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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Straight Eight: 2015 Hyundai Genesis 3.8

2015 Hyundai Genesis

1. Lots of luxury
My test car was a 3.8 Tech model, the best-equipped Genesis available with the V6 engine (there’s also a V8). It comes with, among other things, navigation, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, panoramic sunroof, power-adjustable steering wheel, power trunk (more on that in a moment), power rear window sunshade, and wood trim that, if it isn’t real, looks pretty close to it.

2015 Hyundai Genesis

2. Is that a Bentley?
Two people who saw the Genesis’ winged logo on the hood asked if the car was “some new Bentley” model. Enough said.

2015 Hyundai Genesis mirror

3. So-so sightlines
It’s easy to lose sight of a pedestrian while making a left turn, thanks to the thick A-pillar, large side mirror and relatively short greenhouse, making the Genesis a nerve-wracking car to drive in busy urban traffic.

2015 Hyundai Genesis trunk

4. Big on convenience
With the “smart” key in your pocket, stand next to the trunk for a few seconds, and it’ll power open on its own. Handy if you’ve got armfuls of stuff, and saves you the indignity of having to wave a foot under the rear bumper, a common method of hands-free cargo access.

2015 Hyundai Genesis back seat

5. Short of practicality
If you’ve got big stuff to move, keep in mind the Genesis’ back seat doesn’t fold, at all. This is a serious oversight that’s common in upscale Asian sedans.

2015 Hyundai Genesis dash

6. New design, improved performance
Steering feel isn’t great, and the chassis tends toward understeer in hard cornering, but this is a much more entertaining car than its predecessor. In “sport” mode, the engine and transmission are eager to get where you’re going, quickly, and the engine and exhaust sound pretty sweet in speedy driving.

2015 Hyundai Genesis

7. Big-car thirst
My test car averaged 12.6 L/100 km (18.7 US MPG) in a mix of city and highway driving. It’s a thirsty car in city slogging, where you can expect an average of about 15 L/100 km (about 15 US MPG), even with a gentle right foot.

2015 Hyundai Genesis gauges

8. Enticing offering
For its upscale look, decent performance and long list of luxury goodies, this car is a steal at its $53,000 MSRP. But it’s a better deal in the U.S., where Hyundai sells the same car I drove for $48,000. If your eyebrow muscles need a workout, go see what it would cost to kit out a competitive German sedan with the same equipment.

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What I think: 2014 Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost

It’s hard to get excited about an economy car with a three-cylinder engine, especially if your last memory of such a vehicle was a 55-horsepower Pontiac Firefly. But nearly a decade and a half later, automakers figure North America is once again ready for such a tiny engine, even if it’s in a car not quite as tiny as that late ‘90s Pontiac.

Ford’s 1.0-litre, three-cylinder “EcoBoost” turbocharged engine was a late addition to the 2014 Fiesta line, and carries on into the 2015 model year. As with its other EcoBoost engines, Ford charges a premium for this one, which replaces the standard 1.6-litre four-cylinder; in this case, the smaller engine adds $1,500 to the Fiesta SE’s base price of $16,000. Another kicker is that, at least when this was written, the turbo three-cylinder can only be ordered with a manual transmission.

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost

The point of Ford’s EcoBoost program—not to mention the recent resurgence of turbocharging across the auto industry—is to use smaller-displacement engines to save fuel, and then add turbocharging to top up power output to match that of a larger engine. To that end, the 1.0-litre generates 123 hp to the 1.6-litre’s 120, but boasts a bigger bonus in torque, which is rated at 148 lb-ft to the four-cylinder’s 112.

Horsepower is the number that sells cars, but torque is the one that moves them; it’s a truer measure of an engine’s potency, a fact that becomes crystal clear when driving the 1.0-litre Fiesta. It’s a gutsy little motor that pulls the car around with authority. On acceleration, it makes a curious growl that takes some getting used to, and it’s quick, but that sensation is dampened by economy-minded gearing that keeps engine speeds low: at 100 km/h in fifth gear, the engine turns just 2,200 rpm, where the 1.6-litre would be spinning well above 2,500 rpm.

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost dash

If that takes away from the car’s straight-line performance, it pays back in highway driving by reducing engine noise. That’s a good fit with the rest of the car, which drives with a grown-up feel not common in the subcompact class; an eight-hour day in the car during a road trip from Ottawa to PEI was nowhere near as tiring as I expected, based on my past experiences in small cars.

On that drive, the engine’s torque proved beneficial on the hilly highways through New Brunswick, where the car was able to accelerate (albeit slowly) uphill, in fifth gear, at highway speeds, loaded with two adults and plenty of cargo: not many subcompacts could make that claim. If I were in charge at Ford, however, I’d give this car a six-speed transmission to close up the gaps between gears (especially first and second) and improve straight-line performance.

