Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Toyota S-FR Concept Is the Perfect Subcompact Sports Car

Toyota S-FR Concept side

Mother of God. This. This is what I want.  (Well, that and a Suzuki Jimny.) But this—it's a great shape. It's small and likely very flingable. The Toyota S-FR Concept, which is debuting at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, is a vehicle that Toyota says "continues the proud heritage of Toyota's fun-to-drive lightweight sports cars." Think miniature Scion FR-S or Subaru BRZ. Yes, it's front engine, rear drive. It stresses simplicity. It's got optimal weight distribution. It's got a fully independent suspension. It's got a six-speed manual. It's awesome.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Subcompact Culture Appears on KXL 101.1 FM

Back in September, Mercedes and I appeared on the Test Miles Radio show on KXL 101.1 FM in Portland. This was the second time we'd been on, and we got to talk about our travels across the west in our Suzuki Sidekick. You can listen above; we had a blast yet again.

We always enjoy conversing with host, Nik Miles, and his crew, and look forward to appearing again to talk about our "small" adventures.


The Teal Terror in Moab

Saturday, October 3, 2015

September 2015 Subcompact Car Sales

September 2015 Subcompact Car Sales

September appears to have been a good month far car sales and that holds mostly true for the small cars, too.

Mazda's new Miata has the top month vs. month sales increase with a 127.1% change. Ford must've done something good in September (or something bad last September) as sales were up 67.2%. BMW also had a good month with a 67% increase.

In terms of slow sales, The MINI Coupe was at the bottom with a 91.1% decrease in sales vs. this time last month. The MINI Roadster was also down big time. It's likely dealers don't have many of either of these vehicles on the lots, since they'll be discontinued for 2016.

The biggest brow-raiser on this chart would be the Honda Fit, which was down more than 80% in September. What's up with that? Overall sales are still up 11.4% compared to last year, but something must've happened with supply to be down this low.

Also, welcome the Scion iA to the list. It sold 2,035 units last month.

Make/Model % Sep. '15 vs Sep. '14Units Sep. '15% YTD Sep. '15 vs Sep. '14Units YTD
Mazda MX-5 Miata127.194057.43855
Ford Fiesta67.269962.853868
BMW i367.01710154.37893
MINI Cooper /S Hardtop 2 Dr50.7168522.515984
Nissan Versa49.518053-0.4109832
Buick Encore46.2562435.349285
Kia Soul26.013614-2.5112683
Honda CR-Z20.0310-25.12205
Chevrolet Spark17.02371-10.027839
Nissan Juke16.22108-33.521462
Toyota Prius c5.53367-6.129649
Mitsubishi Mirage0.6134839.717971
Smart ForTwo0.3750-32.85432
Hyundai Accent-0.636404.848625
Toyota Yaris-2.058650.315535
Hyundai Veloster-23.72118-23.117655
Fiat 500-30.01926-20.021329
Kia Rio-33.91480-31.020276
MINI Countryman-38.21180-29.612059
MINI Cooper /S Convertible-42.8238-14.92446
Fiat 500L-46.0339-21.07034
MINI Paceman-47.7102-12.11317
Chevrolet Sonic-54.63780-35.250532
Honda Fit-80.7127911.444146
MINI Roadster-90.220-9.01094
MINI Coupe-91.114-44.6452
Jeep Renegade-7924-36831
Chevrolet Trax-6140-43051
Honda HR-V-4608-29225
MINI Cooper /S Hardtop 4 Dr-1174-11599
Fiat 500X-1133-3456
Scion iA-2035-2035

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Around the West in 95 Horsepower: Murtaugh to Ouray

The San Juan Mountains of Colorado
The San Juan Mountains as you get close to Ouray, CO
Words by , photos by Mercedes Lilienthal

In the second installment of Around the West in 95 horsepower, we had left Portland, OR and ended up in Murtaugh, ID. 

We awoke to a brisk but beautiful morning on Murtaugh Lake. We got up early to make the most of our second travel day. The orange and pink sunrise was amazing as we packed up the Teal Terror to head to Ouray, Colorado. Our Garmin GPS suggested a convoluted route back to the Interstate from our camp spot, but we went with it anyway. The GPS, who we semi-fondly refer to as “Jack,” took us into an amazing canyon en route to the Interstate; a wonderful surprise and a great start to the day.

