The Truth About Cars » Comparison The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:26:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (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 » Comparison Review: 2015 Honda Fit Thu, 10 Apr 2014 15:01:44 +0000 2015-honda-fit_main

There’s really no way to lead into this, so I’ll just come out and say it: the 2015 Honda Fit is a fantastic car. Around town, at speed on Southern California’s twisty canyon roads, on the highway, stuck in traffic- there wasn’t a single situation we put our EX and EX-L testers into that it didn’t handle with aplomb. Even some light off-roading didn’t twist up the Fit’s rigid frame.

Diving into corners at twice the posted advisory speed, the made-in-Mexico 2015 Honda Fit‘s electric steering does exactly what you’d expect it to. The new, 130 HP Earth Dreams engine pulls the car out the corner effectively enough, too- especially for a long-stroke 1.5 liter. The brakes are direct, drama-free, and the ABS kicks in right when you’d want it to.

After a quick lunch, Jeff (my co-driver for the day) and I decided to make some solo runs in the “comparison cars” Honda had on-hand for the event. These included a Chevy Sonic, a Toyota Yaris, and a Nissan Versa Note- all optioned up to about $17,000.

Simply put, the 2015 Honda Fit blew them all away. The Fit was a generation newer than the non-turbo Chevy Sonic, and it showed. The interior of the Nissan Versa was almost laughably cheap in comparison to the other cars, and the car, itself, got frighteningly squirrel-y under braking. The Toyota, alone, had an interior I’d call “comparable” to the Fit- but I certainly wouldn’t call it better and, on the canyon roads surrounding our Don Quixote-looking lunch stop …


… the Yaris was simply no match for the Honda.

It was such a one-sided Honda blowout, in fact, that I started to get a bit snarky about the whole event. “Do you think there’s much of a science to picking the comparison cars for these things?” I asked Jeff.

If you don’t know Jeff Palmer, trust me on this: he’s smart. You can tell. When you ask him a question, for example, he thinks about it for two or three seconds, then answers in complete, well-formed sentences. “I think Honda wants to its present competitor’s cars in a situation where they won’t perform as well as their car.”

Here’s where I (tried) to get snarky. “I dunno- I think all Honda’s really proven today is that they can build a $25,000 car better than other people can build a $17,000 car.”

I’d expected to get a giggle or a laugh out of Jeff, but he just looked confused. “How do you mean?” he asked.

“Well, this Honda- what’s it cost? There’s no sticker on it, so what’s it gonna cost? 22,000? 23?”

“No, this is an EX,” explained Jeff. “It’s replacing the old Fit Sport, which was about 17. It’s not going to be more than 17, $18,000.”

No way. There was no way that the 2015 Honda Fit EX (with an excellent 6-speed manual, I should add) we were driving was the same price as the cars we’d just driven. I refused to believe it, and the exchange that followed saw us pull over, open the trunk, and dig furiously through our notes to see just how far upmarket Honda had dragged its little hatchback.


The 2015 Honda Fit EX with a 6-speed manual transmission will sell for $17,435- and, if you’re shopping new subcompacts under $20K, you’d be a fool to spend your $17K on anything else. Really.

Properly chastened, I flipped and flopped the 2015 Honda Fit’s Magic Seats into Refresh Mode, kicked up my feet, and asked Jeff to drive me back to the hotel bar. When you’re a professional blogger (well- paid, anyway), and you can’t find any way to be snarky or s***ty about something, it’s time to pack it in for the day.

The new for 2015 Honda Fit should be arriving at dealerships soon, with 30+ MPG fuel economy and your choice of 6-speed manual or CVT. If I had to come up with a complaint, it would be that the 6 speed’s top gear is too short for American highways, and the engine buzzed at more than 3500 RPM at a 77 MPH cruise. If you drive 68, the buzz is gone- so, yeah. Small price to pay for the privilege of rowing your own, you know?

You can see how the new 2015 Honda Fit looks in red and yellow, below, and let us know what you think about the new Fit in the comments.


2015 Honda Fit in Red

red-fit_3 red-fit_2 red-fit_4 red-fit_1


2015 Honda Fit in Yellow

yellow-fit_2 yellow-fit_1 yellow-fit_3 yellow-fit_4


Originally published on Gas 2.

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Comparison Review: Volkswagen Jetta GLI vs. Honda Civic Si Mon, 30 Jul 2012 13:37:12 +0000

Remember 1985? If you were paying attention to cars, then the then-new Civic Si and Mk2 Jetta GLI were on your radar. Which did you prefer? For the 2012 model year both cars are again new. One of them has changed surprisingly little. The other, though it retains some choice bits, has perhaps lost the plot.

“Neither the Golf nor the Jetta is likely to win any styling awards…”

So reads Consumer Guide’s evaluation…of the Mk2 Volkswagens. The same has been said of the new Jetta. Yet there’s plain, and then there’s downright generic (especially in refrigerator white). The Mk2 Jetta wasn’t a beauty, but its square lines were clearly derived from Giugiaro’s iconic original Golf, and so were clearly those of a VW. The Mk6′s side view could just as well be that of a Toyota.

Yet the 2012 GLI retains more of its predecessor’s essence of than does the latest Civic Si. For one thing, the GLI’s body style remains the same, a four-door sedan, while the Si has morphed from a two-door hatch to a coupe, then back to a hatch, and then in the last two generations to a coupe and a sedan. Beyond this the third-generation Civic hatch was nearly as iconic as the original Golf, with a boxy tail that managed to both catch the eye (as a coherent element within the car’s sharp-edged, oh-so-Japanese styling) and maximize utility. The 2012 car’s exterior seems an unskilled knock-off of its predecessor, with a poorly executed side window outline, less elegant surfacing, and little in the way of identity.

The Mk6 Jetta is 10.5 inches longer than the old one (on a wheelbase that has grown by seven inches). The Civic has grown much more over the years, with nearly a foot increase in wheelbase and (postulating a 1986 Si sedan that wasn’t) a 14-inch increase in length. Even so, it remains nearly five inches shorter than the Jetta thanks to briefer overhangs.

“…interior furnishings are austere…”

Inside the GLI the flavor also remains the same, Mk2 to Mk6. Unlike in the regular 2012 Jetta, the instrument panel upper is squishy, but the interior’s appearance is no fancier aside from red stitching and a flat-bottomed steering wheel. The Autobahn Package’s seat upholstery is clearly derived from petroleum, with a rubbery texture. Ostensibly the front seats are “sport buckets,” but they don’t provide much lateral support.

Honda interiors used to be studies in minimalism, aesthetically, functionally, and dimensionally. For the last two generations, though, the Civic’s cabin has been dominated by a massive instrument panel. The bi-level gauge layout is the most obvious sign that Honda continues to innovate, and the series of lights as you approach the redline is very helpful. Still, the costs of this layout outweigh its benefits. The massive IP colors the entire driving experience.

Classic Civics were never paragons of interior quality, but the 2012 sunk the line to a new low relative to the competitors. Thankfully, the Si’s heavily textured black fabric, on the doors as well as the seats, improves the ambiance considerably. Between it and red stitching that matches the GLI’s inch for inch, the interior no longer seems terribly cheap. Unlike those in the GLI, the Si’s “sport buckets” are truly worthy of the term.

“…quite roomy for the exterior dimensions…”

The Mk2 Jetta had perhaps the most livable rear seat among mid-80s compact sedans. The Mk6 rear seat has legroom easily worthy of a midsize sedan. Perhaps it should, as its 182.2-inch length is nearly that of a midsize sedan. Though the Civic’s exterior is more compact, its rear seat is still easily roomy enough for adults, a big change from the 1986 hatchback. And the 1986 Accord sedan, for that matter.

“…a surprisingly large trunk…”

The Mk6 Jetta’s trunk is actually a little smaller than the Mk2’s, but at 15.5 cubic feet it’s still easily the largest in the segment. The Civic checks in at 12.5.

“…potent 4-cylinder gas engines provide brisk acceleration…”

Back in 1985, a 102-horsepower 1.8-liter engine qualified as “potent.” Over the years, the GLI’s engine has gained 200 cubic centimeters, eight valves, and a turbo, but its 200 horsepower risks being classified as weak compared to the 250-plus-horsepower fours that currently rule the segment. Word is that VW underrates this engine, and it certainly feels stronger than the official specs suggest. A plump midrange (thanks to the turbo), grumbly, somewhat boxerish engine note, and the automated dual-clutch “DSG” transmission’s firm, lightning quick shifts make the 2.0T mill seem plenty energetic in everyday driving.

The Civic Si is among the few other performance-oriented compacts that continue to get by with a mere 200 horsepower (the all-but-forgotten Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V being the third). The 1,944-pound original Si scooted along with a 1.5-liter four that, thanks to the rocket science of port fuel injection, kicked out 91 horsepower (vs. the carbureted Civic’s 76). With the 2012, the Honda’s engine has grown from 2.0 to 2.4 liters. Peak output is up by only four horsepower, but at 201 remains far above the regular Civic’s 140. Torque receives a healthier bump, from 139 at a stratospheric 6,200 rpm to a much more robust 170 at a more readily achieved 4,400. The engine still undergoes a major personality change when the “VTEC” cam lobes come into play around 4,000 rpm.

