Mazda Premium is the objective for the Mazda brand in the future. Mazda realizes it is a mainstream brand but wants to become premium. In the minds of the car buyer, Mazda competes with Toyota, Honda and Nissan. Mazda has limited resources and needs to husband them. To achieve Mazda Premium positioning, its products must be executed to meet or beat premium brand competitors. This requires targeted benchmarking against more expensive vehicles in the same product category.
CX-5 Latest Mazda Premium Vehicle At the press launch of the 2017 Mazda CX-5 mid-size crossover SUV (XSUV) in San Diego, Mazda detailed its competitive strategy. The Mazda product development team did not closely benchmark the usual suspects. The CX-5 will be sold against Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage. To go against premium brands, the CX-5 team benchmarked luxury brand XSUVs like Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lexus NX, Mercedes GLA. To show how deep they have benchmarked premium XSUVs, the Jaguar F-Pace was even included on one comparison chart.
The new Mazda CX-5 is a 5-passenger XSUV slotted below the 7-passenger CX-9 introduced last year. The CX-5 completes Mazda’s evolution to its Kudo design theme that stresses the “soul of motion”. The styling is striking and clearly differentiated from its German and Japanese competitors. Mazda states that “every element has been designed to be in a class above”.
To demonstrate the superiority of the premium-designed CX-5 over its luxury competition, Mazda provided these premium vehicles as comparisons to drive through downtown San Diego. While we cannot yet discuss the driving experience, we can reveal that the CX-5 arguably looks and drives better than premium brand XSUVs costing about $10,000 more.
In reality, it will take years for Mazda to achieve premium brand status. Executed consistently and effectively, Mazda Premium will ultimately achieve a stronger image with Mazda dealers and customers. Mazda Premium will allow Mazda to achieve higher per-unit profitability. Ultimately, Mazda Premium will allow Mazda to be positioned at a premium brand like Acura or Buick if all goes as planned. Competing against Audi, BMW, Lexus, Jaguar and Mercedes is still a ways off.
Escala Continues Series of Outstanding Cadillac Concepts Concept cars push design limits to determine if the buying public is ready. Over the past few years, Cadillac has teased the car community with three outstanding concept cars. The Ciel was a 4-door convertible with suicide doors first shown in 2011. The Elmiraj was a stunning coupe shown at Pebble Beach in 2013. The Escala was a highlight of the Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance in 2016.
The Ciel and Elmiraj were to be precursors of future Cadillacs. Then the Cadillac CT6 sedan was launched and we learned these distinctive concept cars were just vaporware after all. Concept cars often over-promise the future and production cars under-deliver. This year’s Escala may not be produced, but some of its design cues may find their way into future Cadillacs.
Escala is a Glimpse of Future Cadillacs With Johan de Nysschen leading Cadillac there may be a better than even chance that Cadillac will actually launch a flagship. If the Escala were produced as it was shown the car would be worthy of Cadillac’s old “Standard of the World” tagline. It could be the car that would return Cadillac to its heyday. Like the Ciel and Elmiraj, the Escala may be nothing more than a design exercise.
de Nysschen, however, added this note of caution to the Escala’s press release. “Depending on the development of the market segment for large luxury sedans, Escala is a potential addition to our existing product plan.” Interpret this to mean that the Escala is not a go program yet.
The front end style uses Cadillac’s distinctive vertical light pipe driving lights. Narrow OLED headlamps flank a sinister looking blacked out grille with a sporty three-dimensional texture. The headlamps and grille are highlighted by a bright surround that is mimicked in the rear styling. The bodyside is relatively unadorned with subtle rearward front fender and forward quarter panel character lines meeting around the B-Pillar. The very fast roofline hides a rear hatch with a generous rear opening ala Audi A7. The liftover, however, looks a bit daunting. The bright bordered boomerang-shaped taillamps are connected by a horizontal bright strip atop the rear fascia. There are large bright dual exhausts to complete the ornamentation of the rear end.
To give an idea of the size of the Escala, it is about 6-inches longer than today’s Cadillac CT6 sedan. Six-inches may not seem like a lot, but the Escala (probably CT8 if it is ever produced) looks much more substantial than CT6.
