The Truth About Cars » Hot Hatch The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +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 » Hot Hatch Vauxhall Readies Its Fiesta ST Fighter – Are You Listening, Chevrolet? Thu, 03 Jul 2014 18:57:20 +0000 corsa

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

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

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

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Ford’s Got A (Focus) ST-D Fri, 27 Jun 2014 01:33:50 +0000 forfoc100


Ford’s Focus lineup has got an ST-D. D for diesel, that is.

The Focus ST Diesel gets a 2.0 diesel making 182 horsepower and an 295 lb-ft of torque. On the European cycle, it gets 64.2 mpg and emits 114 grams per km of CO2. 60 mph comes up in 8.1 seconds, compared to 7.5 seconds for the VW Golf GTD.

The gasoline powered Focus ST gets a new start-stop system, while both cars get an updated interior with Ford’s revised SYNC system.

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Ford To Debut Focus ST Diesel Mon, 23 Jun 2014 20:02:10 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

A new Ford Focus ST is set to be debuting at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this weekend.

In addition to a facelift (to better align it with the facelifted 2015 Focus), Just-Auto is also reporting that a diesel variant will be offered alongside the 2.0L Ecoboost engine. Any bets on whether it will arrive in North America? I’ll say “no”. The ST Diesel wagon is sure to be the new “most lusted after” hot hatch on the interwebs. You can bet on that.

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The 1980s: When Worse Was Better Tue, 04 Mar 2014 21:06:48 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

With the wife and kids out of the house on Sunday I finally had a little private time. Naturally, I did what a lot of men do when they find themselves home alone – I caught up on the current season of Top Gear. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the world’s most popular television program. On the one hand I am generally unimpressed with lengthy reviews of million dollar hyper cars or high end luxury cars, the seats of which my ass will never grace, but I do enjoy the challenges and the occasional look back at cars of the past. Naturally, I was quite taken by this season’s premiere episode, a modern day test of the hot hatches of the 1980s.

For those of you who are too young to remember, the ‘80s was the greatest decade ever. Beginning with the official death of Disco on July 12, 1979 and ending only with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind on September 21, 1991 it was a decade that lasted almost 13 years. That’s astounding! Moreover, blah blah blah, Reagan, blah blah blah, MTV, blah blah blah cellphones the size of bricks instead of the size of a suitcase. Yeah, it was great. We had some things and we did some stuff but the best part was the cars.

Click here to view the embedded video.

In the Top Gear episode, our trio of aging heroes set out to prove that the small, sporty cars of their (our) youth were better than the youth oriented small cars of today. To support their claims, they are each given a small sum of money and are told to bring back an aging hot hatch. Because it’s Britain, the only car I could actually recognize was Jeremy Clarkson’s VW Golf GTI, but all three seemed to be small, “sporty” and, compared to today’s cars, terribly lacking in options or sophistication. They then put these cars through a series of “tests” in that special way that only Top Gear UK can manage and the results are a lot of fun. If you get BBC America, I highly suggest tuning in and watching the fun for yourself.

The episode put me in an introspective sort of mood. I lived through the entirety of the 1980s, actually beginning my first year of high school in the fall of 1979, but I was not a creature of the ‘80s. My tastes ran towards ‘60s muscle cars, ‘70s hard rock and that special sort of Pacific Northwest fashion sense that Nirvana made a grungy part of the ‘90s. Still, by the end of the ‘80s, with the arrival of my own Tuuuuurbo Dodge I had adapted enough that I at least (sort of) fit in.

Photo By T Kreutzer

It turns out that, like our Top Gear hosts, I miss those days and I find myself spending a good deal of time looking back at the cars of that era. I have this nascent idea of bothering poor unsuspecting people on Craigslist by posing as a buyer for their old car and then writing articles about my test driving experience, but of course, I have a problem in that, first, I’m not very good at telling lies and, second, cars of that era are a might thin on the ground in the Western New York region. Perhaps I will try this ploy once I relocate to less salty climates but for now I am stuck living in my own memories.

Compared to modern performance cars, the cars of the 1980s are pitiful pieces of machinery. The turbo Dodge I recall so fondly had a peaky turbo, suffered from massive amounts of torque steer, and blew a head gasket at just 90K miles, but it was light, flickable and, punched way above its weight. The 200SX Turbo I lionized at the beginning of my tenure here at TTAC was much better composed than my Shadow and was a speedy little thing but it turns out that it had just 120 horsepower – that’s actually 2 horsepower less than dowdiest little car Nissan makes today, the Cube. I could find other examples too, I am sure, but there is no point in beating a dead horse there is only one right answer to the question at hand. Today’s cars are far, far better in every way.

But the right answer is, I think, wrong. What we had then may have been technically worse, but it was also so much better. In that same way that a modern jet fighter can outperform a P51 Mustang the new cars have it all over the old ones, but ask any pilot which bird he wants to strap himself into and the vast majority will choose the old one. So it is with cars. I might lose a contest of seed and handling, but at least I’ll go down fighting with a smile on my face. And that’s what it’s really all about anyhow.

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

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Review: 2014 Ford Focus ST (With Video) Thu, 09 Jan 2014 14:00:42 +0000 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.


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


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


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


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.)


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 ]]> 142
Review: 2014 Scion tC (With Video) Tue, 17 Sep 2013 16:23:02 +0000 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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

Click here to view the embedded video.


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

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

tC vs FR-S Front  tC vs FR-S Back

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

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

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


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

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

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

Infotainment & Gadgets

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

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

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

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

Drivetrain & Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

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

Quit it

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

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

Specifications as Tested

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 7.6 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.8 Seconds @ 89 MPH

Cabin Noise: 76db @ 50 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 29.6 MPG over 459 miles


2014 Scion tC Engine 2014 Scion tC Engine, 2.5L Four Cylinder, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Exterior 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Exterior-002 2014 Scion tC Exterior-003 2014 Scion tC Exterior-004 2014 Scion tC Exterior-005 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Exterior-007 2014 Scion tC Exterior-008 2014 Scion tC Exterior-009 2014 Scion tC Exterior-010 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Interior 2014 Scion tC Interior-001 2014 Scion tC Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Interior-003 2014 Scion tC Interior-004 2014 Scion tC Interior-005 2014 Scion tC Interior, BeSpoke Autio System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Scion tC Interior-009 2014 Scion tC Interior-010 2014 Scion tC Interior-011 ]]> 109
AMG Builds An STI Wed, 13 Feb 2013 15:44:44 +0000

Mercedes-Benz has finally released production photos of the A45 AMG – and while it couldn’t be more different than the rest of the rear-drive, V8 AMG lineup, it looks enticing in its own way.

Motivation comes from a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 360 horsepower and 339 lb-ft of torque. A 7-speed DCT gearbox is enlisted to put power through all four wheels. 60 mph comes up in 4.6 seconds, and buyers will be able to choose from two different exhaust systems – hopefully it sounds like an even meaner Fiat 500 Abarth. If you squint really hard, this car seems like an AMG version of the Subaru Impreza WRX STI. Let’s hope Mercedes sees fit to grace us with a CLA45 AMG on these shores.

Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG. Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz. a451 016-a45-md 015-a45-md 014-a45-md 012-a45-md 010-a45-md 007-a45-md 004-a45-md ]]> 28
Kia’s First Hot Hatch Wed, 30 Jan 2013 19:40:57 +0000

The stupidly named Kia pro_cee’d is going to get the Hyundai Veloster Turbo’s 1.6L 201-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine as part of a GT trim level. The GT will bow at the Geneva Auto Show – which TTAC won’t be covering, since the Swiss Franc’s relative strength will make even an espresso unaffordable.

The important question for North American consumers – will we get a Forte with this powertrain? Or an Elantra GT? We’ve heard hints from Hyundai that an upgraded engine is in the cards for the hatchback. This seems like an obvious choice.

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Review: 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid (Video) Fri, 14 Dec 2012 15:55:44 +0000

Up till now there hasn’t been a “real” Prius alternative on the market. Sure Honda has the Civic and Insight, but their real-world MPGs can’t hold a candle to the green-car poster child and Honda’s IMA hybrid system is far from smooth and refined. The Volt is more of a novelty with its lofty price tag and the last time we tested one we revealed a lowly 32MPG average when running gasoline only. This brings us to the blue oval. Despite Ford using essentially the same technology as Toyota for their hybrid systems, Ford resisted creating a dedicated hybrid model. Until now. Meet the 47MPG 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid. Of course we’ve all heard the news that the C-MAX doesn’t hit 47MPG, so click-through the jump to find out what we averaged and whether or not that should matter to you.


Click here to view the embedded video.


What Ford didn’t do was create a futuristic wedge-shaped car on a dedicated platform crafted from light-weight ultra-eco-friendly materials in an attempt to create the most efficient car in America. Disappointed? Don’t be, because the benefits may just outweigh the drawbacks. Instead Ford took the existing (since 2011) Focus-based C-Max from Europe, stuffed Ford’s most powerful hybrid drivetrain under the Euro sheetmetal and slapped some wide (for a hybrid) tires on what might just be the first hybrid hot hatch.

Speaking of that sheetmetal, the C-MAX strikes an interesting pose on American roads looking like the product of crossbreeding a Focus and a Windstar. The resulting hatchback has a tall greenhouse, tall roof-line and some crossover styling cues no doubt to confuse entice the suburban set. Measuring in at 173 inches long, the C-MAX is 2 inches longer than the Focus hatchback on which it is based, but 3 inches shorter than a Prius and 8 inches shorter than a Prius V.

Of course none of this really explains the strange “C-MAX” name. Yes, that’s what it’s called in Europe, but why? Still, it’s no stranger than “Prius” and whatever you think of its name, the C-MAX is considerably more attractive than Toyota’s bulbous hybrid wagon.


The C-MAX doesn’t just look like a wannabe crossover on the outside, it does on the inside as well. There’s a reason for this. Instead of sharing heavily with the Focus hatch as you might assume, the C-MAX shares parts and interior styling with the 2013 Escape. The only major style change to the dash is a unique instrument cluster similar with twin 4.2-inch LCDs like the Fusion hybrid. Unlike the Prius, you won’t find any thin, hard, weight saving plastics in the cabin. There are no blue-tinted transparent button arrays, no shifter joystick and no center-mounted disco dash either. Instead you will find a premium cabin that would pass muster in any $30,000 vehicle and looks notably more premium than the Lexus CT 200h. The Prius on the other hand is full of plastics and fabrics more at home in a $16,000 econo-box.

