New Maxima Job #1 in April 2015 The 2016 Nissan Maxima is assembled at Nissan’s huge Smyrna, Tennessee plant. Smyrna has become the highest capacity single plant in the United States with a capacity of over 650,000 units per year. The 8th Gen Maxima Job #1 was in April 2015 and dealers began getting the cars in early June. Competing with the likes of the Toyota Avalon, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Charger, Ford Taurus and Acura TLX, the new Maxima pushes the design envelope with its “energetic flow” styling. The styling is head turning and certain to be controversial.
The Honda Pilot, good as it might be, has been a blight on the road. Its eyeball searing gawky looks were only short of the not-lamented Pontiac Aztec. These are harsh comments, but a vehicle that makes you scream when you first see at an auto show is certainly a show stopper and not in a good way. Honda defends the previous Pilot as having traditional sport utility vehicle styling. That may be so, but it was very third world and inappropriate for the American market. Lasting for an extremely long cycle for Honda – seven years – the Pilot was a very good vehicle under the skin and its interior was commodious to say the least. But, now it’s thankfully dead and to be replaced by the third generation 2016 Honda Pilot on June 18, 2015.
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.
Honda launches its all-new 2016 HR-V sub-compact crossover sport utility vehicle in May, 2015. The 2016 Honda HR-V, based on Honda’s diminutive Fit sub-compact, is very spacious for what it is. The interior – at least the passenger compartment – feels about as big as the larger Honda CR-V. HR-V’s wheelbase is only a half inch shorter than CR-V allowing the big seating area, but its overall length is about ten inches shorter – less cargo room. The front seating area feels wider than you would expect in a vehicle this small. Ingress and egress are easy to the front seats. The rear seats are a bit tight. You have to maneuver your feet to get between the B-pillar and the seat and there is not much knee room. Cargo room is larger than it looks. The best feature Honda takes from the architecture of the Fit are the “Magic Seat” rear seats that flip and fold several ways to maximize the flexibility of the area behind the front seats.
Shared Platform with Renegade – Different Mission At a glance, the 2016 Fiat 500X is a solid addition to the Fiat lineup in the USA. Built alongside the Jeep Renegade at FCA’s Melfi, Italy plant the 500X shares the Renegade’s platform but has a dramatically different mission that demands tuning and settings to be very different. While the Renegade Trailhawk is at home off-road, the 500X is for the cities and suburbs.
Lincoln Continental Concept Makes Splash at 2015 New York International Auto Show Lincoln Motor Company has shown its new Lincoln Continental Concept at the 2015 New York International Auto Show. Kept quiet until the week before the show, Lincoln clearly timed the release of the Continental Concept to coincide with the first public showing of the competing Cadillac CT6 sedan. Ford (Lincoln) used a similar tactic to take the wind out of the sails of the Acura NSX introduction at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show with its striking Ford GT.
Fun to drive can be defined an infinite number of ways. The sports car driver will say power and acceleration, braking and handling are the main contributors to fun to drive. There is also the element of sexy head-turning styling ringing the sports car driver’s bell. The sport utility driver will add functionality to that equation. A smart fortwo driver may think its quirky styling, minuscule size (even with its funky transmission) add to the fun to drive experience.
The most fun to drive vehicles in AutoPacific’s New Vehicle Satisfaction Research – those with 85 % or more of their drivers totally satisfied with its fun to drive characteristics include:
1. Chevrolet SS: We can certainly understand this one. Fully loaded 4-door sedan with a Corvette V8, the SS is a great value and adds sedan functionality to a high performance platform. Not a big seller, the SS buyer certainly understands the special car they are driving. One hundred percent of the respondents were totally satisfied with its fun to drive characteristics.
2. Chevrolet Corvette: Corvette is the quintessential American sports car. Big with dramatic styling and powered by a large displacement push-rod V8, the Corvette not only has the dynamics for a fun to drive winner, but also the looks.
3. Porsche Cayman: Curvaceous styling with Porsche DNA, German precision and sprightly dynamics have 94% of Cayman drivers totally satisfied with the fun to drive of their car.
4. Porsche Panamera: The most expensive of the fun to drive vehicles is the Porsche Panamera 4-door sedan with 93% of its owners totally satisfied. Sometimes criticized for its ungainly looks, it checks the boxes for fun to drive. Panamera is in the top ten in power and acceleration. Panamera is top ranked for braking. Panamera is in the top five for handling. Not bad for such a large car.
