• Structural tweaks help Ford Edge gain Top Safety Pick status

    September 25, 2015

    The redesigned 2015 Ford Edge has gained Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

    The previous-generation model had not been evaluated in the challenging small-overlap test. Ford reinforced the door-hinge pillar for models built after May 2015, minimizing intrusion to approximately five inches at the upper hinge pillar and achieving an ‘acceptable’ rating in the trial.

    “The head was largely protected by the frontal and side curtain airbags, but the safety belt allowed the head and torso to move too far forward toward the intruding A-pillar,” the report notes. “Measures taken from the dummy indicate a low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of this severity.”

    Lacking an automatic emergency braking system, the Edge does not qualify for the Top Safety Pick Plus award. It will also be removed from Top Safety Pick status if Ford does not revise the structure to earn a ‘good’ rating in the small-overlap test, as IIHS plans to implement tighter standards beginning next year.

  • Nissan hints at upgraded R35 GT-R

    September 25, 2015

    Nissan has hinted at more potential upgrades for the current-generation GT-R.

    The company introduced a mild midcycle update for the 2016 model year, bumping output up by five ponies to 550 horsepower for the standard variant. The Nismo package keeps its 600-horsepower tune, thanks to larger turbochargers, however one executive suggests there is still room for improvement.

    “You know, it’s a never ending quest,” Nissan product-planning head Phillipe Klein told Top Gear. “There is still development potential there, always.”

    Most GT-R rumors have shifted focus to the next-generation model. Reports suggest the company is considering borrowing hybrid technology from the GT-R LM Nismo Le Mans racer, potentially with a combined output around 1,250 horsepower. Earlier reports point to a less radical modification, adding a kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) to the existing 3.8-liter twin-turbo V6 to surpass 800 horsepower.

    The company is believed to be targeting a zero-to-62 mph time of 2.7 seconds, a 10-second quarter mile and a top speed above 211 mph for the R36. For styling, it will likely mimic design cues from the 2020 Vision Gran Turismo concept.

    Any upgrades for the R35 should arrive in the not-too-distant future, as the R36 is rumored to be on track around 2018.

  • Mueller to lead VW Group; more changes coming

    September 25, 2015

    Porsche boss Matthias Müller will be appointed VW Group CEO Friday, according to a new report from Germany. Müller has the support of the majority of the 20-member VW board, according to Reuters, and will be formally endorsed for the position tomorrow.

    Müller has worked for various subsidiaries of the current Volkswagen Group since the 1970s. His extensive experience within various parts of the company and the resulting ties with the Porsche-Piech family are said to have swayed the coming endorsement in his favor.

    Multiple reports are also confirming that Heinz-Jakob Neusser, Ulrich Hackenberg and Wolfgang Hatz (R&D heads at Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche, respectively) are out, substantiating rumors from earlier today that VW Group’s top engineers would be let go. The fate of the American arm’s leader, Michael Horn, has still not yet been confirmed.

    Volkswagen Group has not acknowledged the personnel changes publicly, as they will not be final until after tomorrow’s meeting of the company’s Supervisory Board.

    “The Executive Committee is expecting further personnel consequences in the next days. The internal Group investigations are continuing at a high tempo. All participants in these proceedings that has resulted in unmeasurable harm for Volkswagen, will be subject to the full consequences,” Volkswagen’s Executive Committee said in a summary statement Thursday. The statement also reiterated the innocence of former CEO Martin Winterkorn.

    The committee also recommended that the company submit a voluntary complaint to the state prosecutor, stating that any criminal investigation resulting from the ongoing TDI emissions debacle… “will be supported in all form from the side of Volkswagen.”

  • Hyundai Tucson, Sonata receive Top Safety Pick Plus honors

    September 25, 2015
    Hyundai’s 2016 Tucson and Sonata have both earned Top Safety Pick Plus ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

    The second-generation Tucson, sold through the 2010-2015 model years, received a ‘poor’ rating in the challenging small-overlap test. It experienced more than 16 inches of intrusion into the driver’s space, indicating a high likelihood of serious injuries to the left knee and lower leg.

