• Ford to offer Sport Appearance package on 2017 Escape

    February 15, 2016

    Ford has announced that it will offer the 2017 Escape crossover with an optional Sport Appearance package. It will be offered on SE and Titanium trim levels.

    Hot on the heels of an announcement about a Sport Appearance package for the Explorer at the Chicago Auto Show, Ford is doubling down on darker trim. Prices have not yet been revealed, but Ford is betting that customers will pay a premium for a slightly more menacing look to their CUV.

    Visually, the most noticeable difference on the Sport Appearance package Escapes are the 19-inch Ebony Black 10-spoke wheels and blackened door mirrors. The nose receives a gloss black upper grille, skid plates and headlight bezels as well. From the side, the window surround trim has been darkened, as have the fender garnishes.

    Cabin-wise the seats receive what Ford calls sport seats with partial leather trim with contrasting white stitching. The steering wheel also receives a leather wrap. Further details about the interior were not yet disclosed.

    The Sport Appearance package is just that — it does not make any enhancements to the drivetrain. However, all 2017 Escape models will be offered with a new 1.5-liter EcoBoost good for 180 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost has been improved to making 245 horses and 275 lb-ft of torque. The base 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four generating 168 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque remains unchanged.

    Prices have not been disclosed. Sales will begin sometime this spring.

  • Was BMW or Lexus the top-selling US luxury marque of 2015?

    February 15, 2016

    Was the top selling luxury brand in America last year from Germany or Japan? The German company claimed the most sales. Not so fast, says new data that indicates Lexus might be top dog.

    Based on the automakers’ self-reported data, BMW had the most sales. 346,023 ultimate driving machines were sold, versus 344,601 Lexuses (a difference of 1,422). Mercedes-Benz took the number three spot with 343,087 (2,935 fewer than BMW) when commercial vans were excluded.

    The discrepancy, however, comes from data on vehicle registrations, compiled by automotive market research firm Polk. Those numbers show Lexus on top with 340,392 and BMW at 335,259 (5,133 fewer), and Mercedes at 334,692 (5,700 fewer).

    Did 10,764 BMW buyers purchase cars never to drive them? (Incidentally, so did 4,209 Lexus buyers and 8,396 Mercedes buyers) To explain the discrepancy, Polk analyst Tom Libby told Automotive News that purchases at the end of the year may not be registered until the beginning of the following year.

    Presumably, then, some of the registrations counted towards 2015′s totals could come from 2014. Another factor could be sales from overseas customers who bring the cars back to their home countries, where such cars may not be readily available or subject to extraordinarily high tariffs.

    Back in 2012, a similar brouhaha erupted when BMW claimed the sales crown but Polk showed Mercedes-Benz had 5,025 more registrations. Back then, recalls Automotive News, Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon reminded us that, “Volumes can be manipulated. Registrations, not so easy.”

    For the record, Audi and Acura rounded out the top five in registrations, with 197,821 and 177,226, respectively.

    Photo by Mark Elias.

  • Geneva: 2016 SEAT Ateca

    February 15, 2016

    Volkswagen’s Spain-based SEAT division will show its very first crossover at the Geneva Auto Show.

    Named after the Spanish town of Ateca, the soft-roader is built on the same modular MQB platform as the Audi TT, the Euro-spec Volkswagen Passat, the Golf, and the second-generation Tiguan, among many others. It borrows styling cues such as sharp headlights accented by thin strips of LEDs, a wide air dam, and a trapezoidal grille from SEAT hatchbacks like the Leon and the Ibiza. Black plastic cladding on the bottom of both bumpers, on the rocker panels, and over the wheel arches add a rugged touch to the look.

    Unsurprisingly, the Ateca’s engines are all borrowed from the Volkswagen parts bin. Buyers can choose from five turbocharged engines ranging from a 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder with 113 horsepower to a 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel tuned to make 187 horsepower. Front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission come standard, and buyers can pay extra for all-wheel drive, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, or both.

    The 2016 SEAT Ateca will go on sale across Europe before the end of the year. Its main rivals will include Nissan’s hot-selling Qashqai, the Mazda CX-3, and the Honda HR-V. In the next couple of years it will be joined by a smaller crossover aimed at the Nissan Juke and a bigger model with three rows of seats.

  • Geneva: 2016 Mercedes-Benz V-Class Exclusive

    February 15, 2016

    Mercedes-Benz’s Vans division will travel to the Geneva Auto Show to unveil a posh, range-topping variant of the V-Class called Exclusive.

    Designed largely for the European market, the V-Class is a passenger-oriented mid-size van that’s closely related to the Metris sold on our shores. The Exclusive variant turns the luxury dial up to 11 with brushed aluminum-look trim on the dashboard, a specific headliner, a 230-volt power outlet, and a large center console with heated cupholders and a built-in fridge. All six passengers enjoy individual ventilated seats upholstered with Nappa leather upholstery and a 16-speaker Burmester sound system.

    Visually, the V-Class Exclusive keeps a low-key look. The modifications are largely limited to 19-inch alloy wheels, discreet “Exclusive” emblems on the front fenders, and metallic paint. It also boasts a massive panoramic sunroof with built-in sensors that automatically switch the glass panel from the open to the tilted position if they detect the van is parked in the rain.

    The 2016 Mercedes-Benz V-Class Exclusive is on sale now in Germany with a base price of €74,911, a sum that converts to nearly $84,500, and deliveries will kick off after the Geneva show. To put that figure into perspective, the Exclusive costs about as much as a GLS SUV.