The C-MAX seats can be had in your choice of charcoal or a “greyish” tan fabric or leather but regardless of your choice, the majority of the interior is black-on-black. The overly black theme is both very European (in a good way) and a bit cold (in a bad way) for my tastes. Front seat comfort is good thanks to a relatively upright seating position, wide seat cushions and a good range of motion when you get the power driver’s seat. The tilt/telescopic steering wheel made finding a comfortable driving position quick and easy. The upright seating is what allows the C-MAX to have Prius matching rear leg room, an improvement of three inches over the Focus hatchback’s more reclined thrones.

The rear seats are a bit close to the floor for adult passengers but are the right height for most children and young teens. Despite looking tall and narrow, the C-MAX is more than three inches wider than the Prius and this allows three to sit abreast in the rear in greater comfort. The rear seat backs fold completely flat with the 24.5 cubic foot cargo area. Because the C-MAX wasn’t designed as a hybrid from the start, the battery pack occupies all the spare tire space in the C-MAX as well as a few inches on the cargo area floor. The reduced cargo space is a few cubes larger than the Prius liftback but smaller than the Prius V. Despite the cargo hauling reduction vs the European gasoline-only model, the C-MAX easily swallowed four roller bags with room to spare.


Like the Android vs iPhone debate, “infotainment systems” spark fierce debate. No system other than iDrive has received as much bad press, fan-boy rave reviews and healthy imitation as the strangely named “MyFord Touch.” (Really, what was wrong with SYNC?) The system (optional on SE, standard on SEL trim) combines your climate, entertainment, telephone and navigation chores into one integrated system that looks snazzy and responds via voice commands to your every whim. When it landed in 2010 it became obvious the software was rushed to market complete with more bugs than a bag of 5-year-old flour. Still, the system is still unique in the market for allowing you to voice command just about everything from your destination to your temperature and what Madonna track you want to listen to from your iPod.

The C-MAX benefits from a major software update released in March of 2012 (for all Ford products) to make the system more responsive. While the system never had a melt-down during my testing (a first for MFT), the slowness the system is known for persists. Like most MFT equipped vehicles, the C-MAX teams a snazzy in-dash touchscreen with twin 4.2-inch LCDs on either side of the speedometer. Perhaps a first for a hybrid vehicle, you won’t find a single screen on the main MFT screen that displays hybrid system information. No animated screen with a battery/motor/engine scree, no wacky driving hints, no fuel economy charts. Aside from the efficiency leaves that replace the climate option on the right-side 4.2-inch LCD and the intuitive kW gauge on the left LCD, there is nothing to identify the C-MAX as a trendy gasoline/electric people mover, and I think I like the move. Despite the system’s obviously flaws, MFT is far slicker and user-friendly than the Prius or Volt’s infotainment options.

Is Ford’s transmission a Toyota transmission?

The short answer is no. Long before Ford produced a hybrid vehicle, Ford and Toyota put out plenty of prototypes and concept cars. Both companies recognized the similarities of their competing hybrid designs and geared up for lawsuits. (Both designed shared plenty of cues from a TRW system from the 1960s.) Ford and Toyota did something rare in our litigious society, they settled and cross-licensed each-others technologies but (and most importantly) NOT their specific designs. Ford continued developing the Escape Hybrid solo and Toyota went on their way with Hybrid Synergy Drive. Some confusion was caused by Ford choosing Aisin build their hybrid transaxle for the Escape and Fusion hybrids because they didn’t have the capacity or expertise internally. Fast forward to 2012. Ford decided that in order to reduce costs and drive hybrid sales (for some CAFE credits of course) they had to take the design and manufacturing of hybrid systems in-house.  This means that Ford’s hybrid system’s level of vertical integration is vastly similar to Toyota.


Under the stubby hood of the C-MAX you’ll find Ford’s completely redesigned hybrid system with a downsized 2.0L Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine good for 141HP and 129lb-ft of twist. This is down slightly from the old 155HP 2.5L engine in the old Fusion and Escape hybrids, but considerably higher than the Prius’s 98HP mill. In order to achieve the 188 system horsepower (11 more than the old Ford system and 54 more than the Prius) and a TTAC estimated 200-220lb-ft of twist, Ford put a hefty 118HP motor/generator into their in-house designed HF35 hybrid transaxle. If you want to know more about how the Ford and Toyota Hybrid systems work, click here.

Beneath the cargo area in the C-MAX sits a 1.6kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The lithium battery chemistry allows the hybrid system to charge and discharge the pack at rates higher than the old nickle based battery pack (used in the Escape and the Prius). This new battery allows the C-MAX to drive electric only up to 62MPH vs the 34MPH of the Prius. In addition, the C-MAX doesn’t need you to be as gentle on the throttle as the Prius or the older Ford hybrids.

Oh that fuel economy

Fuel economy is a tricky business because your driving style and topography are the biggest factors involved. I would caution readers to never compare my numbers with other publications because the driving conditions and styles are different. The 2012 Prius, when driven gently on my commute, (120 miles round trip with a 2,200ft mountain pass) averaged 46-47MPG which is fairly close to its 51/48/50 EPA rating (City/Highway/Combined). The C-MAX on the other hand averaged 41.5 during our 568 miles of testing and the lowest one-way figure on my daily commute was 39MPG. Sound good so far? There’s a problem, even on a level freeway at 65MPH the C-MAX struggled to get better than 45MPG in 60 degree weather. The Prius in the same situation averaged 50MPG. The Prius V suffered a similar shortfall in my week of testing coming in four MPG below its EPA combined 42MPG rating. We need to put these numbers in perspective. Driving 15,0000 miles a year with gas at $4 a gallon the C-MAX would cost $144 a year more to operate than a Prius and $148 less than a Prius V.

On the road

There are a few reasons the C-MAX fails to meet Ford’s fuel economy claims. The first is the portly 3,600lb curb weight, the second is the wide 225/50R17 tires which have a 23% larger contact patch than the Prius’ 195/65R15 rubber. On the flip side, the wide low-profile rubber pays real dividends when the road bends and the heavy curb weight helps the C-MAX to feel lass “crashy” than a Prius over broken pavement. Coupled with a Focus derived suspension, the tires help the C-MAX set a new benchmark for hybrid handling easily besting the CT 200h. While the electric power steering robs the hybrid hatch of 99% of its road feel, it still manages to be more engaging than a Prius. Admittedly not a hard thing to do.

Stomp on the C-MAX’s accelerator pedal and something surprising (for a hybrid) happens: acceleration. If the road surface is right you’ll even get some one-wheel-peel. Despite weighing a whopping 600lbs more than a Prius, the C-MAX sprints to 60MPH 2 seconds faster posting a solid 7 second run to highway speeds. I’d like to compare it to the Prius V and  Lexus CT 200h, but I gave up after 9.5 seconds. This makes the C-MAX as fast as the Focus ST and faster than a Volkswagen GTI.

In addition to being more powerful, the C-MAX’s hybrid system is capable of operating in EV mode at higher speeds and in a broader range of conditions than the Prius. While it doesn’t seem to help the C-MAX hit its advertised 47/47/47 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) it is a novelty that entertained drivers and passengers alike. Thanks to a more powerful motor, faster discharging battery, and aggressive software, it’s possible to accelerate up to40 MPH in EV mode without pissing off the cars behind you. Doing so brings the C-MAX’s other selling point to light: Ford’s sound deadening measures are extensive and make the C-MAX the quietest hybrid this side of the insane LS 600hL.

Ford has wisely priced the C-MAX aggressively starting at $25,200 and there’s already a Ford $1,000 cash back offer dropping the price to the same as the 2013 Prius’ MSRP and $2,450 cheaper than a Prius V. The up-level SEL model which comes standard with leather, heated seats, rain sensing wipers, backup sensors, ambient lighting, keyless entry/go for $28,200. Should you desire some plug-in love, the Energi model will set you back $32,950. The deal gets even better when you consider the C-MAX has more standard equipment and features and options unavailable in the Prius at any price.

The week after Ford lent me the C-MAX hybrid Consumer Reports’ “bombshell” about the C-MAX’s fuel economy numbers dropped. But does it matter? Is a 41MPG C-MAX a failure? No, and here’s why. The only measurable way the Prius is better than the C-MAX is real world fuel economy where the Prius will save you a few Grants a year. In every other way the C-MAX is superior to the Prius and even the Lexus CT 200h. Does this compensate for the “lackluster” fuel economy? It does in my book. If you’re willing to spend $144 a year in higher fuel costs for a more entertaining ride, this Ford’s for you. The C-Max isn’t just a shot across Toyota’s bow, it’s the first honest-to-goodness competitor on the market. Better yet, it’s not a me-too Prius, it’s a unique and compelling alternative.

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.9 Seconds

0-60: 7.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.55 Seconds @ 92 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 41.5MPG over 625 Miles


2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, hybrid logo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, cargo area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, front seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, front seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, instrument cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, instrument cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, instrument cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Infotainment, MyFord Touch, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Infotainment, MyFord Touch, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Picture Coutesy of Ford Motor Company 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid Transmission Diagram, Picture Coutesy of Ford Motor Company 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid Transmission Diagram, Picture Coutesy of Ford Motor Company Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 82
Review: 2012 and 2013 MINI John Cooper Works (JCW) Coupe Sun, 29 Jul 2012 16:38:30 +0000

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 Fiat 500 Abarth – Take Two Fri, 20 Jul 2012 14:23:51 +0000  

Abarth was founded in 1952 as a “one-stop-shop” for Fiat performance gear. What does that have to do with the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth? Nothing. Seriously. In 1971 Abarth was purchased by Fiat, by the 1990s the “brand” had deteriorated to a trim level on questionable hatchbacks and by 2000 it was “dead trim walking.” In 2007 Fiat decided they needed a performance brand once again and resurrected Abarth with the inexplicably named “Fiat Grande Punto Abarth” and (more importantly) a complete line of clothing and accessories. Despite the apparent soft start for the brand in the Euro-zone, Fiat tells us they held nothing back for the launch of Abarth in North America. Our own tame racing driver Jack took the Abarth for a spin on the track back in March but this time we’re pitting Italy’s hot hatch against a bigger challenge: the daily commute.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Unlike the Mercedes takeover merger with Chrysler last century, the Fiat/Chrysler tie-up seems to be bearing some interesting fruit. No, I’m not talking about Chrysler’s use of MultiAir in the Dart, or the cozy relationship with ZF Friedrichshafen AG (ZF transmissions), I’m talking about Fiat getting Chrysler’s engineers involved in Fiat designs. Say what? You heard that right, the North American Abarth is not the same car as the Euro model and we can thank Chrysler. Because Fiat knew there had to be some changes for North American consumption, they told the SRT group to think outside the “Americanization” box. The result is an Abarth that borrows heavily from the Euro model but has some significant improvements. Yes, improvements.


