Author Archives: Alisa Priddle

“Baby Bronco” Photos Leaked

By | November 13, 2018

The internet is ablaze with Bronco speculation yet again. This time because of pictures from a recent Ford dealer meeting in Las Vegas that were reportedly posted on a Ford website by accident. First discovered by Off-Road.com, the images give us our first glimpse of a rugged-looking future Ford vehicle.

But let’s set the record straight. This is not the Ford Bronco that is coming in 2020. The Bronco will be a body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive SUV, sharing its underpinnings with the new Ford Ranger pickup, and very capable off-road. The Bronco is expected to look like the Broncos of old. It will also be offered as a hybrid.

The leaked pictures are of a smaller vehicle, nicknamed “baby Bronco,” that is also due by 2020. This baby is front-wheel-drive-based, using the same architecture as the next-generation Ford Focus, EcoSport, and Escape, which means unibody construction.

Baby Bronco will be the size of a Ford Escape, but while the Escape will be a more urban vehicle, the new crossover will have off-road capabilities and the right approach, departure, and breakover angles as well as Terrain Management and all-wheel drive.

The image on the right closely matches the baby Bronco teaser Ford released earlier this year. In fact, it uses the same exact background. This new rendering clearly shows a boxier vehicle, and though some body lines appear different from the original teaser, it’s possible that first shadowy image showed an earlier design. Another clue that this is the baby: Look closely at the side view image in the center and you’ll see the big Bronco silhouetted in the background.

The baby Bronco is designed to compete against the Jeep Wrangler—even though it is unlikely to have the same degree of capability and may not be able to cross the Rubicon. At a press event earlier this year Jim Farley, Ford’s head of global markets, said Ford’s definition of off-road is not Jeep and Moab, but dirt trails and sand dunes and general lifestyle adventures while retaining strong on-road capability, like the Raptor.

The smaller crossover, which expands the SUV lineup, won’t be a shrunken Bronco but should have some Bronco design cues. And it should have Bronco as part of its name, part of a mini Bronco family. Think Rogue and Rogue Sport; Discovery and Discovery Sport—you get the idea.

Photo source: Off-Road.com

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Audi A6: 2019 Motor Trend Car of the Year Finalist

By | November 9, 2018

WE LIKE Class-leading interior, incredibly quiet cabin

WE DON’T LIKE Road noise from 21-inch tires, fake exhaust tips

The fifth-generation A6 moves to a new platform with a choice of suspensions that make for the best-riding A6 in a while, albeit one that’s a bit firm on uneven surfaces. Zach Gale said the A6’s excellence “sneaks up on you.”

The 3.0-liter V-6 replaces a supercharger with a turbo and is now a mild hybrid with a standard 48-volt system. Judges called it quiet, smooth, and capable. The ride is crisp and sharp, Frank Markus noted, but it was still possible to get a slide going on the handling course. It rides the big curves like a bobsled on a steel track. The transitions from one corner to the next are wonderfully precise.

Kudos to the acoustics team—the cabin is almost unnervingly quiet. “Breathtakingly clean and elegant,” Angus MacKenzie said. Chris Theodore called it a revelation that re-establishes Audi as the interior design leader. The matte wood trim, supple leather, and Alcantara marry well with the three screens of the optional Virtual Cockpit while keeping a redundant volume button. There was appreciation for the large back-seat area.

The exterior drew mixed reviews. It left Theodore cold, but others felt the conservative styling and surfacing were elegant and upscale—except for the fake exhaust tips.

The A6 is loaded with technology, including a lane centering system that was hit or miss. And there was love-hate (mostly hate) for its cruise control’s traffic-sign recognition, which lawfully follows the speed limit to the point of slamming on the brakes in a transition zone.




“This is really what a luxury car should feel like,” Mark Rechtin said. “Modern, forward thinking, plush, yet restrained.”

READ ABOUT 2019 CAR OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS:

READ ABOUT 2019 SUV OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS:

2019 Audi A6 3.0T Quattro
Base Price/As tested $59,895/$76,695
Power (SAE net) 335 hp @ 5,000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 369 lb-ft @ 1,370 rpm
Accel, 0-60 mph 5.0 sec
Quarter-mile 13.5 sec @ 102.7 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 107 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.93 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 24.9 sec @ 0.75 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb Not yet rated
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE/TRANSMISSION 3.0L turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6 /7-speed twin-clutch auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,329 lb (55/45%)
WHEELBASE 115.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 194.4 x 74.3 x 57.4 in
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY Not yet rated
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB Not yet rated



















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Audi A7: 2019 Motor Trend Car of the Year Finalist

By | November 9, 2018

WE LIKE Intelligent interior, wireless CarPlay

WE DON’T LIKE Too-soft suspension, not enough differentiation from A6

This is Audi’s second crack at the A7, the sporty counterpart to the executive A6 sedan. “It looks and moves like a killer whale,” Ed Loh said. “Sleek, swift, and silent.”

This midsize luxury hatchback also moves to a new platform and gains the new 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system—which some judges felt made it overeager to leap forward from a stop.

Judges largely liked the sportier look, but some found the grille to be too fussy. Like the A6, the A7’s interior is exceedingly quiet and features a mix of wood, leather, Alcantara, and a cool fabric headliner—“a benchmark in terms of design and control of grain, gloss, and color,” Tom Gale said. Screens are well integrated with crisp graphics.

On the road, the A7 is quick with little drama. With the addition of four-wheel steering, the ride is more dynamic than that of the A6. It easily swept from corner to corner and gains an impressive turn radius. But Christian Seabaugh felt it drove more like a soft GT than a sporty fastback: “It errs more toward softness than sportiness and feels like a bit of a bait and switch.”

Fuel economy is exceptional—our Real MPG team measured 23.2/34.9 mpg city/highway.

The hatch offers cargo versatility, and reclining rear seats allow for some headroom beneath the fastback roofline. But Chris Walton noticed a low-frequency booming over impacts in the A7 that was absent in the A6.




“Despite all the semantic arguments, the four-door coupe is a thing, and the A7 is one of the best of the breed,” Angus MacKenzie said. “A class act.”

READ ABOUT 2019 CAR OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS:

READ ABOUT 2019 SUV OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS:

2019 Audi A7 3.0T Quattro
Base Price/As tested $68,995/$84,645
Power (SAE net) 335 hp @ 5,000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 369 lb-ft @ 1,370 rpm
Accel, 0-60 mph 4.9 sec
Quarter-mile 13.5 sec @ 102.7 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 116 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.86 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 26.0 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb Not yet rated
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE/TRANSMISSION 3.0L turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6 /7-speed twin-clutch auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,404 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 115.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 195.6 x 75.1 x 56.0 in
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY Not yet rated
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB Not yet rated
















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Volvo Changing Production Plans Due to U.S.-China Tariff War

By | November 8, 2018

Just as production of the Volvo S60 sedan is launching at the $1.1 billion plant Volvo has built in Ridgeville, S.C., near Charleston, the Swedish automaker is making changes to what is built where because of the U.S. trade war with China.

Fewer, if any, S60 midsize sedans will be exported from South Carolina to China where they would be slapped with a 40-percent tariff. The S60 will still be exported to Europe and other markets.

