Thin line between love and hate

Sometimes, it's flat-out shame that turns a car into a guilty pleasure

Ask any auto dealer — there are no bad cars anymore. Technological advances, standardized safety and emissions regulations have made it virtually impossible to buy a car that isn’t hassle-free for thousands of miles.

And yet, better judgment still dictates some cars are best not to drive.

Take the Dodge Viper. The 8-liter V10 engine under its phallic hood is as loud, thirsty and ill-mannered as a bunch of English soccer fans. Doesn’t bother Carl Sheffer one bit.

“I’ve now had it supercharged to 600 hp,” says the Specialty Equipment Market Assn. exec. “Jump on the accelerator and it’ll go sideways. It’s a handful, but it spins heads wherever it goes.”

Mitch McCullough, editor of Newcartestdrive.com, admits mixed feelings about his Lotus Elise.

“If you’re planning on carrying anything bigger than a number 10 business envelope, you’d better call a cab,” says McCullough, who also counts the smell of the Lotus body’s fiberglass resin as a downside (think truckstop urinal). “But behind the wheel, it feels like a miniature Le Mans racer.”

Inefficiency isn’t to blame for all love-hate car relationships. Sometimes, it’s flat-out shame that turns a car into a guilty pleasure.

“My wife and I are both sensitive about the environment,” says Mark Hansen, a lawyer at Sonnenschein Nash & Rosenthal who nonetheless calls his Lincoln Navigator both comfortable and practical. “Would I like it to have better gas mileage? Absolutely.”

And how do the dealers respond? With all the care you might expect from a politician. “The fuel consumption issue is normally something you’ve resolved before you step into the showroom,” says Wayne Douglas, sales consultant at Toyota Lincoln Mercury of Hollywood.

Dodge Viper Lotus Elise
Lincoln Navigator
Dodge Viper
What’s to love All-American muscle car goes from 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds
What’s to hate 14 mpg in the city, 26 mpg highway, and a thirst that’s quenched only by premium unleaded
Price $81,895
Lotus Elise
What’s to love With a power-to-weight ratio of 153 bhp/ton, the Lotus is light and nimble
What’s to hate Doing yoga just to get both legs into the footwell
Price $42,990
Lincoln Navigator
What’s to love 104.8 cubic feet with rear seats down
What’s to hate Major eco-guilt
Price From $49,325