Auto News for March 31

Volvo V60 Polestar, model year 2016

One way to attract new customers, Volvo figures, is to build an assembly plant here in the U.S. The company has confirmed it will build a facility here costing about $500-million but has not disclosed yet where it will be. Currently, Volvo has two factories in Europe and two in China, home of its current owner. Volvo has a goal of eventually selling 100,000 cars a year here.

Elon Musk is a master of hype. Here is his latest Tweet: “Major new Tesla product line – not a car – will be unveiled at our Hawthorne Design Studio on Thurs 8 PM April 30.” Let the speculation begin!

2016+MX-5+(18)

Mazda has announced that its all-new 2016 MX-5 Miata will carry a starting price of $24,915 in the entry-level Sport trim. It will launch this summer in Sport, Club and Grand Touring editions. In addition to new exterior styling, the Miata will feature for the first time a six speed manual transmission LED headlights, USB audio input, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a leather wrapped shift knob and power door locks. It will cost $865 extra to have the car delivered in Alaska.

Only 17 percent of the 4,000 people surveyed for Autotrader prefer the current car buying process. The rest want significant changes, particularly in the test drive, deal structuring, financing paper work and service phases.  Eighty-eight percent say they will not buy a car without test driving it first and they would prefer the sales person remain behind. They would also like to test multiple vehicles across brands in a single place. Most would prefer much of the negotiating and financing be carried out on line and not at the dealer’s showroom.

 

 

 

 

 

Auto News for March 30

LincolnLincoln Continental Concept

 

 

For now, it is called the Continental Concept but from all reports it will be Lincoln’s new top-of-the-line car with a coming out party at the New York Auto Show this week. It will feature a “Lincoln exclusive” 3.-0 liter V6 EcoBoost engine and a choice of three driving modes – normal, sport and comfort. The interior is described as a “Moving Sanctuary” featuring a tablet lap tray that deploys from the center console, a switch to move the vacant front seat forward, and “a champagne storage compartment.” The Detroit News said the full size sedan concept is very close to the production version that will appear in 2016. It sure is a different design for Lincoln, and it’s neat they brought back the Continental name.

mercedes-pickup-truck

It will not be sold in the U.S., but I thought readers should see what a Mercedes pickup truck would look like. The company confirmed that it will manufacture the truck by 2020 to be sold in Latin America, South Africa, Australia and Europe where there has been “sustained growth” in the truck market. You might remember that both Lincoln and Cadillac have offered a luxury truck here, and sales were less than robust. And the full size trucks now on sale offer every conceivable option, for a price.

Press days begin Wednesday at the New York show, and look for extensive coverage right here. In addition to the Lincoln, new models are expected from Cadillac, Chevy, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Lexus, Mitsubishi, Nissan and two from Scion.

Acura will attract more than a few eyes to its display that will feature the NSX supercar and the TLX GT Perelli World Challenge race car right next to it.

Aston Martin Vulcan 2 Aston Martin Vulcan

“The British brands most intense and exhilarating creation to date,” is the way Aston Martin refers to the striking Vulcan. It features 800 horsepower from a 7.0-liter V12 “petrol” engine with mid-engine, rear wheel drive. It will be limited to just 24 examples worldwide. Aston said it will be a track-only supercar that carries a design language “hinting at the next generation of Aston Martin sports cars …”  It’s power-to-weight ratio is said to exceed that of GTE race cars, with a six speed sequential shift gearbox and huge 345/30-19 rear wheels. If you would like to see one, it will be on display at the New York extravaganza. Oh, price, you want to know price? It is said to be a tidy, Powerball winners only, $2.3 million.

 

 

Saturday Road Test – Audi A3

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Audi A3 2.0T Quattro S tronic

Lots of Fun

By Ron Amadon

DICKERSON, MD. –  The A3 received a complete redesign for 2015, and for those who live to drive, this is about the best use of $39K you can find on the sedan market.

