The Speculator: We're Not Product Planners, But…

We think we are all product planners, designers, engineers, and marketing gurus. That is, if you actually happen to be any of these key people that work in the automotive industry.

Those of us who are not working for an automaker or supplier to the industry think we know better than any of these people. We think we know how to improve upon a vehicle. The way it looks, operates, how some functions should work, how it should perform, and so forth.

It is easy for someone like me to say to those who think they are smarter than a highly paid professional within the automotive industry to simply "be quiet and let these folks do their job." Or, "if you think you know any better than they do, get a job in the industry!"

However, those of us who cover the industry – rather, work in it – end up discussing what can be improved on some vehicles. What features should make it sell more units off the showroom floor. Whether it should feature a manual transmission to satisfy the enthusiast. The list goes on.

To understand how to improve a vehicle is to actually have experience with one. Therefore, you have some authority as to what you could change if you worked at that particular manufacturer or supplier. 

Fine. Let me point the finger at me. “OK, you think you’re some hot shot automotive content creator that reviews new vehicles for a living! Well, put your money where your mouth is and tell is what you think should be improved. Better still, tell them what you would like to see in the next few years, in terms of new vehicles and updated models. Make sure they do so after all of the supply chain issues have been resolved!”

Challenge accepted. I will focus on vehicles that are currently on the market in the USA that has not been announced for an update or replacement soon. 

With that said, here we go…

NISSAN MURANO: I pointed out that the current model was first introduced for the 2015 model year and the basic shape has not changed. To be honest, it shouldn’t have to. However, newer Nissan vehicles are being introduced with better drivelines, technology, and design elements that have caught the attention of my fellow media corps. The best way to help the Murano’s cause is to give it some needed zhushing. I can see a change in the grille texture to meet with the Rogue and Pathfinder, along with a new LED headlamp cluster within the current frame. 

The interior needs some necessary updates, such as switching to a wider infotainment screen towards a cleaner center stack area. Adding wireless charging and smartphone integration, a head-up display, and a fully digital instrument cluster on the Platinum model. 

The big change I’d like to see if to replace the Xtronic continuously variable transmission with the Pathfinder’s new nine-speed automatic gearbox. Plus, some suspension tuning updates and a new SR model as a sporty version of this premium two-row mid-size SUV. 

I start off with the Murano, because of its current sales and inventory situation. There are plenty of them at dealerships to choose from, while hotter models remain short in supply. The Murano also had the slowest growth of any USA Nissan model that is not due for an update in the last quarter. 

JEEP CHEROKEE: The 2019 model year update addressed the headlamp issue that challenged the Department of Transportation’s standards. They did meet them, but consumers were not convinced. Now, it seems that several automakers are doing exactly what the Cherokee did back in 2013 – moving the headlamps from its traditional spot to meet DOT standards. 

However, the Cherokee needs another lease on life. It is a very good shape that fits in the marketplace, but it needs more definition. It absolutely needs the integration of Uconnect 5 and its wider, flush-mounted screen to completely update the center stack. It also needs a fully digital instrument cluster on higher models. That’s just on the inside.

One thing I would get rid of is the lower front fascia extension on all models. The Trailhawk model offers one of the best angles of approach of any vehicle in its class. I understand the need for front aero management, but it lacks the character the Cherokee needs to lead in its segment. 

Given the situation between Stellantis and the Native American community over nomenclatures, perhaps it is time to retire the Cherokee name. If they have to wait until its replacement to arrive, fine. However, perhaps looking at new model names should start now – and there are some left from Jeep’s history. Commando? Commander? Patriot? Liberty? No, scratch those last two…

SUBARU FORESTER: Something tells me that the Subaru Outback Wilderness will become a huge hit – supply chain issues or not. Think about how it has transformed the “ruggedized wagon” into a lifted one. The ground clearance was raised to 9.5 inches, plus adding an upgraded off-road-type suspension with knobbier tires, and the advanced version of Subaru’s X-MODE. This is a Subaru looking tio play at an off-road vehicle park somewhere.

Could a Wilderness model transform the Forester into a more desirable and highly useful compact SUV? In short, yes. 

Since the Outback and Forester share a basic platform, the latter can utilize all of the upgrades the Wilderness package adds to it. Imagine a Forester with a 9.5-inch ground clearance, suspension upgrades, knobbier tires, and advanced X-MODE. It seems very logical to do so.

It may also give Subaru the opportunity to do some updates to the cabin. First, by giving it the portrait-oriented large touchscreen seen on the Outback and Legacy. Maybe, a chance to install a fully-digital instrument cluster on upper models? You could do the same on the Outback, Legacy, and Ascent, as well. 

While I’m at it, how about a Forester Onyx Edition? That would be absolutely cool. 

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER SPORT: The current generation model has been with us since 2011. It has served as the brand’s most popular vehicle – especially here in the Twin Cities. With newer models advancing Mitsubishi’s return to prominence – the Eclipse Cross and the fantastic new Outlander, to be exact – it is time for Mitsubishi to completely revamp its smallest SUV

The positive point on the current generation model have been its space for its class. However, it needs a new body style, new drivelines, and much more. I would start with a new platform that continues to be smaller than the Eclipse Cross, but it should use some of the Outlander’s design cues to continue having an upright rear cargo area. The interior needs to be overhauled, inspired by the Outlander with better materials and content available at a better value point. 

The turbocharged 1.5-liter engine in the Eclipse Cross would be a great match for the new Outlander Sport. That, along with an improved CVT (from Nissan) and an upgrade to Super All-Wheel Control across the board. An economy model could also raid Nissan’s parts bin for their 1.6-liter engine found in the Kicks – with possibly connecting the older AWC driveline as an option. 

One thing I would add is that the new Outlander Sport could lose some weight. The current model weighs at 3,120 pounds in contrast to the Kicks’ 2,682 pounds. A lighter model will be more fun to drive anywhere.

All photos by Randy Stern

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