2016 Honda Pilot – Finally Good Looking

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The Honda Pilot, good as it might be, has been a blight on the road.  Its eyeball searing gawky looks were only short of the not-lamented Pontiac Aztec.  These are harsh comments, but a vehicle that makes you scream when you first see at an auto show is certainly a show stopper and not in a good way.  Honda defends the previous Pilot as having traditional sport utility vehicle styling.  That may be so, but it was very third world and inappropriate for the American market.  Lasting for an extremely long cycle for Honda – seven years – the Pilot was a very good vehicle under the skin and its interior was commodious to say the least.  But, now it’s thankfully dead and to be replaced by the third generation 2016 Honda Pilot on June 18, 2015.2016 Honda Pilot F34 VehicleVoice2016 Honda Pilot R34 VehicleVoice

New Pilot is a Good Looker  The 2016 Honda Pilot is now well-styled with modern and contemporary lines.  Gone is the BOX shape of the previous vehicle and curvaceous styling that is now more the norm has been adopted.  Honda contends that Pilot moves from traditional and rugged (translated UGLY) to modern and refined.  We agree.  The 2016 Honda Pilot is a very good looker.  The key, says Honda, is to keep Pilot’s capability and clothe it in a style that makes its buyer feel serene, athletic and smart.

All New Body and Chassis  The 2016 Pilot is all new.  New body and new chassis.  Its 194.5 inch overall length is 3.5 inches longer than previously putting it in the league of the 2016 Ford Explorer (198.3 inches OAL).  The passenger compartment has been lengthened by one inch.  As before, Pilot has seven or eight passenger seating.  Ingress to the third row seat has been improved by making the rear door opening 1.5 inches wider and 1.2 inches lower.  Press a button and the second row seat flips forward out of the way – a child could do it.

Keeping up with the industry in the electronics department, Pilot has five fast-charging USB ports.  Fully engaged in the battle for the center stack, Pilot adopts a Garmin navigation system with an 8-inch screen.  The Android-based Display Audio System will seamlessly connect with an iPhone.  The graphics are bright and intuitive.  The optional rear seat entertainment system is Blu-ray capable and has an HDMI port, 115-volt power outlet, 2 headphone jacks and an auxiliary jack.  Even the key fob gets into the action including:  control settings, smart entry, push button start, remote engine start and remote-linked climate control.

Upgraded and More Efficient  Pilot is almost 300 pounds lighter than its predecessor.  It is standard with a 6-speed automatic transmission and the top of the line gets a ZF nine-speed automatic.  The Earth Dreams 3.5L V6 puts out 280-horsepower and 262 lb ft of torque.  Honda claims that the Pilot has best in class fuel economy and performance.  The Pilot achieves 27mpg on the highway with its V6.  With the 9-speed automatic, Pilot can hit 60mph in 7-seconds flat.

Honda has adopted a torque-vectoring all wheel drive system that achieves a weight reduction but improves performance.  All wheel drive response time is 46% faster and torque capacity has improved by 20%.  Torque vectoring senses what each wheel needs to do for optimum performance – front to rear and side to side.  All wheel drive adds $1,800 to the price over a front wheel drive version of the Pilot.

Honda Sensing Brings Latest Nanny Features to Pilot  Not a negative term, nanny features help keep you safe and secure.  Honda engineers have optimized these features in its Honda Sensing Advanced Safety and Driver Assist Technology system.  This system includes active cruise control, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warning.  In the top of the line model, blind spot information and rear cross traffic monitoring is included.

New Elite Model  Honda has recognized that it needs an even more luxurious model positioned above its Touring model.   For the 2016 Honda Pilot an Elite model tops the range.  The Elite includes a panoramic glass roof, LED headlights, blind spot monitoring system, front ventilated seats, rain sensing wipers and other convenience features.  The MSRP for the Elite is $47,300 with AWD.  This gives the 2016 Pilot a price spread (including destination) of $30,875 to $47,300 compared with $30,750 to $42,500 for the 2015 model.

