Jumping the gun

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(December 26, 2017) Car makers are driving auto shows toward irrelevance with early showings of the cars and trucks it will introduce. Some automakers release photos and technical information. Others, like Honda and Jeep, save the details for press days, hoping they can break out of the clutter, entice media attendance with a promise of more information at the show, and thus get two bites at the proverbial apple.

And while it gets them more coverage in a 24/7 Internet world, it actually saps media anticipation, and makes the public so familiar with what’s on display that it reduces their urge to see the vehicle(s) in person.

2019 Honda Insight

Rather than build a Civic Hybrid, Honda resurrected the Insight badge, put it on a Civic-in-all-but-name small four-door sedan, smoothed out the styling, and announced the fact through a concept car it will introduce at Detroit’s auto show. It should have been expected as the first generation was introduced in 1999, the second generation in 2009, and this, the third generation, will go on sale in 2018 as a 2019 model.

The Insight will usher the Accord Hybrid’s two-motor hybrid technology, but use a smaller displacement Atkinson-cycle engine. It will be geared directly to one of two motor generator units (MGUs) through an electronically controlled clutch located between the MGU and differential.

This allows the first MGU to start the gasoline engine, provide power to the second MGU through the lithium-ion battery pack, and join the second MGU (which is geared to the differential) in driving the car when there’s a need for maximum acceleration. At lower speeds, the clutch is open to let the two MGUs to drive the Insight on electric power alone.

With the 2017 Civic 4-door EPA-rated at 32-36 mpg combined (depending on model and powertrain), and the 2018 Accord expected to have a combined mileage rating of approximately 50 mpg, expectations are high for the new Insight. It will be built at Honda’s Greensburg, Indiana assembly plant.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

Prior to the introduction of the 2014 model, Jeep Cherokees were conservatively styled boxes that never strayed far from the brand’s design heritage. That was shattered with the introduction of the current model which, though built on Fiat’s Compact US-wide platform, looked like an Italianate take on the Nissan Juke overlaid with Jeep styling cues. Despite its challenging styling, the Cherokee has been a strong seller.

Five years into the small crossover’s run it’s getting its first set of updates. Most noteworthy is the new front fascia, which moves the headlights from the front bumper into a more conventional location at the top of the front fascia. The running lights and turn signals, which used to sit alone in this location, are combined with the headlights, while the fog lights are shifted to the bumper face or lower fascia, depending on model. In addition, the facelift eliminates the strange character line that forced the seven-slot grille to bend back over the hood, and replaces it with a more pleasing, upright design.

This has necessitated new front fenders and a new hood with a prominent “power bulge” that also should make it easier for the Cherokee to meet European pedestrian crash standards.

The nip and tuck continues out back, where the bumper has been reprofiled and the hatch reskinned to make room for the license plate pocket formerly found in the bumper. New rear lights and rear glass round out the changes. Inside, very little has changed.

The Virtual Driver