Posts Tagged ‘Mercedes’
While car brand reputation can be a strong influence on purchase decisions, such perceptions can be misleading. The reality is, every brand offers models that perform across a spectrum, with some clearly better than others.
As we see in our annual Car Brand Perception survey, how consumers view brands can often be a trailing indicator and not reflect the current reality. To further illustrate this point, we have compiled a list chronicling the best and worst models by brand based on our overall test scores.
The test performance variation differs from brand to brand, with some brands’ worst model being still doing rather well, while others span a wide range, making any generalities quite misleading. Take Audi, for example. Even its worst model, the A5, scores a 74 (out of 100) and meets our performance standards, safety, and reliability criteria to be Recommended. Meanwhile, the best Jeep is the Grand Cherokee Limited. It earns 77 points in our tests, only three points more than the worst Audi. But the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited marks the low point in our current ratings, scoring only a 20. The gap between best and worst can be even broader. Chevrolet, for instance, spans from the Impala (95) to the Spark (36).
The list below includes all brands for which Consumer Reports has tested at least three different models recently, thereby excluding Land Rover, Mini, Ram, Smart, and Tesla.
|Acura||Acura TSX (4-cyl.)||Acura RLX Tech|
|Audi||Audi A7 3.0 TDI||Audi A5 Premium Plus (2.0T)*|
|BMW||BMW 328i||BMW 750Li*|
|Buick||Buick Regal Premium I*||Buick Encore Leather|
|Cadillac||Cadillac XTS Premium||Cadillac SRX Luxury|
|Chevrolet||Chevrolet Impala 2LTZ (3.6)||Chevrolet Spark 1LT|
|Chrysler||Chrysler 300 (base, V6)||Chrysler Town & Country Touring-L|
|Dodge||Dodge Durango Limited (V6)||Dodge Journey Limited (V6)|
|Fiat||Fiat 500 Abarth||Fiat 500L Easy|
|Ford||Ford Fusion SE Hybrid||Ford Fiesta SE sedan|
|GMC||GMC Sierra 1500 SLT (5.3L V8)||GMC Terrain SLE1 (4-cyl.)|
|Honda||Honda Accord LX (4-cyl.)||Honda Insight EX|
|Hyundai||Hyundai Sonata Limited (2.0T)||Hyundai Accent GLS sedan|
|Infiniti||Infiniti Q70 (M37, V6)||Infiniti QX80 (QX56)|
|Jaguar||Jaguar XJL Portfolio*||Jaguar XK Convertible*|
|Jeep||Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited (V6)||Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara|
|Kia||Kia Cadenza||Kia Rio EX hatchback|
|Lexus||Lexus LS 460L||Lexus IS250 (AWD)|
|Lincoln||Lincoln MKZ Hybrid||Lincoln MKS (base, 3.7)|
|Mazda||Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring||Mazda2 Touring|
|Mercedes-Benz||Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec (AWD)||Mercedes-Benz CLA250|
|Mitsubishi||Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR||Mitsubishi iMiEV SE|
|Nissan||Nissan 370Z Touring coupe||Nissan Versa SV sedan|
|Porsche||Porsche Boxster 2.7||Porsche Cayenne (base, V6)|
|Scion||Scion FR-S||Scion iQ|
|Subaru||Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium||Subaru Tribeca Limited|
|Toyota||Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE||Toyota FJ Cruiser|
|Volkswagen||Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium (V6)||Volkswagen Beetle 2.5L (MT)*|
|Volvo||Volvo S60 T5*||Volvo XC90 3.2|
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The U.S. auto industry announced in 2013 that it was back in full force with unit sales increasing to 15.6 million, up better than 7% from 2012, and crossing the 15 million mark for the first time since 2007.
A combination of an improving economy, lower unemployment rates, and historically low lending rates have encouraged consumers to jump into what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase their dream car at a very attractive lending rate.
Needless to say, a lot of thought and effort goes into which car a consumer will purchase. Consumers often look at fuel economy, read reviews online, test drive the vehicle (perhaps a number of times), ask for advice from family and friends, and also plot out how much they’re willing to spend on their vehicle over the life of a loan if they choose to finance it.
One thing that consumers often overlook, though, is the dependability of the vehicle they’re considering buying. For a new car buyer, the expectation is that they’ll encounter few maintenance problems for the first couple of years, and if they do, that their warranty will cover those snafus. For a used car purchaser, dependability is everything since there’s rarely any warranty attached to a used car purchase.
Not only is dependability important for your pocketbook in that more dependable vehicles will cost less to maintain, but it’s also the silent advertiser for a brand. As J.D. Power & Associates has demonstrated through its research, 56% of car owners who report having no problems return to the same brand, while 42% who reported three or more problems kept their same brand of vehicle with their next purchase. Therefore, vehicle dependability can, at least partially, help us predict which brands’ sales may move higher and which brands may struggle based on this vehicle dependability-brand loyalty correlation.
