Bark's Bites: I Buy the Cars Everybody Else Says They Love
I own a Ford Flex. It’s true. Well, technically, Ford Credit owns it, but I’m only 12 months or so away from getting the real title in my hands. I’m constantly being told by people — hell, even by commenters on this website — that the Flex is a great car, but that people just don’t seem to like it. Of course, since I bought one, I completely disagree.
The Flex is just one example of a car that people who fill up comment sections of automotive websites seem to love but never buy for themselves. The list of such automobiles is quite long: The Pontiac G8. The Mazda RX-8. The Fiesta ST — wait a second, what the hell is going on here, I’ve owned all of these!
Just what is it that makes a car popular with enthusiasts but unpopular with the general public?
It’s true — I’ve owned a lot of the “forum queens.” No, I’ve never owned a brown, stick-shift, manual diesel wagon. But, come to think of it, my Flex is brown, and it’s the closest thing to a station wagon that Ford has produced since the Focus wagon of a couple of generations gone by. September will be the fourth anniversary of the Flex’s arrival in my garage, and it will soon roll past the 100,000-mile mark on the odometer with only one service issue (a faulty windshield wiper fluid pump).
It’s been perfect for our little family. Mrs. Bark takes the kids to her summer camp every year, a jaunt of nearly 12 hours across the country, and it’s never given them a single issue. Even when I had my Boss 302, I chose to drive the Flex for daily use.
The G8? Well, I wasn’t so lucky there. I lost a cylinder, which put me out of the car for about a month while they tried to fix it. Same thing with a broken driveshaft, which forced me to drive a Chevy HHR for a month while the dealer sourced a part from Australia. I went through more lower control arms than I would have thought possible. I even had to drive on one sourced from a junkyard for a little while until a new one could be found.
But when it was running — what a car! It was fast enough to smoke 90 percent of the cars on the road, and bigger and more spacious than most, too. If I only knew then what I know now. Sure, my G8 would have had about 130,000 miles on it today if I had kept it, based on how much I drove the 302 and my FiST in the G8’s absence. And perhaps the service issues would have continued to be a problem. But every time that I see one pass by, I can’t help but admire it. They were beautiful, powerful cars eight years ago, and they still are today.
The RX-8 was beautiful, too, but powerful? Not so much. And the big, white, puffy cloud that motor created when it blew a seal at the autocross was a sign to be like Queen Elsa and let it go. Still, there hasn’t been a car made since The 8 took its final bow that was as well-balanced and easy to drive as the Renesis-powered Mazda. I still remember taking it through a drive-thru and having the kid at the window say, “What is this thing, man? It looks like a spaceship!” In fact, it was probably the most JDM looking car in recent history. I miss it, too. But when I let it go, I thought it was a ticking time bomb.
And now as I come into the final homestretch of the Fiesta’s lease, I’m starting to realize that I won’t find another car like it. Some days, I consider calling Ford Credit to see if they’ll let me extend my lease. The next-generation Fiesta looks like it’s going to be bigger and porkier — but what else is new? Every new generation of every car is on HGH. Maybe the new Fiesta ST (if they even make an ST) model will have more power, but will it be as tossable? Will it have built-in oversteer? Will it be as blue? I doubt it.
I worry for the future of the enthusiast’s car — specifically, I worry that not enough enthusiasts still exist. Even when I read the comments of this very website, a website that is supposed to attract the hardest of hardcore automotive junkies, I see a disturbing trend towards practicality and pragmatism. The G8’s successor, the Chevrolet SS, is as good as non-existent in the marketplace. The RX-8 didn’t even get a successor. The Flex appears to be doomed, too, as it sells in such insignificant numbers that the business case to replace it seems impossible to create.
As the SAAR flattens and the inevitable downturn begins, automakers will have to make hard decisions about what products they keep or design, and which products they cancel. While there will never be a lack of Mustangs to go around, one wonders about the eventual fate of the cars that have small, dedicated fanbases but no sales volume to support them. Look what happened to Saab.
So when my lease is up on the FiST in February, I’ll be looking for that next Ugly Duckling. I don’t know what it will be yet (Focus RS? BMW 228i?) but if I want car companies to keep making cool, quirky cars, I’ll have to keep buying them. God knows that nobody else is.
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