Friday, April 20, 2018

Lexus RC 200t - Circus Freak

 
In a world now populated by crossover coupes like the Toyota CH-R, it's nice to know that there are cars out there today like this Lexus two-door coupe for us sport coupe lovers to slobber over. I say two-door coupe because these days, much like manufacturers referring to minivans as SUV's, the word "coupe" doesn't necessarily mean "two-door" car or crossover.


The Lexus RC has been around since 2015 and the 200t, our subject is a 2017 model, was around for  2016 and 2017. The RC 200t was the most affordable of the RC's bookending a dizzying if not confusing lineup that had also included the hybrid 300h, the 306 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6  RC 350 and the 467 horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 powered RC 500. There was also an RC-F powered by an even higher performing version of the V-8 found in the RC 500. We got all that? Lexus simplified the lineup for 2018 dropping the hybrid and the V-8 engine and moving names around. This car is now known as the RC 300.
 


There's something alluring to me about someone who'd buy the least expensive model of an expensive make; something off-putting at the same time. I mean, much like people who tat themselves up like circus freaks, I applaud the gumption to step out there but not going all the way and getting a more powerful, and yes somewhat more expensive model, makes me wonder why someone whose got the beans to spring for a $40,000+ car would do so and not get the real McCoy. Where they've drawn a line in their own sand is vexing to me. Looking through my cockamamie windshield, if you're going to maim your body on purpose and get a freakin' tattoo, go all in and get a face tat for crying out loud.
 

Yes, I have a laundry list of problems with this car and the first one lies under the hood. The RC 200t says, "oh, look at me, I'm edgy" meanwhile this little 2.0 liter turbo engine whispers softly, "but I'm really not".  The problem with the RC 200t is the blasted thing is just too heavy for the engine to haul around with any real modicum of chutzpah. The RC, which is classified as compact, is as portly as it is because its an amalgamation of three different rear wheel drive Lexus'. The front end is from the GS, the middle section is from, of all things, the IS convertible and the rear end is from the IS sedan. Cobbling together parts bin bits and pieces might be cost effective but it almost always results in an automobile that's quite portly if not obese. Even the 306 horsepower RC 350 is not lauded as being a particularly strong performer. Did I mention they got rid of the 467 horsepower V-8 engine for 2018? If you love the lines of the RC, the model to get is used RC 500.



Another problem along with piddling performance is mediocre fuel economy. Expect 18 - 20 on average. Yeah, I know. This isn't the only 2.0-liter turbo powered car that I've experienced that isn't exactly thrifty at the gas pump. Aren't these gee whiz power house engines supposed to be stingy on gas? This is progress? Lumpy performance and shitty mileage - quite the combo. Sign me up. On second thought, I'd rather drive a 1975 Chevy Monte Carlo and save $35,000. Seems to me the Lexus RC 200t is the same type of car. Nice ride, fancy styling, all show and no go. You know what they say about no matter how much things change they remain the same, right?



Another problem I have with this car along with aesthetic issues is image. With a car like this you need to be aware, just like you need to be aware of that tat you have oozing out of your shirt sleeves, of the signals you're sending out - they can and most likely will be misconstrued. After all, it's not what you meant to say - it's how people interpret it. Snaps to you if sincerely don't care. Most people do. Best you can do is buy this car because you really like it and could care less what people think. Trust me, though. You can't win. People will hate you for driving it and us oh-so-judgmental car snots will think you're a moron for not springing for one with the bigger engine.
 


Finally, as I do with so many cars today, I take issue with the lines on it- all RC's lack that certain "gotta have it" factor. I can't be alone, again, seeing how horrible the sales are for RC's either. Might be the slamming together of different cars to make one but at the same the styling is derivative and fussy. It's more Mighty Morphin Power Ranger whereas I'd be looking for something more subdued and at the same time bad ass. In the fickle world of sport coupe buyers, limited as it is, there are just better choices out there. Go ahead. Judge me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

1975 Chevrolet Monte Carlo - Shield And All


Back in the 1970's, "personal luxury cars" ruled the roost similarly to today's crossovers and inexplicably so since they offered a fraction of the practicality of even the four-door sedans they were based on. To say nothing of the station wagons that were offered on the same platform or chassis. Little if nothing more than rolling fashion statements, none of them came to define the personal luxury car craze of the 1970's more than the most over the top styled of them all, the 1973-1977 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Our delightful subject is a 1975.


If the original Chevrolet Monte Carlo emulated the "suitcase fendered" classics of the Great Gatsby  era the 1973 "update", actually it was more of a complete reboot, took that theme to absurd heights. And, wouldn't you know it, it being the decade that brought us disco and pet rocks, the 1973-1977 "colonnade" Monte Carlo's were incredibly popular. Why? That's a tough question to answer since we're looking in the rearview mirror of a cultural fad that first started to catch on going on fifty years ago. For whatever reason, people just loved the look of the car regardless of what it was attempting to be. Most people don't care about design or architecture per se - they just like what they like regardless of pretense.


Again, in hindsight, personal luxury cars are hard to understand. Big on the outside, small on the inside, not to mention ill handling and sluggish performers, they offered little if anything above and beyond being stylish. Stylish in swivel buckets even if said style was polarizing even back in its day. Personal luxury cars weren't unlike stiletto's - they may be uncomfortable but damn you look good in them. 


If not indirectly, we credit the Ford Motor Company for creating the personal luxury car when they introduced their four-passenger Thunderbird for 1958. GM waited until 1962 to respond with the Pontiac Grand Prix, a not exactly personal sized automobile based on GM's B body, full-size chassis. Buick followed suit in 1963 with the Riviera - which was, ironically, at first intended to be a Chevrolet. Both the Grand Prix and Riviera found relatively small but loyal followings but it wasn't until 1969 when Pontiac launched a new mid-sized Grand Prix that the personal luxury car market really took off. Chevrolet introduced their original Monte Carlo the following year.


Personal luxury cars were also "insurance friendly" since, for the most part, they couldn't perform as well as surcharge inducing muscle cars did, could or portended to. Although Chevrolet offered larger optional engines on the Monte Carlo through 1976, they didn't provide significantly better performance than the smaller engines that were offered.


In many ways, our 1975 Monte Carlo is really a snap shot in time as Chevrolet didn't have anywhere near the success they had with these "big Monte Carlo's" with their new for 1978, drastically downsized successors. Emulating a design that emulated a design, sales were strong at first but they quickly waned eventually taking the entire hard to explain let alone understand personal luxury car market en masse down with it. Shield and all.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

1975 Oldsmobile Cutlass - High Fashion


If nostalgia is defined as "a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations", it's certainly not nostalgia that drives my interest in old cars like our bright and cheery, red on white 1975 Oldsmobile Cutlass here. Seeing that I want to go back and relive my childhood with about as much vigor as I have for my urologist sticking his jellied finger up my ass, it's my pure affection for these wonderful cars that fuels my interest in them and nothing else.


When I young, I wasn't alone in thinking these cars were "it" since they were immensely popular and for reasons that candidly defied reason. Back then cars like our lovely Oldsmobile here were the definitive American car. Big but not too big (everything is relative) and featuring styling that was slightly ostentatious if not somewhat benign, the Oldsmobile Cutlass in its myriad iterations was the car that everyone owned, aspired to own or the other manufacturers made knockoffs of. It was comfortable, familiar, handled easily, was simple to operate, made you appear as good as you were or wanted to be and looked great in the parking lot of the supermarket as well as the country club. Especially the oh-so-sweet coupes. 


Crossover sport utility vehicles define us today as an auto nation and it's easy to see why - they're the most stylish vehicles on the road today; any practicality is but a fringe benefit. What's really interesting about not only this Oldsmobile Cutlass coupe but two-door sedans of yore and personal luxury cars like this Cutlass in particular, is that, again, they were immensely popular. Immensely popular despite being as inherently impractical as today's do it all CUV's are practical. Why was that? Because they were high automobile fashion. Also keep in mind the sport utility vehicle as we know it today not to mention crossovers hadn't been invented yet.


So, how did we get from there to this world we live in today where by 2021 experts say 84% of vehicle sales will be some sort of (loosely defined) truck? We can put the blame for this at the door stop of the Great Tastemaker, General Motors. For as much as GM designed and built a litany of stylish cars years ago that drove their market share to an absurd and monopoly like 60%, when they began to fail at producing automobiles that people wanted on a visceral level, they sought out vehicles that did regardless of whether or not they were produced by GM.


