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Author Archives: chrischasescars

About chrischasescars

Writes about cars for money, writes songs for fun. Cat slave and pop music obsessive.

What I think: 2015 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

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It’s a rarity in the car business for a daring design to work out, and win favour among buyers. The sport compact segment is one of few where a whacky-looking car will succeed, and that’s why the Hyundai Veloster just… works. Read my review at TractionLife.com.

 

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Straight Eight: 2015 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

1. Stands out in a crowd
The car is the Hyundai Veloster, and the colour is called Vitamin C. Loud colours work best on cars that look loud no matter what shade they’re painted. Four years since its introduction, the Veloster remains controversial, and that’s just how it should be.

2. Three-fer
Hyundai calls the Veloster a coupe, but technically it’s not, if your definition means only two doors. The Veloster has three: from the passenger side, it looks like a weird four-door hatchback, while the driver’s side paints the car as the rakish coupe it purports to be.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

3. Humble roots
Believe it or not, the Veloster is based on Hyundai’s Accent subcompact; its wacky styling is the most notable part of the transformation into a wannabe sports car.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

4. Glass ceiling
There’s a ton of glass out back, but little rearward visibility. When reversing, the best view of what’s behind you is through the standard backup camera.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

5. Trunk line
Beneath that big hatch lies (unsurprisingly) a big trunk, and the rear seat won’t make your friends curse you out for making them ride back there. On the downside, your friends will keep asking you for rides.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

6. Close, but kind of meatless
The Odds song “Someone Who’s Cool” (quoted above) is about trying to look cool even when you’re not. That’s you if you buy the lukewarm base model. The car I drove had the optional turbocharged engine, which brightened performance significantly, but not quite enough to match the promise of that orange paint: the Veloster isn’t as sharp to drive as the Mini Cooper S, Honda Civic Si or Ford Fiesta ST.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

7. Get in, hold on
Check out the grab handles on the centre console – great to give the passenger something to hold onto when the yahoo behind the wheel gets heavy with the right foot. Similarly-styled door pulls look good, but are also easy to reach when it’s time to close the cabin door and prepare for takeoff.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

8. Cheap thrills
It’s not as much fun to drive as some competitors, but the Veloster Turbo is a great value. A similarly-equipped Cooper S costs thousands more, the Civic Si is dowdy in comparison, and the Fiesta ST rides hard and has sport seats that are uncomfortable in daily use. The Veloster combines standout looks with a useful interior and a dash of fun – a combo that’s hard to resist.

 

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What I think: 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan

2015 volkswagen tiguanIt’s normally easy to like a Volkswagen. They build great small cars, spacious family cars, and the Touareg mid-size crossover is a fantastic vehicle hampered only by a high price and VW’s upscale aspirations. Maybe it’s those same high hopes that left me disappointed in the company’s Tiguan compact crossover. Read my full review at TractionLife.com.

 

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What I think: 2015 Chrysler 200C

2015 Chrysler 200Transforming a car that was forgettable (or that you’d maybe wish you could forget about after driving it) into one that looks very promising is one thing; endowing the new car with driving characteristics that live up to those looks is another. Read my full review of a car that’s been transformed for the better—much better—at AutoFocus.ca.

 

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What I think: 2015 Chevrolet Suburban

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When I was a kid in the 1980s, my best friend’s parents had a Chevy Suburban that they used to tow an RV large enough to accommodate their family of five. Having grown up around the small Japanese cars my dad drove, I was amazed by this beast of a truck that, if I recall correctly, I was lucky enough to hitch a ride in just once.

No doubt many other kids and their families have spent time in Suburbans: it’s one of the oldest SUV names in the business, first seen in a showroom in the 1930s. About 80(!) years later, the Suburban carries on, having just enjoyed a redesign into its 12th(!!) generation for 2015.

No surprise, the Suburban’s still a big boy, stretching nearly 19 feet long. That, for the sake of perspective, is nearly a foot longer than my little townhouse is wide. All those jokes about piloting a Suburban being like driving around in your living room are suddenly much less funny.

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For all its size, Chevrolet’s designers have done a good job masking the Suburban’s bulk. It isn’t until you’re in the driver’s seat and you see, through the rear view mirror, how much SUV there is behind you that you realize how large this truck really is.

