From the editors of Autotrader
Mercury Messenger, anyone? Imagine a modern Buick Electra. You can dream, right?
From the mid-1980s to the early 2000s, the Integra was the most important vehicle in Acura’s lineup, and it was the entry point. The Integra built the Acura brand. You could say it was nothing more than an upgraded Civic, and you’d be right. You could also say it was one of the best cars of the 1990s, and you’d still be right. The Integra introduced millions of buyers to luxury and performance at a reasonable price. It has earned a fan club that most cars would envy.
Then Acura pulled it out.
A series of replacements were never taken on the way the Integra did. Acura has spent a decade and a half searching for its own identity in a crowded luxury market.
This year, the brand has come back to life. After a 16-year hiatus, Acura finally has a new Integra.
You could always tell it’s just a blown up Civic. Thus, Acura understood the mission. The Integra 2023 is precisely what it should be.
And it got us thinking: what do other cars need to make a comeback? We asked our team of automotive journalists the question and got some good, bad, hilarious and weird opinions.
Our favorite returning candidates:
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First, a practical answer:
The undisputed automotive winner of 2022 is the Ford Maverick.
Trucks have gotten so big that what would have been called a full-size truck in the 1980s is only mid-size now. Ford (F) was the first company to realize that it had created a huge unmet need. The company built a real small truck—only 10 inches longer than a Honda (7267.TO) Civic—for the 2022 model year. Americans were so thirsty for a small truck that one year’s production complete was exhausted in a few weeks.
It wasn’t a fluke. All 2023 production sold out in six days
Obviously, there is a market for small trucks.
The measurements of the original Dodge Dakota almost match those of today’s Maverick. Parent company Stellantis (STLA.MI) spun off its truck unit into a separate business under the Ram name. But a Ram Dakota is a given in 2023. They would sell anyone they could build. It wouldn’t even take a lot of work. Ram already sells a small truck, the 700, in some South American markets. Chevy also makes one, called “Montana”, in Latin America. Why aren’t they here yet?
— Managing Editor Sean Tucker
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Now, an inconvenient answer (I cheat and give two because I’m the one compiling these answers):
In 1992 two of the greatest rally cars in history were introduced. The Subaru WRX and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution have had a huge rivalry as high performance off-road vehicles based on budget car chassis for over two decades. Mitsubishi retired the Evo in 2015. Subaru still builds the WRX.
Come on, Mitsu. Come back to this game.
It’s like we’re all watching a cartoon called “Jerry” about a mouse that has nothing to do.
— Managing Editor Sean Tucker
Mercury messenger concept
If I could bring back one car from the past, it would be one that never got too far off the ground in the first place.
In 2003 Ford introduced a concept called Mercury Messenger. It was a Mustang with a more luxurious interior and a futuristic exterior. I imagine it as the spiritual successor to the Mercury Cougar of the late 1960s. Luxury combined with performance but with a less youthful look.
I’d like to see a range of engine choices – for example, the Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring’s high-powered plug-in hybrid unit, a small gasoline V8 and an all-electric version. The idea is similar to that of the Kia Niro – a unique model available as a petrol car, hybrid model or all-electric vehicle.
The ride would be smoother than a Mustang but still offer decent handling. On the electric version, the offering would feature Lincoln’s luxury levels, including a variety of colors, textures and patterns.
The interior would have plenty of soft leather on all other trim levels. It would feature horizontal (not vertical) touchscreens, a premium audio system, and state-of-the-art technology. Ford’s Blue Cruise would be part of the package, as would enhanced Active Park Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keeping Assist and a more powerful and attractive version of Ford’s current SYNC system. Ford. Additionally, a Tesla-like Summon (TSLA) feature and Lincoln’s Black Label Concierge Service would be available.
— Managing Editor Brian Moody
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Volkswagen Type 181 “Thing”
I commend Volkswagen for bringing back the International Scout name on a future off-road electric SUV and pickup. But I’d also like to see the German company stick to its traditional family and build a new version of the Thing.
That’s right, the beloved Volkswagen Type 181 Thing.
