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.
Posts By: P.J. McCombs
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?
Eight years ago, when giant SUV's roamed this fair country virtually unchallenged, The Blue Oval slipped the Ford Focus into the American market. Now that gas prices have U.S. consumers thinking small, you'd think that FoMoCo would be battling Fits, Versas and Yari with an updated version of their Eurobox. Nope. As far as Ford’s engineers and PR department are concerned, the Focus has fallen off the face of the earth. Which might just work in your favor.
To capture maximum market share, does a car company have to forget how to have fun? Toyota seems to think so. The Japanese manufacturer has spent the last ten years purging its product line of irrational exuberance. It scrubbed the Supra in 1998, canned the V6-and-a-stick Camry CE in 2002, and wasted the Celica and MR2 in 2005. In that same year, another anomaly slipped through the cracks, a car that’s still with us today (at least for a while): the Toyota Corolla XRS.
Hybrid cars are the automaker’s equivalent of straight teeth: everyone wants them. Carmakers without hybrids are beginning to look, well, a little unkempt. Not wanting to be perceived as a snaggletooth, Nissan joins the club with its new-for-‘07 Altima Hybrid. The company describes its first foray into gas-electric frugality as "the first hybrid that drives like a Nissan." The firm’s marketers clearly intend for Nissan’s self-fashioned sporting image to set the Altima hybrid apart from its key competitors. They’re also convinced, presumably, that consumers will know what this tagline means.