The Truth About Cars » interior http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 22:47:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » interior http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Volvo CEO: “Our Cars Are Too Complicated” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/volvo-ceo-our-cars-are-too-complicated/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/volvo-ceo-our-cars-are-too-complicated/#comments Mon, 25 Jun 2012 13:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=450113

Here’s a breath of fresh air; Volvo CEO Stefan Jacoby declared that his cars, laden with safety systems and other gadgets, are too complex for most of Volvo’s customers.

Jacoby cited a study, which claimed that 75 percent of Volvo customers didn’t know the full potential of their cars. Citing Apple as an example, Jacoby said

“Our cars are too complicated for the consumer. Our intention is to have an intuitive car that lets the driver actually feel like he’s in command,”

My parents have an XC60, and while they’re pretty tech savvy, they still have trouble deciphering the various three-letter safety systems in their car, and I don’t think they’ve ever gone deep into the muti-layered menus since taking delivery of the car. Taking a pro-simplicity position is something that most of us can identify with.Volvo will have a unique challenge on its hands, since so much of its identity is wrapped up in being on the leading edge of safety and design. Making their cars easier to use while progressing technologically is a task that many have failed at – witness the lack of a legitimate iPod competitor if you need further proof.

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LA Auto Show: Volvo’s New Dash http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/la-auto-show-volvos-new-dash/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/la-auto-show-volvos-new-dash/#comments Fri, 18 Nov 2011 16:48:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=419082

Volvo has been very quiet about new products since Ford sold the only Swedish car maker still afloat. With little fanfare Volvo has updated the S80 and XC70′s interior with a new dash and new infotainment system and this is the first time TTAC has seen them in person. The 7-inch color screen is the same as the system used in the new S60. Compared to iDrive and Audi’s MMI the system is just as slick-looking but the smallish screen size just lacks the wow factor the Germans get when passengers slip in the car. Along with the new screen Volvo has added pedestrian detection to the S80, XC70 and XC60 as well as a new adaptive cruise control system that will take your Volvo to a complete stop and hold you there until traffic resumes. Of course all this is secondary to the sexy new stitched pleather dash the S80 on the LA Auto Show floor was sporting. Sadly Volvo tells us they don’t anticipate putting these revised Volvos in the hands of the press for reviews, probably spending this precious cash to devise new and better nannies to save our bacon in the future.

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Cadillac XTS: The High-Tech… Livery Car? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/cadillac-xts-the-high-tech-livery-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/cadillac-xts-the-high-tech-livery-car/#comments Thu, 13 Oct 2011 19:14:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=414587

Though we haven’t even seen a production version yet, Cadillac’s forthcoming XTS has already lived a full, controversy-laden life. Initially suggested as a replacement for the DTS/STS, the Cadillac faithful quickly recoiled at the idea of a luxury “flagship” based on a stretched version of the Epsilon II midsized platform that underpins the Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Malibu. But with the Cadillac Ciel Concept showing the way forward for a “true” Caddy flagship which will eventually become the brand’s standard-bearer, the XTS’s role has been somewhat redefined. Expectations for the XTS were walked back by GM CEO Dan Akerson, who famously said that it was

not going to blow the doors off, but will be very competitive

And this week the enigma that is the XTS only deepened, as Cadillac announced two bits of seemingly contradictory information about it: first, that it would spearhead a new high-tech interface (see video above) and second, that it would mark GM’s return to the livery car business.

Cadillac’s CUE system will debut on both the XTS, ATS and 2013 SRX, all of which debut next year. You can find out more about it by watching the video above, but according to a GM presser, the system will offer several industry “firsts” including

Proximity Sensing: As the user’s hand approaches the LCD screen, command icons appear. Icons can be customized and arranged by consumers to improve ease of use.

Haptic Feedback: Buttons on the fully capacitive faceplate pulse when pressed to acknowledge the driver’s commands and helps keep the driver’s eyes on the road.

Multi-Touch Hand Gestures: interactive motions (tap, flick, swipe and spread) popularized by smartphones and tablets allow tasks on the LCD screen, such as scrolling lists, zooming maps and searching favorites to be easily accomplished.

12.3 in. LCD reconfigurable gauge cluster (on select models) offers four selectable displays – Simple, Enhanced, Balanced and Performance – that can mix traditional vehicle data such as a speedometer and fuel gauge with navigation, entertainment and 3D vehicle image.

