Filed under: Autos, New car introductions
Detroit, MI — The North American International Auto Show, better known as the Detroit Auto Show, had its share of surprises, but it also displayed a sense of confusion in the automotive world as it made its annual mid-January run at Cobo Hall.
The surprises include a stunning new Avista coupe from Buick, a new generation Mercedes E-Class, and several large luxury cars, including the Cadillac CT6, the Volvo S90, and the Hyundai Genesis G90.
Another surprise is that the large luxury vehicles overshadowed smaller compact-uitility CUVs, which, over the last two years, have proliferated and sold so well, causing them to become the largest single segment (14 percent) of the U.S. market. And yet even the judges for the North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year seemed oblivious to the newest and hottest trend in automotives.
The stretched-compact Honda Civic was voted car of the year, and the Volvo XC90, a breakthrough full-size SUV from the Swedish company now owned by Chinese interests, as truck/utility of the year.
Since gas has dropped down under $2 a gallon, alternative-energy cars and hybrids have taken a huge hit, while buyers once again have exercised that lustful American ideal of bigger is better. Nowhere was there a nod to the popularity of CUVs. Larger SUVs and larger luxury sedans were the primary stories at Detroit, although there was plenty of talk and displaying of autonomous (self-driving) cars, which are guaranteed to stir up conversation.
Also, while China has risen to become the largest auto market in the world, the suddenly struggling Chinese economy has caused that country’s demand to plateau. All of those things might be interwoven in what was laid out at Cobo Hall in Detroit.
Volvo startled some with its high-tech XC90 SUV and its switch to the same 2.0-liter 4-cylinder powerplants in all vehicles, turbocharging and supercharging those in larger vehicles, such as the XC90. Right after capturing the truck/utility of the year award with 310 voting points, to 111 for the Honda Pilot, and 109 for the Nissan Titan, Volvo unveiled its new 2017 S90 — a luxurious and well-appointed vehicle that borrows from the appealing signature look of the XC90 and will be Volvo’s largest sedan.
Honda, continuing its decades-long trend of technology and dependability in vehicles, attributes that outrun its sometimes curious marketing and advertising, made an impressive showing. First, the new-generation Civic with a new platform and powered by two new engines, captured 203 voting points to 181 for the Chevrolet Malibu and 146 for the Mazda MX-5 Miata, to win car of the year.
Finishing runner-up with the new Pilot in the truck/utility category was another major achievement. Then Honda unveiled its new redesigned Ridgeline pickup. Honda came out with the Ridgeline a decade ago, as an alternative to full-size pickups, with numerous cleverly creative ideas. It sold well, but not as well as Honda had hoped, and the truck disappeared for three years, claiming that it was only suspending production, not discontinuing it. The display of the new Ridgeline, with less edgy lines and smoother dimensions, but still with the lockable under-bed trunk and other features, indicates Honda figures this is the right time, with the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, and redone Toyota Tacoma midsize trucks on the scene.
The MX-5 is obviously a small car, the latest two-seat sports car that maintains its heritage and personifies Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” philosophy. But many were surprised that the sporty but efficient CX-3 compact CUV escaped notice of any awards. Otherwise, large cars prevailed.
Lincoln made a splash with its near-limo quality Continental, bringing back that storied nameplate with an array of high-tech engines, including Ford’s turbocharged EcoBoost engines and taking a major run at the largest Cadillac as well as the top German brands.
Almost subtle enough to be overlooked on the Ford platform is a newly redesigned Fusion, and a newly renovated Escape SUV. The new Escape will come with turbocharged 2.0 or 1.5-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder engines, behind an all-new, horizontal-bar grille.
Cadillac is about to release the new and larger CT6 in showrooms, and it has a stretched out appearance that maintains the edgy, geometric front-end lines of the CTS and ATS sedans and its latest SUVs.
GMC gave General Motors a surprising breakthrough in the SUV world. Almost as if it failed to get the memo that bigger is better and more profitable, the new 2017 Acadia reveals an entirely new look in its first revision after a decade of sales success. It is over 7 inches shorter with a wheelbase reduced by 6.4 inches, and its weight is reduced by 700 pounds.
