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The Japanese car giants’ expansion into the luxury market was an episodic tale.
As enthusiasts, we all know the basic strategy–the recognition of American desires for luxury marques (as most US buyers won’t pay premium prices without premium names) and the desire to fill that market’s demand. It was a hallmark moment for the auto industry as well as nearly being the final nail in the coffin for what was considered to be the OGs of the luxury marque game (Cadillac, Lincoln, Mercedes, BMW, etc.). In the 1980s, the American auto industry was in shambles after nearly two decades of producing bloated, underpowered, and poorly-designed cars. The days of the roaring 50s and 60s were replaced by the 70s and 80s, a time rightfully coined as the “Malaise Era” that I’ll just relegate to what I call the Dark Ages.
Wallowing in the comforts of complacency, the American Big Three practically handed the platter to their competitors, where Honda stepped into the arena with Acura, Toyota with Lexus, and Nissan with their Infiniti brand.
The Acura Legend won its share of awards and praise in the late 1980s, as did the Lexus LS400, but my personal favorite was the 1990 Infiniti Q45:
Unlike the rather mundanely-styled competition, the Infiniti stepped into the arena with a sense of unconventionality. Uniqueness, when used properly, is something that stands out to a critic like me. I liked the aerodynamic look and the weirdness of the grille-less front fascia, but perhaps the public didn’t. The lack of advertising and feature commonality with its luxury peers was cited by many to be the reasons for its paltry sales, but others (like myself) agree that this car was the start of a revolution.
It was a festoon of Nissan’s most advanced technology of the time: a DOHC 32V 4.5 liter V8, an electronically controlled 4-speed automatic, a VLSD (viscous limited slip differential), FAS (full active suspension), and a four wheel steering system called HICAS. The car’s performance was admirable, but the public has never been known to flock to the best.
Sadly, the legend of the Q45 and the Infiniti brand nearly ended here. It was sold alongside an admittedly terrible 2-door GT coupe called an M30, which did little to help matters of money making when combined with their parent company’s financial issues. Seeing the humiliating loss against both Acura and Lexus’ more traditional sedans, Infiniti watered down the awesomeness of Q45 and turned it into an unattractive Japanese Lincoln Town Car:
Awful. They even reduced the engine displacement to 4.1 liters (I mean, who the hell reduces performance in a successive model?!), and largely watered down the performance that made the 1st generation model so amazing.
Despite the introduction of other models like the G20 (sort of awesome), the J30 (not awesome), the QX4 (not awesome), and the I30 (not awesome), Infiniti was forced to learn the lesson of puddling lackluster automobiles to consumers.
Rise to Power:
Nissan introduced itself to Carlos Ghosn and hired him as the new CEO. Under the “Nissan Revival Plan,” the guy came sat at his desk and started cleaning house. He cut out the muda (unnecessary models in the lineup) and pushed forward by emphasizing the creation of standout, well-built, and high-performing vehicles. This, ladies and gentlemen, marked the beginning of the Nissan and Infiniti of legend.
A bold and wonderful all-new Infiniti Q45 bowed in 2002, once again threatening to upstage the luxury car order. On top of this, we witnessed the birth of the new G35 sedan and coupe, which provided our first glimpse at a legitimate competitor to the archetype BMW lineup of the day.
Isn’t it beautiful?
The body lines are timeless, the 3.5 liter VQ35DE was endowed with 280hp (in 6MT form), the steering tuned to be stiff and filled to the brim with feedback, the VLSD primed for cornering exits, and the Brembo brakes bolted on to provide an aid to a machine clearly designed to drive. Whether equipped in the more luxuriously-tuned base models, or the desirable “S” configurations, this vehicle represented the birth of what made the Infiniti brand a true force in the American luxury car market.
Sales grew exponentially. More excellent and crowd-awing models joined the lineup as well.
Excellent powertrains, promising dynamics, and polarizing styling. The car pictured below is nearly 12 years old, yet it looks as if it could be released as a 2017 model without ail.
I chose to skip the initial Nissan Cedric-based model for a good reason. It kind of sucked, but the successor didn’t. It capitalized on the award-winning G35’s traits.
Okay, this was kind of a body-kitted Nissan Armada with better leather seats and woodgrain, but it was a solid land yacht.
Unfortunately, the happy ending story ground to a halt. After admiring and idolizing its wonderful automobiles for the better part of a decade, I was forced to watch the plug be pulled and the lifeline of the entire division drained by the root of all evil: stagnation.
For some reason, the fire beneath the boiling pot of majestic wizardry fizzled out. We’ve all seen the signs, the lack of new models, the refusal to invest in market expansion, the loss of brand identity, and Mr. De Nysschen bringing in his bullshit naming strategy (destroying 2.5 decades of public model recognition) are a few key identifiers.
Yes, I know that their US sales have somehow increased to nearly 134,000 (near the peak of 136,401 during the legacy years in 2006) under the wing of the JX (oops, I meant QX60), the QX56 (oops, I meant QX80), the FX (dammit, that’s the QX70), and the Q50 (it used to be the G37), but lets ponder this.
Infiniti used to be the “Japanese BMW” of the marketplace. I owned a 2008 G35S and it was quite frankly one of the most well-rounded vehicles that I have ever owned. To hear that the company has lost its way (much like Nissan has) from what defined its position in the marketplace to begin with is terribly sad. These cars used to be among the cutting edge of the Japanese luxury makers, and perhaps my bias shows cleanly here, but I’m not sorry if I don’t think that some gimmicky and largely useless Direct Adaptive Steering system helps things. Clouding the M37 and 56 (oops, I meant Q70L, or whatever) full of electronic nannies and diluting the dynamic prowess and relative simplicity that made its immediate predecessor so great was a mistake.
The failure to make any legitimate ultimate performance division out of the failed IPL (Infiniti Performance League?), which dawned its first trial by bolting fart cannons and a body kit on an otherwise stock G37S didn’t help either.
The biggest question of the matter is simple:
What the hell are they thinking?
I know that I’m no automotive executive, but I don’t understand why things like this are allowed to happen. If I was running the show and I read the reviews of our automobiles, I’d be worried about the possibility of a sinking ship. I’d fear that losing the core of what made my company great would render us obsolete and forgotten. I would read the history books about the American Big Three and learn a little.
The new alliance with Mercedes-Benz is a weird, but interesting ploy with an unknown future. Though the new QX30 looks quite alluring as well as its interior, I’ll hold my breath to see how well the Mercedes-Benz hardware and Infiniti image truly interact. I understand that using a proven chassis (the one that underpins the CLA and GLA) was a relatively cheap and effective way to burst into a rapidly budding marketplace, but couldn’t they have done this with Nissan’s own engines? I mean, come on, the stuff that Nissan produced in the 1980s and 90s were absolutely amazing testaments to their engineering prowess. Admitting that they can’t jazz up a nice version of the D-platform (Altima, Maxima, Murano) and enlarge a more refined version of the MRxxDDT turbo four cylinder is rather shocking. Oh, and call up Aisin and ditch the damn Xtronic CVT from the Infiniti lineup. It belongs in Nissan Muranos and Mallfinders (oops, I mean Pathfinders), not luxury performance vehicles. I’d imagine that a version of this hypothetical QX30 could be fitted with a badass HICAS system and some fancy ATTESA-ETS all-wheel-drive, but what do I know?
