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Chevrolet Set to Unveil New Spark Next Month

New minicar set for deal debut in New York and Seoul.

by on Mar.09, 2015

Chevy hints the 2016 Spark will be sleeker, and more aerodynamic than the old minicar.

Chevrolet plans to take the wraps off the new 2016 Spark – twice, with a dual debut scheduled at the upcoming auto shows in New York and Seoul.

The Korean-made minicar has been defying recent trends that have seen sales of small passenger cars slump in light of the drop in fuel prices. Demand for the Chevrolet Spark surged 32% during the first two months of 2015 compared to the same period last year.

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Though the 2016 Spark will retain its basic, tall hatchback shape, GM promises a “sleeker, more aerodynamic profile and a progressive take” on the outgoing model’s basic design cues. That fits into efforts to win over young urban buyers who want something small but not necessarily a basic econobox.

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First Drive: 2012 Scion iQ

Is it smarter than a Smart?

by on Oct.25, 2011

Scion's iQ targets a new generation of City Car buyers.

There’s one thing you can be guaranteed will happen when driving the new Scion iQ: expect to get plenty of stares, folks routinely stopping to ask you about the little microcar.

Measuring barely five feet tall and 10 feet nose-to-tail, the 2012 Scion iQ isn’t the smallest car on U.S. roads but it comes awfully close, somehow squeezing four seats into a footprint only 14 inches longer than the 2-seat Smart fortwo.

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But this is no pedal car.  At $15,995, Scion will be commanding something of a premium considering what other makers are charging for their current subcompact offerings.  Perhaps that can be expected in the electronics world: you pay more for a smaller smartphone or MP3 player.  But getting motorists to pay more for less car is a challenge that few have so far pulled off, notably British marque Mini.

The 2012 Scion iQ hopes to take advantage of the "new urbanism," where - small - size matters.

Once you get past its miniscule size, the 2012 Scion iQ doesn’t look like a tin econobox.  A tweaked and update version of the European Toyota iQ, it has a reasonably substantial look and feel to it that comes in sharp contrast to some past small cars that made you wonder what you were risking by slipping inside.

Clearly, Toyota made a major effort to deliver a microcar that lived up to the brand’s reputation for tight fits and on-the-nail quality.  If we found a single issue after poring over our test car it was a slight misalignment in the two inside door handles – and even that appeared to be more a visual miscue than an actual defect.

Like many modern small cars, the new iQ opts for a relatively tall cabin, at least compared to its overall length.  This approach creates a much more roomy interior package than you might otherwise expect, even though the cabin is still a bit cramped, with a back seat that only barely slips into the usable category.

At 10 feet, nose-to-tail, the 2012 Scion iQ is just 14 inches longer than the Smart fortwo.

But the interior is surprisingly well-appointed, with nice details such as the sporty, flat-bottomed steering wheel.  There’s a nice mix of chrome and pewter accents completed by the piano-black finish around the center display.  Gauges and controls are well-placed and easy to reach.  The center speedo display is mated to a small digital readout that is legible but not nearly as appealing as the motorcycle-style display serving similar purpose on the new Chevrolet Sonic.

If there’s a drawback it’s the seats, which are thin and cheap feeling, almost like they were lifted out of a ‘70s-era econobox.  But they’re more comfortable than they look – at least on relatively short drives.

Another disappointment is the lack of much useful storage, with no functional glovebox, just a little tray under the passenger seat.

Under the tiny hood one finds a port-injected, 1329 cc inline-four engine making 94 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque.  Not exactly a rocket, but that’s reasonable for a car weighing in at just 2,150 pounds.  The specs tell you it’ll take nearly 12 seconds to get to 60, with a top speed – if you have a long enough road – to hit 100.  In practice, perhaps it’s the miniscule size of the 2012 Scion iQ but it feels a bit faster than the numbers would imply.

Scion has delivered a reasonably well-executed interior in what others might have considered a basic econobox.

It has enough oomph – okay, just barely – to let you feel comfortable in a passing maneuver on a two-lane blacktop if there’s no oncoming traffic.

The little four is mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission and under hard acceleration it seems pinned to the 4,000 rev mark, inducing that dreaded rubber-banding that is the nature of the CVT.  We’d certainly prefer the manual gearbox offered in the European Toyota iQ.

