Chevy bringing Trax to U.S.

Chevrolet-Trax-1-ACP
In a pre-New York Auto Show event, General Motors announced it is bringing the Chevrolet Trax to the U.S. in early 2015.

The Trax, which has been sold in other markets since early last year, is a clone of the Buick Encore and Opel Mokka compact crossovers and uses the same GM Korea Gamma II platform that underpins the Chevy Sonic. It made its first U.S. appearance at the 2013 North American International Auto Show.

“Trax offers customers another option in the Chevrolet family and will be a strong competitor in the emerging small-SUV market, which is expected to grow more than 80 percent by 2016,” said Alan Batey, GM senior vice president, Global Chevrolet. “Trax also leverages our global resources and builds on Chevrolet’s strong SUV heritage.”

The Trax will share the Encore’s turbocharged, 1.4-liter Ecotec engine that develops 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. Expect 0-60 times in the nine-second range.

GM gets a bit more from the engine by using electric power steering, eliminating the parasitic losses of a belt-driven system.

EPA estimates for the front-wheel-drive Encore are 25 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway and 28 mpg Combined. Opting for the available all-wheel-drive knocks the numbers down to 23 City, 30 Highway and 25 Combined. The Trax should be very close to those numbers.

Since the “U” in CUV stands for “Utility,” the Trax will be able to accommodate items up to eight feet long with the rear seats and front passenger seat folded down. Maximum cargo space is 48.4 cubic feet but that drops down to 18.8 cubic feet if the rear seats are in use.

GM says the Encore is a five-passenger vehicle and will doubtless make the same claim for the Trax but rear-seat occupants will have to be young children. Otherwise, three-across will be a surefire way to shed unwanted friends.

Chevrolet-Trax-3

The Trax option list will include all the electronic distractions with OnStar 4G LTE, a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, MyLink technology with a class-exclusive seven-inch color touch screen and first-in-class Siri Eyes Free.

A rearview camera and keyless entry are standard; remote start is an option.

The Chevrolet Trax will be offered in LS, LT and LTZ trims. Pricing will be announced later.

Chevrolet-Trax-2-ACP

It will be interesting to see how GM works out a viable price-point for the Trax. The Encore’s base MSRP is $24,160 and there will have to be enough of a gap to minimize the two stealing each other’s sales. This most likely means at least some of the standard features of the Buick will become options or unavailable on the Trax. If they don’t cut too many corners, the Trax should be a fun little wagon; the 2013 Encore we tested was a very pleasant vehicle (see “2013 Encore: A small package containing good things”).

Ford offers limited-edition 50th anniversary Mustang

Mustang-50thEdition-ACP
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Mustang, Ford will offer a very limited-edition version of the 2015 Mustang.

Only 1,964 copies of the Mustang 50 Year Limited Edition will be built when the newest version of the pony car goes on sale this fall.

“When Mustang was approved for development more than 50 years ago, I don’t think anyone imagined it would spawn such a dedicated base of fans around the world and still be in production today,” said Bill Ford, executive chairman, Ford Motor Company. “We are thrilled to be here in New York – where Mustang was first shown to the public at the 1964 World’s Fair – to re-create that historic event for today’s Mustang enthusiasts.”

The 50 Year Limited Edition will be based on the 2015 GT fastback with the performance pack. Customer options will be limited to choice of six-speed manual transmission or an automatic and one of two colors, Wimbledon White or Kona Blue. The paint colors will be offered only on the Limited Edition cars. Wimbledon White, once a standard Ford paint color, was used for Mustang serial number 0001, which was inadvertently sold to a Canadian, Captain Stanley Tucker, a pilot for Eastern Provincial Airlines, in April 1964.

“The new Mustang blends a muscular, contemporary shape with design cues that define it as quintessentially Mustang,” said Moray Callum, Ford vice president of design. “The 50 Year Limited Edition adds details that set it apart from other Mustangs, while hearkening back to the 1964 original.”

“Chrome trim was much more prevalent on cars in the 1960s than it is today, so we added some discreet highlights for the grille, side glass and tri-bar taillamps,” said Callum. “The darker Kona Blue provides a particularly striking contrast against the chrome.”

Mustang-50thEdition-2-ACP

The chrome bezels surrounding the bases the taillamp blades were inspired by Gale Halderman’s 1962 design proposal that was incorporated into the production Mustang. The Mustang 50 Year Limited Edition will be the only 2015 model with the large faux gas cap badge on the rear fascia, with 50 Years added to the GT designation.

Another feature exclusive to the 50 Year Limited Edition is the louvered rear quarter-windows. Unlike the external louvers on the 1965 fastback, these are comprised of layered sheets of glass built with a construction technique uniquely developed for this car.

