The Truth About Cars » hatch http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » hatch http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2014 Nissan Versa Note (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-nissan-versa-note-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-nissan-versa-note-with-video/#comments Fri, 07 Feb 2014 14:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=728514 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior

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

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

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

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

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

2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-001

Interior

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

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

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

2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-007

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

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

2014 Nissan Versa Note NissanConnect -002

Infotainment

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

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

2014 Nissan Versa Note Engine 1.6L

Drivetrain

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

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

2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-006

Drive

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

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

2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-008

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

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

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.39 Seconds

0-60: 9.13 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.08 Seconds @ 81.4 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 38.8 MPG over 761 Miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 70 dB

2014 Nissan Versa Note Engine 1.6L 2014 Nissan Versa Note Engine 1.6L-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-002 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-003 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-004 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-005 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-006 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-007 2014 Nissan Versa Note Exterior-008 2014 Nissan Versa Note Instrument Cluster 2014 Nissan Versa Note Instrument Cluster-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-002 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-003 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-004 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-005 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-006 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-007 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-008 2014 Nissan Versa Note Interior-009 2014 Nissan Versa Note NissanConnect 2014 Nissan Versa Note NissanConnect -001 2014 Nissan Versa Note NissanConnect -002 ]]>
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Review: 2014 Ford Focus ST (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-focus-st-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-ford-focus-st-with-video/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 14:00:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=691530 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior

Hot hatches are all the rage in Europe but represent a fairly small segment of American consumption. The formula is fairly simple, you take a compact hatchback, insert a turbocharged engine, stiffen the springs and add an anti-roll bar that can lift the inner rear wheel in corners if you really push it. The result is the polar opposite of a pony car.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

For 2014, the American hot hatch shopper is spoiled for choice. There are a whopping two options: the 2014 Ford Focus ST and the 2014 Volkswagen GTI. If you’re patient enough, VW plans on releasing a new GTI for the 2015 model year and the Mazda rumor mill is rife with 2015 Mazdaspeed3 assumptions. I must therefore rule the Focus ST the most attractive hot hatch in America and put the comparatively boring GTI in last place, or second. However you want to look at it. For performance duty Ford takes the already handsome Focus, lowers it by nearly half an inch and swaps in some new wheels, a front bumper, tweaked spoiler, rear valance and exhaust tips. If you haven’t noticed by now, there is no sedan variant of the Focus ST. Sorry America.

Although the parts list is short, I found the transformation impressive. I haven’t warmed to the Euro nose that the current generation Focus wears while the ST’s more conventional single grille look manages to be both more grown up and more aggressive when compared to the donor car. (Don’t worry, you can get your Focus in colors other than “Tangerine Scream”.) The ST shares hoods with the lesser Focuses (Foci?) there is an oddly large gap between the hood and front bumper that is so uniform (and is on every ST model I have seen) that it must be intentional, however distracting. The reason is that the regular model’s hood doesn’t mate directly with anything as it is styled to be the upper part of the front grille. I have a feeling that if and when the Mazdaspeed3 lands, it will take the crown as I find the Mazda3 the most attractive entry in the compact hatchback segment.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-005

Interior

Like the Volkswagen GTI, the first thing you will notice about the Focus when you hop inside will be the very European color palate. In other words, black. The soft injection moulded dashboard combines with the black headliner, black carpets and predominantly black upholstery to create a very Germanic interior. All Focus models sport a double-bump style dashboard with the infotainment positioned in a prominent position and the ST trim tops off the binnacle with standard gauges for oil temperature, oil pressure and turbo boost.  This is the same cabin that European shoppers get with one exception: the Recaro seats aren’t standard on our side of the pond. Neither is that 8-inch touchscreen.

Although the ST starts at $23,625 my realistic base price jumps to $25,845 by adding the “ST2″ package which I consider essential. This package adds the 8-inch screen, automatic climate control and the Recaro seats that you see in all the photos and reviews of the Focus ST. The base seats lack the aggressive bolstering or the exceptional comfort of the half-leather Recaro thrones. ST2 shoppers can opt for two-tone seats (as seen in our tester) in blue, yellow or black-on-black. Checking the ST3 box brings the ST up to $28,000 and adds completely leather faced seats (black only), seat heaters, HID headlamps, LED daytime running lamps and standard navigation software.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-004

During my week with the ST I put over 1,100 miles on the Tangerine Scream including a 650 mile road trip. The Recaro thrones proved to be supportive, comfortable and superior to the GTI’s seats for long road trips. Unfortunately the rear passengers weren’t as happy since the Focus has a fairly cramped rear seat. Adding the Recaro seats to the Focus seems to drop the rear seat room by a hair as well making the Focus a great deal tighter than the GTI despite the Focus being the longer car by six inches. Where do those inches go? Some of them are consumed by the Ford’s longer nose, but plenty can be found in the ST’s 50% larger cargo hold.

