IHS Automotive and Customer Loyalty, 2014 Edition

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray finished tops in the luxury sport car segment.

Behind the scenes at the North American International Auto Show a number of side events are held. The Automotive News World Congress is one such occasion, the place where automotive executives opine about the very industry they represent. Within the congress the IHS Automotive Loyalty Awards are presented, recognizing manufacturers and brands for their customer loyalty and conquest efforts.

Ford, Toyota and Maserati Shine

Looking back at the year most recently ended, 2014, IHS Automotive dispensed with 33 awards covering a variety of categories. Perhaps most noteworthy was the overall loyalty to manufacturer award, presented to the Ford Motor Company, a repeat winner. The Ford brand also repeated for the best overall loyalty to a make and for having the highest loyalty amongst African American consumers.

Maserati may not be a household name, but the Italian sports car make made a name for itself by garnering the most improved loyalty to make award for 2014. Maserati also scored tops for having the highest conquest percent of registrations.

The Toyota Motor Corporation pulled down three significant awards as well. The Toyota brand finished on top in both the Hispanic owner loyalty and Asian owner loyalty demographics. Its Lexus brand had the most improved conquest percent of registrations.

Segment by Segment Honors

Also of interest to manufacturers were how specific models were rated. In the non-luxury compact SUV segment, the Kia Soul came out on top. For the non-luxury traditional compact car, the Nissan Leaf finished first. For the non-luxury traditional midsize car, the Honda Accord was tops.

The Chevrolet Silverado was awarded the non-luxury full-size half-ton pickup truck award. The Buick Enclave garnered the non-luxury midsize CUV award and the Jeep Grand Cherokee took the non-luxury midsize SUV honors. The Mitsubishi Mirage finished first in the non-luxury traditional subcompact car segment.

For the luxury traditional compact car, recognition was given to the Lincoln MKZ. The Lexus RX snagged the luxury midsize CUV segment and the Chrysler Town & Country pulled down the non-luxury midsize van award.

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class garnered the luxury traditional midsize car honors and the Toyota Avalon won the non-luxury traditional full-size car award. The Toyota Tacoma came out in front to win non-luxury midsize pickup truck recognition and the Mercedes-Benz GLK took luxury compact CUV honors.

Winning the non-luxury sport midsize car award was the Dodge Challenger. The Chevrolet Suburban took the non-luxury, full size SUV award, while the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was recognized tops amongst luxury sports cars.

The Volkswagen EOS won out as the non-luxury sport car and the Land Rover Range Rover bested the competition to take the luxury full-size SUV segment. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class was recognized as the top luxury traditional full-size car and the Lexus CT200h as the luxury traditional subcompact car winner.

The Jeep Wrangler pulled down honors as the non-luxury compact SUV. The Mercedes-Benz G-Class finished first among luxury midsize SUVs.

Stepping up to the top of the automotive spectrum, the Bentley Continental pulled down the luxury prestige full-size car honors, while the Maserati GranTurismo finished first in the luxury exotic car segment.

Customer Loyalty Defined

IHS Automotive stated that “loyalty is determined when a household that owns a new vehicle returns to market and purchases or leases another new vehicle of the same make, model or manufacturer.” The awards are presented annually by IHS Automotive to manufacturers as well as to brands “that demonstrate a manufacturer’s ability to retain owners over repeat buying cycles.” IHS also says that they are the “only fact-based awards of their kind in the industry.”

“We are pleased to recognize those OEMs that have put a concerted effort in maximizing customer loyalty,” said Michael Gingell, vice president, global market analysis solutions and corporate development, IHS Automotive. “Going forward, successful OEMs will excel at keeping their customer base through a greater understanding of their customers’ experiences– as well as the impact these experiences have on the consumers’ next vehicle purchase decision.”


See AlsoIHS: Utility Vehicle Owners Drive Up Loyalty Rates

Photo copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.

Quiet Diesel: 2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI

A diesel for Audi’s smallest range.

Audi A3 TDI

A quiet diesel powers this A3 sedan.

With gas prices falling below $2 per gallon in most states it can be difficult to argue for the benefit of purchasing any fuel-efficient car, including diesels. Besides, diesel prices remain about 75 cents higher than gasoline and may still keep some people from even considering these models.

Myopia is not just a condition of the eye. It is also a malady that we consumers must contest when making purchase decisions. When it comes to fuel prices, short sightedness can lull us into thinking that temporary gains will lead to a permanent advantage. Consequently, such purchase decisions are often deeply regretted once the stage has been rearranged. In this case when elevated fuel prices return, they will do so with a budget-busting vengeance.

Audi A3 TDI

Select This: Gasoline or Diesel

In the Audi A3 Sedan you have a choice of turbo gasoline or diesel engines. Auto Trends reviewed the gasoline-powered A3 2.0T in September 2014, finding that the “second generation A3 meets an important price point.” With a starting price of $32,600 ($43,295 well equipped), the turbodiesel edition brings an attainable and highly-efficient entry-level model to the luxury segment.

Certainly, 31 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway for a combined 36 mpg are numbers most of us can only dream about. In the Audi A3 TDI, a numeric nirvana has been attained.

The Audi ethos is not much different from other luxury manufacturers. Indeed, the A3 as well as the A4 provide an ideal gateway to the brand. Once you have been sufficiently wooed, Audi has entire lines of sedans, coupes and utility vehicles to maintain your allegiance. Granted, there are styling differences between entry and high-end models such as the A8, but the overarching theme endures.

Audi A3 TDI

Power to the Front Wheels

My test model was a front-wheel drive A3, the very first FWD Audi I have driven. Every vehicle sent to me hitherto was all-wheel drive. And Quattro all-wheel drive at that. For most buyers it does not matter if power is sent to the front wheels, to the rear wheels or to all four wheels — there are other considerations that matter more to them, such as, style, fuel efficiency and price.

Although BMW and Mercedes-Benz have fleets that are rear-wheel drive biased with available all-wheel drive, Audi’s design approach is standard front-wheel drive with available all-wheel drive pushed as the preference. But in the A3 TDI you have no such choice: front-wheel drive is the singular offering. And if you are looking for the previously offered hatchback model you will be disappointed to discover that only the sedan is available with this model year. Reportedly, a hatchback will be added in 2016.

