How do American cars rate these days?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 1990

Dear Tom and Ray:

I just traded in my 1982 Toyota Tercel for a 1990 Jeep Cherokee. I have driven three Toyotas in my life and have found them to be very dependable and worth every penny. American cars back then seemed so chintzy and problem-prone by comparison that I was sure I would never buy another one. But, it seems that American cars are looking better and are less likely to need repairs than they used to. Did I make a good choice by buying the Cherokee rather than an an Isuzu Trooper or Toyota 4-runner?

RAY: First of all, Judy, you are a living example of why the American automobile industry is in trouble today. Back in 1982, Toyota was making economical, reliable, well-built cars while the American manufacturers were still making--to use a diplomatic expression--junk. You noticed this, and so did millions of other car buyers who defected to Japanese cars.

TOM: And now that the Americans are making better cars--MUCH better cars--they're having a tough time convincing people like you to try them again. I'm sure that every GM, Ford, and Chrysler executive reading this column today (before he or she puts it at the bottom of the bird cage) is praying that you are at the forefront of a trend.

RAY: We think you did the right thing. The Big 3 deserve another chance now that they've gotten their act together. Whether the Cherokee was the right American car to go back to is another question. On the plus side, the Cherokee is the official Yuppie-mobile of the 1980s, and it has wonderful features like 4 wheel drive, four doors, and great rugged looks.

TOM: But one important thing it doesn't have is independent front suspension. The Cherokee has what is called a "live front axle." That sounds like it should be good, but it's actually a rigid front axle, which is outdated technology. For our taste, the Cherokee rides a little too much like a Conestoga Wagon (at least that was the case with the Ward Bond Edition we tested).

RAY: Having said that, we learned many years ago in psychology class that the proper response to someone who has just made a decision is positive reinforcement. So it doesn't matter what WE think, Judy. You fell in love with the Cherokee, you bought it, and we're confident that you will enjoy it. Of course you made the right decision!

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