Happy New Year to you all. The Auto News column will resume on Jan. 4. However, do join me on Saturday the second for my Car of the Year and SUV of the Year announcements! Do have a safe and fun filled holiday
Gas prices remain low and are likely to stay there according to Triple A. Today’s national average has ever so slightly edged up to $2.002 a gallon from $1.999 a few days ago. But a year ago, the auto club said the average was $2.273 a gallon. Today, California drivers are shelling out $2.846 a gallon much higher than the $1.929 I have seen here in Maryland.
In a short press release Bridgestone announced it will not present a counter offer to acquire Pep Boys and this morning, Carl Icahn’s company said it has entered into a definitive merger agreement to acquire the auto parts firm. Icahn recently increased his offer to $18.50 a share in cash or $1.50 a share more than Bridgestone’s last offer. That puts the Icahn offer at just over $1 billion for Manny, Moe, and Jack’s 800 outlets around the country. The agreement has been unanimously approved by the boards of each company, Icahn Enterprises said.
A total of 48 vehicles have met tougher criteria for 2016 to take home a TOP SAFETY PICK+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. An additional 13 vehicles qualified for the second highest rating. “For the first time, a good rating in the challenging small overlap front crash test is a requirement to win, in addition to an available front crash prevention system,” said Adrian Lund, IIHS president. The insurance industry group cited improvements made to the Nissan Maxima, Volkswagen Passat, and Toyota’s Avalon and RAV4.
Scheduled to be unveiled at the Geneva show next year is a new Audi, the Q2, a compact crossover that will do sales battle in the hottest segment of the U.S. market. Previously, Audi had announced it would build the Q1, so there is some confusion over whether the Q2 might replace it. Audi also announced it will “present the successor” of the Q5 next year and that it plans major investments in alternative drive systems with the “first large-series battery-electric vehicle” to be launched in 2018.
And here comes a special one-off X-Men-inspired Kia Sportage that will debut at the 2016 Australian Open tennis championship. It is part of the brand’s collaboration with Twentieth Century Fox and the X-Men movie franchise. You can see more from January 4, 2016 on when Kia releases an online video of the vehicle with Rafael Nadal at:
You might remember that Hyundai announced it will enter the luxury car market with an expanded Genesis brand. Now it’s really getting serious with the hiring of former Lamborghini executive Manfred Fitzgerald who will be in charge of “brand strategy, marketing, and other business operations” for the Genesis lineup. He was formerly director of brand and design at Lambo.
There is quite a battle going on for control of Manny, Moe & Jack, the Pep Boys, and it involves names you know – Carl Icahn and Bridgestone Tires. Icahn is now offering to take control of the firm for $18.50 a share topping the Bridgestone offer of $17 a share. Pep Boys board has declared Icahn’s offer is the best one on the table, and is moving to end an earlier takeover agreement with Bridgestone.
BMW will show off “AirTouch” at the Consumer Electronics show to “demonstrate what the interior and the user interface of the future might look like.” It is an upgrade of a system now in the 7-series. Entertainment, navigation and communication functions will be controlled by simple gestures made with a flat hand by either the driver or passenger. So it would be like a touchscreen that you don’t have to touch. Basically, sensors would record the hand movements in the area between the central console and the interior mirror and would also allow 3D control. One would assume the occupants would have to learn a series of hand movements to make the whole thing work, and this could get interesting. J
I hope you all had a wonderful weekend and now it’s on to 2016! Of course the automakers are already there, in fact, it is time to gear up for the 2017’s, some of which will be on display at the Detroit show early next month and the other big exhibits to follow.
Tradition holds that on New Year’s weekend I reveal my choice for Car of the Year based on vehicles tested in the past calendar year. While I had the chance to drive various makes such as the Hellcat and Corvette for short periods, a full week behind the wheel on all types of roads and in all kinds of traffic conditions gives a more accurate picture of what a car is like to live with. So the COY category will be limited to those cars that spent more time in the road test driveway.
Also this year, I will add a Sport Utility of the Year to the list for no other reason than this is the hottest segment in the industry right now.
In alphabetical order, here are the finalists for Car of the Year:
Audi S3 2.0T Quattro S tronic
The car with the never ending name checked all the boxes: Acceleration, handling, ride, interior luxury touches and a 14-speaker audio system that will convince you that Adele is sharing the seat next to you. Of course, Quattro all-wheel-drive is at your beck and call in time for winter. With all its performance virtues, the Audi was also an excellent commuter vehicle. It was a no brainer when it came to the finalist list even at the $41K asking price.
Hyundai Elantra GT
THE WHAT you may ask? OK, granted this is not a car that made many COY lists but it was a sad moment when they picked up the sleek silver hatchback at the end of its test week. Long term readers will know that I favor cars that offer a nice balance of power, handling and style, matched to a classy interior and value for the money. The little hatchback was all that and more thanks to a responsive 2.0 liter, 173 horsepower four and some suspension tweaks that made rural Maryland roads a lot of fun. Even with two high priced option packages the bottom line came to a reasonable $26,675 for an entertaining, well made, stylish car that will not raise any eyebrows at your insurance company!
Hot on the heels of the Elantra is the Mazda 3. Stirring the pot was a wonderful six speed manual in the test car, that was as delightful as any shift-it-yourself I have driven. It felt light, nimble, balanced and ready to take on any sort of back road. Yet the ride was not sports car stiff. In hatchback form it can carry stuff, produce excellent gas mileage and still champion rural roads and off ramps – All at the reasonable MSRP of the test car, $28,385 for a top-of-the-line Grand Touring model.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
It is a lone wolf. The Triumph TR-4 is long gone. MG is still alive but producing mediocre sedans. Sunbeam (remember the Tiger), is something that now comes down from the skies on a warm day. But to take one of these Mazda two-seaters out for an afternoon drive on a top down kind of day is to rediscover the joy for driving. Therefore, everyone who enjoys that experience should lift a cold frosty one to Mazda for updating its sports car while retaining everything that endears it to the faithful. It might be the North American Car of the Year! We will find out in early January. But will it be mine? Check back Saturday when, as Agatha Christie’s favorite detective might say, “All will become clear.”
Mark Phelan has an interesting story on the Detroit Free Press website on the cars and trucks that will go out of production in the New Year. The Nissan Xterra is one that I will miss having seriously considered one for purchase a few years ago. But when I checked, the off roader was too tall to fit in the parking garage I used at the National Press Club building in downtown D.C. The backup garage was even shorter. The paper’s web site also has a photo feature of the new vehicles that will debut next year, many at the Detroit show in roughly two weeks.
Honda has begun deliveries of its new business jet after receiving certification of the aircraft from the FAA. The factory is located in Greensboro N.C. Honda said the “Over-The-Wing” engine design allows for a quieter and more spacious cabin. It will seat up to five passengers.
As you may have guessed auto news will be on the light side with the holiday weekend just ahead of us. The news column will resume on Monday, Dec. 28. I wish all of you a very happy holiday and may one of your very special dreams come true in 2016!
The Saturday Road Test column will resume on Jan. 2 with my selection for Car of the Year. Don’t miss it!
“Das Auto” is out as an advertising slogan at Volkswagen as the automaker tries to change its image in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal. The new image will be just the familiar VW logo and the Volkswagen name under it, according to Reuters, the news service that broke the story.
Nissan’s Titan XD pickup will carrying a starting price of $40,290 for the S model 4×2 with the top-of-the-line Reserve 4×4 starting at $60,520. The XD is the more heavy duty version of the Titan and is just now hitting showrooms. It will be offered in three cab configurations, two frame sizes, and five trim levels. All models will be equipped with a Cummins 5.0-liter Turbo diesel offering a robust 555 lb-ft of torque, matched with a 6-speed automatic.
Ford is recalling a total of 313,000 Crown Vics and Grand Marquis models because solder joints on a module could crack and cause the headlights to fail. Ford said it was aware of 11 accidents and one minor injury. Involved are 2003-05 models.
TRUCK TREND, an offshoot of Motor Trend, has named the GMC Sierra 1500 Denali has its Pickup Truck of the Year. Editors said they were impressed with the truck’s focus on comfort, safety, and innovation.
BMW has been fined $40 million by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to issue a timely recall of vehicles that “did not comply with minimum crash protection standards.” This involves 2014 and 2015 Mini Cooper models that NHTSA said failed to meet regulatory minimums for side-impact crash protection. Administrator Mark Rosekind said this is the second time in three years that BMW has been penalized for failing to launch recalls and inform consumers in a timely fashion when a safety defect or noncompliance is discovered. The $40 million penalty includes $10 million in cash, a requirement that the company spend at least $10 million meeting the order’s obligations, and $20 million in deferred penalties that will come due if BMW fails to comply with NHTAS orders or commits other safety violations. The automaker said it is “committed to further improving its recall processes to better serve its customers.”
The morning rumor mill has it that Google and Ford will announce at the Consumer Electronics show an agreement to work together on the development of a self-driving car. Yahoo Autos was first with the report. Elon Musk predicts fully autonomous vehicles could be a reality in two years. But one wonders about the legal issues surrounding them.
