Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is Facebook Killing Online Automotive Forums?

Are Facebook Groups Killing Online Forum Sites

Online forum sites have been a gathering place for gearheads since the Internet has been able to have forum sites. Before the popularity of the modern forum there were online interest groups and mailing lists. In the mid-to-late 1990s, I even ran a message board about the Mitsubishi Expo LRV and I was a subscriber to the Nissan SR20DE mailing list. But in the late 1990s, I got hooked on online automotive forums. I loved the sense of community and interaction; the ability to have people help with problems or installations; sharing stories and photos. Frankly, I still belong to an embarrassingly high number of automotive forum sites as they're still a knowledge base for all things automotive. They can be information goldmines, although some require digging deep through online drama to reach the useful bits. Regardless, for more than 15 years, web-based automotive forums have long been the places to go for online car enthusiasm. But that might be changing.

Recently I noticed a drop in online forum participation on a couple of the sites I frequent, including Scionlife.com, Yarisworld.com, and Zukiworld.com. At first I didn't really think much of it. The Scion brand has been going through some changes; the Toyota Yaris isn't selling like it did in 2007, and Suzukis are a very niche brand, even more so since the company left North America. I decided to chalk my observed decline in activity up to those factors. That was until my friend, Justin, mentioned how he thought Facebook was killing online forums. It dawned on me that perhaps certain forum sites were being affected by Facebook's popularity, and not in a good way. While some forums may have setup a Facebook page or group to help their website get traffic, it could be adversely changing them. Suddenly I realized that Justin was probably right. It got me to thinking: Is Facebook killing online automotive forums?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Review: 2015 Jeep Renegade Sport

Colorado Red Jeep Renegade Sport

If there are two automotive trends that Americans are obsessed with, it is Jeeps and crossovers, but nary the two shall meet, right? As someone who works in the off-road industry (as my full time gig), I can tell you most Wrangler owners don’t want to have anything to do with the Renegade. “It’s not a real Jeep,” they’ll say. Let’s get this straight: The Renegade will never be a Wrangler; it was never supposed to be. However, the more Renegades Jeep can sell, the more likely it is the company will continue to finance the uber-niche Wrangler. OK, well I’m glad I got that off my chest.

To me, the Renegade is one of those vehicles I've been looking forward to since I heard rumors of a “baby Jeep” a couple years ago. We immediately thought it’d be a Fiat Panda. Then we figured it’d just be an all-wheel drive Fiat 500L. Well, it’s neither. Its larger than the European Panda and more capable (and better looking) than the 500L. Jeep did a great job designing this little rig, which is sold in a host of countries around the world, not just North America. And I’ll tell you this: It’s likely going to be a huge success.

Despite the Jeep brand having an image almost as American as the Statue of Liberty, the Renegade is actually made in Italy. (Hey, the Statue of Liberty was made in France.) It’s manufactured on the same line as both the dowdy (albeit super practical) Fiat 500L and the Fiat 500X, which is essentially a mechanical twin of the Renegade. Think of it this way: The Renegade wears blue jeans; the 500X wears khakis. They’re both pants, but with different looks.

Nearly all of the Renegade’s attention in the media has been focused on its Trailhawk trim level, which offers up most of the off-road goodies. Our tester, however, was the entry level Sport trim, although it was equipped with the optional SOHC 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and nine-speed ZF transmission that’s standard on the Trailhawk. Yes, the Renegade is available with the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo engine and a six-speed manual in Sport guise, but our tester had the more powerful mill. This Sport model comes in either front- or all-wheel drive; our tester turned all four wheels.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Doing Your Own Maintenance Will Save You Cash—A Lot of Cash

2007 Toyota Yaris

Stand up. Get out of your chair. Raise your right hand and read this aloud: I solemnly swear that I will perform more of my own vehicle maintenance. I pledge to learn more about how my vehicle works and save money in the process.

