My name is Satish Kondapavulur. I am what most baby boomers would call “a millennial.” I like Vampire Weekend, streaming movies on Netflix, and playing Gran Turismo. My plans this weekend involve driving to Berkeley, going to whatever eardrum-splitting concert my friends want to see, with my dinner plans probably being a burger and fries from In-N-Out picked up at midnight. My daily driver is a 2002 BMW 530i, one of the best BMWs ever made. My favorite movie is American Graffiti, a film which involves plenty of loud exhausts, racing on city streets, and a 30-year-old Harrison attempting to pass for a teenager. And I liked my Buick LaCrosse test car.
Fifteen years ago, buying a practical luxury car to replace a Honda Accord meant going down to your BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, or occasionally, Audi showroom and coming back with a 5-Series, E-Class, GS, or if you were particularly brave, an A6. All these brands except Audi had SUVs at the time though, but they were hardly replacements for a midsize luxury sport sedan. The Mercedes ML handled like a truck while the RX300 wasn’t exactly intended for the sport sedan driver, something emphasized by the number of moms and AARP members who bought them at the time. Meanwhile, my dad test drove an X5 and 5-Series back to back and promptly bought a 530i.
But no one fifteen years ago would have considered Infiniti, whose only rear-drive sedan was the full-size Q45, which no one bought. A few years later, Infiniti went through a product renaissance, bringing out the Infiniti G35 (which many people bought), the M (the one based on the JDM Nissan Gloria few people bought), and an updated Q45 (which even fewer people bought). In 2003, they also brought out a sporty crossover – the FX. It was meant to compete with the X5, Porsche Cayenne, and XC90, but the FX was dramatically better on-road than off-road compared to most of its competitors. The FX, despite being smaller and not capable of tackling off-road trails, became a sales success for Infiniti.
The last time I saw this car it lay bare and gutted in front of me. The seats had been pulled out, the dash taken apart and wires dangling. The carpets were in the process of being removed. All of this in an effort to find the source of an infestation that had plagued it.
Behold the 2014 Nissan… wait, haven’t we covered the redesigned Rogue already?
Indeed, Winston recently offered a solid writeup on the top-trim Rogue SL with all-wheel-drive, and his findings were largely positive. What if you are on a budget though? How enjoyable is Nissan’s mainstream compact crossover when the heated leather seating, Bose stereo and touchscreen navigation system aren’t included? Sounds like a review of the more mainstream SV trim is in order.
The last time I looked at my 1969 Chevrolet CST/10, it was a pile of disappointment. After reviving it and replacing a freeze plug, it proceeded to pop three more freeze plugs during warm up. Time was beginning to run out, my dad’s house had gone up to market and quickly sold. The truck was a long way away from driving out of Houston, and I needed to get it out of town. Time and money were a factor, I didn’t have time to spend money running a truck and trailer to Houston, just for the CST/10. Thankfully, three things lined up: A truck, a trailer, and a reason to drive to Houston. The truck is a customer’s, who loans the truck out in return for a few favors on the truck’s maintenance. The trailer came from my friend’s rally shop, which I moonlight at. And the Lone Star Region Porsche Club had invited me to partake in their refreshed autocross program at Houston Police Academy just before the closing deadline on my father’s house. Win-win, right? I packed the suitcase, tools and dog, hemorrhaged a gas pump to fill the truck, and blasted to Houston.
Two door cars used to be everywhere. From loaded up Cutlasses and Accords. To entry level Escorts, Neons and Civics. Nearly every popular car of 20 years ago offered a hatchback or coupe variant for those seeking a touch of sport in their daily driver.
Then something happened. America gradually got older… and bigger. Four door cars went from the plain-jane three square look of the 1980’s, to designs that evoked the priciest of exotics. Advances in steel fabrication and body stamping were just the beginning of what soon became a new era where four door cars completely dominated their two door sisters.
“Why deal with the inconvenience of a two door?” said a buying public knee-deep in aging baby boomers. Why indeed when you could have everything from a Camry to an SUV if you wanted the pretense of a sporty and powerful ride. Hatchbacks soon gave way to oversized coupes, which gave way to the reality that so-called ‘sporty’ designs were now available in every segment of the car market.To survive for another generation, a two door compact like the Scion tC has to offer a lot more than just a ‘sporty’ driving experience.
When Buick announced that it would not be rebadging the Opel Insignia OPC as the Buick Regal GS, and that instead of the OPC’s all wheel drive and turbocharged V6 we’d be getting a front-drive turbo four performance model, I was a bit skeptical. On paper, the proposed GS just didn’t seem different enough from the turbo model (which I liked well enough as-is) to elicit much initial enthusiasm. But this is why we drive cars instead of just comparing spec sheets: having spent some time alone with the GS, I’m happy to report that my skepticism was entirely unnecessary.
