By on March 31, 2015

BMW-M235i_mp2_pic_107451

In our first installment, we focused on Daimler, Mazda, and the Volkswagen Group. Today, we’ll focus on BMW/Mini, Subaru, and Hyundai/Kia. But first, let me address a couple of the comments about the cars the B&B said I got wrong:

  • I stand by my comments about the Golf. One commenter said the Golf was just the “GTI with less power, and less handling ability.” Well, duh. That’s like saying the Focus and Fiesta are the same cars as the FoST and the FiST, but with less power, and less handling ability. The power and the handling ability are what make the GTI special. Granted, the VW dealer network is wretched, so one can excuse the poor sales numbers of the Golf overall, but the Golf is actually outsold by the GTI. I can’t think of another example of a higher-cost, performance variant of a car outselling the base model—even the base Impreza, which I virtually never notice out in the wild, outsells the WRX and STI 2:1.
  • I don’t think the C-Class is a bad car at all—I just think it’s fighting an uphill battle against the 3-Series. That being said, I definitely need to get some seat time in the new C-Class, as Mercedes has yet to deliver a press vehicle to my front door. Any readers who have one and would like to have it reviewed, let us know and I’ll get to you.

That being said, I continue to welcome your comments and dissenting opinions. Now, let’s move on.

BMW/MINI

The Good:

Let me be clear: I’m not one of those who thinks that BMW has “lost it’s way.” You know who likes the “good old days?” Two kinds of people: People who forget what life was like before the Internet and young punks who want to seem ironically cool while they lament the loss of the E30 that they’ve never even seen, much less driven, on their Twitter feeds.

Newsflash to any twentysomethings pining for the days when BMW apparently had a roadmap out of Munich: the old days kinda sucked. Zero to sixty to less than eight seconds was considered “fast.” A “hot hatch” made 110 horsepower. Crash test ratings were horrific. Anything that was faster than a 2015 Subaru BRZ was so damned expensive that 90 percent of Americans couldn’t have afforded it. Trust me—you’re better off living through your windshield than your rear-view mirrors when it comes to cars.

As such, the M235i is proof that the boys in Bavaria still know exactly what they’re doing (although most readers here know me as a Ford fanboy, in the interest of full disclosure, let it be known that I once put down a $5K deposit on a 2008 135i, but that’s a story for another time). You think you want an E30 M3? No, you don’t. You want an M235i. It’s the spiritual successor to that legendary 192 horsepower machine, but in addition to being well-balanced, it can also break the five second barrier in the sixty miles per hour dash.

Speaking of the M3, the new M3/M4 combo is skull-crushingly fast.  Yes, it’s bigger and heavier than the E30 and E36 were. So? The new M3 is just flat-out better than any of its predecessors. Yes, it’s probably gotten too expensive—but we’ll talk more about that in a second.

I had the purely effervescent joy of driving the M6 Gran Coupe around Nelson Ledges before it’s official launch to the public. I drove my Boss 302 to the track that day from Kentucky, and before I got into the big Bimmer, I took a few laps around the circuit in the Mustang. Now, keep in mind—the Boss 302 is provably faster around most tracks in America than the E92 M3 was. The Boss was hitting the kink at about 128 MPH, which was downright ass-puckering. The M6 Gran Coupe—the big, fat, unwieldy M6—hit it at…wait for it…141. Even more impressive was the relative ease with which it did so—there was absolutely none of the drama that was associated with the 302. While some people might appreciate a bit of drama on a racetrack, I gotta tell you that when you’re driving somebody else’s $145K car, you appreciate a lack of it.

Meanwhile, you can complain about the turbo 4-bangers all you want (you can still get an inline six, you know). You can complain about the proliferation of models all you want (they still make a 335i sedan). I’m still gonna put the 3-Series in the “Good” category, if only because it’s still the standard bearer for the segment. You don’t like it? What would you rather have? An A4? A C-Class (based on yesterday, maybe)? An IS? A G? Nah. The 3-Series is still the king.

The Not-As-Good:

It’s hard to not appreciate the MINI Cooper Hardtop for what it is. I know that they have wretched reliability. But, damnit, I still find myself trolling Craigslist for well-loved early examples. In many ways, the proliferation of hot hatches available in the USA today has made the MINI Hardtop somewhat irrelevant—is there anybody who’d take a MINI over a GTI/FoST?—which is why I had to drop it down to Not-As-Good. But it’s a fine line.

Now, if you want to complain about the turbo 4 in the 5-Series? All right, I’ll listen to you. In fact, I agree with you. I can’t get behind a $50k+ car that rocks a four-cylinder. The Fiver has never felt like it was the right car for the segment, and this F10 generation is just…meh.

The Ugly:

Every MINI that isn’t the Hardtop. Seriously. Just stop all that nonsense.

The 7-Series has always felt like the big brother who has the little brother who’s the star athlete—it’s the Cooper of the Manning Family. There’s nothing wrong with the Siebener, per se—it’s just not the icon of the brand. The S-Class owns this segment, and it often feels like BMW has given up on competing.

Once there was a car that was so ugly, everybody died. I’m talking about those god-awful GT models. I just don’t get it. Maybe there’s a market segment that this car is filling, but I don’t know what it is.

Here’s the biggest ugly thing about the BMW brand in 2015—the sticker prices. I visit BMW dealers weekly, and I see prices on the window stickers that are just downright mindboggling. With reported lease numbers approaching seventy percent, the astronomical prices barely matter. As such, it’s not uncommon to see as many as three different prices on one car—just last week in Indiana, I saw a 328i in the showroom that had $43k on the sticker, $40k on the stand next to the car, and $37k on a tag hanging from the rearview mirror. Oh, and then it said $359 a month on the windshield. There’s a real push-and-pull between the desire to maintain an upscale brand, yet keep moving 100K 3/4 series a years.

Whew. Okay, let’s move on. Damn, I forgot the X5. Throw it up there in the “Good” for me, would ya? Thanks.