America’s five most dependable automotive brands
To that end I turn to J.D. Power & Associates annual vehicle dependability study for 2014. The study itself looks at three-year-old models from a number of brands (i.e., all 2011 models) and asks consumers if they experienced one or more of 202 noted problems. J.D. Power then ranks those car brands from top to bottom based on how many problems were reported per 100 vehicles, commonly known as its PP100 metric. Dependability is especially important this year when you consider that J.D. Power’s study uncovered the first rise in reported problems, especially engine and transmission problems, since 1998!
Let’s have a look at the five top automotive brands according to J.D. Power’s study and then note what brands really stood out, as well as which brands faltered.
As a warning, you may be shocked to discover which brand decisively took the No. 1 spot in vehicle dependability!
No. 5: Buick (112 problems per 100 vehicles)
Rising from the sixth spot into the top five this year is Buick, owned by General Motors(NYSE: GM ) which had consumers report just 112 problems per 100 vehicles as opposed to 118 PP100 in last year’s study from J.D. Power. The real standout for Buick was the Lucerne which took top honors in the large car category, besting Toyota‘s (NYSE: TM ) Avalon and Ford‘s (NYSE: F ) Taurus. As Foolish auto analyst John Rosevear notes, Buick is doing a really nice job transitioning into a global brand.
No. 4: Acura (109 problems per 100 vehicles)
Honda Motors‘ (NYSE: HMC ) Acura was another big mover in 2014, vaulting higher by four spots to fourth place from eighth with 109 PP100 reported compared to 120 PP100 last year. Like GM’s Buick, Acura only took top honors in one category (compact premium CUV) with its RDX, but it also claimed a tie for the third-highest rating in the midsize premium CUV category with the Mercedes-Benz M-class. Honda and Acura are relatively synonymous with economical but dependable vehicles in the U.S., making this ranking not too surprising.
No. 3: Cadillac (107 problems per 100 vehicles)
Chalk up another victory for General Motors which can claim its second top-five brand for dependability in Cadillac. Year over year, Cadillac surged 11 spots to No. 3, with vehicle owners reporting only 107 PP100 compared to 128 PP100 last year. This huge jump came in only second to Jaguar which vaulted 13 spots higher in J.D. Power’s rankings. Cadillac took home the top honors for its large premium CUV, the Escalade, as well as large premium car, the DTS, which tied for the top spot with the Lexus LS. Cadillac has certainly done its best to focus its efforts on a slightly younger crowd, and these improved dependability ratings should help.
No. 2: Mercedes-Benz (104 problems per 100 vehicles)
Jumping three spots in 2014 to No. 2 with only 104 PP100 compared to 115 PP100 reported in the prior year is Daimler‘s (NASDAQOTH: DDAIF ) Mercedes-Benz. What’s particularly interesting here is that Mercedes-Benz didn’t win any of the 22 vehicle categories as outlined by J.D. Power, but it did place or show in quite a few which speaks to its overall consistency. Mercedes-Benz ranked second in midsize premium car with its E-Class sedan/wagon, second in large premium CUV with its GL-class, second in compact premium CUV with its GLK-class, and tied for third with the Acura MDX in the midsize premium CUV category with its M-class. Simply put, if consumers are going to pay a premium price, they expect premium results, and Mercedes-Benz appears to be delivering on that promise.
And the real shock (at least to me)…
No. 1: Lexus (68 problems per 100 vehicles)
I guess it shouldn’t be that much of a shock since Toyota-owned Lexus was first in last year’s ratings as well, but I recall shortly after I got my license, nearly two decades ago, how I was admonished from buying a Lexus because of their dependability issues. This rating simply confirms how far the brand has come in less than two decades as its PP100 of just 68 is light years ahead of second-place Mercedes-Benz, and even lower than the 71 PP100 that J.D. Power reported last year. Lexus tied its LS for top large premium car with the Cadillac DTS, was the top midsize premium car with the GS, and nabbed both the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in compact premium car with the ES and IS, and midsize premium CUV with the RX and GX.
Here are J.D. Power’s full rankings based on PP100:
Source: J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study.
Obviously brands in the top five can be construed as winners, but General Motors, Toyota, and Honda deserve special recognition since they brought home eight, seven, and six, of the top category awards, respectively – that’s 21 of 22 categories won by just three companies!
As I stated above, Toyota and Honda generally build no-frill vehicles, choosing instead to focus on improving fuel economy and storage space. The end result for years has been a reliable vehicle that will get the consumer from point A to B with ease, and without too many automotive issues.
