Image Source: Genesis Motors USA
The new Genesis brand of luxury vehicles has been launched with Hyundaispeed! Bbalee! Bbalee! Quick, quick in Korean.
Finally, Hyundai Launches a Luxury Brand After years of deliberation, argument, and negotiation, Hyundai has launched the new Genesis brand. Hyundai officially announced the new Genesis brand in November 2015. Erwin Raphael was appointed head of Genesis in March 2016. The new Genesis brand goes public in September, 2016. That is quick – bbalee, bbalee!
In reality, the new Genesis brand is not a big deal. The brand will have only six vehicles by 2021. This does not approach the dozens of models offered by Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus.
But wait. That is wrong, Genesis is a BIG DEAL! Genesis is the only luxury car brand launched after 1990 that has a deep pockets major manufacturer behind it. Tesla, launched in 2004, is questionably viable in the long term.
Hyundai has decided after years of consideration that a stand-alone luxury brand is a BIG DEAL. The resources of Hyundai are committed to guarantee its success. Hyundai presently has about 835 dealers in the United States. The new Genesis brand will launch with about 300. These have been selected with great care. The Genesis Institute will train dealer salespeople across the country.
Aggressive Launch Marketing The new Genesis brand launches with all guns blazing. Genesis launches as the luxury car sponsor for the National Football League. They are the sponsor for the Los Angeles Open golf tournament at the Riviera Country Club. These sponsorships are sure to make a splash. By early 2017, awide cross-section of American car buyers will know Genesis as a brand. They will know Genesis now exists as a brand rather than just a few car lines resting atop the Hyundai Motor America lineup. This will get the new Genesis brand and the two vehicles it will initially have to sell – the G90 and G80 – on the radar of people who have money to spend on their next new vehicle.
While Genesis vehicles promise to be outstanding, the brand’s commitment to its customers is a cornerstone of its existence. Genesis wants to take the customer experience to a whole new level beyond Lexus, Mercedes and BMW.
Respect for Time Respect for the Genesis Customers’ time is of paramount importance. Time is precious and cannot be replaced. So lets call this the Genesis “Respect Initiative”. Tthe features of this “respect initiative,” hovever, last only for 3-years and 36,000 miles. The 3/36 commitment results from Genesis management estimates that up to 80% of Genesis vehicles will be leased and the majority of those leases will be for 3-years and 36,000 miles. During the “respect period” Genesis owners/lessees will get full maintenance, valet service, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, navigation map updates, 24/7 roadside assistance with concierge service, and Genesis Connected Services. It would not be a surprise if Genesis has a comprehensive CPO (certified pre-owned used car) program in place by the time the first vehicles come off lease that would extend the “Respect Period” for subsequent owners.
Genesis Uses Hyundai’s In-House Advertising Agency – Innocean While Genesis is a stand-alone brand, it accelerated its launch by using Innocean as its advertising agency. Innocean is owned by Hyundai and also handles advertising for Hyundai brand vehicles. By using Innocean, Genesis gets a known quantity without lengthy reviews to select from numerous agencies vying for the job through lengthy and expensive reviews. Also, there is likely a “family discount” for using the in-house agency in there somewhere.
When asked by an advertising-savvy media member how the new Genesis brand will target its buyers after the NFL and LA Open hoopla, Genesis and their agency will “respectfully” target anyone who can afford to buy their cars. Genesis head Erwin Raphael contends they have no specific target buyer in mind – no age range, gender, or ethnicity. They are just targeting the ability to pay a certain lease fee for their G90 and G80 sedans. And after the brand is launched with heavy advertising and sponsorships, specific groups will be emphasized using Internet messaging and social media.
Product is the Foundation Leading to The Genesis Customer Experience Presently, there are six vehicles planned for the Genesis lineup. There are four cars and two SUVs. The G80 luxury sedan is on sale now. It is a 5-Series/E-Class competitor. The all new G90 (formerly Hyundai Equus) luxury sedan goes on sale in September. It is a competitor to the Lexus LS, Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series. Later comes a BMW 3-Series competitor – the Genesis G70. Then a near luxury sport coupe is launched. There will be a mid-luxury sport utility vehicle and a near luxury SUV. Frankly, they cannot get these SUVs on the market quickly enough.
