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Honda Odyssey Leapfrogs Minivan Competition

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Has the new 2018 Honda Odyssey leapfrogged its competition the way Chrysler’s second generation minivans did in the early ’90s?  After spending several days with the Odyssey on the Big Island of Hawaii, the case can be made that the Odyssey is the best minivan out there.  Up until now, the clear leader was the new-for-2016 Chrysler Pacifica.  Its advanced styling, stow-‘n-go seating and available plug-in hybrid make Pacifica a persuasive choice in the minivan category.  Only the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are real competitors.  Other minivans like the Nissan Quest and Kia Sedona don’t have the volume to be mainstream players.  Ford and General Motors abandoned the minivan market years ago to concentrate on SUVs – a good move.

Odyssey a Cornerstone of Honda Brand  Honda has a relatively narrow and focused lineup for a mainstream brand.  The Honda Odyssey is one of its cornerstones.  The new 2018 Honda Odyssey is the fifth generation of the minivan.  The fourth gen Odyssey was with us for seven model years which is long for a Honda product.  Based on Honda’s Global Light Truck platform, the new Odyssey shares major components with the Honda Pilot crossover SUV and the Honda Ridgeline pickup.  From AutoPacific’s assessment, all three of Honda’s new truck products are fully competitive and compelling.  The new Odyssey checks most of the boxes to make it the best minivan available today.

Still a Soccer Mom Image  Lets talk about minivans a minute.  Minivans are the perfect vehicle for a family.  They carry kids, their friends and their stuff.  They are seen as suburban taxis driven by a mom schlepping her little darlings from LaCrosse practice to Little League to band practice.  When we note in focus groups of suburban mothers that they should be driving a minivan, most women strongly disagree.  When compared with the active image of even the tamest crossover SUV, the SUV wins and the minivan loses.  The soccer mom image of the minivan cannot be avoided.

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite

Evolutionary Design With Bold Cues  The new 2018 Honda Odyssey comes pretty close to avoiding the minivan image as does the Chrysler Pacifica and the “swagger-wagon” Toyota Sienna.  The styling of the new Odyssey is evolutionary but more  interesting than before. Odyssey continues with the chrome “lightning bolt” window surround that has been a distinctive design cue since the previous generation.  Now, however, the bodysides get a few more curves to add more personality to the design.  The front end design is a swath of brightwork similar to the Pilot and Ridgeline.  This look is being adopted throughout the Honda lineup and adds interest to the Honda “face”.

Magic Slide Seats Compete with Chrysler’s Stow-‘n-Go  The interior is very comfortable and accommodating for any size family.  Gone is any pretense of a walk-through from the front seats to the rear.  There is now a very usable console including excellent cupholders and a deep console box.  Honda has made interior flexibility one of its hallmarks.  The very small Fit and HR-V crossover SUV have interior flexibility that can accept many different sizes of cargo.  The Odyssey “Magic-Slide” second row seat counters the Chrysler Pacifica’s stow-‘n-go rear seating design.

In the Honda design the individual second row seats can be moved from side to side and fore and aft.  The center position is good for children in child seats which can be fixed toward the center of the vehicle – a good location in a side impact.  One of the rear seats can be positioned in the center and pushed forward so the driver and/or front seat passenger can tend to a baby in a child seat.

2018 Honda Odyssey Center Stack w/Apple CarPlay

Ergonomics Top Notch, But Nav Screen Display Needs Work  Ergonomics are always a Honda forte and the 2018 Honda Odyssey does not disappoint.  The instrument cluster gauges are bright and easy to read.  The center screen is large and bright with navigation by Garmin.  I found the information display on the screen to be hard to read because the fonts were so small.  While Garmin provided the guts, Honda designed the display graphics and could have made the font size bigger, contrast better and included the city name in addition to the road name on the display.  (Why is it so hard to get the city name on the display?  Everyone should do it!).  I ended up using Apple CarPlay maps and streaming in lieu of the Honda system.

