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Mid-Size Sedan Onslaught – New Camry, Accord, Sonata

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Up until 2016, the mid-size sedan was the top selling product segment in the USA light vehicle market.  That has changed substantially as buyers are flocking to crossover SUVs that offer more utility at little expense over sedans.  That does not mean carmakers are abandoning mid-size sedans.  On the contrary, they have to keep their top selling mid-size sedan entries fresh and competitive.

Source: AutoPacific, Inc.

Three high volume 2018 model year mid-size sedans are launching in Fall 2017.  All three are from Asian brands.  The Korean brand Hyundai Sonata is assembled in Montgomery, Alabama.  The Japanese brand Toyota Camry is assembled in Georgetown, Kentucky.  The Japanese brand Honda Accord is assembled in Marysville, Ohio.  Some would say that these sedans are the most American cars on the road.

All three are excellent cars and all three are trying to vacate typical anodyne mid-size car styling.  The Accord and Camry are all new cars.  The Sonata is a major redesign to its front and rear styling.  All three are much more expressive than before.

2018 Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry  Toyota’s longtime sales champ, the Camry mid-size sedan, is all-new for the 2018 model year. As this iconic model line has consistently topped sales charts but is often derided for being dull and boring, the 2018 Camry wears much more expressive and in XSE trim, at least, genuinely sporty styling. Toyota undoubtedly hopes that the revitalized looks of the latest Camry will help it shed its stodgy image.

Toyota launches its new Toyota New Global Architecture platform with the 2018 Camry mid-size sedan.  The TNGA platform will be used for the other Toyota cars built at Georgetown: Lexus ES aspirational luxury car and the Toyota Avalon large car.  When Avalon moves to the platform in 2018 they are expected to move the RAV4 crossover into the plant.  The next generation Toyota Highlander crossover SUV and Toyota Sienna minivan will likely move to the TNGA platform and continue to be built in Princeton, Indiana.

Part of the new Camry’s more appealing looks come from its lower proportions. In recent years, sedans have typically gotten taller with higher seating positions to emulate what makes SUVs so popular: great visibility, easy ingress and egress, and a chair-like driving position. However, as market preference towards SUVs has now been well established and sedan share is rapidly dropping, Toyota saw an opportunity to make the Camry a real car again. After all, those who want to sit up high will buy one of Toyota’s many able SUVs anyway. If Camry sales are (by Toyota’s own admission) expected to drop at the hand of the almighty SUV, why not make Camry more differentiated from its high-riding SUV lineup?

So, the new Camry’s seating and roof heights are about an inch lower than before, giving it a sleeker and more aggressive profile than any Camry before it. The seating position is also more sporty too. The interior is a massive step up in appeal too, with expensive looking materials, textures, shapes, and colors that dramatically up the Camry’s desirability. Toyota hasn’t ignored technology either. While lacking Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Toyota’s latest Entune 3.0 infotainment system with its standard App Suite and standard navigation is easy to use. Notably, Toyota’s TSS-P suite of safety technologies, which includes forward collision alert with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping assist is standard on every Camry.

Camry’s base engine is a 206-horsepower 2.5L 4-cylinder.  Its V6 option is a 301-horsepower 3.5L V6 mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Though this generation will no longer hold Toyota’s sales crown (which is being taken over by RAV4), it certainly looks to be the most appealing and engaging Camry yet.

2018 Honda Accord Touring

2018 Honda Accord Touring

Honda Accord  The all-new 2018 Honda Accord mid-size sedan takes a page out of the latest Camry’s playbook, but that’s no bad thing. Like the 2018 Camry, the 2018 Accord rides on an all-new platform and features lower seating height and a lower roofline, abandoning prior generations’ goals of trying to imbue the mid-size sedan with SUV-like interior packaging. Like Camry, Accord’s sales crown at Honda is being transferred to an SUV model, namely the CR-V. This latest Accord is set to lose sales compared to prior generations not because of any inherent flaws, but because market preference has been rapidly shifting to SUVs.

For those who prefer sedans over SUVs, the Accord is a real winner. Its lower seating and roofline don’t result in less interior space; both cabin and trunk space have increased over the last generation’s already generous cabin and cargo hold dimensions, partially due to a longer wheelbase that also improves the car’s exterior proportions. Speaking of proportions, it’s hard not to think Audi A7 when looking at the new Accord in profile; its fastback roofline and pert tail – combined with the longer wheelbase – help give the sedan a luxurious presence.

