The Truth About Cars » Europe The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 18 Apr 2014 10:30:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Europe BAIC Seeks To Acquire US, European Brand Fri, 04 Apr 2014 11:05:24 +0000 Senova BAIC C10

Looking to expand its global presence beyond its native China, Beijing Automotive Group announced they would like to acquire a “mid to high-level brand” in either Europe or the United States, and already has a list of potential brands in mind.

Reuters reports BAIC originally looked towards Europe for their potential acquisition, but has now expanded their search to the U.S. President Dong Haiyang told reporters that his company’s brand is little-known outside of China, and sees a European or American brand as a shortcut into the global marketplace.

At home, BAIC purchased two smaller rivals in 2013, and signed a joint investment agreement with Daimler AG last month, delivering $5.51 billion into their joint venture in order to double production by 2015.

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Japanese Automakers Find New Export Base, Opportunity In Mexico Tue, 11 Mar 2014 14:45:26 +0000 Mazda3s Loading Onto Three-Tiered Train Car

Within four months of each other, Honda, Mazda and Nissan have opened new factories in Mexico, taking advantage of the opportunities within the nation’s automotive industry to grow a new export base into the United States, Latin America and Europe while also gaining ground in the rapidly expanding local market, all in direct challenge to the Detroit Three and other automakers on both sides of the border.

Automotive News reports Mexico will become the No. 1 exporting nation to the U.S. by 2015 at the earliest in large part due to the 605,000 units per year added by the three Japanese automakers. Meanwhile, Toyota will begin production in 2015 at Mazda’s newly opened Salamanca plant prior to deciding whether or not to build a new factory of their own. Nissan’s premium brand, Infiniti, may also set-up shop in Mexico.

In turn, the Japanese will see benefits from the move, from mitigating losses from a weaker yen in exports from home and greater profit due to cheap labor, to no tariffs on exports to the U.S. due to the North American Free Trade Agreement and improved product availability resulting from shorter distances between markets.

Speaking of free-trade agreements, Japanese automakers will also have access to some 44 countries and up to 40 million sales annually as a result of Mexico’s many agreements, allowing them to take on competitors in Latin America and Europe.

Finally, the Japanese have taken market share away from the Detroit Three in Mexico’s own automotive market, holding a collective 42 percent over Detroit’s 35 percent in 2013, when just four years earlier Detroit dominated with 57 percent of the market over Japan’s 23 percent.

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GM Korea May Increase Exports To Australia Fri, 07 Mar 2014 17:52:32 +0000 Holden Cruze

As Chevrolet slowly exits from the European market while Holden exits the production line altogether, General Motors is mulling over increasing exports to Australia out of South Korea.

Bloomberg reports the increase in exports is compensation for GM Korea losing as much as 15 percent to 20 percent of its production volume when Chevrolet closes the door on Europe at the end of 2015, and is roughly the same volume needed to fill the showroom floors in Australia while Holden winds down local production — and possibly itself — by 2017.

The Chevrolet experiment ultimately lost General Motors “millions” of dollars according to GM Korea CEO Sergio Rocha, though he expects the Australian market will more than make up for it:

With this money that we call ‘loss avoidance,’ I’m going to have a lot of money in the next couple of years that we can invest in new products to be competitive in the local market and for exports as well.

Meanwhile, GM will focus on Vauxhall and Opel vehicles in their native markets, with Opel also providing select vehicles to the Australian market, beginning with the Cascada convertible.

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EU Ratifies New CO2 Targets Fri, 28 Feb 2014 05:01:34 +0000 14-02-04-Parlement-européen-Strasbourg-RalfR-046

The European Union Parliament approved new CO2 targets for the year 2020, mandating an average of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer, or roughly as much as a Toyota Prius emits. Current standards sit at 130 grams per kilometer. Just-Auto reports that within a few months, discussions will kick off regarding a post-2020 target.

So what does this mean for enthusiasts? Well, expect more of the things that so many of us complain about. Automotive designs will have to work within narrow parameters to meet both design and safety regulations, so expect further homogeneity on that front. Under the skin, we’ll see more turbocharged engines (and fewer naturally aspirated ones), with smaller displacements and cylinder counts, as well as the increasing proliferation of hybrid systems in various forms.

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Hyundai To Challenge BMW, Mercedes With Genesis Sedan In Europe Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:55:32 +0000 2015 Hyundai Genesis

Set to be introduced to the European premium market at the Geneva Auto Show next week, the Hyundai Genesis will be aimed at establishing a foothold for the automaker in the market against BMW and Mercedes upon arrival in showrooms in June, particularly in Southern Europe, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Automotive News Europe reports Hyundai expects to sell 1,000 of the premium sedans to a targeted group of customers who are familiar with the brand, especially those ready to attach diplomat plates to their new purchase. No price has been announced thus far, though the automaker has pegged the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class as rivals to their Genesis.

Overall, Hyundai aims to increase their market share on the continent from 3.4 percent currently to 5 percent by 2020. Though sales fell 5.5 percent last month, there are already 6 million vehicles on the road, with 70 percent under seven years of age. Customer retention also increased, moving from 36 percent in 2010 to 50 percent in the present, which benefits Hyundai in Europe according to regional head Allan Rushforth:

Working on loyalty is really fundamental to the economics of our business, and the success of our business in Europe. We’ve been a conquest brand to get to this point, but we’ve got to evolve and mature to balance retention and conquest in the future.

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European Auto Market Begins Climb Out Of Six-Year Descent Wed, 29 Jan 2014 16:30:48 +0000 2014 Ford Transit Nugget

After six consecutive years of falling auto sales, the European automotive industry group ACEA predicts a 2 percent increase for 2014 as demand slowly works its way out of the wilderness, according to a report by Automotive News.

At a press conference in ACEA’s headquarters in Brussels, president Philippe Varin said that though sales won’t return to pre-Great Recession levels any time soon, he believes 2014 will “herald a transition toward a recovery” based upon December 2013 delivery gains signalling a U-turn toward the light.

Overall European sales in 2013 fell 1.8 percent to 12.3 million units, the lowest figure noted since 1995. Within the European Union, 11.8 million units were delivered in the same period; Varin, who is also CEO of PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, predicts the EU figure will climb “just above” 12 million in 2014.

Though automakers, such as Ford and Renault, are also predicting a gradual revival in sales — hinging on the economic activity of France, Spain and Italy in the coming year — the Blue Oval, PSA and General Motors are shuttering factories and scaling back their workforces in Europe in response to the market decline.

To remedy the issue, Varin believes authorities in the European market should do all they can to help bolster the coming recovery, including increased flexibility in labor and the use of EU social funds to help automakers reorganize.

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GM May Slash 1,100 Korean Jobs As Chevy Pulls Out Of Europe Mon, 27 Jan 2014 13:00:19 +0000 gm-chevy-cruze-assembly-plant-gunsan-south-korea-worker

Reuters is reporting from “a source with direct knowledge of the matter” that General Motors plans to reduce shifts at its South Korean factories by half as it aligns its global manufacturing. The move could eliminate 1,100 jobs. GM had announced last month that it was discontinuing the Chevrolet brand in Europe by the end of next year and GM Korea produces many of the Chevy branded cars sold on the continent.

