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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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Ford SUVs – Juggernaut Continues

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Ford SUVs are the key to future success in Ford’s business.  As Ford leaves the sedan (not car) business, they have given the first glimpse of their all new 2020 Explorer Crossover SUV (XSUV). The new Explorer replaces the fifth generation D4 platform Explorer with a totally modern platform. The all new body is unitized just like its predecessor but it is now rear wheel drive giving up its previous front wheel drive architecture. Explorer looks much like its predecessors with evolutionary, but modern, styling. Rear wheel drive lets its proportions be much more contemporary.

Features will be a major part of the Explorer story going forward.  The new Explorer XSUV gains the Ford CoPilot 360+ suite of safety and driver assistance features. When launched, Explorer arguably will be the most feature laden vehicle offered by Ford.

Of particular note is Explorer’s Powertrain lineup. Base engine is a 300HP 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder, the upscale engine will be a 3.0L Twin-Turbo V6 making 365HP.  The sporty ST model goes one step further gaining 35 more horsepower with the 3.0L Twin Turbo. There is also a hybrid version available that mainly will be pitched to police forces due to its higher fuel economy.

We haven’t driven the Explorer yet, but it promises to be very good and probably the best Explorer off-road than ever. Admittedly, previous gen Explorers were pretty mediocre off-road compared to competition.

The story of Ford SUVs doesn’t end with Explorer. It is educational to look at their present SUV lineup in the charts below. Starting with the barely competitive EcoSport, the lineup marches upwards in five to ten inch increments with Ford SUVs covering everything from the EcoSport Compact XSUV to the gargantuan Expedition Max.

EcoSport is the oldest of the bunch, but the platform for the Premium Mid-Size Edge is getting a little long in the tooth even with a 2019MY freshening. The high volume Escape gets a complete re-do in late 2019 or early 2020. Coming later is a reincarnation of the off-road Bronco to combat Jeep’s popular Wrangler.  Also later, an additional baby Bronco will be launched slotted below the hard-core off-reader.

Ford clearly does not intend to give up any ground it the hyper-competitive SUV market.


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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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Can All New VW Tiguan Challenge Top Selling Small SUVs?

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2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium

The all new Volkswagen Tiguan was revealed at a low key media event driving out of Denver, CO up to 8,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.  While the VW Tiguan is classified as a Compact Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle (XSUV), it’s dimensions are close to that of an ideal mid-size car of a decade ago – wheelbase of about 110-inches and overall length of about 185-inches.  It is a nice size, has a comfortable interior with adequate room in the second row seat and even has a third row seat available.  Front wheel drive Tiguans have the third row seat standard.  In all wheel drive VW Tiguans, the third row is optional.

The 2018 VW Tiguan is the second generation of the smaller VW XSUV.  It is about 10-inches longer than its predecessor.  At-a-glance, the styling is clearly Volkswagen.  It is evolutionary but crisper and clearly more modern.  The VW Tiguan rides on Volkswagen’s modular MQB platform that also underpins the newly introduced Volkswagen Atlas crossover. The replacement for Volkswagen’s 4-door CC coupe – the Arteon – will be based on MQB when it is launched in 2018.  The present Golf is also an MQB platform mate.

Compact XSUV Competitive Landscape  Having been underrepresented in the SUV market before now, Volkswagen’s two SUV introductions this year show the automaker has clearly heeded the shift in the market away from cars and towards crossover SUVs.  Today the truck/car split is about 60% trucks/40% cars.  Who woulda thought?

While VW management will not talk about future products, there are whispers of a couple of more XSUVs.  Probably one a bit smaller than the VW Tiguan and maybe one larger than the Atlas.  Somewhere in the mix, the aging Touareg still is sold.