There is no need for me to rehash the exterior styling and the cabin amenities for the A3 covered in my earlier review. Without doubt the most important issues here are the engine, transmission and front-wheel drive, what combine to make the forenamed model the fuel efficient beast that it is.

Surely, the A3 TDI lives up to its fuel efficiency billing. After one week of driving, I estimated my mileage came in just under 40 mpg. That high number was reached through extensive, almost exclusive highway and back road driving where posted speed limits ranged from 45 to 70 mph. To that end activating cruise control for long stretches helped matters too.

Audi A3 TDI

Clean and Efficient Diesel

Kudos to the Volkswagen Group for making a turbo diesel that is not only clean and efficient, but relatively quiet. Its clatter has been hushed through a variety of engineering upgrades, including shortening the injection lines with fuel delivered in pulses, what no longer relies on solenoid or mechanical actuation. Under hood sound baffles and improved cabin insulation help muzzle noise, but it just may be the delicious Bang & Olufsen sound system that does the best job of noise cancellation, especially if you are prone as I am to turn it up to savor every wondrous note.

To that end you will get the premium sound system by choosing the Prestige edition, an $8,450 upgrade that also brings in 18-inch spoke-design wheels shod within all-season tires, heated seats, a navigation system and a parking system with a rear view monitor and other enhancements. Other upgrades included an $800 sport package featuring S Line trim with sport front seats, drive select controls, sport suspension and a three-spoke sport steering wheel.

The Audi A3 TDI’s engine is activated by pushing the start/stop button. It isn’t an immediate start either, especially on cold mornings. Simply press the brake, push the button, wait two or three seconds, and the engine will come to life. When the ambient temperature is lower, the heating up process is slightly longer. It is at idle when engine clatter is more discernible; you might also take in a whiff of diesel that generally is not noticeable while driving.

Audi A3 TDI
Audi A3 TDI


2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI

View manufacturer details and pricing


A3 TDI Performance Amplification

Turbo power makes all the difference for diesel engines, what have notoriously make them laggards from the start, but offer desirable boost once you are moving. A slight turbo lag is felt, but it quickly dissipates. The A3’s proportionate weight is most definitely a factor, what helps power this sedan with confidence.

There were times when I forget I was behind the wheel of a front-wheel drive car. No, not entirely. Torque steer surfaces on occasion, but it is largely of little consequence. Credit Audi’s engineers with fusing the right combination of electronic-assisted steering, suspension dampening and Continental tires with keeping this sedan planted, even while cornering. Specifically, steering is precise and handling is responsive — there is no ambiguity present as you navigate the bends. And as for brake fade, that’s not an issue either.

The Audi engineering stratagem pairs turbocharged engines with dual-clutch automatic transmissions. Operate the gearbox in manual mode and you will achieve a measure of control, but it isn’t the same as with a manual. Whispers of a manual gearbox with the upcoming hatchback have been regularly repeated. if those rumors prove true, then your dream powertrain combination may come to pass. Granted, it may be offered with the 2.0T only, if at all.

Audi A3 TDI

Competition From Mercedes-Benz

This sedan has much to offer, provided that your priorities are based on Audi’s styling, quality and fuel efficiency attributes. That Mercedes-Benz now has the entry-level GLA-Class provides additional evidence that the segment is a growing one. If you can do without Quattro all-wheel drive, then the TDI may be a logical step in that direction.
Audi A3 TDI


2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI

  • Sticker price from $32,600
  • Price as tested: from $43,295
  • Front-wheel drive
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 2.0-liter 16-valve inline-four cylinder turbo diesel engine
  • 150 horsepower @ 3,500 to 4,000 rpm
  • 235 foot-pounds of torque @ 1,750 to 3,000 rpm
  • 3.19 inches bore by 3.76 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 16:2-to-1
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 103.8 inches
  • Length: 197 inches
  • Width: 75.4 inches
  • Height: 55.7 inches
  • Passenger volume: NR
  • Storage volume: 12.3 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: NR
  • EPA: 31 mpg city, 43 mpg highway
  • Diesel fuel
  • Fuel tank: 13.2 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,341 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Top Safety Pick+ (2014)
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 12 years/Unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Gyor, Hungary

2015 Audi A3 Sedan TDI photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.

Highlights of the 2015 Detroit Auto Show: Media Day 2, Part 1

Hyundai Santa Cruz

The concept Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup truck.

The first day of the 2015 North American International Auto Show was replete with numerous releases ranging from the expected to the extraordinary. There was so much material distributed that we’ve added a few of those stories to our initial synopsis of the second media day.

Hyundai Pickup Truck

Hyundai-Kia is the fourth largest automobile manufacturer in the world, but like the Volkswagen Group its US presence is smaller than many of its competitors. Both manufacturers have something in common that explains, in part, why their respective market shares are smaller: a lack of a pickup truck offering.

Pickup trucks are popular with consumers, highly profitable for manufacturers and help amplify a brand. Imagine Dodge never having Ram — that Fiat Chrysler (FCA) brand would have disappeared long ago. Instead, Ram is such a strong seller that it is now a brand unto itself.

Hyundai, in the all-wheel drive Santa Cruz Concept, is taking a stab at a market that few are covering today. And that would be a small, unibody pickup truck along the lines of the retired Subaru Brat. Its a niche market that Hyundai identifies as for “Urban Adventurers” or millennial-type buyers who aspire to the utility of a pickup truck along with the ride and handling of a small car.

The Santa Cruz is essentially a car-truck, what the Chevrolet El Camino and Ford Ranchero once were and the Subaru Brat best articulated in modern days. Unlike some models, this one has a rear seat, accessible with is rear-hinged, rear doors. These doors are fully integrated with the front door design, enabling this truck to retain its two-door look.

Hyundai Santa Cruz

Would Subaru Brat fans embrace the Hyundai Santa Cruz?

To the rear, the Santa Cruz showcases an expandable bed for extra utility. The longer cargo space is attained by making use of a special drawer-like sliding function.

