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Yup, I’m digressing for this one article from writing about ethics and books to a topic that is still pretty dear to everyone: MONEY!
The topic is Badges and Labels and how they sucker every single one of us every single day.
Last week, my beautiful creme Chrysler 300-C Hemi that I’ve babied for four years chanced to go through a mud puddle that was too deep. It stalled. I had it towed. An hour later I got a call from the dealership that my car was…totaled by a thing called hydrostatic lock, which killed the engine…permanently. Fortunately, I’m ex-military and USAA told me I was 100% covered and… it was time to go shopping. Here is where things get interesting.
I grew up with a love affair with cars. Had my own subscription to Car and Driver and Road & Track before I had a driver’s license. I’ve made some good choices, too: The first was a 1969 Shelby Cobra GT-350 which I drove for ten years, then sold for twice what I paid for it. BMWs, they’re great, by the way, just significantly overpriced now, though I’ve had several. I also had a black Smokey and the Bandit Trans-Am that was wickedly fast, I raced Fiats, and had whole bunch of European cars, a froggy Saab Turbo…and you get the point. I love cars, and I particularly appreciate good machinery.
I spent the whole week bouncing around dealerships, then going home and doing road test comparisons on two side-by-side computers. I watched hours of road test videos then rewatched them, looking for a car that would stand out, do EVERYTHING, and not break the bank. Didn’t have any luck at first. But then one car kept popping up among the comparisons. Audi, Lexus, BMW, Volvo, Mercedes versus this particular car…and yeah, I’m gonna tell you what it is.
Over and over and over, I heard or read, “The Lexus ES 350 was actually a disappointment compared to…” ” The BMW is a bit superior in handling, but at $4o,000 more?” And it kept going on that way all week.
Was there a drawback, some secret Achilles Heel to this odd car that was doing SO well? Yes, there was, and I’ll tell you exactly what the drawback is. Oh, it handles, it’s fast, super quiet, built meticulously, and it’s a beautiful car. Care to guess what the downfall is?
To a man, every road tester said, “The only thing wrong with this car is…..the badge,” meaning the emblem on the hood. My new car has the best safety credential of the bunch and a ten-year warranty (again, the best). It has every conceivable option you could think of, forward and rear facing radar, (you can’t accidentally run into anybody) heated and ventilated seats, paddle shifters, electronic everything, rear camera standard for backing, the sideview mirrors tilt-in when you park…AMAZING stereo, Bluetooth. It goes on and on and on and on and on, most of it standard.
An Old Wrinkle: If you’re old enough to remember when…there wasn’t a thing called a Lexus, you know right where I’m going with this. Toyota makes the Lexus and when Lexus first came out, no one figured it would fly. “It’s just a tarted-up Toyota” was the common refrain. A decade and a half later, Lexus quality is legendary. But…I didn’t buy a Lexus, I bought a car called the Cadenza which is KIA’s new super- flagship. Think of a highly under-priced Lexus with most everything as good or better.
Badge Issue But, there’s that badge issue again. I kept hearing this, “You don’t want to pull into the country club with that badge on your car. It just won’t do. ” Well…in this economy you’d be surprised what will do. In my driveway, my black Cadenza looks…not like a 3 or 5-series BMW, but a $90,000 7-series BMW, (only not as stodgy) plus it’s as quiet and much more reliable (check the facts before you argue). It’s a bit like the Lexus too, only it has 100 more horsepower than the ES 350.
When we pulled into our little shopping center this afternoon, with the new Cadenza, we finally thought we’d seen the first other Cadenza in Bucks County, PA. It was black too, sleek, gorgeous, same sexy LED lights, gorgeous cast wheels. Then it got closer. It wasn’t a Cadenza, it was the new Tesla S. Care to guess what that Tesla S costs? $107,000 and…I don’t have to worry about getting stuck with no place to charge it up. I’m thinking of challenging the guy to five 0-60s in a row and whoever makes it home without a tow wins.
Oh……..that one problem with the badge. The very nice guy at Fred Beans Kia dealership, already knew what I was talking about. He walked me out to his car (obviously a KIA) and showed me the badges on his car. I scratched my head. “Huh? You bought a Lexus???” No, in the parent country where KIA is made (South Korea) the logo isn’t in English, it’s in Korean and it’s, (you’re gonna love this) a raised chromium L on an ebony background. Takes about 20 minutes and $60 to switch to the chromium Ls.
For 99.9999% of the people who (wrongly) worship badges, it’s a Lexus. The only trouble with that is, in about 50% of the things that count, the KIA is better. Factor in the price, it’s hugely better. Compared to the Tesla or a Seven-Series BMW I saved $50, 000 to 74,000 dollars. That’s big bucks my friend. I’ll live with the L looking a little more angular. And to David at the dealership, thanks buddy, you made a friend.
Thanks for reading and…don’t worship the badge…or the label on the vodka, or your designer jeans, or that ultra-expensive bottle of wine. Read Consumer Reports. Do your homework. Compare. You’ll get a much better product and sometimes at half the price. …really
P.S. Okay… no one so far in any of the write-ups mentioned an aspect of the lights. In addition to the fact that they steer around corners at night, which some other cars do, just the running lights alone are worth the price of admission. We’ve all seen the Audis, which have those little rows of LEDs that look a tiny bit weird and somehow out of place. KIA slam-dunked the problem and not with little rows of Christmas lights. You won’t believe it at night. It’s both subtle in intensity, extremely classy, sexy, and a little bit scary like in a sci fi X-Wing fighter. And these are just the running lights. Gads…..