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Cadillac XT4 Small Crossover SUV – Nice Vehicle, High Price.

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Driving the new Cadillac XT4 on the excellent country roads around Seattle and Bainbridge Island revealed a vehicle that is well conceived and well put-together.

Let’s Talk About the Styling: Cadillac designers and engineers have developed a vehicle with outstanding proportions using an all new platform. They have pushed the wheels out to the corners of the vehicle so the stance of the XT4 is great. Some small XSUVs seem too narrow and too tall. The XT4 looks wide enough to have a very purposeful appearance.

The styling cues are pretty distinctive. Cadillac is known for unique “light pipe” daylight running lights. The XT4 goes the typical light pipe one better. An eyebrow flowing towards the grille from the vertical light pipe gives XT4 a hard-to-miss look. Carried over into the vertical taillamps, XT4 takes advantage of new LED lighting technology. While XT4 looks modern, it does not rely on an extremely fast windshield to give it a sense of motion. XT4 is styling is different, but not too contrived.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport:  Source – Cadillac

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport:  Source – Cadillac

Let’s Talk About the Package: For a Cadillac, XT4 is small, but it does not feel small when you are looking at it, sitting in it or driving it. Many of XT4 competitors are difficult to get into and out of. Not the XT4. XT4 has generous door openings that invite you into the interior. The driver’s seat is comfortable and visibility is excellent all around. XT4 is an exercise in effective package design.

Ergonomics Excellent:  The layout of the instrument panel, instrument cluster and console area are excellent.  Everything is easy to see and most is easy to use.  While no car can pass the rental car test today (Hertz, midnight, pouring rain, set radio, HVAC, start and drive away), the AT4 interface comes pretty close.  It does not however solve my ongoing bugaboo of showing street name on the nav map, but no city name.  Only Ford seems to do that at present.

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport:  Source – Cadillac

2019 Cadillac XT4 Sport:  Source – Cadillac

Powertrain is Competitive: The XT4 is powered by an upgraded Spring Hill, TN-assembled, 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo that has 237-horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque. That is enough power and torque to propel the XT4 around town and on the freeway. In fact, 4-cylinder engines with these basic specifications have become the default engine for everything from small and mid-size XSUVs and mid-size cars.

The XT4 4-cylinder is mated to a new 9-speed automatic transmission. The Powertrain combination yields good fuel economy. The 9-speed is designed to deliver quick, smooth shifts throughout the power band.

Now the Problem – Price: The XT4 base price is $35,790 including destination. This seems pretty reasonable. In fact, going to the upper trim levels – Premium Luxury and Sport – both at $40,290 seems like a good deal. But these upper models do not include all the features consumers have come to expect in premium and even popular brand vehicles. Once those features are added – adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind spot warning, navigation, all wheel drive – the price skyrockets. Vehicles provided for the press preview were all in the $56,000 to $59,000 range.

For reference a small XSUV from popular-brand Hyundai – the Kona – tops out at around $30,000 with features similar to the XT4. Of course it is full of plastic. It’s seats are not as comfortable. It is not as quiet. But is the XT4 worth twice as much. Not fair, a Hyundai does not compare to a Cadillac. Fair enough. Let’s look at the all new Acura RD-X. It is powered by a 2.0L Turbo similar to the XT4, but the Acura 2.0L puts out 272HP – 35HP more than the XT4. Loading up an RD-X yields a price of about $47,000. Maybe Acura is not a Cadillac, but is the Cadillac brand worth a $10,000 premium over a Cadillac?

Fairfax, Kansas Assembly: XT4 is assembled at General Motors’ Fairfax, KS Assembly Plant. The Chevrolet Malibu is also assembled there. Cadillac assures us that the XT4 is totally unique and does not share any Malibu parts. The capacity allocated to XT4 is 45,000 units. If demand warrants it, additional capacity can be added. That depends on whether the millennial audience Cadillac is depending on buying XT4 really reacts positively to it at its price.


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Atomization – Auto Industry Apocalypse Ahead – Vehicle Nameplates Soar as Sales Fall

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Over the past decades, the American auto industry has “atomized” with more and more new car and light truck models being added to the lineups each year.  The reason for this rapid addition of nameplates – atomization – has been an attempt by auto designers and marketers to provide products targeted to much more finely defined product niches.  Consumers demand more and more focused products and today’s automotive consumer research can identify exactly what those consumers want.  Current product development techniques allow vehicles to be developed more quickly and efficiently than in the past.  So, why not develop a vehicle targeted at each well-defined buyer group?

17-million Sales Years Not Sustainable

During the ‘90s, a good year was 15 million car and light truck sales.  By early in the first decade of the 2000s, the industry was expecting 17 million units per year.  Companies began adding more and more nameplates to take advantage of these robust sales numbers and to target their customers more closely.  As more nameplates were added, the market softened.

