Owners Rate Most Fun to Drive Cars

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Fun to drive can be defined an infinite number of ways.  The sports car driver will say power and acceleration, braking and handling are the main contributors to fun to drive.  There is also the element of sexy head-turning styling ringing the sports car driver’s bell.  The sport utility driver will add functionality to that equation.  A smart fortwo driver may think its quirky styling, minuscule size (even with its funky transmission) add to the fun to drive experience.

The most fun to drive vehicles in AutoPacific’s New Vehicle Satisfaction Research – those with 85 % or more of their drivers totally satisfied with its fun to drive characteristics include:

2014 Chevrolet SS1.  Chevrolet SS:  We can certainly understand this one.  Fully loaded 4-door sedan with a Corvette V8, the SS is a great value and adds sedan functionality to a high performance platform.  Not a big seller, the SS buyer certainly understands the special car they are driving.  One hundred percent of the respondents were totally satisfied with its fun to drive characteristics.

2015 Chevrolet Corvette2.  Chevrolet Corvette:  Corvette is the quintessential American sports car.  Big with dramatic styling and powered by a large displacement push-rod V8, the Corvette not only has the dynamics for a fun to drive winner, but also the looks.

 

2014 Porsche Cayman3. Porsche Cayman:  Curvaceous styling with Porsche DNA, German precision and sprightly dynamics have 94% of Cayman drivers totally satisfied with the fun to drive of their car.

 

 

2014 Porsche Panamera4.  Porsche Panamera:  The most expensive of the fun to drive vehicles is the Porsche Panamera 4-door sedan with 93% of its owners totally satisfied.  Sometimes criticized for its ungainly looks, it checks the boxes for fun to drive.  Panamera is in the top ten in power and acceleration.  Panamera is top ranked for braking. Panamera is in the top five for handling.  Not bad for such a large car.

2014 smart fortwo5.  smart fortwo:  There are fifteen cars that score 85% or higher in fun to drive.  Surprising is one of them is the smart fortwo with 92% of its drivers totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  Acceleration and powertrain performance clearly are not strong suits for the fortwo.  Only 28% of fortwo owners are totally satisfied with power and acceleration, so there are other things contributing to its fun to drive.  Maybe it is handling? – 72% are totally satisfied with its handling.  Maybe getting good fuel economy is a contributor? – 76% are totally satisfied with fuel economy.  Maybe just fortwo’s quirky styling just puts a smile on their face?

2014 Porsche Boxster6.  Porsche Boxster:  The first of the “baby” Porsche entries has sometimes been called a chick’s car, and maybe it is if you watched the episode of Two and a Half Men where Alan buys one, but its owners 91% of its owners are totally satisfied with how fun to drive it is.  Owners rate the Boxster in the top ten of totally satisfied with power and acceleration, braking, and handling – all strong contributors to fun to drive.

2015 Nissan 370Z Coupe7.  Nissan 370Z:  A “classic” sports car, 90% of Z-Car owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes.  It is in the top ten in power and acceleration, but comes up shy in handling ranking 12th and poorly in braking where it ranks 53rd.

2014 Jaguar F-Type8.  Jaguar F-Type:  Jag’s new sports car entry has 90% of its owners totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  F-Type is in the top ten in power and acceleration, 11th in braking and 25th in handling.  Clearly, F-Types powertrain strongly contributes to its fun to drive and combined with its classic styling owners score the car very strongly.

2014 Subaru BRZ9.  Subaru BRZ:  The BRZ may be a new category of sporty coupe.  It is built to be extremely maneuverable and fun for a young person.  Small, rear wheel drive, and with the ability to drift around corners, 89% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  In the case of the BRZ, its power and acceleration does not deliver on its looks or fun to drive image.  Only 30% of BRZ owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration ranking it 225th.  About 56% BRZ owners are totally satisfied with its braking.  Where BRZ shines is in handling with 84% of its owners totally satisfying.  It appears that Subaru could improve the standing of the BRZ if engine power was increased substantially.

