The Truth About Cars » Europe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 02 Jul 2015 17:00:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » Europe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Lucky Cruisers Weekend: How Czech US Car Fans Party http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/lucky-cruisers-weekend-czech-us-car-fans-party/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/lucky-cruisers-weekend-czech-us-car-fans-party/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 13:00:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1089577 Imagine a campground in the heart of Czech Republic – a place normally populated by a few families on a cheap holiday with their diesel Škoda, a tent or a caravan, and a beer. And now imagine it’s chock-full of American cars. Hundreds of them. And of all kinds. From rough traditional hot rods to […]

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Imagine a campground in the heart of Czech Republic – a place normally populated by a few families on a cheap holiday with their diesel Škoda, a tent or a caravan, and a beer. And now imagine it’s chock-full of American cars. Hundreds of them. And of all kinds. From rough traditional hot rods to gleaming ’50s fin-tailed landyachts and shiny ’60s muscle cars. From Mustangs and Camaros of all generations to Jeeps and trucks. Boxy sedans from ’70s and ’80s. Modern Challengers and Voyagers. And even some PT Cruisers or Calibers, which get laughed at. Occasional there’s a $500 Buick Century from ’80s, which doesn’t get laughed at.

It may sound like some weird dream, but it’s the actual reality of an event called Lucky Cruisers Weekend. I’m there to enjoy the atmosphere and spirit, to bring the experience to you, my dear readers. I’m not driving my Chrysler LHS, because I managed to find a fool who gave me some money for it. I’m also not driving my diesel Alfa Romeo 164, because it would get turned into a trash can.

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I’m doing this one in style. My bottom is pampered by rich, white Corinthian leather. My eyes switch between checking the green digits of the instrument cluster and looking over the long, maroon hood with a Pentastar made of Cartier crystal and, weren’t it for the fact that no one uses the citizen radio in the Czech Republic of the 21st Century, I would be tempted to try and do my impression of Burt Reyonlds into the dash mounted CB. I’m sure Frank Sinatra would approve, even though I’m listening to Rádio Country (the only thing I’m able to get a good tune of), which is terrible even if you like country.

At this point, I’m pretty sure you either know exactly what I’m driving (in which case I tip my imaginary hat to you), or I managed to totally confuse you with the previous paragraph. The latter is more likely, because I’m driving a 1982 Chrysler Imperial. It was Chrysler’s last V8, RWD, personal luxury coupe. It borrowed the platform, venerable-but-slow 318 engine and Corinthian leather from the Cordoba, then added trippy design – similar to the bustleback Seville and that Fox-bodied Continental TTAC’s own Sajeev Mehta so lovingly restores – and finished it with lots of wacky electronics like digital instruments or dash-mounted CB. It was conceived by the genuis of Lee Iaccocca and promoted by his good friend, the Ol’ Blue Eyes. However, unlike the decidedly unsexy K-car, it just didn’t work on the market, which makes it much more interesting now.

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At this point, it’s probably clear that I’m not going to cover this event as an outsider trying to make sense of things as was the case with GTI Treffen at Wörthersee a few weeks ago. American cars have been my main hobby for almost half of my life. It’s been a decade since a bought my first American car and started to be a regular at the US car meets. Picking up the Imperial at my friend Petr’s place, I once again felt the combination of joy, sadness and maybe even a little jealousy. The fancy barn full of interesting old metal (some his, some of other friends) makes me grateful to be able to experience it, but it also brings memories of all the cars I had to sell a few years ago.

Bit this is no time for nostalgia. It’s Friday afternoon and there’s going to be a party.

Even miles away from the place, it’s clear that something strange is going on. You can see American cars in Czech traffic occasionally, but seeing a 1970s Eldorado here, late ’60s Olds 4-4-2 there and a classic Mustang in the opposite direction is not your typical Friday afternoon.

IMG_7251Coming to the venue on Friday is advisable for two reasons. First, the Friday night is a much better party than Saturday when everyone is hungover. And second, the “civilians” don’t come on Friday, which means there is no traffic jams around the camping grounds and no need to risk some pedestrian’s bottom damaging your precious hood ornament.

Even so, there’s a lot of cars already – I’m arriving as number 140 or so, and before the sun sets, we’re at 200. A decade ago, when I started frequenting these events, a US car meet with two hundred cars in attendance would be fairly huge, probably the second biggest in the season. Today, there are more meets and more cars at each of them.

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Since it’s Friday and the campground isn’t totally choked with cars yet, it’s time to do what the “Cruisers” part of the LCWs name is about. The unique part of this meet is the fact that it’s encouraged not to leave your car parked all weekend, but actually drive it around the venue. The paths form something of two figures of eight intertwined and there are cars slowly driving around constantly. Friends greeting friends from the car windows, people hitching rides in friends’ rides or even in cars of people they just met, an eclectic mix that’s typical for European US car meets. Those who are not “cruising” are gathering around hamburger stands, beer stands or making their own barbecue. Some others are going for a swim in a small lake.

For the most part, it still feels a lot like the old US car meets a decade ago where there were only a few dozen people who mostly knew each other. The spirit still remains, though with a lot more people and a lot more cars – since importing US cars (and especially classics) became much easier in the 2000s and Czechs became richer, the old cars started flowing in. A decade ago, anything from the ’60s was unique and revered. Now, ’60s and early ’70s classics outnumber the beaters from ’80s and the numbers of modern muscle and modern trucks are starting to be really significant.

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But what keeps together such a diverse group, driving everything from a pristine ’59 Cadillac or ’30s antique to a modded ’05 Mustang or a ’01 Town Car? If there’s any common theme besides the fact that we all love American cars, it’s probably the style of the 1950s. In the last few years, most US car meets in the country started following the rockabilly/pin-up/vintage ’50s style that’s so popular in Germany and Scandinavia. It used to be  if you went to a US car event, you either ignored any “style” (which most people still do) or you had to have a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, cowboy shirt and generally look like the ’80s German idea of a Texan. Now, while you still see these kind of outfits, there’s more of a “hotrodder/rockabilly” style permeating the scene amongst the gents. For girls, it’s pin-up. Even girls who are not into it in the “normal life” often dress up. There’s a pin-up contest and, of course, rockabilly bands playing live on the stage.

The cars cruise around well into the night, but more and more drivers switch the steering wheel for a beer and the whole thing starts to become more and more of a party. I retire from driving quite early and the rest of my evening is nothing to be discussed about on a family-friendly site like this. Let’s just say I wake up shortly before noon the next day not feeling very well and minus one pair of glasses.

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Waking up in a really hot tent (it’s one of the first true summer days here) and to the sound of countless V8s is really quite a unique experience. A hamburger, coffee and a swim cures the worst from the night before and the main day of the event begins. There’s no cruising for me today. First, I feel I really shouldn’t get anywhere near a steering wheel for at least a few more hours. Second, while the campground seemed nearly full with 200 cars yesterday, we’re now over 500 and I’m blocked from going anywhere anyway.

The Saturday tends to be more of family-friendly fun for spectators at Lucky Cruisers Weekend. Hundreds – or even thousands – of “civilans“ come to look at American cars, buy stuff, listen to the music and eat burgers. In a typical year, this means the place is jam packed with people and even loses lots of its charm for actual US car owners, who can’t really socialize with one another in the huge crowd. This year, though, the bad luck for organizers was good luck for the rest of us. On the same weekend, there was a huge airshow in my nearby hometown of Pardubice and lots of people apparently preferred to see the P-38, B-25, Hurricane and some other WWII warbirds fly.

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Even so, the Saturday is probably quite similar to any big car meet in America or elsewhere in the world. People sit around, drink beer and cook barbecue, stand around food stands, walk around cars, look at them, take a pictures and ask their owners silly questions. Plus, of course, this being in Czech Republic in the beginning of summer, lot of gazing is spent on girls. Which is, by the way, another sign of how the times are changing – a decade ago, there weren’t many pretty girls at US car events in Czech Republic. There were old, fat guys everywhere and all the girls were with young guys at “tuning parties“ reliving their Fast & Furious fantasies. As the tuning events dwindled, the US events soared in popularity. It’s hard to say whether it’s just a question of fashion or if it’s got something to do with maturity, either of individuals or the car culture as a whole. With the simultaneous rise in popularity of trackday events, JDM meetings, classic car show and other interesting stuff, I’m starting to suspect it’s the latter.

The Saturday program continues with prizes for best cars of show – which I’m not really interested in and just a sight of 52 cups makes me feel really glad about turning down a place in the jury – and a car auction. Just one car is on sale – a 1977 Chrysler New Yorker, belonging to the same friend who loaned me the Imperial. It is, though, the first time such an auction is being held here and people seem to be really interested. I guess it’s not the last time.

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Shortly after the auction, I leave to attend other duties at my local pub. The Saturday evening is usually uneventful and Sunday, with all the hungover people and cars leaving home, is even a bit depressing. When I’m driving through the gate, I have no idea that my expectation of “uneventful evening” couldn’t be further from truth.

Have you wondered how cruising around the campground in old, cool and valuable cars gets together with the presence of a few hundred people who are mostly drunk? Well, apparently not so well.

Not long after my departure, a young pin-up girl manages to shove a borrowed ’70 Charger into a custom Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a ’71 Thunderbird that belongs to one of the organizers, and a ticket stand (thankfully empty by the time). No one’s hurt and the cars are repairable, as is the bike, but it is likely this means the beginning of a slow end to the two-faceted car event. The days when you could have a party for hardcore US car lovers and a huge family-friendly event with hundreds of cars in one place are probably gone. The scene is growing and the big events will probably become much more policed and much less wild than they were. The party life will probably move to smaller, more specific events where people still know each other and are able to stop anyone trying to do anything stupid.

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On one hand, it’s necessary and inevitable. On the other, I will probably miss the quaint, crazy Czech US car meets when they’re finally gone.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives an Alfa 164 Diesel he got for free. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

Photography: Radek “Caddy” Beneš

The Cadillac on the left is powered by 6.5 TD engine from Chevy van and came to the meet from Sweden. Classic Firebird and half-japanese Dodge Boxy Caprice was the typical car at US meets decade ago A 73-74 Charger. With "01" on the side :( Classic Cherokee is one of the most popular US cars in CZ Some people picnic in style Totally restored '67 Mustang and its proud owner To some people, Edsels are cool Strange whitewall tires Two different ways to treat a classic Mopars in early 60s were crazy A perfect example of '60 Polara Every meet needs a '59 Caddy Craziest fin of all time Edsel, once again Mid-50s Caddy Fullsize convertibles, like this Pontiac, are very popular A nicely preserved early 70s Buick Conversion vans are quite popular in Europe Freshly restored '71 Monte Carlo There's lot of modern metal as well And cars need a good polishing 2nd gen F-bodies have a great following in Europe ... and some of them take on the 70s look A typical American classic in CZ. A Mercury road yacht. Mid-50s cars are still rare, but the numbers are growing.  A 55? Caddy. Freshly restored '69 Road Runner (clone) A beautiful '70 Charger This is one of the last pictures of the car before crash A slightly "hotrodded" '89 Caprice STW Pin up and a '70 Deville Another pin-up, and a '60 Dodge Polara The Polara was one of the coolest cars of the meet Girls liked the Polara This '70 Fury belongs to same guy as the Imperial I drove Crazy detailing on '60 Polara 4th gen F-bodies are popular as well ... and once again the "batmobile" Polara Strangely for a Mopar of this era, the steering wheel is round ... but the fins are crazy ... and the face is unique Full convertible experience with an old F-body Four-door Electra. Cars like these are prime material for importers KITT No, it doesn't talk A big rig came as well '59 was truly a crazy year '59 LeSabre '73 Eldorado Furry dices are popular even here '70s Eldorado and '70s Ranchero The typical layout of the 65-66 Oldsmobile dash Photography is to new-school Another '59 Work in progress... Burgers and American cars go well together Landbarges, a muscle car and a lot of Mustang in the background You can even find C1 Corvettes in CZ Late-model Mustang. Common, not very popular. IMG_7357 Pin-up dance Rockabilly A '57 or '58 Buick convertible another shot of the 73 Eldorado A wonderful '66 Pontiac. The owner also has '65, '67 and '68. Another one of the beautiful Monte Carlo This car was in auction Even a 4-door Buick in brown can be a coveted classic here A nice early 70s Pontiac Once again the diesel Caddy from Sweden '66 Impala, one of the prettiest cars of the meet A Buick, cruising Eldsel was popular Edsel at the center stage Pontiac Bonneville cruising Boss Hogg came to town Poor student's Lincoln Continental Lincoln is a great party vehicle Professional cars are popular as well If you have money, you can bring a house Cadillacs are among the most popular brands ... easy to see why an Astro, a Tahoe and a classic Cadillac. typically eclectic Inside a living room Lebarons are quite common, as they were imported officially Who needs a 1 ton truck to tow a truck? Another New Edge Mustang Modern Camaros come to meets, too These belong to a pair of brothers. All with 302, I think Sajeev will approve Freshly finished. Still overheats. Cruisin' in a diesel The photographer's car This '69 Eldorado was a birthday gift Once again, a sedan in beautiful shape '60 Polara, belongs to owner of US car magazine Once again the Polara Myself in Imperial Cheesy hood ornamets are a must! Beginners V8 sedan! If you don't have money, a turbo four will have to do A '71 Thunderbird and a '66 Bonneville Thunderbird's dash A typically varied group Before leaving, we met up at my hometown An Imperial and a conversion van Big Chryslers from different decades A cool '79 Lebaron with a 318

