"Resurrected" models breathe life into new car market
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Over the past few months, you may have seen a car that looked really familiar but also really up-to-date, causing you to think, "Are they still making that?"
The answer may be no. And not "still," but "again."
This year, Ford re-introduced the Ranger after a nine-year hiatus, Honda revived the Passport nameplate after 17 years and Chevrolet brought back the Blazer a quarter of a century after the last of the originals rolled off the assembly line. They are part of the first wave in a tide of nostalgia that will also land new versions of the Ford Bronco, Jeep Gladiator and Toyota Supra on dealer lots before New Year's Day.
Industry analysts call these monikers "iconic" and say that car companies are bringing them back because retro is cool, but customers crave modern connectivity, safety and comfort amenities.
"These were really popular vehicles, and people miss them," says Julie Johnson, an Andrew Chevrolet of Glendale sales manager. "When they see the new ones, they say, 'I had one of those!'"
Says Nick Bonner, sales rep for Wilde Honda in Waukesha, "Some people remember them and are really happy they're coming back. Others don't know about the history, but are drawn to what they see as brand-new cars that have been added to the lineup."
Reporters who cover the auto industry say that all but the Supra can be explained by America's current love affair with SUVs and pickups. As interest in sedans wanes, manufacturers are driven to offer more small, medium and large vehicles, as well as ones tailored to families, sporting enthusiasts, millennials and baby boomers.
A closer look at the "resurrected" models reveals how they fit into the needs and desires of a variety of buyers.
Ford Ranger and Bronco
Dylan Holtz, new car manager at Gordie Boucher Ford of Menomonee Falls, says the return of the compact pickup has kicked up considerable excitement: "We've had people come in saying that they'd held onto the Rangers they bought before '02."
Some people, however, need to be convinced that they should be excited about the Ranger's 270-hp 2.3-liter EcoBoost inline-four turbocharged engine. Holtz says that dealers are well aware of the issues that dogged turbos two decades ago, but notes that huge progress has been made.
Reviewers agree that turbos used today produce more horsepower, deliver better fuel economy and are light years ahead of their ancestors, in part because they're paired with specifically designed transmissions. Plus, US News notes that the Ranger's engine has already been proven reliable in the Focus RS.
Holtz says that the Ranger has been popular, but lots of people are really looking forward to the new Bronco. Reports say it will have its signature round headlights and square grille – plus a removable roof and doors.
The Motor1.com blog says that while the Bronco helped pave the way to the SUV era as "a plucky, short wheelbase, 2-door" in 1966, by the mid-'90s, buyers wanted serious four-doors.
But, Holtz says, fun is back in style.
He describes the new Bronco as "a summertime vehicle, a wintertime vehicle, a cool-looking, practical all-around vehicle."
"It's turning heads," Johnson says. "People come in daily to check it out. It's 'the Blazer,' but it's not the 'old' Blazer. It's sportier, and it has all the tech features."
She adds that the new Blazer is bigger than the Equinox and smaller than the Traverse, placing it in a Goldilocks zone that many customers have wanted for years.
Roger that, reviewers say. Kelley Blue Book calls the 2019 Blazer iteration "a charming two-row, midsize SUV with daring style, satisfying road manners and a robust standard-equipment list. If you want an SUV that's spacious and practical on the inside but evocatively styled on the outside, the new Blazer fits the bill."
It also gets high grades for ride and handling, and for an optional V6 that makes it strong enough to tow 4,500 pounds.
The original made its debut in the 1990s as what the National Auto Association Guides call "a re-badged Isuzu Rodeo." According to NADA, the model was replaced by the Pilot only because the partnership ended.
"There's no third row, and that's one of its biggest draws," Bonner says. "There are people who just don't want or need a third row."
US News says the Passport's 41 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats and 78 cubic feet behind the front seats – plus two and a half cubic feet in storage spaces beneath the floor – are above average for the class.
Speaking of above average, in its review, US News calls the 2019 Passport "great" twice — and lists it as the number one vehicle in three categories: Midsize SUVs, SUVs With Two Rows and Crossover SUVs.
Jeep Gladiator and Toyota Supra
Arriving later this year, these two reboots also are generating a buzz.
The Supra was a popular sports car from 1986-2002. According to CNBC, the new version's three-liter, six-cylinder turbocharged engine will produce 335 hp and "should be able to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.1 seconds."
Edmunds.com says the Gladiator "gives midsize-truck shoppers an intriguing new option." Its convertible top, removable doors and "Wrangler off-roading DNA" mean it'll be built for fun, but its 7,560-pound towing capability (when appropriately equipped) will also make it a workhorse.
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