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First Drive: 2014 Mazda3

Not your old econo-box.

by on Sep.20, 2013

The new 2014 Mazda3 is the latest model to pick up on the Kodo design language.

The Mazda3 has been around for a while now and familiarity has no doubt bred an array of preconceptions about the car.

With the launch of 2014 Mazda3 with SkyActiv technology, however, Mazda3 is going to force a lot of buyers to drop their pre-conceived notions about compact cars. The new Mazda3 is definitely not your aunt’s econobox.

Instead it’s sleek and nimble, as well as comfortable, efficient and versatile. In fact, the exterior design of the new Mazda3 — which carries on the distinctively sculpted Kodo design language the automaker has highlighted with recent concept vehicles — makes it one of the most stylish vehicles in a crowded segment.

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That’s no faint praise when you consider the alternatives include the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Honda Civic and the new Toyota Corolla.

But while some of those competitors are content with a single body style, the new Mazda3 will be offered in both four–door sedan and five-door hatchback form.


A Second Look at the 2012 Ford Focus

Staying in focus.

by on Oct.10, 2011

In a break with the past, two-thirds of the Ford Focus models sold in the U.S. are now hatchbacks.

Let’s see if we can get through this review without too many references to Ford focusing on its new 2012 Focus, or how the focus is on compact cars these days, or how the Focus focuses on fuel economy. You get the idea.

What Ford would prefer you to focus on (sorry) is the new Focus’ European pedigree, its on road prowess, and its 40 mpg promise. Let’s not forget the available MyFordTouch infotainment suite.

The last Focus was an unloved compact full of panel gaps, and what it lacked in performance it made up for in lack of styling. All the while, auto journos and compact-car freaks were clamoring for Ford’s European Focus.

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Well, it’s here. Available in either hatchback or sedan configurations, the new Focus is a stylish entry in a class that is suddenly filled with fashionable entrées, such as the Hyundai Elantra, Hyundai Veloster, Subaru Impreza, and even the Chevrolet Cruze, which may not have the haute couture duds, but does have a plenty strong package.

Ford’s Fiesta was the Blue Oval’s first volley in the small-car war, and the Focus follows in its footsteps, albeit wearing bigger shoes. Available in four trims—S, SE, SEL, and Titanium—the Focus has a 2.0-liter gasoline direct-injection four-cylinder that makes 160 horsepower and matches to either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.


First Drive: 2012 Subaru Impreza

Subaru aims for the mainstream.

by on Oct.03, 2011

Subaru brings an all-new version of the Impreza to market for 2012.

When one thinks of compact cars, the name Impreza probably doesn’t leap to the top of the mental list, unless the one doing the thinking is a Subaru loyalist. The small Japanese maker is looking to change that with the updated 2012 Impreza, which is restyled inside and out and features an all-new powerplant.

First things first: Only the relatively mainstream Impreza is changing—the sportier WRX and STi spin-offs aren’t going under the knife just yet. Nor are they going anywhere, they’ll carry on in current form for a while until replacements are ready. So breathe easy, Subaru/rally fan boys and girls.

Now, to the Impreza itself. The new model is definitely more attractive, both inside and out, with a more refined interior package.  But the biggest news besides the new design is the all-new 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed “boxer” engine that makes 148 horsepower.   Other significant changes include the deletion of the Outback Sport model, and news Subaru will now be able to tout an increase in fuel economy to a maximum of 36 mpg.

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The Impreza is going head-to-head with other compacts like the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Volkswagen Golf. So not only does Subaru have to compete with those models, but it will have to live up to its reputation for sporty all-wheel-drive performance if it hopes Impreza can become a better-selling model in the company’s portfolio.


First Drive: 2011 Chrysler 200

Newly renamed compact might make you forget the Sebring Ever existed.

by on Nov.15, 2010

The 2011 Chrysler 200 could make you forget the dreeadful old Sebring.

It’s been a busy year for the folks at Chrysler.  Almost exactly a year ago, new CEO Sergio Marchionne outlined an aggressive plan to turn the once-bankrupt company around.

And if anyone doubted him, the proof will soon start rolling into showrooms – starting with a new compact car called the 200 that took less than one calendar year for the Chrysler design and engineering teams to create.

After spending an afternoon in the new 200,  the much-needed replacement for the dreadful Chrysler Sebring, we came to see that the maker finally has found a credible new competitor for the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry.

The new 200 looks very much like a sedan version of the 2011 Town & Country minivan, with many of the same visual cues in the grille, headlamps, air intakes and front bumper.

Compared to the old Sebring, the 200 is much sleeker and more rounded at the nose, and carries a better aerodynamic drag coefficient thanks to steps such as lowering the front end 12 millimeters and the rear end six millimeters.

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At the rear, there’s a cross-car chrome bar between the new LED taillamps and another chrome bar down between the exhaust outlets that serve to widen the look of the car.  All Chrysler models will have a new “wing” logo in brushed metal and blue paint to replace the old traditional wing logo and signify the birth of yet another version of Chrysler.

The roof and doors of the 200 came from the Sebring, but the entire nose, decklid, rear fascia, interior and chassis have been replaced with better and more modern stuff, and the old V-6 engine has been tossed in favor of the new corporate 3.6-liter V-6 engine, which puts out 283 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque, coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission.


Chevrolet Cruze Eco To Top 40 MPG

Should give Chevy compact segment leadership.

by on Nov.12, 2010

With a manual gearbox the 2011 Chevy Cruze Eco hits 42 mpg, 2 better than forecast.

Chevrolet believes it has rolled out a secret weapon that could get it noticed in a segment of the market long overwhelmingly dominated by import rivals such as Honda and Toyota.

The U.S. maker’s new Cruze Eco model, equipped with a manual transmission, has been rated at 42 miles per gallon by the Environmental Protection Agency, giving the 2011 Chevy a solid lead over the 35 mpg Toyota Corolla and 34 mpg Honda Civic – as well as competing compacts from Ford, Hyundai and other manufacturers.

Chevrolet is hoping to make major inroads in the compact passenger car segment with the so far well-reviews Cruze. (For’s review of the 2011 Chevy Cruze, Click Here.) The new model replaces the old Cobalt and other lackluster offerings before it that had cost General Motors dominance in the critical compact niche.

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Cruze has been praised for a variety of attributes, including both its exterior and interior design and refinement, and for its ride and handling.  But at a time when fuel prices are nudging $3.00 a gallon in much of the country – and nearing $4.00 in parts of California – fuel economy is rapidly rising on the list of consumer demands.


First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Can an American offering dominate the compact car segment?

by on Aug.02, 2010

The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is positioned to challenge the Asian brands that have long dominated the compact segment.

American automakers have never been fond of small cars, products that seldom, if ever, yielded serious profits.  Sure, there’ve been a couple valiant efforts, from General Motors a list that notably includes the controversial Chevrolet Vega, but often, Detroit’s offerings have been little more than reluctant afterthoughts.

That’s reflected in the sales and market share charts which have long been dominated by Japanese imports such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.  But could the compact car segment by ripe for a revolution?  As a well-regarded media analyst recently suggested, we may soon see a time when the best small cars on the market come from Detroit.

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While we’ll have to wait a bit to get behind the wheel of the U.S. version of Ford’s next-generation Focus, we did have some extended driving time in the new 2011 Chevrolet Cruze.  And what we experienced supports the idea that this new Chevy offering could displace its Japanese rivals as the benchmark to beat. (See Driving the Chevrolet Cruze – Mixing it up between the mid-size and compact segments.)