Loaded Odysseys Want for Nothing  95% of the 2018 Honda Odysseys (EX and above) will have the full suite of Honda’s safety features standard including Honda Sensing and blind spot monitoring with cross traffic monitor.  The top level Elite model includes acoustic windshield and side glass that Honda contends makes the vehicle the quietest minivan on the market.  In fact, when you opt for the Odyssey Elite, there is very little missing from its equipment list.

Engine Upgraded – 10-Speed Transmission  The 2018 Honda Odyssey is powered by a 280-horsepower 3.5L single overhead cam V6.  The additional 32 horsepower over its predecessor gives the new Odyssey the power to pass at will.  On a long stretch uphill climb on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway on the Big Island, the engine strained a bit.  On anything but steep grades the power is adequate.  The Elite model includes a 10-speed automatic transmission – all others have 9-speeds.  The shifting is transparent in the 10-speed model.

~$30,000 – $47,000 – Is There Room for a +$50,000 Model?  The base price of the 2018 Honda Odyssey is $29,990 with a $940 delivery charge.  The Elite model is $46,670.  Honda pays particular attention to vehicle price points as do all manufacturers.  As a high volume, mainstream brand keeping prices affordable is paramount.  However, some automakers are wrestling with ways to charge even more for their top of the line products because buyers want more stuff.  The Odyssey Elite is $46,670 – $3,230 below $50,000.  Could there be a place for a $50,000 entry in the very price-conscious minivan market?  While Honda competitors are moving mid-size SUVs into the low $50,000 range could there be a place for an even higher spec Odyssey?  It would be interesting to do the analysis.


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All-New 2017 Honda CR-V – Improved Across the Board

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The 2017 Honda CR-V goes on sale in December 2016.  It’s predecessor, the fourth-generation 2016 Honda CR-V, is on track to sell about 380,000 crossover SUVs in 2016. It is the highest volume crossover SUV and one of the top selling vehicles in the market. In AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award Research the CR-V achieved a score of 690.  This is a fourth place showing in the Mid-Size Crossover SUV segment.  Nissan Rogue (712), Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester place ahead of the 2016 CR-V. In AutoPacific’s 2016 Ideal Vehicle Award Research the CR-V was tied with Rogue in third place (1134 points).   The class leading Subaru Forester (1175) and Mazda CX-5 scored higher.2017 Honda CR-V F34 VV2017 Honda CR-V FV VV

Each year, AutoPacific surveys new car and light truck buyers to determine what changes they want in their vehicle. It is particularly interesting to compare the changes that owners want to their vehicle when it is just about to be replaced by the next generation.  Also, AutoPacific’s research can be measuring stick on how well a manufacturer’s product planners, engineers and designers understand their customers.  Using AutoPacific’s research to determine what changes people wanted in their CR-V, let’s see how well Honda did with their update.

Source: AutoPacific - Radar Chart Showing Changes 2016 Honda CR-V Owners want Compared with Competition

Source: AutoPacific – Radar Chart Showing Changes 2016 Honda CR-V Owners want Compared with Competition

Technology – Still a Challenge as With Most New Generation Vehicles: As with many vehicles these days, technology is a love it/hate it affair. About 25% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want more advanced technology than now. About 30% want the technology they have to be easier to use. The 2016 CR-V has the HondaSensing suite of driver assistance technologies available.  The 2017 version expands on that adding a blind spot information system to the affordable EX model. Technology is still an area that requires a great deal of work, and the 2017 Honda CR-V improves on its predecessor.  About 25% of CR-V’s competitors want more advanced technology as well.  Among competitors, about 34% of 2016 Ford Escape owners want easier to use technology.

Driver’s Seat Visibility – Excellent View: Visibility is a key component in the acceptance of new crossover SUVs. About 29% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want better driver’s seat visibility compared with 27% for competition. The previous CR-V was very competitive, but AutoPacific concludes the fourth generation CR-V is better. The driver’s seating position is excellent.  The hood has been redesigned with more character that gives the driver more reference points in front. Honda has always been generous with glass and it appears the windows are larger. The 2017 CR-V should see better results next year.

