Teenage girls, take note: an all-new Volkswagen Jetta is here. Actually, it was here a couple of years ago, but this blog wasn’t. Not that it matters, because there aren’t any teenage girls reading this. Actually, no one is reading this except my mother, who occasionally sends hate mail.
Anyway, the new Jetta is here, and – as a highly qualified automotive blogger who has seen a few of them on the road, or at Avis lots – I’ve decided I’m more than capable on providing a full and honest review.
When I was younger, Jettas were really cool. Well, no, come to think of it, they were mostly Brazillian-built crap. But that changed with the fourth-generation Jetta (or, in 1337 speek, the MkIV) which came out in 1999. That one actually was cool, and, as I recall, it was the “it” car for girls in their teens, girls in their early 20s, girls in their late 20s, and men who were confused. The same was true of the next model, which came out in 2005 and inexplicably used a five-cylinder engine.
But the coolness is gone from the latest Jetta. From just about any angle, it looks like an amorphous blob styled by people who were apparently tasked with averaging out the lines on every other sedan sold in the last decade. Normally, this is where I’d provide some platitude about one single aspect that looks particularly nice, but there are none – a fact I’m sure of after visiting my local Hertz, where the Jetta has been the featured car of the week for the last sixteen months. Worse, the latest Jetta has lost its appeal to young, attractive women who seem to always be in workout clothes. Last week, for example, I saw a man driving one, and he didn’t even look confused.
Based on photos I’ve seen on eBay, there are many positive aspects about the Jetta’s interior. For example, if you work at a plastics company, it provides job security. If you own a supplier that specializes in boring, clearly-labeled gray buttons, you’re probably reading this from Hawaii. And if you’re an automotive industry consultant who trades in inoffensive blandness, you’ve probably been promoted after the heroic job you did making sure not a single iota of interesting found its way into the Jetta’s interior. But what the hell do I know? I’ve never even sat in the car.
It’s often difficult to write this portion of the Car Review Without Actually Driving It, since – as the title vaguely implies – I’ve never actually driven this car. But for the Jetta, it’s easier than you might think. The car is bland on the outside, and it’s bland on the inside. My money says it’s not exactly going to be a hoot to drive.
That viewpoint is cemented by the fact that the base engine in the Jetta is a 115-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder. That’s the very same engine that was the base engine in the 1994 Jetta, which I may have earlier called “Brazillian-built crap.” And while nobody probably actually gets this version, the fact that they offer it at all demonstrates Volkswagen’s deep commitment to removing the driver from the driving experience. Plus, do you really think stepping up to the 150 horsepower five-cylinder is going to transform it into an excitement machine?
I highly recommend the Jetta to most people. Yes, it’s bland; yes, it’s boring; yes, it might lose a drag race to a forklift. But it’s reasonably priced, it seems roomy in photos, and it’s probably not that different from most of its competitors. Except blander.
So the Jetta is a good car for most people. However, if you have stumbled over the darkest corners of the Internet and found this blog, you’re probably not one of those people. So stay the hell away and buy a used WRX instead.
First, there was the Mini Cooper. Then, came a four-seat convertible called, predictably, the Mini Cooper convertible. Next up was the Mini Clubman, whose major selling point was a rather dangerous three-inch vertical post directly in the center of its rear window. There’s also a Mini Coupe, and now a convertible version of that which is called the Mini Cooper Coupe Convertible. Or something. And apparently they will soon do yet another version called – I swear this is true – the Mini Rocketman. Yes, named for the Elton John song.
But the latest New Car Review Without Actually Driving It examines the most ludicrous offshoot of a vehicle that was made popular by being incredibly small. Behold, the Mini Countryman, which Mini claims is a crossover SUV even though it’s only three inches taller than a Honda Accord. As an automotive expert, or at least a blogger with a spotty Internet connection, I feel compelled to review the Countryman even though I’ve never driven it.
The Countryman is a reasonably good-looking car. Then again, it would’ve been hard to screw up – even for Mini’s parent company, BMW, maker of the 5 Series GT – since all they did was add two doors to a standard Mini and jack up the suspension. I like the cartoonish lights, I like the slab-sided doors, and I even like the big rear liftgate with the huge Mini logo on it. And somehow it manages to look even more whimsical than the regular Mini.
Maybe the only weak spot is that all the press pictures show the Countryman with black wheels. Why do you have black wheels, Mini Countryman? You’re not gangsta. You’re not even cool. You’re a crossover made by Mini. Leave the “murdered out” look to 19-year-olds with angel eyes on their E46 323i automatics, OK?
The Mini Countryman’s interior is a lot like the regular Mini’s interior, which is to say that there are a lot of circles. No, really – Google it, like I did. The odometer and speedometer are circles – that’s normal. The air vents are circles – fine. But then it seems like they actively went and looked to make circles out of as many things as they could find, like the glovebox handle, the air conditioning display, and even the steering wheel controls, which look like the D-pad on a Super Nintendo controller. At least, they do on Google Images. I imagine they were about to make the seats into those giant, circular egg-shaped chairs before a German finally stepped in and put an end to the insanity.