Since I mentioned the Mustang earlier, that tight rear seat is one of the main reasons you’d select a Focus ST over a V6 ‘Stang. Despite being smaller than a GTI, the ST offers two extra doors, three more inches of leg room and a 5th seat belt. In addition to the added passenger room the Focus also boasts 10 more cubic feet of widget storage in the back.

2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-002

Infotainment

Base ST shoppers get basic entertainment to go with their basic seating. All STs come standard with a 6-speaker audio system sporting a 4.2-inch color LCD, SYNC voice commands and a sea of buttons. The unit is housed in the same binnacle as the 8-inch system so there’s plenty of blank space to remind you that you didn’t pony up for the MyFord Touch system. The ST3 package that is my realistic base for the ST solves this by removing the button bank and inserting the screen you see above. Bundled with the resistive touchscreen is an upgraded 10-speaker Sony speaker system with a subwoofer and a center channel. Sound quality in the 6-speaker system was disappointing while the Sony system impressed. One thing to know if that the Sony system tends to have exaggerated treble and bass tuning by default but it is adjustable.

This is about the time when I usually comment on MyFord Touch being somewhat sluggish and suggest that the competition has an acceptable alternative. The alternative however is Volkswagen’s ancient infotainment lineup. All GTIs share the same 8-speaker sound system that slots between Ford’s base and up-level system in both speaker count and sound quality but everything else pales in comparison. The GTI has no SYNC-like voice command system in any model and the base GTI doesn’t even get a color LCD in the cabin. The Driver’s Edition GTI gets VW’s low-cost navigation unit which, when compared to MyFord Touch, is like taking a Palm Pilot to an iPad fight. Hopefully VW will up their game for 2015, but more than likely Ford’s only real infotainment competition will come from Mazda’s slick MazdaConnect system.

2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-002

Drivetrain

The last Focus ST was powered by Volvo, a logical choice since Volvo’s S40 and Ford’s Focus were cousins to begin with. This generation Focus is 100% Ford. Instead of the oddly-alluring 2.5L five-cylinder, we get a 252 horsepower tune of Ford’s 2.0L EcoBoost engine cranking out 270 lb-ft of torque. (There is a bit of confusion on the HP numbers, in the video I mention Ford’s initial numbers of 247 HP and 266 lb-ft which was later updated to 252/270. Apparently running 87 octane gasoline in your ST will yield 247 while 93 will get you 252.) This is the same four-cylinder turbo used in the Ford Edge and Taurus except that the boost has been cranked up and it is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. (As far as we can tell this is no longer the Volvo M66 transmission manufactured by Getrag.)

Drive

Compared to the VW, the Focus is 52 ponies more powerful and serves up 63 more lb-ft while the Mustang V6 beats the Focus by 48 horsepower and 10 lb-ft. As you would assume with numbers like that, the Mustang is faster t0 60, but thanks to the turbocharger on the Focus the difference in our testing was just 1/10th of a second and is more down to driver skill and traction than vehicle output. The VW on the other hand can’t makeup for the power deficit by being 100lbs lighter and was 3/10ths slower.

2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-006

The big difference between a Mustang and a hot hatch is of course which wheels are getting the power. Because the ST funnels all its power through the front wheels, torque steer is a genuine concern. Rather than limit engine power in 1st and 2nd like Mazda did with the old Mazdaspeed3, or use a limited slip differential like Honda uses on occasion, Ford decided to program the electric power steering to compensate. Coupled with the EPAS system is a stability control system programmed to torque vector power across the front using the car’s large front brakes. The system works passably well but not as well as the Ford’s “Revo Kunckle” which they use on their larger cars. Due mostly to the greater output, torque steer in the ST is more pronounced than in the GTI, but much less noticeable than in the old Mazda. I’ve always found mild torque steer in a fast front-driver an entertaining phenomenon so it never bothered me.

Helping the steering tendencies is a variable ratio steering rack that uses a quick 1.8 turns lock to lock vs 2.1 in the GTI, 2.8 in the standard Focus and 3.1 in the V6 ‘Stang. Thanks to the ratio the ST feels very nimble and eager to change direction. Unless you need to U-turn of course which is when you will discover that this tiny hatch has a nearly 40-foot turning radius.

2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-009

Thanks to a light 3,200 pound curb weight (100lbs heavier than the VW but 300lbs lighter than a V6 Mustang), 235-width Eagle F1 Asymmetric tires and a well tuned suspension, the Focus ST sticks to the road like glue. TTAC doesn’t have access to a skidpad to confirm or deny the Mustang trouncing Gs the plucky hatch can pull, but after a week making passengers sick on winging mountain roads I’m a believer. What makes the Focus more impressive is how neutral the car feels despite being a front-heavy front-driver. It’s more lively, less civilized but more rewarding to drive than the GTI. The V6 ‘Stang does give you rear-wheel- drive dynamics and more shove in a straight line, but I’d be willing to bet I’d be faster around a track in the Focus ST.

