Monday, July 28, 2014

Scion Live App

The folks over at Scion have come out with an app that allows you to keep up with the automaker's promotions, giveaways, and special announcements for the NW Scion community. Users can use the app any time they see Scion at an event. Pretty neat gizmo for those of us interested in what Scion is doing in the PNW.

Download for iPhone:

Download for Android:

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Official 2015 Toyota Yaris Info

2015 Toyota Yaris driving

Official info on the 2015 Toyota Yaris has come out. The car is not a major redesign, but rather a refresh, which makes sense, since the next all-new Yaris is supposed to have Mazda DNA. Stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, the '15 Yaris, which will be French made, which will be available in three- and five-door variants, will have quite the striking front fascia. The grille-everywhere grille design now fits into the latest corporate styling identity, too. Other things of note are the projector headlamps and LED running lights.

2015 Toyota Yaris interior

Other new things include a revised interior featuring what Toyota calls "premium" seats (which I do think look good), a new sporty dashboard, and softer materials throughout. Toyota has also revised the suspension tuning, added more rigidity to the body, and added more sound insulation. The car will retain the 106 horsepower 1.5-liter 1NZ-FE engine that's been found in North American vehicles since the 2000 Echo. It will also retain a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic.

Gray 2015 Toyota Yaris

My Thoughts
As a Yaris owner, I have come to appreciate the car's simplicity and reliability. While the 1NZ-FE and accompanying transmissions made be semi-ancient, they work well and are time-tested. EPA ratings for the '15 Yaris are 30 city, 33 combined, and 37 highway with the manual; 30/32/36 with the automatic. We are regularly able to hit 38 MPG with our 2007 Yaris. Frankly, I don't care if the car has two speeds or 20 speeds, so long as the performance and fuel economy are up to par. And the Yaris does stack up to other B-segments in terms of fuel economy. While it is down on power compared to the latest Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, and Kia Rio, for example, it also has historically been a featherweight, which helps both fuel economy and performance alike.

2015 blue Toyota Yaris

As far as the design, I can't say I'm a huge fan of the giant grille look, although it does look better on the darker paint jobs—likely because the grille blends in more. It looks as if the car has opened its mouth in the windtunnel and stayed that way, however. Maybe it looks better in person, so I'll reserve final judgment until I see one in the flesh.

I can say this: The current Yaris SE with its quicker steering ratio, 16" wheels/tires, and chunky steering wheel is actually quite entertaining to drive. No, it's not a Fiesta ST, Fiat 500 Abarth, or MINI Cooper S, but it is quite entertaining, and I'm guessing that'll continue for 2015. I do think the 2012-2014 Yaris SE is the most attractive of the bunch thus far, however.

Here's a rundown of the models and availability.
Model#GradeTransmissionBody Style2014 MSRP2015 MSRPMSRP change ($)MSRP Change (%)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

2016 Mazda2 (Demio) Revealed

White 2016 Mazda2

Photos of the 2016 Mazda Demio, aka the Mazda2 in North America, have surfaced. Frankly, it looks a lot like a small Mazda3, which isn't a bad thing.

2016 Mazda2 rear

The rear still resembles the current 2, but the front has assimilated with the current Mazda corporate look. Like I said, not a bad thing.

2016 Mazda2 interior

The interior looks simple, clean, and functional. Very minimalist. I really dig it. Again, mini Mazda3 anyone?

Mazda will employ its SKYACTIV technology, which basically means they keep the weight down and the engine efficient. North American specs haven't been released, but it's being reported by Car and Driver that the wheelbase will be 3.1 inches longer for a 101.2 inches. Overall length should stretch out to 159.8 inches—up more than a half foot. Again, North American engine details haven't been revealed, but expect a 1.3, 1.5, and 1.5-liter turbo-diesel mill for the global market; I expect the US to get the 1.5. Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are also to be expected. Also expect it for sale early next year.

Of course, the other part of this puzzle is that Mazda is supposed to be making Toyota's next-gen Yaris (or whatever they'll call it). So will will the styling, engine, and interior be the same? Stay tuned for more.

Blue 2016 Mazda Demio

2016 Smart ForTwo and ForFour Info

2016 Smart ForFour and ForTwo

Smart has been around since 1998 selling city cars to people all over the world. Unfortunately, the gas-powered ForTwo leaves a lot to be desired in the drivetrain department, even for a city car as we found out in our 2011 Smart ForTwo Passion review. However, that is likely to change with the release of the all-new 2016 Smart ForTwo and larger ForFour.

2016 Smart ForTwo driving

2016 Smart ForTwo back endThere won't be any confusion as to whether or not these are Smart cars, as the ForTwo and even the ForFour retain classic Smart car styling elements. The front end will get the biggest change, adopting a more square fascia. We think the overall look is pretty good, and the ForFour seems like a great idea for the U.S.'s larger tastes. The new Smarts have a track that's nearly four inches wider, too.

