By on March 30, 2015

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Thanks to our Question of the Day series, we’ve had a myriad of discussions here lately about manufacturers who have “lost their way” and whatnot as of late. My contention is that every large-scale manufacturer on the market today does things exceptionally well—the market is too competitive for them not to. Any OEM that doesn’t have a claim to at least one niche is doomed to failure (cue the BAILOUT discussions). However, each company also has some things that they do badly—and some have things at which they are complete failures.

In preparation for this week’s New York International Auto Show, let’s take a look at what each player in the market does very well, does moderately well, and, frankly, doesn’t do well at all. This first installment will focus on the smaller volume competitors.

In reverse order of market share thus far in 2015:

DAIMLER

The Good:

Mercedes continues to be the leader in the Luxury Flagship category. The S-Class is not only the consistent volume leader in its segment, it’s the benchmark for any luxobarge that wants to try to compete. The S-Class generally outsells the A8 and the 7-Series combined in any given month.

The E-Class is Daimler’s bread-and-butter car. A friend of mine had been lusting after an M5 for literally years, but when he had finally completed his residency and was ready to buy one, he decided to go in a different direction. “The E63 AMG was just better,” he told me (I’m still bugging him to do a Reader Ride Review). And while the performance version of the E-Class has become an absolute beast, the regular old E350 is still the “I’ve made it” car in most office parks around flyover country. It, too, outsells the competition by a 2:1 ratio most months.

The Not-as-Good:

Merc has never seemed to be able to get the whole SUV thing down. My pops had an ML class up until about a year ago when it was stolen from his gym’s parking lot. He was actually pretty relieved—he replaced it with a Grand Cherokee and has been much happier ever since. For whatever reason, the GL and the M just don’t have the panache of the X3 and X5. Mercedes’ SUV/CUV offerings aren’t bad, but they shout “stay-at-home Mom” much more than the offerings from the other Germans do. Since personal anecdotes are clearly the most important thing when ranking vehicles, I’ll just point that a colleague of mine nearly jumped out of his shoes to tell me that the GL he was driving the other day was his wife’s car, not his.

How do you solve a problem like the C-Class? No matter what Daimler does with it, it continuously lives in the shadow of the 3-Series. Back when I was doing a little entry-level German performance sedan shopping a few years back, I cross-shopped the C 300, the 335i, and the A4/S4. My friend who was tagging along made the following comment: “Everything about the C-Class just feels…old.” While there’s plenty to like about the C-Class, there just doesn’t seem to be any reason to pick it over the competition unless you’re a Mercedes brand junkie.

The Ugly:

The CLA. The CLA. God, the CLA. Have you ever seen another car that screams, “Hi, I’m an idiot!” on the road like the CLA 250 does? The BMW 320i and the Audi A3 can be defended as choices—particularly the A3. The CLA is a perfect car for a Delta Delta Delta whose daddy is footing the lease bill. For everybody else, it’s a wretched choice. And if you’re going to come back at me with “What about the CLA45?” then I can only assume you’ve never heard of something we in America like to call the MUSTANG GT.

MAZDA

The Good:

MX-5. It’s an icon, and I don’t think that I really need to expand much on one of the three most popular cars at TTAC. No matter what they’ve done with the newest generation, it’s guaranteed to be good.

The CX-5 is the only car that you can recommend to virtually anybody and be assured that they’ll like it. Younger people like the sportiness. Families like the versatility. Older people like the size and the ride height. Everybody likes the price. It’s the best car vehicle in its segment. Doesn’t sell like it, though.

The Mazda6 wins every comparison test it enters. Seriously. It’s the undisputed champion of the mid-sized sedan segment. It’s the best-looking, the best-driving, and the only car in CamCordima land that lets people know that you actually cared about your vehicle choice. Yet nobody, and I mean, nobody actually buys it. Every other vehicle in the segment outsells it by at least 5:1.

The Not-as-Good:

Somebody get our Managing Editor some Tums for this one, because I’m gonna have to put the Mazda3 here. Is it a very good car? Absolutely. Does it deserve to be priced the way it is? Absolutely not. While the 3’s base price is competitive, once options start being added, it gets very expensive, very quickly. For example, to move up from 155 HP to the 184 HP 2.5 liter engine with an automatic transmission, you’re looking at an MSRP of $27,415. That’s kinda insane. It’s hard to find a trim level of the 3 where the Focus, Elantra, Cruze, or Civic don’t make a little more sense. If it’s driving dynamics you’re after, I can see why you’d go for the base manual transmission car, though. Cut the price by a grand on each trim (and real-world pricing is close to that), and it goes back up to the “good” category. [No disagreement here. In Canada, it is priced much more aggressively than in the United States. My car is equivalent to a 2.oi Touring, which goes for $21k USD. I paid the equivalent of $16k USD.-DK]

The Ugly:

Mazda does everything well, save one thing: marketing. They have the worst dealer network in America—many of them are leftovers from the Ford partnership, and you can guess how many Ford stores focus on selling Mazdas nowadays. Their advertising strategy can be flat out baffling. I got my Mazda CX-7 back in 2008 because they advertised a $199 a month with zero down 36 month lease. I have no idea what a CX-5 leases for today, and neither does anybody else because Mazda never advertises it. I’m not sure how Mia Hamm or Penn and Teller help Mazda sell cars, but by the tumbleweed blowing through Mazda dealerships lately, I don’t think anybody else knows, either.

VOLKSWAGEN AUTO GROUP

I’m going to differentiate between Vee Dub, Porsche, and Audi here.

