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Ram Power Wagon Heavy Duty – a Different Kind of Off-Roader

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Ram Power Wagon Hard-Core Off-Roader

Ram HD with Ram Power Wagon Package

Ram Heavy Duty Pickups Land First Punch in 2019/2020 Heavy Duty Pickup Battle  The Ram Heavy Duty pickups are new for the 2019 model year beating Ford and General Motors to the market in the latest round of the Heavy Duty Pickup war.  The Ram Heavy Duty will be on the market in the second quarter of 2019.  While the Ram HD lineup includes six price classes (starting at $33,395 plus $1,695 delivery) the Ram Power Wagon package can be added to any one of them.  Ram contends the Ram Power Wagon is the “Most Off-Road Capable Pickup” available.

While Ford (F-150 Raptor), Chevrolet (Silverado Trail Boss) and GMC (Sierra AT4) might disagree, those off-roaders are based on half ton pickups.  Ford’s Raptor is a go-fast off-roader and GMs are go-slow off-roaders (i.e. more for rugged trails than blasting across the desert).  Maybe the closest a Ford Super Duty could come to the Power Wagon is an F-250 FX-4.

The Ram Power Wagon is based on the Ram 2500 three-quarter ton chassis.  Most Ram Power Wagon units will be loaded with a boatload of nicely profitable additional features.  It’s pretty cool, however, to have a Ram Power Wagon available on its base Tradesman trim level.  The Tradesman Power Wagon would appeal to forest management, border patrol or folks just wanting a pure hard-core off-roader.

What makes the Ram Power Wagon special?  To manage hard-core off-road challenges, Power Wagon has a unique suspension and is lifted higher than the already-high Ram 2500.  Because it is an off-road specialist, the Ram Power Wagon examples available to drive did not include running boards.  A ladder is practically required to get up into one.  All of that gets the Ram Power Wagon higher off the ground.  Getting through the tough stuff requires mechanicals like locking front and rear differentials, a disconnecting sway bar and hill descent control.  There is a 12,000 pound WARN winch integrated in the front end.

During a short, but very difficult and technical off-road excursion, the Ram Power Wagon excelled.  Rock crawling is its forte, but the size of the truck means you have to be really careful about threading the vehicle between boulders waiting to scrape the bodywork.

Limited Model Max Lux Heavy Duty  The Limited trim level (to which a Power Wagon package can be added) includes a sumptuous interior and very functional 12-inch vertical screen in the center stack.  The center console is huge and very configurable.  The Ram HD Limited arguably has the best, most upscale, interior trim and fitments of any Heavy Duty pickups including the yet-to-come 2019 Chevrolet Silverado HD and the 2020 Ford F-Series Super Duty.  Just for reference… the Ram 3500 Heavy Duty Limited we drove had an $89,500 sticker price!  Of course, it had the 1000 lb ft Cummins diesel that is an $11,000 option.

 


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2020 Ford Super Duty Aims to Stay Ahead of Competition

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2020 Ford Super Duty - All New King Ranch Super Duty

2020 Ford Super Duty King Ranch – F-250 Model

Detroit, Michigan, January 30, 2019:  Ford Commercial vehicles generated over $70 billion in revenue in 2018.  That’s equivalent to a Fortune 40 company.  Thought differently, Ford Commercial vehicle revenue was larger than that of Procter and Gamble.  No wonder, Ford is on the accelerator to keep their Super Duty line, Transit vans and Transit Connect small vans more than competitive.  The 2020 Ford Super Duty is the big news, but information on the rest of the Commercial Vehicle lineup will follow.

The Ford Super Duties were all new in 2016 when they adopted the F-150’s cab and many aluminum body and chassis components. The 2020 Ford Super Duty will be released later in 2019, but their competition hasn’t been standing still.  Both General Motors and FCA’s Ram brand will launch their new Heavy Duty trucks earlier in 2019.  2019 is definitely the year of the Heavy Duty pickup.

This mid-cycle change comes four model years following its major change.  Ford management hints that the next major change will be in three years giving this Super Duty generation a seven year cycle.

Consider the 2020 Ford Super Duty changes to be a mild mid-cycle freshening.  The grilles (ten of them; styled differently) are new, headlamps are new, taillamps are new.  You can tell the difference if you are a devoted Super Duty buyer.  The interiors of the three highest trim levels – Lariat, Limited and Platinum have been updated significantly to bring  a more upscale experience for the buyers of these very expensive trucks who want only to spend more.

Ford has gone to town in the powertrain arena as well.  There is an all new 7.3L big block V8 for the F-250 through the F-750.  Ford believes it will be the most powerful V8 available in heavy duty applications.  The 3rd Generation 6.7L V8 turbo diesel is more powerful and has more torque than the 2019 version.  The base engine for these trucks is Ford’s 6.2L V8 that continues as the affordable alternative.

