Thursday, January 29, 2015

Detroit Auto Show: what didn't catch our eye. Alas, the Jaguars....

Okay, so in my final post on this year's Detroit Auto Show let's talk about the elephant in the room ... er, make that the big cat in the room. The blandest looking set of cars at the entire show may have been the Jaguars.

As a newly minted Jaguar owner, it was a bit soul-crushing.

It was as if we stumbled across a batch of Volvos that somebody had accidentally dulled down then mis-badged.

"Look, Ma! Is that from Sweden? It looks boxy, but safe!"

I'm not kidding. Here's a randomly selected photo of a Volvo sedan, a 2011 Volvo S40:

Someday far in the future when mankind tries to pinpoint the exact day when the decline and fall of Western civilization became irreversible, some future historian will select the day on which it became difficult to tell the difference between a Jaguar and a 2011 Volvo sedan.

It didn't help that Jaguar chose a batch of charcoal grey cars for their display, either. It's as if there was a committee meeting in preparation for the auto show in which they took a vote based on the premise, "What's the dullest color we can display this year?"

Trying to put a brave face on it. In all fairness, the seat was pretty cushy.

Jaguar's design dull-down is something I'd noticed the last few years. But I'd never taken a direct interest in it before. However, now I need Jaguar to survive so that I can occasionally hand gobs of money over to the Jaguar dealership to do some things that only the Jaguar dealer can really do properly. (Like paying a couple hundred bucks for a spare key. Really. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not.)

Of more interest to the current Jaguar company, now that I'm in your sphere you've already spent a lot of money this year trying to convince me to "upgrade" to a new Jaguar. And I could potentially be interested. But as the recent purchaser of an older Jag ("Big Smoky", my 1999 XJ Vanden Plas Supercharged saloon) here's what I need you to understand. I bought it and will keep it because it drives like supercharged butter. But I went to go look at it because it looks freaking great:

Departing for the Dream Cruise in my dream car.

How great does it look? It looks so great that I'll keep it even though an oil leak forced me to nickname it "Big Smoky!" Take another look at the snoozefest sedan. This is allegedly also a Jaguar XJ:

(Hey, gentle reader, WAKE UP! WAKE UP! Sorry, your nap was my fault for inflicting this dull, dull photo on you again.)

I'm not going to get into the corporate history of Jaguar's change in design language. But I am going to desperately ask them to return two words to that design language: "swoopy" and "sexy". Need an example? Here are a few photos I've taken of older Jaguars in the last couple of years. This is what a Jaguar used to be:

Jaguar XK140.

Jaguar XKSS.

Jaguar XKE roadster.

Jaguar XKE coupe.

This car looks so flippin' cool that it put a smile on my face even though I didn't really fit in it very well. Yes, it's true. If I ever get an XKE coupe it'll probably have to be a 2+2, not the smaller one. On the other hand, the 2+2 coupes look damn cool, too:

Jaguar XKE 2+2 coupe.

Look, it's not as if Jaguar never faced design criticism before. Every design since the E-Type has met with criticism of one sort or another. But they all still looked like Jaguars, not freaking Volvos.

Jaguar XJ-C coupe. Criminy. It's a brown mid-70s hardtop and it still looks freaking great.

Probably the most criticized car in Jaguar history was the XJS line that replaced the XKEs.

But one look and you knew it was a Jaguar:

Jaguar XJS coupe.

Jaguar XJS roadster.

And Jaguar used to know how to capture that heritage in updated designs. The XJ series that ran from 1994 to 2009 was a really nice update of the classic XJ design of the 70s and 80s:

Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas (left) and XJ6 (right).

Here's something else I learned this year after buying Big Smoky. A great-looking car holds up well in front of great scenery. Could I have taken these photos with a Volvo? I think not.

Big Smoky in the Badlands.

Big Smoky in front of the Grand Tetons.

There is one tiny glimmer of hope.

The new F-Type Coupe looks really sweet. Here was one parked among the E-Types at this year's Battle of the Brits. It didn't look out of place. Really. That's the biggest challenge possible and it passed. It is still possible to make a good looking car in 2015.

And guess what? The F-Type is the one Jaguar model that's selling well in North America in 2015.

Coincidence? I think not.

So, get off your butt, Tata Motors. It's time to make Jaguars that look like Jaguars.

Supposedly Jaguar founder Sir Williams Lyons designed Jaguars by sitting in his garden for inspiration. Go find whoever designed the F-Type, sit him in Sir Williams Lyons' garden, and put him to work on the rest of the line.

I understand that design changes don't happen overnight. But I really don't want to see this at the 2020 Detroit Auto Show:

Honest to Pete, after looking at the current crop of Jaguars I had to go into our garage when we got home just to cleanse the palate.

Big Smoky, was it just a bad dream?

Big Smoky slumbers on, hunkered down for the Michigan winter and only venturing outside on dry, salt-free days.

Oh, and as long as I'm beefing, bring back The Leaper:

Yeah, yeah, I know. It's not aerodynamic and European Union pedestrian safety rules now require.... blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

It took Rolls-Royce about ten seconds to realize that if it wanted to keep its incredibly iconic Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament it would need to make one that popped up on demand when you were parked. Would it really be that hard for Jaguar to do the same with its own iconic hood ornament, even if its just a ridiculous option?

Does nobody in Coventry, England, remember what branding is all about?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Detroit Auto Show: the other stuff that caught our eye

Since the 2015 Detroit Auto Show itself is now in our rear-view mirror, it's time to wrap up our photo visit with Monique and me with a quick look at the rest of what caught our eye this year.

The Toyota FT-1 concept car. Dang, this thing looks sleek.

