The Truth About Cars » economy car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 05 Dec 2014 13:07:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » economy car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com First Drive Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-toyota-corolla-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-toyota-corolla-with-video/#comments Mon, 14 Oct 2013 13:00:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=607433 Calling the Corolla “Toyota’s most important car” would be an understatement. This single model accounts for 38 percent of all Toyotas ever sold in the USA and they expect to shift 330,000 next year alone. If the sheer quantity wasn’t amazing enough, ponder this reality: 75% of sales will be split between just four different […]

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

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

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

2014_Toyota_Corolla_S, Picture Courtesy of Toyota

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

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

Interior

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

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

2014_Corolla_S_017

Infotainment and Gadgets

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

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

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

2014_Toyota_Corolla_LE_ECO_013

Drivetrain

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

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

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

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

Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 Toyota provided airfare, accommodations and meals for this event.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.93 Seconds

0-60: 9.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.61 Seconds @ 81.8 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 29 MPG

Cabin Noise at 50 MPH: 74db

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

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Review: 2014 Scion tC (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-scion-tc-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-scion-tc-with-video/#comments Tue, 17 Sep 2013 16:23:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=517425 Many assumed that with the new FR-S hitting the dealers, it would only be a matter of time before the front-wheel-drive tC was sent out to pasture. However with an average buyer age of 28, the tC is isn’t just the youngest Toyota, it’s the youngest car in America. With demographics like that, product planners […]

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2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Many assumed that with the new FR-S hitting the dealers, it would only be a matter of time before the front-wheel-drive tC was sent out to pasture. However with an average buyer age of 28, the tC is isn’t just the youngest Toyota, it’s the youngest car in America. With demographics like that, product planners would be fools to kill off the tC and so the “two coupé strategy” was born. The last time we looked at the tC, the FR-S had yet to be born, this time the tC has been refreshed in the FR-S’ image. Which two door is right for you? Click past the jump, the answer might surprise you.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Let’s start with the nitty-gritty. Starting at $19,695 and barely climbing to $20,965, the tC is 25% cheaper than an FR-S. This pricing delta is why (in my mind) the tC’s sales numbers haven’t fallen since the FR-S was released with 2012 slightly above 2011. If you think of the tC as the budget FR-S alternative, the two-coupé strategy starts to make more sense. From dealers I have spoken with it seems to be working. Prospective buyers that can’t quite afford an FR-S or are having troubles justifying the cost to themselves have been looking at the less expensive tC.

With strategy in mind, Scion decided to remake the front-driver in the FR-S’ image. Wise choice since the FR-S is one of the best looking modern Toyota designs. Because hard points remain the same on this refresh, tweaks are limited to new bumper covers, headlamps, tail lamps and wheels. I think the tC’s new nose suits the coupé surprisingly well since most nose jobs range from peculiar to downright Frankenstein. Similarly, the new rear bumper cover fixed the 2013’s tall and flat rear bumper cover by breaking it up with a black panel and a non-functional triangular red lens. What’s the lens for? That’s anyone’s guess.  To see how the two Scions stack up, check out my 5-second Photoshop mash-ups.

tC vs FR-S Front  tC vs FR-S Back

While some found the new clear tail lamps too “boy racer,” I think they work better on the tC and with the tC’s target demographic than the old units. As is obvious by the photos,the FR-S is quite low to the ground with a low slung cabin creating the low center of gravity it is known for. The tC on the other hand is mainstream economy coupé.

Since this is just a refresh, the tC’s major styling problem is still with us: the ginormous C-pillar and small rear window. Aside from my personal belief that the look is awkward, the shape has a serious impact on visibility creating large blindspots for the driver and not permitting rear passengers to see the scenery. The new tC’s new looks should be enough to get FR-S shoppers short on cash to give the tC a once-over before cross-shopping. Mission accomplished. Compared to the other FWD competition I rank the tC second, below the new Kia Forte Koup and above the somewhat bland Honda Civic.

2014 Scion tC Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Once inside the tC, FR-S shoppers are likely to be disappointed as there is very little FR-S inside Scion’s FWD coupé. Hard plastics in a mixture of black and charcoal hues continue to dominate the cabin, something I was OK with in 2011 because the competition was coated in hard polymer as well. Nearly three years later, the competition has upped the game with the 2013 Civic bringing soft injection molded dash parts to the segment followed by the 2014 Forte’s stylish new interior. It’s also worth noting that Scion continues to offer the tC in one interior color: black. Sticking with Scion’s model of streamlined inventory, all tCs have a standard dual-pane glass sunroof which is an interesting touch but I think I would trade it for upgraded materials.

Front seat comfort is strictly average in the tC.  Front seats offer limited adjustibility and little lumbar support (the seats do not have an adjustable lumbar support feature). tC drivers sit in a more upright fashion than in the FR-S thanks to the tC’s overall taller proportions but thanks to that large C-pillar, visibility is worse than the low-slung FR-S. The tC’s rear seats are a different matter. At 34.5 inches, the tC sports nearly two inches more rear legroom than the Forte Koup (2013 numbers), four more than the Civic and five more than the FR-S. Combined with a surprising amount of headroom, it is possible to put four 6-foot tall adults in the tC for a reasonable amount of time. Thanks to the hatch back design and a trunk that’s 50% larger than the Civic and more than 110% larger than the FR-S, you can jam luggage for four in the back of the tC as well.

2014 Scion tC Interior, BeSpoke Autio System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment & Gadgets

The only major change inside the tC is a new Pioneer head-unit. Instead of borrowing radios from Toyota, Scion has generally gone for consumer branded units that are designed for Scion but share nothing with the Toyota parts bin. The notable exception was the old Toyota derived navigation unit which was found in a few Scion models with an eye watering $2,250 price tag. For 2014 Scion is using a new Pioneer made system featuring 8-speakers, HD Radio, iDevice/USB integration and an integrated CD player. The software looks like a blend of Pioneer’s interface and something from Toyota’s new Entune systems. The over all look is less elegant and far more “aftermarket” than the well-integrated systems from Kia or even Honda’s funky dual-level system in the Civic. Sound quality however was excellent in the tC with well matched speakers and moderately high limits.

Should you feel particularly spendy, you can pay Scion $1,200 to add the “BeSpoke Premium Audio System” which is a fancy way of saying navigation software and smartphone app integration. Take my advice, spend your $1,200 on something else. The tC’s lack of infotainment bling is troubling since Scion positions themselves as a brand for the young. At 33 I’m still in the vicinity of the tCs target market (average age 28) and even to my elderly eyes, the entire Scion brand lags in this area. Yes, the idea is: buy an aftermarket radio and have it installed, but I can’t be the only one that wants a super-slick system with a large touchscreen, navigation and smartphone apps as the standard system. Anyone at Scion listening?

On the gadget front, the tC and the Civic are well matched but Kia’s new Forte is rumored to offer goodies like a backup camera, color LCD in the gauge cluster, dual-zone climate controls, push-button start, keyless entry, HID headlamps, power seats, etc. That leaves the Scion in an odd position having no factory options at all and competing only with relatively base models of the competition.

2014 Scion tC Engine, 2.5L Four Cylinder, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain & Drive

The tC uses the same four-cylinder engine found under the hood of the Camry and RAV4. The 2.5L mill has lost 1 horsepower and 1 lb-ft for 2014 (for no apparent reason) dropping to 179HP at 6,000 RPM and 172 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 RPM. Sending power to the front wheels is a standard 6-speed close ratio manual transmission and an optional revised 6-speed automatic that now features throttle matched down-shifts. If those numbers sound healthy, they should. I have a preference toward engines “symmetrical” power numbers (HP and tq are nearly equal) as they usually provide a well-rounded driving experience. That is certainly true of the tC, especially when you compare it to the 2.0L engine in the FR-S.