Remember? Sold new in the United States in 1973 and 1974, the square and angular VW Thing was VW’s Jeep. It was filled with military origins, a soft top, removable doors and even a folding windshield. It was like summer on wheels. The air-cooled Thing didn’t have 4-wheel drive. But its torsion bar suspension and extra ground clearance let you go off the beaten path.
While I’d love to see VW put all of its engineering might into developing an all-new, air-cooled flatbed powertrain (that wouldn’t be fascinating), I’d be fine with this new electric thing – with the same kind of fun spirit as the new Meyers Manx electric buggies. Far more important to me, however, is this: this new VW thing can’t be a caricature of the beloved original.
This means that my new electric Volkswagen Thing should be compact, simple, genuinely robust and easily repairable. In addition, VW must avoid plastic. I want a metal body with bolt-on fenders, a painted metal dash (with VDO gauges), and a sparse interior with all-weather seats and not much else.
What do you think VW? I know you mentioned an electrical thing in Wolfsburg. It must be difficult to make a viable business case for the vehicle. But if you keep it authentic and fun, a rugged, minimalist new electric Volkswagen Thing will thrive in places like Southern California and seaside communities around the world.
— Expert Editor Andy Bornhop
I’d love to see Nissan (7201.TO) revive an Xterra for the modern era.
Admittedly, it didn’t leave the market until 2015. But in the years since, there’s been an ever-growing appetite for true off-road SUVs with a one-size-fits-all attitude. The Xterra was all of those things; a modern one might appeal to overlanders and influencers alike.
So come on, Nissan. Stop disguising the family Pathfinder as a crawling murderer and bring one back to your arsenal designed for it.
— Expert Editor Matt Degen
Hey, Mitsubishi, take a look at your classmate’s test answers and bring the Montero back.
With the success of the Ford Bronco and Land Rover Defender, Mitsubishi could show great flexibility in revisiting a popular vehicle body style and beating the two aforementioned automakers on price.
The square and straight Montero first appeared in the late 80s with the two-door option. Mitsubishi advertising called it the “urban gorilla”, even emphasizing how the power steering made it easier for women to drive.
The 4-door wagon model followed, featuring the same 4-cylinder and V6 powertrain options (manual or automatic) and excellent fishbowl visibility. But it added more space for children and an optional sprung driver’s seat that rivals the comfort of a plush Citroën DS.
If Mitsubishi offered a PHEV version of the Outlander and went all out with short and long wheelbase models – we nod to your Ford and Land Rover genius – these vehicles would be leaving dealerships faster than you can tell “inclinometer standard.”
Need a study partner for the company? Look no further than your old Dodge buddy, who could easily resurrect the Raider nameplate in the same breath. With successful Ram trucks but a lackluster show in the SUV category (yes, they’re still just the Durango), Dodge could use a shot in the arm here as they move away from combustion engine muscle cars internal.
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Do it unibody or body-on-frame. Just make him capable. As an optional 4×4 with some of the off-road goodies we’ve all grown accustomed to, including solid ground clearance, hill descent control, one-pedal mode for regeneration and easy ride, plates protection and maybe a differential rear lock, and here we are. Oh, and you still would be, Mitsubishi.
— Video Editor and Host Lyn Woodward
Saturn and Saab
I have a two-for-one deal for GM (GM) right now. The automaker is looking to lean heavily on its Ultium platform, and it should. The range of electric vehicles will help strengthen the automaker across its various brand families as the world transitions to a more electrified future. But it could make the transition even more fun if it revives one of the two names. I’m talking about Saturn and Saab.
It’s almost obvious to bring the Saturn brand back under the vision that it would become a fully EV-focused entity. You can return to dealerships with city names instead of people’s names, the simple plastic body panels and basic but useful interiors. This frugality would help keep the cars light, the prices low, and the dealership experience potentially enjoyable.
And if you wanted more premium offerings but not as luxurious as Cadillac, then Saab fits the bill perfectly. Give the world the 9-3, 9-5 and 9-7 as new EV options, and watch Saab fans cry with joy.
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