Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Forbes.com list of Best Cars of 2005

It seems everyone wants to put together a 'Car of the Year' this or a 'Best of' that...Forbes.com is no exception.

This year they've named enough 'Best of' categories that I'm wondering if they managed to leave any car unrecognized. I mentioned this list was coming in my post about their 'Worst Cars' list - so for the sake of completeness, here's a quick run-down of the plethora of categories and their winners (these are the actual names Forbes uses for the categories):

New Car That Most Lived Up To The Hype - BMW M5
Greatest Driver's Car - Ferrari F430
Greatest Driver's Car (yep, they named two) - Aston Martin DB9
Most Outrageous Car Ever - Bugatti Veyron 16.4
Best Reason To Buy American - Ford GT (Oh, come on, this is the best category name you could come up with? How about "best mid-engined performance bargin to blow away both of your 'greatest driver's cars'"?)
Best Way To Blend In With Celebrities - Bentley Continental GT
Best Way To Make Celebrities Jealous - Lamborghini Murcielago
Fastest Car - SSC Ultimate Aero
All-New But Still The Sub-$40,000 Gold Standard - BMW 3 Series (You would think they could they have tried harder to make this look like something other than a category invented just to give the 3-series a prize)
The Ultimate Executive Ride - Maybach 62
Ultimate Minivan - Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna (Apparently Forbes.com is too wishy-washy to actually pick a best minivan, or they just can't tell these two non-luxury brands apart.)
Ultimate Pickup - Dodge Ram SRT-10
Best All-Around Wagon - Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG (Strange, you'd think there'd be some other wagon category if there is this one for 'all-around' wagon - but there isn't.)
Best Selling Luxury Car (sic) - Lexus RX Note to Forbes.com - tall, two-box designs w/ AWD are typically called by a new-fangled name 'SUV' - not car.
Safest Car - Volvo S80
Best Hybrid - Lexus RX Hybrid (They liked the RX so much, they gave it two prizes.)

All told, a pretty fluffy piece of automotive journalism. Though, I guess that would be a bit too much to expect of a non-automotive magazine/web site.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Forbes.com list of worst vehicles of 2005

Forbes.com, the web site for the financial magazine, Forbes, has come out with their list of the worst cars of 2005.

They named the worst based on safety, another set for reliability, and a separate set for worst value (based on projections on value in 5 years).

Here's the short version:

Worst safety

Ford Ranger/Mazda B-series truck - 4-wheel drive versions have a 2-star roll-over rating according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Mitsubishi Lancer and Nissan Sentra tied for worst car safety with a 2-star side impact rating from NHTSA

Strangely enough, Forbes.com seems to ignore any other measures of safety in their online article to justify an overall 'worst' rating. If you want to find details yourself, go to NHTSA's SaferCar.gov website to find details on these and all other cars on the market.

Worst reliability

Infiniti QX56 full-sized SUV. According to Consumer Reports - 300% under industry average for reliability

No car was named as worst reliability. Also, no details were given on how CR arrives at the 300% worse reliability number - though it is accepted that the QX56 has been a problem vehicle for Nissan and they are working hard to get these initial problems corrected (the QX56 has only been on the market for about 2 years).

Worst residual value - after 5 years

Chrysler Sebring sedan - 19%

Second place is a four way tie between the Ford Freestar/Mercury Monterey ;Jaguar X-Type; and Kia Optima - each with 21%.

Values are based on Kelly Blue Book estimates of how much these vehicles will retain of their initial MSRP.

All-in-all, this seems a bit of a year-end fluff piece to promote Forbes.com's automotive section, but it is an interesting attempt to pull resources already available on the web into an aggregate list of cars to avoid for various reasons.

See the Forbes story online here.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Autoshow Season - Camaro is coming!

As I'm sure most have you already know, and much to GM's dismay, word is out that Chevy will be showing a styling exercise as the NAIAS that will preview their Zeta Lite-based 2009 Camaro.

Photos of a styling buck as well as some engineering drawings have made the rounds online with GM chasing (almost) them all down and threatening legal action if they do not remove the stolen material from their sites.