GM began to stop making cars people wanted in 1978 with the introduction of their downsized intermediate line that included our Cutlass here. With perhaps, maybe, the exception of the Chevrolet Malibu, everyone of GM's smaller intermediates missed their mark styling wise. Sales may have been strong at first but the awkward, quirky and homely cars quickly caught up to GM and sales dropped precipitously. Worst of all, their replacements were completely out of sync with consumer tastes greasing the rails for GM's eventual crash and burn. Seriously, as subjective as the answer to this question might be, can you name a single car introduced by GM in the last forty years that struck a chord with buyers the way the Oldsmobile Cutlass did prior to 1978? Note I said, "car". GM's done nothing right except build trucks people wanted for the last four decades.


I've been lamenting the demise of two-door cars for years now hoping that someday they'd return to their former glory believing that everything old fashion wise will soon be new again but I've seriously given up all hope. What with their impracticality and the number of really interesting CUV's available today, there's just no room nor need for them. What's left of coupes today are niche vehicles; wonderful, sexy, expensive niche vehicles that appeal to enthusiasts like never before but niche vehicles nonetheless. As if it makes a difference to me to be seen in what everyone else is driving. Anyway, does make you wonder about what vehicle type will dominate sales in the future like CUV's and trucks do today and the way cars like our 1975 Cutlass here did years ago.



Wednesday, April 4, 2018

1974 Chevrolet Corvette 454 - That Will Not Buff Out


Some blame safety bumpers while others say it was catalytic converters but there's no definitive reason as to why 1968-1974 third generation Corvettes are worth more than 1975-1982 models. And then there's a sliding scale within 1968-1974 "C3's"; the older the C3 the more valuable it is. Corvette experts say you're throwing your money away on a '75-'82 "C3" unless you have your sights set on a 1978 Corvette in full 25th Anniversary regalia. And then it better have next to no miles on it. I mention this because this lopsided value scale is the only reason that I can think of as to why this beat to death 454 V-8 powered 1974 Corvette with only 8,000 miles on it has an asking price of $10,000.

On paper a 1974 "454" Corvette with only 8,000 miles on it for $10,000 would have me rifling through my kitchen drawer for my check book. Well, I'm best to hold on to my leisure suit and disco pants - like most things in life if it seems too good to be true it usually is. This bad boy isn't so much rough around the edges as it is literally jagged making it's asking price seem not so much like a bargain but all the money in the world. Darn. I have no idea what happened to the front end here but I venture to guess it was stuck in a garage and ended up having items "stored" on it. How else to explain that gouge on the right headlight door, the multitude of scratches, no they will not buff out, and the horrible crack in the top of the driver's side fender. Ouch. Sure looks like something was dropped on it and because their bodies are made of fiberglass, Corvettes don't dent - they literally break.


The hood not closed is also a reason for concern - might be nothing as these clamshell hoods sit like this after the release is pulled but would it have killed the photographer to close it? Also, seeing that the hood of this car was used probably as some sort of makeshift table or shelf, if it's warped, that was one expensive table. Maybe the latch is broken. Who knows. 

  
Old Corvettes are hard to sell because they're polarizing even amongst fans of old cars; as many people hate them as love them. Car people either don't appreciate them or they don't care for "Corvette people" who often times tend to be fans of Corvettes and could care less about other old cars. These cars had an image problem when they were new and to some degree even after all these years they still do; who do the owners of these cars think they are? You should see how some people treat my wife and I on the road whenever we take ours out; we wave at them mouthing, "we're not assholes. Really. We're not." They're expensive to own too. Especially to have body work done or repairs made to their deceptively complex independent rear suspensions. 


Oh, what did I say about body work? That crack in the driver's fender was bad enough - this here made me laugh out loud. I mean, seriously. Wow. The ad claims this happened from a tire blowing out (what?) and repairing it would be inexpensive. Good luck even finding a body shop today that would take this on let alone do a good job fixing whatever the hell happened here. If there's any good news it's that all Corvettes are "catalog cars" meaning you can get most anything you need online. Yes, even rear clips.


Still, it's a 1974 Corvette with a 454 so it's worth at least something. In condition at least approaching my worn but still very pretty 1977 Corvette, it might fetch upwards of $10,000 but in this shape, I don't know what amount of money to offer the owner that wouldn't be insulting. And if it looks this bad in photos you know it's going to look even worse in person. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

2007 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx SS - The Road To Hell (Revisited)


What was pre-bankruptcy GM thinking, right? Well, the road to hell has always been paved with good intentions and nothing bespeaks of that more than the 2004-2007 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx. I stumbled across this pristine copy of what's either a 2006 or 2007 "Maxx SS" recently outside the gym my wife and I belong to on Cleveland's west side.


