Promising Cars Don’t Run Children Down

I love cars.  Most people who know me can verify that fact.  I’ve always enjoyed the styling of a beautiful car, the rumble of the engine, the interior feel and the layout of the cockpits.  There is just something about a beautiful car that draws me in and makes me weak in the knees.

The Ferrari 458 Italia is a great example.  Just look at it.  It’s car porn.  It’s almost naughty.  Jeremy Clarkson, England’s resident car nut, once criticized Ferrari for not designing a beautiful car since the F355.  I don’t necessarily agree, but I do contend that the 458 is just about the most beautiful car on the planet.

Powered by a 4.5 liter V8 engine, it’s capable of bringing itself and the driver from a dead stop to 62 mph in just 3.2 seconds.  Keep your foot on the gas and you’ll max out at 202 mph.  To my eyes, we’ve got a car that’s both as beautiful and dangerous as a sultry young vixen one meets at a hotel lounge during a business trip.  You’ll begin pumping adrenaline and testosterone when conversing with her, make a few bad decisions and find yourself laying in bed the next morning, alone and without any cash.  Either that, or she will have killed you during your sexual escapades in the night, when you were playing “David Carradine”.  This is the problem with supercars.  They’re a hell of a lot of fun until you find yourself broke and wrapped around a tree or a steel girder.

This is something I readily accept.

People who know me can also verify the seething anger I feel when I see and read about the cars that Europeans, Australians and Japanese people have available to them.  We as Americans tend to get the watered down versions of great cars, if we even get them at all.  I don’t like my drinks watered down and I sure as hell don’t like driving a retarded car.

Historically, car makers have felt that many of the wonderful cars they make wouldn’t sell well over here in America, so they never spent the money to have them imported, marketed and offered here.  I hate to admit it, but I don’t really blame them.  They’re concerned that we won’t buy their cars because we won’t see the value, because we’re too fat, because we like boring speed limits or because they can’t create a cup holder that both fits into the car and will accommodate a full gallon of diet coke.  Maybe they believe that we all think that the Airplane model plastic that lines the interior of American cars is acceptable.

American car manufacturers sure do.  Next time you ride in an average American car (by this I mean a car created by the big three), look around you.  Touch the dashboard and notice all the cheap plastic.  But look at the market they’re selling to.

Americans like to throw things away.  Look around, we do it all the time.  We are seen by the world as a consumer nation.  We make things to throw away.  We have throw away furniture.  It gets kicked to the curb on pack-rat day.  We have throw away clothing. (I’m looking at you, Old Navy.)  We have throw away silverware, glasses, pots, pans, and kitchen knives that get dumped into the trash bin two years after we buy them brand-new at Wal-Mart.  We throw away TV’s, cell phones and computers knowing that a “better one” will hit the market next year.  We even throw away houses (but not so much now that no one can get a loan).  People in this country are seen as cheapskates because Americans refuse to spend an extra dime to purchase something that will last.  They know they’ll just throw it away when something else comes along.  I know this as a fact because I am an American and I have done it.

Naturally, we as Americans buy throw away cars too.  The car companies know this.  That’s the reason car companies have decreased the quality of the cars they’ve given us Americans.

This can be seen by the existence of the American Ford Focus and the European Focus available to people who live across the pond.  They’re not the same car.  We as Americans received the Focus in 2000, a full two years after the Europeans had it.  The European Focus had a sport-tuned suspension not available to the Americans, and although the Focus we received here in America was good, the ones available in Europe were great.

This is still happening.  Take the Focus RS, for example.  This car is a work of genius.  It’s supposedly the best handling hatchback in the world.  Not that I’d know, since I’m American and haven’t driven it.   300 bph from a 2-liter engine.  The car jets from 0-62 mph in just under six seconds.  With a top speed of 160+, its a car that makes ones mouth water, and it’s not even a supercar.  The coolest thing?  All this power and handling and the car is still capable of getting 30 mpg.  Why didn’t they sell it here?  Because it costs the same as a Subaru WRX STI or a Mitsubishi Evo X, and Ford didn’t think they could sell enough of them to make the investment worth it.  The crowd that can afford this car was not the same crowd that bought the original focus.  So they sold it overseas.  One of the best cars they’ve ever made never even saw it’s home soil.

This tragedy occurs with imports too.

Look at the Mitsubishi Evo X.  This car will bend the laws of physics for its driver, it’s so good.  The all wheel drive system will rocket you to 0-62 in 5.6 seconds, it has an Active Center Differential, ABS, Active Yaw control (it’s cool, look it up), and a computer so smart that it wants to know if you’re driving on snow, gravel or tarmac. It’s also got a dual clutch transmission, making switching gears easy — even on the steepest inclines or during the worst of LA’s traffic jams.  This car is sweet.  It looks good and will drive literal donuts around Subaru’s hideous looking WRX STI.  So whats the problem? We get the watered down version of this legendary rally car.  (However, I still want one.)

Yep, no surprise here.  We Ami’s get two versions to choose from:  The EVO X GSR and the EVO X MR, each limited to 295 hp.  The Brits?  They get three.  They get to decide how much horsepower they want.  They can get the Evo X with 400 hp.  That car is faster than the BMW M3.  Or a Porsche 911.  To be honest, any boy racer here in America can drop $15k into an Evo to get this amount of power and acceleration, but the Brits get it shipped to them from the factory.

Nissan as done it too.  They created a wonderfully fast car, the Skyline R-32.  It was a tuner’s paradise.  We didn’t get it.  It wouldn’t have been fiscally responsible to repackage the engine bay to accommodate a left-hand drive vehicle.  So Japan and England got the car.  (To be completely fair, left-hand driving Europe didn’t get it either).