VOLKSWAGEN

The Good:

The GTI is pure wizardry. It’s like VW took all of its R&D budget and just decided, “Screw it—let’s make at least ONE good car.” The new GTI is Volkswagen at its purest—a small (for today’s standards), affordable (again, for today’s standards) car that at least makes one question whether or not the Fiesta ST is the best smiles-per-dollar value. It’s good that the GTI is so good, because…

The Not-as-Good:

Not only do I not have anything else to put in the “Good” category, I don’t have anything for the “Not-as-Good” category either. I could probably put the Golf R somewhere in this category, but I haven’t driven one, so I can’t say. I also suspect it will be rendered moot by the arrival of the Focus RS in the States.

The Ugly:

Volkswagen has made some truly bizarre decisions regarding its lineup for the US market. I don’t even consider any of the VWs in the rental aisle, anymore. The Passat, Jetta, and Golf are so far behind their competition that I honestly don’t know how VW stores are keeping the lights on. Why is it that the interior quality is so good in the GTI and so abysmal in the Jetta? I had a 1994 MK III Jetta once—I believe it might have been the first one sold in Ohio in 1993. It wasn’t a fast car. It had roll-up windows. It had wheel covers. But at least it had character. Volkswagen has managed to do the impossible—along with all of the other decontenting, it has removed all of the fun and personality from its cars.

AUDI

The Good:

Audi seems to be doing the “entry-level luxury” thing better than anybody else. The A3, while it shares the MQB platform with the rather drab Golf, shines in comparison with the 320i and the CLA 250, perhaps because it seems truer to the Audi brand than either of its main competitors do to their own. If I were in the market for such a vehicle, there’s no doubt that the A3 would be the pick.

Along those same lines, the S3 are RS7 are both compelling choices in their respective categories. In fact, if I could buy any car on sale in America right now, I would likely choose the RS7 ( I even made it the star of a short story once).

The Not-as-Good

The Audi Q line has always struck me as a bit…odd. I get the feeling that the folks at Audi know that they need a CUV/SUV line for America, but that their hearts just aren’t in it. I like the vehicle, overall. They drive well, they’re well assembled—I even knew a guy once who used a Q5 to tow his S2000 to autocrosses. I’m just not sure who the audience is for these things.

The Bad

The A4 isn’t what it once was—well, actually, that’s not true. It’s exactly what it once was. The A4 seems like it’s stuck in a time warp, riding on a platform that is going on seven years old. The only reason to choose the A4 over a 328i or C300 is price, and I think Audi knows it.

PORSCHE

The Good:

I haven’t driven a Porsche in aggression since about 2008 (except for when I drove David Walton’s GT3 for about five miles and missed third gear every. single. time.), so I might be a bit out of date here. That being said, I have heard nothing about the Cayman GT4 that doesn’t make it seem like it’s the second coming. So that’s good.

I trust the guys at R&T when they say that the 991 is the best new Performance Car for 2015, too.

The Not-as-Good:

The Cayenne is probably the vehicle most responsible for the shark-jumping of the luxury SUV craze. Once Porsche did it over a decade ago, it no longer seemed (quite as) strange for manufacturers like Lamborghini, Bentley, and others to make a crossover. It’s still Porsche’s best selling model, even if it doesn’t seem as ubiquitous as it once did—certainly it has lost some sales to its own internal competition, which leads me to…

The Ugly:

The Macan is just a straight-up cash grab by a manufacturer whose nameplate used to actually mean something. I find it hard to believe that Porsche is willing to sully its once-proud name for 600 units a month of Macan sales, but apparently, they are.

But even the Macan makes the Panamera look bad. Panameras are really only sold in three parts of the country—LA, NYC, and Atlanta (to Porsche executives). With the exception of a mild facelift in 2013, the Panamera has been essentially the same since launch, making it look old and tired in comparison to cars like the RS7, the BMW M6 Gran Coupe, or the CLS63 AMG. And in order to get a Panamera that will compete with those cars on the track, you’ll need to step up to the Panamera Turbo, which means you’ll have spent enough money to buy almost two RS7s.

 

See? It’s not that easy to simply exclude a manufacturer. It will get even harder in the coming days, as we move into some higher-volume automakers. Next up: A trio of Japanese companies (Nissan, Honda, and Subaru) as well as the Korean conglomerate of Hyundai/Kia.

 

 

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119 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: The Good, The Not-as-Good, and the Ugly: Part One...”


  • avatar

    Unless I have enough energy to get to the NY Auto Show on Sunday I will miss it. I’ll be watching from Dubai :-(

    All I wanna see is the CT6 and the Lincoln Continental.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I think VW does a good job with diesel and I like the Passat for being a sedan that is comfortable from the front seat and has reasonable visibility.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    “Panameras are really only sold in three parts of the country—LA, NYC, and Atlanta (to Porsche executives).”

    I see Panameras pretty frequently here in the Bay Area.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I’m surprised you put the Golf in the ugly list. My wife has a Rabbit and I test drove a same gen GTI DSG. The GTI had appreciably quicker steering, better damping, more power, better seats etc. etc. but ultimately it was the same car. And there is definitely a lot to like about my wife’s Rabbit. The new one addresses a lot of my gripes with mine, and is an appreciable step in quality above the VW Corolla/Impala.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      Me too on the golf comments. I really think the post has misplaced expectations for entry c segment cars. Id place the 3 and golf at the very top of their segments, no contest especially against the high volume sellers. The focus belongs up there as well but is a generation behind the others right now, this is temporary. The gti might well appeal to me but the golf is undeniably the more impressive car. The big engine 3 is tragically overpriced, but only because Mazda badly miscalculated how it would fare against turbo torque numbers. It is their gti/st after all.All three brands discussed above are global c segment specialists who have the best hatchbacks in the states. All three offer significantly de-contented sedan versions of those cars that get outsold by the Asian brands for various reasons. All three have intriguing d segment sedans that have only been peer competitors for one or two generations.

