Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Look what I saw...a 1965 Corvette C2

1965 Corvette C2

What a beauty - I passed this baby-blue 1965 Corvette C2 being transported on the highway...with its top down! Growing up, my favorite sports car was always an early-'90s Corvette - black interior and black exterior. However, as I got older, I discovered cars by Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Mercedes, and I started to lose excitement for the Corvette. Click through for some more snapshots and my thoughts on the Corvette brand.

1953-1962 Corvette C1
I'm not going to profess to be an expert on vintage Corvettes; however, anyone can appreciate the beauty of a pre-1970s Corvette, starting with the scouped C1, which is not only an icon for Chevrolet / GM, but also for the USA in the 1950s. It may not be the fastest car in today's standards, but who cares? I believe this design sits up there with the Jaguar E-Type, Porsche 356, and Shelby Cobra. Every detail is so tastefully executed and makes me proud to be American!

Approaching the C2
C2 side shot
In the 1960s Chevy produced the C2 convertible I saw on the highway (pictured above), as well as the iconic split-window coupe variant. The design was inspired by a stingray and Mako shark (which is awesome) and is executed in a very restrained, high-class manner. The coupe and convertible are each spectacular in their own right. I believe the C2 was the last great Corvette...and then things started going downhill over the next few decades.

1968-1982 Corvette C3
I like the idea of styling a car after a stingray / shark, but the Corvette C3 is such a dramatic departure from the outgoing Corvette C2 (which was also styled after a stingray / shark), that it leaves me confused. The C3 is the only truly "curvaceous" Corvette, and is almost too much so. The Corvette C3 looks like a relic of the 1970s, and goes well with shag carpet and a disco ball (this red-orange color doesn't help...). I wish the C3 was either shorter or wider, as the proportions make the car look too skinny, similar to a Dodge Charger Daytona. The C3 is certainly not ugly, but it is not as classy as the C1/C2, and not as sporty as the C5/'s somewhere stuck in the middle.

1984-1996 Corvette C4
As mentioned earlier, the next-gen Corvette, the C4, was my favorite car growing up. At the time, it was very futuristic, made out of plastic (which was a novelty at the time), and looked somewhat like a turbine jet. I never liked the round taillights of the mid-to-late '80s body style, which seemed vaguely feminine, but the squarer lights in the '90s were a huge improvement. However, the C4 lost its value quickly and has become fairly affordable for anyone to purchase (probably because of the relative lack of refinement in handling, interior quality, and the occasional reliance on the generic-GM-parts-bin). This lack of exclusivity led to the C4's decline in "sizzle" over time. Today, the C4 is the quintessential midlife crisis car and lacks the "restaurant factor" - that feeling when you drive up to the valet in a nice car - something that a similarly-priced Mercedes, Lotus, or Porsche in the same time frame has an abundance of.

1997-2004 Corvette C5
I like a number of design features on the C5, especially the race-inspired wedge shape, smooth front-end, and scoupes on the sides. It is curvaceous, but not to an extreme like the C3. However, 2 factors completely ruin this car for me: 1) the ugly Malibu-like door handles, and 2) the Chevy Blazer-like interior. I'm sure GM saved a ton of money by digging into its corporate parts bin, but it seriously cheapened the car. The Corvette has gained a reputation for having the best value for the biggest engine: rough around the edges but lots of fun. While that's a reasonable strategy at the onset, I think it's hard to command Porsche 911-like resale values for a car with such less prestige, no matter how big the engine is.

2005-present Corvette C6
The current-gen Corvette C6 is a huge improvement over the outgoing C5 - overall, the exterior looks more high-tech and restrained. I like the hidden door handles and the body color showing through the headlight glass. The interior is another story, however, whose dashboard shares many parts with low-end GM models. For a $50/60k+ sports car, I expect some semblance of luxury and/or sportiness, yet the dashboard has a similar level of refinement as a Chevy Cobalt. The interior should either be 1) luxurious and up to par with European / Japanese competitors or 2) stripped down like a 911 GT3...pick one or the other, GM! Also, as Jeremy Clarkson infamously pointed out on Top Gear a couple years ago, the plastic body is ill-fitting in some areas, especially the taillight region.

