Sport wagon, that is. SPORT wagon, to be more precise (shown above). If there was an astonishing trend to be observed during this year’s L.A. show, it was the return of the wagon. Cadillac has its CTS wagon (picture), Acura is throwing a TSX wagon in the mix (called sport wagon), and Audi offers a slew of them (but I could do with all this letter salad. Gone are the days luxury cars had names. Sigh!) For me, that’s welcome news, even though I won’t be able to plunk down 50 Grand for a Cadillac – my own car will look less dorky. You just wait and see! Only fourteen years to go until I own a classic.

Another trend is still going strong and is wholly un-automotive. Spandex in UGGs, spandex in UGGs knock-offs, and spandex-jeans in UGGs and UGGs knock-offs. The first time around this looked horrible, but after watching this trend unfold (can a trend do that?) it’s becoming endearing. Wholesome even. I doubt anyone in New York is wearing that in 70 degree weather.

Back to the cars.

A third trend is the cockpit overkill. And cockpits the interiors definitely have become. I’m 6’2″. Tall, but not unusually so, and my right leg has nowhere to go in most larger and luxury cars, thanks to an absurdly huge middle console. These have more buttons now than a JoAnn Fabric’s and their sides are clad in ugly plastics. Of course, the button overload has led the German car makers to invent what BMW calls the iDrive. One button and one display to offer as many as 300 options. Choose the right one while driving in heavy traffic on the 405. People will love your sexy swerves. And the way you spin out the car and hit the divider. A triple 9 from the Dancing With the Stars judges.

Best new car? The Mazda 2. Small, agile, great interior that doesn’t feel confining. Cars appeal, of course, to our sensuality, and this one is just so – honest. No facelift, no fake boobs, no nose jobs. In fact, it does have an ugly beak, but hey, from the driver’s seat you won’t see it. It was so good, indeed, I forgot to take its picture.

Cutest new car? The Fiat 500, which isn’t new in Europe, but it’s the first time we can buy it in North America. Children went nuts over it, and they are also the only ones that fit into it. Okay, I was able to sit somewhat comfortably in that shiny red one, but it feels like you pulled the label off a can of chicken-noodle soup and attached four wheels to it. If the paper boy hits you on his BMX bike, your chance of survival is about 50-50. Astonishingly, that shiny red one had a sticker price of $21,000. The cheapest one shown at the auto show was $18,600. For that kind of money you get a decked-out VW Jetta or a nicely equipped Ford Fusion. Chrysler’s resurrection plan makes Christian mythology suddenly look credible.

 

Dumbest car? Chrysler again. I have a soft spot for Chryslers, mostly old Chryslers. Remember the automatic that switched gears by pressing a button? (Now, there was a handy button). So I really wanted to like the Charger. Really did. And sure, the newly face-lifted car (which also got a way-better engine) looks good from the outside. Sort of. More dramatic at least. Okay, pretty good. Acceptable then. But get inside and the materials are chintzy, and the fit and finish are terrible. An A-pillar cover wouldn’t fit, nearly came off. And this was a show car.

Best car? Ach ja, nun gut. The German in me is partial. I just love the Mercedes SLK. I don’t like SUVs, yet this one is just a wagon with extra ground clearance. And get inside – it’s…boring. Which is exciting. No stylish overkill, no slew of buttons, and you have nice arm and leg space. It’s so simple, and that right now so hard to find. Okay, give me crap for it!

Best engine? Audi. In the R8. The one you see through a window in back. And yes, it’s a V10.

Most macho car? Ford Taurus Police Interceptor. It’s all about sexual role play in this one!

Best shwag? My new Mattel Hot Wheels model of the Camaro Convertible.

Most dedicated photographer? The award goes to this guy, who crouched down and held his camera underneath a new Ford Explorer tailpipe. When was the last time a Japanese car manufacturer’s spy photographed a Ford tailpipe and didn’t collapse laughing?

Most telling gesture? This one, which is my “Posture/Gesture of the Decade.” Guy staring at smart phone.

Second place goes to this one. Me…oh, forget about it.

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STEFAN KIESBYE is the author of Next Door Lived A Girl. His second novel was recently published by Tropen/Klett-Cotta Verlag in Germany; the American edition, titled Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone will be released by Viking/Penguin in 2012. Stefan lives in Los Angeles with his wife Sanaz and their dogs Dunkin and Nozomi.

