In recognizing that all of us here at Autoblog harbor at least one viewpoint that stubbornly goes against the grain of popular opinion among auto enthusiasts, we've decided to come clean with them right here, proudly speaking our minds in a mature, structured manner – a striking contrast to how these things tend to come up while debated in the office.
We'd also like to invite you to share your unpopular and controversial opinions with us and the Autoblog faithful down in Comments. Don't be ashamed – this is a safe place.
The Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Is Dumb
I don't hate speed. I certainly don't hate crazy horsepower numbers. And because it bears mentioning due to the car in question, no, folks, I don't hate America. But I do think a 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT is both unnecessary and a terrible idea.
Let's start with the car itself: the Challenger. I'll still never forget a former coworker's "like a meatship" description of the car's handling, and to this day, I've never once gotten out of the big Dodge and thought, "Wow, what a rewarding, involving experience." The large LX platform's bones are great at making cars that cruise nicely in a straight line, and cars like the Challenger will do burnouts and drift around corners with ease, but in order to handle 707 horsepower tactfully, you've got to have better chassis chops. And while I admittedly have not driven the Challenger Hellcat yet, the folks I've talked to say that, while it's better, it's still big and clumsy, just as you might expect.
Friends of mine have compared the 707-hp rating to supercars, and that's certainly valid. But supercars with that much power are designed and engineered to handle all that force in as balanced a fashion as possible. Take Chevy's forthcoming Corvette Z06, for example – it has 650 hp, and every bit of work added to that car versus the standard Stingray has been done to ensure it will still be super involving and great to manhandle. The Hellcat, meanwhile, is largely the same ol' mediocre-handling Challenger with a giant freaking engine under the hood. Look at it another way: in its outgoing generation, everyone I know who drove both vastly preferred the Mustang Boss 302 to the more powerful (662 hp!) Shelby GT500. Why? It was far better to drive. That Shelby was like a sloppy drunk friend at a party – fun to be around for a little while, but then just a chore.
The thing that really makes me nervous is that the Challenger Hellcat can be purchased for just $60,000. That's still a big chunk of change, for sure, but relatively speaking, it isn't. And I just don't trust most Challenger buyers with 707 horsepower at their disposal. Dodge's more tactile Viper doesn't even make this much power, so why put it in the cheaper Challenger? It's cool, sure, and furthers the whole pissing match between the American automakers in the horsepower wars, but from where I sit, I just don't like it. To me, it's dumb.
The Dodge Challenger Is America's Best Muscle Car
What is the best American muscle car? Most journalists would tell you it's the Ford Mustang, perhaps in Shelby trim, or even just a run-of-the-mill GT. And they wouldn't be wrong, exactly, except that the Mustang isn't really a muscle car at all. Yes, it has a powerful American V8 engine underhood, sending gobs of red-white-and-blue-blooded torque to the proper (read: rear) wheels, and it's capable of incinerating a set of Goodyears on its way to a wickedly fast quarter-mile time slip. It's a great car, and one that I'd heartily recommend to the right buyer.
None of that makes it a muscle car, though.
To wit, the last-gen BMW M3 hit all those salient muscle-car-spec points, too, with the possible exception of its middling torque output. Like the M3, the Mustang, in recent years at least, feels light on its feet, almost as if it were designed to, you know, turn corners. The Camaro, in SS guise, feels closer to a proper muscle car, but it doesn't hold a candle to the Dodge Challenger, current King of Detroit Muscle.
I felt this way before the SRT Hellcat even hit the scene, but now my opinion is set in stone. Having grown up on American muscle cars – yes, I'm too young, having been born a decade after the 1970 pinnacle of muscle; my father and I worked on the old cars together in our barn – I can tell you that a proper muscle car marries a big engine with an eye-catching body and, well, not much else. And nothing currently on sale in the US more closely mimics the muscle car ethos of days past like the Dodge Challenger.
Would I buy one? Well, probably not – I'm more of a sedan person these days, so I'd buy an SRT-branded Charger or 300. It wouldn't be a muscle car, but it would have the ingredients I care most about, namely the big V8 engine, rear-wheel drive and a comfortable interior in which to watch the scenery pass by. Long live the Hemi.
US Automakers Don't Need To Make More Diesels
Automotive media members and enthusiasts are always clamoring for more diesel-powered cars. They then reinforce it with all of the benefits: more torque, better fuel economy, modern advancements in diesel technology – and proceed to wax poetically how much better off we'd all be if we drove diesels. Like in Europe.