Over the river and through the woods has seldom been this inexpensive. AAA reported Monday that U.S. average gas prices dropped below $2 a gallon for the first time since March 25, 2009. The national average price was $1.998 per gallon and the motor club said cheaper gas has saved consumers more than $115 billion so far this year. That works out to more than $550 per licensed driver. As AAA put it, “We’re going to party like its $1.99”
The market share of leased new vehicles could hit a record this year, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. The record was set in 1997 when 27.4 percent of new vehicles were leased. The new record could be as high at 27.8 percent.
Mercedes has named Dietmar Exler as president and CEO of its operations here in the states. Steve Cannon is leaving MB but will remain as a consultant through January. And Mazda has announced that the president of its North American Operations, Jim O’Sullivan, will retire after 13 years in his post. He will be succeeded on New Year’s Day by Masahiro Moto who has been serving as a Managing Executive Officer at Mazda. O’Sullivan will be the longest serving senior executive of any car company in the U.S. at the time of his retirement. O’Sullivan is pictured.
This has worked out to be a Honda/Acura kind of morning. Acura announced its very sexy NSX will carrying an MSRP of $156,000 and it will begin taking customer orders on Feb. 25. The very first NSX will be auctioned for charity at Barrett-Jackson in January. Proceeds will go to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and Camp Southern Ground, the project of Grammy Award winning artist Zac Brown.
Acura released a teaser photo of the “Precision Concept” that it will unveil at the Detroit auto show next month. It said the car “will help set the direction of future Acura design, in particular, the next generation of performance-luxury sedans.” We will learn more on January 12th.
The day before in Detroit, Honda will get to crow about its new Ridgeline pickup that will hit the road in the first half of 2016. It was designed and developed at Honda’s R&D center in Torrance, California and is said to be “fundamentally better suited to the way many buyers use their truck.” The Ridgeline will make its TV debut during the third quarter of the Super Bowl. A “freshened” CR-V will also be on display at the Detroit show that will open to the press three weeks from today.
Almost one in three Brits have admitted to driving the morning after when they believe they may still be drunk from the night before. Honda dealers in Britain will be giving away personal breathalyzers during the holidays. Driving or attempting to drive while above the legal limit there could get someone 6 months in jail, an unlimited fine, and a driving ban for at least one year or up to three years, according to the web site GOV.UK. The penalty is largely up to the magistrate hearing the case.
The smog is so bad in Beijing the government has ordered half of all private cars off the streets and ordered factories to close. The “Red Alert” is the city’s highest level and will remain in effect through Tuesday. It is also the second Red Alert this month. Schools are closed and people have been urged to remain indoors.
Mazda said its 2016.5 CX-5 will get some additional equipment. A backup camera will be standard equipment on models equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission. Touring models will get navigation as standard equipment along with heated front seats.
People & Stuff Hauler
By Ron Amadon
DAMASCUS, MD. – If you are unalterably opposed to buying a van there is nothing I can do to change your mind.
But if hauling large quantities of people and their gear is the number one priority in your daily life, read on because here is one high quality van.
And you can jazz it up with the Salsa Red paint of the test van, nice looking 19-inch alloy wheels, a bit different front end design in the upscale SE Premium model and, good grief, even a sportier suspension.
The power liftgate is always welcome in such a vehicle, as are the heated front seats assuming winter ever appears in the East, a sunroof in case it doesn’t, and there were lots of other knickknacks plus the usual array of safety equipment.
So this is far from the stripped down aged VW Camper van I parked next to yesterday. But you don’t care about all this stuff – You want to know what it will haul.
Eight good friends, or just one shy of a pickup baseball team, can be comfortably accommodated when the second row is the 40/20/40 split bench. Subtract one body if the van has the second row, and very comfortable, captain’s chairs of the test vehicle. If you have been elected to pick up the 6’ 9” starting center on the basketball team you should know the seats slide back and forth to give him plenty of stretch out room.
On the other hand, if you are hauling the entire holiday gift load to Grandma’s on the 25th, those seats fold or they can be removed to create a max of 150 cubic feet of hauling space compared to 148.5 in the Honda Odyssey. But get some help because those seats are not light.
With the second row seats folded there is 117.8 cubic feet of storage space, and do not overlook the very deep covered bin just ahead of the liftgate. Properly equipped, the Sienna will tow up to 3,500 lbs.
Ahead of the nicely trimmed interior lies a 3.5-liter, V6 rated at 266 hp with 245 lb-ft of torque married to a responsive six speed automatic tranny. It allows the Sienna to merge quickly and smoothly onto an interstate where it settles in quietly for the remainder your trip. Only a tiny amount of wind noise could be detected.
From the driver’s seat the Sienna does has a heavy feel to it, but after all we are talking about 4,560 pound van here. Visibility was good to all sides helped by the cross traffic alert, and a nice touch was the three row side curtain air bags.