With just over 40,000 Fiat 500s of any description driving around on our shores, the design is unique enough to cause traffic to slow and heads to turn. As you would expect, there are plenty of go-fast tweaks on the outside of the small Italian. Out back we get a larger spoiler, ginormous dual-exhaust tips, rear diffuser and a different bumper cover. Up front the changes are more pronounced. In order to make the engine and intercoolers fit, Fiat stretched the nose of the 500 by 2.7 inches. The result of the rhinoplasty is a peculiar “trouty mouth” side profile caused by the hood stamping remaining the same. Despite this faux pas fopah (I kid, I kid), the rest of the 500′s sheetmetal is cohesive and attractive, in a way the MINI Coupé can only dream of. Rounding out the sport treatment is a 15mm reduced ride height with unique 16-inch wheels standard, and optional 17-inch wheels (the 17s are wrapped in low-profile performance rubber.)


Fiat and the SRT team tweaked the interior for Abarth duty, but the basics of the base 500′s $15,500 interior are still here. That being said, all the touch surfaces in the Abarth are close to haptic perfection with one of the best steering wheels and shift knobs available in a vehicle under $40,000. I should point out that the Abarth’s most logical competition comes from MINI, a brand known for blending expensive switchgear and steering wheels with cheesy headliners and carpet. With the Abarth’s interior bits only a notch below MINI, the decidedly lower sticker price forgives just about everything in my mind. When it comes to hauling luggage, the 500 somehow trumps the MINI Cooper with 9.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats in place and 26.8 with them folded (vs 5.7 / 24 cubic feet in the Cooper.)

Not all is perfect inside. The American Abarth gets unique front seats that are (oddly enough) more heavily bolstered than the standard Euro seats, but the distinct lack of lumbar support made them uncomfortable for my average sized 6-foot 180lb frame. While the Euro Abarth has optional Recaro-themed sport seats and plenty of after market alternatives, American buyers have somewhat limited options if they choose to replace the seats. This is important if you intend to track you Abarth and need to install a 5-point harness. Still, I keep returning to price. Mini’s JCW seats aren’t more comfortable, and since the Abarth is considerably cheaper, you can more easily afford to fix this deficiency. Like the regular 500, the rear seats are small, but thanks to the 500′s roof profile and the shape of the rear “foot-wells”, it is entirely possible to fit four 6-foot tall adults in the 500.


Like base 500 models, all Abarths are equipped with “Blue & Me.” This system combines Bluetooth integration and rudimentary voice commands. If you were expecting SYNC-like iDevice or USB control, you’ll be disappointed with the 2007-era interface. It’s too complicated to explain in print, so if you’d like to know more, check out our TTAC Quick Clips video of the base 500C. Also standard on the Abarth is Fiat’s seven speaker Bose audio system which uses a compact subwoofer under the passenger seat. Sound quality is excellent, not just for the price class the Abarth plays in, but for vehicles twice the Abarth’s $22,000 base price ($25,000 as equipped.) While the audio system’s balance is very good, with such a small driver in the sub, if you are into big bass, install your own beatbox.

Because 6 years is an eternity in the electronics world, you can’t get a fancy integrated navigation system like MINI (and just about everyone else) offers. Fiat’s solution to this problem is an oddly integrated TomTom navigation unit. I say oddly integrated both in terms of the look of the odd dashboard “docking connector” (checkout the video above for more information) as well as the unique way it integrates with the vehicle. Yep, that’s right it integrates with the car in a way your Garmin won’t. Once you pair the TomTom (with the custom Blue & Me software installed) to the 500 you can use the steering wheel buttons to command the TomTom. In addition to remote controls the TomTom will also display trip computer and media player information. While this approach is novel, it is also seriously kludgy.


As with the rest of the 500, the engine isn’t an Italian transplant. Say what? The 1.4L four-clinder turbo engine is built in Michigan. Building a new assembly line in Michigan afforded Fiat the opportunity to make some improvements under the hood. While the basics remain the same with twin intercoolers and MultiAir VVT on tap, the IHI turbo has been swapped for a larger Garrett GT1446 that bumps performance in an important way. Power increases to 160HP from 158 and peaks at a lower 5,500RPM instead of 5,750. The big deal is the torque curve which drops from a sharpish peak at 3,000RPM to a 170lb-ft plateau that stretches from 2,500-4,000RPM (150lb-ft when not in “sport” mode). Thanks to the MultiAir system, the turbo’s 18psi (maximum) of boost can still be enjoyed with 87 octane gasoline (although Fiat is quick to remind us that 91 is recommended if you plan on tracking your Abarth or running in hot climates.) In an interesting nod to performance junkies (as well as those that want their turbo to last a lifetime) Fiat incorporates an “after run” electric water pump to cool the turbo after the car is shut off. Sadly Fiat missed the opportunity to add an extra cog to the 500′s transmission, instead using a heavy-duty version of the same 5-speed manual as the regular 500. Unlike the Euro Abarth models, there is no “automated” version available so working knowledge of a clutch pedal is required.


The Abarth is a flat-out blast to drive. This is not only thanks to the 60% increase in power and 70% increase in torque, but also to the low-profile tires, 40% stiffer springs, and lowered chassis.The Abarth may look like a tall vehicle, but with a curb weight of only 2,512lbs “chuckable” is the best way to describe the handling. As you would expect, Fiat tossed in a quicker 15.1:1 steering ratio and tweaked the power assist for a sportier feel. While the ratio is “no big deal” to me, the tweaked electric power steering is more important. It is still numb, but hints of feedback can now be felt through the tiller. Despite having a less fancy “elegant” suspension setup than the MINI, the little Italian is remarkably planted on poorly paved mountain roads inspiring an unexpected level of confidence.

While all these changes make the Abarth an absolute blast in the corners, they take a serious toll on ride quality for your daily commute. Unless you live in some hitherto-unknown pavement-nirvana, potholes and broken pavement are a way of life in the “land of the free.” After a week with the Abarth, I may still have had a smile on my face, but my back and kidneys had a different opinion. That being said, the Abarth is no harsher than the MINI JCW models and actually handles broken pavement with more finesse.

I’ve saved the final change made for our market for last: the exhaust note. This is perhaps the most controversial facet of the Abarth, since Fiat tuned the system to be louder than the Euro hatch. I found the drone on a long highway commute to be annoying, but passengers and our Facebook fans thought it was pure sex. Go figure.

Much like the MINI competition, straight-line performance isn’t what the Abarth is about. As you would expect with 0nly 160 horses under the hood, the Abarth scooted to 60 in just over 7 seconds. With the right driver I have little doubt a further two tenths could be cut from the time, but managing front wheel spin and traction would be essential to reducing your time. To deal with the increased weight of the North American Abarth, the SRT team cranked up the front camber to a -1.5 degrees up front. Thankfully for those interested in tire life beyond 5,000 miles Fiat has an alignment spec which allows for a decent amount of personal preference.

The Abarth is destined to make Fiat fans very happy. It’s also destined to give MINI shoppers that are willing to look at another brand a serious dilemma: is a comparable MINI worth an $8,000-$10,000 premium? Being the cheap bastard that I am, my answer is no. Consider that the MINI Cooper S scoots to 60 in 6.6 but doesn’t handle quite as well, and the MINI JCW models may get to 60 faster and handle as well as the Abarth, but they cost nearly 50% more. While I find the Abarth just a bit to extreme for my soft-suspension-loving backside, the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth is one hot little hatch. Fiat: you have my number, call me when you stuff this engine into the 500c with some softer springs.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.63 Seconds

0-60: 7.05 Seconds (6.8 sounds plausible with a professional driver)

1/4 Mile: 15.3 Seconds @ 91 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 26.71  MPG over 541 miles


2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior 3/4, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior side, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior side, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior front side, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior rear 3/4, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior rear, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior front, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior front, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior wheel, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Exterior grille, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, gauges, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, dashboard, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, shifter and HVAC, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, shifter and HVAC, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, shifter, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, steering wheel, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, steering wheel, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, driver's side dashboard, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, dashboard, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, rear seats, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, rear seats, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, cargo area, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, cargo area, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth, Interior, cargo area, Photography courtesy of  Alex L. Dykes 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth MultiAir Turbo engine, photo courtesy of Chrysler North America 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth MultiAir Turbo engine, photo courtesy of Chrysler North America 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth TomTom Nav unit, photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 81
Hyundai Generation Why Intramural League, Second Place: 2013 Veloster Turbo Wed, 27 Jun 2012 17:05:12 +0000  

“If you want a Veloster Turbo, you can buy one right now – it’s called the Genesis Coupe.”

That’s what Hyundai CEO John Krafcik told us at the launch of the Veloster last year, when asked about the possibility of a performance version of Hyundai’s distinctive-looking hatchback. Less than a year later, we have a boosted Veloster and a Genesis Coupe that’s better than ever.

The original Veloster was heralded as the return of the Honda CRX, but it failed to capture the ethereal magic of the lightweight, two-seat Honda hatchback. The Veloster, meant to be a do-it-all car for the generation that doesn’t like cars, has a rear seat, a strange third-door, oddball styling and an emphasis on gas mileage and green credentials. The CRX put performance first, and its miserly fuel consumption just happened to be a byproduct of its tin-can construction.

