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Jeep Renegade Survives Costco Challenge

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2017 Jeep Renegade Deserthawk

Having a new Jeep Renegade Trailhawk over the long July 4th weekend, I took it to Costco for the quarterly bird seed, cat food replenishment.  At first I was wondering if the Renegade was up to the task.  Does a small crossover SUV have the capacity to take the load?

There were fourteen bags of bird seed and two of cat food.  Plus the package of 30 rolls of toilet paper.  Would they fit?  Plus, would they fit with the other stuff we bought?  Removing the tonneau cover over the cargo area and folding the rear seats were required to fit in the load.  There was room to spare.  Probably could have doubled the number of bird seed and cat food bags.

Renegade Survives Costco Run

Renegade Easily Takes Load from Costco

Small Crossover SUVs are Very Capable  Even the smallest of the new generation crossover SUVs are extremely capable as this brief test shows.  The booming sales of small and mid-size crossover SUVs is the reason sales of traditional passenger cars are down.  Responding to what vehicle buyers have been telling us they want since the late 1980s, the new crossovers fit the bill.  They are easy to get into and out of.  You don’t have to drop down into one like in a car.  The seating position is chair like.  Your legs are not extended forward.  More glass and the higher seating position provide optimum visibility.  The fold down rear seat combined with an open rear cargo area maximize load carrying capability.

Trailhawk “Deserthawk”  This Jeep Renegade had the Deserthawk 4×4 package ($1,395) to yield the ultimate off-road Renegade.  It is another answer from Jeep on their old saying “a Jeep is for the occasional use prerogative”.  On-road or off-road, the Deserthawk can do it all.  Taking this particular Renegade off-road even with the full load, would have been no problem.  The challenge would be to keep the cargo in place, or to fill it even more deeply so nothing could move around.

Pricing for Everybody  Not only can the Jeep Renegade carry an impressive amount of cargo and be capable off-road, the vehicle can be loaded with amenities.  The base price for the front wheel drive Sport model is $17,995.  The Trailhawk is $26,895.  Adding practically all the optional features and selecting the Deserthawk package you can pay $33,265.  At that level you get a blind spot monitoring system, UConnect navigation system, automatic temperature control, Selec-Terrain 4×4 system, hill descent control, hill start assist, and more.  One thing oddly missing is a remote liftgate release. There is a nice blank spot on the key fob for that feature, but it is not there.  Go figure.  In July 2017, Jeep is offering a lease discount of $4,250.

Powertrain a Bit Balky  The 180-horsepower 2.4L 4-cylinder Multi-Air engine is mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission.  This combination is fine most of the time around town, but when you need to quickly accelerate there is an unwelcome hesitation.  Slam the accelerator to the floor, wait, wait, then the engine decides you really do want full power and it gives it to you.  Too much hesitation for my book. Maybe an owner would learn to compensate after driving the Renegade for a week or so.


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Can All New VW Tiguan Challenge Top Selling Small SUVs?

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2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium

The all new Volkswagen Tiguan was revealed at a low key media event driving out of Denver, CO up to 8,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.  While the VW Tiguan is classified as a Compact Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle (XSUV), it’s dimensions are close to that of an ideal mid-size car of a decade ago – wheelbase of about 110-inches and overall length of about 185-inches.  It is a nice size, has a comfortable interior with adequate room in the second row seat and even has a third row seat available.  Front wheel drive Tiguans have the third row seat standard.  In all wheel drive VW Tiguans, the third row is optional.

The 2018 VW Tiguan is the second generation of the smaller VW XSUV.  It is about 10-inches longer than its predecessor.  At-a-glance, the styling is clearly Volkswagen.  It is evolutionary but crisper and clearly more modern.  The VW Tiguan rides on Volkswagen’s modular MQB platform that also underpins the newly introduced Volkswagen Atlas crossover. The replacement for Volkswagen’s 4-door CC coupe – the Arteon – will be based on MQB when it is launched in 2018.  The present Golf is also an MQB platform mate.

Compact XSUV Competitive Landscape  Having been underrepresented in the SUV market before now, Volkswagen’s two SUV introductions this year show the automaker has clearly heeded the shift in the market away from cars and towards crossover SUVs.  Today the truck/car split is about 60% trucks/40% cars.  Who woulda thought?

While VW management will not talk about future products, there are whispers of a couple of more XSUVs.  Probably one a bit smaller than the VW Tiguan and maybe one larger than the Atlas.  Somewhere in the mix, the aging Touareg still is sold.

