By Kevin Miller
Back in 2008, Techshake’s Brendan Moore drove the then-new XK Convertible and was unimpressed by the interior space and the design that didn’t seem to live up to Jaguar’s new styling direction. Three years later, the XK hasn’t gotten any younger-looking in that regard; it boasts the most-stale design in Jaguar’s three-car portfolio.
Tracing its coupe lineage from the iconic Jaguar coupe of the 1960s, the modern XK is in its second generation, which entered production in 2006. At that time, the “regular” XK coupe was powered by a 300 HP version of Jaguar’s venerable 4.2 liter AJ V8, with a supercharged version that provided 420 HP. For 2011, the XK got a powertrain update to the 5.0 liter AJ V8, rated 385 HP, while the XK-R’s supercharged version has an output of 510 HP. The powertrain update for implemented in 2010 also included a change to the use of the JaguarDrive six-speed automatic. These powertrain configurations mimic those in the XF and XF Supercharged.
By Charles Krome
When the entire auto industry cratered a few years back, the effect obviously was felt far beyond the new-vehicle market. But I wonder if any area of automotive culture was hit quite as hard as the custom-car segment. By 2007 or so, custom hot rods were well on their way to escaping their blue-collar roots and becoming a fixture in modern-day pop culture. People were pimping their rides and overhaulin’ their beaters, and guys like Chip Foose were gaining a fair amount of public recognition.
He had already garnered every major custom-car award, many multiple times, and had just signed a development deal with Ford, which showed a Foose edition F-150 at the 2007 New York Auto Show. And he was a design consultant on renovations to the Motor City Casino—sort of a big deal here in Detroit—and was putting his Hemisfear hot rod—an evolution of the Foose design that became the Plymouth Prowler—into limited production. One of them was even sold at Barrett-Jackson, for a cool $340,000.
By Chris Haak
With the poaching of design head Peter Schreyer from Audi several years ago, Kia has turned itself from a brand that had no design identity to one that has a coherent language across its lineup, and that one drapes Kia vehicles in interesting and dynamic shapes. With the 2011 Optima and Sportage now on sale, Kia’s lineup has nearly been completely transformed from also-rans into competitively-styled vehicles.
While design is certainly a differentiator among new vehicles, and can catch the attention of buyers, it takes more than just good looks to establish and sustain success in a very competitive automotive landscape. Kia loaned me a 2011 Sportage for a week so I could find out if it also had beauty within, or if in fact its beauty was just skin deep.
By Chris Haak
With the all-new 2011 Ford Explorer, Ford reallywants you to know that it has re-invented the SUV. Except that Ford was far from the first to peddle something called an “SUV” built on a unibody platform; we’re not sure who was the first, but at the very least, the XJ Jeep Cherokee pre-dates the 2011 Explorer by 27 model years. More recently, the Camry-based Toyota Highlander and the Accord-derived Honda Pilot have been offering family-friendly midsize SUVs wrapped in trucklike packaging.
The Explorer, of course, had been the poster child of the 1990s SUV boom. In those years, Ford sold nearly a half million new Explorers every year, with the peak coming at 445,157 units sold in 2000. Last year, the company barely cracked tenth of that sales volume with the Explorer, as 52,190 of them found new homes. You see, the Explorer later became the poster child for the 2000s SUV bust. Ford thinks that it now has the right formula with the 2011 Explorer to reverse that trend, and regain some of the lost sales momentum that the original featured.
There are turnarounds of an average degree of difficulty, and then there are turnarounds that might take a couple of years off of your life.
Bringing Saab, the Swedish automaker, back from near-death, is probably in the latter category.
Just a quick recap, for those unfamiliar with the Saab story:
Saab originally made airplanes (and a subsidiary spun off long ago still does), developed a prototype car in 1949, started selling cars in earnest in the Fifties, entered the U.S. market, and developed what could probably be accurately called a small but fanatical following in America. Saabs were quirky, front-wheel drive when almost nothing else was, extremely safe, very economical, and, last, but hardly least, had design that was truly innovative and different-looking.
By Charles Krome
It may be lonely out in space—that’s my one Elton John reference—but it’s starting to get awfully crowded in the MINI lineup. BMW’s small-car brand is set to debut its Rocketman concept at the coming Geneva Motor Show, and when that car is readied for production, it will join the Hardtop, Convertible, Clubman and Countryman, in both regular and “S” flavors, as well the AWD Countryman, John Cooper Works and MINI E models, with further new products already in the pipeline. And I’m relatively confident the Rocketman will be offered for retail sale in the near-term future. The company’s concepts have a tendency to come alive in some fashion or another, with MINI even exploring ways to bring the Beachcomber to the market—although that idea came a cropper when its doorless design bumped up against safety regulations.
As far as the Rocketman goes, MINI explicitly states in its press materials that the concept marks a bit of a return to the brand’s roots, at least in terms of size. The automaker managed to slice nearly a foot off the length of the standard MINI Hardtop to develop the Rocketman, with the former measuring a bit under 12.25 feet and the latter coming in right around 11.25 feet. That’s still 12 inches longer than the original, but about four inches shorter than a modern-day Fiat 500. It’s also wrapped in a very familiar-looking skin—the Rocketman’s silhouette is nearly indistinguishable from that of the production MINI.
By Chris Haak
Rolls-Royce announced said on Sunday that it has developed an electrically-powered version of its Phantom flagship sedan, called the 102EX. Though the company claims no production plans are in place for a Phantom EV, Rolls-Royce considers the car to be part of a program to test alternative drivetrains that could be used in future Rolls-Royce cars.
To date, most EVs have been built on economy-car platforms, since the batteries and control systems for an EV typically cost far more money to produce than do traditional internal-combustion engines and their related systems. By pairing EVs with economy-car parts, the batteries and hardware can be smaller and less powerful, and the car won’t be prohibitively expensive. However, at the end of the day, you have a $30,000 or $40,000 economy car. Said another way, most EVs provide a small-car experience for the price of a luxury car.
By Charles Krome
Sometimes, reviewing two vehicles in a row from the same brand can border on the redundant, but not this time around. A 2011 Buick Enclave CXL with all-wheel-drive ended up in my driveway the day after I said goodbye to a 2011 LaCrosse, and experiencing them back-to-back was an eye-opening affair. Although both are, obviously, current production vehicles, their different positions in their respective life cycles was much in evidence, and much to the newer LaCrosse’s advantage.
The Enclave is probably best thought of as a reboot of the Buick Roadmaster station wagon from the mid 1990’s—that is, as a premium full-size people hauler that’s not a minivan. But speaking of which, the key here is to remember that GM’s big crossovers (including the Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and the late Saturn OUTLOOK) were designed to replace the General’s minivan lineup, not necessarily to be SUV alternatives. That helps explain the size of these vehicles, too. The Enclave is listed at 201.8 inches in length, and the only other crossover that big is the Ford Flex, essentially Ford’s minivan replacement. To put this into context, the three-row Honda Pilot is Honda’s largest crossover, but it’s “only” 190.9 inches long; the Honda Odyssey minivan is 202.9 inches. (The punch-line here? The Roadmaster wagon stretched a yacht-like 217.5 inches.)