In the highly unlikely event that my father precedes me into the grave, I will have to come up with another way to describe him besides “the late Kevin Baruth”. The old man’s never been late for something in his life. Nor has he even been a terribly, shall we say, easy-going fellow. One of the medals he received in Vietnam was, if I recall correctly, for single-handedly halting the retreat of a disorganized Marine unit after the death of said unit’s commander and forcing them to turn around and advance towards the enemy. I have no trouble imagining how this might have happened; I’d rather shoot it out with a company of NVA regulars than contradict my father.
I mention all of the above for a reason. When I tell my friends that I learned how to drive in a black 1984 BMW 733i, they say, “That’s pretty cool.” When I explain further that it was the relatively rare manual-transmission variant, they say, “That’s even cooler.” It’s difficult to make them understand that it’s tough to learn how to drive in a stick-shift car, tougher to do it in a $36,000 ($77K in today’s money) BMW, and worse yet to do it with someone sitting next to you who might, just possibly, rip your head off at any moment.
I haven’t been to Italy, in 21 years. My cousins and I are having dinner together for the first time in 21 years. If I didn’t already know it, I’d have learned it now: males with Italian blood are obsessed with cars. My cousin Nicola even works for FIAT, in the seaside town of Termoli.
“Are there Fiats at Chrysler stores in Canada now?” he asks.
“Just the 500,” I inform.
“That’s not the real 500,” says Angelo, his younger brother. Two hours later, we’re in my Nonna’s garage. He pulls the tarp off a stunning, perfectly restored 1968 Fiat 595 SS Abarth. “Quest’è la vera Cinquecento!” he informs me.
“TWO HUNDRED BUCKS? Are you serious? That doesn’t sound like enough money.”
No, dear readers, I wouldn’t last ten minutes in the “World Series Of Poker”. I can’t bluff and I usually speak my mind before using that mind to think about the consequences of what I’m saying. In this case, however, it didn’t matter. The guy across the table from me at dinner was bound and determined to sell me his nine-year-old, good-condition, no-options-but-new-tires-all-’round, Plymouth Colt four-speed for the very reasonable price of two Benjamins.
How could I say no?
The Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC 5.0 isn’t a dream car, because it’s obscurity and touring car blueprint is a relative buzzkill. But this Bauhaus-worthy super coupe is a homologated racer much like it’s 300 SL forefather. I’ll skip the basics to focus on unit #1576: a grey market import from a USAF officer stationed in Germany. The current owner, Leif Skare, let me drive this meticulously kept, nearly stock (period correct 15” wheels and AMG front spoiler aside) SLC 5.0 before it heads back to Europe. Perhaps the SLC 5.0 is a dream car, when viewed in the right light. In the right place.
Raise your hand if you’ve actually flown a Goodyear blimp for a solid forty-five minutes and actually made it go where you were supposed to take it.
I thought so. I’m the only guy with his hand up. Sucks to be you, you non-blimp-flyin’-mothertrucker.
To keep this from being Blimplopnik or whatever they’re calling Mr. Wert’s Wild Ride nowadays, I’m going to bring you content never seen before: blimp review emulation. Follow along as I review the Goodyear blimp, one paragraph at a time, in the style of each of our most famous contributors. This will be no worse than the Dune continuation books, I promise.
The navicular, or scaphoid, bone, is a little bone in your wrist. About fifteen years ago, I broke both of mine during practice for a BMX National. Since my father was flying in to see me race that day, and since I didn’t want him to travel a long way for nothing, I wrapped duct tape around both my wrists and went out for the first heat anyway. When I landed the first jump, a modest fifteen-foot gap with a steep face to the landing, I nearly vomited from the intensity of the pain. Needless to say, things went downhill from there and as a result I’ve had trouble with my wrists ever since.
In the song “Twilight Zone”, Golden Earring sang, “You will come to know / when the bullet hits the bone.” I have come to know when I’m about to re-break one or both of my wrists. As I went flying through the air at fifty kilometers per hour, a tumbling snowmobile behind me and a hard sheet of ice ahead, I knew what was about to happen…
One hundred miles per hour. The once-fabled “ton” which my 1990 Volkswagen Fox struggled to indicate on its outrageously optimistic speedometer is now a commonplace, ho-hum event. Many modern cars will get there in ten or eleven seconds. Even heavy-duty pickups have no trouble pushing their Maximum Overdrive front fascias into the triple digits nowadays — and everything from the Fiesta to the F-450 feels rock-solid at that speed.
