Friday, December 12, 2014

Nostalgic Subcompact: Compact Imports of the 1987 Chicago Auto Show

A friend of mine posted this on my Facebook wall today, and I must say, it's a trip back in time. Specifically, a trip back in time to the 1987 Chicago Auto Show to check out the new compact imports of the day. There's the Yugo, the Subaru Justy, the Mercury Tracer, the Ford Festiva, and more. And yes, you could debate whether a Ford Festiva and Mercury Tracer are "imports," since one was built by Kia, the other by Mazda.

Sometimes it's amazing that any of these cars looked brand new, since they were mostly unloved vehicles. However, every now and then you find one in great shape, which generally astounding. And as a side note, I still want a 4WD Justy or a Mazda BP-swapped Festiva.

Source: Chicago Auto Show

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Review: 2014 Honda Civic Si Coupe

2014 Honda Civic Si coupe Orange Fire Pearl Lead Image

The ninth generation Honda Civic, including the high-performance Si model, has been a constantly evolving affair. There have been numerous interior and exterior updates each year since the car was redesigned in 2012—something fairly unheard of in the auto industry these days. We’ve driven the 2012 Civic Si and 2013 Civic Si, so when the 2014 Si came up for review, I initially wondered if there’d be any difference. Well, sure enough, Honda made yet another round of changes to the Civic Si for ’14, and luckily, they’re all good moves.

2014 Honda Civic Si Orange Fire Pearl front
The ’14 model has a different, more aggressive front and rear fascia. Our tester also included $1,300+ worth of optional front lip, rear valence, and side skirts. Also different: Orange Fire Pearl paint. This orange hue actually makes the car look pretty sporty and I dig it. The combination of body kit bits, revised front end, and orange finish help the car look less long and awkward, too. I’ve previously said the Civic coupe almost has a fish-like look to it. These body add-ons help reduce that, and I think the car looks best in brighter shades. I still, however, am not a fan of the 18" wheels, which look like they were pulled directly off a Hot Wheels car. However, the overall look is more aggressive, more sporty, and better looking than any other ninth-gen Civic Si to date. Still not lusty, but at least it’s making an effort.

Friday, December 5, 2014

November 2014 Subcompact Sales

Subcompact SalesGas prices are going down, with reports of $1.99/gallon in parts of Oklahoma. However, some subcompacts sold quite well in spite of the falling gas prices.

The big winner was Buick's hot-selling Encore, up nearly 72% for the month, as well as a healthy 56.8% for the year. The redesigned MINI Cooper Hardtop also had a good month, as did the continually strong-selling Chevrolet Spark. The new Honda Fit also had a good month. Of note, the Kia Soul and Nissan Versa, which have both sold more than 130,000 units as of this month! And yes, the Mirage was up over 900%, but that's because of the slow roll out last year. Expect this number to come back to earth soon.

The big loser this month was the MINI Cooper Clubman, which sold only five units, down 98.5%. This is because it's being phased out in favor of a four-door MINI Cooper, and there simply aren't many left. Scion's slow-selling iQ continued to sell slowly, down 65% for the month and 49.2% for the year. In fact, the trend last month was subcompacts were either up a lot or down a lot—not much middle ground.

Make/Model% Nov. '14 vs. Nov. '13Units Nov. '14% YTD '14 vs. '13Units YTD
Buick Encore71.9457756.845790
Cooper /S Hardtop66.12868-22.118667
Chevrolet Spark64.3286111.536152
Honda Fit55.164218.652890
Mitsubishi i-MiEV50.018-82.0184
Kia Soul28.9914621.2135410
Mitsubishi Mirage27.01333906.715573
Fiat 500L20.0112783.010931
Nissan Versa11.5928320.4130652
Toyota Prius c3.12975-3.337731
Chevrolet Sonic3.048528.488062
Fiat 500-7.01984-6.031406
Toyota Yaris-11.0634-43.711669
MINI Cooper /S Convertible-14.7215-21.04198
Smart ForTwo-15.081512.79480
Kia Rio-15.62088-11.934009
Hyundai Accent-24.64,6412.654,743
Ford Fiesta-26.03436-10.759468
Mazda MX-5 Miata-33.5224-20.74367
Honda CR-Z-33.7188-19.63338
MINI Roadster-34.971-49.82672
Nissan Cube-41.0183-28.43599
Hyundai Veloster-41.61296-6.325913
Nissan Juke-41.720082.736029
Scion xD-47.2352-15.07089
MINI Paceman-57.1271-25.22616
MINI Coupe-62.634-62.62423
Scion iQ-65.082-49.21953
MINI Cooper /S Clubman-98.55-45.44776
BMW i3-816-5079
Numbers reflect U.S. sales only.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