Each engine gets Ford’s excellent 10-speed TorqShift automatic transmission that has everyone impressed with its smoothness and durability.  The 10-speed includes five selectable drive modes – normal, tow/haul, eco, slippery and deep sand and snow.

The Super Duties get safety and convenience features picked from the Ford ProPilot 360 system.  Things really needed in a truck this large like blind spot monitoring, lane keep alert, pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking are either standard or available depending on trim level.

Ford has a substantial lead in the heavy duty pickup market and has enhanced the vehicle offerings to attract government, construction, horse haulers, boat haulers, RV haulers and any other vocation needing a heavy duty pickup.  After all, when you check all the boxes, Ford offers a lineup that can be priced over $100,000 per truck.


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2019 Honda Passport Fills Gap in Honda’s XSUV Lineup

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Honda PassportPassport Fills Excess Capacity at Honda’s Lincoln Alabama Plant  Honda realized it had a gap in its crossover SUV lineup. They were losing customers who wanted mid-size XSUVs (crossover sport utility vehicles) but did not want seven passenger capacity.They estimate they have lost at least 35,000 sales to competitors every year they did not have a competitive 5-passenger, two-row crossover SUV in their product mix.  Hence the all new 2019 Honda Passport.

Derivative of Popular Pilot Crossover SUV  Honda’s usual methodological approach led to the development of the all new Passport – a five-passenger derivative of the popular Pilot 7-passenger XSUV.

In terms of big SUV programs, Honda has taken a very efficient approach. Think of the 2019 Honda Passport as a Pilot from the C-Pillar forward. Passport’s wheelbase is equal to the Pilot’s. Losing the third row seat allowed Honda to reduce the rear overhang and adopt sportier styling in the rear quarters and rear end. The rear quarter window differentiates the Passport from the Pilot in the sideview.  This means Honda designed and tooled up a new roof, new quarter panels, new liftgate, new rear quarter glass and liftgate glass.  The interior is essentially the same as the Pilot for the first two rows and instrument panel.

From the front, styling cues like a black textured grille and slightly more macho grille texture also differentiate the Passport from Pilot. Ground clearance is increased by 0.8 inches to provide more ground clearance for off reading.

Passport Very Competent Off-Road  Off-roading in an XSUV? Hah! Interestingly XSUV-makers have been trying to prove their off-road chops for a couple of years now. Honda even showed Pilot’s capabilities in a moderately tough off-road course in Southern California.

Proving Passport’s capabilities brought Honda to Moab Utah and the Sorrel River Ranch Resort and Spa. Nestled along the Colorado River and below the towering buttes of Eastern Utah, this was an outstanding choice for demonstrating the dynamic capabilities of the Passport.

Leaving Sorrel River Ranch, the group of seventeen identical silver Passports soon arrived at the off road trails. It had snowed and rained a bit the preceding night so the track promised to be challenging. Following a lead Passport, the silver convoy variously crawled over rock ledges, waded through muddy pits, or sped through twisty dirt paths in the Arches National Park. The capability of Passport’s AWD system was quickly proven. Even the most difficult challenges were not a concern. You quickly learned that the right way to control the Passport through a slippery curve was to give it more accelerator rather than backing off. Total fun! Totally capable.

Are there areas where a hard-core off-roader will not be satisfied with the 2019 Honda Passport?  Yes.  It lacks a couple of off-road technologies its facing competitors have like hill descent control.  It does have a terrain management system Honda calls the Intelligent Traction Management.  Terrain management can tailor traction, performance and drivability to any weather condition or surface condition.  Passport’s system includes special settings for snow, mud and sand.

It does not appear that Honda needs to fear any of its facing competition other than the Jeep Grand Cherokee in off-road situations. The competition Honda identified for Passport were: Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge, Toyota 4Runner (a real SUV) and Grand Cherokee.

Who will buy the 2019 Honda Passport?  Honda perceives these people to be younger and more affluent than the folks opting for the “more mature” seven-passenger versions.  These could be Millennials wanting a more serious XSUV than Honda’s very popular CR-V. These also could be empty nesters no longer needing or wanting a three-row, seven passenger vehicle.

Honda’s main challenge may be finding enough production capacity for its Passport in its Alabama assembly plant. The Lincoln, Alabama plant also produces the Pilot (2018 sales = 159,615), Ridgeline pickup (30,592) and Odyssey Minivan (106,327). Lincoln has a capacity of 340,000 vehicles. Honda sold almost 297,000 units from Lincoln in 2018.  They moved the Acura MDX from Lincoln to East Liberty, Ohio at its latest major change.  MDX sold 56,000 units in 2018.  So, it looks like Honda can sell between 40,000 and 50,000 without any major changes to Lincoln.  Honda, however, has been known eke out small capacity gains from plant adjustments.  AutoPacific’s Industry Analysis office expects more than that from Passport in the coming years.

