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Infiniti Upgrades Mid-Size Vehicles Mid-Cycle

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Nissan’s luxury brand, Infiniti, is upgrading its two mid-size entries in the middle of their product cycle.  This is not unusual these days as carmakers attempt to keep up with new technologies and keep fresh products available to their buyers.  Infiniti’s one-two punch comes with new powertrains for the Q50 (nee G35/37) rear wheel drive mid-size sedan and freshened styling for the QX60 (nee JX35) front wheel drive/AWD mid-size crossover SUV.

The Q50 changes target enthusiasts and the QX60 changes target families.  Let’s talk about the Q50 first.

Infiniti Q50 models equipped with the 3.0-liter V6 twin-turbo 400 hp engine are designated as the Q50 Red Sport 400 and feature unique staggered 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and 245/40R19 front/265/35R19 rear summer performance run-flat tires, as well as unique exhaust tips. These changes help to assert the car’s performance credentials and add to its aggressive, confident aura.

Q50 Powertrain Updates  Infiniti positions the Q50 against the Lexus IS and the BMW 3-Series.  To us, it is closer to the Lexus GS350 in size and ambiance, but priced lower.  Q50 looks the same as before.  Its changes come in the form of new engines.  The top-of-the-line is the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400.  What does all that mean?  The “400” is for the 400-horsepower twin turbo 3.0L V6 engine.  “Red Sport” refers to the red “S” sport badge on the fenders and rear of the vehicle.  The Red Sport 400 is very flexible from easily lumping around town in stop and go traffic, to quickly running rural roads.  With several drive selections from Eco to Sport+ available, the personality of the car can transform dramatically.  In Sport + mode throwing the car around sharp curves over undulating terrain is a blast.  A fully loaded Q50 Red Sport 400 should set you back around $55,000 although pricing has not been finalized.  About 20%-25% of Q50 mix will be Red Sport 400 models.

Rounding out the new powertrain news for the Q50 is the high volume engine which is a de-tuned version of the Red Sport 400 – a twin turbo V6 with 300-horsepower.  This will be on 50%-60% of the volume.  The Infiniti Q50 2.0t is powered by an all-new base engine developed with Daimler – a turbo 2.0L 4-cylinder with 208-horsepower.  This will be on about 20%-25% of the Q50s sold.  The power output of the 4-cylinder seems pretty anemic.  Other 2.0L turbo 4s on offer today are more common with between 230 and 240-horsepower.  Some even have as much as 270-horsepower.  Infiniti says only the basic engine design is from Daimler.  All the accessories and systems engineering were by Nissan engineers.  The engine is produced in Infiniti’s Decherd, Tennessee Engine Plant.

2016 Infiniti QX60-550px

QX60 Freshening Moderately Extensive  The QX60 is Infiniti’s mid-market family hauler.  It is in the middle of an SUV lineup that includes the flagship QX80 (formerly QX56), the “urban gorilla” QX70 (nee FX35/45/50).  Below the QX60 is the QX50 (nee EX35) and the upcoming QX30 (based on a Mercedes 5-door bodystyle).

The 2016 QX60 looks pretty much the same as the 2016 model, but it does have new front and rear styling that evolves slightly from the 2015 version. The grille and headlamps are new and now de rigeur LED accent running lights are part of the headlamp design.  Outside mirror-mounted turn signals are standard. The taillamps and liftgate are new, but look similar to their predecessor.  Inside, the seat trim is new with more intricate sew styles.  The instrument panel upper is softer and looks more appropriate for luxury brand vehicle.  Driver assist technologies abound.

Responding to criticisms about ride control and handling, Nissan upgraded the suspension.  While ride comfort was excellent, body lean in cornering was excessive.  The update to the suspension yields a vehicle that is more confident feeling, more nimble and lighter on its feet.  This is a very positive move forward.

While these updates to Infiniti’s mid-market entries are not earth shaking, they keep the vehicles fresh and up-to-date.  The changes to the QX60 are more extensive, but the powertrain changes to the Q50 will get the most attention.  Both are good moves.