An Homage to Orange: All of the Subcompact and Compact Cars Available in Orange

Honda Civic Si (Orange Fire Pearl)
Honda Civic Si (Orange Fire Pearl)
Orange is my favorite color. I have a down jacket in orange. My coffee mug is orange. The wheels on my Yaris are orange. It's fitting that this week's test vehicle, the 2014 Honda Civic Si, is screamin' orange. Technically, it's Orange Fire Pearl, but you get the idea.

This made me think about what other vehicles are currently available in this half yellow, half red color. In an homage to orange. I have complied a list of all the subcompact and compact cars for sale (or about to be for sale) on the U.S. Market available in this hue. I'm glad I've done this. "Orange" you?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: 2014 Fiat 500e

2014 Fiat 500e downtown Portland, Oregon
Words by Andy Lilienthal. Photos by Mercedes Lilienthal

The Fiat 500e is one of the latest small cars to jump on the electric car bandwagon. Currently available only in California and Oregon, the 500e features 87 miles of range, Italian good looks, and plenty of character.

Fiat 500e front fascia

On the outside, the 500e looks very similar to any other Fiat 500. However, subtle things, such as the dimpled front and rear fasciae, side skirts, and unique wheels are giveaways that this subcompact is powered by gigawatts not gasoline. There are a few interior cues too, such as the pushbutton gear selector, that set this 500 apart from gas burners. But other than that, the 500e really just looks like, well, a Fiat 500.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mitsubishi Mirage Sedan Headed to North America

Mitsubishi Mirage G4 front

Autoblog is reporting that Motor Trend is reporting that the sedan version of Mitsubishi's pint-sized Mirage will indeed be coming to North America, although the link to the Motor Trend on Autoblog  appears to be borked at the moment.

As you can see by last month's subcompact sales, the Mirage is selling quite well and is allegedly beating the Japanese automaker's projections. So if a Mirage hatch is good, why not add to the lineup?

The car is already sold in other markets as the Mirage G4, as evidenced on the Mitsubishi Motors Philippines site. I assume it'll retain the 74 horsepower 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine and choice of five-speed manual or CVT.

We should hope the version shown here makes it to North America, as it arguably looks better than the hatchback. Hey, those side skirts and front fascia make quite a difference; the alloy wheels don't hurt, either. Overall, the lines aren't as cartoonish and the shape isn't as awkward—unusual for a subcompact sedan. It will also likely be bargain-basement priced.

Our Mitsubishi Mirage review proved this tiny car was Spartan and felt as if it was developed for emerging markets. It's not that it didn't have its plusses, such as a decent ride and good fuel economy, but it felt like a car much older than it was. However, the proof is in the pudding, and when the pudding is auto sales, the Mirage is quite tasty for a Mitsubishi. Tasty Mirage pudding ... soon to be with a trunk.

Source: Autoblog

Mitsubishi Mirage G4 rear

Monday, November 24, 2014

Road Race Motorsports at the USTCC

Road Race Motorsports took its Fiat 500 Abarth Tallini Competizione to Miller Motorsports Park for last month's United States Touring Car Championship (USTCC). They also got some cool in-car footage while doing so.

I love the Fiat 500 Abarth, but RRM's Tallini Competizione is truly badass. Those flares. That sound. That spoiler. Molto bello! Someday I will have an Abarth. And you know RRM has a bunch of parts for them to make them sound better, look cooler, and go faster!

Road Race Motorsports Fiat at USTCC

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How the E-Brake Changed My Life

There are certain defining moments when you are a teenager: getting your driver's license, going to prom, making a varsity sports team. For me it was the first time yanking up on the e-brake in a front-wheel drive car and have the ass-end come around—drift king-style. As a 16 year old in Minnesota, I'll never forget this moment.

