First, it was the Ford Transit Connect van from Turkey that has been ubiquitous in Europe for years before being seen on American roads. Small, styled with a brash quirkiness, tinny beyond imagination especially in taxi fleets, the Transit Connect caught on. Then Ford replaced the original Transit Connect with a lower roof, more stylish van built in Spain that is actually fun to drive. Nissan responded with the Nissan NV200 that is supposed to be the Taxi of Tomorrow for the New York City taxi fleet. It is assembled in Mexico. Not so fun to drive and assembled with more than a dollop of plastic. Most recently is the launch of the Ram (FCA US LLC, aka FCAGroup, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Dodge Trucks) Promaster City. How would I compare the three?
Ford Transit Connect Van
2015 Ram Promaster City
2014 Nissan NV200
Transit Connect Most Minivan-Like The Transit Connect ($22,330 – $29,185) is the most minivan-like. It has a instrument panel that mimics that in the Ford Focus. The seats are comfortable, but a choppy ride offsets the seat comfort. Performance is adequate with its standard 2.5L 4-cylinder engine having 169-horsepower coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. Optionally, the Transit Connect has a 178-horsepower EcoBoost 4-cylinder. Transit Connect is available in two wheelbases.
NV200 Spartan The Nissan NV200 ($20,270-$24,435 in cargo van version) is the most Spartan of the three. Its interior has been stripped bare of most ornamentation and the execution yields the most basic of transportation modules. A passenger version of the NV200 is not available unless you get the taxicab version starting at $29,700). Powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission), the NV200 is the most anemic of the three. Like the original Transit Connect, the NV200 can be a rattletrap. That brings me to the Ram Promaster City.
Promaster City Best Driving Feel Built in Turkey, the Promaster City ($23,130 for van version and $24,130 for the passenger version – maximum $29,275) probably falls between the Transit Connect and NV200 overall. It does, however, have the best driving feel of the three. The Promaster City is powered by the Fiat Tigershark 2.4L 4-cylinder engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. Sounds like the Dodge Dart or Jeep Cherokee. With much of the North American development work being done in the pothole-filled environs of Auburn Hills, Michigan, the Promaster City suspension has been beefed up and given more travel. Promaster City also has a fully independent rear suspension. The result is the ride comfort in the Promaster City is more comfortable in most conditions than the Transit Connect or the NV200.
The Battle for BIC – Best In Class: Transit Connect and Promaster City are vying for Best In Class claims. Promaster City claims best in class horsepower at 178-horsepower. This is correct for base engines, but if you consider Ford’s EcoBoost at 178-horsepower you have a tie. Promaster City has a fuel economy rating of 21mpg city/29mpg highway. Transit Connect is 20/28mpg. Promaster City claims the largest cargo volume at 132 cubic feet – Ford has 129 cubic feet in its long wheelbase van. Promaster City claims the highest payload at 1883 pounds – Ford has 1620. Its 48.4-inches between the rear wheelhouses allows you to put 4-foot wide materials flat on the rear load floor. The 72-inch load floor length does not allow a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of plywood to be transported enclosed, however. So, Promaster City wins the brochure war and its base Tigershark engine and 9-speed automatic transmission edges out the Transit Connect, but it is very close.
3rd Generation Murano The 2015 Nissan Murano crossover SUV went on sale Friday, December 5, 2014. The third generation of the Murano pushes the envelope on crossover styling and brings new Nissan design cues to the vehicle. The Murano has been a sweet spot among crossover SUVs since its launch. Each iteration has been very easy to live with and the 2015 version is no exception. Easy to drive, maneuverable, quiet and up to date, the Murano provides Nissan with a suitable vehicle to attract its target buyer. Media attending the product preview in Napa Valley were surprised that Nissan admitted its target market is empty nester couples 45 years of age or older. These people do not need seven or eight passenger seating they might have required during their family formation years, but they do want reasonable cargo capacity and a spacious rear seat. This 5-passenger crossover SUV meets their requirements
The Murano review was held during an early December storm with gale force winds. The Murano handled the inclement weather with aplomb. It was very stable even in vicious cross winds.
