It’s obviously no secret that automakers share platforms and powertrains between their brands. These days pretty much all of them do a good job at differentiating platform mates. Of course that wasn’t always the case. The Big Three subsisted on shameless badge engineering throughout the 90s and 2000s. Divisions with unclear mission statements ultimately forced automakers to split development budgets between several products. As a result, vehicles at the lower end sometimes got the short end of the stick. But I actually think that in most cases, the non-luxury variants ended up being the superior products. Let me explain.
The inspiration for this post came when I read about the refreshed 2021 Chevy Traverse. It’s a pretty standard update. A visual nip/tuck augmented by some tech updates and equipment changes.
Overall, the minor tweaks go a long way at making the Traverse more upscale.
Ditto for the cabin. It just looks more attractive than the current model.
In fact, the upcoming Traverse has improved to the point where the XT6 comes off much less favorably.
Because GM would like to keep costs down as much as they can, none of these vehicles are terribly distinct from one another, at least when it comes to their front and rear fascias. I’m sure there are a lot of interior similarities too. But the C1 platform, which underpins the Chevy Traverse, definitely spawned at least one mainstream offering that in my opinion spoils it for the luxury variant. If I had the money and was in the market for a three row crossover from GM I’d skip the XT6 and head straight for the Traverse. Its interior is more aesthetically pleasing and materials are probably nearly as similar to the Cadillac.
As for other mainstream models that negated their more expensive counterparts, I don’t think the Sable really ever aped the Taurus or justified its existence at any point in its history. Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s cool Ford made them and I liked owning what was essentially a slighter weirder version of the Taurus for nine years. But weirder doesn’t equal better.
For example, let’s look at the interior of the first generation Sable. As I get more acquainted with my Taurus, I can confidently say that the materials used for this Mercury are pretty much the same. Aesthetically, I find the first gen Sable’s interior to lag far behind the Taurus. Only the steering wheel is better. It’s also worth pointing out that this particular Sable has manual windows.
The way I see it, only the third gen Sable really made a case for itself, and it’s an inherently flimsy one at that. Aesthetics don’t necessarily make a car more premium, especially if the design itself is fundamentally far from the mainstream.
And if you think only American mainstream models spoil their upscale counterparts, you’re wrong. The newly redesigned 2020 Highlander is a far more justifiable purchase over the Lexus RX. That may not be a fair fight because the Lexus is at the end of its design cycle, but that’s how it goes when large scale automakers devote resources to multiple brands.
Before I end my rant, I would like to offer a counterpoint. There are definitely times when an upscale model spoils the mainstream variant. Critics continue to pan the 2020 Explorer for its spartan interior. Personally, I think the real problem lies in the aesthetics. Ford introduced a mainstream interior at a time when Hyundai and Kia injected two really upscale looking cabins into the segment. But there’s another problem too. Did Lincoln steal all the interior development money for the CD6 platform? Because critics reacted completely differently to the 2020 Aviator’s interior. It’s most likely best in class in that regard.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. For the most part, I think mainstream models are more justifiable than their luxury stablemates and oftentimes they actually spoil it for them too. Thoughts?