SUV Spotlight: 2017 Acura MDX

2017_Acura_MDX

2017 Acura MDX ©Honda Motor Company

Hot off the presses!  Acura announced today they will unveil the all-new 2017 MDX at the New York International Auto Show on March 23.

The new model will come with loads of design enhancements, more features and new, advanced powertrain technology.  “We are sharpening our focus on the Precision Crafted Performance DNA of the Acura brand and the 2017 MDX will integrate new styling elements and powertrain technology that takes us another step in that direction,” said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

With the MDX owning the title of the best-selling three-row luxury SUV of all time, it’s not hard to imagine a new and improved model not continuing to hold the record. A good friend of mine drives a 2015 MDX and I loved it when she took me for a spin.  It’s size and functionality is very suitable to young families.  I personally can’t wait to see the latest generation when it debuts in late March.

The 2017 model was designed by the Acura Design Studio in Torrance, California.  The vehicle will be produced at the company’s Lincoln, Alabama auto plant.

 

SUV Spotlight: Range Rover Sport SVR

Range Rover SR 7

Range Rover Sport SVR ©Jaguar Land Rover Limited

While the Range Rover Sport SVR isn’t new for 2016, I felt as the fastest Land Rover ever produced, it deserved its turn in the Automobheels “SUV Spotlight”.   This baby did the infamous Nurburgring in a cool 8 minutes and 14 seconds, giving it one of the fastest times ever recorded by a SUV in standard production.

Range Rover SVR 7

Range Rover Sport SVR ©Jaguar Land Rover Limited

Many car consumers like to take a look at the inside of a vehicle. They are interested only in the creature comforts it can offer.  Does it have heated seats?  Does it have a sunroof?  Does it have navigation and streaming audio?  Does it have programmable seats and mirrors?  While I am a fan of all of these features, first and foremost, I want to know what lurks beneath the hood.  I don’t care how many features a car has, if it is gutless, I want no part of it.

Range Rover SVR 6

Range Rover Sport SVR ©Jaguar Land Rover Limited

The SVR delivers on everything.  Her contoured hood houses a beast of an engine, the range-topping 5.0-litre supercharge V8, producing 550PS and 680Nm.  The accompanying ZF 8HP70 8-speed automatic  transmission and four-wheel-drive chassis help keep the beast in line, no matter what the weather conditions.  She’ll do 0-60mhp in 4.5 seconds and maxes out at an electronically controlled top speed of 162mph.  Working in tandem with the powerful engine, the transmission shift strategy is constantly monitoring the acceleration, brake inputs, lateral cornering forces, kick down requests and gradient severity to choose one of the 25 pre-determined programs to ensure the SVR seamlessly adapts to the driver’s behind the wheel behavior and road conditions.  The transmission also allows for driver control by offering paddle shifters along with the standard gear lever.  Drivers can easily swap between automatic and manual mode.

Range Rover SVR Interior

Range Rover Sport SVR Interior ©Jaguar Land Rover Limited

Some would say given the amount of attention given to the engine, the refinement and luxury might have been slightly overlooked.  Not so, it delivers again on all fronts.  The SVR has received several enhancements to its exterior.  The front bumper has been fitted with beefy looking trapezoidal air intakes, while the hood receives Range Rover script, revised vents and a new grill.  Further contouring the vehicle, the side has been fitted with new, distinctive moldings, while the back has been given a high level spoiler and SVR-unique quad exhaust pipes.  At first glance one might think these revisions were for visual effect only.  However, Land Rover made no adjustments that do not serve a specific purpose.  The larger air intakes on the front allow for more airflow to the charge air coolers that channel air into the engine, the new front bumper’s NVH comb is fitted to ensure wind noise is reduced, along with front-end lift, allowing the front tires to retain a high level of grip, and the rear spoiler reduces lift and balances the new front bumper.

Range Rover SVR Interior2

Range Rover Sport SVR ©Jaguar Land Rover Limited

The SVR is available in seven colors, including the SVR exclusive Estoril Blue.  A contrasting Santorini black roof comes standard and works with the body-color side moldings, giving it an intimidating look and feel. Throw in the comfy, yet distinctive leather sport seats and the interior gives the driver the ultimate high-performance vehicle experience.  The interior is available in four rich colors with standard aluminum trim detail.  Carbon fibre trim for the door panels, center console, dashboard and steering wheel is optional.