Driver Interface – OLED Screens The interior of the Escala is very tastefully done with upscale materials and three OLED panels for the telematics/infotainment systems. The interior is trimmed in light grey to maximize the sense of spaciousness. The OLED panels sweep across the instrument panel and maximize the display of information for the driver.
Cadillac Dealers Need More Crossovers Johan deNysschen is less-than-definite about whether Escala will be produced. In fact, there are rumblings that de Nysschen’s ambitious product plans have been scaled well back. So the existence of the Escala is very iffy. We can be somewhat confident that some of the design cues on the car – like the front and rear designs – may be seen on a future Cadillac model. Frankly, Cadillac would be well-served to add a couple of hot-selling crossover SUVs to its lineup first. The flagship would be nice, but the crossovers would move the metal.
Image by: George Peterson
Infiniti QX30 Launched One of the fastest growing product segments is the Luxury Small Crossover SUV (XSUV) category. Infiniti has been a bit late to the party as there are already 33 small XSUVs on the market. Eight of those are luxury brand XSUVs: the Acura RDX has been out since 2013 in its second incarnation, Audi Q3 out since 2014, BMW X1 out since 2014, Land Rover Discovery Sport out since 2016, Lexus NX200t out since 2015, Lincoln MKC out since 2015, Mercedes GLA since 2015, Range Rover Evoque out since 2012. Launch of the Infiniti QX30, while a bit late, pretty much has every brand in the fray.
Infiniti enters the fray with the Infiniti QX30, making it the 34th member in the small XSUV market and 9th luxury brand XSUV. Remember, QX is the Infiniti nomenclature for SUVs whether they are body-on-frame SUVs (QX80) or crossover SUVs (QX70, QX60, QX50). Infiniti cars carry names that begin with a simple “Q”.
All USA QX30s Classified as Trucks The Infiniti QX30 is a highly styled small crossover available in front wheel drive and all wheel drive powertrain configurations. In other markets the all drive model is called “Q30” indicating Infiniti is classifying it as an hatchback car. In the USA, both versions are classified as trucks.
Dramatic Infiniti Design Cues Differentiate QX30 The Infiniti QX30 is sporty and curvaceous like most Infiniti models. It has bulging front fenders sweeping back and down with a strong character line. Infiniti decribes the character lines as “dramatic and turbulent”. The windshield is very fast flowing into a steeply dropping roofline. The front end is instantly recognizable as an Infiniti with its unique “double-arch” grille. In the side view, Infiniti’s signature crescent-shaped C-pillar further differentiates the vehicle. There is a lot going on there, but it works very well in this small XSUV.
Infiniti QX30 and Mercedes GLA Share Platform To keep the investment in line the Infiniti QX30 is assembled in Sunderland, England alongside the Mercedes-Benz GLA. QX30 and GLA share platforms, but Infiniti has loaded its entry with all the latest high tech electronic gadgetry available.
Engine Power at the Low End of Competitive Range The 2.0L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine is shared with the GLA and is manufactured by Daimler in Kolleda, Germany. Power output is 208 horsepower with 258 lb-ft of torque. Compared with other luxury XSUVs this power output is anemic. Driving the QX30, the performance is adequate, even pleasant, but a power output of between 230 and 240 horsepower would be more expected from an engine with these specifications.
The engine is mated to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.
Check most of the boxes needed to win in the highly competitive compact car segment and the 2017 Hyundai Elantra does not miss many chances to excel. Following the mantra of “democratization of technology” Elantra has most of the high tech infotainment and technology features available. When you pop for them all, the retail price is $26,750. This is a lot for a compact car of a decade ago, but not bad for the fully loaded Limited model of the all new Elantra. For those not wanting or needing the full equipment load, the starting price is around $17,000.
Good Ease of Use For a person reasonably familiar with today’s cars, the Elantra is easy to figure out. It might not pass the rental car test where you should be able to start the car, turn on the headlights, adjust the radio and air conditioning system on a stormy night at Hertz, but it comes close. Easy to understand and use are the keynotes of Elantra design.
Created to provide a destination for buyers wanting to downsize, Elantra has all the features with the possible exceptions of cooled seats and adaptive cruise control that brings you to a full stop and then proceeds when traffic moves forward. For buyers wanting to upgrade, everything is there. For a price.
