We pick up where we left off last week, looking at the cars sold from 2000-2012 that us Curbside Classic denizens will be fussing over in 15-20 years’ time when we see them on the street. Some of these are cars whose manufacturers had lofty aspirations for, but were met only by failure in a competitive market; others, lazy revisions and rebadges that will be forgotten in the passage of time by most people. But not by us.
Rebadges Part 2
“But CHEVROLET got a sub-compact!”
With GM at one point selling eight brands in the US market, there were bound to be a fair few rebadges. GM’s 2005 Crossover Sport Vans were an attempt to freshen up the aging U-Body minivans, improve their crash test scores and maybe even poach some SUV sales. The recipe was simple: take one minivan, add a big snout at the front, and market it as some kind of minivan/SUV hybrid. The U-Bodies received a vastly nicer interior, some more powerful engine choices and higher frontal crash-test ratings. With Oldsmobile being shuttered, the decision was made to supplement Chevy and Pontiac offerings with a Saturn and a Buick variant. Each would receive the 3.5 and 3.9 “High Value” V6 engines and available all-wheel-drive.
However, little was done to differentiate the new Chevrolet Uplander, Buick Terraza, Saturn Relay and Pontiac Montana SV6. Basically, there were only detail differences. Interiors differed in their use of fake wood, with pale (Saturn), dark (Buick and Chevrolet), and no wood (Chevrolet; Pontiac had aluminum). Outside, the Pontiac and Saturn had some vaguely athletic cladding; the Chevy was monochromatic and dumpier; and the Buick had lots of gaudy chrome.
The Montana SV6 survived only a year and was dumped due to slow sales, although successfully lived on right until 2009 in Canada. The Buick and Saturn were axed in 2007 in favor of vastly more successful Lambda platform crossovers, and the Uplander followed that route in 2009. Interesting bit of trivia to tell strangers at parties: the Relay was the slowest-selling CSV, despite the Terraza costing more.
GM also gave Pontiac a Cobalt coupe and an Aveo hatch, and called them G5 and G3. The latter was a one-year wonder, but don’t think finding 1 of 6237 will net you a future collector’s item. These were probably the laziest rebadges in history, but sold adequately in Canada.
Finally, I present the GMT-360 mid-size SUVs, the most heavily proliferated GM platform after the J-Car. Initially launched as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada, GM soon realized they could wring a little bit more out of the platform. Gas prices hadn’t shot up yet, mid-size SUVs were selling well, and dealers were clamoring for product. Thus, the Buick Rainier, Isuzu Ascender and Saab 9-7X joined the fray. I’ll cover the 9-7X in more detail, but the other two had fairly simple stories. Isuzu was axing most of their model range, so GM gave them the Ascender to sell.
Possibly the flimsiest rebadge of the GMT-360s, the Ascender was simply a GMC Envoy with a toothy grille and different tail lights. More investment was hardly necessary: sales never cracked five figures. The Rainier used the Oldsmobile Bravada body shell and interior, with a new front fascia and Buick’s QuietTuning. Utterly forgettable, the Rainier was consistently outsold by its cheaper and more unique sibling, the Rendezvous. It generally sold as many units as the Terraza, and the Enclave crossover replaced all three in one fell swoop in 2008.
If the L-Series was a questionable Americanization of a European product, then the 2008 Saturn Astra was the opposite. I challenge you to find a single review of the Saturn Astra where the author does not criticize the pictograms on the various dash buttons and deride the lack of words on the switchgear. That, in essence, is the Saturn Astra: a straight import with very little changed. Sadly, it was even less successful than the L-Series.
the Opel/Saturn Astra’s handsome interior (photo courtesy Sven Mildner)
Blame the timing. GM was about to enter bankruptcy proceedings, and consumer confidence was fairly low. The Astra also represented another page in a new chapter for Saturn, and buyers were adjusting to a very different brand. Saturn may have started out a brand of friendly compacts with friendly dealers, but after years of neglect it needed new product. GM decided that with Oldsmobile out of the picture, Saturn could assume the mantle of quasi-upscale import fighter. That kind of brand repositioning takes a while, and even then can be unsuccessful: case in point, Oldsmobile. The Astra, starting at $16k, was a European hatchback complete with little dash buttons with bizarre pictures on them.