According to the report, GM Korea has already approached the union representing its production workers about reducing the current two shifts at the Gunsan factory to a single shift. That plant employs 2,200 manufacturing employees. It’s not clear if the surplus employees will be laid off, offered voluntary retirement or relocated to other facilities.

A GM Korea spokesperson declined to comment in detail, but confirmed that talks are under way about the Gunsan facility. That factory, one of four GM Korea assembly plants, currently produces the Chevy Cruze compact sedan and Orlando SUV. It has an annual production capacity of 260,000 units.

“The Chevy pullout would have a direct blow to the Gunsan factory. GM expects its production in Gunsan to shrink to 100,000 this year and 120,000 next year… The union wants to maintain two shifts, and instead cut the number of cars produced per hour,” the source said.

Mounting costs and labor unrest has caused GM to reconsider its reliance on South Korea for 20% of its global production.

While GM Korea’s operations will be used to supply the Australian market following the planned 2017 closure of GM’s Holden subsidiary’s assembly plants, analysts say that volume would not be enough to offset the production losses caused by pulling the Chevy brand out of Europe.

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Britain Expected to Build More Cars Than France for the First Time Since 1966 Tue, 21 Jan 2014 10:00:25 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

For the first time since 1966, the United Kingdom’s automobile industry will likely build more cars than those built in France. Increasing domestic and export sales are expected to make 2013 a record year for car manufacturing, putting Great Britain in third place among car producing countries in Europe, behind Germany and Spain. UK car production is estimated to reach 1.55 million units, up from 1.47 million the previous year and 1.35 million in 2011. In contrast, French car production for 2013 is expected to fall to ~1.54 million units, down from 1.66 million in 2012 and 1.88 million the year before that. Some analysts and industry executives predict UK car production to hit 2 million by 2017 as investments to plants bear fruit.

The growth in manufacturing was attributed to the strength of traditional British brands (albeit foreign owned) such as Jaguar, Land Rover, Mini, Vauxhall, Rolls-Royce and Bentley, as well as strong production at Japanese automakers like Nissan, Toyota and Honda that have set up assembly operations in the UK.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Some have attributed both the survival of those British brands and the growth of transplant assembly facilities to late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose government both courted Japanese automakers and provided £2.9 billion of taxpayer money in subsidies to British Leyland from 1979 to 1988, allowing iconic British brands to survive long enough to be bought up by the Germans.

Click here to view the embedded video.

At the same time the drop in the production of French cars is attributed with overcapacity, a stagnant European car market in general and in particular the soft domestic French market on which French manufacturers are highly dependant, a lack of business confidence in the current government and currency issues regarding the Euro.

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Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback (With Video) Fri, 03 Jan 2014 14:00:50 +0000 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior

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

Click here to view the embedded video.


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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-006


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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-004


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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-002


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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-002


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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-008

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

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

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


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.4 Seconds

0-60:9.08 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.9 Seconds @ 81.6 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 31.5 MPG over 561 Miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 72.5 db

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Salaried GM Korea Workers Offered “Voluntary Retirement” Ahead of Chevy Pullout from Europe Wed, 18 Dec 2013 11:30:09 +0000 GM Korea design center

GM Korea design center


Now that General Motors is withdrawing the Chevrolet brand from the European market, it plans to reduce salaried employee rolls at GM Korea, which has been assembling most of the Chevy branded vehicles sold in Europe. Reuters reports that Sergio Rocha, GM Korea CEO, said that GM’s Korean subsidiary will offer a “voluntary retirement” plan to its 6,000 salaried workers, including research and design staff. Some of the product development responsibilities have already been shifted out of Korea, like the design of the current Chevy Cruze. The previous generation of the Cruze was designed in Korea. So far the reductions are aimed at salaried workers as Rocha said the company has no plans to eliminate production jobs.

“This is part of our ongoing efforts to enhance operating efficiency,” GM Korea spokesman Park Hae-ho, said.

Earlier this month GM had announced that it was shuttering the Chevrolet brand in Europe by the end of 2015, focusing on restoring Opel and Vauxhall to profitability. Closing Chevy on the continent is expected to result in a 20% drop in production by GM Korea.

“Workloads are too light and there is a lot of anxiety about job restructuring,” a GM Korea R&D center employee told the Reuters news agency. The unidentified employee said that they are working on the next generation Spark subcompact, but after that job is completed next spring, there are no more projects in the pipeline.

“For me, this is the biggest crisis facing GM Korea since 2000″ the employee said. That was the year that Daewoo Motor went into receivership. GM bought the defunct company in 2002 and renamed it GM Korea.

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Hyundai Casts Aside Conquest For Quality in Europe Thu, 12 Dec 2013 12:45:54 +0000 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior

Though Hyundai has set its sights on some sales gains in 2014 in the European market, the automaker has no plans to defend market share to the death, opting for repeat business rather than taking the Germanic approach of volume at all costs.

Hyundai’s European COO Allan Rushforth told Automotive News that the automaker is shifting from being a conquest brand to a loyalty brand, offering financing options for their European customers as one incentive in returning. Rushforth noted that Hyundai’s approach is on the cautious side, due mainly to the current competitive environment maintaining its stranglehold on the market for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, Hyundai aims to offer 22 new or updated models to the European auto market by 2017, such as new versions of the i10 minicar and Genesis sedan, with the goal of boosting their market and mind share to 5 percent. They also plan to build 90 percent of their European lineup in factories all over the continent by then, with 70 percent of the lineup’s components to be derived from local sources.

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Fiat Punto to Be Axed, $13.2 billion Spent On 20 New Models Over Next 3 Years Tue, 10 Dec 2013 13:30:48 +0000 Fiat Punto, not long for this world.

Fiat Punto, not long for this world.

Sources tell Bloomberg News that Fiat Spa will spend as much as 9 billion euros ($12 billion) over the next three years developing new models for for the European market. The Italian automaker hopes the strategy will end losses on the continent and restore drastically underutilized Italian factories to profitability. Many of the new models will be based on either the Fiat 500 subcompact or the small, low cost Panda.  A five door version of the 500 will replace the Punto. The Punto, last restyled in 2005, has long been a fixture in Fiat showrooms and as recently as 2007 it accounted for almost a third of the Fiat brand’s sales in Europe.

Though Fiat wants to use its Italian factories better, the Punto’s replacement will be built in Poland to save on costs. Sergio Marchionne believes that “made in Italy” works with upscale brands like Maserati and Alfa Romeo. The upcoming Maserati Levante SUV will be made in Fiat’s Mirafiori factory.

Not able to access the profits that Chrysler is banking because it’s not wholly owned by Fiat yet, Marchionne must find a way to staunch the parent brand’s bleeding red ink in Europe. Fiat has previously announced that it hopes to develop about 20 new models for Europe by 2016, including eight Alfa Romeos. Some of those cars are a 500 based SUV along with Italian made Jeeps to be introduced alongside the open version of Alfa’s 4C sports car.

