The Truth About Cars » compact http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 29 Sep 2014 21:20:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 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 » compact http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Capsule Review: 2014 Kia Soul http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/capsule-review-2014-kia-soul-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/capsule-review-2014-kia-soul-2/#comments Tue, 17 Jun 2014 13:00:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=845121 Even those who didn’t appreciate the first Kia Soul’s eye-catching exterior would acknowledge the Soul was a car that majored on style. Replacing the underlying platform, updating the interior, and adding features are, to a degree, a set of secondary concerns in a car like this. The new Soul had to look every inch like […]

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Even those who didn’t appreciate the first Kia Soul’s eye-catching exterior would acknowledge the Soul was a car that majored on style.
Replacing the underlying platform, updating the interior, and adding features are, to a degree, a set of secondary concerns in a car like this. The new Soul had to look every inch like the Soul, but if it didn’t look new, it may not incite the necessary reaction from the style-conscious portion of the car-buying public.

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Let’s not bore ourselves with the details: the plentiful black surround on the tailgate, the headlamps that no longer grow deformities out of themselves, and the tiny but meaningful increases in length and width. To my eye, it looks like a more modern Kia Soul. Job well done. You are welcome to be the final arbiter.
As much as the exterior is an important section on the 2015 Soul’s resume, I had high hopes that the rest of the car would undergo the more serious makeover. The first-generation Soul was obviously a marketplace success, but not because it rode smoothly, steered sweetly, or made efficient use of its powerplants, and not because it felt as well-built as the vehicles Kia has introduced since 2009.
In the 2015 model I drove around last week, superior ride quality was the most dramatic dynamic improvement. You’ll continue to suffer from a few unwelcome encounters out back where there’s still a torsion beam, but if poor ride quality was the key factor restraining a potential Soul buyer a year ago, they won’t feel the same way now. Losing the 18-inch-wheels from this fully-optioned SX Luxury model (a $21,095 ! with The Whole Shabang Package for $26,195 including destination, in U.S.-speak) may further isolate road imperfections.
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Kia’s FlexSteer, which allows you to select one of three steering weight modes, is not uncommon in its lifelessness. I’d take GoodSteer from the latest Mazda 3 over the Soul’s trio of optional steering modes, but the Soul’s rack isn’t offensive. Nor is the handling anything worse than perfectly adequate. This isn’t a sporting device; there is no great level of athleticism. But as with any properly small car, the Soul is delightfully agile in urban scenarios, and the new Soul is also pleasantly quiet during highway jaunts.
I would appreciate the availability of a manual transmission with the 2.0L engine. Subcompact-like dimensions and 164 horsepower sounds fun at first. This Soul, however, is carrying around 3100 pounds, and it’s fitted with a 6-speed automatic that favours smoothness over swiftness. The 2.0L-powered Soul Exclamation Point isn’t slow, but there is a sense of weight you don’t expect in a car that’s only 163 inches long.
Regardless of its on-road characteristics, the Soul has proven to be a winner because of its engaging design, outside and in, and its vast interior. Rear leg room is terrific, and thanks to our slim Diono car seat, two adults could sit in the back with the baby and voice no complaints. The driver’s seat doesn’t have the top-end Forte’s extendable seat cushion, but I still enjoyed the chair-like seating position and the improved material quality in all the places no car owner ever touches except when cleaning. The driver’s seat is powered in all sorts of ways, including lumbar, but the passenger makes do with basic manual adjustments. Both receive heated and cooled cushions, however. Living alongside the north Atlantic as I do, those ventilated front seats sure do come in handy for a long stretch during, well, the first week of August.
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A bit longer than a Rio hatchback and a bit shorter than a Forte hatchback, the Soul’s interior only forces you to sacrifice when it comes to seats-up cargo capacity. It’s decidedly more subcompact-like than compact-like (18.8 height-assisted cubic feet compared with 15 in the Rio hatch and 23.2 in the Forte) until you fold the seats down. At which point, the Soul’s boxy shape creates greater space than you’d get in, say, hatchback versions of the Mazda 3 or Ford Focus.
The Soul also feels like a much better-built car than the majority of, if not all, subcompacts. The rear doors thunk just as well as the front doors, rather than the thunk/thwack front/rear disagreement endured in many small cars. Kia’s UVO system continues to operate at an above-average level, with multiple menus visible on the screen at any given time, quick responses, and conventional controls for most features.
For way less than $30,000, the level of luxury content in this Whole Shabanged Exclamation Point Soul is impressive, from the panoramic sunroof to the upgraded Infinity stereo, navigation, and heated rear seats. Plus, power-folding mirrors that unfolded and folded back a thousand times while I did yardwork beside our driveway with keys in my pocket, wondering all the while what that faint buzzing sound was.
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The Soul still isn’t sufficiently fuel efficient relative to most small cars, with EPA ratings of just 23/31 mpg. There is also genuine potential for a hot hatch here, and it would be wonderful if the Forte’s turbo and manual transmission made the trek over to the Soul. It’s easy to suggest that halo models are insisted upon only by non-buying enthusiasts but won’t turn out to be profit generators. Yet the Soul’s audience has become so numerous that I have to believe a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive, sport-suspended Soul would gain more than just a small cult following.
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Perhaps not. I won’t argue with the merits of the car in its current state, nor the level of success Kia has stumbled upon with the Soul since it arrived in 2009. Through the end of May, Americans have registered nearly 500,000 Souls. Sales have improved every year, rising above 118,000 units in 2013. So far this year, U.S. Soul volume is up 21%, and it’s outselling all “small” cars other than the Corolla, Civic, Cruze, Elantra, Focus, Sentra, and Jetta.
Kia Canada provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.
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QOTD: Bring Back the Unibody Pickup? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-bring-back-the-unibody-pickup/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/qotd-bring-back-the-unibody-pickup/#comments Thu, 05 Jun 2014 13:35:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=837665 For decades, the formula for a successful pickup design in America has been pretty much the same. Design a simple ladder-frame chassis, drop in the biggest engine you can find, give it a front-engine rear-drive layout with an optional transfer case, and start raking in the money. From time to time, however, manufacturers have tried […]

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For decades, the formula for a successful pickup design in America has been pretty much the same. Design a simple ladder-frame chassis, drop in the biggest engine you can find, give it a front-engine rear-drive layout with an optional transfer case, and start raking in the money. From time to time, however, manufacturers have tried to swim against the current.

The last true unibody pickup (one without any type of traditional ladder frame) sold in the United States was the Subaru Baja, which ended production in 2006. A derivative of the Legacy/Outback platform, the Baja was Subaru’s attempt to cash in on the mid-2000s vogue for “sport utility trucks:” part-SUV hybrids like the Ford Explorer Sport Trac and the Chevrolet Avalanche. While those more successful models were selling well over 50,000 a year at their peak, the Subie barely managed to shift 30,000 examples in a four year run. With its funky body cladding, exposed rollbars, and limited utility compared to those other truck-based SUTs with traditional ladder-frame chassis, the Baja never managed to become anything but a niche product. Even so, it followed in a long lineage of experiments with unibody construction for pickups.

The golden age of the unibody pickup was the 60s, when every major manufacturer offered at least one. Ford had the Falcon-derived Ranchero, as well as a pickup based on the Econoline van. (The 1961-63 full-size F100 is often cited as an example of a unibody pickup design, but as Mike Levine explains here, this is technically incorrect. The ‘61-63 still had a ladder frame underneath its single-piece body.) Chevrolet had a similar offering in the Corvair Greenbrier pickup, although the more popular El Camino utilized a ladder frame. Dodge got in the unibody game with the pickup version of its A100 van. The pickup version of the Type 2 Volkswagen Transporter was increasingly popular in the burgeoning small truck segment before it became a target of the infamous Chicken Tax. That tariff also kept out the Japanese, who might otherwise have attempted to sell car-based pickups such as the Toyota Corona PU. The most popular of all these unibody pickups was the Falcon Ranchero. It offered meaningful size and economy advantages over the full-size trucks of the time, and was available with a greater number of creature comforts.

Many of these unibody pickups disappeared in the 70s, as compact, conventionally engineered Japanese pickups became more widely available. Many of these were captive imports sold by the Big 3, who utilized tricks like importing cab-chassis units separately to avoid the Chicken Tax. Unibody pickups didn’t reappear again until the 1980s. The Subaru BRAT was the first of these, followed by the Rabbit-based Volkswagen Pick-Up. The Volkswagen PU was an attempt to squeeze more volume out of the disappointingly slow-selling Rabbit; the Dodge Rampage and Plymouth Scamp were similar attempts to expand the use of Chrysler’s L Platform. Neither of those was particularly successful, with both the Volkswagen and Rampage/Scamp cancelled after only three years. The BRAT was reasonably popular, lasting in the US market until 1987. The Jeep Comanche was based on the unibody XJ Cherokee, but used a ladder frame to strengthen the superstructure. Around 190,000 units were produced before new Jeep owner Chrysler called it quits in 1992; the company didn’t want the Comanche cannibalizing Dodge’s truck offerings. After that, there were no more unibody trucks in the United States until the introduction of the Baja. Cheap gas and a slew of competitive ladder-frame pickups meant that the incentive to develop a unibody pickup was limited.

Like Subaru, Honda tried to cash in on the SUT trend with the Ridgeline. Although based off the unibody Odyssey minivan, the Ridgeline utilizes a hybrid chassis setup that incorporates a box frame. Sales have been disappointing, with the model scheduled to go out of production this month, although a sequel has been promised by Honda. The Ridgeline is often cited by midsize truck pessimists as emblematic of the reasons the segment has gone into decline. The truck offers no serious fuel economy advantage over a full-sizer. It also has a smaller bed, a lower tow rating, and less power, all in a footprint not much smaller than that of a full-size. Attempting to straddle segments was the Ridgeline’s doom. Buyers who wanted power, room, towing and hauling capability, and who didn’t care about mileage bought Avalanches, Sport Tracs, and full-sizers. Economy-minded individuals went for the cheaper, more utilitarian options like the Frontier and Tacoma. None of these alternatives were particularly great on gas, but neither was the Ridgeline; and they all offered price and/or capability advantages that the Ridgeline didn’t have. That doesn’t mean, however, that the unibody truck should necessarily go the way of the dodo.

The greatest argument against a renaissance in the small-to-midsize truck segment is profitability. Small trucks often have thin margins, and it’s hard to justify separate development programs for unique platforms. That’s ultimately what killed the Ranger in the United States, as well as the Dakota. GM is spreading out the development cost of the new Colorado/Canyon by making it a world market vehicle, but it remains to be seen if this strategy will work. Only the Tacoma has proven to be a consistent winner in the US market, and it also has the advantage of being globally sold; the same is true of the new Frontier. A US-only compact truck platform is a mistake. Repealing the Chicken Tax might open up the market to more imports, but ideally a compact truck would be developed from a platform already in use in the US. This would lower the cost of federalization, while at the same time increasing the margin derived from already existing platforms. That’s where unibody design comes in.

America is awash in unibody CUVs, whose platforms could be utilized to make compact and midsize trucks. The Chevrolet Montana/Tornado has been mentioned by small-truck aficionados as a possible import, but the cost of certifying it for American sale would probably be prohibitive. Instead, it would make more sense for GM to develop a small truck from either the Theta or Epsilon architectures, both of which have already been adapted for the American market. A small truck based on the Equinox, for example, might be profitably produced for the American market. If a small truck can offer significant price or fuel economy advantages over full-sizers, it can justify its existence against highly competitive full-size offerings. Even so, doubts remain about the segment’s overall viability. FCA chairman Sergio Marchionne recently alluded to this when discussing possible plans for a future compact pickup in the United States. Could a unibody truck be the savior of the compact truck segment?

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Piston Slap: “Spare” Me from Dry Rot! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/piston-slap-spare-me-from-dry-rot/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/piston-slap-spare-me-from-dry-rot/#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 12:05:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=769298 TTAC Commentator sastexan writes: With the extreme cold throughout the US and seeing a few shredded tires on the highway this week (in fact, I had a flat myself – not sure what caused it but possibly doing donuts in the FR-S on a parking lot last week with lots of broken up ice on […]

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TTAC Commentator sastexan writes:

With the extreme cold throughout the US and seeing a few shredded tires on the highway this week (in fact, I had a flat myself – not sure what caused it but possibly doing donuts in the FR-S on a parking lot last week with lots of broken up ice on the edges), I got to thinking about spare tires.

Many of the Best and Brightest have “keeper” cars – myself included with our old Camry. Tires have limited lifespans due to dry rot, and I’m guessing spare tires are included in that category. The spare in the Camry is the original 14 year old tire (full size spare at least). How often do people change their spares, if ever? Has anyone with an aged spare had it blow out due to dry rot? Can you just order a new space saver spare off of tire rack?

Take care,

Steven

Sajeev answers:

Very interesting question, one that raises even more questions! Keep these in mind before we proceed:

  • Tires dry rot slower when living in an enclosed space with no exposure to sunlight (UV rays).
  • You may not see visible cracks like other rotted tires, but rest assured at some point the rubber has petrified like a rock.
  • The odds of getting stranded by a rotted temporary spare is less likely than an ordinary tire, as nobody wants to roll around on that tiny donut for an extended period.
  • Low air pressure can be the reason for a spare blow out, as they tend to leak profusely after a few years of hibernating in a trunk.
  • The items listed above will not necessarily apply to externally mounted spares in trucks/SUVs/CUVs. Treat those more like your other four wheels.

Externally mounted full size spare owners: change the tire every 5-10 years…more or less, depending on your risk tolerance and driving needs.  Or re-use one of your “old” tires as a spare when upgrading to new ones for your regular wheels. And if you are luckily to have a matching 5th wheel as a spare (or unlucky enough to have 5 steel wheels on your ride) just rotate it into the mix.

Externally mounted temporary spare owners?  Good question, as this is a future quandary of my little Ranger pick-em-up truck.  Then again, it might be similar to our next case…

Internally mounted spare owners?  Who knows the safe lifespan, but I’d wager that 10+ years is fine, since I’ve used the original spare in my Mark VIII for short distances in urban conditions. I’d change my tune if I was traveling hundreds of miles daily on rural roads…grabbing spare tires from crusher-bound Taurii and Fusions in the process.

Whenever you “internally mounted spare” folks are ready for new rubber, well yes, Tire Rack sells spares…but I’ll assume China’s finest off-brand donuts trade for less money from another vendor, as that happened when my 1983 Ford Sierra needed new tires in it’s unobtanium space saver-esque size for a measly $34 a pop.  Which is more than adequate for the job.

In the case of your Camry?  I say replace it (full size spare in the trunk) with one of the external tires when its time for new shoes. Or get a used tire from any local shop for $20-ish.  Or just make sure it’s inflated to spec and you drive SLOW (i.e. 50mph or less) for a short period of time. There’s no wrong answer here, unless you’re stranded in the middle of no where and must rely on a fresh tire to take you hundreds of miles away in a harsh climate.

As with everything in life, this Piston Slap boils down to: It depends.

So eyeball the rubber and keep it inflated to spec.  That’s a good start. Off to you, Best and Brightest.

 

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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Review: 2014 Nissan Versa Note (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-nissan-versa-note-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-nissan-versa-note-with-video/#comments Fri, 07 Feb 2014 14:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=728514 Making a “cheap” car is a tried and true formula for most auto makers. Making a car with a low sticker and a solid value proposition is tough. Not only do you have to keep the starting price low, but you have to worry about fuel economy, maintenance, insurance and everything that goes into an […]

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2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior

Making a “cheap” car is a tried and true formula for most auto makers. Making a car with a low sticker and a solid value proposition is tough. Not only do you have to keep the starting price low, but you have to worry about fuel economy, maintenance, insurance and everything that goes into an ownership experience. Reviewing cars that focus heavily on value is even trickier. Indeed a number of buff-book journalists were offended by the Versa Sedan’s plastics, lack of features and small engine. My response was simple: what do you expect of the cheapest car in America? Trouble is, the Versa Note isn’t the cheapest hatchback in America, so this review is about that elusive quality: value.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Let’s be frank, the last Versa hatchback to grace our shores was strange looking. This is because Nissan sent us the Japanese market “Tiida” hatchback, while Europeans got the related, but more attractive, Nissan Note. 2014 brings a change, with Nissan aligning America with the redesigned Note from Europe. Meanwhile China and other countries get a redesigned Tiida. (Check out the picture below.) Nissan decided that there was value in the Versa brand so the final product was dubbed the “Versa Note.”

2014 Nissan Tiida Hatchback, Picture Courtesy of NissanI must admit that the product shuffle strikes me as a mixed bag. While the outgoing Versa hatch was undeniably dowdy, I find the new Tiida (above) downright sexy for a small car. The Versa Note? “Note” so much. Nissan tells us the Note is all about practicality, and the math is simple: the squarer the hatch, the more stuff you can jam inside. Thankfully Nissan included a few swoopy door stampings to prevent any 1980s flashbacks, but the resulting design obviously prioritized function over form. At 66 inches wide and 60 inches tall, the Note looks doesn’t just look square from the side, but from the front and rear as well. Proportions like these are hard to avoid with a small hatchback but the Versa’s horizontal grille helps detract from it in a way that the Spark’s tall grille amplifies the effect. When it comes to looks, the Rio and the Fiesta win the beauty pageant.

While the Versa continues to hold the title of “least expensive car in America”, the Chevrolet Spark ($12,995), Smart ($13,240) and Mitsubishi Mirage ($13,790) and Kia Rio 5-door ($13,800)  all ring in below the Note’s $13,990 starting price. For those of you counting, that’s a whopping $2,000 (or 17%)  bump over the Versa sedan. I’m going to cross the Smart car off the list  because it’s a two-seat hatch, and we can call the Mirage and Rio near ties in starting price, but the Spark is a decent $1,000 discount. Since this review is all about value at the bottom of the automotive food chain, I’m not going to cover the more expensive options in this segment.

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Interior

Despite the price bump from the Versa Sedan, the Note’s interior is nearly identical. The same hard plastic dashboard, thin headliner and minimalist controls are all cast in the same shade of black. The only notable changes versus the sedan are a steering wheel lifted from the Sentra, and standard folding rear seats. Jumping up to the $15,990 SV trim buys you nicer seat and headliner fabric, but the rest of the interior remains the same. The discount interior is something that doesn’t bother me in the Versa sedan, but the Note is two-grand more. At this price the Rio is made from nicer materials for slightly less and the Fiesta’s classier cabin is a scant $110 more. Materials tie with the Chevy Spark which is great for the Chevy but not so good for the Nissan. Meanwhile the Mitsubishi looks dated both inside and out with the most discount cabin I have seen in a long time.

Base shoppers will find standard air conditioning, 60/40 folding rear seats and sun-visors that extend, but notably missing from the starting price are power windows, power door locks, vanity mirrors and rear cup holders. This is where I say: “what did you expect?” After all, the Spark and Rio don’t offer all the goodies in their base models either. Here comes that pesky “value” proposition again however: the Spark is cheaper so the lower level of equipment seems more appropriate. If that’s not enough of a value proposition, consider this, for $50 less than a base Versa you can get a Spark with all those missing features plus cruise control.

