Friday, July 28, 2017



Sales of the Ford Mustang have hit a dip in the U.S. recently, but the car that inspired the Pony Car craze over a half-century ago may be more popular than it ever has been.

That’s because the demand for it globally continue to rise even as monthly U.S. sales numbers, which are still good enough to lead the segment by a wide margin, by the way, begin to fade just a bit.

According to an Associated Press report this week, the Mustang became the world’s best-selling “sports” car — more on why I put “sports” in quotes later — in 2016 with over 150,000 sold world-wide, even though U.S. sales slipped 13 percent.

Ford actually laid claim to the title last spring after scoping data from IHS Markit, an international company that collects data and information for analysis of various industries around the world. The automaker says that it will ship the iconic vehicle to over 140 countries in 2017 with Germany and China the most popular destinations.

Frankly, as long as they keep shipping them to South Florida I’ll be happy (even though it has been years since I actually owned one).

My recent time spent in a 2017 Ford Mustang convertible confirmed that.

Of course, I may be biased here. I don’t recall ever seeing a convertible I haven’t liked, so the Mustang that was delivered to my driveway one sunny morning (alas, the sun didn’t last all that long) was ahead of the game before I had even gotten behind the wheel and pushed the button down at the bottom of the center stack to start it up.

But my continued time did nothing to dim my original enthusiasm.

My colleagues in the Southern Automotive Media Association chose the Mustang as the winner in its category (full-size) in this summer’s Topless in Miami Presented by Haartz convertible competition, so I am not alone in my enthusiasm. It is also a very popular rental in the Florida Keys where on a drive on U.S. 1 it seems like one passes you every mile whether you are headed north or south.

There likely are many reasons behind its popularity, but I have to think its versatility rates high. It has been offered with a V8, V6 (for this year; it’s to be discontinued for 2018) or even a 4-cylinder engine with either an automatic or a manual transmission, which helps spread out the cost to fit more budgets. 

No matter what powertrain you select, the dual exhausts send forth that special Mustang sound that is a delight to the ears. And you don’t have to go up to the V8 for a fun drive.

The 2.4-liter Ecoboost 4-banger sends 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels, which is actually more than the 300/280 you get with the V6. The 5.0-liter V8 is tuned to 435/400, respectively.

But I think another factor is that unlike with the Thunderbird, which it introduced about a decade before, Ford stuck with the basics with the Mustang. The 2017 Mustang convertible I drove for a week in July 2017 was much like the same droptop I would have driven in July 1967 as far as the fundamentals go.

Obviously, the styling has been updated, and the 2017 model has up-to-date conveniences (like anti-lock brakes and traction control) and technology that we wouldn’t have dreamed of over 50 years ago when FM radio was considered exotic and eight-track stereos were just coming into being. 

And the top opens and closes with the twist of a handle and push of a button and folds neatly into a compartment behind the rear seat without intruding on the trunk space. No awkward opening and close dual clamps.

But it’s still a fresh-air ride for four-passengers (or one, for that matter).

The Thunderbird, on the other hand, morphed into a four-seater in 1958 after just three years as a two-seater and each succeeding generation it seemed to grow and grow and even was targeted as a competitor to Lincoln luxury before it was returned to a two-seater for 2002. It disappeared after 2005 while the Mustang lives on.

The 2.3L Premium edition I had came with a cloth top, HID projector headlights and LED fog lights, dual-zone auto climate control, leather trimmed seats, two Smart charging USB ports, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a rearview camera (especially handy for when the top is up), and selectable drive modes for normal, sport, and eco performance.

All that was included in the $35,695 base MSRP.

Throw in option packages that included Shaker audio to replace the standard premium sound system, a rear deck spoiler, heated and cooled seats, and the automatic transmission and the total MSRP came to $39,585 including the $900 destination and delivery fee.

Coupe Mustangs start at $25,185 and the V6 convertible at $30,685. You get into the low $40K range with the GT Premium convertible and on into the mid-$50K range with the Shelby GT350 Fastback.

Oh, yes. I put the word “sport” in quotes up there somewhere and said I would have more on that later, didn’t I? Well, here is why.

There is no doubt that the Mustang, even with the 4-banger and especially the GT, falls in the category of a performance vehicle. You can get it with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, and the firm ride certainly is sports-car like. It won’t jar your teeth, but you will know when you go over a bump in the road.

But when I was growing up to me a sports car was a nifty two-seater like a Triumph TR4 or an MG known more for their agility than their brute power. The Mustang with its backseat just didn’t seem to fit in that genre.

