Archive for April 2012
Today’s muscle cars are carefully designed to resemble their iconic forefathers. It’s been a winning recipe thus far for the current generation Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang; the big three of the new muscle era.
One-up competition has always driven muscle car design and evolution. Battles between the big three in the 1960’s for top horsepower ratings, 0-60 times and cool factor led to some of the most extreme street legal tire-burners to ever come out of Detroit. Not much has changed.
In the past year Chevrolet resurrected the Camaro ZL1 with 580 horsepower, putting the Camaro in direct competition with the 2012 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 (550 horsepower). Recently Ford announced the 2013 Shelby Mustang GT 500 will make 660 horsepower and be capable of reaching speeds in excess of 200mph.
The muscle car war is alive and well.
Coupled with modern technology and the probability that Chevrolet and Dodge will likely respond with GT500-esque monsters of their own at some point, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to assume that 200mph muscle cars topping 600hp could be the norm in a matter of years, or that they might be driven in our first wave invasion of Iran.
We need that oil!
Sky rocketing gas prices in the 1970’s put an end to the original muscle car war. Engines were detuned, horsepower ratings plummeted and the cars got ugly. In other words, gas prices didn’t just kill the muscle car, poor long term planning did. They were one trick straight line ponies that could only survive on cheap gas.
The 50th anniversary of the Mustang is approaching in 2014 and Ford is using the occasion to set their sights farther down the road this time around.
“The challenge or the opportunity for 2014 with a 50th anniversary car is to not just look back over your shoulder, but to try to win all of the Mustang faithful yet bring the brand forward as well,” said Ford design boss J Mays. (1)
It’s believed Ford is planning to scrap the Mustang’s retro look entirely. Rumor is the main design influences on the next generation design will draw heavily on the Ford Evos concept and Ford Fusion.
“The only thing 'retro' about it are the proportions — long hood, short deck,” a Ford insider said. “It will still look like a Mustang,” he emphasized. (2)
Ford isn’t trying to alienate the Mustang loyal, at least not exactly. One of the biggest obstacles in Mustang’s future is actually the car’s most common owner – men over 50 years old who remember drooling over 60’s era Mustangs and can now afford one of their own.
Modernizing the next generation Mustang design is aimed at catching the attention of younger buyers while at the same time making the car more attractive in Ford’s “One Ford” mission to sell more vehicles on global platforms.
Ford drew on design resources from their studios in Europe and Australia to prepare the redesigned car for the world. For the first time ever the Mustang will be sold in markets such as England, Japan and Australia.
Beneath the skin one glaringly retro aspect of the Mustang that needed to be brought up to modern standards was the live rear-axle. It will be replaced by an independent rear suspension system that should improve handling and make for a more comfortable ride.
As for the heart and soul Ford will most likely keep the 3.7-liter V-6 and 5.0-liter V-8 with minor improvements. There have been reports though that EcoBoost I-4s and V-6’s could fill out the power plant offerings.
From what we know at this point there’s plenty of reason to be excited about the Mustang losing its retro look. The changes are meant to help sell more cars and grow the brand around the world. For anyone who likes Mustangs that shouldn’t sound half bad – so long as it still looks like a Mustang.
When I asked Chrysler for a Dodge Challenger to review they delivered a Fiat 500 Sport instead. There was no reason to feel crestfallen. A proper auto enthusiast doesn’t judge a car on preconceived notions and Jennifer Lopez commercials but on driving impressions.
The little Italian stallion makes a strong case for itself in the way of curb appeal alone. For starters it’s not a Mini Cooper. Any Seattleite who throws a handful of Skittles over their shoulder is bound to hit at least six of those popular little runabouts, or the headliner of their own for that matter.
Dressed up in Fiat’s Sport package the 500 comes equipped with sixteen-inch alloy wheels, a roof spoiler, fog lamps, tighter suspension tuning, recalibrated steering, sport seats and a five-speed manual.
Commonplace sports upgrades such as these sometimes only serve as flimsy attempts to slap sports car image on a vehicle that will still make finding a manager’s special on milk the most exciting part of a trip to the grocery store.
This isn’t the case with the 500, and a big reason for that is how incredibly small it is. Besides the Smart Fortwo the 500 is the smallest car sold in the United States. On a car of its size adding a sports package with sport-tuned suspension, more responsive steering and manual transmission turns it into a joyously tossable car that's surprisingly fun on just about any city street.
The result is a rarity of the daily driver breed that can provide a giddy thrill in places a Dodge Challenger would only be able to grunt and growl in frustration.
The 500 doesn’t need a drag strip or passing lane to impress, it prefers cutting hard lines through roundabouts and darting through city traffic to make it to an office supplies store before close; any road is big enough for a thrill.
Still, for as much fun as the 500 Sport can extract from day-to-day driving it’s not advisable to test it against many other cars in a test of raw acceleration. Besides the high-performance Abarth 500, all other models are powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 102hp and 98 pound-feet of torque.
Those are respectable numbers for such a wee car, until you come to an inevitable point in any Fiat 500 review:
The Mini Cooper Comparison
In a best case scenario the 500 can make it from 0 to 60mph in 10.5 seconds with a manual transmission – nearly 1.5 seconds slower than a base Mini Cooper.
On top of that the Mini has nearly identical fuel economy numbers to the 500’s impressive 30cty/38hwy. Looking at it that way, the 500’s smaller platform can seem less like a selling point and more like Smart Fortwo gimmickry aimed at people who know about as much about Italian cars as they do Stouffer’s lasagna.
But looks can be deceiving. Despite being 7 inches shorter in length and 2 inches narrower than the Mini, the 500 is 4 inches taller. With the added height the 500 is able to accommodate a more upright seating position that increases legroom, visibility and creates a “bigger” cabin feel.
Aside from “the feel”, the 500 boasts 9.5 cubic feet of luggage space – significantly more than the Mini. With the 500’s backseats down luggage capacity grows to 30.2 cubic feet – nearly 25 percent more than a Cooper hatchback.
Keeping in mind the 500 starts at about four grand less than a base Mini Cooper hatchback, there’s plenty of reason to give it a serious look. Other cars in its market segment are more spacious and faster in a straight line for comparable money, but few if any can provide such a unique fun factor behind the wheel.
Plus, it’s not every decade Americans can put a new Italian car in their driveway for around sixteen grand. Those who really want to live the dream should opt for the Sport package - it's well worth the money.