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New Hyundai Elantra Gets Timid

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

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

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

2017 ELANTRA SEDAN

2017 ELANTRA SEDAN

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

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

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

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

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


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2017 Bentley Bentayga – The Bentley Boys are Busy

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Bentley Bentayga Dune RunningBentley Motors of Crewe, England has begun production of the 2017 Bentley Bentayga and vehicles will begin arriving in the United States in May, 2016.  Ho Hum, just another SUV for an overstuffed market, right?  Not so.  The Bentayga is a very, very special piece of work.

Meant to Be Expensive and Is  Based on the Audi Q7 platform that will also bring us the next generation Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, the Bentayga is the most expensive and most powerful SUV available.  Starting at $229,000 the Bentayga is fully loaded with all the comfort, convenience and safety features you could want.  If you want the bespoke Mulliner picnic set from Linley, it will set you back another $28,000.  For another $28,500, you can have carbon fiber body pieces like the rear spoiler and rear view mirror covers.  Contrasting piping on the seats is $2,110 and the rear seat entertainment system is a bit over $7,000.  A typical Bentayga will go out the door at around $275,000 with an adequate load of options.  During a drive experience in Palm Springs in early February, the highest priced version I drove was $307,000.

Technological Tour de Force  While the price of the Bentayga is what most people will be talking about, the vehicle itself is very, very high spec.  Powered by a new 6.0L twin turbo W12 engine, the horsepower is rated at 600HP, but the torque is huge at 663 lb-ft.  Mated to a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission, a 0-60 mph time of 4.0 seconds is achieved.  For those with no speed limits to worry about, top speed is 187 mph.  The full time all wheel drive system is mated with Bentley Dynamic Drive Control; a suspension system that has 4 settings as base or eight settings with the All Terrain Specification for any road or terrain condition.  The key to this dynamic system is a 48-volt electrical supply for the drive system’s electronics.  During a demonstration at the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway to the east of Palm Springs one lap using “comfort” was fast, but there was more body roll than desired and the throttle response was a bit anemic.  The next lap shifted to “sport” mode and the personality of the vehicle changed dramatically.  Throttle response was instantaneous and the suspension seemed to invite you to dive into the corners more aggressively.  After four laps (not enough), grins for all.

Dune running with the Bentayga at Imperial Dunes near Glamis, California and rock climbing at Cahuilla Creek, it was possible to experience what almost no Bentayga owners ever will.  The vehicle is supremely capable, but hugely expensive and not likely to be exposed to the kind of treatment off road in sand, mud, or rocks.   Repairing the all aluminum body would be a bit expensive.  But, it is clear the Bentayga can handle about anything that can be thrown at it on and off road.  A truism holds that a vehicle in this class will not be taken off-road until the third or fourth owner.Bentley Bentayga and Jet

Interior  The interior is available in 15 colors (the exterior color choices are 17 base paints expanding to 90 hues with extra cost), but of course it is a Bentley.  If you want to afford it, they’ll trim your interior in crocodile leather or rattlesnake skins.  The seats are trimmed in a traditional Bentley style with diamond quilted hide and smooth leather.  The seats are extremely comfortable and provide good support when cornering.  The seating position is more car-like than in many sport utilities.  You have to step up a bit higher and you are sitting a bit closer to the floor than in other SUVs that have a more command-of-the road seating position.  Not uncomfortable, just different.

Driving  Driving the Bentayga, it is not immediately obvious that there is 600HP under the hood.  The engine is smooth and silent.  It has a stop/start feature for improved fuel economy and cylinder deactivation when under light loads.  All of this is seamless except for the occasional shudder away from a stop.  On twisty roads the vehicle seems a bit ponderous and very heavy.  Using the “custom” setting in the driving mode selector you can select a lighter steering feel that should make the vehicle seem lighter on its feet.  All of its power and torque comes on immediately when passing.  Floor it, whoosh, you are by and the folks you passed are watching your taillights fade into the distance.

