Lexus Spindle Grille Gets Even Bigger You might have noticed that Lexus products are getting a bit more expressive as the brand tries to broaden its customer base. A bit more expressive may be an understatement for the new RX350. The now-trademark Lexus spindle grille goes to new lengths in the 2016 Lexus RX350. The gaping snout is so large that it impinges on the approach angle of the crossover SUV. It is gigantic! This is the fourth generation RX350. If you can remember back to 1998, the RX350 was the first premium brand crossover SUV. It started a trend that almost every premium brand has since copied – car-based, unit body, good ride, maneuverable, fuel efficient, quiet, good performance.
The predecessor to the 2016 Lexus RX350 was clearly a derivative of the Toyota Camry/Lexus ES350. In fact the instrument panel was so plain it looked like it was right out of a Camry. The styling was essentially characterless, but it remained the top selling Lexus.Bouncy Castle Pentagon Princess buy
New RX350 Designed to Broaden Appeal Lexus’ top engineer described the new RX as being derived from the Toyota Highlander, but contends it is dramatically different. Compared with its predecessor, the new Lexus is about 5-inches longer with a 2-inch longer wheelbase. The character of the vehicle has been moved up a notch and the 2016 Lexus RX350 looks like it will easily remain the top selling Lexus nameplate. In addition to the grille, the exterior styling approaches “wild”. It has a “floating roof” where a black glass panel crosses the D-Pillar to give the impression that the roof hovers above the rear quarters. There are character lines swooping from the front fenders, the rear quarters, the rocker panels. Busy, busy, busy.
All of this new “interest” is designed to broaden the appeal of the RX. Previously, the RX was primarily a woman’s car. It was a car that took kids to school and to soccer practice and was seen parked in front of the beauty salon. But the new RX is designed to also appeal to younger males while not turning off the traditional RX buyer. Brian Bolain, the Lexus Corporate Manager of Marketing, says that research conducted by Toyota Motor Sales confirms that they have met the objectives: 1) keep traditional buyers, 2) attract more males, 3) attract younger buyers, 4) and with the F-Sport attract buyers wanting a more sporty look that is different from the base vehicle.
Its instrument panel looks like it is out of a Lexus GS350 rather than a Camry. The ingress/egress is easy. Visibility is pretty good. The seats are comfortable. The interior trim is upgraded compared with its predecessor. All in all, the 2016 Lexus RX350 comes across as completely new crossover SUV with more distinction inside and out that should appeal to a wider range of buyers.
Power Upgraded The base vehicle is powered by a 295-horsepower 3.5L V6 engine that operates on either Otto cycle or Atkinson cycle depending on engine loads. The V6 is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The hybrid RX450h has 259-horsepower V6 that when combined with the hybrid motors yields a total 308-horsepower. The sporty F-Sport package is available on both the RX350 and RX450h. The F-Sport has upgraded interior trip, sports seats, unique grille and exterior ornamentation. The F-Sport chassis is upgraded and an optional adjustable suspension is available.
Mark Levinson Clari-Fi Premium Audio As usual, Lexus has teamed with Harman Automotive’s Mark Levinson sound system team for a very high quality premium audio system. Using Mark Levinson’s Clari-Fi technology, the system analyzes and improves the audio quality of all types of compressed, digital sources like SiriusXM radio or MP3 tracks. The idea is to fill in the up-to-90% of the original audio content lost through compression. The system works very well delivering clear, full music, but what would you expect from an 835 watt, 15 speaker/12 location, 10-channel system.
Dynamics – Seamless Driving the 2016 Lexus RX350 is seamless. The ride is smooth, handling flat. Performance is adequate. It is very quiet in the cabin except when some road surfaces excite the Michelin Ever Grip Technology tires. Ergonomics are good. Circling back around to performance. The F-Sport package is a trim and chassis option only. There is no performance upgrade with F-Sport. To really appeal to the younger, more enthusiastic male buyer it would be appropriate for the F-Sport to have power output above the 308-horsepower hybrid. A 10% power bump from 295 to 325-horsepower would be nice.
