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2017 Fiat 124 Spider – Japanese Roadster with Italian Flair

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2017 Fiat 124 Spider F34 450Fiat Turns to Mazda for Iconic Sports Car  About 50 years after first launching the Fiat 124 Spider in the United States, Fiat is launching a new Spider in Summer 2016.  The last time the Fiat 124 Spider was sold in the USA was in 1983.  To gain a desirable roadster without having to develop the car themselves, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) turned to Mazda.

Fiat wants the 124 Spider to re-establish the sporty image of the brand and communicate “fun, joyous and optimistic” motoring.

Basically, the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a reskinned Mazda Miata propelled by a Fiat MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine.

Unique Exterior Styling  Take the outstanding Mazda MX-5 Miata and breathe Italian-ness on it and you have the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider.  With the rear wheel drive Mazda roadster platform as a base, Fiat has done an excellent job differentiating their little roadster from the Miata.   The proportions are definitely Miata, but the Fiat body is 5.5-inches longer with much of the length increase going to the trunk.  The exterior styling is different, maybe a bit more upscale looking.  The front end has a hexagonal grille with a honeycomb mesh flanked by styled headlamps.  It has a friendly face.  The rear has sharp horizontal LED taillamps.  Both the front and rear designs are reminiscent of the original 124 Spider.

Minor Interior Differentiation  The interior is lifted directly from the Miata with material upgrades here and there.  The seats are very comfortable and supportive with a unique sew style.  Two seat trim colors are available, black and saddle.  The saddle seat trim is very upscale looking and radio speakers in the headrests are a nice touch.  The interior has been optimized for quietness.  Being a roadster, wind buffeting can be a real problem, so care was taken in the windshield header and side window design to minimize buffeting at speed.  The top is one of the best features of the Fiat 124 Spider.  It can be opened or closed with one hand from either front seat.  Brilliant!

Unique Turbo Engine from Italy  The Fiat 124 Spider is powered by Fiat’s 1.4L MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine with 160-horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque.  The engine block has been modified for longitudinal installation in the platform and to mate with Mazda’s excellent 6-speed manual transmission and 6-speed automatic transmission.

The suspension has been tuned a bit differently and the ride seems a bit more supple than on the Miata.  Handling is crisp as befits the short wheelbase.

Pricing Essentially Equivalent with Miata  There are three trim levels:  Classica, Lusso and Abarth.  There is also a 124 unit special edition car at launch – Prima Edizione Lusso (check all the boxes, unique blue color = $35,000).  The base Classica model is priced at $24,995 with the 6-speed manual transmission.  Destination charges are $995.  About 60% of the Fiat 124 Spider buyers are expected to opt for the automatic transmission that adds $1,350 to the price.  The volume model likely will be the $27,495 Lusso model that adds automatic headlamps, fog lamps, rain sensing wipers, automatic temperature control, leatherette and piano black instrument panel inserts, and 7-inch touch screen.  Selecting the sportiest Abarth model is $28,195.  When compared with the Miata, Lusso seems like a deal compared with the Miata Grand Touring ($31,270) except the Grand Touring Miata is fully loaded.  To get that level of equipment on the Fiat 124 Spider adds another $3,795 to the price putting the Fiat only $20 higher than the Miata (Fiat destination charge is $160 higher than Mazda – puts actual price difference at $180 higher than Miata).


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Infiniti Upgrades Mid-Size Vehicles Mid-Cycle

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Nissan’s luxury brand, Infiniti, is upgrading its two mid-size entries in the middle of their product cycle.  This is not unusual these days as carmakers attempt to keep up with new technologies and keep fresh products available to their buyers.  Infiniti’s one-two punch comes with new powertrains for the Q50 (nee G35/37) rear wheel drive mid-size sedan and freshened styling for the QX60 (nee JX35) front wheel drive/AWD mid-size crossover SUV.

The Q50 changes target enthusiasts and the QX60 changes target families.  Let’s talk about the Q50 first.

