The Truth About Cars » subcompact car The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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 » subcompact car Capsule Review: Honda Fit, Made In China Edition Fri, 09 Nov 2012 14:00:59 +0000

TTAC’s fascination with all things Chinese mandates that we get our hands on the first Chinese car to be sold on North American shores, lest we betray our mandate. That first example happened to come from Honda – and the Made In China Fit you see here might be the one vehicle most true to the company’s roots.

Small, practical, fuel efficient and underpowered. These are the traits of Hondas past, and they all live on in the Fit.  The Fit was a jolt to the moribund subcompact segment when it debuted in 2006, winning universal acclaim from the automotive press. Ex-TTAC scribe Jonny Lieberman was effusive in his praise of the first-gen car, wishy-washy on the second-gen example.

The interior was a point of contention for Lieberman, while it’s not any worse than say, a Chevrolet Sonic’s interior, it is undeniably dated, with what Jonny called “…huge, over-sized twisty knobs put in place via a drunken round of pin the tail on the donkey.” The plastics on this car have somehow escaped the criticism that the 2012 Civic took in spades, though they seem to stand out more on the Fit. Certain surfaces wouldn’t be out of place on a Kozy Koupe, and little details, like the cover for the auxiliary cable input, were embarrassingly flimsy.

The Fit’s drivetrain was equally uninspiring. The 1.5L 4-cylinder engine’s 115 horsepower made for Miata-like acceleration without any of the sensation of speed. Drivetrain noise was prominent, and the tall, rubbery shifter was hardly a joy to row. On the plus side, fuel economy, at 26 mpg in heavy urban driving, was just off the EPA’ 27 mpg rating, and the Fit was hardly subjected to test-cycle-like driving conditions. I didn’t spend too much time on the highway, but when I did, the engine produced a mighty racket, while wind noise was ever present.

On the plus side, the Fit’s legendary practicality remains intact. The Magic Seat turns a B-segment hatchback into a Cotsco hauler; groceries and a surround sound system fit easily, with the groceries in the back and the seat cushions flipped up. And the build quality isn’t a problem either. Honda has been sending Chinese Fits to Europe for years, and while some of the materials may be sub-par inside, things like panel gaps, paint quality and other little details are all up to the same standards as any other Honda – including the Japanese built Fits I’ve seen.

The biggest problem with the Fit is that it’s now outclassed after having been on the market for this long. The Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio are the superior choice for the average consumer (and get better fuel economy than the Fit, ha ha ha), while the Ford Fiesta offers a better drive and a better interior (albeit with a much more fragile automatic gearbox). My own favorite in this segment is the Chevrolet Sonic with the 1.4T engine and 6-speed manual, which is a budget Mini Cooper S rather than a grocery-getter. The Japanese may have pioneered the well-built small car, but there’s no doubt that the Fiesta and Sonic are the superior choices compared to the Versa, Yaris, Mazda2 and yes, the Fit. How ironic. Then again, who ever thought that the one of the last true Hondas would be come from China?


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Fiat 500 Pop, Selling New For $12,995 Mon, 07 May 2012 20:41:02 +0000

No, TTAC hasn’t been hijacked by car dealers other than Mr. Lang. Scouring the local newspapers, TTAC’s Great White North contingent found brand new Fiat 500s being sold for the incredible price of $12,995 for the base “Pop” model.

While the $11,798 Nissan Versa sedan is still cheaper, style conscious Toronto residents will no doubt opt for the 500, which has been selling briskly in Toronto and Canada at large. More importantly, most of the 500s seen around town are the more upmarket “Lounge” or “Sport” versions – the Pop trim level, seen here, doesn’t even come with A/C as standard equipment.

Eventually, we were able to track down internet copies of the ad. The dealer website for Peel Chrysler lists a black Pop as selling for $14,995 after discounts (which seems a little high, given its $14,995 MSRP), but two classified ads show the car as selling for $12,995. As of this writing, inventory data (at least empirical data – there are tons of ads touting huge stocks of Fiat 500s at dealers) wasn’t available but it casts the idea of Fiat’s brisk sales and upcoming models for Canada only in a bit of a different light.

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Review: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo Take Two Sun, 12 Feb 2012 18:54:59 +0000

My intial review of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic was less than stellar. Considerably less. But, as noted, that reviewed covered the LT trim level with the normally-aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. Everyone else (aside from our own Steve Lang) has been reviewing the LTZ trim level with the 1.4-liter turbocharged four and six-speed manual transmission. They’ve been much more positive about the car. How much difference can an engine, transmission, and tires make?

The differences begin with exterior appearance. Car companies frequently fit cars with a smaller wheel than they were designed for, but how they expect this to help sell cars escapes me. Even if some people buy the aesthetically afflicted car, others will see it on the road and form their initial impressions accordingly. Though not a beauty in any configuration, the Sonic looks much better with the LTZ’s 17-inch alloys than the LT’s 15s. The aggressively styled front end and chunky fenders were clearly penned with the larger wheels (or perhaps even larger ones) in mind. Especially when the car is painted orange, as both tested cars were, the 17s should be mandatory. Both of the tested cars were also hatchbacks, but unlike with other B-segment cars the Sonic sedan is equally attractive.

The interior plastics didn’t seem any nicer after a week than they did during my earlier test drive. Even in the LTZ they’re competitive with other cars in the segment but a clear step down from the fabric trim (on the instrument panel!) and soft-touch polymers of the C-segment Chevrolet Cruze. My fondness for the motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster did grow with familiarity. Unlike the oddball digital instruments of decades past, those in the Sonic actually work well, clearly and entertainingly presenting essential information.

