 610px

Of course, The Bandit would have been pretty quick (by 1977 standards) in a cop-grade Dodge Aspen with 4-speed and every available performance option, and the ’77 Chevy Nova with a similar setup would have been decent in a car chase. But Burt Reynolds was known to drive fast in imports in his films, so we shouldn’t overlook such options. Sadly, the Citroën SM he drove in The Longest Yard was a $13,500 car and not even available in 1977… but what about something like the Mazda RX-4? Imagine The Bandit with Wankel power! The ’77 Datsun 280Z had great handling, proper disco styling, and a not-too-shabby-in-1977 149 horses. Or the Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider Veloce, with 110 Italian ponies in a 2,455-pound package and an $8,795 price tag? Il Bandito in an Alfa would have driven circles around those ponderous Pontiac cop cars! The Porsche 911 was, of course, way out of Der Bandit’s price range, but the nimble BMW 320i could be had for a hair under 8 grand.

QOTD - Instead of Trans Am Bandit Choice - TR7 - 610px

So many sub-$9,000 cars to choose from in 1977! So, what’s your choice?

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QOTD: Why Don’t We Like Hatchbacks? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-why-dont-we-like-hatchbacks/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-why-dont-we-like-hatchbacks/#comments Fri, 05 Jun 2015 11:00:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1085193 So I was sitting around the house the other day and my mind started drifting to the Toyota Matrix. Do you remember the Matrix? This was a happy little Japanese 5-door hatchback that never really harmed anybody, except people with eyes who looked directly at the front bumper of XRS models. No, I’m kidding. It […]

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CGsR6E4UQAETEd2

So I was sitting around the house the other day and my mind started drifting to the Toyota Matrix. Do you remember the Matrix? This was a happy little Japanese 5-door hatchback that never really harmed anybody, except people with eyes who looked directly at the front bumper of XRS models.

No, I’m kidding. It wasn’t that ugly. Also not very ugly was its twin, the Pontiac Vibe, which was essentially the Geo Prizm of the modern era. What I mean by this is, it’s got Toyota running gear, and Toyota gas mileage, and Toyota reliability, but it’s two grand cheaper on Craigslist because everyone thinks it’s a Pontiac.

Now, these were, by all accounts, excellent cars. I mean, sure, they were dull. And they drove like economy cars. And they didn’t really have many features beyond power windows and a CD player. But in the early 2000s, this was about all you could want from a new automobile that cost like fifteen grand.

And yet people didn’t want it. The Matrix and Vibe went through one redesign together where they sort of lost the character of their shapes. And then, that was it: the cars were gone, Pontiac was gone, and Toyota sort of gave up on the hatchback game except the Yaris, which is a car that makes it seem kind of like Toyota gave up on the automobile game.

So what the hell happened?

Well, what happened is, they were hatchbacks. I say this because Toyota also sold a sedan version of the Matrix at the time, and it did very well. You may have heard of it, because it’s called the Corolla.

And, of course, people bought the Corolla in droves. Tens of zillions of people wake up every day with nothing better to do than buy a Corolla. They’re like zombie people, all heading to the Toyota dealer to get their Corolla fix. “MUST BUY COROLLA,” they say, walking in with blank personal checks in hand. “MUST NOT BUY MATRIX.”

So this is a major phenomenon, but I’m kind of curious why.

By all reasonable measures, the Matrix is probably a slightly better car. The thing is basically a Corolla in every conceivable way, except it’s got a lot more cargo room. So who the hell wouldn’t want more cargo room? And thus: who the hell wouldn’t want a hatchback?

Well, a lot of people, it seems, because in case you haven’t checked recently, hatchbacks don’t really sell all that well. I mean, yeah, sure, there are a few that seem to do pretty well, like the Honda Fit, and the Mazda3, and the Aston Martin DB9. But what I’ve noticed, generally, is that for every hatchback an automaker sells, they sell like fifty zillion sedans.

Interestingly, this isn’t the case in many places overseas. What happens overseas is, people buy hatchbacks in ridiculous numbers. “I’m running to the store,” an overseas woman might say to her husband. “Do you need me to get anything?” And he will reply: “Yes, a hatchback!” And then she will buy something like an Open Corsa 0.9 diesel, for which she will pay $8,399, plus tax of $112,470. Of course, all of this would take place in a foreign language, because that’s what they speak overseas.

