Category Archive:

Manual Transmission RIP – Let ’em Die

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We keep watching the hand wringing of automotive enthusiasts (of which we are a member) about the manual transmission fading from the American vehicle fleet.  In fact, in 2010 our friends at Car and Driver created a Facebook page entitled “Save the Manuals” moaning about the “paucity” of manual transmissions offered in new vehicles.  The latest issue of Car and Driver continues to advertise the site.  At a recent new model introduction, a wizened old auto journalist railed on about how the car maker was killing the manual transmission.  They were not offering one on the higher priced models of the car.  Well, as experienced as he may be, he is out of touch.

Over the years, we have been proponents of automatics especially since they have become so efficient.  Based on AutoPacific research we have the data.  Here are the tidbits from the latest year’s survey (the data have changed only slightly year over year):Manual Transmission Shifter

81% of New Vehicle Acquirers Can Drive a Vehicle With a Manual Transmission  Frankly, we thought this number would be much smaller.  For the sake of their ego maybe these respondents claim they can drive a manual when they actually cannot or do so very poorly.  About 89% of men and 68% of women claim they can drive a vehicle with a manual transmission.  By age group, 52% of respondents in their 20s and 71% of those in their 30s say they can drive a vehicle with a manual transmission.  Over 40 years of age, over 85% say they can drive a manual.  We are surprised that so many in their 20s and 30s claim they can drive a manual.

94% Want an Automatic in Their Next Vehicle  81% of the respondents say they want an automatic transmission in their next vehicle.  About 14% say they want an automatic with paddle shifters.  Only 5% want a manual transmission.Automatic Transmission Shifter

Highest Preference for Manual Transmissions are in Sports and Compact Cars  About 20% of sporty car (Camaro/Mustang) owners want a manual in their next vehicle.  About 13% of sports car owners (Porsche 911, Corvette) want a manual transmission.  About 11% of compact car owners want a manual transmission.  The sports and sporty car owners want a manual because they perceive the manual gives them a more sporty driving experience and better control over the car.  Compact car owners perceive that a manual will give them better fuel economy and also a lower price.  We might have thought pickup truck owners would want a manual transmission but this is not the case.  Only 5% of pickup owners want a manual transmission in their next vehicle.

Manuals to Fade Away  In many press events AutoPacific attends, members of the automotive press continue to argue for more manual transmissions to be added to newly introduced vehicles.  This is contrary to what the people who actually buy cars want.  While there will be some bitching and moaning from the media, automakers should save their resources and concentrate on making outstanding automatics and dropping manuals in the future.Paddle Shifter

Sidenote on Paddle Shifters  Manufacturers have been adding paddle shifters to automatics to give a sportier ambiance.  In AutoPacific research over the years, we have found that drivers might use this feature for the first couple of weeks they have their vehicle.  Then they never use paddle shifters again.  While implementing paddle shifters is now an inexpensive proposition, it still might not be worth the trip.


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Ram Promaster City – MicroVan Workhorse

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First, it was the Ford Transit Connect van from Turkey that has been ubiquitous in Europe for years before being seen on American roads.  Small, styled with a brash quirkiness, tinny beyond imagination especially in taxi fleets, the Transit Connect caught on.  Then Ford replaced the original Transit Connect with a lower roof, more stylish van built in Spain that is actually fun to drive.  Nissan responded with the Nissan NV200 that is supposed to be the Taxi of Tomorrow for the New York City taxi fleet.  It is assembled in Mexico.  Not so fun to drive and assembled with more than a dollop of plastic.  Most recently is the launch of the Ram (FCA US LLC, aka FCAGroup, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Dodge Trucks) Promaster City.  How would I compare the three?

Ford Transit Connect Van

Ford Transit Connect Van

2015 Ram Promaster City

2015 Ram Promaster City

2014 Nissan NV200

2014 Nissan NV200

Transit Connect Most Minivan-Like  The Transit Connect ($22,330 – $29,185) is the most minivan-like.  It has a instrument panel that mimics that in the Ford Focus.  The seats are comfortable, but a choppy ride offsets the seat comfort.  Performance is adequate with its standard 2.5L 4-cylinder engine having 169-horsepower coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission.  Optionally, the Transit Connect has a 178-horsepower EcoBoost 4-cylinder.  Transit Connect is available in two wheelbases.

NV200 Spartan  The Nissan NV200 ($20,270-$24,435 in cargo van version) is the most Spartan of the three.  Its interior has been stripped bare of most ornamentation and the execution yields the most basic of transportation modules.  A passenger version of the NV200 is not available unless you get the taxicab version starting at $29,700).  Powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission), the NV200 is the most anemic of the three.  Like the original Transit Connect, the NV200 can be a rattletrap.  That brings me to the Ram Promaster City.

