The Truth About Cars » Subcompact The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 15:25:59 +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 » Subcompact Capsule Review: 2014 Kia Soul Tue, 17 Jun 2014 13:00:13 +0000 TTAC-2014_Kia-Soul-SX-Luxury-white-front

Even those who didn’t appreciate the first Kia Soul’s eye-catching exterior would acknowledge the Soul was a car that majored on style.
Replacing the underlying platform, updating the interior, and adding features are, to a degree, a set of secondary concerns in a car like this. The new Soul had to look every inch like the Soul, but if it didn’t look new, it may not incite the necessary reaction from the style-conscious portion of the car-buying public.


Let’s not bore ourselves with the details: the plentiful black surround on the tailgate, the headlamps that no longer grow deformities out of themselves, and the tiny but meaningful increases in length and width. To my eye, it looks like a more modern Kia Soul. Job well done. You are welcome to be the final arbiter.
As much as the exterior is an important section on the 2015 Soul’s resume, I had high hopes that the rest of the car would undergo the more serious makeover. The first-generation Soul was obviously a marketplace success, but not because it rode smoothly, steered sweetly, or made efficient use of its powerplants, and not because it felt as well-built as the vehicles Kia has introduced since 2009.
In the 2015 model I drove around last week, superior ride quality was the most dramatic dynamic improvement. You’ll continue to suffer from a few unwelcome encounters out back where there’s still a torsion beam, but if poor ride quality was the key factor restraining a potential Soul buyer a year ago, they won’t feel the same way now. Losing the 18-inch-wheels from this fully-optioned SX Luxury model (a $21,095 ! with The Whole Shabang Package for $26,195 including destination, in U.S.-speak) may further isolate road imperfections.
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Kia’s FlexSteer, which allows you to select one of three steering weight modes, is not uncommon in its lifelessness. I’d take GoodSteer from the latest Mazda 3 over the Soul’s trio of optional steering modes, but the Soul’s rack isn’t offensive. Nor is the handling anything worse than perfectly adequate. This isn’t a sporting device; there is no great level of athleticism. But as with any properly small car, the Soul is delightfully agile in urban scenarios, and the new Soul is also pleasantly quiet during highway jaunts.
I would appreciate the availability of a manual transmission with the 2.0L engine. Subcompact-like dimensions and 164 horsepower sounds fun at first. This Soul, however, is carrying around 3100 pounds, and it’s fitted with a 6-speed automatic that favours smoothness over swiftness. The 2.0L-powered Soul Exclamation Point isn’t slow, but there is a sense of weight you don’t expect in a car that’s only 163 inches long.
Regardless of its on-road characteristics, the Soul has proven to be a winner because of its engaging design, outside and in, and its vast interior. Rear leg room is terrific, and thanks to our slim Diono car seat, two adults could sit in the back with the baby and voice no complaints. The driver’s seat doesn’t have the top-end Forte’s extendable seat cushion, but I still enjoyed the chair-like seating position and the improved material quality in all the places no car owner ever touches except when cleaning. The driver’s seat is powered in all sorts of ways, including lumbar, but the passenger makes do with basic manual adjustments. Both receive heated and cooled cushions, however. Living alongside the north Atlantic as I do, those ventilated front seats sure do come in handy for a long stretch during, well, the first week of August.

A bit longer than a Rio hatchback and a bit shorter than a Forte hatchback, the Soul’s interior only forces you to sacrifice when it comes to seats-up cargo capacity. It’s decidedly more subcompact-like than compact-like (18.8 height-assisted cubic feet compared with 15 in the Rio hatch and 23.2 in the Forte) until you fold the seats down. At which point, the Soul’s boxy shape creates greater space than you’d get in, say, hatchback versions of the Mazda 3 or Ford Focus.
The Soul also feels like a much better-built car than the majority of, if not all, subcompacts. The rear doors thunk just as well as the front doors, rather than the thunk/thwack front/rear disagreement endured in many small cars. Kia’s UVO system continues to operate at an above-average level, with multiple menus visible on the screen at any given time, quick responses, and conventional controls for most features.
For way less than $30,000, the level of luxury content in this Whole Shabanged Exclamation Point Soul is impressive, from the panoramic sunroof to the upgraded Infinity stereo, navigation, and heated rear seats. Plus, power-folding mirrors that unfolded and folded back a thousand times while I did yardwork beside our driveway with keys in my pocket, wondering all the while what that faint buzzing sound was.
The Soul still isn’t sufficiently fuel efficient relative to most small cars, with EPA ratings of just 23/31 mpg. There is also genuine potential for a hot hatch here, and it would be wonderful if the Forte’s turbo and manual transmission made the trek over to the Soul. It’s easy to suggest that halo models are insisted upon only by non-buying enthusiasts but won’t turn out to be profit generators. Yet the Soul’s audience has become so numerous that I have to believe a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive, sport-suspended Soul would gain more than just a small cult following.
Perhaps not. I won’t argue with the merits of the car in its current state, nor the level of success Kia has stumbled upon with the Soul since it arrived in 2009. Through the end of May, Americans have registered nearly 500,000 Souls. Sales have improved every year, rising above 118,000 units in 2013. So far this year, U.S. Soul volume is up 21%, and it’s outselling all “small” cars other than the Corolla, Civic, Cruze, Elantra, Focus, Sentra, and Jetta.
Kia Canada provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.
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Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback (With Video) Fri, 03 Jan 2014 14:00:50 +0000 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior

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

Click here to view the embedded video.


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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-006


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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Interior-004


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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Engine-002


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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-002


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

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

2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior-008

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

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

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


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.4 Seconds

0-60:9.08 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.9 Seconds @ 81.6 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 31.5 MPG over 561 Miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 72.5 db

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This Is Not The Lancer You Are Looking For Tue, 21 May 2013 14:23:08 +0000 630x382xmitsubishi-attrage-630x382.jpg.pagespeed.ic_.4vk0qaewan_0


Mitsubishi has taken the wraps of the sedan version of the new Mirage, dubbed the Attrage. Just-Auto reports that the Thai-based sedan will launch in July, and will be exported shortly thereafter. Powertrains will carry over from the Mirage, but hopefully the name will change when it comes to our shores.

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Mitsubishi Introduces Their New Sedan That’s Not A Lancer Wed, 15 May 2013 11:00:52 +0000 628x418xmitsubishi-g4-sedan-628.jpg.pagespeed.ic.asFuFIT1RK

Pop quiz:

  1. What segment sells in strong volumes in America?
  2. What segment is considered poison by American consumers?
  3. Why is Mitsubishi neglecting a popular segment while focusing on an unpopular one?

The answers are, in order: Compact cars, subcompact cars and “we have no idea whatsoever”. Despite letting their Lancer ripen so long its turned into vinegar, Mitsubishi is apparently intent on introducing a subcompact sedan to the American market.

While subcompact hatches have gotten some traction here, nobody likes subcompact sedans. Not only do they scream poverty, but they look like rubber erasers that have been melted in the microwave. And yet Mitsubishi looks set to bring over a product based on the G4 sedan, according to Automotive News.

Why not a replacement for the Lancer? Why not a decent mid-size sedan? If there’s one thing we don’t need, its a competitor for the Nissan Versa S “Credit Criminal special”.

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Mitsubishi “Small Car” Debuts In Montreal Mon, 21 Jan 2013 14:00:38 +0000

Honda wasn’t the only Japanese auto maker debuting something at the Montreal Auto Show. Mitsubishi debuted the Canadian-spec version of the new Mirage – without giving it a name.

North American spec versions of the tiny Mitsu include a new 1.2L three-cylinder engine, rather than the 1.0L unit employed in world markets. Despite the bump in displacement, the Mirage puts out a whopping 74 horsepower and 74 lb-ft of torque. Although we at TTAC are against re-purposing all or part of a press release, we’ll make an exception this time, to illustrate just  how enthusiastic Mitsubishi Canada is about this car.

Displayed in striking Green Metallic paint, the subcompact was unveiled by Mitsubishi Motor Sales of Canada (MMSCAN) president & CEO Shin Fujioka to gathered media: “The new 2014 Mitsubishi is fun, efficient, greener and affordable. We can’t wait!” he said.


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Hedonist vs Frugalist : 2012 Toyota Yaris SE Tue, 11 Sep 2012 13:00:32 +0000

Tercel. Echo. Yaris.

When the history of great cars is written, these models will likely not be anywhere near the short list.

After all, few cars that are plain-jane, spartan and underpowered make it to the latest and greatest coffee table books or Top 100 lists.

Yet, imagine if you asked actual owners about their best cars instead of the usual short-take reviewer?

I am willing to bet that the real world  Top 100 vehicles would have plenty of small cars that would be easy to own, reliable, and most of all….

Jacques Hedonist: Fun! It’s one of those words that can cover a whole gamut of situations. Fun in the twisties. Fun in the sun. Fun taking the family out to Wallyworld.

This Yaris SE is a fun little runabout. We’re not talking about Miata levels or fun, or even Fit levels of fun. We’re talking more in the lines of taking out your best friend’s brother or sister on a purely platonic lunch, and finding out that they are far more interesting than you imagined.

Stefan Frugalist: We’ll start with that unassuming exterior.

The Yaris SE is in many ways a first generation Matrix with 80% of the size and 90% of the interior space.

It offers that typical Toyota front fascia of our modern time.

A side profile with enough lines, ovals and ellipses to resemble a generic five door hatchback.

And a rear that pretty much finishes the nip and tuck of trying to turn a $16,000 commuter into an $18,000 commuter with a little sporting pretension.


Like that old Matrix, it is still a grocery getter of sorts. But unlike that model, the Yaris SE has one penetrating weakness that makes it almost ignored in today’s marketplace.

Hedonist: Competition.

We’ll put it to you this way. Let’s say you brought the Yaris SE, the Hyundai Accent and the Fiat 500 to an auto show for the first time.

The Fiat would be ogled. It’s arguably the most distinctive subcompact design of this generation. The Accent would be admired. The Yaris SE? Maybe a few glances. But in our weeks worth of driving it and leaving the SE trimmed Yaris in crowded parking lots throughout Atlanta, nobody made so much as a peep about this vehicle.

Frugalist: But then again some people don’t want to be noticed.

Do Camry and Corolla drivers get noticed? Maybe if the Camry has a blinker light that has been accidentally left on. Or if the Corolla scurried around town with a potted plant on top of it. Maybe then they would get noticed.