Grunt south of that mark remains far below that of the Jetta. If you don’t enjoy winding an engine out, the Civic Si isn’t your car. If you do, then you’ll find a more thrilling engine note and surge of power. You’ll also love one thing that Honda continues to do better than everyone else: the Si’s mandatory six-cog shifter feels tight yet slick, engaging as positively as a rifle bolt as you snick from gear to gear.

The Jetta might be larger, heavier, and torquier, but the EPA gives it a slight edge in fuel economy. The official numbers are low 20s in the city, low 30s on the highway with either car. I wasn’t able to observe fuel economy in the Civic. In suburban driving the GLI’s trip computer generally reported averages all the way from 22 to 32. As tends to be the case with turbos, the heft of your right foot makes a big difference.

“…well-tuned chassis components produce impressive road manners…”

The 2012 Jetta GLI doesn’t deserve this evaluation quite as much as the 2005 did. The harder you drive it, the better it feels, with commendable composure and precision. But it doesn’t feel especially agile or sharp. The curb weight difference between the VW and Honda is half what it was back when the latter weighed under a ton, but the Civic remains the lighter—and lighter-feeling—car, 2,906 vs. 3,124 pounds. The VW also feels larger, partly because it is.

The VW’s steering is numb. The Honda’s is number. The GLI’s wheel at least weights up as it’s turned. The Si’s has so little feel or even sense of direction that it requires constant corrections mid-curve. The standard limited-slip differential promises aggressive corner carving, but there’s no sense of carving anything through the Honda’s tiller. If the Si’s steering was half as good as its shifter, it’d be a deal maker. Instead, it’s the most likely deal killer. The 1986 didn’t have over-boosted power steering. Then again, it didn’t have power steering.

“The ride is firm, as you would expect in cars with German origins, but the suspensions are still compliant, even over broken pavement.”

The problem with the 2012 Jetta GLI is that, conversely, the more casually you drive it, the worse it feels. The suspension remains firm, but now to a fault. It’s not compliant over broken pavement. Also, the DSG transmission bumps about when creeping along in traffic and downshifts aggressively when slowing to a stop. Overall, the GLI feels disjointed in typical driving, as if it was initially designed for one purpose then quickly re-tuned for another. In contrast, when driven casually the Si feels as pleasant as—and almost as boring as—a regular Civic, if one with much improved damping. Until you take the engine over 4,000 there’s little sign of the car’s performance potential.

Back in 1985, the Jetta GLI started at $10,510, the Civic Si at $8,188. Cruise, power windows, and power locks weren’t standard on the VW, and weren’t available on the Honda. A pop-out sunroof (remember those?) was standard on the Honda. A conventional one added $350 to the VW. Over the years the cars have gained much standard equipment, including safety features available on few if any cars back in the mid-80s, and inflation has taken its toll. The 2012 Jetta GLI starts at $24,515, the Civic Si at $23,345. Adjust for remaining feature differences (such as the Honda’s still standard sunroof) using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool and the Japanese car ends up over $2,000 lower. Add a sunroof (and the other contents of the attractively-priced $2,050 “Autobahn Package”) to the GLI and nav to both, and the price tags rise to $27,465 and $24,845 while the feature adjustment shrinks to only a couple hundred dollars, now in the VW’s favor. For the DSG transmission, which has no Honda counterpart, add another $1,100 to the VW.

The GLI and Si were two very different cars back in 1985. Over the years the GLI has gotten larger and much more powerful, but as we’ve seen its basic character has changed surprisingly little. The Si has also grown and gained horsepower, but unlike the VW has retained only traces of much-loved past Si’s (in the engine, shifter, and seats). Some changes have made the two cars more alike, but overall they remain very different. Which do you now prefer?

Volkswagen provided the Jetta GLI with insurance and a tank of gas.

Mike Ulrey at Honda Bloomfield (MI) provided the Civic Si. Mike can be reached at 248-333-3200.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Jetta GLI front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Civic Si front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Jetta GLI front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Civic Si front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Jetta GLI side, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Civic Si side, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Jetta GLI rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Civic Si rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Jetta GLI interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Civic Si interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Jetta GLI instrument panel, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Civic Si instrument panel, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Jetta GLI view forward, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Civic Si view forward, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Jetta GLI back seat, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Civic Si rear seat, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Jetta GLI trunk, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Civic Si trunk, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Jetta GLI engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Civic Si engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 107
Review: 2012 Nissan Versa vs 2012 Nissan Sentra Fri, 27 Jan 2012 14:00:37 +0000 Here’s a statement you won’t see at any other automotive outlet – when I hopped out of a 2012 Mercedes CLS and into a 2012 Nissan Versa SL, I felt like I was at home. This has as much to do with my auto journalist salary as it does my love of bargains. As much as I love $50,000 pickups and supercharged sports sedans, my friends and relations rarely ask which AMG product they should buy. Usually, the decision looks a little like the photograph above. Today’s quandary: the 2012 Nissan Versa vs the 2012 Nissan Sentra. Let the games begin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specifications as tested

Sentra / Versa

0-30 MPH: 3.35 seconds / 3.11 seconds

0-60 MPH: 9.09 seconds / 9.04 seconds

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


2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, 3/4 front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, 3/4 side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra, Front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, cupholders, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, dash, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, center console, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, center console, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, storage, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, driver's side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, rear seats, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Interior, rear seat arm rest, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Trunk, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Instrument Cluster / Gauges, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra Instrument Cluster / Gauges, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Side 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Rear/Side, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Rear 4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Rear 3, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Rear 2, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Exterior, Front, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Dashboard 2, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Dashboard 1, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, HVAC Controls 2, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Cup Holders, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Ceiling, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, rear leg room 2, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, rear leg room, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Rear Seats, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Rear, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Trunk 2, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Trunk , Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Engine, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Engine, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Engine, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Gauges 2, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Gauges, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Radio 2, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, Radio, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, HVAC, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra & 2012 Nissan Versa, Interior dashboard, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Sentra & 2012 Nissan Versa, Exterior, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2012 Nissan Versa Interior, grey, Picture courtesy of Alex L Dykes sentraversa Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 61
Pricing Analysis: 2012 Ford Focus Thu, 31 Mar 2011 16:25:37 +0000

When Chevrolet announced a few months ago that its new Cruze compact sedan would start at $16,995, more than a few people (who likely had not had a chance to personally experience the new car) were shocked. The Cobalt, which the Cruze replaced, had been priced nearly $1,300 lower—and had required incentives to sell at that price. Now Ford has announced pricing for the totally redesigned 2012 Focus, and it starts at…$16,995.

So it seems that Ford has matched Chevrolet’s pricing. But an interesting thing happens when you compare the two cars (along with the Hyundai Elantra and Volkswagen Jetta) using’s car price comparison tool:

MSRP Feature Adjustment Adjusted MSRP Difference
2012 Ford Focus S 16,995 0 16,995
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LS 16,995 -1,485 15,510 -1,485
2011 Hyundai Elantra GLS 16,800 -1,285 15,515 -1,480
2011 VW Jetta S 16,765 -435 16,330 -665

It turns out that the base Cruze has about $1,500 in additional content. Features standard on the Chevrolet but not the Ford include:

  • a sixth cog in the manual transmission
  • power rear side windows (front only in the Focus S)
  • knee airbags
  • satellite radio
  • OnStar
  • trip computer
  • center armrests front and rear
  • manual height and tilt for both front seats (driver height only in the Ford)

Most of these features are minor, but they add up. Not factored into these calculations: an additional 24 horsepower in the Focus from its larger (2.0-liter vs. 1.8) four-cylinder engine.

Once you add the Popular Equipment Package to get A/C, the Hyundai Elantra isn’t priced much lower than the other two. Adjust for features, though, and it ends up VERY close to the Chevrolet, and well below the Ford. Its 148-horsepower engine neatly splits the difference between the other two.

The base Jetta manages to undercut the Hyundai by a few dollars. Adjust for features, and it splits the difference between the Hyundai and Chevrolet on one hand and the Ford on the other. With only 115 horsepower, the Jetta’s antiquated base engine is easily the weakest of the bunch.

The picture changes when comparing fully-loaded (over $26,000!) compacts:

MSRP Feature Adjustment Adjusted MSRP Difference
2012 Ford Focus Titanium 26,985 0 26,985
2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ 26,780 +840 27,620 +635
2011 Hyundai Elantra Ltd. 22,795 +3,140 25,935 -1,050

Why the $2,000 swing with the Chevrolet? Three major reasons. First, upper trim levels of the Focus includes SYNC, which bundles more features than OnStar while similarly impacting the bottom line. Second, Chevrolet charges $1,995 for nav, while Ford charges a much more reasonable $795. Third, while all four Focus trim levels share the same engine, the Cruze LT and LTZ have a turbocharged 1.4 liter instead of the LS’s normally-aspirated 1.8. The uplevel engine makes about the same amount of peak power, but is considerably stronger at lower rpm. It also adds about $800 to the car’s price. Apparently turbos aren’t free.

