Sunday, December 07, 2008

Why do some cars still suck?

Here we are with 2009 just around the block, and there are still American cars in production that are absolute crap. Why is this? Better yet, why do some people BUY the bloody things?

Several weeks ago some cell-phone-addled operator of a motor vehicle managed to scratch up the bumper of my Legacy Wagon in the post office parking lot. If they even noticed the contact between the 2 vehicles, I'm guessing they didn't stop to look for damage or decided they could get away with it, so they buggered off. I wish them a plague of boils.

At any rate, having that repaired gave me the "opportunity" to sample one of the worst cars I've driven in years. While my insurance company was willing to pay for a car like a Fusion or a Malibu, the best that Enterprise had available (without forcing me to pay extra) was a 2008 Chrysler Sebring. This was a relatively fresh car, with about 10,000 miles on the clock.

Let me start by saying I've never been a fan of the current Sebring's styling, and I think the automotive press is unanimously behind me on that front. The car is ill-proportioned with some strange detailing, like the longitudinal lines in the hood that were a much more coherent design element on the Crossfire when it was designed EIGHT YEARS AGO. Not every design element on low-volume halo cars constitute a styling signature for the company. There are, however, some frumpy-looking vehicles that turn out to be quite decent cars. The shoe-box styling of the previous generation Malibu hid a car that was at least efficient and functional, even though it wasn't going to excite anyone. The equally frumpy Ford 500/neo-Taurus is also a much better car that its looks make you think.

The Sebring isn't hiding an automotive gem under its clunky styling, though. Clunky is in fact an excellent adjective for it. The flaccid automatic transmits power delivered in a groaning, wheezy manner to tires offering all the traction of teflon on cowshit. The suspension manages to be both floaty and coarse, and I'm still trying to figure out HOW one does that. The trunk was adequate in size, but ridiculous in access since the lid is proportioned almost like a mail-slot... the back window extends so far rearward that almost all of the trunk space is inconvenient to reach, and there wasn't a single hook or cubbyhole for securing the silly kinds of things people carry in the trunk of their cars, like GROCERIES.

When I look at the problem from an intellectual point of view, I realize that there would be a very negative impact on the economy to let Chrysler fail. When I look just at the merits of what they're offering for sale these days, I think there would be a net positive effect on the mix of CARS available for sale. Sell them to PSA Peugeot Citroen and let them bring us some interesting French strangeness... sell them to a Chinese company and let them at least build cheap bad cars instead of bad cars masquerading as decent transportation. Just don't make me DRIVE one again.

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