Car-show kids: ‘Let’s play trucks!’

March 21, 2018 by · Comments Off on Car-show kids: ‘Let’s play trucks!’
Filed under: Features, Autos 

A young boy implored his family to stop and watch the Jeeps master the Camp Jeep obstacles at the Minneapolis Auto Show.

  “Hey dad! Look!  Look!  LOOK,” the little voice grew bigger as the young lad yelled. His urgency demanded to interrupt his dad’s intention of casually wandering around the Minneapolis Convention Center to take in the Greater Minneapolis Auto Show.

   The dad probably wanted to move along, but they weren’t going anywhere, for a while. The young boy had stopped, transfixed, next to Camp Jeep, which has got to be the best marketing ploy at this or any auto show. People can actually drive — ride with experts — in an assortment of new Jeep vehicles, including the Wrangler, Renegade, Compass, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. But not just a ride. They follow the carefully built track that twists around and goes up and down at side angles, heading toward an amazingly steep hill, right there in the middle of Camp Jeep.

   As the various Jeeps surged up the rise, we all stopped to see if it would make it. Of course they all did, up and over, disappearing over the other side. I have seen many Camp Jeeps, at many large auto shows, but it seems extra special right here in Minnesota, downtown Minneapolis. I was able to walk on, but the young dad and his little kid were still there — and might have remained right on through the March 18 final day of the show.

    Kids love to play with cars and trucks, and it seems like the smaller the little boy, the more excited he is to watch every move a truck, or a Jeep, can make. In the grownup world, we are too confused to appreciate such simple pleasures.

   For example, as I visited the Minneapolis show, I was road-testing two vehicles that were at the show. One was the all-new Toyota C-HR, the other a new Cadillac CT6 3.0 TT sedan. 

CT6 3.0TT looks like a Cadillac luxury car, but it has high-power turbo V6 and AWD too.

   Both are interesting. The CT6 is a beautifully designed sedan that seems traditionally Cadillac — long and low and shapely, with seriously engaging grille and headlights, and all the comfort and safety features you can imagine, along with a few that maybe you can’t. The C-HR is Toyota’s bid to try to capture some of the small-SUV fans who may be tempted to veer off course and buy a small Honda, or Mazda, or maybe even one of those somewhat odd Hyundai Velosters or Nissan Jukes.

    The Veloster and Juke look like they might be related, with odd bulges and contours that are way out beyond the norm. Walk around the Veloster and you’d be impressed that it looks like a 4-door from the passenger side, but a 2-door from the driver’s side. It is, of course a 3-door, and Hyundai has just redesigned it to round off the bulgiest bulges for 2018.

If a vehicle looks like an SUV and has SUV utility, is it an SUV — or a Toyota C-HR?

    If Toyota is taking on those outliers — as opposed to Outlanders — it has done the design part, because the C-HR looks like a prototype for all the new subcompact SUVs, and the price was right, at $24,000. However, up in the Great White North of Northern Minnesota, a lot of us think it’s borderline criminal to build an SUV-ish vehicle that is not an SUV. All-wheel drive is not available on the C-HR!

    So it is an SUV-looking thing that is front-wheel-drive only, making it sporty in acceleration and lightweight, powered by its 2.0-liter with 144 horsepower and 139 foot-pounds of torque, but if you encounter a 12-inch snowfall in your driveway after driving home from the auto show, you might curse Toyota’s trendy maneuver.

The Cadillac CT6, on the other hand, has the potent new direct-injected dual-overhead-cam 3.0-liter V6 with cylinder deactivation — and, it does have all-wheel drive. In other words, we are confused enough that we now are looking at a full sail luxury sedan from Cadillac that can do the job of an SUV because it has got AWD, and an SUV-like compact from Toyota that can’t even pretend to be an SUV, because is hasn’t.

    Meanwhile, the young lad doesn’t care about any of that stuff because he’s still transfixed by the Jeeps, which continue proving what you see is what you get, scrambling up those hills.

 

Hyundai’s new Kona isn’t in showrooms yet, but is a mini-SUV with a turbo and AWD.

