Filed under: Autos, New car introductions
By John Gilbert
What would happen, I hear you ask, if all the slick new styling, interior features and attractions of SUVs and CUVs were combined with the family-friendly spaciousness and efficiency of a contemporary minivan, in one all-new vehicle? The result would be the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica — a brilliantly designed and finished family transportation module that could recapture the popularity once enjoyed by minivans.
A lot of the changes are subtle, and from a distance the Pacifica certainly looks like a minivan. But make no mistake: The Pacifica is entirely new, from its platform on up to its panoramic sunroof, and from its sleekly aerodynamic nose to its bob-tailed magnesium and aluminum liftgate. More than that, it drives brand new — more like a sports sedan than a soccer-mom-mobile, while pampering its occupants in quiet luxury.
The minivan as a U.S. automotive craze apparently ran its course in the three decades since.the sibling Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country created, expanded, and then dominated the segment that once sold about a million units per year. That number has dropped by about 50 percent as consumers become more and more infatuated with sports utility vehicles and now CUVs. But a half-million potential sales are still a lucrative target, and demographics indicating more kids are on the way might foretell a comeback for a vehicle that never really went away.
Chrysler has kept its minivan duo current, but time has come to revise the Caravan and Town & Country, so FCA — Fiat-Chrysler Automotives — decided to go all out and create an entirely new entity. That meant a new name, too, so FCA decided to reclaim its old Pacifica monicker for the vehicle that will relieve the Caravan and Town & Country of their duties as savior and mainstay of the corporation.
Minivans displaced station wagons about three decades ago as the most efficient and rational family hauler, but when they got so popular as to be commonplace, they were displaced by SUVs, which, in turn, currently are in the process of being displaced by CUVs — Compact Utility Vehicles. For some unknown reason, minivans became the vehicle that was needed, but unloved by modern buyers. Nobody wanted to boast about their minivan.
The Pacifica has a sleek attractiveness that neither minivan nor SUV has ever dreamed of, with contoured lines coming off a steeply-sloping nose, and sweeping rearward to collect themselves around a new-signature upsweep at the rear of the rearward side window, not unlike BMW’s famous rear pillar kink.
With twice the rigidity, road manners are very quiet, but with excellent road-holding dynamics. The streamlined look and the forms that flow around the vehicle in 3-dimensional contours are best defined by the 0.30 coefficient of drag.
“The grooves on the front end give a strong attitude that conveys confidence,” said chief designer Brandon Faurote, who grew up and went to high school in Winona, Minnesota. “The bright underline of the grille comes up to the outer top of the headlights. We were able to lower the occupants position in the vehicle. We wanted to create something with a strong presence that would be distinctive. The side glass tapers in, and the windshield is sloped more, helping us get a very slick aerodynamic number.
“The lower character line and the upward kick of the rear windows is a nice signature element and gives an unexpected look for a minivan. We’ve also gone from vertical to horizontal for the taillights for a more horizontal look. It’s very dramatic on the road, and emotional, which is very appealing to a driver.”
Chrysler Corporation’s Dodge Caravan was immediately dominant three decades ago, and later joined by the upscale Chrysler Town & Country, the tandem easily fought off all challengers from Ford and General Motors, and more recently faced increasing competition from the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, and Kia Sedona.
Faurote advanced the whole concept of a minivans with his exterior design, joining interior designer Chris Benjamin and chief engineer Mike Downey for a blend of ideas to make the Pacifica a complete package.
“The center structure has been strengthened for twice the torsional stiffness,” said Downey. “We previously had to compromise on our steering and suspension, but having the all-new platform meant we could change the architecture to improve steering, ride and handling.
“The sliding side doors are all aluminum, which saves 40 pounds, and they can be opened and closed hand’s-free. We use a magnesium insert and aluminum outer skin on the liftgate to save another 20 pounds. Altogether, we’ve saved 250 pounds. We also re-engineered the Stow ’n Go seats. The second seats tilt for easy access to the third row, and child seats can remain in place.”
The foldable second and third row seats disappear into below-floor cubicles to leave a large, flat floor. Stow ’n go is a Chrysler original, one of 78 firsts the company claims for its minivans over the years. The Pacifica adds 37 more new features. Sliding your foot under the sliding door or liftgate to activate them while your arms are full, may be traceable to the Ford Escape’s liftback, but it is new to minivans.
