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.  

Friday, March 9, 2018

Brett Eldredge "The Long Way" - Poetic License

Poetic license is loosely defined as an act by a writer or poet of changing facts or rules to make a story or poem more interesting or effective. In the case of "The Long Way", a country pop love song written by Brett Eldredge, Matt Rogers and sung by Brett Eldredge, enables the use of "mama" and "Impala" in a way that makes us car wonks cringe.

Taking the video for the song at face value, the song is about a romance between a man and a young girl woman whom have a sizeable age difference between them. Mr. Eldredge is 31 years old going on 50 and his love interest is 20 years old, going on 13, Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame. Allegedly, he cast the reality TV star in the video after following her on social media and feeling drawn to her personality. Nothing creepy or stalker-ish at all, right?  The two had never met until the first day of the video shoot and they became instant friends.
May-September romance aside, the song is a conventional if formulaic ear worm. This being a car blog, let's focus on the songwriters use of "'99 Impala" to  reinforce the protagonist's infatuation with his new found love interest.  Why? Well,  Chevrolet didn't make an Impala in 1999. What's more, while the producers of the video chose to feature an Impala in the video for the song, the Impala in the video is a 1964 Impala. We wonder if the producers of the video believe that viewers will think this car is the "hand me down '99 Impala" the song makes reference to. You never know. Regardless of poetic license, Millenials are so out of touch with cars that they probably assume it is.

Can't say we blame them for using a "'64 Impala" in the video instead of a '99 Impala. If there was such a thing it would have looked like this sad lump. Sexy. Maybe they were referring to a 1999 Chevrolet Lumina? That would have been even worse. Honestly, though, outside of the Corvette and maybe the Camaro, Chevrolet hasn't done much in the way of designing anything that could be remotely considered romantic in decades.  
Ah, romance. Then again, most likely the songwriters didn't even care about a physical car instead wanting nothing more than to have "Impala" sing well in the song. Who knew that Impala rhymed with mama anyway? Actually, it doesn't but such is "country music". Writers and singers not only using poetic license to achieve a pretentious final result but bending pronunciation of words to get said effect accomplished. For the video, few types of cars were as "romantic" as GM's old full size convertibles. Even one with oh-my-god-awful fender skirts like the '64 in the video.

Poetic license in pop music is nothing new. For instance, U2 took some liberties with historic events with their 1984 hit song, "Pride (In The Name of Love)". Mr. Bono sings, “Early morning, April 4/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky.” The lyrics are a reference to the April 4, 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Only thing is, Dr. King was shot by James Earl Ray in the early evening of April 4, 1968. It's ok, Bono because, you know, poetic license.
The former lead singer of Journey, Steve Perry used poetic license when he wrote the anthemic, "Don't Stop Believing" for Journey's seminal 1981 album, "Escape". In the song, Perry sings about "a city boy born and raised in South Detroit". This just in...there is no South Detroit (per se). Unless he's referring to a small town in Brown County, South Dakota or Windsor, Ontario of all places. Perry admitted recently that he made up the lyrics and didn't look at a map when he did so. He's from south central California so we'll cut him some slack for his use of poetic license.
Having discussed "car casting" in videos with artists as often as I have, you'd be surprised at how many of them not only know nothing about cars, but could care less that what they're singing about makes little to no sense cloaking bizarre lyrics under the tarpaulin of poetic license. Flawed as the lyrics are to "The Long Way" and as, sorry, somewhat creepy the video is given not so much how old Eldredge looks but how child like Ms. Robertson appears, the sentiment of the song and the video are not lost on us dyed in the wool, factually and historically anal gear heads.
Imagine, though, if instead of "ninety-nine Impala" they used "sixty-nine Impala" in the song and a '69 Impala convertible in the video. That would have legitimized the song as an actual experience of the song writer(s) rather than a conveyance to further along a rising star's career. Then again, if "sixty-nine Impala" was used instead, this blog about "The Long Way" would be about sexual metaphors making the video even more unsettling. Just as well they took the long way with as much  poetic license as they did.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