Infiniti Q50 models equipped with the 3.0-liter V6 twin-turbo 400 hp engine are designated as the Q50 Red Sport 400 and feature unique staggered 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and 245/40R19 front/265/35R19 rear summer performance run-flat tires, as well as unique exhaust tips. These changes help to assert the car’s performance credentials and add to its aggressive, confident aura.

Q50 Powertrain Updates  Infiniti positions the Q50 against the Lexus IS and the BMW 3-Series.  To us, it is closer to the Lexus GS350 in size and ambiance, but priced lower.  Q50 looks the same as before.  Its changes come in the form of new engines.  The top-of-the-line is the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400.  What does all that mean?  The “400” is for the 400-horsepower twin turbo 3.0L V6 engine.  “Red Sport” refers to the red “S” sport badge on the fenders and rear of the vehicle.  The Red Sport 400 is very flexible from easily lumping around town in stop and go traffic, to quickly running rural roads.  With several drive selections from Eco to Sport+ available, the personality of the car can transform dramatically.  In Sport + mode throwing the car around sharp curves over undulating terrain is a blast.  A fully loaded Q50 Red Sport 400 should set you back around $55,000 although pricing has not been finalized.  About 20%-25% of Q50 mix will be Red Sport 400 models.

Rounding out the new powertrain news for the Q50 is the high volume engine which is a de-tuned version of the Red Sport 400 – a twin turbo V6 with 300-horsepower.  This will be on 50%-60% of the volume.  The Infiniti Q50 2.0t is powered by an all-new base engine developed with Daimler – a turbo 2.0L 4-cylinder with 208-horsepower.  This will be on about 20%-25% of the Q50s sold.  The power output of the 4-cylinder seems pretty anemic.  Other 2.0L turbo 4s on offer today are more common with between 230 and 240-horsepower.  Some even have as much as 270-horsepower.  Infiniti says only the basic engine design is from Daimler.  All the accessories and systems engineering were by Nissan engineers.  The engine is produced in Infiniti’s Decherd, Tennessee Engine Plant.

2016 Infiniti QX60-550px

QX60 Freshening Moderately Extensive  The QX60 is Infiniti’s mid-market family hauler.  It is in the middle of an SUV lineup that includes the flagship QX80 (formerly QX56), the “urban gorilla” QX70 (nee FX35/45/50).  Below the QX60 is the QX50 (nee EX35) and the upcoming QX30 (based on a Mercedes 5-door bodystyle).

The 2016 QX60 looks pretty much the same as the 2016 model, but it does have new front and rear styling that evolves slightly from the 2015 version. The grille and headlamps are new and now de rigeur LED accent running lights are part of the headlamp design.  Outside mirror-mounted turn signals are standard. The taillamps and liftgate are new, but look similar to their predecessor.  Inside, the seat trim is new with more intricate sew styles.  The instrument panel upper is softer and looks more appropriate for luxury brand vehicle.  Driver assist technologies abound.

Responding to criticisms about ride control and handling, Nissan upgraded the suspension.  While ride comfort was excellent, body lean in cornering was excessive.  The update to the suspension yields a vehicle that is more confident feeling, more nimble and lighter on its feet.  This is a very positive move forward.

While these updates to Infiniti’s mid-market entries are not earth shaking, they keep the vehicles fresh and up-to-date.  The changes to the QX60 are more extensive, but the powertrain changes to the Q50 will get the most attention.  Both are good moves.


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2017 Bentley Bentayga – The Bentley Boys are Busy

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Bentley Bentayga Dune RunningBentley Motors of Crewe, England has begun production of the 2017 Bentley Bentayga and vehicles will begin arriving in the United States in May, 2016.  Ho Hum, just another SUV for an overstuffed market, right?  Not so.  The Bentayga is a very, very special piece of work.

Meant to Be Expensive and Is  Based on the Audi Q7 platform that will also bring us the next generation Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, the Bentayga is the most expensive and most powerful SUV available.  Starting at $229,000 the Bentayga is fully loaded with all the comfort, convenience and safety features you could want.  If you want the bespoke Mulliner picnic set from Linley, it will set you back another $28,000.  For another $28,500, you can have carbon fiber body pieces like the rear spoiler and rear view mirror covers.  Contrasting piping on the seats is $2,110 and the rear seat entertainment system is a bit over $7,000.  A typical Bentayga will go out the door at around $275,000 with an adequate load of options.  During a drive experience in Palm Springs in early February, the highest priced version I drove was $307,000.