SUBARU

The Good:

The WRX/STI combo has made Subaru relevant to enthusiasts for over a decade, now. I remember driving my 2000 Hyundai Tiburon to a Subaru dealership in 2001, begging them to give me a decent trade value toward one of the original, bug-eyed WRXes. Even if they could have made the numbers work, there’s no way that I could have afforded the insurance. But everybody my age (I was 23) desperately wanted one. Almost fifteen years later, the WRX (and now, STI) are still limited to about 300 HP, so they’re no longer “fast” by today’s standards (which is kinda mind-boggling, if you think about it), but they’ve reinvented themselves as affordable alternatives to the pony car. As the Evo walks the plank, the WRX/STI keeps the Japanese rally car dream alive for kids playing Gran Turismo everywhere.

The Outback and Forester continue to sell in surprising numbers—in fact, if you combined the two of them (and who among the non-Subaru faithful can honestly tell the difference, anyway), they’d be the 8th best selling vehicle in America. You can’t help but love them when you drive them—there’s really nothing else like them. If you want an Outback or a Forester, you probably aren’t really shopping anything else.

The Not-As-Good:

The Legacy. You know, if Subaru could just build a competitive mid-sized sedan, they’d have a shot at some real market share. Unfortunately, they can’t. It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong about the Legacy—there’s just nothing particularly right about it. The best they can hope to do is compete with the bottom tier of mid-sizers, like the 200 and the Malibu.

The Ugly:

The Emperor’s New Clothes are completely off at this point. The BRZ is selling in numbers that the Lincoln MKS scoffs at. Unfortunately, the BRZ/FR-S combo really are the spiritual successor to the RX-8—underpowered, overhyped, and dead in the water in four years. It’s hard to imagine anybody picking this car over any of its competitors. If you’re still waving the flag for this car, you’re simply delusional.

HYUNDAI/KIA

The Good:

The Hyundai Genesis sedan is remarkable. If you shop the V-6 against the similarly priced competition (Buick Lacrosse, Lincoln MKS, Ford Taurus, Chevy Impala), there’s really no case to be made for anything else. The real competition is the Chrysler 300C—and I would pick the Genesis every time. You can tell I really love a car when I make it the star of a Sunday Story.

The Kia Soul is one of my favorite cars, anywhere, period. I’d gladly roll down Hamsterdam Avenue in a Yellow Soul +. It obviously doesn’t have any sporting intent whatsoever, but who cares? The Soul picked up the ball right where the first-generation Scion xB dropped it, and they’ve been running with it ever since.

The Not-As-Good:

As far as looks go in the midsize category, the Kia Optima is the most attractive option. Unfortunately, at some point, you have to stop admiring it from the outside and actually get in and drive—and that’s where the Optima falls down a bit. The four-cylinder Optima is painfully slow in comparison to the similarly engined Accord or Mazda6. Braking from higher speeds is a bit of an adventure, too. However, the Optima is probably the smoothest riding of any of the midsizers on the market, and tech-savvy people who don’t care much for driving will like it. I can’t quite convince myself to call it “Good,” but neither is it “Bad.”

The 2015 Elantra GT is a decent car, and it’s much better than the 2001 Elantra sedan that Mrs. Bark once owned. I drove it from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Chicago last week, and I was neither inspired to hate it or love it. Which means that it probably belongs right here.

The Ugly:

Oh, Hyundai…what have you done with the Sonata? Four years ago, I used to search for the previous-gen Sonata on rental car row—now I avoid the new one like a crazy ex-girlfriend. It’s pokey. It’s ugly. It doesn’t turn. It costs too much. I hate it.

That’s it for today. I fully intended to get to Honda and Nissan, but here we are at 2000 words. Oh, well. We’ll get to them, and maybe Toyota, too, in our next installment.

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101 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: The Good, The Not-As-Good, and The Ugly: Part Two...”


  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    I won’t drive anything without a roundel on it. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Why?

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        As Bark demonstrates, some people really like BMW, and some don’t. There’s no point arguing personal preference.

        Last time I cross-shopped the C Class and 3 Series, I thought the 3 was a weaker contender in most respects. That’s just me, I know some people love the 3 and not the C.

      • 0 avatar
        Master Baiter

        I’m brand loyal by nature, until a brand lets me down. I’ve had six or seven BMWs now over the years and they’ve never let me down. Never failed to start; never broke down; no nightmare repair bills that others (who perhaps have never owned one?) express concern about.

        They’re solid cars that feel like they were honed from a single piece of steel. Responsive drivetrains. I like the form-follows function interiors–not much chrome, bling or weird styling elements that grow tiresome in the long run (not counting the i3 interior).

        Prices are high, but you have to be smart about what you purchase. If new, stay away from options that you don’t really need. I’d argue in this day and age you don’t even need navigation. I can pull up a destination on my phone in 1/4 the time of the best car navigation system.

        Though I can afford new, IMHO, low mileage, clean, used is the way to go. The options depreciate to nil after a few years so you can buy a loaded version for not much more than a base model. Yes, you may have repair bills, but for me, it’s easier to justify with the wife an occasional repair bill than trying to sell her on spending 50 to 80K on a new car.

        • 0 avatar
          S2k Chris

          “I’d argue in this day and age you don’t even need navigation. I can pull up a destination on my phone in 1/4 the time of the best car navigation system. ”

          I agree when it comes to the old cars, like the E90, and avoiding navigation let you skip out on iDrive and the giant screen, etc. But in this day and age, when they force the screen upon you, it seems silly to have it and not nav. And that pi$$es me off, because now instead of paying for a screen and an interface, I’m basically paying for software and a GPS antenna.

          The most egregious BMW option however, is “advanced bluetooth” or whatever they call bluetooth streaming. It’s bundled in a package IIRC, and I’ve gotta pay $500+ for the extra 10 lines of code that allow my phone to play music over the stereo LIKE IN EVERY OTHER CAR EVER even though the base model already has phone over bluetooth. Argh.

          • 0 avatar
            PennSt8

            “The most egregious BMW option however, is “advanced bluetooth” or whatever they call bluetooth streaming. It’s bundled in a package IIRC, and I’ve gotta pay $500+ for the extra 10 lines of code that allow my phone to play music over the stereo LIKE IN EVERY OTHER CAR EVER even though the base model already has phone over bluetooth. Argh.”