  Camp Jeep now has spun off rivals. Mitsubishi, for example, also has a driving experience, promoting its comeback attempt with the Outlander, Outlander Sport, and its new Eclipse Cross. The Outlander PHEV is the first electric crossover SUV with all-wheel drive, and the Eclipse Cross has an available 1.5-liter turbo. Hyundai, meanwhile, is showing off its new Kona, a slick styling exercise that is more compact than the Tucson, and should go some, with a 1.6-liter turbo and Hyundai’s excellent dual-clutch 6-speed.

Mustang updates its icon with a salute to the movie “Bullitt.”

Ford is showing off its new Mustang Bullitt, a model to take advantage of the still-memorable movie “Bullitt” with Steve McQueen at the helm of a dark green Mustang. We’ve seen the new Bullitt before but both the Outlander PHEV and Eclipse Cross are making their public debuts at the Minneapolis show. That’s impressive for a show that is not one of the nation’s super shows, such as Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles or New York. It’s put together by dealers in the Twin Cities, but it is the 15th largest show in the country, and they have caught on, employing a slick PR outfit, Nemer-Fieger, with an energetic young representative named Molly Steinke who has been doing her best to reach the media and entice them to visit the show. They also have a very neat program, with capsules on all the new cars you might be interested in, rather than just an ad-carrying sheet.

Big, sleek Cadillac has turbo V6 — and AWD.

   The Cadillac CT6 was a pleasure to drive from Duluth to the Twin Cities for the state high school hockey tournament, which, as usual, featured some games that could be put away in a time capsule to show all that’s good about living in Minnesota. It was a tough squeeze to fit in a Saturday morning at the auto show on press introduction day, and it was a shame to waste all that rear-seat room, which could easily accommodate two large adults in glorious luxury. With a turbocharger blowing through the 3.0 V6, the CT6 develops 404 horsepower and 300 foot-pounds of torque — more than the traditional top 3.6-liter V6.

   Suspension and handling, to say nothing of the enormous trunk space, are exemplary in the Cadillac, although I would need about a month to get comfortable with its elaborate “CUE” system. You can, for example, figure out how to tune the radio without getting too many fingerprints on the big touchscreen, but while you’re figuring out what Cadillac was thinking with the complexity of controls that once were far easier with a round knob, be careful — if you sweep your finger across the dial, too close to the screen, you will make the volume go way up, or down, depending on which way you sweep.

C-HR shaped like SUV, but no AWD exists.

The C-HR has plenty of pep from its 4-cylinder, and, after you fiddle with the adjustments enough, you learn that it has a control to allow you to be in normal, eco, or sport, and sport firms up the suspension and gives a dose more power to a touch of your toe, even though the CVT transmission will do its best to quell any sporting thoughts. Just as well, because the lack of AWD meets the drone of the CVT about halfway.

   Meanwhile, back at the auto show, Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota, Mazda, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volkswagen are all offering brief test drives in assorted models. 

Volkswagen showed its new Arteon sedan, which will replace the stylish CC.

  Volkswagen has Jettas and Passats for test-drives. No, you can’t drive the new Alteon, but there is one on display, an impressive looking sedan that owes its sleek silhouette to being the replacement for the sleek but discontinued CC. The Alteon is pre-production and stays locked on the pedestal, while Volks is pushing test drives of its new Atlas, Alltrack, and Tiguan — VW’s posse of SUVs.

Yes, Volkswagen, perhaps the world’s most traditional maker of compact and subcompact cars with the Beetle, Rabbit and Golf, is now up to its headliner in SUVs.

   And the little boy at Camp Jeep remains the only one not confused by it all.

Chicago Show: Cars, stars…and deep-dish pizza

February 15, 2018 by · Comments Off on Chicago Show: Cars, stars…and deep-dish pizza
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Jim Belushi, left, and Ford VP Mark LaNeve gave Transit Connect Blues Brothers treatment.

CHICAGO, IL.

      There was a lot of talk about electric cars, hybrids, and autonomous (self-driving) vehicles, but the Chicago Auto Show best told the story of what car life in the U.S. is all about — trucks, SUVs…and more SUVs. One of the most impressive groups of new vehicles are the many midsize and compact crossovers.

    After Toyota got things going with a display of high-performing off-road “TRD” models of its Tacoma and Tundra pickups, and its 4Runner SUV, Ford introduced the new generation of its Transit Connect, a compact, work-oriented mini-truck that fits and maneuvers in tight spaces and can be outfitted however a company or individual may choose.

