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The Quail 2016… A Motorsports Gathering

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The Quail VehicleVoiceThis is the second time I have attended The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering and it did not disappoint.  Held at The Quail Lodge and Golf Club in Carmel, California, the event drew 5,000 attendees.  Cars and motorsports are supposed to be the highlight of the event, but food, drink and people are even more interesting.  The attendees were enthusiasts, collectors, owners and motorsports personalities.  Some of the vehicles on display had their owners hovering nearby.  Other vehicles had their attendants close to make sure spectators did not touch them.   Some of the restorers had worked on the cars for years and were bringing them out in public for the first time since the restoration was complete.  Getting more popular all the time are “barn finds”.  These are vehicles that have not been restored to a level never even attained from the factory.  They have their fifty, sixty, seventy or eighty year patina intact.

There were over 250 vehicles to gaze at.  Most were luxury and sporting marques like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Rolls Royce, Bentley.  One of the highlights was the new Bugatti Chiron in a deep French blue with a highly chromed character line sweeping up the A-Pillar along the door and then down and back forward towards the front fender.  Very dramatic.  Framing the Chiron was a “sea” of Bugatti Veyrons in a rainbow of colors.

Bugatti Chiron VehicleVoiceBugatti Sea VehicleVoiceWhile The Quail is an event for individuals to showcase their vehicles, corporate displays seem to be on the upswing as well.  Bugatti showcased the Chiron.  Bentley showed off the Bentayga and the new Mulsanne.  Acura was there celebrating 30 years on the market.  BMW was celebrating its 100th Anniversary.  Cadillac was featuring its CTS-V.  Alfa Romeo featured the 4C and upcoming Guilia sedan.  Singer, the classic Porsche upfitter, had a small display and a large crowd.

Bolus VehicleVoiceMy favorite display was the Bowlus travel trailer hitched to a Bentley Bentayga.  This all-aluminum $219,000 travel trailer is reminiscent of an aluminum Airstream but is totally high tech.  The Bowlus folks say you can live off the grid for two weeks in their travel trailer and be totally comfortable.

The Quail is a signature event for Peninsula Hotels.  Six Peninsula hotels had a spectacular pavilion with gourmet food appropriate from their cities – Bangkok, Beijing, Chicago, Beverly Hills, Paris, and New York.  Most people probably couldn’t get through all six pavilions.  While all six of the Peninsula pavilions were outstanding, perhaps the best was Beijing with great food and music to set the ambiance for a truly luxurious experience.


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Infiniti QX30 – Infiniti Joins Small Luxury XSUV Battle

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2017 Infiniti QX30 - VehicleVoice

Image by: George Peterson

Infiniti QX30 Launched  One of the fastest growing product segments is the Luxury Small Crossover SUV (XSUV) category.  Infiniti has been a bit late to the party as there are already 33 small XSUVs on the market.  Eight of those are luxury brand XSUVs:  the Acura RDX has been out since 2013 in its second incarnation, Audi Q3 out since 2014, BMW X1 out since 2014, Land Rover Discovery Sport out since 2016, Lexus NX200t out since 2015, Lincoln MKC out since 2015, Mercedes GLA since 2015, Range Rover Evoque out since 2012.  Launch of the Infiniti QX30, while a bit late, pretty much has every brand in the fray.

Infiniti enters the fray with the Infiniti QX30, making it the 34th member in the small XSUV market and 9th luxury brand XSUV.  Remember, QX is the Infiniti nomenclature for SUVs whether they are body-on-frame SUVs (QX80) or crossover SUVs (QX70, QX60, QX50).  Infiniti cars carry names that begin with a simple “Q”.

All USA QX30s Classified as Trucks  The Infiniti QX30 is a highly styled small crossover available in front wheel drive and all wheel drive powertrain configurations.  In other markets the all drive model is called “Q30” indicating Infiniti is classifying it as an hatchback car.  In the USA, both versions are classified as trucks.