Driving the Pilot  The 2016 Honda Pilot is very quiet and comfortable.  At the same time, it handles and maneuvers very well with no untoward ride motions.  The engine is smooth and Pilot has one of the less intrusive stop-start systems in the industry.  Honda has been able to tame the ZF 9-speed automatic better than most with shifts smooth and un-obtrusive.  Interior ergonomics are outstanding.  Visibility is top notch.

2016 Honda Pilot vs. 2016 Ford Explorer  Honda’s very, very long embargo on impressions from the review of the Pilot let Ford slip in a brief review of the 2016 Ford Explorer.  Since the Explorer review was in San Diego last week with no embargo it cries for a comparison with the new Pilot.  Ford, like Honda, claims Best-In-Class for almost everything:  NVH, performance, fuel economy, new range-topping model.  Some of these are obvious.  Ford is available with a 365-horsepower twin turbo EcoBoost 3.5L V6.  Honda cannot match that, so the performance claim has to go to Ford.  Fuel economy is a bit more of a problem.  Honda’s 27mpg with its 3.5L V6 is 1mpg less than Explorer’s 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder that has 280 horsepower and 310 lb of torque – better than Honda’s V6.  But Ford’s base 3.5L V6 gets only 24mpg on the highway.  Explorer’s new top-of-the-line Platinum Series throws all the options on the vehicle and is priced at around $53,000.  So, Ford probably wins the battle of the bragging rights, but the Pilot seems quieter than Explorer and maybe a little more pleasant to drive.


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2016 Ford Explorer – Major Minor Change

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The 2016 Ford Explorer marks the 25th anniversary of the vehicle line.  When it launched as a 1991 model, the Explorer redefined what a sport utility vehicle should be – it was a high volume SUV with 4-doors (Ford wrongly estimated 4-door sales would be 30% of the mix – later, it became 100%).  7,000,000 sales later, Ford is launching a nicely updated mid-cycle product change.  When the 2016 Ford Explorer launches, most people won’t be able to tell the difference from the present Explorer.  While the vehicle’s sheetmetal ahead of the A-Pillar is all new and the liftgate and taillamps are all new, the differences are subtle to the casual observer. So while the change for 2016 is major, its appearance change is minor.2016 Ford Explorer F34 VehicleVoice2016 Ford Explorer R34 VehicleVoice

New EcoBoost 4-Cylinder  The big news for the Explorer comes in the form of a new 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine available for $995 above the base 3.5L V6.  The turbocharged 2.3L 4-cylinder EcoBoost engine achieves 280 horsepower and 310 lb ft of torque.  Driving the EcoBoost four reveals a large, heavy vehicle that is pretty light on its feet.  At 4,700 pounds, the little 4-cylinder has to work hard, but its horsepower and torque are sufficient to get the Explorer moving.  The 4-cylinder achieves 28 mpg on the highway using EPA’s relatively soft testing methodology.  In the real world, however, EcoBoost engines have not achieved anything near its EPA rating because any sort of spirited driving or driving under load triggers the turbo(s) and fuel economy craters.

The base 3.5L V6 has 290 horsepower but only 255 lb ft of torque.  The top engine remains the twin-turbo 3.5L EcoBoost V6 with 365 horsepower and 350 lb ft of torque.