Personally, I love diesels. They're fuel-efficient and usually great fun to drive. But do we need more of them? Nope. There are plenty of choices to satisfy the current demand. The German carmakers make a range of sedans and SUVs, and Chevy's diesel Cruze is a nice mainstream addition. You want a fullsize truck? Ram makes a really good EcoDiesel.
At the end of the day, diesels are a niche market. We don't need more of them. Ford, Toyota and Chrysler could come out with five new diesels apiece tomorrow, and they wouldn't jumpstart demand. And don't forget, diesel is about 30 cents more a gallon than regular gasoline is right now, according to the AAA. Automakers are in business to sell cars and make money. You don't do that by jamming technologies loved by industry insiders down the throats of consumers.
The Tesla Model S Is The Most Patriotic Car You Can Drive
Forget pickup trucks and muscle cars. Tesla represents the same all-American tenets of innovation, craftsmanship and courage that made this country the car capital of the world a century ago.
Like our forefathers, Tesla started a revolution by questioning the establishment and focusing on the future, rather than living in the past. Its Model S is manufactured in the great state of California and runs solely on electricity – which can be generated locally and cleanly – instead of oil sourced from halfway around the globe, leaving a trail of emissions in its path. After all, we wouldn't want to pollute those spacious skies, purple mountains or amber waves of grain.
Granted, Tesla's founder and CEO Elon Musk wasn't born in the US, but what could be more American than an immigrant success story in this Land Of Opportunity?
Tesla Ain't All That
Tesla seems to be priming itself for world domination. The company promises to revolutionize the way we think about cars and is generating a great deal of excitement in both the public and private sectors. Recently, the company opened up its patents in hopes that the competition will use their technology, a move that could ensure Tesla's legacy as the electric vehicle standard.
The Model S is a great car for what it is; a high-tech, high-performance toy that allows the semi-wealthy to show off their eco sensibilities. But in the end, Tesla and all electric vehicles just come with too many drawbacks. For starters, batteries big enough and sophisticated enough to power a whole car are still wildly expensive to build. The half-million batteries a year promised by Tesla that will be built in its 'gigafactory' may be enough to bring prices down a little, but not enough. Forbes recently reported that an 85-kWh Tesla battery pack will cost between $13,000 and $17,000 by 2017. Building a entire gasoline hybrid powertrain costs less than half that amount. And replacement battery packs costs thousands.
Charging is another major drawback to the EV dream. A car can be many things; a feat of engineering, a work of art and a source of passion. But if a car isn't ready to roll when you are, then what's the point? Hydrogen fuel cells could well be the real future of green driving, even if that future is a bit more distant than we'd like. With fuel cell cars trickling onto the market and gasoline and diesel drivetrain development still yielding bigger efficiency and emissions improvements than anyone could've reasonably expected at this point in their development, Tesla and other battery-electric cars may be destined to be remembered as valiant attempts at innovation, but not much else.
The Subaru BRZ Doesn't Need More Power
Ever since the Toyotabaru twins launched back in 2012, the thousands of voices clamoring for a turbocharger and/or a bigger engine have overshadowed its brilliance as a pure driver's car. "More power, more power," they chant, like a horde of zombies. Stop it, stop it, stop it. This vehicle is perfectly fine as-is.
Don't get me wrong. I love powerful cars. There's very little in this world that compares to a V8's ability to push your teeth back into your skull. But adding a bigger, heavier and more expensive engine to what is, to me, one of the top achievements in automotive engineering from the past decade is a very bad idea. It would, in effect, ultimately ruin the essence of this car.
The beauty of the BRZ is found not just in its balance, agility and absurdly responsive steering, but also in its rare ability to be a superbly engaging vehicle at legal speeds. I understand that it's a hoot to whip a Porsche 911 around a 25-mph corner at 60 mph – I've been there – but where in the real world can you really do that without putting someone's life or your license at stake? The reality is that we aren't all Ken Block. The BRZ's boxer four, when combined with its fantastic handling, is perfect for providing a fun experience for the amateur driver that wants to safely jazz up his or her commute, errand run or weekend day trip.
Cars don't have to be overly powerful to be fun.The sales success and critical acclaim of the Mazda MX-5 Miata speaks to that. You want power? Subaru has you covered with its WRX. Just get that and leave the BRZ alone.