Also contributing to that luxurious presence is the styling, which possesses a delicateness not seen in recent Honda products. The detailing is crisp and not overdone as is the case in many Hondas. The visual appeal of the new Accord is in its proportions and detailing; the heavy handedness of other recent Honda designs is absent here.  Unlike Toyota, Honda uses more bright-work to highlight the grille.  There is a bright arch sweeping from the A-Pillar down into the rear quarter (similar to the Kia Optima).  The bodyside lower is accented by a bright swoosh line flowing rear from just behind the front wheel opening, through the lower doors and peaking at the rear fascia.  There is a dainty bright highlight on the lower rear fascia above the the bright exhaust tips.

The new Accord does differ from Camry in a key way: its powertrain strategy. Unlike Camry, which sticks with traditional naturally aspirated four- and six-cylinder engines, the Accord moves to an all four-cylinder lineup with a 192-horsepower 1.5L direct injected turbo as the volume engine and a 252-horsepower 2.0L direct injected turbo replacing last generation’s V6. A new non-turbo 2.0L hybrid four is also available. Not that it matters to anyone but the buff books, but a six-speed manual is available on both turbo engines. In practice, nearly all 2018 Accords will have automatic transmissions; the 1.5 is paired to a CVT while the 2.0 is paired to a brand-new ten-speed unit. The hybrid will be paired to a two-motor e-CVT transmission.

Like Camry, a full complement of safety technologies are standard, with Honda Sensing (automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and traffic sign recognition) installed on every 2018 Accord. Infotainment is upgraded too, and a head-up display is available for the first time.

2018 Hyundai Sonata – LaJolla, CA

2018 Hyundai Sonata

Hyundai Sonata  The Hyundai Sonata mid-size car gets a major freshening for the 2018 model year.  The present Sonata has been criticized for getting too conservative when changing from the very avant garde 2010 model.  Senior management probably were surprised at the success of the 2010, but could not muster the will to keep the pedal to the metal.  The 2018 Sonata goes a long way in correcting that strategic error.

The front and rear styling is all new.  Like Toyota and Honda, Hyundai is adopting a much more expressive grille and front face.  They describe the grill surround as being a “cascade”.  There are two different grill textures – horizontal and diamond shaped mesh.  The front fascia is highlighted by a horizontal bright strip flowing from side to side.  Hyundai describes this as a “catamaran blade”.  Hyundai continues with the bright spear flowing from the front fenders back to surround the windows.  In profile, the Sonata is similar to the Camry and Accord.  Even though this is a freshening, the car looks as up to date as the all new Camry and Accord.

The interior has been freshened with material upgrades throughout.  The center stack has been redesigned and ergonomics are excellent.  Hyundai has found a way to make its blind spot warning system affordable and has made it standard on all 2018 Sonatas.

There are changes under the skin as well.  Chassis tuning has been improved making this the best handling Sonata ever.  Steering feel has been improved and the ride feels more taut than before, but not in a bad way.  The rear suspension has also been upgraded.

Sonata’s base engine is a 185-horsepower 2.4L 4-cylinder.   The Eco model gets a 178-horsepower 1.6L Turbo 4-cylinder.  The top engine is a 245-horsepower 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder.  The 2.0L Turbo vehicles get an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Competitive Battleground  There are ten major competitors in the mid-size sedan market in the USA.  Three are all new or freshened for 2018.  Two will get major changes in 2019.  Three will be all new or get a major change in 2020.  Even though the segment is beset by woes stemming from crossover SUV popularity, the mid-size sedan segment will remain fresh and competitive.  The new Accord looks like a real winner and promises to continue sparring with Camry for sales dominance in the mid-size sedan segment, even as the segment itself is in decline. The Sonata will hold its own.  For those who really like cars (and not SUVs),  the new Accord, Camry and Sonata provide a lot to get excited over.


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Can All New VW Tiguan Challenge Top Selling Small SUVs?

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2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium

The all new Volkswagen Tiguan was revealed at a low key media event driving out of Denver, CO up to 8,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains.  While the VW Tiguan is classified as a Compact Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle (XSUV), it’s dimensions are close to that of an ideal mid-size car of a decade ago – wheelbase of about 110-inches and overall length of about 185-inches.  It is a nice size, has a comfortable interior with adequate room in the second row seat and even has a third row seat available.  Front wheel drive Tiguans have the third row seat standard.  In all wheel drive VW Tiguans, the third row is optional.

