Archive for December, 2014|Monthly archive page

Ram top growth brand in changing van market

The upheaval in the commercial van market continued in 2014 as the Ram ProMaster hit its stride, Ford introduced the Transit and GM added a small van, courtesy of Nissan.

In November, Eurovans (ProMaster, Transit, Sprinter) outsold traditional American vans from Ford, GM and Nissan by 187 units. The gap will only grow going forward as the ProMaster gains ground and the Ford E-Series van, long the major player in the full-size van market, is relegated to chassis-cabs and similar applications. This leaves GM as the only one still making a traditional van and the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savanna are nearly two decades old and don’t offer the space or fuel economy of the newer vans.

Thanks to an unusually strong month for the Ram Cargo Van, Ram brand beat Chevrolet brand van sales in November and was just 219 behind the combined total of Chevy and GMC.

Ram brand took a 19.1% share of the commercial van market in November, up 12 percentage points from its 7.1% share in November 2013. Year-to-date share for the Ram brand rose 4.5 percentage points, to 8.2% of the market.

Both Ford and Chevrolet have lost market share this year.

While they account for only about two percent of total U.S. light vehicle sales, growth in the segment has been strong this year. Sales of full-size vans are up 16.2% as of the end of November; sales of compact vans, including the Ram Cargo Van, have grown 25.3%. Both figures are well above the 5.5% year-to-date growth of the light vehicle market.

The growth in sales of compact vans bodes well for the rollout of the Ram ProMaster City that’s currently underway. While it’s more expensive than the Nissan NV, Chevy City Express and base Transit Connect, the ProMaster City beats all of them when it comes to capacity, power and configurations.

As Read on: http://www.allpar.com/news/index.php/2014/12/ram-top-growth-brand-in-changing-van-market

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New York City sets start date of April 20 for Taxi of Tomorrow with Nissan

NEW YORK – New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) has set April 20, 2015, as the program start date for the Taxi of Tomorrow program, which calls for most retiring taxis to be replaced with the Nissan NV200 and will significantly increase the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis in the fleet.

Based on the TLC Taxi of Tomorrow guidelines, Nissan NV200 Taxi will be the sole option for Manhattan yellow taxis not being replaced by a hybrid or an alternate wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV) where additional choice among competitors is maintained. Nissan is working with BraunAbility, the global leader in automotive mobility, to provide WAV Nissan NV200 Taxis, which now are available for purchase.

More than 500 Nissan NV200 Taxis already are in service in New York City. The Nissan NV200 Taxi has more content specifically tailored to use as a New York City cab than any vehicle prior to it including important safety features.

The Nissan NV200 taxi is the only taxi that leaves the factory with the installed partition, which has been specifically designed to ensure that no safety features are compromised by after-market installations. In fact, the Nissan NV200 Taxi was crash-tested with the partition and meets Federal safety standards, an attribute no other automaker provides for taxis. After-market installations in some taxis can render safety features such as airbags non-functional.

The Nissan NV200 also meets global pedestrian-protection standards aimed at softening the impact to a pedestrian if struck by a vehicle.

Following its selection as the exclusive Taxi of Tomorrow provider, Nissan engaged with organizations long at the forefront of the Taxi of Tomorrow program, including the Design Trust for Public Space, Smart Design and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Nissan created its own “New York Ave.” at its Arizona proving grounds to replicate harsh conditions of NYC streets to rigorously test the Nissan NV200 taxi to tune the suspension specifically to NYC road conditions. Additionally, Nissan hired New York City cab drivers to test vehicles around the city, collecting data that was used to refine the vehicle. In total, these drivers logged enough miles to cover every street in Manhattan more than 300 times.

The Nissan NV200 taxi also offers passengers a variety of amenities to make their trip more pleasant, including ample cargo room for transporting luggage and USB charging ports in addition to a 12-volt electrical outlet.

The Nissan NV200 Taxi offers a functional and spacious interior housed in a compact exterior footprint; in fact, when the Nissan NV200 Taxi is deployed across the entire taxi fleet, the equivalent of five square-acres of space will be freed up on city streets.

