Friday, December 2, 2016



The website for Kelly Blue Book ( breaks down new cars into an even dozen categories with links to lists of sedans and coupes, crossovers and SUVs, hatchbacks and convertibles, hybrids and electrics, vans/minivans and wagons, and luxury and trucks for shoppers to peruse.

A good friend of mine would like to make it a Baker’s dozen and add a 13th category.

Toy cars.

We’re not talking here about 1/25th scale models that decorate shelves and desks of auto aficionados but vehicles that you can drive on the streets and highways in town and country. Yes, real cars but with a twist.

David got this idea a few years ago when he was trying to contort his 6-foot-1, 200-pounds plus (his numbers) frame into the bucket seat of an Acura NSX. He had no trouble getting in and out of a Corvette or Mustang or even a BMW Z3 and Mazda Miata, he said, but the NSX was like trying to get behind the wheel of one of the old stamp-wheeled toy pedal cars of the 1950s or the Power Wheels of today. A tight squeeze.

Thus the NSX, he determined, was a toy car.

Later, he expanded that definition to encompass vehicles that don’t necessarily fit into a specific set of specifications like length, width or seating capacity (though most are small) and aren’t necessarily difficult to get in or out off, but have a distinct aura about them that exudes an essence of pure automotive fun.

The Volkswagen Beetle, especially in convertible configuration, is one such car.

In fact, just to emphasize its spirit and carefree soul, when the New Beetle came out several years ago it was equipped with a strange vial-like tube attached to the dash that was about the thickness of a dime (or maybe a nickel — it has been a while).

Frankly, I couldn’t figure out what the heck it was (change for tolls?) until somebody told me was a bud vase similar to the porcelain one that was offered as a dealer option back in the 1950s.

If flowers don’t say “toy car,” nothing does.

As such, I would say that doesn’t make the 2017 VW 1.8T Dune Beetle Convertible a very good option for a family, unless that family is downsizing, but it does make for kind of a fun second vehicle for special excursions or even regular commuting in city traffic.

It is one of two new Beetles offered for 2017 along with a limited edition #PinkBeetle Convertible that comes with an purplish exterior that VW calls Fresh Fuchsia Metallic and pink accents on the interior. That would seem to be taking “toy car” to the extreme.

But we are dealing with the Dune here, not the #PinkBeetle. 

The Dune comes with a 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine that with 184 pound-feet of torque kicking in at 1500 rpm gives a pretty sprightly driving performance. The six-speed automatic transmission features a “sport” mode and gears can be selected manually, but without paddle shifters to accomplish that that’s a chore that is best skipped. It’s good only if you want to hold it in third or fourth gear, say, to keep engine revs up for quicker throttle responses.

Mileage figures for the Dune are 24 miles-per-gallon city, 31 highway and 27 combined using regular fuel.

What makes the Beetle Dune “dune” is that it sits slightly higher and is slightly wider than the base 1.8L Beetle, albeit less than a half-inch in either dimension, giving it what the Germans consider a “more rugged” stance.

The exterior gets new front and rear fascias and the side gets black strips and special “Dune” markings. It’s available in three colors, though the Sandstorm Yellow seems to be  a more logical choice than either the Pure White or Deep Black Pearl. The brownish hue seems to fit “dune” more than black or white.

Inside, the Dune gets sports seats that feature yellow stitching and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The seats are comfortable, adjustable manually, and — as is typical of many convertibles — spacious enough in front but tight in the back. Getting to the rear seats with the top up requires similar contortions to what David experienced with the NSX.

Two electric motors raise and lower the top, which latches and unlatches automatically so manual securing of the latch is not required. The operation takes only 9.5 seconds to lower and 11.0 to raise and secure and can be done at speeds up to 31 mph, which is good if you get caught in a sudden shower.

Standard equipment on the Dune included a rearview camera 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, a power-operated insulated top, heated front seats with lumbar support, SiriusXM satellite radio, and an infotainment system that includes Bluetooth, VW Car-Net App-Connect, and a Park Distance Control (Park Pilot).

In a real shocker, floor mats are listed among standard equipment, which means the salesman can’t act like he is doing you such a big favor by throwing them in with your deal.