I don’t know the full extent of the Infiniti pocketbook.
I don’t know why they have left the FX, or QX70 to ride in the same configuration since 2009.
I don’t know why the M, or Q70L, has largely faced the same fate as the QX70.
What about the EX, oops, QX50, or whatever the hell they’re calling it now? Same story. Stagnation.
They are all beautiful, and I hope that seeing the new reveal of the Q60 coupe and its Q50 brother with one of the first seriously badass mainstream Nissan engines in years (the VR30DDTT) shows signs of hope that my beloved Infiniti will soon return. I won’t even get into the annoying fact that the Q50 3.0T Red Sport 400 no longer has an optional limited slip differential despite having 400hp.
I just want one. For the first time since 2009, I finally feel like there might be some of the legendary Infiniti life left somewhere in there.
See that? It says “V6 TWIN TURBO” on the damn cover.
The same thing it said on the engine placards of legends.
Don’t give, up Infinti.
Don’t let the legend die.
This is pretty simple, as I’ve always been an enormous fan of good EDM music.
Do yourself a favor and listen to this mix. If it doesn’t put you in a good mood, you might be a zombie.
Pure excellence brought to you by Asa & Tong Apollo.
In the early Nineties, while the American auto industry was still dragging it’s way out of the automotive cesspool that was the Seventies and Eighties, the Japanese were hard at work pumping out some of the greatest enthusiast cars ever. Skyline. Supra. RX7. Silvia. Evolution. STI. VR-4. Type-R. GT-Four. GSX. 300ZX. MR2. NSX. These words, letters, and numbers defined an era. A generation of power, performance, and style that could stand against any other in history. Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda, and Subaru set the standard for performance in the Nineties. And the legacy of these cars spans well beyond the street. Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Toyota dominated rally racing. Honda won four F1 championships in a row. The Nissan Skyline GT-R owned touring car racing. The Mazda 787B? Well that just speaks for itself. These weren’t just cars, they were icons.
Today however, the Japanese auto industry sings a different tune. Most of those iconic models? Gone. Lost in the quest for the bottom line. Who needs a Supra when the new Prius is “faster than you think?” Want a true FD RX7 successor? How ‘bout a 150 horsepower Miata instead? There has been a paradigm shift across every lineup amongst the Japanese manufacturers. One after the other these mighty names of Nineties fame have fallen. This year brought another victim, the last flare of spirit left in the once great Mitsubishi lineup, the Lancer Evolution.
So what happened? How did these brands go from making some of the best cars to ever put rubber to asphalt to having family sedans and bloated, lifted wagons as flagships? The reasons, I’m sure, are many and varied. So much can happen within an economy and culture, small events and shifts that ripple out well beyond what any would expect, but the best place to start looking for answers is the homeland.
Since the late 80’s, the “Land of the Rising Sun” has more accurately been the “Land of the Stagnant Economy and Aging Population.” Several periods of deflation and lack of GDP growth have haunted Japan for nearly three decades. In this time the culture has become very risk averse, saving rather than spending and always maximizing efficiency. At the same time the birth rates have fallen and the population has aged. Recent estimates put Japan’s over 60 demographic at 33 percent of the total, triple the global average. And as of 2011, the population has started to decline because of the low birth rate and the lack of willingness of the Japanese government to allow immigration. The enthusiasm and excitement that carried over from one of the fastest growing economies in the Eighties into the early Nineties has been replaced by skepticism and inflexibility. Who can blame them? In the early Nineties the Japanese GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was just over $4 trillion USD. Today? It’s just over $4 trillion USD. In the same time period the United States GDP more than doubled from roughly $7 trillion USD to nearly $18 trillion.
Ok, so economic mumbo jumbo aside, what does this mean for the auto industry? Well if you look closely, the pattern of exchanging performance for efficiency in cars has followed the cultural and economic patterns of the last two decades. Adventurous and costly projects like the Supra have been fazed out to make way for more vehicles that can be pumped out and sold by the tens of thousands (read: Camry), and in the case of Mitsubishi, bad financial decisions right before the recession, Daimler/Chrysler pulling out, and endless failures across the lineup for the last decade plus have left them a battered husk. Poor Mitsubishi may be beyond saving (barring a buyout and some serious capital investment), but what about the others? Is there redemption around the corner?
Well, you have to at least give Honda credit for trying. The new Civic Type R is every Honda fanboy’s wet dream. Turbocharging, VTech, and a ridiculous body kit come together to make the fastest front wheel drive car ever! Only one minor issue, it’s trying to make it’s way in the “super hot hatch” segment with a bunch of All Wheel Drive competition. That makes the Type R a tough sell when you can get a Ford Focus RS for the same money. Then there’s the new NSX (Acura or Honda depending on where in the world you reside), which by all accounts is a great supercar, but it is an NSX in name only. The marvel of engineering, simplicity, and affordability (relatively) has been scrapped in favor of a powerful, expensive computer with wheels. Not a hint of the original left to be seen.
The others? Well, Subaru is running out a new STI with a decade old drivetrain, Nissan has an aging Z and quasi-supercar with a GT-R badge on it, Mazda teases a new rotary every year while supplying mainly 4 cylinder econoboxes (albeit good ones), Toyota refuses to give the GT-86 more power (I guess they’ve already got a “fast” Prius), and Mitsubishi…they’re dying a slow and painful death. Can any of these brands be returned to their former performance glory? Sure. Will they? That remains to be seen.
And what of those Japanese sports cars of the 90’s? Those glorious vehicles long past? Well, there’s a new crop. They’re not exactly the same, but carry the same spirit. High performance, affordability, great styling, the same recipe that gave our favorite JDM their iconic status can still be had today. The badges are just different. And, for the most part, they’re made in America.
Unfortunately, for every automotive enthusiast, there comes a point where we must dedicate a moment of silence to a fallen icon.
Observe the beauty:
Nearing the middle of the Automotive Golden Era, ladies and gentlemen, we have to sadly say goodbye to our beloved Dodge (or SRT, or whatever) Viper. Most industry sources say that the current model can’t be modified to incorporate the SRS side curtain airbags that will soon be mandatory, though I have other ideas as to why the project wasn’t financially feasible for the troubled FCA.
To most, it was the poster car of their childhood. I personally had a large poster of the original RT/10 hanging on my wall from the age of six, mostly, because it was the embodiment of every child’s dream car. It was endowed with a monstrous V-10, far larger than any other engine of its time at 8.0 liters of displacement, plus, it looked like something Batman would drive if ordered in jet black. Frequently, I found myself daydreaming about piloting one of them as if I knew the first thing about what was required to drive a car–let alone this car.