            Actually that was done away with for MY ’15. And I agree it was a silly crash grab on BMW’s part.

          • 0 avatar

            I never had navigation in a car until this past year, and now wouldn’t go without it. The biggest win is not the turn-by-turn directions, but being able to see the roads around you on a moving map. Then you can tell which roads get through when you have to go around something. Maybe you could just have your phone handy, but the nav screen is much bigger and better positioned.

          • 0 avatar

            My fav BMW mandatory upgrade is the $2000 seat heaters. It isn’t marked as such, but if you try to low option a 3 series with the non leather interior, you are told that to add seat heaters for $500, you must upgrade to a leather seat for $1500. You can’t warm your butt in pleather in BMW.

            That and lumbar support, even in Sport or M cars, is part of the “premium package” which is a bunch of foof.

        • 0 avatar
          Gregg

          And today there are lots of brands that never fail to start and never break down. Cars in general are finally reliable, with a couple of exceptions. BMWs are great vehicles. But it’s not only the ridiculous prices that keep me away from BMWs, it’s the styling. Yes, it is supremeely recognizable, but when you analyze it, they are not pretty cars or trucks. Well, maybe almost the Gran Coupe.

          • 0 avatar
            David Walton

            Those popular options aren’t really necessary.

            I am a millennial and get by just fine without navigation or any ability to listen to music on my iPhone in either of my cars.

            In fact, when I bought the GT3, I was specifically searching for vehicles WITHOUT navigation. I prefer to rely on my phone or my own sense of direction…

          • 0 avatar
            Sigivald

            “In fact, when I bought the GT3, I was specifically searching for vehicles WITHOUT navigation. I prefer to rely on my phone or my own sense of direction…”

            I often do that, especially in my home town.

            But sometimes I’m in Canada, and I both don’t know Vancouver that well, *and my phone doesn’t get data out of the States*.

            Turns out a GPS system *does* work up there, so that’s a huge win for me.

          • 0 avatar
            raph

            “Cars in general are finally reliable, with a couple of exceptions.”

            I swear I’ve heard that since the late 80’s

            Personally I’ve been buying Mustangs new since 2002 and the only issue I’ve really had was a defective supercharger on my 09 GT500 and that didn’t stop the car.

            Reliability was never an issue with any of my new cars, just annoying issues with the interior being my primary peeve.

            Most of the issues I see with other cars come down to a lack of maintenance and cleaning creating reliability issues.

            I do come across people having reliability issues with new cars but I’ve never experienced them beyond what I’ve stated.

            Probably just jinxed myself on my next new car damn it….

        • 0 avatar
          MeJ

          I did exactly that. Bought an 07 E92 4 years ago. At first I had to put quite a few bucks into it, but now it has been running fantastic for the last years. Overall I spent about the price of a loaded 2015 Chevy Sonic.
          For the record: to all those people who think all Bmw owners are all about status, you’re wrong. I’m not. I was simply looking at alternatives to all the domestics I had been buying all my life up until this point.
          I had always noticed how the 3 series was on top of every ‘best of’ list and it got me curious. I also wanted to experience the ‘silky smooth, n/a inline six’, and the ‘German solidity’. Both are true.
          Also, about status: where I live (Vancouver BC)Bmw’s are far from exclusive. They are probably more common here than trucks are in the mid-west.

    • 0 avatar
      Reino

      I just bought my first car with a roundel: a 2006 550i. I never understood the hype behind BMWs…until I drove this one. Now, driving every other car is a letdown! Now I have to question if all the other people driving base model 3-series really are just ‘badge-snobs’ (like many critics accuse), or if they are all driving enthusiasts in their own way.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I have to admit, the E60 is finally starting to grow on me, at least in the darker colors. While I miss my ’98 540i, every once in a while I browse craigslist for another E39 and end up deciding there is no way I am willing to start over with one of those, and all the added tech built into the E60 is a nice bonus. The 550i is supposed to be awesome; most say it is a reliable engine, maybe more so than the turbo I6. For your sake, and maybe mine in the future, I hope that isn’t just because it isn’t old enough to cost big money yet.

        • 0 avatar
          Reino

          I came from the opposite camp as you. I was not into BMW’s in the days of the E39, so the Bangle styling of the E60 was not controversial to me. On the contrary, since I just came to appreciate the brand (Due to my current maturity/income/lifestyle), when I drove the E60, I saw a decade-old style that looks just as good as new cars today. The tech is great (iDrive is so easy and intuitive, I don’t see what all the complaints are about), and that V8–it reminds me of driving my old LT1 Camaro, but with much better ride and handling.

  • avatar
    dwford

    As far as Hyundai/Kia goes, the real ugly are the performance cars. Veloster- tiny, bad handling, and $26k for a loaded turbo. The Kia Forte SX is in the same boat. Genesis coupe – is it a Mustang competitor or a bargain G37 coupe (I’m too lazy to look up what they call it now). Then there is the Kia K900…

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. I ran out of words, but the Genesis Couoe and Veloster just need to go away.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        I really like the Genesis Sedan, in principle (never driven one).

        The Coupe is baffling and ugly to me – why do these cars share a name?

      • 0 avatar
        dwford

        The Veloster needs to go away, it is definitely Hyundai’s worst car – just useless for 90% of potential buyers. On the plus side, as a toy car you can get a used one pretty cheap. Hyundai would be much better served with a Hyundai Elantra GT 2.0T. The Genesis Coupe just needs to decide what it is going to be for the next generation.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      The Veloster is driven by the COOLEST people in the world, with the BEST driving skills. Hyundai cannot afford to lose those awesome customers.

    • 0 avatar
      John R

      Calm down. The Genesis coupe is good car and will probably walk away from a BRZ/FR-S at any venue. It just doesn’t exist in a vacuum where the Mustang doesn’t exist, plus Hyundai’s marketing is pretty weak.

      • 0 avatar
        dwford

        The Genesis Coupe is a good car, but now that it’s V6 only and starts at $30k, it’s not really a BRZ competitor. The name confuses people though. They see Genesis on the badge and assume it’s a sporty luxury coupe, then they sit in it and see the cheap interior and drive it and find the harsh ride of a sports car.

