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By William Maley
2017, a year many people would like to forget for one reason or another. Here at the Cheers & Gears Detroit bureau, it has been an excellent year in terms of the vehicles I have driven. Compared to last year, the number of vehicles that stopped by our garage dropped (35 vs.44 from last year), But most of the vehicles in one way or another proved to really impressive. This year, eight models would earn the honor being named a favorite.
Cadillac CT6 Platinum
Why is the CT6 a favorite? No matter how many Cadillac vehicles I have driven, I come back to the same, tired, cliche line - so close, yet so far. It comes down to some bizarre decision made during the development of a model whether in terms of the interior, powertrain, etc. But somehow, the CT6 Platinum was able to avoid this. The interior has to be one of the best efforts done by Cadillac with high-quality materials, top-notch build quality, and a handsome design. The performance was another high mark as the 3.0L twin-turbo V6 moved the CT6 with authority and handling is quite shocking for a vehicle of this size. I really would like to see Cadillac offer a softer suspension option (possibly air suspension) as most buyers of flagship sedans want something comfort oriented. If the CT6 is a preview of what Cadillac has planned down the road, then I believe the “Standard of the World” tagline should make a return.
Chevrolet Cruze Premier/Cruze Turbodiesel
Why is the Cruze a favorite? Chevrolet’s previous attempts at building a compact vehicle has ranged from mediocre to terrible. But the new Cruze showed Chevrolet put a lot of care and effort into their newest compact. The Cruze is quite the handsome vehicle and really comes to life when you option the RS package. Inside, Chevrolet added some really nice touches such as heated rear seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and high-quality plastics. The turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder provided enough grunt for most driving situations. The turbodiesel was a huge improvement over the last one I drove. It was much quieter at idle and felt slightly quicker than the gas engine. The only downside to the diesel was the manual transmission which had a really short first gear. I liked the Cruze so much, that I’m seriously considering one when it comes time to replace my current vehicle.
Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
Why is the Malibu Hybrid a favorite? The brakes. I know, picking a car as one of my favorites just for the brakes may seem like an odd reason. But seriously, the brakes in the Malibu Hybrid are the best of any hybrid vehicle I have driven as they feel like normal brakes with a linear feel. But there is more the Malibu Hybrid. For one, it doesn’t scream that it is a hybrid. The only indication is a small ‘H’ badge on the trunk lid. Otherwise, the hybrid version looks like your standard Malibu. A strong powertrain, similar handling characteristics, and a much nicer interior than the last Malibu I drove (thank you leather package) make for a very compelling package. The cherry on top? With an as-tested price of just $33,000, the Malibu Hybrid is quite the deal.
Chrysler Pacifica Touring L/Pacifica Hybrid Platinum
Why is the Pacifica a favorite? Fiat Chrysler Automobiles took quite the pummeling with their vehicles over the past year. But the Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid were the bright spots for the automaker. The two vans were not only stylish inside and out, but Chrysler showed they hadn’t lost the practicality touch. All of the seats provide more than enough space for the tallest of passenger and cargo space is in line with other minivans. The standard Pacifica retains the Stow n’ Go seating for both rows of rear seats, while the Hybrid loses out on having them in the second-row due to the massive battery pack. Both vans excel at providing excellent performance and a very cushy ride. The Hybrid takes it one step further by allowing the van to travel on electric power only for 33 miles - I was able to squeeze out 34.
Honda Ridgeline RTL-E
Why is the Ridgeline a favorite? “To put it another way, the Honda Ridgeline is like Festivus from Seinfeld; they’re both for the rest of us.”
That was how I ended my Honda Ridgeline review earlier this year and I still stand behind it. It may not fit the true definition of a pickup in terms of capability when compared to other trucks in the class. But for most people, the Ridgeline is very much capable for their needs as it provides an impressive max payload rating for the class and decent towing numbers. The Ridgeline has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve such as the in-bed trunk that provides a secure spot for carrying cargo, dual-action tailgate, and a ride that you expect to find in a sedan, not a truck.
