By on July 10, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 11.51.52 AM

I recently visited the great state of Texas (State motto: “Don’t shoot!”), where I made several highly important observations that I will now share with you. They are:

1. Everyone loves pickups. This matter is not up for dispute. If you walk into a dealership, you will walk out with a brand-new pickup, even if you’re just the FedEx guy dropping off a package.

2. Everyone loves Texas. Nearly all of those pickups are the “Longhorn Package” or the “Lone Star Model” or the “Build A Huge Border Fence Edition.” Also, more than one resident told me a story about how some giant, low-priced national chain restaurant tried to move into a local strip mall, only to be put out of business by a mediocre, Texas-owned fish place.

3. It has not rained in Texas since the Bush administration. Governor Rick Perry responded to this in 2011 by asking Texans to pray for rain over a designated three-day rain-praying period. Interestingly, the governor of my home state, Georgia, attempted a similar thing in 2007, and it only just stopped raining this morning.

But my most interesting Texas-related observation relates to license plates. This won’t surprise regular readers, as I go on license plate-related rants with surprising frequency. There was, for example, that time I made fun of Montana for having a “Quilt Lover” license plate, which resulted in a ricin-laced quilt appearing on my doorstep.

Anyway, the observation is: Texas license plates are really boring. I mean really, really boring. In fact, the latest Texas license plate is so dull that it looks like it was created when someone made a black-and-white photocopy of another state’s license plate.

tx_classic_plate_2012

So why would the proudest state in the union uglify its license plates? Money, of course.

Texas, you see, recently privatized the sale and design of its special license plates. That means some large private company – presumably one that’s based in Texas and has a lot of pickup trucks – now shares profits with the DMV whenever a special plate is sold. So the DMV decided to drum up special plate sales by ditching Texas’s colorful standard-issue license plate, which featured a gorgeous blue sky over rolling, water-starved hills.

Texas isn’t alone in this. Virginia has done it for years. Virginia’s normal plate is a boring white and blue design, while the special tag options include plates for Jimmy Buffett fans, Friends of Tibet, and my personal favorite: one that says “ROBERT E. LEE: THE VIRGINIA GENTLEMAN.”

But Texas and Virginia don’t hold a candle to the true masters: German automakers.

slwheels

The very worst offender is pictured above, and at the top of this article. If you’re a European (in which case: please send some of your rain to Texas), these are the base wheels on your all-new, 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class. That’s right: unless you pay thousands of dollars for an upgrade, you’re stuck with what can only be described as imitation hubcaps.

While I understand that taste is subjective, these wheels are so bad that Mercedes doesn’t even take press photos with them. Seriously: they’re called the “Stern” design and they’re standard on the SL350. Google that and see if you can find even one photo with these wheels. My bet is you can’t. You wouldn’t know it existed unless you saw the image at the top of this article, which is from a European Mercedes configurator.

In fact, I had to travel to Zurich just for this picture, which proves my unending commitment to providing you, dear reader, with the finest coverage of every single issue. Over there, the base-level SL350 starts at 126,400 Swiss francs, which translates to more than $130,000 in the US – or nearly $138,000 in Canada. With those wheels. You have to pay another $1,500 to upgrade to something else.

Another car that’s famous for sticking you with crappy base wheels is the BMW 5-Series GT. Of course, we all know the 5-Series GT is ugly to begin with, and that can’t be remedied. But it’s made worse by the 535i GT’s base wheels, which make the car look like a cargo van sitting on four cans of tuna turned on their side and surrounded by rubber.

535igt

Things wouldn’t look so bad if you could get a set of nice, big wheels, like the ones they offer on the 550i GT. But you can’t do that unless you actually upgrade to a 550i GT. Presumably, some people have actually done this just so their 5-Series GT wouldn’t tip over in hard cornering.

The Porsche Panamera S has the same problem, among many others. The base wheels are awful, and may have been pulled straight off the kind of tiny, diesel-powered hatchback they would only drive in Europe. You have to spend $2,000 to get anything decent, and more than $3,200 to get something really meaty.

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 11.47.20 AM

You might be thinking that this is nothing new. Of course they make the base wheels small so that people spend more for the nice ones! But my theory is a little more sinister. I think German automakers make their base wheels not just small, but intentionally ugly, just so people will pay for upgrades.

That’s right: I think, during the development of the car, a bunch of Germans are sitting around a table sharing ideas (Such as: “Ze car must include a very large ashtray”) and one of them reminds everyone that the base wheels have to look like a worn Frisbee. Then they all nod in agreement and drive away in their tiny, diesel-powered hatchbacks.

In other words, German automakers have a lot in common with the Texas DMV. It’s easy to see where this is going: the BMW X5 Quad Cab Texas Edition. With 14-inch base wheels.

@DougDeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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164 Comments on “Going Ugly On Purpose...”


  • avatar
    JD321

    I’ll go to Texas and do my rain dance for one million dollars…mmoohhhhhaw.

  • avatar
    thirty-three

    “… Then they all nod in agreement and drive away in their tiny, diesel-powered hatchbacks.”

    It all okay if they are manual diesel-powered hatchbacks, right?

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    I predict the next big thing in wheel technology will be steelies with plastic chrome hub caps.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      In case you aren’t being sarcastic, many automakers offer this now. When you read in the specifications that a vehicle has “chrome clad” wheels, you’re generally gettig just that, a steel or aluminum wheel with a plastic chrome cap grafted to it.

