Bark's Bites: The Good, The Not-As-Good, and The Ugly: Part Four

barks bites the good the not as good and the ugly part four

All right, it’s the big close! The one we’ve all been waiting for! Will Bark show his fanboi colors as somebody who owns not one, not two, but THREE Fords? Does GM actually do anything well? Is Chrysler on the road back to respectability? Does anybody really like articles with questions like this? Let’s go!

FCA/CHRYSLER

The Good:

I can go ahead and put JEEP here. Yes, I’m aware of the Compass. I’m even aware of the Patriot.

But the Cherokee has been better than expected, both from a performance perspective and a sales perspective. I’m consistently shocked as I travel the country about just how many of them I see everywhere—they aren’t a regional success, like some cars. They’re everywhere. And the growth is magnificent—the Cherokee continues to climb up the sales charts every single month. It’s come a long way since DK (that’s Derek Kreindler, not Drift King) reviewed it those many moons ago.

To be honest, though, I’d step up to the Grand Cherokee, if it were my money ( or my dad’s). It’s the best SUV for the money in today’s marketplace. In fact, you might even be able to take that “for the money” qualifier off of it. We used one to take a crew of four to last year’s New York International Auto Show from Columbus, Ohio to LaGuardia airport. We had to take a Ford Edge back. We were all sad.

And what else can be said or needs to be said about the Wrangler? It’s a goddamned icon. It’s great. We should all be lucky as to have a reason to own one at some point in our lives.

We should all take a moment, as automotive enthusiasts, to recognize that we need to be grateful that the Charger and the 300 still exist. There’s really nothing more American than a full-sized, RWD sedan that can go like hell in a straight line. It straight up befuddles me that Ford and GM just hand over this segment of the business to Chrysler without a fight—if you want a real 300/Charger fighter, you have to go to Hyundai. That just ain’t right, people.

It’s hard to believe that there are now just three vehicles that are sold under the Chrysler brand in America. Luckily, the 200 is no longer an embarrassment to that once-great marque. It outsells the Sonata now, which was probably an unthinkable accomplishment in the last generation of 200s. The rest of the car is now a match for the remarkable Pentastar engine, especially when matched to the 9-speed automatic. My only complaint about the 200 is the dearth of colors that it’s available in. Go build one on the Chrysler site and try to make one that doesn’t look boring as heck. It’s tough.

The Viper goes here. I dare you to tell it that it doesn’t.

Don’t look now, but the RAM lineup is ever-so-quietly sneaking up on the F-150 and Silverado/Sierra twins, and it may have even overtaken them. In fact, if I were buying an entry-level pickup truck today, the RAM 1500 would be my personal choice. There’s a guy in my little Kentucky hamlet who owns a big, yellow “RUMBLE BEE,” and I have jealousy pangs every time that I see it.

The Not-As-Good:

This hurts, but I have to put the Challenger here. Listen, it’s not that I don’t love the Chally, because I totally do. I was moments away from buying one. And I love that FCA has embraced the true nature of the Challenger by building a Hellcat variant of it. But if you stack up the Challenger against its competition—the all-new Mustang and the soon-to-be all new Camaro—it’s genuinely difficult to make a case for buying one. If you have no sporting pretense at all, if you just wanna go fast in a straight line and then have a comfortable cruiser the other 99.9% of your car’s life, then the Challenger is for you. But if you ever have any ideas about taking it to a track that actually has turns in it, then you’d be silly for not buying the Camaro or Mustang. And while the Mustang and Camaro are markedly better on a track than a Chally, the Chally isn’t that much better for daily driving. I drive what is potentially the least comfortable Mustang there is every day, and never once do I think, “Boy, if only I’d bought that leather-seated, softly-sprung Challenger SRT-8 instead.” Does being a very, very good 3rd place out of three mean that you go here, or up there? Oh, boy. I think it means you go here. Sorry, Challenger.

The inventor of the minivan has been surpassed. The Grand Caravan is still a fantastic value, simply because it’s available at under $20K in many parts of the country after rebates and discounts, but neither the GC nor the Town & Country are going to win any comparison tests any time soon. Did you guys know I own a Town & Country, btw? I do. Long story.

The Ugly:

The Journey suuuuuuuuuuucks. It’s so bad. Every time that I have to take one off of rental row, I silently ask God what I did to deserve such a fate. The Pentastar versions are borderline tolerable, but the four-cylinders that are mated to four-speed automatics are miserable places to be. I get why they exist—I mean, special finance has to be available on a crossover somewhere—but, man. The Journey is just light-years behind the competition. Unless you have a beacon score of less than 600, you have much, much better options.

