By on August 16, 2017

2017 Honda Civic hatchback - Image: Honda

The lifespan of an average car-model usually lasts a half-decade before the automaker shells out for a full redesign, unless it’s a Nissan Frontier or Lincoln Navigator. That’s more or less the rule at Honda when it comes to the top-selling compact car in North America, the Civic.

While the eighth-generation Civic soldiered on for a lengthy six years, Honda sold the preceding seventh, sixth, fifth, and fourth versions of the model for either four or five years. Thanks to a boring design and lackluster reviews, the automaker spirited the ninth-gen model off of dealer lots after just four years, but not before adding extra content and style via an emergency 2013 model year refresh.

We’re now hearing the current generation — larger than ever before, radically redesigned for 2016, and a sales leader in a shrinking segment — won’t see a full redesign until the 2022 model year. That’s a six-year stretch. A stretch where automakers will be scrambling to hold on to compact-car market share in a land flush with small crossovers. (Read More…)

By on August 9, 2017

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT, Hyundai Elantra GT

Back in late June, Hyundai’s Canadian division bundled myself and a group of fellow journalists into a Quebec hotel, then proceeded to explain how crossovers are eating the compact car’s lunch.

The 2018 Elantra GT, the company’s representatives said, almost didn’t happen because of the unstoppable popularity of high-riding, cavernous utility vehicles. Hyundai’s U.S. crew apparently needed convincing that the next-generation GT was even worth the trouble. Essentially just an overseas-market i30 with a name change, the new GT’s North American salvation came from the fact few buyers opted for an Elantra-badged hatchback in recent years. Far more buyers take home a Ford Focus or Mazda 3 with five doors.

And so, having been assured that a much-improved GT — a hatchback with more cargo room, more available power, greater handling and sporting prowess, and cohesive, flirting-with-premium looks — would boost overall Elantra sales, we’ve come to this. An Elantra GT, now with more GT.

In GT Sport trim, the vastly reshaped, fourth-generation compact hatch dons the turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder from the Elantra Sport, calls dibs on its athletic cousin’s sporty transmissions, and goes to town delivering value-packed driving excitement for the commuter who likes taking the long (and twisty) way home. This tester, however, is no Elantra GT Sport. Nope. It’s the plain ol’ Elantra GT — the Elantra GT you’ll see far more often than the throaty, scrappy Sport, probably while its owner performs the mundane cargo-hauling duties Hyundai so desperately wants its buyers to attempt.

Even in base form, Hyundai hopes the Elantra GT’s sporting abilities and generous cargo volume whispers a siren song would-be subcompact crossover buyers simply can’t ignore. Is it a convincing come-on? (Read More…)

By on August 4, 2017

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT driving shot, Image: Hyundai

Hyundai, as we told you last month, has a pretty competent little hatchback on offer for 2018: the newly restyled, revamped, and (Hyundai hopes) reinvigorated Elantra GT. Sporting a mature European-designed body made possible by the overseas i30, the 2018 Elantra GT spices up its roomy hatch bonafides with available power — you’ll find 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque from the Elantra Sport-sourced 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder in the GT Sport.

Its base powerplant isn’t necessarily a slouch, either. (You’ll be able to read a TTAC review of the GT next week.) A direct-injection 2.0-liter generating 162 hp and 150 lb-ft puts the entry-level Elantra sedan’s powerplant to shame, and the cargo room — well, Hyundai’s all about that GT cargo volume. Why else would it call the model “a viable alternative to small CUVs for buyers desiring more fun-to-drive characteristics and greater utility” in the preamble to its price list?

The 2018 price floor for Hyundai’s front-wheel-drive CUV fighter isn’t much higher than last year’s, and those optional ponies won’t exactly break the bank. You can improve a Korean car 12 ways to Sunday, but you still can’t charge more than the Japanese or Germans. (Read More…)

By on July 21, 2017

1995 Plymouth Neon, Image: Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a believer in the idea of authentically American small cars, then you’ve had a rough couple of years. The last compact or subcompact to be engineered ground-up by an American corporation was probably the ’95 Dodge/Plymouth Neon, although some kind of argument might be possible for the Chevrolet Cobalt. In 2017, the Big Three have been reduced to selling locally assembled versions of a German car, a Korean car, and an Italian car. We’re basically where Brazil was in 1990.