Corvette C7 Concept

It will be interesting to see what the production C7 will actually look like. The Stingray Concept and various sketches insinuate a throwback to the iconic split window coupe of the '60s, which if tastefully done, could be a huge win for the Corvette brand. But if it is too cliche, it could be a major disaster.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Living with Our LEAF after Four Months

Our LEAF is still going strong without a hiccup for over 3,000 miles now and four months of driving.  

We are really having fun with this revolutionary car.  It is big enough to comfortably fit all five members of our family, including a baby seat, for drives out to dinner and local fun outings.  And it is small enough to be fun to drive and responsive in all kinds of driving.  Even though I have been a lifelong car enthusiast, I am really happy to be driving the LEAF as my personal car for "fun driving".  I still don't miss my BMW 3 Series coupe at all.

We still haven't spent a penny on fuel for our LEAF because of the solar energy produced by the solar panels on our home's rooftop.  Even though household usage (not including LEAF charging) increased by over 230 kWh compared to last July because we've had a family of three living with us this month, and even though we drove more miles in the LEAF and charged if with more kWh than in any previous month, we still had an electric bill that showed a CREDIT of $55.82.  This was because of the Time of Use rate plan from our utility, SCE.  The solar power that we generated during Peak hours was credited at  between 19 cents and 55 cents/kWh, while our LEAF charging was billed at between ten cents and 16 cents/kWh.  This difference in Time of Use billing produced a CREDIT total, even though our net usage for the month was a positive 167 kWh.  For our net metering year, which is five months old, we have a credit balance of over $300, which will help to offset our electrical usage for the remaining months of the year, when our solar power generation will be lower.  I'm estimating that we'll end the net metering year next March with a total electrical power bill of zero! 

So we're truly driving at ZERO fuel cost because of our solar panels and Time of Use electrical rates.  Of course, we paid about $25,000 out of pocket for the solar installation in 2007.  Payback time for this outlay would have been more than 12 years if offset by only our savings in electrical bills.  But when adding in the savings in gasoline costs for driving up to 12,000 miles per year, the payback time drops to about 7 years.  And after the system is paid off by these savings, we will have free household electrical power and at least 12,000 miles of EV driving at no cost for as long as the life of the solar panels, projected at over 20 years.

Public Charging:
We publicly charged our LEAF four times in July, using public charging stations in Seal Beach, Newport Beach, in Diamond Bar at AQMD headquarters, and using the solar powered DC Quick Charge station at Mitsubishi Headquarters in Cypress.  All of this charging was free of cost.  Most public charging stations are offered free of cost at this time, to encourage EV adoption.  The DC Quick Charge station at Mitsubishi is the only such station operating in California at this time.  The management at Mitsubishi is being really progressive by allowing LEAF owners to use this station, even before their own Mitsubishi i EV comes on the market late this year.

Low Battery Charge Warning:
We've seen a low battery charge warning only once while driving in four months.  This was on the way back from a trip to the beach, with the whole family in the car.  We had a charge of about 13 miles and one bar of charge showing as we headed home.  But the route home was up a steep hill.  At the top of the hill, the last charge bar went dark and we got a Low Battery warning with the miles remaining showing 6 miles, and flashing.   My wife was concerned, since we had about 5 miles of driving to get home.  I reassured her that we'd make it and shifted into ECO mode to conserve power. Most of the trip home was downhill, and after driving conservatively, the miles remaining indicator still showed 6 miles when we pulled into the garage.  I decided to drive the car further until the second low battery warning appeared, and was able to drive another 4 to 5 miles.  This was a good educational experience, and it made me feel more comfortable with miles remaining readings at the low end of the range.  I recommend that all EV owners drive the car down to a low state of charge at least once, to better understand their car's behavior.

The Numbers:
Month:  July 2011
Total Miles at Month End:  3,139
Miles Driven in Month:  995 miles
Electric Power Used for Charging: 318.1 kWh (measured at wall power source, includes public charging)
Public Charging:
 24.5 kWh
Home Charging: 293.6 kWh
Energy Efficiency, Month of July 3.13 miles/kWh (wall to wheels)
Energy Efficiency, Lifetime:  3.14 miles/kWh (wall to wheels)
Most Electric Energy Used for Charging in a Day in July: 23.9 kWh  (6.3 charging hours)
Least Electric Energy Used for Charging in a Charging Day: 4.0 kWh  (1.1 charging hours)
Average Electric Energy Used for Charging in a Charging Day:  12.2 kWh  (3.2 charging hours)
Household Power Used:  764.4 kWh (without car charging)
Total Power Used:  1,060 kWh (includes car charging)
Solar PV Power Generated:  893 kWh
Net Power Used or Sent to Grid:  167 kWh net used
Electric Bill:  -$55.82 (A credit in this amount will be added to our net metering total credit for the year, offsetting future bills for months with lower solar output.)
Cost for Charging Car in July:  $0.00
Cost per Mile:  $0.00
Cost for Charging Car, Lifetime: $0.00
Cost per Mile, Lifetime: $0.00

