The shift of power is the natural progression of time. Whether it be the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, or Randall “Pink” Floyd and the gang taking over where the seniors of 76’ left off, the times always change. In the automotive world, there are eras in which manufacturers are on top or they’re at the bottom of the barrel.
If you pay attention to car magazines as of late, the BMW 3-series has set the benchmark for the sports sedan segment. Within the last few years, the 3 series has been knocked off its podium by the likes of Lexus and the Chevrolet Camaro. What happened here? Well BMW is no longer top dog, that’s for sure. Many will comment that the F30/F80 3 series/M3 have transformed the small, nimble 3-series into a thinly disguised 5-series. The purists are certainly not thrilled with the M3/M4’s new power plant, as there seems to be a strong resemblance to a hopped up 335 motor (which is a more plebian engine, albeit potent). This is where the jokes of M is for Marketing start spewing all over the message boards. Bring up the topic of electric power steering, and you’ve singlehandedly started a riot.
So who has picked up where BMW left off? A no compromise car that lets you drive the snot out of it, yet bring the fam-bam to dinner is a tall order. In my oh-so scientific opinion, I think the blue oval is the latest contender. Yup, you heard it right, FORD. I feel the reasoning for Ford’s top dog position at the moment isn’t because of anything new. Rather the addition of an existing product line into the US market.
In the 1980’s, Americans loyal to the Henry Ford cause were crusin’ the streets and strips in Fox Body Mustangs with the ubiquitous 5-point-Oh. Across the pond however, Ford had an army of sporty sedans and hot hatches that were taking the world by storm. In those days, it was an Escort or a Sierra that Dad or Mum would putt around in, however there was a pronoun that followed which transformed these cars into fire breathing rally and touring car monsters: Cosworth. Fast forward to today’s market offerings. Ford has the Fiesta ST, Focus ST, and Mustang (now with independent rear suspension). All of these cars can be had for well under $40,000, and deliver phenomenal performance. In some instances you can even combine other famous names, such as Brembo and Recaro…and that’s right off the showroom floor.
The common theme behind these latest models is that Ford has ditched heavy platforms with pushrods, in favor of lighter weight chassis that encompass the latest technologies. This is a big feat, as the American manufacturers have been in a slump for quite some time. Chevy is almost there, but they don’t have any cars that are small and fun, and the boys at Mopar refuse to build anything unless it has a V8 and weight to match. In order to compete with the European cars, one must build one as well.
Will Ford stay top dog for long? As long as they keep the prices reasonable, there shouldn’t be too much in the way of competition. VW and Subaru are hot on the heels of Ford for the young person sporty & versatile segment, but the GTI & WRX cost a pretty penny premium, and styling of the Subaru leaves something to be desired since Toyota entered the picture. In the meantime, a fresher face will be the poster child of everyday usable fun machines, but I’m sure the mad scientists of Bavaria will be brewing something new in retaliation.