Inside, the aluminum trim panel spanning the double-brow instrument panel gets a unique finish and there’s a serialized 50 Year Limited Edition badge on the passenger side. Each badge will be individually etched at Flat Rock Assembly Plant where Mustang is built.

The 50 Year Limited Edition has a cashmere-stitched, leather-wrapped steering wheel. The stitching is also used on the instrument panel, shifter boot, center armrest, door inserts and seats. The seats feature exclusive two-tone cashmere and black leather upholstery, and the Mustang 50 Year logo on the seat backs. The floors get loop-carpet mats with cashmere stitching and suede binding.

The car isn’t just for looks: it’s powered by and upgraded 5.0-liter V8 engine producing more than 420 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque and every 50 Year Limited Edition includes the Mustang GT performance pack with six-piston Brembo front brakes and 19-inch alloy wheels with high-performance Y-speed-rated Pirelli P-Zero summer tires. The 50 Year Limited Edition is the only way to get the six-speed automatic transmission and the performance pack. Choosing the automatic gets a limited-slip rear differential with a 3.55:1 final-drive while opting for the six-speed manual means a Torsen differential with a 3.73:1 final-drive ratio.

“We wanted to provide our most dedicated fans with the emotion of the original Mustang in a 21st century car,” said Ford. “With this 50 Year Limited Edition, I believe we have accomplished our goal.”

Ford unveils 2015 Focus

Ford-2015FocusFamily-ACP

Ford is giving an advance look at the 2015 Focus, which will make its official debut at the New York International Auto Show, which opens April 17 at the Jacob Javits Center.

According to data compiled by R.L. Polk/IHS Automotive, the Focus is the best-selling car model in the world with 1,097,618 sales in 2013 , an 8.1% increase from 2012. The key to the Focus’ success is China where over a third of all Focus sales were made.

In the U.S., the Focus was the third best-selling American-badged car and No. 15 out of all vehicles offered in America. 2013 Focus sales were down 4.6% so the time is ripe for a refresh.

The renewed Focus was first shown in Geneva in March with the introduction of the three-door and five-door hatchbacks for Europe. For the U.S. market, the three-door hatch is replaced with the four-door sedan body style preferred over here.

The new Focus features a restyled hood and grille in line with Ford’s current design language, LED lighting for headlamps and taillamps, new rear lamp clusters and a restyled trunk lid.

“It is remarkable to see Focus again lead the industry as the No. 1-selling vehicle nameplate on the planet,” said Jim Farley, Ford executive vice president. “With the new car, we’ve raised the bar again, showcasing Ford’s commitment to continuous improvement – adding better technology for drivers and a sleeker, more modern exterior across the entire Focus family.”

One of the key changes for American 2015 Focus is the addition of the three-cylinder, 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine that was named as one of the International Engines of the Year in 2012 and 2013. Paired with a six-speed manual transmission, Ford expects fuel efficiency to be competitive with any non-hybrid vehicle.

A handy upgrade is the rearview camera that will be standard equipment on all 2015 Focuses (Foci?). Ford’s Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) and lane keeping system are optional.

Ford’s BLIS uses two multiple-beam radar modules in the rear quarter panels that identify vehicles entering the defined blind spot zone and illuminates an indicator light on the sideview mirror to warn the driver that a vehicle is approaching. The lane-keeping system warns of lane drift caused by driver inattention. If it detects a drift without a turn signal being activated, it vibrates the steering wheel much in the way a rumble strip would. If the driver persists, the system actively steers the car back into the current lane.

This might also remind Focus drivers to signal lane changes, an unintentional but useful side effect.

Other options include a heated steering wheel and a new SE Sport Package featuring body treatments, paddle shifters (with automatic transmission), a revised touring suspension, 17-inch black gloss aluminum wheels and P215/50 HR-17 tires.

A bit of a downer for would-be-wayward teens is the fact that Ford’s MyKey will be standard on all Focus trim levels. MyKey is Ford’s system that allows parents to help their children be better drivers by reminding them to buckle up as well as preventing the sound system fro being operated at eardrum-splitting levels. MyKey also chimes at preset speeds to remind young drivers to watch their speed and can be set to limit the top speed to 80 miles per hour. Best of all (or worst of all, depending on one’s point of view), MyKey blocks incoming phone calls and text messages on phones paired with the car.

Ford has not yet announced pricing or availability for the new Focus. The current version starts at $17,635, including destination charges.

 

Alfa, Alfieri and Jeep

Alfa-Graduate-ACP
A new sports car being jointly developed by Fiat and Mazda may not wear an Alfa Romeo badge, after all. According to company CEP Sergio Marchionne, the new car would have been a modern version of the Alfa Romeo 1600 Spider Duetto, famous for its appearance in the 1967 movie “The Graduate.”