Chevrolet also is revising its compact Cruze and giving it a new hatchback model, as well as making it 200 pounds lighter. The Cruze is smaller than the new and stretched Malibu, and has become Chevrolet’s largest seller. Chevy also has its new Camaro, a revised Volt extended gas and electric car, and a new Bolt electric-boosted subcompact.
Fiat-Chrysler has its cars and trucks in line, but it made big waves with one of its long-time staples — the minivan. FCA decided to drop the Dodge Caravan, leaving only the upscale Chrysler Town & Country to carry families to hockey games, malls and movies most efficiently. And now the Town & Country name will be replaced when Chrysler reinstates the Pacifica name on the next version of the minivan, loaded up with more special features, but keeping the popular stow-and-go disappearing seats and its other major attributes and getting a fresh exterior with angular taillight sections.
From Germany, the new Mercedes E-Class joins new performance sports cars under the SLC name, and most with AMG performance upgrades. BMW offers a new X4 M40i coupe-roofed crossover SUV, and displayed its compact M2 performance coupe, also showing plug-in hybrid and electric models. Audi had an impressive array with the new A4 sedan and TT roadster, plus the A7 h-tron concept, a hydrogen fuel-cell-fueled version of its luxury A7 sedan, and a new All-Road quattro wagon which is being brought back to the U.S. market, displaying a new style that could become Audi’s new signature appearance. Porsche showed a new 911 as well, with proper restraint in changes. Volkswagen deeply apologized to the U.S. media and marketplace representatives for its diesel controversy, when it might have been better-served stressing its exceptionally good gas engines that could allow VW customers to pick a ready alternative.
From Japan, Nissan set out its impressive Infiniti Q60 sports coupe, and also a Q50 sedan, a QX60 luxury SUV, and a stylish compact CUV, the Q30.
Farther west, in South Korea, Hyundai is making the Genesis a full line, which will include the impressive new Genesis G90 as the replacement for the large Equus luxury sedan. Hyundai also has its new Tucson, which would have been a good finalist if compact CUVs were given stronger credibility at the show, and it is near to introducing a new generation Elantra compact sedan, which will have a turbocharged trio of 2.0, 1.6 and 1.4 sized engines for a full complement of power and fuel economy.
Kia, Hyundai’s brother-in-arms, displayed a renewed Forte hatchback and GT, and an interesting, squarish Telluride luxury SUV that looks as though Kia’s brilliant designers took a Soul economy car and applied the cubic idea to a larger SUV. It has rear-hinged rear doors — the old “suicide door” concept — but with both doors open, the interior looks like a well-appointed den.
One of the bigger surprises — and potential disappointments — is that the beautiful Buick Avista, twirling around on its stand, drew constant attention with its sleek lines and low, wide stance. That brings us back to China, because one of the reasons General Motors kept Buick when it eliminated Pontiac and Oldsmobile was that Buick had great inroads into selling cars in China. That continues today.
However, it is also a fact that more affluent Chinese like to sit in the back seat of large sedans and be driven around. With that in mind, the Chinese have no market interest in 2-door coupes, prompting one official to suggest that as impressive as the Avista is, it probably will not go into production.
Filed under: Autos, New car introductions, Weekly test drives
By John Gilbert
Jeep, by itself, is the most-recognized name in automotives — all over the world. It is, of course, best-known in the U.S., but it also carved out a name and reputation in Europe and in Asia when it was created in 1941 to help the good guys win World War II.
Currently, the Jeep brand spans a wide range from rugged off-roading to luxury country clubbing, with the Wrangler climbing rocks and the Grand Cherokee carrying you and your guests to the fancy party. The latest addition to the Jeep line is the Renegade, and it adds a new dimension because it is so hopelessly cute that it is attractive, even though cute fairly shouts that it can’t be rugged. Then it proves it is more rugged than anyone could have guessed, as it hauls its cute little compact and boxy shape up rocky cliffs and over terrain that you’d never think of attempting in an ordinary lifespan.
As if to emphasize how popular Jeep is worldwide, the Renegade came into being with full encouragement from Fiat, which is handy, because Fiat owns Chrysler, which owns Jeep. How much Fiat backs the Renegade might best be explained by the fact that Fiat used an Italian plant to build the Renegade, with plans to sell it in Europe as well as in the U.S. and all around the world.