    To kick it off, Ford pulled a coup by having vice president Mark LaNeve call Jim Belushi to the stage, and Belushi walked out playing a harmonica and leading everyone in a spirited version of “Sweet Home, Chicago.” He intereviewed some in the audience, joked around with LaNeve, then enlisted him to join him in donning sunglasses to do a little Blues Brothers routine.

    The versatility of the Transit Connect is that it could be everything from a foot truck, to a construction workers van, to a mini fun wagon, and while it doesn’t come in all-wheel drive, it does have a couple of new engines, including a 2.0-liter direct-injected 4 and a 1.5 -liter EcoBlue diesel engine with a new 8-speed automatic.   

     The Chicago Auto Show is the largest and longest-running auto show in the country, and in the opinion of everyone who attends, it also is by far the most fun of the major domestice shows. The lively nightlife scene and legendary restaurants help that reputation. The 110th Chicago Auto Show opened with media days in a nasty blizzard that lasted a day and a half and cancelled 600 flights into and out of O’Hare Airport — and it was still fun. It opened to the public on February 10 and anyone looking for a new car can spend hours examining everything offered in showrooms across the country on the 1,000-square-foot halls in McCormick Place, as it runs through Monday, Feb. 19.

Ford never stopped building the Ranger, but this year will reintroduce it to the U.S.

   Because it is definitely a consumer-driven show, Chicago provides an ample number of vehicles that appeal to mainstream, grassroots buyers. Its media survey to pick the Family Car of the Year came in with the Honda Odyssey, the latest generation of the popular and feature-filled minivan, which beat out other valid contenders including the Volvo XC-60 SUV, a midsize version of its SUV-of-the-Year XC-90.

   There were not a lot of new introductions, after most of the debuts were spent on the Los Angeles show in November, and at Detroit in January. But there were definitely still some standouts, for the show, which got a rejuvenated restart in 1950 after the auto industry got rolling again following World War II.

   With special attractions virtually every day, the Chicago show undoubtedly will be the best-attended show, again.

   Consumers, of course, care less about the show-biz schemes than about sitting in and scrutinizing the cars. Read more

Light on new cars, Detroit show features trucks

January 19, 2018 by · Comments Off on Light on new cars, Detroit show features trucks
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Unveiling of 2019 Ram 1500 with much more refined look earned Best in Show from Cars.com.

By John Gilbert

DETROIT, Michigan

    Call it “Auto Show Light,” but the North American International Auto Show, formerly known simply as the Detroit Auto Show, seems to have gone on a diet, as the latest example of how the automotive world is changing. Swamped by the consumer tide of sports-utility vehicles rising above and beyond mere cars, much in the way the nation’s most prestigious auto show has added words in hopes of adding prestige to its name.

   While spectacular new cars were fewer, there certainly were still some compelling introductions during the annual press previews on Monday and Tuesday, January 15-16, with the public show following through the following two weekends. But trucks had the upper hand.

   

Ram trades its all-out macho look for refinement for 2019.

Completely redone Ram interior features huge center info screen.

Ram rolled out an impressive new 1500 pickup truck, with the massive, macho facade replaced by a far more refined grille and completely redone interior, with a giant vertical navigation/information screen about the size of a full-size iPad.

    The new rounded-off look is a departure, and it was interesting that the new Ram won “Best in Show” from the respected auto website cars.com, and perhaps it was verification of how few new cars there were, since the Los Angeles Show in November, that pickups won several awards.

  

Reintroduction of the Ford Ranger midsize pickup was a Detroit feature.

Ford offered a hybrid version of its new F150 pickup and made big news affirming the much-rumored return of the midsize Ranger pickup, which not only was a highlight of the show, but was a co-dominating model alongside a couple of new Mustang versions.

   Honda’s Acura luxury division called it a concept, but the new generation of the RDX compact SUV made a strong impression, as trucks and trucklings dominated. Also, there were a number of concept vehicles — including one each from Nissan and its upscale Infiniti brand — and Toyota’s Lexus also showed a concept sporty SUV. Read more

Let’s say you select your own car, truck of the year

January 14, 2018 by · Comments Off on Let’s say you select your own car, truck of the year
Filed under: Features, Autos 

Alfa Giulia is hard to argue with as the 2018 Newcarpicks.com Car of the Year.