      • 0 avatar
        modemjunki

        We have a 2000 Sable in the family with those. They are easily the best looking part of the car – the rest of it looks like what it is, an unwashed, high-mileage, college commuter.

        My secondhand F150 XL (manual windows FTW!) has plastichrome hubcaps on steelies. From a distance they look upscale.

      • 0 avatar
        Summicron

        @danio
        No one my age is sarcastic about dog dishes or baby moons :-)

        Oops, got lost on the page… sorry to break in.

    • 0 avatar
      Piston Slap Yo Mama

      The new “New” Beetle has resurrected the art of the steel rim with dog dish caps. Or they look like steelies but are probably alloy? It’s a look I can get behind. Then again, I like powder-coated steel wheels and dog dish caps on most any classic car.

      • 0 avatar

        I like what VW did with those, but they don’t make them as readily available as they used to.

        Lets not forget the Camaro V6 has those awful silver plastic beauty rings on base models– they’d be much better using a polished aluminum or something along those lines. The Camaro is the reason I tried beauty rings (and later white letters) on my car with positive results.

        Beauty rings have made a come back for a small enthusiast crowd, on everything from my Toyota Echo (can be seen by clicking my name, or going to http://manuallyshiftedsoul.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/adding-lightness-losing-likeness/) to cars like 300C’s and Challengers. Because I’ve seen a few Civics and Miata’s rocking steelies-and-rings, that’s why I decided to paint my tire letters for a little extra pop. I just hate re-painting because the damn things take two hours all together.

        • 0 avatar
          kmoney

          Dodge did this with their “chrome clad” 20 inch wheels on the dodge ram. If you look closely at them they are just a normal steelie with a non-removable chromed steel cover.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            My Charger has them too. They don’t look bad, but you notice it when washing them that they don’t feel solid like a forged or cast wheel.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Just as an FYI, steel *is* an alloy.

        Whoever started the practice of calling aluminum “alloy” deserves a swift kick in the pants. Or if he’s in Texas, being shot.

        • 0 avatar

          Noted, but I’m going to leave it on there because that’s just how people see stamped steel wheels versus the non-steel. Some people will say “mags” even if they aren’t magnesium, etc.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    I can see that ploy for a C class, but not an S.. no wonder they are losing market share. Yes, those are as hideous as can be.. I bet Merc is toying with the idea of paid cylinder activation too then.. Similar to paying for cpu’s/threads in the Enterprise space. “Yes it’s the big V8 but it’s only running on 6 cylinders at the moment. You can buy the upgrade package to activate the other two but that won’t get you the full 450 horses. Buy the Platinum and our technicians will remote-in to your car and flash the ECM for maximum, optimum performance.”

    Ok, I’ll stfu..

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Even though the Panamera’s wheels resemble an attacking mutant octopus, I kinda like em.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Does Wendy’s still do that $.99 “Texas Double Cheeseburger”? Because that was a deal.

  • avatar
    stars9texashockey

    We Texans are so offended when you pick on us. If only Texas had as vibrant an economy as say California, New York or Michigan.

    • 0 avatar
      April

      I hear business is booming in West, Texas…

    • 0 avatar
      marc

      Would that be the California whose GDP is higher than Texas (2 trillion vs 1.4 trillion)? Or the California whose per capita income is higher than Texas’s ($29634 vs $25548)?

      Yep, it’s easy to knock the Golden State with anecdotes, but not so easy with facts.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Ok…start with cost of living…

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        Those are what I call factoids rather than facts. True or not, they misrepresent the real state of affairs (pun intended).

        I transferred to Cali back in ’95. Quit and moved back in ’96. The only way to survive and thrive in that state was to borrow more money than you could hope to pay back and pray the economy didn’t stall.

        I actually hope they recover because I am tired of people moving here from there and trying to fix our state because its not like there when they moved here because of the way it was there. If you don’t like the way it is here, don’t move here. Come visit if you like, but go home when you have seen what you came to see.

        • 0 avatar
          TOTitan

          In February of 2011, The Texas Legislative Study Group released the 5th edition of “Texas on the Brink”. This report shows how The State of Texas ranks against the other 50 states in areas such as taxes, education, healthcare, health and well being, women’s issues, access to capital, environment, workforce, quality of life, safety, etc. Here is just a few lines from the report:

          50th in percent of non elderly women with health insurance
          6th in percent of women living in poverty
          9th in percentage of homes that are sub prime
          10th in foreclosure rates
          49th in average credit score
          47th in median net worth of households
          1st in carbon dioxide emissions
          1st in volatile organic compounds released into the air
          1st in amount of toxic chemicals released into the water
          1st in amount of recognized cancer causing carcinogens released into the air
          1st in amount of hazardous waste generated

          Not a good place for people but corp America loves it.

          • 0 avatar
            Piston Slap Yo Mama

            Texas also ranks near the top for bat shit crazy conservative governors who can’t debate without having major herp-derp moments. If it wasn’t for Austin the entire state would be dead to me.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            49th in credit score, now that’s impressive.

            Post a link if you get a chance, please.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            TOTitan,
            That’s good stuff. Could you post it up at all the UHaul and other truck rental places around Cali? And, you might want to talk to someone about your issues with Texas, Christians, and that certain form of business. But, don’t bother with the shrinks until you have stopped all the deluded people trying to get here.

