The Truth About Cars » Budget http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:54:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Budget http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Enterprise Rent-A-Car Buys Canadian Car Sharing Service http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/enterprise-rent-a-car-buys-canadian-car-sharing-service/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/enterprise-rent-a-car-buys-canadian-car-sharing-service/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 22:13:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=783025 autoshare_kevin__868561gm-a

Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s Canadian subsidiary is buying AutoShare, a Toronto-based car sharing company that has established itself as a successful competitor to Zipcar.

While terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, it follows last year’s takeover of ZipCar by Avis Budget Group. For now, AutoShare will be managed from Toronto, and operate under the AutoShare brand. According to The Globe and MailAutoShare started in 1998, and has now grown to 12,000 members, with its membership focused in Toronto alone.

But with the backing of Enterprise, that could change. With high gas prices, a largely urban population centered in dense downtown areas and a culture more receptive to eco-friendly measures like public transit, Canada is a country that would be willing to embrace car sharing services. Don’t be surprised if AutoShare starts expanding – and a move south of the 49th parallel could be in the cards as well.

 

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Piston Slap: Hella Sweet Engineering at The 24 Hours of LeMons http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/piston-slap-hella-sweet-engineering-at-the-24-hours-of-lemons/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/piston-slap-hella-sweet-engineering-at-the-24-hours-of-lemons/#comments Mon, 17 Jun 2013 12:00:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=492311

Aside from the great friendships forced via encouraged bribing that naturally occur when like-minded people congregate, the 24 Hours of LeMons is a fantastic opportunity for those wearing a Judge’s robe. Take last month’s race at Eagles Canyon Raceway: when stupid (yet purposeful) things like this Flavor Flav clock on the dash of this Mitsubishi Eclipse arrive, I can’t help feeling like I’m hosting “Pimp My Ride LeMons” edition…

While Xzibit makes hilarious faces/comments as the kids talk about their hooptie’s general crappiness, I just snap a photo and begin judging them…so click the link to see more hilarity.

photo 1 So what is a rotary tool doing on the firewall of this Honda product?  That was my question…and the answer is astounding.

Apparently Honda’s EFI system uses a VSS (vehicle speed sensor) that is rather expensive to fix.  And fix it you must! When the VSS fails to report vehicle speed, Honda’s computer freaks out: going into a reduced performance, limp-home mode.  An inconvenience for most folks on the street, but a killer for a race car.  So what’s the fix on a $500 budget?  Attach a Dremel-style rotary tool to the firewall, turn it on and let it spin the VSS’s cable instead!

Wanna know what makes this even funnier?  The re-engineered, V2.0 implementation of this VSS workaround includes an ON/OFF switch on the dash!  Get in the car, put your helmet on, strap yourself in, fire up the motor…and wait for it…don’t forget to turn on the Dremel!

Re-engineering a brilliantly half-assed workaround is a fantastic notion. Such is the beauty of the $500 race car!

photo 3

This is the alternator of a Fox Body Mustang with the “twin spark” 2.3L four banger.  Said motor emitted a horrible shriek on occasion.  Upon closer inspection, the Mustang’s owners decided that zip ties were an adequate substitute for a proper nut and bolt.  Which apparently was lost at some point in the car’s life.

Surprise, surprise: the shriek went away after installing the correct hardware.  What would Xzibit say at this moment?

photo 4

This V6 Mustang is designed-owned by a pair of unbelievably intelligent engineers.  Very nice dudes who “get” the concept of a LeMons car, to boot.  These engineers, in the spirit of a $500 car, avoided the easy route of buying fancy shocks, painting them black and hoping we didn’t notice their performance on the bounce test.

The engineers said they had two good street shocks, and two horrible ones.  Combine the two (on a completely unnecessary Ford 9″ rear for what reason?) and you get adequate race dampers on the rear axle. Also note the adjustable panhard bar mounting points: very cool, but not very funny.

The shocks are completely in the spirit of LeMons, so I’m suitably impressed.  Laughing, but still impressed.

 

photo 5

Say you got a last-gen Mazda RX-7 turbo (FD bodystyle) for $500 after it caught on fire and became essentially worthless to any street going Rotary fan.  Say you spent a ton of money making it into a legit race car.  You probably don’t have much more left in the kitty for necessary body items to make an FD worthy of an endurance race. (And trust me, it wasn’t. Don’t fill the comments section with BS about how this car isn’t a worthy LeMons car)

This RX-7 was assembled in a matter of days, not months.  I was blown away at the “quality” of work, including this awesome home HVAC intake grille being used at a cooling grate for the RX-7′s turbo mill. I mean, why not use one of these if you have it lying around?