(If We Didn't Have Solar Power, Est Cost for Charging Car in July: $38.17)
(If We Didn't Have Solar Power, Est Cost per Mile in July: $0.038) 
Average Miles per Driving Day:  39.8miles
Longest Day's Driving:  77.2 miles
Shortest Day's Driving:  4.2 miles
Number of Times we Took the Prius Instead of the LEAF Due to Low Charge: None
Unexpected Low Charge and Unable to Reach Destination:  Never

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Ford Fiesta rally experience

I recently participated in the 1-day Ford Fiesta Rally Experience at Team O'Neil Rally School in Dalton, NH. My father accompanied me, and while he did not want to drive, he was able to take some awesome pictures (thanks dad!). I was taught basic rally techniques in both a classroom and track setting. For $569, the 7-hour class for 15 people was an amazing value and more fun than I could ever imagine. Click through to see more.

We started off learning how to left-foot brake by spinning the Fiesta around in a circular track. At first, it seems counterintuitive, since most people use their right foot for gas OR brake, but ralliers hold the gas and tap the brake at the same time to drift-turn the car on loose surfaces, rather than turning the steering wheel.

Once we learned how to left-foot brake, we went to the slalom, which sat at the bottom of a steep hill to gain speed. The instructors had us whip the cars around like there was no tomorrow, providing rapid-fire instructions like, "left, tap the brake, countersteer, keep your foot on the gas, right, tap the brake, countersteer" and after a few tries, I was picking up the technique. They had to continually wet the track to maximize the looseness of the dirt track.

By the way, the car in front with the busted bumper was actually the most souped up model of the bunch. It had previously been in a minor accident, so Team O'Neil gave it a sport exhaust system an real alloys.

Then things started to get more difficult...Pendulum turns and Trail Braking. Both techniques are ways to quickly turn the car at a sharp degree, and demand a strong understanding of when to use braking and how much pressure.

Pendulum turns involve counterintuitively turning the car in the opposite direction of the turn while braking, then letting off the brake and countersteering to use the car's momentum to correct itself and turn in the correct direction. To be honest, I will need quite a few more runs before I could master this one...

Trail braking is a bit simpler: as you approach a turn, you apply brake pressure. Once you release the brake, the car's weight shifts and slides you into the turn at the correct angle.

The next set of exercises were related to accident avoidance and were actually quite practical, in addition to being fun. The instructor had us ramp up speed to 40 mph and approach a set of cones (we were supposed to visualize a moose in the middle of the road), and he would randomly shout one of three instructions: 1) stop, 2) stop turn (left or right), and 3) no stop turn (left or right). Similar to a real accident scenario, the randomness of the instruction required us to stay on our toes.

The Fiesta itself was a joy to drive and is very easy on the eyes. The little subcompact is probably the best looking car in its class and fits nicely with the rest of Ford's design language. The interior is exceptionally high-class for a car at this price range. The models we were driving were stripped of carpeting for safety and to save weight, but the dashboard is smartly designed with easy to operate buttons. The cars we were driving are heavily flogged on a daily basis, but have held up quite nicely, which is a testament to Ford's quality. The steering was direct, the acceleration was peppy, and the brakes were responsive. By the end of the day, I was convinced - if I was in the market for a subcompact, the Fiesta would be at the top of my list.

As a treat for finishing the long day of exercises, the instructors took us on a lap around the track at full speed. I am sitting in the back seat of this red Fiesta pictured above, and was clinging on for dear life! The pro driver took us off small jumps, sped down a tiny wooded path at 40+ mph, and did huge powerslides - much larger than the ones I was attempting to do earlier. This experience was almost more fun than driving the cars myself!