2014 Chevrolet Camaro10.  Chevrolet Camaro:  A classic American muscle car, 89% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes.  Camaro ranks 17th in power and acceleration with 73% totally satisfied.  It ranks 18th in braking with 77% of its owners totally satisfied.  Camaro ranks 10th in handling.  These are solid results for a sporty coupe showing Camaro succeeds not only on the basis of its iconic image and styling, but also on dynamics.

2014 Ford Mustang11.  Ford Mustang: The outgoing Mustang still has a lot going it with 88% of its owners totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  Mustang owners rank its power and acceleration 28th with 68% totally satisfied.  Mustang falls to 95th in braking with 65% totally satisfied.  It is 55th in handling with 71% totally satisfied.  Clearly, style, image and reputation have gone a long way in contributing to Mustang’s position among fun to drive cars.

2014 MINI Paceman12.  MINI Paceman:  The wierdly styled MINI Paceman is totally fun to drive for about 88% of its owners.  46% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration ranking 156th, other MINI entries rank substantially higher.  About 67% of its owners are totally satisfied with its braking ranking 52nd.  About 75% of owners are totally satisfied with its handling – 27th.  Head-turning styling and image strongly contribute to the fun to drive aura of the MINI Paceman.

2014 Mazda Miata13.  Mazda Miata:  Miatas, or MX-5s, are famous for how fun to drive they are.  About 86% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes.  Miata is not supposed to be blindingly fast it is supposed to be fun and most owners recognize that.  Still, ranking 109th, 53% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration.  About 68% are totally satisfied with its braking – 48th.  About 64% are totally satisfied with its handling – 29th.

2014 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO14.  Mitsubishi Lancer EVO:  The last Lancer EVO ranks 14th in fun to drive with 85% of its owners totally satisfied.  Generally, a car sold for its performance never lives up to the expectations of its owners in power and acceleration, but the EVO seems to be an exception.  About 71% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration – ranking 22nd.  About 78% are totally satisfied with braking – 13th.  About 78% are totally satisfied with handling – 15th.  This is a pretty good all-around performance for dynamic attributes.  Sayonara EVO, you will be missed.

2014 Scion FR-S15.  Scion FR-S: The FR-S is the Scion version of the Subaru BRZ.  About 85% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  Like the BRZ, FR-S owners want more power and acceleration – only 33% are totally satisfied – ranked 222nd.  About 52% are totally satisfied with its braking – ranking 178th.  About 73% of FR-S owners are totally satisfied with its handling – that is what the car is designed for after all – ranking 37th.

Top Ten Fun to Drive Brands:  The ranking of brands includes the fun to drive results for all their entries.  The top ten brands are:  1) Porsche, 2) MINI, 3) BMW, 4) Audi, 5) Jaguar, 6) Fiat, 7) Scion, 8) Cadillac, 9) Lincoln, 10) Mercedes-Benz.


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Manual Transmissions – Let ‘em Die

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We keep watching the hand wringing of automotive enthusiasts (of which we are a member) about manual transmissions fading from the American vehicle fleet.  In fact, in 2010 our friends at Car and Driver created a Facebook page entitled “Save the Manuals” moaning about the “paucity” of manual transmissions offered in new vehicles.  Over the years, we have been proponents of automatics especially since they have become so efficient.  Based on AutoPacific research we have the data and here are the tidbits:Manual Transmission Shifter

80% of New Vehicle Acquirers Can Drive a Vehicle With a Manual Transmission  Frankly, we thought this number would be much smaller and maybe for the sake of their ego these respondents claim they can drive a manual when they actually cannot or do so very poorly.  By age group 50% of respondents in their 20s and 71% of those in their 30s say they can drive a vehicle with a manual transmission.  Over 40 years of age, over 80% say they can drive a manual.  We are surprised that so many in their 20s and 30s claim they can drive a manual.

