The media would have you believe that Detroit is completely lost in the dark, an industry that has ignored the plight of the little, lightweight gas-sippers that are supposedly saving the world across the Atlantic. Writers on the auto beat are fixated on these cars, and so too, they say, is the American public.
The interest is indeed real, and the Big Three's European divisions have made happy profits from the sales of premium compact cars as their home bases struggled. Upcoming hatches like the Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Spark will fill a void in the American market, and will no doubt attract younger buyers who want to save space and gas.
But compact cars have never been ideal for families, the industry's core demographic. Unlike Europeans, who like cramming relatives and luggage into Peugeots and Opels, the majority of Americans and their families like room. Those who don't salivate for giant SUVs and crossovers shop for midsize and large sedans, the bread and butter of American motoring that accounts for about 43 percent of all US car sales.
There's no bread or butter in the 2010 Ford Taurus and 2010 Buick LaCrosse. Instead of good intentions mixed with bland execution, there's spice, upscale flavor, and a wholehearted desire in these cars to lead the industry - as Detroit once did - by design. If these two Yankees drive as fantastic as they look, then Detroit is roaring into 2009 with its brights on.
Credit Buick for shedding its elderly persona with the Lexus-worthy Enclave. While that car spawned several GM variants, the Buick has been most praised, notably for its quality, ultra-quiet ride, and price. The LaCrosse, which sells as the Opel Insignia in Europe and will eventually morph into the next Saturn Aura, is Buick's next offensive. Powerful V-6 engines offer up to 280 horsepower, and ambient blue lighting within the sleek, wraparound interior gives whiffs of the Jaguar XF. Outside, there are wide strips of chrome to compliment a rather muscular body, and there's not a bench seat or column shifter in sight. Amen.
Last March, I talked with J Mays in Geneva, Ford's VP of global design, and he admitted that Ford's US models weren't exciting. Not so with this Taurus, its square edges inspired by the squat Flex crossover and the sinister 2007 Interceptor concept. Even the taillamps have hints of Mustang. Inside, it's the same refreshing story, with expensive-looking switchgear, lighting, and surfaces.
While the pictured cars are sporting several thousand dollars worth of options, the base models - $26,000 for the Ford and another $2,000 for the Buick - will keep much of their fancy wardrobes. Hopefully, they aren't too late to save their brands from collapse.
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