The Veloster Turbo, with its 201 horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder, is supposed to go up against cars like the Fiat 500 Abarth, Mini Cooper S and Volkswagen GTI, hot hatches with serious pedigree and the dynamic chops to back up their “branding”. The Veloster Turbo isn’t a real competitor for any of these; instead, it’s the car that I wish the Veloster was from the start.

Aside from the new engine, there’s not too many changes versus the base car. The front fascia is more aggressive and mitigates some of the car’s goofy asthetics. The chassis is apparently unchanged, though the steering feels quicker and better weighted. One notable omission is the dual-clutch gearbox, which wasn’t able to handle the added torque of the boosted motor. In its place is a six-speed automatic transmission.

The day began behind the wheel of a two-pedal car, down the undulating, up-and-down roads of a part of California best known for being close to Mexico. The biggest standout here was that the automatic is an exceptionally poor bit of equipment. Everything feels delayed and lethargic, likely due to its bias towards fuel economy. Using the paddle shifters for spirited driving isn’t much of a held either, since they revert back to full-automatic mode and upshift so quickly that the driver must constantly engage them to keep up any sort pace. Then again, the dual clutch in the Veloster isn’t anything special either.

A switch to the manual transmission happened at the earliest possible moment. Deciding on the shift points yourself yields a more positive view of the powertrain. The 6-speed manual isn’t a class leader in terms of shift feel, but it does allow a greater appreciation of the 1.6L engine. For a turbo engine, it feels very linear, with a strong pull through the rev range. It’s less boisterous than say, the Cooper S, but for the target market, it will go down much smoother.

While the ride is much smoother than the Cooper S, the Veloster Turbo doesn’t have the sophistication of the GTI either. Hyundai claims that the chassis settings are the same as the base car, but the overall effect is that the ride and handling emulate what people think “sporty” should be (jittery and stiff) rather than providing a supple, well-controlled ride and engaging handling. Turning up the heat on the Veloster Turbo is rewarding, and it feels easy to drive quickly, but ultimately, this is a more powerful version of the Veloster, rather than a serious hot hatch. It has nothing to do with the lack of an independent rear suspension, or a missing limited slip or any of the other mortal sins in the eyes of auto journalists.

Hyundai knows that the target market for this car will be more concerned with the Pandora integration, the ability to hook up an Xbox and play it using the in-dash screen and the optional matte gray paint, that looks really cool but needs its own care regimen. The Veloster Turbo is a fairly shrewd move on the part of Hyundai; for the target buyer, it will feel “fast”, look cool (or at least distinctive) and deliver on the Veloster’s original mission of being practical, distinctive and efficient.

The Veloster Turbo starts at $21,950 and tops out at $24,450 when equipped with the lone option package that adds a backup camera, rear parking sensors, a panoramic sunroof, navigation, a 115-volt power outlet and automatic headlights. The automatic transmission and matte gray paint each cost another $1,000. At that price point, I’d have to pass in favor of something with more performance, even at the expense of fewer gadgets and more fuel consumption. Something that can be hand in the same showroom as the Veloster Turbo. But for Veloster buyers (who seem to span a broad range of ages, based on marketing data I’ve seen), the Turbo will be an easy upsell over the base car, which starts in the $18,000 range. The biggest issue for me is that Hyundai offers something that is genuinely great to drive, is practical, efficient and doesn’t look like your first new car after graduating from college.

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Peugeot 208 GTI Adds Lightness As Well As Power Wed, 22 Feb 2012 17:24:21 +0000

A hot hatch that’s up on power and 220 lbs lighter than the model it replaces? What a novel concept!

The Peugeot 208 GTI you see here is officially a “concept”, but the 208 itself is very real, and will replace the outgoing 207 model. The premium hot hatch segment is growing in Europe, with the Audi A1 and Citroen DS3 being the latest examples. Audi and Citroen both offer “hot” versions of their wares, but the 208′s 197 horsepower 1.6L turbo 4-cylinder and estimated 2535 lb curb weight , that puts it roughly in league with the Mini Cooper S in terms of power-to-weight ratio. Every Peugeot hot hatch has had to live in the shadow of the Peugeot 205 GTI, while Renault and Citroen’s latest entries have become critical favorites in Europe. The 208 GTI will get its debuted at March’s Geneva Auto Show.

Peugeot 208 GTI. Photo courtesy Peugeot. Peugeot 208 GTI Interior. Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 17
STi By AMG: The Mercedes Hot Hatch Is Coming Tue, 18 Oct 2011 14:22:02 +0000

The guys who hang out at forums comparing turbocharged European hatchbacks that will never come to the US market (and which they wouldn’t buy if they did) have a new hypothetical plaything to consider: the upcoming Mercedes A-Class AMG hatch. 320 HP turning all four wheels is the basic proposition, with these exterior looks and this interior. And if the Golf-body looks just don’t jive with your idea of what makes a Mercedes, imagine the same package in this “baby CLS” body, with extra-large cupholders and other “tuned for American tastes” goodness. Myself? I like the idea of a blinged-out Mercedes STi.

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Are You Ready For: Buick Verano “GTI”? Fri, 14 Oct 2011 15:38:21 +0000

The last time we watched a hotted-up Opel Astra GTC tear around the ‘ring, I reckoned

it’s fairly unlikely that [GM] would bring a 290 HP, limited-slip, six-speed hot hatch to the Buick brand any time soon. Or is it? The line for “Mr Euro”-style self-delusion forms here…

I’m still skeptical about a 290 HP version, but a 200-ish HP GTI-fighter is making more sense… especially after seeing mules of the Astra GTC at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds earlier this week. And GMauthority reports that

according to sources, the Astra has been green-lit to become a Buick. The name is unknown, but it’s possible that it will wear the Verano nameplate, with some sort of a specifying moniker.

The Verano sedan is tipped as a “comfort-first” model, but a sporty, premium hatch-coupe variant could help Buick drive its buyer age even lower. Especially now that Acura has let its Integra/RSX legacy wither on the vine. But then, it sounds like the Buick boys don’t need encouraging on this front…

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Review: Hyundai Veloster Take Two Mon, 10 Oct 2011 19:26:52 +0000 The author’s expectations play a large but rarely disclosed role in any auto review. Expect a car to be awful, and it turns out to be adequate? Then the review might even seem positive. On the other hand, if reviewers buy into the hype surrounding an upcoming model, and it turns out to be only pretty good, then the reviews can turn ugly. No one wants to be sold a bill of goods. I approached the Hyundai Veloster with different expectations than most of the automotive press.

Why? I never bought the hype gushing forth from Hyundai. I knew the Veloster would have the same 138-horsepower direct-injected 1.6-liter engine as the new Accent, but saddled with more curb weight (2,430-2,588 vs. 2,584-2,740 pounds). I also knew that Hyundai had yet to master the art of suspension tuning. (I’m also not buying the hype surrounding the Cadillac ATS and Scion FR-S until I have a chance to drive them.)

We already knew what the Veloster would look like. It’s a distinctive shape, made even more so by having two doors on the passenger side (the rear one “hidden”) but only one on the driver side. (I personally prefer the side with the rear door. You?) Fully loaded cars get the most attractive wheels complete with color-keyed inserts. On public streets the Veloster looks even wilder than it did at the auto shows, especially from the rear. People on the street recognized something new, and asked about the Veloster more than any other press car I’ve had. If Hyundai’s hype hadn’t persuaded journalists to expect an outstanding driving experience, this exotic shape would have.

The interior I wished for in the Accent? It’s here in the Veloster, complete with Cayennesque grab handles (that actually feel more solid here than in the Porsche), sportier upholstery, and available red/black color scheme. The designers were permitted to get a little more crazy in the sport coupe, but not to the detriment of ergonomics or good taste. The instruments are conventionally located and arranged while the center stack controls are easy to reach and operate. A seven-inch display and A/V inputs are standard, while a household-type power outlet is part of the Tech Package. Hyundai execs have personally tested the possibility of playing an Xbox in the car (while stationary). Hyundai’s new Blue Link adds some apps (like Pandora) along with OnStar-like emergency services, with an OnStar-like monthly fee after the first few months. There are also a couple of fuel economy-related games you can play, at least one of which compares the efficiency of your driving style to those of other Veloster owners.

The Veloster’s driver seat is better bolstered and more substantial than that in the Accent, if still not to the degree I’d prefer, but is similarly lacking in lumbar support. There’s only a single manual height adjustment, so the tilt of the cushion cannot be separately adjusted. But at least the steering wheel telescopes as well as tilts, unlike in the Accent. The view forward is open—you don’t sit too low in the car—the view rearward not so much thanks to a narrow, bifurcated rear window and stylishly raked C-pillars. The Tech Package with its rearview camera and rear parking sensors can come in handy. There’s enough room for heads and legs in the rear seat (adults up to 5-9 or so fit without issue) to make me wonder about the absence of a left rear door. Past three-door vehicles all ended up growing a fourth, and I would not be surprised to see history repeat itself with a future Veloster redesign. Also enough cabin width for three across in a pinch if Hyundai hadn’t designed the seat with an integral center console. Cargo volume is on the tight side, but sufficient for even sizable grocery runs.

Hyundai execs are apologetic about the Veloster’s performance, admitting that while the original concept was “eco-sport” the end result is more eco and less sport. Personally, I don’t mind limited power if the engine revs smoothly and eagerly, and the new Hyundai 1.6 does. I banged the rev limiter once because, eyes on the road, I wasn’t aware I was approaching it. As in the Accent, if anything I’d appreciate more of the good sort of noise at high rpm. Those looking for a punch in the lower back will be disappointed, though, as there’s little torque in play. Hyundai won’t confirm that a turbocharged variant is on the way to rectify this shortcoming, but one almost certainly is.

Okay, let me qualify that lack of disappointment. I was pleasantly surprised by the Veloster’s manual transmission, as its shift feel and ratios are much better than those in the Accent (though first and second remain too far apart while fifth and sixth remain too close together).

Accent6MT Veloster6MT VelosterDCT
1st 3.77 3.62 3.62
2nd 2.05 1.96 1.96
3rd 1.29 1.37 1.30
4th 1.04 1.04 0.94
5th 0.89 0.79 0.72
6th 0.77 0.69 0.57
FD 3.64 4.27 4.81


Simply put, the Veloster’s shifter and manual transmission should be in the Accent. Why Hyundai had two groups of engineers where one would have done a better job escapes me.

