The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA is the highest scoring Premium Compact Car in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research. Coming in behind the CLA is the Buick Verano, MINI 2-Dr, Acura ILX, Volkswagen GTI, Subaru Impreza WRX and the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA wins or ties in five of fifty satisfaction categories. The CLA is within one tenth of a rating point in eleven categories. For over thirty percent of the satisfaction measurements the CLA is on top.
The top ten highest ratings by CLA owners are: brand and vehicle reputation, the exterior styling and color, the overall quality and handling, the enjoyment of driving the vehicle, the image the vehicle puts off, the braking, and interior styling.
Mercedes-Benz wins in its first foray into the front wheel drive premium small car market. While the CLA begins around $30,000, it can quickly get into the mid-thirties and, with the AMG model, move into the $50,000 range. This year, the Audi A3 was not yet on the market to challenge the CLA. It will be interesting to see if Mercedes can keep its top spot when Audi owners weigh in about their new A3 for 2015.
On Monday June 16, 2014, AutoPacific announced its 18th annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSA), identifying the most satisfying 2014 model year vehicles on the market. Other automotive awards provide information on defects – things gone wrong. AutoPacific’s research looks at the issue of vehicle ownership in a totally different way – how satisfied a new vehicle is to its owner. While it’s important to know how well a vehicle is screwed together, it is even more important to learn how well buyers and drivers feel about their vehicle.
The AutoPacific 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards objectively measure owner satisfaction with 50 separate attributes ranging from interior comfort and convenience to fuel economy and performance. “Vehicles that score highest in the Vehicle Satisfaction Awards are delivering value and satisfaction across a wide range of attributes,” says George Peterson, president of AutoPacific. “The winners perform well in 50 separate categories that objectively measure the ownership experience.” An industry benchmark for measuring how satisfied an owner is with his/her new vehicle, AutoPacific’s VSA are based on the results of responses from over 92,000 new vehicle owners.
For 2014, the most satisfying brands are Lincoln, Top Premium Brand and GMC, Top Popular Brand. The vehicle – car or truck – registering highest overall satisfaction is the new-for-2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class that also wins AutoPacific’s second President’s Award for achieving the highest VSA score ever. The truck with the highest overall satisfaction score is the new BMW X5 Premium Luxury Crossover SUV.
“With the launch of each new car and truck, carmakers try to improve the product and increase the satisfaction of their buyers,” explains Peterson. “By surveying a substantial number of owners who have purchased a new 2014 model year vehicle, The AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards provide an objective measurement of how well the makers are doing. More than one-third of new vehicle buyers are positively influenced by objective awards based on owner ratings when deciding on a new car or truck.”
The awards in 2014 are much more diverse than they have been in previous years, with no single brand dominating the results. Multiple top-ranked award winners are: Chevrolet with four winners; Lincoln with three winners; Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Kia, and GMC with two winners each.
The brands that improved their relative ranking positions in 2014 compared with 2013 are: GMC moving from 17th to 8th position; Lincoln moving from 6th position to 1st position; Ford moving from 25th to 19th; Chevrolet moving from 21st to 16th. Brands with the largest drop in position were Volkswagen moving from 16th to 28th position and Jaguar dropping from 7th to 17th.
From a manufacturer perspective, General Motors was tops with seven wins and Ford had four wins.
“AutoPacific 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards help vehicle buyers sort through an increasingly complicated selection of brands and models. For the 2014 model year, there are 274 models and 32 brands from which to choose a new vehicle. The VSA clearly shows the buyers which vehicles are at the top of the class they are considering,” says Peterson.
Top 2014 model year performers are:
PRESIDENT’S AWARD FOR HIGHEST VSA SCORE EVER: Mercedes-Benz S-Class
HIGHEST SATISFACTION PREMIUM BRAND: Lincoln
HIGHEST SATISFACTION POPULAR BRAND: GMC
2014 PASSENGER CAR WINNERS:
|Premium Luxury Car
Executive Luxury Car
Aspirational Luxury Car
Luxury Mid-Size Car
Premium Compact Car
BMW 3-Series GT
Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
2014 LIGHT TRUCK WINNERS:
|Heavy Duty Pickup
Light Duty Pickup
Premium Luxury Crossover SUV
Luxury Crossover SUV
Large Crossover SUV
Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV
Mid-Size Crossover SUV
Compact Crossover SUV
|Ford F-Series Super Duty
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Once upon a time, I was the design engineer for the advanced vehicle package of the Ford Nantucket program. Nantucket was the code name of what would become the 1975 Ford Econoline full size van that was to continue in production with moderate updates through 2014 – about 39 years!. So, it was particularly meaningful to me to accept an invitation by Ford to attend the press preview for the Econoline’s (now “E-Series”) replacement in Kansas City, Missouri – the Ford Transit.
