Could Small, Efficient Speed Be the Demise of American Muscle?

Mazda Takeri concept

In the midst of the world’s dire need for an energy revolution, there’s a welcome, though probably feeble, theme emerging from automakers:

Small, agile, efficient and fast.

Fast fun cars that are easy to drive and cheap to fill were once a mainstay on U.S. roadways. The Nissan 280ZX. The Toyota MR2. The Honda S2000. The Mazda Miata. Then the road behemoths of the 1990s and early 2000s took over, and only now are they slowly being replaced by smaller crossover SUVs. I wonder if the same fate awaits the heavy muscle cars that currently dominate sales charts.

Could the return of small, efficient speed be the demise of American muscle?

We’ve covered the progress of the Toyota GT-86 from concept to reveal, probably to the point of nausea for some readers, but we’ve done it because we think it’s an important car. Not just for Toyota, but for the state of automobiles in general. This car, if it lives up to its promise, will combine Toyota practicality with sports-car fun. Rising gas prices and hard economics are taking their toll on our wallets, but not on our desire to get behind the wheel and have some fun on twisty roads. Economics can’t kill enthusiasm, and cars like the GT-86 will be exactly what we need.

And more like it are beginning to show up.

Subaru BRZ

Honda no longer makes the fantastic S2000, but wants to keep a foot in the game with the CR-Z. The regular car is a gas/electric hybrid that makes a total of 122 hp and accelerates to 60 in just over 9 seconds. Hardly exhilarating. The CR-Z iCF, though, could be the car Honda should have built in the first place. After some wrench turning from Mugen, the CR-Z iCF will pack 172 hp and dash to 60 in 6.1 seconds. Those still aren’t amazing numbers, but they should be enough to keep the 2,657-pound car engaging to drive, if not exhilarating.

The Subaru BRZ, twin to the GT-86, will carry a 2,689-pound curb weight. With 200 horses from its boxer 4-cylinder and RWD, I’d expect a 0-60 sprint somewhere in the high 5-second range.

Though not in the same category as the sport coupes, the fun-to-drive Mazda6 is due for an update. It could come in the form of the Mazda Takeri concept, a slick sedan concept that debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show this week. Sporting Mazda’s new Skyactiv-D clean diesel, this could be next in line to wear the Mazda6 badge.

While small, efficient and fun cars aren’t likely to dethrone the likes of the Mustang anytime soon, I’m wondering if the time has come for them to do so. What do you think?


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  1. Although they were not current models, my car memories go all the way back to vehicles made before WWII, so we’re talking the better part of a century here. Cars have evolved quite a bit since the prewar holdovers that I remember when I was a young kid– some of them even had running boards reminiscent of the 1930’s and the shape was slowly changing from the coach body with outboard fenders to the unit body of the 1960’s. Foreign cars had some of the funkier choices such a VW beetles, Triumph and MG sports cars, little Alphas and Fiats, and in the late 1960’s appeared some micro-sized cars from Honda. (yes, real micro-sized, a full-size american could scarcely drive them. But all the time there was an honest range of choices including very small economy cars like the Nash Metro and Ramblers, mid-sized cars that were actully larger than our current idea of large luzury cars, and big luxo boats like Lincoln, Imperial and Cadillac that weigh more than most large SUV’s today.
    But today, with the world car market, we have an amazing array of choices from sub-micros like the Smart car all the way up to behemoths like the big SUV’s, lots of sports cars and sedans, luxury in every size, and some small cars that are fun to drive like the Abarth Fiats. We even have dull, boring, overdone parodies like the Camaro and Mustang to entice the greybeards who couldn’t afford one when they were younger.
    What a great time to be a car owner!

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