2017 MINI Cooper Countryman: Versatile Impact

Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

The burgeoning love affair with the MINI brand continues with enthusiasm as more hits are released and prior generations are updated with powerful impacts on consumer perception. MINI owners are proud and dedicated and marvel at the warmth, friendliness and brilliance their vehicles offer during every drive. Never do you tire of the monotony of the same old thing because never does your pride and joy ever seem to grow old. And now there is more to rejoice with the introduction of the 2017 MINI Cooper Countryman, the biggest and most versatile MINI to date.

To enjoy the adventurous nature and attributes of the new Countryman we headed to the raw Pacific Northwest lands of Oregon to mesh the outdoorsman environment with the authenticity of the vehicle. From fresh waterfalls, to snow laden trails, to uphill trots to reach our campgrounds the MINI displayed its versatile impact in full force. Especially since we were blessed with the S Countryman ALL4 which is their all-wheel drive technology. A few times I thought a Subaru would be better suited until the Countryman disproved my theory. I like the idea of leaving the pavement to hit the woods in a MINI.

“The MINI Countryman has been a top selling model since it was first introduced in 2010 and we expect this new generation will be even more popular with existing owners, while also attracting new customers to the brand,” said Thomas Felbermair, Vice President MINI of the Americas. “The new Countryman not only provides customers with additional space for cargo and passengers, but also offers a new plug-in hybrid option with performance attributes that underline the fun to drive go-kart handling that MINI owners know and love.”

When it hit the scene the Countryman was the first MINI with AWD and four doors and now represents as the 2nd best selling MINI ever. The brand will continue to focus on their core pillars in the form of performance, versatility and individuality. For one, MINIs are fun to drive so power and excitement are necessary attributes. Two, with the wide variety of exterior colors, wheel options and accessories it would be challenging confusing your Countryman with the next. Lastly, what’s the joy of having such a neat vehicle if your homies can’t have none. So of course it is designed for transporting multiple friends and their gear (8.1” longer and 5.4 cubic feet more cargo space than the predecessor), say, for a weekend get-a-way to hike in Yosemite National Park.

With new architecture — uses a great amount of high strength steel — new engines and new transmissions the 2017 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4 was a blast to drive all day in Oregon and Washington. Its handling and acceleration were impeccable. Even with the addition of a few hundred pounds the ALL4 is much quicker than the FWD. The all-turbocharged engine lineup starts off with the TwinPower Turbo 1.5-liter 3 cylinder engine with 134-horsepower that can be paired with either the 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic (Cooper) or the 8-speed automatic (Cooper ALL4). On the drive in an Island Blue Metallic MINI I was able to experience the peppy TwinPower Turbo 2.0-liter 4 cylinder with 189-horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque. It was blessed with the optional ($1,750) 8-speed sport automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Also available are the 6-speed manual (S ALL4) and the 8-speed automatic. For the 2.0 and ALL4 expect 31 highway MPG and 22 city MPG. Also at the bottom of the tall gear shifter you can click left for Sport mode or right for Green mode.

One of the most attractive attributes of the 2017 Countryman is the amount of standard equipment MINI loaded it with. No longer do you have to sacrifice your favorite items due to additional costs. Included are a Panorama Sunroof, Sensatec Leatherette Upholstery which I like over full leather, the 6.5” MINI Connected infotainment system similar to BMW iDrive, a Rear View Camera with guidelines, Rear Park Distance Control (parking sensors), Rain-Sensing Windshield Wipers which were needed in the snowy mountain weather, sliding and reclining 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats and satin-finished aluminum roof rails. A few options include the power opening tailgate, John Cooper Works Exterior Package, Off-road Appearance Package (cosmetic only) and the $2,250 Technology Package including Parking Assistant, MINI Connected 5.0 and MINI Head-Up Display which projects through a small screen onto the dash opposed to your road view ahead. I thought that was odd. The Advanced Wired Package adds the 8.8” Touchscreen Navigation, a new-Gen operating system and Qi wireless device charging although the iPhone Plus does not fit in the charging station.

But not only does a MINI look good, it also feels good. The cockpit emulates a high-end sports car than a friendly people traveler. A super sporty, aggressive and multifunction JCW steering wheel ($250) for example hinted at the vehicle’s performance nature and the typical toggle switches for such things as igniting the engine or turning ESP on or off gives the impression of a pilot than a driver. Other niceties are the mood lighting, door armrests, thigh extenders, heated seats, two USB ports up front and large HVAC knobs.

