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.

   My point was that a year may come when there aren’t any real new trucks, while there might be 50 SUVs and crossovers. We would avoid that embarrassing situation if we kept trucks and utilities together, even though some stubborn older jurors vowed to not vote for a truck unless it was a “real” truck.

    Well, this is the year my warning has come to pass. The jurors have voted it down to three car finalists, with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and upstart Kia Stinger. They voted the utilities down to the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the Volvo XC-60, and the Honda Odyssey minivan. And the three truck finalists are the Chevrolet Colorado ZR-2, the Ford Expedition, and the Lincoln Navigator.

   We can debate the three categories, and in fact, the jury should spend more time debating them, in my opinion. For example, the Expedition and Navigator are basically the same vehicle with different equipment and trim from Ford Motor Company. We thought both might be facing the end of their road, so to speak, but they are all new and redone. Beyond that, they are both SUVs in the traditional sense — much as the Suburban, Tahoe and other large SUVs are SUVs.

   They are body-on-frame, which qualifies them as trucks, in some minds. The Chevrolet Colorado is s downsized pickup, and Chevy added a sporty version, called the ZR-2, which is very neat, but not close to an entirely new vehicle. However, they were the only three entries, stretched or not, in the truck category, so all three trucks qualified as truck finalists.

   If I had to predict what would be the top vote-getters from the jury, I would guess the Accord might win the Car of the Year, the Colorado ZR-2 the Truck of the Year, and the Volvo XC-60 the Utility of the Year. But that’s just my guess.

   In the Newcarpicks.com realm, we can examine some other possibilities.

   For Car of the Year, my finalists would be the Alfa Romeo Giulia and the Hyundai Ioniq.

   For Truck of the Year (combining trucks and utilities), the finalists are the Volvo XC-60 and the Infiniti QX-30.

   In way of explanation, I will submit that my vote always has gone for what is new, and what represents a technical advancement. Sure, my winner must look good, drive well, be maneuverable and safe, and be roomy enough and achieve solid fuel economy numbers. Because mpg and the ability to drive well are wholly dependent on technology, I found myself giving an extra dose of favoritism to technical advancement.

    For that reason, my Car of the Year is the Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti — that’s the 4-cylinder version, rather than the overpowering V6. The turbo 2.0-liter 4 has excellent power and can deliver mid-30s for fuel economy. Plus, it comes with available all-wheel drive. Perfect for winter climes. And the large aluminum paddles affixed to the steering column make manual shifting an easy and satisfying alternative.

   Alfa made no mistakes when it built the Giulia as its flagship to lead the corporation back into the U.S. market, with a beautiful design on a 4-door sedan that runs strong and is, as I’ve mentioned, the best-handling car you could ever imagine.

   Yes, it’s true that Motor Trend also picked the Giulia as its Car of the Year, but I am willing to share the delivery of all the accolades for the Italian beauty.

   In addition, the wonderful story is destined to become legend that goes beyond its basis in fact — that the bosses of Fiat, parent company for Alfa and Ferrari, selected the top engineers at Ferrari Formula 1 and assigned them to look over the Giulia’s attractiveness and then go all out to design a 2.0-liter 4, and a 3.0-liter V6, selecting an engineering group from among the top Ferrari engine staffers, and make those engines as strong and well-made as all their formidible Formula 1 experience could manage.

   So the Giulia goes as well as it looks, and it sounds even better than you could hope for, with a throaty bark that amplifies itself when you step on it hard. The 4-cylinder Giulia Ti costs between $42,000 and $50,000, and is a tremendous bargain compared to the $85,000 V6 model.


Hyundai’s venture into high-tech alternatives is the Ioniq line — compacts with hybrid, plug-in hybrid or pure electric power.

The runner-up Hyundai Ioniq would also be an excellent winner. The Ioniq is a new venture for Hyundai, taking a compact platform and expanding the interior up to near full-size room, simply by moving the engine and drivetrain forward and expanding the interior into what used to be wasted under-hood room. A solid safety skeleton and a body shaped with abundant high-strength steel handles that end of it.

   But Hyundai has made a dedicated commitment to the future with the Ioniq, offering it only with three power options. The first is a hybrid, with a strong little direct-injected 4-cylinder, plus a high-tech electric motor arrangement powered by an LG battery pack that is positioned under the back seat. Second option is a plug-in hybrid, which gets a larger electric system and longer range on pure electric. Third is pure electric power, which means the Ioniq does not have the reliable safetty net of a gas engine to supplement the electric power.

