By on August 18, 2016

Bark and Danger Girl's Ford Fiesta STs, Image: © 2016 Bark M./The Truth About Cars

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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88 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: I Buy the Cars Everybody Else Says They Love...”


  • avatar
    rplamann

    I thought you were sold on the RS? I was but decided to pick up a Challenger instead.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      I also thought you said you were a future RS owner – delivery delays finally cause you to move on?

      @rplamann – I picked up a R/T R&T Charger and God, I love it. Was between a SS and a Challenger, but for plans to grow another baby to add to the 2 kids already in car seats nixed a 2 door and the idea of the SS didn’t quite match the reality.

  • avatar
    pmirp1

    First, great picture.

    I think problem with Flex and other regular cars (sedans or coupes) for many women is the height of the vehicle. So many women in big cities like where I live in Atlanta, have been terrorized in horrible traffic by idiots driving in and out of traffic and putting those women and their kids lives in danger. I see it every day.

    Driving a vehicle that has high height, gives a sense of security (real or perceived). You don’t have to look at idiots in their Mustangs, Porsches, Camaros, small BMWs….) eye to eye. You can ignore them. The idiots are still going to drive like maniacs in traffic. But riding high, pretty much avoids looking at them, and they are also then eye level with other higher vehicles.

    This is a permanent shift. And the enthusiasts only have the crazy drivers to thank for this trend. It will never go back to regular cars, now that CUVs are gas efficient and car based too.

    • 0 avatar
      slance66

      After the epic snows in New England in 2014-15, I went car shopping. Talking to the local Ford dealer he said women were coming in and buying F150s frequently. You really couldn’t see over the snowbanks in anything else, and in a car (pulling out in my 328xi was terrifying)? Forget it. He says before that he’d sell maybe 1-2 a year to women. Given how many women I see in Grand Cherokees, I suspect they had similar appeal.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        Height isn’t just about visibility. The average new car buyer’s age is 52. Good luck finding a baby boomer out there without hip/back/shoulder/knee pain, something a bit higher is just easier to get into.

        • 0 avatar
          Kenn

          It’s kind of amazing to me how so many anti-CUV commenters can be completely oblivious to the fact that there are tens-of-millions of middle aged people with these painful, chronic ailments who desire avoiding the daily pain of climbing up out of a car (or having to fall down into one).

    • 0 avatar
      Synchromesh

      It’s interesting you say that because when I owned a Miata in Boston Area a few years back I had to drive extra careful due to all of the oversized behemoths on the roads over there. And I wasn’t driving particularly fast with a stock NA Miata’s 128hp.

      Those women you mention (ones that have to buy large cars because their kids were threatened) were the worst offenders. They were often watching the kids far more than the road. They would cut me off constantly because of their awful driving abilities multiplied by size of their vehicle. I learned one thing straight up – if you see a woman in an SUV/minivan, stay away as far as possible. Personally, I think there should be a special driving test for people who want to buy larger cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      @pimp1 – Most of the idiot driver are in small CUVs. The Nissan Rogue tends to be a major offender, for some reason. Don’t know what it is but every time I see one, it seems the driver is a total douchebag. Watching its fat little rear end weave in and out of traffic absolutely infuriates me.

      I will personally never buy a CUV or SUV. Even if I have to drive a 20 year old car in my 70s, that’s what I’m going to do.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Why not just chuck the old FiST in on a new one when the lease’s up?

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    A car is the same whether you buy it new or used. Most people can’t afford brand new cars and enthusiasts are no exception- especially given how much more expensive cars we like are.

  • avatar
    scrubnick

    We had an RX-8 in the family. I loved the car, great handling, good interior space, lots of fun to drive. Hated putting gas in it. Low teens for mileage really takes the fun away.

    The rotary maintenance wasn’t too bad, though I was shocked at how expensive rotary spark plugs are and how quickly they need to be replaced.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Could Mazda have shoehorned the Speed 3’s engine into the RX8? That would make for a fun ride.

      • 0 avatar
        orenwolf

        A lot of people have suggested that, but I think it wouldn’t work for two reasons:

        1) The Renesis rotary engine is tiny and light – which probably means a conventional ICE engine would totally screw up balance, and
        2) Because of #1, there’s no space for a conventional engine in there, especially if it needed to be longitudinally-mounted (since the RX-8 is RWD). they’d almost certainly have to change the wheelbase, which would change the car.

        Too bad, really, it’d probably have been awesome if possible. :)

      • 0 avatar
        Redshift

        Judging by the experiences of some of my MazdaSpeed 3 owning friends, you would have picked up a whole different set of reliability issues and not really helped the mileage all that much, while running into all of the packaging issues orenwolf referenced.

