Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf SEL Premium

2015 Volkswagen e-Golf SEL Premium

If there’s one thing the 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf does better than any other EV currently on the market, it’s that it acts like a normal car. It doesn’t go out of its way to be super futuristic. It doesn’t do a whole lot of shouting, “Hey, I’m electric!” It’s based on Volkswagen’s already solid Golf, which is a good thing, and VW didn’t seem to mess too much with its world-class driving dynamics. Perhaps the lack eco chic could deter some buyers looking for that “I’m saving the planet—ask me how” cache. In fact, there are only a few subtle clues that differentiate this Golf from one that burns gasoline.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Staying Small Offers a Different Perspective on Reviews

2014 Nissan Nersa Note
I know a lot of people automotive biz, including many fellow writers and editors. It's always interesting when we get together and discuss what we've driven, what we like, and what we loathe. I realize we at Subcompact Culture have a pretty narrow scope when it comes to cars. We stick to the smaller segments, which are often the least expensive. Many of my other automotive journalist friends have a far less narrow focus, as they spend time in all sorts of vehicles including premium- and ultra-premium cars. Perhaps you've heard of a little company called Bentley? How about Mercedes-Benz? Still doesn't ring a bell? Maybe FERRARI? ("More than you can afford, pal ...") Me? I spend most of my time south of the $25,000 border. But I think that allows me a different perspective.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bakers Dozen Racing Built a Diesel-Powered VW Golf Rally Car.

Baker's Dozen Racing's Diesel-Powered VW Rally Car

I met David Baker of Bakers Dozen Racing in a very peculiar way, and it shows how small this world really is. Stay with me here ...

I have been an active member on since 2006, and David's father, Steve, was also a member. Steve and I had the usual forum back-and-forth, and when I started the Subcompact Culture Facebook Page, I noticed Steve as a follower. Then one day I get a message via Facebook from a David Baker. He explains that he's Steve's son, that he follows Subcompact Culture, and that he's moving to Portland, Oregon to take a job at the same place that I work. I could hardly believe it. How small of a world is this place? The answer? Small—especially if you're into cars.

I got to know David and quickly realized he was my kind of "car guy."  He likes the more interesting vehicles (as does his father) and appreciates small cars. After a while as an engineer in the Pacific Northwest, he ended up moving back to the East Coast, which is where he's originally from, to take another engineering job. By the way, to make the world even smaller, he moved back towards the Boston, Massachusetts area, which is where my dad's side of the family resides. So when I was back in Boston last April, I had a chance to meet up with David at his shop in Rhode Island, and see his VW rally project. And this isn't just a VW rally car—it's a diesel-powered rally car.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Buying a New Car, Part 5: Epilogue

2015 Mazda3

By Scott Araujo

In my last post, Buying a New Car, Part4: Starting Over, I purchased a 2014 Mazda 3 iSport. Here are my impressions after having owned it for a while.

I know this series only started a few weeks ago, but I've actually owned the car for about a year now and I've put about 12,000 miles on it. So far I'm thrilled with it. I'm really glad I spent a bit more money than I planned to because I got a car I really love.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Building a Lightweight Off-Road Trailer

Last year we got a sidekick for our Sidekick: a custom Dinoot trailer. This small, lightweight—and extremely yellow—trailer weighs in it about 400 lbs. and can be pulled behind nearly anything with a means of propelling itself, including our 95 hp Suzuki Sidekick.

The trailer came to us with perfectly functional, albeit narrow, 175/80/13 trailer tires on equally functional and narrow steel wheels. But ever since buying the trailer, I considered modifying it for a more trail-worthy capability and rugged good looks. It would be a multi-step process starting with flipping the axle underneath the leaf springs, which would immediately add about 4"–6" of lift. But a big lift would look silly with the tiny little 13" wheels and tires, so I'd want to upgrade the rolling stock to something bigger. And if I'm going to upgrade the wheels and tires, I might as well get the same ones that are on our Sidekick so we don't have to carry a dedicated trailer spare—and it'd look awesome. There were a couple of other things I'd need to do to pull this off, but the results would be worth it. Oh yes—very worth it.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Buying Used Cars, Part 2: The Test Drive

Test driving a Scion iQBy Michael Rentfro

In my last installment, we spoke about preplanning when buying a used car. If all the steps were followed, you should now have a pretty good idea of what you are going to spend, as well as what vehicles are offered in your price range. This is a great place to start, as you now have the hardest part complete. Well, this is the hardest part for me anyway, because I despise anything that has to do with banking (obviously, my wife is the family accountant) and there are so many cars I want to own that the mere act of choosing between them could cause my face to melt off. Now that your face is mush and you have a skull-splitting migraine from talking to your bank, it’s time to have some fun! That is exactly what phase two of the used car buying procedure should be: loads and loads “put ‘em through the paces” (safely and legally) fun! Grab yourself some driving gloves and a buddy, because now it’s time to kick some tires.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: 2015 Kia Soul EV +

Kia Soul EV+ lead image

By Mercedes Lilienthal

Every auto manufacturer strives to make an identity for itself, whether it is the off-road king, Jeep, or the finely-tuned sports car brand of Ferrari: manufacturers spend millions to ensure that when their name is said, a certain personality or set of characteristics is immediately thought of. What comes to mind when one mentions Kia? For me it's funky, fun, and fiercely competitive.