Dramatic Infiniti Design Cues Differentiate QX30   The Infiniti QX30 is sporty and curvaceous like most Infiniti models.  It has bulging front fenders sweeping back and down with a strong character line.  Infiniti decribes the character lines as “dramatic and turbulent”.  The windshield is very fast flowing into a steeply dropping roofline. The front end is instantly recognizable as an Infiniti with its unique “double-arch” grille.  In the side view, Infiniti’s signature crescent-shaped C-pillar further differentiates the vehicle.  There is a lot going on there, but it works very well in this small XSUV.

Infiniti QX30 and Mercedes GLA Share Platform  To keep the investment in line the Infiniti QX30 is assembled in Sunderland, England alongside the Mercedes-Benz GLA.  QX30 and GLA share platforms, but Infiniti has loaded its entry with all the latest high tech electronic gadgetry available.

Engine Power at the Low End of Competitive Range  The 2.0L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine is shared with the GLA and is manufactured by Daimler in Kolleda, Germany.  Power output is 208 horsepower with 258 lb-ft of torque.  Compared with other luxury XSUVs this power output is anemic.  Driving the QX30, the performance is adequate, even pleasant, but a power output of between 230 and 240 horsepower would be more expected from an engine with these specifications.

The engine is mated to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.


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Super Duty – Ford’s Super Capable 2017 Pickups

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Ford’s F-Series Super Duty pickups are all new for the 2017 model year.  The Super Duty line includes the F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 heavy duty pickups.

All-New For Real  The term all new here is an actual fact because the last time the Super Duty was all new was over a decade ago.  The high volume F-150 light duty full size pickup was all new and all aluminum for 2016.  The Super Duty follows a year later, but Ford says the product update cadence should be shorter for both the F-150 and the Super Duties in the future.

2017 Ford F-250 Super Duty King Ranch

Image by: George Peterson

Borrows from F-150, Then Goes on Steroids  For this iteration the Super Duty pickups share the aluminum cabs of the F-150 – regular cab, Super Cab and Crew Cab.  Each of these cabs is longer than that on the old Super Duty.  Then everything changes.  The front end styling is very different, tougher and stronger looking than the pretty darn strong looking F-150.  The pickup box is upgraded to handle the more severe workload of a vehicle designed for construction crews and trailer towing.  The fully-boxed frame has been substantially upgraded with the center section frame rails 1.5 inches taller than previously.

Venerable Twin-I-Beam Suspension Retained and Upgraded  The Twin-I-Beam front suspension has been upgraded and remains a very important Super Duty unique selling proposition.  According to Doug Scott, head of Ford truck marketing, there was a lot of discussion about retaining the venerable, but very strong Twin-I-Beam front suspension.  There was one contingent within Ford that wanted a more contemporary front suspension similar to Chevrolet Silverado.   But buyers of the Super Duty rely on the over-designed Twin-I-Beam for durability in extreme abuse situations.  Super-computer simulations of the suspension design have eliminated the quirkiness of the previous set-up that tended to wander a bit on the open road.

Unique Interior  Although the Super Duty shares the F-150’s cabs, the interior in the Super Duty is unique to the line.  The “Active Motion” seats are designed for heavier duty application and long seat time.  They are comfortable for hours on the road.  The instrument panel is unique and much more industrial looking than in the F-150.  There is a wide center console that can accommodate files or a laptop computer.  The console top is an armrest in normal driving or a desk when necessary.

Feature Laden  The list of available advanced features is an arm long.  Most would be expected in an up-market car, but in a heavy duty pickup they are extraordinary.  Super Duty gets Sync 3 available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.  There is a 360-degree camera set-up that is extremely useful when parking or off-roading.  Activating the camera allows you to see the obstacles near the vehicle and avoid them.  The Super Duty can have as many as SEVEN cameras.  Lane departure warning, blind spot information and adaptive cruise control systems are available.  Adaptive steering is available that adjusts the steering ratio based on driver input.

