Bland Car Enthusiast: The Instantly Classic 2015 Chrysler 200

2015 Chrysler 200 profileRedesigned for this year – well, next year, but it’s on sale now – it’s not a model many people are excited about, primarily because it hasn’t historically been a model to get excited about. But the new generation is awesome. Seriously, check that thing out.

I’ve written about the Chrysler 200 before, after it was first revealed. Now I’m seeing it out and about on the road, and I love it even more. It looks so good on our highways. SO GOOD.

Exterior styling is retro-cool, and I’m not talking about looking back at the 80’s or even 70’s with retro reach. I’m talking about Art Deco. The 1920’s, baby. The profile of this car has the right lines to have come straight out of classic Hollywood. (That’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

The face, not so much – that’s very modern and just slightly forward-thinking enough to be at the forefront of what I believe is the direction of teens mid-to-late-teens overall sedan styling trend. The taillights fit right in with today’s hottest luxury cars. But that profile…yes. I can’t get enough of it.

It’s also got a nine-speed auto transmission, which is absurd and awesome and definitely a plus over any other sedans out there for smoothness and mileage. And its V6 option gets nearly 300 horsepower, which, for a family sedan, is absolutely unnecessary in the best possible way.

And for as much as I’ll talk about any car’s exterior styling – especially this car’s exterior styling – what actually intrigues me most about the new 200 is its cabin. It has a place below the cup holders & gear shift to place your iPad so it doesn’t slide all around, which, for some reason is a huge draw. It’s probably not that big a deal, but in my mind it’s fantastically innovative.

Also, it’s got a dial shifter instead of the normal stick. When I first heard of such an outlandish notion (as seen in the new Lincoln MKZ, with its console buttons), I scoffed, thinking with nowhere to place my hand, how could I possibly enjoy driving? But the more I think about it, the more and more appealing this notion is. Yes, if it’s not needed, by all means get that stick out of the way and feng shui the cabin for better flow. It will make me feel less claustrophobic, give me greater freedom of movement, and help keep me calm and serene. Ultimately, a great decision, and I secretly hope all car companies follow in that direction.

So – super-Zen, brain-pleasing driving with a nearly-300-horsepower engine that shifts smoother than butter, and exterior styling that no one else can touch? All for a price tag under $30K?

I’m sold.

Bland Car Enthusiast: Two Things About the 2015 Ford Focus

2015 Ford Focus DrawingOriginally published July 2014 on the now-defunct Seshn Automotive website.

Recently I discovered a new game. It’s called “Two Things” and it seems ideal for car trips. It’s simple: you just answer the question, “What are the two things you need to know about ___________?” Obviously, you fill in the blank and THEN answer it. This was more of an exercise in something professional when I discovered it, but I think it can easily become a car trip game.

I tried it on myself with the next-generation Ford Focus. What are the two things you need to know about the redesigned 2015 Ford Focus?

  1. It’s still the only car on the road that looks good in all shades of blue that the factory offers. Many cars come in multiple shades of blue, but every other car has at least one shade of blue that doesn’t look quite so great. Some cars offer only one shade of blue, and inevitably, they don’t look good in it. But the Focus looks good in all of Ford’s blues.
  2. The redesigned 2015 model, with its updated front fascia, now looks better in hatchback form than in sedan form. The current generation’s oversized front grille benefits the sedan, giving the appearance of a larger car when in fact it is a compact. The current hatchback still looks awesome, but I feel like the face was made for the sedan. The next generation, starting with 2015, looks like its face was designed for the hatchback. This is only disadvantageous to the sedan form. The next hatchback looks mega-sweet. Bold move, Ford, bold move.

Check out the 2015 Ford Focus on Ford’s official site.

Bland Car Enthusiast: It Is More Than Okay to Drive a Toyota Camry

Originally published June 2014 on the now-defunct Seshn Automotive website.

Some time ago I wrote a blog post on how it’s okay to drive a Toyota Camry, the main concept being that despite other enthusiast publications’ insistence that it’s dull and boring and lame, it can be a super-awesome coolmobile because your car is what you make it. Everyone’s got different criteria for what makes a car a good car, and Toyota designed a vehicle with the goal of pleasing as many buyers as possible based on scientific market studies. So while it may not be perfect for anyone, it’s plenty good for a lot of people.

