Japanese car companies have been trying to break into the American full-sized pickup market for decades. Despite Japanese trucks having a sterling reputation for dependability and reliability internationally, ‘Muricans are a different bunch. Not even Ford’s switch to “European-style” twin-turbo engines and aluminum bodies could stop the freight train that is the F-Series sales chart.
On the opposite end of that sales chart is the last-place Titan. Nissan sold just 12,140 Titans last year, 1/10th of Toyota’s own meager volume and 1/65th of Ford’s truck sales.
Rather than picking up its marbles and going home, Nissan thought outside the box and came up with a novel idea. Why not “right-size” a 3/4 ton truck and sell it for a little more than your average 1/2 ton? With the Detroit Three engaged in serious towing and payload wars, the heavy-duty pickup segment looks more like a Freightliner convention.
That’s where the diesel Titan XD comes in.
The BMW 3 Series has been the benchmark to which all manner of vehicles are measured. The comparisons go beyond the likes of the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Volvo S60, and include BMW M3 vs Chevy Camaro and BMW 328d vs Toyota Prius. It seems that every car company in America makes at least one “3-Series fighter.” But there’s a problem with your largest volume product being put on this kind of pedestal: die-hard fans hate change.
Enthusiasts claim that BMW ruined the 3 Series when they redesigned it in 2012. The “F30″ sedan got bigger, fatter, softer, and more gadget-filled than ever before. BMW fanbois cried in their gemüsesuppe, Road & Track called it an “also ran” and … BMW laughed all the way to the bank.
For 2016 the 3-Series gets a facelift, new engines and a redesigned suspension. What isn’t changed, however, is BMW’s new direction. And that’s a good thing in my book.
Luxury car companies are practiced at the art of completely redesigning a car, yet styling those new models so much like their predecessors that you’d need an illustrated guide to tell them apart. Jaguar was the king of this design exercise in the ’90s and 2000s. My personal 2005 Jaguar Super V8 may look like Jags of yore inside and out, but under the wood and leather is a thoroughly modern aluminum luxury chassis that — with updates — underpins the modern XJ.
On the other side of the equation we have the XF. The 2008 model signaled a major shift for Jaguar’s styling, but under the sleek and modern exterior sat a reworked Jaguar S-Type chassis. The first generation XF won praise for the M5-chasing XFR and a design that came to define the modern Jaguar.
For the second generation of the XF, Jaguar played it safe with an image retaining the bulk of the styling from the previous generation. Under the familiar styling is Jaguar’s all new, aluminum-intensive iQ platform that’ll be the basis for the XF, XE, F-Pace and two other mysterious Jaguar Land Rover products in the next few years.
In case you didn’t know it, Kia’s on a roll. Sales have more than doubled since 2009, propelling Kia from a Mazda-sized player in the American market to one that outsold established brands like Subaru, GMC, Chrysler and Volkswagen.
Kia’s transformation may seem like a night-and-day makeover, but closer inspection reveals that it’s really the result of consistent incremental improvements to its products, frequent designs and refreshes, and astute pricing.
You can think of the Sportage as the final piece of Kia’s evolving puzzle. Sales may be on a roll for the Korean automaker, but the Sportage has never sold in large numbers. It finished 14th in a segment of 17 models last year. (The Sportage beat the Volkswagen Tiguan, Mitsubishi Outlander, and Chevrolet Captiva Sport). It could be that the Kia Sorento did a better job of nipping at the heels of mid-trim Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V models. For 2017, Kia gives us a new Sportage targeted more at Mazda and Ford than Toyota.
The promise of improved performance and tree-hugging fuel economy has made turbocharged engines all the rage in luxury cars. Despite the often failure of those boosted motors to meet their lofty, published fuel economy ratings in the real world, forced induction has a significant — and positive — impact on performance.
It seems Infiniti had gotten the memo.
A few short weeks ago, I was inside a very purple 2016 RAV4 marveling that Toyota’s compact crossover nearly outsells the Mazda brand. My bottom line for that RAV4 read like this:
Why are the RAV4’s sales so high when there are more fun options out there? The reasons can be found in its strong value proposition, a soft ride about which journalists often complain, included scheduled maintenance and Toyota’s reputation for reliability.
The 2016 RAV4 isn’t going to light many souls on fire, but it gives the average CUV shopper more of what they obviously want.
Except fuel economy or performance.
That’s where the first full-hybrid compact crossover since Ford abandoned the Escape Hybrid five years ago comes in.
We recently reviewed the 2016 Volvo XC90, the long overdue redesign of Volvo’s family hauler. First introduced as a 2002 model, the XC90 was a teenager by the time it was finally replaced. Oddly enough, it’s a similar story with the Audi Q7.
In response to Volvo’s then-new XC90, Audi began development of the seven-seater Q7 in 2002, which later hit the market in 2005. It received a facelift in 2009, but the basics of the slab-sided Audi remained. Eleven years later, and at around the same time as the new XC90, Audi has finally reinvented the Q7 as a sort of soft-road A8 Avant.
Can it compete against the new XC90 for the hearts and minds of luxury-minded families?
Compact crossovers are big business and the Toyota RAV4 is one of the segment’s corporate all-stars.
In 2015, the RAV4 almost outsold Mazda. I’m not talking about the RAV4 outselling the Mazda CX-5, which it did handily by over 200,000 units. No, I’m talking about the RAV4 outselling Mazda in its entirely. Everything Mazda sells. All model sales put together. The RAV4 almost outsold MAZDA.
Toyota’s fourth-generation crossover has received a nip-tuck to keep it fresh after just three model years on the market. Its lineup is bolstered this year with the addition of the new RAV4 Hybrid, which we’ll be getting our hands on that in a few weeks. In the meantime, let’s take a deep dive into the second best-selling CUV in the USA in traditional gas-burner guise.
Traditional car shoppers are moving away from small sedans and toward compact crossovers. That’s the conventional wisdom used to explain the slowing sales we see in some models. But could there be another reason? Could it simply be a lack of focus and attention to the compact segment?
There is one model that’s seen a meteoric rise in sales since 2013: the Sentra. Nissan’s complete overhaul three years ago and aggressive pricing doubled Sentra sales since then, moving it from a “top 15″ player in sales to number five in 2015.
In an effort to maintain the trajectory, Nissan opted for a major refresh after just three years on sale. (Sounds like the Honda plan with the Civic, doesn’t it?) Perhaps the key to compact success is a combination of frequent updates and more gadgets for shoppers to choose from. That sums up the 2016 Sentra perfectly.
Honda received much flogging from the press for the last-generation Civic. The 2012 model was the result of Honda improperly reading the Magic 8-Ball amid the global slowdown. Honda’s decision makers assumed shoppers would be looking for something more modest, perhaps even austere, and changed direction to suit. The competition, assuming shoppers would be looking for greater creature comforts in a smaller package, went the opposite direction and doubled down on luxury features.
The conventional wisdom has been that Honda “stepped in it” with the ninth-generation sedan. Journalists complained about the plastic quality, the styling and … customers paid little attention. The Civic’s sales dipped slightly in 2011 during the changeover, but rapidly rebounded to over 315,000 units a year since. Some would say that Honda’s “emergency refreshes” were the reason for the sales success, but I propose a different answer: the continued sales success of the lesser-than Civic and an increase in sales of “premium” compacts showed there was plenty of room in the segment for both.
Whatever the reality, one thing is for certain: When it came time to design the tenth-generation Civic, Honda had “austere” removed from the company dictionary.