Saturday Road Test – Piloting a Pilot





                                 Honda Pilot

                                All New for 2016

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD. – Even Europe has gone crazy for crossover vehicles and SUV’s that have dominated sales charts here in the U.S. for what feels like centuries.

 And Honda is ready for Gen Y members who might start out in the HR-V, then move up to the CR-V when that first move to the suburbs occurs, and then visit the dealer for the Pilot as demand increases for the transportation of  kids, buds, and their abundant collection of stuff.

 Honda knows this crowd, It claims to have the youngest buyers, average age 47, among key competitors and the top brand loyalty. A brand retention of nearly 63 percent.

 To lure in more adults yearning to pilot a Pilot, Honda has introduced an entirely new one for 2016.


 There is a new exterior design that looks less truck like, a richer looking interior with storage room galore, more horsepower, more leg and headroom, and additional sound proofing to make long trips easier on the ears.

 Even the stuff you can’t see has been changed with a stiffer structure with additional high strength steel, and yes, you now can be a “Man of Steel.” Yet the Pilot lost 250 pounds in the makeover.


 Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6 with 30 extra horsepower over last year. That comes out to 280 ponies with 262 lb-ft of torque. Transmission wise, lower priced models get a six speed automatic, while the Touring and the test Elite get a nine speed.

 The six produces more than enough power and can tow up to 3,500 pounds. While the 9-speed behaved most of the time, it occasionally seemed to be momentarily trying to find just the right gear. I liked the push button gear selection on the center console that frees up even more storage space.

 As fuel prices edge up just because summer is ahead of us, the Pilot is rated at 19 mpg city, 26 highway for a combined 22. I came in at 24.

 While only a handful of owners will make an off-road excursion, the Elite had settings for Snow, Mud, and Sand to complement its all-wheel drive.   

 Moving up to the new Elite trim brings LED headlights and taillights, 20-inch wheels, heated and ventilated front seats, heated second row captain’s chairs, heated steering wheel, blind sport indicators, auto high beam rain sensing wipers, HD radio and for the first time, a Panoramic glass roof that opens the sky to second and third row passengers.

 Touring and Elite models come with 5 USB ports and conveniently enough, the test Pilot had a 9 inch rear entertainment system.  


 There was ample storage for just about anything within reason. Lots of upscale trim and materials with soft surfaces gave the test rig a nice touch of upscale ambiance.

 The center screen is now 8 inches large with a so-so Garmin navi system. Unfortunately for passengers wanting to adjust audio volume there is still the sliding switch instead of an easier to adjust knob. Drivers have a volume control on the steering wheel.

 All models except the Elite will seat eight, but the top-of-the-line comes with two captain’s chairs in the second row for a total human capacity of seven.

 Access to the third row was made easier thanks to a one touch control for sliding the second row forward. Access is now 1.5 inches wider and 1.2 inches lower. Adults can find enough back row room for short trips only.

 There are lots of cup holders and a max cargo hauling of nearly 84 cubic feet. A nice touch is extra storage under a panel to the rear of the third row seats.

 Congrats to Honda for separating the ventilation controls from the touch screen.

 The driver’s seat, both heated and ventilated, was 10 way powered adjustable with two position memory and lumbar controls. Despite the multitude of controls, it took a while for me to find a comfortable position. Your experience may vary.

 The 8 inch center dash, better known as the “Electrostatic Touchscreen,” controls the audio, navi, voice recognition, and “multi-view rear camera.” Honda’s HD traffic system was more than bit hyper, finding traffic jams a mile or so ahead that simply were not there.

 Drivers will face a 4.2 inch multi-information display that was easy to read under all lighting conditions and featured lots of easily accessible information.  

 There was a three zone ventilation system, Pandora internet radio interface, and second row sunshades. Being a top-of-the-line model, all of the expected safety features were present and accounted for.

 Without a single option, the Elite carried a $47,300 price tag including transportation. The base LX model carries what could be a more budget pleasing MSRP of $30,145 to start on up to $32,580 for the EX, next up on the Pilot lineup.

 The Pilot was first introduced in 2003 and was one of the first unibody SUVs. In the 14 years since Honda has sold more than 1.4 million of them. And there is a reason: They last!

 With more consumers taking out longer term loans to get their new set of wheels, it should be comforting to know that when most Hondas hit 100,000 miles they are good to go for many more. In fact, the Honda Accord just topped a Consumer Reports list of the cars most likely to last 200,000 miles.