Conversely, you need to block off the gaping hole where the FD used to sport its trademark pop up headlights. One can assume the lights were stripped to help make this into a credible $500 purchase. Vinyl flooring makes for a great headlight alternative…especially at only $1.50 a headlight!

 

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Piston Slap: Coming to Terms with an Old Soul http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/489747/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/489747/#comments Thu, 30 May 2013 12:00:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=489747

Ross writes:

Several years ago a friend suggested to me that I had an old soul. I pretended to not understand what he meant even though I watched old television shows, saw old movies and listened to the big band sounds of the thirties and forties.

I’m beginning to come to grips with my old soul though and I need a bit of advice.

A few years ago I bought a 2003 Kia Rio sedan because it was the cheapest car available with the least mileage and most warranty left. I’ve taken the poor thing from 40k to 130k miles on the clock and its just about worn out. At the time I simply commuted to and from work but my job has expanded and I now have to drive about 500 miles a month to and from various stores on the interstate.

I’m now in a position to replace the car for about 3 grand and I’m leaning heavily toward a panther platform because it satisfies my old soul and because I want to be gently wafted along the highways of Texas without arriving at my destination pounded to a pulp by the drive. I prefer the styling of the Crown Vic, but the selection of Grand Marquis’ seems better and priced better in this market. I’ve pretty much discounted the Town Car as being too pricey and/or complicated for the same amount of use.

Most of the cars I’m looking at seem to be about mid ’90s vintage with about 100k on the clock. Is there anything specific that that I should look for as I shop?

Sajeev answers:

You always look for a stack of service records.  Always.

Aside from a stack of receipts and clean fluids (especially the transmission), the only big problem with Panthers are the plastic intake manifolds from 1996-2001: the replacement has an aluminum crossover tube from the thermostat (at the bottom of the radiator hose on the intake) and that means you are golden.  If not, you need a new intake, sooner rather than later.

Other problems show up in a vehicle this old: worn brakes, bad tires, busted/frozen shocks, fried speaker cones, dissolved window lift motor plugs (video here),  tune-up concerns, cloudy headlights, etc.  Luckily most of these problems, as part of Panther Love, are somewhat easy to fix and won’t leave you stranded.  You can fix these as time permits, while enjoying the ride.

I’d recommend the pre-98s for their superior interior/exterior design and fit/finish: I call them the Fat Panthers because of their “fat content” opposed to the thin and skinny beancounted models afterwards.  Just look at the Crown Vic’s rather expansive use of glass in the greenhouse. Even if it lacks the suspension and brake upgrades of the 1998+ models, this right here is a road car.

So is this really an old car?  Perhaps…it’s a spaceship like the Jetsons’ retro Mid-Century past, not from our future. But who gives a shit, enjoy and be proud of your Old Soul.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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New Or Used? : Large Marge Don’t Want No Land Barge Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/new-or-used-large-marge-dont-want-no-land-barge-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/new-or-used-large-marge-dont-want-no-land-barge-edition/#comments Fri, 05 Apr 2013 10:31:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=483482
Dear Steve and Jeev,

My girlfriend needs a car while in the midst of many other big financial decisions that severely limit her car budget. Here’s the situation.

She has access to a family owned Mercedes 380SL that has what I believe to be transmission issues. It’s dripping dark red fluid from right about where the transmission looks to be and it’s probably also leaking oil.

I’m handy, but I don’t think I’m money pit Benz convertible transmission and rear main seal handy. Then again it might not be so bad and might be a reasonable fix, until the next time it shoots itself in the foot. It currently doesn’t run and last time it was driven apparently exhibited the same problem it has for years, which is that if you don’t take it easy off the line it just dies on you.

So she needs a new car, but she needs something as close to under $4k as possible.

She also has specific tastes, though she’s somewhat flexible. (Oh boy! And here comes her laundry list! -SL)

Click here to view the embedded video.

Completely averse to Panthers (otherwise I wouldn’t have to write this email) and doesn’t want a Taurus ever (her grandmother drives one, it’s been nothing but misery).

Oh also, it can’t be a manual, which means anything remotely – Miata, 2002, Volvo wagon with ls1 swap – fun out of the question. I’ve been looking at Volvo 240s, 740s, 940s, 850s, overpriced Camrys and Accords, Corollas/Prisms and a lot of late 90s early 00s 4th and 5th gen Maximas and i30s. Also G20s and just for good measure the occasional Saab.

Click here to view the embedded video.

