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2011 Scion: Easy Does It

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Today’s car business is becoming more risky than ever. While the dizzying number of new car startups almost suggests we are in the midst of a wild frontier, it has become increasingly clear how vulnerable even the powerhouse manufacturers have become. The growth of any brand over the long term requires diligence, hard work and sometimes, luck. So it’s with only some surprise that Scion, despite its edgy, cutting-edge image, has taken a rather safe route for the 2011 tC.
Family Jewels
The tC represents forty percent of Scions US sales, and is the sole reason for the brands youthful demographic. (According to Autopacific’s 2010 Research Suite® data, the tC has the youngest median age in the industry, at just 26 years of age.) Without a successful successor to the current tC, Scions sales and demographic success would be in serious jeopardy.
VehicleVoice Reviews the tC
Scion recently gave VehicleVoice the opportunity to evaluate prototypes of the second generation 2011 tC at a long lead press event in San Diego, California. Starting from a decidedly Scion hotel in San Diego’s hip gas lamp district, we reviewed the vehicle inside and out and drove several models over a few pre-selected courses in San Diego county.
Engineering Enhancements
Before hitting the road, we received briefings on the design and engineering of the 2011 tC which are many. It’s no doubt that Scion has made as many enhancements to the vehicle as the current economic environment would allow. The engine has increased in size from 2.4 to 2.5 liters. (Thanks to sharing with the Camry.) The new powertrain increases horsepower to 180 (+19) torque and torque by 11pound feet, while increasing highway fuel economy by two MPG for the automatic transmission and four MPG for the manual. The intake has been revised as has been the exhaust, in an attempt to give the vehicle a more aggressive note. Not surprisingly, new safety features abound this and every Toyota.
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Exterior Design
First shown at the New York Auto Show in March, the tC’s design was influenced by the Fuse concept, with it’s racing helmet design. Blacked out A pillars are intended to give the illusion of a floating roofline. While clear on the Fuse concept, were not so sure it has the same impact of the tC, especially in darker exterior colors. We had the opportunity to drive a tC in Scion’s new “cement” color, which has a very cool look. From the rear three-quarter view, the 2011 tC sports more stylized rear tail-lamps and has a more aggressive stance than it’s predecessor. In profile, however, the more aggressive stance the rear cannot overcome the conservative front end. From the A pillar forward, the vehicle is hard to distinguish from other coupes in today’s market. The front headlamps do not carry the aggressive style of the Fuse concept. With so much on the line, you get the feeling that protecting the sales volume targets of the tC played a key role in it’s design.
Interior Design
The interior layout clearly driver focused fashion with easy to read orange backlit gauges and large HVAC controls. While we were not in final production vehicles, the materials fit and finish seemed to have the quality we have come to expect from Scion. The front seats are wider and taller and were very comfortable in our 90 minute loop. Headroom is fairly good up front. Ingress to the rear seats, a typical coupe challenge, is enhanced by front seats that glide far back easily and return to their previously set positions. Rear seat headroom gets tight for those over 6 feet in height.
The Drive
On noticeably smooth San Diego roads, the tC is well mannered and relatively quiet for a vehicle in its price point. We did not appreciate the changes to the tC’s exhaust, but suspect others might. The improved manual transmission is smooth and easy, with a very light clutch. Six speeds and more horsepower improve 0-60 times by almost .6 seconds on the manual,and .8 seconds on the automatics. Standard eighteen and optional nineteen inch wheels and tires and offer good cornering without sacrificing ride quality.
Verdict
With desintation charges the 2011 tC comes in at under $19,000 for the 6 speed manual and under $20,000 for the 5 speed automatic. Given its content and refinement, the tC remains a great value.
With the 2011 tC, Scion has clearly sided with enhancing the value proposition rather then pushing the design image of its sales leader. Can you blame them? In the current economic situation, even the coolest learn about conservatism.


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2011 Ford Explorer Raises XSUV Bar – Explorer Reinvented

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The 2011 Ford Explorer is the latest iteration of the Ford Explorer and arguably one of the most important.  In many ways the Explorer launched the popular use sport utility vehicle market in the USA when it introduced the 4-door Explorer in 1991.  Previously, 4-door SUVs had been either Jeep Cherokees, the occasional Japanese entry and Chevrolet/GMC Suburbans.  With the introduction of the Explorer the growth in the SUV market skyrocketed until almost one in four vehicles sold in the USA was an SUV of one type or another.  In its heyday, Explorer was counted among the top five best selling vehicles in the USA and in its top year sold almost 450,000 units.

