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.
As Honda has done with the CR-V, the 2016 Honda Accord gets subtle, but important updates leading up to its August 19 debut for the sedan and August 26 launch of the coupe. Adding the Honda Sensing suite of electronic features brings the Accord equal or superior to competition in terms of electronic driver’s aids. Costing a mere $1,000 Honda Sensing is available on every model of the Accord. Honda Sensing includes adaptive cruise control, Lane Keeping Assist, Road Departure Mitigation, Collision Mitigation Braking – all features that can one day be part of an autonomous car.
On the outside the Accord has new styling for its front and rear six inches. The grille, front fascia and headlamps are new as are the taillamps. This improves Accord’s slightly clumsy front and rear styling for the present car. Engines are unchanged with a 3.5L V6 and 2.4L I4, but the 4-cylinder highway fuel economy has improved by 1-mpg to 37mpg. City and combined numbers are unchanged. This improvement results from aerodynamics and friction improvements. Overall, Honda has gone through the Accord finessing each system: high performance shocks, better control for the electric power steering system, aluminum hood on the sedan, larger front disc brakes on the Sport and Touring models.
The interior has been upgraded with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available in the Display Audio system. The instrument panel has been upgraded with new gauges and accents. The interior trim has upgraded materials and fabrics. The center console has been redesigned to be more functional with today’s smartphones.
Because the 2016 Honda Accord is a high volume sedan and coupe, it can maintain pricing discipline. The base LX model price remains the same at $22,925. The top of the line Touring model is $35,400 including destination and with all boxes checked.
Just for fun, comparing the Accord Sedan to the Lexus GS350 yields a surprise. The two cars are almost identical in size with the Lexus having a longer wheelbase for its rear wheel drive set-up. Interior wise, the Accord is actually larger than the Lexus in several important dimensions. Accord’s 3.5L V6 gets 28 fewer horsepower than the Lexus’ 3.5L V6, but it still feels good. So saving about $23,000 getting a fully loaded Accord Touring versus a Lexus GS might make good sense.
The new 2016 Cadillac CTS-V is a gentle brute of a car. Loaded with every available option and priced nearer $100,000 than I would like (jealous, you see), the CTS-V can do about everything well. Lumping through the quiet village of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, children did not cower, mothers did not scream and pull their tykes closer, dogs did not howl. Pleasant drive, even showing 22mpg on the readout.
The 6.2L supercharged V8 has all boxes checked. Cylinder de-activation. Gasoline direct injection. Electronics up the wazoo. Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission that is one of the crispest shifting on the planed, the powertrain is smooth and potent. 640-horsepower with 630 lb ft of torque. There is an electronic limited slip differential that guarantees the power gets to the rear wheels (no all wheel drive available).
Now, I normally do not test drive cars on a track when they require wearing a helmet. Head’s too big, big helmets hard to get into car. Cannot hear wll with helmet on. Cannot see well with helmet on. Headrest interferes. But the CTS-V is the exception. And another opportunity to drive Road America’s outstanding road course cannot be denied.
Man, you can do anything with this car. Blow an apex and it does not matter. Just point it where you want it. Lead car wants you to give chase? 125mph in a snap. Braking signs coming up, theh huge Brembos (with calipers in matching colors) bring the speed down effortlessly. Wow! What a fun car to drive!
There are those among us who will say the Dodge Hellcats are more worthy. After all they have 707-horsepower. They are certainly selling above expectations with FCA cancelling outstanding 2015 orders and doubling production of 2016 models (better profits from a higher price anyone?). I submit, however, the CTS-V is more of a piece. More solid. More capable. More trustworthy. And better screwed together.
Just do not check the Recaro seat option box. Go for everything else. On dealer lots in mid-August 2015.
Raising the Bar in a Competitive Segment The Koreans keep getting better and the new 2016 Hyundai Tucson (product code TL) is an example of how Hyundai has executed a segment-beater. Competing against big sellers Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Jeep Cherokee, Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-5, etc. the new Tucson checks all the boxes. It is well styled and immediately identifiable as a Hyundai (looks almost too much like the Santa Fe Sport). It has a great package – good visibility, spacious front and rear seating, good cargo room, easy ingress/egress. The fit and finish is excellent inside and out. The interior trim materials have moved upwards – almost up to the next higher price class.
MY16 Hyundai Tucson
MY16 Hyundai Tucson
Hyundai Fell Behind in Segment – 2016 Hyundai Tucson Provides Conquest Opportunity The product is good enough to begin some serious conquesting. As the compact crossover SUV market has boomed over the past several years (growing 14.9% 2015CYTD), Hyundai has been left with a less-than-competitive product capable of selling around 45,000 per year. As such, Hyundai Motor America’s share of the segment slipped from about 6% to 2.5%. Some of that is due to capacity constraints from its Korean plant. A new plant in the Czech Republic has come on line and will be supplying Europe freeing up Korean capacity. With the new Tucson on sale in August, 2015, HMA’s volume is expected to rise to 56,200 in 2015 and up to 90,000 or higher in 2016. The 2015 Hyundai Tucson is good enough to pull that off if there is strong marketing support behind the vehicle (the last generation was essentially a “launch and leave” proposition with little marketing support). At 90,000 units, the Tucson will have about 6% of the segment.
Pre-Family Market Target Who will buy the 2016 Hyundai Tucson? HMA sees this as the entry targeted at “pre-family” singles and couples. Tucson is 8.5-inches shorter than the Santa Fe Sport that is targeted at “post-family” couples who no longer need the seven-passenger three row capacity of the 8.5-inch longer (than Santa Fe Sport) Santa Fe. Santa Fe is targeted at “core families”. Tucson democratizes technology by offering most of the latest gee whiz electronic features available on higher classes of products.
Hyundai describes its styling as bold and confident and it certainly comes across that way. It has a slightly more vertical windshield that helps ingress to the front seats. Tucson adopts Hyundai’s new corporate face with the hexagonal grille. From the side view, the Tucson is lean and wedgy. Exterior styling was by Hyundai’s European studio. The interior was styled in California. Ergonomics are outstanding with controls placed where expected. There is an 8-inch information screen with navigation and Hyundai’s BlueLink interface. The only criticism is with map graphics that don’t show enough detail and seem to show only major arteries, not the interesting spur roads you pass.
MY16 Hyundai Tucson
Powertrain OK but Full Throttle is Disappointing The base engine is Hyundai’s Nu 2.0L GDI 4-cylinder that has 164-horsepower and 151 lb ft of torque. The 2.0 L mileage figures are 23/31/26mpg. The 2.0L gets a six-speed automatic transmission. The optional engine, and the engine on the majority of Tucson models, is the Gamma 1.6L 4-cylinder Turbo with 175-horsepower and 195 lb ft of torque. The 1.6L mileage figures are 26/33/29mpg). The 1.6L gets a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. You definitely want the higher torque 1.6L Turbo. The torque is the key to performance feel. In the examples of the Tucson I drove, there was a noticeable lag when full throttle acceleration was wanted or needed from a stop (with traffic approaching, for instance). Pedal to the metal was disappointing. On a part throttle take off, this was not evident. It seemed to happen only when you really wanted the oomph. This is a characteristic an owner will learn over time, but Hyundai should sort it out ASAP.
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.
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.