Two new crossovers from Volkswagen: Atlas and Tiguan

Atlas front quarter

For some time Volkswagen has aimed to become the world’s largest auto maker. Their weak spot has been North America, where they lag far behind Toyota and General Motors. To rectify this, Volkswagen invested heavily in a new Tennessee factory and in two sedans developed specifically for what they perceived to be North American priorities: interior roominess and low cost. But they failed to respond to the shift from sedans to crossovers, and then got caught up in the diesel emissions scandal. Consequently, their North American sales have been down rather than up recently, and Toyota could outsell them globally for yet another year. Volkswagen’s latest gambit: two crossovers developed specifically for the North American market. Will these be good enough?

Tiguan front quarter orange

The first of these, the second-generation Tiguan, is largely based on a model developed for Europe, but with another 4.4 inches of length for North America, enough to squeeze in an optional third-row seat. Compared to the original Tiguan, the new American model (which will be assembled in Mexico) is 10.7 inches longer, a big jump. The new Tiguan’s 185.2-inch length and 72.4-inch width are close to those of the Nissan Rogue, another compact crossover with an optional third row. The segment-leading Honda CR-V is 4.6 inches less lengthy, so close in size to the new European Tiguan.

Tiguan rear quarter

The new Tiguan’s second row can slide fore-and-aft. Sliding it forward a few inches, such that adults in the second row will barely have enough room, opens up enough space for adults (at least those 5-9 like me) to squeeze into the third row. Kids, the most likely occupants, will be an easier fit. Styling is typical VW, so handsome but nothing to grab the eye.

Tiguan third row

Figuring that North Americans prefer their vehicles large, Volkswagen is placing more emphasis on the Atlas, which will be manufactured with the Passat sedan in their Tennessee plant. With a length of 198.3 inches and a width of 77.9 inches, the Atlas will be among the largest crossovers you can buy. A Nissan Pathfinder is about the same size. A Honda Pilot is a little wider but 3.8 inches less lengthy. Only GM’s large crossovers (including the fully redesigned 204.3-inch-long 2018 Chevrolet Traverse) are significantly longer than the Atlas.

Atlas side

Unlike that of the new Tiguan, the Atlas’s exterior has been styled for what VW perceived to be American tastes. Consequently it looks more like a cross between the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the late Mitsubishi Outlander than other Volkswagens, with the fender creases seemingly cribbed from the latter ensuring that the Atlas isn’t as handsome as the former. I personally prefer the cleaner styling of the Tiguan.

Atlas rear quarter

Inside, the Atlas reminds me overly much of the American-market Passat. There’s plenty of room, but the styling seems spartan in a cheap more than in a tasteful way. The door panels in particular seem overly plasticky.

Atlas interior

Unlike that in the Tiguan, the second row does not slide fore-and-aft. Volkswagen might have figured this was unnecessary. With the second row in its fixed location, second row passengers enjoy abundant knee room. Third-row passengers are about as well off as they are in the Honda Pilot, with perhaps a bit more room. The GM crossovers have a roomier third row.

Atlas third row

Volkswagen has stated that, unlike their predecessors, the new Tiguan and Atlas will be priced in line with their key competitors.

Whether these new crossovers meet Volkswagen’s sales goals for them could depend on how well they drive. Will they drive much like any other well-tuned crossover, or will they bring superior dynamics to the table, as many people expect from a German manufacturer? I’ll let you know as soon as I can drive them.

2018 Kia Stinger, my thoughts. And yours?

Stinger logo front quarter
Partly because there were far fewer new cars revealed than in past years, the Stinger emerged as the star of the 2018 Detroit auto show (NAIAS). Some designers I spoke with from other auto companies were fans.

What do you think of the exterior styling? Is it good enough to make people who would otherwise be buying Audis and BMWs consider a Kia?

Stinger rear quarter low city

And the interior? Is it overly spartan or insufficiently upscale? Or tastefully minimalistic?