But in North America, we’ve never really endeared to the hatchback. [Speak for yourself, U.S.A. -Canada/Mexico]

I think part of the reason may be because we are really concerned about privacy. This whole Edward Snowden thing went down, and Americans have suddenly gone into hyper privacy mode, to the point where people next to me in on a plane even try to hide their iPhone screens when I glance over to read their text messages.

And sedans are masters of privacy. This is because they have an enclosed box in the back where you can put your things, whereas hatchbacks have all these windows that kind of say: Here are my things! And this is where I have put them!

But is that the reason why we’ve eschewed the hatchback for the sedan? Simply due to privacy? We’ve given up on those sweet hatchback lines, and all that sweet hatchback interior room, and the sweet hatchback carrying capabilities, due to something that can be solved with a cargo cover?

I’m not sure, but I’d love to hear from you. Why do you think hatchbacks aren’t popular in North America? [Again? This is an American problem! -Canada/Mexico] Have you ever been rebuffed when you suggested a hatchback to someone? And if so, what the hell was the person’s reasoning? Aside, of course, from being a member of the Corolla-buying zombie club.

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QOTD: What Body Style Needs to Make a Comeback? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-what-body-style-needs-to-make-a-comeback/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/qotd-what-body-style-needs-to-make-a-comeback/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 11:23:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1083337 This is the 1999 Buick Cielo Concept and its incredibly similar in form and function to the Soarer Aerocabin we featured yesterday. As a hardtop convertible that retains its roof rails, the Cielo (which isn’t brown, unfortunately) isn’t the only car – or even the only Buick – to leverage this concept. A year later, Buick built the Regal […]

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1999 Buick Cielo Concept

This is the 1999 Buick Cielo Concept and its incredibly similar in form and function to the Soarer Aerocabin we featured yesterday. As a hardtop convertible that retains its roof rails, the Cielo (which isn’t brown, unfortunately) isn’t the only car – or even the only Buick – to leverage this concept.

A year later, Buick built the Regal Cielo Concept, applying the same technical idea to a production sedan.

“This is a translation of the most significant feature of the Cielo concept car directly into a potential production application,” said Mark D. Hines, Regal brand manager at the time. “Although Regal Cielo is technically a concept car, it is clearly a vehicle which can be built.”

Like the Regal GNX concept of the same year, the Regal Cielo never did see production.

2000 Buick Regal Cielo Concept

The idea of a convertible car that retains its roof rails when the roof panels are down hasn’t been entirely abandoned – it’s only disappeared on bigger coupes and sedans.

Switching our focus to Fiat, the 500C makes use of this roof rail concept, though the panel itself is made of fabric instead of metal, probably due to the fact the diminutive hatchback lacks any modicum of trunk space.

500c6

With the number of glass panoramic roofs on factory vehicles in the market today, a case might be made for replacing these fabric or metal panels with something a bit more transparent.

Best & Brightest, what body style do you think should make an encore appearance? My vote goes to a return of what I call the “private convertible” seen above.

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QOTD: If Two-Lane Blacktop Were Made Today, What Two Cars Would Star? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/question-of-the-day-if-two-lane-blacktop-were-made-today-what-two-cars-would-star/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/question-of-the-day-if-two-lane-blacktop-were-made-today-what-two-cars-would-star/#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 12:00:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1080521 During April, the management of the Alamo Drafthouse Theater in Denver allowed me to select and introduce four car movies, and the final one was the 1971 road-trip classic, Two-Lane Blacktop. In the bar before the film rolled (and during my introduction in the theater, and in the parking lot afterward), a debate raged, triggered […]

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QOTD-TwoLaneBlacktopCars-Both

During April, the management of the Alamo Drafthouse Theater in Denver allowed me to select and introduce four car movies, and the final one was the 1971 road-trip classic, Two-Lane Blacktop. In the bar before the film rolled (and during my introduction in the theater, and in the parking lot afterward), a debate raged, triggered by a question I’d dropped: What are the 2015 equivalents to the full-race 1955 Chevrolet 150 two-door and brand-new 1970 Pontiac GTO that starred in the film?