Climb in and the first thing you notice is a seating position that is lower than one might expect in a sedan, almost like that of a sports car. Go rural, and the confidence building handling really stands out helped by a 6 speed S tronic transmission that was quick to react to the driver’s slightest whim. Yet, even with that fine cornering ability, the ride was not sports car stiff evidenced by its performance on Maryland roads that have not been yet visited by pothole police.

The 2.0T is rated at 220 horsepower at 4,500 to 6,200 rpm with 258 lb-ft of torque from a low, low 1,600 rpm to 4,400 rpm. Audi quotes a 0-60 in 5.8 seconds and that felt about right.  It is an inline four with turbo direct injection in a front mounted transverse arrangement. Top track speed is 130.

Those seeking additional performance can opt for the S3 with a turbo four churning out 292 horsepower @ 5,400 rpm with 280 lb-ft of torque at just 1,900 rpm and a run to the mile a minute in less than five seconds.

A warmer than normal day allowed me to open the sunroof and I can report it was on par regarding noise level, but spectacular in letting in the smells and sounds of nature after a cruel February in these parts. During its time with us, the sunroof cracked and disintegrated onto the sunshade below. That required a few days back in the garage for a new one that seemed to operate just fine.

To celebrate, the pictures were taken with the roof open on a marvelous day along the shores of the Potomac River.

The interior had a very upscale feel with excellent fit and finish with audio and navi systems that were easy learn, in fact, easier than the majority of such systems on the market. Audi’s MMI system is displayed on a screen that pops up from the top center of the dash and is controlled by a large knob on the center console and buttons on either side of it for navigation, radio, media and phone.

I would like the A3 better with a full size spare, but those have gone the way of portholes on a Buick and the trunk is on the small side anyway.

The 2.0T Quattro S tronic Premium Plus was well equipped with 18” 10-spoke-designer wheels, with all-season tires, heated power front seats with 4-way lumbar, heated exterior mirrors, and some extra trim for $2,550 extra.

The test car also had a $2,600 MMI-navigation plus package. That included a CD/DVD player with HD radio, Navi with voice commands, MMI touch, a color driver information display and “Audi Connect” with online services for six months. A Premium trim package included xenon headlights that were fantastic, LED daytime running lights, automatic wipers, sunroof, and leather upholstery among other goodies.

Then add on the “Monsoon Gray” metallic paint for $550 and that raised the ante from a base A3 price of $29,900 to $39,495.

The warranty is 4 years, 50,000 miles.

It may only seat two in the real world, but this is one fun set of wheels for both long interstate excursions and back road travel.

One more note:

You can impress your friends when you tell them the A3 uses the “Modularer Querbaukasten” architecture, or underpinings – except in Indiana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Auto News for March 27

Mary Barra

GM CEO Mary Barra came in ninth on a list of the World’s Greatest Female Leaders put together by Fortune magazine. Taylor Swift topped the list.

Automakers got some good grades in a new EPA report that says they improved gas mileage to 24.1 mpg in the 2013 model year. Tailpipe emissions were also lower. The nation’s automakers have to improve their average fleet fuel economy to 54.5 mpg by the year 2025.

The Federal Trade Commission and 32 law enforcement partners are cracking down on a deceptive auto loan plans. There were 187 enforcement actions regarding advertising, loan application fraud, odometer fraud, deceptive add-on fees, and deceptive marketing of car title loans. “Car ads must be truthful, loan terms must be clear, and dealer practices must be honest,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. In two cases, companies offering to save buyers money in an auto payment program, failed to tell them that the cost of that service cancelled out any actual savings, the FTC said. Three dealers, the commission said, advertised sales, lease or financing options that seemed attractive but were cancelled out by fine print disclaimers, such as a $3,000 down payment. As I have written in the past, and will continue to do so, there is a crying need for a complete overhaul of how cars and trucks are sold in this country. Example? The often cited extra fee a dealer near here charges for hydrogen that was allegedly pumped into new vehicle tires.

