The Truth About Cars » Station Wagons The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 20:01:03 +0000 en-US hourly 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 (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 » Station Wagons Baby, I’m So Gone: Wagonmasters, a Documentary About Station Wagons and the People Who Love Them Wed, 19 Dec 2012 14:32:12 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

Lately, in no small part due to Michael Moore, the “documentary” film has become the carborundum upon which filmmakers from a variety of perspectives have ground their own axes and then proceeded to chop down the subject of their films. It’s nice, then, to see a documentary made that exhibits some affection for the subject. Wagonmasters, a film made by Chris Zaluski and Sam Smartt as part of their work for MFAs from Wake Forest University’s Documentary Film Program, looks at the great American station wagon with affection. Wistful affection for the now disappeared suburban icon of Americana, but affection nonetheless.

Once, about a fifth of all cars bought in the US were station wagons. Originally commercial or “professional” vehicles that served the hospitality industry as depot hacks, longroofs became known as station wagons before World War Two, when affluent people bought them and used them to get themselves, their families and their luggage to and from train stations, hence the name. Many of these cars had rear bodies made of wood, a luxury touch, what we now call woodies, which is why so many wagons from the mid 1950s on continued to use fake wood of varying quality even into the minivan era.

After WWII, with the baby boom and move to suburbia, station wagons became the quintessential family car. Large enough to carry everyone in the family, and their luggage, on the family road trips so popular on the then new Interstate highway system, and stylish, practical and powerful enough to appeal to both mom and dad. More often than not it was mom’s car, but since dad did most of the driving on trips, it had to suit his desires as well.

So how did wagons disappear from American roads? It was the aforementioned minivan that more or less killed them off, but it was the 1973 oil crisis that mortally wounded them. All that steel and glass adds weight and a wagon will invariably get worse mileage than a comparable sedan.

Using footage of wagon collectors and their own words (and of course footage of their cars being driven and shown), interviews with automotive historians, period photos, advertisements and home movies, Zaluski and Smartt put changing attitudes towards the station wagon within the context of changing American culture. One wagon enthusiast is a Vietnam vet with a Bronze Star. Another drives a Volvo 245 that’s covered with affirmations of peace from famous world leaders. The directors’ choice of music, with the Drive By Truckers‘ Sweet Annette running during the title sequence and opening credits plus other music, mostly by The Bayonets, is meant to convey a sense of timeless Americana.

The film was made with the obvious cooperation of a couple of station wagon enthusiast organizations, the American Station Wagon Owners Association and the International Station Wagon Club, and it was shot on location across the United States and Canada. As many wagons as there once were, the fraternity and sorority of wagon enthusiasts is not large. If most enthusiasts favor two door coupes over four door sedans, one can understand how wagons appeal to a select group of car guys and gals. The wagon world is indeed a small world. About a quarter of the way through the 40 minute film, we’re introduced to Tracy “DJ Munchy” Caldwell, a Detroiter with a very clean 1985 Ford Crown Vic LTD wagon, what I believe is the second youngest car featured in the movie (the youngest being a Buick Roadmaster “bubble” wagon from the mid ’90s). The Crown Vic looked familiar so I checked my archive and realized that I’ve seen Munchy’s LTD at a local car show and photographed it myself.

It may be a small world and while not everyone strives to avoid being a “nonentity”, as one Ford Falcon wagon owner describes his automotive noncomformity, many car enthusiasts do have a warm spot in their hearts for longroofs. While Munchy’s LTD wagon is getting prepared for a car show at his friend’s detailing shop, his friend bemoans how he has a fully customized Camaro but Munchy’s stock looking wagon (the high wattage sound system is cleverly hidden in the storage compartment for the third row seat in the way back)  takes home the show trophies.

Many of the wagons in the film are of the $30,000 restoration on a car worth $10,000 variety, but some wagon enthusiasts love them to pieces, literally. A sequence in the movie shows that sturdy old body on frame station wagons are highly prized by demolition derby racers. At the other end of the spectrum is the owner of a Dodge Coronet Crestwood station wagon that he fully restored after his parents passed away. Sitting in the rear facing far back seat, he shows where he played with his Hot Wheels cars as a child. For you pedants, the GTO station wagon that appears in the opening credits is a one-of-none custom, a Tempest based Pontiac Safari wagon that’s been turned into a quasi clone of the GTO, which was never available in a wagon body style.

It’s a charming little movie. It’s smartly edited, with a snappy pace and an obvious sense of humor without some hip ironic distancing from the subject, all while treating the topic of the station wagon in American life seriously. If you’re at all a car enthusiast I can’t imagine you not enjoying this film. Actually, even if you hate station wagons but have an appreciation for American culture you’ll find it worthwhile. It’s hard to watch these somewhat quirky car enthusiasts and the quirky objects of their affection without a warm smile.

The directors hope to promote the documentary with more film festival screenings and there’s the possibility of a television broadcast in 2013, so the DVD won’t be released until sometime later next year. If you’re interested, you can sign for updates at the movie’s website ( or with a like at their Facebook page (

05_screenshot_Richard Woodside 06_screenshot_Derby 07_prodstill_peacewagon 08_prodstill_hershey 09_prodstill_detroitwagon 01_WagonMastersLOGO 02_1962 Oldsmobile F-85 Station Wagon 03_1962 Rambler Ambassador 400 Station Wagon 04_screenshot_Spanky Cox slider_wagonmasters buick1959lesabrewagon_r buick1960invictawagon_r chrysler1959newyorkerstationwagon_r chrysler1959newyorkerstationwagon_r chrysler1961townandcountrywagon_r munchysfordltdwagonimg_0212_r ]]> 68
Review: 2013 Audi allroad Fri, 12 Oct 2012 17:26:03 +0000

If you haven’t been paying attention to my life story (discretely woven into my reviews), I’ll spell it out clearly: I live in what is considered to be a temperate rainforest on the California coast, the nearest asphalt or concrete surface is over a mile away, and I have a deep (some say questionable) love for station wagons. If you combine this with liberal political leanings, my DINK (Dual Income, No Kids) status and a passion for Costco runs, I am the target market for an off-road wagon. Enter the 2013 Audi allroad. (No, for some reason “allroad” doesn’t get a capital letter.) Audi invited Michael Karesh to a launch event, event a few months ago, but what’s the XC70′s only competition like to live with for a week? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.


If you remember the original A6-based (2001-2005) allroad, this isn’t it. That allroad remains a European delicacy not available on our shores. Instead we get the European A4 allroad (but we drop the A4 prefix in America) which replaces the A4 Avant as the only Audi wagon on sale in the United States. While the new allroad is a bit more than just a jacked up A4 Avant, it’s far less of a transformation than the A6 allroad. First Audi lifted the Avant by 1.5 inches to allow for 7.1 inches of ground clearance, then they borrowed the wider track from the A5 to compensate for the height increase. The added width meant the body was too narrow so they added some rugged plastic wheel arches. To to convince shoppers this is more than just a “jacked-up-station-wagon,” Audi fitted a baleen inspired front grille to the A4, because in Audi-speak cars have horizontal grilles and SUVs have vertical schnozes. Transformation complete.


While Audi butched up the exterior of the A4 for allroad duty, little has been done to the cabin. Inside we find the same A4 interior introduced in 2008. While the A4′s cabin was class leading in 2008 and it has aged well, it does show its age when compared to the newer Volvo and BMW interiors, especially in the black-on-black-on-black color scheme of our tester. While I found nothing wrong with the trappings, I found myself continually asking if the plastics that surrounded me were fitting of the $40,495-$57,170 price range. One thing is for sure, the camel leather and brown dash combination with oak wood trim make the interior a far more attractive place to spend your time.

The natural competition for a soft-roading wagon that will set you back 50-large is limited to the Volvo XC70 AWD which ranges from $35,450 to $54,754. Comparisons are tricky because the allroad has shrunk over the past 6 years going from an A6 to an A4 based wagon and the XC70 has grown from an S60 to an S80 wagon. As a result the allroad’s seats are more compact than the XC70′s Barcalounger-sized thrones, the difference is most obvious in the rear where the allroad has troubles swallowing four adults comfortably. The cargo situation is similar with the XC70 swallowing 33 cubes of widgets with the seats in place and 72 with the rear thrones folded while the allroad’s cargo hauling rings in at 27/50.


The Germans have cornered the market in joystick based infotainment systems since BMW first introduced iDrive in 2001. Since then Audi has been in a gadget arms race with the Roundel. Taken as a whole, MMI isn’t as intuitive as iDrive with more confusing menus and illogical button placement. While I’m sure you would get used to it over time, even after a week I found myself needing to stare at the array of buttons for way too long to find what I needed. See that little knob in the upper left of the picture above? That’s the on/off button, volume knob and track forward/backward toggle. You probably don’t want to know what happens if you spill your Slurpee on there.

On the flip side, MMI has probably one of the most advanced feature sets on the market thanks to their well-executed Google integration. While iDrive allows you to search for Google results (as do a number of other systems), MMI takes it a step further and overlays your traditional map images with Google satellite imagery and even allows you to zoom in and view Google Street View images so you can creep your neighbors. On the down side, the Google map function requires a $15-$30 a month subscription after the first few years for the built-in cellular modem, and when traveling at freeway speeds the system has troubles downloading maps fast enough to keep up leaving you with a blank screen at times.

Since the XC70 is the logical competition, a comparison to Volvo’s Sensus system is inevitable. Volvo’s system lacks the online data, app integration and Google snazz that MMI brings to the table, but it counters with a considerably easier to use system. Volvo’s screen size and graphic quality is easily on par with MMI and in sharp contrast to MMI, most of the system’s commands can be fully utilized via the steering wheel button which means you eyes are off the road less.


