AutoPacific, as a well-respected automotive research firm, uses the voice of real consumers like you, the VehicleVoice panel member, to help automakers make the best possible cars and trucks. The data that we collect also helps identify what vehicles are most satisfying to their owners, as well as being the closest to their owners’ ideals. Hence, each year we publish our annual list of AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award (VSA) winners (most satisfying vehicles in their segments, as rated by owners) and AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) winners (closest to their owners’ ideals). These awards highlight what the best vehicles are doing right as reported by their owners, and can serve as a tool to you as the consumer in finding a vehicle that you will be extremely happy with for many years. Despite the vitriolic rants of the angry and ill-informed, we simply report on what you as the consumer tell us.
The Jeep Wrangler is the spiritual heart and soul of the Jeep lineup. It is a true icon, recognized far beyond automotive circles. Its mere existence lends credibility to less off-road capable brandmates ilke Patriot and Compass. After all, it can be argued that Wrangler is THE original off-road SUV. With its heritage hearkening back to the Second World War, performing its duties heroically on battlefields in both the Pacific and European theaters, the Wrangler has off-road credibility arguably matched by no one.
I’m at Toyota’s third Sustainable Mobility Seminar at the moment, a deep dive into the issues surrounding sustainable motoring featuring excellent speakers from industry and academia. I’ll admit, my head is still spinning from all the education I’ve received over the last twenty-four hours, but there’s one part of the event I feel compelled to write about – right now. All of us in attendance got the media’s very first chance to drive fully working prototypes of Toyota’s upcoming fully electric RAV4 EV. As AutoPacific’s resident treehugger, I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel of Toyota’s upcoming electric SUV.
Long ago, back in 1991, Nissan launched what many thought of as the spiritual successor to the BMW 2002: the Nissan Sentra SE-R. It was a lightweight and tossable compact car that was inexpensive and an absolute blast to drive. Since then, Nissan has kept the SE-R name alive in subsequent generations of Sentra, but each one has gotten less and less thrilling.
Fast forward to 2011. Around the world, automakers are bringing small and sporty crossovers to the marketplace, addressing younger and more style-conscious consumers’ need for entry level vehicles with space and standout style. Nissan has jumped into the fray with the Juke, a product designed first and foremost for the European market. The U.S., which seems to prefer its crossover products big and bulky, is a secondary market. However, given that today’s younger Americans are expressive, enjoy technology, often accept miniaturized products, and value standout design, Juke has found its way across the pond nonetheless.
Ever since the Lexus RX300 first hit the streets thirteen (!) years ago, the sensibly-sized luxury crossover has been hugely desirable among the upwardly mobile. Over time, the segment has grown by leaps and bounds, not just in terms of sales but more recently in terms of the sheer number of players. Over the past couple years, the Europeans joined the fray with the Mercedes-Benz GLK, Audi Q5, and Volvo XC60. And last year, Cadillac ditched the slow-selling and somewhat cumbersome three-row SRX with the smaller and more pert SRX seen here. Wait a minute, don’t we Americans always want bigger? What’s the deal here?
I’m rarely one to toot my own horn, but I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way: there’s a bit of me in the brand-new 2010 Hyundai Tucson. Once upon a time, not that long ago, I was a product planner at Hyundai who was tasked with finding and developing a new concept direction for the second generation Tucson. The first Tucson, which debuted for the 2005 model year, was a decent if uninspiring small crossover SUV, and Hyundai really wanted to hit the second generation out of the park.
The Dodge Nitro is top rated by its owners in the Mid-Size Sport Utility segment. Characteristics that were particularly highly rated include overall seating capacity, rear seat comfort, interior storage compartments and audio system performance.
This personality-packed Dodge is a little larger than its Jeep Liberty counterpart and customers clearly appreciate the larger interior that results. Dodge has been applying lessons learned from the minivan business to all segments, with proof it matters here: Nitro’s clever storage options contributed to its win. The 2010 VSA win follows Nitro winning the 2009 Owner Recommendation Award.