2018 Chevrolet Malibu - I'm Not One of Those People

My son and I just spent a glorious weekend in Florida for his 21st birthday taking in Yankees spring training games in Tampa. We also saw the Mets play the Marlins near his grand mother's house in Jupiter (west coast about two hours north of Miami) so that meant we had to rent a car to traipse across the (quite challenging to navigate) state of Florida. With an upgrade to a "full size" car, we got to choose between a gaggle of CVT Altima's and Chevrolet Malibu's. Slim pickin's. Since I can't stand CVT's, I begrudgingly threw our bags into the half-open trunk of this Malibu.

I had previously blogged about the at-the-time all-new Malibu and in retrospect, I was on point with  99% of what I wrote. Especially the styling which, just like the latest and from what I understand last Impala's, still hasn't grown on me. Still, with considerable wheel time behind one, I now have the additional perspective of real-world experience to expound upon.

I won't bore you with a long, drawn-out flowery story and I'll cut right to the chase  - this car is awesome. Too bad I still find it so ugly.

This little spaceship can do it all and it does it all very well. Handling, braking, acceleration, fuel economy, solid build, ease of operation. Every. Thing. It does everything well except look good. If only Malibu's of yore could do anything half as well as this modern Malibu I'd probabbly use one as a daily driver. Old Malibu's, though, can't hold a candle to this thing. For the record, when I say "old Malibu's", I'm referring to anything made between 1966 and 1977 with special emphasis on 1966 and 1968-1972 Malibu's.

It's not perfect, though, although any foibles above and beyond styling I found had to do with "current automotive trends". For starters, the Malibu has an incredibly raked windshield and "A pillars" making the darn thing harder to get into than a Corvette. I haven't banged my head on the roof of a sedan as much as I did this past weekend since I rented a Volkswagen "CC", Comfort Coupe, several years ago. Like the "CC", the Malibu is all about "coupe styling". Well, this coupe guy and his son would have rather had a coupe. We never opened either of the rear doors so I can't speak to how spacious or not the rear seating area is. They charge a fortune in FLA for specialty rentals like Mustangs and Camaros. Yes. We looked into it. Ridiculous. Besides, with the Malibu's ability to pull G's, what would be the point of a sports car on a weekend getaway anyway?

I also wasn't a fan of the blasted "auto stop" that turns off the engine when I came to a stop at red lights. Take your foot off the gas and the engine magically springs back to life. Really annoying. It was rough and quite obtrusive although it probably helped us get the incredible range we got on little more than a tank and quarter of gas. Take that, hybrids. Ford's I've driven with this feature were much smoother. I've heard you can disable "auto-stop" but I didn't look into it.

I could pick on the little 1.5 liter turbo engine's lack of linear power but for most driving situations it was fine. I still prefer a larger non-turbo six-cylinder engine. Larger turbo fours have more power but they're frenetic. They make big power but they also use big gas. What's the point of that?

TV screens in dashes are clumsy looking and until they start putting these things in front of the driver so the driver can toggle between the speedo and navigation screen, they're going to continue to look out of place. I've yet to see a modern dash with a screen that's either in the dash like this or pops up that looks any good. On our rental, it looked about as good as I think these things can look. Nice job, Chevy.

The infotainment system hooked up easily to our iPhones and were even able to use both of our phones through the car at the same time. My son supplied the tunes while my phone was used for navigation. All the while we were able to use the hands free to call people. My son's playlist being muted when we did so. Pretty cool. This might be everyday to you already but to a family that has a fleet of automobiles with the least old being a 2006 Tahoe, this is Buck Rogers, flying car awesome.