Porsche Panamera. Yeah, half a dozen Porsches and the one that really captured us this year was the four-door hatchback. What can I say? We thought it looks great.

Also from Germany, the VW Beetle is still cute as the Dickens after all these years:

Like most convertibles the VW Beetle looks better with a smokin' hot model in the passenger seat.

Mini brought a very cool concept car of their own to this year's show:

The Mini Superleggera Vision. I can't help loving the useless single tailfin down the middle. But even aside from that detail this car just looked great.

Alfa Romeo brought a strong display this year, featuring their return to North America with the 4C:

Alfa-Romeo 4C Spyder

Alfa-Romeo 4C

And, heck, have a few bonus photos of antique Alfas while we're at it:

Much to our surprise one of this year's hands-down best looking concept cars came in the form of a full-size Buick sedan:

The Buick Avenir. This car was long and lean and looked as if it was going 90 mph just standing there on the turntable. Really, the picture doesn't do it justice. If they built this car I could honestly be tempted and the last thing I need in all the world is a full-size Buick sedan. That's how great this car looked.

This might look like another concept sports car, but it is in fact the production version of the new Acura NSX. The NSX is a hybrid-powered supercar built in the US. It's full of all sorts of supercar goodies and will sticker somewhere around $150K. I look forward to seeing how the Stig does with it on the Top Gear test track.

You might think this is Monique behind the wheel of an Acura NSX...

... but in fact she's behind the wheel of a Cadillac ELR, Cadillac's plug-in hybrid coupe, which is based on the Chevy Volt and has a 30 mph all-electric range before the gas range extender kicks in. To be honest, the ELR didn't really make our hearts go pit-a-pat, but if GM wants to compete with Tesla for California's luxury-car commuters, this is probably the car to do it.

Speaking of Tesla...

Monique sits behind the wheel of an all-electric Tesla Model S: 0-to-60 in 3.2 seconds, up to 270-mile range on a single charge, autopilot, and a five-star crash rating.

And speaking of luxury cars, yes, I can see myself in the back seat of this new Mercedes-Maybach S600. This is the sort of unbelievable ultra-luxury cruiser that could one day be a successor for Big Smoky, my ridiculous Jaguar Vanden Plas Supercharged long-wheelbase saloon. (Chauffeur not included with either, alas.) I couldn't get a good picture of the exterior because so many people kept crowding around to peer inside. It looked smooooooth, both inside and out.

This Mercedes AMG GT S sports car grabbed our attention. It looked faaaaaaast.

Another eye-catching concept car, the Mercedes F 015 Luxury in Motion self-driven vehicle:

Not only did it have a very futuristic outer shell, but they had done some real thinking about what it might mean inside if your car drove itself. And what they decided is that the front seats would swivel, so that you could have a nice chat with your passengers while nobody was at the wheel.

Also from the world of ultra-luxury cruisers, Bentley brought another couple of superfast, superluxurious cars to the show:

The Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible in Azure Purple: 626 hp, 605 lb-ft torque, 0-to-60 in 3.9 seconds, and a top speed of 203 mph. I recommend a strap for your hat if you plan to go more than 200 mph in your convertible.

The ever so slightly more sedate Bentley Flying Spur W12: 616 hp, 590 lb-ft torque, 0-to-60 in 4.6 seconds, top speed of 200 mph. It should get you to the board meeting on time.

Our final stop, something from the opposite end of the scale:

The 2015 Smart all-electric convertible. Its range is only 68 miles, but it's cute as can be, incredibly easy to fit into a parking space, gets 93/122 (city/highway) MPGE, and it costs less than 1/3 the price of the Tesla Model S. This looks like a pretty sweet car for a short city commuter, especially someplace with sun.

Our final installment from the 2015 Detroit Auto Show is coming soon: the thing that (sadly) didn't catch our eye....

Friday, January 23, 2015

Detroit Auto Show: The Dodge Challenger Hellcat - Officially Crazy

One of the most popular new cars at this year's Detroit Auto Show is the Dodge Challenger Hellcat:

Unfortunately, I don't really have a good picture of the Hellcat because so many people were crowded around it. But here's a nice front shot of a Challenger RT to remind you all of what they look like:

The Challenger Hellcat became instantly famous because it comes from the factory with a supercharged V8 engine that produces 707 horsepower and a tire-melting 650 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful mass production car in history. To put that into perspective, the cars that race at the highest level of NASCAR will be limited to 725 hp this year because last year's 850 horsepower limit was too much. Those are race cars traveling just over 200 mph with steel roll cages, HANS restraining devices, and some of the best drivers in the world clad in fire suits and helmets.

The Hellcat's 199-mph top speed comes with leather seats, air conditioning, satellite stereo, and a three-year, 36,000-mile warranty.

Stare into the maw of crazy:

It looks so innocent, doesn't it?

One of the things I can't help but love about the Hellcat is that it gulps so much air that they had to convert one of the headlights into an extra air intake just to keep up.

Look closely:

It's like a clever little tracheotomy for the front grill.

Honestly, in some ways I don't really know what to think about the Challenger Hellcat. I've always loved the look of Challengers, both the old ones from the 60s and 70s and the new ones. I had a great time blasting around the California coast a couple of years ago in one that had a mere 305-hp V6 engine. (Sunset in San Gregorio and A Fast Ride in Search of a Sunset.) Believe me, it seemed plenty zippy enough.

And yet ... I want. I want.

There's no rational reason for this car. But it's awesome. Maybe that's reason enough.

Final photo. Since I didn't manage to get a full-car photo of the Challenger Hellcat itself, here's a Challenger T/A concept car with a Hellcat engine in it:

It'd do nicely, in a pinch.