Expect the styling of the Camaro concept to be a strong nod toward the classic styling of the late-60's Camaro with a serious dose of modern sleek layered on top. The Zeta Lite chassis is a reduced cost version of the rear-drive chassis that GM decided to not bring to North America as the basis of a line of new rear-drive Buicks and Pontiacs earlier this year.

After much soul searching and, I'm sure, a few sleepless nights wondering how to counter such hit rear-dirve cars as the new Mustang as well as the Chrysler 300/Dodge Magnum and Charger - a way was found (or at least is expected to be found in time for a calendar year 2008 launch of cars based on this platform).

I certainly wouldn't want to traffic in stolen GM property, but you might get a taste of the car they will show if you look around.

Autoshow Season - Solstice GXP

Solstice GXPAt this year's Los Angeles Auto Show, Pontiac will debut the long awaited Solstice GXP. This 2007 model will pack a 2.0l Ecotec 4-cylinder with direct injection as well as a turbocharger. GM promises that the GXP will be the most powerful Ecotec equipped car.

Of course, they haven't spelled out if that is the US Ecotec they are comparing against or all versions sold world-wide. If it is the former, they could mean 210+ hp. If they are including world-wide versions, then it would have to pack over 240hp. Given the 'direct injection' mention - it is likely that the number will at or above the higher number.

Expect details early next week as GM is expected to preview details on this and other upcoming models well in advance of the normal LA Auto Show media days on January 4 and 5th.

Now, if they'd just hurry up and get the Sky Redline into production.

See more spy photos at Edmunds Inside Line.

Autoshow Season - Kia Soul

Kia SoulIt looks like we are officially living in an era of boxy, utilitarian small car 'alternatives'...now it's Kia's turn.

At the NAIAS, Kia will show the Soul concept. It appears to hint at a small competitor to the Honda Element, Scion xB, and upcoming Nissan Cube (and to a lesser extent, Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevrolet HHR).

This vehicle is likely a preview of new entry from Kia to debut in 2007, at the earliest.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

What's on the way - Asians

Okay, maybe in a global marketplace where GM's Buick is one of the most popular brands in China and Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, Hyundai, and Subaru all build large numbers of cars in the US...the concept of 'Asian' manufacturers is a bit odd.

However, I think for our purposes, lumping manufacturers together based on the country from which they sprang is still fairly useful and closely coupled to how consumers actually view the market.

It is common as of late to beat on the 'domestic' US manufacturers as if there are no dark clouds over imported brands. Of course, it is not that simple. Not when Chrysler is doing well (and owned by a European company - but I digress), Mitsubishi is easily in worse shape than GM could dream, Nissan still has nagging quality problems with vehicles built in their new plant down south, etc. Let's just agree that the auto business is tough and all companies are vulnerable, no matter what some in the media might suggest.

So, without further delay...let's see what we might expect from the 'Asian' manufacturers:

Just so you don't have to read all the way to the end if your favorite manufacturer has something coming...I'll list here the companies with no planed introductions for 2006.

Isuzu (anyone want to take bets on if Isuzu will even still be selling consumer grade vehicles a year from now?)

Subaru - which is coming off the releases of the B9 Tribeca and freshened Impreza/WRX/Outback Sport and, the year before, the Legacy and Outback. Expect more excitement from the all-wheel drive company in 2007.

That's it...everyone else has something on the way in the coming year - so let's begin:

Honda and Acura

Honda FitComing off the launch of the new Civic which, by all accounts, is the best small car on the market - Honda has realized that their small car has grown out of the entry-level market. To fill the gap left by the grown-up Civic, they will bring their smaller car, the Fit to the US market in the spring. Expected to compete head-to-head with a new bread of entry level cars (like Toyota's new Yaris as well as Scion's xA). Expect 1.5l 4-cylinder power and a price in the sub-15k range.

Speaking of the new Civic, there are rumors of a new Acura RSX (a platform-mate of the Civic) in 2006. However, rumors also abound that Honda may have finally realized that the RSX is too inexpensive a car for the Acura luxury brand.

