2018 GMC Terrain: statement rig among pricier SUVs

LAC BEAUPORT, Quebec – GMC? Here’s what I see in General Motors’ truck brand: a mystery wrapped in ambition, infused with hope.

Let me explain. Now at long last, with the launch of the revamped 2018 Terrain SUV (sport-utility vehicle), we have greater clarity about what GMC stands for, where this striving brand wants to go, how it fits into the ongoing recovery of GM in general, and how Canadians like their SUVs in particular.

The cabin looks like $40,000.

On the latter, Mark Alger, the GMC brand boss in Canada, says we have an powerful appetite for expensive SUVs. “All the growth is in $35,000 and above,” he says, noting that about one-third of all the SUVs Canadians bought last year were in that pricing stratosphere.

The refashioned Terrain starts at more than $30,000 and bounces into the $40,000s if you want a rig capable of towing a modest-sized trailer; Bose sound; ventilated and heated front seats; wireless charging for your devices; LED headlamps; and, the fanciest machined wheels.

Yet Alger argues the whole 2018 Terrain lineup is a relative bargain compared to 2017. Price cuts and added content deliver thousands in extra “value.”

Those buyers will need to find GMC the typical Canadian showroom that also houses, Chevrolets, Cadillacs and Buicks. Chevy’s new Equinox shares the Terrain’s basics, BTW.

The infotainment screen is undersized.

But Chevys are mainstream; GMC trucks are “professional grade,” touted in the latest marketing slogan: “Like a Pro.” (That tagline brought to mind HBO’s latest series, The Deuce, for a brief moment.) Like a Pro is supposed to capture vehicles that are well engineered and crafted – so good they’ll make owners feel like confident, passionate leaders. Alger’s explanation, not mine.

The fact is, this Terrain has absolutely nothing common with the old model, not so much as a door seal. The design, a great improvement over the Transformer-ish collection of corners and angles that was the old model, is a success. Simple, with three clean lines running horizontally –upper, middle, lower. They ties it all together.

Inside, the cabin looks like $40,000. The big notables are rocker switches that replace a traditional gearshift (Park, Drive, etc.) and a new infotainment interface that operates like your smartphone.

This design is a success.

Unfortunately, the touchscreen is undersized by half. Volvo has set the standard for touchscreen size and simplicity in mainstream models, and Tesla’s double-i-Pad-like screen is the overall best in the industry.

The Terrain’s screen does what it should and quite nicely, but it’s closer in size to a Samsung Galaxy Note. Big mistake.

Still, there’s a roomy cabin with generous headroom. Very comfortable in back. The passenger seat folds completely flat so you can load a seven-foot something in there.  The cargo hold is great and the load height at the rear is just right. You can get up to six USB ports, too.

For power, you have three options, all turbocharged: 1.5-litre four (170 horsepower/201 lb-ft), 1.6-litre turbodiesel four (137 hp/240 lb-ft) and 2.0-litre four (252 hp/260 lb-ft).

Lots of cargo room.

The first one is for the budget buyer, the second for the fuel miser (at a $3,000 premium) and the last for the showoff who plans to tow 3,500 lbs or kg. Note: the smaller four-cylinder engines are tow rated to 1,500 lbs.

I quite enjoyed the ride quality, and noise dampening is good. The diesel does not make a racket, and GM says it’s not now and never has cheated on diesel emissions tests, like the Germans. And truly, the design is perfect for a GMC re-boot.

I expect the latest Terrain to do damage to its legion of rivals. That’s it: the GMC mystery explained.

2018 GMC Terrain

Price range: $30,195 – $41,695.

Engines (all turbos): 1.5-litre four-cylinder (170 hp/201 pound-feet of torque); 1.6-litre four-cylinder, diesel (137 hp/240 lb-ft torque); 2.0-litre four-cylinder (252 hp/260 lb-ft torque).

Transmissions: nine-speed automatic for the gas engines, six-speed automatic for the turbodiesel.

Drive: front- and all-wheel.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.2 city/7.9 for the front-drive 1.5-litre; 8.5 city/6.0 hwy) for the front-drive turbodiesel; (11.2 city/9.0 hwy) for the 2.0 AWD. Gas engines use regular fuel.