The real shock here is the dominance by General Motors’ vehicles and the total absence of Ford, save for a runner-up effort in the midsize pickup category with its Ranger. GM is hoping to translate these key wins into strong sales for its recently redesigned trucks, the Silverado and Sierra, which it hopes will give Ford’s dominant F-Series a run for its money. Early sales of GM’s Silverado have been mixed with winter weather and parts shortages eating into total unit sales, but as Foolish auto guru John Rosevear recently pointed out, it’s actually spending fewer days on dealership lots than either of its foes, signaling that GM may indeed be on the up-and-up.
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Today’s restomodders, replica builders, and tuners take an obsessive approach to performance. These vehicles are modified to a level of detail so far beyond their original roots that they are better described as brand-new production cars and trucks rather than upgraded versions of the original.
John Hennessey has been creating a steady stream of high-horsepower four-wheeled insanity since 1991. In 1993, when he turned his attention to Dodge Vipers, a legend was born. Over the last two decades, each generation of Hennessey Viper has produced some very serious numbers and taken down plenty of competitors at track tests. His latest, the Venom 1000 Twin Turbo, makes and astonishing 1120 hp and runs through the quarter-mile in 9.7 seconds.
But perhaps the company’s most interesting vehicle is the Venom GT. Here is a widened, stretched, and modified Lotus wearing carbon-fiber bodywork. This featherweight no longer uses a Toyota four-cylinder engine; instead, the Venom draws its power from a twin-turbocharged 7.0-liter, 1244-hp Chevrolet LSX V-8. Woof. That pushes the car to a speed of 265.7 mph and makes it one of the fastest in the world, and one of the world’s greatest thrill machines.
Icon Thriftmaster Pickup
Icon began as a top-level restoration house for Toyota Land Cruisers back in the late 1990s, and they continue to restore vehicles to original condition. But it is Icon’s wildly reimagined Land Cruisers, Broncos, and Chevy pickups that take modified restoration to an obsessive level. Company founder Jonathan Ward upgrades every aspect of these vehicles. If suitably robust and beautiful upgrade parts don’t exist, he builds them—expense be damned.
Thriftmaster trucks, based on 1947 to 1953 Chevrolet trucks, are marvelous performers thanks to a modern supercharged (and emissions-legal) GM crate engine, a capable Art Morrison road race-style chassis, and a detailed and luxurious interior. Even the doors of this truck are cool: Icon redesigned the door’s latch mechanism as well as all the cranks and pulls, so now this door closes with a solid thunk and the windows power up and down using the original window crank as switches. We particularly like the bison-hide bench seat filled with Tempur-Pedic foam cushions. Ward even re-created the original Chevrolet font for the Icon badging on this vehicle.
Singer Vehicle Design Porsche 911
For 50 years Porsche‘s 911 has been an icon of performance. Though today’s 911 is a sophisticated and evolved sports machine, plenty of purists prefer the 911s of the past. Singer Vehicle Design takes some of the best characteristics of these classic 911s and melds them with modern technology and impeccable craftsmanship to create what many have called the ultimate 911.
The chassis comes straight from the early 1990s 964-series 911, the last and most evolved of the air-cooled Porsches. The flat-six cylinder engines come in either a relatively tame 3.6-liter 270-hp version or a wild 360-hp 3.6-liter version, and both are paired to either a five- or six-speed manual.
Beyond the specs, it’s Singer’s details that are truly breathtaking. Though the body looks just like the classic 911, it’s actually a new and subtly flared custom amalgam of different models built from carbon fiber (except for the doors), which saves about 500 pounds. Though the exterior lighting recalls the original small bumper 1964 to 1973 cars, the lamps themselves are modern Bi-Xenon units with polycarbonate lenses. The brightwork around the car isn’t just reproduction chrome pieces but special nickel-plated pieces. And those wheels are cool, new 17-inch forged replicas that allow for larger tires.
Lingenfelter Performance Engineering Reaper
For more than 40 years GM specialist Lingenfelter has produced some truly potent machines, including stock Corvettes tuned to become monsters, such as a 1000-hp version of today’s C7 Stingray. Their latest vehicle, the Reaper, was unveiled recently at the Chicago Auto Show. It’s a collaborative effort between Lingenfelter and Southern Comfort Automotive to produce a high-performance off-road truck based on the Chevy Silverado, one aimed to rival Ford’s Raptor.
Under the hood is one of two supercharged V-8s, the more potent of which is a 6.2-liter block that’s been supercharged to deliver 550 hp. The Reaper’s unique look is the result of a 3-inch taller Ride Tech suspension and aggressive new body panels that are flared to make room for 33-inch tires. Reapers can be ordered and delivered to select Chevy dealers and carry a three-year warranty. We’re ready to take the Reaper out to some rough terrain to see how it stacks up against the Raptor.
Shelby American 50th Anniversary Shelby Cobra 289 FIA
The late Carroll Shelby’s legendary Cobra is the granddaddy of small-batch tuner cars, though the term tuner seems a bit flip for such a storied and influential supercar. But at its roots, that’s what the Cobra was. Shelby took a big Ford engine and had AC rework the chassis of their Ace sports car to accept it. To mark the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the 289 Cobra, Shelby American will be building just 50 limited-edition continuation Cobras with either a fiberglass body or a more expensive aluminum one.