That comes with an MSRP of $29,395. With a technology package (Fender premium sound system, keyless entry and push-button start, and dual zone climate control) for $995 and the $820 destination and delivery charge added in, the total cost for my test vehicle was $31,210.

Too much for a Beetle? MSRP for the 1.8T S Beetle is $25,565 and the 1.8T Beetle Classic checks in at only $270 higher than that. The 1.8T SEL sits at the top of the line with an MSRP of $32,115.

What I liked about the 2017 Beetle Convertible 1.8T Dune: It’s got a sporty feel to it when it comes to handling. Also, with the insulated top up, it is very quiet on the road even at highway speeds. With the top down, you don’t lose any trunk space, but you don’t get a lot to begin with (7.1 cubic feet).

What I didn’t like about the 2007 Beetle Convertible 1.8T Dune: Response to voice commands for the radio are erratic. By the time you repeat the command two or three times, you might as well make the station change manually. It’s quicker. You don’t have to do it, of course, but after lowering the top, to finish it off you have to tug and push to snap a boot cover in place. Welcome to the 1990s!

Would I buy the 2017 Beetle Convertible 1.8T Dune: As a fun second car, I’d certainly  give it consideration. 

Monday, November 28, 2016


No scientific evidence here, but probably the most-asked question of auto reviewers is “What car should I buy?” or some variant of it, such as “Should I buy a (blank)?”

It’s a tough question to answer because there are so many things involved in the issue. I also wouldn’t want to tell someone to buy a (blank) and then have them got hold of a lemon. Certainly if you read enough reviews by actual buyers you’ll find some panning some vehicles for problems they have had with them but other owners love.

Years ago at an event sponsored by another manufacturer I heard someone say he always recommended a Camry because of Toyota’s reputation for reliability and it was good-looking as a “safe” choice. This was long enough ago that there once was a big quality gap between the Japanese automaker and many of its competitors.

Now that that gap has closed, I’m not sure what this guy would recommend, and I have long since forgotten who it was who said it so I can’t ask. Just take my word for it.

Frankly, I haven’t been asked that question very often, but what I have heard could be a very close second.

What is your favorite car?

That, too, is a tough one. When you drive up to 50 new cars every year you run across things you like about a lot of them. Though cars on the market today have some areas about them (many, in rare cases) I don’t particularly like, as a group the quality is unmistakably better than in the past, and even the less expensive models come with features that make for a pleasant driving experience.

But I do have a favorite.

If pushed to answer that question, as I once was at a meeting with featuring representatives of another company, I go with the Jaguar F-Type, which debuted as a convertible for the 2014 model year and a coupe a year later.

That doesn’t mean it is without flaws, as I will note later. It’s just that to me the overall package of looks, performance, and gee-whiz factor of the F-Type make it the current No. 1 with me.

Notice that I did not mention practicality or functional among its traits.

With only two seats and a small luggage space — 11.0 cubic feet for the coupe, 7.0 for the convertible — it’s not what you call a good car for a family. Even with the new entry-level Base trim with a supercharged V6 engine instead of a V8, the F-Type is a bit much for that market.

This is especially so in the new for SVR trim level introduced for 2017.

An ultra-high performance coupe that served for my week-long test drive, the F-Type SVR comes with a supercharged 5.0-liter V8 engine that is rated at 575 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for manual gear selection. The website has yet to release a zero-to-60 time for the 2017 F-Type SVR, but you can expect it to be a bit quicker than the 3.3-second clocking for the 2016 F-Type R with all-wheel drive.

In other words, quick. And if you want a little more in the way of oomph, you can set the transmission to Sport mode and other settings to Dynamic to emphasize a sportier performance.

After all, that’s what this vehicle is all about. Of course that likely will cost you some when it comes to fuel mileage, which is 15 miles-per-gallon city, 23 highway, and 18 combined with premium fuel required for the all-wheel-drive SVR. You just have to sacrifice something here.

Naturally, being a Jaguar, the F-Type has a lot of creature comforts. You can adjust the side bolsters on the leather seats for a more snug feeling. You might find those seats on the firm side, which some reviewers have noted could cause some discomfort on longer trips, but I never took a longer trim than the 20 miles or so from my house to downtown to confirm that.