At the industry peak in 2000, sales hit 17.3 million units and there were 232 car and light truck nameplates on the market in the United States. This resulted in an average sales volume of about 73,000 units per nameplate.  In 2010 the industry cratered to 10.2 million units. There were 301 nameplates resulting in an average of only 34,000 units sold per nameplate; a whopping 39,000-unit deterioration in the average sales volume per nameplate from 2000.

Jump forward to 2017, the next peak sales year when sales hit 17.2 million units.  The nameplate count remained stable at 302 nameplates.  Average sales per nameplate in 2017 were about 57,000 units.  However, due to adding nameplates, the average was still 16,000 lower than in the year 2000 on average.  In a 17 million unit year, a lot of nameplates can be fed.

Forecast for 2023 – 15.7-million Sales but 80 more Nameplates to Sell – Atomization

But, as history has shown, 17 million unit sales years are not sustainable.  AutoPacific’s Industry Analysis team forecasts sales for 2023 will be 15.7 million units.  Automakers have plans to add 80 more nameplates between 2017 and 2023.  This means that 382 nameplates will average just 41,000 sales apiece.

In 2017, there were 163 car nameplates and 139 truck (pickups, SUVs, crossovers and vans) nameplates.  In 2019 there will be more truck nameplates than cars and by 2023 there are forecast to be 214 truck nameplates.  Most of these added trucks are SUVs and crossovers.  Truck penetration in the market is expected to be 72% in 2023.  Crossover SUVs alone will add about 70 nameplates between 2017 and 2023!

Top Ten Vehicles Account for 27% of Sales

To add to the challenge, the top ten best-selling vehicles, like the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram 1500, etc., account for 27% of the market.  In 2023, that leaves 372 nameplates to battle over about 11,500,000 sales after removing the top ten volume.  The result is a further drop in average sales per nameplate to about 31,000.

This is a very simplistic analysis, but it is clear that the next five years will be a marketing challenge for the automotive industry.  “The marketing challenge is real,” says AutoPacific president George Peterson. “AutoPacific has helped many automakers launch targeted new vehicles and how they navigate this impending crisis should result in a marketing war that hasn’t been seen in years.”

•     •     •     •     •

AutoPacific is an automotive specialist research and product planning consulting firm headquartered in North Tustin, California.  Since 1986, AutoPacific has been providing market and product research services to automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers around the world.  This press release is based on an analysis by AutoPacific’s Industry Analysis team “Atomization – the 2018 View Looking to 2023 – Auto Crisis on the Horizon.”

Contact George Peterson at 714.838.4234 or Ed Kim at 562.541.5360 to discuss these results.


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New Hyundai Santa Fe Raises the Bar

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The Hyundai Santa Fe (@hyundaisantafe) was the first Korean brand vehicle to win AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award. That was in 2001. There have been four generations of the Hyundai Santa Fe selling 1.6 million units in the USA. All have been successively better than its predecessor. The 5th Generation Hyundai Santa Fe, the 2019 model, has just been released and all Hyundai dealers should have them in their showrooms by the end of August 2018.

2019 Santa Fe – a REAL SUV 

Hyundai Motor America product planners rightly concluded that the previous generation had gotten too soft and sporty. The stylists of that fourth generation sacrificed utility for style making the windshield faster and making the side glass narrower. This gave the impression of a smaller vehicle.

The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe moves away from the swoopy, sporty look of the 4th generation.  It evolves to a style that is stronger and more confident looking.  Clearly, the fact that a vehicle is a crossover – meaning unit body construction instead of the traditional SUV body-on-frame construction – does not detract from its SUV-ness.

The windshield is stiffer which improves ease of getting in and out. The side windows are larger due to a lower belt line. This provides better all-around visibility. The vehicle is a bit larger and the final result is a crossover SUV that is within a half-inch here and a half-inch there of its facing completion. There are no deficiencies in its package.

Loaded With Technology Still Reasonably Priced 

As is customary with Hyundai products, the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is loaded with the latest technology and especially new safety technology. The 5th generation has Hyundai’s SafetySense suite of features as standard equipment. This adds to the vehicle’s cost and subsequently its price, but HMA management says its dealers find customers are accepting slightly higher prices for the improved safety features.

When you check all the boxes and get the highest model and all the features, prices can move a bit above $35,000.  This still seems like a value. At this price point the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe feature set includes Hyundai SafetySense, head up display, memory heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, automatic climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation system, premium sound and others.

Interior Design Top Notch 

The interior design shows attention to detail found in more expensive XSUVs. The instrument panel is a double cockpit design with a sweeping concave area holding the instrument cluster in front of the driver. There is a spacious shape mimicking the driver’s area in front of the front seat passenger. This is a design that is very difficult to get right in production because the fit and finish on each side can be very difficult to line up. The Santa Fe examples I saw were all very well aligned.

