Car of the Year – Audi TTS

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                         Car of the Year

                            Audi TTS

By Ron Amadon

DAMASCUS, MD. – Sure the Chevrolet Bolt is a break the mold electric, but what about those who think handling, speed and sportiness are more important than volts in the Bolt?

 Enter the Car of the Year, the Audi TTS.

 The TT coupe and Roadster come with a 2.0-liter, 220 horsepower turbo four with 258 lb-ft of torque and a 0-60 run of 5.3 seconds for the coupe and only three-tenths more for the convertible.

 Those seeking more fun can opt for the TTS coupe with 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque that gets you to 60 in just 4.6 seconds. Both are tied to an S tronic transmission, AKA, a responsive six speed automatic. Paddle shifts did there thing quickly to keep things on the boil, and of course Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive was standard.

 Top track speed in the TTS is 155. In the real world, there was more than enough grunt in this 3,241 pound two seater to make you happier than the ending of Rogue One. 

 It is interesting to note the new Quattro all-wheel drive varies torque delivery percentage front to rear by measuring the coefficient of traction at all four wheels via 150 readings every 10 milliseconds and can be controlled through the drive select system. To the less technical, all that means the TTS is a hell of a lot of fun to drive.

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 The “magnetic ride” allows the driver to choose a driving mode to suit conditions and their mood. Some genius came up with a system that uses a synthetic blend of oils that contain tiny magnetic particles and can adjust the firmness of the dampers within a few milliseconds by creating a magnetic field within the shock absorber. I could use that some mornings.

 Some say the exterior styling is on the plain side, and while curls and swirls are a subjective thing, I thought the design was simply outstanding. It is just plain enough to make a fellow with blue lights on his roof think twice about an infraction or two – Certainly think about it more than that other driver in the shocking YELLOW Corvette.

 Driver-centric is the term Audi uses to describe the interior, one that is rather different from the competition. You will notice there is no center console screen, instead everything is displayed on a 12.3 inch screen right in front of the driver. One could not think of a better place!

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 The “virtual cockpit,” when in classic view mode, has the circular instrument dials, i.e. the speedometer and rev counter, more dominant. In “infotainment mode” it displays additional functions such as the navigation system, telephone, Audi connect and media more prominently.

 Other controls came readily to hand, and there is ample room up front for two adults. The space to the rear is best reserved for whatever small cargo you are hauling. Odds and ends storage up front is a bit skimpy.

 The $950 Bang & Olufsen audio system, I felt, was well worth the money with outstanding sound. Early on you might wonder where the ventilation controls are. You rotate knobs around the vent itself!

 The bottom line in all this for me was the impeccable handling on rural back roads and off ramps. It just hangs in there in a turn as the turbo winds up like a major league strike out pitchers’ fastball. The pneumatic side bolsters will keep you firmly in place when you turn exuberant.

 Further, you will not see a ton of TT’s coming the other way, so there is the exclusivity thing to consider.

 With $575 for the Daytona Gray paint, $3,250 for Audi’s MMI navigation, and the B&P sounds, the TTS I drove came to $57,600 with delivery. 

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 The 2017 is virtually unchanged with only some minor trim alterations. The biggest change is an Optional Technology package with a smartphone interface for Apple CarPlay and Google Android. And the TTS is available with a black grille surround, exterior mirror housing, rear diffuser, and not to forget the 20” V spoke design wheels with Titanium finish.

 TT sales, while small in the overall Audi scheme of things, rose 36.4 percent in November and are up substantially for the full year. People who don’t want to go full bore into the R8 are catching on.

 They should!

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 Now, coming up on Monday I will start the New Year with my Truck of the Year, and much more. Do check back when you have recovered from welcoming in 2017.

 

    

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Auto News for Dec. 20 – GM layoffs & New Honda Van Coming

 GM will lay off 1,192 workers when it eliminates a second shift at its Detroit Hamtramck plant in Michigan due to an oversupply of slow selling automobiles. Word of the layoffs came in a filing with the state, according to the Detroit News. They will begin in early March. GM inventory is said to be at an eight year high.