Powerful Power Stroke Diesel is the Volume Engine Choice  The available powertrains include the second generation Power Stroke diesel that will be the high volume engine.  The 6.7L V8 diesel has 440-horsepower and 920 lb. ft. of torque.  That’s right – 920 lb. ft.  The diesel is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.  The diesel pulls, and pulls, and pulls.  There is a 6.2L V8 gas engine with 385-horsepower and 430 lb. ft. of torque.  On chassis-cab models Ford’s 6.8L V10 is available.

Driving the Super Duty  The Super Duty is a delight to drive for such a big truck.  The 4×4 King Ranch F-250 Crew Cab (~$78,000) was easy to drive and easy to maneuver if you have a lot of space.  The unloaded ride was good depending on road surface.  Because of the stiff 4×4 suspension the ride over choppy roads was a bit uncomfortable.  The power of the 6.7L Power Stroke diesel was very impressive.


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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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New CX-9 Is Key In Mazda’s Attempt To Be Premium Brand

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This article appeared in Forbes Auto:  May 23, 2016

Photo Credit: George Peterson

Photo Credit: George Peterson

Mazda has always been a brand different from most. It built its image on rotary engines that were fun to drive, but tough to make. Challenges from emissions and fuel economy regulations doomed the rotary early in the 21st century. Production ceased in 2012 with the demise of the Mazda RX-8 sports car. Mazda’s gorgeous Vision R coupe shown at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show demonstrates Mazda hasn’t given up on the rotary, but admits only a small group of dedicated engineers are presently working on it. But the rotary engine is just part of the Mazda story.

The Ford Days to Independence  From 1979 through 2009, Ford Motor had an increasing equity stake in Mazda Motor. Starting with 7% stake in 1979, Ford increased its position in Mazda until it had effective control with 33.3% of the company. Mazda and Ford teamed up on several car platforms where Mazda’s design expertise opened the eyes of Ford engineers to new more efficient techniques.

As the Great Recession deepened and Ford was struggling for liquidity, Ford divested its shares in Mazda and the company became independent in 2009. The result was a stand-alone brand with good products, but low volumes. In 2011, Mazda raised $1.9 billion to guarantee its future viability and develop its SkyActiv platform now underpinning its cars and crossover SUVs. With the introduction of the Mazda CX-9 crossover SUV in mid-2016, the transition to SkyActiv is complete.

For Mazda’s 2016 Fiscal Year, the company sold a bit over 1.5 million vehicles world wide and had a net income of ¥134 billion (~$1 billion). Prospects are even better going forward as Mazda entered a technology sharing agreement with Toyota in May 2015.

Repositioning “Zoom Zoom” to “Driving Matters”  Now the stage is set for Mazda to reposition itself. In the United States, Mazda wants to be perceived as an upscale mainstream brand similar to Acura. Acura has always seemed like an upscale domestic brand (and not particularly successful), so this positioning may make sense.

One of the first things Mazda has done to facilitate this change is change its advertising tag line from “Zoom Zoom” to “Driving Matters.” “Zoom Zoom” has been around seemingly forever, since about 2000. At first, Mazda’s products did not live up to the “Zoom Zoom” tag line, so now that they do, the tag line is changed to a more mature “Driving Matters”. “Zoom Zoom” is still there, but in a secondary position to “Driving Matters”.

“Driving Matters” fits with the attitude that people who buy a Mazda product are more enthusiastic about driving than buyers of most other mainstream brands. Mazda does not want to sell an appliance – transportation from point A to point B – they want to sell a vehicle with an active, sporty driving experience that their owners embrace.

