Category Archive:

All-new Toyota RAV4 to Remain Toyota’s Top Seller?

0

What better place to experience Toyota’s all-new RAV4 than in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California?  Staging out of the Carmel Valley Ranch, Toyota gave journalists and analysts the chance to drive the all-new RAV4.  As Toyota’s top-seller in 2017 with about 400,000 units sold, Toyota cannot afford to make a mistake that would damage its sales potential.  The RAV4 started the XSUV (crossover SUV) category in 1996.  The 2019 version is the fifth generation of RAV4.

TNGA-K Platform:  From a product standpoint the all-new RAV4 is a significant upgrade to its predecessor.  Riding on Toyota’s new TNGA-K (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform, the RAV4 rides and handles very well.  The body is tight and the ride is quiet – at least in the top-of-the-line models we were driving.  The styling moves from milquetoast to bordering on bad ass like the most recent Tacoma pickup.  Toyota’s designers paid special attention to outward visibility to give the sense of confidence and spaciousness.  Maybe the rearward visibility could be better, but that is a minor niggle.  The all-new RAV4 rides on a longer wheelbase and the interior benefits by having more passenger and cargo room.  Ingress/egress is easy and ergonomics are top-notch.

Good Ergonomics:  With the battle of the center stack so critical to all manufacturers these days, Toyota has done a good job making the displays bright and crisp and easy to understand and use.  Driving off in an Adventure model, the heated steering wheel was on.  Couldn’t figure out hot to turn it off until one of the car wranglers helping with the event pointed out it was next to the steering column by your left knee completely out of sight.  Funny, one of the first images of the cockpit I took clearly shows the button.  Just can’t see it from the driver’s seat. The RAV4 comes with Apple CarPlay standard, but Android Auto is not available.

Off-Road Capable:  While it is an XSUV (crossover SUV), the all-new RAV4 isn’t a less capable soft-roader like some of its competition.  It is competent on road and off-road.  As crossover SUVs have taken the market by storm over the past several years, manufacturers are beefing up their off-road capability.  Most will never be driven aggressively off-road, but the new entries can take on moderate to challenging off-road tasks.  A product generation ago, an XSUV-maker would always avoid anything more challenging than a smooth logging road to demonstrate all wheel drive.  Now they are stepping up the demonstrations of XSUV capabilities.  These recent off-road courses are not Jeep Rubicon-ready type of runs, but they do put the vehicles through its off-road paces.  Toyota laid out a nicely challenging off-road course on the Carmel Valley Ranch property and the RAV4 ate it up with little problem.

Powertrains:  There are two powertrains for the RAV4 – a 2.5L “Dynamic Force” 4-cylinder with  203-horsepower.  Paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission, this powertrain achieves 29mpg combined fuel economy.  A hybrid powertrain will be available in March 2019 with 213-horsepower achieving 39mpg combined.  The hybrid has a CVT transmission.  RAV4 is standard with front wheel drive, but torque-vectoring all wheel drive is available on the gasoline models.  The hybrid all wheel drive system uses a separate rear-mounted electric motor to drive ist rear wheels.  The hybrid model is priced $2,200 higher than the gasoline model in comparable trim levels.  So, at today’s fuel prices, it would take almost 75,000 miles for the hybrid to pay off financially.

Fully Featured:  RAV4 is an econo-box XSUV no more.  Now you can get practically every driver assist feature and comfort and convenience feature available on the all-new RAV4.  While the RAV4 comes standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense suite of features plus Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa connectivity, many more features can be added.  While we won’t go into those here, you begin with a base price RAV4 at $25,500 and can end up with a price of nearly $40,000!  Who woulda thunk?  Still, for what you get it does not seem outrageous.

RAV4 versus Competition:  The big dogs in this competition are the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape.   CR-V and Rogue are also their brand’s top sellers.  RAV4 competes very well from a product and price standpoint with these competitors.  Escape is due for complete update in 2019 so expect the fight for supremacy to continue to be vicious.


Continue Reading

Cadillac XT4 Small Crossover SUV – Nice Vehicle, High Price.

0

Driving the new Cadillac XT4 on the excellent country roads around Seattle and Bainbridge Island revealed a vehicle that is well conceived and well put-together.

Let’s Talk About the Styling: Cadillac designers and engineers have developed a vehicle with outstanding proportions using an all new platform. They have pushed the wheels out to the corners of the vehicle so the stance of the XT4 is great. Some small XSUVs seem too narrow and too tall. The XT4 looks wide enough to have a very purposeful appearance.