If you’re used to luxury cars that seem to “float” along, the F-Type probably isn’t going to be on your shopping list. The engine also emanates a very distinctive base beat from the dual quad exhausts that is pleasing to the ear to most, but maybe not all. It doesn’t interfere with the sound levels from the premium 770W Meridian audio system, though.

As is regrettably the custom with Jaguar models, some of the technological features seem to be about a half-step behind that usually found in the class. I’m an inveterate spinner of the dial when it comes to the radio, but the F-Type doesn’t have a dial so that does make it difficult. The standard navigation system is different from the one I recently contended with on the Jaguar F-Pace SUV (see October blogs), and that is good since it is more intuitive to operate and has no “mystery” settings.

Most, if not all, of the niceties you would want in a luxury car are either standard on the 2017 F-Type SVR or are offered as “no charge” options.

The latter group on my test F-Type  included a carbon fiber center console, suede-cloth covered steering wheel, red leather interior package with red seat belts, carbon ceramic brake system and 20-inch wheels with carbon ceramic brake rotors and yellow calipers, and an exterior carbon fiber package that included carbon fiber hood louvers, mirror caps, front spoiler, side vents, and Venturi blade.

Standard features included the usual package of safety features (air bags, stability control, plenty of airbags), Xenon headlamps with LED signature lighting, tire pressure monitoring system that shows pressure on each of the four wheels, panoramic sunroof, keyless entry, touchscreen navigation system, parking sensors, rearview camera, blind spot monitor, and a power liftgate for the trunk.

All that is wrapped up with an MSRP that, including the $995 destination and delivery feel, checks in at $126,945, which is a bit more than what I paid for my house 23 years ago. But as I always say, you can sleep in your car (though in a two-seater it would be uncomfortable) but you can’t drive your house.

What I liked about the 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR: The throttle response, the engine sound, the way you sit snug behind the wheel, the beautiful, powerful-looking exterior, the confident feeling on the road, the quilted leather seats with adjustable side bolsters, um, need I go on?

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR: As silly as it may sound, it took me a while to adjust to the suede-wrapped steering wheel. It seemed a bit slick to my fingertips, which gave in to a somewhat less secure feeling when it came to control. I was getting more used to it by the end of the week, but I still prefer more conventional leather-wrapped steering wheels.

Would I buy the 2017 Jaguar F-Type SVR: What do you think?

Thursday, November 17, 2016


When it comes to getting creative with names for its models, you’ve got to hand it to Volkswagen.

Possibly no other automaker in the world (though I’m not familiar with makes from China) comes up with as many names that evoke a what-in-the-world-does-that-mean? reaction as the game German manufacturer.

Over the years, we have seen the likes of Routan, Corrado, Scirocco, Eos, Jetta, Phaeton, Tiguan, and Tourag roll off its assembly lines.

What Teutonic taskmaster came up with those labels? And how?

Plus there are Beetle, Fox, Golf, and Rabbit, the latter two having swapped names depending on the year and market. At least we know what those are.

But Passatt?

Perhaps it has been around long enough and is popular enough that you may know that the name “Passat” comes from German for “trade wind.” It’s also a sailing ship, and “Passat Nunatak” also is a glacial island in Antarctica. At least that’s what a cursory search on the Internet reveals, and everybody knows the Internet doesn’t lie, right?

I’m just guessing here but I would think that VW had “trade wind” or “sailing ship” in mind when it named its midsize family sedan Passat, not the frozen island at the bottom of the world.

Whichever, the Passat has something to offer buyers who like to think outside the box from the traditional sedan offerings from Toyota, Honda, Chevy, and Ford.

It seats five passengers comfortably enough, giving those in the backseat up to 39.1 inches of legroom, has enough oomph (280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque with the 3.6-liter V6 under the hood and using premium fuel) to satisfy daily driving requirements while delivering decent fuel economy (23 miles-per-gallon combined with the V6), and produces a quiet, smooth ride with minimum road noise.