The Achilles Heel  One of the most critical areas in any new vehicle is the HMI or human machine interface.  AutoPacific’s research proves it is extremely difficult to get this right and more than often a manufacturer has gotten it wrong.  As part of the Volkswagen Group, it would be expected that the parts bin would have given Bentley access to state-of-the art navigation systems and interfaces.  Bentley’s director of whole vehicle engineering stated “Luxury should always be simple.”  We agree, but the Bentayga interface is very busy and confusing.  The 8-inch screen in the center stack is already a bit small and looks outdated for a 2017 model year vehicle.  The graphics are extremely busy and hard to decipher.  Changing radio stations is a several step process and includes using a graphic slide on the touch screen monitor to scroll for stations.  We were driving prototypes, so sometimes there are glitches, in the vehicle we were driving the navigation system had the direction icon wandering all over the screen except where we were.  The smaller screen between the speedometer and tachometer and head-up display saved the day.  They were on target.

Business  Bentayga promises to be Bentley’s top selling vehicle.  For the past three years, Bentley has sold just over 10,000 vehicles worldwide.  The $1.3 billion investment in Bentayga adds capacity for 5,000 more units annually.  The United States should get between 25% and 30% of the production or between 1,250 and 1,500 units per year.  Wolfgang Durheimer, CEO of Bentley, says he hopes to be able to expand that capacity in short order.  The order books for 2016 are already full and waiting times are six months to a year.

Next  Bentayga launches with top-of-the-line features.  Next comes a plug-in hybrid version mated to a 6-cylinder engine.  That is followed by a V8; likely the 500HP twin turbo V8 found elsewhere in the Bentley lineup.  There may be a 7-passenger interior in the works for families wanting more carrying capacity.  A fastback Bentayga (ala BMW X6) may be in the works as is a smaller 2-seat sports car.  The Bentley Boys are busy.


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2016 Honda Civic EPIC!

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2016 Honda Civic F34 VehicleVoice2016 Honda Civic R34 VehicleVoiceCheap and cheerful is gone.  The 2016 Honda Civic sedan has raised the bar for a compact car to new levels.  After realizing that the 9th generation 2012 Civic was a dud, and quickly adding band-aids for 2013, Honda has gotten very, very serious with the all new 10th generation Civic.  In fact, for awhile there the automotive analyst and journalist community was sensing Honda was losing its mojo.  After updates to the Accord, the new Pilot, the HR-V and now the New 2016 Honda Civic, it is clear Honda is back.  Honda’s development name for the new Civic is “EPIC” Civic and it fits.  To achieve this “epicness” Honda benchmarked not only the usual suspects, but also the C-Class entries from Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

For reference, the 2016 Honda Civic has 5 basic trim levels:  LX, EX, EX-T(urbo), EX/Leather, Touring.

More Expressive Styling:  While still quickly identified as a Honda, the new Civic is much more expressive than any Civic before it.  The car is larger with a 3.0-inch increase in overall length and a 1.2-inch increase in wheelbase.  The car is 0.8-inches lower and going back to an old Honda trick, its cowl is 1.6-inches lower giving better forward visibility.  The car is lower and wider to give it the look of a more premium car.  The Civic adopts its own version of Honda’s evolving face using an upscale looking grille.   Innovative front lighting gives  the car a unique look.  LED daytime running lights are standard.   The top-of-the-line Touring model has LED headlamps as well.  The bodyside is creased as is today’s fashion with a slight bulge over the front wheels leading to a upper body character line ending in a muscular bulge over the rear wheels.  The C-Pillar has a sharp crease separating the roof from the rear fender.  The standard LED taillamps are huge V-shaped affairs.

2016 Honda Civic Cockpit VehicleVoiceInterior Much, Much More Upscale:  The front edge of the instrument panel sweeps below the windshield in a smooth unbroken arc from A-Pillar to A-Pillar and continue down the door trim panel.  This adds a sense of width to the car.  The instrument panel pad feels very high quality and nowhere near the hard plastic some cars in this class had in the past.  The seats are very comfortable – at least in the EX-L trim level with leather interior – and trimmed in high quality leather.  The instrument cluster includes a digital speedometer surrounded by an analog tachometer.  Nicely done.  Honda has paid a lot of attention to the transformer-like center console.  The conventional shifter is where you would expect, but ahead of the shift lever is an area for your cell phone or iPad mini.  Next to the driver’s knee is the switch for the electronic parking brake.  There is a sliding lid that reveals cupholders and space to hold an iPad.  Since all Civics have keyless start, there is storage for the key in the console.