Natural Speech Recognition lets consumers speak logically with fewer specific commands to recall stored media or input navigation destinations. CUE’s text-to-speech feature will also allow consumers to receive text messages by system voice and to send recorded text messages in return.

Linux operating system, “open” software platform and ARM 11 3-core processor, each operating at 400 million of instructions (mips) per second. This hardware setup offers 3.5 times more processing power than current infotainment systems, and allow developers to write applications to CUE that be downloaded by consumers.

Though not unique to the XTS, GM is using the forthcoming model to highlight the system, and has released pictures of the production interior. Which makes a certain amount of sense, considering that Cadillac has long considered the XTS an “inside-out” design, focusing on luxurious appointments rather than dynamic performance or bold exterior looks. And that emphasis continues, as XTS marketing manager Patrick Nally tells Automotive News [sub]

A lot of people will not consider Cadillac that buy Mercedes or BMW… We will really impress people vis-a-vis the back seats of those cars.

Now, you might think that quote, with its import-conquering swagger, might be emphasizing how well Nally expects the XTS to do on the retail market… but it’s not. Quite the contrary, as it turns out. Here’s the full passage:

Speaking of the XTS, Nally said “the black car business is important to us.”

“A lot of people will not consider Cadillac that buy Mercedes or BMW,” he said. “They do not put us on their shopping list. There is an opportunity to get the right people in the vehicle who would not otherwise” be sitting in a Cadillac.

Nally said the appointments in the livery model will be nearly identical to the high-quality appointments in the retail version of the XT

In other words, the XTS is going to conquer the consumer market, by replacing the now-extinct Town Car as the livery car of choice… and given that its main competition will be a version of the Lincoln MKT, it might just have an opportunity on its hands. Assuming, of course, that private consumers are going to want to buy a vehicle that they mainly know from livery fleets. Fleet-sales-as-marketing is a ploy we hear fairly regularly, but thus far there’s not a lot of evidence that it works especially well. Particularly in the luxury space, where exclusivity is an important factor. But I suppose that this is what Cadillac meant when it said the XTS would replace the DTS and STS… it’s not a true exclusive flagship, but an everyday luxury car with a cosseting interior.

Automotive News [sub] says that “the chopping and stretching” of the ATS will “be handled by approved coachbuilders,” and it’s likely already underway. In fact, earlier this week when I was at Milford Proving Grounds, I not only saw several camo’d XTS prototypes testing, but also what appeared to be a long-wheelbase mule with a stretched Buick LaCrosse body. Whether it was a stretched XTS mule or a China-bound LaCrosse long-wheelbase model wasn’t clear, but it seems safe to say that the Epsilon II platform is going to spawn some form of LWB sedan. And, with expectations for the XTS already blunted by its humble underpinnings and Akerson’s seeming diss, a stolid, interior-centric, fleet-oriented model seems to be a logical approach for the XTS. Too bad that orientation is a bit at odds with Cadillac’s dynamically-driven “Red Blooded Luxury” branding approach.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What’s Your Favorite “Center Stack”? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/ask-the-best-and-brightest-whats-your-favorite-center-stack/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/ask-the-best-and-brightest-whats-your-favorite-center-stack/#comments Tue, 06 Sep 2011 19:35:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=410437 According to Automotive News [sub], the automotive supplier industry is going coo-coo for center stacks. Calling it “the hottest chunk of vehicle real estate” for suppliers, AN reports that the center console has “become a California gold rush of opportunity.” Having glanced at the headline, I figured the topic would make for an interesting question: what’s your favorite center stack? If nothing else, I figured it would be an opportunity to sing the praises of my M Coupe’s stripped-down, old-school console (I realize there’s nothing more dull than a car writer praising his own vehicle, but bear with me… there’s a point coming).

In contrast to some of the button-laden plastic wastelands out there, the z3M keeps it simple: window controls (located on the console for easy LHD-RHD conversions), a 12V outlet, seat-heater controls, an A/C button, A recirc button and a stability control off button (the largest of the bunch). Then you get three old-fashioned, chrome-ringed analog displays (a clock, a volt-meter and an oil-temperature gauge), three simple HVAC control knobs and a simple stereo head-unit. A minimum of controls in a simple, stripped down environment. And though none of the buttons fall especially readily to hand, there are so few they quickly become second nature to operate. In short, it keeps you focused on driving rather than fiddling with distractions.

