Politics, the man once said, is downstream from culture. It applies to cars as well. Maybe cars are in fact downstream from both politics and culture. You never know.
Everybody who was alive in the 1950s tells me it was kind of a dicey time. Children kneeling beneath a combined 1.25 inches of plywood that was supposed to have some sort of palliative effect on a locally detonated hydrogen bomb with a thousand times the power of Little Boy. The Iron Curtain clamping down across Europe, hundreds of millions of people disappearing into a regime where twisted social science operated a political machine lubricated liberally by the blood of kulaks and a generation of Soviet O’Briens insisting they could float off the ground if they just wished it so. Meanwhile, the United States was grinding through the task of reintegrating a few million young men who had often gone directly from their shoeless rural existence to the meat grinders of Iwo Jima and Normandy Beach.
Yet I defy you to look at a ’57 Chevrolet and not tell me somebody was feeling optimistic. The roads were covered in pastels and chrome and the good times were surely just around the corner. It was as if the styling chiefs of the Big Four (or however many there were) looked at the world around them and said, “Oh, the hell with this, let’s PUT FINS ON CARS!”
Sixty years later we’ve got all the Netflix and chill we can handle but most people look at the future as something that will impoverish, assail, endanger, or boil them. The climate and the economy seem to have more malevolence than the old Soviet shoe-bangers could ever muster but, instead of responding with Bel Airs, we’ve all decided to lock ourselves into tall, tippy metal boxes that promise to isolate us from every possible contaminant or concern. Each box must be sufficient for all imagined tasks, whether it’s clearing the Rubicon or circling the Nurburgring.
Most of these things scale half a ton more than a ’76 Cutlass Supreme Brougham with the 403. They are chock full of features we neither need nor want, and the hunchback king of those assembled unnecessaries is called All. Wheel. Drive.
Whether A3 and Q5 and Allroad drivers in 2017 know it or not, much of Audi’s modern reputation is built upon a foundation cemented by the Audi Quattro rally car in the 1980s.
In the capable hands of drivers such as Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist, and Walter Röhrl, Audi brought dominant traction to the World Rally Championship and eventually found traction in the marketplace as well.
Fast forward to 2017 and Audi consistently reports meaningful growth in the North American market. Audi sales in the United States have grown in seven consecutive years, more than doubling since 2010. And while U.S. auto sales are dipping in the first half of 2017 — including declines at the only three premium brands that outsell Audi — the Audi brand is up 7 percent, year-over-year.
Audi’s methodology has been well and truly copied by many of its rivals. Quattro isn’t the only all-wheel-drive brand in town. Badges for 4Matic and xDrive are common on the trunklids of many a Mercedes-Benz and Audi.
How then can Audi stand out from the pack? With its high-performance models, the RS variants, Audi may well drop Quattro all-wheel drive on some models in a bid for rear-wheel-drive performance supremacy.
No auto brand in the world sells more all-wheel-drive vehicles than Subaru, says Subaru.
Autocar is reporting figures from Subaru UK that say 15 percent of the global market for all-wheel-drive vehicles is scooped up by the Subaru brand.
In Subaru’s fiscal year from April 2015 to April 2016, the automaker finished with nearly 1 million sales of all-wheel drive vehicles — 245,382 more than the next-highest-volume all-wheel-drive provider: Audi.
Like so many vehicles, Toyota’s C-HR leads a somewhat confused life. Its identity, like that of the Kia Niro, seems obvious to PR types, but wary observers continue to cite both vehicles’ lack of available all-wheel drive as a reason why neither should carry a “crossover” label.
We haven’t come to blows here at TTAC, but in the great Crossover Or Not debate, the “tall wagon” camp has a clear edge. Certainly, the C-HR, billed as a subcompact crossover, has the proper dimensions and ride height to qualify, but its lack of four-wheel traction sets it apart from its rivals. Usually, an automaker would prefer to live up the segment’s tepid go-anywhere pretensions by tossing in an optional prop-shaft and rear differential.
It could be that the C-HR’s missing AWD has more to do with its humble, one-size-fits-all Scion origins than anything else. However, there’s mixed information coming out about the model’s future.
It smells like a proper Jaguar.
That’s what came to mind after climbing into the XE’s driver’s seat for the first time. Jaguars tend to play on the senses – and consequently the heart – more than other cars, which has surely helped many owners look past some of the brand’s idiosyncrasies (and, let’s face it, quality woes) in the past. This one seems to have its sensory appeal in check.
Several years ago I drove a then-new XJ, a supercharged V8 model that somehow dazzled me despite a clunky transmission and sagging suede headliner. It was a car that’d be hard to recommend a friend or loved one spend a hundred large on, but somehow still appealed to the irrational side of me. The sound of the exhaust note, the sensual styling and yes, the smell of those cattle hides swathing the interior all conspire to blur one’s vision toward the (ahem) occasional quality lapse.
Since then I’ve logged seat time in several other Jaguars, including a 2,200-mile journey in a flawless XF a few years ago. The modern-day Jaguar – now ruled by Tata Motors – seems to be wringing out the English from the electrics and producing competitive and wholly contemporary luxury cars, for better or worse.
The new compact XE sedan has generated positive buzz in the automotive media for being an engaging drive, and as a past owner of three different BMW 3 Series sedans, I was keen to see how the Jaguar’s first compact since the lamentable X-Type stacks up.
Like a professional dancer performing north of the Arctic Circle, the Dodge Demon’s strip tease is arduous and painful, beginning with a parka, moving on to the moccasins, then the toque, and … you get the idea.
But the latest installment of the Demon’s online strip tease may have just nuked an earlier rumor regarding the new SRT’s driveline.