By John Gilbert

   One of the highlights of every year, for a media auto fanatic, is to attend the North American International Auto Show at Detroit’s Cobo Hall. Traditionally the largest and most spectacular of the four “major” U.S. shows — along with Los Angeles, Chicago and New York — the Detroit show has the added attraction of being the center of the automotive universe, attracting engineers, designers and the usual overload of promotional types.

   There are bigger shows worldwide, such as the Frankfurt Auto Show, which I’ve attended several times, and probably Tokyo, Paris, or Geneva, which I’ve never attended, but the Detroit show draws the auto company big-shots from all over the world, many of whom have their North American headquarters in or near Detroit, which, of course, is the home base for Ford, General Motors and FCA, or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

   The Detroit show starts January 13th, and after three press conference dates, opens to the public. It has lost some of its luster in recent years, through no fault of its own. The Los Angeles show, held in November, upstages Detroit by attracting a lot of the Asian introductions, which has forced other countries, and the U.S. manufacturers, into also sending a preponderance of their “A” material to L.A. Chicago, meanwhile, is the most fun, because of the assortment of high-end restaurants and music venues in a tight little area accessible to the media and other major hotels. New York is reat fun, but it is scattered around Manhattan and may be completely overlooked by the locals.

The Volvo XC-60 takes all the assets of the exceptional XC-90 and condenses them into the best SUV on the market — our truck of the year.

    Detroit, however, remains the mainstay, and among the major attractions in Detroit is the naming of the North American Car of the Year, Truck of the Year, and Utility of the Year, as voted on by an independent jury of auto media types.

    In the two decades I was part of that jury, I tried to influence all who would listen about improving the stature of the car of the year award. The jury did follow my strong suggestion about having a re-vote after naming the finalists, to encourage more coverage among jury members. I did originally think going to a separate category for utility vehicles made sense, but I reversed myself after some serious thought, when I realized that the rapidly expanding surge of SUVs was about to be accompanied by a reduction in legitimate trucks. Read more

Always-safe Volvos add style, technology for 2018

September 21, 2017 by · Comments Off on Always-safe Volvos add style, technology for 2018
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Thor’s Hammer light design, familiar grille denote new-breed Volvos.

By John Gilbert

DENVER, COLO.

   As members of the car-buying public, we’ve spent our lifetimes compromising when it comes to car-buying. We might want something sporty, great looking, and quick, but we also have families who require that our first choice becomes solid, roomy and safe. We’ve also watched as most companies tried to make their cars as attractive as possible, then added stuff on in hopes of making them safer.

   Because of all that, and what we’ve observed, and the small portions that we’ve learned, you’ve got to hand it to Volvo, which seems to have gotten to the sweet spot in the compromise by sticking to safety and letting stuff like luxury, attractiveness and performance come along at its own, leisurely pace. From my vantage point, it appears Volvo has found the hot button. My favorite, for now, is the new 2018 QX60, a compact, midsize SUV that does everything I could ever want in a vehicle.

   The 2018 array of models coming out with Volvo’s vehicles, with their slashed bar over the grille and “Thor’s Hammer” headlight design, come as close as it gets to being all things to all people. For a price, of course. Such quality and built-in safety and technology don’t come cheap. The S90 runs from $49,195 in base T5 Momentum form up to nearly $70,000 in loaded T8 all-wheel-drive top trim. The V90 ranges from $50,000 to $53,000 coming only with front-wheel drive. And the XC60 starts at $42,495 for the Momentum, $45,900 for the R-Design, and $46,300 for the Inscription, and all XC60s come with all-wheel drive.

 

Lighter and more agile than the larger XC90, Volvo’s new XC60 gets the same drivetrain.

  Once a Swedish company that made rock-solid safe cars, then a Ford affiliate that made safer cars for different reasons, and now a Swedish company owned by a Chinese conglomerate that is making cars that fulfill every angle of every car compromise, Volvo has kept its eye on its own, stubborn target. Under the financial umbrella of Geely, Volvo is still headquartered in Gothenberg, Sweden, but it now makes some vehicles in China — where it is sure to be a huge seller — and is also building a state-of-the-art factory in the U.S. Read more

Next Page »