Technological Tour de Force  While the price of the Bentayga is what most people will be talking about, the vehicle itself is very, very high spec.  Powered by a new 6.0L twin turbo W12 engine, the horsepower is rated at 600HP, but the torque is huge at 663 lb-ft.  Mated to a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission, a 0-60 mph time of 4.0 seconds is achieved.  For those with no speed limits to worry about, top speed is 187 mph.  The full time all wheel drive system is mated with Bentley Dynamic Drive Control; a suspension system that has 4 settings as base or eight settings with the All Terrain Specification for any road or terrain condition.  The key to this dynamic system is a 48-volt electrical supply for the drive system’s electronics.  During a demonstration at the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway to the east of Palm Springs one lap using “comfort” was fast, but there was more body roll than desired and the throttle response was a bit anemic.  The next lap shifted to “sport” mode and the personality of the vehicle changed dramatically.  Throttle response was instantaneous and the suspension seemed to invite you to dive into the corners more aggressively.  After four laps (not enough), grins for all.

Dune running with the Bentayga at Imperial Dunes near Glamis, California and rock climbing at Cahuilla Creek, it was possible to experience what almost no Bentayga owners ever will.  The vehicle is supremely capable, but hugely expensive and not likely to be exposed to the kind of treatment off road in sand, mud, or rocks.   Repairing the all aluminum body would be a bit expensive.  But, it is clear the Bentayga can handle about anything that can be thrown at it on and off road.  A truism holds that a vehicle in this class will not be taken off-road until the third or fourth owner.Bentley Bentayga and Jet

Interior  The interior is available in 15 colors (the exterior color choices are 17 base paints expanding to 90 hues with extra cost), but of course it is a Bentley.  If you want to afford it, they’ll trim your interior in crocodile leather or rattlesnake skins.  The seats are trimmed in a traditional Bentley style with diamond quilted hide and smooth leather.  The seats are extremely comfortable and provide good support when cornering.  The seating position is more car-like than in many sport utilities.  You have to step up a bit higher and you are sitting a bit closer to the floor than in other SUVs that have a more command-of-the road seating position.  Not uncomfortable, just different.

Driving  Driving the Bentayga, it is not immediately obvious that there is 600HP under the hood.  The engine is smooth and silent.  It has a stop/start feature for improved fuel economy and cylinder deactivation when under light loads.  All of this is seamless except for the occasional shudder away from a stop.  On twisty roads the vehicle seems a bit ponderous and very heavy.  Using the “custom” setting in the driving mode selector you can select a lighter steering feel that should make the vehicle seem lighter on its feet.  All of its power and torque comes on immediately when passing.  Floor it, whoosh, you are by and the folks you passed are watching your taillights fade into the distance.

The Achilles Heel  One of the most critical areas in any new vehicle is the HMI or human machine interface.  AutoPacific’s research proves it is extremely difficult to get this right and more than often a manufacturer has gotten it wrong.  As part of the Volkswagen Group, it would be expected that the parts bin would have given Bentley access to state-of-the art navigation systems and interfaces.  Bentley’s director of whole vehicle engineering stated “Luxury should always be simple.”  We agree, but the Bentayga interface is very busy and confusing.  The 8-inch screen in the center stack is already a bit small and looks outdated for a 2017 model year vehicle.  The graphics are extremely busy and hard to decipher.  Changing radio stations is a several step process and includes using a graphic slide on the touch screen monitor to scroll for stations.  We were driving prototypes, so sometimes there are glitches, in the vehicle we were driving the navigation system had the direction icon wandering all over the screen except where we were.  The smaller screen between the speedometer and tachometer and head-up display saved the day.  They were on target.