The 2018 VW Tiguan is the second generation of the smaller VW XSUV.  It is about 10-inches longer than its predecessor.  At-a-glance, the styling is clearly Volkswagen.  It is evolutionary but crisper and clearly more modern.  The VW Tiguan rides on Volkswagen’s modular MQB platform that also underpins the newly introduced Volkswagen Atlas crossover. The replacement for Volkswagen’s 4-door CC coupe – the Arteon – will be based on MQB when it is launched in 2018.  The present Golf is also an MQB platform mate.

Compact XSUV Competitive Landscape  Having been underrepresented in the SUV market before now, Volkswagen’s two SUV introductions this year show the automaker has clearly heeded the shift in the market away from cars and towards crossover SUVs.  Today the truck/car split is about 60% trucks/40% cars.  Who woulda thought?

While VW management will not talk about future products, there are whispers of a couple of more XSUVs.  Probably one a bit smaller than the VW Tiguan and maybe one larger than the Atlas.  Somewhere in the mix, the aging Touareg still is sold.

Through May 2017, the 1st generation Tiguan has sold about 15,000 units in the USA down from 17,500 in 2016 for the same time period.  Where Volkswagen has fully competitive products in the USA, they usually sell at about 50% of the segment leader.  So, with the May CYTD leader being the Nissan Rogue with over 161,000 units sold, Tiguan should sell about that many in a full calendar year.  While that would be great, VW’s Pueblo, Mexico plant probably doesn’t have capacity to pump out that many Tiguans.  And the compact XSUV battleground is vicious with Rogue, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox leading the pack.  Tough competition.

Tiguan Feature Laden, But Not Perfect  The VW Tiguan is in the sweet spot though.  Easy to get into and out of, the ergonomics are top-notch.  The center screen is big and bright, but the information is a bit confusing.  The road/street name does not show on the navigation screen like on most competing makes.  You can find that information in the instrument cluster where turn-by-turn arrows anticipate your next turn but the fonts are tiny and contrast is bad.  Having Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard is the saving grace to save the VW navigation from itself.

There is a full complement of advanced driver assistance features available from adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert with braking, lane assist, area view.  There is even a 12.3-inch reconfigurable display for the instrument cluster.  Availability of these features is the price of entry in almost any class today.

Driving Tiguan, Adequate  The VW Tiguan is powered by a 184-horsepower 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo engine (EA888).  In the front wheel drive model, the engine is responsive but a bit noisy.  The same engine in the AWD model seemed to resist responding quickly seeming to think about whether or not it wanted to go or not.  Perplexing.  All in all, the Tiguan engine is “adequate”.  Its power output is competitive for the segment, but somehow it doesn’t have the finesse of the Honda CR-V for instance.

The ride is firm and composed over most road surfaces.  The Tiguan evaluation route did have one stretch that was bumpy and had a washboard surface.  The front wheel drive Tiguan danced around dramatically even at moderate speeds.  Drivers of the AWD model reported similar dynamics over this particular piece of road.  The vehicle did not feel particularly under control.

Price Competitive  The base price for the front wheel drive 2018 VW Tiguan is $25,345.  The top price is $37,550 for an AWD SEL model.  Checking all the boxes can get its price up to about $40,000.  Following its lead with the Atlas, the Tiguan has a 6-year, 72,000 mile warranty.


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Honda Civic Si Added to Lineup for Enthusiast Small Car Buyers

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2017 Honda Civic Si

Eighth Generation Honda Civic Si  There have been ten generations of the Honda Civic spanning about 40 years.  Generations three through nine have included the Honda Civic Si model to provide a sportier alternative for enthusiast small car buyers.  The tenth generation Honda Civic Si sedan and coupe went on sale at Honda dealers on May 13, 2017.

The tenth generation Civic is a platform development tour-de-force.  Honda lost its mojo with a generation of technically excellent, but unexciting products.  Honda is now back with a vengeance.  Their new generation stuff is outstanding.  Their truck platform products are very good – Honda Pilot XSUV, Honda Ridgeline pickup and Honda Odyssey minivan.  The Honda Accord is a very competitive premium mid-size car selling at high volumes.

