Autofield Blog

Proof the Recession Is Over

By: Gary S. Vasilash 7. August 2014

If you have any doubt that the global economy is gaining legs, know that Rolls-Royce, which announced record sales for the first half of 2014 (and noted that it is the leader in the segment of “motor cars selling above Euros 200,000 net”), confirmed that it is developing a new Rolls, another to put in the proverbial multi-car garage, joining the Phantom, Ghost and Wraith in its lineup. Torsten Müller-Ötvös, Chief Executive Officer, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, described it by saying, “We are currently developing an exciting and thoroughly contemporary interpretation of a pinnacle drophead tourer which will introduce even more discerning men and women to Rolls-Royce ownership.”

Phantom Pinnacle

The new car is to be available in 2016.

Incidentally, in 2013 Rolls-Royce had record-setting global sales.

It delivered 3,630 vehicles.

Well, they are, after all, hand-crafted.

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2014 Lexus ES 350

By: Gary S. Vasilash 6. August 2014

The last-generation Lincoln Continental. The ninth. That, a knowledgeable friend suggested to me, is the vehicle that the Lexus ES—now the ES 350—has effectively replaced in the market. Or, as he explained, people who might have otherwise purchased a Lincoln Continental in the late ‘90s (this vehicle had its run from model year ’95 to ’02) would now buy the ES. He was, of course, correcting for age, meaning that he wasn’t suggesting that someone who would buy a Continental in, say, 1999 would be the same person who would be buying an ES 15 years later. (Nor would a person who might have purchased an ES in 1999—that would have been a third-generation car, the ES 300, possibly the Coach edition of the car—be likely to buy an ES 350—the 6th generation of the car today. The first gen, in case you are wondering, the 1990 ES 250, went on sale in the U.S. in September, 1989, and the second generation, the ES 300, showed up a mere two years later.)

ES 1

What my friend was saying is that the ES 350, like the Continental, is a large, comfortable front-drive car. (I had thought that the Continental was a rear-drive car, as the Lincoln Town Car was; that car had three generations, rolling off into the sunset in 2011. Just to add a bit of confusion to things, there was another rear-drive Lincoln available from model year 2000 to 2006. There is a rear-drive Lexus that also happens to have the “LS” nomenclature.)

OK. Let’s simply get back to the 2014 ES 350.

When you buy a four-door sedan nowadays, you sometimes discover that when you have someone open one of those second-row doors and climb in, you, if you are behind the wheel and a caring person, need to adjust your seat so far forward that you hope like mad that the airbag won’t deploy because you’d find that it would probably bruise and suffocate you before it was fully inflated.

That is not an issue with the ES 350.

ES 4

For this generation, the wheelbase was increased by 1.8 inches (to 111 inches) and that space pretty much went into the back seat. While the math may seem a bit bizarre, according to Lexus, the increase in rear leg room compared with the previous generation ES is 4.1 inches. Or what might be more meaningful: the front leg room is 41.9 inches and the rear is 40 inches, which is to say that there is sufficient room back there so that your backseat passenger is actually going to be comfortable while you are able to drive without getting overly intimate with the steering wheel. (Should, however, you like to move your driver’s seat around, know that there 10-way powered seats are standard, and 12-way heated and ventilated powered front seats, which allow the front cushions to extend an additional 1.4 inches for those who have long legs and are interested in a bit more support, are available.)

The point is that the cabin is roomy and comfortable.

ES 3

There are real knobs that can be used for things like adjusting the radio, as well as steering wheel-mounted controls. Assuming one opts for the navigation system (and it is hard to imagine that one would buy a car in this category without one), there is not only the obligatory 8-inch VGA screen in the center of the instrument panel, but also the “Remote Touch Interface,” or a square knob that allows moving the cursor around the screen to select things like audio stations or for navi setup. While it may sound awkward, it really isn’t, as there is an arm rest adjacent to the knob so that the knob comes readily to hand.

And while we’re in this consumer electronics-type space, know that the car when equipped with navigation comes with Lexus Enform, which brings to bear all of the apps that you may find necessary should you need reservations, movie tickets, or even emergency help.

The car has a 3.5-liter V6 engine (3.5—ES 350: get it?) and a six-speed automatic. It propels the 3,549-pound car quite nicely. Lexus claims a 0 to 60 time of 7.1 seconds, which can be translated as: You can get off the freeway ramp onto the freeway without a problem.

ES 2

The car has a another knob (this one is a nice big metallic one) that allows you to adjust the powertrain response and climate control setting to ECO or Sport (Normal is a default), with the first to eke out a bit more mileage from the fuel (and it is worth noting that the car operates on regular gas, not premium) and the Sport a bit more saucy.

It is rated at 21 city, 31 highway, and 24 mpg combined. I never saw anything close to 31, but the 24 figure was absolutely real.

Roomy, comfortable, responsive, handsomely styled. No, this is not the car that one would buy if they’re looking for a premium marque and rear-drive performance. This is the car that one would buy if they’re looking for something that is well executed and that will get them to where they need to go in an upscale manner.

The ES model has been a mainstay for Lexus from the start. And this current one simply underscores the fact that they really do pursue continuous improvement.

Selected specs

Engine: 3.5-liter V6

Horsepower: 268 @ 6,200 rpm

Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

Materials: Aluminum block and heads

Transmission: Six-speed, electronically controlled

Steering: Electric rack and pinion

Wheelbase: 111.0 in.

Length: 192.7 in.

Width: 71.7 in.

Height: 57.1 in.

Coefficient of drag: 0.27

Seating capacity: 5

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 21/31/24 mpg

Portlandia—Land of. . .Trucks?

By: Gary S. Vasilash 5. August 2014

When I think of Portland, I think of this


I don’t think of this


Yes, that’s a truck. A Freightliner.