The one bitch several members of the media voiced was that a navigation system should be standard on any vehicle base priced over $30,000. Optional on the 2016 Lexus RX350.
Base price for the 2016 Lexus RX350 will be below $45,000. The vehicle is still assembled in Cambridge, Ontario. It will be in dealerships beginning in November 2015.
It goes like this… Honda invites you to an event that is held locally to review a vehicle that is not scheduled for a meaningful change for a couple of years. What’s up? Well, enough that Honda can make a pretty big deal out of it. The top selling sport utility vehicle is Honda’s CR-V crossover SUV. The 2015 Honda CR-V looks pretty much like the 2014. Same profile. Same doors. Same window openings. What’s the big deal? The front end looks more butch, more SUV-like. It has really cool running lights below the headlamps. Likewise, the rear end looks stronger. The effect is that the CR-V looks a little bigger even though it isn’t. Ah, the story is pretty much beneath the skin. Honda calls it a MAJOR minor model change. Clever.
Engineering Story – Earth Dreams Powertrain This is an engineering story. The 2015 Honda CR-V gets a new engine – an Earth Dreams direct injection 2.4L 4-cylinder engine with 185-horsepower (same output as 2014). Torque is up by 18 lb-ft or 11% to improve driving feel especially at lower speeds. New transmission – now a CVT to achieve better fuel economy. The new engine and transmission combination substantially improves fuel economy for both 2WD and 4WD versions – highway fuel economy up about 10% better for both leading Honda to claim class leading fuel economy for the 2015 Honda CR-V.
Finesse and Value In addition to better performance, Honda has finessed the vehicle giving it a quieter cabin making it more pleasant to drive. The instrument panel has been upgraded as has the center console. For buyers coming down from larger, more heavily equipped SUVs the 2015 Honda CR-V will not disappoint. Honda has added a slew of standard and available features that will make tech savvy customers feel warm and fuzzy. There are a couple of new features standard like rear air conditioning vents on the rear of the console and a sliding driver’s side sun visor. The big news is in the high volume EX model where $1,400 worth of equipment has been added for only a $200 price increase including: heated front seats, Honda Lane Watch, display audio, smart key start, 10-way power driver’s seat.
New Touring Model Has Available Honda Sensing System At the top of the trim lines is a new Touring model that checks most of the features boxes. This is where the Honda Sensing system comes into play. Honda Sensing is a safety system developed by Honda R&D that combines several technologies to help drivers avoid crashes. This collision avoidance system includes: adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking and Honda Lane Watch. John Turley, Honda R&D Americas principal engineer says, “Honda Sensing is a stepping stone to a fully autonomous car. With a couple more big overlays of technology, Honda can have a self driving car by 2020. One of those technologies is longer range radar and inter-car communications that can provide warnings up to 1500 meters around the car up from about 250 today.” The government and car makers are working to develop regulations and standards that will help cars of the future connect with each other seamlessly.
The 2015 Lincoln MKC hit Lincoln dealerships in June 2014 and promises to be the 2nd volume entry for Ford’s premium brand after the award-winning Lincoln MKZ. Lincoln is the top brand in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research and the MKZ and MKZ Hybrid are the winners of their product categories. The MKC (getting confused with the alphanumeric nomenclature yet?) is joining a booming market for smaller crossover SUVs and, based on our brief drive of the vehicle, the MKC should do very well in AutoPacific’s 2015 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.
Excellent Package The MKC is a “small” crossover SUV, but it does not feel small from the driver’s seat. The front seating package is spacious. Visibility forward is excellent. Ergonomics are good. Transmission shifting is through push buttons on the left hand side of the center stack. The MyLincoln Touch system is more intuitive (but reading the channel numbers for SiriusXM is almost impossible because of tiny font sizes) and stable. Losing the shifter in the center console is an excellent idea for many reasons. It allows for more storage in the console and also allows the console to be narrower giving the front seat passengers more seat width. The MKC is a persuasive package that will appeal to buyers across all age ranges.