MSRP pricing starts at $26,100 for the Cooper and $28,100 for the Cooper ALL4 while the Cooper S initiates at $29,100 and $31,100 for the Cooper S ALL4 excluding the $850 destination charge. My test ride totaled $37,750 with the aforementioned add-ons. With the beauty of the Portland area and a bundle of driving technology at my disposal I could ride out all day in the 2017 Countryman without a qualm.

2018 Toyota C-HR: Coupe High-Rider Enters the Stage

By Kimatni D. Rawlins

To experience what Toyota dubs their Coupe High-Rider Fit Fathers ventured to the diversity of Austin where the eclectic vibe is more like Portland and Venice Beach than Texas. The all-new 2018 C-HR CUV fulfills a niche market that clamors for value, fuel efficiency, and daring designs. Entering the stage this April newcomers will be introduced to an array of technological standard features presented in two renditions: the $22,500 C-HR XLE and the $24,350 C-HR XLE Premium.

With strong creases, sharp curvilinear lines, robust wheel arches, snazzy rear fins with a rear spoiler, and tough body cladding, the C-HR looks like its about to take form into something else like a GoBot. Designers flowed with the “Distinctive Diamond” theme of the gemstone to substitute for some of the vehicle’s characteristics. Toyota definitely wanted to ascertain C-HR’s silhouette was engaging and attention grabbing. There are nine hues in total to decide from with samples for the passionate customer including Ruby Flare Pearl, Blizzard Pearl, Silver Knockout Metallic, and Blue Eclipse Metallic. Also on deck is the $500 R-Code package with its white roof, side view mirrors, and A-pillar to contrast with either of three base, but special body paints. All R-Code interiors are black.

Five-leaf clover 18” alloy rims (vortex-styled) wrapped in chunky 225/50R18 Dunlop tires get the compact utility rolling while a 2-liter 4-cylinder engine with a reasonable 144-horsepower and 139 lb.-ft. of torque authorizes the FWD structure. Keep in mind there will be no AWD option because this vehicle was initially slated as a Scion. The 2-liter is paired with a Continuously Variable Transmission with intelligence and Shift mode (CVTi-S). Toyota engineered the CVTi-S with ECO, Normal, and particularly Sport mode since the vehicle’s Deputy Chief Engineer, Hiro Koba, loves to race. In fact, Toyota actually tested the Coupe High-Rider at the famed Nürburgring circuit to showcase that spirited driving could be one of its attributes. Interesting! Sport mode specifically focuses on CVT, steering, and throttle adjustments. On winding Texas back roads the steering was on-center and the suspension was firm enough to handle the roads with aplomb (built with a rear stabilizer bar and front and rear hydraulic shock absorbers). However, a turbocharger would be a nice addition for better acceleration.

With a rigid body due to the use of high tensile steel and aluminum for weight reduction expect 27 city, 31 highway, and 29 combined MPGs for your 3,300-pound C-HR. Also adding to the aesthetics of the chiseled body are bulging rear taillamps, projector-beam halogen headlights with LED daytime running lights, a front chin spoiler, rear lower diffuser, and unique rear handles which are embedded within the top corner of the doors. Whether close-up or from afar the C-HR definitely looks tough as nails!

Inside the unique cockpit are bolstered Sport Fabric-trimmed front bucket seats, a 7” touchscreen sitting atop the dash, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, backup camera integrated within the rearview mirror, and dual-zone climate control. The power windows are one-touch up and down but the seat and steering adjustments are manually operated. Since the C-HR is an entry level vehicle intended for younger buyers the CUV is devoid of a sunroof, Satellite Radio, and navigation which is fine since everyone uses their phone for directions anyway. I connected both through Bluetooth and the singular USB to listen to my phone’s music. The system also syncs up with your text messages and address book. Aha is Toyota’s main music app for this vehicle but I do not use that service. I also missed CNN 116 and The Joint 42 on SiriusXM while cruising along the Texan roads. While the front seats were comfortable, the rear looks tight until you craw back there and witness the vehicle’s ample space. More utility for items like bikes is accomplished by simply laying the second-row seat flat.

