My girlfriend had a Tercel. Well, I say “girlfriend,” but she wasn’t my girlfriend at the time. It was a white coupe, a 1996, if I remember correctly. One thing I know for certain: like all of her cars, it lasted exactly 130 thousand miles before rendering itself stationary in an inconvenient location. This time, it was the parking lot in front of the redbrick strip mall where she worked as a general purpose college-chick grunt in fairly successful party supply store. At quittin’ time, she found that her trusty Toyota had quit as well. I, her car-savvy friend, got the call.
The diagnosis: Transmission… something. Car savvy though I was, I didn’t have the hands-on knowledge of broken and misbehaving automobiles that I have today. As busy as she was in a town which expanded outward rather than upward, being carless even temporarily was a depressing prospect, and like most college students, she was comfortable self-medicating. “Byron’s here,” she told her dad on the phone. “He’s going to get me drunk.”
Ford’s been on a crusade lately to win the hearts and minds of the small car buyer with its new Focus, and so far it seems to be working. The Focus has risen to the top of the heap in most comparison test results for its ability to blend functionality and driving dynamics. But how does it match up to its competitors when the two biggest industry buzzwords – fuel economy – are dropped? In search of the almighty MPG, we decided to borrow a 2012 Focus SE sedan for some driving impressions.
Ford’s press conference was heavy on the promise of more jobs in the Detroit area, commitment to global growth, and a not-so-subtle jab at the current generation of electric vehicles currently on the market today. Alan Mulally rolled out on stage in a Focus ST which will go on sale here in the U.S. later this year before talking about the 3 new fully electric vehicles they hope to have on sale by the end of next year and a full range of EVs by 2013.
Ford also showed off the Grand C-Max which will be the first C-segment vehicle sold in the U.S. and also a glimpse of what the next generation Escape would look like in the Vertrek Concept.
If you ask the people who’ve spent a lot of time around me, talk to me on a routine basis, or possibly have spent more than a half-hour in my presence, they’ll tell you that I’m an argumentative person. I love a good argument, it gives me a chance jog my memory on a wide range of topics, improves my mental agility, and lets me stretch out to see things from someone else’s viewpoint. Arguments are like a gym membership for the mind, and I think it’s something that people should do more often, if only to really test what they believe in and exercise those critical thinking parts of the brain that go seriously underused these days. As listeners to the podcast will attest to, I’ve never shied away from making my opinions heard, and if there was some way to allocate all the time I spend saying the same line sixty-three billion times in an effort to make it sound like I haven’t coated the inside of my mouth with Vaseline and instead spend it talking and arguing with real people out there, I would do it in a heartbeat.
“So, yeah, it’s a new Focus, but it’s not the one we want. In fact, had we been asked what we’d want for the latest Focus, ‘old mechanicals,’ ‘horrifying exterior styling,’ and ‘no hatchbacks’ wouldn’t exactly have sprung to mind.” – “Automobile” magazine, on the 2008 Ford Focus
“Not only does Saturn need the Astra, but North American buyers need it too.” – “Automobile”, on the 2008 Saturn Astra
Focus Sales in 1Q 2008: 49,070
Astra Sales in 1Q 2008: 1,477
“Four, five press cars a week!” The violence of his own enthusiasm was starting to get the better of the old fellow; sweat stains were visibly creeping down the wrinkled sides of his cheap Hawaiian shirt as he waved both hands forcefully in an effort to keep my attention. “The manufacturers know they need to put cars in my driveway, because when I write about a car, it puts customers on the front door of that damn dealership Monday morning, bet your ass.” Ugh. It’s common practice for manufacturers to “match up” journalists on press events, and judging from my experience they aren’t exactly using eHarmony’s patented relationship-predicting algorithms to do it, because I keep getting matched with drooling morons who appear to hate my guts from the moment I climb into the airport courtesy car. Oh well. Might as well keep the conversation going, if only for my own amusement.
“But how do you manage to review five cars a week?” I asked in as innocent a tone as I could muster. “I mean, how do you even drive that many?”
“I DON’T!” was the near-shouted reply. “My daughter drives ’em, and if she likes a car, I’ll give it some of my time. We don’t even own any cars any more. No reason to. They’re free when you know what you’re talking about.” Clearly, it was going to be a long ride to the test site, but it turned out to an instructive one. For nearly three decades, I’d been a passive consumer of automotive magazines and websites, always wondering what it would be like to make it to the “inside” and actually live the lifestyle of a super-cool automotive journalist. Then one day, our senior editor, Zerin Dube, picked me out of utter obscurity to impose my worthless opinions on you, our valued readers – and before I knew it, I was a player in the whirlwind motor-journo lifestyle of free food, free hotels, free fuel, and all the bacon I can eat at the breakfast bar. It’s kind of like being Paris Hilton, without the pocket dogs and the “Nightshot” videos with Rick what’s-his-name.
Unfortunately, in the same way that Ms. Hilton appears to have gone, oh, shall we say, completely insane as a result of her fabulous life, I’m starting to suspect that all autowriters eventually lose their minds as well. It would explain a lot, you know. It would solve the mystery of why I recently had some crazy old dude whose sole racing experience consisted of transit driving in a cross-country rally give me a drunken lecture about my braking points on-track. It would help me understand why people who barely earn fifty grand a year prance around like the Prince of Wales and bully the staff at the press event hotels. Most importantly, it might offer a clue as to how the Press As A Whole did such an incompetent job of reviewing the latest arrivals on the small-car scene.