Neat Features Abound on MKC For those buyers who want the latest technology, MKC offers a lot. Of course, there is MyLincoln Touch that sets the stage in the center stack. There is Approach Detection where the vehicle reacts to the key fob approaching the vehicle at night and the headlamp accents, taillamp accents, door handle pockets and interior all light up. There is even a Lincoln logo projected onto the pavement from the outside rear view mirror puddle lights. Then there is Drive Control that includes continuously adjusting shock absorbers to provide a comfortable ride under all conditions. Electric Power Steering and Active Noise Control are standard features that complement the Drive Control System. Active Park Assist not only can park the MKC, but includes Park Out Assist to help the driver maneuver the vehicle out of a tight parking space. As with many newly introduced vehicles there is a suite of electronic driver assist technologies: lane-keeping system, driver alert system (checks driver alertness), adaptive cruise control, collision warning system with brake support, blind spot information system, and cross traffic alert. These features may sound like overkill, but once you have used them, they become a necessity rather than a luxury.
Highly Differentiated from Escape – All EcoBoost Engines The MKC is derived from the Ford Escape but shares no body panels or interior trim bits. Without looking under the skin, the relationship is invisible. The 2015 Lincoln MKC comes standard with a 240HP 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine. Optional is a 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder with 285-horsepower (with 93 octane gasoline – in California the top spec gas octane is 91 octane so the output for the 2.3L would be about 280HP). The base vehicle is front wheel drive with all wheel drive available as an option.
Outstanding Dynamics Starting in Santa Barbara and driving across the Los Padres National Forest to the Tejon Ranch , the MKC proves to be nimble and athletic on the twisty roads more suited to a sports car than a X-SUV. With the 2.3L EcoBoost and AWD, the MKC is quick and solid over all road surfaces.
Price and Competition The base price of the MKC is $33,995, but the versions Lincoln provided for the drive evaluation were all in the $50,000 range equipped with the full suite of electronic features and the big engine. The size and price of the MKC puts it in the competitive set with the Cadillac SRX, Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X1, Infiniti QX50 (i.e. EX), Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC60. As if that isn’t enough competition, there is more to come: Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, Porsche Macan. Clearly, buyers will have a tremendous challenge sorting out which of these smaller XSUVs to select.
Now for the Nit-Picks Ford (Lincoln) can be depended on to make mistakes in feature availability. For a company that touts “democratization of technology” (meaning the neat electronic features found on the top of the line will be available in a Focus, for instance) the base MKC cannot be had with an in-vehicle navigation system. Since MyLincoln Touch is standard and each vehicle has a center stack screen, and the navigation system is via an SD card, navigation should be available on all models.
Brand Challenge The only thing standing in the way of the MKC being a whopping success may the Lincoln brand. While AutoPacific’s research shows Lincoln is doing a great job satisfying its customers, the brand has languished and is only now starting to re-assert itself. The MKC is an outstanding addition to the Lincoln portfolio. Now the challenge is to get buyers into the dealerships to drive and buy the MKC. It will be interesting to watch how Lincoln markets the vehicle in the coming months and to monitor its sales performance.
Don’t Call it a “Crossover” Like Ford and other makers, Toyota has largely abandoned the distinction between “traditional” and “crossover” sport utility vehicles. “It was confusing our customers,” said Bill Fay, Group Vice President of the Toyota Brand. Now, Toyota refers to both under the “mid-size sport utility vehicle umbrella”. This might seem to be a small thing, but for decades (at least since 1997 when unibody “crossovers” began appearing) automakers have been making this distinction. The customers largely did not know or care about the difference, they just bought the emerging crossovers in droves.
Toyota’s Two-Tier Mid-Size SUV Strategy With the introduction of the 2014 Toyota Highlander, Toyota continues with a two tier mid-size SUV strategy. The unibody 8-pasenger Highlander goes into its third generation with the 2014 model year entry in production since early December, 2013. The body-on-frame 4Runner appeals to the traditional SUV buyer needing more off-road capability and towing ability. Fay says, “these are totally different buyers and the 4Runner and Highlander are seldom cross-shopped with each other.
