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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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Ford Crew Chief Telematics System

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Telematics System for Vehicle Tracking and Management  Ford is offering the Crew Chief telematics system on its fleet vehicles.  Developed by Telogis, Crew Chief is a GPS-based system designed to monitor vehicle activity and improve efficiency.  The Ford Crew Chief system is available on the F-150, F-Series Super Duty, E-Series, Transit and Transit Connect.

Black Box GPSThe Ford Crew Chief system includes a GPS receiver, or black box, mounted out of the way in the instrument panel.  The GPS tracks the vehicle real-time and converts the data received from the vehicle into a visual dashboard that provides an at-a-glance summary of a commercial fleet’s performance.  Knowing how a vehicle is being driven can help fleet management “counsel” drivers on how to improve their driving style and achieve better efficiency.  When driving and vehicle operation improves, insurance rates can drop.

The Ford Crew Chief system measures a wide array of vehicle attributes.  Measuring these attributes can help fleet management anticipate problems and correct them before a serious mechanical failure might occur.

Some of the attributes measured by Crew Chief include:

•  VIN
•  Oil Life (% remaining)
•  Tire Pressure
•  Diagnostic Trouble Codes
•  Engine Coolant Temperatures
•  Water in Fuel of a Diesel-Powered Vehicle
•  Excessive RPM
•  Safety Belt Usage
•  Air Bag Status
•  Battery Charge
•  Excessive Idling
•  Hard Acceleration/Driving

•  Driver Insurance Expiration Date
•  Driver License Expiration Date

Clearly, the fleet can save a lot of money by reducing the time a vehicle is idling or whether or not the driver is abusing the vehicle by revving the engine unnecesarily, accelerating hard and driving hard.

Can Be Very Big Brother  It might sound like Big Brother, but knowing what the driver is doing and where the vehicle is and has been can be a real advantage in managing a fleet.  Here are some of the features Crew Chief can include:

•  Find the Closest Capable Driver
•  Develop Custom Map Overlays
•  Add a Fuel Efficiency Module
•  Satellite Imagery (helps identify landmarks in mapped locations)
•  Provide Real-Time Alerts
•  Provide Turn-by-Turn Directions
•  Fast Mapping
•  Automated Reports
•  Animated Vehicle History Trails
•  Maintenance Reporting
•  Fleet, Driver and Team Management
•  Search (finds any vehicle, driver, location or tagged group, improving asset utilization and making fleet management more efficient)Ford Crew Chief History Map

•  Speeding Alerts (flags when drivers are over the speed limit.  Can help reduce insurance costs)Ford Crew Chief Speeding

Of course, Ford Crew Chief is not free.  There is a monthly fee for each vehicle of $31.99 for the standard package and $39.99 for the professional package.


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2015 Ford Transit – Conquerer of the White Van Market

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Once upon a time, I was the design engineer for the advanced vehicle package of the Ford Nantucket program.  Nantucket was the code name of what would become the 1975 Ford Econoline full size van that was to continue in production with moderate updates through 2014 – about 39 years!.  So, it was particularly meaningful to me to accept an invitation by Ford to attend the press preview for the Econoline’s (now “E-Series”) replacement in Kansas City, Missouri – the Ford Transit.2015 Ford Transit Group Shot

Hugely Complex Program –  Lots of Choice  Ford’s One Ford strategy dictates that vehicles be as common as possible around the world.  While the E-Series has been the top selling large van in the USA for years, it was basically a North America only product.  The European Transit van was completely different.  Also, the American E-Series never had the breadth of product choices that the European Transit had.  Now that has changed with the American-made Transit about as complex as the European model.2015 Ford Transit Wagon F34

America has been introduced to the European white van offerings with the European Mercedes-Benz/Freightliner Sprinter van and the Ram Promaster (from Fiat).  So the 2015 Ford Transit may not take the American eye by surprise, but its complexity is near mind blowing.  The 2015 Ford Transit is available in two wheelbases, three roof heights in both cargo van and passenger wagon configurations.  There is even a chassis cab and cutaway available.  What this means is that you can have an empty box, or a high-roof wagon that can seat up to 15 people.  Ford affectionately calls this one the “Jumbo”.2015 Ford Transit Jumbo SV

(General Motors has the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans that are sorely in need of updating.  At present, The General has no vehicles in the USA facing these Euro-style competitors).

Initially, Transit is available with a sliding door on the passenger side of the vehicle.  Later the van version will be available with a sliding door on the driver’s side as well.  Because the second row seat would have to be narrowed to be two passengers only, the passenger version – the Transit wagon – is only available with a passenger side slider.

Maneuverable  The Transit is very easy to drive with outstanding forward visibility through what has to be about the largest windshield in the industry.  Europe-like turning radius makes the Transit very maneuverable in tight spaces.  A tight slow-speed gymkhana course in a Kansas City parking lot helped demonstrate how nimble even the Jumbo was through narrow cone alleys.2015 Ford Transit Cockpit

Wide Powertrain Selection  Power comes from a 275HP/260 lb-ft of torque 3.7L V6, a 310HP/400 lb-ft of torque 3.5L EcoBoost V6, or a 185HP/350 lb-ft of torque 3.2L I5 Power Stroke diesel.  Of the three engines, the EcoBoost V6 has the most punch and is the most fun to drive – as if that is a major attribute a van buyer is looking for.  All engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.  The powertrains in the 2015 Ford Transit get much better fuel economy than the outgoing E-Series; a substantial operating cost savings commercial van operators are looking for.

