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.
Honda launches its all-new 2016 HR-V sub-compact crossover sport utility vehicle in May, 2015. The 2016 Honda HR-V, based on Honda’s diminutive Fit sub-compact, is very spacious for what it is. The interior – at least the passenger compartment – feels about as big as the larger Honda CR-V. HR-V’s wheelbase is only a half inch shorter than CR-V allowing the big seating area, but its overall length is about ten inches shorter – less cargo room. The front seating area feels wider than you would expect in a vehicle this small. Ingress and egress are easy to the front seats. The rear seats are a bit tight. You have to maneuver your feet to get between the B-pillar and the seat and there is not much knee room. Cargo room is larger than it looks. The best feature Honda takes from the architecture of the Fit are the “Magic Seat” rear seats that flip and fold several ways to maximize the flexibility of the area behind the front seats.
Shared Platform with Renegade – Different Mission At a glance, the 2016 Fiat 500X is a solid addition to the Fiat lineup in the USA. Built alongside the Jeep Renegade at FCA’s Melfi, Italy plant the 500X shares the Renegade’s platform but has a dramatically different mission that demands tuning and settings to be very different. While the Renegade Trailhawk is at home off-road, the 500X is for the cities and suburbs.
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.
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.
First, it was the Ford Transit Connect van from Turkey that has been ubiquitous in Europe for years before being seen on American roads. Small, styled with a brash quirkiness, tinny beyond imagination especially in taxi fleets, the Transit Connect caught on. Then Ford replaced the original Transit Connect with a lower roof, more stylish van built in Spain that is actually fun to drive. Nissan responded with the Nissan NV200 that is supposed to be the Taxi of Tomorrow for the New York City taxi fleet. It is assembled in Mexico. Not so fun to drive and assembled with more than a dollop of plastic. Most recently is the launch of the Ram (FCA US LLC, aka FCAGroup, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Dodge Trucks) Promaster City. How would I compare the three?
Ford Transit Connect Van
2015 Ram Promaster City
2014 Nissan NV200
Transit Connect Most Minivan-Like The Transit Connect ($22,330 – $29,185) is the most minivan-like. It has a instrument panel that mimics that in the Ford Focus. The seats are comfortable, but a choppy ride offsets the seat comfort. Performance is adequate with its standard 2.5L 4-cylinder engine having 169-horsepower coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. Optionally, the Transit Connect has a 178-horsepower EcoBoost 4-cylinder. Transit Connect is available in two wheelbases.
NV200 Spartan The Nissan NV200 ($20,270-$24,435 in cargo van version) is the most Spartan of the three. Its interior has been stripped bare of most ornamentation and the execution yields the most basic of transportation modules. A passenger version of the NV200 is not available unless you get the taxicab version starting at $29,700). Powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission), the NV200 is the most anemic of the three. Like the original Transit Connect, the NV200 can be a rattletrap. That brings me to the Ram Promaster City.
Promaster City Best Driving Feel Built in Turkey, the Promaster City ($23,130 for van version and $24,130 for the passenger version – maximum $29,275) probably falls between the Transit Connect and NV200 overall. It does, however, have the best driving feel of the three. The Promaster City is powered by the Fiat Tigershark 2.4L 4-cylinder engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. Sounds like the Dodge Dart or Jeep Cherokee. With much of the North American development work being done in the pothole-filled environs of Auburn Hills, Michigan, the Promaster City suspension has been beefed up and given more travel. Promaster City also has a fully independent rear suspension. The result is the ride comfort in the Promaster City is more comfortable in most conditions than the Transit Connect or the NV200.
The Battle for BIC – Best In Class: Transit Connect and Promaster City are vying for Best In Class claims. Promaster City claims best in class horsepower at 178-horsepower. This is correct for base engines, but if you consider Ford’s EcoBoost at 178-horsepower you have a tie. Promaster City has a fuel economy rating of 21mpg city/29mpg highway. Transit Connect is 20/28mpg. Promaster City claims the largest cargo volume at 132 cubic feet – Ford has 129 cubic feet in its long wheelbase van. Promaster City claims the highest payload at 1883 pounds – Ford has 1620. Its 48.4-inches between the rear wheelhouses allows you to put 4-foot wide materials flat on the rear load floor. The 72-inch load floor length does not allow a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of plywood to be transported enclosed, however. So, Promaster City wins the brochure war and its base Tigershark engine and 9-speed automatic transmission edges out the Transit Connect, but it is very close.
