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Audi Freshens 2012 A4 Ideal Vehicle Award Winners and Adds 2013 Allroad

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Audi has launched five models from its 2013 B8 platform – the A4, S4, A5, S5 and Allroad.  The B8 is a mild mid-cycle freshening of Audi’s line of compact sport sedans.  But first to the awards…

Audi A4 Wins AutoPacific 2012 Ideal Vehicle Award: Over one-third of new car and light truck buyers are influenced by awards their vehicle has won.  Owner-based awards are more valuable than most.  For the 2012 model year – the B7 platform – Audi swept AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Awards for the Aspirational Luxury Car Category.  Not only was the A4 the most ideal Aspirational Luxury Car as rated by its owners, the A5 was in second place and the next-step-up A6 was in third place in the category.  These are significant achievements.

In AutoPacific’s IVA research, 25% of A4 owners want more power and acceleration.  About 23% want more passenger room, 21% want easier ingress/ingress and 19% want more daring styling.

A4/S4/A5/S5 Evolve Very Nicely, Thank You: So, the question is whether or not the new 2013 cars have hit their target market as well as their recent predecessors, and do they offset the shortfalls mentioned above?  After a drive of the cars in Colorado during fire season, we can safely say the 2013 versions are equal to or better than the class-winners they replace.

The basic dimensions of the 2013 cars are identical to the 2012 cars.  The styling of the sedans and coupe is very evolutionary with minor styling changes.  Think of the exterior styling change as a moderate “front six inches” with new grille shape, headlamps and front fascia.  The grille has evolved with a more trapezoidal look.   Audi took advantage of this freshening to re-design its LED-accented headlamps and taillamps.  These cues have become a distinguishing Audi design feature. So, Audi did not push the styling envelope with this facelift but remained safe.  (About 80% of A4 owners find the styling of the 2012 model ideal).

The interior of the cars remains an outstanding reason to buy.  Great fit and finish combined with excellent materials selection.   There is a new three-spoke steering wheel, revised instrument cluster and Audi connect with Audi’s controller-based MMI Navigation system is ordered.

Just a Brief Note on Touchscreens and Controllers: The auto industry is all over the place relative to touchscreen navigation systems or controller-based nav-systems.  Audi (MMI), BMW (iDrive), and Mercedes (COMAND) have continued with controller-based systems as have others.  Many mainstream brands continue with touchscreens or have moved to them after wrestling with controller logic.  Oddly, Volkswagen and Porsche – VWAG family members – both use touchscreen systems now.  Volkswagen used a touchscreen and Porsche has moved from a controller-based system to a touchscreen.  Audi engineers say “you will never see a touchscreen in an Audi”.  They don’t like the fingerprints.  So, inside VWAG, the engineers have agreed to disagree.

New Allroad is the Big News: The big news for the B8 launch is the re-launch of the Audi Allroad.  The previous Allroad (1999-2005) was based on the larger Audi A6 and looked more aggressively off-road capable than the 2013 version based on the smaller B8-platform A4.  The Allroad replaces the slow selling Avant wagon in the American lineup with the body of the Avant tweaked to appear off-road capable.  Its ride-height is increased by 1.5-inches.   The expected wheel arch trim is there as are the front- and rear-skid plates.  A roof rack completes the appearance package.

Powertrains Essentially Carryover and Still Outstanding: The B8s are powered by a 211HP 2.0L turbocharged direct-injection 4-cylinder engine.  With Audi’s Quattro all wheel drive system, the 4-cylinder turbo is mated to either a 6-speed manual transmission or 8-speed automatic transmission.  If you select a front wheel drive S4, you get a CVT.  This 4-cylinder turbo engine has always been a delight to drive and is one of the world’s best-regarded engines.

If you want more oomph in the A4 and A5, move up to the V6-powered S4 and S5.  With the S4 and S5 you get a 3.0L supercharged direct-injection V6 engine with 333-horsepower.  Quattro is standard in the S4 and S5.  While the A4 is no slouch on the road or in the mountains, The S-Cars provide effortless performance in any situation.  This engine choice lets you think about a place in traffic you want to be and then without knowing it, you are miraculously there.

So, all in all, the Audi B8 experience is about what you would expect.  Great cars with evolutionary styling, super finesse and outstanding powertrains.