94% Want an Automatic in Their Next Vehicle  80% of the respondents say they want an automatic transmission in their next vehicle and 14% say they want an automatic with paddle shifters.  Only 6% want a manual transmission.Automatic Transmission Shifter

Highest Preference for Manual Transmissions are in Sports and Compact Cars  About 16% of sports car owners want a manual in their next vehicle and about 11% of compact car owners want a manual transmission.  The sports car owners want a manual because they perceive the manual gives them a more sporty driving experience and better control over the car.  Compact car owners perceive that a manual will give them better fuel economy and also a lower price.  We might have thought pickup truck owners would want a manual transmission but this is not the case.  Only 5% of pickup owners want a manual transmission in their next vehicle.

Manuals to Fade Away  In many press events AutoPacific attends, members of the automotive press are arguing for more and more manual transmissions to be added to newly introduced vehicles.  This is contrary to what the people who actually buy cars want.  While there will be some bitching and moaning from the media, automakers should save their resources and concentrate on making outstanding automatics and dropping manuals in the future.Paddle Shifter

Sidenote on Paddle Shifters  Manufacturers have been adding paddle shifters to the automatics installed in many of their vehicles they want to have a sportier ambience.  In AutoPacific research over the years, we have found that drivers might use this feature for the first couple of weeks they have their vehicle and then never use paddle shifters again.  While implementing paddle shifters is now an inexpensive feature, it still might not be worth the trip.


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2016 Jeep Renegade – Class Leading B-XSUV?

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B-XSUV  How can a vehicle lead a class when you don’t know that that class is?  What is a B-XSUV?  The B-Class size in Euro-speak is the second from the lowest size class.   Second, what is an XSUV?  In AutoPacific-speak this means crossover sport utility vehicle.  We refuse to call these things CUVs because it is important folks know they are supposed to be SPORT UTILITIES.  This is a very new class with entries just beginning to land – Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, the Fiat 500x, etc.

Jeep Renegade  So now lets talk about the 2016 Jeep Renegade.

The 2016 Jeep Renegade shares its platform with the 2016 Fiat 500X.  The Renegade has rough and tough Jeep cues and mechanical bits that give it great chops off-road – American.  The 500X is more of a urban cruiser – Italian.

2016 Jeep Renegade F34 VehicleVoice2016 Jeep Renegade SV VehicleVoice

It’s easy to like the all new 2016 Jeep Renegade on sale March 1, 2015.  It is funky looking in a Jeep sort of way, small but wide, easy to maneuver, easy to get into and out of, easy to see out of.  And it its base price is about $5,000 less than its new bigger brother the Jeep Cherokee.  This puts its base price in the same area as the old, old, old Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot that we were frankly surprised to realize are still in production.

The built-in-Italy Renegade has Jeep-DNA styling cues including the seven vertical slot grill and trapezoidal wheel openings.

Smaller Than a Honda Civic  While the Renegade is short – only 167-inches long – about 15-inches shorter than the Jeep Cherokee (182-inches in length), it makes up for that by being pretty wide.  Renegade has a 101-inch wheelbase compared with the Cherokee’s 106-inch wheelbase.  It is 74 inches wide, a bit wider than the Cherokee.  The 2016 Jeep Renegade has 56-inches of front shoulder room compared with the 58-inches for the Cherokee, but 56-inches seems spacious and generous in the Renegade.  Unlike the Cherokee, the Renegade has a lot of glass and good visibility.  So from a packaging standpoint, the Renegade comes across like a larger vehicle.  Thinking about a car to compare it to that everybody knows… Renegade has a shorter wheelbase and overall width than the 2015 Honda Civic, but is substantially wider.  The Renegade is larger than the Honda Fit, but smaller than Civic.  Wider than both.2015 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk 2015 Jeep Renegade Limited

The base 2016 Jeep Renegade comes with a six-speed manual transmission and a 1.4L Multi-air turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower.  Optional sporting a 9-speed automatic transmission, is a 2.4L Multi-Air2 naturally aspirated Tigershark 4-cylinder with 180HP.  If this sounds familiar the 2.4L/9-speed auto is also found in the Jeep Cherokee, Dodge Dart, Chrysler 200, and Ram Promaster City.2016 Jeep Renegade Hill Descent

Capable On- and Off-Road  Where the Renegade shines is in the dynamics.  It is very maneuverable and easy to drive.  Designed to be a true off-roader, the Renegade has good suspension travel and an excellent turning radius.  The Jeep folks claim that the “Trail-Rated” Trailhawk version can traverse the Rubicon Trail, but we did not have the chance to prove it since we were in Hollister, California. We did, however, get to ease the Trailhawk down a grade that must have been about 45-degrees.  With hill descent control engaged the Renegade slowly, but surely, worked its way down the grade.