I bring up the M Coupe as an example, because it represents the opposite of what AN [sub] says is driving suppliers to the center stack. Nobody’s making money off of better knobs or switches, the “center stack gold rush” is all about adding electronic systems, displays, gadgets and gizmos into the mix. In short, my ideal center stack is wildly out-of-touch with where the industry is headed. This is not an uncommon position for an auto writer to find himself in, and it’s why I’m thankful for you, the Best and Brightest. Feel free to share your ideal center stack, or if you’re more of a glass-half-full person, your least-favorite. But do try to come up with some recent examples which show the industry how to move forward technologically without overwhelming the driver with confusion and distraction. As the MyFordTouch episode proves, this is one area that the industry could use more insight into…

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Piston Slap: Zip Ties and the Love Of Leather? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/piston-slap-zip-ties-and-the-love-of-leather/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/piston-slap-zip-ties-and-the-love-of-leather/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2011 17:42:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=408251  

Cut from a different cloth?

 

TTAC commentator mistercopacetic writes:

Dear Mr. Mehta,

Big fan of TTAC and Piston Slap. I have a 2001 Honda CR-V with a cloth interior which I would like to switch out for a leather interior. I am doing this mostly because I am too cheap to buy a new car, but want to feel like I am driving a new car with leather seats. I found a store online selling a Roadwire leather seat kit for $595, on sale until June 15 from $962 list. It looks like this is a replacement interior, not just seat covers, so I will be pulling out the old seats, removing the cloth from the seat frame, and installing the leather. My question: is this something I can do myself, or is it better to get a professional installer? I would like to save some cash, but if it is a job that requires expertise I would rather pay someone who knows what they are doing. I’ve searched some forums online and my impression is that an aftermarket leather interior can either look terrible or meet or exceed a factory leather interior in look and quality, depending on the skill of the installer.


Sajeev answers:

You are right on all points, though I’m not touching that “too cheap to buy a new car” comment. Since you’ve done a fantastic job assessing the situation, I’ll tell you my experiences with seat material swaps. If you can dig it, give it a shot. If not, well…

So I’m with pre-LeMons fame Troy Hogan’s driveway with his a 1996 Ford F350 Crew Cab XL. It has a gray interior and those somewhat terrible XL seats. I only say “somewhat” because today’s benches in comparable trucks are just as terrible, even the King Ranches! So anyway, Troy shows me his junkyard score:  a pair of XLT benches finished in dark blue and another pair of XLT benches in the correct matching gray. The blue XLT’s had an intact seat frame and the gray ones had the right material, but were completely unusable because the donor truck was T-boned. Do you see where I’m going with this? Troy and I spent the better part of a day removing gray seat fabric (via snipping off thick metal hog rings), fiddling with seat foam to have the ideal bits on a single pair of benches, washing off gallons of milky-looking water from the gojo hand cleaner used on the dirty junkyard fabric and then, finally, we went through the pain of attaching the XLT material on various seating components (two bucket seats, one center seat, two arm rests, one rear bench) using…wait for it…zip ties!

Honestly, the zip ties worked like a charm, and have done so for the past 5+ years. While easier than the metal hog rings because it allows a loose fit before completely crimping them down, it was still a time consuming, nightmare of a project. One that is somewhat similar to your fabric dilemma. And now my advice: give it a shot, at least remove the seats/hog rings so you can save the labor at the trim shop. You can start attaching it with zip ties, carefully looking at the contours to make sure it’s fitting correctly.

If any part of this Piston Slap is making you the least bit excited, you have your answer: DO IT.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Mercedes B-Class Interior: The New Look Of Entry-Level http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/mercedes-b-class-interior-the-new-look-of-entry-level/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/mercedes-b-class-interior-the-new-look-of-entry-level/#comments Fri, 29 Jul 2011 22:06:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=404770

The US market won’t be getting the microvan-style Mercedes B-Class or the hot little A-Class hatch (thanks to to “consumer clinics”), but we will be getting a a crossover, a sporty coupe and a sedan based on the same front-drive platform. Because these models will form the new entry-level for the Mercedes brand in the US, we can assume the new models will have a similar interior to the B-Class, which debuts at the Frankfurt show in September… and that means this video is a sneak-peek at an interior we won’t see at a dealership until 2012 at the earliest. So… what do we think?