Nissan tells us the bulk of Note volume is the $15,990 SV model which adds a “2-speed CVT,” cruise control, armrest for the driver, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and some Bluetooth love. Trouble is, that Spark gives you all that and a 7-inch touchscreen nav system for less. $995 less to be exact.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-007

Front seat comfort proved good around town, but I found the lack of lumbar support a problem on longer trips. Cushioning is firm but comfortable and the range of motion in the 6-way manual seats is average for this segment. Sadly Nissan doesn’t offer a telescoping steering wheel in the Note like many of the competitors do. I didn’t notice this problem with the Versa sedan, but the Note I had for a week suffered from a footwell that barely fit my size 11 shoes. If you have bigger feet you may have difficulty wedging your footwear in.

The big selling point for this sub-compact is, oddly enough, the back seat. Although sitting three abreast in the rear is a cozy affair due to the car’s width, rear leg room is simply amazing. You’ll find 7 inches more rear legroom than the Rio making it possible, and relatively comfortable, for a quartet of six-foot-five guys on a road trip. No other hatch even comes close to the Note’s rear seat numbers which are just 1/10th lower than a Jaguar XJ. Because the Spark is the narrowest of the group by several inches, it only has two seats in the rear. The Mirage claims to seat five, but if the Note is “cozy,” the narrower Mitsubishi is downright cramped. Thanks to the tall body, the Versa also delivers more headroom than the competition without the rear seats riding on the ground. Cargo volume grows 30% from the Versa sedan to 21 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 38 with the rear seats folded.

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Infotainment

Base shoppers get a simple head unit with a CD-player, aux input and four speakers. Here again the Spark beats Nissan to the value game. The base Spark is just as basic, but for the same price as a base Note, Chevy sells you a 7-inch touchscreen, USB integration, 6 speakers, XM Satellite radio, smartphone integration with smartphone-based navigation and OnStar. Getting to this level of technology in the Note will set you back $18,140 and Nissan doesn’t have an OnStar alternative for the Note at any price.

The Note that Nissan lent me for a week was the fully-loaded SL model. This meant I had the NissanConnect system you see above along with an all-around camera system. This low-cost system, also found on Sentra and NV200, is one of my favorite systems on the market. The interface is simple, easy to navigate and intuitive. The latest software builds on their old “low-cost navigation” unit by adding streaming media, smartphone and Google data services. The touchscreen also integrates with the Note’s available around view camera which gives you a bird’s-eye view while parking. Although I found the low-res images lacked in detail, it did help keep the Note scratch-free in tricky parking situations. Now for the fly in the ointment. Nissan puts this head unit in an $800 bundle with the fancy camera system and requires that you also have the $540 package that includes rear seat cup holders and a two-stage load floor in the back. The total cost is $1,340 or a nearly 10% bump in MSRP.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Engine 1.6L

Drivetrain

Like the sedan, the Note gets a 1.6L four-cylinder engine featuring variable valve timing and twin injectors per cylinder to deliver 109HP at 6,000 RPM and 107 lb-ft of twist at 4,400 RPM. This is a reduction of 13 horses compared to the 1.8L engine in the old Versa hatch which seems like a valid trade for improved efficiency. Base S models get a 5-speed manual, but if you want to make the most of the small engine, you’ll want Nissan’s CVT with a twist. The Versa CVT uses a two-speed planetary gearset after the CVT belt/cone unit. This extends the ratio spread to that of a conventional 7-speed auto. When starting out, the CVT is at its lowest ratio and the planetary is in “low.” Once the CVT reaches a high ratio, the planetary gearset switches to high allowing the CVT to reset to a lower ratio as you continue to accelerate. This improves low-end grunt, top-end fuel economy and allows the CVT to “downshift” faster than a traditional CVT by shifting the planetary gearset to “low” rather than adjusting the belt. Meanwhile the Spark and Mirage use a conventional “single range” CVT. (GM swapped out the old 4-speed for 2014.)

Thanks to a curb weight that is only 25 lbs heavier than the sedan (300lbs lighter than the 2012 hatch) and active grille shutters, fuel economy has jumped to a lofty 31/40/35 MPG  (city/highway/combined) with the CVT and a less spectacular 27/36 with the manual. While 109 horsepower sounds less than exciting, consider that the Spark’s 1.2L engine delivers just 84 and the Mirage’s rough 3-cylinder is down another 10 ponies.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-006

Drive

Thanks to a relatively long 102-inch wheelbase, the Note rides more like a mid-size sedan than the Spark or the Mirage. The difference is most notable out on the open highway where the Spark and Mirage “bob around” on washboard pavement. I wouldn’t describe the Note as “refined” in the general sense, but compared to the lower cost entries the Note holds its own. Even when compared with the Kia Rio and the Chevy Sonic, the Versa has a well-engineered feel out on the road. This is where I have to repeat: “keep your expectations priced at $13,990.”

Nissan decided to fit low rolling resistance tires to the Note which help bump fuel economy to a 35 MPG combined score. While the Note manages to out handle the Mirage, the Rio, Fiesta and Sonic whip the Note’s bottom on winding mountain roads. The Spark strikes a middle ground between the Rio and the Note. The electric power steering is accurate but numb. Acceleration is lazy but thanks to the deeper ratios in Nissan’s CVT it easily beats the Spark or the Mirage to highway speeds. Nissan spent considerable time injecting more sound insulating foam in every nook and cranny making this the quietest Versa ever at 70dB.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-008

The Note managed a surprising 38.8 MPG during my 761 mile week with the “wee hatch,” as my neighbor called it. The high mileage numbers are largely thanks to the light curb weight, low rolling resistance tires and Nissan’s CVT which allows the Note’s tiny engine to barely spin at highway speeds. Although the Spark has the same EPA rating, I averaged 2 MPG less the last time I was in one. TTAC has yet to test a Mirage, so I’ll have to defer to the EPA’s 40 MPG average.

Being the cheap guy that I am, the more I cross-shopped the Note and the Spark, the less “value” I found in the little Nissan. The Note isn’t without its charms. The huge back seat and enormous cargo hold make it by far the most practical small hatch in America, the problem is all down to value. If you want sporty or luxury, buy the Fiesta but the best value in this compact segment is the Spark. It’s low $12,170 price tag rivals Nissan’s Versa sedan for the least expensive car but the $14,765 “1LT” with the manual is where the value is to be had. Priced several grand less than a comparable Note, the Spark beats Nissan at their own game. Minus one seat.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.39 Seconds

0-60: 9.13 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.08 Seconds @ 81.4 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 38.8 MPG over 761 Miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 70 dB

2014 Nissan Versa Note Engine 1.6L 2014 Nissan Versa Note Engine 1.6L-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-002 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-003 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-004 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-005 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-006 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-007 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-008 2014 Nissan Versa Note Instrument Cluster 2014 Nissan Versa Note Instrument Cluster-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-002 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-003 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-004 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-005 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-006 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-007 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-008 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-009 2014 Nissan Versa Note NissanConnect 2014 Nissan Versa Note NissanConnect -001 2014 Nissan Versa Note NissanConnect -002

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Review: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 14:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=705962 Outside North America, this little blue pill of an A-segment car is known as the Daewoo Matiz Creative. It may look an obsolete computer peripheral (or a pregnant roller skate), but GM claims that the Chevrolet Spark has more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a self-described technology lover, and card-carrying resident of the […]

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2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior

Outside North America, this little blue pill of an A-segment car is known as the Daewoo Matiz Creative. It may look an obsolete computer peripheral (or a pregnant roller skate), but GM claims that the Chevrolet Spark has more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a self-described technology lover, and card-carrying resident of the Left Coast, I had to check it out.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Spark EV starts its life in Changwon, South Korea where gasoline and electric sparks are built by GM Korea, which was once known as Daewoo. But the heart of the Spark comes from America. GM is building the permanent magnet motors in Maryland, and instead of LG batteries made in Korea (like the Volt) GM is using American-made batteries courtesy of B456 (formerly A123. I’m not making this up). For reasons we don’t understand, GM isn’t “doing a CODA” and shipping cars sans-drivetran to America for assembly. The plant in Maryland ships the batteries and drivetrain to Korea, GM Korea inserts it in the car and ships the completed unit back to the USA.

The Spark EV exists because of my home state of California. The California Air Resources Board has mandated that Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford, GM and Chrysler make a total of 7,500 zero emissions vehicles available for sale by 2014 and 25,000 by 2017. By 2025, this number is expected to rise tenfold.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006

Exterior

Overall length slots the Chevy between the two-door Fiat 500e and the four-door Honda Fit EV but the small Chevy is narrower than both by a decent amount. Like the Fiat and other small cars, there’s something “cartoonish” about the Spark that is endearing. It’s all about proportions. The headlamps, tail lamps and grille are all fairly standard in size, but they are large in relation to the overall vehicle. The Spark isn’t alone in this, the same thing can be said of the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500 and Fiat 500L.

Because small cars tend to value practicality in design, the Spark has a tall roofline and the wheels have been pushed as close to the four corners as possible. This mechanical necessity pays dividends in handling and interior space but causes the Spark to look unusually tall when viewed head-on.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005

Interior

As with the gasoline version, the front seats are flat, firmly padded and offer little lumbar support. The hard plastics on the doors make for an uncomfortable place to rest your elbow, but there is a padded armrest in the center for the driver only. This isn’t unusual for compact cars, but electrification makes for strange bedfellows and the Leaf, Focus EV and Fiat 500e are direct competition that all offer more driver and passenger comfort.

Because of the Spark’s narrow width, the Chevy is a strict four-seater putting it on par with the 500e but one passenger behind the Fit, Leaf and Focus. It was surprisingly easy to put four tall adults in the Spark, a task that is more difficult in the considerably larger Focus because of its sloping roof-line. Still, passengers will be more comfortable in the Honda Fit which offers a bit more room for four, seating for five and more headroom all the way around. Despite the Leaf’s rear seat numbers being average, because of the way the seating position in the Leaf most people will find the Nissan roomier.

As with most gas to EV conversions, the Spark loses a bit of cargo volume in the process dropping 2 cubes to 9.6 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s slightly larger than the 500e, but a long way from the Leaf’s spacious 24 cubic foot booty. Unlike the Fiat 500e however, GM chose not sacrifice passenger footwell space for battery storage.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001

Infotainment

All Spark EVs get the same touchscreen head unit that is optional in the gasoline car. The system’s layout is simple, attractive and intuitive. Along the bottom of the screen sits a row of touch buttons for power, volume and a home button. After a week with Chevy’s entry-level system I was left wondering why every GM car can’t have this software. The system isn’t the height of modernity compared to uConnect or SYNC. It does not offer integrated voice commands, integrated navigation software or snazzy animations. This system’s claim to fame is in its simplicity and its integration with your smartphone.

Once you have an Android or iPhone paired with MyLink you can voice command your phone, your tunes, and anything on your device with the voice command button on the steering wheel. This means the mobile services provided my MyLink are limited to the app selection on your device. GM has taken another step that other manufacturers would do well to copy: integrated smartphone navigation. For $5 you can download the BringGo navigation app to your smartphone and the MyLink system will use the app as the processing engine and the car’s display as the user interface. This gives you a large, bright map with controls that look like a standard integrated navigation system coupled with the ability to pre-program addresses using the app before you get into the car.

In the Spark EV the MyLink system also handles vehicle charging control. You can choose to charge immediately, at a specific time, or you can program your electrical rates into the system and have the car charge when it is most economical. We of course get the typical power flow meter which is getting a little silly in the 21st century and a display that shows what percentage of your battery was used for driving, cabin heating/cooling and battery conditioning. Driving your Spark, or any EV, in a “polar vortex” will reduce battery life due to both cabin heating and battery heating.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain

Drivetrain

As with most EVs on the road power is delivered by a 3-phase AC motor connected to a fixed-speed reduction gear. EV’s don’t have a transmission in the traditional sense in order to reduce weight. If you want to go in reverse you spin the motor backwards and if you need neutral you simply disconnect the motor from the electrical path. Power output is rated at 140 horsepower and torque comes in at a whopping 400 lb-ft. (Most EV makers choose to electronically limit torque to reduce torque steer and improve battery life.)

Power is supplied by a 560lb, 21.3 kWh lithium battery pack located where the gas tank is in the gasoline Spark. As with the Chevy Volt, GM is taking the cautious path to battery preservation equipping the pack with an active heating and cooling system. That’s a stark contrast to the Nissan Leaf which uses a passive cooling system. Thanks to the lightest curb weight in the group (2,989lbs), the Spark scores 82 miles of EPA range and the highest efficiency rating of any EV to date. Depending on the weight of my right foot, my real world range varied from 70-100 miles.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port

For any battery, heat is the enemy. Especially when charging or discharging rapidly or when charging in hot desert climates. As a result I would anticipate that all things being equal, the Spark, 500e and Focus should suffer less capacity loss and battery degradation over time than the passively cooled Nissan Leaf.

The big news for 2014 is the world’s first implementation of the new SAE DC fast charging connector. I’m a bit torn on this twist in EV development. While I agree that the DC “combo connector” is more logical and compact than the competing CHAdeMO connector found on the Nissan Leaf and most EVs in Japan, there are already several hundred CHAdeMO stations in the USA and right now there is one SAE station. I’m told there is unlikely to be an adapter so this makes three charging standards on offer in the USA. One for Nissan and Mitsubishi, one for Tesla and one for GM and BMW (the i3 will use it as well.)

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

Drive

The biggest thing people forget about an EV isn’t charging related, it’s heat related. When you want to heat the cabin in a gasoline car you are using “waste” energy to do it. If you didn’t have the heater on, that heat would just end up dissipating via the engine’s radiator. Electric cars produce little heat when running and rely on resistive heating elements to heat the cabin and an electric air conditioning to cool the cabin. Heat pumps would be more efficient because they “move” heat rather than “creating” heat but so far the Nissan Leaf (SV and higher) are the only production cars to adopt this tech. In 50 degree weather on a 60 mile journey nearly 15% of the energy consumed went into heating the Spark’s cabin, while on my way home when it was 80 degrees only 8% of the energy was used to cool the cabin.

Thanks to a better weight balance vs the gasoline model and staggered tires, 185/55 front 195/55 rear, the Spark handles surprisingly well. Many have posited that this is simply a band-aid measure due to the weight shift in the car but all sources point to the Spark EV still being heavier in the front. This means the tire selection was likely done for handling reasons, which makes sense because the Spark beats the 500e in fun-to-corner metrics. The extra weight has also improved the ride in the small hatchback which, although still choppy on the freeway like many small hatches, it much smoother in EV trim. Steering is numb but accurate, a common complaint with EVs.

With 140 horsepower and 400lb0ft of twist routed through the front wheels, the Spark is probably the 2014 torque steer king. Is that bad? Not in my book. I found the effect amusing and perhaps even a challenge to control on winding mountain roads. The competition limits their torque output to reduce torque steer but in doing so they reduce the fun-factor as well as performance, something that really shows in the Spark’s 7.08 second run to 60, notably faster than the competition.

When it is time to stop the Spark comes up short. Stopping distances and fade aren’t the issue, it’s feel. The brake pedal is softer than average and the transition between regenerative and friction braking is probably the poorest, excluding the current generation Honda Civic Hybrid. When the system is entirely in friction braking mode (if the battery is full and you are going down hill) the brakes get even more vague, requiring more travel than when the system is regenerating to get the same effect.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010

Pricing

At $26,685, the least expensive EV on the market excluding the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. For $27,010 the 2LT trim swaps cloth seats for “leatherette” and adds a leather wrapped steering wheel. That’s about the fastest and cheapest model walk in the industry. GM tells us that the DC quick charge port is an independent $750 option and it cannot be retrofitted to a Spark shipped without it. The Spark undercuts Nissan’s Leaf by nearly $2,000 and the Fiat by more than $5,000. While I might argue that the Nissan Leaf is more practical than the Spark, GM’s aggressive pricing screams value at every turn, especially if you lease. At the time of our loan GM was offering a $199 lease deal on the Spark with $1,000 down plus the usual miscellaneous fees.

The Spark’s main sales proposition for many is as a commuter car. When you factor in everything the Spark is the cheapest way to drive in California’s carpool lanes (you know, other than actually carpooling.) Despite not being less attractive than a Fiat 500e, less practical than a Nissan Leaf and less luxurious than a Focus EV, I’d probably pick the Spark.

 

GM provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.72 Seconds

0-60: 7.08 Seconds

 1/4 Mile: 15.78 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average observed economy: 4.3 miles/kWh

Sound level at 50 MPH: 70dB

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-009 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV LCD Gauge Cluster 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

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Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-fiesta-hatchback-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-fiesta-hatchback-with-video/#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 14:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=683986 For many Americans, the words “Ford Fiesta” dredges up memories of a claustrophobic rattle-trap competing with “Geo Metro” for the title of Worst American Small Car. Personally, the only time I ever wanted a fiesta was during a drunken weekend in Cabo, and it had more to do with tequila than cars. But that was […]

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2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior

For many Americans, the words “Ford Fiesta” dredges up memories of a claustrophobic rattle-trap competing with “Geo Metro” for the title of Worst American Small Car. Personally, the only time I ever wanted a fiesta was during a drunken weekend in Cabo, and it had more to do with tequila than cars. But that was four years ago and 214,000 Fiestas ago. Since then the Fiesta has proved that an American car company is capable of creating a desirable compact car. Is the party over, or is the car’s first refresh a sign that the party has just begun? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

After being on the market for just four years I hadn’t expected much for 2014 which makes me all the more impressed with the Fiesta’s transformation. Ford’s new “Astonesque” grille which debuted on the new Fusion turned the plain-Jane family hauler into one of the sexiest cars Ford has ever made, and Ford indicated the look was going to trickle down the lineup. I was worried. You see, when a new nose is penned for a new cars, and the existing line-up is modified to accept the new schnozz, you end up with something like the questionable looking Lexus GX 460. Fear not , Ford didn’t just paint on a their trapezoidal grille, they poked and prodded the hood and lamps as well until things looked right, and right they do. The launch photos looked impressive but the final product was even better in person.

It’s hard to avoid Aston Martin Cygnet references so I’ll just say it now: add some hood louvres and a leather dash and Ford’s compact would be more Aston than the iQ based Cygnet. Paired with the new nose, is a tweaked rear end featuring new tail lamps. The only downside in my mind is that the minor nip/tuck to the rear fails to bring the Fiesta’s rump up to the same level as the front. Park the Fiesta nose first in your driveway, and nobody will notice. But back it in, and passers-by are likely to be impressed. As before there is a considerable difference in dimensions between the sedan and the hatchback with the sedan being a whopping 13-inches longer. Thanks to that length, the sedan looks less like a caricature than it would otherwise.

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-006

Interior

Four years ago I praised the Fiesta’s interior as class leading in terms of materials choices and fit/finish. That largely remains true despite the Fiesta undercutting the Kia Rio in price. That’s not to say the Fiesta is a revolution, but compared to the hard plastics in the competition, the Fiesta looks and feels more premium. The injection molded dashboard, refreshed steering wheel and seats would not be out of place in the slightly larger compact car category. I found our tester’s black-on-black interior somewhat cold while the lighter interiors available on my local Ford lot were warmer, more attractive and showed off the optional ambient lighting better. (The upper half of dashboard is black on all models.) Helping the Fiesta’s new “premium compact” theme is ability to add real leather seats as opposed to the “leatherette” you find in all but the Kia Rio. Dominating the dashboard in our tester was Ford’s downsized MyFord Touch infotainment system, lower trim levels get a revised SYNC display nestled in a similar binnacle. As you’d expect with any car starting at $14,100, base “S” trim cars suffer severe de-contenting with manual windows, no dome lights, no ambient lighting, only one 12V outlet and no cruise control. This is an important distinction as the majority of the competition feel like upper trim levels are base models with do-dads added.