Kelley Blue Book is out with a list of what it considers the 10 Best Sedans Under $25,000. They are:

2015 Honda Accord, 2015 Hyundai Sonata, 2015 Toyota Camry, 2015 Honda Civic, 2015 Mazda Mazda3, 2015 Ford Fusion, 2015 Subaru Legacy, 2015 Nissan Altima, 2015 Chrysler 200, 2015 Subaru Impreza.

It is no secret that auto buyers are scooping up compact crossovers and SUV’s, and now Edmunds.com says that is hurting sales of midsize and compact cars. Those segment’s market shares are at an eight year low so far this year.

 

Auto News for March 26 – Clarkson Sacked

2016 Kia Optima SX

Kia has released a picture of the 2016 Optima that will make its debut on April first at the NYC auto show. It will be available with “multiple engine choices” and a more spacious interior.

McLaren

Also in the “City That Never Sleeps,” McLaren will display the first in its Sports Series, the 570S Coupe. It marks the first time McLaren has offered its technologies in the sports car segment. Power output is said to be 562 horsepower, so it just may get up and go rather nicely. Oh, McLaren released the teaser photo.

JAGUARXF_S

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s the new Jaguar XF that made its debut by being driven by a stunt driver across wires high over the Royal Dock in London’s Canary Wharf. The idea was to show off the car’s lighter weight thanks to its aluminum intensive construction. Its next act will be at the NYC show. You can see the roughly three minute crossing at:

jaguar.co.uk/newxf

 

The BBC has fired Jeremy Clarkson after a series of incidents over time, including a recent physical altercation with a senior producer over the menu available after a photo shoot. A BBC official said that was “accompanied by sustained and prolonged verbal abuse of an extreme nature. For me a line has been crossed.” BBC Director General Tony Hall said Clarkson may be leaving “but I am sure he will continue to entertain, challenge and amuse audiences for many years to come.” The Beeb said it is looking at ways to produce the last programs in the current series. Clarkson told an audience recently that he expected to be sacked. Richard Hammond called it “a sad end to an era” while James May called the firing “a tragedy.”

2016 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 – Euro Spec

Mercedes has revamped its GLE and added a hybrid to the mix called the GLE550e 4MATIC. Merc said it will provide better gas mileage then the diesel model while delivering the performance of a V8. And as you probably guessed by now, the high performance Mercedes MG GLE63 4MATIC and the GLE63 S4MATIC will debut at the New York Show. (I thought Merc was going to simplify its model names.) The plug-in hybrid will carry a V6 with 329 horsepower and a hybrid module with 114 hp worth of electric power. The peak torque is a robust 479 lb-ft and it will allow for all electric driving at speeds of up to 81 mph.

2015_Toyota_RAV4_Hybrid_teaser

By using more common parts and product platforms, Toyota hopes to cut the cost of bringing new models to market by 20 percent. It also announced that a RAV4 hybrid will join the mix starting in model year 2016. And you can guess where that model will debut?

Ya gotta wonder if Clarkson will also show up in NYC?

GM’s Arlington Texas plant recently cranked out its ten millionth vehicle, a Chevy Suburban. Its one millionth was a 1965 Pontiac Bonneville while vehicle number one rolled out in January 1954.

Kelly Blue Book predicts March auto sales will fall .3 percent. But first quarter sales will be the best since 2007. It said the slight decline in volume in March is due to one fewer Saturdays this month compared to last year.

 

 

 

Auto News for March 25

Ford Focus RS

The Ford Focus RS will make its U.S. debut at the New York Auto Show next month. It will feature all-wheel drive and a 2.3-liter four rated at more than 315 horsepower and Brembo front calipers. The higher performance Focus will hit the market in the spring of 2016.

Mazda will display a lighter weight version of the 2016 MX-5 Miata at the show. The “Club Edition” weighs about 150 pounds less than the standard model with the 2.0-liter, 155 horsepower four.

Kia’s all-electric Soul will be offered in five more states – Georgia, Texas, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii later this year. Additional markets are set to come online next year.

The Audi A6 has captured the top safety rating possible from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety when equipped with the available Driver Assistance Package.