My tester was done up in top-end LTZ trim, including GM’s magnetic ride control suspension, which the company says “reads” the road and adjusts its responses every five milliseconds. That’s a fancy way of saying it makes the Suburban drive like a vehicle two-thirds its size and weight. If you ignore how the heavy rear live axle clomps over rough pavement, the ride is more like that of a big sedan, not a nearly three-ton SUV.

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Magnetic ride control does wonders in other ways, too: body roll feels nearly non-existent in aggressive cornering, and in a near-panic stop, there was none of the body-pitching-forward drama that normally accompanies that sort of maneuver. Having driven the previous-generation Chevy Tahoe (a shorter version of the same truck) both with and without this trick suspension, I can say that its effect is even more pronounced in a back-to-back comparison. The LTZ is a $71,000 vehicle before options (Suburban’s base price is around $52,500), but it’s nearly worth that for this suspension alone.

Other standard kit in LTZ trim includes heated and ventilated front seats, heated second row seats, power-folding second- and third-row seats, intelligent keyless entry, electric steering column adjustment, heated steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals (these come in mid-level LT trim, too), front and rear park assist (a backup camera is standard in all models), Xenon headlights, auto-dimming side and rear view mirrors, and a 10-speaker Bose stereo.

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As good as the suspension is at suspending the laws of physics, the truck’s ample mass reveals itself in other ways. The sole engine available is a 5.3-litre V8, rated at 355 hp and 382 lb-ft of torque, and while it has no trouble moving the Suburban at a relaxed pace, it works hard at wider throttle openings. Three tons, remember?

Fuel consumption is estimated at 15.4 L/100 km (city) and 10.8 L/100 km (highway) (impressive numbers given Natural Resources Canada’s more stringent five-cycle test, which applies to all 2015 models). However, the reality of moving this much truck around is more like 17.0 L/100 km in the city, even with a light right foot. That said, the truck’s informative trip computer says that my tester had, at some point, done as well as 9.4 L/100 km, presumably in relaxed highway driving.

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We tested the Suburban’s carrying capacity a couple of times: once with a flat-packed Ikea sofa (two large boxes fit handily, along with two passengers); and again, with a shipment of donations headed to the food bank (which started out piled five-and-a-half feet high on a skid) that also fit easily, though we suspect that load came close to maxing out the truck’s 782-kg (1,725 lb) payload.

I didn’t have an opportunity to test the Suburban’s towing capacity, but Chevrolet rates that at 3,765 kg (8,300 lb), or a little less with four-wheel drive.

There’s not much clearance under the open tailgate; even at five-foot-seven, I instinctively ducked every time I had to load or unload. Yes, that was with the power tailgate (standard in LT and LTZ models) set to open all the way; it can be toggled to open just three-quarters of the way for loading in confined spaces, like a low-ceilinged parkade.

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For anyone accustomed to how “badly” large trucks traditionally go over the road, the Suburban will be a pleasant surprise. Certainly, much of that is owed to the engineers behind the magnetic ride control suspension, but it’s easy to see how, even without it, this truck would still be a manageable and, dare I say, pleasant vehicle to use, in spite of its size.

During the course of the week, many people asked me who buys such a “ridiculous” vehicle. Well, families like my old school friend’s, I told them. There are many vehicles that can tow large trailers, and many others that can move five people in comfort, but the Suburban is one of a rare few that can do both.

If I was amazed back then by the Suburban’s sheer size, I’m even more impressed with how easy it can be to live with one—even if I don’t have three kids and an RV to haul around.

This article previously appeared in the Montreal Gazette.

 

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What I think: 2015 Subaru Outback

2015 Subaru OutbackThe Outback is the car that turned Subaru’s fortunes around: in the mid-1990s, the company took a Legacy wagon, fitted it with a lifted suspension and rugged-looking body cladding, and ended up with a massively popular small crossover. Outback is all-new for 2015, and the result is an impressive, if unexciting, vehicle. Read my full review at AutoFocus.ca.

 

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What I think: 2015 Kia K900

2015 Kia K900Consider it fair to say Kia has benefited from the experience of its parent company. Hyundai’s first luxury cars were nice, but not quite good enough to be take seriously, in spite of attractive prices. That’s changed, and now Kia has made its own move in luxury sedan territory with the K900, a good-looking, well-conceived sedan that is a slam-dunk in terms of what you get for the price. Read my full review at TractionLife.com.

 

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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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