Category Archives: AutoSmarts

Survey Reveals What Vehicles are Favorites

Robert Reed shared an interesting piece recently with his readership at The Car Connection: The results of market research firm Strategic Vision who surveyed thousands of car owners across the U.S.

The question: “How much do you love your car? Could you put a number on that?” This is what they discovered:

The folks at Strategic Vision surveyed 44,000 new-vehicle owners, asking them to score their vehicles on a number of areas. The market research firm tabulated those responses to create their “Customer Love Index” (or CLI) and found the followings:

•Millennials may not be buying as many cars as their parents and grandparents, but they are enthusiastic about the cars they do drive. On average, respondents under 40 years of age gave their vehicles CLI scores of 470 (in contrast with the responses of older drivers which averaged around 500).

•Hybrid owners aren’t necessarily “in love” with their vehicles. While APT (alternative powertrain) cars deliver good fuel economy, they frequently fail to satisfy on other levels, such as (no surprise), styling.

•As Strategic Vision noted: “Even minivans , which are often disparaged as being bland, boring, and completely uncool, obtained higher CLI scores than most hybrid vehicles”.
The Toyota Prius outshines the competition in part because of its unique looks and high-tech features.

•Strategic Vision found that economy-minded shoppers tend to prefer Asian models, while luxury fans gravitate toward European vehicles. Folks who like trucks, SUVs, and convertibles are more often drawn to brands from Detroit.

•Volkswagen (the group, not the VW brand) was the best-loved car company overall. However, Strategic Vision is careful to note that this survey was taken before news of the Dieselgate scandal broke.

Following is a list of the best-loved cars, arranged by segment from smallest to largest:
Micro Car: Fiat 500 Hatchback (449)
Small Car: Mazda3 Sedan (438)
Small Multi-Function Car: Kia Soul (408)
Small APT Car: Fiat 500e (408)
Mid-Size Car: Subaru WRX (451)
Mid-Size Multi-Function Car: Subaru Outback (408)
Mid-Size APT Car: Toyota Prius / Toyota Camry Hybrid (354 / 354)
Full-Size Car: Dodge Charger (543)
Near-Luxury Car: Mercedes CLA-Class (564)
Near-Luxury APT Car: BMW i3 (474)
Luxury Car: Mercedes S-Class Sedan (563)
Luxury Multi-Function Car: BMW 3-Series Gran Turismo (466)
Specialty Coupe: MINI Cooper Hardtop (547)
Premium Coupe: Chevrolet Corvette Coupe (598)
Standard Convertible: Ford Mustang Convertible (564)
Premium Convertible/Roadster: Chevrolet Corvette Convertible (617)
Standard Pickup: Chevrolet Colorado (423)
Full-Size Pickup: Nissan Titan (482)
Heavy Duty Pickup: GMC Sierra 2500/3500 (467)
Entry SUV: Jeep Renegade (490)
Entry CUV: Hyundai Tucson (451)
Mid-Size SUV: Dodge Durango (465)
Mid-Size CUV: Ford Flex (460)
Full-Size Utility: GMC Yukon XL (483)
Near-Luxury Utility: Land Rover Range Rover Evoque 5-Door (516)
Luxury SUV: Infiniti QX80 (524)
Luxury CUV: Porsche Macan (629)
Minivan: Kia Sedona (391)
Best Model: Porsche Macan (629)
Best Full-Line Corporation: Volkswagen Group of America (422)

November 2015

Road America Offers Motor Coach Service to Chicago Auto Show

ELKHART LAKE, Wis., January 20, 2016 – Road America will again offer a ‘road trip’ to the Chicago Auto Show in February. Leave the driving to a deluxe motor coach-the Auto Show Express-Wisconsin residents too, can join in the fun.

Operating on Tuesday, February 16 and Wednesday, February 17, the motor coach will offer convenient round-trip service from five locations located along Interstate 43 including Manitowoc, Sheboygan, Cedarburg, Milwaukee and Racine.

