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More thoughts on the next ride…

February 19, 2010

Back in October, I posted a list of vehicles on the short list to replace the Clubman some point down the road.

Recently, though, I’ve been reassessing. And of the four vehicles, only one remains in contention.

What can I say? A lot’s changed in the past four months.

First, a whole slew of interesting new vehicles has been announced or unveiled since October. And between now and when the time comes to relinquish the Clubman, a whole slew more will make their appearance.

Second, I guess I’ve been coming to terms with not only what I want out of a vehicle, but what I’ll need. In addition to the usual qualities – crisp, communicative steering, sharp handling, better than average fuel economy, somewhere to plug the iPhone in, nothing with a trunk,  etc – I’ve come to accept that I’ll soon have to be able to accommodate two kids, their car seats, strollers and other accessories. Maybe not every day…but Nolan and his car seat still find their way into the Clubman at least once a week as is…and I don’t see that changing when Lola arrives. So suddenly…space is something I have to pay attention to. My goal, basically, is to be able to haul Nolan, Lola, and a jogging stroller to Town Lake. Extra room to bring along a certain drooling yellow lab would be a bonus, but not altogether necessary.

With all that in mind, I scoured what’s out there and what’s coming in the next year or so, and came up with a quite frankly shocking list, dominated by automakers I wouldn’t have even considered a year ago.

So, without further adieu, here’s the short list as it stands today.

MINI Countryman

While I’ve always been open to the idea of MINI building a crossover, I outright hated the concept they showed awhile back. But when they got around to pulling the wraps off the production Countryman, well, I was smitten. MINI not only managed to (in my opinion) nail the styling, they also kept this thing seriously small. Like, the size of a Kia Soul small.

And therein lies the rub.

If I only had to worry about accommodating Nolan, this would be my next car. But with two kids…it’s only five inches longer than the Clubman, and probably in no position to fulfill my two kids + jogging stroller requirement. Alas, I fear the MINI is just too mini.

Ford Focus

The Ford Focus is the one carryover from my October list, due in large part to the fact that Ford hit it out of the park with this redesign. After six years, we’re finally getting the phenomenal Euro-spec Focus. And while this one’s still on the bubble pending road tests and such, if it lives up to the Focus Europe has been enjoying since 2004, it’ll probably catapult to best-in-class status.

My only quibble, again, is size. While the Focus would offer substantially more space than the Clubman, it’s still only about as big as a Mazda3, which again makes the whole jogging stroller thing an issue. If it can fulfill the whole two kids + jogging stroller requirement, though, it’d certainly be the sharpest handling car on the list. So I have my fingers crossed.

One big leg up the Focus – and the other Fords on this list – has over possible challengers is the brilliant MyFord Touch “car connectivity” system. I typically don’t care too much for these command-and-control systems, but the MyFord Touch is so well-executed and so capable that you kind of can’t help but look at it and think “WANT”. Apart from telling you everything about the car and letting you control ambient lighting and HVAC controls, this system can read you any texts messages you receive, let you send canned responses without taking your hands off the wheel, gives you full access to your iPod, and yeah, you get the idea. Rumor has it Ford’s even planning to open up an app store and just…good god…imagine the possibilities there.

Ford Focus Grand C-Max

I’m sure my brothers, Longhorn Offroad friends and others will get a kick out of the fact that there’s actually a minivan on this list, but the Grand C-Max isn’t your typical minivan. For starters, it’s a lot smaller than the rumbling monstrosities that bear the minivan moniker these days. As the name suggests, it’s actually based on the Focus, which puts it closers, size-wise, to the Mazda5. It’s also likely to be the closest of the vehicles listed to the Focus in terms of driving dynamics and fuel economy, albeit with sliding doors, rear captain’s chairs and slightly longer length.

This one is admittedly a long shot – I still can’t see myself driving a minivan – but I’d like to at least take one for a spin before ruling it out altogether.

Ford Escape

I’ve had a handful of encounters with the Ford Escape over the years, and while it’s a surprisingly competent little ute, it’s never something I’d seriously consider owning. But, depending on what shakes out over the next year or so, that may change.

See…Ford is moving pretty aggressively to globalize its product offerings so that one car can be built and sold around the world. The new Fiesta is the first of these so called “One Ford” cars. The new Focus is the second. And sometime in the near future, our dated Escape is going to get the heave-ho and be replaced with the far sleeker Ford Kuga (though the Escape name is likely to stick around).

Unlike our Escape, the Kuga is built on a thoroughly modern platform, actually the same so-called “C-platform” that underpins the Focus. Apart from sharp handling, the common platform pretty much ensures that all of the Focus’ powertrain goodies will probably find their way into the Kuga/Escape.

Ford Edge

The Edge is an outside shot at best, more a grudging admission that I may need to move on to something larger than a compact hatch or crossover than a real contender.

That said, if I end up having to look beyond compacts, I don’t really see anything out there I like as much as the Edge. It’s less a behemoth than most midsize crossovers and SUVs, and thankfully it eschews the whole third row seating thing. It’s also, in my opinion, one of the better looking vehicles in the class, especially with recently unveiled refresh.

Kia Sportage

Back in 2004 or 2005, I was involved in pitching the Kia account. At the time, Kia had managed to attain a certain level of competency, but the cars still felt very much like designer knockoffs, as though they’d come from a parallel universe in which all the cars were just 5% crappier. Even so, there was  sense of momentum, of every new car being a little bit better than the last. I remember thinking…to no small shock…that it probably wouldn’t be too long before Kia up and made a car I’d actually find desirable.

Over the last year or so they’ve been getting really close. I dig the Kia Soul for what it is, think the Forte finally gives Kia a viable competitor to the Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas of the world, and I really respect the new Sorento. The styling, the technology, the quality, the materials…everything has taken a massive leap forward. And with the new Sportage, Kia’s finally done it. They’ve finally made a vehicle I’m willing to put on my short list.

Will it live up? As of this writing it hasn’t even officially debuted, so it’s a bit too early to tell, but the reviews of its sister ship, the new Hyundai Tucson, point to class leader potential with an appropriately firm ride and communicative steering.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2010 3:49 pm

    Uhhhhhh. You know how I feel about this one.

  2. Doogs permalink*
    February 24, 2010 10:06 pm

    Sure do…though the latest Countryman video is leading me to believe it may have more in the way of cargo room than I thought. And MINI Connect offers something approaching the functionality of Ford’s SYNC setup. All in all, I think it’s staying at the top of the list until I have a chance to drive one, then I’ll go from there.

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