Piston Slap: A Spoonful of Sugar for Bitter Medicine?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
Peter writes:Hi Sajeev,My mother-in-law in New England drives a fifteen-year-old Mazda Tribute with a manual transmission that is way overdue for replacement. She won’t settle for anything that doesn’t have 1) the ability to power all four wheels equally at the same time (I think her Mazda has a button or lever to engage the 4WD, so it doesn’t have to be a full-time 4WD system), and 2) a manual transmission. She is suspicious of the modern “all-wheel-drive” systems found on Subaru, etc., and swears that nothing works in the snow like 4WD.Personally, I think she tried my wife’s Subaru Forester and got a bad impression of it because it had the worn-out OEM Bridgestone tires, which were terrible in snow. Anyway, the only new vehicle I can imagine that meets all of her criteria is the Nissan Pathfinder (maybe?), but even that is a dinosaur that’s about to be phased out. (Try 2012! – SM)Maybe a Jeep would do the trick, but I worry about reliability and safety with those. So my question is twofold: 1) what vehicle, if any, would you recommend that meets her criteria, and 2) do you think she might actually like driving a more modern, fuel efficient, all-wheel-drive SUV like a Forester (with proper tires)? Her price range is probably in the $18k range, so maybe she would consider a 1-3 year old model instead of new.Sajeev answers:It’s time for some bitter medicine: but kudos to her for being the car guy’s ideal mother-in-law.Her price range means she’s getting a used vehicle, and she’ll likely hate driving any available unit with a stick and true four-wheel drive: only trucks (the obligatory Jeep Wrangler, Tacoma, Ranger, etc.) fit the bill. Unless she has to dig herself out of unpaved roads, a normal electro-backed AWD system in a superior CUV platform gives her more.I will mention (but not assume) that a brand spankin’ new, stick-shifted FWD hatchback with a proper set of winter tires and active handling is the best choice, but that’s not necessarily the point.What is the point? Your query relates to the 1989 Lincoln Continental I bought for $900 last year, which I (gently) chastised Steve Lang for swiping the story from my Facebook page. I never planned on discussing my “prized” Essex Continental, but again, not the point…The Essex Continental’s original owner powered through the head-gasket blowing V-6 (updated gaskets installed, heads decked, new cooling system), AXOD gearbox (knock on wood), leaky air suspension (converted to coils) for twenty-five years for two reasons: the compact luxobarge dimensions and a column shift transmission.This makes your mother-in-law’s wishes and demands seem beyond reasonable. And since the owner gave up on the Essex Continental far too late to get a new car (Avalon, DTS, Lucerne etc.) with this configuration, the white MDX next to that shifter is her current whip.We all submit to the lures of a modern car crossover eventually, so give your mother-in-law some tough medicine…with a spoonful of sugar to help it go down.You’re right about her test drive in your Subie with bad tires, because she won’t get stuck with winter tires on an AWD crossover. She’ll get more comfort, features, far superior NVH control, superior performance/safety/economy: all the good stuff in a late-model CUV, especially compared to an agricultural Jeep Wrangler. It’ll be the sugar needed to get the bitter medicine’s job done.And for the record, the Essex Continental is an impressive machine (Essex Machine, actually) once the multiple Achilles’ heels are fixed: there’s a damn good reason why they sold like gangbusters from 1988-1989. But that discussion is for another day.[Image: Shutterstock user igorstevanovic]Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.
Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Olddavid Olddavid on Oct 29, 2015

    The only reason that smoking turd of a car (worst Lincoln ever) sold so well was because of the backside discounts every dealer who expressed interest received. Even non franchised Ford dealerships got $2500-3000 back end money with a Red Carpet lease being calculated at near zero in a 10-12% climate. I was ecstatic when the Mark VIII came out, as they were immediately inserted into our fleet, with no one having to suffer the FWD V6 "Continental" again. The 1995 was a Rolls in comparison.

    • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Oct 30, 2015

      Yeah but did you have to do that in 1988? I read their allocation was snapped up rather quickly...the car was a flash in the pan, so to speak.

  • Lurker_n Lurker_n on Oct 30, 2015

    If she want a dial for 4wd, doesn't some of the Mitsubishi have that? As for the need for real 4wd, the only time I needed it was when I had a Jeep Grand Cherokee that got stuck in the snow bank after watching Tokyo Drift... :P

  • JK I grew up with Dodge trucks in the US, and now live in Turin, Italy, the home of Fiat. I don't think Italians view this as an Italian company either. There are constant news articles and protests about how stalantis is moving operations out of Italy. Jeep is strangely popular here though. I think last time I looked at stelantis's numbers, Jeep was the only thing saving them from big big problems.
  • Bd2 Oh yeah, funny how Trumpers (much less the Orange Con, himself) are perfectly willing to throw away the Constitution...
  • Bd2 Geeze, Anal sure likes to spread his drivelA huge problem was Fisher and his wife - who overspent when they were flush with cash and repeatedly did things ad hoc and didn't listen to their employees (who had more experience when it came to auto manufacturing, engineering, etc).
  • Tassos My Colleague Mike B bought one of these (the 300 SEL, same champagne color) new around June 1990. I thought he paid $50k originally but recently he told me it was $62k. At that time my Accord 1990 Coupe LX cost new, all included, $15k. So today the same car means $150k for the S class and $35k-40k for the Accord. So those %0 or 62k , these were NOT worthless, Idiot Joe Biden devalued dollars, so he paid AN ARM AND A LEG. And he babied the car, he really loved it, despite its very weak I6 engine with a mere 177 HP and 188 LBFT, and kept it forever. By the time he asked me to drive it (to take him to the dealer because his worthless POS Buick Rainier "SUV" needed expensive repairs (yes, it was a cheap Buick but he had to shell out thousands), the car needed a lot of suspension work, it drove like an awful clunker. He ended up donating it after 30 years or so. THIS POS is no different, and much older. Its CHEAPSKATE owner should ALSO donate it to charity instead of trying to make a few measly bucks off its CARCASS. Pathetic!
  • RHD The re-paint looks like it was done with a four-inch paintbrush. As far as VWs go, it's a rebadged Seat... which is still kind of a VW, made in Mexico from a Complete Knock-Down kit. 28 years in Mexico being driven like a flogged mule while wearing that ridiculous rear spoiler is a tough life, but it has actually survived... It's unique (to us), weird, funky (very funky), and certainly not worth over five grand plus the headaches of trying to get it across the border and registered at the local DMV.