I’ll say it time and time again: vanilla is not a bad thing. Vanilla is, in fact, delicious on its own, and hey, you know what else? Vanilla is customizable. You can add sprinkles. You can add syrup. You can add a slice of pizza if that’s your thing. You add what you want, because that’s your taste. And if you drive a Toyota Camry, others might call you vanilla because you don’t like an engine that roars so loudly you can’t hear the radio, or a sleek, aerodynamic cocoon with no rear visibility, or whatever. Let them say what they want, because you know what? The car doesn’t make you cool. You make the car cool.

Of course, having written that with a chip on my shoulder in the fall of 2013, we are now past the 2014 New York Auto Show and the reveal of the “mid-cycle refresh” for the Toyota Camry turns out to be basically a complete exterior redesign. So now Toyota is helping you out with that cool factor a little bit.

The new styling is exciting and aggressive, not unlike its little sister, the new Corolla. With daring, determined headlights and an open maw for a grille, this car now carries the nay-sayer-challenging attitude that I wrote with last fall. And my eyebrows are raised.

I’ll admit I didn’t care for the exterior styling when it debuted with the 2012 model, but it was perfectly respectable. The 2015 is much more than just respectable. Well done, Camry team. That’s one hot car.

Finally.

Bland Car Enthusiast: The Redesigned 2015 Hyundai Sonata

The Redesigned 2015 Hyundai SonataOriginally published July 2014 on the now-defunct Seshn Automotive website.

I’ve been a fan of the Hyundai Sonata since before it got its dramatic redesign back in 2011. I thought the 2010 model was handsome – stately, even, in an understated way. But I wasn’t sad to leave it behind for the next generation, because wow, what a game changer it was for midsize sedans.

Every other major auto manufacturer tried to pretend that it meant nothing. Good looking, sure, they said, but it’s still just a flimsy little Korean car. Too exotic-looking for the segment, they said. They didn’t realize that the interior was also better-built and better-looking than their segment-leaders. They kept their heads in the sands.

But sales numbers are sales numbers, and it didn’t take the rest of the manufacturers long to realize that they needed a dramatic redesign for their midsize sedans as well. So the once-innocuous Sonata came off the diving board with a cannonball into the still waters of midsize family sedans.

And now it’s time for a new Sonata. The design cycle is up, and the 2015 Hyunda Sonata will once again depart from the previous generation. I doubt this time around it will shake things up in the segment – the segment is now a Galapagos Islands-level mixture of exotic, colorful designs, with everyone trying to outdo everyone else on styling and engine performance – but the new Sonata’s design is revealed and public and yet again, I’m excited.

For one thing, apparently the back seat is so spacious, and there is so much room in the interior cabin, that the 2015 Hyundai Sonata technically qualifies as a full-size sedan, not a midsize. I’m all about size when it comes to sedans, so it’s nice to see the Sonata once again making a splash in its segment, this time for interior space.

The new exterior styling, though, is really just the loveliest part. It’s like it’s halfway between the current generation and the previous one – like the 2011 Sonata and the 2010 Sonata had a baby. A very big baby. It’s stately and understated, but still dramatic and sleek. And it’s beautiful.

Bland Car Enthusiast: Jetta Respect

VW Jetta - Redesigned for 2015

When the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta was introduced, I thought it was so offensively bad that it actually made me angry. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the silhouette and I liked the rear end. But the front end – with that too-slim grill and those beady headlights – was just awful. It may have been that because I liked the majority of the car’s looks, the part that I didn’t like was so painful and disappointing that I wanted to throw rocks at it.

But by 2014 the design had really grown on me. Some very, very minor changes were made to the headlights (straighter and slightly larger), and that solved the entire problem I had with it. It may also have been that I saw so many Jettas on the road that I got over the bad part and just appreciated the good parts (the silhouette and those bitchin’ rear taillights). But also, truly, I really came to enjoy the face of the Jetta.

So when it was announced that the 2015 Jetta would be redesigned, where ordinarily I would hold my breath, for this model I thought, “whatever may come, let it come. If I hate it now, I might not later.” And lo and behold, the 2015 Jetta is a continuation of the right trends. Well done, Jetta team. Well done.

