(Last) Weekly Roundup: The Drive-Through Edition

In the words of the great Detroit-area bard, it seems like yesterday / but it was long ago. On Tuesday, September 23, 2008, I drove over to Midwestern Auto Group in Dublin, Ohio and signed the papers on my vaguely-famous lime-green Audi S5. As excited as I was about the car, it was just one in a long string of deliveries from that store, starting with my four-speed Fox in the spring of 1990 and encompassing about a dozen cars in the eighteen years that followed. Volkswagens, Rovers, Audis, a Saab, a Bimmer. My mentor and business partner of a decade ago was an even more dedicated customer, signing at least one but usually two leases per year there. It wasn’t just his company cars, of which he usually had three at any given moment. Every time he broke up with a woman, this deeply sentimental fellow would lease her a BMW or Volvo convertible as a parting gift, leading to no shortage of jokes on my part about these chicks “upgrading their rides”. My father, too, was a frequent flier at “MAG”. We knew the general manager, the service writers, the top-performing salespeople, and the occasionally fascinating dealership owner. It seemed reasonable to assume that I would continue to be one of the store’s best customers for a long time to come.

Do you remember / the twenty-third day of September, ten years ago? I do now, because that was the end of the party, and I never bought a car from Midwestern Auto Group again.

It wasn’t their fault. Not entirely, anyway. Sure, their VW service department repeatedly set new standards for feckless inadequacy when it came to my Phaetons, and the general manager flat-out refused to help me when I need a dealership to CPO-approve the aforementioned green Audi for sale to its next owner, but those were venial, not mortal, sins. In truth, I was the one who drifted away from them, not the other way ’round. My son arrived, I got a divorce, I traveled more. It no longer seemed terribly important that I be seen behind the wheel of a respectable automobile. After covering ninety-one thousand miles in a 2009 Town Car that I’d picked up on a whim, I realized that I didn’t miss the “imported driving experience”, whatever that was. The fifty-eight months I’ve spent driving an Accord Coupe have solidified that personal sentiment. The idea of buying or leasing a new Benz or BMW now seems approximately as attractive to me as the prospect of signing a balloon-payment mortgage for one of the quick-bake McMansions going up a few miles north of my current house.

Which is not to say that I’m not interested in buying new cars and/or trucks. I didn’t need any encouragement to buy a $59,000 Silverado crew-cab last year, and I’d gladly take a shot at something like a GT350R or ZL1 1LE if the right deal popped up. Maybe it’s more a case of feeling near-total disinterest in the current Euro-manufacturer lineups, which have never been more diverse, more comprehensive, or less compelling. Instead of the old “same sausage in three different lengths”, BMW, et al. now offer a panoply of bloated porkers with mandatory automatics and dubbed-out running gear. To make matters worse, even though there are now seven or eight form factors in each lineup, the powertrain choices have dwindled to either an asthmatic two-liter turbo paint mixer or some outrageously boosted 400-horse-plus gas-guzzler with auto-stop engaged by default.

Make no mistake, this is all in direct response to the wishes of the customer, and I do not pretend that my desire for something like a stick-shift, six-cylinder A6 with vinyl seats and a reasonable price tag is morally superior to my neighbor’s (or my father’s) interest in purchasing a 450-horsepower, 5500-pound panzer. But if you limit my choices to 450-horsepower, four-wheel, drive, 5500-pound panzers, I’m going to buy mine from the Chevy dealer and save thirty grand. Land Rover would be foolish to bring back a ladder-frame, stick-shift Discovery like the one I bought in 1997 — but until they do, I’m not going to spend any more money with them.

This past weekend I drove through the MAG parking lot for the first time in a few years. It was mostly filled with chunky crossovers that differed only in the particulars of the equipment and the marque badge SuperGlued to the tailgate. Bentayga, Urus, Q7 — isn’t that just like the choice faced by upscale GM customers in 1976? And didn’t the Germans seem like iconoclasts back then, with their quick-witted, sensibly-sized compact sedans and rear-engined ‘bahn-burners? How could we have known that their truest, their deepest, desire was to re-create the malaise-era Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, minus the paisley upholstery, the pleasing proportions, and the carefree style?

I truly envy the people who can get excited about what’s at Midwestern Auto Group right now, whether that “something” is the Audi Q-whatever or the BMW X-whatever or the Porsche PanaTayCayMeraCan GTS2RS Carrera 4 Targa Turbo T. I’d like to feel that excitement again, that hot shot of narcissistic self-satisfaction that accompanies the signing of a four-figures-per-month lease on some neighbor-slaying metal like the massive crystal-clear headrush you get snorting a double-thick line of coke off some stripper’s rack in a nightclub bathroom. I don’t expect to feel it any time soon. Maybe ten years from now. So to my old friends at Midwestern Auto Group, I can only say this. Keep the lights on, fellows; I might be back.

