Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Subcompact Culture Appears on the Test Miles Radio Show

On February 22, Mercedes and I had the pleasure of appearing on the Test Miles Radio Show, which airs at 10am-11am PST on 101.1 KXL FM News Radio in Portland (or on KXL.com). We had great time with the crew and got to talk about all things Subcompact Culture related; we hope to be a guest again soon.

If you didn't get a chance to listen to the original broadcast, listen to it below.

Buying Used Cars, Part 1: Preplanning

By Michael Rentfro

I have Champagne taste and a beer budget. I like fancy things, but I don’t like to pay for it. This is a lifestyle for those that live on a budget. I would love to wear Lucky Brand jeans and Abercrombie sweatshirts and go to movies on opening weekend after having Sushi at a fantastic Japanese steak house. Unfortunately, the diminishing middle class has learned to live on a much tighter budget in recent years, so it means that my Lucky jeans and Abercrombie hoodies often come from higher-end second hand stores, my movies come from Netflix, and my Sushi is free when I fill up and purchase a car wash at the fancy gas station on the corner of 7th and Springhill.

Like many of us, we’ve had to learn to compromise our Champagne tastes because we can only afford cheap beer. This is especially evident when buying a car. I want to own brand new Aston Martin Quadroporte, but I want to pay for a battered and bruised 2004 Dodge Neon with one mismatched door and more miles on the clock than a retired JB Hunt Freightliner. See the connection?

Here’s the other thing: I like nice options on cars. I happen to think my wife’s rear deserves to be artificially warmed on a cold day via heated seats. I like my headlights HID, and my radio to come from space. I also enjoy knowing there are so many airbags in the car that an impact faster than 5 MPH will cause the car to instantly turn into bubble wrap making the car bounce gracefully down the street to a gentle stop. These are all options that add up quickly, which moves buying a new out of my price range. Since I like my toys, but prefer low (or no) payments, this means buying used.

In my lifetime, I estimate I have made the much-hated trip to shady used-car lots to purchase my next four-wheeled obsession no less than 20 times. I actually consider it a game now and even enjoy it. To me, buying a car is like the three seconds right before you sneeze. You get this sense of euphoria that turns to anticipation, then the uncomfortable and unstoppable feeling of losing total control of the situation, followed by the “ahhhh” moment when everything is over and you can continue on in total control of your life.

Buying a used car can be broken into three different phases. Phase one is preplanning, phase two is the actual act of shopping, and phase three is the actual negotiation and purchase. Following some simple steps during each of these three phases can help minimize the pain and suffering of purchasing a used car and possibly save you a few dollars in the process. In this submission, I’ll talk about phase one: Preplanning.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Buying a New Car, Part 4: Starting Over

By Scott Araujo

In my last post, Buying a New Car, Part 3: The Negotiation, my plan to seek out and find a 2013 xD leftover ended in frustration and disappointment. So I take a step back and start again.

I was pretty steamed about how things went while trying to buy a 2013 Scion xD leftover. I believe it truly was a series of honest mistakes and blunders as they said it was, but it was still very frustrating. After a few days I still liked the Scion but I certainly wasn't going to buy from that dealer.

Things going south like that may have been a blessing in disguise. I had been very focused on creating the list, whittling it down, and buying the car. I had become very driven and goal oriented, seeking to just get it done and over with. When it all came apart I was left with some time to reflect on what I was doing.

I had set out with a fairly simple goal: find an inexpensive car that met my needs. I had also decided to be pretty picky since I tend to keep my cars for a very long time. Andy and I had already discussed how any time you set a limit on the price, you are going to have to make some compromises. I had been pretty staunch about keeping the price low, and I had been overly motivated to get it all done ASAP. On reflection, I had been pushing too hard on both fronts. I didn't need to get it done immediately. My Honda Civic was still running just fine. I didn't need to be so hard on the price point. I was trying to keep the price really low when in reality I can afford for it to be a bit higher.