Nestled inside the “classically Audi” (read: long) front overhand is a 2.0L turbo charged four-cylinder engine. This 2.0L TFSI (in Audi speak) is a rework of the classic 2.0L turbo engine that Volkswagen and Audi have had on the books for a while. Despite having the latest in direct injection and variable valve timing tech, the engine puts out just 211HP. Thankfully torque is on par with the other entries in the Euro D segment at 258lb-ft from 1,500-4,200RPM. Sending the power to all four wheels is a ZF 8-speed automatic and Audi’s Quattro AWD system. Like many in the Audi lineup, this system is now programmed to send 60% of the power to the rear wheels under most situations. The rear bias delivers a driving feel more similar to a RWD vehicle than Quattros of the past.

Pitted against Volvo’s XC70, the allroad is livelier than Volvo’s base 3.2L inline six thanks to the turbo, the XC70′s curb weight and Volvo’s 6-speed automatic. Rather unexpectedly however, the XC70 T6 with 300 turbocharged horses and 325lb-ft of torque is the performance leader in this shoot out. If 300HP in your Swedish sled is insufficient, $1,495 will bump the T6 to 325HP and 354lb-ft. Volvo of course continues to use a FWD biased Haldex system to send power to the rear. While the system isn’t capable of sending more than 50% of the power to the rear wheels, this fifth-generation Haldex system spends more time than ever in AWD mode making the system’s FWD heritage unnoticeable in 99% of driving situations.


Don’t get too excited about those performance numbers from the Volvo just yet. When you’re out on the road the XC70 is faster in a straight line, dispatching 60 in 5.6 seconds (T6 Polestar) vs the allroad’s 6.3 second time, but the extra 261lbs, taller ride height and skinnier/higher profile tires mean when the road bends, you’ll be seeing the XC70 in the allroad’s rear view mirror. That being said, the allroad feels less confident out on the road than the XC70. Why? Mostly because that engine is hanging out in front of the front axle. The weight balance, coupled with the rear wheel bias makes oversteer and understeer close neighbors in the allroad. While I found the dynamics entertaining, even pleasing, I know a few drivers that found it disconcerting and preferred the XC70′s understeer-all-the-time dynamics.

Road noise and engine noise in the allroad were higher than I expected even on smooth roads. We can probably chalk this up to A4 platform’s age and the wide 245-width tires, but at these price points I expected things to be quieter. BMW’s new 2.0L turbo engine is a pinnacle of four-cylinder refinement, this is not something that can be said of the Audi mill which sent more vibrations into the cabin than a number of modern economy cars. This is another area where the XC70 comes out ahead as even Volvo’s anemic base engine is a smooth inline six.

Out on the trail, its obvious that Volvo and Audi’s missions were different. The XC70′s higher profile tires, 1.2-inch higher ground clearance and shorter front overhang meant that despite having an AWD system that many in the industry describe as “less sophisticated,” the XC70 is better equipped to handle mild off-roading than the allroad. When the road gets icy, the Haldex system is slower to respond than the Quattro’s always-engaged AWD system to send power front/rear but Volvo fights back with a traction control system, that was far more willing to send power left/right on either axle.

With a starting price of $40,495, the allroad is $3,200 more than the 2012 A4 Avant it replaced, $4,150 more than an XC70 3.2 and $395 more than the powerful XC70 T6. Audi’s premium pricing doesn’t just stop at the base points however. Should you want a nav system in your allroad, expect to shell out $46,795 for the Premium Plus trim with Audi Connect which widens the gap to $1,100 over the XC70 T6. Adjusting for feature content further widens the divide to between $2,590 and $4,595 in favor of the Swede. After a week with the allroad I was still unable to figure out who it is really for. Despite my rural lifestyle, I have never honestly felt the need for a jacked-up AWD vehicle that couldn’t tow 7,500lbs. When pitted against the Volvo competition, the Audi has trouble justifying a larger price tag due to an unrefined engine and reduced soft-road ability. If I lived in Europe, the allroad might make more sense to me (taking into account my love of wagons) but as it is, the allroad ends up being an expensive landing at the wrong airport. Maybe it really is time to say goodbye to the Euro wagon?


Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.4 Seconds

0-60: 6.3 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.9 @ 93 Seconds

Average Fuel Economy: 23.5MPG over 811 miles


2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, Center Console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, cargo area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exteruir, wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Engine, 2.0L TFSI Turbo, 211HP, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Engine, 2.0L TFSI Turbo, 211HP, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Engine, 2.0L TFSI Turbo, 211HP, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, MMI controlls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, HVAC Controlls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, steering wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, rear seat HVAC vents, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, cargo area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail


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How CAFE Killed Compact Trucks And Station Wagons Mon, 01 Oct 2012 18:50:30 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Close your eyes and imagine it’s 1979. A first-term Democratic president struggles with unemployment, malaise, high energy prices, and embassy trouble. The landscape of today looks like the landscape of then, but there’s one important thing missing: The compact pickup. Where did they go? The small pickup was an indelible symbol of America’s lowered expectations in the Seventies and Eighties. Now that crappy times are here again, where are the paper-thin truck beds and wheezy-but-indestructible four-cylinders to pull them?