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Mercedes Tackles Unintended Acceleration With New Cruise Control Stalk http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/mercedes-tackles-unintended-acceleration-with-new-cruise-control-stalk/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/mercedes-tackles-unintended-acceleration-with-new-cruise-control-stalk/#comments Fri, 15 Jul 2011 18:39:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=402869

Unintended acceleration has been a huge topic in automotive circles over the last year or so, as the Toyota Recall Scandal brought new attention to that man-machine-interface problem. But did you know Mercedes has been receiving its own complaints about UA? Neither did we, as a post-Toyota Recall survey of NHTSA complaints showed Mercedes enjoying one of the lowest rates of UA complaints of all manufacturers. But, reports WardsAuto, the problem was indeed real.

Just about anyone who has driven a Mercedes-Benz in the past decade has experienced it: unintended sudden acceleration because of awkward placement of the cruise-control stalk on the left side of the steering wheel.

A driver may think he is signaling to turn right, when inadvertently he has pushed the cruise control lever upward to the “accel” position, occasionally sending the vehicle bolting forward instead of slowing down to turn at an intersection. This could happen if the cruise control was on but not active.

Left turns were somewhat less problematic because pushing the lever downward put the cruise-control system into “decel” mode.


And, starting with the new M-class SUV, the brand is tackling the problem head-on.

Nevertheless, with the all-new ’12 M-Class cross/utility vehicle going on sale in September, Mercedes has corrected the problem once and for all by placing the turn indicator at the 10 o’clock position and the cruise-control stalk at 8 o’clock.

Until now, those placements were reversed in virtually all Mercedes vehicles, triggering complaints.

The turn-indicator stalk, which also controls the windshield wipers and high-beam headlamps, is longer than the cruise-control lever, and Mercedes engineers are hopeful the new configuration will eliminate any confusion.

In determining that human error was the main cause of unintended acceleration, federal regulators have put a new emphasis on designing-in features that prevent the misuse of pedals, stalks and shifters. Between the Toyota scandal and a recall of its own earlier this year, for 137,000 M-Class SUVs that would not disengage their cruise control when drivers tap the brakes, Mercedes seems to be learning from history. Hopefully more manufacturers will use Toyota’s embarrassing ordeal as motivation to similarly re-examine the ergonomics of their future vehicles. After all, it’s clear that unintended acceleration is an issue that comes up again and again unless manufacturers go the extra mile to “idiot-proof” their cars.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Death To The Dash Clock Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-lexus-clocks-up-the-new-gs-edi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-lexus-clocks-up-the-new-gs-edi/#comments Fri, 15 Jul 2011 14:59:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=402812

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding the “analog clock=luxury” thing a bit played out. One upon a time, the old-school interior clock was everywhere… and folks called it a modern convenience. Then it became a genteel, slightly throwback Maserati hallmark. Then it became a symbol of Infiniti’s admiration for Maseratis, and its desire to stand apart in the luxury market. Then Chryslers started adding clocks as it moved, unconvincingly, to position itself upmarket. Now? Now the interior chronograph just seem to be a symbol of trying to hard to appear luxurious without really offering anything unique, distinctive, or innovative. Which is why I’m a bit concerned that an early shot of the new Lexus GS, a car that has years of underachievement in a crucial segment to make up for, seems to show that Lexus has succumbed to the siren call of the dashboard clock.

To the best of my knowledge, Lexus has never indulged in an analog dash clock before (at least in the US market), as its interiors have always been modern and purposeful, emphasizing function over frippery. This isn’t a question of “ruining” the car itself… few customers are likely to put as much emphasis on an analog clock as I do. But in this small step I do see signs of a brand drifting away from its pioneering roots and towards the directionless malaise that inevitably leads to fad-chasing, and style over substance. Even if Lexus does need to reinvigorate its aesthetic DNA, ripping of the cheesiest “Luxury: I Has It” signifier in the interior design playbook ain’t a promising start. Don’t clock up a good thing, Lexus!

