In 2017, do vehicle segment labels even have any meaning anymore? Back in the dark ages of the 1970s we knew what a sport utility vehicle was. It was essentially a shortened body-on-frame pickup truck with an enclosed, but often removable rear body. But then in 1984, Jeep introduced the XJ Cherokee and it all began to change. Now a utility vehicle can be whatever an automaker’s marketing department deems it to be including a high-performance compact, hot hatch like the Mercedes-AMG GLA45.
Cadillac -The Standard of the World. Built Ford Tough. Mercedes-Benz -The Best or Nothing. BMW – The Ultimate Driving Machine. Audi – Truth in Engineering. Well maybe not so much on that last one, but you get my point. Successful automotive brands have an image associated with them that may or may not be entirely accurate, but that’s what marketing is all about. Honda’s premium Acura brand has always struggled with trying to determine what it’s image should be, no matter how good its products have been and they have typically been very good. The latest stab at remaking the brand image image is the 2017 MDX SUV which I just spent a week with.
It’s been more than eight years since I first drove one of BMW’s MINI E electric prototypes around downtown Los Angeles. One of the first characteristics I noticed about that car was the extremely aggressive regenerative braking that enabled driving virtually without touching the brake pedal. While BMW has persisted with that strategy as the only control mode on the production i3, other automakers have provided similar abilities only when shifting the transmission to Low mode. After driving the new Chevrolet Bolt EV from Tesla’s Silicon Valley backyard into the heart of San Francisco, I think all Bolt drivers should consider driving this way all the time.
It’s been a decade since General Motors finally gave up on trying to stake out a claim in the minivan market and then trying to recast its vans as pseudo-SUVs. In 2006, GM launched an all-new platform for full-size crossover utilities that was known internally as Lambda and ultimately spawned four nameplates, Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and the now-defunct Saturn Outlook. Having achieved some notable success with the platform with steadily growing sales of more than 200,000 units annually since 2010, an all-new second-generation Lambda is now ready and hit the streets in 2016 under a redesigned version of the Acadia.
Earlier this year, nearly eight years after Ford started divesting its controlling interest in Mazda, the Japanese brand finally replaced the last of the products that shared hardware with the Dearborn brand. Mazda’s biggest vehicle was also its oldest with the original CX-9 lasting nearly a decade before a complete redesign. Now that the CX-9 is new and fresh, does it finally fit in with the rest of the family from the brand that says “driving matters?”
Torque is a good thing. To any gearhead, having copious quantities of readily available torque available under their right foot is always welcome and the 2010 BMW X6 M has plenty to spare.
When Steve Ballmer left the CEO’s office at Microsoft, he went and spent a good chunk of the fortune he had amassed buying the Los Angeles Clippers. If instead, he had chosen to become an automotive marketing executive, I could picture him stomping around the stage at a dealer meeting in a sweat drenched shirt shouting “Utilities! Utilities! Utilities!” As consumers increasingly opt for either traditional SUVs or more modern crossover utilities, automakers are scrambling to add more nameplates. For Kia, 2016 seems like the perfect time to launch an all-new version of the oldest continuous model in its lineup, the Sportage compact crossover.
For most of its nearly two decade history, the midsize RX crossover has been the best seller in the Lexus lineup by a fairly wide margin. Like other Lexi prior to the current generation, it also had generally inoffensive, but uninspired design. That all changed in 2015 with the debut of the fourth-generation RX including the hybrid RX450h F Sport that I recently drove. Whether you like the new design direction or not, this latest RX is at least less likely to get lost in a crowd.
The luxury vehicle market today shares a very important characteristic with the market for more mainstream models. While enthusiasts may prefer the cars, especially sporty, performance oriented models, crossovers are where the big money is at. For all the strategic issues that Ford’s upmarket Lincoln brand has had over the past couple of decades, they at least seem to have recognized this truism. Thus instead of a BMW and Cadillac-chasing rear drive sports sedan or coupe, we have the new MKX midsize crossover and frankly that’s not an entirely bad thing.
Last year Fiat Chrysler Automobiles launched two B-segment SUVs based off the same platform but with very different designs and personalities. The more stylish Fiat 500X that I drove recently is targeted at a mainstream audience that wants the high-riding look of a utility with a modern look but has no intention of ever tackling anything more challenging than a gravel driveway. For those that actually want a real off-road capable SUV in a small package, there is the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk.