Blue on Rise as Car Color

Fans of car color, you can rejoice. Into the sea of white, silver and black, an actual color is rising to the top of the car color popularity charts. According to international auto paint leader PPG, blue is the fastest-growing color for automobiles around the world.

Last year blue increased by three percent as a preference for luxury, midsize and compact cars, showing it was a color on the move. This upward trend continued across a number of regions worldwide this year, with blue increasing as a color preference for luxury cars by five percent.

Another piece of evidence that points to blue’s ascendancy is its recent use on auto how concept vehicles.  For example, blue was a dominant hue at the North American International Auto Show over the past four years, with featured applications on the Buick Avista concept car, Audi Sport, Volvo S90 and S60, as well as on various Mercedes, Porsche and Lexus models.

In North America, blue is a popular choice for luxury cars while it is a top choice among mini cars in China. In Europe, consumers prefer blue on sports cars more frequently than any other car type. Though blue is predicted to become more noticeable in the automotive marketplace, the applications of the color on vehicle types around the world remain unique.

“PPG’s leading position in paint and color forecasting allows us to analyze cross-cultural and cross-industry trends with our 20 global color stylists from seven countries,” said Jane Harrington, PPG manager, automotive color styling. “While white, black, gray and silver continue to be popular color choices, we’re seeing a steady increase in the desire for cars in varying blue and brown shades.”

While blue is definitely on the rise, in North America white is still the reigning champ with 25 of vehicles sporting that (non) color.  Black (21 percent) and gray (17 percent) rose 2 percent and 5 percent respectively for 2017, while silver (13 percent) dropped six percent.  Despite the fact that its star is on the assent blue tied with red at 10 percent in the latest analysis. 

PPG color expert Harrington said the same “comforting neutrals” that consumers favor in fashion, technology and their homes cause silver and gray to continue to be popular in automotive colors across all types of vehicles due to slight nuances in color and classic roots. “Chameleon-like hues” that have gray and blue undertones remain top choices among consumers, as they represent calm, comfort and a middle ground.

Toyota, Lexus Most Reliable According to Consumer Reports

Some brands were big losers and other big gainers in Consumer Reports’ latest Annual Auto Reliability Survey, but one thing that stayed largely the same was the dominance of Toyota’s Lexus and Toyota brands in dependability.  For the fifth straight year, Toyota brands took their places on top of the ranking of 27 brands for predicted new-car reliability, but other Asia-based manufacturers, notably Acura and Mazda, saw their reliability averages fall. In contrast, Korea-based Kia continued to surprise observers with its rapid rise in the rankings.  Kia continues to make impressive strides in reliability, rising to third. General Motors, on the other hand, took a nosedive with three of its four brands -- Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC -- in the bottom third.

The Chrysler brand has had a difficult time in previous reliability surveys, but this year it registered the biggest gain, jumping 10 positions from last year. Even with the big gain it remains in the lower half of all 27 brands ranked by CR, but the general trend at Chrysler is up. Its new Pacifica minivan has average reliability, affected by some minor transmission issues, and overall the brand is greatly improved.  Other FCA brands – Jeep, Dodge and Ram – also registered gains, though the improvement did not push them into the top ranks. CR said Jeep seems to have worked out some of the transmission problems that plagued the early years of the Cherokee, but the Grand Cherokee and Renegade remain below average despite showing “marked improvement with these models each year.” The only Dodge model that did not have below-average reliability was the Grand Caravan, while the Charger and Challenger improved over last year, yet ranked below average. The Ram 1500 pickup improved to average, but the low standing of the 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickups keeps the brand near the bottom of the overall list.

Ram has domestic-manufacturer company at the lower reaches of the rankings.  GMC and Cadillac are at the bottom of Consumer Reports’ brand list. The much-touted GMC Acadia debuted with well-below-average reliability, and it has the dubious distinction of being among the 10 least-reliable new models. Aside from some infotainment issues in the Acadia, problems with drive system, power equipment, and climate system were also reported. Equally dismal for General Motors is the fact that all of luxury-brand Cadillac’s models had below-average reliability, including the new-for-2017 XT5 compact SUV that Cadillac hopes will become a volume-driver.