One also has to wonder how Dodge botched the Dart so badly. Terrible engine options and manual-only at launch doomed this car. I’d be curious to know exactly what the market days supply is for the Dart—every CDJR dealership I visit has at least twenty of them on the lot, and nobody’s buying them. Also—why no SRT version? Why not dig up the old SRT-4 Neon engine and throw it in there?

The Fiat 500. I just can’t. A close friend of mine got an Abarth. He sold it six months later and got a Fiesta ST. I think that about wraps up my feelings on that car.

FORD

The Good:

It’s hard not to start this list with the Mustang. In order to dislike this generation of Mustang, you really have to want to dislike it. I admit, I was skeptical. But of you who called me out were right—the new Mustang is just better than the old one. Independent Rear Suspension has been a revelation. Ford is providing warranty support for people who want to boost their EcoBoosts through the roof. And the Shelby. Oh, goodness. It’s just pure perfection. I still don’t like the rear end of it, and I’m not 100% convinced that I’ll be trading my Boss for the GT350 when it arrives, but it’s clear that Ford has, dare I say, a game-changer on its hands here. They’re not going to reach their goal of 100K sold this year—they’ll smash it and probably sell 120-140k.

The Fiesta ST/Focus ST. I can’t think of another car that so many people in the automotive journalism field have opened up their wallets to buy new. I don’t think of myself as a journalist in any way, shape, or form, but I certainly think that Zach Bowman and Matt Farah qualify (but does Lieberman’s purchase cancel them out?). When that many people who write about cars for a living (many of whom have so many testers delivered to them that they have no need to actually buy a car) sink their own money into a car, do you really even need to question its greatness any more? While I certainly think the Fiesta is the better driving of the two, for anybody who actually needs to make his ST into a daily driving machine, the FoST is the better choice.

Is there a better driver in the mid-sized sedan category than the Fusion? I’d say there are equals, but nothing better. Is there a better looking midsizer than the Fusion? No way. Where the Accord, Camry, and Altima blend in, the Fusion is much more likely to make your neighbors think you got a raise, even in SE trim.

The Not-As-Good

When I bought my own Flex in late 2013 (which, by the way, is “Good” but sells like it’s “Ugly”), I also test drove the new Escape. I loved it at the time, but it was just too small for my growing family’s needs. I still would have put it in the “Good” category up until quite recently, however, when I rented an Escape EcoBoost for a drive from Lexington, KY, to Myrtle Beach, SC. OH MY GOD THE FUEL ECONOMY! I think that it would have been cheaper to fly. The EcoBoost 1.6 in the SE is supposed to average 32 MPG—I think I saw around 21. That, combined with the completely non-intuitive version of SYNC that you get on the SE, drops it into the “Not-As-Good” category.

As good as the ST version of the Fiesta is, the regular Fiesta is just…meh. I totally supported Caroline’s decision to get a Sonic over a Fiesta (say, doesn’t she owe us a one-year review of the Sonic?). Virtually none of the fun of the ST makes its way down into the SE. It’s not terrible—although the transmission problems are a bit scary—but I wouldn’t pick it over the competition.

The Explorer is just okay. I would never, ever buy one over a Grand Cherokee, and it’s just about even with the Highlander for me. It’s funny—it’s essentially the same car as the Flex, just lifted up a bit. For some reason, that changes everything. I don’t know why (other than the storage is compromised), but it does.

Here’s the biggest secret in the car business today—Ford dealers are scared to death about the F-150. They’ll whisper to you that Ford made a huge mistake by going aluminum. They’ll privately tell you that the Silverado might be a better value. They worry that the Colorado is eating into their sales. Truth be told, at the end of the year, the F-150 will still come out on top, but I can definitely tell you that Ford dealers aren’t nearly as confident in their halo car as they used to be.

The Ugly:

Will somebody put the Ford Taurus out of its misery? There is literally no reason for anybody to buy this car, or its stablemate, the MKS. The Impala, the Avalon, hell, even the Azera are better—and that’s only if you’re considering FWD! The Charger/300 and Genesis shame the Taurus, too. A rare miss from the Mulally era, the Taurus needs to be replaced immediately. Hmmm, if only somebody had suggested this a year ago.

The Edge needs to die or be replaced. It’s become redundant in its own lineup, and it’s noticeably older than any of its competitors.

I think LINCOLN is going in the right direction. Really, I do. The MKC is a good entry into a crowded marketplace (although, again, that fuel mileage). The rest of the lineup needs help. They need the Continental in the worst way—not because I think it will help sell one more MKZ, because I’m not sure that it will. But if it’s everything that it appears to be, it will be the first step in restoring some “premium” to the brand. Right now, there is literally not a single reason to buy a Lincoln over the Titanium version of the Ford that’s sitting across the showroom from it. Make the Continental. Make a bad-ass, four-door Mustang saloon for around $45k. Then we’ll talk.