A Harris poll of 2,276 adults shows 35 percent feel that autonomous cars are the future of driving and 24 percent think believe they are something out of “The Jetson’s” cartoon. One quarter of those polled said they do not see any benefits to self-driving cars and more than one third worry about data breaches from such vehicles. Are they safe? A total of 49 percent said they would be, and 51 percent believe they would be dangerous.

Auto News for March 24

saleen

Demand has been HOT for one of the highest performers on the market – the S302 Black Label Mustang from Saleen Automotive. It features a supercharger on the 5.0-liter V8 that boosts output to 730 horsepower and a hang on to your cap 600 lb-ft of torque with either a 6-speed manual box or 6-speed automatic. It is a limited edition car, as most Saleen models are, with a starting price of $70,000. The maker said most of the orders are not for the base model, but the more upscale offerings with custom paint jobs.

The Federal Highway Administration reports that people over age 50 now account for nearly half of all U.S. drivers and that is a record number. Experts believe that by 2045 there will be a 77 percent increase in the number of drivers over the age of 65. Already, drivers over the age of 85 remain the fastest growing demographic group, nearly doubling from 1998.

Consumer prices moved upward in February for the first time in four months, and the Labor Department said slowly rising gas prices were one of the reasons why. Those low fuel prices allowed many to “get back on the road again.” The government said we drove 3.02 trillion miles last year – a number not seen in seven years.

And Sherwin-Williams has signed a new deal making it the “Official Paint of NASCAR.”

 

 

Auto News for March 23

NYIAS 2016 Outlander Front Teaser

Mitsubishi has released a teaser photo of the 2016 Outlander that will make its debut at the New York Auto Show on April 2nd. It will be the first vehicle to carry the brand’s new design language. Mitsu said it will offer increased refinement, improved handling and throttle response and a “more eloquent yet functional interior space.”

Inclement weather in February caused many consumers to delay their new vehicle purchase and that will result in an auto sales rebound this month, according to forecasters at J.D. Power and LMC Automotive. They believe new car and truck sales will be up four percent and reach their highest levels for the month since 2005.

All electric cars aren’t exactly flying out of showrooms, so Honda has announced some new lease options. It is now offering a new two year lease for current customers at a lower price of $199 a month, a reduction of $60. It offers unlimited mileage, routine maintenance and collision coverage. The reduced lease price and matching two year terms will be available to new customers interested in driving a used Fit EV.

Joining the cutback by GM, Volkswagen will reduce production and cut jobs at its plant in Russia. But it believes the market has potential growth long term.

State owned China National Chemical will acquire Pirelli in a $7.7 billion deal. Perelli is the world’s fifth-largest tire maker.

Cadillac has announced a new V6 engine with peak output of 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. It will first appear in the CT6 luxury performance sedan. GM said it will be the only twin turbo six to offer cylinder deactivation and stop/start to improve gas mileage.

 

 

Saturday Road Test – Infiniti QX60

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Infiniti QX60 3.5 AWD

No James Bond with This Q but Everything Else

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD. – This weekend’s ride fits smack dab in the middle of Infiniti’s lineup of crossovers and SUV’s with a staggering list of available options that would allow owners to custom order their new set of wheels.

Just to be contrary, let’s start where there are not many options – under the hood. There is only one power plant offered outside the Hybrid model, a 3.5-liter 6 with 265 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm and 248 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm. Front drive and all-wheel drive can be specified.

Operators can also select four driving modes, Standard, Sport, Eco and Snow. It varies throttle response and shift schedules, Infiniti said, and in Sport mode there is a good simulation of gear changes. But the test vehicle came up a bit short on acceleration thanks to the CVT transmission that, like most of them, produces lots of RPM but was a bit lagging in forward progress.

In tune with the experience of several owners, the X60 fell short of the EPA gas mileage estimate of 26 mpg highway, and 19 city for a combined 22 in the AWD model. I came away with 17 around suburbia and 19 and change on the highway. Premium petrol is preferred. The MPG is not much better with the higher priced hybrid, owners say.