Even the 1.8-liter turbo 4-cylinder power plant under the hood of the 2017 Passat SEL Premium model that served me for a week offered decent acceleration. It’s rated at 170 hp at 6200 rpm and 184 lb.ft. of torque at a low 1500 rpm while producing fuel economy of 25 mpg city, 38 highway (a number approaching hybrid status), and 29 combined on regular fuel.

Unless you are looking for a sportier performance, the 4-banger seems quite suitable.

Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with power going to the front wheels.

The interior of the Passat I would describe as “functional.” It doesn’t have the panache of German luxury models from Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz, but there is a “European” feel about it. The quality of the materials is excellent.

The 2017 VW Passat is offered in four trim levels starting with the S and continuing with the R-Line, SE, and top-of-the-line SEL Premium, dropping the SEL line. Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking are now standard across the line.

The SEL Premium model for my drive also included as standard equipment 18-inch alloy wheels (over 16s), power sunroof, dual zone climate control, park distance control with rearview camera, blind spot monitoring with traffic alert, keyless entry with push-button start, Fender premium sound system, satellite radio, VW Car-Net connectivity with navigation and Smart phone integration, lane departure warning, fog lights, and LED automatic headlights, daytime running lights and taillights.

All that is included in the MSRP of $35,090 (including $820 destination and delivery), making option packages virtually unnecessary.

What I liked about the 2017 VW Passat 1.8T SEL Premium: It was very comfortable to drive and offers a lot of niceties in the base MSRP. The backseat is roomy and the trunk capacity is a generous 15.9 cubic feet and arranged in an easy-to-load configuration.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 VW Passat 1.8T SEL Premium: The navigation screen is on the small side (6.3 inches) and responses to voice commands vary in time.

Would I buy the 2017 VW Passat 1.8T SEL Premium: In a manner of speaking I already have since several years ago we bought a VW Passat wagon and have really liked it. Of course, there is a major difference in a sedan and wagon (no longer offered as a Passat), but one of the things we appreciate is the German engineering.

By the way, here are explanations for those weird VW model names as garnered from a couple of sources Internet (you can Google it yourself if you want):

   Routan: A minivan with the name derived from “route” and “an,” the latter following the company policy for its European vans Touran and Sharan.
   Corrado: A hatchback from the early 1990s with a name based on the Spanish word for “jet stream” or typhoon. Or maybe it’s based on the Spanish word “Correra,” to run or the runner. Seems to be some doubt there.
   Scirocco: From a hurricane-force wind that originates in the Sahara.
   Eos: The Greek goddess of the dawn.
   Jetta: German for “jet stream.”
   Phaeton: Named after the Greek god of the sun.
   Tiguan: A combination of  “tiger” and “leguan,” the German words for tiger and iguana.
   Tourag: A nomadic people in the Sahara.
   Of course, Volkswagen itself is German for “the people’s car.” But you probably knew that.

Sunday, November 13, 2016



I like red cars. Unless you count a maroon Ford Falcon Sprint convertible I had back in the mid-1960s, though, I’ve never owned one, but I do like them.

Thus when a red 2017 Infiniti Q50 sedan showed up in my driveway recently, it had me at first look. That it happened to the top-of-the-line Red Sport 400 trim just added to the anticipation.

If you don’t recognize alphanumeric Q50 tag, it is what Infiniti now calls its smaller luxury sports sedan these days. Before the company went to the system of designating its convertibles, sedans, and coupes with the “Q” badging and crossovers and SUVs with “QX,” the Q50 was the G37. (The G37 coupe/convertible goes by the moniker Q60.)

It wasn't a direct line from one to the other as there was the short-lived Q40 sedan, which the company took out of production in 2015 after one model year, kind of in between, and for a while the company sold both. But that’s how it has ended up.

Whether it was a reluctance to accept the new naming system or genuine criticism, the Q40 and later the Q50 got a rather lukewarm reception among many reviewers, who preferred the G37 to the redesigned model that replaced it.

Wards Auto called the 2014 Q50 not “a big leap forward over the G37” that it replaced but added that it wasn’t “all bad.” praised it for its technological features and interior quality, but wasn’t as enthusiastic for its handling and ride quality. In its analysis of reviews, U.S. News & World Report rated it no better than No. 11 out of 20 luxury sports sedans.