The ratios of the automated dual-clutch transmission, Hyundai’s first and developed in-house, are better yet. But on the road the theoretical advantages of a dual-clutch transmission fail to materialize. Shifts, though admirably smooth despite the employment of the cheaper-to-maintain dry clutches that have been such a drivability headache for Ford, are not lightning quick like those of VW’s dual-wet-clutch DSG transmission. I sense a tradeoff. Worse, acceleration feels considerably more sluggish with the DCT, even though it has a shorter final drive ratio. With no torque converter to sap the engine’s power, why might this be? City fuel economy is a bit better with the DCT (EPA city 29 MPG vs. 28), while the manual wins on the highway (40 vs. 38).

Perhaps the sluggishness of the DCT powertrain shaped my entire perception of the car. I can find no other convincing explanation for why the manual transmission Veloster felt lighter and more agile than its DCT counterpart. Okay, is it lighter, but only by 73 pounds. The Tech Package on the DCT car adds a few more, some of them possibly in its unique color-keyed wheels. Enough to make a difference? Whatever the reason, the manual transmission car felt balanced, poised, planted, and almost (but not quite) agile while the DCT car felt heavier and less willing to change directions. Unfortunately, even the manual car doesn’t feel significantly more agile than its considerably heftier arch-rival, the 3,060-pound Scion tC. Neither comes across as “tossable.” Lighter yet more communicative steering would help I the Hyundai’s case.

On the flip side, the Veloster also feels more solid than its kinship with the Accent and curb weight might suggest. Though bumps occasionally elicit sharp reactions, ride quality and noise levels are generally very livable. I’d much rather commute in the Veloster than in the bouncier Elantra sedan that provided the basis for the sport coupe’s twist-beam rear suspension.

So how much will this sporty looking, not so sporty driving Hyundai set you back? If you can live with 17-inch wheels, a steel roof, and a 196-watt, six-speaker audio system, then $18,060. The Style Package (18s, panoramic sunroof, fog lights, leather steering wheel, leatherette seat bolsters, 450-watt audio) adds $2,000. The Tech Package (color-keyed wheels, nav with rearview camera and sensors, proximity key, 115v outlet) adds another $2,000.

Compared to the Veloster with Style Package, a Scion tC checks in $755 lower, but based on TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool also includes about $600 less content. So the two end up very close in price. Which to get? The Hyundai looks more distinctive and is simply sexier, while the tC packs fifty-percent more displacement under its hood and has a roomier rear seat (but no third door to aid access to it). I enjoyed driving the tC more, but this is relative. In both cars’ defense, if you want to have considerably more fun, you’re going to have to spend considerably more money. Even a Ford Focus SE or Mazda3 is nearly $2,000 more when similarly equipped. In the other direction, an Accent SE costs about $1,500 less. For those who care about such things, the Veloster’s more stylish exterior and upgraded interior will easily be worth this premium.

So, the Veloster isn’t as fun as it looks. But its performance and handling are adequate, while its styling, feature set and price are very attractive. As-is, it will fit the bill for many sporty coupe buyers. Those who insist on go with their show needn’t despair, only patiently wait for the turbo Hyundai’s not yet talking about.

Hyundai provided the vehicle, insurance and fuel for this review during a media drive event.

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

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Review: 2012 Hyundai Veloster Fri, 30 Sep 2011 00:34:30 +0000

Recently a video surfaced from the Frankfurt Auto Show, depicting Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn puzzling over the remarkable quality of Hyundai’s latest Golf competitor, the European-market i30. But if Herr Professor Dr. Winterkorn seemed perturbed, and he certainly did, it wasn’t simply because of one car, even one aimed at the heart of his empire. The i30 is simply the latest in a string of strong Hyundai products that are rapidly erasing memories of the brand’s budget-basement roots. In an industry that likes to compare itself to the fashion business, Hyundai is hot. So much so, in fact, that TTAC readers are likely beginning to tire of hearing about it.

And when brands are hot, especially on the strength of their mass-market offerings, the next logical step is to build a halo car that reflects the values that made them so popular. But Hyundai’s unconventional positioning, selling everything from a $15,000 Accent to a $60,000 Equus, and its mandate to reflect “Different Thinking” mean a traditional halo car is out of the question. Enter the Veloster. Or, as Hyundai calls it, the “reverse halo car.”

Before we get into the car itself, let’s quickly deal with Hyundai’s confounding concept of the “reverse halo.” When asked by Wards Auto if he would consider building a GT-R or Corvette fighter, Hyundai Motor America CEO John Krafcik said

I’m not saying we’d never do one, but it wouldn’t be a priority of mine. You define your brand as much by what you choose not to do as what you do. We’ve got a laser-like focus on leading the industry in fuel efficiency.

Would it be cool and fun to have a halo performance car? Yeah. But it would be expensive, and what would it really do for us?

So, to truly reflect its brand values, a Hyundai halo car would have to be efficient. To properly accent (so to speak) Hyundai’s marketing tagline, it would have to be “different” (an affordable halo car?). And to show off Hyundai’s technological prowess (to say nothing of giving Herr Winterkorn’s ulcer an honest workout), it would have to have a direct-injected engine and an available dual-clutch transmission, the euro-tech confections that VW insists Americans don’t care about. The result: an Accent-based, 40 MPG, hatchback-coupe with three forward-hinged doors that’s nothing like anything else on the market. And whatever else might be said about the Veloster, its entire concept as a halo that shines from the bottom of the model range upwards represents a bold step by the upstart Korean company (if one borrowed from the Kia Soul).

And like every good halo, the Veloster is unabashedly extroverted in its exterior styling. It’s got the motorcycle-helmet proportions of its Scion tC competitor, but brings a more compact bulldog stance and the visual dynamism of Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” design language to the party. Pure coupe from the driver side, the third door gives the passenger side its own unique look, while the rear offers the most striking vista of them all with its chrome center exhaust, rounded glass hatch and Ferrari-font “Veloster” badge. Love or hate the looks, it’s tough to deny that it is simultaneously recognizable as a Hundai and yet far more expressive than any other Hyundai on the market. Reverse halo mission accomplished.

Slide into the driver’s seat, and Herr Winterkorn will be reaching for the Tums again. For all the praise its products do receive, Hyundai still doesn’t get enough credit for putting out some of the most solidly-assembled interiors at the lower price points, and the Veloster carries that banner with pride. The interior’s isn’t mind-blowingly glamorous, although it is a step up from the Accent design-wise, but from the dash assembly to the knobs, everything is built with reassuring solidity and quality materials. Almost every affordable car’s interior has at least a handful of elements that betray the inevitable cost-cutting, but in the Veloster I could literally only find two points of criticism. The silver plastic door pulls were supposedly inspired by a sport bike frame, but their lack of structural integrity clearly wasn’t. Also, the door latch handles felt cheap compared to the rest of the interior. For a car that starts just over $17,000, that’s quite the achievement… and one Herr Winterkorn’s latest round of similarly-pried products don’t come close to reaching.

The centerpiece of the Veloster’s cockpit is the standard seven-inch touchscreen which can plugged into an iPod or xBox and used as a movie or video game display, or play host to the optional navigation system. But none of these reasons explain why it’s standard in Hyundai’s “reverse halo” car. Just as the Veloster is the first Hyundai to offer a dual-clutch transmission, it’s also the first model to offer the brand’s full suite of OnStar-alike telematics services. Hyundai expended the breath of many PR people in hopes of generating some enthusiasm for the three packages of services, but they seem like they will appeal far more to older buyers, who prefer the link to a “real person” rather than wrangling with a device, than to the average Veloster buyer. And none of them elevate the genre beyond the services already offered by OnStar. Furthermore, some of the Veloster’s other tech toys, like the Gracenote voice-activated mp3 management system didn’t work easily or intuitively enough to get excited about (although the optional Dimension audio system sounded great).

But who cares about tech toys? After all, we’re talking about a sporty coupe that has 138 HP to move between 2,600 and 2,800 lbs (depending on trim and transmission) of car… the real question is “how does it drive?” And the truth is that it’s nowhere near as exciting as the spec sheet might have you believe. To begin with, the engine doesn’t feel as powerful as you’d expect, thanks to the core brand value of “fuel economy leadership.” The engine feels remote, short on torque, overly throttle-mapped and generally lacks the directness that make even an underpowered car fun to drive. And that’s the weird thing: especially with the manual transmission, there’s certainly enough power to not only stick with traffic but even have some fun on a back road… the engine simply has no personality, no desire to push. It hints at  a promising growl when you open it up through the low midrange, but the enthusiasm dies in an uninspiring thrash. But hey, nobody said 40 MPG on the highway would come free.

Speaking of fuel economy, the magical 40 MPG highway rating is only available on the manual transmission version, as the extra weight of the dual-clutch box drags the rating down to 38 MPG. Which is strange, considering the DCT seems programmed to match the engine’s tuned-for-economy flavor, and from a performance perspective, it’s a poor match for the low-torque (123 ft-lbs) engine. Meanwhile, anyone choosing the manual will likely find themselves wringing out the little mill, wrecking fuel economy in the process. Still, the manual is the clear choice for a car like this, both keeping the weight to a minimum and allowing better use of the engine’s power. Which is a pity, as this car is supposed to highlight Hyundai’s use of the latest transmission technology. And the DCT works extremely well, shifting smartly but smoothly… but again, it’s best when, like Hyundai, you value fuel economy over performance.

Out on the road, the Veloster’s chassis surprises not with its sporty response, but with its refinement.  You might expect a car like this to be a blast on the twisty bits and a bear on commuter roads, but the opposite proves to be the case. Freeway cruising is far more refined and relaxed than you’d expect from a stubby B-segment coupe, as the Veloster maintains composure and comfort even across crumbling sections of Oregon highway. But when you leave the freeways and begin pushing through the tight roads that wind up the sides of the Columbia Gorge, you soon realize that the Veloster’s suspension was tuned more for ride than handling. The electric steering offers more feel than other electro-racks, but the feedback is still painfully subtle. And there’s enough vagueness and lean just off-center to make you feel like you’re piloting a larger, heavier car than you actually are. Like the engine, the chassis is hardly inept… it just lacks the directness and playful spirit that defines every fun small car ever made. And the brakes are cut from the same cloth: they work just fine, but the small pedal ha a distinctly squidgy feeling that doesn’t inspire confidence in enthusiastic driving.

