Monthly Archives: June 2015

Longer, lower… lighter

Significant changes are coming in the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze (Image: General Motors)

Significant changes are in store for the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze (Image: General Motors)

2016 Chevy Cruze gains power, too


After selling eleventy billion Cruze models in North America since the fall of 2010, it was time for something new from Chevrolet.

Last week’s unveiling of the second-generation of the brand’s big-selling compact sedan showed that a commitment to space and economy is still top of mind amongst GM brass.

And how could it not be, with the Cruze being such a big name in the ever-competitive compact sedan market?

Interior of the 2016 Cruze (Image: General Motors)

Interior of the 2016 Cruze (Image: General Motors)

The 2016 Cruze gains all-new looks and dimensions, coming in an inch lower, 2.7 inches longer, and a whopping 250 pounds lighter than outgoing models.

The ‘more space, less weight’ approach was recently tried on the 2016 Malibu, and like that model, the stretch should aid rear seat legroom.

The weight loss, coupled with a slippery new body, will allow the car to achieve 40 MPG (U.S.) on the highway, according to GM estimates. Before, only the specialized (but popular) Eco model broke the 40 MPG barrier.

Under the hood, the base 1.8-litre four has been mothballed, replaced by a standard 1.4-litre direct-injection turbo four.

The new engine, which comes with start/stop technology sees horsepower bumped to 153, compared to 138 on older models. Torque sees a big boost – 177 lb-ft, versus the 148 cranked out by the previous 1.4-litre.

(As the owner of a current 1.4-litre Cruze, I can only imagine how well this power increase would improve the vehicle’s performance, especially in hilly terrain)

Specs provided by GM show a slight displacement increase over the previous 1.4-litre – 1399 cubic centimetres versus 1364.

The 2016 Cruze is seeking a competitive edge over its rivals (Image: General Motors)

The 2016 Cruze is seeking a competitive edge over its rivals (Image: General Motors)

A 6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual will be available, while it looks like the triple-overdrive setup offered on the 1st Generation Eco models will be retired.

On the niceties front, the top-level LTZ will be replaced by a ‘Premiere’ trim line, while the addition of an ‘L’ version below the familiar LS and LT hints that Chevy might be pursuing a low entry level price.

A new diesel model will bow for 2017, the company claims.

The 2nd Generation Cruze is expected in dealerships in early 2016.

About face

The 2016 Scion iA, not to be confused with the Mazda 2 (Image: Toyota Motor Corporation)

The 2016 Scion iA, not to be confused with the Mazda 2 (Image: Toyota Motor Corporation)

Is Scion’s new direction the right one?


The sales woes of the Scion brand have been well documented as of late, including here on this humble blog.

Right now the struggling Toyota subsidiary is valiantly trying to reverse its falling fortunes, announcing three new models and chopping three of its worst sellers, the xB, xD, and iQ.

So far, two of those three company-savers have been unveiled, destined for 2016 showrooms. The iM is a small, sporty hatchback that would compete with the likes of the Honda Fit, while the familiar-looking iA subcompact sedan would compete with just about everyone.

The iA is a jarring thing, because it’s not really a Scion. Anyone keeping tabs on the industry will recognize the body shape and familiar flanks of the Mazda 2 sedan, albeit one with a strange (and huge) grille that serves to put design distance between it and the Mazda.

A third model has yet to be unveiled.

1978 Dodge Challenger (aka the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda), a product of desperate times.

1978 Dodge Challenger (aka the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda), a product of desperate times.

When the iA first rolled onto the scene, it was a head-scratcher. What’s going on here? A Toyota-owned car company getting Mazda to built a car for it? What gives?

Badge engineering is a frowned upon activity for carmakers, but at least that would keep it in the (corporate) family.

Trans-corporate badge swapping like this reeks of 1970s-80s desperation – the kind that saw Chrysler leap into bed with Mitsubishi in order to get some diversity in the merchandise it was offering.

“We don’t have the resources to compete, but never mind that – can I offer you a (Plymouth) Sapporo?”

As weird as those rebadged imports were, the Scion bed-hopping is even more unusual, because it’s going behind the bleachers with close competitors. Not just Mazda with the iA, but also Subaru with the FR-S.

But maybe I’m just not getting it. Subaru and Mazda both offer modern, competitive tech-laden cars that are known for their sporty handling and attitude. Toyota? Not so much, but that’s fine – car companies don’t have to make each marque all things to all people.

Having well-regarded underpinnings for new model makes sense, even if it comes from someone else.

Is it wrong to bash badge-swapping if the donor car is a good one?