A fully loaded Elantra is much less expensive than a fully loaded Focus or Cruze, but this is mostly because far fewer features are available on it. They Hyundai does have one feature the others don’t: heated rear seats. But it doesn’t have many things the Focus does, including a parking guidance system, front and rear obstacle detection, dual-zone automatic climate control, SYNC, and a power driver seat. Adjust for these features and the Elantra is $1,050 less at MSRP and a mere $258 less at invoice, which can be more indicative of actual transaction prices. The Hyundai is less expensive, but the difference isn’t nearly as large as it initially appears.

MSRP Feature Adjustment Adjusted MSRP Difference
2012 Ford Focus Titanium 24,995 0 24,995
2011 VW Jetta SEL 24,865 +1,350 26,215 +1,220

It’s not possible to include the Jetta in the same table with the others because far fewer features are available with it. When the Focus is equipped as close as possible to a loaded Jetta the list prices are very close. But the Focus has about $1,350 in additional features, including dual-zone automatic climate control and SYNC. Compare invoice prices and the gap widens to nearly $2,000.

At first glance, the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze look very expensive. And they do cost quite a bit more than the cars they replaced.  But compared to two cars known for low prices, the Hyundai Elantra and Volkswagen Jetta, the differences aren’t so large once feature differences are adjusted for. Hyundai and Volkswagen, recently known for the number of features included in their cars, have been decontenting while Ford and Chevrolet have taken a big step in the opposite direction. The Cruze looks especially good when comparing lightly equipped cars, while the Ford looks best when comparing loaded ones. A $27,000 Ford Focus that turns out to be a good value—who saw this coming?

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

]]> 125
David And Goliath: A Comparison Of Nissan And Toyota Fri, 25 Mar 2011 16:41:21 +0000

Japan’s largest and second largest automakers are worlds apart. Last year, Nissan made less than half of the cars the world’s number one, Toyota produced. Looking at the February results of both, we see a Goliath that is slowing down and a David that is revving up mightily. What’s more, we see a Goliath that is heavily exposed to the destruction in Japan, and a David that had moved most of his production abroad, well before the Flood. Let’s compare David and Goliath.

This comparison is based on February 2011 production and sales data emailed to TTAC today by Toyota and Nissan. The Toyota press release is available here. The Nissan press release is available here. For Toyota, we will be using the Toyota Motor Corp group data, including Daihatsu and Hino. If no time period is given, the data refer to February 2011. A month does not a year make. However, this February probably was the last “normal” month you will see in the Japanese car industry for a while. Let’s see how the two embark on the road to the great unknown.

In February, Toyota’s worldwide production fell 2.5 percent to 761,248 units. Nissan’s global production increased 21.7 percent to 350,093 units, an all-time record for the month of February.

Japanese production was down for both, reflecting the double-digit contraction of the Japanese domestic market. Toyota’s Japanese production dropped 7.4 percent to 349,900 units. Nissan’s production in Japan decreased 3.8 percent to 93,432 units.

Exports from Japan rose 5.3 percent to 170,075 units for Toyota, first increase in two months . Nissan’s exports in February increased 7.8 percent to 54,215 units. Nissan’s exports to North America increased 41.5 percent, to Europe 51.8 percent.

Here is probably the most important metric at the moment and in the following months when all manufacturers, and especially the Japanese are trying to come to grips with the disaster in Miyagi:

Toyota has 49 percent of its global production of 716,248 units in Japan, 51 percent of the production is overseas. Nissan has 27 percent of its global production of 350,093 units in Japan, 73 percent is overseas. Neither of them will escape the Japanese parts paralysis unscathed. At least on a spreadsheet, Nissan is in a better position that its Goliath rival. As always, the devil is in the details.

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Comparison Review: Mercedes S400 Hybrid vs. Lexus LS600h L Fri, 11 Feb 2011 18:41:08 +0000

Luxury means many things to many people, but nobody doubts luxury cars should be crammed full of the latest technology… and what says “technology” in today’s car market quite like “Hybrid”? In a strange inversion of history, Lexus created the world’s first hybrid luxury flagship from a vehicle that was clearly inspired by the Mercedes S-Class, and now Mercedes is fighting back with its first hybrid sedan, the S400 Hybrid. So, is Lexus’s hybrid head-start enough to fend off a challenge from the vehicle that inspired its birth over a twenty years ago? The only way to find out is in TTAC’s most expensive comparison test ever.

Despite catering to a similar crowd, the Lexus and Mercedes hybrids could not have more different missions in mind if they tried. Lexus’ fantastically complicated AWD hybrid system was designed with V12 performance in mind. Mercedes on the other hand decided to take the simplest route to hybridization possible by inserting a smallish electric motor between the engine and transmission. Either way you slice it, if you are shopping for a car to be driven in and still somehow care about the baby seals, these two cars will provide the best fuel economy in the luxo-barge market (which isn’t saying much). Let’s dig in.

The LS 600h L is best known for being the most expensive hybrid vehicle on the market, a fact that earns it endless county-club bragging rights, but demands that we talk price upfront. Starting with a base price of $111,350, our press car was fitted with the $10,835 optional “Package C” which included everything except the radar cruise control and delivered a total MSRP of $123,060 after the destination charge. For the fully-loaded buyer, the $12,335 “Package D” will ring the total up to $124,560.

While nearly 125-large may sound like a deal breaker for even the wealthy, the LS 600h L’s German competition starts at $91,000 in the form of the Mercedes S400 Hybrid. Comparably equipped, the S400 Hybrid ends up at an eye-bulging $116,275. And if option-ticking is your thing; $123,852 buys you a fully-loaded German hybrid. Of course if you have a driver, the cost of the vehicle is likely to be unimportant, but I am told by the wealthier set that a “discreet” ride is usually preferred to a Maybach or Rolls. Noblesse oblige. MSRP winner: LS 600h L.

When the LS 600h L arrived and I peered out my window, I was impressed by the fact that the styling didn’t impress. It’s not that the LS is boring, it’s just that the Camry shares many of the same lines. Taken by itself, the LS is a handsome vehicle, and parked next to a Camry you can see the LS is much, much larger, bolder, and has greater attention to detail. When separated, however, the resemblance comes to mind more easily. Oddly enough, Lexus decided not to use their mid-cycle refresh for the 2010 model year to differentiate the LS from the Toyota models, instead the LS received a three-bar grille that looks more Avalon than Lexus to me. In contrast, the S400 Hybrid may share some styling cues with the C300, but the overall Mercedes design is far less subtle than the Lexus. While I still long for the style of the W140 S-Class, there’s no mistaking the S-Class is the biggest Benz available on our shores. Exterior style winner: S400 Hybrid.

Lexus’ skills at cabin crafting are obvious inside the LS. The range topping Lexus gets full leather upholstery, complete with a single-needle stitched dash and door panels. While the shapes may be the same as the LS 600h L’s lesser cousin (the LS 460), the LS 600h L will make you feel a touch more special. Owners of the 460 appreciate the fact that a base LS delivers a world-class interior for 60-large, LS 600h L buyers may find the nearly identical interior a turn off. If you are spending the cost of a Midwest family home on a car, you probably expect something unique.

The S400 Hybrid has the odd benefit of being the cheapest S-Class in the USA. (Mercedes decided not to sell the short-wheelbase S350 here which would compete directly with the LS 460 in the 60K+ segment.) This brand positioning means that there is no $60,000 car on American roads with identical styling to your high-rolling-hybrid. Despite the fact that the LS 600h L delivers an interior put together with more sumptuous feel and precision than the Germans could hope for, the uniqueness factor pushes the S400 to the top on our interior scale. Interior style winner: S400 Hybrid.

As a base model, the S400 doesn’t have to promise range-topping performance, which is good since this hybrid Benz receives an Atkinson-cycle version of Mercedes’ ubiquitous 3.5L V6. Typically Atkinson-cycle engines are down on power compared to their Otto-cycle versions, but interestingly Mercedes has fitted a new cylinder head, different pistons and a modified camshaft which actually increase the power over the version used in the other Merc models. In addition a 20HP, 118lb-ft electric motor is added, bringing the system total power to 295HP and 284lb-ft, topping the 268HP and 258lb-ft rating of the C350. While the S400 Hybrid delivers more power than the V8 S430 (circa 2006) and accelerates to 60 a tenth of a second faster (7.2 to 60 as tested), in this decade a luxury car with a 0-60 in the 7 second range is fairly slow.

Lexus has long embraced technology, but only recently come to admire performance. To this end the LS 600h L is equipped with a slightly de-tuned 5.0L V8 engine from IS-F (instead of the 4.6L from the LS460.) In LS duty, the large V8 makes 389HP at a lofty 6400RPM and 383lb-ft of twist at 4,000RPM. Since these numbers are not terribly exciting in their own right, Lexus added a pair of electric motors good for 221HP and 221lb-ft. Due to the way the hybrid synergy drive system works (tech nerds can find a wealth of information here), you don’t exactly add up 389HP and 221HP from the motors and get 610HP; rather, the system horsepower ends up at a conservative 438HP.