Running on the cheap stuff, 87 octane, the Sienna is rated at 18 mpg around the city, 25 on the highway, for a combined 21 mpg according to the EPA. I logged 23 mpg on mostly interstate travel.
The heated, leather covered six-way power adjustable driver’s seat was very comfy on a long drive. Controls are easy to reach, fit and finish was excellent, and I would strongly recommend you check the box for the rear entertainment system for younger passengers. It will allow one to watch a movie while the other plays a game adding immeasurably to the bliss factor on long trips.
To keep up with everything going on up front, there was a 5” TFT screen in the instrument cluster, and 7” high resolution screen center dash housing the navi and Toyota’s Entune system that doesn’t require a PHD in computer science to operate.
Ride quality was excellent even over pot holed rural roads and handling was about what one might expect in a van, which is to say a tad on the soft side. Toyota offers All-Wheel Drive, which is not available on the rival Odyssey. But the Sienna doesn’t offer a vacuum cleaner.
With a few minor options, the test SE Sienna with the Premium Package carried a bottom line of $40,994, a figure you could easily ring up in an SUV.
And my bet is that you can negotiate a better deal on a van these days thanks to the red hot market for SUVs, something to consider when you write that monthly payment check.
And with a dizzying array of models and options, one can create a Sienna that is all yours with the promise of a long term, trouble free relationship.
The BMW M2 and X4 M40i will make their world debuts at the Detroit auto show on January 11th. The M2 should be a fun drive with a 3.0-liter six delivering 365 horsepower with 343 lb-ft of torque. BMW cites a 0-60 romp of 4.2 seconds. Pricing will be announced shortly with the car available in showrooms in the spring.
The X4 M40i, now there’s catchy name, also gets a six with 355 horsepower and 343 lb-ft of torque. Its 0-60 comes in at 4.7 seconds and speed tops out at 150 mph. It will appear in showrooms in February. No word yet on price. The chassis will be tuned to M Performance specs, and the vehicle will feature BMW ConnectedDrive, intelligent xDrive and Twin Scroll turbo technology.
And here is another strange name, the Vauxhall Maloo, the only pickup offered by the GM brand. Now here is why you should care. GM has taken the V8 out of the Camaro ZL1 and put it into the trucklet in slightly detuned form. It clams a 0-60 in just 4.6 seconds thanks to its 6.2-liter power plant and it is said to be the “fastest production ute manufactured in Australia”, and the fastest vehicle of its type available in the UK. In U.S. form, that V8 is rated at 455 horsepower. So if the trucklet were offered here, would you buy one?
Volkswagen will halt production of its high lux Phaeton sedan in late March. It was a slow seller on world markets and sales were halted here in the U.S. back in 2006. The rumor mill has it that the Phaeton will return as an all-electric vehicle in 2019 or so.
Volks has brought on board renowned lawyer Kenneth Feinberg to try to work out settlements with the U.S. owners of diesels that don’t meet pollution standards. Forbes reports that Volks is facing more than 500 lawsuits. Feinberg had a similar role in the GM ignition switch affair and handled compensation for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. “His extensive experience in handling such complex matters will help to guide us as we move forward to make things right with our customers,” said Michael Horn, president and CEO, VW Group of America.
Volks may display an electric concept car or van at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show that it claims will mark “the beginning of a new era of affordable long-distance electromobility.” That word must be out of “Star Wars!”
December could be the strongest month for new vehicle sales since 2005 and 2015 could set a new sales record, according to J.D. Power and LMC Automotive. It said consumers are on a pace to spend more than $44 billion on new vehicles in December and $437 billion on new vehicles in 2015, “both record levels.” Power said the Fed’s decision raise interest rates by one quarter of one percent “should have a minimal impact on new vehicle sales.”
Chevrolet claims that the Malibu and the Silverado were among the Top 10 trends in vehicle searches on Google this year. The Toyota Tacoma was third on the Google list, followed by the Chevy Camaro and the Honda HR-V. If it matters, Bud Light Mixxtail, Gose beer, and Grapefruit beer were the most searched brews. Pardon me, but grapefruit beer?
The hottest segment of the classic car market is models built from 1980 through the early 2000’s according to Hagerty, the classic car valuations and insurance firm. North American classic car auction sales have reached a record $1.45 billion for the year, an 11 percent increase over 2014. Some cars with the greatest increase in average sales price were the 1974-77 Porsche 911, 2004-09 Aston Martin DB9, and the 1984 -96 Ferrari Testarossa. Heading the other way were the Hudson Commodore, BMW 2002 and the American Motors CJ-7 Jeep.