This Time, It's Personal
The Cars We Love — Even Though Everyone Else Hates Them
It’s quite easy to pick sides in the BMW versus Audi debate, or over whether Ferrari wins out over Lamborghini or in the fraught Mustang-vs-Camaro showdown. Whichever you pick, it’s guaranteed at least half the car world’s population will agree — consequently, you’ll have an alarming amount of people saying you’re wrong. But that ratio becomes totally skewed against you when it comes to defending your love for a widely disliked car.
That terrible car isn’t terrible — not to you. Maybe it’s the car you learned to drive in, maybe you took a formative cross-country road trip in a crap box. Regardless, you know — and appreciate — its unique attributes more intimately than anyone else. Whatever the reason for unconditional love, these are the cars we’ll always defend, despite how terrible the rest of the world thinks they are.
2005 Volkswagen Phaeton
Why I Love It: The luxury flagship Phaeton, just 2,000 of which were sold here between 2004 and 2006, got dinged from every angle -— too expensive, “looks like a big Passat,” must be crappy quality, etc. The truth is that it’s simply a fantastic car. I’ve had mine for 10 years and it’s been the most reliable, high-quality thing I’ve ever owned. (This matches most forum chatter about the vehicle.) It’s also elegant — it doesn’t look like a Passat any more than a 7-Series looks like a 5—series. It’s sublimely comfortable and filled with ahead-of-its-time features, from a self-leveling air suspension to advanced climate control to four-seat massagers.
Most importantly, it’s still great fun to drive on long road trips, with smooth road manners and whisper-quiet acoustics. It was, after all, the development mule for the Bentley Flying Spur, not a parts-bin rebadging of the Audi A8. Haters can whine all they want, but the truth is I paid $17,000 for an $80,000 car 10 years ago, and it’s still a better driving experience than most new vehicles today. I haven’t looked back for a second.– Eric Adams, Contributor
2003 Honda Element
Why I Love It: For whatever reason when I first saw the Honda Element back in 2002 at the New York Auto Show, I was smitten. Maybe it’s my love for boxy cars. Maybe it was the fact that it had 4WD and suicide doors. Maybe it was the fact that the rear seats detached and mounted to the walls to allow for a better camping surface or more space to store outdoor gear. It’s likely a combination of all of those things, but in my eyes the Honda Element can do no wrong. Except maybe for that oddly bulbous shift knob. — AJ Powell, Assistant Editor
2005–2009 Hyundai Sonata
Why I Love It: This was, I believe, the first car I rented. A few friends and I split the cost for a road trip back to our college homecoming and, of course, I was eager to do 100 percent of the driving. Perhaps biased by my pride, I found the Sonata to feature everything I could want: a good radio, spacious seating and it gave the impression of refined affordability. I distinctly remember playing the ‘mileage game’ with myself too — could I drive smooth enough to creep the average MPGs over 30? (I did.)
Beyond that, I think this generation Sonata — after years of weird, bubble styling and before the next generation’s swoopy/melty styling — looks particularly, genuinely handsome. I say I hate to love this Sonata because it is objectively bland; a rental-car-grade, good-first-car-if-you-find-one-used-for-five-grand car. Still, a good-looking economical and amenable ride is nothing to shake a stick at. Fight me. — Nick Caruso, Associate Editor
1996 Pontiac Sunfire Coupe
Why I Love It: Everyone has some level of attachment to the car they first learned to drive. The 1996 Pontiac Sunfire coupe, was not only that car for me, it was also how I learned to drive a manual transmission (in empty parking lots with my dad) a few years before I even had my permit. But, I specifically love the coupe. It might have been front-wheel-drive and powered by an anemic GM four-cylinder, but there was close to no weight over the back axle. That came in handy when I discovered the age-old rite of passage known as handbrake turns.
As far as I was concerned, it was a sports car: Firebird-esque styling, a five-speed manual and a back end with the tendency to get loose when prodded, even at tame speeds around my neighborhood. When the discussion of driving a “slow car fast” comes up, I always reference the Sunfire. It represents my humble beginnings as a self-proclaimed enthusiast — whether my neighbors liked it or not. — Bryan Campbell, Staff Writer
2010 Honda CR-Z
Why I Love It: The shade you’ll see thrown at the Honda CR-Z is usually tethered to praise for its predecessor, the Honda CR-X, a car that decades ago convinced every slack-jawed dudebro wearing a white tank top and flat brim cap that any car adorned with the “H” badge was inherently magic. It’s almost too easy to frame the CR-Z’s shortcomings in the rose-tinted context of what is arguably one of the most beloved hatchbacks to be sold in the US, but if we try and look at the CR-Z without the specter of its big brother hanging over it, was it really all that bad?
I guess I try to consider the automotive landscape in which the CR-Z was debuted: a time in which hybrids were perceived as a conveyance for monied, holier-than-thou neo-Hippies (whether or not that was actually true). The CR-Z attempted to make the idea of a fun, affordable hybrid a reality. By all means, it was mostly that. It was the only hybrid at the time with a manual transmission, it had a funky, novel design and most reviewers conceded that it was relatively fun to chuck into corners and slam through all six speeds. It got reasonably high gas mileage at the time, too. But in the end, most critics found the gas mileage wasn’t high enough for a hybrid, and its dynamics weren’t hot hatch-y enough. But it was a pioneer, even though its concept was fundamentally compromised. What did we expect? But the most important thing was that the CR-Z tried, god damn it. To pan something or someone for trying something new is to make a mockery of the very concept of human endeavor. Maybe that’s why I feel the CR-Z deserves more respect than it gets.– Andrew Connor, Staff Writer