What’s in a Name?

It occurred to me while thinking about the upcoming Alfa return to the U.S., I’m curious about what Alfa owners think about the sort of bastardization of later models.  Then I recognized a trend that rings through much of the automotive landscape.

Starting with Alfa, when once the Giulietta was a classic sedan that helped as a staple of sport-sedan lore, and the GTV being the racer-coupe… now it’s a stylish but nevertheless FWD/AWD hatchback that underpins the Dodge Dart (more on that later).



In the 1990’s, the GTV6 went from being F/R with that rear-mounted transaxle and inboard rear brakes, and turned into a somewhat clunky looking (to me, anyway) front-drive coupe.

For that whole Alfa Romeo Giulietta/Dodge Dart, die-hard Mopar fans keep bashing the Dart because of the “muscle-car” heritage… they seem to forget the Dart was the economy car equivalent of the Dodge line.  Those beloved GT’s and RT’s stuffed with V8’s were the Dart’s version of what Volkswagen does with the Golf: GT’s (a Europe thing), GTi’s, R’s, and so on.  the base Dart’s were just any other boring old tool that people paid little attention to when they were out.


The new Dart GT next to some of the old models

There is still a lack of consideration for the names that used to mean more.  In the Dodge Dart’s case, Neon would have been fine by most people.  Similar antics are seen with GM and Toyota: the Corolla used to have some hot variants that to this day are immortalized to the point of wanting to yell “shut up about the AE86 already!,” or Chevy throwing the Nova name on the very same Corolla that began the decline of the aforementioned lineage of AE86’s and their rear-drive predecessors.
Corolla Devolution
Nova Devolution

At first I was like… then I was like…. Corolla/Nova de-volutions.  Note the last Nova was based on the same Corolla platform that ruined that rear-driven lineage.

Taurus

Five Hundred/Taurus evolution

Another case of name having more weight then we realize was evident around the 2007 model year, but lets step back a couple years.  In 2005, Ford came out with the large Volvo-based sedan named Five Hundred (spelled out– get it right).  That car wasn’t a very big seller in part because of its lack of power– 200hp/208lbft in a two-ton sedan that could pack all-wheel drive isn’t quick.  Come 2007 there were new lights, a new engine (up to 263hp now– yay!), but also a new name while in the middle of its debut.  They went from the Ford Fivehundred to the Ford Taurus– long a good seller for Ford.  While that re-named car didn’t sell much better under the Taurus name, the more intense refresh (still the same platform) has sold well with a more modern shape inside and out… the modern Taurus just doesn’t feel roomy with the closed in turret windows.

One has to wonder what a name is for a car or a company.  There are countless examples of a company pulling up roots of the enthusiast and what they come to love, and turning it instead into a cash cow.  Sometimes they recognize their foibles and try to revert to once was (the Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger all made good comebacks), while others still sit in a land of commuting boxes.  The Corolla was never intended to become that rear-driven legend, but enthusiasts tapped their classic potential the same way hot-rodders predated factory muscle cars.  Looking at the Corolla now, for example, there’s less light at the end of the tunnel.  But hey, what’s in a name?

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Downsides of showing hope for a brand: 2014 Corolla S

Any smidge of hope that the Corolla S could show just enough performance potential has been slashed by reality that nope– Toyota still sucks.  That’s funny, though, since the Yaris has proven itself so well in SE guise.

As tested recently at Motor Trend magazine, the Corolla S was indeed quicker than a Nissan Sentra as I expected… just.  Motor Trend tested the CVT version of the Corolla S, which would be the larger seller, so it makes sense for them to test that over the manual version.  The gap between the Corolla S and the Nissan Sentra isn’t nearly as wide as I had expected, however, since the Corolla has kept the same amount of power (132hp) as the 2013 model, and gained little weight if any.  The Sentra, on the other hand, has lost power (130hp, down from the 2012’s 140hp).

The largest disappointment comes when considering the Yaris SE, the Corolla S’ subcompact little brother, has consistently placed in the top half of subcompact comparisons (Car & Driver and Motor Trend have both placed it third of six cars).  The Corolla won’t see such high ranks in up-coming comparisons no matter what happens.  Where the Yaris came out surprising journalists with how fun it could be, the Corolla has fallen on its face even more than expected.

Motor Trend’s podium finish of the Yaris SE was more for economy– not the pinnacle of fun I’m trying to turd-polish.  Car & Driver, on the other hand, brought up the dynamic shock: “steering was direct and communicative, its suspension calm and composed, its ride firm, its clutch engaging perfectly mid-travel, and its slop-free shifter smooth and satisfying. Notice that, in our slalom, the Yaris was only 0.5 mph behind the winning Fit.”  From a Toyota subcompact?  That’s not supposed to happen, is it?

The same could be said back in 2000 with the Echo and 2000 Corolla S— the Echo posted better performance, had more interior/trunk space, and economy. Unlike then, though, the Echo was the newer car than the aging Corolla. Now the ’14 Corolla is newer than the circa 2012 Yaris, and still can’t upstage the little hatch.  The Yaris SE had mostly the same treatment as the Corolla S: firmer suspension and four wheel disks.  Where the Yaris continued was the quicker steering rack.  Getting a manual Yaris SE will yield the most fun cheap Toyota for now, since the Corolla still continues to be a laughing stock.