Plenty of companies have built Cobra replicas over the years. But the most highly prized ones aren’t replicas at all, but this kind of “continuation”—small batch production cars built by Shelby American. This anniversary tribute model is one of the coolest the company has ever created.
VL Automotive Destino
The Destino is the one car here you can’t buy yet. And frankly, we’re not sure when or if it will ever hit small-batch production. But the idea behind the car is just too cool. VL wants to repurpose the leftover chassis and bodies of the plug-in hybrid Fisker Karmas (the company’s assets are planned for auction on Feb. 12) by installing a new powertrain. Former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz owns half of VL and plans to use his formidable connections to create a Corvette-powered sport sedan with the Fisker’s concept car looks.
Should the Destino reach production once Fisker’s bankruptcy proceedings are resolved, VL says it will offer the car with either the LT1 V-8 from the current C7 Stingray or a LS9 V-8 with more than 600 hp, made famous in the ZR1 Corvette. Katzkin, an interior-parts supplier would handle the custom leathers and finishes for the Destino. And to give the car a unique look upfront, there’s a more traditional grill that replaces Fisker’s original.
Our fingers are crossed for this one. A four-door with Corvette power never goes out of style.
Superformance Caterham Seven
Superformance is a small-batch builder of replica cars from South Africa whose designs represent the legendary American performance machines of the 1960s. They include Cobras (Superformance calls them Mark IIIs), Daytona Cobra coupes, and GT40s. Superformance cars are accurate and well-built. Their inventory has always been heavy on brawny American V-8 sports cars.
Now, for the first time, Superformance will be the official U.S. distributor for the Caterham Seven. It’s based on the Lotus Seven, the definition of a lightweight and rewarding open-air sports car. When production ended, Caterham bought the rights to build these cars from Lotus, and the Seven has been in production more or less uninterrupted since 1957.
Caterham Sevens destined for our shores are available in five models of increasing capability and speed. And like the Superformance cars, the Caterhams will be sold as a rolling chassis with third-part installation of the powertrain. Caterham says a top-level CSR with a 260-hp 2.3-liter four-cylinder Ford engine will hit 60 mph in 3.1 seconds. We can’t wait to see these Caterhams on our streets.
Legacy Classic Trucks Power Wagon
Save for the Willys MB, no other American 4WD vehicle has a more decorated military history than the WC series Dodge trucks—Power Wagons. Legacy Classic Trucks of Jackson Hole, Wyo., has become one of the premiere restorers and restomodders of these icons. The company offers its Legacy Power Wagons upfitted with heavy-duty hardware, because Legacy intends its customers to use them as real trucks.
Under that domed hood, a buyer can opt for either a modern 425-hp Chrysler Legacy Magnum V-8 or a 3.9-liter Cummins diesel, both backed by a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Why not the 6.7-liter Cummins from today’s Dodge trucks? It just won’t fit. In either case, the power gets routed to a tough Atlas transfer case and down to Dana 60 front and Dana 80 rear axles with locking differentials. That’s extreme-duty truck stuff. So is the standard 16,500-pound-capacity winch and optional 42-inch tires. We’d have at least one of these in our dream garage.
American Expedition Vehicles Brute Double Cab
Jeep hasn’t had a pickup truck in its lineup since the Comanche ended production in 1992. But in 2004 Jeep revived the idea with the Gladiator, a name it borrowed from its mid-1960s full-size pickups and applied to a modern concept pickup built on the bones of the modern Wrangler.
Well, it’s 10 years later and we still don’t have a Jeep pickup. But American Expedition Vehicle (AEV) builds the Brute Double Cab to fill the void. AEV has been building and modifying Jeep Wranglers for 15 years. The Brute Double Cab is based on a 14-inch stretched version of the current Wrangler Unlimited chassis and fitted with a 5-foot composite bed. The DC350 model wears a 3.5-inch suspension lift, 35-inch-tall tires, and a Warn winch for off-road excursions. If you have an older Jeep Wrangler and want the utility of a pickup box, AEV has a Brute conversion for the 1997 to 2006 TJ Wranglers too.
Brabus B63S-700 6X6
We’ve left the wildest small-batch vehicle for last. Legendary German tuner Brabus has taken the insane 500-plus-horsepower, 6-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6X6—already perhaps the most wonderfully looney small-batch production vehicle on the planet—and gone a little further. Are they nuts? Of course. Thanks to new turbos supplying more boost pressure, the 5.5-liter engine pumps out 700 hp. That’s enough to move this 9000-pound beast to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds.
There’s lots more fun stuff here too, such as the exhaust valve button on the steering wheel for Loud or Quiet. There’s plenty of carbon-fiber bodywork to dress this beast up too. Inside, the interior gets retrimmed in Alcantara and (in this case) fire-red leather.
Don’t expect to see one of these small-batch machines in the wild—unless you happen to visit Dubai on vacation.
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There’s supposed to be a clear difference between cars designed for the street and those built for the track. The line between the two gives us both the excitement of race day and a reasonable chance of coming home from the corner store alive. Sometimes, however, the distinction between the two types of vehicles grows ever-so-blurry, as the following cars show.
Porsche 991 Turbo S
This latest incarnation of the legendary 911 has a twin turbo-charged engine that turns out 560 horses, along with all-wheel drive and a seven-speed sequential double-clutch transmission. Porsche claims it can go 0-60 in 2.9 seconds. With a ride like this, even the geekiest kid from your local high school would have his choice of dates to the prom.
Whether he would return from the event in one piece is another question entirely.
Corvette C6 ZR1
With a supercharged 6.2-liter engine under the hood capable of 638 horsepower, this is by far the baddest production Corvette to date. It boasts a top speed of 205 mph. Compared to the Porsche, however, it’s a real slouch acceleration-wide, taking a full 3.1 seconds to go 0-60. Something tells me the difference is hard to notice.
Mercedes-Benz CL65 Bi-Turbo
With its 12-cylinder twin-turbo powerplant, this isn’t exactly your dad’s Mercedes. 0-60 time is a relatively sedate 4.2 seconds, though with 621 horses under the hood you’d probably shave a few seconds off the daily work commute, even if you carpool.
Lotus Exige S
This speedy little ride shows what a 1.8-liter Toyota engine can do when it’s turbocharged and inserted in an ultra-light auto body. With a 0-60 time of 4.1 seconds and a 0-100 of 9.98, this Lotus will turn heads faster than it will set the local cop’s nerves on edge. Park it in your garage next to the family mini-van and ask Junior which vehicle he would rather use for his new pizza delivery job.
Jet-Powered VW Beetle
No, your eyes don’t deceive you; that’s a VW Beetle with a jet engine sticking out of its behind. This vehicle is the odd-man-out for this list, but I included it because it is street-legal in California. Its owner, Ron Patrick, put his PhD in mechanical engineering to good use, building this high-powered bug in his garage. Patrick took advantage of the fact that CA laws allow the addition of a secondary engine, so long as the original production motor is left unmodified. On his site, he discusses how law enforcement has been trying to figure out a way to ticket him for years, with no success.
The jet engine is a General Electric model T58-8F. It spins up to 26,000 rpm and is rated for 1350 hp. Top speed and 0-60 times are unknown because, as Patrick says, “I built the car to thrill me, not kill me.” Smart guy.
According to the automaker, the van you see above is “The Mercedes Among MPVs.” That statement is undoubtedly true, because it is indeed both a Mercedes-Benz and an MPV, but also because it’s quite likely one of the more luxurious ways to move a bunch of people and their stuff from one place to another, regardless of where that may be.
As many as eight passengers can cram inside the 2014 V-Class, which is available in two wheelbases and three lengths. There are also three engine options, and they are all 2.1-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel units. The V 200, with 136 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque, is the base model, followed by a V 220 with 163 hp and 280 lb-ft and a top-level V 250 that offers 190 hp and 325 lb-ft. In top trim, Mercedes claims as much pulling power as its previous V6 turbodiesel while using 28 percent less fuel.
There are four different driving parameters built into the seven-speed automatic transmission: economical, comfortable, sporty and manual. Using that first mode actually reduces power through engine tuning for greater efficiency.
Naturally, with so many variants to choose from, interior options and configurations are plentiful, but you can rest assured knowing that it can be had in everything from basic trim (which does include a seven-inch LCD screen and an audio system) to fully kitted-out with leather and LED lighting. A selective damping system is also available as part of the brand’s Agility Control suspension.
The 2014 Mercedes V-Class van will be available in European markets starting on March 6th with a limited model called the Edition 1. It comes pretty much loaded. We’ve heard rumors that this new MPV will make the trek Stateside, but Mercedes has yet to make any official announcements to back that up. In any case, check out the high-res image gallery above and the press release below for all the details
The new CTS is larger than the previous version, but retains the rear-wheel-drive design and performance that made it popular with critics.
“Our judges were particularly impressed by the CTS’s responsive powertrains and masterful balance of smooth ride and sporty handling”, said Motor Trend editor-in-chief Ed Loh.
To capture the top prize, the Cadillac beat out 21 other completely new or substantially redesigned models considered by the magazine.
After testing the cars at the Hyundai proving grounds in the southwest California desert, the magazine’s staffers narrowed the list to just seven finalists. In addition to the CTS, the BMW 4-series, Chevrolet Corvette, Jaguar F-type, Kia Forte, Mazda3, Mazda6 andMercedes-Benz S-class all advanced to the final round.