the much-maligned ION
Consider what the Saturn lineup looked like just a year before. The wretched ION compact was breathing its last breathe, and retailing for a much cheaper $12k. It needed to be that cheap. Despite riding the same platform as the Astra – GM’s Delta platform, shared with the average Cobalt/G5 – it was a car marked with flaws. Introduced in 2003, the Ion was soundly panned for its low-rent interior, an feel-less electric power steering set-up, center-mounted gauges, and its CVT auto. It was a case of GM spending a lot of money to differentiate the Ion from its platform mates – smart, in theory – but choosing all the wrong things to differentiate, right down to a truly bizarre, two-spoke steering wheel. Changes were quickly rushed – the CVT was dumped for an old-fashioned 4-speed, the steering tuned and wheel replaced, the sedan facelifted – but it was still subpar. And so, the Astra was rushed to market, the accelerated timetable to ensure the Astra nameplate was established in the US market. The timetable also prohibited any major changes.
the best “old” Saturn had to offer, the sporty ION Red Line
GM was quickly casting off the “old” Saturn. By the time the Astra launched, the Saturn lineup had radically changed: the ION and L-Series were history; the Relay van was replaced by the incredibly handsome Outlook crossover; the new mid-size Aura had taken home the North American Car of the Year trophy; and there was a new, Opel-derived Vue, available in a hybrid. It was far and away the best lineup Saturn had ever had, and probably one of the best lineups in GM history. A new ad campaign was even launched highlighting how much the company had changed, with various people exclaiming, “That’s a Saturn?!”
“New Saturn”, represented by the Outlook
As I said earlier, though, it was some rotten timing, and it probably explains why Astra sales never amounted to much. The Astra survived almost two model years before being axed; the Saturn brand was closed soon after, but not before a deal was almost reached for the brand and dealer network to be bought by Roger Penske. That would have been interesting, as the product range would have had to be changed all over again!
photo by M93
The Astra was a fundamentally good compact. The exterior and interior were crisply upscale, and the 3-door was a real looker. The dash may not have been the most ergonomic, but it looked sharp. Handling was confident and sporty, although the standard 1.8 four wasn’t the quickest lump. Overall, the Astra was a quantum leap over the ION, right down to the confident steering and the solid thunk of the doors.
It was a real shame Saturn died right as it got things right, but if you want to buy a handsome European Opel in the US, you still can. Buick’s Encore, Verano and Regal are all Opels, and they are all fantastic cars. Fortunately for that brand renaissance, it seems to actually be working.
Anyone remember this?
GM sure seemed to have a habit of filling its acquired brand’s North American lineups with cars from other brands. GM only ever owned 20% of Suzuki, but that didn’t stop them from bolstering the little Japanese company’s admittedly small lineup with Daewoos.
The Daewoo brand had a brief cameo in the American market, but after GM assumed control of the Korean company, the Daewoo name would never again appear. Instead, their cars were placed into other brands. The Kalos became the Chevrolet Aveo, and the Lacetti and Magnus became the Suzuki Forenza/Reno and the Suzuki Verona. Daewoos were generally sharply styled, thanks to Italian design houses Giugario and Pininfarina. Unfortunately, the cars themselves were adequate at best.
The mid-size Verona was certainly no sales success, coming from a niche brand with a small dealer network. Suzuki had never offered a mid-size sedan, either, and advertising was minimal. The kinds of people who did buy Veronas were probably people trading in Esteems and Aerios for something bigger. In addition to a sharp Giugario exterior, the interior had a smart two-tone theme and looked vaguely upscale. The Verona was well-priced, with even the loaded model coming in under $20k at launch. The car’s most unique attribute, though, was its engine: a transverse mounted 2.5 inline six.
Inline sixes tend to be smoother than more common V6s, and Suzuki touted the engine’s co-development with Porsche. Critics found the engine smooth, but otherwise the Verona’s performance was sorely lacking. This small displacement I6 – an even smaller 2.0 was available in its successor – was very low on power. 155 horsepower was all that was on its tap, with a meager 177 lb ft of torque. Consider this: the 2.3 used in the smaller, Suzuki-designed Aerio had the same amount of horsepower and only 20 fewer lb ft of torque. The Accord-sized Verona also had no available four-cylinder to make up for the mediocre fuel economy achieved by the I6, which was mated only to a four-speed auto. With a 0-60 of over 10 seconds, the Verona was outperformed by many of its four cylinder rivals due to its transmission, underpowered engine and 3446lb weight. The I6 at least sounded nice, though.
Other than a unique engine choice, the Verona only competed on price. It had worse fuel economy and power than many rivals and sloppy handling to boot. Quality had improved over its Daewoo Leganza predecessor – Suzuki claimed to have implemented a stricter quality process for Daewoos with their nameplate attached – but it wasn’t enough. Most people didn’t know the Verona existed, and after three model years, it was shelved.
2003-04 Infiniti M45
Stealth Bomber but a Sales Bomb
I find the Japanese car market absolutely crazy. The multiple dealer networks, the glut of cars offered by companies in every segment, the seemingly identical cars. I do appreciate the choice, however. And I wish sometimes Japanese companies brought over some of their unique offerings as a niche product (eg, the RWD Toyota Mark X). The Infiniti M45 was a case of Infiniti being able to tap into a vast Japanese market model range. Derived from the Nissan Cedric and Gloria, two basically identical JDM sedans, the M45 allowed for a gap to be bridged expediently.
the M45’s engine donor, the Q45
1990s Infiniti had somewhat of a confused model range, with a unique Q being buttressed with bland platform sharing jobs (QX4, I30) and JDM and European Nissans (G20, M30). As the 1990s trudged on, the Q45 lost power and style and the [proto-Lexus ES] I30 became the volume Infiniti. The 2000s, though, would see the launch of a car that would come to define the Infiniti brand: the G. Although it was a JDM Nissan Skyline, the G was perfectly suited to the American market and hit the BMW 3-Series head on with excellent rear-wheel-drive handling, a gutsy V6 and a sharp coupe variant. A new Q came for 2002, more stylish than its predecessor and returning to the nameplate a powerful 4.5 V8. All that was missing from the Infiniti sedan line-up was a something to slot in the $20,000 chasm between G and Q. That’s why this article is brought to you by the letter M.
Engineers quickly found a way to slot big brother Q’s V8 into the Cedric/Gloria’s engine bay, and the marketing guys priced the M lower than the German competition and right up against the Lincoln LS. JDM luxury sedans tend to have quite a cushy ride, but Infiniti tuned the ride and handling to fit its newfound performance image. The V8 helped nicely, especially as the M was a good 110 pounds lighter than the Q, and 0-60 was a rapid 5.7 seconds. This 4.5 unit put out a competitive 340 horsepower and 333 lb-ft of torque, outperforming the LS 3.9 V8 quite nicely (252hp and 261 lb ft; later, 280/286) while achieving similar gas mileage, a firm ride and capable (if not 5-Series toppling) handling. Inside, the dashboard was very similar to the more expensive Q, and outside, the body was conservatively handsome. The rear quarters were a bit cramped, owing to the limitations of the Cedric/Gloria body, but overall the M45 was a convincing mid-size sports sedan entry.
It didn’t sell. Only 7,855 of this shape of M were sold in the US market between 2002 and 2004. The Lincoln LS outsold it. Even the stodgy Acura RL outsold it. Maybe marketing and advertising were lacking investment, but it wasn’t until the new-shape M arrived in 2005, with an available V6, that the M finally received some five-digit annual sales figures. This makes the erstwhile M45 quite a find on the streets, and a decent used-car buy. Handsome styling, a powerful V8 and Nissan’s reputation for quality and reliability make this arguably more appealing than the frumpy RL and Lexus GS, or the potentially flaky Lincoln LS.
It came from outer space!
I learned something about the VehiCROSS while researching this article that I believe can change how one views this vehicle. I’d always presumed it was an Aztek-style failure, an example of a car with styling too bold for its own good (and with a similarly stupid name!). I had no idea that Isuzu had intentionally engineered this quirky SUV as a limited edition model.
It seems almost ridiculous, no? The cost of federalizing a car for the American market would surely be too high for a car intended to sell only a few thousand units, I thought. Not to mention, it was an entirely new nameplate, which comes with it marketing and advertising costs. Maybe, though, the VehiCROSS’s launch was more sensible than one would think. After all, when a car looks this bold – very little of the exterior was changed from the 1993 concept car – the car is really its own billboard.
photo courtesy Flickr user dave_7
The truck was designed as a technology showcase for Isuzu, and off-road it meant business. Underneath the curvy, be-cladded exterior sat a racing-style, high-endurance extruded aluminum shock absorber with attached expansion chamber, and Borg-Warner’s cutting-edge Torque-on-Demand 4WD system. Economies of scale were aided by basing the truck on the two-door Trooper and using its 215-horsepower, 230 lb-ft 3.5 V6. Your $28k netted you a very capable off-roader, but also a truck that critics agreed was quite firm and sporty on bitumen as well. Leather Recaros spruced up the conservative Rodeo-derived cockpit.
After the cheaper ceramic dies used for the body were no longer usable, the VehiCROSS was cancelled. If you find one of the 4,153 sold in the US between 1999-2001, carefully consider buying one. You’ll have a truck that was not only capable off-road, but outperformed most other contemporary SUVs on road, and you’ll also have one of the most distinctive SUVs ever made.
I’ll take a Saablazer… er, Trollblazer… er, that GMT360 thing with a griffin on it. Seriously. LS power, cushy interior, and a brand that now lacks appeal with the masses? Sounds like the trifecta of value to me.
Re Buick U-Body: China had U-Body Buick vans 14 years ago.
Re M45- I like these cars. I have a thing for the conservatively styled big
JDM sedans like the Toyota Crown and Century. These cars are 4-wheeled fossils, and I love ’em.
They remind me of the way cars used to look in my youth. This M45 is a great fit for my styling tastes
+1 on the Infiniti,I like these a lot though I’ve yet to see one in the UK.I’m a long time fan of comfortable RWD 6 cylinder sedans,now long gone from the UK Ford and Vauxhall range.
Good stockcar motors
Some interesting and not-so interesting cars here. Even the GM fans would have to admit the Uplander-clones were a pretty brain-dead move, what is the point of selling 4 identical vehicles? Yes equipment levels may have varied but that is what trim levels are for. I’m not sure who they thought they were fooling with that nose either?
Unfortunately we got all those Daewoo clones in Australia as Holdens, I think most people had the sense to avoid them but I have seen a couple in the carpark at work. The Verona-type has disappeared again however, I can’t recall off the top of my head what the model name was and I’m not disappointed in that! We also had the Astra sold alongside these Daewoos before it was replaced by the Cruze. It generally did fairly well, to the point where they tried to bring in Opels as a stand-alone marque. That has got to be one of the most spectacular failures in history, it lasted under 12 months and only a couple of thousand sales. Some of the new dealerships were still under construction when it folded!
There are only a few gray-import GMT360’s over here, and the same goes for the lunar-rover styled VehiCROSS but I have not seen any of the Infinitis even wearing Nissan badges. Perhaps the VehiCROSS belongs in a museum alongside a Plymouth Prowler?
I believe the Verona was called the Epica in Australia, as it was in Canada.
Which reminds me, how GM and Suzuki came up with all these names that resemble Canadian market captive import Vauxhall stinkers.
Suzuki Forenza? Sounds like Firenza, one of the worst cars ever sold in Canada.
Chevy Epica? Sounds like Epic, the Vauxhalls sold at Canadian Chevy stores.
Holden used Viva in Australia for the Lacetti.
Even GMC recycled the Envoy name. I guess they figured enough time had passed that nobody would remember the Vauxhall Victor-based Envoy, also sold at Canadian Chevy dealers.
History might not repeat, but it sure echoes.
Yep easily destroying a lot of badge equity built up on decent platforms.
You are right Roger, aka Epic fail.
Interesting choices. I have always kind of liked the GMT360, and the Buick Ranier would be my favorite. Just because. I saw one parked in a lot last week, but they are not a common sight, even in the midwest.
The PreCC effect was up and running as I saw a Vehicross in traffic last week. I was driving back from lunch and it passed right by me. Unfortunately, I was moving and had not seen it soon enough to attempt a traffic shot.
The M45 is a vehicle I fell in love with the first time I saw a print ad in the Wall Street Journal. I knew that they did not sell well, but I had forgotten just how poorly that was. The styling was beautiful, and the big, powerful V8 in the smaller car is always a winning formula in my book.
Through a quirk of timing and luck for Buick and Chrysler, we had new strong dealers for both brands in a high $ demographic area that breezed through the recession compared to most of the country. Raniers, Pacificas and Aspens roam the streets like best sellers. This is starting to change as these cars are now getting quickly traded off, but it made for some surreal roads during the height of the recession. The Buick dealer also carried Pontiac and the number of G8s was amazing as well.
Chuckling into my soup here. Really? Pictograms on dashboards are a problem in US market cars?!