Often times non-enthusiasts don’t want to get noticed. They want to have a comfortable car with maybe a few appreciable design elements, an interior that makes for a pleasant environment, and enough utility to get the job done. These days they also want two other important things.


Hedonist: Reliability and fuel economy. Once you climb into this vehicle, drive it for a while and look around, you begin to understand where the SE’s sweet spots lies.

It’s in the interior for starters. The seats are eerily reminiscent of the ones in the Toyota Celica of the early-90′s. Very similar design. Exemplary comfort. With thick stitching and good lumbar support for what is in essence a commuter vehicle.


Frugalist: The interior is also bereft of any of the ‘easy to see’ cost cutting of other models. The door panels and dashboard are made of the same quality materials you would expect to see in a modern day $20,000 top of the line compact car.

The radio and speaker system would be right at home in a similarly priced Scion.

Even the instrument cluster has a similar design as the one in the Scion FR-S.

Hedonist: Start the vehicle. Drive around town or in the ‘burbs, and you’re never wanting for more power in any real life situation. The Yaris SE may only have 106 horsepower at 6,000 rpm’s. But the acceleration is there. 0 to 60 is around 9′ish and there was no wait or hunting of gears.

This vehicle is like most Toyotas. The automatic has a tendency to lock in at top gear right around 35 to 37 mph if you’re not going on the interstate. When you do go on the highway, everything is… predictable and non-eventful.

The SE model is a little bit noisy on the highway in that typical small car, small engine way. But the folks considering a car like this are a bit more concerned about other things.


Frugalist: Like fuel economy. This thing is an absolute marvel given the fact that the powertrain has no hybrid, turbo or CVT. A 4-speed automatic coupled with a 1.5 Liter easy to maintain engine and only about 2300 pounds of heft returned us a real-world combined 37 mpg around winding roads and the highway.

No that’s not a typo. Now I should mention that our town driving has a lot of long one lane roads with stop signs every mile or two. Folks drive 30 to 50 in our neck of the woods. Not 25 to 35. As a matter of context the Sonic reviewed here a year ago got 32 mpg and the Versa returned 33.5 mpg.

The Yaris offers class leading fuel economy with an interior that isn’t quite as large as these two competitors. But it offers plenty of usable space for a family of four and an excellent level of safety with 5 star NHTSA and Euro NCAP rating. We should mention that there is some debate on the later safety rating which can be found here.

Hedonist: The other edge the Yaris SE has in the subcompact hatch segment is durability.

A normally aspirated Toyota that averages about 500,000 units a year on a global basis will usually offer outstanding durability and reliability that makes long-term owners truly happy. The reviews here, here and here reflect Toyota’s penchant for building outstanding small cars.

In fact, this type of vehicle represents the optimal car for a dealership (like Steve Lang’s) that specializes in owner financing and cars that can ‘make the note’. Small Toyotas take abuse better than nearly anything out there and the Yaris SE will likely follow that trend.

The NZ-based engine in the Yaris has been built for over a decade with over 20 Toyotas using it in various forms; including a modified version for the Toyota Prius.  The 4-Speed automatic has also been around for forever and a day.

Long story short, this Yaris will endure the ages and then some. If it’s driven reasonably and maintained to the specs.

Frugalist: Owning the Yaris SE for the long, long run would not be an overwhelming or underwhelming experience. It would simply be ‘whelming’. With that said, who should test drive one?

  • Anyone who is in the market for a Honda Fit. Yes, the Fit is a more dynamic vehicle with plenty of versatility. But the Yaris doesn’t have the same annoying level of highway buzziness. Though the MSRP difference is only between $300 to $700 between the two, the real life difference may end up in the $1500 range.
  • Folks who are ‘Toyota-centric’ and want to avoid a hybrid powertrain.
  • Non-enthusiasts who are planning on keeping their vehicles for 12 to 15 years, prefer hatchbacks,  and want the most bulletproof powertrain possible.

Frugalists may be better served by a Prius C. As for enthusiasts and everything in between? The number of vehicles to consider in this market is absolutely staggering. Sonic, Accent, Rio, 500, Fit, the upcoming Versa hatchback, Fiesta, the SX4, Impreza… and that’s just 9 of 20+ potential fits if the buyer is willing to consider a sedan or a coupe.

The Yaris SE isn’t as good as a Fit. In fact, other than the Versa, this model is simply unable to match most competitors when it comes to thrilling driving dynamics.

Hedonist: But cars are kinda like music when it comes to fun. Some of us are true hardcore music aficionados who seek brilliance in that fifth dimension. While others turn the radio to the easy listening station, and enjoy overplayed Billy Joel songs.

The Yaris SE is a ‘light rock’ hatchback. Predictable. Reassuring. It’s probably the perfect car for someone whose only rebellious act in their entire lifetime has been listening to Billy Joel songs about ‘crashing parties’ and ‘riding motorcycles in the rain’.

If you have a friend who is moving out and needs a new car for the longest time, well, you may be right to recommend a Yaris SE.

Tell her about it… preferably at Mr. Cacciatore’s down on Sullivan Street… and bring some earplugs if that radio is tuned to the wrong station.

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Junkyard Find: 1978 Datsun B210 Coupe Fri, 17 Aug 2012 13:00:42 +0000 We saw a 1975 Datsun B210 hatchback Junkyard Find a few weeks back, and this ’74 B210 hatch about a year ago. Today, we’ll look at a fairly solid example of the B210 coupe.
This is a car that was once as numerous on American streets as is any mainstream 21st-century econobox today, but the B210 was even more susceptible to rust than other Japanese cars of the era and it didn’t resist depreciation quite as well as its Corolla and Civic rivals.
For those of you too young to have experienced slushbox-equipped B210s in person, imagine that you’re driving a Chevy Aveo. In quicksand. Towing a trailer loaded with overflowing Porta-Potties. Uphill.
Still, if you were patient on freeway onramps and didn’t mind losing stoplight drag races to cement mixers, the B210 was a pleasant enough car to drive. The purchaser of this one sprang for the no-doubt-extremely-expensive factory AM/FM radio.
Once you’ve paid for the radio, however, why would you want frivolous gauges?
I can’t recall whether this style hubcap was a Honey Bee-only design or slapped on all B210s of the era.

The fuel-economy claims of Malaise Era manufacturers had to be taken with a grain of salt, but the real-world B210 did manage to get into the 40 MPG range on the highway.
20 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1978 Datsun B210 Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Pre-Production Review: 2012 Toyota Prius c Sat, 11 Feb 2012 21:45:52 +0000 A few years ago I was let in on a secret: Toyota’s dreams of world domination hinged on capturing hip young buyers interested in green tech and high fuel economy. Of course, Toyota’s hybrid plans have been the worst kept secret since In-N-Out’s “secret menu” and as a result, the green Gen Y boys and girls I know in Berkeley have been excited for years about a “baby Prius”. Well kids, the blue spaceship landed in La Jolla and Toyota invited us down to take a drive. Does a hybrid Yaris with more MPGs than you can shake a stick at have what it takes help Prius become Toyota’s best-selling nameplate? Let’s find out.

When I suggested that the Prius c was a Yaris hybrid, my Toyota hosts tried to steer me back on the path of “small Prius.”  The Prius c uses a highly modified 5-door Yaris platform, modified enough that almost no Yaris content remains. The Prius c shares no sheetmetal, drivetrain, or interior components that we could find, and I’m told almost nothing of the Yaris suspension remains. Strangely, other than the steering wheel, very little of the liftback Prius was imported either. What was the point of using the Yaris as a start? It was cheaper than shrinking the Prius unibody. The “c” is more than 19 inches shorter, 2 inches narrower and 500 pounds lighter than the full-size Prius slotting it firmly in the subcompact class. Due to the true hatchback design, the “c” loses only 1.2 inches of legroom up front and 1 inch in the rear when compared to the Prius. Compared to its Yaris donor car, the “c” has a stretched wheelbase which improves legroom over the entry level Toyota by two inches (though it’s 200 lbs heavier overall).

Under the hood sits a revised 1.5L Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine, essentially the same 73HP mill used in the first generation Prius with some key modifications. To improve efficiency, Toyota removed all belt driven accessories. Even the water-pump is electric on the diminutive four banger. Because the Prius liftback is wider than a Yaris, Toyota created a new Hybrid Synergy Drive CVT transmission that is smaller and lighter. In addition to the new transmission, the c also uses a new 144V battery pack and inverter that are smaller and lighter than the regular Prius. Total system output is 99HP (about 35 less than the 1.8L in the Prius), but quite similar to the Yaris 5-door’s 106HP. The light weight and revised drivetrain conspire to make the Prius c the most efficient non-plug-in vehicle sold in North America at 53/43 MPG (City/Highway) with a lofty 50MPG on the combined scale. Much like the liftback, acceleration is accompanied by the engine revving to stratospheric RPMs and hanging out there until you release the go-pedal. While many rags bash the “drone” of the drivetrain, I consider it a fair trade for high fuel economy. Your mileage may vary.

The Prius c’s interior shares essentially nothing with the Yaris save a preference for low rent headliners. The Prius c pulls its flat-bottomed steering wheel from the regular Prius, but little else is shared with the dashboard, sporting hard but nicely textured plastics and a standard high-resolution 3.5 inch full-color LCD. A wide variety of fairly dubious in-car apps relating to “Eco” driving are also present. The front seats felt fairly supportive during our hour long drive, but buyers should beware that the base trim level has a driver’s seat that isn’t as adjustable as the other models.

Like the Prius, the c comes in numbered packages. “One” is obviously the price leader at $18,950, achieved by “decontetning” niceties like cruise control, cargo area lights, adjustable front headrests, the center armrest and tonneau cover. Toyota did take a note from their Korean competitors and included Bluetooth and iPod integration standard on the base model. The $19,900 “Two” adds a 6-speaker audio system, variable intermittent wipers, 60/40 folding rear seat, cruise control, center armrest and an engine immobilizer-style key. “Three” lists for $21,635 and adds Toyota’s Entune Navigation radio with 6.1-inch touchscreen , XM and HD radio, and “Entune App” capability (Pandora, Bing, etc). Also included on “Three” is Toyota’s keyless entry and keyless go, a telescoping steering wheel and the option to add $390 alloy wheels and a $850 sunroof. The top-of-the-line “Four” brings 15 inch 8-spoke alloys to the party, “Softex” seats, heated front seats, fog lamps and turn signals in the side mirrors for $23,230. The “Four” can also be equipped with the $850 moonroof and an optional 16-inch alloy wheel and sport steering package for $300 (or $1150 when combined with the sunroof) topping the Prius c out at $24,380, just a few hundred over a base Prius liftback. The bigger wheels bring with them wider rubber (195 vs 175 width),  and a different steering ratio that drops the lock-to-lock turns from 3.02 to 2.28. Unfortunately, the turning circle grows ridiculously from a tight 31.4 to a Buick-like 37.4 feet while causing a reduction in ride quality.