What surprised me about the Focus the most however was how livable it is. The suspension is firm but never harsh and my spine didn’t revolt on a 5 hour drive to Los Angeles. Cabin noise was high at 76 dB but that’s not far from the last Golf I measured and average for the economy car segment. Thanks to an active noise generator that opens a valve to pipe sound into the cabin from when at full throttle, normal driving happens without the incessant droning of a Fiat Abarth. While the Tangerine Scream paint job and yellow trimmed seats scream “boy racer”, the truth is the Focus is quite the grown up. With a starting price some $1,300 less than a GTI the Focus delivers a solid value proposition. Fully loaded the difference narrows to less than a grand in cash but more than $3,000 when you factor in the Ford’s greater feature content. While I’m sure that 2015 will bring a VW GTI with more refinement and an improved interior, VW has confirmed the ST will still be the horsepower champion and likely the value leader as well. Compared to that RWD Ford on the lot, the pony car is less expensive but less practical as well. For the cost difference between the Mustang and the ST, you could buy all manner of performance mods for your pony to compete with the ST, but I have a feeling I’d still buy the Focus. For 2014 Ford’s hot hatch is without a doubt the hottest hatch on sale in America, but with Volkswagen planning on sending their 290HP Golf R to the USA and Ford’s own high-power Focus RS rumored, things are just starting to warm up.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.3

0-60: 5.95

1/4 Mile: 14.36 Seconds @ 98.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 25.7 MPG over 1210 Miles

Sound Level at 50 MPH: 76.4 dB

 

2014 Ford Focus ST Engine 2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Engine-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-003 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-004 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-005 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-006 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-007 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-008 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-009 2014 Ford Focus ST Exterior-010 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-001 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-002 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-003 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-004 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-005 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-006 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-007 2014 Ford Focus ST Interior-008 ]]>
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First Drive: 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/first-drive-2014-nissan-versa-note-hatchback-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/first-drive-2014-nissan-versa-note-hatchback-video/#comments Fri, 28 Jun 2013 17:41:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=493324 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-007

I seem to be the only car guy with a soft spot for the Versa. My peers at Car and Driver, Consumer Reports and Autoblog (among others) came off less than impressed by the least expensive car in America when we were all invited to its launch. That left me scratching my head. So I borrowed another one and came to the same conclusion: “Versa delivers a totally unobjectionable experience at a very compelling price.” This apparent disconnect bothered me for a while but I wrote it off as a “lack of perspective” suffered by my peers in the biz. Seriously guys, what do you expect out of the cheapest car in America? The new 2014 Versa Note however isn’t the cheapest car in America, nor is it the cheapest hatch in America. How does it stack up? Nissan flew me to San Diego to find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The last Versa Hatchback we had on our shores wasn’t the least expensive hatch in America either and that was a big problem. I can forgive anything for the right price, but the old hatch sold along side its redesigned sedan namesake which had a much lower price tag. Before we dive too far into the Versa Note, let’s talk price. Why? Because Nissan didn’t just completely redesign their smallest hatch for 2014, they slashed the price tag as well. At $13,990 the Note misses the title of “cheapest five-door hatchback” by $190 to the 2013 Kia Rio 5-Door. Admittedly that’s not the best way to start a conversation about a Versa which usually sells on “least expensive” taglines. Still, the Versa isn’t terribly expensive and undercutts the Accent by $585, Fiesta by $610, Mazda 2 by $730, Yaris by $1,405 and the Fit by $1,435.

About that Note. Nissan’s Versa hatch has been sold in other markets as the Nissan Note for a while and they decided to globalize things. Instead of renaming the car, they just tacked Note to the end since “Versa” seems to be a well-known model. That’s why this hatch is singing this tune.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-006

On the outside, the Note wears completely different sheetmetal than the Versa sedan thanks to being 13-inches shorter overall (163 inches long). That’s six inches shorter than the 2012 model (There was no 2013 Versa) and about three inches shorter than a Rio. Nissan left the Versa’s 102.4 inch wheelbase intact so all those inches were removed from the front and rear overhangs. The result is a profile that is more attractive than the last generation hatch to say the least. Nissan finished off the transformation with new doors and a new horizontal grille with large headlamps. Why not graft a hatch onto the existing Versa? Nissan’s PR folks told us that even as ancient as the 2012 model was, it accounted for nearly half of the Versa volume. Apparently nobody told Versa shoppers that Americans hate hatchbacks.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-002

Inside the cabin we get the same dashboard as the Versa sedan with a few tweaks. 2014 brings Nissan’s new Nissan Connect radios to the low-cost platform and Note engineers snagged the Sentra’s more attractive steering wheel to help justify the $2,000 price bump from the sedan. By all appearances the headliner and seat fabrics seemed to be a notch above the base Versa sedan I last sampled but you’ll still find plenty of hard plastics on the dash and doors. Jumping up to higher trim does buy you nicer fabric, so keep that in mind.