Those cars were then tested on roads and highways around the town of Tehachapi, Calif. After further debate, the writers and editors selected the winner by secret ballot.
The cars were judged on six criteria: Design advancement, engineering, efficiency, safety, value and performance.
“The CTS’s intended function was to take the fight to BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi — and win. And it has,” the magazine said in its review of the Cadillac.
The CTS is available with a 272-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder power plant, a 321-horsepower V6 and a 420-horsepower turbocharged V6. The CTS is also the first Cadillac to offer an eight-speed transmission.
Motor Trend called the four-cylinder engine “the most surprising,” saying that if offers “class-leading power with competitive fuel economy.”
This is the second time a Cadillac CTS has won the award. It also took top honors in 2008.
Motor Trend named the Subaru Forester its SUV of the Year in October and Truck of the Year will be announced next month.
Last year’s Motor Trend Car of the Year winner was the Tesla Model S.
It will be many years before self-driving cars come rolling over the horizon, but they’re getting closer all the time, as evidenced by the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class luxury sedan we recently drove.
Carmakers have steadily been introducing new features incorporating pieces of technologythat add situational awareness to vehicles and limited ability to react or warn, as needed. When linked and with further enhancements, these safety systems will ultimately enable cars to handle at least some of the driving some of the time.
Mercedes-Benz visited our Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Connecticut, to show off its latest developments, which will be available on the redesigned S-Class flagship going on sale next month. The S-Class we sampled was packed to its panoramic sunroof with 30 standard and optional safety features. Some of those are part of the $2,800 Driver Assistance Package, which is designed to help prevent and avoid crashes with or without the driver’s help. (Learn more about car safety.)
Using a combination of cameras, sensors, and radar, the safety suite enables the S-Class to accelerate and decelerate with traffic, and even nudge the wheel and apply braking pressure on one side of the car to keep it in its lane. The S-Class can detect traffic approaching in an intersection and apply brakes accordingly. And if the driver does not react to a vehicle or pedestrian in its path, it can also bring the car to a stop from speeds up to 31 mph.
The carmaker brought a couple of new S-Class models to our Auto Test Center to demonstrate the technology. Among the entourage was a rather decidedly low-tech-looking dummy (shown).
To the carmaker’s credit and no doubt to the relief of the dummy, the cars repeatedly and reliably stopped within inches of his scary-looking self, after first giving the driver ample time to steer around him or stop the car. The system works fast, first warning the driver of danger, then precharging the brakes and snugging safety belts before taking action if the driver does not. All of this happens in about three seconds, bringing the big sedan to a stop from 30 mph with remarkably little drama.
We also had a chance to experience the corrective steering and braking functions, which gently help keep the car in its lane with or without the driver’s assistance—even at highway speeds.
We applaud these safety developments and look forward to their availability in more reasonably priced cars soon. But if you’re hoping for the latest safety technology and a hot-stone massage feature in your next car, you’re going to have to spring for the new S-Class. Prices start at $92,900.
At 46 miles per gallon highway, the newChevy Cruze Turbo Diesel gives even hybrids a run for their (gas) money.
The number of diesel models on the U.S.market should double during the 2014 model-year, according to various industry-watchers, the high-mileage powertraintechnology set to get its biggest boost since falling out of favor with American motorists back in the 1980s.
The surge reflects the advent of new diesel technology that not only maintains an estimated 30 percent mileage advantage over gasoline engines, but also resolves traditional concerns such as noise, roughness and foul-smelling emissions.
It also reflects the return to the diesel marketby manufacturers like General Motors, the emergence of new makers including Nissan, and the expansion of offerings by diesel leaders such asVolkswagen and is luxury arm Audi.
“This year, the number of diesels will be doubled,” said Andreas Sambal, the North American director of marketing for German supplier Bosch’s diesel systems division. “By the end of the 2014 model-year there will be 40 diesels on the market and this will give consumers a lot more choice.”
Audi is introducing several diesel-powered models.
Diesels have been a bit player in the U.S. market ever since the late 1980s when American buyers largely abandoned the technology due to endemic problems with earlier diesel designs—and in the wake of major and embarrassing failures of several GM engines.
Since then, proponents of diesel technology have lamented a chicken-and-egg problem. Many manufacturers were reluctant to enter the diesel market because of low sales. But proponents warned that sales wouldn’t grow until there were now more diesel offerings. The coming model-year will put their claims to the test.
Nissan this week became the latest maker to announce plans to launch a diesel option for its full-size Titan pickup—a first for a Japanese maker. The 5.0-liter V-8 turbo–diesel will be supplied by Cummins, Nissan noted.
“Truck owners told us there’s a demand for the performance and torque of a diesel in a capable truck that doesn’t require the jump up to a heavy-duty commercial pickup,” said Fred Diaz, vice president for North American Nissan sales and marketing.