Job 1 for the Passport was on December 6, 2018. Sales begin in February 2019.  #hondapassport #2019passport


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AutoPacific 2018 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards

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AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Awards Logo

AutoPacific Announces 2018 Vehicle Satisfaction AwardsGenesis Most Satisfying Premium Brand; Nissan Earns Most Wins, Top Score Goes to Chevrolet Traverse

The results of AutoPacific’s 22nd annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSAs) identify the most satisfying vehicles in the market. An industry benchmark for measuring how satisfied an owner is with his/her new vehicle, VSAs are based on survey responses from over 58,000 owners of new 2017 and 2018 cars and light trucks.

“VSAs provide consumers with insight into which vehicles are giving owners a satisfying ownership experience,” says AutoPacific president George Peterson. AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Awards objectively measure owner satisfaction with 40 separate attributes ranging from seating comfort and interior quality to driving performance.“AutoPacific VSAs are unique in their inclusion of importance in the calculations,” explains Peterson. “Not only do we measure owner satisfaction, but we also measure how important each attribute was to owners in their shopping process, resulting in a satisfaction score representative of demanding owners.”

Trucks Most Satisfying

Reflecting the booming sales of trucks in the USA, trucks – pickups, sport utility vehicles and minivans – are much more satisfying than cars.  SUVs, both traditional and crossovers, are the most satisfying truck categories.

Genesis Reaches Top

Luxury brand Genesis, in its second year in the market, wins top luxury brand, edging out second place Lexus and achieving the highest brand satisfaction score to date. “In just two years, Genesis has reached a level of owner satisfaction unattained by more established luxury brands,” says Peterson. In addition to the most satisfying luxury brand, Genesis G90 wins the Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Luxury Car for the second year in a row.

Nissan Claims Most Brand Wins

Five Nissan vehicles win Vehicle Satisfaction Awards for their respective segments: the Nissan Titan, Murano, Maxima, LEAF and 370Z. “Not only does Nissan have the most brand wins for the second year in a row, the Maxima and Murano have been unbeatable since their redesigns were introduced to the market,” says Peterson. The Murano crossover has its 4thwin since its 2015 redesign and the Maxima has its 3rdwin since its 2016 redesign. New for 2018, this is the first win for the LEAF, winning in the growing Mainstream EV segment, the second win for the Titan and the first win for the 370Z. Two Infiniti crossovers, the QX80 and QX60, are also 2018 VSA winners.

Five All-New or Redesigned Vehicles Top Their Segment

Of the twenty-six winning vehicles, five were redesigned for the 2018 model year, including the top-scoring Chevrolet Traverse, which greatly exceeds the score of its nearest competitor, Toyota C-HR, a new entry in a highly competitive and growing segment, and Nissan LEAF, a clear winner over competing mainstream EVs. Also winning with their new designs are the all-new Honda Odyssey and Hyundai Accent. “The success of redesigned vehicles speaks to the efforts of product planners and designers who spend years researching and designing in the hopes of hitting the mark with consumers,” says Peterson.

American and Korean Brands Share Most Satisfying Popular Brand Title

GMC is the most satisfying popular brand for the second year in a row, but this year it shares its title with Hyundai and Ram. “Having two strong American truck brands and a Korean brand known for its cars is pretty incredible,” says Peterson. Although GMC has won several times, it is the first brand win for Ram and Hyundai.

2018 VEHICLE SATISFACTION AWARD WINNERS

Most Satisfying Vehicle Overall: Chevrolet Traverse

Highest Satisfaction Premium Brand: Genesis

Highest Satisfaction Popular Brand: 3-way tie: GMC, Hyundai, Ram

Passenger Cars

  • Luxury Car:  Genesis G90 (2ndyear)
  • Aspirational Luxury Car:  Lexus IS
  • Luxury Mid-Size Car:  Nissan Maxima (3rdyear)
  • Large Car:  Dodge Charger
  • Mid-Size Car:  Hyundai Sonata
  • Premium Compact Car:  Audi A3
  • Compact Car:  Hyundai Elantra
  • Mainstream EV Car:  Nissan LEAF
  • Economy Car:  Hyundai Accent
  • Sports Car:  Nissan 370Z
  • Sporty Car:  Dodge Challenger (2ndyear)

Light Trucks

  • Light Duty Pickup:  Nissan Titan (2ndyear)
  • Heavy Duty Pickup:  GMC Sierra HD
  • Mid-Size Pickup:  Honda Ridgeline (2ndyear)
  • Luxury SUV:  Infiniti QX80
  • Large SUV:  Toyota Sequoia
  • Mid-Size SUV:Toyota 4Runner (tie)
  • Mid-Size SUV:  Jeep Grand Cherokee (tie; 2ndyear)
  • Premium Luxury XSUV:  Mercedes-Benz GLS
  • Luxury XSUV:Infiniti QX60
  • Large XSUV:  Chevrolet Traverse
  • Premium Mid-Size XSUV:  Nissan Murano (4thyear)
  • Mid-Size XSUV:  Honda CR-V
  • Compact XSUV:  Toyota C-HR
  • Minivan: Honda Odyssey (tie)
  • Minivan:  Toyota Sienna (tie)

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2018 Hyundai Kona Added to Fast Erupting Small XSUV Segment

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The all new 2018 Hyundai Kona small crossover SUV (XSUV) has just been shown to the press in an event held, wait for it, on the Kona Coast of The Big Island of Hawaii.  There were 23 or 24 Konas on hand for the journalists to drive around the island.  So, this was a pretty big event for Hyundai Motor America (HMA).