        • 0 avatar
          tedward

          The dirty little speed3 secret. I don’t actually blame Mazda overmuch for this but that drivetrain was absolutely a product of its time and not sprinkled with magic Mazda fairy dust.

          Little known fact, that DI high pressure fuel pump is almost exactly the same as the one we all (myself included) like to deride from a certain German make. Unnecessary hint, the German brand has moved on since in their fuel pump design.

          • 0 avatar
            Redshift

            Friend of mine traded here 2010 Speed3 last month. She spent more in non-maintenance repairs in the last 12 months than I did in 12 years with my RX8.

            Poorly designed injector seals caused injector failure, and those DI injectors are pricey. Never mind the HPFP being a ticking time bomb.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      The coils are the weakest part of the ignition system. No surprise that those, and the plugs, have a short lifespan, as they each fire three times as often as those in a 9500 rpm inline-four.

      • 0 avatar
        Redshift

        The coils do seem to be the root cause of many RX8 issues.
        It’s partially a packaging thing as well. FB and FC RX7 coils last forever and they are mounted on the fenders/strut towers.
        FD RX7s and RX8s have the coils mounted on the engine, where they get cooked from the heat, and coils are basically a consumable item that you change out with the plugs.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    “No, I’ve never owned a brown, stick-shift, manual diesel wagon.”

    I have, a 1984 Volvo 245 Diesel. It ain’t all that.

    • 0 avatar
      EMedPA

      Neither was the Dasher wagon I had as a commuter rat back in the day.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      Truth. I was driving a 96 diesel when that meme took off and I never understood it. My enthusiast side screamed out rejection of that vehicle with every comically short shift and nose heavy corner entry. They are for cheapskate buyers who had torque expectations that precluded hybrids (at the time I was relatively poor, and it worked for me). Now gasoline does that too, and actually makes a better anti hybrid argument in the process.

      I will hump a brown stick shift wagon till parts fall off of myself or the car, but that never had anything to do with diesel.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Didnt the Diesel use a 6 cylinder VW engine? You wouldve been better off dropping a V8 in there!

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I’ve owned several gas stickshift station wagons. Bought two of them brand new. And would buy another one *tomorrow* if BMW would sell me one. Not brown though, yuck.

      Diesel engines have come a LONG way since the 80hp VW wonder in that Volvo. You would be amazed.

      I have to agree with Tedward that Turbo DI gas motors have narrowed the gap with diesels so much that they rarely make sense anymore. A BMW 2.0T with a 6spd stick is all the fuel economy and speed I have use for in a daily driver.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    FOCUS RS!

    Please let us continue to live vicariously through you.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      And tune it. Really, I keep hearing noise that the rear diff can’t take more power but it sounds suspiciously like ford warranty trying to get ahead of the inevitable forum gripes. We need to know. What could possibly go wrong?

  • avatar
    MPAVictoria

    I also loved my G8. It was fast and comfortable. I also found it to be very attractive to look at. But like yours, it was a bit of a disaster on the reliability side of things. I ended up replacing it 2 years ago with a CPO Volvo S80. Not as exciting but more comfortable and, so far (knocks on wood) much more reliable.

  • avatar
    yamahog

    Just what is it that makes a car popular with enthusiasts but unpopular with the general public?

    It’s that most cars are ‘good enough’ and enthusiast vehicles carry dear premiums. Look at what happens when someone says, “I’m thinking about a BRZ/FRZ.”

    You’ll either hear, “A Mustang is cheaper and has more power!”
    or “A WRX is the same price and has more room, AWD, and more power!”

    V6 Camcords run 14 second 1/4 miles, return 35-40 mpg on the freeway when observing the speed limits, and can hustle around a closed circuit pretty well when they have good tires on.

    And if you’re an enthusiast who has the time and inclination to turn a wrench, the used market is pretty favorable.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Just what is it that makes a car popular with enthusiasts but unpopular with the general public?”

      the “General public” buys a car and drives places because they *need* to. they don’t enjoy it, it’s just something they do in order to get stuff done. Thus, they buy the most convenient vehicle for their daily needs, which is why CUVs are taking over. A stick shift, firm/harsh suspension, road noise, etc. would just be hassles for the general public. There’s a reason manual transmissions used to be called “standard.” Because they were standard equipment. But once automatic transmissions improved, buyers ran away from manuals.

      heck, I’m an enthusiasts and even I’ll admit 90% of the driving I have to do sucks.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        I have to agree.

        Cars are, mainly, appliances.

