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Have a day.

Tuesday, 31 July, 2007

I had to be somewhere else today. That is, not where I usually waste my life but in some other location. I am in part fighting with myself over my interest in automobiles, and wondering about the evolution we will see in the next fifteen years. E85 modification parts, although not yet kits, are available. We are three years out from an influx of diesels at almost every price point. In order to rectify the North American’s addiction to this technology we’ll have to build new cities. The system shall evolve, but how?

Anyhow, I elected to ignore all that and take an up-close-and-personal look at a number of vehicles on my replace-Otis-after-I-somehow-shit-fifteen-grand list. The candidates:

  • 2007 Kia Rio
  • 2007 Hyundai Accent
  • 2008 Toyota Yaris (Vitz or Echo elsewhere)
  • 2008 Honda Fit (Jazz elsewhere)

and for comparison purposes

  • 2007 Chevrolet Aveo
  • 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt
  • 2007 Ford Focus (still the previous generation compared to vehicles sold under that name outside North America)

My first stop was a Hyundai dealer. It was about 10 in the morning but the place was vacant. No one in service. No people milling about. The showroom was stunningly tiny with three vehicles crammed in it none of them the national best-seller Sonata, or the value-priced, but well received Accent. What appeared to be their inventory lot was filled with Accents and Elantras (between the Accent and Sonata) and no shortage of the inexplicable mini-SUVs. The only vehicle on the front lot with a manual transaxle was the Accent with no trunk and in road-toad green. To see a vehicle in this color in life is … who is going to buy this? People in need of an attention magnet don’t have Hyundai on their radar, do they?

The fit, finish and apparent ergonomics of the cars are magnificent; showing an apparent quality comparable with the best of Europe. The headlight switch is a three-way flip switch mounted on the dashboard, at the driver’s left hand, which is the only eccentricity. Think of recent VWs without the oversized labels which bugged me since the 80s. The plastics are a bit shinier, but this is the only distraction. I was shocked. They have come a long way since the Precis clone from the late 80’s. Excellent seats, three point belts for three in the back, the rear seat folds authentically flat, reasonably thick tires … and on down the highway.

Despite the legendary quality of Toyota’s transportation appliances, their sales apparatus is geared directly to coercing uneducated consumers into cars they do not want. They don’t really do “demos”. They put you near a car and if you aren’t buying it with their financing, you get taken out back. The Yaris is a Toyota, only rounder. They simply took a 1981 Starlet and inflated it. You either buy one they have in inventory, right now, or you can go fuck yourself. The seats are probably fine, but compared to the Hyundai or my trusty rusty they were really awful; like GM awful. I will save myself the typing and simply state that anything you might want to ask about is just fine. ABS and airbags are optional unlike the Koreans. The only trim level you can buy is $4000 more than the Accent and Rio.

Honda Fit. You can’t get one. You can’t drive one. Both local Honda dealers will order one with 10% down, but cannot guarantee a delivery date. It is the hottest model Honda has ever put out. All the ones you somehow see on the road look like they have a body kit. The one which is not for sale, but on the showroom floor, reveals that effect is an innate and peculiar aspect to the actual body panels. Seats are bad. Belts for two in the back. It is smaller inside than outside, like an American subcompact. Fit and finish is quite good. blah blah blah. It’s a cheap little car that is trying too hard to be interesting.

For comparison purposes, I looked at Chevrolets and Fords. Remember the 2000 Focus? Well, they’re still selling it. The “eyebrows” are still peculiar and the powder coat is still rough. Everything is operated from stalks. I’m not certain, but I think the accelerator and gear shift are on stalks. The radio and climate controls are awkward and foreign to someone driving a vehicle with controls designed in the 1960s, like yours truly. After 140000 miles, Otis has better fit and finish than what Ford is building today. The Chevy Aveo is essentially inoffensive and just kind of there. Not really outstanding in anyway and not really bad, although engine noise is allegedly oppressive at speed. The Cobalt is just simply bad and awkward. I rented one earlier this year and it was just terrible. The ones all shiny and new …

It just makes me sad.

The last stop was at the Kia dealer you’re supposed to see if you are interested in such a thing in this part of the world. First, they tag every car on the lost with $2045 of bullshit, rustproofing, tint and such. I already know these are shady characters. Alas the cars are … well, they are Hyundais with different badges. However, you can get a Rio, stripped, manual transaxle, no radio, no air-conditioning, no ABS, plain steel wheels for $11400 before bullshit. It is simple, solid looking, good seats and so on.

I had Swedish meatballs and macaroni and cheese for lunch.

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