The problem comes from a conflict between Marchionne’s statement that no Alfas will be built outside of Italy as long as he is CEO and the fact that the new roadster will be built at the Mazda plant in Hiroshima, Japan.

Simply walking away from the deal isn’t a viable financial option: it would be very costly at a time when Fiat wants to conserve as much money as it can for future projects.

As a result, the new car will likely wear either a Fiat or Abarth badge with Abarth the more likely candidate as an open sports car with a small-displacement engine would fit the marque very well.

Hopefully there will be more light shed on the subject when Fiat announces a new product roadmap in May.

Maserati-Alfieri-A6GCS-53-ACP

Maserati celebrated its 100th anniversary by unveiling the Alfieri, a 2+2 concept that is 100% functional and could be put into production in as little as two years time. Named for Alfieri Maserati, who founded “Officine Alfieri Maserati,” the car was designed at Maserati’s styling studios in Turin by a group led by Marco Tencone. Lorenzo Ramaciotti, head of styling for Fiat/Chrysler, provided overall management for the project.

The Alfieri rides on a shortened version of the GranTurismo MC Stradale chassis and is powered by a 4.7-liter, naturally aspirated V8 engine that develops 460 bhp @ 7,000 rpm and 384 lb-ft of torque @ 4,750 rpm. The engine is built at Ferrari’s facilities in Maranello. The drivetrain is completed with a six-speed, electronically actuated gearbox that is mounted in a single unit with a limited-slip rear differential and connected to the engine via a rigid torque tube. Stopping power comes from carbon ceramic disc brakes and Brembo brake calipers borrowed from the GranTurismo MC Stradale’s parts bin.

According to Lorenzo Ramaciotti, “The Alfieri is a transition point between 100 glorious years of history and the future that is opening up before us,” said Ramaciotti. “I sincerely can’t say that we’ll see this car in production in two years-time, but I’m certain we’ll see something very similar.”

The Alfieri was inspired by the Maserati A6 GCS-53 designed by Battista Pininfarina in 1953. The A6 GCS-53 was the last Pininfarina design for Maserati until the new Quattroporte and Gran Turismo were introduced. (Note: the last design in which Pinifarina himself had a hand was the Alfa Romeo 1600 Spider Duetto). As can be seen, the Alfieri shares the A6 GCS-53′s a small passenger cabin pushed nearly all the way back to the rear wheels, a long hood and long, sinuous fenders that continue almost to the rear wheels. “A6 GCS” stands for “Alfieri six-cylinder,” “Ghisa” (cast-iron), “Corsa” (racing) and “Sport.”

Renegade-ItalyFlag-ACP

When the new Renegade was introduced at the Geneva Auto Show, brand CEO Mike Manley commented on the fact the new Jeep would be the first built solely outside the United States. The Renegade, which shares a platform with the upcoming Fiat 500X, will be built at the Fiat plant in Melfi, Italy. Furthermore, it will break even more new ground by being the first-ever Jeep that won’t go on sale first in the U.S.: sales will begin in the European market by the end of this year but North American sales won’t begin until 2015.

In Manley’s view, the Renegade won’t be shunned by American Jeep fans because it will be trail-rated. In addition, its smaller size and lighter weight should make it more nimble off-road, especially when traversing rocky terrain. To top things off, Mopar will have a selection of parts and accessories designed for the Renegade ready to go when the smallest Jeep goes on sale.

This isn’t the first time Jeeps have been assembled outside the U.S.: Cherokees and Grand Cherokees were built at the Steyr (later MagnaSteyr) plant in Graz, Austria, for the European market. It’s not the first time for sharing with another brand: the current Grand Cherokee traces much of its heritage to Daimler.

There are lots of good reasons for building the Renegade in Italy: Melfi has unused capacity and needs the work while Jeep plants in the U.S. are busy. Sharing a platform with the Fiat 500X isn’t a problem, either: the new Cherokee is proof of that.

But this is the first time a new Jeep has ever been offered in another market before becoming available in the U.S. and it remains to be seen if that will have any impact among the Jeep faithful.

Of course, the reality is that the American market is only part of the Renegade strategy. The hope is that the new Jeep will find new customers in markets around the world and will help make Jeep a truly global player with sales volume never before seen for the brand.

It’s a big load for a little Jeep.

Passat’s new 1.8T is a welcome upgrade

VW-Passat-1.8-1-ACP
The Chattanooga, Tennessee-built Volkswagen Passat has been a success. With nearly a quarter-million sales since its 2011 introduction as a 2012 model, it dwarfs the market penetration of the previous model.

There’s a comfortable, roomy passenger compartment with rear seating accommodations rivaling those found in larger SUVs and pickups, excellent handling and a price tag thousands of dollars lower than the previous Passat, making the latest generation truly competitive in its segment.