As car guys, we tend to view things through a certain lens; the design and performance characteristics of a car are what’s considered important. The proliferation of cars and trucks that are antithetical to these characteristics, like crossovers and larger, heavier passenger cars, are something that we’ve collectively lamented for some time. But to understand why this has happened, we need to view product decisions through the lens of CAFE and its incentives. The choices of American consumers are a factor; we like to buy pickups and SUVs, no doubt. But what if the government’s decisions played a part in moving the market, and the very laws set up to ostensibly promote more fuel efficient vehicles ended up doing the opposite?

CAFE for Decaf drinkers

CAFE (industry short hand for Corporate Average Fuel Economy) came as a result of the 1973 oil embargo, as a means to mandate fuel economy targets for cars and light trucks. Over the last four decades, the standards have evolved, with the latest iteration being the targets set for fuel economy in the year 2025. The 2025 targets were released this summer, and comprise a 1,944 page tome full of arcane language and legalese that, while essential for understanding CAFE, are totally inaccessible to the general public. No wonder, as our Editor Emeritus Ed Niedermeyer wrote

“…only a handful of experts truly understand the details of CAFE compliance, with its complex system of footprint-based categories, formula and credits.”

One of CAFEs biggest impacts in recent times has manifested itself in how auto makers classify products. Under CAFE, vehicles can be labeled “passenger cars” or “light trucks”, with the latter category required to meet less stringent standards for fuel economy and CO2 emissions. A decade ago, the Chrysler PT Cruiser was the most egregious example of this.

( N.B. CAFE uses the EPA’s unadjusted fuel economy standard, so the mpg values discussed in relation to CAFE bear little resemblance to the real world values used on Monroney stickers and common discourse on fuel economy. For our purposes, we’ll refer to the fuel economy numbers we are familiar with as “In Real Life” (IRL)  to distinguish them from the CAFE numbers. )

Despite being based on a Neon platform and retaining the dimensions of a compact car, it was classified as a light truck by NHTSA.  The PT Cruiser was designed to meet NHTSA standards for classification as a light truck, for the express purpose of raising Chrysler’s light truck average fuel economy. At the time, the minimum fleet average for passenger cars was 27.5 mpg CAFE, while for light trucks it was 20.7 mpg CAFE. A small, four-cylinder vehicle like the PT Cruiser was effectively a “ringer” for Chrysler’s fleet average. The year 2000 CAFE targets discussed above translate to 21 mpg IRL for passenger cars and 15 mpg IRL for light trucks.  A “light truck” like the PT would obviously have no trouble surpassing these standards.

In 2006, CAFE altered the formula for its 2011 fuel economy targets, by calculating a vehicle’s “footprint”, which is the vehicle’s wheelbase multiplied by its wheel track. The footprint is expressed in square feet, and calculating this value is probably the most transparent part of the regulations. Fuel economy targets are a function of a vehicle’s footprint; the smaller the footprint, the tougher the standards are. A car such as the Honda Fit, with its footprint of 40 square feet, has to achieve 61 mpg CAFE, or 43 mpg IRL by 2025 to comply with regulations. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a full-size truck like the Ford F-150, with a footprint of 75 square feet, only needs to hit 30 mpg CAFE, or 23 mpg IRL, by the same timeframe.

How the fix is in

On the surface, the footprint requirements can be viewed as logical; a compact, fuel-efficient car like the Honda Fit, should be able to hit tougher targets, by virtue of its small size, aerodynamic profile and powertrain choices. Without any advanced technology like direct-injection, lightweight steel or aluminum construction or even low-rolling resistance tires, it manages a respectable 28/35 mpg IRL, while offering a practical, fun-to-drive package. The Ford F-150 has a very different mission; it must be large, durable, powerful and able to meet the needs of a full-size pickup, and will naturally be less conducive to achieving the kind of fuel economy that a Fit can.

Unfortunately, the footprint method has the opposite effect; rather than encouraging auto makers to strive for unprecedented fuel economy in their passenger car offerings, it has incentivized auto makers to build larger cars, in particular, more car-based crossovers that can be classified as “trucks” as used to skew fleet average figures, much the same way the PT Cruiser did. Full-size trucks have become a “protected class”, safe from the most aggressive targets, while compact trucks have become nearly extinct as a result.

Real world examples

Before we can delve into the demise of compact trucks, we need to examine how the footprint formula works, and how it allowed the car-based crossover to usurp the station wagon as America’s family hauler of choice.