Also, Honda puts a handy on-board vacuum cleaner in the Odyssey, and the Pacifica does the same. “We have 14 feet of hose on our Stow ‘n Vac, and an extension gives you another 14 feet,” said Downey. “If you can’t do it first, do it best.”
Pricing separates the various models, starting with the L at $29,590. The Touring starts at $31,490, and Touring-L at $35,490, the Touring-L Plus at $38,890, and the Limited at $43,490.
The option bin is too tempting, but in basic form, the Pacifica offers plenty. The more potent Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 has 287 horsepower and 262 foot-pounds of torque, more than enough to hurl the Pacifica onward and upward. Its power to the front wheels is regulated by a rotating shift knob on the left side of the center stack, to mind the 9-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. The Pacifica responds swiftly and smoothly, but still attains an estimated 28 miles per gallon.
Inside, the optional plush leather seats, colors and materials were selected for artistic harmony, rather than just as an accumulation of luxury stuff. “We wanted to make the chaos less chaotic, to make it work for people,” said interior designer Benjamin. “The horizontal flow of the dashboard and the proportions of the instrument panel create a feeling of space. Every angle is soft to the touch, and we use colors and materials for contrasts.”
Larger knobs operate the radio volume and tuning, and the rotary shifter leaves extra room where the shift level would ordinarily have to be. The navigation screen is 5-inch in base form or 8.4-inch in optional size, and is bonded flush to the surface glass precisely. The huge, panoramic sunroof lets light shine in on up to eight occupants in all three rows.
Along with all the latest connectivity features, the Pacifica is loaded with safety technology. A 360-degree surround camera with bird’s-eye view of all surrounding objects is complemented by a park sensing ultrasonic devise to help guide drivers into parallel or perpendicular parking spots. Adaptive cruise control maintains distance behind cars on the highway, and can also bring the Pacifica to a controlled stop if necessary to avoid a collision. Collision warning- plus alerts the driver before assisting on stopping. Lane departure warning borrows information from the power steering and uses torque input to correct if the vehicle seems to wander out of its lane.
With navigation and function screens, there is also an available 7-inch secondary driver display that can be programmed to contain personal information. A mobile phone app can allow vehicle owners to start the vehicle or to lock or unlock doors, honk the horn or flash the lights from anywhere.
You can also add on-demand Wi-Fi hotspot subscriptions. For backseat riders, there are 10-inch video screens in the backs of the front headrests and a rear ceiling screen for viewing videos or playing games for rearward occupants.
The Pacifica can become anything you want it to be, from an office on wheels, to a comfortable family traveling lounge, without intruding on the pleasure of driving, which combines the feel of a luxury sedan, the handling of a sports sedan, and the standard active noise cancellation of a bank vault, to eliminate virtually all outside noises from entering the interior. That enhances whichever potent audio system you choose.
As you carve perfect trajectories around mountain roadways, you forget you’re driving a minivan, because really, you’re not. Farewell, Caravan and Town & Country; long live Pacifica.
Filed under: Autos, New car introductions
By John Gilbert
Hyundai has been on an impressive upwardly-mobile roll ever since the 2011 model year, reaching levels of achievement in design and technology that couldn’t have been predicted. The Sonata has become a midsize mainstay, the Santa Fe and Tucson dependable entries in the sports-utility segments, the Genesis among sports-luxury sedans, the Accent as a subcompact, and the Veloster as a quirky specialty coupe.
There also is the compact Elantra, which was restyled for 2014, amid major upgrades to all the other vehicles coming from the South Korean manufacturer, and the Elantra surprised many even at Hyundai by winning the North American Car of the Year award in 2014, when it was last redesigned, right there among the world-class competition such as Civic, Mazda3, Corolla, Sentra and Jetta.
But now Hyundai has done it. The newest redesign of the compact Elantra for 2017 is so good it might be TOO good! I suggested to Hyundai officials that if the Sonata wasn’t one of my favorite vehicles in the automotive world, I would say the new Elantra is so good I’m not sure the Sonata is still needed.
The Sonata looks good, and the new Elantra looks like a slightly downsized Sonata, so the comparison begs to be made. A bit longer than the current model, considerably stiffer, stunning in its exterior restyling, and with driveability that is vastly improved in engine performance, steering and suspension, the new Elantra rates a “10” in every aspect, including a level of quietness that is startling for a compact.