        Modern automatics can be so good that, in almost all cases, a manual is the poorer choice. And I say this as a dedicated lover of manuals who has a three-pedal 2015 Tacoma which will probably be it for me and the clutch pedal. Having said that, I will still have my motorcycle…

    • 0 avatar
      Synchromesh

      I own a WRX and I’ve driven a BRZ. I love the Rex to pieces but BRZ was waaaay more fun even in stock form. WRX is just much more practical for everyday usage.

  • avatar
    Troggie42

    If I had to guess… I’d say it’s a collection of many issues, but the most predominant one is money. Folks on forums are often times younger folks, and younger folks are still broke for the most part. Hell, I’m not as young as I used to be but I’m still reasonably broke. I think that’s why you see so many people buying used Miatas and WRXes and stuff of that nature, it’s cheap and it has an aftermarket. When I wasn’t broke for a while, I bought a Speed3 brand new, and loved that thing. If I was in a position today to buy a new car like I was then, I’d absolutely go for the ND Miata, the FiST, or the Chevy SS if I was making enough to afford that. Problem is that cash flow issue. If I had a family to haul around? You bet your ass I’d get an Ecoboost V6 Flex if I could afford it. As it is? I have a 1990 Volvo 740 Turbo I got for $800 as my daily (it’s actually super nice, dude thought it had a bad turbo, but it was just the wastegate actuator being disconnected) and a sub $1000 84 RX-7 as my project. Would I much rather have a FiST or SS as the daily? You’re damn right I would! Sadly, the cash just isn’t there right now, and I think the situation is similar for many other people 30 and below.

    Other issues would probably involve things like marketing and perception of the vehicles. I see plenty of very young guys who have their parent’s money to spend (not that there’s anything wrong with that) getting Focus STs, but they don’t want a Fiesta because it’s too small or girly or dorky or doesn’t have enough power or whatever other wrong assumption they have to give. Folks have perceptions and biases, and it’s kind of hard to overcome those. Hell, up until around the time Mr. Regular released his first Miata video, folks still called the Miata a car for women or hairdressers, or any other number of derogatory insults leveled at Miata drivers. It still happens, but far less than it did. On the marketing front, Chevy basically ignores the existence of the SS while convincing people that bear cages are a suitable judge of a pickup truck, so is it any wonder they aren’t selling any of them? Hell, my Dad is a die-hard Chevy guy, and had NO CLUE that the SS existed until I told him about them.

    It’s almost as if automakers don’t WANT to sell the enthusiasts cars, and honestly? I don’t really blame them. All the evidence I have to support that idea comes thanks to the FRS/BRZ/GT86. Here is a dramatization:
    “WE WANT A SPORTS CAR THAT IS LIGHT AND CHEAP”
    “here you go, have this awesome little canyon carver designed in the spirit of the AE86 Corolla, but better”
    “SCREW YOU 200HP IS FOR BABIES PUT A TURBO ON IT YOU JERKS”
    “but the AE86 only had like 130 what are you talking about this is way more”
    “NO NO WE NEED MORE POWEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRR”
    “ugh, screw this, I’m killing Scion you ungrateful twerps”

    Same thing happens with like, every new car. Remember when everyone thought the ND would be turbo? Remember how nobody bought the Mazdaspeed Miata when it WAS turbo? Funny, that.

    • 0 avatar
      NoID

      *slow clap*

      This sums it up. I’m in my late 20s and, to give you a sense of what my budget is, I have two car payments that together total $425. I don’t have new car money. Part of that is a discrete decision to live frugally and be generous with what I have rather than horde it all and spend on frivulous things. That said, I’d have no problem spending what money I have on a decent car because it’s a necessity, and why not have a little fun with something that I have to buy anyways?

      The biggest money sucks at this stage of life are, you guessed it, student loan repayment. If we could, nationally, find a way to stop the skyrocketing cost of college then we might get somewhere on young men and women with young families actually being able to put their money into the economy rather than financing loan debt. But that’s above my pay grade.

      And honestly I have nothing to complain about, working for an OEM means I can get my kicks in at work so that itch is scratched.

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        This is also correct. We do not have a large young generation of car enthusiasts. The Millennial generation: a) has a smaller white middle and upper middle class (who are most likely to be car enthusiasts) because this demographic has been having fewer kids for decades; b) has less money than prior generations due to stagnant wages at the entry levels; c) was not raised working on cars and thus do not have the same appreciation for them that Baby Boomers and some Gen Xers did; d) are more likely to live in urban areas where a car is a burden many would like to avoid altogether and a nice car is absolutely pointless; and, e) has a different mindset where personal experience (travel and activities) take priority over nice material possessions.

        Put all that together and you can see why that segment is shrinking fast.

