The same friend who first introduced me into the thrills of high-school hoonage—in a late 1970s Chevy Monza—recently bought this 1996 Volkswagen Golf Harlequin, and I was lucky enough to get some time behind the wheel. For those who haven’t read the head Savant’s own piece on the car, from 2009, the Golf Harlequin actually came that way right from the factory.
“Wouldn’t you really rather drive a Buick?”
For years, the answer to the question posed by this decades-old tagline for most people younger than 70 would have probably been “no thank you.” When my wife and I were shopping over four years ago for a new family hauler, I had my eye on the then-new Enclave, and she was less-than-eager to be seen as a Buick driver. After all, her Grandma was still driving a late-80s A-body Century at the time. We didn’t end up buying the Enclave, not because of its image, but because it was more expensive than the minivan that we settled on.
Nissan stunned the world earlier this year when its European engineering department developed and built the Juke-R, the worlds first and currently sole super crossover vehicle. This unusual version of the Juke was created by shoehorning the all-wheel drive system, 3.8 liter V6, and the stout six speed dual clutch transmission from the GT-R super car into a modified and reworked Juke body and chassis.
The contrast between my previous test vehicle and this one could hardly have been greater. Last week, a mighty GMC Sierra 2500 Crew Cab; this week, a tiny Scion iQ, second smallest automobile on the road (after the Smart Fortwo). It’s a squat amphibian with a stunted body, designed for metropolitan lifestyles, meant to slip easily into half-sized curbside parking spaces and nip between stray shopping carts at your local mart. Japanese sales began in 2008 and European sales the following year, and in both markets it’s doing quite well. Overseas it’s a Toyota, but Stateside, where sales began earlier this year, the Scion brand better suits its bespoke individualism and intended youthful clientele.
I’m very fortunate to have driven a lot of different cars in the process of reviewing for Techshake. When I causally ponder my dream car would be, for some reason I’ve always thought of a two-door coupe – not like Mustang or Camaro, but more like Prelude, MX-6, BMW 3 Series, Audi A5, and this Mercedes-Benz C-Class. That being said, my first two responses (and the fact that they haven’t been manufactured for a long time) is somewhat telling. I’m out of touch with modern two-doors. Last year I reviewed Audi’s A5 coupe and didn’t fall in love; this time, I’ve had a go with the Mercedes-Benz C350 coupe.
If it looks like a Mini, sounds like a Mini and drives like a Mini, is it truly a Mini? Last year, Techshake tested this theory as implemented in the Mini Cooper S Countryman: the brand’s first true four-door crossover. Equipped with a six-speed manual, front-wheel drive and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Countryman proved a capable defender of the brand, albeit stretched several sizes. But could it stand up to its competitors that offer all-wheel drive and turn the focus to technology?
It would be easy to be jealous of Ken Lingenfelter if you didn’t know the back-story. After all, here’s a guy who had the wherewithal to get into collecting about a decade ago and has since built up a stunning selection of more than 150 of the coolest cars in the world. Of course, not satisfied with just collecting them, he also purchased one of the globe’s top tuning operations, itself boasting more than 30 very successful years in the business and a very familiar name—Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, originally founded by Ken’s cousin, the veteran NHRA champion and engineer John Lingenfelter.
Looking over the photos in GM’s media website this afternoon, an infographic caught my eye. (Actually, two infographics caught my eye, but this is the more interesting of the two. I’ll mention the other one at the end). In the particular item I’m focusing my attention on, GM defines the competition for its upcoming Chevrolet Spark minicar. It’s an interesting choice for comparison, and seemingly one out of left field. Read on for the punchline.