The Lexus GX460 is the ugliest car on sale today. There, I said it. I said it so you didn’t have to. You were thinking it, of course. But you were afraid to say it, largely because you were worried that an angry Lexus GX460 would come after you and use its enormous front grille to gnaw on your family.
Now, before I go any further, I’d just like to say that I generally try to avoid discussing automotive styling. This is because automotive styling is highly subjective, which means that talking about it can really piss people off. For example: a lot of people really like the original Oldsmobile Aurora, whereas I always felt it looked like the kind of thing you might draw if you were holding a pen with your toes. But you can’t say this kind of thing to Oldsmobile Aurora owners, because it will cause them to fly into a rage, and then they’ll take even longer to write out checks when you’re standing in line at the grocery store.
I also try to avoid discussing automotive styling because my opinions tend to go against the mainstream. For instance: I really like the Ferrari FF. Seriously. I think it’s handsome, and bold, and muscular, and well-proportioned. This is in direct contrast to, say, you, who probably feels that the Ferrari FF looks like the kind of thing that even the Japanese would be embarrassed to display at the Tokyo Motor Show.
So styling is a bit of a sore subject, and I try to steer clear of it whenever possible. But I’ve decided to break my silence today, this one time only, to address something that really needs to be discussed: the corporate grille.
Before I get into the GX460 situation, I’d like to start with a little history lesson on the corporate grille. Founded just a few short years ago, it offers American food and a large selection of wine, beer, and liquor, along with several high-definition TVs that ensure you’ll never miss a big game.
Oh no! Wait! That’s the Corporate Bar and Grill, a local neighborhood tavern in Silver Spring, Maryland, that – according to at least one Yelp user – “smells like paint thinner.”
The history of the automotive corporate grille is much different, and I think we can all agree that no matter how I explain it, several commenters will point out that I got it wrong. So I will instead settle for a quick definition: the corporate grille is what happens when a car company decides that each of its vehicles must have the same front end, regardless of a car’s size, shape, market position, or the fact that slapping on such a grille might make the car look like an indignant microwave.
Now, I think we can all agree there have been many successful corporate grilles, and I’m sure that’s what draws automakers to keep creating them. For instance: consider how you see BMW’s twin kidneys, and you immediately think “jerk.” That is brand recognition. Or how you see Dodge’s crossbars, and your first thought is “multiple gun owner.” Or how you see Kia’s “Tiger Nose” and the first words out of your mouth are: “Damn it! Why does Enterprise always give me a Kia?!”
But there have been many occasions where the corporate grille has done more harm than good. I am thinking here of that time Subaru tried to install a giant circle with two wings on the front of each of its cars, in spite of clear opposition from those of us with eyes. Or the time that Mazda gave all of its cars an enormous grin, which – in states with two license plates – included one large, center-mounted aluminum tooth.
And now we have the Lexus “spindle.”
Before I tear into the spindle and suggest that we will someday look back on it as the beginning of the downfall of civilization as we know it, I would like to point out that I actually like the spindle. It looks excellent, for example, on the GS and IS. Disagree if you want, but I think these cars are gorgeous. And I’m certain of this viewpoint because I saw these vehicles in person several months ago on an all-expense-paid Lexus press trip.
But here’s the thing: the GS and IS are sedans. The grille works perfectly on those cars because it gives them this sporty, edgy look, as if to say: “I’m the first Lexus you can drive without prescription bifocals!” They look cool. They look exciting. They look fun.
But the GX460 isn’t a sedan. Instead, it’s a large, ungainly SUV now fitted with what I wouldn’t describe as a spindle, but rather an Angry Hourglass. In fact, I think that’s what I’ll call it. The Angry Hourglass.
The major problem here is that the GX460 wasn’t designed with this grille. The current model came out in 2010, and back then it featured a normal grille, like every other Lexus. But then Lexus decided that it must update every one of its vehicles to include the Angry Hourglass, so they facelifted it. The result is an SUV that’s 90 percent normal, staid, suburban child transport vehicle, and 10 percent angry 1990s video game boss.
And that brings me to my point. Automakers: you don’t need a corporate grille. The GX460 was doing just fine before they tacked on the Angry Hourglass. And Subaru seems to be doing great, despite giving up on that bizarre circle thing. I think we can all agree that this proves a corporate grille is less effective than, say, a bunch of TV ads that show young people kayaking.
The simple truth is this: just because it looks good on one model, or two models, or even five models, doesn’t mean it looks good on the entire lineup. The Lexus GX460 is proof. And now, here I sit, awaiting death at the hands of the Angry Hourglass.
It’s been more than a week, which means the time has come to announce the winners of my ‘Help Me Choose a Car’ Twitter contest. To refresh your memory, the categories were:
1) Worst suggestion.