The front seats don’t offer much thigh or back support unless you opt for the sporty Fiesta ST with its Recaro thrones. Even the Titanium model lacks the range of motion, or support, you’ll find in most mid-sized sedans and power seats are not an option at any price. Even so, the Fiesta’s seats are among the more comfortable in the class. Finding an ideal driving position is easy thanks to a tilt/telescopic steering wheel. Rear seat passengers encounter the same firm padding in the sedan or hatchback, and essentially the same amount of headroom with the sedan form factor taking only a 1/10th of an inch toll and ranking near top of the class. Sadly however, the Euro origins are clear when it comes to rear legroom. The Fiesta trails here, and not by a small amount. The Sonic and Rio offer three 3-inches more while the Versa Note is a whopping 7.1-inches more spacious. Likewise, cargo hauling ability of 12.8 cubes in the sedan and 15.4 in the hatchback are on the smaller end of the spectrum.

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-004

Infotainment

My major gripe about the 2011 Fiesta was a lack of infotainment love. The SYNC-only 2011-2013 models used a small red display in the center of the dashboard while Kia and Nissan were offering touchscreen navigation units. To address, Ford shrunk their 8-inch MyFord Touch system down to 6.5 inches and dropped the system in a new binnacle on the dash for SE and Titanium Fiestas. Because Ford reduced the system’s dimensions, not the resolution, the system’s graphics have a crisper and high-quality look to them when compared to the 8-inch system in the Focus. There are a few ergonomic downsides however. The screen’s high position on the dash means it’s quite far from the driver requiring a decent reach for most functions and it makes the screen look smaller than it actually is. Also, because the “buttons” have shrunk, it’s easier to stab the wrong one. Thankfully most system operations can be controlled via voice commands negating the need to touch the screen for the most part. Ford’s latest software update (3.6.2 in August 2013) seems to have finally fixed the crashing and random re-boots that plagued earlier versions of the software.

Some buyers won’t care about the 6.5-inch woes as the snazzy system is standard on the Titanium, a $995 option on the SE and not available on the base model. Those shoppers will be happy to know that the Fiesta delivers one of the better audio system values. S and SE models come with six standard speakers, two more than you usually find in a stripper sub-compact, while Titanium models swap in an 8-speaker Sony branded audio system. The base speaker package is notably more crisp and accurate than the four-speaker fare in the competition while the Sony audio system sounded almost too bright at times. Both the S and SE models share the same AM/FM/CD/USB/iDevice head unit with SYNC voice commands and smartphone streaming integration.

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-002

Drivetrain

The big news under the hood for 2014 is the arrival of a 3-cylinder turbo option. Sadly one was not available for testing, so keep your eyes peeled for that review later in 2014. All trims get a standard 1.6L four-cylinder engine producing the same 120 HP and 112 lb-ft as last year, meaning that three-banger is optional, yes optional, for 2014. Aside from the novelty of paying $995 to have one cylinder removed, the 1.0L Ecoboost engine promises 32 MPG in the city, 45 on the highway and 37 combined which is a 7 MPG bump on the highway and 5 in the combined cycle. If the fuel economy wasn’t enough to pique your interest, the 1.0L engine cranks out 123 HP and 125 lb-ft across a flat torque curve, with a 15 second overboost good for 145 lb-ft. Ford mates the boosted engine exclusively to a 5-speed manual while the 1.6 can be mated to an optional 6-speed dual-clutch box.

Ford’s 6-speed PowerShift gearbox has received plenty of criticism from owners and Consumer Report. After talking with a number of Fiesta owners I have come to the conclusion the problem is mainly a lack of understanding. You see, PowerShift is Ford-speak for DSG. While Volkswagen’s robotic dual-clutch manual is smoother under certain circumstances (thanks to their use of wet clutches) VW seems to do a better job marketing and explaining their fuel-sipping tranny. Inside the Fiesta’s gearbox lies essentially two robotically shifted manual transmissions, one handling the even gears and the other taking the odd ones. The lack of a torque converter increases efficiency, and the twin-clutch system allows shifts to happen faster than in an automatic. By their very nature, dual-clutch transmissions feel more like a hybrid between a manual and an automatic. When you start from a stop, you can feel the clutch slip and engage. If you’re on a hill, the car will roll backwards when the hill-hold system times out. Occasionally you can hear a bit more gear noise and shifting noise than in a traditional slushbox and reverse has that distinctive sound. Because the Ford system uses dry clutches, starts are more pronounced than in VW’s DSG units with wet clutches (not all DSGs are wet clutch anymore).  2014 brings a major software update that noticeably improves shift quality but there is still a difference in feel. My opinion is: I’ll take PowerShift over a standard automatic any day as I prefer fuel economy and rapid shifts to “smoothness.” What say you?

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-002

Drive

Little was done to the Euro suspension for American duty, making the Fiesta the firmest ride in the segment, tying with the Mazda 2. The Honda Fit is a close second, but the Japanese compact is starting to show its age, feeling less refined and composed over rough pavement. The Versa Note feels composed but delivers more body roll, while the Rio’s suspension feels softer than I prefer while at the same time transmitting more road imperfections to the driver’s spine. Regardless of trim, the Fiesta handles incredibly well. This is due as much to the suspension as the light curb weight. Ranging from 2537lbs to 2628lbs, the Fiesta is a featherweight in America and it shows when you toss the Ford into corners, being far more willing to change direction than a Focus.

When it comes to straight line performance, the 6-speed PowerShift scooted our tester to 60 MPH in 9.08 seconds, a full second faster than the last manual-equipped Fiesta hatchback we tested. The reason for the variation is down to the gear ratios in the 5-speed manual. Ford combined low first and second gears with a tall fifth gear (taller than the Euro Fiesta) for better hill starts and improved EPA numbers but the decisions take a toll on performance and driveability. By dropping first and second, the delta between second and third grows to an odd gap that hampers acceleration after 50 MPH while the tall top gear means frequent downshifts on moderate inclines. Although I normally prefer a manual to any automatic, the Fiesta is one of my exceptions. The PowerShift box seemed to always have the right gear for the situation and made hill climbing a much less frustrating experience.

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-008

The Fiesta has always been small, but the Fiestas and Festivas of my youth were mainly known for being cheap. The new Fiesta however is all about value. Ford’s new pricing strategy is a mix of an aggressive $14,100 starting price for the sedan, a $500 premium for the hatchback and an options list that pushes most Fiestas on the lot to between $17,000 and $18,000. Fully loaded, (excluding the ST) the most expensive Fiesta you can get is $21,705. My realistic starting point for the Fiesta is the SE at $15,580 which includes all the essentials the S lacks.

When you compare that to the competition, the Fiesta starts only $110 more than a Versa Note and at the top end is just $855 more than a Rio. Nissan’s Note stacks up best at the bottom of the food chain, delivering more room, better fuel economy and a similar level of equipment for less. Putting things nicely, the Mazda 2 is outclassed by the Fiesta in every way at every level, while the Kia matches the Ford closely in terms of price for content. Although the Rio is the more spacious alternative and it offers a more powerful engine and 6-speed manual, the Fiesta is more attractive and more fun to drive. Chevy’s Sonic suffers from a bargain basement interior and a price tag that doesn’t offer much of a discount vs the Ford, even when you take into account some of the features Chevy offers that aren’t available on the Fiesta.

What the Fiesta does best of all however is wear that $21,705 price tag. No matter how you slice it, the Rio, Sonic and Fit feel like an economy car at the top end of their price range. The Fiesta Titanium however feels like a decent deal for the cash. Those shopping lower in the food chain benefit from a cabin that feels like a cheap version of a more expensive cabin, unlike the Versa Note SL which feels like an expensive version of a cheap car. Plenty of you will baulk at a Fiesta that lists over 21-grand when a base Fusion is just 2000 bucks more, but those looking for mid-size sedan comforts and luxuries in a compact carrying case will do well to drive a Fiesta.

 

Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.4 Seconds

0-60:9.08 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.9 Seconds @ 81.6 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 31.5 MPG over 561 Miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 72.5 db

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-001 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-002 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-001 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-002 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-003 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-004 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-005 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-006 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-007 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-008 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-009 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-010 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-001 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-002 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-003 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-004 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-005 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-006 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-007 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-008 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-009 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-010 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-011 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-012 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-013

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First Drive Review: 2014 Mazda3 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-mazda3-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-mazda3-with-video/#comments Sat, 19 Oct 2013 16:17:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=582817 The mainstream compact car segment is the perfect example of the infamous “driving appliance.” The Corolla and Civic sell in enormous volume because they are the middle-of-the-road “white bread” option, not in-spite of the vanilla. Unlike many in the automotive press, I don’t find anything wrong with that. In fact, I love me some Wonder […]

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2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The mainstream compact car segment is the perfect example of the infamous “driving appliance.” The Corolla and Civic sell in enormous volume because they are the middle-of-the-road “white bread” option, not in-spite of the vanilla. Unlike many in the automotive press, I don’t find anything wrong with that. In fact, I love me some Wonder Bread. But sometimes you feel like a pumpernickel, and that’s where the 2014 Mazda3 comes in. Mazda was so excited about their new loaf that they invited me to spend the day with them in San Diego. Want to know if you should spend 5+ years with one? Click through the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior
Accounting for 30% of Mazda’s worldwide volume, calling the Mazda3 their most important product would be putting things lightly. As a result 2014 brings a complete overhaul to every aspect of the 3 and the compact sedan now rides on a platform derived from the larger 6. The “Kodo” design language of the larger sedan has also been brought down to its smaller stablemate to astonishing effect. While the old Mazda3 was all smiles and bubbles, the new 3 is all grown up and aggressive with Mazda’s incredibly attractive grille. Before the 3′s release I was quite torn about who was the fairest of them all but now there is no contest.

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The 2014 dimensions play a huge role in the way the 3 looks on the road. Mazda moved the A-pillar 3.5 inches to the rear making the hood longer, lengthened the wheelbase by 2.5 inches, dropped the height by 6/10ths and made the whole car 1.6 inches wider. So far so good, but somehow Mazda managed to slash the front overhang and increase the wheel-to-front-door distance to an almost RWD like proportion. That would probably have been enough in a segment dominated by slab sides, but Mazda puts two distinctive character lines to separate the 3 from the pack. Out back we have tail lamps that mimic the front styling and your choice of a hatch or a trunk. Opting for the hatch gives the Mazda3 a side profile reminiscent of BMW’s X1, not a bad thing to be reminded of.

Interior
The problem with pumpernickel is that people’s tastes are different. The same thing can be said of the new interior. Rather than scaling down the Mazda6′s dashboard, the engineers went for something slimmer without a “double bump” for the infotainment screen. Taking a page out of BMW’s playbook, Mazda sets the 7-inch touchscreen inside a thin housing perched on the dashboard. Think of an iPad mounted to the dash. The look turned off some but I find the style appealing because it maintains a high screen position while reducing dashboard bulk. Mazda’s new “fighter jet inspired” heads up display is similarly perched on the dash, however, instead of being fixed, it folds itself flat when you turn the feature off. The display is as functional as any other heads-up display I’ve seen but the pop-up trick stuck me as being more gimmick than feature. Mazda tells us the reason for not projecting on the windshield which makes sense if you check out how much HUD compatible windshields go for.

2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda

Mazda says they benchmarked the BMW 3-Series interior which, given that BMW’s 3 went downmarket in some ways makes the comparison valid in  a way that it would have been laughable in 2006. Except for a segment average headliner, the plastics and materials choices in the cabin are all top of the class. (A logical finding since it is the newest as well.) Seat comfort proved excellent with well positioned controls and more side bolstering than you would find in the competition’s non-performance models. Rear seat room was a problem for the last generation Mazda3 and, despite the stretch, this continues to be an area where it lags the competition. For the biggest back seats and the largest trunk, look to the Corolla. Toyota’s 2014 offering has more leg room than the mid-sized Mazda6.

Despite a long list of optional features and gadgets, real leather seating surfaces happen only in the sGrand Touring model with mid-range models sporting faux-cow and lower end 3s wearing fabric.  Some comment has been made in the press about the 3′s 1990s era headliner, but it failed to offend me and here’s why: This segment is all about value and value is about cutting corners. Want snazzy dash plastics and metal trim bits-and-bobs? That headliner is the toll you have to pay and it’s one I’m OK with.

MY2014 Mazda 3
Infotainment and gadgets
If you recall my review of the Mazda 6 a few months ago, you’ll know I reserved my harshest criticism for the infotainment and navigation system. Forget everything I said because Mazda has taken customer feedback to heart. The Mazda3 is the first vehicle to receive MazdaConnect. The system combines a bright 7-inch touchscreen with an iDrive/MMI-like controller knob and button array in the center console. Similar to Infiniti’s systems, you can navigate with either the controller, or the touchscreen, or both depending on what is easier at the moment.

The system is as intuitive and snappy as the Mazda6′s is slow and painful. High resolution graphics, a completely redesigned interface and vastly improved voice commands join to create a system that rivals uConnect, iDrive and MyFord Touch for best in the industry. In that comparison the only things MazdaConnect lacks is smartphone app integration and some form of crash-notifying telematics system. If you want to dive into the details, check out the video.

MY2014 Mazda 3

The minimum point of entry for Mazda Connect is $23,340 because you cab only get it in the iTouring model with a $1,600 option package. Ouch. All models that directly compete with the white-loaf get something that looks like a clock radio molded into the dashboard (see the picture above). The logic was to keep the controls high and in the line of sight for the driver to reduce distraction and it does work as intended even though it looks a little odd. If you’re a high roller Mazda offers a high level of tech for this segment with everything from blind spot monitoring and backup cams available to surround sound, radar cruise control, collision prevention systems that will stop the car below 19 MPH (just like Volvo’s City Safety system), parking sensors and automatic high beams.

2014 also brings Mazda’s new “it’s-so-mild-that’s-not-called-a-mild-hybrid” system to the 3. i-Eloop’s is a mild energy recovery system that uses a large capacitor, variable voltage alternator and a DC-DC converter to recover energy when decelerating. The goal of the system is to limit the parasitic loss of the alternator by charging the capacity when you’re braking so that the car can disengage the alternator and use that power while accelerating or cruising. The system can’t help drive the car, which is why Mazda doesn’t call it a hybrid system, but the claim is that it can give you around one extra MPG in certain city driving cycles. Why so little? Because the alternator consumes less engine power than your air conditioning. The system is only available as part of a technology package and only on the top-end sGrand Touring model.

2014 Mazda3 Drivetrain

Drivetrain
Late in life, the old Mazda3 received a partial SkyActiv drivetrain. The reason it didn’t get fully implemented is obvious when you look at the Medusa below. That bundle of snakes is the Mazda “4-2-1″ exhaust manifold which is designed to prevent the start of cylinder 3′s exhaust stroke from interfering with the end of cylinder 1′s exhaust stroke. The convoluted pipes are there so that the catalytic converter, which is no longer “closely coupled” as is all the rage, heats quickly and less heat is lost on the way to the cat. This enormous contraption simply wouldn’t fit in the old 3 because of the shape of the engine bay and the firewall. To make the 4-2-1 manifold fit in the 2014 Mazda3, it was necessary to form an enormous bulge into the car’s firewall and chassis design, something only possible in a complete redesign process.

2014 Mazda3 exhaust manifold

With the final piece of the SkyActiv puzzle in place, Mazda cranked up the compression ratio on their new 2.0 and 2.5L engines to 13:1. Why not the 14:1 that Mazda advertises in Europe? Because in the USA all engines must operate “safely” on regular 87 octane gasoline by law. The boffins tell us that this results in a 5% loss of efficiency vs the higher compression EU engines that will grenade themselves on lower octane fuel.

The base engine for 2014 is a 2.0L 155 horse four-cylinder that’s good for 150 lb-ft of twist and 30/41/34 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) with the 6-speed automatic. If you have the cash you can upgrade to the 2.5L engine (shared with the CX-5 and Mazda6) which bumps these numbers up to 184 horses and 185 lb-ft while dropping fuel economy to 28/39/32.

The 2.0L engine comes standard with a slick shifting 6-speed transmission that is one of the best manuals in the ever shrinking compact segment. Engagement is precise, throws are moderate and the clutch engagement is linear and well-balanced in relation to the motion of the other two pedals. Sadly this transmission can’t be had with the more powerful 2.5L engine. Don’t shoot the messenger. Most Mazda3s rolling off the lot will use Mazda’s 6-speed automatic transaxle which chases efficiency and a direct feel by engaging the torque converter lockup clutch in every gear, as soon as possible, and as long as possible. While Mazda tells us this is unique to the compact segment, ZF’s 8-speed RWD transmission plays the same trick in the name of efficiency. Manual lovers and speed freaks should know that Mazda is cagey about a MazdaSpeed3 only saying that there would not be one “at launch.” Read between the lines if you like.

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004

Drive

Being the mechanical geek that I am, one more thing caught my interest: the caster angle. That’s the angle that the steering mechanism acts upon the front wheel. Think of this like a clock with vertical being right at 12:00. Most cars out there have a slight caster angle of maybe 12:03 while the 2014 Mazda3 winds it up to 12:06. Why does it matter? Because we have electric power steering (EPAS). EPAS is the modern equalizer and has made all steering dull and lifeless. By dialing up the caster, you dial up the forces that come back up the steering column from the tires. This means that by the time EPAS dulls everything down there’s the hint of something left. I’d like to say it turns the Mazda3 into a Mazda Miata but I’d be lying. Instead what you get is a hint of feedback in corners and a tiny touch of road feel at other times. Because we’ve been living in a feedback-desert, the taste has overly excited some. No it isn’t your 2007 Mazdaspeed3, but it is livelier than the Focus or Civic.

Zoom-Zoom is more about handling than 0-60 times, made obvious by our 7.6 second run to 60 in a hatchback with the 2.5L engine. If you want more speed in the “non-hot hatch segment”, wait for Kia’s turbo Forte  I didn’t get a chance to test the 2.0L model during the event but my “butt-dyno” tells me it should be about 2 seconds slower and right in line with the competition. It’s when the road starts to curve that the difference is obvious. This 3 can dance. The Mazda is quite simply the best handling and best feeling compact car in stock form. Yes, the Civic Si is a hair more fun but it’s not a main stream car, doesn’t have an automatic and still doesn’t feel as connected as the Mazda. With road manners like these, I’m looking forward to a Mazdaspeed3 vs Focus ST shootout, I suspect the 3 might dethrone Ford’s hot hatch.

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009

What about daily driving? It’s all well and good to be the best handling compact, but in order to be a sales success you have to be able to sway some white bread buyers. Sound levels at 50MPH rang in a 73db, below the Corolla but above the Civic. No worries there. The sedan’s ride is on the stiffer side of the segment but quite similar to the Focus, that might be a problem for the average Corolla shopper. The big selling point for most cross-shoppers will be the fuel economy. The sedan with the 2.0L engine and automatic is the volume model and snags 30/41/34 MPG (City/Highway/Combined). That’s one MPG better than Sentra, two better than Civic or Corolla and three better than Focus.  While that doesn’t translate into much cash saved on an annual basis, it is one of the largest purchase factors shoppers site in this segment. I should mention however that the last time we had the Sentra it scored better than it’s EPA rating while the Mazda3 was fairly close to the EPA score. My big take away from this is that Mazda managed to beat the CVT equipped competition’s fuel economy with a more traditional feeling automatic. White bread buyers won’t care about the feel, but the numbers might cause them to take a second look.