Lexus is fairly cagey on the combined torque output of the LS’s hybrid system, but I estimate it to be at least 400lb-ft and covering a very broad RPM range, thanks to the electric motors. When the engine is shut off at a stoplight (saving baby seals), a quick romp on the go pedal summons 60MPH in 5.4 seconds (TTAC tested), which matches the 5.4 second time Lexus quotes for the LS 460 L. What this number doesn’t indicate is the shockingly linear fashion with which the LS delivers this thrust: no shifts, no gaps, no acceleration swells, just constant press-you-back-in-your-seat thrust until you decide to lift. Lexus says the top speed of the LS hybrid is 160MPH. I believe it. Performance winner: LS 600h L.

When the going gets twisty, it’s frankly not important that a large luxury sedan handle well. What is important is that it gets the job done with no fuss, minimal squeals and no unnerving rear end motions. Since both sedans are equipped with load-leveling air suspension setups, I expected a fairly similar ride, and in practice both the S400 and LS 600h L lived up to my expectations. Both deliver extremely compliant rides on a variety of pavement, gravel and dirt roads. Both vehicles offer a “Sport” mode but only the Lexus seemed to actually deliver the hoped-for change to suspension behavior with Sport Mode activated. If you ever give Jeeves the day off, a this cetaceous mannerism-taming mode is a clear “must have.” While I would never call the LS 600h L a “corner carver,” grip is fairly impressive, and the AWD system provides an extremely well balanced feel, while the massive Brembo brakes stop the 5,360lb sedan without drama every time. In contrast, the S400’s personality doesn’t invite any hurried shenanigans, which is good because it just can’t muster the hustle of the Japanese competition. Handling winner: LS 600h L.

No luxury vehicle would be able to show its face at the country club without the latest in whiz-bang gadgets. Trouble is, both the S-Class and LS lines are getting old and luxury shoppers may be surprised to find that a new Ford may provide snazzier gimmicks than either luxury sedan. Both the LS 600h L and the S400 have USB music device integration, navigation, big LCD screens, Bluetooth hands-free, self-closing doors, four-zone climate control and more buttons and knobs than NASA mission control, but the graphics on both nav systems fail to achieve the “wow” factor that the latest iDrive delivers.

The Mercedes brings the latest in dynamic air-seats to the fight, which will massage Jeeves’ back and inflate bolsters to keep him planted while evading the paparazzi. The Lexus, however, delivers one of the better backseat experiences in the business. Not only does the LS 600h L’s right rear seat recline like the S-Class, but it has an ottoman, a walnut tray table and a superb vibrating shiatsu massage system to boot. Unlike other systems that use air bladders to attempt to work out your knots, the Lexus system appears to uses rollers inside the seat, and can deliver a surprisingly deep massage.

When hiring a Jeeves, it’s important to remember to test parking skills in the interview. While Mercedes and Lexus both have parking aids to help the parallel-challenged, both managed only to bring new heights of frustration to the parking process for everyone involved. The Mercedes system won’t actually park for you, but it will attempt to guide you, provided the space is large enough for a greyhound bus and you follow the guide-lines on the screen with Germanic precision. Fail to follow ze commands visout qvestion and the system will give up on you. The Lexus on the other hand will parallel park or back your car into a perpendicular parking spot all-by-itself… If you give yourself a few hours to figure out which buttons to push and how to move the square into the right spot. Sadly Ford’s ultrasonic park assist in the Lincoln MKt, Ford Explorer and Focus are so easy to use and so fast, both the Lexus and Mercedes systems seem useless. Just hire a Jeeves that can park. Here the Lexus takes the lead because it can actually park itself (given enough patience). Gadget winner: LS 600h L.

The Germans have had a reputation for over-engineering things for decades; similarly the Japanese have had a reputation for engineering everything to perfection. Luxury buyers expect not only the finest in craftsmanship, but also the finest in engineering. In this category neither disappoints. While it seems superficially that Lexus has lost the technological edge over the past decade, the hybrid system in the LS 600h L will remind you who has a crazy R&D budget.

The Lexus CVT and AWD system are a true marvel, unlike a “regular” CVT, the Hybrid Synergy Drive transmission in the LS 600h L uses planetary gear sets and motors to change ratios. Although the idea is the same as the transmission in the Prius, the LS 600’s unit is far more complex, containing two power-split units and a two speed motor reduction gearbox on one of the electric motors designed to improve efficiency and reduce noise at speed. Even the gear-driven Torsen unit was specially designed for the LS’s transmission, to meet Lexus’ rigid standards for noise and physical dimensions.

By comparison, Mercedes’ hybrid system seems almost rushed. While the S400 may be the first lithium-ion hybrid on the market, the reason for the more dense battery design is that, due to a lack of space, Mercedes needed the battery to fit where the 12V battery normally goes. As you might guess this means there is no 12V battery in the S400, instead the lithium-ion battery and motor pack together replace the motor, alternator and starter. While bragging rights for being the first to carry a lithium-ion battery are nice, trying to explain how the Lexus’ transmission works to passengers delivers Lexus the lead here: Engineering winner: LS 600h L.

When selecting the perfect car to shuttle you to the board room, luxury features are by far the most important consideration. Out on the road in the LS, the first thing you will notice (while being massaged), is how quiet the cabin is. “Quiet” doesn’t do it justice, I’m talking eerily quiet. At the first push of the power button you are inclined to think “well it’s a hybrid so it’s quiet because the engine isn’t running.” In reality the engine was running, this car is just that quiet.

In contrast, the S400 delivers more wind noise at speed and a distinctly un-luxurious V6 noise from under the hood when pushed. While I would never choose a CVT over a traditional automatic for my own driving, the LS’ hybrid CVT is actually the perfect companion for executive transport (the last thing you would want is a harsh shift to spill your champers.) Speaking of that CVT, at 80MPH the engine in the LS 600h L is barely spinning faster than idle keeping engine noise at an absolute minimum. If you are late for your meeting, three digit speeds are attainable in both sedans, but again the LS retains its luxurious pose and low noise levels even at these speeds. If the LS is in your stable, don’t spare the whip. After all, it’s Jeeves’s license, not yours.  Luxury winner: LS 600h L.

Last, and quite appropriately, least, we arrive at fuel economy. Anyone who derides the S400 or LS 600h L for their low economy numbers obviously missed the point. If you really cared about economy you’d buy a Prius, and if you really cared about the environment you’d have Jeeves pedal you to work in a rickshaw. Instead the luxury hybrids are about technology, status and political correctness. Even so, in mixed driving we averaged 22.3MPG in the S400 over 800 miles. The best mileage recorded was a 50 mile highway journey averaging 65MPH and 29MPG. We can, of course, thank the V6 for these numbers, as the Euro-only S350L gets similar numbers on the highway.

Does that make the S400 the winner? On paper, yes, but in practice, the LS 600h L surprised us with EPA crushing real world economy numbers. According to the government, the LS 600h L should deliver 20 MPG city and 22 Highway. On a 350 mile trip down to Los Angeles for the LA Auto Show, we averaged 23 MPG at an average speed of 77 MPH which included going over the Grapevine. I was however still prepared to write off the hybrid tech as useless until we got stuck in LA traffic, where the hybrid drive really shines. A 28-mile trip from downtown LA to Covina which took a grueling two hours resulted in a lofty 32 MPG average for the LS. If you live in New York or LA, the LS 600h L actually might be a penny-pincher in traffic. Of course, you can buy about 7,500 gallons of gasoline for difference in price of the LS 460 L and LS 600h L. Economy winner: Tie.

At the end our two week back-to-back test, it became obvious that the LS 600h L is the best pure hybrid luxury vehicle in the $100,000 price point. The isolation, the CVT and the AWD, all combine to make a vehicle that is perfect for the person to whom Luxury means floating on a cloud. The LS 600h L will never have the athleticism of the BMW 7-Series, and it may not have the brand cachet of the S-Class, but it does deliver the pinnacle in isolated transport.

Lexus and Mercedes provided the vehicles, insurance, and one tank of gas per vehicle for this review

IMG_1923 IMG_1926 IMG_1929 IMG_1235 IMG_1943 IMG_1936 IMG_1925 IMG_1242 IMG_1244 IMG_1938 IMG_1934 IMG_1924 IMG_1939 IMG_1230 IMG_1227 IMG_1226 Clash of the Titans... IMG_1243 IMG_1231 IMG_1931 IMG_1240 IMG_1241 IMG_1932 IMG_1930 IMG_1935 IMG_1238 IMG_1233 IMG_1228 IMG_1928 IMG_1224 IMG_1940 IMG_1236 IMG_1223 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail IMG_1941 IMG_1921 IMG_1937 IMG_1232 IMG_1944 IMG_1922 IMG_1229 ]]> 35
What’s Wrong With This Picture: Analysis-Retentive Edition Tue, 18 May 2010 23:54:01 +0000

About a half-hour after TTAC’s 15 Years of Compact Car Sales graph went up today, the normally enthusiast-oriented car blog Jalopnik gave the internet its own take on compact-car segment analysis with a post titled The Ford Fiesta Will Dominate The Small Car Segment. Some might question how this is supposed to jive with Jalopnik’s alleged commitment to “awesomeness,” but our concerns are far more prosaic. Examples: the absence of the Fiesta’s actual competitors like the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris, and the absence of interior volume comparisons which would expose this “comparison” for the fraud it is. And that’s just for starters…

Of course, Jalop’s Ben Wojdyla covers his own ass by disclaiming that

We’ve run the numbers on the Ford’s newest entry to the compact car segment — the Fiesta — and put together the following chart comparing it to the top four highest-selling small cars (one size larger than the compact segment) in the U.S. marketplace. We think it explains very well why we think the Fiesta’s going to sell as well as we claim…

…There are certainly many factors not considered here including interior space, styling inside and out, buyer loyalty and all the vagaries which make the small car segment such vicious competition.

