AAH #352 – Tenneco, Tesla, & Technology

October 21st, 2016 at 10:41am

Audio-only version:

SPECIAL GUEST: Tim Jackson, EVP of Technology, Tenneco

PANEL: John McElroy, Autoline.tv; Gary Vasilash, AD&P; Joni Gray, Autobytel

01:36 – Latest technology from Tenneco
31:58Tesla cars will be fully autonomous?
39:40Apple bailing out of car program
46:13Doctor Data
49:00Geely launching a new brand
53:08 – How successful are startup brands?

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October 17th, 2016 at 2:06pm


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

Chip Drake
About The Vehicles:

2016 FIAT 500x
Base Price: $25,100
Price as Tested: $28,795
Destination Included: $995

2016 FIAT 500L

Base Price: $21,880
Price as Tested: $29,125
Destination Included: $995

Final Impression:

We all know XL means extra large. But when are those individual letters LARGER apart, than they are together? The answer? When they follow the number 500 on two different FIAT vehicles.

The Italian nameplate brought its globally popular Cinquecento minicar to America some 5 years ago and designated it the FIAT 500. But early on, the only FIATs available to buy or lease were variations of this one model: the 500c, the 500e, the 500 Abarth and even a 500 Gucci edition to name a few.

A couple years later the brand brought us the 500L, a larger version of the 500 — 30 inches longer & 6 inches higher — with 68 cubic feet of storage space and still front wheel drive.

But FIAT recognized the Crossover craze wasn’t about to quit so about a year ago they gave us the 500x, similar to the L but built on the Jeep Renegade architecture in Italy with an All-Wheel-Drive system.

I recently had the opportunity to drive them back to back, and the comparison of the two was illuminating.


The newer X is more prepared for an all-road experience. With its Jeep advantage and a 2.4-Liter I4 MultiAir engine I didn’t exactly go off-roading but when I did veer from the pavement every now and then, the package was solid and performed well. Meanwhile, thanks to the $1,700 Optional Trekking Collection, the CUV came with a 6.5” touchscreen display, a newer Uconnect system with Navigation and a backup camera which made the inside experience contemporary and comfortable. In addition, the X also came equipped with safety features like Rear Park Assist and Blind Spot monitoring.



Meanwhile the Front Wheel Drive L has a smoother overall ride than its cousin. And though its 1.4-Liter MultiAir engine is fine with one or two people in the car, when I added a third, the engine became sluggish, especially going up small hills. And though the L’s standard electronics were older than the those on the X, you can add the updated features, and more, with the $3,300 Urbana Trekking Collection Option.

As for styling, the look both in and outside of the car is fun. In fact my wife compared it to MINI which, knowing her respect for the British brand, is a high compliment. But, the interior with its cloth seats, more mundane IP and harder plastic throughout wasn’t as nice as the more refined X, which struck me as strange since my test L was about $500 more expensive.

On the whole the X was a better package between the two cars I drove. And normally I would say if you’re interested in a FIAT crossover that would be the way to go. However, that was before Pope Francis came to the U.S. If you noticed, as he rode from event to event, he got there in his FIAT 500L. To be honest, I’m not sure what that means, but that’s the closest I’ve seen any car come to receiving a papal blessing. And if that’s case, as they say in Vatican City, what’s good for the Pope…


Seat Time: 2017 Nissan Rogue – Nissan’s New #1

October 14th, 2016 at 4:16pm

2017 Nissan Rogue

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

Reviewer: Seamus McElroy
Vehicle: 2017 Nissan Rogue
Price: $24,760 (base)

Final Impression:

The Nissan Rogue has quickly become the most important vehicle in the company’s line-up. Just this month the crossover became its best selling vehicle in the U.S., passing the Altima, which has held that crown since 1995. It’s number three overall in its segment just behind the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV-4. And the company hopes to keep up and build on that success with the new 2017 model.

2017 Nissan Rogue SL

The styling has been updated and is more expressive than before. It features a new front fascia with its “V-Motion” grille that is similar to the Murano. It’s also got a new rear bumper, headlights and the inside also features some minor changes as well. The Rogue can seat up to seven people when equipped with the optional third row. And to improve access to the back, the second row features Nissan’s EZ Flex Seating System, which can slide, recline and fold the seats in different combinations.

