I try hard to be objective concerning cars: when it comes to people who will only buy American cars or snobby folks who insist on all-Japanese-all-the-time, I am an equal opportunity misanthrope. I have no loyalty to my Motor City hometown nor do I have any designed preference for foreign cars.
As to American cars, what the heck is going on with automotive designers, anyways? Most new cars nowadays are butt-ugly monstrosities. Hideous. Nasty. Cardboard boxes on 18-inch wheels. Have you noticed how so many cars are oversized, boxy, chopped, and hyper-aggressive? Of course, the poor taste of the masses — got to love those focus groups — accounts for the comical, aggressive appearance these cars are sporting nowadays. Elephantine, gawdy grilles. Boxy, bulbous rear ends. Overly-square fender lines. Short-and-chopped windows. Huge wheels that are obnoxious and dreadful. DaimlerChrysler is a leader in the field of shoddy exterior design. What junk!
I’ve had an opportunity to drive a lot of newer vehicles, lately, which is how I came about putting these comments together. Not only did I recently conduct a long search for a new car, but I tend to travel and thus rent cars quite often. My new car search turned up only a few interesting prospects, at least compared to my old GMC, extended-cab, 4×4 Hillbilly Cadillac with a quarter-million miles on it. That was the greatest vehicle ever. It took beatings of the worst sort yet drove like a Cadillac — even with a full off-road suspension package on it. Not a single peep from the engine during all those miles. The truck cost me $100/month for maintenance costs, with no monthly payment for many years. What a bargain. That truck was a poster child for Gary Northanomics.
American cars of glorious quality include the pickup trucks and Chrysler vans. The minivan is one the greatest American ideas of the modern era. I recently drove a 6-year-old Chrysler Town & Country with 100,000 miles on it, and it drove superbly, as with all Chrysler vans. At 90 mph, on the freeway, not a shake or shiver in that thing.
Now for the bad news. Right after driving the Chrysler van I had to rent a Dodge Caliber for a couple of days. It was brand new and had 4,000 miles on it. The vehicle shape is aggressively square, with chopped windows, ridiculous lines, and huge, hideous wheels that will make any gangbanger proud. This car was the biggest piece of rubbish I have ever driven. Just horrifying. Design-wise, it can only appeal to people with undemanding taste who like that cheaply-done, “intimidating” look. And to drive it? First off, the windows are cut so high and so short, you cannot see out of the thing. With the seat adjusted all the way upward, my eyes were at a height below the top of the dash. I could not see the hood or the car’s front end. It’s not a "short" problem — I just talked to someone else who, at 6’2″, said the same thing about the car’s visibility factor.
The car’s transmission whined and whirred each time it accelerated, at least until it made a couple of shifts. The whining was dragging on the car’s acceleration, and it was also loud and irritating. The transmission shifted hard and lurched the car slightly forward with each shift. My guess is that most people will simply ignore this and not be bugged by it. The seats were made of this really hard foam covered in some kind of unpleasantly cheap cloth material. My old Schwinn Stingray had a better seat than this rig. I felt like I was sitting on a cement porch covered in indoor-outdoor carpeting. And you know how when you take off the doors lock automatically? In my car it’s a very slight click that is almost inaudible. In this thing it was a huge CLUNK. CLUNK, it went, each time the doors locks. CLUNK. I laughed. The first time I heard it, I thought someone had thrown a rock at the car. The mechanism is one cheap piece of crap. Plus, the car’s whole interior was fashioned from huge pieces of hard, ugly, textured plastic. Nothing inside the car reeked of comfort or class. The only thing I liked about the car: glow-in-the-dark rings on the outside of the cup holders, so you could find them at night!
When I returned the Caliber to the car rental agency, I heard a customer asking for a rental: “anything but that Dodge Caliber.” I asked her about it, and she told me she hated it, too. The agent told me that almost no one liked them. How in the heck are the car companies selling this JUNK? Of course, so many people only care about one thing: I want a new car, now, and I can afford the monthly payment. They care little about real quality for the long-term. Abundant credit and artificially-low interest rates have skewed the way we view automobile purchases. A new car every two or three years is not uncommon.
It’s not just the Dodge Caliber — this is my experience with most American cars that I have driven. Most of them are terribly disappointing. Exterior designs have truly reached a low point. I am tired of seeing old men looking ridiculous in their hip-hop-styled cars. Whatever happened to the classy, low-profile designs of the not-so-distant past? In addition, the interiors in many new cars are overdone with ultra-cheap plastic, and everything squeaks on top of it. The seats are awful, door designs are clunky and uninviting, and dashboard designs are rather chintzy.
I’ve driven a Subaru or two, a Mitsubishi, some Hondas, Toyotas, and the Nissan Altima. These strike me as better cars with some high-quality engineering. People I know who are engineers in the auto industry — who are not tied to any car company — tell me that Japanese cars are clearly the runaway winner in terms of design and engineering quality. American cars, it seems, are being thrown into production to try and capitalize on the buying spree fueled by cheap credit and instant loans. The Jeep Compass, for instance. What a piece of junk — but it’s considered to be an “inexpensive” 4×4 that everyone can afford. And it shows. I drove one and it sucked. And they aren’t exactly inexpensive, either. But wait — the Cadillac Escalade, a favored vehicle for people who like to spend more than they have, is, in my mind, the most obnoxious vehicle ever, unless you count the Escalade EXT. The ugliest car ever. Now don’t get me wrong — the Japanese, I notice, are starting to follow American car manufacturers by copying the boxy, aggressive designs. For instance, most of the Japanese pickup trucks are now sporting rather dreadful shapes, too. Folly must be contagious.
In case you haven’t heard, Chrysler just announced that it is going to discontinue four of its models. The Dodge Magnum, perhaps the most absurd of all Chrysler cars, just came out for the 2005 model year, and that is already being tossed into the dustbin of mediocrity. The Chrysler Pacifica, introduced in 2004, is also biting the dust. Do us all a favor and add the cheesy Chrysler 300 to that list.
When the cheap credit is no longer available, and proper credit standards appear on the horizon once again, my guess is that these mass-appeal, second-rate American cars will cease to exist, and quickly. These cars are simply intended to allow everyone to have a new car every two years while we ride the tide of Federal Reserve-induced depravity.