Key safety features include:

– Front and rear-seat occupant curtain airbags specifically designed to deploy around the integrated partition and seat-mounted airbags for the front row

– Standard traction control and Vehicle Dynamic Control

– Sliding doors to lessen risk of pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists getting struck by doors opening unexpectedly

– Lights that alert other road users that taxi doors are opening

About Nissan NV200 Taxi

Drawing on insight from New York taxi drivers, medallion holders, fleets and passengers, the Nissan NV200 taxi features more content tailored specifically to the unique needs of metropolitan cab service than ever before. In addition to stunning views of the city, other new features include:

– Ample room for four passengers and their luggage, offering substantial improvements over current and recently-unveiled taxi models

– Breathable, antimicrobial, environment-friendly, durable and easy-to-clean seat fabric

– Sliding doors with entry step and grab handles, providing easy entry and exit

– Mobile charging ports for passengers, including a 12-volt electrical outlet and two USB ports

– Flat “no hump” passenger floor area for more comfortable ride and easy entry and exit

– Independently-controlled, rear air conditioning

– Active carbon-lined headliner to help neutralize interior odors

– Overhead reading lights for passengers and floor lighting to help locate belongings

– Opening side windows

Other notable NV200 taxi features focus on driver comfort, customer satisfaction and the environment:

– A low-annoyance horn with exterior lights that indicate when the vehicle is honking, so the horn is used less frequently

– Hearing Loop System for the hearing impaired

– Driver and passenger intercom system

– A 6-way adjustable driver’s seat featuring both recline and lumbar adjustments, even with a partition installed

– Proven 2.0L 4-cylinder powertrain, engineered to enhance the emission performance and fuel efficiency of the taxi fleet

– 150,000-mile powertrain warranty

– Unique driver’s seat material and stitching to promote improved airflow

– USB auxiliary audio input and charge port for driver

– Standard navigation system with integrated rearview backup monitor

– All necessary wiring and installation provisions

The NV200 taxi is now on sale at select Nissan dealerships in the greater New York City area. Total manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) of the vehicle is approximately $29,700.

As read on: http://nissannews.com/en-US/nissan/usa/releases/new-york-city-sets-start-date-of-april-20-for-taxi-of-tomorrow-with-nissan

Lotz, Ford road project designs ‘moving along’ in Canton

Canton motorists weary of traffic congestion along Ford Road could get a glimpse as early as February of two projects officials believe will begin to ease the problem.

One project involves a $5 million effort to pave the pothole-riddled section of Lotz Road between Ford and Cherry Hill, giving motorists a north-south option to avoid heavily traveled roads such as Ford and Haggerty.

A second project centers on improvements such as lengthening turn lanes and improving ramps near the I-275/Ford area from Haggerty to Lotz. That comes as a precursor to longer-term effort to possibly convert Ford into a boulevard through much of Canton.

Canton is expected to host a public meeting as early as February to reveal plans for the Lotz paving and the initial phase of Ford Road work from Lotz to Haggerty, Municipal Services Director Tim Faas said.

Canton already has received from Wayne County a $274,015 payment that allowed the township to hire an engineering company, Spalding DeDecker Associates, Inc., to design the Lotz Road paving, which Faas said is slated for completion in 2015.

Spalding DeDecker already has completed about 50 percent of the engineering work, Faas said. Lotz will be transformed from a dirt-and-gravel road into a three-lane paved thoroughfare.

Canton has worked with Wayne County on the Lotz Road project, funded through the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Township Supervisor Phil LaJoy said he is encouraged Spalding DeDecker’s work is progressing and Wayne County has paid Canton for its role in hiring the engineering company.

“That’s very good news,” LaJoy said, adding the project “is moving along.”

Moreover, Faas said MDOT’s design of the initial improvements to Ford Road between Lotz and Haggerty has been 90 percent completed.

Local officials say the projects slated for the upcoming public meeting reflect the beginning of larger efforts, as money is allocated, to address Ford Road traffic congestion that has long troubled local officials and motorists alike.

As read on: http://www.hometownlife.com/story/news/local/canton/2014/12/28/lotz-road-paving-canton/20904637/

2015 Nissan 370Z NISMO Automatic

We have a campaign here at Car and Driver called “Save the Manuals.” Among other things, it involves T-shirts and other festive tchotchkes (get yours today!), fastidious coverage of manual-equipped models whenever they’re offered, and a weekly Name that Shifter contest now on its 200-and-something-th episode. But we’re not unaware of the fact that, for reasons ranging from laziness to benchmark racing, many folks today opt for automatics. Yes, even in performance cars.