The Rogue is offered with the same 2.5L four-cylinder gasoline engine that’s in the current model. Although the gear ratios in its CVT have been reworked. Fuel economy for the front-wheel drive version is rated at 26 MPG in the city, 33 on the highway, which comes out to a combined average of 29 MPGs. The AWD version gets 1 MPG less in each category. Overall this is a nice set-up but it’s not overly powerful and it can be a bit buzzy when you put your foot into the accelerator. But new for 2017 is a hybrid model. It’s powered by a 2.0L four-cylinder and a CVT. Like the gasoline model, the hybrid is offered in both 2 and 4 wheel drive. And on average, the company expects the hybrid to get 5 to 8 MPGs better than the conventional Rogue. Unfortunately our driving impressions of the hybrid are still under embargo

But one big improvement is the cabin noise. The company made several improvements to reduce road, wind and mechanical noises. Such as adding damping and sound absorption materials to the floor and body pillars, adding thicker seals and increasing the thickness of the rear door glass by 33%.

New driver assistance features include Forward Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Protection, Lane Departure Warning and Prevention. A base Rogue with front wheel drive starts just under $25,000. While the top model equipped with all-wheel drive begins at just over $32,000. The 2017 Rogue is on sale now.

2017 Nissan Rogue

AAH #351 – Everything You Don’t Know About The Acura NSX

October 13th, 2016 at 2:30pm

Audio-only version:

01:35Acura NSX
41:38Doctor Data
45:40 – Can Nissan revive Mitsubishi in the U.S.?
51:07Ford ends production in Australia
53:42 – German Bundesrat passes ban on ICEs by 2030
1:01:30 – Why did FCA pile on incentives for RAM trucks?

SPECIAL GUEST: Ted Klaus, Chief Engineer, Acura NSX

PANEL: John McElroy, Autoline.tv; Gary Vasilash, AD&P; Joe DeMatio, Road & Track

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

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Seat Time: 2017 Ford Fusion Sport – A Nice Surprise

October 12th, 2016 at 12:44pm


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

Reviewer: Sean McElroy
Vehicle: 2017 Ford Fusion Sport
Price: $40,995 (as tested & including destination)

Final Impression:

Ford is carving out a nice little niche for itself with its Sport models. Explorer sales were up over 20% between 2013 and 2015, but the Explorer Sport jumped 103% and during that same time the Edge Sport was up 62%. Now Ford is unleashing the all-new Fusion Sport. For some mainstream models a sport variant might be nothing more than bigger wheels, chrome exhaust tips and a couple of interior enhancements. But improvements to the Fusion Sport are more than cosmetic.


At its heart is a 2.7L twin-turbocharged V6 – all other Fusion models come with a 4-cylinder – that pumps out 325-horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque. For better ride and handling, the Fusion Sport comes standard with all-wheel drive and computer-controlled shock absorbers. By tapping the “Sport Mode” button, which is located in the middle of a Fusion Sport-exclusive rotary shift knob, drivers can change the car’s suspension from “normal” to “sport.” Another added feature of these dampers is the ability to reduce harsh impacts with potholes. The system is able to detect when a wheel is falling off the leading edge of a pothole and slow down the rate at which the shock extends, not allowing the wheel to fall all the way down into the hole. It then relays that information to the rear shocks, so they’re ready for the pothole too.

While those are the major enhancements to the guts of the Fusion Sport, there are some cosmetic treatments that are unique to the car as well. The front fascia and headlights have been slightly reworked, it gets dark-colored 19″ wheels, quad chrome exhaust tips and dark grey leather seats with microfiber/suede inserts. Add it all up and the folks at Ford think they have a real winner on their hands that customers are going to love. You know what? I kind of agree with them. The Fusion Sport delivered exactly what I was expecting and then some.


I knew the car wasn’t going to win any Sports Car of the Year awards, but would still be fun to thrash around in. I wish power came on a little quicker from a standstill, remember it’s a rather big and heavy AWD sedan that’s turbocharged, but overall power was more than adequate and easy to control. Sling the car into a corner and you still feel like you’re in a big sedan, but it was not all that bad and a definite step up from the base car. But now let’s get to that “and then some” portion of what the Fusion Sport delivered. The exhaust note from inside the car is really good. And while noise cancellation technology does enhance engine sound in “Sport Mode,” it’s still pretty darn good out of “Sport Mode” and has the nice baritone note of a good V6 engine. It was also surprising just how quite the Fusion Sport is. With an acoustic windshield and front side glass and the previously mentioned noise cancellation technology, the car easily blocks out road noise. It’s easily as quiet as cars that cost twice as much and maybe even more. And speaking of, the 2017 Fusion Sport is on sale now with a starting price of just under $33,500. A decked-out version will run just under $41-grand.