The Swedish automaker—ironically owned by China’s Geely Group—will look at whether it should change plans to make the U.S. the sole global source of the car. Volvo could continue to make the sedan in China where it makes a long-wheelbase version of the car for that market. And the automaker could add production of even more vehicles in China, rather than export them at a loss because of high levies in the wake of the trade war with the U.S.

Additionally, early next year Volvo will stop importing the new XC60 from China. The popular crossover for the U.S. market will come from Sweden, instead, said Anders Gustafsson, president and CEO of Volvo Car USA and senior vice president of Volvo Americas. He visited Detroit to speak to the Automotive Press Association.

And Volvo will import fewer S90 large sedans from China, reducing volume from about 10,000 a year for American consumers to 2,500-3,000, depending on demand, Gustafsson said.

Volvo’s U.S. plant just outside Charleston, South Carolina

In 2014 when Volvo decided to build its first U.S. plant in South Carolina, there was no whiff of an escalating tariff war. The business model was to build a plant capable of making at least two different models. Half the output would be for the domestic market and the other half would be for export around the world.

Gustafsson travelled to Charleston last week to see the first production S60 models come off the line, headed for dealerships. Capacity will slowly ramp up to about 50,000 S60s in the first year.

In 2022, Charleson will add production of the next-generation XC90 and employment will grow to 3,900 from 1,200.

The trade war could impact that as well.

“We might need to make the XC90 in another country too, if tariffs keep up,” Gustafsson said. Volvo will export the XC90 from the U.S. to Europe and might decide to export some to China at a loss, or it might decide to build a plant in China.

Another trade issue to heed is the impact of the USMCA agreement that replaces NAFTA and calls for more locally sourced components. Gustafsson hinted that engine and/or battery production in North America might become necessary in the future to support and justify the big investment already made in the Charleston vehicle assembly plant

Uncertainty is difficult but Volvo has the structure and wherewithal to handle the changes it must make because of tariff and trade issues, Gustafsson said. “We’ll go at this change not with a smile, but we know what we have to do.”

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2020 Hyundai Palisade Confirmed as Name for Upcoming Three-Row CUV

By | November 8, 2018

Hyundai confirms that Palisade is the name of the new large crossover that will augment the automaker’s lineup. The name is not a surprise as it has been floating around for some time now thanks to a U.S. trademark application for the moniker filed earlier this year. Though Hyundai says the name refers to “a series of coastal cliffs,” it does hint that it had an affluent Southern California neighborhood called the Pacific Palisades in mind when it settled on what to call its latest crossover, which fits Hyundai and Kia’s pattern of naming vehicles after places.

The eight-passenger Palisade will replace the Santa Fe XL, which is essentially a carryover of the three-row 2018 Santa Fe sold alongside the new, smaller 2019 Santa Fe. The Santa Fe XL was too narrow for comfortable seven-passenger seating and struggled to compete in a segment with the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-9, and new entries such as the Volkswagen Atlas and Subaru Ascent.

We have been anticipating the Palisade since Hyundai showed the HDC-2 Grandmaster SUV concept earlier this year at South Korea’s Busan Motor Show.

The Palisade, designed largely for North America given its size, will make its global debut November 28 at the Los Angeles auto show. The Palisade is a counterpart to the Kia Telluride, also an eight-passenger crossover.

Palisade is one of two all-new vehicles Hyundai will add next year, when it goes on sale in the summer.

Hyundai is not saying what the other new vehicle is. It is not expected to be the Santa Cruz pickup. While the automaker decided to proceed with the Santa Cruz car-based midsize lifestyle truck a few years ago, it was not a priority with so much other product development underway. Santa Cruz is still a work in progress for sale likely in 2020.

Hyundai has spent the past year overhauling its lineup with the launch of 10 vehicles. Some were completely new such as the Kona, Kona EV, and Nexo fuel cell vehicle. Some were new generations including the Veloster and new Veloster N, as well as the Accent and Santa Fe. Face-lifts were given to the Elantra, Tucson, and Sonata hybrid and plug-in hybrid.

Hyundai Palisade prototypes pictured below. 















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Interview: BMW CEO Harald Krueger on 3 Series Importance, Future EVs

By | November 7, 2018

Harald Krueger is tasked with overseeing a transition from diesels to electrified cars while establishing BMW as the most successful luxury vehicle brand. That includes getting back its “Ultimate Driving Machine” mojo. We talked to Krueger, BMW’s CEO and chairman of its Board of Management, at the Paris auto show, where the Bavarian automaker unveiled the next-generation 3 Series—engineered to be the sportiest car in the segment.

Will the 3 Series still anchor the brand with the growth of SUVs?

The 3 Series will always be the heart of the brand. The X3 is selling well, but there are still more 3 Series and 4 Series. The sporty sedan is selling well across the globe.

Does this 3 Series restore the dynamics of previous generations?

Yeah. It’s much more sporty. It’s much more emotional in terms of dynamics. The suspension can adjust easily. The range is incredible between a sporty, dynamic car and comfort. Driving Paris to Frankfurt, when the roads are bad, you can get out without any back pain. It’s a well-balanced car. It’s a level higher than the previous generation.

BMW CEO Harald Krueger

The new CLAR architecture enables a lot of this?

Yeah. The other thing is it brings our company to the next level of digital services. Intelligent Personal Assistant knows your music, your taste, your restaurant. There’s a personal connection between the car and you. This is a huge step forward. Not having a new generation of digital services could be an argument not to buy the car.

More versions are coming later?

It is too soon to talk about them, but the 3 Series is always the basis for an M version. We offer a long-wheelbase version in China.

How will the i4 coming in 2021 beat the competition?

It will be a fantastic design, very emotional. You have seen the show car. It will have up to 700 kilometers (435 miles) of electric range. It is much faster than some other cars from 0 to 60. It comes with the latest generation of connectivity, materials, and design.

The BMW iVision Dynamics concept, which is said to inspire the look of the i4.

Will you sell it in different ranges?

Yeah. There will be different options.

What range do your plug-in hybrids need to be competitive?

The new X5 has 70 km (43 miles) of range. It will be offered next year. And we will expand with every plug-in hybrid. The 3 Series plug-in hybrid is expanded from the X5. It will have two and a half or maybe three times the range of the previous generation.

How is your electric vehicle strategy unfolding?

By 2021 we will have five pure electric vehicles. We already have more than 10 plug-in hybrids, and by 2021 we will have more. By 2025 we will have 25 electrified vehicles; 12 of them are pure electric. We need it for the CO2 situation in Europe.

How do you manage the investment needed?

Our industry is about cooperation. BMW is investing as much as possible into development. This year we are spending 7 billion euros ($8 billion). That is double what we invested in the past. On hydrogen, we have a good cooperation with Toyota. On autonomous driving, we have partners like Continental and Delphi.

The 2019 BMW Z4

What is the criteria for choosing the partner?

Both partners need to bring their competences, technologies. Also the culture and spirit between management and the team must be right. The Z4 (and Toyota Supra) are out of a BMW-Toyota cooperation. These two cars are absolutely different but great, and we did it as a successful cooperation. BMW by itself maybe was not in a position to fund it. Now we have a strategic cooperation, and the Z4 is the outcome.

Impact of new NAFTA agreement?