GENERAL MOTORS

The Good:

Any “Good” list at GM has to start with the Corvette. It’s the best sports car, per dollar, in the universe. The biggest barrier to my purchase of a Shelby GT350 isn’t the cost of the SuperStang—it’s the fact that I have to drive past a GM dealer every day. The dealer where I bought my G8 and my Equinox has been purchased by a friend of mine, and he constantly tortures me with GM employee pricing on a Stingray. I’ve already gotten past the stigma of being a “RUSTANG” owner—I think I could overcome the gold chains and chesthair vibe of the Vette, too. It’s just gorgeous—I’ve yet to see a color that doesn’t look great on it. The fact that I live within a three-hour drive of the National Corvette Museum and its 4200′ straightaway doesn’t help my primal urge to buy one, either. We’ll see.

I predicted earlier in the year that the Colorado/Canyon twins would be a sales failure. Turns out that I’m an idiot. Do they sell as well as the Silverado/Sierra? No, of course not. But GM dealers are literally selling every single one that they can get. Here’s a fun game—go to www.gmc.com and search for Canyons in your area. Now, in theory, they are supposed to start at around $21K. IF you can find one with 50 miles of you, which is a big if unless you live in a big metro area, see, if you can find one for less than $30k. There are 5 within 100 miles of me, and the cheapest one is $31k. Every GMC dealer I talk to says that they haven’t even gotten one on the lot that stickers for under $30k, and most of the special orders are for trucks nearer to $40k. Same thing from the Chevy dealers that I talk to with the Colorado—I was able to find one for $23K, but all of the other examples within 100 miles were at least $34K. I know! I don’t get it either! I drove a GMC Canyon and found it to be just okay, but I’m admittedly not a big pickup guy. The market says they’re good, so I’m gonna take the market’s word for it.

My biggest personal surprise as I have written this series? The fact that I’m going to put BUICK here. Seriously. I kinda dig everything they’ve got going on right now. I’m not sure that I’d actually buy any of them, personally, but I love the fact that the Encore and the Regal exist in this marketplace. And of the full-sized FWD land barges out there, the Lacrosse AWD would be my pick (if I were tied-up, had a gun stuck to my head, and forced to choose one). Did you know that Buick, as a brand, outsells Audi, Acura, and Infiniti? It’s true.

The Sonic definitely goes here. Surprised? I would be too, except that I’ve personally put a few hundred miles on an LTZ hatch, and found it to be very, very good. I think that this might be an example of a car that becomes an exponentially greater value as a late-model, CPO car as opposed to new, more so than your average vehicle. When I see the sticker prices on new Sonics at dealerships, my eyes tend to roll back in my head a bit.

I like the Impala. It’s a shame that such a high percentage of them are sold in rental fleets, because I think that GM has somewhat diminished the Impala by making it seem like a “rental special.” A close friend and colleague has a V6 LT, and it’s a great car. If somebody wants a reliable, powerful car that seats four adults comfortably, and couldn’t care less about driving dynamics…why not pick the Impala?

I am going to reserve judgment on the new Camaro until I see it in the flesh. I would have put the old SS and V6 in the “Not-As-Good” category, and the 1LE and Z/28 in the “Good.”

The Not-As-Good:

The Spark isn’t bad for what it is—I’ve had one or two as rentals, and while they are painfully slow, they aren’t as small inside as you’d think. The interiors are actually quite good, with comfortable seats and gauges that will seem familiar to Millennial types. I think the new one is going to be a marked improvement over the existing model, too.

I struggle with where to put the Cruze. I think I’d pick several of its competitors ahead of it, but would I? Civic? Probably not. Corolla? Definitely not. Elantra? No. Senta? Nope. Focus? Probably. So doesn’t that mean I think it’s the second best car in the segment? So why am I so blah about it? A friend and colleague has been driving his about 50K a year for the past three years with virtually no issues and great fuel economy. I don’t know. I can’t get excited at all about the Cruze, mostly because I every time that I drive one, the seats freaking kill my back. So it goes here.

I think that time has caught up a bit with the Equinox and Terrain. When I bought mine in 2011, I felt it was clearly the best choice in the segment. In 2015, I don’t think I can say the same. Observed fuel economy has never been what GM claimed it would be. The dash and the infotainment feel old in 2015. I’d definitely pick the CR-V and CX-5 over the Equinox/Terrain now, and probably the Escape, too. That being said, it is absolutely the number one choice of traveling salespeople everywhere.