Pricing  The base price of the 2016 Jeep Renegade is $17,995 with a additional $995 for destination charges.  Sneakily, that price does not include air conditioning (even the most basic vehicles sold in the USA have AC standard in most cases).  That gets you a front wheel drive Renegade Sport with the 1.4L Multi-Air turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 6-speed manual transmission.  The top model Trailhawk begins at $25,995, but when you check all the boxes the price can top $32,000.  Not unreasonable for a new small SUV with loads of personality and capability.

What Would We Change  The 2.4L 4-cylinder has 180HP which is sufficient for most circumstances.  On the freeway, however, it would be nice to have a bit more power – maybe 200 or 205HP.  The center stack navigation screen is 5.0-inches diagonally with standard UConnect and when you upgrade to the system with navigation the screen grows to 6.5-inches.  In a world where bigger screens are better, we would have opted for a larger 8.4-inch screen.  According to the Renegade’s product planner, this decision was made on the basis of styling, not cost or utility.  Huh?  Go with the bigger screen.  On the plus side of screens, there is an available 7-inch reconfigurable display in the instrument cluster the driver can customize to display a myriad of information.  Good going.


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Ram Promaster City – MicroVan Workhorse

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First, it was the Ford Transit Connect van from Turkey that has been ubiquitous in Europe for years before being seen on American roads.  Small, styled with a brash quirkiness, tinny beyond imagination especially in taxi fleets, the Transit Connect caught on.  Then Ford replaced the original Transit Connect with a lower roof, more stylish van built in Spain that is actually fun to drive.  Nissan responded with the Nissan NV200 that is supposed to be the Taxi of Tomorrow for the New York City taxi fleet.  It is assembled in Mexico.  Not so fun to drive and assembled with more than a dollop of plastic.  Most recently is the launch of the Ram (FCA US LLC, aka FCAGroup, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Dodge Trucks) Promaster City.  How would I compare the three?

Ford Transit Connect Van

Ford Transit Connect Van

2015 Ram Promaster City

2015 Ram Promaster City

2014 Nissan NV200

2014 Nissan NV200

Transit Connect Most Minivan-Like  The Transit Connect ($22,330 – $29,185) is the most minivan-like.  It has a instrument panel that mimics that in the Ford Focus.  The seats are comfortable, but a choppy ride offsets the seat comfort.  Performance is adequate with its standard 2.5L 4-cylinder engine having 169-horsepower coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission.  Optionally, the Transit Connect has a 178-horsepower EcoBoost 4-cylinder.  Transit Connect is available in two wheelbases.

NV200 Spartan  The Nissan NV200 ($20,270-$24,435 in cargo van version) is the most Spartan of the three.  Its interior has been stripped bare of most ornamentation and the execution yields the most basic of transportation modules.  A passenger version of the NV200 is not available unless you get the taxicab version starting at $29,700).  Powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission), the NV200 is the most anemic of the three.  Like the original Transit Connect, the NV200 can be a rattletrap.  That brings me to the Ram Promaster City.

