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

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
bark s bites the good the not as good and the ugly part three

In today’s installment, we’ll examine the lineups of the big Japanese three: Nissan, Honda, and Toyota, as well as their luxury variants. I should have said this in the first installment, but never let it be said that I am above admitting mistakes, so let me say it now: I never had plans to comment on every single model from every single manufacturer—just the ones that stand out to me in some way, or ones that I have about which I might have a contrary opinion. If I don’t mention a model, it’s likely because I haven’t driven it, or I don’t have an opinion about it that is in any way meaningful or insightful.

Since we’ve already established the format in the first and second installments of this series, let’s just jump right into it, shall we?


The Good:

Nissan continues to own the B segment in the States with the Versa and Versa Note. It’s spacious (as people reminded me when I reviewed the Rogue Select recently), it’s inexpensive, gets good gas mileage, and it has a decent reliability record. What else do you expect at this price point?

The Leaf is really much better to drive than you’d expect, and I totally dig the quirky looks of it. Since I spend a fair amount of time in Atlanta, I’ve gotten pretty used to the idea of the Leaf, and I’d definitely consider leasing one if I lived there due to the massive tax subsidies available. If you don’t live somewhere that the Focus EV or Spark EV is available, and you’re not prepared to go Full Tesla, then the Leaf is for you.

The Not-As-Good:

I’ve always loved the Z. There was a time, when the 370Z was launched in 2009, that only an idiot would consider anything but the Z in this price range. But this iteration is getting a bit long in the tooth, and the pony cars have caught and surpassed it. The version you really want is the Sport trim, and with an MSRP of around $34K, can you really make a case for it over a Mustang GT? I don’t think so.

The Altima isn’t bad. It’s competent. It’s adequate. I could go to and find some other words to describe just how ambivalent I am about it, but I think you’ve got the point by now. It’s not as good as the Mazda6, the Fusion, the Accord, or the Camry, and it’s probably better than the Malibu and the Sonata. I think that means it fits here. I certainly never pick one on purpose on rental row, but I don’t get upset if it’s all that’s available.

The GT-R has served its purpose for Nissan, despite what our former EIC had to say about it all those years ago. It’s been a good halo car. It’s had a few refreshes over the years so that it doesn’t seem as old as it actually is. I just don’t dig it. It seems like it’s the dream car of teenagers and twentysomethings, but by the time they grow up enough to buy one, they’ve also grown up enough to move on to either the 991 or the Viper/Corvette. Nevertheless, it is a technological marvel, and Nissan should be commended for being the only Japanese automaker to currently have a genuine supercar in the lineup.

The Ugly:

I’m just gonna go ahead and leave INFINITI here. The brand needs a complete reboot—or a complete execution. They have exactly one car in the top 100 in 2015 YTD sales—the Q50 sneaks in at their naming convention is so odd that I have no problem admitting that I have no idea what car people are talking about anymore when they mention an Infiniti. It would have been nice of Johan de Nysschen to turn the lights out when he left.

The Rogue Select goes here, too. I haven’t driven a newer Rogue yet, so I’ll reserve judgment.

Sometimes I forget that Nissan makes the Sentra. I find it to be the least attractive, least compelling vehicle of anything in the C segment. Where the Altima is knocking on the door of the Camry for top-seller in its segment, the Sentra languishes behind not only the Corolla, but also the Civic, the Cruze, and the Focus. I can’t imagine why anybody buys this car.


The Good:

The Accord…what can you say? It’s the Accord. It’s the Ohio State of cars—it might have its haters, but it’s consistently good every single year. It’s the last of it’s kind to keep offering a two-door variant. It’s a good car. I got nothin’ else.

The MDX/Pilot. I might be one of the few people who’s towed a race car with a Pilot across the country. It always demonstrated great gas mileage, a comfortable ride, enough storage space for eight wheels and tires and tools, and it was reliable as the sun. No complaints here.

The Fit—it’s I think it’s too expensive for what it is, and I wouldn’t even consider buying one over something like, oh, I don’t know, a FIESTA ST, but it suits the needs of lots of people perfectly. In all seriousness, it really is pretty good. Why no performance variant though?

In the most competitive segment in today’s marketplace, Honda has a clear winner—the CR-V. It’s pretty hard to believe that it outsells both the Civic and the Accord, but it does. Welcome to 2015! The CR-V has a long tradition of being a reliable, smart decision—nobody will mock you at the PTA meeting for buying one. With the small CUV becoming the new mid-size sedan, it makes sense that the CR-V is as popular as it is.

