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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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Honda Odyssey Leapfrogs Minivan Competition

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Has the new 2018 Honda Odyssey leapfrogged its competition the way Chrysler’s second generation minivans did in the early ’90s?  After spending several days with the Odyssey on the Big Island of Hawaii, the case can be made that the Odyssey is the best minivan out there.  Up until now, the clear leader was the new-for-2016 Chrysler Pacifica.  Its advanced styling, stow-‘n-go seating and available plug-in hybrid make Pacifica a persuasive choice in the minivan category.  Only the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are real competitors.  Other minivans like the Nissan Quest and Kia Sedona don’t have the volume to be mainstream players.  Ford and General Motors abandoned the minivan market years ago to concentrate on SUVs – a good move.

Odyssey a Cornerstone of Honda Brand  Honda has a relatively narrow and focused lineup for a mainstream brand.  The Honda Odyssey is one of its cornerstones.  The new 2018 Honda Odyssey is the fifth generation of the minivan.  The fourth gen Odyssey was with us for seven model years which is long for a Honda product.  Based on Honda’s Global Light Truck platform, the new Odyssey shares major components with the Honda Pilot crossover SUV and the Honda Ridgeline pickup.  From AutoPacific’s assessment, all three of Honda’s new truck products are fully competitive and compelling.  The new Odyssey checks most of the boxes to make it the best minivan available today.

Still a Soccer Mom Image  Lets talk about minivans a minute.  Minivans are the perfect vehicle for a family.  They carry kids, their friends and their stuff.  They are seen as suburban taxis driven by a mom schlepping her little darlings from LaCrosse practice to Little League to band practice.  When we note in focus groups of suburban mothers that they should be driving a minivan, most women strongly disagree.  When compared with the active image of even the tamest crossover SUV, the SUV wins and the minivan loses.  The soccer mom image of the minivan cannot be avoided.

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

Evolutionary Design With Bold Cues  The new 2018 Honda Odyssey comes pretty close to avoiding the minivan image as does the Chrysler Pacifica and the “swagger-wagon” Toyota Sienna.  The styling of the new Odyssey is evolutionary but more  interesting than before. Odyssey continues with the chrome “lightning bolt” window surround that has been a distinctive design cue since the previous generation.  Now, however, the bodysides get a few more curves to add more personality to the design.  The front end design is a swath of brightwork similar to the Pilot and Ridgeline.  This look is being adopted throughout the Honda lineup and adds interest to the Honda “face”.

Magic Slide Seats Compete with Chrysler’s Stow-‘n-Go  The interior is very comfortable and accommodating for any size family.  Gone is any pretense of a walk-through from the front seats to the rear.  There is now a very usable console including excellent cupholders and a deep console box.  Honda has made interior flexibility one of its hallmarks.  The very small Fit and HR-V crossover SUV have interior flexibility that can accept many different sizes of cargo.  The Odyssey “Magic-Slide” second row seat counters the Chrysler Pacifica’s stow-‘n-go rear seating design.

In the Honda design the individual second row seats can be moved from side to side and fore and aft.  The center position is good for children in child seats which can be fixed toward the center of the vehicle – a good location in a side impact.  One of the rear seats can be positioned in the center and pushed forward so the driver and/or front seat passenger can tend to a baby in a child seat.

2018 Honda Odyssey Center Stack w/Apple CarPlay

Ergonomics Top Notch, But Nav Screen Display Needs Work  Ergonomics are always a Honda forte and the 2018 Honda Odyssey does not disappoint.  The instrument cluster gauges are bright and easy to read.  The center screen is large and bright with navigation by Garmin.  I found the information display on the screen to be hard to read because the fonts were so small.  While Garmin provided the guts, Honda designed the display graphics and could have made the font size bigger, contrast better and included the city name in addition to the road name on the display.  (Why is it so hard to get the city name on the display?  Everyone should do it!).  I ended up using Apple CarPlay maps and streaming in lieu of the Honda system.