Fiat has returned to the U.S. with the cute subcompact 500, and it offers a hot-rod version of it with a high-tech “MultiAir” 4-cylinder engine bolstered by a turbocharger that turns it into a fun and dashing little pocket-rocket. At the same time, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep have been using a modified version of a joint-venture 2.4-liter 4-cylinder originally designed by Hyundai when that South Korean company barged into the high-tech end of automotives five or six years ago.
When the Fiat MultiAir system was explained to me, it is a system that uses a series of oil-filled tubes connecting the intake and exhaust valvetrain. It would be a dual-overhead-camshaft system, except that there is only one cam; the other is replaced by the valves on one cam operating the valves on the other side directly, via the compressing of the oil tubes.
Instead of being complex, it is innovative enough to allow almost infinite overlap for expansive valve timing. Chrysler and Fiat engineers told me that the MultiAir system would work to improve any engine, so I continued to pester them to prove it by installing it on an engine other than the 1.4-liter Fiat. So they did.
All of which brings us back to the Renegade. You can choose from two engines in the lightest of Jeep off-roaders. First is the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo engine — right out of the Fiat Abarth. It delivers 160 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque, and comes with a 6-speed stick shift. The other engine is the 2.4-liter “Tigershark” 4-cylinder equipped with MultiAir2 technology on the valvetrain, and it is coordinated with a smooth-shifting 9-speed automatic, offering 160 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque.
Just as the North Shore of Lake Superior was bristling to catch the first snowfall of the season, I got the chance to try out both a Latitude and Limited model, back-to-back. The look is identical — square shape, short overhang, amplified by exaggerated flares on wheel openings for large aluminum wheels and tires. The side glass extends low, copying the beltline from the Wrangler, which also lent some other design touches. From the rear, the design is exaggerated to make it look wider and more planted.
Renegades come in various models, starting with the Sport 4×2 at $19,995 including destination. The Latitude starts at $23,295; the Limited at $26,795; and the Trailhawk 4×4 at $25,995. While the Trailhawk is the built-for-trail off-roader, and comes only with 4-wheel drive, the other models are front-wheel drive with 4-wheel drive a $2,000 option.
The 4-wheel drive systems are the latest in Jeep’s ever-evolving concept to assure their vehicles will get up, over and through any terrain. Their Selec-Terrain system lets you twist a switch on the center dash to engage Auto, Snow, Sand, or Mud, and the Trailhawk version adds a Rock setting with a super-low crawl ratio. The auto setting keeps you in front-wheel drive until and unless the Renegade senses some traction issues, in which case you immediately go to 4×4.
When I attended the introduction for the Renegade, out in San Jose, Calif., I remember suggesting to Jeep brand manager Jim Morrison that I should probably drive the 2.4, and he stressed that I should really try the 1.4 first, because it not only is fun but remarkably peppy with the manual shifter.
He was right, and when I got both versions at home in Duluth I was impressed. Both had a firm and stable ride, attributable to 70 percent high-grade steel in the body, and an entirely new suspension, plus Koni shocks. The Latitude, with the 1.4 turbo and stick, was quick enough and held the road well, and had all the features you might want, including a giant, full-roof sunroof, with a removable front half that pops out in warmer times.
It handled very well on its all-season tires mounted onto 16-inch, 6.5-inch-wide aluminum wheels. Perhaps most impressive was the base price of $23,295 only escalated to $25,760 total with the sunroof and destination.
The Limited, meanwhile, had various luxury upgrades, including 18-inch, 7-inch-wide aluminum wheels with Goodyear Eagle Sport tires, and the 2.4 MultiAir2 engine with the 9-speed automatic. I must point out that the smaller 16-inch tires offered a bit more agility and possibly better traction, just by the difference in tread.
The fancier Limited interior included GPS navigation and a 6.5-inch display screen, remote start and keyless ignition. Its price, however, started at $23,295 and the sticker total was $25,760. Both Renegades were 4×4 and equipped well, with the silver Limited adding various classy touches. The Latitude was a traffic-stopping Solar Yellow color.
Curiously, the power difference between the two engines is small, and I found my fuel economy was between 22 and 24 miles per gallon with both vehicles.