In order to answer this question, you need to fast-forward through 44 years’ worth of cultural evolution of the characters portrayed in the film by Warren Oates, James Taylor, and Dennis Wilson (simply finding the lineal descendents of the cars — what, the ’15 Impala and whatever replaced the performance-oriented mid-sized Pontiacs in GM’s lineup after Pontiac’s demise? — just seems inadequate for the depth of this movie). What would the 21st-century counterparts to The Driver, The Mechanic, and GTO drive?
QOTD-TwoLaneBlacktopCars-Chevy

The 1955 Chevrolet 150 two-door sedan was, when new, one of the cheapest “real” Detroit cars you could buy. The list price for the six-cylinder was just $1,685, a mere $190 more than the miserably toy-like 1955 Volkswagen Beetle and its 36-horse engine. Sure, the ’55 Ford Mainline Business Coupe listed at just $1,606 and the ’55 Plymouth Plaza Business Coupe for $1,614, and real-world resale values on such stripped-down, 16-year-old bottom-of-the-line transportation appliances were low, low, low, but the Chevy had the most available (and cheap) aftermarket speed parts and the easiest big-block engine-swap potential in 1971. On top of all that, the ’55 Chevy had built up a fair amount of cool by 1971, especially compared to its same-era counterparts, so that factor needs to be placed on the scale as well.

QOTD-TwoLaneBlacktopCars-Brochure

So, for Wilson and Taylor’s ’55 Chevy (which was also Bob Falfa’s car in American Grafitti), we need an older lightweight car that’s considered somewhat cool, has plentiful aftermarket speed-parts support, is very popular among 21st-century drag racers (particularly the outlaw street-racer variety), can be obtained fairly cheaply, and is extremely quick when set up properly. I think the third-gen GM F-body and any sort of Fox Ford qualify, but my personal choice for this car is the 1992-1995 Honda Civic hatchback. Yes, I’m biased, but so many 19-year-olds have tried to buy (or steal) my EG Civic since I’ve owned it, and I’ve watched so many sketchy-looking EGs with gigantic turbos run 10- or 11-second quarter-mile passes (and nuke their engines in spectacular fashion attempting to do so) that I think this car has become the ’55 Chevy of our time (actual ’55 Chevrolets, even four-door examples, have been priced out of reach of mere mortals for quite some time now). Your opinion probably differs, especially if you suffer from DSM Delusional Disorder.

QOTD-TwoLaneBlacktopCars- GTO Brochure

As for the 1970 GTO (not a Judge, in spite of its 455 engine and yellow paint) driven by Warren Oates’ character (named, simply, “GTO”), we need a brand-new car that’s a fairly expensive sporty model with lots of power, a halfway-decent checklist of luxury options, and – most important of all – the sort of flashiness preferred by a more-money-than-sense California weirdo, trapped in a rapid downward spiral with a trunk full of booze and pills and launched on a pointless cross-country drive. Infiniti Q60? BMW 3 Series? Having reviewed the Chevy SS, I think it almost qualifies as the 2015 counterpart to GTO’s GTO, but it ends up being a little bit too stodgy for a guy who shrieks “COLOR ME GONE, BABY!” at some bemused hitchhiker as he stomps on the gas. I’m going with the Cadillac CTS-V here, partly because it’s an appropriately show-offy GM product with a monster V8 under the hood and partly because you’d have (in Dennis Wilson’s words) a “real street-sweeper here if you put a little work into it.” In stock form, the CTS-V couldn’t hope to out-drag-race a car set up and operated by the 2015 equivalent of The Mechanic and The Driver (though it would have the advantage in a New Mexico-to-Washington DC highway race, just as a new GTO would over a stripped-down big-block ’55 Chevy with drag-race gears in 1971), but the street-sweeper potential is just about limitless.

TwoLaneBlacktop-800x450

So, what are your choices for these two cars? I suggest not looking at inflation-adjusted values for new ’70 GTOs and 15-year-old ’55 Chevrolets when making your comparisons, because you’ll just get depressed.