Exterior Given its sporty, futuristic styling, you might think the visibility would suffer, and it does to the rear, but overall visibility is pretty good. For years many in the industry have been stripping vehicles of exterior ornamentation, but not the 3rd gen Murano. There is a striking bright flash running from the upper edge of the front door rearward over the rear fender kickup. Very distinctive and nicely done. Murano follows the trend of front lighting with LED signature lights and available LED headlamps. LED “boomerang” taillamps are standard.
Interior The interior comfort is excellent with “Zero Gravity” seating. Ergonomics are excellent with a large 8-inch center stack screen standard. For those who like an open air feeling, the Murano offers a large panoramic moonroof. The top of the line Platinum model includes leather seating surfaces and comes across as a very premium place to be. The lower level SV model, loses the leather, but the interior retains much of the premium feel of the Platinum version. In essence, spending less does not result in a vehicle feeling cheap.
Technology The 2015 Nissan Murano comes with the expected suite of available technology: blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, forward collision warning, moving object detection and forward emergency braking.
Powertrain The engine is essentially carryover – Nissan’s venerable 260HP 3.5L DOHC V6 (VQ). The continuously variable Xtronic transmission has been improved with subtle “shift points” added to the shiftless gearbox. The driving experience is effortless.
Pricing The base price of the 2015 Nissan Murano os $29,560 for the S model. The next step up is the SV at $32,620. Then the SL at $35,950 and the range topping Platinum at $39,000. Adding all wheel drive adds $1,600 to each model. Checking all the boxes on a Platinum – adding premium paint, Technology Package and 20-inch wheels – brings the price to $44,975.
Production While Nissan’s huge Canton, Mississippi plant is the main source for the Murano worldwide, there is a secondary source in Pusan, South Korea should the USA need more volume. The Pusan plant is part of the Samsung Renault Nissan relationship.
Research Results Over the years, Murano has done very well in AutoPacific’s Satisfaction Research. The 2015 Nissan Murano promises to deliver strong satisfaction results just as did its predecessor generations.
Acura’s entry premium compact car is being updated for the 2016 model year. The 2016 Acura ILX is what Acura terms its “Gateway Model” – the entry to the Acura lineup. The strategy for the 2016 Acura ILX is much like Honda implemented for its CR-V compact crossover SUV. Honda termed that a Major Mid-Cycle Change. Similarly, ILX has been freshened and given a better powertrain than before.
Mild Styling Changes The 2016 Acura ILX looks basically the same as the 2015 model. It is a compact sedan with pleasant, slightly sporty styling. For 2016, the car gets a new more aggressive front end appearance with LED accent lights and LED headlamps. All Acuras will have LED front lights from now on. The grille is tougher looking and the “parrot’s beak” has been toned down somewhat. The tall lamps are upgraded and more distinctive than before. In the industry, this is called a front and rear six – think of it as a face and butt lift.
The interior gets minor updates with upgraded seat material and contrasting stitching on the steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake handle.
Upgraded Powertrain with Only One Choice The news, however, is under the skin. The only engine/transmission choice now is a 2.4L direct injection 4-cylinder with 201-horsepower mated to an 8-speed dual clutch transmission. If this sounds familiar it should because it is basically the same 4-cylinder used in the mid-market TLX. Since 2016 Acura ILX is now made at Honda’s Marysville, OH plant alongside the TLX this communization makes sense.
No Manual Transmission – YEA! The enthusiasts among you may be asking where the manual transmission formerly with the 2.4L went? It was dropped in favor of the fast-shifting dual clutch transmission and the fact that no one was buying them. Gone also is the hybrid model, also for lack of interest. AutoPacific’s research confirms that this is the right direction to go. Consideration for manual transmissions is very low and hybrid consideration continues to drop as gasoline prices in the USA fall.