I’m very comfortable with the Maxima/i30 as my dad had one for 10 years and it’s what I learned how to work on so I know how to do any repair imaginable and problem areas plus they’re in abundance in this price range. I’m also intrigued by the Volvo option since you could easily sell it for the same you paid for it or more if there’s anything wrong that can be easily fixed.

As I said, I feel comfortable armed with a forum and a Haynes manual to do any reasonable repairs short of transmission rebuilds but I want something that’s easy and cheap to work on as possible. I know that the whole no domestics thing and crapshoot prices don’t help but what should she do? Find out how much the SL will cost to repair? Flush the transmission and hope for the best? What other cars should I be looking for that I’m missing. I assume craigslist is pretty much the only reliable source for these and that I’m buying a car for an owner not the car. Also, should she try to wait out tax season until prices come down, I’ve noticed that even on these sub 5k cars the prices seem higher than normal.

Steve Says:

How does she feel about a minivan?

I would suggest telling her that you want to fill one of those up and your problem should go away real quick. (Childish Giggling – SM)

Here’s the rub on this. Your girlfriend needs to stop looking at the popular cars with the unrealistic expectation of low maintenance and a low price. She wants a cheap Camry? Fine. You will find that the cheap ones are cheap for a reason. I have seen unfortunate souls spending dozens of weekends trying to find a popular car at a cheap price.

Most of them wind up anteing up thousands more than their budget allowed, and buying a popular vehicle with very high miles. Some people are OK with this outcome. The truth is that a better solution is there only if she is willing to adjust her expectations.

I would sit down together in front of the computer and go through the unpopular and orphan brands first. Visit carsurvey, Edmunds, here, there and anywhere else that offers reviews from actual owners. My recommendation is a late 90′s Buick Regal with the 3.8 Liter V6 and about 120k to 150k on the miles. Either that or an Explorer if she wants a bigger vehicle.

Get an older SUV if she doesn’t drive a lot. Or get an unpretentious middle-of-the-road sedan, with a keen eye on the powertrain combination, if her driving will be 10,000 miles or more a year.

Sajeev says:

The Benz might be worth a punt, but that’s only if she doesn’t need to drive very often. My guess is that this conditional statement is rather unrealistic. So the SL ain’t happening.

At this price, tough love is better than proper indulgence. She buys the vehicle with the cleanest interior, newest tires/brakes, the biggest wad of service receipts, and a character that isn’t completely offensive to her sensibility. That said:

“[She's] Completely averse to Panthers (otherwise I wouldn’t have to write this email)”

Come on Son, don’t make jokes like that! Has she not seen the best Music Video ever made on the face of the Universe?

I simply refuse to live in the real world believe that women cannot embrace Panther Love. And I know my man Lang agrees, he came up with the title! While my advice is true, there’s a good chance that the best vehicle for the price will also be a super tidy Panther.

But seriously, get the cleanest, best maintained, late-model, non-European machine you find…buy what she wants when she has more cheddar. Because getting what you want now only hurts you in the future.

Unless it’s a Panther.

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Hedonist vs Frugalist : 2012 Toyota Yaris SE http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/hedonist-vs-frugalist-2012-toyota-yaris-se/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/hedonist-vs-frugalist-2012-toyota-yaris-se/#comments Tue, 11 Sep 2012 13:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=459551

Tercel. Echo. Yaris.

When the history of great cars is written, these models will likely not be anywhere near the short list.

After all, few cars that are plain-jane, spartan and underpowered make it to the latest and greatest coffee table books or Top 100 lists.

Yet, imagine if you asked actual owners about their best cars instead of the usual short-take reviewer?

I am willing to bet that the real world  Top 100 vehicles would have plenty of small cars that would be easy to own, reliable, and most of all….

Jacques Hedonist: Fun! It’s one of those words that can cover a whole gamut of situations. Fun in the twisties. Fun in the sun. Fun taking the family out to Wallyworld.

This Yaris SE is a fun little runabout. We’re not talking about Miata levels or fun, or even Fit levels of fun. We’re talking more in the lines of taking out your best friend’s brother or sister on a purely platonic lunch, and finding out that they are far more interesting than you imagined.

Stefan Frugalist: We’ll start with that unassuming exterior.

The Yaris SE is in many ways a first generation Matrix with 80% of the size and 90% of the interior space.

It offers that typical Toyota front fascia of our modern time.

A side profile with enough lines, ovals and ellipses to resemble a generic five door hatchback.

And a rear that pretty much finishes the nip and tuck of trying to turn a $16,000 commuter into an $18,000 commuter with a little sporting pretension.


 

Like that old Matrix, it is still a grocery getter of sorts. But unlike that model, the Yaris SE has one penetrating weakness that makes it almost ignored in today’s marketplace.

Hedonist: Competition.