Not a great shot... but the clock speaks volumes. lf_gh_interior lf_gh_interior1 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Does The New Malibu Trade Interior Space For Trunk Room? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/does-the-new-malibu-trades-interior-space-for-trunk-room/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/does-the-new-malibu-trades-interior-space-for-trunk-room/#comments Tue, 12 Apr 2011 21:36:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=391042

When I reviewed the current Chevrolet Malibu, I was generally impressed with GM’s effort in a highly competitive segment, but I had a few complaints. One of those complaints had to do with the ‘bu’s back bench, which prompted me to note

the rear seats seem like almost an afterthought compared to the well-appointed front row. Low seat height, a relatively narrow bench and unsupportive seating make for a poor combination

With images of an updated Malibu making the rounds of the blogosphere, and the Detroit News reporting that its production has been pulled ahead by six months by the order of Dan Akerson, you might think GM had taken the opportunity to improve the Malibu’s second-row shortcomings. But, according to Automotive News [sub]‘s product editor, Rick Kranz, it seems that GM has done the opposite of improve rear-seat interior space… because of yet another of the ‘bu’s shortcomings.

In a blog post rather than a news piece, (indicating that GM has not yet officially announced these numbers), Kranz points out that the updated 2013 Malibu is now a global product, and that as such, it’s been altered to serve the needs of consumers in markets outside of the US. Kranz notes:

My understanding is that the passenger compartment will be a little bit tighter… While the overall exterior dimensions are essentially the same as those of the 2011 model, 4 inches have been trimmed out of the wheelbase. Those inches have been shifted to the trunk area. The trunk area also is taller. The bottom line: The 2013 Malibu has more trunk space.

As Jack Baruth (among others) has pointed out, the current Malibu’s small, access-hampered trunk does not win it many friends among family sedan shoppers, so GM’s decision to cut from the rear legroom in order to improve the trunk makes a certain amount of sense. But, opines Kranz

Now this would seem to suggest rear passengers will give up legroom comfort to create a bigger trunk. I would think Americans prefer more rear legroom.

So, can the Malibu afford to give up a few inches of length? At 37.6 inches of rear legroom, the outgoing Malibu bests the Nissan Altima (35.8) and Hyundai Sonata (34.6), while basically matching the Ford Fusion (37.1) and Honda Accord (37.2). Of its direct competitors, only the Toyota Camry enjoys a significant advantage in rear legroom, at 38.3 inches. Even if the new Malibu lost the full four inches that Kranz implies it could in a worst-case scenario (which it likely won’t), it would still be just an inch shy of the Sonata’s 34.6 inch mark.

Go back to reviews of the Malibu, here at TTAC and elsewhere, and you’ll find that complaints about the ‘bu’s cramped rear seat accommodations rarely focus on legroom (although one blog item by BusinessWeek’s David Kiley blast’s the Malibu’s lack of legroom as a taxi). Hip and shoulder width, as well as the “low seat height, relatively narrow bench and unsupportive seating” that I found lacking, tend to dominate negative impressions of the Malibu’s people-carrying talents. In short, if Chevy’s engineers were able to keep rear legroom losses to three inches or fewer while improving the vehicle’s width and the quality of the rear seat, we’d tend to call the compromise largely worthwhile (pending a full test).

Here’s what doesn’t make sense about Kranz’s shortened-Malibu rumor: as a newly global car, GM definitely tweaked the Malibu with an eye towards its largest market, China. But, as Bertel has explained time and again, Chinese car buyers (especially buyers of relatively upscale foreign cars) tend to put an inordinate amount of importance on rear legroom, as many upwardly mobile Chinese prefer to hire a driver while staying camped in the back seat. It was for this reason that Volkswagen stretched the rear legroom of its China-oriented 2011 Jetta by some 2.7 inches, to a current-Malibu-beating 38.1 inches. Ironically, GM’s China-centric global strategy seems to suggest more rear legroom, rather than less, would (or at least should) be on the agenda as it re-engineered the Malibu to be a global vehicle.

Perhaps we should just wait for GM to release specs for the new ‘bu (planned for a week from today) before we start bemoaning American-market compromises in the name of global tastes.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Wrangling The Details Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-wrangling-the-details-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-wrangling-the-details-edition/#comments Thu, 19 Aug 2010 18:56:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=363323

Jeep has released the first pictures of its next refreshed product, the 2011 Jeep Wrangler, but the changes don’t exactly jump out. That’s because, besides a new body-color hardtop and five new exterior colors, the changes have all taken place on the inside. You know, where they’re most needed. Have they done the job? Hit the jump for the first peek…

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Review: 2010 Dodge Caliber SXT [Updated Interior] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/review-2010-dodge-caliber-sxt-updated-interior/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/review-2010-dodge-caliber-sxt-updated-interior/#comments Wed, 24 Mar 2010 16:42:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=350204

For a moment, turn away from the uncertain prospects of Chrysler’s Fiat-directed future and consider the subject of this review as nothing other than one entry in the popular five-door hatchback segment of the North American compact car market.