2015-nissan-370z-nismo-automatic-photo-654684-s-520x318

That very reality has prompted Nissan to introduce a new self-shifting version of its track-oriented Nissan 370Z NISMO for 2015. This comes as no surprise, as some 60 percent of non-NISMO 370Z buyers choose the optional, paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic. Still, we sort of savored the fact that the NISMO Z’s high-output, 350-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 heretofore was offered only with a pleasingly meaty, six-speed manual transmission. To top it off, that gearbox can make any driver feel like a superhero, thanks to SynchroRev technology that serves up rorty, automatically rev-matched downshifts every single time. So why would anyone want a NISMO Z with a slushbox? We spent a week with just such an example to find out whether any argument could be made in its favor.

BUSTING OUT WITH A QUICKNESS

Well, for one thing, the automatic is quicker. By our measure, the 370Z NISMO automatic shot to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and passed the quarter-mile mark in 13.6 at 106 mph, 0.3- and 0.1-second quicker than the last manual-equipped 370Z NISMO we tested. We still haven’t been able to match what appears to have been a particularly quick, non-NISMO 370Z automatic we tested a few years back (and not for lack of trying). Even with 332 horsepower, that car hit 60 in 4.6 seconds and powered through the quarter in 13.1 seconds at 108 mph. It’s also worth noting that the manual-equipped NISMOs haven’t been able to beat their non-NISMO counterparts to 60 mph, either, with the quickest stick-shift Z hitting 60 in 4.8 seconds, 0.3 ahead of the NISMOs. This could be a matter of our NISMO test cars not being sufficiently broken in; this one had just 1500 miles on the odo, and we’ve observed that 370Zs tend to perform better with a few thousand miles on the clock. The NISMOs weigh marginally more, too—84 pounds more in the case of this 3453-pound NISMO-matic. Even considering those factors, it remains a bit puzzling.

Far more important than the numbers, though, is the character of the transmission itself, which leaves us feeling disconnected from the action. Yes, during throttle-blipped downshifts (actuated via the left, column-mounted paddle), the gearbox’s brain is unafraid to send the needle soaring near redline, but the shift quality can feel slurred. Furthermore, the automatic has only two operating modes: drive and manual, with no separate Sport shift setting. While the seven-speed may have impressed us in the standard Z back in 2009, it doesn’t hold a candle to the lightning-quick dual-clutch automatic gearboxes that have since become commonplace in cars like the Porsche Cayman and the Audi TTS. Nor, for that matter, is the Z’s autobox as well sorted as the excellent eight-speed torque-converter units found in, say, the 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack and the Chevrolet Corvette.

PARSING THE NUMBERS

By other performance measures, the NISMO Z produces mixed results. The big brakes—with 14.0-inch rotors clamped by four-piston calipers in front, 13.8-inch discs squeezed by two-piston units out back—performed well, halting the car from 70 mph in an impressive 156 feet (matching other Zs we’ve tested), with crisp bite and impressive pedal feel. But a switch to Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires could be partially to blame for a precipitous drop in lateral grip from the 0.99 g of previous NISMOs to 0.92, although different skidpad surfaces (the previous tests were conducted in Michigan) could also have contributed to the delta.

Statistics aside, the NISMO Z’s chassis deserves unqualified praise for its ability to connect the driver to the road, with a tactile ride quality, crisp turn-in, pan-flat body control, and perfectly weighted steering that deserves an honorary degree in communication. This is a car that takes all guesswork out of its direction, position, and grip level in corners, as well as on winding two-lanes such as those that snake through the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles.

Back in L.A.’s legendary congestion, the automatic keeps the driver less busy, of course, although the stiff ride and noisy cabin don’t help the NISMO’s case as a daily driver. Indeed, the slower city speeds give you more time to reflect on the car’s cabin, which is seriously showing its age, no matter how much faux suede and red-stitched leather are wrapped around this or that. Some customers will certainly appreciate the newfound availability of a navigation system, but the dashboard’s presentation of information seems terribly unsophisticated compared to many of its competitors. And the manual seat adjustments, three blanking plates on the center console, and rife hard plastics are uncouth in a loaded, $47,740 car, no matter how ostensibly track-focused it may be. On the other hand, the two things your body contacts the most—the nicely contoured Recaro seats and the faux-suede portions of the steering wheel—are sheer perfection.