Business  Bentayga promises to be Bentley’s top selling vehicle.  For the past three years, Bentley has sold just over 10,000 vehicles worldwide.  The $1.3 billion investment in Bentayga adds capacity for 5,000 more units annually.  The United States should get between 25% and 30% of the production or between 1,250 and 1,500 units per year.  Wolfgang Durheimer, CEO of Bentley, says he hopes to be able to expand that capacity in short order.  The order books for 2016 are already full and waiting times are six months to a year.

Next  Bentayga launches with top-of-the-line features.  Next comes a plug-in hybrid version mated to a 6-cylinder engine.  That is followed by a V8; likely the 500HP twin turbo V8 found elsewhere in the Bentley lineup.  There may be a 7-passenger interior in the works for families wanting more carrying capacity.  A fastback Bentayga (ala BMW X6) may be in the works as is a smaller 2-seat sports car.  The Bentley Boys are busy.


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Mercedes Sprinter Updated for 2015MY – Additions to Mercedes Van Lineup

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The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van was the first European-style full size van sold in the United States.  Ford has added the European-style Transit van to its huge plant in Kansas City, Missouri.  Ram is importing ProMaster vans from Europe.  Nissan manufactures its NV vans in Canton, Mississippi and it is somewhere between a traditional American van and a European van.  Only General Motors is left with a traditional American van with the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana.  In the overall scheme of things, Ford is the top dog by a wide margin and Mercedes is in fourth or fifth place depending on the month.2015 Sprinter 4x4 VehicleVoice

Mercedes Sprinter Update for 2015  For 2015, the Mercedes Sprinter is getting a minor update including new front end appearance with more distinctive headlamps and grille.   Optional safety features now commonly found in cars are available: blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, collision prevention assist and highbeam assist.  On the Sprinter 2500 model, Crosswind Assist is standard.  Because big vans present a large flat surface to the wind, they are susceptible to being knocked around in crosswinds.  The Crosswind Assist system alleviates Crosswind threats at speeds over 50mph.

Of significance, the Mercedes Sprinter receives a 4×4 model for 2015.  The base 4×4 system is prices at $6,500 with an additional $300 for low range capability.  The 4×4 will likely be popular in the Snow Belt and Mercedes predicts between 6% and 9% of its mix will be 4×4.  Sounds a bit low.

Diesel Engines  The base engine in about 50% of Sprinters is a 161HP 2.1L 4-cylinder diesel with 266 lb-ft of torque.  The 4-cylinder diesel is mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission.  The optional 188HP 3.0L V6 diesel has 325 lb-ft of torque.

Re-Assembly Strategy for US Cargo Vans  Mercedes Sprinter cargo vans are “re”-assembled at a small plant in the suburbs of Charleston, South Carolina.  The former Western Star/American LaFrance plant is now the sole source for Sprinter cargo vans in the USA.  Only about one third of the plant is used at present with plenty of room for expansion.

Now with 3 Roof Heights

Now with 3 Roof Heights

Chicken Tax Avoidance Strategy  Because of the 25% “chicken tax” (tariff) in place since 1967, truck manufacturers have used various schemes to avoid the crushing price penalty.  At one point, Toyota added pickup boxes to its small pickup at the port in Long Beach, California.  Ultimately, the major Japanese truck manufacturers added assembly capacity for their trucks in the USA.   Toyota manufactured Tacoma pickups at NUMMI (a joint venture with General Motors) in Fremont, California and now manufactures Tundra and Tacoma pickups at a plant in San Antonio, Texas.  Nissan has a huge truck plant in Smyrna, Tennessee and another in Canton, Mississippi.  Even Honda has truck capacity for its Ridgeline in Ohio.

Mercedes avoids the chicken tax by re-assembling Sprinter vans in the USA.  They are first completely manufactured in a plant in Dusseldorf, Germany.  They are disassembled so that the powertrain is separate from the body.  The bodies are loaded into containers (one or two per container depending on configuration) and shipped to Charleston.  The powertrain components are shipped separately in lots of eighteen.  Unloaded at the plant in Charleston, the body moves through thirteen six-minute stations.  The Charleston plant can re-assemble between 60 and 75 Sprinter cargo vans per day.  In 2013, the plant produced over 14,000 units.  The top customers for these vehicles are FedEx (who insisted Mercedes add the vehicles for the American market) and Winnebago.