Range Rover Sport SVR

Range Rover Sport SVR ©Jaguar Land Rover Limited

“The Range Rover Sport SVR is the ultimate in premium performance,” said Land Rover Design Director and Chief Creative Officer, Gerry McGovern. “Crafted by Land Rover’s ‘Special Vehicle Operations’, its performance-focused design revisions clearly differentiate the most powerful Land Rover ever produced from existing derivatives with its ground-hugging, assertive stance and additional road presence. This striking evolution retains the trademark DNA for which the Range Rover Sport is so widely acclaimed.”

With a base MSRP of $111,350, the price does limit the amount of consumers able to take advantage of the enviable performance, engineering and style this SUV delivers.  However, for those of you who do have over a hundred grand to drop on a mode of transportation, little else will get you where you want to go as quickly or as fiercely.  Happy Driving.

SUV Spotlight: 2016 Honda Pilot

2016 Honda Pilot 5

2016 Honda Pilot ©Honda Motor Company

The all-new 2016 Honda Pilot is the third generation to be designed and manufactured in America since the Pilot’s debut in 2003, as the first three-row mainstream SUV developed on a car-like unit-body platform.  Year over year the Pilot has set the industry standard for fuel efficiency, spacious interior, safety performance and dynamic handling performance within the mid-size SUV segment.  With the debut of this latest model, Honda is poised to set the bar even higher.

2016 Honda Pilot 6

2016 Honda Pilot ©Honda Motor Company

Honda has completely redesigned the Pilot from the ground up for 2016.  It’s goal: to better accommodate the needs of it’s passengers by providing more family-friendly utility, advanced technology and a wealth of premium amenities unavailable until now.  Major upgrades have been made to the interior quality with more standard features available on each trim, along with the arrival of the new top end Elite version, offering many Honda-first features including 20 inch wheels, ventilated front seats, headed second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, and a panoramic glass moonroof.

2016 Honda Pilot 4

2016 Honda Pilot Interior ©Honda Motor Company

 

Honda has also equipped its new family-friendly SUV with many new tech features.  Each Pilot comes equipped with up to five USB ports, four of which provide enough power to charge iPads or smartphones while they are in use.  An auxiliary jack, HDMI port for game consoles, 2 headphone jacks and up to three 12-volt power outlets are also included.  While all of these features provide for keeping the kids entertained in the back seat, the upsized 8-inch touchscreen Display Audio interface with available Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System™ will keep adults on the right path in the front.  The new system comes with updated graphics and capabilities including 3D renderings of your surroundings.

2016 Honda Pilot 9

2016 Honda Pilot Engine ©Honda Motor Company

Under the hood you’ll find an all-new engine from Honda’s EarthDreams Technology powertrain series.  The direct-injected 3.5 liter SOHC i-VTEC® V-6 engine, along with two all-new 6-speed and 9-speed transmissions, and intelligent variable torque management system (VTM4™), turns out 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque.  With a 19.5 gallon gas tank on each model, combined city and highway gas mileage ranges from 21-23 mpg.

2016 Honda Pilot 7

2016 Honda Pilot Interior ©Honda Motor Company

Finally, the new Pilot boasts additional cargo space in the form of 3.5 inches of added  length.  This allows for an inch more of tandem seating space and 1.3 additional inches in the cargo area.  Accessibility to the 3rd row has also been made easier with the inclusion of the one-touch second-row seat available on EX-L and above models.

2016 Honda Pilot 8

2016 Honda Pilot Cargo Space ©Honda Motor Company

From an exterior and interior perspective, the redesigned Pilot is a win for Honda.  The look of the vehicle is more streamlined and looks much sportier than the previous boxy models.  The interior looks much more comfortable and many more features are available.  The fact that there are so many trims available makes the Pilot a versatile choice for families looking at all price ranges in the mid-size SUV segment.  In truth I’ve never been a huge fan of Honda.  I’ve often found the engines sluggish and the finishes lacking.  However, my husband and I recently moved and borrowed a friend’s Pilot to help transport some of our larger items.  My husband found the engine to be quite exceptional, given the size of the vehicle.  He also said it felt roomy on the inside, but he didn’t feel he was driving a massive car.  He said it handled well, particularly given its size and the amount of cargo we loaded it with.  And when we went to the pump to refill the gas tank and return the car to our friend, we received no sticker shock.  It got great gas mileage, especially given its size.

I would have to drive the new 2016 to give the engine and handling a proper review, but based on our experience with a slightly older model, I would say I would be pleasantly surprised.  In a time when costs seem to be going up everywhere and quality seems to be going down, with the 2016 Pilot, Honda is delivering a quality product at a very competitive price. MSRP on the 2016 Pilot ranges from $30,145-$46,570.

