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2016 Jeep Renegade – Class Leading B-XSUV?

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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.

2016 Jeep Renegade F34 VehicleVoice2016 Jeep Renegade SV VehicleVoice

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.2015 Jeep® Renegade Trailhawk 2015 Jeep Renegade Limited

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.2016 Jeep Renegade Hill Descent

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.


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Ram Promaster City – MicroVan Workhorse

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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

Ford Transit Connect Van

2015 Ram Promaster City

2015 Ram Promaster City

2014 Nissan NV200

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 NV200.2015 Promaster City R342015 Promaster City Cockpit

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.


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2015 Nissan Murano – Sexy Upgrade

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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 requirementsGoats Head Beach

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.2015 Nissan Murano F342015 Nissan Murano SV2015 Nissan Murano R34

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.2015 Nissan Murano

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.

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

Now with 3 Roof Heights

Now with 3 Roof Heights

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

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

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

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

 


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Dodge Charger Hellcat – What Were They Thinking?

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Dodge Hellcat Logo

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-horsepower2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

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.


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Lexus RC-F

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TRack 2

 

Monticello Raceway, Monticello, New York

Lexus is pushing forward with the F. This time with the all-new 2015 RC F sports coupe. Outfitted with a 467 horsepower 5.0 liter V8 with a close-ratio eight speed automatic transmission, this coupe delivers on Lexus’ promise to continue the fight in the luxury performance arena.

The Look

Showing it’s relationship to the LF-NX Concept shown at the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show, the RC’s exterior design is aggressive. The rising beltline and stretched head and tail lamps give the vehicle an athletic look. The spindle grille contains the “F” motif repeated in the mesh with cooling ducts moving air to the vehicle’s oil coolers. Of course, the front hood is raised to accommodate the V8 and send the right message to other drivers.

Grille

 

The Sound

In the past Lexus’ were promoted with the promise of a silent powertrain. Not true today. The RC F has a larger-diameter exhaust system designed to reduce
backpressure and sound powerful, especially under acceleration. But Lexus has taken it beyond the exterior sound. Active Sound Control (ASC), lets the driver control enhanced exhaust, intake and mechanical sounds within the cabin. An electronic control unit mounted beneath the instrument panel (yes, in the cabin) takes input from engine sounds, including varying engine speed, vehicle speed and throttle position and generates powertrain sound within the vehicle. Cheating? You decide. But it’s pretty easy to get used to.

The Drive

Tuned at both the Fuji Speedway (which is the reason for the F moniker) and the Nürburgring, the RC F is clearly intended to be more than a daily driver. While Lexus may not be the first brand name that comes to mind when thinking of track days, this vehicle is more evidence that the Lexus image is continuing to change. AutoPacific joined media from around the world to test the RC F at Monticello. Aside from one trip mowing the lawn, we can attest to the true performance nature of the RC F.

The Data

 

EnginePerformance


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2015 Ford F-150 Is the Game-Changer We’ve Expected

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2015 Ford F-150The Ford half-ton pickup, the F-150, is the top selling vehicle in the USA – car or truck.  For the 2015 model year, Ford launches an all new F-150.  And it is literally ALL NEW.  In most model changes, there are numerous parts carried over from previous generations.  The 2015 Ford F-150 is so completely re-done that there are probably no common part numbers with the 2014 model.  The body is all aluminum with the exception of a “quiet steel” dash panel (between the engine compartment and the passenger compartment).  You can lift the military grade front fender with one finger.  The aluminum panels are not welded as in steel bodied vehicles they are riveted and glued.  The result is a stiffer vehicle that feels even more robust than its predecessor. Ford says the use of aluminum has yielded a reduction in weight by up to 700 pounds.2015 Ford F-150 F342015 Ford F-150 R34

The interior width in the cab is two inches wider than before.  The aluminum structure allows the pillars to be smaller while meeting or exceeding all relevant safety standards.  With thinner pillars, driver’s visibility is improved.  The belt line has been dropped by an inch increasing downward visibility as well.

The 2015 Ford F-150 is available with a Regular Cab (2-door), SuperCab (extended cab with rear access doors) and SuperCrew (4-doors) cab style.  There are three box lengths:  5 1/2, 6 1/2 and 8 feet.

