The Honda Pilot, good as it might be, has been a blight on the road. Its eyeball searing gawky looks were only short of the not-lamented Pontiac Aztec. These are harsh comments, but a vehicle that makes you scream when you first see at an auto show is certainly a show stopper and not in a good way. Honda defends the previous Pilot as having traditional sport utility vehicle styling. That may be so, but it was very third world and inappropriate for the American market. Lasting for an extremely long cycle for Honda – seven years – the Pilot was a very good vehicle under the skin and its interior was commodious to say the least. But, now it’s thankfully dead and to be replaced by the third generation 2016 Honda Pilot on June 18, 2015.
The 2016 Ford Explorer marks the 25th anniversary of the vehicle line. When it launched as a 1991 model, the Explorer redefined what a sport utility vehicle should be – it was a high volume SUV with 4-doors (Ford wrongly estimated 4-door sales would be 30% of the mix – later, it became 100%). 7,000,000 sales later, Ford is launching a nicely updated mid-cycle product change. When the 2016 Ford Explorer launches, most people won’t be able to tell the difference from the present Explorer. While the vehicle’s sheetmetal ahead of the A-Pillar is all new and the liftgate and taillamps are all new, the differences are subtle to the casual observer. So while the change for 2016 is major, its appearance change is minor.
Honda launches its all-new 2016 HR-V sub-compact crossover sport utility vehicle in May, 2015. The 2016 Honda HR-V, based on Honda’s diminutive Fit sub-compact, is very spacious for what it is. The interior – at least the passenger compartment – feels about as big as the larger Honda CR-V. HR-V’s wheelbase is only a half inch shorter than CR-V allowing the big seating area, but its overall length is about ten inches shorter – less cargo room. The front seating area feels wider than you would expect in a vehicle this small. Ingress and egress are easy to the front seats. The rear seats are a bit tight. You have to maneuver your feet to get between the B-pillar and the seat and there is not much knee room. Cargo room is larger than it looks. The best feature Honda takes from the architecture of the Fit are the “Magic Seat” rear seats that flip and fold several ways to maximize the flexibility of the area behind the front seats.
Shared Platform with Renegade – Different Mission At a glance, the 2016 Fiat 500X is a solid addition to the Fiat lineup in the USA. Built alongside the Jeep Renegade at FCA’s Melfi, Italy plant the 500X shares the Renegade’s platform but has a dramatically different mission that demands tuning and settings to be very different. While the Renegade Trailhawk is at home off-road, the 500X is for the cities and suburbs.
2017 Lincoln Continental
B-XSUV How can a vehicle lead a class when you don’t know that that class is? What is a B-XSUV? The B-Class size in Euro-speak is the second from the lowest size class. Second, what is an XSUV? In AutoPacific-speak this means crossover sport utility vehicle. We refuse to call these things CUVs because it is important folks know they are supposed to be SPORT UTILITIES. This is a very new class with entries just beginning to land – Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, the Fiat 500x, etc.
Jeep Renegade So now lets talk about the 2016 Jeep Renegade.
The 2016 Jeep Renegade shares its platform with the 2016 Fiat 500X. The Renegade has rough and tough Jeep cues and mechanical bits that give it great chops off-road – American. The 500X is more of a urban cruiser – Italian.
It’s easy to like the all new 2016 Jeep Renegade on sale March 1, 2015. It is funky looking in a Jeep sort of way, small but wide, easy to maneuver, easy to get into and out of, easy to see out of. And it its base price is about $5,000 less than its new bigger brother the Jeep Cherokee. This puts its base price in the same area as the old, old, old Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot that we were frankly surprised to realize are still in production.
The built-in-Italy Renegade has Jeep-DNA styling cues including the seven vertical slot grill and trapezoidal wheel openings.
Smaller Than a Honda Civic While the Renegade is short – only 167-inches long – about 15-inches shorter than the Jeep Cherokee (182-inches in length), it makes up for that by being pretty wide. Renegade has a 101-inch wheelbase compared with the Cherokee’s 106-inch wheelbase. It is 74 inches wide, a bit wider than the Cherokee. The 2016 Jeep Renegade has 56-inches of front shoulder room compared with the 58-inches for the Cherokee, but 56-inches seems spacious and generous in the Renegade. Unlike the Cherokee, the Renegade has a lot of glass and good visibility. So from a packaging standpoint, the Renegade comes across like a larger vehicle. Thinking about a car to compare it to that everybody knows… Renegade has a shorter wheelbase and overall width than the 2015 Honda Civic, but is substantially wider. The Renegade is larger than the Honda Fit, but smaller than Civic. Wider than both.
