You know that last time you rented from Enterprise and you were really hoping to get a Nissan Maxima or maybe even a Chevy Impala? Then you come to find out they “upgraded” you to a Chrysler 200! Yay! The Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger have ruled the rental car roost for years and Chrysler is finally ready to shed that image by dropping the Dodge Avenger and bringing the 200 up to competitive standards for the 2015 model year.
Has the 2014 Auto Show Season been a bust so far? Well, with the exception of the all new Ford F-150, there has not been much to justify all the fabricated hoopla at either the North American International Auto Show in Detroit or the Chicago Auto Show. You can almost count the significant new news on one hand. In order of importance to the United States market and their manufacturers here are the most significant: Ford F-150, Chrysler 200, Honda Fit, Hyundai Genesis, Mercedes C-Class in Detroit and the Subaru Legacy in Chicago. OK, that is six significant entries. Others that might have made the list are the GMC Canyon mid-size pickup and the Lexus RC-F coupe. The Detroit Show ended up focusing on performance models or concepts like the production-ready Subaru WRX STI, Toyota FT-1 super car, Chevrolet Corvette ZO6 variant, BMW M3 sedan and M4 coupe, Cadillac ATS coupe. The only other vehicles of note at the Chicago Show were the 2015 Lincoln Navigator with new front and rear styling and the Mercedes GLA compact crossover SUV.
Background of AutoPacific’s IVAs: AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Awards for 2o13 are given to brands and vehicles that best meet the expectations of their buyers. The person driving the truck does not want it to be bigger or more powerful or have better info/entertainment systems. Based on the results of over 52,000 respondents, the IVAs are owner-based awards that can serve to give truck buyers an idea of how well manufacturers have designed vehicles with their customers in mind.
As you read through the brief descriptions of the winners’ results you will notice some similarities where owners of most vehicles want change. Visibility Among all trucks about 22% of owners want better driver’s seat visibility. Roominess About 19% of truck owners want more passenger roominess than now. Power vs Fuel Economy Even when talking about today’s high gas prices, truck owners want good power and acceleration. About 21% want more power and acceleration and only 9% of the respondents would sacrifice power and acceleration for better fuel economy. Ingress/Egress About 19% of all truck owners want their vehicles to be easier to get in and out of. Info/Entertainment Technology Design of the info/entertainment technology is one of the most hotly contested areas of vehicle design today. Some manufacturers have a good handle on this, but 22% of truck owners want more info/entertainment technology than they have now. These folks are offset by 14% who want their info/entertainment technology to be easier to use.
With that preamble in mind, here are the Ideal Vehicle Award winners for trucks for 2013…
The 2014 Fiat 500L is on sale now. Fiat unloaded the first boatload of 500Ls in Baltimore early June and by mid-June they had begun arriving at nearby Fiat Studios. Adding this larger four door vehicle to the Fiat line-up is very welcome to Fiat dealers who have been limited to the Fiat 500 albeit with two bodystyles and a multitude of models. The 500L is based on Fiat’s new “Small Wide” platform and shares nothing with the smaller 500 except for the “500” nomenclature and its engine. Like the 500, the 500L strives to be very emotional in its styling with cab-forward proportions and a long floating roof that is usually in contrasting colors to the body. Early on, it will turn heads.
For those who have not been paying attention, the 500L competes with the Kia Soul, Nissan Cube and MINI Countryman. It is available with dark tinted rear windows meaning it is classified as a truck. It is front wheel drive and powered with Fiat’s 1.4L Multi-Air Turbocharged 4-cylinder engine found in the 500 Abarth mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or Euro Twin Clutch automatic – a full automatic will be available in the first half of 2014. The 160-horsepower 4-cylinder has 184 lb-ft of torque. But the vehicle is much bigger and heavier than the minuscule Abarth and does not have near the performance. But that’s another story we’ll address later.
Big Car Room in Micro Car Footprint The real story about the 500L is its size. Think of it as a B-Segment four-door hatchback with a large car sized interior. It has panoramic view windows for great visibility. The seating position is upright and the seat is positioned so you can just slide into it. No climbing to get up into the seat. Once you are in, there is generous headroom and adequate shoulder room even for the largest drivers and passengers. The steering wheel has a squarish inner diameter so the instrument cluster can be viewed without obstructions. The ergonomics are good with controls easy to reach and operate. Fiat claims the 500L has best-in-class headroom, legroom, interior volume and cargo space.
Four Models – Pop-Easy-Trekking-Lounge The four models range in price from $19,900 (with destination included) for the Pop to $24,995 for the top of the line Lounge. The more aggressive USA-only Trekking model – shown above with the kayak mounted on the roof – is a step down from the Lounge at $21,995. While Fiat describes the 500L as the “Anti-SUV”, the SUV-like cues on the Trekking model are certainly a nod in that direction with more aggressive cladding and even a unique front fascia. While the Trekking model is USA-only now, Fiat says other markets like the model and are asking that it be added to their line-ups as well. The interiors are differentiated by material usage – hard and soft trim – and color. But each interior attempts to be a bit playful and engaging. Attention to detail is very good.
