Part of luxury in the United States has always been big; big homes, big cars, and big diamond rings. And a luxury car has always been big, bold, and unapologetic. Elvis had a Cadillac. Elizabeth Taylor a custom-built 1956 Mark II. Arnold piloted a Hummer.
A common belief today is that younger buyers do not have the same affinity to big and bold. The storyline is that economic instability, and a renewed sense of environmentalism has changed the landscape for future luxury buyers. Armed with this story, luxury brands are embarking on a downsizing strategy intended to bring in these new buyers to build their brands for the future. But luxury attempts at compact vehicles have a checkered past: BMW 318ti, Mercedes-Benz C230, or, further back, the inglorious Cadillac Cimarron. Given history, low fuel prices, and buyers gobbling up mid-size cars and crossovers, it is not a slam-dunk for luxury brands to succeed while downsizing.
We recently had the opportunity to experience Lexus’ first compact SUV in Whistler, British Columbia, a town of mostly tourists, with a generous slathering of a mountain-biking Gen Y crowd. The NX is designed target these younger buyers and compete with the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes GLK in what is one of the hottest markets in automotive.
Carrying some of the styling first seen with the LF-NX Concept shown at the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show, the vehicle’s exterior design continues the brand’s desire to be more aggressive. The spindle grille, stretched head and tail lamps and rising beltline are clearly designed to give the vehicle an athletic look as well as distance itself from any wagon cues that haunted the first RX. The large wheel arches and moldings promote the look of off-road capability and reduce a slab-sided look, but give the wheels and tires an inferiority complex, even with the optional 18’s. Overall however, the vehicle clearly distinguished itself from the RX, which will be important.
The aggressive exterior is carried inside with a cockpit-like driver’s position with an h-point that runs between a car and an SUV. The NX’s nicely trimmed leather, bridges the sporty/luxury gap quite well. The vehicle has a full array of technology, including a Lexus-first Wireless Charging Tray for phones; the new Lexus Remote Touch Interface (RTI) with a touch pad happily replaces the previous Lexus mouse/joystick. The new input device is like the track pad on a laptop with a soft leather cushion for the heel of your hand. Available Lane Departure Alert warns the driver when it determines that the vehicle is about to veer from a traffic lane. A camera mounted to the windshield recognizes lane markings. It sounds a warning and provides a visual representation on the Multi-Information Display screen if the vehicle is veering from its lane. The system works in rain and on roads where the lane is marked on one side only.
We drove both the NX 200t with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four -cylinder engine and the NX 300h hybrid, with a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine. The turbo had a bit of the expected lag and whine one would expect from this powertrain, but did a good job of launching without too much fuss. The hybrid, engineered for maximum fuel economy, is quiet and smooth, perfectly suited for mowing down slower pedestrians at Home Depot. The vehicle handles well for a small SUV, feeling nimble and more than able to handle the daily activities of the target buyers.
Lexus says that more than 70% of IS buyers are new to the brand, and often from standard, non-luxury mid-size vehicles. This is quite an achievement for the Lexus brand, and is the expectation for NX as well. That’s a real challenge. The NX is a real nice CUV, so you have to consider that a vehicle this nice will draw from RX buyers as well, especially given its superior fuel economy (about 28-30 highway) and, presumably, lower price. RX owners coming in for service or returning a lease vehicle will certainly notice, and consider, this vehicle.
What is is
• Smaller than the Lexus RX, and aimed to compete with Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lincoln MKC. and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class.
• Arrives at Lexus dealerships in late 2014.
• Derived from RAV4 mechanicals
• Lexus’ first turbocharged powertrain
• Hybrid powered NX 400h will also be available
• Intended to attract younger customers to the Lexus brand.
The 2015 Lincoln MKC hit Lincoln dealerships in June 2014 and promises to be the 2nd volume entry for Ford’s premium brand after the award-winning Lincoln MKZ. Lincoln is the top brand in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research and the MKZ and MKZ Hybrid are the winners of their product categories. The MKC (getting confused with the alphanumeric nomenclature yet?) is joining a booming market for smaller crossover SUVs and, based on our brief drive of the vehicle, the MKC should do very well in AutoPacific’s 2015 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.