I knew the Saturn rebadge of the Astra H* bombed, but I’d never have imagined it had anything to do with the dash icons – those are utterly standard here to the point where words on dash buttons would almost certainly be derided as unergonomic in a European car review.
Every day’s a school day – one more baffling market difference. Thanks for the write up there William. Fascinating.
* can’t help but wonder if GM had had one of the less frumpy and uninspiring Astra generations (the J or maybe the E are/were each better examples in their time) things might have gone better for poor old identity-crisis Saturn
My parents’ late, loved and long-lived Audi 90 and came with the big dash buttons and we found them completely comprehensible and very easy to understand. I’m honestly surprised they aren’t on more cars.
No, it had absolutely nothing to do with the buttons. The real problem was that the Saturn Astra barely received any advertisement: I remember it being relegated to about three seconds on the “Rethink American” full-line ads. (Now that I look on YouTube, it did actually have its own 30-second commercials, but there was little memorable about them.) MAYBE I saw an ad at the airport bus stop.
Agreed. I bought my ’08 Astra XR 5 door brand-new, but I bought it because I’d driven a ’00 in Germany while stationed there, and was looking forward to it coming to the States. Admittedly the buttons were, for ‘Muricans, alien; from the two steering wheel buttons (one looks like a bomb going off in a room and the other like a man being carried on a stretcher) to the center mounted door lock/unlock button, and the funky cruise control on the left turn signal that took me a week to figure out. However, once learned, its all rather intuitive and I love the simple way it functions.
The Astra kept some other funky European traits. Holding the unlock on the key fob has all the windows roll down. When parked and key out, you can jig the turn signal up or down and the parking lamps will come on for the right or left side only; handy for when you parallel park in cramped areas or busy streets. The fog lamps do not automatically come one with the lights, you have to manually do it yourself, and the rear fog lamp is still there, just without bulb. Took me almost 20 minutes to figure out wtf the oil filter was as its a cartridge vertically mounted with a plastic cap needing a 25mm socket to pop off. Not to mention the cartridge was not available at your local PepBoys or anywhere else for that matter for a while. Once Saturn rolled up shop, it was good luck finding one at the Chevy dealer. It took the Sonic coming over with the 1.8L to correct things.
The Astra’s biggest sins however were the lack of MP3 jack or Satellite radion limiting the driver to CDs and local bands. With the 5 speed, fifth gear at 80 mph nets 4000 RPMs, another European trait. Its madly efficient at that spin rate, but not made for long trip journeys on North American highways.
The only issue I have had is a bit odd. The fuel door locks with the power locks and unlocks when you pull the key out. The motor is made with a delightful four year lifespan and has taken to not unlocking the fuel door when unlocking the doors, causing me to open the hatch, reach into the service panel for the right rear tail lights and pulling the release cable. Minor inconvienance sure, but had I not had my phone on me to Google had to fix it when barely on fumes stopped at a station in the pouring rain, I would’ve been stuck like Chuck.
OK I had to look up an image based on your descriptions of the steering wheel buttons. Fair cop those are not standard! They’d throw us Europeans too…
I’ve attached a photo* in case anyone else wants to play “guess the function” but I’d say “man on stretcher” is the pick-up/put-down for the “handsfree” phone integration? and “bomb exploding in room” is the toggle to turn bluetooth on or off?
Dash mounted door lock buttons are pretty standard now – the cargo van we hired to move a mate of mine to Glasgow last weekend had one for example – and cruise-control (being a feature of automatics on the whole) is largely outside my experience, but I’d have expected to find it on a stalk if it were there.
So yes. Weird steering wheel buttons, the dash ones are all perfectly normal though 😉
* the broken windscreen in the footwell wasn’t standard equipment in Astra Hs as I recall 😀 just the first suitable image with the buttons visible
Which is a damned shame. The Astra was one of the best driving hatchbacks I’ve ever gotten behind the wheel. About the time that I was starting to think about buying a ‘new’ car (nine months later I bought the current xB), the local Car Max advertised an Astra 3-door. Curious, I went down to take a look, got the car out, and just about had the salesman pissing himself with the way I took it thru the local neighborhood (I veered off the regular test route and hit a load of back street twisties instead).
That car was wonderful! Unfortunately, I was still about six months shy of being able to pony up the money to buy. And there were some worries about the collapse of Saturn, even though the neighboring Chevy/Buick/GMC dealer was picking up laid off Saturn mechanics and going great guns into becoming the local service center.
The car sat, shuffled between three different Car Max outlets, for about five months before it sold. Its the only car I’ve ever noticed where Car Max (eventually) cut the price, slightly.
If you ever have a chance to drive one with a manual, do it!
It was a noisy POS.
5th gear a UK car show got the hotrod VXR Astra at their track and tried it out on a flying lap against the diesel it did the same time on a standing start it was 1 sec faster good road holding though.
The Astra’s low sales had less to do with the cryptic buttons, and more to do with the exchange rate.
The weak dollar made them expensive as an import from the Euro zone, so sales never took off.
My old neighborhood in Chicago had something like five of these Daezukis in a four-block radius (plus an old X-90)—it must have been the perfect combination of proximity to a Suzuki dealer, credit ratings and positive neighbor-to-neighbor word of mouth. I had no idea about the transverse I6, though—it’s one of those interesting design choices that has a certain, very specific logic to it (smoothness, safety, maybe something involving economies of scale—the only transverse I6’s I knew of previously, Volvo’s, were very closely related to their I5’s).
Still, 17 city mpg is completely unacceptable for such a weak engine (and a bit surprising considering how small it is)—the Mazda6 hatchback I used to drive (*ahem*) got better city miles than that with an engine half a liter bigger and 220 horsepower.
The ’05 Crown Vic ex-cop car I recently sold got better city mileage than that Suzuki *smh*…
“I learned something about the VehiCROSS while researching this article that I believe can change how one views this vehicle. I’d always presumed it was an Aztek-style failure, an example of a car with styling too bold for its own good (and with a similarly stupid name!). I had no idea that Isuzu had intentionally engineered this quirky SUV as a limited edition model.”
It fit their marketing plan. All Isuzu models turned out to be limited editions!
Never forget on that Ion, the ugliest steering wheel ever fitted to a car: http://img135.imageshack.us/img135/4345/2003saturnioninterior25tv8.jpg
nah that’s not an ugly steering wheel. *this* is an ugly steering wheel 🙂
What an ’80s Chrysler dash would have looked like if they had carried on their early ’60s styling themes. History does repeat itself.
All hail the Quartic steering wheel, one of the great British additions to modern civilization!
Copied from a 60s Chrysler if memory serves.
The first thing that comes to mind if not an ion but a water molecule.
It’s made all the more awful because we can’t be distracted by the instrument display. Was the Ion really a world car that needed to be cheaply converted from LHD to RHD? In what RHD market would somebody buy a Saturn? I’ll always associate center-mounted instruments with the Toyota Echo, and that’s not a good association.
Yes, when I test drove one the center gauge cluster really grated on me. Between the noisy engine and unrefined CVT it struck me as the worst car in its segment for the time.
What was Car and Driver’s final word on the Ion road test? “We waited seven years for THIS?”
Someone did because Ive seen a dead one for sale in Auckland.
I picked up a rental GMT360 in Trailblazer trim in Orlando in 2006. The car had under 10 miles on it. I’m guessing the manufacturer transport trucks must dump the new rentals directly at some of the larger airport rental yards. It was a decent ride. Too bad they had so many brands to populate. I thought the Saab was a joke, and I don’t think I even knew an Isuzu existed. 7 variants over 7 brands. Sheesh.
It’s actually a shame that maybe a Chevy version isn’t still around. If you want something with real towing capacity these days, you are limited to a full size SUV or pick-up. I miss the mid size SUV that has been dropped by everybody as far as I know.
How about the 4Runner or Grand Cherokee?
The 4 Runner was emasculated a few years ago, its one engine choice is limited to 4,700 in towing weight – that’s less then the current Ford Explorer, which itself is now just another CUV that tows far less than it’s namesake of yore. I give the 4 Runner credit for still being body-on-frame, but its not much of a contender anymore.
You have a point with the Grand Cherokee, it can still be rated to 7,200, but I’d go with a Durango for the longer wheelbase and 7,400 lb rating. These are about the last choices out there. The current Durango is a bit cramped inside compared with my 2002 Durango.
Don’t forget the Volkswagen Pheaton sold about 10 years ago and proved to be a sales dud. Who wants to pay over $60,000 for a Volkswagen.
This reminds me of an episode back when the Phaeton came out. I was with a work colleague (non-car person) when we were on a business lunch, and a guy in the group had just bought a new Phaeton. He wanted to show off, so offered to give us a ride in it. I knew it was the VW flagship and thought it was nice enough, but my colleague was a riot. She got in and was very complimentary, and said she really surprised that Volkswagens were so “fancy” inside. The owner then bragged that he had “only” paid around $60K for it. My co-worker got a very strange look on her face, almost like she was sick, and she was very quiet for the rest of the ride. When we got out of the Phaeton and were out of earshot of the owner, she remarked that she thought the price was outrageous, that the owner was an idiot, and to quote directly: “I had no idea a Passat costs so much money! I mean, my God, you could get a Mercedes for that!” I did enlighten her on what the car actually was, but VW’s credibility was totally shot in her eyes.
This reads like a list of Jim’s COAL’s that were not to be. I seem to like the forgotten and misunderstood. (Or maybe the just plain crappy, I dunno…) There are three cars on there that at one point in time I could have considered owning:
1. Suzuki Verona – I remember spending some time in it at a major Auto Show, either Detroit or Chicago when it was introduced and thought it was not pad for the price.
2. Buick Rainier – I still find these attractive and thought they were the best looking one of the bunch
3. Infiniti M45 – I test drove a couple (used), and they were very nice and a good value. Never pulled the trigger but did think about it. Very clean styling.
I never looked at an Astra but do remember the pictograms on a Zafira I rented in the UK around the same era. The pictograms WERE NOT all completely understandable at a glance if you were not familiar with Opels. And yes, I’ve had Audi’s and pretty much everything else, they did a much better job of it. On top of that, I’m a German (born and lived there) so it’s not just a “Dumb American” thing as implied somewhere above.
Always thought the M45 would have been a great Highway Patrol vehicle. Love that car so much. Really reminds me of a Japanese hot rodded Crown Vic.
Those infiniti V8s are popular for stockcars in NZ nice n light the compete against Toyota V8s on our Saturday night dirt oval bash n crash racing, the cars nar noone wants them.
Have you seen that show Top of the Lake?
Loyal Saturn owners were used to the plastic body panels, and were turned off by the “New Saturn” line having steel. The Astra wasn’t advertised on its own. Seemed like GM was pushing Saturn as an Olds replacement, highlighting the Vue, Relay, and Aura.
Oh I remember the Infiniti M45. I never see those and I live in a major metro area (Chicago). They are just great looking cars with a nice V8.
I always thought the name Saturn Relay was dumb. “Relay” is not a word you want associated with a car. If you’re talking about a relay in your car, something probably broke.
Same reason it was always puzzling that Chevy called that car the Citation. What, did you get a citation whilst driving it?
And you forgot what was probably the most blatent albeit unkown example of double reverse brand engineering that I can think of. Ever heard of the Daewoo G2X? A Saturn Sky built for sale in the Pacific rim countries. Yep built on the Wilmington DE assembly line and shipped to S.Korea and all points east.
BTW I’ll take a Saab 9-7x Aero anytime of the day. Why pay thousands more for a TBSS when you can have the same thing at bargain prices. BTW the 9-7x also had it’s ignition switch on the center console like a traditional Saab.
In one of those M45 photos I see a Saturn Vue and a Honda Element; neat! That North Carolinian is just asking for their car to be damaged parking that far from the curb in New York City considering the trucks, buses, bikes, taxis, and all the other activities that go on there. Nice article and I look forward to part 3 which I assume will mention the LS and Blackwood.
I would like to comment on the late model U-vans. I’m imagining a meeting somewhere at GM around 2000-2001 knowing that the U-vans were going to be on sale for a while longer. Also knowing that SUV’s were burning up the sales charts. What does one do with a minivan that alone has fallen out of favor not to mention being stranded in a shrinking market segment? Toughen it up, make it more like an SUV. What do they have to lose?
Before I found my most recent Aztek, I was looking at late model U-vans (which my wife was NOT interested in) and they were much nicer than their immediate predecessors. Fun fact: The five-lug models are FWD, the six-lug models are AWD. The interiors are a big step up from the older ones and the 3.9 V6’s are monsters of power compared to the 3.4’s that preceeded them. In addition to better crash ratings, they would make a decent minivan, especially for the hobbyist like myself.