Hyundai proposes using a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel engine, making 190 horsepower and 300 foot-pounds of torque. Theoretically, this truck could achieve 30 mpg, an important efficiency threshold that not one of today’s truck models attains.

Although many concepts are never built, you have to think that Hyundai is seriously weighing its options in a bid to serve a segment it doesn’t currently reach in North America. Certainly, the Santa Cruz is far different from traditional body-on-frame pickup trucks, but it has the potential to fill a void that some people see as having been left open since Subaru ended production of the Brat more than 20 years ago.

Will the Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept become a production reality?

Will the Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept become a production reality?

Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept

With gas prices falling below $2 per gallon in many places, talk about electric vehicles seems almost absurd. Yet, the current price plummet simply will not last — more than likely we will see prices return above $4 per gallon some day.

Car manufacturers cannot afford to be sentimental when it comes to prices at the pump. Indeed, federal fuel regulations require manufacturers to achieve a 54.5 mpg average in 2025 — that’s just 10 years away. Electric vehicles will play no small part in helping manufacturers attain those averages, though the challenge to convince you to purchase an EV is a significant one at that.

General Motors has been busy doing its part in advancing vehicle electrification, chiefly with its hybrid Chevrolet Volt. But it also is knee deep in pure electrification as it has a smattering of EV products of its own.

One of those products is currently in concept form and was introduced at the Detroit auto show on Monday. The Chevrolet Bolt EV concept could be just the vehicle to cajole people to making a switch, especially given its proposed $30,000 price tag and 200-mile range.

Chevrolet Bolt

Bolt + Volt = Chevrolet Vehicle Electrification

What sets the Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept apart from the pack is its mini minivan-like layout, with very little front and rear overhang. It has been designed to maximize interior space and offers seating for four. GM’s designers looked to amplify its interior space for maximum comfort and in the concept, it appears that they have succeeded.

Using glass all around makes this model seem large, even commodious compared to other small vehicles. A high belt line sweeps upward to the D-pillar, what gives this vehicle a look that is at once sporty as it is elegant. In its design, GM made good use of such lightweight materials as magnesium, aluminum, carbon fiber and woven mesh. Moreover, its aerodynamic design plays a significant role in helping this model maximize its efficiency.

In GM’s presentation, the company was big on its conceptual homily, but small on its engineering application. We know nothing about the battery system that allegedly enables this vehicle to attain its 200-mile range, a number that is approximately three times longer than what most current EVs deliver, although it does align with basic Tesla models. Therefore, the only thing we can surmise is that the enhanced battery system is something that GM would like to attain and at a price point consumers would embrace.

Jaguar F-PACE

A full reveal of the Jaguar F-PACE is on its way.

Keeping Pace with the Jaguar F-PACE

You will be forgiven if the name Jaguar F-PACE does not easily roll off your tongue. Not that the pronunciation is difficult, rather that it is one of those names that may bewilder the big cat enthusiast.

The British marque, along with its LandRover consort, have been making great strides in recent years in a bid for relevance. Jaguar LandRover sales are up around the world as parent Tata Motors gives the dynamic duo much room and independence to grow.

In the Jaguar F-PACE we have a model that will go on sale early in 2016, a five-passenger crossover utility vehicle underpinned by the brand’s innovational aluminum architecture and state-of-the-art suspension system.

Based on the Ian Callum’s C-X17 concept car, the F-PACE maximizes cabin space and provides the types of on-road dynamics that luxury utility vehicle buyers prefer. Jaguar offered scant details beyond the show and tell, but we know that the upcoming “performance crossover” will be based on the same platform driving the XE sedan.

Jaguar may seem as if it is crossing into LandRover territory with the utility vehicle, but there is a difference that should be noted. Whereas LandRover’s are designed with off-roading in mind, the F-PACE is designed solely for advancing its on-road antics.

A full reveal is likely this spring at the New York International Auto Show.

Related 2015 Detroit Auto Show Articles

Highlights of the 2015 Detroit Auto Show: Media Day 2, Part 2

Highlights of the 2015 Detroit Auto Show: Media Day 1, Part 2

Highlights of the 2015 Detroit Auto Show: Media Day 1, Part 1

Photos and news details supplied by the car manufacturers.

Highlights of the 2015 Detroit Auto Show: Media Day 2, Part 2

The size and scope of the North American International Auto Show is often lost upon ordinary visitors. For media folk, the show’s intensity is felt before, during and after the event. Indeed, with manufacturers hosting private reveals on the eve of the show, this two-day media event is actually a three-day event and in some cases longer when private behind-the-scenes interviews and discussions are held post-show.

The second days of the NAIAS had its own share of important news stories. Although the manufacturer portions of the media events were over by noon, the EyesOn Design Awards and the One Show’s Automobile Advertising of the Year Awards were held in the afternoon. Most press people were hurrying to the airport by early afternoon, but for the straggler, the chance to connect with industry movers and shakers remained.

2016 Lexus GS F

The 2016 Lexus GS F debuts in Detroit.

Lexus GS F Sedan

Our last focus on the Detroit auto show is entirely on the key reveals for Tuesday. Among the big, official reveals was the Lexus GS F, a performance model that advances the “F” range.

The rear-wheel drive GS is not the first Lexus sedan to win the F appellation. It joins the IS F sedan and the current RC F coupe. Not to be forgotten is the pinnacle of the F stable: the limited production LFA sports car, a model sated with all the exotic touches you would expect in a super car.

The GS F’s look is familiar, but with a number of important modifications. It features a unique version of Lexus’ trademark hourglass or spindle grille and has large, gaping air vents in the front fascia. Slender LED headlights, signature daytime running lights as well as lower and wider stance help set this F model apart from the GS pack.

Inside, Lexus compares the cabin to a jet fighter cockpit. A “form-follows-function” theme, intuitively placed controls, “F” branded embellishments, and an electronic instrument cluster give this model a special look. Four drive modes are available: normal, eco, sport s and sport s+.