I am pleased there is an agreement and NAFTA still exists. We need to look into the details because there are more demanding requirements of what needs to be sourced in NAFTA. Overall, America is still a very important market, and we will export cars from the United States to the world as well as Canada and Mexico. The X3 from Spartanburg will go to Canada and Mexico. We might export 3 Series from Mexico to the U.S.

How will Brexit affect BMW?

We moved forward our production shutdown in Oxford from August to April to be prepared for any stoppages. Secondly, if some cars do not qualify for a lot of free trade agreements from the U.K., we will move production. The home of Mini is Oxford, and that will not change. Mini’s biggest market is the U.K. so it’s an advantage to produce in that market.



























































































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Volvo XC40: 2019 Motor Trend SUV of the Year Finalist

By | November 7, 2018

7WE LIKE Hip modern styling, Pilot Assist, powertrain

WE DON’T LIKE Excessive noise, suspension needs fine-tuning

Volvo’s cool XC40 was worth the wait, with fresh and fun styling to appeal to millennials while offering a great package and ride any age can appreciate.

The familiar 2.0-liter turbo I-4 and eight-speed automatic provides quick acceleration. The suspension delivers a spirited ride and steering without being darty—but was accompanied by squealing tires, body roll, and excessive wind and road noise. “Did they just completely forget sound insulation?” Mark Rechtin asked.

Despite promising entry-level luxury, the XC40 has an impressive array of safety features, including Pilot Assist for autonomous help with steering, acceleration, and braking to avoid collisions. Cruise control held its set speed down long, steep hills.

In a segment of reworked hatchbacks and misshapen lumps, the XC40 is fashionable and unexpected while rocking comfy seats and orange highlights throughout its interior. The integrated trash can is genius, Zach Gale said.

Gordon Dickie appreciated the rear legroom and headroom, ski pass-through (thanks, Sweden!), and ability to fold the rear seats from a switch in the trunk. Headrests fold down, the load floor doubles as a divider, and there’s a strap to restrain gear.






The Sensus iPad-sized infotainment system provides excellent audio, and the swipe screen is easy to learn and use—although the pictographs tend to be too small to see without distraction. Overall, it’s a strong value play.

The XC40 has a “pugnacious swagger inside and out,” Angus MacKenzie said, “with forms and materials and colors that are reminders that not all Scandinavian design is a riff on birchwood and midcentury furniture.”

READ ABOUT 2019 SUV OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS:

READ ABOUT 2019 CAR OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS:

2019 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design
Base Price/As tested $39,195/$46,485
Power (SAE net) 248 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 258 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm
Accel, 0-60 mph 8.2 sec
Quarter-mile 16.1 sec @ 84.6 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 125 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.79 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 28.1 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb 23/31/26 mpg
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE/TRANSMISSION 2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4 /8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,854 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 106.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 174.2 x 73.3 x 65.0 in
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 147/109 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.75 lb/mile































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BMW X3: 2019 Motor Trend SUV of the Year Contender

By | November 2, 2018

WE LIKE Road manners, improved iDrive

WE DON’T LIKE Single USB port, fee for Apple CarPlay

This third-generation X3 moves to the CLAR architecture for a better ride, more tech, and its first M variant, setting it up to be BMW’s best-selling SUV.

The 2018 X3 is almost the size of the original X5 and gains some maturity, being quieter and more composed. The 248-hp 2.0-liter turbo I-4 provides adequate power with smooth shifting from the eight-speed automatic. Kim Reynolds liked the brakes and well-composed chassis, with good ride quality and handling, but its responsive steering was almost too quick for our lane-change test. Off-road, it powered through the slush and washboard, and it has an excellent programmable hill-descent cruise control.

The two-tone interior with nice wood touches does not feel seismically different from the outgoing model. Seats are attractive but still firm. The iDrive system has become more usable, though its gesture control commands remain undercooked. Judges found it inexcusable that there’s only one USB port in front and none in the rear. And Christian Seabaugh called BMW “greedy” for charging a subscription fee for Apple CarPlay and thus encouraging drivers to engage in the less safe practice of handling their phones.




Although some felt the X3 helps restore BMW to some of its former glory, others thought the automaker short-armed the fresh sheet of paper it was given. “If you didn’t tell me, I’d easily believe it’s a midcycle refresh, not all-new,” Scott Evans said. “Other than infotainment software and digital gauges, it all seems pretty much the same.”

The X3 plays in a segment prone to radical change (see: Volvo XC40), and although some admire consistency over time, BMW might have played it too safe.

READ ABOUT 2019 SUV OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS:

2018 BMW X3 xDrive30i
Base Price/As tested $43,995/$57,120
Power (SAE net) 248 hp @ 5,200 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 258 lb-ft @ 1,450 rpm
Accel, 0-60 mph 6.7 sec
Quarter-mile 15.1 sec @ 91.5 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 127 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.81 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 27.6 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb 22/29/25 mpg
Vehicle Layout Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine/Transmission 2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4 /8-speed automatic
Curb Weight (F/R Dist) 4,268 lb (49/51%)
Wheelbase 112.8 in
Length x Width x Height 185.9 x 74.4 x 66.0 in
Energy Cons, City/Hwy 153/116 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 Emissions, Comb 0.79 lb/mile


















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Ford Edge: 2019 Motor Trend SUV of the Year Contender

By | November 1, 2018

WE LIKE Additional ST power, great engine note

WE DON’T LIKE Doesn’t deliver ST promise, Titanium not premium enough

The Edge is a good choice for Ford to make the leap into performance crossovers. Ford also used its midcycle refresh timing to add a new top trim and tweak the styling slightly.

While the conventional Edge gets a peppy 2.0-liter turbo I-4, the ST gets the 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6 and the first use of Ford’s new eight-speed with stop/start.

On the handling course, the ST is a ball of fire, Frank Markus said, “with minimal tire noise, well-buttoned-down body motions, and a terrific engine snarl.” Conversely, the Titanium with the six-speed was clunky with some brake stuttering at low speeds. The suspension did not do enough to quiet the ride and paled in comparison to the ST’s damping. Lane centering was as good as we’ve seen from Ford.

Inside, the e-shifter with rotary dial gearshift frees up console space, and editors praised the improvements to the Sync 3 infotainment system. Some felt the new Titanium trim was not premium enough to top the lineup, as metal etched to look like carbon fiber tried valiantly to break up an interior crowded with too much hard black plastic.




The ST might be a game changer for crossovers even if it falls short of the dynamic benchmarks set by the Fiesta ST and Focus ST. Judges agreed the ST has speed, power, grip, and sound but not the personality or playfulness of an ST. Not that anyone will take it to the track, but Kim Reynolds nonetheless called it a “lowercase ‘st.’” Angus MacKenzie felt the SUV was somehow less than the sum of its parts.

It’s a great start, Christian Seabaugh said. But it’s missing the X-factor that makes other STs so special.