Boo! Hiss! I know, it’s sacrilege to say anything less than positive about a direct-injection boxer engine, but let’s look at the fine print. The FR-S’ 200 ponies don’t start galloping until 7,000RPM, a grand higher than the Camry-sourced 2.5, but the real problem is the torque. The FR-S has only 151 lb-ft to play with and you have to wait until 6,600 RPM for them to arrive. That’s 2,600 RPM higher than the 2.5. This has a direct impact on the driveability and the character of the two coupés. The FR-S needs to be wound up to the stratosphere to make the most of the engine while the tC performs well at “normal” engine RPMs. Hill climbing and passing are the two areas where the difference in character is most obvious. The FR-S needs to drop a few gears in order to climb or pass while the tC can often stay in 6th. Sure, the FR-S sounds great when singing at 7-grand, but you’re not always on a majestic mountain highway, sometimes you’re just on the freeway in rush hour. Thanks to a lower curb weight and gearing differences, the FR-S ran to 60 in 6.7 seconds last time we tested it, 9/10ths faster than the tC.

2014 Scion tC Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Don’t mistake me, the FR-S has higher limits than the tC pulling more Gs in the corners and having a very neutral handling RWD nature while the tC plows like a John Deere in the corners. What might surprise you however is that despite the nose-heavy FWD nature of the tC, in stock form, at 8/10ths on a winding track, the FR-S is likely to pull away. Some of that has to do with the tC’s improved suspension and chassis for 2014, but plenty has to do with the stock rubber choice on the FR-S. Scion fits low-rolling-resistance tired to the RWD coupé in order to improve fuel economy AND to make the FR-S capable of tail-happy fun with only 151lb-ft of twist. When it comes to the hard numbers we don’t have a skidpad in the Northern California TTAC testing grounds so I’m going to have to refer to “Publication X’s” numbers: FR-S 0.87g, tC 0.84g. Say what? Yep. regardless of the publication the tC scores shockingly close to the FR-S in road holding. Surprised? I was. More on that later.

How about the competition? Let’s dive in. The Civic Si is a bit more hard-core. Available only with a manual transmission, a wide demographic has to be removed from the comparison. However those that like to row their own will find a FWD 6-speed manual transaxle that is, dare i say it, better than many RWD transmissions. The shift feel and clutch pedal are near perfection and the limited slip front differential helps the Civic on the track. In the real world there’s less daylight between the two however with essentially the same curb weight, equal torque numbers and only a 20HP lead by the Honda. The result is a Civic that ties in my mind with a better interior and better road manners but higher price tag ($22,515) and a loss of practicality when it comes to cargo and people hauling.

2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I’m going to gloss over the Golf because, as I learned on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the other. How about the Hyundai Elantra Coupe? It’s considerably down on power (148 HP / 131 lb-ft), has a cheaper interior and handles like a damp noodle. If you’re wondering why the Elantra GT had to get its bones stiffened, the Elantra Coupé is why. How about the GT? Like the Golf, it’s not quite the same animal. Altima? Dead. Eclipse? Ditto. The Genesis plays with the FR-S and the other bigger boys which brings us to the oddly spelled Kia Forte Koup.

The 2014 Koup has yet to be driven, but based on our experiences with the 2013 Koup and the 2014 Forte 4-door sedan, I expect great things. Kia has announced the Koup will land with an optional 1.6L turbo engine good for 201 ponies and 195 lb-ft of twist. I expect the chassis and manual transmission to still be a step behind the Honda Civic Si, but the interior and gadget count on the Koup look class leading. Unless Kia gets the Koup all wrong, I expect it to slot in around 20-23K. I also expect it to lead my list.

