Seat Time: 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack – Gap Filler

October 28th, 2016 at 4:06pm


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.

Reviewer: Sean McElroy
Vehicle: 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack
Price: $26,500 – $34,000

Final Impression:

With the sport utility market on fire, Volkswagen has one giant hole in its lineup… a mid-size SUV. The company will remedy that in the second-quarter of next year with the all-new Atlas that will be built in Chattanooga, Tennessee. For now, however, VW will bridge the gap with the new Golf Alltrack, which is in dealerships now.

The car is mostly just a SportWagen with a few cosmetic tweaks, but the suspension has been raised .6-inches and it gets all-wheel drive. The Alltrack will mark the first time VW offers its 1.8L TSi engine, the only option available in the wagon, with all-wheel drive and a manual or DSG transmission in the U.S. The same setup will be offered in the base-level SportWagen as well, also a first.


The MQB platform, on which the Alltrack is built, has proven itself to be better than good. It’s used for several VW, Audi, Skoda and SEAT models. And the Alltrack shares many of the same attributes. It handles well, I didn’t really notice the extra length of the vehicle behind me. I almost felt like I was in a regular Golf. But the extra suspension lift does give it away. It’s not much, but you do get a more commanding view of what’s in front of you. The Alltrack is also a well engineered vehicle. There’s no squeaks or rattles, everything just seems tight. That includes exterior and interior parts. To me, it’s a vehicle that could easily last a long time, if well maintained.

The Alltrack uses Volkswagen’s latest-generation of 4Motion all-wheel drive system. To help make the system more efficient, it will drive just the front wheels and decouple the rear. A control unit monitors the inputs and activates an electro-hydraulic pump to engage the rear wheels when needed. Up to 50% of the power can be sent to the rear. I found this system was a little slow to react to slippage. When going around a curve on a gravel road I could feel the car start to understeer or push until power was sent to the rear wheels to get the car to rotate. My only other issue with the Alltrack is the dash. It’s just so bland and outdated-looking.


Volkswagen sees the Alltrack attracting active outdoorsy customers and expects it to be cross-shopped with the Subaru Outback, which it believes it stacks up pretty well against. I think that’s pushing it a little bit. The Outback is bigger and much nicer on the inside. But the Alltrack does a lot of the same things well that the Subaru does. So, it would be a good fit for an active outdoorsy person. The Golf Alltrack has a base price of about $26,500 and a top price over $34,000.


AAH #353 – GMC Acadia: The Goldilocks of SUVs

October 28th, 2016 at 12:04pm

Audio-only version:

SPECIAL GUEST: Paul Spadafora, Chief Engineer, GMC Acadia

PANEL: John McElroy,; Gary Vasilash, AD&P; Joann Muller,

01:13 – Rightsizing the 2017 GMC Acadia
29:50Doctor Data
39:10 – Maybe VW should leave the U.S. and concentrate on China?
44:37Tesla earns some money (finally)
51:00Consumer Reports Findings
54:31 – Pickups fall short in IIHS headlight testing

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Seat Time: 2016 Mazda CX-9 – There’s Always a But

October 24th, 2016 at 4:06pm

MY16 Mazda CX-9

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: 2016 Mazda CX-9
Price: ~$42,000

Final Impression:

Ever had a vehicle surprise you? Sure you have. We all have. Maybe you we’re riding in a friend’s or relative’s new car and it wasn’t what you were expecting. It could have been a surprise from the brand or maybe you had a preconceived notion about that vehicle from a past experience. The Mazda CX-9 was that vehicle for me.


It just seems to have this presence about it. I like Mazda’s KODO design language and had seen pictures and video of the CX-9 before, but I found the SUV to be visually striking in person. The size, proportions and styling all fit.

The interior was not at all what I was expecting from Mazda. It was like the gates of heaven opening the first time the door swung open. Ok, that’s clearly an exaggeration, but it really was something special. Mazda is known for being sporty, but the interior of the CX-9 is elegant. The combination of soft, light tan leather and dark wood, plastic and other materials flowed together well in my test vehicle. One thing the interior is lacking is overall space. But you’ll notice that all of Mazda’s utilities rank near the bottom in interior volume. This has a lot to do with the sharp rake at the rear of these vehicles. It was a compromise Mazda knowlingly made to produce SUVs it felt best fit its brand.

It also comes with bunch of safety and technology features. The CX-9 can be had with either a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen and the latest MAZDA CONNECT infotainment system. I found it to be intuitive and easy to use with the rotary control knob. Optional technology includes Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assist and Mazda Radar (Smart) Cruise Control.