Not insignificantly, the NISMO Z looks awesome. Benefitting from a more-thorough exterior freshening than it received just a year before, all 2015 NISMO Zs feature a smooth, ducktail rear spoiler; recontoured fascias; and tasteful red accents along the lower body and the mirrors. Charcoal-color 19-inch Rays wheels and darkened headlamp surrounds add a sinister look to the car without taking it over the top. Happily, last year’s huge exhaust cans remain in their rightful place.

Nissan expects that some 20 percent of 2015 370Z buyers will choose the NISMO model (up from about 10 percent in previous years), with nearly a third of them plunking down the extra $1300 for the automatic. As for us, it’s going to take more than a couple of tenths to win us over.

As read on: http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2015-nissan-370z-nismo-automatic-review

2018 Wrangler engines

With the help of former Jeep engineer Bob Sheaves and others, Allpar has posted an investigation of what Jeep could use to power the domestic 2018 Wrangler, due to arrive sometime in calendar-year 2017.

The choices are tough for the iconic Jeep, America’s heir to the famed military vehicles — which were far smaller and weighed half as much. On the one hand, higher fuel economy is likely to be needed if fuel prices rise, and if the government continues its demands for efficiency (for national security, balance-of-trade, and, ostensibly, for environmental reasons). On the other, the Jeep must still haul around over two tons of weight, while easily climbing difficult obstacles — and it can’t cheap out on torque.

With that in mind, Wrangler is likely to come with at least two engines, one for economy in Jeeps that will not be challenged much by off-road driving; and one for those who will immediately tackle tough terrain. Indeed, given the popularity of the Ram 1500 Diesel and long-time demands of hard-core Jeepers, a diesel might even be in the cards, and Fiat Chrysler has several options there, too.

As read on: http://www.allpar.com/news/index.php/2014/12/2018-wrangler-engines-surprises

2015 Chrysler 300 V-8

Quick! Name an American, rear-drive, V-8–powered, full-size sedan. If you said, “Chrysler 300,” you’re only 15 percent right, because that’s the proportion of 300 buyers who actually opt for the V-8. The rest decide that the V-6 will suffice, a strong indicator that while the model name may be rooted in a high-performance heritage, the car sells mostly on its styling, size, and value. All the same, the V-8 is key to the car’s image so that’s the version we sought out first—in both the 300C and sportier 300S trims—to sample on roads in and around Austin, Texas.

A decade after Ralph Gilles’s design for the 2005 model caused an industry sensation, the 300 has been revamped a second time, with new nose and tail treatments featuring redesigned lights and a 32-percent larger grille, a fresh interior, and an eight-speed automatic operated by a rotary dial on the console. The EPA combined fuel-economy rating goes up 1 mpg to 19 (16/25 mpg city/highway) with the new transmission, the quicker shifting of which Chrysler says will also improve performance even though the engine is unchanged.

The 300 got a thorough redo in 2011, but for 2015 it gets no new sheetmetal, unlike its platform-mate, the Dodge Charger. It does add another trim level, the 300C Platinum. The C, S, and C Platinum all offer the V-8 as an option but the engine is not available on the base Limited, adding a perhaps-unintended layer of meaning to that version’s name.

Checking the option box for the 5.7-liter V-8 costs $3000, which gets you not only the 363-hp Hemi, but also bigger brakes (with dual- rather than single-piston calipers up front and ventilated rather than solid rotors in back) and a 160-mph speedometer. The 300S also gains a decklid spoiler, while C and Platinum trim levels get the paddle shifters that come standard on any S. This year, the V-8 can no longer be paired with all-wheel drive, owing to that combo’s abysmal take rate; evidently, people who already commit $2500 extra for AWD are disinclined to throw another three grand at the lump under the hood.

DIAL A GEAR

Brand president and CEO Al Gardner’s marching orders for Chrysler are to square up more directly against the industry’s volume-sales leaders, including Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota. As Chrysler’s flagship, the 300 still has some near-luxury pretensions, but the sharpened focus gives Dodge precedence as the “performance” brand. This goes some way toward explaining the lack of a U.S.-market SRT8 version. The SRT8 will survive in some foreign markets, but its price point exceeds (and its sales volumes fall far short of) Chrysler’s targets for North America.

