Last Car Driving

Dear J-

Get up early enough and it’s easy to convince yourself that some kind of apocalypse happened overnight or — more happily — that you’ve managed to sleep through to Saturday and the world stretches out before you as on a platter.  Some mornings I don’t see evidence of another human until I get to the Park’n’Ride lot, yet the streams of traffic passing on the freeway might as well be piloted by robots for all the humanity they evince: just metal beetles hurrying away from the light, rubber wheels scrambling madly.

Speaking of which, Ford’s new Taurus is rolling out; I understand that we should be suitably celebratory that in this, Ford’s flagship sedan, we have a car that can sit up against its fellow large sedans — see Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, Chevrolet Impala, etc. — with its head held high.  Much has been made of the style, which is in keeping with the Ford Interceptor concept from 2007, and adheres to the latest Ford design language, but the sharp contrast with 1985 and the first-generation Taurus for me is that the Taurus is now a trend follower (it looks like a Fusion, slightly inflated in all dimensions) rather than a trend setter.  The other worrying statistic is the weight — more than two tons in SHO trim; granted, the SHO packs Ford’s new EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 and 365 horsepower, but where did all the weight come from (if you want to compare, Taurus SHO has gained 25% in weight over ten years — 1999:  3329 lbs; 2010:  4368 lbs.)?  Granted, it’s similar in weight to the big LX-platform Mopars (two tons, give or take), but gearheads like to brag that there’s no replacement for displacement for engine size; we’re standing that on its head:  for fuel economy standards, mass is gonna cost you gas.

The clever engineers should be able to balance safety (systems, structure) and weight without resorting to specifying that everyone shall drive tanks — the United States M-1 Abrams, for instance, uses a gas turbine engine for 1000 horsepower, an honest 60 MPH on the road, and fuel economy better measured in gallons per mile.  Despite lacking airbags, I would venture that it would survive a crash pretty well.  I understand the need to hail an American car champion, but the Taurus isn’t going to be it — it’s a cosmetic re-skinning of the old Volvo platform underneath the Five Hundred.  For Ford, think Focus or Fiesta instead:  not the traditional big American sedan, but CAFE heroes with reasonable space and style; we associate size with value, but it’s time to break that habit, whether with food or cars.

Mike

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4 Responses to “Last Car Driving”

  1. Junior Says:

    Mike, what are your thoughts about hybrids? Spouse and I are thinking about maybe getting a Toyota Highlander. I know that the additional cost of a hybrid will take many years to recoup in gas savings, but we both kind of feel that we are prepared to pay extra to pollute less. Do you have any thoughts about the Highlander or hybrids in general from a design perspective?

  2. dearJ Says:

    Generic thoughts about hybrids — Toyota seems to have that technology dialed in pretty well, though I’m still a little freaked out about how quiet Priuses are when running on electric. I haven’t heard any horror stories about getting the battery pack changed out, but as the first practical vehicles are less than ten years old, we may not have encountered any big issues there yet. Unless gas prices shoot through the roof, the key advantage of a hybrid is in the reduced emissions; with that in mind, plug-in hybrids are supposedly just around the corner, sporting increased economy and reduced emissions.

    The only question I have about the Highlander is how big it is — but if you need a car that seats seven, there’s not a whole lot of choice out there. If the diesel infrastructure around you would support it, it’s less of a gamble than a hybrid — compression ignition engines are incredibly refined now and generally have eye-popping torque numbers, but again, the premium for an alternative engine (most of the North American diesel passenger car manufacturers are German) outweighs potential fuel savings. I hear good things, relaibility-wise, regarding the current Volkswagen offerings, but I’m not really excited about the styling (shallow, I know).

    Me, let’s say my car was stolen tomorrow and I needed to replace it; I have an odd predilection for five-door hatches, so I’d be looking at cars like the Hyundai Elantra Touring, Mazda3, Suzuki SX4, Subaru Impreza, Saturn Astra. Although I’d have to admit that the Chevy HHR SS tempts not so much for styling as it does for its antisocial hoon tendencies.

  3. Junior Says:

    We are thinking about the Highlander partly because of its size – there have been several occasions over the last year or so where, for one reason or another usually related to outdoor projects on the property, it would be very helpful to have either a pickup truck or SUV.

    The other issue we’re focussed on is suitability for winter driving. We made it through last winter with Spouse’s Solara and a new set of snow tires, but snowfalls were mild on workdays; if we aren’t so fortunate this year, things could get dicey. Haven’t really ever found a smaller car that tracks well in ice and snow.

  4. dearJ Says:

    Makes sense, then; although Toyota’s willing to sell you a Tundra with the 5.7L and an aftermarket TRD supercharger package, that’s perhaps best left aside.

    I was always impressed with Subarus in the snow, growing up near Spokane; there were parking lots better traversed with skates that the little Subies never seemed to shy away from.

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