Toyota Prius Prime Plus
Why is the Prius Prime a favorite? If I was to give an award out for most improved, the Prius Prime would be taking it home. When I drove the Prius Plug-In Hybrid a few years back, I couldn’t figure out why anyone should consider it due to its high price and limited range. Toyota addressed both with the Prime. A larger 95-cell, 8.8-kWh Lithium-ion battery pack bumps electric-only range from 11 to 25 miles, perfect for running errands around town. The electric-only mode also made the Prius Prime very zippy. I’m sure that I shocked some people by how fast the Prius Prime left the stop light. The price also came down considerably with my test vehicle sticking at $28,300, making this an impressive value.
Volkswagen Golf R/Golf Wolfsburg/Golf Alltrack SEL
Why is the Golf a favorite? The past couple of years when picking my favorites, a Golf has appeared. 2015 saw the GTI be christened with this honor, while the Sportwagen would follow a year later. 2017 saw the remainder of the Golf family come in for an evaluation and all of them would earn a place on my list. Despite the three models being designed with different use cases in mind, all of them have the same balance of sharp handling and comfortable ride that I loved about the previous Golfs. They also are quite practical due to their shape, offering loads of space for passengers and cargo. The Golf R is quite the monster in the snow with the 4Motion AWD system and boosted 2.0L turbo-four. The Wolfsburg is excellent value with the model coming with a lot of standard equipment such as leatherette, 6.5-inch touchscreen, sunroof, and blind-spot monitoring for a price that is very surprising. The Alltrack brings more capability to the Sportwagen with a slightly raised ride height and 4Motion AWD. It’s also the sweet spot in the Golf family with an impressive amount of standard equipment along with the option of various active safety features such as adaptive cruise control on all trims.
Volvo S90 Inscription
Why is the S90 a favorite? The S90 had a tough act to follow with the XC90 considered by many to be one of Volvo’s best efforts. Thankfully, the S90 was able to follow through with many of the same traits set forth by the crossover. The simple exterior is very handsome and features some nice touches such as rounded corners and the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ daytime-running lights. The interior is one of the nicest I have experienced with Nappa leather, matte wood trim, and the metal surrounds for the optional Bowers & Wilkins audio system. A smooth four-cylinder engine with twin-charging provides the performance and refinement of six-cylinder. I would say get the smaller wheels as the 20-inch ones fitted to my tester made the ride slightly rough.
There was also a few vehicles that deserve an honorable mention.
Fiat 124 Spider Abarth
While the styling of the 124 Spider Abarth did put me off, I will admit that Fiat made a slightly better handling MX-5 Miata. The changes made to the suspension on the Abarth does wonders with the vehicle feeling very athletic. The big downside was turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder as it had too much turbo lag to have any real fun. The optional automatic transmission doesn’t help matters due to the programming that loves to upshift quickly, leaving you without any turbo boost.
Hyundai Elantra Sport
Had I not fallen down a flight of stairs and fractured a bone in my right leg, I would have spent more time with the Elantra Sport. The small amount of time I did spend with it showed it to be a real improvement over the previous Elantra I drove last year. The small changes to the exterior did wonders and made the Elantra stand out. The turbocharged 1.6L four and seven-speed dual-clutch seemed to work in harmony with providing quick performance. Handling was the best part as Hyundai had finally figured out how to make a vehicle that handled superbly. I really do think the Sport would have been on my list had I not injured myself.
Jeep Compass Limited
Make no bones about it, the new Compass is such an improvement over the outgoing model. It is quite the looker outside and interior is noticeably improved in terms of space and quality. Ride and handling are nicely balanced. But the Compass has a huge weakness under the hood. The 2.4L four-cylinder has never been a favorite due to its poor performance and abysmal fuel economy figures. If FCA was to swap the 2.4L four-cylinder for something else, I think the Compass would be on my favorites list.
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By William Maley
For the past month, I have been doing a bit of window shopping for a possible replacement for my current vehicle - a 2006 Ford Fusion with almost 270,000 miles on the odometer. Usually, whenever I go look at vehicles, I tend to have automotive ADD; tending to look at all kinds of vehicles with no set price or type. But this recent excursion caused me to notice that I had unknowingly set my sights on a certain group. All of the vehicles I was looking at were all compact cars and none were crossovers. Why is that?
