Building a Better Body: 10 Cars Worth Re-Imagining

Jeep Gladiator Concept

The Jeep Wrangler is an insanely popular car. Not only is it one of the most sought-after used cars on CarGurus, but it also retains its initial value better than any other car on the market. Nevertheless, enthusiasts have been hammering Fiat Chrysler (Jeep’s parent company) to produce new and different versions of the Wrangler for years, and the returns on their efforts have been slow but sure. In 2007, Jeep modified the previously 2-door-only Wrangler and introduced the first 4-door Wrangler Unlimited. At the New England International Auto Show this year, we saw the Wrangler Backcountry: an extra-capable off-roading version of a car specifically designed to be extra-capable at off-roading. Until just recently, however, Jeep has failed to acquiesce to its fan base’s greatest demand: a Wrangler Pickup.

So, when Jeep finally announced the development of a pickup truck, it got us thinking: What other cars could be improved with a new body style or feature? Should we bring back the shooting-brake? Is the market wrongfully forgetting the ute segment? Are there simply too few 2+2 coupes out there? Some of these ideas you’ll recognize, others may be new. Regardless, we suspect you’ll agree with us when we say all of them deserve to see the light of day.

The Mazda MX-5 Miata offers a driving experience that has inspired volumes of ecstatic prose from auto writers and car fans alike over the past 25 years. With a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder, the Miata definitely can’t keep up with a modern muscle car in a straight line, but on a windy back road with the top down, its stellar handling and 155 hp provide enough precisely controllable power to put a beaming smile on the face of any driver. But the Miata is the most-raced production car in the world, so a real roof’s added stiffness and protection could improve finish times for legions of fans worldwide. Mazda has actually built a small number of special-edition coupes over the years, but those vehicles were sold only in the maker’s native Japan and now command prices considerably higher than their convertible counterparts. C’mon, Mazda, convertibles are fantastic for summer road trips, but racers want solid tops.

The 2017 Lincoln Continental is set to re-define American luxury. The Cadillac CT6 may be hitting our roads first, but the Continental (and its heated, ventilated, and massaging seats) rests on the strength of an incomparable legacy of luxury. Our only question is, if the Continental is designed to recall the golden era of American luxury (and its independently adjustable dual thigh cushions suggest it is), why wouldn’t Lincoln also bring back the Continental’s convertible trim? Lincoln hopes to dominate the full-size luxury market at home and abroad, but including a drop-top would create a market all its own.

We have very few negative comments on the Jaguar F-TYPE. Jaguar’s sports car offers just about everything you can ask for: a super-powerful engine, a shouting exhaust, and an absolutely gorgeous body. Sure, the F-TYPE is amazing already, but there isn’t much in the way of storage or, of course, passenger capacity. A possible solution to this problem: make the coupe a 2+2. Even if there still wouldn’t be much room for another person, it could legally seat 4, or at least have room for some groceries. The 2+2 seating arrangement isn’t a foreign concept to Jaguar Coupes; the progenitor and namesake of the F-TYPE, the legendary Jaguar E-TYPE, introduced a 2+2 variant in 1966. Granted, the 2+2 E-TYPE’s bulge is generally considered to detract from the beauty of the 2-seater, but we think the F-TYPE could benefit from the added volume.

Bemoaning the lack of wagons in the world is a typically cliche activity for enthusiasts. Asking for a wagon version of an already excellent sedan, though, is just plain greedy. The thing is, we know this car can be made. Mazda has made it before. The first generation of the Mazda MAZDA6 was available not just as a wagon, but as a wagon with a 215-hp V6 engine and a manual transmission available in its top trims. Mazda still offers the wagon in Europe, too! The Mazda6, as it’s available today, is a fantastic little sedan. When Liz Kim tested it for CarGurus, she raved about the car’s technology, performance, and impressive safety features. So since we’re looking to add a great wagon to the market, the Mazda6 is an easy choice.

Hatchbacks have never been popular in the U.S. Some of this is doubtless due to the fact that many of the world’s best hatchbacks are built in and for Europe and Asia, leading some Americans to believe purchasing or even test-driving one is somehow unpatriotic. But the huge popularity of rally racing and the increasingly diverse population of the U.S. have driven Ford to explore the world of “hot hatches,” as evidenced by the ST versions of the Focus and Fiesta, not to mention one of the hottest debuts of this year’s auto-show season, the new Ford Focus RS. So what the heck was behind the decision to end production of the deliciously fast and capable Subaru WRX hatchback? We have no idea, but we suspect some of its former fans will end up driving Fords over the next couple of years.