Under the hood of the 2016 Lexus GS F is a naturally-aspirated 5.0-liter V-8 engine making 467 horsepower and 389 foot-pounds of torque, redlining at 7,300 rpm. This beefy engine is teamed with an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The 32-valve V-8 automatically switches to the efficient Atkinson cycle under certain conditions.

Aiding handling are 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires that are wider at the rear. Its sport-tuned suspension was put through the paces on the Fuji Speedway as well as on the Nürburgring Nordeschleife. This model features 15-inch front rotors available with bright-orange 6-piston calipers. Importantly, Lexus says that the GS F has a significant handling edge to its European rivals as it weighs approximately 300 pounds less.

2016 Lincoln MKX

The second generation Lincoln MKX debuts this fall.

2016 Lincoln MKX

The Ford brand continues to receive the lion’s share of the auto show buzz and who can blame it? After all, when your pickup truck wins the North American Truck of the Year award and you take the wraps off of a new super car, the Ford GT, the blue oval certainly dazzles.

Quietly making its own impression on the market is Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand, the beneficiary of two new models for 2015 — the MKC crossover and Navigator SUV — and for 2016 the next generation of its medium-sized MKX crossover utility vehicle.

Just before the manufacturer segment of the media days came to a close, Lincoln unveiled the 2016 MKX, the latest iteration of its premium model. The new edition enjoys several changes, including the latest interpretation of the marque’s design language, an all-new engine, several technology updates and available 22-way adjustable front seats.

The new engine, a 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6, also powers the 2015 F-150. It is the optional engine for the MKX, making at least 330 horsepower and 370 foot-pounds of torque. A naturally-aspirated 3.7-liter V-6 making 300 horsepower and 280 foot-pounds of torque is standard. Both engines are mated with six-speed automatic transmissions.

The 2016 MKX also benefits from an integral rear suspension, modifications to the body structure as well as to chassis components. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is available.

Other changes to the Lincoln MKX include an available 360-degree camera, enhanced park assist, and a 19-speaker Revel Ultima audio system. A pair of Black Label packages with four designer themes will also debut.

The Ram 1500 Rebel unveiled at Detroit's auto show.

The Ram 1500 Rebel unveiled at Detroit’s auto show.

Special Edition Ram 1500 Rebel

Pickup truck manufacturers are on constant watch for niche markets they can serve. One day after the next generation Ford Raptor made its debut, the Ram 1500 Rebel dropped cover.

Ram describes the 1500 Rebel as a “one-of-a-kind off-road design.” It will come equipped with a prominent billet silver “RAM” letter badge affixed to its all-new grille. Instead of the commonly found cross-hair front fascia, the new look showcases a black off-road front bumper design, a billet silver skid plate, new front tow hooks and unique LED fog lamps. This truck will also come with black bezel bi-functional projector headlamps with LED marker lights placed underneath its aluminum, twin-snorkel sport hood.

Other features include an exclusive air suspension to adjust ride height, standard 33-inch tires, a “RAM” stamped tailgate with blacked-out lettering, “Rebel” and “4×4” badging, tail lamps with black bezels and a tri-fold tonneau cover.

Inside, the muscular look continues with what Ram describes as “industry-exclusive seating elements.” Technical grain vinyl seats, Sedoso fabric inserts, light diesel gray accent stitching, Radar Red Ram’s head embroidery affixed to the headrests and other embellishments are present.

The instrument panel is dressed in black, iron gray metallic trim wraps the center console and Radar Red anodized vent rings and door rings are present. Heated front seats and a heated steering wheel are included.

The Ram 1500 Rebel will be sold in 4×2 and 4×4 configurations with a 3.6-liter V-6 or 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engines available. The brand’s trademark side bed storage compartment, RamBox, is also available.

The new Rebel goes on sale during the second half of 2015 and will join nine other Ram truck editions.

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Highlights of the 2015 Detroit Auto Show: Media Day 1, Part 2

Highlights of the 2015 Detroit Auto Show: Media Day 1, Part 1

Photos and news details supplied by the car manufacturers.

Highlights of the 2015 Detroit Auto Show: Media Day 1, Part 1

2015 Buick Avenir Concept.
Is the Buick Avenir the future flagship for this premium brand?

Detroit is a happening city right now, thanks in large part to the 2015 edition of the North American International Auto Show. The NAIAS is the granddaddy of all auto shows — at least on this continent — what provides the lion’s share of new releases and concept vehicles for the year ahead.

The buzz leading up to this year’s show has been filled with early-breaking news as usual. Toyota, Buick and Jaguar were among the brands that unveiled new models beforehand, as did Mercedes-Benz, Chevrolet, Infiniti and Volkswagen. Yet, the early show and tells only served to feed the beast as social media, particularly Twitter, lit up with photos and comments on the eve of the first media day.

This writer is not in Detroit and for a very good reason too: a seasonal virus has knocked him down for the count, but not so far down that he isn’t relying on “boots on the ground” to help him out. Next week, he plans to head for Washington, DC, to attend the Washington Auto Show, an auspicious event in its own right.

For right now, the Motor City is the focal point for all things automotive as it should be. Indeed, Detroit is the nerve center for the US auto industry and every manufacturer, foreign and domestic, is paying it homage.

This article covers the first batch of announcements through mid-morning today with the remainder of the day’s releases coming later. We will follow up with more announcements on Tuesday. In the coming two weeks, we’ll dig deeper to reveal certain background details about select models, a postscript of sorts to help ensure that the buzz continues.

Buick Twosome Bedazzle

Auto Trends has been expecting Buick to expand its model line, but we were prepared for just one announcement, not two.

The first one confirmed what we have long suspected: the Opel Cascada will make a transformation and go on sale early next year as the 2016 Buick Cascada. This darling 2+2 coupe brings to Buick the first convertible since the Reatta, a halo model to magnify the brand.

The second announcement substantiated a theory we’ve considered, one that has Buick offering its own model variant based on GM’s Omega platform. That platform will underpin the forthcoming Cadillac CT6, what represents the pinnacle model for GM’s luxury brand. GM has said the platform would support other models, thus Buick will most likely deliver.

