Auto News for Dec. 31

It was my intention to close out the year on a happy note, until word came about Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident. He is said to be fighting for his life in a hospital in Grenoble, France, after hitting his head on some rocks during a fall. AFP reports Schumacher’s family is with him as doctors try to assess the full extent of his injuries. Doctors told the news service that he is in critical condition with life threatening injuries. By all accounts, Schumacher was the best Formula One driver of all time – winning more world titles and races than any other.

The year ended with the death of Andy Granatelli who really did it all. Best known to many for his STP commercials, he also raced, set hundreds of speed records, designed race cars that twice won at Indy, and was inducted into no less than 19 motor sports halls of fame. Granatell, 90, died of congestive heart failure in a hospital in Santa Barbara, Calif. The now sanitary race world needs more like him.

Many times I have written about the need to make vehicles lighter to improve gas mileage, an idea that really had its roots years ago in Lotus sports cars. Now word is that the new Ford F-150, rumored to be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show, will make extensive use of aluminum. Wonder if that might set off a backlash by the faithful?

There is another indication that sluggish auto sales in Europe are turning around. A stock index that includes BMW, VW, Renault, is set to close the year with a 38 percent gain.

Nissan will show off a “Sport Sedan Concept” at the Detroit show next month. It is said to offer “an advanced look at a future production” vehicle. We will learn more on January 13th.

 

Saturday Road Test – Nissan Sentra

Sentra two

 

Nissan Sentra

The Inside Story

By Ron Amadon

GAITHERSBURG, MD – Step inside Nissan’s offering in the highly competitive small sedan category and you might think you are in a vehicle that costs a whole lot more.

The tested top of the line SL model sported comfortable leather appointed seats, a leather covered steering wheel with stitching, Maple Wood Tone trim, Dual Zone Automatic Temperature Control, a enjoyable audio system, excellent fit and finish, and best of all, an interior that was NOT all black.

SENTRA three

Straight ahead was an easy to read instrument panel with white on black numerals, to the right a 5.6” color touch screen in the center stack packed with Navi with voice recognition, traffic and weather information, hands free text messaging, and more goodies here and there. All for a take home price of $22,400 including transportation.

Skimming around town on errand running day, the Sentra was a delight and a chinch to park measuring 182 inches long, 69 inches wide and yet with plenty of stretch out room for those in front and, significantly, two adults to the rear.

A nicely finished off trunk easily gobbled up a large load of holiday groceries, and it was easy to load.

Sentra one

Fuel economy was good with an overall 31 mpg registered in my week’s test. That was in line with the 30-39 called for by the EPA. Regular unleaded is the diet and cruising range would be just a touch over 400 miles. Don’t know about you, but I would want some caffeine by that time.

Things became a little less impressive when we turned to the power department. There is only one engine and one tranny unless you opt for the base model and its six speed manual. Yes, believe it or don’t, you can still get a stick shift!

But move upscale and there is a CVT matched to the standard four that is rated at 130 hp @ 6,600 rpm with 128 lb-ft of torque @ 3,600 rpm. Acceleration is leisurely with a 0-60 run of about ten seconds accompanied by lots of engine nose and a CVT that tries its best to keep the rev counter from nearing the redline. Like so many cars in this range, the name of the game here is fuel economy and not performance.

Pushed a bit, the Sentra was not happy with little steering wheel feedback, and at higher interstate speeds, a feeling that the car was not as planted to the road as much as one might look for and certainly nothing like a VW Golf, for instance. Hustling along curvy back roads was just not its thing, as the ride was set for comfort and not crisp handling.

To be fair, these are not things that the average Sentra buyer is likely to be looking for. And the 2014 Sentra gets a returned suspension and CVT, more sound deadening materials, and a change in engine mounts for a more serene ride. It should also be noted that the Sentra quiets down nicely once it has reached cruising speed, which is about 65 in these parts. A 2014 model was not yet available for a test drive.

In sum, I would love to see how this rig would go with a little more torque, a few more horses, and say a six speed automatic.

Even without those items, I would recommend the Sentra for frugal shoppers looking for a snazzy looking compact for four with an interior that should impress even non car buff riders.

It was easy to see why Sentra sales posted a big increase in November.

 

 

Auto News for Dec. 27

Forbes is out with a list of the ten top selling cars worldwide:

10. VW Polo (not sold in the U.S)

9. Honda CR-V

8. Ford Fiesta

7. VW Golf

6. Toyota Camry

5. Chevy Cruze

4. Hyundai Elantra

3. VW Jetta

2. Toyota Corolla

1. Ford Focus

world's best seller

Columnist Henry Payne in the Detroit News has named the Cadillac CTS as his car of the year over the Fiesta and Jeep Cherokee. He called the CTS “a statement by the General that it aims to compete in performance with Germany’s best.”