The Soul is at the top of Kia’s list for funky rides. Known for its boxy and fun fa├žade, the Soul has been a favorite for years. It has been a red-hot seller for the Korean auto company, and most Souls are actually sold here in the USA. Since its refresh in 2014, the Soul has become an iconic model for Kia. Everyone knows what it is, and the hamsters need not to be included. It’s so popular that Kia decided to use it as a platform for its first foray into the EV market. Will the Soul EV be the next big thing for Kia? Will the target audience love it just as much, if not more than its gasoline driven cousin? I think so. And early results in California (which had the first opportunity to get this all-electric wonder) show major promise as well.

Kia Soul EV Charger
This car has a lot to offer. Among the attributes I favor most are dual ports for vehicle plug-in capability, (the standard level 1 and 2 port as all EVs, plus the third DC fast-charge port for those times you are really on the go). The driving range is good at about 93 miles to a charge, with an EPA MPGe of 92 miles highway/120 miles city for a combined mileage rating of 105 MPGe. The front-wheel drive EV is powered by a 109-hp (81.4kW) electric motor which produces a generous 210 lb.-ft. of instant torque. And the stereo is, as always, a thumpin’ success too. Solid, sassy, and striking; let’s take a closer look from the outside in, and I’ll give you the nitty gritty along the way.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Teal Terror Gets A Hardtop and a Bunch of Other Parts From Canada

Suzuki Sidekick Hardtop

When I originally bought my 1995 Suzuki Sidekick (aka The Teal Terror), I was excited to have a soft top. I mean, I could take the top off or fold it down for fun-in-the sun action, right? Well, it turns out that I rarely ever took the top off. First off, it's kind of a pain in the ass to remove, especially with my roof rack (not shown above). Secondly, when Mercedes is in the car, she sunburns easily and we usually leave the top on. Oh that's right. I also live in waterlogged Oregon. Hey, at least the top didn't leak.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

February 2015 Subcompact Sales

January 2015 Small Car SalesThe second month of 2015 is now under our belt, and February proved to a pretty good month for the small cars. If you bought a MINI Cooper Hardtop, you helped propel the brand to a 445% increase increase compared to 2014. Other big sellers were Honda's Fit and the Mazda Miata. Also, Mitsubishi's Mirage continues to surprise with sales up nearly 67% compared to last year. And yes, the Mirage outsold a number of other vehicles on the list. (Overall Mitsubishi sales were up 26%.)

While the MINI Cooper Hardtop is at the top of the sales chart this month, the not-long-for-this-world MINI Coupe is at the bottom, down 63.3% compared to last year. Oddly, Chevy's Sonic was also down—and down a lot—to the tune of 61.8%. Nissan's Juke CUV and the Smart ForTwo round out the other bottom spots. Oh, and down 50% is yet another MINI, the Paceman.

Make/Model% Feb. '15 vs. Feb. '14Units Feb. '15% YTD Feb. '15 v. '14Units YTD
MINI Cooper /S Hardtop445.02420259.44589
Honda Fit81.0565283.511454
Mazda MX-5 Miata74.451168.1849
Mitsubishi Mirage66.9186356.13568
Buick Encore59.9492154.08386
MINI Cooper/S Convertible45.018713.4331
Fiat 500L19.095619.01825
Nissan Versa15.81190919.422455
Chevrolet Spark3.9267432.15844
Toyota Yaris2.2136420.02806
Toyota Prius c0.727011.25315
Kia Soul-5.89965-3.018107
Fiat 500-12.02333-8.04719
MINI Roadster-14.781-4.6146
Hyundai Accent-17.94867-8.59305
Ford Fiesta-23.53708-20.57162
Hyundai Veloster-25.31555-26.82857
Kia Rio-31.41943-41.13515
MINI Countryman-31.5938-31.11683
Honda CR-Z-45.0175-36.6371
Scion iQ-45.890-49.7167
MINI Paceman-50.063-38.8145
Smart Fortwo-51.3458-35950
Nissan Juke-58.02183-51.64184
Chevrolet Sonic-61.82900-54.76421
MINI Coupe-63.329-68.751
Chevrolet Trax0382105660
BMW i30108901759

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review: 2015 Toyota Yaris SE

2015 Toyota Yaris SE

By Andy Lilienthal

Ah, the Yaris—Toyota’s smallest car. We own a 2007 hatchback. In some ways the 2015 is pretty much the same car we have despite the facelift. It’s got essentially the same chassis. It’s still powered by the 1.5-liter 1NZ-FE engine that also powered the 2000–2005 Toyota Echo, the 2004–2007 Scion xB and xA, and the 2007–2015 Yaris. This engine, which makes 106 horsepower and 103 ft/lbs of torque, has Toyota’s VVT-i variable valve timing system, but it’s not exactly on the cutting edge of technology. It is, however, tried, true, and nearly bulletproof. The same could be said for the available transmissions: a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. In a day in which most manufacturers are offering automatics with up to nine gears in their autos (or offering CVTs), Toyota still uses its steadfast four-speed auto. So why the old-school powertrain? Maybe Toyota believes that that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Then again, maybe they think buyers in this segment aren't worried about the engine/transmission tech, rather, they're more inclined to offer up a super-reliable car with decent fuel economy. As I said, it's been around a while, so it's proven tech. It's also in the Toyota parts bin, so it won't cost much to make. Whatever the reason, Toyota is betting on the fact its least expensive car will bring buyers to dealerships. So while it’s the same-old Yaris in many respects, there are some noticeable changes, just not to the powertrain or suspension. Fun fact: This Yaris is made in France, not Japan.