  • avatar
    dwford

    I just don’t see the appeal of the A3. They aren’t even trying to differentiate the styling from VW now. The A3 is the true Jetta companion to the Golf, not the junker we get here.

    Let’s face it, buying any of these entry level German cars just makes no sense. The price you pay for what you get is outrageous, and literally the only reason to buy a CLA, 320i or A3 is the badge itself.

    As for the Mazda3, most of the compact sedans can be optioned up into the high $20s these days, but there are crazy deals (like $2740 rebates on Elantra) that bring prices back to earth.

    • 0 avatar
      FractureCritical

      I see no value in the A3. It costs pennies less than a comparable (if antiquated) A4, and it’s smaller than a corolla. That may not matter to some, but it’s a stretch for me.

      for all the bluster, I fail to see why, if one must have a luxury name plate, the 320 is any worse of a choice. It’s power is adequate for most users, and it’s largely completely indistinguishable from any other series, which is largely larger than the A3.

      • 0 avatar
        carguy

        +1 You can get a well equipped 320 in the high 30s and for that its great value. Its quick enough, drives as well as the 328 and no one will even know the difference.

        The A3 is nice small car but it simply screams “junior-burger” luxury.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I considered the German compacts when shopping. Sure, they’re nice, but not nice enough to justify their price tag.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      The trouble with Mazda and the 3 in particular is that the driving experience, if that’s what you’re into, is available on the cheapest models. You would have to REALLY like the car to pay for one comparably equipped to a mid- or high-trim competitor. Especially the Focus hatch, at present.

      Also back in 2011 I sat in a 3 in the showroom for 10 minutes without attracting a sales rep.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        “the driving experience, if that’s what you’re into, is available on the cheapest models.”

        Isn’t this true of every car sold? I don’t know why the Mazda3 is considered such a bad deal compared to similarly optioned competitors. The interior looks and feels like a class above cars like the Focus and Cruze. The Focus interior in particular I found grossly overrated, though I’m not sure how much the ’15 facelift address that.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        Fracturecritical

        I agree, The 320 seems like a decent proposition to me, there is a different experience offered by the frd layout, and very different design proportions. The a3 is run too close by it’s vw sister car to be a great value and the cla is perhaps an even worse value proposition than the ilx, which is, to me, the poorest offering in the segment, even with their recent tweaks.

        Overall I’d say the authors point was extremely well made, and correct as well. It does, to me, also indict the brands that follow this practice more widely, such as Acura and Lincoln.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Theres good reason to buy them, IMO. I drive a Civic EX now. It’s not bad, but next go round I would definitely like something more powerful, better equipped, higher performance- but not bigger. There is a sizeable market for premium compacts. So for me the A3 or ILX look good. Germans tend to overprice things but the ILX is a pretty strong value now with the 2.4+DCT.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Here in Canada, it’s $6200 over the well-equipped mid-range model for the bigger engine and a bunch of stuff nobody really needs on the Mazda3. The base and mid-range models with the 2.0 are still good value. The CX-5 is similar. My buddy just bought a well-equipped FWD MT 2.0L CX-5 as the wife’s commuter and their road trip vehicle. While I won’t fault anyone who wants more than just that, a loaded CX-5 isn’t really even a comparable vehicle than the oddball base. Jumping from that to a similarly-optioned 2.5L AWD automatic version adds $8500! They immediately nixed that one because of the sluggish automatic (not a slow vehicle, but a transmission that responds slowly to throttle inputs). The base version was much more engaging. They live right in the middle of the B.C. Rockies, but AWD simply wasn’t worth that much cost and compromise.

  • avatar
    MBella

    With the CLA 45 it’s even worse than there being better performance options at the price. The car is absolutely terrible. It’s loud and obnoxious. It’s way to stiff. It’s a car for the guy who thinks I want an STI, but could you make it more expensive and less refined.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      +1 There is a special place in automotive hell for the CLA45. The gearbox is slow and rough and makes the dual clutch unit in the Ford Focus seem smooth and refined by comparison. The AWD system is a dumb slip and grip type that only helps in straight line acceleration – any attempt at mid corner acceleration will be met with immediate power under-steer. The suspension is unbearably firm and the price encroaches on M3 territory once desirable options have been added.

  • avatar
    David Walton

    Bark,

    I’ll send you (and another TTAC contributor) a bill if there are any trans issues that crop up.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    A few comments:

    The car that makes the CLA45 superfluous isn’t the bigger, heavier, back-seat-less Mustang. It’s the WRX STI. Same big turbo power, same stiff ride, same excellent handling, same Fisher-Price-grade interior, $15k less.

    You are too hard on the C-Class. With the new version, there is finally a reason to get it rather than a 3: it’s got a much, much, much nicer interior. It’s really hard to believe the same company can make the interiors of the CLA and the C.

    The 6 is not the best car in the midsize sedan class, because it’s missing one thing that every midsize sedan buyer wants, which is room. Rather than just driving them, go sit in the back seats of the 6, Accord, and Camry. I think the Accord is the best car in the class, because it’s got about the same driving chops as the 6 with an actually roomy interior (and more speed, as a bonus).

