Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Mighty Wind

Well, I blew through the Windy City for the Chicago Auto Show, and it's finally on its way...the R32. I've waited with bated breath for its arrival, and I actually got to experience the car in person, in all its glory. There was one snag, however. VW will only offer one transmission option, and it ain't the 6-speed manual that I know and love. No, the R32 will be DSG only. When I heard the news, I could've dropped to my knews and wept. My dreams of ownership seemed to slip away like dust in the wind.

To be fair, though, I've not yet driven a DSG-equipped car, and I've been assured that the experience will reverse my stubborn, backwards, 20th century purist thinking. I even made a new best friend at VW who will give me access to such an experience. I can't wait.

So what else was big in Chi-town? Well, the consensus settled on GM's "new" Pontiac G8. This is a rebadged Holden Commodore, but as NBC used to say, "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you!" For years, Pontiac has been trying to brand itself as BMW on the cheap, right down to the twin kidney grille. But for the first time (at least in my life) GM has actually landed a shot in the same ballpark. (The Solstice doesn't count, since the essence of BMW is the sports sedan.) This is a great looking car, and maybe it'll prove once and for all that the RWD Chrysler 300 wasn't just a flash in the giant US FWD pan.

The Saturn Astra's another strong showing from the General, but it does have a few chinks in its armor. The driver's seat was quite narrow, and I'm smaller than the average American, revealing one of the likely reasons that you can't just grab a Euro vehicle an slap it onto US roads. The car also reinforced my impression that while Saturn's interiors have elevated their standards of design, many of the materials used are not up to that standard. Still, coming from the interior of a VW, I do appreciate the little luxo touches, such as the Astra's illuminated sunroof switches that are quite rare for this price point.

The Toyota Highlander struck many of us as an overgrown RAV4. You've gotta ask yourself, though, is this a bad thing? From the rear it looks a bit Hyundai-ish, and as I've said before, this is not a compliment. But the whole of the vehicle is polished, slightly bland, and slightly aggressive looking. This is a formula that works for Toyota, as it allows people to feel like they're stylish, without actually taking the risk of being so. And risk aversion is what Toyota buyers are all about (not a criticism, just a fact). Look for the Highlander to continue its success within the medium crossover segment.

As for the new Taurus/Taurus X/Sable, let me just say these are
great vehicles, worthy of those names. The roomiest and safest cars in the world--literally!!!--now have a great powertrain and the element of style to back them up. This move by Ford may be a bit of a punch-line due to the rental car rep of the outgoing models, but I can only hope that the publicity of the name change will cause people to give these cars a second look. They deserve it.

1 comment:

Markus said...

I'm happy for GM. Holdens and Opels are fantastic products, and I hope they do well in the US market.