For 2014, the Highlander gets more aggressive styling, a more upscale interior and a price bump of about $1,500. A lot of that price increase is offset by the Highlander having more standard equipment.
Interior Moves Upscale Toyota’s designers and engineers clearly devoted a lot of attention to the instrument panel. It is a neat piece of automotive sculpture with the most up to date technology. The base vehicle comes with a 6.1-inch touch screen. When you get to the XLE and Limited models an 8-inch touchscreen is fitted.
A “why didn’t I think of that?” design feature is a shelf running beneath the center stack and below the glove box. This padded shelf is the perfect place to set your smartphone while driving. There is a slot in the shelf that allows a cord to be connected to the USB port to power the phone and connect it to the Toyota Entune app system.
The seat trim is typical Toyota. In leather versions
The feature availability on the Highlander is impressive. Features like adaptive cruise control, cross traffic warning, dynamic grid lines in the rear camera are just a few examples of Highlander (and many other middle- and low-market vehicles) offering features once found only on luxury entries.
Comprehensive Model Offerings There are three basic powertrain offerings for the Highlander. The price-leader LE (about $29,200) 185-horsepower 2.7L DOHC 4-cyinder is perfectly adequate for around town driving in the Sun Belt. If you do not need all wheel drive and don’t need to tow, the 4-cylinder would suffice, but you probably won’t find one at your Toyota store. It will be 5% to 10% of the available Highlanders.
The bread-and-butter Highlander is powered by a 3.5L DOHC V6 making 270-horsepower. This is the engine that about 90% of Highlanders will get. It works sell in front wheel drive (with a good amount of torque steer under full throttle) and is required with all wheel drive (about of 60% of Highlanders will be AWD). The 3.5L DOHC V6 is available on the base LE model for an additional $1,305. Add all wheel drive to the V6 version and you increase the price by another $1,460.
The middle of the lineup includes the LE Plus for $32,740 for the front wheel drive version. The front drive XLE model goes for $36,040 and the Limited goes for $39,640.
Hybrid Tops the Lineup At the top of the line is the Highlander Hybrid making 280-horsepower with its Atkinson cycle 3.5L DOHC V6. The Hybrid is available in the Limited trim level and is priced at $47,300. Driving the Hybrid on the hilly roads around Carmel, California we saw about 30mpg – in line with its rated fuel economy. The throttle effort on the Hybrid was high making it difficult to accelerate with traffic without really getting into it. Maybe that is because Toyota wants you to drive the Hybrid like you have an egg between your foot and the accelerator pedal.
Evolutionary Improvements Meet Competition All-in-all, the 3rd gen Highlander is an evolutionary, but substantial, improvement over its predecessor. Toyota describes the Highlander as “Beyond Hero” in the SUV segment meaning it overachieves when compared to competition. They also describe its development as “without compromise”. It does not meet those lofty phrases, and although there are no WOW factors (with the exception of an absolutely gargantuan front seat center console), it will be a steady seller filling an important slot in Toyota’s lineup. Toyota expects to sell about 140,000 units a year in the USA from its Princeton, Indiana assembly plant while sending another 10,000 to 15,000 overseas to another 20 countries.
Best in Class 2012 Mid-Size Crossover SUV: Honda CR-V
2012 Honda CR-V Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award
Owners of the all-new 2012 Honda CR-V Mid-Size XSUV give the vehicle an overwhelming win in AutoPacific’s 2012 Vehicles Satisfaction Award research with top ratings in forty, that is FORTY, of forty-eight attributes. We won’t list all the wins. It would take too much space, but let’s talk about the ratings of 4.5 or higher out of a possible 5.0 satisfaction rating points. CR-V owners give the XSUV ratings 4.5 or higher in: Overall Satisfaction, Exterior Size, Ease of Getting In and Out, Seating Capacity, Vehicle’s Reputation, Brand’s Reputation, Exterior Color, Braking, Handling, Reliability, Feeling Safe While Driving, Safety Features, Safety Ratings, Overall Quality and Durability. There are only three ratings under 4.0 satisfaction rating points: Recyclability, Collision Avoidance Technology and Price. The CR-V 2012 VSA win is an example of overwhelming superiority in a very competitive product class.