For just $50 each, riders get admission to the Chicago Auto Show and the round-trip. Express bus service will depart from the following pick up points for the trip to Chicago between 6 and 11 a.m. Return trips from McCormick Place to Wisconsin will depart from McCormick Place at 4 p.m. So this year, spend less time sitting in traffic, and more time enjoying the Chicago Auto Show on behalf of your friends at Road America. untitled

Pick-up locations:
• 6:15 am Departure from Holiday Inn Manitowoc Parking Lot (BACK WEST LOT, near I-43) (Exit 149)
• 6:50 am Departure from Sheboygan Park & Ride, adjacent to Home Depot, West of I-43 (Exit 123)
• 7:35 am Departure from Cedarburg Park & Ride (Exit 89), East side of the interstate
• 8:20 am Departure College Avenue Park & Ride, Milwaukee (Exit 319), SW Lot, West of Interstate
• 8:45 am Departure Racine Park & Ride at Hwy 11 (Exit 335)

For more information on the Road America Auto Show Express, and to reserve your spot, visit or call 800/365-7223. Small coolers are allowed on board. No carry-ins at the show allowed and all bags are subject to search. Visa, MasterCard and Discover accepted. Visit for floor plan, list of displays and more show information.

2016 Scion FR-S

frs1Susan Frissell, PhD

Having spent a week in the Scion FR-S sport coupe, we were reminded of the original Celica of days past. A very popular little sport coupe, Celica’s demise was mourned by many. A stablemate to the Subaru BRZ, the FR-S has several good points; and a few not-so-good.

For 2016, Scion has given the FR-S its first meaningful update. Introduced in 2012,, the FR-s has had moderate success, in a category that is quickly disappearing. Minor changes include some visual tweaks and new trim for the cabin, two new exterior colors (Ablaze Red, Oceanic Blue), a new standard audio system, and new standard rearview camera.

The Scion FR-S raises pricing about t $400, bringing the MSRP to $26405 for the automatic, and manual $25,305. Not inexpensive, particularly for the Scion brand, the FR-S can be considered an “affordable” sports coupe.

The FR-S is for the most part, a fun coupe to drive. The ride is hard, but the seats are firm and supportive. The car is nimble and solid, offers high tech features for the young set, and of course, excels at safety equipment packages. We would have enjoyed driving it on some twisty roads rather than around town. Not just sure this writer would welcome it as a daily driver. But then, It’s not aimed at my demographic.

Sporty in looks, the FR-S has an aerodynamic look and feel, is well-built and economical. We found the center console cupholder feature annoying. The two-cup holder moves back/forth in the console but is in the way of the driver’s elbow. I spilled my coffee more than once.

We found that driving in Sport mode was more comfortable (less bumpy, more smooth) than standard mode. Getting the gearshift to move into gear proved more difficult than it needed to be. New features for 2016 on the FR-S include a 7-inch audio screen, featuring more resolution, a revised Nav system, connect Bluetooth (Aha lite, iTunes, tagging included on non-Nav model); standard backup camera, interior feature color changes (changed steering wheel bezel, door grips and center console side ornament to high brightness silver color).

The FR-S is powered by a 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine, with 200 horsepower. At 151 lb-ft, it’s not exactly a pocket rocket.. The engine is a variation of a Subaru design, with the addition of Toyota’s direct- and port-injection system.

Steering may not have the anticipated precision of a sports car, but it’s tight and performance-oriented. Brakes worked well, effective and not jerky. Tires are 17-inch, hold the road well and give the car a heavier feel

Sitting in the FR-S gives one the feel of a sports car, but getting in and out of it aren’t so pleasurable. The cabin is for the most part, quiet even with a small growl. It is a sporty vehicle, after all.

Head and leg room in the FR-S is more plentiful than expected. The small back seat space is hardly worth it, but could hold packages (or a 5-year-old), and the like. Some reviewers believe an adult passenger can fit in the rear seats; we’re not so sure.

Cargo space is what would be expected for a two-plus-two coupe. Not as much as a Corvette, for instance, but enough for a couple of suitcases and gear. Also helpful are the fold flat rear seats, opening up additional horizontal space.