To understand the Maxx we have to remember the times it was produced in. Chevrolet introduced the Maxx in that now long-ago time before the explosion in popularity in crossover sport utility vehicles. You know, those visual blights on our roads today that are making sedans as relevant as Buick Electra convertibles. Honestly, some of them are the best and most interesting designs out there today. Anyway, the Maxx combined all the practicality of a small SUV with all sensibility of a car. In many ways it was a crossover but instead of emulating a truck, it emulated a car. Wait, wouldn't that make the Maxx a station wagon? Well, yeah. But don't call the Malibu Maxx a station wagon. For that matter, don't call it a hatchback or crossover either. You may recall, back then, "wagon" and "hatchback" were four letter words and calling something a "station wagon" was really sacrilegious.


Oh, but let's not kid ourselves. The Malibu Maxx was a station wagon and an ugly one too but "five doors" they were and damn good ones too if you ask me. The best part about them was their rear seating and cargo areas. The rear seats were on tracks that had seven inches of travel fore and aft that opened up the rear cargo area large enough to hold 41 cubic feet of stuff. That's not full-size SUV big but compared to a typical sedan trunk's 15 cubic foot capacity it was cavernous. What's more, with the seats all the way forward, you still had enough rear seat leg room to be somewhat comfortable. At least enough to give the kids enough space. Move the seats all the way back and you had the best rear seat leg room this side of a limo. Brilliant stuff. So, what happened?


Unfortunately, GM wrapped the trick engineering in the dorkiest sheet metal of the Bob Lutz era. That's saying a lot too considering Lutz' Chevrolet SSR, the HHR, Pontiac GTO, G6..et al. Just look at this thing. Actually, the hatchback design, yes, that's a hatch not a trunk lid, is not the worst thing about this stubby little porker...


It's the stretched wheelbase with the tiny and tall rear overhang and funky long rear doors that butcher any semblance of design cohesion. Sorry, this is a horrible design and my picture here makes the car look less awful than it actually is.


The Maxx "SS", which was available only on 2006 and 2007 Maxx', got horsepower starved owners a then prolific 240 horsepower, 60 degree, 3.9 liter OHV V-6 with cam phasing. That's pretty neat technology for a "cam in block" engine - Corvette didn't even have that yet back then. I'd spent a weekend back in New York years ago and a Maxx with a 217 horsepower, 3.5 liter V-6 was my steed; they must have been out of just about everything else at the rental counter at Laguardia That thing could really move although I do remember an inordinate amount of wheel spin and torque steer so I have to imagine this more powerful Maxx SS torque steers and dances in place more than my rental did.


The Maxx with its wonderful rear seats went into the dumpster of automobile history following the 2007 model year as Chevrolet ushered in a new, ahem, world-beating Malibu for 2008. Just as the economy crashed and burned taking GM as we used to know it with it too. A much better GM rose from the ashes of "The Great Recession" and with it said explosion in popularity of crossovers. Are these events somehow related? Good question and history will answer that one for us. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

1970 Buick Electra Convertible - Harvest Gold


Like Ralphie in a "Christmas Story" when his mother asks him what he wants for Christmas, I feel compelled to yell out, "harvest gold Buick Electra two door hardtop!" whenever someone asks me what my favorite car is. I normally don't instead preferring to let "Hemi Cuda" or "1969 Camaro Z28" slither out of my mouth lest people think I'm some middle age, 1970's luxury barge loving, disenfranchised republican. Well, as we like to say here, "if the brake shoe fits..."


I've been enamored of Buick's 1970 Electra since I first ran into a "harvest gold" four-door Electra hard top during my parent's car shopping misadventures during the summer of 1977. I was wandering around the "discount" section in the back of the used car lot at long-gone Conway Motors, which was a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership, on Sunrise Highway in Baldwin, New York. I was transfixed by its elegant, old-school charm and grace; it was everything that I thought a luxury car should look like and be. Even in brown. Little did I know at the time that it was an example of the great Bill Mitchell at his finest. Being the fan that I am of two-door automobiles, it's not surprising that I'd be even more enamored of the coupe version of the 1970 Electra. Even though Buick made more than ten times as many two-door hardtops than convertibles in 1970, they're tougher to find these days than these overrated, overvalued and overpriced convertibles. 