With pricing that ranges from $16,945 (sedan) to a hair under $30,000 (loaded hatch) if you check all the option boxes on a Mazda3 hatch, it’s obvious the Mazda spans the price spectrum from white bread in a bag to a paper-wrapped organic artisan cheesy sourdough. Like the Ford Focus, this large price span means the $19,495 iSport and $20,645 iTouring compete with the bulk of Corolla/Civic shoppers while the upper level trims compete with the Ford Focus, Acura ILX, Lexus CT200h, Buick Verano, and the few that shopped Volvo’s defunct C30.

Compared to the Civic and Corolla, the Mazda3 delivers superior dynamics and more premium dash materials in exchange for less tech and no touchscreen infotainment. This is a dangerous trade in a segment known for placing features before fun. On the flip side, the Mazda3 has everything it needs to compete with the Focus, ILX, Verano and CT200h. Mazda’s chassis tuning makes the Mazda the most fun to drive (even considering the ILX 2.4′s Civic Si roots), the infotainment system is entry-level luxury worthy and 2014 brings all full-speed range radar cruise control and ever gadget the Buick and Lexus shopper could want. So is the Mazda3 the perfect pumpernickel for Wonder Bread prices? As good as. Civirolla shoppers who can be convinced to cross-shop will be pleased with Mazda’s sexy exterior, comfortable seats and road manners, but those after large seats and large trunks will return to the white bread alternative. I suspect the near luxury shoppers are the ones that will miss out the most however thinking that nothing this tasty could come in a package with a Mazda logo on it. Their loss.

Mazda flew me to San Diego, put me up in a hotel and fed me stuffed mushrooms.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 4 Seconds

0-60: 7.6 Seconds

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 73 db

 

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-007 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-010 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-001 MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-002 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-003 2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-006

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First Drive Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-toyota-corolla-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-toyota-corolla-with-video/#comments Mon, 14 Oct 2013 13:00:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=607433 Calling the Corolla “Toyota’s most important car” would be an understatement. This single model accounts for 38 percent of all Toyotas ever sold in the USA and they expect to shift 330,000 next year alone. If the sheer quantity wasn’t amazing enough, ponder this reality: 75% of sales will be split between just four different […]

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2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Calling the Corolla “Toyota’s most important car” would be an understatement. This single model accounts for 38 percent of all Toyotas ever sold in the USA and they expect to shift 330,000 next year alone. If the sheer quantity wasn’t amazing enough, ponder this reality: 75% of sales will be split between just four different configurations. If you’re in a 2014 Corolla, the odds are about one in five that the Corolla next to you is identical save for paint color. Often derided by the automotive press as a “driving appliance,” is there more to the 2014 Corolla or is it just a toaster with wheels? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

When you plan on selling 330,000 of anything, mainstream styling is essential. When many of those shoppers are repeat Toyota and repeat Corolla buyers, it’s also essential to avoid anything that could be described as “adventurous.” The result is the attractive but plain sheetmetal. You won’t find any Mazda-esque swooshes, any Ford/Aston inspired grilles and you certainly won’t find anything “aggressive.” And that’s how Corolla shoppers like it. Corolla shoppers apparently also like getting bigger cars with every re-design, so this 11th generation model has grown by 3.9 inches. Why don’t they shop up the ladder to a Camry? Who knows.

2014_Toyota_Corolla_S, Picture Courtesy of Toyota

Plenty of reviewers have found fault in the way the 11th gen Corolla looks, most of them complain vehemently in private and say little in public. I however, am not afraid to say what I think in public: the Corolla is pedestrian but far from offensive. I also find the Corolla S (pictured above) to be the more attractive of the bunch although neither nose is any more or less exciting than the Sentra, Civic or Elantra. The biggest problem with the way the Corolla looks has nothing to do with the Corolla and everything to do with timing. I drove the 2014 Corolla two days before sampling Mazda’s hot new Mazda3. If looks matter to you, the Corolla is unlikely to be on your short list. Adding a little visual flair to the front, Toyota made LED headlamps standard on every Corolla. Yep, even the $16,800 stripper model. The other thing that’s standard is an oddly tall ride height resulting in a larger than average distance between the top of the tire and the wheel-well making the Corolla look “off road ready.” Make of that what you will.

2014 Toyota Corolla Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

After a week in the RAV4′s discordant interior, I was concerned what Toyota would do with the volume leader. Thankfully my concerns were unwarranted and I found the Corolla’s interior surprisingly elegant. Yes, I said that out loud, I found the design elegant. (Notice I didn’t say exciting.) There are a few caveats however. While the dashboard styling reminded me a great deal of the Mazda6, parts quality still lags behind the Focus, top-level Forte and, in some ways, even the Chevy Cruze. The picture above is of the more attractive (in my opinion) two-tone interior. You’ll only find this on the LE, LE Plus, LE ECO and LE ECO Plus model as everything else is black on black and looks a hair cheaper. 2014 brings soft touch points to most of the Corolla’s cabin and a new fabric headliner in most models. The exterior may be plain my bottom line on the interior is that I could live with it long term without a problem.

Front seat comfort proved average for the segment but I found the lack of adjustable lumbar support to be a problem for my back. Stepping up to the “Premium” trim LE or S gets you an 8-way power seat but still very little back support. The big change for 2014 is out back, the stretch allowed Toyota to add 5.1 inches to the back seat, ballooning to 41.4 inches total, just 2/10ths less than a Camry. More legroom meant more room for the seats themselves and allowed the rear bench to be lengthened for more thigh support. Putting that in perspective, that’s 5 inches more than most compacts, four inches more than the Sentra’s cavernous back seat and a whopping 8.2 inches more than the Focus. Sadly even the Corolla hasn’t been able to escape the low-roof trend limiting headroom for taller folks in the back. 2014 brings some trunk love, bumping the cube carrying to 13, respectable for the class but below the Sentra’s large booty. If bag carrying is your thing, you should know that the Sentra can swallow four 24-inch roller bags in a vertical orientation, and four more horizontally. I can’t even think of a modern full-sized sedan that can do that.

2014_Corolla_S_017

Infotainment and Gadgets

The new Corolla gets Toyota’s latest infotainment software package and this represents a new direction. Previously there were two separate navigation/infotainment operating systems, a low cost unit found in cars like the Prius C, and the totally different (and expensive) one found as an option in vehicles like the Avalon and the Lexus line. Toyota shifting to common software running on different hardware depending on the model. Cheaper cars get smaller screens, Toyotas stick to touchscreens while Lexuses (Lexi?) get the joystick.

Representing the Corolla’s place at the bottom of the Toyota food chain, you’ll find an 6.1 inch touchscreen standard on all models except for the L. (The L is expected to represent less than 10% of sales.) While I find this software one of the worst in the luxury class, my negative impression is entirely down to the Lexus joystick. In the Corolla the system is fast and responsive and the graphics are all perfectly suited to the 6.1 inch touchscreen. Toyota tosses in weather and traffic updates on certain models without having to add navigation which is a handy feature. USB and iDevice integration is excellent and easily the equal of Ford’s SYNC in terms of voice control and tops the segment in touch-screen ease of use. The standard Bluetooth speakerphone worked well and had excellent sound quality. Depending on the trim you can also add smartphone app integration to Pandora, OpenTable, etc. Like the rest of the Corolla, the Entune system doesn’t break any new ground, but it is easy to live with.

On the gadget front the Corolla covers all the basics with those LED headlamps, a standard cabin air filter, air conditioning and power door locks and windows. LE and higher models (again, 90% of sales) gain  automatic climate control, six speakers, a backup camera, cruise control and keyless entry. If you want any whiz-bang features like self parking, heads up displays, blind spot monitoring, power folding whatnots or dynamic cruise control, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

2014_Toyota_Corolla_LE_ECO_013

Drivetrain

The engine under the hood of 90% of Corollas is carried over from last year. The 1.8L four-cylinder engine is good for a class middling 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. A new six-speed manual replaces the old 5-speed as the base transmission and delivers 28/37 MPG (city/highway) when so equipped. If you’re one of the incredibly few that plan on getting an L with an automatic, be warned that this is the same old four-speed automatic as last year’s Corolla.

All other Corollas, even the supposedly “sport” S model, get Toyota’s new continuously variable transmission. I can already hear the groans, but if you’re groaning about finding a CVT under the hood, then I’m going to generalize and say you’re not the target demographic. For the rest of you, you should know this CVT is one of the best I’ve ever driven and is a close second to the Honda CVT in the new Accord. Somehow Toyota and Honda have managed to exorcise the rubber band demon from the CVT in a way that Nissan has been unable. Ratio changes are quick and fuel economy is an impressive 29/38 MPG. S models get paddle shifters and all models will imitate a  seven-speed automatic when floored. The impersonation is passable, but I fail to see the point.

If you want to break the 40 MPG barrier, than the 30/42 MPG LE ECO model is the one to get. In order to get there, Toyota swaps new heads onto the 1.8L engine which incorporates their new ValveMatic variable valve lift, timing and duration system. Like BMW’s Valvetronic and Fiat’s MultiAir, this system acts as the throttle body under most circumstances to increase efficiency. When so equipped, power rises to 140 HP and torque drops to 126 lb-ft. It was hard to tell if the system delivered any real-world benefit because of the limited time I had in the Corolla but I can tell you that the extra 8HP didn’t make the ECO model any faster to 60.

2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Why does the Corolla sell so well? It has more to do with brand loyalty and a reputation for reliability than road manners. Everything about driving the Corolla can be summed up in one word: average. From steering feel to suspension dynamics and road holding the Corolla is neither class leading nor class trailing. After a day and 140 miles, it reminded me of my flight to Seattle to see the Corolla in the first place. I flew in one of Southwest’s new 737-900 planes and the experience was entirely ordinary. The plane got me from point A to point B, it was as comfortable as I expected and the looks didn’t offend.

This middle-of-the-road mentality explains why Toyota jammed their new CVT into the Corolla. They aren’t the first to the CVT party and they won’t be the last. The CVT lags a hair behind Honda’s new Earth Dreams CVT but is more refined than Nissan’s Sentra. The combination of 132 ponies and a CVT make mountain climbing easier in the Corolla than the Civic with ye olde 5-speed, but not as nice as the large engine equipped Forte or Mazda3. Repeat Corolla buyers will find the Corolla peppier than before thanks to the CVT, since the old 4-speed automatic seemed to never have the right ratio for the situation.

2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cabin noise measured in higher than average at 74 db at 50 MPH. 74db is a bit disappointing since even Honda made the latest Civic considerably quieter. Fuel economy was, yet again, middle of the road at 29 MPG over all after a day of city driving and stop-and-go traffic.

Even the Corolla’s recent “marginal” IIHS small offset crash score is class middling with the Civic snatching “good,” the Focus and Elantra “acceptable” and the Forte and Sentra slotting in below the Corolla at “poor.” While I can think of good reasons to buy something other than the Corolla, I honestly have troubles finding any reason to not buy one. When I tallied up my personal score card I was shocked to find I had ranked the Corolla 3rd behind the new Mazda3 and the Kia Forte. That ranking is based on the easy to use infotainment system, enormous back seat, large trunk, attractive interior and (of course) the reliability reputation the Corolla has maintained over the years. Yes, even I can be tempted (at least a little bit) by the logic of the driving appliance.

Perhaps that is what the bulk of the automotive press finds so vexing: The Corolla is probably the only car on the market that is deliberately designed to be average and Toyota nailed it.When I talked to a few Corolla owners about their purchase, none of them considered another model or brand before signing on the dotted line.

 

 Toyota provided airfare, accommodations and meals for this event.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.93 Seconds

0-60: 9.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.61 Seconds @ 81.8 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 29 MPG

Cabin Noise at 50 MPH: 74db

2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-001 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-002 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-003 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-004 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-005 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-006 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-007 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-008 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-009 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-001 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-002 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-004 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-005 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-006 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-007 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-008 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-009 2014_Toyota_Corolla_LE_ECO_013 2014_Toyota_Corolla_S, Picture Courtesy of Toyota 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-003

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Review: 2014 Toyota RAV4 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-toyota-rav4-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-toyota-rav4-with-video/#comments Fri, 20 Sep 2013 12:58:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=520441   When the RAV4 landed, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. In a world of unified corporate identity the RAv4 goes off script with a look all to its own. While the old RAV sold on mini-truck looks, the new one is undisguised crossover. The new nose has grown on me slightly since […]

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2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When the RAV4 landed, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. In a world of unified corporate identity the RAv4 goes off script with a look all to its own. While the old RAV sold on mini-truck looks, the new one is undisguised crossover. The new nose has grown on me slightly since I recorded the video above, but I still find the look a little awkward. Since I was scolded for wearing striped pants with a striped shirt the week I tested the RAV4, feel free take my style opinion with a grain of salt as you click through the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior
The big change for 2014 out back. It’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t. The spare tire that clung to the back of the 2013 model like an octogenarian clinging to the past is gone. The removal of the tire makes completes the RAV4′s exterior transformation from Toyota Trucklet to crossover. By going hatch-mainstream, practicality is greatly improved allowing easier access when parallel parked or parked on a hill. Because of the RAV’s increased dimensions and the new hatch, it is possible to fit 4×8 sheets inside if you leave the hatch cracked.

The RAV4′s cargo hold has one of the lowest lift-over heights for loading in the compact crossover segment. While this makes loading easier, it means the hatch is closer to the ground and makes opening it more awkward. I thought I was alone, but some of our Facebook friends commented that the hatch hit them in the abdomen if they didn’t take a large step backwards when opening it.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

The RAV4′s interior is a sea of shapes, not all of which jive with one another. It’s as if the engineers couldn’t decide which styling direction to take, so they gave the interior a bit of everything. On the flip side, the majority of the cabin materials are above the likes of the Kia Sportage. The stitched pleather pieces of the dash help bring the cabin up-market but the urethane steering wheel lets the cabin back down. The carbon-fiber looking plastic trim seems to scratch easily as well and it’s located in high-traffic areas like the cupholder surround and by the window switches. This dichotomy is unique to the RAV4 with rest of the competition being uniform in terms of style, quality and feel. On average the RAV4 is in the upper-middle of the pack, but this double personality leads people to see what they want to see in the interior.

Front seat comfort is merely average in the RAV4 thanks to seats that lack adjustable lumbar support or a power adjustment mechanism. Continuing Toyota’s move away from leather, the Limited model gets SofTex faux-moo instead. Out back, the big change is the lack of a third row option for 2014. Toyota tells us that the take rate was low with most 7-seat shoppers opting to step up to the Highlander. The loss of the extra seats should have given Toyota a bit of room to expand the second row but it has actually shrunk for 2014 by one inch and the rear seats have lost their ability to slide forward/backward. Cargo room slots in at a massive 38.4 cubic feet jumping to 73.4 if you fold the rear seats flat, well above the competition.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment
2013 brought Toyota’s refreshed 6.1-inch Entune system standard on all models, and starting in a few months will receive another update to their latest software debuting in the Corolla. I should note now that Toyota has not said if the system can be upgraded to the new software, so if you like what you hear in the upcoming Corolla review you may want to wait.

The current touchscreen unit includes standard Bluetooth and a backup camera in addition to the usual combination of AM/FM and a single slot CD player. The standard 6-speaker audio system is moderately well balanced for a compact crossover. The system is easy to use and offers full voice command of your USB/iDevice media library. Optional on the XLE and Limited models is Entune smartphone app integration and flash-disk based navigation. The nav system is intuitive and easy to use but the system’s screen is easily washed out in strong daylight. Although the system is intuitive and highly functional, Entune is outclassed by the larger touchscreen products in the Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Kia Sportage and the new Jeep Cherokee to name a few.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain
Toyota decided to kill off optional V6 for 2014, leaving the 2.5L four-cylinder the only powerplant. While the switch is likely to offend a few, the vast majority of RAV4 sales were four-cylinder anyway. Toyota’s logic was this: the prime competitor is the CR-V and it’s four-cylinder only. The 2.5L engine is good for 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of twist placing it in the thick of the competition. Since the 2.5L is no longer the base engine Toyota fitted it with their 6-speed automatic transaxle to improve performance and fuel economy. MPGs rise to 24 City and 31 Highway in FWD trim which is above the CR-V and GM crossovers but well below the Mazda CX-5′s impressive 26/35 score (2.0L engine and manual transmission.)

For $1,400 Toyota will toss in their full-time AWD system on any trim level. The RAV4′s AWD system follows the same formula as the rest with a multi-plate coupling acting as a quasi center differential. This system is somewhat unusual however because the driver can lock the coupling on demand via a button in the dash. Although the lock will self-disengage over 25MPH, only the Jeep crossovers offer a similar touch. Engaging the car’s “sport” mode alters the throttle mapping, transmission shift points and encourages the coupling to lock more frequently to try and limit the FWD nature of the RAV.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The loss of the V6 is a big blow to the RAV4. In our tests, the RAV4 ran from 0-60 in 8.64 seconds in AWD trim, faster than the CR-V but slightly slower than the 2.5L CX-5. If you want anything other than middling performance, you’ll need to drop by the Chevy or GMC dealer for a 301HP Terrain or Equinox.

When the going got twisty, the FWD RAV4 we borrowed from a dealer proved to be competent but not exceptional. Like most crossovers the RAV is softly sprung and exhibits plenty of body roll, tip and dive but it never felt sloppy. Toyota’s structural improvements are noticeable with the rear hatch no longer creaking on uneven driveways. Adding AWD improved the RAV4′s dynamics thanks to software that is programmed to send power to the rear wheels when driving aggressively or when in Sport mode. The system not only prevents the few hints of torque steer the FWD model exhibits, but it also makes the RAV4 more dynamic on the road. Regardless of the model, the steering lacks the precision of the Mazda or Ford, possibly due to the RAV’s higher profile tires but it does rank above the CR-V. If handling is important to you, the Mazda CX-5 is quite simply the best small crossover on the market right now.

2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Toyota has a history of playing to the “meat” of every segment. Rarely does Toyota build anything extreme, be it the cheapest car in its class, the most expensive, fastest, slowest, etc. That describes the RAV4 to a tee. After a week with the RAV4 I wasn’t offended but neither was I enraptured. Toyota’s trucklet is reasonably priced ranging from $23,300-$28,410 and in most trims represents a decent (but not extreme) value compared to the competition. Yes, the CX-5 is more exciting, but like the more luxurious and gadget-rich Escape, it’ll cost you more. The CR-V is quieter but it’s also a few bucks more expensive. The Cherokee is more off-road capable but Chrysler’s reliability reputation isn’t exactly stellar. The Forester is the better choice for wagon lovers and the Sportage and Escape have powerful turbo options that speak to my heart. The GMC Terrain and Chevy Equinox have been refreshed and feature 301 horsepower mills for those that like to count ponies and an infotainment system that’s more attractive than Entune.

The new RAV is, without a doubt, a better 2-row crossover than the model it replaces. It’s also a very pragmatic choice delivering a blend of good fuel economy, large cargo hold, an AWD system that’s more capable than most in the segment and, being a Toyota, it’s likely to have a good reliability record as well. The 2014 RAV4 is a solid crossover and you can’t go wrong by putting one in your driveway. If however you want my advice, and since you’re reading this I assume you do, check out the CX-5 and Escape before you sign on the dotted line.

 

Hit it or Quit It?

