Sunday, December 22, 2002

The anti-SUV

Reviewing Bond car, drivers


And now comes another salvo, fired over the burly bow of the SUV.

Columnist and talking head Arianna Huffington suggests that the gas-guzzling cars are a threat to national security. A January ad campaign, sponsored by Ms. Huffington's Americans for Fuel Efficient Cars, features people driving SUVs and saying "I gassed Kurds. I helped blow up a nightclub. I helped hijack an airplane." Then they say in unison: "We did it all by driving to work in our SUVs." Another shows al-Qaida film footage with the claim that "the weapon of mass destruction is parked in your driveway."

I despise SUVs as much as the next person who tries to see around one on the highway or parks next to one in a public garage with spaces calibrated for normal-sized automobiles, but this seems a little heavy handed. And besides, 88 percent of our gasoline comes from friendly countries, including our own.

Then I was nearly edged into the curb (again) by some kind of Megamobile. The driver was chatting on a cell phone and wearing a cap with a bill. There was a WEBN sticker on the bumper, completing the trifecta of clues to erratic driving. But if he'd been behind the wheel of a Miata, I'd have held my place on the pavement.

These SUVs may not be the monsters painted by the florid Ms. Huffington, but an ordinary car is no match for them.

Implied threat

Sales consultant Mike Steiner had something extraordinary in the showroom at Jaguar of Cincinnati in Montgomery. The dealership had temporary custody last week of the bad guy's car from the new James Bond film, Die Another Day.

Pierce Brosnan was surrounded by the usual sleek and lethal machinery, including this Jaguar XKR convertible with a Gatling gun mounted behind the seats, a rack of mortar bombs in the trunk and missiles on the hood.

Not much of a gun-toting kind of person myself, I wouldn't shoot them. But they make a certain statement. The statement being "Pick a lane and stay there, you big gas hog." And "Make sure your entire vehicle is between the white lines." Not to mention "Get the hell off the phone."

It's a little pricey - about $250,000 in upgrades were added to the $86,000 base price. But it does get about 26 mpg on the highway and 18 in the city, compared, for instance, with a Ford Excursion, which gets 15 mpg highway, 11 in the city.

The Brembo brakes, Mike says, are NASCAR-worthy. And it goes from 0 to 60 in 5.3 seconds. That's just fine, Mike, I said, but I don't see any . . . (here I pause dramatically) cup holders.

"They are retractable," he said soothingly.

I situated myself in the Connolly leather interior, ran my fingers over the gray-stained burl walnut trim and imagined trouncing a big, ugly SUV. Just like the movies. But the movie bad guys were not all foreigners.

Just like real life.

So, maybe the next installment of anti-SUV ads will show somebody saying "I blew crude oil all over a caribou in Alaska." Or even "I caused an asthmatic 3-year-old to gasp for breath in Cincinnati."

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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