Seat Time Potpourri: Rear, Phone and Hatch

June 24th, 2016 at 10:12am

(Spotlighting a feature, product or function on a combination of cars)


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

Reviewer: Chip Drake

Final Impression:



2016 Range Rover HSE Td6
$106,675.00 (as tested)

Range Rover has multiple parking systems on the HSE called, simply enough, “Front and Rear Parking Aids.” The company says the front, rear and side sensors monitor four feet around the vehicle while “inner” rear sensors monitor six feet behind the SUV. They come standard on this luxury SUV and let me tell you from personal experience, they sure work!

As I backed out of my driveway, my ears were accosted by a warning tone that was about as aggressive as the alarm on the nuclear sub in “The Hunt for Red October.” The sound was so loud reverberating throughout the entire vehicle it caused me to stop; I thought I was about to hit something. In reality, the rear sensors on the SUV were actually reading two medium-sized rocks my neighbor uses to decorate his driveway. There was no way that this vehicle, being as high off the ground as it is, would have ever come close to hitting them, but then that’s the benefit of having a system like this on your Range Rover. But I do have to say that alarm is just a tad loud.


2017 Audi Q7 3.0T quattro tiptronic
$68,925.00 (as tested)

Audi’s large SUV has a number of Infotainment & Technology features including Apple CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. But in spite of the smartphone integration, the MMI navigation and voice control system and unlimited WiFi, what impressed me the most was Audi’s basic smartphone interface. What I mean is the first time I entered the car my phone practically jumped out of my hand to connect with the bluetooth system. The Q7 immediately began asking me questions and making the process so simple that in seconds my phone was linked with the car. That might not mean a lot to readers out there, but having used several systems in a variety of cars, from compact to ultra luxury, I’ve never had such an easy time linking a phone to an auto’s system. So thanks Audi.

2016 Mazda CX-3 Touring AWD
$26,050.00 (as tested)

There’s plenty to love about Mazda’s small CUV with its SKYACTIV suite of technologies. The ride and handling is all Mazda meaning it’s a darn fun-to-drive car with a snappy good-looking interior to boot. There are a few drawbacks though.

Let me start with 5-passenger seating. Really? Now I’m sure there are 5 people that fit comfortably in this vehicle but I don’t know them.

Then there’s the road noise. I know this is an inexpensive vehicle as CUVs go, but I really thought there was far too much of the outside coming inside for my liking.

Finally, my last issue with CX-3 might not even be the car’s fault; allow me to explain. The first time I had to get into the rear hatch it was raining. In between the significant pelting, I tried to open the rear but couldn’t find the latch. After several attempts running my hand on the tailgate where I thought it was: nothing, nada, zilch. I even popped back into the car to look for a button in the cockpit with no luck. Frustrated, I stuffed everything in the back seat and drove home. It wasn’t until the next day — with no rain — that I discovered the location of the latch release. And where do you think it was? Right in the middle of the tailgate just where the engineers put it. So I guess I’ll take the hit on this one.


AAH #336 – Look Who’s Going Into The Automotive Hall of Fame

June 23rd, 2016 at 2:45pm

Audio-only version:

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- Mulally & Nader: Hall of Famers?
- Toyota’s Near Miss at Le Mans
- VW’s EV Distraction

Join our co-hosts John McElroy from and Gary Vasilash of Automotive Design & Production along with our guest journalist, Bob Gritzinger of WardsAuto as they tackle the automotive issues of the week.

SPECIAL GUEST: William Chapin, President, Automotive Hall of Fame.

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: Impressive All Around, Except For One Thing

June 23rd, 2016 at 2:11pm


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

Reviewer: John McElroy
Vehicle: 2017 Hyundai Elantra ECO
Price: Starting at $20,650

Final Impression:


Admiration and exasperation. In some ways this car is a standout. In another way I don’t care for it at all. OK, let’s get the bad news over with first.

If you ever get a chance to drive the Elantra Eco, do not, I repeat, do not pull out in front of a cement mixer. Its 1.4 turbo gasoline engine performs admirably in so many respects, but not while accelerating from a dead stop or low speeds. No doubt its 7-speed DCT contributes to the problem. A torque converter would definitely help this car.

There’s a huge pause as you step into the gas and the car thinks about what to do. It only lasts a second or two but that’s enough to crush your confidence as you try to pull onto a busy street. The car offers three different driving modes: Eco, Normal and Sport but not even the Sport mode cures it.

Once you get this car going it’s quite good. It cruises comfortably at highway speeds with decent passing power, and easily winds its way through traffic.


In my heavy-footed driving I averaged 38 miles to the gallon. I’m sure that if I had eased off a bit it would have gone over 40 mpg. It’s officially rated at 35 mpg combined, but I bet most buyers will be pleasantly surprised that it beats the label. This also puts it close to hybrid territory.

Most impressively the engine idles very quietly. I actually had to check and see if it has a stop/start system. It does not. It idles at about 750 rpm and I could neither hear it nor feel it while sitting in the driver’s seat. Amazing.

