Category Archive:

Manual Transmission RIP – Let ’em Die

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Dodge Charger Hellcat – What Were They Thinking?

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Dodge Hellcat Logo

One of the benefits of writing about cars is that you get to drive some insane stuff occasionally.  The most recent insanity is the 2015 Dodge Charger Hellcat an insanely fast 4-door sedan that Dodge actually displayed with two child seats in the back showing that it can be a responsible family hauler as well as a berserker.  And berserker it is.

Powered by a 707-horsepower 6.2L Supercharged HEMI V8, the Hellcat is a range-topping $64,000 handful.  Dodge staged the review of the new 2015 Dodge Charger out of Washington DC and offered on-track driving at Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia.  On a chilly, drizzly day, taking the Hellcat out on the rural roads around Summit Point allowed only about 20% of what the car is capable of.   Punching it on a clear straightaway spooled up torque that pushed the car sideways. Careful, careful, it felt almost as if you were idling and the car wanted to surge ahead.  You always knew that there is more there that can be used.707-horsepower2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

Multiple Keys Can Tone Down Hellcat for Valets  Dodge knows that in the wrong hands 707-horsepower can be abused so they have two keys and three horsepower modes.  Red key gets you unlimited use of its 707-horsepower.  Black key gets you about 500-horsepower – still a lot for your teenage son or the valet.  The answer for that is a valet mode accessed through the vehicle system that reduces the power to around 200-horsepower so they can’t get in too much trouble.

Something for Everyone in the Charger Lineup  With the 707-horsepower Hellcat out of the way, a serious, serious car, the happiest Charger is the 292-horsepower Pentastar V6 with all wheel drive.  This lower level sedan is a delight to drive.  Nimble and forgiving in all the ways the Dodge Charger Hellcat is not.  Simply, the new Charger lineup seems to have something for everyone from happy and pleasant starting around $28,000 for the SE or SXT models with the Pentastar V6, to a $32,000 370-horsepower 5.7L HEMI V8 in the R/T, to a $40,000 R/T Scat Pack with a 485-horsepower 6.4L HEMI V8, to the monster Hellcat with the 707-horsepower HEMI V8 at a fully loaded price over $60,000.


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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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Fun Controversy Around Cadillac Poolside Advert

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Brilliant Ad – Controversy Worth its Weight In Gold  Cadillac, once the Standard of the World, has aired an outstanding ad for the Cadillac brand and the Cadillac ELR electric coupe.  It was first shown on the American broadcast for the Sochi Winter Olympics and more recently for the Oscars that aired on Sunday, March 2.  And what a controversy has ensued.  Cadillac’s agency Rogue created the Cadillac Poolside ad to espouse unbridled American confidence and showcase what Cadillac stands for.  In the process, the spot has left leaners and right leaners sniping against each other on numerous websites.  On Thursday, March 6, arch-conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh (click on the link to be taken to the transcript of the Limbaugh show about the Cadillac ad)  devoted the top of his second hour to the controversy the ad has created.  The Cadillac Poolside ad pushed a button that allowed Limbaugh to rant for about a half hour.


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2014 Mitsubishi Mirage – 3rd World Appliance

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We at AutoPacific have just completed a week’s worth of driving the Thailand-built Mitsubishi Mirage. Now we know what drivers in a third world country experience when they drive locally assembled cars. And we don’t like it much.
2014 Mitsu Mirage SV


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Ford Owners Want Simpler, Easier to Use Technology

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MyFordTouch_Center StackIn AutoPacific’s annual survey of new car and light truck buyers, eleven of the top twenty vehicles whose drivers want simpler, easier to use technology are Fords or Lincolns. Six are from Toyota or Lexus. One is from Cadillac. One is from BMW. One is from Audi. If you have been paying attention to Ford’s standings in Consumer Reports ratings and other customer satisfaction measurements, you undoubtedly have heard Ford’s and Lincolns ratings have dropped precipitously since MyFord/LincolnTouch was introduced.


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2013 Taurus SEL – Veiling Glare Disaster

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The setting is a brightly sunny day in Southern California with a new 2013 Ford Taurus SEL.  The Taurus has a tilted center screen and bright instrument panel applique in front of the passenger seat.  Additionally, there is a bright “racetrack” around the instrument cluster in front of the driver.  Frankly, in high ambient light load conditions, this is a disaster of veiling glare.  This is when the interior materials reflect the sunlight and either distract the driver or temporarily blind them.

