Seat Time: 2016 Infiniti QX60 – Achtung BMW, Infiniti Is Closing The Gap!

September 27th, 2016 at 2:47pm

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Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.


Reviewer:
John McElroy
Vehicle: 2016 Infiniti QX60
Price: $59,345 (as tested)

Final Impression:

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You’ll notice it as soon as you slip into the driver’s seat and close the door behind you. There’s a solidity to Infiniti’s these days. They feel crisp, purposeful, taut. This is the kind of feeling you get in a car designed for those who take their driving seriously. Everyday commuters are invited to look elsewhere.

Infiniti is a brand that’s still trying to define its image but there is a personality that starting to shine through. And you can probably trace the change to Infiniti’s sponsorship of the Red Bull Formula One racing team in 2011. Infiniti even named Sebastian Vettel, then Formula One world champion, as its director of performance and he consulted with the company on how to improve the dynamic performance of its cars. Last year Read Bull and Infiniti decided to part ways, but the seeds had been sown. Some of that Formula One DNA rubbed off on Infiniti.

You feel it in simple ways such as the firmness of the foam in the seats, the grip of the small steering wheel, and the closeness of the cabin. Even though the QX60 is a decent sized SUV it feels fairly compact.

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Once underway, the steering effort, the suspension settings, and the brake effort all impart a sense of confidence in the driver. This car feels like it knows what it’s doing. It encourages you to pick up the pace. And yet unlike so many other premium SUVs the QX60 doesn’t feel heavy or overly-muscled. It has the build of an Olympic sprinter, not an iron-pumping gym rat.

You see it in the styling as well. Infiniti’s are starting to mature into graceful looking cars with interesting details. Thanks to the guiding hand of chief designer Alfonso Albaisa they’re shedding the overly busy lines that gave them a jarring appearance. They still very much look like Infiniti’s, but much better than they looked before.

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BMW should take note of what Infiniti is doing. Though the Japanese brand is in no position to challenge its German counterpart on the sales charts, its cars seem to be more in tune with the public’s taste in the premium segment. You could say the difference is in being svelte, not swarthy. Infiniti is delivering a delightful driving experience without resorting to big doses of testosterone. I think that approach especially resonates with women, and they account for more than half of all car purchases.

Now if only Infiniti would unbundle some of its option packages. If you want its suite of safety technologies get ready to pay through the nose. Oh, they’ll throw in some maple wood accents and heated rear seats, but the package will set you back by $6,900. Seems to me they’d do a better job of selling these options by offering a la carte pricing.

There’s a great precedent for doing this. Ever since Johann de Nysschen took over at Cadillac it started unbundling its option packages and instantly saw a big jump in take rates and transaction prices. You remember Johann. He’s the guy who used to run Infiniti.

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Seat Time: The Aurora Borealis of Britain – 2016 MINI Cooper S Clubman

September 23rd, 2016 at 1:00pm

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Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.


Reviewer:
Chip Drake
Vehicle: 2016 MINI Cooper S Clubman
Price: $32,530 (including $850 Destination)

Final Impression:

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Though its sales might not exactly show it, there’s a cult of personality that surrounds the MINI Cooper. It starts with a simple wave… by passing MINI motorists and moves onto hundreds of owners who vacation together by driving cross-country in what’s called MINI TAKES THE STATES.

But how does a brand ignite such a passion? Well it’s got to start with the car so let’s look at my recent MINI loan and try to figure it out.

I drove the 2016 Cooper S Clubman with MINI’s 2-Liter twin turbo 4-cylinder engine and a manual transmission. This powertrain always delivers a very high “fun quotient” whichever Driving Mode you’re in: Sport, Mid or Green.

But despite the “cuteness” inherent in the MINI – it is a great looking design – I find the car a tad heavy when it comes to ride and handling. The suspension seems ultra stiff for my taste. And when you try to close those exclusive Clubman Split Rear Doors, it helps if you’re bench-pressing about 300 pounds – they’re not exactly feather-light.