Thankfully, the dreadful manumatic drivetrain will be deep-sixed for far a bona-fide manual transmission or dual-clutch gearbox. This automatically actuated manual transmission architecture was the car's Achilles heel, and prevented the car from being more entertaining and comfortable to drive.

The 2016 cars will still be rear engine, rear drive beasties with three-cylinder engines. Initially, there will be two engines: a 999cc normally aspirated making 71 horsepower, and an 898cc turbo version (!) making 90 hp. After the initial launch, Smart says there will be a basic 60 hp gas engine available as well.

Smart will also have three new lines: Passion, Prime, and Proxy (apparently the Pure is going away). The cars will be available with niceties such as LED daytime running lights, cruise control, instrument cluster with 3.5" LCD display, and a JBL sound system. Of course, the interior is also all new.

Other things of note include hill hold assist, a new McPherson suspension and twin-tube shocks with optional sports tuning (10mm lower and stiffer), a new rear axle, and new mechanical rack-and-pinion steering. In addition, the new ForTwo and ForFour have a crosswind assist feature standard, so no more worrying about being buffeted by strong side gusts.

 Of course, Smart is touting thing car's safety, despite it's diminutive size. It'll still have the tridion safety cell and all the necessary three-letter safety acronyms.

Currently, Germany, Italy, and China are the Smart's top markets and it'll be interesting to see if the car gains any traction in the U.S. market. Since it's being proven that practical four-door A-segment city cars, such as the Chevrolet Spark and even the Mitsubishi Mirage, will sell if priced correctly, I'll be watching to see how much the new Smarts retail for assuming we get the ForFour.

2016 Smart ForFour

In the meantime, here are some basic dimensions for the little Smarts. I'm guessing Daimler, Smart's parent company, has learned a thing or two since the car's debut; we'll see how much in the coming year.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Nissan Kills the Cube

2014 Nissan Cube will be the last year

It's been rumored that Nissan will cease selling it's funkdafied Cube, meaning 2014 will be the last model year. While Nissan still hasn't officially said it, there's been significant buzz today that the little boxcar will likely go the way of the Nissan Axxess dodo bird, and find its place in automotive history. Nissan Canada has already confirmed the Cube's demise, and it's likely it's the case for U.S. market Cubes, too, especially since Autoblog has a source that said it won't appear in Nissan USA's lineup for 2015. So it might as well be in stone.

I've always had a soft spot for the Cube, as it's funky mega-Japanese design spoke to me. Although, it was speaking in Japanese, so I really couldn't understand it. But regardless, I always thought it was neat, even in our 2009 review, where I proclaimed "the box is back." Well it was back. And now it's about to be gone. It isn't too surprising, since sales are down 30.9% compared to 2013; Nissan has sold just 2,294 units through June 30. Peak Cube sales were in 2010, where the model moved 22,968 units. And since we're talking numbers, here are Cube sales year by year:

2013: 5,461
2012: 7,667
2011: 14,459
2010: 22,968
2009: 21,471

I'm not sure what happened in 2012, but sales were slashed. Big time. I still prefer the Cube to the second-generation xB, but the Kia Soul has given the Cube a heck of a run for its money. But regardless, I'll miss Nissan's funky boxcar. I'd still consider owning a six-speed manual Cube, frankly. They're practical, funky, and still different than anything else on the market.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

June 2014 Subcompact Sales

Subcompact Car SalesIt's always interesting to me to see which cars will be in the top slots each month, and it's months like June 2014 that make it so. The Mazda2, which has been on sales roller coaster this year, was definitely on a roll—this month up 183% from June 2013, and up 42.2% for the year. Also up is the Fiat 500L, which is celebrating its one-year mark on sale with a 113% increase (and a falsely huge YTD increase). Also up big time is Buick's hot-selling Encore, and then—surprise, surprise—the generally slow-selling Toyota Yaris is up a lot, but not enough to make up for it's -25.8% overall decrease for 2014.

The top seller in June was the Kia soul moving more than 12,300 units. This also helped the Korean-made boxcar rack up nearly 75,000 sales this year.

The big loser this month was the MINI coupe, which was down 71.0%, selling just 78 units. However, that's nearly four times the amount of vehicles as Mitsubishi's poor i-MiEV, which moved just 22 units, making for an 89% drop in sales compared to 2013. There was a lot of red on this month's chart, but many manufacturers are clearing out older versions (aka the Honda Fit, MINI Cooper) for new versions, so sales are going to reflect that.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wheeling in Washington at the NW Overland Rally

Suzuki Sidekick flexing
The Teal Terror flexing its suspension atop a rock pile in Liberty, Washington.
For the third consecutive year, we attended the NW Overland Rally in Leavenworth, WA in the Teal Terror, aka project Suzuki Sidekick. The picture above, taken by Mercedes, shows the beloved Teal Terror flexing its suspension atop a rock pile after a very steep ascent up a trail outside of Liberty, WA. The truck did quite well, despite it's minuscule wheelbase.