    Agreed on the Mazda dealer network and sales approach. It led my sister to purchase a Corolla rather than a 3.

    You don’t give the Audi Qs (especially the Q5) enough credit. The Q5 really nails the midsize luxury crossover theme. My wife would replace our Forester with a Q5 3.0T lease if we suddenly got an inheritance from my nonexistent rich uncle.

    As has already been pointed out you’re making a mistake by lumping the Golf in with the MuricaJetta and MuricaPassat (which I too avoid at the rental counter). It’s more like a slower, decontented GTI.

    • 0 avatar
      zaxxon25

      The Mazda6 love has been a mystery to me as well. It’s loud, underpowered and the interior is cheap and unfriendly. There are certainly charms there as well but do they mitigate the shortcomings? I suppose for some they do.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree. The Mazda6 is the enthusiasts’ choice and—surprise, surprise—the sales reflect that.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        I think the problem with the Mazda6 is that it can’t decide if it’s the performance family sedan or the fuel efficient family sedan. Put a more powerful engine in the Mazda6 and fully commit to performance and it would make more sense. Simply tuning the existing engine and transmission to be more responsive instead of tuning it to score a high mpg number on the EPA test would help. Offering 18 inch wheels instead of the too small looking 17 inch or the too little sidewall 19 inch would also help.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          “Offering 18 inch wheels instead of the too small looking 17 inch or the too little sidewall 19 inch would also help.”

          Great idea. The looks might bring the customers in, but the ride turns them off. You need to be on the extreme end of the performance car and local road quality spectrum for those 19″ wheels to be sensible.

    • 0 avatar

      The Audi Q5 is decidedly compact, as is the Porsche Macan that uses the same platform.

    • 0 avatar
      Marone

      I’m sorry, but I agree on the C class. It just feels old.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Yea the new C Class is quality. Really recalls the “baby Benz vault” of the old W201 190s. The “sport” in sport sedan class is a misnomer- people want luxury and the C Class delivers in spades.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Agreed on the C-class – to say I was unimpressed by the last one is an understatement, but purely from an aesthetic and interior-quality viewpoint, the new one is a radical improvement.

      But also agreed on the CLA totally. Yes, it sells, but it also cheapens the brand.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Bark failed to mention Cadillac, and more particularly, the long-awaited, hyper-aggressively marketed CT6.

    I’m crushed.

    • 0 avatar

      You need a new shtick DW. The novelty has been exhausted.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Que meme .gif of man beating dead horse with stick

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        It’s not a “meme.”

        As long as Johan de Nysschen is the head honcho at Cadillac, talking his big game in a quite boisterous voice & tone, with seemingly endless bravado, it can’t be a meme.

        JdN + Cadillac’s ongoing tragedies = relevant, timely discussion always.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          In fairness, things would flounder with or without him. The brand would have to be nuked and start over to have any measurable chance of real success. Notgonnahappen.com

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Since you framed it that way, Cadillac’s “prognosis negative” heart monitor is much more entertaining/dramatic to watch unfold with Johan steering the Titanic, than it would be without, so at least there’s that.

        • 0 avatar

          You’ve worn that topic out long ago. This crusade has eclipsed any MQB/JAMA-boosting/Asian sex fetish campaigns that BS waged. I miss the old DeadWeight.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            With a CT6, sub-ATS ATS (based on the Cruze, if it’s to be as rumored) and a CT8 coming out (with the CT6 being revealed tonight), I’m going to need a wide berth for a while.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      IMO, there’s nothing wrong with Caddy that a rethink/binning of CUE and a 10-15% price cut across the board wouldn’t fix.

      Remember when the 2nd gen CTS came out? Damn things were everywhere, over night, because it was a good looking and driving car at a good price. I don’t think the brand is doomed at all, in fact I think it has a lot of goodwill and positive image, it’s just that it doesn’t have as much goodwill and positive image as BMW and MB, so stop pricing it like it does.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    These will be interesting articles to read.

    The Golf would seem to merit the same status as the Mazda6 using your rationale for that midsizer. The Golf is no one’s lazy default choice for a compact car, you have to pass up a lot of cheaper and better equipped vehicles to get there. It drives well, has a quality interior, and wins or nearly wins most comparos. If you like the Mazda3 but find it a bit cramped and loud, the Golf is for you.

    I wouldn’t consider the current Jetta 1.8 to be a case of the “ugly” either. If you’re not stuck on infotainment options it makes a strong case for itself.

  • avatar

    You definitely need to drive the new C-Class, because it has had a complete renaissance, and the only thing it lives in the shadow of is its bigger brother, the S-Class. The cheap budget-grade C-Class that you test drove is no more.

    As to why *I* never considered the Mazda6, it’s because it’s extremely harsh. And loud. The build quality was certainly there, and it is hands-down the looker and the driver of the mid-sized sedan segment. But the suspension (especially with those 19-inch wheels) made me want to employ the aid of a chiropractor and there was way too much wind and travel noise creeping into the cabin. I think that there are a few other sedans on the market—Fusion, Accord, Legacy—that give you most of that driving character without having to sacrifice so much comfort.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Like a couple other commenters, I’m also kind of surprised for the anti-love shown for the Golf. It’s not like the platform is lifeless unless turned into a GTI. The new MQB model ain’t bad, and it’s coming out as pretty much the only real mainstream US wagon in a few weeks.

  • avatar
    Marone

    “Panameras are really only sold in three parts of the country—LA, NYC, and Atlanta (to Porsche executives).”

