Auto News for Feb. 29 – Opel GT!!!

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 The Geneva Auto Show opens to the press tomorrow and if I were giving an Academy Award for the most eye catching vehicle that I have seen pre-show, it would have to be the Opel GT Concept. “We are taking the next step toward even more emotion and driving pleasure with the Opel GT Concept,” said Opel Group CEO Dr. Karl-Thomas Neumann, adding, “We are confident, ambitious, innovative, and we want (to) win over more customers with every new car.” Opel has downplayed European speculation that it might actually make a production version of the GT. You can watch a 75 second video of the car here:

http://media.opel.com/media/intl/en/opel/news.detail.html/content/Pages/news/intl/en/2016/opel/02-29-stage-set-gt-concept.html

If I were living in Europe, I would want one.

Emission and PR problems aside, Forbes reports that Volkswagen was the world’s largest automaker in January producing 847,000 vehicles and topping Toyota. Some experts doubt that VW can maintain its lead.

And speaking of sales, automakers will report tomorrow on February sales here in the U.S. The numbers, and all of the experts agree, are expected to be robust. Some have taken the leap, (Okay, bad pun,) and predicted all-time record sales numbers for the month.

Several reports say Daimler, the parent of Mercedes Benz, has received a request from the EPA about emission levels in some of its cars. The company said it conforms to all rules and is fully cooperating with the agency. No comment thus far from EPA.

 

Saturday Road Test – Ford F-150 XLT 4×4

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Ford F-150 XLT 4×4 Supercab

Camel Cloth and All

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD – Now in its 13th generation Ford’s F-150 was just named the top truck by Consumer Reports. They praised its quiet and spacious cabin, new Sync3 infotainment system and summed up by saying it has “the best predicted reliability of any domestic truck.”

On top of that it is expected to finish first when automakers release their February sales figures, a distinction dating back well before anyone considered body painting Ronda Rousey

Like other truck makers, Ford offers a long, long list of available packages and options that would chew up more space then I have here, so let’s concentrate on what was on the “Race Red” test truck with the “Camel Cloth” interior.

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The $795 extra 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 topped the list. It produced more than enough grunt with its 283 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque and was mated to a 6-speed automatic. With tow mode, Class IV trailer hitch and an integrated trailer brake, the test truck was ready to tow a trailer up to 12,200 pounds. I just did not happen to have one in the road test driveway. A nifty option is the rear view trailer hitch assist camera that makes it a snap to line up the hitch and trailer without assistance from your nosey next door neighbor.

Without a trailer, the EPA rates this combination at 18 mpg city, 23 highway for a combined 20 mpg, helped of course by the lightweight aluminum body. I checked in at 21 mpg.

Also significant in the $6,385 worth of options were LED side mirror spotlights, a very handy tailgate step, LED box lighting, and spray in bed liner. I would pass on the $1,695, marked down to $750, XLT Chrome Appearance Package. As delivered, the test truck carried an MSRP of $43,085.

There were not a lot of do dads in the interior as this was not the top-of-line King Ranch or Platinum model. I have driven a King Ranch and must say it has all the luxury trim and convenience items one could hope for and probably more than you will ever use. It was like driving a large luxury sedan.

Instead, the test truck sported manual single zone air conditioning, satellite radio with an auxiliary audio input jack, power windows, and a 4.2 inch multifunction center stack screen. This may sound base, but it proved to be a most comfortable elevated perch for long drives in a very hushed environment noise wise. Ford did a good job when it came to the quality of the trim and control placement – everything was an easy reach away and mostly intuitive. A small touch, but a nice addition, was the rear window defroster.

The 40/20/40 front seats with center console offered good comfort and there was ample room for storage for what not. If you frequently carry people in the rear seats you might want to upgrade to the crew cab, known as the Supercrew at Ford. If you don’t want them to feel excessively comfortable and constantly request rides, stick with the tested Supercab.

Around town and on the interstates I loved the high, “King of the Road” driving positon of the F-150 and never yearned for a big V8 under the hood. The EcoBoost six offered respectable acceleration for passing slow moving semis up steep mountain grades. Once in West Virginia, well, I was driving the vehicle of choice.

While I would want something more nimble if my daily commute involved a trip into a big city, it was easy to see why the F-150 is so popular.