The footprint is expressed graphically via the “curve”, which plots a vehicle’s footprint on the X axis and CAFE mpg on the Y axis. There are different graphs for cars and light trucks, and as we’ll see below, a car and a light truck with identical footprints are subject to very different standards. (N.B. the full document is available here, with the full-size curve graphs on page 29 and 30)

A concrete example of this phenomenon is Volvo’s decision to do away with the traditional wagon at the start of this decade. Wagons are what put Volvo on the map in North America. The rear-drive 200, 700 and 900 wagons held universal appeal for their durability and sportiness, while the 850 and V70 cemented their place in the mainstream, as a car for those who were upper-middle class, or aspiring to be.

Volvo’s current lineup offers two SUVs, the XC60 and XC90 and one pseudo-wagon, the XC70. The XC70 is virtually identical to the V70, Volvo’s stalwart station wagon, save for some extra ground clearance and lower body cladding. But while the V70 was classified as a passenger car, the XC70 joins its siblings as a “sports utility vehicle” according to the EPA. The fuel economy of the entire XC lineup is far from stellar. The best XC models, the front drive variants of the XC60 and XC70 with the naturally aspirated 3.2L inline-six engine, return 19/25 mpg IRL. The V70, in 2010 (its final year of sale for North America) returned 18/27 mpg IRL. All three vehicles have footprints of 48 square feet. The key difference is that while the V70 is a passenger car, the XC models are light trucks, and of course, given an easier time regarding CAFE compliance.

Mazda is another company that must also play against the stacked deck of CAFE. The Mazda6 wagon was offered here for a few years, and axed after it sold poorly. For 2014, Mazda is launching a third-generation Mazda6, including a gorgeous station wagon (and yes, a diesel engine), but it won’t be coming here. Enthusiast blogs have been harping on Mazda’s decision to withhold the car from the U.S. market, but a simple analysis using CAFE methodology reveals why. The wagon, with its footprint of 48 square feet, is subject to the same standards as the Volvo V70. On the other hand, the Mazda CX-5, with a footprint of 45.6 square feet, is smaller, and again, subject to light truck fuel economy standards. For a model that must be sold over 5-6 years (as previous generations were), the Mazda6 wagon starts out having to achieve a CAFE mpg figure in the high 30s.

Assuming the model lasts until 2020, the Mazda6 would have to achieve fuel economy figures in the high 40 mpg CAFE range. Engineering a low volume, niche market wagon for sale in America that would be subject to increasingly tough targets is arguably beyond their means, especially given the small volumes the car would sell in. Instead, Mazda offers the CX-5 crossover. Aside from being classified as a crossover, with all the CAFE advantages built in, the CX-5 is able to sell in economically viable volumes not just in the United States, but across the globe. The realities of CAFE have likely made sales of the third generation Mazda6 wagon impossible in the United States.

CAFE’s other victim is the compact truck segment. Many consumers don’t need a full-size truck (whether they acknowledge it or not), and the Ford Ranger, along with GM’s own compact pickups, had respectable followings among consumers looking for a smaller fuel-efficient pickup.

But the Ranger happens to fall into the “dead zone” of the CAFE footprint formula. Both curve graphs show a flat line at 55 square feet; in practical terms, a Mercedes-Benz S-Class carries this footprint. The Ranger, even in SuperCab configuration, has a footprint of 50 square feet, just short of the magic number. The best Ranger, fuel economy-wise, was a 4-cylinder manual truck, returning 22/27 mpg IRL; a respectable number, but one only available in a configuration that a minority of buyers would opt for. Equipped with a V6 and an automatic transmission, it would only return 14/18 mpg IRL, a figure that can be equalled by certain version of Ford’s V6 and V8 F-150 full-size pickups. By 2025, a theoretical Ranger with a footprint of 50 square feet would have to achieve fuel economy somewhere approaching 50 mpg CAFE. The 75 square foot F-150 would only have to reach in the high 30s CAFE.

Ford will offer a new Ranger in world markets, but again, it won’t come here. GM, on the other hand, plans to offer their new mid-size Colorado and Canyon trucks here, but the reasons for Ford and GM’s divergence aren’t as cut and dried as they are in the case of Mazda and Volvo. Ford has decided to offer full-size trucks exclusively, with the V6 options as a means of attracting economy-minded buyers, and perhaps taking advantage of CAFE regulations (not to mention, sell more F-Series, which are immensely profitable).

GM’s strategy is to forgo to advanced V6 powertrains that Ford offers, and market their full-size trucks alongside their smaller stable mates. If Ford offered a Ranger, it could theoretically cannibalize sales of the lower end F-150s, while muddling their marketing message. GM will presumably have no such conflict. Chrysler is rumored to be taking a third route; offering advanced V6s in their RAM trucks, while exploring a car-based compact pickup, possibly based off of a Fiat product. A truck like that would be a huge boon as far as CAFE compliance goes, and put a decisive nail in the coffin of the Dakota, which offered a V8 engine in a compact body.

Cui Bono

In the trial of Sextus Roscius, a young Cicero defended him by posing a famously concise question; “Cui Bono?”, or “who benefits?” CAFE merits a similar line of inquiry.