Some naysayers are already preparing their eulogies for the electric car. They say that have failed. They say that consumers don’t want them. They say the market’s not ready for them. Our view? To date, they’ve been a tough sell, but there’s some real progress being made. We’re not ready to start cuing Mozart’s Requiem just yet.
Consider if you will the new Fiat 500e, the Italian brand’s new entry into the electric car segment. It’s great to look at. It’s fun to drive. It’s quick. It’s well equipped with lots of features. And the whole package incorporates some very convincing and innovative motivators to consider one.
From our point of view, there are two major reasons why electric cars haven’t taken off yet. One is price. Electric cars cost far more than their gasoline powered counterparts. The other is range anxiety. Consumers are (rightly) concerned that electric cars won’t get them where they need to go and that they could be left stranded, with no backup in sight.
The 2013 New York International Auto Show was full of important reveals this year… renewed crossovers – Toyota Highlander, Acura MDX, an all new Range Rover Sport, the new BMW 335GT, freshened Dodge Durango, the all new Cadillac CTS and many more. The most important, however, were the Audi A3 and the Jeep Cherokee. Why? Both vehicles are very important to their brands and have the potential to generate substantial sales.
Audi Takes the Safe Route with A3: The 2015 Audi A3 really was not at the New York Auto Show. The A3 will be officially introduced at the Shanghai Auto Show in late April 2013, but there was a reveal for about 120 journalists the evening before the first press day. It will be launched in the USA in early 2014.
The smaller Audi A3 has anchored the Audi lineup with a five-door hatchback (“Sportback”) that never had much sales potential in the USA. American buyers continue to perceive liftback cars as cheaper, flimsier and less desirable. In Europe, the five-door is the preferred bodystyle primarily because European car-owners do not have the American-style family fleets where there is a vehicle for every purpose. For a one vehicle family, the hatchback can carry out a multitude of duties.
Recognizing that to really succeed in the USA market, the 2014 Audi A3 becomes a much more traditional three-box four-door sedan. This gives Audi an opportunity to really step up sales in the face of the upcoming front wheel drive Mercedes-Benz CLA and the already-on-the-market BMW 1-Series. Audi did not stray from its own winning formula. Audi DNA is present in the exterior styling and the interior with an A8-like sweep at the front of the instrument panel. Very nicely done, but not one obvious risk.
The A3 comes with four 4-cylinder engine choices – 170HP 1.8L turbo, 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 230HP), 150HP 2.0L turbo diesel and high output 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 275HP). The high output goes in the S3 model. The Sportback will return in the 2014 calendar year with e-tron plug-in hybrid technology.
The A3 will not be a Spartan A-Segment car. Audi is positioning it as a fully-featured Audi – just smaller. It will offer Audi’s MMI system, 4G LTE connectivity and even Audi’s Bang & Olufsen audio system.
One key takeaway from the A3 reveal is that the car is the same size as 1994 model year A4. A very successful car with solid sales results, the A4 was key in establishing Audi as a very desirable premium brand in the USA.
Something tells us that the A3 will not be an inexpensive car with its impressive standard equipment load (leather seating, bluetooth, rain sensing wipers and panoramic moon roof standard). With the slightly larger Mercedes CLA announced at a sub-$30,000 price we are wondering where the new A3 will be positioned?
Jeep Cherokee Returns While the Audi A3 is a low risk opportunity for volume growth, Jeep’s new Cherokee is at the polar opposite on the risk scale. Jeep describes the Cherokee’s styling as “polarizing” and it certainly is. Mike Manley, President of Jeep cautioned journalists in a December briefing before the Detroit Auto Show that “you might not understand” the vehicle. This was somewhat reminiscent of Wayne Cherry’s (head of GM styling in the late ’90s) statement that “you are too old to understand the (Pontiac) Aztek. In Manley’s defense, he describes the styling direction for the Cherokee as “something that will be fresh in 2019”. So Jeep has not taken this path lightly. It is a calculated step.
What is so polarizing about the Cherokee? First, it takes the name of one of the most successful SUVs ever produced. The 1980s Cherokee was the first high volume SUV to add a 4-door bodystyle to the lineup and soon proved that 4-doors, not 2-doors, were the way to go. The Cherokee had the seven vertical slot grill that is part of Jeep’s DNA, but it had rectangular headlamps that, while modern for the time, broke away from the traditional round headlamps Jeep used.