Comparables:  Ford Edge, Dodge Journey, Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Murano, Toyota Highlander, Subaru Outback, Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda Pilot, Toyota Venza, Mazda CX-9.

 

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2017 Acura MDX hybrid: NSX engineering in a mediocre design

Acura now has a big MDX hybrid sport-utility/crossover and it’s fast.

How fast? It bests a conventional (non-hybrid) Acura MDX, as well as Toyota’s Highlander hybrid. Here’s why: it has hybrid components similar to those in the NSX supercar.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid: the infotainment interface is maddening.

That despite the fact that the MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD — OMG, what a mouthful! — is a hefty 2,074 kg, or 150 kg more than a standard MDX with the Navi package.

That’s 330 pounds of extra heft, folks. Those big, fat guys who play offensive line in pro football weigh 330 pounds. Lotta suet there squishing out of those skin-tight uniforms. Eek!

Yet because the MDX hybrid is blessed with important bits and pieces from the NSX, 0-100 km/hour arrives in less than six seconds. Fast.

Volvo’s XC90 T8 plug-in crossover is a bit quicker off the line and so is Porsche’s Cayenne hybrid. But both cost more, too.

Infiniti also offers a QX60 hybrid for MDX hybrid coin. But it’s not in this speedy league at all. Moreover, the Infiniti’s design looks like something from the 1959 Motorama. It belongs parked next to a Cadillac Cyclone dream car from the ‘50s.

Ah, but thanks to a tidy little 2017 facelift, the latest version of the MDX is at least inoffensive. This is more than I could say about certain past versions of the MDX. If you can look past the slapped-on, utterly unimaginative trapezoidal grille, the MDX is quite okay. But honestly, who penned that horror of a grille? Fire him. Or her.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid: mediocre seats.

The engineers, however, deserve a raise. Other than the numb steering, the MDX hybrid is a grand engineering achievement. It is not only quick off the line, but 25 per cent more fuel efficient than the gas-only MDX.

A suite of electric motors and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox are central to this story.  You get a 47-hp electric motor/generator integrated with the transaxle. It cranks the 3.0-litre V-6 (257 hp), gives the gas motor a boost and charges the little lithium ion battery beneath the front seats.

Then we have a 72-hp Twin Motor Unit between the rear wheels.  This piece is taken straight out of the NSX, though in the supercar it’s located between the front wheels.

In the MDX, the two electric motors do all sorts of interesting things. On soft launches, the gas engine rests while one electric motor at each wheel gets things moving.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid: inoffensive design.

This setup also acts like a smart differential, with the outside rear wheel doing most of the work during cornering, while the inside one charges the battery pack under the floor where you’ll also find the brains of the thing — the control unit. So clever!

What we have here, then, is a four-wheel-drive SUV with no driveshaft, gobs of power delivered in all the right places at all the proper times. Moreover, this MDX has essentially the same cabin and cargo room as any other three-row MDX.

Alas, the seats inside this rig are mediocre, the instrumentation is uninspired and the infotainment/navigation interface is just plain irritating. Honda and Acura really must find a way to give designers more say in the finished product. Suggestion: go to school on the Volvo XC90.

In the meantime, Acura has given the car business a lesson in high-performance SUV engineering.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid: at least the designers attempted to try some interesting things.

2017 MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD

Price: $69,990.

Engine/motor: 3.0-litre V-6 (257 hp/218 pound-feet of torque); three electric motors, including a front motor built into the 7-speed dual clutch transmission and a rear Twin Motor Unit.

Drive: all-wheel.

Transmission: seven-speed dual clutch automatic.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.1 city/9.0 using premium fuel.

Comparables: Volvo XC90 T8 hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Infiniti QX60 hybrid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2017 Kia Sedona: why aren’t minivans like this cool?

The minivan is the automotive equivalent of mom jeans, a fashion statement not even someone as cool as former President Barack Obama – the guy who kite surfs with billionaire Richard Branson in the Caribbean — could pull off without suffering a social media pummeling.