Unlike the Cherokee, which is sized between the Renegade and the Grand Cherokee, and has narrow-slit headlights and a truly different look, the Renegade moves back toward the basis Wrangler appearance with a more square shape, as well as round headlights, and the trademark grille with its vertical slots.
Some very neat but subtle design touches indicate the Jeep designers had some fun with their work. There is an “X” on the bottom of the cupholders, for example, and a similar X designed into the taillights, in the shape of the side view of one of those “Jeri” gas cans, and the outline of the front end’s lights and grille are designed into the head and tail lights, and door panels.
Driving was an easy example of the 4×4 settings on auto, and the snow setting obviously would get use deeper into winter. There wasn’t a chance to do any serious off-roading, but back at the intro, I was convinced of the Renegade’s capabilities.
I had offered Jim Morrison a novel idea. When we went up on top of a mountain east of San Jose, instead of him riding with me, he could drive over the prepared off-road terrain, and I could interview him. It was unique, and several times he interrupted himself by scraping the undercarriage skid plate on some hefty boulders.
“This is a great new addition,” Morrison started. “Oops, we’re dropping down into a mud pit now, so I’ve shifted the ActiveDrive into Low, in the mud mode. Now we’ll walk it through some water…”
We descended into a major puddle, and water rolled up and over the hood. “We’ve got capabilities for fording about 20 inches of water,” Morrison added. “It has all extra seals, so whether you’re in a rainstorm or crazy water stuff. It’s really a lot of fun.”
As we heard heavy scraping underneath, Morrison shrugged and added: “I’ll put it into rock mode, now, so I can show you this crazy 24-degree breakover angle. It’s got 31 degrees of approach angle, so it looks like we’re going to hit this rock wall, but the Renegade will go almost straight up to get over it. And it’s got a 34-degree angle of departure.
“It’s surprising how smooth it is, but we build in those angles to all our Trailhawk models. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to go through what we just did. With the rock, mud, sand, snow, and auto settings, the auto lets the system do everything all by itself. We’ve got 8 inches of ground clearance, and our ActivDrive can keep us going even when we have only two wheels making contact. ActiveDrive will push all the power to the wheels where there’s grip.”
Climbing up on rocky terrain, you might find a situation where only one wheel is pulling. “When we’re going uphill, you can feel the torque being transferred around, moving power to the wheel that’s got traction, say the right front, then push it back to the rear,” Morrison explained.
It was a rugged little trail, and you wouldn’t drive on it in normal conditions. When winter gets into heavy snow, Morrison added, “it’s great to have Jeep capabilities.”
And if the snow isn’t deep enough to challenge the Renegade’s impressive capabilities, you can always settle for driving around in a vehicle that is incredibly cute.
Filed under: Autos, New car introductions
By John Gilbert
It was just five years ago that Hyundai put South Korean automotives on the global map by redesigning the midsize Sonata from a dull sedan into a stunning, flashy and technology-filled showpiece. Almost immediately, the technology spread to all the other Hyundai cars, as well to everything from Kia, its newly adopted partner. Hyundai’s SUVs benefitted too, although they seemed almost as after-thoughts.
Since then, the SUV market has skyrocketed, so Hyundai improved the Santa Fe to new levels of function and luxury, with two versions, including a slightly shorter Sport, that keeps its distance larger than the compact crossover Tucson. For the 2016 model year, and for the first time since Hyundai technology peaked, the Tucson gets its moment in the sun, and the timing couldn’t be better for the new CUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle).
The compact crossover segment that numbered about five vehicles a decade ago now numbers over 40. Everybody has one, or two, and some are outstanding. All of them are in hot pursuit of the affordable segment stars — the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, and, more recently, the Mazda CX-5.
As of right now, one out of every three vehicles sold is an SUV, and the compact CUVs are flat taking over. It makes sense, because if you want something that can haul a little more, offers more storage room, and has the anxiety-free stability of all-wheel drive, then the most compact SUVs also offer more maneuverability and fuel economy.
The Tucson used to be a more modest and less expensive alternative to the top sellers, but the new 2016 Tucson goes immediately to the head of the class. It is completely redesigned, and now resembles a compact version of the stylish Santa Fe. Its high-tech stuff either stands out immediately, or resides more subtly beneath the skin, where it makes the vehicle stiffer, handle better, is safer and more versatile.