I talked with Andy, I talked with Mercedes, I talked with my wife. I can certainly be prone to tunnel vision at times and they all helped me to calm down and open up my perspective. I moved back to square one and once again considered the creation of The List.

An important point Andy made is what he tells everyone who is looking to buy a car: if you're even remotely interested in a car, go drive it. And he's absolutely right. Taking a car for a test drive is very easy to do, and whether you're hot or cool towards a car, five minutes behind the wheel can change that faster than anything else.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In The Flesh: 2016 Chevrolet Volt

Blue 2016 Chevrolet Volt

By Mercedes Lilienthal

The new 2016 Chevy Volt certainly turned a lot of heads this year at the Portland Auto Show. I mean, this is hybrid and EV-crazed Portland. This 1.5-liter four-cylinder five-seater EV hybrid is now lighter, faster, and goes farther than its predecessor.

Rant: This Wheel Style Needs To Go Away

Two-tone wheelsThere's a trend in alloy wheels and it's an ugly one. They're not silver. They're not all black. Instead, they're a particularly nasty combination of both and usually have a super-busy shape. Frankly, I hate them. Nearly every automaker has some heinous form of these round partially painted abominations and none of them look good. Not one of them. None.

A black-and-silver wheel isn't anything new. I remember the Buick Regal from the late 1970s and early 1980s having silver and black wheels. I didn't like them then, and I don't like them now. They always looked like the wheels on a Hot Wheels car, but not nearly as good. In fact, I wish they were only seen on Hot Wheels.

Hot Wheels Car
Perhaps this trend gained steam when the aftermarket wheel manufacturers started offering them. I remember seeing this style in the mid 2000s. I never liked them; I thought they looked junky and dated. Regardless, they seemed to gain popularity. But hey—there's no accounting for taste. I mean, people bought other hideous things such as Snuggies, jeggings, and the MINI Coupe. (OK, no one bought the MINI Coupe.) Then, wouldn't you know it, this alloy wheel style started showing up on vehicles directly from the manufacturers. Just like the aftermarket versions, they look cheap, they look dated, and they look ugly. Much like ebola, terrorism, and Taylor Swift, I hope this trend goes away soon.

In case you still don't get what I'm talking about, here are some examples:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

In The Flesh: 2016 Fiat 500X Easy

2016 Fiat 500X Easy

By Mercedes Lilienthal
With styling cues from the Fiat 500 Abarth and 500L, the 2016 Fiat 500X is a welcomed addition into Fiat’s arsenal of small car models. What’s new? Everything. The X is Fiat's version of a feisty crossover, their answer to what outdoorsy people might want for a rugged and go anywhere type of ride. FYI, the 500X shares many attributes with the soon-to-be released Jeep Renegade.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Review: 2015 Honda Fit EX-L Navi

2015 Honda Fit EX-L Navi at SeaTac

Words by Andy Lilienthal. Photos by Mercedes Lilienthal

“So what color do you think it’ll be?” I asked Mercedes as we headed to pick up the car from SeaTac Airport in Washington. “I hope it’s the yellow color.”
“I think it’ll be red or silver,” she said.

Upon arriving at the Park ‘N Fly at SeaTac International Airport (Seattle), we pulled up to an extremely bright Mystic Yellow Pearl Honda Fit. You couldn't miss it.

Usually when we get a car to review, it is dropped off at our house or work. This time, we were flying back from Minnesota and were picking the car up at the airport, then would drive it 170 miles south to Portland. Plus, this would give us a good first impression of Honda’s recently redesigned subcompact hatchback. And although Mercedes had been to the car’s launch last April, I hadn’t had a chance to drive one yet.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I'm Attracted To Cheap Small Cars

Here I set at 11:08pm scouring Craigslist, Auto Trader, and Cars.com for deals on the Chevrolet Spark, Toyota Yaris, Mazda2, and Scion iQ. I admit, I love the thrill of the hunt when it comes to cars. (I also admit I don't need a new car.)