The styling cues are pretty distinctive. Cadillac is known for unique “light pipe” daylight running lights. The XT4 goes the typical light pipe one better. An eyebrow flowing towards the grille from the vertical light pipe gives XT4 a hard-to-miss look. Carried over into the vertical taillamps, XT4 takes advantage of new LED lighting technology. While XT4 looks modern, it does not rely on an extremely fast windshield to give it a sense of motion. XT4 is styling is different, but not too contrived.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport:  Source – Cadillac

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport:  Source – Cadillac

Let’s Talk About the Package: For a Cadillac, XT4 is small, but it does not feel small when you are looking at it, sitting in it or driving it. Many of XT4 competitors are difficult to get into and out of. Not the XT4. XT4 has generous door openings that invite you into the interior. The driver’s seat is comfortable and visibility is excellent all around. XT4 is an exercise in effective package design.

Ergonomics Excellent:  The layout of the instrument panel, instrument cluster and console area are excellent.  Everything is easy to see and most is easy to use.  While no car can pass the rental car test today (Hertz, midnight, pouring rain, set radio, HVAC, start and drive away), the AT4 interface comes pretty close.  It does not however solve my ongoing bugaboo of showing street name on the nav map, but no city name.  Only Ford seems to do that at present.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport:  Source – Cadillac

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport:  Source – Cadillac

Powertrain is Competitive: The XT4 is powered by an upgraded Spring Hill, TN-assembled, 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo that has 237-horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque. That is enough power and torque to propel the XT4 around town and on the freeway. In fact, 4-cylinder engines with these basic specifications have become the default engine for everything from small and mid-size XSUVs and mid-size cars.

The XT4 4-cylinder is mated to a new 9-speed automatic transmission. The Powertrain combination yields good fuel economy. The 9-speed is designed to deliver quick, smooth shifts throughout the power band.

Now the Problem – Price: The XT4 base price is $35,790 including destination. This seems pretty reasonable. In fact, going to the upper trim levels – Premium Luxury and Sport – both at $40,290 seems like a good deal. But these upper models do not include all the features consumers have come to expect in premium and even popular brand vehicles. Once those features are added – adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind spot warning, navigation, all wheel drive – the price skyrockets. Vehicles provided for the press preview were all in the $56,000 to $59,000 range.

For reference a small XSUV from popular-brand Hyundai – the Kona – tops out at around $30,000 with features similar to the XT4. Of course it is full of plastic. It’s seats are not as comfortable. It is not as quiet. But is the XT4 worth twice as much. Not fair, a Hyundai does not compare to a Cadillac. Fair enough. Let’s look at the all new Acura RD-X. It is powered by a 2.0L Turbo similar to the XT4, but the Acura 2.0L puts out 272HP – 35HP more than the XT4. Loading up an RD-X yields a price of about $47,000. Maybe Acura is not a Cadillac, but is the Cadillac brand worth a $10,000 premium over a Cadillac?

Fairfax, Kansas Assembly: XT4 is assembled at General Motors’ Fairfax, KS Assembly Plant. The Chevrolet Malibu is also assembled there. Cadillac assures us that the XT4 is totally unique and does not share any Malibu parts. The capacity allocated to XT4 is 45,000 units. If demand warrants it, additional capacity can be added. That depends on whether the millennial audience Cadillac is depending on buying XT4 really reacts positively to it at its price.


Continue Reading

2018 Hyundai Kona Added to Fast Erupting Small XSUV Segment

0

The all new 2018 Hyundai Kona small crossover SUV (XSUV) has just been shown to the press in an event held, wait for it, on the Kona Coast of The Big Island of Hawaii.  There were 23 or 24 Konas on hand for the journalists to drive around the island.  So, this was a pretty big event for Hyundai Motor America (HMA).

In AutoPacific’s 2017 Small XSUV Consultancy, 38 XSUVs with a wheelbase of 110-inches or less are included.  There were enough data to do complete analyses on that many individual vehicles.  There are an additional seven all new small XSUVs on sale now but too new to have been included in the AutoPacific database.  That makes 45 entries in the small XSUV category.  Now comes the 2018 Hyundai Kona wading into the fray.2018 Hyundai Kona F34 View2018 Hyundai Kona Side View2018 Hyundai Kona R34 View

Hyundai Late to the Small XSUV Game  Hyundai is a bit late to the game with its B-Segment small XSUV.  Hyundai mostly thinks “CARS” and was forced kicking and screaming to develop another small SUV.  Before the Kona was developed, Hyundai Motor Corporation (HMC) offered Hyundai Motor America a small XSUV developed mainly for India.  Luckily for HMA, their parent company did not push that down their throats and the result is the Kona – a bit late, but a whole lot better.  Next year, an even smaller A-segment XSUV will be introduced along with a larger range topping three row seven passenger XSUV (like the old Veracruz).  So, it appears HMC got religion and is providing HMA with what it needs to compete.