When examined side by side with European emissions standards, the economics of CAFE become more transparent. EU are relatively straight forward by comparison. Tailpipe CO2 emissions are measured and a de facto consumption tax is levied based on a vehicle’s output. There are no footprint formulas or regulatory loopholes that can be manipulated, though there are different standards for diesel and gasoline engines. Either way, the principle is the same; if you want a bigger, more powerful engine, you will have to pay for it via increased taxes. The most tangible examples of these policies in effect are the newly downsized motors being fitted in American-sized cars, like the 1.0L three-cylinder Ford Mondeo (our Fusion).

On the other hand, a consumption tax related to the profligacy of their vehicle would be disastrous to the Big Three. Full-size trucks, rather than cars, are the profit-makers for the Big Three, and no segment has more to lose from tough CAFE standards. The official line is that the big pickups and SUVs have to make up the most ground when it comes to fuel economy, so they are given more leeway with the regulations.

But the reality is that Detroit’s car makers need trucks to be affordable to stay in business. CAFE compliance for full-size trucks is a major topic in the auto industry, with concerns about rising costs being a major bugaboo for the Big Three. Ford is said to be moving to an aluminum body for the next F-150, while various reports have claimed that compliance with CAFE 2025 standards could add as much as $15,000 to the cost of a full-size truck. This kind of financial burden would make pickup trucks unaffordable to a significant portion of its customer base, and erode a massive source of profits for American automakers. As Niedermeyer noted, full size trucks would “…become a purely professional purchase, bought only by those who use them for work or by the wealthy.” A European-style consumption tax based on emissions of fuel efficiency would be devastating for the full-sized truck market, and it’s hardly a coincidence that CAFE is structured in such a way that best protects these vehicles.

In this context, it’s easy to see why the two major dissenters from the 2025 CAFE rules were Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz. Representatives from both companies spoke out candidly about CAFE, with a Volkswagen spokesman stating

“The proposal encourages manufacturers and customers to shift toward larger, less-efficient vehicles, defeating the goal of reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Mercedes-Benz was equally forceful, claiming that CAFE

“clearly favors large SUVs and pickup trucks. Our customers expect a range of vehicles from which to choose so this program creates a very real disconnect between government regulation and customer demand.”

Europe’s own Euro VI standards measure a grand total of 18 pages in PDF format, and are generally regarded as stricter than CAFE. That, combined with the substantially more egalitarian nature of the consumption tax model employed by Euro VI brings the legitimacy of CAFE into question even further.

Ironically, CAFE has much in common with the chicken tax, which is erroneously cited as being the sole impediment to the success of compact pickups in America. Both are horribly protectionist, anti-market laws that restrict consumer choice and give an unfair advantage to homegrown manufacturers. But at least the chicken tax compelled the OEMs to build compact pickups Stateside. Under CAFE, there isn’t just no reason to do so – there is every reason not to do so.


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2013 Audi RS4 Avant – Another Hot Wagon We Probably Won’t Get Wed, 15 Feb 2012 21:44:07 +0000

A  4.2L V8 making 450 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. A 7-speed dual clutch gearbox. 0-60 in 4.7 seconds. Want to know more about the 2013 Audi RS4 Avant? Hit the jump to get down to the nitty-gritty.

Sitting 20mm lower, the RS4 Avant borrows the RS5′s powertrain but packages it in the wagon bodystyle we all love so much (but are constantly denied by certain European OEMs. Top speed is officially 155 mph, but Audi will remove the limiter to allow the Avant to reach 173 mph. 14.3″ brakes are standard up front, while carbon ceramic brakes are optional. Audi’s Drive Select, along with adjustable dampers and speed-variable electric power steering are standard. The torque vectoring sport differential is an option.

Audi says that the RS4 Avant will do 21 mpg combined – in line with a Ford Mustang 5.0 and 5 mpg better than a BMW M3. The RS4 Avant will set you back €76,600, or $99,461, but European car prices, like vehicle tastes, are notorious for not carrying over to our market.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Audi RS 4 Avant. Photo courtesy Audi. Audi RS 4 Avant/Standaufnahme Audi RS 4 Avant/Standaufnahme Audi RS 4 Avant/Standaufnahme Audi RS 4 Avant/Standaufnahme Audi RS 4 Avant/Standaufnahme Audi RS 4 Avant/Standaufnahme Audi RS 4 Avant/Standaufnahme Audi RS 4 Avant/Standaufnahme Audi RS 4 Avant /Detail Audi RS 4 Avant/Standaufnahme Audi RS 4 Avant/Standaufnahme Audi RS 4 Avant /Detail Audi RS 4 Avant /Detail Audi RS 4 Avant /Detail Audi RS 4 Avant /Detail Audi RS 4 Avant /Detail Audi RS 4 Avant /Detail Audi RS 4 Avant /Detail Audi RS 4 Avant /Motorraum Audi RS 4 Avant /Innenraum Audi RS 4 Avant /Innenraum Audi RS 4 Avant/Standaufnahme Audi RS 4 Avant/Detail Audi RS 4 Avant/Detail Audi RS 4 Avant/Detail Audi RS 4 Avant/Standaufnahme ]]> 10
What’s Wrong With This Picture: Five Door Coupe Edition Wed, 12 Oct 2011 18:28:43 +0000 Ever since Mercedes lured its competitors into the “four door coupe” segment created by its 2004 CLS, we’ve been waiting for the next fad segment to mangle the definition of the word “coupe” beyond recognition. And here it is: a forthcoming “five-door coupe” that is essentially a wagon version of the CLS. This near-production mule looks remarkably like the concept version, in other words, fantastic. On the other hand, the idea of buying a more-practical version of a less-practical version of an E-Class still doesn’t compute… but then you can’t underestimate the power of fads in the luxury car game. Stand by for competing models from Audi and BMW, not to mention the inevitable six, seven, and eight-door coupes. [via AM unds S]

