A couple of weeks ago, grainy images portending GM's bright, small-car-driven future "leaked" onto the Web. "All hail the new Cruze!" shouted the GM Kool-Aid Klub, apparent fans of intentional misspelling. A compact come-to-Jesus from the higher-ups quickly followed, delivered by GM's Design Chief. "In North America, we never did a good small car," Ed Welburn mea culpaed. So things will be different this time, right? Just like they were going to be different three years ago, when the Cobalt was released? The Cobalt I rented this weekend? Bah, humbug, I say.
Posts By: P.J. McCombs
There I was, minding my own business on the Internet, when HUMMER sauntered up and threw me against a locker. “Alpha stole your virtual girlfriend. And your real one,” grumbled the ever-subtle brand’s banner ad. Okay, HUMMER, I’ll bite (so to speak). Who’s Alpha, what’s he got that I haven’t? And— most importantly— how is this going to delay the inevitable fizzling of your fifteen minutes?
I drove the Audi TT 2.0T Convertible prepared to hate it. Its wrong-wheel-drive, mandatory two-pedal transmission, extra-chunky-style curb weight and econobox-based platform violates all that I hold sacred in a two-seat drop top. Similar formulas have belched forth such embarrassments as Mercury’s legendary (for all the wrong reasons) Capri. But the topless TT is no Capri. And thank Gott for that.
Ford’s marketers often appear to live in a sort of surrealist parallel universe. How else to explain their enlistment of Kermit, the self-effacing, hand-operated amphibian, to pitch the Ford Escape Hybrid? This SUV has the makings of a game-changing, ass-kicking product. It’s a genuine full hybrid, with components licensed from Toyota. It’s sized, styled and priced to the mainstream’s liking. Yet, saleswise, the hybrid Escape is croaking. Methinks Ford’s spokesfrog hasn’t given the Escape Hybrid the marketing momentum it deserves.
In recent years, General Motors has had something of a change of heart regarding hybrids. In 2004, “Car Czar” Bob Lutz dismissed hybrid cars as “impractical” and “a fad.” By 2007, Saturn gained a Green Line off-shoot dedicated exclusively to selling such endeavors. While GM doesn’t separate out sales stats for Saturn’s sub-brand, suffice it to say sales suck. This bodes badly for Saturn’s newest green machine: the 2008 Aura Green Line. Does the hybrid version of last year’s North American Car of the Year deserve a chance?
Hammering the IS-F through the sleepy desert two-lanes of Rosamond, California, I tried to remind myself: “I’m driving a Lexus.” But the 416-horsepower sedan leaves little time for inner monologues. Caned hard, the IS-F reels in straight-aways like King Triton's spey rod. Corners arrive before your consciousness can catch up. Quick! Turn in, dip the throttle, unwind the hefty steering and feel the skittering rear wheels rotate you through the apex. Then look down at the silver “L” pointing at your chest. Cognitive dissonance much?
Ford likes SUVs so much that they build five platforms for ‘em, many of which fight amongst themselves for sales in overlapping segments. Yet the most competitive, the most relevant of Ford’s sport-utilities is also the one no one— not even Ford marketing— seems to know exists: the Taurus X, née Freestyle. Question: if a terrific CUV falls in the sales charts and nobody in Dearborn notices, does it exist?
Pity the poor engineers charged with turning Dodge’s “anything-but-cute,” anything-but-clever Caliber into a proper hot hatch. Transforming the Caliber into a desirable piece of sporting kit seems about as likely as landing Michael Jackson a job as a mall Santa. But here it is, for 2008: the Caliber SRT4. So Dodge’s gone and done the deed anyway. Or have they?
As automakers continue their relentless pursuit of refinement, there’s precious little “magic” to be had behind the wheel of a new car. Sit down, and you instantly know where everything is and how to operate it. Start it up and drive and few sensations are overly vivid. In short, most new cars are about as surprising as a toaster. Ford’s Mustang Shelby GT is the un-toaster. I recently braved the perils of California’s Mojave Desert (e.g. bad road food) to sample the Shelby at the Willow Springs Raceway. The experience was not bland. On the contrary, it was, erm… memorable.
When I first picked up Car and Driver’s (C&D) fateful December 2006 issue, I was convinced that the splashy, graphics-heavy revamp sounded the death knell for my favorite buff book. But the resulting reader backlash was so loud I felt sure Ann Arbor’s finest would be scared straight. A plaintive apology followed the editor’s arrogant dismissal of the reader revolt. C&D seemed poised for a revival. Nope. The October 2007 issue isn’t just the lowest point in the mag’s inexorable descent; it’s a dive below the limits of acceptability.
Lazy automotive writers love assignments on Korean vehicles. The review practically writes itself: just recap a few Letterman-esque Hyundai jokes, feign shock at how much the brand has come along, issue some heavily-qualified praise ("it's endearingly almost Toyota-like!") and Bob's your uncle. We here at TTAC reckon it's time to stop treating the Korean brands like they’re special-needs children. It's time to judge these vehicles against their own self-proclaimed brand values. The Kia Spectra: "Simply put, it's a blast to drive." Simply put, we'll see about that.
Chevrolet’s Aveo has the makings of comic gold. It’s the cheapest car sold in America. It’s from GM, ever the stooge to straight men Honda and Toyota. And get this: despite being the first vehicle to feature in Chevy’s ubiquitous “An American Revolution” campaign, the Aveo is built in… wait for it… Bupyong, South Korea. Ba-dum ching!
Saab may have been "Born from Jets," but there's little about the brand's current offerings that you'd call state-of-the-art. The 9-3 has changed little since its ‘03 introduction. The 9-7X dates back to the ‘02 Chevy TrailBlazer. And the 9-5 has been stuck in holding pattern since ‘98. I recently tested a 9-5 to see if the quirky car lives up to its high tech brand proposition. My range-topping tester's trim designation: "Aero." That pounding sound you hear is GM's marketers driving home the high-altitude hype.
Badge engineering is the bane of the pistonhead’s existence. Or is it? Actually, bad badge engineering is the pistonhead’s pariah. Most adventures in grille-swapping produce soulless cash grabs like the Mercury Monterey and Chrysler Aspen. But some automakers “leverage synergies” in such a way as to respect– dare I say advance– the identities of the brands involved, and produce a genuine bargain. Case in point: the Acura TSX.
The planet Saturn is a giant ball of gas. When it comes to selling cars to enthusiasts, GM’s “like never before” division is also full of hot air. In 1999, Saturn said their Opel-sourced LS sedan would be fun to drive. It wasn’t. In 2003, Saturn made similar noises over the ION Quad Coupe. Strike two. In 2004, the ION Red Line was supposedly da bomb. Pistonheads lined up none deep. But was the Red Line really at fault? Or was it sabotaged by Saturn’s nebulous image and boy-who-cried-wolf marketing?