Thursday, April 25, 2013


Here's the thing.

I'm completely okay with Subaru basing the next WRX on the Impreza. I've heard it's a stellar platform, although I've never driven one myself, and it could easily handle some more power. And that's exactly what the WRX is, an Impreza pushed to its limits. That's what it always been.

However, when Subaru announced their pledge to split the lines, many enthusiasts cheered. I unabashedly booed. While the general populous welcomed the thought of a poised, polished, purpose-built sports car, I began to think about a WRX more in line with the purpose of an M3 than the raw econobox-on-steroids it had always been. And that's terrifying, not because I don't like the M3, but because an M-Series BMW costs M-Series money.

The fact of the matter is that there is no reason to produce a more "refined" or "adult" WRX. Subaru used to make something of that nature, and they couldn't sell enough of them to justify keeping it in the lineup. For those of you that haven't already guessed, I'm talking about the Legacy GT. For anyone looking for the characters I just expressed, this was the car. It was every bit as fast, and handled nearly as well, only suffering because of the slight weight penalty it had. When Subaru upgraded the GT to WRX levels in 2005, several people cheered, same as they did for this next refined, purpose-built WRX, yet the sales numbers really never fleshed out or backed the decision up.

So where does that leave the new WRX? Well Subaru hasn't really addressed the Impreza-skinned mules spotted by various news outlets. Many are hoping it's a red herring, but I'm hoping it's the truth. Because I like the idea of a $35,000 car that can whip a Caymen on the track in the day, and then take you camping somewhere off the beaten path that night. As the differentiation rises, so will the price tag, and ultimately the spirit of the WRX will be lost. After all, if we wanted what they've been promising us with the next Rexxer, we'd all be driving Legacys. Or M3s.

And that, that's the thing.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

WR-Axed (With guest writer Robin McCaffrey)

Here's the thing.
My daily driver is a 2009 Impreza 2.5i. No, it isn't a WRX/STI, though I wish it was. But I still love the thing, and am glad I didn't purchase the car new.  It's sad to see power ratings go down from one year to another and Subaru did just that as they ditched the 2.5L boxer for their smaller more efficient 2.0L. What does this mean in a practical sense? Well hp has gone from 170 down to 148.  The enthusiast in me rages, while a more practical side kind of hems and haws at the 30% gain in fuel economy.
So what is Subaru's plan with all of this? Well previously Subaru has indicated that they wanted to separate the WRX and base model Impreza's. Sure, there is value in co-developing a sports car with an economy car.  Namely huge cost savings, and you'll also be left with some soul in the economy car. But that also works in reverse. The WRX is being limited by its more civil base model, and the base model isn't competitive with all of its respective economy competitors in terms of up front purchase price/features/fuel economy. Subaru knows this, I know this, and so do many Subaru enthusiasts. This is why, when Subaru announced that the two trim levels would be receiving their own distinct platforms, legions of us cheered. Finally, our base Impreza would be competitive (i.e. 30% fuel economy gains from the 3rd generation to the 4th generation), meanwhile the WRX continued on with the 3rd gen platform up until the end of the 2013 model year.  Subaru teased us with awesome style concepts such as the Advanced Tourer Concept, and more recently the 4th gen WRX Concept:
These two concept cars brought tears of joy to many Subaru enthusiasts worldwide.  Finally, a Subaru that has style, presence, and doesn't look like a Mazda 3/Corolla knockoff.  Hooray!
Then came the spy shots...
What is this?
True it's difficult to tell what it the car will look like without the vision distorting camouflage. But unless the vehicle is sporting fake mule body panels, this is no where close to the awesome concept cars we were teased with. Going by these shots, almost none of the styling cues that drove us crazy actually made it through to this iteration of the vehicle.
What are we left with? Broken promises. The new WRX is still just a base Impreza with a big hood scoop and a silly wing, and arguably smaller fender flares. Seeing as how the base impreza has been getting cheaper/efficient, this raises all sorts of terrible questions in the back of my head. The most glaring of questions being: is this a sign that the next WRX will actually be a step backward in terms of performance?
We don't know for sure yet, but it looks like we are in for another generation of bland/efficient appliances.
And that's the thing.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Lincoln Parked

Here's the thing.

Autoblog has pronounced Lincoln dead. And i can't say I disagree with them. However, that is if they stay as they are now.