Diaz’s former employer, Chrysler, just last month announced plans to add a diesel option for the 2014 Ram 1500 pickup. There is speculation GM will soon do the same for its GMC Sierraand Chevrolet Silverado trucks.
But Chevy has already staked out a return to the diesel passenger car market with an “oil-burner” option for its 2014 Cruze sedan. And Mazda will become the first Japanese maker with a passenger car diesel with a new version of its Mazda6 sedan.
Those makers have a long way to go to catch up on the German makers who have spearheaded the diesel revival—notably VW and its luxury arm Audi. A third of the Q7 crossovers the highline brand sells in the U.S. are equipped with diesels and more than half of the old A3 wagons were equipped with oil-burners.
Audi will bump its diesel model count from two to five for the 2014 model-year and will add a sixth when it introduces a new version of the A3.
Diesels have accounted for less than 3 percent of the total US new vehicle market even after recent growth spurts but Bosch forecasts that will reach as much as 10 percent by 2018. That is an admittedly “bullish” forecast, said the supplier’s Sambal. But other, more cautious forecasts predict the share could rise to 8 percent or higher.
Notably, diesel sales surged by 24 percent during the first seven months of 2013.
There are still obstacles to increased acceptance, cautioned Nicole Barranco, Audi’s diesel lobbying chief, ranging from higher fuel taxes to outdated perceptions by consumers unaware of modern diesel technology changes.
On the other hand, there are some key factors that could help diesel gain traction as awareness grows, said Bruce Belzowski, assistant research chief at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
For one thing, he noted during a forum sponsored by Audi, there’s the roughly 30 percent mileage boost the technology offers. And that, in turn, means that “almost all” diesel models”have a positive total cost of ownership” despite the typically higher purchase price.
A recent study by the institute found that even a small Volkswagen Jetta will save the typical owner about $3,000 over a three-year period while the total cost of buying and operating a Mercedes-Benz GL diesel is about $15,600 less than the gasoline version.
Meanwhile, advocates suggest, more diesels going into production could lower the cost penalty, further improving the appeal of the technology.
Bobby Rahal is a three-time PPG Indy Car World Series champion and winner of the 1986 Indianapolis 500, as well as co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which competes in the IndyCar and American Le Mans series. To inaugurate our Motoramic Experts series, we asked him for his list of the top five — and only five — muscle cars.
The ‘60s were a magical era. When you look at that 10-year period, there’s never been a percentage increase, in terms of performance, to rival that decade. The most powerful racing car in 1960 had maybe 300 hp, but ten years later, some race cars boasted in excess of 1,000 hp.
“Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” That saying derived from the success the major automobile manufacturers had on the racetracks and drag strips, and how that related to sales in the dealerships. In terms of performance, what was being offered to the public was mindboggling. When you look at the ’50s, the approach taken remained conservative. But in the ‘60s, all hell broke loose. I consider myself very fortunate to have witnessed — and lived — that era. Muscle cars became an integral part of my fascination with the automobile.
Ranking these cars, however, is tough, especially when narrowing it down to just five. There will always be opinions as to whether you’re right or wrong, and invariably you’re going to anger somebody. But for me, these are my five greatest muscle cars:
#5: 1964 Pontiac GTO: This was the car that truly ignited the muscle car era. John DeLorean became infamous for many things later in life, but at the time, he was in charge of the Pontiac division and came up with the crazy idea of shoehorning a high-performance engine into a Pontiac Tempest — calling it the GTO. Immediately, you had what appeared to be an everyday car with an incredibly powerful engine. Songs like Ronny and the Daytonas’ “Little GTO,” celebrated “three deuces and a four speed.” It was the spark that bred life to that whole magical era. It has to be placed in my top five.
#4: 1965 Shelby GT350 Mustang: While everybody liked the original Mustang, Ford needed to up its image. They approached Carroll Shelby and asked him to turn this pleasant car into a fire-breathing monster. The ’65 GT350 was built specifically to qualify for entry into sports car races. So from a street-driving standpoint, they were pretty crude. They had no backseat, uprated Koni shocks and a Detroit locker rear-end. The exhaust came out of the side, making it excessively loud. It was built to race, at the detriment of build quality and ride. But at around 305 hp, it elevated the status of the Mustang to a true muscle car.
#3: 1965 Shelby Cobra 427: Another Shelby classic, although the chassis was of course built by AC. This was the ultimate “how big of an engine could you force into the lightest possible car and get away with it?” That was the 427. Although in the ensuing years you had the big block Corvettes and such, at the time, the battle for brute horsepower, strength and acceleration was won hands down by the 427. It wasn’t necessarily great to drive on the street, it overheated and was plagued by engine issues, but it stood for everything the muscle car was about.