Little did I know how much of a ravaging beast it was. Refinement was something entirely alien to this car, but it had never claimed to be any type of softie. It ignored safety, and dawned no airbags. Its frame was mostly tubular (no crumple zones), the engine weighed over 700 pounds, and there was no such thing as ABS. Honestly, the only reason that it had seat belts was due to a federal mandate. Everything else was scrapped.
Bob Lutz definitely had a founding hand in this legendary project.
C’mon, it was so guttural that the first “mass produced” version didn’t have windows. This, my friends, is what we refer to as the best of kind of car, the purist’s car. Its the car that is figuratively nothing more than a steering wheel, four tires, and (in this case) the biggest engine that fits. It is the kind that communicates every vibration, ripple, and road imperfection to your entire body. The thickly bolstered, but thinly padded seats are the kind that make the slipped disks in your back swell and food in your stomach grow bubbly. These are the cars we hang on the wall as children. They’re our saviors, our heroes, the automobiles that are here to stand against society’s crusade for blandness.
Think Lotus Elise.
Think Opel Speedster.
Think Alfa Romeo 4C (one of the greatest cars extant).
Think Ferrari F40 (the greatest car ever made).
Think Dodge Viper.
But, if anything, what these cars share in symbolic dissidence, they also share with growing troubles. Their time in the marketplace is often short and wrought with troublesome sales. Though they may touch our souls and our bridled interests, they suffer from their most prominent achilles heels:
 Low production volume.
 Low profitability due to low production volume.
 High cost due to low profitability and low production volume.
 Low practicality due to vehicle design, resulting in niche market viability only, which is both a good and bad thing simultaneously.
Here, we are left with some of the ways that our soon departed Dodge Viper could’ve been saved from oblivion early on. I’m aware that many of you won’t agree with some of these strategies, but that is why you are free to comment and debate. These are short and sweet, so let’s hit the main points.
How the hell could our lord, the Dodge Viper, have been saved?
[1 & 4] Fixing the low production volume and solving the niche market conundrum.
This was undoubtedly the Viper’s most compelling problem.
According to sources at theviperstore.com, there was a total of roughly 31,850 Vipers made since the initial 1992 model. That first model, mind you, consisted of a production run totaling less than 300 cars. The only model year in the first generation that exceeded the 3,000 mark was 1994. The second generation never saw a yearly total over 2,000, where its final tally of 10,422 cars seemed woeful in comparison to its rivals. The third and fourth generations fared even worse (8,190 and 2,427 respectively).
Though many of you would argue that the low production volume was one of the many things that made the Viper special (I can’t refute that), anyone with a business-oriented mindset could also argue that this was the nail in the coffin. Automobiles consume large swaths of money and manpower to develop as well to produce, and if a vehicle isn’t sold in large enough numbers, the bottom line (profit) largely suffers.
The purists will cringe at this, but maybe a better business model could’ve helped?
Imagine, if you will, a Dodge viper that shed its V10 and instead cruised up the road with a modified Magnum V-8 instead. Imagine a Viper with an automatic transmission, ABS, some sound deadening material, and traditional-exit exhaust. Yes, the fanboys would cry at the lost of their supercar-slaying demigod, but could Dodge have sold more this way?
Hypothetical Trims (relative price quotient):
Base ($$) = V8 powered, optional automatic.
- Generations 1 & 1.5 (1992-2002) could’ve used a modified 5.9 Magnum with perhaps a Corvette-equaling 330-345hp (if that was even possible) and the junk 4-speed auto of the time as an option. At some point, they could’ve used their connections with Diamler to perhaps upgrade that junk transmission to one of the 5G-TRONIC units from the early AMGs.
- Generation 2 & 2.5 (2003-2010) could’ve used the venerable 5.7 Hemi V8 and the same 5G-TRONIC. Throwing in the 6.1 Hemi for the 2.5 update seems plausible too.
Premium ($$ to $$$) = V8 power, optional automatic with more comfort features.
- [[Here’s where the purists will definitely scream blasphemy!]]
- Adding comfort features to the raging beast like, well, sound deadening, softer dampers and springs, along with power windows and locks would’ve been awesome. Later generations could’ve used nifty things like fancier sound systems, upgraded leather trim, etc.
RT-10 ($$$ to $$$$)= V10 power, perhaps no optional automatic, but the comfort features of the V8 Premium stick along.
- The description is self explanatory. Here is where we start pleasing the purists again!
SRT-10 ($$$$) = V10 power, and all of the crude stuff that made the purist Viper legendary.
ACR ($$$$) = V10 power, basically the big kahuna it is in real life. Let this car and its SRT-10 lesser brother kick the asses of everyone and everything in their paths.
[2 & 3] Fixing the profitability issues.
Sure, the latter generations of the car improved heavily on the spartan first-generation model, but there was still a lot left on the table. Most of the routine safety features found in other automobiles were only added to the Viper by force through federal mandates. Airbags were eventually added in along the way, but standard ABS was absent until 2001. This addition, however, wasn’t due to a federal mandate, but likely in response to a slew of sports car comparison tests lost on account of its relatively punitive braking capabilities. Stability control nannies weren’t put into place until the last generation, where the inclusion of Electronic Stability Control (which relies on a native ABS system) was mandatory after September 1, 2011.
Until 2008, the car largely spent its life getting its ass kicked by the Corvette, which in most upper level trims could deliver 85-90% of the Viper’s performance while retaining its legendary everyday usability. This, in my opinion, is the only way that the Corvette has survived and will continue to survive. General Motors was smart in this regard, letting the lower models pay the bills due to their larger market potential, and then saving the dough for the GS, Z06, and ZR1 halo models. Unfortunately, it would require possibly millions of dollars to retool the factory for the higher production demand, but the ROI on something like that could pay off if the sales numbers increased. Hitting a total production target somewhere near that of the Corvette would be the goal.
While this would obviously have negative effects on the exclusivity of the Dodge Viper, placing a clear emphasis on differentiating trim levels could help to partially alleviate this. After all, isn’t a partially diluted Viper better than no Viper at all?
Of course, I’m just a normal guy like you, doing his best to rationalize or accept the inevitable. Though I’m merely keyboard-yapping my way through a somewhat preposterous idea, I can’t help but to think that some kind of production and design strategy similar to what I’ve discussed would’ve helped the legend stay with us.
In the automotive world, there are always rumors about hypothetical continuations, resurrections, and unveilings of legendary automobiles. Though I’ve seen a few articles here and there that discuss the potential of a 4th generation Viper sometime in the future, seeing the current state of FCA’s business (hello, SEC investigation) and Sergio’s outright idiotic ramblings and decisions (how does this guy still have a job), the pessimist inside my head won’t count on it. If it did come back, seeing the steepening fines and regulations for CAFE might regulate a new Viper into having some kind of weird turbo four-cylinder hybrid system or something worse.
Until then, we’ll cherish the memories of trying to maintain control of these cars on a digital racetrack in Gran Turismo, reading about them in Motor Trend and Car & Driver, watching videos of heinously fast twin-turbocharged renditions on YouTube, all the while wishing so deeply in our souls that we could actually afford to own one.
If you’re one of the lucky few that can, please do us all a favor, go scoop one of these beasts up before they’re gone.