Ford’s MyFordTouch system uses a touchscreen center screen.  This is good, but it shows finger prints and with the way the screen is situated in the Taurus it is particularly objectionable.  When reversing and trying to use the back-up camera, the sun washed out the backup image and the fingerprints further obscured the view.

In Googling “Veiling Glare”, I found an SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) paper titled “Fundamental Issues of Automotive Veiling Glare” written by Ford Engineers in conjunction with the University of Florida back in 1997.  Clearly, they understand the issue, but did not use their own institutional knowledge when launching this model of the Taurus SEL.

Veiling glare is a situation mostly missed by European manufacturers developing cars in gloomy, overcast conditions.  American manufacturers, even those developing their products in the Mid-West, usually don’t miss this. 

Smaller EcoBoost 4-Cylinder Transforms Taurus into a Much More Nimble Product While glare is more than a nitpick issue with the SEL, the car powered by the 2.0L gasoline direct injection turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with EcoBoost giving 240HP and 270 lb-ft of torque was very nimble.  Much moreso than the Taurus with the 3.5L V6 – even in 3.5L V6 EcoBoost form.  The car still suffers from an interior too small for the exterior size of the car, but it is good looking and well-appointed.


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New York Auto Show – A3 and Cherokee Most Important

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The 2013 New York International Auto Show was full of important reveals this year… renewed crossovers –  Toyota Highlander, Acura MDX, an all new Range Rover Sport, the new BMW 335GT, freshened Dodge Durango, the all new Cadillac CTS and many more.  The most important, however, were the Audi A3 and the Jeep Cherokee.  Why?  Both vehicles are very important to their brands and have the potential to generate substantial sales.

Audi Takes the Safe Route with A3: The 2015 Audi A3 really was not at the New York Auto Show.  The A3 will be officially introduced at the Shanghai Auto Show in late April 2013, but there was a reveal for about 120 journalists the evening before the first press day.  It will be launched in the USA in early 2014.

The smaller Audi A3 has anchored the Audi lineup with a five-door hatchback (“Sportback”) that never had much sales potential in the USA.  American buyers continue to perceive liftback cars as cheaper, flimsier and less desirable.  In Europe, the five-door is the preferred bodystyle primarily because European car-owners do not have the American-style family fleets where there is a vehicle for every purpose. For a one vehicle family,  the hatchback can carry out a multitude of duties.

Recognizing that to really succeed in the USA market, the 2014 Audi A3 becomes a much more traditional three-box four-door sedan.   This gives Audi an opportunity to really step up sales in the face of the upcoming front wheel drive Mercedes-Benz CLA and the already-on-the-market BMW 1-Series.  Audi did not stray from its own winning formula.  Audi DNA is present in the exterior styling and the interior with an A8-like sweep at the front of the instrument panel.  Very nicely done, but not one obvious risk.

The A3 comes with four 4-cylinder engine choices – 170HP 1.8L turbo, 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 230HP), 150HP 2.0L turbo diesel and high output 2.0L turbo (we’re guessing at about 275HP).  The high output goes in the S3 model.  The Sportback will return in the 2014 calendar year with e-tron plug-in hybrid technology.

The A3 will not be a Spartan A-Segment car.  Audi is positioning it as a fully-featured Audi – just smaller.  It will offer Audi’s MMI system, 4G LTE connectivity and even Audi’s Bang & Olufsen audio system.

One key takeaway from the A3 reveal is that the car is the same size as 1994 model year A4.  A very successful car with solid sales results, the A4 was key in establishing Audi as a very desirable premium brand in the USA.

Something tells us that the A3 will not be an inexpensive car with its impressive standard equipment load (leather seating, bluetooth, rain sensing wipers and panoramic moon roof standard).  With the slightly larger Mercedes CLA announced at a sub-$30,000 price we are wondering where the new A3 will be positioned?