The last Tucson redesign came in 2010, and it was a solid step upward, but nothing like this one. Before approaching the many details, consider that the new Tucson starts with front-wheel drive available as a $1,400 option in all versions. The SE starts at a base price of $22,700; the SE Pop starts at $23,450; the Eco at $24,150; the Sport at $26,150; the Limited at $29,900; and the Limited Ultimate at $32,650. It’s hard to find a capable compact car for $25,000 these days.
Tucson is a nice, warm-weather city in Southern Arizona, but Hyundai first introduced the Tucson to the media in Minneapolis, right on the University of Minnesota campus. It was a nice setting, and we enjoyed driving it through the Twin Cities and off along the St. Croix River that separates Minnesota from Wisconsin. It was a clever move by Hyundai, because not only was it a neat site, but it didn’t take much imagination to realize that in a couple of months, the weather would turn cold, and the snow would be underlined by ice — making SUVs with their all-wheel drive a great source of relief.
Surprisingly, when you first examine the Tucson close-up, it is 8.5 inches shorter than the Santa Fe Sport, a vehicle that seems compact itself. Hyundai reasons that the core family will probably choose the Santa Fe, the empty-nest family would probably choose the Santa Fe Sport, and the singles or newly married without kids will go for the Tucson.
I think Hyundai may have underestimated the Tucson, because it might remain the perfect vehicle for couples with one or two young children, and it might just as likely be the choice of the kids-are-gone couples who want the convenience of easy parking, sporty handling and high mileage. And while the kids are growing up, the Tucson would make the ideal second car.
Mike O’Brien, vice president of Hyundai’s corporate product planning, pointed to the bold and dynamic design, touches such as full-length panoramic sunroof, color luminescent instruments and an 8-inch touchscreen, LED outside lighting front and rear, 17-inch or premium 19-inch wheels, greatly improved rigidity, improved sound isolation, and two impressive new engines.
The current Tucson is 173.2 inches in overall length and the new one will be 176.2, which leaves it shorter than the CR-V, RAV4 or Escape. The current one was constructed of 18 percent high-strength steel, while the new one boasts 51 percent. That helps overall body rigidity to be improved by 48 percent, and helps the Tucson move ahead of the CR-V, RAV4 and Escape in sound suppression.
Structurally, Hyundai made all the passenger compartment pillars stronger, as well as the floor, and even the underbody is designed for improved air-management. That conspires to aid the very impressive 0.33 coefficient of drag as you slice through the wind.
Power also is improved with two engine choices. One is the 2.0-liter direct-injection 4 that has 164 horsepower and 151 foot-pounds of torque. The optional upgrade is interesting — a smaller-displacement 1.6-liter 4 that has direct injection and is turbocharged, offering 175 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque that remain constant from 1,500-4,500 RPMs.
Remember, horsepower looks good in advertising, but it is torque that provides the grunt to launch a vehicle. And to get up to peak torque at 1,500 revs — barely above idle — and maintain it to 4,500 revs, is impressive indeed.
Tucsons come in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and transmission choices are a 6-speed automatic, or a 7-speed dual-clutch unit. That one is like the precise race-track shifter that has no clutch pedal, but two clutches enclosed inside the transmission. As you accelerate in, say, second gear with one clutch engaged, the computer induces the second clutch to preselect third gear, and when it comes time to shift, the transmission instantly switches which clutch is engaged.
The all-wheel drive system is an improved plan that uses gentle braking or reduced power to a wheel that wants to spin. Depending on which model and equipment you choose, you can have a governing mode that you set to Eco, Normal, or Sport, each of which adjusts the engine power, transmission shift points and steering firmness.
Suspension has been reengineered, with MacPherson struts and four-point bushings in front, multilink rear, and Sachs shocks on all four corners. The plan was to improve handling and also accident-avoidance, and inspire confidence in the driver.
I have suggested to Hyundai officials for the past few years that all the ingredients are impressive, but getting them all coordinated — and getting the steering and cornering up to proper performance levels — are all that remained. On the car side, the new Sonata, Accent, Genesis and Veloster have proven that to qualify as “mission accomplished,” and it took only a brief driving example to indicate the Tucson has carried out that same achievement.