Fiat has lost market share in Europe for the past four years, with deliveries dropping 47% over that period and market share going form 9.3% to 6.2%. The Italian automaker has had almost 2 billion euros in operating losses since 2011, including over 300 million euros in loses for the first three quarters of 2013.

Many of Fiat’s 30,700 production workers in Italy have been furloughed this year, most of them for more than five months.

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Chevrolet Brand Dead In Europe Thu, 05 Dec 2013 13:31:41 +0000 580x252xopel_chevy.jpg.pagespeed.ic.6E8LDOfjce

After talk of increasing the seperation between Chevrolet and Opel, GM has announced that it will axe the Chevrolet brand in Europe, despite previously aiming to make Chevrolet its low-cost brand, while signing a nine-year, $584 million deal to have the brand sponsor Manchester United football club.

Poor sales of Chevrolet were blamed as the major culprit, with volumes for the brand were estimated to be about 180,000 units, with the bulk of the models being rebadged Daewoos. Axing the brand will reportedly cost GM $1 billion. GM hasn’t said how it will handle the brand’s 1,900 strong dealer network, but Chevrolet will apparently remain in Russia, where its cars are somewhat more popular.

Not long ago, GM was busy touting Chevrolet as a “world brand”, one that could compete in Europe, despite unfavorable market conditions and an internal rivalry with Opel, which occupies roughly the same market space. There was even talk of an end to South Korea imports and production on the continent, but that dream is now over.

While certain models like the Corvette and Camaro will stay on, Chevrolet’s lack of success in Europe, combined with its attempt to move upmarket with products like the Cruze wagon, but it on a collision course with Opel, which is also struggling in a cutthroat, declining European car market.


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Ford Expects SUVs, Crossovers to Drive Global Success Wed, 27 Nov 2013 15:12:40 +0000 Explorer Sport front quarter, picture courtesy Michael Karesh

Is the future of motoring in the global marketplace in the good hands of the Golf, Forte and Fiesta? Not if you’re Ford’s vice president of Global Marketing, Jim Farley. In his mind, it’ll be a page from the 1991 Explorer’s successful playbook that will help his employer gain market and mind share the world over.

According to Farley, the Blue Oval will experience an overall 23 percent growth in sales between last year and 2017, while utility vehicle sales will boom to 41 percent in the same period (and straight up explode in China with help from smaller crossover utility models such as the oft-beleaguered Escape/Kuga, EcoSport and, of course, Explorer).

As for sales in established markets, though Ford and their competitors have had difficulties overall in the European market, utility sales are expanding like the universe at the start of the Big Bang. The automaker expect their utility sales to grow 65 percent between last year and 2017, while the overall utility market is projected to grow 30 percent.

To capitalize on this potential gold mine, Ford will use their One Ford plan to globalize their lineup of utility vehicles.

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Review: Škoda Rapid 1.2 TSI Mon, 11 Nov 2013 13:00:04 +0000



Some time ago, I ranted on these pages about European methods of testing fuel mileage (and thus also CO2 emissions), and the way they give unfair advantage to downsized turbocharged engines, compared to good old N/A units. So it’s quite convenient that for my first TTAC European review, I got a Škoda Rapid, powered by a 1.2 TSI turbocharged four-cylinder – a typical example of downsized powerplant. With the Rapid being a relatively small and light family car,  the little four-banger may have an opportunity to really shine, and show us whether downsizing works. Or not.


Škoda is a brand that many of you are likely aware of, but are probably unfamiliar with. Thanks to UK buff book road tests, most of you will no doubt know of SEAT, the struggling but scintillating performance brand that makes cut-price GTIs with Audi-like cabins. You’ve probably seen Skoda mentioned in passing in the same publications, and can’t quite comprehend why there is so much overlap in the VW Group lineup.

While Skoda gets most of the same powertrains and chasss as SEAT, it is the “sensible shoes” of the VW Group. In my home country of the Czech Republic, their slogan is “Simply Clever”- and they back it up with a number of thoughful, cheap and quite clever features that make you feel like they went above and beyond just scooping things out of VW’s parts bin. There’s an ice scraper in the fuel door, so you don’t have to open the door to get your ice scraper, a garbage bin inside the door(sadly, not included in the tested vehicle), a clever holder for your smartphone that fits in a cupholder, as well as two-sided carpet in the trunk – a rubber side is for dirty stuff, and a fluffy side is for nice stuff.

Rapid_TSI_ Backseat


But that doesn’t stop Skoda from being the main point of contact for Volkswagen parts bin raiding. Volkswagen’s convoluted brand structure and rampant platform sharing might lead you to think that the Rapid is nothing more than a Volkswagen Jetta in a different wrapper. Not so – in fact, it is a much smaller car, launched in late 2011 to fill in the gap between Fabia supermini and Octavia, which really is the same size as a Jetta, but uses the new MQB platform. In the same way that the Jetta is one rung below the Passat, the Rapid does the same thing for Octavia, offering a bit less space, a lot less options and gadgets, no fancy powerful engines, and a price much more friendly to your wallet.

To get this kind of value-oriented package on the road, the Rapid is a hodgepodge of components from the Volkswagen Group At the heart of it all is an evolution of the PQ25 platform used by the Volkswagen Polo, dubbed A05. This platform is a “budget” platform for VW, in use on Chinese market cars like the new Santana and the Jetta, as well as the new SEAT Toledo.

The stretched supermini platform, used in the name of cost-cutting, presents an interesting conundrum.

The Interior

On the one hand, the leg room is fantastic. When I (at 5’10″) sat “behind myself”, I had about four inches between my knees and the front seat. And even when I sat really tall guy (around two meters) there, he had ample legroom. The situation about the headroom is a bit worse, though, with even my head getting in contact with headliner sometimes.

At roughly 20 cubic feet, the trunk is also excellent, and is easily accesible thanks to the hatchback design of the Rapid (think first-generation Mazda6 rather than a traditional hatchback). Of course, it ain’t no wagon, but unless you aren’t transporting very high stuff very often, you’ll have no problems. For example, 22” CRT computer screen was swallowed by it with utter ease – not requiring the removal of the package tray.

Where PQ25 really fails this car is the width. Despite it’s length, it’s about as narrow as a regular B-segment car, and interior room suffers accordingly. Only the svelte will be able to ride comfortable in the back seat of this car, and you can forget about putting three adults in the back seat. This car would be excellent with young families who have to put an infant or two in car seats, as well as a stroller in the hatchback. But a limousine it ain’t.


That’s not to say that the Rapid is what Americans would call a “penalty box”. Compared to the big players in the budget B-Segment sedan class, like the Peugeot 301 or Citroen C-Elysse, the Rapid is a much nicer place to spend time in. The Elegance trim level tested here has chrome trim around the vents and a bit better materials all around the interior, though lesser trim levels can add these,as well as a leather steering wheel and gearstick, as options. You can even get sports seats. The sat nav is available for $500, and the xenon lights and automatic climate control costs about the same. As you can see, the interior is pretty standard Volkswagen Group fare, and everything is laid out in a clean, ergonomic fashion. Most cars tend to have some kind of weird button placement or dash layout, but the Rapid comes away unscathed on that front.