On the eve of the NAIAS, Ed Welburn, vice president of General Motors Global Design, presented the Buick Avenir, a premium sports sedan. A concept vehicle, the Avenir (French for the future) points to Buick’s style direction, one that fans will most likely embrace. Big on luxury and technology, the all-wheel drive Avenir has a long hood, wheels located to the corners, and a sloping rear deck.

Powered by a next-generation direct-injected V-6 engine paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission, this nascent concept should become a reality by 2017. Expect GM to jettison the Avenir moniker and bestow the “Riviera” name on the production model. Sure, it is a sedan, but its 2+2 seating layout and sleek proportions likely won’t have too many people complaining.

Car and Truck of the Year Awards

Kicking off the show as usual were the North American Car and Truck of the Year announcements. As expected, the all-new and aluminum-based Ford F-150 was the winner here, beating out the Chevrolet Colorado and the Lincoln MKC. Although the Colorado is a strong entrant in the small pickup truck segment, the groundbreaking F-150 won as expected.

Quite a few people expected Ford to win double honors by snagging the Car of the Year award as well with the Mustang. However, the Volkswagen Golf and Golf GTI snagged the most votes, beating out the Mustang and Hyundai Genesis sedan.

Last year, Chevrolet swept the awards with the Corvette Stingray and Silverado winning car and truck of the year recognition.

Nissan Titan Unveiled

Since 2004, the Nissan Titan has served mostly as a placeholder pickup truck for the brand. In the Titan, Nissan gained access to the market, but has woefully underserved its customers by limiting this truck to a singular body style, engine and duty class.

At the NAIAS, Nissan President and CEO Carlos Ghosn unveiled the second generation model, a vehicle that makes great strides over the first generation pickup truck. The new truck will be available in standard, extended (King cab) and crew cab configurations, with three engine choices and both 4×2 and 4×4 layouts.

For the first time, the Titan will offer a gasoline V-6 engine and a Cummins-supplied 5.0-liter turbo-diesel V-8 engine. Nissan says that the 2016 Titan, going on sale later this year, will pull up to 12,000 pounds when properly equipped and carry a payload capacity of up to 2,000 pounds.

Nissan promises that the next generation Titan will come equipped with advanced technologies, including a rear view monitor, an around view monitor, moving object detection and a trailer light check system.

News releases and photos supplied by the respective manufacturers.

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Highlights of the 2015 Detroit Auto Show: Media Day 1, Part 2

Ford GT Supercar

Ford serves up a sketch of the next generation Ford GT supercar.

If it is eye candy you want, the North American International Auto Show serves it up in spades. This morning, the Ford GT was unveiled, representing perhaps the most noteworthy vehicle from the new Ford Performance division we will see over the next few years.

Ford GT Supercar

The all-new Ford GT goes into production in 2016 and will join other blue oval performers, including the Focus RS, F-150 Raptor and a pair of Shelby GT350 models. It is just one of at least 12 new models that Ford Performance plans to reveal through 2020, over-the-top models that will crown the Ford brand.

The Ford GT supercar utilizes advanced lightweighting, especially evident in its carbon fiber construction. The rakishly aerodynamic sportscar will be powered by a twin turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 engine with an output of at least 600 horsepower.

The rear-wheel drive GT features a mid-mounted engine, a two-door coupe body shell, and aluminum front and rear subframes. Its lighter overall package is enhanced by its carbon fiber wrap.

Ford says that the GT will feature a state-of-the-art, port/direct dual fuel-injection arrangement to boost engine response, in addition to a low-friction roller-finger-follower valvetrain. Ford will pair the twin-turbocharged V6 with a seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle for expeditious gear changes and unprecedented driver control.

Ford GT Supercar.

The upcoming Ford GT supercar.

Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

Another Ford product also received much attention at the NAIAS. Ford unveiled the F-150 SVT Raptor, its performance pickup truck. The new truck, slated to arrive in Fall 2016, will have a high-strength steel frame and light weight aluminum body, trimming some 500 pounds off of the current edition.

The 2017 SVT Raptor will receive a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine, tuned to surpass the 411-horsepower that the current 6.2-liter V-8 engine delivers. Ford will pair this potent engine with its all-new 10-speed automatic transmission. The four-wheel drive system in this beast will offer a multi-setting terrain management system to include normal, street, weather, mud and sand modes. Moreover, it will offer Baja and rock modes. The Raptor’s new transfer case has been designed for both full-time off-roading and features a locking unit for crawling.

Enthusiasts will likely be enraptured by the next generation Ford F-150 SVT Raptor.

Enthusiasts will likely be enraptured by the next generation Ford F-150 SVT Raptor.

Next Generation Acura NSX

Another super car that has been receiving an appropriate amount of buzz is the 2016 Acura NSX. This model is a mid-engine sport hybrid, powered by a twin turbocharged V-6 engine paired with a 9-speed dual clutch transmission. The new model will feature three electric motors — two up front and one to the rear.

The Acura NSX is enhanced by a Sport Hybrid Super-Handling All Wheel Drive (Sport Hybrid SH-AWD) system, what provides articulate response time for steering, braking and throttle. Moreover, it will enhance vehicle stability, control and launch performance of all-wheel drive. The NSX’s Agile Handling Assist (AHA) makes use of brake torque to further enhance yaw response and dynamic stability control.

Notably, the NSX will be built solely at the Performance Manufacturing Center (PMC) in Marysville, Ohio, with approximately 100 highly-skilled workers tasked with conducting full body construction, paint, and final assembly.

2016 Acura NSX.

2016 Acura NSX.

Next Generation Toyota Tacoma

Another significant unveiling in Detroit today was for the 2016 Toyota Tacoma. That pickup truck is new from the ground up as well as inside and out. It will come to the market just as GM fights for position with a pair of new models of its own. The Nissan Frontier is another segment competitor.

In the 2016 Toyota Tacoma, enthusiasts will see a new powertrain and enhanced suspension tuning. Its Michigan engineers made numerous changes to include the addition of high strength steel to the frame and ultra-high strength steel to the body shell, providing a more rigid body as well as an important weight-saving measure.