I really wish that GM would figure out what the heck they’re doing with the SS. They fixed the two issues with it—the lack of a manual transmission and the suspension—and then continued to put zero advertising push behind it. If I were just evaluating the SS based on the car itself, it would go in the “Good” category, no questions asked. I mean, Road and Track dared to compare it to what many consider the greatest sports sedan of all fucking time and it held its own. But I can’t reward GM for this half-baked strategy.

The Ugly:

The Traverse/Enclave/Acadia. Ugh. Gross. Overpriced, unreliable, ugly, old. GM needs to do better in this segment.

The old Malibu would definitely have gone here. It’s mindblowing that GM can’t be competitive in the mid-sized FWD sedan playing field. I guess we’ll all see what the new version has in store for us, but I don’t have high expectations.

I’m sorry, Johan, but I gotta put CADILLAC here. I was in a GM store in Indiana last week that had a genuine, no bullshit price of $24,995 on the windshield of an ATS, against a sticker of $35k. I mean, seriously. Is this what the brand has become? Only Volkswagen is shrinking its market share at a faster rate (which seems impossible, what with the miraculous Golf flying out of showrooms nationwide). If you took the Escalade out of the numbers, Caddy would be down twenty freaking percent year over year in a new car market that is actually up over five percent. You’ve GOT to fix your supposed volume sellers, the ATS and CTS, or whatever the hell you’re gonna call them in your numeric naming strategy that was so successful over at your previous employer. Yes, the ATS-V and CTS-V look pretty impressive, but we all know those things aren’t gonna sell in volume that will actually impact your bottom line in any meaningful way.

———————————————————————————————————————————————

So, there you have it. Eleven thousand words or so from one man’s perspective on every major car manufacturer. You don’t have to agree with me—hell, I’m not sure that I agree with me—but I hope that it helped us all realize a few things:

  1. Every car maker has promise
  2. Every car maker can screw things up royally
  3. Most of the world lies somewhere between “rocks” and “sucks

I would never count out a car maker. Every single OEM we discussed has cars I’d love to have in my own driveway, and cars that I would never dream of buying. Three years ago today, I had never owned a Ford. Today, I own three. I’ve owned (in order) cars from Volkswagen, Infiniti, Porsche, Hyundai, Mazda, Scion, Pontiac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, and Subaru.

As long as you continue to vote with your dollars, you can shape the automotive world to be whatever you want it to be. If you want sportier cars, buy them. If you want V8s, buy them. If you want manual transmissions, buy them. Somewhere, some automaker wants your business.

Thanks for reading.

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  • Akatsuki Akatsuki on Apr 06, 2015

    Chrysler T&C is underrated IMO. We bought one over the Honda and Toyota and don't regret it one bit. Mostly due to the Pentastar, but also changing out those crap tires for some nice Michelins. Mazda 6 is better looking than the Fusion. Lincoln styling needs a reboot and it looks like it is coming, finally. Corvette - I don't know. I am not quite PeterMJ, but the crap paint, the potential heat soak issues, the lack of a Ring time, the general feeling that the ZR1 was the better car... I want to like it, and I hated the last gen, but I have substantial concerns on the actual performance of the car.

  • Tbone33 Tbone33 on Apr 07, 2015

    The Grand Caravan should be considered bad until its transmission issues finally get sorted out. Chrysler is well aware of the transmission issues, they just refuse to engineer a better one.

    • DeadWeight DeadWeight on Apr 07, 2015

      I honestly don't know of a minivan model that hasn't had a much higher issue with transmission problems vs passenger cars. Whether Honda, Chrysler/Dodge, Toyota, GM, etc., automakers seem to put too fragile transmissions in their minivan offerings.

  • KevinB Because they sell every EV they make, and most of the time you need to be on a list to get one. That's why the cost of them isn't going down.
  • Oberkanone Cost of EV's will continue to increase as demand for materials to manufacture batteries increases. Owning a personal vehicle will only be attainable to the wealthy.
  • Kcflyer I think it's ugly. Unless they lengthened the cab the back row is still useless for me anyway. Price is proof that I may have purchased my last new vehicle
  • Ltcmgm78 I must laugh because this is an expansion of the old question of why car manufacturers don't build less expensive cars. There's no money in it! As long as virtue signalers have the long green to buy the pricier EVs, there won't be any affordable ones until most of the demand for the expensive ones are met. Economics, you know. New technologies always progress this way. The future Chevy Vega on the Ultium platform is a long way off.
  • Daniel J Also, the additional 20K is spread out over a loan, which could end up closer to 24K.
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