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost back seat

Our observed average fuel consumption was 5.5 L/100 km (42 US MPG) at cruising speeds close to 120 km/h; however, that averaged dropped below 5.0 L/100 km (47 US MPG) at more relaxed speeds, and our city-driving average was 7.4 (32 US MPG).

Beyond the powertrain, the rest of the Fiesta is standard issue: it’s underpinned by a capable chassis that handles admirably but provides a comfortable ride that once again belies this car’s small size. Steering feel is sharp, and the manual shifter and clutch are a cinch to drive smoothly.

2014 Ford Fiesta EcoBoost trunk

Interior space isn’t generous, but it’s useable: we had three people in the car for part of our two-day road trip, and our tall rear-seat passenger was snug, but not crammed. (My test car was the Fiesta hatchback, but the EcoBoost engine is also available in the sedan body style.)

As with any fuel-saving powertrain technology, the $1,500 cost for the EcoBoost engine in the Fiesta is a significant investment, at about 10 percent of the car’s base price. Ford did well to make this little car feel as grown-up as it does, as it helps offset the fact that for my tester’s $19,000 as-tested price, you could move up to a larger car that’s nearly as efficient.

However, as a showcase for unconventional engine technology – remember, it’s been 14 years since the last three-cylinder car disappeared – the EcoBoost Fiesta proves you don’t need a big engine to provide satisfying performance.

This review also appeared in the Montreal Gazette

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2014 in Compact cars, Ford, What I Think

 

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What I think: 2015 Volkswagen Golf

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Volkswagen’s Golf is a car with a long history, dating back to what we knew as the Rabbit of the late 1970s (although this car has always been the Golf in Europe). That history does not include much in the way of daring design, and that doesn’t look poised to change as the Golf moves into its seventh generation for 2015.

That’s okay: despite looking not much different than the third-generation model introduced in the mid-1990s, the newest Golf is a sharp little car, with classy styling that belies its affordable price tag.

2015 Volkswagen Golf

The real news is what’s under the hood: the new base engine is a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 170 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. It’s a bit of a throwback, as the fourth-generation Golf (and its Jetta sedan sibling) were notable for an engine nearly identical in specification; where that motor was aimed at drivers looking for a sporty drive, the goal of this new 1.8 TFSI powerplant is efficiency.

Fitted with VW’s latest direct gasoline injection technology, fuel consumption estimates are 9.3 L/100 km (city) and 6.4 (highway); my test car posted remarkable averages of 5.7 L/100 km in highway driving, and about 8.5 in the city. Those real-world results make the more expensive, but only slightly more efficient TDI diesel engine look a lot less appealing.

I lead with that because, while the Golf is a lovely car in most ways, that fuel economy—and the engine that provides it—is the most exciting thing about this car.

2015 Volkswagen Golf

Don’t take that the wrong way. The new engine is a torquey wonder, making plenty of smooth, quiet power. Surprisingly, the manual transmission is only a five-speed; most transmission innovation these days is going into eight-, nine- and ten-speed automatics. The number of gears doesn’t pose a problem in the Golf; what does is that this transmission is geared so far toward economy that the engine spins at less than 2,000 rpm at 100 km/h in fifth gear, and the gaps between ratios are very wide. The engine can handle all of that, but it does take a lot of the fun out of driving the car.

Likewise, the ride is softer than you might expect. Comfortable, without a doubt, and the car feels very solid at highway speeds, but the way the Golf goes over the road will do little to encourage you to attack corners with much enthusiasm. If you do, however, you’ll be rewarded with predictable handling and sharper responses than my tester’s 16-inch wheels and high-profile tires suggest.

2015 Volkswagen Golf front seats

This is a very spacious car, with accommodations that verge on mid-size, something that’s becoming common among compact cars. The cargo area is large as well: if you’re considering a small crossover for its trunk space, think smaller, because the Golf’s trunk will challenge just about any you’ll find in a compact SUV.

I was less enthusiastic about the front seats, which are far less comfortable than those in previous Golfs and Jettas I’ve driven. Helping to make up for that is their wide range of adjustment, including electric backrest adjustment and lumbar for both front chairs.

2015 Volkswagen Golf back seat

In fact, the base package is a decently-equipped car. Bluetooth is included in all trims, along with a streaming audio function and a wired iPod connector which only works with Apple music players. Front seat warmers are standard, along with heated side mirrors and windshield washer nozzles, all of which make winter driving more palatable. Manual air conditioning is also included.

If you move up to Comfortline trim, as my tester was delivered, the $23,000 price tag includes cruise control, backup camera, automatic post-collision braking and fog lights. Spec out the Comfortline with a $1,600 convenience package, and VW adds automatic headlights, auto-dimming rear view mirror, dual-zone automatic temperature control, sunroof and rain-sensing wipers.