Let’s ignore the segment-definition semantics and focus on interior space for a moment, as this is clearly the most important missing link. By comparing the B-Segment (subcompact) Fiesta with C-Segment (compact) “competitors,” Wojdyla is assuming that Americans simply don’t consider size in their vehicular purchases. Though almost anyone could confirm just how misguided this perspective is, let’s use a real world example by comparing Ford’s Fiesta with a real competitor: Toyota’s Yaris sedan with automatic transmission.

According to Toyota, the Yaris weighs 2,346 lbs to the Fiesta’s 2,400 lbs. Its 1.5 liter engine makes 14 horsepower and 9 lb-ft less than the Fiesta’s, and offers only a 4-speed autobox. This drivetrain deficit translates into a Fiesta-identical 29 MPG in the city, but a more C-segment-like 35 MPG on the freeway. In short, the Fiesta’s got a more modern drivetrain… big surprise considering the Yaris has been around since 2005.

Where the comparison gets, well, apt, is the interior volumes and pricing. The Fiesta sedan offers 85 cubic feet of EPA “passenger volume” and 12.8 cubic feet of luggage capacity. By comparison, the Yaris four-door offers over 87 cubic feet of EPA “passenger volume” and 12.9 cubic feet of trunk room. Based on our “build your own” research, a base Yaris sedan with autobox costs just under $800 more than the cheapest available slushbox Fiesta sedan, but comes with more equipment, including such basics as a CD player. We’ll let Michael Karesh fill in the gaps on pricing, but suffice it to say they’re pretty much a wash.

Regardless, what Jalopnik’s “analysis” and prediction of Fiesta dominance assumes is that a slightly smaller Yaris with an updated drivetrain and styling (and a blue oval where the “T” should be) will sell in the kind of volume that will challenge C-segment entries. And this is where things fall apart completely. In its four full years of US sales (2006-2009), the Yaris sold 70,308, 84,799, 102,328, and 63,743 units. In those four years, Toyota’s C-Segment competitor, the Corolla, never sold fewer than 296,874 units (2009). Honda’s Fit also has the same four years of sales data, and despite earning rave reviews it’s never cracked 80k annual sales. Honda’s Civic averaged over 300k units per year over the same four-year period.

Given how flawed Jalopnik’s premise is, and how poorly it was argued, one has to wonder: why print this at all? Was this just filler? Was Wojdyla merely phoning in a half-baked concept? It’s certainly possible… after all, no blogger can be completely on top of his game at all times. But then, economy-car segment analysis isn’t exactly Jalopnik’s idea of filler. And, as the Detroit Free Press (and Bloomberg, and, well, everyone) reports, Ford’s Fiesta marketing machine is swinging into high gear today, as The Blue Oval gears up for its self-proclaimed “biggest launch of the year” by launching its new Fiesta ads.

Now, we don’t want to make any accusations without proof of an explicit quid-pro-quo, but we’ll let you connect the dots. Instead of making passive-aggressive but ultimately unprovable implications of auto-media shenanigans, let’s simply let the circumstances speak for themselves. Jalopnik’s Fiesta “segment analysis” is just too off-base, too out of character, too convenient for Ford’s marketing efforts and too perfectly timed to coincide with said marketing to not raise a few eyebrows. We don’t think TTAC should should have a blogopoly on segment analysis, sales breakdowns, and the like, but these kinds of content only work when they actually create meaning. Jalopnik’s attempt was confusing at best, and cynical prostitution of the facts at worst. In the future, they’d do best to stick with the “awesomeness.”

[Editor's note: The tortured relationship between automakers and the media outlets that cover them has long been a major topic of interest here at TTAC (check out our "Media" tab for more). Over decades, competition between auto media sources has created a buyer's market for credibility and given rise to a range of implicit and explicit quid-pro-quo agreements, in which OEMs trade journalist access and advertising dollars for favorable coverage. Jalopnik has officially and emphatically disclaimed any form of quid-pro-quo in this instance, and we must reiterate that we have no evidence of any such agreement.

The original purpose of this post was to "peer-review" the content and context of Jalopnik's comparison analysis in the spirit of this site's commitment to the truth. Our conclusion that the comparison was ultimately misleading and poorly timed remains unchanged. As does our respect for Jalopnik as an enthusiast site that should never have to stoop to anything as embarrassingly pedantic as segment analysis. After all, that's our job.]

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Comparison Review: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Versus 2010 Toyota Camry XLE Wed, 21 Apr 2010 16:24:25 +0000

Driving enthusiasts love to hate the Toyota Camry. Yet, despite the company’s current troubles, it remains the best-selling car in the United States. Hyundai would love to steal the crown, or at least tens of thousands of customers. So it recently launched a totally redesigned 2011 Sonata and will be advertising it heavily. Should Toyota be concerned?

Both the young (my kids) and the old (my parents) were captivated by the beauty of the Camry. Not the sheetmetal, mind you. They probably didn’t notice the shape of the car. The bulbous exterior was a great leap forward for a Camry four years ago—engineers might have designed the previous generation sedan—but at this point it is a generation behind current automotive fashion. The good angles it does possess (not the front view even with this year’s redesigned grille) have been overexposed through its omnipresence. And the XLE’s small, multispoked alloys don’t flatter the car—the SE looks considerably better. Rather, my family was captivated by the paint, a highly metallic dark green.

The Sonata’s paint options are relatively ordinary. But its swoopy exterior design marks a sharp departure from that of the handsome but utterly forgettable 2006-2010 Sonata. What the Mercedes-Benz CLS did for luxury sedans—bring coupe-like style to the segment—Hyundai hopes to do for midsize family sedans. Some resemblance can be seen to various luxury sedans (CLS, A6, ES), but Hyundai has also taken far more risks here than with the Genesis. An arching roofline, a couple of strong, curving character lines, and a ribbon of chrome trim that connects the beltline to the headlights could have combined in the side view to form a complicated mess. And yet these design elements manage to form a whole that is both cohesive and distinctive, and at once upscale and sporty. Even the fashionably oversized grille works. Most important of all: unlike the Genesis sedan, the new Sonata stands out on a crowded road—even without fancy paint. In comparison, the Toyota looks stodgy.

Upholstered in light gray leather, the Camry XLS interior includes nothing analogous to the exterior’s paint. Its design is thoroughly conventional circa 2006. One exception: the audio controls to the right of the nav screen are a bit of a reach, a common sin these days.

As with the exterior, the new Sonata’s interior is much more up-to-date and stylish than the Camry’s. The instrument panel includes some artful curves, but is cleanly designed. All of the buttons are easy to reach, and they helpfully vary in shape and size. As with the exterior, Hyundai appears to have benchmarked luxury sedans rather than other family sedans. Controls beneath the nav screen mimic an Infiniti’s, while the climate controls mimic a Volvo’s. The anthropomorphic control for directing airflow is just a single button rather than the three found in a Volvo, though, so it captures the Swede’s style more than its functionality. After sampling all three trim levels—cloth GLS, cloth/leather SE (sport), and leather Limited, the last is easily the most attractive. For those who want an escape from black, gray, and beige, wine-colored hides are offered.

Interior materials are of similar quality in both cars: not bad, but you’re clearly not in a luxury car. The Toyota has higher-quality switchgear, but its glossy “wood” is too obviously plastic and the silver-painted trim covering the center stack doesn’t even pretend to be aluminum. Perhaps because it was tailored for the European market, the interior in Hyundai’s new Tucson feels more solid and tightly constructed than that in either of these sedans.

The steering wheels deserve special consideration. Prior to the Genesis, Hyundai upholstered its cars’ steering wheels with the world’s slickest leather. With the Genesis they seemed to have finally realized that the point of having leather on the steering wheel is to make it easier to grip, not to help it slip through one’s fingers. But with the new Sonata they’ve backslid. The artfully designed steering wheel has a rim composed of three different materials: urethane on the outer sides, slippery leather from 10 to 2 o’clock and from 5 to 7, and, inside the lower perimeter, the sort of rubberized plastic that tended to wear poorly in MkIV Jettas. The last was already badly worn on one of the tested cars. None of the materials is well-suited to the task, and three is two too many. A good steering wheel has one material, a grippy leather, all the way around the rim–like the one in the Camry.

The Camry doesn’t have great front seats, but they’re both more supportive and more comfortable than those in the Sonata. With the Sonata, the feel of the seat varies quite a bit depending on whether the center panel upholstery is cloth, as in the GLS and SE, or leather, as in the Limited. The leather seats feel firmer, and you sit noticeably higher in them, or rather on them. With either upholstery the side bolsters quickly surrender when called upon to provide lateral support. The Camry’s side bolsters failed me less, but then I asked less of them. 