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1998 Alfa Romeo 164 2.5 TD European Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/1998-alfa-romeo-164-2-5-td-european-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/06/1998-alfa-romeo-164-2-5-td-european-review/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 14:00:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1095393 One clever man who likes powaaah, steaks and punching people once said that you are not a real petrolhead until you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo. Seeing how Alfas are either considered terrible, unreliable crap by sane and rational people or totally revered by devoted fans, I assumed there has to be something about them. Maybe it […]

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1998 Alfa Romeo 164 2.5 TD

One clever man who likes powaaah, steaks and punching people once said that you are not a real petrolhead until you’ve owned an Alfa Romeo. Seeing how Alfas are either considered terrible, unreliable crap by sane and rational people or totally revered by devoted fans, I assumed there has to be something about them. Maybe it really is that fabled “automotive soul” everyone talks about.

When I drove modern Alfas, I tended to lean towards the “they’re crap” crowd. The Mito is just a Fiat Punto that’s been made worse and more expensive, while the Giulietta can be a hoot to drive, but you want to douse it in gasoline and light on fire every time you need to use it as transportation. It’s like someone did the first 90% of development and then decided to have some chianti instead of finishing the rest. Which is probably what happened.

As usual, the fanboys say the older cars are the “real” Alfas, before the brand was ruined by someone or something (usually Fiat or GM). And with the prices of 156, 166 and even the FWD iteration of GTV from ’90s laughably low, I’ve been eying an older Alfa, preferably with the famous Busso V6 engine, for some time now. But with my tight budget not allowing for two cars at once, I always ended up going for something bigger, more comfortable and (supposedly) more reliable – like an old Mercedes E-class, Chrysler LHS, borrowed Lincoln or also-borrowed Chevy Van.

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Only recently did a perfect opportunity to get an Alfa present itself. I managed to find some poor soul who was willing to give me actual money for the Chrysler and a friend of mine needed to get rid of her old Alfa as she was getting a newer one (a diesel 159 Wagon). The car in question was a 164 Super, highly optioned and from the last year of the model’s manufacture, wearing some “cosmetic flaws” (= it looks like some crazy Italian drove it around Rome for a month, drunk) and motivated by diesel.

A diesel engine kind of ruins the point of proving you are a petrolhead. Also, I hate them. I never understood why American auto enthusiasts, with their access to cheap gas and powerful engines, lust for diesel cars so much. Diesel stinks, rattles and booms, and it’s slow. It doesn’t rev, which kind of spoils the point of stick shift. Even worse, the 164 is powered by the infamous VM Motori 2.5 TD four-cylinder with one head per cylinder, well known for ruining the reliability score of Chrysler Europe when it was used in Voyagers and Cherokees.

On the other hand, the car had its merits. First of all, it was free. Second, the diesel four-cylinders tend to be quite economical, which is a welcome change after several years of pouring expensive European gas into a series of American cars while broke. And third, it’s still an Alfa from the “better times” (even though it was developed in cooperation with Fiat, Lancia and Saab), so it should be interesting at least. And fourth, as I learnt soon after being offered the car, it’s got a wooden steering wheel, which is insanely cool and in itself enough reason for me to want it.

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So when the time came for me to pick up my new vehicle, I was quite excited. Save for the various press loaners with their fancy new common-rail engines and a friend’s old Mercedes W124 300D-24, I’ve never really driven a diesel manual car in a while. Also, my last four daily drivers (see above) were invariably automatics with quite powerful engines, but with totally numb steering and suspension setup for comfort. Will the Alfa feel like a someone put an old tractor engine in it? Will it have the terrible turbo-lag the old turbodiesels were known for? And can a diesel powered, Saab-and-Fiat-based Alfa show any signs of the famed Alfa Romeo soul?

The last question was answered right after I placed my bottom into the bluish-green cloth seat. Remember all those ramblings about the ape-like driving position of old Italian sportscars? The modern Alfas don’t have it. Even the 156 didn’t have it. But once you sit in the 164, you instantly feel like you’re in an old Italian movie. You instantly forget about “proper” seating position, with nearly vertical backrest and steering wheel close to your chest, and instead find a relaxed position, leaning back slightly and with the steering wheel seemingly too far in your lap and far more horizontal than you would find acceptable in a modern car.

It’s interesting how the seating position changes your attitude towards driving. While it reminds me of old Italian sports cars, it’s definitely not sporty in your classical “sit straight and focus on the apexes” way. Instead, it makes you want to drive in an Italian way. Fast and with joyful abandon instead of precision. You can just imagine yourself bombing around the Rome with a smoke in the corner of your mouth, blasting through tight streets and narrowly missing scooters and tiny Fiats. Or, sometimes, not missing them, as evidenced by the beat-up state of the car (in fact, it was scoff-free when it came to Czech Republic, but it just looks like it was driven in Rome).

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The steering position is not the only part of the interior that feels alien to someone used to new cars. There’s, of course, thin body pillars and the fact that the 164, although it was the biggest Alfa of its time and quite a large vehicle by any (European) means, feels slightly cramped with its windscreen right in front of you within arm’s reach. But there are weirder bits. Its full instrumentation with a cool layout – large speedo and tach in the upper part, voltage, oil pressure, water temperature and fuel in the lower row – and crazy center panel with rows of buttons that resemble an ’80s cassette recorder. Or the power window controls, with buttons for front windows on the doors and for the rear windows on the center console.

Being an Alfa, one would expect it to break. And, stereotypically, it does. The cool buttons on the center panel work only sometimes, and the trunk button often activates the hazard lights. Or the hazard lights activate themselves. Or the trunk unlocks while driving. And the HVAC control display doesn’t work. Nor do the power locks.

But a proper Alfa should also be fragile mechanically and prone to rust, at least if you believe the popular opinions, which makes it kind of strange the most pervasive feeling from the whole car is that of robustness and solidity. It may be that my example is in better shape mechanically, but it doesn’t feel any less substantial than the same-era Mercedes E-class. And, unlike the Mercedes, it doesn’t show any signs of rust – probably the result of Alfa’s disaster with Alfasud (which was usually already rusty on the showroom floor) and its drive to prevent any similar problems in the future.

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At the same time, there’s still a bit of Alfa Romeo’s sportiness differing the 164 from its siblings – the Thema, Croma and Saab 9000 (or at least people who have driven all of them say so). For someone who’s used to large American cars and old Benzes, or brand new cars with their numb electric steering racks, the Alfa’s helm is fantastically direct and full of feel. The shift action is not nearly as great, but that’s compensated by pedals perfectly laid out for heel-and-toe downshifting.

Of course, the large diesel kind of spoils the fun. It’s much smoother than one would expect from an oil-burner that’s almost two decades old compared to, say, the 1.9 TDI/66kW from VW. It has almost zero turbo lag and it pulls linearly from 1200 rpm. When driven leisurely, it’s quite a pleasant engine, but try any kind of spirited driving and you’re in for a disappointment. It’s still an old diesel, so it’s noisy, unrefined and it seems to hate revving above 3500 rpm. Also, the VM Motori four, with its four fragile cylinder heads, is prone to overheating and subsequent head failures.

Even with this in mind, I couldn’t resist taking the Alfa to our last trackday/cheap car race event, but at almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit, I was pretty scared of blowing the head gasket and never found the courage to really push the engine. Even so, the Alfa showed some pretty interesting handling. With the large and heavy diesel in the front, one would expect it to understeer like crazy. In reality, the 164 is pretty well balanced. On old winter tires, it was pretty easy to adjust it from understeer to oversteer by lifting the throttle and even throw it into pretty spectacular four-wheel slides.

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The Verdict
Though it may be Saab-related and diesel-powered, the 164 is still able to give you a taste of the Alfa Romeo soul. It’s interesting to drive and, after a series of large American cars, it made me understand how US enthusiasts can consider diesel manual cars as something really cool. It also seems to be, contrary to the public opinion, quite reliable (except for electrical stuff) and it’s definitely one of the cheapest cars I’ve ever had to run. Even if I had to buy it at market value (probably $500 or so), it would be dirt cheap transportation. On the other hand, the Italian suspension and driving position, together with cool Pininfarina design, will always make me think about how cool this car would be with a proper engine – the illustrious V6 “Busso”. Since 164s with V6s are almost extinct, I’m starting to think that there’s a Busso-powered 166 in my near future. You have to have a proper Alfa, at least once, to be a proper petrolhead.

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@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives an Alfa 164 Diesel he got for free. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

Photography:author

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2016 Mazda2 European Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2016-mazda2-european-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2016-mazda2-european-review/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 14:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1077026 The Mazda2 is another car whose absence in the US market will bring tears to the eyes of driving enthusiasts – and rightly so, because it’s a great little car. At the same time, it was probably the right call by Mazda not to import it to the States. This car can truly shine, but wide open […]

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2016 Mazda2 European Spec

The Mazda2 is another car whose absence in the US market will bring tears to the eyes of driving enthusiasts – and rightly so, because it’s a great little car. At the same time, it was probably the right call by Mazda not to import it to the States. This car can truly shine, but wide open American roads are not the right place for it, no matter how much canyon carving petrolheads would like them to be.

Ask a typical automotive enthusiast or petrolhead about modern cars and you’ll probably hear they are rubbish and the older cars are “just right”. You’ll hear modern cars are too full of electronics. They’re too bloated. The driver is isolated too much from the task of driving. With everything being focused on comfort, safety and economy, the joy of driving suffers.

Try to explain this to the typical car buyer and you get a blank stare in return, which is why the Mazda2 won’t be a sales hit in Europe, and would be a flop in America. It’s is a shame, really, because it’s a wonderful little car.

So, why won’t people buy one over, say, the Citroën C4 Cactus or Škoda Fabia? Or some tiny little crossover, which is actually less practical, but more expensive? Let’s explain it on the Fabia, which I tested recently, and which is a direct competitor to the 2 on European market.

2016 Mazda2 European Spec

As I mentioned several times in the review, sitting in the Fabia feels like you’re in a bigger car than its dimensions suggest. It uses the architecture and interior design language of bigger Volkswagen products and drives in a very “grown up” and confident manner. While a decade or two ago, a supermini was something you bought only to drive around town, the Fabia is a perfectly capable highway cruiser – or it would be, if it had more power.

The Mazda, on the other hand, feels and drives like a small car. Truth be told, the 2 I borrowed for this review was a poverty-spec example with the base 75 hp 1.5L four-cylinder engine while the Fabia esd equipped with its available top-of-the-line 110 hp 1.2 turbo plant, but that doesn’t change much about the way both cars feel.