The new Entune system is a step in the right direction for Toyota’s infotainment systems. Entune integrated well with my iPhone 4 and my iPod Nano as well as the Android 2.3 phone that Toyota had in the car. In order to use the Entune data services like Bing, OpenTable, Pandora and iHeartRadio, you will need a smart phone with a data plan (tethering plans are not required) and after the first three years, you’ll also have to pay Toyota a yearly subscription fee. Sadly, Entune still does not provide for voice command of your iPod or MP3 data device ala Ford’s SYNC.

Click here to view the embedded video.

We had a fairly limited time with the baby Prius so I’ll save the majority of drive opinions for a longer affair with the small hybrid. Interested parties should just avoid the “One” unless that’s all you can afford. The content level is not as bad as most economy cars but the lack of cruise control and the center armrest are worth the upgrade price. Similarly steer clear of the “Four”, the faux-leather upholstery looks good in photos and is likely easier to clean, but the price of admission is steep and the non-breathable leather seats made our backsides sticky after only an hour. If you really must go for the “Four”, upgrade your wheels aftermarket. The lower profile rubber and ginormous turning circle that come with the upgraded package by Toyota make this a non-starter for me.

During our 140 miles with the Prius c (split between all four models of the Prius c) on city streets, windy mountain roads and 70MPH highway runs, we were unable to get the Prius c to drop below 50MPG and averaged a very respectable 53MPG overall with the A/C in constant use. That puts the c easily ahead of the regular Prius’ real-world MPG and more than 20MPG ahead of the 2012 Toyota Yaris 5-door’s combined score. Here we come full-circle to the Yaris hybrid concept. If you’re shopping the Yaris as an economical vehicle, the “Prius c Two” makes a compelling argument. While the Prius is $3,640 more expensive than the similarly equipped Yaris LE, it delivers 60% better fuel economy, an improved interior with more room, and no real sacrifices aside from a steeper price. If you drive 15,000 miles a year it would take only 5 years (or 75,000 miles) to break even when compared with the Yaris (or most other compact hatchbacks) based on California’s high gas prices. While I’m unconvinced that the Prius c will provide much excitement for the urban Gen Y buyer, I have little doubt it will prove an extremely economical vehicle to own in the long run and is worth serious consideration by anyone shopping for a subcompact hatch and in the process Toyota might just dominate the world.

Toyota flew us to San Diego, put us up for the night and provided a gaggle of pre-production Prius c models for our amusement.


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Weekend Weird Crush: “The Small God For The Big Future” Sun, 08 Jan 2012 19:36:01 +0000

Maruti Suzuki’s big news at the Delhi Auto Show was the debut of its production compact MPV, the Ertiga. But it wasn’t all staid family-carriers at the Suzuki stand, as the Japanese-Indian automaker also debuted its XA Alpha concept, described in this dramatically-narrated (to put it mildly) video as “The Small God For The Big Future.” Remember the Suzuki Samurai (our global readers will certainly remember the Jimny)? It’s getting ready for its 21st Century makeover…

Suzuki says that the styling of this subcompact SUV, aimed at Ford’s new Ecosport and GM’s forthcoming Mokka, was inspired by traditional Indian wrestlers. Which may well be the case, but there’s no deny that there’s at least a little Range Rover Evoque in the look.

But what’s more enticing than the styling itself, is the question of whether or not a vehicle like this could bolster Suzuki’s muddled US product line. Suzuki has already established itself as the go-to option for low-cost AWD vehicles in the US with its SX4… but one can’t help wondering how many sales that model leaves on the table due to its small-hatchback design. With a more rugged, more-SUV-looking model on similar underpinnings, Suzuki might just be able to build a rugged-entry-AWD image in this market as Subaru moves inexorably upmarket towards an “Audi Junior” positioning.

In any case, the B-SUV market is starting to get some real attention globally, as the global giants update their aged entrants in the segment for ever-more-demanding developing markets. And as a fan of this genre, with its small, funky, affordable and surprisingly utilitarian mini-utes, I certainly hope someone decides to test the US waters with something like this.

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Review: 2012 Fiat 500 Lounge (BCAS Edition) Mon, 31 Oct 2011 17:45:29 +0000

Throw “Sport” on a car, and I’m going to expect certain things from it. So I wasn’t kind to the first FIAT 500 I reviewed. But, as with people, I’m always willing to give a car a second take from a more amenable angle. To avoid bits I didn’t care for, I requested the base-level “Pop” trim with an automatic transmission. Chrysler counter-offered a top-level Lounge. In brown. With brown leather. Not quite what I asked for, but as a member of the Brown Car Appreciation Society (sans card, alas) I felt duty bound to accept.

Dip a 500 in Espresso Metallic and fit it with multi-spoke alloys (a $300 extra), and no one will think it an economy car. The look is as upscale as the Scion iQ’s is not. And this is before opening the door to find seats upholstered in chocolate brown leather, with matching trim on the doors and dash. The ivory steering wheel, upper seatbacks, and control panels provide a classy contrast while keeping the whole from seeming too serious or somber. Most definitely lounge-worthy.


Sadly, all parts of the 500 can’t deliver on this initial impression. Work the manual height adjuster in an attempt to lower the high-mounted seat, and the degree of flex suggests it’s not long for this world. Then again, the seat is so high in its lowest position that few people will ever use this adjuster. The buttons for the HVAC and audio feel very much like those of a sub-$20k car (even though this example wasn’t). Drive down any but the smoothest roads, and the doors constantly scratch against their seals. Perhaps press cars aren’t prepped as thoroughly as conventional wisdom suggests? A few dabs of a suitable lube might have gone a long way.

Thanks to the 500’s unsportily high seating position, the view forward is open. As is the view upward through the Lounge’s standard large fixed glass roof panel (much of the utility of the optional sunroof, without the rattles and leaks). The view rearward, not so much, as the B- and C-pillars are thick and close. But with so little car back there the Luxury Leather Package’s rear obstacle detection is nevertheless pointless. The driver-side spotter mirror is of much more use, enabling fear-free lane changes to the left, even if it does rob some scarce real estate within the mini-compact mirror pods. Whatever the trim level, the ergonomics are, well, Italian. The shifter remains too high and too far forward, but with the automatic this isn’t an issue. Despite the intimate interior, the logic-defying myriad small buttons for the BOSE audio system (thumping sub beneath the passenger seat) are just beyond reach. Would a few large knobs close at hand cramp the 500’s style? The “sport” button is close at hand, but all it does is bump the steering effort without reducing steering numbness and force the transmission to hold gears far too long for casual around-town use. We’re lounging this time around, so absolutely no need for this.

The Lounge’s seat is the same as the Sport’s, but with no clutch requiring frequent full leg extensions the overly prominent under-thigh bulge didn’t bother me. In fact, nothing really bothered me, though my diminutive rear seat occupants did complain about the car’s hard round headrests.

The 500’s 101-horsepower 1.4-liter engine was—surprise—no match for a Ford GT rapidly approaching in my rearview on I-75. Even with the rightmost pedal pressed hard to the floor there’s little thrust at highway speeds. Bill Ford’s supercharged supercar blew by without even realizing I was there. But up to 45 or so there’s easily adequate power. With the Lounge’s mandatory automatic I felt far less need to dispatch the engine anywhere near its redline (though the autobox is more than happy to take it there), and the MultiAir mill sounded much less thrashy as a result. The trip computer reported 33-35 MPG in the suburbs, dipping into the high 20s when my right foot lapsed out of lounge mode. Not bad, but at best a match for the most efficient cars one or two size classes up, despite FIAT’s highly touted throttle-less intake technology. Handling might not be sporty, but it is effortlessly pleasant. And the standard suspension delivers a livable ride, if still a bit choppy and bouncy.

Even if the FIAT 500 Lounge isn’t especially fun to drive, it is nevertheless thoroughly fun (when not hopelessly attempting to match pace with a supercar). The styling is engagingly cute (chics dig it) yet—in brown—also elegant. In Lounge form the car’s easygoing driving character fits. Pulling up to Trader Joe’s with my three chattering progeny, and tight on time, I announced, “All right you clowns, out of the clown car.” My youngest almost died from laughter in the parking lot. That was just the first of four stops on the weekly shopping expedition. Even with all seats occupied, my cargo anxiety heightened by what might well be the world’s smallest cargo cover, and some sale items bought by the dozen, everything fit with room to spare. In the $21,800 500 Lounge BCAS Edition, the entire experience seemed much less of a chore.

Fiat 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.

Whos that knockin at my door Goodbye BCAS 500 rear quarter 2 BCAS 500 rear quarter BCAS 500 interior BCAS 500 instrument panel BCAS 500 front quarter 2 BCAS 500 front quarter BCAS 500 front BCAS 500 cargo 500 view forward 500 instruments 500 engine ]]> 91
Review: 2012 Scion iQ Take Two Thu, 27 Oct 2011 14:56:33 +0000

Scion is quite sure of one thing: the new iQ is a much better car than the smart fortwo. What they’re much less sure of: how many of the targeted fine young North American urbanites will buy one rather than periodically use Zipcar. I’m neither young nor urban, but I’m going to do my best to pretend. Why might I buy this car—or not?

Exterior styling – not

Toyota fits the iQ with 16-inch wheels that can be upgraded to multi-spoke alloys in a bid for the intended buyer. But the exterior isn’t nearly as stylish as the smart’s, with a frumpy nose, awkward B-pillar, and a single, square-cut door filling nearly the entire space between the wheel openings. Add the relatively large wheels, and the whole looks like a Photoshop chop—except it’s real, with a 79-inch wheelbase (vs. 74 for the smart) and 120-inch overall length (vs. 106). Scion has been struggling to get its mojo back ever since launching the bloated second-gen xB. With the iQ the struggle continues.