Trucks to Reign as Cars are De-emphasized  As carmakers begin providing what consumers are really asking for – crossover SUVs – the shift from traditional three-box (hood, cabin, trunk) cars will accelerate and the two-box bodystyle will predominate.  Truck sales (pickups, SUVs and minivans) outpaced cars in 2010 and now account for about 64% of the market.  Crossover SUVs first outsold traditional (body-on-frame) SUVs in 2004 and never looked back.  As the small XSUV segment matures, it should command between 17% and 20% of the market of light cars and trucks in the USA.

Kona Competitive Set per Hyundai Motor AmericaHugely Competitive Segment  Hyundai’s planners identify eight primary competitors for the 2018 Hyundai Kona – Chevy Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Toyota C-HR, Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-3, Ford EcoSport and Nissan Kicks.  With 45-plus entries in its size category sold by popular brands and premium brands alike, Kona goes up against some solid heavyweights.

Kona Styling    The proportions of the 2018 Hyundai Kona are different.  It has a long hood with long front overhang and a very short rear overhang.  Stylists have achieved a aggressiveness and muscularity in a small package.    The front end is has the Hyundai shield grille flanked by large headlights buried in a charcoal surround.  LED running lights top the front fascia just at the leading edge of the hood.   The bodyside has bold character lines flowing towards the rear.  The wheel arches are swathed in charcoal cladding.  The cladding may be overdone, but Kona appears to pull it off pretty well.  Once you study the Kona for awhile, it grows on you.

Kona Size – Smaller, But Does Not Feel Small  Among Kona’s competitive set, it has the shortest overall length (164.0-inches).  Its wheelbase (102.4-inches) is pretty much in line with competition.  The cockpit feels spacious and its dimensions are in line with its competition.  The rear seat is a skosh small with only the Toyota C-HR having less rear seat legroom.  While you might think Kona skimped on cargo area it has not.  Its 19.2 cubic foot cargo area is mid pack.  Only the Honda HR-V and Subaru Crosstrek larger.

2018 Hyundai Kona CockpitPowertrains – About What You’d Expect in this Class of XSUV  There are two engine/transmission combinations.  The base engine is a Nu 2.0L Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder with 147-horsepower and 132-lb.ft of torque.  The 2.0L is teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission.  The base engine powers the lower two of the four Kona models.  The top engine is the Gamma 1.6L GDI 4-cylinder Turbo mated to a 7-speed EcoShift DCT.  It has 175-horsepower and 195-lb.ft. of torque.  Both powertrains are rated at 30mpg combined city/highway fuel economy.  All wheel drive is available on both powertrains and all models.

Hyundai SmartSense  Kona is available with an array of driver assistance technologies in the Hyundai SmartSense Suite.  SmartSense includes forward collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision warning, lane keeping assist, high beam assist, blind spot warning and driver attention warning.  In AutoPacific research, a blind spot warning system is a feature with very high demand.  Hyundai has made it standard on the Sonata mid-size car, but in the Kona it is standard one-step up from the base SE model in the SEL model.  Still, this is good compared with competitive installations.

Attractive Pricing  The base SE model starts at $19,500 (without destination).  The highest volume model likely will be the SEL with a starting price of $21,150.  It is available with a $1,500 technology package. The next step is the Limited at $24,700.  Check all the boxes until there are no more and you come to the Unlimited model at $27,400.  The Unlimited is where you get an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, head-up display and  the full Hyundai SmartSense suite of safety features.

No Vehicle is Perfect  As vehicles and technology evolve buyers are expecting more.  For instance, the 2018 Hyundai Kona has an 8-way power driver seat available, but only manual adjustment (without a height adjustment) is available on the passenger side.  Cruise control is standard, but adaptive cruise control that most buyers expect today is not yet available.  Hyundai’s planners hint that adaptive cruise is only a short time away.

In Summary  The 2018 Hyundai Kona promises to be a very competitive entry in the small XSUV category.  A buyer won’t miss much, if anything at all, if they select a Kona.  This is a vehicle that Hyundai Motor America has needed and has been waiting for.  Now it is up the dealers and marketing/advertising folks to get Kona into the consideration sets of prospective buyers.  It should do very well.


