As the year comes to a close every automotive publication seems to feel the need to bestow some type of “best car” honor. With the mass power outages last week here in the Northwest, I had the opportunity to read through many magazines with stories of similar themes.
After so many years following the car biz…and even more importantly, the automotive publishing biz, I can usually predict which cars will wind up getting the kudos and honors. There always are a few curveballs, though.
The Toyota Camry is not surprising as Motor Trend’s Car of the Year. What is surprising is that the review of the vehicle looks more like a press release directly from Toyota than a review by experienced journalists. Is the car great? Sure, it’s a vehicle that out accelerates a Ferrari 328, but offers seating for five and greater reliability than a Craftsman hammer. It is far ahead of the last generation, which was already the best-selling car in America. The only car that can compete with it on performance, quality, comfort, and value is the Honda Accord — period.
I simply take offense that MT managed to spew niceties — even about the car’s transmission. MT waxed about it’s lightning-fast shifting and great fuel-saving logic as if Toyota’s PR team had their hand in the editor’s back. In reality the unit is a sloppy, harsh, confused piece of garbage that has spawned more lemon law suits than any other in Toyota’s history. (It’s the same tranny that is in my Avalon!) That being said, I don’t disagree that the Camry is a Car of the Year caliber vehicle, because other than the transmission, it’s a great ride. Most journalists will snip that it is boring, but a car designed to be the perfect touring/commuting vehicle just simply isn’t going to be tuned for sport. Nissan did that with the Maxima…and last time I checked, the Camry was outselling it at about five-to-one.
Automobile magazine did a similar kiss-ass move on the Chrysler 300C. After reading the mag’s summary, one would think the 300C is the best sedan ever created by a Big Three automaker. I just wondered how they could test the 300 and say that it is near perfect, and I could get into a 300 and immediately become mindful of its spongy brakes, numb steering and amazing lack of rear seat room (which delivers less functional rear leg room than a Camry in a package larger than an Avalon!)
Car of the Year-esque stories also have a habit of dishing out praise for what I call “better, but not great” phenomenon, which pats automakers on the back for delivering a mediocre product, provided it was a first effort, or it replaces a product so grim that not even a third-tier rental agency would use them.
The Honda Ridgeline received its fair share of kudos from the different publications saying how great it is to have a pickup truck from Honda. The fact that it can’t tow, can’t haul much, is slow, handles just okay, and delivers Civic interior room at twice the price of a Civic seems to be lost on writers. Oh yeah, it’s also uglier than that woman who crawled out of my college roommate’s bedroom after that night we went to a party and did a beer ever minute until people started passing out.
On Autoline Detroit John McElroy was discussing with reporters for C+D and Autoweek the contenders for North American Car of the Year. Both writers thought that among the finalists (which included the Honda Fit, Toyota Camry and Saturn Aura) none deserved the award, but that the Saturn would probably get it…only because writers like to congratulate the hometown guy for hard work. This was right after they both said the Aura was not even close to competing with the Altima, Accord or Camry. Why don’t we call out journalists for voting for it? Sure, they are allowed their opinions, just as I am allowed mine. I simply think that anyone who chooses to award mediocrity in a time when cut-rate products are causing the Big Three to tank should have their media credentials revoked.
For the record, both AD panel members wanted the Fit to win among the finalists. While the Camry is certainly the more important, as well as better car, the Fit reminds the market that the only companies making inexpensive cars cheap, crappy and unappealing are GM, Ford and Chrysler. I wouldn’t say the Fit is something I’d want to drive on a daily basis, but for the person who wants to have a new car in garage of their poorly-built new mega-development tract home, the Fit is the best of the worst.
If it were up to me, I’d give the nod to the Lexus LS460. While derided by the bulk of journalists as “uninspiring” to drive, and often called “a really great Buick,” the Lexus flagship shows how luxury, technology, quality, and performance can all intersect in a premium car. It might not deliver the BMW’s sublime handling, but at a fraction of the cost of a comparably compared BMW or Mercedes, it offers much more bang for the buck…and reliability for that matter! And if the automotive press has forgotten, not everyone wants edgy performance. Heck, even Mercedes didn’t offer any type of inspiring driving dynamics until this latest S550, and it’s still way behind the 7 Series Bimmer. Let’s not forget that those who want a lux-family tourer in this price range while also desiring a sporty ride often have a sedan, as well as a third car with a manual tranny.
Maybe what the motoring press needs to do is stop doing the Car of the Year, Ten Best or Most Wanted. Too many of these winners have gone on to be embarrassing failures. Instead, why don’t we start pointing out the Worst Cars of the Year. This way instead of congratulating manufacturers for good (but not great) jobs done, we can bitch-slap automakers for cars like the Dodge Caliber, Chevy Impala, Saturn Aura, Lincoln MKZ, Toyota Yaris, Hummer H3, and other really abysmal attempts at creating market-leading vehicles.