In AutoPacific’s 2017 Small XSUV Consultancy, 38 XSUVs with a wheelbase of 110-inches or less are included.  There were enough data to do complete analyses on that many individual vehicles.  There are an additional seven all new small XSUVs on sale now but too new to have been included in the AutoPacific database.  That makes 45 entries in the small XSUV category.  Now comes the 2018 Hyundai Kona wading into the fray.2018 Hyundai Kona F34 View2018 Hyundai Kona Side View2018 Hyundai Kona R34 View

Hyundai Late to the Small XSUV Game  Hyundai is a bit late to the game with its B-Segment small XSUV.  Hyundai mostly thinks “CARS” and was forced kicking and screaming to develop another small SUV.  Before the Kona was developed, Hyundai Motor Corporation (HMC) offered Hyundai Motor America a small XSUV developed mainly for India.  Luckily for HMA, their parent company did not push that down their throats and the result is the Kona – a bit late, but a whole lot better.  Next year, an even smaller A-segment XSUV will be introduced along with a larger range topping three row seven passenger XSUV (like the old Veracruz).  So, it appears HMC got religion and is providing HMA with what it needs to compete.

Trucks to Reign as Cars are De-emphasized  As carmakers begin providing what consumers are really asking for – crossover SUVs – the shift from traditional three-box (hood, cabin, trunk) cars will accelerate and the two-box bodystyle will predominate.  Truck sales (pickups, SUVs and minivans) outpaced cars in 2010 and now account for about 64% of the market.  Crossover SUVs first outsold traditional (body-on-frame) SUVs in 2004 and never looked back.  As the small XSUV segment matures, it should command between 17% and 20% of the market of light cars and trucks in the USA.

Kona Competitive Set per Hyundai Motor AmericaHugely Competitive Segment  Hyundai’s planners identify eight primary competitors for the 2018 Hyundai Kona – Chevy Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Toyota C-HR, Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-3, Ford EcoSport and Nissan Kicks.  With 45-plus entries in its size category sold by popular brands and premium brands alike, Kona goes up against some solid heavyweights.

Kona Styling    The proportions of the 2018 Hyundai Kona are different.  It has a long hood with long front overhang and a very short rear overhang.  Stylists have achieved a aggressiveness and muscularity in a small package.    The front end is has the Hyundai shield grille flanked by large headlights buried in a charcoal surround.  LED running lights top the front fascia just at the leading edge of the hood.   The bodyside has bold character lines flowing towards the rear.  The wheel arches are swathed in charcoal cladding.  The cladding may be overdone, but Kona appears to pull it off pretty well.  Once you study the Kona for awhile, it grows on you.

Kona Size – Smaller, But Does Not Feel Small  Among Kona’s competitive set, it has the shortest overall length (164.0-inches).  Its wheelbase (102.4-inches) is pretty much in line with competition.  The cockpit feels spacious and its dimensions are in line with its competition.  The rear seat is a skosh small with only the Toyota C-HR having less rear seat legroom.  While you might think Kona skimped on cargo area it has not.  Its 19.2 cubic foot cargo area is mid pack.  Only the Honda HR-V and Subaru Crosstrek larger.

2018 Hyundai Kona CockpitPowertrains – About What You’d Expect in this Class of XSUV  There are two engine/transmission combinations.  The base engine is a Nu 2.0L Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder with 147-horsepower and 132-lb.ft of torque.  The 2.0L is teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission.  The base engine powers the lower two of the four Kona models.  The top engine is the Gamma 1.6L GDI 4-cylinder Turbo mated to a 7-speed EcoShift DCT.  It has 175-horsepower and 195-lb.ft. of torque.  Both powertrains are rated at 30mpg combined city/highway fuel economy.  All wheel drive is available on both powertrains and all models.

Hyundai SmartSense  Kona is available with an array of driver assistance technologies in the Hyundai SmartSense Suite.  SmartSense includes forward collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision warning, lane keeping assist, high beam assist, blind spot warning and driver attention warning.  In AutoPacific research, a blind spot warning system is a feature with very high demand.  Hyundai has made it standard on the Sonata mid-size car, but in the Kona it is standard one-step up from the base SE model in the SEL model.  Still, this is good compared with competitive installations.