5. smart fortwo: There are fifteen cars that score 85% or higher in fun to drive. Surprising is one of them is the smart fortwo with 92% of its drivers totally satisfied with its fun to drive. Acceleration and powertrain performance clearly are not strong suits for the fortwo. Only 28% of fortwo owners are totally satisfied with power and acceleration, so there are other things contributing to its fun to drive. Maybe it is handling? – 72% are totally satisfied with its handling. Maybe getting good fuel economy is a contributor? – 76% are totally satisfied with fuel economy. Maybe just fortwo’s quirky styling just puts a smile on their face?
6. Porsche Boxster: The first of the “baby” Porsche entries has sometimes been called a chick’s car, and maybe it is if you watched the episode of Two and a Half Men where Alan buys one, but its owners 91% of its owners are totally satisfied with how fun to drive it is. Owners rate the Boxster in the top ten of totally satisfied with power and acceleration, braking, and handling – all strong contributors to fun to drive.
7. Nissan 370Z: A “classic” sports car, 90% of Z-Car owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes. It is in the top ten in power and acceleration, but comes up shy in handling ranking 12th and poorly in braking where it ranks 53rd.
8. Jaguar F-Type: Jag’s new sports car entry has 90% of its owners totally satisfied with its fun to drive. F-Type is in the top ten in power and acceleration, 11th in braking and 25th in handling. Clearly, F-Types powertrain strongly contributes to its fun to drive and combined with its classic styling owners score the car very strongly.
9. Subaru BRZ: The BRZ may be a new category of sporty coupe. It is built to be extremely maneuverable and fun for a young person. Small, rear wheel drive, and with the ability to drift around corners, 89% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive. In the case of the BRZ, its power and acceleration does not deliver on its looks or fun to drive image. Only 30% of BRZ owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration ranking it 225th. About 56% BRZ owners are totally satisfied with its braking. Where BRZ shines is in handling with 84% of its owners totally satisfying. It appears that Subaru could improve the standing of the BRZ if engine power was increased substantially.
10. Chevrolet Camaro: A classic American muscle car, 89% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes. Camaro ranks 17th in power and acceleration with 73% totally satisfied. It ranks 18th in braking with 77% of its owners totally satisfied. Camaro ranks 10th in handling. These are solid results for a sporty coupe showing Camaro succeeds not only on the basis of its iconic image and styling, but also on dynamics.
11. Ford Mustang: The outgoing Mustang still has a lot going it with 88% of its owners totally satisfied with its fun to drive. Mustang owners rank its power and acceleration 28th with 68% totally satisfied. Mustang falls to 95th in braking with 65% totally satisfied. It is 55th in handling with 71% totally satisfied. Clearly, style, image and reputation have gone a long way in contributing to Mustang’s position among fun to drive cars.
12. MINI Paceman: The wierdly styled MINI Paceman is totally fun to drive for about 88% of its owners. 46% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration ranking 156th, other MINI entries rank substantially higher. About 67% of its owners are totally satisfied with its braking ranking 52nd. About 75% of owners are totally satisfied with its handling – 27th. Head-turning styling and image strongly contribute to the fun to drive aura of the MINI Paceman.
13. Mazda Miata: Miatas, or MX-5s, are famous for how fun to drive they are. About 86% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes. Miata is not supposed to be blindingly fast it is supposed to be fun and most owners recognize that. Still, ranking 109th, 53% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration. About 68% are totally satisfied with its braking – 48th. About 64% are totally satisfied with its handling – 29th.
14. Mitsubishi Lancer EVO: The last Lancer EVO ranks 14th in fun to drive with 85% of its owners totally satisfied. Generally, a car sold for its performance never lives up to the expectations of its owners in power and acceleration, but the EVO seems to be an exception. About 71% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration – ranking 22nd. About 78% are totally satisfied with braking – 13th. About 78% are totally satisfied with handling – 15th. This is a pretty good all-around performance for dynamic attributes. Sayonara EVO, you will be missed.
15. Scion FR-S: The FR-S is the Scion version of the Subaru BRZ. About 85% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive. Like the BRZ, FR-S owners want more power and acceleration – only 33% are totally satisfied – ranked 222nd. About 52% are totally satisfied with its braking – ranking 178th. About 73% of FR-S owners are totally satisfied with its handling – that is what the car is designed for after all – ranking 37th.