For GM, Buick was the lone bright spot among the brands, but after ranking third last year, it dropped five spots to eighth.  Its biggest “miss” was the redesigned LaCrosse large sedan, which debuted with reliability well-below average. The much-better-than-average reliability of the Encore crossover, and the better-than-average reliability of the Cascada convertible and Envision crossover enabled Buick to stay in the top 10.

Chevy presented a mixed bag, but lagged most major players. Its new Bolt electric car is Chevrolet’s most reliable model with above average reliability, but the Volt plug-in hybrid remains below average, and the Cruze compact, which debuted with well-above-average reliability last year, plunged to below average this time around.

The third major domestic manufacturer, Ford, gained several spots in this year’s survey but ranks mid-pack at 15th. The mainstay F-150 pickup improved to average reliability, but the Focus and Fiesta small cars are still well below average with ongoing clutch and transmission problems.  Another somber note was that some respondents reported a few problems with the new Sync3 infotainment system in the Fusion midsize sedan. Ford had hoped Sync3 would cure its ongoing infotainment headaches.  Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand didn’t fare that well either.  Its MKZ sedan had average reliability, and the MKC and MKX crossover SUVs were below average.

Plagued by infotainment woes over the past couple of years, Honda has fallen from its perch as a top-echelon brand for reliability, but it improved by one spot this year, with all of its models having average or better reliability.  Serious improvement included solving the bugs with the Civic’s in-car electronics, and those enhancements were echoed in the redesigned-for-2017 CR-V, which in many ways is a tall Civic. But Honda’s luxury Acura brand took a nosedive this year, dropping to the bottom third of the brand rankings. While the RDX, which was last redesigned in 2013, is above average, the other Acuras were all below average.

As noted earlier, Kia continues to move forward positively in reliability, rising two spots to rank third overall. To demonstrate Kia’s efforts, the new Niro hybrid debuted as the most reliable new car in the entire survey. Kia’s lowest scoring model is the Sportage, which has average reliability. Subaru is another brand on the upswing. It gained five spots to rank sixth this year, despite the “below average” reliability of the redesigned Impreza compact.

Hyundai fell three places to rank 10th. The Elantra compact car, which was renewed for 2017, had well-above average reliability, but problems with the new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission dropped the Tucson compact crossover to below average. Nissan had a slight gain, with the popular Altima sedan improving to better-than-average and the Pathfinder SUV finally improving to average.

Some suggest that highly complex European vehicles deliver poor reliability, but the Consumer Reports survey suggests that, as with vehicles that are designed elsewhere, some European brands are stellar while others are laggards.  For instance, despite travails on the diesel engine front, Audi retained the fourth spot on the survey, and BMW jumped four places to land fifth. All of BMW’s models featured average or better reliability. 

Mercedes-Benz had mixed results. Its redesigned 2017 E-Class bucked the debut jinx to turn in better-than-average reliability in its first year, while the flagship S-Class, one of the world’s most sophisticated models, finally improved to average. The report on Volvo wasn’t as good.  The Chinese-owned Swedish brand remained near the bottom of the heap, dragged down by the much-worse-than-average XC90 crossover SUV, which ranks as the third least reliable model among new vehicles covered in the survey. The problem rate for the XC90’s infotainment, which has been much touted by vehicle reviewers, was the worst in CR’s Survey at 21 percent.  That negative rate was nearly as high as the now notorious Ford/Lincoln’s MyTouch system when it debuted several years ago.

For more information on Consumer Reports’ Annual Auto Reliability Survey, or to get the latest ratings and scores for more than 300 models, visit www.CR.org.