    The third-generation redesign brings the small-overlap performance up to ‘good,’ with maximum intrusion of six inches at the parking-brake pedal but no more than there inches in other locations. Dummy movement was well controlled, indicating a low risk of significant injuries in a similar real-world crash scenario.

    The Sonata was redesigned for the 2015 model year and achieved an ‘acceptable’ rating in the small-overlap trial. Hyundai made a few more tweaks to the driver’s seatbelt and front suspension for 2016 in an attempt to qualify for ‘good’ status all-around, however the efforts fell short.

    “Those changes weren’t enough, and the rating remains acceptable,” the IIHS report notes.

    Available automatic emergency braking systems for both vehicles succeeded in preventing collisions in IIHS track tests at 12 mph and 25 mph. Both consequently receive the top ‘Plus’ safety rating. The Sonata will lose the designation next year if the car isn’t revamped once again, however, when the IIHS tightens its Top Safety Pick+ criteria to exclude vehicles that don’t receive a ‘good’ small-overlap rating.

  • Review: 2016 Acura MDX

    September 25, 2015

    As the biggest of the brand’s SUVs, the 2016 Acura MDX is at the pinnacle of the fleet. It seemingly does everything well, but is it a luxury SUV?

    After a week in the vehicle, we came to some conclusions. Read more to find them out.

    What is it?
    The 2016 Acura MDX is the largest of the large in the Acura fleet. Able to accommodate up to seven passengers and their things, it is a four-door, two-box crossover vehicle with a hatchback that can gobble up as good as Jonah’s Whale.

    Power for the MDX comes from a singular powerplant: Acura’s direct-injection 3.5-liter, 24-valve iVTEC V6 engine that manages to crank out 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. Also equipped with Variable Cylinder Management (VCM), it is able to shut down certain pistons once the MDX has achieved cruising speed, say for example on a highway or limited access road.

    The drivetrain is headed by a nine-speed sequential sportshift automatic transmission that features steering wheel-mounted paddle shift levers. As a bonus, the new nine-speed is 66-pounds lighter than the six-speed transmission it replaces. Normally available with front wheel drive, ours being the top of the line Advanced Entertainment model, included a new dual-clutch Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system that offered traction for a variety of situations. Able to vary torque between the front and rear wheels, it can also move it from side to side in the rear, depending on the MDX’s needs. Additionally, it has the ability to tow up to 3,500-pounds with a 350-pound tongue weight, or up to 5,000-pounds with a dealer-added towing accessory.

    The MDX rides on an independent suspension comprised of MacPherson struts in front, a multilink kit at the rear and stabilizer bars at both ends. Steering is via a fuel saving electric power assisted rack and pinion setup. Brake-based torque vectoring is on board to help shorten a turn and assist in vehicle dynamics.

    Also included in the all-in MDX AWD ADV ENT package is the Integrated Dynamics System, which offers stability control to keep the MDX’s shiny side up. The MDX is available in one trim level. What sets it apart are a variety of accessory packages which up the level of included features, not to mention the bottom line sticker price. Those packages are grouped to include AcuraWatch Plus, the Technology Package, and the Advanced Package.

    Our sampler was outfitted with the Technology, Advanced and Entertainment kits, which included such niceties as navigation, Acuralink (which offers realtime traffic with street and highway conditions) and Acura ELS Studio premium 12-speaker audio system. GPS-linked Tri-zone auto climate control operates the climate system according to location and humidity. Finally, the Tech package is rounded out by rear cross traffic monitoring, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning to warn before and, in some cases, correct for a driver’s mistakes.

    In addition to that are packages including the Advance Package with Collision Mitigation Braking system, sport seats with perforated and ventilated leather, remote engine start, adaptive cruise control with low speed follow, and road departure mitigation.

    Finally, Acura designers did not forget the second and third row passengers, including the ultra wide 16.2-inch system with DVD player, wireless headsets, and finally, a very useful 115-volt power outlet.

