Thursday, July 31, 2008

Myself, I think 'Mangler' sounds more appropriate. Part 1.

My daughter is the proud owner of a new Jeep Wrangler, though after three days of urging the thing around Vegas, I honestly can't tell you why. (That means I can't tell you why she willingly owns it...and I certainly can't tell you why she's proud.) By the way, this post isn't just a case of Steve Tries to Mimic Consumer Reports; I'm building to a point or two, and I hope you'll bear with me till we get there. I'll try to keep you entertained en route.

Without further ado, then, here's my armrest review of the 2008 Jeep Wrangler:

Routine handling is impeccable, as long as you're stopped at a light. Once you actually begin moving, the car steers as if it were purposely designed to wander back and forth between lanes. There are moments when you'd swear you were on one of those kiddie carnival rides where the steering wheel in your miniature vehicle isn't connected to anything.

Emergency handling, meanwhile, is downright scary. There is just no way to make a controlled high-speed maneuver in this car—not one that yields predictable results. Even at the moderate speeds you quickly learn to settle for, unexpectedly sharp bends in highway exit ramps will make you think you're on the verge of a wheelie. I've been driving for over 40 years in all types of vehicles, from shiny and new to ancient and rust-ravaged, and I don't think I've ever experienced the weightless "uh-oh" feeling that this Jeep provides at least once per drive. The moving van I piloted around SoCal for four days while my family and I looked for housing (it's a long story) handled more precisely than this Jeep. No joke.

But at least the ride sucks. Usually when a car handles this poorly, it's because the engineering dollars went into a so-called "boulevard ride." Not here. An unnoticed speed bump is a seismic event. And, rather shockingly (since this is a certified off-road 4WD we're talking about), even more modest topographical irregularities will cause the suspension to jiggle and sway, requiring corrections in course.

Acceleration is sluggish, despite the added horsepower that Jeep touts in its promos. On the highway, you hit the hammer for that surge of passing juice you need in order to escape from the kinds of local lunatics who take traffic personally, and it's just not there.

Another thing that's just not there: the horn. Seriously. You have to feel around for it to get it to toot, and by then, of course, it's too late. Even at that, the horn isn't always in the same place. Which is not good in a city like Vegas, because I wasn't kidding about the lunatics. Drivers out here seem to think "red light" means "only three or four more cars should speed through this intersection..."

The alleged climate control is perfectly adequate if you're traveling at a steady speed of 60 mph on a flat stretch of road. As soon as you accelerate or need to climb, the compressor cuts out, balmy air pours from the vents, and you get to feel the temp inside the vehicle climb by a fast 5 or 10 degrees. And don't tell me this is because it's 109 in Vegas. We rented a Caddy last weekend and it'd get so cold that we had to cut back the a/c to "economy" now and then.

In short, I think I know why there's that big "X" on the door of the Jeep. It's a secret message from some designer with a conscience, and it means DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, BUY ONE OF THESE! Quite simply, my daughter's Jeep Wrangler is, with no contenders, the worst new vehicle I have ever driven.

She loves it. Luuvvvvvs it.

But why, Jen? I implore. Why? (When you're imploring, you have to repeat the key thought.)

"Because," she says, "it's so cute and fun!" A moment later, seeing the enigmatic look on my face, she amplifies: "It just does it for me. I had one before* and I always loved it and I hated giving it up, so I'm so happy I could get another one." She also mentions that it came with satellite radio.

Oh, OK. Now I understand.

The problem I have with my daughter's taste in cars is twofold. (Actually, I could cite about a dozen reasons, but to keep it manageable I'll focus on my two primary gripes.) For starters, Jen is a single mom. She's responsible for my grandson, Jordan, who is very precious to me, and it therefore bugs the hell out of me that she's driving him around in a Jeep. As it happens, I warned her about the Wrangler when she first told me she was considering it; I sent her the skeptical reviews of its viability as an everyday car and recited its litany of safety concerns. No matter; she plunked down her $25K anyway. Worse, half the time she doesn't even have the hardtop on—she likes the wind in her hair while she listens to that satellite radio at nuclear-fission volume levels—which leaves Jordan sitting in the nominal back seat, not only exposed to the desert elements but far more likely to be thrown from the vehicle during a collision (or if Jen drives over an unusually high speed bump).

Regrettably, my daughter's unapologetic attitude is symptomatic of the way many moms (and not just the single ones) think nowadays: Sure my child's welfare is important, but not so important that I'm going to sacrifice my own happiness, by gosh. If these moms can look out for their kid in a way that doesn't cramp their style, fine. Otherwise he's sitting in the back of a Wrangler with the hardtop off. (This, for the record, is another reason why I dedicated my book, SHAM, as I did. I don't have a copy with me so I can't quote it verbatim, but it's something like: "To mom and dad, and the rest of the parents of their generation who were codependent enough to put their kids first.")