An uphill stretch of road punctuated with sharp hairpins brings out the worst in the Veloster as a dynamic proposition. Lacking confidence in the brakes, you slow prematurely and then wait endlessly for the engine to develop the torque to pull you out of the corner. And in the midst of those slow, tight corners, the body roll is most pronounced and the steering is at its least tactile. It’s never a mess dynamically, but there’s no doubt that Hyundai’s chassis engineers left some jinba ittai on the table. After winding back down the hill, the road follows a river valley, flattening into rolling undulations and opening up for some faster (but still blind) corners. Here the Veloster makes the strongest case for itself as a driver’s car. Keep the engine on the boil and you can build up the pace, as the front-end bites better when loaded-up in fast corners. At this faster pace, the Veloster gels into coherent whole, flowing from corner to corner in a far more satisfying fashion. But you still can’t shake the feeling that, for such a small car, it sure doesn’t feel as lively or intuitively chuckable as you’d hope.

And here’s where Hyundai’s fresh-faced, up-and-comer status shows: anyone who has been in this industry long enough will tell you that tuning a car to the perfect balance of ride and handling takes decades of experience and institutional memory. Hyundai clearly doesn’t have that, and as a result it played it safe with the US-market Veloster , tuning it a bit too far to the side of ride comfort. And based on reviews from Old Blighty, the opposite took place in the UK-market Veloster, which appears to have been tuned too far towards the enthusiast side of the spectrum, resulting in a crashy ride. The compromise made here was probably the right one given the death of the enthusiast market in the US, but it also proves why Hyundai probably isn’t ready to go chasing the GT-Rs and Corvettes of the world.

But then, that’s why Hyundai didn’t set out to make the Veloster a true enthusiast coupe, and why Hyundai Motor America executives only roll their eyes if you ask about the 200 HP Veloster Turbo that is apparently already approved for Europe. Instead, Hyundai built a funky, distinctive and surprisingly practical little car that reflects the values it champions in this market. It may not be a born-again CRX, but it’s less gimmicky and far more refined and practical than you might expect. And, with fully-loaded examples offering navigation, a nearly all-glass roof, back-up camera, dual-clutch transmission and a grip of other goodies for just over $23,000 (base models start at about $18,000), it offers a a European-style premium subcompact flavor for relatively little money. No wonder Herr Winterkorn is worried about these guys.

Disclosure: Hyundai held the launch of the Veloster in my hometown of Portland, OR. In order to play up the “Gen Y” marketing angle, they provided three nights of free concerts and tickets to a football game at my alma mater (the University of Oregon) in addition to the usual lodging, food and drink. In other words, instead of feeling like I was tagging along on a wealthy grandparent’s vacation, as is the case on most press previews I attend, this junket felt like it was tailored specifically to me… which is a strangely flattering, if somewhat troubling feeling. Make of that what you will.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail velosterinterior veloster8 veloster7 veloster5 veloster4 veloster3 veloster2 veloster1 Hello, Veloster!


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Review: 2011 MazdaSpeed3 Take Two Fri, 19 Aug 2011 20:52:34 +0000
The regular Mazda3 is already one of the best-handling choices in the small car market and you can get it with either a revvy little two-litre engine or a torquier 2.5L mill with 167 horses. For a front-wheel-drive compact, 167 ponies should be plenty. I mean, what kind of a lunatic would you have to be to want more power than that?

Wait a minute. I’m a lunatic!

Luckily, for those of us who’ve brained our damage, there’s the Mazdaspeed3, and my goodness but doesn’t it look like it’s just escaped from a loonie-bin for mentally imbalanced fish? I liked the old Mazdaspeed3 quite a bit simply because, apart from the bulging hood and over-sized exhaust pipe, there weren’t many clues to its riotous performance. In short: it was a bit of a sleeper.

The redesigned model is not a sleeper. It yells. It’s so far from subtle, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lady Gaga wearing one as a hat in her next music video.

To the already controversial Nagare style treatment of the Mazda3 hatch have been added the hot-hatch garnishes of +1 wheel size and big spoiler: these are the usual cheddar and bacon which transform humdrum hamburgers into artery-clogging eats par excellence.

Unfortunately, they’ve also grafted on a – admittedly functional – hoodscoop. This sort of thing is akin to the slice of beetroot that Australians insist on putting on their burgers. It’s fine for rough-and-tumble Outback types (i.e. Subaru), but a Mazda with a hoodscoop is just plain weird.

And don’t get me started on that lower grille treatment. Is it meant to resemble gills? Am I supposed to shave with it? Either way, it’s all very shouty; this car might as well have an all-caps “TURBOOO” down the side in six-foot-high mid-90s pastel lettering.

Thing are equally juvenile in the interior, where Mr. Diesel and Mr. Walker have apparently been filming a Coke Zero commercial. Red stitching on black leather is one thing, little red-and-black bubbles and swirls on the dashboard trim, door insets and seat cushions is another. Still, once you’re sitting on the seats, you won’t have to look at them.

With regard to the interior instrumentation and layout, it’s a Mazda3 hatch: everything that works in the regular car works here, and it’s all very nicely laid-out and simple to use. One caveat, there appears to be a small commemorative stamp celebrating cartography or something stuck to the upper instrument binnacle. Oh hang on, that’s the navigation system.

Still, it’s usable and Mazda bundles the Navi together with their excellent adaptive front lighting system and a thundering BOSE stereo. All this technology does end up turning the steering wheel into a typewriter (18 buttons!), but after just a few days I could find everything I needed without taking my eyes off the road. Which was good.

Two hundred and eighty foot-pounds of torque at just 3000 rpm. That’s a whole lotta cowbell. In a recent review of the Mazda2, I likened that car’s leisurely attitude to acceleration to that of a small dog leashed to a fat person. The Mazdaspeed3 is… quite different.

Forget Jinba Ittai. Driving this car is like taking a Rottweiler the size of a Clydesdale for a walk. There’s a lot of power (263 hp) and, hey, you’re in charge of it right? Well, sort of.

At some point, you’re going to want to tickle the loud pedal, and at that point the Mazdaspeed3 is going to shout, “Squirrel!” and shoot forward in any number of directions, taking your arm with it. To combat this tendency, Mazda’s engineers have fitted a choke chain: boost is limited in the first three gears dependent on steering angle, and there’s a torque-sensing limited slip diff. Has it worked? Have they tamed the torque steer?


Now if you’ve read up to this point, you may be thinking that I didn’t like this car. You may be postulating, “So, you’re saying it’s ugly and a bit crude and kind of a spaz when it comes to putting the power down. Why should I buy this thing again?” Well, I’ll tell you: the Mazdaspeed3 is worth every red cent because it’s capital-F, capital-U, capital-N, double underline, two stripes of highlighter, sprinkle it with glitter: FUN.

Never mind tenths of a second at the Nerd-burgring, never mind 0-60 times and skidpad g’s and all the other quantitative nonsense we use to determine which car is best. The Mazdaspeed3 is a great car because the first time I gave it the beans it elicited from me a raucous bark of laughter. Yes, the ‘Speed3 might better suit a straight-jacket than a car-cover, but I couldn’t wait to get out and drive it.

The ‘Speed3 grips like a cat on a curtain and shakes a tail feather on throttle lift-off. It surges forward with sudden great big gobs of torque and in third gear you can pass anything up to and including tachyons.

From that point on it was a constant mission to find excuses to take the ‘Speed3 out on any number of chores. I would nip down to the grocery store to buy milk and return home with cheese instead, just so I could be sent back by a tutting wife. I called long-lost out-of-town friends to arrange visits that would let me bomb down the twisting highways. I even volunteered to go to IKEA.

At no point did my untamed steed do less than plaster a big stupid grin on my face every time. From twin exhaust pipes, it sounded its barbaric yawp across the twining network of blacktop as lesser econoboxes huddled together like clumps of frightened beige sheep.

Yes, the WRX is a more surefooted companion, and yes, the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart is a compelling alternative to the ‘Speed3 in driving dynamics and in the looks department as well. But when we finally run out of oil, and you grow up to drive a nice sensible electric mid-size sedan, this is the one hot hatchback that your kids will be asking if you had the chance to drive.

There’s been much chat about the future of Mazda and whether or not their focus on driving pleasure will survive ever-more stringent fuel economy regulations. If we’re lucky, Mazda will still be building a car with as much character as this in the future.

Hell, of course we’re lucky: they’re building it right now.

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

Do you have the need for MazdaSpeed? IMG_1247 IMG_1248 IMG_1249 IMG_1250 IMG_1251 IMG_1252 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 71
Review: 2011 MINI Cooper S Fri, 05 Aug 2011 19:49:07 +0000

Ever since I test drove the original Honda CRX a quarter-century ago I’ve been a big fan of small cars. In everyday driving I’d rather have a small car with limited power than a large car with a lot of it. And yet I’ve never quite connected with the MINIs I’ve driven. Perhaps I just needed more time in the seat? To find out, I recently spent a week with a MINI Cooper S—a small car with plenty of power.

More than anything else, styling distinguishes a MINI from other small cars. The car’s iconic exterior provides people who would never buy a Fit or a Fiesta with a reason to buy a B-segment hatchback. The tested car’s $500 “spice orange metallic” exterior was further distinguished with a $250 “MINI Yours Tattoo, Funky” graphics package. A MINI’s interior is even more highly styled than its exterior, though one must wonder if the styling in this case helps or hinders sales as ergonomics and ease of use were clearly low on the list of the designers’ priorities. The idiosyncratic controls are different from those in any other car, are in few cases intuitive, and often require more steps than they ought to. The most irritating: after my aging Motorola phone (a very popular model when new) was connected via Bluetooth, I had to hit “okay” five times to accept the MINI’s requests for data transfers every time I started the car. Perhaps the Smartphone Integration is smarter when paired with a more intelligent phone? The speedometer at the top of the center stack is too large and too close to the driver to serve any purpose aside from decoration; there’s a digital speedometer in the tach so the driver can actually tell how fast the car is going. The sliding armrest is too easily and too often bumped backwards when working the shifter. Some of the materials are decent, but many are a lower grade of plastic than the car’s $27,000+ price might suggest.