Some other car reviews will tell you that the Sonata’s new coupe-like roofline cost the sedan 2.8 inches of rear legroom compared to the previous generation car. What they fail to notice: maximum front legroom increased by 1.8 inches—which is sure to delight long-legged drivers (with a 30-inch inseam, I’m not one). So rear legroom is only down by an inch, and still fairly plentiful. Rear headroom, not quite so much. Tall passengers will have the scrunch down or sit up front. Other than this, the rear seat is perhaps more comfortable than the front seat. It’s a decent height off the floor, the backrest provides a healthy amount of lumbar support, and in the Limited it’s even heated.

The Camry’s back seat is even better, with a little more room, a little more height off the floor, and, in the XLE, manual recliners. The price of the manual recliners: unlike in the base Camry and the Sonata, the rear seat doesn’t fold to expand the trunk. Both cars have usefully commodious trunks that are moderately compromised by conventional gooseneck hinges and constricted openings. In both the Camry XLE and Sonata Limited, but not in lesser trims, rear seat passengers get their own air vents, a welcome feature on hot sunny days.

The tested Camry was fitted with a 268-horsepower DOHC 3.5-liter V6. Hyundai will offer no V6 in the new Sonata, we’re told to shave 100 pounds off the curb weight (a commendably light 3,199 pounds with the automatic). And a 274-horsepower turbo four won’t arrive until fall. So the cars I drove were fitted with a 198-horsepower direct-injected DOHC 2.4-liter four (200 with the SE’s dual exhaust). Not an even match, so just a few words on each.

The Camry’s V6 engine is easily the most entertaining aspect of the car. It’s smooth, powerful, and makes lusty noises when prodded. But there’s really little point to it in this car. The Camry simply doesn’t ask to be pushed hard enough to render the four-cylinder insufficient. Then again, Detroit’s specialty used to be overpowered cars with soft suspensions and over-boosted steering, and perhaps there’s still a market for this combination.

The Sonata’s new engine is, like the related port-injected unit in the new Tucson, very smooth and quiet for a four. Even held at 4,500 RPM using the automatic’s manual shift feature it’s not loud, and it never sounds rough. The previous generation four sounds and feels uncivilized in comparison, and it’s not a bad engine. The loud clacking typical of high-pressure injectors can be heard when outside the Sonata, but not when inside it. Thrust is a bit soft up to about 25 miles-per-hour, beyond which point the engine feels fairly energetic, if not a substitute for a V6. Few buyers will need more power or refinement than this four offers. The others can wait a few months for the turbo.

The Camry’s engine provides good fuel economy for a powerful V6, about 22 around town. But the Hyundai’s new four is outstanding in this regard, earning a class-leading 22/35 MPG from the EPA. Driven along rural roads, I observed 35 MPG for one segment, and low 30s overall. So the EPA numbers don’t seem to have been cheated. A hybrid arrives in the fall, but it seems pointless unless most driving involves frequent stops.

Both the Camry and Sonata are fitted with six-speed automatics that usually shift smoothly and behave well. One minor demerit for the Hyundai’s box: it slightly lugs the engine at times, no doubt to maximize fuel economy. Those whose ears aren’t sensitive to low frequency sounds will never notice.

The Camry and Sonata drive about as differently as they look. The first thing you’ll notice when setting off in the Camry: it feels extremely smooth and quiet, clearly the result of lessons learned when developing Lexus. Bumps effect some head toss at moderate speeds, but overall the Toyota’s ride could hardly be more comfortable. Unfortunately, the focus on isolation extends to the steering. It’s far too light, lacks a strong sense of direction, and (aside from some kickback) is devoid of feel. A shame, because even in XLE trim the chassis is more composed than in previous non-sport Camrys. A firm, even overly firm, suspension is standard in the Camry SE.

The three trims of the Sonata all drive differently. The GLS’s higher-profile 16-inch tires are noisier than the Limited’s 17s and harm the car’s ride and handling. Paired with steelies, they’re begging for a mod. The SE’s 18s are also noisier than the Limited’s 17s, and together with a firmer suspension yield a busy, occasionally unsettled ride. If the SE handled much better than the Limited the ride penalty might be worth it, but it doesn’t. The Limited handles nearly as well as the SE, and rides more quietly and much more smoothly. Add in its more attractive interior and additional features, and the Limited is easily the best of the three trims. If you want a Sonata, you want a Sonata Limited.

Still, compared to the Camry XLE, the Sonata Limited isn’t as quiet or as smooth. It’s the difference between good, even very good, and great. The Camry feels like a premium car through the seat of one’s pants and the drums of one’s ears. The Sonata does not quite manage the same. On the other hand, the Sonata’s steering, while nearly as devoid of feel as the Camry’s, isn’t overly light, is nicely weighted, and has a clear sense of direction. As a result, even down two cylinders the Hyundai is more engaging and fun to drive (such things being relative).

In the end, the Camry cannot escape its advancing age. It does a few things extremely well, and most other things very well, but its steering is far too light and its styling is bland and dated. With the new Sonata, Hyundai has avoided competing with the Camry head on. The Sonata isn’t as smooth, as quiet, or as comfortable, but it has better steering and is more fun to drive. But will many midsize sedan buyers notice or care about the difference in how the cars steer? Maybe, maybe not. But they’ll certainly notice how the new Sonata looks. A Hyundai that sells because of how it looks—who saw this coming? Now if only Hyundai offered some eye-catching green paint…

Toyota and Hyundai provided the vehicles, insurance and one tank of gas each for this review

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of auto reliability and pricing data

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Comparison Review: Toyota Venza Versus Honda Crosstour: First Place: Honda Crosstour Fri, 22 Jan 2010 14:34:38 +0000

What is the purpose of the Crosstour? I asked as I waited for my test car to be readied. Pause. Finally an answer, The Crosstour is now the high-end Accord. It is designed to compete with the Toyota Venza. Ah, I get it: monkey see monkey do. What better way to give the marque a kick in the shorts than to pinch an idea from the market leader. And so they did. Almost. Partly. Sort of.

The most complementary thing that can be said about the Crosstour is that it is an Accord Coupe stretched to accommodate a second pair of doors. Bumper to bumper, it embodies a sportiness that is entirely lacking in the entirely too practical Venza. That’s not to say that the Crosstour is a hardened ‘bahn burner. Or that it isn’t a practical mobile for the modern family. Let’s just say that the car has a little of that magic that made earlier generations of the Accord sedan a good deal more satisfying to drive than your average family car.

My crystal black pearl colored Accord Crosstour EX looks longer, lower and wider than the Venza. In this case, looks are deceiving. While it is almost 8 inches longer, Crosstour is in fact 2.3 inches taller. The proportions are, of course, drastically different. While the Venza is an upright and boxy wagon, the hood of the Crosstour is long and low followed by a steeply raked windshield and, lastly, a big thick bootie. In profile it casts a silhouette that is, dare I say it, not unlike the Porsche Panamera. If for no other reason, you can see the Crosstour’s sporting aspirations in the 12 inch brake rotors glinting between the spokes of the rear wheels. 

The penalties for the sleek exterior proportions are, of course, on the inside. With the rear seats upright, the cargo area is just 25.7 cu.ft. (51.3 cu.ft. with the seats folded). On paper that’s 4.4 cu.ft. smaller than Venza. In reality the difference is greater because much of the added cargo capacity created by the fastback design is an awkward space below the long sloping rear window. However, the space is infinitely more accessible than the pinched and restrictive sedan trunk because the entire rear window lifts up and out of the way.

Honda made the most of the rear space by replacing the spare tire wheel well with a commodious removable storage bin. The spare tire has been relocated up underneath the car in a retractable compartment, the bottom of which is streamlined to help undercarriage aerodynamics.

The dash is elegantly and intuitively laid out with outstanding ergonomics – with the exception of one grotesque flaw. The power outlet, auxiliary audio jack and USB port are located deep under the armrest at the back of the center console.

In a break from past Accord practice, the cabin is spooky quiet. Like a fastidious librarian, the Active Sound Control system utilizes the audio system to detect and shush unwanted noise frequencies before they reach your ears.

Only the sound of the high-strung 3.5 liter V6 engine is allowed to intrude for the entertainment of the driver. In classic Honda fashion, the drive train is tuned to keep the crankshaft whirling like a Dervish on crank, spending much of its time between 3500 and 4500 rpm in pedestrian stop and go traffic driving, about 500-800 rpms higher than the Toyota at any given speed. That means terrific responsiveness because you are almost always driving right in the meat of the engine’s power band. Additionally, the decisive 5-speed transmission tenaciously holds the correct gear when cornering.

To keep the inevitable fuel consumption of all of this revving in check, the engine is equipped with Variable Cylinder Management that deactivates two when cruising or three cylinders while coasting. At an estimated 18/27 mpg, Crosstour is 1 mpg worse than Venza in town but a tick better on the highway.

The ride quality of all of the new Accord models is outstanding, but the Crosstour gets the added benefit of sport tuning. More so than the drive train, these suspension tweaks have restored the trademark liveliness that Accord drivers have come to expect from Honda, but is missing from the lower trim models of the current generation. In sum, the car feels lighter and faster.