Is it wrong to bash badge-swapping if the donor car is a good one?

The appeal grows when you consider the financial incentives of paying another company to provide you with a manufactured product, without the need to invest much of your own capital into design, tooling and production.

In Scion’s case, just like in Chrysler’s way back when, the idea is to move units and make money. That’s what a company needs to do to stay afloat.

I don’t disagree with this reality, nor Scion’s decision to target big-volume segments like compact hatches and sedans. What I do disagree with is the form the product is taking.

Scion was founded to serve as a youth-oriented, edgy brand that stood in stark contrast with its parent company and its competitors. Rebadged Mazda’s and hatchbacks that could so easily carry a Toyota badge are not distinct and don’t distinguish the brand. Buyers might be lured into one for value and versatility, but not for individuality.

In other words, Scion risks diluting the image it has built for itself, confusing its purpose for existing. What’s the point of a Scion brand if they’re not even Scions?


Bring in the versatile funk


Many posts ago, I let slip an idea I had for resurrecting the Scion brand. It seemed like a good fit at the time, and even though new products have been announced since then, I still feel like it would be worthwhile.

A car company like Scion wants economical and versatile cars, yes? And they want them to be fun, and quirky?

Everyone in 1970s car ads skied, it seems.

Everyone in 1970s car ads skied, it seems.

I propose a modern-day line of cars that draw from the spirit and intent of the lowly Fiat 124.

Yes, the little Italian workhorse that spawned so many different body styles – sedan, coupe, wagon, roadster – between 1966 and 1974.

Durable, boxy, but attainable, the four-cylinder-only lineup is still readily identifiable (and not just because it was copied by Lada from 1970 to 1988).

Not only would it likely appeal to the nostalgia-stricken and wannabe avante-garde hipsters alike, it could draw in those looking for a sporty RWD offering that doesn’t break the bank.

After all, it was a nimble thing, by all accounts. has a series of excellent Fiat 124 track photos, including one of a sedan lifting its wheel in a corner (isn’t that adorable?) while battling a 124 coupe.

Again with the skiing. This time, a 124 coupe.

Again with the skiing. This time, a 124 coupe.

It would be hard not to compare the concept of a modern day 124 with the original xB – the car that put Scion on the map. That model was a funky take on the lowly compact hatchback, and it initially sold like gangbusters.

It was also unique and instantly recognizable as a Scion, something a rebadged Mazda or Subaru is not.

I don’t expect to be paid handsomely by Scion for this helpful suggestion (I’m here, though – call me) – rather, I’m just putting the idea out there. You know, if it appeals to this writer, there must be at least several other weirdos who’d also like to see it happen.

The full model range of the Fiat 124. Something for everyone.

The full model range of the Fiat 124. Something for everyone.

Power in the front, party in the back

The Continental will officially replace the MKS in 2016 (Image: Ford Motor Company)

The Continental will officially replace the MKS in 2016 (Image: Ford Motor Company)

Continental goes front-drive, MKS taken behind barn


There’s going to be a death in the Lincoln family.

The long-running, slow-selling MKS flagship (‘Sex Panther’, as the young folks call it) will go the way of Betamax in 2016, with that year being its final production run.

As difficult as this news is, the trip to the glue factory for the antiquated and invisible MKS has a silver lining, as it will herald the arrival of a new King – er, flagship.

RIP MKS, LOL (Cropped image: Ford Motor Company)

RIP MKS, LOL (Cropped image: Ford Motor Company)

The Lincoln Continental, teased last winter as the saviour of the Lincoln brand (and the first nail in the coffin of the company’s confusing alpha-numeric model names) will take residence at the top of the model lineup.

Big, bold and packed with luxury and yesteryear cues (if the prototype is anything to go by), the Continental would position Lincoln to better do battle with its luxury rivals.

While the vehicle’s power plant was always stated as being a brand-exclusive turbocharged 3.0-litre V6, the drive wheels remained a mystery until recently. Lincoln has confirmed that the new Continental will be (wait for it) front-wheel drive.

Yes, the flagship positioned to take on the Cadillac CT6, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BWM 7-Series, Lexus LS and Jaguar XJ (all rear-drive vehicles) will be front-wheel drive, with an AWD option.

This revelation could take some of the wind out of the sales of hardcore Lincoln aficionados who remember – probably not all that fondly – the previous front-drive Continental (1988-2002).

1991 Lincoln Continental (Image via)

1991 Lincoln Continental (Image via)

Does front-drive mean the Continental will be a dud? Don’t bank on it – after all, the stately design and interior drooled over by auto journos last winter doesn’t disappear just because the car’s torque is being funneled to the front wheels.