Through May 2017, the 1st generation Tiguan has sold about 15,000 units in the USA down from 17,500 in 2016 for the same time period.  Where Volkswagen has fully competitive products in the USA, they usually sell at about 50% of the segment leader.  So, with the May CYTD leader being the Nissan Rogue with over 161,000 units sold, Tiguan should sell about that many in a full calendar year.  While that would be great, VW’s Pueblo, Mexico plant probably doesn’t have capacity to pump out that many Tiguans.  And the compact XSUV battleground is vicious with Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox leading the pack.  Tough competition.

Tiguan Feature Laden, But Not Perfect  The VW Tiguan is in the sweet spot though.  Easy to get into and out of, the ergonomics are top-notch.  The center screen is big and bright, but the information is a bit confusing.  The road/street name does not show on the navigation screen like on most competing makes.  You can find that information in the instrument cluster where turn-by-turn arrows anticipate your next turn but the fonts are tiny and contrast is bad.  Having Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard is the saving grace to save the VW navigation from itself.

There is a full complement of advanced driver assistance features available from adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert with braking, lane assist, area view.  There is even a 12.3-inch reconfigurable display for the instrument cluster.  Availability of these features is the price of entry in almost any class today.

Driving Tiguan, Adequate  The VW Tiguan is powered by a 184-horsepower 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo engine (EA888).  In the front wheel drive model, the engine is responsive but a bit noisy.  The same engine in the AWD model seemed to resist responding quickly seeming to think about whether or not it wanted to go or not.  Perplexing.  All in all, the Tiguan engine is “adequate”.  Its power output is competitive for the segment, but somehow it doesn’t have the finesse of the Honda CR-V for instance.

The ride is firm and composed over most road surfaces.  The Tiguan evaluation route did have one stretch that was bumpy and had a washboard surface.  The front wheel drive Tiguan danced around dramatically even at moderate speeds.  Drivers of the AWD model reported similar dynamics over this particular piece of road.  The vehicle did not feel particularly under control.

Price Competitive  The base price for the front wheel drive 2018 VW Tiguan is $25,345.  The top price is $37,550 for an AWD SEL model.  Checking all the boxes can get its price up to about $40,000.  Following its lead with the Atlas, the Tiguan has a 6-year, 72,000 mile warranty.


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Atlas Crossover Hits Mark – or Doesn’t

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The all new Volkswagen Atlas crossover SUV (XSUV) launches in late May in the United States.  It is being dropped into the highly competitive mid-size crossover SUV market dominated by the Ford Explorer and the Honda Pilot.  Those two vehicles are Atlas’ strongest competitors.

Volkswagen, like Hyundai, can be criticized for being late to the American-style XSUV market.  Sure VW has had the Touareg and Tiguan crossovers in the market, but neither have the volume potential of the Atlas.  Atlas is produced at VW’s 300,000 unit assembly plant in Chattanooga, TN.  Atlas shares Chattanooga capacity with the Passat that sold 73,000 units in the USA in 2016.  Clearly, VW has room in Chattanooga for the Atlas and perhaps one or two additional entries. 

The Atlas is sized right for its competitive set.  It is almost exactly the size of the very successful Ford Explorer on the outside, but has a much longer wheelbase.  It makes great use of its interior space yielding much more cargo capacity than the vehicles compared above.  The front seat area is spacious and the cockpit is well laid out.  Ergonomics are first rate.  The second row can accommodate three large child seats and is adjustable for better legroom.  The third row seat is accessible, but only for small children or adults for short trips.

Source: George Peterson, AutoPacific

The Atlas is styled like you would expect a VW XSUV to be.  The front end styling is definitely a VW face with standard LED lighting and accent lights – distinguishable from afar.  The muscular bodysides communicate capability with a strong character line connecting the front and rear wheel openings.  The taillamps are connected by a chrome strip that highlights the rear styling and gives an upscale image.  The liftgate opens to the very large cargo area which is flat when all the rear seats are folded.

Driving the V6 Atlas crossover is pleasant, but not particularly exciting.  That is a good thing for a XSUV targeted at family car usage.  Ride quality is good, but there is a bit too much body lean on the twisty roads in Texas’ Hill Country around San Antonio.  Quiteness with its 20-inch tires is poor on many road surfaces.  When you find that elusive stretch of absolutely smooth asphalt, quietness is superb.  On rougher road surfaces you cannot carry on a conversation.