Continue Reading

2018 Hyundai Accent No Longer a Penalty to Drive

0
2018 Hyundai Accent

2018 Hyundai Accent Substantially Upgraded

Once upon a time, way back in 1986, I drove a Hyundai Excel.  Excel was Hyundai’s entry vehicle to the USA market.  It was terrifying to drive.  It wallowed, wheezed and it felt like parts were falling off as it rolled down the road.  With the upcoming launch of the 2018 Hyundai Accent, the successor to the first Excel, Hyundai has a very respectable sub-compact car to sell.

Of course, car sales are down, and Hyundai Motor America would rather have the Kona small crossover SUV on dealer lots now instead of in the Spring.  But Accent is needed as the low-priced anchor to Hyundai’s car presence.

2018 Hyundai Accent Models and Pricing  Hyundai has raised the base MSRP by $250, but it feels like much more cost was added to the car than $250.  Its $14,995 base price is for a  base SE 4-door sedan with a 6-speed manual transmission.  A 6-speed automatic on the SE adds $1,000.  The top of the line Limited goes for $18,895 and an 8-speed automatic is standard.  All models of the 2018 Hyundai Accent are powered by a 130-horsepower 1.6L DOHC GDI 4-cylinder engine.

Going up to the mid-range SEL model you get a 4-wheel disc brakes, a 7-inch center screen and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability, driver’s blind spot mittot.  When you go all out and select the Limited, front LED accent lights, sunroof, LED taillamps, 17-inch wheels, BlueLink Connected Services, automatic temperature control and a 3.5-inch TFT screen in the instrument cluster are added.  Heated seats are part of the Limited package.2018 Hyundai Accent2018 Hyundai Accent2018 Hyundai Accent

2018 Hyundai Accent Presence  But pricing and equipment isn’t all that is interesting about the Accent.  It looks good and doesn’t look particularly downscale.  Accent now has the  signature Hyundai grille. Its profile is semi-fastback like the Sonata.

The ride is good.  Handling is better than many small cars.  Ergonomics are excellent.  The beefy leather wrapped steering wheel in the Limited is worthy of a much more expensive car.  The door closing sound is a reassuring thunk rather than a clang that characterized many small cars in the past.  Easy to get into, with great visibility, the Excel will be an easy car to live with.

The only strong criticism is the interior. The black interior of the model AutoPacific drove swallowed light like a black hole.  The seats, while pretty comfortable, had a muted check insert that confirmed its lower price positioning.  The upper surface of the instrument panel glared under heavy sunlight – almost like it had a coat of Armor-all on it. Not good.2018 Hyundai Accent Panel Glare

The customer looking for base transportation without too many bells and whistles should be very satisfied with the 2018 Hyundai Accent.

#2018HyundaiAccent #HyundaiAccent


Continue Reading

Can All New VW Tiguan Challenge Top Selling Small SUVs?

0

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.


Continue Reading

Honda Civic Si Added to Lineup for Enthusiast Small Car Buyers

0

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.

 


Continue Reading

Honda Odyssey Leapfrogs Minivan Competition

0

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.


Continue Reading

Pretty New Face for 2018 Acura TLX

0

The Acura TLX has been kind of an automotive Jimmy Durante.  All you could do is stare at its proboscis.  It’s looks were hurt by its parrot beak grille.  Even though TLX was a good premium brand mid-size sedan, it was hard to love.  The 2018 Acura TLX gets a much needed mid-cycle facelift that transforms its presence.  (Acura began replacing its parrot nose grille texture in 2016 with the launch of the freshened 2017 Acura MDX).

Designer and now Acura Vice President and General Manager, Jon Ikeda, says that you can tell when a design team is having a good time they do great work.  Fun and inspiration have brought out the best in TLX looks.

Under the skin, the 2018 Acura TLX is basically carryover with tweaks made the engineers thought were necessary.  Base engine is a 2.4L 4-cylinder making 208 horsepower.  The upgrade engine is a 3.5L V6 with 290 horsepower.  But the story is not about the mechanicals.  The story is about the style.

Appearance Changes More Extensive Than for a Typical Mid-Cycle Freshening  This freshening is a classic front and rear six.  This means that the front and rear ends have been restyled, but roof, doors, glass are carryover.  Thankfully, the parrot’s beak grille texture is replaced by a pentagon grille with a mesh grille texture.  This relatively conservative approach yields a very attractive front end.  In addition to the new grille, the front fascia has large air inlets at the vehicle corners providing a distinctive and aggressive face.  Bright accents highlight the air inlets which also include driving lights.  The hood is all new and more curvaceous than previously.  LED headlamps are standard.

Depending on trim level, a tasteful chrome side sill garnish provides finesse fir the body side.