          • 0 avatar
            TOTitan

            28-Cars-Later and Landcrusher: heres the link to the 2013 version of the report which I didnt know about when I posted.

            http://texaslsg.org/texasonthebrink

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            thx

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            The “Texas on the Brink” report is a partisan report fool of crap.

            Most of what you need to know about it is hidden. Nowhere do the cowards note their affiliations. Nowhere do the discuss root causes, responsibilities, or plans for change.

            Everywhere they try to mislead.

            They hide the little real info in the report it in the footnotes. Well, lets give them credit for at least noting sources in the notes.

            One pet peeve. Anyone using the stats on median family income is trying to deceive you. It’s a phony number.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            The “Legislative Study Group” has 48 Democrats and 1 RINO as members. Propaganda isn’t effective when people are smart.

          • 0 avatar
            April

            Also Texas is #3 in teen pregnancy rates.

        • 0 avatar
          marc

          Yes they are merely factoids, but important ones. And as others have pointed out, there are other facts working against Cali. But to intimate that we do not have a vibrant economy here is a blatant falsehood. Agriculture, tourism, high tech, entertainment, services, natural resources including oil (yes, even oil). California’s economy is huge, diverse and extremely wealthy, even in the worst downturns. And we have defintiely recovered from the most recent downturn.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            I’ll be sure to point that out to each of the dozens of homeless people I pass every day. All those Boxer-Pelosi-Costa dehydrated orchards visible from the 5 must be illusions. If this is what we look like after having recovered from the downturn…

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        I’d be paying about $625/mo in state income tax if I lived in CA, vs $0/mo in TX. What would I get for that money?

        • 0 avatar
          TOTitan

          Good roads for one. See the following from Texas sources:

          http://blogs.star-telegram.com/honkin_mad/2012/10/crumbling-roads-cost-texas-drivers-1543-a-year-report-says.html

          http://blogs.star-telegram.com/honkin_mad/2012/10/crumbling-roads-cost-texas-drivers-1543-a-year-report-says.html

          http://www.texastribune.org/texas-transportation/transportation/trip-study-claims-traffic-congestion-costs-texans/

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Not quite, even NPR is saying “Golden State Highways Are A California Nightmare”

            http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120585057

            http://www.allgov.com/usa/ca/news/where-is-the-money-going/local-road-infrastructure-crumbling-in-the-age-of-austerity-130306?news=847273

            http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2013/03/los_angeles_streets_crumbling_league_of_california_cities.php

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            I’ve been told the roads are paved with gold in Sacramento. Here in San Diego, you must keep an eye out for suspension-shredding craters at all times.

        • 0 avatar
          Landcrusher

          For your money you get a bunch of greedy looters with state jobs chasing you down for the rest of your life trying to tax and fee you be ause you once lived there. I understand they are going to try to come after my 401k withdrawals to tax them because I once lived there and paid into a 401k for less than a year.

          • 0 avatar
            TOTitan

            I was simply passing on facts that were reported by the texas legislature, and large texas newspapers and I provided the links for documentation.

            “For your money you get a bunch of greedy looters with state jobs chasing you down for the rest of your life trying to tax and fee you be ause you once lived there” is not a fact and can not be documented because it is not true. Im not the one who has issues and needs help.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            No, TOT, you were spreading propaganda, and your agenda was obvious because you had to add snipes at Christians and corporations. Your cover is blown, start a new log in.

            And, If you want to know about Cali going after non resident 401k withdrawals go google it up like you did that BS you linked earlier. They have come after me, it may be anecdotal, but it’s still a fact, and it has the added benefit of actually being true rather than “supportable” which is the best the factoids you grabbed are going to achieve.

          • 0 avatar
            TOTitan

            Landcrusher the facts I passed on are from YOUR legislature, not mine. If they published that is not true be mad at them, not me. Chill out.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            Once again, no. Your factoids are not from our legislature, they are from a partisan group trying to hide the act that their documents are nothing more than Democratic campaign propaganda.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Would a propaganda site fool anyone if you hid your party affiliation and called it the Legislative Study Group? It would apparently fool some people. On the other hand, maybe such people would find it just as credible if they admitted they were a group that consisted of 48 Democrats and a RINO.

        • 0 avatar
          DaveDFW

          Instead of paying income tax, in Texas you’ll pay a property tax at a rate among the highest in the nation. And you won’t receive any services in return.

          • 0 avatar
            redav

            Overall tax burden in Texas is on the low side of the spectrum:
            http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2013/03/02/state-local-tax-burden/1937757/

            Comparing individual line items kind of pointless. You need to look at the overall amount.

          • 0 avatar
            Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

            I pay about 4200/yr on a house appraised at about 200k.

            That house is a 4br/3ba with 2 car garage on a bit more than 2ac, with a 30min commute to downtown Austin. How much would such a home cost within 30min of driving to SF or LA, and what would that house’s property tax be?

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            I dunno about SF or LA, but such a house in the nicer ‘burbs of Portland, ME would have a similar tax bill but be worth $500-600K. In Portland itself, it would be worth more, but the bill would be disproportionately higher.

            IMHO, you are getting screwed. My house, which is not near as nice by a long shot, despite the garage mahal, is also worth $200K, and my property tax bill is $3K – ~$1K of which is due to the Garag Mahal. But I live in a very high property tax city, not a suburban town. But I also have great public services here, and very good schools. Even better schools in the ‘burbs though.

