Monthly Archives: July 2014

Back then . . . ’79 MGB roadster

The 1979 MGB, a fun vehicle. Photo
The 1979 MGB, a fun vehicle. Photo

Thirty-five years ago, I reviewed in Denver a British-built 1979 MGB roadster, borrowed from Victor Witanski of Foreign & Sports Cars, 1147 Broadway. Excerpts:

Is British Leyland really about to stop production of the MG sports car, one of the most readily recognized and generally liked names in the British and American auto markets? Production is expected to conclude at the end of the 1980 model run. MGs have been sold in the U.S. since 1948, when the TC model with its cut-down doors was popular. An MG makes you want to forget computers and deadlines and just drive the countryside all day. Good steering response and an easy-shifting 4-speed transmission add to the fun of driving the ’79 MGB convertible. Added to a price of $6,795 for the MGB were an AM/FM 8-track for $275, polyglycoat and undercoat $239, trim rings $48, luggage rack $98, pinstriping $85, preparation and transportation $275 and delivery and handling $95, bringing the total to $7,910. Putting the top up and taking it down, with necessary snapping and unsnapping, will take a few minutes. The low-slung runner is powered by a 110-cubic-inch, 4-cylinder engine with a compression ratio of 8-to-1. On a wheelbase of only 91 inches, the car weighs 2,410 pounds, and has a turning circle of 32 feet. The MG TC’s introduction into the U.S. was followed in late 1949 by the TD; then came the TF (1953-55) and the MGA, which was succeeded by the MGB in 1962.


Sound, IDS put ’15 Acura MDX on hot pace

The 2015 Acura MDX is luxurious competitor of the Audi Q7. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015 Acura MDX is luxurious competitor of the Audi Q7. (Bud Wells photos)

Settled into the driver’s seat, enjoy the wonder of the 12-speaker, fine-tuned surround-sound audio system developed by Grammy award-winning producer Elliot Scheiner. The leather and woodgrain accents are next-best to a concert-hall setting.

And, for benefit of those passengers sitting behind, consider the new, ultrawide 16.2-inch rear DVD screen. I’d not seen a screen that wide, and it serves up wide-view movies or split-screen side-by-side videos, all for the pleasure of the second- and third-row viewers.

Acura MDX’s 16-inch-wide rear DVD screen.
Acura MDX’s 16-inch-wide rear DVD screen.

Those niceties are among highlights of the 2015 Acura MDX, a seven-passenger SUV which came my way last week.

The MDX is Acura’s most luxurious showpiece. Except for a dismal year in 2009, when all auto sales were low, it has been a consistently strong seller for the Japanese firm.

The MDX has been particularly hot thus far in 2014. Having surpassed 30,000 sales in the first half of this year, it may break the MDX’s annual sales record of 59,505 established 10 years ago.

Here are annual sales figures for the MDX, introduced in 2001:

2001                            40,950

2002                            52,955

2003                            57,281

2004                            59,505

2005                            57,948

2006                            54,121

2007                            58,606

2008                            45,377

2009                            31,178

2010                            47,210

2011                            43,271

2012                            50,854

2013                            53,040

2014 (for 6 months)    30,664

With a wide 66-inch track, the MDX also appears large in overall length. Its 196.3-inch length falls between its direct competitors – longer than the BMW X5, shorter than the Audi Q7.

Noticeable up front are jewel-eyed, five-beam LED headlights, three for low-beam lights and two for high beams.

Performance has changed not a great deal through the years; it is adequate with a 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. Equipped with SH-AWD “super-handling all-wheel drive,” it is prepared for Colorado winters. The SUV rides on 19-inch Michelins.

Moving the IDS (integrated dynamic system) button to Sport mode tightens steering and adjusts throttle response and opens opportunity to engage the small paddle shifters, which are almost hidden by the steering wheel crossbar.

It’s smooth in acceleration, and carries an EPA estimate of 18/27. In a fairly even split of city/highway drives, my overall average was only 21.5 miles per gallon. When the third-generation ’14 model was introduced almost two years ago, I drove one up Poudre Canyon to Cameron Pass and back and averaged 25.7.

