American cars suck.
There. I said it. I don’t like saying it, but, in my personal recent experience with two rental cars of different American make, it’s true.
Recently, I had to get my ride (an ’05 Nissan XTerra — which I like okay for a big honkin’ SUV that gets 14 MPG) fixed after a fender-bender (not my fault; I was rear-ended). For a rental car, I got a Chevrolet Malibu. I did not enjoy driving it. Other than having a peppy-ish engine, I liked nothing about that car. The worst part, though, was the cheap fit and finish in the interior. Terrible ergonomics, cheap materials in ugly, industrial (and not in a good way) colors. Just overtly BLAH. The one thing I will point out specifically is the “key bumper.” Just below the keyhole (is that what you call it?) is a weird rubber pad about 2 inches long by a half inch high. I puzzled over this for a couple of days. Finally, I realized that it’s there so the keys on your keyring that aren’t inserted in the ignition will bounce against that and not against the dash. I guess it’s supposed to be quieter or it protects your keys or the dash. I don’t know. I DO know, however, that it’s stupid. Why not design the placement of the ignition hole (again, what is that called?) so that the keys just hang there and don’t bang against anything at all? Crappy design.
So, today, The Wife’s car (’05 Toyota Prius) goes into the shop, and I get a Ford Fusion as a rental. The Wife’s father has a Ford Focus, and for a compact car, it’s not bad. I figured the Fusion, being a “step up” from the Focus would be nicer, not just bigger. No such luck. The interior of the Fusion is very similar to the Malibu, actually: cheap, ugly plastic molded into ugly and awkward shapes. Cheap plastic on a bottom-end car (the Focus) is expected. However, on the Fusion it seems worse because it SHOULD be nicer, but it ain’t.
Other than the fit and finish, I just found both cars uncomfortable to drive. That could just be me, with my barrel torso and short legs talking. But, the last five cars we’ve had at our house (’93 Geo Prizm — which was really a re-badged Toyota Corolla, ’98 Nissan Altima, ’03 Subaru Forester, the much-missed ’05 MINI Cooper S, and the aforementioned present fleet) all fit me just fine, especially the MINI, which was the smallest by far.
In addition to The Father-in-Law’s Focus, we have other friends and family who have American vehicles that like them. Wheat has a Ford Explorer SUV that he likes (not sure what he thinks about the interior, but I suspect he’ll let us know in a comment when he reads this). So, maybe it’s just the low- to mid-range American vehicles that are crappy. I don’t know.
I do know that the low-end — and especially the mid-range — Japanese cars are lightyears ahead of their American counterparts in terms of design and driveability. Just look at a new Honda Civic. Top-notch interior design there, and that’s the bottom end of the Honda line (well, I take that back: they now have the sub-sub-compact Fit below the Civic), and comparable to the Fusion in price.
I would love to see American cars get back on top in terms of design, but my small sampling of the current crop doesn’t have me holding my breath.