Preventative safety measures come in the form of Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) which is a suite of standard and active systems that help keep you and other drivers safe on the road. TSS-P enhances your C-HR with Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beams, and Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Then there is the Star Safety System providing Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Brake Assist, and Smart Stop Technology. Wait, there’s more. I can’t forget about Hill-Start Assist Control, the 10 airbags, and Brake Hold Function that manages the braking force at each wheel to maintain the C-HR’s stationary position.

As you can see Toyota’s Coupe High-Rider is distinct in many ways and offered at an affordable entry price. It doesn’t cover all areas such as infotainment but it is pretty menacing.

2017 Jeep Compass: Small Impact

Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

Branded after its big brother Jeep Grand Cherokee the all-new Compass compact SUV is rough, rugged and raw; well, at least on the outside. Step inside and the small wonder continues to surprise with modern gadgetry, telematics, and advanced safety features. Jeep lifers expect their utilities to handle active lifestyle adventures with aplomb whether on domestic grounds or international terrain. Although small, the Detroit native is as multi-purpose as a Victorinox Swiss Army knife with one exception to the rule; it’s an All-American.

Back in 2009 Jeep committed to refreshing the product line with the Compass now receiving its due process. Centered within a growing segment that expects to hit 7.5-million registrations over the next three years, the Compass is primed for globalization in markets like Brazil and Mexico and is the key reason why Jeep tailored the vehicle with 17 various powertrain combinations. This includes five global engines with two being diesel.

Based out of the historic Hotel Emma the Jeep was introduced in San Antonio, Texas this past week to a group of automotive journalists. Extraordinarily accentuated, the new Compass replaces the Patriot and the old Compass. It’s been re-invigorated with American ingenuity such as the 4th Gen 8.4” Uconnect multi-media and infotainment system (also offered in 5” and 7” touchscreens), the fabled Jeep 7-slot chrome grille embedded in a Gloss Black field, typical 4×4 off-road capabilities, available dual-pane sunroof, strong trapezoidal wheel arches, and the optional Gloss Black hued roof. Like a pro running back the SUV’s stance is wide, muscular, and planted. Furthermore, with Uconnect Services, Bluetooth streaming, Apple CarPlay, and various apps I was able to play my Apple Music, use apple Maps to navigate around Texas, and tap into Siri when I needed information.

“First and foremost, the all-new Compass is an authentic Jeep SUV delivering class-leading off-road capability,” said Art Anderson, Vehicle Line Executive — FCA US LLC. “Our new 2017 Jeep Compass also delivers a world-class on-road driving experience in all weather conditions for a true ‘no compromise’ compact SUV.”

Engineered with more than 65% high-strength steel Jeep built the vehicle with more rigidity and compliance. With its small-wide 4×4 architecture the 4-wheel independent suspension blesses the trail rated Compass Trailhawk with 8.5” of ground clearance and 8.2” of rear wheel articulation for optimized traction on unsettled, rocky grounds. Moreover, frequency selective damping (FSD) on the front and rear struts provides even greater handling. Witnessing my Red Trailhawk maneuver through Mother Nature from behind the thick, tilt/telescoping, multi-functional steering was amazing.

For the media drive Jeep provided both the Compass Limited and Compass Trailhawk to test on and off-road. In North America the SUV will be powered by the familiar 2.4-liter Tigershark 4-cylinder engine with 180-horsepower and 175 lb.-ft of torque. It can be paired with three transmissions including a 6-speed manual, a 6-speed automatic or the 9-speed automatic. The best fuel economy of 23 city / 32 highway / 26 combined mpg originates from a 2.4-liter, 6-speed manual, and 4×2 pairing. My Bright White Compass Limited 4×4 had the 9-speed, 19” Starfish wheels, sunroof, and a $34,460 price tag ($28,995 base). However, it struggled during much needed acceleration when I entered the highway.

Of course Jeep owners are all about the great outdoors and more often than not take their utilities on epic journeys. This is where Jeep Active Drive (optional on all models) comes into play. Torque can be directed 100% to a singular wheel if traction is needed in dicey situations. Jeep Active Drive Low is standard on the Trailhawk. Both systems feature Selec-Terrain, Selec-Speed Control, and Hill-descent Control. Selec-Terrain will work in Auto mode or driver’s can manually switch to the Snow, Sand, Mud, or Rock (Trailhawk only) setting.