Power and Fuel Economy – Going Turbo: About 20% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want more power and acceleration and about 10% would sacrifice power and acceleration for better fuel economy. About 29% of 2016 Nissan Rogue owners want more power and acceleration. The 2017 Honda CR-V adds a 190-horsepower turbocharged 1.5L 4-cylinder in all but the base LX model. The turbo 4 gets both better fuel economy and acceleration and feels sprightlier than its predecessor.   2017 results should be even better than 2016.

 Ride and Handling – Improved Dynamics: About 20% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want easier handing and a softer ride. This compares to just 14% of the owners of its primary competitors wanting easier handling and softer ride.  Honda has improved the ride and handling giving the 2017 CR-V a solid ride with crisp sporty handling. It is not a pillow-soft ride by any means, but gives the confidence that the vehicle will do what the driver demands.

Passenger Roominess – More Rear Seat Room: About 20% of 2016 Honda CR-V owners want more passenger room. This compares with about 24% of competition (about 32% of Ford Escape owners want more passenger room). The 2017 Honda CR-V has 2.1-inches more rear seat legroom while increasing the overall length of the vehicle by 1.2 inches. The rear seat seems much more spacious and the 2017 Honda CR-V should fare even better in AutoPacific’s 2017 research.

Exterior Styling – More Distinctive – Upscale: Looking at the all new CR-V, the at-a-glance impression is “more of the same”. CR-V, however, adopts Honda’s more aggressive and distinctive front end design with a heavy dollop of chrome. The taillights are a blatant evolution of the 2016 CR-V. About 16% of 2016 CR-V owners want more distinctive styling. 23% of owners of the 2016 Ford Escape, for instance, want more distinctive styling. It is probably safe to say that the 2017 changes to the CR-V will move the needle towards the more distinctive area.

Cargo Area – Even Better:  2016 Honda CR-V owners are less likely to want more cargo space than the competition – 14% compared to 28%.  The 2017 Honda CR-V adds almost 10-inches to the length of its cargo space.  This makes the all-new CR-V even better than before and substantially better than each of its main competitors.

Overall: The 2017 Honda CR-V has incrementally improved in almost every area. The styling is more distinctive. The powertrain more responsive. The interior is larger within a vehicle that is no bigger than before. Combined with Honda’s outstanding ergonomics, the CR-V, as a product, should be able to sell at about capacity especially at the aggressive pricing Honda has adopted.

Competition does not stand still. The Ford Escape has a substantial upgrade for 2017. The Nissan Rogue is all new for 2017. The 2017 research will show which vehicle’s product development team understood its customers the best and executed the product for them.

 


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All New Honda CR-V Impressive Re-Incarnation

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Honda has imposed an embargo for the new Honda CR-V on technical specifications, driving impressions and pricing, so we can only describe the vehicle and its competitive position in generalities.  The embargo lifts on November 30, 2016.

New Honda CR-V FV VV

New Honda CR-V – all new for 2017 with distinctive front end styling.

Honda Assures Continued Success in Entry XSUV Market  The all new Honda CR-V is an impressive compact crossover SUV.  A pillar of Honda’s product lineup that includes Accord, Civic and Odyssey, the CR-V sells almost 400,000 units per year.  Strong competitors include the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape.  The Nissan Rogue is starting to make waves as well.  The entry crossover SUV category has become the best selling class of vehicle in the United States.  Entry crossover SUV sales are higher than mid-size cars.  The popularity of the segment, and how good this new CR-V is, has led Honda to add more assembly capacity at its Indiana assembly plant in 2017.

Sport utility vehicles have evolved from the hardcore 4x4s of the 1970s to the very easy-t0-live with crossover SUVs of today.  Responding to customer demand for better ride, better fuel economy, the latest electronic and infotainment features, the new crossovers have taken the market by storm.  They are now the vehicles of choice for most female buyers.

In the development of the new Honda CR-V, Honda benchmarked the European BMW X3 to give this mainstream crossover a luxury feel.  They clearly have higher aspirations for the vehicle.  Also, given the sales volume of the CR-V, Honda added standard features in lower trim levels.  Cost efficiencies are substantial when a product approaches the 400,000 unit volume level.

