Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)
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Tuesday, November 18, 2003
So now, let’s see, what went on this past weekend?
Of what I can remember, I know there was the car show Friday evening.
WARNING: REALLY LONG, BORING, CAR TALK FOLLOWING—Scroll Way Down If Such Talk is Bothersome
Marc commented down below wondering what all I would have to do to make up to Reba for dragging her along to this little shindig, but I am blessed with a woman who, although she can’t tell the difference between cars without reading the little nameplate, nonetheless likes looking at cars and stuff almost as much as looking at shoes. So, no having to go see a chick movie or stuff like that for me! (Although I made the mistake of allowing her to sit in a Lexus ES330 that she seemed to enjoy rubbing on much more than she likes rubbing on me.)
My Friend Jeff Who Hates Sugarmama showed up right on time and he and Reba and I strolled in and up the stairs in the posh East Exhibition hall. First stop was at the Toyota stand to pick up a plastic sack for brochures. Jeff and his wife have decided to get a Sienna in a couple of months after their new offspring arrrives, but he wanted to look once more with some help from minivan-blessed me to make sure he had made the right choice.
BUT, we’ll get that in a bit—first, a disclaimer—this is not one of those shows like Geneva or Paris or Detroit or Schenectady where automakers spend millions and clamor to outdo one another in presenting their visions of the future—this is basically a thinly-disguised dealer lot. The car dealers are supposed to be there just to offer information, but a few get a little too gabby and glad-handy and car-dealery. Blech. Second, my opinions below are based upon a few minutes looking around each vehicle and trying to tear up the doohickies inside, not any sort of exhaustive testing and evaluation. Third, I am not being compensated by any manufacturer, although I would certainly not turn down any interesting offers of remuneration. For enough money, I would even say how pretty and interesting the Pontiac Aztek is—and then, I would be even richer than Bill Gates.
Honda—The Odyssey soldiers on, but is ready for some updating of the whiz-bang, gimcrack bits when compared to the Sienna. ’05 should leapfrog Toyota, but for now, overall design logic, quality of materials and finishes is still top of class. S2000—way cool for a toy, and with more of them there torques this year, much less peaky and easier to live with. Still will not carry a 4x8 sheet of plywood or a loader scoop of gravel. Element—Made comment to Jeff that I had seen a quote from Bob Lutz on the unconventional styling of the Element, generally to the effect that if the Aztek had a Honda nameplate, they would have sold all they made. For someone who is purported in the industry to be GM’s savior, such words from Lutz make me think he has been assimilated by the Mark of Excellence Borg Collective.
Although the Element is not conventionally attractive, and aimed at a youthful demographic target market that never asked for such a vehicle and has not overwhelmed dealerships, it still has some design integrity to its appearance, and the quality of interior materials and trimwork is impeccable. The Aztek on the other hand (no offense to any of you who just dearly love its exciting, edgy style) looks like something that stopped up someone’s septic tank. Putting a Honda badge on it would have worked for a little while, but only until all the goodwill of the name had been wasted. It is telling that the new GTO arrives with no Pontiac nomenclature.
Ford—New F-150, mmmm. Nice interiors, possibly too nice to put your boots in after slogging through the hog pen, but nice. There was one model there with leather seats that felt like the finest furniture you could buy. Niiiiiice. Ford 49 Showcar—interesting. Pretty paint, elegant. Seems to be a wonderful waste of money. Freestar—The replacement for the Windstar, and the single biggest disappointment of the whole place. Interior plastic is of a quality that initially gave rise to the idea that “plastic” is a synonym for “cheap.” I’ve seen better looking fit and finish and quality on toy cars. My ancient F-100, enduring more than twenty years of Brutal Alabama Summers, has a better looking dashboard cover.
You know, the minivan was invented over twenty years ago, and after all that time, Ford seems to have not learned a SINGLE thing. It’s as if they bought a ’84 Caravan out of a junkyard and expended much money and effort into replicating it. It DOES have a folding third row seat, however, one nod to modern thinking. Chrysler will be going to this next year, maybe. In its initial testing of such a configuration, Chrysler rejected folding the back seat down because they believed it created too much interior noise. Consumers appreciate not having to lug around or store the seat, though, and Mopar has been slow to pick up on this preference.
One of the interesting things I noted in the Ford and Toyota camps is that they have picked up on the idea of flopping the rear seat over unfolded, so that the back rests on the bumper. You can do this and have a nice little bench to watch the kids play at the park or have a tailgate party or whatever. Honda’s third row seat has always been able to do this, although I believe this was an accidental discovery by owners, rather than an original intent of the designers. But since then, now it seems everyone wants to tout it in their advertising—Ford even has a trademark name for it, Tailgate Bench SeatTM. Whatever. Mustang—couldn’t get close to Mach 1 due to teeming swarm of small boys.