Stinger interior

Four things I don’t care for:

1. No manual transmission. Both engines will be paired with an eight-speed automatic.

2. The sensor for the adaptive cruise control is located in the center of the grille, and has been painted to unconvincingly blend in with the rest of the grille.

Stinger nose low

3. The marker lamps on the rear quarters look like either an afterthought or a bad execution of whatever the designer originally had in mind.

Stinger side low

4. Are they really going to call it “Stinger?”

Strengths:

1. Sporty proportions from the side, with a long hood and sweeping, relatively low roofline. From some angles the Stinger could pass for something expensive and Italian.

2. When viewed from the front, the car’s nose appears wider and lower than those of competitors.

3. Dimensions in between those of the BMW 3 and 5 Series. Two inches longer and wider than an Infiniti Q50, so pushing the limits of how large a truly driver-oriented car can be, hopefully without going over. Interior space seemed closer to the 3 than the 5, and about even with the Infiniti. So it’s adequate but perhaps short of midsize.

4. Hatchback utility.

Stinger hatch open rear quarter

5. Performance appears to have been the top priority when developing the car. The proportions not only look good, but should contribute to excellent handling. The engines, a 255-horsepower 2.0T four and a 365-horsepower 3.3T V6, should be up to the task. With the V6, the brakes are large Brembos. (The four-cylinder Stinger will have 18-inch rather than 19-inch wheels and tires are smaller brakes.)

Stinger front quarter dark background

One big question mark: curb weight. The related Genesis G80 tips the scales at 4,290 pounds. The Kia Stinger will be a few inches shorter, but slicing a few inches from a car’s length and wheelbase doesn’t usually shave many pounds. Also, the 3.3T engine likely weighs more than the 3.8 standard in the G80. It doesn’t seem likely that the Stinger will weigh less than 4,000 pounds when equipped with the V6, so a quest for agile handling faces a steep uphill battle against the laws of physics. (Agility tends to be elusive once a car’s curb weight exceeds 3,500 pounds.)

Would you prefer a less sporty sedan? Genesis (Hyundai’s new upscale division) probably has a sibling on the way.

All of the information Kia has provided so far, including photos with better lighting than I could manage at the auto show:

2018 Kia Stinger information and photos

Will This Help Sell Buicks?

2016-buick-verano-sport-touring-013
Buick offers some fine cars, but their marketing strategies suggest a combination of frustration and desperation. For most of their models Buick now offers:

1. A 1SV trim level

2. A “Sport Touring” trim level

The 1SV model lacks only a few features than the next level up, but costs far less. To take the most extreme example, in terms of both feature differences and savings, the 1SV LaCrosse lacks only a power tilt / telescoping steering wheel, spare tire, satellite radio, and cargo net, yet lists for $4,000 less. At the other extreme, the 1SV Encore lacks only floor mats and a cargo cover (both available as accessories) and costs $1,375 less. The catch? The 1SV cars are offered in few colors, and with no options aside from an engine block heater. If you want a different color or any options, you’ve got to make the big jump to the regular base model. Chevrolet also employs this strategy, but at least Chevrolet is supposed to be the value brand. Buick is supposed to be a semi-premium brand. Don’t know what that is? The 1SV models suggest that Buick doesn’t know, either.

Back in the 1980s Buick offered performance-oriented “T-Type” variants of many of its cars. I can’t entirely explain why, but I loved the things. They didn’t always have special engines (though some did), but they had sport suspensions and appearance tweaks that really made a difference. Recently Buick decided to take a stab at offering sporty models again, but the new “Sport Touring” models suggest a minimal effort, at best, little if anything more than a spoiler and different wheels.

One strategy attempts to reach buyers at lower price points, but not really. The other attempts to reach buyers seeking sportier cars, but not really. Will either strategy win them any additional sales? If it does, then at what cost to any image they possess as a brand to be taken seriously?