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And though you can’t complain about the upgrades that BMW continues to pump into the brand’s interior, for some reason I just don’t feel comfortable in the cabin. Whether it’s the legroom, headroom or some other reason, even though I like the brand and its vehicles, they’re just not for me.

But they do seem to be for a lot of other people. So why is there such love for the brand? I can point to a couple reasons.

First, you can customize the heck out of the car. Want a Cooper Hardtop 4 Door in Electric Blue? That’s the easy part. From there it gets a little tougher since you’re choosing from a possible ten million combinations. That’s a bit overwhelming for me but many MINI owners seem to like it.

MINI enthusiasts also seem to like the special editions the brand releases as well. Like the “Highlands Countryman” or the “Carbon MINI Hardtop 4 Door” and “Seven Edition” available on several cars.

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Then, of course, the other attraction for many is the quirkiness of the brand, which is still evident in today’s design. The toggle switches throughout the cabin are an homage to the ‘60’s version of the MINI as is the large dial on the center of the I.P. But where that dial used to be the speedometer – which is now in the traditional spot — today it is home for the technology center with Navigation, Entertainment and a Rear View Camera among others situated there. And just to prove that not even technology can escape the MINI touch, the dial is encircled by what’s called a LED Center Instrument ring, which changes colors with systems and functions.

For instance, the Park Distance Control can flash from red to yellow to green when in reverse each color denoting distance. In fact, those same colors also represent the three Driving Modes as well. And still other features like the Audio System, Climate Control and Active Driving Assistant each have several different colors associated with a function. All in all, we guessed about 50 different color combinations, but even that might be conservative.

If I were in MINI Design I might ramp up all those colors and lights mentioned above, and release an Aurora Borealis Edition. And to make it even more exclusive – it would only be available at the lone MINI dealership in Alaska (Anchorage). Now you’ve got to say, that’s quirky.

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AAH #348 – Chianti Classico & Lusso: The Story Of The Fiat 124

September 23rd, 2016 at 10:42am

Audio-only version:

NEWS TOPICS:
01:17Fiat 124 Spider
22:37 – Ford-150 Quadrasteer
29:11 – Recent press events
31:38Apple buying McLaren?
45:51Top tier gasoline
01:04:35BONUS FOOTAGE: Post-show

At last count there maybe more than 45,000 species of spiders throughout the world, but in our studio there’s only one: the 2017 FIAT 124 Spider Abarth. Fiat rebooted this sports car from the ‘60s earlier this year with the help of competitor Mazda. Get the story on how they put together this new edition of an Italian Classic.

SPECIAL GUEST: Leia Horton, Fiat 124 Spider Engineering

PANEL: John McElroy, Autoline.tv; Todd Lassa, Automobile; Bob Gritzinger, WardsAuto

Thanks to our sponsors who make Autoline After Hours possible: Bridgestone and Lear Corporation.

Subscribe to the free podcast version of Autoline After Hours:

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AAH #347 – Here We Go With Elio

September 16th, 2016 at 11:41am

Audio-only version:

NEWS TOPICS:
00:50Elio Motors
22:423D Printing
29:01Doctor Data
37:20 – VW Full Line Drive
46:04Google & the Michigan Legislature
48:14 – Ford demos Autonomous Fusion to Journalists
51:51 – Otto – Uber’s Autonomous Semi

SPECIAL GUEST: Jeff Johnston, VP, Engineering Elio Motors

It’s got three wheels, one door and is made from pure imagination. Even though it sounds like a Willy Wonka invention, this is a real car.  The brainchild of engineer Paul Elio, the E-Series is a two-seat, 84mpg vehicle that’s road ready. But the question is, when will it be customer ready?

PANEL:  Gary Vasilash, Automotive Design & Production; Lindsay Brooke, SAE; Chris Paukert, Roadshow by CNET

Thanks to our sponsors who make Autoline After Hours possible: Bridgestone and Lear Corporation.