Excellent Package The MKC is a “small” crossover SUV, but it does not feel small from the driver’s seat. The front seating package is spacious. Visibility forward is excellent. Ergonomics are good. Transmission shifting is through push buttons on the left hand side of the center stack. The MyLincoln Touch system is more intuitive (but reading the channel numbers for SiriusXM is almost impossible because of tiny font sizes) and stable. Losing the shifter in the center console is an excellent idea for many reasons. It allows for more storage in the console and also allows the console to be narrower giving the front seat passengers more seat width. The MKC is a persuasive package that will appeal to buyers across all age ranges.
Neat Features Abound on MKC For those buyers who want the latest technology, MKC offers a lot. Of course, there is MyLincoln Touch that sets the stage in the center stack. There is Approach Detection where the vehicle reacts to the key fob approaching the vehicle at night and the headlamp accents, taillamp accents, door handle pockets and interior all light up. There is even a Lincoln logo projected onto the pavement from the outside rear view mirror puddle lights. Then there is Drive Control that includes continuously adjusting shock absorbers to provide a comfortable ride under all conditions. Electric Power Steering and Active Noise Control are standard features that complement the Drive Control System. Active Park Assist not only can park the MKC, but includes Park Out Assist to help the driver maneuver the vehicle out of a tight parking space. As with many newly introduced vehicles there is a suite of electronic driver assist technologies: lane-keeping system, driver alert system (checks driver alertness), adaptive cruise control, collision warning system with brake support, blind spot information system, and cross traffic alert. These features may sound like overkill, but once you have used them, they become a necessity rather than a luxury.
Highly Differentiated from Escape – All EcoBoost Engines The MKC is derived from the Ford Escape but shares no body panels or interior trim bits. Without looking under the skin, the relationship is invisible. The 2015 Lincoln MKC comes standard with a 240HP 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine. Optional is a 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder with 285-horsepower (with 93 octane gasoline – in California the top spec gas octane is 91 octane so the output for the 2.3L would be about 280HP). The base vehicle is front wheel drive with all wheel drive available as an option.
Outstanding Dynamics Starting in Santa Barbara and driving across the Los Padres National Forest to the Tejon Ranch , the MKC proves to be nimble and athletic on the twisty roads more suited to a sports car than a X-SUV. With the 2.3L EcoBoost and AWD, the MKC is quick and solid over all road surfaces.
Price and Competition The base price of the MKC is $33,995, but the versions Lincoln provided for the drive evaluation were all in the $50,000 range equipped with the full suite of electronic features and the big engine. The size and price of the MKC puts it in the competitive set with the Cadillac SRX, Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X1, Infiniti QX50 (i.e. EX), Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC60. As if that isn’t enough competition, there is more to come: Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, Porsche Macan. Clearly, buyers will have a tremendous challenge sorting out which of these smaller XSUVs to select.
Now for the Nit-Picks Ford (Lincoln) can be depended on to make mistakes in feature availability. For a company that touts “democratization of technology” (meaning the neat electronic features found on the top of the line will be available in a Focus, for instance) the base MKC cannot be had with an in-vehicle navigation system. Since MyLincoln Touch is standard and each vehicle has a center stack screen, and the navigation system is via an SD card, navigation should be available on all models.
Brand Challenge The only thing standing in the way of the MKC being a whopping success may the Lincoln brand. While AutoPacific’s research shows Lincoln is doing a great job satisfying its customers, the brand has languished and is only now starting to re-assert itself. The MKC is an outstanding addition to the Lincoln portfolio. Now the challenge is to get buyers into the dealerships to drive and buy the MKC. It will be interesting to watch how Lincoln markets the vehicle in the coming months and to monitor its sales performance.
Satisfied With Acceleration If you are a lucky enough to own a Jaguar XJ, you likely are extremely satisfied with the power and acceleration of your car. In AutoPacific‘s new car and light truck research, 100% of XJ owners are extremely satisfied. Overall, 51% of new car and light truck buyers are extremely satisfied with the power and acceleration of their vehicle. About 86% of sports car owners are extremely satisfied. About 71% of sporty car owners and 70% of aspirational luxury cars are extremely satisfied. At the other end of the spectrum are owners of hybrids and small cars. Only 37% of hybrid owners are extremely satisfied with power and acceleration compared with 40% of small car owners. This might be expected since these products are biased toward maximum fuel economy usually at the expense of spirited driving.