Based on driving the G90 and G80, Genesis products promise to give the best entries in the competitive set a solid run for their money. Initially, they will be value propositions. You will get more features and content for your money. Such a deal!
AutoPacific 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.
Image by: George Peterson
Infiniti QX30 Launched One of the fastest growing product segments is the Luxury Small Crossover SUV (XSUV) category. Infiniti has been a bit late to the party as there are already 33 small XSUVs on the market. Eight of those are luxury brand XSUVs: the Acura RDX has been out since 2013 in its second incarnation, Audi Q3 out since 2014, BMW X1 out since 2014, Land Rover Discovery Sport out since 2016, Lexus NX200t out since 2015, Lincoln MKC out since 2015, Mercedes GLA since 2015, Range Rover Evoque out since 2012. Launch of the Infiniti QX30, while a bit late, pretty much has every brand in the fray.
Infiniti enters the fray with the Infiniti QX30, making it the 34th member in the small XSUV market and 9th luxury brand XSUV. Remember, QX is the Infiniti nomenclature for SUVs whether they are body-on-frame SUVs (QX80) or crossover SUVs (QX70, QX60, QX50). Infiniti cars carry names that begin with a simple “Q”.
All USA QX30s Classified as Trucks The Infiniti QX30 is a highly styled small crossover available in front wheel drive and all wheel drive powertrain configurations. In other markets the all drive model is called “Q30” indicating Infiniti is classifying it as an hatchback car. In the USA, both versions are classified as trucks.
Dramatic Infiniti Design Cues Differentiate QX30 The Infiniti QX30 is sporty and curvaceous like most Infiniti models. It has bulging front fenders sweeping back and down with a strong character line. Infiniti decribes the character lines as “dramatic and turbulent”. The windshield is very fast flowing into a steeply dropping roofline. The front end is instantly recognizable as an Infiniti with its unique “double-arch” grille. In the side view, Infiniti’s signature crescent-shaped C-pillar further differentiates the vehicle. There is a lot going on there, but it works very well in this small XSUV.
Infiniti QX30 and Mercedes GLA Share Platform To keep the investment in line the Infiniti QX30 is assembled in Sunderland, England alongside the Mercedes-Benz GLA. QX30 and GLA share platforms, but Infiniti has loaded its entry with all the latest high tech electronic gadgetry available.
Engine Power at the Low End of Competitive Range The 2.0L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine is shared with the GLA and is manufactured by Daimler in Kolleda, Germany. Power output is 208 horsepower with 258 lb-ft of torque. Compared with other luxury XSUVs this power output is anemic. Driving the QX30, the performance is adequate, even pleasant, but a power output of between 230 and 240 horsepower would be more expected from an engine with these specifications.
The engine is mated to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.
Ford’s F-Series Super Duty pickups are all new for the 2017 model year. The Super Duty line includes the F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 heavy duty pickups.
All-New For Real The term all new here is an actual fact because the last time the Super Duty was all new was over a decade ago. The high volume F-150 light duty full size pickup was all new and all aluminum for 2016. The Super Duty follows a year later, but Ford says the product update cadence should be shorter for both the F-150 and the Super Duties in the future.
Image by: George Peterson
Borrows from F-150, Then Goes on Steroids For this iteration the Super Duty pickups share the aluminum cabs of the F-150 – regular cab, Super Cab and Crew Cab. Each of these cabs is longer than that on the old Super Duty. Then everything changes. The front end styling is very different, tougher and stronger looking than the pretty darn strong looking F-150. The pickup box is upgraded to handle the more severe workload of a vehicle designed for construction crews and trailer towing. The fully-boxed frame has been substantially upgraded with the center section frame rails 1.5 inches taller than previously.
Venerable Twin-I-Beam Suspension Retained and Upgraded The Twin-I-Beam front suspension has been upgraded and remains a very important Super Duty unique selling proposition. According to Doug Scott, head of Ford truck marketing, there was a lot of discussion about retaining the venerable, but very strong Twin-I-Beam front suspension. There was one contingent within Ford that wanted a more contemporary front suspension similar to Chevrolet Silverado. But buyers of the Super Duty rely on the over-designed Twin-I-Beam for durability in extreme abuse situations. Super-computer simulations of the suspension design have eliminated the quirkiness of the previous set-up that tended to wander a bit on the open road.