We were back on the road, and this second day would be far more interesting a drive than the previous day. Within an hour and a half, we had crossed the border into Utah, and the landscape already became more interesting. There were large rolling hills with vast quantities of nothing in between, which was beautiful in its grand emptiness. We pretty much stop at every gas station to fill up, since our range is only about 150 to 170 miles and there isn’t much gas out there. Glad we have our jerry can.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Check Engine Light: My Suzuki's Blasted EGR System

Check Engine Light Socks
Yes, these are real, yes they're mine. Hopefully they appease the check engine light gods. 
First off, yes, these are check engine light socks. I own them and bought them in Monterey, CA hoping they'd prevent future check engine lights. However, so far, they're not doing much other than looking fabulous.

Since May, I've been struggling to fix my Suzuki Sidekick's EGR system. I keep getting a code 51 check engine light, which signifies that something with the EGR system isn't right. It's a well-known fact that OBDI (On Board Diagnostics, version 1) is cryptic and, well, kind of dumb compared to modern OBDII. When something goes wrong with the car, OBDI essentially taps you on the shoulder like a couch surfing stoner and says, "Hey, uh, something's the matter with your engine. Like, I know it's something to do with the EGR system, but that's about it. Hope you can fix it. Hey, mind if I crash here a few more nights?" To read the OBDI, you insert a jumper, aka a paperclip, into the "data port" located under the hood. The check engine light blinks at you a number of times in a sequence: five blinks, then one slow blink. Code 51.

I hate you, code 51.

I've taken it apart several times and attempted to clean out the labyrinth that is the EGR routing. On my year Sidekick (1995), the pathways are cast into the intake manifold and the head making cleaning difficult to say the least. However, the pathways seem clean on both the intake and exhaust side (I've routed them out with a coat hanger and can feel exhaust gas coming through), the thermoprobe reads correctly (I cleaned it and then tested it with my handy voltmeter), and the valve is clean and seems to hold vacuum when off the car (trust me, I checked). The only thing I can think might be wrong is the valve isn't getting vacuum—something I need to check tomorrow. I've been spending some time on, a site with a perverse amount of information for Sidekicks, Trackers, and Vitaras. Although its not exactly the prettiest or easiest site to navigate, it is extremely thorough.

At this point, I'd like this EGR issue to simply go away. This EGR issue—a common issue with Sidekicks, Trackers, and Vitaras, has been a pain in the ass.

So please, EGR system, be fixed.


(Complete with check engine light socks)

Friday, September 25, 2015

I've Never Owned a Car With an Automatic Transmission. Will I?

Stick shift meme

In my 21 years of legal driving ability, I have never owned a car equipped with an automatic transmission. Yes, there was the 1979 Honda Civic 1200 with the Hondamatic two-speed, but you technically had to shift it from first into second. Plus, it was a winter beater. Plus, it was awesome.

I've never been tempted to own something without a manual transmission. Perhaps I've unfairly labeled all cars with an automatic mundane. Clearly, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Chevrolet Corvette, BMW M6, and Jaguar F-Type S I've driven are all totally lame. But could they have been more entertaining with a manual transmission? I mean, are all vehicles instantly more fun with a stick shift?

Review: 2015 MINI Cooper S 4-Door Hardtop

2015 MINI Cooper S 4 Door Hardtop front 3/4


If you’re familiar with the MINI brand, you’ll know that they’ve been trying a host of different formulas in order to entice buyers. Coupes, convertibles, roadsters, subcompact crossovers, and now this: The four-door MINI. It’s not a Countryman crossover, it’s a five-door hatchback. It’s offered in front-wheel drive only in both Cooper and tarted-up Cooper S trim. Our tester is the hot Cooper S.

Since its inception, MINI has always been upscale, and pricing has always said this, despite the car's subcompact size. And while I usually wait until the end of the review to mention pricing, our MINI Cooper S four-door hardtop has a sticker price of $36,050. Now, this seems like a lot of money for a little car, and by little I mean physically small. At least at first.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Is Diesel Doomed?