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QOTD: Should We All Be Driving Around With Dash Cams? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/qotd-should-we-all-be-driving-around-with-dash-cams/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/qotd-should-we-all-be-driving-around-with-dash-cams/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 10:49:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1077874 So I’m screwing around on the Internet the other day, minding my own business, and I come across this video of an accident with a red light runner. For those of you who can’t or don’t want to watch this video, allow me to explain what happens. In one second, some guy is driving along […]

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So I’m screwing around on the Internet the other day, minding my own business, and I come across this video of an accident with a red light runner.

For those of you who can’t or don’t want to watch this video, allow me to explain what happens. In one second, some guy is driving along in Anytown, USA, next to a mall, and a couple of shops, and some charming angled parking spots, and some nicely maintained grass. And in the next second, he goes through a green light and hits a person in a Mitsubishi Eclipse who has run the red light coming the other direction.

Now, any idiot can see what happened here. In one lane, you have the driver with the dash cam, who’s cruising along at a normal rate of speed like a normal person, abiding the law and doing everything by the book. And in the other lane, you have someone who chose to spend their hard-earned money on a Mitsubishi Eclipse.

So there’s a big crash, and the dash cam guy hits the Eclipse, and so does the car next to the dash cam guy, and then the Eclipse takes out a large number of power lines and other road peripherals before finally coming to a complete stop.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting: in the video description, the guy who uploaded it claims the Eclipse driver tried to say her light was green. Yes, that’s right: the woman enters an intersection at full tilt, takes out two cars coming perpendicular to her, and then she tries to say that she had the green light.

Obviously, her argument is idiotic – but one major reason why it’s easy to disprove her is because the guy with the dash cam had, well, a dash cam. So presumably when she was sitting there, staring over her damaged Eclipse, angry at the world for hurting such a precious ball of 4-cylinder joy, pissed off at the other drivers for running their red light, he says to her: “Bad news.” And then he plays back the tape of her blowing the red light as if she was Al Cowlings in the O.J. chase.

And this leads me to today’s question, which is: should we all just be driving with dash cams?

I say this because a) our society is rather litigious, and b) it can be tremendously hard to assign fault at the scene of an accident if you weren’t there to witness it. Say you’re a cop and you show up at an accident where one car has a damaged front end and another car has a damaged rear end. Rear end damage guy says he got hit from behind, while front end damage guy says the other person backed into him. Who do you believe?

It’s the same deal with traffic lights. Two cars enter an intersection, and they collide. Which one is at fault? Who ran the light? How do you assign fault? The answer is: it’s really hard. So you do the best you can, and maybe you make a mistake, and the driver who was ACTUALLY at fault gets off scot-free and sues the driver who WASN’T at fault for a sum of money roughly equal to the annual operating budget of Delaware.

If we were driving with dash cams, these problems would be a thing of the past. And indeed, that’s what they do in Russia. People are so worried about fraud, everyone has a dash cam. Now it’s installed in everything by default, so the fraud is over, and now there’s a record of virtually every accident in Russia, including the ones involving farm animals.

So I’ve started to wonder more and more if this sort of thing should maybe be applied to us here in good ol’ North America. No, we don’t have the same level of fraud as they do in Russia. But by God, we probably have about the same level of accidents. And wouldn’t it be nice, in an accident, to be able to look at the law enforcement officer on the scene and say, “Sorry, officer, I have it on tape”? Keep in mind that your other option is to be entirely at his mercy after he interviews everyone at the scene as if they were equals, even if they’re driving a Mitsubishi Eclipse.

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QOTD: What Wagon Version of a Non-Wagon Car Would You Actually Buy? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/qotd-what-wagon-version-of-a-non-wagon-car-would-you-actually-buy/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/qotd-what-wagon-version-of-a-non-wagon-car-would-you-actually-buy/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 11:34:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1076658 This, my friends, is the Golf SportWagen TDI (Sportwagon in Canada) currently taking residence in my driveway this week. It’s a brilliant little car, even if it isn’t manual, brown, or all-wheel drive. Even though it’s wonderfully good – the DSG is sharp and smooth, the ride is firm yet svelte, and the torque, oh the […]

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Golf SportWagen

This, my friends, is the Golf SportWagen TDI (Sportwagon in Canada) currently taking residence in my driveway this week. It’s a brilliant little car, even if it isn’t manual, brown, or all-wheel drive.