The magic, thrill, and terror are all gone from the one after ninety-nine… but if you want to bring it all back, and then some, it’s as close as a trip to your local Can-Am dealer. Driving the Spyder three-wheeler at that speed is, frankly, terrifying.
In my Nissan Frontier Capsule Review, I briefly mentioned the fact that I’d had a Saab 9-3 prior to said Frontier. Well, as it turned out, I ended up having the Saab after the Frontier, as well. Before I could take possession of said little turbocharged hatchback for the second time and send it back to the lease company where it belonged, however, I had to beg, threaten, and — depending on your definition of the word — perhaps steal.
While at the LA Auto Show in November, TTAC was invited by Volvo to sample the Volvo C30 electric concept car. More a pre-production than concept, the C30 electric will supposedly hit the streets as a 2012 model-year car. So what does the Chinese-Swedish brand, known more for safety than drivetrain innovations, have in store for the electric market? I’m happy to report that the answer is: nothing out of the ordinary.
“I have something to tell you, but you cannot, I repeat, must not do anything about it.”
“Is it something I want to hear?”
“Yes, it is. But you have to swear.”
“Okay. I swear. Now tell me.”
“Maro is getting a divorce.” Oh. Maro. I remember you, swinging your legs, your perfect profile and staggeringly voluptuous figure backlit by the sun, and I remember you seated next to me, so long ago, in that little gold Nissan truck. Do you remember me?
“Hurry up,” the woman at the counter said, “because when you get back they are waiting to take it to the auction.” The odometer read just over forty-nine thousand, eight hundred miles. It would have been temptingly romantic to think of this as a last ride on a trusty horse before it went to the knacker’s, but let’s get real: forty-nine K on an Accord is just getting started. As John Mayer once sang, it might be a quarter-life crisis. Let’s get rolling.
We’re coming to the end of KOREA! WEEK! and we still haven’t answered the question: When did Hyundai start becoming a serious player in this market? When did the image change from Deadly Sin to default-choice affordable car? One can go back as far as the second-generation Excel, which cracked the reliability equation while still being rust-prone as all get out. Alternately, perhaps it wasn’t until the arrival of the current Sonata that the brand became worthy of being chosen by the frozen Middle American masses.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, and I’d suggest that the car you see above was the true turning point. The first-generation Elantra (Lantra to the Cammy Corrigan crowd) was pleasant enough, but it didn’t even pretend to compete with Civics and Corollas. Hyundai was assumed to know its place, and that place was among the credit criminals, desperately poor, and the hopelessly stupid. Ten years ago, however, the Elantra woke up and decided that nobody was going to put it in a corner.
You could look at the accident one of two ways. The first way to look at it was that the backhoe was at fault. It backed out halfway across the northbound exit ramp to Bethel Road from Ohio SR-315, forcing my brother to take too rapid of an avoidance maneuver, spin his pristine Porsche 944, and hit a streetlight, causing said streetlight to fall into the freeway traffic.
The second way to look at it — and, in fairness, I must note that this view was the one espoused by the Columbus Police — was that my brother, Mark, had been traveling at perhaps one hundred miles per hour (“More like one twenty,” he sniffed to me in the aftermath) and that therefore the backhoe operator could have had no reasonable expectation that the red Porsche+Audi would arrive well before he could move back off the road.
Either way, it was time for the punishment car.
Why did we have an eleven-year-old, scratch-and-dent, no-maintenance-records, twelve-cylinder Jaguar on our lot? Blame our naive sales manager, who always paid top dollar for trades. In his haste to revolutionize the way people bought and sold luxury cars in Dublin, Ohio, “Steve” tended to ignore the established car-sales playbook. At the time, I thought he was bold; I now realize he was stupid.
It’s famously said that the SCCA road-racing rulebook is “written in blood”. Every rule in the book is a lesson learned from a tragic occurrence. By the same token, every rule in the car-sales biz is written, not in blood, but in red ink. There’s one rule in particular that is written in so much ink that it’s bled through the page, and that is: Don’t take used cars to customer homes for test drives. If you look closely, you will see an asterisk to that rule, added by me, and at the bottom of the metaphorical page, I’ve written: * this goes double for Jags.
No story should ever start, as this one does, with “my First Rover Metro.” The implication that there are more Metros to come is all too obvious, and could probably be best categorized as a “cry for help.” In any case, my first Rover Metro was a teal 1995 1.1L Kensington edition, purchased for £60 from a friend in Bishop-Stortford. The Kensington edition meant I got shards of carpet over the door panels, and the kind of pizzazz that only an engineer from Coventry would be able to come up with. The Metro lasted only 19 hours in my hands before a brake failure led to its demise into the back of a yellow Hyundai. My second Rover Metro was a 1997 Tahiti Blue 1.1L Ascot edition*, which meant I got full wheel covers and blue piping in the velour. This only accelerated my descent into the world of English motoring, where I found joy and fulfillment in the death rattle of a Rover K-series engine.