30 responses to “Inane Comments on the L.A. Auto Show from the Guy Who Drives a Ford Escort Station Wagon”

  1. I’m trying to think of some witty comment, but am coming up at a loss, Stefan. What I will say, though, is that this piece brought back the dreaded memory of the time I owned a Ford Escort wagon. I used to carry my drums around in the back. Damn thing died on me while driving up a hill in L.A. on my way to a gig. I had to roll backwards to get the car off the road. Ended up missing the gig.

    Woof. I hated that car.

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Stefan,

    Your posture/gesture of the decade guy seems to be wearing the original Star Trek uniform.

    Six foot 2 inches is enormous!
    Our tall kid is 5 foot almost 11.
    You should be playing basketball or something.

    I don’t know anything about cars.
    I just go by the color and when there are too many white cars in the parking lot, I use my fob to open my hatch, that’s how I find my car.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Enormous? Wait until the holiday season is over. Then I’ll be 6’2″ in every direction.

      I wish I could drive with you one day. I imagine it to be a frightening, yet eye-opening experience.

      Happy Turkey-Day!

  3. Gloria says:

    The Joann’s fabric line was pretty damn good.

    I kind of want to drive the one with the engine in the back window. I have a thing for big engines. I’m pretty sure I died in a street drag race in my last life.

    For Taurus’s are pieces of shit. Trust me. I drive one.

    If you had a gift certificate for 30K right now and you could only buy one of these cars, which one would you buy?

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Oh, Gloria, I love that you appreciate the engines! Ford Taurus are shit? Aww, too bad. Still, the interceptor package should at least make them fast.

      30 Grand? Geez. You know, I’m a cheesy guy. I probably would buy a Mustang GT. It’s cheesy, and it’s made in Flat Rock, Michigan, which I visited, and where I bought a $500 Grand Marquis once (which was my favorite car ever, an ’85 with coach lights). If II wanted to buy a driver’s car, I’d probably opt for an Audi A3.

      How about your yourself?

      Happy Thanksgiving!

      • Gloria says:

        If I had a gift certificate for 30K, I would by a hybrid car with excellent storage space, impeccable gas mileage, plenty of leg room, four doors, an engine that you don’t have to special order parts for, plenty of torque so that I can take it anywhere, made out of actual metal (not that crumpling stupid fiberglass that buckles completely when you hit it going 5 miles per hour), and a 100,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty. If I could get the one with the CD player and still be under budget, that would be great, but I don’t need any bells and whistles. I don’t care what the body looks like, but if I could get it in metallic burgandy or wine that would be great. Cloth interior. Rubber (not cloth) floor mats.

        What’ve you got for me?

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          Wow, that is very specific. Five of them there (that I know of). Prius, of course. Always good, until you can’t stop accelerating. Then the Insight from Honda, which is, well, okay. My favorite is the Fusion Hybrid, and you’d still be okay with your budget, and it comes with cloth seats as well. There’s the Nissan Altima, but I’m not sure they are selling it outside of CA. Finally, there’s the new Honda CR-Z, which wants to be a CR-X of old (which was one of the coolest small sporty cars ever, a total classic). I wanted to root for this new CR-Z, but it’s butt-ugly inside, total overkill of buttons and cheapo plastic. And it’s a two-seater.

          the 100,000 bumper to bumper guarantee? Ouch. I’m not sure anyone will give that to you.

          But the Fusion comes in burgundy!!!

        • Gloria says:

          Well, I could negotiate on the warranty if I can get the other stuff. And no Prius’s thank you. Toyota screwed the pooch in 2010. I’ll take the Nissan, then. I love Nissan. It’s a good company. I’ve owned several Nissans and have loved every one. I’ll just have to go to California to buy it! When I get my imaginary 30K! Woot!

          (Hope your Thanksgiving was lovely.)

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          All roads lead to California! Don’t fight it! Hope your T-Day was lovely, too!

  4. Simon Smithson says:

    Oh my God! That interceptor is the masculinest thing I’ve ever seen! I can’t help but think of Elwood Blues: ‘It’s got cop tyres, cop brakes…’

    • Don Mitchell says:

      The old Interceptor….

      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/automobiles/autoreviews/28grand-marquis.html?hpw

      I remember reading, years ago, that if you pass a Crown Vic/Gran Marquis the driver is going to be a middle-aged man, silver hair, clean-shaven, probably wearing a baseball jacket, wife by his side, doing the speed limit.

      Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the point was that CV/GM are the kind of car that this guy understands: front V8, live axle, smooth but non-responsive understeering handling, etc.

      Think sixties-vintage Holden, Simon. I’m not certain, but I think the CV/GM style of sedan was something that Ford only marketed in N America.

      • Stefan Kiesbye says:

        I’d like to add that if you drive a Crown Vic here, everybody around you is doing the speed limit. That’s until they see your face and decide you’re not a cop.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          What a great article, Don!

          “You may miss it, but you didn’t really want it.”

          “A car you could wear a hat in.”

          Man.

          American cars.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Glad, that you see the masculine side of it. Might not be pretty, but it’s so Transformers meets Robocop.

  5. Don Mitchell says:

    Very nice, Stefan.

    Remember when you had that L.A. reading and I, all unknowing, ended up parking far from the entrance, my wagon directly behind your wagon. Some serious attraction, there.

    I’m with you about the wagon-craze. I wonder what it’s all about. Is it for people who want something that’s SUV-ey but doesn’t count as one? People who need something like a minvan (or think they do) but aren’t willing to risk the soccer-mom image?

    I’m shocked by the Fiat 500. Apart from the retro styling, is it otherwise a modern design? I had a Fiat 600 many years ago and it was a piece of shit.

    Final question — isn’t the Audi’s V10 a Lamborghini product? Bad enough not to know what your Volvo is, or that your Saab SUV is a Chevy, your Jaguar in Lincoln (surely not all of them, though), your Ford Fusion in fact a Mazda 6, your Chevy Impala an Opel . . . and who knows what else. Reminds me of an ad that BMW used to run, comparing major automakers and marques and pointing out that BMW is owned by BMW and all BMWs are BMWs. They had nothing to say about the Mini or that Expensive British Marque.

    My BMW has a GM-France transmission. GM-France? What-dash-what? Impossible-sounding.

    Anyway. Good Auto Show coverage for the likes of us.

    Oh, one more thing. Raise your hand if you know that tailpipe joke featuring the all-star Priest, Minister, and Rabbi cast.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      I do not know the joke, and I really want to know it, and I fear it’s not printable…or did I not get the joke here, and there is no such joke?

      Wagons: I do believe that Minivans have paved the way for this wagon renaissance. Once you’ve accepted a wagon into your life, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why not a wagon? It’s better-looking, has more street cred, and drives better.” The wagon once was the van. Now the wagon is slightly cooler. And it’s just darn practical and doesn’t handle like the old boats of yore did.

      Yeah, the Fiat is modern, and capable. The interior plastics aren’t all that great, but it looks nice alright, and the 1.4 l engine is supposed to be good too. Just claustrophobic, and I don’t think if you live in the Midwest, you want to drive one through the snow and ice.

      About the V-10 being a Lambo. Yes, it is, but since VW owns Lambo, it’s not a bad thing. And yes again to all the other outsourcing. And the 90s Saab 900 had a Chevy Cavalier platform, and the owner of the dog wash I frequent just told me that Minis now have Renault engines, and the old Citroen SM had, which was really cool, a Maserati engine. Cross pollination isn’t so bad, you just don’t want your luxury car being made by Opel, Ford, and the likes.

      My Escort was built in Mexico and has a Mazda four-pot. I think that may be a good thing, that Mazda engine.

      GM-France? Sounds like the worst pairing of automotive possibilities. Then again, French engines and transmissions are successful in Le Mans, and on the Formula 1 circuit.

      Thanks for reading, Don!

  6. Don Mitchell says:

    The joke’s an old one, and there are many variants. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the priest or the minister who gets the new car, but the rabbi has to be last.

    Father Kiesbye’s congregation gives him a new car. He’s thrilled and calls his friends the pastor and the rabbi to come admire it.

    The pastor says, Father, did you do anything in honor of your new car?

    Yes, I sprinkled it with holy water and blessed it.

    The pastor says, Well, I tell you what. I’ll say a baptismal prayer for it.

    The rabbi says, Father, do you have a hacksaw? You do? Get it for me, please.

    Then he takes the hacksaw and cuts a couple of inches off the tailpipe.