2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

That brings us full circle to the tCs fiercest competitor: its stable mate the FR-S. No matter how you slice it, the tC isn’t as good-looking. It may seat four with relative ease, but the interior isn’t as nice as the FR-S either. It delivers good fuel economy and is plenty of fun on the road, but the appeal of the tC is more pragmatic than emotional. Still, when the numbers are added up the tC delivers 75% of the FR-S’ looks, 85% of the handling and 90% of the performance for 78% of the price. Being the deal hound I am, that makes the tC the better Scion.

 

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Well priced
  • Excellent handling (for a FWD car)

Quit it

  • Cheap plastics inside continue
  • The steering isn’t as precise as the Civic Si.
  • Lack of premium or tech options young buyers demand

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

Specifications as Tested

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 7.6 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.8 Seconds @ 89 MPH

Cabin Noise: 76db @ 50 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 29.6 MPG over 459 miles

 

2014 Scion tC Engine 2014 Scion tC Engine, 2.5L Four Cylinder, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Exterior 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Exterior-002 2014 Scion tC Exterior-003 2014 Scion tC Exterior-004 2014 Scion tC Exterior-005 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Exterior-007 2014 Scion tC Exterior-008 2014 Scion tC Exterior-009 2014 Scion tC Exterior-010 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Interior 2014 Scion tC Interior-001 2014 Scion tC Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Interior-003 2014 Scion tC Interior-004 2014 Scion tC Interior-005 2014 Scion tC Interior, BeSpoke Autio System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Interior-009 2014 Scion tC Interior-010 2014 Scion tC Interior-011

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Slip Slidin’ Away: How I Crashed a Geo Metro and Lived to Tell the Tale http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/slip-slidin-away-how-i-crashed-a-geo-metro-and-lived-to-tell-the-tale/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/slip-slidin-away-how-i-crashed-a-geo-metro-and-lived-to-tell-the-tale/#comments Tue, 26 Feb 2013 15:57:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478738 A few miles East of Ellensburg, WA, on the long winding descent into the Columbia river gorge, the little car, too small to run smoothly in both sets of the deep ruts that the semi trucks had worn into the pavement of Interstate 90, rolled from groove it had been following on the left side […]

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Photo courtesy of www.asphaltwa.com

Descent into the Columbia river gorge on I 90 during summer

A few miles East of Ellensburg, WA, on the long winding descent into the Columbia river gorge, the little car, too small to run smoothly in both sets of the deep ruts that the semi trucks had worn into the pavement of Interstate 90, rolled from groove it had been following on the left side of the lane and dropped abruptly into the groove on the right. The lateral movement of the car within the lane was not great, maybe a foot or two, and I accounted for the motion with a simple counter of the steering wheel as I speed steadily along through the dark winter night.

I had not owned the Geo Metro long, just a few weeks, and so far it had been a positive experience. It was a cheap, tinny little car and to be sure it was no power machine, but with my lead foot and the car’s slick 5 speed transmission it could be speedy enough. Even now it was moving along effortlessly above the posted speed limit.

Another corner approached, this one a wide sweeping right hander and I turned the car in as smoothly as possible. The car responded a little sluggishly and, again, rolled up out of the groove in which I had been running and jerked into the parallel rut. With a sudden jolt the back tires broke traction and rear of the car swung wide. Surprised at the car’s motion, I responded with an equally sudden counter steer. The back end of the car snapped back, but again failed to find the groove and went wide right. Again I corrected with the steering wheel and the car responded at once, snapping back again to the left even more violently and demanding even greater correction with the wheel.

Like a pendulum swinging back and forth, the car was fishtailing wildly now and the back and forth cycle was growing ever more violent with each change of direction. I took my right foot from the gas to cover the brake but held it over the pedal without pressing down, brakes wouldn’t help I knew, they were the last resort. The car pitched again to the right, now fully 90 degrees to the lane of travel and I knew the next swing back to the left would be the most violent yet. When the car swung left, I corrected naturally but to no effect. The front wheels finally broke traction and the front of the car swung around and entered a full spin. I knew it was a lost cause and hammered the brakes as I threw an arm across my girlfriend, still asleep in the passenger seat and fully unaware of what was about to happen.