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 The 2018 Honda Odyssey minivan will make its global debut at the Detroit Auto Show next month. The 5th generation has been “completely redesigned” and will feature new powertrain technology, sophisticated styling and showcase a new suite of innovative features, Honda said. It released a sketch of the new van.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

 Customer deliveries of Honda’s third-generation fuel cell vehicle, the Clarity, are underway at six Honda dealerships across Southern California. Customers leasing the new Clarity will receive up to $15,000 worth of hydrogen fuel.  

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 BMW has announced the first M performance version of the 5-series sedan. The M550i xDrive will be the top of the line performance vehicle in the M class lineup. It will sport a twin turbo charged 4.4-liter V8 with 456 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and peak torque of 480 lb-ft from 1,800 rpm. BMW is quoting a 0-60 “in under 4 seconds.” It will be available at U.S. dealers in spring 2017 with pricing announced closer to market launch.

 

 

Auto News for Dec. 19 – Ford GT Rolls off Assembly Line

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 The first road-going version of the 2017 Ford GT has rolled off the line – heralding the beginning of production of the long-awaited halo car. Executives drove the first examples off the line at the low-volume assembly plant in Markham, Ontario.  “When we kicked off 2016, we had two primary objectives for our Ford GT supercar – to excel at Le Mans, and to start deliveries before year-end,” said Raj Nair, Ford executive vice president. “We’ve achieved both.” Production will be limited to 250 per year. Prices are expected to start around $400,000 for the mid-engine twin-turbo V6 making more than 600 horsepower. Ford has yet to release specifications or exact pricing as near as I can determine. Stay tuned.

 Everything was going great as drivers from the Detroit Free Press were testing a Chevy Bolt to verify its 200-mile plus all-electric range. Then the car was rear ended during testing in the Motor City. No one was injured in the fender bender and presumably the Bolt is being re-bolted in a body shop somewhere. Even with close to zero cold in Michigan, the writer said the Bolt was on track to deliver the 200-mile range claim.

 General Motors will trim production at three plants due to an abundant supply of unsold cars and trucks, according to the Detroit News. It will halt production at its Detroit Hamtramck plant for three weeks next month and trim shifts at two other sites. The newspaper said the excess inventory was mainly in automobiles, as customers turn their attention to trucks, crossovers and SUV’s.

Autodesk VRED Professional 2017 SR1

 Fiat Chrysler has completed production of 100 Pacifica vans equipped with Waymo, formerly the Google self-driving car project. The vans are currently being outfitted with Waymo’s fully self-driving technology, including a purpose-built computer and a suite of sensors, telematics, and other systems. They will join Waymo’s self-driving test fleet early next year. Engineering modifications to the minivan’s electrical, powertrain, chassis and structural systems were implemented to optimize the Pacifica Hybrid for Waymo’s fully self-driving technology. Driver to Waymo, “To school.” Waymo to driver, “Don’t forget to buy milk.”

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 Ford claims demand is strong for its new Super Duty pickups. Three months into its launch, the Super Duty’s technology features drove total sales up 24 percent and retail sales up 33 percent for November. Demand is especially strong for Crew Cab, 4×4 and 6.7-liter Power Stroke V8 diesel equipped Lariat, King Ranch, and Platinum trucks, which accounted for 71 percent of Super Duty retail sales. So many buyers are going upscale. Texas – home to Ford’s two largest truck regions – saw Super Duty sales rise 45 percent in Dallas and 38 percent in Houston. More than 81 percent of these sales include Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum series trucks, with demand for 4×4 and Crew Cab configurations outpacing the rest of the country by 97 percent.

 Wholesale prices of vehicles up to eight years in age fell by 3.3 percent on a monthly basis in November. In addition to taking a bigger drop than expected, the decline is more than double the 1.4 percent average recorded during November the past three years. The month-end result was the market’s third worst performance in 2016, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. The main reason for the decline is that consumers are buying new vehicles thanks to increased incentives from auto makers.