Along with the obvious interior improvements, the new Tucson offers more. You can get 31 cubic feet of cargo behind the second row of seats, and there is a neat, dual-level cargo floor that drops 2 inches below normal floor level to secure certain things. The hands-free rear liftgate first made a feature of the entry-luxury Genesis sedan now follows the Santa Fe and is incorporated onto the Tucson; stand behind the vehicle for 3 seconds with the key fob on your person, and the hatch lifts.
There are windshield, front facia and rear view cameras, for warning that a car, or pedestrian, is entering your danger zone. While driving, sensors and radar warn the driver, and if you don’t stop, it brakes for you. That system also works for blind spot, lane change, and rear cross traffic alerts.
Rear seats are heated, along with, of course, the 10-way power driver or 8-way passenger seats. Also, it seems every company is trying to find some unique touches for audio systems. In the Tucson, when you change stations and hit on a song you like, push a switch and you can go back to the start of the song. That’s one of those black-magic tricks of modern technology, and it fits well into the new image of the new Tucson.
Filed under: Autos, Weekly test drives
By John Gilbert
Maybe you’ve heard about the techniques of professional drag-racing, where drivers line up at the amber starting lights, then time it as perfectly as they can to launch without “red-lighting” an instant before the green light shows.
If you can find a place to try that in the ol’ family truckster, it’s fun. And if you happen to be driving a 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, it’s more than just fun. Sure, it costs a little more than the garden variety Charger — close to $65,000 — but it comes fitted with a 707-horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi, and various accompanying toys.
One of them is that on the instrument panel, along with showing you your speed and RPMs and fuel gauge, you can switch to several screens. One of them, under “performance,” gives you a cluster of numbers between the speedometer and tach. Set it for 0-60, or 0-100, or a quarter-mile, and then hit the button when you’re ready to go. It counts down, and when it gets to your starting time, you accelerate as hard as you dare. The readout not only gives you a timed clocking of how you did, but it also shows your starting-line reaction time, for how close you cut the launch to the quickest possible time.
I found a deserted stretch of rural highway, and set the device for 0-60. Then I hammered it. After a couple runs, I showed a best time of 4.4 seconds. Dodge says the car will do the quarter mile in less than 14 seconds, and I have no reason to question that. If you know of a deserted stretch of rural highway, you realize immediately that you could spend a few bucks refueling before you get over the adrenaline kick of spending an afternoon playing with that Charger Hellcat.
The best thing about it, along with the looks and the amazing performance, is that when you simply start the engine and crack the throttle, people stop and stare, while you’re just happy your windows didn’t shatter.
The Dodge Charger had become something of a throwback, a large sedan with sporty overtones, which in a world of sleek and high-tech competitors seemed to have a questionable future. But as things have evolved, the Charger has matured into a a grown-up sedan for all seasons, starting with a potent 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, with 292 horsepower and available all-wheel drive. Move up to the legendary Hemi V8, and you can choose the 5.7-liter version with 370 horses and 395 foot-pounds of torque, or the Scat Pack with a 6.4-liter V8, 485 horses and 475 foot-pounds of torque. More than enough power…if there was such a thing. Of course, there isn’t.
Dodge decided that if it was going to compete with similarly retro ponycars like the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, it would bring back the Challenger, which really was a Charger fitted with a coupe body. Heavy, yes, but with the Hemi engine, it has been a successful muscle car.
Dodge SRT engineers weren’t done, and they created the mind-blowing supercharged Hellcat version of the 6.2-liter Hemi, which develops 707 horsepower and 650 foot-pounds of torque, efficiently working to hurl the Challenger or the Charger Hellcat to a measured top speed of 204 miles per hour.
That made the Challenger one of the fastest cars on the planet, and with the same powertrain, the Charger becomes the fastest and most powerful full-size sedan ever built, and in my opinion, simply feels more balanced with all that power.
In the process, Dodge also redesigned the Charger for 2015, with some neat contours in the sides of its sleek body, and a meaningful hood scoop back there behind a new macho-looking grille. I still like the looks of the Challenger, but if you’re like I am, the Charger is the first 4-door sedan you might prefer to its 2-door coupe sibling.