The MDX’s front seats are fairly flat and firm, with little bolstering. The center stack is split between two display screens, the upper for navigation and the lower for audio/climate. At the sides of the second-row seats, a power button will automatically flip and fold the seats to create opening into the third row. Cargo volume behind the third row is only 14.8 cubic feet; fold flat that row and the space expands to 38.4.

The addition of an Advance package, including cooled perforated leather seats and remote engine start and lane-keeping assist, and an Entertainment package of the wide rear DVD, heated second-row seats and rear door sunshades, boosted sticker price of the MDX to $56,780.

Here are the ’15 Acura MDX specifications:

Wheelbase 111 inches; Length 193.6 inches; Width 74.2 inches; Height 67.6 inches; Curb Weight 4,332 pounds; Track 66.3 inches front, rear; Ground Clearance 7.3 inches; Turn Circle 37.6 feet; Engine 3.5-liter V-6; Horsepower/Torque 290/267; Transmission 6-speed automatic; Fuel mileage estimate 18/27; average 21.5; Fuel Tank 19.5 gallons; Wheels 19-inch; Cargo Volume 14.8 cubic feet behind third row; Warranty 4 years/50,000 miles basic, 6/70,000 powertrain; Competitors Audi Q7, BMW X5, Infiniti Q60; Assembly Plant Lincoln, Ala.; Parts Content U.S./Canadian 65%; Base Price of Lowest Model $44,565; Base Price of Review Model $50,840; Destination Charge $895; Sticker Price $56,780.

Subaru, Jeep lead sales gain in Colo.


The winged WRX STI helped Subaru post big sales gain. (Bud Wells photo)
The winged WRX STI helped Subaru post big sales gain. (Bud Wells photo)

Led by Subaru and Jeep, sales of new cars and trucks in Colorado increased by 7.8 percent.

Almost 90,000 (89,833) new cars and trucks had been sold in the state by the end of June, compared with 83,352 at the same point of 2013, according to the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association (CADA).

Subaru and Jeep were the biggest gainers in numbers of sales among the individual makes. Subaru sales jumped 1,562, followed by Jeep with a gain of 1,432. Other makes with sizable increases in numbers sold are given in the following table:

Car / Truck CO Sales Increase
Subaru 1,562
Jeep 1,432
Nissan 741
Ram 679
Toyota 540
Chevrolet 509
Lexus 398
GMC 342

“Consumer demand for new cars and trucks continues to look very strong, with back-to-back months of double-digit gains (sales increased 10.6 percent in June and 12.7 in May),” said Tim Jackson, president of the CADA, which released the sales report. “The sales surge has been boosted by aggressive manufacturer incentives to buy, easier and more affordable financing, and enthusiasm for purchasing new models and more fuel-efficient vehicles now available in showrooms throughout the state.”

Leading in overall sales for the six months is Toyota/Scion.   The list below provides the top 10 of the total Colorado New Car / Truck sales for the period of Jan – Jun 2014.

Colorado 2014 6-Mo Sales
Toyota/Scion          11,457
Ford          10,705
Subaru            9,902
Honda            6,786
Chevrolet            6,756
Jeep            6,266
Nissan            6,066
Ram            3,507
Kia            2,985
Hyundai            2,819

The breakdown of six-month sales by categories is unusual.

For example, sales of light trucks, dominated by Ford, Chevy, Jeep and Ram, far outpaced sales of cars, 54,861 to 34,972. Yet, in overall sales including cars, Japanese brands outsold the Detroit Three (Ford, GM, Chrysler), 40,080 to 34,488. Since the Detroit Three dominate in trucks, those totals emphasize how few cars are sold by the Detroit Three in comparison to the Japanese brands.

Worth noting is the performance of luxury builder Jaguar, which sold 58 new cars in Colorado in the first six months of this year, compared with only 26 at the same time of 2013. One boost in these parts for the Jag is the addition of all-wheel-drive capability to two four-door sedans in the past year.





Hold mode adds versatility to Chevy Volt


2014 Chevrolet Volt is extended-range plug-in electric model. (Bud Wells photo)
2014 Chevrolet Volt is extended-range plug-in electric model. (Bud Wells photo)

The fact a driver of the 2014 Chevrolet Volt can apportion the limited electric drive mode to more optimally meet driving conditions is impressive among new technology for the extended-range plug-in electric.