We’ll put it to you this way. Let’s say you brought the Yaris SE, the Hyundai Accent and the Fiat 500 to an auto show for the first time.

The Fiat would be ogled. It’s arguably the most distinctive subcompact design of this generation. The Accent would be admired. The Yaris SE? Maybe a few glances. But in our weeks worth of driving it and leaving the SE trimmed Yaris in crowded parking lots throughout Atlanta, nobody made so much as a peep about this vehicle.

Frugalist: But then again some people don’t want to be noticed.

Do Camry and Corolla drivers get noticed? Maybe if the Camry has a blinker light that has been accidentally left on. Or if the Corolla scurried around town with a potted plant on top of it. Maybe then they would get noticed.

Often times non-enthusiasts don’t want to get noticed. They want to have a comfortable car with maybe a few appreciable design elements, an interior that makes for a pleasant environment, and enough utility to get the job done. These days they also want two other important things.

 

Hedonist: Reliability and fuel economy. Once you climb into this vehicle, drive it for a while and look around, you begin to understand where the SE’s sweet spots lies.

It’s in the interior for starters. The seats are eerily reminiscent of the ones in the Toyota Celica of the early-90′s. Very similar design. Exemplary comfort. With thick stitching and good lumbar support for what is in essence a commuter vehicle.

 

Frugalist: The interior is also bereft of any of the ‘easy to see’ cost cutting of other models. The door panels and dashboard are made of the same quality materials you would expect to see in a modern day $20,000 top of the line compact car.

The radio and speaker system would be right at home in a similarly priced Scion.

Even the instrument cluster has a similar design as the one in the Scion FR-S.

Hedonist: Start the vehicle. Drive around town or in the ‘burbs, and you’re never wanting for more power in any real life situation. The Yaris SE may only have 106 horsepower at 6,000 rpm’s. But the acceleration is there. 0 to 60 is around 9′ish and there was no wait or hunting of gears.

This vehicle is like most Toyotas. The automatic has a tendency to lock in at top gear right around 35 to 37 mph if you’re not going on the interstate. When you do go on the highway, everything is… predictable and non-eventful.

The SE model is a little bit noisy on the highway in that typical small car, small engine way. But the folks considering a car like this are a bit more concerned about other things.

 

Frugalist: Like fuel economy. This thing is an absolute marvel given the fact that the powertrain has no hybrid, turbo or CVT. A 4-speed automatic coupled with a 1.5 Liter easy to maintain engine and only about 2300 pounds of heft returned us a real-world combined 37 mpg around winding roads and the highway.

No that’s not a typo. Now I should mention that our town driving has a lot of long one lane roads with stop signs every mile or two. Folks drive 30 to 50 in our neck of the woods. Not 25 to 35. As a matter of context the Sonic reviewed here a year ago got 32 mpg and the Versa returned 33.5 mpg.

The Yaris offers class leading fuel economy with an interior that isn’t quite as large as these two competitors. But it offers plenty of usable space for a family of four and an excellent level of safety with 5 star NHTSA and Euro NCAP rating. We should mention that there is some debate on the later safety rating which can be found here.

Hedonist: The other edge the Yaris SE has in the subcompact hatch segment is durability.

A normally aspirated Toyota that averages about 500,000 units a year on a global basis will usually offer outstanding durability and reliability that makes long-term owners truly happy. The reviews here, here and here reflect Toyota’s penchant for building outstanding small cars.

In fact, this type of vehicle represents the optimal car for a dealership (like Steve Lang’s) that specializes in owner financing and cars that can ‘make the note’. Small Toyotas take abuse better than nearly anything out there and the Yaris SE will likely follow that trend.

The NZ-based engine in the Yaris has been built for over a decade with over 20 Toyotas using it in various forms; including a modified version for the Toyota Prius.  The 4-Speed automatic has also been around for forever and a day.

Long story short, this Yaris will endure the ages and then some. If it’s driven reasonably and maintained to the specs.

Frugalist: Owning the Yaris SE for the long, long run would not be an overwhelming or underwhelming experience. It would simply be ‘whelming’. With that said, who should test drive one?

  • Anyone who is in the market for a Honda Fit. Yes, the Fit is a more dynamic vehicle with plenty of versatility. But the Yaris doesn’t have the same annoying level of highway buzziness. Though the MSRP difference is only between $300 to $700 between the two, the real life difference may end up in the $1500 range.
  • Folks who are ‘Toyota-centric’ and want to avoid a hybrid powertrain.
  • Non-enthusiasts who are planning on keeping their vehicles for 12 to 15 years, prefer hatchbacks,  and want the most bulletproof powertrain possible.

