Friday, October 24, 2014

The Subcompact Crossover Segment Heating Up

2015 Honda HR-V
The 2015 Honda HR-V will be based on the Honda Fit chassis.
For years we've been told Americans don't like small cars and they don't like hatchbacks. We do know they like all-wheel/four-wheel drive and crossovers, however. So what happens when manufacturers take small hatchbacks, give them AWD, and call them a crossover? You get the quickly growing subcompact crossover segment.

This isn't the first time small 4WD vehicles have been sold in the U.S., however. The 1980s offered vehicles such as the Dodge Colt Vista, the 4WD Toyota Tercel, the Nissan Stanza Wagon, and of course, the Subaru Justy. In the 1990s we saw the Mitsubishi Expo LRV/Eagle Summit Wagon/Plymouth Colt Vista trio and the Nissan Axxes. Things became more mainstream with the advent of the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and the Subaru Impreza. Over the years, many of these vehicles got bigger, heavier, and their personality changed. It wasn't until 2007 when Suzuki came out with the SX4 that the subcompact crossover segment reappeared on buyers' radar—although not many buyers opted for the Suzuki, and the entire brand—SX4 and all—left the U.S. market in 2013.

Chevrolet Trax
The 2015 Chevrolet Trax is based on the Chevrolet Sonic platform.
Now, the small AWD car market is beginning to really heat up and many automakers are offering (or will be offering) small hatchbacks with AWD as an option. This includes:

• Buick Encore
Chevrolet Trax
• Fiat 500X
• Honda HR-V
Jeep Renegade
• MINI Countryman ALL4
Nissan Juke

Allegedly, Mazda will debut a CX-3 in the not-so-distance future; there are rumblings of a small, AWD Hyundai (iX25?); and chatter that Kia's Soul will soon be able to turn all of its wheels.

I'm excited that this segment is getting bigger. We loved the size of our 2010 and 2011 Suzuki SX4; it was that just-right size, and the fact that we could get it with AWD and a manual transmission was icing on the cake. Hopefully this latest crop of vehicles will at least have a shift-it-yourself option. Regardless, this segment is definitely on the rise, and I would expect other manufacturers to hop on on this subcompact bandwagon as well.

Fiat 500X
The upcoming Fiat 500X

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wheels and Tires: Which Way For Our WRX?

Subcompact Culture's 2013 Subaru Impreza WRX

Nothing transforms a car's look more than a different set of wheels and tires. For most of my vehicles, it's been a cut-and-dry decision on which way to go with the car's shoes. The lowered vehicles get stickier rubber and lighter weight wheels. My 4x4 gets bigger tires that are better in the dirt. And then there'rs our '13 Subaru Impreza WRX. Which way do we go? Bigger wheels and sticker on-road rubber, or smaller wheels and meatier all-terrain tires?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nissan Micra Cup Coming To Canada

Nissan Micra Cup Car

If there's one thing we really love at Subcompact Culture, it's free booze small race cars, and just announced it's holding a one-make race for the subcompact Micra in Canada.

In conjunction with JD Motorsports Organization, Nissan has said the Micra Cup will be the least expensive way to get into racing in Canada, as a fully race-prepped Micra can be had for a tick under $20,000. What does $20K CAD get you? It gest you a new 2015 Micra outfitted with:
  • NISMO S-Tune Suspension Kit
  • FIA-approved racing seat
  • 5-point harness
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Modified exhaust
  • High-performance brake pads
  • Safety cage
  • Driver protection net
  • Front and rear towing hooks
  • Stylized Fastwheels wheels with Pirelli low profile high performance tires
And that $19,998 includes installation.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Do I have Big Car Guilt?

Small Car Guilt?

I'll admit it. As the owner of Subcompact Culture, sometimes I feel guilty looking at bigger vehicles and considering purchasing one. I mean, this is "The Small Car Blog," right? I've always had smallish cars; the largest car we've ever owned was a 2012 Subaru Forester—not exactly a land yacht.

Sometimes I feel like I shouldn't ever consider buying anything larger than a Honda Fit. As much as I love the smallest of the small cars, I admit to having a thing for vehicles that are a bit bigger. This includes the likes of the extremely off-road capable Jeep Wrangler; the powerful Ford Mustang (although technically still a subcompact); the mid-sized Toyota Tacoma, and the super-versatile Mazda5. Honestly, I'd own any of these vehicles despite the fact none of them is a "small car." Then again, none of them are enormous, either. In fact, they're all still pretty small compared to some of the other vehicles in their respective classes. 