      • 0 avatar
        Lithe

        Forgive a foreigner – is a car payment in the US normally weekly or monthly? Guessing monthly.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      “It’s almost as if automakers don’t WANT to sell the enthusiasts cars”

      This is because enthusiasts know more about the car then the dealer, thus they can easily call BS when service advisor claims the muffler bearings or blinker fluid needs to be changed. They would rather sell an average car to the average Joe because that is where the meat of the profit lies. Building specialized cars to sell to specialized people doesn’t work on a large scale, so the OEMs smartly steer clear. Can you image anyone with a Ford GT pulling into the service bay next to an Escape? Plus Scion tried the whole “let’s get people excited by allowing them to customized their ride” thing and look where it got them.

      I find enthusiasts fit into 2 groups: those that buy a new version of each car as it comes out (IE: garage queen Corvettes) or those that buy used versions and lovingly attempt to keep them running with all kinds of fixed (IE: old Volvo bricks running on biodisel). OEMs will sometimes cater to the first group, but don’t want anything to do with the other… well until the car reaches collectable or cult status.

      As for the FRS/BRZ when you tell the public that Subbie is providing the a boxer power plant we all assumed the turbo was coming. To this day I still don’t understand why it didn’t happen. Weight? Nope. Cost? Nope. Simplicity? Maybe. The engine in that car is its biggest downfall.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      That’s a pretty decent analysis. A while ago I was talking to some young enthusiast who was bemoaning the fact that no one makes the small RWD sports coupe he wants. He had some vapid reason to hate every offering currently out there and finished with, “I would buy a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger but they’re more than I ever want to spend on a car”

      So in short, while everyone wants that car to be built, the customers of these types of vehicles are too fussy and cheap to make it really worth while.

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      I still owned my RSX-S at the time where the GT86 hype was starting. At the time, all of the RSX owners were saying the same things about their car.

      “If it was AWD and turbo it would be perfect”
      “If it was RWD with 50 more HP it would be perfect”

      Personally, I thought the RSX-S was a great, fun car, and that a similarly powered/weighted RWD car would be my natural progression. I ended up in an S2000 instead, but had that not happened I don’t doubt I’d be in an 86 today.

      For all the flak it gets, I will most likely buy one (and probably throw a blower on it) if my S2000 ever gives up the ghost.

    • 0 avatar
      olddavid

      Trog – That is the best summary of the unknown buying theme I have ever read. I know that now, in retirement, I have to supply my own car and have changed my buying habits completely. Since we have 5 cars with classic plates, my wife insists I maintain a daily with a certain panache, yet stick to a budget. Being a longtime reader here I recognize the twinge of hypocrisy brought on by monetary realities. I think we can all agree that living through Bark vicariously isn’t a bad thing.

  • avatar
    NoID

    Same problem here, with Mazda not bringing back the Tinivan.

  • avatar
    akatsuki

    Regular cars are better and better.

    Enthusiast cars? Not so much. You have to justify platforms that are often only usable for the one model. Lots of lightweight bits (helped out by mileage concerns so that can be partially shared), and then spend a ton of time on getting the ride just right.

    And then people just bitch about lack of 0-60 to a stoplight. The perfect example? FR-S / 86.

    It isn’t helped when GM comes out with the every so entirely crappy Camaro’s that value styling over anything usable. Then they start to tank sales and GM says, look! We tried! It didn’t sell. At least the Mustang is mostly practical and helps support that part of the market.

    And of course you have asshole enthusiasts, here especially, crapping on things like the Boxster – oh, that is a hairdresser’s car! Do hairdressers buy 60K+ cars regularly? No. It is just pure jackassery.

    What we need is not an FR-S to get people interested in driving. It is a RWD sport sedan. Not a luxury sedan. A nice small RWD car that is about the price of a Corolla with some sporting pretension. Like a decontented first-gen Altezza / IS300. Hell, they should just bring that car back as a Toyota where it should have been to begin with.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatic

      It will never be priced like a Corolla no economies of scale.

      I’m just looking for a car slightly larger than the Cadillac ATS 4 doors with a back seat that costs $28,000 – $32,000 RWD with a MT.

      Of course they will only sell three or four per year so its not going to happen. Chevy should offer a sedan based on the CT6 chassis (slightly shortened) limit the options (as Honda does with the sport Accord) one engine, two transmissions, one interior, one suspension, one wheel size, even limit the exterior colors if need be. This could replace the non-marketed SS and if the choices are limited enough inventory costs can be kept low.

      Doing this the price would be low and sales would soar to 100 – 200 per year.

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    I *loved* my RX8. It was the first car I ever autocrossed in way back at Laguna Seca and I fell in love with it on the spot. I was lucky enough to get one of the very last off the line that made it to NA. The final tweaks in the car made it even more a dream.