Frugalists may be better served by a Prius C. As for enthusiasts and everything in between? The number of vehicles to consider in this market is absolutely staggering. Sonic, Accent, Rio, 500, Fit, the upcoming Versa hatchback, Fiesta, the SX4, Impreza… and that’s just 9 of 20+ potential fits if the buyer is willing to consider a sedan or a coupe.

The Yaris SE isn’t as good as a Fit. In fact, other than the Versa, this model is simply unable to match most competitors when it comes to thrilling driving dynamics.

Hedonist: But cars are kinda like music when it comes to fun. Some of us are true hardcore music aficionados who seek brilliance in that fifth dimension. While others turn the radio to the easy listening station, and enjoy overplayed Billy Joel songs.

The Yaris SE is a ‘light rock’ hatchback. Predictable. Reassuring. It’s probably the perfect car for someone whose only rebellious act in their entire lifetime has been listening to Billy Joel songs about ‘crashing parties’ and ‘riding motorcycles in the rain’.

If you have a friend who is moving out and needs a new car for the longest time, well, you may be right to recommend a Yaris SE.

Tell her about it… preferably at Mr. Cacciatore’s down on Sullivan Street… and bring some earplugs if that radio is tuned to the wrong station.

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Review: 2012 Nissan Versa vs 2012 Nissan Sentra http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/review-2012-nissan-versa-vs-2012-nissan-sentra/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/review-2012-nissan-versa-vs-2012-nissan-sentra/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2012 14:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=425981 Here’s a statement you won’t see at any other automotive outlet – when I hopped out of a 2012 Mercedes CLS and into a 2012 Nissan Versa SL, I felt like I was at home. This has as much to do with my auto journalist salary as it does my love of bargains. As much as I love $50,000 pickups and supercharged sports sedans, my friends and relations rarely ask which AMG product they should buy. Usually, the decision looks a little like the photograph above. Today’s quandary: the 2012 Nissan Versa vs the 2012 Nissan Sentra. Let the games begin.

Compact cars have a wide appeal to many customers, even if they’re not the sexiest choices out there. You might be shopping for a commuter car, or something for your college bound teen. Maybe it’s your first car, or a car for your elderly mother who doesn’t want anything “complicated”. Whatever the reason, when you’re shopping in the sub-$20,000 range, it’s not unreasonable to ask whether the “next size up”  is worth the 30 percent premium that often comes with it. With the introduction of the all-new Versa, and the continued production of the venerable Sentra, Nissan has made the conundrum that much harder, with the new Versa continuing the tradition of delivering a large interior for a small price. But does that mean the Sentra is superfluous?

Clad in a sporty red finish, we have the middleweight 2012 Nissan Sentra 2.0S with a base price of $17,990 plus $850 in options, (Bluetooth, keyless go, leather wrapped steering wheel and cargo management in the trunk) and $760 in destination charges landing this competitor just shy of 20-large at $19,870. On the right in blue we have the bantam weight 2012 Versa SV sedan starting at $14,560 plus $520 of options (Bluetooth, iPod interface, map lights vanity mirrors, steering wheel audio controls and floor mats) and the same $760 in destination fees yields a $15,840 MSRP. While it is true you can find a Versa for the $10,990 base price, if you want features the market has come to expect like power windows, power door locks, automatic transmission, and more than two speakers, you have to move up the price ladder. Similarly, the base Sentra for $16,250 comes with a manual and lacks creature comforts the commuter car shopper will want like Bluetooth and a place to plug your iPod in. While our Versa SV tester lacked keyless-go and some price adjustment must be made, the Versa handily wins round 1 with it’s $4,030 smaller MSRP.

Looks are a personal preference, but placed side-by-side, the older design language of the Sentra was immediately obvious. The Versa’s curvaceous new form on the other hand seems less “economy” than the outgoing model and to some, more attractive than the Sentra. Sure, the Versa’s narrow track and tall roofline split my informal polling group between those who found the look strangely proportioned and those that found it strangely cute. Either way that was more emotion than the Sentra managed to evoke.