Enough Oomph for Most Driving Conditions 

The 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is powered by either a 185-horsepower 2.4L DOHC Naturally Aspirated 4-cylinder or a 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder. The examples we drove were the 2.0L Turbo four mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. With 235-horsepower and 260 lb-ft torque the Santa Fe performed better than expected at the high altitudes where we drove the vehicle.

Hyundai was not shy about taking the Santa Fe on rough roads. Dirt, washboards, the Santa Fe handled it all with no problem. The final proof that the Santa Fe is a very capable XSUV off-road was a steep hill climb over dirt, mud and rocks. No problem. While almost no owner of a Hyundai Santa Fe will ever take their vehicle on a climb like this one, the vehicle is capable of relatively aggressive off-roading and more.

All-in-all, the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is an outstanding replacement for the outgoing 4th generation Santa Fe and should help Hyundai improve its truck mix from 43.5% July 2018 calendar year to date to 50% in pretty short order.

Future Hyundai XSUVs Will Push Truck Mix over 50%

Santa Fe cannot achieve that mix increase alone. There will be several additional XSUVs added to the Hyundai truck line-up. There will be a very small XSUV positioned below the small, and very successful, Hyundai Kona. There will be the Hyundai Nexo fuel cell XSUV. There will be a larger three row seven/eight passenger XSUV above the Hyundai Santa Fe. Finally, Hyundai is very serious about competing in the


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Honda Trucks Now 52% of Honda Sales in USA

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Honda 2019 Truck Lineup – 52% of Honda Sales

2019 Honda Pilot with Dealer Installed Accessory Decal Kit – Say it isn’t so!

Honda is a car company, right?  Their premium mid-size truck offerings – Honda Pilot, Honda Odyssey, Honda Ridgeline – are all doing very well thank you.

Honda’s Accord and Civic sedans have been among the best selling vehicles for years.  Honda usually counts retail sales when they are quoting sales figures because their sales to fleets is virtually non-existent.  But their best selling vehicle is the Honda CR-V – a mid-size crossover SUV (XSUV).  It seems like every other woman in Orange County is driving one.  Year to date, “truck sales” have accounted for 52% of Honda’s sales in the USA.  (AutoPacific’s forecast is that truck sales will be over 70% of the industry within the next five years).

We had an opportunity to drive Honda’s truck line-up at the Epona Estate in Hidden Hills near Westlake Village.  The event featured the freshened 2019 Honda Pilot Premium Mid-Size XSUV and the Honda HR-V.  The promise of the event was there was going to be an off-road course for the Pilot.  Unfortunately, the HR-V was not available to drive because of the cars being stranded in a flood in Mexico.

2019 Honda Pilot:  The Honda Pilot freshening is relatively minor and adds to the character of an already good product.  Honda Pilot is standard with 8-passenger seating, but can had with second row captain’s chairs giving a capacity of 7-passengers.  HondaSensing is standard on all Pilots for 2019.  This is Honda’s suite of driver assistance technologies including adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, etc.  Also, all Honda Pilots get LED headlamps, LED daytime running lights and automatic high beams.

Honda has finessed the 280HP 3.5L V6 and 6-speed automatic transmission in the Pilot to enhance noise, vibration and harshness.  The drive vehicles were Elite models which checks all the boxes and upgrades the transmission to a 9-speed unit.  The drive is seamless, quiet and confident.

Honda is fighting the features war with the Honda Pilot adding features not previously available or now being expected on a Premium Mid-Size XSUV.  Cabin control is on the second step up EX model.  Memory driver seat and mirrors are on the EX-L model (52% of sales).  So are 2nd row seat sunshades.  If you pop for the EX-L with Navi and RSE you get the navigation system and rear seat entertainment (for those of us who don’t want RSE, it is unfortunately standard on the upper Touring (25%) and Elite (10%) models).   By the time you have selected the Elite model you have power moonroof, power liftgate, Homelink, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, parking sensors, dual-pane panoramic moonroof, ventilated front seats and rain sensing wipers.  Clearly, you can get a fully equipped Pilot that leaves almost nothing to desire.

Honda did the unthinkable with an XSUV, they let us drive the Honda Pilot off-road on an albeit mild off-road course.  Not the stuff of Jeep off-roading events, but much more than most XSUV makers will attempt.  These are shots of Pilot doing things you wouldn’t think it was capable of.  Good going, Honda…

2019 HR-V:  It is too bad the HR-V couldn’t be driven.  This is a delightful compact crossover XSUV.  With its magic seating system, HR-V is an extremely flexible package.  For 2019, HR-V adds Sport and Touring trim levels to broaden its appeal.  Sport is one notch above the base LX trim level and should account for 20% of HR-V sales.  The top of the line Touring trim gets a nod for 7% of the mix.  You have to get to the EX trim (42%) to get HondaSensing.  At the top in the Touring package AWD is standard as is Navigation, LED headlamps and foglights.  This begs the question if there is room in the HR-V lineup for an even more fully equipped Elite model?