To get to the bottom of this, I began to look at my driving habits when I am not driving a new car for review. For the most part, I tend to drive in a small radius from where I live - about a 20 to 25 Miles. I don’t really carry passengers in my car and the back seat is primarily used for transporting groceries or other items. Plus, I only get about 22 to 24 mpg in mostly city driving. Looking at this information, it makes some sense as to why I happen to be looking at small cars. I don’t take advantage of all the space on offer for cargo and passengers, and it would be nice to get to some higher fuel economy numbers.
You might be wondering why am I not considering a compact/subcompact crossover? There are two reasons for this. One is that I find crossovers to be a little too big for my needs and wants. Second is that I can get a better deal on a car than a crossover. For example, I have been looking at various Chevrolet Cruzes and have been surprised how much dealers are marking them down. I have seen price cuts ranging from about $2,000 to $5,000. That means I could get into a decently equipped Cruze for around $20,000 to $22,000. Can’t really do the same when talking about the Equinox.
There have been a couple pieces flowing around within the past few months talking about how a number of us tend to buy the largest vehicle we can afford because we tend to think about the extremes that will happen rarely during the ownership of the vehicle. Having a big vehicle for when you decide to move or pick up some large items is a nice thing to have, but how often will that happen for most of us? Twice? Three times? We may think that we are using rational reasoning to try and justify buying something bigger, but the irrational parts of our brains ultimately color the final decision.
All of us should buy a vehicle that fits our needs and wants. But that doesn’t always work out. Some of us enjoy driving a bigger vehicle such as a full-size sedan or pickup truck. If you get a sense of joy every time you get in, despite the faults and issues that will come up, then I don’t see any problem. For me, I would enjoy having a full-size sedan such as a Chevrolet Impala because of its comfortable ride and looks. But at the moment, it doesn’t make sense for me.
I guess what I am trying to say is the next time you’re deciding on your next vehicle, try your best to keep the needs and wants in check. Don’t fall into those traps of thinking about the extremes. Who knows, you might be like me and find yourself surprised at what you are looking at.
Pic Credit: William Maley for Cheers & Gears
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By William Maley
In the coming months, one of the most anticipated and important vehicles will begin rolling off the production line. The Tesla Model 3 has a lot riding on it as there are over 370,000 pre-orders for the upcoming entry-level model. This is the vehicle that can either make or break the company.
So it seems quite interesting that Tesla is trying to pull attention away from this important model. During Tesla’s first-quarter earnings call, CEO Elon Musk expressed dismay at the lack of attention given to their flagship sedan, the Model S.
"We have seen some impact of Model S orders as a function of people being confused" that Model 3 is the upgrade to Model S, Musk said on a conference call.
"We want to be super clear that Model 3 is not version 3 of our car. Model 3 is essentially a smaller, more affordable version of the Model S with fewer features,” Musk went on to say.
But why is Musk trying to put the spotlight back on the Model S? One only needs to look at the customer deposits for the Model S and X. In the first quarter, deposits on both models dropped 7 percent. The Model S is also getting up there in age. Let us not forget that Model S was first shown back in 2009 and didn’t enter production till 2012. Despite the numerous over-the-air updates with new technology features such as Autopilot and upgrades to the powertrain, it is still the same vehicle we saw many moons ago. Considering the types of models the Model S competes against, this isn’t a good thing.
Still, the Model 3 is the current sweetheart of Tesla whether they want it to be not. Unknowingly at the time when the world to the Model 3 back in 2015, Elon Musk had opened a Pandora’s Box. Many people like Tesla because they are not like your standard automaker and this has garnered the company a cult of personality that is more common with Apple or Google, not an automaker. When the Model 3 was shown and price tag revealed to be $35,000 (without federal and state tax incentives), everyone went crazy. People who envied those with either a Model S or X would now be able to join the cool kids and enjoy the perks of owning a Tesla.
With all of these pre-orders, Tesla has to get these models out quickly or face the wrath of angry buyers. But there are some serious concerns as to whether or not Tesla can meet it. For one, the company has a long track record of missing production dates. Remember how the Model X was supposed to come out in early-2014? Thanks to a number of delays, Model X production didn’t begin until the fall of 2015. But Tesla believes they have a solution to get the Model 3 in production on time.
Tesla’s reasoning for skipping this step is that it brought a number of problems for the launch of the Model X. According to a source speaking to Reuters, “Tesla was unable to take any of the lessons learned from this before ordering the final production tooling,” due to a tight production deadline.