Kia—you know, looking at the quality of materials and styling, these really are pretty good. If you don’t have a lot of dough, and are willing to help them build some equity in the U.S. market, and would rather spend your money on something with a ridiculously long warranty rather than on a four-year-old Toyota or Honda, these might be for you.
Dodge—Hemis galore! Although I have to say this, this is the least impressive looking Hemi you are likely to see. Not having seen any really good shots of the engine, I was disappointed that most of the top half is covered over with intake shrouding and junk, and the valve covers are all hidden and meek looking—nothing like the intimidating physical presence of the old Elephant. Or even the Wedges with Ram Induction. All reports seem to point to them being good engines, though.
There were some Dodge cars there, too, but we just played in the trucks and in the Dodge Strider. These are just as ugly in person as was the one I saw getting taken to our friendly local conversion place. One nice feature on the model on display was a solid partition between the cab and the box, which would do wonders for damping down the sound of arguments among rowdy children.
Toyota—Camry still nice, Mister Two still rather chunky looking, Scion Xa and Xb annoying answers to questions no one asked—sort of like some really weird guy on the streetcorner screaming at people only he can see. Nicely finished. Stupid center mounted speedometers MUST DIE!! This is another one of those things that car designers apparently believe marks them as iconoclastic and forward thinking. Rather, it simply is annoying—the auto equivalent of Cruel Shoes.
Sienna is a very good van—for me, though, too many odd Scion-esque sorts of things that just don’t appeal to me—the dashboard-mounted shifter, weird little geegaws, odd choices of option packages, the blindingly glossy black plastic surround around the central cluster (cheaper version—upscale one has wood from the Plastic Forest). Still a fine vehicle when it comes to being screwed together well and assembled from high-quality parts. Prius—Sleek, uptight, urbanchick in a black ensemble giving spiel on hybrid powerplant. Interesting, I’ve-seen-the-future sort of shamanistic magic. Would have preferred presenter more along the lines of Daisy Fuentes rather than Lilith Sternin-Crane.
Chysler/Jeep—Crossfire looks wonderful in person. Sitting in it is much like sitting in a coffin (not that I have done the latter). Just a little too claustrophobia-inducing, but nice sculpture. Sebring convertible actually very nice. PTs still have some attraction powers, if for no other reason than they make people who hate cars foam at the mouth with their dual ‘it’s a car’/it’s a truck’ status under the EPA/NHTSA. Reba thinks they look like turds. Suggest that Highland Park Boys install Hemi, 6-71 blower, and rear drive—think of an Anglia Gasser.
Nissan—Quest—Absolute hatred for an inanimate object is a sign of mental illness. So I will say that Nissan’s take on the minivan does not engender my absolute hatred, but it comes awfully close with its pointlessness-disguised-as-deep-thought design ideas. 350Z is very cool, although I like the 2+2 Infiniti version better. New full-size Titan pickemup truck—wow. Beautiful materials and workmanship, but sitting in it, it still felt smaller than comparable domestic trucks. Part of this might be the current, bunker-like greenhouses favored by designers who think it’s cool to drive a bunker. The windshield header swoops down low, and the window sills are high—then again, I could be spoiled by the light and airy cab of my 1982 F-100. SE-R Spec V—an incredible perfomance bargain in small sedans. Gives up a lot of power to WRXs and Lancer Evos, but for those who like good solid performance in a nicely appointed small sedan, this one is hard to beat. Maxima—“The Four Door Sports Car” decorated with grille from ’59 Buick. Yikes.
Volkswagen—Jettas are very serious little cars, New Beetles are not. I prefer the Jetta. Especially when compared to the Beetle Cabriolet, which has its upper body sills finished in something like shower stall fiberglass. Touareg—fantastically capable on- and off-roader. Why buy a Cayenne? I have heard all the arguments for the Cayenne, and in the end, none of them really make any sense to me, other than Porsche just wanted to make some money in the SUV/Dutch tulip craze. Why not make a Porsche pickup truck? A Porsche minivan? A Porsche economy car? In the end, the Touareg does most of the same things the Cayenne does, for 20,000 fewer clams—no, it doesn’t have The Shield and does give up some top end to the Cayenne, but I see the big Volks bringing some value to their lineup, and the Cayenne diluting Porsche’s resources on something far afield from their core competence. Oh, well, it’s not like I can afford either one.
Volvo—With all the retro craze within the industry, it would be nice if they reintroduced the PV544.
Supper Break! Very incredibly expensive cheeseburgers. Lots of onions. Bad news.
