NFR: Some observations at the AutoShow


Active Member
Two things really jumped out at me today at the Spokane International Auto Show. The first is that there is a vast number of truly hideous cars on the market right now. It seems like the Japanese manufacturers are in an all out war to out ugly each other. For years Toyota has held the crown by not having ever built a pretty car in their entire history. The awkward FJ Cruiser, Matrix, Prius and Highlander continue that tradition but now Lexus has chimed in with their ungainly CT 200H hatchback. I don't think are any two lines on this beast that actually compliment each other. Nissan joins the fray with their ungainly named and designed Murano Cross Cabriolet. This was one of the more unfortunate design attempts at the show.

Honda made their presence felt with the sad looking Crosstour and the even more vexing Ridgeline. Jeez-just buy a Frontier or a Tacoma and stop pretending you have a truck. To cap off the Honda Blah Brigade they have the new Odyssey with the "Lightning Bolt" side panel. Are these things designed in pre school with crayons?

Any Scion looks like it was designed by a deranged tagger who has been medicated too heavily. Just horrible. The Koreans fared a little better with some well designed and pleasing to view products. But their SUV's are just awkward looking and don't utilize interior space to any great degree. A pleasant surprise was the Kia Soul which is a dandy little urban runabout with actual decent seats and some real utility. A new more powerful engine and new gearbox make this kind of a sleeper.

The new Ford Escape was a real disappointment-it now looks like all the other Cute-Utes with the squinty little rear windows and the sloping roof. Almost all of the new utes have adapted the same style which reminds me of an armadillo that has been goosed by a porcupine. The utility has gone out of SUV as they have all caved in to style in lieu of function. In reality they are going back to what they were so eager to escape a few years back-station wagons. If you want a station wagon just buy a new Passant TDI for around 30 K, it will have as much or more interior room and get over 40 mpg and drive rings around those foul handling small utes.

The second big thing that struck me at the show was that about 85% of all the vehicles there had black interiors. Any light that dared stray in was immediately gobbled up by the upholstery and carpet. With cars already being downsized the black made them look even smaller and more uninviting inside. By contrast the rigs with light reflecting interiors seemed more spacious and somehow more comfortable than those all black coffins. The new Jeep with the gorgeous tan leather has more interior ambiance than almost any vehicle around. Just lovely.

So how did I fare? I had checkbook in hand and was ready to factory order a new Dodge Grand Caravan which would be perfect for old folks with a big dog and lots of groceries to haul. I was also looking forward to camping out of it, getting much better mileage than my truck or SUV and enjoying the lower insurance premiums as well. I drove the new Man Van from Dodge and was impressed by it's power and seamless transmission. With the new engine it is the most powerful of all the vans and the transmission can engage any of the 6 speeds without ever removing your hands from the wheel. Very handy. And the Stow'N'Go seating arrangement is just brilliant. I could buy it for that feature alone as you can convert from a passenger van to a cargo van in less than 60 seconds. But it has a fatal flaw. When they went to the Stow'N'Go they shortened the front seat bottoms to make rooms for middle row and they are just too skimpy for long term comfort. My wife has a 35-36" inseam and there was about 7'' of air between the end of the seat and the back of her knee. No support at all in other words and really not even enough for me with my much shorter legs. So after all the enthusiasm and anticipation of a new rig the whole deal was a bust.

The other rig we had considered was replacing our 18 year old Ram truck with a new Quad Cab 4X. If you are 6' or over those are the seats you want to be in, they are just superb. But the Ram gets crappy mileage compared to the van and we were amazed at how tall the damned things have become. We are both 6' but the door sill on the 4X was higher than my knee! That is a hell of a step up and it won't get any easier when I get older. Another frustration but I am not going to spend big bucks on something that just doesn't fit.

The one bright spot for us was sitting in the new Dodge Durango which has seats as good as the Ram. These fit right to the back of the knee and give full support-critical for long drives. I don't necessarily want another SUV but the van thing is completely dead.

Spending money isn't as easy as I thought it would be.

The change in suvs from body on frame to unit construction leading to the crossover description has led to other changes as well. Where the suv at one time could be counted on for towing duties as well as having a rugged interior for outdoor activities, the crossover designs have made it dang near impossible to find an suv that can tow a boat and handle a bunch of wet gear being tossed inside as well. One of the few such vehicles now is the Nissan Xterra. And that design is already 4 or 5 years old.

I guess if you're going to throw a fish in the back of your rig its looking more and more like you need
a pick up truck.
Looks of a car are waaaaaay down on the list of important for me. A car is a tool for me, not a fashion accessory. I could care less how a car look so long as it does what I need it to do.
Ivan I still have dreams about that F-350 King ranch that I sat in the last time we went to the Auto show together. The butter soft brown leather seats and trim made it the most beautiful interior I have ever seen.
If money was no object It would be in my driveway.
dream on jesse
Looks of a car are waaaaaay down on the list of important for me. A car is a tool for me, not a fashion accessory. I could care less how a car look so long as it does what I need it to do.
I couldn't agree more. If only I could get my fiance to buy into this line of thinking.