Promaster City Best Driving Feel  Built in Turkey, the Promaster City ($23,130 for van version and $24,130 for the passenger version – maximum $29,275) probably falls between the Transit Connect and NV200 overall.  It does, however, have the best driving feel of the three.  The Promaster City is powered by the Fiat Tigershark 2.4L 4-cylinder engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission.  Sounds like the Dodge Dart or Jeep Cherokee.  With much of the North American development work being done in the pothole-filled environs of Auburn Hills, Michigan, the Promaster City suspension has been beefed up and given more travel.  Promaster City also has a fully independent rear suspension.  The result is the ride comfort in the Promaster City is more comfortable in most conditions than the Transit Connect or the NV200.2015 Promaster City R342015 Promaster City Cockpit

The Battle for BIC – Best In Class:  Transit Connect and Promaster City are vying for Best In Class claims.  Promaster City claims best in class horsepower at 178-horsepower.  This is correct for base engines, but if you consider Ford’s EcoBoost at 178-horsepower you have a tie.  Promaster City has a fuel economy rating of 21mpg city/29mpg highway.  Transit Connect is 20/28mpg.  Promaster City claims the largest cargo volume at 132 cubic feet – Ford has 129 cubic feet in its long wheelbase van.  Promaster City claims the highest payload at 1883 pounds – Ford has 1620.  Its 48.4-inches between the rear wheelhouses allows you to put 4-foot wide materials flat on the rear load floor.  The 72-inch load floor length does not allow a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of plywood to be transported enclosed, however.  So, Promaster City wins the brochure war and its base Tigershark engine and 9-speed automatic transmission edges out the Transit Connect, but it is very close.


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2015 Nissan Murano – Sexy Upgrade

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3rd Generation Murano The 2015 Nissan Murano crossover SUV went on sale Friday, December 5, 2014.  The third generation of the Murano pushes the envelope on crossover styling and brings new Nissan design cues to the vehicle.  The Murano has been a sweet spot among crossover SUVs since its launch.  Each iteration has been very easy to live with and the 2015 version is no exception.  Easy to drive, maneuverable, quiet and up to date, the Murano provides Nissan with a suitable vehicle to attract its target buyer.  Media attending the product preview in Napa Valley were surprised that Nissan admitted its target market is empty nester couples 45 years of age or older.  These people do not need seven or eight passenger seating they might have required during their family formation years, but they do want reasonable cargo capacity and a spacious rear seat.  This 5-passenger crossover SUV meets their requirementsGoats Head Beach

The Murano review was held during an early December storm with gale force winds.  The Murano handled the inclement weather with aplomb.  It was very stable even in vicious cross winds.

Exterior  Given its sporty, futuristic styling, you might think the visibility would suffer, and it does to the rear, but overall visibility is pretty good.  For years many in the industry have been stripping vehicles of exterior ornamentation, but not the 3rd gen Murano.  There is a striking bright flash running from the upper edge of the front door rearward over the rear fender kickup.  Very distinctive and nicely done.  Murano follows the trend of front lighting with LED signature lights and available LED headlamps.  LED “boomerang”  taillamps are standard.2015 Nissan Murano F342015 Nissan Murano SV2015 Nissan Murano R34

Interior  The interior comfort is excellent with “Zero Gravity” seating.  Ergonomics are excellent with a large 8-inch center stack screen standard.  For those who like an open air feeling, the Murano offers a large panoramic moonroof.   The top of the line Platinum model includes leather seating surfaces and comes across as a very premium place to be.  The lower level SV model, loses the leather, but the interior retains much of the premium feel of the Platinum version.  In essence, spending less does not result in a vehicle feeling cheap.

Technology  The 2015 Nissan Murano comes with the expected suite of available technology:  blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning, moving object detection and forward emergency braking.2015 Nissan Murano

Powertrain  The engine is essentially carryover – Nissan’s venerable 260HP 3.5L DOHC V6 (VQ).  The continuously variable Xtronic transmission has been improved with subtle “shift points” added to the shiftless gearbox.  The driving experience is effortless.

Pricing  The base price of the 2015 Nissan Murano os $29,560 for the S model.  The next step up is the SV at $32,620.  Then the SL at $35,950 and the range topping Platinum at $39,000.  Adding all wheel drive adds $1,600 to each model.  Checking all the boxes on a Platinum – adding premium paint, Technology Package and 20-inch wheels – brings the price to $44,975.

Production  While Nissan’s huge Canton, Mississippi plant is the main source for the Murano worldwide, there is a secondary source in Pusan, South Korea should the USA need more volume.  The Pusan plant is part of the Samsung Renault Nissan relationship.

Research Results  Over the years, Murano has done very well in AutoPacific’s Satisfaction Research.  The 2015 Nissan Murano promises to deliver strong satisfaction results just as did its predecessor generations.

 


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Dodge Challenger Hellcat

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The all-new Driver Information Display screen in the Challenger

Cruising down the scenic roads along the Columbia River near Portland, Oregon can be a real treat, especially while driving a Dodge Challenger Hellcat with its mean-sounding engine roaring through the twists and turns of this pristine wilderness road.

A few months back, Chrysler invited a few journalist to test drive the 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat, along with its entire Challenger lineup. The Challenger Hellcat was a blast to drive, and delivers so much power that it is almost scary to drive. And after our not-so-mellow morning cruise along the river, we were invited to test the Hellcat’s limits by driving laps around Portland International Raceway, trying hard to keep the car in a straight line. But the real fun was just driving the Hellcat around town and watching on-lookers gaze at the car with its loud rumble and gentle supercharger whine emitting from the beast of a car that is the Hellcat. And the specs are quite impressive.


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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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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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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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