    What’s it up against?
    The MDX competes against the likes of Buick’s Enclave, Volvo’s XC90, Infiniti’s QX60, BMW’s X5, and possibly the Lincoln MKT. We think that in some cases, models in this group do luxury better than others, but buyers would be wise to consider all of these players. If a decision is based on capabilities and not so much on luxury fitments, we would also include the Jeep Cherokee and Honda Pilot.

    How does it look?
    Conservatively swoopy, the five-door MDX features the distinctive but newly softened “can opener” front grille with Acura’s now trademark five-lensed headlight assemblies.

    A chrome-trimmed “arc” frames the MDX’s greenhouse, and visually leads the viewer’s eyes to the sculpted and chromed rear hatch.

    Along the sides, chiseled body panels add both visual and structural strength to the overall vehicle, which again offers a look that is pretty much guaranteed not to ruffle any feathers.

    And the inside?
    The 2015 MDX boast an interior that is cleaner and more stylish than previous iterations of the premium utility vehicle. Buttons across the dashboard have been eliminated in an effort to clean up the overall interior appearance. Acura designers have gone so far as to eliminate the gear selector lever in favor of a switch panel that at first reminded us of the joystick arrangement found in the Lexus RX. Instead of a cursor pad, an array of buttons appear, that when pushed, offer Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and IDS controls, which allows you to change the parameters of the drive quality, ranging from eco to normal and sport for the six-speed automatic transmission.

    An auto start/stop button is also part of the package, which is typical Honda. Wood and stainless trim helped to dress up certain portions of the interior, from the sliding cubbyhole cover to other assorted trim pieces located across the dashboard and doors. As good as the interior was, it was lacking that certain panache found in higher-priced models. In others words, it is a premium model car, but it is not a luxury car.

    A bi-level central display is used to operate the climate controls and Bluetooth connectivity, including Siri Eyes Free through a multi-controller found on the face of the center stack. It is also used to operate the included navigation system and the ELS Studio Audio System. Designed by Grammy award-winning recording engineer Elliott Scheiner and Panasonic, it pumps out 546-watts through 12 specially tuned speakers.

    By the numbers, rear cargo capacities are 14.8 cubic feet behind the third row, 38.4-cubic feet behind the second row and 68.4 cubic feet when both second and third row seating are folded forward.

    But does it go?
    Acceleration from the 290 ponies that come with the Acura 3.5-liter engine caused us to get up and go from 0-60 mph to the tune of 7.2-seconds. We liked having the paddle shift levers to step through the gears. They were a welcomed addition rather than having to use the console-mounted shift selector buttons. Overall our top-line MDX was a very nice package but try as it would, it still struck us as being from an older era of Honda design.

    The MDX offered excellent ride quality that featured a nice and spongy ride that would satisfy most buyers; we still found ourselves changing it up a bit by hitting the sport mode drive selector switch. The steering presented in a well-weighted fashion, and was almost right on when at dead center from the EPAS. There is a little bit of side wallow, which is to be expected from a high-riding SUV with off-road ground clearance.

    We noticed a thrum that seems to penetrate the cabin, but could not determine if it was a result of the tire selection or wind noise that sweeps past the sideview mirrors. Middle row seating was nicely accommodating, even on extended road trips, while third row seating might be a bit challenging for a few others.

    The EPA says to expect this 4,332-pounder to achieve 19 city/ 26 highway, with a combined 22 mpg. Still, we managed to observe 23.7 mpg.

    Leftlane’s bottom line
    The 2016 Acura MDX AWD ADV ENT is a bargain from nearly ever view. Still, we view the overall package as that of a premium vehicle. Buyers looking for pure luxury and the high-zoot feelings that come with that will be compelled to look elsewhere. Still, purchasers of this MDX will be rewarded with typical Acura (Honda) bulletproofing.

    2016 Acura MDX AWD ADV ENT base price, $57,080. As tested, $58,000.
    Destination fee, $920.

    Photos by Mark Elias.

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