Saving the 25% chicken tax results in a 12% to 13% increase in the cost of the Sprinter in the USA, but the savings are still 12% to 13% lower than if the tariff had been paid.

Future Mercedes Vans in the USA  Mercedes is adding more vans to its lineup in the future.  The European mid-size Vito van (with the “Metris” name in the USA and Canada) will be added in Fall, 2015 in passenger and cargo versions.  Another passenger van – the V-Class – was introduced in Munich in January 2014 and on sale in Europe from Spring 2014.  Think of the V-Class as a van equivalent to the Mercedes S-Class sedan.  Also in the offing for the USA is the smaller Mercedes Citan van introduced in Europe in 2012.  Given the capacity available at the Mercedes van plant outside Charleston, it would not be surprising to see the Metris cargo vans assembled there similar to the Sprinter cargo vans.

 


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2014 Kia Forte5 SX – Ed Kim’s Kind of Car

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2014 Kia Forte5 SX SVAutoPacific’s Vice President of Industry Analysis, Ed Kim,  has always had an affinity for small cars with a performance personality and a load of equipment.  Our recent week-long evaluation of the 2014 Kia Forte5 SX seems to fit his requirements.  The Forte5 SX is a front wheel drive five-door hatchback that provides a lot of utility for a small family.  Its useful interior package is wrapped in a very nice looking and sporty skin.

2014 Kia Forte5 IPTechnology Laden Interior Standard  The interior is full of Kia’s latest technology.  Standard are heated outside mirrors with mirror head mounted turn signal indicators, automatic light control, projector headlamps, LED fog lamps, LED positioning lights. LED taillamps, 18-inch alloy wheels.  Comfort and convenience features abound in the interior with standard AM/FM/CD/MP3/SiriusXM audio, UVO eServices Infotainment System, rear camera, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, cruise control, steering wheel controls, paddle shifters with automatic transmission, tilt and telescoping steering column, power windows/locks, air conditioning, leather wrapped steering wheel, the list goes on.

Advanced Powerful Engine  The Forte5 SX is powered by a 1.6L Turbocharged DOHC 4-cylinder engine with dual continuous variable valve timing and gasoline direct injection.  These engine specs place the SX model at the forefront of today’s advanced gasoline engine technology.  Given these engine specs, the SX has 201-horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque driving through the front wheels.

So, without any options, the Kia Forte5 with a six-speed automatic transmission goes for $20,900.

More Goodies Can be Added  If you want to spring for more technology, Kia has option packages that can provide it.  For an additional $2,200, a premium package is available that includes a sunroof, auto dimming rear view mirror with Homelink, leather seat trim, power driver’s seat, heat and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel.  Once you’ve popped for the Premium Package yo can decide to add the Technology Package that includes HID headlamps, 4.2-inch display in the instrument cluster between the tach and speedometer, dual zone air conditioning and a navigation system.  That adds another $1,800 to the price.  Destination charges are another $800.

Fully Loaded – <$26,000  So for less than $26,000 you can get a fully loaded Forte5 SX.

2014 Kia Forte5 F342014 Kia Forte5 SX R34Spirited, Pleasant to Drive  OK, we’ve talked about the impressive equipment level and powertrain under the hood, but would the Forte5 SX live up to Ed Kim’s driving requirements.  Absolutely.  This is a fun to drive small car with “spritely” performance.  It rides well, has more-than-adequate power and acceleration and gets good fuel economy (21mpg city/29mpg highway).  Not bad at all.

How could this car be improved?  First, the interior is available only in black, so the tone of the environment is a bit dour.  There should be a light grey leather seat option with door trim panels to accent the seats.  The headliner should be light.  These changes would open up the interior to make the car seem more spacious.  That’s about it.  Upgrade the interior here and there and the Kia Forte5 SX is an even bigger winner than it already is.


