Any way you slice Toyota’s sales figures for the past 5 years, its obvious that despite a ballooning product portfolio Lexus is in a world of hurt. Sales are down, the other import brands have improved their quality and buyers seem to be embracing a more performance-oriented (or is that German-oriented?) luxury style. But rather than re-orienting the Lexus brand to directly take on surging BMW, Audi and Mercedes sales, Toyota has doubled down on its major competitive advantage: hybrids.The recently-launched HS250h was Lexus’s first stab at an entry-premium hybrid, but after just a few months on sale it’s already going nowhere fast. With CAFÉ changes looming, Lexus may eventually benefit from an all-hybrid luxury line-up, but in the meantime the very idea of a luxury hybrid needs a shot in the arm. Is the CT200h hatchback hybrid the answer?
Notice a difference between these two pictures? No, not the fact that one is a sexy press shot and the other is a bush-league amateur snap. Both pictures show the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta, but one of them has a torsion beam rear axle, the other has a variation of the Golf’s multilink setup. One has a 2.5 liter blunt instrument of an engine and a slushbox, the other has a high-tech “twincharger” engine that won the International Engine Of The Year award two years running, mated to a dual-clutch ‘box. One has a nasty, plasticky interior, the other offers “higher quality materials and trim.” By now you’ve probably guessed that the less desirable of these two Jettas is the US version, and the fancy-pants version has just been announced for the European market…
For a vehicle named after a unit of measure, the Chevrolet Volt is a difficult car to pin down. From its drivetrain to its efficiency rating, the Volt defies categorization. From price point to performance, it defies comparison. It’s a rolling contradiction, this car, part electric car and part gas-burner, part high-concept moonshot and part workmanlike commuter. And yet for all its mysteries, contradictions and (yes) compromises, the Volt is also a deceptively simple car to use. Which makes it what exactly?
Chatting with frequent flyers provides a unique context to mainstream vehicles, especially with recent changes at the rental car counter. That’s because the 2011 Hyundai Sonata arrived and she’s all that with a bucket of awesome. Renting one is like an extra $50 Per Diem, or a “suite” upgrade at the Hilton. After spotting a Sonata SE on the showroom floor, I’m wondering if the same applies for retail buyers with a need for road holding and toddler hauling. Because the Sonata is certainly a nice car.
Since we both live in Houston, and I have aspirations of writing more material for TTAC in my copious lack of free time, it only made sense that Sajeev Mehta and I should eventually get together and hang out, so that’s exactly what we did at Ford’s come-kick-our-tires event for the new F150 trucks, including their new EcoBoost (turbocharged) V6 truck engine. Since I’m the epitome of not-a-truck-guy, I thought I’d toss in some random thoughts from somebody coming to this experience completely unprepared for what I was getting myself into.
I’ve been known to complain every now and then that cars in general have grown too heavy and, partly as a consequence, boring to drive. Hardly any engage the driver like the 2003 Mazda Protege5 in my driveway does. Even the burgeoning crop of B-segment cars, including the much-lauded Honda Fit, has disappointed in this regard. And so we come to the latest contender, the Mazda2, at 2,306 pounds the lightest 2011 car you can buy with a back seat.
Eager to connect with twentysomethings, Scion has sponsored over 2,500 cultural events. Nevertheless, sales are far off their peak. Apparently free doom-metal concerts can only accomplish so much when the target customer can’t find a decent job. Or is the product the problem? Apparently Scion thinks so, as it’s forecasting praying that a redesign of the tC for the 2011 model year will double the model’s sales. (Which, if accomplished, would still leave them at half the 2006 peak.) So, might these prayers be answered?
If you think that China’s car market (they are expecting to sell between 16 and 17m units this year) is a bubble about to burst big-time, then GM will disagree strongly with you. “The market is still quite solid. As you know this year is going to be a strong year. We will see continued growth next year, but growing at a range between 10 to 15 percent,” said Kevin Wale of GM China to Reuters.
As The Wall Street Journal‘s Dan Neil explains, pedestrians aren’t just annoying, they’re also responsible (in part) for some of the most astonishingly dull designs in all of autodom… like the 2011 VW Jetta. Trends towards rising beltlines, strangely high hoods, reduced visibility, and general carved-from-cheese-ishness in automotive design can all be tied to European pedestrian crash test standards. With a little help from unimaginative designers, global product strategies and consumer apathy, of course.
Once upon a time I wanted a Pontiac Fiero. Then the original Honda CRX awakened me to the joys of driving a small car sideways. It was what the Fiero, similarly pitched as an economical commuter, should have been. In comparison, even the second-generation CRX seemed too large, too refined, and disappointingly dull. Fast forward a quarter century, and the Honda Insight is perhaps the most disappointing car I’ve driven in recent years. So when Honda announced that it would base a new two-seater on the Insight, and call it the CR-Z, I fearfully predicted that it would look like the CRX, but drive like the Insight. And?
After driving the Chevrolet Camaro SS for a couple of days, and enjoying the experience much less than I expected to, I began to question my expectations. Perhaps having the Lexus IS-F for a week had unfairly put the Chevrolet in a bad light? After all, the IS-F was twice the price and a Lexus, so of course the Detroit Oshawa, Ontario iron seemed coarse in comparison. The obvious test: a 2011 Mustang GT 5.0.