Promaster City Best Driving Feel  Built in Turkey, the Promaster City ($23,130 for van version and $24,130 for the passenger version – maximum $29,275) probably falls between the Transit Connect and NV200 overall.  It does, however, have the best driving feel of the three.  The Promaster City is powered by the Fiat Tigershark 2.4L 4-cylinder engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission.  Sounds like the Dodge Dart or Jeep Cherokee.  With much of the North American development work being done in the pothole-filled environs of Auburn Hills, Michigan, the Promaster City suspension has been beefed up and given more travel.  Promaster City also has a fully independent rear suspension.  The result is the ride comfort in the Promaster City is more comfortable in most conditions than the Transit Connect or the NV200.2015 Promaster City R342015 Promaster City Cockpit

The Battle for BIC – Best In Class:  Transit Connect and Promaster City are vying for Best In Class claims.  Promaster City claims best in class horsepower at 178-horsepower.  This is correct for base engines, but if you consider Ford’s EcoBoost at 178-horsepower you have a tie.  Promaster City has a fuel economy rating of 21mpg city/29mpg highway.  Transit Connect is 20/28mpg.  Promaster City claims the largest cargo volume at 132 cubic feet – Ford has 129 cubic feet in its long wheelbase van.  Promaster City claims the highest payload at 1883 pounds – Ford has 1620.  Its 48.4-inches between the rear wheelhouses allows you to put 4-foot wide materials flat on the rear load floor.  The 72-inch load floor length does not allow a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of plywood to be transported enclosed, however.  So, Promaster City wins the brochure war and its base Tigershark engine and 9-speed automatic transmission edges out the Transit Connect, but it is very close.


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2015 Nissan Murano – Sexy Upgrade

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3rd Generation Murano The 2015 Nissan Murano crossover SUV went on sale Friday, December 5, 2014.  The third generation of the Murano pushes the envelope on crossover styling and brings new Nissan design cues to the vehicle.  The Murano has been a sweet spot among crossover SUVs since its launch.  Each iteration has been very easy to live with and the 2015 version is no exception.  Easy to drive, maneuverable, quiet and up to date, the Murano provides Nissan with a suitable vehicle to attract its target buyer.  Media attending the product preview in Napa Valley were surprised that Nissan admitted its target market is empty nester couples 45 years of age or older.  These people do not need seven or eight passenger seating they might have required during their family formation years, but they do want reasonable cargo capacity and a spacious rear seat.  This 5-passenger crossover SUV meets their requirementsGoats Head Beach

The Murano review was held during an early December storm with gale force winds.  The Murano handled the inclement weather with aplomb.  It was very stable even in vicious cross winds.

Exterior  Given its sporty, futuristic styling, you might think the visibility would suffer, and it does to the rear, but overall visibility is pretty good.  For years many in the industry have been stripping vehicles of exterior ornamentation, but not the 3rd gen Murano.  There is a striking bright flash running from the upper edge of the front door rearward over the rear fender kickup.  Very distinctive and nicely done.  Murano follows the trend of front lighting with LED signature lights and available LED headlamps.  LED “boomerang”  taillamps are standard.2015 Nissan Murano F342015 Nissan Murano SV2015 Nissan Murano R34

Interior  The interior comfort is excellent with “Zero Gravity” seating.  Ergonomics are excellent with a large 8-inch center stack screen standard.  For those who like an open air feeling, the Murano offers a large panoramic moonroof.   The top of the line Platinum model includes leather seating surfaces and comes across as a very premium place to be.  The lower level SV model, loses the leather, but the interior retains much of the premium feel of the Platinum version.  In essence, spending less does not result in a vehicle feeling cheap.

Technology  The 2015 Nissan Murano comes with the expected suite of available technology:  blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning, moving object detection and forward emergency braking.2015 Nissan Murano

Powertrain  The engine is essentially carryover – Nissan’s venerable 260HP 3.5L DOHC V6 (VQ).  The continuously variable Xtronic transmission has been improved with subtle “shift points” added to the shiftless gearbox.  The driving experience is effortless.

Pricing  The base price of the 2015 Nissan Murano os $29,560 for the S model.  The next step up is the SV at $32,620.  Then the SL at $35,950 and the range topping Platinum at $39,000.  Adding all wheel drive adds $1,600 to each model.  Checking all the boxes on a Platinum – adding premium paint, Technology Package and 20-inch wheels – brings the price to $44,975.

Production  While Nissan’s huge Canton, Mississippi plant is the main source for the Murano worldwide, there is a secondary source in Pusan, South Korea should the USA need more volume.  The Pusan plant is part of the Samsung Renault Nissan relationship.