Mazda Vehicles Deliver More of a Premium Ambiance  Along with repositioning the message, Mazda’s products have been achieving higher transaction prices at their dealers. Much of this results from selling a richer mix of vehicles with about 50% of the CX-5 being the upper middle Grand Touring model and the CX-9 having a projected 40% being the Grand Touring model (then combined with the Touring model, Touring plus Grand Touring are expected to be 70% of the CX-9 mix). No longer wanting to be a “cheap and cheerful” brand, Mazda will not be the cheapest in any segment. It wants to be best. Simply, the brand is chasing a better quality of business.


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Lincoln Navigator Wows at New York Auto Show

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Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company

Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company

Navigator – First Luxury SUV  Lincoln launched the Luxury Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) Market in 1997 when it launched the first generation of the Navigator.  Navigator was a derivative of the Ford Expedition Full Size SUV and proved to be an instant success.  Loaded with the appropriate amount of technology and bling for the time, Navigator hit a chord with upscale families that wanted something more than a minivan or full size SUV.  The first Navigator was somewhat tame by today’s standards, but provided the sophistication, size, power and price people coveting this kind of transportation.  It took Cadillac two years to respond with the Escalade – a quick-to-market response to Navigator.

A Battle of Bling Between Lincoln and Cadillac  The first generation Navigator was to last for five model years (1997 through 2002) when it was replaced by the 2003 Navigator which raised the bar in the American Luxury SUV category. It adopted independent rear suspension which allowed for the rear load floor to be dropped by 7-inches and for a commodious third row seat to be installed.  To this day, General Motors full size SUVs have not matched Lincoln’s third row seat package, much less Escalade.  Cadillac evolved into a bling-mobile (one Cadillac marketer described the vehicle as having seven layers of chrome).  Lincoln responded with a gaudy Navigator in 2007 that seemingly had chrome haphazardly thrown at every bodypanel.  While Escalade had a major refresh in 2015 incorporating Cadillac’s vertical LED light pipe daytime running lights in the front, Lincoln freshened the front styling of the Navigator incorporating the clumsy winged grille style that appeared on its vehicles during the decade.  Navigator also dropped its V8 powertrain replacing it with a more powerful EcoBoost V6.  The lower weight and higher power of the EcoBoost transformed the handling of the Navigator.

But that brings us to the future.

Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company

Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company

Style Evolution Yields a Range Rover Look-Alike  The next generation Lincoln Navigator concept has been shown at the 2016 New York Auto Show and it is an absolute WOW. Like Lincoln did in 2015 when they stealthily introduced the Continental concept at New York, the Navigator concept was kept very quiet until its initial reveal.  With this new Navigator, Lincoln takes a different tack towards elegance, sophistication and quietness – a Personal Santuary.  The new Navigator adopts new Lincoln styling cues like the strongly trapezoidal grille opening, Lincoln logo mesh grille, headlamps accented by LED running lights.  The front end is very strong looking.  The rear appearance adopts Lincoln’s horizontal full-width taillamp treatment.  The bodyside, however, comes across much like a Range Rover with similar accent lines and window graphics.  Different, but similar.  You might remember Bentley accused Lincoln of plagiarizing the style of its Flying Spur.  Might Range Rover make the same complaint with the new Navigator?

Lincoln says the new Navigator is its “most spacious ever”, but the exterior style seems to make it appear a bit less bulky.  This is good.

Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company

Photo Source: Lincoln Motor Company

The concept is shown with gull-wing doors and “concertina” side steps for easier access.  These are certainly there for the concept reveal and will not appear in production.


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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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New Hyundai Elantra Gets Timid

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Hyundai Elantra at CastleCheck most of the boxes needed to win in the highly competitive compact car segment and the 2017 Hyundai Elantra does not miss many chances to excel.  Following the mantra of “democratization of technology” Elantra has most of the high tech infotainment and technology features available.  When you pop for them all, the retail price is $26,750.  This is a lot for a compact car of a decade ago, but not bad for the fully loaded Limited model of the all new Elantra.  For those not wanting or needing the full equipment load, the starting price is around $17,000.