*astute readers will recall that both vehicles are technically Rover 100’s, but are always remembered in pop culture as the Metro.
Dad! Would you come and check out a car I might want to buy?
Sure Will; what is it?
A Deawoo Leganza.
Oh, Um, Ah, Hm; you’re sure that you might want to buy that?
Yeah; it’s got leather, sunroof, and a great sound system.
What’s wrong with it?
The electric window switches are wackky. I don’t care.
Are you sure that’s all?
I’m no attorney, but I’ve read articles posted anonymously on the Internet by people who claim to be attorneys, and therefore I feel confident that my extensive research regarding the statute of limitations for insurance fraud in certain Midwestern states is correct. It’s time to tell a story of minitrucks and maxipayments, of bumbling crime and hilariously apt punishment…
Count on Rodney to ruin a fine romance. “I just thought you should know,” he said as I opened up the lockbox to find the keys for our only four-cylinder, five-speed Probe, “that I screwed your up.”
“You screwed me up?” It wouldn’t be the first time; he’d recently driven a new Taurus headfirst into our “JBL: The Sound Of Ford” display while trying to manuever it out of the showroom, approximately four hours before I was scheduled to deliver it to its new owner.
“No, I screwed your up. The girl sitting at your desk. With the hairy forearms.” Come to think of it, her forearms did have a fair amount of remarkably dark hair on them. “She still thinks my name is Cleveland Washington or something like that. We hit it off right in the club bathroom, like I am known to do.” And yes, indeed, Rodney was rather infamous for anonymous tile-surrounded sex. There were five waitresses who worked the late shift at our local Waffle House. Rodney had violated two of them on the women’s sink over the past year and was working a third with all the patience of a champion bass fisherman. “You know what it means when a girl has hairy forearms.”
“I really don’t.” So he told me. Well, I should have realized that.
TTAC tested the street version of this car a few years ago: check it out for a classic example of mid-RF-era TTAC reviews, complete with withering attention to interior-quality issues and not-so-gentle comments regarding the unwillingness of the average automaker to purchase a Ford.
At the time, the Focus sold for about fifteen grand. That was for the street car. How much does a racing Focus cost? The answer: One dollar. The answer is also $2500. And $6000. And $25,000. Confused yet?
More than a few of you had a simple question (or statement) regarding my Infiniti G20 Capsule Review, namely,
“Why didn’t you check the mileage of the dealer trade?”
The answer is simple: I wasn’t even permitted to call other dealerships, much less arrange trades. At that particular shop, salespeople weren’t even permitted to see the final numbers at deals. We were intended to be “product specialists”, not wheeler-dealers.
In fact, our rather idealistic general manager believed in specifically hiring people with no experience in the industry. His boss, the dealer group manager, had deep roots in the buy-here-pay-here biz. The conflict between these two philosophies occasionally led to trouble…
I should have known from the breathless senior in long shorts and fancy jewelry: “AC Propulsion is over there. They won the X-Prize!” I should have known from the Long Curly Hair Middle-Aged Dad with Toddler and Pregnant Hippie Wife. I should have known from the fact that this first day of the national “Drive Electric Tour Sponsored by Nissan Leaf” was in Santa Monica. But I didn’t, and so
color moi tres surpris when the little Leaf driving demo was actually the biggest part of the 2010 Alt Car Expo. Petrolheads beware.
Whenever somebody asked me what I did for a living during the summer of 1994, I would tell them “I sell Infinitis”. That was a lie. My actual job was to lease the Infiniti J30 at $399/month to second-tier suburban wanna-bes and a wide variety of credit criminals. That was what paid for our owner’s impressive coke habit, and that was what earned me as much as three thousand dollars per month.
In the interest of strict factual accuracy, I should point out that we did, nominally, sell two other models. The 1994 Q45 was an overpriced brick with a Park Avenue-style facelift. Over the course of six months, we sold two of them, one to a former salesman who was simply in the habit of driving that particular car as a demo, and one to somebody who owned a 1990 example and was only vaguely horrified at the “updates” performed that year. Looking back, I think he used to snort coke with the dealership’s owner. It would explain a lot.
Since we both live in Houston, and I have aspirations of writing more material for TTAC in my copious lack of free time, it only made sense that Sajeev Mehta and I should eventually get together and hang out, so that’s exactly what we did at Ford’s come-kick-our-tires event for the new F150 trucks, including their new EcoBoost (turbocharged) V6 truck engine. Since I’m the epitome of not-a-truck-guy, I thought I’d toss in some random thoughts from somebody coming to this experience completely unprepared for what I was getting myself into.
Schadenfreude recently brought the elder Niedermeyer out of his summer semi-retirement, and for the most part, it’s a consistent inspiration for much of our content here at TTAC. But as natural and healthy as it is to laugh and learn from the mistakes of others, for some reason I’m just not feeling it today. Blame it, if you must, on a certain mellowness that settles in over the glorious course of an Oregon Summer. One Robert Farago always said that hate must come from a place of love, so in the interests of getting TTAC back in lean, mean fighting form, I’m going to indulge in the worst kind of of auto-writing love-fest: I’m going to tell you about how much I love my car. Except that it’s not a car, and it’s not actually mine…
Monkey see, monkey do. After Sajeev’s outstanding 300SL review I felt compelled to write on the vintage Benzo tip, yo. This car isn’t restored to anything like the condition of Mr. Mehta’s tester, but then again, I’d have felt bad going two-off during public-road driving in a half-million-dollar car…
It may not have been the best of cars, but it also was certainly not the worst of cars. While working my college job at Ford Credit, I arranged for my mother to purchase a brand-new, five-speed 1993 Topaz GS coupe for the modest sum of $8995 after all discounts and rebates. Over the next eleven years, she put 97,000 miles on the car. Her Ford “ESP” warranty covered the very few repairs it required up to the 60,000-mile mark, and it required nothing after that besides a set of tires and the occasional oil change.
It was a good, solid car, always starting in the winter, holding up to Mom’s indifferent attitude regarding carwashes (once a season) and interior cleanings (once a year) and surviving three different low-speed impacts with little cosmetic damage. Fuel mileage was reliably in the high twenties and it went to its next owner without so much as a single spot of rust.
Still, if one had to make a case against “the car that killed Mercury”, the Topaz would be, if not on trial, at least standing in the lineup of potential perps. Here’s why.
As a Ford salesman during the Year Of Our Lord 1995, I had very few scruples and fewer dreams. I did, however, have a few personal goals. One of them was to sell as many pink cars as possible. I convinced a woman shopping without her husband to order a pink Windstar. I checked “Rose Mist” by default on every 1996 Taurus order form that passed through my hands, relying on the customer to see the “mistake” and correct it. I even convinced a color-blind man to order the pinkish interior on a black 1996 Taurus station wagon, describing it to him as “a very vintage red, luxurious in tone and strongly reminiscent of a Sixties Rolls-Royce.” When his son came to pick up the car with him, he looked at me in a fashion I can only describe as “murderous”.
Another goal, known only to me: to never sell a Ford Aspire. At the time, I believed that Ford made a few good cars and a very good truck. I also believed that Kia had made a good car, and it was called the Ford Festiva. The Aspire, which succeeded the Festiva, was no successor at all, and certainly no success. Built on the bones of the perfectly-packaged little Korean “Ford” Festiva, it was heavier, slower, no more spacious, and strongly resembled a suppository when viewed in profile. It was also expensive when equipped with air conditioning and an automatic transmission. The dealer margin on the Aspire was about five hundred bucks between sticker and invoice, meaning that I could usually get customers into a far superior Escort LX, priced at invoice, for less than an additional grand.
After driving both cars, and seeing the vast difference between the competence of the Mazda-based ’95 Scort and the Kia-built ’95 Aspire, customers always chose the Escort. When I gave my two weeks’ notice at the dealership, I knew that I would leave the business with my Aspirations cheerfully unfulfilled. Less than ten days later, my dream crashed into the ground… with a tinny “clink”.
Wuchtig. I’m sitting, panting, trying to catch my breath on the side of a tiny two-lane road running through the vineyards of California’s Napa Valley. I’m in an American car. I haven’t spoken German regularly since I was 18. Adrenalin has chased everything resembling a coherent thought from my mind. And yet, strangely, the only thing left banging around my speed-addled skull is a single German adjective for which the English language has no translation: wuchtig.
I could bore you all with the long story of how I ended up in the check-cashing business — it involved an attack with a broomstick and a coffee mug — but instead we will simply join the action in medias res some time in 1996. I am standing on the used-car lot outside Welsh Enterprises choosing my XJ6. Bill Welsh, the owner, had just treated me to lunch at “Jaggin’ Around”, the restaurant he owned in Steubenville, Ohio. A millionaire several times over from his intelligent decision to purchase some sixty-odd E-Types for pennies on the dollar in the Seventies and resell them at top whack in the Eighties, he was cheerfully burning his afternoon as I drifted among no fewer than six solid-condition Series III Jags, none priced above $4995. Clearly, this was more about amusement than money.