Research Results  Over the years, Murano has done very well in AutoPacific’s Satisfaction Research.  The 2015 Nissan Murano promises to deliver strong satisfaction results just as did its predecessor generations.

 


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2016 Acura ILX Updated – Improved

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Acura’s entry premium compact car is being updated for the 2016 model year.  The 2016 Acura ILX is what Acura terms its “Gateway Model” – the entry to the Acura lineup.  The strategy for the 2016 Acura ILX is much like Honda implemented for its CR-V compact crossover SUV.  Honda termed that a Major Mid-Cycle Change.  Similarly, ILX has been freshened and given a better powertrain than before.

2016 Acura ILX F34 VehicleVoiceMild Styling Changes  The 2016 Acura ILX looks basically the same as the 2015 model.  It is a compact sedan with pleasant, slightly sporty styling.  For 2016, the car gets a new more aggressive front end appearance with LED accent lights and LED headlamps.  All Acuras will have LED front lights from now on.  The grille is tougher looking and the “parrot’s beak” has been toned down somewhat.  The tall lamps are upgraded and more distinctive than before.  In the industry, this is called a front and rear six – think of it as a face and butt lift.2016 Acura ILX SV Feature

The interior gets minor updates with upgraded seat material and contrasting stitching on the steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake handle.

Upgraded Powertrain with Only One Choice  The news, however, is under the skin.  The only engine/transmission choice now is a 2.4L direct injection 4-cylinder with 201-horsepower mated to an 8-speed dual clutch transmission.  If this sounds familiar it should because it is basically the same 4-cylinder used in the mid-market TLX.  Since 2016 Acura ILX is now made at Honda’s Marysville, OH plant alongside the TLX this communization makes sense.

No Manual Transmission – YEA!  The enthusiasts among you may be asking where the manual transmission formerly with the 2.4L went?  It was dropped in favor of the fast-shifting dual clutch transmission and the fact that no one was buying them.  Gone also is the hybrid model, also for lack of interest.  AutoPacific’s research confirms that this is the right direction to go.  Consideration for manual transmissions is very low and hybrid consideration continues to drop as gasoline prices in the USA fall.

Technology and Stuff  Recognizing that a premium brand has to deliver more refinement, Acura has increased the sound deadening in the ILX to make the car much quieter than now.  Also, following the CR-V strategy with HondaSense, AcuraWatch suite of advanced safety and driver assist features is available on the car for the first time.  This feature suite includes adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation,  collision mitigation braking system, upgraded rear camera.  Once again, we are seeing a manufacturer “democratize” its technology taking stuff formerly available on upper level models and making them available on lower line products.


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Why Connect Your Phone To Your Car Stereo

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Honestly now, who pays attention to the type of cup holder or tablet support a car has when interested in getting a new one? All you can think of now is how strong the engine is or if you can use an auto-pilot highway cruising system. But you will eventually want to be able to listen to music or your favorite audio books – so here’s a reason to want to connect your phone to your car stereo using an USB or aftermarket stereo. But…

 

Why Use A Phone Inside Your Car

Besides the previously mentioned reasons, if you’re a serious business man, chances are you will want to keep track of everything going on with your projects. And one way of doing this is by picking up the phone and making calls even when you are on the highway. But because driving and using your cell phone don’t go work together according to the law, one solution is to make hands-free calls. This way, when a customer calls, you can pick up; if your marketing is efficient, calls should be coming in 24/7. And to really learn which advertising channels generate the largest number of calls – and which of them result into new clients and sales – use the call tracking service provided by AddSource. You will get to find out important details such as the tracking of your call quantity, the duration of each call, the date and time of the calls, as well as the number of calls that have been answered or dropped (always bad for business, so look into that stereo built-in Bluetooth option for your car). You will also receive reports of the numbers, destinations, advertising sources and geographical locations of the callers and figure out ways to improve your marketing. The AddSource solutions will enable you to save calls, turn them into the mp3 audio format and listen to your most important calls while driving on the highway.