Scion says the FR-S was designed to hold four wheels and tires, a toolbox, a helmet, and a driver–all you need for a basic day at the track. I suppose that could work. Our silver exterior color wouldn’t have been our choice for a sport coupe: Rather, the blue or yellow, maybe even red would be a better fit.

Standard features on the 2016 Scion FR-S are generous which makes up for a lack of many options. Consumers can choose most of the options and upgrades on their own rather than in the usual packages. We wish more manufacturers would operate this way.

Optional equipment available on the FR-S includes carpeted trunk and cabin floor mats, an ashtray kit, mud guards, wheel locks, suspension kits and larger wheels. Not on the option list is navigation. This seems strange as it is available on the Subaru BRZ.

Standard equipment includes manually adjustable six-way driver and four-way passenger front seats; fold-flat rear seats; a first-aid kit; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; an eight-speaker audio system; USB/Bluetooth/auxiliary inputs; and more.

Competition for the Scion FR-S includes Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang, Nissan 370Z and Miata MX5. Some pretty hefty choices.


MSRP: $26,405; total vehicle price $27,175; destinaiton $770

Engine: 2.0-liter H-4, 4-cylinder Boxer DOHC, 16-valve, 200 hp., 151 lb. ft. torque

Transmission: six-speed sequential automatic w/paddle shifters, Dynamic Rev Management

Wheelbase: 101.2 in.

Length: 166.7 in.

Height: 50.6 in.

Width: 69.9 in.

Fuel Tank Capacity: 13.2 gal.

Tires: 215/45R17 all-season

Wheels: 17-inch alloy

Biggest Recall in History: Airbags

Washington,D.C.-Jack Gillis, CFA’s Automotive Expert and author of The Car Book (published with the center for Auto Safety), has some wise suggestions for consumers regarding this recent recall for the Takata automotive airbags.

Always available for comment, Gillis reports “There is good news and bad news with the announcement of the Takata air bag recall: the good news, millions more Americans are covered for a fix to this serious problem, the bad news, it could take years to get safe parts manufactured and replaced in affected vehicles.”

What Consumers Need to Do:

1. Obtain your vehicle’s identification number (VIN) by looking in at your dash from the outside of the driver’s side or on the outer edge of the driver’s door. (It is also available on your registration card.)
2. Go to and type in your VIN.
3. If your vehicle is part of the recall, contact ANY dealer of your vehicle immediately to schedule a replacement appointment—there is no charge for this fix.
4. Ask your dealer (or the manufacturer of your vehicle) for a ‘loaner vehicle’ while parts are being manufactured.

Important Note: If your vehicle is NOT currently listed as being involved in this recall, it is important to check back on a regular basis to see if it gets added.

The sooner you contact a dealer, says Gillis, the sooner you’ll get on the list for repairs. “Traditional recall response rates are around 70 percent,” says Gillis, “so in the end, if consumers don’t respond to this recall, there could potentially be over 10 million vehicles with this dangerous defect on the road.”

“While the root cause of this problem is not fully understood, humid regions with high moisture in the air can exacerbate the problem. Consumers in those areas have likely already received a recall notice and should respond immediately,” added Gillis.

CFA is an association of more than 250 nonprofit consumer groups that was founded in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy and education.

New York Auto Show Awards

Car of the Year awards went out at this year’s New York Auto Show by 75 automotive journalists. Out of 24 finalists, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan won “Car of the Year” honors, and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class coupe won “World” title in the luxury class. AMG took home the Performance Car class award.

BMW’s 18 electric vehicle won the “Green Car” title, while the Citroen C4 Cactus won the Design class.

Kelly Blue Book’s 2015 online tracking study of brand perception by some 1200 in-market new vehicle shoppers, awarded the Subaru: Most Trusted Brand; Honda: Best Overall Brand and Most-Trusted, and Ford F-150 won its sixth award in seven years.

