The Arizona Auto Show didn’t have a lot of jazzy cars, but one that did catch my eye was Nissan’s Murano Cross Cabriolet. It was the only car in the exhibit hall that actually made me take a second look.
The concept is simple, take a mid-sized SUV crossover and chop the top. Of course execution is never that simple, so I imagine a lot of engineering went into making the Murano topless. Of course that adds to the price, so Nissan did the only logical thing, they made it a little more luxurious inside so it would cost more. The final result comes in at nearly $50,000. Once you reach that price point, you need to start asking some serious questions.
Let’s assume it does everything it’s designed to do just great. Do you really need a crossover convertible?
I’m a huge top down fan. My daily driver is a Mustang convertible and it’s the fourth topless car I’ve owned. I actually feel guilty when I don’t put the top down. But I’ve discovered that my passengers rarely feel the same. My wife is always worried about what her hair is going to look like when we get where we’re going. The few times I’ve had passengers in the back, I’m always amused at how the wind buffets their hair until it’s practically standing straight up. Not to mention the fact that the road noise makes conversation complicated. My point is that I think convertibles tend to be personal cars for the driver.
Now let’s talk about the price. $50k is a lot of money. For about the same price, you could get a BMW, Infiniti or Lexus convertible. For just a little more you could hop into a Corvette or Mercedes SLK 350 (although they only seat two people). The problem with spending $50k on the Cross Cabriolet is that you still have a Nissan. It may be one of the coolest and most luxurious Nissans around, but it’s not a name that is going to wow your friends.
I can’t imagine that Nissan is planning to sell a ton of the Cross Cabriolets, but that’s probably just as well. It’s an interesting gimmick that a few people will no doubt love. I just don’t think I’m going to be one of them.
Parking at the Auto Show: $12
Admission for two (with discount coupon): $14
Lunch at the Auto Show (2 slices of pizza and a soda): $16
Finding out my wife really like the Lincoln MKX: $39,525 plus options
I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of the Auto Show. It’s just a giant new car showroom that charges me to get in. On the other hand, it is a great way to sit in every type of car you’re considering in one fell swoop. Sometime in the next year, we’re planning to replace my wife’s 2005 Toyota Highlander. It’s a great car, but it’s past 100k miles and it’s time to think about something newer.
We tried all the crossovers. My wife wants to sit a littler higher, but she doesn’t want a big beast. We went through a trio of Suburbans and a Toyota Sequoia back when we had to haul kids around. Now that they’re gone (grown up, not dumped) she still likes to be above the traffic, but she doesn’t want something with lousy gas mileage.
I kept trying to interest her in the Kias and Hyundais. I think they build great cars these days with killer warranties. The only one that interested her was the Hyundai Tucson. It used to be pretty lumpy looking. Since it’s been restyled, I think it looks pretty nice. She tried the Veracruz, but wasn’t impressed with its mileage.
We have a friend who bought a Ford Edge and likes it quite a lot, so my wife gave it a try. It was in the running until she sat in the Lincoln MKX. She went back three times as we tried other cars. She liked the looks (I can’t say I’m thrilled with the front end) and found the interior very comfortable. I’m not a big fan of dashboards with large video displays. I have a feeling ten years from now we’re going to have a generation of cars with large black panels that have long since stopped working and we don’t have the computer firmware updates to get them going again. The MKX (like the Edge and many other cars) has the big display, and I may just have to get used to it.
We’re not buying for at least another six months. We still have tests drives and plenty of research about crash tests and owners opinions before we commit. But right now it looks like I have a president in my future.
When you talk about a car called the Vega, a couple of brands come to mind, but Ford isn’t one of them.
The first is the Chevy Vega. It was built between 1971 and 1977. It was Chevy’s subcompact back then. The styling took cues from the early 70’s Camaro and Motor Trend called it the Car of the Year back in 71. By the time it went out of production, nearly two million were built.
The second car is the Facel Vega and was far more exotic. Built in France between 1954 and 1964, the car had a sleek modern look with a distinctive grill. It had a center section that was upright (ala BMW) and two side grills with horizontal lines. Unlike the Chevy Vega, the Facel Vega was pure luxury and was driven by plenty of celebrities in its day.
Few people remember the Ford Vega. That’s because it never actually went into production. It was produced back in 1953 as a concept car. Vince Gardner came up the design for a Motor Trend contest in 1950. He was part of the team that created the Cord 810. The story goes that Gardner didn’t have enough money to build the car, so he talked his way into Henry Ford II’s office and came away with an $8,000 check to start the process. When it was finished, it was shipped back to Dearborn for Ford’s 50th anniversary.
The car had hideaway headlights and looks that rivaled the best looking sports cars of that era. Unfortunately, it was never more than a styling exercise. Ford returned it to Gardner and the car faded into obscurity. Fortunately it was recovered back in the 1990s and restored to award winning standards. It was sold at the Barrett Jackson collector car auction in Scottsdale in 2006 for $378,000. Its sometimes called the Gardner Special because while Ford paid the bills, it was designed and built outside the company.
While the Ford Vega may never have never made production, legend has it that it was the car that partly inspired Henry Ford II to start thinking about a two-seater sports car. Two years later the Thunderbird arrived.