It was just after school on a snowy winter afternoon. I had driven my 1992 Mitsubishi Expo LRV down to my friend Paul's house to meet several friends. Paul lived at the base of a sweeping downhill corner on a street in Woodbury, Minnesota; a suburb of St. Paul. There was a good 2–4 inches of unplowed snow on the roads and it was still snowing. I pulled up to the curb to park my tall wagon, when a friend came running over to the car and said, "Don't park on the street. Park in the driveway." I asked why, but he said, "Just do it."

I pulled into the driveway and got out. As I shut the door to the car, I heard the sound of an engine at higher RPM. I look up the hill to my right to witness my friend Jake in his "custom painted" diesel-powered late 1970s Volkswagen Rabbit at full-on boogie sliding sideways down the sweeping corner holding a perfect line. The car, aka the "Phat Rabbit," was belching black soot and making a noise that I remember to be something akin to a diesel-powered food processor. He slid to a stop, pulled a U-turn, and stopped in front of the driveway. We were all wearing shit-eating grins. I'm sure the neighbors were enthralled with our antics. However, what I had witnessed was awesome. I also now knew why they didn't want me parking on the street.

The car that changed it all: The "Phat Rabbit" circa spring 1996 in Minnesota.
But how'd he slide that sucker like that? Knowing the Rabbit was front-wheel drive, I had no idea how he got the ass-end to kick out so far, so easily, and with such control. I had to know how to do this. I ran over to the car and said, "Holy shit, Jake. How the hell do you do that?" He simply replied, "You pull up the e-brake."

That's it? That's all? Simply grab the e-brake? So simple, yet with such awesome results.

Much to the neighbors' dismay, Jake took the Rabbit back to the top of the hill for another slide. I watched with pure joy.

After a couple more times down the hill, Jake pulled up to the curb, got out, and said, "I'm done; the e-brake cable broke." It wasn't too surprising. After spending decades in road-salt-strewn Minnesota, it's incredible the brake cable lasted this long (let alone other parts of the car).

Needless to say, seeing that Rabbit sliding sideways that day changed my life forever. Hooning a front-drive car was now orders of magnitude more fun. I had the benefit of front-wheel drive for snowy traction when I needed it, and now, the ability to be a rally car driver when I wanted to.

Suffice to say, the Expo LRV, with its short wheelbase, was great for sliding around. I managed to never hit anything (or anyone, thank God), and empty unplowed parking lots became an endless source of vehicular entertainment. No longer was my winter hooning limited to doing donuts in reverse. The all-mighty e-brake slide was here and I've never been the same since.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

October 2014 Subcompact Sales

Subcompact SalesDespite gas prices being down in the U.S., small cars sales in October 2014 subcompact sales were actually not too bad. The big winner (although, artificially, since the car was release in small number at this time last year) is the Mitsubishi Mirage. In reality, the biggest winner was the Honda Fit, which was up 83.4% vs. October, 2013. (Then again, the Mirage outsold the Toyota Yaris by more than 2:1 and has sold more units than the Yaris year-to-date.) The MINI Cooper S Hardtop had a decent month, despite many saying the brand is in a sales slump, which if you look at YTD sales of the MINI models, does look to be accurate.

Speaking of a sales slump, the biggest loser was actually a MINI—The Clubman, to be exact—which was down 98.4% vs. October 2013. Year-to-date sales are down 41%, too. This is likely due to a lack of availability, since only 15  (yes, 15) were sold. The MINI Coupe and Roaster were also at the bottom, although they are very niche vehicles.

Of note, Chevy Spark sales are over 33,000 now, which still proves people will buy a practical A-segment vehicle. Also of note, the colossal sales figures by the Nissan Versa and Kia Soul, both of which are over 121,000 with two months of sales to go. And while these are two of the larger cars on the board, their sales is impressive nonetheless. By the way, I love the word "nonetheless." It's like three words in one. Anyway, here's the chart.

PS: Sorry for posting this rather late and also sorry for not posting September's results. I actually got an e-mail from a reader asking if I was going to post them. I guess you do like the sales reports!

