The Truth About Cars » Robert Farago The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Robert Farago Review: Mercedes CLS550 (By: R. Farago) Thu, 10 Oct 2013 12:15:14 +0000 rf

What unalloyed pleasure it gives me to welcome TTAC’s august founder, Robert Farago, back to these pages. Robert’s a little too busy with what might be the biggest firearms news site in the world to give us much more than this review of Mercedes’ four-door-not-really-a-coupe, but to paraphrase John Mayer, it’s hard for me to take a stand when I will take his work any way I can. Go visit Mr. Farago at his new digs and say hello… and enjoy this review! — JB

When the heat breaks in Texas Hill Country the air is as dry as an Oxford grad’s sense of humor. And when my ML350 broke blasting across four lanes of traffic my Mercedes dealer passed me the key to a CLS550. And so I found myself behind the squared-off wheel of Germany’s lowered limo on a starry Texas night, contemplating cats’ eyes roller-coastering into the distance. I felt an old yet welcome urge to press my luck with local LEOs.

So I stood on the CLS550’s accelerator, whose brand-faithful response brings to mind nothing so much as player piano pedals. With apologies to Johnny Lieberman, the acceleration was volcanic. Not like the business end of an eruption—a comparison that applies to various Ferraris and a Nissan GT-R that I’ve had the pleasure of surviving. The Merc’s forward urge was more like a fast-moving lava flow: seamlessly unstoppable. Yes, I know: Princess Diana proved the limits of that particular Mercedes metaphor. But as the CLS550 passed 60mph—a 5.1 second sprint accompanied by a bad ass big bore bellow—I knew it was just a waypoint. This tank-like limo wants to hunker down, spool-up and unwind on an endless autobahn. It doesn’t much care for all the speeds between minimum and maximum velocity.


Don’t get me wrong: Mercedes’ E-Class chop-top isn’t just a straight line bahn burner. The portly sedan does an admirable job of staying on the road through the sinuous bits—although that’s not saying that much given Austin’s glassine pavement. Even so, the CLS550 is another fine example of German engineers’ ongoing and surprisingly successful war on basic physics (cough rear-engined Porsche cough). In this case, a trick Airmatic suspension and super-sticky Pirelli P-Zeros tie down a 4425lbs automobile motivated by 4.6 liter bi-turbo V8 generating 406hp @ 5000 rpm and 443 lb-ft. of twist @ 1,800 rpm.


The CLS550‘s electronically-assisted steering helps best the beast. The more you ask of the helm the more heft the electronic brain adds to the equation. Initially, it feels as if someone’s placing a series of increasingly heavy stones on the chassis’ chest. Eventually, the CLS550 is as precise as you wanna be, with more on-center feel than Bill Clinton demonstrated in his second term. Whether that holds true when the car’s shod with Michelin all-season tires and weighed down with optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive is another question. What happens to the car’s handling in the wet is anyone’s guess (Austin hasn’t had sustained rainfall since the Cretaceous period). I suspect the $70k CLS has an app for that, involving a flashing light and a sudden loss of power.

The CLS550‘s tri-mode transmission is no boon to the handling equation. Under hard acceleration, the seven-speed torque-converter automatic’s frantic, jarring hunt for an appropriate gear simulates confidence-sapping turbo lag. Once that’s sorted out, ladies and gentlemen, lunge is served. Unless you put the seven-speed box into Sport. In which case lunge is served as well, only all day long, from any speed, without delay. Works for me.

Jack Baruth could make mince meat out of race track with this thing (TTAC’s founder-approved jefe tried, unsuccessfully, to buy an Indium Grey CLS63 AMG that had been used as a traveling on-track demo.). For me, cornering the CLS550 at its limit of adhesion is like asking Scarlett Johansson to direct a Brazzers video. Scary, exciting, pointless and, ultimately, self-defeating. Caning the car at seven-tenths? All day long. Why are we talking about this? As it was in the beginning so it is forevermore: the CLS550 leads the style-driven life. Despite the engine, chassis, brakes, suspension, transmission and tire upgrades to ye olde E, the CLS is no sports sedan. It remains an eye candy car for buyers who (rightly) consider the E-Class’s sheetmetal is bit too pedestrian, a bit too Eurotaxi. But don’t want to leave the German brand’s embrace. The kind of people who can spot the difference between an Armani and a Brioni suit. And know that most people can’t. And like that.


The CLS550‘s newly sculpted shark-nose, unnecessarily athletic haunches and low roofline give these Ray Donovans both the uberholprestige and cut-and-thrust cachet they crave. The fact that the CLS550‘s rear end design is what the Brits call a dog’s breakfast is neither here nor there. They’re more interested in the toys: Active Lane Keeping Assist, PARKTRONIC with Active Parking Assist, Active Bling Sport Assist. I mean Blind Spot Assist. I mean, I love the thing that ratchets the seatbelt down on your shoulder before take-off. Who cares what it does? It feels hi-tech. While the big Merc’s cabin is as well screwed-together as anything Audi assembles the CLS550 suffers in comparison to Ingolstadt’s ergonomic excellence. The only snick you hear is the snickering of Audi’s interior design team as they contemplate the silver-effect plastic deployed for the CLS550‘s steering wheel and buttons.