Safety is clearly an issue that a lot of folks wonder and worry about when it comes to small cars.  The recent news that the Fiat 500 has won the IIHS Top Safety Pick award (Click Here for the full story) should help potential buyers recognize that small doesn’t have to mean vulnerable.  It also helps that Scion is packing 11 airbags into the tiny confines of the 2012 iQ – including the world’s first airbag mounted behind the seats, designed to reduce injuries during a rear-end collision.

More clearly in the plus column, the Scion doesn’t just nudge into the 40 mpg club, as a number of new small cars have done but punch right past it at 50 mpg Highway and an impressive 39 mpg around town – the latter figure better than Smart’s Highway rating.

The Scion iQ during its preview at the NY Auto Show.

On the whole, Scion has done a reasonable job with the new iQ considering the severe constraints of a vehicle not much bigger than a golf cart.  It’s a hands-down improvement over the Smart fortwo, for one thing.  But is that enough to win over many American motorists?

Perhaps for those who can only park it where they used to keep a bicycle.  But other than in a few American cities does the size of the 2012 Scion iQ really offer it much of an advantage.  So, while there may be a few trend-setters who just have to have the newest, if not greatest, it’s hard to see where there’ll be much of a market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion division took the wraps off the 2012 iQ, an innovative new entry in the growing segment of urban microcars.

Powered by a 1.3-liter, 4-cylinder engine, the iQ stands a mere 59 inches tall, 66 inches wide and 10 feet long. But inside there is more than ample legroom for driver and front-seat passenger. The backseat is more appropriate for one passenger, but the 50/50 fold-down back seat provides decent storage space. The iQ represents an all-new model for Scion.

The most notable feature of the iQ is its 11 standard air bags. Drivers can turn it around in a nimble steering radius of 12.9 feet, which provides maneuverability and ease of parking in narrow city streets.

The car goes on sale in early December, first on the West Coast, said Jack Hollis, Scion vice president. Dealers in the South and Southwest will begin to receive the car in January and February, with the sales launch for the East Coast and Midwest slated for March. The base price, including delivery charge is $15,995.

 

Smart Forvision Envisions a Better Microcar

Maker’s new 2-seater will be based on Renault technology.

by on Sep.19, 2011

The battery-powered Smart Forvision concept provides a hint of the next-generation Smart Fortwo.

Struggling Smart is offering up a vision of what could be the future of its two-seat Fortwo microcar.

The new Smart Forvision concept vehicle on display at the Frankfurt Motor Show is a long-delayed and much-needed replacement for a vehicle that has become increasingly outdated even as the competition floods the market with an assortment of hipper, more technically sophisticated alternatives.

The Forvision follows the unveiling of the earlier Fospeed cabriolet concept which was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year.

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“We’ve used all the tricks in the book,” said Thomas Weber, a senior executive with Smart parent Daimler AG, during the prototype’s preview in Frankfurt.

That notably includes finding a partner to help develop the microcar.  In the decade since Smart launched Daimler has struggled to come up with a working business strategy for its smallest brand.  It has lost billions on Smart and abandoned all earlier models but the Fortwo.

The Smart Forvision concept makes extensive use of carbon-fiber-based composites.

Going forward, the new business case will call for partnering with the Euro-Asian Renault/Nissan alliance.  The partners have agreed to a variety of joint ventures, as TheDetroitBureau.com reported last week.  (Click Here for more.) Among other things, the new Mercedes AMF platform used for the maker’s next-generation B-Class will serve as the foundation of a new Infiniti model based on the Etherea concept.  Meanwhile, Renault’s latest microcar “architecture,” developed for its little Twingo model , will be shared with future Smart models – including the Fortwo replacement.

In concept form, the Forvision introduces a variety of intriguing technologies for the microcar segment – many of them developed with the assistance of yet another partner, German chemical giant BASF.

Those include plastic wheels that weigh about 7.5 pounds less than even aluminum wheels.  A carbon-fiber epoxy resin was used for the passenger compartment and doors, meanwhile, reducing weight by 50% compared to steel and 30% versus aluminum.  But the composite material is even stronger than conventional materials and would improve passenger safety if put into production, Daimler officials suggested.

The Forvision was shown in battery car form, underscoring the brand’s interest in electric technology.  Some of the technologies shown in Frankfurt would prove particularly useful in the next-generation Smart Electric Drive, or ED.