Nwq Honda CR-V F34 VV

New Honda CR-V – all new for 2017 with more muscular styling

More Aggressive Than Past Hondas  Sounding like a Big Three manufacturer of yore, the new Honda CR-V is longer, wider and higher than before.  It has a new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission on all but its base LX trim level.   The looks of the new Honda CR-V are an upward evolution of its predecessor.  Styling is more aggressive with more character in the hood and body panels.  The grille is much more aggressive than previously and follows the trend adopted by the new Honda Pilot XSUV and Ridgeline pickup.  The wheel openings are more muscular to accommodate larger tires and wheels.

More Upscale than Typical for This Class  Comparing the new Honda CR-V with the RAV4 and Escape, the CR-V comes across as a product in a class above.  The finish is outstanding, the interior has been substantially upgraded with soft touch materials in critical areas.  As usual, the new Honda CR-V is an ergonomic tour de force.  Visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent.  Reach to the controls is intuitive.  The large electronic instrument cluster is brilliantly lit and provides necessary information.  Responding to customer complaints, the new Honda CR-V adds back a volume control knob for the audio system replacing the slider used previously.  The rear seat is larger than in its predecessor and Honda describes the interior space in the new Honda CR-V as being best in class.

High Volume EX Trim Loaded with Features  The highest volume trim level will be the EX one step above the base LX.   The level of equipment on this model is impressive.  Honda includes Honda Sensing, blind spot warning and cross traffic warning as part of the EX trim level.  Honda Sensing includes adaptive cruise control with low speed follow, collision mitigation braking system, road departure mitigation, and lane keeping assist.  The Honda-exclusive Lane Watch video camera system has been abandoned for the new Honda CR-V.  Blind spot information replaces Lane Watch because owners want blind spot information on both sides of the car and the right-side-only Lane Watch system couldn’t be adapted to show the left side as well.

Best Selling Honda?  Given the excellence of the latest generation CR-V, and the additional production capacity being added, it would not be surprising if the CR-V becomes Honda’s top-selling vehicle.


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“Trucks” to Continue to Outsell Cars – XSUV Segment

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500 wide Car Truck Sales 1987-2021500 wide Car Truck Mix 1987-2021AutoPacific, an automotive specialist research and product planning consultancy, forecasts that trucks, including XSUVs will be about 60% of the market for the foreseeable future.  In fact, reading the crystal ball for the next five years, this percentage of the mix may be low.  The charts above detail how cars and truck sales and market penetration have evolved since 1987 and the forecast for the future.

The hottest product segment in the American light vehicle market is the crossover SUV (XSUV).  A crossover SUV can be as large as a Chevrolet Traverse or as small as a Chevrolet Trax.  There are dozens of XSUVs in between.  And there will be more.

The XSUV segment has become so hot because this type of vehicle corrects the criticisms buyers had of traditional SUVs which sold very well, but were not optimal.  Buyers wanted products that were not hard-core off-roaders, but more civilized and city friendly.  The SUV market exploded in the early 1990s with the introduction of the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee.  It wasn’t until 1996 that the crossover SUV began slipping into the marketplace.  First the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V appeared.  They were followed by the luxury crossover RX300.  Clearly the manufacturers were listening and reacting.

Here are just a few of the things we know about the evolution of the SUV market over the next five years…

Cadillac  Cadillac states that it has too few XSUVs (one, the upcoming XT5) and wants to add two or three more to its lineup while adding one more car as a range topper between now and 2020.

Buick  Buick is adding the small Envision XSUV to its lineup this Spring.  Envision is assembled in China.

FCA Drops Cars to Add XSUV and Pickup Capacity  Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is dropping its Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart in favor of more capacity for XSUVs and pickups.  The Ram pickup will take over the FCA Sterling Heights, Michigan Plant when the Chrysler 200 is dropped.  FCA’s huge Belvidere, Ilinois plant will be populated by XSUVs when the Jeep Compass and Patriot plus the Dodge Dart fade away.

