Image by: George Peterson
Infiniti QX30 Launched One of the fastest growing product segments is the Luxury Small Crossover SUV (XSUV) category. Infiniti has been a bit late to the party as there are already 33 small XSUVs on the market. Eight of those are luxury brand XSUVs: the Acura RDX has been out since 2013 in its second incarnation, Audi Q3 out since 2014, BMW X1 out since 2014, Land Rover Discovery Sport out since 2016, Lexus NX200t out since 2015, Lincoln MKC out since 2015, Mercedes GLA since 2015, Range Rover Evoque out since 2012. Launch of the Infiniti QX30, while a bit late, pretty much has every brand in the fray.
Infiniti enters the fray with the Infiniti QX30, making it the 34th member in the small XSUV market and 9th luxury brand XSUV. Remember, QX is the Infiniti nomenclature for SUVs whether they are body-on-frame SUVs (QX80) or crossover SUVs (QX70, QX60, QX50). Infiniti cars carry names that begin with a simple “Q”.
All USA QX30s Classified as Trucks The Infiniti QX30 is a highly styled small crossover available in front wheel drive and all wheel drive powertrain configurations. In other markets the all drive model is called “Q30” indicating Infiniti is classifying it as an hatchback car. In the USA, both versions are classified as trucks.
Dramatic Infiniti Design Cues Differentiate QX30 The Infiniti QX30 is sporty and curvaceous like most Infiniti models. It has bulging front fenders sweeping back and down with a strong character line. Infiniti decribes the character lines as “dramatic and turbulent”. The windshield is very fast flowing into a steeply dropping roofline. The front end is instantly recognizable as an Infiniti with its unique “double-arch” grille. In the side view, Infiniti’s signature crescent-shaped C-pillar further differentiates the vehicle. There is a lot going on there, but it works very well in this small XSUV.
Infiniti QX30 and Mercedes GLA Share Platform To keep the investment in line the Infiniti QX30 is assembled in Sunderland, England alongside the Mercedes-Benz GLA. QX30 and GLA share platforms, but Infiniti has loaded its entry with all the latest high tech electronic gadgetry available.
Engine Power at the Low End of Competitive Range The 2.0L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine is shared with the GLA and is manufactured by Daimler in Kolleda, Germany. Power output is 208 horsepower with 258 lb-ft of torque. Compared with other luxury XSUVs this power output is anemic. Driving the QX30, the performance is adequate, even pleasant, but a power output of between 230 and 240 horsepower would be more expected from an engine with these specifications.
The engine is mated to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.
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.
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.
It goes like this… Honda invites you to an event that is held locally to review a vehicle that is not scheduled for a meaningful change for a couple of years. What’s up? Well, enough that Honda can make a pretty big deal out of it. The top selling sport utility vehicle is Honda’s CR-V crossover SUV. The 2015 Honda CR-V looks pretty much like the 2014. Same profile. Same doors. Same window openings. What’s the big deal? The front end looks more butch, more SUV-like. It has really cool running lights below the headlamps. Likewise, the rear end looks stronger. The effect is that the CR-V looks a little bigger even though it isn’t. Ah, the story is pretty much beneath the skin. Honda calls it a MAJOR minor model change. Clever.
Engineering Story – Earth Dreams Powertrain This is an engineering story. The 2015 Honda CR-V gets a new engine – an Earth Dreams direct injection 2.4L 4-cylinder engine with 185-horsepower (same output as 2014). Torque is up by 18 lb-ft or 11% to improve driving feel especially at lower speeds. New transmission – now a CVT to achieve better fuel economy. The new engine and transmission combination substantially improves fuel economy for both 2WD and 4WD versions – highway fuel economy up about 10% better for both leading Honda to claim class leading fuel economy for the 2015 Honda CR-V.
Finesse and Value In addition to better performance, Honda has finessed the vehicle giving it a quieter cabin making it more pleasant to drive. The instrument panel has been upgraded as has the center console. For buyers coming down from larger, more heavily equipped SUVs the 2015 Honda CR-V will not disappoint. Honda has added a slew of standard and available features that will make tech savvy customers feel warm and fuzzy. There are a couple of new features standard like rear air conditioning vents on the rear of the console and a sliding driver’s side sun visor. The big news is in the high volume EX model where $1,400 worth of equipment has been added for only a $200 price increase including: heated front seats, Honda Lane Watch, display audio, smart key start, 10-way power driver’s seat.
New Touring Model Has Available Honda Sensing System At the top of the trim lines is a new Touring model that checks most of the features boxes. This is where the Honda Sensing system comes into play. Honda Sensing is a safety system developed by Honda R&D that combines several technologies to help drivers avoid crashes. This collision avoidance system includes: adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking and Honda Lane Watch. John Turley, Honda R&D Americas principal engineer says, “Honda Sensing is a stepping stone to a fully autonomous car. With a couple more big overlays of technology, Honda can have a self driving car by 2020. One of those technologies is longer range radar and inter-car communications that can provide warnings up to 1500 meters around the car up from about 250 today.” The government and car makers are working to develop regulations and standards that will help cars of the future connect with each other seamlessly.