But whether I need a new car isn't the point. Why do I keep looking at these cars? I can afford something bigger, more powerful, more expensive. Yet, I'm inexplicably drawn to the Chevrolet Spark 2LT; the Toyota Yaris SE; the Mazda2 Touring; the Mitsubishi Mirage ES; the Scion iQ. They're inexpensive, frugal, and small. Yet, I'd likely own any of them. (The iQ and the Mirage are definite maybes, however.)

If I were to buy a car tomorrow, I could likely afford a lightly used Fiat 500 Abarth—one of the most fun cars out there. I could probably afford cars like the Fiesta ST or an FR-S/BR-Z (aka the "OMG RWD" twins). But when it comes down to it, I'm always drawn to the smallest fugal cars; the underdogs if you will. Would I be happy with a Chevy Spark? I don't know. Then again, would I be happy with an Abarth? It's likely I'd be happy with both for different reasons.

I posted up photos of the next-generation Spark. I often think to myself that I'd like to get a 2014 or 2015 model before the new one comes out. I love the Spark's edgy, chunky look, especially in 2LT trim (although I think all of them are good looking). I know they only make 85 horsepower. But like my Yaris, I'm a sucker for small compact hatchbacks. And do I really need 160 hp in my car? The answer is of course—no. But power is addictive. Hey, I already have a 265 hp WRX for when I need my fix.

For whatever reason, I just can't shake my love for small, funky cars. Cars that are not the most refined and cars that are not perfect (too slow, not refined, too small); cars that require an explanation when telling other car people what you drive (yes, it's a lowered Yaris with a custom intake manifold and orange wheels). These are often cars that draw attention and often draw jest. But for some reason, be it frugality, practicality, or whatever (it's certainly not performance), I've always been drawn to them. Whether it's a Daihatu Rocky or a Subaru Justy; a Chevrolet Spark or a Scion iQ, I often tell people I love the small ugly cars that no one likes. I guess someone has to.

People, even car people, are often surprised there is a Yaris following, or an enthusiast base for Smart ForTwos. Yes, believe it or not, there are other wackos out there like myself. I just happen to write about it from time to time. It's also likely that I don't intend to stop anytime soon.

So bring on the Mirages, the iQs, the Sparks, and the Rios. The Cubes, the Justys, the Rockys, and Sprint Turbos. You are imperfect, tiny, and often mocked. But I don't care. I love you—and thankfully—I know some of you do, too.

Jeep Renegade Walk Around (With Video)

By Mercedes Lilienthal

I was at the 2015 Portland International Auto Show last week and was able to check out the new Jeep Renegade. I snapped a few photos and took a walk-around video to give you an idea of the vehicle's dimensions, character, and style.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Spy Photos: 2017 Chevrolet Spark

2017 Chevrolet Spark Spy PhotoSeveral automotive sites turned up these pre-production photos of what is allegedly the redesigned 2017 Chevrolet Spark.

These images, apparently taken in South Korea, show a less angular but more mature looking Spark. Certainly the front fascia looks more refined and grown up. To me, some of the lines remind me of Mitsubishi or Hyundai (look up a picture of a Hyundai i10, for example). While it's not quite as aggressive looking as the current Spark, it looks pretty good—at least in these spy photos.

According to World Car Fans, the car will share a platform with the next Opel Karl/Vaxhall Viva. The Karl/Viva is powered by a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine making about 75 horsepower. Coincidentlly, this is the same engine that powers the Opel Adam and Corsa. No word on whether there will be an EV version yet. But we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves; these are simply spy photos after all.

We're big fans of the current Chevrolet Spark, and hope the next generation won't lose the simplistic qualities that make the car endearing. That being said, improvements are always welcome, so long as it doesn't change the car's character. We'll keep on top of it and bring you the latest as we hear.

2017 Chevrolet Spark