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          Except starting MSRP is $26,750, less than $1,400 above an FR-s that it will tear apart in every way. And that’s before factoring in discounts. Two grand off MSRP should happen easily.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        True, I keep forgetting the Genesis Coupe exists. I’ve driven the muscle trio, I have to remember to make time for the Coupe.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    This is a very enjoyable series Mr. M.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Waingrow

      Outstanding series and a real pleasure to read. I like strong opinions that are well-stated and supported by facts. I could read this kind of thing all day. Good job, Bark.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        “I like strong opinions that are well-stated and supported by facts.”

        So do I. But outside of the BMW analysis, I’m not seeing much of that with this series, unfortunately. This series would benefit by covering only one or two brands per article. Perhaps then Bark’s rationale would be a bit clearer.

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          +1. This would also let Bark stretch the series longer. Also, as he gets into higher volume brands, it is going to get harder to cover many of them within a reasonable word limit.

  • avatar
    miketve

    I dunno, kind of really really enjoying our 2015 Golf TSI SE…didn’t see much point in the GTI (but yeah I get it) for our needs, but I’m 50+ now, those days are mostly over, and the 2007 Mini Cooper we had once was the last hurrah for me as far as hot hatches go. Other things provide interest now.

    If only VW could get their head out of butt on the rest of product line…Come on dudes, how many more decades are you going to continue squandering and burying the (nearly) most historic automotive brand equity of all time? Why is it so hard for you and so easy for others??

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      VW seems to (finally) be heading in the right direction in the US market. The products they’ve needed for the last 5 years are still 2-3 years out, but if they can bring products that are the quality of the Mk VII Golf line then they might actually start clawing back some market share. In particular, a 3 row crossover and a Tiguan that’s actually priced and equipped to compete with the likes of the CR-V, RAV4, and Escape should help put them back on the map.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        I really, really like how VW products (really, the whole VAG lineup) look.

        If they were more price-competitive and could be *trusted to not fall apart and catch fire*, they’d be great.

        The former is easy – the latter will take a little more time, but is possible.

        I wish them the best of luck.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        VW is too slow to get product to North America. How old is the Jetta now? The MKVII Golf sounds great, but it is beating up on older competition. The same will be true when they finally deliver an MQB Passat, Tiguan, and whatever else they base on it. Cars like the Accord and Fusion will be due for another refresh by then.

        The VW dealer network makes it hard enough to compete without letting older products languish while they take an eternity to bring their best stuff across the pond.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      I agree. Wifey has an 07 Rabbit and I am pretty sure we are going to replace it with a Golf Sportwagen. She would gain nothing by choosing a GTI instead. I rarely drive her car and when I do I’d rather have the wagon back over Autobahn tuned suspensions.

      The only thing I wish we could get from the GTI in regular VWs is the DSG WITHOUT diesel. I’m really not crazy about the base 6AT, though I think VW could get 85% of the DSG’s awesomeness from it with better gearing and faster shifting.

      And VW refuses to budge because of pride. They refuse to take the US market seriously.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Agreed, really enjoyable series of articles.

    Now, Mr. Practical “Almost a Car Guy” chiming in:

    1. BMW would HAVE me if they brought the 2-Series 5-door HB over from Europe. I tried the 2-door coupe for two years, and just couldn’t quite live with it. But what a car.

    2. Absent that, Subaru would probably have me with a WRX HB or even — gasp — XV Crosstrek with WRX treatment.

    3. As the years pass, I realize I probably never should have sold my E46 wagon. No track car, but “right powered” for the street, and so small and sweet.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      When I was recently looking for a new car, I was baffled by the way Subaru refused to put a “real engine” in the XV.

      It would have been pretty compelling with their flat-6 or the WRX engine.

      But without even the 2.5 from the Outback? Uninspiring.

      (I mean, good enough for its actual target market. But I’m not that target market.)

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I might have bought a BMW if:
      – their prices weren’t stupid high
      – I wasn’t worried about the costs of maintenance
      – their salesman hadn’t completely dismissed my interest in a 3-series wagon
      – their salesman had known anything about the product he was selling (for example, the difference between their 6 cylinder & 4 cylinder engines)

      • 0 avatar
        hgrunt

        Rebuttals:

        – They offer incentives or great lease deals if you look. If you don’t mind waiting, European Delivery for the cars manufactured in Germany can also shave a good amount of money off the price.

        – New BMWs come with ‘free’ maintenance. Extended maintenance plans are also available. I owned a 2003 330i, did all the maintenance myself, and it was all DIY-able.

        – This one’s easily fixed by switching to a different person

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    What’s your take on the Subaru Impreza/Crosstrek?

    Subaru has seemingly hit on marketing magic with the Crosstrek… selling a jacked up Impreza for a large price premium over the standard model. It’s frankly difficult to even find a regular Impreza on a dealer lot anymore as they’ve shifted production to the higher margin model. Oh, wait, that’s exactly what they did with the Legacy/Outback 10 years ago and their playbook keeps working like magic.

    I haven’t driven the Crosstrek, but here in Northern Michigan they seem like the official state car based on their ubiquity on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I can’t like the Crosstrek because it’s so cheapo looking and ungainly. Just get a Forester, for cripes sakes.

      Oh, and the Forester is overpriced, IMO. Always has been.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      As a Forester owner I’m not sure I understand the Crosstrek. It’s not much cheaper than a Forester, it’s slower than the NA Forester, and it’s a lot smaller inside.

      Not sure I agree the Forester is overpriced, particularly at real transaction prices. My local dealer is offering 2.5i Premium All-Weather, the reasonably well-equipped volume trim (heated seats, giant moonroof), for $25,300. That’s very competitive with other similarly equipped compact crossovers.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I guess when I built one online, it seemed high. And used values seem particularly too high as well. Though that’s a good thing for you, if people are willing to buy at that level.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Can’t argue with the used pricing, particularly in Subie-friendly areas. I bought a new Forester because the prices on late-model used Foresters and Outbacks were so high that buying new, all things considered, was the better deal.