Easy to Drive Elantra is quiet, solid, comfortable. It handles very well on aggressive back-California roads. It is acceptably fast. It has an automatic 6-speed transmission with its base 147-horsepower 2.0L 4-cylinder engine. (There is an eco model available with higher fuel economy powered by a 128-horsepower 1.4L 4-cylinder turbo mated to a 7-speed EcoShift dual clutch transmission with limited feature availability).
The interior package is similar to a mid-size car of the prior generation (it is rated mid-size by the EPA). In fact, Elantra has about the same interior size of a Cadillac CTS and is bigger than a BMW 3-Series or Audi A4. Interior materials are a notch above what used to be expected in this class of car. The upper surface of the instrument panel is soft, but adjacent materials are hard while pretending to be soft. The trunk is large, but accessed through a small opening due to its relatively fastback design.
Comprehensive Feature Availability There is a 4.5-inch multi-color display between the gauges in the instrument cluster. In the center stack, there is either a 7-inch or 8-inch monitor depending on features selected. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces are avaiilable. To enhance the sound of your music there is Harman’s Clari-Fi Music Restoration Technology. Nice… very comprehensively done.
No Longer Head-Turning Elantra is good looking, but not head-turning like its predecessor. In the rear view, Elantra gets lost in traffic. Its distinctive front view is highlighted by its large trapezoidal grille opening and LED accents on higher trim models. Functional outboard vents in the front fascia direct air over the front wheels and help aerodynamics. Vertical LEDs accent the outboard vents in top of the line models. But overall, like the larger Hyundai Sonata, Hyundai has become more timid with its new compact car entry.
Elantra GT Coming Coming in Fall 2016 is the Elantra GT with a 200HP 4-cylinder turbo and distinctive front and rear styling and unique interior trim. The GT model will have a DSG
Bentley Motors of Crewe, England has begun production of the 2017 Bentley Bentayga and vehicles will begin arriving in the United States in May, 2016. Ho Hum, just another SUV for an overstuffed market, right? Not so. The Bentayga is a very, very special piece of work.
Meant to Be Expensive and Is Based on the Audi Q7 platform that will also bring us the next generation Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, the Bentayga is the most expensive and most powerful SUV available. Starting at $229,000 the Bentayga is fully loaded with all the comfort, convenience and safety features you could want. If you want the bespoke Mulliner picnic set from Linley, it will set you back another $28,000. For another $28,500, you can have carbon fiber body pieces like the rear spoiler and rear view mirror covers. Contrasting piping on the seats is $2,110 and the rear seat entertainment system is a bit over $7,000. A typical Bentayga will go out the door at around $275,000 with an adequate load of options. During a drive experience in Palm Springs in early February, the highest priced version I drove was $307,000.
Technological Tour de Force While the price of the Bentayga is what most people will be talking about, the vehicle itself is very, very high spec. Powered by a new 6.0L twin turbo W12 engine, the horsepower is rated at 600HP, but the torque is huge at 663 lb-ft. Mated to a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission, a 0-60 mph time of 4.0 seconds is achieved. For those with no speed limits to worry about, top speed is 187 mph. The full time all wheel drive system is mated with Bentley Dynamic Drive Control; a suspension system that has 4 settings as base or eight settings with the All Terrain Specification for any road or terrain condition. The key to this dynamic system is a 48-volt electrical supply for the drive system’s electronics. During a demonstration at the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway to the east of Palm Springs one lap using “comfort” was fast, but there was more body roll than desired and the throttle response was a bit anemic. The next lap shifted to “sport” mode and the personality of the vehicle changed dramatically. Throttle response was instantaneous and the suspension seemed to invite you to dive into the corners more aggressively. After four laps (not enough), grins for all.
Dune running with the Bentayga at Imperial Dunes near Glamis, California and rock climbing at Cahuilla Creek, it was possible to experience what almost no Bentayga owners ever will. The vehicle is supremely capable, but hugely expensive and not likely to be exposed to the kind of treatment off road in sand, mud, or rocks. Repairing the all aluminum body would be a bit expensive. But, it is clear the Bentayga can handle about anything that can be thrown at it on and off road. A truism holds that a vehicle in this class will not be taken off-road until the third or fourth owner.