Good Ease of Use  For a person reasonably familiar with today’s cars, the Elantra is easy to figure out.  It might not pass the rental car test where you should be able to start the car, turn on the headlights, adjust the radio and air conditioning system on a stormy night at Hertz, but it comes close.  Easy to understand and use are the keynotes of Elantra design.

Created to provide a destination for buyers wanting to downsize, Elantra has all the features with the possible exceptions of cooled seats and adaptive cruise control that brings you to a full stop and then proceeds when traffic moves forward.  For buyers wanting to upgrade, everything is there.  For a price.

2017 ELANTRA SEDAN

2017 ELANTRA SEDAN

Easy to Drive  Elantra is quiet, solid, comfortable.  It handles very well on aggressive back-California roads.  It is acceptably fast.  It has an automatic 6-speed transmission with its base 147-horsepower 2.0L 4-cylinder engine.  (There is an eco model available with higher fuel economy powered by a 128-horsepower 1.4L 4-cylinder turbo mated to a 7-speed EcoShift dual clutch transmission with limited feature availability).

The interior package is similar to a mid-size car of the prior generation (it is rated mid-size by the EPA). In fact, Elantra has about the same interior size of a Cadillac CTS and is bigger than a BMW 3-Series or Audi A4.  Interior materials are a notch above what used to be expected in this class of car.  The upper surface of the instrument panel is soft, but adjacent materials are hard while pretending to be soft.  The trunk is large, but accessed through a small opening due to its relatively fastback design.

Comprehensive Feature Availability  There is a 4.5-inch multi-color display between the gauges in the instrument cluster.  In the center stack, there is either a 7-inch or 8-inch monitor depending on features selected.  Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces are avaiilable.  To enhance the sound of your music there is Harman’s Clari-Fi Music Restoration Technology.  Nice… very comprehensively done.

No Longer Head-Turning  Elantra is good looking, but not head-turning like its predecessor.  In the rear view, Elantra gets lost in traffic.  Its distinctive front view is highlighted by its large trapezoidal grille opening and LED accents on higher trim models.  Functional outboard vents in the front fascia direct air over the front wheels and help aerodynamics.  Vertical LEDs accent the outboard vents in top of the line models.  But overall, like the larger Hyundai Sonata, Hyundai has become more timid with its new compact car entry.

Elantra GT Coming  Coming in Fall 2016 is the Elantra GT with a 200HP 4-cylinder turbo and distinctive front and rear styling and unique interior trim.  The GT model will have a DSG


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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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2016 Nissan Titan XD is a Square Peg in a Round Hole That Fits

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2004 was the year Usher had some of his biggest hits in the music world. It was also the year 3 Doors Down had their hit “Here Without You”. If that doesn’t ring a bell for you, 2004 was also the year that the Nissan Titan came out. You probably forgot about that one though. 2004 was also the year where Ford had the 6.0L Powerstroke V8 diesel with 325 HP and 560 LB-FT of torque.

Fast forward to 2015 and the Biebs and Adele are rockin’ the charts and Nissan FINALLY has something Titan related to talk about. Unlike Bieber, Nissan wants you to remember this truck: The 2016 Titan XD. With 310 HP and 555 LB-FT of torque from a V8 Cummins, the 2016 Titan XD picks up where Detroit left off. The Titan XD should be pegged as the spiritual successor to the heavy duty pickups of 2004.

The arms race power between Ram and Ford has amounted to pickup trucks that can tow over 30,000 pounds. Besides the need for a CDL to tow that much, that is a lot more truck than most people need. What if Nissan took the best of 2004 and the best of 2015 to bring a pickup that isn’t overkill in the power department at a more reasonable price than that of a diesel Super Duty F-250 or Ram 2500? The Titan XD is the pickup equivalent of a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t match up with anything else out there. Not a bad problem to have in a hyper competitive market.


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