A MINI’s driving position is similarly unique. You sit lower than in today’s typical small car and well behind an upright windshield. While this lends the car a different, more retro feel compared to run-of-the-mill subcompacts, it also blocks traffic signals until one learns to stop well short of the white line. Otherwise, visibility is very good all around, thanks to thinner pillars than the contemporary norm. The sport buckets provide good lateral support, but comfort is compromised by a headrest that juts too far forward. The seat recliner is located on the inside, where it is hard to reach. The rear seat in the standard MINI hatchback isn’t intended for frequent use by adults. Even my tenth-percentile eight-year-old son complained that it was tight back there. Need more rear seat room? Then step up to the three-door Clubman or four-door Countryman. Cargo room behind the seat is similarly limited to a single row of grocery bags. Nevertheless, by sliding the front passenger seat all the way forward and tipping its seatback I was able to squeeze a bicycle into the car with just the front wheel removed.

Earlier Cooper S’s had supercharged engines, but the blower was replaced by a turbocharger when the car was redesigned a few years ago. Though in years past this would have meant more lag before the boost kicks in and less low-end power, the MINI’s 1.6-liter four largely avoids these traditional disadvantages. One reason: the turboharger is small and a twin-scroll design. The torque peak of 177 foot-pounds runs all the way from 1,600 to 5,000 rpm, with the horsepower peaking at 181 at 5,500. As with other turbocharged engines, the low torque peak is a little deceiving. It’s easy to stall the engine pulling away from a dead stop with the AC on, and there’s a little lag at low rpm. But from 2,500 on up power comes on so smoothly and in such a linear fashion that it’s not even obvious that the engine is boosted. Just strong. Hit the redline in first at WOT, shift, and the engine slams the car forward upon engaging second—the boost is right there, waiting. And yet this engine doesn’t feel as explosive or as smooth as the newer, 188-horsepower direct-injected 1.6 in the Nissan JUKE.

The six-speed manual shifter, dressed in an odd narrow boot and topped with an uncomfortable knob (style uber alles again), feels a little crunchy and reverse can be difficult to locate. It’s still better than any transmission without a clutch. Fuel economy is impressive given the level of performance, with EPA ratings of 27/36 and trip computer reports of 30 to 35 in the suburbs and 40 on the highway. Expected better from such a small car? Well, the MINI Cooper S might only be 146.8 inches long and 66.3 inches wide, but it tips the scales at 2,668 pounds, seven more than the 178.3-by-69.9-inch Hyundai Elantra. Which should at least partly assuage any safety concerns—this isn’t any tin can.

The JUKE’s engine might feel more powerful, but the MINI’s chassis is far more capable of putting its power down. Get even moderately on the gas mid-turn in a front-wheel-drive JUKE, and the inside front tire breaks traction. Do the same in the MINI, and the car rockets out of the curve. A lower center of gravity and better suspension geometry no doubt contribute, but the MINI’s more sophisticated, seam-free traction control system deserves much of the credit.

The MINI’s quick steering feels firm in normal mode, but provides limited feedback and makes the car seem larger and heavier than it is. Hitting the “sport” button further firms up the steering, but the chassis then feels less agile and the steering more artificial without providing more nuanced feedback. I prefer “normal” in all but the most aggressive driving. A shame, as the chassis is otherwise a match for any other front-driver’s, and far better than the JUKE’s, with the precision, balance, composure, and strong responsive brakes that make twisty roads a delight. Unless the road happens to be bumpy, in which case the chassis maintains the selected line but ride quality borders on harsh even without the optional sport suspension. And if you like your cars quiet, this isn’t your car. But then you probably knew that already.

The tested car listed for $27,700 when fitted with the sport package, keyless access, heated cloth seats, and the too clever by half phone integrator. Knock off $250 if you can do without the funky tattoo and another $500 if you can live with a more basic Bluetooth system.

Until the half-foot-shorter, four-inch-taller FIAT 500 Abarth arrives, the significantly larger VW GTI is the Cooper S’s closest competitor. It’s not possible to equip a GTI to a similar level, as MINI lets you order options a la carte (for more of that retro flavor) while VW forces you into the $5,530 Autobahn Package if you must be able to start your car without touching the keys. Xenon headlights require either this package or the navigation system. Do without these features and the GTI checks in about $1,500 below the Cooper S. Adjusting for remaining feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool reduces the difference to about $900. Add the Autobahn Package and the VW comes in $3,000 higher than the MINI, but adjusting for its additional features reduces the difference all the way back to about $600. So the Cooper S and GTI are close in price. A MazdaSpeed3 undercuts the MINI by about $1,000, so it’s also in the same ballpark (unless you opt for the $6,100 John Cooper Works package on the MINI to get its straight line performance closer to the Mazda’s). A Nissan JUKE SL, on the other hand, lists for $2,500 less than the MINI, and adjusting for feature differences pushes the gap beyond $4,000.

The MINI Cooper S is certainly fun to drive. But so are the GTI, JUKE, and MazdaSpeed3, all of which can be had for the same or significantly less money. The MINI’s compact dimensions and relatively light weight should lend it a more agile, more tossable character than the others, but this advantage is compromised by the car’s heavy, somewhat artificial steering. Even after a week in the car, this steering came between the MINI and me rather than tightly connecting us. In a midsize sedan this steering would be okay, even better than okay, but a small, powerful hatch deserves a livelier, chattier system. It’s the thing I most wish MINI would improve. (Mazda tends to do the best in this area.) Not that the MINI’s secondary controls don’t also need improvement, as they are among the most difficult to use in any car. A less avoidable weakness: the minimal rear seat and cargo space. If you want a small car with a sporty driving position, these are going to be part of the deal. Add it all up, and there’s only one big reason to get a MINI over the larger, more powerful, better outfitted, and/or less expensive alternatives, and that’s style. Love the look? Then there’s no substitute.

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

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

Cooper S engine Time to earn that name... Cooper S side Cooper S cargo Cooper S front Cooper S interior Cooper S rear quarter 2 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Big sale on cereal Cooper S rear quarter Cooper S rear seat

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Buick To Get An(other) Astra Wed, 18 May 2011 17:38:13 +0000
Fresh on the heels of today’s release of Opel Zafira pictures, Buick has confirmed to Automotive News [sub] that rumors of a rebadged Opel Astra for the US market are indeed real. But wait, you say, isn’t the Buick Verano just an Astra sedan? Perhaps… but since there’s no Astra sedan to rebadge, that leaves only three choices for this future Buick Astra: the five-door hatch, the three-door coupe-hatch or the “Touring” wagon. C&D would like to see a 300 HP Buick Hot Hatch to come in the form of the Astra GTC OPC, although we’re skeptical that Buick will offer 300 HP in a car smaller than its “detuned image changer,” the Regal GS.  If the Meriva represents the “Baby Enclave,” it’s possible there’s room for a C-Segment wagon, but the rumors insist that younger buyers are the target for this US-market Astra. So, chromed-out five door? Detuned “Skyhawk” GTC coupe? Gentlemen, start your speculation…

astrafront astragtc astragtc1 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail astratouring astra Hello, Buick... astratouring1 ]]> 34
Ever Seen A Buick Move Like This? Fri, 06 May 2011 15:06:04 +0000

No? Never? Well, technically this isn’t a Buick, but an Opel Astra GTC OPC (at least according to Auto Motor und Sport). And given that Buick is holding off on bringing serious power to its Regal GS (at least until a coupe comes out of Germany), it’s fairly unlikely that they would bring a 290 HP, limited-slip, six-speed hot hatch to the Buick brand any time soon. Or is it? The line for “Mr Euro”-style self-delusion forms here…

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Review: 2010 MazdaSpeed3 Wed, 18 Aug 2010 17:53:15 +0000

Most cars today avoid doing anything terribly well so as to avoid doing anything terribly badly. Then there are Mazdas.  I love my Protege5. The agile chassis is a joy around town, BUT refinement and rust prevention were clearly not on the engineers’ to-do list. I love the RX-8 even more. Outstanding handling, surprising utility for a sports car, BUT the rotary is torque free and can drink a Corvette under the table. And then we have the MazdaSpeed3. You already know what I’m going to say about the MazdaSpeed3. But I’m going to say it anyway.

In addition to how it handles, I also love how my Protege5 looks. Though clearly not a 2010 design, the car’s clean, well-proportioned lines will never grow old for me. It’s not a design that grabs the eye, but it delights when studied. The first-generation Mazda3 that replaced it struck me as overly trendy. I liked some aspects of its exterior design, but not others, and the whole lacked coherence. When the time came to redesign the Mazda3, Mazda (gotta love the unavoidable redundancy) carried over the basic shape… but turned it up to 11. Every surface from the big smiley grille rearward aims to grab the eye. While initially off-putting, some of the exaggerated surfaces grew on me over the course of a week. Even the grille has to be admired for the sheer audacity it must have taken to put into production. At least it’s not boring or pointless.

The first-generation Mazda3’s interior was a big step up from the Protege5’s in both style and materials. Though generally clean and purposeful, red details and varied textures added just enough visual interest. The 2010 model’s banzai design philosophy continues inside the car. This is more of a problem than the exterior, because you must look at the interior the entire time you’re driving the car.

A hooded display pod arches across the top of the IP behind the instrument cluster. Though this pod usefully locates the displays near the driver’s line of sight, in other ways continually challenged my sense of logic. The entire left half is blank; the instrument nacelles would obscure anything located there, after all. A compartment for the nav’s memory card occupies the center—they couldn’t locate it somewhere less visible? And the displays for the nav and HVAC/audio are two unequally sized rectangular pegs squeezed into the ride side of the rounded hole. If you’re going to overstyle something, you should at least have someone with some design sense do the dirty deed.

Some materials are good, others are iffy. Upholstered armrests on the doors? Quite good. The red-dotted black fabric and plastic trim specific to the MazdaSpeed3? Iffy.

The interior works better functionally than it does aesthetically. The controls on the center stack are so easy to reach and operate that those for the audio on the steering wheel are truly redundant. Operating the nav exclusively via a cluster of controls on the overpopulated (18 buttons!) steering wheel could have been a usability nightmare, but isn’t. The nav screen is much smaller than most, but in the end I had little problem with it.