2016 Ford Explorer PlatinumNew Range-Topping Platinum Series  Over 45% of Explorer sales are Sport or Limited series models.  Ford’s research has shown that many buyers want even more luxury, plushness and bling.  Voila!  Here comes the Platinum Series.  Throw every option and feature available on the Explorer and add exterior and interior trim fillips, and the result is what Ford calls “the most luxurious Ford ever”.  The Platinum has a leather covered instrument panel, unique instrument panel appliques, unique door trim panels and seats trimmed in “Nirvana” leather.  At first glance, the sew style is reminiscent of what you would find in Tijuana, but Ford’s designers used a thoughtful approach to the stitching.  Platinum gets a Sony premium sound system with Clear Phase and Live Acoustics.  The Platinum can be identified on the outside by a unique grille and satin chrome door handles, liftgate applique, lower bodyside cladding insert and roof rails.  Platinum, priced at $53,495 (including destination), will give Explorer the ability to play at the same level as the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland Edition and the GMC Acadia Denali.  Hugely profitable, Ford’s mix in the Sport, Limited and Platinum trim levels should exceed 50%.

Functional Finesses  In addition to the new engine and additional series, the updated styling has resulted in an improvement in aerodynamics of over 5% giving the Explorer a coefficient of drag of just over 0.3.  Quietness has been improved with detail touches throughout the body and chassis.  Ford claims the Explorer has class leading quietness, but we could not prove that when driving XLT, Sport and Limited models.

The Competition  Ford is pleased that the Explorer has increased sales and market share over the past four years staying ahead of its key competitors – the relatively new Toyota Highlander and the soon to be replaced Honda Pilot.  Since many of the journalists at the media preview in Rancho Bernardo near San Diego had been on the Honda Pilot launch in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, Ford execs were very interested in their reaction to the new Pilot.  To a person, the journos said the Pilot was a very good vehicle, but would give no details because of Honda’s very, very lengthy embargo on releasing Pilot information.  The Japanese competition seemed to be top of mind and not the Jeep Grand Cherokee or GMC Acadia.


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2016 Honda HR-V – Perfectly Pleasant

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2016 Honda HR-V F34Honda launches its all-new 2016 HR-V sub-compact crossover sport utility vehicle in May, 2015.  The 2016 Honda HR-V, based on Honda’s diminutive Fit sub-compact, is very spacious for what it is.  The interior – at least the passenger compartment – feels about as big as the larger Honda CR-V.  HR-V’s wheelbase is only a half inch shorter than CR-V allowing the big seating area, but its overall length is about ten inches shorter – less cargo room.  The front seating area feels wider than you would expect in a vehicle this small.  Ingress and egress are easy to the front seats.  The rear seats are a bit tight.  You have to maneuver your feet to get between the B-pillar and the seat and there is not much knee room.  Cargo room is larger than it looks.  The best feature Honda takes from the architecture of the Fit are the “Magic Seat” rear seats that flip and fold several ways to maximize the flexibility of the area behind the front seats.

Positioning Challenge  Honda’s description of the target market for the HR-V encompasses practically everybody.  They see students through empty nesters and everybody in between as prospective buyers.  And we can believe it.  The HR-V is so good that it could cannibalize sales from Honda’s top selling XSUV – the CR-V.  To somewhat neuter the HR-V, Honda has fitted a smaller 141-horsepower 1.8L 4-cylinder engine (CR-V has a 185HP 2.4L 4-cylinder) and limited available features.  For instance, power front seats are not offered nor is a remote system for garage doors (Homelink).  These would be expected in a vehicle targeted at Baby Boomers wanting to downsize.  After all, some if not all of their previous vehicles likely were fitted with these features.  But adding them would make the reason to move up to the CR-V less convincing.  Honda management utters “those features are not for this price point” (but Renegade has power seats, at least).

Magic Seat Unique Feature  The Magic Seat provides the HR-V with an extremely flexible rear area.  In Utility Mode, both second row seats are folded down providing the maximum cargo capacity behind the front seats.  In Long Mode, the front passenger seat also folds down to allow long objects to be carried.  In Tall Mode, the seat cushion of the second row seat folds up leaving floor to ceiling space free.

