From The Archives: My First-Ever Automotive Review

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
from the archives my first ever automotive review

I was struck with an odd feeling of deja ecrit while cranking out the Capsule Review of my old 2001 Nissan Frontier, but since I literally had thirty-two minutes to write the whole thing and click “Publish” before heading out the door, I didn’t pause to think about it. Earlier today, however, I realized that the last time I wrote about the “Fronty” was in 2001, for my “BMX Basics” webpage. For some reason, I decided that my readers, who had already patiently suffered through more than 475,000 words of nonsense from 1991 onwards, would be well-served by hearing my opinions about some cars.

Since it’s a slow Sunday, I’ve unearthed the multi-car review and presented it for your amusement. Feel free to laugh at me. For better or worse, this was how I viewed the automotive world at the ripe old age of twenty-nine!

A note: My pen name at the time was “Jim Boswell”. I’d been kicked off roster of “Bicycles Today” magazine in 1993 for personally insulting one of the National Bicycle League’s head honchos and I was only allowed to return in 1994 if I used a different name. I quit writing for print in 1998 and went online so I could insult people with impunity.

It always surprises me when I meet a cyclist who has no interest in automobiles and/or street motorcycles. As someone who has always had an affinity for machinery in general and wheeled machinery in particular, I see a natural correlation between appreciating a carefully welded BMX frame and delighting in a flawlessly sewn Connolly Autolux hide, or a five-valve-per-cylinder head, or a telepathically responsive, perfectly synchronized, set of four 38mm Mikuni carbs. If you don’t, then there’s no reason for you to keep reading, because today I am going to share my driving impressions of a few vehicles I have had the recent pleasure of sampling.

You see, it all began when I decided to overhaul the Boswell fleet four months ago. I persuaded some former business partners of mine to take my 2000 Saab 9-3 off my hands, and replaced it with a 2001 Nissan Frontier XE King Cab. The Saab, although it was a delightful vehicle, was a bit fragile for the combination of muddy mountain biking and home improvement load-carrying it was being forced to cope with.

I drove and looked at a few trucks prior to purchasing the Frontier, and my opinions are recorded below. However, that was the easy part. The tough part came when I accidentally sold Mrs. Boswell’s 2000 Golf GLS 1.8T to a friend of ours, just hours after selling my 1982 VW Quantum coupe. Oops! We went from having three cars to one. So, Mrs. B and I have been out looking for something for her, as well – and, believe me, she is a lot tougher to please than I am. How’d I “accidentally sell” the vehicle? It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that I’m really in the doghouse with my lovely wife…

I have rated each car below on a scale from 1 to 10 for two different purposes: BMX and Real Life. To me, BMX means the ability for a couple of people to load up bikes and gear and drive a couple of hours. Real Life means driving to work, going to dinner with another couple, meeting with clients, that kind of stuff. Obviously, the trucks have an edge in BMX but lose out in Real Life. Mrs. Boswell still hasn’t made her decision, so feel free to email me with your advice and experiences. Thanks!


  • Nissan Frontier King Cab – This was the truck I picked for myself. A unique exterior and a simple, high-quality interior. The 2.4 liter four-cylinder, also seen in the old 240SX, is a little slow, but it is adequate. Very comfortable seats, quiet inside. BMX: 8 out of 10, since you can’t put four people in it without two of them really suffering. Real Life: 3 out of 10.
  • Ford Ranger – I used to sell ’em, and I still like them, but they are now quite overpriced and underequipped. The four-cylinder is dangerously slow, the six-cylinders suck gas and are not durable. BMX: 6 out of 10. Real Life: 2 out of 10.
  • Land Rover Discovery Series II – As a former Disco owner, I was sorely tempted, but there’s no stick-shift any more and the running costs are terrible. The 30,000-mile service can cost eight hundred bucks! Bottom line was that is was not worth paying three times as much as the Frontier for the ability to carry two more people. BMX: 10 out of 10, assuming you are comfortable using a hitch rack. Real Life: 8 out of 10, until it’s time to put gas in it :)
  • Chevrolet Silverado LS – This truck had the worst interior of any vehicle I have ever driven – tacky, non-ergonomic, flimsy-feeling. The leather seats felt like vinyl. The stereo was unbelievably poor. The tailgate had a lot of flex in it. The thirty-two-thousand-dollar price tag added insult to injury. The only good points: A large bed and a strong motor. I think you have to be a “Chevy person” to buy one, and I’m not. BMX: 4 out of 10. Real Life: 1 out of 10, because I can’t think of anywhere I would want to drive a jacked-up Chevy truck.
  • Chevrolet S-10 Survivor – This was a nice enough truck, but it was expensive – the regular cab cost more than the Nissan extra-cab. Plus, I didn’t fit properly in it. BMX: 5 out of 10. Real Life: 2 out of 10.
  • Cars

