Le Car Letter: No. 003 The Creature Features

Welcome back to the Le Car Letter, the editorial edition of the Le Car personal car shopping concierge that you can download here.

When I first began to review cars in 2002, a magazine assigned me to attend my first press event, the second generation Saab 9-3. I soon found I had landed in a fascinating foreign planet, largely populated by white men who spoke a technical chummy language peppered with facts and figures. It went like this: arrive at the thing held in a scenic locale, turn down the free baseball cap, and then gather around the car for presentations by someone in charge of selling the car, someone in engineering, and someone in design. After the remarks, they sent us off to drive on spectacular roads. I had to get past the trickiest part of this routine --  everyone chooses their driving partner in advance which means, if you don't, you get stuck driving with some odd ducks.

As each automaker replicated this formula, I wondered what the other journalists got out of this theatrical production, where only the car and cast of executives changed. I approached this immersive experiment as any savvy tourist would in foreign territory—I decided to learn as much as I could about the culture. I hadn't studied engineering or read many car magazines, so a lot of the vocabulary used in these speeches sailed over my head. I knew a guy who I trusted that engineered cars when I couldn't figure out the technical lingo (thanks, Dad), but I worried that I'd never get it, and I envied how these guys were fulfilling their life long dreams -- to work in car journalism.

But I have a sense of humor and a healthy ego, so after a couple years, I got past the basics: horsepower, torque, the difference between good and awful MPG and 0 to 60 times. Then I started to ask questions. What was the difference between electronic stability control and ESP, which stands for electronic stability program? There wasn't a difference, an engineer told me. Turns out different car companies used different names for the same tech. What???

Over the years, the flagrant use of different names for the same feature has spun out control. I'm not the only one to notice. A new AAA study reveals that confusing features are everywhere in the car industry. NPR reports

One manufacturer's "advanced blind spot monitoring" is another's "lane change assistant." Which should not be confused with "lane assist," which, in another car, might be called "intelligent lane intervention." (One is a warning if someone is in the lane beside you; the other takes over your steering to keep you within the lines. Did you guess as much from the names?)

It turns out, according to AAA, there are 40 names for the same basic system that causes your car to stop on its own. Who can keep up? Now, after 17 years of test driving, I know that most car journalists also struggle to sort out this branded language.

One lesson I learned from this first test drive is that when you walk in a room and you don't speak the language, being an outsider isn't such a bad thing, as long as you learn to ask the right questions. So when it comes to buying your next car, my advice is this: Ask all the questions!

We’d love to hear more about the car nomenclature you find confusing. How can we help you sort it all out? Nothing changes if we don't question why it exists in the first place. That's why we aren't afraid of questions at Le Car, an experiment in new age automotive journalism. If you’d like to learn more about our growing Le Car community, head over to our LeCarCo Insta.

Regards,

Tamara Warren,
founder of Le Car, writer, journalist

Le Provacateurs:

KAREN WONG is the Deputy Director of the New Museum. Karen co-founded Idea City, a residency and a conference, and New Inc, an incubator for art, tech and design. Next up at the New Museum: "We The People" a survey of artist Nari Ward's work opening Feb 13 through April 26. Tickets available here

RAQIYAH MAYS hosts Real Black News a podcast available on iTunes, Spotify, and Soundcloud. New Yorkers may recognize her voice as a former radio personality on WBLS, Power 105 and Hot 97. Trained as a journalist, she reported for Vibe and The Source, and was a founding editor of the social justice publication, The Ave. Raqiyah is the author of the novel, The Man Curse.

STACY MORRIS is building a niche as the go-to comms source for transportation startups. Her company Futurista Communications reps TuSimple, a self-driving truck company, Project Evelocity, an electric car subscription service, and Silicon Beach Talent, a firm founded by former Tesla recruiters. Stacy, who spent ten years at BMW, was head of communications and marketing at Faraday Future. 

What we're driving:
 
2019 McLaren 720s 
Zowy! Driving this baby is an act of pure show, and if your kind of show is a spectacle, the 720s doesn't disappoint. Climbing into the cockpit is only for the nimble-of-bod and once buckled it, takes a bit of rehearsal to locate what you need to know and where it is from the ignition down to toggling switches. There's a certain fragility to the mechanisms in the 720s interior, as if you push something too hard it might fly away with on a cloud of lightweight carbon fiber preciousness. When it comes to the act of driving, it's actually quite civilized, as you steer with exact precision on twisty stretches of highway. The bottom line is that the 720s is for the wicked fast as every move you make is followed by insta-response of 710 horsepower insanity. There's a certain paradox to pushing the limits in a car that has $290,000 price tag that rivals on the absurd, which it makes it all the more decadent.
2019 Mercedes-Benz AMG E53 Cabriolet
I'm often asked what car I would buy myself. In my real life, my needs make the answer not so glamorous, but if I lived in southern sunny California and didn't need a car seat, I would rock the E53 cabriolet as an everyday driver. I had a chance to do so in my pretend life when my partner and I spent a few days without our kids tooling around Los Angeles. Convertibles far too often feel like a compromise -- either they lack proportion when the top is up, or they feel slightly claustrophobic, or they lag in gusto. In contrast, the E53 has style, substance and presence. The interior is one of Benz's best execution of leather, luxury layout and screens, without being too cluttered nor stuffy in nature. The performance feels just right -- fast, smooth and power exactly where you want it. And for bonus points: I also overpacked for my California trip but somehow managed to store a large suitcase in the boot.
2019 Jeep Wrangler
"Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration," Susan Sontag wrote in the introduction to "Notes on Camp," the essay that inspires the 2019 Met Ball theme." There are certain models of cars that are tribal in nature. Spend time with a Jeep Wrangler, and realize this isn't a mere SUV, but a cult of personality. You'll see them parked in city streets where they make no sense, new and aged, always adored. You'll also get thumbs up and accolades from fellow Jeep drivers. In that context, it makes sense that Jeep owner are willing to overlook comfort, ride, and sharp corners for the love of their get-up-and-go vibe. In the 2019 mode, the company is making progress in these areas -- better handling, though still is nowhere near the polish of a more sedate SUV.  You'll also get access to new safety systems. Who doesn't want to stay safe when pretending to rough it? As Sontag writes, "And Camp is esoteric — something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques."
Le Car in the news:

Le Car debuted on Cheddar Rides.
Source: Cheddar

Le Car is the recipient of the Summit x Mercedes-Benz EQ Fellowship.
Source: Coolhunting

Le Car founder Tamara Warren joins cast of Autonomy to premiere at SXSW. 
Source: SXSW

Pay Attention:

Kelley L. Carter says that What Men Want is a sports movie that puts a woman sports agent, played by Taraaji Henson, at its center. Source: The Undefeated

Rebecca Lindland, an auto industry analyst, reviews cars on her new site Rebecca Drives and joins Sam Abuelsamid and Dan Roth for a podcast about transportation. Source: Rebecca Drives

Photographer Amelia Krales and writer Bijan Stephen featured author Marlon James for the series, "What's in your bag?" The new James novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, is in stores. Source: The Verge

If you're in New York, get your tickets now for the premiere of the Powerplay at the Shed on May 18. 

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