            We get shafted on car excise tax more than property tax, if you like expensive cars. That does not vary by location, it is the same everywhere but the money goes to the local municipality, not the state. My excise tax bill is more than 1/2 my property tax bill these days. You are going to pay one way or another.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            If $4200 is high, I am getting hosed. Detroit inner ring suburbs tend to have high taxes. At least I feel like I get proper services out of my taxes.

            Still, $6000 on a 240K house is very expensive. I paid less in rent and utilities when I lived in a studio apartment in Detroit.

          • 0 avatar
            Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

            That’s the feedback loop though, isn’t it? Higher tax helps keep prices down. And back in the NY suburbs prices are higher, taxes are higher, and they also get their 6ish percent income tax as well. My home growing up was a 3br2.5ba with 1 car garage on 1/8ac whose combined tax when my folks sold was ~16k/yr. The house cost them ~50k in 1973. The tax bill 10 years ago was as high as my combined monthly nut now!

          • 0 avatar
            George B

            Texas and California are different. In Texas the important government services are local funded mostly by local property taxes that vary across 254 counties and numerous cities and school districts. This means taxes in the city are higher than taxes in the country and you can move if you don’t like the way things are done locally. If you want to pay less for less government, you can still choose to live in a place where fire department is staffed by volunteers and armed land owners do the bulk of the crime prevention. You can also choose to live in a city and pay for lots of government services and amenities. Individual choice.

            Dealing with government at the local level is much more convenient for the individual. I settled a dispute over property valuation at a face-to-face hearing on Wednesday. Came with my evidence and won in about 5 minutes. I would have spent twice that long on hold trying to deal with the state over the phone. Competition between local governments in Texas forces most of them to be reasonably responsive.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            The NY suburbs are crazy, but what is a house there with a $16K tax bill WORTH? $1M? Doesn’t take much to be a $1M house in Westchester County. Friends parents just sold a place down there for $1.3M that would be *maybe* a $250K house here. On a good day, to a buyer who REALLY liked the house…

            I do think there needs to be some sort of tax circuit breaker for folks who live in a place long-term. We have that problem with waterfront houses here. I have elderly cousins who had to sell because the value of the house they built on inherited land just climbed completely out of sight. And since value determines the taxes, they got priced right out of the place over the past 30 years. They made a HUGE profit, but they had to sell off land that had been in the family for 200 years. Taxes should not be able to change greatly until the place is sold. Then at least the buyer is making a decision to live in an expensive area.

        • 0 avatar

          @CJinSD:

          Yeah, Sacramento could be a lot worse, but there’s still some nasty jolts here and there on the freeway clover-leafs. Otherwise, you’re right– Sacramento is relatively good for streets. Even some of the nastiest neighborhoods seem very well paved, even if a bit yumpy (around the intersection of Broadway and Martin Luther King comes to mind, heading to Stockton Blvd) and other spots have speed bumps to keep idiots at bay. Old Town Sac has cobble stones– HORRIBLE for a unibody.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            A couple years ago, I picked someone up at the airport that started griping about how bad San Diego roads were and how much better they were in Sacramento. I just said, “you’re welcome.” I’ve avoided Sacramento for decades, so I’m not aware of what the roads there are actually like. Thanks for the update. My hometown in Virginia went the cobblestone route a few years ago for part of its downtown. It serves as a pretty good warning about the quality of local thought and government.

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    This article is remarkably similar to DK’s recent article about the 991 7MT vs PDK. More evidence of German luxury car manufacturers offering heinous standard features, only to make the much more expensive (and very profitable) options even more appealing. After all, what’s an extra $3k for the nice wheels when you’re buying/financing a new Panamera?

    PS – I imagine the gun being held to the SL chassis engineer’s head was rather large. Even the most soulless engineer should recognize those wheels are retina-searingly ugly.

  • avatar
    philipbarrett

    Actually the new Texas plate looks fabulous on my euro-black BMW. Contrary to your opinions, the old one was a horrible mismatch of Texas symbolism with the unlikely combination of Space Shuttle, cowboy, oil derrick, crescent moon and yucca plant.

    Personally I’m waiting for the “Get Out of the Left Lane” edition although I guess the offenders are already in front.

    • 0 avatar

      Hah! The old one you’re referring to was definitely a (bad) example of ‘design by committee.’ But I was actually talking about this one:

      http://www.plateshack.com/y2k/Texas2/tx2011lighter.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        I agree with philipbarrett…I was excited when my new car was issued the new plates. Nice, simple…if you want color run to Pep Boys for a frame.

        The only specialty plate I semi-like is the Texas – State of The Arts. But my wife has that and that would be worse than matching shirts.

        http://www.arts.texas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/state_of_the_arts_plate_image-e1334614225583.jpg

        I would buy a specialty plate is they had a New England Patriots one….alas they don’t…..

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        The cars and motorcycle I registered in 2011 had that, but I like the new one. It looks nice on my black car and I dig the subtle DNA strands.

    • 0 avatar
      fredtal

      I liked the old space shuttle/oil derrick/cowboy plates and so do non-Texans at least based on that it was easy to give them away. The b&w one is fine, it was the red white and blue splash plate that I thought was lame.