Prius Plug In Hybrid Owners Least Satisfied with Power and Acceleration
Toyota Prius owners are least satisfied no matter which Prius is owned. Only 19% of Prius Plug-In Hybrid owners are extremely satisfied with the power and acceleration of their vehicle. Only 20% of Prius c owners are extremely satisfied. Only 24% of Prius v owners are extremely satisfied and only 27% of the Prius are extremely satisfied. Other Toyotas in the bottom twenty include the Matrix (21%), Lexus CT200h (29%) and Scion xD (30%). Ten of the bottom twenty are hybrids in addition to the seven models from Toyota are: Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (24%), Honda CRZ (26%) and Honda Insight (27%). Four economy cars are among the lowest rated: Honda Fit (25%), Nissan Versa (25%), Mazda 2 (27%), Ford Fiesta (28%), Kia Rio (29%) and Hyundai Accent (30%). Completing the bottom 20 are: Mazda CX5, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Mitsubishi Outlander and Jeep Patriot.
How Important is Power and Acceleration? Of course, one of the key questions is how important power and acceleration is to these owners. Overall, 39% of owners say power and acceleration is extremely important to them. So the industry is overachieving slightly having 51% of owners extremely satisfied. Among hybrid owners, only 23% say power and acceleration is extremely important (compared with 37% satisfied). Among small car owners, power and acceleration is important only to 28% (compared with 40% satisfied).
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA: Mercedes-Benz has been in a slow launch mode for the new front wheel drive 2014 CLA sedan since the beginning of 2013. The car has just gone on sale and advertising is blanketing the airwaves. So, what’s the story?
Target – Millennials – Does it Have Enough Rear Seat Room? The CLA is Mercedes’ price leader in the USA. Mercedes proudly touts its $29,990 base price and admits its attempt to intercept drivers under 35 before they buy their first premium brand car from BMW or Audi. Most CLAs will be priced in the $35,000 range when you get the $2,300 premium package (garage door opener, premium sound w/iPod interface, heated front seats, dual zone climate control) and the $2,370 multimedia package (rear view camera and navigation system). For that mid-thirties price you get a fully featured front wheel drive 4-cylinder four door sedan and the Mercedes three-pointed star.
Background of AutoPacific’s IVAs: AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Awards for 2o13 are given to brands and vehicles that best meet the expectations of their buyers. The person driving the truck does not want it to be bigger or more powerful or have better info/entertainment systems. Based on the results of over 52,000 respondents, the IVAs are owner-based awards that can serve to give truck buyers an idea of how well manufacturers have designed vehicles with their customers in mind.
As you read through the brief descriptions of the winners’ results you will notice some similarities where owners of most vehicles want change. Visibility Among all trucks about 22% of owners want better driver’s seat visibility. Roominess About 19% of truck owners want more passenger roominess than now. Power vs Fuel Economy Even when talking about today’s high gas prices, truck owners want good power and acceleration. About 21% want more power and acceleration and only 9% of the respondents would sacrifice power and acceleration for better fuel economy. Ingress/Egress About 19% of all truck owners want their vehicles to be easier to get in and out of. Info/Entertainment Technology Design of the info/entertainment technology is one of the most hotly contested areas of vehicle design today. Some manufacturers have a good handle on this, but 22% of truck owners want more info/entertainment technology than they have now. These folks are offset by 14% who want their info/entertainment technology to be easier to use.
With that preamble in mind, here are the Ideal Vehicle Award winners for trucks for 2013…
Background of AutoPacific’s IVAs: AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Awards for 2o13 are given to brands and vehicles that best meet the expectations of their buyers. The person driving the car does not want it to be bigger or more powerful or have better info/entertainment systems. Based on the results of over 52,000 respondents, the IVAs are owner-based awards that can serve to give car and truck buyers an idea of how well manufacturers have designed vehicles with their customers in mind.