The first difference is obvious: the Fabia is just larger inside. This is to be expected, as Fabia plays the “half a class above the competitors” game that’s typical for Škodas. However, the Mazda is a bit small even when compared to the average of its class, with cramped rear quarters and a relatively small boot. If you want to use your supermini as a family car, this will not work as well as the Fabia.

2016 Mazda2 European Spec

Then there’s the interior ambiance. The Mazda’s cabin is quite pretty to look at and everything feels slender, smooth and stylish. The Mazda’s “sports car feel” is in contrast to the Fabia and its direct competitors offering up their “big car” interior atmosphere. It’s in the details: a tiny rev counter in the corner of the dash instead of proper dial. Radio or infotainment system sticking out of the dash like a sore thumb. And, of course, the slightly tinny sound made by closing doors.

Don’t get me wrong – the Mazda’s interior doesn’t feel cheap or ugly. It’s just a tad too obvious  the main concern was saving weight and not creating a luxurious experience for those inside. Today’s customers want to be pampered.

What they do not appreciate are the finer things in automobile that we as enthusiasts hold supreme, like sublime suspension tuning or a lovely, naturally aspirated engine paired with a precise, delicate manual transmission. Which is sad, because those count among the main reasons for buying a Mazda2.

2016 Mazda2 European Spec

Let’s start with the engine first. As I already mentioned, my press loaner was powered with the least powerful, least sophisticated version of the 1.5 SKYACTIV four-cylinder. It lacks the trick 4-2-1 headers, crazy compression ratio and – on paper – it looks seriously underpowered. Compared to both superminis I drove before and after the Mazda2 (the aforementioned Fabia 1.2 TSI and Corsa 1.0 Turbo), its 75 hp seems almost like a joke.

Trust me, it isn’t. Having driven a few cars with N/A engines neutered by EU5 emission standards lately, I started to think that turbocharging is the only remaining way to go. Mazda proved me (and probably many others) wrong. There is nothing neutered about this engine. Thanks to its large displacement (for a base engine in an EU-market supermini), it’s not lacking torque in the low range, and it somehow keeps the rev-happy characteristics of a classic Japanese four-pot. I’ve never been a great fan of revvy four-cylinders and I actually like the diesel version of Mazda6 more than the gasoline one, but the four-banger in the Mazda2 is a delight. I found myself revving it right to the redline just for fun and, of course, sometimes out of necessity because 75 hp isn’t really much. That’s not to say the 2 is unbearably slow. On the contrary, it was much quicker than I expected and at normal pace it was perfectly fine. I was surprised by its ability to overtake at A-road speeds (around 60-65 mph in CZ), as well as its relative stability and bearability near the top speed of about 110 mph.

2016 Mazda2 European Spec

Which neatly brings us back to the suspension. The example I tested is probably the least sporty Mazda2 that can be ordered. Small, 15 inch steel wheels with plastic hubcaps and narrow, tall tires. Couple that with a relatively soft suspension and light, city-biased steering with almost no feel or weight whatsoever, it doesn’t sound like a “sporty” small hatchback. As you’ve probably guessed, though, the opposite is true. The 2 represents what I would call the “English school of suspension tuning”. It isn’t low and stiff like German sports cars, designed for impeccable Teutonic roadways. Instead, it uses its suppleness and light weight to be quick and nimble even on broken surfaces – and to be comfortable enough that you don’t get scared off a “spirited drive” by the jolts and jittering.

If I were to distill the previous paragraphs into one sentence, it would sound like this: Unlike the Fabia, which tries hard to feel like an Octavia or Passat (and succeeds to a remarkable degree), the Mazda2 tries really hard to feel as much like a Miata as possible (and succeeds as well). It’s a pretty, lightweight little hatchback with a lovely engine that’s a hoot to drive. The problem for you, our readers from US, is the typical American buyer has precious little appreciation for things like balanced handling or a sweet, revvy, naturally aspirated engine. It’s nice that it gets great fuel mileage (over 30 mpg even in a bit of a rush), but it probably won’t really shine when coupled with its available automatic transmission. Also, the great, nimble suspension will be of little use during typical American commute.

2016 Mazda2 European Spec

The good news? The CX-3 crossover shares a platform with this car. The first CX-3 reviews promise that it may provide much of the things that are great about the 2 while looking large and substantial enough to allure a typical American customer. Considering the base CX-3 with 120 hp 2.0L SKYACTIV engine costs about the same money on the Czech market as the Mazda2 with a 90 hp SKYACTIV 1.5 and only marginally better equipment is probably the real (and quite understandable) reason why Mazda is pulling the plug on the Mazda2’s U.S. sales. Both cars probably cost roughly the same money to build, with the CX-3 being much more interesting to a typical American and only marginally worse for a driving enthusiast.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives an Alfa 164 Diesel he got for free. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

Photography: David Marek

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2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-lincoln-mkc-2-3-ecoboost-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-lincoln-mkc-2-3-ecoboost-review-video/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 12:00:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1065114 Lincoln has been working to get their luxury mojo back for a while, but up to this point it has tried to sell models a half-step larger to luxury shoppers. That meant a major value proposition, but engineers often skimped on luxury to keep prices low. The MKC is an entirely different animal however. This […]

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2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front Quarter-001

Lincoln has been working to get their luxury mojo back for a while, but up to this point it has tried to sell models a half-step larger to luxury shoppers. That meant a major value proposition, but engineers often skimped on luxury to keep prices low. The MKC is an entirely different animal however. This Lincoln is essentially the same size as the Lexus NX and Mercedes GLK. Although the MKC is finally the same size as its competition, it marches to a different drummer, and after a week I finally realized something. It’s refreshing to have something different.

Exterior

Let’s talk competition first. The MKC is Lincoln’s answer to the X3, Q5, NX, XC60, and GLK. This seems to confuse some folks who assume the MKC and the Lexus NX were designed to compete against the X1 and Evoque. Looking at the specs, the MKC sits right between the GLK and Q5 in overall dimensions.

By now you’ve probably heard the MKC is the “Lincoln Escape”, but what does that really mean? The MKC shares safety systems and body structure designs with the Escape. However, it shares no sheetmetal with the Ford. Lincoln didn’t just re-skin the Escape, either. They widened the body and the track while they were at it, resulting in a lower, wider stance that’s more appropriate in the luxury segment than the perky upright character of the Escape. This is essentially the same formula that Lexus used to make the Lexus NX, which is a cousin to the RAV4. Like the NX and RAV4, parts of the Escape lurk inside the MKC, but you have to look fairly hard to find them.

The MKC receives Lincoln’s latest grille design, which is more restrained than the MKT’s odd-looking schnoz. Although pictures of the MKC seem polarizing, passers-by thought the MKC was attractive in person. If you think something about the rear looks a hair unfinished, you’re not alone. It’s the lack of a protruding bumper of any sort. Aside from the unfinished aesthetic, lacking any real bumper means mishaps with taller vehicles are likely to damage the rear hatch in addition to the bumper cover, increasing repair costs.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior

Interior

The MKC wears the best interior Lincoln has ever created. Period. More than that, the model with real leather is arguably a nicer place to spend your time than the current Q5, GLK, QX50, RDX, or XC60. Opt for the Black Label package and things are taken to the next level. Lincoln shoppers have more ability to customize their crossover than most of the competition with four different upholstery colors that coordinate with three different dashboard and door colors and two wood veneer options (you can’t mix and match). Opting for the Black Label edition gives you an additional four “themes” to choose from. If you want this kind of selection, the MKC and Evoque are really your only options, and the Range Rover doesn’t allow as much customization on base models.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim-003

Front seat comfort depends greatly on your body shape. I’m 6-feet tall and found the seat bottom cushions oddly short and lack thigh support. A 5-foot 4-inch tall person told me the seats fit like a glove. Despite being smaller than all but the Mercedes GLK, the rear seats proved comfortable and easily as accommodating as the XC60.

The cargo area is the biggest compromise in the MKC. It’s notably smaller than most of the competition with just 25 cubes of room behind the rear seats. You’ll find about 20 percent more room in the Volvo.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Center Console

Infotainment

MyLincoln Touch is oddly named for sure, and it’s received more than its share of bad press. Does it crash now and then? Sure. But I actually think MLT is a reason to put the MKC on your list, not take it off. Volvo’s Sensus Connect uses a smaller screen and, despite the new connected features, still lacks decent control of iOS/USB media devices. Audi’s MMI and Mercedes COMAND are attractive systems, but lack the voice command library you get in the Lincoln. iDrive is still my preferred infotainment option, but Lincoln may give it come competition with SYNC3, due out next year.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Engine-001

Drivetrain

Under the hood, the order sheet starts out with a 2.0L direct-injection turbo engine good for 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. Instead of a 6-cylinder engine filling out the top of the range like the Europeans, Lincoln opted to borrow the 2.3L turbo from the new Mustang instead. Five years ago, that would have been derided as insane, but Lexus has gone 4-cylinder only in the new NX and Volvo has committed to the demise of their five and six cylinder turbos as well. Sadly, the 2.3L engine loses some grunt in the translation, dropping from 310 horsepower and 320 lb-ft in the Mustang to 285 ponies and 305 lb-ft of twist. 2.0L shoppers can choose between front- or all-wheel drive while the 2.3L model gets all-wheel drive as standard.

Both engines are mated to the 6F35 6-speed automatic transaxle. The 6F35 transaxle is likely the reason for the power reduction from the tune used in the Mustang. Although Ford does not specifically list torque capabilities like General Motors, the Ford 6F35 is substantially similar to the GM 6T50 transaxle, topping out at 260 lb-ft. (GM and Ford designed their 6-speed transaxles together.) Since the engine cradle design in the MKC is largely unchanged from the Escape, the higher torque capacity 6F50 and 6F55 transaxles likely didn’t fit. In order to accommodate the 2.3L engine, Ford replaced the 6F35’s standard torque converter with a higher torque unit but no transmission internals were changed. This allowed the entire package to have approximately the same dimensions as the 2.0L drivetrain. I suspect this also explains why the maximum tow rating drops 1,000lbs when equipped with the 2.3L engine.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior LCD Instrument Cluster.CR2

Drive

In an interesting twist, most MKCs on dealer lots will have a suspension with active dampers. This is a significant difference between the Lincoln and the competition which generally doesn’t have active dampers available at any price. This means we must have a quick suspension lesson since active dampers are a huge part of the MKC’s personality.

Springs and dampers work together to make a car ride and handle a certain way. Springs support the vehicle’s ride height and compress and rebound to conform to the road surface. Dampers control the movement of the spring in both directions. Spring and damping rates are carefully matched by vehicle engineers and in most cars they are fixed. In vehicles with dynamic dampers, the spring rate stays constant and the damping rate becomes a variable. In order for this to work, you have to start with a “soft” spring and when you want a firmer ride you attempt to compensate with “firmer” damping. While systems like this greatly improve the ride and allow the driver to customize the suspension within a particular range, they can feel quite different.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior -001

The first hint Lincoln had a different mission in mind for the MKC is obvious when you start driving. If the suspension is in comfort mode, you get the softest ride in this segment by a mile. The MKC is so soft in this mode that I initially assumed the baby Lincoln was 1,000lbs heavier. With the suspension in normal mode, the MKC feels more buttoned down, but there is still plenty of tip and dive and body roll. “Sport” firms things up but the feeling isn’t the same as you’d find in a traditionally sprung vehicle. The reason is that although the dampers can restrict motion, the springs are still pillowy soft.

Initially I was disconcerted by the soft suspension and assumed the athletic abilities would be harmed as a result. I was wrong. With a 0-60 sprint of 6.15 seconds, the MKC 2.3L beats most of the entries, matches the 325 hp XC60 R-Design and only lags the X3 xDrive35i and RDX in the non-performance category. It also stopped from 60 MPH in an impressive 112 feet in our tests and a respectable .83Gs in Edmund’s skidpad test. (TTAC doesn’t have access to a skidpad.) That’s all possible because the MKC is light for a luxury crossover, ranging from 3,791 in FWD 2.0L trim to to 3,989 lbs in the AWD 2.3L model.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior.CR2-001

Pricing

As you’d expect from Lincoln, pricing starts low at $33,100, undercutting BMW by over $5,000, and we get about $500 of additional equipment in the base MKC. Adding AWD to the base model tacks on $2,495. That sounds steep but Lincoln bundles the dynamic suspension and a few other goodies with it. Our 2.3L AWD tester started at $40,145 and had $7,775 of options added to make an essentially fully loaded MKC.