The CX-9 is the only vehicle in its class that doesn’t offer a V6 option. It comes with a turbocharged 2.5L 4-cylinder engine, which performs very well. Mazda tuned the engine to have most of its torque available at low engine speeds because that’s where most people drive at. It really does give you a nice seat-of-the-pants feeling when pulling away from a standstill, but power does start to fall off over 4,500 RPM.

I will say the CX-9 handles very well, probably the best in its class and something you can feel after just a few hundred yards, but… There’s always a but, isn’t there? But this was a big but. There was a really annoying creak from the suspension that sounded off over nearly every bump and never went away. I traced it to the right rear coil spring. I could feel the whole spring vibrate when someone pushed down on the rear bumper. So, something was rubbing that shouldn’t have been. I really hope the issue was isolated to my test vehicle and not the result of a sporty brand failing at trying to move upscale. Because otherwise the 2016 Mazda CX-9 is a fantastic vehicle.

MY16 Mazda CX-9


October 21st, 2016 at 12:13pm


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


  • 2016 Jeep Wrangler 4×4 75th Anniversary Edition
  • 2016 Jeep Renegade Latitude 4×4 75th Edition
  • 2016 Jeep Cherokee Overland


2016 Jeep Wrangler 4×4 75th Anniversary Edition

Base: $29,995
Priced as Driven: $44,830
Destination included: $995

Wrangler is the one Jeep with the most direct link to the original World War II Willys MP. So as the brand celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is outfitting some models with a special edition.

key-feature-2The Wrangler, which starts life as a Sahara, becomes the special 75th Anniversary edition with nearly a $5,000 package including 17-inch bronze aluminum wheels, front & rear bronze tow hooks, grille and “Trail Rated” badge; both… in you guessed it, bronze. By the way, all of this bronze equipment looks great against the “Sarge Green” metallic paint of the car.

But the anniversary isn’t only on the exterior. Inside the Wrangler there’s an IP Grab Handle noting the special edition, leather seats with what they call “Ombre Mesh” cloth along with Moroccan Sun Accents.

There are a number of other features that help transform the Sahara into this impressive 75th Anniversary Wrangler. However, if you want the entire package, which pays homage to the vehicle’s heritage, it takes another $15,000 tacked onto the base price.



2016 Jeep Renegade Latitude 4×4 75th Edition

Base: $23,395
Priced as Driven: $29,720
Destination included: $995

There are a lot of great things to be said about the Italian-built Jeep Renegade. From the ride, handling and styling to name a few, but I’m choosing to spotlight the “Easter Eggs.” Yes, Easter Eggs; those unique styling idiosyncrasies that the Jeep team slip onto the vehicle to delight and surprise the customer.


You may have heard of some of them like the silhouette of the original Willys Jeep on the windshield or a red version in the wheels; And if you look at the back of the car the rear taillights mimic a World War II gas can. But without a doubt, the most populated egg on the Renegade is a smaller replica of the iconic 7-slat Jeep grille, which shows up everywhere from the front headlamps to any number of spots on the vehicle interior.

fcwfhtfrr9qlbux9dr15Yet I have to confess that my favorite Jeep Easter Egg is the one on the rear windshield. And even though it really has nothing to do with the CUV or its heritage, when you see the silhouette of the Abominable Snowman (or do you say Yeti?) climbing a hill, how can you not be smitten?



2016 Jeep Cherokee Overland

Base: $38,395
Priced as Driven: $41,180
Destination included: $995

Jeep’s compact crossover, the Cherokee Overland, is like its bigger brother and the most upscale of the models trim levels. So its a no brainer to spotlight the vehicle’s delightful interior.


Jeep gives you standard leather seats, with the Overland that seem to be more comfortable than its compact CUV competition. Our Cherokee came with a brown/pearl interior color combination which looked great especially paired with its Deep Cherry Red exterior. In addition to the seats, there are leather-wrapped features throughout the cabin: from shift knob to IP, to dash, along with the heated-steering wheel which also has some nice wood accents.

But looks aren’t everything. Let’s talk electronics.

The vehicle comes equipped with the latest Siri-assisted (“Eyes Free”) Uconnect NAV system, which not only looked great on the 7-inch color display, but worked flawlessly whenever I asked it to perform a task. Then depending on your comfort level, you can heat or cool either of the front seats.

Now, if like with Wrangler & Renegade we’ve already mentioned, you wanted your Cherokee outfitted with the 75th Anniversary package, you’d be looking at adding the following:

The exclusive exterior color of “Recon Green,” special 75th Anniversary badging as well as bronze accents on the exterior, wheels, roof rails and fascias, not to mention the 8.4-inch display and dual-pane sunroof. This will cost you another $2,780 added to your base price. But it does look great and they’re not making very many of these special edition models, so it is unique.

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,; 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,; Gary Vasilash, AD&P; Joe DeMatio, Road & Track

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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,; Joe Szczesny, The Oakland Press

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