 

Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance and and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.17 Seconds

0-60: 8.64 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.88 Seconds @ 82 MPH

Sound Level at 50 MPH: 68db

Average Fuel Economy: 25 MPG over 483 Miles

2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-012 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-007 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-002 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-010 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-004 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-009 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-005 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-001 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-011 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-005 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-006 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-012 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-004 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-009 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-003 2014 Toyota RAV4 Interior-008 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior-011 2014 Toyota RAV4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Toyota RAV4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy pf Alex L Dykes

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Review: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2013-hyundai-elantra-gt-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2013-hyundai-elantra-gt-video/#comments Fri, 02 Aug 2013 21:54:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=497508 By pure happenstance I ended up with an Elantra GT immediately after reviewing the 2014 Kia Forte sedan. As I said last week in the Forte review, the Elantra and Forte are related, but this isn’t a case of Korean badge engineering. It’s far more complicated. The Forte is the new kid on the block […]

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2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

By pure happenstance I ended up with an Elantra GT immediately after reviewing the 2014 Kia Forte sedan. As I said last week in the Forte review, the Elantra and Forte are related, but this isn’t a case of Korean badge engineering. It’s far more complicated. The Forte is the new kid on the block while the Elantra has been around for a few years. At this stage in life, Hyundai is trying to inject vitality into the Elantra name by adding new models. First we got the four-door sedan, then a two-door coupé followed by the Veloster which is just a four-door hatchback Elantra (yes, I know Hyundai calls it a three-door, but I know better). If you’re confused by door counts, the new Elantra GT is a five-door. Say what?

About “them doors.”  We all know a sedan is a four-door because a trunk isn’t a door. (Despite our exclusive Trunk Comfort Index testing.) Likewise we call the Elantra Coupe a two-door but toss a hatch into the mix and, hey-presto, your cargo portal is a door. How does the Veloster fit in? It has three regular doors (two on one side, one on the other) and a hatch. Thankfully Hyundai killed off the awkward looking Elantra Touring wagon leaving nothing to go head to head with the Mazda3 hatch, Focus hatch and Golf. That’s where the GT fits in.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Adding the GT to the lineup puts Hyundai in the unusual position of having more variants of their compact vehicle than any other brand in the USA, and that’s even if you don’t count the Veloster as an Elantra. Part of this is to give customers options the other brands don’t, but it is also to extend the life of the aging Elantra. In 2010 when the Elantra splashed on the scene it was new and exciting, but this is a fiercely competitive segment. In the past three years, the Civic, Forte, Golf and Mazda3 have all been redesigned bringing new and exciting shapes to choose from. In this light the Elantra’s front end is starting to look a old to my eyes, especially when you park it next to the aggressive new Forte. Speaking of that elephant in the room, that 2014 Forte 5-door looks all kinds of hot.

Park the GT next to an Elantra sedan and you’ll notice this isn’t a sedan with a hatch glued on. Instead, the GT rides on a 2-inch shorter wheelbase shared with the Veloster. Along with the reduced wheelbase, Hyundai sliced nearly 9-inches off this sausage slotting the GT between the Veloster and Elantra sedan in overall size. The shorter dimensions made parking the GT easy in tight urban settings even though the GT retains the Elantra’s 34.8-foot turning circle. Despite the platform nip/tuck the GT is the heaviest Elantra variant at a still svelte (well, relatively speaking) 2,745lbs with the manual transmission.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

I took me a few moments to figure out what was going on with the GT’s interior. At first glance the dashboard and controls are familiar, yet this isn’t the same dashboard the Elantra coupé/sedan, or the Veloster. Gone is the “hourglass” center console in favor of a HVAC controls that are larger and easier to use. Our tester had the optional dual-zone climate control system which rearranges the buttons and adds a large blue-backlit display. Although the steering wheel has simply been tweaked with satin “metal” trim, the rest of the interior trappings are a notch above the Elantra sedan and coupe and, depending on where your fingers brush, a notch above the Veloster as well. This is fortunate because with even the Civic going up-market for 2013, the GT could have left the gates at a disadvantage. Thanks to the plastic upgrades, the GT is firmly “middle of the pack.”

Even though the GT is notably shorter and slightly taller than the sedan, folks up front won’t notice much difference. The seats are still supportive and comfortable, but not as easy on the back as the 2013 Civic. You might think the wheelbase reduction would play havoc with rear accommodations but the back seats have slightly more room than in the sedan. Some of that room is thanks to rear seats with a more upright and comfortable profile and some of it comes at the expense of the front seats which get a one inch reduction in travel for GT duty. Getting in and out of those rear seats is easy thanks to large and fairly square door openings. With 23 cubic feet of widget space behind the rear seats and 51 with the rear seats folded, the GT is the most practical Elantra since the dowdy Elantra Touring was mercy killed.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior, Infotainment, Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

The GT may be new for 2013, but the technology is a few years old. Base shoppers may not mind the lack of progress because the standard 6-speaker audio system is one of the best standard audio systems in this segment. The 170 watt system comes with standard AM/FM/XM radio, a single-slot CD/MP3 player, Bluetooth speakerphone and USB/iPod integration. Sadly you won’t find SYNC-like voice command of your tunes or Pandora streaming, but the system has a natural sound and is easy to use.

High-rollers (like me) won’t be able to live without a touchscreen nav unit, but I was disappointed to find the GT doesn’t get the new 8-inch BlueLink system from the Santa Fe. Instead we find the 7-inch “last generation” system found in the regular Elantra. It’s not that the system is objectionable, it just lacks the snazzy new voice commands and smartphone integration ability you find in other Hyundai products. That new Kia Forte hatchback keeps popping in my mind because the 2014 Forte models get the latest Hyundai/Kia infotainment software with smartphone apps, 911 crash notification, vehicle diagnostics and full voice commands for your music library.

Hyundai Elantra GT 1.8L Engine, Picture Courtesy of Hyundai

Drivetrain

Under the GT’s short hood beats the same 1.8L four-cylinder engine as the Elantra sedan. Unfortunately this mill doesn’t get Hyundai’s direct-injection sauce so power is rated at a middling 148 ponies and 131 lb-ft. In an interesting twist Hyundai allows you to select the 6-speed manual or the 6-speed automatic regardless of your trim level. This puts the Elantra a cog ahead of the Civic and a few other competitors. When you factor the additional weight of the GT model over the sedan it’s obvious performance is muted. When weight goes up, fuel economy goes down and so it is with the GT. The Elantra sedan scores a respectable 28/38/32 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) with the manual or automatic while the GT drops to 26/37/30 with the manual and 27/37/30 with the automatic. Our real world economy ended up a few steps lower at 28.2 MPG overall, notably lower than the Elantra sedan’s 32.1 MPG score last time I had one.

I spent most of the week inside the 6-speed automatic GT but I was able to hop in a manual equipped version for a few hours because I was intrigued by Hyundai’s decision to sell a row-your-own option on all trims. The automatic is obviously going to be the most popular option and will suit most drivers just fine. Hyundai has continually improved the feel of their slushbox and is now among the best in terms of shift feel and programming. While I like the feel of this 6-speed over Nissan’s CVT, 131 lb-ft would more easily motivate 2,800lbs if it was routed via a CVT. Just sayin… The 6-speed manual still lacks the refinement you’ll find in the VW Golf and the clutch feel is a notch below the Focus that’s a moot point if you want all the tech gadgets and a manual transmission in the same hatch. This is your only option.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior, Picture COurtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The manual transmission is worth noting because the Elantra GT is much more of a driver’s car than any other Elantra, including the coupé. This is primarily because Hyundai significantly improved torsional rigidity when compared to its platform mates. Also tweaked were the springs and dampers for a tighter and more composed ride than its siblings. The changes are noticeable and make the sedan feel like a damp noodle in comparison. Hyundai seems to have found the right balance between sporty and soft when it comes to the ride with the GT feeling neither jarring nor marshmallowy soft. If road holding manners matter the most, the GT slots below certain Ford Focus models and VW’s Golf. On the rubber front we get 205/55R16 tires standard and an optional upgrade to 215/45R17s (as our tester was equipped) to improve grip. The larger rubber is part of the $950 “touch-and-go” package which nets you keyless-go, the larger wheels, aluminum pedals and a leather wrapped wheel and shift knob. Out on my favorite mountain highway the GT was a team player with more grip and composure than I expected. The steering? That’s another matter.

The Elantra GT gets Hyundai’s latest personalization option: adjustable steering assist. By pressing a button on the steering wheel you can select from three different steering effort settings on the fly. Yes, even mid-apex. Let’s get one thing clear: none of the modes will do anything to improve steering feel. In Comfort mode the GT is hopelessly over-boosted at speed but oddly doesn’t make give you feather-light steering in the parking lot. When in this mode it is all too easy to crank the wheel too far in a corner and end up constantly re-adjusting. Normal is a hair better. Sport is lifeless but firm. I spent my week in Sport.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I notice most reviews of the GT bemoan the “unusually loud” backup camera that pops out of the Hyundai logo on the trunk lid. Bucking the trend I don’t see a problem with this given the GT’s price tag of $18,545-$25,440. Similarly equipped the Ford Focus 5-door lands $1,800 more expensive and the VW Golf is $3,000lbs dearer. If however you factor in the Focus and Golf’s more powerful engines and better road manners, I’d call that difference much smaller. The smaller the delta becomes, the harder it is for me to look past the small things about the Elantra GT that bothered me during the week like the older infotainment software. If you can look beyond all of that, the 9.05 second 0-60 score is something you have to keep in mind because the Elantra GT is among the slowest hatches we have tested in a while.

Still, the GT is a cheaper option and that speaks to my budget-minded nature. But there are still two problems: the 2014 Kia Forte hatchback and the 2014 Mazda3 hatchback. The Forte’s newer underpinnings, more powerful engine, sexier sheetmetal and snazzier infotainment options are likely to be priced neck-and-neck with the Elantra GT. In addition to all that the Forte is likely to be the more engaging ride on the road based on our time with the Forte sedan. Then there’s that new Mazda3 with a two-engine lineup, available iLoop “almost hybrid” system, class leading 30/40MPG rating and a Mazda reputation for excellent road manners. Yes, those cars are still a few months off, but that just means the Elantra GT in the unfortunate position of being a value leader for a limited time only. What could Hyundai do to fix it? If they could jam their 270HP 2.0L turbo under the hood at a reasonable price…

 

Hyundai provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.06 Seconds

0-60: 9.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.84 Seconds @ 81.7 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 28.2 over 549 miles

 

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior, Picture COurtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior-003 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior-005 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior-006 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior-007 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-001 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-002 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-003 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-004 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-005 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-006 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior, Infotainment, Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-008 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-009 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-010

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First Drive: 2013 Nissan NV200 Compact Cargo Van (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/first-drive-2013-nissan-nv200-compact-cargo-van-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/first-drive-2013-nissan-nv200-compact-cargo-van-video/#comments Tue, 09 Jul 2013 16:58:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=494343 When Nissan invited me to sample the Versa Note hatchback, tucked away in a corner was the new-to-America Nissan NV200 compact cargo van. No, this isn’t a relative of the NV2500 that started out our commercial week in 2012, instead it’s a purpose-built cargo hauler [very] loosely based on the underpinnings of the Nissan Cube. […]

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2013 Nissan NV200

When Nissan invited me to sample the Versa Note hatchback, tucked away in a corner was the new-to-America Nissan NV200 compact cargo van. No, this isn’t a relative of the NV2500 that started out our commercial week in 2012, instead it’s a purpose-built cargo hauler [very] loosely based on the underpinnings of the Nissan Cube. You may have also seen the NV200 shown as NYC’s “Taxi of Tomorrow” choice, but this NV is all about hauling. (Strangely enough that’s why it makes a good taxi.)

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The NV200′s boxy profile is all about hauling, that’s something the NV200 and the Transit Connect have in common while the RAM C/V minivan is obviously a passenger car with steel inserted where the windows used to go. I think we can all agree that the C/V is more attractive in a “minivan mommy” sort of way, not surprising since it has to sell on curb appeal as well as kiddie schlepping. The  NV200 doesn’t have to steal hearts to accomplish its mission enabling Nissan to pen vertical slab sides and a very vertical tail. Anyone hauling cargo will tell you the C/V’s top-hinged hatch precludes loading with a regular forklift, something that isn’t a problem with the NV200′s 60/40 “barn” door back-end.

Practicality has a downside, like the current Transit Connect, the NV200 isn’t the most attractive thing on the road. The big cargo box makes the 15-inch wheels look smaller than they are and there’s just something wrong with the NV’s nose. (It is more attractive than the schnoz on the Transit Connect however.)  The standard black plastic bumper covers don’t help matters, so be sure to check that $190 option box and get them body-paint matched. Ford promises the 2014 Transit Connect will be a different animal sporting the Fusion’s award-winning nose.

2013 Nissan NV200, Picture Courtesy of Nissan

Interior

The NV200 wears a unique dashboard with parts pulled from a variety of Nissan products. The urethane steering wheel comes from the Versa sedan, the shifter and A/C controls from a last generation Sentra and the radios are shared with most of Nissan’s small car lineup. This parts sharing helps keep the NV200′s purchase price at a low $19,990 which is nearly six-grand cheaper than the Chevrolet Express and $2,435.

Nissan is touting a driver-focused cabin with business-oriented features, something that also sets Nissan’s full-size NV1500 apart from the Americans. In the NV200 these features include a comfortable driver’s seat with a right-side armrest, a hanging file holder in the center console, large glovebox, deep pockets in the doors and a fold-flat passenger seat. If you were hoping for a 5-seat NV200, don’t hold your breath, Nissan tells us they have no plans to offer a competitor to the Transit Connect Wagon in America.

Cruise control and Bluetooth hands free are not standard, but can be added to the base NV200 S for $200 and $250 respectively. If you want navigation and a backup camp, you have to jump up to the $20,980 NV200 SV and add the $950 technology package which bundles Nissan’s latest “Nissan Connected” head unit. In addition to greatly improved voice commands, Nissan’s cheapest nav unit adds smartphone integration for Google data services and Pandora internet radio streaming. It’s an interesting option in a segment that lacks good infotainment options with GM and Ford offering essentially no navigation in any van for 2013 and Chrysler’s C/V gets stuck with their ancient pre-uConnect system. If you want to know more, check out the video review of the Versa Note which uses the same system.2013 Nissan NV200, Picture Courtesy of Nissan

Cargo Hauling

Commercial vehicles put function over form, that’s why the Americans use short hoods and engines stuffed under doghouses in the cabin. Up till recently, all commercial vans except Chrysler’s slow selling C/V have been rear wheel drive. That means there is a trade-off between interior space and somewhere to put that driveshaft. The NV200 is based on Nissan’s small car platform, but doesn’t share much with the Cube. That’s a good thing when it comes to hauling because if you look at a RAM C/V, the touted “under floor storage” compartments are caused by the passenger car floor stamping. Rather than change the stamping, they turned the fold/tumble seat “wells” into storage. That means the load floor in the NV200 is close to the ground making loading easy.

On the down side, Nissan missed a few opportunities for the American market. At just over 122 cubic feet of storage, the NV200 fits just below the RAM C/V and between the 2014 redesigned Transit Connect short and long wheelbase models in terms of widget schlepping. The folding front passenger seat allows you to toss 10-foot long items in NV from the dash to the rear doors and the wheel-wells are just over four-feet wide. However, the distance from the driver’s seat to the rear doors is 18-inches shy of 4X8 hauling nirvana. Nissan tells us they just couldn’t stretch in the NV any further for Yankee duty which is a pity when American construction is dominated by 4×8 sheets of everything. Note that the C/V can handle 4×8 sheets of something (barely) but the Transit Connect has the same limitation as the NV200.

Payload is the limiting feature of any current small cargo vehicle. Nissan rates the NV for 1,500lbs in the S model and 1,477lbs in the SV. That’s 100lbs lower than Ford’s baby-hauler, 300lbs less than Chrysler and 800-1,000lbs less than the average 1500-series cargo van. When looking at those numbers, keep in mind the driver and passenger’s weight is included in the payload. Toss in two 200lb Americans and you have 1,100lbs of payload left. Nissan softens the blow by tossing in large sliding doors on both sides of the NV.

2013 Nissan NV200 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Nissan

Drivetrain

The NV200 may be cheaper than a Chevy cargo van, but its important to remember that GM fleet shoppers get incredible discounts on even small orders of the big vans dropping base models below $20,000 in real dollars. While Nissan has a similar volume discount program, we’re told by fleet buyers that the cuts aren’t as deep. Why pay only slightly less for a van that only holds half as much? The logic is as much about “right sizing” as fuel economy.

Motivating the NV200 is the same 2.0L four-cylinder engine that powered the last generation Sentra. The tried-and-true mill is good for 131 ponies and 139 lb-ft of twist. Sending power to the front wheels is, you guessed it, a Nissan CVT. Before you complain about CVTs, keep in mind we are talking about a cargo van where driving dynamics are secondary to the mission. The reason for the belt-pulley slushbox is obvious when you take a look at the MPGs: 24/25/24 (City/Highway/Combined) which are the best in the very small segment for 2013. Ford is promising 30MPG out of the new Transit Connect in 2014, but I suspect that the city mileage will be lower than the NV’s 24 and the combined number is unlikely to be much higher. You can thank the CVT for that combined number because it’s easier for the engine to stay at an efficient RPM in a wider variety of situations. However you feel about CVTs, anything is better than the current Transit Connect’s 4-speed auto.

2013 Nissan NV200, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Nissan

Drive

Logically this is the least important of this review, but the most common question people have after “who makes it” and “how much does it cost” is: a CVT in a cargo van? What’s that like? Surprisingly good. A fully loaded NV200 weighs 4,725lbs. It’s easy to see that 131HP and 139lb-ft need all the help they can get, and that help comes in the form of infinitely variable ratios. Unlike the Transit Connect which feels winded when fully loaded, and never seems to have the right gear for hill climbing, the CVT seems to have the right ratio for every situation. The tangible benefit is: you can load up your NV200 and climb a mountain pass at a constant highway speed while the Transit Connect is doing the speed-up-upshift-slow-down-downfshift-speed-up dance. Meanwhile the RAM C/V’s 283HP V6 is the performance champ (and the only one I’d want to tow anything with) but you pay a 3MPG combined penalty for the added zoom.

Maneuvering the NV200 around downtown San Diego proved easy thanks to a tight 18.3-foot turning radius (1 foot smaller than Ford and Chrysler) and heavily boosted electric power steering. When equipped with the backup camera the NV200 is a breeze to park. Without the $950 option the NV is more of a challenge but still easier to deal with than a full-size cargo hauler. Tight parking is where a compact hauler like the NV really shines. 2013 Nissan NV200, Picture Courtesy of Nissan

Before the 2010 model year the commercial cargo market was a stagnating mess. If you needed something more utilitarian than a Caravan or Odyssey, you had to step up to an enormous van with thirsty engines and old 4-speed automatics. Fast forward a few years and we have Nissan’s full-size alternative, the new Ford T-Series on the horizon, GM is stuffing 6-speed autos in their vans, Fiat’s ginormous front-wheel-drive Ducato is landing as the Ram ProMaster and now this NV200, Nissan’s first foray into the growing small commercial market. How well the NV200 sells will depend greatly on Ford’s new Transit Connect for 2014. If Ford can deliver the impressive mileage they are claiming, larger cargo capacity with a similar footprint and a sprinkling of style, the NV is unlikely to fly off the lots. Until then, the NV200 is the king of the compact cargo hill.