My biggest hate-on is reserved for the driver’s seat. In isolation, it is quite pretty, offers reasonable lateral grip and is really comfortable – I had no problem spending three hours in one day in the “proper” position with my back upright, without any aches. But I couldn’t escape the feeling (and a friend/colleague confirmed this) that the seat is a tiny bit off-center. I’m not sure if it’s placed further to the left, or if it is in an angle to the car’s axis, but it’s slightly noticeable, and quite a bit annoying. In normal driving, one may never even notice it – I even managed to forget about it – but once you go for a long drive, and want to go fast through twisties, you will start to hate it.



The Drive

And you will certainly want to go fast in this car. Yes, it is a cheap family sedan with tiny four-banger, built on a cross of old supermini platform and antiquated torsion beam rear axle. Doesn’t exactly sound like a great recipe for driving enthusiast’s car, right? But when you think about it a little longer, you will realize that many of its core feature’s are, in fact, enthusiast friendly.


First, being based on supermini, the car is quite small and  light. Thanks to small dimensions and sparse list of goodies, it weighs just 2,425 lbs. Second, costs need to be kept down so aggressively, it lacks some rather unwelcome features, like electric power steering (an older electro-hydraulic system is used). And, as usual in VW products from recent years, the steering is really nicely weighted and even offers something like feel. In today’s world of electric helms, it is a bliss. Sadly, it will be replaced with more modern, and more efficient, electric power steering very soon. But people who drove the Rapid Spaceback, already so equipped, say even that is quite good, even eliminating the hydraulic rack’s biggest flaw, which is slight imprecision around center. I didn’t have a direct comparison, but I still think I would preffer the hydraulic one.

Third, it’s not too fast, but it’s fast enough. The 1.2 TSI plant is offered in two versions – at 105 horsepower,we actually tested the most potent iteration. That doesn’t sound very impressive, even in a 2,400 lb vehicle, but you have to remember it’s a turbocharged unit, with torque peak at 1,800rpm and most of the torque available in the whole rpm range. It also helps that according to independent tests performed by our colleagues who were in doubt about the 105hp figure, it seems to be underrated by about 10 horsepower – and this is uniform across production models, not just press ringers.

The TSI is a nice example of a downsized engine which actually works. With its torque available at wide rpm range, it is very relaxing to drive. You can accelerate from as low as 1,200rpm, and in normal driving, you scarcely go over 2,200. Revving over 4,000rpm is needed only when overtaking, or really spirited driving. Many people are scared that such a little engine has to be revvy to make any kind of progress, but the opposite is true – in fact, the engine most similar in feel to this one I have ever encountered was a GM 2.8 V6 in my ex’s 1980 Oldsmobile Omega (Yes, we had an X-body in Czech Republic. Don’t ask). It even sounds nice, with a raspy growl when you step on the gas.

With the wide power band, you don’t need the six-speed manual much, but with it’s precise and quite slick action, it is quite a joy to use. The pedal placement is even good for heel-and-toe downshift. This having been my first press car after about a year since my tiny mishap with a Focus ST, I didn’t have the balls to go really flat out, and test the car at 9/10ths, as it would mean testing myself at my own personal limitd. But a spirited drive on backroads, at speeds up to 90 mph, it showed great stability, reasonable balance and an ability to provide enjoyment and reward the driver. It is not exactly a car that forces you to take the longer route to work every day, but you can have fun with it.


But probably even more important is that this competence wasn’t achieved by resorting to some stiff, “sporty” suspension settings – in fact, the Rapid is quite soft and compliant, even on bumpy backroads. Hard as it may be for me to write, when I moved from the Rapid to the ’99 Town Car I’m currently using as a daily driver, I didn’t feel any marked improvement in ride comfort – I would even say otherwise. Of course, this comparison is unfair, as the Rapid was brand new, while the TC has around 100,000 miles on the clock, the shocks are near the end of their life and the Town Car, with its stiff front springs, wasn’t exactly the most comfortable Town Car ever, even when it was new, but still – it’s a goddamn fullsize Lincoln against a tiny European hatchback. The Townie should’ve been light years ahead in terms of ride comfort. And it isn’t.

The Economy

When you are buying a cheap, small-but-large family car, and one with a downsized turbo engine at that, you are probably not concerned about high speed handling or acceleration. You need the thing to move well enough to flow with traffic and give you some ability to overtake, and then you’re concerned mostly about fuel economy. As I mentioned in my earlier article, this can be a problem for the downsized turbocharged plants. They tend to gulp significantly more gas than the NECD numbers suggest, and under heavier loads, they’re usually really thirsty. So, is the 1.2 TSI/105 just a product of flawed legislature, or is it any good under real-life conditions?

The official figures are 4.6 l/100km (51mpg) on the highway, 6.9 l/100km (34mpg) in the city and 5,4 l/100 km (43mpg) combined. Which would be really great for a gasoline engine with over 100hp (and real-life dynamics of a 130hp one), if it was true. And, to my mild surprise, it even was true, under certain conditions.

If you drive with a really light foot, keep to our national speed limit of 90km/h (55 mph) and don’t overtake, you will actually achieve the advertised 4.6 l/100km. On highway, keeping to the speed limit of 130 km/h (80mph) on cruise control, you will achieve around 6.4-6.5 l/100km 36mpg). But go any faster, and the numbers start to get much worse – 140-145 km/h (85-90mph) will get you to 8 l/100km (slightly under 30mpg), and at 100 mph, you’re getting around 10 l/100km – or around 23mpg.


I did a 250-mile trip with the Rapid, and the real world numbers, with driving at the speed limits or slightly over (indicated speeds – so I was probably really still withing the legal limits), and with about 100 miles of the trip being on highways with 80mph limit, my average mileage was 6,2 l/100km (38mpg). If I exclude highways, the number would drop (or raise) to about 5,8-6,0 l/100km, or about 40 mpg. Which is probably what driver not totally focusing on fuel economy will see.

Around town, I saw 7.2 l/100km (32mpg) in my typical driving – which says nothing about the numbers  that the average driver will get. Since I live in a fairly small town of 100,000 citizens and work from home, I see virtually no traffic, no jams, no idling at the lights. or any of the other indignities most commuters must face. In real city traffic (driving through rush hour Prague), the Rapid got over 10l/100km (23mpg) easily, with the most congested areas even dropping in the teens. The average for normal city driving would be somewhere between 8 and 9 liters per 100km – or 26 to 30mpg.

Overall, I wouldn’t say those numbers are necessarily bad. And unless you’re having a lead foot, you will still get better, or at least comparable, results as with similarly powerful N/A engine (say, 130hp 1.6 I4). But still, you will get about 25% higher consumption in the real world, compared to the official numbers.


With the torque available in wide rpm range, pleasant sound and great overall dynamics, I would possibly still choose the 1.2 TSI over comparable N/A 1.6, even after comparing real world numbers – because it’s really a great little engine. But I would still like it to be a fair fight, while the NEDC numbers give the TSI unjust advantage.

The Price

As important as fuel economy numbers is the actual price of the thing. In this case maybe even more then anywhere else. Why? Because it enters an incredibly crowded market – even its own siblings don’t leave it much room to breathe.