And it turns out that Freightliner Corp. began manufacturing trucks in Portland back in the 1940s.

That’s right: truck manufacturing in Portland. Heavy-duty trucks, no less.

In 1981, Daimler bought Freightliner.

A couple weeks ago, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) started construction on a new $150-million headquarters in Portland.

In addition to Freightliner, DTNA also owns Western Star and Thomas Built buses.

Seems like there’s a whole lot more to Portland than coffee, microbreweries, and tragically hip people.

Thomas Built

Talking Ford Trucks—Yes, the F-150, Too

By: Gary S. Vasilash 4. August 2014

Back when the current-generation F-150 first appeared, in 2008 as a 2009 model, Matt O’Leary headed up the program at Ford. Since then, his career has taken him many places at Ford, from Brazil to, in effect, the boardroom (i.e., he was given an advanced planning position that had him in the room with the likes of Alan Mulally and Lewis Booth, on occasion, which, he pointed out, was a much different experience than was the case engineering trucks).

Today, O’Leary is Ford Vehicle Line Director for Trucks. This means that he has a whole range of trucks that he is dealing with, ranging from the recently launched 2015 Transit

2015 Ford Transit

to the now-launching 2015 Expedition

2015 Ford Expedition

to the, yes, 2015 F-150

2015 Ford F-150 Platinum

And John McElroy of “Autoline,” Lindsay Brooke of Automotive Engineering International, and I talk with O’Leary about those vehicle and more on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

Needless to say, perhaps, the F-150 gets a lion’s share of attention, particularly in the context of the selection of aluminum for the vehicle. O’Leary points out that when you look at the body (not the frame, which is steel), it is essentially an all-aluminum implementation, with the exception of the dash panel, which is a steel laminate and which was selected because of its noise-attenuating properties.

In addition to which, McElroy, Brooke and I discuss a number of other subjects, ranging from whether Fiat’s dismal first-half financials to the on-going value and viability of car dealerships to whether automakers are going to be able to make cars and trucks that will meet the 2025 CAFE standard (i.e., this year, they have to increase the fleet average by 1.2 mpg; from 2017 to ’25, they must increase it by 1.6 mpg each year).

And you can see it all right here:


2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC

By: Gary S. Vasilash 1. August 2014

You’ve heard it and probably even said it.

“If you can’t say something nice about someone”—or something—“don’t say anything at all.”

I thought about stopping this right here.

[long pause]

But, obviously, I didn’t.

So I need to point out that the Outlander Sport that I drove was painted Rally Red, and the vehicle looked absolutely great.

2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE

Better in red

And to double up on the niceties, it is worth noting that in when reporting sales through June 2014, Mitsubishi Motor American announced “Outlander Sport sales are up 23.1 percent year-to-date. This was the best January through June sales total in the model's history.”

That said. . .where to begin?

Maybe with this: the compact crossover utility market is, in many ways, one of the most competitive out there. No matter where you look, you’ll find really fine executions in CUVs including the Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson, and Kia Sportage.

In the cases of those vehicles, it is clear that those who developed them were aware of what the other guys were doing, and consequently they had to significantly up their game, whether it is a case of materials or amenities. Sure, the Outlander Sport has a leather-wrapped steering wheel and automatic climate control. It has a pushbutton start and heated front seats.

2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE Interior

That plastic is as hard as it looks

But none of it seemed to be world-class. It almost seems as though the vehicle was engineered for an earlier time in a less-demanding market. And mind you: the vehicle that I was in was the premium model.

Speaking of premium, the vehicle has the “Premium Package” option, which includes a 710-Watt Rockford Fosgard audio system. The system has nine speakers, including a 10-inch subwoofer that’s back inside the hatch. You open up the liftgate, and there is one impressively sized speaker.

That is, as they say, all good.

But the knob on the face of the audio head unit has a diameter that is diminutive. We’re talking less-than dime-sized. It makes no sense. Powerful audio that has a tiny little knob. It ought to be something large, metal and knurled.

The Outlander Sport has a respectable 148-hp, 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four cylinder engine with variable valve timing. That’s good. But what isn’t good is the Sportronic continuously variable transmission (CVTs).

2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE

Nice taillights

Many of my car-reviewing colleagues have a knee-jerk reaction to CVTs, finding them as about as appealing as a cold sore. In my experience, many of the cars that I’ve driven—since, at least, one of the early circa 2004 Ford 500 models—to be good to really good. Nissan, for example, has decided that one way to achieve impressive fuel-economy numbers across the board in its vehicles is to use CVTs in cars and crossovers alike, and the implementation is well done.

I wish I could say that about this CUV. At times under moderate acceleration I wondered whether the vehicle was just going to, in effect, say “enough,” and bog down to a halt.

That, as my friend Peter DeLorenzo would say, is not good.

The Outlander Sport is built by Mitsubishi (with the engine and transmission sourced from Japan) in its plant in Normal, Illinois.

If only this vehicle was one that was designed and engineered with the new normal of CUVs.

If we go back to the announcement regarding how well the Outlander Sport is doing as regards sales through June, it is worth noting that according to Autodata, 15,322 Outlander Sports were sold during the first six months.

During the month of June, Honda delivered 26,129 CR-Vs.

Did I mention the Outlander Sport really looks good in Rally Red?

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC I4

Horsepower: 148 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 145 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm

Materials: Aluminum block and head

Transmission: Sportronic continuously variable

Steering: Electric

Wheelbase: 105.1 in.

Length: 169.1 in.

Width: 69.7 in.

Height: 64.2 in.

Seating capacity: 5

Passenger volume: 97.5-cu. ft.

Cargo volume w/subwoofer: 20.1-cu. ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 24/29/26 mpg

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