 

 

Nissan flew me to San Diego for the Versa Note launch and they made a few NV200s available to those interested.

2013 Nissan NV200 Cargo Van 2013 Nissan NV200, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Nissan 2013 Nissan NV200, Picture Courtesy of Nissan 2013 Nissan NV200 2013 Nissan NV200 2013 Nissan NV200, Picture Courtesy of Nissan 2013 Nissan NV200, Picture Courtesy of Nissan 2013 Nissan NV200

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Review: 2013 Honda Civic EX (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/review-2013-honda-civic-ex-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/review-2013-honda-civic-ex-video/#comments Mon, 27 May 2013 18:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=489048 People assume that car companies know their competition’s every move, as if there was some sort of mission impossible crew sent in every weekend to monitor R&D progress. While some less-than-ethical information exchange goes on, on the whole, a car manufacturer like Honda finds out what the competition’s latest widget looks when we do. Need […]

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2013 Honda Civic EX, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

People assume that car companies know their competition’s every move, as if there was some sort of mission impossible crew sent in every weekend to monitor R&D progress. While some less-than-ethical information exchange goes on, on the whole, a car manufacturer like Honda finds out what the competition’s latest widget looks when we do. Need proof? Look at the 2011, 2012, 2013 Honda Civic. The 9th generation Civic was intended to début as a 2011, but the financial implosion caused Honda to go back and re-work their compact car as a 2012 to keep prices low. In the perpetual game of auto-leapfrog, Honda miscalculated the direction Ford, Hyundai, Kia (and perhaps even Nissan) were headed. The result was bashed by Consumer Reports and raked across the coals by most of the press. Did buyers care? Apparently not. The 2012 Civic was purchased in impressive quantities by real-people. Honda could have found solace in their sales, but instead they did something unusual: they re-re-redesigned the Civic for 2013. Say what?

Click here to view the embedded video.

The 2013 Civic isn’t just a second-year options package shake-up, and it isn’t even a mid-cycle color and trim shuffle. The changes after only a year on the market land somewhere between a refresh and and a redesign-on-the-same-platform. How can I call it a redesign? Well, if Lexus can call the “new” LS a new car… But I digress.

While I didn’t hear as many complaints from my comrades in the auto-biz about the Civic’s curb appeal, Honda took the opportunity to graft a chrome smile from the 2013 Accord onto the Civic, redesign the bumper covers (front and rear), add smoked tail lamps, new wheels and finished everything off with a trendy honeycomb grille. While I didn’t have a single issue with the way the old Civic looked, I have to admit this one looks better, especially from the front or back where Honda spent some cash to have the tail lamps cross onto the trunk lid giving the Civic’s heinie a more premium feel. From the side it would seem that noting has changed with the same four-window silhouette, but the difference is in the glass: it’s thicker this year for improved sound isolation.
2013 Honda Civic EX, Interior, Dashboard, Stitched, Vents, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

The problem with the 2012 Civic wasn’t the exterior. And, in my mind, it wasn’t the interior design OR the interior plastics quality. Yep, you heard me right with that. The old Civic’s plastics weren’t great, but they were easy to clean, textured attractively and I just didn’t expect anything different from an $18,000 car. What I did have a problem with was a lack of color-matched bits and ill-fitting panels. Our 2012 tester’s four main dash components sported four different variations of the same target color. For 2013 Honda cranked the thumbscrews on the parts suppliers and all the colors in our Civic EX were the same.

In addition to the color change, Honda had an eye on touch points, swapping out the hard doors and dash “faces” for squishy injection-molded units with fake stitching. Keeping costs d0wn, the same gauge cluster and dash structure remain from last year as well as the dash parts farther from your reach, but they have all been re-cast to texture-match the new bits. Even the radio’s plastics have received a color and texture upgrade to look classier. The change has brought the Civic from slightly below average to a solid contender, although I think I prefer the style of the Elantra, Sentra and Focus to the Civic’s dual-level dash.

2013 Honda Civic EX, Interior, Dashboard, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Honda continues to put fairly exaggerated lumbar support in the front seat backs, something you don’t find in many of the competition. The extra support was perfect for my back, but since it isn’t adjustable, you should get plenty of seat time before you buy to be sure you can live with the shape. For my average six-foot frame, the seating and driving position proved ideal enough that despite sharing driveway time with a 2013 Mercedes CLS63, I found myself choosing the Civic for longer trips during our week. Say what? The Civic’s compliant suspension and seat ergonomics were better on my back than the $120,000 Merc.

As with most cars that have families in mind, the Civic’s rear seats are close to the floor and the door openings are wide and tall making ingress/egress easy with or without a child seat in tow. Honda has a reputation for function over form, and that pays dividends in the rear with a high roofline that allows a more upright seating position, more than can be said of the Elantra. Fold those 60/40 rear seats down and you’ll notice an area Honda didn’t touch: cargo. The Civic’s trunk pass-through is still somewhat small and oddly shaped preventing larger items from riding along. The trunk’s 12.5 cubic feet is in line with the Focus and Corolla, but a few Cubes behind the Elantra and Sentra. When it comes to bag carrying, the Sentra has a further trick up its trunk: a 24-inch roller bag can ride vertically in the Sentra’s cargo hold allowing you to carry a surprising seven carry-on sized rollerbags, try that in your Panther replacement.

2013 Honda Civic EX, Interior, Radio, Infotainment, Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

The Civic’s reputation is a huge feature that can’t be ignored in a review. Honda has long been known for reliability, solid build quality and high resale value. That’s great, but like many shoppers I care more about plugging my iDevice in and pairing my phone. Thankfully Honda got the note and for 2013 Bluetooth phone integration and audio streaming are standard, as is Pandora smartphone integration. As of the time we drove the Civic, the Pandora app integration is only compatible with Apple iPhones, but word is an Android app is happening at some point. Unlike BMW’s iDrive, you don’t need a Honda app to use streaming radio, you just download the Pandora app and the car knows what to do. If you want to see the system in action, click on the video at the top of the review.

As before, the 160-watt four-speaker audio system is standard on base models while EX models toss in A-pillar tweeters. Also unchanged is the somewhat funky split-level nature of the system where the radio controls are in the center of the dash but the display is integrated into the dual-level instrument cluster binnacle. If you feel particularly spendy, you can add Honda’s easy-to-use but quite expensive $1,500 nav system to the Civic EX or EX-L. The touch-screen unit does bring a bevy of voice commands to the party, but for the price, I’d skip it. If you are debating between the EX with nav and the EX-L without, go for the L without. 2013 hasn’t brought any significant changes to either system, although thanks to software changes from Apple and Honda, you can now use your iDevice’s native music browsing interface to select your tunes. Is that safe? Who knows, but it is handy.

2013 Honda Civic EX, Engine, 1.8L 140HP Four-Cylinder, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

If you had hoped 2013 would bring a variant of the new EarthDreams engine from the Accord, you’re not alone, I had fantasies about that as well. It’s not that the 1.8L, 140 horse four-cylinder engine in the Civic is a bad mill, in truth it’s smoother than the diesel-like nature of any gasoline direct-injection engine, the problem is the power to fuel economy ratio. Especially with that Accord sitting on the same lot. The four-banger is still mated to Honda’s 5-speed manual or 5-speed auto which seem designed to highlight the low 128lb-ft of twist. The broad ratio spread of the 5-speed trying to balance off-the-line acceleration with highway fuel economy leave the Civic feeling strangely breathless when you’re hill climbing or passing. The lack of a 6-speed transmission or a CVT (Nissan claims their CVT has a ratio spread similar to a 7-speed auto) is a serious omission and largely the reason the Civic is a full 1.5 seconds slower to 60 than a Focus, more than 2 seconds behind an Accord and even 0.2 slower than the less powerful CVT-equipped Sentra. We were unable to get our hands on the Elantra for a 0-60 test in time, but other outlets tell us its faster as well.

The cog swappers may be old school, but they do manage to deliver good EPA numbers. Our 5-speed automatic Civic wore a 28/39/32 (City/Highway/Combined) rating and managed to get a TTAC real-world score of 33.5 MPG in mixed driving. It’s rare that any vehicle get over the EPA combined score in our testing, so this is particularly noteworthy. The Fusion SE delivered its 31MPG combined last time we tested it, the Corolla claims 29MPG combined but we scored 28 last time we had one, and I’m sure you’ve heard about Hyundai’s MPG woes. The new Sentra scored the highest in the group we tested at 36.2MPG and the Cruze 1.8L the lowest at 27, you can thank the CVT in the Sentra for that number. Speaking of CVTs, the 2013 Accord EX tester scored 32.5 on the same commute thanks to Honda’s new cog-less swapper.

 

2013 Honda Civic EX, Interior, Split-Leven Instrument Cluster, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

I didn’t think the last Civic was a sloppy mess out on the road, but other reviewers weren’t so kind. One has to be mindful of the competition when comparing, and that’s why I scratched my head. The Corolla is ancient and drives like a Tonka truck, yet it’s the sales leader, the Cruze’s steering is so numb and overboosted its like driving an RC car. (The Corolla is proof that car shoppers are lemmings, except for our readers of course.) I liken the old Civic to the new Elantra since it straddled the middle between firm and soft, sporty and not with plenty of “numb” tossed in for good measure. The Focus attempts sporty with firm springs and a well-tuned chassis, but electric power steering makes sure that every compact car has a healthy dose of Novocaine when it comes to steering feel. At issue was the Civic’s rep as a fun to drive subcompact with plenty of feel, sharp dynamics and feel, 2012 killed that in favor of trying to be everything to everyone.  To make the Civic “crisper” and satisfy the forum-fan-boys, Honda swapped out every bushing they could get their hands on and tweaked everything that was tweakable. The changes certainly give the Civic the starched collar it lacked last year, but do little for ultimate grip or steering feel. Grip is something you can fix yourself with new rubber, but steering feel should just be mourned because it’s not coming back.

The other thing Honda underestimated about the competition was how far they would go in terms of noise isolation. Hop in a Cruze and it’s as quiet as an entry-level luxury car, the 2012 Civic? Not so much. To fix the issue Honda jammed as much foam as they could find in the wheel wells, firewall area and under the carpet. They swapped the window glass out for thicker material all the way around and spent some extra time to resolve dashboard squeaks. The difference is nightand day, while the Cruze is still the quietest in the bunch, the Civic is on par with the Focus and Elantra (well ahead of the Corolla.)

2013 Honda Civic EX, Exterior, Rear, Tail lamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Most refreshes do little to alter the substance of the product, so the 2013 Civic is all the more impressive. It also begs the question: if Honda could do this just one year later, why didn’t they just go here in the first place? We may never know.

Refinement costs money, but thankfully Honda seems to be eating most of the expense as the 2013 model is only $160 more dear than last year. Considering the added feature content and the more upscale interior and exterior, dealers can start saying “and, it’s a Honda” at the end of the sales pitch instead of “but, but, it’s a Honda!!” as customers walk next door to the Hyundai dealer. OK, I kid, but the distinction is important, it takes the Civic from a purchase you had to justify to your car buddies, to one that is solidly competitive and understandable. At $18,695, the Civic LX (automatic) is finally within a few bucks of the $18,650 Elantra GLS.  At that point it comes down to aesthetics and brand preference. I prefer the way the Civic looks to the new Elantra (although I’m told I’m crazy by our Facebook peeps), but I am also mindful that the Elantra carries a better warranty and a comparably priced Elantra or Sentra still offer a few more standard goodies.

There’s just one more elephant in the room. I drove the Civic and the new Accord back to back, something that I suspect many a shopper will do. (You know, because they are on the same dealer lot.) I know it’s a slippery slope to compare a car with its larger stablemate, I posit the Civic’s biggest threat is its big brother, and for good reason. The Civic/Accord comparo is even more apt if you’re considering a $20,815 Civic EX (like our tester) or the $22,265 EX-L. Jumping up to an Accord LX gets you dual-zone climate control, an 8-inch infotainment screen, backup camera, more interior room, more refinement, a bigger trunk, and 2-second faster sprint from 0-60. That’s before you think of the value of having an Accord badge on your trunk vs a Civic. What’s the toll for this jump? A cool $1,665 (or $36 a month on a four-year loan) and the loss of the EX model’s sunroof. What about economy you ask? That’s the kicker. Thanks to Honda’s new engine and CVT, the Accord averaged 32.5MPG on the same commute as our Civic, just one MPG less. If you’re looking for basic transportation, the Civic LX model is finally able to sell on more than just Honda’s brand, but if you’re drawn to that Civic EX, take a ride in the Accord before you sign on the dotted line.

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • The comfortable interior is a serious improvement from 2012.
  • Honda’s reliability and resale value reputation can’t be discounted.

Quit it

  • Both transmissions are one-cog shy of competitive.
  • Power and fuel economy are behind the competition.
  • I’ve never been a fan of the non-standard gauge layout.

 

 Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and gas for this review

Specifications as tested

 0-30: 3.47 Seconds

0-60: 9.78 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.46 Seconds @ 79.8 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 33.5MPG over 751 miles

 

2013 Honda Civic EX 2013 Honda Civic EX-001 2013 Honda Civic EX-002 2013 Honda Civic EX-003 2013 Honda Civic EX, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Civic EX-005 2013 Honda Civic EX, Exterior, Rear, Tail lamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Civic EX-007 2013 Honda Civic EX-008 2013 Honda Civic EX-009 2013 Honda Civic EX-010 2013 Honda Civic EX-011 2013 Honda Civic EX-012 2013 Honda Civic EX-013 2013 Honda Civic EX, Interior, Radio, Infotainment, Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Civic EX, Interior, Split-Leven Instrument Cluster, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Civic EX-016 2013 Honda Civic EX-017 2013 Honda Civic EX, Interior, Dashboard, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Civic EX-019 2013 Honda Civic EX-020 2013 Honda Civic EX, Interior, Dashboard, Stitched, Vents, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Civic EX-022 2013 Honda Civic EX-023 2013 Honda Civic EX-024 2013 Honda Civic EX-025 2013 Honda Civic EX-026 2013 Honda Civic EX-027 2013 Honda Civic EX-028 2013 Honda Civic EX-029 2013 Honda Civic EX, Engine, 1.8L 140HP Four-Cylinder, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Honda Civic EX, Engine, 1.8L 140HP Four-Cylinder, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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Why BMW Needs To Do Front-Drive Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/why-bmw-needs-to-do-front-drive-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/why-bmw-needs-to-do-front-drive-cars/#comments Thu, 22 Nov 2012 14:00:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=467658 For many of the brand’s faithful, a front-driver BMW is a revolting prospect. It’s the four-wheeled equivalent of tofu-based bacon or a cigarette without nicotine. But BMW is banking on small cars in a big way – their new front drive architecture, dubbed UKL, will underpin as many as 12 front-drive products from BMW and […]

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For many of the brand’s faithful, a front-driver BMW is a revolting prospect. It’s the four-wheeled equivalent of tofu-based bacon or a cigarette without nicotine. But BMW is banking on small cars in a big way – their new front drive architecture, dubbed UKL, will underpin as many as 12 front-drive products from BMW and Mini. And frankly, not doing a front-drive range would be a display of poor judgement on the part of management.

Lest anyone accuse me of apostasy, let’s look at the facts. Mercedes-Benz did a front-drive platform and survived. Audi is making some of the most significant advancements in modern automobile production with the new A3 which uses – you guessed it – the front-drive MQB platform. Both of these auto makers have BMW squarely in the sights. They want to overtake BMW as the number one premium auto maker, and they can easily do it – unless BMW builds a front-drive car of their own.

Notice how the front-drivers from Mercedes and Audi are all compact hatchbacks while the serious stuff, the models we all know and love, use longitudinal layouts and rear or all-wheel drive? That’s not going to change any time soon at those two companies or BMW. All three of them are smart enough to know that their core vehicles need to retain this layout for a number of reasons.

But the post-recession era has seen a whole new segment of luxury vehicles pop up; the premium small car. Many are tempted to write off cars like the Mini, the Fiat 500 and the Opel Adam as limp-wristed compacts for self-concious urbanites who wouldn’t dare condescend to a mainstream economy car. In many parts of the world, it’s not just strivers who buy these cars, but financially secure (and even the truly wealthy) consumers who don’t want or need a larger car. Parking, vehicle taxes, fuel consumption, emissions and other factors can all be taken into account as well, but sales of these cars are on the rise and BMW wants a piece of the action. And it doesn’t look like it will be so terrible. European media have already driven powertrain mules of the new 3-cylinder engine set to be used in the UKL cars. How does a 221-horsepower turbocharged three-banger sound?

The only way to build any kind of car these days is maximize the economies of scale. The development of a new car costs billions, and the best way to amortize this is to do what Volkswagen did – build everything from the Polo to the next-generation Passat on one modular architecture. Ironically, Volkswagen took their cues from BMW, who had a “1.0″ version of the modular platform in effect with the 3-Series and 5-Series.

For BMW to make the investment in an all-new architecture worthwhile, they’re going to have to spread UKL around as much as possible – that means a new 1-Series with sedan, coupe, convertible, hatchback and crossover variants (1-Series GT anyone?), as well as a new MINI and all the variants that entails. This is the kind of thing that makes “enthusiasts” (of the sort with very narrow definitions of what a car should be) roll their eyes, but for better or worse, this is the way things are done in the automotive world these days. And if BMW’s projections are correct, you better get used to it real fast – an interview with Automotive News has one BMW exec stating that UKL vehicles are expected to account for 40 percent of BMW Group’s global sales within a decade.

 

 

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Video Review: 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/video-review-2012-ford-focus-se-sedan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/video-review-2012-ford-focus-se-sedan/#comments Wed, 12 Sep 2012 15:40:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=459711   Today, we’re trying something new. Alex is doing his review in video-only format. Let us know how you like it. Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and a tank of gas for this review. Specifications as tested 0-30: 2.93 Seconds 0-60: 7.61 Seconds 1/4 Mile: 16 Seconds @ 86 MPH Average Fuel Economy: 30.5 MPG […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

Today, we’re trying something new. Alex is doing his review in video-only format. Let us know how you like it.

Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and a tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.93 Seconds

0-60: 7.61 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 30.5 MPG over 679 miles

 

2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Exterior, wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Exterior, tail lights, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, tachometer, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, speedometer, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, driver's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, steering wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, steering wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, center console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, rear seats , Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, rear seats , Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Engine, 2.0L DI, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Engine, 2.0L DI, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Engine, 2.0L DI, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Focus SE Sedan, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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Renault Duster Captures India http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/renault-duster-captures-india/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/renault-duster-captures-india/#comments Sun, 15 Jul 2012 18:24:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=450764 My last post on TTAC was on the Renault Logan, but the vehicle pictured above, also a Romanian derived Dacia, is one that changed Renault’s fortunes in India overnight. After the Logan was licensed to Mahindra, Renault re-started its India innings with the launch of the Fluence and Koleos in 2011. The French automaker launched […]

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My last post on TTAC was on the Renault Logan, but the vehicle pictured above, also a Romanian derived Dacia, is one that changed Renault’s fortunes in India overnight. After the Logan was licensed to Mahindra, Renault re-started its India innings with the launch of the Fluence and Koleos in 2011. The French automaker launched a re-badged Nissan Micra (called the Pulse) earlier this year. Renault’s monthly sales after the launch of these three cars revolved around 400 odd units, which equates to an yearly figure of around 5000 units. This gives them a 0.24% market share in India and places them in 13th position.

