Here are the latest reader questions, along with my replies:
Luke asks: I learned of you through Tom Woods. I always enjoy the episodes you’ve been on. The reason I’m reaching out now is to ask you to listen and respond to the claims made in the most recent 99 percent invisible episode on the success and goodness of American car regulation.
My reply: “Success and goodness” . . . as defined how? And by whom?
Consider fuel economy regulations. Why is this the government’s business at all? We buy the cars – and the gas that goes in them. Aren’t federal fuel economy dictates essentially the same thing as a hypothetical mandate that people only eat so much food?
If cars use “too much” gas and people demand more fuel efficient models, the market would – and does – provide them. Long before there was CAFE, there were cars like the old VW Beetle that emphasized economy. People were free to buy them – or buy something less fuel-efficient but which served their needs or wants in some other way.
I regard “safety” mandates the same way. Why is this the government’s business? Is government our parent? If a free adult prefers to drive a light, simple car without air bags and all the rest of it, why should this free choice be interfered with? Because it is “risky”? Well, if that is the standard then government should also be forcing people to maintain an ideal BMI and exercise regularly, too. Clearly, motorcycles should be banned outright. Etc.
To be clear: I have no problem with things like air bags per se; only that they are mandated. They ought to be freely available to those who wish to purchase them but not forced on people who prefer not to buy them and who are willing to assume the personal risk of doing without them for the sake of other benefits, such as lower cost, less weight and so on. I remember a time when “safety” was one of many selling points (Volvo built its reputation on “safety”). Today, all cars must be “safe” – and so they are increasingly homogenous as well as overweight and too expensive.
Ironically, the “safety” mandates have made cars less fuel-efficient by dint of making the average new car several hundred pounds heavier than its analog of 30 years ago!
If the “safety” mandates were repealed, it would be possible for the automakers to build lightweight cars capable of averaging 60-70 MPG.
If the MPG mandates went away, we’d have simpler cars that cost thousands less to buy than they currently do – and thus, we’d have much more money available to spend on gas as well as other things!
The bottom line is these choices are properly ours as free individuals to make – not other people’s to make on our behalf (but without our consent and at our expense).
If, that is, you proceed from the premise that America ought to be a free country.
J asks: In your opinion what is the best bang for the buck SUV (aside from cars like the Porsche Cayenne, etc). The Subaru Crosstrek seems like a good car but some reviews said the steering/handling not that great. Subarus seem to have good acceleration but maybe not as good steering/handling as European cars. The Forester seems to have gotten good reviews as the Hyundai Sante Fe, Kia Sorrento, Buick Enclave and Mazda CX-9. VW, unfortunately seems to have reliability issues as does Volvo. BMW and Audi have good cars but offer smaller cars and higher prices in similar categories.
My reply: Well, first let’s define our terms! Almost all the vehicles you mention – including the Cayenne – are car-based crossovers, not SUVs. That’s not a bad thing; it just means they are built on car-type platforms, not based on truck-type platforms as SUVs are.
SUVs – like the trucks they descend from – are built around a rear-wheel-drive layout and usually have a truck-type part-time four-wheel-drive (“4WD” or “4×4”) system with a two-speed transfer case and Low range gearing. The SUV’s 4WD system usually operates in two-wheel-drive, with all of the engine’s power going to the rear wheels; when 4WD is engaged, 50 percent of the engine’s power is transferred to the front wheels.
Crossovers are usually built around a front-wheel-drive layout, with a full-time all-wheel-drive system available or standard. In normal driving driving, almost all of the engine’s output goes to the front wheels. As these begin to lose traction, a percentage of the engine’s power is automatically fed to the rear wheels until the front wheels regain traction.
There is usually no low range gearing.
The SUV is much more capable in deep snow and extreme off-road conditions but its 4WD system is not meant to confer a handling advantage on dry pavement and the equipment is very heavy, which negatively affects handling as well as gas mileage.
The crossover isn’t as capable in extreme off-road conditions because it hasn’t got the leverage advantage of the Low range gearing – but its AWD system does enhance both traction and handling on-road, particularly the more advanced systems (e.g., Subarus and Acuras) that have the ability to “torque vector” or modulate power delivery to individual wheels.
So, we get down to – how do you intend to use the vehicle? What are your needs? If you need to go seriously off-road (e.g., rugged, uneven trails, ford deep streams, deal with very deep unplowed snow, deep mud, etc.) then a 4WD SUV will suit. The Toyota 4Runner is one of my personal favorites in reasonably sized ‘ute but if you need larger, the Chevy Tahoe is a good choice and also the Nissan Armada. You could also go for a crew cab truck, which is basically an SUV with a small bed out back.
If, on the other hand, you do most of your driving on road and basically want a vehicle that can deal with poor weather on paved roads but which also handles well, then a crossover is what you’re looking for.
Subarus like the Crosstrek and Forester are excellent but if you operate them at high speed in the curves you will likely be disappointed by their mediocre handling, which is mediocre chiefly because these vehicles have much higher than most ground clearance (almost 9 inches) which is why they are popular in areas where there is a lot of snow every year!
The Kia/Hyundai models you mention are great vehicles but high-speed handling is not their forte, either.
If, however, you do not drive at high speed, you will probably find them quite acceptable.
If you do drive at high speed, you would probably like the Acura MDX or any Quattro Audi; these all handle superbly. Ditto the BMWs (X3, X5) which, incidentally, are the only crossovers that are built on a rear-drive layout! These do not have Low range gearing, however; their available xDrive system is a car-type all-wheel-drive system.
You might also shop less jacked-up Subarus like the Impreza. Very capable in poor weather but still handles well at high-speed because it’s not so high off the ground. The VW Golf AllTrack is worth a look, too.
. . .
Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!
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