#2: 1969 Chevrolet Z/28 Camaro: The 5.0-liter 302 small block Chevy engine is perhaps one of the greatest motors for the street or racetrack. In the hands of Mark Donohue, it won the ultra competitive Trans-Am championship. The ’69, too, was a far better car than the ’67 and ’68, and simply looked fantastic. It also came with every option you could ever want. In terms of bang for the buck, the ’69 Z/28 was probably the best package on the market. It remains iconic, and Chevy’s reintroduction of the Z/28 this year brings back great memories, as well as vast shoes to fill.
#1: 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda: Placing a 426 HEMI engine into a Plymouth Barracuda led to amazing, brute horsepower. While it wasn’t an everyday car, it won on the drag strip or on the streets, and perhaps boasted the title as the highest performance muscle car of that era. Today, Hemi Cudas, especially the convertibles, sell for well into the seven figures. It also came adorned in wonderful colors such as “plum crazy.” In 1970 and ‘71, this was the muscle car in its greatest excess, and because of that, it ultimately ceased to exist. Things like insurance costs rose dramatically, and that drove the car out of the market. It was the last of the true monsters.
As the ‘70s progressed, this wonderful era ended, and horrible machines like the K-car arrived. During the time of the fuel crisis, if you had a car with 120 to 150 hp, that was deemed high performance. Nowadays, you can’t find a powerful enough engine. Forget supercars; even wagons like the Mercedes E63 AMG boast well over 500 hp. Sedans like the BMW M5 sprint to 60 mph in the low four-second range. If you’re not above 500 hp, you’re nobody. And the fit and finish is far superior compared to where it was in the ‘60s.
No modern muscle car rings to the same tune as those from that magical era, however. Back then, brakes were terrible, the ride was bad, and yet they went in a straight line like a bat out of hell. That’s what a muscle car is. That crudeness offered a character that can no longer be replicated.
The ‘60s are exemplified by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the British Invasion, and the maturity of the baby boom generation. There was so much going on in this country. And when you combine the muscle car, and the inherent culture that they defined, it made for an unbelievable moment in history.
At least an 8.0 rating on The Car Connection‘s full reviews from three years ago–in this case, the 2011 model year At least four circles on J.D. Power‘s predicted-dependability rankings, or at least average reliability on Consumer ReportsAt least four stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
In this list, we’ve examined the field of sport-utility vehicles–including crossovers–and come up with 18 of the best used SUVs on the road today, with the bottom line from our 2011 review:
With a few notable flaws in styling and features, the 2011 Acura MDX still impresses us with its friendly handling and gutsy power.
The 2011 Audi Q5 is one of the best upscale picks in a compact crossover, thanks to its sleek lines, practical interior, responsive feel, and city-savvy size.
The 2011 Cadillac Escalade delivers solid, luxurious, and spacious accommodations with an advanced feature set. If you can live with the thirst of non-Hybrid models, it’s unbeatable.
The 2011 SRX has the comfort and refinement luxury crossovers expect—plus a little Cadillac attitude.
If you don’t need a third row, the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox is just right for small families; it’s refined, secure, and versatile, and gets very impressive fuel economy in four-cylinder form.
2011 Chevrolet TraverseThe 2011 Chevrolet Traverse isn’t fun to drive, but it’s one of the best large crossover wagons for transporting the family comfortably and safely.
The 2011 Dodge Durango is the anti-crossover, especially with the HEMI and R/T trim, and if the world still sanctioned big SUVs for small families, the Durango would be elbowing its way to driveways everywhere.
Provided you don’t need a third-row seat, the 2011 Ford Edge is at last, at the leading edge of mid-size crossovers, with one of the best driver interfaces in the business.
The 2011 GMC Terrain looks bold and edgy on the outside, but it’s a softy inside, with a comfortable, refined cabin and excellent fuel economy.
Much better than its predecessor, the 2011 Hyundai Tucson needs a touch more power and steering feel to top carlike utes like the Nissan Rogue.
Kia hits game reset, and gives the 2011 Sportage an appealing new look and feel.
The swinging style sets an audacious mood—and the 2011 Lincoln MKT backs it up with turbo V-6 thrust.
You won’t need any excuses to say you’ve chosen the 2011 Lincoln MKX; it delivers on the promise of the brand: top-notch American luxury, with some of the best luxury and tech features wrapped in.
The 2011 Mazda CX-9 can carry seven in comfort, but it loves curves more than almost any other roomy crossover.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class has the rugged look U.S. shoppers want, in a sensibly sized package. We only wish it were a little more fuel-efficient.
The roomy, versatile 2011 Subaru Forester handles better than just about any other small crossover, though the need for a more modern transmission and a little more cabin refinement keep it from greatness.
If off-road capability is a top requirement, the brawny 2011 Toyota 4Runner is a good choice—with surprisingly good road manners to boot.
The 2011 Volvo XC60 offers top in-car tech and luxury features, in a secure package that’s big enough for small families.
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