Did I hear someone say they wanted a TVR?  I’ll warn you.  They’re absolutely mad.  TVR is so crazy, they forgot to add the airbags.  (TVR’s response was “Well, don’t crash then).  You can’t have one, anyway.  They’re not sold in the states.

“Hmmm.  I’d like an Alfa. A real driver’s car.  Can I get one of those?”  No.  No, you can’t, because Alfa pulled out of America in the 90’s (the car was below standards in quality at the time… Alfa Romeo is now owned by Fiat, and quality is much better), and they haven’t been back…

…But the winds are changing…

The first glimmer of hope came in June of 2008, when Godzilla finally set foot on North American soil for the first time. The Nissan GT-R is the new iteration of the Nissan Skyline I mentioned above, complete with all wheel drive and 480 hp, the car lapped the Nürenburgring in Germany faster than the Porsche 911 Turbo.  This is a supercar that costs less than half a nicely optioned 911 Turbo.  Apparently someone over in Japan decided after god knows how many years of tuners’ bitching, that Americans should be able to drive the Skyline.  And we rejoiced.

And then the American economy bit the dust harder than a middle schooler’s self-esteem and faster than Obama’s success rate, effectively taking out the “Big Three”.  There are many downsides to this that I don’t feel the need to get into, suffice to say that Chrysler is no more and that many cars were stopped in production, including the Pontiac G8, which really showed some promise and might have been nothing short of a bad-ass monster.  (The Aussies got it under GM’s Holden brand instead).

On the upside:  The remaining car companies have learned that yes, we do want good cars.  Yes, we do want them to stop using inferior plastics and parts to construct them, and no, we Americans don’t really care about their profit margins.  We just want well made, dependable and reasonably priced cars…  Not rolling turds made of plastic.

And so, Ford has made a great decision.  In the past, looking at each year’s Focus, America has received the shaft.  Some years, Europe’s Focus received what amounts to nearly completely rehashed new cars, where as America ended up with only minor changes to old parts.  Not anymore.  Ford’s Focus line will now be international.  This means that we Americans will be allowed by the all-mighty car company to drive the same Focus the Europeans get.

Ford has also stated that they fully intend to release the Focus ST to Americans, and while it’s not quite the RS, it’s also not quite as bonkers either.  The engine is a turbocharged 2.0 Liter EcoBoost four banger which produces 247 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque.  That engine gets mated exclusively to a 6 speed manual tranny.  One can imagine that 247 horses driving through the front wheels might create a good amount of torque steer.  Nope.  Ford’s new torque-vectoring power control system, with which the car is equipped, should help to minimize the insanity.

Why couldn’t they have just done this in the first place, instead of giving the Americans  a really decent car and the Europeans a much better one?

While the Ford news is pretty exciting,  there’s even more good news, particularly with petrol-heads and driving enthusiasts all across America:  Fiat, the European car manufacturer responsible for creating the Fiat 500 (which is expected to be released in America in 2012) and buying Chrysler’s sorry ass has decided that they want a piece of the American market.  While the 500 is a nice answer to the annoyingly gimmicky Mini, the best thing is that Fiat owns Alfa Romeo (and Maserati, 85% of Ferrari, and Lancia) and they plan to re-introduce Alfa to Americans starting in 2012.  I’m praying that they’ll have the quality of Fiat, and not that of Chrysler.  If so, I need one.  As soon as possible.

I can hear the flag waivers now, screaming at me like infantile toddlers, claiming that I should buy only American cars to help our economy and therefore I shouldn’t care about the cars offered in other countries anyhow.  They say that I would be a traitor to drive a car built by an overseas company.  I will first say this:  I have nothing but contempt for you.  You are what’s wrong with American society.  You should be ashamed of yourselves, because that statement is the most un-American thing one can say.  You claim to be a citizen and a supporter of America, a nation that is built upon the supports of capitalism.  Capitalism is the engine that powers the wheels of American economy, and in the spirit of that engine, I refuse to buy an inferior product just because “it’s more patriotic”.  That’s like saying I should give up Chinese or Italian food because they aren’t American.  All that would be left to eat would be hamburgers, “patriot fries”, and soybeans.  I could live off that.  I could also chew on the barrel of a shotgun and pull the trigger.  I’m not about to do either.

Then there are those people out there that contend that I shouldn’t be bitching about the quality anyway, that as long as the car runs and gets me from point A to point B, I should be happy.   I’m sorry, but as an American, I will spend an average of 15 hours a week in my car.  That’s a lot of time.  Why would I want to endure those hours in a car that’s not up to standards?  That’s like marrying an abusive woman.  Who resembles a hippo.  And cheats.  Also, if the only concern those people have about driving cars is that the car gets them from point A to point B:  that’s what a bus is for.  Those people should sell their cars, buy a bus ticket, and quit adding to the congestion on America’s roads.  Their existence is ruining the pleasures of driving for the rest of us.  Not only are they always in the way, driving slowly in the left lane or puttering about when entering an on-ramp, but it is precisely because of these people that the manufacturers found it suitable to produce such low quality cars:  the idiots accepted the rubbish.

The best example of people who vigilantly support terrible cars are the Prius people.  These people, in an effort to “support mother nature” will readily accept driving a car that is notorious for its under-performance.  Face it, the Prius is a terrible car.  It costs as much as a BMW or a Merc.  It can’t handle properly.  It can’t accelerate to highway speeds in the time allotted, and it runs on batteries that will do more damage to the earth when the car finally putters out and dies than the most aggressively tuned Shelby Cobra will do during its entire lifetime.  I cannot for the life of me understand their viewpoint.  The only positive thing about the Prius that I see is it’s noise factor.  There isn’t one.  It’s quiet.  And that will only come in handy when sneaking up on and running down children playing in the street.

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