Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review: 2015 Chevrolet Trax LTZ FWD

2015 Chevrolet Trax LTZ Front 3/4

The subcompact crossover segment is simply exploding with new entries, and one of the latest is Chevrolet’s new Trax. Based on the Chevrolet Sonic chassis, the Trax is a mechanical twin to the more upscale Buick Encore which has been selling like super-practical little hotcakes. The Trax isn’t quite as lux-oriented as its Buick cousin (it’s also not available in beige with faux hood vents), but is actually a remarkably neat little vehicle. Admittedly, after speaking to some of my fellow automotive writing cohorts, I thought the vehicle was going to be a disappointment. But it was pretty much the exact opposite.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Buying Used Cars, Part 3: Negotiations

Fiat 500c
By Michael Rentfro

So we’ve had a rather lengthy discussion about buying used cars. We’ve talked about how to preplan so you have an idea of what you can get for your hard-earned money. We’ve talked about maintaining and populating a list of the vehicles in your price range. We’ve talked a little about how dealerships make their money (although we’ll be getting even more in depth in this installment), and we’ve talked extensively about test driving the vehicle before you purchase to insure you aren’t buying a lemon. Now that the fun of shopping is finished, here comes the hard part. The Negotiation process is the part most people hate. There will be tears. There will be pain. There will be a deep and sorrowful feeling of utter hopelessness. With the right preplanning and some guidance, you can limit the amount of blood loss to manageable levels and therapy that should be covered by most insurance plans.

In this installment, you should already have secured financing and narrowed down the prospective four wheeled mechanical investments to single digits at least. With this out of the way, negotiation and purchase SHOULD be a piece of cake. I have successfully purchased a car out of state with only two 15 minute phone calls, a five hour drive, and 30 minutes of signing papers. Proper preplanning and research really pays off in the end, and I didn’t cry a single tear and there were no thoughts of suicide at all. So now that you’ve found your next potential four wheels of fury, let’s move on to the dreaded purchase phase. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, brush up on you verbal judo skills the night before, and brace yourself for a potentially bumpy ride.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: 2015 Subaru Impreza Sport Limited

2015 Subaru Impreza Sport Limited Front

The Impreza is a people’s car. There’s a model for nearly everyone, whether it’s a base 2.0i model, which can still be had with hubcaps; an up-level Premium or Limited model; the lifted XV Crosstrek and XV Crosstrek Hybrid; the super-fast WRX sedan (don’t dare call it an Impreza anymore, however); the Sport Premium and this model: The Sport Limited, which is the top-of-the-line model, complete with sporty side skirts, leather, all of Subaru’s latest tech, and more. After three model years, Subaru is adding some new bits to keep its popular AWD wonder wagon fresh.

2014 vs 2015 Subaru Impreza Sport
Note the front fascia on the 2014 Impreza Sport (white) vs. the 2015 Impreza Sport (Dark Gray).
On the outside, the '15 Impreza’s most notable changes come at the front fascia, which has a different bumper, grille, and headlights than '12–'14 versions. Note the comparison above. You'll see the chrome bits on the '15 Impreza. Frankly, I think I prefer the earlier front end, but the revision isn't bad. I, however, am not a big fan of chrome on modern cars. The exterior mirrors also now feature turn signals, by the way. Subaru says the styling changes were done so it more closely resembles the larger Legacy. Other than this, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between a pre-'14 and a '15.

New Subaru 7.0 infotainment system

Inside, however, there are some notable and welcomed changes. Most apparent is the new 7.0 infotainment system which is heaps better than the older version. The large, vibrant touchscreen features all the latest tech and includes an easy-to-use and wonderfully functional navigation system with bright, brilliant maps. Plus, the stereo is now quite good. Previous models didn’t seem to get loud enough; this one is plenty loud. All trims levels now get a rear-view camera, and this Sport Limited trim gets Subaru’s EyeSight tech, which uses cameras mounted in the top-center of the windshield for lane departure, pre-collision, and adaptive cruise control (you can note them in the first photo). There’s also now a color LCD screen in the gauge cluster for various bits of info, such as fuel economy.

2015 Subaru Impreza Interior
The interior remains comfortable, but the heated leather front seats feel flat and have about as much bolstering as a padded lawn chair. Our tester also came with Bluetooth, push-button start, and an optional $2,795 power moon roof.

Another thing that hasn’t changed is the 2.0-liter  boxer four-cylinder engine that churns out 148 hp and 145 ft/lbs of toque. The only available transmission on the Sport Limited is the CVT, which is, of course, mated to Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system. This engine/transmission combo makes the car feel heavy and a bit lumbering upon acceleration. Also, and more concerning, was the fact that when I put the car into drive from reverse, there was a moment of hesitation before it’d begin forward progress. I don’t remember previous CVT-equipped Imprezas doing this, so perhaps it was just our tester. This wasn’t an isolated incident, either; it happened every time. Full-throttle acceleration yields a lot of noise and not too much scoot. This car could benefit from another 20 horsepower. And in fact, the Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid, which we reviewed last year, provided that extra oomph (160 hp vs. 148 hp; 163 ft/lbs vs 145 ft/lbs of torque) this car has. Cornering is full of grip, as expected, thanks to the AWD and 17-inch wheels and tires. I also found the car to have quite a bit of road noise despite added enhancements to quiet the cabin. I blame the 50-series tires.