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Until the new Explorer, the Explorer had been very much a two box SUV designed to move five (and later seven) people comfortably.  While Explorer was an “SUV” it was a pretty mild one.  It was known for being easy to live with but not for its prowess off-road.  Ford never pretended the Explorer had the off-road chops of a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

EcoBoost 4-Cylinder OPTIONAL Powertrain  The base engine for the Explorer is the 3.5L V6 with 290-horsepower.  This engine is expected to be in 75% of Explorers sold.  The extra cost optional powertrain is the 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine with 237-horsepower.  This is an unusual pricing strategy for any manufacturer – giving LESS FOR MORE.  Of course, Ford will position the EcoBoost 4 as the high technology, high fuel economy alternative that is worth more.  Well, we’ll be watching this one closely because Americans usually don’t buy less for more and many still believe the adage “There is no replacement for displacement.”


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Ideal Vehicle Awards: Identifying Vehicles that Measure Up to Expectations

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Each year AutoPacific surveys new car and light truck acquirers via mail and Internet about their new vehicle in order to learn more about their purchase experience, attribute importance and satisfaction, lifestyle, preferences, vehicle use, personal characteristics, desired features and more. The Ideal Vehicle Awards are based on scores developed using results from a part of this survey that focuses on the consumers desire to change their vehicle if given the opportunity. Respondents rate 15 attributes indicating whether they want them to be changed (larger, smaller, more or less) or not changed (stay the same) after having driven their vehicle for 90 days. The attributes all pertain directly to the product itself.
The Difference: IVAs quantitatively gauge how closely a vehicle matches an owner’s expectations. An IVA is earned by those automakers that best understand their customers and are able to create the vehicle these customers demand – their ideal vehicle.
The Ideal Vehicle Awards are just one of three awards given by AutoPacific throughout the year. Each year AutoPacific analyzes the results of our New Vehicle Satisfaction Survey and identifies the top performing vehicles. These are owners talking. And who better to evaluate a vehicle than the owners themselves?
An “ideal” is defined as conforming to an ultimate standard of perfection or excellence. In the 2010 Ideal Vehicle Awards, announced today by automotive research and consulting firm AutoPacific, owners rate their new vehicles by how closely they come to their ideal. “After owning and operating a vehicle for some time, consumers often identity shortcomings, and ideas about what they would like to change about their vehicle,” says George Peterson, President of AutoPacific. “The IVAs are based on owners’ ratings of their new 2010 model year cars and trucks across 15 key vehicle attributes ranging from power and acceleration to interior storage. The cars or trucks that owners would change the least are the most ideal.”
“In today’s vehicle market, quality is expected, and car buyers take many factors into consideration – styling, safety features, fuel economy and more,” says Peterson. “IVA winners deliver the most of what consumers are really looking for in their vehicles. Shoppers can use the IVAs as a benchmark for vehicles that are designed and built with customers in mind.”


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2010 Lexus IS Convertible: Top Down Cruising

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IS  C Exterior.jpgIn the battle for attention from car lovers, Lexus always seems to get beat up in the discussion of performance. Regardless of the numbers, Lexus’ do not feel like BMWs. And they shouldn’t. Certainly, Lexus’ newest addition to the IS line will not get any better treatment from “true enthusiasts”, but the folks at Lexus has thought this through. The new IS convertible delivers what the segment demands, and beats the competition on key metrics. Aren’t those core Lexus Values?


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2008 LA Auto Show – Porsche Boxster/Cayman World Premiere

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The engineers at Porsche believe in precision instruments, the idea that design should follow function, and the belief in ‘staying the course’. These neurosurgeons of the sports car segment have again reflected on the past to outline the future. As expected and true to Porsche form, they have moved their mid-engine lineup forward with an evolutionary design change to the new Boxster and Cayman. Nothing revolutionary, but a redesigned front and rear along with some performance upgrades.