The base motor is a 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine; an all-new, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that runs on the efficient Atkinson cycle will also be available. The new engine will feature both direct and port fuel injection. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Moreover, a six-speed manual transmission will be available with the larger engine.

The Tacoma’s exterior look provides for a pleasing, evolutionary update, one that features a striking upper grille along with a taller, more brawny hood. Front projector beam headlamps can be paired with available daytime running lights.

The new model also features a locking tailgate and an integrated spoiler to improve vehicle aerodynamics. The tailgate also comes with an easy lowering feature for a slow retraction. For the very first time, the Tacoma will also offer a tri-fold hard tonneau cover.

2016 Toyota Tacoma

2016 Toyota Tacoma.

Upgraded Interior, Improved Extras

Inside, the cabin features several upgrades to help convey a more premium atmosphere. This model receives soft-wrap trim and metallic accents. Premium upgrades bring in a smart key with push button start, leather-trimmed seats, Qi wireless charging, a power moonroof, dual-zone climate control, an embellished touchscreen audio, a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert and other enhancements.

Five vehicle grades will be offered: SR, SR5, TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road and Limited. Both TRD grades were developed by Toyota Racing Development, the same performance arm that is behind Toyota’s motorsport endeavors.

The TRD Off-Road edition features a multi-terrain system, what permits the driver to select different modes to handle a variety of terrain to include sand, mud or loose rock. Wheel spin is accordingly regulated, adjusting throttle and brake pressure to enhance terrain traction.

2016 Toyota Tacoma

The interior of the 2016 Toyota Tacoma.

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Compact Luxury Crossover: 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

No surprise: a hybrid joins the NX line too.

Lexus NX

An aggressive face marks the 2015 Lexus NX.

Lexus made the most logical move in 2014 by introducing a new crossover utility vehicle to slot beneath its segment-leading RX line. Since the dawning of the new millennium, consumers have turned to utilities in increasingly significant numbers, thus the outlook for entry-level premium models is an especially promising one. Likewise, Lexus had to reciprocate and has done so by means of its all-new for 2015 NX line.

The Lexus NX is based on the same platform underpinning the Toyota RAV4 and yet the similarities largely stop there. The NX has its own sheet metal, unique interior and offers a twin-scroll turbocharged version of the RAV4’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. A naturally-aspirated version of that engine is sold in two consumer markets — China and Russia — with a hybrid variant also available in the US.

Lexus NX

2015 Lexus NX

The standard front-wheel drive 2015 Lexus NX is priced from $34,480 for the 200t edition ($35,880 for all-wheel drive). Select the F Sport edition and the price starts at $36,580 ($37,980 AWD). Opt for the hybrid 300h and the starting price comes in at $39,720 or $41,310 when equipped with all-wheel drive.

Lexus loaned me a front-wheel drive F Sport edition for a week just as 2014 closed. That model came with a premium package ($2,890), a navigation system package ($2,140) and a comfort package ($505). Other options included a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert ($660), a pre-collision system with radar cruise control ($900), intuitive parking assist ($500) and forged alloy wheels ($3,200).

At the dealer level you can select running boards, a tow hitch receiver, and other accessories. Fully loaded, you might pay upwards of $48,000 for one. Subsequently, I checked the local Lexus dealer inventory and found six in stock priced from the low- to mid-$40,000 range. These prices are in line with the competition, namely the Lincoln MKC, Audi Q3, Volvo XC60, BMW X3, Acura RDX and the Mercedes-Benz GLA Class.

Lexus NX

Strike a Pose

The NX’s fascia advances Lexus’ current design language. Most current models are dominated by a spindle-shaped grille and feature various L-shaped characteristics, including the LED daytime running lamps, headlights and fog lamp channels.

The “L-finesse” look does, of course, augment Lexus’ symbol, itself a stylish “L” design. Yes, I must concur with anyone else who notices that the LED daytime running lights resemble Nike’s energetic swoosh symbol. To my knowledge the two companies are not engaged in a co-marketing campaign.

To the rear, you have sharply angular tail lights, chrome trim and a pair of exhaust tips flanking a diffuser. When it comes to the NX’s profile it resembles the current generation RAV4 than not. And yet, you will find different door panels and a modified side window layout in the NX. Disclaimer: my wife drives a 2013 RAV4, a vehicle that this writer is thoroughly acquainted with. No matter, there are far more differences between the two as Lexus has put its own imprimatur on this compact conveyance.

Lexus NX

In the Cabin

The NX’s cabin has a more pronounced Lexus touch. Immediately evident are the two overhead and one driver footwell LED lights. Two more LED lights serve as the front map (or reading) lights, sensory activated at that. Personally, I am glad that more manufacturers are making use of LED cabin lights — once you have them you will not want to settle for anything less.

The Lexus NX offers no-compromise seating for five. The front bucket seats are extra bolstered with oversized active headrests. No seat extenders are present, an addition that makes long road trips and sport driving more enjoyable. The rear bench seat is a split 60-40 design with a plush fold down armrest with a pair of pop out cup holders. That would have served as a welcome place for a storage compartment. Nonetheless, rear seating passengers have access to rear seat pockets and in-door storage, the latter large enough to hold bottled drinks.

Lexus’s designers were all over this crossover’s interior, with stitching evident across the upper and lower parts of the dashboard. Brightwork trim, soft touch materials and NuLuxe covered seats, door inlays and storage compartment covers boost this interior. NuLuxe has the appearance and caress of leather, but it is not. On the contrary, NuLuxe represents the brand’s environmental awareness, weighing half as much as leather and generating significantly less carbon dioxide emissions in the manufacturing process. Moreover, no animal products were used in the manufacturing process, to the unbridled relief of animal-rights activists.

The NX’s instrument panel is composed of tachometer and speedometer displays, flanking a digital driver’s information system. That system is controlled by switches located on the face of the tilt and telescopic steering wheel along with cruise and secondary audio controls.

The center console is dominated by a tablet-sized screen, what is permanently fixed to the dashboard. Beneath that are switches and buttons for climate control with the temperature read outs flanking an analog clock.