Rest in peace, our beloved Dodge Viper. Even though we will miss you, you will never be forgotten.
We’re all industry aficionados.
We all pay attention to what is happening in our cockamamie world bustling with technology and innovation, where these grand machines and devices that the majority of the population see as mere appliances somehow mean the world to us. They alone are the products of thousands of brilliant minds, engineers, artists, accountants, and executives.
It takes years to design and build a product from scratch. Sometimes it requires budgets in the billions (or trillions) of dollars, and thousands of man hours–yet somehow, we still encounter countless stories of companies run astray and ideas that are run into oblivion.
There is nothing worse than greatness gone wasted, where the talents of thoughtful souls find themselves run amok. Surely, anyone can criticize and down talk the work of another person, but can we provide reasonable and viable feedback to better the given situation? Can we be the outside voices here to help our industries and innovative cultures find their way once again?
That is the goal of this new Machscribe column.
Here, in the Rigmarole, we will open up a canvas of discussion where all of our readers can research with us, analyze with us, yearn with us, and together vent our frustrations. We may be mere plebeians, but after all, aren’t we the ones with the buying power?
We the people, let’s set them straight!
(Image courtesy of Razete Photography)
February 3rd, 2016 was a bad day.
Sadly, the love affair between Ruby and I was extremely short lived.
Nine days elapsed from the time of purchase to the time that I found myself stranded on the side of a public highway, tears in my eyes and regret bubbling within my bowels.
Why the hell did I buy this stupid thing when I already had what was arguably the perfect car? In all of the time that I had spent nearly perfecting a system of yearly tradeoffs, I had defied a plan that I had stuck with for years when I sold my GTO. Oh, no, my lord, what have I done? How did I give up a nearly paid off and wonderful V8 grand touring car as well as a relatively inexpensive daily driver, all for the promise of having something new?
The downward spiral of my car fetish began on January 24, 2015.
I picked up a Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-spec, and began to want more. When it got hit on Interstate 75, the panic ensued. The years of carrying thousands of dollars of positive equity in my automobiles was destroyed, all because I let my emotions control my automobile purchasing decisions. The accident wiped out nearly six grand worth of equity, proving to make selling what was already a niche-market car even more difficult just to break even. In a rush to purchase its follow-up vehicle, I sold the car under a clause of -$400.
Yes, I paid $400 to sell my damn Hyundai Genesis.
Then, I picked up a 2008 Infiniti G35S. It was literally the perfect car: a wonderful blend of luxury, admirable poise and balance, dashing looks, and surprising speed. Plus, the damn thing only cost $16,000 coupled with the fact that it had a mere 55,000 original miles. Yeah, it was heavenly, but this one day, I got the idea in my head that I needed another race car.
Ruby, my 2013 Ford Mustang GT 5.0, will forever be the best car that I never should’ve bought.
Those were the thoughts that tumbled through my head as I limped the car to my apartment and immediately phoned my boss—who was the only person available to give me a ride back to work. Somehow, during my hooliganism that included a joyful 75% throttle run up Bypass 4, I pushed the clutch pedal, and shifted into 3rd gear, or so I thought. When I released the clutch pedal, the car bucked violently and revved back to 6,000rpm. I freaked, pushed the clutch pedal to the floor, and attempted to abort the run by putting the shifter in neutral gate to regain my composure—only the shifter seemed jammed.
I pulled over into the emergency lane. Nothing I tried was able to free the shifter, necessitating a slow drive home in second gear. To my chagrin, I was now faced with a car that had a broken transmission and a questionable warranty. Awesome.
I’ll save my dealings with the dealership that I purchased the car from, the International Auto Outlet, for a later post. For now, I’ll just summarize by noting that my very expensive, low mileage, bright red 2013 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 was gone for two months. . .
Had it not been for my repeated intervention, it would likely still be sitting in a garage with the transmission still in pieces.
It’s such a good-looking car. I mean, c’mon, you can’t deny it.
(Image courtesy of Razete Photography)
They say that a truly good car is one that you can’t walk from without looking back, and this (like most of my other cars) hits the spot dead center. Versus the archrival Camaro, I have always claimed that this generation Mustang is victorious in the execution of every stylistic detail abound on its body. Regarding the 2013 refresh, I’ll have to say that the taillights are my favorite part.
(Courtesy of Razete Photography)
(Courtesy of Razete Photography)
My only wish it that I had the GT Premium, if only because the package comes with the better looking 19 inch wheels that fill the wheel wells more aggressively than the base 18s. Oh, and please don’t mind my shoddy plastidip job. I plan on correcting it as soon as possible.
Shortly after I got Ruby back from its long stay at the clusterf*ck of dealership doom, someone parked next to me at work wasn’t paying attention and swung their front bumper across mine. I wasn’t there to catch the act in progress, and the security cameras were too grainy to pinpoint key details about the culprit like license plate numbers.
All I know is that the car was some heap of shit Dodge Stratus Coupe that was driven by someone that is no longer employed at my facility. Bummer, but at least it didn’t actually damage the fender. Luckily, the majority of the scuffs came out with some Meguiar’s rubbing compound.
Enough with my sob story of automotive anguish.
You want to hear about the elephant in the room, well, the bright red blocky looking elephant.
In short, it’s been a trying experience, but again, what good is a racecar if it doesn’t test your patience and your boundaries? Didn’t I want a car with more emotion and “soul” versus the largely soulless Hyundai Genesis? I sometimes complain about how it is essentially a base model with zero sound deadening, a cheaply strewn dashboard, and hard plastics galore but—its still a glorious automobile.
So, perhaps I’ve finally found my match made in heaven.
I get in by swinging open a door that weighs every bit of 300 pounds. Parking on a hill worries me because I fear that the hinges might snap at any moment, but closer inspection proves that the steel gage is nearly six to seven millimeters thick, even on the folds. These hinges are truly mighty, but once you realize that shutting the door is equivalent to 10 reps on an exercise machine, it becomes imperative to make sure that all extremities are inside. Yes, I shut the door on my leg once. Yes, I cried.
Then, I fire up the engine. There are no fancy buttons, key fobs, or retina scans here. Ruby, by the blessings of the automotive gods, is endowed with what we old-timers call a key.
Oh, and mine is kind of broken (the lock button doesn’t work, and the unlock counterpart barely works).
Insert the key and crank it. The Coyote V8 is eagerly spun to life with a starter that apparently has the enthusiasm to turn over an aircraft carrier’s steam turbine. Every time it engages, I smile, knowing that there is just something different about this machine. The V8 gurgles and churns more so than my old LS1. The pulses of its firing order shower the thinly insulated cabin with vibrations that make me cringe as it settles down from the cold idle. I watch the tachometer sift below 2500rpm as the dashboard and the entire center console come alive with resonance.
For a moment, I wonder if the car will explode, but alas, it doesn’t.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is how a car is supposed to start.