Look at Cadillac. They were also CTD in the late 90s/ early 2000s. One car turned it all around. The Evoq concept. It was a beautiful design that captivated audiences and piqued consumers interests enough to keep an eye on Cadillac. Cadillac used that attention, took that concept, and built a real life sedan, the CTS, using the design language, and used hardware that made it competitive with real luxury competitors. The Evoq itself would later go on to become the Corvette-based XLR.

What it comes down to is the CTS is its own car. Lincoln is still rehashing Fords with the design that shoulda been used the first time around. This is unacceptable. The cars that stick in people's minds are the ones they can't get elsewhere. 10 years from now, no one will remember the XTS. That's because it's mostly LaCrosse and Impala parts.

No, the Cadillacs that are out now that will stick with people are the 3-killing ATS and constantly surprising CTS. And that's because they are nowhere else in the GM portfolio. Even if the Camaro uses the same platform as the CTS, it's far from the same car.

Lincoln basically needs 3 cars:

-An AWD Sedan, on the Focus platform, but a bit bigger to provide it a real back seat. Think the American A3. Differentiated by AWD, slightly bigger footprint, and true premium features. Only engine available is the ST's 2.0T.

- The Falcoln brought over as a future-oriented LS replacement. True RWD, mated to the 3.5 Ecoboost, tuned to 400hp.

- A real body-on-frame SUV to replace the Navigator, and to differentiate from the unibody Explorer.

That's where they need to start. Once that begins to sustain, build a full size, RWD Continental replacement. That will be the indicator that Lincoln has pulled out of their death spiral.

Until Ford actually spends some money on getting Lincoln its own cars, they will continue to be an also-ran. At least for another 5 years. Then they'll become a "could have been".

And that, that's the thing.

Naturally Aspirated Need Not Apply

Here's the thing.

I've spoken before about the crock that is the small displacement, turbo engine. However, my problem doesn't stem from these engines themselves. It comes from the fact that many companies are ignoring better options to follow the trend.

I think the best example of this is Volkswagen's ubiquitous 2.5 inline 5. Next year it is being relieved of duty to make room for a shiny, new, direct injected, 1.8 liter, turbo four. Notice all those adjectives? Well, who's to say that if the 2.5 was given the same advantages that it wouldn't be just as good? Or maybe even better.

However, the problem comes down to consumers. They want a car that scores the magic 40 mpg EPA highway rating, regardless of what they get in real-life driving. Naturally aspirated engines often test better in application, but that doesn't look good in a 30 second television spot.

What's more, they're often faster. They are not dependent on any other system, besides their own natural torque curve. Direct injection only amplifies torque characteristics. An all aluminum, direct injected 2.5 might not hit the 40 miles per gallon on the highway, but it would return 35 while doing 0-60 in 7 seconds.

But that might crimp the style of the GTI and GLI. But won't a 40mpg, 8 second to 60 crimp the style of their diesel offerings? Seems like a DI version of the 2.5 is exactly the difference splitter the lineup needs.

And that, that's the thing.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Weight Watchers

"Simplify, and then add lightness" - Colin Chapman

Here's the thing.

What if I told you there was one thing you could do to a vehicle to enhance not only its performance, but also its mileage? No, I'm not referring to any kind of space-age engine tech or the fabled "60mpg catalytic converter" rumored through most of the 70's. I'm talking about weight reduction. In terms of a vehicle, weight is the enemy of every objective test. Don't believe me? Let's consider some Some examples.

The Audi S8 and the BMW 760Li are both large executive sport-sedans. They put up, I'm sure coincidentally, similar performance numbers, with the S8 edging out the 760 by a small margin, mostly owing to its Quattro all-wheel drive. However, that same system should, by all logical accounts, also rob fuel economy from the big super-sedan, as well as create losses to how much power is put to the ground. So from a powertrain standpoint, it's outclassed. Then how does it manage to do a 3.6 0-60 and still return 20 observed miles-per-gallon in a recent Car&Driver test? Simply put: weight. The big Audi is one of the most aluminum-intensive studies of modern automobile construction in recent years. It is over 500 lbs lighter than the BMW, and it shows.