If cargo capacity were the only consideration the Toyota Venza would win hands down. However, the Crosstour offers greater-than-sedan utility while delivering superior handling and performance to any Camry, Venza, or current Accord sedan. Across the spectrum of options, the Crosstour cost four to five thousand dollars less than the comparably equipped Venza. When the Accord platform took on its current Giganto dimensions, it seemed that Honda gave up on giving its devotees a spirited driving experience. With the Crosstour the Honda Accord is back.

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Comparison Review: Toyota Venza Versus Honda Crosstour: Second Place: Toyota Venza Wed, 20 Jan 2010 13:30:56 +0000 IMG_2590

Cross a car and a truck, you get an SUV. Cross a SUV with a car and you get a CUV. Cross that CUV with a car and you get a Crossover Sedan, the term used by Toyota marketing mavens for their Camry-based Venza. With this step the evolution comes full circle, as the Venza is really just a good ole station wagon. Not to be outdone, this year Honda released a Crossover Sedan of their own, only they don’t call it a Crossover Sedan. Instead, Honda says their new Accord “blends sporty, low-profile contours with CUV functionality.” Get the picture? Actually, the new Honda should be called the Accord hatchback. So it is that I evaluate these two new Crossover Sedans wrought from the DNA of two of the top selling cars in North America. First up, second place: the Toyota Venza.

IMG_2578Call the Venza whatever you like, it is big and shares nary a body panel with the Camry. Its hood is broad, short, flat and lacks the Camry’s obscene protruding bulge. The doors too are flat and tall, making the most of the space above the vehicle’s footprint. This Colossus of Roads stands 3.3” wider and 5.5” taller than its (relatively) diminutive chassis partner.

Inside, the sense of spaciousness continues. In fact, call it vast; a vast expanse of hard cheap plastics. The most striking thing about Venza’s inner confines, other than the openness of the space, is that it looks like futuristic interior mockups that carmakers like to put into concept vehicles for auto shows. You know, the ones where none of the buttons or gauges are real and they use a lot of sterile colors accented with splashes of neon lighting, and long flowing lines. Seats: meet George Jetson.

In their wisdom, Toyota engineers planted Venza’s gear select in the middle of the IMG_2580dashboard. Not only does this placement bring on the very minivan blahs the “crossover sedan” category might have been invented to avoid, it also crowds the HVAC controls away from the driver into an asymmetrical contortion of buttons and knobs. On the positive side, it frees up the center console space to be used as a dedicated storage bin filled with handy cubbies and niches that lift and slide into multiple handy configurations. Auxiliary audio jacks are conveniently located at the front of the center console.

The highlight of the Venza’s interior is the light high above the passenger’s heads that Toyota calls the panoramic glass roof option. It is a conventional sunroof plus a large fixed pane over the rear seat occupants, perfect for taking your kids on a driving tour of Jurassic Park.

Automatic folding rear seats can be actuated by levers conveniently located on either side of the lift gate. With the seats up, the rear quarters can accommodate 30.1 cu.ft. of cargo. Fold the rear seats down and that space grows to 68.8 cu.ft. For those of you keeping score, that’s 4.2 cu.ft. smaller than the back of the RAV4. But it’s also four and a half times more than you can squeeze into the trunk of a Camry.

Everything about how the Venza drives is tuned for comfort and smoothness. My Barcelona Red Metallic test car was powered by Toyota’s 268 hp 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to a 6-speed electronically controlled transmission. If you have the patience, it is actually capable of producing a fair amount of power. If you have the patience.

IMG_2601Before the engine will sing though, you have to endure it lugging through low rpms at the shallow end of the power band and wait for the slothful transmission to downshift a gear. Or two. Or three. I suppose this is for the best since the car has the weakest brakes I have encountered since I began my saga testing cars for TTAC in 2006.

The traction control allows for excessive wheel spin before it invokes ABS intervention, which then comes on way too hard. Furthermore, the electric power assisted steering pulls demonically to the right after the car shifts into second gear at about 50 mph during full throttle blasts. Otherwise, torque steer isn’t a problem (I type with trembling hands).

But hey, it’s a family-oriented station wagon. Gear shifts are as disruptive as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing. The velvety suspension devours potholes so you don’t have to. Under normal driving conditions, the Venza is a rolling sensory deprivation chamber, perfect for pacifying fussy babies and soothing the savage beast after a long day at the office.

And long days are exactly what you will have to work in order to pay for Toyota’s fancy station wagon. My test model rang in at $34,893, $4,513 more than the Accord Crosstour EX. Throw in AWD and navigation and you’ll get stuck for $40 large.

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


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Comparison Review: Kia Soul Versus Nissan cube: First Place: Nissan cube Fri, 08 Jan 2010 16:59:59 +0000 Cubism

Driving enthusiasts, given the choice between the Soul and the cube, will opt for…a Honda Fit. So this comparison between Kia’s and Nissan’s boxes-on-wheels assumes different priorities. Which provides the most relaxing refuge from the seriousness of work when commuting to and fro? Short answer: the cube.

The hipster haircutLike the Soul, the cube is a riff on the basic box popularized in the U.S. by the original Scion xB. Unlike the Soul, the Nissan’s major lines are either parallel or perpendicular to the pavement. In other words, it’s a box.

And yet, unlike the classic xB, it’s not simply a box. There’s some subtle surfacing in the bodysides. The window openings have rounded corners. Further outside the box: the cube is asymmetrical. There’s a small window in the right side C-pillar, and the pillars around this window are blacked out, but no corresponding window on the left side, where the pillar is body color. This asymmetry is even functional. From the driver’s seat you couldn’t see out such a window on the left side anyway. And with no window, there can be a storage bin inside the left C-pillar.

Yes, many people hate the cube’s exterior. Or find a car that looks like a Toontown escapee both silly and pointless. But this silliness is the point. Some people want a car that doesn’t take itself seriously, and that displays a clear disregard for convention. If you’re going to diverge from mainstream auto design, why stop short of challenging people? The Soul’s design isn’t challenging. The cube’s is.

The Soul’s styling is optimized for 18-inch wheels. The cube’s exterior is far less wheel-centric, so its 16s are plenty large. This one’s all about the box. The tested cube was a krom model, meaning a unique grille with Ford-like faux chrome bars, side skirts, and unique wheels. I’d pass on these bits, as they don’t add much to the appearance of the car, and the side skirts make little sense given the overall mission. 100_5610

With some notable exceptions, Nissan wasn’t as adventurous with the interior design. The most notable exception: the headliner far above your head is molded to form a series of concentric waves around the dome light. Think Japanese rock garden. A sunroof would interrupt the pattern, which might be why none is offered. The instrument panel similarly includes some very zen circles and curves, and forms a wave when viewed from above. This wave motif continues with the floormats. Very calming.

But why is the cube interior only available in light gray or (in the car I drove) off-black? The VW Beetle, Chrysler PT Cruiser, and (to a lesser extent) Kia Soul all offer vibrant color inside the car. Nissan offers colorful vent surrounds as dealer-installed accessories, but these hardly compensate for the overwhelming colorlessness of the rest of the interior.

The instruments include a weak attempt at whimsy, with blue and white graphics that are too obviously painted on. But why did Nissan’s inexplicable infatuation with orange LED displays have to infect the cube? Not only does the orange trip computer nestled between the tach and speedometer clash with the blue and white graphics, but orange simply isn’t a soothing color. Consult a zen master for better alternatives. Perhaps a cool blue?

The driver can select among 20 colors for the ambient lighting in the footwells and cupholders. This feature would be more compelling if you could change the color of all of the instrument panel readouts to something other than orange. As it is, the carpet doesn’t match the drapes unless you opt for even more orange. One electronic feature the cube could do without: the $100 alarm system that goes off if you attempt to open a locked door. Or breathe on the car. It’s not entertaining.

Ripples in the CubeThe problem with striving to be whimsical is that some jokes are bound to fall flat. Case in point: the cube’s optional (and removable) “dash topper.” What’s a dash topper, you ask? Well, it’s a small circle of shag carpet velcroed to the top center of the instrument panel. No doubt the intent was to make being inside the cube more like being inside one’s family room, to give you a little piece of home the moment you leave work. The original concept might have called for covering the entire top of instrument panel with shag carpet, 1970s custom van style. The airbag engineers would have nixed any such concept. Cut a little here, and little there, and you get the small circle in the center. Even in the context of the cube, the car toupee (as I came to call it) seems pointless.

Once past color and the car toupee, the interior gets better. When packaging the cube, Nissan made much different choices than Kia. The cube’s windshield is much more upright than the Soul’s and its instrument panel was designed to take up as little visual space as possible. The downside: unless you have long arms, you’ll have to lean forward to operate the radio. Or use the redundant controls on the steering wheel. Also, the upright windshield yields huge front side windows. Generally a good thing, but the non-extending sun visors cover only the forward half of said windows. So, expect bright sunlight in your eyes if it’s westward ho in the late afternoon.

The upside: from the driver’s seat the cube’s interior feels much more expansive than the Soul’s. No cockpit effect whatsoever. You feel like you’re navigating a small room. The broad seats, similar to those in the Quest minivan, are softer than most these days. Lateral support? What would be the point? Much more missed in their absence: heated seats. Wait for the automatic climate control to do its job, power up the Rockford Fosgate audio, then kick back and enjoy the comfort of home on the way home.