Through May 2017, the 1st generation Tiguan has sold about 15,000 units in the USA down from 17,500 in 2016 for the same time period.  Where Volkswagen has fully competitive products in the USA, they usually sell at about 50% of the segment leader.  So, with the May CYTD leader being the Nissan Rogue with over 161,000 units sold, Tiguan should sell about that many in a full calendar year.  While that would be great, VW’s Pueblo, Mexico plant probably doesn’t have capacity to pump out that many Tiguans.  And the compact XSUV battleground is vicious with Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox leading the pack.  Tough competition.

Tiguan Feature Laden, But Not Perfect  The VW Tiguan is in the sweet spot though.  Easy to get into and out of, the ergonomics are top-notch.  The center screen is big and bright, but the information is a bit confusing.  The road/street name does not show on the navigation screen like on most competing makes.  You can find that information in the instrument cluster where turn-by-turn arrows anticipate your next turn but the fonts are tiny and contrast is bad.  Having Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard is the saving grace to save the VW navigation from itself.

There is a full complement of advanced driver assistance features available from adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert with braking, lane assist, area view.  There is even a 12.3-inch reconfigurable display for the instrument cluster.  Availability of these features is the price of entry in almost any class today.

Driving Tiguan, Adequate  The VW Tiguan is powered by a 184-horsepower 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo engine (EA888).  In the front wheel drive model, the engine is responsive but a bit noisy.  The same engine in the AWD model seemed to resist responding quickly seeming to think about whether or not it wanted to go or not.  Perplexing.  All in all, the Tiguan engine is “adequate”.  Its power output is competitive for the segment, but somehow it doesn’t have the finesse of the Honda CR-V for instance.

The ride is firm and composed over most road surfaces.  The Tiguan evaluation route did have one stretch that was bumpy and had a washboard surface.  The front wheel drive Tiguan danced around dramatically even at moderate speeds.  Drivers of the AWD model reported similar dynamics over this particular piece of road.  The vehicle did not feel particularly under control.

Price Competitive  The base price for the front wheel drive 2018 VW Tiguan is $25,345.  The top price is $37,550 for an AWD SEL model.  Checking all the boxes can get its price up to about $40,000.  Following its lead with the Atlas, the Tiguan has a 6-year, 72,000 mile warranty.


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Genesis G90 Luxury Car Sets New Satisfaction Record

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Source:  George PetersonG90 Satisfies its Owners to the Max  Launching a new brand with an all new car is a huge challenge.  Launching in the luxury space is even more of a challenge.  Hyundai, the top Korean manufacturer,  launched its Genesis brand in late 2015.  The 2017 Genesis G90 Luxury Car followed in 2016.  Owners of the new Genesis G90 have rated their satisfaction with their car.  Their ratings have the G90 achieving the all-time highest score in AutoPacific’s 2017 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.  Hyundai has established a new benchmark with the Genesis G90 in its first year out.

Most vehicles are well-made today.  The key is in the execution.  Is the vehicle intuitive to use?  Are the electronics easy to understand?  Is the powertrain smooth and seamless?  Is the interior quiet and comfortable?  Is the dealership experience special?  For the G90, the execution is excellent. Excellent car.  Excellent experience with the dealer.  This is from a Korean manufacturer that just began building its quality mojo in 1999.  Job well done.

Satisfaction Results Distributed Across Segments  The rest of the industry has not been standing still.  All major automakers have at least some design and engineering capabilities in the United States.  Winning vehicles show product design that caters to American tastes.  Winning vehicles also show that the sales organizations are listening to their customers to provide a satisfying sales experience.

The top brand in the satisfaction research is Lincoln closely followed by Cadillac and Genesis.  The top popular brand is General Motors’ GMC truck brand.

There are twenty-three segments in AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.  Eight were won by American brands.  Seven were won by Japanese brands.  Four were won by Korean brands. Four were won by European brands.

Nissan is the top brand with five category wins.  Kia is second with three.

Only one American CAR won its class.  The Dodge Challenger is the top ranked in the Sporty Car category.  The other nine car categories were won by Japanese, Korean and European brands.  Seven of the eight awards won by the American brands are in truck and SUV categories.