Source: George Peterson

In search of the Atlas’ unique selling proposition you conclude that the reconfigurable VW Digital Cockpit may be it.  The 12-inch wide instrument cluster can can change to provide several different information displays.  Unlike some reconfigurable systems, you cannot change the overall appearance, just the information shown.  The 8-inch center stack display is intuitive and turn by turn driving directions can be displayed on the instrument cluster at the swipe of a finger.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

The Atlas crossover has a complete suite of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems available.

Checking prices, the price for a FWD 4-cylinder Atlas S is $30,500.  An AWD V6

Atlas SEL Premium is $48,490.  So, the price is in line with competition.

Who will buy the Atlas?  The Atlas crossover is selling in a growing segment but there are two giants among its seven-passenger competition – Explorer and Pilot .  Both Explorer and Pilot have a loyal buyer base and they may be the superior products.  Volkswagen has a buyer base that loves the brand (let’s not discuss “Dieselgate”) and will likely consider the Atlas for their family hauler.  The question is can VW dealers position the Atlas as superior to its strong competitors or will they have to hope for VW loyalists coming in looking for aggressive prices?


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2 Million Jeeps – Global Sales Goal

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Jeep sold about 1.4 million SUVs in 2016 and has 2 million Jeeps in its sights.  It is going to take until 2020 or so to sell 2 million Jeeps per year.

At an event showcasing the all new 2017 Jeep Compass, Mike Manley, Head of Jeep, detailed the evolution of Jeep production that could achieve global sales objectives of 2 million Jeeps by 2020.  The Compass is a crossover SUV positioned above the B-Segment Renegade and below the D-Segment Cherokee. Actually, the Cherokee is more of a C/D Segment vehicle. Cherokee is not really big enough to be a full D-Segment vehicle.  At the top of the lineup is the Grand Cherokee which is the heart of Jeep DNA for now.

Jeep’s Capacity Story

There is a dance of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US (FCA) plants that is going to realize substantially more Jeep production.  The dance goes like this…

  • FCA kills Dodge Dart, Jeep Patriot and the old Jeep Compass produced at their huge 407,000 unit capacity plant in Belvidere, Illinois.  Cherokee moves from Toledo, Ohio to Belvidere in 2017.  Estimate a maximum production of Cherokee at 250,000 units.  This means there is room for another vehicle “not yet announced” at Belvidere, says Manley.
  • Toledo adds all new Wrangler off-road SUV during 2017.  Wrangler is selling so well it needs more capacity, but not as much as relieved by moving Cherokee to Belvidere.  Jeep adds a Wrangler-based pickup to Toledo to fill capacity.  This also satisfies demand from dealers and customers for a Jeep pickup.
  • The all-new 2017 Jeep Compass is launched with assembly plants in four countries:  Mexico, India, Brazil and China.  The Mexican plant will supply North America and left hand drive Europe.  The Indian plant will satisfy demand from right hand drive countries including the U.K, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.  Jeep has high expectations for the new Compass as the assembly plant count confirms.
  • Jeep is adding a Jeep Wagoneer to the lineup.  Manley mentions that this could be a “line of Wagoneers” implying that there could be a Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer in Jeep’s future.  Wagoneer will be a body-on-frame SUV.  It will be based on the next-generation Ram pickup but with independent rear suspension.  Manley agrees that “Ford went the right way when they added independent rear suspension to their Expedition to get a great 3rd row seat”.  The speculation is that Wagoneer will be added to FCA’s Sterling Heights assembly plant.  Sterling Heights is being shifted to Ram pickup production after the Chrysler 200 sedan was killed.  The 200 was the only vehicle in Sterling Heights and never achieved anything like FCA’s hoped for volumes.
  • That leaves the “mystery vehicle” to take up the additional capacity at Belvidere.

Given all this attention to plants and plant capacity, 2 million Jeeps looks plausible by the next decade.

New Compass Key to selling 2 million Jeeps

Source: George Peterson, AutoPacific

2017 Jeep Compass in Brief

Based on driving and living with the all-new 2017 Jeep Compass for a short time, the Compass will attract robust sales.  Compass styling is very much traditional Jeep with the seven vertical slot grille, trapezoidal wheel arches and a strong overall style.  Compass has a unique floating roof character that has been adopted from everybody from the Jaguar XJ, Lexus RX SUV, Nissan Murano to the GMC Acadia SUV.  The Compass is one of the only vehicles in white where this really looks cool.