Navigating an off-road V notch.
Carefully moving up a V notch. Photo by Spencer Whitney.
There were a few hairy moments—a Land Rover falling into a deep V notch (keep reading); the Sidekick nearly going ass over teakettle down a steep descent; and apparently going up on two wheels at some point—but that's part of the off-roading excitement. That being said, I also got to try out my recently installed skid plate and rock sliders. Yes, they work. Ask me how I know.

The Teal Terror

Towing a small trailer with a Suzuki Sidekick
I was a vendor at the Overland Rally again this year, and I ended up pulling a small trailer with some show supplies, camping gear, and coolers. The truck towed the little trailer pretty darn well, albeit slowly; we rarely exceeded 65 even in 70 MPH zones. I'll admit that I'm a towing novice. Other than pulling a car on a trailer behind a Penske van a few times, this was the longest I'd towed anything. The neighbor's trailer was a big help getting all the gear up to north-central Washington. However, about 30 miles outside of Portland, we ended up with the dreaded flappy-tarp syndrome which will shred tarps and obliterate bungee cords. We pulled into a rest area to readjust, and noticed a bungee cord had already been destroyed in the mishap—thankfully we brought extras. After a little rearranging, and we were on the road again. However, not for long. About 10 miles down the road, our tarp was flapping around yet again. We also noticed the white stakes (and crossbar) at the rear were somewhat loose, so we rigged up a new system to keep it on. Thankfully, that held. What didn't hold was the Sidekick's 20 amp fuse for the radio and 12V plug. For whatever reason, we blew the fuse a couple of times, which meant no listening to the USA vs Germany World Cup match, as well as no charging the GPS, mobile phone, or operating the ARB refrigerator we were borrowing. (I know—first-world problems.) We did finally locate an auto parts store and stocked up fuses, and it was back on the road. It was slow going up and over Stevens Pass, but the Teal Terror did fine, and we arrived in Plain, WA no worse for wear. We set up camp, set up the booth, and went to work. Thursday afternoon and all of Friday were spent working the booth. Saturday morning is when we hit the trails outside of Liberty, WA.

Going up an off-camber hill in the Suzuki
The Sidekick headed up an off-camber incline. Picture by Spencer Whitney.
The first trail run we went on was the planned advanced 4x4 run. Everyone has a different idea of what "advanced" means. However, to my pleasure, there were some good hill climbs and other challenges. However, after the run was over, most people went back to camp. A handful of us decided to go on another run. This group included a four-door Jeep Wrangler, a Land Rover Discovery, and an Isuzu Trooper (sounds like an intro to a joke. "So so a Jeep, a Land Rover, a Suzuki, and an Isuzu drive into a bar ..."). The trails we did were significantly more difficult than the first "advanced" run.

Land Rover Discovery on three wheels

Here's a picture of Spencer's Land Rover Discovery that happened to get a bit off track and fell into the notch. We all worked together to get the Rover out of the notch (thankfully he had a winch and I had a strap and shackle) and the rig escaped without any damage. There were quite a few of the washed-out notches on this trail, which made for extra "pucker factor" in a vehicle as small as our Sidekick.

Isuzu Trooper off road
Jeff's Isuzu Trooper features lockers front and rear and a 3.4-liter GM V6.
To add to it, the soil was sandy, loose, and tricky, especially on the off-camber and hillclimb sections. Jeff's Isuzu Trooper (locked front and rear), however, made short work of nearly everything. 

Jeep Wrangler off road in Liberty, Washington
Danny's Jeep Wrangler Unlimited in the Scenic Washington Cascades.
The unscheduled "advanced" run after the planned advanced ride ended up turning into a true "wheeling" trip. Danny (the Jeep owner), who haled from down south, even exclaimed at one point, "Now we on a wheelin' trip!" And he was right. There were tricky obstacles, there was winching, there was teamwork. The whole thing ended up being an absolute down-right blast, and we came away with a sense of knowing we successfully ran the trails and made some new friends while doing so.

Land Rover Discovery and driver and passenger
Spencer (left) and Nick came down from British Columbia in this Land Rover Discovery. 
Whether you're in a small vehicle, such as a Suzuki, or a bigger one, such as the Land Rover pictured above, off roading is always an adventure. I love pushing the limits a bit and seeing how capable both vehicle and driver are. When skiing, my dad used to say that if you're not falling, you're not learning—you're not pushing yourself to the next level. Off roading is a bit like that. If you always stick to your comfort zone and the easy trails, you'll never become a better driver. And I must say, it's a great high when you accomplish a trail or just an obstacle you didn't think you've make it through.