Attractive Pricing  The base SE model starts at $19,500 (without destination).  The highest volume model likely will be the SEL with a starting price of $21,150.  It is available with a $1,500 technology package. The next step is the Limited at $24,700.  Check all the boxes until there are no more and you come to the Unlimited model at $27,400.  The Unlimited is where you get an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, head-up display and  the full Hyundai SmartSense suite of safety features.

No Vehicle is Perfect  As vehicles and technology evolve buyers are expecting more.  For instance, the 2018 Hyundai Kona has an 8-way power driver seat available, but only manual adjustment (without a height adjustment) is available on the passenger side.  Cruise control is standard, but adaptive cruise control that most buyers expect today is not yet available.  Hyundai’s planners hint that adaptive cruise is only a short time away.

In Summary  The 2018 Hyundai Kona promises to be a very competitive entry in the small XSUV category.  A buyer won’t miss much, if anything at all, if they select a Kona.  This is a vehicle that Hyundai Motor America has needed and has been waiting for.  Now it is up the dealers and marketing/advertising folks to get Kona into the consideration sets of prospective buyers.  It should do very well.


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Mid-Size Sedan Onslaught – New Camry, Accord, Sonata

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Up until 2016, the mid-size sedan was the top selling product segment in the USA light vehicle market.  That has changed substantially as buyers are flocking to crossover SUVs that offer more utility at little expense over sedans.  That does not mean carmakers are abandoning mid-size sedans.  On the contrary, they have to keep their top selling mid-size sedan entries fresh and competitive.

Source: AutoPacific, Inc.

Three high volume 2018 model year mid-size sedans are launching in Fall 2017.  All three are from Asian brands.  The Korean brand Hyundai Sonata is assembled in Montgomery, Alabama.  The Japanese brand Toyota Camry is assembled in Georgetown, Kentucky.  The Japanese brand Honda Accord is assembled in Marysville, Ohio.  Some would say that these sedans are the most American cars on the road.

All three are excellent cars and all three are trying to vacate typical anodyne mid-size car styling.  The Accord and Camry are all new cars.  The Sonata is a major redesign to its front and rear styling.  All three are much more expressive than before.

2018 Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry  Toyota’s longtime sales champ, the Camry mid-size sedan, is all-new for the 2018 model year. As this iconic model line has consistently topped sales charts but is often derided for being dull and boring, the 2018 Camry wears much more expressive and in XSE trim, at least, genuinely sporty styling. Toyota undoubtedly hopes that the revitalized looks of the latest Camry will help it shed its stodgy image.

Toyota launches its new Toyota New Global Architecture platform with the 2018 Camry mid-size sedan.  The TNGA platform will be used for the other Toyota cars built at Georgetown: Lexus ES aspirational luxury car and the Toyota Avalon large car.  When Avalon moves to the platform in 2018 they are expected to move the RAV4 crossover into the plant.  The next generation Toyota Highlander crossover SUV and Toyota Sienna minivan will likely move to the TNGA platform and continue to be built in Princeton, Indiana.

Part of the new Camry’s more appealing looks come from its lower proportions. In recent years, sedans have typically gotten taller with higher seating positions to emulate what makes SUVs so popular: great visibility, easy ingress and egress, and a chair-like driving position. However, as market preference towards SUVs has now been well established and sedan share is rapidly dropping, Toyota saw an opportunity to make the Camry a real car again. After all, those who want to sit up high will buy one of Toyota’s many able SUVs anyway. If Camry sales are (by Toyota’s own admission) expected to drop at the hand of the almighty SUV, why not make Camry more differentiated from its high-riding SUV lineup?

So, the new Camry’s seating and roof heights are about an inch lower than before, giving it a sleeker and more aggressive profile than any Camry before it. The seating position is also more sporty too. The interior is a massive step up in appeal too, with expensive looking materials, textures, shapes, and colors that dramatically up the Camry’s desirability. Toyota hasn’t ignored technology either. While lacking Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Toyota’s latest Entune 3.0 infotainment system with its standard App Suite and standard navigation is easy to use. Notably, Toyota’s TSS-P suite of safety technologies, which includes forward collision alert with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping assist is standard on every Camry.

Camry’s base engine is a 206-horsepower 2.5L 4-cylinder.  Its V6 option is a 301-horsepower 3.5L V6 mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Though this generation will no longer hold Toyota’s sales crown (which is being taken over by RAV4), it certainly looks to be the most appealing and engaging Camry yet.

2018 Honda Accord Touring

2018 Honda Accord Touring

Honda Accord  The all-new 2018 Honda Accord mid-size sedan takes a page out of the latest Camry’s playbook, but that’s no bad thing. Like the 2018 Camry, the 2018 Accord rides on an all-new platform and features lower seating height and a lower roofline, abandoning prior generations’ goals of trying to imbue the mid-size sedan with SUV-like interior packaging. Like Camry, Accord’s sales crown at Honda is being transferred to an SUV model, namely the CR-V. This latest Accord is set to lose sales compared to prior generations not because of any inherent flaws, but because market preference has been rapidly shifting to SUVs.