New Car Buying Tips for 2018

While you weren’t looking a new model year has begun, and the new 2018 models offer more tech, more features and more choices than ever before.  Ironically, the wide variety of choices might make it harder than ever to choose the right vehicle for your needs.  We at Driving Today will offer you straightforward, unbiased advice on what to buy and, very importantly, how to buy it. Making a great car deal isn’t as difficult as conjugating foreign verbs, but it does require some steps that you don’t typically take when making a purchase.

As we move into the 2018 model year, which officially began on October 1, the car market is softening, which means that carmakers are having to work harder to make each sale. That’s not good for them, but it is good for you as a prospective car-buyer because that means auto manufacturers are offering more incentives – cash-back, subsidized financing, and cheap lease deals – that can make getting a car much less expensive for you.  Elsewhere on DT we’ll give you the straight story on the best cars and trucks to buy this year, but right here we’ll give you the keys to getting the best deal possible.  You deserve it.

The good news is that getting a great deal is easier now than it has been in years. If you do your homework, take our suggestions and stand your ground, you can emerge with a very satisfying car purchase. Here are a few tips that can help:

Don’t fixate on the monthly payment
Yes, most of us have monthly budgets and consider expenses on a monthly basis, but one quick way dealers can lower your monthly payment is by increasing the length of the loan. If you allow that to happen, you’ll end up paying much more in the long run. A salesperson might also try to switch you from a purchase to a lease. There’s nothing wrong with leasing if the lease term is short (three years maximum), but a longer lease is a money pit. You end up paying a lot for a car you have to give back -- a miserable situation for your overall finances.

Do your homework on prices and values
A car is one of the rare consumer products for which you can quickly and easily find out what the retailer paid for it. Plus, the Internet offers you several websites (e.g. Edmunds) where you can learn what consumers like you are typically paying for the same car you are considering. That is extremely valuable information to have as you negotiate your purchase. Many of those same websites will also give you a precise idea of what your current car is worth. Again, that information can be invaluable at trade-in time.

Shop hard and be prepared to walk away.
Feel free to walk into a dealership, look at the vehicle you are considering and get information from the salesperson, but feel just as free to walk out that door with no questions asked. Don’t be intimidated into making a deal you don’t feel comfortable with because the salesperson tells you the deal is good “today only.” New vehicles are essentially a commodity. At any given time, hundreds of thousands are for sale, and factories are churning out more every minute. You’ll find a deal that is as good -- or better -- the next day and the day after that.  You might find walking toward the door could save you hundreds of dollars.

Buying a Car This Summer

If you are thinking of buying a new car, this could be your summer of discontent. Buying a new car is a challenging task under normal circumstances -- and this year, circumstances are anything but normal. Due to the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami that occurred in March, supplies of Japanese-built cars are already down, and many could reach precariously low levels in the next few weeks. Further, because so many carmakers rely on Japanese-sourced parts, vehicle supplies around the world are being negatively affected. This situation and the gradual improvement in the economy have persuaded vehicle manufacturers that they don’t need to be quite as generous with consumer incentives -- offering low-interest financing and cheap lease deals, among other perks -- as they have in the past. This means getting a great car deal is getting harder, quite an unusual situation in an economy that is as anemic as the U.S. economy is right now.

The good news is that it is not impossible to get a great deal. The fact is, if you do your homework and stand your ground, you can emerge with a very satisfying car purchase. Here are a few tips that can help:

Don’t fixate on the monthly payment.
Yes, most of us have monthly budgets and consider expenses on a monthly basis, but one quick way dealers can lower your monthly payment is by increasing the length of the loan. If you go there, you almost always end up paying much more in the long run. A salesperson might also try to switch you from a purchase to a lease. There’s nothing wrong with leasing if the lease term is short (three years maximum), but a longer lease is a money pit. You end up paying a lot for a car you have to give back -- a miserable situation for your overall finances.

Do your homework on prices and values.
A car is one of the rare consumer products for which you can quickly and easily find out what the retailer paid for it. Plus, the Internet offers you several websites where you can learn what consumers like you are typically paying for the same car you are considering. That is extremely valuable information to have as you negotiate your purchase. Many of those same websites will also give you a precise idea of what your current car is worth. Again, that information can be invaluable at trade-in time.