Still doesn’t to me, even though the backseat in the convertible is pretty much useless padding unless you move the front seats so far forward you are bumping your nose on the windshield.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

What I liked about the 2017 Ford Mustang convertible: Pretty much everything. Well, maybe not the backseat, but hey! I was driving all the time! It’s a quiet ride with the top up as well.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Ford Mustang convertible: Ford really ought to take a closer look at how the top is secured. It’s not a major effort to turn the handle at the top of the center windshield to open or secure, but so many other manufacturers have found a way to see that the latches click into place automatically. Those who like to see their cars “glide” may not like the firm suspension, but it is a Muscle Car after all.

Would I buy the 2017 Ford Mustang convertible? Of course!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017



Last October I spent a week driving a 2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco and noted how many features were included as standard in the base MSRP of under $22,000.

They included things that are offered only as options or are not available in the class at all, like a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, cross-traffic detection, blind-spot detection, projector headlamps and LED daytime running lights, etc.

So when it came time to answer my closing question — would I buy this vehicle? — my answer was yes, I would. But I added a caveat. I’d also want to take a look at the Elantra Limited before making a final decision.

Well, I recently got that look at the 2017 Elantra Limited, and much of what I said about the Elantra Eco last fall (you can read my earlier review by clicking on “October” on the list on the right to get to the proper link) holds true for the Elantra Limited.

You get a ton of similar features as standard in both models with the key differences in the powertrain (a 1.4-liter turbo and 7-speed double-clutch transmission on the Eco) and wheels (17-inch alloys on the Limited, 15s on the Eco).

I guess you decision would have to come down to how much gas you want to save. EPA figures for the Elantra Limited are 28 miles-per-gallon city, 37 highway, and 32 combined) and for the Elantra Eco 32/40/35. Not a huge difference, really, considering how real-life results often vary.

On the other hand, the Limited enjoys a power edge with its 2.4-liter 4-cylinder producing 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque to the 128/156, respectively, in the Eco. But thanks to the extra torque in the Eco, there’s not a whole lot of difference when it comes to off-the-line performance.

Both models come down in the category of “adequate” for most situations. If you want better mileage from the Limited, you can always drive it in “Eco” mode and if you want more in the way of response, put it in Sport instead of Normal.

The Limited is mated to a 6-speed automatic Shiftronic transmission, which means that you can select gears manually if you desire, though without paddle shifters, it becomes a bit of a chore to keep changing gears.

It’s when you start adding the extras, however, that the real advantages of the Limited come into play.

With the Limited you can get options like a Tech Package that includes navigation with an 8-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, premium audio, a power sunroof and heated front and rear seats and an Ultimate Package that includes HID headlights, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, Smart Cruise Control, and lane-keeping assist.

Those two packages (you need the Tech Package to get the features from the Ultimate) are a huge upgrade for and extra $4,400 added to the base MSRP of $22,350.

That, plus a couple of stand-alone options like carpeted floor mats, a cargo net in the trunk, first-aid kit, and rear bumper protection plus the $835 destination and delivery charge ran the total MSRP to $27,860 for the Elantra Limited that I drove for a week.

It wasn’t all that long ago that such a number for an Elantra would have sent shock waves through the showroom, but that falls into the reasonable category now. In fact, even with the options included, that total MSRP falls in the bottom half of the compact car segment.

Also, the base Elantra SE with a 6-speed manual transmission starts at under $18,000.

What I liked about the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited: The front is very room with up to 42.2 inches of legroom, and the back offers 35.7, which isn’t bad. The ride itself is quiet and smooth enough, and the cabin has a nice feel about it. Operation of the infotainment system is very intuitive, and there are plenty of functions to operate.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited: It’s not a requirement, but if you are going to have a shiftable automatic transmission, it’s nice to be able to accomplish that mission via paddle shifters. I don’t use them all that much on South Florida’s flat roads, but if you are one who likes to shift gears even with an automatic, you would want them. The engine overall could have a little more oomph in the performance department.

Would I buy the 2017 Hyundai Elantra Limited? Yes, I would. I would probably go for the Limited for the Eco, especially if I could swing the options financially. They make a huge difference when compared to the Elantra’s competitors. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


I like coupes.

They’re not my favorite automotive style — that would be convertibles — but there’s just an air about a coupe that appeals to me.

Especially when it’s as stunning as the Audi A5.

