Saturday, February 14, 2009

Toyota Venza or RX350

If it were not for the badge discrepancy between the Venza and the RX350, I would have a hard time choosing the new RX350 over the Venza. Mechanically, in v6 trim both cars seem virtually identical. For the environmentally conscious, you can choose a 4-cylinder in the Toyota or a hybrid in the Lexus, and the money you save in the Toyota will more than offset the fuel savings potentially incurred into the hybrid.

For exterior styling, its a tossup. I think the Venza looks better overall whereas the Lexus looks kind of like a child going through through that middle school awkward phase. Certain areas are larger and more exaggerated that before yet the rest of the car has not quite grown enough for the more mature feature. The Venza on the other hand is more resolved, if it were not for the grill. I don't see why midsize crossover designers feel the need to channel Gehry when styling the grills. Look at the Murano, Edge, and now the Venza, its too much.

When in comes to interior design however, the Venza wins hands down. Toyota needs to be careful not to overclass Toyota models as they transition into separating Lexus and Toyota ranges worldwide. Previously Lexus models were badged as Toyotas, with the RX being the Harrier in Japan. Now that Lexus's are sold in Japan, they have the opportunity for more overlap. The Venza serves as a good example of the problem. Its interior is much more resolved compared the over-stylized cockpit of the RX350. I haven't tried out the new remote touch, but I think I touch screen will work better. The curved nature of the RX dash  presents the occupants with a large expanse of plastic whereas the Toyota seems to have a much more balanced appearance.

 If it weren't for the Lexus badge, I wouldn't ever consider purchasing the RX350, and I think thats exactly the point. Its kind of like these T-shirts I buy every summer. I wake up early to stand in line for a 20 dollar t-shirt that gets progressively uglier every year. I often feel like they try to make the shirt ugly just to laugh as people like up to buy dozens. Toyota is doing exactly the same with the RX350. The Venza is the same car without the premium badge, yet people would continue to pay for the swoopy "L" if they can.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Audi: I don't care if cocks buy them

Today I was driving back to my house when I saw a new A4 trailing me. All I can say is that Audi's new take on daytime running lights looks awesome. The strip of LED lights running along the heads are truly menacing in the rear view mirror.

I remember a couple years back when I thought that having the city lights on my Passat where cool, these new lights make my Passat look about as cool as ice cubes. I remember wanting a BMW with Angel-Eye headlamps as well. These Audi lights make all previous efforts look subpar (Saab also uses similar lights that look equally cool)

I want them. As daytime running lights are becoming increasing common (maybe required), I think it is great that Audi is using regulations to make their cars look even better. Unfortunately, something this cool is bound to be copied before I finish writing this blog. Remember how fender vents looked cool on the Range Rover back in 2003? Now we need them just about everywhere. Fortunately LED lights actually do serve some purpose opposed to non-functioning vents.

To Panamera and Beyond..

The recent stratification of the Porsche range into new territory has been controversial. This diversification started with the Cayenne and now includes a new four door sedan/hatchback/crossover(oops), the Panamera. While these latest additions have been engineering feats, stylistically they are about as appeal as genital warts. I recently went through the historical Porsche range, and believe I have found the root and potential solution to the unresolved aesthetic crisis currently afflicting these new striations in the Porsche range; The lack of a front engine design principal.

As Jeremy Clarkson attests, Porsche are the employees the laziest designers in the business. (Other companies have designers that just don't have the right eye) Looking at the 911, it has remained essentially the same since its initial inception in 1963. Even when fresh, this new model borrowed heavily from the 356. The Boxster also draws from the 356 and the Cayman barely deserves to be called anything other than the Boxster Couple. All of these models, have engines behind the driver. (I don't want to argue about the mid verse rear engine/Boxster verse 911 debate because it isn't relevant here). These designs do not call for the standard front engine archetype with a grill and higher hood but rather a low aerodynamic schnoz. 

I do remember the other front engine offerings of the 928/968 etc but these were still low slung sports cars that could "borrow" the predominant design language from the existing models.  I would argue that the 928 is as unresolved as the Panamera or Cayenne, having a rump only a mother could love.  I don't even want to get started on the rear of the Panamera.

Where does this leave these new front engine Porsches? Look at the Cayenne, across the model range, every iteration have a different front grill/intake/bumper assembly much like you see on the 911 range. Do you see BMW changing the shape of their trademark kidney grills between the 328i and 335i? They rely on a design heritage for the model and then tweak other aspects. However, while 911 has a distinct silhouette that can be easily recognized, Porsche has never created a Front Engine Design language. (Maybe because they're lazy) The differences in the bumper correspond to the increasing performance across the range. I think that on a Front Engine vehicle, Porsche needs to develop a standardized grill/bumper design language that can be applied to all models. They can still change aspects to indicator performance. The Lamborghini Estoque concept suffers from a similar problem, yet the angular audacious Lamborghini language seems to adapt better overall. Aston Martin doesn't suffer from this problem because their design language is based on front engine designs. 
Porsche is going to struggle with styling until they are able to successfully develop a coherent language for their front engine vehicles. They should look to signature elements in Porsche's history. I would start with the ovaloid grill the the engine cover for the 911, round headlamps, and the intakes from the turbo.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Acura! Are you guys crazy?

One time my brother and I decided to have a couple friends over to our house. While I had gone to bed, out little gathering, without gaining any new guests, had morphed our house into a dance club. I think everyone was having a great time but the music was too loud and carrying over to the neighbors. The racket only stopped when a friend came in uninvited and screamed, "Are you guys crazy."

Acura has lost its way and is desperately in need of the same savior we had that one night. The directors of product development must have developed amnesia (or suffer from a lack of creativity) because with news of v6 power for the TSX, their range has more overlap than a health car provider. Do the product planners really see a niche for a v6 TSX, when Acura already has their work cut out marketing the new cheese-grater TL. What Acura needs is someone to interrupt the party by screaming; Are you crazy? As we did, Acura will realize they most certainly are.

There is only room for so many similarly equipped front wheel drive cars in a model range. The RL was initially well received, yet has now been usurped by the imposing new TL. This v6 TSX will undoubtably serve as the cast cow, taking buyers from the base TL. This also begs another question, will the 280 estimated horsepower of this new engine be coupled will available AWD, further diminish the need to purchase a TL? I am willing to be so. When you only have three sedans, that all are nearly indistinguishable from on another in features, options, and style, no idiot is going to walk into the showroom and pick the most expensive on to take home. Its like saying here are three coffee machines, they all do the same thing, all are made by the same company, only that one of the left costs half as much as the one on the right. You don't even have to shop around to find a bargain at an Acura dealer now, because the product planners have already done that for you.

The current Acura slogan is "Advance." The million dollar question is where are they advancing? Without RWD, Acura can never be uttered in the same sentence as Lexus, Infiniti or BMW. (Even Cadillac) Right now, it appears the only company Acura appears to be advancing towards is Lincoln. Could Acura be becoming the Lincoln of Japanese automakers? I think so. Look at the similarities between their respective model ranges and their entire corporations. Lincoln has evolved into a Ford trim badge (and with the new Taurus adopting the Kinetic language I wonder if this badge even had any merit). The same much can be said for Acura if you ignore SH-AWD, all the models are based off of FWD platforms with roots in economy cars. Granted Hondas may have a better start to life than Lincolns.  The MDX is a Pilot with a serving plate for a grill and one less seat. The TSX is a Honda Accord (transplanted from Europe), and the TL and RL are both gussied up Accords. With news of the cancellation of the NSX replacement and the RWD RL, it appears that this advance is not going anywhere.