Shop hard and be prepared to walk away.
Feel free to walk into a dealership, look at the vehicle you are considering and get information from the salesperson, but feel just as free to walk out that door with no questions asked. Don’t be intimidated into making a deal you don’t feel comfortable with because the salesperson tells you the deal is good “today only.” New vehicles are essentially a commodity. At any given time, thousands are for sale, and factories are churning out more. You’ll find a deal that is as good -- or better -- the next day and the day after that.

BMW 1 Series M Coupe: Furiously Fast

If you test vehicles for a living, you will eventually come to the conclusion that cars that are good on the street are not so good on the racetrack. Racecars are one-dimensional vehicles designed for going fast in controlled conditions. Street cars, on the other hand, have to perform a much wider variety of tasks. So we have to admit, we were a bit curious -- if not skeptical -- about what the all-new, limited-production BMW 1 Series M Coupe would feel like on the track. What we found is that the M Coupe can more than meet the rigors of a very challenging course. Yet, like Superman when dressed as Clark Kent, it is perfectly at home in more mundane settings, like commuting to work or picking a child up from school. In other words, it is one of those rare passenger cars that is in its element on the track, but also utterly practical for day-to-day use. It’s an amazing feat accomplished by judicious acquisitions from the BMW parts bin and a serious influx of engineering dollars.

If you follow performance cars, you know that BMW has been building highly tuned M versions of many of its models for decades. These cars raise the already high level of handling, acceleration and braking from those of the marque’s standard passenger cars, which carry the bold slogan “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Plus, when putting the 1 Series M Coupe together, BMW engineers borrowed liberally from the same bag of tricks they used to make the M3 -- one of the most respected sports coupes in the world. So M’s are, put simply, the “Ultimate Ultimate Driving Machines.”

So why isn’t the M Coupe called the BMW M1? Well, the 1 Series M Coupe is to the 1 Series what the M3 is to the 3 Series, so it might logically be called the M1. However, that would be flying in the face of history. Back in the late 1970s, BMW introduced a sports GT called the M1, which became an instant legend. Like a Teutonic Ferrari, the M1 was all low, swoopy and super-exotic -- all things that the 1 Series M Coupe is not. What they share is an innate ability to go fast, but the last thing the BMW executives wanted to do with the 1 Series M Coupe was prompt comparisons to the M1. Thus, the new car is tagged with an unwieldy name.

Frankly, that’s the only thing about it that is unwieldy. With 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque available from its twin-turbo, all-aluminum, in-line six-cylinder engine, the M Coupe is a rocket sled. It will sprint from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just 4.7 seconds, and its top speed is electronically limited to 155 miles per hour. Offered only with a six-speed manual transmission, the car has EPA fuel economy ratings of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on the highway -- a performance car with a conscience.

It’s also equipped with computerized electronic driver aids that allow you to push its limits, yet help prevent you from tumbling over the other side. For example, its standard Dynamic Stability Control keeps a sharp eye on overaggressive maneuvers that could dent its handsome sheet metal … or worse. But the DSC also has an intermediate M Dynamic Mode that M Brand Manager Matt Russell refers to as a “track training mode.” It allows yaw and wheel-spin, but if the electronics intrude upon your driving style in this mode while you are on the track, you are probably doing something wrong. Like a stern but loving kindergarten teacher, the DSC quickly nudges you back in line.

While we can’t say we were in love with our kindergarten teacher, we love the 1 Series M Coupe a lot. Our only regret is that so few will come to the United States, something on the order of 1,000 cars. Now that might be the extent of the market for a $50,000 car of modest dimensions equipped with a manual transmission, but we have to admit we are thinking very seriously of putting down a deposit and getting on the waiting list. The 1 Series M Coupe may have a clumsy name, but it is anything but clumsy.