    That being said, it was *terrible* on fuel in the city. Highway wasn’t bad, and it endured several Snowbird Toronto -> Florida runs as what I remember to be the most fun I’ve had on otherwise boring road trips.

    However, I sure as hell wasn’t keeping it after the warranty expired.

    It’s an interesting question, right – what *is* an enthusiast? My father owned a Thunderbird and firebird and always talked about souping them up. I used to marvel at the superchargers and other strange creations exposed out of hot rods at the local fairs each year, and marvel at the crazy (and many times beautiful) body designs of yesteryear. For me, car enthusiasm was always about fast, sure, but also about neat technological marvels added to vehicles to MAKE them fast, or unique. I loved my RX8 in large part because it didn’t have pistons, and that made the car handle *better* thanks to weight distribution.

    Nowadays, turbo/superchargers, nitro, etc etc seem passé to me. They are solved problems. We know how to get pretty much the most we’ll ever get out of ICE vehicles. But I read these reviews of the always available torque of ludicrous EVs and the excitement of new and interesting technologies to help you go fast excite me again. I’d have a Model S *right now* if I could justify the expenditure to myself, just because the idea of playing with new automotive technology sounds like *so much fun*.

    I doubt I’m alone in feeling that way. I think a lot of people assume the only reason you could ever want an EV is someone shoved a tree branch up your behind as a child and now you’re all about environmentalism. But for me, it’s first and foremost about the possibility of having a new, unique experience in a vehicle, exploring new technologies and new ways to go fast. The fact that I live in a part of the world where doing that also means I don’t have to burn dinosaurs is just an added bonus.

    So, am I an “enthusiast”? Ask me after I figure out how to autocross my eventual model 3. ;)

    • 0 avatar
      Lithe

      Sounding pretty enthusiastic to me! Good on you.

      I’m excited for performance electric vehicles – both cars and bikes. Would own a Zero motorcycle right now if they weren’t so expensive.

  • avatar
    Dorrin

    I owned an RX8 for 6 years and loved it as a driving experience. I didn’t love the atrocious fuel economy, the frequent mechanical gremlins that started at 30K miles, or the difficulty of getting my kids (both as babies and as toddlers / pre-k-ers) in and out of the backseats. It does not surprise me at all that that car was a commercial failure – the (mostly deserved) reputation for unreliability was a huge albatross around its neck.

    I have a Miata, which is the very definition of an enthusiast car, but only because I am fortunate enough to have the space, money and free time to have a 3rd car.

    I considered a Fiesta ST (and actually test drove it twice, once by myself and once with my kids in tow) and unfortunately, the backseats are so small even my 9 year old doesn’t really fit in the car. That in turn pushed me into a Focus ST, which I am very happy with.

    I think in general, enthusiast cars tend to be very compromised with regards to their utility as people+stuff moving devices. For most mainstream car buyers, they are looking for a combination of interior space (both cargo and passenger capacity,) fuel efficiency, reliability at a price they can afford.

    The only cars that fail to attract mainstream success that aren’t explained by my above hypothesis are things like the Flex and the Mazda 5 – in both cases I can only assume that the non-style-conscious sorts that would consider them go even further to the form-function side and buy a Caravan or an (used) Odysienna instead, while the fashion victims get some kind of crossover or BOF SUV.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      The 3 car setup really is the best if you have the means. I have a 4Runner that gets hauled out for multiple bikes, canoes, camping, recycling runs, snow, off road, towing, etc. It really is an awesome do anything vehicle for my family of 3. My wife has a new MINI Clubman S that is a fun weekend getaway car that can take 2 bikes on the roof in a pinch while being reasonably fun and efficient. My daily driver is an FR-S. It fits the car seat in the back if just my 4 year old and I are going out of town for the weekend. I’ve also rigged up a bike holder off the rear that allows me to bring a bike when I want. It is also a riot on the back roads of WV. The biggest annoyance with 3 cars is where to put them. My wife wanted a new house last year to get our daughter in a better school district, so a 3 car garage was a requirement. If I still had just a 2 car garage, I’d probably drop the 4Runner for a midsize CUV for my wife and have some sort of AWD hot compact (WRX, Golf R). Thankfully I’m able to help justify some of the more niche cars sticking around for a bit longer. At some point, I’ll likely have to move to new Miata or used Cayman/Boxster/to keep something that is small and RWD.

      • 0 avatar
        slance66

        This nails it. Enthusiast cars are specialist vehicles. You can’t really afford to have a specialist vehicle unless you have other vehicles to fill the other needs. It’s that simple really.