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Dodge Challenger Hellcat

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The all-new Driver Information Display screen in the Challenger

Cruising down the scenic roads along the Columbia River near Portland, Oregon can be a real treat, especially while driving a Dodge Challenger Hellcat with its mean-sounding engine roaring through the twists and turns of this pristine wilderness road.

A few months back, Chrysler invited a few journalist to test drive the 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat, along with its entire Challenger lineup. The Challenger Hellcat was a blast to drive, and delivers so much power that it is almost scary to drive. And after our not-so-mellow morning cruise along the river, we were invited to test the Hellcat’s limits by driving laps around Portland International Raceway, trying hard to keep the car in a straight line. But the real fun was just driving the Hellcat around town and watching on-lookers gaze at the car with its loud rumble and gentle supercharger whine emitting from the beast of a car that is the Hellcat. And the specs are quite impressive.


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Kia K900 – Kia Range Topper

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Kia introduced the K900 premium luxury car for the 2014 model year.  Based on Hyundai/Kia’s rear wheel drive platform shared with the Hyundai Equus and loosely the Hyundai Genesis sedan, Kia’s entry into the luxury market is controversial.  Internally and externally there were concerns that the brand was not ready to take the leap into the $60,000 price range.  But as is often the case in the life of an import distributor, the parent company demands that you take the “gift” of a vehicle you might not think fits the lineup at the time.

KMA – AutoPacific Neighbors  Full disclosure, Kia Motors America headquarters in Irvine are less than a mile from AutoPacific’s headquarters in Tustin, California.  Every day our roads are filled with Kia Optima mid-size cars (to our eye, the best looking mid-size car presently on the market), Kia Soul hamster cars and Kia Forte compact cars.  Given the population of cars within a mile radius, Kia is the best selling brand on the market.  K900s are rarer, but does K900 hurt KMA’s position in the American market?  We don’t think so.2014 Kia K900 F34 VehicleVoice2014 Kia K900 SV VehicleVoice2014 Kia K900 R34 VehicleVoice

Conservative Design Will Not Offend  The exterior of the car is conservative and tasteful.  There is little flamboyance with the exception of Kia’s outstanding white pearlescent paint (I don’t like white cars, but the white available on the Optima and K900 is a very rich looking color).  The K900 is a large car with generous greenhouse that provides excellent visibility except rearward where the headrests get in the way.

Kia K900 Interior Outstanding  The K900 interior is a work of art.  The seats are nicely styled, supportive and infinitely adjustable with Mercedes-like seat controls on the door trim panels.  The instrument panel is electronic wizardry with a very well designed programmable 12.3-inch instrument cluster and 9.2-inch center stack screen with Kia’s UVO eServices telematics system.  Radio controls are actually easy to use with KNOBS (!) and source buttons.  The rear seat is very spacious and comfortable.  In the uplevel VIP executive package (a $6,000 option) designed for Korean CEOs to ride in the rear there are redundant controls in the center arm rest.  In the particular example we have been driving for a week, the interior trim is a very light grey or off white which makes it seem open, airy and spacious.  The contrasting grey environmental color gives a very upscale ambiance.2014 Kia K900 IP VehicleVoice2014 Kia K900 Cockpit2014 Kia K900 Rear Seat VehicleVoice

Lexus-Like Dynamics  Dynamically, the K900 harkens back two generations to the Lexus LS430, before Lexus decided to try a more sporty route.  The ride is very isolated, soft and cushion-like.  The 5.0L gasoline direct injection V8 is powerful and smooth.  Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission we saw an average fuel economy of about 15mpg.  While the fuel economy is not sterling, it is about what you’d expect in a car like this.

So, the Kia K900 is not a German luxury car and is not what the Lexus LS460 has evolved into.  The Kia K900 is a very competitive, traditional luxury car that will be comfortable for the long haul and easy to live with.