"Soft tooling did very little for the program and arguably hurt things," said the source.
One only needs to do a quick Google search on Model X issues to see a long list that includes massive gaps with the body panels and the futuristic Falcon Doors malfunctioning. But this is nothing new. Tesla’s build quality issues have been around for awhile and they still haven’t gotten them fully ironed out on either model. This isn’t a good sign when you’re getting to launch a model that will be produced in large quantities.
If there is one thing that Tesla has proven time and time again, it has been their resilience. Despite the bad news or fault, they have always seemed to find a way out. The Model 3 will be the ultimate test of their resilience. If they can pull off the launch of the Model 3 with only a few hiccups, then it would propel the company towards a higher place. But one massive screw-up or miscalculation could put Tesla in a difficult spot, one they might not be able to get out.
It makes sense that Elon Musk is trying to draw the attention away from the Model 3, but it is too late. The pandora's box has been opened and there is no way it can be shut. All eyes on are the Model 3 and Tesla just needs to ride it out.
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By William Maley
Last week saw the PSA Group (parent company of Citroen and Peugeot) purchasing Opel and Vauxhall from General Motors for $2.3 billion. This move would make the PSA Group the second-largest automaker in Europe. We already know some of the plans that PSA Group has for their new brands such as setting operating profit targets of 2 percent in 2020 (jumps to 6 percent by 2026) and the next-generation Opel/Vauxhall Corsa being the first new product developed with PSA. But as we alluded to in the original news story, there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered such as possible job cuts or what happens to Buick and Holden as they share products with Opel. I have been doing a bit of thinking on these and some other questions. The end result is this piece.
1: Will there be job cuts and plant closures?
In 2016, PSA Group employed 172,000 people worldwide. With the acquisition of Opel and Vauxhall, they will be adding close to 42,000 workers (the majority of those from Opel). The number of plants will also increase to 28 due to this purchase. Sooner or later, PSA Group is going have to make cuts. During the press conference announcing the deal, PSA Group CEO Carlos Tavares said the company “would honor existing labor agreements and closing plants is a “simplistic” solution.” That may be true for now, but this might change within the coming years. Some analysts believe PSA Group will close two to three plants within five years.
The most likely place where the closures and layoffs could take place is in Great Britain. The reason as we talked about in a story back in February deals with the decision made by British citizens last year with leaving the European Union.
“By leaving, the country would lose access to the EU Single Market which guarantees unconstrained trade across the member states. It would mean various countries would be leveraging tariffs on British-made goods, making production in the country less competitive.”
Former British member of parliament and business secretary Sir Vincent Cable outlined how bad this decision looks for Vauxhall in a recent interview on BBC Radio 4.
There could be a way that the British Government could at least stall the possible closures. Back in October, the British Government worked out a secret deal with Nissan to keep them investing in British car production at their plant in Sunderland. This deal caused an uproar as the details were kept as many believed the British Government would be handing over money to keep Nissan happy. But sources told British newspaper The Independent back in January that the deal had no mention of money.
It could be that the British Government could do something similar for PSA Group to keep jobs, but it is too early to say if this will happen or not.
2: Will this affect PSA’s plans of entering the U.S.?
Probably not. Let’s remember that PSA Group is working through a ten-year plan that may or may not see the return of the Citroen and Peugeot, along with the introduction of DS to the country. Already, the first part of this plan is gearing up for the launch of a car sharing service next month. There is also extensive research going on into the U.S. marketplace.
But could there be a possibility of Opel or Vauxhall vehicles being sold here? It would not be surprising if there isn’t talk about this at PSA Group’s HQ. But there is a slight complication to this idea. As part of the sale, PSA Group cannot sell any Opel vehicles developed by GM anywhere in various markets outside of Europe (China and U.S. for example) until they transition to PSA platforms. That means a number of models such as the Astra, Insignia, and Mokka are out of the question for the time being. If Opel was chosen to be one of the brands PSA would sell in the U.S., they might not have a full line of vehicles to sell due to this clause.
3: What does the future hold for Buick and Holden?
If there are some losers from the sale of Opel, it has to Buick and Holden. Buick has found some success with Opel products as the Encore (rebadged Mokka) has become one the best-selling models for the brand. Holden is getting a shot in the arm as the Astra will hopefully help their fortunes in the compact space, and the new Commodore (rebadged Insignia) has a tough task ahead of it with living up to an iconic name. For the time being, Opel will continue supplying models to both brands. It is what happens in the future that many are concerned about.
