Get Outside! Toyota’s FT-AC Concept Sets a Course for Adventure

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10 Must-See Highlights from the 2018 L.A. Auto Show

Consider it fitting that this year’s Los Angeles auto show features several convertibles, stylish high-dollar luxury cars, and a remastered off-road classic. This is sunny California, after all, and any of our favorites from the show would look right at home on L.A.’s car-conscious streets. Swipe right for the 10 cars you need to know about from the 2018 L.A. auto show . . .2019 BMW i8 Roadster2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Convertible2019 Infiniti QX502018 Jeep Wrangler2019 Lincoln Nautilus2018 Mazda 62019 Mercedes-Benz CLS-class2018 Nissan Kicks2018 Porsche 911 Carrera T2019 Subaru Ascent

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Updated 2019 Kia Sorento Loses Turbocharged Engine; Diesel Coming Soon

The Kia Sorento enters the 2019 model year with a host of noteworthy changes including refreshed styling, standard third-row seating throughout the model line, and the elimination of the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four from the engine lineup. Kia claims the 240-hp, gas-sipping four-cylinder will be replaced by a new diesel engine that’s still in development. The carmaker provided no other details about the diesel.

As in the 2018 model, the 2019 Sorento comes standard with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline-four rated at 185 horsepower, while an optional 3.3-liter V-6 offers a big step up to 290 horses. The four-cylinder once again pairs with a six-speed automatic transmission; however, the V-6 trades up to a new eight-speed unit. Both transmissions offer a Smart driving mode that automatically switches between Eco and Sport modes as deemed necessary. All-wheel drive remains an option.

Accompanying the revised powertrains are fortified exterior details, which include new front and rear fascias, an updated grille, redesigned wheels, and refreshed headlights and taillights. Inside, there’s a revised center console, a new steering-wheel design, and an instrument cluster that Kia claims has improved graphics. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality are now standard across the entire Sorento lineup, as is that third-row bench seat. Lane-keeping assist is newly available.

Kia has yet to release sales or pricing information for the 2019 Sorento that it revealed at the Los Angeles auto show, but we expect the updated mid-size crossover SUV to reach dealer lots by the middle of 2018 with pricing similar to the current model, which starts at $26,740 for the entry-level, front-wheel-drive L and tops out at $47,140 for the top-of-the-line SX Limited with all-wheel drive.

2019-Kia-Sorento-Reel
2017 L.A. Auto Show Full Coverage

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Lincoln Rolls Out New Services That Offer the Luxury of Time Saved

2019 Lincoln Nautilus

Whether it’s sitting in stop-and-go traffic while running errands, standing in a herd of people in an airport security line, or just feeling the low-grade anxiety that comes with limiting mileage in the hope of avoiding surcharges on a leased car, the travel experience often amounts to one big headache. Traditionally, carmakers haven’t cared one whit. As long as customers kept up with their payments on the cars, manufacturers were content to ignore broader problems. But that’s starting to change, because today’s customers are shopping for more than a piece of hardware—they want solutions for their transportation needs.

In an age when consumers are accustomed to short-term cellphone contracts and swapping out their devices whenever another shiny object grabs their attention, automakers are getting more creative with their lease offerings while simultaneously trying to soothe the hassles of daily travel. The latest example comes from Lincoln, which unveiled several new services and expanded a previous one in an announcement at the Los Angeles auto show. The brand’s stated intention is to make things easier for harried luxury-car owners.

The first is a vehicle-subscription service, set to launch in California sometime in 2018. It will allow customers flexible month-to-month leases that let them hop in and out of vehicles far more often than if they were tethered to a years-long contract.

While acknowledging that long-term leases remain a major part of Lincoln’s plan, brand chief Kumar Galhotra commented: “A customer doesn’t need a three-year lease. That just causes anxiety. You pick a vehicle and are stuck with it.”

“A customer doesn’t need a three-year lease. That just causes anxiety. You pick a vehicle and are stuck with it.”

– Kumar Galhotra, Lincoln

Pricing is not yet available, but Lincoln is counting on the program to help the brand gain relevance with a younger client base that, according to Lincoln marketing chief Robert Parker, has assumed control of the marketplace.

“Millennials and Generation X are now driving the marketplace,” he said. “That shift has only occurred in the past 12 to 18 months. They are accustomed to monthly payments, and we want to reinvent leasing for the 21st century.”

Lincoln has struggled to reinvent itself in more general terms. After years of flagging sales numbers, the luxury brand’s long-standing and painstaking efforts to turn itself around finally seem to be paying off. Through the first 10 months of 2017, Lincoln sales figures are the highest in a decade in North America, Galhotra said, while the brand has grown in China from 11,630 units sold in 2015 to 45,729 this year through October.