For one thing, special insulation was used to reduce the power consumption of the Smart Forvision climate control system.  Using a heater in the winter can reduce range of battery-electric vehicles, like the current Smart ED or Nissan Leaf, by as much as half.

How much of the Forvision concept will carry over into production remains to be seen.  The lightweight resin materials will be a challenge considering their costs – which normally limit the use of composites to ultra-luxury vehicles – but manufacturers are pressing hard to drive down costs and improve manufacturability.  BMW is betting on that as it prepares to launch its own battery-based sub-brand with models like the i3 and i8.

The all-new Smart is expected to reach showrooms sometime next year.

That’s none too soon for the little brand.  Sales have been in a sharp slump, especially in the key U.S. market, despite rising fuel prices.  Since its American introduction in 2008, sales are off by more than two-thirds and analysts remain skeptical whether even an updated version of the Smart Fortwo will reverse that decline.

 

Tata Gives the Go to Pixel

Set for Europe, could Indian maker also target U.S.?

by on Mar.16, 2011

The Tata Pixel reportedly gets the go for Europe. But will the Indian maker next target the U.S.?

Even by city car standards, Tata’s Pixel concept is diminutive, measuring just 10 feet nose-to-tail, or nearly a foot smaller than the Indian maker’s already compact Nano.  But there’s apparently a market to be had, Tata reportedly giving Pixel the green light for launch into the European market.

Could the States be far behind?

Tata took the wraps off the little Pixel at the recent Geneva Motor Show, and the white, gull-winged two-door proved one of the most popular concepts of the show – if for no other reason than curiosity value.

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Tata bills Pixel as “the most package-efficient four-seater in the world,” and it is, indeed, a surprisingly roomy vehicle, one that could readily hold four adults – as long as those in the back weren’t part of an NBA team.

In European trim, anticipate a weight of less than 1700 pounds.  It will help that Tata expects to remove the gull-wing doors, which require plenty of reinforcement, and replace them with conventional portals.

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First Look: Kia Picanto

Will Koreans bring city car to the States?

by on Dec.09, 2010

Set for Geneva debut, the Kia Picanto.

Fuel prices nudging $3 a gallon, new fuel economy standards that could push 62 mpg.  The headlines give plenty of reasons to wonder whether Kia has the U.S. market in mind as it releases the first sketches of its new Picanto city car.

So far, however, it appears the American market isn’t on the list of places where you’ll be able to buy what looks like a surprisingly slick addition to the Korean maker’s design-driven product revolution.  But, then again, Chevrolet had no plans to bring the new Spark to the States until it announced a sudden about-face.

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Set for launch in the British market during the second quarter of 2011, the Kia Picanto will make its formal debut at the Geneva Motor Show, late this winter.

What appears to be a three-door body uses a sharply-creased wedge design that bears the distinctive look and feel of Peter Schreyer.  The German stylist jumped to Kia, several years ago, to lead its distinctive design push.  Americans will get a good sense of what Schreyer’s touch is yielding with the upcoming launch of the 2011 Kia Optima.

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First Drive: 2011 Nissan Juke

Quirky, for sure, but plenty fun to drive.

by on Aug.26, 2010

The 2011 Nissan Juke isn't just another urban cruiser.

Pulling up to the ferry terminal at Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay, it doesn’t take long for a crowd to form.  We’re just waiting for the boat to take us over to the Sunshine Coast, but seemingly everyone has to come and check out our new set of wheels, ask questions and offer their opinion

Nissan has a history of coming up with quirky, provocative crossover-utility vehicles – think Murano or Infiniti FX – and the Japanese maker’s latest offering certainly lives up to that reputation.  Based on the same B-car platform as the Versa minicar, the 2011 Nissan Juke is certainly not just another plebian SUV wannabe.

There are the muscular wheel arches and the sloping roof line that is vaguely reminiscent of the little Z-car, at least a Z on steroids.  The bubble back could be borrowed from Murano though the Nike swoop-like lights might easily be lifted from one of the Volvo XC models.  Then there’s that nose.  Everyone has a thought to offer.

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Juke’s headlamps aren’t where you’d expect them.  A pair of large, clear blisters erupt from the hood and would suggest that the car is using the latest in project lamp technology.  But they’re actually just turn signals.  The headlamps are mounted in the circles that rise from the bumper, where you might expect foglamps.  Those, if your car is so –equipped, are tucked almost out of sight in the lower fascia.

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