Loaded Odysseys Want for Nothing  95% of the 2018 Honda Odysseys (EX and above) will have the full suite of Honda’s safety features standard including Honda Sensing and blind spot monitoring with cross traffic monitor.  The top level Elite model includes acoustic windshield and side glass that Honda contends makes the vehicle the quietest minivan on the market.  In fact, when you opt for the Odyssey Elite, there is very little missing from its equipment list.

Engine Upgraded – 10-Speed Transmission  The 2018 Honda Odyssey is powered by a 280-horsepower 3.5L single overhead cam V6.  The additional 32 horsepower over its predecessor gives the new Odyssey the power to pass at will.  On a long stretch uphill climb on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway on the Big Island, the engine strained a bit.  On anything but steep grades the power is adequate.  The Elite model includes a 10-speed automatic transmission – all others have 9-speeds.  The shifting is transparent in the 10-speed model.

~$30,000 – $47,000 – Is There Room for a +$50,000 Model?  The base price of the 2018 Honda Odyssey is $29,990 with a $940 delivery charge.  The Elite model is $46,670.  Honda pays particular attention to vehicle price points as do all manufacturers.  As a high volume, mainstream brand keeping prices affordable is paramount.  However, some automakers are wrestling with ways to charge even more for their top of the line products because buyers want more stuff.  The Odyssey Elite is $46,670 – $3,230 below $50,000.  Could there be a place for a $50,000 entry in the very price-conscious minivan market?  While Honda competitors are moving mid-size SUVs into the low $50,000 range could there be a place for an even higher spec Odyssey?  It would be interesting to do the analysis.


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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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All-New 2017 Honda CR-V – Improved Across the Board

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The 2017 Honda CR-V goes on sale in December 2016.  It’s predecessor, the fourth-generation 2016 Honda CR-V, is on track to sell about 380,000 crossover SUVs in 2016. It is the highest volume crossover SUV and one of the top selling vehicles in the market. In AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award Research the CR-V achieved a score of 690.  This is a fourth place showing in the Mid-Size Crossover SUV segment.  Nissan Rogue (712), Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester place ahead of the 2016 CR-V. In AutoPacific’s 2016 Ideal Vehicle Award Research the CR-V was tied with Rogue in third place (1134 points).   The class leading Subaru Forester (1175) and Mazda CX-5 scored higher.2017 Honda CR-V F34 VV2017 Honda CR-V FV VV

Each year, AutoPacific surveys new car and light truck buyers to determine what changes they want in their vehicle. It is particularly interesting to compare the changes that owners want to their vehicle when it is just about to be replaced by the next generation.  Also, AutoPacific’s research can be measuring stick on how well a manufacturer’s product planners, engineers and designers understand their customers.  Using AutoPacific’s research to determine what changes people wanted in their CR-V, let’s see how well Honda did with their update.

Source: AutoPacific - Radar Chart Showing Changes 2016 Honda CR-V Owners want Compared with Competition

Source: AutoPacific – Radar Chart Showing Changes 2016 Honda CR-V Owners want Compared with Competition

Technology – Still a Challenge as With Most New Generation Vehicles: As with many vehicles these days, technology is a love it/hate it affair. About 25% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want more advanced technology than now. About 30% want the technology they have to be easier to use. The 2016 CR-V has the HondaSensing suite of driver assistance technologies available.  The 2017 version expands on that adding a blind spot information system to the affordable EX model. Technology is still an area that requires a great deal of work, and the 2017 Honda CR-V improves on its predecessor.  About 25% of CR-V’s competitors want more advanced technology as well.  Among competitors, about 34% of 2016 Ford Escape owners want easier to use technology.

