Fun to drive can be defined an infinite number of ways. The sports car driver will say power and acceleration, braking and handling are the main contributors to fun to drive. There is also the element of sexy head-turning styling ringing the sports car driver’s bell. The sport utility driver will add functionality to that equation. A smart fortwo driver may think its quirky styling, minuscule size (even with its funky transmission) add to the fun to drive experience.
The most fun to drive vehicles in AutoPacific’s New Vehicle Satisfaction Research – those with 85 % or more of their drivers totally satisfied with its fun to drive characteristics include:
1. Chevrolet SS: We can certainly understand this one. Fully loaded 4-door sedan with a Corvette V8, the SS is a great value and adds sedan functionality to a high performance platform. Not a big seller, the SS buyer certainly understands the special car they are driving. One hundred percent of the respondents were totally satisfied with its fun to drive characteristics.
2. Chevrolet Corvette: Corvette is the quintessential American sports car. Big with dramatic styling and powered by a large displacement push-rod V8, the Corvette not only has the dynamics for a fun to drive winner, but also the looks.
3. Porsche Cayman: Curvaceous styling with Porsche DNA, German precision and sprightly dynamics have 94% of Cayman drivers totally satisfied with the fun to drive of their car.
4. Porsche Panamera: The most expensive of the fun to drive vehicles is the Porsche Panamera 4-door sedan with 93% of its owners totally satisfied. Sometimes criticized for its ungainly looks, it checks the boxes for fun to drive. Panamera is in the top ten in power and acceleration. Panamera is top ranked for braking. Panamera is in the top five for handling. Not bad for such a large car.
5. smart fortwo: There are fifteen cars that score 85% or higher in fun to drive. Surprising is one of them is the smart fortwo with 92% of its drivers totally satisfied with its fun to drive. Acceleration and powertrain performance clearly are not strong suits for the fortwo. Only 28% of fortwo owners are totally satisfied with power and acceleration, so there are other things contributing to its fun to drive. Maybe it is handling? – 72% are totally satisfied with its handling. Maybe getting good fuel economy is a contributor? – 76% are totally satisfied with fuel economy. Maybe just fortwo’s quirky styling just puts a smile on their face?
6. Porsche Boxster: The first of the “baby” Porsche entries has sometimes been called a chick’s car, and maybe it is if you watched the episode of Two and a Half Men where Alan buys one, but its owners 91% of its owners are totally satisfied with how fun to drive it is. Owners rate the Boxster in the top ten of totally satisfied with power and acceleration, braking, and handling – all strong contributors to fun to drive.
7. Nissan 370Z: A “classic” sports car, 90% of Z-Car owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes. It is in the top ten in power and acceleration, but comes up shy in handling ranking 12th and poorly in braking where it ranks 53rd.
8. Jaguar F-Type: Jag’s new sports car entry has 90% of its owners totally satisfied with its fun to drive. F-Type is in the top ten in power and acceleration, 11th in braking and 25th in handling. Clearly, F-Types powertrain strongly contributes to its fun to drive and combined with its classic styling owners score the car very strongly.
9. Subaru BRZ: The BRZ may be a new category of sporty coupe. It is built to be extremely maneuverable and fun for a young person. Small, rear wheel drive, and with the ability to drift around corners, 89% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive. In the case of the BRZ, its power and acceleration does not deliver on its looks or fun to drive image. Only 30% of BRZ owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration ranking it 225th. About 56% BRZ owners are totally satisfied with its braking. Where BRZ shines is in handling with 84% of its owners totally satisfying. It appears that Subaru could improve the standing of the BRZ if engine power was increased substantially.
10. Chevrolet Camaro: A classic American muscle car, 89% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes. Camaro ranks 17th in power and acceleration with 73% totally satisfied. It ranks 18th in braking with 77% of its owners totally satisfied. Camaro ranks 10th in handling. These are solid results for a sporty coupe showing Camaro succeeds not only on the basis of its iconic image and styling, but also on dynamics.
11. Ford Mustang: The outgoing Mustang still has a lot going it with 88% of its owners totally satisfied with its fun to drive. Mustang owners rank its power and acceleration 28th with 68% totally satisfied. Mustang falls to 95th in braking with 65% totally satisfied. It is 55th in handling with 71% totally satisfied. Clearly, style, image and reputation have gone a long way in contributing to Mustang’s position among fun to drive cars.
12. MINI Paceman: The wierdly styled MINI Paceman is totally fun to drive for about 88% of its owners. 46% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration ranking 156th, other MINI entries rank substantially higher. About 67% of its owners are totally satisfied with its braking ranking 52nd. About 75% of owners are totally satisfied with its handling – 27th. Head-turning styling and image strongly contribute to the fun to drive aura of the MINI Paceman.