By the powers vested in me (which are banned in most countries), I now certify you to go out and work on your own damn car. You'll save a bunch of cash.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek Special Edition

2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek Limited Edition Sunrise Yellow

Bananas. Taxicabs. Nacho cheese. These were all descriptors for the 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek Special Edition we drove recently. Not all cars can pull off such a vibrant hue, but the compact Crosstrek rocks it. Then again, the car is also available in a very bright orange shade, and it pulls that color off, too. By the way, in the Japanese market this screaming yellow color is called Pop Star. Konnichiwa!


Subaru XV Pop Star

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

April 2015 Subcompact Car Sales

April 2015 Small Car SalesSeveral models posted up double-digit numbers for the month of April this year. The top of the pack (and total surprise) continues to be the Spartan 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage, which was up over 80% compared to last year at this time, moving 2,407 units. The popular MINI Cooper two-door hardtop was up 77.7% moving 2,141 units, and the Honda Fit was up 55.6% moving a healthy 6,529 cars. The Toyota Yaris also continues its sales comeback with a 48.5% uptick in sales (33.7% year to date).

The biggest loser—unsurprisingly—is the Scion iQ, down 62.8% selling just 73 units. This makes me wonder how many leftover 2014s there are vs. new 2015 models. The MINI Paceman—an answer to a question no one asked—is also down there, selling just 11 units more than the iQ. Finally, despite being an awesome rally car, the Honda CR-Z is also down pretty big, which is no big surprise.

One thing I do notice is that combined Spark and Mirage sales total 23,408. This shows that people are buying inexpensive four-door A-segment hatchbacks. It also makes me wonder if Scion will soon offer its Aygo in the U.S.

Make/Model % Apr. '15 vs Apr. '14Units Mar. '15% YTD Apr. '15 vs Apr. '14Units YTD
Mitsubishi Mirage80.824074.910561
MINI Cooper /S Hardtop 2 Dr77.72141123.17071
Honda Fit55.6652968.224623
Toyota Yaris48.5215333.77477
Buick Encore29.4558730.519623
Hyundai Accent27.9820811.525007
MINI Roadster14.3144-1.9414
Smart ForTwo13.897312.810453
Chevrolet Sonic13.78700-37.220015
Ford Fiesta2.75982-15.518092
Fiat 500L0.012582.04301
Toyota Prius c-1.335230.012402
Chevrolet Spark-3.43743-4.212847
Nissan Versa-8.096463.546644
Kia Rio-12.82802-31.18800
Mazda MX-5 Miata-17.43842.61765
Fiat 500-18.02498-9.010493
MINI Cooper /S Convertible-19.5301-2.2996
Kia Soul-20.711418-10.242256
MINI Coupe-27.558-53.5159
Nissan Juke-35.92433-51.29455
MINI Countryman-39.21244-29.64469
Hyundai Veloster-40.21650-27.16887
Honda CR-Z-41.5216-35.6842
MINI Paceman-51.582-41.0339
Scion iQ-62.873-61.2305
Jeep Renegade-4214-5157
Chevrolet Trax-3451-13137
MINI Cooper /S Hardtop 4 Dr-1503-4797
BMW i3-406-3087

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Photos From the 2015 Oregon Trail Rally


Paul Eklund's 2008 Primitive Racing Subaru Impreza WRX sliding into a corner at the 2015 Oregon Trail Rally.
Words by Andy Lilienthal, photos by Andy Lilienthal and Mercedes Lilienthal

For the third year in a row, we attended the Oregon Trail Rally which has stages in Portland, Dufur, and Hood River, Oregon. The competition was great, there were awesome cars, and great people. These stage rallies have a certain energy behind them. Maybe it's the cars, the venue, the people, or a combination of all three. Regardless, it's a darn good time filled with some amazing rides.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The 2016 Miata Is Darned Near Perfect