Driver’s Seat Visibility – Excellent View: Visibility is a key component in the acceptance of new crossover SUVs. About 29% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want better driver’s seat visibility compared with 27% for competition. The previous CR-V was very competitive, but AutoPacific concludes the fourth generation CR-V is better. The driver’s seating position is excellent.  The hood has been redesigned with more character that gives the driver more reference points in front. Honda has always been generous with glass and it appears the windows are larger. The 2017 CR-V should see better results next year.

Power and Fuel Economy – Going Turbo: About 20% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want more power and acceleration and about 10% would sacrifice power and acceleration for better fuel economy. About 29% of 2016 Nissan Rogue owners want more power and acceleration. The 2017 Honda CR-V adds a 190-horsepower turbocharged 1.5L 4-cylinder in all but the base LX model. The turbo 4 gets both better fuel economy and acceleration and feels sprightlier than its predecessor.   2017 results should be even better than 2016.

 Ride and Handling – Improved Dynamics: About 20% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want easier handing and a softer ride. This compares to just 14% of the owners of its primary competitors wanting easier handling and softer ride.  Honda has improved the ride and handling giving the 2017 CR-V a solid ride with crisp sporty handling. It is not a pillow-soft ride by any means, but gives the confidence that the vehicle will do what the driver demands.

Passenger Roominess – More Rear Seat Room: About 20% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want more passenger room. This compares with about 24% of competition (about 32% of Ford Escape owners want more passenger room). The 2017 Honda CR-V has 2.1-inches more rear seat legroom while increasing the overall length of the vehicle by 1.2 inches. The rear seat seems much more spacious and the 2017 Honda CR-V should fare even better in AutoPacific’s 2017 research.

Exterior Styling – More Distinctive – Upscale: Looking at the all new CR-V, the at-a-glance impression is “more of the same”. CR-V, however, adopts Honda’s more aggressive and distinctive front end design with a heavy dollop of chrome. The taillights are a blatant evolution of the 2016 CR-V. About 16% of 2016 CR-V owners want more distinctive styling. 23% of owners of the 2016 Ford Escape, for instance, want more distinctive styling. It is probably safe to say that the 2017 changes to the CR-V will move the needle towards the more distinctive area.

Cargo Area – Even Better:  2016 Honda CR-V owners are less likely to want more cargo space than the competition – 14% compared to 28%.  The 2017 Honda CR-V adds almost 10-inches to the length of its cargo space.  This makes the all-new CR-V even better than before and substantially better than each of its main competitors.

Overall: The 2017 Honda CR-V has incrementally improved in almost every area. The styling is more distinctive. The powertrain more responsive. The interior is larger within a vehicle that is no bigger than before. Combined with Honda’s outstanding ergonomics, the CR-V, as a product, should be able to sell at about capacity especially at the aggressive pricing Honda has adopted.

Competition does not stand still. The Ford Escape has a substantial upgrade for 2017. The Nissan Rogue is all new for 2017. The 2017 research will show which vehicle’s product development team understood its customers the best and executed the product for them.

 


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All New Honda CR-V Impressive Re-Incarnation

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Honda has imposed an embargo for the new Honda CR-V on technical specifications, driving impressions and pricing, so we can only describe the vehicle and its competitive position in generalities.  The embargo lifts on November 30, 2016.

New Honda CR-V FV VV

New Honda CR-V – all new for 2017 with distinctive front end styling.

Honda Assures Continued Success in Entry XSUV Market  The all new Honda CR-V is an impressive compact crossover SUV.  A pillar of Honda’s product lineup that includes Accord, Civic and Odyssey, the CR-V sells almost 400,000 units per year.  Strong competitors include the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape.  The Nissan Rogue is starting to make waves as well.  The entry crossover SUV category has become the best selling class of vehicle in the United States.  Entry crossover SUV sales are higher than mid-size cars.  The popularity of the segment, and how good this new CR-V is, has led Honda to add more assembly capacity at its Indiana assembly plant in 2017.

