Danny Chang's review of car designs

Thursday, July 30, 2009

This Cube ain't No Square

"Master of my domain, queen of the castle, lord of the manor"-I just saw the classic Seinfeld "The Competition" episode on TV, which reminds me of my undergrad days at UCLA. Not the competition part, well, at least I'd like to think not. Back then I drove an '86 Nissan Sentra coupe that my dad gave me...I drove that everywhere, man. The Sentra had a 1.6 liter 4 banger which was a little underpowered for the car, which sat 5 and had a decent trunk. The 2009 Nissan Cube I drove last weekend also seats five and has an OK-sized luggage compartment, but the Cube definitely has something the Sentra didn't - character. It is powered by a 1.8 liter 4 cylinder engine matched to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) which gets it a MPG rating of 28 City and 30 Highway, and is actually very decent at powering the Cube off the line.

The tester Nissan Cube had the preferred package with the Remote Intelligent Key (no need to take the key out of pocket), push button ignition, leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, XM satellite radio, a detachable shag carpet on the dashboard, a 20-color interior accent lighting and illuminated kick plates. Illuminated kick plates! That's pretty awesome and unexpected for a small car like this. Interior materials were also unexpected in a small car, with small design touches throughout, like the water ripple ceiling, crazy-stitched seat covers, the "jacuzzi-like" design of the wrap-around dashboard and a countless number of cup holders. OK, OK, enough about all that, now onto the important stuff - the styling and design.

Exteriorus ===============
It's impossible to miss the Cube in a parking lot. First of all, for a small compact car, it is big. The roofline is higher than almost every single car out there, it's almost as tall as a Toyota Sienna. The Cube is also pretty wide for a small station wagon. It does have a short wheel base making it very easy to maneuver around town. The most striking feature on the exterior, is the asymmetric design. It's probably the only production car designed for the masses that has that. The windows on the right side of the car starts at the B pillar and wraps around the C pillar all the way to the back of the car. The left side of the car has a window on the rear door, but no window behind it like on the right side. It is very striking and you either love it or hate it. I also love the rear of the car, which juts out at the bottom with tail lights horizontally arranged at the bottom. The rest of the car is cute and is an evolution from the second-generation Cube which was only sold in Japan. The headlights are decent, though I like the ones on the last generation better. Overall the boxy design fits the name really well.


Who doesn't love the jacuzzi? Nissan designers claimed inspiration from a hot tub for the Cube's interior design. A curved contoured dashboard that wraps around from the driver door to the passenger door, coupled with the water ripple ceiling make the Cube look like a modern art piece on the inside. The juxtaposition of curves on the inside with the squarish styling on the outside makes the Cube very special indeed. There is so much SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE! The Cube is actually a pretty perfect car for a pimp. There is so much head room a pimp can easily fit inside with a ten-gallon hat. The huge windows also provide great visibility all around to keep an eye on your working girls. There is plenty of room for your cane as well. You can just chill inside the cavernous interior and pump up the 6 upgraded speakers and the sub woofer while counting your money.

The Last Word==================
Asymmetry rules! The Cube is definitely a standout in today's me-too car design world. Love it or hate it, the Cube makes a strong statement and you will not go unnoticed driving it around town. You gotta give it to the Japanese!

Monday, July 13, 2009

'09 Dodge Challenger SRT8 = Retro Cool Ass Kicker

Fashion is a weird thing. The last time big American muscle cars were the rage was in the ‘70s, before I started grade school. Then in the Eighties I thought these muscle cars were dinosaurs and were ugly as hell. But by now we all recognize the horror of the boxy cars designed and produced in the ‘80s, and think these ‘70s muscle cars look awesome. I’m sure the next decade will find some redeeming qualities in the designs from the ‘80s and '90s. And speaking of retro styling, the Challenger stayed the truest to the original form from three decades ago. The new Mustang and Camaro are more of a reinterpretation of their original forms, while the Challenger looks like it simply went through a time machine into the future and just came out more streamlined and lost a few pounds along the way.