Feature Laden:  All those gee whiz things we have been seeing on luxury cars recently, you know, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot information system, active park assist, rear view camera, reverse sensing system, 360-degree cameras, LED accent lights, LED everything lights, information screen in the instrument cluster and MyFord Touch in the center display, are available on the 2015 Ford F-150.  The lighting strategy for the truck is probably the best in the industry.  When all the boxes are checked, there are LED accents for the headlamps and taillamps that communicate the F-150’s DNA. There are LED headlamps available.  There are LED lamps in the bed to improve nighttime visibility.  Of course, there are puddle lamps below the outside rear view mirrors, but there are also LED spot lamps on the top corners of the mirrors to allow the area beside the vehicle to be illuminated (now, if these could be used to blast the car beside you, the good ol’ boys in Texas driving with their open bottles could have a hoot).2015 Ford F-150 Cockpit

The Interior:  In the lower models of the 2015 Ford F-150 you get what you expect from a base truck.  Lots of plastic, cloth seats (comfortable), minimal equipment.  There are five basic trim levels: XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum.  By the time you get up to King Ranch or Platinum you could be riding in a Lincoln.

Wide Powertrain Lineup:  While the 2015 Ford F-150 does not offer a diesel, it does have four gasoline engines.  The base engine is a 3.5L naturally aspirated V6 with 283-horsepower and 255 lb. ft. of torque.  The first step up and expected to be the highest volume powerplant is a 325HP 2.7L EcoBoost V6 with 375 lb. ft. of torque.  This is about the power of a small displacement V8 in half the size.  There are two top-of-the line engines based on what you want to do with the truck.  The 365HP 3.5L EcoBoost V6 has 420 lb. ft of torque.  The sole V8 in the line-up is the 385HP 5.0L V8 with 387 lb. ft of torque.  The 3.5L EcoBoost has the highest trailer towing rating of 12,200 lbs.


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2015 Honda CR-V Major Minor XSUV Change

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It goes like this… Honda invites you to an event that is held locally to review a vehicle that is not scheduled for a meaningful change for a couple of years.  What’s up?  Well, enough that Honda can make a pretty big deal out of it.  The top selling sport utility vehicle is Honda’s CR-V crossover SUV.  The 2015 Honda CR-V looks pretty much like the 2014.  Same profile.  Same doors.  Same window openings.  What’s the big deal?  The front end looks more butch, more SUV-like.  It has really cool running lights below the headlamps.  Likewise, the rear end looks stronger.  The effect is that the CR-V looks a little bigger even though it isn’t.  Ah, the story is pretty much beneath the skin.  Honda calls it a MAJOR minor model change.  Clever.2015 Honda CR-V FV VehicleVoice2015 Honda CR-V F34 VehicleVoice2015 Honda CR-V R34 VehicleVoice

Engineering Story – Earth Dreams Powertrain  This is an engineering story.  The 2015 Honda CR-V gets a new engine – an Earth Dreams direct injection 2.4L 4-cylinder engine with 185-horsepower (same output as 2014).  Torque is up by 18 lb-ft or 11% to improve driving feel especially at lower speeds.  New transmission – now a CVT to achieve better fuel economy.  The new engine and transmission combination substantially improves fuel economy for both 2WD and 4WD versions – highway fuel economy up about 10% better for both leading Honda to claim class leading fuel economy for the 2015 Honda CR-V.

Finesse and Value In addition to better performance, Honda has finessed the vehicle giving it a quieter cabin making it more pleasant to drive.  The instrument panel has been upgraded as has the center console.  For buyers coming down from larger, more heavily equipped SUVs the 2015 Honda CR-V will not disappoint.  Honda has added a slew of standard and available features that will make tech savvy customers feel warm and fuzzy.  There are a couple of new features standard like rear air conditioning vents on the rear of the console and a sliding driver’s side sun visor.  The big news is in the high volume EX model where $1,400 worth of equipment has been added for only a $200 price increase including:  heated front seats, Honda Lane Watch, display audio, smart key start, 10-way power driver’s seat. 2015 Honda CR-V Cockpit

New Touring Model Has Available Honda Sensing System  At the top of the trim lines is a new Touring model that checks most of the features boxes.  This is where the Honda Sensing system comes into play.  Honda Sensing is a safety system developed by Honda R&D that combines several technologies to help drivers avoid crashes.  This collision avoidance system includes:  adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking and Honda Lane Watch.  John Turley, Honda R&D Americas principal engineer says, “Honda Sensing is a stepping stone to a fully autonomous car.  With a couple more big overlays of technology, Honda can have a self driving car by 2020.  One of those technologies is longer range radar and inter-car communications that can provide warnings up to 1500 meters around the car up from about 250 today.”  The government and car makers are working to develop regulations and standards that will help cars of the future connect with each other seamlessly.


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2014 Kia Soul Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

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5731_2014_Soul_video_still

The all new 2014 Kia Soul is the highest scoring Compact Car in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research. The Soul beat out some very impressive competitors such as the Volkswagen Golf, Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, and the Honda Civic.