    • 0 avatar
      Brumus

      Marketing magic indeed, as many Subaru owners think AWD and no-season tires make their vehicles more capable in winter than a garden-variety FWD compact/mid-sizer with proper winter rubber.

      Driving in the wilds of northern Vermont regularly, I really wanted to like the Crosstrek and Impreza – I’d be in one now were it not for that wheezing 148-h.p. motor Subaru dropped in there.

      Drove the Impreza with a stick, and while it wasn’t underpowered, the power wasn’t adequate either (if that makes any sense). I can’t imagine the Crosstrek fares any better in the get-up-and-go department with 150-200 lbs. of curb weight added.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    There is definitely more to like about the Golf than whatever differences the GTI offers. It’s an awesome highway car- quiet, smooth riding. Interior is higher quality than most of its competition. I think that is an unfair judgment.

    Regarding BMW… they deliver incredible value for the money. I mean truly phenomenal. The M3 costs $70-80K. And? It pretty much always has, once you adjust for inflation. The M3 today is a better value than any M3 before it, on a performance per dollar measure, inflation or not. Same applies to the rest of the lineup. The 335i is a half price E39 M5 at its starting price. 6GC is expensive but such a car didn’t even exist 10, 20, 30 years ago. You wanted a big luxury sedan, it was going to be stodgy in appearance, and fun to drive if you were lucky, with not much more tech than what was available in cars half the price.

    WRX/STi are plenty fast, especially from a dig. Plus you can chip em, bro. STi needs a bigger version of the FA motor, as does the BRZ. I agree the BRZ’s hype train came and went pretty quickly, but I think a ~220-230 HP 2.5L boxer with torque would put it through the quarter as fast as a hot hatch while allowing it to retain its godly dynamics and relatively low price.

    Hyundai did wreck the Sonata bad. That was heartbreaking. The interior is awful. Optima is nice but only fully loaded. Both have had the 2.0T neutered pretty badly based on initial testing… an 4 banger Accord is about as fast or faster. I’m really scared of what is going to happen to the Elantra as its the best looking sedan in the segment by an appreciable margin. I’m hoping they keep its looks and proportions and just give it a nice interior. If the Sonata is any indication though that’s gonna get weaksauced too.

    Interesting assessments. I don’t agree with all of them but you make decent cases most of the time.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Besides the value adjusted for inflation, BMW pricing is no worse than the competition. For example, a C300 starts a bit higher than a 328i. I doubt taking the time to adjust for standard features would show a much different picture.

  • avatar
    rdclark

    “You know, if Subaru could just build a competitive mid-sized sedan, they’d have a shot at some real market share.”

    The huge success of the 2014+ Forester, which is outselling all its predecessors, can at least in part be attributed to Consumer Reports repeated enthusiastic endorsements of the car.

    The 2015 Legacy (and the Impreza) are getting the same treatment. CR is on a Subaru binge, and whether it’s the horse or the bandwagon, it’s not hurting.

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      Subaru sold out on making cars that are quirky and interesting to enthusiasts (save the WRX and STi variants of the Impreza) to make what are basically Toyotas with AWD. It’s working for them as their sales are through the roof and non-enthusiast reviewers like Consumer Reports love the bland products.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        From watching some of their video reviews, I don’t think the reviewers at Consumer Reports are any less of car enthusiasts than anyone else. They are more realistic about how cars are used and the environments they are used in, so something that is a blast to drive but has a hard ride will get more criticism for the ride at CR than it would at say Car and Driver.

        CR knows who their audience is.

      • 0 avatar
        brianp

        A Camry with AWD, which is basically what my Legacy is, totally does the job for me, because it snows 6 months of the year where I live, and I don’t feel like spending the non-snow days at my dealers, waiting for repairs.

        With a good set of Happa 8’s, my Legacy just about the most secure ride on our roads – if anyone disagrees, tell me what your ride is and we’ll see.

        Anxious to see how Subie (and Audi) sales sky rocket in the Boston area in the next 12 months. Severe winter is a whole other deal, and sorry to say that in the reasonably priced winter markets, Subie has carved out a really profitable niche…

        Just a fact of life.

        PS. BTW Bart, ever driven in snow and ice?

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Subaru had a nice Legacy that I think ran from ’05 to ’09 in the US, then they lost the plot. The successor to that car went back to being ugly with a cheap interior.

      • 0 avatar
        brianp

        My family has owned 3 of the ’05-’09 Legacy’s, including the acclaimed ’05 Legacy GT wagon with the manual. Yes, the elusive unicorn.

        And I must tell you that even though they looked great from the outside, handled like a BMW with great suspension tuning – and the GT was a hella explosive ride – including a real, live mechanical LSD… But…the interior was quite cheap (except for the glorious Momo steering wheel on the GT – Mama Mia what a wheel!!) and they were really, really small inside. Like sub-compact small on the inside, although the cargo area on the wagon was very generous. If they didn’t sell in North America, the size (length and width) of the passenger compartment was the culprit – which has been fixed since 2010, at the, granted, expense of a much simple interior design in the old one. And BTW, the fuel economy in the GT was abysmal…on premium…

  • avatar
    slance66

    No real complaints today. You omitted the X3, which is an odd car to leave out, since it plays in what may be the hottest segment.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Hmmm, one man’s opinion on the failings and successes of the entire automotive product lineup can be fun to read, but I’m not seeing any cohesive rationale being used to determine whether a car is a good, bad, or ugly here. Can’t comment on the BMWs though, maybe you’re spot-on about that brand.

    Your argument against the Golf is still muddy and vague. Here’s the entire sum of it from the last article: “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.” It’s not too late to recant of your sins and admit you put it on that list by mistake without having actually driven it :)

    I don’t understand your opinion about the new Sonata; the old one you mourn was also pokey, ugly, and didn’t turn in rental trims.

    I haven’t been behind the wheel of a BRZ, but a lot of people generating that “overhype” are specifically citing the enjoyable driving dynamics, so labeling them as “simply delusional” for not focusing on acceleration isn’t very convincing to me.