    If you say so. I live in Chicago and these are everywhere and I see these every single day. They are incredibly popular here.

    • 0 avatar

      Even better, I once drove through Ruidoso, New Mexico and saw a sign for a local gun show. I turned off the “highway” into the parking lot of the convention center, and among the usual pickus of gun show attendees there were parked at least two Panameras. Someone came to caress fine Glocks, apparently.

  • avatar
    rdclark

    CX-5 “It’s the best… vehicle in its segment. Doesn’t sell like it, though.”

    It’s not the best vehicle in its segment. Enthusiasts like it (which means it gets good press) for better-than-segment performance and handling, but neither of these are criteria for judging the segment. The enthusiasts who write glowing praise of the CX-5 aren’t in the market for one.

    It doesn’t sell because it doesn’t compete on the bases that actual people judge these cars. The Escape wins for looks and comfort. The CR-V wins for economy and reliability. The Forester wins for safety and practicality. The RAV-4 wins for being a Toyota.

    The Mazda wins for things that actual CUV buyers don’t really care about. Then they go to a Mazda dealer, so any chance of them actually buying one goes down the tubes.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t imagine that the Escape wins much of anything in the way of looks. In fact, it’s one of the worst-looking crossovers in the segment. But it has the best combination of handling, space, comfort and tech features.

      • 0 avatar
        rdclark

        As far as the Escape’s styling I agree, personally, but apparently the general public doesn’t. I like the X3 and the Tiguan best of all the compact SUVs, and the Forester is the Japanese CUV that looks the most like an X3. The “organic” styling of the Ford, Honda, Toyota, etc. make me want to puke (although the CX-5 makes me least nauseous of all the CUVs with that sort of swirly, slit-windowed look).

      • 0 avatar

        Liking Escape is a matter of personal taste. The only thing I dislike about it is the location of front turn signals, that Ford put low into the bumper. You basically can’t see them over any grass growing in the median.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I thought the interior of the CX-5 was much cheaper in person than it looks in pictures. Possibly par for the class in its price range, but I found it surprising since the Mazda3 delivers in person.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I don’t have as big a problem with the Macan as you do. I think the Cayenne deserves all the blame. It broke the barrier for Porsche, and now they’re just making a big smaller one, for men and not-blonde housewives. (And seriously, few cars have aged more poorly than the original Cayenne in certain colors and wheel options.)

    They could have done a lot worse with the styling and interior on the Macan, but it comes off as a very premium product, both parked and on the road. The first one I saw at an auto show I hated – I dunno maybe it was the flat white paint. But the rest of them I have seen since, I liked.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      The Macan is a pretty convincing little SUV for the fantasy of “If I were a rich guy in the city and only had space for one car, what would I drive?” It’s smallish, but seats 4, has a ton of usable performance, and won’t be rattled by the craptacular inner-city roads. Yeah, a Panamera would be nice, but they’re HUGE. The Macan is sort of rich-man’s GTI.

      • 0 avatar
        David Walton

        Come on.

        I live in Atlanta (actually IN Atlanta – not Roswell or Alpharetta – and DD either the 993 or GT3.

        It’s absolutely doable. In fact, I drove the 993 from Buckhead to downtown Atlanta last week, parked it for several hours in a seedy deck, and came back to it several hours later. No issues, no problems.

        • 0 avatar
          S2k Chris

          Sure, but Atlanta was mostly built 15 minutes ago and doesn’t have a real climate :)

          Try the same in Chicago, Boston, etc. It CAN be done, but would you want to?

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            I was driving my Abarth around Boston on Saturday, and seriously there were potholes so bad in places I actually had to stop and signal to change lanes to avoid them. More than deep enough that had I gone in, I may well not have come back out again due to an Abarth having very little ground clearance. After this winter, the roads there are an absolute horror show. Even on I-95/I-93 in MA there were holes that were simply NOT an option to not dodge. Luckily an Abarth is both small and extremely agile. But I admit, I would have preferred to be in my Rover and just completely ignoring all of it.

            The roads in GA are pretty much perfection by comparison.

            For any MAssholes on here – what IS the deal with the thing where there are huge deep holes in the highway ONLY where the center line strips are painted? I don’t think I have ever seen that anywhere but MA, and it has been that way for years and years. It’s like the paint eats the pavement.

          • 0 avatar
            David Walton

            Most roads truly in Atlanta (ie, in town) are terrible. No money to repave; frequently main thoroughfares – including Peachtree in front of my office – have (temporary) metal plates put in place to cover massive potholes.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Those metal plates they so nonchalantly toss over every hole in Atlanta will ruin your suspension as easily as any snowbelt pothole

          • 0 avatar
            S2k Chris

            Fair enough, I lived in Athens and only ever went to ATL to go to the airport. I remember the freeways being pretty nice, but this is about 10 years ago now.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            I was in Atlanta a month ago working for FHLBA right on Peachtree and commuting back and forth to my hotel several miles up the road. Compared to the typical road in Boston, Peachtree might as well be a bowling alley lane. Those metal plates do not even begin to compare to a 6″-8″ deep frost-heaved moon crater. Especially when it is raining/snow melting and you can’t tell if that puddle up ahead is 1″ deep or 6″ deep…

            Up here in Maine we don’t have nearly the pothole problem that MA does, but we get frost heaves that make a lot of secondary roads seem like a black diamond ski slope mogul run. THAT is fun in a car with a stiff suspension and rubber band tires… You could drive a GT3 here year round, but you would need a kidney belt, a helmet, and a chiropractor on call.

          • 0 avatar
            David Walton

            One more on Atlanta roads.