One surprise is that the Nissan Titan won the light duty full size pickup truck award.  The new Titan was a dark horse in a race including the vaunted aluminum Ford F-150 and the Chevrolet, GMC and Ram half-ton pickups.  Another interesting result is in the Compact Pickup category.  The Honda Ridgeline handily won top spot.  While “real” truckers disdain the Ridgeline’s small pickup bed (that is integral with its body) and plush ride, Honda has provided a pickup that is luxurious and quiet like a SUV but with adequate pickup capability.  The “trunk” in its pickup bed is a great idea.


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Honda Civic Si Added to Lineup for Enthusiast Small Car Buyers

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2017 Honda Civic Si

Eighth Generation Honda Civic Si  There have been ten generations of the Honda Civic spanning about 40 years.  Generations three through nine have included the Honda Civic Si model to provide a sportier alternative for enthusiast small car buyers.  The tenth generation Honda Civic Si sedan and coupe went on sale at Honda dealers on May 13, 2017.

The tenth generation Civic is a platform development tour-de-force.  Honda lost its mojo with a generation of technically excellent, but unexciting products.  Honda is now back with a vengeance.  Their new generation stuff is outstanding.  Their truck platform products are very good – Honda Pilot XSUV, Honda Ridgeline pickup and Honda Odyssey minivan.  The Honda Accord is a very competitive premium mid-size car selling at high volumes.

The previous, ninth gen Civic was created during the lean years of the Great Recession.  Consequently, the car left a lot to be desired.  Realizing the ninth gen Civic had been a step backwards, Honda pulled out the stops on the tenth generation Civic.  They created a car with distinctive styling and a comfortable and functional interior.  The car is available with an impressive load of comfort, convenience and safety features.

2017 Honda Civic Si

The Honda Civic Si is not the end of the car line’s model extension.  The higher performance Type-R hatchback will be launched in a month or so.

Exterior Styling  The 2017 Honda Civic Si is special.  It has more aggressive front and rear fascias with prominent air ducts.  The grille texture has moved from chrome to gloss black for a sportier look.  A rear spoiler has been added.  Tires are upgraded to 235/40R18 to help more aggressive handling and enhance the car’s stance.  There is a center outlet exhaust with chrome surround.  All this clearly communicates the car’s more sporty nature.

Interior Styling  The black interior sports black and red accents for the instrumentation.  The Honda Civic Si has two driving modes – “Sport”and “Normal”.  In sport mode, the cluster accents are red.  In normal mode, the cluster accents are blue.  New front seats have a unique frame and bolstering to better support the driver and front seat passenger when pushing the limits.  The bolsters are firm, but not uncomfortable.

Powertrain and Chassis  Under the skin, the engine has been upgraded.  It is powered by a 205-horsepower 1.5L 4-cylinder turbo.  The turbo substantially improves mid-range torque which makes the car feel more flexible.  The already-excellent 6-speed manual transmission in the Civic is upgraded to provide an even more definite short stroke gear change.  Front brake discs grow 1.2-inches to a 12.3 inch diameter.  Rears add 0.9 inches for 11.1 inches.  As you might expect, the Si gets an exclusive suspension with unique springs, stabilizer bars and shocks.

Competition and Pricing  The Honda Civic Si competes with the Subaru Impreza WRX, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST, Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ and Hyundai Veloster Turbo.  In recent years the WRX and GTI have outsold the Si, but the new car may change that.  The Si is priced at $23,900 for either the coupe or 4-door sedan.  This gives it a $525 advantage over the Focus ST, $1,695 over the GTI and $2,795 over the WRX.   Si is a high value proposition in its class.  There are no options available on the Si.