Hugely Complex Program – Lots of Choice Ford’s One Ford strategy dictates that vehicles be as common as possible around the world. While the E-Series has been the top selling large van in the USA for years, it was basically a North America only product. The European Transit van was completely different. Also, the American E-Series never had the breadth of product choices that the European Transit had. Now that has changed with the American-made Transit about as complex as the European model.
America has been introduced to the European white van offerings with the European Mercedes-Benz/Freightliner Sprinter van and the Ram Promaster (from Fiat). So the 2015 Ford Transit may not take the American eye by surprise, but its complexity is near mind blowing. The 2015 Ford Transit is available in two wheelbases, three roof heights in both cargo van and passenger wagon configurations. There is even a chassis cab and cutaway available. What this means is that you can have an empty box, or a high-roof wagon that can seat up to 15 people. Ford affectionately calls this one the “Jumbo”.
(General Motors has the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans that are sorely in need of updating. At present, The General has no vehicles in the USA facing these Euro-style competitors).
Initially, Transit is available with a sliding door on the passenger side of the vehicle. Later the van version will be available with a sliding door on the driver’s side as well. Because the second row seat would have to be narrowed to be two passengers only, the passenger version – the Transit wagon – is only available with a passenger side slider.
Maneuverable The Transit is very easy to drive with outstanding forward visibility through what has to be about the largest windshield in the industry. Europe-like turning radius makes the Transit very maneuverable in tight spaces. A tight slow-speed gymkhana course in a Kansas City parking lot helped demonstrate how nimble even the Jumbo was through narrow cone alleys.
Wide Powertrain Selection Power comes from a 275HP/260 lb-ft of torque 3.7L V6, a 310HP/400 lb-ft of torque 3.5L EcoBoost V6, or a 185HP/350 lb-ft of torque 3.2L I5 Power Stroke diesel. Of the three engines, the EcoBoost V6 has the most punch and is the most fun to drive – as if that is a major attribute a van buyer is looking for. All engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The powertrains in the 2015 Ford Transit get much better fuel economy than the outgoing E-Series; a substantial operating cost savings commercial van operators are looking for.
Can Transit Be Rattle Free? We have all ridden in vans and shuttles that are consummate rattle traps. Of course, they probably have a couple hundred thousand miles on them and have been abused for their entire time in service. And, of course, the vans Ford provided for the press preview had been thoroughly prepped. The remarkable thing about these vans was how quiet and rattle-free they were. They were very tight and solid feeling. It will be interesting to experience one when it hits 100,000 miles.
Navigation Screen Snafu Okay, I can understand Ford’s rationale that few commercial fleet operators would spring for an in-vehicle navigation system when most of their drivers are equipped with GPS enabled smart phones with Google Maps, but the Transit solution to navigation is Sync with MyFord Touch and a relatively small screen. Other Ford vehicles have an 8-inch screen and the Transit loses out in comparison. I know, its a nit-pick, but worthy of mention.
E-Series Continues in Chassis Cab Versions Probably until the end of the decade, the old Econoline/E-Series will still be available in chassis cab configurations likely for airport shuttle use. They are built at Ford’s Loraine, Ohio plant.
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.
Audi 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.
Has the 2014 Auto Show Season been a bust so far? Well, with the exception of the all new Ford F-150, there has not been much to justify all the fabricated hoopla at either the North American International Auto Show in Detroit or the Chicago Auto Show. You can almost count the significant new news on one hand. In order of importance to the United States market and their manufacturers here are the most significant: Ford F-150, Chrysler 200, Honda Fit, Hyundai Genesis, Mercedes C-Class in Detroit and the Subaru Legacy in Chicago. OK, that is six significant entries. Others that might have made the list are the GMC Canyon mid-size pickup and the Lexus RC-F coupe. The Detroit Show ended up focusing on performance models or concepts like the production-ready Subaru WRX STI, Toyota FT-1 super car, Chevrolet Corvette ZO6 variant, BMW M3 sedan and M4 coupe, Cadillac ATS coupe. The only other vehicles of note at the Chicago Show were the 2015 Lincoln Navigator with new front and rear styling and the Mercedes GLA compact crossover SUV.
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.
I have to admit that I’m rooting for Lincoln. I used to work there and the Lincolns were “my” cars – Lincoln Continental Town Car, Lincoln Continental Town Coupe (yep, there was a Town Coupe in 1981), (eh hem, the Granada/Monarch-based Lincoln Versailles dubbed the “Mini Mark”), the Fox-based Lincoln Continental, and the Lincoln Continental Mark VI Coupe and Mark VI 4-door.
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…