Subscribe to the free podcast version of Autoline After Hours:

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Seat Time – Shattering The Minivan Stigma With Styling: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

September 16th, 2016 at 8:30am

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited

Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.


Reviewer:
John McElroy
Vehicle: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
Price: $48,455 as tested

Final Impression:

Minivans have a problem. Even though they are one of the most practical vehicles you can buy, most people would not be caught dead driving one. They don’t want the stigma of being branded as a soccer mom or a baseball dad, even though that’s exactly what they are. That’s a key reason why minivan sales are half of what they were 20 years ago.

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But maybe Chrysler has cracked the code of how to get rid of that stigma. The new Pacifica looks nothing like the boxy Town & Country it’s replacing. That’s largely thanks to the jaunty angle of the D-pillar, and the wraparound look of the backlite and taillights. It looks more like a premium CUV than a minivan, especially in profile.

The stigma issue also explains why Chrysler enlisted the help of comedian Jim Gaffigan for its Pacifica television ads. His wry sense of humor (he can’t seem to remember his kid’s names) is aimed squarely at dads to convince them that it’s cool to drive a minivan.

The striking styling is more than skin deep; the interior is gorgeous. Or it least on the top-of-the-line Limited model it is. Sumptuous is a word that comes to mind. Every surface seems to be wrapped in leather or some kind of soft-touch material. The styling lines and color combinations are soothing, inviting and decidedly upscale. Lower-level models look good, but use a lot more hard plastic.

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The Limited version I drove came with the “Uconnect Theater and Sound Group” option which transforms the middle seats into a multimedia entertainment center. It features seatback video screens, HDMI outlets, USB ports, Blu-Ray and DVD players, a 115 V power outlet, wireless headphones, remote control and a 760 W amplifier. The option costs $2,795 which is awfully pricey but probably worth every penny for anyone traveling with kids. Maybe not just kids. On one long drive I found myself back there playing solitaire on one of the video screens.

Chrysler continues to have an edge on its competitors with its Stow ’N Go seats that fold into the floor. On the Pacifica the rear row can be electrically operated. No more full body stretches to reach into the back. No more tugging on straps or latches. Even the valets were impressed to see it in action, and they see everything.

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The Pacifica drives as good as it looks. It’s noticeably quiet inside partly thanks to the use of noise cancellation.It provides good command-view seating, all-around good visibility and does not feel overly bulky when you’re trying to park it.

On the open road its 3.5 L V-6 provides plenty of power. I was stunned to see it deliver 27 miles per gallon traveling 80 miles an hour on a long highway drive. That’s partly due to its 9-speed automatic transmission. Chrysler has had a lot of problems with this transmission in other models and there were a couple of times where I thought it shifted funny. If they offer an extended warranty, I would take it.

Even so, I’m impressed by the Pacifica. Chrysler closed the quality gap considerably to the Toyota Siena and Honda Odyssey, especially with the interior design. But you pay for what you get. The Limited model that I drove came with a sticker price of $48,455. That’s a lot of money for a family hauler, even though it’s quite competitive with comparable Siena and Odyssey models.

Now I can’t wait to see how it sells. If the styling truly does shatter the stigma the Chrysler Pacifica could bring a lot more soccer moms and baseball dads back into the segment.

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Seat Time – Fighting For Luxury: 2016 Jaguar XJL Portfolio AWD

September 12th, 2016 at 10:11am

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Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.


Reviewer:
Chip Drake
Vehicle: 2016 Jaguar XJL Portfolio AWD
Price: $90,000

Final Impression:

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Like any good Ultimate Fighting Championship Match…
when the fighters enter the Octagon the action is fast and furious and can be over in a matter of seconds. After driving the 2016 Jaguar XJL I thought that maybe JLR might consider a UFC edition since there seems to be an internal battle going on within this $90,000 luxury automobile.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is one tremendous vehicle. Beautifully styled on the outside – our loan was painted in British Racing Green-Metallic – and equipped with a 3-Liter supercharged powertrain with 340 horsepower and an 8-speed automatic transmission. This combination allowed our Portfolio AWD edition to slip through city streets – taking it easy on the mpgs with its Intelligent Start-Stop function.

