Ten Opinions Held By Most Automotive Journalists With Which I Disagree
The Four Wheel Drift from Apex Marketing Strategy
You'd think he's the Anti-Christ from what auto journalist wrote about his work, but they're plain wrong.
Former BMW Styling Chief Chris Bangle (pictured on the right with Four Wheel Drift author Sam Barer
at the unveiling of the Pininfarina Hyperion)
found his controversial designs copied by almost every major automaker.
If you read the all the major car publications it's easy to get the feeling that all automotive journalists agree on everything. When journalists sing universal praise, throw jeers or are notoriously silent it's hard for readers to disregard.
There are plenty of conspiracy theories that blame editors beholden to advertisers scaring writers into not even trying to say something good about one car or bad about another. Personally, I buy more into the explanation of groupthink, as it's easy to be confident in your opinion when others have come to the same conclusion time and time again.
I, however, being totally independent (not to mention subtle-as-a-chainsaw) have no problem saying where I differ from the rest. So here is my list of Top Ten Automotive Things About Which I Disagree With My Colleagues.
10) Chrysler 300C: I've owned plenty of Chryslers in my time, so maybe this is why I approached the 300C with a more critical eye. Consequently, I never liked the 300C (and its lesser variations) as much as the rest of the automotive journalists.
Everyone else saw a good-looking car with ample power from the "Hemi V8". I saw past the nice styling and focused on a huge car with sub-Honda Accord-sized leg and knee room (courtesy of typically ultra-thick, but not very comfortable front seats). As nice as the Hemi (sans hemispherical combustion chambers) was, it couldn't overcome the totally numb steering and spongy braking that made the car feel cumbersome. Plus, as someone who lived through Chrysler ownership, there was always the certainty that the 300C would be just like Chrysler's other vehicles -- engineered at low cost to ensure high failures, which would only be made worse by one of the most poorly trained dealer service networks in America.
9) Audi Interiors: Most automotive journalists go weak in the knees over Audi's so-called best-in-class ergonomics. When I drive an Audi, only my eyes are affected, thanks to the navigation readout located between the speedo and tach. Given the difference in depth between the gauges, bezels and readout it is damn near impossible to maintain focus while the car is in motion. Reading the gauges or screen actually gives me a headache.
Furthermore, Audi interiors have always seemed bland to me from a style perspective. Sure, they work well and are screwed-together nicely (much better than the rest of the cars), but given the quality and ergonomic increases by other makes, I wouldn't place them above Lexus or Mercedes.
8) The Newest Buick I'll admit that haven't driven the new Regal yet...nor did I drive the LaCrosse. The basis of my inclusion on this list, however, is that the major automotive press is going ga-ga over the looks of recent Buicks. The Lacrosse and Regal have been called everything from "strong" to "gorgeous", but to me they already look dated and characterless. Either would have been great eight years ago, but now they are as alluring as a new pair of white gym socks. As I've maintained for years, if Buick wants to earn its 1950's reputation back, it needs to be far better across-the-board than the competition with undeniable sexy looks, strong performance, spotless quality, and real luxury. Actually, had GM badged all current Cadillacs (like the CTS and STS) with the Buick emblem and then filled its Caddy dealerships with Mercedes S-class and BMW 7 Series level vehicles, the corporation would be in much better shape.
7) Honda Accord: The Accord is one of the most overlooked vehicles in all of automobile journalism. During the horsepower race of the new millennium, the Accord just didn't have the raw numbers to impress. Consequently, journalists tended to pooh-pooh (or not even review) the Accord in favor of more powerful and in-your-face-styled vehicles like the Chrysler 300C and Ford Taurus SHO.
The fact of the matter is that the Accord is still a sales success simply because it delivers what other mid-sized sedans don't: great space utilization, comfortable and supportive seats, ample power, and a chassis so perfectly balanced that it seems to be able to handle another 200 horsepower without breaking a sweat. Oh, and it won't break the bank when you buy one or decide to add that extra horsepower via an amazing aftermarket.
6) Chevy Volt: Most automotive journalists talk about the Chevy Volt in the same breath as other alternative fuel-powered vehicles the Prius, Tesla, Ford Escape Hybrid...and that's about as accurate as putting Evageline Lilly in with Barbara Mikulski and Nurse Ratched 'cause they all happen to be women. The Volt is a true game-changer, period, and has yet to be treated as such in the press.
The Tesla (and Nissan Leaf) are limited-use image toys, because the owner would still require another car in the garage for any trip out of state. The Ford Escape and Toyota Prius deliver MPG still below what was available in the 1950s, so there is nothing impressive -- only that they are the best in their current classes. Only the Volt provides gas-less driving for the average American commute with the flexibility of going cross-country should that strike the owner's fancy. And before you bash the relatively expensive $40K go-to-market price, the Volt technology will soon be in every front-wheel-drive vehicle GM makes, including it's cheapest products.