Acura RDX conceptCome fall, expect to see a new Honda CRV and, for the first time, an Acura version, the RDX. The RDX was previewed during early 2005 in concept form (shown).



Mazda

2006 will be a great year for Mazda people movers after a couple years of new sports car and sports sedans.

After only offering a version of the Ford Escape (Tribute) for years, now Mazda is expected to offer one, and maybe a second cross-over SUV this year. First up is the 5-seat CX-7, powered by a 2.3l turbo 4-cylinder (from the Mazdaspeed6) in front or all-wheel drive. This is one decidedly sporty wagon. Recent reports put the CX-7 as a variant of the Mazda6 platform with the Ford Edge and Lincoln Aviator - though it's 4-cylinder only powertrain lends some credibility to this being a version of the Mazda3/Mazda5 platform (which is itself a shrunken version of the Mazda6 anyway...so maybe that doesn't matter.

The reason this makes more sense is the rumor that this year will also bring a CX-9, 3-row seating cross-over as well. This would be the actual platform-mate with the Aviator and Edge. Expect the CX's in late 06.

Also, expected late this year - if Mazda chooses to stay in the market - is the replacement for the Mazda MPV (though the name will likely change to fit the new Mazda naming scheme).

Just in case you thought that Mazda might be softening on their Zoom-Zoom philosophy, summer 2006 is expected to bring Mazda's answer to the Mitsubishi Evo and the Subaru WRX - an all-wheel drive, turbocharged Mazdaspeed3. Sounds like fun.

Mitsubishi

After a few dark years, Mitsubishi is starting to show signs of life. On the heals of the cool-looking Eclipse - finally getting back to the look that made the first and second gen cars so successful (if lacking the smaller size, all-wheel drive, and highly tunable turbo 4-cylinder that made the original a hit with the hot-rod crowd) - is the new Eclipse Spyder this summer.

Concept XMitsubishi, which until recently was closely tied to DaimlerChrysler, will be bringing out their versions of the platform they co-developed with the Chrysler group in the fall. Chrysler brings us the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass and Patriot, and the next PT Cruiser. Mitsubishi will bring us the replacement for the Outlander as well as the 10th generation of the Evolution (Evo). Expect great things from this new from the ground up Evo (concept shown).




Nissan and Infiniti

Nissan, arguably Mazda's main competition for sporty and affordable cars, will be fleshing out the lower end of their line this year.

VersaThe Sentra has been the neglected member of the Nissan family and will finally get replaced this year - however, as if the make up for the lack of attention, Nissan will be bringing out two more entry level cars to keep it company. The Versa, in both sedan and hatchback should compete against the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, as well as other entry-level cars.

For those buyers who might have gone for a Scion xB, Nissan will bring the next version of their boxy Cube (yep, Cube is actually the name as well as a pretty good approximation of the shape).

Expect the Versa this summer, and the Cube and Sentra in the fall.

In addition to the entry level, Nissan is not ignoring it's bread and butter. The next Altima will come to market this year. In a strange twist, Nissan will be using Toyota's hybrid technology in a version of the Altima that will compete with the Honda Accord Hybrid as well as Toyota's own upcoming Camry Hybrid.

Infiniti, which has had quite the busy few years revamping most of the line-up is expected to bring out a competitor to BMW's X3 as well as the new Acura RDX - the CX35 cross-over.

Toyota and Lexus

Okay, time to talk about the industries 800 lb gorilla - Toyota. In spring, expect a product blitz that only a company as profitable and large as Toyota can pull off. Camry is all new with swoopy styling that many who've seen it have compared to the sleek Mazda6. Available in 4-cylinder, 4-cylinder hybrid, as well as v-6 (with over 260hp) - the Camry looks set to keep its leading sales position. Take a look at the new Camry at Autoblog.com.

FJ CruiserAlso coming early this year are the retro FJ Cruiser - taking many styling cues straight from the classic Land Cruiser, it is not only cute, but also fully capable of Rubicon-levels of off-road antics. It will come in rear and 4x4 versions with a powerful v-6.