2019 Ford Edge Titanium (FWD) 2019 Ford Edge ST AWD
Base Price/As tested $39,545/$44,890 $43,350/$52,125
Power (SAE net) 245 hp @ 5,500 rpm 335 hp @ 5,550 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 275 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm 380 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm
Accel, 0-60 mph 7.6 sec 6.1 sec
Quarter-mile 15.9 sec @ 89.3 mph 14.7 sec @ 93.4 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 129 ft 108 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.78 g (avg) 0.88 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 28.2 sec @ 0.61 g (avg) 26.0 sec @ 0.70 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy/Comb 22/29/25 mpg 19/26/21 mpg
Vehicle Layout
Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine/Transmission 2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4 /6-speed automatic 2.7L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6 /8-speed automatic
Curb Weight (F/R Dist) 4,153 lb (59/41%) 4,595 lb (60/40%)
Wheelbase 112.2 in 112.2 in
Length x Width x Height 188.8 x 75.9 x 68.3 in 188.8 x 75.9 x 68.3 in
Energy Cons, CITY/HWY 153/116 kW-hrs/100 miles 177/130 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 Emissions, Comb 0.79 lb/mile 0.90 lb/mile
















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Wrangler Pickup, Ram HD, Refocused Maserati Are Key to FCA’s Growth

By | October 30, 2018

Rebooting Maserati and the introduction of a Wrangler pickup next year as well as the next-generation Ram heavy-duty pickups will build on the strong financial footing FCA is now on, says CEO Mike Manley.

The automaker that was created out of a pairing of Fiat and Chrysler as a condition of Chrysler emerging from bankruptcy in 2009 has been plagued by financial weakness ever since. No more, Manley said on a call to discuss the automaker’s third-quarter earnings.

Strong Ram and Jeep sales in North America were rewarded with a 10.2 percent profit margin, putting FCA on par with, or exceeding, its peers.

Couple that with the almost $7.1 billion from the pending sale of the Magneti Marelli components division, and FCA has its strongest liquidity and outlook since it was formed almost a decade ago. Strong enough to complete the five-year plan developed under the late CEO Sergio Marchionne, as an independent company. Manley batted aside the suggestion FCA needs to merge with another automaker to meet its targets, saying the company is now operating from a position of strength never before experienced.

Ram heavy-duty pickup coming

Ram heavy-duty trucks are among the oldest in the segment, but their replacement comes next year amid high expectations of sales and profits, expected to mirror the success of the Ram 1500 which has performed well for the company. Manley said FCA sold about 150,000 trucks in the second quarter and 162,000 in the third quarter, and he expects the trajectory to continue.

Current-gen Ram HD

To meet Ram pickup demand in the U.S., the automaker has been starving other markets and fleets, a practice that will continue into 2019 when those markets will be opened up, which should maintain growth, he said. This week Manley told Reuters FCA is reconsidering its plan to move Ram heavy-duty production to Michigan from Mexico so that it has enough production for anticipated growth.

Wrangler success to continue

The Wrangler is also strong and volumes should be sustainable because its sales also have been largely restricted to the U.S., meaning there is still much growth upside in other markets which are only now starting to get the flagship Jeep.

Next spring, Jeep will add a Wrangler pickup which will be shown next month at the Los Angeles auto show. FCA does not currently compete in the midsize pickup segment, which has grown significantly.

The CEO is not worried about the return of the Ford Ranger to the U.S. market. The Wrangler pickup is a lifestyle vehicle with light-duty truck capability. Customers have been calling for it, and waiting for it, for years, Manley said. There is pent-up demand, even among Wrangler owners, who want the pickup. The plants making the two vehicles are flexible enough to adjust demand for each in tangent with market demand.

Maserati has been mislabeled

As for Maserati, China accounts for half of the brand’s sales, and the slowdown in the world’s largest market has hurt the brand. The other problem is Maserati was being treated as a mass market brand, which it is not. Under Manley, Maserati has been separated from Alfa Romeo and is now under the leadership of Harald Wester. There will be “further actions” in the fourth quarter, Manley promises, as the brand gets a more pointed management process.

FCA made $642 million in net profit in the quarter, a 38 percent decline largely attributable to a $812 million charge which is how much the company estimates it will spend in future settlements related to the diesel emissions scandal in the U.S. The automaker said the charge is not an admission of liability as settlement talks continue with the U.S. Justice Department, California officials, and lawyers representing owners of about 100,000 2014-2016 Ram pickups and Jeep Cherokees with diesel engines.

Current Jeep and Ram sales led to the highest profits to date in North America and drove a 51 percent hike in pretax profit compared with a year ago.

Europe and China are problematic. Slow sales have led to bloated inventories which require incentives to sell. Pietro Gorlier, FCA’s new head of Europe, will apply more discipline to the operations going forward, Manley said.

Europe has a new Fiat 500X coming in September and the region will get its version of the new Wrangler and Cherokee. In 2020, the Melfi plant in Italy will start production of the new Jeep Renegade with a gasoline engine as well as a plug-in hybrid version.

China will benefit from the new three-row Jeep Commander designed for that market, and a new Jeep Cherokee coming in early 2019.

This was the second earnings call for Mike Manley as CEO. So far Manley has shown strong business mettle with wise leadership shuffles and the deal to sell Magneti Marelli, which will make it possible to pay an annual dividend of 20 percent of earnings, a promise made by the late Marchionne, his predecessor. Manley also expects the automaker to get an investment grade rating in the near future, which will reduce borrowing costs.








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2019 Ford GT Carbon Series Breaks Cover at SEMA

By | October 30, 2018

Ford has already announced two production increases for the GT supercar bringing the total to 1,350 copies through 2022. And the automaker continues to spice up the lineup with a third special edition version.

The latest to break cover is the 2019 GT Carbon Series with its exposed carbon-fiber body and additional creature comforts for the owner who wants to be comfortable driving the car to the track, rather than trailering it.

It is essentially the GT Competition Series but adds air conditioning, radio, and the Sync infotainment system. The Carbon Series is for those who track and want to drive there—not tow, said Hermann Salenbauch, Ford Performance global director.

The Carbon Series, packing the same twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 engine, weighs 39 pounds less than a standard GT, and like the Competition Series it has gloss carbon-fiber wheels and lugnuts, a polycarbonate engine cover, and titanium exhaust. There are no cupholders or driver-side storage.

Like the Heritage Edition GT that Ford announced during the summer, the Carbon Series will be priced above the $500,000 base model. The Heritage Edition has the famous Gulf Oil paint scheme that pays homage to the GT40s that swept Le Mans from 1966 to 1969.

The Carbon Series comes in a variety of colors and four accent colors for the center stripe, mirror caps, and calipers. The car is named for exposed swaths of the carbon fiber body. There is gloss instead of paint to highlight the weave on the exposed stripes, A-pillars, and lower body panels. Inside, there are matte carbon-fiber sills, a carbon-fiber center console, and other pieces showing off the exposed weave pattern of the composite material.

GT production began in December 2016. The cars are made by Multimatic, the Canadian carbon fiber specialist that Ford contracted to make the cars in Markham, Ontario. It has been a slow ramp-up. Only 141 cars were made in the first year; production is now up to 250 a year, Salenbauch said.

Ford said one of the four or five vehicles assembled weekly can be a special model. Salenbauch expects this latest Series to account for 50-100 of the mix over a number of model years.

Ford wants to dominate SEMA Show coverage next week with more than 50 souped-up vehicles on display. In addition to the latest flavor of GT, it has a stable of five modified Mustangs, seven customized Rangers, and variants of SUVs including the Edge ST, EcoSport, Explorer, and Expedition.