We recently drove the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, with brief jaunts in both a front-drive I4 model and an AWD V6 model. This generation has grown leaps and bounds over the SUV it replaces, in refinement, features, but not size. The Equinox now slots in at the top of its class.
Equinox is more comfortable inside, better-looking outside, and better screwed together. The exterior develops a smart and expressive family look. Among the achievements is a quieter and more pleasing interior environment. We began to see the fruits of GM’s interior work with products from the latest Tahoe to the Malibu to the orphaned Saturn Aura. But GM continues to prove an internal shift in understanding. Seems repetitive to mention the point again, but perception still lags reality. So, again: GM is building vehicles with excellent interior and exterior styling and quality. Equinox continues the evolution and reinforces corporate commitment.
Our short drive revealed improved driving dynamics, with a far more stable on-road feel. The V6 and I4-equipped models use the same basic suspension, but with specific tuning. The I4 is tuned with a ride along the more traditional truck direction, stiffer and more rugged, while the V6 models tip toward the softer, luxury-oriented end of the spectrum. Each personality is appropriate for price point and target buyers.
There are amazing automobiles and then there are amazing appliances. For example the Nissan GT-R is an amazing automobile. It’s 0-60 times, braking distances, and lateral G capabilities rival the new Porsche 911 Turbo. The Nissan Murano on the other hand is an amazing appliance. No, wait… don’t hit the back button… not yet. Let me explain…
Personally, I think there is a place for both. The GT-R would be perfect for weekend getaways up coast highway and the Murano, well, for everything else. You see – I’ve come to appreciate vehicles that do a lot of routine things really well, but nothing perfectly. In my youth a stripped down Porsche 911 without any sound deadening material, without back seats, or even a stereo – but extremely taut suspension would be the perfect vehicle – it did one thing perfectly. Today, I know there’s a difference between a perfect vehicle and one that you can live with. I also appreciate things like my kidneys, teeth, and ability to hear passengers… although that may change when I have children.
The Nissan Rogue is a small Crossover SUV derived from the Nissan/Renault global C-Class platform – i.e. Nissan Sentra, Nissan Qashqai, Renault Megane. VehicleVoice was given the chance to drive several Rogues in the desert East of San Diego. Here’s the scoop.
Justification for Rogue – It Was Easy to Do
The 4-cylinder-only Rogue begs the question, “Why?” Did Nissan feel they HAD TO add a small Crossover SUV to their lineup to compete with the Honda CR-V? Yes. Is there anything particularly intriguing about Rogue? No. It is another is a plethora of conveniently sized, pleasant to drive, reasonably priced small wagons available with all wheel drive. So, I guess it is OK to call it a “Crossover SUV” because definitions in the segment are very broad.
Rogue’s styling does not turn heads. Its target market is the same one as all the other small wagons – married male in early 30s just starting a family and needing more utility than his previous sporty coupe (or more likely Chevrolet Silverado or Dodge Ram full size pickup) gave him. Not that we are down on the Rogue. It’s just that it doesn’t answer questions much differently from any other small Crossover SUV.
Nissan North America Vice President of Product Planning, Larry Dominique, gives walkaround of new Rogue in San Diego
Conclusion: Nissan had a competent, flexible global platform that could be efficiently stretched from a sedan (Sentra) to a small Crossover. It couldn’t carry a V6, but that’s OK because the class leading Honda CR-V doesn’t have a V6 either. So here we have a low cost program, assembled in Kyushu, Japan that can fill a niche in the broad Nissan lineup.