SUV Spotlight: Mercedes GLS

The new Mercedes-Benz GLS

The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS ©Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes has been busy redesigning its popular G-Class SUV into the new Mercedes GLS.  Like its predecessor, the GL, the GLS is poised to become the “S-Class among SUVs” according to the German automaker.  The only full seven-seater within the premium European SUV segment, the GLS has an ample interior which provides the magic combination of luxury, comfortability, and safety.

The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS

The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS ©Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz hasn’t missed a step in the GLS design.  Offering 4 trims, the GLS d 350 4M, GLS 450 4M, GLS 550 4M, and AMG GLS 63, there seems to be something for every Mercedes SUV consumer.  Each GLS boasts a new dynamic exterior and luxurious interior.  The designers have placed the focus on redesigning the front end of the car, while modernizing the rear.  Inside the car, consumers will find a brand new instrument panel which includes a media display, new 3-spoke steering wheel configuration and a center console complete with  touchpad.  This new generation also includes more efficiencies, an additional DYNAMIC SELECT transmission mode, an improved air suspension system, a nine-speed 9G-TRONIC auto transmission, state of the art assistance system and the most recent telematics, including internet access and remote start capability.

The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS

The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS ©Mercedes-Benz

If all of that isn’t enough to get you going, look no further than under the hood.  The AMG GLS 63 boasts a 577 hp 5.5 liter AMG V8 which delivers a whopping 561 lb.-ft. of torque, perfect for drag racing fellow suburbanites, or that urgent soccer mom grocery run.  The Sport+ mode will definitely help you feel the need for speed while the OFF-ROAD mode will help navigate the vacation wilds.

The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS

The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS Interior ©Mercedes-Benz

And how can one take advantage of all that power without accounting for proper safety?  Mercedes has taken care of that as well.  The standard driver assistance systems include COLLISION PREVENTION ASSIST PLUS, Crosswind Assist and ATTENTION ASSIST.  Also available, are the PRE-SAFE® Brake with pedestrian detection, BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist and sadly, Speed Limit Assist.  This SUV will practically drive for you with all the safety features.  As a member of the Mercedes family you also have access to Standard Services including automatic emergency call, Accident Recovery and breakdown assistance.  There’s a reason you pay more to drive a Benz and features like these are it, but they are worth every penny in my opinion.

The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS

The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLS Interior ©Mercedes-Benz

Finally, there is not a roomier SUV available in the European SUV class.  There is ample elbow and head room available in all three of the seat rows inside the vehicle.  With many adjustment options, the center row makes the interior configuration flexible by way of a cargo position for optimum use of space.

With all of its sporty and luxurious finishings, the 2017 Mercedes GLS is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the SUV class, but only for those with deep pockets.  While MSRP was not available at press time, one can only assume it will be quite high, which begs the question: How much is a sporty exterior, a luxurious, spacious interior, and a badass engine under the hood worth?  For some the answer would be it’s priceless.  For those, the Mercedes GLS is the perfect fit.

2015 Nissan GT-R NISMO

Nissan GT-R NISMO Photo credit: Nissan

Nissan GT-R NISMO Photo credit: Nissan

It has recently come to my attention that my posts tend to skew towards European cars.  A friend suggested I explore something new.  So here it is.  A synopsis of the GT-R NISMO.

First let’s talk about the exterior of the car.  It’s everything you would expect to see in the next Fast and Furious installment: a sleek front end, followed by a muscular profile, and of course, the obligatory rear spoiler.  Nissan has done an excellent job with the details in the exterior styling.  The GT-R NISMO in white has beautiful black and red accents in all the right places, giving it an extra sporty feel.  Looking at this car from the outside, you just know it will leave most other cars in the dust.  The body shape is also very aerodynamic, giving it a wicked look.

Nissan GT-R NISMO Interior Photo credit: Nissan

Nissan GT-R NISMO Interior Photo credit: Nissan

The interior is as lovely as the exterior, and well thought out from a racing point of view.  The instrument panel surrounds the driver, with all meters positioned at the same height, to minimize movement of the driver’s head.  The multi-media display panel has a video game feel and includes 11 pages of mechanical info, including acceleration, brake pedal pressure, and steering angle to name a few.  The interface also includes navigation, bluetooth, satellite radio capability, and dvd playback capability. An 11 speaker Bose sound system comes standard, as does USB iPod interface and bluetooth audio streaming.