During the Geneva Motor Show, GM President Dan Ammann said something very interest to Australian journalists about the future of Holden’s products.
This makes sense as the Astra was only launched and the Commodore is getting ready to go on sale. But I wouldn’t be surprised if talks begin very soon about this very topic. The same talks are likely to begin at Buick soon where they face the same issue for the Regal and Encore. Our hunch is Buick might have the easier time of two. The Encore would continue on since it shares the same platform as the Chevrolet Trax. As for the Regal, it could leave Buick’s lineup once the next-generation model runs its course.
4: Does GM lose anything with this deal?
There has been a lot of talk about how much money will be freed up from the sale of Opel/Vauxhall for GM, along with making a bit more profit. But it comes at a cost that could hurt GM down the road. The recent crop of compact and midsize sedans from GM owe a lot to Opel’s engineering knowledge. Vehicles that excel in driving dynamics and fuel economy are worth their weight in gold when it comes to the European marketplace. As we know, one part of why GM went into bankruptcy was the lack of competitive small and midsize cars that got good fuel economy. Opel would prove to be GM’s savior with this key knowledge.
Right now, compacts and midsize sedans aren’t selling as consumers are directing their attention to crossovers and SUVs. This is due in part to lower gas prices. But sooner or later, the price of gas will go back up and cause many to go back to smaller vehicles. With talk about GM scaling back on their small and midsize car lineup, this decision could have consequences down the road. Plus with Opel out of the picture, GM doesn’t have someone it can rely on to get these models back to the forefront. We can hope GM’s North American office has learned some stuff when working with their European counterparts.
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By William Maley
This would have been my fourth Detroit Auto Show (or North American International Auto Show as some would like you to call it) for Cheers and Gears. But due to a leg injury sustained a couple of weeks before the show, I was unable to make it. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise as I would miss out on dealing with individuals who break out tape measures and clipboards to note every little detail, along with journalists complaining about why the show isn't held during a warmer month. But it would turn out this year’s show would be a bit disappointing.
That isn't to say there were not any breakouts. The new Kia Stinger GT looks very intriguing as the new Lexus LS. I'm interested in checking out the new Toyota Camry (bet you weren't expecting that). Volkswagen's I.D. Buzz concept could bring something new in terms of electric vehicles (if it ever gets built). Plus Ford's announcement that the Bronco and Ranger were coming was some excellent news. But everything else landed with a bit of a thud.
So how did we end up here? A lot of this comes down to the past few years at Detroit being very bountiful with vehicles that caused jaws to drop and excitement levels to rise. The likes of the Acura NSX, Buick Avista concept, Chevrolet Bolt, Ford GT, and Lexus LC made our souls stir and revel in this magical time. But sooner or later, the well was going to dry up and leave a show that was lacking in spark.
At first, I thought it was part of a cycle. You have your high points before falling back down and then rising back up. But the more I thought about it, this might be a sign that the auto show is beginning to fade.
The past few years have seen a number of automakers hold events off site before the kick-off of the show. Looking at the various social media feeds on Sunday, I was able to count seven different events. Holding something offsite give an automaker a way of controlling the message. It also gives a bit more time in the spotlight, not having to fight with other automakers for it during a packed press day.
There are also more outlets for automakers to show their wares. The week before the Detroit Auto Show was the Consumer Electronics Show. The past few years have seen more and more automakers take part in regards to electric vehicles and autonomous driving. It has also been home for a small number of debuts; Volkswagen Budd-e, Chrysler Portal concept, and Faraday Future.
The combination of these two, along with some manufacturers pulling out of Detroit over the past few years resulted in this year's show.
Does this mean the Detroit Auto Show is doomed? Not at the moment. This year, organizers took a page from the LA Auto Show by doing more in terms of talking about the future of the automotive industry and mobility with press conferences and talks from various industry folks from Sunday to Tuesday.
But the writing is beginning to appear on the wall. Down the road, it seems the auto show will not be the place where news is made. Instead, it will be the place where vehicles are gathered for all to look at.
Before that day comes, we might get a couple more high points.
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