Unique Interior Although the Super Duty shares the F-150’s cabs, the interior in the Super Duty is unique to the line. The “Active Motion” seats are designed for heavier duty application and long seat time. They are comfortable for hours on the road. The instrument panel is unique and much more industrial looking than in the F-150. There is a wide center console that can accommodate files or a laptop computer. The console top is an armrest in normal driving or a desk when necessary.
Feature Laden The list of available advanced features is an arm long. Most would be expected in an up-market car, but in a heavy duty pickup they are extraordinary. Super Duty gets Sync 3 available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There is a 360-degree camera set-up that is extremely useful when parking or off-roading. Activating the camera allows you to see the obstacles near the vehicle and avoid them. The Super Duty can have as many as SEVEN cameras. Lane departure warning, blind spot information and adaptive cruise control systems are available. Adaptive steering is available that adjusts the steering ratio based on driver input.
Powerful Power Stroke Diesel is the Volume Engine Choice The available powertrains include the second generation Power Stroke diesel that will be the high volume engine. The 6.7L V8 diesel has 440-horsepower and 920 lb. ft. of torque. That’s right – 920 lb. ft. The diesel is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The diesel pulls, and pulls, and pulls. There is a 6.2L V8 gas engine with 385-horsepower and 430 lb. ft. of torque. On chassis-cab models Ford’s 6.8L V10 is available.
Driving the Super Duty The Super Duty is a delight to drive for such a big truck. The 4×4 King Ranch F-250 Crew Cab (~$78,000) was easy to drive and easy to maneuver if you have a lot of space. The unloaded ride was good depending on road surface. Because of the stiff 4×4 suspension the ride over choppy roads was a bit uncomfortable. The power of the 6.7L Power Stroke diesel was very impressive.
Fiat Turns to Mazda for Iconic Sports Car About 50 years after first launching the Fiat 124 Spider in the United States, Fiat is launching a new Spider in Summer 2016. The last time the Fiat 124 Spider was sold in the USA was in 1983. To gain a desirable roadster without having to develop the car themselves, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) turned to Mazda.
Fiat wants the 124 Spider to re-establish the sporty image of the brand and communicate “fun, joyous and optimistic” motoring.
Basically, the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a reskinned Mazda Miata propelled by a Fiat MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine.
Unique Exterior Styling Take the outstanding Mazda MX-5 Miata and breathe Italian-ness on it and you have the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider. With the rear wheel drive Mazda roadster platform as a base, Fiat has done an excellent job differentiating their little roadster from the Miata. The proportions are definitely Miata, but the Fiat body is 5.5-inches longer with much of the length increase going to the trunk. The exterior styling is different, maybe a bit more upscale looking. The front end has a hexagonal grille with a honeycomb mesh flanked by styled headlamps. It has a friendly face. The rear has sharp horizontal LED taillamps. Both the front and rear designs are reminiscent of the original 124 Spider.
Minor Interior Differentiation The interior is lifted directly from the Miata with material upgrades here and there. The seats are very comfortable and supportive with a unique sew style. Two seat trim colors are available, black and saddle. The saddle seat trim is very upscale looking and radio speakers in the headrests are a nice touch. The interior has been optimized for quietness. Being a roadster, wind buffeting can be a real problem, so care was taken in the windshield header and side window design to minimize buffeting at speed. The top is one of the best features of the Fiat 124 Spider. It can be opened or closed with one hand from either front seat. Brilliant!
Unique Turbo Engine from Italy The Fiat 124 Spider is powered by Fiat’s 1.4L MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine with 160-horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The engine block has been modified for longitudinal installation in the platform and to mate with Mazda’s excellent 6-speed manual transmission and 6-speed automatic transmission.
The suspension has been tuned a bit differently and the ride seems a bit more supple than on the Miata. Handling is crisp as befits the short wheelbase.