Top 2015 Car Brands as Rated by Women

Shopping Scores of the Top 15 Brands, as reported by

The overall WSI score for all brands was 4.37. Keep in mind these reviews are from a controlled environment. Meaning our company works with about 400 dealers, not 17,000. These dealers use our platform to understand women’s unmet or unrecognized needs. By evaluating the data, dealers measure women’s satisfaction in key areas to create and maintain high scores. The difference these high scores make significantly impact perception, reputation, walk in’s and conversions.

Here is the list by brand.

1. Volkswagen, scored 4.75
2. Ford, scored 4.74
3. Chevrolet, scored 4.66
4. Jeep, scored 4.63
5. Buick, scored 4.61
6. Hyundai, scored 4.59
7. Audi, scored 4.54
8. Honda, scored 4.53
9. Toyota, scored 4.52
10. Nissan, scored 4.49
11. Subaru, scored 4.46
12. Chrysler, scored 4.40
13. Dodge, scored 4.31
14. Lexus, scored 4.28
15. Mazda, scored 4.26

Mother’s Day Car(d): Mom and the Family Car

Cliff Leppke, WITI TV6 Milwaukee

Given that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, don’t be fooled into thinking this is another warm ode from a son to his mother. The usual exchange of greeting cards, whether it is on V-Day or Mother’s Day contain narratives about maternal nurturing, human closeness and world peace set in domestic locales such as kitchens. This is not one of them.

Miles Apartcliff2

My mother and I have a distant relationship, both geographically and emotionally—abetted by all things, the automobile. According to my mom, this gap appeared during my early childhood. As she tells the story, she wanted to play ball; a game of catch. When I caught the orb, I would keep it; I didn’t toss it back. Instead, I grabbed it and ran away-headed to my favorite mode of escape, an early 1960s Murray ‘flat face’ pedal car with fender ornaments. She was frustrated.

Mom had a countermeasure, however-the family car. She discovered that nearly the instant I was supported by a 1955 Ford Mainline’s seat sporting a glittering cover, I became pliable, docile and sleepy. It’s as if Scarlett Johansson’s voice whispered through the car’s see-through I Astra-Dial speedometer. Years later, mom’s instrument to garner closeness was a station wagon, a 1967 Ford Country Sedan, the gold-colored behemoth didn’t have a radio! No napping, when she drove this monster. Nonetheless, riding with my mom was instructive, and destructive, at the same time. For Instance, my mother drove a car as though she escaped from the Midway at the state fair. In her hands, they were Tilt-A-Whirls run amok.

Given the Ford’s slab-like waffle-print seats, this meant we had to fasten the outboard seatbelts. Mom often set the Sear’s Lady Kenmore clock-controlled oven, then became the neighborhood chauffer ferrying kids to all of the wonderful places mother’s take their brood, such as our community’s outdoor swimming pool. One time she approached a fork in the road, downshifted and then gleefully stomped on the throttle-instant autocross; a ride on the wild side. The resulting force tossed the preacher’s kid, who was riding along, smack against the door panel. I thought this great fun until he “narced” on Mom’s driving. Let’s just say that my folk’s minister wasn’t amused. cliff2

I, however, couldn’t contain my laughter. It suddenly dawned on me: My mother’s idea of family-style motoring wasn’t the norm. So if your idea of a family car is a mom-approved safety cocoon, you weren’t in our family car.

Did this driven woman teach me to drive? Possibly, but she refused to let me sit in the driver’s seat, even on the trip home after I got my driver’s license! I rode in the back seat.

Spanish Inquisitions

Any amusement ride can become a mode of cruel and unusual punishment. Surely, you remember Alfred Hitchcock’s merry-go-round? Well, my mother came close. She found cruising at 55 mph on a county highway the ideal velocity to introduce the facts-of-life quiz—and we’re not talking the TV show.

What was a guy to do? I mean, there must be something in the Fourth Geneva Convention banning this form of deportation and confinement. What could I say??? Quick turn left at the state’s vehicle inspection facility. I think they’re open late to check nocturnal emissions???? One wrong word could provoke my mom: There’ was no telling what avenue she’d take next.