News broke yesterday that Volkswagen's diesel-powered vehicles, such as the Golf SportWagen we recently reviewed, have software that turns on the emissions control system only during emissions testing, allowing the car to produce as much as 40 times the amount of allowed pollutants under normal driving conditions. Because of this, the German auto maker, which has admitted selling 482,000 of these vehicles since 2009, faces potential fines of up to $18 billion ($37,500 fine per vehicle) for its alleged attempt at cheating the clean air system in the U.S. And while it's unlikely VW will have to pay the full $18 billion in fines, it will have to fork over a chunk of change, and its reputation for offering "clean diesel" will likely be damaged and its customers' trust may have been violated. In 2014, 23% of all VWs sold in the U.S. were diesel (, Oct. 3, 2014). This could have have an effect on VW of America's bottom line, especially since the automaker has been struggling to find sales in the U.S. But on a grander scale, it could affect buyers' opinion of diesel in general.

Volkswagen/Audi is single-handedly responsible for keeping diesel alive in passenger cars here in the U.S. Yes, Chevrolet has offered its diesel-powered Cruze for a couple of years, and BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche offers some diesel vehicles, too. But VW/Audi has been the people's diesel car in a market that still generally thinks diesel cars are slow, gutless, and produce lots of pollution. But now, diesel's stereotype for being a big polluter may only become bolstered, and I wouldn't imagine many other automakers will be wanting to jump on the oil-burning bandwagon anytime soon.

I'd think public opinion of diesel may take a turn for the worse in North America. After all, VW billed its diesels as clean, and they were a tour de force with the environmental crowd who didn't want a gas/electric hybrid. Unfortunately, VW was doing the exact opposite of keeping the air clean, despite putting up impressive fuel economy numbers. It'll be interesting to see if Volkswagens flub will affect diesel sales of the other automakers' diesel vehicles.

In reading through several car forums and automotive websites, it appears some enthusiasts actually applaud VW for trying to beat the EPA's extremely difficult clean air standards for diesel. They look at VW as a rebel; a company not willing to play the EPA's game for emissions standards. But in the grand scheme of things, VW got caught and will have to pay.

Does this mean diesel is doomed in the U.S.? We'll have to wait and see. For now, I'd be willing to bet hybrids will continue to dominate as the choice for those who don't want traditional gasoline engines in their cars. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

2016 Kia Rio Info

2016 Kia Rio SX in Digital Yellow

Kia has refreshed its 2016 Rio subcompact. Pictured above is arguably the best looking of the lineup, a Digital Yellow Kia Rio 5-Door in SX trim. It's not just the front that's refreshed; the rear end also gets a new treatment.

2016 Kia Rio SX in Digital Yellow rear

In addition to the new front and rear, the interior gets a host up enhancements that include upgraded UVO eServices technology and a more premium look and feel. What does that mean? According to kia:

Inside, the enhancements continue with the increased use of high-density foam in the A- and B-pillars for reduced NVH, new technology features, premium touch points and available two-tone Designer Package (EX only).  Subtle changes include satin-finish bezels around the air vents, and a new piano black center console surround wraps the audio system and ancillary controls.  The EX Designer Package includes unique black cloth with gray leatherette trim with gray stitching. Gray padded door panel inserts, unique gray stitching on steering wheel, center console armrest and shifter boot all contribute to a sporty, premium-feeling interior.
The engine remains the same 1.6-liter direct-injection DOHC four-cylinder making 138 horsepower and 123 ft/lbs of torque. Hatchback models only with a six-speed automatic transmission. The entry-level LX sedan is available with a six-speed manual.

In addition to a hatchback, Kia also offers the Rio in sedan form, if you're so inclined to have a trunk.

2016 Kia Rio EX sedan

2016 Kia Rio EX sedan rear

Thursday, September 17, 2015

2016 Toyota Yaris Info

The 2016 models are right around the corner, and in Toyota's case, the subcompact Yaris will get a few minor changes. The biggest change will be the availability of Crushed Ice and Barcelona Red with a Black Sand Pearl Roof, as witnessed in the photos above. While these photos are of European-spec Yaris models, we expect to get the same treatment here on this side of the ocean.

Other than the new black-top versions, the French-made Yaris will continue to offer 106 hp and 103 ft/lbs of torque from its 1NZ-FE 1.5-liter DOHC engine. Available transmission choices remain the trusty (read: old) five-speed manual and four-speed automatic. Proven? Yes. Old technology? Ditto.

The car is available in L, LE, and SE trim levels, the latter getting the "sport" treatment with a sport-tuned suspension and steering. You can see our 2015 Toyota Yaris SE review from a few months ago and get our impressions.

And yes, we own a 2007