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Ford CEO Touts Wisdom of Shedding Cars

By | October 24, 2018

The good news: sales of profitable pickups, utility vehicles and commercial vans are buying Ford time as it restructures its business. Consumers can take heart in a rash of new product coming next year including the Ranger pickup, Mustang Shelby GT500 and next-generation Explorer and Escape.

The success of the Lincoln Navigator and Ford Expedition contributed to strong profits in North America, said Ford CEO Jim Hackett in reporting third-quarter earnings.

Hackett stands by the decision to phase out sedans in North America. “These traditional sedans destroy value,” he said of plans to reduce the current car lineup to the Mustang as Ford explores replacement vehicles that are shaped more like crossovers. Capital that would have been used for Fiesta, Focus, Fusion and Taurus will fund new entries in trucks and utilities, he promises, with even more nameplates in the future.

The bad news: investors and analysts wanting more detail and perhaps a speedier overhaul under Hackett ended yet another earnings call with little to go on beyond an explanation that his team knows what needs to be done, and how to do it, but such an undertaking will take another five years or more.

“What I remind everybody of is we first have to find the areas that need the attention,” Hackett said. “We’re through that. We then have to design the solutions for them. We’re through a lot of that but not all of it. And then we have to put them in place and perform. If you read hesitancy from me, it’s not that we don’t know where we’re going or don’t know how to do it, it’s that there’s a massive undertaking that we have to have very thoughtfully orchestrated. Because my experience in doing this, the worst thing we could do is disrupt our business and we aren’t going to do that.”

The explanations come as Ford reported a 37-percent drop in third-quarter earnings to net income of $1 billion. The automaker had losses in Europe, South America and Asia Pacific, including China where sales, share, and revenue all fell. Hackett said he is particularly disappointed in China and the company now plans to make China a standalone business unit with a new CEO, Anning Chen.

The automaker has also said it no longer expects to meet its goal of achieving a global profit margin of 8 percent by 2020. Stock has languished below $9 and closed Wednesday at $8.18.

Part of the restructuring includes more partnerships, like the ones announced with Mahindra and Volkswagen. Projects with VW will include commercial vehicles but other areas being explored are VW making cars for Ford in Europe and Ford making a Ranger-based pickup for VW. What is not on the table is any kind of merger or equity swap.

Ford sent its full leadership to the national dealers meeting in Las Vegas this month to tell its retail front line that much work is being done behind the scenes to give them the freshest lineup in the business in the next few years. Beyond the Explorer, Escape, Ranger, and GT500, dealers look forward to the return of the Bronco, a smaller off-roader, and a Mustang-inspired electric utility vehicle coming in 2020. Lincoln has an Explorer-sized Aviator coming as well as a new compact crossover and four new nameplates coming—not to mention a lot of electrification. At least one Lincoln model will be made in China. Currently all are imported.

 

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Tesla Posts Rare $312 Million Profit in Q3 Thanks to Model 3

By | October 24, 2018

A bump in Model 3 deliveries provided a rare glimpse into what a profitable Tesla looks like. Whether it is sustainable is being debated but the electric car maker did increase production and revenue in the third quarter.

“Sufficient Model 3 profitability was critical to make our business sustainable—something many argued would be impossible to achieve,” CEO Elon Musk said in a letter to investors, noting Tesla built an average of 4,300 Model 3s a week during the quarter. Tesla added an all-wheel-drive version of the Model 3 during this period, as well.

Musk said 56,065 Model 3s were delivered in the quarter with a starting price of $49,000, and work continues on the promised but elusive $35,000 Model 3. So far the lowest-priced option is a $46,000 version with an estimated 260-mile range. Musk says less than 20 percent of the 455,000 reservations in August 2017 have cancelled their orders despite the long waits and higher price.

Consumer Reports today said the Model 3 is the only Tesla it feels it can recommend, based on its road tests and surveys. In terms of reliability, the Model X is the second worst vehicle in the annual survey of owners and the Model S has fallen to the point it can no longer be recommended. As a brand, Tesla ranks 27 of 29 in reliability, which has not dampened owner love of their Teslas, the magazine testers say.

Musk said he will start taking Model 3 orders later this year for customers in Europe and China and he has plans to build plants in both countries. The plant in China will initially build two models: the Model 3 sedan and Model Y crossover with annual capacity of 250,000 vehicles, according to Reuters.

This is the last time Musk will address analysts as chairman, a title he will abdicate for three years as part of a settlement of civil fraud charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission that also included $40 million in fines to be paid by Musk and Tesla. The charges followed tweets that Musk was taking the company private, something he later decided against. Shares jumped to $387 on the prospect before tumbling below $300. They have been on a roller coaster ride, reacting to a series of erratic moves by Musk himself and questions about his ability to lead the company and inability to overcome manufacturing obstacles. They jumped in after-hours trading on news of the strong quarter.

It was a rare profitable quarter for Tesla—there have only been two others since 2010—the automaker had a net income of $312 million for the third quarter, a big uptick from $619 million in losses a year ago.

The company increased its total cash, which is crucial given that Tesla has more than $1.3 billion in debt maturing over the next six months that must be paid or refinanced.

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2019 Ford Ranger Starts Production in Michigan

By | October 22, 2018

Ranger is back. Production of units headed for showrooms starts on Monday, seven years after the truck was discontinued for North America but continued to be sold in the rest of the world. It will arrive in showrooms in January.

The old Ranger was built in the defunct Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul, Minnesota. The 2019 Ford Ranger starts life in Wayne, Michigan, at the Michigan Assembly Plant, which used to make the Focus and C-Max.  It will be joined by the Ford Bronco SUV in 2020.

The 2019 Ranger is based on the global pickup platform that dates back to 2011, but it is capable enough to be a best-in-class player, said Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of global operations, at an event at the plant Monday to celebrate the truck’s return to the market.

A fall-themed 2019 Ford Ranger display at the model’s kick-off event at Michigan Assembly Plant

The steel frame has been updated, and the North American version has its own sheetmetal and powertrain: a 2.3-liter twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine and 10-speed automatic transmission—no manual. The engine gets 270 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque in the Ranger. The pickup can tow 7,500 pounds and has 1,860 pounds of payload. Fuel economy numbers have not yet been certified.

Still no plans to offer Ranger Raptor in U.S.

Hinrichs repeated the message that there are no plans to sell the Ranger Raptor in North America at this time but said “never say never,” which is industry-speak for reserving the right to add the tasty item to the menu in a few years when Ranger has satisfied all the pent-up demand and sales start to slip and need enticement. By then, the latest F-150 Raptor will have a few years under its belt as well and not be as threatened.

There is a crew cab for the first time, as well as SuperCab. No regular cab, two-door work truck for this market.

The 2019 Ranger for the U.S. has more off-road tech, including a Terrain Management Control system, Trail Control, electronic locking rear differential, an off-road tuned suspension, and an off-road info screen that can show the truck is on a 17-degree angle on the side of a berm. Trail Control debuts on the 2019 Ford Raptor, replacing Hill Descent Control with a system that both propels and brakes—essentially an off-road cruise control that works from 1-20 mph in any transfer setting. It was developed in-house, and Ranger will be the second Ford vehicle to get the system. We have not driven it yet, but from the passenger seat, the system covers an off-road course with little drama, which was the intent.