So where were we? Oh yes. After wandering the earth (and working in a call center) for the first few months of 1995, I ended up at a very small Ford dealership located in the heart of Columbus, Ohio. On my first day, I was paired with another fellow who was also starting out at the dealership. I’ll call him… Rodney. He was an outgoing, cheerful thirty-one-year-old man who looked remarkably like the Colt 45-commercial-era Billy Dee Williams. Rodney was very interested in the dealership’s demo program, because he didn’t own a car. Every day he walked from his apartment a mile or so away, and every night he walked back home. The general manager took pity on him and broke the thirty-days-of-service-before-a-demo rule to put him in a Ranger Club Cab.
I started slowly at the dealership but by the time the 1996 model year rolled around I was regularly one of the top two or three guys on the board every month. More importantly, I was the most effective advocate in the shop for the Red Carpet Lease 24-month program. One month I moved 16 units and leased 14 of ’em. At least three of those were people I’d had to dissuade from writing me a check for the whole car on the spot. That’s right, I converted cash buyers to lessors. Why? There was a fifty-dollar spiff.
I was eventually rewarded for my performance by being permitted to order my own demo, just like the 55-year-old Brylcreemers who had been serving at the store since before ‘Nam. I knew exactly what I wanted. Start with a 1996 Thunderbird LX, black with beige interior. Add just three options: Compact disc player. Power Moonroof. And, most importantly, a 4.6 “mod motor”. The order was accepted at the factory. I was four weeks away from my ‘Bird. But Rodney had some other plans involving Ford’s aging coupe…
It’s hard to fault the 2010 Lexus ES 350. There is no hint of rattle. The suspension feels as though it would take the worst New England washboard roads with aplomb. The steering is responsive and precise, and the handling crisp at modestly extra-legal speeds on Clifton VA’s marvelously twisty, hilly byways, despite 3,600 lbs of mass–almost parsimonious in this age of bloat–although you get the feeling you might begin to push the limits of crisp if you go much faster around here.
Old Volvo’s don’t die. They just get increasingly decrepit. But they’re far from alone in my neck of the woods. Cars in North Georgia enjoy a low salt, smooth road diet that can keep even the worst vehicles roadworthy. Hyundai Excel? A dozen here and there. Old AMC Pacer? The weirdo down the the road has one. The paint may be toast, but the body’s intact. An early 1990’s Honda Accord? Well now we’re talking about what I lovingly call ‘a beater leader’. Like Waffle House, Baptist Churches and Kudzu, they’re everywhere.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, the Subaru Outback has long been one of the most ubiquitous cars on the road. From soccer moms to weed dealers to weed-dealing soccer moms, drizzle-belt car buyers bought the jacked-up AWD wagons in droves, presaging the modern mass-market craze for all things crossover. But in the transition from rough-and-ready station wagon to mainstream crossover, the latest Outback seems to have lost the magic that made it the vehicle of choice for Northwest families looking to retire the old Volvo wagon.
I have always had a soft spot for the post-war late 40s Detroit automobile look which looked eerily like the pre-war early 40s Detroit look. You can’t send Cadillacs into combat zones and DeSotos made poor amphibious assault vehicles, so Detroit became lead manufacturer for the war effort in 1941. Forget cars, the free world needed Sherman tanks until 1945. People just wanted cars in 1947 and supply fell well behind demand for the North American auto manufacturers. The 1947 market conditions must seem like a long lost beautiful dream for the former Big Three in 2009. But enough with the history lesson, I had a chance to test drive a very well preserved 1947 Dodge Regent with 38,000 original miles on it and I leapt at the opportunity. The car was a time capsule; complete with rear suicide doors, front and back vent windows instead of air conditioning, and human arms instead of signal lights.
The impressive 2010 Taurus made quite a few fans at the Don’t Call It The Detroit Auto Show, myself included. Ford’s new bull represents a solid vote of confidence in the concept of premium domestic-maker sedans, and it just might be the right car to make that idea work. Still, I can’t help but think back to the day Ford made the same gamble and lost heavily, just over thirteen years ago.
It’s ironic that on the same day Sajeev’s memory was jogged about driving one of the last built, dealer-lot-fermented Mercury Montegos in existence two years ago, I was piloting one of the last known Hertz-o-riffic Mercury Sables into its twilight. Again. Finally.