 

 

Auto News for Dec. 6 – Lots of 9 Speed GM’s coming

Chevrolet’s first nine-speed automatic transmission, the Hydra-Matic 9T50, makes its debut in the 2017 Malibu and will be available in the 2017 Cruze Diesel and 2018 Equinox. The new transmission is designed to optimize efficiency and refinement.

 To improve fuel economy, General Motors announced its new 9-speed transmission will be installed in 10 models by the end of next year. The transmission was a joint project of Ford and GM with engineers saying it can improve fuel economy by up to 2 percent. As least four of the transmissions will be installed in various Chevrolet models.

 The City of Light has become the city of pollution that caused officials to ban about half of the cars that would ply Paris streets on a given day. Those with odd numbered plates were the only cars allowed in the city on Monday with even numbered plates getting the green light yesterday. This after Paris experienced unsafe levels of pollution for five days in a row, according to the BBC. Officials blamed diesels and the weather – a combination of warm days and cold nights that kept the pollution from dispersing. Public transportation was free on the affected days.

 A couple of milestones worth noting. This year marks the centennial of the cloverleaf road intersection, patented by Maryland civil engineer Arthur Dale. The automobile was barely 25 years old when the first cloverleaf appeared. Traffic density and high speeds were not yet problems for the cloverleaf to address, but automotive accidents and frequent breakdowns were. So this year is also the centennial of the invention of the tow truck. Ernest W. Holmes of Chattanooga, Tennessee fitted a Cadillac chassis with booms, cables and hooks to collect stricken vehicles.  His patent came in 1917. Today, around 8,600 towing services attend to breakdowns according to the Census Bureau. Imagine – a Cadillac tow truck!!!!

 The Honda Pilot has been named the best three row SUV on the market in a comparison conducted by Cars.Com, Motor Week, and a family in the market for a new vehicle.  To qualify each vehicle had to cost less than $45,000, including destination fee, and had to have an EPA combined fuel mileage rating of at least 19 mpg. The Pilot was cited for offering “minivan practicality in a SUV body.”   Finishing second was the GMC Acadia, followed by the Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9, and the Dodge Durango.

  

 

Auto News for Dec. 5 – The First Hybrid Van

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

 Fiat Chrysler has started production of the Pacifica Hybrid that the EPA said can travel up to 33 miles on electric power alone. This will be the first hybrid van on the market and the Detroit Free Press said it may be next year before dealers have a full inventory from the Windsor, Canada production plant. FCA said the van has an EPA rating of 84 miles-per-gallon-equivalent and 566 miles of total range. Prices start at $34,495 with available tax credits.

 Despite lingering subprime bubble rumors, the automotive financing market continues to get stronger and stronger according to Experian. It claims that loans extended to consumers in the subprime tier fell 4.5 percent from the previous year, and loans to deep-subprime consumers dropped 2.8 percent to the lowest level on record since 2011. Newly originated loans to prime borrowers jumped 2 percent to encompass nearly 60 percent of auto loans financed in Q3 2016.

 Apple is weighing in on what it sees at the benefits of self- driving automobiles in a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Executed properly under NHTSA’s guidance, automated vehicles have the potential to greatly enhance the human experience—to prevent millions of car crashes and thousands of fatalities each year and to give mobility to those without. It is vital that those developing and deploying automated vehicles follow rigorous safety principles in design and production. Such principles should not, however, inhibit companies from making consequential progress; there is no need to compromise safety or innovation,” Apple said. It called on companies that are studying self-driving cars to share data on crashes and near misses. “By sharing data, the industry will build a more comprehensive dataset than any one company could create alone,” it said. The letter was written by Steve Kenner Apple’s director of product integrity. Left unsaid, was whether Apple would produce a self-driver or just the needed technology.

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 Last night, a prized LaFerrari was sold at auction for $7 million to benefit the reconstruction of Central Italy in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes of 2016. The Daytona Beach auction was held in conjunction with RM Sotheby’s and in collaboration with the National Italian American Foundation’s Earthquake Relief Fund. The price represents a record for the most valuable 21st Century automobile ever sold at auction. All proceeds from the auction will go toward the reconstruction efforts in the areas affected by the earthquake.

