I drive dozens of new cars every year, and while vehicles are safer, more comfortable and largely more efficient than ever before, there are still plenty of duds.
Some are failures of vision or execution, while others fail to connect on an emotional level. Even very good cars are beset by mysterious rattles or foibles that belie their advanced technologies.
The Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is a new car which falls short on too many levels. I spent a number of wearisome days with the 2014 four-door sedan, and it didn’t fill me with hope for Ford’s upscale brand, now called the Lincoln Motor Company.
Look at the MKZ Hybrid’s price and specifications, and things seem pointed in the right direction. A heavily optioned model starts around $40,000 and gets an estimated 45 miles per gallon on both the city and highway.
But that hybrid powertrain is anything but luxurious. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor are good for only 188 horsepower and a very meager 129 pound-feet of torque.
In action, the powertrain is both harsh and tepid. The front-wheel sedan gets off to a terribly slow start, and the gas engine kicks on with an irritating buzz. Keeping up with the flow of traffic on highway hills is a struggle.
Its design is also muddled. While the profile and rear are handsome, the distended front grill looks like it was injected with a heavy dose of collagen. The MyLincoln Touch infotainment interface has too few buttons and is a hassle to use. The rest of the interior is only okay.
Compared to the regular Ford Fusion on which it is based (and which I generally like), I can see no compelling reason to pay the extra money. The Lincoln name sure isn’t going to impress anybody and the redesigned Chevy Impala, a competitor, is far nicer to drive.
Some cars do exactly as advertised, but don’t hit you on an emotional level. I should adore the Nissan GT-R, a supercar that costs just over $100,000 and smashes the 60 mile-per-hour mark in less than three seconds. That’s wow-worthy.
Every year Nissan works a little magic on the car, evolutionary-wise, giving it a bit more horsepower. The 2014 I recently tested has 545 hp. Yet over a four-hour road trip, the car wore me down, draining me of excitement.
There’s little sound deadening in the cabin, which is fine in a fire-breathing sports car as long as the engine note is vivacious. But the GT-R’s 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6 makes an endless, onerous drone, like an industrial vacuum cleaner left on high.
Fine, it isn’t made for long trips. So I took it to the racetrack, where it is, indeed, extremely fast. The car uses a vast array of technologies to even out the inconsistencies in the operator’s driving style, making an average driver look pretty good. Those same systems tend to flatten out advanced driving techniques: the car makes too many decisions for you. I want to love it — heck I feel bad for not loving it — but the Nissan leaves me rather cold.
Then there are those niggling things that force you to question the overall quality of a brand. Aston Martins are handmade in England and are tremendously expensive, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in one that doesn’t have a mysterious rattle somewhere in the doors or dash.
I was once briefly stranded when I couldn’t fill up a DBS because the locked fuel cap wouldn’t open. Turned out that a small plastic mechanism was to blame and I had to jimmy the cover open.
Sometimes the vehicles are too sophisticated for their own good. Chrysler’s SRT brand makes the Viper sports car and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT. Twice within the last year, my test cars were delayed because of issues with the tire-pressure sensor. In each case they had to be sent to a dealership, where the system took hours to recalibrate. Not cool.
Actually, tires have been a recurring problem in my testing. The current trend in rims is that bigger is better, often in conjunction with low-profile performance tires. The result is less give and a much harsher ride. This combination is also more likely to result in damage if you hit a pothole.
I’ve had particularly bad luck with BMW. I’ve had three tires blow out, stranding me twice — once even while driving on run-flat tires. Just the other day I was in a friend’s used 5 Series with the sport package, and he hit a pothole. The tire ruptured and the rim was severely damaged. We had to call roadside assistance.
The pothole wasn’t big enough to cause that much damage, he insisted. “This car has all the latest gadgets,” he groused. “And yet we’re stranded because of technology as old as the car itself. It doesn’t seem right.”
I had to agree with him. It really didn’t.