2016 Honda Civic Instrument Cluster2016 Honda Civic SpeedoTwo Engines – Both Upgrades to Predecessor – Honda’s First Turbo in USA:  The base engine for the 2016 Honda Civic is a 2.0L double overhead cam 4-cylinder with 158-horsepower (the old Civic had a single overhead cam 1.8L 4-cylinder with 143HP).  The upscale engine is Honda’s first turbo in the USA, a 1.5L double overhead cam 4-cylinder turbo with 174-horsepower.  The base engine is available with a 6-speed manual transmission or CVT.  The Turbo is available only with the CVT.   The 2.0L I4 has more power than Corolla, Elantra or Mazda3.  The base Ford Focus with a 2.0L 4-cylinder has 160-horsepower edging out the base Civic by a couple of ponies.  The Turbo is bested by entries like Ford’s 252HP EcoBoost 4-cylinder Turbo in the Focus ST (manual transmission only) and 350-horsepower in the Focus RS, but those are rarefied enthusiast entries, not mainstream like the Civic Turbo will be.

Joins Democratization of Technology Club:  As with many car lines down the price spectrum, Civic now comes with a long list of available technology features capping out with its Honda Sensing system that includes adaptive cruise control with low speed follow, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warning.  Honda Sensing is standard on the top of the line Touring model and optional for $1,000 on the lower spec models.  Even the base LX is pretty well equipped with automatic headlights, auto up/down power windows, ambient interior lighting. LCD color audio system, electronic parking brake and automatic climate control.  You get Lane Watch and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto when you move to the EX model.  When you go the EX-T you get the 174HP Turbo engine, heated seats XM and HD radio and dual zone automatic temperature control.  When you pop for leather, you get an 8-way power driver’s seat.  Touring gets the full package: Honda Sensing, rain sensing wipers, LED headlamps, power passenger seat, navigation.

Driving the Civic Turbo:  Honda is, after all, an engine company and the new 1.5L Turbo shows that.  It has good power to move the car easily.  It is smooth and nicely damped from the interior.  The engine is quiet even when outside the car.  The CVT, a usually reviled transmission type, has been developed to a point where you cannot really tell it’s a CVT. While you expect Honda to provide an outstanding powertrain, it is the solidity, ride, handling and braking that set this Civic apart from its predecessors and many other small cars out there today.  It appears that they implemented many of the lessons learned when benchmarking European luxury car competitors.  It is that good.  No complaints on the dynamics of the car at all.

Pricing:  The base price of the 2016 Honda Civic LX is $18,640 with $835 destination and delivery on top of that.  The top of the line Touring Edition comes in at $26,500 with $835 D&D.  Comparatively, a 2016 Ford Focus S starts at $17,225 with $875 D&D. The Focus S does not have the feature load of the Civic LX.  It lacks a 6-speed manual transmission, automatic climate control and one-touch windows all around.   The Focus Titanium with (almost) all the boxes checked comes in at $26,125 plus $875 D&D.  So from a MSRP standpoint, the two cars are pretty close and Ford dealers are more likely to go for the deal vs. a hot out of the box Civic.

Now for the Nitpicks:  There are, of course, no perfect cars even though Consumer Reports contends the Tesla Model S is better than perfect.  Here are my nits for the Civic.  1)  The steering column adjustment lever is a long reach under the instrument panel.  Even though you might not use it often, it is tough to get to.  2)  Radio volume control is a slide on the touch screen for the audio system.  Might not be too much of a problem once you figure it out, but it would fail the rental car test.  3)  Blind spot monitoring system with cross traffic alert is not available.  Honda contends this is not now appropriate for the Civic class of car even though several competitors offer it.  It appears that Honda is depending on Lane Watch to handle this important safety chore, but Lane Watch will not help you pull out from between two Suburbans in a parking lot and warn you of approaching traffic.  Honda used a similar rationale on the Accord where Blind Spot Monitoring is only available on the top of the line. 4)  Honda has lowered the front seats by about 1.5 inches.  This reduces the hip to floor distance, creates a more laid-back driving position and hampers ingress/egress.  The higher seat height in the previous car was better.

Overall:  Great Job on the EPIC Civic. 