Seat comfort proved good for me during my 6 hours in the Versa, but I would like to see at least optional adjustable lumbar support offered on the driver’s seat. Cushioning is firm but comfortable and the range of motion offered in the 6-way manual seats is average for this segment. Sadly Nissan doesn’t offer a telescoping steering wheel in the Versa Note like many of the competitors do.

Base shoppers will find standard air conditioning, 60/40 folding rear seats and sun-visors that extend, but notably missing from the starting price are power windows, power door locks, vanity mirrors and rear cup holders. This is where I say “what did you expect?” No, the Rio doesn’t offer these goodies for the same price, or even for $190 less. If you want a basic hatchback, this is your ride.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior

No matter, Nissan claims that less than 10% of Versas are the low-rent model, so what of the $15,990 SV? The price bump buys you a car with a fabric headliner (instead of trunk-liner material), Nissan’s 2-speed CVT, cruise control, center armrest for the driver, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and some Bluetooth love.  This 16-grand SV and the oddly named “SV with SL” ($17,690) and “SV with SL Tech Package” ($18,490) Versa Notes will be the bulk of sales. These models push Nissan’s “value” message more believably than the bargain model with better fabric, nicer headliners, USB/iPod interfaces and an optional nav system that is one of the best on the market. Nissan’s new Connect system builds on their old “low-cost navigation” unit by adding streaming media, smartphone and Google data services to the mix. Nissan even tosses in their all-around camera system from the Infiniti product line on that high end “SV with SL Tech Package” model. Can’t we just call that an SL? Please? If you want to know more about that snazzy camera system, check out the video.

The Kia still puts up a fight in this 16-19-grand space with a nicer dashboard, more modern design and a few more gadgets. Hwoever, the Kia doesn’t manage to be any more comfortable or quieter on the road, especially if you’re often carrying rear passengers. Like Nissan’s new Sentra, the Note puts an emphasis on rear accommodations. You’ll find 7 inches more rear legroom than the Rio making it possible, and relatively comfortable, for a quartet of six-foot-five guys on a road trip. Try that in any other compact hatch, none of the competitors even come close.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior, Back Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Under the hood beats the same 1.6L four-cylinder engine as the Versa sedan. The new mill uses dual variable valve timing and two injectors per cylinder to pump out 109HP at 6,000 RPM and 107 lb-ft of twist at 4,400 RPM. While I wouldn’t say no to the turbocharged version you find in the Juke, acceleration is liveable thanks to a light 2,460lb curb weight. Although I didn’t get a chance to test it, I expect 60 to happen in the same 11.5 seconds as the Versa sedan since the hatch weighs a scant 25lbs more. Thanks to a 300lb reduction over the 2012 model and Nissan’s new “CVT with sub planetary gerarset,” the loss of 13HP vs the old 1.8L engine goes largely unnoticed. What you will notice is the 31/40/35 MPG  (city/highway/combined) in every model of Versa Note with the CVT. If you’re paying attention to fine print on the Fiesta and Rio, you know that the respective 30/41 and 30/36 numbers only happen in the special “economy” trim models.

I’m not sure how Car and Driver (and a few other publications) got this one wrong, but contrary to reviews that imply the Versa “starts off in a fixed gear” and then “switches to the CVT at a predetermined speed,” Nissan’s technical documentation on the CVT is clear. The two-speed planetary gearset sits AFTER the CVT belt/cone unit inside the transaxle, not in parallel with it. The transaxle uses the high/low range planetary gearset to extend the ratios of the CVT design beyond what you’d find in a traditional 7-speed automatic. When starting out the CVT is at its lowest ratio and the planetary is in “low.” Once the CVT reaches a high ratio, the planetary gearset switches to high allowing the CVT to reset to a lower ratio as you continue to accelerate. At certain speeds this also allows the Versa to “downshift” faster than you’d think a CVT could because the planetary gearset drops to low rapidly compared to a traditional CVT ratio change.

2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Note manages 40MPG highway thanks to a combination of engine down-sizing, new CVT, electric power steering, aero improvements, low rolling resistance tires and that crash curb-weight-diet. The 35MPG combined score is perhaps more important because it shows the true impact of curb weight savings on your pocket-book. Over 156 miles of driving we scored an admirable 34.9 MPG during our day with the Note, a “notable” improvement over the competition. Keep in mind we spent plenty of time idling, at wide-open-throttle and generally abusing the car around town.