Not that all is perfect on the functionality front. The main instruments are so large that I could not position the wheel where I would have liked to without partly obscuring them. With instruments larger is generally better, but only up to a point. They don’t need to be legible from ten feet away. And why does the speedometer read to 180 MPH?

The swoopy exterior styling forces a distant driving position that’s become common in today’s cars. Locating a deeper instrument panel farther away does enhance an interior’s perceived roominess, but also visually distances the driver from both the car, which consequently feels larger, and the road.

The 2010 MazdaSpeed3’s front seats’ bolsters perform well considering their modest size, but in this instance larger would be better. The lumbar support is non-adjustable, and there is a single height adjustment, so cushion tilt cannot be adjusted independently of seat height. That said, front seat comfort is pretty good.

Like the rear bench found in the first-generation Mazda3, the 2010’s back seat is tighter than that in the Protege5. Adults will fit back there, but just barely. The MazdaSpeed3 continues to be offered only in hatchback form, so it’s considerably more practical than a conventional sports car.

With a name like MazdaSpeed3 and a big hood scoop (the better to feed the intercooler with?), enthusiasts are going to expect substantial horsepower. They won’t be disappointed. The turbocharged direct-injected 2.3-liter four is good for 263 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 3,000. Just not always. In the first three gears and especially when the wheel is turned Mazda restricts the engine’s output to reduce the likelihood of throttle-steering the car into a ditch. It’s strong in those gears regardless, once the tach spins past 2,500, and there’s a thick sweet spot from 3,000 to 5,500. Unlike some turbos these days, this one feels boosted. Not because there’s much lag—there isn’t—but because of the rush as boost kicks in. One puzzle I’d like Mazda to solve: the clutch must be feathered a tad to avoid a momentary stumble right after starting off.

The engine’s sound is dominated by a deep, poppy exhaust that is nice to have when pushing the car hard on an empty road, but is too likely to attract attention otherwise. (No, I wasn’t speeding through the subdivision, it just sounded that way.) In Mazda’s defense, they’ve exercised more restraint with the exhaust than some others, and while always audible, the drone won’t drive you batty on the highway. In other ways, the engine might be too refined for its own good—I prefer a little more intake and valvetrain whir with my exhaust roar.

The shifter’s throws are light and moderate in length, but are a bit notchy and engaging third can be tricky. The oversized brakes feel strong, are easy to modulate, and readily handle any off-track challenges. Fuel economy ranges from mid-teens to mid-twenties, depending quite heavily on how the car is driven. Figure low twenties with a moderate right foot in suburban driving.

Handling has traditionally been a Mazda strength, and the MazdaSpeed3 easily lives up to the brand’s reputation. The electro-hydraulic (not fully electronic) steering provides good feedback through the small, thinly padded wheel. Though not as agile as the Protege5, the MazaSpeed3 has a delicate, lively feel and can be precisely placed in turns. Accelerate through the curve and the car hunkers down, only beginning to lapse into understeer as its high limits are approached. Lift off the throttle and the car quickly rotates into oversteer. While the loose tail end is easy to catch, and can be put to good use at times, a steady foot through turns is generally best. The stability control is effective, unobtrusive, and knows its proper place—you must be driving the car quite fast and hard—or quite stupidly—to trigger it on dry pavement. It’s much easier to trigger the traction control.

The biggest surprise with the MazdaSpeed3: a thoroughly livable ride. Some premium sedans with performance pretensions ride considerably worse than the Speed3. The Mazda’s spring rates are moderate, with good body control achieved through well-tuned damping. Some drivers will mind the slight amount of float and roll in the hardest driving, and will no doubt mod the suspension accordingly. For most enthusiasts though, the ride-handling compromise is nearly ideal.

But all is not perfect with the MS3, and I’ve saved the worst for last. Putting a torquey engine in a conventionally-suspended, front-wheel-drive compact is a recipe for torque steer. While Mazda has selectively reduced engine output to reduce torque steer, this does not eliminate it. I’ve experienced worse, even much worse. But I’ve also experienced none at all, and none at all is much better than some. One mitigating factor: getting on the gas while turning has the effect of steering the car deeper into the turn rather than towards the curb. The torque-sensing limited-slip differential might deserve credit.

Like the Protege5 and RX-8, the MazdaSpeed3 possesses a healthy number of strengths and weaknesses. It’s fairly practical, totally livable, and very fun to drive. But the styling is questionable and the torque steer regrettable. All-wheel-drive is the road not taken. But the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart with all-wheel-drive are more expensive and less fun. The Mitsubishi Evo is as fun, and then some, but it’s far more expensive, less economical, and not as practical. Among front-wheel-drive competitors, the Volkswagen GTI is more tastefully styled and furnished, but doesn’t accelerate or handle as well. So, while the MazdaSpeed3 is clearly not a perfect car, for an enthusiast with a family and modest budget it could well be the best available car. Just look past the silly grin and keep a firm hand on the wheel—there’s serious fun to be had here.

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

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

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Review: Renault Mégane R26.R Mon, 19 Apr 2010 14:46:02 +0000

Driving the Renault Mégane R26.R on the snow-covered L-10–a public road-cum-rally track near the famous Nürburgring–is an unforgettable affair. And not simply because summer tires and slush don’t mix. This particular Mégane is a stunning piece of machinery in any condition: no Stateside machine comes even remotely close. And unlike most European unobtainium, it’s no sculpted, Teutonic monument to cash-flow either. It’s French. Cheap gas, Japanese quality and the Detroit-centric Eisenhower Interstate System have given Americans no reasons to contemplate, let alone lust after, French cars in the modern era, but not having this Ferrari-killing hatchback on crack is a bummer. The Mégane R26.R is so wrong it’s gotta be right.

The Mégane R26.R is simply unmistakable, even if it’s a Renault hatchback. Clock the 18-inch alloys and Piet Mondrian-worthy geometric decals in red ink. And there’s the Lunar Grey paint contrasting against the carbon fiber hood: a not so subtle reminder this three-door is far more than the tall roofline and dorky C-pillar implies. Rear spoiler aside, there’s simply no way to get around the Mégane R26.R’s hatchback roots. But this isn’t a rice boy poseur: resting against the near weightless polycarbonate rear/quarter windows gives the kinds of goose bumps that only come from a real race car.

Note: first timers will push those side windows while going in for a closer look at the spartan and sporty interior of the Mégane R26.R. And because there’s so little to behold, everything in eyeshot will be serious business: race seats with carbon fiber shells, six point harnesses, an optional roll cage (dressed in red, of course) and suede accents on the tiller and shift knob. The ambiance is bare bones, but what’s left is reasonably appealing in ergonomics and touchy-feely build quality. So it’s still a far better place to kill time than any modern Chrysler product.

And what was left on Renault’s chopping block? A loss of 270lbs from the removal of sound insulation, rear seating, a lone airbag (driver’s side), no radio, fog lights or other ancillary creature comforts. But if you missed the Mégane’s racing pedigree, there’s a “R26.R” badge screwed in the dash to remind all and sundry this ain’t no ordinary French econobox. You know, in case the red wheels didn’t tip you off.

And the greasy bits don’t play around. The Mégane R26.R’s mill comes from the RenaultSport racing parts bin: a 2.0L turbocharged mill, 6-speed transaxle and Michelin Pilot street tires. The (optional) titanium exhaust is a wicked affair, providing unfettered access to the turbo’s prodigious “woooosh” at anything more than quarter throttle. George Lucas never made a Tie Fighter hatchback, but Renault is clearly picking up the slack.

Perhaps you heard that the Mégane R26.R is the fastest production wrong-wheel drive whip on the Nürburgring, earning an 8:17 time slip. While weather conditions kept this review off the ‘ring, driving on nearby country roads shows how the Mégane R26.R accomplished that feat: plenty of suspension travel, a body that stays docile and flat in aggressive cornering and what must be the most communicative steering ever installed on a FWD vehicle. Bumpy roads have little chance at upsetting the Mégane R26.R’s racing line, both the steering and suspension keep the driver informed and in control.

But discretion is the better part of valor with a turbo pushing the front wheels, torque steer still rears its ugly head. With a limited-slip axle, modest power output (230hp/229lb-ft of torque) and a torque peak that’s nearly flat, boost is easy to modulate for post-apex bursts of acceleration. The Mégane R26.R will cook when needed, but the whole affair is subtler than the powertrain (or wheel color) suggests. And that’s not a cop out.

The groovy rotors and Brembo calipers move with a linear feel you rarely see in a (once) mundane compact platform. The Mégane R26.R stops as smoothly as it corners: with only 2700 lbs to halt, there’s no doubt the Mégane R26.R can handle hot lapping on the Nürburgring with grace and pace. And that’s precisely where this car excels, offering owners a rewarding but pain-free way to kick butt on any road course. I’m prepared to forgive Renault for importing the LeCar if they sell us the Mégane R26.R.

Or not. In reality, some performance icons are better left to the brand loyalists. Think of this as the French Cobra R: limited quantities and a lofty asking price of $35,000 USD, not including US federalization. And I reckon an immaculate C5 Corvette Z06 is a far superior track toy, with more creature comforts too. And buying one won’t require a degree in International Business.

And unless Honda jump-starts the Sport Compact genre in the United States, this French sweetheart is merely a tease. Too bad then, that Renault made a true masterpiece. The Mégane R26.R is the ultimate econobox expression, sporting credible looks with hard-edged, useable performance. Perhaps one day gas prices will inspire our premium compact platforms to reach for the stars the way this whip-sharp Renault has…. and maybe someday we’ll all get 5-8 weeks of mandatory paid vacation.

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Focus RS500: 345 HP, FWD And One Blurry Blue Oval Mon, 29 Mar 2010 18:05:08 +0000

Here’s some encouragement for the folks freaking out about BMW’s front wheel drive heresy. Ford has found a way to make 345 horsepower work in an FWD chassis, shattering the conventional wisdom that 250 hp marks the reasonable limit for front-drive performance. Well, at least until the 500 lucky owners of this limited-edition mega-hatch start adding up their tire bills in a few years. According to Ford, the RS500 should be looking at a 5.6 second 0-60 time and a top speed of 163 mph. And no, you can’t order one at your Ford dealer in the US.
focusrs500 focusrs5001

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