Image courtesy of www.greencarreports.com

Geo Metro

I had purchased the little Metro for the same reasons that everyone purchases small, fuel efficient cars and safety was not at the top of my list. In the fall of 1995 I pretty much had it all, a decent job, a beautiful girlfriend and I was even making slow but steady process towards my college degree. I had graduated from community college and enrolled in a teaching certification program being offered in the evenings by Western Washington University through Seattle Central Community College.

Since I lived a good distance outside of Seattle, the Geo Metro fit the bill perfectly. Its tiny three cylinder engine would sip gas and save me money. Even better, the buy-in price for the base model with no options was ludicrously low. A test drive confirmed the car was exactly the no frills transportation I needed and soon the little car and I were cutting our way through the traffic to Seattle and back three rainy nights each week.

Sometime in January, my girlfriend who was a year behind me in Community College, announced that she was thinking about finishing her four year degree at Washington State University. WSU, however, was almost 300 miles away on the extreme eastern edge of the state and if we were going to stay together it was going to mean frequent road trips. Still, I supported her decision and when she said she wanted to take a trip to see the college I volunteered to take her.

Photo courtesy of Washington State DOT: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov

Trucks stopped for avalanche control

It was late when we rolled through Ellensburg but, with minimal traffic on the interstate, I pressed on in the hopes of getting just a little farther before stopping for the night. As we headed up, Ryegrass Summit, the last hump before the road dropped into a long, winding descent into the Columbia river gorge, I gradually wicked up the speed to around 70mph. The fact that there was black ice on the road never occurred to me.

The car was now fully out of control, spinning and pirouetting like figure skater as we slid across the ice. I fought for control, but it was a futile gesture and we were still doing around 50 MPH when we left the road. The right rear tire bit into the soft shoulder first and I heard the roar of pebbles as the car snapped violently around to the right. A fraction of a second later we were stopped, my headlights shining up through the branches of a leafless bush, their brightness lost in the starry sky overhead.

As adrenaline poured into my system, time slowed to a crawl and I took in the situation in an oddly calm and orderly way. The engine was silent but heater fan hummed steadily along and the radio still put forth its stream of tinny AM talk. My girlfriend sat beside me, silent but as wide awake and focused as I was. Thank God she was OK. We both were. Then I noticed that the airbag had not deployed.

I turned the ignition key and the engine scratched to life. I slipped the gearshift into reverse and noted the sound of crunching gravel as I backed the little car up a small slope onto the hard shoulder of the interstate. Leaving the engine running, I slipped the car into neutral, shot the parking brake and got out to assess the damage.

Outside, I could feel the isolation of the place. The canyon walls towered up on either side of me, the face of a cliff just two lanes away across the eastbound lanes of the interstate. On the far side of the canyon, perhaps a half mile away, the westbound lanes of the interstate worked their way up and out of the valley and between the two roadbeds flowed a small creek. Over the centuries, this creek had eroded away the surrounding rock walls, widening the canyon and creating a flat, sandy plain. That sand was our salvation.

A slow hissing sound drew my attention to Metro’s front tire. In the car’s final spin, some small pebbles had forced their way between the tire and the rim and their presence was enough to cause a slow leak. Otherwise, my car appeared to be absolutely unscathed.

Noting the twinkling of lights down the valley, I resumed my place behind the wheel and headed for civilization. As I ran up to a much more cautious 40 mph, I heard the rattle of pebbles being flung from the bead of the tire and I realized the leak was sealing itself. Slowly, we made our way to the closest town and, with no gas stations open, checked into a hotel.

Photo courtesy of www.goodfon.com

The desert at night

We continued our journey the next day without incident. Two days later, as we headed west through the gorge on the homeward leg of our journey, I strained to see the place where we had left the road. There were no tracks, but the place itself was obvious. A small single oasis of sand in a place where the slope flattened just enough to allow the small stream to slow and meander. A hundred feet in either direction there was nothing but steel guardrails and the hard, exposed rock of the canyon wall.