3rd Generation Murano The 2015 Nissan Murano crossover SUV went on sale Friday, December 5, 2014. The third generation of the Murano pushes the envelope on crossover styling and brings new Nissan design cues to the vehicle. The Murano has been a sweet spot among crossover SUVs since its launch. Each iteration has been very easy to live with and the 2015 version is no exception. Easy to drive, maneuverable, quiet and up to date, the Murano provides Nissan with a suitable vehicle to attract its target buyer. Media attending the product preview in Napa Valley were surprised that Nissan admitted its target market is empty nester couples 45 years of age or older. These people do not need seven or eight passenger seating they might have required during their family formation years, but they do want reasonable cargo capacity and a spacious rear seat. This 5-passenger crossover SUV meets their requirements
The Murano review was held during an early December storm with gale force winds. The Murano handled the inclement weather with aplomb. It was very stable even in vicious cross winds.
Exterior Given its sporty, futuristic styling, you might think the visibility would suffer, and it does to the rear, but overall visibility is pretty good. For years many in the industry have been stripping vehicles of exterior ornamentation, but not the 3rd gen Murano. There is a striking bright flash running from the upper edge of the front door rearward over the rear fender kickup. Very distinctive and nicely done. Murano follows the trend of front lighting with LED signature lights and available LED headlamps. LED “boomerang” taillamps are standard.
Interior The interior comfort is excellent with “Zero Gravity” seating. Ergonomics are excellent with a large 8-inch center stack screen standard. For those who like an open air feeling, the Murano offers a large panoramic moonroof. The top of the line Platinum model includes leather seating surfaces and comes across as a very premium place to be. The lower level SV model, loses the leather, but the interior retains much of the premium feel of the Platinum version. In essence, spending less does not result in a vehicle feeling cheap.
Technology The 2015 Nissan Murano comes with the expected suite of available technology: blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning, moving object detection and forward emergency braking.
Powertrain The engine is essentially carryover – Nissan’s venerable 260HP 3.5L DOHC V6 (VQ). The continuously variable Xtronic transmission has been improved with subtle “shift points” added to the shiftless gearbox. The driving experience is effortless.
Pricing The base price of the 2015 Nissan Murano os $29,560 for the S model. The next step up is the SV at $32,620. Then the SL at $35,950 and the range topping Platinum at $39,000. Adding all wheel drive adds $1,600 to each model. Checking all the boxes on a Platinum – adding premium paint, Technology Package and 20-inch wheels – brings the price to $44,975.
Production While Nissan’s huge Canton, Mississippi plant is the main source for the Murano worldwide, there is a secondary source in Pusan, South Korea should the USA need more volume. The Pusan plant is part of the Samsung Renault Nissan relationship.
Research Results Over the years, Murano has done very well in AutoPacific’s Satisfaction Research. The 2015 Nissan Murano promises to deliver strong satisfaction results just as did its predecessor generations.
Acura’s entry premium compact car is being updated for the 2016 model year. The 2016 Acura ILX is what Acura terms its “Gateway Model” – the entry to the Acura lineup. The strategy for the 2016 Acura ILX is much like Honda implemented for its CR-V compact crossover SUV. Honda termed that a Major Mid-Cycle Change. Similarly, ILX has been freshened and given a better powertrain than before.
Mild Styling Changes The 2016 Acura ILX looks basically the same as the 2015 model. It is a compact sedan with pleasant, slightly sporty styling. For 2016, the car gets a new more aggressive front end appearance with LED accent lights and LED headlamps. All Acuras will have LED front lights from now on. The grille is tougher looking and the “parrot’s beak” has been toned down somewhat. The tall lamps are upgraded and more distinctive than before. In the industry, this is called a front and rear six – think of it as a face and butt lift.
The interior gets minor updates with upgraded seat material and contrasting stitching on the steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake handle.
Upgraded Powertrain with Only One Choice The news, however, is under the skin. The only engine/transmission choice now is a 2.4L direct injection 4-cylinder with 201-horsepower mated to an 8-speed dual clutch transmission. If this sounds familiar it should because it is basically the same 4-cylinder used in the mid-market TLX. Since 2016 Acura ILX is now made at Honda’s Marysville, OH plant alongside the TLX this communization makes sense.