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2015 Audi A3 – Pocket-Sized Luxury

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2015 Audi A3 Sedans Ready to GoAudi A8 in a Smaller Platform  For a car that is slightly smaller than the Honda Civic sedan and the Ford Focus sedan, the designed-for-America (and China) 2015 Audi A3 sedan comes across as a premium piece.  The A3 previously was a slow selling hatchback.  Now adding the three-box notchback with a trunk bodystyle Audi can substantially broaden its appeal in the USA.  For decades, American buyers have perceived hatchbacks to have less safety (less rear crash protection – a perception) and less security (from bad guys seeing into the cargo area and stealing what is there).  The sedan clears those negative perceptions and gives Audi a strong platform to build the bottom end of its brand.


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New York Auto Show – A3 and Cherokee Most Important

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The 2013 New York International Auto Show was full of important reveals this year… renewed crossovers –  Toyota Highlander, Acura MDX, an all new Range Rover Sport, the new BMW 335GT, freshened Dodge Durango, the all new Cadillac CTS and many more.  The most important, however, were the Audi A3 and the Jeep Cherokee.  Why?  Both vehicles are very important to their brands and have the potential to generate substantial sales.

Audi Takes the Safe Route with A3: The 2015 Audi A3 really was not at the New York Auto Show.  The A3 will be officially introduced at the Shanghai Auto Show in late April 2013, but there was a reveal for about 120 journalists the evening before the first press day.  It will be launched in the USA in early 2014.

The smaller Audi A3 has anchored the Audi lineup with a five-door hatchback (“Sportback”) that never had much sales potential in the USA.  American buyers continue to perceive liftback cars as cheaper, flimsier and less desirable.  In Europe, the five-door is the preferred bodystyle primarily because European car-owners do not have the American-style family fleets where there is a vehicle for every purpose. For a one vehicle family,  the hatchback can carry out a multitude of duties.

Recognizing that to really succeed in the USA market, the 2014 Audi A3 becomes a much more traditional three-box four-door sedan.   This gives Audi an opportunity to really step up sales in the face of the upcoming front wheel drive Mercedes-Benz CLA and the already-on-the-market BMW 1-Series.  Audi did not stray from its own winning formula.  Audi DNA is present in the exterior styling and the interior with an A8-like sweep at the front of the instrument panel.  Very nicely done, but not one obvious risk.

The A3 comes with four 4-cylinder engine choices – 170HP 1.8L turbo, 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 230HP), 150HP 2.0L turbo diesel and high output 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 275HP).  The high output goes in the S3 model.  The Sportback will return in the 2014 calendar year with e-tron plug-in hybrid technology.

The A3 will not be a Spartan A-Segment car.  Audi is positioning it as a fully-featured Audi – just smaller.  It will offer Audi’s MMI system, 4G LTE connectivity and even Audi’s Bang & Olufsen audio system.

One key takeaway from the A3 reveal is that the car is the same size as 1994 model year A4.  A very successful car with solid sales results, the A4 was key in establishing Audi as a very desirable premium brand in the USA.

Something tells us that the A3 will not be an inexpensive car with its impressive standard equipment load (leather seating, bluetooth, rain sensing wipers and panoramic moon roof standard).  With the slightly larger Mercedes CLA announced at a sub-$30,000 price we are wondering where the new A3 will be positioned?

Jeep Cherokee Returns While the Audi A3 is a low risk opportunity for volume growth, Jeep’s new Cherokee is at the polar opposite on the risk scale.  Jeep describes the Cherokee’s styling as “polarizing” and it certainly is.  Mike Manley, President of Jeep cautioned journalists in a December briefing before the Detroit Auto Show that “you might not understand” the vehicle.  This was somewhat reminiscent of Wayne Cherry’s (head of GM styling in the late ’90s) statement that “you are too old to understand the (Pontiac) Aztek.  In Manley’s defense, he describes the styling direction for the Cherokee as “something that will be fresh in 2019”.  So Jeep has not taken this path lightly.  It is a calculated step.

What is so polarizing about the Cherokee?  First, it takes the name of one of the most successful SUVs ever produced.  The 1980s Cherokee was the first high volume SUV to add a 4-door bodystyle to the lineup and soon proved that 4-doors, not 2-doors, were the way to go.  The Cherokee had the seven vertical slot grill that is part of Jeep’s DNA, but it had rectangular headlamps that, while modern for the time, broke away from the traditional round headlamps Jeep used.