The driving position and interior dimensions are of course unchanged from the LT to the LTZ. In either trim the Sonic feels larger than its direct competitors, and more like cars from a size class up, thanks to a high beltline and distant windshield. Whether this is a plus or a minus depends on whether you prefer your small cars to actually seem small. Chevrolet’s bet, is no doubt a sound one: most people buying a B-segment car would get something larger if they could afford it. Actual interior room is among the best in the segment, so the average adult will just fit without scrunching. The front seats are comfortable, but those seeking much lateral support will be much happier in the upcoming 2013 Sonic RS. Oddly, the heated seats only have one level of adjustment.

The 1.4-liter engine might be turbocharged, but with the same peak horsepower rating as the normally-aspirated 1.8 it’s not a screamer. In fact, it’s the opposite. Where the 1.8 lugs, gargles, buzzes, and roars in the process of motivating the Sonic’s 2,600 pounds (which shouldn’t actually be a tall order for a 138-horsepower 1.8), the 1.4T effectively accomplishes this task. The difference: a much plumper midrange (indicated by 148 pound-feet of torque vs. 125) and much more refinement from idle to redline. In fact, the 1.4T isn’t only smoother and stronger than the Sonic’s other engine, but better than the segment’s other powerplants. If you’re seeking a B-segment car that provides effortless acceleration in typical suburban driving, the Sonic with the 1.4T engine is your only option in North America.

Given the engine’s plump midrange and less stout top end—it was clearly optimized for the former—there’s little joy in and even less justification for making runs to the redline. But the six-speed manual transmission is still the way to go. The stick feels slicker and more solid than past GM efforts—and than Hyundai’s current effort in the Accent. Aside from the more direct connection with the car a manual transmission always provides, this one provides the additional benefit of avoiding the unrefined, poorly programmed six-speed automatic. Then again, the automatic isn’t yet available with the 1.4T (though this combo has been offered since launch in the Cruze.) The EPA ratings: 29 city, 40 highway. In suburban driving with a light foot the trip computer reported from 34.5 to 37.5. With a heavier foot it reported 27 to 30.

Already noted: the Sonic feels like a larger car from the driver seat. Aside from this, it handles quite well in LTZ trim, where the 205/50HR17 Hankook Optimo H428 tires actually provide enough grip to exercise the suspension (if still much less than the suspension could handle). There’s even some communication from the steering, though a smaller diameter wheel than the GM standard unit would be welcome. Likely tuned with young, inexperienced drivers in mind, the Sonic feels very stable and controllable even as the front tires begin their progressive slide into moderate understeer. For all but the least skilled drivers the Sonic LTZ 1.4T should be an easy and enjoyable (if not quite engaging) car to drive quickly along a curvy road.

Given this safe, predictable handling, a stability control system that cuts in much earlier and more aggressively than the typical GM system is overkill. Holding down the button to turn the system off doesn’t actually turn it off, only bumps the intervention threshold. And even then the system cuts in a little early. If you can’t safely exercise the Sonic even without the aid of a stability control system, you probably shouldn’t be driving.

Though the Sonic’s handling borders on crisp and its body motions are better controlled than those of more softly-sprung Cruze, its ride is about as smooth and quiet as it gets in this class. The Ford Fiesta feels more Euro taut and solid, but the Chevrolet feels larger and steadier.

The big disadvantage of the 1.4T engine: it adds $700 to the Sonic’s price, a significant sum in this most price-sensitive segment. Go with the LTZ to get suitably-sized rims, and the sticker comes to $18,695. A Hyundai Accent SE with an equally powerful but not nearly as torquey 1.6-liter four is $2,000 less. The Sonic does include quite a few additional features, among them four additional airbags, a telescoping steering wheel, automatic headlights, heated seats, and OnStar. (But if you want rear disc brakes like those standard on the Hyundai, you’ll need to wait for the even pricier 2013 Sonic RS.) Adjust for these feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the Accent retains a $600 advantage. Which is essentially how much the 1.4T engine costs. Consider this the price of midrange torque and, once feature differences are adjusted for, the two cars are close in price. And the Ford Fiesta? Topping $19,000 when similarly equipped, it’s clearly the priciest of the three.

Longish story short, the Sonic is a much better car with the 1.4T engine and the LTZ’s larger wheels. Unfortunately, these features also bump the price considerably. For price-sensitive folk GM needs a more refined base engine and a 17-inch wheel option for the LT. For enthusiasts, an RS is on the way with sport buckets and sport suspension. What the RS won’t have: a stronger engine. This is a shame. While the 1.4T is the best engine in the segment for the typical driver, it’s strength—a strong midrange—makes it less suitable for enthusiasts seeking a payoff north of 4,000 rpm. The Opel Corsa is available with a 189-horsepower 1.6-liter engine. If GM were truly swinging for the fences, this would be the engine in the Sonic RS.

Chevrolet provided the car with insurance and a full tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Suzuki Displaying 1600 Pound Booger At Geneva Auto Show Wed, 01 Feb 2012 17:46:08 +0000

Now, this isn’t something I picked out of my nose. This is Suzuki’s new A-segment concept, a car that weighs a mere 1600 lbs.

Already unveiled as the Suzuki Regina at the 2011 Tokyo Auto Show, the car will now be dubbed the G70 when it gets its second showing at Geneva. The G70 is about the size of a Fiat 500 and uses an 800cc gasoline engine, a CVT gearbox, regenerative braking and a start-stop feature to achieve 75 mpg. You’ve got to hand it to Suzuki…it’s certainly different.

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