Earlier this month, Renault India launched the Duster, positioning it as a compact SUV. The Duster is offered with three engines, 1.6-litre petrol which produces 104 PS and the 1.5-litre k9k diesel in two sets of tune – 85 PS and 110 PS. All the engines are mated to a manual gearbox and Renault has tweaked the interiors (added beige inserts) slightly to give them a premium appeal. Prices start at Rs. 7.19 lakhs ($13000) and goes all the way upto Rs. 11.29 lakhs ($20434). These prices are ex-showroom and not inclusive of registration, road tax and insurance costs. So, yes the Duster does look a bit overpriced, considering it is highly localized and India is an export base for the right hand drive Duster.

However, the SUV loving Indians have taken to the Duster like a storm. The vehicle received 4000 bookings on launch day itself and 8000 bookings within a week. As I write this post, Renault has managed to get 10000 bookings for the Duster. That is more than what Renault has sold in the last twelve months in India. Getting inside a Renault dealership is not an easy task, as its crowded like a fish market. Every prospective buyer wants the Duster. There is no alternative to the vehicle and Renault can continue to make hay while the sun shines. The real competitor to the Duster comes in the form of the Ford EcoSport in 2013.

Faisal Ali Khan is the owner/operator of MotorBeam.com, a website covering the auto industry of India.

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Compacts Take Up 90 Percent Of Canada’s Top 10 Best-Seller List http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/compacts-take-up-90-percent-of-canadas-top-10-best-seller-list/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/compacts-take-up-90-percent-of-canadas-top-10-best-seller-list/#comments Fri, 13 Jul 2012 13:23:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452598 In case you’re all wondering why I’m so blasé about compact hatchbacks and wagons, a good chunk of it has to do with the fact that I see them everywhere, every single day (the other portion is simply because it’s fun to needle you folks every now and then). Sales analyst Timothy Cain has compiled Canadian sales […]

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In case you’re all wondering why I’m so blasé about compact hatchbacks and wagons, a good chunk of it has to do with the fact that I see them everywhere, every single day (the other portion is simply because it’s fun to needle you folks every now and then).

Sales analyst Timothy Cain has compiled Canadian sales data for the halfway mark of 2012, and of the top 10 cars on sale, 9 of them are compacts, and four of them offer a hatchback variant (not including the soon-to-be-sold Hyundai Elantra GT). The top three best-sellers, the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Toyota Corolla are currently offered only with sedan variants, but that will change with the introduction of the Elantra GT and Elantra Coupe.

The previous Elantra Touring was a big hit in Canada, and the Elantra GT should be as well, bringing the fight directly to the #4 Mazda3 and #5 Ford Focus. We don’t have the exact hatch/sedan breakdown, but anecdotal evidence tells us that the Mazda3 is more evenly split, while the Focus, Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent tend to skew more towards the hatchback. When the two-door and hatchback versions of the Elantra go on sale, Canada’s best-selling car might be Korean for the first time ever. Of course, the best-selling vehicle will likely remain unchanged; the Ford F-Series. Canada and the United States aren’t so different after all.

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How To Buy A New(er) B13 Nissan Sentra SE-R For $2,887 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/how-to-buy-a-newer-b13-nissan-sentra-se-r-for-2887/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/how-to-buy-a-newer-b13-nissan-sentra-se-r-for-2887/#comments Wed, 11 Jul 2012 16:50:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452207 In response to a comment regarding Nissan’s social media plans for product development, and the revival of the B13 Sentra SE-R, I felt that I should share this nugget of gold with any readers adventurous enough to go marauding in Mexico in pursuit of a well-preserved sport compact. Once upon a time, a friend of […]

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In response to a comment regarding Nissan’s social media plans for product development, and the revival of the B13 Sentra SE-R, I felt that I should share this nugget of gold with any readers adventurous enough to go marauding in Mexico in pursuit of a well-preserved sport compact.

Once upon a time, a friend of mine was dating a Mexican national, and had planned to bring back a mint air-cooled Beetle to turn into some kind of Baja off-road racer. I had always been interested in the Mexican version of the B13 Nissan Sentra, known as the Tsuru after reading Sport Compact Car’s infamous “Nissan Tsuru Review”  (perhaps one of the formative pieces that made me want to write about cars)

A little digging around online (and my poor High School-level Spanish) led me to find that the Sentra SE-R had continued on years after its 1991 demise. The Tsuru GSR-2000 was essentially the legendary B13 SE-R with a funny name. They tended to be in the $3,000-$5,000 range a couple years back, but the end of my friend’s relationship put my plans to rest before logistical issues could torpedo them for good.

Today’s comment led me to Google search again, and prices haven’t moved much at all. SE-R’s of any stripe are impossible to find in the snowbelt (save for the impostor, QR25 powered versions) and the rest seem to have been turned into race cars. If I had some time, a trailer and no semblance of financial responsibility, I’d be tempted to head down and bring one back with me. You can’t even get a decent Civic for 38,500 pesos!

 

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New or Used: Nagging Wife thinks I need a New Car! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/new-or-used-nagging-wife-thinks-i-need-a-new-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/new-or-used-nagging-wife-thinks-i-need-a-new-car/#comments Thu, 08 Mar 2012 13:09:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=434316   Zach writes: Dear Sajeev and Steve, My wife has recently started insisting (more along the lines of demanding) that I get a new(er) car.  While the junkyard gem 97 civic has only served me about a year, it has only cost me $1000 total.  With 270k on the odometer and counting, it is really […]

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Zach writes:

Dear Sajeev and Steve,
My wife has recently started insisting (more along the lines of demanding) that I get a new(er) car.  While the junkyard gem 97 civic has only served me about a year, it has only cost me $1000 total.  With 270k on the odometer and counting, it is really starting to show its age but runs 80 down the road with cold air and no issues.  I drive 130 miles round trip everyday with practically all of it on the interstate.  The civic gets 34-38 mpg which is the part I like, but I am starting to question the reliability.

So now I am looking for a good commuter car.  The only option that I am dead set on is cruise control for the obvious reason.  While initially an 08 Impreza hatch grabbed my attention, 26 mpg was unacceptable for me.  So now I am left searching again.  I have test drove the Mazda2 and Fiesta and either would meet my needs as far as size goes.  They both seemed pretty peppy for all 100 hp.  I have plans to test drive an Accent but havent made it that far yet.

So now for the question, what else should I consider?  I have no issues with buying CPO or used.  We have an extra car in case something did happen to the civic so I am really in no hurry except for the nagging about how much dislike there is for the civic.

Needs:

  • Price <25k, preferably <=20k
  • Cruise control
  • Comfortable
  • Throw kids (7&9) in back in a pinch
  • good radio
  • >=35 mpg highway, city doesn’t matter

Wants:

  • heated seats
  • leather
  • bluetooth
  • hatchback
  • cheap/easy maintenance

Sajeev Answers:

I dunno what’s worse: the fact that there’s no proper successor to a 1990s Honda Civic (the 6th generation was the last I really cared for) or that your wife makes you feel that way. Then again, I understand how pressure from a loved one makes something as mundane as a new Civic be more like torture to own.  This V8 Luxo Barge fanatic finally gave into such pressure and decided a little four banger truck was all I needed.

Quite honestly, the latest Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra get the mileage you need, have the stuff you want and get pretty amazing mileage.  And they’ll be far more refined than an old Civic on the highway.  While I have problems with your need for leather (think of the depreciation!), these will be the right way to go.  But I am still feeling nostalgic for the good old days of Hondas, and wonder if we’ll ever get a light-ish weight runner like ye olde Civic ever again.

Steve Answers:

I would go at least one step up in size to a compact vehicle.

As Sajeev has mentioned, the Focus and Elantra would easily fit your budget and priorities. I have yet to drive the Ford. But the Hyundai seems to be an absolute gem of a new car with the exception of the leather seats (average) and interior materials (ditto). Compared to a 97 Civic though, it’s definitely a step up. I would consider the Elantra, along with the Cruze and Focus as leaders in today’s compact market segment.If it were me I would simply look for an older used car that attracts your interest. CPO’s are ridiculously expensive these days, and I always tell folks that it is the prior owner who ‘certifies’ the genuine condition of the vehicle. So find someone who is either tired of their vehicle, needs to  move, needs the money, or simply yearns for something else.

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Review: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/review-2012-chevrolet-sonic-ltz-turbo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/review-2012-chevrolet-sonic-ltz-turbo/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2012 02:46:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=425906 Let’s face it; we Americans have rarely created a small car worth considering, we have also rarely built a small car in our own backyard. Case in point: the former Chevy Aveo. While I wouldn’t say the Aveo was abjectly horrible, there was nothing to excite a shopper and it wasn’t cheap enough to compensate. […]

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Let’s face it; we Americans have rarely created a small car worth considering, we have also rarely built a small car in our own backyard. Case in point: the former Chevy Aveo. While I wouldn’t say the Aveo was abjectly horrible, there was nothing to excite a shopper and it wasn’t cheap enough to compensate. While the Aveo was born out of old-GM’s need to buy every ailing car company around the world (in this case Daewoo), it’s replacement, the new Chevy Sonic, is the only subcompact car currently sold in the United States that’s actually assembled here as well. The platform used by the Sonic is far better traveled than most Americans. GM’s “Gamma II” architecture was designed by GM Korea with considerable input from Opel (as the Opel Corsa will share the platform soon) and re-skinned by Chevrolet. To make the Sonic LTZ Turbo from this multi-national compact car, Chevy dropped a 1.4L turbocharged engine and six-speed manual tranny under the hood. Unlike the Hertz-ready Sonic hatchback Michael Karesh has last year, the Sonic LTZ Turbo is the top-of-the-line Sonic attempting to please those who want a hair more shove and, paradoxically, better fuel economy. Sound like a good start? Let’s see if GM got it right this time.

On the outside, the Sonic strikes some interesting poses. The side character lines are assertive, and the bold nose worn by this baby-bow-tie might be the best look I’ve ever seen from Chevrolet (I’m glad they didn’t get all Camaro-cartoonish on the Sonic). While it seems that the last decade was marked by compact cars that were egg-shaped contraptions with no pizzazz, the Sonic’s headlamps are the polar opposite with “individual” lamp assemblies instead of a single aerodynamic unit. While the look is both unique and striking, I can’t imagine they are “pedestrian friendly” and they look like they’d be a bear to clean (a problem not lost on a guy that washes his own cars). Out back things get a touch awkward with a stubby trunk, tear-drop shaped tail lamps (side view) and a plain trunk lid. While compact sedans are difficult to style to begin with, Chevrolet’s dramatic schnoz makes the boring booty a bit more pronounced. To soften the blow, the LTZ trim includes well-integrated fog lamps and a bump from the base car’s 15-inch wheels to 17-inch 5-spoke aluminum rollers that fill out the wheel wells better than most in this segment (I’m looking at you, Honda Fit).


The problem with looking at the top trim-levels of a particular car is that the interior can disappoint. The reason of course is a practical one; while you might be paying nearly $20,000 for the top-end model, the same interior is used in the base model costing some 25% less. The Sonic LTZ is no different from the rest with plenty of hard plastic on the dash and doors. Fortunately, the interior styling is modern and fairly unique which helps distract from the parts quality. The dilemma of a fully-loaded sub-compact for $20,000 or a base mid-size sedan like a Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry or VW Passat is not lost on me. For the money, if the interior quality matters to you, jump up a size and you will be far happier with your decision. Within its class however, the Sonic is no longer at the bottom of the pack in terms of interior refinement, instead trailing behind Hyundai and Ford but notably above Chrysler and Nissan’s discount offerings. Yet again, features on the LTZ help to distract from any haptic concerns with standard heated seats, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, leather seating surfaces, and a thick-rimmed leather steering wheel. What isn’t standard is an abundance of rear leg room, a problem common among the majority of the competition (the Nissan Versa is a notable exception). The cargo capacity of 14 cubic feet is very competitive and unlike some of the competition, split folding rear seats are standard on the Sonic.

On the safety front, the Sonic has recently scored an IIHS top safety pick along with the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and Ford Focus. All Sonic models come with a bevy of airbags including knee airbags for the driver and front passenger. GM is quick to point out OnStar as a safety feature; however the Sonic only gets a 6-month subscription for free. While I found OnStar handy on my last vehicle that came equipped with it (a 2000 GMC Envoy), the price could be a problem for budget shoppers with the cheapest package costing $199 a year (there are multi-year discounts available). If you want the turn-by-turn navigation feature (GM’s solution to the lack of an in-dash nav system), that’ll set you back $299 a year. Shoppers with smartphones might want to just stick to their Google Maps app and a basic AAA membership. Still, if you are risk averse and want to know that someone hears you when a tree falls in the forest, the Sonic is the only OnStar equipped car in the class.

Car companies equate small car buyers with young car buyers and for good reason; in the US small means cheap and the young buyers typically have little cash. The problem with this segment and the supposed target demographic is that the young demand technology. Unfortunately for Chevrolet (aside from OnStar), the Sonic has little going for it in the cellphone/music device integration department. There is an “OnStar app” which allows you to perform a variety of tasks from your Apple iPhone or Android device including: locking or unlocking the car, getting vehicle service information, setting up service appointments, viewing your tire pressure and finding your car in a parking lot. Two problems exist with this; the yearly fee and the fact that none of those features address the behind-wheel experience. While you can plug your iPod or iPhone into the Sonic, there is no voice command ability for your tunes ala Ford’s SYNC or Kia’s UVO. Adding to the frustration is an incredibly slow interface and tiny screen. I’d say you would be better off unplugging your device, browsing, then plugging it back in – except the system seems to always start at the first tune on your device in alphabetical order. If you’re young and not a Luddite, good luck finding your beat. On the bright side, the Bluetooth system operated flawlessly with above average sound quality.

Ford has been touting their turbocharged engines as the answer to all the world’s ills, so it was only a matter of time before GM hopped on the boosted-bandwagon. Instead of a boring name like Ecoboost, by checking the $700 option box (on LT and above trims) Chevy gives you the “Turbo Sonic” or “Sonic Turbo.” Take your pick. Either way it sounds like something from The Jetsons. For turbo duty, the engineers blessed the 1.4L cast-iron engine with aluminum heads, dual variable valve timing, a suitably small appetite for fuel and a tiny power bump verses the base 1.8L engine. While both engine choices are good for 138HP, the 1.4L turbo delivers peak power 1,400RPM lower than the 1.8 and, typical of turbo engines, it delivers 23 ft-lbs more twist with the peak hitting at 2,500RPM (1,300RPM lower than the 1.8). What does this mean for the driver? As long as you don’t mind the turbo lag, the 1.4L engine will serve up 60MPH about a half second faster than the 1.8L while delivering a 22% improvement in economy (4MPG city and 5MPG highway better). If you are waiting for the Sonic RS, be aware there are no planned power upgrades, just styling and possibly wheel changes.


Due partly to the turbo engine and the 2,850lb curb weight, the Sonic LTZ Turbo is rated for 29 MPG city and 40 MPG highway. Our tester came with the 6-speed manual transmission and, until sometime this spring, this is the only transmission choice for the turbo. I am told however that when the 6-speed automatic does drop, we should expect to see essentially identical EPA numbers. If you live in the mountains as I do, just wait for the automatic. As much as I love a good manual, the tiny engine runs out of steam around 5,000 RPM and as with most small turbocharged engines you don’t just have to downshift to get up a hill, you have to downshift and wait for the turbo to spool-up. When the mountain roads start twisting, the electric power steering is as numb companion, however the chassis is well sorted and grip from the 205-width low-profile Hankook Optimo tires was greater than I had expected. Despite our testing, mountain climbing and plenty of idling at the photo shoot, we averaged 34.6 MPG during 865 miles and easily hit 41 MPG on the open highway.

While the outgoing Aveo was named the Least Satisfying vehicle by Consumer Reports, the new Sonic has a few things going for it. Aside from being the patriot’s choice for being in Michigan, it delivers a competent driving experience with excellent fuel economy. While the $19,420 price tag may seem high, it is less than a Hyundai Elantra Limited and a hair cheaper than a fully loaded Fiesta SEL sedan. The Sonic wins points for being more fun to drive than either, unfortunately it loses more than it gains(in my book) for its poor smartphone integration. Fortunately GM has announced that their new “MyLink” infotainment system is coming to the Sonic in the 2013 model year. While I hesitate to speculate on new products, I have to say the thought of a 2013 Sonic Turbo with the 6-speed automatic and the new MyLink system makes me think GM is finally on to something.

 

Statistics as tested

0-30: 3.0 seconds

0-60: 8.7 seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.6 seconds @ 83 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 34.6 MPG over 865 miles

Chevrolet provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

 

2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, side 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, side, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, side, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, side, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, side 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, side 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, side 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, glove compartment, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, glove compartment, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, glove compartment, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, HVAC vent, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, radio, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, center console, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, HVAC controls, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, 6-speed shifter, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, gauges, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, gauges, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, steering wheel controls, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, steering wheel controls, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, rear seat side view, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Interior, rear seat folded, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, trunk, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, trunk, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, trunk, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo Exterior, headlamp, Picture courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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After One Year On The Market, Honda “Upgrading” 2013 Civic http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/after-one-year-on-the-market-honda-upgrading-2013-civic/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/after-one-year-on-the-market-honda-upgrading-2013-civic/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2011 20:35:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=422969 It’s been a fascinating year for the compact car, as all six of the segment’s leading competitors brought out new or updated models over the last 18 months. But as our Chart Of The Day shows, the competition has hardly sent the segment into overdrive, as after an early-year boom, compact car sales have slackened […]

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It’s been a fascinating year for the compact car, as all six of the segment’s leading competitors brought out new or updated models over the last 18 months. But as our Chart Of The Day shows, the competition has hardly sent the segment into overdrive, as after an early-year boom, compact car sales have slackened considerably. Intriguingly though, Honda and Toyota, which lost sales early this year due to supply interruptions in the wake of the Japanese Tsunami, seem to be the only brands with recovering compact sales. What’s especially interesting about this is the fact that Toyota’s modest refresh and Honda’s poorly-received new Civic were once widely considered by automotive pundits to be under threat from the resurgent competition. Indeed, Honda’s Civic has been especially hard-hit by media criticism, earning a harsh review from TTAC’s Michael Karesh, losing its coveted “recommended” rating from Consumer Reports, and engaging in some ugly media-bashing. But now that the Civic seems to be one of the only compacts to enjoy a late-year sales rebound, Honda’s announcing that it will be upgrading the Civic for the 2013 model-year, just one year after the new model was introduced.

Tetsuo Iwamura, Honda’s top North American executive tells Bloomberg that

Civic is a good product; of course the expectation of the marketplace for Honda product is quite high. We have to once again make it great. The gap between Civic and the competitors has been narrowed. We have to once again make the gap wider.

Honda has not yet announced any specifics about its planned 2013 upgrades to Civic, preferring instead to let Sales VP John Mendel hammer home the relative nature of Civic’s fall from grace. Mendel tells Bloomberg

We disagree with [Consumer Reports]. Did they make some points? Yes they did. We haven’t gotten worse, everybody else has gotten better. Where we used to be four or five laps ahead in the race, there’s more people on the same lap with us.

Moreover, Honda’s execs argue that inventory levels, not product weaknesses are the cause of relatively low Civic sales, as Bloomberg reports

The company has about 117,000 models in inventory, or a 41-day supply, less than half what it should have, Iwamura said.

