Here’s what I’m listening to:
Gossip – “Heavy Cross”
Shiny Toy Guns – “Le Disko”
Passion Pit – “Little Secrets”
Sneaky Sound System – “Pictures”
and the odd one out: Jewel – “Stay here forever”
All of these songs are 100% satisfying as perky, non-mainstream exercise and “getting ready” music. Sometimes you just want to hear what else is out there, beyond Cascada and Rihanna.
Here’s what I’ve driven and/or messed around with:
2009 BMW X5 xdrive30i – white with saddle leather, sport package. This vehicle is pretty much perfect. Considering all my typical areas of concern (build quality, interior ambiance, ride quality…), I have little negative to say about the car. The doors thunk satisfyingly shut, the interior is full of interesting details and touches like: the side air vents are double-stacked, so you can aim one vent at your torso and one at the ceiling or window, depending on how hot or cold you are. The idrive system is quite user-friendly, especially when driving. You can easily drive and navigate the menus without feeling too distracted. The seats are quite comfortable, and the real leather (which I believe is an option), is lovely, especially in a rare color like saddle (light brown). The dashboard is the perfect shade and texture of matte black, instead of being shiny or of questionable quality. Oh, and the sport steering wheel looks to be preferable to the standard one, solely based on a very elegant strip of aluminum/metal trim that surrounds the airbag cover.
I also like the general shape of the car and its proportions (although it is quite a large car, in general). The drive is good, very smooth and responsive. My only gripes are that the steering wheel tends to have play in it when the car travels over potholes or rough pavement…and the acceleration seems to be relaxed until you really push it, in which case it downshifts and revs, but not in a particularly graceful way. Nonetheless, I’m very impressed with the vehicle. Would be interesting to test it back to back with a Mercedes ML and Infiniti FX…
Aside from the Bimmer, I sat in a friend’s loaner Lexus ES350 (brand new), and boy was it a big ole’ struggle. I mean I’m not completely out of touch with what the target buyer of that model wants in a car, but it never ceases to amaze me that with some thin veiling of standard Toyota appointments, Lexus can sell a car for 30% more than its Toyota equivalent and sell hundreds of thousands of them.
I cannot think of much else that is different from the Camry to the ES350 beyond: fake wood trim that looks the color of milk chocolate, heated and ventilated seats (that were pioneered not by BMW or Mercedes, but by Saab, circa 1998, in the 9-5 sedan!), upgraded bright-white dials and gauges, LED reading lights and a keyless ignition system. I’ll give Lexus the benefit of the doubt and assume there are some under-hood improvements and suspension upgrades. Even then, the lack of refinement is (to me), quite glaring.
The dashboard gadgetry is backlit green (Toyota standard), even though the dash gauges are white. The gearshift moves in an awkward, clunky manner. I didn’t drive the vehicle, but I’m willing to bet it has the same feel and responsiveness as the Camry.
In essence, this tells me that I’m right to believe that many consumers (in America in particular) judge the merits of many automobiles in part on their qualities and strengths, but also in part on their brand, image, and cache. Because the Camry has a certain pedestrian, everyday family feel and image (it is, or was, after all, one of the best-selling sedans in the U.S. market), it is less appealing to those who are image-conscious. The ES350, with some minor upgrades and tweaks, is sold for considerably more (decked out I think its in the $40k neighborhood), but that cost inflation is largely based on its brand image, which is quite strong. But people willingly pay for it, no questions asked.
In any case, maybe I spend too much time reading into these phenomena. I guess I always felt like a car’s expensive price tag should depend more on its true advantages over lesser-priced vehicles. Nowadays, I think that line is very blurry. Certain cars are still made to a standard…while others rely largely on their brand image to move the volume of examples that the marque produces each year.
My theory on this is: the lower-priced vehicles in a premium brand’s line are more likely to be based more in image than in quality (think Mercedes C-class), and as price increases, true quality also increases and brand-image reliance decreases. What this means to people like me, or my friend who had the loaner Lexus is…don’t buy vehicles that are at the bottom fringe of a brand’s line. Rather, buy something similar that is of good quality (like Honda, or Volkswagen) until you can afford the mid-to-high range vehicles in the premium brands’ lines.
So, avoid the Porsche Cayenne…get a Volkswagen Touareg. And skip the Mercedes C300, go with a Honda Accord or Mazda 6. When the time comes, upgrade and find yourself in a Mercedes E350 or Audi A6, which will be more satisfying and of better overall quality.
Thanks for reading.