The Smart Fortwo Isn't Nearly As Bad As You've Read
For better or for worse, car writers – like a lot of other professionals that earn their keep under the glare of public opinion – often seem to get their story straight as a herd, and stick to it. This mentality becomes especially pronounced with vehicles around the margins of normalcy in the marketplace: supercars, electric cars, Hummer H1s and the rolling punching bag better known as the Smart Fortwo.
To save you some time hunting around, let me summarize the arguments against the tiny two-seater: it drives badly on the highway (too slow, pushed around by crosswinds), it's too expensive "for what it is," fuel economy doesn't live up to expectations for such a small car and, of course, we all really, really, really hate the transmission.
Here's my counter: the Fortwo is a city car. When viewed in the context of what a city car should do and be, it's actually rather excellent. To whit: yes, the 1.0-liter turbocharged engine doesn't have loads of power for confident highway passing, but it still feels like a fish in water when buzzing through lane-gaps in the traffic that besets your average intercity slog. Better still, the car's quick steering and tiny, chuckable wheelbase make flitting in and out of the gaps somewhat of a sport. Fuel economy (EPA combined rating) is actually as-good or better than every other gasoline-powered, non-hybrid car on the market, with the notable exception of the Mitsubishi Mirage. As for the price, though it's true that you can get physically larger cars for more money, the Fortwo remains one of the very least expensive new cars you can buy in the US. Of course, if you need room for four, don't buy it at any rate – that seems obvious but I feel like I have to point it out.
Yeah, the transmission sucks. I've just never seen a bad trans so completely define public opinion (journalist opinion, really) of a single model so much. Open question: if the Fortwo had come with a manual transmission and a Mercedes-Benz badge (no "Smart" jokes), would it be a fan favorite today? I'd take that bet.
The Mazda Miata Doesn't Need A Coupe Model
Ever since the original MX-5 Miata was revealed back in 1989, a steady but vocal portion of the enthusiast base that Mazda so brilliantly courted with its original roadster has clamored for a hardtop coupe version. Beyond indulging in a couple of fixed-head concepts and a very limited run of Japanese domestic market models (fewer than 200 NB-generation coupes were built), those cries have gone unheard by company planners.
As a longtime Miata fan and as an owner, I have a one-word response to Mazda's recalcitrance: "Good." The fact that the Miata has remained a convertible means that it has stayed true to its original design ethos of maximizing the driver's interaction with his or her surroundings, a priority telegraphed through the car's light weight, vibrantly communicative handling, and yes, exposure to the elements.
Besides, it's not like there's a big penalty because the Miata is a convertible-only item these days. Improved computer-aided design and smarter materials usage has put the kibosh on much of the chassis flex found in the NA and NB generation cars, and the current NC generation is plenty rigid. The almost-here fourth-generation ND model will doubtlessly be stiffer still. And lest we forget, the NC brought along with it a power-folding hardtop option with minimal weight gain and zero intrusion on cargo space. It's arguably the best of both worlds – coupe-like refinement plus improved weather- and theft-resistance married with a convenient power retractable hardtop.
Now, if Mazda wants to resurrect an RX-based rotary coupe, that I'm all for...
Fewer People Should Be Buying New Cars
We love driving new cars. We love writing about new cars. But new cars are not a smart purchase for the majority of the car-shopping public.
There's a dearth of useful information for buyers on their prospective new purchases in many key areas. Sure, you can check out a list of features, take a test drive and see how you like the vehicle, but what do motorists really learn? Arguably the most valuable information for the majority of car buyers – whether a car is reliable, safe and fuel efficient – isn't yet available. It takes time to develop that track record.
After two or three years, dependability studies can measure the number of mechanical problems car owners experience, safety recalls can alert drivers to potential hazards and savvy shoppers can discern whether advertised gas-mileage figures are inflated.
Sure, shopping for a car that's three years old instead of brand-new removes some of the fun from the buying process. But consumers can make decisions based on hard evidence, not emotional whims.
And by the looks of it, many buyers can't afford a new car anyway. A recent study from Experian Automotive showed the average term of a car loan had reached 66 months, the highest since the company began tracking the data in 2006. A quarter of all new car loans are 73 to 84 months in duration. That's insane.
Considering new cars almost invariably depreciate in value the moment they're driven off the dealer lot, they're a rotten investment that people are paying off over longer and longer terms. Save some money, figure out which models have the best track record and buy a used car.