The Compass interior is excellent in the mid-range Latitude model, the top-of-the-line Limited and the aggressive Trailhawk model.  Front seat comfort is outstanding for a vehicle in this class.  The seats are firm without being too stiff.  Visibility is excellent from the driver’s seat.  Everything is easy to reach and see.  Ergonomically, Jeep designers and engineers have done an excellent job.

Compass is powered by the 2.4L Tigershark 4-cylinder engine with 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque.  In North America there are three transmissions.  4×2 models get a 6-speed automatic.  4×4 models get a 9-speed automatic.  Both 4×2 and 4×4 models are available with manual transmissions.  Manual transmission availability is getting rarer and rarer these days.  Likely the wide global distribution of the Compass makes the 6-speed manual readily available.

Performance on-road is adequate.  A 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder with 230-250 horsepower would always be welcome in a vehicle like the Compass.  Off-road, navigating a very technical course, the Compass is very capable.  Clearly, retaining Jeep DNA for off-road fun was an important feature in the development of the Compass.


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Chevrolet Bolt EV Surprises – Range Anxiety Gone

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Image Source: George Peterson

When a Chevrolet manager refers to the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, they inevitably hold up two fingers to guarantee you know they are referring to the Volt.  When they mention the Chevrolet Bolt EV electric vehicle, they always say “Bolt EV”.  “Bolt EV did well in focus groups,” one PR manager stated.  Having done thousands of focus groups over the years, I know how that can be done.

Well, enough of that.  The Chevrolet Bolt EV is the real deal.  It is an electric vehicle purpose-built around a five module battery pack that forms the floor of the car.  These batteries give a maximum range of 238 miles.  AutoPacific’s research on electric vehicles over the years has concluded that the holy grail for EV range is 225 miles to avoid range anxiety.  So Bolt EV achieves that range with a little to spare.

The designed-in-South Korea Bolt EV is a crossover SUV in Chevrolet’s mind.  I see it as more of a 5-door hatchback, but Chevrolet contends its higher seating position and relatively high roof deserve a crossover classification.  Besides, crossovers are selling like hotcakes these days and cars are not.  Bolt EV looks modern with forward sloping character lines that you could see on a crossover today.  OK, it’s a crossover.

The Bolt EV is spacious enough for four people.  Getting in and out is relatively easy but the front A-Pillars are so fast that you have to be careful to duck or else you will hit your head.  The instrument panel in the top model includes a reconfigurable instrument cluster and a 10.2 inch screen in the center stack that provides all the information concerning its electric operation and the usual connectivity features like Bluetooth.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are how you get navigation in the car.  There is no resident NAV.  The Bolt EV is available with the typical General Motors driver assistance features like adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane keeping warning, surround view camera, blind spot warning, etc.

The real surprise comes when driving the Bolt EV.  Its powerpack provides 200-horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque.  This output is like a peppy 1.6L or 1.8L turbo 4-cylinder in a hot hatch small car.  Bolt EV does not have to apologize to anyone on the freeway.  The car can be operated in “one-foot mode” where regenerative braking is activated.  This would be my normal driving mode.  When you lift off the accelerator, the brakes engage to put electricity back into the batteries.  The deceleration can be controlled by a paddle behind the steering wheel.   Using regen, you rarely have to actually press on the brake pedal.

No new car is perfect and the Bolt EV is not.  Where it falls down is in the material selection in the interior.  Lots of hard, glossy plastic.  The lightweight front seats are very hard and the side bolsters are stiff.

The base price of the Bolt EV is $37,495 that results in a $29,995 price after the federal government tax credit (you have to earn about $75,000 to qualify for that tax credit).  If you load the Bolt EV up with all the options, it will top out at around $44,000.

Bolt is on sale now in California and Oregon and will roll out nationally over the year.


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Daimler Offers Van Customers MasterSolutions To Their Upfitting Needs

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IMG_3783

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter with a MasterSolutions upfit package. (Photo by Ed Kim)

As published on Forbes.com

Daimler’s Sprinter commercial van has been a pioneer in the North American market, introducing commercial customers here to the tall and slab-sided European-style van format all the way back in 2001. Today, this format’s U.S. sales surpass that of the traditional American-style van as the latest full-size commercial vans from Ford and FIAT Chrysler Automobiles have followed Sprinter’s lead.


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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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