“Life’s too short to buy the same car twice,” I always say. As the owner of a 2002 Mustang, I figured it would be my last example of the stallion. It’s not that I dislike the car, but I still haven’t checked “German” off my automotive ownership list and I’m dying to do it soon. When I showed up to the rental counter and was presented with the choice of a base Grand Caravan and a spanking new Mustang GT with the much-publicized interior upgrades, I didn’t need to blink twice. Minutes later, Montreal was fading in the background. So how did the GT fare in forcing me to re-assess my edict? The truth is, the car delighted me in all the ways you’d expect.
Car manufacturers are toast! At least, that’s what members of the Electric Vehicle (EV) religion believe. A car maker’s core business is engines—but engines are over, they say. It’s 1910 all over again, and internal-combustion cars are going the way of the horse-drawn carriage. But I say: Wrong! The electric Twingo I drove proves that there is more to making a good drive than just getting the propulsion stuff right.
As previously reported, the Th!ink EV was a disappointment: feckless, lightweight-feeling, stiff-legged, wobbly. A real let-down when you consider that it was specifically designed for the requirements of electric power. So it was with some skepticism that I took the helm of a Renault Twingo that MES-DEA (a Swiss company) had turned into an EV.
What’s the deal with these small cars and their self-righteous names? I’m talking about the Smart, the iQ, and the Think. Does anybody really believe that making a car diminutive turns it into some kind of Einstein? If anything, I’d be happy if car makers showed they understand they have some really stupid machines out there. The Fiat Cretino, the Ford Fiasco, the Opel Idiot, the Mercury Moron: now that’d be Truth in Naming.
In order to show visiting US Air Force Academy cadets the wonders of Europe, I ditched my Carrera, whose back seats are merely a nice gesture, for a lumbering Mercedes-Benz GLK. After four hours of driving the speed limited Autoroutes, we arrived at the Eiffel Tower, to throngs of drunk rugby fans celebrating the USAP win that day. Leaving the Mardi Gras spectacle we wandered around the veritable maze of streets that constitute the Seventh Arrondissement. Dodging rugby hooligans whose intentions seemed suspect (as some of us were wearing the opposing team colors), I never expected to stumble upon something so beautiful, so elegant, so alien as a 1955 Bentley S1 Fastback Mulliner parked on a curb in a hidden away section of Paris.
I love the way the Volkswagen CC looks. It’s a perfectly proportioned pastiche of everything I admire about BMW, Mercedes and Audi design. The CC is as handsome as the priced-to-fail Phaeton, only more so. Inside, the seats alone are worth the price of admission: firm yet endlessly supportive. The CC’s toy count is high, the price affordable. And, yet, something’s missing. Other than reliability. It’s that vital mojo that makes the Jaguar XF such a joy to behold, and the Mercedes-Benz CLS the ultimate boulevardier. Let’s call it . . . an automatic gearbox.
The magic and deadly mystery of the Porsche 911 is simply this: take a wooden baseball bat, preferably one of those thirty-five-ounce Louisville Sluggers like McGwire might have swung, hold your palm out, place the thin end of the bat there, and balance it vertically by moving your hand back and forth. See how you have to move your hand quite a bit, at unpredictable and rapid intervals, to keep the heavy end from falling? The heavy end of the bat is the 911’s engine. The thin end, where you are working, is the steering. Got it? Now run.
200km/h ticked by on the digital speedo and I was still pressed into the sports seats. 230km/h flashed by, and the scenery of autobahn, cars, and trees started to blur. 260km/h rolled by and I started to think “Holy hell!”. At 303km/h I became a laser-guided Autobahn Cruise Missile. I swear I heard sonic booms echo off the Opels I passed. The Porsche and I were melded at this point, a human-machine interface so cohesive it would take three g’s of braking force from the vented discs to separate us. I thought I had found driving Nirvana at this point, but I was wrong.
So the United States finally gets the Nissan Cube, a funky, cool box. From initial impressions, it provides a unique and entertaining driving experience. Meanwhile, here in Western Europe, we get the Nissan Note, a Micra front-ended, Renault Modus-derived piece of crap. To say that I longed for a basic Ford Focus after driving this from Trier all the way to Maastricht, down to Luxembourg, and then back to Trier says a lot. The Note made me angry, so angry in fact that I actually contemplated sabotaging the thing so Sixt Car Rental would replace it. But then I realized they’d probably hand me the keys to yet another sour Note.
For the past 60 years or so, Fiat has had what amounted to a compulsive gambler’s business model: invest tons in one single car, cross fingers that it sells like hotcakes, and run the rest of the company with disinterest. This one-pony strategy has often delivered what, in the end, were the most desirable small cars of each decade. How else to describe the 1950’s 1100, the 1960’s 124, the 128 from the 70s or the Uno from the 80s? All, as well as the Punto from the 1990s and the Panda from the present decade, adhered to a simple but elusive formula: cheap to buy, brilliantly packaged, surprisingly robust, and a hoot to drive. (Most other Fiats, let’s not fail to mention, have been crap).