There’s been enough of a facelift that my brain is pleased and calm when I look upon it. The taillights are better-looking than ever – they’re halfway between the old Jetta’s taillights and an Audi’s taillights. The silhouette looks good, and the back seat is still one of the largest back seats in the compact sedan class. And the Turbocharged 2.0-liter TSI four-cylinder gas engine yields 210 horsepower. That’ll get me up the Camarillo Grade in the morning, all right.

 

Bland Car Enthusiast: The 2015 Dodge Charger

2015 Dodge Charger - Bland Car Enthusiast

When a car that I like as much as the Dodge Charger is due for a redesign, I tend to hold my breath for a year or so until the actual official reveal, and I try to ignore all the concepts and artists’ renderings and guesses and assumptions that get thrown out into the Internet.

The 2015 Dodge Charger was actually officially revealed last month, and I can breathe deeply once again. The redesign is, to my eyes, a complete success. I knew the car would get a facelift, but I had no idea what kind, since the Dodge brand is in the middle of a complete design language shift, led by the Dart.

The new face bears some of the same influences that created the Dart, but it’s not like the car looks like a large version of the compact. It’s still completely distinctive. There are trolls out there saying it looks like a Camry or Accord, but they are wrong. When I see that front end coming up in my rear view mirror, I’ll still know it’s a Charger. There will be no mistaking this.

The sweet grooves in the side remain on the new version, as well as the full-width racetrack taillights, and these are two things I am happy to see carried over. Supremely happy. I really like this car, and those are two of the things I like most about it.

Shots of the interior of a car are almost never useful as far as showing what the inside experience is all about, but from what I’ve seen on Dodge’s website, I’m inclined to think I will love it. This car is beautiful inside and out.

And, as in every generation, the 2015 Charger is a full-sized performance beast. The base V6 engine gets 292 horsepower, a sportier trim level hits the 300 hp mark, and the HEMI V8 will tear your face off like a rocket to the moon. And here’s my favorite part: the base engine now carries the 8-speed automatic transmission, an upgrade from the base models’ antiquated 5-speed of the previous generation.

With the interior looking the way it does, the size of the car dwarfing what I currently drive, and a 292-hp V6 with an 8-speed transmission thrusting me along, I can safely say that the full-size Dodge Charger is now an economically superior choice to many of the mid-size sedans I’d be considering. Because let’s face it – I’m not likely to consider anything with less than 200 hp, which usually means upper trim levels, which means higher cost. Not anymore, jerks!

Bland Car Enthusiast: Defending the Dodge Dart

2013 Dodge Dart

I hear a lot of smack talk about the new 2013 Dodge Dart, and not from automotive critics. Automotive critics are actually pretty into the Dart. The beef comes from average folks. And the average folks are the ones who we should all listen to, not the auto critics, right?

Actually, we should be listening to them all. The critics have the knowledge and experience of years of looking at cars and test driving them and reading other critics’ reviews and so on. The average folks, on the other hand, are not only the ones who matter in terms of auto sales, they are the ones who determine how a car fits into our culture. Everybody’s opinion has value.

And because of that fact, there is what many might call an overabundance of opinion. Well, here’s an opinion that comes as a result of this overabundance. So pay attention.

The Dodge Dart is awesome.

See, I’m worried that the killjoy nay-saying out there might destroy the buzz you have if you just bought a Dart. I feel like if you’re shelling out the money for a new car, you deserve that buzz. So ignore the detractors, Dart owners of America, and rejoice in your decision. The Dodge Dart is awesome.

I don’t mean to try and shut up everyone out there who genuinely doesn’t appreciate the Dart. I heard good people whose opinions I generally trust, or at least don’t dismiss, say a lot of bad things. And the opinions of average folk, as I said, are important to our national car-driving culture.

But someone said it’s terrible because it has four doors. Are you kidding me? Four-door sedans are rad. You ever try to put a kid or a dog or ANYTHING AT ALL in the back seat of a coupe? It’s a pain in the ass. Four doors are for smooth-riding smart folks. They make the car seem longer, bigger, more mature, more in charge, more in control. There’s confidence in four doors. If you buy a car with a backseat and only two doors, I wish you luck, ‘cause you’ll need it. Coupes are sporty-looking and cool, yeah, but I wouldn’t take a two-door that went around pretending it could still have a back seat. If there’s a back seat, give me four doors.