Where the Q ship sparkles is inside. It was first class all the way with leather clad heated and cooled front seats that were eight way adjustable with lumbar on the driver’s side and 6-way power adjustable for those riding on the right.  The “Maple Interior Accents” were a nice touch but if that doesn’t appeal something called “Kasane Washi” trim is available.

Commendable were the white on black instruments facing the driver, to be precise, electroluminescent gauges and a standard 7-inch color vehicle information display controlled by buttons on the steering wheel. An available “Deluxe Touring Package” includes an air purifier and “Grape Polyphenol filter and auto recirculation.”

The second row seats slide 5.5 inches back and forth and the seatbacks recline leaving enough room for even a Final Four star. On the test vehicle, the outboard seats were heated in row two.

Thanks to multiple folding operations, the third row was extremely accessible, but space wise is better left to children.

Fold down the second and third row seats, and you create 76.5 cubic feet of storage space but that is less than the rival Acura MDX. Storage was a bit sparse with the third row raised.

The Q was a quiet and comfortable long range trip machine with easy to configure audio and navi controls.

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Visibility to the rear was poor due to the head rests in the rear seats and would virtually disappear if the third row head rests were not folded. Thankfully there was a backup camera and a 360 degree camera for parking maneuvers.

The Optional Bose “Cabin Surround” audio system with 15 speakers will knock your socks off with high class audio reproduction. Turn it off, and you notice a very quiet interior with wind and road noise nicely hushed.

Push the six into the upper end of the rev range, and it will intrude and then settle down on the ole interstate.

Handling was not its forte, with little steering feedback, and a suspension on the soft side. The upside to that was the Q’s ability to handle Maryland’s very pocked-marked roads as we head into spring.

All of the expected safe features were present, many of them included in a $2,800 “Technology Package.” That brings you Intelligent Brake Assist with Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Warning, a too sensitive Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent Cruise Control, and Backup Collision Intervention. It will alert the driver about crossing vehicles and stationary objects when they are backing out of a parking space. It can automatically engage the brakes to avoid a collision. A neat touch!

All this was part of three very large and expensive option packages on the test vehicle that totaled $11,295 plus an additional $995 for delivery, all of which brought the MSRP up to $56,090 from a base price of $43,800.

A likeable crossover with luxury touches, room for six, or a weekend splurge to mega-hardware, plus the ability to customize it to your liking is what you end up with. Go easy on options, and the price could be right.

And, as you can see in the photo album, you would drive home with one very stylish vehicle.

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Auto News for March 20

Jeep Staff Car

Jeep has introduced seven concept vehicles for the annual Moab, Utah, Easter Safari. It attracts thousands of die-hard off road enthusiasts for a week of conquering some of the country’s most rugged and recognizable trails. One of the concepts, the Jeep Staff Car, is an open air Wrangler built like the military service vehicles of old.

Jeep® Wrangler Red Rock Responder Concept

And what about a Jeep Wrangler pickup? It could happen when the company introduces the next generation of the iconic Wrangler. Jeep CEO Mike Manley said it is one of the prime topics of discussion the company has had with its customers. Just to tease things a bit further, the company revealed the “Red Rock Responder” for the Moab event, and it is a Wrangler based pick up. My guess is that Jeep could sell a ton of these.

Japan’s Nikkei business newspaper said Honda will ship a five-door Civic hatchback to the U.S. in mid-2016. There is no word on whether it will be the performance oriented Type R that will be sold in Europe starting this summer. Thus far, there has been no comment from Honda.

Almost 105,000 Hondas have been added to the recall list tied to Takata airbags. This includes 88,549 Pilots from model years 2008, 10,868 Civics from 2004, and 5,454 Accords from model year 2001. Honda will replace the driver front airbag inflator and this brings the total recall to 5.5 million vehicles.

LX was the original platform code for the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Magnum. More than 1,000 of these vintage vehicles are expected this coming weekend at the tenth annual Spring Festival in Southern California. Cars using the LX platform include the 2005 Chrysler 300, the 2005-08 Dodge Magnum station wagon, 2006-10 Charger sedan.