It isn’t one of those cars that you turn on and forget that you’ve left the engine running. It’ll never try to coddle you and hide its purpose. Plainly put, this is a muscle car, and there is never a waking moment where you catch it lying. The car for the most part is juvenile and rough, and despite a major rebuild, the transmission still sounds as if it’s filled with gravel if lugged at low RPM. The stock shifter is, well, awful, but I was warned. Some genius in Ford’s engineering management was given the task of reducing driveline NVH, so he endowed a poor sap with the task of designing a remote mount shifter, likely with a budget of $75. The result is what is connected to the MT-82—itself known to be troublesome—resembling what is best described as a gear selection rod attached to piano cables. When it is moved, I only feel a vague resemblance of mechanical feedback, and that sensation only grows worse the more aggressively I drive the car.
The problem could be fixed with a $475 MGW shifter, but that leads to another issue.
Well, I tend to find myself entirely unable to drive a car for any period of time without messing with it. No matter what it is, or who makes it, each automobile has its own quirks and weaknesses. As a self-declared enthusiast, my predilection to modify whatever I’m driving eats away at my soul little by little until it caves. I have a lot on my plate right now, so I’m inclined to say no to modifications due to their obvious monetary burden, but I’m sure I’ll find a way to work something in the plans.
Add it to my wishlist:
So, I’ll start this by admitting my partial defeat. See, Mustangs are usually very happy being piloted in straight lines and Ruby is no different. Unfortunately for both of us, the clutch hydraulic system seemed to disagree.
Since my last semester of college chewed up every chilly Friday night of this year’s racing season, I was finally able to worm my way to the drag strip on June 3rd, where I was pleasantly greeted with balmy humidity and 94 degree track temperatures. Noting that I had been having issues with the Mustang’s clutch at high rpm, I had made a few notes on how to contend with these issues while still managing to achieve my goal of a high 12-second 1/4 mile time. According to many sources, this should’ve been perfectly doable with the mostly stock setup.
Oh yeah, getting the transmission repaired under warranty required hard negotiations with International Auto Outlet to remove the majority of performance-enhancing parts like the BBK long tube headers, BBK catless x-pipe, tune, etc. The car is now considerably slower than it was when I bought it, but this is all speaking in relative terms. In short, the engine is still an absolute charm.
However, it enjoys to rev, and because of its relatively low displacement, it needs to rev in order to make its power. With the redline set firmly at 7,000rpm, it is notable of this engine to produce the bulk of its peak power figures in the upper reaches of the rev band. It sounds absolutely glorious up this high, but there’s this one nagging problem where the clutch pedal decides to go on strike, thus setting me up for a chapter of public Mustang embarrassment.
No, I didn’t swerve violently and wreck into a crowd or another automobile, but I did in fact manage to miss shifts in 3 out of the 5 runs that I performed that night. To make matters worse, it seemed at is if every joule of heat that the pressure plate absorbed worsened its ability to even function in a basic sense. I quickly learned that launch rpm was limited to 1,500, or basically what you use for a typical stop light cruise. After bogging the engine, I was forced to wait for it to rev to 6,200rpm (800 short of the redline) before slowly and very carefully selecting the next gear. Considering that the Coyote doesn’t make peak power until 6,500rpm, quite a bit of power was left on the table through each consecutive shift.
In short, the best run was a firstname.lastname@example.org.
For comparison sake, Machscribe, like most other automotive journalists, uses Density Altitude correction as a factor for acceleration times. Considering that every car cannot be tested in the same environment, this calculation is important for determining a baseline.
This leaves us with a relatively comfortable DA corrected time of:
I can live with that, and I’m especially impressed considering the shifting handicap. Now, I have started my research into my line of modifications designed to solve the problem. I started with an American Muscle braided stainless steel clutch hydraulic line, and I will install it next weekend (hopefully) to see if it clears up some of the slop. Also, per the recommendation of my fellow enthusiasts, I will also drop some legitimate DOT4 fluid into the reservoir.
It seems like this warning light illuminates every three days.
Right now, I’m getting a consistent average of:
Like I said in the initial review, it isn’t a Prius, though my stance on the 16 gallon gas tank being too damn small still holds firmly.
At times, I’m torn on what to think about this thing. I notice how impractical, loud, and raucous it is and I pause to reflect on its purpose. Honestly, this is the only way to rationalize what is widely known to be an irrational car.
A Ford Mustang GT 5.0 isn’t the car that makes sense to buy. As originally penned from A Faster Horse, I will definitely agree with the following statement:
You don’t make a rational decision to buy a Mustang, because it is not a rational car. It is, however, a car designed to pry at the heart, thus making the purchase of one based purely on human emotion.
I love it. Through its quirks, and its crudeness, beneath the bodacious curves lies a car that has a soul begging to be driven. I feel as if the car wants me to explore it, to heal it, and to enhance it. Considering that this is just the dawn of a burgeoning long term relationship, I think Ruby and I will have plenty of time to become more acquainted.
Until next time, she’ll sit quietly and soundly in her garage.
I know, I haven’t posted anything in months.
Yes, I’m still here.
Please, let me explain a little:
At the conclusion of this year’s first semester, I began by noting that “personal reflection, at the core, is one of the most important mental tools for professionals in any industry. It allows us to take a step back and observe our actions, our successes, and our failures—all in the grand effort for self-improvement.” Though this may seem rather cliché and perhaps rudimentary, completing our Miami University Senior Design project has reaffirmed that the basis of this statement holds true to the core.
Group work can be incredibly difficult at times, but its effectiveness can be tailored with proper scheduling and tasking. To me, this was one of the difficult aspects of the project, as we had juggle through our busy schedules (two of the group members work full-time, while we all attend school full-time) as well as find time to utilize the laboratories at Bilstein in order to design and manufacture our prototypes. Admittedly, this project would’ve worked much better if we didn’t have jobs outside of school, but I believe that this aspect of our group dynamic allowed us to walk away from the completed goal as stronger individuals and teammates.
Educationally, as I covered in the first essay, I believe that the majority of our understanding of general engineering concepts has arisen directly from our studies. Though we all share similar stories of how we felt “drawn” to engineering as children, it is very obvious that none of this passion can be effectively used without the proper training and knowledge. This is where the engineering curriculum sheds its light on both our project, and our futures as engineers.
Being able to work beside my teammates Roger Mills and Andrew Hackney, as well as the extremely helpful Bilstein engineers (Nick Holt, specifically) is what carried me through. Eventually, we all used our individual strengths to allow our talents to collectively conquer the goals, though the pains of procrastination and underestimation haunted us along the way. As discussed in the previously, the bulk of the project fell into five major zones of progress: Planning, Mapping, Constructing, Testing, Refining. Considering that each zone played a pivotal piece in the project’s transition into the next, I found it quite predictable that we would find ourselves stuck within the Constructing Zone longer than we thought.
This is where a few of my own personal demons arose, where procrastination and simply underestimating the work required came into play. Though this affected all of us to an extent, I found myself rather relaxed coming out of Winter Break, only to find the stress piling on once we discovered that making these dampers and getting them to fit would be far more difficult than we originally forecast. The last four to five weeks of the project is when everything truly came together, where our already limited free time was used more productively and we entered each team meeting with clear goals and plans to reach them. Seeing my friend Andrew Hackney develop his own ride data testing device was quite amazing (instead of us paying $20,000 to get a Racelogic Vbox), as well as Roger’s management skills and overall knowledge of the processes required to get our dampers into reality.
