I drove an Aston Martin's ugly step-brother for a week and I hated it

Illustration for article titled I drove an Aston Martins ugly step-brother for a week and I hated it
Photo: Akio

I know I say something along these lines every time I rent a car but: I really wanted to like this car.

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I went to the rental desk having reserved a “full size” car, which my rental desk logic was probably a Yaris or something, and had a free upgrade coupon. The rental desk guy said he had a Ford Fusion and a Nissan Altima. I knew I hated the Altima, whoever designed that CVT should be convicted of crimes against humanity, so Fusion it is.

I feel like I’ve rented one before, but I don’t recall it. Still, Top Gear like(ed) them so... how bad could it be?

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Not that bad.... really.

Initially I kinda liked the Ford. The seats were firm but supportive, the touchscreen barebones and seemingly unnecessary, but functional, and everything else seemed... fine. Decent pep around town even.

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That optimism vanished when I got on the highway. We have a lot of tricky on-ramps where I live and as I pushed the accelerator to try any get up to highway speed I was greeted with the all too familiar rental car special: Some noise, some shifting, plummeting MPGs, but no appreciable increase in velocity.

Oh good. I was driving yet another compliance car.*

I tried SPORT mode, but alas it was just a (gear - 1) button, more or less.

And I had to drive this thing 1500 miles.

Maybe I should just crash it and get a new one....

I chose not to crash it, and instead loaded it up with all my crap and headed out.

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*I don’t know if intentionally crappy fleet cars (AKA “compliance cars”) are actually a thing, but it seems a plausible explanation for how terribad most rental cars are.

Android Auto Integration

The first thing I did once on the road was try out Android Auto. Though I am one of those crazy people that still lugs around a Garmin GPS, I figured the use of Waze and control of my music might be worth the alarming permissions you have to give away. Soon I was agreeing to let Android Auto record audio and video, access my contacts, text for me, check my email, manage my notifications, and get 25% of my property when I die. More alarming still I had to agree to let them tell Google all about my car, including location, speed, fuel level, make, model, etc etc... NOT CREEPY AT ALL...

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Illustration for article titled I drove an Aston Martins ugly step-brother for a week and I hated it
Screenshot: Akio

Finally after signing my life and privacy away to Mother Google I got into the heart of Android Auto: The error screens.

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Not responding, not enough permissions granted, oh boy another round of permissions, reboot the phone, get this form notarized and fax it back...

Ok good. Good. This seems fine.

After much fiddling, rebooting the phone and car, and changing out the cable I was using I manged to get Android Auto working and was treating to the magnificence of an interface reminiscent of a 90s GPS.

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Ok, it wasn’t that bad and the ability to control GPS and music at the same time was neato. The selection of sponsored supported apps that appear on the main screen was limited, but serviceable, and Spotify integration was pretty OK.

That said it appears I traded that for ability to use climate control, or at least readily access it. The Google Maps integration worked pretty well. Google was furious I wasn’t taking its sponsored preferred route and kept suggesting it has “found a faster route,” so the touchscreen integration was handy to dismiss those reroute notifications and check that it hadn’t silently rerouted me to the sponsored preferred route. (It did... like three times.)

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As I settled into my driving I reached over to pull a soda out of my cooler in the front passenger footwell and jostled the USB C cable precariously peeking out of my phone. Suddenly I was back to the Ford Sync interface and no amount of cable reattaching seemed to bring Android Auto back.

Fuck it. Back to Garmin.

Illustration for article titled I drove an Aston Martins ugly step-brother for a week and I hated it
Photo: Akio
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Comfort

As mentioned, the seats were... fine. Nothing to write home about but they had decent bolstering and adjustable lumbar support, so I can’t complain much.... initially.

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I will say after six hours in the saddle I got some pretty significant lower back ache. Adjusting the lumbar would grant a temporary reprieve, but it would always return. Not sure if this was a “me” issue or a car issue, but I don’t get that in my Volvo, Land Rover, Alfa, or Jag on similar drives so.... inclined to blame the Ford.

Climate control was another mixed bag. Overall it worked great, but the automaticness of the automatic climate control was a bit overstated. Any time I was in direct sunlight I had to decrease the setpoint substantially to compensate for solar loading. I’ve encountered a lot of systems where this isn’t the case though some means or another (tint, solar sensors, etc) but in the Ford it was up to me to regulate my own temperature. Once night fell, however, it was fine.

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Also if you open the sunroof shade you get more wind noise than I’d expect on a modern car though, to the car’s credit, with it closed the wind noise wasn’t present.

Other than that it was fine. The ride was reasonably quiet, the car held the road fine, and even the automatic wipers worked fine. Overall... not bad, but given the seat and climate woes I’m going to give it a 6.5/10.

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Safety Systems

This rental spec model had two safety systems and boy I’ll tell you... I wasn’t a fan.

