Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Those Oh-So-Exciting Chrysler Vans

In Car and Driver's Upfront section on the Detroit Auto Show, they wrote blurbs for each of the notable vehicles. These blurbs probably averaged around 150 words. The most they could muster for the new Town & Country and Caravan: 33...if you consider "&" a word. Looks like all that money they spent on Bobby Flay was well spent!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

International snobbery

It's finally happened. I've gone international. Recently, I got a hit from someone in Seoul, South Korea. In honor of this historic occasion, I've decided to share some thoughts on the Korean contingent within our US auto market. I speak of course of the rising juggernaut that is Hyundai/Kia.

These brands not so long ago were a pop culture punchline. But more recently they've begun gaining the sort of cred that comes with being the number 3 brand in the latest JD Power Initial Quality survey. Numbers 1 and 2? Porsche and Lexus. That's right, Hyundais are now better built than Toyotas and Hondas.

But Hyundai is far from perfect. Take their latest concept, the HCD-10 Hellios (left). To me, it kinda looks like their just rehashing old ideas (below), but with a slightly different take. I also saw a quote from a car designer in AutoWeek, saying that sometimes it's difficult for an automaker to get over its "addiction" to this kind of concept. Let's hope for all of our sakes that the beauty shot session for Hyundai's next concept moves out of the desert.

The two divisions are also badly in need of a shared design language. I had the opportunity to talk to Joel P&%^#* (whatever the name of their designer is) at an auto show, and I asked him if it would become more consistent. He brushed me off in a snooty designer manner, apparently revealing that design consistency ranks on his list of priorities right below the shape of the gas tank.

Hyundai's getting better at the little things, though. Not too long ago, they didn't care whether all of the interior display lighting matched (left). Now, not only does the lighting scheme match, but it's quite stylish, too.
Their website used to be the worst car company site on the Internet. Now it's merely one of the worst. They're also adding to their value equation, with lots of standard safety equipment, and tons of space. The Elantra has more space inside than a Subaru Legacy...so much so that the EPA considers the Elantra a mid-size car, while calling the Legacy a compact.
It's been a long way from the Excel, but in a surprisingly short time. I'd like to welcome our South Korean friends to the big time. Oh, and by the way...better brush up on your Chinese.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Top gear- Ford Transit's Birthday

Okay, a nice reward for my growing loyal readership. A remarkable testament to the engineering capability at Ford Motor Company. Enjoy.

Some random auto show thoughts...

I s'pose it's about time that I put up some comments about the Detroit Auto Show, now that it's over and my thoughts have no chance of being timely and relevant.

How 'bout them new Chrysler vans? DCX wanted to give its vans styling more evocative of an SUV. Kinda reminds me of another van with the same mission: the 1996 Mazda MPV. If you ask me, this is a major step back in the styling of minivans.
Mazda, on the other hand, seems to be out ahead of the curve in this regard. The Mazda5, while not a traditional minivan in the American sense, takes the concept to new heights of style. At last, a minivan-like contraption that doesn't have the medicinal effect of valium.

The Holden Efijy (right) was pretty cool lookin', but why give the car a name that makes you wanna set it on fire? That entire GM section, which included the Holden, an Opel and the Sequel fuel cell concept, illustrated the General's corporate might, displaying its vast global network and its ability to bring those resources together to create impressive high-efficiency concepts.
AutoWeek called the Jaguar C-XF "Best in Show", and I think it's pretty hard to argue against that. It's easy to see the Aston influence on the rear deck, and everyone in attendance agreed that if they can keep the roofline somewhat similar, it'll be one of the best looking cars on the road.

On a final note, AutoWeek also commented that it was strange for GM to debut the new Malibu on Tuesday when many of the press had already left. I agree completely. Perhaps they were just trying to save themselves the embarassment and bad publicity of the inevitable comparisons with the current Malibu. After all, after seeing the new one, how much incentive money would it take to get someone into this?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Why I should be a high-paid auto consultant...

A shout out to my friend Michelle: we were just out car shopping, and when I pointed out that the Mazda3 she was driving had daytime-lit gauges (see previous post), she said that no auto headlights would be a deal-breaker.

I'm also responsible for her refusal to buy a car with flipper door handles or a gas tank on the left side. I'm pretty sure that soon, because of me, she will be left with exactly zero options when she goes to buy her next car.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Driver Darkly

For the second time in as many weeks, I encountered a nighttime driver with no lights on. Coincidence? Well, yeah...but it's also a sign of a trend that should be more disconcerting to drivers. More cars are being fitted with electroluminescent gauges (they light up even during the day and are invisible when the car is off), but without light-sensitive head- and taillights. This leads to people driving around at night thinking their lights are on because their gauges are lit.

The problem is, most people turn on their lights when they can no longer see their gauges. The new gauges have obviously eliminated that issue, so people forget to turn on their lights. This is the kind of thing that happens when manufacturers don't think about the true cost of their techno-goodies. Sometimes, when you want to impress buyers with one feature, you've gotta throw in another one to compliment it.

Speaking of lights and backfiring features...I've wanted to get this pet peeve off my chest for a while. It appears that all recent GM vehicles use their backup lights as area illumination. The upshot of this is that when you're circling a parking lot at night looking for a spot, and you see a GM vehicle with its backup lights on, it could either mean that car's about to back up, or that the owner is somewhere in the vicinity of their vehicle...but not inside.

If Bob Lutz reads other auto blogs around the web in between posting his own, I hope he sees this and insists on compensating me for the countless minutes I've lost waiting for the parking spots of unmanned GM vehicles. Bob, please make the check out to one Mr. A. Snob.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

My Darling

Okay, this started out as a quick post to get my car's picture up, but then the emotions started flowing, and it's turned into a full-scale love letter.

This is my lovely GTI VR6. It seems to be pretty rare. I've seen GTIs all over the road, but never another gray VR6. (Notice the Ford Racing plate as an homage to those who pay my checks.) I did happen to come across one on the web in this excellent review: http://www.carpages.ca/go/roadtest/2005_volkswagen_gti_vr6_road_test.aspx. American journalists have rarely given the VR6 the time of day, so I'm very much appreciative of the attention from Canada's Mr. Rothwell.

I do have a few minor criticisms of the car, so I'll get them out of the way quickly. First, the standard-issue rubber is a set of Michelin Pilot HX MXM4s, which are some of the worst tires in the category. My car was sloppier in the snow than cars I'd driven in the past, but like many drivers I chalked it up to the vehicle. Upon further research on tirerack.com, I found out that these are the lowest rated tires in the segment. I've since gotten my hands on some ContiExtreme Contacts, and I'm very pleased.

Also, there's the fact that my car is a bit outclassed on the autocross course for a few reasons. First, contrary to popular belief, the torsion bar rear suspension is not a true independent. But the big handicap is the weight distribution. I put it up on a scale and 65 percent of mass was over the front wheels. Consiquently, it plows like a mofo in high speed corners.

I run in D stock, against BMW 3s, Infiniti G35s and Acura Integra Type Rs. Not a pretty sight.

But I wouldn't trade my car for any other (in its price range...let's not get carried away). As I've said, I work for Ford's ad agency, and there's constant pressure to swap for something from the Ford stable, particularly a Blue Oval product. I've considered it, but I'll tell you exactly why I've passed.

There is no other car in America that combines a small C-segment chassis with a V6 engine at a non-luxury price. Not even VW makes one anymore. Sure, there are turbo fours all over the place. The MazdaSpeed3 and new GTI 2.0T are sweet rides. But I've stepped from a turbo four to a V6, and let me tell you, there's no comparison.

Sure, they say "180% of the torque is available from 6 rpm" and all that, but I've driven the new GTI, and it is not immune from lag. There is nothing like the immediate fountain of torque, nor the sound, that you get from a beautifully tuned six. And let me tell you my VR6 is beautifully tuned. The growl that issues from its throat when the tach passes 2500 rpm...addictive.

I also want to mention that outside of autocross courses that are specifically set up to test extreme handling limits, this car is a gem of a dancer. It knows its shortcomings, and if you don't overstep them, the handling is quite rewarding.

There are many other things that I love about my car, but I can see that this post has already overstayed its welcome, so I'll save them for another day. Until then, to the automakers of the world: Give six a chance.

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Thursday, January 4, 2007

My First Post - Giugiaro Mustang

I saw this concept several weeks ago, and since then I'd been searching for a full-size image to use as my wallpaper. After pulling an all-nighter studying how to spell Giugiaro, I finally found one (thanks ultimatecarpage.com, you rock). I'm clearly not the first one to say it, but this car is gorgeous. It also answers the age-old question, "How the hell do you redesign a retro classic?"

VW was faced with this dilemma, and they copped out, adding a few circles to the lights. MINI took the same route, creating a car that inspired the headline "Same Difference" in Motor Trend. Hey, the Cooper's a great looking car already, but if you're just gonna stretch the headlights a bit, why even touch it at all?

It apparently takes a designer with such bravado and conceit as Fabrizio Giugiaro to think he can improve on a car as hot as the '05 Mustang...and he's right. It's a fully American creation, but with the taste of Italy. It's just like pizza...and every damn bit as tasty.