 

 

 

Saturday Road Test – Toyota RAV 4 -What Color Is That?

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                             Toyota RAV4

                           Hot Lava (Really!)

By Ron Amadon

 DAMASCUS, MD. – If Toyota’s motivation was to produce a RAV4 that turned heads, all they had to do was paint it Hot Lava. Everywhere I went in this compact sport utility people were checking it out.  

 Fortunately, for the company, lots of people did more than that. They went to dealer showrooms last month to buy one, regardless of color, and the RAV4 had a record November sales wise.

 And there are good reasons for this starting with the brand’s legendary record for reliability and quality build.

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 I found the standard 2.5-liter four with 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque felt stronger in acceleration than the stop watch would indicate. A 0-60 run of a tick or three over 9 seconds in most tests is on the slow side of things. The standard six-speed automatic performed well and six stars to Toyota for not succumbing to the current trend and installing a CVT.

 With all-wheel drive the test RAV is EPA rated at 22 city, 29 highway for a combined 25 mpg. I hit 30 plus on the interstates frequently. Those seeking improved mileage should check out the RAV hybrid with an EPA of 34/30/32 mpg.

 An abundance of safety equipment was packaged in a $3,030 “Advanced Technology Package” with a bird’s eye view camera, front and rear parking sonar, forward collision warning system including pedestrian detection, forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking, a lane-departure warning and intervention system and automatic high-beam headlight control.

 Also an upgraded audio system, Toyota’s easy to use Entune system with navi, and a traffic and weather overlay on a large 7-inch screen among other goodies.

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 Second row passengers should find abundant room in the reclining seats, and if you fold them down, there is 73.3 cubic feet of hauling space, handy come that holiday trip to the relatives. The power lift gate is a must addition.

 In fact, there wasn’t much that one could desire that wasn’t on the test RAV.

 Drivers will find a comfortable multi-adjustable 8-way power adjustable seat and heated outside mirrors among other goodies.

 Perhaps due to the 18” wheels and the “sport tuned suspension” the ride was on the stiff side with noise from bumps and expansion joints sent back to the cabin. Smaller wheels and standard suspension settings might be better.

 But overall, the RAV was quiet inside during legal 70 mph interstate running, and certainly allowed one to enjoy the 11 JBL speakers and sound system.

 Toyota recently upgraded the interior of the RAV but there was still hard plastic along the upper dash, and the material used on the visors and headliner did not match the asking price. The stitching along the lower edge was a nice touch.

 With the above mentioned options package and delivery, the MSRP on the test RAV came to $34,595, again with just about every amenity one could ask for.

 Even with the quibbles cited, you get a solid, long lasting, easy to drive errand runner. Sales of the RAV have been strong in what is the hottest segment of the market. And that says the masses are finding what they are looking for in the RAV, even if it is in Hot Lava. (I will admit I like the color.)

 And with the purchase of a vehicle most likely being your second biggest outlay of cash ever, Toyota’s rep for years and years of dependable service is not something that should be overlooked.

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 Some Specs:

 Engine

 2.5-liter 4 double overhead cam

176  hp @ 6,000 rpm     

 

   Torque 

   172 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm

    Fuel

    87 octane unleaded or higher

    Suspension

    Front – Independent MacPherson strut      

    with stabilizer bar

    Rear – Double wishbone with coil springs,

  stabilizer bar

    Wheel Size

    7.5 x 18 in

    Tire Size

    P235/55R18

   Ground Clearance

   6.1 inches

 

 

 

  

 

Auto News for Dec. 2 – So Long Chrysler 200 – New Camry Teased

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 The last Chrysler 200 will roll off the line today at the Fiat Chrysler plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, according to the Detroit News. The plant will be retooled to produce the next generation Ram 1500 pickup truck with its 1,700 workers on temporary layoffs. Once the retooling is complete, FCA insists that more workers will be added at Sterling Heights.

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 Toyota announced it will introduce the next generation Camry at the January North American International Auto Show. One official called it the most significant vehicle that Toyota has introduced in a long time, and he’s right on a couple of counts. Number one is the fact that the Camry has been this nation’s top selling automobile for some time. And number two, will that continue as the market increasingly turns to cross over vehicles and SUV’s? A teaser photo of the new Camry was also released.