But as beautiful as the Jaguar is on the road, when you open the driver’s door it’s as if you’re entering a suite at the Four Seasons. A beautiful interior with wood trim encompassing the cabin, sweet heated and cooled front and rear leather seats, and a panoramic roof that yields a captivating view.

But it’s technology that everyone is talking about these days, be it a sub-compact cutie or a long-based beauty like this XJL. And that’s where the fight begins.

In the past, Jaguar always seemed lagging when it came to the multimedia command center in the center console. But to its credit, the company recognized those inefficiencies and upgraded the 2016 version with what it calls its InControl Touch Pro.

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This was to be the answer to all those technological hiccups over the last few years. And when it comes to Bluetooth – Hallelujah – it worked well. No confusing seven step process to link your phone, just a clean couple of taps and you were in. But unfortunately, the marks for Jaguar’s InControl Touch Pro went downhill from there.

Though our local radio stations were not affected, I can’t recall how many times the satellite radio feed froze after a mere touch of my finger; Yes, whether it was Wilco or the Weather Channel – whatever the broadcast – it just disappeared, turning the touchscreen into a punching bag for my index finger attempting to reboot the system.

But the fight didn’t stop there; Other times, you would try to change categories – such as moving from Pop to Rock – but nothing would move: the screen was frozen in time and didn’t return to life until the XJL itself was restarted

In addition, there were a handful of times that rear view camera didn’t engage as I backed out of my driveway.

Now obviously the pleasantries of the XJL far outnumbered any disappointments, however, when you’re paying almost $90,000 for a luxury car you shouldn’t have to be fighting with your 8” Touchscreen. Worse yet, stopping your car to reboot the system.

Earlier I suggested perhaps a Jaguar UFC edition might make sense. If so, to take full advantage of the power of the Octagon, a slight name change for the InControl Touch Pro would be in order.

How does “InControl Tap Out” strike you?

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AAH #346 – Hudsons, Diesels, & The Near Death Of Detroit

September 9th, 2016 at 10:18am

Audio-only version:

NEWS TOPICS:
01:00Hudson Hornet
23:16Live Another Day Movie
35:37Reid Bigland in big trouble
43:10 – Is Diesel Dead?
46:26 – Will China become EV Central?
53:25 – Is the Volvo/Autoliv JV an Autonomous game changer?

SPECIAL GUEST: Ed Souers, Hudson Hornet Expert  

VEHICLE IN STUDIO: 1952 Hudson Hornet with 7x Engine

PANEL: John McElroy, Autoline.tv; Gary Vasilash, Automotive Design & Production; Michelle Krebs, COX Automotive; Mike Austin, Autoblog

Thanks to our sponsors who make Autoline After Hours possible: Bridgestone and Lear Corporation.

Subscribe to the free podcast version of Autoline After Hours:

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AAH #345 – Slower Sales, Slower Semis, & Stuff About Self Driving

September 2nd, 2016 at 11:07am

Audio-only version:


 
NEWS TOPICS:
02:14 – Auto Sales
09:24 – 10-speed transmission in the F-150
22:29 – Self Driving Cars
33:14 – Doctor Data
40:31 – All things Jeep
48:00 – Carbon bicycles: Will Greg LeMond’s company make materials in automotive affordable?
53:45 – Slower semis saving lives?
01:04:38 – BONUS FOOTAGE: Rapid Fire Q & A

PANEL: John McElroy, Autoline.tv; Gary Vasilash, Automotive Design & Production; Mike Wayland, The Detroit News; Mike Martinez, The Detroit News

Thanks to our sponsors who make Autoline After Hours possible: Bridgestone and Lear Corporation.