Interior The interior is available in 15 colors (the exterior color choices are 17 base paints expanding to 90 hues with extra cost), but of course it is a Bentley. If you want to afford it, they’ll trim your interior in crocodile leather or rattlesnake skins. The seats are trimmed in a traditional Bentley style with diamond quilted hide and smooth leather. The seats are extremely comfortable and provide good support when cornering. The seating position is more car-like than in many sport utilities. You have to step up a bit higher and you are sitting a bit closer to the floor than in other SUVs that have a more command-of-the road seating position. Not uncomfortable, just different.
Driving Driving the Bentayga, it is not immediately obvious that there is 600HP under the hood. The engine is smooth and silent. It has a stop/start feature for improved fuel economy and cylinder deactivation when under light loads. All of this is seamless except for the occasional shudder away from a stop. On twisty roads the vehicle seems a bit ponderous and very heavy. Using the “custom” setting in the driving mode selector you can select a lighter steering feel that should make the vehicle seem lighter on its feet. All of its power and torque comes on immediately when passing. Floor it, whoosh, you are by and the folks you passed are watching your taillights fade into the distance.
The Achilles Heel One of the most critical areas in any new vehicle is the HMI or human machine interface. AutoPacific’s research proves it is extremely difficult to get this right and more than often a manufacturer has gotten it wrong. As part of the Volkswagen Group, it would be expected that the parts bin would have given Bentley access to state-of-the art navigation systems and interfaces. Bentley’s director of whole vehicle engineering stated “Luxury should always be simple.” We agree, but the Bentayga interface is very busy and confusing. The 8-inch screen in the center stack is already a bit small and looks outdated for a 2017 model year vehicle. The graphics are extremely busy and hard to decipher. Changing radio stations is a several step process and includes using a graphic slide on the touch screen monitor to scroll for stations. We were driving prototypes, so sometimes there are glitches, in the vehicle we were driving the navigation system had the direction icon wandering all over the screen except where we were. The smaller screen between the speedometer and tachometer and head-up display saved the day. They were on target.
Business Bentayga promises to be Bentley’s top selling vehicle. For the past three years, Bentley has sold just over 10,000 vehicles worldwide. The $1.3 billion investment in Bentayga adds capacity for 5,000 more units annually. The United States should get between 25% and 30% of the production or between 1,250 and 1,500 units per year. Wolfgang Durheimer, CEO of Bentley, says he hopes to be able to expand that capacity in short order. The order books for 2016 are already full and waiting times are six months to a year.
Next Bentayga launches with top-of-the-line features. Next comes a plug-in hybrid version mated to a 6-cylinder engine. That is followed by a V8; likely the 500HP twin turbo V8 found elsewhere in the Bentley lineup. There may be a 7-passenger interior in the works for families wanting more carrying capacity. A fastback Bentayga (ala BMW X6) may be in the works as is a smaller 2-seat sports car. The Bentley Boys are busy.
2017 Lincoln Continental
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA is the highest scoring Premium Compact Car in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research. Coming in behind the CLA is the Buick Verano, MINI 2-Dr, Acura ILX, Volkswagen GTI, Subaru Impreza WRX and the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA wins or ties in five of fifty satisfaction categories. The CLA is within one tenth of a rating point in eleven categories. For over thirty percent of the satisfaction measurements the CLA is on top.
The top ten highest ratings by CLA owners are: brand and vehicle reputation, the exterior styling and color, the overall quality and handling, the enjoyment of driving the vehicle, the image the vehicle puts off, the braking, and interior styling.
Mercedes-Benz wins in its first foray into the front wheel drive premium small car market. While the CLA begins around $30,000, it can quickly get into the mid-thirties and, with the AMG model, move into the $50,000 range. This year, the Audi A3 was not yet on the market to challenge the CLA. It will be interesting to see if Mercedes can keep its top spot when Audi owners weigh in about their new A3 for 2015.
The 2015 Lincoln MKC hit Lincoln dealerships in June 2014 and promises to be the 2nd volume entry for Ford’s premium brand after the award-winning Lincoln MKZ. Lincoln is the top brand in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research and the MKZ and MKZ Hybrid are the winners of their product categories. The MKC (getting confused with the alphanumeric nomenclature yet?) is joining a booming market for smaller crossover SUVs and, based on our brief drive of the vehicle, the MKC should do very well in AutoPacific’s 2015 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.