For sheer sporty driving, a Chevy fan isn’t about to choose an Impala or Malibu over a Camaro, and Ford buyers aren’t looking at a Taurus or Fusion above the Mustang. But the Charger is properly nasty looking, and I prefer it as a balanced and enormously powerful sports sedan that you can enjoy even while you take your neighbors out for a ride in the back seat.
Mark Troestle, Dodge’s manager of the SRT performance arm, said the Charger redesign came from the simple objective of: “Making the front end as outrageous as 707 horsepower is. We have a different grille with a more prominent chin.
“We wanted to build the quickest, fastest and most powerful full-size sedan in the world. It’s tighter, leaner, like it’s shrink-wrapped. It’s both rational and emotional. And when you park it and walk away from it in a parking lot, you’ll look back just to see how cool it is.”
The roof and rear doors are the only panels remaining from the previous Charger. It’s a bit lower, and wider, and the LED foglights underline the attention to detail of the front, while pulling the C pillar rearward, practically onto the decklid, stresses the length and wraps into the rear corners, where the signature Dodge taillights show the flow of LEDs that encircle the whole rear panel.
The interior has an 8.4-inch touchscreen, and new seat design provides improved support. The steering wheel is sports-minded too, with a flat bottom and comfortable grip areas. There are paddles on either side of the steering wheel for shifting the 8-speed automatic manually.
You also get two key fobs with the car, one red and the other black. When you’re going somewhere, you use the red one, and enjoy all that power and fabulous sound. If you have another family member taking the Charger SRT Hellcat for the evening, you can give them the black key fob. They might not even realize that with the black key, the engine is limited to 500 horsepower, rather than the full 707.
As if nobody could get in over their heads with 500 horsepower.
Filed under: Autos, New car introductions, Weekly test drives
By John Gilbert
Hurry! If you live in the warmer part of the country, there’s no urgency; but farther north, where the ominous approach of cold weather and a little snow and ice is nearing, sports car driving can become a seasonal venture, and the leaf-changing time of autumn might be the best time possible.
If you own a Porsche Cayman, or a Jaguar F-Type, an Audi TT, BMW Z4 or an Alfa 4C, there’s no real urgency, because you undoubtedly can afford to pick your spots. But if you want the same thrill, possibly amplified by the knowledge that you beat the system by spending about one-fourth of the required investment of the above-named roadsters, then run — don’t walk — to your closest Mazda dealer and pick off a 2016 MX-5 Miata for half the sticker price or less.
The base Miata Sport starts at $24,915, and moving up to the Club is $28,600, with the top Grand Touring starting at $30,065. The Club is what I drove, and it adds a limited slip and Bilstein shock absorbers and an inch larger wheels if you pick the Sport package.
Jump into the Miata, flip the closure lever and lower the top with one hand — no power gizmos, please. Start up the Skyactiv engine, shift into gear and take off. The feeling of exhilaration is instant and always the same. Fantastic. If it feels even more compact than you anticipated, it is. Its 154.4-inch length is more than an inch shorter than the original was in 1990, although wheelbase as 1.7 inches stretched on the new car, and width is a couple inches more.
With Mazda, the power and torque numbers mean very little. If it feels fast enough to give you a thrill, it is. The new Skyactiv 2.0 has 155 horses and 148 foot-pounds, and the outgoing 2.0, without Skyactiv technology, actually had more horsepower at 167 at 7,000 revs, with less torque at 140. I never know how Mazda does it, but the new car feels quicker in a more coordinated way where the engine, gearbox, electric power steering and suspension all contribute.
For 2016, even the crustiest traditionalist among Miata fans will have to admit that as good as the first three generations of the Miata have been, the fourth-generation version gives you the largest jump forward in technology, and also provides some visual exhilaration, from the first time you lay eyes on it.
First reaction to the term “sports car” is that it must have a rigid body that stays flat around the tightest corners, even if that means you risk outright harshness over any road irregularities in real-world driving. We accept that. Mazda, however, doesn’t. The new Miata has an almost surprising feeling of compliance — not softness, but a little bit of leaning in tight corners, and even a little nose bobbing under heavy braking. Maybe the Miata’s ability to feel comfortable and secure at all times, rather than steely, track-day firmness might cost you a second around a road-racing track. But you appreciate the compliance every time you get behind the wheel.