The biggest problem for the more expensive versions of Rapid, like the tested 1.2 TSI/105hp in Elegance trim, is that they get dangerously close to Octavia territory. And with the Octavia being significantly bigger, more comfortable, more technologically advanced and at the same time not that much heavier (the difference is roughly 100 pounds, spec-for-spec, thanks to the heavy use of aluminium and high-strength steels in MQB platform), buying a Rapid that costs nearly the same as Octavia doesn’t really make sense. For people who don’t need a huge boot, there is a Golf not that far away, and of course other offerings – especially the Koreans with their aggressive pricing.


As tested, and without any special offers, the Rapid Elegance would cost a staggering 466,000CZK, which amounts to $23k (or $19k without VAT, which amounts for 20% of price for any EU-sold car). That would buy you a similarly equipped Octavia (lots of stuff optional on Rapid is standard on the Octavia), or a Golf. Or a Hyundai i30 or Kia cee’d wagons, with lots of leftover cash.

But that’s the highest trim, with optinal sat-nav ($350), cruise control ($550), Bluetooth connection for the phone ($300), 17” wheels ($150), sports seats ($200) and assortment of little stuff, like optional net pack for the boot, or rear wiper (yes, it’s optional).

Opting for the lesser Ambition trim level, with a special offer “Fresh” package, will enable you to keep the 1.2 TSI/105hp engine, the nice sports seats (just $200),  heated seats, sat-nav, cruise-control, automatic climate control,a  leather steering wheel with radio controls and all that nice little “simply clever” stuff for 380,000CZK or $18,800 (or $15,600 without tax). This brings the Rapid only slightly above the base price of the Golf with weaker 1.2 TSI engine, and no goodies like sat nav or heated seat.

If you also forfeit the gadgets, like navigation or automatic climate control (keeping the manual AC and radio with CD player), and opt for the 1.2 TSI/85hp, (which is actually mechanically identical with the 105hp variant, with the real difference being noticeable only over 4000rpm) with a five-speed manual, you can get the Rapid in good enough spec for 285,000CZK ($14,100, or $11,750 without VAT).

To put it in perspective, a base Golf in similar spec (1,2 TSI/85hp with automatic climate control but not much else) costs 354,000CZK, or $17,500 including VAT. A base Octavia in very similar spec will set you back 335,000 CZK, or $16,600 after tax. The Peugeot 301 in similarly poor spec can be had for just 240,000CZK – $11,900 after tax, or $9,900 before. The cheapest family-sized car on our market, the Dacia Logan, is just 195,000CZK – this means it gets under $10,000 including the tax, and without VAT, it costs just $8,000.


This may make the Rapid seem quite expensive for what it is – a budget family car nearly the price of a Golf, Focus or Mondeo-rivalling Octavia. And much more expensive than other “budget brands”, instead standing head to head to cars like Jetta-sized Renault Fluence, or Kia and Hyundai wagons.

But, unlike the real “budget cars” from Peugeot, Citroën and Dacia, the Rapid doesn’t really feel like a budget car. In terms of material quality and worksmanship, it’s much closer to average VW than to a budget brand, surpassing even “not-so-budget” Renault. On the other hand, Korean offerings, like the Kia cee’d, feel a bit more “grown-up” – at just 310,000CZK with 1.4 CVVT engine, or 330,000CZK with great 1.6 GDI direct injection 135hp engine, you can have an “almost-a-Golf” – although you have to spring up a little more to get a wagon variant, if you want trunk space comparable with Rapid.

The Verdict

Many people view the Rapid as a bit overpriced car on too humble underpinnings, with engine isn’t as frugal as advertised. And in a sense, they may be right. Get too excited with the option list, and you’ll end up with a Rapid for Octavia money – or even for Mazda6 money.

But be careful with options, and you’ll get a great little car which does almost everything right. With the long, detailed list of options, typical for German makes, you can also get just the stuff you want, and exclude the rest – this may be crucial in comparison with the Koreans. For example, you can buy cheapo-spec car with sports seats, a sat-nav, but manual AC and nothing much else. And you’ll still have a good engine, great suspension and lots of room – although only for four.


The most interesting about the Rapid, though, is the way it drives. All the things that were intended to make it cheap actually made it wonderfuly simple and basic. Low weight, hydraulic steering, small engine and relatively narrow tires all make it a perfect car for those who keep ranting about today’s cars getting big and complicated. Don’t believe me? Just watch.

Click here to view the embedded video.


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Fiat’s European Chief Altavilla says Italian Market Not Showing Signs of Recovery Fri, 08 Nov 2013 11:00:08 +0000 111214_F_Panda_01

While new car and light truck October sales were up in France, Spain and Germany, giving hope that the European market has finally bottomed out, Italy’s car market is not showing any signs of recovery with car sales down 5.6% from a year ago. Fiat’s European chief, Alfredo Altavilla, remains pessimistic about that brand’s home market. ”We are not seeing signs of a recovery in Italy, while in other markets we are seeing the glimmer of recovery where the market has touched bottom,” Altavilla told Reuters. “The real problem in Italy continues to be lack of consumer spending.”

Altavilla confirmed that Fiat still aims to reach break-even in Europe in 2015 or 2016 as the company forecast previously. Despite the fact that Italy, where Fiat has had about a 29% market share for years, makes up about a tenth of Fiat’s European sales, Altavilla said the company’s fortunes are not based on its Italian market share. “We are not and we never have been,” he said. “We are bound to our economic targets and we have to find the right connection between market share and economic results.”

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Review: 2014 Lexus IS250 (With Video) Tue, 05 Nov 2013 20:58:43 +0000 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior

After taking a sales hit due to tsunami-related production woes, Lexus has been trying to regain their mojo with a new product offensive. Things started out with the new Lexus GS sedan that Jack Baruth and I loved on and off the track, followed by a revised RX. With the redesigned IS, the bulk of their lineup has been overhauled. Initially, I was a little concerned that the Lexus IS sedan would receive nothing more than a new nose and some LED lights for 2014 but the Japanese 3-Series fighter came out swinging when we were invited to the launch event earlier in the year. I came away impressed with the IS 350′s road manners, but most buyers will be shopping for the less powerful IS 250 and it’s taken us this long to get our hands on one.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Instead of refreshing the IS, Lexus decided to give their smallest RWD sedan a complete overhaul for 2014. Lexus crafted a new IS platform with a 3-inch longer wheelbase that addresses a big complaint about the old car – it was too small inside for American consumers. The result is an entirely new unibody that is three inches longer than the old model riding on a three-inch longer wheelbase. In addition to the stretch the 2014 model gets a hair wider, a hair taller and ground clearance drops by half an inch.