For those who prefer sedans over SUVs, the Accord is a real winner. Its lower seating and roofline don’t result in less interior space; both cabin and trunk space have increased over the last generation’s already generous cabin and cargo hold dimensions, partially due to a longer wheelbase that also improves the car’s exterior proportions. Speaking of proportions, it’s hard not to think Audi A7 when looking at the new Accord in profile; its fastback roofline and pert tail – combined with the longer wheelbase – help give the sedan a luxurious presence.

Also contributing to that luxurious presence is the styling, which possesses a delicateness not seen in recent Honda products. The detailing is crisp and not overdone as is the case in many Hondas. The visual appeal of the new Accord is in its proportions and detailing; the heavy handedness of other recent Honda designs is absent here.  Unlike Toyota, Honda uses more bright-work to highlight the grille.  There is a bright arch sweeping from the A-Pillar down into the rear quarter (similar to the Kia Optima).  The bodyside lower is accented by a bright swoosh line flowing rear from just behind the front wheel opening, through the lower doors and peaking at the rear fascia.  There is a dainty bright highlight on the lower rear fascia above the the bright exhaust tips.

The new Accord does differ from Camry in a key way: its powertrain strategy. Unlike Camry, which sticks with traditional naturally aspirated four- and six-cylinder engines, the Accord moves to an all four-cylinder lineup with a 192-horsepower 1.5L direct injected turbo as the volume engine and a 252-horsepower 2.0L direct injected turbo replacing last generation’s V6. A new non-turbo 2.0L hybrid four is also available. Not that it matters to anyone but the buff books, but a six-speed manual is available on both turbo engines. In practice, nearly all 2018 Accords will have automatic transmissions; the 1.5 is paired to a CVT while the 2.0 is paired to a brand-new ten-speed unit. The hybrid will be paired to a two-motor e-CVT transmission.

Like Camry, a full complement of safety technologies are standard, with Honda Sensing (automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and traffic sign recognition) installed on every 2018 Accord. Infotainment is upgraded too, and a head-up display is available for the first time.

2018 Hyundai Sonata – LaJolla, CA

2018 Hyundai Sonata

Hyundai Sonata  The Hyundai Sonata mid-size car gets a major freshening for the 2018 model year.  The present Sonata has been criticized for getting too conservative when changing from the very avant garde 2010 model.  Senior management probably were surprised at the success of the 2010, but could not muster the will to keep the pedal to the metal.  The 2018 Sonata goes a long way in correcting that strategic error.

The front and rear styling is all new.  Like Toyota and Honda, Hyundai is adopting a much more expressive grille and front face.  They describe the grill surround as being a “cascade”.  There are two different grill textures – horizontal and diamond shaped mesh.  The front fascia is highlighted by a horizontal bright strip flowing from side to side.  Hyundai describes this as a “catamaran blade”.  Hyundai continues with the bright spear flowing from the front fenders back to surround the windows.  In profile, the Sonata is similar to the Camry and Accord.  Even though this is a freshening, the car looks as up to date as the all new Camry and Accord.

The interior has been freshened with material upgrades throughout.  The center stack has been redesigned and ergonomics are excellent.  Hyundai has found a way to make its blind spot warning system affordable and has made it standard on all 2018 Sonatas.

There are changes under the skin as well.  Chassis tuning has been improved making this the best handling Sonata ever.  Steering feel has been improved and the ride feels more taut than before, but not in a bad way.  The rear suspension has also been upgraded.

Sonata’s base engine is a 185-horsepower 2.4L 4-cylinder.   The Eco model gets a 178-horsepower 1.6L Turbo 4-cylinder.  The top engine is a 245-horsepower 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder.  The 2.0L Turbo vehicles get an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Competitive Battleground  There are ten major competitors in the mid-size sedan market in the USA.  Three are all new or freshened for 2018.  Two will get major changes in 2019.  Three will be all new or get a major change in 2020.  Even though the segment is beset by woes stemming from crossover SUV popularity, the mid-size sedan segment will remain fresh and competitive.  The new Accord looks like a real winner and promises to continue sparring with Camry for sales dominance in the mid-size sedan segment, even as the segment itself is in decline. The Sonata will hold its own.  For those who really like cars (and not SUVs),  the new Accord, Camry and Sonata provide a lot to get excited over.


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Chevrolet Bolt EV Surprises – Range Anxiety Gone

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Image Source: George Peterson

When a Chevrolet manager refers to the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, they inevitably hold up two fingers to guarantee you know they are referring to the Volt.  When they mention the Chevrolet Bolt EV electric vehicle, they always say “Bolt EV”.  “Bolt EV did well in focus groups,” one PR manager stated.  Having done thousands of focus groups over the years, I know how that can be done.

