Previewing the Ugliest Cars of 2012


I confess I took my cue for this piece from Dan Neil’s Wall Street Journal post on the BMW 1M (above). The post is typically overwritten and even florid in Neil’s praise for the car, but, finally, near the end he gets to the point I was waiting for:

The 1M Coupe is a total buttaface, one of the ugliest, most disturbingly wrong car designs in modern history. The addition of all the massive wheel arches, lip spoilers, aero mods and the so-called Air Curtain front spoiler helps not at all. This car is the last revenge of former BMW styling head Chris Bangle. Jeez, put a flag over its head and drive for glory.

Whether Chris Bangle or Adrian van Hooydonk, the new guy, is responsible for the 1 Series’ styling is sort of a who-cares point. The car’s stark ugliness and ungainly stance struck me the first time I saw photos of it.

We offer below a few of the more misshapen models you’ll find in showrooms next year. That is, until their makers decide to pull them.

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Google Wants 1 Million Driverless Miles

Inside a driverless car

Remember when Google was just a search engine?

I still remember the first time I saw the Google homepage. It was in 2001, and I worked at an ad agency. One of the hip designers had the sparse, mystifying, cryptic page constantly displayed on one of his Power Mac monitors. I looked at that page and wondered what it was. I wondered what would happen if I were to click the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button.

I’d never seen a website so devoid of content and wondered if I’d be able to use it, if I was even allowed to, or if it was just for people who had been given specific instructions on how to operate the instruction-less web tool.

Then I got brave and searched my first Google search. I didn’t click “I’m Feeling Lucky,” because I wasn’t, plus I didn’t know what would happen if I did.

It all seems so silly now, especially since all of humanity “Googles” things nearly as often as we take a breath. (Have you tried the “Chuck Norris” I’m Feeling Lucky search? Funny stuff.)

My point is, Google was the coolest, most useful website ever created. But that was before Google got too big and earned more money that it knows what to do with. Now, Google is meddling in things it shouldn’t be messing with. Smart phones are one, I think. The other is driving.

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The Car You Drive Makes You More of a Man?

Hummer H1

We’ve had a good deal to say on this blog on the subject of so-called chick cars, particularly about the male chauvinism evident in the promotion of the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle.

In one piece, I said, “In order to be real guys, many [car writers] have to flaunt their sexist preferences in cars.” And the chest-beating continues. In an MSN Autos blog post on Manly Machines, author James Tate shows us 10 cars—mostly muscle and mostly predictable—that will, he says, inject machismo into your life.

If that’s what you need to get machismo, you’ve got a problem, Jack.

Tate’s lead is that the car industry offers “increasingly bland” and “wussified” vehicles, which his choices then proceed to disprove, as most of those shown are current models. Except for a few like the Hummer H1 (above), which is a joke, I think.

Those infected with this sort of participation mystique are men who have symbolic fantasies about cars. It’s like what the psychologists call projection—in which a person imagines himself endowed with the qualities he thinks the object, the car, represents.

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New Winter Driving Tech: Worth It?

Frozen car

For the first 10 or so years of my winter driving career, my cars were equipped with nothing more than a slow-working heater and, maybe, a rear defroster.

That made for some cold driving experiences and often required some extra time outside scraping the windows clear before hunkering down in the driver’s seat wearing a down coat and puffy gloves. (It’s amazing what a 10-degree snowy night will do to a car!)

In the years since, I’ve moved up in the world to the point where I now have a garage, which I believe is the most essential piece of the winter driving puzzle. Incredible inventions, those garages. I also discovered heated seats, which back in the day I would have said I would never need. Now I can never not have them.

I was reminded of all this while reading a piece on MSN called “5 Techie Features for Winter Driving.” Are these overkill, pointless gadgets or the next things we won’t be able to live without? Read on and leave your opinion!

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Volt Owners Are Giggling: Fisker Karma Gets Low EPA Rating

Fisker Karma Hybrid

The EPA just rated the series plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma sedan, and the company immediately put out a press release saying how “delighted” it was at the results. What?!

The EPA rated the Karma at 52 mpge (mpg “equivalent” for EVs and hybrids, that is, for combined city/highway driving). The company had projected 100 mpge and still says it “firmly believes” you’ll get up to 50 miles on a charge. EPA says, no, you’re gonna get 32 miles on battery alone, and another 20 mpg when the gas-powered range extender kicks in. And probably a lot less driving in Sport mode.