The Black Label model is an interesting option. Black Label is about luxury and customization, not performance. This means you can get the 2.0L engine with front wheel drive in Black Label trim starting at $46,205. For the extra dosh, a “shopping assistant” will help you choose from four unique interior themes, five unique wood veneers and some extra paint options. The interior is further upgraded with faux-suede headliners and more standard features. In addition to the goodies, you get improved service with scheduled maintenance and wear item coverage (shocks, belts, etc), a loaner car when yours is in for service, lifetime car washes at a Lincoln dealer and annual detailing services.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Rear.CR2-001

I have to admit when I first took the MKC out on the road, I didn’t like it. The well-appointed interior is attractive, but the ultra-plush driving dynamics took some getting used to. Then an odd thing happened. A friend of mine who is in her early 30s said “I’m tired of the harsh ride in my X3 but I still want a crossover.” I had her drive the MKC and it was love at first tip and dive. I suddenly realized: from the Lexus NX to the Mercedes GLK, every one of the competition is trying to be the soft-roader that can lap the Nurburgring in under 9 minutes. Except the MKC.

The Lincoln can hang with the middle of the pack in terms of handling, but the handling feel is an entirely different matter. The soft suspension makes turn-in feel lazy, steering feel non-existent and the cabin hushed. The combination means the MKC is eminently capable with high limits, but the design of the vehicle makes it hard to determine where those limits are located. If that sounds like the kind of product Lexus used to be known for (before they too started chasing BMW), you’re right. Once I stopped chasing the X3, I realized how refreshing it was to have a competitive product without the “me-too.” Bravo Lincoln.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.26 Seconds

0-60: 6.15 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.8 Seconds @ 92.5 MPH

Average economy: 20.3 MPG over 699 miles

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Engine.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Engine 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Engine-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Engine-002 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior -001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front .CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front -001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front Quarter 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front Quarter-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front_ 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Headlamp 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Rear.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Rear.CR2-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Rear 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Side 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior_ 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Cargo Area 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Cargo Area-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Cargo Area-002 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Center Console.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Center Console 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior LCD Instrument Cluster.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior LCD Instrument Cluster.CR2-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior LCD Instrument Cluster 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Seat Controls.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Seats 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Seats-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Speaker 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Steering Wheel.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim-002 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim-003 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior.CR2 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior.CR2-001 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior.CR2-002 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior.CR2-003 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior-001

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2015 Škoda Fabia European Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-skoda-fabia-european-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-skoda-fabia-european-review/#comments Sun, 17 May 2015 15:38:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1068698 Small cars used to be for the city. Now, they say a small car can work just like a big one. To find out what’s what, I borrowed a current Škoda Fabia, then took another new Fabia on a 400 mile trip. I’m writing this in a hotel room balcony with a beautiful view of the Alps […]

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fabia_front_side_against_sky

Small cars used to be for the city. Now, they say a small car can work just like a big one. To find out what’s what, I borrowed a current Škoda Fabia, then took another new Fabia on a 400 mile trip.

I’m writing this in a hotel room balcony with a beautiful view of the Alps and Wörthersee lake, paid for by Škoda. The company wanted me to see the tuner culture at Wörthersee GTI Treffen (more about that in later article) and some of their concepts. To do that, they handed me the keys to a new Fabia, almost identical to a press tester I drove not even a month ago.

fabia_rear_down

Both cars are fitted with the most powerful 110 hp 1.2 TSI engine in quite unlikely (at least for Czech market) “journo spec” with tons of options (price as tested around 400,000 CZK [MATH ERROR CORRECTED: $16,600 USD] including 22% VAT). The only important difference, save for colors, is the transmission. The one I drove at home for a week is equipped with a six-speed manual. On the trip to Austria I drove one with the seven-speed DSG automatic.

Both are very good. Hardly any Škoda made today is bad. But after yesterdays 7-hour drive, I think the automatic is the better option. I never thought I’d say that about a small car, but the DSG suits the Fabia’s character much more than the manual. The reasons for it are pretty much what defines the Fabia and sets it apart in its class.

To show what I mean, let me digress for a little bit. Last week, I drove a current Mazda2 in relative poverty spec (rare sight among journo cars) powered by the 75 hp Skyactiv 1.5 engine with a price of 311,000 CZK (approx. $13,000 USD, including 22% VAT). It was one of the most brilliant small cars I have ever driven. Yet, it couldn’t be any more different from Fabia.

The Mazda is playful and dynamic in its design, both inside and out. It’s immensely fun to drive with tail-happiness on throttle lift-off and an engine that’s just splendid, even in its least powerful form. I didn’t think it was possible these days to make a small, naturally aspirated engine that’s so rev happy, so pleasant to the ear and so joyous to use. But, the Mazda is also a bit cramped in the back thanks to a really small trunk and the doors make a tin sound when closed. Even if we discount for the cheap spec and slow engine, it just wouldn’t be the car you would want to take on a road trip. Alternatively, around town or on backroads, it’s wonderful. It was great on my 100 mile trip in the countryside. But a great car for long journeys it isn’t.

fabia_facing_right

The Fabia is just the opposite. It’s design is not very playful. In a world of today’s aggressive cars, it’s not. It’s square. It looks like something Volvo could have made – if it was still in the business of making Volvos and wanted to make a small car. And it’s not different inside. The interior is clearly that of a Volkswagen product. Of course, the materials are cheap even when compared to the Polo, but the cold German style and precision is still there. It looks like a cheap, baby Audi. A nice place to be, but not very fun to look at.

It’s the same story with driving. The 1.2 TSI is one of the better examples of downsizing. With reasonable grunt at low revs making it feel like a much larger engine, and with great fuel economy (we did 5.8 l/100km on the way here, at fairly quick European highway speeds), it’s still not very fun companion. You can rev it, and it seems you have to rev it a little bit more than the old 1.2 TSI, but there’s no fun in it. And, at most speeds, there’s no point. It sounds nice, with a pleasant growl, but it won’t excite you like the Mazda. And while the shift action is nice, the car just feels better with the DSG automatic.

It’s the same with suspension. The Mazda is agile and surprisingly supple, but the Fabia is more stable, slightly better at smoothing out broken surfaces and feels much more “grown up”. With the manual, you can even find some fun hustling it around back roads – especially if you don’t drive small cars regularly and transferred to it from your full-size American sedan. But adjusting the line with throttle? Revving the engine just for the hell of it? Nah. It’s kid stuff. The Fabia doesn’t like that.

Fabia_stoh

Where it works surprisingly well is on the highway. During the seven hours I spent behind the wheel, it felt right at home on both Czech and Austrian highways. And I felt right at home inside – the interior was roomy and nice enough for spending long periods of time, and my arse only started to get sore in the last 30 or so miles. After whole day, I got out of the car not really fresh, but not beaten up either.

In fact, the only thing that gave away I was driving a supermini and not a Golf of Focus sized car was the lack of power. Even with the most powerful engine available, the Fabia was quickly lost its oomph over 80 mph, and trying to keep up with two 170 hp 2.0 TDI Octavias required flooring it regularly with the DSG downshifting two or three cogs at a time. It can cruise at 110 mph, but even at 85 or 90, every time you brake due to other cars and get up to speed again, the Fabia feels strained. An American, used to large, powerful engines as standard on the other side of the pond, or a stranger to the idea of having to floor a car and rev it to the redline, would probably consider it unbearably slow with the 1.2 TSI.

But us Europeans are different and we even consider the lower powered variant of this engine to be acceptable for the much larger Octavias or Jettas.

The Verdict

The Fabia is a small car only in size, not in character. It’s not fun and lovable like a little puppy. It’s like the kid that’s all grown up, wants to wear grown up clothes, prefers talking to grown ups and hates playing kiddy games. It’s not very fun, and if you want your small car to behave like it, you won’t be satisfied. But if your reason for buying a small car is simply because you can’t afford a large one, and even if buying said small car is a sign of your status and what you’ve achieved in life, it’s exactly the car for you.

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2015 Peugeot 108 European Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/european-review-peugeot-108/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/european-review-peugeot-108/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 13:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1056514 They say simple, affordable and fun cars are not made these days, but maybe we’ve been looked for them in the wrong places. Maybe affordable fun still exists, buried under a skin not cool enough to capture petrolheads’ interests… James Dean behind the wheel of his Porsche 356 Speedster, tearing up Mullholland Drive, a cigarette hanging coolly […]

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2015 Peugeot 108

They say simple, affordable and fun cars are not made these days, but maybe we’ve been looked for them in the wrong places. Maybe affordable fun still exists, buried under a skin not cool enough to capture petrolheads’ interests…

James Dean behind the wheel of his Porsche 356 Speedster, tearing up Mullholland Drive, a cigarette hanging coolly from the side of his mouth, his hands wrestling the unassisted steering. The air-cooled flat four barking. Tires screeching. That’s the petrolhead dream. That’s the legend.

And as an important part of this mythology, something driven by the epitomes of cool like Dean or McQueen, the 356 Speedster (or any 356, for that matter) is revered and prized. Buying a nice example requires the kind of money that would get you a brand new 911. Or three. Or a 911 and a perfectly fine aeroplane.

But you don’t want a 911 and you don’t want a Boxster because, as they say, each 911 is worse than the previous one. It’s faster. It’s more comfortable. It’s got better soundproofing. It is better at isolating you from what’s going on. And you don’t want to be isolated. You want experience.

2015 Peugeot 108

So engineers spend months and years fine-tuning electric power steering to feel as hydraulic as possible. They play around with the suspension to make the car quick enough, but at the same time leave space for you to expend effort. They engineer the exhaust and soundproofing in just a way to get the sound you want.

And we moan about it being too artificial.

We talk about old cars from old times when everything was for real. Or, to be more precise, we dream about them. Because most of us have never even sat in a 356, let alone drive one.

So, why was the 356 so great? Or was it even so great a car?

No – it was horrible.

I know that you’re probably about to skip the rest of the article and jump right to the comments to make shreds of me. But, please, wait a moment and hear me out.

The Porsche 356 wasn’t much more than a VW Beetle, shortened a bit and fitted with a sleeker body. The Beetle was the pinnacle of automotive engineering in the Third Reich, but in 1950s America, its main virtue was it was cheap, reliable and well-built. It was something you bought for your wife for the weekly shop. Or to your teenage son as a method of birth control. It may have been a typical family car in Europe, but Europe was, at the time, poor and recovering from the war.

2015 Peugeot 108

The Beetle was cheap. It had terrible suspension – even by the standards of the day. And it was slow.

The Porsche 356 was a bit quicker – not by much. Your grandmother’s Buick station wagon would whip its ass in a drag race.

But it became legend because of how predictable it was, how well it handled on the limits of both the driver’s and its own abilities. To make the most of it, you had to try. It gave you the feeling of being alive.

With each and every new Porsche generation, the numbers on the speedometer grow, but at the same time, the feeling on connection with the machine diminishes. The sense of being the hero taming the wild machine was getting lost. And it’s not just Porsche. First, this affected the “big sportscars“ and GTs. Later it happened with “people’s sportscars“ and hot hatches. And today, almost everything that calls itself “sporty“ is too fast for you to really make the most of its abilities on the public road.

Take the Peugeot 208 GTi I drove last year. It’s said to be a spiritual successor of the raw, exhilarating 205 GTi. But in reality, it’s more of a slick GT car, packed in a hatchback body. It’s great, if you want a damned quick car for a (relatively) modest sum of money. But, if you want to enjoy the feeling of driving like a superhero and pushing the car to its limits in everyday traffic, you’d have to be a psychopath or Ayrton Senna. The 208 GTi is too quick to really make the most of it on a public road.