Late but strong entry

Hinrichs says Ford is not late to the party and its attributes will make it a player. It beats the top-selling Toyota Tacoma in towing and payload, and it has an extra inch of ground clearance for off-roading and better breakover clearance at the center of the truck to avoid getting stuck seesaw-style.

Expect a lot more accessories for the Ranger—more than 150 parts, which is the largest offering for a Ford truck to date. Ford has a partnership with Yakima for assorted roof racks and camping gear, including a tent.

Customers have clamored for the return of the midsize pickup since it was discontinued. Ford in the past said its F-150 filled those needs but now says the F-150 has grown enough in size and price that there is room for the Ranger. Some would-be F-150 buyers will downsize to Ranger, Hinrichs said, mostly those who had to overbuy because Ranger was not an option until now.

Growth of the competition

Ford was the dominant player in the smaller truck segment it abandoned. Since then, the Toyota Tacoma has grown to about 200,000 annual sales in the U.S. and General Motors introduced the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon which combine for about 145,000 annual sales.

The segment has grown to about 500,000, Hinrichs said. That does not mean Ford expects to sell less than 100,000. There are loyal Ranger fans who have known for years the truck is coming back and have been patiently waiting. And there are always conquest sales. New entries also have the power to increase a segment’s total sales.

Full circle for Michigan Assembly Plant

Ranger and Bronco bring the Michigan plant back full circle yet again. The plant stated life in 1957 making station wagons and was retooled in 1964 to build the F-100 pickup truck as well as buses and other commercial trucks.

The plant made the Bronco from 1966 to 1996 when the SUV was replaced on the line by the big boys: Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator.

When the industry started to bottom out and people dumped their big SUVs for affordable and fuel-efficient small cars, Ford stopped making the Expedition and Navigator in 2009.

The plant was retooled again, this time to make the Focus compact car in 2010, including hybrid and electric versions. Later it added the C-Max hybrid and plug-in hybrid.

 

But buyers shifted their tastes again. Lower gas prices and interest rates allowed them to return to trucks and SUVs. Sedan sales have fallen enough that Ford announced plans to discontinue all cars but the Mustang for North America. Michigan Assembly was retooled again to make the Ranger on a single shift until a second shift is added in 2020 with the addition of the Bronco.

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Ford Unplugged: Leadership Opens up to Dealers

By | October 19, 2018

Ford is at its best when it can make a comeback,” said Jim Farley, Ford executive vice president and president of Global Markets. “This week is a great first step.”

He was referring to a national dealer meeting in Las Vegas attended by the full top leadership ranks, including CEO Jim Hackett, at a time when everyone has more questions than answers about what the company has been doing, what is planned, and just how long will it take to bear fruit.

Don’t count Ford out, executives are telling dealers this week as they work to calm their fears and generate hype for new vehicles on the way and a new advertising campaign.

 

Products on tap

About 5,000 dealers got their first look at the next-generation Explorer and Escape SUVs coming in the second half of 2019. Since the debut of the Lincoln Aviator on a new rear-wheel-drive platform, it has been known that the 2020 Explorer would also take advantage of the performance and proportions the layout offers. A new Escape is needed to compete in the fiercely competitive compact crossover segment. Dealers also got to see the 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 as they await the Mustang-inspired pure electric crossover due in 2020.

But first up is the Ranger pickup that goes into production this month at the Michigan Assembly Plant for sale early next year. Dealers experienced the Ranger on a small off-road course to see its capability firsthand.

New Ford Bronco

The Ranger platform is also the foundation for the Ford Bronco SUV coming in 2020. This is part of a plan to replace 75 percent of Ford’s lineup by 2020, dropping the average age of the portfolio from 5.3 years now to 2.3 years by the new decade.

Most of the portfolio will be electrified with plans to go from 30,000 electrified vehicle sales annually now to 600,000 in the next five years. In two years, it expects to overtake Toyota as the top seller of hybrids in the U.S. The day will come when Ford sells more hybrids than V-6s, said Farley, and all new vehicles have a hybrid or plug-in hybrid version, including F-150, Mustang, and Bronco. “It’s a big bet by the company.”

Sedan separation

It was welcome news for dealers, but there are lingering concerns about Ford’s decision to get out of sedans and many car segments.

Ford will continue to offer cars, just with a different silhouette than a sedan, said Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford North America. Sedans have gone from 57 percent of the market in 2010 to 23 percent in 2019. Even a good vehicle in a segment that’s dying is not a good investment, he says. Investing in SUVs, trucks, and commercial vehicles is more prudent and, in the end, the total number of nameplates will increase from 20 today to 23 by 2023.

Dealers are also concerned about losing entry-level cars at a price point for first-time buyers. Farley has assured them there will be vehicles below $25,500, such as EcoSport and Escape, but they don’t dip into Fiesta pricing territory.

Need to hear from the boss

As important as the product reassurance was hearing from Hackett and his team about the direction they are taking the company in a time of uncertainty and swirling questions.

Hackett is leading an effort to cut $25.5 billion in costs and spend $11 billion to transform the automaker, which will necessitate cutting salaried workers and retaining talent in the interim. Ford stock remains below $9 a share as Wall Street questions the soundness and speed of Ford’s restructuring.

This week we got a better understanding of how top managers have spent the last year. Galhotra has been shaking things up in North America by reorganizing product development around nameplates—looking at the business through the lens of product.

The 11th floor has been transformed into a series of franchise rooms: Ranger, Transit, etc. There are 13 product rooms and four process rooms for topics like consumer experience.

Inside each room, the walls are plastered with information from every discipline that touches that product. The visual onslaught means sales and marketing people now know engineering and manufacturing data, purchasing chiefs see intimate details from design, and engineers digest customer profile and competitive pricing. No one can plead ignorance on any subject.

The info swapping has raised the business literacy of all and led to surprising discoveries, like the fact that Super Duty pickups have a profit margin of $10,000 in some regions and $20,000 in others. This makes it easy to decide who gets trucks when inventories are low.

On Wednesdays Galhotra, the chief financial officer, and heads of sales, marketing, and product development form an entourage that travels from room to room to see how the vehicle is shaping up, answer questions, and make decisions on the spot. Example: stopping production of Expeditions with a four-inch infotainment screen because those models were sitting on lots while SUVs with eight-inch screens were snatched up.

The soul-searching has also led to a shakeup on the marketing side by reducing the role of long-time ad agency WPP and bringing in BBDO as well as Wieden + Kennedy for some projects. Some work is also being brought in-house, with 100 employees being added to develop Ford’s message and voice.

Breaking Bad

Ford GT Production Increasing Again

By | October 18, 2018

The good news: 350 more customers can buy a Ford GT supercar with the announcement today that production will be extended another two years to build 1,350 cars through 2022. The bad news: If you thought you had one of the sold-out total run of 1,000, your exclusivity factor took a small hit.

Order banks for the additional 350 units, to be built between 2020 and 2022, will open November 8 for the U.S. and select markets around the world. The order window will remain open for 30 days, said Hermann Salenbauch, Ford Performance director. New would-be owners can apply to FordGT.com, and those who applied before can re-submit. The successful applicants will hear back in the first quarter of 2019.