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Mercedes-Benz GL – 80% New for 2013

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Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTEC

Mercedes’ (@mbusa) top of the line SUV, the 7-passenger GL (#2013GL-Class), is new for 2013.  As the top selling premium luxury sport utility vehicle, GL certainly is a healthy profit contributor to parent company Daimler AG.  Built at Mercedes-Benz Tuscaloosa, Alabama assembly plant, 53% of GL production is sold in the United States.  The 2013 GL is the second generation GL and continues to be derived from the platform that also underpins the 5-passenger ML.  About 80% of the GL is all new for its second generation.  We had a chance to drive several versions of the new GL at its global press preview in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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Kia Hypermiles to Key West

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I’m really not a hypermiling type of guy – I usually drive a twin-turbocharged V6.  When the opportunity to drive from Miami Beach to Key West came up, I admit the allure of Key West was more than the chance to get the maximum fuel economy out of a Kia Optima Hybrid and new Kia Rio.  Having grown up in Florida, the northern part, I had never been to Key West – got as far as the Everglades a couple of times.

Kia Optima Hybrid and Kia Rio

The cars did not disappoint and Kia threw in the chance to attend GRAND-AM Continental Tire/Kia200 Sports Car Challenge race at the Homestead-Miami Raceway.  So how could I refuse?

Optima – Elegant Mid-Size Style With Maximum Fuel Economy The Optima is one of my favorite mid-size cars.  Its styling is great and interior is very easy to live with.  From my perspective, the Optima style is very sophisticated and European.  Coming from the “junior” Korean manufacturer, the Optima is much better looking than the swoopy Hyundai Sonata that has turned so many heads since its introduction in early 2010.  My guess is that the Optima style has more staying power than the Sonata which may age pretty quickly.

Adding the Hybrid model to the Optima lineup gives Kia a price-efficient, fuel-efficient combatant in the growing fuel economy battleground among mid-size cars.

All New Rio – Bottom-Feeder No More This was the first chance I have had to drive the all new Rio.  As the bottom entry in Kia’s lineup, the Rio has evolved from a cheap, cheap tin can to a very worthy small car.  Of course, it is not cheap, cheap any more, but it is reasonably priced.  The model we drove was priced a notch above $20,000 but had everything on it including a navigation system, sun roof and leather seats.  In previous generations, it would have been unheard of to have this level of equipment available in the lowest priced car from a mainstream brand.   With a front seat package rivaling a mid-size car in size, folks are no longer “sentenced” to drive a small car.


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Ed Kim and the Audi A3 e-tron

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Recently, Ed Kim, AutoPacific’s Director of Industry Analysis, was given a sneak peek at the Audi A3 e-tron plug-in electric.  Earlier this week, Ed’s impressions were prominently featured in Audi’s featurette about the car. This video was released in conjunction with the automaker’s official announcement about the A3 e-tron’s U.S. test program at the 2012 TED Conference in Long Beach, CA. 

The A3 e-tron will be distributed in select markets in the U.S. to help Audi get real world data about how electric vehicles are used in everyday life, ultimately aiding in the development of future plug-in vehicles from Audi.

Audi, rightly so in our opinion, believes there is no one silver bullet in the quest for greater efficiency.  As such, the automaker is exploring just about every available alternative powertrain technology out there as potential components of a greater solution.  Those can include electrics, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, diesels, or even very efficient gasoline engines.

Watch below to see Audi’s A3 e-tron in action, and Ed’s thoughts on some of the issues surrounding electric vehicles.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6b28g_o9yQ&feature=bf_prev&list=PL7DADCC3EE813305E&lf=plpp_video


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Future Feature Demand – Men and Women Are Different

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Women demand safety features.  Men want technology features.

In AutoPacific’s 2011 Future Attribute Demand Study, 73,000 respondents selected those features they want on their next car or light truck.  About 40% of these new vehicle owners were women, but we know from experience that females influence 80% of new car and light truck sales.  In analyzing AutoPacific’s data, we find that demand for many features is about equal between men and women.  For instance, nearly equal percentages want Bluetooth (75%), a rear backup camera (52%), a navigation system (46%), a heated windshield (44%), voice activated controls (36%), keypad entry system (33%).  So, what are the features that each gender demand that differentiate them?


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2012 Mitsubishi i: Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

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Mitsubishi has been on something of a downturn over the last few years, even more so than most of the automakers during this recession.  Aging model lines and relatively little marketing have reduced the brand’s visibility over the years despite some exciting turbocharged and all wheel drive products, in stark contrast to Mitsubishi’s relatively high profile at the turn of the century due to extroverted products, catchy commercials, and creative financing.