Sport utility vehicles have evolved from the hardcore 4x4s of the 1970s to the very easy-t0-live with crossover SUVs of today.  Responding to customer demand for better ride, better fuel economy, the latest electronic and infotainment features, the new crossovers have taken the market by storm.  They are now the vehicles of choice for most female buyers.

In the development of the new Honda CR-V, Honda benchmarked the European BMW X3 to give this mainstream crossover a luxury feel.  They clearly have higher aspirations for the vehicle.  Also, given the sales volume of the CR-V, Honda added standard features in lower trim levels.  Cost efficiencies are substantial when a product approaches the 400,000 unit volume level.

Nwq Honda CR-V F34 VV

New Honda CR-V – all new for 2017 with more muscular styling

More Aggressive Than Past Hondas  Sounding like a Big Three manufacturer of yore, the new Honda CR-V is longer, wider and higher than before.  It has a new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission on all but its base LX trim level.   The looks of the new Honda CR-V are an upward evolution of its predecessor.  Styling is more aggressive with more character in the hood and body panels.  The grille is much more aggressive than previously and follows the trend adopted by the new Honda Pilot XSUV and Ridgeline pickup.  The wheel openings are more muscular to accommodate larger tires and wheels.

More Upscale than Typical for This Class  Comparing the new Honda CR-V with the RAV4 and Escape, the CR-V comes across as a product in a class above.  The finish is outstanding, the interior has been substantially upgraded with soft touch materials in critical areas.  As usual, the new Honda CR-V is an ergonomic tour de force.  Visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent.  Reach to the controls is intuitive.  The large electronic instrument cluster is brilliantly lit and provides necessary information.  Responding to customer complaints, the new Honda CR-V adds back a volume control knob for the audio system replacing the slider used previously.  The rear seat is larger than in its predecessor and Honda describes the interior space in the new Honda CR-V as being best in class.

High Volume EX Trim Loaded with Features  The highest volume trim level will be the EX one step above the base LX.   The level of equipment on this model is impressive.  Honda includes Honda Sensing, blind spot warning and cross traffic warning as part of the EX trim level.  Honda Sensing includes adaptive cruise control with low speed follow, collision mitigation braking system, road departure mitigation, and lane keeping assist.  The Honda-exclusive Lane Watch video camera system has been abandoned for the new Honda CR-V.  Blind spot information replaces Lane Watch because owners want blind spot information on both sides of the car and the right-side-only Lane Watch system couldn’t be adapted to show the left side as well.

Best Selling Honda?  Given the excellence of the latest generation CR-V, and the additional production capacity being added, it would not be surprising if the CR-V becomes Honda’s top-selling vehicle.


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2016 Honda Civic EPIC!

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2016 Honda Civic F34 VehicleVoice2016 Honda Civic R34 VehicleVoiceCheap and cheerful is gone.  The 2016 Honda Civic sedan has raised the bar for a compact car to new levels.  After realizing that the 9th generation 2012 Civic was a dud, and quickly adding band-aids for 2013, Honda has gotten very, very serious with the all new 10th generation Civic.  In fact, for awhile there the automotive analyst and journalist community was sensing Honda was losing its mojo.  After updates to the Accord, the new Pilot, the HR-V and now the New 2016 Honda Civic, it is clear Honda is back.  Honda’s development name for the new Civic is “EPIC” Civic and it fits.  To achieve this “epicness” Honda benchmarked not only the usual suspects, but also the C-Class entries from Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

For reference, the 2016 Honda Civic has 5 basic trim levels:  LX, EX, EX-T(urbo), EX/Leather, Touring.

