By Igor Holas
I do realize that starting a review with a marketing slogan undermines my claim to objectivity, but that honestly is the feeling I had when I finished my week with this new flagship Lincoln. In the end, I felt the MKS drove, rode, and felt unlike any other car I have driven to date, and it spoiled me at every turn.
Off the bat, I have to confess to a different bias of mine; one you will see pop up throughout the review. While I loved the MKS, I am a conscientious objector to the idea of luxury sedans. I pride myself on evaluating practical cars that form a clear case for their utility and appeal. I like spoils and creature comforts as much as the other guys, but I just do not see the point in paying $50,000 for a sedan that still only seats five (sometimes four), does not get exceptional mileage, and does not bring me coffee in the morning.
So the MKS was not exactly up my alley, but I do have to say I loved it. It did everything I want a car to do and then some. It had all the gadgetry you can ask for, a luxurious interior, quiet and spacious cabin, very confident manner in curves, excellent AWD system, and a nice V6 underhood. However, you can get most of this on cars from more pedestrian brands (like Ford’s own Taurus) for $15,000 less. So while I loved the MKS, it did not win me over to become a believer in the need for luxury cars.
Love at second sight
By Igor Holas
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to review the improved-for-2009 Escape/Mariner line. I previously tested the 2008 Escape Hybrid and was less than enamored. At the time, I criticized the bare-bones feel of the cheap, beige interior, outdated navigation system and the missing SYNC. The hybrid technology and its uniqueness in this segment were its saving graces, but overall, the vehicle did not win me over.
A lot has changed since February. First of all, I had the opportunity to drive several different vehicles, and realized just how many of them fell short of my expectations – I am picky, and realized I had to lower my standards. Moreover, the vehicle itself has changed. The 2009 Escape/Mariner saw a completely new line of engines and transmissions, improving power and mileage. Also refined were the brakes and exhaust system. Finally, the interior received some needed tweaks. Ford took a detailed look at the interior, addressing both the biggest omissions (such as outdated navigation, or lack of SYNC), and the easy fixes (such as exposed screws), improving its overall feel.
By Igor Holas
The world’s third-oldest automaker, Tatra of the Czech Republic, recently announced a bold move. Following a series of failed car models in the 1990s, and eventual exclusive reorientation toward trucks, they will resume production of one of the coveted models from their history.
Tatra was founded in 1850 as a coach and carriage manufacturer, but shifted its focus to automobiles in 1897 with a prototype called Präsident. After several other models, Tatra became one of the first major automakers, focusing on luxurious, technologically advanced vehicles.
By Igor Holas
The Environmental Protection Agency has finally released official fuel economy figures for the redesigned 2009 Ford F-150 pickup. And while Ford did in no way run away from the pack, it managed to catch up to the long-leading GM in non-hybrid trucks.
Looking at truck fuel economy used to be easy – you decided between compact or full size, and in full size you decided between the base 6 cylinder, midrange V8 and up-level V8. However, while this still mostly holds, GM has turned the game on its ear with the Hybrid Silverado and Hybrid Sierra. With EPA rating of 21mpg city and 22 mpg highway, these trucks have the second-best combined fuel economy behind the Ford Ranger with four cylinder engine and manual transmission (20 city /26 highway). Note that Chrysler has also announced its intention to launch a two-mode hybrid variant of its new-for-2009 Dodge Ram pickup in the next year or so, which will likely get the same fuel economy ratings as the Silverado and Sierra Hybrids do.
Then, this past summer, GM added yet another exception to the rule with the launch of Silverado XFE, a special edition of its 5.3 liter V8-powered Silverado with low resistance tires, aerodynamic improvements, and other tweaks that achieve a respectable rating of 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway.
By Igor Holas
Much has been written about the folly of allowing the venerable Ranger wither on the vine and lose its sales crown to Toyota’s Tacoma. Many writers, editors, and bloggers took it upon themselves to come up with new and innovative ways to call Ford shortsighted and use the Ranger’s demise as a case in point that Ford is in the fast lane to bankruptcy. However, behind the scenes, Ford is readying a duo of new trucks to be released in the wake of the Ranger’s demise, and is also planning an ultimate return of the Ranger to the US market.
Internal sources have recently confirmed that the Ranger will be discontinued after the St. Paul assembly plant is shut down next year. We also had it confirmed that, at least for several months, Ford will not be producing any truck smaller than F-150 in North America, and will be just selling down inventory of already-built Rangers. However, Ford is not to be absent for long in the mid-size segment.
Our sources indicate that for the past decade, Ford has been working on a new mid-size truck. This truck was to answer the competition’s move from truly small trucks to something bigger – about the size of an old F-150 – offering more space, better ride, more capability, and more power. The new truck under development was to be released several years ago, but it fell victim to the changing of the guard among Ford’s top brass and the volatile product development plans. The project moved to and from the back burner several times as Ford shifted its attention to more “important” causes. As a result, not only did the Ranger miss the move from small to midsize trucks, it was left on the market way past its expiration date, and will leave the scene without a direct successor. Luckily, however this new truck is finally again settled on the front burner and will be released in the fall of 2010 as the 2011 F100 midsize truck. It will be built alongside its bigger brother in the Michigan Truck Plant.
The new Ranger built in Thailand will not become truly global and will not be sold in North America
The underpinnings of this truck are familiar – a shortened and lightened F¬-150 frame with numerous shared components. The truck will copy Dakota with a V6 and V8 engine lineup, but position its V6 engine as the key power plant – restricting V8 to limited-volume trims. The truck will be a little bigger than its competition with dimensions just slightly smaller than the 1998 – 2003 F150. Unlike the Ranger, the F-100 will finally include a true five-seating double-cab, upscale version of which will serve as a Sport Trac replacement.
This new truck platform will spawn one more vehicle: a new Ford Bronco. Secretly (until now), Ford has been preparing an answer to the success that is the Wrangler, and the threat that is the Hummer H4. The Bronco will stay true to its original roots and be a capable off-roader with two solid axles, true 4×4 and a truck frame. After the 2004 Bronco concept which was built on the Fiesta platform, many diehards were worried the Bronco would become a soft-roading lifestyle SUV for the urban youth market. While I and some others saw potential in this move, it seems Ford is playing it safe with the Bronco name and affixing it to a true, rugged off-road capable SUV. Like the Wrangler, the Bronco is to feature a removable top and folding windshield. It could debut alongside the F-100 in 2010, or a little later.
The Bronco is to make an honest return to its off-road roots. Ford is aiming at the Wrangler and the upcoming Hummer H4 with this new truck.
Finally, by the end of 2012, the Ranger is scheduled to return to the US showrooms. Last year, the F-100 was evaluated as a potential global replacement for the Ranger, but it was not awarded this prestigious position. Instead, Ford’s Australian branch was tasked with developing a brand new small truck platform dubbed T6. Unlike the current “Thai” Ranger or the upcoming F-100, the T6 “Global” Ranger is to return to its humble compact roots. The size will be very close to the current North American Ranger, and it might even shrink. The result is to be a one world-beating small truck that is happy to run on four-cylinder power. This new truck is to replace all the different Rangers around the world, along with the Bantam, Courier, and other locally-designed Ford compact trucks. While 2012 is a ways away, the T6 Ranger is being developed with US sales in mind.
So here you have it folks. Ford will discontinue the Ranger next year – it will happen. However, within a year, Ford will replace it with the F-100, add a new Bronco, and about a year after that revive the Ranger as what it is today – an honest, humble, hard-working compact truck without any pretense.
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