But the old adage rings true – Stats show that folks who love Chevy trucks and those who buy Rams are highly unlike to change brands. Loyal. A lot like NFL fans.

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Auto News for Feb. 26 – Why electrics may be in your garage soon

  Volkswagen is facing a March 24th deadline to report back to a California judge on how it plans to fix emissions controls on 600,000 diesel powered cars. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said VW has had six months, or “long enough” to determine if this is a problem that can be repaired. In Germany, VW has hired a law firm to advise it on the liabilities that it may face.

Honda expects electric vehicles to account for two-thirds of its lineup by the year 2030. It will introduce a plug-in electric in North America by 2018 and then will make plug-in versions of its major models. For more on the future electric cars, see the April 2016 edition of Motor Trend. It points out rising government mandated fuel economy standards here in the U.S. coupled with stricter CO2 regulations in Europe and increasing fuel economy requirements in China will push automakers toward hybrids, plug-ins, battery-electric and fuel-cell cars by 2020. I recommend the article highly.

The nonprofit Consumer Watchdog group is warning Southern California drivers they are facing sticker shock at the gas pump as oil refiners raise wholesale prices in the changeover to the summer blend of gasoline. Californians now pay, on average, 68 cents more per gallon than motorists in other states because, the group said, four refiners control nearly 80 percent of the gas production and 75 percent of the stations in Southern California. It said prices may go up 37 cents a gallon on the switch to the summer blend.

It might surprise you to learn that 30 years ago a small company from Korea came to the U.S. to sell cars. Today Hyundai is the fifth largest automaker in the world and its lineup of vehicles has increased from just one, the Excel, to 14. It also is expanding its luxury car line here. “The U.S. is an incredibly important market for Hyundai and we will continue to invest in the American market and economy, said Dave Zuchowski, president and CEO of Hyundai’s U.S. branch.

Ford will invest $145 million to upgrade its Cleveland Engine Plant to support production of a second generation 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine for the 2017 F-150. It will create or retain 150 jobs at the plant.

 

An Auto News Special Report

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Consumer Reports Best & Worst cars

By Ron Amadon

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Audi and Subaru ranked ahead of the rest in Consumer Reports annual Best and Worst auto edition as seven new vehicles made its Top Picks list.

 Audi topped the listing of “Which Brands Make the Best Cars” and Subaru came in next. Lexus, Porsche, BMW, Mazda, Buick, Toyota, Kia and Honda rounded out the top ten. Lexus had topped the list the last two years.

 “Consumers don’t always have to spend top dollar to get a great car,” CR said noting the Subaru and Mazda second and sixth place finishes.  

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 On the other end of the list were Nissan, Infiniti, GMC, Cadillac, Dodge, Chrysler, Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Jeep and Fiat. Only vehicles that were on the market were considered in CR’s ratings, so the Volkswagen family of diesels were ignored since a stop sale order has been issued on them.   

 Each brand receives an overall score made up of its road test performance, reliability, safety performance, and owner satisfaction data.

 New additions to the Top Picks list by category were my Car of the Year, the Mazda MX-5 Miata as top sports car and the Kia Sorento that beat back the long running champion Toyota Highlander in the Mid-Sized SUV category. Toyota’s Camry was the winner in the Midsize Car ranking and the Sienna was the top van.

 In the Luxury SUV category, the Lexus RX was a new addition to the top ratings while the Honda Fit was the top sub compact car and the Ford F-150 was named top pickup to round out the seven new comers. 

 Other Top Picks were the Chevy Impala as the top Large Car for the second straight year while the best small SUV was the Subaru Forester for the third year in a row. Suby’s Impreza captured the Best Compact Car category for the fifth year in a row. Both the Forester and Impreza were notable for their “reliability, ride comfort and suite of available safety technology.”

 Ford, Lincoln, and Chevrolet finished mid-pack in the overall ratings “and were largely bogged down by their inconsistent reliability scores,” CR said.

 Ford’s F-150 was cited for its fuel economy, quiet and spacious interior and much improved Sync 3 infotainment system. 

 Other notes:

 Toyota Camry cited for a “no-fuss driving experience.”

 Honda Fit for its fuel economy and “remarkable interior space.”

 Kia Sorento – “A great SUV hiding in plain sight.” (I agree.)

 Toyota Sienna – A “super-reliable transport with all the modern features…” Yes, the presenter told us, it’s a van but one day you might wake up and find you have kids and conclude “I NEED a van.”