13. Mazda Miata: Miatas, or MX-5s, are famous for how fun to drive they are. About 86% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes. Miata is not supposed to be blindingly fast it is supposed to be fun and most owners recognize that. Still, ranking 109th, 53% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration. About 68% are totally satisfied with its braking – 48th. About 64% are totally satisfied with its handling – 29th.
14. Mitsubishi Lancer EVO: The last Lancer EVO ranks 14th in fun to drive with 85% of its owners totally satisfied. Generally, a car sold for its performance never lives up to the expectations of its owners in power and acceleration, but the EVO seems to be an exception. About 71% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration – ranking 22nd. About 78% are totally satisfied with braking – 13th. About 78% are totally satisfied with handling – 15th. This is a pretty good all-around performance for dynamic attributes. Sayonara EVO, you will be missed.
15. Scion FR-S: The FR-S is the Scion version of the Subaru BRZ. About 85% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive. Like the BRZ, FR-S owners want more power and acceleration – only 33% are totally satisfied – ranked 222nd. About 52% are totally satisfied with its braking – ranking 178th. About 73% of FR-S owners are totally satisfied with its handling – that is what the car is designed for after all – ranking 37th.
Top Ten Fun to Drive Brands: The ranking of brands includes the fun to drive results for all their entries. The top ten brands are: 1) Porsche, 2) MINI, 3) BMW, 4) Audi, 5) Jaguar, 6) Fiat, 7) Scion, 8) Cadillac, 9) Lincoln, 10) Mercedes-Benz.
I have been looking for a chance to drive the diminutive Mitsubishi i-Cars ever since I first saw the photos of them. When visiting Mitsubishi HQ in Cypress, California, there they are in the lobby on display. But it wasn’t until the just finished Outlander and Friends press preview Mitsubishi held in Palm Springs that I was able to drive both of the i-Cars.
There were two i-Cars at the preview – the i-MiEV (Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle) – the all electric Japanese kei car that the press is reporting on continuously and its gasoline-powered base car. Lets talk about the gas-powered version first.
“kei” Car for the USA? First, the Mitsubishi i is a very, very small car. It is a Japanese “kei” car meaning it is designed to be a tiny commuter car for dense urban environments. It also means that the car is limited to a 660cc engine. The example we were able to drive was powered by a turbocharged 660cc engine, had an automatic transmission and all wheel drive.
After years of reasonable success in Europe, the Smart ForTwo is finally here in the US. At least on the surface of things, the ForTwo’s arrival couldn’t be better timed. After all, in this era of $4 per gallon (and likely rising) gasoline, a fashion-forward and fuel-efficient commuter makes all the sense in the world.
Smart’s entry to the US market is a venture by Roger Penske, auto dealer extraordinaire. Though Smart is a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, the three-pointed star’s US distributor isn’t directly involved (at least not yet) in the Smart brand’s arrival in the US, though some US Mercedes-Benz dealerships have added Smart showroom areas to their dealerships. Penske knows a thing or two about smart (no pun intended) business decisions, and he obviously saw a place in the market for this chic and efficient little runabout.
So what is the ForTwo? In a nutshell, it’s a diminutive two-seater that was designed for the tight streets of European urban environments. Visit Berlin, Paris, or Rome, and you’re sure to see them everywhere. It packs a tiny rear-mounted 1.0 liter 3-cylinder turbo engine (with a rip-roaring 70hp) and has an overall length that is shorter than many cars’ wheelbases. So, does it translate here in a $4 per gallon America, or does the ForTwo remain an unintelligible foreign tongue?
DaimlerChrysler stopped production of the diminutive smart roadster and roadster coupe at the end of September 2005. Launched in 2003, the roadster only lasted about two years. The tiny tiny microsportscars did not achieve the volumes needed to reach profitability. You wonder what kind of research DaimlerChrysler did to justify the investment in the smart roadster and roadster coupe?
Like many brands and vehicles that refuse to die, it appears that there are folks that want to resurrect the smart roadster. With DaimlerChrysler taking the hit on the investment on the roadster and roadster coupe, the vehicle can be purchased for a song.
Project Kimber and the smart roadster
Project Kimber is an acquisition group, run by Lord David James, that was founded to buy the assets of the MG Rover group but lost out to Nanjing Automobile and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC). Project Kimber is searching for funding with Grant Gazdig’s Access Capital firm, a private equity firm – European American Securities, and other investors from continental Europe, Hong Kong, Britain and America. While purchase of the tooling, car, etc from DaimlerChrysler may require about £13 million, the total investment would be on the order of £60 milion.