        I could get an MX-5, I’d like driving it in the summer. It would suck for my regular trips to Home Depot/Lowes or the recycling center, and I couldn’t take my whole family to dinner in it, and I couldn’t drive it in the winter. So, unless I too had a 4Runner on standby, I can’t drive an MX-5. Or a Corvette or whatever. And it can’t just be that we use my wife’s car for that…that might work for some things, but if that is in the shop, both cars must carry all the people in my house and work in the snow.

        This is why you see enthusiast people buying Porsche Macans and Cayennes and a 5 series with X drive. All those cars are fun to drive, fast, and practical. Car makers have made practical cars that should appeal to the enthusiast.

        • 0 avatar

          The Miata is great for Home Depot as long as you are not getting 4’x8′ plywood. You can shove 8 foot lumber or 10 foot pipes in the passenger seat with the roof down. Just remember to buckle them in.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Easy to answer…image and expense (or more to the point, budget). The Flex is a super-great vehicle and likely better at what people really need a SUV for than a majority of actual SUVs. But for a lot of people, it looks like a hooded out hearse.

    As for the other cars, budget. Folks just don’t have the disposable income to the point of being able to afford a nifty enthusiast car. They need a car to haul themselves, the kids, the dog(s), etc…and for that they see the SUV/CUV as best fulfilling that need. I’d LOVE to have a manual trans 228i in my driveway (heck, even an older 128i or 135i), but I run puppy rescue runs just about every weekend and can’t afford a play car and a useful car with what I make.

    The cars you list as having owned (save maybe the Flex) are also outliers when it comes to the bell curve of vehicles out there. And we all know that the “best” cars for drivers don’t necessarily translate into high sales volumes down at the local dealerships.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Miata RF.

  • avatar
    Robert

    I’m doing my part! I love my Flex I bought new in 2014. It’s a Swiss Army Knife on wheels.

  • avatar
    tnk479

    Baruth, in April last year you said you’d rather drive your Accord over an M235i and now you have the 228i on your short list?

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-m235xi/

    Why not go for the M2? You’re well aware of the magic of BMW leasing.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    The problem with enthusiasts is that they will shop these cars, they will advocate stick-shifts, they will get sad when these models die, BUT they will always find some excuse to hold onto their 300k mile Honda/RWD Volvo/Toyota/Mazda, of course its never money.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Some of us put our money where our mouths are. My last four new car purchases have been a Saab 9-3 wagon, a BMW 328i wagon, a Fiat 500 Abarth and a BMW M235i. All with stickshifts. Thinking about picking up a Fiat Spyder.

      My gripe with the FR-S/BR-Z is that it is a lovely chassis with a duff engine. It doesn’t need more power, it just needs to be more FUN. That flat four just wants to be in some soulless econobox. If ever there was a car screaming for something like FIAT’s 1.4 turbo from the Abarth, that is it.

      • 0 avatar
        Brendon from Canada

        Hmmmm…. cool collection; last 6 here are BMW 330Ci, Land Rover Freelander Mini Cooper S, Land Rover LR3, Mini Cooper S, BMW M235i, Mini Cooper S/JCW, and I’m eyballing the Fiat Spyder. The Mini’s are for my wife (we were ditching them each time she was pregnant and getting a bit larger), the BMWs for me, and the Land Rovers for hauling the family around. We’re doing are part to keep the stick shifts alive (save for the Rovers, but I’m not sure I’d want to drive ’em with stick shifts) – more because my wife is out the door before I am most of the time, and we’d be fighting over the manual.

        While I “justify” the trucks to haul the family, the reality is, I just like them; technically my kids have spent more time in the back of the BMWs then the trucks! Not sure what’s going to happen when they get to be teenagers….

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        German cars? Are you guys INSANE?!! I bet you all have them on lease and dont even own them! At least I OWN my 1993 Toyota Camry! 250k miles, just beat an crappy GM Corvette at a stoplight race! I’ll take your expensive German junk on anyday!

        End of Sarcasm.

        • 0 avatar
          Mandalorian

          Me: I drive an Audi I bought new.

          Enthusiast:

          ARR YOU OUT OF UR MIND?! Dem German cars are SO UNRELIABLE. I bought one (15 years old and 4 previous owners) SO MANY PROBLEMS, and believe me, these problems weren’t caused by the treatment of the vehicle’s previous owners who thrashed and neglected it, they were ALL because it WAS GERMAN. Therefore ALL German cars are garbage.

    • 0 avatar
      Lithe

      Hey, I bought a manual Golf new. Highest trim it was available with a manual (except the GTI, which was twice as much).

      Great decision, and it hopefully made a point to VW, but I wish I could’ve stretched to the Polo GTI… ;)

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I’m sure it will not be as blue, seeing as what happened the the FoST.