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Nomenclature brake-down... (Courtesy: Auto Motor und Sport) clsshootingbrake3 clsshootingbrake2 clsshootingbrake


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Is Saab Taking A Stand Against The Wagon Penalty? Wed, 06 Apr 2011 17:43:15 +0000

Prices for the Saab 9-5 SportCombi have leaked in Sweden, and according to Autobild, the wagon version actually costs €114 less than the sedan. Whether they’ll make the same offer outside of Sweden isn’t clear… but then neither is anything about Saab’s future. And instead of haranguing the poor Swedes about the questionable financial sense of this decision, let’s just agree that desperate times call for desperate measures. If nothing else, Saab’s wagon-centive sets it apart from the industry’s business-as-usual.

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Overlooked Race Cars: The Dominatin’ Nissan Stanza Wagon! Wed, 16 Mar 2011 03:50:06 +0000
When shopping for a car to thrash all weekend long on a hairy road course, most of us don’t consider the Nissan Prairie. Why not? The Team Sputnik ’86 Stanza Wagon proved at last month’s Southern Discomfort 24 Hours of LeMons that you don’t need an RX-7 or E30 to do well in low-buck endurance racing.

All the members of the team hail from the ex-USSR— hence the team name— and they are very proud of their race machine’s pass-through double-sliding doors. And we here at TTAC think the Stanza Wagon is actually a pretty cool vehicle.

And who wouldn’t be? Of course, the roll cage reduces its grocery-hauling abilities to some extent, but this Prairie can still haul a bigger Costco load than 99% of all road-race cars!

To create an atmosphere of mutual understanding, Team Sputnik gave this nice diecast Prairie as a judicial bribe during the BS Inspection.

The Sputnik Stanza Wagon was nothing more than a dead-stock 200,000-mile beater at the end of its useful life… with a roll cage. One of the front struts blew out before the car finished even one lap, the brakes acted up, and various nickel-and-dime breakdowns made for frequent pit stops.

Team Sputnik never gave up on their steed, however; they found a way to drive with the bad strut (no parts store within 500 miles had a Prairie strut available), and they kept grinding out laps. They weren’t the slowest thing on the track— quite— but their 1:08 best lap was about 7 seconds off the pace of the quickest cars.

Before they figured out that their wagon needed to be driven very cautiously with its bum suspension, Team Sputnik made a few appearances in the Penalty Box for spinouts and off-track excursions. Here we see them receiving the Bubb Rubb “Whistles Go Whoo-WHOO!” Penalty.

The battle for the Index of Effluency came down to three cars: the Sputnik Stanza Wagon, the NSF Racing 1962 Plymouth Fury, and the Speedycop And The Gang 1967 Parnelli Jones Ford Galaxie. The Stanza ran the most laps of the three (441 against the Fury’s 218 and the Galaxie’s 243), but the IOE balances the car’s accomplishment against its inherent terribleness; a stunningly bad car need not complete as many laps as a very bad car in order to grab the IOE. In the end, LeMons Chief Perp Jay Lamm decided that the Fury— which was essentially a vaguely car-shaped rust pile with barely functioning engine, transmission, and brakes— running 218 laps was nothing short of miraculous (the Galaxie was actually about 90% as bad under its pretty paint, but it didn’t run much at all during the first day’s race session). It was a tough decision, however, and Team Sputnik almost took the race’s top prize home with them. Another 20 or so laps for the Stanza Wagon probably would have done it.

But don’t count Team Sputnik out of the IOE race just yet! They’re going to work out some of the car’s bugs and return for another shot at some major trophy hardware.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: Three-Row Wagons? Fri, 08 Oct 2010 19:16:59 +0000

Paul Penaloza writes in with a timely query:

I’ve got a question for the crew. I have a relative who loves the VW Passat wagon and the promise of the better mileage with the TDI. She was crushed when she found out it did not have a third row like a minivan. That got me thinking, are there any car wagons out there that have a third row of seating these days?