    • 0 avatar
      pb35

      I bought a new black car last year and was issued one of those horrible, multicolor plates. I am tempted to trade them for the new edition but I think I am going to go with the custom black plate with the star on it.

      I had the state of the arts plate on my trade in but it went with the trade. Coming from NY I always find it weird that you leave your plates on the car when you trade it.

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    Wow, is it bad that I initially thought the photo of the 5-Series GT was a late model Hyundai Elantra GT?

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      Same here, only I thought it was a Sonata.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Sure…except for the fact that the Elantra GT and the Sonata look miles better than the 5-Series GT. What was BMW thinking? If there’s anything that Americans are more averse to than wagons, it’s disproportionate psuedo-liftback thingamajigs. I can’t imagine they’re actually selling more of these than they did E60 wagons.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          They are, by a very small margin. But what they have found is that they are not replacing 5-series wagons, rather they have well and truly shot themselves in the foot. The folks who would have bought wagons have defected to the E-class en-masse, and the folks buying 5GTs are folks who would have bought $20K more expensive 7-series if it was not offered. DOH! The 5GT has 7-series interior space at the price of a 5-series, you see.

          And yet, the Germans being who they are, they have STILL not fixed this by bringing back the 5-series wagon. The latest of which is an absolutely beautiful car, IMHO.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Is it worse that I thought it was a Dodge Dart?

      http://i188.photobucket.com/albums/z256/jimbob1955_2007/smith/bmw_zpse1e6bd24.jpg

      …actually the Dart has nicer wheels

  • avatar
    April

    I see where some states are going with a plastic or metal plate that no longer have raised letters/numerals. I would think it would be more difficult to ID a vehicle if a fire was involved.

  • avatar
    Mike N.

    I live in Texas and just bought a car, which now sports the aforementioned black and white plate (called the “Texas Classic”). It is better than its colorful predecessor (“Lone Star Texas”) in every way. I have not seen an instancewhere the Lone Star Texas plate did not look garish and loud.

    A friend of mine bought a car last year or the year before, and he was issued the “Lone Star Texas” plate, and it was so ugly he paid for black and white vanity plate. I was planning to do the same until they changed plates.

    The “Lone Star Texas” plate was also when they started issuing seven digit plate numbers, and in addition to being ugly, looked very busy.

    See also http://txdmv.gov/motorists/license-plates.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I see nothing wrong with those Panamera wheels, or with the Texas plates. I wish my plates (Washington) were as simple as the Texas ones! Then they wouldn’t clash with the rest of my car.

    I don’t love double spokes, but the 5 GT wheels aren’t that horrible either. It’s the car that’s horrible.

    The SL wheels are an abomination. Fortunately, we won’t get the SL350 here, so we won’t get those wheels either.

  • avatar
    Willyam

    Doug,
    Having been back and forth from North Texas to Oklahoma for years, you totally nailed it.
    In Oklahoma we have Oklahoma editions
    which all want to be Texas editions,
    and even persons living in one-bedroom
    apartments own trucks that qualify as
    extra rooms.

    One possible point on bland license plates:
    Once upon a time, someone designed a statue
    of a Native American shooting an arrow to the
    sky which is in a museum in Tulsa. The stated
    purpose of the arrow was to bring rain, coincidentally.
    People in Oklahoma used this image on our
    license plates, thus making them interesting.

    A minister recently decided that this amounted
    to compulsary speech, and is suing to have it removed.

    This actually happened.

    http://www.tulsaworld.com/article.aspx/Appeals_court_rules_Oklahoma_license_plate_suit_has/20130612_11_a1_cutlin155639?subj=1

    • 0 avatar
      April

      They used to do “Oklahoma Edition” Fords to death. Usually a dealer installed deal. Start with a stripper truck (long bed with 6 cylinder engine/manual transmission ) . Add cheap aftermarket white spoke wheels and “special badges” glued on to the front fenders. All for $1,000. A ripoff to inflate dealer profit.

      Concerning the plates. They need to go back to “Visit Oklahoma” anyway.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I too have always suspected that the base wheel options were intentionally ugly on purpose. Not just with the German brands, but most brands in general. You want the stripper with steel wheels? Attached will be the most hideous wheel covers from the JC Whitney catalog. That’s your punishment for not “stepping up”.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Totally agree. They may increase the list of standard equipment for the brochure but will always make sure that there are some hideous visual traits you can only get rid of if you buy an upgrade package. The 4 cylinder BMW X3 is a prime example.

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    Uhhh…I must be missing something, those Mercedes rims look very cool, I love the little slots along the rims, they convey motion and ventilation beautifully. They remind of the wonderful flat plastic wheel covers from the 80’s.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      “They remind of the wonderful flat plastic wheel covers from the 80′s.”

      Not something 100+k Mercedes buyers want to hear or think of.

    • 0 avatar

      If the design doesn’t turn you off, how about this: they are SEVENTEEN-inches wide. In 2013. On a $130,000 vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        Summicron

        Color-matched steelies with dog dishes or baby moons.

        A Jungian meta-solution for all rides.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Anything much bigger than needed to cover the brakes is needless affectation. Increases rotational inertia, unsprung weight, and cost for no benefit.

        The biggest wheels on any of my cars are the 17″ summers on my BMW, and the 16″ winters look just as good, ride better, and are a lot cheaper to put tires on.

        I don’t get the fascination with wagon wheels on cars.