Somewhere, further up the slope during our eastbound descent, the rear wheels of my little Metro had broken loose and I had begun a struggle for control. I can’t say how far that we traveled during that fight, but by the time that physics had won we were in the only place for miles where we could have emerged unscathed. To this day, I can’t explain how that happened. Perhaps it was just incredible luck, I don’t know, but maybe, just maybe, it was the guiding hand of God. As a person of faith, I would like to think so.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself

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Feature: Five Automotive Passenger Pigeons http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/feature-five-automotive-passenger-pigeons/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/feature-five-automotive-passenger-pigeons/#comments Sun, 15 Nov 2009 18:20:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=335533 Passenger pigeons were the most common bird found in North America. So common that flocks numbering 2 billion were up to a mile wide and 300 miles long. In other words, the average North American in the 18th and 19th Century saw a lot of these pigeons. You could easily argue that a passenger pigeon […]

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(courtesy:hogansclassiccars.com)

Passenger pigeons were the most common bird found in North America. So common that flocks numbering 2 billion were up to a mile wide and 300 miles long. In other words, the average North American in the 18th and 19th Century saw a lot of these pigeons. You could easily argue that a passenger pigeon sighting in 1812 was something on the same scale today as seeing mind-numbing crap on TV. Not a particularly noteworthy or unique experience. So what took the passenger pigeon down? It was a combination of things but the biggest factor was that these pigeons tasted pretty good (a lot like chicken) and they were plentiful-hence a cheap source of food.bThey were wiped out at the pace of millions per year, so the last documented passenger pigeon named Martha died on September 1st 1914. In other words, something the average American had seen every day was extinct in a matter of a few decades. Quick extinction of a very common species is not a phenomenon exclusive to Mother Nature because cars can disappear overnight too. Here are a few that will soon be joining that “whatever happened to…” list.

The 1971 Chevrolet Vega-this car had the best press in the world because GM orchestrated a brilliant pre-introduction PR campaign. They kept dropping hints about the car to an extremely curious press but never really leaked any substantial information. Then, when the Vega was unveiled, it really captured the imagination of the auto world. It had a sporty European look, disc brakes, coils all around and an exotic aluminum engine.

It was Motor Trend ‘Car of the Year’ in 1971 and was picked as Reader’s Choice ‘Economy Car of the Year’ at Car and Driver. They sold 277,000 of these 1st year econo- boxes and it was a great moment for Chevy-until the reviews came in after 20-30,000 miles. GM cheaped out on the aluminum engine and used cast iron heads so the bond was never really good between head and block. Vegas became instant oil burners and to be honest, they also cheaped out on the build and material quality.

The net result was the cars sucked mechanically and in build quality, they were cheap and disposable and they disappointed a lot of owners in 1971. They were as common as dirt in the early 70s but try and find a stock, mint condition 1971 Vega in 2009. It would have to be stored in a vacuum sealed garage with 2 miles on the dial.

1972 Dodge D100 pickup-these were actually a pretty decent looking departure from the boxy D 100 look that Dodge leaned on from 1961-71. In fact, the cosmetics compared favorably in some ways to the legendary 1972 Chevy C10 plus Chrysler trumped the competition by introducing the Club Cab-the first entry into more space in a pickup.

The problem was that Chevy was at the end of the run for its design from 67-72 and the 1973 GM set the bar for design in 1970s trucks. In 72, Dodge had a nice looking truck with decent appointments but it was stuck in the 60s design that GM had just left behind.

Dodge also had some serious rust issues with these trucks around the wheel wells and the government mandated smog crap was a disaster for Mopar engines. They just hated damp and cold conditions and that automatic choke problem was a big problem for anything with a pentastar on it for most of the 70s.

