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First Drive: 2014 Nissan Versa Note

Handsome, roomy and attractively priced.

by on Jun.27, 2013

The 2014 Nissan Versa Note gives subcompact buyers a new hatchback option.

Small cars are going through something of renaissance that is capturing the attention of more and more American motorists tired of forking over a small fortune at the pump for gasoline.

Thus, the all-new 2014 Versa Note seems to be arriving in show rooms at just the right time.  Nissan introduced a sedan version of the Versa two years ago that hasn’t exactly set the world afire, yielding the segment lead to Asian competitors like the Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent, as well as domestic models like the Ford Fiesta.

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The 2014 Versa Note – Nissan’s way of distinguishing its new subcompact hatchback – offers a more stylish exterior design than the sedan, an upgraded platform that improves interior packaging, and new technology to help set it apart from competitors.


Kia Rio Wins Subcompact Sedan Shoot-Out

But Consumer Reports slams Toyota Yaris.

by on Mar.22, 2012

Strong praise for the Kia Rio from Consumer Reports.

Don’t call the new Kia Rio sedan a “penalty box.”  There was a time when that might have applied to subcompact sedans in general – and Korean-made products in particular – but a shoot-out among domestic and import small cars suggests the best of the subcompact segment deliver more than just a cheap price tag.

The Rio EX, in particular, made a strong impression on the folks at Consumer Reports, the non-profit publication rating the Korean subcompact best in an otherwise impressive class of sedans.  The Rio hatchback didn’t score quite as well, but still landed in the top three among a field that also includes the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa.

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Notably, CR some harsh and unexpected pot shots at the Toyota entry into the growing – and increasingly competitive – subcompact segment , suggesting the Japanese giant’s Yaris hatchback  “continues to underwhelm.”  Once dominant in the small car market, Toyota has been losing ground of late, and many industry analysts believe its decline is only tangentially related to last year’s Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

The challenge is keeping up with a segment that has improved dramatically in recent years.


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.


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, 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.


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…)

New Ford Fiesta Nudges Into Hybrid Territory

Maker promising up to 40 mpg.

by on May.17, 2010

Ford will offer both this sedan and a hatchback version of the 2011 Fiesta.

The new 2011 Ford Fiesta will nudge into hybrid territory when it’s released later this year, delivering a rated fuel economy of up to 40 mpg on the highway, the automaker announced today.

The Fiesta is the latest – and most highly-promoted – among a series of European products Ford is migrating over to the States.  Though there’ve been a number of changes made to the interior, as well as to bumpers and lighting, all to meet American safety standards, Ford maintained the European car’s emphasis on fuel economy.

The American version of the Fiesta will be powered by a 120-horsepower 1.6 liter Duratec inline-four engine featuring a number of technologies designed to improve mileage, Ford boasts, including Twin-Independent Variable Cam Shift Timing, or Ti-VCT, and electric power-assisted steering.

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The engine is mated to an electrically-shifted clutchless six-speed manual gearbox, dubbed PowerShift, that Ford claims will deliver automatic convenience with manual efficiency.

There are no plans to import the European diesel powertrain for the 2011 Ford Fiesta, however.