 It has been my experience that dealer maintenance is expensive. And before you sign on the dotted line, make sure the dealer has not tacked on hundreds of dollars in extra equipment that you can live without and will mean nothing come trade in time. To be fair that trait does not live exclusively at the Honda garage.

 You will come away with a high quality, and in the Elite trim, rather luxurious SUV that will carry today’s first graders off to high school if not college.













Auto News for April 29 – Google – FVA Tech Partnership?


 The rumor mill is red hot this morning with speculation that Fiat Chrysler and Google are in the late stages of talks regarding an autonomous vehicle technology partnership. One source told the Wall St. Journal that the talks have been ongoing for several months. Google has made it clear that it does not want to actually build cars, but would take on the role of auto supplier. Fiat Chrysler on the other hand, has been slow in developing self-driving cars and electrics, so this could be marriage of convenience. First word of the potential partnership came from, an industry blog. Stay tuned, for this could be a huge boost for FCA.

 Automotive News reports Google has launched a major lobbying and public relations campaign to win acceptance of autonomous vehicles, and to have a key role in the rules that will govern them.

 When it comes to trusting the technology that will accompany self-driving cars, more than half of Gen Y vehicle owners say they have faith. But older folks are not ready to take the leap. J.D. Power said 41 percent of Gen X trusts the technology, and only 23 percent of Baby Boomers do and only 18 percent of Pre-Boomers are believers. The one view all generations share is a concern for technology security, specifically surrounding privacy and the potential for systems to be hacked, hijacked or to crash (either the vehicle or the system itself). “The level of trust is directly linked to the level of interest in a new technology among automobile buyers,” said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction & HMI research at J.D. Power. “Acceptance can be increased with exposure over time and experience with automated technologies. But trust is fragile and can be broken if there is an excessive number of incidents with automated vehicles.” The survey reveals customers are most interested in smart headlights, night vision, lane change assist, traffic jam assist, medical emergency stop, and predictive vehicle control. Interest in some those features, such as night vision, drops significantly when the discussion turns to price, in this case about $2,000. Gen Y and Gen Z are the most interested in mobility sharing/co-ownership.

 Mitsubishi said none of its vehicles sold here in the U.S. are affected by the fuel consumption cheating scandal in Japan. The company admitted it manipulated data on some sub compact cars sold in Japan and on two models produced for Nissan.  






Auto News for April 28 – Big First Quarter At Ford


GT Configurator: Triple yellow Ford GT front three quarter


 If you own a few shares of Ford you should be very happy this morning, for the company had one heck of a first quarter. Net income more than doubled, pretax profit hit a record level, sales rose all around the world, and when it came to earnings per share Ford hit one out of the park. Wall Street expected 47 cents a share and the Blue Oval came in at 68 cents. “We are excited about our future and confident in our ability to deliver long-term growth and profitability, as we expand our business model to be both an auto and mobility company,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s President and CEO.

 Is there a market for minivans? We will find out as Fiat Chrysler is now sending its new Pacifica van to dealers.  Company officials are calling it the brand’s “halo” vehicle that will take on the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, and Kia Sedona in the marketplace.

 Volkswagen announced it is setting aside $8.8 billion to either fix or buy back diesel powered cars that exceed pollution regulations. But just how much this matter will cost the automaker in total remains up in the air. The VW brand posted a loss of $144 million in the fourth quarter of 2015.

 If this forecast is correct, April might be a record sales month for auto makers. Kelley Blue Book predicts sales will increase 4 percent over a year ago, for a total of 1.51 units and that will top the record of 1.5 million.  “Increased fleet sales and rising incentive spending among automakers remain the factors to watch, but retail demand appears to be holding steady, signaling the industry’s strong run isn’t over quite yet,” said Tim Fleming, a KBB analyst. Further, KBB is predicting a double digit sales increase for Nissan thanks to the redesigned Maxima and refreshed Sentra.

 In Europe they calculate new vehicle sales by the number of registrations. And in March they increased by 8.1 percent over the same period in 2015. Like the U.S., Sport Utility Vehicles were much in demand.



Auto News for April 27


 Auto plants are in the news this morning. Ford will invest a total of $1.6 billion in two facilities, one of which will manufacture the 10-speed transmission that will appear in the Raptor pickup in 2017. That would be the Livonia, Michigan plant. Extra money will be spent at the Ohio Assembly works in Avon Lake where chassis cabs are built for Ford’s Super Duty trucks.