So it gets great mileage and is inexpensive to own, how does it drive? Like I said, it gets great mileage and is inexpensive to own. The low rolling resistance rubber puts the Versa towards the bottom of the pack when it comes to road holding if you compare it to the regular editions of the competition and middle of the pack with the “special economy versions” of the same. The electric power steering is accurate but as numb as anything on the road and you shouldn’t expect much from 109HP. Acceleration is lazy, but then again so is a Prius. Thanks to along wheelbase, the Note’s ride is well composed, and Nissan spend considerable time injecting more sound insulating foam in every nook and cranny making this the quietest Versa ever. Nothing here is objectionable and every dynamic metric of the Note met or exceeded my expectations. Expectations which (I think) were set reasonably with the $15,990-18,490 price tag in mind. Again, don’t expect Savoy Grille experiences at Taco Bell prices. Now I’m hungry, and guess where I drive-thru. (Hint: it’s not the Savoy.)

The Versa sedan is the easy sale in my mind. As the cheapest car in America I can forgive anything. Seriously. But the Note is a trickier ball of wax. The “I can forgive anything” title goes to the Rio 5-door which is the cheapest hatch. Except I find less to forgive in the Rio than in the base Note. That being said, the Note delivers better fuel economy, more rear seat legroom than many luxury cars and if it follows in the Versa sedan’s footsteps it is likely to be very inexpensive to own. That leaves me with a split decision. If you want sporty, buy the new Fiesta. If you want the biggest little hatch with the best real-world fuel economy, the Versa Note is likely the option for you. Where the Rio and the Note lock horns is in the value argument. The top-end SL (I’m going to call it that since its easier) has almost all the goodies I need in a car at an impressive price. The Rio on the other hand offers a similar value but trades improved thrust for lower MPGs.  With the 2014 Versa Note Nissan has really stepped up their game and it’s still a car I would buy, but keep an eye on that Kia, the Koreans aren’t resting on their laurels either.

 

Nissan flew me to San Diego and stuffed me full of Italian food for this review.

Observed fuel economy over 156 miles: 34.9 MPG

2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-013 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-012 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-011 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-010 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-009 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-004 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-005 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior, Back Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-007 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-008 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-003 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-002 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Interior 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-006 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-007 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-008 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-009 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-010 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-004 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-005 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-003 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-002 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Engine 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Engine-001 2014 Nissan Versa Note Hatchback Exterior ]]>
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Question Of The Day: How Often Do You Use… Your Trunk? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/question-of-the-day-how-often-do-you-use-your-trunk/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/question-of-the-day-how-often-do-you-use-your-trunk/#comments Wed, 26 Sep 2012 14:06:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=461319

 

The 1st generation Honda Insight seems tiny compared to anything short of a Fiat 500.

Yet I do a lot of driving with it. Commuting. Shopping. A whole lot of errands and an occasional light haul are all par for the daily course.

As for the hatch… I only use it for the really big stuff.

The proverbial pecking order goes like this.

I use the passenger seat for paperwork and other small items.

The floor is used for the big, heavier bulky items.

If someone needs to ride with me, which is rare, I just put the paperwork on the far left side of the floor or wedge it between the seat and the center panel.

So I’m not much for the ‘junk in the trunk’ club. But what about you? How often do you use your trunk? Or hatch? Or whatever you call that large elongated rear end of yours?

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Review: 2012 and 2013 MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) Coupe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2012-and-2013-mini-john-cooper-works-jcw-coupe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2012-and-2013-mini-john-cooper-works-jcw-coupe/#comments Sun, 29 Jul 2012 16:38:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453630

Before 2011, if you were looking for a hot hatch but wanted something MINIer than a Cooper, your options were limited to the less than smart Smart BRABUS. With fuel costs on the rise and fuel economy targets looming, MINI and Fiat are hoping to tempt “sporty” shoppers into something smaller and more practical. This week we have the MINI answer to the question: why doesn’t MINI make a heavier John Cooper Works (JCW) without back seats? We kid, we kid. But in all seriousness, why would you buy the MINI Coupé instead of the four-seater JCW Cooper, JCW Roadster or even the sexy Italian we tested last week?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The modular car strategy has been around for some time, but few auto makers take the “one sausage, different lengths” school of design to these heights. The MINI Coupé is instantly familiar with its large headlights, hood scoop and perky side view mirrors. To “coupify” the basic building blocks of the MINI brand, the engineers raked the windshield back, lowered the roof, ditched the hatchback for a “liftback” with a faux-trunk and added the infamous ” backwards baseball cap” spoiler. MINI prefers to call this design cue a “helmet,” but to my eye it’s just funky. And not in the groovy kinda way. Completing the look is a spoiler that deploys from the faux-trunk at 50MPH and retracts at 40 MPH. My bottom line: if you wan an attractive 2-seat MINI, just buy the Roadster.