Nissan GT-R NISMO Engine Photo credit: Nissan

Nissan GT-R NISMO Engine Photo credit: Nissan

As impressive as the design elements are, the car really comes to life once you pop the hood.  This ultimate GT-R has a VR38DETT 3.8 liter twin turbo V-6 engine that provides 600hp and 481 lb-ft of torque.  The engine is run by a 6-speed dual clutch transmission controlled by paddle shifters, which can be programmed by the driver to shift at high, race-worthy speeds.  Like its predecessor, the GT-R NISMO is built on a Nissan exclusive Premium Midship platform, which allows for the use of the first ever rear transaxle all-wheel drive system, the ATTESA E-TS.  The system gives final drive to the rear of the vehicle, which maximizes the weight distribution of the car, as well as the handling.  The carbon fiber rear spoiler and trunk lid also serve a bigger purpose, along with the front and rear bumpers, by increasing the downforce of the car, which in turn lowers the car’s center of gravity.

Nissan GT-R NISMO Photo credit: Nissan

Nissan GT-R NISMO Photo credit: Nissan

When reviewing the car’s specs and description, I was quite impressed with the detail put into the vehicle.  Each engine is hand assembled from beginning to end by specially trained technicians, which is rare to find these days.  Nissan even puts a plate on the front of the engine with the name of the “Takumi” technician who built that particular engine.   The exterior and interior design details all lend themselves to a true race car experience for the driver.

Since I haven’t had the pleasure of test driving the car, I can’t speak to its actual performance.  Typically, I prefer a stiffer suspension on a car, which is why I tend to gravitate towards European, and German in particular, manufactured cars.  The Japanese cars I’ve driven have had a softer suspension and have had less responsive steering.  However, based on the specs of this particular car, I have no doubt it handles like a dream.  Another question I have would be around performance.  The horsepower and torque are dependent on 93 octane fuel, which is hard to come by at a standard gas station here in the states.  I would be curious to see how the performance is affected by a lower octane fuel.

Nissan GT-R NISMO Photo credit: Nissan

Nissan GT-R NISMO Photo credit: Nissan

For those of you looking to buy one of these beauties, I’d get on the phone to a dealership right away.  The GT-R NISMO will be available in very limited quantity here in North America.  The car also comes with a whopping $150,000 price tag.  No one said driving a supercar was cheap, but if you have deep pockets and a need for speed, this could very well be the car for you.

The Minivan: A Do or a HUGE Don’t?

2015 Dodge Grand Caravan.  Photo Credit Chrysler Media

2015 Dodge Grand Caravan. Photo Credit Chrysler Media

Growing up I remember desperately wanting my parents to get a minivan.  All my friends parents’ had them.  They seemed so cool.  As time went on however, I began to see just how uncool they were.  Nothing screams “parent” or “slow driver” more than the dreaded minivan.  I also remember having conversations with friends post-college, fervently vowing none of us would ever drive minivans.  We would pack our future children into SUVs and who cared if they were comfortable?  SUVs were much cooler and ambiguous.  After all, anyone can drive a SUV, not just those saddled with carpool duties, football practices and dance classes, right?

2015 Dodge Grand Caravan Interior.  Photo Credit Chrysler Media

2015 Dodge Grand Caravan Interior. Photo Credit Chrysler Media

I thought I was completely set in my ways.  Then I rented a minivan for a road trip to Vegas.  And that’s when it happened.  My inner third grader came rushing back and suddenly minivans were no longer so terrible.

My Vegas road trip consisted of 5 adults and 5 suitcases.  Now, theoretically, we could have all squeezed into my 328i and technically fit.  But who wants to “squeeze in” for the painful 4-9 hour (depending on traffic) Vegas drive from LA?  SUVs provide almost no added interior room other than additional cargo space in back for luggage.  That’s when we decided to go with a minivan.  And it must be said, it was the BEST decision ever.

2015 Toyota Sienna.  Photo Credit Toyota

2015 Toyota Sienna. Photo Credit Toyota

Here’s what I loved about the minivan experience:

1. The Room.  The minivan had so much space, each of us had ample room to keep snacks, drinks, luggage, magazines, you name it, all within close proximity.  Not only that, no one was sitting on top of one another.  The middle row had comfortable bucket seats and my sister-in-law got the entire back row to herself.  Brilliant.

2.  The Ride.  Minivans have definitely taken a step forward since I was in the third grade.  The ride was so smooth, I barely felt the road.  I mean, it’s no BMW, but for a vehicle that size, I was definitely impressed.  There are too many potholes to count on the road to Vegas and we barely felt one.

3. The Gadgets.  My husband and I took driving duty, while the rest of our passengers, dubbed “The Kids” for the trip, put on a DVD and the drive time passed quite quickly for them.  The van was also kitted out with several modern conveniences such as blue tooth, media streaming, navigation, and reverse camera.  All of the features we have all come to rely on.  I mean really, who can be bothered to drive without a reverse camera?  It’s too difficult once you’ve had one.