  7. Zara Potts says:

    The Interceptor?
    Awesome. Mad Max for 2010.
    I love your car posts, Stefan! You are the only person in the world that can make cars interesting for me!
    🙂

  8. Gloria says:

    I thought you would appreciate this:

    About five minutes ago, I wrapped up a conversation with my 8 year old twin boys about what car we would buy if we won the lottery. Tolkien wanted a Corvette. I explained that I would never have a Corvette and then showed them the 2010 Lamborghini Murcielago and the 2010 Ferrari Enzo on the internet. They both went “ooooooh!” and got really excited. Now they’re in their room putting their laundry away and singing.

    Boys and cars, man…

  9. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    Gloria, that is so cool. So many things in your post are cool. Tolkien? Wow, that is a way cool name for a boy. What is his brother’s name? (Sorry, but I have to ask. My brother-in-law’s baby girl is named Arwyn).

    And yes, Murcielago and Enzo — both so ugly and heartbreakingly beautiful. Yes, boys and cars. But you seem to have the bug too.

    Why no Corvette?

    • Gloria says:

      Tolkien and Indigo (a bastardization of the Spaniard’s name [from The Princess Bride]). They were born on Valentine’s Day.

      Yeah, I have the bug. **sigh** I fought it for a long time. I was raised by a mechanic who was a complete asshole – but I still somehow managed to learn a lot more than I ever realized. I can hold my own in a conversation with any mechanic trying to tell me what work needs to be done on my car – and how much it should cost. Not only that, but I come from a long history of bikers (bandits, really, if we’re calling a spade a spade.) My aunt Sunny – the great matriarch of my family and very first (and still) hero – rode a Harley for years. I guess I just come from a bunch of blue collar muscle heads. Please don’t tell anybody in my Finer Things club. 😉

      And why not a Corvette? First of all, it’s made by Chevy. Second of all, it’s what every mullet having, white pants wearing d-bag in knew in high school was saving up for – which I would get to hear about as I stood around yawning and rolling my eyes while he installed glass packs on his shitty Camaro. I can neither confirm nor deny reports that I have a chip on my shoulder…

      Sonny Crocket drove a Testarossa. He was no gear head.

      Finally, if I could have any ridiculous super speedy car of my dreams, I would pick this one.

      • Stefan Kiesbye says:

        That is a good choice of car. When I was about, oh, six, eight, ten, I fell in love with a Lamborghini Miura. Had one as a bigger matchbox car.

        Wow, I love your boys’ names, and I’m jealous about that mechanic background. I open the hood of any car and am just in awe. And have no idea what it all means. I can check my oil. I wish I had some blue collar muscle heads in my family.

        The Chevy thing I get totally. I hate Chevy (love Fords). Chevy is always the bad cheesy choice.

        Sonny’s first car was a Daytona. Ah. I’ll take mine in yellow.

        Will you adopt me?

        • Gloria says:

          I taught Tolkien and Indigo how to check and fill the oil, the transmission fluid, and the power steering fluid on my Taurus yesterday. Hate Ford, too. You know what I love? Nissan. Any Nissan. That company makes reliable vehicles.

          Yes! I will adopt you! And your wife! And your dog! But, you have to move to Portland. (This is always the deal breaker – otherwise I would’ve married Nick Belardes at one point and Lisa Rae Cunningham at another.)

        • Stefan Kiesbye says:

          We’re on our way 🙂

        • Cub Lea says:

          Re. your old Matchbox Miura, it won’t stack up to your original (especially if you had the gold one; I had one of those…but sadly just the smaller one, not the larger Super Kings version that you apparently got) but apparently Mattel’s design staff watch Top Gear too (the Miura’s been played up a couple of times in recent years), and Matchbox just released a brand-new casting of the Miura (no opening doors on this one) and it’s on the ‘pegs’ right now in a rather nice yellow if fancy suits. And if you’d rather have the old one, well, the market for diecast collectibles has collapsed in recent years. If you ever want to replace your original Matchbox, get it before the next terrorist attack drives undateable middle-aged men like me back to their computers again, starving for nostalgic security…in my opinion, that played a big role in driving the diecast and full-size collectible-car markets to their 2002-5 peaks. I can’t believe so many of my favorite pieces as a kid are so cheap right now!

  10. SAA says:

    Oh my god, I want that Interceptor so bad. I’ve wanted one ever since I watched The Road Warrior. I just want to scare the shit out of other motorists as I cruise up behind them.

  11. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    In my dreams, a machine gun pops out of the hood and starts firing…

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