Well, enough of that.  The Chevrolet Bolt EV is the real deal.  It is an electric vehicle purpose-built around a five module battery pack that forms the floor of the car.  These batteries give a maximum range of 238 miles.  AutoPacific’s research on electric vehicles over the years has concluded that the holy grail for EV range is 225 miles to avoid range anxiety.  So Bolt EV achieves that range with a little to spare.

The designed-in-South Korea Bolt EV is a crossover SUV in Chevrolet’s mind.  I see it as more of a 5-door hatchback, but Chevrolet contends its higher seating position and relatively high roof deserve a crossover classification.  Besides, crossovers are selling like hotcakes these days and cars are not.  Bolt EV looks modern with forward sloping character lines that you could see on a crossover today.  OK, it’s a crossover.

The Bolt EV is spacious enough for four people.  Getting in and out is relatively easy but the front A-Pillars are so fast that you have to be careful to duck or else you will hit your head.  The instrument panel in the top model includes a reconfigurable instrument cluster and a 10.2 inch screen in the center stack that provides all the information concerning its electric operation and the usual connectivity features like Bluetooth.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are how you get navigation in the car.  There is no resident NAV.  The Bolt EV is available with the typical General Motors driver assistance features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane keeping warning, surround view camera, blind spot warning, etc.

The real surprise comes when driving the Bolt EV.  Its powerpack provides 200-horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque.  This output is like a peppy 1.6L or 1.8L turbo 4-cylinder in a hot hatch small car.  Bolt EV does not have to apologize to anyone on the freeway.  The car can be operated in “one-foot mode” where regenerative braking is activated.  This would be my normal driving mode.  When you lift off the accelerator, the brakes engage to put electricity back into the batteries.  The deceleration can be controlled by a paddle behind the steering wheel.   Using regen, you rarely have to actually press on the brake pedal.

No new car is perfect and the Bolt EV is not.  Where it falls down is in the material selection in the interior.  Lots of hard, glossy plastic.  The lightweight front seats are very hard and the side bolsters are stiff.

The base price of the Bolt EV is $37,495 that results in a $29,995 price after the federal government tax credit (you have to earn about $75,000 to qualify for that tax credit).  If you load the Bolt EV up with all the options, it will top out at around $44,000.

Bolt is on sale now in California and Oregon and will roll out nationally over the year.


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More Aggressive Mustang Near Launch

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Source: Ford Motor Company

Source: Ford Motor Company

Ford is updating its iconic sporty coupe giving us a more aggressive Mustang for 2018.  In industry parlance this could be termed a “front and rear six” meaning the front and rear six inches of the car has been changed.  The 2018 change is a bit more than that.  The front end is the main contributor to the more aggressive Mustang look.  The standard LED headlamps flank a redesigned grille which has a new sporty texture.  The front fenders, front fascia, and hood are all new.  In the rear end, the taillamp graphics are tweaked a bit, not so you’d notice.

Source: Ford Motor Company

Source: Ford Motor Company

The big news in the interior is that the car is now available with a 12-inch re-configurable instrument cluster display.  The display has been lifted from the new Continental luxury car but conveys different information.  This is the “modern” way to go and also demonstrates that the costs of these electronic features are coming down dramatically and quickly.  In addition to the cluster, the seat trim sew patterns have been updated.  There is an available heated steering wheel and the center console has been upgraded with padded knee bolsters.   Ford also adds Driver Assistance features as options such as adaptive cruise control, lane keeping warning and lane keeping assist.

Under the hood, the 3.7L V6 is gone and the 5.0L V8 has been upgraded.  Ford has not yet provided the specifics.  Similarly, the 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder turbo has been upgraded.  There is a 10-speed automatic transmission available, but the the folks who think manual transmissions are appropriate for a sporty coupe, a 6-speed manual is still available.  The chassis has been upgraded to provide more nimble handling.

Ford has been producing the Mustang continuously for over fifty years.  The car has gone through tough times and was almost killed on more than one occasion.  Even when Chevrolet killed the Camaro, Pontiac killed the Firebird and Dodge killed the Challenger, Mustang stayed the course.  There have been a few half-hearted efforts in the history of Mustang, but the 2018 promises to improve the breed.  This update is a mid-cycle change that means we should see a major update in 2020 or 2021.


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AutoPacific 2016 Ideal Vehicle Award

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AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle AwardAutoPacific surveys new car and light truck buyers annually to determine how satisfied they are with their vehicle and what changes they want made.  Based on this owner research, AutoPacific calculates the vehicles that owners want changed the least.  The people who have purchased the vehicle are the people it was designed for.  The data result in the AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award.  Every year there are some results that stand out.  The 2016 awards are no different.  Here are some highlights:

•  The top brand overall is Tesla – a one car brand at the time of the research, but that one car is on target with its buyers.  The Tesla Model S is the top ranked Luxury Car.

•  The top popular brand is GMC – for the third year in a row.

•  The most ideal vehicle, overall, is the Volvo XC70.