Sometimes you have to consider what you're doing with a vehicle and if it fits your needs. For example, while the Teal Terror pictured above is fine for venturing out into the woods or putt-putting around the urban Porland landscape, traveling 800 miles at Interstate speeds in a lifted Suzuki Sidekick isn't exactly the most comfortable. With only about 70 horespower to the wheels, a range of about 140 miles when pulling our trailer, and wind noise levels that makes it feel like you're driving a tent down the freeway while in a typhoon. There are times I long for something more powerful and comfortable, such as the Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Tacoma, or even a V6-powered Suzuki Grand Vitara. Shit, even a 1999+ Suzuki Vitara or Chevy Tracker with the 127 horsepower 2.0-liter mill would be a vast improvement over my Sidekick's anemic 1.6-liter hamster wheel. Even a modern Jeep Wrangler feels luxurious compared to the old Sidekick, especially with its 285 horsepower Pentastar V-6. The Sidekick roars at 70 MPH and spins about 3,800 RPM, all while the soft top flaps in the breeze. A hill? Downshift to third gear and floor it; hopefully that semi truck doesn't creep up on my bumper too much. Speeding, however, isn't usually an issue. Finding a gas station in the middle of nowhere with only 140 iles per tank can be. 

So perhaps a Suzuki Sidekick isn't the optimal Interstate cruiser, but it still does get decent mileage, is super maneuverable, and plenty of fun at slower speeds (really, it does great at about 60 MPH). So what about a daily driver?

Sometimes my big car guilt even makes me feel like a compact car is too big. I should be driving a subcompact! I don't have kids. I don't have a dog. I don't haul people around a lot. Hell, there's a good chance that I could get by every single day with a Scion iQ. So do I really need a "big" Subaru WRX? Of course I don't! Does anyone really need a 265 horespower, all-wheel drive car? No way. But the WRX is heaps of fun. It's fast, it's practical, it comes in a manual transmission, and it's capable in foul weather. If we all drove exactly what we needed, we'd likely be on motor scooters most of the time. (Although we love scooters.)

When it comes down to my automotive passion, I suppose it's not limited to a one-size-fits-all thing. I love hot rods, muscle cars, trucks, sports cars, and can respect any gearhead's passion—no matter what size, shape, year, or style. I'd be the last person on earth telling someone they should be driving a Smart car because they don't need a big car, or that they should buy a small EV for environmental purposes. Drive what you love, love what you drive, and respect every enthusiast's passion.

Maybe it's time to give up the big car guilt. If I want something a bit bigger, that's fine. But even my "big" would likely be pretty small. After all, sometimes it's not the size that matters. (Sorry, it had to be said.)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Review: 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV

Nissan Versa Note SV front

I can really appreciate simplicity in an automobile, especially a modern one. With so many cars having buttons everywhere, all kinds of super high-tech gadgetry, interiors that look like they belong in a sci-fi films, and powertrains that require a degree in astrophysics to fix, it can be refreshing to get into a vehicle that is easy to operate, simple to drive, and basic. That car would be a Nissan Versa Note.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Chart: Small Car Power-To-Weight Ratios

2015 Toyota Yaris had a decent power-to-weight ratio
Some people have been quick to point out that the new 2015 Toyota Yaris still uses a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. It also still makes about the same amount of power from its old (ahem ... "proven") 1NZ-FE engine as it did when it was found in the 2000 Toyota Echo. However, has anyone thought of its power-to-weight ratio? Remember: The Yaris is a bantamweight at just over 2,300 lbs.

Now, I understand most buyers aren't calculating power-to-weight ratios before deciding on which small car to purchase. Let's face it: horsepower sells. I mean, Seeing a Buick Encore making 138 horsepower from its turbocharged engine sounds pretty great to a buyer, right? But guess what? Its power-to-weight ratio is pretty low since it weighs a hefty 3,190 lbs—and that's not the all-wheel-drive model.

No, the new Yaris doesn't have the best power-to-weight ratio on the market, but it's far from the worst. That award goes to the Chevy spark. The best? Surprisingly the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio get the top spots. That doesn't mean they're the fastest; the just have the best ratio.

Here's the chart with select other models and their figures.