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AutoPacific’s 2011 Plug-In Car Supertest

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Without question, one of the most buzzworthy topics surrounding automobiles this year has been plug-in cars.  Issues like fuel price instability, dependence on foreign oil (or oil of any sort!), and the environment have stirred the imaginations of many people.  Could we really rid ourselves of oil-powered transportation?  Could America really free itself of its addiction?  At the very end of last year, the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf went on sale (retailing at $41,000 and $32,780, respectively, minus a $7,500 Federal tax credit), finally bringing plug-in transportation to the masses and, plug-in fans hope, heralding a new era in automotive history.


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Volt Wins Among Today’s Hybrids and EVs

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Two new, completely different high efficiency cars entered the American car market earlier this year – the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt – and AutoPacific set out to find out how different the owners of those cars were from owners of hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight.  We also are looking at how satisfied buyers are with the cars and what they would like changed.

Think of these four cars as being purpose-built for their technology.  They did not simply adapt their new powertrain technology to an existing vehicle such as the Ford Fusion Hybrid or the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.  The Chevrolet Volt is an Extended Range Electric Vehicle.  The Nissan Leaf is a pure Battery Electric Vehicle.  And the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight are pure Hybrids.

Based on AutoPacific’s annual New Vehicle Satisfaction Survey which has a total of almost 73,000 new car and light truck owner responses to a comprehensive questionnaire about the car buying and ownership experience, the comparison finds some interesting and insightful results.

Leaf and Volt Owners are Dramatically Different from Prius and Insight Owners: Volt owners paid $43,000 for their new car.  Leaf owners paid $34,500.  Prius and Insight owners paid $25,000 and $21,000 respectively.  Given the price points, Volt and Leaf owners are the most affluent with incomes of $150,000.  Prius owners have an income of $100,000 and Insight owners have an income of $80,000.

Leaf and Volt owners are much more likely to be male and much more into the technology of their new car.  They are very similar to early buyers of hybrids who were enamored with the new innovative technology of their vehicle.  The Leaf and Insight owners are the youngest of the group at 53 and 54 years of age respectively.  Owners of the much more expensive Volt are 58 as are owners of the Prius.

Leaf owners have the highest level of education.  About 90% have a college education.  About 70% of Volt, Insight and Prius owners have a college education.  Leaf owners are much more likely to be retired (almost 50%).  Only 17% of Insight owners are retired.  About a third of Leaf owners are in a technical profession as are 20% of Volt owners.

Leaf owners are most likely (24%) to have owned a hybrid before.  Prius owners are almost as likely to have owned a hybrid (23%) as Leaf owners.  Volt (8%) and Insight (8%) owners are newcomers to the world of alternative fuel vehicles.  Volt owners are most likely to have previously driven a compact car (18%) or mid-size car (14%), Insight owners were most likely to have previously driven a compact car (23%) or a mid-size car (23%).

Satisfaction – Volt Wins: About 86% of Volt owners are very satisfied with their vehicles compared with 80% of Leaf owners, 70% of Prius owners and 54% of Insight owners.  Among these four cars, Volt owners are most satisfied by a substantial margin.  Leaf and Prius owners are about equally satisfied.  Insight owners are the least satisfied among the four cars.  Out of 48 satisfaction categories in the research,  Volt owners are the most satisfied in 38 of the categories… an overwhelming win.


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2011 Chevrolet Volt: No Fear of the B.S.O.D. with this Tech-Laden Halo

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In November of 2010, General Motors delivered on a promise they made to start producing the Chevrolet Volt.  Just after production started I had the opportunity to spend a day with a Volt.  While it was a very interesting car to drive for a day, I wasn’t sure what it would be like to drive a vehicle that had the ability to be plugged in, so Chevrolet let me drive one for a week earlier this year.


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2012 Audi A7: Don’t Call It A Crosscar

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I have a confession to make.  I was cautiously optimistic with the idea of the A7 when I first heard that Audi had green lighted the program.  Yes, I am fond of hatchbacks but one image was burned into my brain: Accord Crosstour.  The Crosstour was a great idea on paper and a gave people who worship at the church of hatchback another option.  Sadly, the final product hasn’t been much of a sales success as Americans shun hatchbacks.  I won’t mention the fact that many crossovers today are actually hatchbacks but calling them that would be a marketing faux pas.  The Crosstour is looking like another nail in the coffin of slow selling hatchback designs for the US market.  Could the company that brought us the R8 strike out like the Crosstour or hit a home run to change the hearts and minds of hatchback haters?  Read on to find out.


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