The base 2016 Jeep Renegade comes with a six-speed manual transmission and a 1.4L Multi-air turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower. Optional sporting a 9-speed automatic transmission, is a 2.4L Multi-Air2 naturally aspirated Tigershark 4-cylinder with 180HP. If this sounds familiar the 2.4L/9-speed auto is also found in the Jeep Cherokee, Dodge Dart, Chrysler 200, and Ram Promaster City.
Capable On- and Off-Road Where the Renegade shines is in the dynamics. It is very maneuverable and easy to drive. Designed to be a true off-roader, the Renegade has good suspension travel and an excellent turning radius. The Jeep folks claim that the “Trail-Rated” Trailhawk version can traverse the Rubicon Trail, but we did not have the chance to prove it since we were in Hollister, California. We did, however, get to ease the Trailhawk down a grade that must have been about 45-degrees. With hill descent control engaged the Renegade slowly, but surely, worked its way down the grade.
Pricing The base price of the 2016 Jeep Renegade is $17,995 with a additional $995 for destination charges. Sneakily, that price does not include air conditioning (even the most basic vehicles sold in the USA have AC standard in most cases). That gets you a front wheel drive Renegade Sport with the 1.4L Multi-Air turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 6-speed manual transmission. The top model Trailhawk begins at $25,995, but when you check all the boxes the price can top $32,000. Not unreasonable for a new small SUV with loads of personality and capability.
What Would We Change The 2.4L 4-cylinder has 180HP which is sufficient for most circumstances. On the freeway, however, it would be nice to have a bit more power – maybe 200 or 205HP. The center stack navigation screen is 5.0-inches diagonally with standard UConnect and when you upgrade to the system with navigation the screen grows to 6.5-inches. In a world where bigger screens are better, we would have opted for a larger 8.4-inch screen. According to the Renegade’s product planner, this decision was made on the basis of styling, not cost or utility. Huh? Go with the bigger screen. On the plus side of screens, there is an available 7-inch reconfigurable display in the instrument cluster the driver can customize to display a myriad of information. Good going.
First, it was the Ford Transit Connect van from Turkey that has been ubiquitous in Europe for years before being seen on American roads. Small, styled with a brash quirkiness, tinny beyond imagination especially in taxi fleets, the Transit Connect caught on. Then Ford replaced the original Transit Connect with a lower roof, more stylish van built in Spain that is actually fun to drive. Nissan responded with the Nissan NV200 that is supposed to be the Taxi of Tomorrow for the New York City taxi fleet. It is assembled in Mexico. Not so fun to drive and assembled with more than a dollop of plastic. Most recently is the launch of the Ram (FCA US LLC, aka FCAGroup, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Dodge Trucks) Promaster City. How would I compare the three?
Ford Transit Connect Van
2015 Ram Promaster City
2014 Nissan NV200
Transit Connect Most Minivan-Like The Transit Connect ($22,330 – $29,185) is the most minivan-like. It has a instrument panel that mimics that in the Ford Focus. The seats are comfortable, but a choppy ride offsets the seat comfort. Performance is adequate with its standard 2.5L 4-cylinder engine having 169-horsepower coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. Optionally, the Transit Connect has a 178-horsepower EcoBoost 4-cylinder. Transit Connect is available in two wheelbases.
NV200 Spartan The Nissan NV200 ($20,270-$24,435 in cargo van version) is the most Spartan of the three. Its interior has been stripped bare of most ornamentation and the execution yields the most basic of transportation modules. A passenger version of the NV200 is not available unless you get the taxicab version starting at $29,700). Powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission), the NV200 is the most anemic of the three. Like the original Transit Connect, the NV200 can be a rattletrap. That brings me to the Ram Promaster City.
Promaster City Best Driving Feel Built in Turkey, the Promaster City ($23,130 for van version and $24,130 for the passenger version – maximum $29,275) probably falls between the Transit Connect and NV200 overall. It does, however, have the best driving feel of the three. The Promaster City is powered by the Fiat Tigershark 2.4L 4-cylinder engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. Sounds like the Dodge Dart or Jeep Cherokee. With much of the North American development work being done in the pothole-filled environs of Auburn Hills, Michigan, the Promaster City suspension has been beefed up and given more travel. Promaster City also has a fully independent rear suspension. The result is the ride comfort in the Promaster City is more comfortable in most conditions than the Transit Connect or the NV200.