The Not-As-Good:

What the hell has happened to the Civic? It’s too big, it’s too bloated, it’s too boring. I respect Honda’s decision to react quickly in regards to the Civic after the relative disaster of the 2012 Civic, but for those of us who remember what the Civic (specifically the SI) used to be, the modern Civic is just okay. I can guarantee you that Toretto’s gang wouldn’t be using Civics to rob semis anymore.

The Ugly:

The Crosstour. No, I mean, it’s literally ugly. I know it’s just an Accord, but what can I say—I’m superficial.

If there was ever a car that needed to be completely re-imagined, it’s the CR-Z. Poorly conceived, poorly designed, and poorly executed. It’s neither economical nor sporty—so what would you say ya do here, CR-Z? It’s a travesty.

But, to me, the ugliest part about Honda is that the company has completely abandoned its enthusiast base. The company that used to make the Integra Type-R and the S2000 feels like just another appliance maker now. You can feel it when you’re in a Honda store, as I often am. There’s no passion, there’s no excitement. The showrooms feel like mausoleums. You know what Honda needs? A Fit SI. Get the kids excited about the brand again. Create some future Honda enthusiasts.


The Good:

Maybe there’s something in the water around here, because I used to hate the Camry and everything that it stood for. After a few dozen track laps in a four-cylinder SE, I kinda like it. Of all the mid-sizers, the Camry is definitely to most rewarding to drive. It wouldn’t be my first pick in the segment, but it would definitely be in my top three. That’s good enough to get it up here.

The IS350 is the one car that has a legitimate potential claim to the throne that the 3-Series has owned for decades. I was fortunate enough to drive the F-Sport variant from San Diego to Beverly Hills last October, and it’s hard to think of a car that I would have rather made the trip in. If you don’t like the new 3-Series, the IS might just be for you.

Do you know how you know you’ve made it as a mom at my son’s school? You have a Swagger Wagon. The Sienna is the top choice of non-working women everywhere. Unfortunately, it can slide into the high $30K range pretty quickly once you start optioning it up into AWD V6 trim.

I struggle with where I should place the RX. It’s been wildly successful (has any platform ever made into as many top sellers as the Camry?). It’s overpriced. It’s largely loved by people who hate cars. But…it’s virtually unkillable. I see RX 300s everywhere, still effortlessly plugging along, well into six figures of life. By that measurement, it belongs in the “Good” category.

The Not-As-Good

The Corolla…well, it’s just a Corolla. I personally can’t get excited about it, but is it a good car? It’s not a bad one. That means it goes here.

I got the chance to go to the launch of the Highlander last year, and it’s pretty Highlanderish. I said this at the time: “This new Highlander will do nothing to keep satisfied Highlander drivers from buying another one, and will do a lot to convince happy owners of competitors to take a look. That is, assuming, they can get past that ugly grille.” That’s still true. It’s not great. It’s not terrible. It goes here.

The Avalon is boring, yes, but in the segment of full-sized FWD sedans, you could do worse…well, you couldn’t do much worse. But you could buy a Taurus. That would be worse.

The Ugly:

The Yaris just needs to be discontinued—it’s not competitive in any way, shape, or form. It’s truly amazing to see how well the Camry and Corolla sell, and yet the Yaris just languishes. It goes to show that the Toyota name only goes so far.

Guess what? I don’t like the FR-S, either. But this gives me a great opportunity to reply to those who questioned my placement of the BRZ in the “Ugly” category.

  • The BRZ/FR-S has plenty of competitors, most obviously the EcoBoost Mustang, the MX-5, GTI, Focus ST, WRX…pretty much any performance-oriented vehicle under $30k is a real-world competitor of the Toyaburu twins. It doesn’t have to be a rear-wheel drive coupe to be cross-shopped with them.
  • Yes, I think the BRZ is underpowered, but that’s not my main complaint with it. Remember, I owned an RX-8. I am the proud lessee of a Fiesta ST. Cars can still be low-powered and fun—this just isn’t one of them.
  • Between the two models, they’ll be lucky to sell 20k of them this year. It’s not destined to be with us for much longer.

That being said, it’s a commendable effort. All they needed to do to make it good was offer an F Sport FR-S, or something. I’m hardly the first person on the internet to suggest a turbocharged version. Just a mild boost in power—maybe 260 HP—would be perfect.


I’d really love to tell you what I think about the RC, but I haven’t driven one. Sad face.

All righty—one more installment to go. We’ll cover the Big Three next. Thanks for reading!

