Porsche's pullme-pushyou.

Reviews of cars, trucks, and other autos.
June 18 2003 7:51 PM

Porsche's Pullme-Pushyou

Plus: Honda's Element doesn't drive as cool as it looks. But it's close!

The new Porsche Cayenne super-SUV had a reputation as a badly styled vehicle long before it went on sale in the U.S. But the photographs don't do it justice. In real life, it's actually much uglier! Why? Road stance. That's hard to judge from a static photo. ... The Cayenne's road stance is decidedly conflicted. The front seems to be trying to lean the car back on its haunches--an effect amplified on acceleration--while the actual haunches (e.g., the rear) try to thrust forward like some kind of leaping animal. These discordant postures both peter out somewhere in the massive, stupefyingly dull central passenger blob. ... Calling it a pushme-pullyou (like the old Porsche 914) is an insult to pushme-pullyous. A pushme-pullyou wants to go both forward (from the front) and backward (from the rear). The Cayenne wants to go neither forward nor backward. ... Then there are the thick, tacky chrome pillars, and the embarrassing, comically "branded" front. ... Watching one of these awkward $75,000 bullies shoulder through traffic is not a pretty sight. ... P.S.: Not that it might not be a great car! They say all really great cars are a bit ugly. Porsche is at least halfway there. ... 4:28 P.M.

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Bamboozled by Bangle? "Hold your keystrokes, folks," the July Automobile magazine chides  Internet activists opposed to BMW's new gothic designs, "because, as BMW Chairman Helmut Panke confirms in his interview on page 64, BMW design chief Chris Bangle isn't going anywhere." ... Well! That settles it! I mean, that's the same sort of vote of confidenceNew York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. gave editor Howell Raines, and as a result Raines is still in his job. ... Isn't he? ...

P.S.: Actually, Panke doesn't give Bangle much of a vote of confidence in the interview. As far as I can see, Bangle's name isn't even mentioned in the published version ...

P.P.S.: In truth, it's a pretty negative interview. Panke seems to be a former McKinsey consultant--that explains everything!--and Automobile'sGeorg Kacher pointedly notes the "conspicuous absence of all-around car guys" in BMW's current top management. ...  Kacher also mocks Panke's use of alliterative "McKinseyesque buzzwords." (Sample: " 'I believe in the four Ps,' he says. 'The right people; passion in the way we deal with the job and with each other; premium positioning in everything we do; and remaining process driven [snip] ...' On a different day, in a different meeting, Panke postulates four Cs, as in continuity, consensus, cooperation, and cadre.")  No wonder Panke was impressed with Bangle's  pretentious rap. ...

Note to BMW: Do you like the way your chairman was allowed to look like a slick managerial BS-er in Automobile's interview? Don't you want to pull your ads from that uppity "buff book" and bring them to Slate, where your products always get a favorable reception? ... 3:20 P.M.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

What Time Does This Space Get to IKEA?

A Gen Y Staff Car
A Gen Y Staff Car

Test Vehicle: Honda Element

Concept: Dude, here's your car! Like the risible Pontiac Aztek, the Element is a boxy van built on an an existing mass-market car chassis, with "cool" styling and available four-wheel drive designed to appeal to the Youthful Buyers of Today! Unlike the Aztek, the Element really is cool looking, in an industrial, vaguely PC, Tonka People's Transport sort of way. ("Is it a hybrid?" was what gawkers often asked. It's not.) Also unlike the Pontiac, the car on which the Honda's based--the Civic--is one you would actually want to buy. At around $20,000 the Element offers lots of reliable cubic feet of carrying capacity per dollar.

Aesthetics:  The hose-it-out, "Gen Y Staff Car" look retains its appeal even after you've realized it's largely fake. As with the Chrysler PT Cruiser, most of what you initially think is sturdy metal--e.g., the shiny front bumper bar--turns out to be plastic. But it's high-quality, Honda plastic. (Such high quality that I unpatriotically assumed the Element was made in Japan, not in an American "transplant" factory. In fact, it's built in Ohio.) The Honda's radiator is visible from the front--a nice, elemental effect. The interior (strong shapes of blue and grey  on the Gearbox test vehicle) cheers you up without being gimmicky.

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