This summer Ford announced another GT Heritage Edition for the 2019 model year for those who want something more than the $500,000 base model. It wears Gulf Oil livery to pay homage to the GT40s that swept Le Mans from 1966 to 1969.

Ford has built 300 GTs to date, notable for its carbon fiber body and twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 engine. Production began in December 2016. Only 141 were built in the first year with some ramp-up and growing pains with Multimatic, the Canadian carbon fiber specialist that is making the vehicles. The bugs have been worked out, and the Markham, Ontario, plant is now making one a day or 250 a year, Salenbauch said. “We anticipated it would be faster but this year is very stable,” he said.

When the car was first unveiled, the plan was to make 250 a year for two years, but by August 2016 the automaker said it would extend production to four years and double the output to 1,000 vehicles. That now creeps up to 1,350—still far shy of the 6,500 who expressed initial interest in 2016. Salenbauch said the increases don’t hurt exclusivity, but at least one owner reacted to the news with dismay on Thursday.

Ford Performance is in the midst of delivering on its promise of 12 new performance vehicles by 2020. In addition to GT, there is the GT350 and the pending GT500. There is the F-150 Raptor for North America and the Ranger Raptor for the rest of the world. There are still no plans to offer the Ranger Raptor in the U.S. where F-150 Raptors turn in 20 days or less, Salenbauch says.

Performance is good business for Ford, which had only a few offerings and 133,000 annual sales in 2013. It has increased that 70 percent to 205,000 annual sales today with a far more robust lineup that will continue to grow.

The Ford Edge ST is a new addition to the stable, and a Ford Explorer ST will follow next year.

All these vehicles create a halo for the brand, Salenbauch said.








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The Wacky and Wonderful Concepts of the 2018 Paris Motor Show

By | October 3, 2018

Paris may be light on participants and world premieres, but it’s a visual delight with wacky concepts that make the trip worthwhile. Here are some of this year’s offerings.


DS X E-Tense




This is an electric car concept from the Citroen subbrand DS that needs to be seen to be believed: a two-seat asymmetrical electric sports car concept designed for the car buyer of the 2030s. The driver—which could be a robot—sits in an open pod on the left, swathed in blue, while the passenger sits on the other side of a barrier in a red cocoon. In addition to everything being off center, the lights form a spider web of illumination. Of course it has some form of gullwing doors.


Smart Forease






This is an electric car concept with a notable omission: no roof. This two-seat convertible is a fun take on the Smart Fortwo. Smart is celebrating its 20th anniversary and reinventing itself as an electric-only brand.


Peugeot E-Legend










This autonomous electric coupe concept takes cues from the classic 504 Coupe from 1969 with squared-off lines, a sharklike nose, and Mustang-like three-bar taillights. The retro styling belies the futuristic interior filled with screens to watch movies and a retractable steering wheel unit with head-up display. The interior is wood and blue velvet with a rear bench seat resembling a couch from the ’70s. The car has two electric motors for a manufacturer-estimated range of 370 miles and 0–62 mph time of 4.0 seconds.


Renault EZ-Ultimo












The greenhouse of this robocar is covered in a scale pattern that lets passengers see out but prevents anyone from seeing in. Despite its immense size, the EZ-Ultimo can accommodate three riders. This premium lounge also features a panoramic roof, wood paneling, and marble for riders to travel in style.


Renault EZ-Go







One end of this autonomous vehicle opens and forms a ramp to enter this strange robo-transport with an open floor area and wraparound seating.


Renault EZ-Pro


This tall robo-delivery vehicle has a single seat in front with a desk/work area, while the back can accommodate packages.

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Best Cars of the 2018 Paris Motor Show

By | October 3, 2018

“Few but important” might be the best way to sum up the 2018 Paris Motor Show. It was slim on participants and global unveils, but the automakers who did come to play brought a big bat and ball.

The roster this year was headlined by Mercedes-Benz with world premieres of the A-Class, B-Class, GLE SUV, and the EQC, the first production model from the new EQ electric vehicle brand. And BMW used Paris to introduce the next generation of its most recognizable nameplate: the 3 Series.

And being Paris, much square footage was devoted to the Renault, Citroen, and Peugeot brands, which are most entertaining and always have us wishing some could sneak their way across the pond.

Here are some highlights from the show:


2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE

The 2020 GLE grows enough to add an optional third row and gets upgraded materials, two 12.3-inch screens, and enough artificial intelligence in the new MBUX user interface that when it sees you lean over to look for something, it turns on the overhead light for you. The U.S. has a choice of the 3.0-liter turbocharged I-6 with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system or the 2.0-liter turbo-four, both with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Optional air suspension lets you adjust the height at each wheel individually. E-Active Body Control active suspension helps you jiggle your way out of deep sand, and a curve control system helps you lean in like you would on a motorcycle. The GLE goes on sale early next spring, and a plug-in hybrid with an electric range of 62 miles will follow a year later. The U.S. can choose a five-, six-, or seven-seater.  And CEO Dieter Zetsche says a GLE coupe in the future is “promising speculation.”






2019 BMW 3 Series

This is the core of the BMW brand, and the seventh generation seeks to regain the driving dynamics that made it a benchmark for sport sedans. The look hasn’t changed much, but attention went into responsive steering, balance, and a suspension with intelligent dampers and a limited-slip differential. It now joins the many vehicles on the CLAR architecture, which enables connectivity features such as Intelligent Personal Assistant. There are also more autonomous drive features for hands-free driving as long as the camera confirms your eyes are on the road and you’re ready to take over if needed. The 2019 330i and 330i xDrive with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 should be in U.S. dealerships in August, followed by the 2020 M340i and 340i xDrive a year later. The 330e plug-in hybrid, with a range of 37 miles on electricity alone, will come in 2020. The 3 Series also drops the manual transmission; an eight-speed automatic is standard. But we could see a manual in a few years on a new M3. The U.S. also won’t get the wagon or any diesels.












2020 Mercedes-Benz EQC

This is the first production model from the EQ brand created for the lineup of electric vehicles to come. Mercedes opted for a compact crossover, a popular segment, to get its electric motors running. There’s an electric drivetrain at each axle, giving the EQC all-wheel-drive capability while generating 402 hp and 564 lb-ft of torque for a claimed 0–60 time of 4.9 seconds. The EQC has a conventional interior—it doesn’t scream electric vehicle beyond the blue and chrome trim inside and blue striping on the wheels. Range is still being finalized but will be in the 200- to 240-mile range. The EQC goes on sale in the U.S. in 2020.






Suzuki Jimny

Suzuki needs to return to the U.S. market so we can have the new Jimny, a two-door, five-passenger baby Jeep with a five-speed manual, four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case, and a spare tire on the back. The little 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine only makes 100 hp and 95 lb-ft of torque; that won’t cut it in the U.S., but off-road doesn’t get any cuter. This rugged off-roader hasn’t been updated for nearly 20 years, and Suzuki hasn’t been in the U.S. market since 2012.








Kia ProCeed

This beautiful little red wagon won’t come to the U.S., but we wish it would with its pretty silhouette. Inside are soft black suede seats with a red skunk stripe up the middle, and the door features an intriguing red stitching pattern.





2019 Mercedes A- and B-Class

We only get the A-Class in the U.S., but it’s a big deal because it’s our first time. And who knows—maybe someday the B-Class crossover will cross the ocean, as well.