The Compass Trailhawk is its own special model with unique geometry, durable skid plates, red tow hooks, dark gray metal colors to replace the bright elements, and aggressive 215/65R17 all-season Falken WildPeak H/T tires with taller sidewalls, grabby tread, and a full-size matching spare. The Trailhawk can also ford in waters up to 19”. Its approach angle is 30-degrees and departure angle is 34-degrees. So of course I was looking forward to playing with the smaller, harder Jeep after the on road drive in the Limited.

For lunch we camped out for the afternoon at the popular Flat Rock Ranch in the Hill Country of central Texas a few miles outside of Comfort, Texas (45 miles NW of San Antonio) to challenge the Compass Trailhawk through an off-road course on the property’s 1,300 rugged acres. We set the vehicle in Rock mode and traversed up and down hills, over rocks, through beds of water, and around muddy bends. Impressed, I was! (in my Yoda voice). Better known for mountain biking, trail running, and camping, the 28 miles of existing single tracks were right up my alley. Now only if I had thought to bring the Ghost Kato 27.5er.

Not to be outdone by its physical capabilities the Compass is also endowed with over 70 artificial intelligence systems in the form of Hill Start Assist, ParkView Rear Back Up Camera, Forward Collision Warning-Plus, LaneSense Departure Warning-Plus, a power liftgate with an embedded rear spoiler, Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus, Electronic Stability Control with Electronic Roll Mitigation, and a Sentry Key Theft Deterrent System that makes it nearly impossible to get away with the Jeep without the original key.

Showing up in dealers this spring the Compass is available in various trims dubbed Latitude, Sport, Limited, and Trailhawk with a starting MSRP between $20,995 and 28,995 depending on your selection (excludes $1,095 destination charge). Yes, the Compass could use a bit more power, but other than that the small wonder delivers everything active lifestylers such as myself need, including roof rails, a hitch, and up to 2,000 pounds of towing capacity. Now go experience life!

2017 BMW 5 Series: Yesterday a Vision, Today a Reality

Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

It’s always a seminal moment when presented with test drive opportunities of a BMW sport sedan while voyaging the beautiful coast of California for days at a time. Recently this exact scenario manifested which allowed me to journey from Silicon Valley to north of San Pablo Bay in Napa Valley behind the wheel of an Alpine White 2017 BMW 540i Sedan with the M Sport Package. Its 3-liter TwinPower Turbo inline 6-cylinder engine was both efficient and robust and vehicle handling impeccable, especially if you opt for the $3,200 Dynamic Handling Package. But the main storyline here is the implementation of an array of digital, autonomous, and connected technology systems such as Remote Control Parking which permits the operator to park the Bimmer using the key fob while standing outside the vehicle! Amazing. [Read more…]

2017 Kia Niro: A New Hybrid Hero

Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

I’m sure by now most of you have seen the Melissa McCarthy ad spot with Kia’s new hybrid crossover dubbed “Hero’s Journey” where the comedic actress attempts to the save the eco-friendly attributes of the planet while using the vehicle’s key features. Whether you find it amusing or not the underlying theme is that Kia has introduced another green machine to the marketplace for individuals looking to reduce their carbon footprint. With an introductory price of $22,890, fuel economy of 52 city MPG, and a 595-mile range the Niro FE may just be my new hybrid hero! [Read more…]

2017-BMW-X4-M40i X-Rated Fun

Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

Well, I must say BMW’s sport activity vehicle was delivered at the right time for a week full of family fun, daily team rituals, and weekend competitions. The girls had four games including basketball and soccer and practice everyday except Friday. From swapping out kids, teammates, gear, and food the BMW X4 M40i had an eventful time with my unit. Compact outside, larger inside, quick as cats, and full of technology, the X4 is very fitting for vigorous clans on the go. [Read more…]

2017 Jaguar F-PACE S: Extraordinary Moments

2017-jaguar-f-pace-s_red

Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

I fondly recall my internship years at Jaguar Cars immediately after graduating from Georgia Tech back in 2007. At the time luxury auto manufacturers were beginning to explore the development of SUVs so I queried Jaguar on their potential plans to join the movement. Owned by Ford back then, executives stated there were no product planning resources allocated for such a project. Well, thanks to parent company Tata it’s pleasing to see the British brand joining the ranks of Porsche who traditionally had only engineered sports cars. [Read more…]

2017 Auto Show Season presents the Washington Auto Show

Check out the latest vehicles and advanced technologies that will be showcased at the 2017 Washington Auto Show, January 27 to February 5 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Kimatni Rawlins of Automotive Rhythms talks to manufacturers regarding the innovative products you must see in our nation’s capital with the latest SUV trends, exotics, crossovers, concept cars and luxury vehicles, as well as the landscape of alternative fuel products and connectivity for 2017 and beyond. Last but not least we will be painting art cars live at Automotive Rhythms 2nd Annual ART-of-Motion exhibit throughout the show. Please join us!