Of course, the notion of offering flexible leases, whether by offering shorter time frames or by providing the opportunity to change cars frequently, isn’t new. A growing number of carmakers and third-party companies are rolling out similar services, including Volvo, which said Wednesday it will bring its Care by Volvo service to the United States in spring 2018. It allows customers to pay a $600 per-month fee that covers an XC40, service and maintenance costs, and insurance. No down payment is required. Similarly, Cadillac recently started a month-to-month subscription service in select cities called Book by Cadillac, which, for a down payment of $500 and a monthly fee of $1800, provides a car that users can exchange up to 18 times per year.

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For Lincoln, the rethinking of seamless and flexible travel doesn’t stop with its subscription pilot. The brand is collaborating with Clear, a company that promises to whisk members to the front of the airport security line. Normally, an annual Clear membership costs $179, but new Lincoln owners will receive complimentary memberships for six months to a year, depending on the trim level of the vehicle they buy.

“Our customers tell us the greatest luxury is not an object, but experiences and time,” Galhotra said. “Where does time get wasted? Standing in line at airport security.”

Further, Lincoln is expanding a pilot project once known as Chauffeur that started in mid-2016 in Miami and San Diego. Executives have scrubbed the original name and rebranded it as Lincoln Personal Driver, and either name suffices for what the project does: provide a vetted driver for a customer who might need someone to drive their vehicle.

At first glance, it may sound unnecessary. But Lincoln says customers have used the program, which costs $30 per hour, to travel to and from medical appointments, to pick up children from college, or even to enjoy a dinner with a spouse while the Lincoln driver runs errands. The services makes customers’ experience “as effortless as possible,” Galhotra said.

If Lincoln intends to help its customers savor their time, there’s no more aggravating time suck than the hours squandered filling out paperwork at a dealership when purchasing or leasing a vehicle. So Lincoln has partnered with 10 dealers around the country to examine ways to upend the car-buying process.

In some cases, a dealer will bring a vehicle to the home of a prospective customer and leave it for 24 to 48 hours, allowing them to use their potential purchase as part of their daily routine rather than on a minutes-long test drive on roads near the dealership. In other cases, sales reps from Lincoln dealers will bring the paperwork to the home of a new-car buyer rather than force the client to come into the showroom. The pilot project started in March and “is picking up steam,” Parker said.

Retail is shifting toward an online delivery model where customers never have to leave the comfort of their homes, and car buying may soon be no different.

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Power Takeoff: 2020 Jeep Wrangler Plug-In Hybrid Will Be More Than a Fuel-Economy Play

All-New 2018 Jeep® Wrangler LA Auto Show Debut

Among all the models in the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles fold to be given a plug-in hybrid powertrain, the Jeep Wrangler may seem the least likely. But considering how Wrangler owners use their vehicles, it actually might be one of the vehicles best suited to embrace that technology.

The Jeep Wrangler plug-in hybrid, a long-rumored variant confirmed by brand chief Mike Manley at the Los Angeles auto show, helps address one obvious concern: As much as the Wrangler permits freedom, it’s a drag on the company’s corporate average fuel economy (CAFE). “It’s clearly an efficiency play,” said Jeep brand marketing director Scott Tallon. “But what it also does is provide other benefits—it will allow us to leverage the technology in a completely different way.”

Specifically, the plug-in hybrid system likely will allow Jeep to incorporate a power takeoff that could be used during camping, for instance, or potentially as an emergency backup power source at the cabin.

The Wrangler plug-in hybrid project isn’t being developed from scratch. It will use some of the core hybrid-system components of the Pacifica hybrid, including the eFlite transaxle with its planetary gearset and one-way clutch, revised to fit the Wrangler’s very different layout and purpose. For instance, Tallon said, the plug-in hybrid will still need to ford up to 30 inches of water, just like the standard Wrangler.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid key powertrain components

The Wrangler plug-in will offer EV-only driving during some conditions, Tallon confirmed, similar to the Pacifica hybrid, but it’s too early to confirm whether that will come in the form of a single driving mode as in the minivan. It could allow impressive performance where it counts for the Wrangler with significantly more torque at low speeds, which would make it particularly well suited to off-roading—very quiet off-roading that could be great for spotting wildlife.

The plug-in Wrangler won’t go on sale until calendar year 2020, but there are a couple of other, greener Wrangler options arriving before then. In addition to the new eTorque hybrid system that comes with the base turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, in 2019 the Wrangler will get a turbo-diesel 3.0-liter V-6 engine option, something long requested by owners. (Don’t worry, the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 is also still in the mix.)