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Mercedes-AMG One Will Not be Followed by a Two

By | October 2, 2018

The name One for the Mercedes-AMG hypercar formerly known as “Project One” is self-defining—there will not be a second model, says Ola Källenius, member of the Daimler board of management of Daimler AG in charge of group research & Mercedes-Benz cars development. He is also the man who will take over as CEO in May with the retirement of Dieter Zetsche.

“There are no plans for a second. The One is the one,” Kallenius said in an interview with Motor Trend at the Paris Motor Show.

As the One inches closer to production, Mercedes-AMG will not follow the lead of Aston Martin, which has already announced 003, nicknamed “son of Valkyrie,” is coming in late 2021 even though Valkyrie (code-named 001) is not yet in customer hands.

Daimler first showed the Project One prototype a year ago and recently announced its formal name as One.

Källenius says there is no No. 2 in the making at Daimler. The decision to make One was a crazy project in the first place. It has required an intense engineering effort to create a 1,000-hp hypercar that puts Formula 1 hybrid technology on the road.

AMG is into the “hardcore realization” of the project now, Källenius said.

The car uses an electrically turbocharged 1.6-liter V-6 and a set of 120-kW electric motors to produce more than 1,000 hp and routes it through an eight-speed automatic transmission. As we previously reported, the car should reach 124 mph from a standstill in less than 6 seconds, on to a top speed of more than 217 mph.

The model will generate half its weight in downforce. The vehicle should weigh between 2,866 and 3,086 pounds, or 1,300 and 1,400 kg. A two-stage extendable rear wing will allow the car to achieve maximum downforce while in race mode. Right now, the hypercar is undergoing wind tunnel testing.

Daimler will make only 275 cars with an estimated price of $2.7 million each.

2020 Mercedes-Benz EQC 400 4Matic

The automaker also used the Paris show to reveal the EQC, a compact electric crossover that is the first model in the EQ brand of electric vehicles. EQ is a product and tech brand; Källenius said he expects pairing of EQ and AMG in the future as AMG adopts a comprehensive hybrid strategy for future performance vehicles.

Initial response to the EQC has been strong among dealers and consumers, Källenius said, making him cautiously optimistic about its future success. Daimler thinks as much as 25 percent of global sales will be fully electric vehicles by 2025, and battery electric vehicle sales will ultimately be higher than plug-in hybrids.

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2019 BMW X5 First Drive

By | September 27, 2018

Trivia question: Which vehicle does BMW expect to perform Olympian feats again and again? The answer lies in the cities chosen for the launch of the original vehicle in 1999 and subsequent generations in 2006 and 2013.

It is the X5 midsize crossover, which BMW launched in Atlanta, home to the 1996 Summer Olympics. It was a podium moment for the brand as BMW’s first foray into SUVs. The automaker used Athens, birthplace of the Olympics, to launch the second-generation X5, and for the third generation it was Vancouver, host of the 2011 Winter Games.

For the fourth generation, which arrived in  in dealerships November 10, BMW reprised its international launch in Atlanta to assess how far the vehicle has come, some 2.2 million global sales later. The X5 has become the middle child in a family that now extends from the baby X1 and compact X3 to big brother X7 and the anticipated X8.

When BMW introduced the X5, it called its athlete a “sport activity vehicle” to emphasize its on-road prowess over off-road ability. BMW fans have embraced the SAV moniker, with the X5 becoming the highest-volume crossover in the lineup (yes, more than the X3), even approaching the mighty 3 Series sedan/coupe as the brand’s volume leader.

That said, BMW stalwarts might want to drop the SAV branding, given the new generation’s increased competence off-road. This added capability can be attributed to its migration to the new CLAR architecture.

The 2019 X5 is a Cerberus. One head remains a performance beast, with a 3.0-liter turbocharged I-6 or 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 and eight-speed automatic transmission. The second head is a surprisingly capable off-road beast with underguard protection, enhanced off-road modes, and xDrive all-wheel drive. The third head is the luxury beast with obligatory leather and wood trim.




Design-wise, this generation is distinguishable by a larger, restyled kidney grille and adaptive LED headlights or optional laser lighting. Taillamps wrap around for a 3-D look. The wheel arches are more angular, too.

North America gets the xDrive50i with the 456-hp, 479-lb-ft V-8 or xDrive40i with the 335-hp, 330 lb-ft I-6. Our drive was limited to the latter powertrain, and we found acceleration with the I-6 impressively strong, with a satisfying snort in Sport plus mode.

A performance plug-in hybrid with a six-cylinder engine will come later. A decision has not been made on adding one of the 3.0-liter diesels at a later date.

The X5 is downright fast, and its optional active steering contributes to stability at high speeds, where the X5 likes to live. Little steering input is needed and is met with quick response. At slow speeds, when the rear wheels steer in the opposite direction, the vehicle is highly maneuverable. BMW also appears to have fixed its mule-kick start-stop system, but it can still  be turned off.

Brakes are subtle, providing full stopping force without grabbing. The X5 and 8 Series are the first to get BMW’s integrated brake-by-wire system, which forms the basis for autonomous braking and other self-driving systems.

The new suspensions will be shared with the forthcoming X7 and X8 large SUVs. The base suspension has standard dynamic damping, and the optional adaptive M suspension has roll stabilization and active steering to keep the X5 lively in corners with minimal body roll and understeer. The two-axle air suspension works to further differentiate the ride experience from Comfort to Sport modes. Ride height drops 0.8 inch in Sport mode and adjusts up or down 1.6 inches for loading. If you like your rubber thin, 22-inch wheels are an option.

But the biggest X5 improvement lies off pavement. The 2019 model marks the rollout of the optional off-road package with enhanced modes for snow, rocks, sand, and gravel, plus a rear-locking differential. Push a button to raise the suspension for better ground clearance. When the engine control unit detects water, the kidney grille closes and ride height is locked in place. If the SUV senses wheel slip on a rock, it adjusts the suspension to reduce the load in that area—the same principle relieves pressure on a flat tire.

Further helping off-road explorers, cameras allow you to see the trail when your eyes cannot. It takes a few minutes to get used to the orientation on the screen, but it’s easy to read with a crisp image of obstacles ahead. Active steering employs rear-wheel steering to tighten the turning radius for squeezing between trees where even a Jeep would have had to back up.




Hill-descent control worked seamlessly on a tough off-road course where you would expect to find Land Rovers, not BMWs. The hills were steep and rugged enough to make the X5 slip, but the system corrected again and again, keeping the crossover carefully on track. Trust the engineers in Munich on this: One driver panicked at some minor slippage, used the brake, disengaged the system, gained speed, and hit a vehicle at the bottom.

So yes, the X5 is surprisingly capable. But it also remains a luxury vehicle. Creature comforts include massaging seats that are heated and cooled, as are the cupholders. The steering wheel and armrests are also heated. There’s a wireless phone charger and soft-close doors. North America does not get the Sky Lounge panoramic moonroof with imbedded LED lights, but a regular panoramic roof is standard.

For loading cargo, you can open the top, bottom, or both parts of the split tailgate by pushing a button. A super-slick option coming in January is a power cargo cover that rolls back and disappears in the floor between the second and third rows.

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