Pricing Essentially Equivalent with Miata There are three trim levels: Classica, Lusso and Abarth. There is also a 124 unit special edition car at launch – Prima Edizione Lusso (check all the boxes, unique blue color = $35,000). The base Classica model is priced at $24,995 with the 6-speed manual transmission. Destination charges are $995. About 60% of the Fiat 124 Spider buyers are expected to opt for the automatic transmission that adds $1,350 to the price. The volume model likely will be the $27,495 Lusso model that adds automatic headlamps, fog lamps, rain sensing wipers, automatic temperature control, leatherette and piano black instrument panel inserts, and 7-inch touch screen. Selecting the sportiest Abarth model is $28,195. When compared with the Miata, Lusso seems like a deal compared with the Miata Grand Touring ($31,270) except the Grand Touring Miata is fully loaded. To get that level of equipment on the Fiat 124 Spider adds another $3,795 to the price putting the Fiat only $20 higher than the Miata (Fiat destination charge is $160 higher than Mazda – puts actual price difference at $180 higher than Miata).
This article was first published on Forbes.com on June 9, 2016
Tesla Tops Auto Brand Satisfaction for Second Year in a Row Tesla owners are the most satisfied overall among all car and light truck owners according to the results of AutoPacific‘s 2016 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research. The annual study includes over 65,000 respondents for 2016 and covers 273 vehicles sold in the United States.
Tesla owners are almost unanimous in agreeing the Tesla is fun to drive, powerful, eco-friendly, upscale, safe, distinctive and expensive. These are not people who are really looking for the greenest car around, they want a car that makes a statement and can tear away from almost every other car when the light turns green. The fact that Tesla has been the top-ranking brand in AutoPacific’s research two years in a row is testament not only to how much Tesla buyers like their product, but at how well the brand has been positioned. Of course, Tesla today is a one-car brand and that one car has really resonated with its owners. Things may be different when data for the Model X and Model 3 are included in the years to come.
Other luxury brands trail Tesla. Cadillac, Lexus and Lincoln are next in satisfaction, then comes a surprise.
Kia Top Ranked Popular Brand Kia is ranked fifth overall and is the top popular brand in the research. This is quite a feat for a Korean brand that was just an asterisk fifteen years ago. Clearly, Kia products are capable of competing with the best. The Kia Optima mid-size sedan was third overall behind the Cadillac Escalade Luxury SUV and the Mercedes S-Class Luxury Car. These cost about three times what the Optima would cost. Kia owners see their vehicles as safe, fun to drive, comforting, a good value from a trusted brand. While these attributes are above the results for the industry as a whole, they bear little resemblance to the magnitude of the Tesla results.
Here are the top ten most satisfying brands:
Nissan’s luxury brand, Infiniti, is upgrading its two mid-size entries in the middle of their product cycle. This is not unusual these days as carmakers attempt to keep up with new technologies and keep fresh products available to their buyers. Infiniti’s one-two punch comes with new powertrains for the Q50 (nee G35/37) rear wheel drive mid-size sedan and freshened styling for the QX60 (nee JX35) front wheel drive/AWD mid-size crossover SUV.
The Q50 changes target enthusiasts and the QX60 changes target families. Let’s talk about the Q50 first.
Q50 Powertrain Updates Infiniti positions the Q50 against the Lexus IS and the BMW 3-Series. To us, it is closer to the Lexus GS350 in size and ambiance, but priced lower. Q50 looks the same as before. Its changes come in the form of new engines. The top-of-the-line is the Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400. What does all that mean? The “400” is for the 400-horsepower twin turbo 3.0L V6 engine. “Red Sport” refers to the red “S” sport badge on the fenders and rear of the vehicle. The Red Sport 400 is very flexible from easily lumping around town in stop and go traffic, to quickly running rural roads. With several drive selections from Eco to Sport+ available, the personality of the car can transform dramatically. In Sport + mode throwing the car around sharp curves over undulating terrain is a blast. A fully loaded Q50 Red Sport 400 should set you back around $55,000 although pricing has not been finalized. About 20%-25% of Q50 mix will be Red Sport 400 models.
Rounding out the new powertrain news for the Q50 is the high volume engine which is a de-tuned version of the Red Sport 400 – a twin turbo V6 with 300-horsepower. This will be on 50%-60% of the volume. The Infiniti Q50 2.0t is powered by an all-new base engine developed with Daimler – a turbo 2.0L 4-cylinder with 208-horsepower. This will be on about 20%-25% of the Q50s sold. The power output of the 4-cylinder seems pretty anemic. Other 2.0L turbo 4s on offer today are more common with between 230 and 240-horsepower. Some even have as much as 270-horsepower. Infiniti says only the basic engine design is from Daimler. All the accessories and systems engineering were by Nissan engineers. The engine is produced in Infiniti’s Decherd, Tennessee Engine Plant.