Technology and Stuff Recognizing that a premium brand has to deliver more refinement, Acura has increased the sound deadening in the ILX to make the car much quieter than now. Also, following the CR-V strategy with HondaSense, AcuraWatch suite of advanced safety and driver assist features is available on the car for the first time. This feature suite includes adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, collision mitigation braking system, upgraded rear camera. Once again, we are seeing a manufacturer “democratize” its technology taking stuff formerly available on upper level models and making them available on lower line products.
Honestly now, who pays attention to the type of cup holder or tablet support a car has when interested in getting a new one? All you can think of now is how strong the engine is or if you can use an auto-pilot highway cruising system. But you will eventually want to be able to listen to music or your favorite audio books – so here’s a reason to want to connect your phone to your car stereo using an USB or aftermarket stereo. But…
Why Use A Phone Inside Your Car
Besides the previously mentioned reasons, if you’re a serious business man, chances are you will want to keep track of everything going on with your projects. And one way of doing this is by picking up the phone and making calls even when you are on the highway. But because driving and using your cell phone don’t go work together according to the law, one solution is to make hands-free calls. This way, when a customer calls, you can pick up; if your marketing is efficient, calls should be coming in 24/7. And to really learn which advertising channels generate the largest number of calls – and which of them result into new clients and sales – use the call tracking service provided by AddSource. You will get to find out important details such as the tracking of your call quantity, the duration of each call, the date and time of the calls, as well as the number of calls that have been answered or dropped (always bad for business, so look into that stereo built-in Bluetooth option for your car). You will also receive reports of the numbers, destinations, advertising sources and geographical locations of the callers and figure out ways to improve your marketing. The AddSource solutions will enable you to save calls, turn them into the mp3 audio format and listen to your most important calls while driving on the highway.
Cruising down the scenic roads along the Columbia River near Portland, Oregon can be a real treat, especially while driving a Dodge Challenger Hellcat with its mean-sounding engine roaring through the twists and turns of this pristine wilderness road.
A few months back, Chrysler invited a few journalist to test drive the 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat, along with its entire Challenger lineup. The Challenger Hellcat was a blast to drive, and delivers so much power that it is almost scary to drive. And after our not-so-mellow morning cruise along the river, we were invited to test the Hellcat’s limits by driving laps around Portland International Raceway, trying hard to keep the car in a straight line. But the real fun was just driving the Hellcat around town and watching on-lookers gaze at the car with its loud rumble and gentle supercharger whine emitting from the beast of a car that is the Hellcat. And the specs are quite impressive.
Kia introduced the K900 premium luxury car for the 2014 model year. Based on Hyundai/Kia’s rear wheel drive platform shared with the Hyundai Equus and loosely the Hyundai Genesis sedan, Kia’s entry into the luxury market is controversial. Internally and externally there were concerns that the brand was not ready to take the leap into the $60,000 price range. But as is often the case in the life of an import distributor, the parent company demands that you take the “gift” of a vehicle you might not think fits the lineup at the time.
KMA – AutoPacific Neighbors Full disclosure, Kia Motors America headquarters in Irvine are less than a mile from AutoPacific’s headquarters in Tustin, California. Every day our roads are filled with Kia Optima mid-size cars (to our eye, the best looking mid-size car presently on the market), Kia Soul hamster cars and Kia Forte compact cars. Given the population of cars within a mile radius, Kia is the best selling brand on the market. K900s are rarer, but does K900 hurt KMA’s position in the American market? We don’t think so.
Conservative Design Will Not Offend The exterior of the car is conservative and tasteful. There is little flamboyance with the exception of Kia’s outstanding white pearlescent paint (I don’t like white cars, but the white available on the Optima and K900 is a very rich looking color). The K900 is a large car with generous greenhouse that provides excellent visibility except rearward where the headrests get in the way.