Just Say No

On the road, one can learn how to thwart adult authority. During one trip home from the city, which was supposed to include a side trip to McDonald’s for Hot Apple Pie, I discovered that crusty concoction was conditional. There was a stern parental request. I said “no.” It was one of my early victories. I won the battle, but lost the treat. Had I retorted that McDonald’s wasn’t nearly as good as mom’s homemade pie—a verity—my smart mouth might have scored an extra bite.

Tchotchkes vd2

Mom, however, often turned our 700-mile treks to grandmother’s house into excursions any car-crazy kid would dig. She’d dole out trinkets meant to delight and entertain. One of these was a Matchbox model eight, a silver oval-rear-window VW Beetle, which I still have. My brother got the Microbus. My mother engaged us in car and card games. Auto bingo was a favorite. She handed out cards with colored windows you slid over DeSoto, Packard or Nash logos. Those now defunct makes were still roving the early interstates, if you watched carefully. Then there was Mille Bornes, a French car card game. You won if you were able to rack up 1000 kilometers.

Neither the Mille Bornes game’s tire punctures nor speed limits, however, were as fiendish as my mom’s wicked use of the family car. And unlike the game, you could not play a coup-fourre (counter thrust, protection card), when your mom was at the wheel. cliff

Sunday drives home from church could be devilishly thrilling. My mother was the church organist, and also presided over one of the early two-car families on our block. That meant that my folks could head to and from church services in separate cars. My dad and I were in agreement about not arriving at our house of worship an hour early for music preps. Heading home, however, was a different matter. I had a choice: One, ride with my nerd-insert dad who drove as though he had to get every millimeter out of his investment in a set of Duralon bias-ply tires. Two, ride with my daredevil mother. The choice wasn’t always obvious. With dad, I could ride in the front while I scanned the roadside for lost hubcaps. Or, I could ride with mom-in the back seat. Mom preferred the long way home; a rural route that snaked between a farmstead and its barn, dipping abruptly downhill. For a moment, the car would feel airborne. cliff1

Today Mom is a 75 year-old loving grandmother who still enjoys driving. Her wheels come in the form of a Toyota Camry Hybrid, as well as a five-speed Ram diesel truck. The truck-my parents’-is used to tow their fifth-wheel abode. Trailer Trash?

As she has always done, Mom creates her own Valentines Day cards for us all. She keeps busy, but gone are the days when she would drive with reckless abandon. Like the time she took the 1959 Rambler off-roading and got stuck in a puddle.

Then there was the time she forgot to pick me up from school! A second-grader, I walked about four miles toward home, but had to stop at a AMC dealer to use their restroom. The receptionist attempted to call my parents. Mom had absent-mindedly got apple picking and hadn’t realized she was two hours late!

In today’s world, such an event might have made it on the evening news. In the good old days, it was an ‘adventure.’ A car show!

“The Lease You Can Do”: New Lease Law in Illinois

The new Illinois law pertaining to auto leasing took effect January 1, 2015. State taxes on vehicle leases have been reduced by as much as 50 percent. This will allow consumers to lease more car for less money. The House Bill (2317) was signed by now Governor Pat Quinn in May of 2014 and alters the way taxes are collected on light-vehicle leases.

Before January 1, consumers paid tax on the entire purchase price of a vehicle. Now, customers who lease a vehicle pay taxes only on the money due at the start of the lease and monthly lease payments. Most vehicles have a residual value of 50 percent or more; the new law will reduce these taxes.

Nationally, the number of new-vehicle owners has grown 26 percent; doubling over the last five years. Illinois has lagged behind this figure, at just 14 percent. The leasing rates in the Chicagoland market are the lowest for any metro market in the country. For instance, leasing rates in New York are at 50 percent and 48 percent in Cleveland.

Auto dealers are hoping the new vehicle lease law will make leasing much more attractive to Illinois consumers. It is widely believed that only luxury cars are leased, when in fact, according to Experian Information Solutions, each of the top 10 lease vehicles starts at a MSRP of below $25,000.

