Monday, January 21, 2008

The Big Show, take 3

The Lincoln MKT: when I first heard the name I thought Lincoln truck! I don't think this is quite the impression that FoMoCo was going for, so hopefully this name doesn't carry over to production. And really, who would want to buy a Lincoln Market, anyway? From the front, this crossover looks markedly better than its Ford Flex platform mate. The Flex to me looks awkward in its proportions, especially next to other handsome crossovers like the GMC Acadia. But its interior package is efficient and spacious, so all it really needs is a better wrapper. This Lincoln could be that wrapper, except for its maligned rear end. It's been the object of pretty universal scorn, and if Ford could just touch up this area, they could have a hit on their hands.

Also, with the receding hairline look of that funky roof, it looks like a cross between Rob Corddry and Count Dracula.
The Ford Explorer America concept is well-executed, and it retains many of the current Explorer's SUV-ish styling cues despite its new unibody construction. In fact, with Honda trying to toughen up the Pilot, the two seem to have converged at a common point in terms of attitude. The Explorer seems to win out, though, with its slightly more original styling.

As for the Verve concepts, all I can say is, "Pleeeeeeeeease bring these to the US!" The press seems convinced this is inevitable, in the form of Ford's upcoming B-car, but this carries some contradiction. Peter Horbury seems convinced that Ford should stick with its "bold, American" chrome-grille-bar styling, and the Verve is clearly more in line with Ford's European kinetic theme. A Ford insider I talked to had his doubts about the Verve styling coming here, as well. I really hope we're both wrong about that. The chrome theme works well for crossovers and larger cars like the Fusion, but Ford's designers have clearly had trouble translating it to smaller cars like the Focus, partly because they didn't have quite as much room to squeeze in all three chrome bars. I'd much prefer they just dump this look, and go with kinetic across our entire lineup, taking a similar tack to Mazda, which has brought a similar look to both the Euro and US versions of the next-gen Mazda6, despite their size difference.

The three concepts from Chrysler were pretty underwhelming. The Jeep Renegade concept was especially dumb, since I'm pretty sure I've seen basically the same execution before. But I really don't have the interest to go look it up. The Dodge ZEO was just plain ugly, and the Chrysler ecoVoyager was the epitome of the jelly-bean styling that minivans, particularly Chryslers, were bashed for in the '90s. I won't sully this post with pictures of these...things.

Both Dodge and Ford introduced replacements for their full-size pickups, and both were conservative revamps. I recently posted about Ford's nasty little habit of slapping new fascias on a vehicle and then hiding all the improvements under carryover sheetmetal. What I couldn't mention in that post, but already knew, was that they've done it again with the F-150. Okay, that's not really true, as Ford claims to have changed every body panel on the new truck. But its profile is pretty much identical, as are the body hard points, though Ford has extended the SuperCrew body. And now this redesign conservatism seems to be spreading north to Chrysler. Both the new F-150 and Dodge Ram are improved vehicles, with thoughtful features abounding. But they've become obsessed with the notion that truck buyers don't like change, so they've hidden it away.

The improvements to these trucks are similar, but different. To start, both are acknowledging the growing dominance of the crew cab body style. While Ford is stretching its crew, Dodge is adding a real one for the first time (at least for a light-duty truck). Its Quad Cab just wasn't cutting it, especially with the intro of Toyota's new Tundra CrewMax goliath. The other major area of improvement for both pickups is cargo utility. Dodge is going about this by making pretty much every hollow cavity in the truck available for storage. This ranges from the spaces in front of and under the rear seats, to the bed sides that are getting a lot of attention. Ford, on the other hand, is concentrating on new doohickeys to make the existing bed more useful, such as its tailgate and cargo side steps, and its folding bed extender. These are all great innovations that will make a lot of truck owners very happy. Now if Ford and Chrysler could just hire away some of GM's design staff...

The Hyundai Genesis is another example of how Hyundai is doing a lot of great things, but just can't seem to get their products quite right. Along with styling that is certainly derivative, they've chosen to adorn the front with a strangely stylized grille that is classic Hyundai. And a company rep at the show explained their bizarre badging strategy, which will include a Hyundai logo upfront but no Genesis nameplate in back for the V6s, and no Hyundai grille logo but a rear Genesis badge for the V8. Um...

The Land Rover LRX looks awesome, and I really hope they don't pull a Jeep, and take a sweet rally-inspired 3-door SUV and turn it into a bland 5-door any-ute (think Compass).

I was very excited by the new Mitsu Lancer Ralliart. Finally Mitsubishi has an answer to the base WRX, and since the new Impreza now looks like pretty much every other compact car, the Ralliart could be in a position to steal this niche from Subaru. I'm not crazy about the chrome ring around its snout, but I've thought the Lancer is a fantastic looking vehicle since I first saw it, and it deserves to be the car that saves Mitsubishi in the US.

And finally, a thought that's been stewing in the back of my mind for months: Who the hell is gonna buy the new BMW X6? It seems to combine the worst aspects of SUVs and coupes to create anti-synergy. The extra ground clearance of an SUV--which no X5 drivers use anyway--serves to raise the center of gravity, successfully compromising handling. And the coupe roofline squeezes the heads of the rear passengers and the cargo area's dimensions quite effectively. If this design appeals to you, I award you the lofty rank of Idiot First Class. Makes me long for the days when Chris Bangle was a Bimmer-phile's biggest problem.

Well, that's my take on this year's show. Now go ahead, comment away. And don't hold back. Call me a schmuck if you want. You might be right.

1 comment:

Markus said...

Lincoln MKT: With a bit of refinement, this could be a fantastic replacement for the Town Car. By using the crossover platform, they get the same size and functionality as the RWD Panther platform, but with modern engineering. From the front, the MKT already has that nice upright, proper look of post-War British limousines and taxis.

I would personally like to see Cadillac do the same, and make a future Fleetwood upright limousine based on the GMC Acadia platform.

Explorer America: Very good looking. In my mind, Ford seems to offer two SUVs for each market segment, one car-based and one truck-based. They have the Escape and Edge, Explorer and Freestyle, and Expedition and Flex. This new Explorer would continue to cover the truck-like mid-size role nicely, and transitions the product to unibody without becoming a duplicate of the Taurus X, which would be the easy thing to do.

Verve: Wants. That is all. To me, this is the car the current VW Jetta should have been.

BMW X6: There are about 12 people in the entire world who bought a Subaru Outback Sedan and liked it. They will be very happy that BMW now has them covered. Subaru is just glad this is no longer their problem.