Join the conversation
9 of 108 comments
  • Pete Zaitcev Pete Zaitcev on Apr 02, 2015

    This was a good installment. I thought about doing the good-not-bad triplex format, but nothing here fails the smell test badly enough. The question of BR-Z was answered. Sure, things were omitted... Maybe put more hate on the Scion in general, you know. Alex Dykes once drove 2012 tC and found a lot ot like about it, so demolish that review perhaps? That said, I still cannot understand how people even manage to drive the Mustang, considering how oppressively huge it is. I'm sure the ferrocity of Boss 302 has to be powered by something, like a blown V-8 and a gigantic fuel tank, but eh... Every time I go on the market, I just sit in one of those, and think -- nope, I'm not ready for this. P.S. The point about Fit Si is well taken. Okay, so it's a beam rear. But Mustang has live axle and blows the doors off dozens of IRS cars. So that can't be deal-breaker for Fit. Perhaps now that Honda finally delivered a factory turbo outside of a kei car, we may expect it happen.

    • See 4 previous
    • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Apr 02, 2015

      I find zero shame in a twist beam rear axle in a nose-heavy FWD compact car. All it has to do is hold up a light rear end. It is light enough to not cause unsprung weight issues. GTIs had them for generations. But a HEAVY live axle on a RWD sports car? No. You can make a car with a lot of unsprung weight handle really well, or you can make it ride pretty well but you can't make it do both at the same time. A live-axle Mustang is great on a nice smooth race track, and a gigantic pile of suck on a corrugated frost-heaved back road in Maine that a BMW will glide over. The new Mustang is a quantum leap thanks to the IRS. Just still too much of a giant boat of a thing for me. I like a car that shrinks around me as I go faster, the Mustang still feels like it gets 2X bigger. I was so disappointed. I still find them to be really cool cars, but not the car for me. Maybe when I have room and money for 6-7 cars I will get one just because.

  • Jdmcomp Jdmcomp on Apr 02, 2015

    I recently drove the 370Z with high expectations. It failed in all respects. It is noisy, harsh, loud and not all that good in the performance arena. After all these years that v6 ought to smooth as butter like the first SHO 6s. But no, it sounds like a coffee bean grinder amplified. And no sound deadening at all. Why bother with a radio at all, you simply could not hear it. No, this is a car for young men who fell on the top rail of their bicycles too ofter and are having to make up for that injury. But ok, it did handle nicely and looks good.

    • See 1 previous
    • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Apr 02, 2015

      @dal20402 Agree with you 10000% on this one, the Nissan V6 sounds like nails in a blender.

  • JamesGarfield Re: Getting away from union plantsAbout a dozen years or so ago, Caterpillar built a huge new engine plant, just down the road here in Seguin TX. Story has it, Caterpillar came to Seguin City council in advance, and told them their plans. Then they asked for no advanced publicity from Seguin, until announcement day. This new plant was gonna be a non-union replacement for a couple of union plants in IL and SC, and Cat didn't want to stir up union problems until the plan was set. They told Seguin, If you about blab this in advance, we'll walk. Well, Seguin kept quiet as instructed, and the plan went through, with all the usual expected tax abatements given.Plant construction began, but the Caterpillar name was conspicuously absent from anywhere on the site. Instead, the plant was described as being a collective of various contractors and suppliers for Caterpillar. Which in fact, it was. Then comes the day, with the big new plant fully operationa!, that Caterpillar comes in and announces, Hey, Yeah it's our plant, and the Caterpillar name boldly goes up on the front. All you contractor folks, welcome aboard, you're now Caterpillar employees. Then, Cat turns and announces they are closing those two union plants immediately, and will be transporting all the heavy manufacturing equipment to Seguin. None of the union workers, just the equipment. And today, the Caterpillar plant sits out there, humming away happily, making engines for the industry and good paying jobs for us. I'd call that a winner.
  • Stuki Moi What Subaru taketh away in costs, dealers will no doubt add right back in adjustments.... Fat chance Subaru will offer a sufficient supply of them.
  • Dartdude Lorenzo, the reason for low manual transmission here is that most dealers won't stock them. I wanted a 2012 Kia Koup with manual tranny it was available, but no dealers ordered any from the factory hence there was none available. Go on any car manufacture's web site and price and build and build your model and you would be lucky if the model existed and was available.
  • The Oracle Good news is that based on the model years many of these have already been junked or experienced terminal engine failure.
  • Lou_BC I'm confused, isn't a Prologue a preview? This would be a preview of a preview.