2) I’d buy it if I could find it.
3) Biggest surprise.
The first category was hard, because everyone found a LOT of really bad suggestions (some of which were unintentional). But the winner of the prized Hummer bedsheets is Noah Wheeler, who found a great eBay listing for one of the worst cars in existence, the 1983 Zimmer Golden Spirit. Interestingly, our runner-up, Wilson Elias, would’ve been the winner, but he didn’t provide a listing for his 1982 Pontiac Phoenix suggestion — merely a photo. This could be because there is not one single 1982 Pontiac Phoenix left on earth. Honorable mention goes to John Bradley, who found a local Chrysler TC by Maserati that only cost $1,500. Ouch.
The second category (the Jeep baseball hat) goes, hands-down, to Tim Brown, who suggested a Lamborghini LM002. My initial plan was to simply buy one of these without doing a big thread, but I later discovered they simply do not exist on the used market, and even if they DID exist, you’d never be able to maintain one.
The final prize, the Cadillac Escalade towel, is awarded to JQJ, who brilliantly recommended a 2004 Ford F-750 with six doors that was located in Florida. Now, I know there were some great suggestions out there for this one (Noble, Rossion, Panoz, Morgan 3-Wheeler) but I had to award it to JQJ because not only does this vehicle include smoke stacks, lifted suspension, a matte finish, and like a dozen lights on the roof, it also has 290,000 miles on the odometer, according to the seller – who, by the way, wants $45,000 for it. Runners up here include Ben Pugliares, who suggested the Lancia Delta Integrale (which I hadn’t realized is legal!) and AlmightyPants, who came up with the Citroen DS – a car that would be tons of fun to write about every week.
As for the search itself, it’s coming along just fine. I’ve narrowed it down to about 20 unique cars, all of which are very cool – think Aston, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, Morgan, Noble, Pinzgauer, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Unimog, etc. In other words: all exotics in some way, shape, or form. I submitted one car to a pre-purchase inspection last week, but unfortunately it failed – so I have another scheduled for this week on a different car. The process has been filled with several interesting stories, and it’ll be fun to explain everything when the decision is made and the car is here.
Thanks for playing, everyone, and enjoy the holidays. I’m looking forward to a fun 2014 with whatever car it ends up being!
As many of you know, the V Wagon is gone, which means it’s time to start the search for another car to write about. Feel free to make suggestions here, or over at the Jalopnik thread on the same topic.
I’ve also decided to create a contest on Twitter for people who would rather come up with some more… interesting suggestions (You can find me here). Here are the rules:
The contest ends Sunday, December 14, at 11 a.m. my time. As you can see from the photo below, there are three categories and – for the lucky winners – three distinct, incredibly valuable, highly sought-after prizes.
The categories and prizes are:
1. Worst suggestion. Jalopnik’s own Michael Ballaban may have won this earlier today by suggesting the 2014 Toyota Corolla, but I’m leaving it open in case someone feels brave enough to try and take him down. Here, too, it’d be nice if you submit a link along with your suggestion. For instance: we all know a 4-cylinder Isuzu Amigo is a bad idea. But you can’t just say that. You have to find one. Preferably with 1990s-style pastel lettering on the side.
The prize here is a set of Hummer H2 bedsheets, which I bought last year for thirty bucks at a rest stop in Tennessee. I’m not kidding. They have never been used, much like a Hummer H2 off the pavement. (Ba-dum tshh!)
2. Best car I’d buy if I could find. What’s the best suggestion of a car that would be perfect to write about, if only I could find one? The key here is to find some car that would be really, really, almost absurdly cool, except that it’s really hard to find. Note that this means the car actually has to be really hard to find. You can’t just suggest the Honda Pilot. Those are everywhere. My neighbor has one of those. You’ll need to try harder.
The prize here is a Jeep baseball cap, which I received for free at a Jeep press event. I would make a joke here about Jeeps never being used off the pavement, but there are a lot of Jeep people on this site, and many of them have guns. So with that in mind, let me say that this hat would be perfect for hunting.
3. Biggest surprise suggestion. The goal here is to come up with a suggestion that surprises me. Something I hadn’t considered. Something I didn’t know existed. Something so exciting and unusual that merely seeing it might cause me to make a verbal utterance of surprise, despite the fact that I’m sitting here by myself. That’s when you’ve really succeeded.
The prize here is a Cadillac Escalade beach towel, which I have used many times. In fact, I might be currently wrapped in it as I write this, unless you find that creepy, in which case I am definitely not currently wrapped in it, but man is it soft. BONUS: I will wash this before I send it to you. CAUTION: I may use it again after I wash it, if I run out of towels.
