We begin our review of cars we couldn’t write about this year, with a brief look back at 2009.
On a bright January afternoon in 2009, US Airways flight 1549 took off from New York’s La Guardia airport en-route to Seattle-Tacoma via Charlotte, Carolina. As the Airbus A320 climbed out of La Guardia airspace it struck a flock of Canada geese, instantly disabling both engines. Quickly deducing that the aircraft lacked sufficient airworthiness to attempt a conventional emergency landing, and fast running out of options, Captain Chesley B Sullenbeger, along with First Officer, Jeffrey Skiles, elected to put the A320 down on water.
Dubbed the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’, the successful landing and subsequent evacuation was hailed as a textbook demonstration of cool-headed judgement and a vindication of the airline industry’s commitment to training and procedure. All on board were successfully rescued, with captain, first officer and crew being honoured for their efforts.
Not all landings were as successful however, the worldwide economy experiencing a far bumpier embrace with earth, as markets reeled from the previous year’s meltdown. Iceland’s economy plunged into crisis as their banking system collapsed, prompting widespread concern about contagion. Fear and deep uncertainty gripped the developed world.
But neither time, nor calamity can interfere with actions already in train. One can therefore be fairly certain that Aston Martin was probably cursing the release timing of their Rapide – an elegant, if somewhat more impractical Panamera rival. But this is what occurs when one embarks with bad directions. Because as tempting to imagine how attractive (and saleable) an elongated four door version of a DB9 might be in theory, the reality is inevitably a poor compromise which satisfies nobody. And as the Rapide’s lack of commercial success can attest, it was probably an idea which should have remained in the realm of theory. Zuffenhausen (and more latterly Palo Alto) continue to sleep soundly.
Launching a new 2-seater roadster into the teeth of a global recession wasn’t exactly foremost in BMW’s plans either. The second generation Z4 debuted in 2009, a more polished recasting of the love or hate it ‘flame surfaced’ E85 iteration. Intended to project a slightly less uncompromising character than its arresting predecessor, the E89’s demeanour was more suave, channelling that of Mercedes’ SL. Styling was therefore more in the classical idiom, and the cabin was a notable step in design and quality terms. Commendably, it was initially exclusively available with in-line six cylinder engines and like many of its ilk was reportedly best enjoyed in milder, entry level 2.5 litre flavour, where its flâneur character shone brightest.
When Ford successfully retro-animated their Mustang brand-icon in 2005, it felt more like a renewal of vows. Latecomers to the original gymkhana with the Chevrolet Camaro, General Motors once again found themselves following rather than leading. Co-developed with Holden in Australia, the 2009 Camaro enjoyed more sophisticated underpinnings than the eternal ‘stang, and in styling terms carried all the hallmarks of having been on Joe Weider’s famous muscle-building programme. The ponycar wars, it seemed had resumed – a diverting spectacle for a world in crisis, if from a European perspective at least, one the blue oval would continue to dominate.
Your average Ferrari customer is largely immune to global recessions, having sufficient funds squirrelled away for such matters to be considered irrelevant. Because if the 2009 crash had any lasting impact, it would be the inexorable expansion of Maranello’s customer base – very good news for the Cavallino Rampante. Tracing its lineage back to the 1967 Dino 206 GT, the 458 Italia was Ferrari’s latest mid-engined offering, combining the usual recipe of strident V8 power, striking appearance (loosely attributed to Pininfarina), overwrought interior aesthetics and flatulent aural signatures in what was considered a return to stylistic form after the rather gawky-looking 430.
There are, broadly speaking, two types of Ferrari. Machines for the self-regarding to pose in and those which are squirreled away (much like their owners’ money) as investments. File under the former category.
We return to the realm of the common people with the advent of the Opel Astra J. Another example of a General Motors product playing understudy to its Ford equivalent. What the Astra usually had in its favour was its appearance, and in this instance Russelsheim again delivered, the Astra reflecting the styling cues of its larger and well received Insignia sibling. A thoroughly decent car, giving little away to its natural rivals, (none of whom truly sparkled), yet the Astra lacked any really discernible characteristic to set it apart. Which is Opel’s essential failing really. A car to settle for?
Some vehicles develop a compelling business case to underpin them. Others simply have to be made by consequence of their desirability or sheer strength of character. This one however came with a distinct whiff of vanity project upon its canvas. The Peugeot RCZ debuted with all the visual appeal of a concept car, but unfortunately for Sochaux, one from the preceding decade. Combining Peugeot’s Mariana Trench phase of nasal styling with a combination of Zagato (roof treatment) and Audi TT (most else) tropes, the RCZ elicited one overwhelming epithet from observers: why? This, alongside non-entities like the 3008/5008 of the same year underscored both poles of Peugeot’s seemingly fathomless malaise.
Over at Wolfsburg, the story was somewhat less confused. The fifth generation Polo landed in 2009 and in marked contrast to its unlovely predecessor, proved a far more resolved example of the automotive designer’s art. While its concurrent Golf was a comparatively fussier confection, this Polo was, like a well cut suit, just really well executed. A quality product as well, it was perhaps the first Polo-badged VW which both looked and felt like a very slightly more compact version of its better known and stronger-selling brother. Which explains rather a lot. Such impertinence cannot not be tolerated – especially in siblings.
A great many things were lost in 2009, although mercifully not the 155 souls on board US Air 1549. One of the more poignant departures however was perhaps the death of author, writer and futurist, JG Ballard. A writer famous for his often dystopian visions, 2009 however was a crash even he couldn’t have foreseen.
The class of 2009 we did write about.
Addendum: There are some cars about which there is nothing to say, so please don’t ask about the BMW X1, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan 370Z, Renault Fluence, Subaru Legacy, or Toyota Prius. Some of these were fine cars (some less so), but sorry, no.