Friday, January 30, 2015

Toyota To Return to WRC in 2017 With Yaris

Toyota Yaris WRC

Toyota has confirmed that it is returning to the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2017 after an 18 year absence. We've talked about the WRC Yaris before, but it's now official.

The Yaris will be powered by a direct-injected 1.6-liter turbocharged engine mated to a sequential six-speed gearbox putting 300 hp and 310 ft/lbs of torque to all four wheels. That should offer the tiny Toyota plenty of go against its competition.

Oh look—video!

Interestingly, they're using the 2012-2014 front fascia vs. the new-for-2015 "gaping mount" version. I much prefer the '12-'14 fascia anyhow.

So although it won't carry the old-school Castrol livery, Toyota's return to the WRC is a very cool thing, and it's even cooler since it's in one of their best-selling global subcompact models.

Toyota Yaris WRC Car

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Deep Discounts Still Around on 2014 Models

Call it the thrill of the hunt. Every January, I love to go onto sites, such as,, or Craigslist and look at the leftover vehicles from the previous model year. Currently, there are leftover 2014 Chevy Sparks and Sonics; Scion iQs, Toyota Yaris models, Mazda2s, and a smattering of other still-new '14 models, many of which are priced at a hell of a discount. At least, they look like a discount at first. One of the cars, a Chevrolet Spark LS claimed to have an MSRP of over $18,815 but marked down to $13,000. Sorry: There's no way a Spark LS has an MSRP of $18,815. Maybe $15,000, but not much more. Plus, some of the discounts require you to own a competing vehicle, be a member of the military, or be a pregnant mother with citizenship in Kazakhstan (OK, not really that last one). So in some cases, the deals aren't as good as they seem, so don't get too excited until you read the fine print. But there are some legitimate deals out there; it's almost enough to make you want to buy a new car, even though you don't need one. Such is the affliction with cars. Sigh.

Is Aftermarket Car Audio Going Extinct?

Are aftermarket car stereos going extinct?By Michael Rentfro

There are four things in my life I'm passionate about. God, (who is a topic best left to other venues of discussion.) my entirely-too-hot-to-be-my-wife  wife and my children, all things automotive, and music. My taste in music and my love for car culture has changed and evolved over the years, however, one thing remains the same; they go hand in hand for me.

I have a 50 minute drive to and from work every day. As engaging as driving a 2007 Suzuki SX4 crossover with a manual transmission can be, it still gets pretty mundane after almost nine years. I've tried taking the long way (as if anyone really wants to make a 50 minute daily drive LONGER ...) and come to the inevitable conclusion that west-central Indiana has about as much stuff to look at as the student art gallery at a university for the blind. I've tried talking on the phone. OK, no I haven't. I'd really rather poke myself in the eye with a branding iron than talk on the phone. So what's left? Well for me it was a well tuned, well rounded stereo and my "top 5" driving CDs (or MP3s as you kids say nowadays!).

Given my obsession with the automotive culture, I read/watch/listen to many car reviews, even when I'm not actually shopping for a new car, and outside of Andy's reviews for this blog, I rarely hear mention of what I consider the most important part of the car for me. I simply MUST have a good stereo. If not, it takes me usually less than a couple weeks to remedy the situation.

In the mid 1990s I became part owner in a gas station turned car audio shop in a small town in central Illinois that sparked quite the addiction for me. This was no more apparent than in 1996, when I regretfully (yeah right!) offered up my nearly new 1994 Saturn SL1 as the shop demo and competition vehicle. All in all, my poor, cheap, little econobox family Tupperware car was packed to the gills with nearly $100,000 in aftermarket goodies from the likes of Kenwood, Soundstream, and Orion. I had more channels to equalize than Time Warner Cable, and enough juice coming from the three trunk-mounted batteries to jump start a 747. I was probably the loudest, fullest-sounding, and most expensive Saturn on the planet in those days.

Nearly 20 years ago, you could easily pick my car out of a crowd by the pounding and vibrating lows associated with Dr. Dre's "Chronic" album at 156.1 decibels of earthquake-inducing, thug life livin', complex havin', pure Gangsta overcompensation. Now things are very different. My trusty Suzuki utilizes the factory head unit, but simple Pioneer coaxials in the doors, and a self-powered 12 inch MTX subwoofer in the hatch. Nothing fancy, and not overly loud, but just enough to make Dream Theater's "Metropolis 2000: Scenes From A Memory" sound like an actual memory.

This poses a question for me. With stock "media centers" and infotainment systems in new model cars becoming quite good, what do you think will happen to the aftermarket in the years to come? Where there used to be the simple choice of single or double DIN when choosing a new source unit, almost no car manufacturers use any type of universal mounting or measurement system at all anymore. Do you think this is a blatant ploy by auto companies to deter customizing "their" masterpieces to your liking, or is it simply modern design and aftermarket companies aren't keeping up?

