OUR BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS BEHIND THE WHEEL IN 2018
Between the cars we’ve driven and the trends we’ve seen, they can’t all be winners
It’s time to pick vehicles that stood out among the hundreds we drove, in this case, the ones that sucked. OK, there are not a lot of cars that are truly terrible, but the hype machine is so pervasive that we expect every car to have the acceleration of a Demon, the handling of a Porsche, the feel of a Miata and the efficiency of a Bolt. So when something is decidedly below expectations, it can be a huge disappointment and something we have to share.
David Booth: I’m going to sound like a broken record with this choice, but the Tesla Model X I drove didn’t live up to my expectations. Actually, check that. It was exactly what I expected, the issue being that my expectations were fairly low.
Before castigating Lord Elon again, let’s first acknowledge the big Tesla’s key strengths. First off, as pretty much everybody knows, the Tesla is plenty peppy, its instantaneous torque production is to know unabashed stoplight superiority. It’s not just fast for an electric vehicle or for an SUV. It’s just plain fast.
It’s also pretty darned luxurious, the interior built with the best of materials and a keen eye for style. Yes, I know, for the price Tesla is asking, it should be. But darned if it doesn’t fail to impress nonetheless.
The issue is that while the interior materials are excellent, its individual bits of excellence don’t come together particularly well. My tester, for instance, had some tape holding one of the rear doors’ trim bits together. Yes, on a test car for journalists. I wonder how many of my fellow auto scribes — many of them closet Musk fans — failed to mention that little faux pas.
In fact, our tester’s build quality, in general, wasn’t great. Nor was the handling. Yes, the Model X is pretty darned fast in a straight line, but it remains as ponderous, if not more so, as any ungainly gas-powered ute.
The most disappointing thing about the Model X was that I was hoping that I’d be at least a little surprised by the Model X. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. If you want a battery-powered sorta-ute, get a Jaguar I-Pace.
graeme Fletcher: The biggest disappointment of 2018 for me was the front-drive Ford EcoSport. Anything with a name that suggests performance should at least have a hint of some! The EcoSport has very little when powered by its lightweight 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine. It sounds like a bag of hammers when pushed toward redline and wheezes when forced to run down a fast on-ramp. It also consumes more fuel than its larger sibling. The Ford Escape with a 1.5-L turbo-four has a posted highway economy of 7.8 L/100 km; the EcoSport requires 8.1 L/100 km.
Now, if that were the extent of its shortcomings it could be viewed as being almost palatable. Sadly, the not-so-good list touches too many other facets. The plastics give plastics a bad name and using Apple CarPlay renders the native navigation system inoperative, so you must pick one or the other. Most competitors allow the use of both. At the back, the sidehinged tailgate is heavy and if anyone parks within a half-metre of the back bumper there’s not enough space to open it. All of this speaks to the fact the Ford EcoSport was already aging when it was launched in Canada.
Derek Mcnaughton: The single most saddening development in 2018 has to be the legalization of marijuana and the potential impact it will have on driving. During a time when so many drivers are still grossly distracted using their phones behind the wheel — a problem that has yet to be minimized even with the introduction of stiffer penalties — we now open the door to another potential problem. While drinking and driving has been significantly reduced since the mid-1980s (down 65 per cent, according to Transport Canada), the number of fatalities involving drugs alone is double those involving alcohol, according to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). And cannabis, the most commonly found drug, is present in almost half of drug-positive fatal crashes, the group says.
Last year, the OPP said that more fatal accidents were caused by distracted drivers than any other factor in 2016. Absolutely, more resources need to be devoted to distracted driving. And with the legalization of marijuana, more will be needed to combat yet another form of impairment on our roads.
Jil Mcintosh: My biggest disappointment in automotive news is that Ford won’t be bringing the Raptor version of the Ranger to our shores. I love the Raptor; it’s just so gloriously overdone, built for high-speed racing across desert dunes or glopping through the most challenging of off-road courses. And the Ranger Raptor would be twice that, because it would be smaller, nimble, and probably even more fun. C’mon, Ford, let us try it!
As for cars driven, I didn’t have any vehicles that really let me down, but there are some trends I wasn’t happy to see. One of them is electronic infotainment and climate controllers, which require you to take your eyes off the road for too long to find the right screen and icon. Probably the worst is Lexus’s Remote Touch, which uses a touchpad to move a cursor around the centre screen. It’s tough enough when you’re sitting still, but try operating that puppy on a bumpy road. It just ain’t happening.