Ah, the rear-facing third row… if that doesn’t bring back childhood memories, you’ve missed out. Remember gang, that’s “car wagons.” No Swagger Wagons or Cute Utes for the former Passat owner. If I didn’t have the $56k to stump for a new E Class wagon (and I don’t), I’d be thinking used… or reminiscing about making faces at freeway traffic. Or both.

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Review: Cadillac CTS Sportwagon Mon, 22 Mar 2010 14:48:51 +0000

I’m too young to remember the 1970s, but I have recollections of a Cadillac-based abomination known as the “Castilian Fleetwood Estate Wagon.” Perhaps the recent success of Cadillac-based trucks made someone at the RenCen give the Cadillac Wagon a second look. Yet the CTS Sport Wagon isn’t a cobbled-up engineering afterthought, though it reeks of branding desperation: the American icon formerly known as the pinnacle of everything now goes for entry-level luxury success in a station wagon. And that’s why this mirage hailing from the days of Motorized Malaise has some ‘splaining to do.

But wagons have their purpose, especially in Europe. Not so much in America, though using the far-from-ungainly CTS sedan could change all that. Too bad this Estate’s hindquarters are more aesthetically challenged than a Cy Twombly retrospective. Taking the CTS’s bulky proportions to new heights, the Sport Wagon’s short and “fast” roofline sports a pointless quarter window and massively “slow” looking D-pillar. And much like half melted dinner candles in a gothic dungeon, the crystalline tail lamps are an asymmetric eyesore on an already overwrought posterior. Conversely, any wagon sold in the USA is inherently desirable to some. So the CTS Sport Wagon is indeed cool.

And the hits keep on coming, as the CTS Sport Wagon’s interior is the same as the sedan. The front seats are near perfect, while dash materials and buttonage are first rate at this price point. All the requisite wood grain bits and electronic gadgets are accounted for, OnStar or otherwise. GM should be proud of this interior, so let’s get to the heart of the beast.

The business end of any wagon lies south of the B-pillars. The backseat is large enough for two average adults, but the tall beltline and narrow doors add an undue amount of claustrophobia. The cargo area has enough right angles for box friendly loading, albeit not large enough for items held by yesteryear’s wood paneled wagons. And while there’s not enough real estate for an E-class like rear facing seat, the carpeted floor sports elegant metal accents and a shiny sill plate: rivaling the CTS’ dashboard for mid-market luxury supremacy.

No matter, fold the seats and luggage volume becomes a reasonable 58 cubic feet: not exactly striking fear into the Volvo V70, but other European Estates in this price range have some competition. Even the CTS Sport Wagon’s rearward visibility “looks” far better than the blocky pillars and sparse glass imply.

Sadly, relative to boosted Volvos, Audis, and V8 Benzes and Bimmers, the CTS Sport Wagon’s dynamic demeanor is downright uninspired. With the direct injected V6 in play, the CTS Sport Wagon feels downright sluggish until the tach swings above 4000 revolutions. And with no manual transmission option, the sloth like motions of the standard six-speed automatic make for a powertrain that’s like a hibernating bear woken up by a foolish hiker. Hit the gas when the light turns green and there’s a big snore underhood, followed by an explosion of accelerative mediocrity.

If today’s Cadillac can’t muster up class leading acceleration, at least the Germanic chassis and taut suspension are done right. Sporting the somewhat-famous “FE3” suspension moniker, the CTS Sport Wagon has more grip than any street going wagoneer ever needs, and keeps things flat and drama free in the suburbs. Push harder on highway sweepers and the estate still remains flat. Understeer is out there, somewhere, but reaching the CTS Sport Wagon’s upper limits takes dedication and blatant disregard for public safety: this wagon is made for the Nürburgring.

Even better, the Caddy’s steering feel is omnipresent and boundless, making the CTS Sport Wagon feel far smaller and lighter than the 4200lb curb weight suggests. Get some steam in the motor and this whip is an absolute hoot to drive. Just stay on smooth pavement.

Like every other brand with visions of BMW conquests, Cadillacs lose their composure when things get bumpy. FE3 fettling be damned, the 19-inch rolling stock cause more in-cabin jolt than an AMG E-class wagon, with not enough cornering prowess to compensate. If bad roads are a normal part of your commute, get the base suspension. Or wait for a Magnaride option.

No, really. The good stuff isn’t available on a normal Cadillac: Buick’s half-dead Lucerne gets a torque monster V8 and Magnaride, buyers of GM’s top brand must ante for the V-series. So the CTS Sport Wagon is another import wannabe struggling to find its raison d’être: while the components for success gather dust on GM’s shelves. Instead of making the best sedan on the market, Cadillac made a (limited production) station wagon.

Respectable performer or no, this is one more mistake in a series of the wrong moves: why not reincarnate the Cadillac Hearse next time, underwriting a Ghostbuster’s sequel for its introduction?

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