    I haven’t driven a FiST, but I sat in one at a local dealership and thought the interior was really low quality. I know I shouldn’t expect anything great at $20k but for that money you’re getting a $12k car interior (minus the Recaros).

  • avatar
    MrIcky

    The only car on that list that moves the meter for me at all is the G8. I’m really surprised it had those issues.

    It’s fun to read what people here have to say, but I wouldn’t take most of your car suggestions too seriously lol. Most of you are basically nuts.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I’m not worried. There’s more variety of performance available than any time in my history on this planet, and I’ve owned/leased many of them.

    Even the cars that aren’t marketed as performance cars still have pretty good performance. Even the Pacifica I’m driving at the moment is “fast” and handles well. In the next year I’ll probably have another muscle/pony car.

  • avatar
    Higheriq

    I own a FiST, having traded a Miata for it (I needed a somewhat larger car, as my wife and I decided to part ways and she took her larger car with her). I bought it on the recommendations of ALL car publications and online reviews, and because the FoST was too large. Cheap-looking interior? I don’t see it, and I have 43 years of car buying experience. I’m with you on buying cars that others only talk about buying. I looked at the BRZ, but there was just something about I didn’t care for. If buying again today, I’d probably go with a 370Z based on past experiences with Nissans, and because it’s the only Nissan currently made which is worthy of being driven.

  • avatar
    jhughes

    My wife got a Flex last year – the AWD 3.5 EcoBoost SHO-wagon version. She loves it, and it’s grown on me, too. It excels at hauling people, stuff, and ass, all at the same time. Its practicality has made up for my BRZ’s complete lack of it (speaking of cars that enthusiasts talk about but rarely actually buy…)

  • avatar
    Redshift

    Great article and great comments. I pride my self on putting my money where my enthusiast mouth is and kind of have a fleet of “forum queens” (I’m going to borrow that.)

    I’ve had my RX8 for 13 years and counting. (My car came in the first batch of cars to NA.) I expect to have this car for a very long time yet. My daily driver is a Chevrolet Avalanche with an RX7 as my project/race car.
    My wife daily drives a Subaru WRX Hatch, has a MazdaSpeed Protege she’s owned for 10 years as a toy and has an RX7 convertible project.
    We’ll hold on to her WRX until Subaru builds another Hatch to replace it. No hatch, no care.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Well I understand I have owned three Saabs and now that VW will buyback my TDI wagon I have no idea what to replace it with if i see it back. nothing out there under 40K really get me excited at all, I have a saab convert I drive in the summer and we have a pilot, I can not lease and there is really nothing that says spend money on me,maybe I will keep the wagon.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    “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.”

    Wow – is that an understatement. That is what I thought this website was when I first discovered it.

    I would say there is a very large contingent of the B&B here that experience a high degree of anxiety at the thought of owning anything with direct injection, a turbocharger, tires with an aspect ratio lower than 65, or requiring premium fuel.

    I read a lot of, “What would my boss think if I showed up in a GTI? I mean, I’m ALMOST FORTY YEARS OLD!”

    The dream acquisition is a ten-year-old Lexus LS that they drive for 200,000 trouble-free miles (well, except for the funky control arms and that $2,500 power amp that goes bad…) and are buried in when they die.

  • avatar
    Sid SB

    So many positives about the Fiesta ST, I would be tempted to own at the end of the lease. There is little like it in the pipe line with moving up to Focus, Golf, Civic size vehicles.

    Owning a forum debated car is both good and bad. I am glad I ignored some of the forum chat about FR-S/BRZ not having enough power and just went for it after a couple of great test drives. Love driving the car – it has enough power to get tickets if you are not careful. What I really like, it goes as fast as it sounds (even with the sound pipe delete)….some cars are so fast, you end up +80 before you know it and there is no drama. A good Cayman is the only other car I was really wanting but the $ for a good one was prohibitive.

  • avatar

    Anything else you can predict the failure of?

    Perhaps you’re a Harbinger of Failure.

    http://www.bm.ust.hk/~mark/staff/song_lin/song_lin-jmr-2015.pdf

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    My Dos Centivos on the matter:

    Enthusiast cars , by and large, are unreliable and impractical nightmares to live with for the average Joe.

    BMW 330s with fuel pump and turbo issues, Northstar engines that cost more to fix then the entire vehicle attached to it is worth, Boxters and 911s featuring self destructing IMS bearings, and so on and so forth.

    That doesn’t get into the livability issues like odd door sizes, needing to drive carefully over bumps lest you break the front fascia, inaccessible parts because of big engines in small cars,expensive parts thereof, and limited cargo space.