The similarly powered Chevrolet Volt was rated at 94 mpge and costs $39,000. The Karma has three versions priced at $96,000-$109,000. “The top EcoChic edition is an animal-free showcase of high-end textiles, faux suede, and rescued California wildfire hardwood.” So says Car and Driver, while Volt drivers continue laughing.

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Cars Coming Soon: 2012 BMW 3 Series (Including New M3!)

Instead of waiting for the next major auto show like a good little carmaker, BMW has decided an independent reveal (on its Facebook page, no less) would be the best way to handle the introduction of the all-new 2012 3 Series.

Is the new car worthy of the spotlight-hogging attention ploy?

By all indications, absolutely.

The newest 3 Series receives new cabin technology and boasts a new engine option, but lacks a diesel version for U.S. consumption. Instead, BMW announced a hybrid version on the way. Man, I hate to see that…

Otherwise, the new 3 Series should be about as close to perfection as cars get these days. As often happens with model updates, the 3 Series gets larger, increasing length by 3.6 inches. At the same time, though, overall weight was brought down by 88 pounds to keep the traditional 50/50 weight distribution.

Keep reading for a quick look at the latest goodies and performance numbers of the 6th generation 3 Series.

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Mostly Gloom from Industry Big Shots

Carlos Ghosn

As the world economy sags (or sinks, some would say), the car czars are finally taking note. Pent-up demand has kept the big guys afloat, and so has China. But the European crisis and the endemic sickness of the U.S. economy are hard to ignore.

Looking at next year, Carlos Ghosn (above) forecasts “very great uncertainty for the time being.” The CEO of Renault and Nissan says customers are presently skeptical but not yet “defensive.”

Both his companies are currently doing well, but who would not be uneasy, given the signals from around the world, including slowing demand for cars in China?

Dan Akerson, the GM CEO, looks for flat U.S. sales in 2012. Like others, he “sees the EU crisis as the biggest threat to auto sales and to the global economy.” Akerson predicts 2012 light-vehicle sales will be similar in numbers (12.7 million) to this year’s.

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Electric DeLorean DMC-12 Coming in 2013

Electric DeLorean

Being a child of the 1980s, I get excited by things that younger people don’t get and older people never liked. I know many of you can relate.

Thanks to movies like Transformers and the revival of shows like Voltron, some of the greatest parts of the ’80s are coming back. There is, perhaps, no greater symbol of the great 1980s than the mighty DeLorean DMC-12. Known to most simply as the Back to the Future time machine, the DeLorean and its gull-wing doors have come to symbolize the greatest decade ever.

And now, if reports are to be believed, the DeLorean will come back in 2013, though with at least one major difference.

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Green Update: Fast-Charging the Leaf and the Industry

Nissan Leaf charger

Nissan claims it has developed a 10-minute recharger for the Leaf, report the New York Daily News and POPSCI. The latter questions whether the new technology applies to the charger or the battery.

The general bottleneck in reducing charging time isn’t in the charger or the amount of power that can be pumped into batteries, but rather in the frailty of the batteries themselves—the cells can’t handle too much current at once. So a new battery technology that can cope with a very high amount of energy without degradation could conceivable [sic] allow that kind of super-fast charging.

The Daily News talks about a price of around $13,000 for the new fast-charger. So this may not be quite the breakthrough Leaf owners and others have wanted. Still, Nissan has dropped the cost of its present home charger to $1,818, including installation.

There is no question that a recharge time of 10 minutes would do wonders to boost electric car sales. And such quick-charging reportedly won’t damage the battery.

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What Used Cars Meet These 8 Criteria?

Who doesn’t like a good bargain?

I’d venture to guess that very few people in this world would be proud to say they paid full price on anything. Especially a car. Maybe there’s a Ferrari fanatic or two out there who would happily gloat about dropping $100K on a pre-owned F430, but the majority of car shoppers have a specific list of requirements they need met in a used vehicle, and they want all those needs satisfied at a bargain price.

People in my family tend to be compulsive car shoppers (and buyers), though my dad has now held onto his 2000 Honda CR-V for somewhere around five years. An eternity.

He asked me what I’d recommend based on his list of 8 requirements. Of course I have my own thoughts and recommendations, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to pass the question along to the other Car Gurus out there. Keep reading for the requirements, which I’m pretty sure apply to many car shoppers, and then chime in on what you think the perfect vehicle would be.

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