More Expressive Styling:  While still quickly identified as a Honda, the new Civic is much more expressive than any Civic before it.  The car is larger with a 3.0-inch increase in overall length and a 1.2-inch increase in wheelbase.  The car is 0.8-inches lower and going back to an old Honda trick, its cowl is 1.6-inches lower giving better forward visibility.  The car is lower and wider to give it the look of a more premium car.  The Civic adopts its own version of Honda’s evolving face using an upscale looking grille.   Innovative front lighting gives  the car a unique look.  LED daytime running lights are standard.   The top-of-the-line Touring model has LED headlamps as well.  The bodyside is creased as is today’s fashion with a slight bulge over the front wheels leading to a upper body character line ending in a muscular bulge over the rear wheels.  The C-Pillar has a sharp crease separating the roof from the rear fender.  The standard LED taillamps are huge V-shaped affairs.

2016 Honda Civic Cockpit VehicleVoiceInterior Much, Much More Upscale:  The front edge of the instrument panel sweeps below the windshield in a smooth unbroken arc from A-Pillar to A-Pillar and continue down the door trim panel.  This adds a sense of width to the car.  The instrument panel pad feels very high quality and nowhere near the hard plastic some cars in this class had in the past.  The seats are very comfortable – at least in the EX-L trim level with leather interior – and trimmed in high quality leather.  The instrument cluster includes a digital speedometer surrounded by an analog tachometer.  Nicely done.  Honda has paid a lot of attention to the transformer-like center console.  The conventional shifter is where you would expect, but ahead of the shift lever is an area for your cell phone or iPad mini.  Next to the driver’s knee is the switch for the electronic parking brake.  There is a sliding lid that reveals cupholders and space to hold an iPad.  Since all Civics have keyless start, there is storage for the key in the console.

2016 Honda Civic Instrument Cluster2016 Honda Civic SpeedoTwo Engines – Both Upgrades to Predecessor – Honda’s First Turbo in USA:  The base engine for the 2016 Honda Civic is a 2.0L double overhead cam 4-cylinder with 158-horsepower (the old Civic had a single overhead cam 1.8L 4-cylinder with 143HP).  The upscale engine is Honda’s first turbo in the USA, a 1.5L double overhead cam 4-cylinder turbo with 174-horsepower.  The base engine is available with a 6-speed manual transmission or CVT.  The Turbo is available only with the CVT.   The 2.0L I4 has more power than Corolla, Elantra or Mazda3.  The base Ford Focus with a 2.0L 4-cylinder has 160-horsepower edging out the base Civic by a couple of ponies.  The Turbo is bested by entries like Ford’s 252HP EcoBoost 4-cylinder Turbo in the Focus ST (manual transmission only) and 350-horsepower in the Focus RS, but those are rarefied enthusiast entries, not mainstream like the Civic Turbo will be.

Joins Democratization of Technology Club:  As with many car lines down the price spectrum, Civic now comes with a long list of available technology features capping out with its Honda Sensing system that includes adaptive cruise control with low speed follow, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warning.  Honda Sensing is standard on the top of the line Touring model and optional for $1,000 on the lower spec models.  Even the base LX is pretty well equipped with automatic headlights, auto up/down power windows, ambient interior lighting. LCD color audio system, electronic parking brake and automatic climate control.  You get Lane Watch and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto when you move to the EX model.  When you go the EX-T you get the 174HP Turbo engine, heated seats XM and HD radio and dual zone automatic temperature control.  When you pop for leather, you get an 8-way power driver’s seat.  Touring gets the full package: Honda Sensing, rain sensing wipers, LED headlamps, power passenger seat, navigation.

Driving the Civic Turbo:  Honda is, after all, an engine company and the new 1.5L Turbo shows that.  It has good power to move the car easily.  It is smooth and nicely damped from the interior.  The engine is quiet even when outside the car.  The CVT, a usually reviled transmission type, has been developed to a point where you cannot really tell it’s a CVT. While you expect Honda to provide an outstanding powertrain, it is the solidity, ride, handling and braking that set this Civic apart from its predecessors and many other small cars out there today.  It appears that they implemented many of the lessons learned when benchmarking European luxury car competitors.  It is that good.  No complaints on the dynamics of the car at all.