You know, my wife and I have to laugh, in a gallows-humor kind of way, each time we drive to my older boy's house in Ossining. Once best known for its eponymous prison, Sing-Sing, Ossining these days is a gentrifying bedroom community of Manhattan, filled with double-income young-marrieds. The last leg of the 2.5-hour trip from PA to Ossining puts you on NY-9, a business route where you pass several day-care facilities that advertise "SATURDAY HOURS!" Come again? Could it really be that parents who don't see their kids all week (save for maybe an hour of "quality time" before bed each night) also need an additional respite from the poor creatures on weekends, too? If you're in that category and you're reading this, excuse my impertinence, but why did you have children?? So there's someone to visit you when you're old and gray? You might want to take a listen to Cat's in the Cradle.

Next time: The implications of my daughter's automotive choices for vanity and the American way of life.

P.S. Lest you think I'm being too hard on the Jeep, take a look at these answers to an innocent question about the Wrangler's suitability for a beginning driver. Or simply Google expert reviews using search coordinates like, say, "Jeep + Wrangler + handling." See for yourself what comes back.

* This was when she lived by herself in San Diego, pre-Jordan. (My wife and I had moved to Indy.) She got rid of it for financial reasons before I even knew she had it.


RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - feel free to not post this. It is admittedly pretty personal.

I'm in complete agreement about the Jeep, Steve, but I'm unsure as to your reasoning in posting this to the blog. Perhaps your daughter simply doesn't believe the negative reports that the Jeep has gotten. Perhaps she reasons that she won't put herself in the kind of situation that would endanger herself and her child. Foolhardy, yes, but not uncommon.

I'll be blunt... It feels like a last-ditch effort to show her how wrong she was, or - God forbid - documentation in anticipation of an "I told you so" moment.

I don't know your daughter, so I'm not qualified to pass judgment on her fitness as a parent. But as a parent, I do question the advisability of so publicly questioning her judgment and motives. After all... Thanksgiving is only a few months away, and this could well add "flavor" to the conversation around the table!

Voltaire said...

Have you ever read the book High and Mighty by Keith Bradshur? It sounds like you'd like to read it. Except for a few extremely short periods I h ave always despised these clumsy, gas guzzling behemoths that so many other Americans are fond of.

I once tried driving a Jeep Mangler myself in a fit of temporary insanity. As you have described, it was a horrible machine to drive. The handling was so wobbly I felt like I was driving on Jello, not tires. At the same time the suspension was so stiff every little bump in the road. How Jell-o can be so wobbly and stiff at the same time is beyond me.

I could hardly force the speed past 60Mph; pressing the accelerator to the floor at around 55Mph would only result in a very slow speed increase.

Steve Salerno said...

Yanno, Ron, your reasoning here was prominent in my mind as I put this post together. Obviously it's a long-ish post, which required some time and thought, and at various points during that time and that thinking, an internal debate raged about the merits of going public with such sentiments. It was a very close call.

OTOH, my kids know by now that our personal lives and collective family life are often fodder (or at least a launching point) for much of what I write--not just on the blog, but for publications like The New York Times Magazine, etc. I've done dozens of memoirs over the years, and by now my family has learned to live with it in the same way that, say, the family members of comedians get used to (if they never quite accept) the idea of being fodder for jokes and full-blown routines. And for the record, I've written--often--about my own foibles as well. In fact, I'd say that my various confessions here and there have probably made other family members more uncomfortable than any of my revelations about them.

I look at it this way: We all talk about our families, significant others and such; one way or another, we express our disenchantment with each other. Most of us do it in whispers, in gossip, or even (and I think this is much worse than blogging) in small passive-aggressive gestures and demonstrations randomly throughout the day. My daughter knows how I feel. She also knows that I love her dearly. That's part of why I write things like this.

All that said, if I take a lot of heat over this--if too many people feel that this is suffocating, or a "violation" of sorts--I guess I'll remove the item.

Steve Salerno said...

Incidentally, the mention of Ossining, the day-care facilities and my older son, all in the same breath, is not to imply that my son and his wife are "like that." By every measure, they're true parents in the classic tradition.

Steven Sashen said...

You reminded me of the Hyundai Excel I had in 1985. You could break into it by putting your fingers in the space between the window and the roof and pulling (and not that hard, even).

And, once, I got out of a speeding ticket by saying to the officer, "Ummm... I'm in a Hyundai."

Jen said...

Steve, our daughter (17) drives a similar vehicle, a Chevy Tracker, and I had thoughts much like yours about her safety. She hasn't been on the highway too much and not at all on the highway by herself. In fact, as I was driving my own Chevy Tracker (we, in fact, have a total of three of these now, down from four, but that is another story) along the highway this morning I thought of how one day she would be doing this with the relative ease and level of comfort I experience now. But! (Always a but, isn't there?) Is she ready for driving alone on the highway yet? We are getting there.