They sold 100,000 of these trucks but try and find a 72 Dodge truck at a show. Worse, if you want to be cruel, count the number of 72 Chevys at the same show. Dodge trucks were just that-trucks. So they lived a fairly short, beat the hell out of me, unglamorous life as a workhorse then disappeared off the face of the earth.

Because of this horrible abuse, the AT&T, or highway maintenance 72 Dodge fleet trucks that were so common in the 70s were used up and became a part of automotive history by the time Ronnie Reagan took the oath of office. They didn’t even save the 1972 Dodge call truck from the TV show Emergency.

1973 Plymouth Fury-This was the workhorse of cars back in 1973. They were a natural taxicab with great interior room and, if you were falling down drunk and didn’t take a cab home, they also made great police cars. Either way you got the roomy back seat. 1973 Furys were all over the place. They were unglamorous working vehicles and the closest they came to looking sporty was when Dad ordered a station wagon with the fake wood on the side.

The Arab oil embargo sounded the death knell for these giant cars- nobody outside of police agencies saw any value in these big Furys and the styling was getting old. They had some rust issues but no more than average. The quirky “I hate cold, wet weather” carb was probably their biggest mechanical liability.

They were just too big and outdated at the wrong time so even though Chrysler sold 288,000 of these 4-wheeled Clydesdales, they are a heartbeat away from the passenger pigeon Hall of Fame. Vintage NYPD police car collectors are the only guys with even a remote interest in these cars that used to jam up every urban street in North America.

1974 Honda Civic-The Civic was the answer to the problem that 73 Furys couldn’t solve-they were fun, ran great and most of all they were lethal to the efforts of OPEC to hold a world hostage to oil prices. The Civics looked contemporary-even cutting edge in style so they clearly said “welcome to the 70s” to buyers. They pulled down 40 MPG, had decent power and, with the addition of the CVCC motor and a 5 speed, gave the little Civic some real sportiness. Sales topped 100,000 in 1974.

They ran like Swiss watches, quickly establishing early Honda engine reliability as a constant but they had one fatal flaw. In their rush to save weight, Honda put some pretty thin metal in the Civic-the result was disastrous for the future of these mid-70s icons. Most owners really enjoyed their Civics but the concept of a long-term relationship for the tragically rusty Civic was, at best, a dream for anybody living outside the non humid- no rainfall Death Valley zip code.

1977 Toyota Celica-Most people liked to call the lift back version of this car the Japanese Mustang and the term fit. This was a good-looking little car and, even though those back seats made a Mustang fastback back seat feel like a limousine ride, the Celica was a winner in every way. The 20 R engine was evolved from earlier engines and it was indestructible, economical, reliable and it had decent power and great economy. These cars sold like crazy from the start-1.5 million from 1970-77. They were found everywhere as North Americans became more familiar with the positives of these imports. They appealed to younger buyers and like the Civic, their timing was great during the soaring gas price era of the mid-70s.

The Celica was taken down by some of the same issues as the Civic. The light metal wasn’t great so these cars practically disintegrated over 2 or 3 North American winters. Heat was also a bit of an issue in northern climates for Celicas-they had trouble keeping up with the demands of a real winter and drivers often looked through frosty windows as part of a Celica cold weather experience. Interiors weren’t really big enough for super-sized Americans either and seats didn’t hold up well with 200 pounders.

Like the Civic, the Celica established Toyota as a player in car building and as we all know, they cured most of the rust and interior space issues. But it didn’t stop these cars that were once so common, from becoming a member of the Passenger Pigeon Hall of Fame.

In almost every example these were above average vehicles in many ways and they covered city streets in the 70s like a flock of passenger pigeons.

But like those unlucky birds, we’re down to the “Marthas” of 1971 Vegas, 72 Dodge pickups, 73 Plymouth Furys, 74 Honda Civics and 1977 Toyota Celicas.

For more of Jerry Sutherland’s work go to mystarcollectorcar.com

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