The 2015 Lincoln MKC hit Lincoln dealerships in June 2014 and promises to be the 2nd volume entry for Ford’s premium brand after the award-winning Lincoln MKZ. Lincoln is the top brand in AutoPacific’s 2014 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research and the MKZ and MKZ Hybrid are the winners of their product categories. The MKC (getting confused with the alphanumeric nomenclature yet?) is joining a booming market for smaller crossover SUVs and, based on our brief drive of the vehicle, the MKC should do very well in AutoPacific’s 2015 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research.
Excellent Package The MKC is a “small” crossover SUV, but it does not feel small from the driver’s seat. The front seating package is spacious. Visibility forward is excellent. Ergonomics are good. Transmission shifting is through push buttons on the left hand side of the center stack. The MyLincoln Touch system is more intuitive (but reading the channel numbers for SiriusXM is almost impossible because of tiny font sizes) and stable. Losing the shifter in the center console is an excellent idea for many reasons. It allows for more storage in the console and also allows the console to be narrower giving the front seat passengers more seat width. The MKC is a persuasive package that will appeal to buyers across all age ranges.
Neat Features Abound on MKC For those buyers who want the latest technology, MKC offers a lot. Of course, there is MyLincoln Touch that sets the stage in the center stack. There is Approach Detection where the vehicle reacts to the key fob approaching the vehicle at night and the headlamp accents, taillamp accents, door handle pockets and interior all light up. There is even a Lincoln logo projected onto the pavement from the outside rear view mirror puddle lights. Then there is Drive Control that includes continuously adjusting shock absorbers to provide a comfortable ride under all conditions. Electric Power Steering and Active Noise Control are standard features that complement the Drive Control System. Active Park Assist not only can park the MKC, but includes Park Out Assist to help the driver maneuver the vehicle out of a tight parking space. As with many newly introduced vehicles there is a suite of electronic driver assist technologies: lane-keeping system, driver alert system (checks driver alertness), adaptive cruise control, collision warning system with brake support, blind spot information system, and cross traffic alert. These features may sound like overkill, but once you have used them, they become a necessity rather than a luxury.
Highly Differentiated from Escape – All EcoBoost Engines The MKC is derived from the Ford Escape but shares no body panels or interior trim bits. Without looking under the skin, the relationship is invisible. The 2015 Lincoln MKC comes standard with a 240HP 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine. Optional is a 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder with 285-horsepower (with 93 octane gasoline – in California the top spec gas octane is 91 octane so the output for the 2.3L would be about 280HP). The base vehicle is front wheel drive with all wheel drive available as an option.
Outstanding Dynamics Starting in Santa Barbara and driving across the Los Padres National Forest to the Tejon Ranch , the MKC proves to be nimble and athletic on the twisty roads more suited to a sports car than a X-SUV. With the 2.3L EcoBoost and AWD, the MKC is quick and solid over all road surfaces.
Price and Competition The base price of the MKC is $33,995, but the versions Lincoln provided for the drive evaluation were all in the $50,000 range equipped with the full suite of electronic features and the big engine. The size and price of the MKC puts it in the competitive set with the Cadillac SRX, Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X1, Infiniti QX50 (i.e. EX), Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC60. As if that isn’t enough competition, there is more to come: Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, Porsche Macan. Clearly, buyers will have a tremendous challenge sorting out which of these smaller XSUVs to select.
Now for the Nit-Picks Ford (Lincoln) can be depended on to make mistakes in feature availability. For a company that touts “democratization of technology” (meaning the neat electronic features found on the top of the line will be available in a Focus, for instance) the base MKC cannot be had with an in-vehicle navigation system. Since MyLincoln Touch is standard and each vehicle has a center stack screen, and the navigation system is via an SD card, navigation should be available on all models.
Brand Challenge The only thing standing in the way of the MKC being a whopping success may the Lincoln brand. While AutoPacific’s research shows Lincoln is doing a great job satisfying its customers, the brand has languished and is only now starting to re-assert itself. The MKC is an outstanding addition to the Lincoln portfolio. Now the challenge is to get buyers into the dealerships to drive and buy the MKC. It will be interesting to watch how Lincoln markets the vehicle in the coming months and to monitor its sales performance.
Porsche is broadening its line adding a compact crossover SUV (XSUV) beneath its highly successful Cayenne SUV. The Porsche Macan is named after an Indonesian tiger. Not so unusual since the Cayenne is named for a pepper and Cayman after an alligator. While Porsche purists may cringe that the brand is adding one more vehicle line that has four doors, the Macan will add volume to Porsche around the world and add greatly to its already heady profits. Limited to only 50,000 units a year from its Leipzig, Germany factory, the volume will be split roughly one-third for the USA, one third for the EU and one third for the rest of the world. With the USA limited to “only” about 15,000-18,000 units per year dealers can hold out for nice profits especially in its early years.