And I don’t like push-button gearshifts. They were a flop when the Edsel had them and they’re not much better today. They require too much of your attention, when a shift lever or dial can be operated quickly and intuitively. And take all those electronic shift levers and kill them with fire. I should not have to push up for Reverse, nor find a button for Park. I saw a lot more vehicles in 2018 with these damn things mushrooming up from the console, and I know there’ll be even more in 2019, which is even worse.
Peter Bleakney: Here’s a vehicle that Acura should have deep-sixed years ago: the ILX. Acura used to do a decent business selling gussied-up Honda Civics, but the game has moved on. The ILX luxury compact sedan, based on the previous-generation Civic, tries hard but is about as relevant as a BlackBerry. Sure, it looks OK, has a decent amount of luxury kit, and sports a zippy naturally aspirated 2.4-L four-cylinder engine, but with the new Honda Civic being such a quantum leap ahead of this, why pay over $35,000 for a noisy, cramped, stiff-riding relic, no matter how much lipstick it is wearing? I realize Acura keeps flogging the ILX because, well, it’s around and it fleshes out the marque’s lineup, but that’s no reason for anyone to buy it. clayton Seams: The biggest letdown of the year for me was the needlessly harsh ride of the Jaguar F-Pace. All the Jaguar ads will tell you that even its most cuddly CUVs are infused with sports-car DNA. Well, I guess I wasn’t aware that the DNA included the sports carlike ride. I was expecting the large-ish CUV to be fairly comfortable, but instead it rode more like a paint-shaker than a Lexus. I mean, sure, it handles better than any tall hatch this side of a Macan, but is it really worth it? In some cars a firm ride is sporty and justified, but in my otherwise splendid Jaguar it just felt needlessly harsh. nicholas Maronese: I didn’t drive a whole lot of cars this past year, and most, including the 2018 Mazda3 Sport GT, were pretty fantastic. But if I had to file one complaint, it was with the “recommended gear” indicator on that car’s instrument panel.
My stick-shift skills are already in need of practice, and the dashboard telling me to shift up one or two gears more than I had to wasn’t any help at all. I’m not alone in this grievance, either; while trying to search for the official name of this feature, all I could find was forum post after forum post asking “How can I turn that thing off?”
nick Tragianis: Pretty much everyone will tell you these days that no automaker makes a truly terrible car. That’s true, but that doesn’t mean all cars are indistinguishable. This is why we compare them. Enter the BMW 430i Gran Coupe and Kia Stinger GT.
This particular evaluation was clear cut. Both cars — two entry-level sport sedans with hatches that put style and performance ahead of most everything else — were well matched on paper. But as we dug deeper, one thing became crystal clear — to me, at least. BMW might be known as the purveyor of the “ultimate driving machine,” but the 430i fell far short of the Stinger in one key area: price.
As equipped, the Bimmer fetched just over $60,000 for something with four cylinders, 241 hp, driving dynamics that just ain’t what they used to be, and a lacklustre interior. But the Stinger, pumping out 365 hp from its twinturbo V6, offers vastly better performance and includes a long list of features and gizmos for just over $50,000, though I will grant that in certain spots the interior could’ve been a bit more refined compared to the 430i.
Still, that’s a $10,000-plus difference between the Korean underdog and the Bimmer. I stand by my choice. Jonathan Yarkony: I drove a lot of fairly ordinary cars this year, and while each one mostly delivered on its mission, there were a few things that really stuck in my mind as disappointing. But one car entirely failed to deliver on its promise.
The GMC Terrain sounded terrible, was too slow, and had some questionable interior pieces for way too much money. The Smart fortwo EQ cabrio actually uses more electricity per 100 km than a Nissan Leaf, Chevy Bolt or even a Tesla Model 3, all of which are bigger and more powerful. And the Lincoln Navigator has incredibly uncomfortable seats for something that can adjust in a bajillion ways.
But those were all minor gripes compared to the Lexus RX 350L, which is essentially a complete waste of a model spinoff. Starting from the excellent and spacious five-seat RX, Lexus stuck in an unusable third row of seats that eats up a ton of cargo space, takes away quite a bit of the second-row legroom, and takes forever to fold down or raise because of slow motors. It’s the worst execution of the one thing that differentiates it from the excellent RX 350, which is deservedly a bestseller.
The announcement that the Ford Ranger Raptor isn’t coming to North America was one of 2018’s disappointments.
2018 Ford Ecosport.
Tesla Model X.