Even though it’s wonderfully good – the DSG is sharp and smooth, the ride is firm yet svelte, and the torque, oh the torque! – I still wouldn’t buy one.

This past week, I’ve been inundated with different versions of a similar question: are there any modern vehicles I’d actually buy? This is opening up Pandora’s Box and finding a can of worms inside.

Proving the Pandora’s Box part of the above metaphor, automotive journalists are weird degenerates and we desire cars that are truly horrible. Case in point: the Crown Victoria. Sajeev’s unending love for one of Ford’s worst creations, powered by the modular 4.6L V8, is proof of his masochistic ways. Also, he lives in Houston, further cementing his devotion to being eternally uncomfortable, whether it be on sitting on a bench seat or sweating in 95 percent humidity. Or both, assuming the Vic’s air conditioning is on the fritz.

The can of worms part is simple. As an automotive journalist, saying you would buy a particular car, truck, or SUV is akin to endorsement. There are literally tons of vehicles I would buy for myself but would never suggest to others. Much like Sajeev’s “beaten spouse” acceptance of the Panther platform in its many guises, I love one of Ford’s other forgotten heroes: the Bronco. Oh, do I love the Bronco. Not even the cool old Broncos upon which ICON does its magic. I (again) want a plastic-adorned Bronco of the ’90s emblazoned with XLT or Eddie Bauer on the side.

However, I won’t tell anyone else to buy a Bronco. They’re thirsty, problem prone, and completely impractical. A two-door SUV with a removable roof (held down with tamper-proof Torx bolts, no less) powered by, not one, but two V8 engines spitting out very similar horsepower figures? Yup, that’s for me. Give me that, please.

That said, if there existed a long-roof version of some of today’s sedan or hatchback offerings, I’d probably switch my tune.

Impreza? They used to do a wagon. And I would buy it, too. With real money. The hatchback? Not a chance.

Focus? You can get it in Europe. Yet, bringing it to North America would put it in competition with the Escape.

Impala? Oh god. This used to exist in the ’60s and whenever I see one I get that feeling. The nostalgia might push me over the edge.

So, B&B, what wagon version of a normal car would you buy with real non-Internet-commenter money?

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QOTD: Would We Still Love Wagons If They Were Popular? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/qotd-would-we-still-love-wagons-if-they-were-popular/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/qotd-would-we-still-love-wagons-if-they-were-popular/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 11:19:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1072610 Every so often, my mind starts to wander to various random automotive related topics. Take, for instance, the Chevy SSR. Here’s a car that makes absolutely no human sense: a half-convertible, half-pickup truck with two seats and a cover over the bed to make sure you can’t transport anything larger than a toilet seat. So […]

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2003 Chevrolet SSR

Every so often, my mind starts to wander to various random automotive related topics. Take, for instance, the Chevy SSR. Here’s a car that makes absolutely no human sense: a half-convertible, half-pickup truck with two seats and a cover over the bed to make sure you can’t transport anything larger than a toilet seat.

So GM develops the SSR, and they bring the thing to market, and it just draws universal laughter. I mean, car enthusiasts, the press, random people on the street. They see this thing and its huge fenders, and its ridiculous size, and its substandard interior, and everyone asks: what the hell was General Motors thinking?

And now, guess what? The damn SSR is still averaging more than $25,000 on AutoTrader. The thing is ten years old, and it’s still bringing half its value, whereas a 10-year-old Chevy TrailBlazer is worth approximately the same money as a yard sale copy of Monopoly with a couple of plastic hotels missing.

So I wonder about how this happened. And then also, sometimes, I wonder about station wagons.

2015 Toyota Auris Touring Sports

As car enthusiasts, we love station wagons. What I mean here is, us car enthusiasts believe that station wagons are the finest way to transport a family, because sedans don’t have enough room, minivans are boring, and SUVs are like road-going versions of Satan.

So we love station wagons, and we think station wagons are really cool, and we always implore people to buy station wagons, and instead they always buy a RAV4.

But I’ve recently started to wonder something: would we still love wagons if they were popular?