5) Chevy Corvette: Just once I'd like to read an article about the Corvette without seeing "unrefined" somewhere in it. There's no doubt that most of Chevy's products over the last 100 years have been unrefined -- especially the fourth-generation ('84-'96) Corvettes. the sixth-generation cars (and even the C5s) are no less refined than Porsche 911s. I've owned Corvettes and Porsches...I've driven brand-spanking-new 911s right after turning off the key in Corvettes, and the difference is either negligible or non-existent in most aspects.
For instance, the Corvette often gets hammered for its suspension, but the very same magnetic ride control found in Corvettes is used in Ferraris. As for the interior, no matter how you look at it, the Porsche is nothing to write home about. More importantly, from a pure control placement and functionality standpoint, the Corvette is light-years ahead of the 911 in ergonomics. 911 has Corvette beat solidly with seats, though.
Unrefined is generally used as a buzzword for domestic cars. It really means one of two things: no overhead cam engine, or in the case of the Mustang, no independent rear suspension...it's the automotive version of the political catchphrase "Northeastern Elite", which is used instead of saying New York Jews and New England Catholics. People need to get over the bench-racing specification pushrod-vs-OHC thing, as both are technologies first used in production cars over a century ago! It just so happens that the pushrod engines in Corvettes offer light weight, short profiles, smooth idle, and enough power to shoot a plastic-fantastic four-wheeler from naught to 175 mph in less time than it would take most journalists to write a short paragraph.
4) Chevy Camaro: I've just given Chevy props, but now I'm going to bring 'em back down to Earth. The motoring press loves the new Camaro. I think it's a disaster, but maybe that's because I have a business degree with a marketing concentration from one of those Northeastern Elite universities.
Let me clarify, though. The car's performance credentials are astounding. It appears to be relatively well screwed-together. I even like the interior in it, although the exterior looks goofy to me -- ungainly and way too 1969 Camaro for me. (Actually, I generally call it a '69 Camaro hit hard with a "new millennium retro gimmick stick".)
The Camaro started out in 1967 as a competitor in the pony car market with the Mustang that could satisfy the needs of the newly hired secretary just as well as it could the weekend racer or entry-level businessman with a family. In 1967 it was one of the best options for 16-28 year olds.
The target age for a sporty coupe buyer hasn't changed much at all in forty years. While GM styled the new Camaro to look like the 1967-1969 F-body, this appeals primarily to those who were in the target age range forty years ago. Of that population, only a tiny percentage are still in the market for a sporty coupe.
The Camaro might be able to run to sixty in the mid-four-second range. It also might be able to run the quarter in the low 13s, stop and turn like a junior Corvette, and give a nostalgic flutter to the good ol' boys in GM's board room and motoring press' editorial offices. Unfortunately, prime young coupe buyers are choosing Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas, VW Jettas, and Subaru Imprezas, because these are products designed for their targets, not their manufacturer's executives or the vocal gray-haired car club members.
Hopefully Subaru won't make the mistake of creating a 2040 WRX STi that looks just like the 2010 model!
3) Audi R8: Why my automotive journalist colleagues have a love affair with this car, I'll never understand. The R8 offers just enough performance not to be embarrassing, just enough styling as to not offend (it's nowhere near as sexy as the A5/S5!), and just enough reliability and practicality to make people buy it. It's the Toyota Camry of supercars, for god's sake!
2) Honda Odyssey: It's the best family utility car on the planet if you need more than five seats or large capacity for moving crap. It's far more fun to drive than any SUV -- or the Sienna, for that matter. It's comfortable (really take a look at how much middle and rear seat leg room exist in most "crossovers"), reliable, gets great gas mileage for its size, does well in the snow with suitable tires and is a freaking bargain compared to anything remotely comparable. The only thing it doesn't do well is tow.
For being the best minivan/people hauler on the planet, you can count the Odyssey's shout-outs by automotive journalists without hitting double digits.
1) Bangle-penned Bimmers: Journalists threw eggs at Chris Bangle, BMW's former styling chief, like they were short-order cooks standing over a hot grill on Sunday morning. Everyone seemed to hate the Bangle-butt on the 745i and the derivative styling that soon appeared on the 5 and 3 series cars. But as I told Chris while at a reception at Pebble Beach in 2008, the fact that literally every major automaker copied his styling cues (including cars the motoring press seemed to love), this means he was like every successful artist -- ahead of his time.
And for those of my colleagues that wanted him out: have ya seen the new post-Bangle 3-series? If the 2011 3-Series coupe and convertible were any blander, they'd be sold in a package with Saltines and Jell-O to stomach flu sufferers.
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