        • 0 avatar

          Me either, but having a slightly thinner sidewall keeps flex down. I know my car can take 17’s, but I would hesitate to even do 16’s (it’s on 14’s now), and if I did upgrade the wheels, brakes would definitely move up in size. Weight is one of the things I look at when considering upgrades. The 14″ alloys I took off the Miata to replace my stock steelies came out to be 4.25lbs lighter per wheel, which I wasn’t expecting. Flex isn’t as big an issue on my car as it is our truck (14’s which larger side-walls), but it’s still there.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      “…wonderful flat plastic wheel covers from the 80′s.”

      Someone’s got an inside track on MB’s design strategy

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    I guess if you are going to pay that much for a car you should spring for the decent wheels because other wise it’s a bit like buying a high end fashionable sunglasses frames and putting cling film where the lenses should be…
    As to the plates… I could not care less… Toned down or boring is OK. Cheap looking, not so much.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Anyone that buys sunglasses based on fashion instead of optics is a silly sort of person in the first place. Anyone that sells expensive glasses with poor lenses is a grifter, which might make them a good employment candidate for a German car company.

  • avatar
    The Soul of Wit

    I wonder if it has to do with the trend that many drivers are going aftermarket to distinguish their personal whip from the masses…

    Seriously…If I’m gonna pay a $1,500 optional fee to upgrade my wheels, it is gonna be in the aftermarket.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      On some cars the upgrade price is worth it. On a Focus Titanium, the $795 that gets you the nicer 18″ wheels, Michelin PS3s, and better suspension components. Since I live in the snowbelt, I have 15″ steel wheels for the winter with OEM Escort wheel covers.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    Until I read it, I thought this was another article about Lincoln.

    Fortunately, ugliness has pushed used MKT prices into my price range. If I park in in my garage, I never have to look at the front. While driving, I care more about the EcoBoost V-6 than what the outside looks like.

  • avatar
    rolladan

    They 10’s…. I keeps em clean tho

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    It is refreshing to see smaller, less flashy wheels. The giant overwrought wheels that have sprouted up on everything from compact cars to full size trucks are ugly, heavy, rough-riding, and expensive to keep tired.

    If I were buying a new car or truck today I’d be willing to pay extra to have the tacky, chrome wheels that are often included on upper trim levels swapped for those from a base model. Not everyone wants to drive around with wheels that look like they were pulled from Lil’ Wayne’s Escalade.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      If you are buying the model with the nice wheels and tires, find another owner to swap with and pocket some extra cash. I know plenty of GTI/GLI owners who have done that with Golf and Jetta owners.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I think it’s fine to have smaller wheels, but it’s not okay to have *ugly* smaller wheels. A Mercedes-Benz is supposed to be flattering in *every* configuration, not just the top trim. Those wheels do nothing for the shape or design of the car, and they do look like some form of Teutonic punishment for not upgrading…

      • 0 avatar
        azmtbkr81

        I agree, the wheels on the Mercedes are a little odd but those on the BMW and Porsche seem to compliment the vehicles nicely, I certainly wouldn’t spend more for something different.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I don’t want to sound like an idiot here, but I just went to the MBUSA site and decided to configure a CLA-250 coupe. I didn’t realize they were building a coupe version.
    And like the CLS, the CLA is a 4-door coupe. Which is immensely confusing. When I click on “Coupes” in their vehicle selection I, oddly, expect 2-door cars. So, are they really doing this? I realize the CLS has been called a “4-door coupe” since its inception but I didn’t realize it was sold on their site as a coupe. Seems like it would hurt sales if someone looking for a sporty sedan was not informed the CLS existed. And I would never know the CLA went on sale if it weren’t for this misunderstanding.
    To me, this is like car makers in the 60s and 70s selling pillarless fixed-roof coupes and landau roof cars as convertibles.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Historically, a ‘Coupe’ did not necessarily mean a 2-dr car, but rather a low-roofed, close coupled car. The Germans are just being a bit archaic. For an example, the Rover P5b ‘Coupe’ was also a 4dr.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    The current standard Maryland plate, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Baltimore, is so ugly, especially in its use of spot color (red and blue fireworks on a white background!), that it must have been designed as an incentive to get people to pay extra for specialty plates – no private company involved in this case, as far as I know. Luckily, earlier plates can be transferred, and the old standard design doesn’t suck.

  • avatar
    redliner

    There is a valid reason for this. Most people don’t necessarily want the fastest most optioned model. They just want a nice car that looks good and maybe a bit sporty. automakers know this, so they intentionally set up the base car to look really, really base. That way, even if you don’t want an actual performance upgrade you still have to pay.

    The best part is its almost 100% profit. How much more does it cost to produce a pleasing 18″ wheel, over an ugly 16″ design? I’m no expert, but you can bet it’s much, much less than the $2000 “sport appearance package” costs. Their costs are probably no more than $20-40 more per wheel.

    In this regard, I have always admired companies that offer decent wheels on base cars.

  • avatar

    Next let’s talk about inferior spokes counts (anything less than 5)

  • avatar
    mitchw

    On those occasions when I’ve graced Virginia’s highways it has been my pleasure to read the other motorists’ vanity plates. Sussing out how to read letters and numbers as words tickles my crosswording heart, even as I chuckle at the silliness of these rebs. As for my home state of New York, there’s probably enough envelopes filled with cash somewhere to get the legislature to drop the front plate requirement. Those designer noses on Porsches and Lambos are being Roman Polanskied everywhere you look. It’s a cruel world, Jake.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I have the slightly upgraded alloys on an admittedly pedestrian car, 2013 Focus SE on 16s. I personally think they look great.