Though the competition is tough (Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, etc.), I think that is underrating the Q50 a bit. Its exterior is striking, especially in what the company calls its new “Dynamic Sandstone Red” color, its roomy cabin coddles riders with high quality materials, and the response from the 3.0-liter, turbocharged V6 engine in the Red Sport model is equally up to the competition.

That engine is rated at 400 horsepower and delivers 350-pound feet of torque to the rear wheels via a 7-speed automatic transmission that can shifted manually through paddles mounted on the steering column and also can be adjusted to Snow, ECO, Standard, Sport, or Sport-Plus modes depending on conditions or your own personal wishes at the time. It’s also available with all-wheel drive.

A slightly milder version turbo V6 that is tuned for 300 hp and a 2.0L turbo 4-cylinder engine are also offered as well as a gas-electric hybrid drivetrain on other trim levels.

EPA mileage ratings for the 2017 Q50 Red Sport 400 are 22 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway and 22 combined, and premium fuel is required.

Standard equipment on the Q50 Red Sport 400 includes automatic on/off LED headlights, LED fog lights, 19-inch wheels, leather-appointed 8-way adjustable sport seats with driver’s side lumbar support and side bolsters, dual zone climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power sliding glass moonroof, rearview monitor, InTouch dual display system with two screens, Bose premium sound system, Bluetooth hands-free phone communications, and two USB connection ports.

That’s included in the MSRP of $48,700.

Other good stuff, like special seating, adaptable cruise control, blind spot warning and lane departure warning, Infiniti’s InTouch infotainment system with navigation, etc. is available in option packages that, along with the $905 destination and delivery fee, ran the total cost of this 2017 Q50 Red Sport 400 up to $60,220.

There are five other trims with the base starting at about $25,000 less.

What I liked about the 2017 Q50 Red Sport 400: Other than the driving performance — the website clocked the 2016 Q50 Red Sport 400 in 4.5 seconds — I liked the idea of having two screens on the center stack. One displays the map for navigation and is operated by the knob on the console. The smaller, lower screen, is for audio, climate, and other functions. Being able to make adjustments without having to change screens is a nice touch that I have seen only here and on some Honda/Acura models.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Q50 Red Sport 400: The manual offered little in the way of help, and it took a while, but I finally figured out to change the clock from EDT to EST. There could be issues with instructions for other functions as well, but I find that this isn’t an issue exclusive to Infiniti but to auto owners’ manuals in general. Also, call me a traditionalist, but I don’t see what was gained in the name change from G37.

Would I buy the 2017 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400: It would be my choice from among the other trims for sure. And I would make sure it was red.

Friday, November 4, 2016


A couple of years ago — well, it might have been three, but I don’t think it was four — I attended the launch of the new Audi A3 sedan, and as I listened to the product managers, designers, and other speakers tell us of the its new features and updates, I got to wondering if the company wasn’t competing against itself here.

After all, the A3, which formerly had been produced as a hatchback, seemed to have more good stuff and came at a cheaper price by several thousand dollars than its A4 sedan.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought that because about a year ago sales numbers for the A3 were second only to the Q5 crossover SUV. Sales of the A4, meanwhile, where down about 16 percent for the year.

Automakers, however, rarely sit still. (Those that do aren’t around for long.) Audi has addressed the situation with a major redesign for the 2017 Audi A4 sedan and guess what. Sales numbers for the A4 were more than double those for the A3 last month with 3,864 A4s sold to 1,708 A3s. For the year through October, the difference was slightly less with 27,535 in sales for the A4 to 26,578 for the A3, but the figure for the A4 is a 17.6 percent increase over a year ago and the number for the A3 shows a a 10.5 percent decrease.

Yes, part of that can be attributed to a natural progression in declining numbers as one generation of a model begins to age, but in this case I think it is also because that Audi did a lot right with the new A4. In fact, in its analysis of auto reviews for the small luxury cars U.S. News & World Report rated the A4 No. 1 of a field of 18 entries. (The A3 was No. 4.)

I would be hard-pressed to argue with them.