Vojta looks impressed with the 2015 Peugeot 108

Vojta looks impressed with the 2015 Peugeot 108

And that’s the reason for most of the laments today’s petrolheads throw at the current crop of sportscars. They’re too quick. They isolate you from the driving experience too well (in the words of a normal human, they’re too comfortable). They have to fake the experience with artificial exhaust sounds and similar cheats. They’re too big and heavy. They have too much grip.

But aren’t we just looking at the wrong place? What if the problem is in our fixed idea of how a fun car should look? After all, we tend to forget that some of the most famous sportscars in history had humble roots – be it the 205 GTi, the original Mini or even that 356 Speedster we mentioned in the beginning.

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Which is the right time to start finally getting to the point – the Peugeot 108.

We’ll start with some boring numbers. The base 108 weighs 840 kg (1,850 lbs) and its three-cylinder engine has 69 hp. The lightest, most basic 356 Speedster did weigh 771 kg (1,700 lbs). And its flat four, in its most powerful form, offered 75 horsepower.

Replace the Speedster with a base Cabriolet or just consider the smaller of engines offered and you have almost identical power to weight ratio as today’s small city car. Of course, the numbers aren’t everything.

The three-cylinder engine has a nice, raspy sound. It’s not nearly as special as the hollow growl the boxer four made thanks to engineers of Kraft durch Freude before WWII, but it’s interesting enough to entice you into revving it up. And because you’re sitting in a small, cheap city car with little soundproofing, you can enjoy the natural engine note without having it pumped through the speakers.

The gearshift is quite light and precise (at least for a cheap French car), but its mechanical roughness reminds you that you’re driving a machine and not a video game.

The electric power steering gets no points for communication or feel, but it has a natural heft. The large, thin steering wheel feels pleasantly old-school – in fact, it’s much nicer to hold than the tiny one in the 208 GTi hot hatch.

And then there’s the suspension with tiny, narrow wheels and high-profile rubber. It’s surprisingly comfortable, even on rough roads, but as expected, it doesn’t provide much grip. In turns, the body rolls a bit more than a modern driver is used to and it definitely doesn’t invite you to test its limits. But at something like 80 percent, it’s surprisingly fun to drive.

I’m not talking pouring adrenalin and squealing tires. I’m talking a slightly spirited drive at speeds maybe not totally legal, but at least socially acceptable, which still gives you the feel that you really have to drive. You have to work the gearbox to keep the tiny engine at its best, you have to watch the braking and cornering lines to ensure you won’t loose much pace – because gaining it back won’t be easy.

You can drive as fast as you want – or as you can – without risking your driving licence. When you get to a straight, you don’t have to think about how long you can keep your foot down. Ten seconds? Twenty seconds? No, you can keep the pedal to the metal nearly all the time. Corners? Don’t worry about it. You aren’t going fast enough.

And because everything takes place at sane speeds and the hard-revving engine is a paltry one-liter four, you can do this dance all day. You won’t have to stop because your hands are shaking and your forehead is sweating, nor will you have to interrupt the fun by a trip to the gas station. Even in “spirited driving”, the 108 is quite happy with some 6.0-6.5L/100km (35-40 mpg). In normal driving, it’s to score under 5.0L/100km (over 50 mpg).

All this makes it seem that the 108 is more of a toy that you would buy for pleasure. It most certainly is not. In the first place, it’s a totally rational, practical city car, for sale less than $10,000 USD at current exchange rates. Its main virtue is not driving fun, but the fact it’s small, cheap, frugal and easy to park. It much like the original VW Beetle – just at least 1,000% better thanks to decades of development. And compared to its predecessor, the 107, it isn’t hideous to look at.

Negatives. For one, the Peugeot 108 isn’t as cheap as it probably should be. As every new PSA product, it’s slightly overpriced, just waiting for massive discounts to happen. This time, it’s even pricier than VW’s excellent Up!, while being smaller inside, less well made and probably even slower. But it does seem a bit more fun to drive.

The real trouble is the 108 and its many peers are in a similar position as Mitsubishi Mirage in America. Not the same position, of course – tiny cars are pretty much the norm in many places of Europe, and these things are much less ugly and probably much nicer to drive (I haven’t driven the Mirage, but the reviews are enough for me). But certainly not in the position of “style symbol”. You won’t look like James Dean driving one of those. Not even in a white tee and a leather jacket. On the other hand, isn’t the ability to pull off driving a tiny, cheap vehicle the ultimate sign of coolness these days?

So, our pro-tip: If you want to be as cool as James Dean, skip the old Porsche. He wouldn’t buy it today, he bought it because it made sense then. Today, it’s for old fart collectors. Buy a Peugeot 108. Three-door hatch. With a canvas roof. If possible, pick a pink one with floral stickers. This will let others know you don’t need to prove anything. And you’ll enjoy the drive, because it’s always more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz, and writes for various other Czech outlets. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a ratty Chrysler LHS. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

Photography: David Marek

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While You Were Sleeping: Automated Crash Reporting, Worthersee, and Mad Max http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/sleeping-automated-crash-reporting-worthersee-mad-max/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/sleeping-automated-crash-reporting-worthersee-mad-max/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 11:04:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1056058 Many optionally available subscription-based services, such as OnStar, offering automated crash reporting could lose their marketing edge in 2018. 2015 GT350 & GT350R Mustang Options Pricing (Mustang6G) No MSRPs yet, but some of these options are incredibly pricy. Skoda unveils Fabia pickup concept car (AutoCar) A Škoda Fabia pickup built by 17- and 18-year-old apprentices? I’d drive it. 37 UberX Vehicles Seized in Montreal Since February […]

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They’ll live. Picture courtesy ambulancevisibility.com

Many optionally available subscription-based services, such as OnStar, offering automated crash reporting could lose their marketing edge in 2018.

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Suzuki Recalls 2M Amid Reports Of Smoking Ignitions http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/suzuki-recalls-2m-amid-reports-smoking-ignitions/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/suzuki-recalls-2m-amid-reports-smoking-ignitions/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 22:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1051009 Suzuki is recalling a record 2 million vehicles to replace ignition switches amid reports of smoke and fumes being emitted from the part. The recall adds 1,873,000 vehicles to the 168,000 previously recalled late last month, Reuters reports. Both figures apply to nine models made in Japan, including the Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda AZ-Wagon, Mazda Carol, […]

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2003 Suzuki Wagon R

Suzuki is recalling a record 2 million vehicles to replace ignition switches amid reports of smoke and fumes being emitted from the part.

The recall adds 1,873,000 vehicles to the 168,000 previously recalled late last month, Reuters reports. Both figures apply to nine models made in Japan, including the Chevrolet Cruze, Mazda AZ-Wagon, Mazda Carol, and Suzuki’s own Alto, Wagon R and Swift. The recall for the latter three covers vehicles built between 1998 and 2009.

Another 133,700 models in the new recall were sold overseas in Australia and Europe, including the aforementioned Swift, Alto and Cruze.

Thus far, 67 reports of smoking switches have been reported, including 18 in police cars. The reports have all come from Japan.

[Photo credit: Kuha455405/Wikipedia]

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2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-x4-xdrive28i-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-x4-xdrive28i-video/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 12:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1044242 Lately, BMW has been accused of answering questions nobody was asking. Looking at things a different way, however, BMW has taken personalization of your daily driver to a level we haven’t seen before by making an incredible number of variations based on the same basic vehicle. Once upon a time, BMW made one roadster and […]

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Lately, BMW has been accused of answering questions nobody was asking. Looking at things a different way, however, BMW has taken personalization of your daily driver to a level we haven’t seen before by making an incredible number of variations based on the same basic vehicle. Once upon a time, BMW made one roadster and three sedans. If you asked nicely, they would cut the top off the 3-Series, add a hatchback, or stretch it into a wagon. If you look at the family tree today you’d see that the 2-series coupé and convertible, X1, X3, X4, 3-Series sedan, long wheelbase sedan, and wagon, 3-Series GT and 4-Series coupé, convertible and gran coupé are all cousins. (Note: I didn’t say sisters, but they are all ultimately related.) That’s a product explosion of 400 percent since 1993 and we’re talking solely about the compact end of their lineup. You could look at this two ways. This is insanity, or this is some diabolical plan. Since sales have increased more than 300% since 1993, I’m going with diabolical plan.

Exterior

The “same sausage in multiple lengths” concept has been a staple design philosophy of the luxury industry for decades, but BMW’s “something for everyone” mantra takes that to the next level. You see, the X4 and the 3-Series Gran Tourismo are two entirely different sausages that (although related) manage to look the same yet share very little. Stranger still, the same shape elicits two different responses from people. Some see the GT and think “that liftback looks practical and roomier than a trunk” and then they look at the X4 and say “that’s less practical than an X3, why would I want it?”

To create the X4, the X3’s rear was raked and the bumpers were tweaked but it still retains the same hood, headlamps and ride height. You’d think that would make it a crossover, but BMW prefers “Sports Activity Coupe.” Whatever. The GT is a 3-Series that has been stretched and a liftback grafted on. The GT is lower to the ground and actually longer than the X4, but the differences don’t stop there. The GT is built in Germany, the X4 is made in South Carolina. Like many Americans, the X4 is 2-inches wider, has a more aggressive look up front and weighs 200 lbs more. (Before you ask, I was born in Ohio and that describes me as well.)

The trouble with making so many models is that it makes comparisons difficult. (Or is that part of BMW’s diabolical plan?) Aside from the GT, the X4 lacks any natural competition, especially in our xDrive28i trim. The V60 Cross Country, Macan, allroad and Evoque all come to mind, but only the Macan uses a similar silhouette. The Volvo and Audi are lifted station wagons, the Evoque is much smaller and front wheel drive.

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Interior

The X4 shares the majority of its interior with the X3. Likely because the X3 and X4 are a little more recent than the current 3-Series, I found the interior to be more harmonious in terms of plastics quality. Instead of the iDrive screen perched atop the dash like in the 3-Series, it’s nestled into it. Perhaps because the X4 is made in America, the cup holders are larger, more functional and lack the funky lid 3-Series owners always lose track of.

Because the X3’s roofline was drastically altered to create the X4, BMW opted to drop the seat bottoms in order to preserve headroom. The difference isn’t too noticeable up front, but in the rear the X4’s seat bottom cushions ride much closer to the floor than in any of the competition. Despite lowering the seating height, headroom is still very limited in the back and best reserved for kids or shorter adults. This is a stark contrast to the 3-GT which has an inch more headroom in the rear, seat cushions that are higher off the floor, seat backs that recline and a whopping 7 inches more combined legroom.

At 17.7 cubic feet, the X4’s cargo area is about 33% smaller than the X3 [The Porsche Macan loses almost 40 percent of its cargo volume in comparison to its platform mate, the Audi Q5. -Ed.]. On the flip side, this is a hair larger than a 328i sedan and the cargo hatch is a more convenient shape. Once again, however, the 3-GT comes out more practical with a larger cargo hold and the same practical liftback for accessing it. Interestingly enough, the V60 CC and the Porsche Macan have cargo areas nearly identical in size.

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Infotainment

iDrive has long been one of my favorite infotainment systems and that continues with the latest version. Our tester included the full bevy of infotainment options including smartphone app integration ($500), navigation ($2,150) and the iPhone snap-in adapter ($250). If that sounds expensive, you’re right. However, it is less expensive than the options list on the Macan. Like Audi and Mercedes, BMW has inserted a cell modem into top end iDrive systems allowing online service access.

iDrive’s interface has received continual tweaks over the years to improve usability and I find the interface easy to navigate and intuitive. A little less intuitive is the finger-writing input method which allows you to “write” on the top of the controller knob to enter addresses. While that sounds like a good idea, I discovered it took 25% longer to enter a destination vs rotating the dial. All the latest in connected infotainment can be had in the X4 (for a price) including integrated Pandora, Stitcher, Audible, pass-thru voice commands for iOS and Android, and Wikipedia integration which will read Wiki articles to you via a built-in text-to-speech engine.

