What Grinds My Gears

Justin Berkowitz
by Justin Berkowitz

Psychologists tell us it's important to vent, so every so often I have to clear the air and discuss what really grizzles my gristle. I can't take it anymore, and it's possible– even likely– that I'm not alone on this. So, without further ado, you know what really grinds my gears?

For starters: Edmunds' Inside Line. While all the rest of us in the internet-car world (by which I mean all of us– TTAC, WorldCarFans, Jalopnik, Autoblog, whoever) are busy posting pictures of some car released at 12:01 AM, EIL already has a review of that car up. I mean, for heaven's sake, even Pulitzer Prize-winner Dan Neil is often stuck waiting behind them in the queue. Just yesterday, for example, InsideLine posted a drive of a Camaro mule and reviews of the Cadillac CTS-V and the new European Ford Fiesta. They can go straight to hell.

The upshot, however, is when Edmunds described the 2008 Lancer: "This weightiness similarly describes the car's ride quality and chassis reactions, but in a good way." I more candidly reported that "Mitsu has fitted the base car with a suspension made out of Twinkies." I'll always take free market capitalism over a well funded command economy.

You know what else really grinds my gears? The lack of good seat coverings in cars. If you're buying a regular car, you can choose between cloth and plasticky over-treated leather. On the other hand, in nearly all luxury cars you're limited to Dow Chemical leather– or the occasional cheap-ass vinyl posing as leather. Where is the nice cloth in a luxury car? Especially the cushy cars that deserve cushy cloth seats. You wouldn't wrap yourself up in a leather blanket when you're cold, and I'm not sure that leather chairs in the car are much different. Hot in the summer, cold in the winter, they seem to be frequently uncomfortable. What they do have going for them is that they're pretty stain resistant and take longer to show wear. But can't they do something about the hide? If they have to use leather, at least use quality leather. I'd pay more money for a car with leather seats if they felt like my girlfriend's Coach purse.

The next issue that's been grinding my gear this week is crummy car websites. It seems like the manufacturers have no interest in leveraging the benefits of the internet at all. The web interface on so many manufacturers' sites appears to have been designed by a ninth-grade kid. Bandwidth is apparently so expensive that we are limited to only 6 photos, including an obligatory picture of the plastic shroud that covered the engine.

This last one is even more useless than when the dealer tries to show you the engine, as if it means anything at all to see "Honda V6" under the hood. The "estimate payment" functions tend to be so useless that it's better to leave them off entirely. What I want in a manufacturer's website: easily accessible stats (which aren't buried in sub menus), tons of photos, and a functional inventory locater.

Special tuner-edition German cars also grind my gears. Every day we learn about yet another ABC Tuninghaus that has a new version of the Audi A6/Mercedes SL/BMW 5-Series that has 904 horsepower and a tragically ugly bodykit. And, it's only $100,000 more than the original version of the car, which the manufacturer spent billions developing. But hey, a few guys say they can crank your new German sports saloon up to methamphetamine levels.

You know what I want to see them tune? My Volkswagen GTI. I want it to drive exactly the same, but to get 80 miles per gallon on regular 87 octane (on the tow truck on the way to the mechanic doesn't count).

I close by giving a nod to all the "midsize" luxury SUVs out there– the Mercedes ML, BMW X5, Audi Q7, Acura MDX, and all their cohorts. They all grind my gears. I don't care how carlike their are to drive, or how decently they handle, or that when equipped with the optional $10,000 V8 (sorry Acura), they can out-accelerate a Honda Accord, ten year old Porsche or attack helicopter.

I don't care because they are ugly. They are not as good to drive as sedans and wagons. They are not ideal off-roaders (in spite of gadgets) because the bodywork costs trillions to repair, and because they all weigh 15,000 lbs. And they are all chasing some holy grail of the most sports car-like SUV. I like sports cars too, which is why if I wanted one, I'd buy one. I wouldn't buy Pringles Pizza Flavor chips because they taste "just like pizza"; I'd buy a pizza.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what grinds my gears. For now, at least.

Justin Berkowitz
Justin Berkowitz

Immensely bored law student. I've also got 3 dogs.

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  • TR3GUY TR3GUY on Sep 01, 2008

    In taking a new job my commute miles has doubled. Said many times before: Why do people get in the left lane where they match the speed of the car to their right? When the sign says merge right why do people pass as many cars as possible then cut in at the last minute? Why don't people put down thier cel phones long enough to signal? I like leather as much as the next guy but in both the Miata and Subaru it has the texture of an old canvas sail. I am told if it were buttery and soft like my coach briefcase it would wear out too fast. Just because you have a Jetta don't try to drive it like a BMW. Wait that's an insult to BMWs. Havinga 5-10 YO Jetta even with an oversized exhast isn't going to make you go much faster, lowed or not. So stop trying to cut in and out. And yes paddle shifters NOW gring my gears. I guess I felt better not having an automatic but it's a poor substitute for a true stick. (You can't get the revs up between downshifts) That said (sorry) Auto is a pleasure for the traffic

  • Michael Ayoub Michael Ayoub on Sep 01, 2008

    @iganpo "I hate the way people use “hybrid” as a verb. Cadillac has an ad where this guy driving a Escapade ranting about how hybrids are always small cars and says “You know what they should hybrid? This! This is what they should hybrid.” I feel sorry for the actor; I’m sure he’s a decent guy. But he sounds like a complete idiot for misusing a common English word. Leave it to brainless marketing to abuse common words (hybrid) and pieces of music (United Airlines and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”)." ---------- Well, this is a feature of English. Get over it. It's not uncommon for nouns to become causative verbs. "You know what they should hybrid?"

  • Ajla There's a melancholy to me about an EV with external speaker-generated "engine" noise and fake transmissions. It feels like an admission from the manufacturer that you're giving something up and they are trying to give back some facsimile of it. Like giving a cupcake scented candle to someone on a diet. If I was shopping for an EV I'd rather go to a company enthusiastic about it rather than apologetic.
  • EBFlex More proof of how much EVs suck. If you have to do this, that means you are trying to substitute what people want...and that's ICE.
  • Akear The only CEO who can save Boeing, GM, and Ford is Alan Mulally. Mulally is largely credited with saving both Boeing and Ford. The other alternative is to follow a failed Jack Welch business model. We have all witnessed what Jack Welch did to GE, and what happened to Boeing when it was taken over by GE-trained businessmen. Below is an interesting article on how Jack Welch indirectly ruined Boeing.https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-boeing-was-set-on-the-path-to-disaster-by-the-cult-of-jack-welch
  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.
  • THX1136 As a couple of folks have mentioned wasn't this an issue with the DeLorean? I seem to recall that it was claimed you could do a 'minor' buff of the surface and it would be good as new. Guess I don't see why it's a big deal if it can be so easily rectified. Won't be any different than getting out and waxing the car every so often - part of ownership, eh.