I’m a QT guy.
I’m not talking about looks here. I’m talking about gas.
Here in Phoenix we have QT gas stations all over the place. QT is short for Quik Trip and it’s a chain based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Right now they have almost 600 stations operating around the southwest and midwest. The company calls them “stores”. All the QTs in our area are huge with 20 to 24 pumps.
So why am I writing about QT? Two reasons. The first is service. The employees are awesome. I watched a guy emptying trash cans today literally running from one to the next. The folks working the register are nearly always working two customers at a time. Inside the place is spotless. They also seem to be genuinely friendly.
But since I’m supposed to be writing about cars, I need to point out there is an automotive reason buy gas at QT. Like the old Hebrew National kosher hot dog commercial used to say, they answer to a higher standard. QT’s gas meets something called the Top Tier standard. Top Tier was established back in 2004 by BMW, GM, Honda and Toyota. Volkswagen and Audi jumped on board in 2007. Top Tier gas basically contains a higher detergent level than is required by the EPA. According to the manufacturers, Top Tier gas does a better job of keeping carbon deposits from building up inside your engine. The goal is to make your engine last longer. You can buy it at a variety of gas stations ranging from Chevron to Shell.
This higher detergent level is controversial. Some folks say it’s nothing more than a marketing ploy by the manufacturers and the gas companies selling fuel that meets the standards. One argument says all you’d have to do is use a fuel system cleaning additive at about 100,000 to get the same result.
Now I’ve always been a believer that gas is gas. They all have to meet the same basic standards. I’m not enough of an engineer to have a clue as to whether Top Tier is going to make any difference at all. But if I can pay the same price (or less) to get Top Tier fuel, and have friendly staff with a clean, modern place to buy it, I’m in. If it really does make a difference, then I’m in a win-win situation. If it doesn’t, then I can at least sleep the peace of the ignorant and pretend I’m making a difference for the engine that’s working so hard every time I stomp the throttle.
That’s why I’m a QT kind of guy.
Check out an article from Harvard Business School on how Quik Trip’s investment in its employees is paying off.
Got a spare $1.8 million laying around? Want some serious exclusivity?
How about a Zenvo?
While it may sound like a carnival magician (Zenvo the Magnificant!), it’s a car. Well, actually, it’s a supercar. Designed and 100% built in Denmark. (You know, when I think supercars, I think Denmark.) Supposedly it goes 0-60 mph in 2.9 seconds with a top speed of 233 mph. That would put it 7th fastest on Supercars.org’s top ten list. And it’s from Denmark.
The exclusive part? They’re only building 15. That makes the Bugatti Veyron owners club (all 300 of them) look like Denny’s on free Grand Slam breakfast day: a packed house.
Interestingly, they’re not trying to knock the Veyron off the top of the fastest cars list. The company claims its goal is to build a supercar that you can drive every day. It has three different driving modes: normal, sport and race. You get either 650bhp, 850bhp or 1104bhp depending on your mood and courage.
But is it worth $1.8 million? I guess you’ll have to ask the guy who ends up number 16 on the list. Will it be deep regrets, or great relief when he doesn’t get one?
By the way, the name Zenvo came from combining the names of the two people who started the company: Jesper Jensen and Troels Vollertsen. I can only assume that Zs and Js are the same thing in Denmark.
Incidentally, the car is on a tour of the US this month. I guess their failure to show up at my house has something to do with a lost address…
Check out video of the car.
Read a full road test of the Zenvo.
I didn’t realize Lexus was in trouble.
An article in USA Today talked about how Toyota is trying to rebuild its Lexus brand. I guess it really shouldn’t have been a surprise. When I started thinking about Lexus I realized that I couldn’t think of a single car in its lineup. They’re probably great cars, mind you, but there’s nothing that sticks out. Even more amazing is that I can remember more Cadillacs.
Apparently, I’m not the only one to draw that blank. According to the article, Lexus has gone from being the top-selling luxury car to number three behind BMW and Mercedes. When the brand was first introduced back in 1989, Toyota would have been thrilled to finish third. Now it’s just a glaring example of how far they have fallen. There is no single reason for the decline. Lexus was tainted by Toyota’s problems with unintended acceleration. The tsunami that hit Japan caused supply problems. But the biggest problem is its lack of style.
The company has done some serious intelligence gathering over the past year. They’re talking to Lexus owners as well as folks who drive the competition. And while it’s great to have bulletproof cars that are technological masterpieces, their target audience wants more. They want pizzazz. One woman quoted in the article who drove a European car that had given her nothing but trouble said that she kept driving it because it was like “It’s like a bad boyfriend. He lets you down but you keep coming back because he looks so good.”
So how do the folks running Lexus plan to fix their problem? They’re turning to your kids.
Lexus discovered that a lot of grownups turn to their teens for car advice. It’s the children who pass judgment on whether the car is cool or stodgy. And after all, who wants to be stodgy. Especially when you’re spending that money. I guess it’s the same reason I give my sons veto power over my clothes.