A special touchpad offers one-finger control of the display screen. Instead of fiddling with knobs, buttons and switches as you make your way down the road, you can control the screen with just a touch of a finger. Consider it Lexus’ attempt to reduce technological distractions — you will get the hang of using it quite fast.

Behind the rear seat is covered storage with a full-size spare underneath. Additional compartmentalized storage is located next to the tire. Tie down hooks are present and ready for strapping. If you are of the family way with the little ones, there is tethering in place for a center-positioned car seat.

Lexus NX
Lexus NX


2015 Lexus NX

View manufacturer details and pricing


Twin-Scroll Turbo

While other manufacturers have been embracing turbochargers for years, the Toyota Motor Corporation has eschewed the technology. Until now. In the NX 200t, you have the company’s first use of twin-scroll turbocharged technology, designed in house to deliver superior quality and performance. This gasoline direct-injected engine features a pair of exhaust gas inlets and nozzles, and makes 235 horsepower and 277 foot-pounds of torque. Lexus weds this engine with a shiftable six-speed automatic transmission and paddle shifters.

The outcome is a near imperceptible lack of turbo lag and more than enough power to move this ute with authority. Where the naturally-aspirated version of this engine is sufficient to accomplish the job, Lexus was not about to rest on its laurels and has, instead, delivered performance that should engender respect from enthusiasts. Moreover, the new engine signals to all that Lexus as well as Toyota and Scion will bring forth additional models featuring the science. Now if we can only convince Lexus to manufacture diesels.

Lexus NX

On the Road

Jump in, adjust the seat, fasten your seatbelt and hold on. Well, not exactly. Crossover utility vehicles rarely generate the driving elation found in sport coupes and sedans or in the rare performance utility vehicle such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT or the Infiniti QX70. At the same time the Lexus NX 200t will not lull you to sleep.

Notably, the F Sport edition does its best to bring out the ute’s performance side. All models feature MacPherson struts up front and double-wishbone suspension in the rear. Exclusive to the F Sport are front and rear performance dampers and a sport-tuned suspension. In addition, you get a dynamic digital display, what allows you to observe the data to track your performance, including G-force and turbo-boost monitor. It seems a bit strange to offer that information on a utility vehicle, however Lexus wants to amplify its performance credentials, not bury it.

For this model’s best driving mode, choose Sport and leave “normal” and “eco” to your more sedate driving. Press the pedal to the metal and you can reach 60 mph in just under seven seconds. As this was a front-wheel drive model, understeer is evident — really, no surprise there. At the same time the NX does a good job of handling twists and turns, and its braking is strong with no fade present. Certainly, the NX does not offer the drive fun of a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, but then you’re not paying $70,000 for this crossover as you would with the Jeep.

This pad controls the navigation screen.

Parting Shots

In the NX, Lexus adds a fourth entry-level model to the brand. You also have your choice of the rear-wheel drive IS line, the front-wheel drive ES and the hybrid CT 200h. To that end, if you aspire to upgrade from your current Toyota or Scion, or if you have some other luxury utility vehicle in mind, then the Lexus NX may make the grade. Furthermore, there is a hybrid variant for your consideration, the only one of its kind in this burgeoning segment.


2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

  • Sticker price from $36,580
  • Price as tested: $40,000 (estimated)
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 2.0-liter 16-valve turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine
  • 235 horsepower @ 4,800 to 5,600 rpm
  • 277 foot-pounds of torque @ 1,650 to 4,000 rpm
  • 3.40 inches bore by 3.40 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10.0-to-1
  • 6-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 104.7 inches
  • Length: 182.3 inches
  • Width: 73.6 inches
  • Height: 64.8 inches
  • Passenger volume: 71.6 cubic feet
  • Storage volume: 17.7/54.6 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds (with luxury package)
  • EPA: 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
  • Premium grade gasoline required
  • Fuel tank: 15.9 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 3,940 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: Top Safety Pick+
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 6 years/70,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 6 years
  • Vehicle assembly: Kyushu, Japan

2015 Lexus NX photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.

Looking Back: The Best of 2014 Auto Trends

Toyota 4Runner

4×4 fun in a Toyota 4Runner.


Sixty models came and went in 2014. Those 60 represented my weekly drivers, an array of utility vehicles, coupes, sedans, sports cars, pickup trucks and vans that I had the pleasure (or misfortune) of driving. All joking aside, even the most sedate of the fleet models usually had something to offer, typically excellent fuel efficiency and a low price.

I am often asked, “what is your favorite car?” Honestly, I do not have one. Generally, however, there are two types of conveyances that stir my heart, if not raise my blood pressure: 4x4s and rear-wheel drive performance models.

And by 4x4s I don’t mean crossover utility vehicles. Instead, they should be traditional body-on-frame models such as the now-retired Toyota FJ Cruiser, what provide the most fun. If I can safely take it off road, enter and exit a mud slough without drama, and keep the frame intact, then I am golden.

Rear-wheel drive models always stoke my interest. Pair a naturally-aspirated V-6 or larger engine with a manual transmission, and my “happy quotient” will have been met. Add in a sport-tuned suspension, exceptional handling characteristics and a cat-back exhaust, and you will peg my “thrills and chills” meter. Moreover, I will also do my best to find a police-free circuit to open her up — don’t ask me any questions, because I’m not about to tell you.

Dodge Challenger Core

Top performer: Dodge Challenger Core.

Automaker Expansion Continues Apace

I only drive a small number of vehicles compared to the hundreds of models manufacturers serve up these days. Personally, I am amazed at how automakers continue to expand model lines. Certainly, if I have difficulty keeping up with the latest and the greatest, then the average driver will find it nearly impossible to do so as well.

Several brands entered my press fleet rotation in 2014 for the first time. They were: Kia, Mazda, LandRover, Jaguar and Volvo. For 2015, I hope to add Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Acura, as well as drive additional Mazda and Kia models. GM, Toyota, Nissan, Fiat Chrysler and Subaru are well represented. I am currently working on driving more Ford and Lincoln products. In addition, I would drive Mitsubishi, Tesla and, of course, Porsche models if and when these were offered to me.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Jeep topped more than 1 million global units sold in 2014.