The A4 is truly a joy to drive, it looks great both inside and out, and it features a bunch of gee-whiz technology that even the less techno-savvy among us find easy to operate.

Audi gave the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine a power boost for 2017 with horsepower up to 252 from 220 and torque to 273 pound-feet kicking in at 1600 rpm from 258 for 2016.

Mated with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that functions like an automatic (you can select gears via steering wheel-mounted shifters), it scoots from zero-to-60 mph in 6.1 seconds in front-wheel-drive configuration or 5.7 for models with Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system. Fuel mileage is a respectable 25 miles-per-gallon city, 33 highway, 28 combined for FWD models and 24/31/27 for AWD.

Set in dynamic mode, the A4 delivers an ever sportier driving experience while still delivering a ride that is smooth, quiet, and comfortable. Again, that is from driving on South Florida roads and streets, which are notoriously straight-line affairs with the only elevation change the usual on-ramps (save for one particular overpass in the north of Miami-Dade County), so it’s not like I was able to see its reaction on twisty mountain roads. I suspect it would handle them just as well if not better than the A3 did at that press event in California I mentioned earlier.

The A4’s cabin is impeccable with lots of leather and soft surfaces throughout the spacious cabin. Those leather seats, by the way, are among standard features. Others include a rear-view camera, 8-way power adjustable front seats with 4-way lumbar support (driver memory seats are included in an optional package), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and LED ambient lighting.

There’s also lots of room for both passengers up front (up to 41.3 inches of legroom) and in the rear (35.7 inches), and the trunk offers 13 cubic feet of luggage space.

My test vehicle came with Audi’s MMI (Multi Media Interface) system for operating infotainment features such as the navigation system via a knob on the console. You simply flick a toggle switch to whatever system you want — audio, navigation, etc. — and adjust the knob to the desired setting as indicated on a screen that sticks up from the dash. The MMI system also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Pricing for the A4 starts at under $35,000. The 2017 A4 Sedan 2.0T quattro S tronic that served as my test vehicle had a base MSRP of $39,400. With a couple of optional packages added on along with stand-alone options like 18-inch wheels over the standard 17-inchers, plus the $950 destination and delivery charge, the total came to $45,450, but a credit for the Parking System Plus knocked the final figure down to $44,950.

What I liked about the 2017 Audi A4: One of the choices for the driver’s information display between the speedometer and tachometer in the instrumental panel is a duplicate map for navigation. You can adjust the scale via a dial on the steering wheel. This allows you to check out the map with a simple glance down instead of having to look to your right to the monitor on the dash.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Audi A4: Nothing really to enter here. Guess the trunk could be a bit bigger. It’s slightly smaller than some competitors, slightly bigger than others.

Would I buy the 2017 Audi A4: Yep.

Friday, October 28, 2016



When you are doing something for the first time, it behooves you to do it right because, as most any good salesman will tell you, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Well, Jaguar has entered the fray with its very first SUV, the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace, and the first impression is that the famed British marque most certainly did it right.

Oh, sure, there are a couple of little nits I might pick at (and will get to later), but overall, this is hit right out of the box. It looks great, performs like you would expect from a Jaguar, and easily fulfills the basic mission of an SUV, which is hauling people in comfort with all their stuff.

A good reason for all that could be that could be, according to a company news release, the F-Pace’s appearance was influenced by the highly success Jaguar F-Type coupe and convertible. Jaguar PR types even refer to the F-Pace as a “practical sports car,” and it should be noted the company clocked the F-Pace S model with its supercharged V6 engine (380 horsepower, 332 pound-feet of torque) at 5.1 seconds for getting from zero to 60 mph.

Designer Ian Callum says that “every Jaguar car should draw your eye from 200 meters away,” and I would have to say the F-Pace does that. It certainly caught the eye of one of my neighbors, though I must confess I never asked how far away she was standing away when she gushed about it.

The F-Pace seats five passengers and is offered in five trim levels (base, Premium, Prestige, R-Sport and S) with three engine options (in addition to the aforementioned 380 hp V6, there is a a 340 hp supercharged V6 and a 4-cylinder diesel) all mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with Jaguar’s rotary dial selector and paddle shifters, and all-wheel drive configuration.