Introduced a decade ago as a two-door version of Audi’s A4 sedan, the A5 Coupe is getting its first redesign as a 2018 model. Yes, that’s a rather long time to go between generations, but apparently Audi follows the well-tested philosophy of “it it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Still, a new drivetrain, added technology, and several styling tweaks to the exterior are welcome updates. The latter include a new grille and longer lower hood lines, more sweeping lines, a lower stance, and standard 10-spoke 18-inch wheels (19s are available) with special spoke designs, giving the A5 a sexy, alluring profile.

The new engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque and is mated with either a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed automatic with paddle shifters for manual gear selection.

With the automatic, you get from zero-to-60 mph in 5.6 seconds, according to the company, and consume premium fuel at the rate of 24 miles-per-gallon city, 34 highway, and 27 combined. With the manual, the zero-to-60 clocking is a tick slower (5.7 seconds) and fuel numbers are virtually identical, according to the government. (We can always trust the government, right?)

There is no difference in pricing when it comes to the transmission. The A5 Premium starts at $42,800 with either the automatic or manual, the A5 Premium Plus at $45,800, and the A5 Prestige at $50,400 plus the $975 destination and delivery fee.

I spent my week in the A5 with the automatic and the Prestige package, which includes Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, an alarm system with motion sensors, 10-way power adjustable heated front seats, full LED headlights, a Bang & Olufsen premium sound system, a parking system with top view camera, head-up display, Audi MMI Navigation package and a couple of other niceties.

The Virtual Cockpit is a fascinating features that was introduced a couple of years ago on the Audi TT. Drivers can adjust the instrument panel in front of them to display whatever information they want, including a high-resolution map for navigation.

The size of the tach and speedometer readout also can be adjusted via a small knob on the steering wheel to provide the driver with a larger or smaller map. It means you don’t have to divert your eyes to the monitor at the top of the center stack but can see navigation features with a quick glance through the steering wheel.

Adding other options like the driver Assistance Package (adaptive cruise control and high-beam assistant and traffic sign recognition), glacier white color, adaptive damping suspension, and high gloss dark brown walnut wood inlays ran the total MSRP to $55,300 for my A5, which, quite frankly, as a bit lower than what I guessed before I looked at the spec sheet.

In addition to the technological and convenience functions in the Prestige Package, standard features on the A5 include LED interior lighting, HID headlamps, a panoramic power sunroof, three-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, and numerous other safety features. Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive also is standard.

Operating that technology is accomplished via a knob on the center console which, depending on what function has been selected (navigation, radio, media, vehicle setting, etc.), also can put you in one of four driving modes — comfort, dynamic, auto, or individual.

Obviously, the dynamic mode provides a more spirited performance, but even in comfort mode the A5’s acceleration will get your attention. Yet it never intrudes on the ride the passenger is experiencing. It’s just fun. Which is just like a coupe!

What I liked about the 2018 Audi A5 Coupe: There is a lot to like, frankly. Even some of the issues inherent with the genre, like getting to the backseat and lack of cargo space, are not as intrusive. The front seats slide forward to give fairly easy access to the back, and cargo space is 11.6 cubic feet, fairly comparable to a small sedan.

What I didn’t like about the 2018 Audi A5 Coupe: The electromechanical steering had a kind of odd feel about it. At higher speeds, it seemed to be nudging me to one side or the other as I went through turns, kind of like some lane-keeping assist systems do. But it wasn’t that. When traffic was clear, I tried to see what would happen if I changed a lane without signaling, and it didn’t kick in. Maybe it just takes some getting used to.

Would I buy the 2018 Audi A5? Yes, though I might take a serious look at the S5 with its V6 power if my budget could afford it. It starts in the mid-$50,000 range. The good news: the A5/S5 is also available as a convertible that starts around $50,000 (A5) and $60,000 range (S5). Also new this year is the Sportback, an A5/S5 hatchback that boosts cargo capacity to 21.8 cubic feet behind the second row and 35.01 with the rear seats folded. It also seats five passengers instead of four like the Coupe. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017


With the upcoming 2018 Camry, Toyota takes a big step up in giving a little pizzaz to what is a seriously high-quality sedan that more often than not leads its segment in sales but nevertheless is often derided as, well, boring. 

Somebody obviously was paying attention when Toyota president Akio Toyoda’s issued a companywide edict that “no more boring cars” should roll off his factories’ assembly lines.

Gone is the middle-of-the-road styling that offended no one but left you wondering, “Does this come in beige?”

The new, completely redesigned Camry has a more aggressive exterior with a front fascia that has an angry look about it and a cockpit that oozes the ambiance of its luxury Lexus cousins. Different models get different grille and wheel designs, and the sportier SE and XSE trims get standard a standard rear spoiler. XSE models get dual exhaust with quad-chrome tips.