In terms of fuel economy, the car is still rated at a very respectable 27 city, 36 highway, and 31 combined MPG. Our week with the car returned nearly 29 MPG in mixed use—good for an AWD vehicle.

2015 Subaru Impreza Sport Limited Rear

Whether you’re looking for an AWD vehicle or not, the Impreza is a solid compact car choice no matter which way you look at it. Yes, I’d like more power, more seat bolstering, and a bit quitter cabin, but despite these shortcomings, the Impreza has a lot going for it. Our loaded test model came in at a reasonable $26,885 including destination. While a co-worker pointed out you could get a much faster, sportier WRX for that amount, you don't get leather and some of the other luxury goods you get on the Sport Limited (at least not for that price). You also don't get one other thing: a hatchback.

THE BASICS: 2015 Subaru Impreza Sport Limited
MSRP As Tested: $26,885
Engine: 2.0-liter flat four cylinder
Transmission: CVT
Horsepower: 148
Torque: 145 lbs/ft
Curb Weight: 3,131lbs.
Wheelbase: 104.1"
Overall Length: 174"
Suspension: F: Struts w/lower L-arm; stabilizer bar
R: Double Wishbone
Brakes: F: Disc w/ABS
R: Disc w/ABS
Wheels: 17" alloy
Tires: 205/50R17
Range & MPG: 27 city, 36 highway, 31 combined

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

2016 Chevrolet Spark

2016 Chevrolet Spark

We're big fans of the Chevrolet Spark. The car is proof that if you build a practical (e.g. four-door), well-built, modern A-segment car it will sell in the U.S. In fact, my mother-in-law just bought a 2015 Spark LS. Chevrolet isn't content to rest on its laurels with its A-segment offering; the company just announced a new-for-2016 Spark last week. Here are some details.

Monday, April 6, 2015

March 2015 Subcompact Car Sales

March 2015 Small Car SalesMarch's subcompact sales was mixed, despite many manufacturers having good months. The top spots belonged to the MINI Cooper /S Hardtop two-door (yes, there's now a four-door), which had a huge gain of 209.5% vs. this time last year. Also up was Mitsubishi's surprise hit, the Mirage, and Honda's new-for-2015 Fit. Toyota's Yaris also is notable for its nearly 40% increase in sales.

The biggest loser went to the Scion iQ. I thought that the iQ didn't have a 2015 model, but does list a '15. Nissan's funky Juke is also down big time as is the Chevrolet Sonic. Not sure what's going on with Juke and Sonic sales, but neither are doing so hot.

Unsurprisingly, Nissan's Versa sold the most units this month and also leads the year-to-date sales. For what it's worth, I don't know where they're selling—I rarely see them in the Pacific Northwest. Fleet sales? Also, I've now added Jeep's highly anticipated Renegade to the sales list. Here are the rest of March's numbers.

Make/Model % Mar. '15 vs Mar. '14Units Mar. '15% YTD Mar. '15 vs Mar. '14Units YTD
MINI Cooper /S Hardtop 2 Dr209.52126215.04930
Mitsubishi Mirage66.0248860.06056
Honda Fit64.4664073.218094
Toyota Yaris39.5251828.55324
Hyundai Accent28.374944.916799
Buick Encore7.0565030.914036
MINI Cooper /S Convertible3.43647.9695
Toyota Prius c0.635640.58879
Fiat 500-1.03276-6.07995
Nissan Versa-7.9145436.936998
Kia Soul-9.012731-5.630838
MINI Roadster-13.3124-8.8270
Fiat 500L-14.012183.03043
Hyundai Veloster-14.52380-21.75237
MINI Countryman-17.11542-25.13225
Smart ForTwo-24.8583-31.61533
Ford Fiesta-24.94948-22.412110
Honda CR-Z-25.1255-33.3626
Mazda MX-5 Miata-29.25328.51256
Kia Rio-30.52483-37.05998
MINI Paceman-33.7112-36.7257
Chevrolet Spark-36.33260-4.69104
MINI Coupe-49.550-61.5101
Chevrolet Sonic-51.44894-53.511315
Nissan Juke-59.12838-54.97022
Scion iQ-74.965-60.7232
Chevrolet Trax-4026-9686
MINI Cooper /S Hardtop 4 Dr-1509-3294
BMW i3-922-2681
Jeep Renegade-943-943

Thursday, April 2, 2015

2016 Scion iM

2016 Scion iM

Have you been missing the Toyota Matrix? Have you been pining for a Corolla hatchback? Then Scion might have just what you're looking for. This compact five-door hatchback, called the iM, is essentially a Corolla hatchback, but wears a Scion badge.

