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10 cars killed before their time

In one of the most tumultuous years ever in the auto industry, slow sales and bankruptcies have forced automakers to not only pare back on specific models for the upcoming 2010 model year, but also shed whole brands (i.e. General Motors' Pontiac and Saturn).

In one of the most tumultuous years ever in the auto industry, slow sales and bankruptcies have forced automakers to not only pare back on specific models for the upcoming 2010 model year, but also shed whole brands (i.e. General Motors’ Pontiac and Saturn).

IN PHOTOS: 10 cars gone too soon

Some cars, like the Dodge Durango/Chrysler Aspen twins or the Kia Spectra, will be missed about as much as a bad case of chicken pox.

But others were worthy vehicles, not necessarily deserving of their walking papers. Here are 10 models I’ll mourn the most:

Saturn Outlook

General Motors’ experiment to take on the import brands, Saturn, will be gone by the end of this year. One of the vehicles I’ll miss the most is one of its newer models.10 cars killed before their time

Among GM’s current mid-sized crossovers (Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia) the Saturn Outlook always struck me as the most attractive. Cleanly styled, in an Audi-esque kind of way, and well-priced.

On a family road trip to the Maritimes a couple of summers ago, it proved roomy and comfortable, and also struck a home run with us on our wallet.

After nearly two weeks and 4,000 km behind the wheel, we averaged 8.5 L/100 km (33 m.p.g.) – better than its combined rating of 10.5 L (27 m.p.g.).

We’ll miss the Outlook. But at least we still have the pictures.

Nissan Quest

Nissan is the one automaker that has always put the driver first in its minivans.

Its first Quest (1993-2002), was small by Ford Windstar standards, but it drove like a taller Maxima sedan.

The next Quest – which arrived in 2004 – was much larger (longer than a Chrysler long-wheelbase minivan, in fact) and powered by a V6 from the 350Z sports car. Fortunately, its multi-link rear suspension kept Nissan’s stylish people mover surprisingly composed and tight through the twisties.

It you liked the idea of a fine driving minivan that didn’t look like the box it was shipped in, there might be a few 2009 Quests still hanging around dealer lots.

Pontiac Solstice Coupe

I’ve seen meteor showers last longer than the lifespan of the targa coupe version of Pontiac’s Solstice roadster.10 cars killed before their time

On sale just this spring, production ended with the closure of its U.S. plant in July.

The targa version apparently didn’t drive all that better than the unrefined convertible. It inherited the Solstice roadster’s soft, highway-friendly suspension tuning, vague steering, and twitchy handling.

But then there were its looks. The Solstice Coupe’s sensual styling (think poor-man’s BMW M Coupé) and limited production numbers are probably the two biggest reasons to pick it over a Mazda MX-5 with its optional power retractable hardtop.

Chevrolet Cobalt SS Sedan

While the two-door version continues, the Cobalt SS sedan gets deep-sixed this year, along with sporty SS models of the Chevrolet Impala and HHR wagon. 10 cars killed before their time

Which is too bad. After years of handing the sports compact market on a silver platter to the import brands, Chevrolet finally had a car that didn’t just go fast in a straight line.

The Cobalt SS sedan’s turbocharged and intercooled four-banger is one of GM’s most sophisticated small engines. And Chevy also had the chassis engineers at Opel’s tuning shop give the new SS a better blend between comfortable ride and sporty handling – dare we say, “European”?

Cadillac XLR-V

Like the sportiest-ever Cobalt sedan, here’s another GM product getting axed just as it was getting its act together. 10 cars killed before their time

With it retractable roof lowered, the XLR-V was a sexy slice of Cadillac’s Art & Science design language It shares the same platform, but the XLR-V roadster’s not just a Chevrolet Corvette in a pinstripe suit.

Its supercharged 443-horse 4.4-litre V8 is a serous torque monster: 0-to-100 km/h is an abrupt 4.8 seconds.

What a shame. With this year’s demise of the XLR-V, GM’s so-called “top brand” is sorely lacking a proper flagship.

Pontiac Vibe

The Vibe – a well-made, relatively inexpensive, fuel-efficient front- or all-wheel-drive wagonoid that’s big enough for most Canadian families to use as their only car – ended up as the proverbial baby getting caught up in Pontiac’s bathwater.

As a twin of the popular Toyota Matrix, the Vibe made sense in a market that was turning to smaller, more utilitarian cars. It’s leaving just as new small wagons like the Kia Soul, Hyundai Elantra Touring and Nissan Cube are coming on-stream.

Even GM admitted the Vibe’s only problem was that it was a Pontiac.

Saturn Astra

Go figure. After decades of Canadian fans of German cars begging GM to send over some of its choice European rides, we finally got one in 2008 with the Saturn Astra three- and five-door hatchbacks.

And guess what: hardly any of us bought one. And it’s not like GM watered down the Astra’s Teutonic genes for our consumption.

Little was lost in the translation of the Saturn version from its Opel counterpart. With firm road manners, sharp styling and a refined interior, the Astra was huge jump up from its woe-begotten predecessor, the 2003-2007 Ion.

At least Volkswagen dealers, who now have little competition for their Golf hatches, should be happy.

Subaru Legacy Wagon

Throw another sports wagon on the pile: 2009 will be the last year for the wonderfully versatile Subaru Legacy wagon.
With the new 2010 Legacy lineup, Subaru decided to go with an all-Outback wagon strategy, which I frankly don’t get.

Don’t we have enough crossovers in the market? I mean, Subaru already has the Forester, and that other one I can’t think of that no one buys.

To make matters worse, the new Outback is heavier taller, wider, and longer than last year’s model. In other words, it’s a soft-riding, sloppy-handling crossover – everything the last Legacy wagon wasn’t.

Pontiac G8

Oooo, the irony.

After having to put up with decades of Pontiac bleating its “American BMW” brand positioning, we finally get a real, honest-to-gawd decent driver’s car with the Aussie-bred Pontiac G8. And, well, you know the rest of the story …

Unlike the painfully long string of overstyled, ill-performing Chevys that Pontiac has put forward for what seems like forever (Am I the only one who thinks the worst use of the letters “GT” was on a Sunfire?) the G8 had a world-class suspension, decent engines and a driver-oriented interior.

The 2009 G8 was the best Pontiac ever. But for fans of GM’s cancelled “excitement” division, it’s also going to be one of the last.

Honda S2000

With the demise of the 2009 S2000 roadster, it’s now official: Honda is out of the fun-to-drive business.10 cars killed before their time

Sure, there’s still the Civic Si. And, well, er, that’s about it. But with the firing of the S2000, Honda is cancelling a modern day classic.

Its V-TEC engine creates a dual personality. Keep the revs low, and you can trundle around town like a somnambulant Accord driver. Goad it to its 8000 r.p.m. redline, and you can pretend you’re Jensen Button.

The rear-driver’s front mid-engine placement and double wishbone suspension corners with minimal body roll, a ton of grip and tremendous feedback. Its steering is telepathic. And its six-speed manual is renowned as the slickest in the business.

If you’ve forgotten that Honda still sells this wonderfully sublime car, you’re forgiven. They’ve spent about two loonies in marketing the car the past few years. If you can, though, try and catch one of the last remaining examples.

Related links:

Jim Kenzie’s top 10 ways to fix the roads

John LeBlanc’s top 10 misfit cars

John LeBlanc’s 10 most beautiful new cars

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