Monday, August 15, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

It has been said that you are what you drive, and I believe that.  The story is told that the car you choose to drive is a tangible expression of your inner personality.  Much like pet owners seems to morph into human copies of their beloved dog or cat, our cars reflect us and in some ways, we reflect our cars.  Sporty, rugged, utilitarian – our cars are us, and we are our cars.  They make important statements about who we are and what we value.  We learn about people and make judgments about people based on what they drive.  More often than not, what we learn by observing the cars people choose to drive is the truth.

I did not always subscribe to this line of reasoning.  For years, I drove a Volvo station wagon, which I viewed as more a statement about my finances and wife’s choices than a statement about my values and personality.  I know that to my conservative friends nothing shouts louder and prouder “Tree Hugging Liberal Elitist” than a late model Volvo wagon, but I can assure you, this characterization misrepresents what I consider to be my fair minded political balance.  For the record, my Volvo did not sport a “Co-Exist” bumper sticker, and I rarely got behind the wheel wearing leather driving gloves or a tweed sports coat (suede elbow patches, of course).  In my Volvo, I believe I was framed, not reflected.


In America, the automobile embodies our national ethos of independence and it defines us as free spirited individuals.  The preeminence of the automobile in American culture makes the study of cars and their drivers uniquely relevant during the presidential nominating season.    I believe that to truly know the candidates, you need to know their cars.   You are what you drive after all.  I set out to collect some data on what the current contenders for the Republican nomination drive on a regular basis.  If I could study the available literature on these cars, I might learn some hidden information about the candidates.  Stump speeches are filled with hyperbole and misdirection.  Car research bulletins from noted consumer publications will provide truth.

Here are the results of my research.  I relied heavily on excerpts from the prestigious Consumer Retorts magazine, which has a history of producing valuable, unbiased ratings on automobiles.  You be the judge: 
Micelle Bachmann – Mustang King Cobra (actually, the car is in her husband, Marcus’ name and Mrs. Bachmann is only allowed to drive it with permission)

Nothing screams “Overcompensation!” more than this traditional American muscle car.  What the owner may lack in masculinity, the roar of this baby more than makes up for.  The Mustang is famous for its trademark purr and its ability to get out of the starting blocks quickly, and this model doesn’t disappoint.  To win any race with this fine auto, however, be prepared to pour loads of cash into its engine, which more hype than substance.  Remember, buyer – just because it’s the loudest car doesn’t make it the best car on the lot.  Don’t be fooled by the overblown tales of this legend.  We suspect that the history is mostly created out of thin air to sell more vehicles, and simple fact checking would explode any myths.  We suspect the history is falsified because this model may not be able to deliver the goods.  This car is built for show, and if you aren’t prepared to tinker with it endlessly, it could bankrupt the na├»ve purchaser.  It offers a sparkling grill and nice headlights, but be advised – the model we sampled did not have a left turn indicator, which can be frustrating to 50% of the other drivers on the road.

Rick Perry – Hummer H3 (no longer in production, much like the owner – they broke the mold after this one)

This colossus is oversized and imposing on the outside, and offers vast amounts of empty space on the inside.  From the looks of it, this guiltless beast could and will run over anything in its path that doesn’t yield.  It is advertised as having the ability to go from a standing stop to top speed and performance almost instantly; however, if you know anything about how these babies work, you’ll realize that it takes time to work out the kinks and find the correct driving rhythm.  It is best to anticipate that minor repairs and recalibrations will be required during the first few months of ownership.  The models we tested offered Yosemite Sam “Back Off” mud flaps and a St. Christopher style GPS, both standard.  One of the more troubling features was its lack of a rearview mirror.  It is obvious that this car has no interest in backing up or looking backwards.  We believe that a rearview mirror might provide the driver with perspective when traveling, but this car’s ego will not allow it.  The complimentary gun rack is hard mounted to the frame and cannot be removed.  This Hummer runs exclusively on crude oil, so the exhaust output is dirty.  We found this juggernaut hard to maneuver in tight situations.  The car pulls hard to the right and at high speeds, and that is a recipe for disaster.  We pray for anyone in its path.

Ron Paul – Harley Davidson Fat Boy motorcycle

You may be tempted to give in to your inner isolationist on this one-of-a-kind ride.  Our issue with this motorcycle has not changed over the years.  We realize that everyone fantasizes about owning one, until they become aware that this ride doesn’t prepare you adequately for all conditions.  All it would take would be one patch of sand, one bull or bear running into the road, and the limitations of this ride would become painfully obvious.  Unfortunately, it would be too late at that point.  We recommend this mode of transport remain safely in the showroom and out of your garage, before someone, like you or someone you love, gets hurt.  This dream machine comes in one color: gold - standard.  This ride is a great choice in theory, but not recommended in reality.