Buick made only about 6,000 Electra convertibles for 1970 so our Dayton, Ohio based black beauty's asking price of $12,000 is driven by its rarity and what appears to be solid condition. GM seeing how poorly these sold, when they launched their redesigned C bodies for 1971, they nixed the convertibles. Just as well. Again, I was never the biggest fan of them anyway.


I'm not sure where my personal prejudice comes from towards convertibles. I'd love to say it's from my experience driving them but that's not altogether true. They can be quite fun to drive although I'm not a fan of the wind pounding you get in many of them with the top down. Not to mention the claustrophobia I experience with the top up. The mechanism for the top almost always cuts down on head toom. I'm also not a fan of the loose, shakey and shuddering structure of convertibles either. 


I think it more than likely stems from the fact that I don't think most convertibles look as good as their hardtop versions. Which is ironic considering that hardtops were supposed to emulate the look of convertibles. Nowadays we have "hardtop convertibles" where the hard roof swings together on hinges, "clamshells" together and gets tucked into the trunk. It's an engineering marvel but one that while provides the best of all worlds, to me, is a gimmick that sooner or later will stop working. And just like back in the old days, it will get stuck open or in mid way between opening or closing. 


Click here for the listing for it. It's had a lot of work done to it that might be driving the price up too. All stuff that I'd rather do myself and have bought this car for $4000-$5000 less than I'd be willing to spend on it. Let me know if you contact the owner or better yet, make me green with envy and actually buy it. Oh, and do me a favor if you do buy it, get it painted "harvest gold". 


Monday, March 26, 2018

2018 BMW M240i - Blake is a Good Friend


BMW's are expensive to purchase and service but they give you a loaner when you drop your car off to have work done on it. Least they can do, right? Recently my buddy Blake dropped off his 2009 BMW 330i for some front end work and the loaner they gave him was this brand new M240i. Blake, being the wonderful friend that he is, stopped by my house on his way home, threw me the keys and said, "have fun".


And...much fun was had. The BMW M240i is one of the strongest performing, most fun automobiles, this side of a Ferrari 458, I've ever driven. Just like the 458, the M240I left me with the feeling that I was unable to fully experience everything the car was capable of. It feels...limitless. What's worse, its sheer greatness making me feel inadequate as a driver. Even if I had a race track or road course to really open it up on I doubt I could do the car any justice. This is quite an automobile and I would wholeheartedly recommend it were it not for one serious fatal flaw. I'll get to that in a moment.


The heart of the M240i lies under this innocuous engine cover; a 3.0 liter, twin-turbocharged inline six-cylinder making 335 horsepower and 369-pound-feet of torque. Now, those are not herculean, out of this world specs but somehow this engine is able to yank this 3,500-pound little porker from 0-60 miles per hour in an astonishing 4.4 seconds. That tells me either the engine's power is underrated, for certain on paper, a power to weight ratio of 10:1 wouldn't warrant such neck straining performance, or the 8-speed automatic it has is just that good. Cars equipped with it are .2 of a second faster to 60 than cars with the optional six-speed manual. This wouldn't be the only car out there today that's faster with an automatic than a manual. Reason being today's high performance transmissions can out shift even the most fleet-footed of drivers. 


Fast cars get boring real quick if that's the only thing they have going for them and the M240i has handling and braking prowess on par with its stellar engine. Although the steering lacks the tactile feel of BMW's of yore, the car feels completely unshakable - even over railroad crossings not to mention the pothole-pocked stretches of asphalt and concrete they call roads here in Cleveland.  Then there's the track inspired front seats that coddle you so well you'll feel as though they were custom made for you. The BMW M240i also has the sickest sound system I've ever heard in a car. 


About the only problem I had with the interior was the transmission gear selector. It's one thing that many cars today have electronic shifters but the shift pattern on this thing is counter-intuitive. Reverse is forward and park is up, down and around. Actually, I forget what it is but it's not something that's obvious to figure out. Had Blake not showed me how this thing worked I think I would have put the car into my basketball pole rather than backing it up. 


So, is the M240i the new name for the "M2"? No. This car is a 2 series that BMW's Motorsports division has liberally breathed on. In fact, there's so much "M" in this thing that it all but negates any reason to spring for an M2 and blow $9,000 more. Why BMW would make a car that competes with something else they're selling is beyond me but I'll never own either so I don't care. Still, makes me wonder.  