Some news broke a couple of days ago. It has been reported by several outlets that Mercedes-Benz plans to release a pickup truck in the coming years, entering the relatively barren market of German pickups (a sensible move on Mercedes’ part). Rumored to be named the GLT-Class (or the X-Class or Z-Class, depending on who you ask), this new addition to Mercedes’ lineup will bring some much-needed consumer utility to the brand. And this pickup will, of course, share a platform with the Nissan Frontier, because Mercedes doesn’t have a capable, utility-driven platform in its lineup already. Oh, wait. Mercedes does have a capable, utility-driven platform. Mercedes should put a bed on the G-Class. And we mean your everyday G550, not the $500,000+ 19-foot long G63 AMG 6×6 super SUV-pickup monster.

The Subaru Forester is a fine little crossover for getting around quaint New Hampshire towns after a fresh snowfall. It has all-wheel drive, offers a little bit of ground clearance, and when you need to change the oil, you won’t find yourself lying on the freezing ground while you curse whoever over-tightened the oil filter the last time around — you’ll be standing, because the oil filter is conveniently located on top of the engine. That being said, the Forester is by no means an off-roader. Sure, it will climb your neighbor’s driveway (the steep one), and with a set of snow tires, you won’t have to worry when driving to the ski slopes. But what we want to see is a true mud-running Forester. Think skid plates, rock rails, rally-style light bars, and maybe a safari rack for good measure. If Toyota can do it, what’s stopping Subaru, the automotive king of northeast winters?

Considering the season, it may not be the easiest task to imagine, but if you head out to your local Volkswagen store today to pick up a brand new convertible, you’ll have to choose between the Eos (a car so incredibly in demand, VW has eliminated all but the base trim from its lineup) and the Beetle. That being said, Volkswagen does makes some really good cars. The VW Golf is one of those cars — its strong engine, great manual transmission, and world-class chassis are solid ingredients. Now consider this: a car with the Golf’s reputation and quality, minus the roof. Surely, this formula equals instant success (particularly in warmer climates). Volkswagen made this car in the early 1990s, and we think Volkswagen should return to this idea. Build on the excellent Golf, and bring back the Volkswagen Cabriolet. Bonus points for a GTI Cabriolet.

Bentley has a reputation for making some of the most expensive, ostentatious cars on the market, and they have extended that effort into new territory with the addition of the Bentley Bentayga. Other super-luxury manufacturers are following with upcoming SUVs from Maserati, Lamborghini, and Rolls-Royce, and suddenly the market segment that has long been dominated by the Range Rover seems a little crowded. But if hyper-luxury manufacturers really want to break some ground, they should just extend the idea of the luxury SUV further and add a third row of seats. That’s right, someone needs to make a hyper-luxury minivan. Whether targeted toward the large family with highly expendable income or the executive who wants a mobile conference room, the ornate luxuries of this segment would fit right in with a minivan’s orientation toward space and entertainment. Imagine how amazing a Chrysler Pacifica would be with individual iPad picnic tables for all 6 or 7 passengers and a champagne refrigerator right by the Stow ‘N Vac vacuum cleaner.

As noted above, rally racing has inspired a number of recent car models. We’ve driven the Subaru WRX and Ford STs, and they’re a ton more fun to drive than their lower-horsepower counterparts. But they all offer enhanced engines, suspensions, and handling at the cost of interior quality, comfort, and usability. That trade-off may make sense to young folks who want to go fast in the dirt, but we’d love to see a genuinely luxurious – or at least fully functional and good-looking – cabin atop a rally-ready chassis and powertrain. The new Volvo S60 Cross Country Platinum heads in a generally good direction, but it doesn’t offer the full capabilities of a classic Audi Quattro. We basically want a car that Ken Block and Wayne Carini would both be happy to drive. Is that too much to ask?

Which cars would you like to see in different body styles?

–John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran

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Used Mazda MX-5 Miata
Used Lincoln Continental
Used Jaguar F-TYPE
Used Mazda MAZDA6
Used Subaru WRX
Used Mercedes-Benz G-Class
Used Subaru Forester
Used Volkswagen Golf
Used Chrysler Town & Country
Used Volvo S60

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