 Fiat Chrysler, meanwhile, will move assembly of the Ram pickup from the Warren truck assembly plant just up the road to the Sterling Height, Mich. facility. CEO Sergio Marchionne also said that the successors to the Jeep Compass and the Patriot will be assembled in Mexico and Brazil, instead of the current plant in Belvidere, Illinois, according to the Detroit News. The Warren facility will become an alternative site for Jeep production, and Belvidere may do the same as FCA puts its emphasis on making hot selling trucks and Jeeps, and not slow selling cars.

 Lower sales in China, Russia and Brazil resulted in a 12 percent drop in first quarter net at Hyundai. But net income topped market expectations.

 It will be called the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets. The just announced coalition of Ford, Google, Volvo, Uber and Lyft that will promote autonomous vehicles and work with lawmakers considering regulations of them. The coalition will be headed up by David Strickland, the former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He said one goal will be a “clear set of federal standards” for the cars.  

 Mitsubishi has acknowledged that tampering with fuel economy figures dates back to 1991 and an internal investigation is ongoing. The inaccurate mileage tests involved models sold in Japan and made on behalf of Nissan. It has halted production of the affected cars. U.S. EPA officials are also looking into the matter. Japanese media are reporting that the scandal may bring down the company’s CEO and COO.




Auto News for April 26 – Good Quarter for FCA, But …

2017 Jeep® Grand Cherokee Trailhawk


Fiat Chrysler topped Wall Street earnings forecasts in its latest quarter thanks to the strong performance of its Jeep lineup here in North America. The region accounted for nearly 90 percent of the firm’s quarterly profit. Forecasters were looking for earnings of 21 cents a share and FCA rang up 33 cents. Net profit also rose sharply. But stock pickers in Europe expressed concern over rising debt levels at FCA, and its shares moved lower despite the good earnings news.

 Ford will present its quarterly results on Thursday.

 Despite its diesel emissions scandal, VW pulled ahead of Toyota in global deliveries in the first quarter, with the Japanese automaker being hampered by parts shortages that slowed production. Toyota sales declined 2.3 percent while VW sales rose 0.8 percent during the period.

 I want to call your attention to a great column by Angus MacKenzie in the June “Motor Trend” on BMW’s take on future cars. It is also a look ahead to what we all may be driving some 30 years down the road, and it’s a lot different from what you drove to work this morning.

 The issue of unions coming to VW’s plant in Tennessee is far from over. The company will appeal a decision by the National Labor Relations board that said a union vote can be taken among just a portion of the workers at the plant. VW said union/non-union vote should only be taken among all of its roughly 1,400 hourly employees. A group of maintenance workers at the Chattanooga plant voted overwhelmingly for representation by the United Auto Workers Union.

 A bit of an anniversary this month. For it was in April of 1901 that New York became the first state to issue license plates. At the time, there were fewer than 15,000 cars on what passed for roads in the entire country.


Auto News for April 25 – New VW & 1m Miatas!


 Say hello to the T-Prime Concept GTE that was unveiled by VW at the Beijing Auto Show. It a full-size plug-in hybrid that VW said “previews the future” of its sport utility lineup. With total system power of 375 horsepower and 516 lb-ft torque, the T-Prime will go from 0-60 in 6.0 seconds with a top speed of 139 mph and an all-electric range of 31 miles. VW said at some point it will introduce an SUV “in the style” of the T-Prime concept along with a new, and larger Tiguan this spring, followed by a mid-size SUV.

One million MX-5

 It is worth noting that Mazda just produced its one millionth MX-5 Miata. Production of the fun-to-drive sports car began 27 years ago at the plant in Hiroshima, Japan. The Miata was my choice for Car of the Year, a selection echoed by many others. Miata number one million will be on display around the world, coming to the U.S. in September concluding with an appearance at “Miatas at Mazda Raceway” in early October.

 This is report card week for two of Detroit’s three auto makers. Fiat Chrysler will report on quarterly earnings on Tuesday with Ford checking in on Thursday. Wall Street’s expectations are high given that GM posted record first quarter earnings.

 GM will close four plants for two weeks because of a parts shortage caused by the earthquakes that have struck Japan. The plants are located in Lordstown, Ohio; Fairfax, Kansas; Spring Hill Tennessee; and in Ontario Canada. None of facilities manufacture GM’s much in demand Sport Utility Vehicles or trucks.

 GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra saw her total compensation jump nearly 77 per cent in 2015 thanks to a one time stock option grant. The Detroit News said Barra earned more than Ford’s top executive, Mark Fields, but less than Fiat Chrysler’s CEO Sergio Marchionne.