AAH #350 – Hybrids Mild & Prius Prime

October 7th, 2016 at 11:22am

Audio-only version:

01:3248 volt, mild hybrid
25:05 – Phone call: racing
26:39 – Phone call: Elio
28:07Paris Show: sans importance?
34:32Doctor Data
37:06UX: Going beyond the “Glass Slab.”
44:24Prius Prime: Bad Time for Prime?
44:46 – Prius Prime walk-around
52:20September Sales: How soon before everyone drives a truck?
1:00:25 – Phone call: Ram vs. Silverado
1:07:30BONUS FOOTAGE: Post-show

I.C.E. mpgs keep improving; EV batteries are lasting longer; And even fuel cells are still in the mix. If all this is true, then why are companies like Delphi banking on something called a 48-volt, mild hybrid as the next big thing to power your car? Well one reason could be because experts see sales of over 12-million of these mild hybrids in consumer cars by 2025.  But why guess at all this when we can hear it straight from a modern day Oracle of Delphi in the AFTER HOURS studio.

SPECIAL GUEST: Mary Gustanski, Vice President, Engineering, Delphi

PANEL:  Gary Vasilash, AD&P; Christie Schweinsberg, WardsAuto.com; Joe Szczesny, The Oakland Press

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Seat Time: 2017 Kia Cadenza – The Perfect Car, A Decade Too Late

October 4th, 2016 at 9:29am


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

John McElroy
Vehicle: 2017 Kia Cadenza
Price: starting around $33,000

Final Impression:

Poor Kia… It’s trying as hard as it can to shake its image as a company that makes cheap and cheerful cars. So it completely revamped its styling to exude a more sophisticated image. It loaded up its cars with the kind of technology that you expect to find in the luxury segment. And it doubled its efforts to develop cars that drive as good as they look.


As a result, Kia has three of the finest sedans in their segments: the Optima, the Cadenza, and the K900. The only problem is that the market is walking away from passenger cars. These three sedans are practically nailed to the showroom floor.

Sales of the K900 are minuscule. Kia will be lucky to sell 1,000 of them in the US market this year. The Optima sells much better but sales are plunging, down by a quarter this year alone. The Cadenza never caught on with the public, Kia will sell perhaps 5,000 of them this year.

Generally, when a car company redesigns a car and makes it a lot better you expect to see the sales go up. Don’t count on that happening this time with the Cadenza. But don’t blame the car. The public is running away from passenger cars and jumping into CUV’s instead.

Make no mistake; the Cadenza is a very good sedan. It has attractive styling, with the latest variation of Kia’s “Tiger Nose” grille, a design that makes all Kia’s look decidedly upscale. It’s a relatively large car with exceptionally good rear seat legroom and a very large trunk. The interior controls and readouts are logically laid out and intuitive enough to decipher without resorting to the owner’s manual. And it drives like a dream, perfectly suited for everyday commuting yet sophisticated enough to rub shoulders with the luxury cars parked at any upscale restaurant.

The 2017 Cadenza is powered by a 3.3 L V-6 with an 8-speed automatic that work very well together. Though it’s rated at 23 mpg combined, in my test-driving it delivered 30 mpg, perhaps because I was doing a lot more highway driving.

As of this writing Kia still has not released prices for the 2017 Cadenza. The outgoing model started at around $33,000 but you could option it up to around $44,000. It’s highly unlikely the price will change much with the new car especially when you look at the sales numbers.

If this car had been introduced a decade ago it would’ve been hailed as an automotive triumph. It’s at least as good as the original Lexus LS sedan. But timing is everything, even when it comes to introducing cars. And it’s highly unlikely the Kia Cadenza will have any impact on the market whatsoever. As good as it is, it’s a decade too late.


AAH #349 – Driving With Payne

September 29th, 2016 at 2:30pm

Audio-only version:

01:20Lola 90 Racer
23:55Ford Performance Sales
29:38Doctor Data
32:05 – Do Diesels have a passenger car future?
44:36Jeep unveils Compass….in Brazil?

SPECIAL GUEST: Henry Payne, The Detroit News
Vehicle in Studio: 1988 Lola 90 Racer

PANEL: John McElroy, Autoline.tv and Gary Vasilash, Automotive Design & Production

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

Subscribe to the free podcast version of Autoline After Hours:

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

September 27th, 2016 at 2:47pm


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

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

Final Impression:


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

September 23rd, 2016 at 1:00pm


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

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

Final Impression:


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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