            YES, those metal plates can damage the suspension on a sporting car. I don’t worry too much in the 993 (more travel), but I come to a crawl in the GT3 since I’m risking the suspension AND bodywork.

            If I needed a car that could seat 4 (say 2 kids), I’d have a 997.1 Turbo and an E90 M3.

          • 0 avatar
            bosozoku

            You clearly haven’t spent much time in Atlanta.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t have a problem with it because doesn’t betray the brand. If you examine the handling and performance, it is the Porsche of compact CUVs, although its sister, the Audi Q5/SQ5, handles admirably as well. I don’t have a problem with the Cayenne, either…although you’re right in that the original one has aged horribly. When Porsche tries to hock a $40,000 hatchback on the VW Polo architecture, *then* I’ll have an issue.

      • 0 avatar
        ccd1

        I have two issues with the Macan

        1). A relative bought one and I had to listen about him ranting about how it handled just like a sports car

        2) it expands on Porsche’s brand dilution

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I don’t know what the problem with the Macan is either. Bark’s argument against it is a stereotypical fanboy complaint, and exactly the same as what was often said about the Cayenne and X5 when they were first sold. Manufacturers with a sporting history selling SUVs to pay the bills (and then some) is not new. That ship sailed over a decade ago.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        +1 It’s not as if they stopped making the exotics they’re still available. Just like all the moaning over the Jeep crossovers, you can still get a Wrangler so what’s the problem? These car companies are in business to make a profit. If they remained true to the purists they more then likely would be out of business by now. How will these people handle the Bentley and Rolls Royce SUVs?

        • 0 avatar

          And again, it’s not like these SUVs completely betray their brands. If you drive an X5 or Cayenne, you’ll find them to be about as performance-oriented as you could get with a high-ground-clearance, heavy vehicle. Their only crime is being “the wrong bodystyle”, but they fit well into their respective brands’ portfolios.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Exactly! Let’s say you’re a guy who would really like a 911 or a M4, but your reality is two kids in car seats and weekend trips to Costco and Home Depot. Why should you be deprived of any sporting pretense? At least with a Cayenne or X5 there’s an attempt to satisfy the sporting enthusiast

          • 0 avatar
            S2k Chris

            Plus, I’m doing the sports car + boring daily driver thing right now, and while the sports car part is nice, you spend the vast majority of your time in the boring DD, to the point where I wonder if a middle-ground single car solution is better.

          • 0 avatar
            Reino

            If you decide to do it, go with a midsize sports sedan (5-series, etc.), and check the box for the folding rear seat. No SUV–no matter how much ‘performance’ it is marketed with–will ever handle like a sports car.

    • 0 avatar
      David Walton

      If you’re responding to me…

      I’ve lived in metro Atlanta for 22 of my 26 years

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    It used to be that BMW people bought the model they wanted and Mercedes people bought the model they could afford. If you couldn’t afford an E class you bought a C class. I know I lot of people that could afford a 5 series or a 7 series but bought a 3 series because it is the car they wanted. Not sure if that is the case anymore.

    While the A3 might be a better car than the 320 I think the 320 is truer to the brand. It is same car that they already sell, just detuned/decontented; not a whole different model based on a VW. If you came out of an E46 you wouldn’t even know it was down on power. The same attributes are there as the rest of the 3 series. If you debadged it your neighbors would never know you got the “cheap” one.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Wrong on the Golf, wrong on the A3, wrong on the C-class. As has already been said, the MK7 Golf is the same car as the GTI, just with less power, and less handling ability. The interior quality, design, and layout is identical. It’s the same as the EU market car with the single exception of the too small infotainment screen, (they get 8″, we get 5.8″) but that’s about it, which is why it feels so nice inside, and NOT like a typical USDM designed VW.

    Take that MK7 Golf, make it a sedan that’s more boring to drive, slower, and much less interesting inside, not to mention much less practical and you have the A3 1.8T. Seriously, compare the A3 interior to a same size A4 from 15 years ago. Now make a case that the A3 interior is nicer. Can’t be done. The A3 is the “cheap class” Audi.

    The C-class for a long time felt like the car Mercedes didn’t want to make, but they had to have *something* to throw against the 3 series, so they lazily threw a car together out of old bits and some chewing gum, powered by M-B’s worst wheezebox engines.

    That’s all over. The new C-class is spectacular. It may not handle like an M3, but when it comes to compact *luxury* sedans, there is NOTHING that can touch it. Nothing comes CLOSE. The 3 series and A4 look like plastic trash on the inside compared to the new C-class. It’s the only car in the segment that looks like it costs MORE than it does on the inside.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The new C-Class is spectacular inside, but unfortunately the volume engine is described nicely by the word “wheezebox.”

      I’d consider one if and only if I could justify the price of the C400/C450AMG to myself.

  • avatar
    amancuso

    What’s with all the VW hate? I don’t get it. Sure the MK6 Jetta debuted with a crappy 2.5 and a solid rear, but that was all forgiven when the 2014 models came with the 1.8L TSI engine and IRS. It’s been a great comfortable car for me for the past 26,000 miles. 0 issues, fun to drive, good looking, comfortable and very affordable.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      They fixed the drivetrain and suspension, but didn’t really fix the interior. Ever since the MkIVs people have expected premium-ish interiors from VWs. And the Golf and GTI have largely delivered. Meanwhile the original MuricaJetta felt like a Hyundai Accent, and the new one feels like an older Elantra.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I agree.
      I thought the Jetta interior was disappointing only when compared to the MkV that preceded it. Compared its competition it’s average. The dash and upper door panels are hard plastic, but the most important parts–seat comfort, steering wheel, driving position, padded armrests–are all what I expect out of VW and the thing still feels solid.