New Arrivals for 2016

Given that this site is “Auto Trends” and that I write for three or four other periodicals throughout the year, I keep pace with industry happenings by attending press events and auto shows, and by interviewing various movers and shakers in the automotive realm. For that reason, among the upcoming models that have my piqued my interest include the Cadillac CT6, Chevrolet Camaro, Nissan Maxima, Jaguar XE, Infiniti Q60 Coupe and the BMW X1.

Also on the horizon is an all-new Chrysler Town & Country minivan, the BMW M2, the next generation of both the Ford Focus and the Ford Super Duty, an updated Honda Odyssey, as well as a Volkswagen model that is based on the CrossBlue concept.

Audi Q3

This Q3 is yet another new model from Audi.

Consolidation or Collaboration: Who and What?

I also anticipate that some major industry revelation will be disseminated this year to advance collaboration or consolidation between select manufacturers.

Fiat Chrysler (FCA) has a weak presence in Asia and could very well liaise with Mazda, perhaps even Suzuki. The Volkswagen Group might make for an effective global partner, but do not rule out GM, Ford or some other manufacturer demonstrating interest in FCA. On the other hand, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai-Kia seem prepared to maintain the status quo and most likely will eschew formal partnerships. At least for the near future.

US auto sales may top 17 million units in 2015, but an overheated stock market is due for a significant correction. Once that happens the sales momentum would cease and the streak of year-over-year increases would abruptly and forcefully come to an end.

As for you my patient and dear readers, thank you for following Auto Trends in 2014. Your continued patronage is simply appreciated.

5 Models That Made a Mark in 2014

With just over 16.5 million new vehicles sold in 2014, the US auto industry has returned to its pre-recession strength. Certainly, there is room for additional growth with 17 million units within reach. The auto industry is back and has returned in a significant way.

Models such as the Ford F-150 and Toyota Camry receive much press and they should: both are perennial segment leaders, the F-150 for nearly four decades running and the Camry for the past 13 years. Beyond the two leaders there are several other models that shine, including the following five that made a mark in 2014.

1. Toyota Corolla

Toyota’s Corolla has long served as a portal model to the Toyota brand. Purchase a Corolla, keep it for years, upgrade to a Camry and then pass your Corolla on to your son or daughter. This model’s reliability is of legends and it has the facts to back it up.

For some buyers, moving up to a Camry or any other vehicle is not part of the equation. Beginning in 2014, Toyota restyled the Corolla, making it slightly larger, sportier and an even better value than previously. Its most efficient model is rated at 42 mpg on the highway and a nicely-equipped model can be had for under $20,000.

Like the Camry, Toyota has a formula for success on its hands in the Corolla, once again the best selling compact model ahead of the Honda Civic. Corolla sales climbed by 12.3 percent in 2014 on 339,498 units sold.

2014 Toyota Corolla

2014 Toyota Corolla.

2. Nissan Sentra

Look at the compact segment and the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic routinely fight for top honors. Also weighing in is the Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus. Beginning in 2014, the redesigned Nissan Sentra made a name for itself, as its sales soared by a whopping 41.9 percent on 183,268 units sold.

New for 2014, the current generation Sentra is larger, more enticing and roomier than ever. Like the Corolla, a well-equipped model can be hand for under $20,000, a price point that appeals to a lot of families. The continuously variable transmission also ensures excellent fuel economy with the FE edition rated as high as 30 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

2014 Nissan Sentra

2014 Nissan Sentra.

3. Kia Soul

Kia has created a cult-like following with its Soul “urban hatchback car.” It is nearly inconceivable to examine this model without its anthropomorphic hamsters. Kia has weathered some criticism that its hipster characters are too humanlike, yet buyers do not seem to mind.

Indeed, in 2014 the second-generation Kia Soul was released, and this one has helped the Korean automaker gain market share. Sales surged by 23.1 percent last year on 145,316 models sold. What’s significant about that is both its Nissan and Scion competitors have struggled to serve the same market. Specifically, the Nissan Cube was canceled as the model year came to an end.

2014 Kia Soul

2014 Kia Soul.

4. Nissan Versa

Subcompact models typically do not sell especially well in the United States. Certainly, sales are greater than they were a decade ago, but with so many affordable and roomy compact models on the market, this sector is often bypassed for more spacious, but still affordable vehicles.

Nissan, however, has turned that convention on its ear, by delivering sedan and hatchback versions of its Versa subcompact without trouble. The company has also taken a two-prong marketing approach to the segment, by selling the five-door hatchback as the Versa Note and the four-door as the Versa sedan.

What buyers have found is a car that is unusually roomy for the segment, thrifty on fuel and can be purchased for about $15,000. The Versa may not be a family car, but 139,781 buyers in 2014 found that it meets their transportation needs. A 19.1 percent sales upsurge underscores the Versa’s strength.

2014 Nissan Versa Note

2014 Nissan Versa Note.

5. Subaru Forester

The Subaru Forester is an SUV that acts more like a tall station wagon. That appearance is not lost on buyers who appreciate the vehicle’s roominess, utility and handling characteristics. Introduced in 1998, the Subaru Forester is now in its fourth generation. The current iteration is not a radical departure from the previous model and that is just fine with buyers.

For 2014, Forester sales surged by 29.4 percent to 159,953 vehicles sold. it was Subaru’s best selling model for the year and one of five model lines registering a sales boost of at least 17 percent. No wonder Subaru sales have doubled over the past five years — this once niche manufacturer has gone conventional.

2014 Subaru Forester

2014 Subaru Forester.

Honorable Mention Models

There are other models that could just as easily found a place on our list. The Chevrolet Cruze is now in its sixth model year, however its sales do not show the customary end of product cycle decline. Indeed, Cruze sales rose by exactly 10 percent in 2014 to 273,060 units sold.

The BMW 3 Series may have been split between 3 and 4 model lines, but the combined interest for these compact luxury cars continues to grow. In 2014, sales for the two lines were a collective 142,232 units for a 19 percent increase over 2013.


Sales figures supplied by Good Car Bad Car. Soul photo courtesy of Kia Motors.


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