PAG's got a couple of hits: Volvo XC60, Jaguar C-XF
Concept cars aren't special not because of what they are - fanciful diversions from the real meat and potatoes of the car biz - but because of what they represent. They represent the future. They represent hope for better technology. Better engineering. Better driving. And I can't get enough.
Thankfully, Ford's Premier Automotive Group - a Euro-centric group of brands that includes Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, and the soon-to-be-sold-off Aston Martin - obliged my desires, as it plopped two big, fat concept cars down on the Cobo Arena floor. And that bit about the future? It could never be so apt as here, since both of the vehicles unveiled accurately previewed models that you and I will be able to buy very, very soon.
First up was the Volvo XC60 concept, a vehicle designed to fill the gaping hole in the Swedish automaker's lineup where a right-sized crossover SUV would fit. The crossover's styling serves as an accurate look at how the company's cars will look in the near future.
Elements such as the trapezoidal grille, angled headlamps, more muscular rear quarters, and spread-out, retro rear, will all wriggle their way through the rest of the company's offerings. The XC60 is powered by a 3.2-liter, 265-hp E-85-capable six and is also equipped with Volvo's new City Safety system.
City Safety is a program that helps prevent XC60 drivers from rear-ending folks at low speeds by monitoring the road ahead; if it detects that the driver isn't stopping quickly enough, the car applies the brakes. It brings to mind Mercedes-Benz's Distronic, but that system requires the cruise control to be activated.
The second and final reveal was easily the best, however. Jaguar debuted the C-XF concept, and, boy howdy, is it a looker.
A concept version of the S-type replacement, the C-XF oozes personality. As Volvo's XC60 does for that company's future cars, the C-XF showcases the design strategy for all Jaguar sedans going forward. Gone are the obviously retro designs with knobs and bumps and dual headlights and (pip-pip, and cheerio!) they've all been tossed in favor of a leaner, more modern language that somehow still manages to hew closely to Jag tradition.
According the Jaguar chief designer Ian Callum, the change was made because the company felt it was high time the British marque reclaimed its place as the world's premier builder of sports sedans, a title it held throughout the 1950s and 60s on the back of models such as the Mark 2 and the series-1 XJ.
I'm not ready to move Jaguar to the front of the line just yet, but with fantastic styling and innovative interior treatments like carbon-fiber pattern leather seating and blowtorch-scorched wood trim, the XF is a great step in the right direction.
New Cadillac CTS
The 2008 CTS is probably the single most important new car Cadillac will launch this decade. This Cadillac has to prove once and for all whether GM's luxury division can truly deliver on the promise of its radical "Art & Science" styling revolution and run wheel to wheel with the likes of Audi, BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz.
In design terms, the new CTS appears a straightforward evolution of the current car. But you only need to walk around the '08 to realize this is probably the most revolutionary Cadillac sedan in decades. And here's why: You can see GM has spent some serious money on this thing. In terms of sheer manufacturing competence, the precise, complex execution of the sheet metal rivals that of BMW.
But it's more than just a panel engineer's masterclass: In the metal the new CTS oozes a character and charisma the somewhat cold and clinical current model lacks. "The idea was to use a little more art and a little less science so the car didn't look so computer generated," says exterior designer John Manoogian. "We wanted the car to look as if the surfaces were all developed by hand."
As with the current CTS, the new car's interior architecture is dramatic, though much more tastefully executed. The interior is dominated by an echo of the raised centerline of the exterior running through the dash and along the sweeping center console. New slim-line front seats mean there's more legroom for back seat passengers, even though the new CTS shares its 113.4 inch wheelbase with the current car. In fact, the new CTS is built off same basic vehicle architecture as the current car, although almost every major component has been changed or upgraded.
Base engine is the 3.6-liter "high feature" V-6, which boasts double overhead camshafts with variable valve timing (VVT). Already used in the current CTS, and fast becoming GM's mainstay V-6, this engine delivers 258 horsepower and 252lb-ft of torque. The big news under the hood, though, is a new 300hp direct injection version of the 3.6 that promises the performance of a V-8, with the gas mileage of a six.
Marqued for death
While at Honda's Accord Coupe press conference this morning, I was struck by the way some car companies stick with names and while others seem to build them up and then kill them.
For example, the Honda Accord and Civic have been around seemingly forever. Granted, most of these iterations were fairly successful cars, save for rampant rusting prevalent on some early 70's models. However, I can't understand why Ford killed the Taurus or Dodge walked away from the Neon, for example.
I realize that both the Taurus and Neon had their ups and downs -- seldom were they standouts in CR's testing -- and the Neon had terminal reliability issues. But still, why not keep the branding going? I mean, Ford sold about a gillion Taurus sedans and wagons. And while it wasn't exactly the most exciting car, lots of people kept coming back to it.
Car companies sometimes have to kill a marque. For example, regardless of the engineering or marketing talent at Ford, there was nothing they could do to resurrect and change the image of the Pinto. And Chevrolet was right in dropping the Vega. (I know this because I learned to drive a manual transmission in a '74 Vega -- some stout clutches GM made back then.) These were truly awful cars.
It just seems to me that car companies make their jobs much harder by constantly reinventing brands and identities. Last year, Lincoln crowned the new Zephyr. Now it's the MKZ (albeit with a new V6 and other assorted changes). What will next year bring? More new names? I guess it keeps the marketing and PR people busy...
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