In its first two years of operation in the U.S., it was necessary the Volt expend its 30 to 35 miles of battery/electric power before kicking in its 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine to generate power to recharge the battery pack, from which propulsion then continued to flow.

Today, pushing an EV Hold mode button at the center stack permits the driver from the start of a fully charged Volt to choose between the battery/electric power source or the generator engine/gasoline, depending on which would be most effective in the particular drive conditions. Stop-and-go in the city? Use the battery, save your gas. Climbing a hill; same thing. Coasting or cruising the highway; turn on the engine for unusually high miles-per-gallon readings.

The Volt plug-in electric is ideally for those who drive very conservatively, back and forth to work and an occasional drive to the supermarket; then it is plugged in overnight for a full recharge.

The new hold mode offers up better driving choices for those who might require service from a Volt similar to that of an ordinary vehicle powered by an internal-combustion engine.

Twice I charged the battery pack overnight, which provided 70 miles of electric power included in the overall total of 260 miles for the Volt and me. Overall fuel-mileage average was 45.7 miles per gallon.

Figure it out; those 70 electric bonus miles save gasoline fuel. The car is costly, though. Sticker price of $39,945 is high for a compact sedan. It has niceties beyond its electric power, such as navigation with traffic alerts, Bose premium audio, 7-inch touchscreen display, rearview camera, lane-departure warning, leather seat trim and heated seats in front.

With the Volt’s high-tech finish, it is surprising that the shifter at the center console is large and somewhat clunky in feel. There is nothing awkward, though, about the performance of the front-drive Volt.

Acceleration from a dead stop is smooth, quiet and more than adequate; the torque tails off at higher speeds. The Volt runs on Goodyear Assurance 215/55R17 tires, with MacPherson-strut front suspension/stabilizer bar/coil springs and semi-independent rear torsion-beam with coils.

A low-hanging front air dam cuts ground clearance to only 3.5 inches. Some Volt owners, tiring of the scraping noise over curbs and speed bumps, opt to have a smaller air dam installed.

The Volt, 6 inches shorter than a Toyota Corolla, is a four-seater. The front seats are fairly comfortable; they’d better be, for there are no power controls for the seats. The two rear seats are extra wide, separated by a console; legroom is tight.

Creating room for the battery pack pared away rear-seat space, as well as the cargo area with only 10.6 cubic feet beneath the rear hatch.

Here are the ’14 Chevrolet Volt specifications:

Wheelbase 105.7 inches; Length 177.1 inches; Width 70.4 inches; Height 56.6 inches; Curb Weight 3,786 pounds; Track 61.2 inches front, 62.1 rear; Ground Clearance 3.5 inches; Turn Circle 36 feet; Engine 1.4-liter 4-cylinder range-extender, Voltec electric drive; Horsepower/Torque 149/273; Transmission CVT direct-drive automatic; Fuel mileage estimated 98 electric/38 gas; average 45.7; Fuel Tank 9.3 gallons; Wheels 17-inch; Cargo Volume 10.6 cubic feet; Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/100,000 powertrain; Competitors Ford Fusion Energi, Toyota Prius Plug-in, Nissan Leaf; Assembly Plant Detroit Hamtramck, Mich.; Parts Content U.S./Canada 45%, Korea 19%, Japan 17%; Base Price of Lowest Model $34,185; Base Price of Review Model $34,185; Sticker Price $39,945.

Upon shutting off the Volt, its display screen logs the “lifetime fuel-mileage average” for the car. After my last drive, it showed an average of 43.5 miles per gallon for 3,580 miles.









Ford Fusion Energi spurt tops Volt, Prius

The Chevy Volt plugs in on driver side. (Bud Wells photo)
The Chevy Volt plugs in on driver side. (Bud Wells photo)

While tallying six-month sales totals for hybrids and electrics early this week, I took possession for a few days of the 2014 Chevy Volt. Its arrival was good timing, for the Volt is one of half a dozen strong competitors among plug-in hybrid electric and battery electric models.

The Volt outsold the Toyota Prius plug-in electric in June; surprisingly, though, both the Chevy and the Toyota were outsold for the month by the Ford Fusion Energi.