Toyota Pushing RAV4  Toyota Motor Sales has stated that they would not be surprised if the RAV4 XSUV overtook the Camry mid-size car as its best selling product.  Camry was the best selling car in the USA in 2015.

Lexus will add a 3-row XSUV above the RX350 in the next few years.500 wide SUV XSUV Sales 1987-2021500 wide SUV XSUV Mix of SUV 1987-2021

 

The charts above show the impact of crossover SUVs on the light truck market.  Huge volume increase and market share increase.

Hyundai Aggressively Adding XSUV Capacity  Hyundai is replacing 50,000 units of car capacity in its Montgomery, Alabama assembly plant with the Santa Fe Sport.  That drops capacity for the Hyundai Sonata and Elantra from 400,000 to 350,000 units per year.  Hyundai admits that they underestimated the demand for XSUVs years ago.  This capacity move reacts to market demand and dealer pressure to get Hyundai dealers more XSUVs that are easier to sell and require less incentives and discounting.

Hyundai will add 45,000 units to its Tucson compact XSUV volume this year.  Built in South Korea, Tucson has been limited because it is popular around the world and the vehicle was capacity constrained.

Hyundai also recognizes there is a hole at the bottom of their XSUV lineup and are adding a sub-compact B-Segment XSUV to fill that hole.  There is a possibility that a smaller A-Segment XSUV will replace the Hyundai Accent hatchback.


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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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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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2014 Toyota Highlander Wins AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award

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The all new 2014 Toyota Highlander is the highest scoring Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV in AutoPacific’s 2014 Ideal Vehicle Award research. Highlander’s designers, planners and engineers knew what consumers wanted and gave it to them. The Toyota Highlander leads its category against some big name vehicles such as the Ford Explorer, Honda Crosstour, Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Equinox, and the Subaru Outback.  The 2014 Toyota Highlander also had a convincing win in its category in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.

Toyota Highlander owners are satisfied with their vehicle and did not want it much different. Of the fifteen categories in the Ideal Vehicle question battery, the Toyota Highlander led in one category and was within three percentage points of four categories.  This shows how close the results were.  Highlander edged out second place Ford Explorer by a nose.

The top five highest ratings by 2014 Toyota Highlander owners are: same wheels, same exterior size, same ride/handling, same passenger room, and same interior lighting as now.

No vehicle is perfect and although the Highlander led in its category there are several things owners would like to change. Owners would like better driver visibility, more advanced information and entertainment system, more interior storage, and more safety features.

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2014 Toyota Highlander Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

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The all new 2014 Toyota Highlander is the highest scoring Premium Mid-Sized Crossover SUV in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research. The Highlander finished first against some impressive competitors. Behind the Highlander are the following: Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Edge, Kia Sorento, Toyota Venza, and the Dodge Durango.  This is the second year in a row Highlander has won the VSA.  It also won in the last year of its previous model.  Not bad for a “mature” entry.

The 2014 Toyota Highlander leads its category with thirty-one wins and ties out of fifty attributes. The Highlander also is within one tenth of a rating point with ten other categories. This puts the Highlander at the top with forty-one of fifty satisfaction categories – over 80%.

The top ten highest ratings by Toyota Highlander owners are: the vehicle and brand reputation, the perception of reliability and dependability, fun to drive, seating capacity, ease of loading and unloading, durability, vehicle ride, braking, and feeling safe while driving.

AutoPacific’s opinion of the all new 2014 Toyota Highlander is that it is better in all ways than its predecessor, but it follows the Crossover SUV formula pretty closely and does not particularly break any new ground.  One innovative feature is a shelf below the instrument panel spanning the width from the driver’s area to the passenger door.  Also fun are Highlander TV ads featuring Sesame Street characters – a clear attempt to attract families with young children to the vehicle.  “Mom, let’s buy a Highlander!”