I have noticed, however, many aftermarket companies have developed OEM systems for the manufacturers as an option package. The source unit in my Suzuki is by Clarion and is actually upgradable. The entire system in my wife's 2010 Suzuki Kizashi is by Rockford Fosgate and is actually one of the best OEM systems I've heard to date. Maybe this is a sign that the future of aftermarket sound systems will be limited to the addition of 1.21 Gigawatt subwoofer systems like the 19 year old college kids that live down the block from me that refuse to understand that this old man doesn't want to hear the newest Kanye West release from 1,000 feet away. At 3:00 AM. On a work night. As good as the song is, I am almost 40 you know ...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Happy Birthday Dear WRX!

Happy Birthday To OuR WRX

Today is our WRX's second birthday! We're still under 20,000 miles on our turbocharged AWD hatchback, and we still love it to pieces. This compact firebreather has taken us up through Canada, down through California, and all across the Pacific Northwest. Its only mods at this point are the Rally Armor mud flaps and the Magnaflow exhaust (which we got for its last birthday). We're not sure what we'll get it for its birthday yet (other than a bath), but we're looking forward to another fast, fun year with our go-everywhere WRX.

BMW And Toyota To Collaborate To Produce Next MINI; May Actually Be Small

MINI Minor aka MINI Rocketman

The MINI brand of cars has become, well, not so MINI. There's the Countryman CUV, the upcoming four-door, and the strangely sized Paceman. Well, it looks like MINI's next offering might just be, well, small.

The Rocketman concept has been tossed around for a few years, but according to Automobile magazine, there will be a smaller MINI on the horizon, possibly called the MINI Minor. The "big" news comes from the fact that there might be an odd partner involved: Toyota.

Toyota and BMW are supposed to be collaborating on a host of other automotive endeavors, such as Supras, new Z4s, and who knows what else. But apparently a new, smaller MINI Minor is also in the works. Could its platform replace the Aygo? Will it come to the U.S. to battle the Fiat 500? How big will it be? We're not sure. What we do know is that it's apparently happening.

The MINI brand seemes to have lost its way recently. Sales have been down and the lineup is a bit of a mish-mash of hardtops, convertibles, coupes and roadsters, all using similar platforms. Apparently, MINI will be revamping its lineup and the MINI Minor will be a part of it. I'd love to see it come to the U.S., but I wouldn't be surprised to see it relegated to European city car duty.

With the increasing size of MINI models, a "smaller" breath of fresh air might just help the brand. Frankly, I'm glad it's going this way and not to a seven-passenger crossover.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Buying a New Car, Part 2: The Search

In my last post, Buying a New Car, Part 1: The List, I'd created a list of cars I was interested in checking out to replace my old Honda Civic. Now, the time has come to actually get behind the wheel.

Day 1

With the list pared down to a more manageable size, Andy I suited up for a day of car shopping at the local dealerships. Up first was the Chevy Spark. I was pretty sure this would not be the car I wanted but after SCC's glowing reviews, I felt it deserved a fair chance. We got to the lot and were quickly assaulted greeted by a well dressed young man turning on all the charm. I said I wanted to test drive a stripped Spark with a stick. Of course we had to first pass the gauntlet of being taken to the show room, shown other cars, turning them down, etc. before he went off to fetch the car I asked for in the first place. It was the quintessential car sales experience, but the car I asked for was brought up and off we went.


Chevrolet Spark
A "Lemonade" yellow Chevrolet Spark. Also available in hideous pink.
I have to say, I was impressed. While not a rocket ship, the Spark had no trouble getting up to highway speeds with three grown men aboard. Handling, brakes, clutch, and shifting were all acceptable, nothing really bad here. The car was a bit noisy inside but nothing terrible and to be expected at this price point. The body and exterior fit and finish were quite good. For a 1200cc car with a $12k price tag, it is far more than I expected. The interior shows some areas where costs were kept down. Again, nothing terrible but not top of the line either.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Do Your Own Maintenance. Learn Something New. Save Some Cash.

See these parts? They're the result of a trip to NAPA last week. You know why? Because I trust hardly anyone else to work on my cars. Paranoid? Maybe. Frugal? Yep. Plus, I enjoy working on my cars and learning something new. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. Plus, I know the job was done by me. If it's wrong, I screwed up and probably learned something extra in the process. If I did it right? Job well done, and it's likely I saved a bunch of money. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review: 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer GT

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer GT sedan

In the 1980s and 1990s Mitsubishi had a host of interesting, fun cars that were different but still intriguing. There were enthusiast vehicles such as the turbocharged, RWD Starion; the turbocharged 4G63T-powered FWD and AWD Eclipse; and the fire-breathing twin-turbo 3000GT VR-4. There were funky, practical hatchbacks and wagons, such as the Expo LRV (available with AWD) and the Mirage (which was also available with a turbo). There were rugged, true SUVs, such as the Montero and even the Montero Sport. Today’s Mitsubishi lineup is a bit harder to get excited about. Yes, the fire-breathing turbocharged AWD EVO is still around—at least until the end of the year—and the Outlander and compact Outlander Sport are actually quite good, although not exactly titillating. Of course, the new Mirage is out, but it’s quite rudimentary—even if it is available in fuchsia. Finally, there’s the aging Lancer sedan. It’s available in FWD or AWD and has horsepower ratings ranging from a tepid 148 to a gusty 237, it’s still showing its age, especially against the latest crop of compact cars. Our test model is the GT, which features the 2.4-liter engine making 168 hp, and it’s mated to a CVT.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Case Of The Slow Selling Toyota Yaris

U.S. Toyota Yaris Sales since 2007
Chart shows sales of the Toyota Yaris in the United States only.
I typically post Toyota Yaris sales results each month on People were wondering why the December 2014 sales were up 167% vs. December 2013, which made me think sales must've been pretty low in December, '13. Well, sure enough, that was the case. 