Also, when it comes to those hard-driving track day ventures, a little leaning in tight turns is no problem if it’s completely predictable, doesn’t cause you to compromise your driving aggressiveness, and actually gives a good driver time to anticipate the shifting G-forces.
Mazda has long established a reputation for building an honest “fun” driving experience into every vehicle it produces, and up on the pillar as the standard of Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” philosophy is the Miata. Actually, Mazda prefers us to call the car the “MX-5” for reasons best known to those image-makers in Hiroshima, Japan, who don’t seem aware of the enormous advantage of name-recognition. Grudgingly, the company now seems to allow its people to call it the “MX-5 Miata.”
By any name, Mazda’s 2-seat sports car has become a standard of the entire industry for being a simple, no-frills approach to flat-out fun driving. Competitors may attempt to challenge it, but nobody has come close to providing the same flair for the amazingly low price.
For 2016, the fourth-generation MX-5 Miata adds a decided new look and personality. Rod McLaughlin, the car’s vehicle line manager, stressed those four core values that Mazda would not alter: “Light weight, affordable, a roadster, and fun to drive,” he said. “Our job was to turn those principles into engineering. ‘Kansai’ engineering involves how it feels, sounds and looks. Takao Kijima, the third-generation manager, made sure all benchmarks turned into emotional values.”
McLaughlin’s challenge was to expand on the traditional simplicity of the Miata, while also incorporating the unique features that Mazda has made standard issue on all its vehicles. That includes high-strength steel for increased rigidity and lighter weight, plus the Skyactiv treatment whereby a compacted, stylish and streamlined look and design must keep up with Mazda’s new engine technology and self-made transmissions.
The term “Skyactiv” has become commonplace in publications, but don’t settle for superficial explanations that consist of the name without technical explanation. The true definition of Skyactiv springs from Mazda’s decision to look into the future and realize the company had to make a move to an entirely new way to build engines, and cars, if it wanted to rise above the 30-mpg norm to more like 40. Mazda’s holistic approach started with a design and production of an engine from the bottom up, inside out, with everything on the cutting edge of technology.
A simple glance at the beautifully tuned exhaust manifold pipes winding rhythmically around the block. That doesn’t fully explain that there is a chain-driven dual-overhead camshafts, direct injection, 155 horsepower at 6,000 RPMs and 148 foot-pounds of torque at 4,600 revs, and a redline of 6,800. The variable valve-timing can keep the valves open in Miller-cycle fashion, and fuel economy figures show 27 city and 36 highway for the automatic or 34 mpg for the 6-speed stick.
A trademark of the engine, when it was introduced on the Mazda3, then accompanied thorough revisions of the Mazda6 and the introduction of the crossover CX-5, is extremely high compression ratio but with the ability to burn regular gas. Stuffing all the technical advances into the 27-year-old heritage of the Miata had to be a major challenge, but Mazda pulled it off.
At a glance, the new car has the look of a small exotic more than a bargain sports roadster, starting with the large and comparatively menacing grille opening, with angular slits for headlight eyes, vast departures from tradition.
“At the time of the Miata’s 1989 launch, there were no true lightweight sports cars available,” said Lead designer Jacques Flynn. “This car has established such a rich pedigree as a true icon that it is a huge honor for me to be involved with it. It has always been the perfect light sports car — under 2,200 pounds — and we had to make sure we met our demands for technology but also tradition.”
Mazda gives you the option of using minimum 87-octane regular or 91-octane premium gasoline, noting that you will get full power with premium.
At the MX-5 Miata introduction in California, I had an early departure to fly back to Minnesota. Since my co-driver could spend the rest of the afternoon driving all versions of the car, I drove the first part. As it happened, our best efforts to follow the map and use all of our GPS instruments and our common sense failed when highway construction got us hopelessly lost.
We zoom-zoomed around all sorts of back roads and neat, twisty highways, and we finally arrived at the lunch stop by coming to the country club by the back way. The main issue with our wandering in the wilderness is that I had to drive the whole way. Oh darn!
I got an extreme dose of driving the Club version of the MX-5 Miata, and found it thoroughly enjoyable whether on freeway stretches or around tight curves and switchbacks. Can you use a little extra exhilaration in your life, even on a mundane drive to work? Of course. And the Miata, or MX-5, provides that, every day. But hurry, so you can beat the northern snow.