40th Car Reliability Stats Update

Mazdas rear quarter fields
Do something four times a year for ten years, and you’ll have done it 40 times. Today’s update to TrueDelta’s car reliability stats, covering through the end of June 2016, is our 40th. I can’t believe it’s really been that many.

Car reliability has improved dramatically since we began. For some models (including the 2013 Toyota Tacoma) dozens of members have reported no repairs in the past year.

That said, it remains riskier to buy a “first year” model. We see this even with one of the most reliable makes, Honda. The glitchiest 2016s include the new Pilot and HR-V. The new Kia Sorento, proclaimed elsewhere as “the most reliable new car,” has also fared poorly in our survey. The difference: they conducted their survey back in April 2015, soon after the new Sorento first reached dealers. Owners hadn’t had the crossovers long enough for problems to appear. The entire year covered by our latest stats occurred after their survey.

An exception to the first-year drama: the new fourth-gen Mazda Miata has required hardly any reported repairs.

The solution if you care more about avoiding repairs than possessing the new new thing: wait a year (or at least until we have some stats). While the Porsche Macan has been among the glitchiest 2015s, its second model year has been nearly problem-free.

Interested in “more experienced” automobiles? Some 2006s have been about as reliable as the average new car. These include the first year of the third-gen Mazda Miata plus the Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe, Honda Ridgeline, Honda CR-V, and–one not like the others–BMW Z4.

How did a BMW make the cut? Sports cars tend to fare well because many are only driven in good weather on good roads on the occasional weekend. (Yes, the Miata also benefits from this.)

View the updated stats.

In Reliability: New Faces, New Scales, and by Generation

Reliability by generation BuickPeople sometimes find the breadth and depth of TrueDelta’s car reliability information overwhelming. Even those that don’t often want a quick snapshot of how a model has been faring over multiple model years. For both purposes we decided to add car reliability stats by model generation.

What’s a model generation? When a car model receives a significant update, it begins a new generation. As in every case save “reliability trends,” the new specs are based on survey responses over the past four quarters.

For various reasons, it makes sense to represent reliability by generation in terms of a percentage of the average (for the model years included in the calculation, so 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 for the 2008-2012 Buick Enclave) rather than as an actual repair frequency (which will continue to be displayed when viewing reliability by model year).

This presented a new problem: our green-yellow-red eleven-point scales have been based on minimums and maximums rather than averages. There were good reasons for this, including that the distribution of stats around the average changes as cars age. But scales based on the average would be clearer, and would make more sense when comparing generations. So we’ve developed new continuous scales based on the average repair frequencies for the model years in question.

At the same time, we’ve added a fourth, blue, extra-happy face. Before we had a green face that roughly equaled better than average, a yellow face for worse than average, and a red face for much worse than average. The new faces are more precise:

Blue very happy: up to 75% of the average
Green happy: from 75% to 125% of the average (“about average”)
Yellow without expression: from 125% to 162.5% of the average
Red unhappy: over 162.5% of the average (rare)

The new continuous (no fixed points) scale runs from 37.5% to 212.5% of the average. This puts the split between green and yellow at the midpoint. Plus few models exceed either extreme. Those that do are either very good or very bad.

This said, as cars age and the average increases (from about 25 repair trips per 100 vehicles per year for nearly new cars to about 80 repair trips per 100 vehicles per year for those over a decade old) it becomes more common to peg the “very good” end of the scale and less common to peg the “very bad” end of the scale.

You’ll find a link to car reliability stats by model generation on the car reliability home page, below the menus.

Coming (maybe): a record number of new or redesigned car models

Merrill Lynch just presented its 26th annual “Car Wars” study at the Detroit-based Automotive Press Association. Their analysis tries to predict which auto makers will fare best in coming years based on how much of its product line will be updated. Overall, the auto industry will be launching more new or fully redesigned models over the next four years than at any other time in the past two decades, with 2019 and 2020 extremely busy.