In terms of the Twitter contest, I am the overall judge and jury, which means I could award the prizes to my mother. Unfortunately, much like the rest of my Twitter followers, she also generally ignores me. So that’s unlikely.
So now: let’s get started! Bring on your suggestions, bring on your tweets, and for God’s sake, someone please get these Hummer H2 bedsheets out of my house.
Well, folks, I’ve done it. I’ve sold my CTS-V Wagon. At least, I think I’ve sold it. What’s actually happened is that I’ve spent the last week on the phone with the buyer’s bank, who has insisted on verifying every single portion of this transaction, including my date of birth, my home address, the hypothetical name I would give a dog if I had one, the total number of little hairs on my right leg, etc.
I find this highly unusual considering the buyer and I have the same bank, a fact I’ve brought up with them repeatedly. But they’re undeterred. They will probably call before I finish this column and ask for my favorite movie villain.
And it’s not like I can refuse to answer any of their questions. Oh, no. I’ve tried. “Sir,” they’ll say, “We’re going to need the password to your wireless Internet so if we’re ever in the Atlanta area we can come by, sit on your porch, and surf our favorite Tumblr blogs without using the data plan on our phones.” And If I balk at this request, if I even hesitate for a moment, they’ll reply: “I’m sorry sir, but are you telling me you think you can find some other poor sap to pay forty grand for a used Cadillac station wagon?”
And they make a good point. There isn’t a huge market for this car. But damn, there should be, as I’ve discovered over the last six months behind the wheel.
Now, before I go any further, I think it’s important to mention that I’ve created a little farewell video to my Cadillac. It’s located here, and also at the bottom of this column, and it covers a lot of highly important Cadillac-related questions you might have, such as: Is your haircut really awful in real life? (This is the kind of highly important Cadillac-related question I expect to receive from the buyer’s bank.)
But while the video touches on performance and drivability, I’m going to discuss a few of the car’s finer points right here in good, old-fashioned, traditional print. Prepare yourself.
Let’s start with cost. Although the selling prices of these cars are pretty public, you might be curious what I spent to run a CTS-V Wagon for the past six months. The answer to this can be defined technically as “very little,” unless of course you add in fuel costs, in which case the technical definition changes to “HOLY CRAP WHY THE HELL DID I BUY THIS THING? IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH IT? LIKE MAYBE THE FUEL TANK IS LEAKING?”
Actual repair costs were relatively small. I had to patch a tire ($25), get an oil change ($52), and – here’s the kicker – replace one flat rear tire for a whopping $470.34. So my lesson to you future CTS-V Wagon owners is for God’s sake don’t poke holes in your tires.
Depreciation was a little more expensive. It’ll total around $4,000, which sounds like a lot until you realize that I drove the thing 12,000 miles in the last six months, including 6,300 miles to California and back in August. So here’s another lesson for future CTS-V Wagon owners: if you want to save your money, don’t drive your CTS-V Wagon. And especially don’t put gas in it.
Why I’m Selling and What’s Next
You may be wondering why I’m selling the V Wagon. This will especially perplex regular readers, who know its departure leaves me with just a Nissan Cube and an unreliable SUV, both of which are highly prized by middle-aged women, but not as appreciated by, say, the kind of person who reads Jalopnik.
And it’s true. With the V’s departure, my life won’t be quite as exciting as it is today, what with all the pushing down my foot and listening to the transmission shift for me. But my reasons for selling are nuanced and complicated and highly intricate, and also my accountant called and said: “Doug, you idiot! You need to sell this thing by the end of the year if you want to deduct any expenses from your taxes.” And boy, do I ever!
So the V Wagon has to go. But there’s good news: selling the V Wagon frees one of my rutted, alley-access parking spaces for something else! Something similarly exciting! Something fast! Something unique! Something… with a manual.
But I’d rather discuss that potential something tomorrow, when I’ll be devoting an entire column to it. So, spend the next 24 hours brainstorming. I, meanwhile, will spend the next 24 hours bracing for your suggestions the only way I know how: vast skepticism. (This is primarily directed at the guy last time who suggested I purchase a 25-seat troop transporter.)
To know me is to know I love cars, and at last count I’ve had more than two dozen. The CTS-V Wagon is easily in the top three.
Yes, it has flaws – they all do. The visibility is so bad that driving it feels like getting behind the wheel of a standard, normal vehicle, except with a blanket over your head. And there are a few obvious spots where they cut corners to save money, in true General Motors fashion. But I highly recommend the V Wagon to anyone looking for a fun, unique vehicle to haul stuff. For more on that, here’s the farewell video:
Now if you’ll excuse me, the bank is calling to ask how I’ve arranged the furniture in my living room.