Siri kicks Mercedes’ ass in the sat nav department. While the carcoon known as the rear passenger compartment now offers plenty o’ legroom there’s only slightly more side visibility than an M1 Abrams tank. Still. On the flip side, holding the IMG_0555CLS550’s chunky steering wheel is like holding your father’s hand. And there’s a small, square, white, hugely anachronistic
analogue clock in the middle of the dash (a sign that Mercedes can’t best British design, either). The CLS’ bog-standard boom box beats all that audiophile stuff I shoehorned into various whips before I could afford a proper car. Which brings us to the CLS550’s trump card: the engine note.


The CLS550 doesn’t burble like an E39 BMW M5, the first German car to ditch sonic refinement for multi-decibel muscle car machismo. But it’s not unlike the V8 M5’s sonic signature either. And holy Bolivian blow Batman, is the latter day luxobarge’s engine note addictive! You can almost hear the guy in the tux announcing “Let’s get ready to rummmmmbbble!” And then you hear the rumble. All. The. Time. Can someone PLEASE fire-up the AMG version of this thing for me? Wait! Don’t! My cash flow can’t float that boat. But tell me the engineers built-in that wind roar to enable the engine sound’s entry into the cabin. No? Just lucky I guess.

After using FM 2244 as a runway in a fun but fruitless attempt to reach rotation I rocked-up to my local pizza place to secure my customary glass of (What’s Up) Languedoc. I cruised the upmarket strip mall. Windows down, I clocked the big Merc’s burble bouncing off low-slung limestone walls. I swear the CLS550 was skulking through the parking lot. Shark nose indeed.

A woman of a certain age (and timeless beauty) occupying the terrace looked over her date’s shoulder and smiled. Whether she smiled at me, the car or simply because that’s what Texas women do on the first crisp night after an oppressive summer doesn’t really matter. The CLS550‘s soundtrack had etched the moment into my memory. That’s what a great car can do. And some not so great ones too, as long as they have greatness in them. Which, strangely enough, this one does.

What was it that Enzo used to say? We sell them an engine and throw the car in for free. Like that.


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What’s The Plural Of Prius? Revisited Sat, 05 Feb 2011 15:56:45 +0000

More than three years ago, on New Year’s Eve of 2007, our Beloved Leader, the dearly departed Robert Farago rattled the Best and Brightest with one of his thought (and sometimes aggression) provoking questions. This time, it was: “What’s the plural of Prius?”

Damned if I know, but a few days ago, the TTAC server reported repeated search terms for the very same  “What’s the plural of Prius?” I decided to do my journalistic duty and investigate. The results were shocking.

It turns out that Toyota celebrates its release of a whole family of, well, Priuses or whatever, with an on-line campaign that raises the same question RF raised three years ago:

The banner leads you to a Toyota website. I can’t figure out whether you can win anything. I can’t even divine how to register my vote for Prii, Priora, Priores, or Priapuses. But maybe that’s just me.

However, I found out how Toyota got into this quandary. My adviser on Japanese cultural matters, Tomoko Schmitto-san, tells me that there is no plural for things in the Japanese language, and a car is a thing or a neuter in Nihongo.  It’s “ichi-dai no kuruma” and “ni-dai no kuruma”, or “one car” and “two car”. In Japanese, the question never comes up. It would be, converted to Romaji, “ichi-dai no Purius” and “ni-dai no Purius” (with the “r” pronounced somewhere between the “l” and the “r”.)

For those who are still scratching their heads about what the plural of Prius may be, here a re-release of Robert Farago’s epic piece from December 13, 2007:

I know TTAC is the hard man of the autoblogosphere, but sometimes I can’t resist taking a walk on nerdy side (and the pistonhead girls go do do do do…). The International Herald Tribune addresses one of rivet counters’ most vexing questions, as above. Previously, on “You Need To Get A Life,” Trib author Jan Freeman declared that the appropriate term for more than one Toyota Prius was “Prioria.” Reader Christopher Casey took exception, kinda. “You were right that Prius is the neuter nominative/accusative singular of the adjective prior, but the plural forms of the word – which means ‘earlier, better, more important’- would be Priora, not Prioria.” Freeman rang-up Harry Mount, author of “Carpe Diem” (a.k.a. “Latin isn’t half as dull as you think it is. More like a quarter”). “Yes, it’s Priora,” he told Freeman, “because it’s neuter plural. But if you cheated a bit and made the car masculine or feminine – and I do think of cars as female – then it would be Priores. And Priores has nice undertones of grandness – Virgil used it to mean ‘forefathers’ or ‘ancestors.’ So if your hybrids are named for the dames of ancient Rome – Drusilla, Octavia, Agrippina – you’re granted poetic license. Otherwise, Priora is the Latin plural you’re looking for.” Mea culpa! TTAC’s been using Prii. We sit corrected.