Now for the fatal flaw. It would seem that the BMW M240i has it all. Hellacious performance, comfort and...well. It doesn't have it all. The one thing it's missing is good looks. This is a homely, awkward looking little car whose balance and proportion seemed to have been left on the drafting table. I felt the same way about the car it replaced in the BMW portfolio, the equally disappointing looking 1-series. This is a real shame too because everything else about this car is freaking awesome. 


Sorry, at the end of the day, a car that stickers closer to $60,000 than $50,000 should be as visually appealing as it is a strong performer. For my money, the BMW 4 series coupe is a much better looking car. While not the screaming performer this car is, it's performance is good enough, and that's saying a lot considering it's a BMW. And no, BMW doesn't offer an "M" version of the 4 series coupe. They do, however, at almost $69,000, sell an M4 coupe. 


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

1974 AMC Matador - Killer

 

From my old man's Rambler  to the Pacer, all AMC's were weird. To some extent their odd designs,  and smaller size, of course, were intentional to set them apart from anything "The Big Three" were doing. After all, if you can't beat 'em, make an attempt at being a mass appeal "niche". On the other hand, their off beat designs, through my eyes, indicated a lack of talent in their design studios. How else to explain the 1957 Rambler, all Ramblers up through 1963 for the matter, and what was up with the Marlin, Gremlin and to a degree the Javelin? Many an AMC made Chrysler's far out designs in the early '60's look out right inspired. Problem with AMC, though, was that when they tried to go "mainstream", they couldn't win for trying. Take their 1974 Matador coupe for instance.



Around 1967 or so, American Motors made the conscious decision to start producing automobiles that were more in line with what consumers wanted. That being larger, more sensibly styled automobiles. Problem with that was that meant they would be competing head-on with GM at a time when GM could do no wrong design wise. Ford and Chrysler were already mopping up whatever was left of the market with their wares that could be construed as being GM knockoffs. Ford more guilty of that than Chrysler of course but still, there's many a similarity in Chrysler's '60's design ethos and GM's. Anyway, in an attempt to go "mainstream", AMC's were still awkward looking but worse than that, they became bland and anonymous. Their 1971 Matador looking more like some sort of Chrysler design than anything original. In fact, AMC had an ad campaign out in 1973 with the actors asking the question, "what's a Matador".
 

 
In an attempt to be distinctive or less anonymous, AMC "rebodied" the Matador coupe for 1974 with this amorphous blob. The sedan and wagon remained the same but AMC did have plans to do "blob jobs" on them too. In an age when in spite of being as subtle as an Oscar Meyer Wiener mobile, the swoopy, retro-themed 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo was a monster of a sales success because only GM could design something as outrageous as that and make it work, AMC's version of it came out all wrong. Don't just take my word for it; AMC sold just 110,00 of these in five model years. That's an incredibly long time to soldier on with something that wasn't working. Then again, it's not like AMC had anything else lined up to replace it or had any resources to retool it to make it more mainstream looking. At least the wheels are nice on the car in this commercial.

Powered by AMC's slate of big, thirsty engines, the Matador did no buyer any favors at the gas pump either in a time when AMC surely could have used a penny pinching larger automobile. AMC tacked on atypical mid-1970's luxury car baubles and bits onto subsequent Matador coupes but nothing caught on. Rather than replace the Matador in 1979, AMC just stopped making it. 


AMC died a long, painful death by a thousand lashes and the 1974 Matador coupe was certainly one big whip. Matador, incidentally, in Spanish, doesn't mean "bullfighter". It means, "killer".


Monday, March 19, 2018

Buick Encore, encore - "DINK"

This is my second blog on Buick's "cute ute", the Encore. Please click here to read my first blog about quite possibly the worst vehicle GM makes today.

 

Our younger son is a sophomore at Ohio University and is a member of the school's men's singing troupe, "Singing Men of Ohio". "SMO" wrapped up their spring break tour in Cincinnati this past Saturday night and my wife and I, who take advantage of any opportunity to see him and/or his brother, made the 4 hour long traipse down I-71 to see him perform. With his brother being a junior at the nearby University of Dayton, we decided to make an over niter out of our trip and see him the next morning.