Packing up from the 2014 NW Overland Rally
Packing up after the 2014 NW Overland Rally.

Almost as soon as it started, the 2014 NW Overland Rally was over, and we were headed back to Portland. The wind was fierce; we must have had sustained 35 MPH winds the whole time, and that kept us on our toes. In fact, when we arrived at Interstate 84 in the Columbia River Gorge, we were met with winds that wouldn't allow our little rig to go faster than 65 MPH. We were foot-to-the-floor for 20 miles until we exited for The Dalles, and crossed back into Washington to take the slower (and more picturesque) HWY 14.

HWY 97 in Washington
HWY 97 outside of Maryhill, WA.
We arrived back to Portland dirty, tired, but with great stories to tell. And to me, that is part of adventure travel, overlanding, road tripping, or whatever you want to call it. The bottom line is that when traveling by car or truck, you can encounter all sorts of things, especially off the beaten path. But that's part of the fun. We can hardly wait until the next adventure. And luckily that's just around the bend. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review: 2014 Kia Soul Exclaim

2014 Kia Soul Exclaim Latte Brown

When I drove the 2014 Kia Soul at the launch in Minneapolis last October, it was obvious Kia had done its homework. Many of the things people complained about had been addressed. Things such as interior noise, ride quality, and braking were all improved compared to the first generation Hamsterwagon. However, one can only glean so much from driving a car for a day. But after spending a week with the ’14 Soul, I got a better understanding of the good and the not-so-good.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

I Got a Trailer for Free. Was it Karma?

My free folding trailer

Sometimes you just get lucky. Or maybe it's karma in action. I've long thought about getting one of these smallish Harbor-Freight-like trailers—especially one of the folding varieties, as we're tight on space— however, I never pulled the trigger. I've long thought one would be perfect for towing behind our Suzuki Sidekick or our WRX. Hell, even our Yaris could tow one of these lightweights. Whether for camping excursions, taking yard debris to the compost site, moving, or whatever, I always wanted one.

Last week my friend, who ironically used to import these little trailers years ago, called me up saying he had a trailer for me and it wasn't going to cost anything. For years, he and I had discussed these little trailers and he always thought we'd be able to snag one on the cheap. And it turns out he was right. He did say it'd need a bit of work, but it wasn't in bad overall shape. It also turns out this may have been a bit of automotive karma in action.

A few years ago my friend had some parts for a 1960s Chevrolet truck at his house, and they'd been sitting around for quite some time. His new neighbor, out on a walk, got talking to my friend. It turned out he just happened to have a '60s Chevy pickup he was working on and was looking for the exact parts that were taking up space at my friend's house. My friend told the neighbor, "If the parts just disappeared, he wouldn't be too upset." Sure enough, the neighbor took the parts and both parties were happy. One gets car parts, the other gets more space in the garage. Harmonious, isn't it?

Fast forward to last week. My friend sees his neighbor is moving, and in front of the house is one of these little Harbor Freight folding trailers. He asks the neighbor if he's selling it, and the guy says, "If it just disappeared he wouldn't be too upset." I think we may have just witnessed a little bit of karma, folks.

My friend gives me a call and says the guy doesn't want anything for the trailer and tells me the story about the car parts for the '60s truck. He says to come by and we'll pick it up. And so I did. This goes to show that good friends are hard to find, and good friends who are willing to give you a free trailer are even harder to find.

Yes, the trailer needs a bit of work. This would include new running lights and taillights as well as new wiring, but that's pretty easy and inexpensive. I may outfit the trailer with LEDs all around, which would be a nice upgrade. It also has the trademark faded Harbor Freight red (now pinkish) paint, but that's also easily fixable with a few cans of Krylon. Maybe some teal to match the Teal Terror?

This should be a quick-and-easy project (famous last words) that should provide plenty of trailer goodness for the future.

So here's to good friends, karma, and small trailers! I can't wait to get working on it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Pics from 8th Annual Mt. St. Helens Cruise

Scion xB from Mt St Helens cruise

The 8th Annual Mt. St. Helens Cruise was held on Saturday, June 14, and it was our biggest event yet. We had a little bit of everything this year—From Acura to Volkswagen and just about every make in between. There were hatchbacks, and coupes; sedans and wagons. We had lifted vehicles; we had lowered vehicles. We counted around 115 vehicles, and more than double that for people. Scion helped sponsor the event kicking in a healthy dose of food and swag, which was much appreciated.