By on October 10, 2017

Mazda 3 Next Generation PRoduct Concept - Image: MazdaThe 2019 Mazda 3 will be previewed by a concept at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show on October 24th. Realistic enough to represent an accurate vision of what the fourth-generation Mazda 3 will look like, but not so faithful to a production model that’s entirely realistic, the concept will potentially be more noteworthy due to the Skyactiv-X engine under the hood.

Skyactiv-X, long rumored, was announced more formally in August. A supercharged four-cylinder with sparkless compression ignition should result in substantially more torque and reductions in fuel consumption of more than 20 percent. That could make the next Mazda 3 a 43-mpg car on the EPA combined scale.

As far as the design, Mazda isn’t promising a revolution with the aptly titled Next-Generation Product Concept. In fact, what little Mazda is saying on the subject is tied largely to the high-tech powertrain. (Read More…)

By on October 5, 2017

2017 Ford Focus S sedan - Image: FordRarely does one hear an automaker point out that the next generation of a popular product is headed downmarket.

Even when a vehicle is repositioned in a lower end of the market, “downmarket” is the last word you’re going to hear out of an auto executive’s mouth. Instead, automakers up the value quotient, cater to the demands of discerning buyers, or find new production efficiencies we can pass on to the customer.

More often, automakers tout their new product as a move upmarket. So it is with Ford Motor Company’s fourth-generation Focus, according to Jim Farley, formerly of Ford of Europe and current head of Ford global markets. “It goes upmarket in exactly the same way as the new Fiesta,” Farley says.

Also like the new Fiesta, the 2019 Ford Focus will spawn an Active variant. Subaru Crosstrek here we come? (Read More…)

By on September 29, 2017

2018 Accent

With sales slipping, Hyundai has decided to trim some fat on the fifth-generation Accent. While a hatchback remains available for the rest of the world, the automaker has indicated the U.S. will receive no such option. This will probably put a few value-oriented motorists with a penchant for liftgates off. But, assuming they can stomach a crossover, Hyundai’s subcompact Kona is right around the corner — and there’s little reason to assume they wouldn’t go for it.

Recent history has proven that the average American will shun a ho-hum hatchback and happily spend more on its crossover equivalent. Pigeonholing the Accent as a sedan will keep it from getting in the Kona’s way. However, this also allows it to remain a traditional car and ignore all the trappings of being SUV-adjacent.  (Read More…)

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…)

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