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Drivetrain

X4 xDrive28i models get a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder (N20) good for 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque at just 1,450 RPM while xDrive35i models get the 300 horsepower, 300 lb-ft 3.0L turbo (N55). Both engines are mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic and standard AWD. Sound familiar? That’s the same lineup in the 3-GT. Oddly enough you can get the X3 in RWD, but the X4 with its (in theory) sportier image is AWD only.

If you’re shopping for the X4 outside of the USA, you get more choice with an available 181 horse 2.0L gasoline turbo, a selection of diesel engines ranging from 187-309 ponies and a manual transmission on some engines.

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Drive

I’m no track junkie like Jack Baruth, but I do appreciate a well-balanced vehicle. That said, I am frequently distracted by straight line performance and “moar powah.” X4 shoppers will need to choose between these two. The 2.0L may be down on power vs the 3.0L , but it is also 33% shorter and 165 lbs lighter. In addition, the 2.0L sits behind the front axle instead of above it. The effect of the weight reduction and nose-lightening is obvious when you start pushing the X4 on your favorite mountain road. The lighter 2.0L model doesn’t feel as eager, but it does feel more composed and more willing to change direction. The 3.0L has more low-end grunt and a more refined sound, but because of the added weight, AWD and chassis tuning, it tends toward understeer more readily.

The key to understanding the X4 on the road is simple: it weighs only 20 lbs less than the X3 and despite the sheetmetal changes, the center of gravity isn’t all that much lower. As a result it drives almost exactly like an X3. Since the X3 is one of the most dynamic options in its class, that’s no dig. 0-60 happened in a quick 6.14 seconds in our tester(the 3.0L is a full second faster) and the lateral grip is impressive for a crossover. On the downside, the 3-Series sedan and GT will do everything a hair faster with better grip and better feel. BMW will swap out the 245 width tires our tester had for a staggered 245 / 275 tire package. I suspect that may give the X4 more of a performance edge on the less sporting trims of X3 or 3-GT, but fuel economy and your pocketbook will suffer. Thanks to the wide tires, the X4 took just 119 feet to stop from 60 MPH.

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The standard AWD system dulls what little feel you might otherwise get from the electric power steering system, but in return it allows drama-free launches on most road surfaces and plenty of fun on soft roads. Speaking of soft roads, the X4 reminded me a great deal of Volvo’s V60 Cross Country: both vehicles prioritize style over practicality and both are soft-road vehicles designed for folks that live down a short gravel road and commute on winding mountain highways. The suspension in all forms of the X4 is stiffer than I expected and the M-Sport is stiffer than I could live with long-term on the crappy roads in Northern California. If you’re contemplating the M-Sport, be sure to option up the adaptive suspension system. The $1,000 option doesn’t dull the X4’s responses, but when in the softer modes it may just save your kidneys.

Competition for the X4 is hard to define as I have said. On the surface of things, the styling premium over the X3 will set you back $6,200, but the X4 has around $4,200 more in standard equipment, like AWD and HID lamps, which drops the real difference to about $2,000. That may not sound like too much of a premium for the added style you get in the X4, but the 328i Gran Turismo, despite standard AWD and the panoramic sunroof, is about $2,500 less than the X4.

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Now we must cover the Porsche Macan. In the same way that the X4 is a less practical X3, the Macan is a less practical Audi Q5. If you look at the Macan closely, you’ll see almost the same profile as the X4. Dimensionally they are quite similar inside and out. However, the Macan’s conversion from the plebeian Q5 was much more involved. Porsche also starts their lineup with a 340 horsepower twin-turbo V6, 7-speed DCT, and made major changes to the structure of the Q5 platform. On top of that, they fit wider tires all around. Obviously our 2.0L X4 doesn’t compete with the Porsche, but the X4 with the turbo six is an interesting alternative. The X4 xDrive35i manages to be a hair faster to 60 in my limited tests (1/10th) thanks likely to the ZF 8-speed automatic. The BMW’s transmission is smoother, I think the exterior is more elegant and depending on how you configure your Porsche, the cost difference can exceed $10,000 in the X4’s favor. The Macan handles better and had a nicer and more customizable interior, but the options are so expensive that it’s easy to get a Macan S over $75,000 without really trying.

Although I like the X4’s interior more than the 3-GT, the  GT makes more sense to me. You get more room inside, it’s more nimble out on the road and the fuel economy in the real world is a hair better. The X3 is more practical and gives up little when it comes to performance and handling and the 3-Series sport wagon is probably the best blend of cargo practicality and performance handling. This brings me back to BMW’s diabolical plan: comparisons. No matter how I tried to define or categorize the X4, the competitive set was littered with BMWs. Aside from the xDrive35i being the value alternative to the Macan S, all that can be said of the X4 in the end is that it is a less practical X3 and a taller GT with a nicer dash.

Sound off in the comment section below: what would you cross shop with the X4?

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.4 Seconds

0-60: 6.14 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.83 Seconds @ 92.8 MPG

Average Economy: 23.8 MPG

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IHS: PHEVs To Overtake EVs In Europe Within Two Years http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/ihs-phevs-overtake-evs-europe-within-two-years/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/ihs-phevs-overtake-evs-europe-within-two-years/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 14:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1043242 Electric vehicles are doing well in Europe, but their dominance over PHEVs may soon draw to a close. Automotive News Europe reports sales of EVs in Europe jumped 73 percent to 58,244 units in 2014, while sales of PHEVs climbed 29 percent in the same period to 39,547, according to industry group ACEA. The best-selling […]

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Electric vehicles are doing well in Europe, but their dominance over PHEVs may soon draw to a close.

Automotive News Europe reports sales of EVs in Europe jumped 73 percent to 58,244 units in 2014, while sales of PHEVs climbed 29 percent in the same period to 39,547, according to industry group ACEA. The best-selling EV and PHEV in 2014 were the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (15,134 units vs. 19,855), while the largest markets were Norway for EVs (18,090 units), Netherlands for PHEVs (9,938).

According to IHS Automotive senior analyst Ben Scott, PHEVs will overtake EVs this year or in 2016 as far as production goes, forecasting 1.35 million units by 2020, and 2.7 million by 2025. Meanwhile, EV sales will be under 1 million by 2020, as consumers are likely to choose PHEVs for their flexibility in range and use over electric-only vehicles.

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QOTD: What Foreign Cars Should Be Sold In North America? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/qotd-foreign-cars-sold-north-america/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/qotd-foreign-cars-sold-north-america/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 17:31:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1038473 I recently returned from a week-long visit to Europe, the world leader in diesel hatchbacks and cigarettes. There, as I always do when I arrive in Europe, I came face to face with a stark reality: there are still human beings driving around in Peugeots. And in fact, I was one of them. I visited […]

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1024px-Peugeot_308_CC_e-HDi_FAP_110_STOP_&_START_Active_(Facelift)_–_Frontansicht,_10._September_2011,_Düsseldorf

I recently returned from a week-long visit to Europe, the world leader in diesel hatchbacks and cigarettes. There, as I always do when I arrive in Europe, I came face to face with a stark reality: there are still human beings driving around in Peugeots.

And in fact, I was one of them. I visited the tiny island nation of Malta, a former British colony located somewhere between Sicily and Africa, and I rented a Peugeot 308CC. Although I cannot be sure, I believe this stands for either “Coupe Convertible” or “Chimpanzee Cerebellum.”

Anyway, this ended up being a gigantic mistake on Malta, because it turns out that the entire place is no larger than a bathroom trash can, whereas the 308CC is a bit Colossally Corpulent. Not by American standards, of course; the 308CC isn’t even large enough to be seen by the naked eye of people who are driving Escalades and G-Wagens. They would have to use a telescope; the same one that prevents them from running over the poors.

But by Maltese standards this thing was huge, and I quickly regretted my decision. I especially regretted my decision when I began driving the vehicle on Malta’s UK-style, right-hand drive streets. Imagine it: there I am, shifting with my left hand for the first time ever, and at the same time trying to pilot a boat of a bad-visibility convertible down streets that were barely large enough for one single subcompact Ford Ka. It was such a bad situation that the woman at the Avis counter said – I am not kidding here – that the vehicle’s rental insurance policy covers everything “except the mirrors.”

And then, after a while, I realized something: although this car sucks for Malta, it would be great in North America.

Think about it: the 308CC gets excellent fuel economy – or at least the diesel-powered one I drove did. I know this because they gave it to me with half a tank and told me to return it with half a tank, but instead I drove it around Malta for three days and returned it with a quarter tank because I believe, after exhaustive study, that the entire country does not possess a single gas station.

It’s also got a lot of cool features, like an infotainment system, and automatic windshield wipers, and an iPod hookup, and a power-operated top, and a scary-looking lion logo on the steering wheel, and some very cool Peugeot Center Caps, one of which I stole.

And sure, it isn’t fast, but let’s be honest here: the kind of people interested in a convertible that has a lot of features and gets good gas mileage don’t really care about performance. You could give these people a 308 CC and strap in the same engine that powers a paper airplane (air) and they would still be happy.

But here I was driving it around Malta, a dusty island nation where the largest vehicle is a 1980s Toyota pickup that appears to have run over an entire flock of sheep, in this vehicle that simply didn’t belong there. It belonged in North America.

And that’s when I started thinking: what other vehicles belong in North America?

One obvious answer is the Volkswagen Amarok, which is this midsize pickup truck that appears to be roughly the same level of “large” and “competent” as the Chevrolet Colorado. I saw a well-equipped Amarok in Istanbul, a land of no pickup trucks, and couldn’t help but wonder why this vehicle isn’t also sold in America, a land where one brand sells more of one truck in four months than Volkswagen sells overall vehicles in the entire year.

Of course, the Amarok would have to be tuned up a bit if they wanted to sell it in America, since the base-level one has only 120 horsepower. This makes it roughly as fast as volcanic lava.

Another good contender: the Audi A5 Sportback. Have you heard of this thing? Imagine, if you will, a four-door version of the Audi A5, with a hatchback like the A7. Now, I fully admit that the segmentation of the luxury car world has grown to a point where things have gotten ridiculous, but Audi has largely stayed away from that stuff. And why? BMW would sell a Gran Coupe version of a tennis shoe, so why shouldn’t Audi?

And here’s the crazy part: although BMW’s proliferation of Gran Turismos and Gran Coupes has been only within the last year or two, Audi started selling the A5 Sportback in 2009! In other words: they created a cool new segment five years ago, and then they let BMW take all the glory.

But these are just a few examples, so now I’m posing the question to you: what cars should be sold in North America? And some guidance: avoid obvious answers of cars you want to see in North America, like some high-performance sports car or a crazy hot hatch. Focus instead on vehicles that would actually do well; vehicles that actually have a purpose; vehicles that would actually find success on our great continent. Like the Curious Coyote.

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Schockmel: CLEPA Members Ready For Autonomous Opportunities http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/schockmel-clepa-members-ready-autonomous-opportunities/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/schockmel-clepa-members-ready-autonomous-opportunities/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 14:00:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1016706 Amid the glitz and glamour of the 2015 Geneva Auto Show, European auto supplier group CLEPA proclaimed its members would have a part to play in the autonomous game. According to Just-Auto, group CEO Paul Schockmel said that the move toward autonomous driving was gaining steam, and that suppliers would be a huge part of […]

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Volvo-Autonomous-Drive

Amid the glitz and glamour of the 2015 Geneva Auto Show, European auto supplier group CLEPA proclaimed its members would have a part to play in the autonomous game.

According to Just-Auto, group CEO Paul Schockmel said that the move toward autonomous driving was gaining steam, and that suppliers would be a huge part of the movement:

This is the story which is not only changing cars, but the entire automotive industry and [is] a societal change. I am very much focussing on this because I feel for our members, we have to follow this very strongly and we see huge business opportunities. There will also be challenges with new players coming in – I see this in a positive way because there are opportunities.

Already, Volvo is experimenting with autonomous technology through a plan to introduce 100 vehicles so-equipped to its home city of Gothenburg, Sweden in 2017. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom government approved measures to allow driverless testing on public roads, providing funding for tests in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry. The government also is developing certification standards for autonomous vehicles.