Excellent Package The MKC is a “small” crossover SUV, but it does not feel small from the driver’s seat. The front seating package is spacious. Visibility forward is excellent. Ergonomics are good. Transmission shifting is through push buttons on the left hand side of the center stack. The MyLincoln Touch system is more intuitive (but reading the channel numbers for SiriusXM is almost impossible because of tiny font sizes) and stable. Losing the shifter in the center console is an excellent idea for many reasons. It allows for more storage in the console and also allows the console to be narrower giving the front seat passengers more seat width. The MKC is a persuasive package that will appeal to buyers across all age ranges.
Neat Features Abound on MKC For those buyers who want the latest technology, MKC offers a lot. Of course, there is MyLincoln Touch that sets the stage in the center stack. There is Approach Detection where the vehicle reacts to the key fob approaching the vehicle at night and the headlamp accents, taillamp accents, door handle pockets and interior all light up. There is even a Lincoln logo projected onto the pavement from the outside rear view mirror puddle lights. Then there is Drive Control that includes continuously adjusting shock absorbers to provide a comfortable ride under all conditions. Electric Power Steering and Active Noise Control are standard features that complement the Drive Control System. Active Park Assist not only can park the MKC, but includes Park Out Assist to help the driver maneuver the vehicle out of a tight parking space. As with many newly introduced vehicles there is a suite of electronic driver assist technologies: lane-keeping system, driver alert system (checks driver alertness), adaptive cruise control, collision warning system with brake support, blind spot information system, and cross traffic alert. These features may sound like overkill, but once you have used them, they become a necessity rather than a luxury.
Highly Differentiated from Escape – All EcoBoost Engines The MKC is derived from the Ford Escape but shares no body panels or interior trim bits. Without looking under the skin, the relationship is invisible. The 2015 Lincoln MKC comes standard with a 240HP 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine. Optional is a 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder with 285-horsepower (with 93 octane gasoline – in California the top spec gas octane is 91 octane so the output for the 2.3L would be about 280HP). The base vehicle is front wheel drive with all wheel drive available as an option.
Outstanding Dynamics Starting in Santa Barbara and driving across the Los Padres National Forest to the Tejon Ranch , the MKC proves to be nimble and athletic on the twisty roads more suited to a sports car than a X-SUV. With the 2.3L EcoBoost and AWD, the MKC is quick and solid over all road surfaces.
Price and Competition The base price of the MKC is $33,995, but the versions Lincoln provided for the drive evaluation were all in the $50,000 range equipped with the full suite of electronic features and the big engine. The size and price of the MKC puts it in the competitive set with the Cadillac SRX, Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X1, Infiniti QX50 (i.e. EX), Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC60. As if that isn’t enough competition, there is more to come: Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, Porsche Macan. Clearly, buyers will have a tremendous challenge sorting out which of these smaller XSUVs to select.
Now for the Nit-Picks Ford (Lincoln) can be depended on to make mistakes in feature availability. For a company that touts “democratization of technology” (meaning the neat electronic features found on the top of the line will be available in a Focus, for instance) the base MKC cannot be had with an in-vehicle navigation system. Since MyLincoln Touch is standard and each vehicle has a center stack screen, and the navigation system is via an SD card, navigation should be available on all models.
Brand Challenge The only thing standing in the way of the MKC being a whopping success may the Lincoln brand. While AutoPacific’s research shows Lincoln is doing a great job satisfying its customers, the brand has languished and is only now starting to re-assert itself. The MKC is an outstanding addition to the Lincoln portfolio. Now the challenge is to get buyers into the dealerships to drive and buy the MKC. It will be interesting to watch how Lincoln markets the vehicle in the coming months and to monitor its sales performance.
Audi A8 in a Smaller Platform For a car that is slightly smaller than the Honda Civic sedan and the Ford Focus sedan, the designed-for-America (and China) 2015 Audi A3 sedan comes across as a premium piece. The A3 previously was a slow selling hatchback. Now adding the three-box notchback with a trunk bodystyle Audi can substantially broaden its appeal in the USA. For decades, American buyers have perceived hatchbacks to have less safety (less rear crash protection – a perception) and less security (from bad guys seeing into the cargo area and stealing what is there). The sedan clears those negative perceptions and gives Audi a strong platform to build the bottom end of its brand.