Anniversary Waltz 2009 – Crash!

We begin our review of cars we couldn’t write about this year, with a brief look back at 2009.

(c) New York Post

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.

Aston Martin Rapide (c) R. Herriott

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.

(c) BMW Blog

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.

(c) Motor Trend

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.

(c) Ferrari.com

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?

Image: autoevolution.com

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.

(c) Car Throttle

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.

(c) bestcarmag

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

22 thoughts on “Anniversary Waltz 2009 – Crash!”

  1. yes, “Peugeot’s seemingly fathomless malaise”, alas, alas.
    yet when I see (rarely) an RCZ I’m pleased to lay eyes on it.
    the forward cabin gesture used to irritate me, but now I find
    it nicely eccentric. I’m just glad Frank Costin isn’t around to
    ponder its ugly snout.
    the domination of two-ton-plus sit-up-and-threaten troglodytes
    has dragged car design deep down into the mud, is a Renaissance
    in sight at all at all?

    1. The Astra J and Polo V really were handsome and well resolved designs, both of which still look good a decade later and (especially in the case of the Polo) substantially better than their successors.

      It must be very frustrating for the designers of the Astra to see such an accomplished design bring regarded as an “also ran” almost from the off. How much of this buyer indifference was down to the perception the Opel/Vauxhall marques as manufacturers of undesirable automotive white goods is a moot point. I recall that the Astra had a dull interior and was a somewhat inert drive, although the latter quality never seemed to do the (non-GTI) Golfs much harm.

    2. That iteration of the Astra had a perfectly decent interior and drove sweetly – a good mix of handling and comfort. In the three-door guys it was a rare thing, a beautiful-looking modern car.

  2. “OPEL: A car to settle for.”

    I think you’ve nailed the tag line. Opel could have used this throughout its marketing, perhaps with sub lines for specific customer groups. Imagine the exciting ad treatments!

    1. On a warm sunny day, we see an employee take delivery of his new Astra company car at the business park. “At least I still have a job!”

    2. Customer collects her hire car from the airport desk. It’s an Astra. “Could be worse.”

    3. A family pick up their new Astra at the dealership. “We couldn’t agree on what we wanted, but this is affordable and at least ticks some of the boxes.”

    1. Criminy. If I was going to buy a new car with my own money, I´d be driving off with a top-spec Insignia. And before that I´d be driving off with the previous generation Insignia. I don´t see how Opel is any different than most of the mid-range cars out there which are also one you could settle for. I think the only markedly different C-class cars are the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and the new Mazda3. I admire the Mazda but would have a hard time with the tiny rear windows. The Giulietta would make me anxious about the dealer interaction. I´d have to do a close comparison with the new Focus which is a very lovely-looking car – but I do not expect anything other than a forensic examination would throw up very large differences, despite it all. Put another way, the entirety of the class are rather good cars and none of them are lemons and none really stand out (Giulietta excepted and that comes with “issues”).

    2. Thanks Charles. The police here in Denmark use Passats and Superbs. Speaking of which, the Laurent and Klement edition of the Superb is perhaps a contender for my fictional money. I´d have to investigate how brougham the Insignia can be made.

    3. The most alluring Insignia is the Opel Insignia Country Tourer Exclusive: bronze exterior paint and a tan interior. That´s the one. 38,000 euros.

    4. Richard,

      I don’t remember you ever discussing the original Opel Tigra. I’d be very interested in hearing your take on that car.

  3. Well, Fiat-Chrysler and PSA are about to see such a political maelstorm that Italy and the US may soon be lobbing all kinds of weaponry at each other.
    There’s massive overproduction, and huge redundos must be made.
    I’ve forgotten if Vauxhall are still made in the UK, but they won’t be now (and wouldn’t have been post-Brexit anyway).

    1. The Astra is still made in Ellesmere Port and vans are still made in Luton. The way Brexit is going, this won’t be for much longer, so there’s two factories on the cull list already.

    2. The PSA-Fiat tie up ought to have been a discussion point before now and it´s non-discussion a talking topic as well. However, in the current stitstorm of events it´s a minor fleck and it seems too minor to be bothered by. I´ll call the merger a mistake. PSA is doing pretty much alright and does not need to take on board the half-corpse enterprise that is Fiat. What they get is supposedly the lucrative US market for fuel-guzzling trucks and the dealer network. That network is not going to sell Peugeots or Citroens, just trucks and Jeeps. So, if PSA think they can flog C3s, 408s and 308s they are very much deluded. Americans don´t want cars like this just like they did not go for Fiats or Alfa Romeos in any big way.

    3. I think it’s just so they can cut costs by shedding masses of workers.
      They sure couldn’t sell their bread-and-butter cars in the States.

    1. No way. If I won the lottery I´d be over to Tokyo to order my new or nearly new Toyota Century. It´s the best car in the world. That still leaves a lot of money for my dream garage which still includes a navy blue metallic 4×4 V6 Insignia and an Opel Speedster. The only “recent” Alfas on my list are the the 164 (the 2.0 V6). I also have to have a 604, CX and and a Trevi. And a Bristol.
      But new cars: the Century and the Insignia in top-spec form, please.

    2. Here’s a Century for Richard, a rare non-black, non-LWB model:

      Very handsome, in an understated way. (Well, as understated as such a car can reasonably be.)

  4. I’d buy one of these, in this exact colour, to add to my garage:

    I’d look ridiculous driving it, of course.

    1. While I am aware my choice is of a determindly eccentric nature, I still wish to ask if Daniel really, seriously wants that exact version of the Giulia? Can you get it without the addenda? Might I suggest sir considers a metallic bronze with tan hide? Four cylinders?

      The new Century is so much more RR than I recall. I do prefer the last one. Still, that´s what´s on offer and I am sure Toyota screw the car together better than Rolls Royce can manage, despite the cost. I think I will ask for my Century in a middle metallic green and select a biscuit wool interior.

      (Is that really a Century and not a Roller? )

    2. You are, of course, absolutely right, Richard. What was I thinking? I know, I’ll delete the boot spoiler and go for body-coloured door handles instead. That’ll make my Giulia just perfect, and not at all overdone.

      Regarding the Century, yes, it is rather Rolls-Royce’ish in its form and detailing, but there’s only so many ways you can slice and dice a formal, upright limousine. At least Toyota didn’t go for the erstwhile Maybach naff stretch-limo look.

      Here’s the predecessor to the current Century:

  5. My friend doesn’t even settle for an Astra.
    “I know nothing about cars but I taught the Opel dealer at school, so he won’t diddle me,” she says, collecting her unreliable Corsa coupé (when she really needed five doors).

    Now, nine years on, she’s traded in for an all-in leased Corsa five-door. She’s a news addict, and the radio works — sorted.
    It gets a few things right, but a Honda Jazz would have done her better.

  6. “So, if PSA think they can flog C3s, 408s and 308s they are very much deluded. Americans don´t want cars like this just like they did not go for Fiats or Alfa Romeos in any big way.”

    Americans do not purchase Euro cars like these because they are far too expensive for what you get and they are unreliable. They suffer terrible quality issues more often than not. Besides all this they happen to be plain- just banal. There is nothing stand out about them.

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