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid: The Electric Minivan

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

It was a most auspicious day in Santa Monica, California leading up the LA Show as I enjoyed a full day in Chrysler’s first ever plug-in hybrid minivan. The new Pacifica has already showcased to the downsized segment what it takes to be a boss and how to entice family oriented consumers looking for talented features and astounding character traits. Combine this newfangled people mover with an electrified platform and now you have both an eco-friendly and majestic minivan to satisfy the senses of soccer moms and fit fathers alike. [Read more…]

2018 Volkswagen Atlas: American Heart and Soul

2018_vw_atlas_reveal_event_07

Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

For the first time ever the Santa Monica Pier allowed an automaker to host a vehicle reveal which took place on a beautiful and exciting evening as Volkswagen introduced the all-new 2018 Atlas to a large group of media and live Internet audience. With three rows of seating for seven passengers the midsize SUV is built in Tennessee and designed for the typical American family looking for a cavernous cockpit with an ample amount of utility, flexibility, technology and comfort. This anomaly translates into Volkswagen’s largest vehicle in the U.S. and brings them out of the shadows of the smaller Golfs and Jettas they manufacture.

The Atlas appears to be quite intuitive and versatile since it features Volkswagen Digital Cockpit instrumentation; Volkswagen Car-Net connected vehicle services with App-Connect for pairing with either Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or MirrorLink; a 12-speaker Fender Premium Audio System; and two powertrains to choose from — a 238-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged TSI 4-cylinder engine and the 280-horsepower 3.6-liter VR6 engine — with both married to an 8-speed transmission. Buyers can opt for either the front-wheel-drive variant or the 4Motion all-wheel-drive Atlas that comes with the VR6 models.

“This is the biggest and boldest Volkswagen we have ever built in the United States, delivering the distinctive design and craftsmanship we’re known for, now with room for seven,” said Hinrich J. Woebcken, CEO of the North America Region, Volkswagen. “The Atlas marks a brand new journey for Volkswagen to enter into the heart of the American market.”

There are quite a few fresh vehicles planned to be released in 2017 where plenty of anticipation leads us to a bevy of new SUVs, sports cars and pickup trucks including the VW Atlas. The technical acumen of the Atlas is presented in an amalgamation of driver assistance systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control; Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking (Front Assist); Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert; Lane Departure Warning (Lane Assist) and Parking Steering Assistant (Park Assist) to name a few. These unequivocal advantages allow VW to attract a wider range of buyers with a vehicle that broadens appeal to active, on-the-go families. Moreover, Automatic Post-Collision Braking System kicks in when the airbag sensors detect an initial impact triggering the vehicle to apply the brakes to reduce the unfortunate opportunity of a secondary impact and further damage or injury.

Some things I noticed right off the bat after the Atlas drove onto the stage were the flush, dual tailpipes, a stylish tailgate spoiler, LED headlights, front and rear skid plates, a hitch, muscular design cuts, strong wheel arches and stylish rims, especially the black wheels on the Mustard hued Atlas. This may be a bit too pompous for some but ideal for many others. At 198.3” long, 77.9” wide and 69.6” tall, VW will offer the Atlas in five trim levels. To get to the third row VW has originated a cool, innovative solution for the folding seat which simultaneously tilts and slides in one piece, and can be done so even when a child safety seat is strapped in. As they claim, the third row is truly suitable for two adults unlike many in this competitive set.

The Los Angeles unveil marked the beginning of a new voyage for VW and concluded at historic Route 66. Indeed it’s designed for America, but will also be exported to other markets. This fresh start also aligns with VW’s electrification strategy for a future that will bring us 30 EVs by 2025. The Atlas arrives the spring of 2017.