My wife and I might be in the market for a new vehicle sometime in the not-too-distant future. While my job as an auto critic gives me unique access to the industry’s latest and greatest, I will still need to get into the proverbial trenches to research not only the product but the dealerships who sell them.
Based on my initial scouring of various Chicago-area dealership websites, I began to notice issues that made navigating these online showrooms as uncomfortable as the experience would likely be if I were to visit the brick-and-mortar location. At any moment, I felt like a guy in a zoot suit and gold tie would come up behind me and ask, “What can I do to get you into this car today?”
Fortunately, other dealerships selling the same brands of vehicles do the online thing right, providing me with plenty of tools to ensure a relaxed, yet thorough experience.
With this in mind, here are five things I believe dealerships can do to improve their virtual showrooms.
In the last five years, many cars, trucks, SUVs, and minivans have come and gone in the U.S. retail landscape. Many made indelible impressions. Others slipped softly from our consciousness. It’s the latter that I wish to celebrate. Here are five vehicles from the last five years that you either forgot were sold in the U.S. or never knew existed.
2009-2011 BMW 335d
This entry from BMW kept its talents hidden very well. On the outside, it looked like any other 3-Series sedan. Under the hood, though, was a rocket ship waiting to be unleashed. The 335d employed a 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder turbodiesel engine producing 265 horsepower and a massive 425 pound-feet of torque. For comparison, the V8 engine found in the BMW M3 manages “just” 295 pound-feet at a much higher engine speed, 3900 rpm versus the 335d’s comparatively paltry 1750. We put that power to good use during our test drives, yet the cars returned nearly 33 mpg. Though no hard data is available, it’s been said that BMW sold fewer than 2,000 of the 335d during its brief run. A diesel 3-Series will return to the U.S. for the 2014 model year: a 4-cylinder with a less-impressive, but still meaty, 180 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.
With new-car prices ever on the rise, the average new-car buyer might find it nigh on impossible to enter the luxury market. Hold on to that dream, dear readers, because here are five vehicles you can buy right now that allow you to have that premium feel without too much of a hit to your bank accounts.
While some examples in this list are from mainstream brands, their ambiance and driving experiences are decidedly more upscale. As such, we at Consumer Guide place them into our “Premium” categories. The only other “rule” is that these vehicles must carry a sticker price of less than $40,000, including destination fee. The figures listed here do not include options, but several of these vehicles can be equipped with extra-cost items and still come in under the above-mentioned threshold.
Acura TL Base
Its look remains polarizing, but under its skin is a premium-midsize sedan that’s powerful, has a solid ride/handling balance, and comes with a lot of features for the money. While I would have loved to use the sportier TL SH-AWD model, its price creeps just past our self-imposed $40,000 barrier. Still, the Base model is no slouch, thanks to its 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine and slick 6-speed automatic transmission. As a final bonus, TL benefits from parent company Honda’s reputation for reliability and strong resale value.
You’re probably familiar with the successful Eat This, Not That! series of books, which document America’s unhealthiest meals while offering other suggestions that provide just as much taste with less nasty stuff.
Consider this article the automotive equivalent, but with a slight twist. I present to you five vehicles that might be on your shopping list, but I would encourage you to check out their alternatives. Eat This, Not That! crosses platforms, offering suggestions for similar meals at different restaurants. This list will primarily focus on alternative vehicles that you can find either in the same showroom or under the same corporate umbrella; e.g., Toyota/Lexus/Scion.
All cars are model-year 2013.
Drive This: Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost
Not That: Ford Explorer Sport
In this battle of 7-passenger, 350-plus horsepower midsize crossovers from Ford, the funky looking Flex wagon is our choice. It’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison since the company positions the Flex EcoBoost as sort of a luxury-touring vehicle while the Explorer Sport is a high-performance model. The former overwhelmingly succeeds in its mission while the latter is largely a flop. Flex rides well, handles more competently than you would expect, and is plenty powerful. The Sport is fast, too, but its brittle ride, lackluster handling, and general lack of refinement leave us cold.
Shelby American, purveyor of specially tuned Ford cars, unveiled a specially tuned truck at the 2013 New York Auto Show.
The Las Vegas-based firm takes a standard 2013 Ford SVT Raptor and gives it a high-performance bent. The stock truck employs a 6.2-liter V8 engine that produces 411 horsepower. Shelby bolts on a supercharger and a free-flowing exhaust system to increase output to 575. Additional tweaks come in the form of a revised suspension and body kit, all designed to maintain the truck’s off-road credentials while giving it a leaner street presence.
The 2013 Shelby Raptor is a package offered by the company at a cost of $17,995. That, of course, does not include the price of the donor vehicle. Production will be limited to 100 units annually. Interested parties can place their orders now.
CG Says: We’re sure this is a perfectly capable performance truck. Selecting the SVT Raptor as the base was probably an obvious choice. However, the Raptor is designed to be an off-road-ready rig, rather than a vehicle that can burn rubber on a drag strip. You can order the 6.2-liter V8 engine on a standard F-150. Maybe the next step for Shelby will be to make a true high-performance street truck. We can always hope, right?