At the introduction of the new Elantra in San Diego, we pushed various models through their paces — and through some paces we didn’t know the Elantra could reach — in the city, on freeway stretches, and up through all the curves and switchbacks of the adjacent mountain range to the east.
Powertrain choices are both new, starting with a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder that automatically varies engine timing while turning out 147 horsepower and 132 foot-pounds of torque, and EPA fuel economy estimates of 29 city and 38 highway. The alternative is a jewel, a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, with direct injection and only 128 horsepower, while the potency comes from the 156 foot-pounds of torque, which occur over a broad plane from 1,400 to 3,700 RPMs. That range includes virtually any and every speed you might ever want to drive., and fuel economy should be even better than the 2.0.
You can get a 6-speed transmission, and with the 1.4 Turbo you get a 6-speed stick or a high-tech 7-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters.
The last Elantra won Car of the Year because it had pleasant styling, adequate comfort, peppy performance from the combination of revised 4-cylinder engines and Hyundai’s own house-built transmission. Analysts and critics alike had to agree that the Elantra was surprisingly filled with features unexpected in a compact.
The new Elantra, however, might as well have started with a clean sheet of paper, it’s just that part of the reason it is so impressive is that the Car-of-the-Year Elantra was right there as a target, and was the company’s top-selling vehicle for good measure.
Michael Evanoff joined Hyundai in 2013, right about the time the current Elantra was transformed into its highly-acclaimed facelifted form. He will accept congratulations for that, but acknowledges it was done before he came aboard. He is now the manager of product planning for the Elantra. “I do small-car platforms — the Accent and Elantra,” he said.
The midsize segment, long the most popular among U.S. buyers, has seen consumers swing toward compact sport-utility vehicles, and downsize from large cars to midsize, and from midsize to compacts. The Mazda3 underwent a huge upgrade, forcing Honda to lift the Civic and other manufacturers to follow, but it was the Elantra that had thrown down the challenge to begin with.
The new car moves upstream again. The common thread among all the top compacts is to provide more features than conventional buyers might anticipate, because consumers want neat features even while downsizing. That put the pressure on, because as Hyundai’s top seller, Elantra claimed 30 percent of Hyundai sales volume of cars and SUVs combined, and while compacts boast 34 percent loyalty to the segment, the Elantra ranked No. 2 in loyalty.
Compact buyers used to be practical rather than emotional, but the enjoyment of driving the new Elantra puts “heart” over “head” in the selection, even while the “head” part still remains, with the 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty and vastly improved strength and potential.
“We pretty much started from scratch with the new Elantra,” Evanoff said. “Our objective was to bridge the gap from the smaller Accent to the larger Sonata, and we aimed high for design, technology, interiors, and powertrains. Compacts are a very competitive segment, so we wanted the Elantra to perform better than larger midsize cars, and we wanted to make it the right size.”
The new car has a sporty front end featuring an open, hexagonal grille, contours that flow along the sides and come to an uplifted rear rather than the current model’s slightly dropping rear. It has grown from 179.1 inches in length only to 179.9, and while still a compact it boasts more interior room than the Cadillac CTS, the BMW 3-Series, or the Audi A4, according to Scott Margason, director of product planning.
“The horizontal wide design of the dashboard adds to the feeling of width and stability,” Margason said.
The attractive exterior and interior is underpinned by the strength of high-strength steel, with the A pillars straighten ed and stiffened, and the front and rear suspension much improved, with attention to decreasing noise from roadways, engine, and wind. An increase in high-strength steel and new structural adhesives has helped also.
If those features are surprising in a compact, so is Elantra’s sticker price range. The base SE 2.0 starts at $17,150, or $18,150 with automatic, and moving up to the Tech package gets you up to $22,350. Move up to the Limited and you get the Tech stuff, and upgrading further to Ultimate adds lane-keeping and smart cruise, but it’s difficult to load up an Elantra with everything and spend more than $25,000.
You also can go from 15 to 18 inch wheels, and an 8-inch instead of 7 for the nav screen. After driving the Elantra extensively at the introduction, and tossing it around like a sports car more than a compact sedan, we were equally impressed, but had differing opinions of the car’s best feature. Power? Handling? Steering? The extreme quiet on the road? Give me “all of the above.”
“The 2016 Elantra had 79 percent steel with 21 percent high-strength steel,” said Margason. “The 2017 has 47 percent steel and 53 percent high-strength steel. And where we used to use 10 feet of structural adhesive material, the new car uses 394 feet. With the decrease we’ve gained in wind, road and engine noise, the Elantra is now more quiet than the Civic, Mazda3 and Ford Focus.”