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De Nysschen: Small Cadillac CUV Due In Four Years’ Time http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/de-nysschen-small-cadillac-cuv-due-four-years-time/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/de-nysschen-small-cadillac-cuv-due-four-years-time/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 13:00:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=988490 Ballers looking for a much smaller Cadillac Escalade may need to wait four years before such a beast arrives, per president Johan de Nysschen. Reuters reports the small crossover will be priced under the Escalade’s current $72,970 base price, and will be part of the brand’s overall $12 billion lineup expansion plan that will see […]

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Ballers looking for a much smaller Cadillac Escalade may need to wait four years before such a beast arrives, per president Johan de Nysschen.

Reuters reports the small crossover will be priced under the Escalade’s current $72,970 base price, and will be part of the brand’s overall $12 billion lineup expansion plan that will see eight vehicles introduced between now and the end of the decade.

Also coming in 2019: diesel-power for both cars and crossovers/SUVs. De Nysschen said he wants to start pushing for market share in Europe during the 2020s, explaining that “if you want to play in Europe, you better have some diesels.” Said diesels would also be sold in the U.S. market.

Meanwhile, he expects sales to remain flat for 2015, linked to the lack of new product beyond the upcoming CT6 flagship until late into 2017. De Nysschen adds that the strengthening U.S. dollar would leave a dent in his brand and those of his U.S.-based competitors, while Asian and European automakers use the currency challenge to cut prices on their respective offerings.

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Capsule Review: 1983 Ford Sierra Ghia 2.0 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/capsule-review-1983-ford-sierra-ghia-2-0/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/capsule-review-1983-ford-sierra-ghia-2-0/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 13:44:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=981897     “Wait! Is that a…” “Are you British?”  “I haven’t seen one of these since I left Venezuela as a teenager, only rich people had Sierras!” Behold random responses from gawkers of TTAC’s Project Car. The surprises continue after several hundred miles under the Ford Sierra’s belt, as life with this fish out of water is […]

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“Wait! Is that a…”

“Are you British?”

 “I haven’t seen one of these since I left Venezuela as a teenager, only rich people had Sierras!”

Behold random responses from gawkers of TTAC’s Project Car. The surprises continue after several hundred miles under the Ford Sierra’s belt, as life with this fish out of water is far from a compromise.

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To see it is to not know it: like most hyper-futuristic designs past their prime, a head turner in conservative 1982 England is a familiar profile in conservative 2015 Texas.  Aside from the steering wheel on the wrong side!

But critical eyes notice the Ghia’s grille-free nose and alien headlights. The conversation’s tenor changes: there’s no better compliment to Mr. Uwe Bahnsen and his gifted team than the subtle and thoughtful reactions a Sierra earns a full thirty-three years after liftoff.

Get behind the wheel and the modern theme continues, because it drives like a newer vehicle.

Reasonable drag coefficient (.34) and almost nothing frontal area aside, the finest late-70s technology helps the Sierra match (or trump) the manners of new vehicles at most (legal) speeds.  Strut front suspension with rack-and-pinion steering is right, even without modern aluminum componentry. The semi-trailing arm rear looks modern-ish with exposed webbing on the differential: credit the beginnings of finite element analysis.

(photo courtesy: Ford Press Release)

At 2500-ish lbs, the ho-hum Ford Sierra is a balanced rear-wheel drive, fully-Germanic chassis on a family car body. Which means that roads normally tortured by flaccid CUVs now tango with something Miata-sized.

Captain Mike, the mastermind of this plan, behind the wheel at the Nürburgring.

Thrills start at the tiller: no power assist means road feel harkens to a dance with a soul mate. Manual steering effort is no chore with 165mm wide tires that rarely lack grip on city streets. Emergency maneuvers are effortless, understeer is progressive with the possibility of gentle, controlled oversteer.

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Go round-abouting and the Sierra hangs tight as speeds near 25mph. Above 25 and the front wheels howl as your grin grows. Add a dab of oppo, scandinavian flicks, badass drifter talk blah-blah-blah: with more go-juice, steering modulation and you could duplicate this:

Fiesta THIS.

Like all Sierras thrashed-then-trashed in Europe, its a joy to drift at low speeds even if hamstringed by saggy, original springs and plush dampers. But it’s a pleasant ride/handling tradeoff.  Potholes disappear with 80-series sidewalls smoothing imperfections to the point the big-rimmed Rolls Royce Phantom hangs its NVH-soaked head in shame. How Britishy!

Too bad about the buzzy powertrain: 105 bigger-than-you-think horses from a 2.0L OHC four-banger (sporting a large 2bbl Weber) means the Sierra rarely struggles, but makes a helluva ruckus.

It’s a wonderful powerband: diesel-like torque from a standstill with a smooth-ish (but L-O-U-D) demeanor all the way to 6000 emissions control free revs. The 3-speed auto schools modern units with an effortless 1-2 upshift and a reassuring push to 3rd at full throttle: all autoboxes should shift this sweet.

Brakes?  Credit the light weight for the Sierra’s discs/drums bringing the machine down from 60mph with the hustle of a modern machine. ABS would help, ditto weight adding life-saving technology like airbags, larger door bars, etc.  I reckon with today’s weight shedding tech (aluminum engines, plastic hoods/intakes, etc) offsetting the safety goodies, the Sierra’s fighting form wouldn’t gain a pound.

In the right place. (photo courtesy: Ford Motor Company)

And Ghia spec Ford Sierras are a nice place for average Americans and most Europeans, aside from the previous owner’s decision to order it sans air conditioning: antique English vehicle shopping FTW, SON MATE!

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Fleet-spec Sierras don’t stand a chance, but the real wood trim and buffet-worthy options list protect Ghias from modern motoring irrelevance. Power windows (front 2 or 4), crank moonroof, adjustable reading lamps and a four-speaker cassette stereo are far from impressive. But heated seats, roll up rear sunshades, headlight washers and a gen-u-wine electronic trip computer are touches you’d pay extra for even today.

Mediocre overall, as integration is the killer app.

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Because 1980s. (photo courtesy: Ford Motor Company)

The dash, less radical than the wraparound polycarbonate bumpers, organizes controls in zones for easy use: one to the right of the gauges, another to the left, a third atop the center stack (dark chocolate) and a 4th in the lighter brown region. It’s charming in a proto-modern, Atari 2600 human factors kind of way.

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The interior bits are from a dumber era in polymer construction, yet texture/fit/finish from the doors, vent registers, levers and switches is pure Germanic craftsmanship. Aside from the (period excellent) brown velour, the interior’s aged well.

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But goodness, those seats are magical.  Don’t let the benign seams fool you: the Ghia sucks you in, cradling you. All passengers get thick, luxurious cushions with brilliant thigh support and Volvo-worthy head restraints. Even the Velcro-like velour provides impressive lateral support for everyone but latex-wearing fetishists.

While the stereo is barely adequate, while the vintage Hitachi deck’s discman input smartphone jack provides turn-by-turn Google navigation and streaming audio, don’t forget the tunes held in a handy hatchback with 42.4 cu-ft of space!

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And the beat goes brown.

Considering fuel economy numbers near 30mpg for highway-skewed driving (no overdrive) the Ford Sierra is an antique you could daily drive. (Just find one with A/C.)

But the original MKI design asks for more. It deserves more. 

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Back on the trailer for big upgrades: more gears, power and period-correct emissions processing for a powertrain worthy of that efficient body.

Yes, this Sierra has the power of contemporary V8s in a superior chassis. And it’s quite the time capsule, even difficult to find in Europe…but at what cost to cutting-edge design?

Next time you see TTAC’s Ford Sierra, prepare for an even larger threat to the notion of a modern car!

 

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US Data Privacy Guidelines Not Compatible With Euro Privacy Laws http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/us-data-privacy-guidelines-compatible-euro-privacy-laws/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/11/us-data-privacy-guidelines-compatible-euro-privacy-laws/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:00:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=949937 Just as with emissions and headlamps, standards recently adopted in the United States regarding consumer data and privacy won’t be compatible elsewhere, specifically in Europe. Per Automotive News Europe, Stephan Appt, legal director of Munich, Germany-based international law firm Pinsent Masons, says the standards developed by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of […]

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Just as with emissions and headlamps, standards recently adopted in the United States regarding consumer data and privacy won’t be compatible elsewhere, specifically in Europe.

Per Automotive News Europe, Stephan Appt, legal director of Munich, Germany-based international law firm Pinsent Masons, says the standards developed by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers to both handle said data and ensure privacy “are a step in the right direction,” but aren’t enough for European authorities.

Issues concerning the standards — which were agreed upon earlier this month by BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen — include vague and broad statements within the framework, as well as consumers giving “implicit consent to allow data processing based (upon) their mere usage of vehicle technologies and services,” an act that would run afoul of European privacy standards.

Appt added that support for the guidelines shows that automakers “are taking the issue of protecting driver data seriously enough to put aside their differences and collaborate,” and hopes those in Europe would do the same to mitigate risk in violating local privacy laws.

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Editorial: Accord A Canary In the Coal Mine For Europe’s Large Car Segment http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/editorial-accord-canary-coal-mine-europes-large-car-segment/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/editorial-accord-canary-coal-mine-europes-large-car-segment/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 16:17:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=936642 Acura’s decision to consolidate both the TL and TSX into a single replacement, did more than just deprive North American consumers of a Made In Japan, manual-equipped Acura sedan. It also helped spell the end of the European Honda Accord. The “narrow body” Accord, sold in Europe, Australia and other world markets formed the basis […]

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Acura’s decision to consolidate both the TL and TSX into a single replacement, did more than just deprive North American consumers of a Made In Japan, manual-equipped Acura sedan. It also helped spell the end of the European Honda Accord.

The “narrow body” Accord, sold in Europe, Australia and other world markets formed the basis for our TSX. But Honda has decided to cease production of their “large” (by world standards) sedan starting early next year.

In Canada and the United States, the Accord is a strong player in the mid-size sedan market. But in the rest of the world, it’s a bit player at best. In a region where cars like the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Fiesta regularly top the sales charts, the Accord was fighting for relative scraps. And its competition, like the Ford Mondeo, Opel/Vauxhall Insignia and Volkswagen Passat practically have the segment locked down in the all important corporate fleet arena, where most of these large cars are purchased, due to the tax savings generated by a company car, rather than buying one for personal use.

Honda won’t be replacing the Accord with another version, but given the way things are going for Europe’s car market, that may not be a bad thing. Crossovers are eating into everything from sedans to compact hatchbacks to station wagons. Better to devote resources to marketing the CR-V and the upcoming HR-V than a minor player in a shrinking segment.

 

 

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Ford Cutting European Fiesta Output On Weak Demand http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/ford-cutting-european-fiesta-output-weak-demand/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/ford-cutting-european-fiesta-output-weak-demand/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 18:36:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=915210 As one of Europe’s most popular vehicles, the Ford Fiesta’s sales is an interesting datapoint when it comes to looking at the strength of the overall European car market. So it’s interesting that despite a supposed rebound of Europe’s new car market, Ford is cutting Fiesta output at its plant in Cologne, Germany. Just-Auto is […]

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As one of Europe’s most popular vehicles, the Ford Fiesta’s sales is an interesting datapoint when it comes to looking at the strength of the overall European car market. So it’s interesting that despite a supposed rebound of Europe’s new car market, Ford is cutting Fiesta output at its plant in Cologne, Germany.

Just-Auto is reporting that Ford will cut output for 11 days, despite an overall EU market up 6 percent this year, though key markets like France, Italy and Germany were down slightly. Last year, the Fiesta was Europe’s best-selling small car, and according to Polk registration data, the top-selling subcompact in the world. The aforementioned countries are also key markets for the Fiesta (though the UK, its top market, is still going strong), so Ford won’t be taking this development lightly.