Top Ten Fun to Drive Brands: The ranking of brands includes the fun to drive results for all their entries. The top ten brands are: 1) Porsche, 2) MINI, 3) BMW, 4) Audi, 5) Jaguar, 6) Fiat, 7) Scion, 8) Cadillac, 9) Lincoln, 10) Mercedes-Benz.
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):
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.
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.
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.
B-XSUV How can a vehicle lead a class when you don’t know that that class is? What is a B-XSUV? The B-Class size in Euro-speak is the second from the lowest size class. Second, what is an XSUV? In AutoPacific-speak this means crossover sport utility vehicle. We refuse to call these things CUVs because it is important folks know they are supposed to be SPORT UTILITIES. This is a very new class with entries just beginning to land – Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, the Fiat 500x, etc.
Jeep Renegade So now lets talk about the 2016 Jeep Renegade.
The 2016 Jeep Renegade shares its platform with the 2016 Fiat 500X. The Renegade has rough and tough Jeep cues and mechanical bits that give it great chops off-road – American. The 500X is more of a urban cruiser – Italian.
It’s easy to like the all new 2016 Jeep Renegade on sale March 1, 2015. It is funky looking in a Jeep sort of way, small but wide, easy to maneuver, easy to get into and out of, easy to see out of. And it its base price is about $5,000 less than its new bigger brother the Jeep Cherokee. This puts its base price in the same area as the old, old, old Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot that we were frankly surprised to realize are still in production.
The built-in-Italy Renegade has Jeep-DNA styling cues including the seven vertical slot grill and trapezoidal wheel openings.
Smaller Than a Honda Civic While the Renegade is short – only 167-inches long – about 15-inches shorter than the Jeep Cherokee (182-inches in length), it makes up for that by being pretty wide. Renegade has a 101-inch wheelbase compared with the Cherokee’s 106-inch wheelbase. It is 74 inches wide, a bit wider than the Cherokee. The 2016 Jeep Renegade has 56-inches of front shoulder room compared with the 58-inches for the Cherokee, but 56-inches seems spacious and generous in the Renegade. Unlike the Cherokee, the Renegade has a lot of glass and good visibility. So from a packaging standpoint, the Renegade comes across like a larger vehicle. Thinking about a car to compare it to that everybody knows… Renegade has a shorter wheelbase and overall width than the 2015 Honda Civic, but is substantially wider. The Renegade is larger than the Honda Fit, but smaller than Civic. Wider than both.
The base 2016 Jeep Renegade comes with a six-speed manual transmission and a 1.4L Multi-air turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower. Optional sporting a 9-speed automatic transmission, is a 2.4L Multi-Air2 naturally aspirated Tigershark 4-cylinder with 180HP. If this sounds familiar the 2.4L/9-speed auto is also found in the Jeep Cherokee, Dodge Dart, Chrysler 200, and Ram Promaster City.
Capable On- and Off-Road Where the Renegade shines is in the dynamics. It is very maneuverable and easy to drive. Designed to be a true off-roader, the Renegade has good suspension travel and an excellent turning radius. The Jeep folks claim that the “Trail-Rated” Trailhawk version can traverse the Rubicon Trail, but we did not have the chance to prove it since we were in Hollister, California. We did, however, get to ease the Trailhawk down a grade that must have been about 45-degrees. With hill descent control engaged the Renegade slowly, but surely, worked its way down the grade.
Pricing The base price of the 2016 Jeep Renegade is $17,995 with a additional $995 for destination charges. Sneakily, that price does not include air conditioning (even the most basic vehicles sold in the USA have AC standard in most cases). That gets you a front wheel drive Renegade Sport with the 1.4L Multi-Air turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 6-speed manual transmission. The top model Trailhawk begins at $25,995, but when you check all the boxes the price can top $32,000. Not unreasonable for a new small SUV with loads of personality and capability.
What Would We Change The 2.4L 4-cylinder has 180HP which is sufficient for most circumstances. On the freeway, however, it would be nice to have a bit more power – maybe 200 or 205HP. The center stack navigation screen is 5.0-inches diagonally with standard UConnect and when you upgrade to the system with navigation the screen grows to 6.5-inches. In a world where bigger screens are better, we would have opted for a larger 8.4-inch screen. According to the Renegade’s product planner, this decision was made on the basis of styling, not cost or utility. Huh? Go with the bigger screen. On the plus side of screens, there is an available 7-inch reconfigurable display in the instrument cluster the driver can customize to display a myriad of information. Good going.