 CR did not name a “Best Overall” vehicle this year.

 Attention performance car fans! The Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Corvette and Dodge Challenger and Charger received the lowest rating possible for reliability.

 In the introduction to the annual auto edition, CR’s President Marta L. Tellado made the case for auto makers to include as standard equipment on all their vehicles forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking. The technology, she said, has already reduced injury and death rates in high end cars.

 Next year, automakers who do make those items standard will receive bonus points in their overall test scores.

 Taking safety equipment further, the magazine backed Alcohol Detection Systems that would prevent drunk drivers from taking the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working on finalizing that technology that CR said would reduce drunk driver caused accidents that “kill almost 10,000 people per year.” (Talk about something that should be standard in every vehicle on the road.)

 If you are in the market for a new vehicle, and forecasters say lots of consumers are, you would do well to check out the 2016 Annual Auto Issue from Consumer Reports.

   

Auto News for Feb. 23

 New vehicle sales are expected to increase 8.1 percent this month over one year ago when the upper East Coast, Midwest and Texas were experiencing some severe weather, according to J.D. Power and LMC Automotive. While demand for compact cars is on a bump upward, market share for cars is only at 42 percent, the lowest level on record for the month of February as consumers prefer crossovers and SUV’s. “Consumers seem to be shrugging off the volatility in the stock market and higher interest rates,” to increase sales said Jeff Schuster, senior VP of forecasting at J.D. Power.

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 Rolls Royce announced this morning that the current Phantom is entering the “last stages” of production. Rolls has begun testing an all-new and lighter aluminum architecture that will underpin every future model from early 2018. The Phantom Coupe and Drophead Coupe models will not be renewed in the future. But the Phantom will go out with the proper British touch – 50 special edition models called the Phantom Zenith will mark the end of the 13 year model run. The drawing indicates what those models will might look like.  

 The Takata airbag recall is hardly over. Safety regulators are said to be considering an even bigger recall of up to 90 million air bag inflators, according to Reuters. That is a sharp increase over the 29 million inflators recalled so far. The total number of affected vehicles has yet to be determined, Reuters said, because many have more than one inflator, and not always from Takata.

 While not giving a lot of details, Ford CEO Mark Fields said the automaker will triple its engineering investment in driver assist and semi-autonomous vehicle technology over the next five years. He commented at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain where Ford also revealed up updated Kuga, a small car sold in Europe. “As we look to the future, it is clear we are on the cusp of a revolution in mobility – from car sharing to autonomous driving to the customer experience,” Fields said. “Technology and innovation provide us with the opportunity to address these trends and make people’s lives better by changing the way the world moves.”

 A former head of Ferrari’s Formula One team, Stefano Domenicali, has been named as the new president and CEO at Lamborghini. He replaces Stephan Winkelmann who will head up the Quattro division at Audi. Domenicali has worked at both Audi and Formula One. During his time in the executive suite, Winkelmann doubled Lamborghini sales and played a key role in getting the brand to offer an SUV, yes a Lambo SUV, called the Urus that is said to be close to production.

 

Auto News for Feb . 22

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Maserati has released exterior pictures of its first Sport Utility Vehicle that will be on display at the Geneva show. The Levante will offer “on road performance typical of every Maserati with unrivalled handling even on very low grip surfaces and excellent off-road performance and ride.” The electronic suspension with controlled damping and air springs can be set on several levels. All-wheel drive of course, and an 8 speed automatic transmission. The only thing mentioned regarding power is it will be available with both “petrol and diesel engines that are all Euro6-compliant.” A formal launch is planned for this spring in Europe with the rest of the world later this year.

2017 Sportage

Kia’s all new 2017 Sportage will carry a starting price of $22,990, the company announced this morning. Kia said it will come with additional standard equipment including a 5-inch touchscreen and rear camera display on the base model. The top-of-the-line Sportage SX Turbo will carry a base MSRP of $32,500 with a 240 horsepower, 2.0 liter turbocharged engine. The Smart Power Liftgate will automatically open when the key fob is within three feet of the vehicle.