As Jeep’s Manley said at the new JL Wrangler’s debut, the plug-in hybrid future-proofs the viability of the nameplate. And it also allows owners to tread lighter on the Earth, with the potential side benefit of additional versatility.
2017 L.A. Auto Show Full Coverage

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Get Outside! Toyota’s FT-AC Concept Sets a Course for Adventure

Remember how distinctive the first-generation Toyota RAV4 was when it hit the scene back in the mid-1990s? A unibody trucklet with a bulbous but rugged exterior, it resonated with outdoorsy and active types, and it foreshadowed the compact-crossover boom. But as competitors began to flood the segment, Toyota progressively reeled in the RAV4’s unique personality until reaching Peak Bland with the third-gen model in 2005. Now, some 25 years later, the Toyota FT-AC—short for Future Toyota Adventure Concept—is here to remind us that the brand is still capable of coloring outside the lines now and then.

Although Toyota’s official line is that the FT-AC concept is just that, it’s our belief that the Prospect Green off-roader with its Fortress Gray trim not only portends some styling cues that will appear on the next-generation RAV4, but it also could signal a new model to be shoehorned in the lineup between the RAV4 and the Highlander. When you factor in the Toyota FT-4X concept that debuted earlier this year and the 2018 RAV4 Adventure production vehicle, it’s clear Toyota is attempting to recapture the attention of a segment of the outdoor-oriented public—people whose activities don’t require the grunt or towing capability of a full-size SUV. Whether buyers actually get dirty on the weekends is beside the point; in this demographic, just looking the part is what’s important.

Toyota FT-AC concept

You don’t need glasses to see that its fascia toes the company line in current truck styling. Skid plates wrap up from the bottom on the sides, front, and rear, giving at least the illusion of protection, and twin tow hooks allude to off-road intent. Twenty-inch wheels with off-road tires fill oversize wheel openings outlined with chunky fender flares. Ground clearance is not specified, but the vehicle appears to ride a touch higher than the 2018 RAV4 Adventure.

LED marker lamps at the front corners and rear of the roof rack can be used for ambient light—think post-activity chill sessions—while the fronts provide additional illumination for driving off-road. Or they could be configured to act as flash units for the infrared cameras that are embedded in the door-mounted rearview mirrors. Said cameras can capture vehicle trail runs and can be removed from the vehicle to record all manner of activity, extreme or otherwise. An integrated Wi-Fi hotspot allows the ability to live-stream the feed or upload the content. The fog lights also are removable, allowing them to be repurposed as flashlights.

Toyota FT-AC concept

Bicycle enthusiasts will appreciate the retractable integrated bike rack, which deploys from the rear bumper/skid plate without the need to haul around a bulky external unit; the downside is that it only has room for one bike. The FT-AC is also said to have “geolocation capabilities” for stress-free travel back to base camp—we assume this means an integrated GPS unit.

Toyota envisions the FT-AC as a gasoline-powered SUV (although a hybrid also is suggested) with all-wheel drive, including four-wheel lock functionality as well as torque vectoring. Selectable terrain-response settings would maximize capability.

Toyota isn’t saying much more at his point. While we’d like to see the FT-AC reach production as a stand-alone model, at least some of its key design themes deserve to find their way into the next-generation RAV4. That model has been flying under the radar for far too long.

Toyota FT-AC concept2017 L.A. Auto Show Full Coverage

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2018 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen – In-Depth Review

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Fun for the Whole Family: 2018 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen, Tested in Depth!

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We’ve been singing the praises of the Volkswagen Golf for a decade. It’s one of our favorite cars, a 10Best Cars winner yet again for 2018, and a practical solution for people who love to drive and sometimes have large grocery hauls. But what of the driver with a family, or two dogs, or a business transporting framed posters? Enter the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen. A stretched Golf with a much larger cargo hold, the same excellent driving dynamics, and available all-wheel drive, it’s a compelling choice for drivers who need something without “compact” in the description but who still enjoy jaunts on winding roads. True, wagons have fallen out of fashion, and it’s unlikely that the SportWagen’s looks alone will inspire the envy of onlookers. But anyone who watches the SportWagen swallow a Home Depot haul will have no choice but to be impressed. READ MORE ››

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PSA Group Wants a Refund, Saying General Motors Misled It on Opel/Vauxhall Emissions

2017 Vauxhall Insignia

Ever pay cash for a used car, only to have it fail inspection because the seller neglected to inform you of missing or nonworking emissions equipment? Makes you want to demand your money back. That’s how the PSA Group is feeling about Opel and Vauxhall, which it purchased from General Motors in August.