RAV4Additionally, for the on-road set, will be a new RAV4 that has been stretched, in this version, by over a foot and added a 3rd-row seat. It is now almost the same size as the Highlander (perhaps making room for Highlander to move larger). Expect the Highlander replacement in the fall, based on the new Camry platform.

Toyota will also be replacing the ho-hum Echo with their new Yaris sedan and hatchback (seeing a trend here of new entry-level small cars?).

As if that isn't enough to keep most companies busy, Toyota is expected to make their first real attack on the full-sized truck segment with a new Tundra that will carry aggressive styling, high powered engines, and will easily be the match for the Nissan Titan as well as all the full-sized trucks from Detroit (unlike their past attempts).

That and the expected high levels of execution is the primary reason that Toyota is expected to overtake GM this year for global sales.

On top of all the new product at Toyota, they are also bringing out impressive products at a little company they like to call Lexus.

Early in 2006, Lexus should begin selling yet another hybrid version of one of their vehicles - this time of their mid-range GS class. Lexus focuses on performance with their hybrids and names them based on what size engine they believe would give equivalent performance. As such, the 3.0l engine will, with hybid technology boosting it's output, be considered to be equivalent to a 4.5l engine in the GS 450h.

As the Camry's sibling, expect a brand new ES 350 later in 2006.

In the fall, Lexus will replace their flagship sedan, the LS series with what is expected to be equipped with a 4.6l V-8 and may be followed later by a hybrid version that could be called the LS 600h and compete against the V-12 versions of the BMW 7-series and Mercedes S-Class.

Suzuki

Yep, Suzuki still sells cars. This year they'll be bringing...wait for it...an entry-level hatchback called the SX4. However, to differentiate themselves from the other small hatches coming out this year, theirs will be available with all-wheel drive. Interestingly, this car was developed to be sold in Europe by Fiat as a small SUV, so expect some SUV styling cues and perhaps a higher right height than its front-wheel drive version.

Hyundai

Hyundai is expected to continue their march to being a first-tier manufacturer and not just a long-warranty, low price company. This year, expect a brand new Accent Hybrid (yes, hybrid) this spring. This will likely be the first hybrid car to break into the under-20k price-point. They will likely sell every single one they can build.

Also this spring, the Entourage mini-van will finally make it to market. You may remember that this is the same mini-van that Hyundai announced, then publicly cancelled, and then just a few months back announced was back on the product plan. This is a platform-mate with the new Kia Sedona but should carry significantly different styling.

Expect a brand new Elantra compact in the fall (and with it, we can begin to anticipate what it will mean to all the Elantra platform-based vehicles sold by both Hyundai and Kia (like the Tuscan and Sportage small SUV's) when it comes time for their refresh.

Kia

Hyundai brought out their world-class Sonata mid-size sedan in 2005. Now, Kia gets their stab at the market with the new Optima in the fall. Around the same time, you can expect to see their hybrid version of the Rio (if I were a Kia executive, I'd be a bit miffed that Hyundai gets these platforms at least 6 months earlier than my company - so that kind of tells you who is calling the shots over at Hyundai/Kia headquarters).

Also expect the new Sedona sometime in 2006 - but, no doubt, after the Entourage.

Well, that wraps up the upcoming vehicles from the Asian nameplates. They obviously aren't standing still during Detroit's latest crisis. However, there are lots of smart product people and engineers all over the world and, if we've learned nothing else, dominance is a fleeting thing in this business.

Next up...the European manufacturers.

Saturn without a small car?

Autoblog (among others) are reporting that GM will drop the Saturn ION small car when the Spring Hill line that builds it shuts down at the end of 2006. Plans are to replace the car with a version of the Delta small car chassis that underpins the Cobalt, the Canadian Pontiac G4, as well as the European Opel Astra.

This will spell the end to plastic body panels on the car that started this whole Saturn business in the first place.

Rumors have GM not building the new Saturn small car, rumored to be called 'Evoke', until the next generation Delta debuts as a 2009 model. I would think 2 years should be plenty of time for people to forget the mess GM made of the ION.

Read the Autoblog post here.

Wrangler 4-door - Cherokee?