    The strongly-worded meandering logic ought to make the article on Japan’s bread-and-butter offerings and GM and Ford very interesting.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Bark also says you would be crazy to buy a BRZ over the competition. I’m not sure what the competition is. Any number of cars are sold in that price range, but in terms of the spirit of the car, the Miata is probably the only direct competitor. Is someone crazy to buy a BRZ over a Miata? Suppose they want some usable interior storage and cargo capacity? Also, many don’t fit in a Miata.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    The problem with BMW is that all the awesome cars you mention are just that… The Super awesome cars.

    It used to be that the magic was in every single one. The M3 was always expensive and performance oriented but the standard 325i was just as magical to drive just not as fast and a little softer on the edges.

    Today the standard 3 and 5 (and at least the ugly old 7….havent driven the new one) are flabby luxo barges, that offer almost nothing to differentiate themselves from the competition other than they used to be a true ultimate driving machine.

    So yeah I agree with you. But we just didn’t have to, and still shouldn’t have to, buy the absurd sport models to get that old BMW magic.

    So gonna disagree with you on that one.

    Otherwise, I really need to drive a Genesis. A big, comfy V8 rear drive sedan has been in my mind lately. Maybe a 1-2 year old model with wretched depreciation is just what I need…

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      My interest has been piqued by Hyundai lately. First, we bought a Santa Fe at my wife’s behest as the family truckster. I really like it, it’s a great vehicle.

      Next, we were at the DC auto show and I sat in the new Genesis. I really feel like it, it’s impressive, comfortable, quiet, and the price is right. So I went online to look at what off lease ones are going for. the low $20k range seems to be the going rate for a 2-year old with 25-30k miles on it. I can’t really shake a stick at that.

      I’m not really the most brand loyal person, I judge car purchases on the individual merits of the vehicle in question and my desires. I’m fairly certain now that when the Santa Fe is paid off, I’ll probably be picking up a used V6 Genesis as my new daily driver.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        Was it the dark blue Genesis that was at the DC auto show this past January? I kept going back to that car. It’s really nice inside, and I loved that paint. I still can’t believe what Hyundai will give you for so little money.

    • 0 avatar
      Grahambo

      @Jerome10, your observations regarding BMW are spot on.

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    I’m really enjoying these articles Bark! However, I do have to disagree with your opinion on the new Hyundai Sonata. I Work at Enterprise and have spent much time in both the new and previous generation. While the new generation took a step back on styling (I think the previous one looked outdated 2 years after debut), it has gained more refinement. The old one had awful throttle tip in and I thought rode loud and boomy. The new one has seriously improved in this aspect while still providing class leading interior room. I just think it’s unfair to put this under ugly after working with the previous generation.

    • 0 avatar
      cgjeep

      Wife has a a 13 Sonata and the tip in is bad. Pressing the econ button alleviates it. Only car I know that I refer driving in the econ mode. Unrefined suspension and noise are two other chief complaints about the old one. Hope they fixed it with new one. I used to think the looks would be dated in a year or two but I still like it (looks). I prefer the interior of the old to the new.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    The BRZ is the only Subaru that I’d buy to be perfectly honest. The STI has an 11 year old engine with the right powerband but the wrong fuel economy. Also ugly. The WRX has a new engine with the wrong powerband and the right fuel economy. Also ugly. By the time you comparably equip a WRX to a BRZ (leather, push button start), the WRX is over $33,000 versus $28,500 of a BRZ Limited. Comparably equipping a WRX Premium to a BRZ Premium is still a $4k difference. I drove the ’15 WRX, ’15 GTI, and ’15 BRZ within days and the BRZ was easily the most fun of the 3. The WRX outsells the BRZ handily because it fits most situations better. More practical sedan form and its value as a sporty car is more apparent to most customers. Push the skinny pedal and it goes fast. It has a fat torque curve in the middle which is where most halfhearted sporty driving is done. It easily makes its value known and whether you drive interstate, country roads, or only get to open it up on a straight on ramp every so often. The BRZ really requires the right roads to see the value as a sporty car. The low sales of the BRZ are just a function of being a niche market versus the broad WRX market.

    I’m also curious to what competitors you are talking about… There isn’t exactly a plethora of small, light, RWD coupes. The RX8 would have been a direct competitor had it lived long enough.

    BTW, I’m not saying that the BRZ is good business for Subaru. It probably isn’t. But I’m extremely happy they made it because it is personally such a joy to drive. Lively chassis, great seats, tight steering, firm, precise shifting.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I had an 01 Elantra as well, base with a stick. I think I had one of the first ones around me. The usual(at the time) Hyundai clearance prices on the 2000 Elantra is what brought me to the dealer. I was driving an 88 Acura Legend(5spd FTW) with a storied past at the time and driving a lot of miles, so I wanted a new car. I was still young, confusing my wants with needs, because my Dad drove that Legend for another 2 years until it developed weird electrical issues. But I digress…

    The 2000 Elantra was loud and very crude, but they had the 2001 right next to it. The 2001 Elantra was a completely different car. Back then, when a new Hyundai came out, they weren’t evolutionary compared to the old car, they were revolutionary. The level of refinement on all accounts was up big time on the 2001.

    I put 20k on that Elantra in a year. Only to the dealer once for a weird electrical problem. It was a good car, but it wasn’t a drivers car. I had the opportunity to rent an 01 Focus and soon after that, I traded the Elantra on an 01 Focus ZX3, which I kept for 4 years ( a record for me at the time). The Ford was a great little car and a ton of fun to drive, though it wasn’t fast. It inspired my love of hatchbacks and wagons.

    I test drove the 2011 Elantra when it came out. It was a great value, I thought it was good looking, but not a drivers car either.Still drove like the steering and suspension weren’t really in tune with each other. Just an odd feeling car, something I’ve experienced in every Hyun/Kia. I ended up with a no money down lease on a 2010 Altima which wasn’t a drivers car either, but it was refined (mostly)

    Subaru has lost me with the CVT. I like the Forester and even the Outback, though it has gotten large and somewhat ugly. I wouldn’t mind if the Legacy wagon came back, with a proper transmission, but neither of those will happen. I do like the WRX, but no hatch is a no-go for me.