Kia K900 Interior Outstanding The K900 interior is a work of art. The seats are nicely styled, supportive and infinitely adjustable with Mercedes-like seat controls on the door trim panels. The instrument panel is electronic wizardry with a very well designed programmable 12.3-inch instrument cluster and 9.2-inch center stack screen with Kia’s UVO eServices telematics system. Radio controls are actually easy to use with KNOBS (!) and source buttons. The rear seat is very spacious and comfortable. In the uplevel VIP executive package (a $6,000 option) designed for Korean CEOs to ride in the rear there are redundant controls in the center arm rest. In the particular example we have been driving for a week, the interior trim is a very light grey or off white which makes it seem open, airy and spacious. The contrasting grey environmental color gives a very upscale ambiance.
Lexus-Like Dynamics Dynamically, the K900 harkens back two generations to the Lexus LS430, before Lexus decided to try a more sporty route. The ride is very isolated, soft and cushion-like. The 5.0L gasoline direct injection V8 is powerful and smooth. Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission we saw an average fuel economy of about 15mpg. While the fuel economy is not sterling, it is about what you’d expect in a car like this.
So, the Kia K900 is not a German luxury car and is not what the Lexus LS460 has evolved into. The Kia K900 is a very competitive, traditional luxury car that will be comfortable for the long haul and easy to live with.
The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van was the first European-style full size van sold in the United States. Ford has added the European-style Transit van to its huge plant in Kansas City, Missouri. Ram is importing ProMaster vans from Europe. Nissan manufactures its NV vans in Canton, Mississippi and it is somewhere between a traditional American van and a European van. Only General Motors is left with a traditional American van with the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana. In the overall scheme of things, Ford is the top dog by a wide margin and Mercedes is in fourth or fifth place depending on the month.
Mercedes Sprinter Update for 2015 For 2015, the Mercedes Sprinter is getting a minor update including new front end appearance with more distinctive headlamps and grille. Optional safety features now commonly found in cars are available: blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, collision prevention assist and highbeam assist. On the Sprinter 2500 model, Crosswind Assist is standard. Because big vans present a large flat surface to the wind, they are susceptible to being knocked around in crosswinds. The Crosswind Assist system alleviates Crosswind threats at speeds over 50mph.
Of significance, the Mercedes Sprinter receives a 4×4 model for 2015. The base 4×4 system is prices at $6,500 with an additional $300 for low range capability. The 4×4 will likely be popular in the Snow Belt and Mercedes predicts between 6% and 9% of its mix will be 4×4. Sounds a bit low.
Diesel Engines The base engine in about 50% of Sprinters is a 161HP 2.1L 4-cylinder diesel with 266 lb-ft of torque. The 4-cylinder diesel is mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission. The optional 188HP 3.0L V6 diesel has 325 lb-ft of torque.
Re-Assembly Strategy for US Cargo Vans Mercedes Sprinter cargo vans are “re”-assembled at a small plant in the suburbs of Charleston, South Carolina. The former Western Star/American LaFrance plant is now the sole source for Sprinter cargo vans in the USA. Only about one third of the plant is used at present with plenty of room for expansion.
Now with 3 Roof Heights
Chicken Tax Avoidance Strategy Because of the 25% “chicken tax” (tariff) in place since 1967, truck manufacturers have used various schemes to avoid the crushing price penalty. At one point, Toyota added pickup boxes to its small pickup at the port in Long Beach, California. Ultimately, the major Japanese truck manufacturers added assembly capacity for their trucks in the USA. Toyota manufactured Tacoma pickups at NUMMI (a joint venture with General Motors) in Fremont, California and now manufactures Tundra and Tacoma pickups at a plant in San Antonio, Texas. Nissan has a huge truck plant in Smyrna, Tennessee and another in Canton, Mississippi. Even Honda has truck capacity for its Ridgeline in Ohio.