While North America gained a sedan more suited to its preferences, it did give up the 200-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four that made the earlier Passat and Passat CC such pleasures to drive. In its place we got Volkswagen’s naturally aspirated 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. The five is a good engine with 170 horsepower that provides decent performance in both in-town and highway driving, but the pleasure of feeling the 2.0-liter press-your-back-against-the-seat wasn’t there and it was missed.

New for the 2014 model year is a 1.8-liter turbocharged four that is making its way through the Passat line and will ultimately be the standard powerplant from top to bottom.

While there is no change in horsepower the new turbo provides additional torque and both are available over a wide range of engines speeds. This translates into improved performance equal to or better than the competition in terms of 0-60 and quarter-mile times.

Best of all, the feeling of smooth power that was a major factor in the pleasure of driving the 2.0-liter engine is back. Not surprising as the new engine is a de-stroked version of the 2.0-liter powerplant.

PASSAT ENGINE COMPARISON
Specification 2.0T 2.5 1.8T
Cylinders 4 5 4
Horsepower 200 170 170
Torque (lb-ft) 200 177 184
0-60 (seconds) 6.5 9 7.5
Top Speed (mph) 126 110 115
Quarter-mile (seconds/mph) 15.0/95 16.6/84 15.7/89
EPA City (mpg) 22 22 24
EPA Highway (mpg) 31 31 34
EPA Combined (mpg) 25 25 28
Fuel Requirement Premium Regular Regular

We had a unique opportunity to compare the two engines in real-world driving. The first car was a 2014 Passat SEL Premium with the 1.8T; the second was a 2014 Passat SE with the 2.5-liter.

The SEL Premium is as good as it gets unless one opts for the V6 or the TDI diesel. In fact, there are essentially no other factory-installed options. Heated leather power seats, sunroof, touch-screen display with navigation, foglights, rearview camera and a host of other goodies are standard.

The SE is a step up from the base model but it’s still nicely equipped. The automatic transmission is an option but you still have air-conditioning, heated front seats, power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, touchscreen audio system and more that make the SE’s cabin a nice place to be.

Though both engines pulled well, the 1.8T seemed a bit more eager and was a bit quieter, especially when pushed. Not that the 2.5-liter engine is particularly loud (it isn’t), it’s just more noticeable when compared to the turbo.

On our 56-mile test loop both cars performed well with high marks for for power and handling that easily handled everything from freeway merging and passing to back country roads with tight curves and less-than-perfect paving. The turbo was more responsive, which comes in handy when passing an 18-wheeler on a two-lane road.

Even at 75 miles per hour both Passats were well-composed with minimal road noise and comfortable and supportive seating. The Fender audio system performed quite well with everything from classical music to heavy metal.

Even on the more modestly equipped SE, the cabin HVAC system includes vents for the rear-seat passengers.

VW-Passat-1.8-2-ACP
The Passat’s controls are easy to use and conveniently located. The window lift and mirror adjustment/heating switches are backlit, something overlooked in a surprising number of cars.

A car that is such a pleasing highway cruiser is meant to be a part of family vacations and the Passat provides adequate truck space to accommodate our standard luggage load.

One of the very few gripes about the 1.8T Passat is that its top speed is electronically limited to 115 miles per hour. In other markets, the top speed is about 130 with the same engine. This isn’t a huge point as few Passat owners will ever drive the car at any speed close to the max (and the rest shouldn’t) but Volkswagen’s habit of capping the top end for the North American market is a bit frustrating.

Passats equipped with the 1.8-liter engine carry an $830 price premium over those equipped with the five-cylinder but they offer better fuel economy and, unlike the 2.0-liter turbo, they run just fine on regular unleaded.
VW-Passat-1.8-3-ACP

VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT SEL PREMIUM
Type 5-passenger sedan
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Transmission/Drivetrain: 6-speed automatic with Tiptronic & Sport Mode
Horsepower: 170 hp @ 4,800-6,200 rpm
Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,750 rpm
Plant Volkswagen Chattanooga
Base Price $30,895
Options $0
Destination Cherges $820
Price as tested $31,715
EPA Fuel economy: 32 mpg City; 40 mpg Highway
Key standard features: Dual-zone automatic climate control, Leather seating surfaces, Heated front seats, Premium touchscreen navigation system, Leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, 8-way power front seats including power lumbar and memory for driver’s seat, SiriusXM Traffic with 4-year subscription, SiriusXM Travel Link with 3-month trial subscription, Remote start, Halogen reflector lens foglights with low-speed corner-illuminating feature, 18-inch Bristol alloy wheels, Power tilting/sliding tinted sunroof, Rearview camera
Options: None
Why we’d buy it: More power, smoother performance, improved fuel economy (compared to 2.5-liter engine). Spacious cabin, well-equipped as standard.
Why we wouldn’t: Speed limiter