    I love BMW products, but not their pricing or the fact nearly everything is Xdrive now. I’d love to have a 328d wagon. But starting at 43k with Xdrive and equipped as I want it’s 50k. Even if I could afford that (even as a lease) it’s just not a good value to me. If I want a new diesel German car, then the Golf TDi is nearly half price and no AWD. I can option it to near BMW levels and be a tick over 30k. Maybe I’ll look for one used in a few years, but then there’s the used BMW stigma.

  • avatar
    whynot

    Still going to have to disagree about the Golf. The problem isn’t that the GTI is not better (it is), it is that you lumped it in with the Jetta and Passat in bad as “so far behind their competition” when the Golf isn’t really isn’t that behind the Focus/Mazda3/others at all. Especially since you admit that its interior is “so good”, or you did for the GTI which has basically the same interior. At the very least the Golf should probably be under the “Not-as-good” not “bad”. Because it is not as good as the GTI.

    Anyways I mostly agree with this list although I never understood the hate for the new Sonata. I personally think it looks better, inside and out, than the last one. Haven’t driven it but I never thought the old Sonata was that great in that department to begin with (my parents have one). Unless you enjoy lifeless steering and road feel.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Should’ve spent a little more time on BMW, and thrown in the “GranCoupe” nonsense variations – under the ugly. Just as offensive as the GT models.

    Agree on all Mini models, and also agree on the Soul. The Soul just desperately needs an SUV package with AWD.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      No no no the 6 Series Gran Coupe is amazing- I would kill to have one. Single-handedly the best looking BMW.

      The 4 series one is ok, but still prefer the 3 series over it if I wanted to get a sedan.

      Nothing is as bad as the 5 GT.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I don’t have a problem with the 6-GC, per say. I even like the 6-C and 6-GC (the only BMWs I’d buy with my own money). But the naming and model designations are idiotic.

        • 0 avatar
          Reino

          Mercedes started it with their CLS, and BMW is just following with a competitor. Before these cars, the E-class and 5-series were just fine for buyers looking for a sports sedan. Then these cars came out, and suddenly the E/5 aren’t ‘sporty enough’!

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      I share the offense – against naming, if nothing else – of four door “GranCoupes”.

      I actually *like* the 335GT’s aesthetic.

      I find it works in a way the 5xxGT doesn’t.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I agree the 3 GT isn’t offensive the way the 5 GT is.

        But I don’t see why anyone should buy any 3- or 4-series anymore, at all.

        They’ve sacrificed their greatest strength, driving excellence, for greater 3-series sales. Everyone agrees their EPS is exceptionally bad, and really hasn’t improved much, and this for a brand previously famous for good steering. The F30 and friends are sprung softer than previous 3-series unless you get a bone-rattling sport suspension. They’re bigger, too — closer to the size, historically, of 5-series.

        But they haven’t improved their biggest weakness, which is plain, uninteresting interiors made of indifferent materials. They can do better, as they’ve showed in the 6 GC. But the 3 still has the interior ambience of a Chevy.

        If I wanted a biggish, soft, comfy entry-luxury car without driver involvement, why wouldn’t I get a C-class with an interior that was actually luxurious? On the other hand, if I want to sacrifice some space and refinement for actual driving enjoyment, shouldn’t I get either a 2-series or a Cadillac ATS? I don’t get why I’d buy a 3-series except that “it impresses my boss and my friends.”

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Still wrong on the Golf. The Focus “automatic” is horrible, has been since launch. The interior is nowhere close to the Golf. The Mazda3 has punishingly loud road noise. The interior cannot match the Golf.

    If you want a refined, comfortable, quiet, and practical hatch for under $30K, name me the better car than the Golf TSI. There isn’t one, which is why the MK7 is racking up award after award. Not everyone needs the performance of the GTI, and for those who don’t, the Golf is perfect.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Hyundai/Kia is my answer to the previous Question of the Day: “What brand would you never buy?” The cars are OK to great. The Genesis is pretty compelling. But, irrationally or not, I can’t get past all the Hyundai rentals I’ve driven over the past decade that had horrendous suspension and steering. Hyundai is just now starting to get those elements right (in some cars), and it will take awhile for me to get past my emotional reaction of “It’s going to handle, ride, and steer horribly.”

    I don’t see why the X5 is “good.” In a segment full of poorly packaged vehicles that try to market themselves as “practical” it’s the worst. It has only a tiny bit more interior room than a Forester, but is substantially bigger in all exterior dimensions and weighs well over a thousand pounds more.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Good ranting article. Only a few incorrect “it’s” for “its” in the possessive sense – your brother never gets them wrong, Just saying.

    Talking about car names, BMW Gran Coupe is the silliest of the lot. Even Pontiac used to put the d in Grand Prix but gave incorrect advice on how to pronounce Le Mans – Luhmonz. Well, darn close and good enough for government work – who cares about silent esses? Darn furriners.

    I looked it up on the hinternetz, and gran in German means grain in English as a noun. Anyone know better when the word is used as an adjective in German? If not, we can assign its use at BMW as pandering to the abject pronunciation skills native English speakers have for any foreign word, even after numerous repetitions from the native speaker.

    Think of it, we could have the Gramps X5 GT xDrive blah blah blah 35i to match the Gran Coupe. Silent s of course.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The “Gran” is from Italian, not German, where it means “big” or “great.” BMW is indirectly copying Ford, which was first with the linguistically consistent Gran Torino.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, caught the it’s/its thing after I read it this morning. That’s the downside of typing on iPad. It’s by far the most annoying autocorrect there is. Unfortunately, once I click “Submit” in WordPress, I can’t edit it anymore—I don’t have those permissions.

      Rest assured, whenever that happens, it is a typo, not a usage error. I got a perfect verbal SAT score.

  • avatar
    DevilsRotary86

    And yet the FR-S/BRZ is about the only car currently on the market that I would actually want to own, so I guess you can call me delusional. Unfortunately for the local Toyota/Subaru dealers, my RSX-S continues to run like a Swiss watch and I have no reason to replace it.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Some opinions are more like anuses than others.