While this may be splitting hairs, MINI tells us the Coupé is based on the Roadster which is based on the Cabriolet which is ultimately based on the Cooper. This game of semantics lineage is important because while the Coupé rides on the same 97.1-inch wheelbase as the Cooper, it inherits all the chassis stiffening from the Cabriolet and the Roadster, then adds the rigidity imparted by a solid top. Oh, and it ditches the Cooper’s rear seats.

Interior

All MINI models share more than just their design DNA – the interior bits are shared across the range, too. This is by no means a dig against MINI, as on the whole MINI’s parts bin is a nice place to be. As with every other MINI, the interior greets you with a ginormous round speedometer front-and-center and more chrome toggle switches than you can imagine. As always, the speedometer’s location means it’s more of a styling exercise than a useful gauge and thankfully MINI continues to provide a digital speed readout in the tachometer on the steering column. If you were hoping the MINI Coupé would improve on the few problem areas of the modern MINI, you’ll be disappointed. The same blend of first-rate stitched leather and bargain-basement headliners still exist.

The relative roominess of the Cooper gives way to a cabin that feels cozy, bordering on “tight.” The raked exterior design required moving the driver’s seat rearward which yields a seating (position relative to the wheels) that is similar to many RWD coupés. Headroom is still fairly good despite the lowered roof thanks to the novel way the headliner is molded with “divots” above the driver and passenger. Although this is unlikely to be a feature tested regularly, these “head wells” mean the MINI Coupé is one of the few cars I have tested recently where you can sit in a comfortable driving position wearing a helmet and not have it constantly hitting the ceiling.

Infotainment

The infotainment system on the JCW Coupé is a basic, 6-speaker AM/FM/XM/HD Radio/CD unit. That’s right, iDevice  integration and a Bluetooth interface are $500 extra. If you’re a gadget hound like I am, be ready to open your wallet because the options list is extensive, full featured and high-priced. An extra $500 (or $250 if you planned to get the armrest anyway) gets you the MINI Connected system (without navigation). MINI Connected is essentially BMW’s iDrive (circa 2011) with a rounded LCD and a more minimalist control interface. Like iDrive, Connected provides an elegant, snappy interface for browsing your tunes along with iPhone app integration. As with BMW’s iPhone app, you can Tweet, Facebook, stream internet radio, Google, and view some additional “sport” themed instrumentation on the LCD.

MINI takes the app thing to a new level with their “Dynamic Music” and “Mission Control” apps. Dynamic Music plays digitized, beat-heavy, music that changes as you drive. Speed up and the tempo increases while the system adds more instruments. Flip your turn signal on and cymbals start ringing out of the speaker on the side that you’re indicating. Mission Control plays canned phrases in stereotypical British accents in response to driver inputs. Floor the MINI and the system says “fulllll throttle!” Press the Sport button and several canned voices have a conversation about sporty driving. While it is entertaining for a day or two, I can’t imagine owners using this option daily.

Like a gateway drug, once you have MINI Connected, it’s hard to say no to the $750 nav. Once you have the nav, it’s easy to up-sell the $750 Harman/Kardon speaker system. After all that’s been added, your MINI sales rep will tell you “if you select the Technology Package you can add the parking sensors for half price” ($250.) Total up-sell: $2,750 and we have only just begun. The JCW Coupé has a base MSRP of $31,900 ($32,050 for 2013), but if you’re buying “off the lot,” expect to pay around $38,000 according to our survey of 4 local MINI dealers. Our tester rang in at $38,450 and included metallic paint, the Connected system with navigation, chrome accents, black headlamps, sport stripes, white turn signals, chrome mirror caps and the up-level speaker system. This represents a nearly $2,000 premium over a similarly equipped four-seat JCW hatchback.

Drivetrain

Powering the JCW Coupé is the same 1.6L four-cylinder engine shared with every MINI model (as well as select BMW, Citroën and Peugeot models), only this one’s had a twin-scroll turbo and direct-injection bolted on. New for 2013 is a variable valve event system based on BMW’s Valvetronic technology to reduce emissions (power output remains the same.) The JCW tuning increases power to 208HP at a lofty 6,000RPM and torque jumps to 192-lbft from 1,850-5,600RPM. MINI incorporates an “over-boost” function to bump torque to 207 lb-ft (2,000-5,200RPM) automatically under the right conditions. A six-speed manual is the only cog-swapper on JCW models in 2012, but for 2013 MINI has announced you’ll be able to have the car shift for you. MINI has yet to release official pricing on 2013 options, but expect the Aisin six-speed automatic to add around $1,250.