I had every intention of taking a Lincoln MKS for a spin. I couldn’t do it. The MKS dodging tumbleweeds in the showroom was ugly as sin and as cheap as chips. “Cheap” as in poorly designed and executed. The Monroney for Lincoln’s front wheel-drive, V6 flagship added up a bunch of numbers knocking on forty large. When I told the salesman I’d rather have two BMW E39 BMW M5s, he pointed me to the 46k-mile ’05 Lincoln LS V8 Sport busy putting flat spots on its tires. The sticker said something about $18K, but I got the distinct impression that a Salmon and some pocket lint would make her mine. But did I want her?
More than a few members of TTAC’s esteemed B&B have been clamoring for the European specification Ford Focus—ever since Ford decided the original was just fine for the non-discriminating American customer. “If you bring it, they will buy it” our commentariot railed at the Powers That Be. Well, after sampling the latest basic Focus, I can tell you that the Euro Focus sucks just like the American Focus, just not quite as much.
For most American enthusiasts, the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 will always live in the shadow of the mighty E30 M3. Although Mercedes was first to the sixteen-valve party, the US variant of the “Cosworth Benz” was slower, more expensive and infinitely more staid-looking than the iconic four-cylinder Bimmer. History’s verdict regarding the two cars is written on the Internet—the E30 has high residuals, fanatical owners and its own Special Interest Group of the BMWCCA. The 2.3-16 languishes in Craiglist ads, covered in rust, fraught with deferred maintenance. Shame.
“My friend at [Hyundai Motor Company] was as excited about having me sample the new Genesis Coupe as I was to slide behind the wheel. I finished my official Hyundai factory tour, stepped off the bus (within the plant confines) and there she was: the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Bewildered Korean tourists gawked as I was formally introduced to South Korea’s next big thing. They hope.
In theory, the Oldsmobile Aurora started something great for the GM’s Rocket division. In reality, the car that re-invigorated this brand died by the system that created it. Though Oldsmobile saw the writing on the wall, they didn’t go down without a fight. As the first TV spot proclaimed, “See what happens when you demand better?”
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- MaintenanceCosts We hear endlessly from the usual suspects about the scenarios where EVs don't work as well as gas cars. We never hear the opposite side of the coin. From an EV owner (since 2019) who has a second EV reserved, here are a few points the "I road trip 1000 miles every day" crowd won't tell you about:[list][*]When you have a convenient charging situation, EV fueling is more convenient than a gas car. There is no stopping at gas stations and you start every day with a full tank.[/*][*]Where there are no-idling rules (school pickup/dropoff, lines for ferries or services, city loading, whatever else) you can keep warm or cool to your heart's content in your EV.[/*][*]In the cold, EVs will give you heat from the second you turn them on.[/*][*]EVs don't care one bit if you use them for tons of very short trips. Their mechanicals don't need to boil off condensation. (Just tonight, I used my EV to drive six blocks, because it was 31 degrees and raining, and walking would have been unpleasant.)[/*][*]EVs don't stink and don't make you breathe carcinogens on cold start.[/*][*]EV maintenance is much less frequent and much cheaper, eliminating almost all items having to do with engine, transmission, or brakes in a gas car. In most EVs the maintenance schedule consists of battery coolant changes and tire maintenance.[/*][*]You can accelerate fast in EVs without noisily attracting the attention of the cops and every passerby on the street.[/*][/list]
- MaintenanceCosts Still can't get a RAV4 Prime for love or money. Availability of normal hybrid RAV4s and Highlanders is only slightly better. At least around here I think Toyota could sell twice the number of vehicles that they are actually bringing in at the moment.
- Tree Trunk Been in the market for a new Highlander Hybrid, it is sold out with order time of 6 months plus. Probably would have bit the bullet if it was not for the dealers the refuse to take an order but instead want to sell from allotment whether it fits or not and at thousands over MRSP.
- AKHusky The expense argument is nonsense. My mach e was $42k after tax credit. Basically the same as similarly equipped edge. And it completely ignores that the best selling vehicles are Rams, F150s, and Silverados, all more expensive that a bolt, MAch e or ID4. As an owner, I'd say they are still in second car territory for most places in the country.
- Johnster I live in a red state and I see quite a few EVs being purchased by conservative, upper-class Republicans (many of them Trump-supporters). I suspect that it is a way for them to flaunt their wealth and that, over time, the preference for EVs will trickle down to less well-off Republicans.