In sum, I would recommend this course to anyone who is a car enthusiast. Every single person who participated left with a huge grin on their face (myself included). The program was professional, educational, and excellent value compared to some of the other driving schools out there. I hope to do the 2 or 3 day school, which goes into more depth in some of the more advanced techniques. Plus, they have a full stable of Audi, Subaru, Jeep, VW vehicles of all drivetrains. I could see this getting pretty addictive...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Top 10 ugliest SUVs of all time

Pontiac Aztek
SUVs are a relatively modern phenomenon, rising in popularity in the mid-90s and losing steam in the late-00s when gas prices rose. In this short amount of time, we've gotten some great designs (which I will save for a subsequent post) and some scary designs. I want to spend time discussing the latter. I've ranked the top 10 ugliest SUVs, in order of bad to worst. Click through to see:

Mercedes GLK
10. Mercedes GLK. If you haven't already noticed, I am a huge Mercedes it pains me to include the GLK on this list, but it must be done. The GLK is oddly proportioned throughout. The front end looks like a cartoon character, the sides are too boxy, and the car looks pretty wimpy for an SUV. The interior is up to Mercedes' standards, but the exterior falls short of competitors like the Q5 and SRX.

9. BMW X3. BMW has finally fixed the awful Bangle-era styling of its 3, 5, and 7 sedans, but there's still something very displeasing about the X3 - too many nips, tucks, creases, and bends for my liking. The rear windows between the C and D pillar are an ugly shape, and I don't like the little downward curls and creases on the sides of the car. The front end is nothing extraordinary. The interior is the design's only saving grace in my opinion.

Acura ZDX
8. Acura ZDX. As the Honda Crosstour's ugly sister, the ZDX has had a hard time getting notoriety as a contender in the swoopy-SUV category. After the success of the Mercedes CLS, all the car manufacturers are racing to get 4-door coupe designs on as many vehicles as possible - sedan and SUV. The ZDX is Acura's answer to the BMW X6, but falls short. The front end has Acura's ugly shield, the rear doors have Pathfinder-like handles, and the rump is too big. Acura tried way to hard on this one.

Jeep Compass
7. Jeep Compass. Jeep screwed up on the Compass / Patriot combo. The quirky Compass was meant for the female demographic, while the boxier Patriot was for the male counterpart. Instead, why not create 1 vehicle the entire population would want to buy? Neither car could actually go off road; based on the Dodge Caliber, this platform was meant to be an SUV-like successor to the Dodge Neon. The harmless looking Patriot was the less egregious of the 2 Jeeps. Meanwhile, the Compass is a hot mess of design cliches. We've got the triangular front indicator lights, the word "Compass" is written in huge letters on the fake aluminum-trimmed bumper, the D-pillar is ugly and provides poor rear visibility, and the rear doors have Pathfinder-like handles (similar to the aforementioned ZDX) to give a fake-coupe look. None of this works, and the car hasn't sold well. For 2011, Marchionne has ordered up some much-needed improvements to the front end and the bargain-basement interior...but is it enough?

Infiniti QX
6. Infiniti QX. One word to describe the QX: ghastly. Check out my article on Infinitis...nuff said.

Lincoln MKT
5. Lincoln MKT. The MKT would make a good hearse, but not much else. Check out my Lincoln article.

Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
4. Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. Kudos to Nissan for trying to push the design envelope...but it didn't work, sorry. The Murano's front end looks like a frog; shedding 2 doors and roof does not help its case. There is something unflattering and hunchbacked about the design. The rear lights are awkward, similar to the Toyota Venza. For close to $50k, I don't understand why you would get an unsporty convertible instead of the myriad of true 4-seater convertibles in that price-range. And if you're dead set on an SUV convertible, get a Jeep Wrangler.

Subaru B9 Tribeca
3. Subaru B9 Tribeca. There is something very feminine about the Tribeca's design. Nothing wrong with femininity, but a dainty SUV fundamentally confuses me. The front end is one of the biggest trainwrecks in modern auto design history. The rest of the car is forgettable and irrelevant. The dashboard is shaped in an ugly swirl. Subaru tried too hard to innovate, and the result was one of the ugliest SUVs in history.