What Honda Civic Si Lacks The Si is available only with a 6-speed manual transmission.  This is admittedly an excellent transmission, but American buyers have been abandoning manuals for years.  This limits the sales potential of the Si.  Honda engineers and planners seemed to dismiss the need for an automatic.  They cited the enthusiast’s desire for the active driving experience provided by a manual.  One admitted their Continuously Variable Transmission found in the rest of the Civic line would accommodate the horsepower and torque of the Si’s engine, but the CVT would surely sap the crispness of the engine.  Then there is a dual clutch automatic like Honda uses in the Acura ILX.  Maybe that could be fitted.  Anyway, if they want to increase Si sales at some point, an automatic would be in order.

The rest of the Civic line offers the excellent HondaSensing automatic driver assistance system.  This includes adaptive cruise control, lane watch and assist.  More and more drivers are expecting this system.  Just because Si is directed at sporty drivers, it does not mean they do not want HondaSensing.  Similarly, the Si is not available with a blind spot monitoring system.  It needs one available.

 


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Atlas Crossover Hits Mark – or Doesn’t

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The all new Volkswagen Atlas crossover SUV (XSUV) launches in late May in the United States.  It is being dropped into the highly competitive mid-size crossover SUV market dominated by the Ford Explorer and the Honda Pilot.  Those two vehicles are Atlas’ strongest competitors.

Volkswagen, like Hyundai, can be criticized for being late to the American-style XSUV market.  Sure VW has had the Touareg and Tiguan crossovers in the market, but neither have the volume potential of the Atlas.  Atlas is produced at VW’s 300,000 unit assembly plant in Chattanooga, TN.  Atlas shares Chattanooga capacity with the Passat that sold 73,000 units in the USA in 2016.  Clearly, VW has room in Chattanooga for the Atlas and perhaps one or two additional entries. 

The Atlas is sized right for its competitive set.  It is almost exactly the size of the very successful Ford Explorer on the outside, but has a much longer wheelbase.  It makes great use of its interior space yielding much more cargo capacity than the vehicles compared above.  The front seat area is spacious and the cockpit is well laid out.  Ergonomics are first rate.  The second row can accommodate three large child seats and is adjustable for better legroom.  The third row seat is accessible, but only for small children or adults for short trips.

Source: George Peterson, AutoPacific

The Atlas is styled like you would expect a VW XSUV to be.  The front end styling is definitely a VW face with standard LED lighting and accent lights – distinguishable from afar.  The muscular bodysides communicate capability with a strong character line connecting the front and rear wheel openings.  The taillamps are connected by a chrome strip that highlights the rear styling and gives an upscale image.  The liftgate opens to the very large cargo area which is flat when all the rear seats are folded.

Driving the V6 Atlas crossover is pleasant, but not particularly exciting.  That is a good thing for a XSUV targeted at family car usage.  Ride quality is good, but there is a bit too much body lean on the twisty roads in Texas’ Hill Country around San Antonio.  Quiteness with its 20-inch tires is poor on many road surfaces.  When you find that elusive stretch of absolutely smooth asphalt, quietness is superb.  On rougher road surfaces you cannot carry on a conversation.

Source: George Peterson

In search of the Atlas’ unique selling proposition you conclude that the reconfigurable VW Digital Cockpit may be it.  The 12-inch wide instrument cluster can can change to provide several different information displays.  Unlike some reconfigurable systems, you cannot change the overall appearance, just the information shown.  The 8-inch center stack display is intuitive and turn by turn driving directions can be displayed on the instrument cluster at the swipe of a finger.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

The Atlas crossover has a complete suite of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems available.

Checking prices, the price for a FWD 4-cylinder Atlas S is $30,500.  An AWD V6

Atlas SEL Premium is $48,490.  So, the price is in line with competition.

Who will buy the Atlas?  The Atlas crossover is selling in a growing segment but there are two giants among its seven-passenger competition – Explorer and Pilot .  Both Explorer and Pilot have a loyal buyer base and they may be the superior products.  Volkswagen has a buyer base that loves the brand (let’s not discuss “Dieselgate”) and will likely consider the Atlas for their family hauler.  The question is can VW dealers position the Atlas as superior to its strong competitors or will they have to hope for VW loyalists coming in looking for aggressive prices?


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