We’ll concentrate on the 2017 F-Pace S version here.

It carries a base MSRP of $56,700, and options like a comfort and convenience package (heated and cooled front seats and heated rear, a “gesture” tailgate that allows you to operate the tailgate by waving your foot under the rear flanks, power reclining rear seats, and remote release for the second row), a technology package (InControl Touch Pro with a 10.2-inch touchscreen for operation of infotainment systems, SSD-based navigation for quick refreshes, premium sound, and WiFi), and a couple of other options and destination and delivery ran the total up to $65,745. (The base model starts at around $41,000.)

Standard equipment on the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace S includes adaptive driving dynamics which allows you to put the car in “dynamic” mode for enhanced performance (or you can go from Standard to Eco if you prefer), 20-inch wheels, LED headlights with auto high beam (it seemed to work more effectively than some past takes on this feature), 14-way adjustable sport front seats with leather surfaces and driver memory, keyless entry and push-button start, rear-view camera and blind-spot monitor, lane-keeping assist, and navigation.

The 380 hp V6 version in the F-Pace S offers fuel mileage ratings of 18 miles-per-gallon city, 23 highway, and 20 combined, which falls on the low end of its class. But the performance makes up for it. Throttle response is instant, and its eagerness to take off is clearly evident when the transmission is set in Sport mode. The feeling is that of being aboard a thoroughbred race horse who wants to get the jump on his competitors so he can be first back to the barn for oats.

The interior is refined but fairly simplistic in design. It’s also quite roomy, except for maybe the middle rider in the back who has to contend with the hump from the driveshaft. With an overall length of 186.3 inches, it offers front-seat riders what Jaguar calls “effective” legroom of 40.3 inches and those in the back 37.2 inches while still providing a roomy 33.5 cubic feet of storage space behind the second row. Fold the second-row seats and you get another 30 cubic feet.

That’s a lot of storage space for those on the go.

Here’s where I pick the nits:

— The front doors have kind of a weird design with the upper half swooping toward the back. I actually banged my head on an open driver’s side door (yes, that is kind of klutzy), and it takes a while to get used to bending correctly to get in up front because of the sloping A pillar.

—The InControl Touch system is not all that complicated to operate and response to voice commands was pretty good, but I never could figure out how to correctly adjust the various scales for the navigation map. The map seemed to jump around from very close up to a much broader overall look, and there were a couple of numbers at the upper left that defied explanation.

Thought they might be elevation numbers at first, but nothing in South Florida is 400 feet in elevation except for some buildings in downtown Miami. Diving into the owner’s manual provided no solution, and the car jockey who picked up the F-Pace at the end of my week couldn’t figure it out either. (An update: I have been told that the number represents kind of a fine-tuning regarding your location and a point somewhere else on the map. I must have touched somewhere on the screen and that's what the system was telling me. Sounds good to me!)

Also, the nav system kept asking me to log in to my account, which, of course, I didn’t have. Fortunately, it was easy enough to clear that from the touchscreen.

But neither of those nits would be considered deal breakers in my book.

What I liked about the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace S: This is an SUV that really does handle more like a sport sedan. I prefer a firm ride over a cushy one, and the F-Pace came through there as well. But it is not overly stiff and seemed to handle ordinary street bumps quite well.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace S: Bumping my head on the driver’s side door when I simply leaned forward while standing next to it with the door open. You have to learn to duck your head just so to get in up front as well.

Would I buy the 2017 Jaguar F-Pace S: Yes. In its analysis of reviews, U.S. News & World Report rates the F-Pace No. 2 in its class behind only the new Porsche Macan, which is a bit more expensive. I also found infotainment and other technological functions in the F-Pace more user-friendly than is often the case in the luxury class.

Sunday, October 23, 2016



It's interesting how things coincide sometime.

One recent morning I got an email linking to a story about how the Chevy Camaro had surpassed Ford’s Mustang in sales for September for the first time since October 2014. That afternoon what should show up in my driveway but a new Mustang coupe.