With my 2002 Monte Carlo knocking on heaven's door, our Tahoe inhaling gas at 18 miles per gallon highway and Enterprise all but throwing weekend rentals away, my wife insisted we take advantage of their promotion and rent a car from them on the cheap. Unfortunately, she didn't see the fine print in the online ad for the weekend promo that they'll zap you for 20 cents a mile if you go over 300 miles. Like discount airlines charging exorbitantly to check baggage, they have to make money someway on these promotions. Seeing how upset my wife was at herself for her over sight, the nice counter person not only waved the mileage fee, they also gave her a free upgrade. Nice. Only thing is, it was an upgrade to a Buick Encore.


It's not like she didn't consult with me on this - she did. She had a choice between a red Hyundai Elantra and this thing and I said go with the Encore knowing that she's said in the past that she thought it "cute as a button". Well, looks are deceiving. I knew we were in trouble when I came home, saw this big white bowling ball in our driveway and an annoyed looked on her face.


Right off the bat, the Buick Encore failed to impress me failing my very basic rear door slam test. Closing with an alarming and entirely unsatisfying, "DINK", I believe the last time I drove something has tin can hollow was when I skimped on myself in Nashville several years ago and I rented a Kia freakin' Rio. While it was only to scooter myself around town and back and forth to the airport, I paid through my ass physically and emotionally every time I used it. Anyway, that same sad feeling of "I coulda, shoulda, woulda" came over me test driving the Encore around our one-mile long block.


Secondly, I had almost as much difficulty getting into it as I did the Chevrolet Malibu I rented a couple of weekends ago when I was down in Florida with our older son. At least with the Malibu, the challenges I had getting into it were because of its rakish styling. On the Encore it was due to the fact that this thing is just too damn small. Isn't ease of ingress and egress one of the reason's people buy these blasted crossovers?

  
Inside, because the Encore's floor is so low and its beltline is so high, I felt as though I was sitting on a bar stool inside a small van. What's more, the center console is so low you have to bend your entire body to retrieve anything you put into it. Speaking of things that go into the center console, I always feel compelled to put the ridiculous "keyless entry/fob thing" in the console rather than keeping it in my pocket. I hate those damn things because I've misplaced them in rental cars a number of times slowing me down when I want to get out; "well, the car's running so it must still be in here". I never have to worry about losing our keys in our old cars because they're right there in the ignition. Someone, please explain to me how a push button start is an advantage over a key. I think they're gimmicky and dumb. The driving position of the Encore makes me feel as though I'm driving some big toy as opposed to driving a serious vehicle.



Turtling around our neighborhood, the Encore's 1.4 liter, turbocharged inline 4 responded well and really boogied when I nailed it on the long straightaway on the main road that leads into our development. Couple that performance with a projected 30 plus miles per gallon and that's something to write home about. Too bad the rest of the Encore just flat out sucked. Note, hood prop. On a Buick let alone a vehicle with a near $40,000 sticker? Maybe "hood prop" and "cheap car"don't go together like they once did but in my book, a vehicle costing as much as this shouldn't have a hood prop.


With 15,000 miles on the odometer, our Encore rattled, moaned and groaned and its front struts felt as though they had as much life left in them as the struts on my 155,000 mile, 16-year-old Monte Carlo, do. That's not much btw. Keep that in mind if you're considering getting one of these; it would seem they're not assembled very well if they're this creaky after only 15,000 miles. Rentals do get abused. though so there is that but, still.


Again, the driving position is really odd. The curvature of the windshield means a funky placement of the "A pillars" which means vision to the sides out the windshield is compromised. That black square thing behind the rearview mirror was stuck in the corner of my right eye making me feel as though there was something splattered on the windshield. Things I know I could get used to on our 500-mile over-niter but it's stuff I shouldn't have to get used to driving what is allegedly an entry level, premium vehicle.


Oh, one thing I really liked was the heated steering wheel. I had never driven a car with one of those and it was quite cozy; you never know what you're missing when you've never experienced something. I liked the backup camera too. Then again, a heated steering wheel and backup camera come on most every modern luxury vehicle so it's no great shakes that the Encore had them. I liked the features regardless of the fact that they were on the Encore.


To make matters worse, the damn thing pulled aggressively to the right even at low speed. Both front tires looked to be inflated properly so something was up with the front end. Not the first rental I've driven that felt as though it had been thoroughly used and abused but this Encore took that to a different level.


We dumped it off back at Enterprise and picked up the red Elantra we should have gotten in the first place and had a drama free if a somewhat boring drive to southern Ohio. The gas mileage on the Elantra was so good, incidentally, that it ran us only about $30 more to rent it than it would have been to use our Tahoe. Seeing our boys has never been more affordable.