      I thought it was a decent car even with the solid rear (much ado about nothing for nearly all drivers), rear drums (even more ado about nothing, it stops better than the all-disc MkV), and 5 cylinder (it’s reliable and powerful enough).

  • avatar
    JK43123

    Love this article! Can’t wait for the next installment.

    John

  • avatar
    slance66

    Ok, somebody has to explain why Mazda is here with the all German club, and BMW is out. Not sure I’m getting that.

    As for the cars, the Mazda 6 really? Too long, too ugly and just not nearly as nice as the new Accord or (gasp) even the Camry, which looks good in XLE trim.

    The Q5 is very nice for the simple reason that it holds more than a shoebox and doesn’t have a third row. The MPG is good and ride quality handling balance is about right. The Q7 though is useless and overpriced. Nobody in their right mind would buy one over an MDX.

    I think the C class is pretty nice, but the 3 series is better. Personal preference.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      This is in reverse order of marketshare (by company- not individual brand). Mazda is the smallest independent automaker with only one brand, so it is down there near luxury car level (in other words, the Germans) marketshare.

    • 0 avatar
      InterstateNomad

      I started looking at the Mazda 6 because of all the enthusiasts touting its merits. Like you, I just don’t see it. Both the Accord and Camry comes in a V6 (Mazda lacks) and have better packages overall. It’s just not worth it for purely the “better handling” and I wonder how many of the enthusiasts actually end up buying the Mazda 6.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    How does the GTI get such high praise while the Golf ends up in the ugly category? Reviews of the Golf give me the impression that it is worth trying before spending the extra on the GTI, and is definitely competitive with the Mazda3 and Focus, even at a price premium.

    I’m also not clear what’s so bad about the Passat. Sure, it is a bit bland and generic, but can you really hold that against a mid-size sedan? It’s spacious with plenty of cargo room, which is the first thing a mid-size sedan should do well. Somehow not everyone got that memo (mostly GM, but it sounds like rear headroom is borderline in the Fusion and Mazda6). The Passat also throws enthusiasts a bone with manual transmissions and a diesel. I can understand many are afraid of VW and will stick with Honda/Toyota/Nissan, but ignoring brand reputation and judging the car on its merits, I see no reason not to at least consider it.

    Regarding the audience for the Q5, the same audience that looks at X3s and GLKs, or really any CUV for that matter. At least in the SF Bay Area, I have the impression that the Q5 is crushing both the BMW and Benz. Q5s are everywhere.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      GTI is one of the few VW to actually get a “recommend” from Consumer Reports. Which its sister Golf does not.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Why?

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          CR says that its data shows the GTI is more reliable than the lowly Golf it is based on.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Which is yet another example of CRs data being full of crap. And there cannot possibly be enough data on the current production MQB Golf/GTI to make any determination anyway.

          • 0 avatar
            palincss

            @PrincipalDan, I think you’re making that up. If you have a source for that statement, please provide it. Historically the Golf has had better reliability than the GTI, and right now both the Golf and GTI are too new to have a reliability track record. Source: Consumer Reports April 2015 issue, sitting on the desk right next to me. @krhodes1 – something is definitely “full of crap,” but it’s not Consumer Reports data.

        • 0 avatar
          palincss

          To get a Consumer Reports recommendation the car has to have at least average reliability and do well on the tests. The Mk VII Golf is too new to have a reliability record yet. It does well on the tests, and CR has written nice things about it in the magazine. For that matter, so has just about every other car magazine.

    • 0 avatar
      Whatnext

      The amount of rear legroom in the Passat is amazing. It’s almost limo-like.

  • avatar
    palincss

    Re: Consumer Reports recommendations of 2015 VW models: per the April 2015 issue, the following are recommended: Eos, Jetta, Passat, Tiguan and Touareg. (p. 64-65)

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      My apologize oh high exalted one. My slightly faulty memory was digging that up from a few years ago (5 years + or -) for the VW. It was whichever Consumer Reports auto issue had the Nissan Altima on the cover.

  • avatar
    kc1980

    To say that the golf is far behind the competition makes the author loose total credibility to me. Its the best compact car on sale in the us bar none. The refinement, interior quality, multitude of drive train choices and performance are all at the top of the category. It did win multiple car of the year awards for a reason.

    I do however agree that the madza 3 gets staggeringly expensive very quickly with the way mazda has its option packages.When i drove one the car felt cheap (interior quality, exterior pannels) too cheap in my opnion to pay much over 20k for it in any configuration. Also the excellent driving dynamics are a bit overrated.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I still like the A4. Think of it as a proven design with all the bugs worked out. Besides I can get a deal on it as I’m sure they want it gone before the new platform arrives in a year or so. That’s what I got with the TSX wagon I bought about a year ago.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I hear you. I’d be interested in a leftover B8 S4 at the right price, if only any were ever made with the option combo I’d want (Premium Plus, 6MT, adaptive suspension, sport diff, nothing else). Unfortunately in the real world the performance goodies tend to come only on loaded Prestige models that would be well out of a reasonable price range even with a good discount.

  • avatar
    arun

    Funny how not one person has said a word about the vw cc! For 30k in 2011, very few cars could come close to touching it’s combo of sportiness and practicality in a sedan. As with all things vw, they have left it untouched for far too long.. The refresh can’t come soon enough

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The problem with the CC is that it’s a FWD (or Haldex) sedan with the packaging efficiency of a fairly poor RWD one. It’s a neat-looking and nice-driving car, but there are just too many compromises.