Interior styling – maybe

The interior is more successfully stylish than the exterior, but still has none of the whimsical character you’ll find inside a 500 or a MINI. All of the surfaces are—surprise—hard plastic but they generally look and feel solid. The red-stitched leather-wrapped steering wheel and the glossy black trim on the doors and center stack are high points. The controls are simple and easy to use, with three large vertically-aligned knobs for the climate controls. Less functional: the driving position is well aft of the windshield, so traffic lights aren’t visible if you stop at the white line. The button to temporarily deactivate the traction control (but not the stability control) is mounted low on the far side of the shifter. A power lock button sits next to it, but there’s another more conveniently located on the driver’s door. My suspicion: the design initially included only the button on the console, in line with European practice, but the Scion marketing folks insisted on having buttons on the doors, where Americans expect them. They got half of their request.

Interior packaging – where the car earns its nameplate

I’m a space efficiency geek. The intelligent packaging and seating of the Ford Freestyle and Taurus X is perhaps the main reason (beyond the need for seven seats) that I bought one of the latter.

Toyota is most proud of its packaging innovations for the iQ, and this part of their pitch for the car is not hype. Though only a foot longer than a smart, the iQ has a rear seat that can fit one adult without resorting to cruel and unusual punishment, and two with it. They were able to pull this off by:

  1. Placing the engine in the nose of the car (it’s in back with the smart) and locating the differential ahead of the transmission, which sits next to the engine. This enables an unusually short front overhang, and would improve the appearance of even large front-wheel-drive cars. (Back in the 1990s, GM’s designers wanted to flip transverse powertrains around for this very reason, but the engineers refused to enable any such silliness.) A special high-mounted steering rack also plays a role.
  2. Compacting the A/C componentry and locating the evaporator behind the center stack rather than ahead of the front passenger, enabling the right front seat to be shifted forward a few inches. Which is why the right rear passenger enjoys more legroom than the left rear passenger. Space is provided between the front seats for the left rear passenger’s legs, as the driver’s seat can slide all the way to the rear seat cushion. This space exists because, with a width of 66 inches, the iQ is over a half-foot beamier than the smart. A by-product: those in the front seat sit about as far apart as they would in a C-segment car like the Corolla, not shoulder-to-shoulder like they do in the smart.
  3. Developing ultra-thin seatbacks. They don’t feel substantial, but aren’t uncomfortable.
  4. Developing an ultra-thin fuel tank—it’s only 4.5 inches tall—and locating it beneath the driver’s seat.
  5. Adding an eleventh airbag that deploys over the rear window, essentially a rear curtain airbag. There are only a couple of inches between the rear seatbacks and the liftgate, so otherwise the rear seat would be dreadfully unsafe instead of…

Of course, Toyota’s engineers can’t do magic. So without folding at least half of the rear seat there is absolutely no cargo room.

Electronics – good, but better gadgetry on the way

Bluetooth (hands-free phone and audio streaming), USB, and HD radio are all standard, while nav is available as a dealer-installed accessory. But something like Toyota’s new Entune system, with Internet-based apps, is a year or two away.

Performance – quicker than a smart!

The iQ weighs only 2,127 pounds, but this is still a bit much for the 94-horsepower 1.3-liter four-cylinder hitched to a mandatory CVT. (The smart weighs 300 pounds less, but has only 70 horsepower.) In normal mode the CVT produces the rubber-banding effect typical of CVTs paired with small engines. Shifting into S largely eliminates this while also kicking the revs up a grand or two (so it’s not a full-time solution for anyone interested in fuel economy). And if you want to keep the small four at high boil there’s B (intended for engine braking on downhill grades) that further bumps the engine speed. Not the ideal transmission, especially not for driving enthusiasts, but far better than the clunky automated single-clutch manual in the smart. The engine sounds better than that in the Nissan Versa, which similarly employs a CVT, but remains well short of spine-tingling. There’s no joy in winding this one out. Sixty arrives in an acceptable ten to eleven seconds, but acceleration trails off considerably past that mark.

Fuel economy – very good in the city, meh on the highway

Scion touts the iQ’s fuel economy as the best of any non-hybrid. But the EPA rating of 36 city is much more impressive than the 37 highway. Then again, the iQ is marketed as a “city car,” not a “highway car.”

Handling – not remotely a new CRX

The best that can be said of the iQ’s handling is that its ultra-tight 12-foot turning radius, roughly two-thirds that of the average car, is truly a joy to experience. The second best: unlike the smart, the tiny Scion drives much like a regular car. Perhaps too much like a regular car, if by “regular car” we mean a Camry. Aided by the car’s unusually high width-to-wheelbase ratio, roll and understeer in hard turns are both moderate. But the steering is neither quick nor communicative, handling isn’t particularly agile, and the non-defeatable stability control cuts in well short of the car’s limits. The legendary Honda CRX was a thrill to drive sideways. That won’t be happening here. The iQ drives like an appliance.

Ride – survivable

Given the iQ’s ultra-short wheelbase, a choppy ride is a given. Drive over 60 down a concrete freeway (again, not the car’s primary mission), and expansion joints induce a rhythmic bouncing. But otherwise ride quality isn’t bad, and doesn’t feel like that of a very small, very light car. Though larger and heavier, a FIAT 500 rides worse.

Pricing – bespoke bits aren’t cheap

The iQ lists for $15,995. Scion continues to practice “Pure Pricing.” This doesn’t mean that dealers cannot discount, only that they must offer the same price to everyone. A similarly-equipped smart fortwo lists for $16,850. Adjust for the iQ’s additional features using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and its advantage widens to a considerable $2,300.

But Scion rightly isn’t taking the smart seriously as a competitor, at least not in North America. Here stiffer competition will come from the Fiat 500 and B-segment cars. The much more entertaining Mazda2 costs a grand less, though a $1,600 feature adjustment gives the iQ a $600 advantage. Compared to a FIAT 500 Pop, the iQ is $1,000 less before the feature adjustment, $400 less afterwards. So the prices for these three are quite close before discounts and incentives—which will tend to favor the Mazda and (as the cars pile up on dealer lots) the FIAT.

Bottom line: The iQ costs about as much as B-segment cars despite being much smaller and less fun to drive.

Sales forecast – not promising

So, the Scion iQ isn’t going to sell based on its price or driving excitement. Its packaging innovations are impressive, but you don’t have to own the car to admire them. Though the iQ is a much better car than the smart fortwo, the latest B-segment cars are better still in nearly every way. In terms of fuel economy, the iQ does very well in city driving, but the larger cars do better at higher speeds (where the Scion is out of its element). In the end, the iQ’s key strengths are its short length and ultra-tight turning radius, both of which make it easy to park in the city. But how many people have ease of urban parking as their top priority AND will be buying a car rather than occasionally renting one?

Scion provided the vehicle, insurance, and fuel for this review at a media event.

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

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail iQ-front-quarter-thumb iQ view forward iQ side iQ rear seat iQ rear quarter low iQ rear quarter iQ interior iQ instruments iQ instrument panel iQ front quarter iQ front iQ engine iQ cargo room High on the iQ? ]]> 125
Chart Of The Day: Subcompact Sales In September And Year-To-Date Thu, 13 Oct 2011 23:25:20 +0000 Well, it sure looked like the Kia Soul was poised to take out the Nissan Versa as the king of the small cars, especially in light of Michael Karesh’s lukewarm review. But the new Versa has roared back into contention last month, outselling the two next-closest nameplates combined. The Soul is hanging onto its lead in the YTD numbers, but that won’t last if the Versa keeps up this pace. On the other hand, an updated, more efficient Soul is hitting the market soon, and Kia’s new Rio should help take the fight back to Nissan. Meanwhile, The Fiat 500 still has yet to outsell the MINI, Sonic and Veloster are just entering the market, and Hyundai’s brand-new (and reportedly supply-limited) Accent can’t move past Honda’s aging Fit. But really, there’s only one story here… how about that Nissan Versa? 

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Small cars selling small... graph (53)


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Review: 2012 Nissan Versa Wed, 12 Oct 2011 20:40:45 +0000

Do you have automotive tastes common among people of a certain age? Not a fan of huge wheels or firm seats? Want something economical? Meet the new 2012 Nissan Versa.

Some small cars are comfortable with their small car-ness. Others, not so well-adjusted, put on airs well above their station. Like more than a few post-war European sedans, the new Versa falls into the latter camp. A high, bulbous front end strives for big car road presence, but tall, narrow proportions blow the charade. In the side profile, a stylishly plunging roof line primarily succeeds in truncating rear headroom, combined as it is with a bulbous nose, barn door bodysides, and (by current standards) tiny 15-inch wheels. When the Chinese knock off the new Versa they might actually improve it.

As long as you don’t look closely or touch anything, the interior of the 2012 Versa almost passes as luxurious, with chrome highlights and the taupe/tan color scheme that’s been a Lexus staple since the first LS 400 rolled off the boat. High-mounted, spongy seats continue the “compact luxury” play. But the hard plastic door-mounted armrests do not—those in a high-end previous generation Versa were far more amenable to elbows. If there’s a design here it’s certainly not a coherent one. The tall, chunky center stack would be more at home in an MPV. In the Versa it locates the audio system controls beyond easy reach. And the climate control area at its base…I haven’t a clue what the designer was thinking. Shame about the impact of the plunging roof line on rear headroom, as there’s substantially more rear legroom than in most competitors.

Compared to the previous-generation Versa (which lives on in hatchback form), the new one is about the same size but, at just over 2,400 pounds, over 300 pounds lighter. The weight loss is welcome, as an uncouth 109-horsepower 1.6-liter engine is no longer just the base engine—it’s the only engine. Paired with a CVT (a five-speed manual is offered only on the base S trim), the 1.6 moves the flyweight car well enough. According to the stopwatch, anyway. Your ears will report all of the side effects that have made CVTs as (un)popular as they are today. Nissan has some passable CVT implementations that don’t inspire thoughts of rubber bands, slipping clutches, and angry lawn care equipment. This isn’t one of them.