Drive

Before our week-long stint in the JCW, I had an opportunity to drive a similarly equipped JCW Coupé on Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. The impression that resulted is a classic problem in our business. The JCW Coupé impressed with impeccable track manners, incredible grip, perfect poise in the corkscrew, moderate steering feel and a feeling of confidence. Note that I didn’t say “fast.” Sorry MINI fans, with only 208 horses motivating 2,811lbs, the power to weight ratio ends up around 13.5:1 (lbs:HP.) This means the JCW Coupé scoots to 60 in 6.6 seconds, notably slower than the Volvo XC60 R-Design we had last month (5.6 seconds) or even a V6 Camry (6 seconds).

Back to the problem with testing a road car on a track. First and most obvious, the only place you’ll find perfect pavement in California is on a track. The rest of us must contend with potholes, loose pavement, stop-light races, off camber corners, and parking lots. The “glued to the ground” handling feel the JCW exhibited on the track was replaced by a vehicle that felt decidedly unsettled over corners with broken pavement. The increased chassis rigidity, stiffer springs  and run-flat tires that made the JCW Coupé a delight on the track also make it a back killer on Highway 101. The road noise that wasn’t a problem when you were wearing a helmet was a problem when you’re trying to have a hands-free conversation on the speakerphone. On the track you’re looking forward, on the road, the roof design and B pillars cause enormous blind spots while the seating position and small rear window make rearward visibility poor with the spoiler down and nearly non-existent with the spoiler deployed. Keep in mind, these trade-offs are nothing new, many manufacturers follow exactly the same formula to create performance versions, especially those with low curb weights.

There is little practical reason to buy the JCW Coupé over the regular hatchback JCW Cooper, unless you live in an area with three-person HOV lanes and your carpool is a dynamic duo.The regular JCW Cooper delivers 99% of the fun for nearly $2,000 less, has two extra seats, more cargo room and is far more attractive. If money is no object MINI has an even better solution for you: the MINI JCW Roadster. The drop-top MINI two-seater solves all the aesthetic issues of the Coupé and goes topless to boot. The problem? The price. A roadster is $3,300 more than the Coupé in 2012 and $4,350 more for 2013.

Because of how great the JCW Coupé felt on the track, I spent an entire week trying to find a compelling reason to buy one over the regular JCW Cooper hatchback. I’m still searching. Likewise the MINI Coupé seems to be the answer to a question few have asked. If you are one of the few people I met that liked the way the Coupé looked, or you just want one of the rarest MINIs around, then the JCW Coupé is for you. Everyone else should stop at the Fiat dealer and check out an Abarth on their way to buy the JCW Cooper hatchback.

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 6.6 Seconds (I’m sure a professional driver could eek out a 6.4)

1/4 Mile: 15.0 Seconds @ 98MPH

Average fuel economy: 25.6MPG over 754 miles

 

2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, wheels, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, spoiler, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, front , Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, exhaust tips,  Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, Steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected nav, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected LCD, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected LCD, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected LCD, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected mission control, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected LCD, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected LCD, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Infotainment, MINI connected controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Engine, 1.6L turbo, 211HP, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Engine, 1.6L turbo, 211HP, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Engine, 1.6L turbo, 211HP, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe, Engine, 1.6L turbo, 211HP, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 MINI JCW Coupe Monroney Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

 

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Review: 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/review-2012-toyota-yaris-3-door/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/review-2012-toyota-yaris-3-door/#comments Mon, 26 Mar 2012 15:29:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=435601

The 2012 Yaris! It’s a car! That might sound like the strangest marketing claim for a new car ever, but if you dig deeper it is Toyota’s attempt at saying “OK, we get it.” Why? Because Toyota, like most manufacturers, has had trouble staying on message with basic transportation. Need proof? Look no further than the Corolla. The Corolla was a small, cheap and cheerful vehicle that has since grown into a 15-foot long sedan that weighs almost 3,000lbs and can reach $20,000 with options. No matter how nice a Corolla might be, cheap to buy it isn’t.

It’s a hatchback!

Part of getting back on message with the Yaris was simplifying the lineup by ditching the sedan leaving the 5-door Michael Karesh snagged back in February, and the cheapest Toyota in America: the 3-door hatchback I had for a week. Why no sedan? Toyota tells us it accounted for less than 30% of sales so it had to be euthanized in the name of progress. Further simplifying things, there just two trims for the 3-door hatch (L and LE) and three for the 5-door (L, LE and SE) reducing the possible number of configurations from 25 in 2011 to 9. Yep, 9. In addition, there are essentially no options on the Yaris, you pick the number of doors, manual or automatic, select from 8 available paint colors, cruise control and away you go for $14,115 to $17,960. Never before has buying a Toyota been this simple.

It has a steering wheel!

