I AM A SUCKER for the underdog, a patsy for the Davids of the world. My inclination is to cheer anyone or anything going against the odds.
I was ready to cheer the Yugo GV, a 1.1- liter, 4-cylinder subcompact made in Yugoslavia and now on sale in the United States.
But if this automotive David gets clobbered in the market, I'm going to give Goliath a standing ovation.
I do not like this little car.
Outstanding complaints: It is pitilessly uncomfortable. The Yugo does not handle well, certainly nowhere near as well as many rival subcompacts.
The Yugo GV feels cheap. For example, its interior door-latch handles are so thin they feel like vinyl-covered wire. Most of the passenger cabin is covered with a felt-like material. The hard plastic housing of the dashboard instrument panel evokes memories of a poorly crafted Christmas toy.
Ah, yes. The fuel-gauge needle on the test model wavers like a candidate for political office. And this car is noisy -- very, very noisy.
Make no mistake about it, folks. This is not a rebirth of the trusty Volkswagen Beetle. If the Yugo is what it means nowadays to be the lowest-priced new car in the United States, used-car salespeople have nothing to fear.
Worthy mentions: The Yugo GV started right up every time, even on frigid mornings. The heater works well, as does the rear- window defroster. The paint job was competent.
Acceleration, ride, and handling: The Yugo GV had less than 50 miles on the odometer at delivery and could be expected to be a bit sluggish. But vibrations at speeds of 40 to 50 mph? With the four-speed manual transmission properly engaged? You gotta be kidding. No other test subcompact shook me up this way.
The test model meets most bumps with an enthusiastic bounce. This car should come equipped with antacid tablets.
Handling is dicey, to say the least. The Yugo GV pitches forward and wiggles a bit in moderate stops from 35 mph. It is squirrelly in 30 mph turns. The wind bullies this front-wheel- drive, 1,775-pound car on the highway.
Head-turning quotient: It looks like an old VW Rabbit. But it sure as heck doesn't run like one.
Sound system: A two-speaker, AM/FM cassette with digital display, made by Yugo. Perhaps here is where I can root for the underdog. A sound system that can compete with the noise of this car must be given credit.
Mileage: About 22 to the gallon, with a brand-new engine. The tank holds nine gallons.
Price-as-tested: $5,115.50, which belies all of those ads and news stories describing the Yugo as a $3,990 car. The test-model price stacked up this way: $3,990 port-of-entry price, plus a $298.50 destination charge, $90 for dealer preparation, $199 for rustproofing, $169 for "accent stripes" and $369 for the AM/FM cassette.
Warren Brown writes for the Business section of The Washington Post.