 November’s robust sales, virtually across the board, have the experts talking again about a record sales year after a dip or three of late. Overall, sale rose 3.7 percent last month as consumers continued to prefer trucks, crossovers and SUV’s to cars. Truck sales made up nearly 60 percent of all vehicles sold, according to the Detroit News. Car sales overall fell 3.1 percent.

 In case, you missed it late yesterday, here’s how your favorite brand did last month, and why they are giving thanks long after the holiday. 

 The good news rolled in throughout the day with Subaru, Hyundai and Kia reporting record sales last month with Suby now posting 60 consecutive months of yearly month-over-month growth. So some cars were selling against the trend.

 Subaru said sales rose 11.4 percent thanks to the best month ever for Outback, and the best November ever for Crosstrek, Forester and Legacy.

 Sales were up 4 percent at Hyundai over a year ago.  “With gas prices remaining relatively low throughout the year and a rather robust economy, our Tucson and Santa Fe CUVs, with sales up 10 and 18 percent, respectively, continue to be the shining stars in the Hyundai line-up,” said Derrick Hatami, vice president of national sales for Hyundai Motor America.

 Kia posted an impressive 15.3 percent sales gain last month with the best November sales ever for the Forte and Sportage. It saw double digit gains for the Rio, Soul, Forte, Sportage and Sedona. Officials cited “strong” Black Friday weekend demand as one reason for the improvement.

 Turning to Detroit:

 GM’s total November sales rose more than 10 percent from last year with Buick, Cadillac, and GMC posting double digit gains. Buick has the largest boost at 22 percent while Cadillac sales increased 17 percent. “We are ahead of plan selling down our 2016 model year inventory and we expect to close out December with more retail share growth,” said Kurt McNeil, GM’s vice president of U.S. Sales Operations.

 Over at Ford, sales gained five percent driven by the F-Series trucks, SUVS and Lincoln vehicles. Ford F-Series has its best November since 2001 on strong F-150 and Super Duty retail demand. SUV sales came in 20 percent stronger while Lincoln dealers should be happy with a 19 percent increase last month.  “Plus, strong consumer demand for well-equipped Super Dutys helped boost Ford’s overall average transaction prices in November, which are up $1,000 versus a year ago – well ahead of the industry average of $320,” said Mark LaNeve, vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service.

 Things turned sour at Fiat Chrysler however where sales fell 14 percent from a year ago. Jeep sales were off 12 percent, Chrysler was down 47 percent but the new Pacifica van could turn that around a bit next month. Dodge sales were also lower last month, but Ram trucks did post a 12 percent gain. Fiat sales dropped 19 percent. The company posted a big drop in fleet sales as FCA continues to reduce its sales to the daily rental segment.

 Elsewhere:

 Overall, Honda reported a 6.5 percent increase to join those reporting record November sales. Acura sales declined 5.1 percent, but strong customer demand for the Honda Fit and HR-V helped the cause. Accord sales were up 6.3 percent. “Considering the continued consumer appetite for trucks and SUVs, we’re excited to see Honda cars resonate so well with our customers,” said Jeff Conrad, senior vice president and general manager of the Honda Division.

 Toyota said sales improved 4.3 percent from a year earlier with an official saying he expects the industry to set a new sales record for November. As for his company, Bill Fay, group vice president and GM of Toyota said, “All-time best-ever Highlander sales combined with November best-ever RAV4 volume extends the Toyota Division’s 2016 streak of consecutive light truck sales records to 11 months.” Lexus sales were lower by one percent.

 Mazda sales fell 3 percent year over year.

 BMW brand sales were off 18.2 percent but Mini sales gained 1.4 percent.

 Nissan showed a 7.5 percent gain in demand with crossovers, trucks and SUV’s setting November records. Rogue and Murano saw record November demand.

 Volkswagen, on increased sales of the Tiguan, Passat, and Golf SportWagen saw demand increase 24.2 percent over a year earlier.