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AutoPacific 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards Announced

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AutoPacVSAlogo blogOn Monday June 16, 2014, AutoPacific announced its 18th annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSA), identifying the most satisfying 2014 model year vehicles on the market.  Other automotive awards provide information on defects – things gone wrong.  AutoPacific’s research looks at the issue of vehicle ownership in a totally different way – how satisfied a new vehicle is to its owner.  While it’s important to know how well a vehicle is screwed together, it is even more important to learn how well buyers and drivers feel about their vehicle.

The AutoPacific 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards objectively measure owner satisfaction with 50 separate attributes ranging from interior comfort and convenience to fuel economy and performance. “Vehicles that score highest in the Vehicle Satisfaction Awards are delivering value and satisfaction across a wide range of attributes,” says George Peterson, president of AutoPacific. “The winners perform well in 50 separate categories that objectively measure the ownership experience.” An industry benchmark for measuring how satisfied an owner is with his/her new vehicle, AutoPacific’s VSA are based on the results of responses from over 92,000 new vehicle owners.

For 2014, the most satisfying brands are Lincoln, Top Premium Brand and GMC, Top Popular Brand. The vehicle – car or truck – registering highest overall satisfaction is the new-for-2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class that also wins AutoPacific’s second President’s Award for achieving the highest VSA score ever.  The truck with the highest overall satisfaction score is the new BMW X5 Premium Luxury Crossover SUV.

“With the launch of each new car and truck, carmakers try to improve the product and increase the satisfaction of their buyers,” explains Peterson. “By surveying a substantial number of owners who have purchased a new 2014 model year vehicle, The AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards provide an objective measurement of how well the makers are doing. More than one-third of new vehicle buyers are positively influenced by objective awards based on owner ratings when deciding on a new car or truck.”

The awards in 2014 are much more diverse than they have been in previous years, with no single brand dominating the results.  Multiple top-ranked award winners are:  Chevrolet with four winners; Lincoln with three winners; Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Kia, and GMC with two winners each.

The brands that improved their relative ranking positions in 2014 compared with 2013 are:  GMC moving from 17th to 8th position; Lincoln moving from 6th position to 1st position; Ford moving from 25th to 19th; Chevrolet moving from 21st to 16th.  Brands with the largest drop in position were Volkswagen moving from 16th to 28th position and Jaguar dropping from 7th to 17th.

From a manufacturer perspective, General Motors was tops with seven wins and Ford had four wins.

“AutoPacific 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards help vehicle buyers sort through an increasingly complicated selection of brands and models.  For the 2014 model year, there are 274 models and 32 brands from which to choose a new vehicle.  The VSA clearly shows the buyers which vehicles are at the top of the class they are considering,” says Peterson.

Top 2014 model year performers are:

PRESIDENT’S AWARD FOR HIGHEST VSA SCORE EVER: Mercedes-Benz S-Class

HIGHEST SATISFACTION PREMIUM BRAND: Lincoln

HIGHEST SATISFACTION POPULAR BRAND: GMC

2014 PASSENGER CAR WINNERS:

Premium Luxury Car

Executive Luxury Car

Aspirational Luxury Car

Luxury Mid-Size Car

Large Car

Mid-Size Car

Premium Compact Car

Compact Car

Economy Car

Sports Car

Sporty Car

Hybrid Car/EV

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Lincoln MKS

BMW 3-Series GT

Lincoln MKZ

Chevrolet Impala

Kia Optima

Mercedes-Benz CLA

Kia Soul

Chevrolet Sonic

Chevrolet Corvette

Chevrolet Camaro

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

2014 LIGHT TRUCK WINNERS:

Heavy Duty Pickup

Light Duty Pickup

Luxury/Large SUV

Mid-Size SUV

Premium Luxury Crossover SUV

Luxury Crossover SUV

Large Crossover SUV

Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV

Mid-Size Crossover SUV

Compact Crossover SUV

Minivan

Ford F-Series Super Duty

GMC Sierra

Infiniti QX80

Jeep Grand Cherokee

BMW X5

Cadillac SRX

GMC Acadia

Toyota Highlander

Nissan Rogue

Hyundai Tucson

Honda Odyssey


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