Question of the Day: Don't They Build 'Em Like They Used To?

Justin called me grumpy. That would be like the son of a Navy Admiral who’s been a high profile Senator for nearly three decades while marrying a billionaire beer distribution heiress calling the mixed-race son of a single mom from Kansas “elite.” But I digress, I was not so much grumpy as surprised that the new Audi S4 has less power than the new S4. Kinda surprising. That said, I always liked the older S4 with the twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 more than I ever did the newer, heavier V8 powered S4. Sure, a WRX of the time (2002) ran circles around it, but you could slap a Stage IV kit on the old-old S4 and POW! Straight to the moon, officer! However, by all measures (both SAE and my fat butt) the C6 Corvette is the best ‘Vette ever. It just is. Sure you could factor in looks and interior (looks: C3 > C6 — interior: C2 > C6) but Corvette owners don’t factor in looks and/or interior. Meaning we’re not going to either. And if the new Camaro ever shows up, it will be miles better than any of its ancestors. I know this because the 2015 (or is that 2010?) Camaro is based on a shortened version of the Zeta Chassis that underpins my new love, the Pontiac G8 GT. However, however — what about the BMW M5? If you pull the limiter off the new one (E60 M5), it can go over 200 mph and it seats five. 507 hp V10, too. But, compared to the E39 M5, the new M5 is Robocop II. Bigger, louder, more deafening but ultimately not nearly as satisfying or more importantly fun as plain old Robocop. That’s right, I’m calling the E39 M5 Robocop. [Ed – you bet your ass it is]. Newer cars might have better stats, but sometimes they just don’t have the spirit. You?

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  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Sep 24, 2008

    I too agree that simplicity is a good measure of a better car. There seemed to be a point in the late 80's and early 90s where cars had enough creature comforts but were not yet porky and complicated to maintain. My 1st gen CR-V ('99) still has some of this by accident I think. Honda was going for cheap but what we actually got was a vehicle that is simple but lasts and lasts. No touchscreens, no NAV, no gimmicks. I have been in several cars I thought were MUCH nicer but all seemed to promise massive problems later in their lifespans. For a family hauler it is lightweight (3300 lbs). Seems heavy until I remind myself that our VW Cabrio is only 500 lbs less. I have spent time debating with myself, trying to talk myself out of buying a late 80s or early 90s Mercedes, Audi or BMW. Refinement with durability if the gremlins are conquered. I don't need massive power or speed. I need a touring car. A wagon. Something that can exceed the speed limits a fair bit (and anything recent and German certainly can) and haul the family. Not anything I'd want to drive everyday b/c it would be a waste but something for the weekends. Suv vs minivan vs German wagon... Hmmmm... I once drove cars from the 40s, 60s and 70s as daily drivers. Even into the 1990s. These cars defined basic in my mind. They were easy to maintain (an important measure quality to me) but that was good because they required alot of maintenance relative to a modern car. A vintage VW Beetle I once drove daily required oil changes every 2500 miles, valve adjustments, four wheel brake adjustments, hand brake adjustments, oiling of hinges, timing and points adjustments, carb adjustments, checking of the cables, and checking of the wheel bearings. Now, I got good at this maintenance cycle and found it to go quickly but when it is raining and cold and I don't want to do the work - a modern car is better. On the flip side that old Beetle could easily be fixed with my Swiss Army knife and total cost to operate was very, very low. Also an important measure of a vehicle's value to me. Its a trade off. I am once again considering going back to a VW Beetle for daily transportation. My commute is short and at slow speeds in a small town so safety is not as important as a commute in a big city like Nashville or Knoxville. With my more modern cars I balance the desire to have something new(er) with low miles so I don't have to work hard to maintain it vs what I have which is 11 yrs/155K+ miles old and requires my attention at least once a season to get all the repairs off the list. It's cheap to operate but since I do all of my own work, it means I have to allocate the time and energy in between family, work and play time.

  • Geeber Geeber on Sep 24, 2008

    I learned to drive on my father's 1973 AMC Gremlin. It was certainly simple and easy to fix (which was a good thing, as it need fixing on a regular basis). Do they make them like that anymore? No, and for that we should all be very, very thankful.

  • SCE to AUX "a future in which V8-powered muscle cars duke it out with EVs for track superiority"That's been happening for years on drag strips, and now EVs are listed in the top Nurburgring lap times.I find EV racing very boring to watch, and the lack of sound kills the experience. I can't imagine ever watching a 500-mile EV race such as Daytona or Indy, even if the tech or the rules allow such a race to happen.As for owning an electric muscle car, they already exist... but I've never owned a muscle car, don't want one, and can't afford one anyway. For me, it's a moot question.
  • MaintenanceCosts I don't and realistically won't drive on track, but I think the performance characteristics of EV powertrains are just plain superior on the street. You get quicker response, finer control over the throttle, no possibility of being out of the powerband and needing a time-consuming shift, more capability in the speed range where you actually drive, and less brake heat. The only "problem" (and there are many situations where it's a plus, not a problem) is the lack of noise.
  • JMII After tracking two cars (a 350Z and a C7) I can't imagine tracking an EV because so much of your "feeling" of driving comes from sound. That said you might be able to detect grip levels better as tire sounds could be heard easier without the roar of the engine and exhaust. However I change gears based mostly on sound so even an automatic (like a C8) that would be a disappointment on track. Hearing an engine roar is too important to the overall experience: so tracking an EV? No thanks!I've driven an electric go-kart around a track as my only point of reference and its weird. It sort of works because a kart is so small and doesn't require shifting plus you still hear the "engine" whirring behind you. The sensation is like driving cordless drill, so there is some sense of torque being applied. You adapt pretty quickly but it just seems so wrong. With a standard ICE car, even a fast one, RPMs raise and fall with each shift so there is time to process the wonderful sounds and they give you a great sense of the mechanical engine bits working to propel you.I feel track toys will always be ICE powered, similar to how people still enjoy sailing or horseback riding as "sports" despite both forms of transportation being replaced by superior technology. I assume niche companies will continue to build and maintain ICE vehicles. In the future you'll have to take your grand-kids to the local track to explain that cars were once glorious, smoke spewing, noisy things. The smells and the sounds are unique to racing so they need to stay that way. Often a car goes by while your in the pits and you can identify it by sound alone... I would hate to lose that.
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh "20 combined city/highway"...sigh
  • MaintenanceCosts Not sure this is true for electrified products. The Pacifica Hybrid continues to have its share of issues and there have been some issues with the 4xe products as well.