Over the past two decades product launches have averaged 38 per year. The coming model year and 2018 will be about average, with 44 and 49, respectively. But based on Merrill Lynch’s research auto makers will launch an incredible 70 new or redesigned models in 2019 and 68 in 2020.

Total launches 2017 to 2020

The risk in this strategy: Merrill Lynch forecasts that U.S. auto sales will surge to a record 20 million units in 2018, then begin a cyclical decline. All of these new cars, crossovers, and trucks (including redesigns for all three major full-size pickups) could be launched into a declining market. Of course, if manufacturers realize soon enough that some programs will not pay off they could cancel them. Only the 2017s are virtually set in stone at this point.

Not all auto makers will be equally industrious. GM, Ford, and Honda will update an especially high percentage of their lines from 2017 to 2020. In contrast, the Koreans will be slowing down a little, and will be focusing far too heavily on cars (where GM, Ford, and FCA will be doing relatively little) rather than where the growth has been, in trucks and crossovers. Merrill Lynch sees this as a cause for concern. They also note that Nissan’s strategy seems “confused.”

Of perhaps greatest interest to anyone who’ll be buying a new car in the next few years: the report includes their findings of which car lines will be updated when. (Sorry about the image quality, I photographed a paper report.)

Any surprises? Anything you’re especially looking forward to? You can comment at the bottom.

General Motors car launches 2017 to 2020

Ford launches 2017 to 2020

FCA launches 2017 to 2020

Toyota launches 2017 to 2020

Honda launches 2017 to 2020

Nissan launches 2017 to 2020

Korean launches 2017 to 2020

European launches 2017 to 2020

Other launches 2017 to 2020

But are these predictions accurate? Those made in the same report two years ago have turned out to be overly optimistic, with many launches actually happening a year or two later than predicted. For example, none of the predictions made two years ago for Toyota for the 2017 and 2018 model years remain in the new report. This probably isn’t entirely or even mostly the analysts’ fault. Programs get delayed and even canceled all the time.

My prediction based on the outcome of these past predictions: that huge surge for 2019 and 2020 won’t happen, at least not in 2019 and 2020. Many of the launches currently predicted for 2019 and 2020 will instead happen in 2021 and 2022, if ever.

Fiat 124 Spider vs. Mazda MX-5 Miata Pricing

124 Abart front quarter
Fiat has released full pricing and features information for the new Miata-based 124 Spider roadster, and many people are surprised that they priced it very close to the Mazda.

At the bottom of the ranges, the 124 Spider starts $255 higher than the MX-5 Miata, $25,990 vs. $25,735. Note, though, that the Fiat is a 2017 while the Mazda is a 2016. Any Mazda price increase for 2017 will shrink this difference, and perhaps even make the Fiat the less expensive of the two.

A twist: the MX-5 Miata Sport comes with about $900 in additional standard content, most notably LED headlights (part of an option package on the Fiat) and a CD player (one does not appear to be available on the Fiat). So the feature-adjusted difference is about $1,200. Mechanically, the cars differ most in that the 124 Spider has a 160-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter engine while the MX-5 Miata has a 155-horsepower non-turbocharged 2.0-liter. The Fiat engine has a larger advantage at lower rpm, but also won’t produce it’s power as seamlessly. The Fiat could also roll less in hard turns.

Move to the other extreme and compare fully equipped cars, and a 124 Spider Lusso with automatic transmission and the “Premium Collection” lists for $1,545 more than an MX-5 Miata Grand Touring with automatic transmission, $33,635 vs. $32,090. Adjusting for feature differences reduces the gap to about $1,100, similar to the first comparison.

Mazdas rear quarter fieldsBut that’s not the right way to buy these cars, is it? For driving enthusiasts Fiat offers the 124 Spider Elaborazione Abarth and Mazda offers the MX-5 Miata Club. The Fiat is actually the slightly less expensive of the two, $29,190 vs. $29,420. Plus, if the information on fiatusa.com is correct, it includes about $300 in additional features, for an adjusted difference of about $500.