Factoid: More Porsches now sold have four doors than two.
Go to the Porsche Cars North America website and check out the configurator (http://www.porsche.com/usa/modelstart/all/?modelrange=macan) for the Macan. Sure, the vehicle starts at $49,900, but I quickly got one specced out the way I would want it up to $66,000. PCNA expects the median transaction price for the Macan to be around $73,000. For those of you who check all the boxes and choose the upmarket turbo model, you can spend over $100,000 for a Macan Turbo. Given the complexity of the Porsche configurator, the bet is that most of them will be ordered rather than bought from dealer stock.
The Macan S is priced similarly to the base Cayenne. This telegraphs Porsche’s strategy of adding a less pricey base Macan later. Following Porsche’s strategy of launching with the mid-range vehicle and then adding a lower priced version, expect a less expensive Macan down the road simply called “Macan”.
Macan is to be the sportiest compact XSUV on the market. The $49,900 model is the Macan S powered by a 340HP 3.0L Turbo V6. For those wanting even more power, the Macan Turbo has 400HP and adds about $16,000 to the price tag. All Macans have all wheel drive and Porsche’s 7-speed PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) transmission (automatic). The Macan S is no lightweight coming in at over 4000 pounds, but it can get up to 60mph in 5.2 seconds according to Porsche’s data.
The Macan is loosely based on the Audi Q5, but 70% of the parts are new to Porsche. The exterior is clearly all Porsche. Porsche DNA is evident in the face of the vehicle, the shape of the roof, the wheel openings, even the haunch over the rear wheels. To give the Macan a lower, sports car feel, the seating positions are a bit lower than in the Q5 and the rear seat is pretty tight. But being the sportiest compact XSUV, these things are expected. The interior is a special place indeed. The instrument panel is well-laid out and the switchgear on the console is reminiscent of the Porsche Panamera. The steering wheel comes from the 918 Spyder.
Other XSUVs were introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show and will be on the market at the same time as the Macan – the smaller 2015 Lincoln MKC and the mid-size 2015 Ford Edge. Compared with the new Edge, the Macan is about three-inches lower, and its wheelbase about 1.5 inches shorter, but the shadow of the two vehicles is nearly identical. For all intents and purposes the overall lengths and widths are the same. With the Ford getting a bit sportier for 2015 with a faster backlite, its silhouette is even similar to the compact XSUV sports car – the Macan. Checking all the boxes on the Ford can get its price up to the mid-forties. But even though the vehicles are similar specification- and style-wise, they will attract dramatically different buyers.
Which brings us to the Lincoln MKC. Based on the Escape platform, MKC has a starting price of $33,995 quite a difference from the Macan. Of course the Lincoln will not have the powertrain or performance chops of the Macan, and its price will not reach into the hundreds of thousands. Loading up the MKC might get its price over $50,000. Somehow, the well-equipped Macan at $66,000 seems like a better value.
Best In Class 2012 Hybrid/EV Crossover SUV: Lexus RX450h
2012 Lexus RX450h Wins AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award
Owners of the 2012 Lexus RX450h Hybrid Crossover SUV give the vehicle top ratings in twenty-five of forty-eight attributes in AutoPacific’s 2012 Vehicle Satisfaction Award research. We won’t list all the winning categories. It would take too much space, but let’s consider those ratings of 4.5 or higher out of a possible high score of 5.0 satisfaction rating points: Overall Satisfaction, Driver’s Seat Comfort, Image, Vehicle’s Reputation, Brand’s Reputation, Interior Materials, Ride, Reliability, Feeling Safe While Driving, Safety Features, Safety Ratings and Overall Quality. Owners rate the RX450h below 4.0 satisfaction rating points in six categories: Interior Storage, Fuel Economy, Cruising Range, Price, Recyclability, Collision Avoidance Technology.
We recently drove the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox, with brief jaunts in both a front-drive I4 model and an AWD V6 model. This generation has grown leaps and bounds over the SUV it replaces, in refinement, features, but not size. The Equinox now slots in at the top of its class.
Equinox is more comfortable inside, better-looking outside, and better screwed together. The exterior develops a smart and expressive family look. Among the achievements is a quieter and more pleasing interior environment. We began to see the fruits of GM’s interior work with products from the latest Tahoe to the Malibu to the orphaned Saturn Aura. But GM continues to prove an internal shift in understanding. Seems repetitive to mention the point again, but perception still lags reality. So, again: GM is building vehicles with excellent interior and exterior styling and quality. Equinox continues the evolution and reinforces corporate commitment.
Our short drive revealed improved driving dynamics, with a far more stable on-road feel. The V6 and I4-equipped models use the same basic suspension, but with specific tuning. The I4 is tuned with a ride along the more traditional truck direction, stiffer and more rugged, while the V6 models tip toward the softer, luxury-oriented end of the spectrum. Each personality is appropriate for price point and target buyers.