•  Subaru swept the crossover SUV categories in which it competes with the Outback winning the Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV category, the Forester winning the Mid-Size SUV category and the Crosstrek winning the Compact Crossover SUV category.  That is a very impressive sweep.

Multiple year winners include:

•  Jeep Grand Cherokee – winning the last six years in a row

•  Volkswagen Golf – winning the last three years in a row and six of the last ten years

•  Chevrolet Colorado – for the second year in a row

•  Subaru Outback – for the second year in a row

•  Subaru Forester – for the second year in a row

That Tesla has won so early in its lifetime is a testament to its planning, design and engineering teams.  Maybe Tesla does not have the bureaucracy that bogs down bigger companies and allows it to effectively target the affluent buyers of its first vehicle.

Jeep has been fine-tuning the Grand Cherokee since the early 1990s.  The fact that it has won the Ideal Vehicle Award for six years in a row shows that Jeep really does know what Grand Cherokee owners want.

The string of Ideal Vehicle Awards won by the Volkswagen Golf over the past ten years is impressive.

Finally, Subaru has solved the equation of successful small and mid-size crossover SUVs.  Subaru sales have been steadily increasing and the Ideal Vehicle Award wins show the company understands crossover SUVs.  Of course their “LOVE” advertising and dog-centric messages don’t hurt either.


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Super Duty – Ford’s Super Capable 2017 Pickups

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Ford’s F-Series Super Duty pickups are all new for the 2017 model year.  The Super Duty line includes the F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 heavy duty pickups.

All-New For Real  The term all new here is an actual fact because the last time the Super Duty was all new was over a decade ago.  The high volume F-150 light duty full size pickup was all new and all aluminum for 2016.  The Super Duty follows a year later, but Ford says the product update cadence should be shorter for both the F-150 and the Super Duties in the future.

2017 Ford F-250 Super Duty King Ranch

Image by: George Peterson

Borrows from F-150, Then Goes on Steroids  For this iteration the Super Duty pickups share the aluminum cabs of the F-150 – regular cab, Super Cab and Crew Cab.  Each of these cabs is longer than that on the old Super Duty.  Then everything changes.  The front end styling is very different, tougher and stronger looking than the pretty darn strong looking F-150.  The pickup box is upgraded to handle the more severe workload of a vehicle designed for construction crews and trailer towing.  The fully-boxed frame has been substantially upgraded with the center section frame rails 1.5 inches taller than previously.

Venerable Twin-I-Beam Suspension Retained and Upgraded  The Twin-I-Beam front suspension has been upgraded and remains a very important Super Duty unique selling proposition.  According to Doug Scott, head of Ford truck marketing, there was a lot of discussion about retaining the venerable, but very strong Twin-I-Beam front suspension.  There was one contingent within Ford that wanted a more contemporary front suspension similar to Chevrolet Silverado.   But buyers of the Super Duty rely on the over-designed Twin-I-Beam for durability in extreme abuse situations.  Super-computer simulations of the suspension design have eliminated the quirkiness of the previous set-up that tended to wander a bit on the open road.

Unique Interior  Although the Super Duty shares the F-150’s cabs, the interior in the Super Duty is unique to the line.  The “Active Motion” seats are designed for heavier duty application and long seat time.  They are comfortable for hours on the road.  The instrument panel is unique and much more industrial looking than in the F-150.  There is a wide center console that can accommodate files or a laptop computer.  The console top is an armrest in normal driving or a desk when necessary.

Feature Laden  The list of available advanced features is an arm long.  Most would be expected in an up-market car, but in a heavy duty pickup they are extraordinary.  Super Duty gets Sync 3 available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.  There is a 360-degree camera set-up that is extremely useful when parking or off-roading.  Activating the camera allows you to see the obstacles near the vehicle and avoid them.  The Super Duty can have as many as SEVEN cameras.  Lane departure warning, blind spot information and adaptive cruise control systems are available.  Adaptive steering is available that adjusts the steering ratio based on driver input.

Powerful Power Stroke Diesel is the Volume Engine Choice  The available powertrains include the second generation Power Stroke diesel that will be the high volume engine.  The 6.7L V8 diesel has 440-horsepower and 920 lb. ft. of torque.  That’s right – 920 lb. ft.  The diesel is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.  The diesel pulls, and pulls, and pulls.  There is a 6.2L V8 gas engine with 385-horsepower and 430 lb. ft. of torque.  On chassis-cab models Ford’s 6.8L V10 is available.

Driving the Super Duty  The Super Duty is a delight to drive for such a big truck.  The 4×4 King Ranch F-250 Crew Cab (~$78,000) was easy to drive and easy to maneuver if you have a lot of space.  The unloaded ride was good depending on road surface.  Because of the stiff 4×4 suspension the ride over choppy roads was a bit uncomfortable.  The power of the 6.7L Power Stroke diesel was very impressive.


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