Saturday Road Test Infiniti QX80 Limited


Franklin, Tenn. (July 8, 2015) - Infiniti has announced that for the third year in a row its QX80 full-size luxury SUV was recognized as best-in-class in the 2015 AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSA) for the Luxury/Large SUV segment. Now in its 19th year, AutoPacificÕs VSA identifies the most satisfying vehicles on the market. An industry benchmark for measuring how satisfied an owner is with his/her new vehicle, VSAs are based on survey responses from over 66,000 owners of new 2015 model year cars and light trucks.

                            Infiniti QX80 Limited

                      Great Long Distance Touring

 By Ron Amadon

 BALTIMORE, MD – Rounding out my week with the QX80 I left the Baltimore Beltway and headed west on I-70. To my left was a sign that said in part, “Denver 1700” miles.

 Such journeys require comfort and luxury with a smooth ride, a great audio system, and at least a sprightly engine up front. The “Q” had all that and more.

 While I did not visit the home of baseball’s Colorado Rockies this time, I enjoyed the comfort of “truffle brown semi-aniline leather appointed seats with unique quilting” that were adjustable 10 ways, heated, cooled, and with power lumbar adjustments. Even the grab handles were leather wrapped.

The 2016 QX80 is offered in three models: QX80, QX80 AWD and QX80 AWD Limited – the most premium SUV ever offered by the brand.

 Soft touch surfaces abounded, the second row seats were heated, and the 60/40 folding third row seats were also powered, a nice touch come cargo loading time. The test “Q” could seat 7 but other models will increase capacity by one.

 Reproducing faithfully every sound given it, the Bose “Cabin Surround” audio system with 15 speakers was a winner. “Purple Rain” would sound spectacular. Second row passengers had dual 7” color monitors.

 The headliner was Ultra Suede, the dash trim was “Open Pore Matte Finish Ash Wood”, and there was every safety feature one would expect.

 On the interstates it was quiet inside to say the least, thanks in part to a silent partner under the long hood. There, a 5.6 liter V8 cranks out 400 horsepower with 413 lb-ft of torque tied to a 7-speed automatic. All wheel drive was present and drivers could choose snow or tow operating modes.

 You might think that with a 5.6 liter V8 this rig must get up and hustle, and there is plenty of power to meet most needs. But that big eight has to move more than 6,000 pounds of vehicle down the road so it will not push you back into the seats when it’s pedal to the metal time.

 If it matters in a vehicle in this price range, and I don’t think it does, the EPA rates the “Q” at 13 mpg city, 19 highway for a combined 15, on premium gas. In a week’s worth of suburban stop and go and interstate travel I came at 15.

 Not great but this is a big vehicle. There is a reason for those entry steps on either side – it is nearly 79 inches tall, not to mention nearly 209 inches long, 80 inches wide and rides on a 121-inch wheelbase. It is longer than two of its rivals, the Toyota Sequoia and the Cadillac Escalade.

 So we are talking full size, old style body on frame chassis here. But don’t sneer, because these big rigs are selling thanks to the low prices we see at every gas station.

 The ride was on the soft side but it handled bumpy still unpatched rural roads rather nicely. As for handling, see the weight and size above and think limo.

 On the flip side, this SUV will tow up to 8,500 pounds or one very large boat. And with all seats folded it will haul 95 cubic feet of whatever and that is a lot of hauling space.

 Go for the top-of-the-line Limited trim level and forget about options. There were none on the test “Q” but two full rows of fine print on the price sticker outlined the extensive standard equipment.

 With delivery, the MSRP came to $89,845.

The 2016 QX80 is offered in three models: QX80, QX80 AWD and QX80 AWD Limited – the most premium SUV ever offered by the brand.

 The Q80 is big, quiet, well built, and full of luxury and safety features. It loves to cobble up miles, (okay there will be a few gas stops) and one comes away with a perfectly fine vehicle if the urge strikes to experience your own “Rocky Mountain High, Colorado.”

 One more item: On my first cross country driving trip to Colorado I found a small hamlet high up in the mountains with a fine mom and pop motel. The owners urged me to join them for dinner at the local saloon/restaurant with a bar right out of Miss Kitty’s on the old Gunsmoke.

 To enter, one went through a conventional door and just a couple feet away two swinging doors. I asked the owner, kiddingly, if the second set of doors were redundant.

 “You can’t have an old west saloon without swinging doors,” was his quick response.

 Vehicle photos from Infiniti.

The 2016 QX80 is offered in three models: QX80, QX80 AWD and QX80 AWD Limited – the most premium SUV ever offered by the brand.