    As for plates, my car sports the Minnesota critical habitat loon plates. The standard Minnesota plates are meh, a little more styled than Wisconsin, but pretty bland. The loons rule. If I could personalize it to say IH8PPL, I would in a heartbeat.

  • avatar
    daviel

    I like the plain Texas plates. That’s the way they were in the old days. The stylized plates are tacky

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Once upon a time (about a decade ago) the leader of the ‘free’ world visited Australia to see our Prime Minister at the time, John Howard.

    George W Bush declared ‘Australia is sort of like Texas, but bigger’.

    Now, I don’t know if that was a compliment or a put down.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Sorry, I screwed my story up.

    He actually visited Australia because he heard ‘IT’S A BIT LIKE TEXAS’.

    Here’s the newspaper link.

    No $hit. A great way to foster international relations. A few trendy’s in the city got their noses out of joint.

    http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/10/15/1065917444045.html

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      I am no fan of the politics of the Bush family. That being said, I have always thought they all had good intentions. Their political detractors are mostly a bunch of hate mongers of the worst sort.

      W saying Australia is like Texas is most assuredly a high compliment.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @Landcrusher
        In all honesty I like the way GW spoke, the media used to try and make a mockery of him, but he got his message across. Sometimes he was entertaining.

        When he got here he actually loved the place. From what I’ve read him and John Howard are good friends, they both connected.

        Even though the both are out of politics, I would think this can only benefit both countries, irrespective of what side of politics you live on.

        As for Texas, I think Texan’s have to look at themselves and chuckle, stereotyping is done around the world. I think it makes others feel better about themselves, I think many aren’t a good as they think they are.

        We are all only humans.

        • 0 avatar
          360joules

          As much as I can’t stand the Bushes, they didn’t drag a TelePrompTer to kindergardens like the current regime master (wow, my autocorrect revised my letters to match the trademark). The Bushes showed their truthiness. Then again our current Eloi in chief used to drive a 300.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        The fact that he knew that Australia was bigger is a surprise in itself… admitting it was the highest compliment since Texans rarely admit that anything is bigger then Texas

        • 0 avatar
          360joules

          How do you commit suicide in North Texas? Shout in a bar the following sentence: “A Texan is an Okie with a bad attitude and an inflated sense of self-worth.”

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    A very amusing article, Doug. And the ensuing thread was almost equally amusing.

    Regarding Texas: I went there in 1973 for the reason that lots of people still go there: to get a job. The weather does suck pretty much 10 months of the year and, except for the Hill Country west of Austin and around El Paso, the scenery ain’t much either.

    However, I found the people interesting, characterful and big-hearted. In fact, I married on of ’em. Of course, she made me promise to leave Texas right away, which I did; and we never went back, except to visit.

  • avatar
    becauseCAR

    Even Jaguar and Land Rover are guilty of this. Especially on the Range Rover and the new F-Type. You feel prompted to spend more money just for better wheels.

    And Doug, please tell me you upgraded the base wheels on your 2006 Rover to something else.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    My favorite state plate is Maryland’s Bay plate. Such a nice blue color, plus a heron and a crab!

    That being said, I tend to go for “less is more”, so the new black-on-white Texas plates appeal to me more than the old colored ones.

    My second favorite plates are the small, old-school white-on-black Delaware ones. They’re so simple, they don’t even spell out the state, as “Del.” is sufficient. Here’s a link:

    http://www.dhptags.com/

  • avatar

    I know it’s a cheap car, but the Hyundai Accent seems to one-up all these cars in terms of the pitifully cheap/small wheel/tire combo to get more money. The Panamera and 535i GT shown has much better tire-to-car proportions than a base Accent GLS Sedan with the stock 14″ wheels. I mean come on…

    http://images.gtcarlot.com/pictures/67191985.jpg

    versus…

    http://familyhyundai.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/2012-Hyundai-Accent-6.jpg

    The GLS sedan’s 14″ wheels are the same size as what a Toyota Echo had when they came out in 2000, but with more sidewall (14/175/70 for the Accent vs. 14/175/65 on an already pitifully awkward Echo). Now imagine a much larger car (800-900lbs worth) on that same size. Seeing an Accent GLS in person when not riding on the optional 16″ alloys is like looking at a piano.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    None of those wheels really bother me, and bigger wheels aren’t my thing.

    15″ wheels were good enough for the W126, dag nabbit.

    If I wanted to drive a dubbed-out Donk, I’d buy one.

    Rubber good, wheel bad.

    See where I’m going with this?

    You don’t need 18″, 19″, or 20″ wheels to look good. Usually it looks overdone to my eye (see? it’s like aesthetics is relative or something)… and less rubber tends towards more harsh ride, that the shocks need to compensate for, no? That’s certainly what people’ve been trying to tell me for years here…

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    The MB wheel looks like a C4 Corvette wheel. equally tragic

  • avatar
    kosmo

    More important than ugly wheels or Texas politics, Doug, YOU URGENTLY NEED TO UPDATE YOUR END-OF-ARTICLE BIOGRAPHY.