When shopping for a commuter car, the assumption is you’re going to be spending 30 minutes or more inside the car every day. After all, if you commute is short, why have a dedicated “commuter car?” As such, the feel and creature comforts are more important than styling, and in this fight, the Sentra makes a comeback. The Versa’s interior is designed to be profitable (or at least break even) at its $10,990 base price and it shows. From the lack of a center arm rest up front to the hard plastic trim on the doors, the interior certainly feels less expensive than the Sentra which sports a leather wrapped steering wheel, fabric door trim, a center armrest and plenty of silver plastic trim. While the Versa’s plastics may be low rent, they are no worse than those in the Mazda 2 or the new Chevy Spark and only a notch below the Sentra and Chevy Sonic. If you’re shopping a Versa, do yourself a favor and buy a model with the “sandstone” interior. The resulting two-tone dash makes the interior look far more upmarket than the black-on-black model – check out the gallery in our look at the pre-production model from last July if you don’t believe me. While I found nothing objectionable during my week with the Versa, my one-hour one-way commute did serve to remind me how much I missed having an armrest, a leather wrapped wheel and some cushy fabric on the door. The winner in this round is the Sentra with its higher quality touch points.

While the Sentra’s price buys a more appealing steering wheel and a significantly better headliner (the Versa’s “fabric” is reminiscent of the material GM uses to line trunks), the rest of the cabin materials are no more up-market than the Versa. As a result, the passenger comfort round sees some fierce competition. Rear passengers in the Sentra are treated to a center armrest with integrated cup holders and padded door armrests, but the Versa fights back with nearly four more inches of leg room than the Sentra. As oxymoronic as it may sound, the smallest Nissan still sells on spaciousness. This is a fact I did not fully appreciate until I agreed to take some friends to the airport. The send-off journey in the Sentra was a cramped affair (we are all six-feet tall or over) and the Versa proved more comfortable on the return journey home. The reason is due largely to those 38-inches of rear leg room, not only the most in its class, but more than a Ford Fusion or Honda Accord. It’s worth nothing that the Versa is four-inches narrower than the Sentra, meaning sitting three-abreast in the rear is far from enjoyable. For the young family shopper, the Versa was able to comfortably accommodate two rearward facing child seats and a 6-foot, four-inch tall driver while the Sentra was more of a squeeze. Unless you really need to carry 5 regularly or value armrests over leg room, the Versa wins this round with its rear seat leg room and accommodations for two child seats.

Commuters may not care about cargo capacity that much, but it’s handy to have it when you need it. The young family shopper may find this more important with a need to jam luggage for four in the trunk. On the surface the Sentra’s larger proportions and trunk hinges that don’t impact the cargo area set it up for an easy win, but the plucky Versa manages to best the Sentra by 1.7 cubic feet in the rear. With 14.8 cubic feet available, the Versa’s booty is only 4% smaller than a Dodge Charger’s trunk. Even subtracting the space occupied by the trunk hinges, our “airport shuttling” proved that it was easier to get our friend’s bags in the Versa than the Sentra. If this is your family car, you might not want to take the Versa as the ready winner.  The Sentra’s standard folding rear seats make loading IKEA flat-packs possible in the Sentra. The Versa does offer folding rear seats, but only in the more expensive SL trim. With a bigger trunk in the Versa, but no folding seats, our cargo carrying fight ends in a dead heat.

My journey to and from SFO is a 66-mile one way journey which involves going over a fairly windy 2,000-foot mountain pass. With 800-pounds of human cargo and easily 200lbs of luggage in the trunk, both vehicles had their work cut out for them.The Sentra has a respectably low (for a modern car) 3,000lb curb weight when equipped with Nissan’s CVT.  To shift this weight, the Sentra is equipped with Nissan’s popular 2.0L four-cylinder engine. For Sentra duty, this variable valve timing engine is worth 140HP and 147lb-ft of torque.  The Versa on the other hand weighs 576lbs less than the Sentra. At 2424lbs, the Versa isn’t just light for a four-door sedan, it’s light for our modern era period. The small Nissan is only 300lbs heavier than the microscopic Scion iQ despite having more doors and being four and a half feet longer. The Versa gets an all-new 1.6L mill capable of 109HP and 107lb-ft of twist. This may sound like an unfair fight with the Sentra cranking out 28% more power, but the Versa counters with 24% less weight and a trick two-speed CVT. The new “Xtronic” transmission marries ye-olde CVT with a two-speed planetary gearset giving the Versa’s drivtrain a broader range than the Sentra. This improved range was obvious when trying to maintain highway speeds at an 8-percent grade. While the Sentra has a better power to weight ratio on paper, the revised CVT delivers a sucker-punch, helping the smaller engine reach its optimum range faster and stay there longer. The results are clearly seen in our back-to-back quarter-mile tests. The Sentra ran to 30MPH in 3.35 seconds, 60MPH in 9.09 seconds and finished the quarter-mile in 17.06 seconds at 80MPH. The Versa got a quick start hitting 30MPH in 3.11 seconds. By 60MPH the gap was closing with the Versa essentially neck and neck with the Sentra at 9.04 seconds. Above 60MPH, the two-speed gearset helped the Versa finish the quarter-mile race at 16.97 seconds and 81MPH. (It should be noted this was faster than our pre-production Versa in June by a decent margin due likely to improved tuning of the production drivetrain). If straight line performance is really what you’re after, then neither sedan is likely to get your juices flowing. If you just need to make sure you can get on the freeway without getting out to push, both sedans perform admirably. This fight also ends in a tie.