The rear appearance is upgraded with new tail lamps, bright exhaust tips and a rear diffuser.  Chrome accents are added balancing the accents in the front fascia.

2018 Acura TLX Gets the Latest Driver Assistance Safety Features  The interior is updated with new seat trim.  The instrument panel has been tweaked and all of the latest safety features are available   AcuraWatch is standard.  AcuraWatch includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation.  Unfortunately blind spot monitoring is not standard but included in a $3,700 Tech Package.  AutoPacific research finds blind spot is a feature wanted by over 75% of drivers and greatly helps in avoiding lane changing accidents.

Also standard are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which allow integration of many of your smartphone apps to the dual center screens of the TLX.

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec Trim  Acura is particularly proud of its TLX A-Spec package that should appeal to younger, more enthusiastic drivers than will choose the more chrome-laden standard, Tech or Advanced packages.  The A-Spec an appearance package with a sport tuned suspension.  Believing that the target buyer wants differences defined as “sporty”, A-Spec includes a dark surround for the grille, exclusive front and rear fascias that lose the bright highlights, round bright exhaust tips, red accent piping for the seats, LED fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, wireless charging, and ventilated front seats.  The A-Spec does have a color combination available that should be striking – bright blue exterior with a red leather interior.  This is a bold combination that few carmakers allow these days.  Kudos to Acura for making this selection available.

Attitude Change at Acura  An aside on the story of Acura.  31 years ago Acura was launched as the first Japanese premium brand.  At first, Acura was very successful with the Legend mid-size near luxury car and Integra sporty hatchback – names that still resonate among American car buyers.  VP Ikeda says Acura is returning to its performance oriented roots – Precision Crafted Performance.  He hopes to instill the fun and passion in Acura’s design and engineering that was evident 31 years ago.  Maybe, they will bring names back – at least Legend and Integra.

 


Continue Reading

Atlas Crossover Hits Mark – or Doesn’t

0

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?


Continue Reading

Mazda Premium Strategy to Surprise Competitors

0

Mazda Premium is the objective for the Mazda brand in the future.  Mazda realizes it is a mainstream brand but wants to become premium.  In the minds of the car buyer, Mazda competes with Toyota, Honda and Nissan.  Mazda has limited resources and needs to husband them.  To achieve Mazda Premium positioning, its products must be executed to meet or beat premium brand competitors.  This requires targeted benchmarking against more expensive vehicles in the same product category.

CX-5 Latest Mazda Premium Vehicle  At the press launch of the 2017 Mazda CX-5 mid-size crossover SUV (XSUV) in San Diego, Mazda detailed its competitive strategy.  The Mazda product development team did not closely benchmark the usual suspects.  The CX-5 will be sold against Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.  To go against premium brands, the CX-5 team benchmarked luxury brand XSUVs like Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lexus NX, Mercedes GLA.  To show how deep they have benchmarked premium XSUVs, the Jaguar F-Pace was even included on one comparison chart.

The new Mazda CX-5 is a 5-passenger XSUV slotted below the 7-passenger CX-9 introduced last year.  The CX-5 completes Mazda’s evolution to its Kudo design theme that stresses the “soul of motion”.  The styling is striking and clearly differentiated from its German and Japanese competitors.  Mazda states that “every element has been designed to be in a class above”.

To demonstrate the superiority of the premium-designed CX-5 over its luxury competition, Mazda provided these premium vehicles as comparisons to drive through downtown San Diego.  While we cannot yet discuss the driving experience, we can reveal that the CX-5 arguably looks and drives better than premium brand XSUVs costing about $10,000 more.

In reality, it will take years for Mazda to achieve premium brand status.  Executed consistently and effectively, Mazda Premium will ultimately achieve a stronger image with Mazda dealers and customers.  Mazda Premium will allow Mazda to achieve higher per-unit profitability.  Ultimately, Mazda Premium will allow Mazda to be positioned at a premium brand like Acura or Buick if all goes as planned.  Competing against Audi, BMW, Lexus, Jaguar and Mercedes is still a ways off.


Continue Reading

Follow VehicleVoice

RSS Feed   Facebook   Twitter

2018 NVSS

2018 New Vehicle Satisfaction Survey
By Invitation Only


Start Survey

Membership

Join

Recent Winners

Sid P., Washington - $100
Ken G., Nevada - $100
Brad T., Wisconsin - $100
Tom M., Virginia - $100
Kathy F., New Jersey - $100
John M., Massachusetts - $100
Mike M., California - $100
Carol R., Texas - $100
James D., Georgia - $100
Martha B., New Jersey - $100
Kerry B., Pennsylvania - $100

What is VehicleVoice?

About Vehicle Voice