In 2006, it was reported that Lord James had entered talks with MG Rover’s new owners (this time Nanjing – that owns the MG name) to buy the MG brand in order to produce a number of sports cars based on the smart roadster.
On Friday February 17, 2006, The London Times reported that Lord James was in discussions with DaimlerChrysler to buy the roadster’s design, technology and equipment for approximately £13 million.
The initial plan was that the roadster equipment would be then transferred from the smart factory in Germany to a former Dunlop tire factory in Coventry where the roadster would be built under the MG brand.
As of 19th July 2006, the Welsh Assembly Government confirmed that production of the new roadster could be based in South Wales. In an August 27, 2006 report, The London Times
reported that three sites are under consideration: a soon-to-close Panasonic factory at Port Talbot, a greenfield site near Bridgend, and a partly completed factory owned by the aforementioned Welsh Assembly.
Kimber believes that they can be profitable with sales approaching 8,000 units per year.
Use of the MG brand, however, has not been attained, with a possibilty of the car being badged with the AC badge from the AC Cobra. AC “Midget” has been floated as the nomenclature for the car.
Negotiations are underway with resolution expected by the end of September 2005
Persistance Pays Off
Though once abandoning a plan for U.S. sales, automaker smart didn’t give up on us like they have on the use of capital letters and two of their European entries (smart roadster and forfour dropped by 2007MY). An exclusive agreement with the United Auto Group dealers, headed by Roger Penske, has been forged to bring over the next fortwo in early 2008. Reports are that optimistic DaimlerChrysler, parent of smart, would like to see sales in the States at about 20,000 units.
Having never really given up on the States, smart has shown off its fortwo at several occasions, including an exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and as a lead vehicle for the New York City Marathon and a sponsor of the Boston Marathon. Groundwork for creating interest and enthusiasm for this tiny city car is well laid, and rising fuel costs only add to the hype.
The current fortwo was never meant to come to the States, due to problems meeting U.S. emissions regulations, though importer and electric car company ZAP has sold about 200 Americanized fortwo
s through May 2006, and sales in Canada reached 4000 units with months-long waitlists.
Editors NOTE: Since this was written, Dave Schembri has landed at Roger Penski’s smart operations in the USA. Schembri had been head of smart at Mercedes-Benz USA prior to joining MMNA. Wayne Killen joined Hyundai Motor America as Director of Product Planning in early 2007.
Mitsubishi Motors North America announced on Friday, February 17, that Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing David Schembri and Vice President of Marketing Wayne Killen had resigned from the Company. In a statement by Mitsubishi, “Both left to pursue other opportunities.”
The former Mitsubishi marketing duo joined Mitsubishi at a time when sales were off drastically from prior years and no rebound in sight. Just stabilizing losses and rebuilding from a lower base of sales may have been considered a success, but even after a year with Dave Schembri running Sales and Marketing the Titanic couldn’t be turned.
Schembri joined Mitsubishi Motors North America in February 2005 after serving as the chief of the Maybach brand at Mercedes-Benz USA and then head of its still-born smart division. With the demise of smart’s efforts in the USA shortly following the 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Schembri moved westward to Mitsubishi headquarters in Cypress, California.
Wayne Killen, brand manager for the ill-advised Maybach brand at MBUSA joined Schembri at Mitsubishi in August 2005 as Vice President of Marketing. Working for Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America early in his career (1987 – 1989), Killen had most recently spent ten years at Mercedes-Benz USA. At MMNA, Killen was responsible for advertising, brand experience marketing, product and marketing public relations and product strategy.
During their tenure at MMNA, Schembri and Killen launched the 2005 Mitsubishi Eclipse and Mitsubishi Raider pickup and had just completed the public introduction of the soon-on-sale Eclipse Spyder.
The duties of Schembri and Killen are beeing handled by Hiroshi Harunari. Harunari has bee co-Chief Operating Officer of Mitsubishi Motors North America since January 2006. Rich Gilligan, former head of Mitsubishi’s manufacturing operations in Normal Illinois continues as the other co-COO.
These moves at Mitsubishi demonstrate the level of exposure senior managers take at some import-brand distributors. Last Fall, Peter Butterfield was ousted from his position as head of Kia Motors of America. In January, after a very confident presentation at the 2006 North American Auto Show in Detroit, Bob Cosmai fell at Hyundai Motor America. While Schembri and Killen had not yet been able to stabilize MMNA’s fortunes in the USA, Butterfield and Cosmai were managing companies that have healthy growth and prospects.