2015 Volkswagen Golf trunk

For nearly $25,000, there are a number of things missing from the Golf that other small cars—most notably the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte—include for similar money. However, though the Golf may not be a ton of fun, it feels expensive going over the road, and for the right driver, that will count for more than any number of convenience features.

This article originally appeared in the Montreal Gazette

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in Volkswagen, What I Think

 

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Straight Eight: 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

1. Frugal fueler
This Ram pickup uses the same diesel V6 as the Jeep Grand Cherokee I wrote about a few weeks ago. This is a bigger, heavier vehicle, so it wasn’t quite as thrifty, but I averaged a tick below 11 L/100 km in a near 50/50 mix of city and highway driving.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

2. Torque for the whole family
That’s like driving a family sedan that can tow 3,900 kg (8,500 pounds). Towing requires torque, and this engine makes 420 lb-ft of it. In simpler terms, this guy would dig it.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel cargo bed

3. A huge truck that’s somehow still not big enough
If you order a Ram 1500 with the Crew Cab, you’re limited to a cargo bed measuring either five-foot-seven or six-foot-four. My test truck had the smaller, and less-useful, of the two. When you run out of room in the box for big stuff, fold the back seat up and the stowable cargo platform down to turn the back half of the cab into a large cargo area.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Rambox

4. Boxed in
For smaller cargo, check out the optional Rambox compartments built into the side of the truck bed. Ostensibly, these were designed to carry tools and other work-related items, but after you’re done doing “manly” things, they’re also good for a decent load of groceries.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel headliner

5. Dodgy
Fit and finish in my test truck wasn’t fantastic. Some of the dashboard panel fits were a bit dodgy, and the headliner looked unfinished where it ended above the rear window.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel rotary dial shifter

6. Tune into gear
Why does the radio dial say P R N D above it? Just kidding: the Ram 1500 is the unlikely one of a few vehicles to ditch a conventional automatic transmission shift lever in favour of a rotary dial.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

7. Riding on air
Ram is the only maker of full-size trucks to offer an adjustable air suspension. It’s neat for its smooth ride, and allows the truck to be lowered for easy entry and exit, or raised for extra ground clearance.

2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel pricing

8. Price chopper
Chrysler, Ram’s parent company, is notorious for generous discounts and incentives, which, if you were buying one of these trucks, would take some of the sting out of an as-tested $65,000 price tag.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2014 in Diesel, Dodge, Ram, Trucks

 

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The Big Idea: Little touches that matter

In the last few weeks, I’ve driven the 2015 Volkswagen Golf and the 2014 Kia Forte5 (which I wrote about here). Both are small hatchbacks aimed at buyers in the market for a good-looking and practical compact car.

Both also have this neat feature:

2015 Volkswagen Golf

That’s one of the rear outboard seatbelts in the Golf. Notice that little raised edge between the belt and the seatback? That’s there for one reason: to keep the seatbelt from getting caught behind the seat when you flip it upright from its folded position.

Here’s the same detail in the Kia Forte5:

2014 kia forte5 010

It’s the kind of thing that most buyers (and, in fact, most car reviewers) won’t notice, and that’s because it works so well. Some cars have a little clip to hold the belt out of the way, but a) that’s not as effective, and b) you have to remember to slide the belt into it. This barely-noticeable design element works all by itself, simply because it’s there. I want to find the engineer who came up with this idea and take him or her out for a beer, that’s how much I appreciate this kind of detail. You can bet I’ll be looking for this in every vehicle I test, from now on.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2014 in Kia, The Big Idea, Volkswagen

 

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What I think: The new Mazda MX-5 looks like a sleepy Pokemon character

I adore (note the present tense) the original Miata. The pop-up headlights are one of my favourite features.

1992 Mazda Miata - photo courtesy Miata.net

I really liked the second- and third-generation models, too, but I missed those hide-away headlights.

2005 Mazda Miata

Mazda MX-5, third generation

Here’s my review of the one I drove in 2012. That was a pretty enjoyable week.

Mazda’s designers missed an opportunity to lead a renaissance of pop-up headlights. Incorporating them into the new 2016 MX-5’s design would have resulted in a better-looking car.

2016 Mazda MX-5

To be fair, I like the going-away view quite a bit, even if it does ape the Jaguar F-Type in a pretty big way.

2016 Mazda MX-5

I’m sure it’ll be a lot of fun to drive, but all I can think of, looking at the front of it, is how much I still miss the original Miata’s pop-up headlights. As it is, the best I can say about the front of the 2016 MX-5 is that it looks like a sleepy Pokemon character.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in Mazda, What I Think

 

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Video: Jeremy Clarkson races an Olympic runner in a Nissan GT-R

Just like the title says: Clarkson pits the GT-R against Australian Olympic track-and-field athlete Michelle Jenneke. One of the racers is cute, and it’s neither Clarkson nor the GT-R…

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in Random, Video

 

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