The Car Connection is running a new spy-photo of the upcoming 4-door version of the Jeep Wrangler. This time you can plainly see cut-lines for the back doors (though it looks like squeezing in between the rear fender and the back of the front door might be a bit of a feat).

Interesting is the conjecture that the new 4-door Wrangler might not be called a Wrangler after all...resurrecting a name that has been morned ever since it was dropped a few years back...this might be the return of the Cherokee name.

As an aside, the Cherokee name fell out of use after Jeep loyalists rebelled at the thought of an independent suspension under the front of the new Cherokee...in order to distance themselves from comparisons between the trusty Cherokee and the new vehicle, they gave it a new name - Liberty. However, in Europe, the vehicle soldiers on with the Cherokee name.

This could result in the odd circumstance of the US Cherokee and the European Cherokee being two completely different vehicles - unless Jeep plans to introduce the Liberty name in Europe alongside the new, Wrangler-based Cherokee.

Look for the new Jeeps to debut at the New York Auto Show in April 2006.

Read The Car Connection story with spy photo of the 4-door Wrangler/Cherokee here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Autoshow season - Roadster fun

Nissan URGE roadster conceptIt appears that Nissan will try to test the waters for their own inexpensive roadster at this years NAIAS.

With motorcycle inspired features like free-standing tail-lights, this is likely just an exercise to spice up the Nissan display rather than a sign of intent to produce a Pontiac Solstice and Mazda MX-5 competitor.

Read AutoBlog's blurb about it here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Autoshow season - Mazda CX-7 details and GM's show plans

Poking around at sites like Autoblog.com and TheCarConnection.com have uncovered more autoshow details...

First up, the Mazda CX-7, unlike what it's name might suggest, will only seat 5 in two rows of seats. It will be available in both front and all-wheel drive. It will be powered not by a version of the 3.5l V-6 that is expected to power the Ford Edge and Lincoln Aviator, but rather a re-tuned version of the Mazdaspeed 6's 2.3l turbo 4-cylinder.

Expect the CX-7 to show up first at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this year.

From GM, we should expect to see the long versions of the full-sized GM SUV's (Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon XL, possibly even the Cadillac Escalade ESV)...also expected are a concept that might hint at the next Chevy Camaro (you thought the success of the Mustang was going unnoticed at GM?), as well as the production Pontiac Solstice GXP with turbo 4-cylinder power.

It's shaping up to be a great show season once again, even with all the woes in Detroit.

Autoshow season - Ford previews 2007 Edge

I mentioned in my post about the 2007 Mazda CX-7 that it was a platform-mate with the Ford Edge and Lincoln Aviator crossovers. If you check out the older post about what is coming from Ford, you can see the preview photo Lincoln released of the Aviator.

However, a few days ago, Ford released a sketch of the Ford Edge. Combining a little of the boxiness of the Ford Fairlane concept from last year's NAIAS with a big dose of Ford Fusion.

2007 Ford EdgeLooks like a pretty nice take on the new Ford corporate face. I'm still hoping that Ford sticks with this look longer than they typically do...ahem, remember 'New Edge' that showed up on the Focus and Mercury Cougar but little else (in the North American market, at least).

Autoshow season - Mazda shows CX-7 and sports car concept

2007 CX-7Mazda has decided to preview the production version of their CX-7 crossover as well as their Kabura concept sports car.

The CX-7 is the production version of the MX-CrosSport concept that Mazda displayed at the Detroit auto show (North American International Auto Show - NAIAS for those playing at home). It is a sister vehicle to the upcoming Mazda 6 based Ford Edge and Lincoln Aviator.

MX-CrossportIt was obvious at the time that the concept was a preview of the production car, though it is somewhat surprising how closely they have honored the show car's shape. Really, with the Nissan Murano and Infiniti FX series, it shouldn't be surprising for them to build a high-style crossover. Though, it would have been easy for them to take the dull route that most other companies follow.

KaburaThe Kabura appears to be a preview of an upcoming Mazda sports car. From previous experience, they could either be previewing the second-gen RX-8 or even the rumored 2-seat sports car that is expected to fit between the RX-8 and the MX-5 (Miata). We'll have to wait until we see the actual concept to get a better feel for this.