Honda Crosstour
2. Honda Crosstour. What's the only thing worse than an Acura ZDX? Its hideous sister the Honda Crosstour. This ugly duckling came very close to unseating the #1 ugliest SUV. The Crosstour is Honda's self-indulgent take on the swoopy SUV, mixing a variety of poor design cues. When the car was revealed on Facebook, the overwhelming number of negative responses resulted in one of the worst marketing campaigns in history. Honda is so embarrassed of the bad publicity, that they removed "Accord" from the nameplate, which is now just "Crosstour". The front end is oddly proportioned and the grille looks like it was yanked off of a last-gen Honda Odyssey. The rear end is jacked up too much, and whereas the Porsche Panamera can pull off a big rump, the Crosstour doesn't manage to. Time for an emergency redesign, Honda.

Pontiac Aztek

1. Pontiac Aztek. The king of ugly SUVs reigns supreme! Despite being out of production for over 5 years, AND despite the fact that the Pontiac brand does not exist anymore, the Aztek is still often mentioned in car publications in reference to the quintessential ugly SUV. The Aztek concept was a cool idea - a study to design the most functional SUV. But when the concept met reality, too many design features were scrapped and the vision was compromised beyond repair. Excessive gray plastic body cladding, ugly wheel arches, an amphibious "double grille", an oddly-slanted rear end, and frumpy proportions throughout plague this car to this day. I personally believe the Aztek was the catalyst (followed by the G6 GXP) that eventually brought Pontiac to its demise.

Honorable Mention:
  • Toyota Venza

  • (First-gen) Toyota RAV4

  • Buick Rendezvous

  • Saab 9-7X

  • Chevy Blazer

  • (Current-gen) Honda CR-V

Monday, August 8, 2011

Cars for people who have lots of money, but don't want to show it off

Jeep Grand Cherokee
Ever see a mansion with a car in the driveway that appears to be several tax brackets lower? While some millionaires want to buy a Ferrari, others want to remain in a cloak of anonymity. In many wealthy circles (I can only speculate!) it is a faux pas to drive a flashy car. There are several cars that well-to-doers often buy that allow them to drive comfortably, but without the extra flash. Click through to see the list.

Jeep Grand Cherokee
This picture perfectly illustrates my point. Jeeps look great in every household - rich, poor, country, city - all while carrying a certain sense of modesty. When well-equipped with all the creature comforts, the Grand Cherokee edges into the $40-50k+ range, but onlookers would never know the difference between it and the base model.

Audi A4
Historically, Audis have been less flashy than their Mercedes and BMW counterparts. This statement holds true for the A4, A5, A6, A7, and A8 (compared to C, CLK, E, CLS, S, and 3-sedan, 3-coupe, 5, 5 GT, and 7). From a distance, Audis can easily be mistaken for VW Jettas or Passats, whereas a Mercedes and BMW are bold and instantly recognizable.

Toyota Camry XLE
This isn't just any Toyota Camry - it's the XLE, the top-of-the-line model which fetches $30-35k after adding all the premium options. The obvious question is: why would anyone buy the Camry XLE instead of the slightly more expensive Lexus ES, which is equally as bland and boring? The answer is: because a Camry blends into the wild more than a flashy Lexus. There is no car more humble than a Camry...yes, even a $35k one.

Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius is the most popular and instantly recognizable hybrid in the world. Prius drivers are either hated or loved, depending on who you talk to. The Prius, and hybrids in general, are seen as the antithesis to the luxury car, although people often fail to remember that hybrids are usually quite expensive. The Prius starts at $23k (and easily gets into the $30k range). Hybrids based on conventional cars are also more expensive than their gas-powered counterparts, such as the Escalade, Altima, Camry, Civic, Focus, Fusion, Highlander, etc. The only visual clue differentiating these cars is the Hybrid logo and tamed engine noise.

Ford F-150
The Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado are 2 of the best selling vehicles in the US, largely due to their utility on a farm or construction site. However, this unassuming, ubiquitous pickup is another favorite for the "humble wealthy". While the base F-150 starts in the low $20ks, Ford offers a range of models all the way up to the King Ranch, Platinum, Lariat Limited, and range-topping Harley Davidson edition that push well into the $40-50k range. When fully-loaded the F-150 interior is nothing short of luxurious, and the exterior is ruggedly stylish yet has the ability to stay incognito.

Chrysler Town & Country
I was shocked when I saw how much the Town & Country costs - prices start at $30k and go well into the $40ks for the fully-loaded Limited model. Chrysler's minivans are often viewed as the class leaders, but age very poorly in looks and quality (to be fair, minivans in general age poorly due to the rough-and-tumble lifestyle of their young passengers!). Other minivans, especially the Sienna and Odyssey, are priced similarly. These premium minivans are for the traditional wealthy American family. The Mercedes R-Class is too expensive and flashy, so the luxurious yet ubiquitous Town & Country is the next best option.