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Piston Slap: A Grey Market Global Ranger? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/piston-slap-global-ranger-management/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/piston-slap-global-ranger-management/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 11:57:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=912394 H.Y. writes: Hi Sajeev, the global Ford Ranger is still sold overseas now.  What are the challenges for a person to import a modern used Ranger these days? how much addedcostsontopofthepurchase/transport price? 25% truck import duty?  even with a 4-door model ? how much paper work?  US customs, EPA, State safety inspection, DMV plate? what if the truck […]

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H.Y. writes:
Hi Sajeev, the global Ford Ranger is still sold overseas now.  What are the challenges for a person to import a modern used Ranger these days?
  • how much addedcostsontopofthepurchase/transport price?
    • 25% truck import duty?  even with a 4-door model ?
  • how much paper work?  US customs, EPA, State safety inspection, DMV plate?
  • what if the truck has a broken or no engine/transmission, would that make the import any easier/cheaper?
    • if it has no engine, install a local used engine in the US?
  • does it matter if the truck is from Mexico,Thailand, South America…?  any easier rules?
    • RHD personal vehicle is allowed in the US?
Thanks.

Sajeev answers:

Importing a Global Ranger?  Oh hell no!  As per NHTSA:

“As a general rule, a motor vehicle less than 25 years old must comply with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) to be imported on a permanent basis.”

There’s a reason why I imported my Sierra.  Well, aside from the sheer stupidity of wanting a brown jellybean-shaped hatchback from London: it was also over 25 years old.  It just comes in like any other car, and depending on your state, obtaining a title involves extra paperwork, classic car insurance and a (sometimes) basic vehicle inspection. No need to get federal approval over emissions tests, crash standards, noise regulations and who the hell knows what else?

So it’s time to give up. Instead buy one of the Last Great Compact Trucks in the USA:  especially since I got 30.1 MPG in my 2.3L Duratec 5-speed Ranger on a recent trip to San Antonio/Austin/Round Rock in mostly highway driving.

The time, money and stress you’ll avoid makes you forget about that cool Global Ranger.  Console yourself with one of these 25 year old beauties:  it sure worked for me.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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A Look At Western Europe’s Most Popular Brands From 25 Years Ago http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/look-western-europes-popular-brands-25-years-ago/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/look-western-europes-popular-brands-25-years-ago/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 21:22:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904681   From The Machine That Changed The World and the Financial Times: a companion to our article showing a breakdown of the most popular brands in Europe today. While Volkswagen is still dominante, Both of PSAs nameplates have fallen from their former glory to be also-ran brands on the continent. Fiat, while strong regionally, has weakened significantly. […]

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From The Machine That Changed The World and the Financial Times: a companion to our article showing a breakdown of the most popular brands in Europe today.

While Volkswagen is still dominante, Both of PSAs nameplates have fallen from their former glory to be also-ran brands on the continent. Fiat, while strong regionally, has weakened significantly. Rover no longer exists. Volvo is practically a non-entity.

On the other hand, the Japanese can no longer be lumped into a singular entity (Nissan is particularly strong in Europe, with the Qashqai and Juke), and the Koreans are wholly absent from this chart. Meanwhile, Hyundai and Kia are challenging some established European brands in their home markets?

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A Look At Europe’s Top Selling Brands By Country http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/look-europes-top-selling-brands-country/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/look-europes-top-selling-brands-country/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 11:30:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904657   From the Twitter account of Bob Flavin comes this map of Europe, overlayed with each country’s best-selling auto brand. Volkswagen, along with Skoda (and to a lesser extent, SEAT and Audi) are far and away the dominant force in Europe, with Fiat, Renault (and Dacia) trailing behind. Regionally, Audi is popular in wealthy enclaves […]

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From the Twitter account of Bob Flavin comes this map of Europe, overlayed with each country’s best-selling auto brand.

Volkswagen, along with Skoda (and to a lesser extent, SEAT and Audi) are far and away the dominant force in Europe, with Fiat, Renault (and Dacia) trailing behind.

Regionally, Audi is popular in wealthy enclaves like Monaco, while Skoda dominates in Central Europe. Dacia is abundant in developing countries as diverse as Romania, Moldova, Morocco and Algeria while Fiat is tops not just in Italy, but Turkey and Serbia as well – countries where Fiat builds vehicles locally.

Popular brands in North America, like Ford, Toyota and Honda are much smaller players in the continent. While the Fiesta, Focus and other nameplates enjoy widespread success throughout Europe, Toyota and Honda are much smaller players. And most tellingly, none of the PSA nameplates (Peugeot and Citroen) are present. Or Hyundai/Kia, for that matter.

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Generation Why: A Sub-$30k Car “Wouldn’t Be A Lexus” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/generation-sub-30k-car-wouldnt-lexus/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/generation-sub-30k-car-wouldnt-lexus/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 14:45:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=877265 Mercedes and Audi all have a sub-$30,000 entry in their American model ranges. BMW’s cheapest model is just a few hundred dollars above that price point. Infiniti will likely have their own model in that space. So why not Lexus? Speaking to Automotive News, Lexus boss Mark Templin said “We could go down and build a […]

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Mercedes and Audi all have a sub-$30,000 entry in their American model ranges. BMW’s cheapest model is just a few hundred dollars above that price point. Infiniti will likely have their own model in that space. So why not Lexus?

Speaking to Automotive News, Lexus boss Mark Templin said

“We could go down and build a car under $30,000, but it would be decontented, and you’d be cutting corners. It wouldn’t be a Lexus…To be honest with you, you can’t build a Lexus with the quality, the durability, the reliability, the craftsmanship, the content that we put in a Lexus and sell it profitably under $30,000. You just can’t do it.”

Templin’s comments are about as clear a swipe at the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA as one can get. While CLA sales have been big for Benz (as much as 11 percent of the brand’s total, by AN‘s count), reviews have been mixed.

Mercedes-Benz, like other European luxury brands, face an additional dilemma beyond the usual matters of scale, volume and profitability requirements associated with those issues. In many mature markets, their buyers are getting older, while a new generation of buyers is both moving away from cars, and arguably less able to afford a new luxury car. Products like the CLA and A3 offer an affordable entry-point into the brand, while also appealing to the aesthetic, environmental and economic tastes of the Millennial generation. Lexus doesn’t necessarily have this problem in the same way that the Germans do, but they also don’t have much of a presence in Europe either.

What Lexus is doing, as AN pointed out, is attempting to stake out the “high ground” by keeping the price floor above $30,000 (the entry-level CT hybrid starts at about $32,000), which will ostensibly further entrench their “luxury” position. But Lexus, for all its success, has never achieved true global success as a luxury brand, which is something that only the Germans have managed to earn. And as we all know, it’s easier to reach downmarket than try and move up. The A-Class was a hit for Mercedes, but Volkswagen didn’t fare well with the Phaeton. And Audi is just finally turning the corner after a decades long climb to Tier 1.

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Been Dacia’d And Confused For So Long It’s Not True… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/been-daciad-and-confused-for-so-long-its-not-true/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/been-daciad-and-confused-for-so-long-its-not-true/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:50:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=872090 General Motors took the step of killing off Chevrolet in Europe earlier this year, and has long attempted to position Opel and Vauxhall as mainstream but slightly more premium offerings (analogous to how Volkswagen was once marketed in the United States). And that makes news of a new line of budget cars all the more […]

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General Motors took the step of killing off Chevrolet in Europe earlier this year, and has long attempted to position Opel and Vauxhall as mainstream but slightly more premium offerings (analogous to how Volkswagen was once marketed in the United States). And that makes news of a new line of budget cars all the more confusing.

Just-Auto reports that Opel and Vauxhall will launch two new budget models to attract customers who may have previously opted for Chevrolet cars. First is the new Viva, based on the next-generation Chevrolet Spark. A small SUV, set to rival the Dacia Duster, is also being considered.

Rather than aiming for a brand that specifically targets no-frills motoring, it appears that GM is aiming to emulate Skoda, which at least has some measure of style and chic appeal, even as it positions itself as a value brand. The new Viva looks to be a pretty stylish car, but the brand positioning appears to be contradictory. How can Opel and Vauxhall aspire to sell pseudo-premium sedans like the Insignia while also pushing a new line of budget cars? Then again, nobody can ever accuse GM of having a consistent or coherent brand strategy in Europe.

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2015 Opel Corsa Revealed http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/2015-opel-corsa-revealed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/2015-opel-corsa-revealed/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 11:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=863625   Opel’s Fiesta fighter has just bowed in Europe, and for once, we don’t have to feel like we’re missing out. While the Sonic gets the modern Gamma architecture, the Corsa rides on a warmed over version of the Fiat-GM small car platform that also underpins some mediocre Fiat small cars like the Fiat 500L […]

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Opel’s Fiesta fighter has just bowed in Europe, and for once, we don’t have to feel like we’re missing out.

While the Sonic gets the modern Gamma architecture, the Corsa rides on a warmed over version of the Fiat-GM small car platform that also underpins some mediocre Fiat small cars like the Fiat 500L (and the Jeep Renegade).

The lack of an all-new platform for the Corsa seems puzzling given that B-segment cars are so critical in Europe and world markets. With Opel struggling, it may have been hard to justify anything but a rehash of the old Fiat platform. And then there’s also the soon to be introduced Viva, which will be a bit smaller but far more modern and priced at the bottom of the new car segment, to compete with the Volkswagen Up!. Perhaps the fix is in?

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Vauxhall Readies Its Fiesta ST Fighter – Are You Listening, Chevrolet? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/vauxhall-readies-its-fiesta-st-fighter-are-you-listening-chevrolet/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/vauxhall-readies-its-fiesta-st-fighter-are-you-listening-chevrolet/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 18:57:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858241 The internet is littered with half-hearted, nonsensical clickbait encomiums to products that have a “notgonnahappen.com” chance of ever coming to our market. But this time, it’s different – sort of. Vauxhall is readying the next Corsa, which will be unveiled next week, and a hot VXR version is all  but confirmed for future production. The […]

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The internet is littered with half-hearted, nonsensical clickbait encomiums to products that have a “notgonnahappen.com” chance of ever coming to our market. But this time, it’s different – sort of.

Vauxhall is readying the next Corsa, which will be unveiled next week, and a hot VXR version is all  but confirmed for future production. The Corsa VXR will reportedly have more power than the Ford Fiesta ST and the Renaultsport Clio 200, which both put out around 200 horsepower from their 1.6L Turbo 4-cylinder engines.

We will probably never see the Corsa VXR here, since the Corsa rides on a unique platform shared with Fiat and used only for A and B segment Opel/Vauxhall cars. World markets get the Gamma II platform that the Chevrolet Sonic rides on – but there’s no reason Chevrolet couldn’t copy the formula to create a sport Sonic. How about the all new, 200 horsepower 1.6L Ecotec that’s rumored to be in the VXR, and already in the Opel Cascada (in a slightly lower output)?

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Next Nissan Pulsar Won’t Be “Sporty” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/next-nissan-pulsar-wont-be-sporty/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/next-nissan-pulsar-wont-be-sporty/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 16:13:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858161 Brace yourselves for the inevitable slate of reviews criticizing mushy steering, an uninspired ride and myriad other complaints that most buyers won’t give a lick about. Nissan’s next C-segment hatch, the Pulsar, will apparently not be “sporty”, and Nissan is just fine with that. According to AutoExpress, Nissan’s Andy Palmer said that “I’m not looking […]

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Brace yourselves for the inevitable slate of reviews criticizing mushy steering, an uninspired ride and myriad other complaints that most buyers won’t give a lick about. Nissan’s next C-segment hatch, the Pulsar, will apparently not be “sporty”, and Nissan is just fine with that.

According to AutoExpress, Nissan’s Andy Palmer said that

“I’m not looking for a car that is ultimately very very sporty…I’m looking for something that can transition a customer from a Qashqai to a hatchback. It needs the same DNA, but we want to keep ex-Qahsqai buyers in the Nissan family. It has to have a familiar design and handling.”

Palmer noted that the new hatch “doesn’t transmit impulses back into the car” and that “the steering is quite light”. Sounds like a recipe for enthusiast disaster, right? Well, given the smashing success of the Qashqai (which basically invented the small CUV segment in Europe), it’s easy to see why Nissan is going down this road.

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