Ridgeline, Odyssey and CR-V:  Honda also had the rest of its truck lineup on hand for local drives.  All are top notch, but surprisingly the Ridgeline pickup proved to be the most fun.  It is a good size has good performance and is quiet and solid-feeling.  If I needed a pickup, the Ridgeline would certainly be in my consideration set.  (FYI:  Ridgeline won both AutoPacific awards in 2019 – Vehicle Satisfaction Award and Ideal Vehicle Award.  Odyssey also won both AutoPacific awards for 2019 – quite a sweep!)

#HondaPilot, #HondaHRV, #HondaRidgeline, #HondaCRV, #HondaOdyssey, #AutoPacific


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AutoPacific 2018 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards

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AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Awards Logo

AutoPacific Announces 2018 Vehicle Satisfaction AwardsGenesis Most Satisfying Premium Brand; Nissan Earns Most Wins, Top Score Goes to Chevrolet Traverse

The results of AutoPacific’s 22nd annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSAs) identify the most satisfying vehicles in the market. An industry benchmark for measuring how satisfied an owner is with his/her new vehicle, VSAs are based on survey responses from over 58,000 owners of new 2017 and 2018 cars and light trucks.

“VSAs provide consumers with insight into which vehicles are giving owners a satisfying ownership experience,” says AutoPacific president George Peterson. AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Awards objectively measure owner satisfaction with 40 separate attributes ranging from seating comfort and interior quality to driving performance.“AutoPacific VSAs are unique in their inclusion of importance in the calculations,” explains Peterson. “Not only do we measure owner satisfaction, but we also measure how important each attribute was to owners in their shopping process, resulting in a satisfaction score representative of demanding owners.”

Trucks Most Satisfying

Reflecting the booming sales of trucks in the USA, trucks – pickups, sport utility vehicles and minivans – are much more satisfying than cars.  SUVs, both traditional and crossovers, are the most satisfying truck categories.

Genesis Reaches Top

Luxury brand Genesis, in its second year in the market, wins top luxury brand, edging out second place Lexus and achieving the highest brand satisfaction score to date. “In just two years, Genesis has reached a level of owner satisfaction unattained by more established luxury brands,” says Peterson. In addition to the most satisfying luxury brand, Genesis G90 wins the Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Luxury Car for the second year in a row.

Nissan Claims Most Brand Wins

Five Nissan vehicles win Vehicle Satisfaction Awards for their respective segments: the Nissan Titan, Murano, Maxima, LEAF and 370Z. “Not only does Nissan have the most brand wins for the second year in a row, the Maxima and Murano have been unbeatable since their redesigns were introduced to the market,” says Peterson. The Murano crossover has its 4thwin since its 2015 redesign and the Maxima has its 3rdwin since its 2016 redesign. New for 2018, this is the first win for the LEAF, winning in the growing Mainstream EV segment, the second win for the Titan and the first win for the 370Z. Two Infiniti crossovers, the QX80 and QX60, are also 2018 VSA winners.

Five All-New or Redesigned Vehicles Top Their Segment

Of the twenty-six winning vehicles, five were redesigned for the 2018 model year, including the top-scoring Chevrolet Traverse, which greatly exceeds the score of its nearest competitor, Toyota C-HR, a new entry in a highly competitive and growing segment, and Nissan LEAF, a clear winner over competing mainstream EVs. Also winning with their new designs are the all-new Honda Odyssey and Hyundai Accent. “The success of redesigned vehicles speaks to the efforts of product planners and designers who spend years researching and designing in the hopes of hitting the mark with consumers,” says Peterson.

American and Korean Brands Share Most Satisfying Popular Brand Title

GMC is the most satisfying popular brand for the second year in a row, but this year it shares its title with Hyundai and Ram. “Having two strong American truck brands and a Korean brand known for its cars is pretty incredible,” says Peterson. Although GMC has won several times, it is the first brand win for Ram and Hyundai.

2018 VEHICLE SATISFACTION AWARD WINNERS

Most Satisfying Vehicle Overall: Chevrolet Traverse

Highest Satisfaction Premium Brand: Genesis

Highest Satisfaction Popular Brand: 3-way tie: GMC, Hyundai, Ram

Passenger Cars

  • Luxury Car:  Genesis G90 (2ndyear)
  • Aspirational Luxury Car:  Lexus IS
  • Luxury Mid-Size Car:  Nissan Maxima (3rdyear)
  • Large Car:  Dodge Charger
  • Mid-Size Car:  Hyundai Sonata
  • Premium Compact Car:  Audi A3
  • Compact Car:  Hyundai Elantra
  • Mainstream EV Car:  Nissan LEAF
  • Economy Car:  Hyundai Accent
  • Sports Car:  Nissan 370Z
  • Sporty Car:  Dodge Challenger (2ndyear)