Pricing:  The base price of the 2016 Honda Civic LX is $18,640 with $835 destination and delivery on top of that.  The top of the line Touring Edition comes in at $26,500 with $835 D&D.  Comparatively, a 2016 Ford Focus S starts at $17,225 with $875 D&D. The Focus S does not have the feature load of the Civic LX.  It lacks a 6-speed manual transmission, automatic climate control and one-touch windows all around.   The Focus Titanium with (almost) all the boxes checked comes in at $26,125 plus $875 D&D.  So from a MSRP standpoint, the two cars are pretty close and Ford dealers are more likely to go for the deal vs. a hot out of the box Civic.

Now for the Nitpicks:  There are, of course, no perfect cars even though Consumer Reports contends the Tesla Model S is better than perfect.  Here are my nits for the Civic.  1)  The steering column adjustment lever is a long reach under the instrument panel.  Even though you might not use it often, it is tough to get to.  2)  Radio volume control is a slide on the touch screen for the audio system.  Might not be too much of a problem once you figure it out, but it would fail the rental car test.  3)  Blind spot monitoring system with cross traffic alert is not available.  Honda contends this is not now appropriate for the Civic class of car even though several competitors offer it.  It appears that Honda is depending on Lane Watch to handle this important safety chore, but Lane Watch will not help you pull out from between two Suburbans in a parking lot and warn you of approaching traffic.  Honda used a similar rationale on the Accord where Blind Spot Monitoring is only available on the top of the line. 4)  Honda has lowered the front seats by about 1.5 inches.  This reduces the hip to floor distance, creates a more laid-back driving position and hampers ingress/egress.  The higher seat height in the previous car was better.

Overall:  Great Job on the EPIC Civic. 

 


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2016 Honda Accord Mid-Cycle Updates

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As Honda has done with the CR-V, the 2016 Honda Accord gets subtle, but important updates leading up to its August 19 debut for the sedan and August 26 launch of the coupe.  Adding the Honda Sensing suite of electronic features brings the Accord equal or superior to competition in terms of electronic driver’s aids.  Costing a mere $1,000 Honda Sensing is available on every model of the Accord.  Honda Sensing includes adaptive cruise control, Lane Keeping Assist, Road Departure Mitigation, Collision Mitigation Braking – all features that can one day be part of an autonomous car.2016 Honda Accord Touring F342016 Honda Accord Sedan R34

On the outside the Accord has new styling for its front and rear six inches.  The grille, front fascia and headlamps are new as are the taillamps.  This improves Accord’s slightly clumsy front and rear styling for the present car. Engines are unchanged with a 3.5L V6 and 2.4L I4, but the 4-cylinder highway fuel economy has improved by 1-mpg to 37mpg.  City and combined numbers are unchanged.  This improvement results from aerodynamics and friction improvements.  Overall, Honda has gone through the Accord finessing each system:  high performance shocks, better control for the electric power steering system, aluminum hood on the sedan, larger front disc brakes on the Sport and Touring models.

The interior has been upgraded with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available in the Display Audio system.  The instrument panel has been upgraded with new gauges and accents.  The interior trim has upgraded materials and fabrics.  The center console has been redesigned to be more functional with today’s smartphones.2016 Honda Accord Cockpit

Because the 2016 Honda Accord is a high volume sedan and coupe, it can maintain pricing discipline.  The base LX model price remains the same at $22,925.  The top of the line Touring model is $35,400 including destination and with all boxes checked.

Just for fun, comparing the Accord Sedan to the Lexus GS350 yields a surprise.  The two cars are almost identical in size with the Lexus having a longer wheelbase for its rear wheel drive set-up.  Interior wise, the Accord is actually larger than the Lexus in several important dimensions.  Accord’s 3.5L V6 gets 28 fewer horsepower than the Lexus’ 3.5L V6, but it still feels good.  So saving about $23,000 getting a fully loaded Accord Touring versus a Lexus GS might make good sense.


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