2014 Lexus IS 250 2014 Lexus IS 350, Exteruiotr, F-Sport Front grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

In addition to the Lexus “Spindle” grille up front, the IS sports an entirely different side profile that is easily the most expressive in the small luxury segment. Although I like Cadillac’s new ATS on the outside, I think the IS provides a more balanced blend of aggressive and luxury styling cues from the angry front end, to the almost-Swedish shoulder bulges. Unfortunately I just haven’t warmed up to the Lexus daytime running lamps which are now divorced from the headlamps and have their own cut-out in the bumper cover. Lexus says they are styled after the Lexus “L” but they just look like Nike “Swooshes” to my eye. Even so, if it were my money to spend I’d be torn between the restrained but elegant BMW 328i and the aggressive but sometimes questionable IS 250. I like Cadillac’s angular lines, but I slot the design just below the BMW and Lexus in my mental tally. Add the F-Sport package to the IS 250 however and Lexus breaks the tie with a more aggressive grille. (In the picture above.)

2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Because the GS and LS share interior design cues I had expected the IS to follow suit, I was wrong. While the other Lexus models have opted for a more open and expansive interior theme, the IS feels tight and close to the driver. The feeling is amplified by a high beltline and a tall center console. If you like your car to make you “feel big,” then this is the sedan for you. Rather than the “double bump” style that seems to be popular right now, Lexus opted for a tall two-tier look with the infotainment screen positioned farther away from the driver than the gauges, and centered in the tall dashboard. Opting for the F-Sport package replaces the analog gauges with a configurable LCD cluster.

Cabin plastics in the IS lead the competition, especially those farther from the driver’s usual reach. While BMW cut a few corners with the current 3-Series by using hard plastics low in the dash, the IS maintains a quality feel no matter how low your hand wanders. As you’d expect from Lexus, one can still get acres of stained wood and soft leather. “Can” is the operative word here,since  real leather can only be found in the top two option packages in the IS, while all other models get Lexus’s faux-cow that is bonded directly to the seat foam to prevent stretching or folding as the seat ages. The imitation-hide is perfectly convincing and the only covering available in the IS 250 F-Sport.

Front seat comfort proved excellent during my week with the IS 250, easily besting the Audi A4, Mercedes C250, Cadillac ATS and the base seats in the BMW 328i – but if you want the best seats in this segment, you’ll find those in the Volvo S60 or the optional M-Sport seats in the BMW. Thanks to the wheelbase stretch, rear legroom is up by 1.6 inches over the last generation IS, while front leg room grows about an inch at the same time. The improved rear legroom is welcome as that has long been an IS shortcoming, but it’s obvious by both Lexus and Cadillac’s latest 3-Series fighter that nobody expected the 3-Series to grow as much as it did in this last generation. As a result the 328i beats the IS 250 by a whopping three inches of rear legroom. The Lexus does counter with a slightly larger trunk, but I found the overall trunk dimensions to be slightly more advantageous in the BMW balancing out the extra cube the IS offers.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Although I couldn’t find a single example on a dealer lot, the base IS with no options is the only way you can escape the infamous Lexus Remote Touch joystick. All other models use a small controller with haptic feedback to control a software interface originally designed for use with a touchscreen LCD. Regardless of the input method, all IS models get a 7-inch color LCD positioned far away from the driver. The base model sports a noticeable low resolution screen while all other models get a high resolution screen of the same size. The distance from the driver and the large plastic bezel conspire to make the screen look much smaller than it is. The problem is further compounded by the screen being actually smaller than the competition as well.

2014 brings some mild software updates to the infotainment software including a new home screen (shown above), HD Radio support and traffic information via HD radio instead of satellite so you don’t need an XM subscription to get a color-coded traffic map. If you can get beyond the input method, the system proved reliable and moderately intuitive. Overall however I am still forced to rank this system below BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI, Infinit’s new two-screen setup, Volvo’s Sensus, and even Mercedes’ aging COMAND system. The only system to offend my inner-nerd more is with the Cadillac CUE system.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine, 2.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Operating by the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fit it” mantra, there are no significant changes under the hood for the IS 250 this year. That means we have the same 2.5L, direct-injection, 60° V6 engine as before, good for the same 204 ponies and 185 lb-ft of twist. (The IS 350 gets a 3.5L version of the same engine, making 306 HP and 277 lb-ft.) Just as before, we have a 6-speed transmission on offer (The RWD IS 350 gets a newer 8-speed), with AWD commanding $2,535 more. Should you opt for the F-Sport package, Lexus will add a sound amplifying snorkel to the intake plumbing to amplify the engine’s growl.

With everyone else moving to forced-induction four-cylinder engines, the smooth V6 engine is what sets the IS 250 apart. I know that calling a V6 “smooth” or, dare I say it, “buttery smooth” sounds like sacrilege, but since BMW no longer offers their naturally aspirated in-line 6 under the hood of the 328i, the refinement crown goes to Lexus.  There is more going on here than just the numbers however, because the small turbos not only deliver more torque, they do so across a much broader RPM range than Lexus’ 2.5L V6. Even the Mercedes 1.8L turbo in the C250 blows out more torque across a broader band than the six cylinder mill in the IS 250. For reasons known only to Lexus’ product planning team, the 220 horsepower IS 300h, which mates the same engine to Lexus’s RWD hybrid drivetrain, remains forbidden fruit on our shores.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


The IS’s 2.5L V6 may be down on power compared to the Americans and Germans but it is no contest when it comes to refinement or engine note. Sadly refinement isn’t what propels you to 60, so when the light turns green you’ll have a whisper quiet view of the competition’s rear bumpers. Our tester ran to 60 in 7.02 seconds, a full 1.3 seconds slower than the 328i and 1 second slower than the ATS 2.0T.  Even the 1.8L turbo in the Mercedes C250 and the bargain-basement BMW 320i beat the IS 250 to 60 MPH by a few tenths.

The responsiveness of the IS in tight corners demonstrates how much time Lexus spent engineering the 2014 model. The old IS came across as isolated, perhaps even sloppy, while the third generation chassis is sharp and crisp. Every system in the IS feels like a team player from the numb suspension to the transmission shift logic and the revised double-wishbone front suspension. While the IS isn’t the hard-core corner carving machine the ATS 2.0T is, the IS 250 feels more harmonious and balanced on the road. Oddly enough, the BMW is the wild card. The E90 3-Series (previous generation) was precise and engaging, but the F30 (current generation) has traded handling prowess for a softer ride and a ginormous back seat. Meanwhile the Audi and Volvo plow like a John Deere when they encounter a corner and the Mercedes feels just as you would expect: heavy and soft. That’s not to say the IS is the performance winner. The Lexus is a hair heavier in the nose than the BMW, so at-limits handling is not as neutral as the ATS and because of the power deficit, the 328i is faster around the track. While the Lexus feels more precise and engaging than the BMW, the 328i’s better weight balance means it is both faster in the straightaways and holds its own in the corners. How about the Cadillac? It beats both the Lexus and the BMW hands down.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-004

Without taking price into consideration, the IS 250 makes a compelling argument for those that value smooth drivetrains, excellent steering feel and chassis dynamics. If however you value performance, luxury amenities and cabin room, the BMW is your best bet. If you’re a BMW shopper that is after the “ultimate driving machine” then you need to visit the Cadillac dealer.