4. The Gas Mileage.  I would think a minivan would suck through fuel like a kid with a Slurpee.  Nope.  The Dodge Grand Caravan we rented got arguably better gas mileage than my Beemer.  Granted, the engine doesn’t quite have the same get up and go as the BMW, but it’s got enough power to accelerate at a decent rate without sounding like it’s going to explode. The Grand Caravan engine, the Pentastar V-6, boasts best-in-class 283 hp and 260lb.-ft. of torque.  It also provides 3,600-lbs. of towing. The fuel efficient engine also does an average of 25 mpg, or 500 miles per tank of gas.  Definitely a win for the pocketbook.

5. The Doors.  Being able to open the side doors and the lift gate with a simple push of a button is amazing.  We traveled with all adult passengers and it was amazing.  I can’t imagine how much easier it is for parents with three children in tow and the double-wide stroller to contend with.

All in all, the minivan was an excellent experience.  I’ve had a couple of friends over the years who have deviated from the college pact and have gotten minivans as family cars, and they all say the same thing.  They absolutely love them.  They can’t get over how easy it is to transport their families.  They use the push button remote to open the side doors and their kids easily climb in and sit in their booster seats.

To answer my initial question, is the minivan a do or a don’t?  I wouldn’t go out and buy a minivan at this stage in my blissfully childless life.  However, once we become a family of 4-5, I just might be found at the dealership picking up my new minivan, with all possible features, the biggest engine available and pimped out rims, of course.  No need to trade style and speed for functionality completely, no matter how many children you have.

Review: 2015 MINI Cooper S Hardtop

Photo Credit: miniusa.com

Photo Credit: miniusa.com

I finally found time to test drive the new 2015 MINI Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door, and it was the best 20 minutes of my week by far.  Just jumping into the driver’s seat brought a huge smile to my face.

I’ve always been a big fan of MINI’s styling.  The car is just flat out cool, not to mention once inside, it’s much roomier than its exterior would suggest.  The latest base model is 4.5 inches longer, while the S model gets an additional 5.1 inches, which provides a decent amount of leg room and cargo space.  The instrument panel has received a much needed update.  Gone is the pesky, huge center speedometer.  In it’s place is a pleasantly large navigation screen, reverse camera and media features.  Moving the speedometer is one of the best things Mini could’ve done in the new model.  While it looked unique initially, once behind the wheel, the huge speedometer was cumbersome and distracted from the road.  The new configuration allows drivers to focus on taking those sharp turns the Hardtop 2 door handles so well.

Photo Credit: miniusa.com

Photo Credit: miniusa.com

The Hardtop is available in both automatic and manual transmission.  I chose to test drive the stick, because let’s face it, this may be LA, but despite the horrifying traffic, there is still something to be said for the performance a manual transmission provides, particularly in a small, go-kart type car like the MINI.  I found the clutch to be light and very responsive, with easy shifting between gears.  Every MINI Hardtop comes equipped with 3 driving modes you can easily navigate between.  Sport Mode adjusts the car’s setting for a stiffer, sportier, more responsive ride.  Craving a softer driving experience?  Green Mode provides optimal fuel and engine efficiency.  The third option, Mid-Mode, lands somewhere in between, offering a comfortable ride with a bit more performance.

Photo Credit: miniusa.com

Photo Credit: miniusa.com

Overall, the MINI Hardtop 2 Door was quite impressive.  While the horsepower on the 2.0L 4 cylinder engine is lower than I would like (the S comes in at 189), the cutting edge MINI TwinPower Turbo engine designed by BMW Group gives it a kick.  The instant sustaining torque (207ft.-lb/1250rpm) also ensures peak acceleration.  Couple that with the handling and the new launch control system and you’ve got yourself a pretty sweet ride.

Photo Credit: miniusa.com

Photo Credit: miniusa.com

The small size of the MINI also makes it ideal for city driving.  You could fit this car in nearly any space in Los Angeles, which is quite appealing.  The other added benefit is the gas mileage MINI owners enjoy.  While the new specs on MPG are not available on the 2015 yet, my guess is it’s going to be just as wallet friendly as its predecessors.

What I really dig about MINI is the plethora of customization options.  They offer so many dynamic colors, accessories, and interiors, you can build your ideal MINI from the ground up and know you have a unique car that will command attention on the road.

I’ve always been a fan of the MINI and after test-driving the latest incarnation, I highly recommend you do the same.  Come prepared with your wallet though.  You will be hard pressed to leave the dealership without one.

To build your own MINI, visit miniusa.com.