* * *

This week, Brother Bark was feeling the malaise himself.

I took aim at the Suzuki fetish crowd and welcomed the future of amateur motorsports.

Last but not least, I drove a turbocharged Mazda 6 to the top of America’s highest road. While it’s considered uncouth for a writer to say so, in the case of this particular piece I feel compelled to note that the edited product differs significantly from the draft. In particular, there is an assertion that the photographers on the top of Mount Evans were there to spot bears — a charming change made because the overseas-based edit team was not conversant with the American phrase “loaded for bear” and didn’t think to ask me what I meant by it. I’ve had worse individual edits in my career — earlier this year, some deranged fellow decided to insert a phrase about sniffing cheese into one of my reviews, leaving it in place despite my direct and unambiguous request for its removal — but the bear-spotting thing is just one of the sawblade marks on this particular hack job, so I’m not going to be entirely silent on the matter. As always, thanks for reading!

21 Replies to “(Last) Weekly Roundup: The Drive-Through Edition”

  1. AvatarMrFixit1599

    If Kia would get their heads out of their asses and put a proper 4WD drivetrain under the Soul, that would be 75% of the way to a little bit bigger Jimny.

    Reply
  2. AvatarGeorge Denzinger

    While my automotive biography is nowhere near as august as yours, the older I get the more happy I get when the damned thing just starts and runs.

    Reply
    • AvatarSteve Ulfelder

      Amen! I had a Mini Cooper Clubman S. BRG, just as I’d always wanted. It was cool. It was different. It was quick. Everybody commented on it – I was always getting the real-world equivalent of Facebook Likes.

      That car was a nightmare. Bought it used for $9000, pumped $6000 into repairs in a year. Traded it in, taking a horrifying loss, on a Toyota Certified Camry. The dullest car in the world. I love it. I’ll keep it 15 years, then buy another.

      Reply
    • AvatarJustPassinThru

      Second that, George.

      I’m drawn to offbeat little cars like that. A few years back, I almost pulled the trigger on a kei truck, sold locally – many Western states will license them for on-road use; and Japanese corporate equipment-depreciation laws, makes it a winning situation to sell lightly-used commercial vehicles to whoever will buy them. Conditionally they can be imported; and there were some importers buying lots of five or ten of them to sell. This one was a Honda; it was privately owned with 4wd and had a top speed of 50 mph. I only passed because my dimensions are a bit more massive than those of the typical Japanese. That and service…

      But the start-and-run thingy is the key, now. My actual ride is an old Kia. Because it was cheap, here in a region where everyone is truck-crazy. It makes more sense to rent a Ryder the few times I need a truck, than to pay $9000 for a 15-year-old, hundred-thousand-mile Toyota Tacoma.

      But, the draw is the small size. Small, in traffic. Small, in the congested lots of this former small town, now growing like a weed. Small, in ability to take the bicycle lane to get around the Facebook addict, and turn right on red, when the odd chance arises.

      Up until the budget screws tightened, I had, out here, two motorcycles. One was a Yamaha TW200. No powerhouse, that – some Chinese scooters are faster. But, since they allow scooters to park on the sidewalks here, they can scarcely forbid (and have not) me doing the same thing. Right to the door of my doctor, my insurance man, my favorite pizza joint…even Wally World.

      Can’t do that with my Versys…or a Gold Wing, for that matter.

      No…I’m not sorry to do without, but only because the Jimney is a Suzuki. Which is a once-storied company with a tremendous past…but whose best days are behind it. Not unlike Mitsubishi, except that the fall has been greater and faster.

      Reply
  3. AvatarGregori Temnykh

    75%?

    Maybe 25%. The point of the Jimny is that it is really and truly a serious offroader. While I agree wholeheartedly that Kia is missing out big time without an AWD Soul, a Jimny it would not be, no more than a Renegade is.

    Reply
  4. Avatargtem

    In terms of overall car-sentiment, I’m actually finding myself drifting the slightly opposite direction. Just this past summer I was entirely content to commute and do most of my driving in a 1994 Ranger XLT (2.3 Lima, 5spd, reg cab long bed) in Medium Aubergine metallic (purple) with some old-ass tires. As fall was coming up I knew I wanted to switch back into something FWD, an older Park Avenue perhaps or some flavor of $2000 Camry that could be resold for $3000 come tax-refund season in the spring. Instead I ended up with a well worn B5 A4: Quattro, 30 valve V6, stick shift, replica RS4 front end after it was rebuilt by some Russian Baptists in PA. I’ve come to really appreciate the whole German car thing, minor coolant leak, missing LCD pixels, disintegrating interior, and in-op window regulator notwithstanding. I love the way it holds the road, the ergonomics, etc. I keep hearing from VAG-o-philes that the B8s past 2012ish really did turn a corner after the 2.0TFSI motor was cured of its many ills. I’m likewise highly skeptical of the Two-point-oh-tee meme, but VAG’s implementation seems to be almost unanimously praised as being very smooth and strong throughout the rev range, and it’s one of the few ways to get a stick shift+Quattro in an Audi, although the supercharged S4 with the stick sounds sweeter still. A more rational choice might be a Sportwagen 4motion+stick, they’re priced well and now come with long-ish warranties to allay fears of Mexican assembly of German stuff. Another tempting looking option is a Fusion Sport: no stick and inferior AWD but a ton of power (and yet again, Mexican assembly).

    Then again this is all mental masturbation: with our kid on the way, the first order of business is a newish minivan with heated leather seats for the wife, then we’ll see where we’re at.

    Reply
  5. AvatarJohn C.

    On the Jimny, isn’t a low volume, but interesting to a few dedicated fans, exactly the type of vehicle that should be allowed to be imported. America would never produce it for the reasons you suggest. A few here and there add to the landscape and customer choice. Big countries should allow a few of everything from everywhere, while keeping 80-90% of the market for vehicles built and designed locally. thereby preserving customer choice and the industrial base.

    Reply
  6. Avatarhank chinaski

    At the right price the Jimny could be the new bitch basket. Stranger things have happened.

    I’ve always liked the looks of the ‘6’, and the lower trim versions are a bargain compared to even Mazda’s own ‘3’. Still, no wagon, no sale.

    *Drive* up a fourteener? Harrumph!

    Reply
  7. AvatarJDN

    I’m looking forward to what NATA comes up with. I’m basically the poster boy for the attitude you’ve described of not really wanting to compete in W2W, but does have some interest in time trial and trackcross style events.

    I just hope that at least on the SCCA side they keep an eye towards providing reasonable classing for vehicles prepped to autocross rules.

    Reply
  8. AvatarDisinterested-Observer

    Other than the brief history lesson it was hard to see your “fist” in that mazda article. I do like “Loaded for bear spotting,” it would be a good expression for bringing a bunch of equipment for the wrong task.

    Reply
  9. Avatarmrwiizrd

    I spotted FOUR unique Bentley Bentayga’s in one day during my morning and afternoon commutes through a wealthy Denver suburb last week. I was pretty gobsmacked as I’m used to maybe seeing one or two Bentley sedans per week.

    Reply
  10. AvatarRick T.

    Always impressed with the video of the ibex walking across the front of an Italian dam:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd8-xllm8uI

    If you watch this, stick around for the next video of the young chick who takes a 400 foot header off the side of a mountain with numerous “interruptions” on the way down and just shakes it off at the bottom. Nature is indeed a miracle.

    Reply
  11. AvatarMike B

    My dad and I used to go to new car lots and we’d test drive all sorts of stuff. R32, RX8, MX5, Celica GTS, Evora, RSX Type S, Mustangs… there always seemed to be something fun and interesting to drive with various power plants and always stick shift. Some great memories.

    Now I drive through dealer lots and the only things I’m excited by are $80k+ sports cars I can’t afford because of the dull convergence of mediocre and characterless 2.0T mills across brands and rapid disappearance of stick shifts.

    Reply
    • AvatarMike B

      Edit – never drove an Evora. Evo (mitsu) is what I was going for… though an Evora S a few years old is what I mostly drool over today.

      Reply
  12. AvatarIanArcad

    Per Bark: “People are buying the wrong cars!” they shout to their literally dozens of followers. Comedy gold, expert analysis, and a well deserved gut punch all in one. Nice.

    Reply
  13. AvatarScottS

    The Mazda 6 article was comical. Almost nothing meaningful about the car and a quirky-at-best travelogue. Would never have guessed it was written by Jack without the attribution.

    I can relate to your disenchantment with the prestige brands, and in fact, I find myself disenchanted with most modern automobiles in general. The recent PCOTY coverage at R&T struggled to hold my interest, but I forced myself to read the entire thing. What an odd mix of vehicles. Half the field in my view should never have been included, a Ute, a wagon, and two sedans? WTF? The remainder are so far detached from my reality as to be an abstraction. I am surprised that the ZR1 garnered enough support to win this round, but compared to the rest of the finalist at least some readers can actually contemplate owning one. The Brett Berk article, “The Future of Fast” was a good follow-on to PCOTY and presents the conundrum for the car enthusiast, cars can be fast or fun and engaging but increasingly they can’t be both.

    Reply

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