That’s what I had to do, anyway, in order to rationalize driving and writing about a vehicle that a lot of folks would justifiably consider to be a loser car from a loser car company. The question is, is it really?

Regardless of whether or not the 2010 Dodge Caliber SXT is a loser, one thing’s for sure: it’s a goner, as a Fiat-sourced replacement will be phased in somewhere within Chrysler’s multi-brand lineup over the next five years. That doesn’t matter to the compact hatchback customer who’s looking for cheap-but-new (and ostensibly dependable) wheels today, though. Fortunately, the Italian corporate shot-callers decided to make Dodge’s current contender in this market a little more tolerable by giving it a new interior for 2010, something the dealer source I spoke with said was the result of a $500 per car endowment from Fiat that tasked Chrysler with improving the vehicle without raising its price.

Alleged interior improvements notwithstanding, the exterior remains the visual equivalent of what a Star Trek-type transporter might yield if it malfunctioned and disastrously reassembled the molecules of a car, a truck, and a small crossover in one, horrible mutant of glass, steel, and plastic. The Ram-tough grille treatment looks just as out of place on a frugal compact as it did when the Caliber first appeared, and the panel seams where the sides of the car meet the roof are still covered with cheap, gray (“pre-faded black”?) plastic strips that look just as contrived as the over-sized comic-book-looking head- and taillight elements.

Happily, things improve inside, as Fiat’s stop-gap money appears very well spent. Borrowing most – if not every – premium interior cliché from the last ten years, Chrysler engineers have thankfully imbued the cabin with niceties such as chrome-ringed gauges, a decent steering wheel, and better upholstery throughout. Soft-enough-touch materials abound, and the new console houses a touch-screen entertainment center with decent ergonomics and features that are at least class-competitive. (My favorite: one touch rippage of all songs from a CD onto the internal 30-gig hard drive.) There’s also a (parked-mode only) DVD player. All this audio-hippery would be cooler if audio phasing was better, but overall, the system doesn’t sound bad.

The “not bad” theme continues as you contemplate the interior’s functionality. Given the comparative popularity of small sedans in the compact market today, it’s a fair bet that most hatchback buyers are looking for enhanced utility. Here the Caliber really delivers, with a fold-down (and reclining) rear seat that reaches near-flat status, a plastic-backed flip-forward front passenger’s seat, and headroom that’s every bit as ample as Jessica Simpson’s [insert favorite body part here]. Far and away, though, the Caliber’s most noticeable bit of interior redemption is it’s rear cargo area. Flash-covered plastic panels that looked like shipping-duty refugees have given way to much better looking, thicker equivalents, and the flimsy floor panel covering the temporary spare has been ditched in favor of a substanital mouse-fir-covered, multi-piece unit that, according to the manufacturer, can hold up to 250 pounds.

But don’t put 250 pounds back there (or much more than that, anyway), because an already-taxed 158-horsepower 2.0-liter four banger will only seem less impressive as you urge it forward. Even though throttle response is pretty good, you’ll quickly realize that there’s just not much there, other than maybe a disturbing resemblance to early Saturn fours in the (lack-of) smoothness department. If not for a very capable CVT that dutifly keeps this thrashy sewing machine within easy driving distance of its torque peak, the engine’s NVH alone would be a good reason not to buy this car. At one point, I lifted the hood while the engine was running. Closing my eyes, I was instantly transported to a 1970’s office building where I was surrounded by a typing pool filled with fast-fingered secretaries pounding away at their IBM Selectrics. Somewhere (probably at a race track) there are louder fuel injectors, but I’ve haven’t heard them.

What I have heard are comments from lots of regular Caliber rental customers involving driving dynamics that don’t do diddly to dissuade derrogatory discourse. And I see why. Ever serve on a team or work group that couldn’t agree on anything? Just pretend that Congress was responsible for the Caliber’s chassis setup and you’ll fully comprehend the way the car rides and drives.