Chevrolet—Lil’ Colorado trucks are pretty okay—they show some effort within GM to produce something with some common sense in the design, and some attention to product quality. Something missing from several other offerings. Big trucks still doing just fine with makeover from last year. Impala, Monte Carlo, Aveo, Malibu. All of these were at the show. SSR—very cool in the Plymouth Prowler, factory kustom rod, sort of way. Expensive, and heavy as lead underwear—4,760 pounds (!). Why does it have to be so stinking heavy? (Then again, it does weigh less than a granite monument of the Ten Commandments, and it will move under its own power.) Corvette—about to be replaced with next generation—would not turn down a new convertible if it were offered, but I continue to pine away for a nice 1967 small block roadster.
Cadillac—Standard of the World? Please. New DTS sitting there on the floor with the sunroof open. Headliner not attached anywhere around opening; flimsy, spring-loaded deal on front edge of sunroof wiggles and flops with effort of only single finger. Both will conspire on the twisty roads shown in vigorous, youthful Cadillac commercials to cause much annoying rattleslamming noises in real life, not at all in keeping with a car that pretends to this price class, and in fact, no different from the sunroof treatment found on the Saturn. XLR shows great promise, but knowing that it probably shares some of the same obvious corner-cutting found on the other cars in the stable makes one want to wait a couple of years before taking the plunge. Escalade—similar to the case of the Cayenne, why buy one of these when you could get the exact same quality of materials and construction in a Chevy Suburban? I understand the snob factor, and needing something to transport your posse back and forth to your crib, and it does make money for Caddy when nothing else is—but still, what happens when the SUV bubble bursts? Is Caddy going to stand around and blush like it did with the Cimmaron, or the Allante, or the Catera?
Saturn—Roger Smith’s idea for General Motors to out-Honda Honda. Generally do a pretty good job of emulating the quality of a fifteen-year-old Honda. Owners love ‘em, proving that if you take care of your customer, they will forgive much.
Buick—Ranier. Oh please. All the same quality as a Chevy Trailblazer, with a hefty we-gotta-pay-Tiger Woods surcharge. Good thing Harley Earl is dead, or this would kill him. Everything else in the lineup perfect for doing to Buick what has already been done to Oldsmobile.
Pontiac—GTO. Don’t really care too much that there’s no hood scoop, although without it, it seems more like a Le Mans GT than a GTO. The name is venerated, but those who decry its use for the modern version probably don’t remember the Ventura-based 1974 GTO. If anything did something to sully the name, that was it. As it is, it’s a seriously hot vehicle, even if among the Goatly faithful it doesn’t pay enough homage to the original.
Lexus—As mentioned previously, Reba found a silver ES330 that she became very attached to. The IS330 is very racy, and attracted many young, squealy, college girls. I got to sit in it after a pod of them scampered off somewhere else, and the seat was still warm. Someone could make some good money if they could figure out a way to put that on an option sheet.
BMW—A lot of agonized ink has been shed over Chris Bangle’s “freshening” of the BMW lineup. It’s not really so bad, other than aside from the fact that since the 1600 (New Class) model, BMWs have had a very purposeful look—thin pillars, the dogleg in the C pillar, the taut beltline, the double kidney grille. Bangle’s mucking about with the silhouette seems to be purposed only on the proposition of changing for the sake of change—the bustle-back trunk especially seems an ill-advised move that makes the 7 and 5 series much too close visually to the 1980 Cadillac Seville. The Whirling Propeller Faithful seem to take consolation in the fact that you don’t have to look at them when you’re inside, and inside is indeed a wondrous (and expensive) place. I would REALLY like to have an M3, which still is unBangleated. Maybe when I get my book deal advance.
Lincoln—Aviator—big, expensive, Expedition. Again, as with all the high-dollar SUVs based on cheaper models, why do this to yourself?
Jaguar— XJ8 Vanden Plas. I want one, but I want them to put the dual chrome gas fillers back on.
Mazda— RX-8—Drive the car that Glenn Reynolds drives! Interesting in person—much smaller than I thought it would be and a bit overwhelming with all the styling themes carried into the cockpit. The new Renesis version of the rotary is so simple and elegant in its change of the porting to the sides of the rotors, it makes you wonder what took them so long to figure it out. Thousands of scorched apex seals ask the same question. Miatas still cute, would still like to have one even if it makes me look like an aging poof, but would be sure to swap in a 302 and a five-speed. MPV still hanging on—has been updated to look less like a mommymobile, winds up looking a bit more like a butch mommymobile. 3 and 6 both look very nice, especially the 6.
And there you go—everything you didn’t want to know, lovingly detailed in only 2800 words.
We closed the place up at ten p.m., and dropped off Jeff and a load of magazines at his car, which he had parked way up the block under the Interstate where lurk strangers and panhandlers. Gave him a giant stack of stuff this time. I got NOTHING!! I cursed him loudly, and smote him sorely. Then said goodbye and headed home.
NEXT: Why does my throat feel funny?
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