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

We're facing automotive bloat these days. Many cars just keep getting bigger and heavier—you can almost count on it. However, this is not the case with the upcoming 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Compared to the outgoing '15 Miata, the '16 will actually have a slightly shorter wheelbase (90.9" vs. 91.7"), it will weigh less (2,332 lbs vs. 2,480), and get 25% better fuel economy (27 city, 36 highway, 30 combined vs. 21 city, 28 highway, 24 combined). Now granted, it's new 2.0-liter engine makes less horsepower (155 vs 167), but it makes more torque (148 ft/lbs vs. 140 ft/lbs) using the new SKYACTIV-MT engine. With the weight reduction, the power-to-weight ratio is nearly unchanged—but the car will be more efficient. To me, this all sounds perfect. Smaller, lighter, and more fuel efficient: The Miata just might be the perfect car—assuming you don't need four seats and a big-ass trunk.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Chevrolet to Offer Spark EV Lease Deal for $139 per Month


Been thinking about getting an EV, perhaps Chevrolet's Spark EV? Well Chevy has just sweetened the pot, so long as you're in California, Maryland, or Oregon.

Chevy announced that through the end of April, it will offer the small EV for $139 a month with zero due at signing. That'll get you a Spark LT1 for 39 months. That's a pretty smokin' deal if you ask me.

The '15 Spark EV has 82 miles of range, makes 327 lbs/ft of torque, and is a hoot to drive. We've driven them on multiple occasions, and could easily live with one of these. On a side note, I love the Spark EV's rear bumper with the diffuser built in. Check our our Chevrolet Spark EV review for our impressions.

You can find more information about the lease deal on Chevrolet.com.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

One of Our Favorite Roads: Williams to Healdsburg, California

Williams, CA to Healdsburg, CA

There only a handful of things I enjoy more than finding an awesome, winding back road—especially in a car that handles well. While on our way to Healdsburg, California for a weekend getaway in our WRX, we happened upon one of our favorite driving roads in the U.S.

California Highway 20

Starting in Williams, we take California Highway 20 west. It starts out flat and straight, pointing you right towards the hills around Clearlake. Once into those hills, the road becomes a canyon filled with fun twists and curves with (thankfully) regular opportunities to pass slow-moving vehicles. The scenery is gorgeous, but it's just the beginning.

California Highway 29
Hang a left onto California Highway 53 south. While picturesque, it's not overly entertaining. Consider it a break between rounds. After going past Clearlake and Lower Lake, eventually Highway 53 turns into California Highway 29, aka, Lake County Highway. Again, nothing amazing ... yet. Take it through Middletown and get ready for some fun.

A few miles outside of Middletown is where things get incredible. Highway 29 turns into a switchback-filled ribbon of pavement with hundreds of feet of elevation change. This recently repaved stretch of road showcases steeply banked corners, tight hairpins, and passing lanes every couple of miles. On the map at the left it looks more like a small intestine than a road. The summit is a Robert L. Stevenson State Park. And once you reach the summit, it's down towards the city of Calistoga. This is arguably more entertaining than the first part of the route, and it has seemingly impossible switchbacks and incredible vistas along the way.

This incredible stretch of Highway 29 is a road that I wish every single one of you gets to drive in a fun car someday. Our WRX does plenty well; even our low-powered but lowered Yaris was a hoot in years past. The key here is having a car with a good suspension package.

We weren't done, however. We hang a quick right onto Tubbs Lane and then another right onto Highway 128, which goes through the lush Northern California countryside, weaving in and out of vineyards. From here, there a couple of ways into Healdsburg; we generally take Alexander Valley Road, however, there are other more scenic ways into town.

The Subcompact Culture 2013 Subaru Impreza WRX

This part of Northern California is absolutely jam-packed with fun-to-drive roads and we've hit a number of them. However, for us, the aforementioned route is always something we both look forward to. Of course, we advocate being safe, obeying traffic laws and, such. After all, these are tight, twisty bits of dangerous road, often without a guardrail. But if you get the chance to navigate this stretch of enthusiastic driving heaven, don't pass it up. It's amazing.

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.