Subscribe to the free podcast version of Autoline After Hours:

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Thanks to our partners and friends AutoFieldGuide.com and WardsAuto.com for embedding AAH!

Seat Time – 2016 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

September 1st, 2016 at 8:00pm

2016 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.


Reviewer:
John McElroy
Vehicle: 2016 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
Price: $64,000+

Final Impression:

2016 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

What a beast! It’d been a couple of years since I’d been in a Hellcat and I had forgotten just how big this car is. While the Mustang and Camaro have slimmed-down and lost weight the Challenger still sits on the same platform that dates back to the DaimlerChrysler days. That puts it about 750 pounds heavier than the pony cars it competes against.

That means this is a car that’s best suited for straight-line speed, not for tossing side to side as you zip through the twisty bits. And with 707 hp on tap you get up to speed mighty quick, even hauling that much weight around.

The Challenger Hellcat is a lot more comfortable than the Mustang or Camaro. It has a surprisingly supple suspension and seats that are comfortably cushy. Three kids will easily fit in the back seat, whereas practically no one can fit in the back seats of the other two cars. In other words, the Challenger Hellcat is perfect for a family of five with the need for speed.

The Hellcat can be loud as you row it through the gears. But once you slip it into fifth or sixth it cruises quietly, making this the kind of muscle car that you could live with every day.

Supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI® Hellcat V-8 engine produces 707 ho

But you better be prepared to make frequent stops at your favorite filling stations. It’s rated at 16 mpg overall but I never got close to that number. The best I could manage, even driving with a light foot, was 14 mpg. And if you really want to step into it, it’ll easily drop below 11. That’s one reason why this car comes with a $1,700 gas guzzler tax.

I suspect anyone seriously interested in buying this car is not worried about the fuel economy or attracted to the big back seat. They’re attracted to the well proportioned styling, the bragging rights that 707 hp bring, and the visceral feeling you get in your gut when you fire this beast up.

The Challenger Hellcat comes with a price tag just over $64,000. It’s kind of a bargain for what it is. And even more amazing is that it holds its value better than most other cars.

It’s hard to imagine that today’s modern muscle car era is going to be around forever. And while I wouldn’t exactly call the Challenger Hellcat a dinosaur, if this is the kind of car you aspire to own you better buy one before it goes extinct.

2016 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

Seat Time – 2017 Subaru WRX – Affordable Performance

August 30th, 2016 at 6:00pm

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Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.

Reviewer: Seamus McElroy
Vehicle: 2017 Subaru WRX
Price: $27,515 (Base)

Final Impression:

The Subaru WRX has always been one of my favorite cars to drive. And the new model didn’t disappoint. Sure there are more powerful cars and ones with sexier styling but unlike the WRX those won’t come cheap. There aren’t too many cars for enthusiasts that start in the mid-twenties like the WRX.

Powering the car is a 2.0L four-cylinder turbocharged BOXER engine that’s offered with a six-speed manual or a CVT. It cranks out 268 horsepower and 258 pound feet of torque. And as you’d expect from a Subaru it comes in all-wheel-drive. I drove the manual and thought that it performed well. Shifting in and out of gear is very smooth. While I didn’t get a chance to completely open it up, I still found it to be a fairly powerful engine. Fuel economy is 20 MPG in the city, 27 on the highway, which is good for a combined average of 23 MPG.

The only differences between the new model and last year’s model, is an updated version of its EyeSight driver assistance system and its STARLINK multimedia platform, along with a few other minor changes.

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Inside is where the WRX is a bit lacking but this is an issue with just about every car in Subaru’s line-up. Sure its got sport seats, a sportier steering wheel and other WRX specific trim but overall the interior is fairly ho-hum and nothing special compared to other cars in its price range. But if you’re like me this won’t bother you too much because the point of this car is to have fun, and a lackluster interior won’t deter from wanting one.

The WRX is on sale now with a starting price of $27,515.