The Automotive Amanojaku

This is where you'll find news, random car-related thoughts and personal views from a rabid car nut. "Amanojaku" is Japanese slang that means "person who is deliberately contradictory". I've always found myself drawn to the less appreciated car makes - the "underdogs" if you will. Suzuki, Pontiac, GM Daewoo and Holden, are among my favorite brands to watch and comment on. Let me hear your thoughts!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Hey "New Breed of Speed" - Now GM's Got All You Need



Hey "New Breed of Speed" - Now GM's Got All You Need
Editorial by Ming

I recently spoke to a younger friend of mine who is partial to imports, and doesn't understand my interest in GM cars. "GM doesn't have anything that appeals to my generation," he said, echoing the insistence from the media, Hollywood, and the magazine racks that there's a new wave of automotive enthusiasts that is rising up in stark contrast to the Car Craft / Hot Rod muscle car types of yore. The prognosticators of Automotive culture refer to them as the "New Breed of Speed". More often than not, they tie this new interest in performance cars to Japanese brands, and turn up their noses at GM's (and other Domestic Automakers') efforts to get in on the game as marginal at best. Contrary to what we're told, I think these "tuners" are simply another variation of the Car & Driver / Auto Week types of yesteryear who instead of British roadsters and club racing surround themselves in the mystique of illegal drag racing , Video Games, scantily clad "Import Models", and an Asian-American sub-culture with heavy ties to all things Japanese .

Perhaps in part due to of all of the media-hype, and the non stop stream of TV shows like Street Fury it seems undeniable that there is a changed perception of what a performance car should be in the US market. This new perception demands cars that are affordable, look a certain way (techy and modern), perform without regard to which wheels are driving the car, and give them bragging rights in their own segments from compact to sedan to coupe. Some also demand less cylinders and less displacement with more technology involved producing more power. If you have eight or even ten cylinders, then you'd better blow everyone's doors off to get any kind of respect. It's not good enough to have an engine that "gets the job done" - the engine has to have that cool factor that comes from either stomping the competition across the board or overachieving in its own segment.

In some ways, this perspective makes sense in today's market. With so many competing brands, and so many Import brands with a more Japan or Euro-centric design approach, it's only logical that cars would be evaluated on how new and fresh they look, and how much performance they can deliver for the buck, regardless of how they do it.

I have to admit that for the past few years, there weren't many high profile cars in GM's lineup that I could point to and tell my friend, who seems to me to belong to this "new breed" that there was a car for him at a GM dealership.

But things have changed, and this summer GM is putting a big exclamation mark on their transformation from a 1990's mass producer of mostly vanilla cars (with a few exceptions) into a company that has performance variants of nearly every type of car -- not limited to RWD V8 coupes.

Even the most determined "Import Fan" will have a hard time ignoring the comprehensive line-up of cars coming out from GM this Summer - as many of the collective of GM brands offer a few models to each segment of the "tuner" market that have been missing from the General's garage up until now.

Essentially, GM's new lineup declares with grit: The "New Breed of Speed" need not only be Japanese. Or European. Or from some other company headquartered abroad. As of this Summer, GM is a Player in full force.

The Rundown:

1. The hot 4-bangers:

Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged - The first performance Cobalt out of the gate, with gobs of power on tap from the supercharged engine. Great looks inside, and exterior looks that scream for modification from the "tuner" types, this one delivers -- but is slightly off the mark of its target audience by not offering a turbo (the word itself inspires warm fuzzy feelings in "new breed" types) instead.

Chevrolet Cobalt SS - Coming this summer, GM introduces a Variable Valve Timing enhanced 2.4L engine that has all the characteristics of the popular Toyohonda engines, but with solid torque to best them. If I'm not mistaken, this version of performance Cobalt may actually be more popular with the "tuners" due to its techy engine and lower price.
Saturn ION - For those who don't think the Cobalt is "different" enough, or who like the quad door option and no-haggle pricing, the ION has a less polished-looking interior, but the same sporty character.
Saab 9-2x Aero - Great looks, and superb performance from a small wagon. Did you think I was going to go on about its roots? I see no need to - GM's Saab is offering it, and in my opinion it looks a whole lot classier than its GM Alliance partner sibling. Better yet, it looks like a Saab, and has a turbocharged 4-banger to boot. This car has real potential to succeed, and even the critics seem to agree, as Auto Week says: "The 9-2X is a better WRX".

Pontiac Solstice - The Solstice impresses on all fronts, and it is affordable. What more needs to be said? The roundish looks may appeal more to the Car & Driver crowd than the Import Tuner types, but when a car looks this good, it can bridge styling boundaries.

2. 6-cylinder Performers
Pontiac G6 GTP Coupe - It's sleek, its got new underpinnings, it offers a 6-speed manual transmission, and it has a new engine with Variable-Valve-Timing and 240hp with gobs of torque at low revs to back it up. The Imports have had similar cars for years (minus the torque in many cases), and GM's entry into this niche of the performance market stands ready to shine with a unique character of its own. ...More...

Cadillac CTS - It's hardly the definition of "sport compact" but it is all of the things that have made the Import guys drool over Infinitis and Lexii in the past. RWD, modern and techy V6, and cutting-edge looks. Years after its introduction, it still looks fresh and new. And it manages cross-over appeal as well, with fans among "tuners" as well as the "bling" crowd. Cadillacs ooze sex appeal, and now they can perform, too, thanks to the pioneering work of the CTS.
Malibu SS / MAXX SS - Despite the glaring omission of a stick shift at introduction, this pair of cars offer the same 3900 engine as the aforementioned G6 GTP, with suspension tuning and other performance tweaks to take them from bland to grand. With a new, more attractive grille, modern character lines, and the right choice of paint, these cars look every bit the part. At the very least, they give owners of the more pedestrian Malibus something to strive for if they decide to go "tuning", and more than an ounce of halo effect emanates from the SS versions.

3. V8 Torque Monsters

Pontiac GTO - GM made a calculated move when it decided to inject the GTO piloted by Rhys Millen into one of the "new breed's" most popular venues: Drifting. And the result was success. The GTO is a respected competitor in this still little known but growing sport. Its exterior looks may be "bland", but that never stopped the tuners from playing with the boring exteriors of Civics. And its looks are helped into this century by an unfortunately pricey Sport Appearance Package. This coupe is helping bring credibility back to the brand that was at one time associated with rental-grade Grand Ams, aged Sunfires, and Azteks.
Cadillac CTS-V - Take all of the good aspects of the regular CTS, and drop in a powerhouse V8. Tweak the looks to be even more aggressive and sporty, and there you have it. While most of Gen Y can't afford one, they can respect the CTS-V. Even Car & Driver has to Agree

Chevrolet Corvette - Not the typical young tuner's choice of car, perhaps, but its halo effect on all of GM's performance credibility can't be denied.

4. Other Options

To name just two...

Chevrolet Monte Carlo / SS - In the 2006 model year, a coupe that was hardly an object of affection for "tuner" types is brought up to date and up to speed with the 3900 V6 and a V8 engine option. With a freshened interior and exterior, the Monte Carlo may get the nudge it needs to be recognized as a performer, not just a cruiser favorite of NASCAR fans.
Chevy Colorado Xtreme Package - With a new, modern engine, modern looks, and the S-10 Xtreme mini-truck crowd to back it up, the Colorado Xtreme has the potential to rule the niche of "Sport Trucks" that often bleed over into tuner-type car shows.


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