The previous, ninth gen Civic was created during the lean years of the Great Recession.  Consequently, the car left a lot to be desired.  Realizing the ninth gen Civic had been a step backwards, Honda pulled out the stops on the tenth generation Civic.  They created a car with distinctive styling and a comfortable and functional interior.  The car is available with an impressive load of comfort, convenience and safety features.

2017 Honda Civic Si

The Honda Civic Si is not the end of the car line’s model extension.  The higher performance Type-R hatchback will be launched in a month or so.

Exterior Styling  The 2017 Honda Civic Si is special.  It has more aggressive front and rear fascias with prominent air ducts.  The grille texture has moved from chrome to gloss black for a sportier look.  A rear spoiler has been added.  Tires are upgraded to 235/40R18 to help more aggressive handling and enhance the car’s stance.  There is a center outlet exhaust with chrome surround.  All this clearly communicates the car’s more sporty nature.

Interior Styling  The black interior sports black and red accents for the instrumentation.  The Honda Civic Si has two driving modes – “Sport”and “Normal”.  In sport mode, the cluster accents are red.  In normal mode, the cluster accents are blue.  New front seats have a unique frame and bolstering to better support the driver and front seat passenger when pushing the limits.  The bolsters are firm, but not uncomfortable.

Powertrain and Chassis  Under the skin, the engine has been upgraded.  It is powered by a 205-horsepower 1.5L 4-cylinder turbo.  The turbo substantially improves mid-range torque which makes the car feel more flexible.  The already-excellent 6-speed manual transmission in the Civic is upgraded to provide an even more definite short stroke gear change.  Front brake discs grow 1.2-inches to a 12.3 inch diameter.  Rears add 0.9 inches for 11.1 inches.  As you might expect, the Si gets an exclusive suspension with unique springs, stabilizer bars and shocks.

Competition and Pricing  The Honda Civic Si competes with the Subaru Impreza WRX, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST, Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ and Hyundai Veloster Turbo.  In recent years the WRX and GTI have outsold the Si, but the new car may change that.  The Si is priced at $23,900 for either the coupe or 4-door sedan.  This gives it a $525 advantage over the Focus ST, $1,695 over the GTI and $2,795 over the WRX.   Si is a high value proposition in its class.  There are no options available on the Si.

What Honda Civic Si Lacks The Si is available only with a 6-speed manual transmission.  This is admittedly an excellent transmission, but American buyers have been abandoning manuals for years.  This limits the sales potential of the Si.  Honda engineers and planners seemed to dismiss the need for an automatic.  They cited the enthusiast’s desire for the active driving experience provided by a manual.  One admitted their Continuously Variable Transmission found in the rest of the Civic line would accommodate the horsepower and torque of the Si’s engine, but the CVT would surely sap the crispness of the engine.  Then there is a dual clutch automatic like Honda uses in the Acura ILX.  Maybe that could be fitted.  Anyway, if they want to increase Si sales at some point, an automatic would be in order.

The rest of the Civic line offers the excellent HondaSensing automatic driver assistance system.  This includes adaptive cruise control, lane watch and assist.  More and more drivers are expecting this system.  Just because Si is directed at sporty drivers, it does not mean they do not want HondaSensing.  Similarly, the Si is not available with a blind spot monitoring system.  It needs one available.

 


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Atlas Crossover Hits Mark – or Doesn’t

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The all new Volkswagen Atlas crossover SUV (XSUV) launches in late May in the United States.  It is being dropped into the highly competitive mid-size crossover SUV market dominated by the Ford Explorer and the Honda Pilot.  Those two vehicles are Atlas’ strongest competitors.

Volkswagen, like Hyundai, can be criticized for being late to the American-style XSUV market.  Sure VW has had the Touareg and Tiguan crossovers in the market, but neither have the volume potential of the Atlas.  Atlas is produced at VW’s 300,000 unit assembly plant in Chattanooga, TN.  Atlas shares Chattanooga capacity with the Passat that sold 73,000 units in the USA in 2016.  Clearly, VW has room in Chattanooga for the Atlas and perhaps one or two additional entries. 

The Atlas is sized right for its competitive set.  It is almost exactly the size of the very successful Ford Explorer on the outside, but has a much longer wheelbase.  It makes great use of its interior space yielding much more cargo capacity than the vehicles compared above.  The front seat area is spacious and the cockpit is well laid out.  Ergonomics are first rate.  The second row can accommodate three large child seats and is adjustable for better legroom.  The third row seat is accessible, but only for small children or adults for short trips.