    I’ve driven the pure-electric Ioniq, and it has excellent power and sporty handling, as well as range that puts it up there with the best pure-electric vehicles. Same with the hybrid models, which make it seem as though Hyundai is taking on Toyota’s Prius line head-on. If so, the Ioniq acquits itself very well, with a good price range, and the added sportiness of a shiftable transmission instead of the often-annoying CVT system.

   In the range between $24,000 and $34,000, the Ioniq is a bargain, and it also stands as an icon among icons in Hyundai’s impressive stable. The Genesis sporty-luxury sedan is a keeper, performing well beyond its stature, while the redone Sonata gains a sportier look and more performance, and the new Elantra compact has grown enough that you might want to check one out if you’re looking for a Sonata. Also, the Accent has just come out all-new as well in the subcompact range. And the upcoming year will bring a new Tucson compact SUV.

   Quite an array of winners, but my choice of finalist goes to the other-worldly technology of the Ioniq.

   My pick as the best truck/utility of the year is the Volvo XC-60.

   Volvo built a fantastic SUV with the three-row XC-90, which I declared was the finest SUV I’d ever driven. Impressed as I was with the newly engineered 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that takes on turbocharging, or both turbo and supercharging to make as much power as any V6 or V8 buyer could want, I was then flat blown away by the new XC-60.

    A smaller, more compact but just as solid body structure is an amazing performer when fitted with the same 2.0 turbo/supercharged powerplants as its larger XC-90 sibling. That means it is quick, sporty, handles flat in the tightest turns, and is a joy to drive in any conditions — including foul-weather or rugged-terrain applications.

    From mid-$40,000 to mid-$50,000, the XC-60 is also a bargain, aimed at those loyal buyers who will get their Volvo and then keep it and drive it for 10 years.

The Infiniti QX-30 is a low, sleek compact SUV that handles like a sports car and gets mileage of an economy car.

  My runner-up is a personal favorite. While some dismiss it as too small in the rear seat, my family found that the Infiniti QX-30 was fine for 6-footers in the rear, and so stunning to look at and responsive to drive that they’d pick it even if it was too small.

    The many sculptured grooves set the QX-30 apart from its bigger, bulkier siblings, and it still has plenty of punch from its turbocharged 2.0-liter 4, and those giant paddle shifters on the steering column.

    Basically, the QX-30 is the sports car of SUVs, and you might surprise yourself every time you climb into it in the winter time and realize you have the security of all-wheel drive.

    That’s the ideal part of the Newcarpicks.com Car and Truck of the Year selections. The Giulia and the XC-60 are both fabulous vehicles, but if you had to settle for the runners-up Ioniq and QX-30, you would still be choosing fabulous vehicles.




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


   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

Volvo’s new XC60 might prove less is more

July 10, 2017 by · Comments Off on Volvo’s new XC60 might prove less is more
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

The midsize Volvo XC60 expands on the successful features of the XC90.

By John Gilbert


     Driving in Spain is a colorful adventure that I had experienced once before, so I felt somewhat familiar during the global auto media’s first opportunity to drive Volvo’s new XC60, the all-new midsize derivative of its superb XC90 SUV.

    Volvo stressed the quick and agile handling of the smaller and lighter vehicle with the same powertrain as the larger XC90, which collaborated with Spain’s freeway exits to  instantly become more concise than words could describe.

    On the North American side of the Atlantic, our freeway exits are usually pretty straightforward — you see the exit and veer onto it, heading for another freeway. In Spain, the freeway system was added to centuries-old cities and rural regions, so it’s a little trickier. Often, you head onto an exit and find it immediately splits right and left. I learned this on my first driving trip to Spain, for the splendid S90 Volvo sedan.

   On this trip, our total test drive route was programmed into the navigation setting of our T6 all-wheel drive XC60, so we were informed of upcoming moves by a “Nav Lady,” whom we shall refer to as a “Nav Seniorita” for the sake of geographic accuracy. I drove first, so my co-driver/passenger — a Californian who shall be called “Billy” — could check out the wonderful scenery along and just inland from the Mediterranean without worrying about directions.

Reduced length eliminates third-row seat, but the XC60 has adequate room inside.

   Our next exit was to the right and our Nav Seniorita said: “Prepare to keep right and take the next exit, then immediately keep left.” As I pulled into the right lane, she said, “Take the next exit.” Smoothly and at about 80 kilometers per hour I eased off onto the exit. Then with what seemed like urgency the Nav Seniorita said: “Now keep left!”

   You don’t want to miss an exit in the Land of Roundabouts, so I abruptly swerved back to the left of the exit barrier, and as the XC60 easily cleared the barrier, but Billy said, “No! Stay right!”

   I swerved very abruptly back to the right, still missing the barrier with ease and getting back onto the exit, as the XC60 held its attitude with more poise than its driver, who might have been reflecting the adrenaline rush rising to max. I spotted the split immediately ahead and stayed left, making it smoothly.