Make/Model% Oct. '14 vs. Oct. '13Units Oct. '14% YTD '14 vs. '13Units YTD
Mitsubishi Mirage189.213742777.014240
Honda Fit83.468513.846469
MINI Cooper /S Hardtop63.62747-28.915799
Nissan Juke46.917687.534021
Hyundai Accent34.248395.251244
Buick Encore32.74780-0.750648
Kia Soul29.71068527.7126264
Nissan Versa28.61109721.2121369
Fiat 50018.02806-6.029422
Smart ForTwo14.058516.38665
Toyota Prius c5.23192-3.934756
Chevrolet Spark0.023548.533291
Toyota Yaris-10.2696-44.911035
Kia Rio-11.82534-11.631912
Ford Fiesta-16.33629-9.656032
MINI Cooper /S Convertible-19.8227-21.43102
Chevrolet Sonic-23.252638.883210
Mazda MX-5 Miata-23.6288-19.84143
Hyundai Veloster-24.01652-3.324617
Nissan Cube-28.3213-27.63416
Fiat 500L-29.091994.09804
Scion xD-34.1472-12.26737
Honda CR-Z-36.9205-18.63150
Mitsubishi i-MiEV-39.317-83.5166
MINI Paceman-42.1183-15.11682
Scion iQ-51.6119-48.21871
MINI Roadster-52.469-50.41271
MINI Coupe-73.624-62.7871
MINI Cooper /S Clubman-98.415-41.12604

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Forgotten Small Cars

Toyota Tercel 4WD in the snow
Today I ran into this high-resolution image of the Toyota Tercel Wagon. These bulletproof 4WD wagons will seemingly run forever, so long as you keep their 1980s-made bodies away from salt. Sometimes I forget these ever looked new. Add some fancy lighting and skis (yes, those are Yamaha skis), and it can really bring you back!

This Tercel picture made me think of a host of other cars that I hadn't seen on the road in years, but contrary to popular belief, were actually in pristine condition rolling off the showroom floor at one point. See if you remember some of these cars. I haven't seen any of them in person in quite some time. Are there some you remember but haven't seen an a while? Post them up in the comments.

Pontiac Le Mans
Green Pontiac Le Mans hatchback
When was the last time you saw one of these in the flesh? I remember a guy in my dorm was borrowing one of these Pontiac Le Mans for a while in the mid 1990s. Poor guy.

Mitsubishi Cordia
Mitsubishi Cordia
Before the Mitsubishi Starion there was the Cordia. For some reason, I always look for these on craigslist, not that I'd do anything other than say, "Wow, I can't believe there's one for sale" if I found one.

Mazda GLC
Two Mazda GLC hatchbacks
Truthfully, I know where I can find one of these here in Portland, but its not in great shape. Other than that, it must've been 25+ years since I saw one in person.

Dodge Colt
Dodge COlt
It's been nearly forever since I saw an old Colt like this. My parents had a 1979 or 1980 version. It was red, and I remember how the front passenger seat folded forward.

Dodge Omni
Dodge Omnis
Here's another one that seems to have left the earth. We had a dark blue one in the early 1980s; it was a four-speed. My friend Dan had one as a winter beater back in Minnesota. You could still buy one into the early 1990s, too. Bonus points for the shelf-paper woodgrain.

Nissan Pulsar NX
Nissan Pulsar NX Sportbak
Remember the Nissan Pulsar NX? You could remove the trunk and slap on this "sportbak" canopy turning the coupe into a wagony shooting brakeish thing.

Hyundai Scoupe
Hyundai Scoupe
Before Hyundai became a world-class automaker, the Scoupe was the company's sporting option, which I believe combined the "S" from sport and the word coupe. Genius! It was one of the last cars on the U.S. market to not offer dual airbags. You could, however, get a turbo model.

Ford Aspire
Ford Aspire
Before Ford had great hatchbacks, such as the Focus and Fiesta, they had the Aspire, which was made by Kia. When was the last time you saw one of these cruising the boulevard?

Chevrolet Spectrum
You may remember the Suzuki-built Chevy Sprint (and Sprint Turbo), but they also offered the Isuzu-built Spectrum (and Spectrum Turbo). You can still find Sprints every now and then, but the Spectrums are quite rare—especially the turbo models.