Ever walk through a museum featuring antique cars and wonder what was under the hood? Well the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, is lifting the hoods on 40 cars from its classic collection for a limited time only. Engines with two, four, six or eight cylinders will be exposed. The Detroit News said one of the earliest examples is a replica of the 1896 chain-driven Quadricycle powered by a 59 cubic inch, two cylinder engine rated at 4 horsepower. Also a ’32 Ford that was advertised at the time as the only car under $2,395 with a V-8 engine. My antique car expert has told me several times that the Henry Ford is a must if you are ever in the area, even in winter.

The auto world is still buzzing this morning over Denny Hamlin’s 0.010 second victory Sunday at the Daytona 500 over Martin Truex Jr. It was the closest finish in the long history of the Daytona race and to really believe it, you have to see the video of the finish. Downhill ski races frequently end with the winner up by fractions of a second, but not the big race at the now refurbished Daytona track. Wonder how Truex Jr. feels this morning?

Volkswagen Golf TSI SE

Still Good Fun

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD – There was simply no way that I could get into the driver’s seat of this “Tornado Red” Golf without remembering my first cross country road trip back in the 70’s, New Hampshire to California via Phoenix and back.

It was in a non-air conditioned Rabbit that economically and comfortably took me west, the only downer being the lack of air conditioning in Phoenix when the temperature rose to 110 the first day I was there to 112 the second day. Undaunted, I left the city and drove across the desert to SoCal with all windows open. A week later I was in Vail, Colorado, and woke up to a June snow storm.

And a few hundred miles later, I just missed seeing my first tornado as I motored across rural Kansas and the sky ahead of me was dark, VERY dark. “Oh yes, let me take you out back and you can see where it just missed us out in the field,” the woman who ran an exit ramp motel told me. There were no other twisters on the TV radar threatening the town so the smart thing to do was get a room for the night.

It was a great education to see what this land of ours was like from a small farming town with a dirt main street where my New Hampshire plates raised lots of eyebrows to a shopworn diner full of Native Americans who worked on nearby ranches and were hungry.

I finally got one to relate to me what his life was like working on a ranch that also had employed his ancestors. It was nothing like you would see on the silver screen and nothing like what I envisioned. It was all hard work but they still rode horses to the more remote areas of the land.

Through it all, the Golf predecessor Rabbit just chugged along delivering somewhere around 30 mpg and comfortable as all hell.

Those thoughts and many more raced through my memory bank as I fired up the present day Golf for its first test drive.

Before going much further, I should point out that the test car really was an IWNAD model, for “It Was Not a Diesel.” Instead, under the hood was, to use its full name, a 1.8-liter, TSI DOHC 16v Turbo 4-cylinder Direct Injection Engine, a name that I think was bigger than the gas powered power plant.

Its 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque was mated to a six speed automatic that delivered lively performance, but I still yearned for a six speed stick. I am guesstimating that the 0-60 run would come in under the eight second mark. That makes it one of the livelier performers in its class.

The combination is EPA rated at 25 mpg city, 36 highway for a combined 29 mpg. With lots of interstate travel, I came in at 31.

Where my original Golf-Rabbit, which was traded for a Colorado bound Sirocco, was a bare bones base model the test SE ranked second in the three model VW lineup. That brought the automatic tranny and a sunroof along with 17 inch wheels, automatic headlights, fog lights, automatic wipers, keyless ignition and entry, heated front seats and a nine speaker Fender audio system.

For 2016 VW did away with the proprietary cable in favor of a normal USB port like the rest of the world, along with a 6.5 inch touchscreen that talks to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A nice touch was the standard equipment rear view camera.

Untouched from my early model was the crisp handling that made back roads a lot of fun even with the “Servotronic Electro- Mechanical Power Steering. Where do they get these names?

The automatic was quick to downshift when merging on to interstates, interior noise was well disposed of, while interior fit and finish was what I would expect from a German design and an improvement over my earlier model where window winders kept falling off.

The leatherette covered buckets up front were comfortable but the manual adjustments were hard to reach. The seat recliner was powered. Visibility was excellent in all directions thanks to the traditional hatchback style, and the rear seats still fold to create extra hauling space.

In the safety department, a $1,495 Driver Assistance Package brought Forward Collision and Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, and Park Distance Control. A Lighting Package for $995 brightened things up.

Add in $820 for delivery, and the test Golf went for $28,535 that I call a bargain in today’s market.

The 2016 was a vast improvement over its predecessor, as it should be many decades later, and I would, without hesitation, take it west maybe this time to Seattle for a great cup of coffee.