    Why would anybody who owns a new-used CTS V-Wagon NOT include that information?

    You are welcome.

  • avatar
    KindaFondaHonda

    Those Mercedes wheels make J.C. Whitney hubcaps in their 1980’s mailed catalogs look downright ravishing. Mercedes is also re-introducing the 2-spoke steering wheel in their high-end S-Class which smacks of GM steering wheels of the 1970’s and ’80’s.

    Ugly is definitely back.

    But to me one of the worst offenders of trying to make the car so ugly it forces the customer to upgrade is the solid black bumpers the Japanese introduced to the American public back in the 1980’s (and later picked up by many others later on). These were a sorry sight on every low-line Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsu, Isuzu, and Hyundai of that era. It’s one of the big reasons I bought an LX version of the Honda Civic back in 1988… the black bumpers of the DX were ghastly (and ultimately turned ashen-grey after just a few years). No thanks!

    Back to topic: those Merc wheels are pitiful, indeed!

  • avatar
    50merc

    As a Sooner, I like to fondly refer to Texas as Baja Oklahoma, but in all fairness I admit they’ve got the greatest anti-littering slogan ever: “Don’t mess with Texas.”

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Maybe they make the license plates bland to distract you from the ugly wheels you’re going to get stuck with? I’m all in favor of privatizing the plates. I’m fed up with the prison industries ones with “Help! I’m being held against my will” messages between the plates.

  • avatar
    VenomV12

    Meh, I used to hate Texas, but I have been there about 3 times this year and the place is kind of growing on my. Sure it is filled with some whackjob Conservatives and ultra-Christian loonies, but I don’t mind it as much. I have been in Dallas most of the time, yet to make it to San Antonio and Austin, but people say good things about those places. I don’t think Texas is the be all end all great place that Texans think it is and they think they are, but it is not that bad. Cheap housing, good roads, lack of oppressive taxes and some of the best blondes I have ever seen made are appealing. I will be back down there again next month, so hopefully I will get to see San Antonio and Austin this time.

    The license plates don’t bother me so much. I bemoan the lack of graphics and color, but then on the other hand plain sometimes is better than getting some awful colors or designs you don’t like.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      “Cheap housing, good roads, lack of oppressive taxes and some of the best blondes I have ever seen…”

      It’s heartening to see you have your priorities in order. You should realize, however that those whackjob conservatives are the reason for “lack of oppressive taxes”. I grew up in Taxachusetts, and I can confirm that where there are too few whackjob conservatives there are high taxes.

      We big-hearted liberals need need someone to ask, “Is this any of the government’s business?” and force us to justify spending the taxpayer’s money. Otherwise, we’re suckers for every “cause” that comes around the corner, and more often than not spend the oppressive tax collection for the benefit of the promoters, not the cause.

  • avatar
    JD321

    Praying isn’t working for them because everyone (sans Perry) knows god hates the Cowboys…And if you stay away from Austin, there are very few Liberal Parasites in Texas trying to live at everyone else expense.

  • avatar
    redav

    Just a quick comment about small wheels–they are awesome!

    They weigh less than big wheels, so they accellerate faster, reduce unsprung weight, get better mpg, and offer better ride quality.

    Big wheels are like high heels for your car–they may look good, but they make everything else worse.

  • avatar
    markholli

    Unfortunately it’s not just ze Germans who are pulling this crap. Has anybody else seen the ridiculously small wheels and cheap-looking plastic wheel covers that come standard on the current Subaru Outback?

    Seriously, how much of a cost difference can there really be between steelies with wheel covers and alloys? $50? $100? Just raise the base price $100 bucks and be done with it.

  • avatar
    JD321

    They do this so they can advertise a lower price for the bottom end loss-leader. Once they get you into their dealership with the low price, they can pressure an up-sell. How many times do people go into the dealer expecting to pay an advertised $9995 price and walk out spending $14K? I bet all of them.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I never got what is such a big deal with wheels. The rappers put giant chrome spinners on their cars, and I’m saying why. As long as there are four matching wheels of proportionate size, why does it matter? The only thong about bigger wheels is tires get more expensive.

  • avatar

    Being from Texas, I can say that (a) we don’t all buy pickups – only half of us do; the other half buys Suburbans. And (b) I love the simplicity of the black-on-white license plates. If you want something fancy, you can get them at myplates.com and pay dearly for it, but most Texans prefer simplicity. ‘Function over form’ down here.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    Mercedes is definitely sending a “fuck you cheap ass” message to people that buy stripper SLs, but the Panamera wheels actually look good (as a wheel design, proportion is another question), and the X6 wheels are still the least ugly thing about it.

    Wheels are a very smart way press for an upsell, because they can be changed at the dealer, unlike roll up windows, which give economy cars a low price that almost nobody will want to take, but also mean that a few cars will sit on dealers lots until someone stingy enough comes along.

  • avatar
    SunshineReturn

    Same can be said about Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, FireFox and many other companies uglifying their products and software on purpose. It’s a kind of Planned Obsolescence. Now take a look at this video to understand WHY:

    In the future, women will be BUTT UGLY. Expect that. Unless husbands upgrade them at $100 Grand a piece, with silicon trashables.

    P.S. YahOO, gOOgle etc. have these pretty weird sounds “OO” on purpose as well… the “OO” looks also like “bOObs”, “[email protected]@K” or even someone’s behindable.

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