It comes with either a 203-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine (32 miles-per-gallon combined) or a 301-hp 3.5-liter V6 (26 mpg combined) mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. Is there a hybrid version? Of course. This is Toyota.

And all of the features of Toyota’s Safety Sense P (TSS-P) technology are standard on all models, not just the high-end Camry. That system includes Pre-Collision with Pedestrian Detection, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and Automatic High Beams.

Yet what really caught my attention, and those of several of my automotive journalistic colleagues who were given a preview of the new Camry this week courtesy of Southeast Toyota Distributors, was the sound from the Entune 3.0 suite that included JBL Premium Audio with Clari-Fi.

I remember the first time I ever heard stereo sound in a car. It was a long time ago when I was in a cab in Honolulu, and it overwhelmed me. Through the years, though, I have gotten rather used to the systems of today, even the premium setups offered in high-end luxury cars.

The JBL system, however, brought me back to those early days.

When Pete Wendy, Senior Manager, Sales Toyota/Lexus, turned up the volume, it was like sitting in the front row of a concert. You could even discern the crowd noise and applause.

The V6 XLE and XSE models get the JBL upgrade as standard, and it’s available in option packages in the 4-cylinder XLE and XSEs as well as the hybrid.

Get it. You’ll thank me later.

The new Camry will be arriving in showrooms next week.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Jeep entered the Renegade in the subcompact SUV market to a generally good reception for the 2015 model year, and for 2017 adds a couple of new versions to the portfolio, one of which is the Renegade Altitude that serves as the subject for this review.

Though the company referred to two new “models” when it previewed them at last fall’s Los Angeles Auto Show, but they are really more like enhanced variants of a couple of familiar trim levels.

The Altitude is based on the Latitude and the Deserthawk on the Trailhawk, making the Deserthawk suited to more adventurous off-road expeditions than the Altitude.

Not that the Altitude isn’t capable of hitting the dirt, because it is. It wouldn’t be a Jeep if it wasn’t. It’s just that the Altitude is more urban-oriented, if there is such a phrase.

But that doesn’t mean it lacks boldness.

In fact, rather than Altitude, Jeep just as well could have labeled it “Attitude” with its 18-inch gloss black wheels and gloss black exterior accents like front and rear badges, grille rings and tail lamp rings giving it a more aggressive look.

The interior, too, gets black design touches, including black cloth seats.

Thus even though it may linger near the “cute-ute” genre, there’s nothing timid about the Altitude, which, by the way, comes out of the FCA assembly plant in Melfi, Italy. It is built alongside the Fiat 500X with 62 percent of its parts coming from Italy and only 22 percent from the U.S. and Canada. The engine and transmission come from the U.S.

With a starting MSRP of $22,390, about $4,500 more than the starting price for the base Renegade Sport, the Altitude is competitive when it comes to pricing in the segment.

Standard equipment for the Altitude includes a backup camera, keyless go with push button start, an electric parking brake, Selec-Terrain System with Auto, Snow, Sand, and Mud modes, Hill Start Assist, capless fuel fill, U-Connect 5.0 telematics, and integrated voice command with Bluetooth capability.

A 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with a 6-speed manual transmission is the base power train, and it is offered in both front-wheel drive and 4X4 configuration.

The optional 2.4-liter, 4-banger that is rated at 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque (compared to the 1.4L’s 160/184, respectively) added $1,530 to the base MSRP of $23,495 for my recent drive. It’s mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission.

The engines are not neck-snappers but are up to handling ordinary driving tasks.

Other options like the Advance Technology Package (lane departure warning, rear park assist, etc.), remote start, Safety and Security Group (blind spot warning, rain-sensitive windshield wipers, etc.), navigation with a 6.5-inch screen, and a My Sky Retractable Roof with Removable Panels ran the total for my ride to $32,195. That’s getting up there pretty good in the class.

Of course, you can skimp on the removable roof panels and save yourself $1,495.

What I liked about the 2017 Jeep Renegade Altitude: Overall, it’s a very capable and versatile vehicle. Cargo capacity is 18.5 cubic feet with the rear seats in place but 50.5 cubic feet when they’re folded. There’s also a false floor that can be used to conceal items or removed to give the rear space more depth.

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Jeep Renegade Altitude: Road noise seemed a bit excessive, and fuel mileage (21 miles-per-gallon city, 29 highway, 24 combined) is disappointing. The computer showed I was getting on the low end of that despite the majority of my miles coming on the interstate.