As good as the Malibu is, though, it's apparently not good enough to stem the tide of people moving to cross overs. In a market segment that's shrinking, despite automobiles themselves in general having never been better, Malibu sales are off from last year at this time as are sedan sales in general. Blame a down year after several years of booming sales - car sales are cyclical to a certain degree - and what remains of the sedan segment being brutally competitive. Cross shop the Malibu against a Ford Fusion or the myriad Corolla-Altima-Civic's that are out there and you'll go cross eyed. They're all fantastic albeit, like out Malibu here, as generic as a Bosch dishwasher is compared to a Kitchen Aid. In the end, they're all the same.

If there's anything good coming of the Malibu's compromised market position, after all, it's still a Chevrolet, it's that on used car lots, you can get a gently used, late model Malibu for relatively little. For instance, our rental here is a Malibu 1LT that comes with almost everything you'd want in a modern car and it stickers for around $30,000 brand new. A gently used 2017 with a scant 1,600 miles on it can be had for $18,000.

That's big value and makes perfect sense for a lot of people who want nothing more than a transportation conveyance that will take them from point A to B. And that's fine. I just happen to be not be one of those people.

Monday, February 26, 2018

2018 Buick Enclave - Nice SUV. Really?

I wonder if the clumsy camp of Buick's ads for their all-new 2018 Enclave was intentional. I hope so because from their sheer pretentiousness to their arrogance and presumptuousness, they're so off putting they're actually quite entertaining. The shame is that the marvelous pieces of engineering and design they're supposed to be selling are all but lost in a sea of nonsensical, urban angst we haven't seen on screen since the "The Truman Show". Then again, that's taking these ads seriously as they  almost rudely make fun of the people they're targeting. Camp is one steep, slippery subjective slope. Are these ads effective at selling $50,000 minivans to moms? Apparently so given how these things are flying out of Buick dealerships. However, guys, please don't call the Buick Enclave an SUV. Why? Because it is not an SUV.

An SUV, or sport utility vehicle like the Chevrolet Tahoe, is a light truck based contraption. The Buick Enclave, however, is based on GM's Epsilon platform which in addition to underpinning similar vehicles like the GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse,  is also the foundation for such modern, robust and  mundane sedans like the Chevrolet Impala, Buick Lacrosse and Cadillac XTS. Therefore, the Buick Enclave is a CUV - aka crossover utility vehicle or simply, "crossover". It is not, again, an SUV.

Why does General Motors hawk the Buick Enclave as an SUV? For starters, most people don't refer to their crossovers as such. Also, saying the Enclave is an SUV is far sexier than calling it a CUV or crossover. Why's that? Who knows. Some things just are. And if you look at whom the ads are targeting, you'll see that these ads are attempting to hit the bulls eye of the heart of today's mom. Let's make that millennial moms for certain these ads featuring slim, impeccably dressed, attractive young women in gorgeous suburban settings with beautiful kids, dogs and handsome husbands, sorry, partners, are also targeting young women who aspire to be moms.

Technically, the first cross over was the 1980 AMC Eagle but that was more of a 4X4 truck chassis with a car body bolted down on top of it. Officially, the first cross over was Toyota's 1994 RAV4.  Based on the then current Toyota Corolla, the RAV4 combined the elevated seating position of a small truck with car like handling. Brilliant. On the luxury front, Mercedes Benz, of all manufacturers, stunned the world with their ML series in 1997; Lexus following suit a year later with their game changing Camry based RX300. Just like that, families started ditching the Town and Country and Voyager for vehicles they didn't even know they needed. General Motors, no surprise, was extremely slow to react and what they came out with at first was laughable.

Buick's first foray into the murky, uncharted waters of luxury crossovers was almost as bad as the vehicle it shared its underpinnings with, the Pontiac Aztek. Based on GM's second generation minivan platform, the Rendezvous combined the luxurious accoutrements of their range topping Park Avenue with an uncommon amount of versatility and practicality - Rendezvous could swallow a 4X8 sheet of plywood. Despite proportions akin to an AMC Pacer, Buick sold approximately 75,000 Rendezvous' a year between 2002 and 2007. In a fragmented marketplace that amounted to a paramount success. Many of those sales were no doubt due to steep discounting undercutting tonier makes and models but you can't argue with their success no matter how homely I think the Rendezvous was.

