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2013 Fiat 500e

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Some naysayers are already preparing their eulogies for the electric car. They say that have failed. They say that consumers don’t want them. They say the market’s not ready for them. Our view?  To date, they’ve been a tough sell, but there’s some real progress being made. We’re not ready to start cuing Mozart’s Requiem just yet.

Consider if you will the new Fiat 500e, the Italian brand’s new entry into the electric car segment.  It’s great to look at. It’s fun to drive. It’s quick. It’s well equipped with lots of features. And the whole package incorporates some very convincing and innovative motivators to consider one.

From our point of view, there are two major reasons why electric cars haven’t taken off yet. One is price. Electric cars cost far more than their gasoline powered counterparts. The other is range anxiety. Consumers are (rightly) concerned that electric cars won’t get them where they need to go and that they could be left stranded, with no backup in sight.


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The Little Engines That Could

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Silence is Golden in Slick New VW Jetta Hybrid

There are three key parts to making a successful hybrid…1) great performance, 2) a smooth powertrain, and 3) outstanding fuel economy. VW has done it all and more with their “Serene Hybridness” – the new top of the line 2013 Jetta, the slick and sophisticated Hybrid (starting at $24,995).

By now, most of you know the current generation Jetta…larger car…lower price, with more mainstream appeal than the earlier forays into sports sedan territory. To create the Hybrid, VW started with the new Jetta and added the independent rear suspension and soft touch interior from the Jetta GLI (yes, the “real” Jetta for you sports sedan holdovers). So, we know it feels good to your hands and the road feels comfortable to your bottoms, even when the pavement gets rough. To the naked eye, other than very subtle badging, it looks just like a Jetta.

But, then, the VW engineers (and perhaps some Black Forest wizards as well) came along and added a compact powertrain unit comprised of a 1.4 liter 4 cylinder turbo (150hp/184ft-lb torque) and a 27 hp electric motor, producing a combined output of 170hp and 184 ft-lb through an industry-first, very smooth 7 speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. Those are the numbers…so how does it work? After over 125 miles of highways and 2 lane hills and curves, it works somewhere north of wonderful. This powertrain is silky, free-revving, responsive, quiet, and I dare anyone to hear or feel the transition point between gas and electric operation. You can see it on one of the most clear and easy to understand hybrid system gauges…but the transition is absolutely seamless and soundless. With added insulation and new structural improvements, this is an amazingly quiet vehicle inside. One rest stop short of the end of the drive my overall fuel economy was 47.1 mpg…a tenth better than the VW spec. Then, I got on it harder on the highway, where the electric motor is just along for the ride, and managed to drop it only to 45.2.

The Jetta Hybrid interior is well crafted and maintains a Teutonic look, even as it provides comfort for a wider range of Americans. The seats are firm and supportive in all the right places. The driving experience is biased toward comfort and the smooth, quiet engine is well matched with the softer, but well controlled ride. Steering efforts are well chosen, but I’d prefer more feel/feedback and more response on-center from the electric steering system, but I’d also want that wrapped in a GLI to go hunting for traffic circles. Most buyers may feel quite comfortable as is.

The hybrid wars are heating up, with major entries in different body styles from Europe, Asia, and North America launching every year. For the mainstream buyer who enjoys VW’s German engineering, and is seeking a comfortable and responsive hybrid sedan in the small to midsize range, the new Jetta Hybrid is a delightful answer right now.

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2013 Buick Enclave and Verano Turbo Deliver Style and Power

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There was once a time when Buick was synonymous with stodginess—an aging automotive brand out of touch with contemporary luxury car buyers. Then came the Buick Enclave for 2008 model year, a premium mid-size crossover that gave birth to a more exciting, redesigned Buick, providing styling cues that today’s luxury customers demand. So has been the theme of recent Buick entries and revivals, including its latest premium compact entrant, the Buick Verano. And for 2013 model year, Buick has made notable improvements to both Verano and Enclave.


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2012 BMW M6 Convertible: 4,508 Pounds of Rocket (Rocket Fuel Not Required)

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BMW opted to bring back their M6 Convertible for 2012, and as expected, it offers up more horsepower, better looks, and increased fuel economy.


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Chevrolet Corvette – Most Ideal Sports Car in AutoPacific Research

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AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) recognizes the vehicle that best hits the target its buyers demand.  Winning an IVA shows the product planners, engineers and designers of the manufacturer understand what their target customers want and have created the vehicle to best meet their demands.

Corvette Edges Jaguar XK for IVA Win: The 2012 Chevrolet Corvette comes closest to the ideal of any Sports Car.  The Corvette edges out the second place Jaguar XK to win in the sports car class.   (Porsche Boxster/Cayman and 911 scored higher in IVA calculations, but their sample sizes were to small to qualify to be included in the final ratings).  Having eighty-percent or more of owners rating a characteristic ideal is outstanding.  Achieving a score of ninety-percent is even more impressive.  Ninety-percent or more of Corvette owners rate its exterior size, passenger roominess and ride and handling ideal.  Eighty-percent or more of Corvette owners find these additional characteristics ideal:  driver’s seat visibility, driver’s seat comfort and tires.

The Chevrolet Corvette also was best in class in AutoPacific’s 2012 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.