“Hopefully, by the end of March next year” Honda will have full inventory, Iwamura said. “If John could sell more, then it will be the end of April or May.”

Honda has set a target to increase U.S. sales of its namesake brand to 1.25 million models next year, from about 1 million this year, Iwamura said. It plans to boost sales of its Acura luxury line by 43 percent to 180,000 from about 126,000 this year, he said.

“It looks like quite a high jump, but because of the availability problem we had a really low year this year,” Iwamura said. “That is the reason why growth looks huge, but for us, it’s a natural growth.”

Of course, there are a few problems with this line of reasoning. First, and most obviously, why is Civic receiving an “upgrade” after one year on the market if there’s nothing wrong with it? Second, since when is an 80+ day inventory ideal? Wasn’t this industry supposed to be moving away from the stack-em-high-and-sell-em-cheap ethos? Inventory levels may be a convenient scapegoat for weaker-than-hoped-for sales numbers, but financial results in this industry are closely tied to keeping those inventories from running out of control. And considering Civic is one of the only compact cars showing signs of recovery in recent months, it seems that both the upgrade and the professed need for a skyrocketing inventory may not be as necessary as Honda now seems to think. In any case, we’ll see how Honda’s upgrades affect the quality of the Civic, and we’ll be watching this segment closely to see how this brutal competition pans out…

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Review: 2012 Honda CR-V EX-L http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/review-2012-honda-cr-v-ex-l/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/review-2012-honda-cr-v-ex-l/#comments Mon, 21 Nov 2011 20:14:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=419493 “Hey Brendan,” runs the e-mail from our illustrious ed., Ed, “I was wondering if you wanted to take on the most challenging story I’m currently facing: making the new Honda CR-V interesting.” Fat chance. “Don’t get taken in by the free bacon!” Wait, what now? Free bacon? I’M THERE. Next thing you know, I’m ensconced […]

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“Hey Brendan,” runs the e-mail from our illustrious ed., Ed, “I was wondering if you wanted to take on the most challenging story I’m currently facing: making the new Honda CR-V interesting.”

Fat chance.

“Don’t get taken in by the free bacon!”

Wait, what now? Free bacon? I’M THERE.

Next thing you know, I’m ensconced in the driver’s seat of Honda’s latest mild tweak total redesign, the 2012 Honda CR-V, rolling through the bleached-out stubble of the South Cali countryside, mentally projecting the headlines from our beloved colleagues, co-bloggists and fellow car-writey-types.

“The New CR-V: Has Honda Lost Its Mojo?”

“2012 CR-V: Honda’s Mojo, Has It Been Lost?”

“Totally Redesigned 2012 CR-V Casts Doubt on Whereabouts of Honda’s Mojo.”

“The Top 10 Cars Owned By Playboy Playmates! Also, CR-V something-something Mojo.”

Here’s the thing: there has been far too much ballyhoo, fooferaw, bluster and blather about Honda’s seeming design slump. It’s not a slump, it’s a strategy. The question is: does it work for the CR-V where it failed with the Civic?

Like the critically-unacclaimed Honda Civic, nearly every piece of sheetmetal on the new CR-V is completely different – but not such that you’d notice. In fact, as our convoy snakes its way through the bleached-out California landscape, I do a double-take as somebody triple-lane-changes out of our line and dives for the off-ramp. Did I miss a turn? Wait, no: it’s just some lunatic in a last-gen CR-V.

On the other hand, the conservatism works. Gone is the slightly frumpy melting ice-cube of the previous gen, which if you squinted a little, looked a bit like the ’11 cute-ute had muffin-top. The strong three-bar corporate grille gives the new CR-V some presence, the faux skid-plate treatment butches things up a bit, and from there on back think current Tribeca. There’s little to inspire, but also little to offend.

Inside, the cockpit should be familiar to anyone who’s sat in an Accord recently. Hard plastic surfaces abound, about which much hay will be made in various publications. However it’s perfectly acceptable, and should wear well except for the occasional bits of silver-painted trim. The between-seat storage bin, captain’s chairs and dash-mounted shifter maintain the modicum of mini-van present in the earlier model but overall, it’s a bit less utilitarian and more car-like.

A multi-angle backup camera is standard across the range, as well as an eco-coaching instrument cluster that goes green around the gills when you drive gently. Also standard: Bluetooth handfree and a USB connector for your audio. If you’ve an iPhone, you can run Pandora through the stereo, if you’ve a Blackberry, the car can read you your SMS messages. There’s now an optional DVD player to soothe rear-seat savages. Just enough tech to stay current.

Product specialists were quick to point out how clever the rear seats were, capable of damped flat-folding action with a single pull from either side, or via levers in the cargo bay. Don’t expect the Hogwarts-grade magic of the Fit’s rear seats, but again: easy-to-use, works well, doesn’t feel like it’s going to break. Honda has also bunged out the old cargo tray in favour of a more standard layout. Dog-owners take note: the cargo floor is very low at 23.6”, perfect for older pooches. The rear doors open a full ninety degrees for maximum kid-wrangling.

I mildly alarm my co-pilot for the launch, internationally acclaimed rockstar and noted loud-walker Blake Z. Rong – Cato to my Clouseau, Turner to my Hooch – as we enter a corner too hot and all-season tires howl in aggrieved indignation. Understeer? Oh sure. There’s less roll than you might expect, and the CR-V is perfectly capable of hustling along these winding country roads, but is there joy to be found in doing so? Not much.

Besides which, flinging the offspring around the cabin with lateral-g is a sure-fire way to end up cleaning vomit out of the headliner. Forget the hooning, focus instead on the comfortable ride (10% more damper stroke) and in-cabin noise levels which are decent until you start requesting revs.

This new CR-V still has a 5-speed transmission, albeit a revised one, and to hear the clucks of disapproval, you might think that’s a mis-step. Why? Because six is one more, innit? Despite the fact that every other manufacturer seems to be suffering from Nigel Tufnel Syndrome, the five-speed box in the CR-V puts out perfectly decent fuel-economy (22/30mpg claimed) and will doubtless give years of trouble-free operation because it doesn’t have a V6 attached to it.

Mind you, show the ’12 CR-V a steep hill and the 2.4L four-cylinder – with all of 5 more horsepower this year – can struggle a bit. Engaging Eco mode feels like you’re suddenly trying to tow the Sea Shepherd around. Twice I noticed a reluctance to kick down even with the accelerator fully depressed, and with gearing taller across the board things can get a bit leisurely.

The 2012 CR-V is pitched as a safe choice. An easy choice. A choice you might make based on sensible price, reasonable fuel economy, a legacy of decent reliability, strong resale value and low operating costs. This new Honda presents all the same arguments that you’d traditionally expect from a Toyota product, and it’s 5-10% better than the best-selling out-going model in every empirically measurable field.

But as I sit in the morning product presentation, listening as the PR folks flesh out the target buyer to the point where we could positively identify her in a police lineup (30s, female, “cool mom”, active lifestyle, enjoys Pina Coladas, getting caught in the rain, etc.) I can’t help but start contrasting this spit-and-polish with Mazda’s recent SKYACTIV show-and-tell. Mazda’s gambling, taking a moon-shot with high-compression engines and a dedication to driving pleasure. Honda’s reacting to current economic instabilities and the public’s cooling ardour for the automobile by circling the wagons. Except they don’t make wagons anymore, so they’re circling the crossovers.

The Q&A was even more telling. Why only five gears in the transmission? A: Our research told us that people weren’t asking for more gears, just better fuel economy. Why those hard plastics? A: Our research showed that people didn’t have a problem with the old interior. What about small-displacement turbocharged engines? A: Our research showed us that people weren’t asking for that.

You know what though? Survey every single ’80s Legend buyer, and nobody’s going to tell you to build an NSX. Survey every DC-chassis Integra owner and nobody’s going to tell you to build the S2000. Survey every ’90s Accord wagon owner, and nobody would tell you to build a small, flexible, Civic-based SUV.

This new CR-V is a fine, sensible appliance; they’re going to sell boatloads of them. Forgive me if I was hoping for something with a little more innovation, a little more invention, a little more cutting-edge.

A little more Honda.

Honda flew us all the way to sunny San Diego, put us up in a fancy hotel, crammed us full of rich food, provided current and previous models of the CR-V and even threw in a free Camelbak. We were also ferried to and from the airport in a high-mile Town Car.

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Chevy Idles Cruze Production As Inventories Build http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/chevy-idles-cruze-production-as-inventories-build/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/chevy-idles-cruze-production-as-inventories-build/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2011 18:35:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=417789 GM has made much of the fact that its Chevrolet Cruze compact has enjoyed strong sales this year, but volume alone isn’t enough to make it in today’s car industry. The key to profitability is keeping production in line with sales, so that plants don’t overproduce, in turn forcing profit-sapping incentives to move the metal. […]

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GM has made much of the fact that its Chevrolet Cruze compact has enjoyed strong sales this year, but volume alone isn’t enough to make it in today’s car industry. The key to profitability is keeping production in line with sales, so that plants don’t overproduce, in turn forcing profit-sapping incentives to move the metal. And, as these charts show, GM has been having success selling the Cruze, but not to the extent that it needs to keep production at its current levels. The graph above shows monthly production and sales levels for this year, and it shows that GM has already tried to adjust production once to keep it in line with slower-than-expected sales. But that wasn’t enough. With sales volume dropping the last four months in a row, and inventory jumping from 33 days to 43 days in the month of October alone, the UAW is reporting that the Lordstown plant where Cruze is built will be idled for the entire week of November 28. According to the announcement

The down week is necessary to align production with current market demand. The scheduling modification is attributed to traditional seasonal buying behavior coupled with competitors’ recovering inventories previously impacted by the March earthquake in Japan.

Like a lot of recent Detroit products, the Cruze has received a lot of positive press due to its giant improvement in quality and sales compared to its predecessor. But with demand softening, and GM’s brass fretting over profitability margins as the market shifts to smaller cars, it’s clear that the Cruze’s ultimate success has yet to be proven.

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Chart Of The Day: Compact Cars In October And Year-To-Date (Bonus Edition!) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/chart-of-the-day-compact-cars-in-october-and-year-to-date-bonus-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/chart-of-the-day-compact-cars-in-october-and-year-to-date-bonus-edition/#comments Fri, 04 Nov 2011 17:29:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=416918 With October’s compact segment numbers reflecting Midsized segment’s return to the Toyota-Honda duopoly, the year-to-date graph shows that 2011 saw the rise of a new contender in the compact class: Chevy’s Cruze. With “virtually zero” 2012 Civics at Honda’s dealers (allegedly) due to Earthquake aftermath and Thai flooding, it’s beginning to look like Civic could […]

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With October’s compact segment numbers reflecting Midsized segment’s return to the Toyota-Honda duopoly, the year-to-date graph shows that 2011 saw the rise of a new contender in the compact class: Chevy’s Cruze. With “virtually zero” 2012 Civics at Honda’s dealers (allegedly) due to Earthquake aftermath and Thai flooding, it’s beginning to look like Civic could be  kicked out of the new triumvirate, leaving Cruze and Corolla to fight it out to the finish.  To celebrate the drama, we’ve included a special bonus graph showing the “Big Six” compact horserace from January through October, to go along with the YTD graph. Enjoy!

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail The horserace... graph (66) Fast Times At Compact High....

 

 

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Review: 2012 Buick Verano http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/review-2012-buick-verano/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/review-2012-buick-verano/#comments Thu, 03 Nov 2011 22:32:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=416831 In a luxury market that’s always looking for the next big thing, “Compact Luxury” has become something of a hot trend. And with GM’s Buick brand saved from the bailout-era brand cull, a compact Buick is a key test of whether The General has moved past its bad habits of cynical badge engineering. Thus the […]

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In a luxury market that’s always looking for the next big thing, “Compact Luxury” has become something of a hot trend. And with GM’s Buick brand saved from the bailout-era brand cull, a compact Buick is a key test of whether The General has moved past its bad habits of cynical badge engineering. Thus the 2012 Buick Verano is a hugely important car to The General, not only serving as a bellweather for the health of the Buick brand, but also proving whether or not GM “gets” the tough-to-crack entry-luxury market. So, does the Verano measure up?

From the get-go, it’s clear that GM wanted the Verano to be a clean break from its ignominious past of rebadging Chevy compacts. In sharp contrast from Buick’s last compact, the Skylark which died out in 1998, the Verano hides its Chevrolet roots well from the outside. With only a subtle “hockey stick” character line betraying its Opel roots, the Verano is neither a rebadged Euro-market sedan (like the Regal) nor a “pure” Buick design like the LaCrosse. But it does split the difference between the two designs, marrying a subtle design with a few discrete Buick cues like the hood-mounted ventiports. The overall impression is of a clean, classy car that is, if anything, possibly a bit too substantial and anonymous… which, upon further reflection, makes it quite Buick-like.

Inside, GM’s newfound parts-bin savvy takes center stage: just as the Regal was rebadged from a different market, the Verano’s interior is borrowed but not duplicative. The seats, which are some of the best available in the compact class, are the huge, well-bolstered thrones from the LaCrosse. The IP, which is visually and ergonomically more approachable than the somber, button-laden Regal unit, is borrowed (with a few modifications) from the Opel Astra… which just so happens to be getting a new sedan variant soon. Especially in the warmer, lighter shades that Buick makes available, the soft-touch interior with its subtle chrome accents makes even the LTZ Cruze seem a bit cold and cheesy.

On the other hand, I do have one beef on the materials front. At Chevy’s Centennial event in Detroit a Chevy interior specialist told me that GM’s mass-market brand was moving away from “materials that look like something they’re not,” a direction I find highly laudable. Sadly, GM’s “thoughtful luxury” brand is a bit behind the curve in this respect, employing great swaths of brushed-nickle-look plastic around the IP and elsewhere. Though it looks good from a distance, it takes only the most superficial contact (or even thought) to realize that it’s just another hard plastic. In an interior that otherwise hits its cues well, this is something of a letdown, especially from a brand that seeks to emphasize subtlety and substance.

With the Cruze already earning accolades for being one of the most quiet and refined cars in the Compact segment, one had to wonder just how far GM would go to differentiate the Verano in this respect. The answer: much farther than you’d think. The Verano is packed with more sound-deadening foams and sealants than a Guantanamo Bay interrogation room, adding several hundred 10-15 pounds to its weight (additional weight increases compared to Cruze come from wheels, drivetrain, and additional length, say Buick reps) but delivering a shockingly quiet cabin. Puttering around town in a deathly silence, I rolled my window  down a few times for contrast, and was blown away at the wealth of aural feedback that would flood in only to be blocked when I rolled the window back up again. If you’re looking for a quiet compact, you’d be hard pressed to find a more effectively isolating model than the Verano.

That principle applies to the Verano’s 2.4 liter inline four-cylinder as well. Though frequent drivers of GM products will recognize the unmistakable buzz of an Ecotec under the hood, a special airbox gives the mill a more refined, intake-dominated engine note. Though I’d stop short of calling it musical, it sounds and feels considerably more sweet than any other Ecotec, especially at higher RPMs. Which is where you’ll probably spend quite a bit of time: though this 2.4 also does service in the larger Regal and Malibu sedans, it still has to work hard to hustle 3,300+ lbs of compact car around. Stuck behind a log truck on one of Oregon’s winding two-lane country roads? Make sure you have plenty of room and time to pass, as pickup is adequate rather than luxurious. On the other hand, if you kick back and cruise, said truck could jake-brake for miles without ever disturbing the cabin’s serene ambience.

Normally a Buick tuned for quiet, refined cruising would not be let down by weakness in the engine room. But strangely, the Verano has far more responsive (even twitchy) steering than you might expect, and it rotates around its short wheelbase to an extent that surprises… even coming from the more sport-oriented Regal. Though I personally prefer the Regal, the Verano can be even more fun than a base Regal, which is even more let down by the underwhelming 2.4. There’s no hiding the Verano’s heft, and too much fun will leave it a bit breathless, but there’s more directness and feel from the ZF electric steering rack than you might expect. If you’re looking for some real sport to go with your compact luxury, the Verano may not quite fit the bill… but a forthcoming Verano Coupe is starting to look quite promising.

Perhaps what makes the Verano feel more sporty than I expected is the simple fact that it’s a compact car… because from the driver’s seat it doesn’t feel like one. There’s a good impression of space up front, and the LaCrosse-sourced seats are large and excellent. Unfortunately, the large size of those front seats do cut back on rear-seat legroom, which loses an inch and a half compared to the Cruze (front and rear combined legroom is 76 inches, the same as an Audi A3). As a result, the rear seat impression is considerably less luxurious and less Buick-like than the front-row experience. Is this the price of entry into the compact luxury field?

This brings up another important question, and one that gets to the heart of the Verano’s most basic flaw: why do buyers want a smaller luxury car? Though marketers may bring up a number of reasons, it seems the most key consideration is fuel economy rather than smallness for its own sake. And here the Verano lets down its entire mission: 21/31 (city/highway, GM’s estimate) isn’t even competitive for a midsized car, let alone a compact. For comparison, Audi’s A6, Chrysler’s 300 V6, and BMW’s 528i xDrive and 640i Convertible are all rated at 31 MPG on the freeway or better. Closer to home, Buick’s larger Regal also gets a 31 MPG freeway rating with the same 2.4 liter and even does one better on the freeway with its optional turbo engine.

Of course, the Regal is a very different car than the Verano. Whereas Buick’s compact is a quiet, comfy cruiser with an emphasis on isolation, the Regal is pure Euro-market, with its firm, flat seats, sombre interior and handling-tuned suspension. In other words, the Verano’s engineers hit their brief dead-on: they built a well-executed, refined baby Buick that avoids direct competition with other models in the range. Unfortunately, GM’s managers seemed more intent on building a compact luxury car for its own sake (or for Buick-GMC dealer throughput numbers’ sake) than really understanding why compact luxury appeals to buyers. Until Buick decides to equip Verano with its EcoAssist mild hybrid system, it seems to be a compact luxury car without the key appeal of its segment, namely competitive fuel economy. As the saying goes: great landing, wrong airport.

Buick made the Verano (as well as a Regal for comparison) available for this review at a media event. Buick provided lunch, and later sent a set of water glasses made from old wine bottles to me, to commemorate the event’s presence in Oregon’s Pinot Noir wine country. 

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Prius C Or Not? Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-prius-c-or-not-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-prius-c-or-not-edition/#comments Thu, 20 Oct 2011 21:54:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=415387 Recent Toyota ads introducing the “Prius Family” have featured the Prius C Concept to represent the forthcoming compact Prius, which will bear only the most passing resemblance to the slick showcar. But if deception was Toyota’s game, the jig is up. Der Prius wird geschrumpft (shrunk), chortles Autobild, which says these images come from a Japanese […]

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Recent Toyota ads introducing the “Prius Family” have featured the Prius C Concept to represent the forthcoming compact Prius, which will bear only the most passing resemblance to the slick showcar. But if deception was Toyota’s game, the jig is up. Der Prius wird geschrumpft (shrunk), chortles Autobild, which says these images come from a Japanese brochure that was leaked to the web. And the car pictured does look far more production-Toyota-like than the decidedly Scionesque C Concept. Is it the real thing? Will ad-attentive Toyota fans wonder where the C Concept went? Will a compact hybrid sell well in any case? These pictures are worth a thousand questions…

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail priusc5 priusc4 priusc3 priusc2 Are you the new compact Prius? (courtesy:Autobild)

 

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