The 2014 Kia Soul wins or ties in seven of fifty satisfaction categories. The Soul also was within one tenth of a rating point in thirteen other categories. The 2014 Kia Soul is at the top of a total of twenty categories.

The top ten highest ratings by Kia Soul drivers are: the warranty, the perception of reliability and dependability, overall quality and handling, vehicle and brand reputation, feeling safe while driving and the safety rating, the exterior color, and it is fun to drive.

As Kia’s top selling nameplate, Kia played it safe with the 2014 re-do.  Still one of the most pleasant small cars to drive, it excels with its quirky styling, easy entry and exit, good visibility.  Simply, the Soul is very easy to live with on a day to day basis.

AutoPacific VSA Logo Feature


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Lexus NX: A New Crowd to Lexus?

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Lexus 1

Part of luxury in the United States has always been big; big homes, big cars, and big diamond rings. And a luxury car has always been big, bold, and unapologetic. Elvis had a Cadillac. Elizabeth Taylor a custom-built 1956 Mark II. Arnold piloted a Hummer.

A common belief today is that younger buyers do not have the same affinity to big and bold. The storyline is that economic instability, and a renewed sense of environmentalism has changed the landscape for future luxury buyers. Armed with this story, luxury  brands are embarking on a downsizing strategy intended to bring in these new buyers to build their brands for the future.  But luxury attempts at compact vehicles have a checkered past: BMW 318ti, Mercedes-Benz C230, or, further back, the inglorious Cadillac Cimarron. Given history, low fuel prices, and buyers gobbling up mid-size cars and crossovers, it is not a slam-dunk for luxury brands to succeed while downsizing.

We recently had the opportunity to experience Lexus’ first compact SUV in Whistler, British Columbia, a town of mostly tourists, with a generous slathering of a mountain-biking Gen Y crowd.  The NX is designed target these younger buyers and compete with the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes GLK in what is one of the hottest markets in automotive.

 

Lexus 2

Outside

Carrying some of the styling first seen with the LF-NX Concept shown at the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show, the vehicle’s exterior design continues the brand’s desire to be more aggressive. The spindle grille, stretched head and tail lamps and rising beltline are clearly designed to give the vehicle an athletic look as well as distance itself from any wagon cues that haunted the first RX. The large wheel arches and moldings promote the look of off-road capability and reduce a slab-sided look, but give the wheels and tires an inferiority complex, even with the optional 18’s. Overall however, the vehicle clearly distinguished itself from the RX, which will be important.

Inside

The aggressive exterior is carried inside with a cockpit-like driver’s position with an h-point that runs between a car and an SUV.   The NX’s nicely trimmed leather, bridges the sporty/luxury gap quite well. The vehicle has a full array of technology, including a Lexus-first Wireless Charging Tray for phones; the new Lexus Remote Touch Interface (RTI) with a touch pad happily replaces the previous Lexus mouse/joystick. The new input device is like the track pad on a laptop with a soft leather cushion for the heel of your hand.  Available Lane Departure Alert warns the driver when it determines that the vehicle is about to veer from a traffic lane. A camera mounted to the windshield recognizes lane markings. It sounds a warning and provides a visual representation on the Multi-Information Display screen if the vehicle is veering from its lane. The system works in rain and on roads where the lane is marked on one side only.

Lexus 3

The Drive

We drove both the NX 200t with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four -cylinder engine and the NX 300h hybrid, with a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine. The turbo had a bit of the expected lag and whine one would expect from this powertrain, but did a good job of launching without too much fuss. The hybrid, engineered for maximum fuel economy, is quiet and smooth, perfectly suited for mowing down slower pedestrians at Home Depot.  The vehicle handles well for a small SUV, feeling nimble and more than able to handle the daily activities of the target buyers.

The Challenge

Lexus says that more than 70% of IS buyers are new to the brand, and often from standard, non-luxury mid-size vehicles. This is quite an achievement for the Lexus brand, and is the expectation for NX as well.  That’s a real challenge.  The NX is a real nice CUV, so you have to consider that a vehicle this nice will draw from RX buyers as well, especially given its superior fuel economy (about 28-30 highway) and, presumably, lower price.  RX owners coming in for service or returning a lease vehicle will certainly notice, and consider, this vehicle.

What is is

• Smaller than the Lexus RX, and aimed to compete with Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lincoln MKC. and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class.
• Arrives at Lexus dealerships in late 2014.
• Derived from RAV4 mechanicals
• Lexus’ first turbocharged powertrain
• Hybrid powered NX 400h will also be available
• Intended to attract younger customers to the Lexus brand.


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