A Few Shortfalls – Infotainment and Power and Ingress/Egress: A sports car is all about style, speed and handling and not about practicality.  About 43% of Corvette owners want better infotainment technology.  This may be buyer’s remorse if they did not get a package with the navigation system and Bose audio.  About 36% of Corvette owners want more power and acceleration than they have now.  With a base car with 430HP and 4.2 seconds zero to sixty, they should be satisfied, but sports car owners always seem to want more.  Corvette is extremely low to the ground leading 34% of owners to want the car to be easier to get into and out of.  About 26% want better interior storage than they presently have.  About 24% of Corvette owners want better interior lighting than now.  About 21% would like more daring exterior styling for an already expressively styled car.  Maybe they are thinking of Ferrari or Lamborghini.

You can find an Autobytel review of this IVA award winner at  http://www.autobytel.com/auto-news/awards/consumer-s-ideal-cars-revealed-in-2012-iva-awards-112116/

For a complete summary of all AutoPacific 2012 Ideal Vehicle Award results contact karin.turner@vehiclevoice.com and title your email “IVA Results”.  A copy of the results will be emailed to you within 48-hours.


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Land Rover LR4 – Owners Give it a Win as Ideal Luxury SUV

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AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) recognizes the vehicle that best hits the target its buyers demand.  Winning an IVA shows the product planners, engineers and designers of the manufacturer understand what their target customers want and have created the vehicle to best meet their demands.

LR4 Edges Out Lexus GX For IVA Win: The 2012 Land Rover LR4 comes closest to the ideal of any Luxury SUV scoring a significant 21 rating-point win over the second place Lexus GX.  Eighty-percent or more of LR4 owners find these characteristics ideal:  exterior size, driver seat visibility, passenger roominess, cargo space, seat comfort, ride and handling, tires and wheels, ease of getting in and out and safety features.

More Infotainment Technology Needed: Nearly half of the LR4 owners want more or better infotainment and entertainment technology than they have now.  While the LR4 has loads of technology under the skin allowing it to go anywhere, anytime, it falls down in an area growing more and more important in today’s automotive purchase process.

Styling Needs a Boost: About 30% of LR4 owners would like more daring exterior styling than they have now.  While the LR4 achieves a purposeful and utilitarian look, pushing the styling envelope would be positively received by many owners and prospective owners.

You can find an Autobytel review of this IVA award winner at  http://www.autobytel.com/auto-news/awards/ideal-suvs-pickups-rated-by-owners-in-2012-iva-awards-112117/

For a complete summary of all AutoPacific 2012 Ideal Vehicle Award results contact karin.turner@vehiclevoice.com and title your email “IVA Results”.  A copy of the results will be emailed to you within 48-hours.


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The Battle of Traction

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Who will win?  Front-wheel drive? Rear-wheel drive?  All-wheel drive?  Some don’t care who wins!  And we have the enthusiasts, who begrudge anything with front-wheel drive and performance in the same sentence.

Let’s fast forward five years…


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2012 VW GTi Most Satisfying Premium Compact Car

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Best in Class 2012 Premium Compact Car:  Volkswagen GTi

2012 Volkswagen GTi Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award

Owners of the Volkswagen GTi give the car top satisfaction marks in its class.  GTi owners gave the GTi top satisfaction ratings for 29 of the 48 attributes contributing to AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award research, including:  Exterior Size, Seating Capacity, Rear Seat Comfort, Flexible Seating, Cargo Space (GTi is a hatchback), Ease of Loading Cargo, Image, Vehicle’s Reputation, Interior Styling, Feel of Interior Fabrics and Materials, Power and Acceleration, Braking, Handling, Fun to Drive, Reliable/Dependable, Ride, Controls Easy to Understand, Controls Have Quality Feel, Instrument Layout, Cupholder Design and Size, Tire Brand, Size and Appearance, Wheel Size and Style, Infotainment Technology, Feeling Safe While Driving, Safety Features, Safety Rating, Overall Quality, Price, and Collision Avoidance Technology.  With a possible high of 5.0 rating points on each of the 48 characteristics, GTi owners rate the car at 4.6 rating points or higher on:  Exterior Size, Seating Capacity, Image, Vehicle’s Reputation, Interior Styling, Power and Acceleration, Braking, Handling, Fun to Drive (4.95 – almost perfect), Reliable Dependable, Feeling Safe While Driving, Safety features, Safety Ratings, Overall Quality.  The lowest ratings are for Environmental Friendliness, Recyclability and Interior Storage.  Clearly owners perceive the GTi to be a very safe car with great dynamics at a reasonable price.


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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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Do Fuel Prices Really Affect Vehicle Purchase Intentions?

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Drivers today are shelling out nearly $4/gallon, on average, to fill up their vehicles, about 25 cents more than this time last year. But this added expense is not persuading consumers to ditch their SUVs for more fuel efficient small cars. Results from AutoPacific’s latest Fuel Price Impact Survey (FPIS) actually show SUVs being the top vehicle replacement choice, with small cars coming in third. In addition, 76% surveyed would replace their current vehicle with a similarly sized one, whereas only 18% say they would go smaller.

Only Minor Vehicle Segment Shifts: In general, US drivers would not shift to a different vehicle segment when time to replace their current vehicle. Differences from replacement vehicle segment choice and what respondents currently own range between 0-2 percentage points, according to survey results. For example, 28% of respondents own an SUV, and that same percent would choose one for their replacement as well. About 19% would choose a small car, which is two percentage-points higher than current respondent ownership. This is a stark contrast to the July 2008 fuel price spike when the top replacement choice was small cars at 32% of the sample, 12 percentage points higher than current ownership at that time.


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