Driving the 2016 Honda HR-V  The best way to describe the driving experience of the Honda HR-V is “pleasant”.  The vehicle is not exciting to drive, but very predictable.  The ride is comfortable.  The handling is stable and solid.  The 141-horsepower 4-cylinder is mated to a continuously variable transmission in the upper EX and EX-Navi models.  The CVT is optional in the base LX trim.  Think of the HR-V as an around town cruiser and grocery getter, not a canyon blaster.  In fact, the most off road Honda allowed in a drive from Miami Beach to the Everglades was to park some of the HR-Vs on the grass at a lunch stop.

How Will It Sell?  This market segment is one of the hottest in the market today.  Products like the Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X, Mazda CX-3, MINI Countryman, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax are part of the competitive set.  On the fun to drive side of the market Renegade and 500X are probably the benchmarks.  On the sedate side of the market you can list Encore and Trax.  Put the 2016 Honda HR-V somewhere in the middle.  The HR-V’s base price is $19,115 with for a LX model with manual transmission.  This makes it one of the least expensive base XSUVs.  Calculating dollars per cubic feet of space occupied, only the Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot and Jeep Renegade are less expensive.  Check all the boxes for a EX-L with Navi and you can probably get the price up to $28,000.  AutoPacific’s forecast for HR-V’s first full year on the market (2016) is about 41,000 units – well below the forecast for the CR-V at about 302,000 units.


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2016 Fiat 500X – a Solid Contender

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2016 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus2016 Fiat 500X Trekking PlusShared Platform with Renegade – Different Mission  At a glance, the 2016 Fiat 500X is a solid addition to the Fiat lineup in the USA. Built alongside the Jeep Renegade at FCA’s Melfi, Italy plant the 500X shares the Renegade’s platform but has a dramatically different mission that demands tuning and settings to be very different.  While the Renegade Trailhawk is at home off-road, the 500X is for the cities and suburbs.

Riding on the same wheelbase of the Renegade, the 2016 Fiat 500X is slightly longer, lower, and wider.  It does have slightly more cargo volume than the Renegade.  Base engine is the 160-horsepower 1.4L 4-cylinder with a manual transmission.  A nine-speed automatic is optional.  Also option and fitted to the upper models is FCA’s Tigershark 180-horsepower 2.4L 4-cylinder engine with the nine-speed auto.

Styling is out of the Fiat 500 playbook, with similar front end style and a bodyside that apes the 500s style – cute, round and sporty.  Frankly, the styling of the 500X is much better than the Jeep Renegade – not as cartoonish – in fact, not cartoonish at all.  The interior package is typical Fiat with bright accents and flowing lines.  There are five trim levels and twelve exterior colors.  The package is comfortable and spacious for a vehicle this size.2016 Fiat 500X Trekking Plus

Price and Volume  Premium priced above the base Jeep Renegade, the 2016 Fiat 500X has a base price of $20,000 (with an additional $900 destination charge). That is for the Pop package.  Moving through the Easy, Trekking, Lounge and Trekking Plus models you can reach $27,100. Adding all available options can get the price to $30,000.  All Fiat management will say is that the USA is getting 25% of global 500X production.  So, the math goes like this, the Melfi assembly plant is a large plant with capacity of 2000 vehicles per day.  It produces the 500X, Renegade and Fiat Punto.  Assuming that its capacity totals 480,000 units per year, and the 500X and Renegade get half that capacity or 240,000 units per year.  If Fiat gets 40% of the capacity that gives them about 100,000 units worldwide and the USA gets 25,000.  That would make the 500X Fiat’s top selling vehicle in the USA and take the brand’s volume over 75,000. Jason Stoicevich, head of Fiat in the USA won’t confirm that arithmetic saying that there may be some cannibalization from the 500L, but the vehicle is certainly a welcome addition to the line.