Subaru fanboys — this angel of rubber-shredding death (probably) isn’t for you.
The 2017 Subaru Crosstrek has the bad luck of living in the shadow of a vehicle that doesn’t yet exist. That phantom would be the looming 2018 Crosstrek, which borrows the new-for-2017 Impreza’s modular platform and, no doubt, enough technological, mechanical and appearance upgrades to make the old model look ancient overnight.
So, if you’re stuck living in northern climes and counting pennies is your idea of a thrilling good time, now’s a great time to sit back and wait patiently for a killer deal on the outgoing model. Because, replacement or not, it’s popular for good reason. And no, not just because of Subaru’s newfound status as the go-to conveyor of the nonconformist middle class.
With little changed since its 2013 model year debut, save for the elimination of the “XV” prefix, a minor 2016 facelift, and the disappearance of a short-lived hybrid variant, the Crosstrek enters the last year of its first generation with confidence. This jacked-up Impreza 5-door has a life ahead of it and a fan base behind it. Anyone who questions the reasons for the model’s popularity had best pack their bags, head north, and experience a month where it snowed at least every other day.
Kia’s foray into the hybrid segment might be ill-timed, considering the current contraction of sales for its main rival, the Toyota Prius, but the Korean automaker is betting big on the Niro’s traditionally boxy shape bringing in would-be Prius buyers offended by origami-esque sheetmetal.
Still, with that two-box silhouette comes some preconceived notions — like all-wheel drive.
While you want it, and Kia Motors of America would surely love to give it to you, there are a host of reasons why Kia’s newest hybrid-only crossover doesn’t offer all-wheel drive and likely won’t anytime soon.
I’m always on the lookout for small-production figure, special-edition cars during my junkyard explorations, and we have admired such classics as the Etienne Aigner Volkswagen Golf and the Daytona 500 Pace Car Pontiac Grand Prix in past installments of the Junkyard Find series.
Today, we’re moving into the 21st century, for a genuine, numbers-matching, one-of-650-made 2002 Volvo Ocean Race Edition V70 Cross Country, spotted in that hotbed of nautical action: Denver.
Mercedes-Benz has a total of seven model series in the SUV/crossover playing field, ranging from its granddaddy G-Wagen to the compact GLA. Given SUVs and crossovers are enjoying record sales numbers, it should be no surprise manufacturers are wont to outdo their competitors by keeping them as fresh as possible.
Applying their considerable engineering might, the boffins in Stuttgart will kick off 2018 with a neue version of the GLA — with some new bumpers.
All-wheel drive is coming to the Challenger.
In the pony car race Mopar has historically trailed behind General Motors and Ford. However, that underdog status also gives it some wiggle room to experiment. Factory all-wheel drive on a Mustang or Camaro is nearly unfathomable, but you almost expect something like this from Dodge.
The addition of a transfer case could help bolster sales of the Challenger in less temperate climes and close the gap between it and the Camaro. However, many would have preferred that FCA somehow made use of the AWD package on the Charger Pursuit V8 reserved for law enforcement. Perhaps it’s saving that as a future ace in the hole, as the LX platform has a long way to go before retirement.
Who built the first 250-horsepower Quattro? The first turbocharged German wagon? The first long-wheelbase Audi with all-wheel drive? The first all-wheel-drive convertible? The first off-road-inspired Audi? The first aluminum space-frame car? The first mid-engine car with Volkswagen’s Audi Group underpinnings?
They all came from the mind of one incredible engineer named Walter Treser.
It’s not that Treser was without connection to the company, though, as he was intimately involved with developing the legendary Quattro and other models, then later headed up Audi’s rally program. Sure, Ferdinand Piëch gets all the credit for being the visionary that made all-wheel drive possible, but Treser is the engineer that actually turned that vision into reality.
But he didn’t rest on his laurels for long.
Finding an E30 M3 isn’t particularly hard.
Unlike contemporaries such as the Audi Quattro, locating a good example on any given day of the week is easy. eBay has no less than seven for sale at the time of writing, all in generally good shape. Specialists such as Enthusiast Auto Group (EAG) have the same number, none of which would be unwelcome at a high-brow show. Since BMW brought over 5,000 of these homologation specials to the U.S. market, you don’t need to search long and hard to find exactly the E30 M3 you want.
Paying for it is another matter entirely.
The recent news that Volkswagen is pondering an all-wheel-drive Golf for U.S. customers surprised many.
“All-wheel drive is now part of the Volkswagen DNA,” commented Dr. Hendrik Muth of Volkswagen at the U.S. launch of the Alltrack.
That means Volkswagen will be taking on Subaru, the reigning king of all-wheel drive for the masses in the U.S. And since the Golf is already fairly dear in price, adding an all-wheel-drive option to the hatch will make Volkswagen’s compact a near-luxury item. At that price, why wouldn’t you just buy an Audi? It’s the brand with the all-wheel-drive expertise in the VAG clan.
But the reality of an all-wheel-drive Golf is now 20 years old.
Let’s take a look back at nine of the more interesting pre-Alltrack, pre-4Motion versions of the Golf that most U.S. customers have never even heard of.
The dwindling supply of new vehicles offering a row-your-own driving experience spurs fewer tears than before, but the three-pedal setup isn’t dead yet.
In fact, offering a manual transmission is still worthy of boasting about through official channels. As it rolls out the 2017 A4, Audi wants you to know there’ll be an option to ditch the PRNDL pattern on all-wheel-drive models, allowing spirited motorists the increasingly rare opportunity to take full control of their gear changes.
Oh, and those other guys? Yeah, they don’t offer one. Audi made sure to remind us of that.