 


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Expressive 2016 Lexus RX350 on the Way

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Lexus RX350 SnoutsLexus Spindle Grille Gets Even Bigger  You might have noticed that Lexus products are getting a bit more expressive as the brand tries to broaden its customer base.  A bit more expressive may be an understatement for the new RX350.  The now-trademark Lexus spindle grille goes to new lengths in the 2016 Lexus RX350.  The gaping snout is so large that it impinges on the approach angle of the crossover SUV.  It is gigantic!  This is the fourth generation RX350.  If you can remember back to 1998, the RX350 was the first premium brand crossover SUV.  It started a trend that almost every premium brand has since copied – car-based, unit body, good ride, maneuverable, fuel efficient, quiet, good performance.

The predecessor to the 2016 Lexus RX350 was clearly a derivative of the Toyota Camry/Lexus ES350.  In fact the instrument panel was so plain it looked like it was right out of a Camry.  The styling was essentially characterless, but it remained the top selling Lexus.Bouncy Castle Pentagon Princess buy

2016_Lexus_RX_350_SVNew RX350 Designed to Broaden Appeal  Lexus’ top engineer described the new RX as being derived from the Toyota Highlander, but contends it is dramatically different.  Compared with its predecessor, the new Lexus is about 5-inches longer with a 2-inch longer wheelbase.  The character of the vehicle has been moved up a notch and the 2016 Lexus RX350 looks like it will easily remain the top selling Lexus nameplate.  In addition to the grille, the exterior styling approaches “wild”.  It has a “floating roof” where a black glass panel crosses the D-Pillar to give the impression that the roof hovers above the rear quarters.  There are character lines swooping from the front fenders, the rear quarters, the rocker panels.  Busy, busy, busy.

All of this new “interest” is designed to broaden the appeal of the RX.  Previously, the RX was primarily a woman’s car.  It was a car that took kids to school and to soccer practice and was seen parked in front of the beauty salon.  But the new RX is designed to also appeal to younger males while not turning off the traditional RX buyer.  Brian Bolain, the Lexus Corporate Manager of Marketing, says that research conducted by Toyota Motor Sales confirms that they have met the objectives: 1) keep traditional buyers, 2) attract more males, 3) attract younger buyers, 4) and with the F-Sport attract buyers wanting a more sporty look that is different from the base vehicle.

2016 Lexus RX350 IPIts instrument panel looks like it is out of a Lexus GS350 rather than a Camry.  The ingress/egress is easy.  Visibility is pretty good.  The seats are comfortable.  The interior trim is upgraded compared with its predecessor.  All in all, the 2016 Lexus RX350 comes across as completely new crossover SUV with more distinction inside and out that should appeal to a wider range of buyers.

Power Upgraded  The base vehicle is powered by a 295-horsepower 3.5L V6 engine that operates on either Otto cycle or Atkinson cycle depending on engine loads.  The V6 is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.  The hybrid RX450h has 259-horsepower V6 that when combined with the hybrid motors yields a total 308-horsepower.  The sporty F-Sport package is available on both the RX350 and RX450h. The F-Sport has upgraded interior trip, sports seats, unique grille and exterior ornamentation.  The F-Sport chassis is upgraded and an optional adjustable suspension is available.

Mark Levinson Clari-Fi Premium Audio  As usual, Lexus has teamed with Harman Automotive’s Mark Levinson sound system team for a very high quality premium audio system.  Using Mark Levinson’s Clari-Fi technology, the system analyzes and improves the audio quality of all types of compressed, digital sources like SiriusXM radio or MP3 tracks.  The idea is to fill in the up-to-90% of the original audio content lost through compression.  The system works very well delivering clear, full music, but what would you expect from an 835 watt, 15 speaker/12 location, 10-channel system.

Dynamics – Seamless  Driving the 2016 Lexus RX350 is seamless.  The ride is smooth, handling flat.  Performance is adequate.  It is very quiet in the cabin except when some road surfaces excite the Michelin Ever Grip Technology tires.  Ergonomics are good.  Circling back around to performance.  The F-Sport package is a trim and chassis option only.  There is no performance upgrade with F-Sport.  To really appeal to the younger, more enthusiastic male buyer it would be appropriate for the F-Sport to have power output above the 308-horsepower hybrid.  A 10% power bump from 295 to 325-horsepower would be nice.