The EPA fuel economy ratings of 30 city, 38 highway, while much better than the 2011 1.8SL’s 24/32, don’t quite match the segment’s best. But you’d never know this from the trip computer, which reports over 40 (even 46 for one light-footed fifteen-mile trip) in typical suburban driving. Trip computers can be optimistic, but the gas gauge (Nissan’s traditional orange LCDs) moved less over the course of a day than some move while idling at a traffic light.

The suspension is tuned much like the seats, so there’s copious body roll in turns, limited grip, and considerable bobbling about over poorly maintained roads. No dynamic surprises, though, aside from the modest amounts of understeer and tire squeal (credit the 185/65HR15 Continental ContiProContacts for the latter). Noise levels (when the CVT isn’t doing its thing) are in line with current competitors, so much lower than the bygone B-segment norm.

Clearly, the new Versa was engineered to hit a low price point, and does start at $11,750, $1,455 lower than the 2012 Accent, the second-cheapest car currently offered in the U.S. And the Versa, unlike the Accent, comes standard with conditioned air. Live large with an SL like the car reviewed and the sticker jumps to $16,320. Not so cheap, but over $1,700 less than a 2011 SL with Convenience Package (for the now standard Bluetooth). The 2011 did include about $700 in additional features according to TrueDelta’s Car Price Comparison Tool—some luxuries like keyless ignition, leather-wrapped steering wheel, center armrests, and a passenger-side vanity mirror are no longer available—but this still leaves the 2012 a grand more affordable.

Unfortunately, the price cut only brings the Versa 1.6 SL in line with superior competitors. A Ford Fiesta SE with SYNC and Sport Appearance Packages lists for nearly $1,000 more, but includes over $1,000 in additional features. The story is much the same with the new Hyundai Accent GLS with Comfort and Premium Packages: $900 higher sticker, but over $700 in additional features.

So the new Versa isn’t a value play. Financially, it only makes sense—in base trim—for those who must pay as little as possible for that new car smell. In as-tested SL trim the Versa leads the competition in hardly anything, trails them in many things, and costs about the same. So who’s going to buy it? As noted in the introduction, not everyone is a fan of the latest automotive trends. Those seeking the character of a post-Reuss, pre-Lutz Buick, in a much smaller, more economy-minded package, will find what they’re looking for here.

Nissan 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.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Versa trunk release Versa trunk Versa rear seat Versa rear quarter 2 Versa rear quarter Versa interior Versa instrument panel Versa front Versa engine Versa and Accent nose to nose Versa and Accent Nissan Versa side Nissan Versa front quarter A big small car, or visa-Versa? ]]> 73
Weekend Weird Crush Update: Kia TAM (EV?) Spotted On The Korean Freeway Sat, 08 Oct 2011 16:31:52 +0000

It’s been… several months since I last indulged my strange obsession with Kia’s forthcoming funky take on first-gen Scion xB values, known as the TAM. And back then, all I had to share were a few crummy photos. Now, thanks to Youtube user daniel78park, we can see the Tam flying down the Korean freeway in glorious cell-phone-o-vision. And though I’ve always assumed the TAM was just a boxy, city-delivery variant of the Picanto/i10 platform, it seems my weird crush is more than that. Automotive News [sub] reports

Kia has dubbed its EV effort the TAM project. Kia’s first EV will be a small vehicle based on the platform underpinning the Hyundai i10 minicar. The company plans to produce 2,000 units in 2012.

Hold up… is my weird crush electric?

If so, this would explain why so little is known about it. And all the more reason to bring it to the US, as an escalation of the “reverse halo” strategy that Hyundai is leveraging with its Veloster. In fact, with an unconventional door configuration of its own (three standard doors, one slider), Kia just has to call this thing the “Soulster” and watch Scion squirm. Of course, with only 2k units planned for next year, this car isn’t leaving Korea anytime soon. Unless, of course, there will be a gas version too… say, the direct-injected, turbocharged 1.2 liter four-banger that Karesh mentions in his Hyundai i10 review. Or, maybe, just maybe, I’m getting a little carried away with this weird crush of mine…

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Review: 2012 Hyundai Accent SE Wed, 05 Oct 2011 18:45:15 +0000

So, what’s your checklist? If you read this site regularly, you have one: the characteristics of your ideal next car. Perhaps more than one, if you have the need or desire for more than one type of car. One of my checklists concerns my ideal compact hatch. The latest contestant: the 2012 Hyundai Accent SE.

  1. Tasteful, subtly sporty exterior, with tight proportions and no extraneous details

The Mazda Protege5 that’s occupied my garage for the past eight years nailed this one. The Mazda3 that replaced it on dealer lots, not even close. The Accent SE doesn’t hook me like the P5 did, but it’s more attractive than the related sedan and, among the current small hatches, edges out the similarly-styled Ford Fiesta for the top spot thanks to crisper lines and a less swoopy, windowlette-free A-pillar. (The car does look better in person than in these photos.) Additional points to Hyundai for not overdoing the front end and designing the car to look its best without monster rims (the SE wears 16s). The exterior styling is far from stodgy, but it also works for those of us well out of our teens.

  1. The same inside the car, with solid construction and good ergonomics

I don’t want to drive an appliance, but I don’t want to inhabit a video game or science fiction fantasy, either. Looking at some key design element, I don’t want to constantly wonder, “What were they thinking?” This rules out the Civic, Mazda3, and MINI, among others. The Accent isn’t far off my ideal, but falls short thanks to the lingering econo-car mindset evident in the silver-painted trim on the doors and the thin, light gray (why?) fabric on the seats. Ford does much better with these bits, while also offering more solidly bolstered buckets. On the other hand, the Accent’s instrument panel is a keeper. The plastic is all the hard stuff, but it feels solid and doesn’t appear cheap. Unlike in a Fiesta or Focus, the center stack controls are easy to reach, understand, and operate.

  1. A driving position that encourages an intimate connection with the car

It’s easier to describe what my ideal driving position does not include: a distant windshield, thick pillars, or small, high-mounted windows. The Accent much better than the current norm on the first and okay on the other two (though the rear window is very small). You’ll find an airier cabin in a Mazda2, but other competitors tend to rank below the Hyundai. One minor negative: unlike in the Fiesta and new Chevrolet Sonic the steering wheel does not telescope.

  1. Adequate space for three pre-teen kids and a run to CostCo

The Accent’s rear seat and cargo area are no match for those of the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa, or any C-segment hatch, but are roomier than in the Fiesta. Good enough, The rear seat cushion is mounted a little too low for adult comfort, but I’d rarely have adults back there.

  1. A refined, willing, sweet-sounding engine

Hyundai’s new, direct-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine twists out a segment-leading 138 horsepower at 6,300 rpm. There’s noticeably more oomph than with the 120-horsepower mill in the Fiesta, much less the asthmatic 100-horsepower lump in the Mazda2. But even when saddled with a reasonably light 2,400-pound curb weight we’re still talking about the difference between very slow, sorta slow, and a touch more than adequate. With a torque peak of 123 pound-feet at 4,850 rpm, you’ll have to rev the 1.6 in all but the most casual driving. Which is okay, as Hyundai’s latest four revs smoothly and quietly. If anything, I’d like to hear more of the right sort of noise over 4,000 rpm.

  1. A tight, slick, solid shifter

Unfortunately, exercising the four requires contact with the manual shifter, which avoids a failing grade thanks only to moderate throws and the ease of grabbing the desired gear. The shifter feels clunky and crunchy. It even sounds clunky and crunchy. Logitech makes better-feeling shifters—for your computer. Every car company has been engineering manual shifters since the day it was born. Tech doesn’t get any older. So why does getting the shifter right remain so hard for so many of them? Hyundai has employed a pretty good B&M unit in the Elantra Touring and the previous-generation Accent. Do the same with the new one.

On top of this, no points are awarded for fitting a six-speed transmission, even though most competitors make do with five-speeds. Here’s why:

1st 4.40 3.77
2nd 2.73 2.05
3rd 1.83 1.29
4th 1.39 1.04
5th 1.00 0.89
6th 0.77 0.77


See the nicely-spaced ratios in column A? You get them with the Accent’s six-speed slushbox. Column B is the manual. The top three gear ratios are so close together that fifth is pointless. Meanwhile, the first three gears are too far apart. Rev to the 6,300 rpm power peak in first, shift to second, and revs fall all the way to 3,400 rpm, well short of the torque peak. If this weren’t bad enough, the engine bogs momentarily following such aggressive shifts, especially if the finesse-free traction control detects a whiff of wheel slip. (There’s a solution for this last issue: turn the system off.) The power hole isn’t as deep or as broad as in the Mazda2, but only because you’ve got more engine to work with.

  1. Good fuel economy

Working from home, I don’t drive much, so a small car’s fuel economy doesn’t have to clear a high bar. Anything over 29 will do, though bigger numbers earn bonus points. Hyundai worked much harder to earn these bonus points than on shift feel, with EPA ratings of 30 city and 40 highway. In suburban driving the Accent’s trip computer reported numbers as high as 48, but more typically about 37, and as low as 30 with a heavier foot and more frequent stops.

One oddity not limited to Hyundai: all of the latest B-segment cars earn similar EPA numbers to their C-segment sibs despite lower curb weights and smaller engines. What’s the deal with this? If the Hyundai Elantra can manage 29/40, then why can’t the Accent achieve 32/44? Just curious personally, though other buyers less interested in handling will find the Bs pointless.

  1. Communicative steering and agile handling

For me, the primary strength of a B-segment car should be agile handling. If I wanted to feel like I was driving a big car, I’d buy a big car. (Okay, I did buy a big car, but not because I liked how it handled.)

The new Accent lacks the frisky chassis and quick, sharp, communicative steering of the Mazda2, but handles and steers better than other direct competitors with the partial exception of the Ford Fiesta. The Ford has a more solid, German-as-opposed-to-Asian feel, but softer suspension tuning. Both chassis are well-behaved, especially when hurried. Either car steers and handles better, and is much more fun to drive, than the soggy, bland appliances from Nissan and Toyota (2011 anyway; I haven’t yet driven the 2012 Yaris). The Honda Fit? While others sing its praises, I can’t get past the microvan driving position (see #3).

  1. A livable ride

I used to think I wanted a bare bones car. Then I drove a Lotus Elise. Immediately afterwards the Protege5 seemed as quiet and cushy as a Lincoln Navigator. But compared to just about anything else the Mazda is rough and noisy. Though I’m not seeking a cocoon, I’d prefer a car that didn’t beat me up or assault my eardrums. The Accent does well here, bettering the larger but bouncier Elantra and nearly matching the segment-best Fiesta.