Things are going to get worse. GM might discontinue some small cars altogether. Ford is going to build the Focus in China. FCA probably has no plans to bring a Dart successor here. This is the end, beautiful friend. Do you care?

(Read More…)

By on July 12, 2017

2017 Chevrolet Cruze and Malibu - Image: GMThrough the first-half of 2017, midsize car sales plunged 18 percent as nearly every nameplate in the category suffered from declining sales.

Year-over-year, sales of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Mazda 6, and Chrysler 200 collectively fell by nearly 200,000 units.

We know where the buyers are going. Compact crossovers such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Rogue — each of which now sell more often than even the top-selling midsize cars — are 2017’s soup du jour: more space for Buster the Bernese, better sightlines for the driver, all-wheel drive for those weekly Rubicon excursions, and a superior image to boot.

But if the trend we’ve seen through the first-half of 2017 holds, midsize cars won’t merely lose the U.S. sales race to compact crossovers. 2017 appears primed to be the first year in history in which compact cars also outsell midsize cars.  (Read More…)

By on July 10, 2017

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT (Image: Steph Willems)

Years back, a neighbor of mine worked as an electrician’s apprentice while we both occupied different corners of a sketchy four-plex. Good guy. When an emergency arose, especially if the emergency was a sudden lack of tape, this was your man.

Anyway, with barely enough cash to buy beer on weekends, let alone a half-decent used pickup, the tools of his trade journeyed to the job site in a roomy, economical, and seemingly indestructible four-door liftback. It was, of course, a first-generation Hyundai Elantra GT, only with the contents of a small hardware store filling the area aft of the front seat.

A useful, if tepid, vehicle then, but one far more worthy of the GT moniker now.

The Korean automaker launched the Elantra GT in 2001, and has no intention of dropping the useful compact hatchback from the marketplace anytime soon, even though its U.S. executives required a dose of friendly Canadian persuasion to keep it alive south of the 49th parallel (according to Hyundai Canada brass). The pressure paid off, leaving Americans with yet another option in the “hotter hatch” segment.

No longer is the GT a one-engine affair, nor is it likely to continue as an afterthought in the minds of consumers. For 2018, Hyundai chose to spread the widest possible net with its newly enlarged hatch, hoping to lure would-be buyers away from better-known rivals while offering a sportier alternative to small crossovers. (Read More…)

By on June 19, 2017

A Class Concept Mercedes, Image: Daimler AG

Get ’em young and get ’em poor upwardly mobile. That seems to be Mercedes-Benz’s rationale behind the upcoming A-Class sedan, which should arrive in the U.S. later next year.

According to dealers who spoke to Automotive News, the German automaker has confirmed the front-wheel drive model will indeed appear on these shores, slotted below brand’s current least-expensive car, the CLA. No longer a somewhat geeky, Euro-centric mini hatch, the global A-Class appears tailor-made to lure buyers away from other brands. (Read More…)

By on May 24, 2017

A Class Concept Mercedes

Like Steve Austin’s doctors, Mercedes-Benz engineers realized they had the technology to make the brand’s four-cylinder engines better than they were before. Better, stronger…smaller.

As the automaker prepares to expand its lineup of compact, front-wheel-drive offerings to eight models, new powerplants are the order of the day. Designed to propel vehicles using the next-generation MFA2 platform, the new engine family comes in a variety of flavors, one of which will likely appear stateside. (Read More…)

By on May 22, 2017

2016 Mitsubishi Lancer - Image: MitsubishiAs Mitsubishi prepares to launch a new small crossover, the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Mitsubishi’s car lineup continues to shrink.

The Galant died in 2012. The Mitsubishi Lancer, it was revealed earlier this year, will cease existence in the U.S. market later this year. But the Lancer’s American goodbye, via a blacked-out Limited Edition, won’t represent its final North American goodbye.

Mitsubishi Canada still wants the Lancer, the brand’s best-selling model as recently as last year, at least until 2018. And Mitsubishi Canada won’t bid farewell to the Lancer until the car can be given “a uniquely Canadian sendoff.”