Sales of towable campers and big RV’s that you can live in are projected to increase 11 percent this year. Shipments are now approaching precession levels, most likely due to stable gas prices.

AutoTrader.com said trucks made up nearly half of the top 20 most popular new vehicles on its site this year. No surprise that the Ford F-150, Ram, and Chevy Silverado were high on the list.

Of course this dealer has to be in Texas – Howdy Honda.

Just a thought… wouldn’t it be fun to learn that after all the rumors about Alan Mulally going to Microsoft, to learn that his office computer is an Apple?

 

Auto News for Dec. 24

Mustang GT

The first retail 2015 Ford Mustang will be auctioned off to benefit a leading diabetes charity – JDRF. It will be sold at Barrett-Jackson Auction Company in Scottsdale, Ariz., on January 18th. The winning bidder, Ford said, can personalize his or her car with available GT options.

Hyundai has entered into an agreement with current and former owners and lessees of vehicles affected by its restatement of fuel economy ratings in 2012. It said the agreement is valued at roughly $210 million depended on how many customers elect to participate in a newly offered one-time lump sum payment option or remain in the earlier announced lifetime reimbursement program. The adjustment affected about 27 percent of Hyundai’s 2011-2013 model year vehicles reducing their fuel economy by one to two mpg.

More than half of the calls to Allstate’s Roadside Service result in a vehicle being towed to a repair shop. The majority of non-tow calls involve help changing a tire, unlocking a vehicle, getting gas delivered or jumpstarting a dead battery. That amounted to 45 percent of calls while the rest involved a trip delaying ride to the service garage.

The column will resume on Dec.27th. Have a wonderful holiday.

Auto News for Dec. 23

2014 Corvette Stingray Premiere Edition Convertible

GM is starting to rack up some impressive car and truck of the year honors. Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press has named the Corvette Sting Ray his car of the year and the Chevy Silverado his truck of the year. Both are in the running for North American car and truck of the year honors.

The Detroit News reports that nickel a gallon (!) gas prices in Venezuela may soon be a thing of the past. It is not clear how much prices will increase, but this has been a hot topic in past years and has led to some rioting. Gas prices have been frozen for almost two decades in Venezuela.

Some GM and Ford plants may take extra-long holiday shutdown periods as they either gear up for new models, or automakers try to reduce inventories. The Detroit News said some plants may not be up and running until the third week in January. The normal holiday shutdown is a week.

The Kia Soul for 2014 has won a five star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The hottest topics in the industry are likely to be discussed at a meeting of auto analysts in Detroit, just prior to the big auto show on Jan. 12. Toyota’s Jim Lentz, CEO, North American Region, will be the keynote speaker. From all reports, this has been banner year for most auto makers.

VW announced it has sold 100,000 TDI diesel powered vehicles this year under both its brand and that of Audi. This is the first time it has reached this milestone in a calendar year.

Saturday Road Test – Scion xB

Scion xB

Xb for Xmas?

By Ron Amadon

Scion xB & Kia Soul 001

 

BETHESDA, MD – Scion’s little box on wheels really came into its own during a last minute, or some might argue early, Dec. 19th Christmas shopping blitz.

It was pleasant to listen to holiday music on satellite while stuck in traffic and then, “Do you see what I see” – yes, a parking space!!!

As drivers of large SUV’s tried to wedge their rides into tight close in mall parking spaces and eventually settled for the back 40, the little xB slipped in with ease just to show off.

After my plastic cards started sweating, it was a no brainer to lower the two rear seats and create a class leading almost 70 cubic feet of cargo capacity – great if you’re buying for a large family or stocking up on ice melting material in time for the next big storm. The total experience was so pleasant I almost went looking for a Rudolph red nose for the hood.

When the 60/40 split rear seats are up, there is an abundant amount of stretch out room for two passengers but it is a little cramped for three.

Exterior style gives the xB a bit of a bull dog look, but in real life the design proves something that I have written about in the past – that there is nothing better than a box for carrying large amounts of everything from kitty litter to bulky parka  wearing adults.

Scion xB & Kia Soul 004

The downside of the xB lurks inside. First off, the place to put the gauges that matter is in front of the driver and not in the center of the upper dash panel. The middle two gauges of four were not illuminated as well the two on the outside, a rather curious omission.

Scion xB & Kia Soul 005

Out on the highway, the xB, (that name raises cane with my spell check), needs additional sound deadening and visibility to the right rear could be improved.