In fact, it’s quiet car overall. Not as quiet as a Honda Civic, but it comes close. And it has a cushy ride. That will not appeal to enthusiasts, but anything with “Eco” in the name will probably not appeal to them anyway.

This is the perfect commuter car for someone who wants to travel in quiet comfort without spending a lot of money. The version I test drove cost about $23,000. I think that’s a bit pricey for what it is, but it came loaded with extra features. If not for its slow-off- the-line response, I would heartily recommend the Elantra Eco.


Seat Time: Fiat 124 – A 21st Century Reboot

June 20th, 2016 at 11:09am


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

Reviewer: Chip Drake
Vehicle: 2017 Fiat 124 Spider
Price: $25,000-$30,000 (price varies by trim level)
Pros: great styling, nice soft-touch interior
Cons: passenger seat pickle

Final Impression:
What’s the third car in your garage? Don’t have one? Well, for those who are looking for one, FIAT is hoping that you make that choice its new 2017 124 Spider.


Yes, the iconic roadster, which stopped production in 1985, is back celebrating the 50th anniversary of its origin. But whereas that version was pretty much Italian through and through, this new Spider carries a few different passports.

What I mean to say is this car is a hybrid. No, not that kind of hybrid but an actual combination of cars. FIAT produced the new 124 using Mazda’s Hiroshima-built Miata as its base vehicle. Then, both FCA Engineering and Design went to work to make this car more FIAT than Mazda. And for most consumers, they succeeded.

The exterior pays homage to the 1966 model with the company’s Italian studio giving the car a sleek 21st century update. From the hexagonal grill in the front to the sharp horizontal lamps in the rear, there’s a lot about this styling that looks like it comes from the original.


Meanwhile, the interior surrounds the driver/passenger with comfortable, ergonomic seats and soft touch materials throughout the cabin. Top that off with the easiest manual convertible roof in the business, other than Miata I suppose, and you’ve got a contemporary looking icon. Sitting in the cockpit, the driver is greeted with the usual suite of safety technology that we’ve come to expect in addition to what FCA calls its FIAT Connect Systems — radio, bluetooth, USB ports and more — but so far, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are MIA.

On the powertrain side, Engineering gave the 124 FIAT’s turbocharged MultiAir 1.4-liter engine which, during my drive time with the car, delivered more than 30mpgs combined. That was with a six-speed automatic transmission.

When it comes to driving, this rear-wheel-powered 124 is a blast! Through mountain switchbacks and 70mph freeways, I literally enjoyed all my time behind the steering wheel. But, as far as I’m concerned, the driver’s seat in this car is the only one with a fun quotient.


What do I mean? Well, I think the Death Star trash compactor (in Star Wars) looked infinitely more comfortable than the 124’s passenger seat. Neither my driving partner or myself wanted to move to the right side of the car thanks to some serious space limitations (and that’s putting it mildly). Now, to be fair, there are any number of smaller people in the world who would fit just fine in the 124, and I’m not talking Oompa Loompa size either. But that would most certainly mean they are under 6-foot tall, which didn’t fit either of us.

So if the passenger seat situation doesn’t dissuade you, then this might be the perfect third car for your family, which is part of the marketing strategy FIAT is using to sell the car.

The 124 comes in three trim levels priced between $25,000 and $30,000. They are (from low to high): the Classica with 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth seats and 6 colors; the Lusso with 17-inch wheels, leather seats and 7 colors; and the Abarth, which comes with a performance package that includes a Brembo braking system, Recaro seats and 5 exterior colors.

This is a fun, good-looking 21st century reboot of a 50-year old icon. Buy it if you plan to drive the car yourself or start the Mediterranean Diet.


Seat Time: The SUV That Wasn’t Supposed To Be

June 17th, 2016 at 12:37pm


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

Reviewer: John McElroy
Vehicle: 2017 Jaguar F-Pace

Final Impression:


It’s the SUV that wasn’t supposed to be. The strategy at Jaguar Land Rover was always to have Jaguar build and sell passenger cars, while Land Rover devoted itself exclusively to SUVs. In theory, a perfect combination of brands. But then the world changed.

In the greatest market shift in the history of the auto industry, droves of customers are abandoning passenger cars in favor of crossovers and SUVs. It’s a transition that affects the market from low-price to luxury. And most intriguingly of all, it’s a global phenomenon.

This is no fad. It’s a long term trend. And it finally dawned on Jaguar that it better abandon its passenger-car only strategy or be permanently relegated to the sidelines. Hence, the F-Pace.

As SUVs go, it doesn’t break any new ground. But it’s a solid, competent vehicle that’s going to satisfy a lot of customers. For those with a passion for the brand the F-Pace checks all the boxes. Handsomely athletic styling? Check. Inviting interior that wraps you in leather? Check. Ample power with great road grip? Check.

And for those premium SUV owners who have never considered a Jaguar before it offers a choice to arrive in style yet stand apart from what everyone else is driving.