For the first half of this year, the Prius Plug-in leads sales of that category with 9,300, followed by the Volt with 8,615, the FusionEnergi with 6,235 and the Ford C-Max Energi with 3,928.

Among battery-powered electrics which have no gasoline engines, the Nissan Leaf has outsold the Tesla Model S, 12,736 to 8,200 for the first six months of the year.

Despite a sharp drop in sales of the Toyota Prius Liftback in the past year, it continues to dominate totals in the regular gas/electric hybrid market, as it has since it was introduced 14 years ago.

The Prius Liftback has sold 63,037 hybrids through the end of June, far ahead of the next three, the Toyota Camry and Prius C and the Ford Fusion, each of which has sold barely over 20,000. The Prius Liftback at this time last year had sold 76,809 hybrids.

Of 8,123,389 new cars and trucks sold thus far this year in the U.S., 287,761 are hybrids, plug-ins and electrics. That is 3.5 percent of the market. The 287,761 combined sales total for the three “hybrid” categories is slightly below the total of 298,517 for the same period of 2013.

Following are sales totals for leaders among the three categories of hybrids and electrics:



Toyota Prius Liftback 63,037; Toyota Camry 21,771; Ford Fusion 20,800; Toyota Prius C 20,283; Toyota Prius V 14,481; Hyundai Sonata 11,349; Ford C-Max 9,522; Lexus CT200h 8,337; Toyota Avalon 8,099; Lexus ES 6,947; Honda Accord 6,888; Kia Optima 6,417; Lincoln MKZ 6,018; Subaru XV Crosstrek 4,243; Lexus RX450h 4,206.


Plug-in Electrics

Toyota Prius 9,300; Chevrolet Volt 8,615; Ford Fusion Energi 6,235; Ford C-Max Energi 3,928; Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid 481; Cadillac ELR 390; Honda Accord 180.


Fully Electrics

Nissan Leaf 12,736; Tesla Model S 8,200; Smart for Two EV 1,092; Ford Focus EV 896; Fiat 500E 726; BMW i3 694; Chevrolet Spark 636; Toyota RAV4 EV 546; Honda Fit EV 221; Mitsubishi i 97.








2015 Chrysler 200 takes AWD to ranch mansion

The 2015 Chrysler 200S along the Inverness golf course in Arapahoe County. (Bud Wells photos)
The 2015 Chrysler 200S along the Inverness golf course in Arapahoe County. (Bud Wells photos)

Selling the qualities and features of the new model was rather easy for three Chrysler execs – Rick Denau and John Nulty from Detroit and Wendy Orthman from Chicago – at a gathering Wednesday evening of 20 invited automotive journalists at the old castle-like Highlands Ranch Mansion.

The praise being peddled was for the 2015 Chrysler 200; elsewhere, say Atlanta, Phoenix or Seattle, it might have received a few “ho-hum, another Chrysler midsizer” reactions.

It showed up here, though, a state as rugged as the look of the big mansion, with new exterior, an interior approaching the luxuriousness of the 300, a 9-speed automatic transmission and, prepared specially for our Rockies and our snow – all-wheel drive.

The AWD system is available not only with the V-6 version, also the cheaper 4-cylinder 200; same with the new 9-speed automatic, it is teamed with both the 4-cylinder and the V-6.

Provided to me for driving to the event and the return home was a granite-hued four-door, which also accommodated Stu Wright of Greeley as my copilot. Maybe a bit light on low-end acceleration, the 295-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 engine, with the help of the 9-speed, was a smooth performer at midrange.

A rotary-dial shifter sits in the center console within easy reach of the driver; it’s similar to the type introduced by Jaguar several years ago, though the Chrysler dial doesn’t recess flush into the console when the car is turned off, as does the Jag.

Paddle shifters offer all sorts of quick-gear capabilities with the nine speeds; in addition, a Sport mode button will turn the 200 into a rear-axle-favored setup, as up to 60 percent of torque is directed to the rear. The Sport mode also increases throttle response, quickens shifts and lessens the normal traction control. In regular mode, however, the all-wheel-drive system will actually disconnect the rear axle when torque is not needed, a fuel-saving move.

