It’s not unreasonable to think of Buick as the original near-luxury brand. It was the first of the many brands that Billy Durant acquired as he began building up General Motors more than a century ago. Later as Alfred Sloan organized GM’s marketing efforts and brands into a stair step from Chevrolet at the entry level to Cadillac at the pinnacle, Buick was slotted in just below the top as the “doctor’s car.” A few decades ago, a big sedan like the LaCrosse would have been the brand flagship, the model an up and coming professional would be driving on their way to eventually having a Cadillac. Today, the recently introduced third-generation LaCrosse is almost an afterthought for customers as they rush to buy crossovers like the sub-compact Encore and full-size Enclave.
Cadillac -The Standard of the World. Built Ford Tough. Mercedes-Benz -The Best or Nothing. BMW – The Ultimate Driving Machine. Audi – Truth in Engineering. Well maybe not so much on that last one, but you get my point. Successful automotive brands have an image associated with them that may or may not be entirely accurate, but that’s what marketing is all about. Honda’s premium Acura brand has always struggled with trying to determine what it’s image should be, no matter how good its products have been and they have typically been very good. The latest stab at remaking the brand image image is the 2017 MDX SUV which I just spent a week with.
Given the current market trends and consumer favor for SUVs, Volvo probably made the right call in coming out of the gate with the big XC90 for the first complete reboot of its product lineup after separating from Ford. Fortunately, for those of us less enamored with driving utilities on a daily basis, they’ve quickly followed that up with the S90 sedan and soon the V90 wagon. I recently spent a week with the S90 and found that unsurprisingly it shares most of the same strengths and foibles as its higher riding sibling but in a much sleeker package. (more…)
Cars, like the people that create them have distinct characters. Some of that comes down to the individuals responsible for the design and development and the corporate culture they work in. Other aspects of automotive ethnicity come the places where they were created. Despite the differences between the various German brands, they all share some common DNA, in particular, the way they behave at elevated speeds on highways like the Autobahn. Such is the case for the latest generation Audi A4 that arrived on American shores earlier this year.
It’s been a quarter century since I drove a BMW for the first time. After years of reading Car and Driver’s praise of the 3 and 5 Series, my entre into the brand came via the big coupe which in those days was the 850i. The 8 series had supplanted the 6 series while moving significantly upmarket. The 8 was only produced for a single generation before giving way to an eventual revival of the 6 which I finally had a chance to drive recently in 650i form.
When the original Cadillac CTS debuted 14 years ago, it represented a turning point for General Motors’ premium brand. GM had decided to invest billions of dollars to remake the faded brand once known as the “Standard of the World” to try to make it competitive in the 21st century. The original CTS was built on a new dedicated Cadillac architecture with a new design language. Two years after the debut of the third-generation CTS, I had a chance to drive it and make my own judgements about whether the plan has succeeded.
When Mercedes-Benz introduced the CLS four-door coupe in 2003, the first car company seemed like it had delivered the coup de grâce to the true two-door coupe. Fortunately, that hasn’t quite panned out and we still have stunners like the 2017 C300.
We’re coming up on nearly a decade since Lexus first officially announced its attempt to take on the Ms, AMGs and RSs of the automotive world. Toyota’s premium brand selected F as its official designation for performance-oriented variants of its well-built but staid vehicles. Until the arrival of an LC-F at some future date, the RC-F can arguably be called the current Lexus performance herald.
For most of its nearly two decade history, the midsize RX crossover has been the best seller in the Lexus lineup by a fairly wide margin. Like other Lexi prior to the current generation, it also had generally inoffensive, but uninspired design. That all changed in 2015 with the debut of the fourth-generation RX including the hybrid RX450h F Sport that I recently drove. Whether you like the new design direction or not, this latest RX is at least less likely to get lost in a crowd.