(It remains to be seen, however, whether the concept was nearly production-ready, or whether we’ll see a watering down of the design and furnishings in a production model)

All-wheel drive is also nothing to scoff at, especially if the torque is biased towards the rear, or even distributed evenly. This means your dream of hooning a new Continental in the snow could soon become a reality.

Still, the greatest Continentals of yesteryear were rear-drive, as are the big players in the modern luxury market.

On the domestic front, Cadillac’s recent reveal of a range-topping rear-drive CT8 sedan could make the Continental look wanting in comparison, especially given the angular, Elmiraj concept car-inspired design seen in renderings.

Like finding out whether that noise outside the window is a raccoon, the wind, or something much more sinister, only time will tell.

If the interior of a front-drive Continental looks like this, maybe people will be forgiving (Image: Ford Motor Company)

If the interior of a front-drive Continental looks like this, maybe people will be forgiving (Image: Ford Motor Company)


Bow before the Crown

The 1961 Imperial: rich, regal... Reichstag?

The 1961 Imperial: rich, regal… Reichstag?

There’s something vaguely disturbing about these ads for the 1961 Imperial.

Yes, I just said ‘Imperial’, because at the time, it was a top-end standalone marque of the Chrysler Corporation, not a model of the Chrysler division.

"The eagle won't let them touch this car, trust me."

“The eagle won’t let them touch this car, trust me.”

While all the signifiers of mid-century high society are present in the ad – a glamorous women dressed for a night out, minimalist background, GOLD EVERYWHERE – a strange undercurrent runs through these ads.

For some reason, I can’t view these ads without thinking of the Nuremburg Rallies and Nazi architect Albert Speer.

Maybe it’s the grandiose style of it all, but when you add all that glittering, finned excess to the somewhat menacing artwork, the minorities treated as a zoo exhibit, and the eagle, that (in my books) equals a passcode to a dangerous and powerful secret society.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these sedans parked outside an Eyes Wide Shut-style Illuminati sex party.


 Imperial: the rich uncle that keeps re-appearing


The Imperial name is firmly fixed to the Chrysler brand. After all, it was the ‘affordable luxury’ model that put the fledgling company on the map in 1926.

Since then, it has come and gone from the lineup, re-appearing most recently in the early 1990s as a luxury sedan positioned above the New Yorker. Previously, it had served as a problem-plagued flagship coupe (1981-83).

A monstrous and possibly demonic Imperial concept car was unveiled in 2006, though it came to nothing.

The ’61 model seen here came from (or grew out of) a revered era at Chrysler.

To better allow Chrysler to challenge Lincoln and Cadillac, Imperial was turned into its own range-topping marque in 1955, where it would stay until 1975.

Movie star and super-stud Gary Cooper chats up Jane Russell and her '57 Imperial.

Movie star and super-stud Gary Cooper chats up Jane Russell and her ’57 Imperial.

Just like with Plymouth, Dodge and Chrysler, the low, finned ‘Forward Look’ styling of designer Virgil Exner was applied to Imperial in 1957, generating great acclaim, but by the turn of the new decade (after numerous tweaks and add-ons) it was looking awkward and dated.

The dawn of the 1960s was an all-around confusing time for Chrysler design, though Imperial at least didn’t have to contend with downsizing. That didn’t mean a large, long car couldn’t be made to look strange, however.

Virgil Exner, former Chrysler design head (Image via)

Virgil Exner, ex Chrysler design head (Image via)

1961 brought an edgy new front end for the Imperial, with odd freestanding headlights perched atop the bumper and recessed into a fender cut. Ahead of the rear axle, the look was cohesive and reasonably appealing, but the bat wing tailfins throw the whole design into confused disarray.

Seemingly out of good ideas, Virgil Exner was ousted from his position of head of design in 1962. His successor (Elwood Engel, formerly of Ford) brought Imperial away from the heights of outlandishness and towards a more conventional, simple design.

And so he did. Sharp lines and Lusitania-like length was the name of the game for the rest of the decade, before the ‘fuselage’ bodied Imperials bowed in 1969.

While the Kennedy Era was short-lived, it was memorable for both its experimentation and its focus on style and grace.

Some cars from this era – like the 1961 Continental – became timeless icons of tasteful American design. Others, such as this Imperial, can best be filed under ‘tired relics of 1950s excess’.

In its defence, at least it didn’t start a war.

Albert Speer's 'Cathedral of Light', Germany, 1937 (Image via)

Albert Speer’s ‘Cathedral of Light’, Germany, 1937 (Image via)