  • Mercedes-Benz C230K Coupe – Everyone’s heard of the new “Benz hatchback”, and the first question they usually have is, “Is it a ‘real’ Mercedes?” The answer is a definite “yes”. The interior, despite being finished in the unflattering Oyster shade, was of equal quality to the S430 I drove shortly after (see below). The motor makes neat supercharged noises. The Panorama roof is fantastic. If it were up to me, this would be Mrs. Boswell’s next car, but she has decided to wait to see what the new A4 looks like. It looks like a 20″ would fit in the rear with the seats folded. BMX: 5 out of 10. Real Life: 8 out of 10.
  • BMW 740i Sport and 750il – I drove these at the “Drive For The Cure” event, and I will rate them together. I don’t fit very well in the 7-series, and the Sport seats made it worse. Power-wise, the lighter and lower-geared 740 Sport felt every bit as quick as the 750il, but the 750 has a variety of little touches, particularly for the passengers, that might justify the (gulp) $92,745 price. Mrs. Boswell and a friend conversed quietly in the back seat, unconcerned, as I swept past 125mph down a mildly curvy two-lane road (cleared for the occasion, of course), chasing down a gentleman in a 330i convertible who looked just like David E. Davis of “Automobile” magazine. BMX: 4 out of 10, since the rear seats don’t fold, and the seats didn’t look terribly durable. Real Life: 8 out of 10, perhaps higher if you fit in the Sport seats.
  • Jaguar X-Type 3.0 manual – I loved this car, with its burled walnut interior, Connolly leather seats, and slack-free four-wheel-drive chassis. Mrs. Boswell, a former Vanden Plas owner, thought it felt “too heavy” and continues to prefer the (unfortunately more expensive) S-Type. BMX: 6 out of 10. The Premium package adds folding rear seats, and the roof is pre-drilled for a two-bike rack. Real Life: 9 out of 10, especially if you live somewhere in “snow country”.
  • Mercedes-Benz S430 – The car magazines are right – this is a better car than the 7-Series. That being said, the interior is not up to Audi standards, the stock wheels are terrible, and the “COMAND” system is not without its glitches. Unlike the Jaguar navigation, it requires that you swap DVDs to travel between regions, making it less useful for driving to Nationals. At least I fit in the car well. Bottom line: I liked the old S-class better, which is lucky for me since I can’t really afford this one… BMX: 3 out of 10. Real Life: 9 out of 10.
  • VW Passat GLS – Mrs. Boswell, a former 1998 Passat owner, thought we were driving the V6, but it was just the re-chipped 170HP 1.8T that makes its appearance for 2002. A big, smooth car, equal in many ways to a 5-series BMW. The leather interior is not too bad for the price, and the chrome-heavy restyle is an improvement in my tasteless opinion. The sticker on the car we drove was $25,675 – less than most Camrys or Accords, and it’s a much better car. The most serious problem with the car, VW’s despicable two-year bumper-to-bumper warranty, has been addressed for 2002. You now have four years or 48,000 miles before it’s “your problem”. BMX: 5 out of 10. Real Life: 7 out of 10.
  • Still on our test-drive list: the Acura 3.5RL, BMW 525i 5-speed, Passat W8 (if it gets here in time), and the new 2002.5 Audi A4. Mrs. Boswell has stated that she will make no car-buying decision until the new A4 is available, meaning that we have a few months of carpooling, er, truckpooling, ahead of us. In the meantime, if you happen to see a new A4 on a car carrier somewhere, or if you are a Mercedes dealer who has a new C230K, C5 Premium and C7 Sport packages, in stock, contact me – JB

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2 of 26 comments
  • Msquare Msquare on Jan 05, 2011

    If you're concerned about increasing electrical complexity in BMW's these days, try an E36. Hit a switch, it activates whatever it's hooked up to, no funny stuff. Except for the ignition key and the immobilizer system. Even that's pretty straightforward. Want a cheap one? Some guy in Brooklyn wants to unload his 328is for $1700 because he got a ridiculous quote for a DME/EWS combo (can replace the EWS immobilizer but you have to have it synced with your car's DME engine computer). Only reason I haven't bitten yet is because I don't like the idea of buying any car I can't test drive, at any price. Still tempted, though. Check Craigslist in New York.

  • Joe_thousandaire Joe_thousandaire on Jan 16, 2011

    I thought the Passat W8 4motion was the hotness, would still love to drive one. 8 cylinder AWD sedans are my particular fetish though. I also loved the Xtype when it first came out, almost convinced my dad to buy one, glad I didn't.

  • MRF 95 T-Bird Back when the Corolla consisted of a wide range of body styles. This wagon, both four door and two door sedans, a shooting brake like three door hatch as well as a sports coupe hatchback. All of which were on the popular cars on the road where I resided.
  • Wjtinfwb Jeez... I've got 3 Ford's and have been a defender due to my overall good experiences but this is getting hard to defend. Thinking the product durability testing that used to take months to rack up 100k miles or more is being replaced with computer simulations that just aren't causing these real-world issues to pop up. More time at the proving ground please...
  • Wjtinfwb Looks like Mazda put more effort into sprucing up a moribund product than Chevy did with the soon to be euthanized '24 Camaro.
  • Wjtinfwb I've seen worse on the highways around Atlanta, usually with a refrigerator or washer wedged into the trunk and secured with recycled twine...
  • Wjtinfwb Surprising EB Flex hasn't weighed in yet on it being the subject of a recall...