See Consumer Guide’s review of the 2013 Honda Odyssey.
Honda is showing a freshened version of its Odyssey minivan at the 2013 New York Auto Show. While it doesn’t look a lot different than the 2013 model, the 2014 edition sports a number of upgrades designed to make it more family-friendly.
You could say that parts of the 2014 Honda Odyssey suck and actually mean it as a compliment. This will be the first vehicle on the market to offer an onboard vacuum cleaner. Offered only on the top-line Touring Elite model, the “HondaVAC” was developed with commercial vacuum company Shop-Vac. The hose and nozzle are cleverly hidden in one of the rear side panels. It includes a replaceable filter and canister bag, and it draws power from the car’s electrical system. The vacuum can run continuously when the engine is on and for up to eight minutes with the engine off.
Other changes to the 2014 Honda Odyssey include upgrades to the vehicle’s body structure that are designed to enhance safety in a crash. Touring Elite models will include forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning. Infotainment systems come from the 2013 Honda Accord and include an HD Radio receiver, SMS text message capability, and access to the cloud-based Aha Mobile interface.
Subaru is using the 2013 New York Auto Show to show off two vehicles that represent what officials call the “two sides of the brand.” One side is geared toward environment friendliness, the other toward high performance.
On the former front, observe the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid. The conventional XV Crosstrek launched for the 2013 model year. Essentially a Subaru Impreza Wagon with a raised suspension, the vehicle is similar in concept, but obviously smaller than, the company’s Outback station wagon.
The Hybrid looks almost identical to its all-gas-powered sibling. It shares the gas model’s lofty 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive. It has less than one cubic foot less passenger room and only about 1.5 cubic feet less cargo space. Both vehicles will use a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed “Boxer” 4-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Take these aspects out of the equation, and the Hybrid is actually quite different from the standard model. Engineers reworked the chassis to accommodate the hybrid system’s extra weight. As for that system, a 13.5-kilowatt nickel-metal hydride battery powers a 13-horsepower electric motor. This is smaller than other battery/electric systems. As such, this vehicle will run solely on electric power only in very specific circumstances.
Mitsubishi is following its former corporate partner, Chrysler, in resurrecting a name from the past to power a new-generation small car. Dodge has the 2013 Dart; Mitsubishi has the 2014 Mirage.
The Mirage name has a long and convoluted history. Part of the complication comes from Mitsubishi’s ties with Chrysler. A car based on the Mirage was sold through Dodge and Plymouth dealers as the Colt and through the short-lived Eagle brand as the Summit. From 2002 to 2012, a car that was technically a Mirage was sold in markets outside the U.S. as the Colt. Confused yet?
The 2014 model that will be offered for sale in the U.S. is a 4-door subcompact hatchback that slots between the Chevrolet Spark and Honda Fit in size. It derives some of its basic design from a car manufactured in Thailand and sold to that market, Japan, and Australia.
Powering the U.S.-spec Mirage is a 74-horsepower 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine paired with a 5-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT). The company is projecting fuel economy of 37 mpg city/44 mpg highway.
See Consumer Guide’s review of the 2013 Scion tC.
Toyota’s youth-oriented division unveiled a significantly freshened version of its best-selling car at the 2013 New York Auto Show. The 2014 Scion tC was also joined by a collection of new limited-edition models designed to celebrate the brand’s 10th anniversary.
The 2014 tC gets freshened exterior styling, revised interior materials, a stronger body structure, and new infotainment features. The engine is unchanged. It remains a 179-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. The automatic gets a couple new tricks, including software designed to cut shift time by up to 50 percent. The new automatic transmission includes a rev-matching feature that blips the throttle on downshifts to match engine speed with the vehicle’s speed. This feature has been adapted from the company’s FR-S sporty/performance car. In addition, tC’s handling has been tweaked with enhanced stabilizer-bar hardware, optimized shock absorbers, a stiffer body via additional spot welds, and a retuned power-steering setup.
After remaining idle for several auto shows, Volvo is announcing a major product offensive in New York. Most of its lineup will be significantly freshened for the 2014 model year. The company also plans to sell the station wagon version of its S60 sedan in the United States.
Though exact specifications were not announced, Volvo officials are confirming that the 2014 V60 Sports Wagon will be available in the U.S. The 2013 New York Auto Show marks the global debut of the sporty R-Design version of this car, and we have to believe Volvo will make it available both here and in its European home market. Keep checking back with us for more information as it becomes available.
The other news coming from the Swedish car maker is a near complete revamp of its product lines. The brand’s compact XC60 crossover, volume S60 midsize sedan, SUV-like XC70 wagon, and flagship S80 large sedan all receive major updates for 2014.
Though the vehicles look mostly familiar, they get fresher styling and some new performance, safety, and convenience features. While the drivetrains largely stand pat, revised transmission programming for the supercharged T6 models promises faster acceleration. Gains in the 0-60-mph acceleration run range from 0.2 to 0.4 seconds versus the outgoing 2013 models.