    While us gearheads look at such problems and think “whatever, worth it anyways” Joe Everymans reaction is more along the lines of ” What tHe F? Failed Apex Seal?Bad Subframe? $1000+ to fix?!!!?
    I shoulda listened to my wife/ mother in law/ uncle/coworker and bought a Camry instead of this RX8/Camaro/BMW/Porsche POS. No more sports cars .”

    And that’s exactly what they do. I don’t want Porsche and Mazda guys to jump down my throat about this, because ultimately every enthusiast car is a compromise in some respect. We gearheads overlook a lot of stuff your typical shopper finds totally unacceptable .

    Many modern day CamCordAltiPala customers used to be enthusiasts who suffered one parts failure too many and threw in the towel on the whole idea. Better boring and reliable then exciting with a side of burning oil and turbo failures.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      I rest my case.

      All performance cars are poorly-engineered; all utilitarian ones are well-engineered.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        Look its not “poorly engineered” that’s the problem. As is pointed out above older enthusiasts (new car buyers) have to balance family needs when purchasing cars, hence gti’s, st’s, acord coupes etc…Also, as pointed out above there’s the economies of scale problem with dedicated longitudinal platforms (every bmw, every rwd Nissan or mazda, Mustang even). So, automakers turn to drivetrain and suspension changes to create enthusiast trim levels. The problem there is that your enthusiast options are often early adopters of new technology.

        We’re coming out of a period where that was a guarantee, what with the switch to affordable di turbocharging. The enthusiasts have been paying the dues for everyone else over the last decade but now, the heavy lifting is done on that tech and our cars will be making more incremental changes rather than the dramatic differences we’ve seen. Everything will be DI turbo and our cats will have slightly fancier turbo designs and trick differentials (focus rs, gti performance pack…)

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I put my money where my mouth was for my first new car. I wanted a cheap, simple, light (and reasonably engaging) hatchback. I bought a Mazda2. It’s done what I expect it to do, and will hopefully do so for many more years. But if I wanted to buy a new one, I have to go to Toyota (fine, except we only get the sedan now), and Mazda decided the best we deserve is to take the 2, and to put it on stilts and make it bloated and overpriced. So much for voting with my dollars doing any good.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    Currently have a Cayman, a Volvo wagon, and a 964. I like to think I put my money where my enthusiast mouth is.

    I’m looking to swap out the Cayman with something a bit more family friendly (well enough to be able to put in 2 toddlers), but I will do my best to make it as enthusiast friendly as possible….most likely a FiST, FoST, 500 or BRZ. I actually went to drive the FiST based on most of Bark’s articles on TTAC. It’s a great little car at a good price… even if I’m not sure I can get past the manic Ford dashboards.

    I still can’t get myself to buy new though….because as much as I like to support the team, I just can’t get over the waste of depreciation.

  • avatar

    What has utterly shocked me about every Fiesta ST I’ve driven has been its willingness to rotate once you turn off the nannies.

    I love (defeatable) electronic stability control! The engineers can build a fun car, the lawyers can neuter it, and the end user can tell the lawyers to shut up if they want.

  • avatar
    nsk

    In 2007, E46 M3 forum guys were complaining about the E92 being so much bigger, heavier, slower, number, more complex, and more expensive than the E46. BMW introduced the 1-series that addressed pretty much all of those concerns. But inexplicably, none of those forum guys bought one. I think I was the only E46 M3 guy who actually bought a new 135i, and a MT no less. It seemed like most 1-series cars were white 128i convertibles driven by women.

    Car forums are like echo chambers for those with lots of time to fool around on the internet. Not saying it’s a bad thing – I did my fair share when I was childless, single, and had disposable income. It’s just a different demographic than the majority of enthusiasts.

    • 0 avatar
      baconator

      Every time I walk into a BMW dealer I hear that M235i’s are selling as fast as dealer can get them in stock. And they’re stocking ones that are optioned up into the $60k range, so there’s an awfully good profit margin on them.

    • 0 avatar
      hgrunt

      In 2002, E36 M3 guys said the same thing about the E46 M3. Now the E46 is considered “analogue.” I wonder what E92 guys are saying about the F30

  • avatar
    Doctorbob

    How about a BMW M235i? Not quite the M car but fun fairly powerful good handling car.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    There are two things my wife won’t look at. A minivan or a wagon, and that includes the Flex. Maybe I should say especially the Flex as we passed one a couple days ago and she was taken aback by how ugly (to her) it was. I don’t mind the looks and they look handy enough. She likes 4 door sedans and SUVs or trucks to haul things. We were given a Rouge for our daughter from her mother. It is a piece of crap but the price was right.

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