  1. Good value

My wife thinks I’m cheap. But value is really my thing. I’m looking for the sweet spot in the amount of car delivered for the dollar. In contrast, B-segment buyers have traditionally been downright cheap. Seeking their nickles, the Hyundai Accent vied with the Nissan Versa for the title of America’s cheapest car.

The $9,990 special is gone, and then some, with the Accent’s redesign. The base sedan lists for $13,205, the base hatchback (now with four doors rather than two) for $13,455. And an SE like you see here? $16,555. Even with this, its most affordable model, Hyundai is now about value, not the lowest possible price.

Does the Accent deliver this value? The closest non-Korean competitor, the Ford Fiesta SE with SYNC and Sound and Sport Appearance Packages, lists for $16,990. Running both through TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool finds that the two are very closely matched in features, with a mere $15 adjustment in the Ford’s favor. So this decision is going to come down to something other than price. In the Ford’s favor we have a sportier, better-trimmed interior, a decent shifter, and a generally more upscale feel. But the Hyundai counters with a stronger engine, larger wheels (16s vs. 15s), tighter suspension tuning, and a more viable back seat. It’s a tough call that’ll come down to priorities until Hyundai fixes the shifter and interior trim (or the aftermarket does what it does best).

A Mazda2 Touring is also very close in price, listing for $125 less but ending up about $500 more after the feature-based adjustment. The Mazda is easily the best handler of the three, but is saddled with gearing that makes a weak engine feel even weaker and a more econo-car look and feel.

The problem with any of these small hatches: C-segment cars offer more power and nicer, roomier interiors with similar handling and fuel economy. A Ford Focus SE with Convenience and Sport Packages lists for $20,930. About $900 of the difference pays for additional features. The rest simply pays for more car. If you have the extra scratch, spend it. Don’t have it? See the previous paragraph.

Maybe in 2014? 

The new Hyundai Accent SE is a good car that’s painfully close to being a great one. The stuff that can’t be changed easily or cheaply is all here: tastefully attractive styling, good driving position, refined, relatively powerful engine, competent chassis. The interior trim and shifter need work, and the steering and transmission would also benefit from additional development. As-is, it seems that a light gray interior aficionado was working off a spec sheet without really understanding or caring about the goal of a driver-oriented car. The days when “GT” meant standard leather inside your Elantra aren’t quite past us. Someone who truly loves driving small hatches needs to tweak this one to look and feel more overtly sporty, communicative, and engaging (without going over the top). In Hyundai parlance, the Accent hatch needs and deserves the R-Spec treatment. Hyundai has proven itself willing and able to make improvements as quickly as the second model year. They can start here.

Hyundai 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.

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Generation Why: Veloster vs. Sonic: A Millennial Perspective Fri, 30 Sep 2011 18:29:55 +0000

I like to tout myself as the youngest full-time auto writer in the industry, but sometimes it backfires – like when an Acura exec came up to me on my first press trip (at 19 years old) and warmly told a few assembled journalists and PR types that he hadn’t seen me since I was this big.

On the other hand, my youth gave me particular insight into two products that launched within the last month, and are aimed squarely at my demographic – the Hyundai Veloster and the Chevrolet Sonic. Both cars launched at the 2011 North American International Auto Show, though their reception couldn’t have been more different.

The Veloster was absolutely mobbed on the Hyundai stand, with the assembled press crawling all over the swoopy hatchback, while the Sonic was tucked away in the back of Chevrolet’s display, prematurely written off as “the replacement Aveo”. I admit complicity in both of these prejudicial acts. At the time, GM had the underwhelming Cruze, while Hyundai had not only kicked it to the curb with the 2011 Elantra, but also launched the Sonata Turbo, Sonata Hybrid and the Equus, as well as riding the success of the Genesis lineup.

I went on a couple Hyundai events in the run-up to the Veloster’s launch and talking with the engineers and PR people, I got the sense that they were on to something. A number of them have some kind of “enthusiast” background, and not in the sort of forum-posting perpetually single know-it-all sense. They ride sport bikes, take part in NASA HPDEs or race in Grand-Am (in the case of one engineer), and have had experience working on high profile sports cars (one chassis engineer is a veteran of Ford’s SVT group).

Hyundai put together a launch that insufferable marketing types would describe as “experiential” to give an insight into what the supposed Veloster customer would do with their time – events included a music festival, eating at food carts and tailgating at a college football game. Doing bong rips and playing Call of Duty was noticeably absent, likely for legal reasons.

I was able to see some good bands, attend my first college football tailgate (us godless, socialist Canadians don’t really have NCAA-style sports) and take trip to Portland’s famous Union Jack’s gentleman’s club, but things started to fall apart before we even got in the car. We were treated to the typical Hyundai presentation, boasting of their booming sales numbers, their competitive advantages over other vehicles and the various advanced technological features that the Veloster had to connect with music players, smart phones and even an XBOX.

The car turned out to be a bit of a dud to drive. My review is essentially a diplomatic explanation of its adequate nature as a road car that really doesn’t like to be driven hard. The biggest problem for the Veloster is that expectations were set too high, and to Hyundai’s credit, they were put in place by the media and auto enthusiasts who expected the next CR-X but got something more like a Scion tC.

The Sonic launch was the quickest I have ever gone from cynic to believer, and GM didn’t even have to ply me with a trip to Dubai or a supercharged Cadillac. Walking into the presentation area of the hotel, I saw the room (well, the parking garage) decked out in Chevrolet Sonic themed graffiti – the automotive equivalent of seeing your Dad trying to “Superman Dat Hoe” at a Bar Mitzvah. Chevrolet went on and on about “millennials”, the 18-29 demographic that the Sonic is aimed at, but somehow forgot the most crucial thing about this generation – we cannot stand any contrived attempts to pander to us via marketing. I wanted to wretch when one marketing flack, talking about the generational anxiety regarding our economic situation said that “They are navigating these tensions [and]…we feel there’s a very big supporting role for a brand to play.”

Even though that remark made me near-homicidal, the next thing that came out of his mouth was the best bit of wisdom I’ve heard in my too-brief career as an auto journalist. The same exec said that while millennials are 40% of the car buying population in America, that does not mean they will buy new cars. On the contrary, he said that most new cars do nothing for this demographic and a lot of them tend to buy used. The team responsible for this car did what no one else did, and saw the world for how things really are rather than trying to have it conform to whatever vision they dreamt up in a board room according to sales targets and management directives. Hyundai pegged the Veloster’s competition as the Honda CR-Z and Mini Clubman, two cars that the 18-29 demographic wouldn’t be caught dead in. Chevrolet knew that for the same $14,500-$18,000 that a Sonic costs, one can buy a used 330ci, G35, S2000 or something else with a lot more panache, performance and prestige than a Chevrolet econobox hatchback. The Sonic has to be really damn good to force people to shy away from something that will impress their friends.

And it is. I’ll say right off the bat that the interior isn’t great. I made some rude comments to a GM Design employee about how the hard plastic would be great for rolling blunts, and her retort was that Chevrolet decided to go right for hard plastic rather than try and make it look like faux leather or carbon fiber. I get that the car is built to a price. Fortunately the rest of it is on point. It looks pretty decent, the 1.4L Turbo and 6-speed gearbox do the job well – it’s about half a second quicker to 60 mph than the Veloster – the steering is excellent and the car’s handling limits are far beyond what’s reasonable to expect for a subcompact. Ford can hype up their Ken Block Rallycross nonsense as much as they want, but the Sonic is the real deal for the real world, a sort of poor man’s Mini Cooper S without the awful reliability.

I’ll save any meta-judgments about whether this is Hyundai’s first mis-step or whether Chevrolet is really back. Parking the Sonic outside a trendy lounge won’t get you past the velvet rope, but it’s a well-made, unpretentious product that is genuinely good and doesn’t cost too much money. Car companies spend exorbitant sums trying to promote their crappy wares via concert promotions, X-Games athlete endorsements or even launching entirely new brands. Meanwhile these contrived efforts are totally transparent to those they’re hoping to sell their cars to. Take those funds and just make a decent car that doesn’t suck and you’ll get the best kind of marketing in the world; one young person telling another “I just bought (insert vehicle here) and you know what? It’s a fucking great car.” Hopefully Chevrolet proves my theory right, or we’ll be seeing another Gymkhana video in a few months time.

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Americans Love Tiny Cars, They’re Just Not Aware Of Them Mon, 26 Sep 2011 15:56:23 +0000

Under Penske management, the Smart minicar brand sold fewer than 6,000 vehicles last year, capping a sales decline that led Mercedes to take back management duties for the brand. And, according to the new folks in charge of Smart, there’s only one real problem with the brand: awareness. Or, more precisely, lack thereof. We’ve heard this song before from Smart’s new GM, but now Ernst Lieb, boss of Mercedes U.S.A., is picking up the tune, telling Automotive News [sub] that

With the marketing activities that we’re going to have, we’ll see some positive momentum. The biggest problem the car has right now: Nobody knows it.

Which, of course, is nonsense. Nonsense that allows you to appear aware of the sales problem without acknowledging a single problem with the product itself, but nonsense none the less. And Smart’s not the only micro-car brand that’s reaching for it either, as Fiat-Chrysler marketing boss Olivier Francois has the exact same excuse for Fiat’s weak start, telling AdAge

I don’t think we have a car problem; people love the car. I think we have an awareness problem.

Are Americans incapable of seeing, recognizing or being aware of anything that weighs less than 3,000 lbs? Or is it possible that there are a few things wrong with the Smart and 500?

Let’s start with Smart. The brand will spend between $25m and $35m on its new campaign, which includes the ad at the top of this post, in hopes of bringing sales up to about 10k units per year. But one has to wonder: what is the difference between the new “unbig. uncar.” ad and the old “Think Small” tagline? Smart swears that its JD Power data shows 50 percent of consumers are “unaware” of its brand, but of the 50% that are aware, how many don’t realize that Smarts are small cars? I’d guess none. Besides, Smart would be incredibly lucky if 50% of Americans lived in circumstances that allowed them to consider owning a non-sporty two-seater that’s not cheap, not especially efficient, takes premium gas and has a notoriously unpleasant transmission. Like electric cars, city cars have a relatively small potential market due to their fundamental attributes; you don’t need an 80%+ awareness rate to find the few people who can use, afford and appreciate such a niche product.