   I was impressed that I had reacted instantaneously twice, with two very abrupt left-right swerves at highway speed, and more impressed that the XC60 got it right-on, even while our Nav Seniorita was a bit premature with her counter-direction. The vehicle carried out my impulses without any squeals of complaint or any hint of body roll.

   Inadvertent or not, it’s always nice to get a real-world example of a vehicle’s features rather than just to accepting marketing claims. We believed them when they talked about the lighter and smaller XC60 having better agility than the XC90, because in totally revising the XC60, Volvo took the XC90’s SPA — Scalable Product Architecture — shortened it, and installed the same high-tech powertrains from the XC90 with all-new suspension stuff. Read more

Compact crossovers rule auto-show world

February 14, 2017 by · Comments Off on Compact crossovers rule auto-show world
Filed under: Features, Autos 

The EcoSport, smaller than the Escape, is Ford’s new compact SUV.

By John Gilbert

CHICAGO, ILL. — The available shelf-life of an auto show is brief, but for Midwesterners who can get to the fine city of Chicago before February 20, there is a chance to turn a short trip to enjoy countless fine restaurants, nightclubs and blues joints into the chance to see all the newest stuff available from the top automakers of the world.

This may not be the most scintillating season for new vehicles, because Los Angeles and Detroit have already run their car-show course before the annual Chicago Auto Show hits McCormick Place, and most new cars have been shown already. But the nation’s best exhibition hall has a lot of things consumers will find of great interest. Mainly, the current upsurge in interest in small crossover SUVs is evident everywhere.

Ford brings back the huge Expedition to capture large-SUV profit.

You can range from Ford — featuring the return of the gy-normous Expedition for large family and trailer hauling, but also tipping off its mini EcoSport, just a bit downsized from the populsr compact Escape. And the tiny but roomy C-Max which is nothing if not electrifying, remains.

The Mustang has been revised again, but its various recent styling twitches and tweaks have reached the point where a variety of them might prove impossible to discern from the others. No more V6, however, as Mustang goes from stalwart V8 to EcoBoost 4s.

Toyota’s diminutive C-HR could steal customers from the RAV4.

KIA is showing off the all-new Stinger luxury/sports sedan in all its South Korean sleek splendor, but it also has the intriguing new Niro Hybrid compact SUV.

Toyota displays TRD sporty versions of the Tundra and Tacoma pickups and Sequoia large SUV, but finds it difficult to hide the swoopy little C-HR that starts out south of the popular RAV4 in both size and price. Its upscale Lexus display features the LS large sedan, which has taken on a much sportier demeanor, and a couple of SUVs that also play to the small but high-performance concept.

When the 2017 Mazda CX-5 hits the streets it will have style upgrade and G-Vectoring.

The Mazda display is easy to overlook, because the stylish group of vehicles is familiar. But they deserve scrutiny. The large CX-9 has been out a while, and the Mazda6 and Mazda3 sedans look quite the same, too, as do the new small crossovers, the CX-3 and the CX-5. The CX-5 actually is all new, and if you look closely, the red one is a red that is exclusive only to the CX-5.  The true newness of all the Mazdas is something called G-Vectoring — an incredible new technological concept that gives all 2017 Mazdas the ability to tip off the driver to turn and swerve in a predictable manner that means the elimination of steering correction. The cars are beautiful, but beauty is “only” skin deep, so look closer!

Rogue Sport is a new and shorter version of the popular Nissan Rogue (left).

Nissan, on the other hand, is leading the way in using graphic design, such as solid paint schemes of white, grey, red or black, all with stark black trim, to promote a new Midnight fleet of virtually everything it makes, from the more powerful half-ton Titan XD pickup, on down to the Rogue and all the sedans, down to the Sentra. Yet the display might be stolen by the subtly downsize Rogue Sport, which is a foot shorter than the regular Rogue. The all-new Armada stands above the other Nissans in size and capability, and a new Pathfinder, which benefits from Nissan’s new engine upgrades.

General Motors is taking a similar route, coming out with a Red Line trim feature on a large group of its vehicles. It’s a familiar idea, to use paint schemes to disguise the fact that you’ve already shown most of your stable, but of course Chevrolet has the all-electric Bolt, which continues to wrack up assorted Car of the Year awards, even though it is not yet out on the streets, and may not be until mid-summer.