Scion's press release says it only comes in one spec: Fun. I suppose if you find the Corolla fun, you'll love the iM. The powertrain specs are pure Corolla: 137 hp 1.8-liter mated to either a six-speed manual or a CVT. The chassis, which the press release says is based on the Scion tC, features a fully independent suspension and 17" wheels wrapped in 225/45/17 tires. These do differ from the Corolla's torsion rear beam suspension.

2016 Scion iM interior

On the outside, the iM wears a unique aero kit, but there are definite Corolla styling cues. The inside also has some Corolla-esque cues, but features a premium interior. We did like the latest Corolla interior, however.

2016 Scion iM rear

The iM is essentially a rebadged Toyota Auris, which is essentially a Corolla hatchback. Toyota has done a very good job updating the Corolla, so the Auris might be a nice mainstream hit for Scion--something the brand desperately needs.

Scion iM cargo area

The iM should be a versatile, agile, reliable, sporty-looking hatchback. However, like the upcoming Scion iA, it is a departure from the funky styling of previous Scion models, such s the xB, xA, and xD. I think we can officially say the days of boxy Scions are over.

Full press release below:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

2016 Scion iA Sedan

2016 Scion iA Sedan

Scion is in need of some new cars, and this is one of them. Behold, the 2016 Scion iA, which debuted at the 2015 New York International Auto Show. Kinda  looks like a Mazda, eh? That's because it's built by Mazda and wears a Scion badge. This is essentially a Mazda2 sedan, which is probably a good thing in terms of driving dynamics.

2016 Scion iA rear

Powered by a 1.5-liter engine, the iA will make 106 hp and will be capable of getting 42 MPG. Yes, a six-speed manual will be available (hurray!) as will a CVT.

2016 Scion iA interior

True to Scion, the iA will be available as a mono-spec model, meaning there's one way you can get it, but then buyers can accessorize it they way they want. It should start out around $16,000.

Scion says "iA" stands for individual and then something with A, possibly aggressive styling, accommodating, trunk, or affordable.

Amenities include a 7" LCD touchscreen head unit, a stereo with six speakers, rear-view camera, and low-speed collision pre-collision safety system.

2016 Scion iA dash

Scion needs to start selling some cars, and sedans typically sell well. So, perhaps this will be a big seller due to its low price and what I'm assuming will be good driving dynamics, since it's essentially a new Mazda2. It certainly shows a more mainstream approach to the Scion brand, and is pretty much a 180-degree swing from the original Scion xB. Can't say I'm a huge fan of the front end, but I'll reserve judgment until I see it in person.

Full press release is below.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf SEL Premium

2015 Volkswagen e-Golf SEL Premium

By Andy Liliehthal; Photos by Mercedes Lilienthal

If there’s one thing the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf does better than any other EV currently on the market, it’s that it acts like a normal car. It doesn’t go out of its way to be super futuristic. It doesn’t do a whole lot of shouting, “Hey, I’m electric!” It’s based on Volkswagen’s already solid Golf, which is a good thing, and VW didn’t seem to mess too much with its world-class driving dynamics. Perhaps the lack eco chic could deter some buyers looking for that “I’m saving the planet—ask me how” cache. In fact, there are only a few subtle clues that differentiate this Golf from one that burns gasoline.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Staying Small Offers a Different Perspective on Reviews

2014 Nissan Nersa Note
I know a lot of people automotive biz, including many fellow writers and editors. It's always interesting when we get together and discuss what we've driven, what we like, and what we loathe. I realize we at Subcompact Culture have a pretty narrow scope when it comes to cars. We stick to the smaller segments, which are often the least expensive. Many of my other automotive journalist friends have a far less narrow focus, as they spend time in all sorts of vehicles including premium- and ultra-premium cars. Perhaps you've heard of a little company called Bentley? How about Mercedes-Benz? Still doesn't ring a bell? Maybe FERRARI? ("More than you can afford, pal ...") Me? I spend most of my time south of the $25,000 border. But I think that allows me a different perspective.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bakers Dozen Racing Built a Diesel-Powered VW Golf Rally Car.

Baker's Dozen Racing's Diesel-Powered VW Rally Car

I met David Baker of Bakers Dozen Racing in a very peculiar way, and it shows how small this world really is. Stay with me here ...

I have been an active member on since 2006, and David's father, Steve, was also a member. Steve and I had the usual forum back-and-forth, and when I started the Subcompact Culture Facebook Page, I noticed Steve as a follower. Then one day I get a message via Facebook from a David Baker. He explains that he's Steve's son, that he follows Subcompact Culture, and that he's moving to Portland, Oregon to take a job at the same place that I work. I could hardly believe it. How small of a world is this place? The answer? Small—especially if you're into cars.

I got to know David and quickly realized he was my kind of "car guy."  He likes the more interesting vehicles (as does his father) and appreciates small cars. After a while as an engineer in the Pacific Northwest, he ended up moving back to the East Coast, which is where he's originally from, to take another engineering job. By the way, to make the world even smaller, he moved back towards the Boston, Massachusetts area, which is where my dad's side of the family resides. So when I was back in Boston last April, I had a chance to meet up with David at his shop in Rhode Island, and see his VW rally project. And this isn't just a VW rally car—it's a diesel-powered rally car.