By on November 30, 2016

2017 Mazda 3 5-Door - Image: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

American consumers acquire more than 200,000 new compact cars every month. Only 4 percent of those cars are Mazda 3s.

Compact car buyers are far more likely to drive away from a new car dealer in a Corolla, Civic, Sentra, Elantra, or Cruze; more likely to choose a Focus, Jetta, or Forte, too.

While U.S. sales of compact cars are down 4 percent this year, Mazda 3 volume is down 11 percent.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the more popular compacts. The 2017 Mazda 3 is better than those cars. And this particular 2017 Mazda 3, a hatchback in top Grand Touring trim with the 2.5-liter engine upgrade and — oh my goodness, a manual transmission — is better than other Mazda 3s.

But you remain unconvinced. (Read More…)

By on November 18, 2016

2017 Honda Civic Coupe Si – Image: Honda

Imagine a world without war. More specifically, imagine a world without the horsepower war that has dominated the automotive landscape over the past fifteen years.

It’s easy if you try. The Corvette would still have 350 horsepower; mid-engined Ferraris would have about 400. The Mustang? 260 raging ponies. Most pickup trucks would have under three hundred horses, and some would have fewer than two hundred. The V12-powered Mercedes sedans would have just a bit more than half the puissance they currently possess. The Subaru STi would have 300 hp to humiliate the VW GTI’s 200 hp, while the top-spec Nissan Sentra would send 180 hp through a six-speed manual, about which a big deal would be made.

Perhaps you experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance while reading that last sentence. After all, the current Subaru STi has 305 horsepower now, facing the 210 horsepower of the GTI, and the just-announced Sentra Nismo is expected to put out 188 ponies. Compared to their turn-of-the-century ancestors, both of those cars actually have a worse power-to-weight ratio today. And while the new Civic Si is expected to put up a slightly better number than the 2006 Civic Si, it’s going to come from a 1.5-liter turbo engine that will likely be stressed to the gills, not a tuned-down variant of the Type-R’s two-liter.

So, while the wealthy car buyers among us are enjoying an era of unprecedented power in their sports cars, SUVs, and big sedans, the entry-level buyers are being asked to do more with less. Sounds familiar, right?

(Read More…)

By on November 9, 2016

2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i

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.

A few weeks ago, Ace of Base looked at a base model truck from The General. The thing is, at an instant ramen price point, the compact truck is a rear-drive-only affair. Let’s now imagine a base-model shopper who doesn’t care about payload or bringing home grandfather clocks from estate sales but does want their power shuttled to all four wheels. What to do?

(Read More…)

By on October 27, 2016

2014 Toyota Corolla

Is there a tiny pinpoint of light that can stir some meager hope in the heart of the compact and midsize passenger car segment? No, no there isn’t.

Even as sticker prices for these vehicles rise and as manufacturers endow them with enough technological goodies to make your mom’s car from yesterday look like a chuckwagon, retained value is dropping as fast as the segments’ market share.

Once a driving force, the segment has now become a red-headed stepchild at auction. (Read More…)

By on September 10, 2016

2017 Nissan Sentra Turbo

Nissan is filling in all the unfilled niches today.

The automaker unveiled a turbocharged variant of the sensible and unexciting Sentra today at the Miami International Auto Show, promising a performance version of a sedan known mostly for its value and grocery capacity.

In doing so, Nissan implies that a hotter NISMO version is around the corner, while closing the casket lid on the IDx concept once and for all. (Read More…)

By on September 7, 2016

Volvo V40 T5 R-design Studio

Volvo is determined to make a splash in the U.S. small car market when the next-generation 40-series cars arrive, and it’s already laying the groundwork.

The Swedish automaker filed a trademark application for the V40 name on August 31, paving the way for a five-door hatch that will ride atop the company’s new compact modular architecture (CMA). (Read More…)

By on August 11, 2016

2017-civic-hatchback

The third addition to the Honda Civic lineup was recently spotted at a UK port, providing a glimpse of a vehicle we’ve only seen in prototype guise.

The Honda Civic hatchback shown at the Geneva Motor Show in March wasn’t a production model, but images posted on the CivicX forum show what American buyers can expect. (Read More…)

By on August 10, 2016

Lada XRay

Times are still tough in Russia, and your average Moscovite or St. Petersburgian doesn’t want to risk buying a new car — unless it’s a vivid, modern new Lada.

Lada, the much-maligned butt of Western jokes for decades, has reaped the rewards of luring a British ex-Volvo designer into its fold. In a vehicle market that continues to contract like a dying star, Lada’s new models are a pinpoint of light. (Read More…)

By on July 21, 2016

2016 Mazda 3 sedan red

Enthusiast praise for the Mazda3 began before the current-generation compact Mazda arrived in late 2013. Previous iterations benefited from hugely positive reviews. “We’re going to love the 3 once it arrives in America,” Automobile wrote in December 2003. Credit for dynamic excellence was the norm a generation later. “Steering is direct and the suspension is firm enough for spirited driving and equally competent at soaking up bumps,” said AutoGuide in early 2009. I haven’t hesitated to get in on the action, writing in my second review of the latest compact Mazda, “The Mazda3 is still the best compact car you can buy.”

It’s therefore not surprising to see that in a five-way compact car comparison for the magazine’s July edition, Car and Driver named the 2016 Mazda3 i Grand Touring the winner of the test. Car and Driver handed the Mazda 203 points, 44-percent more than the fifth-ranked 2016 Nissan Sentra SL achieved.

Industry observers also won’t be surprised to learn that Car and Driver’s fifth-ranked Nissan Sentra produced 139-percent more first-half sales than the Mazda, while the other three losers all roundly outsold the Mazda, as well. (Read More…)

By on July 12, 2016

2017 Elantra Sport

Hyundai set out to make its Elantra hotter, and it’s happy to report that the sedan’s output now tops 200 horsepower in newly unveiled Sport form.

The 2017 Elantra Sport brings a third engine choice to the model lineup — a turbocharged 1.6-liter direct-injection four-cylinder making “more than” 200 horsepower and 190 pounds-feet of torque, according to the automaker. (Read More…)

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