A pity perhaps, but mainstream buyers in search of a V-8’s bellowing torque still have the 5.7-liter and its 394 lb-ft to lust after. New mechanical elements are the eight-speed gearbox, electric-assist power steering, and a retuned suspension using aluminum components. Aside from the rotary-dial gear selector much like the one on the Chrysler 200, prominent changes inside include a handsome new steering wheel, a new instrument cluster, and a redesigned center stack. There’s a good division of labor between the 8.4-inch UConnect touch screen and the button interfaces, although we grew frustrated by a radio we couldn’t turn off—the volume can be muted, but it repeatedly reactivated itself without our bidding. Also, the heated-seat controls are buried in the touch-screen menu rather than given dedicated buttons; partially offsetting that annoyance, a seat-heat icon appears on-screen when you first start the car, so you can avoid the irritation if you’re quick.

Supplementing that screen is a new 7.0-inch driver-information display nestled between the tach and speedometer. As long as you’re okay with the dial-a-gear setup, the controls are all easier to figure out and use than in the previous model, even with the added indicators and buttons for the new electronic driver aids, which include adaptive cruise control with full-stop ability, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, forward-collision warning, and brake assist. These are contained in the SafetyTec 2 package, a $1695 option; SafetyTec 1, also at $1695 and required to get SafetyTec 2, brings parking assist, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, as well as forward-collision and adaptive cruise.

WHERE THE HEMI MEETS THE ROAD

The first V-8 we drove was a 300C optioned up to $47,170 with all the electronic assists, Touring suspension, and 20-inch wheels wearing 245/45 all-season performance tires. It’s a handsome car in the more traditional Detroit mold with plenty of chrome trim and, as configured, most of the driver-oriented hardware that comes on a 300S, excluding only that version’s tauter suspension. The 300C proved to be a comfortable, relaxed commuter through Austin’s dense urban traffic despite a bit of road noise from the performance-grade rubber; standard 18-inch wheels with touring-grade tires are a better choice for the comfort-seeker.

Once we got out into Texas Hill Country and the winding two-lane roads that make the region a driver’s delight, the latest 300 was eager to demonstrate that, like its predecessors, it can handle much better than you’d ever expect of a 4350-pound four-door. To get the best out of it, turn the gear selector to “S,” which delivers crisper shifts and allows the driver to take full control of the eight gears via the paddles—it lets you bump against the rev limiter rather than shifting itself at redline.

Our complaints of lazy shifting in previous 300s have been addressed, especially with the dial in S. Whether the driver calls for them or lets the transmission think for itself, gearchanges are crisp, taking only 250 microseconds, according to Chrysler, versus 400 for the previous model with its five-speed automatic. The only flaw is that Chrysler’s paddles are small, sharing back-of-the-wheel space with audio-system buttons, making it too easy to change radio stations rather than gears. There’s also a Sport button on the center stack that calls up more-aggressive programs for the throttle and steering response.

Speaking of the latter, Chrysler seems to have done its sums right with the electric-assist steering. You wouldn’t call it communicative, but at its worst the feel is as good as that delivered by the previous hydraulic unit, and sometimes it’s better as full electronic control allows for sharper reflexes when you’re going hard without imposing any burden in parking maneuvers. It’s also adjustable through three settings via the center screen.

PLENTY OF GOODS TO BACK UP THE GOODNESS

While the Platinum layers on more luxury, the driver’s choice remains the 300S with the V-8. Our test example had the 300S Premium Group option pack ($3295), including a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, navigation, the big UConnect screen, the SafetyTec 1 features, satellite radio, and so on. Other notable options included a $895 Light Group with self-leveling HID headlamps, SafetyTec 2, and a roof painted black to contrast with the Redline red paint ($1500). Not all of that is essential gear, so it’s clear you can get the driving goodness of the 300S without spending the full $46,275 on this car’s sticker. That’s worth considering because at that price, you’re head-to-head with the Chevrolet SS, which comes fully loaded at its base price and now offers your choice of manual or automatic transmission. Also important, the Chevy is several hundred pounds lighter and a better performer overall.

The Chevy might not interest those into the 300 look and the Hemi heritage, but the keen drivers for whom that car might be an option should know that the tighter suspension in the 300S is worth having—with it, the car took a quicker set into a corner and was less inclined to pitch or roll than was the otherwise similar 300C when the back roads took on the contours of a stormy sea. The 300S’s attendant blacked-out trim and unique grille texture are more matters of taste.