Fiat, meanwhile, is actually benefitting from a lack of awareness… of what a mess its entire marketing campaign is. After starting off with an advertisement that was so horrifically dull Chrysler had to take it off of Youtube, Fiat handed things over to a small firm called Impatto… which apparently melted down into a complete sideshow. How bad are things? Fiat-Chrysler’s global marketing boss, Francois, is taking charge, and when asked what’s happened to Fiat’s US brand manager Laura Soave, Chrysler spokesfolks say

To my knowledge, Laura is still on board.

Yikes! But then, it might not be fair to put all the blame on Soave’s shoulders… after all, Francois is hardly setting the world on fire by plastering the J-Lo ad seen above all over football games. As if to confirm that marketing positions require the ability to uncritically chew your own bullshit, Francois claims

Listen, I’m not a great fan of using celebrities at any cost. I prefer a good idea to a bad celebrity. I used to say endorsements are lazy when you have no idea. But that’s not the point — from time to time you have a magic association. I like to take a celebrity because the celebrity’s story fits with the story.

And yet you have J-Lo selling a 100 HP cutesy-mobile during football games. And the NY Post reports the brand was planning on giving cars to “influencers” (read: celebrities) and then having TMZ photograph them, not to mention

planning celebrity drive events in the Hamptons this month and star-studded parties at Miami’s SoHo Beach House in October where celebs can drive the car. Fiat USA is also a Miami Fashion Week partner.

Sounds a lot like the 500′s marketing plan is “celebrities at all costs,” rather than all the BS about “magic associations”… although Francois denies any involvement in the paparazzi scheme, telling AdAge

I think there is a true part of the story and a totally invented part of the story. The paparazzi part is crazy to me. Maybe there had been internal talks but I was not involved. We were going to give the opportunity to some opinion leaders to drive the car. We have a lot of requests, around L.A. especially, to drive the car. It’s nothing but good to have opinion leaders driving your car. I don’t know what happened, but it spun out of control.

Between Smart and Fiat, we have two brands that face challenges going into the market due to limited product offerings with limited appeal to US consumers. In the case of Smart, the marketing has always been decent… “Think Small” was a great tagline, and the latest ad proves there’s no better way to sell a car like the ForTwo. But because the original marketing was good, the new marketing is nearly identical, and the product hasn’t changed, don’t look for Smart to go anywhere in its battle for awareness.

Fiat, on the other hand, has made such a colossal mess of the 500 marketing campaign ever since it arrived in the US, a complete marketing re-boot could probably yield some kind of benefit. But clearly Soave and Francois are fresh out of ideas… Fiat-Chrysler needs to get some very smart people studying every marketing move MINI has ever made in this country and then rebooting the 500′s marketing from scratch. After all, when you’re selling niche products, awareness isn’t enough… consumers need to want the product so badly, they’re willing to put up with its downsides. Being aware of its cuteness alone isn’t enough. For a brand like Fiat, with a product like the 500, talking about the problem in terms of “awareness” simply proves how badly they’ve bungled the entire effort. And that it’s time to start over from scratch.

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Toyota Smells The Hatchback Comeback, Drops Yaris Sedan Thu, 18 Aug 2011 23:58:31 +0000

When Toyota built the first generation of its Vitz subcompact in 1998, the firm had no plans to sell it in the US under the Yaris nameplate (as it was called in Europe). Instead it sold a four-door and two-door version of the Platz, which was mechanically identical but had unique sheetmetal (except for the front doors), as the Echo. The Echo fell into a pattern that seems to have repeated itself several times in Toyota’s recent subcompact past: a year of growth, and then a drop. Eventually, Toyota brought the Yaris nameplate to the US, with a hatchback option in tow, and found its strongest performer in this class since the Tercel.

Now, with the hatchback bodystyle back in vogue, Toyota’s dropping the Yaris sedan altogether for the new generation, debuting later this year. It’s not the JDM/Euro Yaris/Vitz which Bertel showed us back in December, but it is being built at the revolutionary Sendai plant he visited in Fbruary. And without a sedan counterpoint, it will definitely mark an entirely new approach for Toyota’s US-market subcompact strategy.
Toyota subcompacts lack staying power... are hatchbacks a factor? 2012_Toyota_Yaris_003 2012_Toyota_Yaris_004 2012_Toyota_Yaris_009 2012_Toyota_Yaris_010 2012_Toyota_Yaris_011 2012_Toyota_Yaris_013 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Chart Of The Day: Subcompacts In July And Year To Date Mon, 15 Aug 2011 22:34:12 +0000 In contrast to rapid changes in the compact and midsized segments, the subcompact segment is moving along established trendlines. Kia’s Soul has completely overtaken this segment’s previous champ, but that’s been a long time coming. A new Accent is arriving at dealers, and that model’s starting to take off… in fact, if there’s news here, it’s that the Accent appears to be outselling the segment’s next-freshest offering, the Ford Fiesta. Otherwise, Aveo and Rio are dropping off ahead of their replacement by new models, the 500 is getting closer to MINI’s monthly volume, and Mazda2 can’t quite get past the Cube The YTD chart doesn’t show too many changes either… but watch this space as the A/B segment heats up with new models later this year.

No news is still news... Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail graph (29)


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Are You Ready For: A 1.2 Liter “Sub-Subcompact” Chevy? Fri, 05 Aug 2011 16:37:47 +0000

For most Americans, the term “small car” typically refers to a C-segment sedan like the Honda Civic or Ford Focus, cars that now qualify as midsizers in many key metrics. Subcompact, or B-segment cars are generally considered the smallest of the small, as their name implies… but ask an American to describe a car smaller than a subcompact, and they’ll likely look at you quizzically before hesitantly suggesting “Smart car?” Yes, the A-Segment, known in Europe as the “City Car” or Microcar” class, is such a rarity in the US that it’s basically synonymous with the one car “competing” in it (Fiat’s 500 hasn’t quite broken into the public consciousness yet).

But, with Chevy execs confirming once and for all that the on-again-off-again (for the US) Chevy Spark (a.k.a. Daewoo Matiz Creative) will in fact be sold in the US (likely as a 2013 model) early next year, the American A-segment is about to get a whole lot of attention. But the question is this: does the fact that America’s first new A-segment car in a decade is a Chevy help or hurt the segment’s chances (consider that previous US A-segment cars like the 500 and Smart are positioned as premium offerings)? Is this car, with its 80 HP/82 lb-ft, 1.2 liter engine a pioneering game-changer that will introduce America to a whole new world of tiny cars, or is it just CAFE compliance fodder? One thing is for certain: everyone from Hyundai to Ford (which have the i10 and Ka waiting in the wings) is going to be watching the Spark with great interest.

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Watch Buick’s “Baby Enclave” Get Slideways Fri, 01 Jul 2011 14:57:41 +0000

For a while now we’ve figured that the long-rumored Buick “Baby Enclave” would be a rebadged version of Opel’s Meriva MPV, as the suicide-doored Euro-confection is currently GM’s newest Gamma-platform people-carrier. But according to GMInsideNews’s 2013 lineup forecast, the Buick “Encore” will actually be a

Gamma based crossover will be a five-seater, about the size of the Nissan Rogue.

Because the Meriva is considerably smaller than the Rogue, and because it is rumored to have distinctly Enclave-like styling, we’re starting to rule out the Meriva as the next Buick CUV. Instead, we now think that this forthcoming Opel Corsa-based (Gamma II platform) “SUV” will be the basis for the Encore, as it’s larger than the Meriva and offers the higher seating that American drivers crave. But, based on this video of the new CUV testing in Germany, the new Buick should still be fairly playful for a front-drive crossover. These are not perfect drifts by any stretch, but I challenge any of you to do better in a front-drive Buick…

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Piston Slap: Mazda2 Shopping with an XD …not an :-( Wed, 29 Jun 2011 18:52:42 +0000

Ben writes:

I’m planning a purchase this summer. The two cars I’m looking at most closely are the Mazda2 and the Scion xD. I noticed that the 2011 Mazda2s are spending an average of 109 days on the lot, and the 2010 xD is even worse at 239 days. Your February sales charts and March charts paint a similar picture. They’re both selling terribly, but I’m so far unable to find good deals on either, for different reasons.

The Mazda2 is a new model and one local dealer actually had them marked up by $1,700! The xD on the other hand suffers from Scion’s no-haggle pricing — but, the 2010 models at my local dealer are all marked down, but only by about $400 below MSRP. The huge inventories mean that neither are really affected by the parts shortage — there are dozens of each in stock at dealers in my area. I’ve even read that Mazda2s have up to $2,000 advertised discounts in other parts of the country.

I’m not totally set on either of these vehicles, but I do really like the Mazda. I just don’t think I’d feel OK with paying MSRP for either of these cars. If you wanted to end up in one of these cars before the summer was out, how much do you think I would have to spend, and how would you go about it? The only new vehicle I’ve ever purchased was a Scion at MSRP, so I have no experience manipulating a dealer.

Sajeev answers:

Thanks to my personal writing constraints, my advice is far from timely. But one thing is still true; it’s pretty foolish to buy a new Japanese car until the fall or (maybe) winter. That said, there’s still a chance you won’t need to pay MSRP, especially for a Mazda. I wouldn’t go out on this particular limb if you said Honda, Toyota or Lexus. One other thing to consider, the difference between MSRP and Dealer Invoice is less than $500 on the Mazda 2, and that’s less of the exception and more the rule these days.

Since you like the Mazda2, let’s stick with that. Considering your reference links and the assumptions that go with, finding one for less than MSRP should be simple, if time consuming. Basic research on pricing/options on is mandatory: with the invoice price in mind, its time to find a way to get one for that price, or very close to it. You can decide what that price might be. Invoice plus $200? Invoice plus $50? Whatever.

Generally speaking, there are three ways to save money in this business: dealer discounts/perks, factory-to-customer discounts and factory-to-dealer discounts. The first is straightforward, is usually offset with re-loading of profits from your trade, the value of a financing rate, cost of warranty plans, add-ons like pinstriping, free oil changes, etc. The second is well publicized, and usually to your advantage, but certain times leasing is better than buying with incentives, especially if the vehicle is for a business. The last one is often hard to know, and I usually prefer to maximize a buyer’s return on the first two, and let the dealer give this back to you via competitive bidding amongst themselves.