Active Member
Evan, I think we kind of agree, at least partially. That was my point about the new Ford Escape. Before it was a handsome little ute with a squared off and practical cargo compartment. Form follows function. Now it is swoopy with a lowered and less practical cargo space. Fashion trumps function.

But function can be 'cool' too. The Kia Soul is as much of a box as the Honda Element, Scion xb and the Nissan Cube. But since it is 'cool' it outsells the entire Scion lineup and the Cube combined. It sells at a rate of over 5:1 to the Scion xb. So it is obvious that Toyota needs to add some cool to their lineup too. Obviously I am not a slave to fashion either when it comes to what I drive, otherwise I wouldn't have been looking at a van in the first place. But I have been around product development and R&D most of my life and understand that it cost no more to make something pretty rather than butt ugly. Both have about the same material content and labor cost. The problem starts at the design table and snowballs right into production. There are a lot of brilliant young designers out there-the Japanese are just too stubborn to hire them. The new Honda Civic is a case in point. It was recently introduced with great fanfare as an all new vehicle. In fact it was cold leftovers that had been reheated in the microwave and it broke no new ground. It is such an embarrassment that Honda has promised a complete redo in an attempt to recapture their mojo. The Koreans are just kicking their ass right now.

Stay cool, Ive


Active Member

I agree, a vehicle is a tool, but there is no reason it can't be a tool that does what you desire and be good looking with decent ergonomics inside at the same time. And because it is a tool, it should do what you wish it to do.

This is why I have several different vehicles:
A full-size 4x4 3/4 ton pickup (it can tow whatever I wish to tow with it, it has plenty of room in the bed under the canopy to haul things, it won't get stuck unless I get stupid and take it somewhere a long wheelbase full-size 4x4 truck has no business being, and it has sufficient room in its cab for my 6'3"). I can also toss an air mattress in the bed and use it to sleep in and camp near a distant river. It is also a 1987 model with a conventional cab that I put a new engine in 17,000 miles ago. Granted it only gets 13.5 MPG Hwy, but it has been paid for many years.

A 2000 Durango R/T. Great rig for carrying fishing gear and for taking a long trip with. It also has sufficient room for my 6'3", has good comfortable seats, and can tow 7500 lb if I wish to. It fun to drive with its high output 5.9L engine and decent handling, and I can sleep in it with the back seats down if needed. Plus it has full time 4-wheel drive with a locking transfer case for both 4-wheel drive high and low. Granted, it doesn't get the greatest gas mileage at 15 MPG Hwy, but it also paid for and is my wife's daily driver and one of her favorite vehicles.

A 2005 Dodge Magnum R/T. Plenty of room, works fine as a fishing rig if I don't need to take it on rutted dirt roads, fits my 6'3" very well, Has very good, comfortable seats, handles well, has pleny of power with its 5.7L Hemi (and some aftermarket goodies), has good non-fading brakes, and gets 25 MPG on the hwy.

And my favorite, a 1991 Corvette ZR-1. A limited production, 6-speed, double-overhead cam, all aluminum, 5.7L 400+ hp blast to drive with a top speed of 180+ MPH. Cornering ability of 1g, great acceleration, superb stopping power, fits my 6'3", very comfy seats for fast driving and long-distance driving. Granted, I can't use it for fishing, but it was never designed to be a fishing rig. It was designed to be a sports car with supercar cabilities that was among the top 4 supercars and fastest cars of the early to mid-1990's. It gets 25 MPG hwy and I drive it at least once a week.

Like I said, I agree with you that you should buy a car for the purpose you are going to use it for because it is just a tool. It is just that some of us like different tools and some of the ones we like are not practical fishing rigs, so we have more than one vehicle in order to have the right tool for the job.

Jim Ficklin

Genuine Montana Fossil
I'll stick with my 4x4's -- Tacoma & built Wrangler & my Caliber. Fuel economy sucks with the Wrangler, but I built it for "fun." All are paid-off and that definitiely softens the impact of fuel costs, plus there's a ton of room in the Caliber on those occasions when I'm feeling miserly.


Active Member
They are making crossovers more because of the new fuel efficiency standards. Word on the street is that even the Chevy Tahoe is an endangered species and will not be built on a truck frame any longer. Instead it'll be a unibody with a turbo diesel.


Idiot Savant
Different strokes for...well, you know...

Me? I'm happy with my 2009 F-150. It sits most days, patiently waiting to go fishing or hunting. Or to haul firewood home. Otherwise during our crappy, gray, wet, winter, our old 98 Forester gets me to work and back and I can always throw the Fat Cat on the rack and go fishing for the day.

But when the sun finally makes it out, the Beemer comes out (2010 F650GS) and I get to enjoy riding to work.

Each rig has a purpose, I've found there is no silver bullet in vehicles. The high dollar truck gets the least wear and tear. The well cared for Subie does the dirty work with a smile, it's paid for itself long ago. The Beemer, well, everyone has vices... don't they?