      • 0 avatar
        arun

        Not sure what you mean by packing efficiency in real life terms. With a 60-40 rear folding seat, it has yet to fail me in packing anything including a gigantic wall painting from ikea!

        You are right about the fwd though. And to get the awd, you have to step up to the 40k vr6 model at which point it has lost its value proposition.

  • avatar
    CreepyMayne

    Does anyone think that the difference in base price is why the 3 series continuously beats out the C class? I was just pricing these out, you can get a stripper 3 series (with a manual) in the low 30’s. The C class doesn’t become a thing until you reach almost $40k. For people shopping in this segment, price is still key. I’m in my late 20’s, little debt, and I wanted something to showcase my professional life to others (or at least what others consider success). The 3 series would be my choice. But then I went out to clean my 2013 Grand Cherokee that’s paid off, and I realized I’m pretty happy with it. Plus, buying a stripper 3 series in any of the 3 free colors (black, silver, white) wouldn’t fool any of my engineer friends anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      You’re right that the price difference has a lot to do with it, but it’s not the base price, it’s the lease-special price. BMW is pushing 3ers out in volume around $40k. You have to go up a few thousand more to get to the volume C-class configuration.

      That said, I’d vastly rather drive a current C-class than a current 3. The 3 has lost its sporting advantage and the C is a better luxury car.

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    The C-Class Mercedes was one of the few ‘contemporary’ cars that would have distracted me from buying a Chrysler. I say it in the past tense because the current model (W205) looks like a Hyundai/Toyota/etc, among the other current models. Even the (current) S-class interior is overdone and hideous in my opinion. The interior is very disorganized, disruptive and non-traditional for a Mercedes.

    The W204 was the sweet spot in my opinion. Very nice interior and exterior design, simple and clean yet still attractive (specifically the pre-2012 dash configuration). The W203 was OK except for that hideous bubbly dashboard. In any case, it would have been even better if a diesel inline-4 or inline-5 was offered on this car in the US. If it came to that, I would have really considered going out of budget to get one (albeit preowned).

    This gimmicky ugliness is a fad across every single manufacturer and it looks like it won’t be passing us by anytime soon. This will prevent me from buying a replacement when the time comes to replace my 2011 Chrysler 200 Limited. Guess I will drive the thing until the wheels fall off.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “Guess I will drive the thing until the wheels fall off.”

      That’s where we’re at. The final cars of our driving life. Hopefully I will have made the right choices.

      If not, we’ll have to stick a lot of money into them to keep them running until the wheels fall off.

      • 0 avatar

        You mentioned a Sequoia and a Tundra for you and your wife, IIRC.

        You should be good to go for a good long while. The fueling costs will be high, but I don’t foresee those particular vehicles leaving you in the lurch, so long as proper care is taken of them. I think you’re in bigger danger of simply getting tired of them or having eyes for something else than you are of experiencing some sort of mechanical calamity.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Kyree, what I strove for was the same engine in both vehicles. Commonality. I’m already set up for both the Tundra and the Sequoia, now.

          I am really pleased with the 5.7L and have not experienced any problems, so far, with either vehicle.

          And, I hope to trade the 2011 Tundra SR5 for a 2016 Tundra 5.7 4-door 4×4, as my last vehicle of my driving life.

          Fueling and maintenance costs have never been an issue or consideration for me. And both vehicles should last me many years since we will not be putting as many miles on them as we did on past vehicles.

          What drove my decision to buy was always getting exactly what I wanted (or needed) since we only pass this way once in life.

          But it is unlikely I will tell you all about it when it goes down, when I buy the 2016 Tundra, because by then I won’t be on ttac since I will be involved in other things that will take me away from ‘net surfing.

          Too many things left to do and not enough time to do them all.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I can’t imagine going for a W204 rather than a W205. And if I wanted a W204 I can’t imagine wanting the pre-refresh model. Both the W204 refresh and the W205 were huge improvements in interior quality and luxury from what came before them.

  • avatar
    Saxphile

    I’d like to point out that here in New Zealand, Mazda is actually considered a default choice by those who don’t care about cars. The Korean twins are becoming more popular with that group, and a small (but dying–literally) subset buy Mitsubishi. Mazda’s popularity here is possibly historical (for a long time they were essentially better built and cheaper Fords).

  • avatar
    John R

    A bit too late, but Panamera pricing is doubltess the most cynical I’ve seen from Porsche.

    $78k for poverty editions that would be hard pressed to get away from a $31k Dodge Charger R/T. Elect to get a 4S you might as well have gotten an M5 – no jest, MSRP for both hovers around $98k.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    With regard to Mazda, the 6 was on my short list when I was car shopping last summer. I ended up with a four cylinder Accord for the following reasons:
    1. Mazda options – the base model Accord had more on it than the mid level sixer.
    2. Pricing – no incentives at all at Mazda. Strangely enough, Honda was willing to deal.
    3. Service – Mazda has only three dealerships in a 20 mile radius. One of my wife’s coworkers husband had a two year old six that developed issues. None of the three local Mazda dealers could fix it. That was it for me.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    I really want to like the Mazda6. It looks perfect on paper until we sit in one. The curvature of the headrest in the front seats just make my wife’s neck hurt.

    It might be ok in a Miata or even a 3 for unmarried guys, but once you are married with kids (why else would you buy a mid size anyways), you are forced to consider the comfort and practicality as well.

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