Throughout The Car Industry
The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
We check out the new Lexus LF-A configurator,
Bob Lutz loses a bet and makes carbloggers and Bimmer-philes everywhere very happy,
and American interiors, good gawd, American interiors.
The Good: The Lexus LF-A was not designed with intention of competing with anyone, ala the Corvette ZR1, Audi R8, and McLaren Mp4-12C. Each of those cars was put together with the specific goal of crushing an enemy. The R8 shot across the bow of its stablemate 911, the Mp4-12C is aimed directly at Ferrari F430/458 customers, and the ZR1 exists solely to dominate all comers at half the price. The Lexus LFA is more of an introverted design experiment. Toyota is already the world's largest automaker, and as such, wanted to outdo themselves. Using techniques and procedures and a timeframe (10 freakin' years) not possible for other automakers, Toyota conceived an automobile that directly addresses the future. Case-in-point, the automated loom Toyota converted to weave carbon. It's one of only two rotary looms in the world, and it's only purpose is to form the curvaceous A-pillars used on the LFA. Amazing technology; a video of the loom in action can be found here. The processes born of ten years of research and development on the LFA will end up contributing to the construction of all future Toyotas.
The numbers aren't all that astounding—552bhp, 0-60 in 3.8 seconds, but it's the way the LFA goes about the business of stuffing your eyeballs down your throat that sets it apart. The handling has been described as "sublime," the cars rear-biased weight distribution and carbon-heavy construction helping ensure a neutral nature. I'm a fan of interiors, and this is one overgrown Camry that begs to be sat in.
Wanting nothing more than to have my very own LFA (which will never happen; Toyota is building only 500 examples and they'll be selling for seven figures by 2011), I scooted on over to the dedicated LFA website and cooked up a fantasy toy. The exterior color palette is crazy-large, and the interior options are plentiful also. This is a flash-heavy site, so Pentium IIs need not apply. I outfitted my Lexus with what may be construed as a 'retarded' color scheme, all dark green on cream on beige, but dammnit, I love it. It's a crime you can't find options like this on all cars.
The Bad: It all started a month ago. Unhappy with Cadillac's current ad campaign for the new CTS-V, auto-maven Bob Lutz threw down the gauntlet to the collective interwebs. "I can beat any journalist in any other production sport sedan on the market at any track in the country" was the gist of what he had to say. Needless to say it didn't take long (about 30 seconds) for a media outlet to step up and accept Lutz's challenge.
Jalopnik, intrepid bloggers that they are, secured a Mercedes C63 AMG, a car that matches up well with the CTS-V on paper. Everything was ready to go—the showdown would happen at Monticello Motor park in upstate New York, and members of the local super-sedan driving public were invited to participate. Except Mercedes got cold feet. They didn't want to lend Jalopnik the car, giving little or no reason for their change of heart.
No matter; Jalopnik's Wes Siler was able to talk Jaguar out of a new XF-R, another car that should compete with the CTS-V. Only Jaguar "pussed" out too. They didn't think it would be safe to hot-lap the Jag because its brakes might not be up to the task. All of this was making the CTS-V look very good. As Lutz put it, "You win automatically if the competition doesn't show up."
Unfortunately for Lutz's ego, there was that damn public and their damn BMWs just waiting to chew him up. Siler eventually landed himself a cherry Mitsubishi Evo X, but it was no match for the rip-snortin' Cadillac. The Evo's best time was in the 3:05 range, while the best lap turned by the CTS-V was closer to 2:56. The driver was a ringer by the way, not Maximum Bob.
And now, the ultimate 'wrench in the gears.' The fastest time of the day was not from a CTS or a Jag or even a sedan, the fastest time was turned by a kid, license new-minted five years prior, and his BMW M3 Coupe. Power to the public! For full blow-by-lap coverage, see Edmunds Inside Line.
The Ugly: There is one glaring truth that I can take away from the past months car shows: America has fallen from automotive grace. Completely. One weekend I'm staring at beautifully turned out American metal from the fifties, sixties, and seventies. They are the envy of their peers and the class of the field.
The next weekend I go and attend an International Motor Show, and my delusions of grandeur over; our collective Yankee engineering prowess is all but crushed. Granted the current crop of American autos is of higher quality than anything our industry has produced in 30 years, GM, Ford, and Chrysler are still light years behind their Euro-Asian counterparts. We seem unable or unwilling to put the same amount of effort into our passenger compartments that the foreign brands muster. It's sad, it's lazy, and it makes dyed-in-the-wool American car-boosters, such as myself, reexamine our lives. Is this really the best my nation can come up with?
It occured to me that maybe I have no room to talk. After all, every automobile from the Mighty Veyron to the humblest Tata is an incredible feat of human engineering. I am not able to do the math or mental gymnastics necessary to get a damn Elementary Education degree, needless to say engineer anything. I don't feel bad about my home-market smear campaign because I don't get paid to build cars, I get paid to rate them. Frankly, as far as 'rating' and 'educated opinions go, I'm well qualified, and completely able to accomplish the task at hand.
I also get a tinge of anxiety over my outlandish condemnation of the American consumer. Are we really all so ignorant that these over-priced American coffins will satisfy the vast majority of us? Do we really not demand the same levels of refinement and quality from our grocery-getters as the rest of the industrialized world? Do rebate deals and 'cash back' really control our buying tastes? Ahem, yes, yes they do. GM wouldn't try to get away with comparing their La Crosse to far superior Lexi if it didn't have the marketing data to prove that buyers won't notice the incredibly early-nineties-grade plastics they are using in a car that could be a serious world beater. It is more attractive than the Lexus ES, but eventually you have to get close to it and actually sit in it and deal with the knowledge that you could have had real leather and real chrome and real value. Instead you played the good patriot, bought the "American"-made Buick; now your dash board is self destructing after 15,000 miles. Dummie. Just like a everything else, we get what we deserve.
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Posted In: Good, Bad & Ugly, Reports, Technology
Tags: Lexus, LFA, Toyota, BobLutz, CTSV, Cadillac, Ford, GM, Chrysler
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