Nissan Maxima
The Maxima has always puzzled me. For awhile, I didn't understand why anyone would pay $30k+ for a sedan with absolutely zero style or brand cachet. But now I get it: Maxima buyers are people with ample money who want a roomy, fast car without the flashiness of an Infiniti G or M. The front and rear ends are ugly and the sides look like a Lexus ES (yawn), but the car is hella (!) fast.

Subaru Outback
For the number of Subarus you see in the Northeast, I was surprised to see how expensive they were. The range-topping Outback Limited model starts at $31k. From a social standpoint Outbacks are not cool (sorry!), but very popular because of their all-wheel-drive, high ground clearance, and ample space. An Outback would look good enough to park in front of a mansion, but would not attract any attention from nosy neighbors.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Has-beens: Cars that have lost their cachet

Chrysler PT Cruiser
There are a handful of car models who were once celebrated, but have since lost their luster. These cars usually fit into 2 buckets:
  • Cars that were awesome when they were released, but have since lost their novelty
  • Cars that were awesome in the 50s/60s/70s, but due to cost cutting have become terrible. This is an American phenomenon, since Japanese car makers have not been in the states long enough to establish meaningful brand history.
 I've highlighted a few examples - click through to see.

Category #1: Cars that have lost their novelty
Chrysler PT Cruiser
When it first came out in 2000, there was nothing else like the PT Cruiser. It had dramatic retro styling, was incredibly affordable, and looked like a mix between a hot rod and an SUV/crossover (neither of which it actually was). However, the Cruiser did not age well, and as you saw more on the road its novelty wore off fast. If you look close enough, you'll see a crummy compact car whose quality could not compete with the Japanese offerings. Chrysler stopped making the Cruiser last year.

Mini Cooper
When BMW released the new Mini Cooper in 2001, it was very popular. Its UK roots and cute styling gave the car panache, and BMW made sure the car was of great quality. However, for $20-30k, I don't think this car is a very good value. It's too small and impractical for people in the suburbs or rural areas, and while the engine is quick against the car's light weight, it's not a sports car by any means. Also, 10 years later, I see too many on the road and I'm sick of the styling, which reminds me of Austin Powers. Mini has tried to broaden its range to SUVs, convertibles, coupes, and the slightly larger Clubman, probably because people have begun to lose fondness for the little car.

Scion xB
In 2003, Toyota's new Scion brand was very polarizing - some people thought their designs were cool, but others found them to be ugly and juvenile. In the end, Scions have seemed to appeal to young teenagers who want to customize their cars, and paradoxically, retirees who need an affordable compact hatchback. I believe Scion's current designs are watered down and have lost their edginess. They have gained many of the androgynous bumps and lumps that Toyota's main line suffers from. It's no secret that the brand has been struggling as of late, since parents are no longer able to afford to buy a car for their kids, and retirees are holding on their old cars longer. I wonder how sustainable the brand will be going forward.

Audi TT
The Audi TT looks like a cross between a Porsche 911 and VW Beetle, and was appropriately priced somewhere in the middle. Its retro styling, which was unique when it was released in 1998, now looks more cutesy than cute. The latest iteration does have a more masculine, sporty stance, but if I was to spend $35-40k on a sports car, I'm not sure the TT would make the list. Why not get an A5, which has similar performance characteristics, but has enough space to feel comfortable on a long trip? The base TT also does not have the blistering fast qualities you would expect from a car that aspires to be a sports car.

Chrysler 300
For a number of reasons, the 300 was an instant hit when it was released in 2005. It was the first decent looking product Chrysler had produced in years and marked a departure from the company's cab-forward designs. The design cues were a smart, modern take on the original 300C. The interior was nothing to write home about, but the exterior was a good mix of retro and modern. 6 years later, I think the front end is too retro for today's tastes, and the car has become popular with retirees, fleets, and livery. Sometimes you'll see a rapper wannabe who has distastefully put 24-inch DUB wheels on the car and swapped out the grille. I see too many on the road, and the styling looks too commonplace today. The updated iteration in 2011 looks almost identical to the outgoing model, although Chrysler claims every body part is new...