The Giulia is just arriving, and Alfa Romeo adds the Stelio as its partner.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have all sorts of new toys, featuring the Alfa Romeo Giulia — finally — and the Stelvio, which is a brother in arms with a crossover SUV so flashy that Alfa is pulling back its idea of a Giulia wagon. Also, yet another variation for the Challenger, which just introduced the AWD Challenger GT and now is hitting us with the Mopar Challenger with a giant 6.4-liter Hemi, and a Durango SRT hot rod SUV. Meanwhile, its Jeep arm displays its array and gives proper reason for why the compact Compass still exists by showing off the to-be-introduced new model with refined restyling that stays just north of the Renegade.

The Germans are not to be outdone, of course, with Volkswagen’s new Atlas large SUV as well as the Golf Alltrack and the elongated Tiguan — which will join and then probably replace the blunt but roomy-enough Tiguan, an under-appreciated vehicle that might have been well-sized for this current compact crossover trend.

BMW has its latest SUVs and also the new 5-Series, while Mercedes now has so many SUVs, crossovers and sports cars — many of them with added AMG potency — that it’s hard to find room to walk among them and identify the alphabetized nameplates that only a marketing whiz can remember.

Audi has a fine spread of Q-ship SUVs of all sizes, and sedans and coupes to seduce anyone with a tidy checkbook.

The F-Pace proves Jaguar can make SUVs as well as classic cars.

Jaguar also has a dazzling display, with its slinky coupes and new high-tech sedans, as well as the F-Pace, a hot-looking vehicle that indicates the folks at Coventry catch on when it comes to building a promising SUV. Adjoining the Jaguars is the off-road cousin Land Rover display, with new and fancy top-end SUVs and also the newly redesigned Discovery, which now has its name spelled out on the upper lip leading edge of its hood, where it used to say Land Rover.”

Subaru has a new Legacy, and it advances the company farther along the lines of being less quirky and more mainstream. Which is a good thing for Subaru, as it continues to make durable and strong flat-opposed engines that I wish would get better fuel economy.

Mitsubishi is another Japanese company that always seems to be seeking an upturn, and it now is being propped up by Nissan.Its new Outlander SUV is the only new thing, offsetting the elimination of the Lancer and its much-loved Evolution.

Hyundai GT has a new look with a big upgrade in high-strength steel and a 1.6 turbo..

Hyundai is about to introduce its new Ioniq, which may indeed be iconic — or iconiq — with a choice of all-electric, hybrid or plug-in hybrid. Meanwhile, Hyundai added to its complement with the new GT version of the popular Elantra, its Civic-Corolla-Mazda3 sized compact, now with about double the high-grade steel, to 53 percent. It has a fresh new style with a hatchback-wagon theme that Hyundai designers have turned into a true sporty vehicle. So sporty, in fact, that I asked Hyundai folks why, since they offer the same 1.6-turbo 4 as the Tucson crossover, they don’t add the AWD platform under the Hyundai GT. All I got were blank stares.

But arming compacts with the very feature that is allowing compact crossovers to crowd small sedans to a lesser corner in the marketplace might be the one distinct way to fight back and change the all-out crossover SUV trend to trend of compact sedans that do the work of crossovers.

Auto Show season 2017 stirs up new Buzz

January 14, 2017 by · Comments Off on Auto Show season 2017 stirs up new Buzz
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos 

Nobody says it’s a new Microbus, but VW’s concept I.D. Buzz has the shape, with electric power and autonomous drive.

By John Gilbert

DETROIT, MI. — Self-driving vehicles, continued electrification of our global driving future, and an endless stream of sport-utility vehicles of all shapes and sizes are the indelible story of the 2017 North American International Auto Show, which consumed early January, 2017.

High-performcance and luxury vehicles were present also, of course, but nearly all manufacturers were either proclaiming or hinting about electric or autonomous (self-driving) cars.

Those of us who love to drive, to push a car to its limits with skill and dexterity — both yours and your car’s — may recoil at the thought of computer gremlins taking over the operation of our future cars, but that’s where we’re headed and everybody wants to be leading the pack.

For that reason, a highlight of the Detroit show for me was the showing of the I.D. Buzz. Strange name indeed, but it’s just the nickname of a Volkswagen concept vehicle that could well be the long-awaited emergence of the modernized Microbus, that hippie-happy minivan of the 1960s.

The Buzz is an eye-catcher, to be sure, and it’s obviously a concept vehicle because it’s hard to imagine it coming to life in production. But it ties together all of the ingredients for success on the auto show circuit of 2017 — an inventive and retro-flair people-hauler with an interior that could pass as a high-tech den, plus all-electric power with a range of 270 miles on a charge, and autonomous operation.

Microbus-like silhouette drew constant attention to VW concept at Detroit.

I.D.Buzz dashboard misses something…a steering wheel!

Bench seat and stylish wood floor makes the Buzz interior pleasant.

Read more

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