The Battle for BIC – Best In Class: Transit Connect and Promaster City are vying for Best In Class claims. Promaster City claims best in class horsepower at 178-horsepower. This is correct for base engines, but if you consider Ford’s EcoBoost at 178-horsepower you have a tie. Promaster City has a fuel economy rating of 21mpg city/29mpg highway. Transit Connect is 20/28mpg. Promaster City claims the largest cargo volume at 132 cubic feet – Ford has 129 cubic feet in its long wheelbase van. Promaster City claims the highest payload at 1883 pounds – Ford has 1620. Its 48.4-inches between the rear wheelhouses allows you to put 4-foot wide materials flat on the rear load floor. The 72-inch load floor length does not allow a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of plywood to be transported enclosed, however. So, Promaster City wins the brochure war and its base Tigershark engine and 9-speed automatic transmission edges out the Transit Connect, but it is very close.
3rd Generation Murano The 2015 Nissan Murano crossover SUV went on sale Friday, December 5, 2014. The third generation of the Murano pushes the envelope on crossover styling and brings new Nissan design cues to the vehicle. The Murano has been a sweet spot among crossover SUVs since its launch. Each iteration has been very easy to live with and the 2015 version is no exception. Easy to drive, maneuverable, quiet and up to date, the Murano provides Nissan with a suitable vehicle to attract its target buyer. Media attending the product preview in Napa Valley were surprised that Nissan admitted its target market is empty nester couples 45 years of age or older. These people do not need seven or eight passenger seating they might have required during their family formation years, but they do want reasonable cargo capacity and a spacious rear seat. This 5-passenger crossover SUV meets their requirements
The Murano review was held during an early December storm with gale force winds. The Murano handled the inclement weather with aplomb. It was very stable even in vicious cross winds.
Exterior Given its sporty, futuristic styling, you might think the visibility would suffer, and it does to the rear, but overall visibility is pretty good. For years many in the industry have been stripping vehicles of exterior ornamentation, but not the 3rd gen Murano. There is a striking bright flash running from the upper edge of the front door rearward over the rear fender kickup. Very distinctive and nicely done. Murano follows the trend of front lighting with LED signature lights and available LED headlamps. LED “boomerang” taillamps are standard.
Interior The interior comfort is excellent with “Zero Gravity” seating. Ergonomics are excellent with a large 8-inch center stack screen standard. For those who like an open air feeling, the Murano offers a large panoramic moonroof. The top of the line Platinum model includes leather seating surfaces and comes across as a very premium place to be. The lower level SV model, loses the leather, but the interior retains much of the premium feel of the Platinum version. In essence, spending less does not result in a vehicle feeling cheap.
Technology The 2015 Nissan Murano comes with the expected suite of available technology: blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning, moving object detection and forward emergency braking.
Powertrain The engine is essentially carryover – Nissan’s venerable 260HP 3.5L DOHC V6 (VQ). The continuously variable Xtronic transmission has been improved with subtle “shift points” added to the shiftless gearbox. The driving experience is effortless.
Pricing The base price of the 2015 Nissan Murano os $29,560 for the S model. The next step up is the SV at $32,620. Then the SL at $35,950 and the range topping Platinum at $39,000. Adding all wheel drive adds $1,600 to each model. Checking all the boxes on a Platinum – adding premium paint, Technology Package and 20-inch wheels – brings the price to $44,975.
Production While Nissan’s huge Canton, Mississippi plant is the main source for the Murano worldwide, there is a secondary source in Pusan, South Korea should the USA need more volume. The Pusan plant is part of the Samsung Renault Nissan relationship.
Research Results Over the years, Murano has done very well in AutoPacific’s Satisfaction Research. The 2015 Nissan Murano promises to deliver strong satisfaction results just as did its predecessor generations.
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van was the first European-style full size van sold in the United States. Ford has added the European-style Transit van to its huge plant in Kansas City, Missouri. Ram is importing ProMaster vans from Europe. Nissan manufactures its NV vans in Canton, Mississippi and it is somewhere between a traditional American van and a European van. Only General Motors is left with a traditional American van with the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana. In the overall scheme of things, Ford is the top dog by a wide margin and Mercedes is in fourth or fifth place depending on the month.
Mercedes Sprinter Update for 2015 For 2015, the Mercedes Sprinter is getting a minor update including new front end appearance with more distinctive headlamps and grille. Optional safety features now commonly found in cars are available: blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, collision prevention assist and highbeam assist. On the Sprinter 2500 model, Crosswind Assist is standard. Because big vans present a large flat surface to the wind, they are susceptible to being knocked around in crosswinds. The Crosswind Assist system alleviates Crosswind threats at speeds over 50mph.
Of significance, the Mercedes Sprinter receives a 4×4 model for 2015. The base 4×4 system is prices at $6,500 with an additional $300 for low range capability. The 4×4 will likely be popular in the Snow Belt and Mercedes predicts between 6% and 9% of its mix will be 4×4. Sounds a bit low.