Let’s start with the least-offensive part: The steering – though a little light – seemed decently responsive but had a real “artificial” feel that I would associate with some of the lesser-quality electric power steering systems I’ve encountered. Except that the Caliber’s system is hydraulic. Oh well, at least the ratio seemed well-chosen.

But the really horrible part of the Caliber’s driving dynamics involves the complete disharmony between the springs/dampers (extraordinarily mushy) and the 17-inch tires (bone-jarringly stiff). The rock-ribbed construction and hard, brittle compound of the ill-chosen rubber neither gripped nor glided, yet I was able to count no less than three Town Car-worthy up-and-down motions after a hitting a medium-sized pothole at 45 MPH thanks (or no thanks) to the big-car-from-the-Sixties suspension tune.

At this point, I turned on the radio (to drown out the road noise produced by the awful tires). But even the shrill tones of Lady Gaga were no match for the sound I made when I nearly rear-ended a Bimmer in traffic after expecting that the Caliber’s brakes might actually perform like those fitted to other modern automobiles. The vague ineffectiveness of this car’s binders is simply inexcusable. Ever driven a vehicle equipped with high-performance, high-heat range brake pads early in the morning when they’re cold and require excessive pedal effort and increased stopping distance? If so, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from this mass-market, garden-variety little Dodge hatchback on a daily basis. In other words,the Caliber’s brakes are bad…almost scary bad.

But is the whole car bad?

I remember Dan Rather once saying, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, that he didn’t believe Bill Clinton was a liar, because, “I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things.”

Debate that statement all you want, but I can’t help but apply similar logic to the Caliber: I believe a car can have a number of serious flaws but still be a decent car. Sure, the cons outweigh the pros by a ton here, and yes, the Caliber is a dying model from a seemingly dying brand built by a company with a still-uncertain future. But for the right customer – one who only has $17,320 (as my moon-roofed tester stickered for after three grand worth of incentives)…and who needs a dependable, new hatchback – I think the Caliber might be…certainly not the best choice…but at least a decent one.

One thing’s certain, though: Chrysler derived the maximum bang for their meager upgrade buck by investing in a nicer interior for this wayward little hatchback. If gradual product improvements as effective as this one become consistent year after year throughout the company’s entire product line, maybe Chrysler’s future won’t look so bleak after all.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Back Like That Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-back-like-that-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-back-like-that-edition/#comments Mon, 15 Mar 2010 22:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=349023

Just as Toyota has coasted in recent years on a reputation built some time ago, Audi’s latest round of interior-cheapening has gone largely unremarked-upon in the motoring press. Sitting in the new A4, I don’t find myself thinking, as Motor Trend did, that its “high-quality materials and clean, attractive design continue to live up to Audi’s stellar reputation as the industry benchmark.” In fact, the interiors of nearly every current Audi (except the A8 and TT) strike me as cheap, disappointing and monumentally uninspired. In other words, the opposite of living up to Audi’s reputation.

Good thing the reviewers haven’t noticed, because this picture of the next-generation A6 [via Auto Motor und Sport print edition] seems to indicate that the current batch of dreary interiors was a fluke. If the production model [on sale in Germany in early 2011] comes anywhere close to this A8-inspired vision, with its stripped-down, yet distinctive aesthetic (complete with wood finish apparently borrowed from the Phantom Drophead Coupe’s rear deck), we’ll all be able to pretend that Audi never lost its way. Which, frankly, is a lot easier than figuring out a new consensus for best interiors in the industry.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Benchmark Interior? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/ask-the-best-and-brightest-benchmark-interior/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/ask-the-best-and-brightest-benchmark-interior/#comments Wed, 11 Nov 2009 22:44:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=335030

Ryv asks:

Whenever I read a TTAC car review or read comments I see nothing but complaints of hard plastics and ill fits. It made me wonder, is there some ideal vehicle interior out there being held as the standard to all others? I sat in a Lamborghini Gallardo at last years NAIAS and thought the suede covered dash looked ridiculous – but thats probably the opposite of the hard plastics people complain about. Maybe I am just interior challenged that I don’t notice these things but unless my dash is peeling, and as long as it’s pretty intuitive control wise, it’s appealing. So what is the benchmark interior, the standard that all interiors should strive towards?

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