When the going gets twisty, those interested in performance should cross both sedans off their shopping list. If you want a Nissan compact sedan with decent handling characteristics you should just throw down $20,810 for a Sentra SE-R Spec V and call it a day. If however your primary interest is to not head into the forest at the slightest curve, the Versa with its lower curb weight and 185-width tires delivers a decent balance of road holding and ride characteristics due as much to its weight as its 102.5-inch wheelbase. Contrary to most of the automotive press, I have a peculiar love for the CVT and its passion for letting an engine rev at high RPMs endlessly while climbing a hill. Aside from the novelty, it pays dividends for the consumer in hill climbing performance and fuel economy. The Sentra also performs well and its longer wheelbase does make the ride a hair more composed over washboard pavement. For its overall refinement, the Sentra wins.

Speaking of those elusive MPGs, fuel economy is one of the most important factors for many compact sedan shoppers. If you don’t get twice the MPGs from your commuter car as your SUV or Town Car, why bother? Similarly, if you’re not getting near 40MPG, why not just buy a used Camry? During our 705-miles with the Sentra and 675-miles with the Versa we averaged 31.4MPG and 37.9MPG respectively in similar driving situations. Our numbers are taken from our own fill-up calculations but are fairly close to the car’s trip computer estimates. The interesting take-away for the commuter car shopper is that the Versa’s average fuel economy was far closer to its EPA 2008 highway numbers than the Sentra. If your commute requires a great deal of stop-and-go highway travel, then neither sedan will blow you away and you’d be best served waiting for something like the new Prius C. If however your commute is primarily highway, the Versa wins handily.

While the more expensive Sentra makes several compelling arguments with a few more creature comforts, two more speakers, a much-needed armrest for the driver and a more refined feel, the cost difference of $4000 skews the balance towards the Versa. Adjusting for additional content, the difference lands between $3000 and $3500 depending on which web tool you believe. While adjusted numbers are nice, if you want those basic commuter car features of Bluetooth and multimedia interfaces, then the difference is still about $4000 when it comes time to get that new car loan (less any cash on the hood). I’m not sure if this is a backhanded compliment or not, but the Versa delivers a totally unobjectionable experience at a very compelling price. So if you’re out there shopping Sentra vs Versa, save yourself some cash, get the Versa and take a road trip with the difference.

Nissan provided the cars, insurance and one tank of gas per vehicle for this review.

Specifications as tested

Sentra / Versa

0-30 MPH: 3.35 seconds / 3.11 seconds

0-60 MPH: 9.09 seconds / 9.04 seconds

1/4 mile: 17.06 seconds at 80MPH / 16.97 seconds at 81MPH

 

2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, 3/4 front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, 3/4 side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra, Front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, cupholders, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, dash, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, center console, 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Virginia State Police Help With Budget Crunch http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/virginia-state-police-help-with-budget-crunch/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/virginia-state-police-help-with-budget-crunch/#comments Tue, 09 Mar 2010 16:34:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=348294

A federally funded ticketing blitz in the state of Virginia landed a total of 6996 traffic tickets this weekend. The blitz, dubbed “Operation Air, Land & Speed” coincided with frantic efforts by state officials to close a$2.2 billion budget deficit. Supervisors ordered state troopers to saturate Interstates 81 and 95 to issue as many tickets as humanly possible over the space of two days.

“The safety of Virginia’s highways begins the minute a vehicle is put in ‘drive,’” Virginia State Police Superintendent W. Steven Flaherty said in a statement. “Those split second decisions to choose not to drive drunk, to choose to wear a seat belt and to choose not to speed or drive aggressively really do make a difference in preventing and/or surviving a crash.”

Officers had no trouble delivering the requested number of speeding tickets with a total of 3536 ordinary speeding citations written. In addition, another 717 “reckless driving” tickets were filed, although these most often are simple speeding tickets that happen to carry a fine of up to $2500. Driving as little as 10 to 15 MPH over the limit can qualify for this enhanced punishment. On the other end of the scale, some 310 tickets were handed to drivers who either forgot to wear their seatbelts or made a choice not to do so.