Buick (and GM) got serious about cross overs in 2008 when they rolled out the first Enclave. Sharing the same running gear as the GMC Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse and let's not forget the Saturn Outlook (the what?), the Lambda sourced Enclave, which is the foundation for the Buick Lacrosse sedan, was a vast improvement in ride, handling and, subjectively and most importantly, styling. Whereas the Buick Rendezvous could be construed as a vehicle Grandad and Grandma would get to haul their gaggle of grand children around in, the Enclave was seen by moms, first and foremost, as a vehicle that they could sheppard their brood in while not seeming out of place at the country club and the executive parking lot. Buick built the first Enclave en masse through 2017.  

Fast forward to 2018 and all of a sudden Buick is touting the new Enclave as an "SUV". Very interesting. What with minivans putting a fork in station wagons, SUV's putting a fork in minivans and cross overs doing the same to SUV's, Buick is going to milk the ever cool and hip acronym "SUV" for everything they can. Even if it makes as much sense as calling the Enclave a station wagon. Which, in the end, is what it is. Just don't call it an SUV.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

1972 Oldsmobile 98 - Beam Us Up, Scotty

In 1988, to help promote their new "generation" of models, Oldsmobile began their famous advertising campaign toting that their cars were, "Not Your Father's Oldsmobile". A curious slogan seeing that for decades Oldsmobile had touted themselves as being General Motor's most innovative, engineering focused and forward thinking of their myriad divisions. Begged the question given that Oldsmobile had always been so progressive, what models were the 1980's ads referring to?

Well, that's an easy one. We don't have to look any farther than any Oldsmobile from the prior fifteen to twenty years that didn't have racing stripes or "4-4-2" badges all over them. Our subject is a "75th Anniversary", 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight in some sort of near military grade green. Looks like Dad wasn't a total square, though - at least it's a coupe.

Thirty years after Captain Kirk and his daughter pretended that a new Cutlass Supreme was a space -ship, both cars look ancient, don't they? Which one aged better? Taste being like armpits, surprise, we're going with our big ole' Ninety-Eight here. Green be damned. We say that not because you'd be hard pressed to find a 1988 Cutlass in the shape our Ninety-Eight is, but because given a choice between the two, which one would today's "know-it-all" twenty something's be drawn to? One guess.

Millenials love cool as much as any generation ever has and while cool is subjective and hard to define, it's timeless. A 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme? That's just old. A 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight? While it's even older, it exudes Clint Eastwood-Johnny Cash-Steve McQueen cool in buckets. And who knows better as to what cool is than kids today who have the ability to look at antiques in a vacuum without having their opinion clouded by context.

Derided when new for their wonton styling excess and vilified during the gas crunches, no series of cars epitomized American automotive glut than GM's enormous 1971 vintage full-size cars. Which, incidentally, came in two ginormous wheelbase lengths, extra long and "you've got to be kidding me" long. Our pristine subject being part of the latter. But of course. Go big or go home as we say.  

That extra girth giving just enough more rear seat leg room to create a remarkably spacious rear seating area. It also gave rear seat passengers a bit more room to wiggle themselves between the front seat backs and that hip breaking B pillar. If you've ever marveled at the condition of the rear seats on big coupes of this vintage, limited rear seat access is why that is.  

Oldsmobile was GM's middle division and skirted a precarious position between Buick and Pontiac.  Cadillac always had its own distinct image of high falutin prestige meanwhile Chevrolet was always the value leader. Our Ninety-Eight shares it's 121-inch wheelbase with the Buick Electra and all Cadillac's - so, for considerably less spent, owners could brag that what they had was just as good as a Cadillac. To some degree, it worked. GM sold a lot of these cars. Let's keep in mind, though, that back then there was no competition from imports for the type of buyer Oldsmobile targeted. 