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2008 LA Auto Show: 2010 Mazda3 – Next Time, Start a Revolution!

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Once fuel had reach $4.05 a gallon nationally, we watched as truck sales plummeted and small/compact car sales got a little boost. People in the industry began to say that compact cars were going to appeal to more Americans and make up a larger percentage of vehicles sold here in the United States. The trick is said to be selling these small/compact cars for a profit. Up until recently the major domestic automakers had been able to make up to $12,600 profit on Large Luxury SUVs, but selling a small/compact car only raked in about $2,400 bucks. Once you subtract anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 for fixed costs you could actually end up with a negative number. Which means that a solid business case to produce small/compact cars here in the U.S. is not always an easy case to make; other than to help offset CAFE. Although, Mazda seems to be able to make a business case for them, and they sell tons of them!

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Of course now there is talk of ‘premium small cars’ becoming popular with Generation Y and possibly becoming a more lucrative business venture. With fuel prices dropping again to around $2 a gallon only time will tell what the future of the small/compact car will be here in the United States. Still, injecting premium content into a small car may go a long way in appealing to an increasing number of people who don’t think small size should equal skimpy content.


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[insert "bright future" joke here]

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This is fun, right? We’re having fun!

Well, here we are in the World of Tomorrow. The food pills and flying cars are some ways off, but our brave boys in the trenches of science have figured out how to harness those spastic blinky necklaces (pictured) issued by law to every obnoxious child at every fireworks display and use their power for good. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the LED headlamp.
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The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Platinum blinds you with science


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2008 Bullitt Mustang – Twisted Steel & Sex Appeal

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There are only a few actors that I really remember from my childhood. W.C. Fields, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and of course, ‘Mr. Cool’, Steve McQueen. I remember watching Steve in the first film ever produced with a truly spectacular car chase scene (aside from the Charger loosing something like 9 hub caps). I would crouch back in my seat as Lalo Schiffrin’s soundtrack built up the pre-chase tension, and adrenaline pumped through my veins as the driver of the Charger buckled up for safety (not that it would do him any good in the end – ed.) and then punches it through the intersection. From then on it was flat out, white knuckles, and gritting teeth. It was the first time during a movie I thought I could actually smell the oil, and rubber, and hear the unrestricted exhaust.

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There have only been a few movies since then that have even come close. The French Connection (not quite), Ronin (almost), and The Transporter (lacked realism). Nothing has surpassed the cool factor of Lieutenant Frank Bullitt in his 1968 Mustang GT 390 as he punches it through the streets of San Francisco double clutching each shift and chasing down that black ’68 Dodge Charger.


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2008 Cadillac CTS – So Who Shot the ‘Bean Counter’?

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We often get asked, “So why don’t the domestic brands build better vehicles?” and the answer usually comes down to simple economics. It’s not that the domestics don’t know how to engineer and produce amazing, well-built vehicles. It is a matter of fixed costs, variable expenditures, unions, dealers and what we like to call ‘bean counters’. Bean counters are those guy’s who help cost reduce a vehicle within an inch of its life in an effort to compete in the automotive marketplace. The imports typically have a leg up on the domestics due to their younger work force (read: health care costs and retirement costs), their efficiency and the American publics perceptions about their quality.

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Well, either someone gave the bean counter working on the all-new 2008 Cadillac CTS an extended vacation or he was taken out back and shot. The ’08 CTS is a nice car and it’s produced by a domestic auto manufacturer. I know… at first I didn’t believe it either. Most of us had to keep looking down at the Cadillac badge on the steering wheel every few minutes just to confirm the fact that we really were driving a Cadillac. For a minute it didn’t compute. It was a surreal experience.


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New York Auto Show 2008 – MINI JCW Brings History Up to Date

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The next time someone calls my Cooper S “cute” I think I’ll commit a felony. While I understand the sentiment, it misses most of what a MINI is.
At the New York Auto Show Jim McDowell, Vice President – Marketing, MINI USA introduced the John Cooper Works MINI to North America with a reminder that MINI has racing in it’s blood, including Monte Carlo Rally wins in 1964, 1965, 1967. John Cooper has been synonymous with the high-performance MINIs for forty years. Earlier this year, MINI acquired John Cooper Works JCW as a sub brand of MINI.


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