Chrysler kept reminding us that the 300 model name turns 60 years old in 2015, harking back to the original C-300 of 1955. Sixty years ago, its 300 (gross) horsepower was a bunch of power and the C-300 was a bunch of car. It was also an early exemplar of a car company mating luxury and style with performance.

Even with the SRT8 version gone, the 2015 model combines respectable performance, elegant styling, useful technology, and surprising agility at a reasonable price. If it’s the V-8 configuration you want, this may be the time to step up. When FCA finally gets around to a clean-sheet redesign—expected for 2018—the V-8 will probably be even more rare, and more expensive, than it is now.

As read on: http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2015-chrysler-300-v-8-first-drive-review

Ram ProMaster City: First Drive of the Small Commercial Van

The ProMaster City is derived from the Fiat Doblò, but it isn’t just a clone of the Fiat. Different powertrains and suspension changes are among the modifications made to adapt the small van to the preferences and needs of North American buyers. At a recent event in Texas, Bob Hegbloom, Ram CEO, Joe Benson, head of Ram Commercial, and Mike Cairns, Ram Chief Engineer, presented some of the differences and were on hand to answer questions.

First, contrary to what we have seen, the ProMaster City will have the new styling recently unveiled for the Doblò. This improves the appearance, especially from the front.

As Allpar has reported previously, the ProMaster City is not a direct competitor to the Nissan NV200, base-model Ford Transit Connect, or the Chevrolet City Express (which is just an NV200 with a higher price tag). It also doesn’t compete with the base Ford Transit Connect. Based on size, capacity, and capability, the ProMaster’s direct competition is the long wheelbase version of the Transit Connect, which retails for almost the same amount as the ProMaster City.

The ProMaster City has best-in-class cargo capability with a 1,883-pound maximum payload, a new 9-speed transmission, and best-in-class horsepower and torque. It can tow up to 2,000 pounds. It also has a bi-link coil rear suspension, giving the ProMaster City the only true independent rear in its class.

All of these add up to a pretty nice little van.

The ProMaster City is sold in both cargo and passenger (wagon) forms; Nissan and Chevy don’t have a passenger configuration, although Nissan does have a special taxi version. The Transit Connect is available in both van and wagon styles, but there’s a big difference: Ford is marketing the wagon as a family passenger vehicle, a mini-minivan that Ford calls a crossover to avoid the minivan stigma. The ProMaster City passenger van is not marketed to minivan customers, but is intended for commercial use as a shuttle or crew vehicle.

Early the following morning, it was time to take the ProMaster City out for a spin. Ram had provided both cargo and passenger versions and Allpar got a little red wagon to play with.
Starting at the W Hotel in downtown Austin, we went out into the morning commuter traffic and immediately got a lot more experience than we wanted in driving the ProMaster in stop-and-go traffic. The small size and nimble handling were a real benefit when it came to changing lanes and the 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and 9-speed transmission worked well together, providing ample power to adjust to traffic and take advantage of opportunities to get around bottlenecks, something that’s important to van drivers with schedules to keep and deliveries to make – and I speak from experience.

Our route took us over city streets, suburban boulevards, county roads and even highways. The ProMaster City was comfortable and easy to drive the entire way.

At one point on our route, I was stopped next to a couple of fellow auto writers in another ProMaster City, and the passenger rolled down his window and challenged me to beat them to the next traffic light. Putting the shifter into manual mode, I am happy to say I shut them down.

The ProMaster City doesn’t provide the press-your-back-into-the-seat acceleration of a Challenger, or even a properly equipped Dart, but it does get up and go. I can think of a couple of medical labs and at least one blood bank that would appreciate that.

The rear suspension is a treat. Unloaded vans have light rear ends and they do tend to hop on poor pavement, but the ProMaster City was surefooted, even on a gravel road.
A couple of the vans had 600-pound payloads on pallets in the back, and they were also well controlled and responsive. I took one of those through an obstacle course set up at our destination, the Troublemaker Studios in East Austin.

Cab comfort and convenience are important to a driver who might spend hours each day behind the wheel, and the ProMaster City doesn’t disappoint.

Entry and exit from the cabin is easy and effortless: no climbing involved. The seat is comfortable and the controls are intelligently laid out. There are also plenty of spaces for paperwork and small items that might be needed during the day.