For a complete list of winners and description of the Awards, click here.
Has Honda developed yet another blended vehicle–or just a big hatchback? On sale since November 2009, the Accord Crosstour aims to be a modern and stylish CUV. To our eyes, it is more like a hatchback on steroids. Honda’s not the only maker exploring this shape, as it is not unlike the idea behind the BMW 5-Series GT or Toyota’s Venza or Acura’s ZDX (the larger and more expensive ZDX is not a Crosstour in different metal). Accord Crosstour offers everything you expect from the Accord, wrapped in a new shape. Is that enough?
While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, most people we’ve talked to have not found beauty the shape of the Crosstour. A love-it-or-hate-it shape can be great for image and buzz. But it seems to be difficult to find the love-it Crosstour crowd, at least relative to styling.
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Land Rover has always been the smart choice for people who wanted to go off-roading – we mean really off-roading, like on safari, running away from charging rhinoceros off-roading. And the nicest things about a Land Rover, was that you could flee that rhinoceros in style and comfort. But recent quality issues and reliability disappointments have tarnished Land Rover’s sterling reputation. They’re hoping the all new LR2 puts those issues to rest.
The LR2 was unveiled to North America at the Los Angeles Auto Show earlier this month and AutoPacific Senior Consultant Jim Hossack was on hand to have a first look. He liked what he saw.
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Since reaching a peak in September, the price of gasoline in the United States continued to decline through mid-December and drivers are reacting to these moderating fuel prices. The December 2005 Fuel Price Impact Survey conducted by AutoPacific’s (http://www.autopacific.com) VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) confirms that many consumers are paying less for gasoline but are still very aware of the long term effects of gasoline priced above $2 per gallon. The Fuel Price Impact Survey is based on the results of a VehicleVoice Internet survey with 1,122 respondents who completed the survey between December 13 and December 19, 2005.
Actual fuel price continue downward since September peak
In the last month the median price respondents say they paid for fuel has declined by about 11¢ per gallon (to $2.22) following a dramatic 50¢ per gallon decrease in November. The median price they expect to pay one year from now has decreased by another 8¢ per gallon to $2.45.
Shift away from SUVs now moderating
Many drivers reconsider the types of vehicles they are driving when fuel prices spike higher. Drivers of sport utility vehicles represent about 25% of the total car market today. In September, when fuel prices peaked, about 27% of SUV drivers indicated they would consider shifting the type of vehicle they drive to something more fuel efficient. The vehicle segments most likely to benefit from this migration are Mid-Size Cars and Small Cars both up 25%. While the data do not show a direct relationship of drivers moving from SUVs to more fuel efficient cars, there is a clear tendency for drivers to consider moving from less fuel-efficient segments to vehicle types that get better gas mileage.
Drivers considering shift to hybrids, but 6-cylinders remain “sweet spot”
About 18% of drivers having vehicles powered by V8 engines say they will shift to more fuel-efficient engines, down from 25% in September. But 27% of drivers of vehicles with gas-sipping 4-cylinder engines also say they will consider changing. The transition for both is towards 6-cylinder engines and hybrids. Hybrid-powered vehicles will be considered by 12% of the respondents, down slightly from the 15% peak in the October survey. This is a reaction to the continuing positive media attention surrounding hybrid-powered vehicles and the public’s perception that hybrids are an answer to higher fuel prices. There is also somewhat more interest in diesel engines, though significantly less than the level of interest in a gas-electric hybrid.
High fuel price still seen as BAD for America!
The culprits identified by the respondents as contributing to high fuel prices remain Big Oil Companies, OPEC, Natural Disasters and Limited Refining Capacity. When asked whether high fuel prices are good or bad for America, 73% say that high fuel prices are “bad for America”, down from 80% in the September survey. In the land where roads have been paved by unlimited cheap gas, attitudes are that conservation stimulated by higher gasoline prices is not the popular way to go. Higher fuel prices might actually encourage conservation, reduce pollution and provide the Middle East with less money to use against American interests, but respondents don’t see it that way, and vote their pocketbook.