SAN FRANCISCO AUTO SHOW: BEST AND WORST BRANDS BY Andrew Kelly

At the 2017 San Francisco Auto Show, car manufacturers showed off their offerings in an environment outside of a dealership, so the average Joe could look at cars without being pressured by a salesman. And, for any student, parent, or Paw advertiser, I’ve elected to recap my experiences there and tell you what, in my opinion, are the best and worst brands you can buy from today.

BEST:

VOLKSWAGEN

    If Dieselgate permanently shattered your perception of the People’s Car company, you couldn’t be blamed. However, Volkswagen has come back swinging with some great new products, including the redesigned Tiguan crossover and the gloriously comfy new-for-2017 Atlas 3 row SUV. And the Golf is a heavily competitive, well built option for the compact car category, and comes in the sporty GTI trim that many race drivers have lauded for it’s quick, precise acceleration and handling. However, the Passat and Jetta, both redesigned in 2011, are beginning to show their age, with technology and fit and finish that lags behind rivals such as the new Honda Accord and Civic.

FORD

    Dearborn’s finest has a lineup of automobiles to suit anyone’s tastes, from the classy, well built Fusion midsize Sedan to the comfortable, luxurious Explorer SUV then all the way up to the classic Mustang Coupe and Convertible. And Ford’s interior build quality is the best of any mainstream brand this side of the Atlantic, with soft touch plastics and high quality leather as far as the eye can see.. However, I would recommend staying away from automatic transmission equipped Fiestas and Focuses among the widespread reports of jerky shifting and transmission failure.

HONDA

    Honda managed to continually outdo themselves over the years and their new product lineup is no exception. The new Civic lineup is one of, if not, the single best buy in the compact car category, encompassing everything from humble, cheap daily transportation, a subtle, fast, well equipped commuter car, to a maddening sport compact in the Type R trim level.

    And the Accord midsize Sedan is shockingly well built and equipped, to the point where you’d be better off buying it than some of what Acura offers today. You can’t really go wrong with buying anything from Honda’s current lineup, in all honesty.

MAZDA

    If you’re sick and tired of losing your beige Camry in the sea of similar cars every time you park it, you could do a lot worse than Mazda. From the compact hatchback 3, the midsize Sedan 6, and the 3 row SUV CX-9, Mazda offers sporty handling, distinguishing looks, great interior build quality, and class-leading fuel economy courtesy of their SkyActiv engine technology. However, if you are on the taller side, you might find the 3’s cockpit to be a little bit cramped.

GENESIS

    If I were to go back in time 10 years ago and tell myself that Hyundai would be making heavily competitive entries into the luxury car market, I would have called myself insane, but here we are in 2017.

    The G80 is a great budget alternative to the German and Japanese offerings, and it comes with pretty much every option you could ever want for as standard. And the ultra-luxurious G90 large Sedan poses a real threat to the established 7 Series/S Class benchmarks for the class, and packs an insanely better value for money than the two, with pretty much everything coming as standard.

    However, many reviewers have bemoaned the midsize G80’s lack of handling chops, so if you’re one who prefers a bit more sporting prowess out of their big Sedan, you’re probably better off picking up a Cadillac CTS.

MERCEDES-BENZ

    With their newest product lineup, Mercedes-Benz have proven that they’re still the best in the business when it comes to luxury automobiles. The C Class and accompanying GLC Crossover, the E Class, and S Class all have bar-none the best interiors in their segments both in terms of both comfort and overall design and build quality, and, despite being on the market for a long time at this point, the GLE and GLS SUV’s still manage to feel fresh every time I sit in them.     You do pay for having the best in the business however, as Mercedes do nickel and dime you for options.

WORST:

CHRYSLER/DODGE/JEEP/RAM

    The Chrysler group has been on a downward spiral for a while now and it doesn’t really show any signs of ending. Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep, and Ram rank at the bottom of just about any metric you can think of: according to Consumer Reports, they make up the 4 least reliable car brands in America for 2017, their build quality is utter garbage, with panel gaps galore and plastics that seem more befit for a 90’s Chevy Cavalier than anything built after 2000, and generally uncompetitive product. Even the insane Hellcat models will still get outmaneuvered by a Mustang GT350R or a Camaro ZL1.

    Unless you’re buying one of their performance products or the Jeep Wrangler, I just can’t see why anyone would want to buy anything from these 4 brands when there’s so much better product from both the domestic and import sides of the auto industry.

ACURA

    Unlike a lot of brands on this side of the list, Acura doesn’t really offend any of my sensibilities when it comes to cars. It’s just that their product, while perfectly good for the most part, is always outclassed by something else. For example, the Honda Civic based Acura ILX is actually less luxurious than the Honda, owing to the fact it’s based on an older version of the now-refreshed Civic. Similarly, I don’t see why anyone would buy the Accord based TLX when the top of the line trim for the Accord that it’s based on has just about the same level of performance and luxury for a lot less dosh.

    And while the flagship RLX may have a cool looking, spacious interior, it’s way too expensive for what you’re getting and not to mention it’s still based on front-wheel-drive when virtually every competitor has gone to rear-wheel-drive. Overall, Acura doesn’t really make a bad car: just ones that don’t stack up well to the competition.

JAGUAR

    Many of us have come to associate Jaguar with unreliability and crapping out on the side of the road. And, while this may or may not be true depending on who you ask, the Jaguars of yesteryear had a sort of “old world” charm that more than made up for any electrical system failure that it could throw at you. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for what they’re offering today.

    Gone are the gorgeous swathes of wood panelling and comfy seats, exchanged for cheap looking piano trim that looks like it was lifted off the back of an Iphone 3GS and seats that make church pews feel like a designer sofa. But seriously, the seats bring what was already a cheap feeling package down to economy car level and it doesn’t help that none of their offerings are that roomy either. Overall, it feels like Jaguar has traded old-world British charm and comfort for this new I-wish-I-was-a-Tesla design language, and I absolutely hate it.

BMW

    Oh BMW, how the great have fallen. Formerly known for producing some of the sharpest handling, nicest driving cars on the market, BMW’s modern offerings feel more like hollow cash-grabs off their storied legacy than anything that’s worth carrying the label of “Ultimate Driving Machine.” Even their newest offerings have cabins that feel dated, and, all in all, BMW just doesn’t have the pizazz that the marquee used to carry.

    Perhaps the lackluster styling and dated-feeling interiors could be excused if BMW’s of today still drove like any car coming from a brand calling itself the “ultimate driving machine” should, however, many auto journalists have bemoaned the artificial, numb steering and compromised handling of the new BMW lineup. And even the ludicrously fast 600 Horsepower M5 manages to feel pedestrian when looking at it. Overall, if you want a comfy, floaty luxury Sedan, you’d be better off with Lexus, Genesis, or Mercedes-Benz, and if you want a great handling sport sedan like BMW used to make, you’d be better off shopping at Cadillac.

    Overall, I enjoyed myself at the 2017 San Francisco auto show. Not only was the selection of car brands good, but the Auto Salon had the best range of modified cars I’ve seen there in years and it’s the first time since I was a kid I was able to sit in a real police car.

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