Reviews are nothing without pricing information however. The IS 250 is the cheapest car in this shootout by a long shot. The IS undercuts the BMW 328i by $3,600 (adjusting for feature content) and even manages to be $1,700 less than the BMW 320i. Option up the BMW and Lexus with navigation, sport pack and leather and the delta grows to more than $5,000. The story is the same with the Cadillac and Mercedes with the ATS ringing in $4,200 to $7,500 more and the C250 a whopping $5,500-$7,500 more. The Infiniti Q50 may seem like a natural competitor but Infiniti has yet to release a model that competes directly with the low output options in this segment.

After a week with the IS 250 and a few hours in the Cadillac ATS and 328i in the same week something dawned on me. Lexus and Cadillac have managed to do what they set out to: beat BMW at their own game. Cadillac has nearly replicated an E90 3-Series in terms of handling and chassis performance, Lexus has crafted a drivetrain and steering rack that are superior in smoothness and feel to what BMW is selling. But just when the competition caught up BMW decided to play a different game. By chasing luxury, roominess and fuel economy, BMW has shifted the focus away from driving dynamics. (Yep, I said that out loud.) And in the process BMW is laughing all the way to the bank. By chasing BMW Lexus has created the finest IS 250, yet the sales indicate what Lexus should have been chasing is the customer.  For a car guy like me, the way the IS 250′s systems seem to work in perfect harmony combined with the low sticker price make it a winner. For the average shopper however, Lexus is an 8-speed automatic and a four-cylinder turbo away from true competition.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.58 Seconds

0-60: 7.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.37 Seconds @ 89.1 MPH

Cabin Noise at 50 MPH: 66 Db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 27.5 MPG over 591 miles

2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine 2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine, 2.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-001 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-004 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-005 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-006 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-007 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-008 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-009 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-001 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-003 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-004 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-006 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-007 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-008 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-009 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-010 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-011 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Trunk ]]> 113
Nissan To Offer e-NV200 In Europe in 2014 Wed, 30 Oct 2013 14:31:23 +0000 Nissan e-NV200. Photo courtesy Nissan.The all-electric future creeps upon us all steadily, from Tesla’s luxury offerings more appropriate for New York Fashion Week, to Nissan’s electric blue and white jelly beans moving eco-conscious families to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

Speaking of Nissan, the automaker has decided to unleash the e-Nv200 upon the streets of Europe in 2014, with both fleet and private sales in mind.

The reason is, of course, due to regulations. According to Automotive News Europe, vans made and sold in 2020 for fleets must release no more than 147 grams per kilometer of CO2. Current regs allow for 203 grams of the greenhouse gas per kilometer traveled. Some European cities, such as Barcelona, have or will have stricter limits on how much nitrogen oxides and particulates a vehicle can produce – no surprise then that Nissan and the municipal government are working hand in hand to promote EVs.

The e-NV200 will be screwed together in Barcelona alongside its gasoline-fueled sibling, and will share its powertrain with that of the Leaf; batteries sold separately in England.

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Audi CEO: Don’t Count On Quick European Recovery Tue, 29 Oct 2013 15:47:16 +0000 Audi_A1_1.6_TDI_Ambition_–_Frontansicht,_17._März_2012,_Düsseldorf

A bit of bad news from the Continent: Audi CEO Rupert Stadler is cautioning that Western Europe’s auto market will not recover before the end of the decade.

Stadler’s comments came at a conference of automotive executives, and were far bleaker than previous projections. Europe is still burdened with significant overcapacity, with factories capable of producing 26 million vehicles a year, or 7 million more than necessary. Matching supply with demand would require 18 plants to be closed across Europe, resulting in massive job losses. Shutting car factories is a politically untenable situation in many countries due to their economic significance.

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Spanish Scrappage Scheme Now In Its Fourth Iteration Mon, 28 Oct 2013 17:25:46 +0000 Seat_Leon_III_(front_quarter)

The Spanish government is extending its own version of “Cash for Clunkers” for the fourth time, as Spain tries to boost sagging car sales in the midst of a severe recession.

Buyers will get a 1,000 euro subsidy if they trade in a 7 to 10 year old car for a newer, more fuel efficient one that costs less than 25,000 euro. The $97 million program will last for six months or until the subsidies run out, with the previous three programs helping to move 30,000 cars.

So far, Spain is the only country to initiate such a program – sales were up 29 percent last month, with the program credited for spurring much of the demand.

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Is Slump In Europe Over? Car Sales Up by 5.5% in September Thu, 17 Oct 2013 13:52:10 +0000 eurosales

In a sign that the European automobile market may finally be recovering, new car registrations in September were up 5.5% from the year before. Sales in the UK and an extra sales day in the month were factors but industry analysts say that things have finally bottomed out in Europe. Year to date sales were still down, -4% to 9.34 million cars, still on track to be the worst year in two decades.

After the longest European recession since the adoption of the euro currency ended with GDP growth in the second quarter of this year, demand has increased but when car sales were down in August, there was concern. With September sales up, industry watchers now think the August decline was just a blip.

“The worst is behind us. The decline in sales has considerably slowed and we are now witnessing signs of recovery in demand,” said Peter Fuss, Senior Advisory Partner at Ernst & Young’s Global Automotive Centre.
“The sales, however, continue to be artificially boosted by huge discounts and self-registrations by dealers,” he said. Fuss also said that it will be another two years before the European market is strong enough to grow sales without incentives.

The German auto industry trade group, VDA, said, “The western European auto market continued on its course to recovery in September.”

The Volkswagen group was up 6 %, paced by a 17% increase at Skoda and a 15.5% increase at Seat. Audi was up 3% and VW’s own brand was up 2%. A 40% increase at Dacia helped boost Renault’s sales by 22%. All three of General Motors’ European brands’ sales were up with Opel and Vauxhall posting 5.5% increases and Chevy sales up 5%. BMW was up 6% and Daimler reported a 12% increase. Volvo increased sales by 13% and Jaguar Land Rover was up 10.5%. Hyundai was up 6% while Kia was unchanged. Toyota, Mazda, Suzuki and Mitsubishi were all up.

On the down side, Smart was off 2.5%, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen had a 3 percent drop and Fiat’s group sales were down 3%. Nissan was slightly down.

On a regional basis, new car registrations were up 29% in Spain, spurred by government incentives. UK registrations were up 12%, making it six months in a row for double digit increases. Sales in France were up 3%. Sales in Greece, Ireland and Portugal were also up by double digits. Italy and Germany were down, 3% and 1% respectively.

Full sales data here (PDF)

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Aston Martin Cygnet Sent To The Tower Of London Tue, 01 Oct 2013 18:18:23 +0000 Aston_Martin_Cygnet_(82)

With just 143 examples registered in the UK, Aston Martin has quietly dropped the Cygnet city car – based on the Toyota iQ. According to UK mag Autocar, Aston Martin will also not be re-entering this space, and will focus on what it does best: making high end performance cars. Originally conceived as a way to meet strict European emissions rules, the Cygnet failed to meet Aston’s initial sales projections of 4000 units annually.