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    Having owned many BMW’s, I do feel they have lost some of their uniqueness to chase the sales (lifeless steering, soft brakes, softer rides, etc.). I don’t blame them by any means but if you blind folded me and had me drive a new 3-series I wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell it was a BMW right away like back in the day.

    With that being said, I do have a new M3 sedan on order because I feel that model still leads the pack in terms of all around balance (especially if you want a manual). Porsche gets my heart racing more these days, currently driving a 997 Carrera S that is so full of life!

  • avatar
    Fred

    I tried to look at the BMW wagon, but it’s like pulling teeth with those guys. I drove the Optima mostly based on internet comments. Disappointed in both. I’m still freaked about the Mini Countryman being bigger than my A3. That just isn’t right.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    The 5 series BMW was the one that made most sense to me in the past. 3 series was too small for anyone with kids or firneds, and the 5 was a lot more refined without giving up much in handling. Maybe now with the new 3 being so much larger it doesn’t make as much sense. Also, would never want a 5 with the 4cly turbo. Even if it is faster than the old 3.0 it can’t be anywhere near as refined.

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      I’m anxious for the “unrefined engine” trope to die. I’d wager real money that the majority of people complaining about “coarse four cylinders” against “smooth sixes” couldn’t tell how many cylinders were under the hood in a blind test.

      You guys can sniff corks and discuss engine refinement, I’ll be out there bouncing off the rev limiter.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I agree in principle, but the N20 really is pretty coarse. They cover it up in the 5-series by muffling it into near-total silence. Where they let it talk, in the 3-series/X3, it sounds surprisingly like an old Iron Duke. EA888-powered Audis are far less obnoxious.

        It’s frustrating because functionally the N20 is a great engine.

  • avatar
    Boff

    A friend of mine just got a BRZ and he is absolutely over the moon with it. We are going to do a weekend drive/car swap…I wonder how we’ll both feel afterwards (I drive a Mustang GT). I said right before launch that the BRZ/FR-S were the spiritual successors to the RX-8 and would quickly meet the same fate (and I said that as an RX-8 owner). Like the RX-8, the BRZ seems to be a great car for a tiny segment of the driving population. Let’s face it, most of the people who would have bought cars like this in the past are now driving pickups and jeeps.

    • 0 avatar
      lzaffuto

      I think the problem is the pricing. These will be great cars at an awesome value for their second and especially third owners, who will wonder why they aren’t made anymore… just like most people that own an Integra/RSX, Prelude, Celica, 240SX, MR2, etc. In general too expensive for the people willing to live with them as their only car, as well as the people willing to buy one as a toy. Too impractical for most people that can afford them as an only car. The Miata seems to be somewhat invulnerable to this, which I think may be because the convertible top provides a pricing buffer(no other convertibles below the $25k pricepoint for the most part).

    • 0 avatar
      hgrunt

      Sporty cars tend not to sell well. They have a very short lifespan compared to sedans and coupes, which is partly why most car companies have avoided them, unless it’s a high-margin luxury coupe.

      The FRS/BRZ is one of the most immediately rewarding cars I’ve ever driven. Opinion on this can vary wildly, as a friend of mine with an Abarth thinks the FRS was terrible and boring. I don’t mind the FRSBRZ’s lack of thrust, since the car does go forward, it’s so tactile to drive, and the power “issue” can easily be fixed with a few thousand dollars of supercharger.

  • avatar

    The Good:

    The expose’ of BMW was fairly entertaining. Bring out the passion.

    The Not-so-Good:

    Continues to equate car with power, which, naturally, makes him dismiss BRZ as “underpowered”. That particular meme jumped the shark at TTAC back when EIC _pro tempore_ was in charge.

    The Bad:

    I rememeber that reader’s comment and its gist was that Golf and GTI have the same interior, the difference being the performance. Bark completely fails to even acknowledge that, let alone disagree (note that other commenters did in fact directly addressed it by noting that GTI’s interior is more upscale).

  • avatar
    ajla

    No matter how much money you have, you can’t get a naturally aspirated I6 in a new BMW.

  • avatar
    hgrunt

    disclosure: Current owner of an E30 318is, former owner of an E46 330i sedan with ZHP Performance Package and a bunch of mods, which I consider one of the best all-around cars I’ve ever owned.

    When people say that BMW has lost it’s way, etc. I start pulling out old reviews where the E36 was criticized as too heavy and complicated. Then the E46, then the E9x… The only thing I’m sort of annoyed about with BMW is the general lack of a torsen differential option outside of the M cars.

    Though I’m an E30 owner, the internet hype around the car is a bit ridiculous. I enjoy mine same way most people would enjoy an NA miata: It’s something from a different era. I make no pretenses about it’s performance, though. The E46 utterly destroys it on every metric, except weight.

    That said, any thoughts on the 228i?

    I think that may be in my future down the line. I see that as the spiritual successor to the 318is: Low option base model, smallest engine, but with all the sporty important bits. Modest, fun and relatively affordable. Even their MSRPs are almost the same when you adjust for inflation!

    • 0 avatar
      MeJ

      If you mean the new 228i with the turbo 4/ 8-speed combo, I say get it. I currently drive an E92 and when it was in the shop I had the 328i sedan for a courtesy car and it was fantastic. The I4 is a great little motor and the 8 speed is leaps better than the 6 auto in my E92.
      The only thing I didn’t care for was the stop/start feature (which can be disabled). The engine is not quite as smooth as the I6, but few engines are, yet it was very potent.
      The best part was not having to pay for premium gas (not as much of an issue now, I know).
      I’m actually considering a 228i myself after I’m done with the E92.
      Smaller, lighter, a bit more power, and no premium gas. Yep I think it’s a done deal…

  • avatar
    Ennis

    I can’t help but join the crowd in noting that he’s off on the Golf. To suggest that the competition in the $18k to $25k range (assuming you aren’t talking about TDIs, that’s pretty much the range) has “left the Golf behind” isn’t just wrong, it borders on absurd. But hey, his article, his (way off-base) opinion, I guess.

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