Aha, I told myself, here is a chance to see if the 32 percent drop in sales for the Mustang for the month (compared to a 25 percent rise for the Camaro) was because of something wrong with the Mustang or was it something right for the Camaro.

Well, I can’t say if it was the latter because it has been a while since I have driven a Camaro. I do remember that the last time I did, however, I was impressed with how much attention Chevy had given to the Camaro’s interior. It was nice.

But I can say for sure that it isn’t because of Ford’s doing anything wrong with the Mustang. The company did right by the Mustang when it gave it a redesign for 2015. This is probably the best looking Mustang in several generations and is a much more refined vehicle than the ground-breaking Pony car that dates back to 1964.

It’s much more comfortable than in the past, and the interior exudes a more genteel aura while retaining the traditional Muscle Car attitude. The refinements reflect a combination of strength and stylishness usually found only on performance vehicles at the entry level luxury segment.

With little to be done as far as appearance and mechanics after the 2015 makeover, for 2016 Ford took aim at brushing up technological features such as the company’s new SYNC 3 infotainment system that simplifies operation of such features as audio and navigation via voice or an 8-inch touchscreen at the top of the center stack. It also added some appearance packages and added new colors and optional over-the-top racing stripes, a nod to Mustang’s racing DNA.

The result is a Muscle Car that won’t wear you out while performing routine daily driving chores.

The Mustangs is offered with three engine choices with the Ecoboost four-cylinder having joined the V6 and V8 last year.

The thought of a four-banger under the hood of a Muscle Car may go against the grain for purists, but this is no fuel-sipping, punchless wimp under the hood. The 2.3-liter turbo-4 offers up 310 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 320 pound-feet of torque between 2500 and 4500, which is 10 more horses and 40 more pound-feet of torque than what the V6 offers. And it does do on 87-octane fuel.

Mated with a six-speed manual transmission, the turbo-4 delivers plenty of kick in the performance department, and its throaty roar is pleasing to the ear as well. And, of course, it’s the most fuel-efficient of the engine choices.

With the manual, which I highly recommend, EPA figures are 22 miles-per-gallon city, 31, highway and 25 combined with the turbo-4. Numbers are 21/32/25 with the six-speed automatic.

The V6 is rated at 22 mpg combined with the automatic and 21 with the manual. The V8, with its 435 hp and 400 lb.-ft. of torque, checks in at 19 mpg combined with either transmission.

Frankly, the overall winning package seems to be the turbo-4, that is unless you want to go all out and get the Shelby GT350 or the coming Shelby GT500 Mustang versions. Of course, you’re going to be shopping in the $50,000 to $60,000-plus range for those super cars.

The turbo-4 coupe that served as my test vehicle, the 2.3L Coupe Premium, came with a base MSRP of only $29,300 with extras like adaptive cruise control, the Ecoboost performance package, voice-activated navigation system (plus the destination and delivery charge of $900), and a 12-speaker Shaker Pro Audio system running the total MSRP to $37,540.

Standard equipment included HID projector headlamps, LED fog lamps and signature lighting, LED taillights with sequential turn signals, the 8-inch touchscreen for infotainment systems (also voice activated), dual zone climate control, leather-trimmed seats, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel (the telescoping function was missing on the previous generation), rear-view camera, and Track Apps (for measuring performance).

What I liked about the 2016 Ford Mustang Coupe Premium: Loved its overall appearance, especially with the optional 19-inch black-painted aluminum wheels. The Ecoboost turbo-4 engine offers a nice combination of throttle response, fuel economy, and engine sound. Oh, yeah. The mustang image that is projected on the ground when approaching the car at night is kind of neat as well.

What I didn’t like about the 2016 Ford Mustang 2.3L Couple Premium: Want to experience your birth again? Just cram your way into the backseat and then extricate yourself by popping headfirst through the rear door jamb and the back of the front seat. You’ll pop out just like your entry on earth. Oh, yeah. That backseat is on the crowded side as well, but I’m not making any more analogies here.

Would I buy the 2016 Ford Mustang 2.3L Coupe Premium? Yes. It’s fun to drive, and I don’t need the extra horsepower from the GT350. Plus it gets that performance using regular fuel.