Hit -- 2009 Cadillac CTS-V I cannot gauge whether the investment General Motors has put into this 191-mph monster makes good business sense. I understand that Cadillac is trying, and succeeding, to gain parity with German luxury brands and their high-performance divisions (BMW M, Mercedes-Benz AMG and Audi S). I further understand that these kinds of cars are halo products, bringing light and glory to the brand without necessarily returning a per-unit profit. -- Dan Neil
Hit -- 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Some may wonder why badly bleeding General Motors would invest precious development dollars turning the already quite mental Corvette Z06 into this necromantic hypercar. Isn’t the electric Volt the company’s salvation?
Maybe. But because the ZR1 builds on the Corvette program -- the aluminum-and-balsa chassis is the same; the supercharged LS9 is a titanium-rod-and-crank version of the base pushrod V8 -- it represents a relatively small marketing outlay. And marketing is what it is. This car has appeared on every magazine cover from Motor Trend to Bass Masters Quarterly. -- Dan Neil
Hit -- 2007 Saturn Sky The Saturn Sky the celestially seasoned version of the Pontiac Solstice roadster reminds us that there is no idea so good that GM won’t toss it in a burlap sack and beat it with reeds. Such a notion was the Saturn Corp. Set up in the pastoral Podunk of Spring Hill, Tenn., in the late 1980s, Saturn was supposed to be anodyne to all things wrong with Detroit. At a time when GM’s other divisions shared more DNA than the Habsburgs, Saturn was a fresh-slate approach to car building, with its own cars, reflecting its own engineering and design philosophy. It had its own customer-focused, no-haggle retail environment, inviting you to join the “Saturn family,” with all the podpeople overtones the phrases implies. -- Dan Neil
Hit -- 2007 Saturn Aura It’s not as if GM has reinvented the game. The Aura is a fairly programmatic GM product, a knitting together of many of its far-flung resources. It’s just better knitting. The stamped-steel bones of the car are GM’s German-engineered Epsilon platform a mid-size, front-drive which sees service under the Pontiac G6, the Chevrolet Malibu/Maxx, Saab 9-3 and the Opel Vectra, built in Germany and England for European markets. The Aura’s handsomely machined surfaces, harmonious lines and general conformation are owed to Opel’s styling department, and the first impression when you see the car is that a German sedan has sneaked off the boat. Especially in XR trim with its turbine-like, 18-inch alloy wheels the Aura actually looks pretty posh and sophisticated, with subtle but vital metal highlights glowing around the windows and the grille, and haute-tech LED tail lamps. Amazing, considering this car replaces the L-series, whose styling was crueler than cosmetic animal testing. -- Dan Neil
Miss -- 2008 Buick Enclave Buick has been drumming the phrase QuietTuning into our collective heads for a few years now, and the Enclave makes it real. The body structure is stiff, quiet and well isolated from the road. You’d have to give the Enclave top marks for ride refinement.
The converse is that this is a fairly numb and uninteresting driver. The biggest problem is its mass: The front-wheel drive Enclave is 4,780 pounds (with all-wheel drive, a wheel-bending 4,985 pounds). The six-speed transmission’s economizing shift logic makes the Enclave a little reluctant at mid-throttle, refusing to kick down into a lower gear without a hard kick in the slats. This was a particular bother as I was driving up the hill to my house. -- Dan Neil
Miss -- 2006 Chevrolet HHR The trouble is, outside of lifetime subscribers to Hot Rod magazine, the HHR doesnt remind anybody of anything except the Chrysler PT Cruiser, thus the unfortunate and irresistible sobriquet Me Too Cruiser. Lutz has scorned the comparison. His case is somewhat weakened by the fact that the man who led the design for the PT Cruiser, Bryan Nesbitt, also held the pen for the HHR.
There is a Detroit-cloistered quality to the HHR, and not simply because it is such a pointed response to a crosstown rival. The HHR wants to capitalize on a sentiment - a longing for the rockin good times on Woodward Avenue? - that just doesnt exist in large measure in the mass market. -- Dan Neil
Miss -- 2006 Pontiac G6 Performance: The GT model I drove had a 3.5-liter iron-block V6 under the hood, good for 200 horsepower and no surprises at all. And - though I cant believe Im writing this sentence in 2005 - this pushrod six is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. It is because of this powertrain that the phrase thrashy and unrefined has become the hackneyed cliche that it has.
The electric steering is numb and oddly weighted. Though I thought the ride was very nice, the handling is pushier than a mortgage-refinance telemarketer. The car has zero appetite for hard driving. You want excitement from the Excitement division? Try to get this thing to turn in a sharp corner. -- Dan Neil
Miss -- 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid The two-mode hybrid Tahoe returns an EPA estimated fuel economy of 21 miles per gallon in the city, 22 mpg highway; the 4x4 version gets an even 20/20, city/highway. The company and its various choristers -- such as the Green Car Journal, which recently named the Tahoe Hybrid “Green Car of the Year” -- are pleased to point out that represents up to a 50% improvement of in-city fuel economy over the non-hybrid Tahoe.
The objectors have rebelled against the symbolism of the thing. It might be half-again better, but it’s still an awful, blot-out-the-sun SUV. Isn’t this like putting handlebar tassles on the wingtips of a 767 jet? -- Dan Neil