Soccer Moms who adopted fossil-feasting truck-based SUVs for their parental duties know the truth: the genre is falling from fashion faster than Sony’s PS2. Style-conscious sprog schleppers now want a spacious rug-rat mover that doesn’t drain tanker trucks or scream mommy-van. For them, crossovers are The Next Big Thing. They’re eyeing vehicles like the new Saturn Outlook, the first of GM’s all-new Lambda platform-based crossovers (the GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave are set to follow). The Outlook replaces the TWAT-winning Relay minivan– which isn’t exactly a tough act to follow. Still, will the Outlook break a leg?
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If I worked for Infiniti, I’d spend a lot of my day pissed off. Infiniti G35 equals The Japanese BMW? Man that must rankle. Not as much as G35 equals The Poor Man’s BMW, but more than enough to aggravate auto execs all the way from Yokohama to Boulogne-Billancourt. In fact, I bet there’s a bunch of Infiniti engineers who’ve compared their handiwork to Munich’s motorized meisterstuck and can’t decide whether to commit seppuku or hunt down Bimmer’s boffins and make them eat sushi, if you know what I mean. OK, that’s a bit overly-dramatic, but what the Hell’s a Japanese sports sedan got to do to get a little respect around here?
As I fired up the GL450, I noticed that the big Merc's trip computer had begun calculating my mpg. I watched in startled fascination as the idling SUV's fuel economy began to drop from the previous night's calculation. Although Mercedes deserves props (or brickbats) for releasing such a glorious gas hog at the tail end of America's SUV craze, the dropping digits left me wondering how the GL450 could possibly rationalize this lampshade-on-the-head consumptive behavior. Even if the target market's interest in fuel economy is more political than wallet-driven, the GL still needs to stump-up some serious self-justification.
Turn the ignition, and its carnal soul stirs from hibernation. The engine rumbles and burps its way to idle. Blip the throttle and unbridled power and torque stir your soul. Grab the pistol grip shifter, throw the slush box into D and let em' rip. There's no denying the truth about muscle cars, and no denying their place in the world. Known and revered globally, Japan has their R34's, Deutschland has their M's and AMG's and the US, of course with its goats, 427's and Hemi's. The muscle cars' place on this earth is to remain politically incorrect, defy the law, and spit in the face of the rebel which lies in all of us.
Some would argue that the term "muscle car" is an American term, originating during the 50's or 60's. But in actuality, the muscle car has lived, exactly, since the assemblage of automobile number 2. Over the years, muscle cars have evolved from an existence solely defined by monster displacement, to fully sorted and balanced ubermachines, equally capable of accelerating, turning and stopping within un-comprehensible and convention defying specifications. If necessity is the mother of invention, then muscle cars are the dead-beat father of innovation. Through their evolution, laws (governmental, physical or otherwise) have challenged engineers and gearheads to do more with less. Inevitably they succeed.
In an act of enormous generosity, a fresh-from-the-farm fraternity pledge offered to drive the Polo-clad seniors around in his cara restored 1967 GTO with Centerline wheels. "No one in Independence (Missouri) ever beat it," he proudly declared. "Worth over 20 grand." That was in 1990. The older fraternity brothers winced. "We'll be seen in that?" Showing maturity beyond his years, he stabled the Goat and returned next semester with a beat-up Tercel. This was, ironically, the more socially acceptable choice at my upper-middle-class fraternity.
Muscle cars are cool. They're tough. They're American. But they're not for up-and-comers. Refined? Well, no. Sophisticated? Hardly. A technological tour de force? Save them words for androgynous Europeans with little glasses. If you're the type who understands opera or worries about the safety of dolphins or includes "tofu" on your grocery list, don't even try to understand.
I grew up in the Muscle-Car Belt the area between the Rockies and wherever the first Ivy League university is in the east. Problem was, my family was Not From Around Here. We were English. We spoke funny. We ate Marmite. We were scrawny and had bad teeth.
But worst of all and this sounds like an infectious disease we had Jags.
When Chrysler unveiled its PT Cruiser in 2001, it was hailed as a fun, versatile retro-mobile. While sales have remained relatively robust, virtually every automaker in the Cruiserweight class has introduced a new or reworked small wagon: the Toyota Matrix/ Pontiac Vibe twins, Mazda 3 and Chevrolet HHR (a.k.a. 'Me-Too Cruiser') among them. Even the […]
The Range Rover Sport arrived just as Britain's Parliament banned fox hunting. Call it fortuitous happenstance. At the precise moment Britain's shotgun-wielding aristocrats lost their main motivation for chasing each other over hill and dale, the Ford subsidiary came plying more on-road aggression. If these frustrated followers of British blood sports looked upon the new Landie Sport as an opportunity to blow off a little steam in less mucky surrounds, it's a goal they share with America's wealthier PTA MILFs. So, does the Sport have what it takes to get the blood pumping for aristocrats on both sides of the Pond?
The Land Rover Sport HSE looks like a top-shelf Range Rover with its hair slicked back. The Sport shares the exact same two-box profile with its big brother– complete with Rover's trademark 'floating' cantilevered roof. The more rakish Sport's canted greenhouse (both fore and aft) is the model's main distinguishing feature, and its only real attempt at a skosh of street cred. In the name of differentiation, Gaydon's designers replaced the Rangie's classy aluminum front-fender vent slat with a more traditional aperture, and substituted some overly ornate taillights in place of the bigger Rover's refined rounds. Details aside, the Sport remains the very picture of 21st-century shooting brakedom, albeit one rockin' a set of air suspenders.
For years, Volkswagen’s diesels were like cod liver oil: a worthy medicine that few American consumers could stomach. The stripped-down oil-burners hidden in the back of US forecourts seemed specifically designed for penny-pinching college professors and health food store managers. Customers who considered engine clatter, black smoke and lack of comforts (creature or otherwise) a badge of honor. When $3-a-gallon gas arrived stateside, hordes of “normal” customers suddenly joined the Euro-throngs clamoring for their daily dose of diesel. And no example was– is– more sought after than the VW Jetta TDI.
The Pacifica is the original crossover, launched by Chrysler before sky high gas prices turbocharged the entire genre. The Pacifica combines the utility of a minivan (without the stigma of actually having to drive one), the raised seating position of an SUV (without getting dirty looks from drivers with "Proud To Be Vegan" bumper stickers) and the handling of a sedan (without the fuel efficiency). While it may not have everything it needs to roust suburban schleppers from their SUV's, the station wagon stilts is still the original and best shot over the SUV's bow.
In keeping with its multi-tasking mission, the Pacifica doesn't look like anything else on the market. With its dramatic belt line diving from back to front, the forward-leaning Pacifica's sheet metal has all the style of a Sinatra fedora. The details are equally compelling. Unlike its minivan competitors, the crossover's 17" wheels fit the wheel wells. The door handles aren't refugees from a bottomless parts bin. The bright work is deployed sparingly and with taste. In short, the Pacifica is the first pentastar product in a long time that doesn't look like it was designed by committee.