Here’s the point: shop around. Don’t be afraid to hop on a plane, drive a car back if you find a dealership nearby willing to sell one at invoice, or less. Dealers can and will sell below invoice if a unit (especially if its in a funny color) sits around longer than 60 or 90 days. Work that system and play them against each other. You will come up with a clear winner rather soon, and they might earn your trust for future purchases. Good luck.

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

Always shop by the “drive out” price, and only for the car itself. We’re talking the bottom dollar, bullshit free selling price. Don’t mention a trade in, accessories, financing and never, ever shop by monthly payment. It’s way too easy for a dealer to re-load their losses when you mask the truth with extra variables. Always focus on the price of the vehicle first, worry about the rest later. That will make shopping far easier and less stressful.

Do that and not only will you do better, you will earn the respect (and guarantee their future income) of the dealership. Once you find that special place, of course!


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Wild-Ass Rumor Of The Day: Opel City Car Coming To The US Thu, 16 Jun 2011 15:12:40 +0000

According to Auto Motor und Sport, this Opel “Junior” city car (A-Segment) could be sold in the US if Opel isn’t sold first and if union boss Klaus Franz gets his way. Though GM has ruled out selling the Opel brand in the US, Franz tells AM und S that

I can see strong demand for this car in the cities of the East and West coasts.

But if the Opel brand is off the table, what will this car be sold as? There’s been no rumor yet of a Buick-branded microcar, but Cadillac did recently show an A-Segment concept, called the ULC, that could tip the strategy for this car’s US-market design and branding. It’s just too bad TTAC’s Best and Brightest answered the question “Does Cadillac Need A MINI-Fighter?” with a resounding “NO”. But would a ULC-style micro-Caddy be any less appealing than a baby Buick? This car will be a tough sell coming from any of GM’s remaining brands, but with CAFE increases in the cards (and as prices rising anyway) this may an unavoidable conundrum.

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Review: 2012 Hyundai Accent GLS Sedan Wed, 08 Jun 2011 20:23:16 +0000

The Hyundai Accent has never been a “gotta have it” sort of car. Instead, it’s been a “what’s the cheapest thing you got?” sort of car. The 2011 started at just $9,985 (plus shipping and handling). That’s “started,” as in past tense, because the 2011 is history. The 2012, now arriving at dealers, starts at $12,445 plus $760 for destination. Add an automatic transmission, A/C, the $1,300 Premium Package (fog lights, cruise, remote keyless, Bluetooth, upgraded interior trim, 16” alloy wheels in place of 14” steelies), and floor mats, and you’re looking at a $17,350 sticker. Clearly Hyundai thinks they’ve developed a much more desirable car. Have they?

Hyundai couldn’t get a new Accent to me before an upcoming vacation, and reviews based on press cars are embargoed until June 22nd regardless, so in the interest of reporting on the car early I dropped by the dealer. At first they didn’t appear to have a 2012 Accent. Then I noticed that the fog lights on one of the Elantras wasn’t quite like the others—because it wasn’t an Elantra. From the front the cars aren’t easy to tell apart. From the side, the Accent sedan has the same highly styled shape as the Elantra, with swept back headlights, a strong character line rising through the door handles, and an arching roofline that terminates over yet another, even larger black plastic triangle. But this shape is compressed into a 172-inch length, a half-foot less than the Elantra. So, like the previous-generation Elantra, the new Accent sedan appears thick through the midsection. As with the Ford Fiesta, the new hatchback (which isn’t yet at dealers) is considerably more attractive.

Inside the new Accent, Hyundai’s designers weren’t permitted to indulge themselves as much as they were with the Elantra. So there are no wavy curves, just a clean, straightforward design with easy-to-use controls—including three separate knobs for the HVAC. The surfaces are primarily hard plastic, but they are attractively textured and feel solid. The Premium Package’s piano black trim adds an upscale touch; the silver trim that remains on the doors, not so much. Some piano black would be welcome there as well. This being a GLS sedan with the Premium Package, the tan cloth aspires to look and feel luxurious. I’d personally prefer a heftier, sportier fabric, but perhaps such is fitted to the SE hatchback. In terms of materials, you might be able to do a little better in this segment; you can certainly do much worse.

There are benefits to the Accent’s stubbier length: the windshield couldn’t be laid back so far, so the instrument panel isn’t as deep and the driving position is much better than that in the Elantra. The forward view is very open, inspiring confidence. Unfortunately, the manual tilt front seat adjustment standard in past Accents is gone, as it is from most cars these days. The steering wheel tilts, but does not telescope.

The Accent’s front seats are comfortably shaped, moderately firm, and provide a decent amount of lateral support. Those of you who always ask if a tall person can fit (you know who you are) might actually be able to fit—the driver’s seat has quite a bit of travel. When the front seat is positioned for the average adult male, there’s easily enough room in the back seat for another such male—and so far more than in the Mazda2 or the Fiesta. The Elantra offers a couple inches more legroom than the new Accent, but its rear seat is positioned lower (and even then doesn’t have allow quite as much headroom), so I actually find the Accent’s rear seat more comfortable. Trunk volume of 13.7 cubic feet is just a single cube shy of the Elantra, and quite good for such a small car.

The Accent GLS automatic weighs in at 2,463 pounds, so about 100 pounds heavier than a Mazda2 or Toyota Yaris but nearly 200 lighter than a Chevrolet Sonic or Ford Fiesta and nearly 300 lighter than the larger Elantra. Despite this relatively low weight, the car feels more solid than most in the class and even the Elantra. Factor in a direct-injected 1.6-liter engine that, with 138 peak horsepower, checks in only ten short of the conventionally injected 1.8 in the Elantra (and well above any others in the segment—the Fiesta’s 120 is next best), and even with the six-speed automatic the Accent never feels slow. With the manual transmission it might even feel quick. Even a strong 1.6 in a relatively light car must work fairly hard, so it’s a good thing that this engine likes to rev and sounds good (if not quiet) while doing so. The transmission can be manually shifted, but generally selects the appropriate gear when left to itself and lets the engine do what it needs to do, with shifts in the low 3000s in casual driving. In normal mode (there’s also an “Eco” mode) the transmission doesn’t lug the engine the ways it sometimes does in the Elantra, Sonata, and Tuscon.

Perhaps because the transmission isn’t tuned to be a killjoy, the EPA ratings are nearly identical to those of the heavier, port-injected Elantra, 30/40 instead of 29/40. Not quite the cause for celebration such numbers would have been just a year ago, but who’s doing to complain about “just” 30/40? Especially when the car is much roomier than competitors who fare no better (and who often fare worse) on the EPA’s rollers.

So here’s the part where I tell you that the car functions well, but isn’t any fun to drive. Except it actually is. The aforementioned driving position certainly contributes. The electric motor-assisted steering does feel artificial, even a bit gummy on center, but does have a satisfying firmness and loads up progressively when turned. Understeer and body lean are minimal, and the chassis remains composed and thoroughly predictable up to the limits of the front tires. The suspension is tuned much better than that in the Elantra (whose ride continually irritated me). Thanks to firmer damping, body motions are better controlled over uneven road surfaces. Some people might find the ride a little too firm, but for anyone who cares about driving it’s about as good as it gets with a 101-inch wheelbase. A Ford Fiesta does feel cushier, but also feels soggier when exercised. A Mazda2 feels lighter and more agile, and so is more fun to drive on a twisty road, but also looks and feels much cheaper. As in the Ford, wind and road noise are surprisingly low even at highway speeds—unlike the subcompacts of years past, the Accent is a car that could comfortably be driven for long distances.

I haven’t yet input pricing for the 2012 Accent into TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool–but should before the end of the month. For now, a less precise comparison will have to do. You cannot load up an Accent the way you can a Ford Fiesta. Features like leather upholstery, seat heaters, sunroof, and keyless ignition simply aren’t available. A leather-wrapped steering wheel can only be found in the Accent SE hatchback (MSRP with automatic: $17,555). So the midlevel Fiesta SE sedan seems to match up most closely with the $17,350 car I drove. Similarly equipped, one lists for $17,060, so a few hundred dollars less. Similarly outfit a Nissan Versa and a Toyota Yaris, and they list for $18,180 and $18,630, respectively, well above the Ford and Hyundai. So while the Accent certainly isn’t in the bargain basement, it continues to check in at the low end of the segment’s price range. A similarly-equipped Hyundai Elantra: $18,445, just over $1,000 more than the Accent.

The 2012 Hyundai Accent has a surprising number of strengths, including the best combination of power, fuel economy, handling, ride, room, driving position, interior materials, and overall refinement you’ll find in the segment. Some competitors are ahead in one or two of these areas, but not by much, and then lag severely in others. In hatchback form the new Accent is even attractive (and the sedan isn’t bad looking). This combination of attributes is so compelling that it’s not only easy to see why many people will desire the Accent more than other B-segment cars. Many will also find that it’s a better car than the Hyundai Elantra. The only significant advantage of the larger, more expensive car: you can get it with heated leather seats, sunroof, and nav. Don’t want these? Then the better-driving Accent is the way to go—even if you can’t get one for anywhere near ten grand anymore.

Glassman Hyundai in Southfield, MI, generously provided the car. They can be reached at 248-354-3300.

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

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Are You Ready For: A Neo-xB… With A Twist? Thu, 26 May 2011 00:52:22 +0000

See that? Looks a bit like a first-generation Scion xB, doesn’t it? It’s actually a new Kia, codenamed “Tam,” built on its new A-segment Picanto Morning platform, but featuring first-gen xB-style tall-body MPV packaging. The Picanto’s wheelbase is actually slightly smaller than the xB’s, and there’s another key difference here as well: see that rear door? Look where the handle is placed. That’s right, it’s a slider! But that’s not all…

Here’s where things get kooky: on the driver’s side the rear door is a normal front-hinger. At least, that’s what it looks like here. And with Hyundai experimenting with asymmetrical door configurations on its B-segment Veloster, would it be so surprising for Kia to do the same with this wilfully funky little thing? As far as this blogger is concerned, the only thing about this new Kia city-hauler that would be truly surprising would be hearing that it’s coming to the US. A smaller, more-efficient ur-xB with sliding door(s)? Keep dreaming… although a Veloster/Soul/Tam lineup would pretty much show Scion how it’s done.

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