It’s time for my first installment of Doug DeMuro: Safety Crusader, where I highlight all the pressing safety issues affecting you, a modern parent whose toddler spends each day discovering new and exciting ways to put himself in grave danger.
I haven’t always been interested in safety. In fact, just a few short years ago, I owned a Lotus Elise, which is among the most dangerous cars manufactured in the modern era. Many people are surprised to discover how unsafe the Elise is, considering it shares its orange color with safety devices like the traffic cone. What they’re forgetting is that it also shares the traffic cone’s size.
Yes, the Elise can be pretty scary. You discover this every time you get inside one, when you go to give the door a nice, hearty tug, only to discover that a nice, hearty tug will detach the door from the car, pull it off its hinges, and send it flying into a field located somewhere in the American Midwest, where your toddler will find it and use it to put himself in grave danger. This happens because a Lotus Elise’s door weighs about as much as a credit card, and you get the feeling it would provide similar protection in the event of a crash.
Unfortunately, things don’t get much better once you’re inside. Fire up the engine and you immediately realize that only two inches separate your head from camshafts, and cylinders, and manifolds, and various other extremely hot things that move incredibly fast. This isn’t a problem in most mid-engine cars, but then you remember: those two inches were engineered by the British.
So then you get on the road and you’re once again reminded of how fragile the Elise is when everything starts to squeak. Go over a bump? *Squeak!* Make a hard turn? *Squeak!* Park the car, turn it off, and walk into a store where you won’t buy anything, because it’s not like you could possibly fit it in your Elise? *Squeak!*
Of course, a lot of cars squeak. I once had a Volvo 850 Turbo, for instance, and it seemed like the factory’s entire quality control process involved two Swedish kids jumping on the hood and trunk like inebriated Boston sports fans just to make sure the suspension squeaked enough. And believe me, it did.
But the Elise squeaks because it’s primarily held together with epoxy, which is really just a fancy way of saying “glue.” This means when you go to your Lotus dealer to complain that your Elise is squeaking too much, they consult Technical Service Bulletin 222-A, which states, and I am paraphrasing here: “Send the service department porter to Hobby Lobby for a little Elmer’s.”
So there are a lot of potentially unsafe things about the Elise. Those light doors. The epoxy-bonded chassis. The close proximity of the entire powertrain to your face.
But the most dangerous thing about the Elise? That would be lifted pickup trucks.
For those of you unfamiliar with lifted trucks, I must come right out and say: Ha ha ha! That’s because you undoubtedly live in Europe, where you are subject to high taxes, tiny diesel hatchbacks, and that currency where you can spend your entire vacation budget in four days because it’s easy to forget how much coins are worth. (I would never make this mistake, of course; I am way too intelligent. But I could see how it might happen, and on a completely unrelated note, I am very glad that Europe has a lot of ATMs.)
We Americans are very familiar with lifted pickup trucks, largely because we all know at least one person who has one. This is a person we would never invite to a party; a person whose lifted truck parked outside a restaurant we were considering would cause us to eat somewhere else. We don’t like this person, but we know him, and we occasionally laugh about his Facebook statuses with our friends.
So why is a lifted pickup truck so dangerous? I’ll tell you why.
Here’s how it works: to create a lifted truck, you take a normal truck (which was developed for agricultural purposes but is now primarily used to see over minivans in traffic) and you put a “lift kit” on it. I am not an expert on lift kits, but based on my personal observation, they offer sizes like “six inches,” or “eight inches,” or “tall enough to provide storm shelter for a herd of Black Rhinoceros.” That one’s a big seller here in the South.
The result is simple: once the already-huge truck is lifted to an even huger height, it goes from “somewhat unsafe” to “incredibly scary.” Not for the people in the truck, mind you. For the people in Lotus Elises, and – if the truck gets high enough – even for people in normal cars, whose head is now directly in line with the truck’s front bumper.
When I worked at Porsche, German employees would visit and routinely muse at the height of these trucks. “Zis would never pass inspection in Germany!” they’d say. “How could zey ever be allowed to drive zese trucks?” (Note my liberal use of “z” instead of “th,” which proves that I could not possibly be making up these German people.)
At this point, I would explain to my foreign colleagues that most US states don’t have strict vehicle inspections. Yes, it’s true that an automaker must sell a car with certain safety equipment by federal law – but then we, as Land-of-the-Free consumers, are allowed to a) immediately remove it, and b) lose it when it comes time to sell the car.
The result is that there are thousands of these lifted pickups cruising around with bumpers at eye-level for anyone driving a vehicle smaller than a midsize SUV. This is very dangerous, and I think you should send a letter about it to your Congressman, right after you get your toddler to stop sticking that fork in the electrical outlet.