Without the help of these two, I believe that there is little chance that I could have successfully completed this project alone. My specialties in design and CAD also proved to be highly valuable, as the CAD and FEA models helped us design parts that we realized were critical in a short amount of time with low overhead. Having learned these programs throughout my career in both the job arena and academia, this project—and the haste it required—once again proved that these tools are more than relevant in the real world, especially when time is critical. The other personal faults that I have recognized myself (such as crumbling under stress, procrastination, etc.) owe their deeds to the core of what it is to be human.
More importantly, I find that accepting this aspect of humanness is what enables us to learn, grow, and push forward with our goals. With this said, I would once again like to shower my teammates with every accolade I can offer as well as an insurmountable token of respect. I know, without a doubt, that if I had to do this all over again, there are no two people that I would rather choose as partners.
In my first essay, I closed with the following statement:
“In all, I think we’ve come a long way since the very beginning of our journey in the Mechanical Engineering Technology program at Miami University. With the goals that we’ve set, and the performance that we have displayed thus far, I am very confident that we will be able to achieve our final goal in May.”
Now, standing here ready to complete my collegiate journey and begin a new phase of my life, I’m am nearly without words to explain how proud I am of myself, and everyone taking part in what used to seem like a never-ending struggle to reach the end of the tunnel.
After all that I’ve endured, I realize that I’ve grown so much.
Seeing my colleagues standing beside me with an identical realization suddenly makes the past six years of my life far more worth the scars.
I have but two more weeks to struggle through, and I promise that I’ll make it, but after that. I’m done.
May 14, 2016. 1:30PM.
Okay, I’ll admit it: I go through too many cars.
Though I’ll have to say that my infatuation with the automobile is long-lived and a permanent part of my psyche, I’d have to say that this recent purchase was a little impulsive. I have always had a “thing” for V8 muscle cars, likely due to their obvious endowments of power and glorious rumbling noises, but since the departure with my beloved GTO, my soul has longed for another.
The Genesis, despite its other niceties, simply didn’t measure up. Aside from its expensive looks, feel, and posture, it never stung will with my soul. Obviously, my best bet would’ve been keeping the GTO (which was nearly paid off by then) and driving my old Mazda on a daily basis. Instead, I wanted something new. I wanted something that I wouldn’t spend my money on. I tried to kick the habit, my habit of consistently wanting more from my automobiles than what they are capable of as factory vehicles.
It didn’t last. Though the Genesis went through its trials and tribulations at the hands of an incompetent driver that rear ended it and another car, it served well enough. It was my “top of the world” car. The one that made me feel rich and successful, but then I determined that excess wasn’t needed for this. Touching base with my family and my life, I knew that appearances only went so far. I sold the car and picked up the Infiniti, and though this otherwise excellent automobile served extremely well during its brief stay, I once again dumped it for another affair.
This one, and we’ll call her “Ruby” for the sake of reference, is here to stay for a while. I have run out of “free passes” of equity and I wanted another race car so bad, that I saw one and bought it. This car represents the involuntary end of the struggle. Unless I want to make a bad financial decision, this car is it.
I mean, hot damn, I’ve always been a fan of these things. Back in 2013, I posted this on Facebook:
No, I wasn’t lying. I have always loved these cars. Though I drool and fawn over high-priced exotics like any other schoolboy, the adult version of me has always sought out more attainable rides. Considering that we’re living in the golden age of the automobile, I figured the high-powered muscle cars of the early 2010s were a good choice once their prices dropped from the 30k range. They took everything my GTO represented and simply expanded upon it. So, for a while, my dream car was a 2013 Mustang GT 5.0 with the track pack.
In fact, I actually drove to Dayton with my wife to look at one exactly like the one pictured above, but the dealership was filled with assholes. I have great credit, and my income is definitely sufficient, but that appears to not be enough to deter nonsense. Doing the stealership double-talk isn’t productive, so I drove back to Cincinnati and bought a red one.
I stumbled upon this 2013 example via the internet. I talked to the dealership and negotiated a deal by the following afternoon. Yes, I traded in a car. Yes, I know that is frowned upon. Yes, it is the last time that I ever do that. I drove home in a red Mustang GT 5.0.
Well, a very red one.
But, oh my, isn’t she pretty?
The haunches are pulled tightly into molded creases that exude power. Though the belt line is high, visibility doesn’t suffer nearly as much as its Camaro and Challenger rivals. Luckily, the gigantic A-pillar mirrors include Ford’s nifty blind spot mini-mirrors. If all else fails and the area ahead is clear, just drop to fourth gear and hammer the gas pedal. Within moments, the Mustang is front of anything that was beside it. The base wheels are a bit tiny, and these plastidipped examples will definitely receive a legitimate powdercoat of paint.
To me, I prefer the exterior updates of the 2013 versus the prior version. Mostly, the front a rear views come to mind with the refresh, where standard HID headlamps were applied as well as LED running lamps. The taillights look amazing, and the 1-2-3 sequential turn signal thing is pretty cool, too.
The interior belies nothing at all to write home about. My particular car is a base GT, with little more than basic equipment like cruise control, power windows and locks, as well as the Gen1 Ford SYNC system. The seats are cloth, but they are surprisingly comfortable. I wish I had taken more photos of it for the sake of this post, but I was too enraptured with the exterior.
Who cares about the interior, anyways? This is a racecar.
Yeah, the engine. That’s the primary focus in this section. Everything else kind of wraps around it.
Overall refinement is lacking.
The first thing that hit was me was how crude this car felt versus my previous two.
I hear all kinds of whines, bumps, shivers, and gears. It sounds like a proper basic trim racecar. The engine, a lusty and extremely powerful 5.0 liter 32 valve V8, seems to run with extremely deliberate cylinder pulses at idle and at low load. I mean, seriously, it seems like you can hear and feel the individual cylinders firing in their concert. The Getrag MT-82 is, well, more fitting for a delivery truck than it is in this car. I had gotten a few recommendations for the automatic version, but my compulsive car buying itch wouldn’t allow for any type of patience required to find one. The transmission is clunky and loud, but the gears seem well-matched to the engine’s powerband. Still, I wonder why Ford didn’t use the tried and true Tremec T56 or TR6060.
I’ll swap one in in the near future.
Anyway, this car, with a reasonable 41,000 miles on the odometer, runs like a rocket ship. Paying mind that the tires are the Pirelli PZero Nero A/S that originally came with the car 2 years ago when it was manufactured, I must say that it is extremely difficult to find sufficient traction on the cold and salted pavement. First and second gears are unusable above 50% throttle. Third spins for a few moments until the poor old tires finally get a bite. The clutch provides a leg workout each time it is disengaged, oh, and the pedal sticks to the floor at high RPM.