Source: George Peterson, AutoPacific

The Atlas is styled like you would expect a VW XSUV to be.  The front end styling is definitely a VW face with standard LED lighting and accent lights – distinguishable from afar.  The muscular bodysides communicate capability with a strong character line connecting the front and rear wheel openings.  The taillamps are connected by a chrome strip that highlights the rear styling and gives an upscale image.  The liftgate opens to the very large cargo area which is flat when all the rear seats are folded.

Driving the V6 Atlas crossover is pleasant, but not particularly exciting.  That is a good thing for a XSUV targeted at family car usage.  Ride quality is good, but there is a bit too much body lean on the twisty roads in Texas’ Hill Country around San Antonio.  Quiteness with its 20-inch tires is poor on many road surfaces.  When you find that elusive stretch of absolutely smooth asphalt, quietness is superb.  On rougher road surfaces you cannot carry on a conversation.

Source: George Peterson

In search of the Atlas’ unique selling proposition you conclude that the reconfigurable VW Digital Cockpit may be it.  The 12-inch wide instrument cluster can can change to provide several different information displays.  Unlike some reconfigurable systems, you cannot change the overall appearance, just the information shown.  The 8-inch center stack display is intuitive and turn by turn driving directions can be displayed on the instrument cluster at the swipe of a finger.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

The Atlas crossover has a complete suite of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems available.

Checking prices, the price for a FWD 4-cylinder Atlas S is $30,500.  An AWD V6

Atlas SEL Premium is $48,490.  So, the price is in line with competition.

Who will buy the Atlas?  The Atlas crossover is selling in a growing segment but there are two giants among its seven-passenger competition – Explorer and Pilot .  Both Explorer and Pilot have a loyal buyer base and they may be the superior products.  Volkswagen has a buyer base that loves the brand (let’s not discuss “Dieselgate”) and will likely consider the Atlas for their family hauler.  The question is can VW dealers position the Atlas as superior to its strong competitors or will they have to hope for VW loyalists coming in looking for aggressive prices?


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AutoPacific 2016 Ideal Vehicle Award

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AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle AwardAutoPacific surveys new car and light truck buyers annually to determine how satisfied they are with their vehicle and what changes they want made.  Based on this owner research, AutoPacific calculates the vehicles that owners want changed the least.  The people who have purchased the vehicle are the people it was designed for.  The data result in the AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award.  Every year there are some results that stand out.  The 2016 awards are no different.  Here are some highlights:

•  The top brand overall is Tesla – a one car brand at the time of the research, but that one car is on target with its buyers.  The Tesla Model S is the top ranked Luxury Car.

•  The top popular brand is GMC – for the third year in a row.

•  The most ideal vehicle, overall, is the Volvo XC70.

•  Subaru swept the crossover SUV categories in which it competes with the Outback winning the Premium Mid-Size Crossover SUV category, the Forester winning the Mid-Size SUV category and the Crosstrek winning the Compact Crossover SUV category.  That is a very impressive sweep.

Multiple year winners include:

•  Jeep Grand Cherokee – winning the last six years in a row

•  Volkswagen Golf – winning the last three years in a row and six of the last ten years

•  Chevrolet Colorado – for the second year in a row

•  Subaru Outback – for the second year in a row

•  Subaru Forester – for the second year in a row

That Tesla has won so early in its lifetime is a testament to its planning, design and engineering teams.  Maybe Tesla does not have the bureaucracy that bogs down bigger companies and allows it to effectively target the affluent buyers of its first vehicle.

Jeep has been fine-tuning the Grand Cherokee since the early 1990s.  The fact that it has won the Ideal Vehicle Award for six years in a row shows that Jeep really does know what Grand Cherokee owners want.

The string of Ideal Vehicle Awards won by the Volkswagen Golf over the past ten years is impressive.

Finally, Subaru has solved the equation of successful small and mid-size crossover SUVs.  Subaru sales have been steadily increasing and the Ideal Vehicle Award wins show the company understands crossover SUVs.  Of course their “LOVE” advertising and dog-centric messages don’t hurt either.