Category #2: Remakes gone bad
1969 Chevy Nova

1985-1988 Chevy Nova
Can anyone help me understand how the top picture became the bottom picture? A Hummer and a Volt has more in common. The Nova has historically been a cool car - a muscle car by any standard. When GM teamed up with Toyota in 1985 to resurrect the Nova name, the ugly rebadged Corolla they concocted sullied the Nova name forever, never to appear in Chevy's lineup ever again. It was so embarrassing, Chevy had to create the Geo brand to sell their Toyota joint-venture cars. The Nova became the equally ugly and unloved Geo Prism.

1967 Buick Skylark
1992 Buick Skylark
One of these days, I will put together a list of the ugliest cars in history...the 1992-1998 Buick Skylark will definitely be on that list. There is nothing redeeming about this remake, which in my opinion ruins the Skylark name for good. You can just picture the designers at GM writing ideas on a whiteboard on how to make a throwback to Buick's designs from the '50s and '60s. Pointed front end? Check. Covered rear wheels? Check. The only missing design cue is portholes. The rear end is stubby, the front end is hideous, the entire car is wrapped in ugly body cladding (and the pinstripe does not help), and the interior is a typical overdesigned relic of the early '90s from GM.

1964 Chevy Impala
2006-present Chevy Impala
See my article on the Chevy Impala - nuff said.

1968 Dodge Charger
2006-2010 Dodge Charger
The Charger has always been a 2-door, so why did Dodge resurrect the name as a -door after a 19 year pause? Don't get me wrong, I actually think the new Charger is a cool car and has much more personality than its Japanese counterparts, but it is such a departure from what the Charger has been historically. To recap: not a bad car, but not what I would have expected.

1968 Pontiac GTO
2005 Pontiac GTO
The old GTO is a properly cool muscle car designed by the late great John DeLorean. The new GTO, which was produced from 2004-2006, has a large cult following, but I never liked it. 5 years ago, it was the cheapest way to get 400+ horsepower for under $30k, but the styling is so boring. GM thought it could simply rebadge an Australian Holden Commodore as a Pontiac in the States, but it ended up looking more like a mid-90s Grand Am than what a modern-day GTO should look like. The interior was also standard GM fare - nothing fun or special.

1969 Pontiac LeMans

1992 Pontiac LeMans
A lot of things bother me about this early-90s remake of the LeMans, but most of all is that ugly black plastic on the C-pillar, which exists because it was a cheap way to cover up a bad design. Everything about this car is ugly, uncool, and cheap. This was the start to GM's maligned relationship with Daewoo, which ended up flooding the American and European markets (through Opel) with small, ugly designs. Why did they have to name this little runt the "LeMans"? GM's strategy in the 2000s was better: to name its rebadged Daewoos as generic Asian or Italian sounding names such as "Lacetti", "Aveo", "Leganza", and "Matiz", so if the model didn't work out, it didn't ruin decades of storied American muscle car history, such as the LeMans.

1937 Lincoln Zephyr
2006 Lincoln Zephyr
Oh, I get the connection Lincoln was trying to make here....NOT. The use of the Zephyr nameplate was an obvious attempt to resurrect Lincoln's historic American roots. However, that goes against Lincoln's attempted strategy to sell more cars to younger folks. The word Zephyr doesn't sound cool - it sounds like something your grandfather would drive. Maybe that's why they changed the name to the more forgettable MKZ after 1 year. Smart move.

1968 Saab 99
1994 Saab 900
1998 Saab 9-3
2005 Saab 9-3 SportSedan
The last car I'll mention is what is now called the Saab 9-3, but whose roots stem from earlier teardropped Saab 90s. After decades of hatchback and notchback sedans, Saab's new owner, GM, decided to use its Malibu-based global architecture to underpin the new 9-3. This meant a more traditional sedan, which sucked all the intrigue and uniqueness out of the Saab. GM's rationale was rational - it needed to find a cost effective way to bring Saab onto its architecture and still manage to keep some of the quirky design features that attracted Saab buyers (pop-out cupholders, ignition on the center console, airplane-like dashboard, etc.). The problem was that GM compromised too much and the 9-3 (and 9-5) became uncompetitive entries in an already crowded field of entry-luxury sedans. Today, Saab is in danger of extinction, and I wonder if GM's takeover is what set the ball in motion.