Still, aside from the traction issues, this car is clearly the fastest car that I’ve ever owned. Unlike my old LS1, the Coyote doesn’t necessarily overwhelm me with low end power due to the obvious displacement difference, but it more than makes up for this with the prominence of its top end. Though I had sworn to the LS series of GM single-cam small blocks, this Ford Coyote engine has made me as giddy as a joyful child with one kick of the tail end and one hearty shove in the back. Oh, and I’m aware that nearly every automotive journalist talks about how a car pulls, but any doubters should be signed up to witness this thing.
I knew the motors were strong, but not this strong. Also, with the plethora of aftermarket modifications, I know that the fun has only begun. Point blank, in terms of straight line performance, I’m sure that this car is more than capable of a quarter mile in the 12 second range. We’ll see when the track opens.
Curvy road evaluation suffered from the same issues that the Genesis did last year. The salted roads and cold pavement play hell on worn out tires, though I can say the body roll is kept surprisingly in check for such a crude brute of a car. The steering (at least after we fixed it at the Ford dealership) is also surprisingly and excellently weighted and communicative. I knew this was when Ford began expressing its ability to make its vehicles handle with poise, but experiencing such an adept control of body motion in a base trim GT was satisfying. Keep in mind that this was purely 6 to 7/10ths driving, mostly because Ruby grew frightening when I pushed her to 8/10ths. Suddenly, the car devolved into terminal and alarmingly severe understeer.
Once I had crossed the double yellow line, AdvanceTrac engaged and attempted to save the day. Honestly, I believe it was more of my driving skill that righted the vehicle course more than the computer, and speaking of the nanny, it’s largely absent. I know that the car encourages the art of hooliganism, but this stability control system is scarily lenient. The driver can practically spin the car 90 degrees before any intervention occurs, and because of this, I have refrained from being an idiot. Fortunately, this allows for rather aggressive driving with the system still on. Usually, I complain about the over-intrusiveness of such systems (like in the Genesis), but this time I’ll verge on saying the opposite.
Suspension wise, it rides like a truck, probably because the rear axle is very similar to one from a truck. Before you dismiss this as a ridiculous complaint, I’ll go ahead and say it:
This ain’t no damn Lexus.
Brake pedal feel and performance is quite well despite the absence of the Brembo package. Though I would’ve gladly taken one with the upgraded wheels and brakes, I’m definitely sure that this car will more than suffice.
Yeah, it’s not a Prius either. Over the week that I’ve owned the car, I’ve driven it at least 1,100 miles while managing to average roughly 18.0 mpg. This isn’t anything spectacular, but hell, it’s a damn V8 muscle car. Considering the fact that I usually baby it and meander through the streets, I won’t complain too much.
If anything, I just hate that the damn gas tank is so small. 16 gallons is far short of what is needed for a decent cruising range. I filled the car up twice in 48 hours. Oh, and by Sunday night, I used another 1/4 tank.
So far, this car is a hoot. I enjoy the attention it receives (well, not from the police), and the way that it makes me giggle with joy in second gear when it kicks sideways. I never thought of myself as a Mustang owner, but this generation was the one that finally did me in. Considering that this car will sticking around for a while, you’ll read more and more updates regarding my travels and events as time progresses.
All hail the racecar.
Vehicle Class: Automobile
Style: 2-door coupe, grand touring
Manufacturer: Ford Motor Company
Sub-designation: GT 5.0 Base
Curb Weight: ~3,580lbs
Type: Continuously Reciprocating Internal Combustion
Valvetrain: DOHC, Dual & Continuous Cam Phasing (TiVCT)
Displacement: (bore x stroke): 4,951 cc (302 cu in) (92.202 mm × 92.71 mm (3.63 in × 3.65 in))
Compression Ratio: 11.0:1
Fuel Delivery: Electronic Gasoline Port Injection
Horsepower: 420** hp @ 6,500rpm (313 kW) **in stock trim
Torque: 390 ft·lbf @ 4,250rpm (528 N·m) **in stock trim
Type: Constant mesh, single-clutch
Control: Manual, human Control
Input: Single plate dry clutch
Gears: 6 forward, 1 reverse
Driven Wheels: Rear
Differential Type: Helical Limited Slip
First Gear (:1) : 3.66
Second Gear (:1) : 2.43
Third Gear (:1) : 1.69
Fourth Gear (:1) : 1.32
Fifth Gear (:1) : 1.00
Sixth Gear (:1) : 0.65
Final Drive Axle (:1) : 3.31
145mph (speed governor)
Undetermined due to road conditions.
Yes, this is the term that has been overused beyond the point of obsolescence, yet it still has a distinctive ring in our heads. It symbolizes an exuberance of materialistic addition to something that is usually considered commonplace. A house is merely a dwelling suitable for residence, yet a mansion is its luxurious counterpart. No one needs expansive burled hardwood flooring when there are cheaper, more durable, and more easily produced vinyl floor overlays. No one needs a $10,000 chandelier hanging above the dinner table, yet it looks a hell of a lot better than a $25 unit from Walmart.
The idea of having something of a higher class than necessary is a staple point of human existence. In all that we’ve aspired to, and in all that we’ve achieved, it seems as if the human brain is wired to always ask one simple question, “I wonder if I can have more?”
Thus, we finally reach our focus point: the luxury automobile. I imagine that one day, shortly after the unveiling of the Patent Motorwagen in 1886, someone considered throwing in a cushier leather seat, or perhaps, a roof. When the awesome Bertha Benz took it on the world’s first automotive road trip, she installed a slew of upgrades along the way. By the time the Velo and its slew of newly arisen competition rolled around, the thought of a luxury car was well in the works. They had more pizzaz, curb appeal, and features as the technology developed.
An automotive company’s ability to produce a truly desirable luxury car is largely considered to be a staple point of capability. It’s a testament of a firm’s engineering and creative talent, a halo of sorts that tells a story of exuberance and purpose, even if they aren’t cost effective and widely produced. People should be able to immediately identify and assess what the brand is capable of. The point, short of complicated terminology, is to show off.
With that noted, how do you feel about this kind of showing off?
I quite like it. No, I seriously like it.
Luxury cars generally embody this term due to their outrageous expense. In order to develop a halo car that is worthy of the halo prestige, the number one rule is that money must be spent. Most car companies have their comfort zones, where big wigs at the top of the corporate ladder check out Excel spreadsheets and graft their happiness from lofty profit numbers. Plain, cookie cutting econoboxes drive the profits higher due to basic economies of scale, where consumers find themselves coddled just enough for their liking in a car that they can actually afford. Building for the masses makes sense in practically every aspect, as the economies of scale mentioned earlier, generally makes it cheaper for any company to produce a vehicle per unit when more of them are manufactured.
It’s a win-win situation for both the consumer and the manufacturer, which brings us to the point of the luxury car, which is usually manufactured on a far smaller scale due to obvious reasons. Taking a look at the general populace can easily display that it is far easier for the majority to afford a car with a $20,000 MSRP versus one costing $100,000.