A lot of people will immediately say yes. OF COURSE we would still love them if they were popular, some enthusiasts will say. My love for wagons is not based on their POPULARITY!!!! It is because they offer SUV packaging in a cool, car-like package! It has nothing to do with the fact that every suburb-dweller has a RAV4 or a CR-V, whereas only the coolest people among us have wagons!

But I’m not quite so sure.

2015 Subaru Outback

Let’s take, for example, the Subaru Outback. This is a car that’s generally loved by enthusiasts because it has kind of reinvigorated the whole wagon segment. People who weren’t even considering wagons before are suddenly buying the Outback, even though it’s – and I’m putting this mildly here – a little dull.

Indeed, it’s actually a lot dull. If you look at the Outback objectively, here’s what you see: front-based all-wheel drive. A 175-horsepower engine. Nearly 3,900 pounds of curb weight. And a continuously-variable automatic transmission. These are not usually the makings of a car enthusiast car. But we give the Outback a pass, because it’s a wagon, and we love wagons, and blah blah blah.

So then here’s the question: what if everyone had a car that matched these specs?

Yes, consider it: what if the Toyota Venza was a 3,900-pound wagon with 175 horses and a CVT, rather than a faux-minivan with SUV marketing? And what if the Honda Crosstour was a 3,900-pound wagon with 175 horses and CVT, rather than a strange-looking bug-shaped hatchback. And what if Mitsubishi had any automobile that could possibly manifest itself as a station wagon? Or even a midsize sedan?

In other words: if wagons were everywhere, what would we think? Would we still love them?

I’m kind of thinking no, we wouldn’t. Imagine a world where mom’s driving around in a 4-cylinder Ford wagon with a CVT, and dad’s driving around in a front-wheel drive Chevy wagon, and grandma has a Cadillac wagon, except it isn’t a CTS-V, it’s an Eldorado with a long roof and a 4-speed automatic tuned for a) comfort and b) complete failure at 75,000 miles.

It’s hard to imagine this kind of world would be something we car enthusiasts would appreciate. Therefore, I think the popularity of wagons among car enthusiasts is, in some form, rooted in their lack of popularity among the general public. In other words: if wagons were as popular as SUVs, and everyone drove them, and mom had one, and dad had one, and the guy down the street had one, and our neighbor had a beat-up used one, would we really still wax poetic about the joys of wagonhood?

My money is on no, we wouldn’t. What do you think?

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QOTD: Which Manufacturer Has Most Lost Its Way? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/qotd-which-manufacturer-has-most-lost-its-way/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/qotd-which-manufacturer-has-most-lost-its-way/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 11:00:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1071938 If someone mentions the name Buick, a certain image is conjured: comfortable, plush, American motoring just on the blue-collar side of luxury. Buicks used to be the working man’s Cadillac, an association doctors leveraged when making house calls. After all, showing up in a Cadillac would really show the patient how much you were about to […]

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2015 Buick Encore

If someone mentions the name Buick, a certain image is conjured: comfortable, plush, American motoring just on the blue-collar side of luxury. Buicks used to be the working man’s Cadillac, an association doctors leveraged when making house calls. After all, showing up in a Cadillac would really show the patient how much you were about to screw them upon leaving the bill on the nightstand.

But, in more recent times, Buick has become more of a Chevrolet+. Taut suspensions, journo brown interiors and lukewarm engine choices. Oh, and there’s the Encore, a cute ute powered by one of the roughest, smallest engines you can buy in North America. What gives?

Before people start thinking I’m on a General Motors focused tirade, there are a number of other marques out there as well that have seemingly “lost their way.”

Honda, for instance, used to be a technical powerhouse of gung-ho engineers turning efficiency into fun. Instead, we are given the CR-Z to chew on for years instead of a properly fun hatchback to act as the spiritual successor to the CRX.

Suzuki was another company that lost its appeal with customers as they chased larger and larger models. Sure, the Grand Vitara wasn’t a bad truck and the driving dynamics embodied by the Kizashi were fairly spot on. But, when the Samurai and Sidekick died, Suzuki abandoned the segment they were best known for: rough, tumble, pure off-roaders that were dead simple to own and operate.