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The first was a lane departure system. On this vehicle it was initially set to alert but not intervene. That mean it you went over a line without signaling, the car would shake the steering wheel back and forth. Not vibrate, shake it about 1 degree in either direction.

It wasn’t pleasant.

I set the intervention to medium and was greeted with the somewhat half-assed auto-steer I’ve come to expect form these systems. If you stray outside the line it’ll shake the wheel and sort of try and correct, but for the most part it gives up on anything other than a light drift.

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As with all of these systems that I’ve tried, it tended to make the steering feel unsettled, but to Ford’s credit it was much better in the bends than most, seeming to be much more lenient about lines when turning, which increased my confidence substantially.

Additionally, it was nice to be able to disabled it via a stalk mounted button, rather than fiddle through menus.

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That said, it was very slow to pick up lines after re-activation or lane changes and seemed to be flummoxed by low visibility, so you certainly wouldn’t ever rely on the system.

The car also had auto-braking, which is a system I generally like.

Generally.

Not in this car.

The “crash mitigation” system has the same flaw as many I’ve encountered: it is too sensitive most of the time, and not sensitive enough others.

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Basically if you are driving down the road at 35 MPH and the car in front of you starts to turn, most of us can easily tell the car will be well clear of the road before we get there, therefor don’t brake, though maybe take your foot off the gas, and continue on.

“IMMINENT CRASH ALERT OMG WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” Says the car.

Terrific.

However, slowing down at a stop light, maybe you look down early to check your phone before coming to a complete stop and the guy in front of you stops short. You’re on track for a low speed boop. Not catastrophic or life threatening, but likely going to involve a couple replaced bumper covers, a ticket, and a couple fraudulent whiplash claims.

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“...” Says the car.

Apparently there are speeds at which it gives no fucks at all. Unclear what those speeds are.

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“Ah ha! But there is a sensitivity adjustment buried eight menus deep! Surely if you switched the sensitivity from ‘HIGH’ to ‘LOW’ you’d be good!” You may say.

Perhaps, but the setting reverts back to “HIGH” when the car is restarted. Likely a rental car thing, but still, a battle not worth fighting every time you set out.

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So yeah... not much more to say here. A disastrous technology suite whose only apparent purpose is to appear on a sales brochure and increase the cost of any repair.

I’ll give it 1 point for the stalk mounted button and an additional point for not actively causing a crash (See: Nissan Altima).

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2/10

Everything else

I don’t really have much else to say here, TBH. Aside from the aforementioned stuff it was just a car and it did car stuff in a car way.

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I did like the shiftier. Though I am generally against the rotary sifters, this one was better than most as it has discrete positions, rather than being free spinning. That meant if I cranked it all the way clockwise I’d be reasonably confidant I’d be in drive when I reached the wheel’s stop.

Illustration for article titled I drove an Aston Martins ugly step-brother for a week and I hated it
Photo: Akio
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Conversely, the rotary dial mixed with the auto-stop made for an interesting situation. Once, while admittedly distracted, I opened with driver’s door with the car still in Drive. “OH NOES!” thought the car. “He is going to end up pinned to a mailbox and die tragically!” So it helpfully put the car in Park for me. Then the engine cut out. “Cool,” I thought, “I guess it turned everything off. That’s neat!” And got out to do whatever it was I was going to do.

Except it hadn’t.

Yes it put it in park and yes the engine shut off, but those things were unrelated. The car was still “On” it had just done an auto-shutdown for fuel saving reasons. So when I closed the door to walk away it started squawking at me about being on. Oh the future is so grand...

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Another minor nitpick I have about the car that I feel like is a good summary of why it is so bad is the MPG meter. It is one of the primary options available and I had it pulled up most of the trip. The meter displays average MPG as a number and current as a blip on a gauge.

It is bad.

So bad.

First off, it always displays “Hold OK to Reset” in an alarming feat of mixed capitalization. At all times. Forever.

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Not just when you switch to it.

Not just when playing with the buttons.

Always.

Additionally, the gauge for instant MPG is on a scale from 0 to 40 MPG. However, on the back roads I consistently got 40+ MPG, leaving the digital gauge pegged.

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All the time.

No auto scaling. No adjustments.

Just peg the fucker and move on.

Illustration for article titled I drove an Aston Martins ugly step-brother for a week and I hated it
Photo: Akio
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That is this car in a nutshell really. It is a car that seemed to have been designed to be “good enough.” So many little things to improve comfort, usability, and economy were left because no one cared enough (or were allowed enough development time) to fix them.

Maybe they’ll fix it in a software upgrade.

No it won’t be free.

Yes it may brick your car.

Welcome to the future!

Conclusion

For driving it 1500 miles it was fine. I averaged 36 MPG and didn’t break down.

I give it a fine out of fine. Good enough, but nothing there to excite anyone.

Illustration for article titled I drove an Aston Martins ugly step-brother for a week and I hated it
Photo: Akio

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