The F-Pace has good bones. Its aluminum structure is derived from the same architecture as the new XE sedan, and pretty much shares the same powertrains. In the US market the engine choices—for now—include a 2.0 turbo diesel and a 3.0 supercharged gasoline V6. In other markets Jaguar also offers a 2.0 turbo gasoline engine. But for CAFE reasons it opted to launch F-Pace with the diesel. And there’s good logic to that. In my heavy footed driving at high altitudes in the Colorado Rockies the readout read 31 miles per gallon. For a vehicle like this that’s a terrific number.

But there’s been another change in the market. Ever since VW’s diesel emission scandal, sales of diesel engines in passenger vehicles have been declining. Nowadays a diesel engine is a hard sell. Moreover this diesel has a bit of a drone at idle and low speeds, and can get kind of clackety under three-quarter throttle at low to medium speeds. Jaguar is targeting women buyers with the F-Pace and this is probably not the engine that’s going to appeal to them. The faster it gets that 2.0 gas engine to the showroom, the better. There’s always the V6, but that thing’s a monster.


Inside, Jaguar offers an optional 10.2 inch touch screen on the center console. If you’re thinking of buying an F-Pace go for it. At $3,200 it’s pricey but totally worth it. Mind you, you’re not going to jump inside and intuitively figure out how it all works. But you’ll grasp the basics quickly enough and I suppose that learning all the tricks will only increase your satisfaction with the vehicle over time.

Speaking of what things cost, Jaguar is launching the F-Pace with a $42,000 base price. Don’t let that fool you, though. Load it up and the sticker price easily climbs over $70,000. I think most people will probably option them up to the mid 50’s.

Make no mistake, the F-Pace is strategically important for Jaguar. It puts the brand into entirely new territory. I bet it’s only a matter of time before we see two other SUV’s with Jaguar badges on them. If the F-Pace is a Medium there’s got to be a Small and a Large on the way. It’s what the market is demanding.


AAH #335 – Good, Bad, & Ugly: New Cars & Press Trips

June 17th, 2016 at 10:11am

Audio-only version:

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New Product: Fiat124, Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Macan
Press Trips – What we like, what we don’t
-  The Story behind the Opel Bitter CD

Join our co-hosts John McElroy from and Gary Vasilash of Automotive Design & Production along with our guest journalists, Chris Paukert of Roadshow by CNET and freelancer Scott Burgess, as they tackle the automotive issues of the week.

SPECIAL GUEST: Dick Ruzzin, Retired GM Designer and the story behind the design of the Opel Bitter CD.

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

Subscribe to the free podcast version of Autoline After Hours:

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Thanks to our partners and friends and for embedding AAH!

Seat Time: A Car for Camelot?

June 14th, 2016 at 2:07pm


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

Reviewer: Chip Drake
Vehicle: 2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited
Price: $43,285 (as tested)

Final Impression:

Legend has it that King Arthur had one… though I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t a hybrid. Of course I’m talking about Avalon which, in Arthur’s case, was the island of his final rest, while for Toyota it’s the name of its popular flagship sedan. And though this fourth generation vehicle may not be able to move a round table anytime soon, it can certainly transport five knights comfortably.

Under the hood, this Avalon is equipped with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system; a 2.5L, 4 cylinder engine that gets a combined 40mpgs which bests its competition by about 10 miles. And with apologies to Arthur’s steeds Llamrei and Hengroen, there’s absolutely no lag in the powertrain when you need the car to get up and go.


But for me, when you talk Avalon overall comfort is the key.

I drove the Parisian Night Pearl model in congested city traffic as well as out on open the highway and never once felt cramped or fatigued: the spacious cockpit and its power adjustable heated and cooled leather front seats saw to that. In addition, this Avalon comes standard with Toyota’s Entune system, which not only linked my phone with the car faster than Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone, but also provided convenient use of entertainment options as well as navigation tools.

The couple days I spent test driving the car allowed me to concentrate on Avalon’s interior and driving dynamics. It was smooth, steady and comfortable as mentioned above. Maybe not quite the Holy Grail of hybrids, but certainly a treasure in the Toyota lineup that any royal or serf would enjoy.


Is That A Tornado Up Ahead? – TU Automotive Detroit 2016

June 9th, 2016 at 3:27pm

Your car can provide you with lots of information, but nothing about the weather except in a generic way. AccuWeather believes it’s time to have your navigation system let you know about the kind of weather you’re about to drive into.

Fewer Drivers, More Gridlock – TU Automotive Detroit 2016

June 9th, 2016 at 2:55pm

Far fewer Millennials have a driver’s license than any previous generation. This could be a direct threat to the automotive industry, and has big implications for how cities will need to deal with transportation in the future. Cars are not going to go away, but how they get used is already changing.

When Your Autonomous Car Crashes, Who’s Liable? – TU Automotive 2016

June 9th, 2016 at 2:26pm

Liability is going to play a major role in how Autonomous Cars come to market. But the technology is moving far faster than the courts can react to it. How will this get resolved? Here’s the likely process the legal system will go through.