The Scion xB and xD look pretty great, far better than the re-cycled box-ettes from Japan that they were before. Even better, they're powerful enough to muscle into traffic from a freeway on-ramp and should ride pretty well once they get there.
We've heard some moaning about front-wheel drive, of course, which is the kind of thing you hear from street racers. Rear-wheel drive is a certainly a trend in big sedans, but that's largely because it has the image of performance, while front-wheel drive has the image of utility.
Our friends from SoCal tend to be clueless about the mobility that front-wheel drive offers in winter climates. Rear-wheel drive tends to serve the self-image of those who believe themselves to be heroic drivers capable of sideways motoring - especially a certain class of automotive journalist. In reality, it's only the recent application of sophisticated electronic stability programs that makes rear-wheel drive even remotely practical in terrible weather.
As far as the Scions go, let's not get confused about the reasons people drive such cars. These are not street-racing machines. They are affordable, stylish people-movers, and they allow young people to gather, listen to music, and go places. If you want to talk trends, let's talk about Scion's iPod connectivity, not to mention the optional system that lets you download video and music from a Pioneer web site, burn it to a CD and then display it on an LCD screen.
Rear-wheel drive might be a cool idea in this class, but there are no affordable vehicle platforms. And let's not get confused about the reasons that real people drive real cars. Not every car must be a street racer. That's just the usual myopia you get from too many car journalists.
The real question here is whether it's still cool to drive a Scion now that everyone has one.
Saturn concierge shopping services
Saturn plans to increase its focus on a different kind of shopping experience with two new programs: online chat and at-home test drive.
Announced at the Chicago show, Saturn now provides online chat interaction with customer service reps 24/7. These key-stroking reps are available through Saturn.com to assist browsers with finding information. A pilot program has already been completed, logging more than 70,000 chat sessions.
As the name suggests, the at-home test drive has a dealer bringing a vehicle to the customer, at home or at work, for evaluation. (Participation this resource-demanding service is at the dealers' discretion.) The sales associate provides the car shopper with a 14-point checklist to help them with the road test, including tasks like checking road noise, storage, parking, and (gasp!) fit/finish. Routes are suggested, though customers are also encouraged to run a routine errand for real-life experience.
In tailoring this concierge test drive, the car is prepared with the customers' preferred music. Letting the cars almost sell themselves builds on the Saturn low-pressure showroom tradition, and with the latest product wave, the sales message is stronger than ever.
Wonder if the local dealer carries my preferred European symphonic, beauty/beast metal? I'd enjoy evaluating the fit/finish on an Ion...
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