Highlighting the interior are well-bolstered cloth-and-leather seats and an 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen with high-end audio and navigation, though I found the nav less than specific on a couple of occasions while heading into the southeast metro area Thursday morning. The new 200 sedan offers storage beneath the console, similar to the style adopted by Volvo.

Two other nice interior touches are blue backlighting for the instrument panel gauges and info/entertainment center and the Detroit skyline embossed on the mat at the bottom of the storage area. A second cavernous storage compartment is revealed beneath sliding cupholders in the center console.

Catching my attention in late afternoon, as we stood around the 200s outside the mansion, was Denau’s mention of the fact that sticker price on one of the Chryslers was $3,000 below that of a comparably equipped Ford Fusion AWD. Wait till the Ford boys hear that. The Fusion with available AWD and the Subaru Legacy, for which every one is built that way, are prime competitors of the new 200.

The Highlands Ranch Mansion was home to the Lawrence Phipps Jr. family for more than 40 years. (Bud Wells photos)
The Highlands Ranch Mansion was home to the Lawrence Phipps Jr. family for more than 40 years. (Bud Wells photos)

With AWD standard for the 200S model, options pushed the sticker price to $34,065 from a base of $28,695. Among amenities are heated steering wheel, heated front seats, backup camera, blind-spot and cross-path detection, 19-inch black aluminum wheels and remote start.

Here are the ’15 Chrysler 200’s specifications:

Wheelbase 108 inches; Length 192.3 inches; Width 73.6 inches; Height 54.9 inches; Curb Weight 3,475 pounds; Track 62.1 inches front, rear; Ground Clearance 5.8 inches; Turn Circle 39.2 feet; Engine 3.6-liter V-6; Horsepower/Torque 288/262; Transmission 9-speed automatic; Fuel mileage estimated 18/29, average 27.1; Fuel Tank 15.9 gallons; Wheels 19-inch; Cargo Volume 16 cubic feet; Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/100,000 powertrain; Competitors Ford Fusion, Subaru Legacy, Volkswagen CC, Toyota Camry; Assembly Plant Sterling Heights, Mich.; Parts Content U.S./Canada 73%; Base Price of Lowest Model $21,700; Base Price of Review Model $28,695; Sticker Price $34,065.





2014 Mazda Miata loses top in 12 seconds


The 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata retractable-top convertible. (Bud Wells photo)


The 25th anniversary edition of the Mazda Miata, only 100 in number, will arrive in early September, About the same time, Mazda plans to begin providing quick glances to a totally redesigned 2016 Miata. In the meantime, amid the confusing release of those next two models, the ’14 version recently came my way.

What’d you think of it, someone asked recently after my farewell column in the Post. I had featured a photo of the 2014 MX-5 Miata convertible, though said little about it, as I mainly reminisced in the farewell.

The two-seater Miata, jet black in exterior finish, is a Grand Touring model with a power retractable top, and here’s what I thought about it: Driving anywhere in Colorado on a summer night is a great time for testing it. Loosen the center latch at the windshield header, push a button and the top drops into the trunk in barely more than 12 seconds. The cool breeze and open look are invigorating.

The rear-wheel-drive Miata, on a wheelbase of only 91.7 inches, is a good handler with independent double-wishbone front and multilink rear suspension. Its turn circle is only 30.8 feet. It is nimble, accelerates fairly quickly with lots of noise from its 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic transmission.

Unlike most competitors, which use a paddle shifter to the left of the steering wheel to downshift and one on the right to upshift, the Miata has an odd-looking paddles and thumb presses system. Pull the paddle on either side to upshift and thumb-press either side to downshift. It’s easy enough to use, after a few blocks of low-speed stop-and-go situations.

Inside, the finish is in spicy mocha brown. The seats are positioned very low; of course they are, for, even with the top in place the Miata measures only 49 inches in overall height. They’re low and narrow and bolstered, and most accommodating to a driver of modest stature.

About the time this driver began to tire, the car’s tank did, too. It is only 12.7 gallons in capacity and, with the Miata’s EPA estimate of 21/28, this will extend only 250 to 325 miles between refreshing fuel stops.