Light Trucks

  • Light Duty Pickup:  Nissan Titan (2ndyear)
  • Heavy Duty Pickup:  GMC Sierra HD
  • Mid-Size Pickup:  Honda Ridgeline (2ndyear)
  • Luxury SUV:  Infiniti QX80
  • Large SUV:  Toyota Sequoia
  • Mid-Size SUV:Toyota 4Runner (tie)
  • Mid-Size SUV:  Jeep Grand Cherokee (tie; 2ndyear)
  • Premium Luxury XSUV:  Mercedes-Benz GLS
  • Luxury XSUV:Infiniti QX60
  • Large XSUV:  Chevrolet Traverse
  • Premium Mid-Size XSUV:  Nissan Murano (4thyear)
  • Mid-Size XSUV:  Honda CR-V
  • Compact XSUV:  Toyota C-HR
  • Minivan: Honda Odyssey (tie)
  • Minivan:  Toyota Sienna (tie)

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2018 Hyundai Kona Added to Fast Erupting Small XSUV Segment

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The all new 2018 Hyundai Kona small crossover SUV (XSUV) has just been shown to the press in an event held, wait for it, on the Kona Coast of The Big Island of Hawaii.  There were 23 or 24 Konas on hand for the journalists to drive around the island.  So, this was a pretty big event for Hyundai Motor America (HMA).

In AutoPacific’s 2017 Small XSUV Consultancy, 38 XSUVs with a wheelbase of 110-inches or less are included.  There were enough data to do complete analyses on that many individual vehicles.  There are an additional seven all new small XSUVs on sale now but too new to have been included in the AutoPacific database.  That makes 45 entries in the small XSUV category.  Now comes the 2018 Hyundai Kona wading into the fray.2018 Hyundai Kona F34 View2018 Hyundai Kona Side View2018 Hyundai Kona R34 View

Hyundai Late to the Small XSUV Game  Hyundai is a bit late to the game with its B-Segment small XSUV.  Hyundai mostly thinks “CARS” and was forced kicking and screaming to develop another small SUV.  Before the Kona was developed, Hyundai Motor Corporation (HMC) offered Hyundai Motor America a small XSUV developed mainly for India.  Luckily for HMA, their parent company did not push that down their throats and the result is the Kona – a bit late, but a whole lot better.  Next year, an even smaller A-segment XSUV will be introduced along with a larger range topping three row seven passenger XSUV (like the old Veracruz).  So, it appears HMC got religion and is providing HMA with what it needs to compete.

Trucks to Reign as Cars are De-emphasized  As carmakers begin providing what consumers are really asking for – crossover SUVs – the shift from traditional three-box (hood, cabin, trunk) cars will accelerate and the two-box bodystyle will predominate.  Truck sales (pickups, SUVs and minivans) outpaced cars in 2010 and now account for about 64% of the market.  Crossover SUVs first outsold traditional (body-on-frame) SUVs in 2004 and never looked back.  As the small XSUV segment matures, it should command between 17% and 20% of the market of light cars and trucks in the USA.

Kona Competitive Set per Hyundai Motor AmericaHugely Competitive Segment  Hyundai’s planners identify eight primary competitors for the 2018 Hyundai Kona – Chevy Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Toyota C-HR, Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-3, Ford EcoSport and Nissan Kicks.  With 45-plus entries in its size category sold by popular brands and premium brands alike, Kona goes up against some solid heavyweights.

Kona Styling    The proportions of the 2018 Hyundai Kona are different.  It has a long hood with long front overhang and a very short rear overhang.  Stylists have achieved a aggressiveness and muscularity in a small package.    The front end is has the Hyundai shield grille flanked by large headlights buried in a charcoal surround.  LED running lights top the front fascia just at the leading edge of the hood.   The bodyside has bold character lines flowing towards the rear.  The wheel arches are swathed in charcoal cladding.  The cladding may be overdone, but Kona appears to pull it off pretty well.  Once you study the Kona for awhile, it grows on you.

Kona Size – Smaller, But Does Not Feel Small  Among Kona’s competitive set, it has the shortest overall length (164.0-inches).  Its wheelbase (102.4-inches) is pretty much in line with competition.  The cockpit feels spacious and its dimensions are in line with its competition.  The rear seat is a skosh small with only the Toyota C-HR having less rear seat legroom.  While you might think Kona skimped on cargo area it has not.  Its 19.2 cubic foot cargo area is mid pack.  Only the Honda HR-V and Subaru Crosstrek larger.

2018 Hyundai Kona CockpitPowertrains – About What You’d Expect in this Class of XSUV  There are two engine/transmission combinations.  The base engine is a Nu 2.0L Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder with 147-horsepower and 132-lb.ft of torque.  The 2.0L is teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission.  The base engine powers the lower two of the four Kona models.  The top engine is the Gamma 1.6L GDI 4-cylinder Turbo mated to a 7-speed EcoShift DCT.  It has 175-horsepower and 195-lb.ft. of torque.  Both powertrains are rated at 30mpg combined city/highway fuel economy.  All wheel drive is available on both powertrains and all models.