There may be a color palate to choose from on the outside, but inside all 3-door Yaris models get the same grey-on-black interior thanks to Toyota’s streamlining. Plastics are as hard as you would expect in a car that starts under 15-grand, but the doors and dash do get a thin coating of squishy soft-touch plastics (it’s the grey part in the picture). Compared to the outgoing Yaris, the 2012 is positively normal with the instrument cluster returning to a normal position in-front of the driver. Keeping costs in check, the only model that sports a tachometer is the “sporty” 5-door SE model Michael reviewed. Our tester, as with the rest of the lineup gets a round blank spot that illuminates at night to remind you that you didn’t pop for the SE. Our LE tester had the only two options going: cruise control for $250 (available only on 3-door LE models with the automatic) and floor mats for $180. So what’s the difference between the L and LE? The LE buys you a standard automatic transmission, body colored mirrors, a better radio (L and LE both have standard USB/iPod jacks), a driver’s seat with 2 more directions of motion, a 60/40 folding rear seat (the L’s rear seat folds flat as one unit), audio controls on the steering wheel, chrome door handles, Bluetooth speakerphone, power windows and remote keyless entry. The price for these jewels? $1,510.

Click here to view the embedded video.

It moves!

The Yaris has an engine! The 3-door and 5-door Yaris share the same thoroughly modern 1.5L four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. The 106HP come to the boil at 6,000 RPM but despite this, it isn’t as “peaky” as many small engines. Torque is rated at 103 lb-ft at a lower 4,200 RPM. I’d like to say this makes the Yaris quick off the line, but the lack of a tach really hampered my fun with the 5-speed manual. Adding insult to injury, our LE tester mates the modern engine with an ancient 4-speed automatic. The lack of cogs is the most likely reason the Yaris misses the 40MPG mark with the 5-speed manual posting 30MPG city and 38MPG highway and the automatic dropping to a ho-hum 30MPG city and 35MPG highway according to the EPA. I experienced an average of 31MPG on my daily commute. If these numbers bother you, then you’re missing the point of the Yaris which strangely enough isn’t to be the most efficient small Toyota, but the cheapest to buy.

It Turns!

Out on the road the Yaris’s short 98.8-inch wheelbase, light curb weight of 2,300lbs and somewhat stiff springs combine to make for a choppy ride on washboard pavement. All 3-door Yaris models come with 10-inch vented discs up front, drum brakes out back and 175 width, 65 series tires on steel wheels. Despite being shod with tall all-season rubber, the lightweight Yaris handles surprisingly well with a well-balanced chassis, direct (albeit numb) steering and a tight 30-foot turning radius. Thanks to the fairly wide stance and “wheels in the corners” design, the 3-door is actually a willing companion when the going gets twisty. Because the chassis is a willing dance partner on windy mountain roads, the budget nature of the braking system becomes more obvious than in the previous generation with smoke and fade following a session of aggressive corner carving. While I doubt many shoppers will feel the need to push their subcompact to the limits, beware that the chassis writes checks the brakes can’t cash.

There’s competition!

While many Toyota shoppers are brand monogamists who won’t so much as look at another woman car, the Yaris is positioned as an entry-level vehicle hoping to attract the younger generation and train them to be a lifelong Toyota customer. While it’s easy to compare the 5-door Yaris to the slick 5-door Hyundai Accent with its refined interior and more efficient and powerful drivetrain, it has a few too many doors. Indeed, all the competition save the Fiat 500 and Golf have too many doors. Compared to the Golf (starting at $17,995) the Yaris’ cheaper interior and old-school cog swapper can be forgiven because of the low sticker price, and compared to the Fiat, the Yaris is simply more car. In many ways the Yaris’ fiercest competitor is in the family: the all-new Prius c. Based loosely on the unholy marriage of a Yaris and a Prius to begin with, the baby Prius starts at $18,950 and with a solid 50MPG average (as tested by TTAC) vs the Yaris’ 30MPG average (as tested by TTAC), it wouldn’t take long to save the $3,325 difference in MSRP.

I started scratching my head about the Yaris at the release event for the Prius c a few months ago and after spending a week in the Yaris I’m more confused then when I started. It’s not the Yaris’ fault. It’s a cheap car that fulfills the mission of cheap and cheerful transportation with a totally unexpected dose of fun and simplicity. The problem is Toyota makes a much better car; the Prius c. With 50 MPG on tap and $4.40 gasoline in Northern California it would only take 55,500 miles to break even. If you’re worried about a loss of fun, despite the 200lb heavier curb weight of the Prius c, it handles almost as well as the Yaris and the hybrid drivetrain actually helps solve the braking complaints. If you’re in the market for a compact car, it seems the Yaris is really only a good option if you really want a new car but can’t stretch yourself to the Prius c or one of the other more premium subcompact options.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.05 seconds

0-60: 9.0 seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.02 seconds @ 79.5MPH

Average economy: 30.5MPG over 689 miles

 

2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Engine, 1.5L 106HP, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Engine, 1.5L 106HP, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Interior, instrument cluster, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, front , Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Interior, driver's side dash, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Interior, dashboard, radio, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Toyota Yaris 3-Door, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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