Economically speaking, small scale, low volume luxury cars are a huge risk. They don’t sell in large numbers, while they cost an enormous amount of money to develop. Bean counters and bureaucratic mongoloids hate them. Why do you think Cadillac sucked for decades under the notorious pre-bailout GM?
So, we reach Lexus, the ubiquitous high-end arm of Toyota. Birthed in the late 1980s, it quickly became synonymous with “serenity” and “blandness.” Someone in the party of big wigs found this to be a very welcoming and prestigious quality, and they probably weren’t incorrect, but that so happens to depend solely on perspective. I mean, I’m all about reliability, solid structure, serenity, and value, but the “blandness” part falls into the huge grey area of my psyche.
My parents owned a few Lexus vehicles when I was younger, namely a XV20 ES300 and a XV30.5 ES330. Both of them were built with an astonishing amount of quality, plus saying that my parents owned a Lexus was plenty cool, at least until I finally got around to driving the thing. I was merely a half mile in route to my prom date’s house when I nearly fell asleep at the wheel from boredom. Seriously, the car felt like a rolling precision built GE appliance. The seats were comfortable, the woodgrain on the dashboard was real and rich looking, and the Mark Levinson sound system was incredible at playing classical music, but any type of excitement was sternly frowned upon. The drivetrain responded to throttle commands as if there was a line of calm old ladies passing notes to the transmission for a request to downshift. Yes, you read that correctly. In that car, when you pressed the throttle, you made a request to the onboard computer to speed up. Depending on what mood the computer was in at the moment that you filed the request, you either got a response, or nothing happened.
It was the epitome of a boring driving experience. Essentially, a Lexus driver was merely a pawn that piloted a bank vault on wheels. Thousands of people went for that kind of thing, but it appeared to be on the way towards fizzling out. As Lexus’ competitors pressed forward with more daunting and daring design languages, the buyers shifted towards them. In the early 2000s, we were sure that Lexus had all but placed the last nail in the coffin of its German competition. Now, though they are not struggling for sales by any means, Lexus finds itself circling the drain of “has beens.”
Much to the chagrin of the sane souls running the place, they’ve devised a plan to get their workload back on the map of effectiveness.
What’s the first step? Dynamic improvement while maintaining the excellent Lexus quality and reliability.
What’s the second step? A new design language. Lexus introduced the love-it-or-hate-it grille. They obviously became obsessed with polygons. Effectively, they’ve split the automotive fandom population in half regarding these changes. I sit firmly in the half that absolutely loves everything about it.
I like this new vision of Lexus, mostly because they spent the majority of their existence muddling in the utter refusal to take any type of risk whatsoever. They were so placated in the guise of making serene and mundane automobiles, that they were never allowed to tap into their full potential. They were never permitted to delve deeper into the engineering expertise that provided them with their untarnished legacy.
Finally, they see the light, and to show that off to the world, they’ve provided us with a proper flagship.
Let’s just take a look at this thing.
It sits perched on wheels that appear to present an insanely large diameter. Though I am not a resolute fan of the polished “chrome” look, I can appreciate the way that they they are clearly designed to complement the haunches of the body.
And, oh, what a body. . .
Somehow, they’ve managed to undo the sins of the admittedly funky looking Lexus IS series, and the slightly “overweight” looking RC coupes (The RC-F and RC350 F-Sport are quite awesome looking in comparison). I’ve read that great hurdles were overcome during the design phase of this car. The engineers managed to maintain the overall profile of the lowly-slug LFA, you remember, the $375,000 alpha car that finally saw the light of day. . . only after resting dormant for years in stagnation? The fact that they were able to make the LF-FC concept car, and finally produce a production version that is nearly indistinguishable from it speaks wonders.
There are no overtly awkward proportions here. To me, this is a proper Grand Touring coupe, fitted with the necessary elements to beget its proposed $100,000 price tag. Normally, I’d decry such a declaration, but upon closer examination of the sheer detail, craftsmanship, and technology packed into this vehicle, I’ll say “have at it” without hesitation.
It looks like nothing else on the road, and in fact, my excitement upon its release was reminiscent of the days in elementary school where my parents would purchase folders with wild concept cars drawn on the covers. Back then, they were merely figments of some dreaming designer’s imagination. Whenever I asked about the concepts, I was always told that they weren’t real.
The auto companies couldn’t make them. They were only concepts.
Well, now, I have the concept car of my boyhood dreams right in front of me. This.
And in a grace of benevolence, the artistry of the exterior flows cleanly into the interior.
Gone are the typical Lexus signatories from yesteryear. There is no abundance of woodgrain on the dashboard, no pillowy soft seating surfaces, no cassette tape player, and hopefully no scented cabin filter specifically designed to remind you of a dentist office. Here, we have a glimpse of the future, where the only problem I can detest is the random grab handle fixture jutting from the center console and into the dashboard. If I was forced to live with it, I could.
Yet, the gauges have their obviously sporting intentions displayed to us all. The tachometer gets the brunt of the dial gauge duty, yet their fashion is similar to the current designs seen on the IS and RC models. My only quip is that they are fully digital on the LC500.
Something about the mechanically articulating gauges of the IS made my blood boil with admiration. It’s sad to see this absent on the flagship.
Check out that steering wheel. Observe the contours clearly molded to encourage the proper grasp of the wheel during, well, particularly aggressive driving. Lovely shift paddles adorn the sides. I hope they actually command the 10 speed (cringe) automatic transmission to shift, rather than file a request to do so. I still think that 10 gears is way too many, but I’m led to assume that the Lexus powertrain engineers are a bit wiser than I am.
If there is just one faint and sadly unconfirmed hope of mine, it’s that this vehicle will find the success that Lexus needs. As discussed in-depth above, a flagship’s point isn’t to increase profitability through sales. The Germans and Italians know this. Instead, the point is to promote the future of a particular brand, to show the people what it is capable of.
The LFA, no matter how beautiful and audacious that it was, faded into the abyss. Fortunately, it did open up a new era of Lexus ingenuity and passion. The extremely limited numbers did little to elevate industry exposure, but it did prove that Lexus was finally capable of freeing itself from the safety bubble placed by management.
I sincerely hope that the LC500 drives as good as it looks, though it appears to be forthcoming. By the reviews that I’ve read from Motor Trend and their professional driver, Randy Probst, I have reason to believe that my ultimate Lexus fantasy is about to come true.
Ladies and gentlemen, our dear friends at Lexus have finally given us a proper flagship automobile that is truly and absolutely desirable beyond measure. This is the car that we’ve been begging for.
Now, I just hope that this arguably lusty 5.0 liter V8 is sufficiently endowed to push this car into the hearts of those wealthy enough to purchase one.
467bhp sounds awfully tempting, but there is plenty of worry in the automotive community regarding the rather “paltry” 369lb-ft of torque. Either way, if they keep the mass down (which they have so far claimed), it looks like their claims of “sub 4.5 second 0-60mph runs might hold true.
That, my friends, is damn good for a proper luxury car, and a proper flagship.
Long live Lexus, and bravo for unveiling the best car of the NAIAS.
(images courtesy of Lexus and Car and Driver)