No Manual Transmission – YEA! The enthusiasts among you may be asking where the manual transmission formerly with the 2.4L went? It was dropped in favor of the fast-shifting dual clutch transmission and the fact that no one was buying them. Gone also is the hybrid model, also for lack of interest. AutoPacific’s research confirms that this is the right direction to go. Consideration for manual transmissions is very low and hybrid consideration continues to drop as gasoline prices in the USA fall.
Technology and Stuff Recognizing that a premium brand has to deliver more refinement, Acura has increased the sound deadening in the ILX to make the car much quieter than now. Also, following the CR-V strategy with HondaSense, AcuraWatch suite of advanced safety and driver assist features is available on the car for the first time. This feature suite includes adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, collision mitigation braking system, upgraded rear camera. Once again, we are seeing a manufacturer “democratize” its technology taking stuff formerly available on upper level models and making them available on lower line products.
Cruising down the scenic roads along the Columbia River near Portland, Oregon can be a real treat, especially while driving a Dodge Challenger Hellcat with its mean-sounding engine roaring through the twists and turns of this pristine wilderness road.
A few months back, Chrysler invited a few journalist to test drive the 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat, along with its entire Challenger lineup. The Challenger Hellcat was a blast to drive, and delivers so much power that it is almost scary to drive. And after our not-so-mellow morning cruise along the river, we were invited to test the Hellcat’s limits by driving laps around Portland International Raceway, trying hard to keep the car in a straight line. But the real fun was just driving the Hellcat around town and watching on-lookers gaze at the car with its loud rumble and gentle supercharger whine emitting from the beast of a car that is the Hellcat. And the specs are quite impressive.
Kia introduced the K900 premium luxury car for the 2014 model year. Based on Hyundai/Kia’s rear wheel drive platform shared with the Hyundai Equus and loosely the Hyundai Genesis sedan, Kia’s entry into the luxury market is controversial. Internally and externally there were concerns that the brand was not ready to take the leap into the $60,000 price range. But as is often the case in the life of an import distributor, the parent company demands that you take the “gift” of a vehicle you might not think fits the lineup at the time.
KMA – AutoPacific Neighbors Full disclosure, Kia Motors America headquarters in Irvine are less than a mile from AutoPacific’s headquarters in Tustin, California. Every day our roads are filled with Kia Optima mid-size cars (to our eye, the best looking mid-size car presently on the market), Kia Soul hamster cars and Kia Forte compact cars. Given the population of cars within a mile radius, Kia is the best selling brand on the market. K900s are rarer, but does K900 hurt KMA’s position in the American market? We don’t think so.
Conservative Design Will Not Offend The exterior of the car is conservative and tasteful. There is little flamboyance with the exception of Kia’s outstanding white pearlescent paint (I don’t like white cars, but the white available on the Optima and K900 is a very rich looking color). The K900 is a large car with generous greenhouse that provides excellent visibility except rearward where the headrests get in the way.
Kia K900 Interior Outstanding The K900 interior is a work of art. The seats are nicely styled, supportive and infinitely adjustable with Mercedes-like seat controls on the door trim panels. The instrument panel is electronic wizardry with a very well designed programmable 12.3-inch instrument cluster and 9.2-inch center stack screen with Kia’s UVO eServices telematics system. Radio controls are actually easy to use with KNOBS (!) and source buttons. The rear seat is very spacious and comfortable. In the uplevel VIP executive package (a $6,000 option) designed for Korean CEOs to ride in the rear there are redundant controls in the center arm rest. In the particular example we have been driving for a week, the interior trim is a very light grey or off white which makes it seem open, airy and spacious. The contrasting grey environmental color gives a very upscale ambiance.
Lexus-Like Dynamics Dynamically, the K900 harkens back two generations to the Lexus LS430, before Lexus decided to try a more sporty route. The ride is very isolated, soft and cushion-like. The 5.0L gasoline direct injection V8 is powerful and smooth. Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission we saw an average fuel economy of about 15mpg. While the fuel economy is not sterling, it is about what you’d expect in a car like this.
So, the Kia K900 is not a German luxury car and is not what the Lexus LS460 has evolved into. The Kia K900 is a very competitive, traditional luxury car that will be comfortable for the long haul and easy to live with.