The addition of a $1,300 premium package of antitheft alarm, keyless entry, Bluetooth, Sirius satellite radio and xenon headlights pushed sticker price for the Miata to $32,735. Among standard equipment are Bose audio with seven speakers, heated leather-trimmed seats, leather shift knob, automatic air conditioning, dual front and side airbags and trip computer.

Here are the ’14 Miata’s specifications:

Wheelbase 91.7 inches; Length 157.3 inches; Width 67.3 inches; Height 49 inches; Curb Weight 2,593 pounds; Track 58.7 inches front, 58.9 rear; Ground Clearance 4.6 inches; Turn Circle 30.8 feet; Engine 2.0-liter 4-cylinder; Horsepower/Torque 158/140; Transmission 6-speed automatic; Fuel mileage estimated 21/28, average 25.7; Fuel tank 12.7 gallons; Wheels 17-inch; Cargo Volume 5.3 cubic feet; Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles basic, 5/60,000 powertrain; Competitors Volkswagen Beetle, Mini Cooper, BMW Z4, Nissan 370Z; Assembly Plant Hiroshima, Japan; Parts Content Japan 95%; Base Price of Lowest Model $23,720; Base Price of Review Model $30,550; Sticker Price $32,735.

The MX-5 Miata made its global debut on Feb. 9, 1989, at the Chicago Auto Show. More than 900,000 have been sold around the world since.


Half-year car sales in the U.S.


Toyota Camry 222,540; Honda Accord 185,278; Nissan Altima 176,453; Toyota Corolla 174,354; Honda Civic 167,097; Ford Fusion 165,498; Chevrolet Cruze 145,338; Ford Focus 120,956; Hyundai Elantra 112,497; Toyota Prius 107,101.


Honda CR-V 154,692; Ford Escape 152,890; Chevrolet Equinox 120,831; Toyota RAV4 116,952; Ford Explorer 104,460; Nissan Rogue 99,302; Jeep Grand Cherokee 89,613; Jeep Wrangler 85,737; Jeep Cherokee 80,432; Subaru Forester 74,400.


Ford F-series 365,825; Chevrolet Silverado 240,679; Ram 203,860; GMC Sierra 93,191; Toyota Tacoma 75,149; Toyota Tundra 57,987; Nissan Frontier 35,943; Honda Ridgeline 7,906; Nissan Titan 6,416.


Dodge Grand Caravan 72,066; Chrysler Town & Country 69,876; Honda Odyssey 63,297; Toyota Sienna 62,291; Ford E-series 54,326; Chevrolet Express 39,514; Ford Transit Connect 19,799; GMC Savana 16,269; Nissan NV 13,287; Mazda5 7,215.


Back then . . . . ’79 Mazda RX-7

Mazda RX779

From 35 years ago this summer, I remember the rough shift of the automatic transmission from first gear to second in the 1979 Mazda RX-7 sports car with rotary engine, loaned to me by Buckingham Imports, 334 Havana St., Aurora. Excerpts from the review back then:

The addition of an automatic transmission to the 1979 Mazda RX-7 took none of the allure from that popular sports car. It’s not as quick as a stick on getaway, though it’s easier driving in the city, and at about 25 miles per hour or 3,500 rpm the automatic begins to run right along with the 4-speed. The ride offered by the two-seater is above average for a sports car, and handling is outstanding. Weight distribution is the key, as the compact rotary engine is mounted far back in the engine compartment behind the front axles. It was at its best on the hills and curves of the highway between Castle Rock and Franktown. Mazda’s use of rotary engines was cut by poor ratings of the Environmental Protection Agency five years ago. The present rotary, free of most vibrations, averaged 15.6 miles per gallon in town driving and 20.6 on the highway. The 2,400-pound RX-7 is on a wheelbase of only 95 inches and is 169 inches in overall length. With its narrow track, turning circle is only 31.5 feet. Its window sticker of $9,739  included the automatic transmission, air conditioning, removable sunroof, AM/FM stereo radio with power antenna, alloy wheels and electric remote hatch release. Officials of Toyo Kogyo, the Japanese builder of the Mazda, compare the RX-7 to the 1947 MG-TC, the ’53 Corvette and the ’70 Datsun 240-Z. I don’t know about that.