The comparison tips even further in the Fiat’s favor if both cars are equipped with Brembo brakes. These are packaged with about $2,000 worth of BBS wheels on the Mazda, giving the Fiat a price advantage of about $2,100. You could add the 124 Spider’s optional Recaro seats and still have nearly a grand left over.

To modify any of the above comparisons, click the link and look for “Configure” in the breadcrumbs.

2017 Chrysler minivan: price up about $2,000

2017 Chrysler Pacifica
The new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica promises to be a very good minivan. But don’t let the $29,590 starting price, $1,400 lower than the 2016 Town & Country’s, lead you to think it’s also a less expensive minivan. The base 2016 Town & Country includes about $3,600 in features that are not standard on the base 2017 Pacifica. Adjust for this, and the new minivan is about $2,000 more expensive (details). Do the same with similarly loaded up top-trim-level minivans, and the 2017 Pacifica Limited lists for $4,270 more than the 2016 Town & Country Limited Platinum, $47,395 vs. $43,125, but includes about $2,200 in additional content. Adjust for this content and the new minivan is again about $2,000 more expensive (details).

Avoid configuration mistakes with our pricing tool

XF window sticker
A funny thing happened when I configured two recent press cars using TrueDelta’s pricing tool: it turned out that both press fleet cars were configured in a way that they cost more for less content.

With Jaguar’s midsize sedan, if you add two items standard on the 380-horsepower XF S to the 340-horsepower XF R Sport, 20-inch wheels and adaptive dampers, the latter ends up $450 more expensive, even though it lacks the former’s more powerful engine and seats with power-adjustable side bolsters. Jaguar charges about $10,000 for the same engine upgrade in the F-Type. Forty more horsepower and better seats for negative $450? Sign me up! The XF R Sport really makes no sense unless someone does not want the additional power and features of the XF S.

Q7 window sticker

The Audi Q7 I tested was equipped with all of the features in the Prestige Package, but a la carte. As such it cost $200 more than a Q7 with the Prestige Package, but without the head-up display included in that package.

Such illogical configurations happen because configurators generally have people select packages, not individual features. With TrueDelta’s configurator you select individual features and it figures out which packages make the most sense–not always an easy task.

Study: Gen Z very practical about cars

AT KBB GenerationsAutotrader / KBB surveyed Gen Z about cars and, as reported today to the Automotive Press Association, found dramatic differences between the responses of this group (12 to 17 years old) and those of 18-to-34-year-old “Milllennials.” While cars are often an image-driven purchase for Millennialls, who rate Audi as their favorite brand, they’re largely seen as transportation appliances by the younger group, which favors less expensive brands, primarily Chevrolet, Ford, and Honda.

Gen Z badly wants to have a car–even more than they want social media–but for freedom and convenience, not as a way to express their identities. According to Isabelle Helms, head of research and market intelligence at AT/KBB, for Gen Z “a car is a gateway to experience, it’s not the experience itself.” Given this focus, it’s not surprising that, when asked its priorities, Gen Z cares a great deal about affordability, safety, and fuel economy, but little about styling and brand image. While it’s notoriously difficult to get accurate responses to direct questions about the importance ascribed to styling and brand image, it’s telling that older generations expressed more interest in both when asked the same questions.

Helms attributes the differences in attitude to different formative experiences and parenting styles. Millennials were reared by helicopter parents who shielded them, and they emerged as optimists. In contrast, Gen Z’s parents have exposed them to the real world rather than sheltering them, and they’re emerging as realists rather than optimists. Then again, this group hasn’t started buying cars in significant numbers yet, and their attitudes could shift as car buying goes from a future possibility to an actual activity. But Isabelle Helms has seen attitudes remain constant for Millennials, who were also surveyed a few years ago, so she expects the same for Gen Z.