While the new Cherokee is relatively conventional from the A-Pillar rearward, its front end design is the most surprising and, yes, controversial.  Instead of round headlamps, the Cherokee has horizontal units styled into the front fascia and fenders.  Cherokee still has the seven vertical slots in the front fascia – part of Jeep DNA since the beginning – but they now are bent in the center giving the vehicle a more aerodynamic appearance.  The story of the capability of the vehicle is being lost in the commentary about its front end styling.

Under the skin, the Cherokee uses the same Alfa/Fiat platform used by the new Dodge Dart.  It has a 9-speed automatic transmission and three advanced 4×4 systems.  The Trailhawk model is fully “Trail Rated”. Think of Trailhawk as the Cherokee Rubicon.  Powered by a 184HP 2.4L Multi-Air TigerShark 4-cylinder engine, Jeep claims a cruising range of up to 490 miles and highway fuel economy of 31mpg.  The optional 3.2L Pentastar V6 gets 271HP.

Cherokee has a full array of Chrysler’s latest features available from its UConnect information system with an 8.4-inch center screen and programmable instrument cluster, new steering wheel controls, parking assist systems, blind spot monitoring, cross path detection and adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability. These features are becoming the price of entry in mid-size vehicles and even some smaller entries.

When Bob Lutz was a Chrysler he once said (of the early 2000’s Peterbilt style Ram pickup), “I don’t care if people love it or hate it as long as 15% of them love it enough to buy it”.  That may be the case with the new Cherokee.  A Polarizing design will certainly get people talking and writers writing.  So far, it seems that the negatives are outweighing the positives on the Cherokee.  It won’t take long to tell if the vehicle is a sales success.  It begins production in April 2013.


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2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Upgraded… Great Gets Greater

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Award Winner Gets Major Changes After Only Three Years The 2012 Grand Cherokee has been arguably the best affordable “real” SUV on the market since the latest generation was launched for the 2011 model year.  The Grand Cherokee was so good that its owners rated it higher enough against its competition to win AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award in 2011 and 2012 AND AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award in 2011 and 2012!  This sweep in these tough-to-win owner awards is testament to the excellence of the Grand Cherokee.

Developed in Time of Hardship The 2011 Grand Cherokee was developed during the dark days of the reign of Cerberus Capital Management.   Their ownership of Chrysler steered the firm to the bankruptcy courts and a bailout by the U.S. and Canadian government, UAW and CAW.  Ultimately, Fiat took control of Chrysler and Jeep and the firm is now prospering.  It is surprising that under the eyes of Cerberus, the 2011 Grand Cherokee turned out to be such a good vehicle.

Best Gets Better Like other Chrysler products (Chrysler 300, Chrysler 200, Dodge Charger, Ram 1500), Jeep’s product team has reinvigorated the vehicle but mostly under the skin.  The front fascia is new.  Taillamps are new.  A couple of wheel designs are new.  And the interiors are new and much more upscale.  Grand Cherokee gets Chrysler’s latest iteration of its excellent and easy to use UConnect system.  Gone is the 5-speed automatic transmission replaced by a silky smooth 8-speed unit.  A 240HP 3.0L V6 diesel is available for the first time.  So, the Grand Cherokee is a substantially upgraded version of the 2011 vehicle.  And it works!


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Alfa Romeo Spider Would be a Big Hit in the USA

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During the recent CES, I had a chance to spend some time with the Alfa Romeo Spider being displayed as a part of Microsoft’s Sync display. What a lovely car. Powered by a 260Bhp 3.2 liter V-6 engine hooked up with a 4-wheel drive system, the Spider is both sexy and technically clever.
Visually, I love the flowing lines of this car. Check out the detail around the headlights and the lovely use of a canvas, folding top. Designed as a collaborative effort between the Alfa Styling Center, Giugiaro and Pinnfarina, the Spider includes traditional Alfa cues, such as the log and front grill, not to mention the the very Alfa interior.

spider-front.jpg


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