Can Transit Be Rattle Free?  We have all ridden in vans and shuttles that are consummate rattle traps.  Of course, they probably have a couple hundred thousand miles on them and have been abused for their entire time in service.  And, of course, the vans Ford provided for the press preview had been thoroughly prepped.  The remarkable thing about these vans was how quiet and rattle-free they were.  They were very tight and solid feeling.  It will be interesting to experience one when it hits 100,000 miles.

Navigation Screen Snafu  Okay, I can understand Ford’s rationale that few commercial fleet operators would spring for an in-vehicle navigation system when most of their drivers are equipped with GPS enabled smart phones with Google Maps, but the Transit solution to navigation is Sync with MyFord Touch and a relatively small screen.  Other Ford vehicles have an 8-inch screen and the Transit loses out in comparison.  I know, its a nit-pick, but worthy of mention.

E-Series Continues in Chassis Cab Versions  Probably until the end of the decade, the old Econoline/E-Series will still be available in chassis cab configurations likely for airport shuttle use.  They are built at Ford’s Loraine, Ohio plant.


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2015 Lincoln MKC – 2nd Volume Entry for Lincoln

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The 2015 Lincoln MKC hit Lincoln dealerships in June 2014 and promises to be the 2nd volume entry for Ford’s premium brand after the award-winning Lincoln MKZ.  Lincoln is the top brand in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research and the MKZ and MKZ Hybrid are the winners of their product categories.  The MKC (getting confused with the alphanumeric nomenclature yet?) is joining a booming market for smaller crossover SUVs and, based on our brief drive of the vehicle, the MKC should do very well in AutoPacific’s 2015 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.2015 Lincoln MKC F342015 Lincoln MKC R34

Excellent Package  The MKC is a “small” crossover SUV, but it does not feel small from the driver’s seat.  The front seating package is spacious.  Visibility forward is excellent.  Ergonomics are good.  Transmission shifting is through push buttons on the left hand side of the center stack.  The MyLincoln Touch system is more intuitive (but reading the channel numbers for SiriusXM is almost impossible because of tiny font sizes) and stable.  Losing the shifter in the center console is an excellent idea for many reasons.  It allows for more storage in the console and also allows the console to be narrower giving the front seat passengers more seat width.  The MKC is a persuasive package that will appeal to buyers across all age ranges.2015 Lincoln MKC Cockpit

Neat Features Abound on MKC  For those buyers who want the latest technology, MKC offers a lot.  Of course, there is MyLincoln Touch that sets the stage in the center stack.  There is Approach Detection where the vehicle reacts to the key fob approaching the vehicle at night and the headlamp accents, taillamp accents, door handle pockets and interior all light up.  There is even a Lincoln logo projected onto the pavement from the outside rear view mirror puddle lights.  Then there is Drive Control that includes continuously adjusting shock absorbers to provide a comfortable ride under all conditions.  Electric Power Steering and Active Noise Control are standard features that complement the Drive Control System.  Active Park Assist not only can park the MKC, but includes Park Out Assist to help the driver maneuver the vehicle out of a tight parking space.  As with many newly introduced vehicles there is a suite of electronic driver assist technologies:  lane-keeping system, driver alert system (checks driver alertness), adaptive cruise control, collision warning system with brake support, blind spot information system, and cross traffic alert.  These features may sound like overkill, but once you have used them, they become a necessity rather than a luxury.

Highly Differentiated from Escape – All EcoBoost Engines   The MKC is derived from the Ford Escape but shares no body panels or interior trim bits.  Without looking under the skin, the relationship is invisible.  The 2015 Lincoln MKC comes standard with a 240HP 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine.  Optional is a 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder with 285-horsepower (with 93 octane gasoline – in California the top spec gas octane is 91 octane so the output for the 2.3L would be about 280HP).  The base vehicle is front wheel drive with all wheel drive available as an option.

Outstanding Dynamics  Starting in Santa Barbara and driving across the Los Padres National Forest to the Tejon Ranch , the MKC proves to be nimble and athletic on the twisty roads more suited to a sports car than a X-SUV.  With the 2.3L EcoBoost and AWD, the MKC is quick and solid over all road surfaces.

Price and Competition  The base price of the MKC is $33,995, but the versions Lincoln provided for the drive evaluation were all in the $50,000 range equipped with the full suite of electronic features and the big engine.  The size and price of the MKC puts it in the competitive set with the Cadillac SRX, Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X1, Infiniti QX50 (i.e. EX), Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC60.  As if that isn’t enough competition, there is more to come:  Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, Porsche Macan.  Clearly, buyers will have a tremendous challenge sorting out which of these smaller XSUVs to select.

Now for the Nit-Picks  Ford (Lincoln) can be depended on to make mistakes in feature availability.  For a company that touts “democratization of technology” (meaning the neat electronic features found on the top of the line will be available in a Focus, for instance) the base MKC cannot be had with an in-vehicle navigation system.  Since MyLincoln Touch is standard and each vehicle has a center stack screen, and the navigation system is via an SD card, navigation should be available on all models.

Brand Challenge  The only thing standing in the way of the MKC being a whopping success may the Lincoln brand.  While AutoPacific’s research shows Lincoln is doing a great job satisfying its customers, the brand has languished and is only now starting to re-assert itself.  The MKC is an outstanding addition to the Lincoln portfolio.  Now the challenge is to get buyers into the dealerships to drive and buy the MKC.  It will be interesting to watch how Lincoln markets the vehicle in the coming months and to monitor its sales performance.


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