Needless to say there’s a lot more that is going to go into the re-formation of Lexus. The car has to be something you lust over, but the ownership experience has to be just as great. I remember when I bought my first Infiniti. I was amazed at how well I was treated every time I showed up for service. After awhile, you actually feel like you deserve to own a luxury car.
I wish Lexus well. And I’m looking forward to watching the mark claw its way back.
Incidentally, the first step is the Lexus LFA. I think my kids would be impressed.
Check out Motor Trend’s impressions here.
My new favorite guilty pleasure is Bringatrailer.com. I signed up for their newsletter and everyday I get an email with an eccletic mix of cars for sale around the country. It’s tilted more towards foreign cars, but it’s great reading for anyone who likes old stuff. What makes it truly interesting is that it’s not your usual collection of cars. Today it’s highlighting a 1966 Chrysler 300…
…next to a 1977 Triumph Dolomite (does anyone on this side of the pond even remember the Dolomite?).
There’s a great looking Volvo 1800 (remember The Saint TV show?)…
…and a 1947 Hudson pickup.
They add something new to the line up every day, although I imagine you only have to check in every week to get a great feel for what folks are selling.
Of course if you really want that Dolomite, you’d better act fast. I’m sure folks are calling like crazy.
There’s a new wrinkle in electric land.
A Chevy Volt apparently caught fire several weeks after a crash test. You can read about it here.
This isn’t a game changer. I’m sure that the Volt is just fine. But it does point out the issues with launching into new forms of technology. We’re used to crashing cars and then either fixing them or walking away. We know that we have to pay attention to leaking gas or fluids. For the most part, we can see or smell everything that is a danger.
Electric cars bring a new set of techno risks. Not better, or worse. Just different. How will crash responders have to work with electric cars? Are they different than hybrids? And what are we going to face when fuel cell cars finally arrive?
I’m a big fan of new technologies. I can’t wait for the next concept to be discovered (hopefully in my lifetime). But it’s always important to remember that (as the physicists like to point out) for every action there is a reaction. Electric cars may not pump out smog, but their batteries create a new kind of toxic waste and now it appears they cause some other risks. Before we embrace the next big thing, we need to remember there’s always something lurking in the shadows.
When I’m standing in the staging lanes working for SPEED during the Barrett Jackson auctions, people often come up and ask what’s my favorite car. At that point I usually begin to mumble and stammer. That’s because I really don’t know the answer. My automotive tastes are all over the map, and they change from day to day.
I grew up admiring sports cars. In those days, that meant the European stuff. My first car was a 1959 Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite. I bought that because it was the absolutely cheapest way to buy a British sports car. It cost me a whopping $250. Of course it didn’t actually run, at least not on it’s own power. It had a huge hole in one of the valves. I eventually got it back in running order and drove it to college. I later sold it for $750 and thought I’d made a killing. I wish I had it back.
My dream car from that era is the 1955 Mercedes Benze 300SL Gullwing. It is one of the most beautiful cars in the world, and a spectacular piece of engineering. Throw in some racing lineage, and it’s a great combo. How many times have those gullwing doors been copied on everything from expensive sports cars to modified Japanese tuners?
While I still love sports cars, I also like American muscle. After all, I grew up in the 60′s and 70′s. But trying to pick a favorite is nearly impossible. On one day it’ll be the 1968 Shelby GT500, the next it’s an AAR Cuda. Then I’ll see a 1970 Chevelle SS convertible go by and I’m hooked on the bowtie. I can also be easily blinded by late 50′s Detroit convertibles. Everything from the Packard Caribbean to just about anything from 1959 with big fins.
And then there’s the modern stuff. I have a 97 Corvette sitting in my garage. It’s the first year of the C5 and one of the most beautiful body styles of all time. I’d love to have a Viper GTS or a McLaren SLR (now I’m really dreaming). On the other hand, I’m content to drive my 06 Mustang convertible on a daily basis.
So if you see me at any of the Barrett Jackson Auctions and ask me the big question… be prepared for a big answer!
Originally posted at SPEEDTV.COM
I can’t really remember when I attended my first Barrett Jackson auction. I moved to Phoenix in 1978, and it was just a few years later that I probably attended my first event. Back then it was held at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. At the time, the Phoenix Giants minor league baseball team played there. These days it’s the spring training home for the Oakland A’s. We’d go out and wander around the cars, although the collection wasn’t nearly as large as it is today. Out in the parking lot they had a swap meet for old car parts. There weren’t many muscle cars in that era, it was the big European stuff that ruled the day. Eva Braun’s Mercedes 540K and Mussolini’s 1939 Lancia Parade car added a touch of infamy to the automotive legends.
What I really remember about those early auctions is something that you still see today: The Show. It was like a three ring circus of excitement. Auctioneers, ringmen and bidders all caught up in a frenzy. It didn’t (and doesn’t) matter whether it was $15,000 or $150,000 the money is real and everyone is working hard to make the deal just right.
Hard to believe that the simple event on the baseball field has turned into the mega extravaganza that will attract hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country and get 40 hours of live television coverage on SPEED. I’m glad I was there in the early years, and even happier to be a part of what Barrett Jackson has become!
Originally posted at SPEEDTV.COM.