It's one of the most terrifying experiences ever, isn't it? Thinking of your children out there in the big bad world, driving on highways and such. Especially in (*shivers*) these at-risk vehicles.

At least your daughter is not toting the grandson on the back of a motorcycle, eh?

Steve Salerno said...

Jen, do I sense a small amount of tongue-in-cheek derision in your comment? What, do you "Jens" all stick together? ;)

But seriously, I think there's a big difference between the general pangs of alarm that all parents feel when their kids go out into the "big bad world," and the more specific unease we have when they go into that world in a way that seems to assume undue risk--not just for themselves, but for the innocent wee-ones they take with them. I realize that you intended your remark about "the back of a motorcycle" as a parting quip, but it illustrates my point: Suppose you had a daughter who did, indeed, traipse around with her child on the back of a motorcycle. Would you just be able to sit there and say, "Oh well, kids will be kids..." Or--to take it a step further into the absurd--suppose you had a daughter who liked playing Russian roulette with her son...would that be "OK" with you? I'm not saying that owning a Jeep Wrangler is like playing Russian roulette; but when you're "driving for two," as it were, I think you have a responsibility to consider how much additional risk you're assuming--for your defenseless traveling companion--by doing your traveling in a relatively risky vehicle.

I guess each of us must decide, At what point do we cross over from the normal risks of daily life into a region where we knowingly extend those risks into the realm of the unacceptable?

Elizabeth said...

OK, Steve -- I have a two-fold response, irrational and less so, to your post:

1. It's a girl thing, your daughter and her Jeep -- you wouldn't understand. (And of course I anticipate a contrary, "But, Eliz, consider that..." from you and must warn you in advance that any response to "It's a girl thing, you don't understand" is going to be met with somewhat patronizing (sorry) silence (if you are a man -- and you are), so don't even bother, OK? Sorry!)

2. Our kids have minds of their own -- and good luck trying to talk them out of anything when they reach the stage of young adulthood when they simply KNOW BETTER (and that applies to everything, period). And even before then, they just know better -- and we know bupkus. So. As a mother of a son who for the umpteenth has just totaled his car* -- and who is at the end of her ropes -- I can tell you that you can and should offer your concerned advice to your daughter -- you're her dad, after all -- but it's completely up to her to decide to follow it (or not). Likely not. Keep your fingers crossed and say a prayer, even though you don't quite believe, just in case, you know. Chances are her infatuation with the super-awesome car will wane with time and wisdom.

Then again... It's a girl thing.

*In his mind, car racing beats breathing any time. Imagine my thrill about his attitude.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I certainly don't suggest that you remove the post. Not being in your situation, I'm grossly unqualified to even consider doing so. And I don't question the appropriateness of your posting details of your family dynamic. I just imagine how uncomfortable it might be to have a parent publicly question an adult child's judgment, and, if anything, felt compelled to suggest that such an action might cause you some difficulty.

On the other hand, I frequently took my children riding on the back of my motorcycle, though I drove especially conservatively when I had them with me.

Mike Cane said...

Steve, when I (and you!) was a kid, Grandmas weren't sexpots. Today, look how Grandma dresses! I don't think they even *make* the kind of Grandma clothes they used to wear.

So, things change. Mom isn't Mom anymore.

RevRon's Rants said...

Nowadays, Mom has morphed into MILF. Perhaps it's due to my own increasing "maturity," but I kinda like it that way! :-)

The 10-year-old sexpots-in-training worry me, though.

Anonymous said...

"I look at it this way: We all talk about our families, significant others and such; one way or another, we express our disenchantment with each other. Most of us do it in whispers, in gossip, or even (and I think this is much worse than blogging) in small passive-aggressive gestures and demonstrations randomly throughout the day. My daughter knows how I feel. She also knows that I love her dearly. That's part of why I write things like this."

As a fellow writer, I hear you. What are we suppose to write about? Our lives fuel us. I write fiction and my husband would be hurt if did not think he inspired some of it. My mother sees herself in EVER mother I write about. My husband knew what he was getting into when he married me and the rest of my family knows this is who I am. I don't anything to say about the car thing, 'cause I am a Honda woman.

mikecane2008 said...

>>>Nowadays, Mom has morphed into MILF.

OMG. Nearly choked on what I was eating. (Damn, no pun intended!!!)

Jen said...

Steve, you wrote: "I guess each of us must decide, At what point do we cross over from the normal risks of daily life into a region where we knowingly extend those risks into the realm of the unacceptable?"

When that question pertains to your child, the point becomes critical. Is good to see you exploring these issues.