Detroit Is Not In Europe

Editorial

I've been finding that being an automotive enthusiast tends to mean spending quite a bit of time apologizing for being American. There is a perception that American cars are somehow universally inferior to those being produced in Europe or Japan. It is true that American carmakers have made some questionable decisions from time to time, but there is a prevailing idea that Americans are somehow inherently incapable of making a good car.

I blame Jeremy Clarkson for a good deal of this. His show, and his opinions, reach more automotive enthusiasts than any other automotive news outlet in the world, and he uses it to slam Americans and American cars nearly every chance he gets. Well, as the CarBuzz resident redneck (I wore cowboy boots to the office today, and I'm the only member of staff to have ever driven a tractor), I feel obligated to defend the country of my birth. American cars aren't inherently bad, what they are, is built for American drivers and American roads.

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I love European cars, German cars in particular have a very special place in my heart, but Europe is a different place with different driving conditions. European roads test a car's handling in ways that we simply don't need to worry about in North America. If you look for them, you can find some great twisty roads in America, but most roads are long, flat and straight. Distances are also on a completely different scale. This means your drives will be longer but with fewer turns, and those you do encounter will be easier to negotiate. Comfort is therefore more important, and handling less so. This is how American cars are built.

Yes, European cars do tend to have more sophisticated chassis design, and this makes a difference on European roads or a track. I for one don't commute to work by way of a race track though, and I never bring my car with me when I go to Europe (although the cowboy boots got some disapproving looks in Spain), so that extra sophistication comes into play only in terms of extra cost. There are some virtues to simplicity. I could take $30,000 into any Big Three dealership and leave with a V8-powered coupe putting out something in the neighborhood of 400 horsepower.

To buy such a car from a European company would cost me twice as much, and most of what I would be paying the extra for would be features I'd never use. It's true that the M3 has a nicer interior than the Mustang GT, but is it thirty grand nicer? No. Many European brands offer excellent warranties, but as a former Audi technician, let me tell you, they need good warranties. They break a lot and parts are expensive. Power, something someone who buys either an M3 or a Mustang GT is bound to care about, is the same on both, and don't think the European is any lighter, those days are over.

A Ford Taurus SHO costs about $25,000 less than a comparably equipped BMW 5-Series, even though the SHO is bigger and faster in every situation where you might actually use it. Coming back to Jeremy Clarkson for a second, it is important to remember that the one time Top Gear gave a trio of glowing reviews of American cars (I am, I confess, a fan of the show) was also the time that they drove said cars on American roads. I fully understand why a European (such as Jeremy Clarkson) wouldn't want to buy an American car, and it gives you a certain amount of bragging rights if your car can lap the Nurburgring faster than your neighbor's.

But on actual American roads, the extra money you're paying is largely wasted. A long drive out in the country behind the wheel of a Porsche is one of the great experiences in life, but prices on European cars are completely out of proportion to what they are used for in America. A great time can also be had in a Camaro or Challenger, and for one hell of a lot less money. Paying a lot of extra money just for the sake of spending it doesn't impress me. So I'll be taking all that money I've saved and spending it on bourbon, cheeseburgers and beef jerky, and I refuse to apologize for it.

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