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Lincoln Continental Over the Years

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2017 Lincoln Continental

2017 Lincoln Continental

2002 Lincoln Continental Concept

2002 Lincoln Continental Concept

1995 Lincoln Continental

1995 Lincoln Continental

1988 Lincoln Continental

1988 Lincoln Continental

1982 Lincoln Continental

1982 Lincoln Continental

1980 Lincoln Continental Town Car

1980 Lincoln Continental Town Car

1977 Lincoln Continental Town Car

1977 Lincoln Continental Town Car

1972 Lincoln Continental

1972 Lincoln Continental

1967 Lincoln Continental

1967 Lincoln Continental

1961 Lincoln Continental

1961 Lincoln Continental

1956 Lincoln Continental

1956 Lincoln Continental

1939 Lincoln Continental

1939 Lincoln Continental


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Lincoln Continental – New for 2017

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2017 Lincoln Continental F342017 Lincoln Continental R78Lincoln Continental Concept Makes Splash at 2015 New York International Auto Show  Lincoln Motor Company has shown its new Lincoln Continental Concept at the 2015 New York International Auto Show.  Kept quiet until the week before the show, Lincoln clearly timed the release of the Continental Concept to coincide with the first public showing of the competing Cadillac CT6 sedan. Ford (Lincoln) used a similar tactic to take the wind out of the sails of the Acura NSX introduction at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show with its striking Ford GT.

The rhapsody blue 4-door sedan will replace the slow selling MKS at the top of the Lincoln sedan lineup.  This Continental has presence the MKS does not and abandons Lincoln’s dorky winged grill front end design.  The front end is now relatively Jag-esque with a bold grill opening.  The grill texture tastefully uses repeating Lincoln stars.  The blue interior clearly focuses on the right rear seat where the Chinese CEO will ride as his chauffer pilots the Continental through the streets of Shanghai.  It is somewhat incredible that it takes Chinese input to convince a major American car maker to do the right car and abandon it clumsy naming scheme.

The engine is described as a 3.0L EcoBoost V6.  The platform was not discussed, but it likely is not the old D3 platform the MKS rides on (Volvo S80/Ford Taurus/Ford Flex/Lincoln MKT) that, while very structurally sound, is expensive, heavy and outdated.  We would guess that the Continental rides an lengthened and widened CD4 platform (Fusion/MKZ).  While CD4 is front wheel drive, Continental will include an AWD version and this feature may be standard better compete with the CT6 and import brand rear wheel drive luxury marques.

Nomenclature Minutiae  A bit about the name.  The Continental name has been in the Lincoln line-up on-and-off since the late 1930s.  The first Continental (Mark I – 1939 – 1948) was an Edsel Ford creation to give Lincoln an exclusive coupe positioned atop the lineup.  It never used “Mark I” officially, but now that monicker is commonly used for the first car.  The second Continental coupe was launched in 1956 and discontinued after the 1957 model year.  Then “Continental” became a model designator for a few years (1958 – 1960) before finally the top of the line Lincoln Continental Town Car was added.  In 1961, the iconic slab-sided Lincoln carried the Continental name.  The Continental name would continue on the big Lincoln from 1961 through 1980.  During this period, there were Town Car and Town Coupe models of the big Continental. Lincoln developed a derivative of the Ford Fox platform to replace the Lincoln Versailles.   This car carried the “Continental” badge and Continental was dropped from the big sedan that became the Lincoln Town Car.  It was sold from 1982 through 1987.  The Fox Continental was replaced in 1988 with a front wheel drive Taurus based Continental.  This generation lasted until 1994 when it was replaced by the ninth generation Continental (1995-2002).  Frankly, from 1982 through 2002 the Continental was relatively non-competitive and demonstrated that Ford really did not have its heart in the luxury car business.

Lack of nomenclature discipline led Lincoln to add “Continental” to the newly re-introduced Mark coupe line in 1969 – 1969-1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III, 1972-1976 Lincoln Continental Mark IV, 1977-1979 Lincoln Continental Mark V, 1980-1983 Lincoln Continental Mark VI, 1984-1992 Lincoln Continental Mark VII, 1993-1998 Lincoln Continental Mark VIII.


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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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