Category Archives: Compact cars

What I think: 2015 Mini Cooper S five-door


Hardcore fans of the modern Mini Cooper tend to turn up their noses at any Mini model that’s not the original hatchback. But of the many variants that now exist, this five-door proves it is possible to add practicality without watering down the Cooper S’ fun-to-drive nature. Check out my review at


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What I think: 2015 Buick Verano


The Verano is part of Buick’s plan to attract younger buyers. It’s a compact sedan that shares its underpinnings with the Chevrolet Cruze, but this upscale manufacturer has done a good job of giving this car a genuine upscale feel. Our main criticism is that the Verano feels like a small Buick, rather than the entertaining small sedan with which the Verano competes. Here’s my review at


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What I think: 2015 Mini Cooper Countryman


Just like the Porsche Macan I reviewed a few weeks ago, the Mini Countryman is yet another automaker’s attempt to break into the lucrative upscale compact crossover segment. This one is fun, but it’s expensive and noisy inside. For nearly $40,000, there are more refined small crossovers that represent better value for money. Read my review at


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What I think: 2015 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

2015 hyundai veloster CHASE 001

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


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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: Long-term Toyota Prius C

I, with the help of the team, am conducting a three-month, long-term test of Toyota’s newest — and smallest — hybrid model, the Prius C. Click here to read my Long-Term Introduction of this car.


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What I think: Buying a used Chevrolet Optra

You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of the Optra, a Korean-made car sold briefly by Chevrolet in the mid-2000s, as an attempt to capture some of Kia and Hyundai’s (among others) small car sales. By the relative few accounts available, it wasn’t a great car when it was new, and even if it had proven reliable (it’s really hard to tell), do you really want to take a chance on a rubbish car no one knows how to fix? Read my Used Vehicle Review here.


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What I think: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT and Coupe

In Canada, hatchbacks and Hyundai are hot stuff right now. Hyundai’s problem (a first-world problem if ever we’ve heard one) is that its strong-selling compact Elantra was available only as a sedan, while many of its competitors’ small cars can be had in a variety of body styles.

For 2013, the Korean automaker answers a question that I’m sure some have been asking, by adding a hatchback and coupe to the Elantra line.

True, the Elantra Touring station wagon has been available since 2009, but, as the marketers are so eager to tell us, wagons aren’t cool and no one wants them. The 2013 Elantra GT therefore sacrifices some practicality for a more stylish hatchback body, in the vein of a Mazda3 Sport or Ford Focus five-door, which happen to be the cars Hyundai sees the GT competing most closely with for buyers. We got a chance to drive both coupe and GT models at a recent first drive event in Montreal.

The need for an Elantra coupe was less obvious to us, but Hyundai’s Canadian PR reps say this car presents an opportunity to take a bite out of a market that is largely owned by Honda’s Civic coupe. In the past, General Motors was a major player in small two-doors, until it replaced its Chevrolet Cobalt with the four-door-only Cruze. With that popular player gone, the Elantra two-door will compete with the Civic and its corporate cousin, the Kia Forte Koup.

Like the Elantra sedan, the GT and coupe offer good interior space that’s around average for the class. The GT’s cargo space is less generous than the old Elantra Touring had; the coupe really only sacrifices some rear seat headroom; its trunk space matches the sedan’s, and the rest of the interior is as spacious (if not as easy to get in and out of, thanks to the lack of rear doors) as the sedan’s and GT’s.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT

While all three cars share the Elantra name, they are not all the same underneath. The coupe is essentially an Elantra sedan with two fewer doors, but shares a different rear suspension with the GT, a torsion axle setup with a stabilizer bar in place of the sedan’s less-sophisticated (Hyundai’s word) rear suspension. GT models get stiffer rear springs and better shock absorbers, and the coupe’s suspension is tweaked depending on trim level to accommodate the two wheel and tire packages (16 and 17 inches) offered on the two-door. The GT also rides on a unique platform, the car being a near-twin to the Hyundai i30 sold in overseas markets.

All three cars use the 1.8-litre four-cylinder “Nu” engine found in the Elantra sedan, as well as that car’s six-speed manual and automatic transmissions. Its power ratings (148 hp/131 lb-ft of torque) remain the same for all three cars, putting it roughly mid-pack in the numbers game. It’s a good engine, but if you choose to shift for yourself, you’ll be doing a lot of it to keep the motor in its sweet spot.

Hyundai has made much of this engine’s fuel efficiency, and its Natural Resources Canada ratings of 7.3/5.0 L/100 km (with the automatic transmission; the stickshift does slightly better); this engine does without the direct fuel injection technology used by a number of its competitors (and, indeed, other Hyundai models) because, as Hyundai explains, it wasn’t necessary to meet the company’s economy goals. Automatic-equipped cars have an ActiveECO fuel-saving mode, a driver-selectable system that softens throttle response and changes the transmission’s shift pattern to boost efficiency.

The GT also gets what Hyundai calls Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM), which lets the driver choose from three levels of power assist: comfort, normal and sport. This feature is a first both for Hyundai and the compact segment, and was conceived to allow different drivers to tailor the steering to their own preferences. It’s a bit gimmicky, though, and doesn’t actually affect the car’s performance in any meaningful way; the GT’s steering ratio is virtually identical to the sedan’s. The coupe, meanwhile, has slightly quicker steering than its linemates.

That said, the GT gets the nod as the best-handling member of the Elantra family. It feels a bit more substantial over the road than the coupe and sedan, and the rear suspension provides better body motion control, too. The coupe is a decent handler in backroad driving, as long as the asphalt is smooth; broken pavement brings out the same skittish rear-end feel the sedan is guilty of.

Both coupe and GT models come with a comprehensive list of standard kit that includes air conditioning, heated front seats, cruise, trip computer and Bluetooth. The coupe is offered in GLS and SE trims, while the GT can be had in base, GLS and SE configurations. It’s worth noting that in both cases, the SE trim includes the automatic transmission, with cannot be deleted in favour of the manual.

Coupe pricing ranges from $19,949 for the GLS ($21,149 with automatic) to $25,199 in SE form, which includes navigation, premium audio, leather, automatic climate control, among other niceties.

The GT hatch starts at $19,149 in base form and bumps to $21,349 for the GLS model (the automatic is a $1,200 option in base and GLS models). The GT SE is worth $24,349, including leather, automatic climate control and a front windshield de-icer, and can be optioned with a Tech package that adds push-button start, proximity key, navigation and backup camera, for $26,349.


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What I think: 2012 Mazda MX-5

If ever there was a car that could help you remember why you like driving, the Mazda MX-5 is it. Read my Test Drive here.


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What I think: 2012 Ford Fiesta

The Ford Fiesta makes a lot of promises to the driver looking for European performance in a subcompact car, but doesn’t deliver on all of them. Read my Test Drive here.


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