We assume this means Tim Hortons’ double-doubles inserted in the cupholders straight from the factory along with a hockey bag in the trunk and a curling broom roof rack. (Read More…)

By on April 29, 2017

[Image: Kia Motors]

We’re not talking about the K900 flagship sedan, as Kia’s luxo barge actually gets people talking — mainly due to its slow sales and LeBron James connection. No, the model lying in the casket this morning bowed out of people’s minds long before it vanished from Kia’s product cycle.

The Forte Koup.

Kia has confirmed there’ll be no future for the two-door variant of its popular Forte, though the writing was on the wall for some time. On the company’s website, too. (Read More…)

By on February 14, 2017

2017 Chevrolet Cruze PRemier hatchback - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

It’s not easy to live down past embarrassments.

In a junior high school basketball game, I banked in a free throw. Two decades later, do you think my older brothers have forgotten?

More than two decades ago, General Motors launched the third-generation Chevrolet Cavalier. The degree to which it was an abysmal excuse for a Honda Civic rival became increasingly clear over its decade-long run. Although its replacement, the Chevrolet Cobalt, won’t go down in history as an all-time great, it was a meaningful leap forward. The Cobalt’s replacement, Chevrolet’s first Cruze, was full of big car manners in a small car body.

Now we have the second-generation Cruze, thankfully offered in North America in a hatchback bodystyle.

The 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback is by no means perfect, but if you haven’t already re-written the line in your brain under “Chevrolet Small Car Reputation,” it’s time to do so. (Read More…)

By on February 9, 2017

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT driving shot, Image: Hyundai

Hyundai lifted the veil on the next-generation Elantra GT today at the Chicago Auto Show, revealing a compact hatch that dispenses with the “cute little car” template.

For 2018, the Elantra GT grows in all the proportions that matter, putting forward a more mature design that — Hyundai hopes — looks more expensive than its sticker price. It also offers up more power, if you’re willing to dole out a little more. (Read More…)

By on January 25, 2017

2017 Toyota Corolla iM

Long, long ago (2003), in a land far, far away (Torrance, California), Toyota’s American division woke from a fever dream of beige sedans, took a long, hard look at its life, and promptly embarked on a midlife crisis.

While the flow of staid and sensible Corollas and Camrys never ebbed, a funky new alter ego with a polar opposite personality emerged on the automotive scene. Scion was the Mr. Hyde to Toyota’s Dr. Jekyll. Youthful, offbeat, unapologetically boxy — anything but beige.

Poochy Scion made a splash, but even crises have a shelf life. Eventually, the free-thinking, free-wheeling designs that temped college graduates a decade prior morphed into warmed-over second-generation models with watered-down attitudes. The brand’s original clientele, having abandoned their amateur photography websites and once-a-week DJ gigs for babies and 401(k)s, fell away.

After 13 years, it was time to ditch the gold medallions, torch the little black book, and go home to the wife. But Toyota didn’t pull up in the driveway empty-handed. (Read More…)

By on December 21, 2016

2017 Mazda3

Sometimes a manufacturer churns out a base trim that — all things considered — might just be the primo choice for that particular model. Here’s an example.

When we started this nonsense Ace of Base series all the way back at the beginning of August, our very first contendah was the 2016 Mazda3 i Sport. Since then, the boffins in Hiroshima Prefecture put their heads together and applied their considerable skill in updating their compact sedan. Can a slathering of new styling and a further refined driving experience keep the 3 in the hunt for base-model supremacy? Is G-Vectoring Control simply a marketing gimmick only found on top trims? That’s what we’re here to find out.

(Read More…)

By on December 14, 2016

2017 Mazda 3 5-Door red - Image: Mazda

“It’s the one to have,” we said of the 2017 Mazda 3 on the last day of November, “but not the one you’ll buy.”

Pat TTAC on the back for such an accurate forecast, as the very next day, Mazda revealed that Americans acquired fewer Mazda 3s in November 2016 than at any point since January 2014, a 34-month low.

With the worst U.S. sales results in nearly three years, Mazda USA’s most popular car is now on track to potentially see annual volume fall to a decade low in 2016.

There’s nothing new about the American car buyer’s prerogative to avoid critical advice when it comes to Mazda’s compact sedan. The degree to which the Mazda-supporting suggestion is ignored, however, is, increasingly apparent. (Read More…)

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