Activists with the National Motorists Association pointed out that enforcement efforts may have concentrated on areas where speed limits are expected to rise to 70 MPH following Governor Bob McDonnell’s signature on legislation raising the state’s maximum speed limit (view law). This would mean a significant number of tickets were issued for conduct that will be perfectly legal in a matter of months. The group also indicated that state police tactics may run afoul of state law.

“All officers making arrests incident to the enforcement of this title shall be paid fixed salaries for their services and shall have no interest in, nor be permitted by law to accept the benefit of, any fine or fee resulting from the arrest or conviction of an offender against any provision of this title,” Virginia Code Section 46.2-102 states.

Under the federal grant application process, state officials explained that they would pay officers overtime — at least one-and-a-half times their normal salary — to participate. This special reward for ticketing operation participants appears to violate the spirit of state law.

Since 2006, a total of twenty-three ticketing blitzes have taken place, generating 120,977 traffic tickets.

[courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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Hammer Time: Cheap, Cheap and Cheap http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/hammer-time-cheap-cheap-and-cheap/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/hammer-time-cheap-cheap-and-cheap/#comments Sun, 03 Jan 2010 17:25:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=340588 This Taurus a new one?

Why that car? My cousin was slightly amused at the sight of my 2004 Ford Taurus SES. A rental car seemingly loaded with penny-pinching mediocrity and cut corners. An unusual choice for the holidays. It had made the long journey from Northwest Georgia to Jewish Florida in a day’s time. The leather was cheap, but functional. The buttons were cheap, but functional. The price bought it for was very cheap…

and very functional. $1400. So what was the catch? As the Rev. Jesse Jackson would say if he hucked cars instead of skin color, “There’s always an explanation for depreciation.” Cheap always happens in any business for a reason. In fact, for many years I’ve been sampling three types of ‘cheap cars’ that pay off surprisingly well. They are…

1) The very high mileage, late model vehicle.

2) The very low mileage, older vehicle.

3) The unknown mileage (True Miles Unknown) / or ‘Branded Title’ vehicle.

This one was a prime example of number one. Although it was as clean and well kept as any ‘dealer queen’ at the auction, it also had mileage that would qualify it for ‘gold’ status in most frequent flyer programs. 190k highway miles in North Georgia to be exact. However this car was also in exceptionally good shape. Even for a 5 year old car. Ford OEM parts had been installed aplenty in the engine department since day one. The exterior and interior surprisingly free of any signs of substantial wear. It had also been a ‘fleet’ vehicle for a company which had taken it for dealer service every 3,000 miles.

Everything worked from the sunroof to the trunk release. Leather was perfect… which is a very good thing. Because for the most part folks either ‘buy with their eyes’ or get the ‘loaded model’. A modern day sled is still more marketable when it’s full of bells, whistles, and reindeer. This one has 200 horsepower which is a nice marketing combo when you throw in the leather and a roof. A brick load of receipts had kept this road warrior a front line ready unit and the 1500 miles of recent family taxi duty didn’t hurt it either. In fact, it may have helped it given that I can now vouch for it’s road trip prowess.

Resale has always been the shangri-la of the cheapskate and the ugly ogre for those who end up trading their sleds. This Taurus definitely qualifies as a medieval terror in that regard. Like most overproduced and over-rental-ed domestics, the market value is now less than half of a Toyonda equivalent. The next buyer may also benefit from the curse of powertrains past. AXOD transmissions and head gasket sucking 3.8 Liters (not to mention Ford’s rental happy orientation at the time) had doomed the Taurus for well over a decade into the far lower tier of resale value. This one thankfully came with the 200 horsepower Duratec with the AX4N transmission which has overwhelmingly become the powertrain of choice for buy-here pay-here lots. It’s a surprisingly good unit that makes Tauruses quite popular for those companies that specialize in financing the unfinancable. It’s cheap to buy. Cheap to sell… and if you recondition it properly, it’s usually cheap to keep.

This Taurus is also far from alone in the ‘cursed’ regard. Dodge Intrepids often came with a 2.7L V6 that self-destructed well before 100k. I actually had one that was only owned by the Salvation Army, and six months after it sold, the engine went kaput. However the 3.5L unit that went to the high-line models, police cars, and the 300M is an entirely different beast. I bought a 2004 model a few years ago for only $3000 that came with everything… and 133k miles. Over the years, I have bought and financed a lot of these high mileage road warriors from the auction’s discount bin and I have yet to regret it. Explorers with ‘Exploder Tires’, Dexron-ridden GM cars. Even the one blown head of a 1990′s Neon may be bought for a song and sold for a dance. But like any veteran buyer at the auctions, I also do a lot of research and inspection before pulling that trigger. A diligent inspection and a good history of care usually go a very long way; especially when you’re playing with your own money.

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