And it’s this image that explains why minivan sales today are a quarter of what they were at the height of their popularity. It answers the question of why Ford and General Motors abandoned minivans years ago, and why Nissan is about to pull the global plug on its Quest minivan (having already done so in Canada).

And all this is so, so unfair. In a sensible world, someone who drives a minivan would be considered savvy and forward-thinking. Especially so considering the latest and perhaps last crop of minivans out there now.

Case in point, the 2017 Kia Sedona. The styling is slick, the ride comfortable, the handling agile as a good sedan. The Sedona – like the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Quest, Chrysler Pacifica and Dodge Grand Caravan – is available with all sorts of smart and nifty features, too.

Features? How about a 360-degree view camera, navigation, an eight-inch touchscreen for Kia’s UVO3 infotainment system and a powerful Infinity audio system. Leather upholstery? Sure, it’s available. USB ports, an LCD display between the gauges, heated and cooled front seats, tri-zone climate control, multi-pane sunroof and HID headlights. Yup, available and loaded into my $48,735 tester.

Now the Sedona isn’t particularly fuel efficient, but that’s because it’s so powerful (276 horsepower/248 lb-ft of torque) and so functional – loaded with second- and third-row seats that stow into a tub. The Sedona will seat up to eight, though the more comfortable recliners are the heatable second-row captain’s chairs with extendable footrests.

And high-tech? This is a safety story: adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert. The Sedona is a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, though the IIHS took issue with the headlights – calling them “Poor.”

My first take on the Sedona was, in fact, a double-take. The design is that sleek. Sure, the sliding side doors are a giveaway, but you’ll love them when you climb out in a tight parking space, with a gargantuan SUV snuggled up beside you.

Okay, that $48,735 price tag of a super-premium Sedona SXL+ deserves a double-take. That’s a big financial climb.

That said, the cabin is well-organized, handsome and dressy, right down to the leather seat stitching. The touchscreen and infotainment screens are just the ticket for functionality and Kia has had the sense to install dedicated physical knobs for things like radio volume.

So if the sticker is too high, look to a more modestly priced version and save thousands. And shop around, too. Honda is introducing a new version of the Odyssey, so outgoing versions might be a great deal. And there are good offers to be taken advantage of on the rest of the rigs here.

Perhaps there is no rescuing the image of the minivan and maybe that’s okay. Calvin Klein sells mom jeans to brand-conscious buyers, after all.

I’ll say this: if I were in my kid-rearing years, I’d take a minivan with good and appropriate tires over any hulking, fuel swilling SUV. But I’d also be sure to drive around in very cool jeans – Seven for all Mankind, or Buffalo, Silver or Mavi.

2017 Kia Sedona SXL+

Engine: 3.3-litre V-6 (276/248 lb-ft torque.

Transmission: six-speed automatic.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.1 city/10.5 hwy using regular fuel.

Comparables:  Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Pacifica, Dodge Grand Caravan.

 

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Smart Fortwo cabrio: for a duo and almost nothing else

My tiny, 89-horsepower, $23,135 Smart Fortwo cabriolet tester was a surprise and something of a revelation, though the core issue remains: a car with two bucket seats and only enough cargo room for a handful of grocery bags is practical for only the most niche of niche buyers.

But the Fortwo ragtop might be the ideal second car for city dwellers. It is a dream to slot into tight underground spaces and on the street you can park it nose-first to the curb, if legal.

And don’t think this runabout is under-powered — quick as a sleepy elephant. This grown-up roller skate is very happy sharking through traffic, with tight, direct steering and strong braking.

I mean, this car is just a little bit bigger than a steamer trunk, so 89 horsepower is plenty. The five-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox slots up and down the ratios quite nicely and precisely, though given the nature of this transmission technology, it’s not always completely smooth.

Just the other day, in fact, I needed to do a quick U-turn downtown to claim a rare parking space. Traffic swirled around me. BAM. I was around and in, just like that.

Sure, the 0-100 km/hour time doesn’t look impressive, but 10.7 seconds is just fine. Smart says top speed is 155 km/hour, too. Well, you would never find me terrorizing myself like that in any Fortwo, but this two-seater isn’t aimed at autobahn users.