Mercedes avoids the chicken tax by re-assembling Sprinter vans in the USA. They are first completely manufactured in a plant in Dusseldorf, Germany. They are disassembled so that the powertrain is separate from the body. The bodies are loaded into containers (one or two per container depending on configuration) and shipped to Charleston. The powertrain components are shipped separately in lots of eighteen. Unloaded at the plant in Charleston, the body moves through thirteen six-minute stations. The Charleston plant can re-assemble between 60 and 75 Sprinter cargo vans per day. In 2013, the plant produced over 14,000 units. The top customers for these vehicles are FedEx (who insisted Mercedes add the vehicles for the American market) and Winnebago.
Saving the 25% chicken tax results in a 12% to 13% increase in the cost of the Sprinter in the USA, but the savings are still 12% to 13% lower than if the tariff had been paid.
Future Mercedes Vans in the USA Mercedes is adding more vans to its lineup in the future. The European mid-size Vito van (with the “Metris” name in the USA and Canada) will be added in Fall, 2015 in passenger and cargo versions. Another passenger van – the V-Class – was introduced in Munich in January 2014 and on sale in Europe from Spring 2014. Think of the V-Class as a van equivalent to the Mercedes S-Class sedan. Also in the offing for the USA is the smaller Mercedes Citan van introduced in Europe in 2012. Given the capacity available at the Mercedes van plant outside Charleston, it would not be surprising to see the Metris cargo vans assembled there similar to the Sprinter cargo vans.
One of the benefits of writing about cars is that you get to drive some insane stuff occasionally. The most recent insanity is the 2015 Dodge Charger Hellcat an insanely fast 4-door sedan that Dodge actually displayed with two child seats in the back showing that it can be a responsible family hauler as well as a berserker. And berserker it is.
Powered by a 707-horsepower 6.2L Supercharged HEMI V8, the Hellcat is a range-topping $64,000 handful. Dodge staged the review of the new 2015 Dodge Charger out of Washington DC and offered on-track driving at Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia. On a chilly, drizzly day, taking the Hellcat out on the rural roads around Summit Point allowed only about 20% of what the car is capable of. Punching it on a clear straightaway spooled up torque that pushed the car sideways. Careful, careful, it felt almost as if you were idling and the car wanted to surge ahead. You always knew that there is more there that can be used.707-horsepower
Multiple Keys Can Tone Down Hellcat for Valets Dodge knows that in the wrong hands 707-horsepower can be abused so they have two keys and three horsepower modes. Red key gets you unlimited use of its 707-horsepower. Black key gets you about 500-horsepower – still a lot for your teenage son or the valet. The answer for that is a valet mode accessed through the vehicle system that reduces the power to around 200-horsepower so they can’t get in too much trouble.
Something for Everyone in the Charger Lineup With the 707-horsepower Hellcat out of the way, a serious, serious car, the happiest Charger is the 292-horsepower Pentastar V6 with all wheel drive. This lower level sedan is a delight to drive. Nimble and forgiving in all the ways the Dodge Charger Hellcat is not. Simply, the new Charger lineup seems to have something for everyone from happy and pleasant starting around $28,000 for the SE or SXT models with the Pentastar V6, to a $32,000 370-horsepower 5.7L HEMI V8 in the R/T, to a $40,000 R/T Scat Pack with a 485-horsepower 6.4L HEMI V8, to the monster Hellcat with the 707-horsepower HEMI V8 at a fully loaded price over $60,000.
Monticello Raceway, Monticello, New York
Lexus is pushing forward with the F. This time with the all-new 2015 RC F sports coupe. Outfitted with a 467 horsepower 5.0 liter V8 with a close-ratio eight speed automatic transmission, this coupe delivers on Lexus’ promise to continue the fight in the luxury performance arena.
