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First Look: 2012 Kia Rio

“Korean spice and Latin flair” to debut in Geneva.

by on Feb.11, 2011

The new Kia Rio will debut in Geneva next month.

One by one, Kia is redesigning its entire line-up, putting each new model in sync with the critically well-received styling transformation underscored by the new Optima.

Next to come out of Peter Schreyer’s studio is the 2012 Kia Rio, which will make its debut at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show, alongside another new model, the Picanto.

Selling the market on B-segment models like Rio isn’t easy.

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They’re typically been targeted to the price conscious, or those who look at fuel economy above all else.  But styling has become an increasingly critical competitive edge, as Ford has demonstrated with the latest-generation Fiesta.  And Kia is betting it can get a leg up with a look it describes as a blend of “Korean spice and Latin flair.”


First Drive: Fiat 500

Good things do come in small packages.

by on Jan.28, 2011

The Fiat 500 finally arrives in the States.

Who says good things come in small packages?  Probably anyone who gets the chance to drive the new, U.S. version of the Fiat 500.

The Italian microcar has won a procession of awards back on the home continent, including the much-coveted World Car of the Year.  But the question is whether American motorists will give the U.S. version of the Fiat 500 a similarly warm reception.

This is a Costco nation that lives by the motto, “bigger is better,” and nowhere is that more apparent than in the automotive industry – though there are some telling hints of a shifting mindset.  While demand for the struggling Smart fortwo is rapidly drying up, that seems to be more the result of product flaws than an inherent market resistance to small cars.  The continuing success of the British-made Mini is certainly more compelling – at least for Fiat planners.

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Laura Soaves, who is overseeing the U.S. launch of the Fiat brand, projects that by 2014 small car sales in the U.S. will double, to nearly 1 million – a trend other experts echo.  Oh, and make that “re-launch” the Fiat brand, which poses a separate challenge.  The Italian maker abandoned the American market in haste, a quarter-century ago, driven out by quality problems that led to plunging sales.


Ford Rallies For New Focus

Detroit maker betting big on its latest small car.

by on Nov.18, 2010

Ford aims to win over young first-time buyers with the 2011 Focus.

Ford Motor Co. is betting big on small cars.  It began the 2011 model-year early with the launch of the little Fiesta model and now comes the next-generation Ford Focus, the compact car the Detroit maker came to the L.A. Auto Show to formally unveil.

Detroit makers have traditionally shunned compact offerings, usually viewing them as low-profit nuisances, more than anything else.  But Focus is a critical piece in Ford’s evolving global product strategy, the newest version sharing 80% of its components with the Focus sold in Europe.

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That not only improves the business case but has allowed Ford to load up the new 2011 Focus with an array of standard features, such as its Sync voice-controlled infotainment system, noted Ford’s President of the Americas Mark Fields, normally not offered on what is usually positioned as an entry-level econobox.


First Drive: 2011 Scion tC

Aiming low (when it comes to age).

by on Sep.16, 2010

Scion is back with a second-generation 2011 tC.

“Turn it up LOUD,” suggested Jack Hollis, the general manager of Toyota’s youthful Scion brand, as we headed off for our first drive in the new 2011 tC coupe.

The most popular car in the Scion brand, accounting for over 40% of its overall sales, the tC also happens to be the most youthful car on the market, attracting a buyer who is, on average, just 26 years old.  For them, a high-watt sound system is as important as a high-power engine and low 0 to 60 times in judging the appeal of the 2011 Scion tC.

That’s not to say performance doesn’t matter.  Or styling.  And the Toyota division took aim at all these attributes when they developed the second-generation Scion tC coupe, which is just now rolling into U.S. dealer showrooms.

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For those who’ve somehow missed out on Scion, think of it as a brand-within-a-brand, a nameplate aimed at those young – and largely first-time — new car buyers who wouldn’t be caught in the Toyotas their Baby Boomer parents have been driving.  Scion has made an intriguing business case for itself by rolling out a procession of small, hip and affordable products that it markets in very millennial fashion.  Skip the TV and print ads, for the most part, and focus on social marketing, with events like the one in Los Angeles, recently, that drew more than 10,000 Scion owners and their friends.


Sneak Peek: 2012 Chevrolet Aveo

Official debut set for upcoming Paris Motor Show.

by on Sep.08, 2010

The "hot hatch" remake of the Chevrolet Aveo.

Chevrolet is pulling the wraps off of one of the four new models it will launch, later this month, at the 2010 Paris Motor Show.