While the new Cherokee is relatively conventional from the A-Pillar rearward, its front end design is the most surprising and, yes, controversial. Instead of round headlamps, the Cherokee has horizontal units styled into the front fascia and fenders. Cherokee still has the seven vertical slots in the front fascia – part of Jeep DNA since the beginning – but they now are bent in the center giving the vehicle a more aerodynamic appearance. The story of the capability of the vehicle is being lost in the commentary about its front end styling.
Under the skin, the Cherokee uses the same Alfa/Fiat platform used by the new Dodge Dart. It has a 9-speed automatic transmission and three advanced 4×4 systems. The Trailhawk model is fully “Trail Rated”. Think of Trailhawk as the Cherokee Rubicon. Powered by a 184HP 2.4L Multi-Air TigerShark 4-cylinder engine, Jeep claims a cruising range of up to 490 miles and highway fuel economy of 31mpg. The optional 3.2L Pentastar V6 gets 271HP.
Cherokee has a full array of Chrysler’s latest features available from its UConnect information system with an 8.4-inch center screen and programmable instrument cluster, new steering wheel controls, parking assist systems, blind spot monitoring, cross path detection and adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability. These features are becoming the price of entry in mid-size vehicles and even some smaller entries.
When Bob Lutz was a Chrysler he once said (of the early 2000’s Peterbilt style Ram pickup), “I don’t care if people love it or hate it as long as 15% of them love it enough to buy it”. That may be the case with the new Cherokee. A Polarizing design will certainly get people talking and writers writing. So far, it seems that the negatives are outweighing the positives on the Cherokee. It won’t take long to tell if the vehicle is a sales success. It begins production in April 2013.
Award Winner Gets Major Changes After Only Three Years The 2012 Grand Cherokee has been arguably the best affordable “real” SUV on the market since the latest generation was launched for the 2011 model year. The Grand Cherokee was so good that its owners rated it higher enough against its competition to win AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award in 2011 and 2012 AND AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award in 2011 and 2012! This sweep in these tough-to-win owner awards is testament to the excellence of the Grand Cherokee.
Developed in Time of Hardship The 2011 Grand Cherokee was developed during the dark days of the reign of Cerberus Capital Management. Their ownership of Chrysler steered the firm to the bankruptcy courts and a bailout by the U.S. and Canadian government, UAW and CAW. Ultimately, Fiat took control of Chrysler and Jeep and the firm is now prospering. It is surprising that under the eyes of Cerberus, the 2011 Grand Cherokee turned out to be such a good vehicle.
Best Gets Better Like other Chrysler products (Chrysler 300, Chrysler 200, Dodge Charger, Ram 1500), Jeep’s product team has reinvigorated the vehicle but mostly under the skin. The front fascia is new. Taillamps are new. A couple of wheel designs are new. And the interiors are new and much more upscale. Grand Cherokee gets Chrysler’s latest iteration of its excellent and easy to use UConnect system. Gone is the 5-speed automatic transmission replaced by a silky smooth 8-speed unit. A 240HP 3.0L V6 diesel is available for the first time. So, the Grand Cherokee is a substantially upgraded version of the 2011 vehicle. And it works!
AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) recognizes the vehicle that best hits the target its buyers demand. Winning an IVA shows the product planners, engineers and designers of the manufacturer understand what their target customers want and have created the vehicle to best meet their demands.
Charger Edges Out Platform-Mate Chrysler 300 for IVA Win: The 2012 Dodge Charger comes closest to the ideal of any Large Car. The Charger is 31 rating points higher than the second place Large Car – the Chrysler 300 – its platform-mate. Having eighty-percent or more of owners rating a characteristic ideal is outstanding. Getting a score of ninety-percent is even more impressive. Ninety-percent or more of Charger owners rate these characteristics ideal: exterior size, passenger roominess, cargo space, ride and handling and ease of getting in and out. These also are primary reasons a person buys a Large Car. Eighty-percent or more of Charger owners find these additional characteristics ideal: interior lighting, driver’s seat comfort, tires, interior storage compartments and safety features.
A Few Shortfalls – Many Could Have Been Corrected by Selecting Available Options: Charger is an expressively styled car, but about 21% of the owners want even more daring styling than it now has. Hand-in-hand with this expressive styling comes somewhat restricted visibility. About 21% of the owners would like better driver’s seat visibility. Over 30% of the owners want more distinctive wheels than they now have. Over 30% of the owners want more/better infotainment/entertainment technology. Of course, with the broad span of the Charger’s lineup, owners could have optioned up to more distinctive wheels and the uConnect information system. About 27% of Charger owners want more power and acceleration – clearly, they did not opt for the HEMI V8.
You can find an Autobytel review of this IVA award winner at http://www.autobytel.com/auto-news/awards/consumer-s-ideal-cars-revealed-in-2012-iva-awards-112116/
For a complete summary of all AutoPacific 2012 Ideal Vehicle Award results contact firstname.lastname@example.org and title your email “IVA Results”. A copy of the results will be emailed to you within 48-hours.