Give credit where it's due; Oldsmobile didn't do well by default given that it had stiff competition from not only divisional rivals but makes and models from Ford and Chrysler. Unfortunately, where Oldsmobile ran aground was not adapting adequately to the new automobile market landscape that was on the very near horizon. In many ways, 1972 was the last of the good old days of form over function, thirty cent gas, hairstrand thin bumpers and nary a Lexus, Infiniti or "affordable" Mercedes Benz, Audi or BMW in sight.

Yes, this is your Father's Oldsmobile in all of its pre-safety bumper, pre-catalytic converter, 8 miles per gallon, 455 cubic inch Rocket V-8 glory. And, sorry Captain Kirk, to the contrary, it's much cooler than any Oldsmobile you and your daughter got to hawk. Beam us up, Scotty. We're going to 1972. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

1998 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Z34 - Zee Rest Is History

I've always thought it odd that Chevrolet did away with it's much vaunted "Monte Carlo" nameplate after 1987. If there was so much cache in the nameplate that they brought it back in 1995, why'd they'd ditch it in the first place? Well, regardless, from 1995 through 1999, Chevrolet called the two door version of their updated four door Lumina "Monte Carlo". From from 1990-1994, the spiritual successor to the late, some times great, more often times barely mediocre, Monte Carlo, was simply called Lumina. The top of the line of the Lumina/Monte Carlo from 1991-1999 was the Z34. Our subject is a 1998 Monte Carlo Z34.

You wouldn't be alone in presuming that the "34" in Z34 was homage to the "LQ1", 3.4 liter, "Dual Twin Cam V-6" that all Z34's had from 1991-1997. However, it appears to be coincidental that the Lumina and Monte Carlo Z34's both originally had a 3.4 liter engine since "Z34" was their "RPO" or Regular Production Order code. Someone in marketing must have thought that "Z34" sounded marketable ala Camaro Z28. Z28 being the original RPO denoting the top-of-the-line Camaro RS/SS.   

For 1998, Chevrolet dropped the LQ1 in favor of the L36 or "Series II 3800 V-6". While the L36 made less horsepower than the LQ1, it's similar peak torque rating was made at a lower rpm making the L36 feel more powerful and responsive. Especially at lower rpm. Some say the LQ1 was discontinued because it was problematic, expensive and difficult to work on and was unpopular with buyers. Others say that  GM had a relative glut of six cylinder engines at the time, both on the market and in development, and something had to go.

Whether the Monte Carlo Z34 was powered by the 3.4 DOHC V-6 (1995-1997) or the 3800 (1998-1999), checking the "Z" box on the order form also got buyers dual exhaust tips, red bow ties fore, aft and on the wheels (as opposed to chrome), and, most importantly, a "Ride and Handling" package combining Goodyear Eagle RS-A's with four stage strut valving and larger diameter (than stock) anti-roll bars.

I had a 1997 Monte Carlo LS and curiously, it had the same "Ride and Handling" package as the Z34 making me feel quite smart forgoing the Z34's extra cost. That and the fact I found the L82, "3100 SFI V-6" the equal if not better engine compared to the LQ1. The Monte Carlo LS was also available with the same leather thrones the Z34 had available so, again, zee point of the Z34?

Well, the point of the Z34 for 1998 and 1999 meant you also got the glorious, god's green earth, 3800 V-6. Why'd they make the 3.4 DOHC in the first place? Great question. Best I can hypothesize is that GM Powertrain went into a tizzy when Ford rolled out the 220 horsepower, "Super High Output" DOHC V-6 in the 1989 Taurus "SHO". So, they rushed a multivalve, "parts bin" sourced V-6 to production so they could have something similar. You know what happens when you rush things and cut corners. Zee rest is history.

When Chevrolet updated the Monte Carlo for 2000, they dropped the RPO code "Z34" designation on their top of the line model replacing it with their venerable "SS" badging. Something they should have done from the get go along with never having dropped "Monte Carlo" from their lineup in the first place.
Chevrolet built the Monte Carlo through 2007.