With so many cars named for places, your ride can be a source of regional pride


WHAT’S IN A NAME | Chryler’s Aspen SUV, above, has little in common with the old Dodge Aspen, other than evoking a winter haven; Jeep’s Wrangler Rubicon, below, could drive across a river.

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

Did you ever stop to wonder what your car says about where you’re from — or more importantly, from where you’d like to be? Back in the ‘50s, cars named for places were aspirational, with monickers like the Bel Air from Chevy, for those who imagined life in Hollywood; for drivers of GM’s value brand (who would presumably prefer a more tropical climate), there was the Biscayne. In truth, Bel Air and Biscayne were basically the same car with different trim.
Many of today’s most popular vehicles also have names that invoke places their drivers would like to drive.

Seaside retreats like Malibu and Rio aside, most of today’s location-derived rides tend more toward cowboy country — none more so than the Ford F-Series King Ranch edition. Named for the enormous South Texas ranch, the trucks convey the drama with saddle leather seats, rock-clearing chassis, and paint colors that reflect prairie sagebrush. Take a ride and you’ll be sure you are Ted Turner, home on the range.

Ram, Toyota and GM also slap big sky names on their full-size trucks. Chrysler’s truck brand invokes the wide spaces of Laramie to give its owners command of the countryside. Toyota reaches a little further north to the Tundra while GMC hearkens to the west with Sierra; Chevy prefers Silverado. However, the bow-tie gang has also used Cheyenne, and calls its compact truck the Colorado. It pretty much has lands west of the Mississippi fenced in.

2-Wrangler-RubiconI suppose automakers want to transfer that rugged individualism to their family-friendly crossovers and SUVs. GMC owners apparently relate to the far north, as the truck maker sells the full-size Acadia crossover and Yukon SUV. Going all-in, both are available in upscale Denali packages that elevate owners to Cadillac highs.

Never one to miss feelings of luxury and leisure, Chevy sells the Tahoe. In recent years, Chrysler sold the very cool Aspen SUV, which was launched to the media with an avalanche of paper snow, but we’re all still trying to forget the Dodge Aspen car. (About the only thing that lemon rose to was the top of most-repaired clunkers list.)

If choosing by name alone, I’d prefer to drive the Nissan Murano. I love Murano glass, plenty of which I dragged home from Venice a few years ago. Does that mean the Murano is fragile? Or that it can haul a lot of vases and paperweights? Maybe the headlight lenses are made from blown silicon or the floor is crafted from Italian marble? It’s all so confusing.

If visiting, we could also see a Ford Torino, but that Italian seems more akin to conveying Starsky & Hutch and crotchety old Clint Eastwood. I’m also ready to bed down in Santa Fe or Tucson with Hyundai, but I hope the A/C is frigid.

Jeep is probably the most authentic slapper of adventure-inspired names. The ultimate test of its vehicles has always been the Rubicon Trail, where boulders come as large as the red balls in front of Target. Unlike some of these other pretenders, you can actually take a Wrangler Rubicon over The Rubicon. The original Jeep would also be at home in Laredo or in the Sahara — both trim levels for the capable off-roader.

Maybe we’ll again see a Cadillac in Seville or a big luxury convertible near Eldorado, but hopefully never anywhere near Cimarron. Any of these cars can put you in a Malibu state of mind, no matter what state you live in

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 9, 2012.