Showing it’s relationship to the LF-NX Concept shown at the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show, the RC’s exterior design is aggressive. The rising beltline and stretched head and tail lamps give the vehicle an athletic look. The spindle grille contains the “F” motif repeated in the mesh with cooling ducts moving air to the vehicle’s oil coolers. Of course, the front hood is raised to accommodate the V8 and send the right message to other drivers.
In the past Lexus’ were promoted with the promise of a silent powertrain. Not true today. The RC F has a larger-diameter exhaust system designed to reduce
backpressure and sound powerful, especially under acceleration. But Lexus has taken it beyond the exterior sound. Active Sound Control (ASC), lets the driver control enhanced exhaust, intake and mechanical sounds within the cabin. An electronic control unit mounted beneath the instrument panel (yes, in the cabin) takes input from engine sounds, including varying engine speed, vehicle speed and throttle position and generates powertrain sound within the vehicle. Cheating? You decide. But it’s pretty easy to get used to.
Tuned at both the Fuji Speedway (which is the reason for the F moniker) and the Nürburgring, the RC F is clearly intended to be more than a daily driver. While Lexus may not be the first brand name that comes to mind when thinking of track days, this vehicle is more evidence that the Lexus image is continuing to change. AutoPacific joined media from around the world to test the RC F at Monticello. Aside from one trip mowing the lawn, we can attest to the true performance nature of the RC F.
With the demise of the Ford Crown Vic, Dodge has been winning the police patrol car fleet battle. Sure Ford has its Interceptors and Chevrolet is pushing its Caprice from Australia, but apparently Dodge makes a financially attractive pitch for its Charger Pursuit. We’ve been seeing more and more of them rolling around Southern California as Crown Vics are retired, uh, sent to taxi fleets.
With the update of the 2015 Dodge Charger, the Pursuit has been updated as well. You can tell the 2015 Charger is different because the front end styling is clearly different. Other changes to the exterior styling are more subtle and it is a surprise when Dodge execs contend that every exterior panel is new with the exception of the roof and rear doors. Dodge continues with its distinctive LED racetrack taillamp graphic and adds LED daytime running lights to the front.
The interior has been upgraded with soft-touch materials including a 1-piece instrument panel pad with aggressive graining. Like the civilian Charger, the Pursuit instrument cluster has an added 7-inch driver information display. In the center stack there is a 5-inch screen for Chrysler’s UConnect infotainment system. Unique to the Pursuit is a column mounted shifter, “police-duty” front seats designed to accommodate the belt gear police normally wear and a modified center console.
Police Advisory Board Input Dodge has a 22-member Police Advisory Board and their input was valuable in determining what upgrades the 2015 Dodge Charger Pursuit has over the civilian Charger. With “modern” interfaces, Dodge has enabled re-mapping of the steering wheel buttons to handle aftermarket police equipment. The instrument cluster can be customized 100 ways to optimize its display for police use. The heavy duty anti-lock vented disc brakes have been upgraded and brake cooling ducts added to the lower front fascia. The performance tuned suspension has been upgraded with more durable bushings up front.
Factory upfit plans are offered for law enforcement to customize packages for their organizations. Chrysler’s Mopar accessories group has developed and tested equipment that meets and exceeds the durability cycle and test requirements of the 2015 Dodge Charger Pursuit. There is a Base Police Prep Package and a Wiring Police Prep Package. Both are designed to handle the broad power requirements of communications gear, lighting, sirens, cameras and computers. There is a slide-out trunk tray available and also a trunk fan to keep all the electrical and electronics gear in the trunk cool.
V6 Pentastar A Safe Alternative for Most Pursuit Work There are two engines available: 370HP 5.7L HEMI V8 and 292HP 3.6L Pentastar V6. The Pursuit is standard with rear wheel drive and optional with all wheel drive. While patrol officers probably want the HEMI, the Pentastar V6 is probably sufficient for 90% of police applications. Word on the street is that younger officers don’t know how to handle the more powerful V8 and the V6 provides plenty of power for most applications. Safety first with the V6. Macho cop pursuits with the HEMI.