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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.

 

First Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic

Chevy finally gets in the game with American-made subcompact.

by on Oct.20, 2011

The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Z-Spec package will add graphics packages, wheels, ground effects and mirror caps to the stock Sonic hatchback.

When it comes to small cars, let’s face it, Detroit has had a history of rolling out some pretty forgettable products, nowhere more so than at Chevrolet, which has dumped on a trusting public such unremarkable and sometimes crude offerings as the Nova, Storm, Cavalier, Cobalt and Aveo.

Which is a good reason why General Motors’ largest division decided to abandon the latter nameplate when it came time to launch an all-new subcompact — one that finally gives reason to Buy American even if there’s more on your mind than a rock bottom price tag.

Yes, the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic does still sport a pleasantly affordable bottom line but the fact is it’s also a reasonably fun car to drive – and one that delivers a surprising amount of features and value for the money.

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Sonic is the new name chosen for the replacement for Chevy’s B-segment car.  And starting fresh makes sense.  Get rid of the old, dated design and uncompetitive engineering – and move production over to the U.S.  The outgoing Aveo was assembled in South Korea by what used to be known as Daewoo.  While the Koreans, now part of GM’s global product empire, played a critical role in engineering the 2012 Sonic, the new car is being assembled at a plant in suburban Detroit.

We got our chance to take the new Chevy subcompact out on the road during a blustery autumn day near Hell, Michigan – an ironic name for a place that provides some of the best roads in the state for testing out a car’s mettle.

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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.

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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.

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First Drive: 2012 Mini Coupe

Mini introduces its fastest model ever.

by on Sep.27, 2011

The 2-seat Mini Cooper John Cooper Works edition is the brand's fastest car ever.

Small is big, or so it seems, these days, with all manner of new products, small, smaller and smallest coming to market as buyers put a premium on fuel efficiency.  But no brand has done more to change the perception of what a small car can be than Mini, the British marque showing that downsized automobiles can be much, much more than just econoboxes.

And now, just short of a decade after the 2002 launch of the reborn Mini nameplate, the British marque is getting ready to roll out an assortment of new offerings that will bring to seven its model line-up.  We had the chance to spend a couple days in Nashville, this month, with the first of the next-gen products, the 2012 Mini Coupe.

The good news is that these latest offerings are not just more of the same.  True, many of them are modern takes on models Mini originally offered decades ago.  But there’s no confusing the Mini Cooper with the Countryman crossover or even the new Coupe, which Mini’s U.S. chief Jim McDowell suggests is “not like any Mini you’ve ever before.”

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Our trip through Nashville and into the surrounding countryside suggests he’s right, wherever we headed, passersby stopping to stare at the first Mini to adopt what designers like to call a “three-box” design.  Nor will you confuse the 2012 Mini Coupe with a classic sedan.  Then there’s the steeply raked windshield, angled another 13 degrees compared to the standard-issue Mini.  But perhaps the most distinctive feature is the new 2-seater’s “helmet roof,” which adds to the Coupe aggressive stance.

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Hyundai Accent on the Fast Track

New model tops subcompact segment.

by on Aug.09, 2011

New to the market, the 2012 Hyundai Accent is already America's best-selling subcompact.

On sale only since the start of the summer, the 2012 Hyundai Accent has quickly established itself in the increasingly competitive U.S. small car market – topping the charts as America’s best-selling subcompact passenger car in July.

Pushing its 40 mpg mileage, Hyundai was able to nudge the Accent into the lead by overcoming segment leaders Ford Fiesta and Nissan Versa, as well as vehicles such as the Honda Fit, Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris.

The Accent’s fast start underscores the success of Hyundai’s campaign to promote its growing lineup of vehicles that get 40 miles per gallon.

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“The all-new Accent outsold two great small cars we really respect in July – the Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta,” said John Krafcik, president and CEO, Hyundai Motor America.

“In fact, it was the best-selling subcompact in the industry last month, its first full month of sales. It’s a good indication that consumers are connecting with our new design, 40-mpg fuel economy, and the Assurance Trade-In Value Guarantee. It’s a great recipe for this economy,” Krafcik said.

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Toyota Reveals New Yaris at Lollapalooza

Maker upgrades its smallest offering but falls short of 40 mpg.

by on Aug.08, 2011

Toyota hopes to gain ground in the subcompact segment with the newly-updated 2012 Yaris.

These days, you never know where a new car might first show up.  While most makers continue to rely on major auto shows, such as those in Detroit, Frankfurt or even Beijing, industry planners have been looking for ways to avoid getting lost in the crowd.

The unveiling of the next-generation Honda CR-V, for example, is scheduled for the upcoming Orange County show, the little cousin of the big Los Angeles Auto Show.  And now, it seems, music fans attending the big Lollapalooza concert in Chicago were the first to get an in-the-sheet-metal look at the all-new 2012 Toyota Yaris.