This made me wonder how the car has sold since its debut in the U.S. as a 2007 model. Well, here's your answer.

Yaris sales peaked in 2008, when Toyota moved 102,328 models. Its low point was 2014, where just 13,274 were sold. That means there's been an 87% drop in Yaris sales over the past seven years. It should be noted that 2012 was the last year of the Yaris sedan in the U.S.

As you know, Toyota just refreshed its subcompact for the 2015 model year. However, with such a sharp decline, it makes you wonder if Toyota will continue to sell its little hatchback on the U.S. market into the future. One could argue that in order to meet CAFE standards, the Yaris is needed. However, keep in mind that the Corolla gets nearly the same fuel economy and that the Prius family of vehicles gets pretty good numbers. Is there really a need for the Yaris?

Perhaps. Since it's the least expensive Toyota, it does serve as a gateway into the brand. However, it is certainly a dated choice compared to many of its competitors. Afterall, the 106 hp 1NZ-FE engine first appeared 15 years ago in the 2000 Toyota Echo. Compare that to Honda's 2015 Fit, which now makes 130 hp from the same 1.5-liters, or Chevrolet's Sonic 1.4-liter turbo four, which is making 138 hp.

Toyota has always had a subcompact car in its lineup, so it's doubtful the Yaris is going to go away. But with low fuel prices, a dated engine/transmission, and slow sales, perhaps the Yaris is simply coasting until a reported Mazda2-based subcompact shakes things up in the coming years.

And in case you were wondering, I own a 2007 Toyota Yaris liftback that I enjoy very much.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

We Checked Out a 2015 Toyota Yaris SE

New 2015 Toyota Yaris

We dropped off our 2007 Toyota Yaris at the dealership today for some recall work. While there, we checked out a 2015 Toyota Yaris SE, the top-of-the-line model. We didn't drive it, but we did take a look at the exterior and sat in it. 

When I first saw the revised Yaris, I didn't think I liked the front end. With a gaping mouth from the Lexus style book and black fu manchu-like grille detail, the Yaris definitely has a unique front fascia. However, in person the car didn't look as bad as I thought. In fact, in white it had that Storm Trooper look. The headlights were blacked-out and featured projector-beams with LED accents. There is a lot going on, but its not as offensive as I had originally thought. Both Mercedes and I liked the car's back end with its center-mounted reverse lights and basic lines. We both actively dislike the ugly 16-inch alloy wheels. 

2015 Toyota Yaris interior

The Yaris interior keeps getting better with the subsequent revisions. Our 2007 Yaris liftback, while loaded with storage spaces and practicality, features a ton of hard plastic surfaces. When the Yaris was refreshed in 2012, the interior got a big upgrade. And for 2015, the interior feels even better. There's a mix of hard and soft surfaces, interesting lines, and decent functionality. However, some things, such as the circular vents felt a bit cheap. Also, while the chunky steering wheel felt great in the hand, there's an arms-out driving position—a telescoping wheel would've been good here. Also, the rear seats, unlike our 2007, have headrests that do not retract into the seatback. Thankfully, they can be removed, but when up they partially obscure visibility. Speaking of the back seat, it feels slightly small compared to some other cars in its class. The front seats, however, have an attractive, upscale pattern and have good side bolstering. We did notice the French-built Yaris (yes, 2015 models are made in France) felt very solid. All the doors, including the liftback, closed very solidly. 

Overall, the new Yaris SE looks like a fairly attractive package if you're only looking at the exterior and the interior. If you start looking at the specs, you might be a bit underwhelmed. The car is still powered by the old 106-horsepower 1.5-liter 1NZ-FE engine, which also powered cars including the 2000-2005 Toyota Echo, 2004-2006 Scion xB and xA, and every Yaris since 2007. A spring chicken, it isn't. It is, however, tried and true, dependable, and still capable of getting 37 MPG. We've never been able to get the five-speed manual transmission and the SE package in the Northwest region. Oddly, according to, we now can get a manual transmission with the SE package for 2015, but only only with Magnetic Gray Metallic paint. All other hues come with the automatic only. That's weird. 

The sticker price on this fully loaded Yaris is $18,229, which seems pricey for only 106 hp and a four-speed automatic. That being said, it's likely the Yaris will continue to be super reliable, and it does look different than many other subcompacts, and it's plenty practical. We haven't driven a '15 yet, but I'll bet it drives a lot like previous Yaris models, since it has essentially the same chassis as it did in 2007, although Toyota has made some upgrades to the chassis and suspension. We do look forward to getting behind the wheel of the latest Yaris to see if those changes are noticeable.