A few words on how it drove

Challenger w Hooters Girls

Now I was thoroughly impressed with the awesome, simply awesome performance of the tester. The SRT8 had a 6.1 liter Hemi V8 matched to a 6-speed manual, with 425 HP and 420 lb.-ft. of torque. Yep, simply awesome performance. There's a performance tracker that lets you measure 0-60, 1/8-mile, 1/4-mile times as well as braking distance and G forces. The 6-speed manual with the pistol grip shifted smoothly and felt like a short-throw shifter. At times I had trouble getting into 6th and ended up downshifting to 4th on the highway, which was quite a surprise. The Challenger SRT8 handled surprisingly well too, considering its size and weight. Best of all, the V8 just sounded like a beast. It sounded awesome and drew a lot of attention. Unfortunately most of the attention came from guys, which brings us to the styling and design of the car.

Now, the styling.

The Exterior

Challenger w Angelica

First of all I just want to say that I'm a big fan of the Challenger's design. The profile looks great, with its long, flat hood and a long, flat roof, and the characteristic hump over the back wheel. The hump(see illustration below as shown by our lovely assistants Angelica and Melissa from Hooters Campbell) works much better on the Challenger with its shorter wheelbase than it does on the Charger. It's just better on a coupe.

The thick C pillar is bad for visibility but a key reminder of the original design. I could not see out the side when I was driving, but the truth is after a while I didn’t care. I figured people would just get the hell out of the way when they see this monster coming into their lane. The air scoops on the hood are really well-integrated and are actually functional. The 20" forged aluminum wheels fit the Challenger extremely well and the red Brembo brakes make the car stand out even more. The SRT8 also features a chrome fuel cap instead of the standard body-colored fuel door, a great highlight. The race car sideview mirrors are well suited and further separate the Challenger from the Charger, in addition to the shorter wheelbase. Did I mention that classic Challenger hump in the beltline as indicated in these photos already?

The car just looks like it's ready to pounce when it's standing still, and just looks powerful.

There’s really not that much wrong with the design of the Challenger, the only improvement I can think of is more chrome accents on the front bumper and rear bumper like the thin chrome bumpers of the original Challenger from 1970-1974. The other thing worthy of mention is the carbon fiber-like trim stickers on the hood...they work great on the light silver tester, but are somewhat tacky because it's about as close to real carbon fiber as the wood trim on a 2002 Hyundai Sonata is to real walnut.

The Interior

The interior is the worse part on this Challenger. Not that the trim is bad or anything. The material is surprisingly great for an American car. The plastics feel pretty sturdy and heavy and not cheap looking or feeling. The center-mounted touch screen Sirius nav/DVD unit looks clean and modern.

Hooters girl Angelica

It's just that the interior looks like every other Chrysler, and is not differentiated at all from that of a Charger or a Chrysler 300. Boring is the word that comes to mind. It does not live up to the promise of the exterior. Wait, actually, the interior doesn't look that bad in this picture...maybe it's the lighting, or the angle of the shot, hmmm, that's strange.


It's rare that I don't have something bad to say about the styling of a car, with the exception of my G35, but I really like the design of the Dodge Challenger SRT8. The fact that it stays true to the original '70s car but manages to tighten up the package despite the challenge of starting with the platform and body of a 4-door sedan (Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger) makes this an amazing design job. The car retains the wild beasty powerful look and has a stage presence that's impossible to ignore. When you roll up and rev the engine, everyone will know you've arrived doing 15 MPG. Even my wife, who doesn't normally give a rat's ass about cars, said, "I can see how some people would like this car." That's saying a lot, trust me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Coming soon...the 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8!

I had a '09 Dodge Challenger to test drive this past weekend and took a bunch of photos...stay tuned for the review and pics...

Lamborghini gallardo