Diesel Engines The base engine in about 50% of Sprinters is a 161HP 2.1L 4-cylinder diesel with 266 lb-ft of torque. The 4-cylinder diesel is mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission. The optional 188HP 3.0L V6 diesel has 325 lb-ft of torque.
Re-Assembly Strategy for US Cargo Vans Mercedes Sprinter cargo vans are “re”-assembled at a small plant in the suburbs of Charleston, South Carolina. The former Western Star/American LaFrance plant is now the sole source for Sprinter cargo vans in the USA. Only about one third of the plant is used at present with plenty of room for expansion.
Now with 3 Roof Heights
Chicken Tax Avoidance Strategy Because of the 25% “chicken tax” (tariff) in place since 1967, truck manufacturers have used various schemes to avoid the crushing price penalty. At one point, Toyota added pickup boxes to its small pickup at the port in Long Beach, California. Ultimately, the major Japanese truck manufacturers added assembly capacity for their trucks in the USA. Toyota manufactured Tacoma pickups at NUMMI (a joint venture with General Motors) in Fremont, California and now manufactures Tundra and Tacoma pickups at a plant in San Antonio, Texas. Nissan has a huge truck plant in Smyrna, Tennessee and another in Canton, Mississippi. Even Honda has truck capacity for its Ridgeline in Ohio.
Mercedes avoids the chicken tax by re-assembling Sprinter vans in the USA. They are first completely manufactured in a plant in Dusseldorf, Germany. They are disassembled so that the powertrain is separate from the body. The bodies are loaded into containers (one or two per container depending on configuration) and shipped to Charleston. The powertrain components are shipped separately in lots of eighteen. Unloaded at the plant in Charleston, the body moves through thirteen six-minute stations. The Charleston plant can re-assemble between 60 and 75 Sprinter cargo vans per day. In 2013, the plant produced over 14,000 units. The top customers for these vehicles are FedEx (who insisted Mercedes add the vehicles for the American market) and Winnebago.
Saving the 25% chicken tax results in a 12% to 13% increase in the cost of the Sprinter in the USA, but the savings are still 12% to 13% lower than if the tariff had been paid.
Future Mercedes Vans in the USA Mercedes is adding more vans to its lineup in the future. The European mid-size Vito van (with the “Metris” name in the USA and Canada) will be added in Fall, 2015 in passenger and cargo versions. Another passenger van – the V-Class – was introduced in Munich in January 2014 and on sale in Europe from Spring 2014. Think of the V-Class as a van equivalent to the Mercedes S-Class sedan. Also in the offing for the USA is the smaller Mercedes Citan van introduced in Europe in 2012. Given the capacity available at the Mercedes van plant outside Charleston, it would not be surprising to see the Metris cargo vans assembled there similar to the Sprinter cargo vans.
One of the benefits of writing about cars is that you get to drive some insane stuff occasionally. The most recent insanity is the 2015 Dodge Charger Hellcat an insanely fast 4-door sedan that Dodge actually displayed with two child seats in the back showing that it can be a responsible family hauler as well as a berserker. And berserker it is.
Powered by a 707-horsepower 6.2L Supercharged HEMI V8, the Hellcat is a range-topping $64,000 handful. Dodge staged the review of the new 2015 Dodge Charger out of Washington DC and offered on-track driving at Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia. On a chilly, drizzly day, taking the Hellcat out on the rural roads around Summit Point allowed only about 20% of what the car is capable of. Punching it on a clear straightaway spooled up torque that pushed the car sideways. Careful, careful, it felt almost as if you were idling and the car wanted to surge ahead. You always knew that there is more there that can be used.707-horsepower
Multiple Keys Can Tone Down Hellcat for Valets Dodge knows that in the wrong hands 707-horsepower can be abused so they have two keys and three horsepower modes. Red key gets you unlimited use of its 707-horsepower. Black key gets you about 500-horsepower – still a lot for your teenage son or the valet. The answer for that is a valet mode accessed through the vehicle system that reduces the power to around 200-horsepower so they can’t get in too much trouble.
Something for Everyone in the Charger Lineup With the 707-horsepower Hellcat out of the way, a serious, serious car, the happiest Charger is the 292-horsepower Pentastar V6 with all wheel drive. This lower level sedan is a delight to drive. Nimble and forgiving in all the ways the Dodge Charger Hellcat is not. Simply, the new Charger lineup seems to have something for everyone from happy and pleasant starting around $28,000 for the SE or SXT models with the Pentastar V6, to a $32,000 370-horsepower 5.7L HEMI V8 in the R/T, to a $40,000 R/T Scat Pack with a 485-horsepower 6.4L HEMI V8, to the monster Hellcat with the 707-horsepower HEMI V8 at a fully loaded price over $60,000.