As you read through the brief descriptions of the winners’ results you will notice some similarities where owners of most vehicles want change. Visibility Among all cars about 29% of owners want better driver’s seat visibility. Too often visibility is sacrificed for swoopy styling. Roominess About 24% of car owners want more passenger roominess than now. Of course, some people bought a vehicle that may be smaller than they like so they want something bigger, but many are also reacting because passenger roominess has been sacrificed for style. Power vs Fuel Economy Even when talking about today’s high gas prices, owners want good power and acceleration. About 26% want more power and acceleration and only 7% of the respondents would sacrifice power and acceleration for better fuel economy. Ingress/Egress Going with the basic package challenges like roof height vs styling and rear seat room vs styling there is also ease of getting in and out. About 26% of all car owners want their vehicles to be easier to get in and out of. Info/Entertainment Technology Design of the info/entertainment technology is one of the most hotly contested areas of vehicle design today. Some manufacturers have a good handle on this, but 25% of car owners want more info/entertainment technology than they have now. These folks are offset by 13% who want their info/entertainment technology to be simpler and easier to use.
With that preamble in mind, here are the Ideal Vehicle Award winners for cars for 2013…
Almost There – IS350 F-Sport Nears 335i Performance Feel The all new 3rd Generation Lexus IS is a near luxury sport sedan to be launched during June 2013 as a 2014 model year entry (the 2013 IS C hardtop convertible based on the 2nd Gen IS continues for another year selling along side the 4-door sedan) . The major question is whether it is ready to take on the Germans in its class. To answer that question, Lexus served up three IS350 F-Sports, a BMW 335i and Mercedes C350 and a nice little track outside Austin, Texas – Driveway Austin Motorsports. You could drive each car for two laps per outing as many times as you wanted or time allowed. The conclusion is that the BMW retains the Ultimate Driving Machine crown, the IS350 F-Sport is very, very civilized and competitive, and the C350 approaches land barge category. The 335i is very sporty, very precise and tuned for performance. The IS achieves its competitive position only when you opt for the IS350 with the F-Sport package giving the car upgraded suspension and steering. The more mundane IS models – IS250 and IS350 – are softer and more tuned to the casual driver. But, the F-Sport is a gas to drive. Unfortunately, an Audi A4 was not available for the track exercise. It would have provided an interesting comparison.
So, with the excitement of the track experience out of the way, we were able to drive the IS on the great Texas Hill Country roads around the area.
OK, OK… the new 2013 Toyota Avalon will not be targeted at teenagers when it goes on sale in December, but the age of the more than 100,000 Avalon hand-raisers has been about 52 years down from 67 years of present Avalon owners. Toyota has a monicker for these people – “Trail Boomers”. Toyota plans to double Avalon sales to about 70,000 units per year.
No Longer a LARGE CAR – Now Avalon is a Premium Mid-Size Car The 4th generation car is slightly smaller with much more expressive styling. It goes a long way in changing the perception of the vehicle. Based on the Camry platform, the Avalon shares much under the skin with the Camry and Lexus ES350. The Avalon is the product of Toyota’s Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, CA and the huge and growing Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is, of course, assembled in Georgetown, KY.
The body and exterior are unique to the Avalon. The front of the car combines a strong T-Bar upper grille with center Toyota logo with a (2013) Fusion-esque lower grille giving the car kind of a gaping face. In the side view, Avalon is much more aerodynamic than its predecessors. The windshield is faster making ingress just a bit more difficult for the older edge of its traditional buyer base. The backlite is much faster too, resulting in a relatively short decklid. Toyota describes the feeling of the car to be “athletic, elegant, intelligent and powerful”.
The Avalon is a bit smaller than the 3rd generation car. That car was described as a Large Car. The new one is described as a Premium Mid-Size Car. Riding on a 111.0-inch wheelbase – the same as its predecessor – Avalon’s overall length is cut by 2.2-inches. It is one-inch lower and a half-inch narrower. The result is that most interior dimensions have been squeezed a bit. Front headroom is 1.3-inches less. Front shoulder room is 1.2-inches less. Front hip room is 0.7-inches less. Only front legroom is a bit longer by 0.8-inches. The formerly generous rear seat room has sacrificed the most: 1.7-inches less legroom, 1.5-inches less hip room, 1.2-inches less shoulder room. Only rear headroom is up slightly by 0.4-inches.
The Lexus Flagship – the LS460 4-door sedan – is freshened for the 2013 model year. This comes after an all new Audi A8 in 2011, a tweaked 2012 BMW 7-Series, and the new Cadillac XTS (which may not be in this class). A major change for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is due in early 2013 as a 2014 model year. The Jaguar XJ that was all new in 2009 as a 2010 model gets a much needed all wheel drive system for 2013.
2013 Lexus LS460 F SPORT