It is now, though, that I must point out the Countryman’s most egregious and laughable flaw. Instead of a rear bench seat and a traditional center console, the Countryman has two rear buckets and a movable center console which is on rails and slides between the front and back. If this strikes you as bizarre, it is. Not only do you lose the third rear seat, but you gain something that no human has ever wanted, asked for, or even conceptualized. Needless to say, Mini is changing this, and the Countryman will soon have an optional rear bench. You know, for those people who would prefer hauling around an extra passenger to using an awkwardly-built center console that replaces the simple task of handing something to someone.
Being a Mini, the Countryman probably drives pretty well. Not in its base trim level, of course, which uses a woefully slow (I would assume) 121-horsepower four-cylinder probably co-developed with Vespa to power their base-model scooters. No, I’m talking about the Countryman S, which produces 181 horsepower. Sure, it’s only 20 horses more than a Ford Focus, but who needs power when you’ve got black wheels?
OK, fine, the Countryman won’t win any drag races. But its razor-sharp handling means it would fare a lot better than most SUV rivals on a racetrack. So if you’re ever driving a Countryman and another SUV driver makes fun of you, challenge them to an all-out ride through some twisties. If you can catch up.
I’m not going to give you any real advice on the Countryman, since it’s a highly emotional purchase. Yes, there are better SUVs. The Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 all offer far more space, more power, more equipment and similar gas mileage for the same money – which, by the way, is a not-cheap $30k or more for a reasonably equipped Countryman S. But none of them offer the Countryman’s cute styling, which is the main reason people buy the tiny little SUVlet.
If you’re one of those people, I hope you like circles.
A lot of people like full-size pickup trucks. I’m not one of those people, of course, because I have all my teeth. But I saw several Ford F-150s today, and they looked pretty sharp, so I’m going to make it the next New Car Review Without Actually Driving It.
Let’s get one thing straight right away: the Ford F-150 isn’t the most popular vehicle in America. That honor goes to the entire Ford F-series, which includes everything from the crew cab pickup driven by your heavily tattooed neighbor to the ambulance that shows up when his wife shoots him in self-defense. It also includes the Ryder truck she’ll use to move out, and the tow truck that will come to repossess his jet ski.
But even though the F-150 isn’t as popular as the entire F-Series, it’s still really common. To find out why, I’ve decided to review it while sitting at a Five Guys so I can examine the kind of people who eat large burgers, which are also the kind of people who drive large pickups. Perhaps I can channel their thoughts to provide a thorough, complete review. Also, the free peanuts are pretty good, and I’m picking up WiFi from the Papa John’s next door.
The exterior styling of F-150 pickups seems to go in waves. In the 1980s and early 1990s, it looked really mean and hulking until they redesigned it in 1997 and it got all round and girly. But then they redesigned it in 2004, and it became really muscular and nice looking again. They claim they’ve redesigned it again since then, but really they just changed the taillights. Or, if measured by 2012 Toyota Camry standards, it’s all-new from the ground up.
The good news is, the truck that came out in 2004 is handsome. It’s got clean lines, it still looks fresh, and it’s a lot nicer than competitors. Of course, that’s not saying much, since the overstyled Dodge Ram looks like the kind of thing a cartoonist might throw out for being too unrealistic, and the dull Chevrolet Silverado was clearly the result of a contest where designers could only use a ruler. Toyota and Nissan also have entrants into this segment, but only so their employees can tow stuff on the weekends.
Since I’ve never actually been in an F-150, it’s tough to judge the interior, but I’m going to do it anyway. After a quick Google Images search, the cabin’s two main selling points are obvious. One is size. It’s got huge seats, a huge dashboard, a huge steering wheel, and huge panel gaps, which are probably useful for discarding trash, or perhaps storing musical instruments. If Buffalo Bill had an F-150 in The Silence of the Lambs, he would’ve hidden the senator’s daughter between the radio and the steering column.
The second selling point of the F-150 interior is dullness, or what Ford would probably prefer I call “functionality.” The interior is remarkably straightforward, and lacks any personality. Not that I’m complaining – it’s a truck, after all. There’s one exception: the pickup’s tiny, circular air vents which are incredibly dainty and look like they produce about a tenth of the air needed to cool or heat the cabin. The rest probably comes out the panel gaps.
Being a large pickup, the F-150 drives like all other large pickups. In other words, you’re high off the ground, the steering is vague, and at any given time you have no idea where the entire truck is. You could be driving down a street fully aware of your surroundings, but your rear bumper is two blocks back ordering at a Wendy’s drive thru. Seriously, it’s that big. A SuperCrew F-150 is 237.1 inches long, or five feet longer than a Honda Civic. It’s also ten inches wider, and – get this – almost two feet taller. Lesson: if you have an F-150, don’t let your Civic-driving friend borrow it, because he will back into something.
It’s not beautiful, it’s not exciting, and it’s not a sports car, but it’s hard to argue with the F-150 for practicality – especially considering the millions Ford has sold. But if you get one, I suggest you eat as many meals as possible at Five Guys, just like the people around me. It’s the only way to make sure you won’t get stuck in the panel gaps.