The one bitch several members of the media voiced was that a navigation system should be standard on any vehicle base priced over $30,000.  Optional on the 2016 Lexus RX350.

Base price for the 2016 Lexus RX350 will be below $45,000.  The vehicle is still assembled in Cambridge, Ontario.  It will be in dealerships beginning in November 2015.


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Cadillac CTS-V – Brilliant Brute

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2016 Cadillac CTS-V SVThe new 2016 Cadillac CTS-V is a gentle brute of a car.  Loaded with every available option and priced nearer $100,000 than I would like (jealous, you see), the CTS-V can do about everything well.  Lumping through the quiet village of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, children did not cower, mothers did not scream and pull their tykes closer, dogs did not howl.  Pleasant drive, even showing 22mpg on the readout.

The 6.2L supercharged V8 has all boxes checked.  Cylinder de-activation.  Gasoline direct injection.  Electronics up the wazoo.  Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission that is one of the crispest shifting on the planed, the powertrain is smooth and potent.  640-horsepower with 630 lb ft of torque.  There is an electronic limited slip differential that guarantees the power gets to the rear wheels (no all wheel drive available).

Now, I normally do not test drive cars on a track when they require wearing a helmet.  Head’s too big, big helmets hard to get into car.  Cannot hear wll with helmet on.  Cannot see well with helmet on.  Headrest interferes.  But the CTS-V is the exception. And another opportunity to drive Road America’s outstanding road course cannot be denied.

Man, you can do anything with this car.  Blow an apex and it does not matter.  Just point it where you want it.  Lead car wants you to give chase?  125mph in a snap.  Braking signs coming up, theh huge Brembos (with calipers in matching colors) bring the speed down effortlessly.  Wow!  What a fun car to drive!

There are those among us who will say the Dodge Hellcats are more worthy.  After all they have 707-horsepower.  They are certainly selling above expectations with FCA cancelling outstanding 2015 orders and doubling production of 2016 models (better profits from a higher price anyone?).  I submit, however, the CTS-V is more of a piece.  More solid.  More capable.  More trustworthy.  And better screwed together.

Just do not check the Recaro seat option box.  Go for everything else.  On dealer lots in mid-August 2015.


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2016 Hyundai Tucson – Compact XSUV Benchmark?

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Raising the Bar in a Competitive Segment  The Koreans keep getting better and the new 2016 Hyundai Tucson (product code TL) is an example of how Hyundai has executed a segment-beater.  Competing against big sellers Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Jeep Cherokee, Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-5, etc. the new Tucson checks all the boxes.  It is well styled and immediately identifiable as a Hyundai (looks almost too much like the Santa Fe Sport).  It has a great package – good visibility, spacious front and rear seating, good cargo room, easy ingress/egress.  The fit and finish is excellent inside and out.  The interior trim materials have moved upwards – almost up to the next higher price class.

MY16 Hyundai Tucson

MY16 Hyundai Tucson

MY16 Hyundai Tucson

MY16 Hyundai Tucson

Hyundai Fell Behind in Segment – 2016 Hyundai Tucson Provides Conquest Opportunity  The product is good enough to begin some serious conquesting.  As the compact crossover SUV market has boomed over the past several years (growing 14.9% 2015CYTD), Hyundai has been left with a less-than-competitive product capable of selling around 45,000 per year.  As such, Hyundai Motor America’s share of the segment slipped from about 6% to 2.5%.  Some of that is due to capacity constraints from its Korean plant.  A new plant in the Czech Republic has come on line and will be supplying Europe freeing up Korean capacity.  With the new Tucson on sale in August, 2015, HMA’s volume is expected to rise to 56,200 in 2015 and up to 90,000 or higher in 2016.  The 2015 Hyundai Tucson is good enough to pull that off if there is strong marketing support behind the vehicle (the last generation was essentially a “launch and leave” proposition with little marketing support).  At 90,000 units, the Tucson will have about 6% of the segment.

Pre-Family Market Target  Who will buy the 2016 Hyundai Tucson?  HMA sees this as the entry targeted at “pre-family” singles and couples.  Tucson is 8.5-inches shorter than the Santa Fe Sport that is targeted at “post-family” couples who no longer need the seven-passenger three row capacity of the 8.5-inch longer (than Santa Fe Sport) Santa Fe.  Santa Fe is targeted at “core families”.  Tucson democratizes technology by offering most of the latest gee whiz electronic features available on higher classes of products.