Test period fuel economy came to 25.8 mpg in city, country and interstate travel. It is EPA rated at 22-28 mpg with the four speed automatic transmission that does its best to extract what power there is from the 158 horsepower four. But most of the competition has moved on to a five or six speed tranny and that would improve highway mileage.

With that accommodating transmission, the xB feels faster than the figures show, with a 0-60 run over the ten second mark. Yet it cruised rather nicely up the steep grades on I-70 holding its own in the left lane around slow moving semis. The test car’s optional $2,150 19” black alloy wheels and wider tires, up from 16”, should take care of concerns about the little car’s stability on windy days. Yet Scion notes that these “performance tires” may wear out more quickly “and maybe be substantially less than 15,000 miles …”

The test car came with a nice list of standard equipment including a fine Pioneer 160-watt audio system with controls on the tilt/telescoping steering wheel. Keyless entry, a tire pressure monitoring system and center console arm rest were nice touches. There are lots of options that can be added to the xB, and the test car had some of them. But they also drove up the price, in this case to $22,074 from a base of $17,750.

Scion xB & Kia Soul 003

I would pass on the silly looking $423 rear spoiler, and the $220 automatic dimming mirror that really didn’t dim much. However, I would include the $184 carpeted floor mats and cargo mat and the $429 satellite radio.

Yet at the end of a week’s test, I came away with the feeling that like many in the Scion lineup the xB is car in need for a total modernization. That was only underlined when the 2014 Kia Soul made its appearance in the test driveway with a richer looking interior, lots of toys, and the same sticker price more or less. We will have more on the Soul later.

Yet the xB is well worth a test drive for its cargo carrying capacity, excellent build quality and promise of long life. But also take a spin in the Mazda5 and the Kia Soul. And if you are drawn to the design, the Nissan Juke

And allow me be so bold as to wish all, where apropos, Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

Auto News for Dec. 20 – A New Lambo!!!!

Lamborghini-Huracan-Official-6

We start this morning with a look at the latest Lamborghini, called the Huracan, named after a famous bull. It is a replacement for the now ten year old Gallardo and is packed with 5.2-liter V10 ranked at 600 horsepower at a robust 8,250 rpm. Lambo says owners can hit a mile a minute from a dead stop in just 3.2 seconds. The new bull will be displayed at the Geneva Show next year and should be in dealer showrooms in the spring. It will not be cheap. Buy Powerball tickets … lots of Powerball tickets.

Its competition, McLaren, has added four new “retailers” in the U.S. They will be located in Atlanta, Long Island, Scottsdale Az., and Washington DC. A second Canadian location will be added in Vancouver.

VW announced the Jetta GLI, a kind of GTI with a trunk. It will come with a 2.0-liter engine, a close ratio six speed manual or DSG dual clutch automatic transmission, sport suspension, bigger wheels and tires and upgraded brakes among other goodies. We should see it early next year. No word on price yet.

On Jan. 13 at the Detroit Auto Show, Honda will show off an “all new” Fit. It is said to ride on a new platform with better fuel economy and an improved interior.

Acura will show off a 2015 TLX prototype luxury sedan in Detroit as a replacement for the TL. It will be launched in the second half of the new year with “more emotional styling with tidier, sports sedan proportions” around two new powertrains.

But wait, there’s more to use that now tired line. Kia will reveal a new concept car said to be a “stunning 2+2 sports car.” Let’s hope this concept, to be displayed in Detroit, will actually make it to production. Another sports car on the market is always good news.

I didn’t want you to miss the fact that the 2014 Lincoln MKX will include a “tree-based alternative to fiberglass for interior parts.”  It came out of a partnership with Weyerhaeuser and is called Cellulose Reinforced Polypropylene that is six percent lighter than the fiberglass it replaces.

Daimler will take a five percent stake in Aston Martin’s parent as part of a deal to share technology with the British car maker. Mercedes-AMG will produce V8 engines for the next generation Aston Martin’s, according to the Detroit News.

Lots of people apparently decided they needed a new vehicle to bring home holiday gifts. J.D. Power said December sales started slow but picked up steam as the month advanced. It said consumers are expected to spend more than $34 billion on new vehicles in December, an historic high for the month. Total light-vehicle sales are expected to reach 1.4 million, a four percent hike from a year earlier.

Hyundai is lowering the price of the Azera by $1,250 to an even $31K “while offering significant new features,” it said. The top of the line Limited trim level gets a new 8-inch navigation system screen and electroluminescent gauge cluster with color LCD trip computer. A coffee maker – I still want a coffee maker!