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Piston Slap: The Awful Side Effect of Being Really, REALLY Good Looking Mon, 30 Sep 2013 12:00:20 +0000

Tim writes:


One of the awful side effects of being really really good looking is that you tend to have lots of kids; and four kids later I find myself driving a VW Touran. It is the sensible-shoes option for the sexually successful in Europe- cheap to buy, cheap to run. Drinking in the TTAC cool aid, on a recent trip to the USA I booked a Lincoln Town Car for the six of us from Hertz, and ended up in a Dodge Durango; after which I have found a bit of red on my neck.

Its generosity of proportion, it’s easy livin’ spec (TV for the kids, keyless entry, self-opening boot, sat nav, sirus music…) made the trip back from the airport car park miserable. What car available in Europe makes family life easier (excluding stupendously expensive premium SUVs) if you have already mated; and thus do not need to tick the ego boxes of looks, brand and image.



Sajeev answers:

And here I thought you sexually successful people in Europe had more restraint, less braggadocio than us crude chaps in the States!  Did Clarkson lie to us Yanks about our relative horrible-ness?

That said, how can you go wrong with a Chrysler Voyager in Europe?  Considering your stunning “prowess” and the accompanying lack of ego (Porsche Cayenne, please?) that’s simply not possible. This Autocar review is a fair assessment of our USA breadwinner, relative to the mainstream MPVs in your home continent.

Sure, the Ford Galaxy/S-Max, Seat Alhambra, VW Sharan and Vauxhall Zafira Tourer and all the rest possess sensible Euro styling sensibilities and (probably) superior diesel engines, but you don’t need that shit. You need the Yankee van with the fold into the floor seats. Because it is bad ass. It’s what embodies the American Spirit.  All the goodies available in Chrysler’s breadwinner add to your hustle game, with no red-necked side effects.

More to the point, you’d drive the Voyager as I do with TTAC’s Rio Brown 1983 Ford Sierra Ghia: hipster ironically.  Need an example to prove the point?

Here I am parked at BP’s H-town headquarters enjoying a little break before tackling the pictured roundabout.  While I’d normally give the task to my Texa-Guido Lincoln Mark VIII, the Ford Sierra was the more ironic choice. No doubt the displaced Brit that felt the need to add some “London” to Houston agrees with my choice.


Tim, my friend, you could be this self-aware. You could be me and the Sierra: easily reproducing this in a Voyager somewhere near your place of residence. You gotta do it, to it…Son!


Send your queries to 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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PSA, Dongfeng Said To Be Exploring A Partnership Wed, 18 Sep 2013 17:22:07 +0000 Peugeot_RCZ_a_St_Trond

PSA, parent company of Peugeot and Citroen, is said to be exploring a partnership with China’s Dongfeng, as Peugeot looks for ways to strengthen itself amid weak sales and a perpetually sputtering European car market.

A number of solutions are being proposed, with France’s La Tribune claiming that a capital increase (with Dongfeng providing cash in exchange for equity), as well as an emerging market joint venture where Dongfeng would also be holding much of the equity, with Peugeot getting the financial resources it needs to expand in the developing world.

Complicating matters is the brand’s alliance with General Motors. GM has a 7 percent stake in PSA and is seen within the company as a key to helping PSA pull through the European crisis, where overcapacity and a need for significant economies of scale are hurting smaller players like PSA. But PSA also wants to follow the lead of rival Renault-Nissan, which has aggressively expanded in emerging markets with Dacia (a runaway success) and now Datsun. Europe is considered a mature market, and emerging markets are one of the only growth sectors left for an established auto maker like PSA (especially given that a North American expansion is off the table, even though it is also a strong market for automobiles).

Currently, the Peugeot family holds roughly 25 percent of PSA’s shares, but any deal with Dongfeng could see them lose their stake – an unthinkable occurrence in past eras.

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Piston Slap: Dash The Passat for The Road Not Taken? Wed, 18 Sep 2013 12:52:25 +0000

TTAC Commentator MightyTall writes:

Hello Sajeev,

I’ve been reading your articles and enjoying your sage advice given to other people. And since you said you’re running low on submissions, here’s mine: I’m currently driving a well maintained reliable 140hp 2.0l Turbodiesel, 6-speed manual 2007 Passat station wagon … 157.000 km on the clock and no troubles.

I love the car and it loves me back, which is why I think I need an additional vehicle to do some dirty work. I hunt and thus often go to the woods on badly maintained dirt roads and occasionally logging road type terrain. While the Passat gives me no trouble getting there I think I’m putting undue wear on it and giving it the occasional “northwestern pinstripe” due to vegetation reaching out into the tracks. Hurts my insides watching the great car slowly getting beat up.

So what I’m thinking is, I want a SUV or Pickup Truck that fits the work environment… So no carpets, no shiny bits and pieces and as long as there isn’t rust I don’t even mind if it is already a bit battered. Now here’s the main issue, I’m 6’9″ (206cm) tall and 250 lbs … so I can’t just fit any sardine can.

Newer Japanese equipment is generally out of the question…why they shrink the insides of their vehicles in the light of demographics showing ever taller people is beyond me, but anything beyond Model Year 2000 ish seems to be smaller. Land Rover, one of my favourites, is also out … 5’8″ is the max one can be to drive those.

So really what I’m stuck with is Nissan Terrano I and II, the King Cab Pickup or their Mitsubishi and Toyota equivalents. Also Lada Niva might be interesting or if we go to more commercial type vehicles it would be a VW synchro Transporter van or box truck.

To recap, I want a basically bulletproof vehicle that is easy to keep clean and will last me several years without too much investment, preferably Diesel. Rust is a no-no since the TÜV is really adamant that no structural components be affected. SUV is also rather second choice due to the difficulty of cleaning in the cargo area and also the higher tax cost … Germany is really milking the high displacement Diesels.

If confronted with such choices and with a budget of about 5.000 € what would it be for you?


Sajeev answers:

Northwestern Pinstripe? Nice: here it’s known as “Texas Pinstriping.” It’s a mark of pride for those who do real work and I betcha you know that feeling. So thank you for writing.

I know pickups in the states, but Europe is a bit different. I’ve seen that episode of Mike Brewer’s Auto Trader where he helps with a truck purchase, so I will pretend to be an expert. And since I own a Ford Ranger, why aren’t you considering one? They got the goods, are priced extremely well and are more than plentiful. It’s the complete opposite of a Land Rover, in terms of your pocketbook, from what I see.

But do you really want a truck? I mean, an open air loading area is ideal for recently dead animals, but…

If the Passat takes you hunting everywhere, perhaps a body-on-frame vehicle is unnecessary.  Why not get one of those “El Camino looking” car conversions? VW, Ford, Opel, Peugeot and others take a passenger car platform to make exactly what you need. Unless you need more space in the (regular) cab, and that’s a big concern. Plus there’s even better hunting in even cooler places with a proper pickup!

So what’s my advice?  Buy any truck, but focus on the service history!  At this price, finding a vehicle with the best paperwork and least worn out tires/brakes/hoses/body damage etc. is your first priority.  I would test drive the Nissan, Mitsubishi, Toyota (and Ford and Isuzu/Opel) trucks and see which one you certainly do not like.  From there, find the one with the most service history and the normal wear items in the best condition.


Send your queries to 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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