Sunday, July 5, 2009

My Domestic Chariots

While I prefer my personal cars to be complicated, European, underpowered, expensive and repair prone the vast majority of my 16 company rentals have been domestic. Nearly every one was cheaper to repair, simpler, more powerful and easier to use than those in my own garage. In the tens of thousands of miles I have put on these lowly rental cars there have been faults, under-engineering and annoying cost cutting build quality, but it's not as bad as you'd think.

On this Independence day weekend I'm giving a tip of my hat to what's left of the American Auto Industry. A Toyota has an appliance like quality about it, reliable but lacking presence. Of course the time you spend and places you go in your Toyota build memories and before you know it the reliability itself is a characteristic as endearing as any other. But I don't have time to wait for a car to grow on me, these rental cars are a limited time sort of deal and need to be impressive from Avis lot to rental return. They need swagger right out the box.
The Charger comes from the weakest of the Big Three. An effort to conjure up emotion with a retro look paying homage to a happier time for Chrysler. With looks right out of Hazard County and a striking resemblance to a Georgia State Highway Patrol cruiser the Charger has a coolness I've yet to find in a Hyundai. I can think of no better car for highway cruising, it just eats up the miles effortlessly as other drivers panic and slow to a legal 65 MPH. Perhaps its my midwestern sensibilities but there's just something about a full size sedan, it feasts on interstate miles.
Another guilty pleasure, another American retro styled car... imagine that. The V6 powered Ford Mustang has secured its place in recent history as the car of choice for spoiled upper middle class high school girls. After checking my ego at the rental counter I found the Mustang, even in its most pedestrian of forms to be solid fun. Just enough power to remind you that it is rear wheel drive and just loud enough to enjoy the acoustics of a parking garage. Perfect for some Arizona desert off roading, not the best for picking up used after a rough gig as a rental car.
The Chevy Impala isn't a sports car and certainly isn't the poster of choice for childhood bedrooms. It is the V6 powered, front wheel drive GM sedan that is the spiritual descendant of land yachts of yore. Beneath its bland corporate GM looks lurks a powertrain that is built for crushing yellow lights and venturing into the left lane. What impressed me most about the Impala was how far the basic American sedan had come. Heated leather seats, Bose XM radio, Onstar (which almost came in handy) and nearly 250 horsepower made the thousands of miles I drove in under two weeks fly by.

It has become apparent these aren't the watered down American sedans of my youth. The big three need to focus on build quality, seat comfort and a higher grade of interior plastics. Forget the practices of planned obsolescence, build the right car instead of the car for right now.

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