No, it’s the urban commuter who will like this car. The gold-and-black exterior colours look rich and the boxy styling is dressed up with curves and creases that make it quite pleasing, even sporty-ish. The two-stage top is all-electric, a work of clever engineering that opens fully in 12 seconds at the press of a button – stage one, a big sunroof; stage two, all convertible.

The seats inside are packed with firm foam, making them very comfortable even if you’re a Big and Tall shopper. The instrument/control layout is handsome and, more importantly, user-friendly. A plastic smartphone holder juts out from the centre stack like a Lego project, blocking some controls, but at least you have a place to store your device.

Finally, small as it is, the Fourtwo is safe – earning a good rating for crash protection from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or IIHS.

The Smart electric drive: a step towards emission-free driving.

Smart’s parent, Daimler, plans to make its city car brand the spearhead in an all-electric push. Indeed, the gas-powered cabriolet I tested is the last of its kind in Canada and the United States.

Going forward, the launch of the fourth-generation Smart ForTwo electric drive means the Smart lineup will consist exclusively of the zero-emissions Smart electric-drive coupe and cabrio in the U.S. and Canada.

My tester, the collector’s piece! Hmm.

Smart Fortwo Passion cabriolet

Price: $23,136.

Engine: 898 cc three-cylinder (89/100 lb-ft torque.

Transmission: five-speed dual clutch automatic (a five-speed manual is the base gearbox).

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.0 city/6.3 hwy, using premium fuel.

Comparables:  Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris, Mini Cooper, Honda Fit, Kia Rio.

 

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If you plan to lease, read this first

Thinking about leasing a new vehicle?

If it’s an SUV (sport-utility vehicle), a Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4MATIC ($46,149) will be worth $23,230.60 after just under four years (45 months). Monthly payment: $607.46.

Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4MATIC+ SUV

Minivan? Lease a fully loaded Kia Sedona worth about the same as the GLC ($46,995) will be worth much less after 48 months: $16,181.55. Monthly payment: $763.

So the residual value – the value of a ride at the end of the lease – is far richer for Merc’s luxury SUV than Kia’s mainstream rig. By about $7,000. That means a lower payment – to the tune of about $155 a month.

If you’re among the several hundred thousand people who lease a new vehicle each year, this is the sort of detail you need to research. Residuals are particularly important. The higher the residual value, the lower the monthly payment.

Ah, residual values. They are grounded in many factors, from quality to brands to the popularity of individual types of vehicles.

Source: Canadian Black Book, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants

Auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers he points out in a note to clients that certain types of vehicles are holding their value much better than others: “SUV residuals are all much stronger than minivan residuals. Similar for sub-compact cars which are now out of favour and thus have the lowest residual values within the passenger car segments.”

Minivans have really tanked. While light trucks on average hold 53.4 per cent of their value after four years, minivans are worth just 45.8 per cent – 7.6 per cent lower than industry average. Luxury SUVs like the GLC come in at 58.8 per cent of the original value after four years — 1.4 per cent higher than the average.

DesRosiers notes that 32.8 per cent of Canadian consumers leased a new vehicle last year and sales trends suggest leasing will take even more of the market this year. Those who rent a car long-term – which is what leasing is – will find the most attractive monthly payments on SUVs and other light trucks, not passenger cars.

The most shocking development is in passenger car residuals. Canadian Black Book reports than after 48 months, the average resale value for a passenger car is a rather pitiful 41 per cent. The average subcompact car is worth just 33.2 per cent of their original value after four years – 7.8 per cent below the car average.

Source: Canadian Black Book, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

On the other hand, small pickup values are incredibly strong — worth 21.1 per cent above the light truck average 48 months down the road or 74.5 per cent after four years. Why? Supply and demand. Buyers are stampeding to trucks, away from cars, and the supply of small pickups is tight.

“New light truck sales have increased from less than 40 per cent of the market to nearly 70 per cent of the market over the last couple decades. Because they are so popular new, they also are very popular used and this increase in demand is one of the reasons light truck residuals have increased,” notes DesRosiers.

If you plan to lease your next vehicle, take this information to the bank.

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