Also, I will say this in defense of the G5: It was a Cobalt clone, but had nicer interior options compared to a Coby. There was also a difference in the fact there was no supercharged version of the Ecotec available. For the “excitement division” the fastest Delta body was the atmo 2.4L GT (analogous to the Cobalt Sport). Why did the Ion get the supercharged motor and the Pontiac did not? Questions that will never be answered…
The Astra was a honey of a car, especially the hatchback. It rang all kinds of my bells, but when it was on sale, I still had kids in school. I needed a 4 door and that little hatch was too small. I was never a fan of the original Saturns, and the LS models didn’t help. But by the time that Maximum Bob and Co., got around to repurposing Opels as Saturns, it was too late. It makes for a lot of good discussions on the boards, tho…
The M45 looked like a Japanese Crown Vic or maybe a Crown Vic from an alternate universe. I think I’ve only ever seen a couple and I think only ever at new car shows. In Grand Rapids, I’ve seen more Aston Martins than this variation of the Nissan big car. What does that tell you?
I’m curious to see how the changes in GMEurope are going to play out. GM has decided to withdraw the Chevy brand from the Continent and focus on Opel/Vauxhall as the primary brands there instead. With the renewed linkage between US & Chinese Buick and Opel, it may result in good things for us in the North American market.
Of course, what happens in South American markets (where Chevy and Opel are closely aligned) is a whole different question, not to mention Australia, Africa and the Middle East. Opel just recently re-launched and then retreated in Australia, but I think that GM’s famous indecision and Australia’s less than sustainable automotive manufacturing woes had more to do with the decision to retreat than even the lackluster sales of the Opels.
Interesting. So the more lugs an axle has the more torque it can withstand. I’ve noticed on the Ford Super duties they have eight lugs. Most other cars and trucks are five. The new 4-Runner has Six and so does the X-terra but some of the Dodges and Chevys seem to have five. Even the Land Cruiser has five. Can you guys explain to me the difference.
Just guessing, but with more lugs, each one has less stress on it, so that all of them together can handle more stress. I was surprised to find that my Kia Sedona has six lugs, which is (I believe) the only minivan to do so. Makes aftermarket wheels a bitch, but it makes me feel better about the strength of the running gear. The old 3/4 ton trucks were always 8 lugs (at least back through the 60s-70s) and the lighter duty was always 5. I never recalled seeing 6 lug wheels until maybe the 80s or 90s.
Thanks!!! Just walked past a Mercedes G-Wagen and noticed it had five but afterwards walked by a new-ish GMC Acadia Denali with six. I’ll have to do some research.
I missed part 1. Surely it included the Mercedes R-class and Ford Flex.
Hilarious, the 9-7X. Convincing customers that thing was a Saab. The very few sold here now go for as little as €8000 ($11000). What about the Saab Impreza, uhm, 9-2X?
Speak of Saabs, one car that’ll probably reach the same status is the “Cadillac” BLS, practically an inverted 9-7X.
The 9-7X along with the Bravada were the best looking of the GM siblings. I was highly pissed when they replaced the awesome but dated Trooper with the Ascender.
The 9-2X was probably the most reliable Saab ever built….I also thought it was more of a refined WRX visually…
Finally, I would take a BLS wagon….probably the sharpest handling Cadillac in decades..
When visiting the US I rented a Chevy Uplander.
The worst car I’ve ever driven. Yes, it was huge inside, but it was a gas guzzler (I rented it in California). Coming from European subcomptacts to drive that was very sad… 🙁
have a little secret for you…All Chevy’s are like that. All of them.
Work was attacked by storks six years ago and five of us ended up with six babies. So we ended up buying five new minivans. Two Odysseys, two T/Cs, and my Relay. Our kids are now six. What happened to the minivans? The two Odysseys, costing $32,000 – went through four $4000 transmissions and one got replaced. The two T/C, costing $27,000 – survived, one no longer has use of its power doors, the other – traded in. My Relay, costing $22,000 – had the torque converter go out and cost $1999 to replace, but everything else still works fine.
Yeah, the GM minivans weren’t the market darlings of suburban mothers, but they ended up being the best values. They were even awarded TTAC’s TWAT award, but reality has proven out that sometimes GM is good enough for your small kids to rip up, poop in, pee out of, vomit in and keep running. What’s your priority when you have a slew of pre-schoolers? Toyotas and Hondas make about as much sense to a young family as mink disposable diapers. Great old people’s vans, though!
I don’t like any of theses at all.