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Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

March 05, 2009

Design Matters

To the average American, cars are so much more than just a mode of transportation. Cars represent who you are, where you come from and where you’re going. Sure, we’d like to believe that we make wise decisions — based on common sense — when we purchase a vehicle, but there’s no denying that many choices are primarily based on our design preferences.
There are iconic vehicle designs that everyone recognizes, such as the Volkswagen Beetle, the Chevy Corvette and the Ford F-150. Each of these classic styles represents a different aesthetic and speaks to different facets of our character. A sports car can make you feel young again; a pickup brands you as a hard-living rebel — or a hard worker.
Here are a few new vehicles on the market that stand out for their design. You may not have noticed them yet, but each is worth a look.

Volkswagen CC
VW CC If you know cars at all, you have probably noticed that most recent VW models have a signature look. Whether it’s a Jetta, a Passat or a Rabbit, you’ll likely recognize it as a Volkswagen. That’s not so with the new Volkswagen CC. VW has taken the Passat platform and boldly recreated it in a new image. It has a sporty, stylish, aerodynamic shape, and VW backs up those good looks with refined German engineering and attention to detail. Many people mistake the new CC for a Mercedes CL-Class sedan, for good reason: The vehicles share an undeniable design aesthetic. By the way, CC stands for Comfort Coupe, which is an odd label for a four-door vehicle. I guess VW decided to take some artistic license here.
I picked up a CC Sport at Lewis Motors in South Burlington and took it for a drive. The 2-liter, turbo-charged, 4-cylinder engine offered plenty of power while still delivering an impressive 31 mpg on the highway. The interior was tastefully appointed and the stitched leather, heated seats cradled my frame comfortably. Though the rear window appears large from the exterior, when I looked in the rear-view mirror from the driver’s seat I found the view to be quite constricted. One other questionable feature is the back seat. It’s quite comfortable, with seats that are sculpted similarly to those up front, but there’s only room for two passengers. Between the seats is a console with drink holders and storage space, covered by a sliding door. It all looks and feels pretty sexy, but if you’re looking for a five-passenger family car, this isn’t it.

Ford Flex
Ford Flex Speaking of family vehicles, here’s one with ample style. The Ford Flex isn’t your Mom’s minivan, though it seats seven comfortably. It reminded me instantly of the wagon version of the Mini Cooper — the Clubman — though larger. Confirming my suspicion that this car was inspired by the Mini, it even has a similar two-tone paint option — a white roof that contrasts nicely against a darker body color à la the Mini. The interior, not unlike that of the VW CC, is very nicely done. American-made vehicles sometimes fall short when it comes to interior styling, but this is not one of them. Ford deserves kudos for marrying such bold style with family-friendly function. If you’ve got multiple people to haul around but can’t see yourself going the minivan or SUV route, you should check out this auto.
The Ford Flex offers some pretty cool options. The Vista Roof puts four skylights over the three rows of seating, letting in lots of ambient light for all occupants. The window over the far back seats is larger than any sunroof I’ve seen. The model I picked up at Heritage Ford had all-wheel drive, which makes great sense in Vermont. You can even get a working refrigerator! It holds about a six-pack of cans, and can cool down to 23 degrees F.

Dodge Challenger
Dodge Challenger The original Dodge Challenger launched at the height of the muscle-car era in 1970 and was a worthy opponent for the Mustangs and Camaros of the day. With an amazing retro look, the new Challenger is every bit the road warrior that its ancestor was. Of all of the cars featured in this article, the Challenger — which I test-drove at Goss Dodge in South Burlington — speaks to me the loudest. Crank up the classic rock and you’re bound to feel like a bad ass behind the wheel. Aesthetics-wise, Dodge stayed close to the original theme, but the new version does a great job of incorporating up-to-date technology into a car that looks like it was created in the ’70s. This is a well-made vehicle and, for all but the most extreme performance models, Dodge backs it up with a lifetime drivetrain warranty.
Ford actually started the retro craze in 2005 with the fifth-generation Mustang and ended up selling a lot of them. This spring, the company will roll out an updated version of the Mustang. Chevy is finally catching the retro wave and issuing a new Camaro, also this spring. However, with a struggling economy and a focus on energy efficiency, this may be poor timing for the latecomers. Only time will tell how sales will be affected, but these days that’s true for just about everything. All I can say is, if you like muscle cars, the Challenger is a real modern beauty.

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