Which manufacturer do you think has most lost its way?

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QOTD: Why Do People Display Bumper Stickers? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/qotd-why-do-people-display-bumper-stickers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/qotd-why-do-people-display-bumper-stickers/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 11:22:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1068882 You can’t avoid bumper stickers when you’re driving around. They’re everywhere. Political bumper stickers. Colleges and university bumper stickers. Sports teams. Bands. Ideas. Phrases. Sayings. Vacation spots, cities, neighborhoods, towns, BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. It’s come to the point where I’m surprised when I get up behind a car that doesn’t have a bumper sticker. […]

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Van with bumper stickers Courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

You can’t avoid bumper stickers when you’re driving around. They’re everywhere. Political bumper stickers. Colleges and university bumper stickers. Sports teams. Bands. Ideas. Phrases. Sayings. Vacation spots, cities, neighborhoods, towns, BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. It’s come to the point where I’m surprised when I get up behind a car that doesn’t have a bumper sticker.

I’ve always found this a bit odd.

Here’s why: when you really stop and think about what bumper stickers are, at their very core, they are markings that identify the interests of the driver of the car. It’s like getting a tattoo, or wearing a T-shirt with some writing on it. But I’ve often found that bumper stickers go a lot further than any T-shirt that anyone would ever wear.

Case in point: I have never, in my entire life, seen anyone walking around with a Mitt Romney T-shirt. I suspect Mitt Romney himself wouldn’t walk around with a Mitt Romney T-shirt. He’s too busy wearing plaid button-ups that make him look like a man of the people, even though his haircut costs more than my cell phone.

Likewise, I’ve never seen anyone walking around wearing a T-Shirt that bragged about the quality of the shirt wearer’s honor student. You also don’t really see T-Shirts that say things like “Well behaved women rarely make history,” or “Wag More, Bark Less,” or “COEXIST.” What you see, when it comes to T-Shirts, is a lot of stains that have been there for what looks like several presidential administrations.

So why the hell do we put these things on our cars? Just because we know other people will be behind us in traffic, we feel like it’s necessary to reveal our interests? Are we trying to start some sort of conversation?

The funny thing is, bumper stickers never start a conversation, because nobody notices them. I’ve driven around for several years with a subtle bumper sticker for my alma mater on the back of my car, and nobody has ever said anything to me about it. Not a word. Not a thumbs up. Not a smile. I suppose someone could be back there talking about it with a friend. Is that the goal of my sticker? To inspire random people to discuss it, completely unbeknownst to me?

The reason people don’t notice bumper stickers is because everyone has them. You pull up at every stoplight and you just sort of assume the guy in front of you will have a bumper sticker, so you couldn’t care less what it says. We really only notice bumper stickers if they’re bizarre and unusual, and they say something like “I HATE MEXICANS.” Then we take a picture and post it on Instagram.

The funny thing is that the bumper sticker is a phenomenon entirely limited to North America. You see them in the States, and you see them in Canada, but you can spend an entire week in Europe and not see a bumper sticker aside from the common international oval country code. In Europe, nobody cares where you went to college or who you’re voting for. They only care that you move your tiny, silver diesel hatchback out of the way so they can drive past you in their tiny, silver diesel hatchback.

So I’m a bit mystified, and I’m reaching out to you, the reader, to get your take on bumper stickers. Do you use bumper stickers? Do you understand why other people use them? Do you ever approach people in parking lots because of their bumper stickers?

Of course, I’m not as dense as I seem here. I understand why people use bumper stickers in the first place: they want other people to know that they support the Bears. Or the Cowboys. Or Millard Fillmore Elementary School, home of the Fighting Powdered Wigs. Or maybe they support OK Go. Or the Outer Banks. Or Hillary Clinton. Or Ron Paul. Or Rand Paul. Or Paul Ryan. Or Ryan Seacrest.

But why the hell do you want unknown random humans behind you in traffic to know you feel this way? Do you expect there will be some giant revolt while you’re sitting at a light, and it’ll spread across the country, uniting everyone in their appreciation of the Father John Q. Zilshepper Catholic School Choir? Is that the reason for the bumper sticker?!

And so, I ask you, the reader: What’s the deal with bumper stickers?

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