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2017 Bentley Bentayga – The Bentley Boys are Busy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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2014 Volkswagen Golf Wins AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award

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VW Golf 4-door R34

The sixth generation of the venerable Volkswagen Golf goes out with a bang.  With the seventh gen Golf coming for the 2015 model year, the 2014 Volkswagen Golf is the highest scoring Compact Car in AutoPacific’s 2014 Ideal Vehicle Award research. The Golf designers listened to what buyers wanted and gave them just that. The VW Golf beat out a very impressive group of compact cars such as the Volkswagen Jetta, Subaru Impreza, Fiat 500L, Kia Soul, and the Hyundai Elantra.

For over 85% of 2014 Golf owners the following characteristics are ideal:  exterior size, interior lighting, passenger roominess, ride and handling, tires and wheels, exterior styling, and driver’s seat comfort.

There are several things Beetles owners would like changed.  Over 21% of 2014 Volkswagen Golf owners want more advanced infotainment and entertainment systems.  This is offset by 15% who want the systems to be simpler and easier to use.  About 18% of the owners want more cargo room.  25% of Golf owners want the car to be easier to get into and out of.

AutoPacificIVA Feature copy


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2014 Volkswagen Passat Wins AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award

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Untitled

The 2014 Volkswagen Passat is the highest scoring Mid-Size Car in AutoPacific’s 2014 Ideal Vehicle Award research. The Passat designers, planners and engineers knew exactly what their customers want and provided it.  The 2014 Volkswagen Passat is at the top of the list against an enormous group of very competitive mid-size cars such as the Buick Regal, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda6, and Subaru Legacy.

Of the fifteen categories in the Ideal Vehicle survey, the 2014 Volkswagen Passat leads or ties in four satisfaction categories and was within three percentage points of three more.

The top five highest ratings by 2014 Passat owners are: the same cargo space, same passenger room, same exterior size, same wheels, and the same interior storage as now.

2014 Volkswagen Passat owners would like more power and acceleration, a more advanced information and entertainment system, more distinctive exterior styling, and better visibility from the drivers seat.

AutoPacificIVA Feature copy


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2015 VW Golf – 7th Gen Comes to USA

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The iconic VW Golf is renewed with the seventh generation car coming to the USA beginning in June, 2014.  Having been launched in Europe in 2013, the American market has had to wait a year before getting hands on this newest generation of the car.  The Golf is very evolutionary in styling both interior and exterior.  At-a-glance, it is clearly a Golf but with a bit more attitude.  Its 5-door hatchback bodystyle has basically the same proportions as before.  Clean styling with Germanic conservatism.  The interior of the car is very straightforward with good ergonomics.  Visibility is excellent.2015 VW Golf GTI F34

Hatchback Hampers Golf Potential  The Golf hatchback is positioned higher than the 4-door sedan Jetta that is the best seller in the USA.  Americans remain pre-disposed to sedan bodystyles over 5-door hatchbacks.  Why?  Most American families are managing “fleets” of cars where each vehicle may have a specific purpose and/or a specific driver.  A hatchback is a very useful bodystyle and can serve many functions within the family fleet.  It is almost a micro-SUV.  There are also perceptions at work here.  Americans have historically perceived the hatchback bodystyle to be less safe than a sedan because there is no trunk to absorb an impact in a crash.  They perceive hatchbacks to be less secure because items in the rear area may be exposed and if a person gets into the car they have easy access to the load area.  The hatchback has historically been the lowest priced car in a brand’s line-up.  Of course, when you mention these characteristics are the same as in an SUV, the perceptions are totally different.2015 VW Golf GTI HB

Golf Launches Over a Year  The wide Golf line-up is launching in this sequence:  June 2014 – Golf GTI, August 2014 – Golf and Golf TDI, November 2014 – e-Golf (EV), first quarter 2015 – Golf R and Sportwagen.  The missing model in the first year’s lineup is the GTD – the high performance diesel version (180HP/280 lb-ft torque) of the GTI.  Volkswagen of America had hoped to get the GTD early, but because of product changes required to sell it in the USA its launch will be in 2017.

