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.