Hyundai engineers also wound up with a 0.27 coefficient of drag for superior aerodynamics. In the competition for the most surprise-at-that-level features, the Elantra will be hard to beat. The available settings for Eco, Normal and Sport adjust engine power, shift points and steering firmness, and the 32-bit electric steering boost is a distinct improvement in most electric-boost systems.
High-intensity discharge lights, with LED daytime running lights and taillights, a hands-free trunk lift, and rear-view camera are obvious assets. Tiny convenience lights on the door handles, a pedestrian-detection radar device with automatic braking that disengages at 6 mph, lane-departure warning, blind-spot detection sensors that work above 20 mph, lane-keeping assist, smart cruise-control, rear cross-traffic detection, dual-charge USB outlets, memory-set seats and mirrors, auto-dim high beams, and leather interior trim are all on the option list.
There is also built-in support for Apple and Android car players, and Sirius XM satellite radio with an amazing feature: If you push a button to change stations, and you come upon a song you really like, you can activate the system to play the whole song from the start. And with all that quiet, the 8-speaker Harmon Infinity system with its subwoofer woofing is icing on the cake.
Filed under: Autos, New car introductions
By John Gilbert
The refrain sounded similar: a luxury auto-builder claiming that it could build a car that was so advanced that it would be bigger, stronger, stiffer, wider, and better-performing than “the competition.”
The competition of large luxury cars always seems is the same German triumvirate — the Mercedes S-Class, the BMW 7-Series, and the Audi A8. And while the new claims are impressive, the refrain seems wearisome, because it simply doesn’t apply once you get the car on the road.
But this time it had a different sound, because the new contender is the Cadillac CT6. You’re excused if the alpha-numeric tendency of contemporary car-makers leaves you perpetually perplexed. If not, see if you can name and identify all the Toyota Scion models, but do it quickly, before the Scion line disappears. In this case, the CT6 has nothing to do with the CTS, except by surname.
The CT6 is Cadillac’s new big sedan, a worthy replacement for all those big land yachts Cadillac used to turn out, only this one is loaded up with cutting-edge technology from its platform to its suspension, to its unique-to-Cadillac twin-turbo, dual-overhead-camshaft 3.0-liter V6.
It was first described to us by a speaker with a distinct German accent. It was Johan DeNysschen, whose name might be familiar because he is the CEO of Cadillac these days, after holding similar titles at such august companies as Audi and Infiniti, where we learned that his cars and his companies rose to prominence just as he said they would.
And he knows the German competition. He was addressing the auto media assembled at The Level, a modern, trendy hotel in Los Angeles, chosen to give us all the feeling of how the new Cadillac CT6 would fit into life in the big city. But reality got in the way of logistics.
After being driven to The Level from the airport in new CT6 sedans, we left first thing the next morning to be whisked away to a group of helicopters for flights south to Ramona Airport, near San Diego, where the fleet of new CT6es awaited us.
“More than half of the people who bought our cars last year were people who had never owned a Cadillac,” said DeNysschen. He added that with the rush to small crossover SUVs, many ask why Cadillac is coming out with another large sedan.
He mentioned that cars such as the S-Class, 7 Series and A8 stand at the pinnacle of engineering, the state of the art. “The CT6 is a large, refined luxury sedan that is absolutely forward-looking,” DeNysschen said. “We think we can be leading in the very segment where our competitors have been at their best. The CT6 is more than a thousand pounds lighter than the S-Class, and while we have built a large car, it has the agility of a smaller sportier car, such as the E-Class, 5 Series, and A6, but the CT6 is lighter than those cars, as well.”
Much of the high-tech strategy of the CT6 came from the drawing board. With the smaller and sporty CTS and ATS models already drawing praise for Cadillac, executive chief engineer Travis Hester aimed considerably higher for the CT6.
He said it would have been simpler to build the car out of all aluminum, similar to the Audi A8 and Jaguar large sedans. Instead, the decision was made to combine steel and aluminum, joined with exotic adhesives and spot welds to optimize strength and light weight.
“By mixing 62 percent aluminum and 38 percent steel, we can make it lighter and quieter,” said Hester. “The result is 200 pounds lighter than all steel, and at 3,657 pounds it is 1,000 pounds lighter than the S-Class, and it’s stiffer structurally than the ATS and CTS. It’s the quietest Cadillac ever.”