Sure. But if he would have trademarked “What’s the Plural of Prius?”, we’d be rich by now.

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TTAC Bids Farewell To Its Founder Tue, 17 Nov 2009 16:47:50 +0000

The die is cast. Robert Farago, the man who founded this site nearly a decade ago and nursed it into relevance and notoriety, has left the building. Those of us who remain behind take his burden onto our willing shoulders, dedicated to realizing his dream of a car blog that covers the most relevant industry news and delivers the most unflinchingly honest reviews, commentary and analysis. Though much has changed since TTAC’s founding, the need for the truth about cars has not diminished. The automotive media remains a haven for craven cowardice, mutual back-scratching and unquestioning obsequiousness, and our inviolable mission is to provide consumers and observers with perspectives that stand in stark contrast to the industry business-as-usual. Though no site can remain unchanged after the loss of such a prolific founder, Robert’s work over the past decade is the blueprint for our future. The truth must be told, and we’re forever grateful to Robert for showing us the way and, in the process, building up an outlet that is irrevocably dedicated to these ideals.

On a personal note, I’m humbled by the task of filling Robert’s prolific, principled and notorious shoes. I’m also eternally grateful to Robert for his faith in me over the past 18 months. Thanks to his trust, generosity and patience, I have the honor of replacing him in what may well be one of the best jobs in the world. Thanks to his high standards, tough criticism and brutal honesty, I feel capable of doing some justice to his vision. Thank you Robert, for creating this site, for mentoring me, and for making an indelible mark on the autoblogosphere. It’s been a true honor.

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Farago’s Last Post Tue, 17 Nov 2009 16:03:40 +0000

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High End Pre-Owned and Collector Car Market Teeters on the Brink of Collapse Mon, 02 Feb 2009 20:23:59 +0000

Following the Scottsdale auction season, dealers at the top end of the collector car market breathed a collective sigh of relief. As the the New York Times headline put it, the auction action proved that prices “Soften but Don’t Crash.” Maybe so, but there’s a hidden dynamic involved. “People tend to forget that the auction houses work just as hard at reducing the sellers’ price as they do on getting the buyers to pay it,” says Mike Nicholl, proprietor of Las Vegas’ Classic and Collectible Cars. In other words, the results simply reaffirm that car sellers’ willingness to take a hit currently matches buyers’ bargain-hunting budgets. The General Manager of Lamborghini Bergen County (NJ) agrees. He says pre-owned inventory levels are up, but the deals are still going down. “More people are hurting, looking to get out of their cars,” Alan Greenfield says. “But the lower prices are attracting new buyers.” Despite the market’s recent diet of anti-gravity pills, or at least away from the people dispensing same, there are signs that the high end market is headed for collapse.

F430-1 F430 2 (all photos courtesy F430 3 F 430 4 F430 5 F430 6 F430 7 F430 8 F430 9 F430 10

For one thing, Chase has cut bait. The bank was a major player in the luxury car business, financing purchases across the entire range of exotica. Now, nothing. Manufacturers’ finance companies (e.g., Bentley Finance) have jumped into the breach (dear Horatio), but the bank didn’t leave the market because it wanted to.

“Business is way off,” reveals Beverly Hill Rent-A-Car‘s Marketing Manager Kurt Seijkowski. The California car company will rent you a Bugatti Veyron at $25k per day (plus plus plus) or a Lamborghini Gallardo at $2500 per day (50 free miles). Seijkowski reckons rentals are off by at least 30 percent.

More startling: his inventory acquisition cost. “Last year, I had to pay $225 to $230k for a low mileage Gallardo. I can pick up the exact same car for $165k.”

Last year, Chris Kelly of Premier Motor Cars of Sioux Falls (SD) sold a customer a 400-mile Ferrari F430 Spider for $325k. By August, the price was down $289k. It’s now on sale for $239k. Kelly will take $235k.

As always, there’s a feedback loop in play. High end buyers expect the market to collapse. So they wait. By waiting, they put pressure on the prices to collapse. Dealers– surprise– are exploiting this herd mentality for their own benefit.

“Ferrari dealers want owners to believe the market has gone soft,” Kelly says. “They’re telling Spider owners that their cars are only worth $150k. But you try and find one for under $200k.” 

At some point, whether collector car or top end whip, pre-owned high end car prices will stabilize. But we’re not there yet. Not by a long chalk. Prices may be sinking quickly or slowly, but down they go. Anyone who says otherwise would be happy to buy your car for a fire sale price or sell you a car for… whatever they can get.

As for the price of brand new top end metal, well, that’s another story. One we’ll tell tomorrow.

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