First revealed in show car form, earlier this year, the production version of the 5-door version of the Chevy Aveo will make its debut in the City of Lights and then reach U.S. showrooms next year as a 2012 model.

Part of a wave of new “hot hatch” models, Chevy is betting the Aveo can overcome the long-standing aversion Americans have for 3- and 5-door models.  But the new Aveo will also be offered in a more familiar sedan package, as well.

The next-generation Aveo is distinguished by exposed twin headlamps, the distinctive Chevy dual port grille and a rising beltline that gives the new hatchback a sense of kinetic motion.

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Aimed at today’s more demanding young buyers, Chevrolet promises a more refined interior than was offered in past econoboxes, including a wraparound fascia on the instrument panel, with blue backlighting on the center console and an unusual, motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster.


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.


First Drive: 2011 Mazda2

Getting out of the penalty box.

by on Aug.23, 2010

No penalty box this; the 2011 Mazda2.

Unless you’re talking about an exotic sports car, driving something small has typically been an act of endurance – repayment for bad karma, perhaps.  But there’s no reason a subcompact has to “feel  like a cheap penalty box,” insists Dave Coleman, the product development engineer behind the new 2011 Mazda2.

The 5-door hatchback is the Japanese maker’s latest-generation subcompact, and the first Mazda2 to make it to American shores.  A not-too-distant sibling of Ford’s new Fiesta, the Asian offering aims to tap into the growing demand for smaller, more affordable, more fuel-efficient vehicles.  And if our time behind the wheel is any indication, Mazda just might pull it off.

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In recent decades, Ford and Mazda have cooperated on a variety of vehicle programs, the Mazda2 just the latest.  But those who believe Fiesta and Mazda2 are effectively the same car are in for some surprises.  The two projects diverged early on, insists Coleman, who claims there are now only four parts shared between the two.


First Drive: 2011 Mini Countryman Cooper S ALL4

Bigger, but still a Mini.

by on Jul.23, 2010

When does a Mini go maxi? The new 2011 Countryman still is a Mini, we found.

Small doesn’t sell – or so went the old automotive axiom. But these days, automotive marketers are singing a different tune. Small is beautiful, and there’s no better example than the Mini.

Since it made its U.S. debut in 2002, BMW’s British brand has handily outperformed expectations.  It’s also grown a bit, at least in terms of line-up, with additions like the Mini Open convertible.  But is a larger car still capable of being a Mini?  Or will the brand max out when the all-new 2011 Countryman rolls into showrooms?  That’s a question that sent us scurrying over to Hamburg, Germany to test drive the maker’s latest addition.

Based on an all-new platform, the 2011 Mini Countryman isn’t just larger, it’s also the British marque’s first four-door model.  And since we’re talking big changes here, the Countryman is also the brand’s first sport-utility vehicle.  No, it’s not about to take on the Jeep Wrangler to see which is more adept at handling rugged courses like the Rubicon Trail, but as we discovered during two days of driving, the new model is reasonably capable on gravel, dirt and deep ruts, especially if equipped with the new Mini ALL4 all-wheel-drive system.


First Look: 2011 Nissan Micra


by on Mar.02, 2010

Nissan eventually plans to market the 2011 Micra in more than 150 countries -- including the U.S.

Downsizing is the name of the automotive game, these days, and Nissan is weighing in with the latest remake of its pint-sized Micra, which is taking its bows at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show.

Scheduled for a global roll-out, in the coming year, the Japanese maker says it will eventually market this, its smallest offering, in more than 150 countries worldwide, likely including the U.S.

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Despite its diminutive appearance, the 2011 Nissan Micra is actually a wee bit bigger than the outgoing model, with a longer wheelbase, a wider body and a more roomy interior.  Slightly lowered, as well, the micro-car will be offered in only a five-door hatchback configuration.  But at least two other body styles are reportedly on tap for Nissan’s new V-Platform , including a mini-crossover.


First Official Pics: Production 2011 Chevy Aveo

No more econobox.

by on Feb.23, 2010

Not you father's econobox, this is the production version of the 2011 Chevrolet Aveo.

What’s happened to the econobox?

U.S. motorists on the budget traditionally had two options: get something used or plunk your limited cash down for a stripped-down form of basic transportation.  But suddenly, the classic, cheap-and-cheerful economy car doesn’t quite look so cheesy anymore.

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We’ve been seeing a lot of examples of this new world order, in recent months, notably including such models as the Ford Focus and Fiesta, as well as the next-generation Chevrolet Aveo, a concept version of which General Motors pulled the lid off at the recent Detroit Auto Show.