As commercial vehicles, both the ProMaster City van and wagon aren’t long on frills; their target market doesn’t want them and isn’t going to pay for them. But the basics are covered: A/C is standard, the front seats have adjustable backs, the steering wheel is adjustable, and there’s an AM/FM radio. Uconnect (cellphone control) is an option, as is cruise control, though there’s really no reason for standard cruise control on this type of vehicle; the driver would almost never use it. One option that might get some traction is a rearview camera, but the mirrors on the ProMaster City do a pretty good job in aiding backing up the van.

The one area that may be an issue is the rear seating in the wagon: Unless the driver is fairly short, rear seat passengers are going to be a bit cramped and the seat back angle isn’t quite as comfortable as it should be. The seat really needs to be about three inches farther back if a driver wants his passengers to think kindly of him at the end of the trip.

According to Ram, the seat positioning enables the ProMaster City wagon to offer gobs of luggage, tool or cargo space, but the small amount of additional room a more comfortable rear seat would require wouldn’t have that much impact on the load space.

It’s my belief that no Chrysler (FCA US LLC) vehicle should ever be released unless Klaus Busse can sit comfortably in the back seat. At 6’7”, Busse is the ideal template for passenger space.

As mentioned earlier, Ram had set up an obstacle course at Troublemaker Studios. There were tight curves, a skid pad and other challenges. The ProMaster City had no trouble with any of these, including a panic stop on the skid pad.

Sales of small commercial vans are a niche. Through the end of November, total sales within the segment came to 50,071, with the well-established Ford Transit Connect taking the lion’s share of the action. It remains to be seen whether strong entries like the ProMaster City can grow the market by persuading van buyers to downsize, especially at today’s gas prices.

Ram has done its homework. The ProMaster City is a very good base and Ram has been working with aftermarket suppliers to develop commercial interiors with shelves, bins and other vocational necessities for a variety of applications.

After all was said and done, our day with the Ram ProMaster City was a day well spent with a dandy little van.

As read on: http://www.allpar.com/reviews/15/pre-pmc.html

Jeep Compass mysteries

New mysteries are appearing around the next Jeep Compass, which one source claimed would be produced in Toluca, Mexico, rather than its home of Belvidere, Illinois.

Another source said that, rather than being a CUSW car like the new Cherokee, it would be based on the Jeep Renegade. This is on the same platform as the Fiat 500X, which allowed Fiat to put in more engineering time for both vehicles — but many changes were made to allow Renegade Trailhawk to have the torsional rigidity and clearance needed for the Jeep nameplate.

Either body could be justified as a choice, and in both cases, Jeep was able to overcome many of the problems of using a car platform for off-road use. Renegade did disappoint many by not laying a claim to crossing the Rubicon trail, or Chrysler’s replication of it; Compass might or might not be able to do this. Cherokee has, according to both official and unofficial sources, passed this bar.

The new Compass, regardless of underpinnings, is expected to be a four cylinder only vehicle, most likely with a nine-speed automatic in the United States, and Grand Cherokee-like styling (echoing the current model, shown above). We believe it will use the 2.0 liter Hurricane engine, most likely as an option, along with the current 2.4 four-cylinder. For markets outside the United States, the usual insanely wide range of Fiat engines is expected — Brazilian engines based on the old Neon 2.0, MultiJet diesels, and the 1.4 and 1.4 turbo Fiat gasoline motors.

At this time, Allpar has no firm indication of Compass’ platform or factory location. The launch appears to be around two years away.

As read on: http://www.allpar.com/news/index.php/2014/12/jeep-compass-mysteries

$2 Gas Is Back! Is That Good?

If you’ve been to a gas station in recent weeks, you know that fuel prices are low — crazy low. That seems like a good thing, but is it?

Yes and no.

According to AAA, today’s price for a gallon of unleaded regular averages $2.67. In some parts of the country, you can find it for $2.50, and even cheaper at discount stations. This time last month, the price was nearly 30 cents higher ($2.94), and a year ago, it was more than 75 cents higher ($3.27).

So, what’s the deal? There are a range of factors keeping fuel prices low, but two stick out:

1. We’re in the middle of “winter gas” season. “Winter gas” — technically, just “gas” — is easier to produce than “summer gas”, which is required by law to contain more additives so that it burns more cleanly and efficiently in hot weather. That makes winter gas comparatively cheap, but that’s just part of the explanation for today’s low fuel prices.

