Def cab for cutie.

Reviews of cars, trucks, and other autos.
July 2 2004 7:48 AM

Def Cab for Cutie

Toyota's subversive anti-car.

(Continued from Page 2)

Why Front-Drive Sucks II: Csaba Csere, engineer and editor of Car and Driver, adds a reason to hate front-drive  that I left out of my diatribe of a year ago. Call it Sudden Steering Death. In his July column, Csere notes:

In corners, particularly slow ones, many front-drive cars lose self-centering under power. The driver can't easily tell whether this is a front-drive effect or an impending loss of grip.

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P.S.: The big rear-drive Chrysler 300 seems to be an initial sales success, despite the tacky plastic-chrome details criticized earlier in this space. Or is it because of those tacky chrome details? That's the horrifying possibility suggested by this New York Times piece on the car's appeal to hip-hop stars, as well as the more ominous news that many 300 customers are paying dealers thousands extra to fit out their 300s with schlocky vinyl roofs  despite attempts by appalled Chrysler executives (including design chief Trevor Creed) to discourage the unsophisticated practice. ... Live by the bling, die by the bling. Gearbox will persist in claiming that the 300 is selling because of its rear-drive rather than its tacky hip-hopularity until that becomes completely untenable. ... P.P.S.: I hate the bling! My used Nissan 300ZX came with fashionable, shiny after-market chromed wheels, and my tire guy just told me that the chroming ruins the durability of the wheel. The wheels are essentially worthless, he said; if they hadn't been chromed they'd last "forever." Hey, at least they look cheesy. ...

The Luxury Crisis: Pity the poor consumers of luxury sedans. They want to replace their 4-year-old Mercedeses and 7-series BMWs. They have a choice of a) the new Mercedes E-class, great but filled with glitches (see, e.g.,  this article  if you're a WSJ subscriber); b) the BMW 7-series—same as Mercedes, except uglier (with 175 percent more problems than the average car, according to the latest Consumer Reports auto issue); c) the big Lexus, reliable and reliably boring, and d) the Audi A8—$70,000 for a bland-looking nose-heavy car with pig-in-poke longevity? ... The rich are in deep trouble here, trapped with nowhere to turn. ... P.S.: Here's a great market opportunity for Detroit—if, say, Cadillac had a solid rear-drive luxury model ready. The wealthy people I know are no more brand loyal than anyone else. If they were that stupid, they probably wouldn't be rich! Certainly they wouldn't have flocked to Lexus when that marque was concocted by Toyota a few years ago. ... A better description is that they flit from whatever brand is supposed to be good one minute to whatever brand is supposed to be good the next. They're ready for something new. ... Maybe Chrysler could build a high-end BMW-beater based on the 300. Or maybe Mercedes and BMW should bring out Special No-E Editions of their luxury vehicles without the balky, gratuitous German electronic gimmicks that cause them to spend so much time in the shop. They're fine cars underneath, so why not offer, you know, just the car! I bet they'd sell like crazy. These rich people are desperate. ... Update: Mercedes has actually admitted its errors and is removing useless electronic complications as fast as it can. But what to get in the meantime? ...  

Money Can't Buy Me Shine? Why does the paint job on the production $14,000 Scion xB look better than the paint job on the $40,000 Cadillac SRX  sport-utility vehicle or on either one of the $250,000 Ferarri 612 Scagliettis I've seen—or on the Chrysler 300, for that matter? Just asking! ... (Cadillac made the mistake, at the recent L.A. Auto Show, of displaying the SRX next to the absurdly shiny and magnificent black Cadillac Sixteen show car. The purchasable SRXs looked like dishrags in comparison.) ...

My love is bigger than a Saaburu: Usually when a car manufacturer tries to sell an ugly car, it takes a picture from road level about 5 feet in front of the thing, looking up. All cars look good from that angle. But Saab is apparently so embarrassed by its new 9-2x—which is really a dressed-up Subaru Impreza wagon and looks it—that its ads show the product upside down. ... Too bad Saab's so defensive. It's probably a nice car. I wonder if Budget has any in stock.

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