Moreover, let's take an example of the same engine in two different applications. Going back to the Cruze I talked about earlier this week, the very same 1.4T I railed against in the Cruze is also available in the subcompact Sonic. In the same testing that drove the Cruze under 30 miles per gallon, the Sonic was able to maintain a 31 miles-per-gallon average. What's more, this was accomplished without trick grill shutters or low-rolling resistance tires, some of the tricks employed to turn the Cruze 1LT into the Cruze Eco.

Knowing all this, why don't companies build lightness into all of their cars? Well, that's a tricky question, but the obvious and biggest problem is price. Aluminum, carbon fiber, magnesium, and other lightweight materials are expensive. Although they are coming down, they are still beyond the reach of most normal econobox shoppers. Also, marketing plays a part. There is no badge for aluminum construction. You'll never see a car with "65% CarbonFiber" emblazoned on the front fender. Without those things, people will never give up their perceptions of the value that comes along with a small-displacement or a hybrid drivetrain, both of which easy to tell due to the identification usually plastered on the outside of the car.

All we can hope for is that companies will invest in these new technologies. As a matter of fact, Toyota weaved its own carbon fiber for their LF-A supercar. With any luck, that technology will trickle down to their passenger cars. I for one cant wait for our first affordable car that averages 35 miles-per-gallon and does 0-60 in 6.5 seconds, with a real engine, in all conditions.

And that, that's the thing.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Truck Talk

Here's the thing.

The truck market in America is dwindling. But no, I don't mean sales. Anyone who can read empirical data can tell you the Ford F-150 is still near the top of the sales chart. No, I'm talking about variety. Small trucks as they once were are extinct, and with the death of the Dakota and the next Colorado in stasis, anything smaller than full-size now comes from the Land of the Rising Sun.

As a matter of fact, even most of their mid-size selections are growing to the proportions most full-sized options were just a few years ago. What's worse, the options that are offered have very little to set them apart from each other in any sort of value perspective. Each full-size out right now has three power train choices: the standard engine, the power-over-economy engine, and the mileage play. And what's worse, none of them are particularly stimulating.

No, what the market needs now is a set of small, economic trucks that can be driven to work through the week and make a few utility runs on the weekend. Having a full-size for a few simple errands a week is kind of like using a jackhammer to drive a nail. Yeah, it definitely gets the job done, but ultimately it's overkill.

Full disclosure: I'm not a truck person. But if Chevy were to make a small truck based off the Equinox or Dodge using the new Cherokee platform, i'd be much more apt to give one a chance. Especially if there are performance options like the 2.0T or 3.6 hooked up to a stick, as God intended in a pickup. Better yet, can we get Volkswagen to build a new Caddy and drop the 2.0 TDi in it? Then we could have our first 40MPG pickup.

And that, that's the thing.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Exhausted With Turbos

Here's the thing.

Turbos are becoming an epidemic. And I don't mean the ubiquitous 2.0T out of the Volkswagen GTI or the Twin-Turbo 3.0 liter inline-6 from the BMW 335i. Both of these are examples of turbos being used to create more race-worthy engines.

No, I mean the current crop of small-displacement, turbocharged powerplants that we find running rampant in the markets compact and mid-size segments. There's no good reason that a car as heavy as a Cruze or a Dart (both around 3200lbs.) should have an engine smaller than a Liter and a half. And yet, somehow, both do.

The linchpin, seemingly, is that it's all somehow alright if a turbo is added to the equation. And the numbers seem to back that up, but only if you're looking at the right set of numbers. The EPA says this let's these cars hit the magic 40mpg highway rating. However, in many documented test, both have struggled to break 30 overall. And what's worse, both do 0-60 in or around 8 seconds. To put that in perspective, the Civic does a similar 0-60 while constantly scoring over 30 in real-world numbers. Same with the current Focus. Even the Golf, with its bigger and supposedly more thirsty inline-5, has been known to do similar fuel numbers while performing much more admirably.

So what's the take-away from this? Well, there is one that I can readily see: EPA testing and factory performance ratings are done on a best case scenario. They are built on the foundation of perfect conditions and unlikely likelihoods. And companies are now using this to game the system to fluff their fuel economy numbers with cars that can't replicate them in normal driving conditions.

But last I checked, we all live in the real world, where fuel economy numbers are determined by the actual thirst of the engine, and not what the attached sticker says. And for the many people brainwashed by a high number on the window sticker, that may be a problem.

And that, that's the thing.