Driving the Golf  The lead car for the seventh generation Golf is the enthusiast-targeted GTI.  Powered by a 210HP 2.0L DOHC turbocharged 4-cylinder, the GTI provides spirited performance with either its 6-speed manual transmission or the 6-speed DSG automatic.  Where the GTI fails, however, is on rough roads where its suspension set-up really beats you up.  A Performance Package for the GTI gives the engine 10 more horsepower but the torque remains at 258 lb-ft.   The high volume Golf is the TSI that comes with a 1.8L DOHC turbo 4-cylinder with 170HP and 200 lb-ft of torque.  The TSI is a pleasant car to drive and its milder suspension tuning makes the TSI more forgiving over rough roads than the sportier GTI. The TSI comes with a 6-speed Aisin automatic transmission rather than the sport-oriented DSG available in the GTI and the TDI models. Over a day of driving the members of the Golf lineup, the Golf TDI SEL with the DSG automatic transmission was the most satisfying.  The diesel (2.0L 4-cylinder turbo diesel with 150HP and 236 lb-ft of torque) has plenty of torque for any driving situation we were in.  The engine is quiet inside the vehicle and the transmission shifts smoothly.  The chassis set-up is just right even though the TDI does not have an independent rear suspension.

Competitive Fuel Economy  The fuel economy for the base TSI is 24mpg City/37mpg Highway/30mpg combined.  That level of efficiency is competitive but not best in class by any means.  The GTI gets 24/34/27.  The fuel economy champ, as expected, is the TDI with 31/42/35.

Prices Range from High Teens to Over $30K  The lowest price Golf will come from a limited edition “Launch Model” in August priced at $17,995 for the 3-door hatchback with 6-speed manual transmission.  It comes pretty well equipped with the 1.8L turbo 4-cylinder, air conditioning, front and rear disc brakes, rear window washer/wiper, power mirrors, tilt/telescoping steering column, power windows, Bluetooth and a standard 5.8″ screen with radio/CD/SiriusXM.  This model has 15-inch steel wheels.  For another $1,000 you get the S model with leather wrapped multi-function steering wheel, alloy wheels, leather-ette upholstery, cruise control and Volkswagen connected services.  $1,100 more gets you an automatic transmission and another $600 gets the 5-door hatchback.  So, the lowest priced 5-door is $20,695.  If you are partial to the diesel TDI and want to check all the boxes the SEL version is $29,095.  There is a lighting package complete with HID headlamps and LED daytime running lights for $995 and a $695 Driver Assistance Package that includes front and rear park distance control and a forward collision warning system.

What Were They Thinking – 5.8″ Screen  The auto industry is in the midst of center stack screen wars.  Volkswagen chose to lose this one.  While the car has a 5.8″ screen as standard with the radio and Bluetooth, etc., it does not get a bigger screen when a navigation system is installed.  It has the same 5.8″ screen.  This is especially strange because VW’s Euro-spec Golf has an 8-inch navigation screen.  Weird.  2015 VW Golf GTI Cockpit

e-Golf Coming   An electric version of the Golf – the e-Golf – will be launched in November.  The first fully-electric Volkswagen, the e-Golf is powered by a 115HP electric motor and has a range between 70 and 90 miles depending on conditions.  The e-Golf will be covered in another VehicleVoice post later.


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AutoPacific’s 2013 Ideal Vehicle Award Results Are In – Cars

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Background of AutoPacific’s IVAs:  AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Awards for 2o13 are given to brands and vehicles that best meet the expectations of their buyers.  The person driving the car does not want it to be bigger or more powerful or have better info/entertainment systems.  Based on the results of over 52,000 respondents, the IVAs are owner-based awards that can serve to give car and truck buyers an idea of how well manufacturers have designed vehicles with their customers in mind.

As you read through the brief descriptions of the winners’ results you will notice some similarities where owners of most vehicles want change. Visibility  Among all cars about 29% of owners want better driver’s seat visibility.  Too often visibility is sacrificed for swoopy styling.  Roominess  About 24% of car owners want more passenger roominess than now.  Of course, some people bought a vehicle that may be smaller than they like so they want something bigger, but many are also reacting because passenger roominess has been sacrificed for style. Power vs Fuel Economy  Even when talking about today’s high gas prices, owners want good power and acceleration.  About 26% want more power and acceleration and only 7% of the respondents would sacrifice power and acceleration for better fuel economy.  Ingress/Egress  Going with the basic package challenges like roof height vs styling and rear seat room vs styling there is also ease of getting in and out.  About 26% of all car owners want their vehicles to be easier to get in and out of.  Info/Entertainment Technology  Design of the info/entertainment technology is one of the most hotly contested areas of vehicle design today.  Some manufacturers have a good handle on this, but 25% of car owners want more info/entertainment technology than they have now.  These folks are offset by 13% who want their info/entertainment technology to be simpler and easier to use.

With that preamble in mind, here are the Ideal Vehicle Award winners for cars  for 2013…


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