This Has Been a Great Week for Dumb Cars
Usually the week or so before a big auto show is pretty quiet. Leaks come out every now and again, but for the most part, details on the big reveals are kept under wraps until showtime. At most, we’re tantalized by a few quick teaser images and the bare minimum of information. That’s what we got with the new Chevy Camaro ZL1, and hey, that’s pretty good. 640 horsepower? Under $60,000? America? Great. It should be more than enough to tide us over until next week.
Maybe it’s because Buick squandered a sure thing by axing the Avista, a parts-bin muscle car that would’ve brought a younger demographic to the brand at minimal cost to GM. Instead, it will continue to play it safe and cater to aging Boomers who are old enough to remember the Grand National, Buick’s last “youth market” car from 30 years ago (the youngest median age for a Buick model is 47, for the Regal). In the vacuum left by another exciting car gone to pot, we stopped to look around at the other new pre-show reveals from this week, and realized they’re all dumb. Incredibly, mindlessly dumb.
The first one is a low-hanging target. It’s the “Yellow Rose of Texas” edition Ram 1500. History lesson: Chrysler has done this before, with the 1956 Dodge Texan Golden Lancer. So far as we can tell, it didn’t create much of a run at Texas Dodge dealerships, but it is a kitschy little artifact of the ’50s with its pastel yellow paint job, flag badge, and … not much else to make it different from your standard Lancer. But a lot has changed since Buddy Holly roamed the Lone Star State; the pickup is king (one in five new vehicles registered in the state is a pickup), and Texans love anything and everything Texas. With a Stinger Yellow paint job, and … not much else to make it different from your standard Ram 1500, we can’t wait for the New Hampshire-themed “Granite State” Ram 3500 HD, the “Oklahoma!” Promaster window van (big enough for your entire community theater group), and the all-black Johnny Cash themed “Arkansas Lovin’ Man” Chrysler C300.
It’s also accepted that ze Germans aren’t renowned for their sense of humor — but it seems like they’re starting to learn. Going back to basics, Audi has discovered Abbott and Costello and decided to bring the automotive equivalent to the U.S.: The A5 Sportback. If you haven’t heard this one before, it starts a little like this:
“Hey, isn’t the A5 a coupe?”
“Yes, it’s based on the A4 sedan.”
“Then why does your A5 have four doors?”
“It’s the A5 Sportback. It’s the sedan version of the coupe.”
“But I thought the A4 was the sedan version of the coupe.”
“But … what?”
Repeat! Embellish! Improvise! Perform it at your school talent show! Trust us, it kills ’em every time in Ingolstadt.
And then there’s Mercedes, which introduced its Mercedes-AMG GLC43 just ahead of the auto show. About 25 years ago, AMG was a tuner that hand-built (and hand-signed) every engine that went into impeccably tuned performance cars that would give Ferraris a snoot full of cold, hard, Teutonic logic. It made its name building cars with names like “The Hammer.” Today, you can get an AMG version of almost any Mercedes you’d like, from the near-work of art S65 Coupe to the 585-horsepower GLS63, better known as the road-rage connoisseur’s full-size SUV of choice on eastern Long Island.
Last year, Mercedes renamed its GLK-Class SUVs the GLC. Apparently unaware that Mazda already had a car called the GLC back in the ’70s, it doesn’t look like Mercedes currently has plans to revive the “Great Little Car” ad campaign — a missed opportunity if you ask us. Instead, we now have an AMG version of a two-ton, five-seater SUV. It’s not a corner-carver, it’s not a track-day toy. It’s an expensive (albeit handsome) family car in drag.
We’re sure the AMG will be plenty quick, engaging to drive, and every bit a modern Mercedes. But is that enough to warrant its existence? A while back, we listed the 2007 R63 as one of the best sleepers in recent memory. It went like stink, but at the end of the day, you were still driving a Mercedes minivan, and an ugly one at that. The GLC looks better than the R-Class ever did, but at the end of the day, you’re still driving something that looks more at home with “Dartmouth Crew” stickers and a stick figure family on the rear hatch than it ever would be at a track or a Cars and Coffee. AMG makes enthusiasts’ cars. A GLC — Mazda or Mercedes — is not an enthusiast’s car.
In the end, there’s nothing really wrong with these cars; it’s not like they’re rolling death traps, or worse, the Lamborghini Centenario. They’re just safe bets — measured vehicles meant to augment existing lineups and boost sales. But these are the boom years for the auto industry. People are buying more new cars than they have in decades, and every automaker (except for Volkswagen) is living it up like they’ve never heard the terms “financial collapse,” “Congressional hearing,” or “commercial flights” before. It could be because for the past few years, we’ve been spoiled by cars like the Tesla Model S, Dodge’s Hellcat twins, the aforementioned ZL1, and many others. Something feels off when “new model” means a paint job, a car based on a car based on a car, or an expensive go-fast kit no one asked for. Maybe it’s a good thing that these three stand out among the embarrassment of riches nowadays, because they don’t really seem that new anymore. They just seem, well, dumb.