QX60 Freshening Moderately Extensive The QX60 is Infiniti’s mid-market family hauler. It is in the middle of an SUV lineup that includes the flagship QX80 (formerly QX56), the “urban gorilla” QX70 (nee FX35/45/50). Below the QX60 is the QX50 (nee EX35) and the upcoming QX30 (based on a Mercedes 5-door bodystyle).
The 2016 QX60 looks pretty much the same as the 2016 model, but it does have new front and rear styling that evolves slightly from the 2015 version. The grille and headlamps are new and now de rigeur LED accent running lights are part of the headlamp design. Outside mirror-mounted turn signals are standard. The taillamps and liftgate are new, but look similar to their predecessor. Inside, the seat trim is new with more intricate sew styles. The instrument panel upper is softer and looks more appropriate for luxury brand vehicle. Driver assist technologies abound.
Responding to criticisms about ride control and handling, Nissan upgraded the suspension. While ride comfort was excellent, body lean in cornering was excessive. The update to the suspension yields a vehicle that is more confident feeling, more nimble and lighter on its feet. This is a very positive move forward.
While these updates to Infiniti’s mid-market entries are not earth shaking, they keep the vehicles fresh and up-to-date. The changes to the QX60 are more extensive, but the powertrain changes to the Q50 will get the most attention. Both are good moves.
Check most of the boxes needed to win in the highly competitive compact car segment and the 2017 Hyundai Elantra does not miss many chances to excel. Following the mantra of “democratization of technology” Elantra has most of the high tech infotainment and technology features available. When you pop for them all, the retail price is $26,750. This is a lot for a compact car of a decade ago, but not bad for the fully loaded Limited model of the all new Elantra. For those not wanting or needing the full equipment load, the starting price is around $17,000.
Good Ease of Use For a person reasonably familiar with today’s cars, the Elantra is easy to figure out. It might not pass the rental car test where you should be able to start the car, turn on the headlights, adjust the radio and air conditioning system on a stormy night at Hertz, but it comes close. Easy to understand and use are the keynotes of Elantra design.
Created to provide a destination for buyers wanting to downsize, Elantra has all the features with the possible exceptions of cooled seats and adaptive cruise control that brings you to a full stop and then proceeds when traffic moves forward. For buyers wanting to upgrade, everything is there. For a price.
Easy to Drive Elantra is quiet, solid, comfortable. It handles very well on aggressive back-California roads. It is acceptably fast. It has an automatic 6-speed transmission with its base 147-horsepower 2.0L 4-cylinder engine. (There is an eco model available with higher fuel economy powered by a 128-horsepower 1.4L 4-cylinder turbo mated to a 7-speed EcoShift dual clutch transmission with limited feature availability).
The interior package is similar to a mid-size car of the prior generation (it is rated mid-size by the EPA). In fact, Elantra has about the same interior size of a Cadillac CTS and is bigger than a BMW 3-Series or Audi A4. Interior materials are a notch above what used to be expected in this class of car. The upper surface of the instrument panel is soft, but adjacent materials are hard while pretending to be soft. The trunk is large, but accessed through a small opening due to its relatively fastback design.
Comprehensive Feature Availability There is a 4.5-inch multi-color display between the gauges in the instrument cluster. In the center stack, there is either a 7-inch or 8-inch monitor depending on features selected. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces are avaiilable. To enhance the sound of your music there is Harman’s Clari-Fi Music Restoration Technology. Nice… very comprehensively done.
No Longer Head-Turning Elantra is good looking, but not head-turning like its predecessor. In the rear view, Elantra gets lost in traffic. Its distinctive front view is highlighted by its large trapezoidal grille opening and LED accents on higher trim models. Functional outboard vents in the front fascia direct air over the front wheels and help aerodynamics. Vertical LEDs accent the outboard vents in top of the line models. But overall, like the larger Hyundai Sonata, Hyundai has become more timid with its new compact car entry.
Elantra GT Coming Coming in Fall 2016 is the Elantra GT with a 200HP 4-cylinder turbo and distinctive front and rear styling and unique interior trim. The GT model will have a DSG
Bentley 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.
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.