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Mercedes Sprinter Updated for 2015MY – Additions to Mercedes Van Lineup

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The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van was the first European-style full size van sold in the United States.  Ford has added the European-style Transit van to its huge plant in Kansas City, Missouri.  Ram is importing ProMaster vans from Europe.  Nissan manufactures its NV vans in Canton, Mississippi and it is somewhere between a traditional American van and a European van.  Only General Motors is left with a traditional American van with the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana.  In the overall scheme of things, Ford is the top dog by a wide margin and Mercedes is in fourth or fifth place depending on the month.2015 Sprinter 4x4 VehicleVoice

Mercedes Sprinter Update for 2015  For 2015, the Mercedes Sprinter is getting a minor update including new front end appearance with more distinctive headlamps and grille.   Optional safety features now commonly found in cars are available: blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, collision prevention assist and highbeam assist.  On the Sprinter 2500 model, Crosswind Assist is standard.  Because big vans present a large flat surface to the wind, they are susceptible to being knocked around in crosswinds.  The Crosswind Assist system alleviates Crosswind threats at speeds over 50mph.

Of significance, the Mercedes Sprinter receives a 4×4 model for 2015.  The base 4×4 system is prices at $6,500 with an additional $300 for low range capability.  The 4×4 will likely be popular in the Snow Belt and Mercedes predicts between 6% and 9% of its mix will be 4×4.  Sounds a bit low.

Diesel Engines  The base engine in about 50% of Sprinters is a 161HP 2.1L 4-cylinder diesel with 266 lb-ft of torque.  The 4-cylinder diesel is mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission.  The optional 188HP 3.0L V6 diesel has 325 lb-ft of torque.

Re-Assembly Strategy for US Cargo Vans  Mercedes Sprinter cargo vans are “re”-assembled at a small plant in the suburbs of Charleston, South Carolina.  The former Western Star/American LaFrance plant is now the sole source for Sprinter cargo vans in the USA.  Only about one third of the plant is used at present with plenty of room for expansion.

Now with 3 Roof Heights

Now with 3 Roof Heights

Chicken Tax Avoidance Strategy  Because of the 25% “chicken tax” (tariff) in place since 1967, truck manufacturers have used various schemes to avoid the crushing price penalty.  At one point, Toyota added pickup boxes to its small pickup at the port in Long Beach, California.  Ultimately, the major Japanese truck manufacturers added assembly capacity for their trucks in the USA.   Toyota manufactured Tacoma pickups at NUMMI (a joint venture with General Motors) in Fremont, California and now manufactures Tundra and Tacoma pickups at a plant in San Antonio, Texas.  Nissan has a huge truck plant in Smyrna, Tennessee and another in Canton, Mississippi.  Even Honda has truck capacity for its Ridgeline in Ohio.

Mercedes avoids the chicken tax by re-assembling Sprinter vans in the USA.  They are first completely manufactured in a plant in Dusseldorf, Germany.  They are disassembled so that the powertrain is separate from the body.  The bodies are loaded into containers (one or two per container depending on configuration) and shipped to Charleston.  The powertrain components are shipped separately in lots of eighteen.  Unloaded at the plant in Charleston, the body moves through thirteen six-minute stations.  The Charleston plant can re-assemble between 60 and 75 Sprinter cargo vans per day.  In 2013, the plant produced over 14,000 units.  The top customers for these vehicles are FedEx (who insisted Mercedes add the vehicles for the American market) and Winnebago.

Saving the 25% chicken tax results in a 12% to 13% increase in the cost of the Sprinter in the USA, but the savings are still 12% to 13% lower than if the tariff had been paid.

Future Mercedes Vans in the USA  Mercedes is adding more vans to its lineup in the future.  The European mid-size Vito van (with the “Metris” name in the USA and Canada) will be added in Fall, 2015 in passenger and cargo versions.  Another passenger van – the V-Class – was introduced in Munich in January 2014 and on sale in Europe from Spring 2014.  Think of the V-Class as a van equivalent to the Mercedes S-Class sedan.  Also in the offing for the USA is the smaller Mercedes Citan van introduced in Europe in 2012.  Given the capacity available at the Mercedes van plant outside Charleston, it would not be surprising to see the Metris cargo vans assembled there similar to the Sprinter cargo vans.

 


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