Hyundai SmartSense  Kona is available with an array of driver assistance technologies in the Hyundai SmartSense Suite.  SmartSense includes forward collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision warning, lane keeping assist, high beam assist, blind spot warning and driver attention warning.  In AutoPacific research, a blind spot warning system is a feature with very high demand.  Hyundai has made it standard on the Sonata mid-size car, but in the Kona it is standard one-step up from the base SE model in the SEL model.  Still, this is good compared with competitive installations.

Attractive Pricing  The base SE model starts at $19,500 (without destination).  The highest volume model likely will be the SEL with a starting price of $21,150.  It is available with a $1,500 technology package. The next step is the Limited at $24,700.  Check all the boxes until there are no more and you come to the Unlimited model at $27,400.  The Unlimited is where you get an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, head-up display and  the full Hyundai SmartSense suite of safety features.

No Vehicle is Perfect  As vehicles and technology evolve buyers are expecting more.  For instance, the 2018 Hyundai Kona has an 8-way power driver seat available, but only manual adjustment (without a height adjustment) is available on the passenger side.  Cruise control is standard, but adaptive cruise control that most buyers expect today is not yet available.  Hyundai’s planners hint that adaptive cruise is only a short time away.

In Summary  The 2018 Hyundai Kona promises to be a very competitive entry in the small XSUV category.  A buyer won’t miss much, if anything at all, if they select a Kona.  This is a vehicle that Hyundai Motor America has needed and has been waiting for.  Now it is up the dealers and marketing/advertising folks to get Kona into the consideration sets of prospective buyers.  It should do very well.


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2018 Hyundai Accent No Longer a Penalty to Drive

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2018 Hyundai Accent

2018 Hyundai Accent Substantially Upgraded

Once upon a time, way back in 1986, I drove a Hyundai Excel.  Excel was Hyundai’s entry vehicle to the USA market.  It was terrifying to drive.  It wallowed, wheezed and it felt like parts were falling off as it rolled down the road.  With the upcoming launch of the 2018 Hyundai Accent, the successor to the first Excel, Hyundai has a very respectable sub-compact car to sell.

Of course, car sales are down, and Hyundai Motor America would rather have the Kona small crossover SUV on dealer lots now instead of in the Spring.  But Accent is needed as the low-priced anchor to Hyundai’s car presence.

2018 Hyundai Accent Models and Pricing  Hyundai has raised the base MSRP by $250, but it feels like much more cost was added to the car than $250.  Its $14,995 base price is for a  base SE 4-door sedan with a 6-speed manual transmission.  A 6-speed automatic on the SE adds $1,000.  The top of the line Limited goes for $18,895 and an 8-speed automatic is standard.  All models of the 2018 Hyundai Accent are powered by a 130-horsepower 1.6L DOHC GDI 4-cylinder engine.

Going up to the mid-range SEL model you get a 4-wheel disc brakes, a 7-inch center screen and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability, driver’s blind spot mittot.  When you go all out and select the Limited, front LED accent lights, sunroof, LED taillamps, 17-inch wheels, BlueLink Connected Services, automatic temperature control and a 3.5-inch TFT screen in the instrument cluster are added.  Heated seats are part of the Limited package.2018 Hyundai Accent2018 Hyundai Accent2018 Hyundai Accent

2018 Hyundai Accent Presence  But pricing and equipment isn’t all that is interesting about the Accent.  It looks good and doesn’t look particularly downscale.  Accent now has the  signature Hyundai grille. Its profile is semi-fastback like the Sonata.

The ride is good.  Handling is better than many small cars.  Ergonomics are excellent.  The beefy leather wrapped steering wheel in the Limited is worthy of a much more expensive car.  The door closing sound is a reassuring thunk rather than a clang that characterized many small cars in the past.  Easy to get into, with great visibility, the Excel will be an easy car to live with.

The only strong criticism is the interior. The black interior of the model AutoPacific drove swallowed light like a black hole.  The seats, while pretty comfortable, had a muted check insert that confirmed its lower price positioning.  The upper surface of the instrument panel glared under heavy sunlight – almost like it had a coat of Armor-all on it. Not good.2018 Hyundai Accent Panel Glare

The customer looking for base transportation without too many bells and whistles should be very satisfied with the 2018 Hyundai Accent.

#2018HyundaiAccent #HyundaiAccent


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2018 Jeep Wrangler Now Can Be an Every Day Driver

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2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara – High Volume Model

All New 2018 Jeep Wrangler

One of the major challenges for Jeep in the major re-design of the 2018 Jeep Wrangler – the 4th Gen Wrangler – was how to maintain its ultimate off-road capability while making it easier to live with day-to-day.  Jeep says “we are maintaining and enhancing tradition.”  And they are.   Previous Wranglers were capable off-road, but abusive on-road.  Generally, a Wrangler owner would only keep it for two or three years and then move into a vehicle that was softer, and more compliant.  It was a one-time vehicle.  Probably it was one of those things where the happiest days were when you bought it and then when you got rid of it.  The market for nearly-new Wranglers is robust among avid off-roaders.