Which brings up the name. The point of such a silly car is to forget about life’s necessities, most notably work. Say “cube,” and the first thing most people will think of is the place they spend their time at work. Few want to be in a cube once they leave work. The name originated in Japan. Does “cube” lack this usage over there? Fire and ice?

The cube’s roominess extends to the sliding and reclining back seat, which is mounted high enough off the floor to provide adults with thigh support. My kids loved how well they could see out. Credit the low, unraked beltline.

There’s not much space between the rear seat and the left-hinged tailgate. Enough for groceries, but luggage for four probably isn’t happening. As in the Soul, the front passenger seat does not fold. A pitty, as this feature would be especially useful for long objects given the non-invasive IP and upright windshield. Unlike in the Soul, there’s no hidden storage compartment beneath the cargo floor. While this does provide a deep well, it also means that when the rear seat is folded the cargo floor isn’t remotely flat. Nor can the rear seat be removed or flipped far forward. No magic here.

On the spec sheets, the Soul has a power advantage. Out in the real world, the cube’s 1.8-liter four dramatically outperforms the Soul’s 2.0 even though both vehicles weigh about 2,800 pounds. The cube’s secret weapon: a CVT. This CVT isn’t without its disadvantages—one’s ears often convey the impression that the clutch is slipping. The relationship between engine noise and vehicle speed is decidedly non-linear. And said engine noise is overly buzzy—“buzz box” entered my mind, and stuck there until the phrase (almost) became endearing. But, to give credit where credit is due, the CVT enables the 1.8 to boost the cube to 40 MPH much more effortlessly than it has a right to. There’s no sluggishness off the line or lugging at higher speeds. A responsive six-speed automatic might yield similar performance with a more natural feel—but no competitor offers such a transmission. The Soul’s quick-to-upshift, slow-to-downshift four-speed automatic is decidedly inferior.

Also, recall that you’re not driving a conventional car. In the cube, it seems oddly appropriate to simply prod the pedal and then let the powertrain hoist you up to speed. Too bad you can’t just push a button, as in an elevator. MPG in typical suburban driving came to 25.8.

Zen garden?Handling…how do you want a family room on wheels to handle? Body motions are fairly well controlled, and the door handles remain well off the pavement in hard turns. Agile…not really. And yet more fluid and natural feeling than the Soul, despite vague, overboosted steering that feels directionless on center. Intent on running the Tail of the Dragon? You’re shopping in the wrong class of vehicle.

Given the cube’s mission, ride quality is more important than handling. While the cube’s ride quality is far from luxury class, and can feel a little busy at times, it is smoother and much more forgiving of road imperfections than the Soul’s. You have a much better shot at relaxing during that commute to the cube in Nissan’s cube.

At the cube’s price (still just over twenty grand when loaded up with the krom bits) you expect some shortcomings. And the cube has them. Nissan needs to change the IP lighting, kill the (engine) buzz, tighten up the on-center steering, extend the sun visors, and heat the seats. But even with these shortcomings the cube outpoints the competition in combining an offbeat exterior with an expansive interior and relaxing driving experience. Those that “get it” should get it. The rest of us…well there are plenty of more conventional cars for us.

[Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, a provider of pricing and reliability data]

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Comparison Review: Kia Soul Versus Nissan Cube: Second Place: Kia Soul Mon, 04 Jan 2010 20:49:12 +0000 Sould?

Back in 1997, when Volkswagen introduced the New Beetle, my wife badly wanted one because it seemed so much more young and fun than her current car. But she also wanted children. The two were not compatible, so no Beetle for her. No doubt she was not the only person seeking a cute, quirkily styled car with four doors. But at the time there were no such cars. Chrysler was arguably first to fill this void, with the PT Cruiser. So that’s what my wife has been driving for the past five years. Today there are a number of contenders. The latest: Kia’s Soul and Nissan’s cube. Which comes closest to the mark? Well, since you’re reading about the Soul first, clearly the cube. Here’s where the Soul falls short…

Picture 72First, a step back. Japan has been awash in quirky small cars for years, but the 2004 Scion xB was the first to reach American shores. The extreme rectilearity of the xB polarized opinion. Most people found it ugly, but enough found its combination of anti-style, roominess, and economy appealing enough to make the first-gen xB a hit.

The Kia Soul is Korea’s response to that xB. It answers the question: what happens if you keep the basic box, but do more with it than add wheels? What if you actually put serious thought into the design? In the case of the Soul, an upward angled beltline, downward angled roofline, flared wheel openings, and various other details perfectly meld to form a much more attractive box. This is the sort of innovative yet cohesive design Honda used to be capable of, but somehow forgot how to do. The Soul hasn’t repulsed people the way the xB has, and I’d personally feel much more comfortable driving one.

But perhaps this is a sign that Kia hasn’t pushed the envelope hard enough. While attractive, the Soul doesn’t challenge aesthetic conventions the way the xB and cube have. It doesn’t seem as quirky, and doesn’t stand out as much in a sea of other cars. So it doesn’t appeal as much to people like my wife who want something clearly different from the mainstream. Those macho fender flares and angles might also be a factor: there’s more sport and less cute in this exterior design than in the cube’s.

Inside, color provides the Soul with much of its soul. Well, not in the lower two trim levels—their interiors are un-fun solid black. Soul! InteriorBut the !’s interior (yes, ! is a trim level, as is +) is a combination of beige and black, while the sport’s (lowercase intended) is red and black. Opt for the red only if you really like red. There’s a lot of it, including nearly the entire instrument panel, and hard plastic is clearly hard plastic in this particular shade. You’ll want to wear your shades. Beige veers too far in the other direction, but houndstooth seat inserts save the !’s interior from appearing mundane.

The Soul’s most unexpected feature: speaker lights. The great-sounding 315-watt, eight-speaker audio system has lights in its two front door speakers. And, no, that’s not the end of it. These lights have four settings: off, on, mood, and music. In “mood,” you set the frequency with which they blink. In “music,” they beat to the music. An excellent way to entertain the kiddies—except that the rear door speakers are not similarly endowed. Why not?

Another problem with the speaker lights: responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey suggest that they often failed to work as designed. Kia has a fix for this problem, though, so it shouldn’t affect recently produced cars.

Sitting in the Soul feels much like sitting in a regular compact, just with your rear a half-foot further from the ground. While a protruding center stack benefits ergonomics, it also reduces the perceived roominess of the interior. Similarly, the large, modestly raked windshield provides a familiar view from the driver’s seat, but cuts into perceived roominess more than an upright windshield would.

Picture 74All of these tall boxes provide more rear legroom and headroom than in the typical small car, and the Soul is no exception. Two adults will fit in back, no problem. Cargo space with the second row up is limited, but simply fold the rear seat to more than double it. The Soul could carry even more stuff if the front passenger seat also folded, as in the PT Cruiser. Alas, it does not.

Unlike in the cube, the cargo floor is flat when the rear seat is folded. The trick: a false floor behind the rear seat. Useful storage compartments occupy the space between this false floor and the floor over the spare. Up front, storage areas include a huge bi-level glove compartment and a storage box atop the IP. So there’s plenty of space for four people or stuff, if not four people AND their stuff.

The Soul looks like fun, and it has those nifty speaker lights. But it is fun to drive? A 2.0-liter four good for 142 horsepower motivates 2,800 pounds, not a bad ratio. Problem is, the automatic transmission has only four speeds, and upshifts much more readily than it downshifts. So, at least with this transmission, the Soul feels much more sluggish than the numbers suggest it should. An additional ratio or two would also permit more relaxed and economical highway driving.

The Soul sport has a sport-tuned suspension. The most obvious difference between it and the !: the sport’s heavier steering feels less natural and makes the vehicle feel less agile. With either suspension, body roll is fairly well controlled for a 63-inch-tall vehicle and there are none of the fore-aft bibbly-bobblies found in some tall boxes. The Soul generally feels tighter and firmer than key competitors do. But for truly fun handling you’ll want something with a lower center of gravity. Sick of the puns yet?

The Soul’s handling advantage vis-à-vis direct competitors comes at the evident expense of ride quality. On subpar pavement the busy ride borders on punishing, for the ears even more than the seat of the pants. While the base Soul has 15-inch steelies, and the + has 16-inch alloys, both the ! and the sport are shod with 18s. The Soul’s bold fender flares certainly pair best with the large wheels, but the attendant low-profile tires thump loudly across every bump and divot. This sort of ride might be worth paying for sports car handling. But many sports cars these days ride much better, and the Soul certainly doesn’t handle like a sports car.

In the final assessment, the Kia Soul is an attractively styled, functional box with some rough edges. Perhaps Kia will add some needed refinement in coming years. The powertrain from the Forte SX and more polished suspension tuning would be a good start. Even as-is, the Soul will appeal to those who prefer sporty to cute and quirky. But car buyers seeking cute and quirky in conjunction with a more relaxed driving experience (e.g. my wife) will be better off elsewhere.

[Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, a source of pricing and reliability data]

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