Monthly payments may also be lowered by $100 or more for leases. The Illinois new-car dealers accounted for $28.4 billion in total retail sales in 2013; 15 percent of the state’s total. The Chicago Automobile Dealers Association (CATA) recently released million-dollar educational campaign branded “The Lease You Can Do: More Car, Less Money.” The print, broadcast, online effort is designed to help Chicagoland buyers understand why vehicle leasing makes financial sense.

*CATA website, January 2015

2015 ALG Residual Value Award Winners

Forecast company ALG released its annual list of best resale vehicles. In its 15th year, ALG highlights the 2015 vehicles across 26 segments expected to retain the highest percentage of their retail price after three years.

*Mainstream Brand:               Toyota

*Full-size:                                  Toyota Tundra

*Premium Brand:                    Land Rover

*Midsize Commercial Van:    Ford Transit Connect

*Subcompact Car:                    Honda Fit

Full-size Commercial Van:     Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

*Compact Car:                          Mazda3

*Premium compact car:          Mini Hardtop

*Midsize Car                              Subaru Legacy

*Premium Midsize car:            Lexus IS

*Full-size car:                             Dodge Charger

*Premium Full-size car:           Hyundai Genesis

*Sports Car:                                 Subaru WRX

*Premium Executive car:         Porsche Panamera

*Alternative Fuel Vehicle:        Toyota Prius V

*Premium Sports car:               Audi TT

Minivan:                                      Honda Odyssey

*Premium compact Ute:          Porsche Macan

*Subcompact Ute                      Mini Countryman

*Premium Midsize Ute-2 row:  Land Rover Range Rover Sport

*Compact Ute:                           Honda CR-V

*Premium Midsize Ute-3 row:     Lexus GX

*Midsize Ute-2 row:                 Subaru Outback

*Premium Full-size Ute:        Toyota Land Cruiser

*Midsize Ute-3 row:                Toyota Highlander

*Full-size Ute:                          Chevrolet Tahoe

*Off-road Ute:                          Toyota 4Runner

*Midsize Pickup:                     Toyota Tacoma

(2014, Jennifer Geiger)

Auto Sales Pick Up in June


Sales in the automotive industry have taken a soaring leap compared with a few years ago. In June of this year, sales for June hit record numbers, as new models continued to sell quickly. It took an average of 64 days, according to, for a new car to sell in June from the time it hit the dealer lot until sales were made. That is an increase of 62 days in May and 59 days in June.

The 20 fastest-selling cars included luxury and non-luxury alike, with large SUVs, luxury sedans and some sports cars selling best. The list includes the following:

*2014 Land Range Rover: 8 days

*2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport: 8 days

*2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250: 8 days

*2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV: 10 days

*2015 Volkswagen GTI: 10 days

*2015 Subaru Forester: 11 days

*2015 Subaru WRX: 11 days

*2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray coupe: 11 days

*2015 Cadillac Escalade: 12 days

*2014 Toyota Highlander: 12 days

*2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek: 13 days

*2015 Chrysler 200: 14 days

*2015 GMC Yukon XL Denali: 14 days

*2015 Hyundai Genesis: 14 days

*2015 Mercedes-Benz S550: 14 days

*2015 GMC Sierra Denali 2500 HD crew cab: 15 days

*2015 Honda Fit: 15 days

*2015 Kia Optima: 15 days

*2014 BMW X5: 16 days

*2014 Lexus GX 560: 16 days’s picks include the 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid (128 days), 2014 Cadillac XTS (118 days), 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible (111 days), 2014 Porsche Cayman (107 days) and 2014 Chevrolet Sonic sedan (104 days). This list highlights cars that take much longer to move off the lot, with the intention of suggesting dealers try harder to sell these models.

The list offered by includes 2014 and 2015 models, as well as vehicles that pass a certain threshold of sales. They do not include limited editions, ultra-high performance cars and others that might skew the results.