2013 Dodge Dart Rear End
Baby got back.

My friend John the Librarian said the rear end is too cute for the front end. The grille & headlights are sexy-awesome but the tail end, he says, is “so puffed up and the front so low and sleek… It looks to me like it’s perpetually in danger of tripping over its own nose and taking a header into the tarmac! Like a puppy stepping on its own ears.” I think what we have here is a straight-up aesthetic disagreement. I don’t think the rear end is cute or puffed up at all. I think it’s pretty sharp, and I freakin’ LOVE the tail lights. Anyway, to John and anyone else who thinks that “cute and puffed up” are negative aspects of a rear end, may I kindly refer you to the poetry of Sir Mix-A-Lot.

Finally, there’s been some harping on the poor acceleration performance of the Dart. Well, hey, let me stop you all right there. Firstly, you’re talking about the base engine. The base engine always has poor acceleration. That’s not why you buy the base engine. You buy the base engine because it has better mileage than the larger engine, and you buy it because you don’t value the bigger engine at the price they ask. If you did, you’d have bought the bigger engine. If you found a car on the lot with the base engine and bought it, kudos to you for your frugality. If you’re in a hurry, don’t worry, you’ll get there, and you’ll get there with a little more cash in your pocket than you would otherwise.

Now, in the case of the Dodge Dart, moving up a level to the next engine means a smaller engine, but it’s turbocharged, so it actually accelerates noticeably more quickly. And because it’s smaller, it gets even better mileage, which is among tops for a non-hybrid in its segment (or in any segment, for that matter). And you know what else? The higher-level engines on the Dodge Dart are named “Tiger Shark.” I know it’s just a name, but that’s still pretty bad ass.

The Dodge Dart is almost too big to be considered a compact car, and I think that’s awesome. I love big cars. I like to think that the next car I get will not be a compact, but the Dodge Dart is certainly up for consideration, especially since I can get it in super-fun six-speed manual transmission with a sweet turbocharged engine for like twenty grand (or less, if I play my cards right!).

Anyone can say what they want about the Dodge Dart, but for all you Dart owners and admirers out there, I will say this: the Dodge Dart is awesome.

I hope you’ll say it, too.

Bland Car Enthusiast: A New Blog Segment

Sexy 2013 Buick Lacrosse
Buick LaCrosse. So sexy.

Sedan design is a sort of a passion of mine, and like gasoline burning inside a combustion engine, this passion drives me to blog.

I hadn’t blogged about it at all here on BilGaines.com because when I started my WordPress account two years ago, I was working for Cars.com, and when I left that company to move back to California, the job that was waiting for me was with Edmunds.com.  Both Cars and Edmunds are automotive websites (which you probably know if you clicked on either link), and though my job at each had more to do with dealers’ listings, I was always hesitant to contradict the editors, lest I appear to them as some sort of unknowing, unthinking, inexperienced, account-managing NON-automotive journalist. This fear was pretty much entirely unfounded, but I just never wanted to stir up trouble, so I simply spoke my opinion out loud at the office instead of blogging.

Nobody really cared what I said, anyway, nor would have cared what I blogged, since – as I mentioned – four-door sedans are to me what Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porches are to other guys. I love them. I care about their design – the styling, the functionality, the driver experience, the head-turning qualities that draw comparisons to unreasonably attractive humans.

So anyway – around this time last year I made a declaration of commitment to Sharkblog, but that commitment fell down the shitter pretty quickly when I landed the SEO job that I was hoping Sharkblog would help me land. This year, I’m smarter than that. I will make no such declaration of commitment. I will, however, introduce a new vertical to my site: Bland Car Enthusiast. The automotive vertical, if you will. It’s basically a blog category where I talk about cars, mainly four-door sedans and occasionally hatchbacks or convertibles.

Full disclosure: my wife & I actually own two cars, neither of which is a sedan. The sedan is the dream.

Bland Car Enthusiast