Would I buy the 2017 Jeep Renegade Altitude? Yes. It’s definitely worth a look, especially if you want something in the class that stands out. The Renegade’s taillight design is very distinctive. One caveat: If you are planning on doing some towing, you are pretty much limited to 4X4 models with the 2.4-liter engine and the limit is 2,000 pounds. Towing is not recommended with the smaller engine.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Perhaps in an effort to capitalize on the popularity of the Rogue, which was the company’s No. 1 seller in 2016, Nissan has come out with a slightly smaller version of the compact crossover that it has dubbed the Rogue Sport.

It shares the same platform as its big brother and offers several of the same convenience and safety features — like Nissan’s Intelligent Cruise Control, Forward Emergency Braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure and blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic alert — as the Rogue.

LED headlights, a power sliding moonroof, Apple’s Siri Eyes-Free system, heated front seats, remote start, and Nissan’s Around-View monitor system are available on the Rogue Sport, just like on the full-size Rogue, and you also have a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive.

But this is no knockoff. The interior has a nice ambiance about it. There was no skimping on the Rogue Sport when it comes to styling or cabin comfort.

So what are the differences?

The most obvious, of course, is the size.

At 172.4 inches long, the Rogue Sport is about a foot shorter than the Rogue. This results in slightly less legroom in the second row for the Rogue Sport (33.4 inches to the Rogue’s 37.9), though the front legroom is virtually the same (42.8 in the Rogue Sport, 43.0 in the Rogue). At 104.2 inches, the Sport’s wheelbase is just over two inches shorter. 

The rear cargo area in the Rogue Sport is smaller, but actual capacity depends on the model.

The Rogue Sport S trim offers up to 22.9 cubic feet with the second row of seats upright and 61.1 with it folded compared to the Rogue’s 32.0/70.0, respectively.

The Divide-and-Hide stowage system, which gives you an area underneath the rear cargo floor to store items, is standard on SV and SL trims and trims storage capacity to 19.9 and 53.3 cubic feet overall.

The Sport’s width is virtually the same as the Rogue (72.3 and 72.4 inches), but the Rogue is about six inches taller than the 62.5-inch Rogue Sport.

All that said, you’d probably have a hard time singling out the Rogue Sport in the parking lot were it not for the “Rogue Sport” labeling at the left rear.

Even the wheels are close enough in size. The Rogue Sport S gets 16-inch steel wheels and the SV and SL get 17- and 19-inch alloy wheels. The Rogue offers 17s and 18s depending on the trim wth 19s as an option on the top-of-the-line SL.

Under the hood, the 2017 Rogue Sport comes with a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 141 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 147 pound-feet of torque at 4400. Numbers for the 2.5-liter 4-banger in the Rogue are 170/175, respectively, so yes, you’re going to get less of a kick from the Rogue Sport.

Mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission) with sport mode, fuel economy for the Rogue Sport is 25 miles-per-gallon city, 32 highway and 28 combined with FWD, 24/30/37 for AWD. Those are nearly the same numbers as the Rogue (which with the mid-year enhancements it received is listed as a 2017.5 model).

As you might expect, the Rogue Sport does have an advantage when it comes to MSRP.

The Rogue Sport S with FWD starts at $21,420, and the most expensive Rogue Sport is the SL with AWD that opens at $27,420 before the $960 destination and delivery charge and options are added on.

MSRP for the full-size 2017.5 Rogue starts at $24,420 for the S FWD and runs on up to $31,710 for the SL AWD. Hybrid versions of the Rogue in all three trims run from $26,640 to $32,910.

What I liked about the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport: The Rogue Sport shares its bigger brother’s attractive looks both inside and out. The front cabin is roomy, and operation of the NissanConnect system with navigation is easy enough, though responses to voice commands sometimes faltered. (No, I don’t want SXM 70s on 7. I want my Blue Collar guys on Channel 97!)

What I didn’t like about the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport: It’s nice to have simulated manual gear shift points to provide a Sport mode with the CVT, but without paddle shifters, it’s somewhat of a wasted feature. A larger screen for the navigation monitor also would be nice.

Would I buy the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport? Probably. I realize that’s a rather flimsy endorsement, but it’s not because the Rogue Sport isn’t a quality vehicle. It’s just that the subcompact SUV segment features some pretty stiff competition. There’s enough storage and room for five passengers, all right, especially for an empty nester, which is what the genre is all about, but I’d like a little more in the way of performance. It did seem to labor when I pushed it a bit.