Hester also went into great detail about the design and the suspension, with an active chassis that features rear-wheel steering assist — with the rear wheels angling up to 3.5 degrees out of phase in tighter, slower turns to make the car practically pivot, while angling 2.75 degrees in phase with the front wheels during a highway speed lane change, making the car veer in a total trajectory, and quickening the feeling of response in both circumstances.
But the powertrain was awaiting his focus. “The CT6 has an all-new engine, a 3.0-liter V6 with twin turbocharging and cylinder deactivation,” Hester said. “It has 404 horsepower and 400 foot-pounds of torque, and it is exclusive to Cadillac.”
All CT6 vehicles equipped with the upgrade to the 3.0 Twin Turbo or the 3.6 V6 come standard with all-wheel drive, and the 3.0 is not available in any basic model, which start at $53,495.
Moving up to Luxury, Premium Luxury, or Platinum adds some sensational features, but also escalates the price rapidly, with the top Platinum, which comes with everything standard, starting at $87,465 with the 3.0 Twin Turbo.
“We also have the upgraded 3.6-liter V6, with 335 horsepower and 285 foot-pounds of torque, and a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, with 265 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque. The CT6 also has an all-new GM-built transmission, an 8-speed automatic with paddles.”
My co-pilot and I eagerly jumped into a CT6 with the 3.0 Twin Turbo, and headed off eastward, into the mountains. The feel of the car lived up to the raves of the Cadillac executives, steering with precision, staying flat and predictable in all manner of cornering, and power that came on at a touch — with the turbo blowing effortless force.
In a way, it’s ironic that Cadillac would get exclusive use of the impressive new 3.0 Twin Turbo, after its hottest cars have been borrowing the “old-tech” power of the pushrod-valvetrain Corvette engines that can only get their power from 6-liter engines twice the size of the 3.0. The new engine puts on graphic display what the critics have been saying for years — that overhead-cam technology can push smaller high-tech engines to outperform their monster old-school siblings. Now that Cadillac has designed and produced just such a gem, the rest of GM can’t use it.
While pushing the CT6 around some tight curves and twisty mountain switchbacks, we were impressed at how the car responded. It definitely “drives smaller” than its size, although with its long wheelbase and large size, there was never any doubt that we were driving a large car that performed well, rather than a smaller sports sedan. Now, of course, I want to see how the smaller and lighter CTS and ATS might perform with this 3.0 Twin Turbo.
We were impressed with the interior’s simplicity, because GM and Cadillac are capable of overdoing it. But the use of satin trim rather than gloss, and the restraint shown makes the CT6 appear more subtle than show-off.
The top of the line Bose Panaray audio system has 34 speakers in 19 locations, including two 50-mm. drivers in the front headrests. All four seats have smaller speakers, and there’s a 10-inch boomer in the rear deck. There are even drivers under the floor panels so you can feel good vibrations no matter what you’re playing.
In our test car, we found the control switch for normal, comfort or sport beneficial for handling, steering and throttle response. The large navigation screen operates by waving your finger across it to find the icon you’re looking for, so you don’t need to immediately cover the screen with fingerprint smudges.
The rear seat upgrade has 8-way power adjustment, and there are connections front and rear for phones, laptops, tablets and other connective things, operating via Google Chrome. The night vision feature has advanced to the point of tracking pedestrians separate from other objects ahead that might elude your headlights.
Price structure is interesting, because you can get the first-upgrade Luxury model with the 3.6 and all-wheel drive for $58,445, or the 3.0 Twin Turbo for $64,395, at the least expensive, but then you’d have to pay for options such as enhanced visibility, comfort, the rear seat package, the Bose Panaray sound system, and the active chassis — which cost over $2,000 each. Same with the Premium Luxury model.
The top of the line Platinum might seem like too much at $83,465 with the 3.6 V6, or $87,465 with the 3.0 Twin Turbo — but every feature option is standard on that one.
After the road tests — and we briefly tried the rear-drive 2.0 too — I told the Cadillac executives that the car fulfilled their objectives in every aspect. However, I suggested they might want to forget about stressing the comparisons to the top Mercedes, BMW and Audi models, because Cadillac might be pushing customers away to try the German cars for their own comparison. Instead, Cadillac should simply say it now has the CT6 — a car that will perform with, or outperform, other premium sedans. So give it a try.
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.