Hyundai describes its styling as bold and confident and it certainly comes across that way.  It has a slightly more vertical windshield that helps ingress to the front seats.  Tucson adopts Hyundai’s new corporate face with the hexagonal grille.  From the side view, the Tucson is lean and wedgy.  Exterior styling was by Hyundai’s European studio.  The interior was styled in California.  Ergonomics are outstanding with controls placed where expected.  There is an 8-inch information screen with navigation and Hyundai’s BlueLink interface.  The only criticism is with map graphics that don’t show enough detail and seem to show only major arteries, not the interesting spur roads you pass.

MY16 Hyundai Tucson

MY16 Hyundai Tucson

Powertrain OK but Full Throttle is Disappointing  The base engine is Hyundai’s Nu 2.0L GDI 4-cylinder that has 164-horsepower and 151 lb ft of torque.  The 2.0 L mileage figures are 23/31/26mpg.  The 2.0L gets a six-speed automatic transmission.  The optional engine, and the engine on the majority of Tucson models, is the Gamma 1.6L 4-cylinder Turbo with 175-horsepower and 195 lb ft of torque.  The 1.6L mileage figures are 26/33/29mpg).  The 1.6L gets a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.  You definitely want the higher torque 1.6L Turbo.  The torque is the key to performance feel.  In the examples of the Tucson I drove, there was a noticeable lag when full throttle acceleration was wanted or needed from a stop (with traffic approaching, for instance).  Pedal to the metal was disappointing.  On a part throttle take off, this was not evident.  It seemed to happen only when you really wanted the oomph.  This is a characteristic an owner will learn over time, but Hyundai should sort it out ASAP.


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2016 Nissan Maxima – 8th Generation

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New Maxima Job #1 in April 2015  The 2016 Nissan Maxima is assembled at Nissan’s huge Smyrna, Tennessee plant.  Smyrna has become the highest capacity single plant in the United States with a capacity of over 650,000 units per year.  The 8th Gen Maxima Job #1 was in April 2015 and dealers began getting the cars in early June.  Competing with the likes of the Toyota Avalon, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Charger, Ford Taurus and Acura TLX, the new Maxima pushes the design envelope with its “energetic flow” styling.  The styling is head turning and certain to be controversial.  2016 Nissan Maxima2016 Nissan Maxima2016 Nissan Maxima

 


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2016 Honda Pilot – Finally Good Looking

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The Honda Pilot, good as it might be, has been a blight on the road.  Its eyeball searing gawky looks were only short of the not-lamented Pontiac Aztec.  These are harsh comments, but a vehicle that makes you scream when you first see at an auto show is certainly a show stopper and not in a good way.  Honda defends the previous Pilot as having traditional sport utility vehicle styling.  That may be so, but it was very third world and inappropriate for the American market.  Lasting for an extremely long cycle for Honda – seven years – the Pilot was a very good vehicle under the skin and its interior was commodious to say the least.  But, now it’s thankfully dead and to be replaced by the third generation 2016 Honda Pilot on June 18, 2015.2016 Honda Pilot F34 VehicleVoice2016 Honda Pilot R34 VehicleVoice

 


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2016 Ford Explorer – Major Minor Change

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The 2016 Ford Explorer marks the 25th anniversary of the vehicle line.  When it launched as a 1991 model, the Explorer redefined what a sport utility vehicle should be – it was a high volume SUV with 4-doors (Ford wrongly estimated 4-door sales would be 30% of the mix – later, it became 100%).  7,000,000 sales later, Ford is launching a nicely updated mid-cycle product change.  When the 2016 Ford Explorer launches, most people won’t be able to tell the difference from the present Explorer.  While the vehicle’s sheetmetal ahead of the A-Pillar is all new and the liftgate and taillamps are all new, the differences are subtle to the casual observer. So while the change for 2016 is major, its appearance change is minor.2016 Ford Explorer F34 VehicleVoice2016 Ford Explorer R34 VehicleVoice

 


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