When refineries switch from one type of gas to the other, they scale back on the outgoing version to ensure that they can sell all of the inventory they have. Those slowdowns in production cause artificial shortages, which cause prices to spike — usually around May and September. Now, in December, we’re well into the cheaper winter gas season, and the summer gas changeover is a long way off, so prices are very low.

2. Oil production in the U.S. is booming. Thanks to new extraction techniques, the U.S. is experiencing a golden age of oil production. While we still depend on imported oil for some of our supply, the country now produces enough gas and diesel to be a net exporter.

That sounds like good news — and it is for some. For others, not so much.

WINNERS

Those who stand to benefit the most from low oil and gas prices are:

Consumers: As the U.S. economy continues to improve, inflation has begun creeping upward. Unfortunately, U.S. wages aren’t keeping pace, meaning that the money workers earn doesn’t go as far as it might. Low fuel prices give consumers a break, allowing them to focus their spending on food, mortgages, education, and the like. Some argue that cheap gas also slows auto sales by allowing owners of gas-guzzlers to keep their rides a bit longer, though there are people who disagree with that, including…

Makers of trucks and SUVs: Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and other makers of pickup trucks and large SUVs are doing bang-up business these days. That’s in part because the truck-loving construction sector is humming along, but also because consumers aren’t put off by the lackluster fuel economy most pickups and SUVs earn. (Though it bears mentioning that more fuel-efficient, car-based crossovers are also selling like hotcakes.)

LOSERS

Not everyone is happy about cheap gas, though:

Oil-producing states and countries: States that depends on oil for their revenue — either from producing the stuff or refining it — now find themselves in a bind. Soon, they’re likely to be forced to make painful budget cuts, trimming funds for schools, hospitals, and other important community resources. Farther afield, in countries that derive most of their income from oil, the situation is much worse. If things don’t change, low oil prices could destabilize entire nations, leading to humanitarian crises, mass emigrations, and in extreme cases, terrorism.

Eco-advocates: Campaigns for reduced auto pollution and greenhouse gas emissions work best when gas prices are on the upswing. With fuel prices so low, there’s little incentive for consumers to shell out the extra dough needed to buy hybrids like the Toyota Prius, much less all-electric models like the Tesla Model S.

Automakers: The Environmental Protection Agency has set strict guidelines on fuel economy and auto emissions leading up to the year 2025, and automakers are working hard to create fleets that can meet those standards. All that new technology comes at a premium, though, and low fuel prices mean that customers may be more inclined to shell out for less fuel-efficient models while they can. (Then again, who knows?)

Mother Nature: Low fuel prices typically translate into upticks in travel, meaning greater auto emissions. That means more air pollution and more greenhouse gases, which at the very least make breathing more difficult and at worst, increase global warming.

WILL THESE PRICES STICK AROUND?

Like it or not, fuel prices aren’t likely to stay this low for long. Even if OPEC changes its mind and decides to scale back production, sending crude prices higher, we’ll soon reach the changeover to “summer gas”, which should cause prices at the pump to climb.

In other words: get now while the getting is good.

As read on: http://www.thecarconnection.com/news/1095806_2-gas-is-back-is-that-good/page-2

How To: Adjust Your Mirrors to Avoid Blind Spots

For the past few years, various carmakers have been offering blind-spot detection systems for their cars’ side mirrors. Often complex, these systems employ cameras or radar to scan the adjoining lanes for vehicles that may have disappeared from view.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) published a paper in 1995 suggesting how outside mirrors could be adjusted to eliminate blind spots. The paper advocates adjusting the mirrors so far outward that the viewing angle of the side mirrors just overlaps that of the cabin’s rearview mirror. This can be disorienting for drivers used to seeing the flanks of their own car in the side mirrors. But when correctly positioned, the mirrors negate a car’s blind spots. This obviates the need to glance over your shoulder to safely change lanes as well as the need for an expensive blind-spot warning system.

The only problem is getting used to the SAE-recommended mirror positions. The cabin’s rearview mirror is used to keep an eye on what is coming up from behind, while the outside mirrors reflect the area outside the view of the inside rearview mirror.

Those who have switched to the SAE’s approach swear by it, however, some drivers can’t adjust to not using the outside mirrors to see directly behind the car and miss being able to see their own car in the side mirrors. To them we say, “Have fun filling out those accident reports.”

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As read on: http://www.caranddriver.com/features/how-to-adjust-your-mirrors-to-avoid-blind-spots