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The image above, supplied by Toyota, provides a better sense of the new subcompact than the pics that came out of the show, though the following interior shot, first posted on Cars.com, gives a look that Toyota didn’t provide of a distinctly redesigned interior.

The basic dimensions of the 2012 Toyota Yaris are familiar.  But the longer nose of the new 5-door hatchback appears to be designed to give the small car a bigger feel, something that might appeal to American motorists who have traditionally steered clear of microcars.

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First Drive: 2012 Nissan Versa

by on Jul.13, 2011

Nissan comes up with a complete remake of the Versa sedan for 2012.

With a starting price of just $10,990, the 2012 remake of the Nissan Versa sedan will clearly catch the attention of those on a tight budget.  And in this economy, there are a lot of folks who qualify.  Stealing a march on its Korean rivals, the Japanese maker’s smallest 4-door actually comes in significantly cheaper than comparably equipped offerings from Hyundai and Kia.

Anyone familiar with the Nissan Versa nameplate knows that has long been a big selling point – but a low cost often has its price, the prior generation requiring buyers to accept significant sacrifices in terms of room, performance and creature comforts.

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The good news is that the all-new 2012 Nissan Versa sedan no longer demands such concessions.  Based on the Japanese maker’s new global V platform, the latest iteration proves unexpectedly roomy, far better equipped and is a lot more fun to drive.  It also gets significantly better fuel economy, though it does not meet the magic 40 mpg highway target that some key competitors are unabashedly promoting at every opportunity.

There will be two Versas for 2012, buyers need note.  The hatchback, which has traditional accounted for almost two-thirds of Nissan’s subcompact sales, won’t get a re-make for another year.  The big news for the upcoming model-year is the redesign of the sedan.

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First Drive: 2012 Hyundai Accent

Getting in the game.

by on Jul.06, 2011

Hyundai hopes the 2012 Accent will make it a competitive player in the subcompact segment.

Let’s face it, when someone mentions Hyundai you’re more likely than not to associate the brand with low-priced econoboxes, rather than high-end products.

Sure, that’s begun to change as the Korean carmaker launches more sophisticated offerings, like the Genesis and Equus.  But the Accent has been the classic cost-leader, a subcompact traditionally appealing to those on a budget, with a starting price tag of just under $10,000.

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If you’re one of those motorists who ignored the Hyundai Accent, you may have to think twice when the 2012 model rolls into showrooms, however.  On the downside, you’ll have to pay a fair bit more, the all-new model starting at $13,205 including destination charges.  But what you’ll get for the money is a car you no longer have to apologize for, bragging only about the bargain you got.

And, if nothing else matters, you’ll be able to crow about the latest Hyundai Accent’s new Gamma engine, an all-aluminum I-4 that delivers impressive fuel economy – it’s the Korean maker’s latest offering to deliver better than 40 mpg on the highway. (more…)

First Look: 2012 Kia Rio

Kia Soul facelift also debuting at NY Auto Show.

by on Apr.15, 2011

A very different Kia Rio debuts in NY.

The Korean carmakers are making record inroads into the U.S. market – and are determined to keep the momentum going.  So, look for some big news from Kia when it gets its turn in the spotlight at the upcoming NY Auto Show.

The smaller sibling of Hyundai has several big announcements coming at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, including the global debuts of the 2012 Kia Rio sedan and Rio5 hatchback, as well as the unveiling of the much-anticipated update of the quirky Kia Soul.

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The maker is keeping images of the latter box-mobile close to vest but we’ve gotten our hands on several shots of the next-generation Rio, shown here.  The updated model clearly adopts the aggressive new styling language we’ve already seen on models like the ’11 Optima and the new Elantra.

Chief designer Peter Schreyer’s team has come up with a small car that manages to look a lot more sporty and up-market than the old Rio, which was a classic econobox.  Both the sedan and Rio5 hatchback get more aggressive wedge shapes with broad, sloping shoulders.  In keeping with the latest styling trends, the two body styles feature large wheel wells and deeply sculpted door panels.

Kia will offer both a 4-door sedan and the Rio5 hatchback for 2012.

Both models are wider and longer than the vehicles they replace – but still deliver better mileage, a bit more than 40 mpg on the highway.  To get that additional economy Kia adopts new Direct-Injection technology, as well as Idle Stop-Go, which instantly shuts off the engine when idling, auto-restarting when the driver’s foot lifts off the brake.

The updated Soul, meanwhile, is expected to boast about 35 mpg on the highway, even though Kia hints it will announced a “significant” increase in performance during its NY news conference.  Give credit there to a new 6-speed gearbox.

Grainy spy shots suggest the basic shape of the wildly popular Soul won’t change much, though it is always about details.  New LED projector headlamps help Kia round out the overall silhouette of the 2012 Soul update.