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler has a simple model lineup.  There are 2-door and 4-door bodystyles.  The 2-door is available in Sport and Rubicon models and represents 25% to 33% of the bodystyle mix.  The 4-door Wrangler Unlimited immediately outsold the 2-door and has two-thirds to three-quarters of the bodystyle mix.  The 4-door is available in Sport, Sport S, Sahara and Rubicon models.

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler is new from the ground up and, while keeping the character of its predecessors, fixes the issues the may have prevented someone from keeping theirs for a long time.  The new Wrangler is a vehicle you can drive day-to-day in comfort for years.  The design is unmistakably Wrangler, and at-a-glance, many folks will not be able to tell the difference.  It looks tough and capable.  Still hard-core.  Sure the grille is laid back a bit and so is the windshield.  This improves its brick-like aerodynamics by a few percentage points (9% improvement).  The belt-line is lower providing much larger side windows that provide better visibility.

In a head nod to off-roaders, the doors of the 2018 Jeep Wrangler can be removed.  The windshield can fold down.  The roof can open or come off depending on which roof you have.  There is a wide selection of tops – two hardtops, the “Sky One-Touch” power top, and a soft top are available.  The Wrangler can be completely closed or completely open depending on climate, terrain and how dusty you want to get.

The doors, hood, fenders and windshield frame are aluminum to save weight.  The swing gate is magnesium.  All in the quest for lighter weight and more responsive handling.

Improving driving comfort was a central objective for the Wrangler engineering team.   There have to be trade-offs between on-road riding comfort and off-road capability.  Jeep has done an outstanding job with the 2018 Jeep Wrangler in achieving those objectives.  Unlike its predecessors, the new Wrangler has a supple ride with good wheel travel.  This is not what owners of previous generation Wranglers experienced.  The ride is so good, you would expect off-road capability to be sacrificed, but it is not.

Powertrain and 4×4 Choices

There are two powertrains available at launch.  The base engine is the tried-and-true 3.6L Pentastar V6 with 285-horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.  The V6 provides plenty of grunt that Wrangler owners are accustomed to.  The new premium engine is a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder mild hybrid with eTorque technology.  The 4-cylinder has 270-horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.  The personality between the two is dramatically different.  The V6 is solid and purposeful.  The 4-cylinder turbo feels like it has more finesse.  It is very responsive and revs willingly.  Also, it is very quiet.  Made in Italy and derived from the Alfa Romeo 4-cylinder found in the Guilia and Stelvio, the 4-cylinder is a very happy engine that will provide satisfying driving in all conditions.  The 4-cylinder turbo will be a $1,000 option over the V6.  Driving off-road, both were extremely capable.

Two transmissions are available on the V6 – an 8-speed automatic and a 6-speed manual.  The 4-cylinder is automatic only.  A diesel will be added to the lineup in 2019 and a plug-in hybrid in 2020.

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler has a fully boxed frame that is lighter weight than its predecessor.  There are several 4×4 choices.  Command Trac is on the lower line Sport and mid-line Sahara models.  The most capable Wrangler is the Rubicon that gets the Rock Trac 4×4 system.  Rubicon also includes an electronic locking differential and front sway bar disconnect.  At the press event in the Tucson, Arizona desert the off-road portion of the drive used Rubicon model Wranglers, but Jeep engineers said that a Sahara could also transverse the course with little problem.  One defining characteristic of the Rubicon is the front fender height.  To accommodate larger tires that many Wrangler owners fit to their vehicles, the front fenders are mounted two inches higher than the Sport or Sahara models.

Comfort and Convenience Technology

Gone are the days when a hard-core off-roader was a Spartan machine with few amenities.  The 2018 Jeep Wrangler provides all the creature comforts and conveniences a buyer of modern vehicles have come to expect.  Of course there is a center screen featuring FCA’s Uconnect infotainment system.  Depending on model and equipment, the screen size is 5.0, 7.0 or 8.4 inches.  The instrument cluster is available with a 7-inch TFT display that has over 100 ways to personalize it for the driver.  Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available.  The rear camera with dynamic grid lines is standard.  Blind spot monitoring and  rear cross path detection is available.  One thing missing that would have been a benefit to off-roaders is a 360 degree camera.  In tight off-road situations without a spotter a 360-degree camera can help the vehicle maneuver between obstacles.  Maybe as a running change.

Pricing

Wrangler pricing ranges from $26,995 for a 2-door Sport  ($3,000 higher than the base 2017 model) to $40,495 for a 4-door Rubicon.  The center of mass will be the 4-door Sahara model that lists for $37,345.  There is a $1,195 destination charge.  So the new Wrangler is not cheap by any means, and Jeep expects to sell 250,000 worldwide each year, but given the significant upgrades to the product these prices seem reasonable.  Of course, a fully optioned Rubicon can probably hit $50,000 or more that some proud buyer will be happy to pay to drive this ultimate off-roader.