Newt Gingrich – Infiniti G Sedan

What can you say about this car?  Its most distinctive feature may be the oversized spare tire and the large seat.  The few buyers we spoke with liked the onboard computer, arguing that it is the smartest car on the road.  Our tests showed a remarkable lack of memory, however, which causes the outputs of the dashboard to be contradictory and condescending at best.  The speedometer, in particular, seems more attuned to the prevailing winds outside than the actual speed of the car.  This leaves the owner wondering where this car is really going.  You may be impressed by the Tiffany encrusted steering wheel, but what the manufacturer won’t tell you is that the steering can be controlled by the passenger!  That may sound fun, until you consider what would happen if your spouse was in the passenger seat and controlled the direction of the car.  What if she wanted to drive you right into a ditch?  We’ve seen it happen.  The poor acceleration and ability to maintain road traction in challenging conditions was a big disappointment.  Comes in all colors, except blacks.

Sarah Palin – GMC Yukon

This baby is hard not to notice when it sneaks up behind you on the road traveling at full speed.  Despite its size, it is quite fast on the highway, although it has surprisingly little towing capacity.  You would think a vehicle that powerful would be able to pull others along with it, but it is designed to run light.  As you would expect, the Yukon has plenty of room for all of your personal baggage.  Safety first with the Yukon – be sure to check out those air bags up front.  These generously sized bags are designed for safety, but also for comfort.  We searched, but could not find any climate controls within the vehicle.  The manufacturer recommends rolling down the windows for a breath of air from the natural world, but we were overcome with the prodigious exhaust fumes when we tried that.  The Yukon has always been a popular model, but if you are honest and drive it once, you will agree that its limitations far outweigh its upside.  This is definitely not something built for the long haul.  The model we test drove did not have passenger or driver’s side mirrors, so we ran over anything that appeared to our left and our right.  The good news was that we didn’t feel a thing as we rolled over these obstacles.  One more benefit - turn on those enormous fog lights on the top of the cab, and you’ll be able to see your house from anywhere!

Herman Cain – Nissan Sentra

Unless you are buying a car for your second career as a pizza delivery driver, we recommend you pass on this model.  The literature on the Sentra says one thing, but the reality is truly another.  It praises its own ability to simplify the car ownership experience (the owner’s manual is only 3 pages long), but three pages doesn’t allow the driver to know how to change a tire, turn on the radio, or even how to accelerate or brake.  Simplicity will sell some cars, but it won’t help you drive.  The engine runs so loud at times that it is hard to hear yourself think when inside the vehicle, and we suspect that is intentional.  The less you think, the better and more attractive this option seems.  Steering is free and easy, except in the direction of Mecca.  If inadvertently pointed in that direction, the car stalls.  Interior seat covers are available in all fabric types, except muslin.  This car doesn’t want any muslin.

Thaddeus McCotter – Horseback (With a name like “Thaddeus McCotter”, what would you expect?  Didn’t he run as Rutherford B. Hayes’ running mate?)

Mitt Romney – Lexus LS

This luxury sedan is trying too hard to be all things to all buyers.  It is business car?  Is it a family car?  Is it casual or formal?  No one knows what this vehicle stands for, which puts off many potential purchasers.  It offers utilitarian styling on the outside, but inside, it is all high society, from the gold plated dashboard to the silver gray highlights on the edges of the interior.  During our test drive, the car pulled left at first, then without warning, it started pulling to the right.  It was as if the car had a mind of its’ own, but of course, that’s impossible.  A car can’t think by itself!  The GPS, in particular, was most annoying.  It would wait until a turn was completely executed before declaring “Turn now”.  If you didn’t know better, you’d think the car was more afraid of steering you wrong than getting you to the programmed destination.  We found the car sluggish and not effective in warm climates, like South Carolina and Georgia.  It performed much better in the cooler climate, like New Hampshire and Utah.  This could change over time, once the engine gets more mileage under its belt.  Its climate controls are confusing and contradictory, leaving all passengers too warm or too cold.  We couldn’t tell.  All in all, we believe that this Lexus is a product of slick marketing, but little substance.

Jon Huntsman – Volvo S60 Sedan

This brand screams “Safety” at every turn.  Unfortunately for the makers, while safety should be a key consideration in such a purchase, the lack of sex appeal tends to push away the would-be buyers.  If you want a vehicle that will stand up to the pressures of the road on a daily basis, we suggest that you reconsider this traditional model.  Its focus on fuel efficiency detracts from its potential for high performance.  The car is built for smooth highway driving, so we must question whether it has the adequate suspension to absorb unexpected potholes and uneven terrain.  Like some of the other models we reviewed, it comes with a standard gun rack, but unlike the other models, this one is more easily removed.  It was refreshing to find that its climate controls were functional and easy to understand.  The manufacturer might consider installing a new horn that actually gets the attention of others on the road.  The existing honk is more of a tap on the shoulder than an urgent warning.  This model is no longer available in the color that made the brand famous, Red China, but it does offer an updated Red State Red shade that is exciting.
 Tim Pawlenty – No longer drives any car.  Willing to ride shotgun with someone else. 
At the end of my research, the conclusion is clear: You are what you drive.  Be sure the next car you buy doesn’t turn out to be a lemon.

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