According to a report from the Reuters news service, the French company overseeing Peugeot and Citroën claims the Detroit automaker didn’t say how badly its Opel and Vauxhall cars would fall short of European CO2 standards until weeks after the sale closed. As a result, PSA wants GM to cough up at least $700 million. That’s half of the roughly $1.4 billion that PSA paid for the two brands as part of the larger deal earlier this year.

Unnamed sources speaking to Reuters said that while PSA hasn’t filed a formal claim against GM, it can request arbitration under the sale agreement if negotiations don’t pan out. Unsurprisingly, neither side is commenting on the matter.

The issue, as PSA CEO Carlos Tavares said earlier this month while unveiling his business plan for the two former GM brands, is that his team “became aware a few weeks after we finalized the closing that the company was going to the wall on CO2 emissions.” Specifically, EU regulations mandate that automakers meet a fleet average of 95 grams per kilometer (roughly 57 mpg) by 2021, down from the current 130 grams (42 mpg). The EU will fine automakers 95 euros, currently about $110, for each gram over the limit, which is multiplied by every car sold. Initially, PSA believed Opel and Vauxhall would exceed the 2021 limit by 3.7 grams. But now, the current product portfolio is expected to fail by 10 grams, which could cost PSA hundreds of millions in fines. The Reuters report cited GM’s “unrealistically high” sales projections for diesel-powered cars and for the electric Ampera-e, the European version of the Chevrolet Bolt EV.

Under regulatory and financial pressure, PSA has committed Opel and Vauxhall to sell four electric and plug-in hybrid models by 2024 and to bring those powertrains to every Opel and Vauxhall by 2024. At that time, those cars will move to PSA platforms, a time frame that is three years ahead of what PSA had initially planned. Under GM, both brands lost money for 16 consecutive years. Caveat emptor, especially where automotive purchases are concerned.

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2018 Range Rover SVAutobiography Boasts $200K Worth of Indulgence

2018 Range Rover SVAutobiography LWB

With the Bentley Bentayga now in play and the the Rolls-Royce Cullinan on the way, Land Rover had to step up its game in the British luxury sport-ute arena. We saw the next evolution of the iconic Range Rover when its ground-level 2018 models launched with the P400e hybrid option, and now we’re getting our first look at the penthouse view. The 2018 Range Rover SVAutobiography just broke cover in Los Angeles.

Each SVAutobiography is hand-finished by the folks at Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations (SVO). The SVAutobiography is available only in extended wheelbase form so as to assure maximum comfort for its occupants. The second row is the most important part of this vehicle, made obvious by the Executive Class Rear Seats that basically look like the thrones that might be seen in a salon.

2018 Range Rover SVAutobiography LWB

As the airplane-style naming suggests, these things are massively luxurious. Outfitted with quilted leather over special foam padding, the seats can recline up to 40 degrees and offer a claimed 3.9 feet of legroom. They have 22-way adjustment, a hot stone massage option, and even heated calf and foot rests. Johnny Drama would be pleased.

Of course, the seats are only part of the luxury immersion. Once settled into the rear, a push of a button will close the rear doors. Another button, found on the center console between the seats that acts as a control center, will deploy a tabletop. Under the center armrest is a refrigerated cubby that the Brits say can store four 20-ounce bottles, two 25-ounce bottles and two glasses, or maybe a couple of Lunchables and snack packs. Land Rover provides the entertainment, as well. Each seat gets its own 10.0-inch touchscreen, and in-car 4G LTE WiFi makes it easy to get on the ‘net.

Subtle design changes signify that this is no ordinary Range Rover. The front grille has been altered with chrome inserts, a tweaked rear bumper integrates metal exhaust finishers, and 22-inch wheels are specific to the SVAutobiography, as are the Bright Atlas accents all over the exterior. The rear powered cargo floor has been adorned with veneers, Range Rover added a Zenith clock to the rear console because fancy people are obsessed with fancy ways of telling time, aluminum door sills illuminate to read SVAutobiography, and Poltrona Frau leather is a new option.

2018 Range Rover SVAutobiography LWB

Passengers needn’t bother themselves with what’s happening up front, but chauffeurs won’t be upset about piloting the SVAutobiography. Under the hood, Land Rover put the company’s supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 gasoline powerplant that is rated at 557 horsepower and paired with a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission. Land Rover claims it can sprint from zero to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. Serenity on the inside, speed on the outside. Those seeking maximum performance chops might be steered to the SVAutobiography Dynamic that is built on the standard-wheelbase chassis and therefore deprived of the more sybaritic elements of the new model.

Such levels of comfort and performance do not come cheap. Land Rover lists the Range Rover SVAutobiography at $208,895. That might bust your holiday budget, but it won’t be available until the first quarter of 2018, so there’s time to save up.

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2017 L.A. Auto Show Full Coverage

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