#2018jeepwrangler #2018wrangler #jeepwrangler #newjeepwrangler

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Kia Stinger is Hot – Inflection Point for Kia Brand

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The Kia Stinger is a 5-door hatchback sport sedan that ventures into an area Kia has not gone before. Kia describes the Stinger as “an inflection point that takes Kia to a different level”. It does, indeed.

What is the Stinger  The Kia Stinger is a rear wheel (or AWD) mid-size car with a long wheelbase, a large interior package and outstanding driving dynamics. Using worldwide design resources, including a delay to finesse the chassis by former BMW “M” executive Albert Biermann, the Stinger provides Kia with a world-class challenger to German sport sedans. The vehicle closest in concept is the Audi A7 hatchback.

Driving the Stinger  We drove Kia Stinger V6 GTs (there were at least 36 Stingers in the first wave of Kia’s two-wave press preview) over the Angeles Crest Highway north of LA. These are challenging mountainous twisties that reveal the competence of a vehicle when pushed aggressively. Here the Stinger was very good. It was solidly planted, very stable, and hugged the road.

The Kia Stinger GT is also fast. Its 365-horsepower turbo V6 is powerful and flexible. Power is instantaneous. Kia claims a zero-to-60 time of 4.7 seconds. The engine note is muted even at full power and cabin quietness is very good. This is premium-brand quietness.

The GT2 level vehicles driven have Brembo brakes with red calipers. When aggressively on the binders the system compensates for brake fade so you keep constant pressure on the pedal rather then pushing harder to get more braking oomph.

Easy to Live With  Ergonomics are good.  It comes close to passing the rental car test where you can intuitively start the car and drive off at midnight in a driving rainstorm. The steering wheel may be a bit intimidating until you suss out what each of the buttons does. There is a bright center display with good graphics – some of the best in the industry.  The nav system shows the road you are on but not the city you are in. A pet peeve of mine in dense geography, it doesn’t take much more to display the city name (Ford’s SYNC system has shown the city name from the start.). The Kia Stinger comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto… as any modern vehicle should.

Surrogate for an XSUV for the Discerning Mom?  At the press briefing, Kia had a chance to really tout the utility of the car. When asked who would drive it, the obvious was missed. The young mother with one or two infants that loves advanced styling and fun to drive. For her, a crossover SUV might not do it. All of her peers are beginning to drive those, right? (Crossover SUVs might be becoming the new minivan… not the right image). Wanting to be different, she chooses the Kia Stinger – clearly a car appealing to a man – because the liftgate-accessed cargo area gives her the utility she needs with her kids.

Very Attractive Pricing  The base Kia Stinger comes with a powerful turbo 4~cylinder and is priced about $32,000 which is attainable for many Kia buyers. Check all the boxes to get GT2 level Stinger GT with all wheel drive you can get over $50,000. With the feature load of the entire lineup, Stinger is a compelling proposition.

While we haven’t driven the 4-cylinder yet, it promises to be quick and nimble due to its lower weight. Can’t wait to get in one.

Kia Brand is Elephant in the Room  The elephant int the room is the Kia brand.  Initially positioned as a cheap and cheerful brand, Kia has increasingly been selling better and better products.  In AutoPacific‘s 2016 and 2017 consumer research, Kia has been the top scoring popular brand providing an “ideal” vehicle.  But even while Kia has been selling higher priced Cadenza and K900 sedans for years now, it is not a premium brand.  The Kia Stinger is an outstanding effort and a product to be proud of.  Getting Stinger into the consideration set that may include the Audi A7, BMW 440i Grand Coupe and even the Porsche Panamera will be a challenge.  Kia Stinger’s huge price advantage should get buyers wanting a very sporty fun to drive sedan to visit a Kia dealer for a test drive.  Time will tell if Kia and Kia dealers can set the hook and land the sale.

#kiastinger #stingerishere


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Manual or Automatic Transmission? What Enthusiasts Prefer to Drive

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Whizzing around tight corners, while rapidly shifting the gears of a manual transmission is exhilarating! However, reality dictates that I spend most of my driving time mindlessly crawling through rush-hour traffic, so the thought of constantly burying my leg into a clutch while shifting from 2nd to 3rd back to 2nd every five seconds has made me think twice about buying a car with a manual transmission. Driving an automatic now-a-days just seems more convenient for day-to-day driving. And apparently I am not alone here.

VehicleVoice recently surveyed its panel to find out how much of the vehicle-driving population still drives a manual transmission. Looking specifically at enthusiasts (after all, aren’t they primarily the ones driving a stick shift?), the data reveals that, despite a significant portion of our sample claiming stick-shift know-how (89%), only a fraction of them (24%) are actually driving one today.


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