Jeep Cherokee Returns While the Audi A3 is a low risk opportunity for volume growth, Jeep’s new Cherokee is at the polar opposite on the risk scale.  Jeep describes the Cherokee’s styling as “polarizing” and it certainly is.  Mike Manley, President of Jeep cautioned journalists in a December briefing before the Detroit Auto Show that “you might not understand” the vehicle.  This was somewhat reminiscent of Wayne Cherry’s (head of GM styling in the late ’90s) statement that “you are too old to understand the (Pontiac) Aztek.  In Manley’s defense, he describes the styling direction for the Cherokee as “something that will be fresh in 2019”.  So Jeep has not taken this path lightly.  It is a calculated step.

What is so polarizing about the Cherokee?  First, it takes the name of one of the most successful SUVs ever produced.  The 1980s Cherokee was the first high volume SUV to add a 4-door bodystyle to the lineup and soon proved that 4-doors, not 2-doors, were the way to go.  The Cherokee had the seven vertical slot grill that is part of Jeep’s DNA, but it had rectangular headlamps that, while modern for the time, broke away from the traditional round headlamps Jeep used.

While the new Cherokee is relatively conventional from the A-Pillar rearward, its front end design is the most surprising and, yes, controversial.  Instead of round headlamps, the Cherokee has horizontal units styled into the front fascia and fenders.  Cherokee still has the seven vertical slots in the front fascia – part of Jeep DNA since the beginning – but they now are bent in the center giving the vehicle a more aerodynamic appearance.  The story of the capability of the vehicle is being lost in the commentary about its front end styling.

Under the skin, the Cherokee uses the same Alfa/Fiat platform used by the new Dodge Dart.  It has a 9-speed automatic transmission and three advanced 4×4 systems.  The Trailhawk model is fully “Trail Rated”. Think of Trailhawk as the Cherokee Rubicon.  Powered by a 184HP 2.4L Multi-Air TigerShark 4-cylinder engine, Jeep claims a cruising range of up to 490 miles and highway fuel economy of 31mpg.  The optional 3.2L Pentastar V6 gets 271HP.

Cherokee has a full array of Chrysler’s latest features available from its UConnect information system with an 8.4-inch center screen and programmable instrument cluster, new steering wheel controls, parking assist systems, blind spot monitoring, cross path detection and adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability. These features are becoming the price of entry in mid-size vehicles and even some smaller entries.

When Bob Lutz was a Chrysler he once said (of the early 2000’s Peterbilt style Ram pickup), “I don’t care if people love it or hate it as long as 15% of them love it enough to buy it”.  That may be the case with the new Cherokee.  A Polarizing design will certainly get people talking and writers writing.  So far, it seems that the negatives are outweighing the positives on the Cherokee.  It won’t take long to tell if the vehicle is a sales success.  It begins production in April 2013.


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Audi Plans More Conventional Headlights!?

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In the January, 2013 issue of Automobile Magazine, Wolfgang Egger, Design Chief of Audi is quoted when discussing the Crosslane concept shown at the Paris Auto Show in September, “The new headlights are certainly more subdued than the very bright dot-style LEDs we had to work with in the past.  But the era when daytime running lights were shaped like waves, loops of swooshes is definitely over.  Instead, we have developed inoffensive and geometric light graphics consisting of distinct vertical and horizontal elements.  This trademark light pattern will be unique to Audi and we will eventually see it on all models”

Audi A8 Headlight Graphics - Dramatic

Audi A8 Running Lights - Instantly Identifiable

Well… this qualifies for a “What Are They Thinking” category!

New Audi Headlamp Cues Shown on Crosslane Concept

The Crosslane running light graphics are shown in the image above.  As can be seen, this is a much more linear interpretation than the swoopy design Audi is using today.  Is this as distinctive?  Is this as head-turning?  Is this a design that can immediately identified when you glance at the car behind you in the rear view mirror?

I guess time will tell, but it appears that Audi is taking a more conservative and possibly less expensive direction with their signature headlamp theme.


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Analysis: 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon

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What if I told you you could buy a vehicle that had the capability to haul seven people, could hit at least 30 MPG on the highway, and had all of the creature comforts you would want, such as navigation and Bluetooth; would you buy it?  What if there was a catch?  Would sliding doors break the deal for you?  Would riding in a jazzed up cargo van send shivers down your spine?


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