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Red Bull Global Rallycross Seattle

GRC VW Beetle driven by Tanner Foust

Words by Andy Lilienthal. Photos by Mercedes and Andy Lilienthal

The Red Bull Global Rallycross came back to Dirtfish Rally School outside of Seattle last weekend for the first time since 2011 and it did not disappoint. All the big names in the GRC Supercar class were there including Tanner Foust (in the VW Beetle above), Ken Block, Scott Speed, Bucky Lasek, David Higgins, and more.

This was our first time at a GRC event and it was great. Unlike stage rally racing, you get to see more of the action. In fact, think of rallycross as the motocross of rally racing. It's on a tight track with jumps, hair pins, and straightaways. There are also multiple laps and heats and then a main race. The course layout features a shortcut referred to as "the joker." Drivers can take the joker once during the race—a move that must be strategically planned. In fact, all drivers have a spotter that communicates via radio with the driver to tell them to take the shortcut, as well as when to overtake, when to slow down, and any other helpful bits of advice during the race.

GRC Hyundai Veloster Turbo driven by Rhys Millen

At this race, Ford, Hyundai, Subaru, and Volkswagen were represented in Fiesta ST, Veloster Turbo, Impreza WRX, and VW Polo and VW Beetle race cars, respectively. The cars are all-wheel drive, make around 600 horsepower, and are incredibly fast and wonderfully noisy. They feature a sequential gearbox, use Yokohama tires mounted on Method race wheels, and feature all the go-fast and safety equipment you'd expect on a race car. Plus they look awesome.

Global Rallycross Volkswagen Beetle at the 2014 GRC Seattle

The venue, the acclaimed DirtFish Rally School, is located just outside of Seattle in Snoqualmie, Washington. The site used to be a huge Weyerhaeuser lumber mill and still features a host of huge buildings. In fact, part of the track actually went through one of these long structures. The pines and hills around the area are very scenic which only added to the race's overall feel.

The racing was fantastic: Lots of sliding, passing, bumping, and dirt slinging took place—all part of rallycross's charm. If you get the chance to attend, we highly recommend it. Rally racing has a certain flair to it, and it was extremely evident at this event.

Here are the top results along with some more pictures. Enjoy.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Auto Express Reviews the Jeep Renegade



Subcompact Culture has high hopes for the tiny Jeep Renegade compact crossover; we're really looking forward to checking one out in person and driving one. Heck, we're even thinking of possibly buying one in the future. The UK's Auto Express posted their video review of Jeeps smallest vehicle, and overall it seems to be positive. There were some criticisms for visibility and interior bits, however, as well as urban maneuverability.

I haven't been this excited for a new vehicle since the Scion xB first came to the States. Looking forward to getting our mitts on this Jeep which, of course, has a lot of Italian DNA (e.g. Fiat 500X).

Auto Expresse Jeep Renegade Review Screen Shot

Source: Auto Express

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Car Contingency Planning: What Do You Buy If Your Car Was Totaled?

What do you replace your car with if it were totaled tomorrow?

If you're a car guy (or gal), you've probably asked yourself this question: If my car was totaled tomorrow, what would I buy to replace it?

I much prefer this question to the "If you could have any car, what would it be?" question because this one forces me to think within my actual means. I don't have to ask rhetorical questions like, "Do I have to maintain the vehicle?" or "Am I paying the insurance?"

It is a very difficult question, however, because you have to examine your satisfaction with your current vehicle, it's current availability, and whether or not if fits your lifestyle, as well as if you're willing to add a car payment again (if you don't already have one or two). Plus, then you rack your brain thinking about the available cars at the moment, what's coming out in the ultra-near future, and so on and so fourth. But as a car guy, it's kind of fun to think about as much as you hope none of your rides actually do get totaled.

We own three cars. If I had to go out and buy a car next week, here is what I'd get. And for what it's worth, I'm writing this without having talked with my better half.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2015 Volkswagen Golf front 3/4

Every time I drive a VW Beetle, Jetta, or in this case, Golf with the company’s turbocharged-direct-injected TDI diesel engine I’m impressed. It’s a smooth, strong, quiet powerplant that’s got gobs and gobs or torque, lots of refinement, and is rewarding to drive. Needless to say, I was looking forward to spending a week with Volkswagen’s newest oil burner, the 2015 Golf TDI.

The new-for-2015 seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf features everything you would’ve liked in the previous MKVI golf, but with more refinement, more power, more room, less weight, and slightly edgier looks.