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Category Archives: Straight Eight

Straight Eight: 2015 Chevrolet Malibu

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

1. Fun in the run-of-the-mill
Malibu, in southern California, is sexy and sunny. A car named after such a place must be a sleek convertible, right? Nope. It’s a family sedan, and a bland-looking one, but if you can believe it, this is the most interesting-looking Malibu since the mid-1970s.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

2. Simply motivated
Just as the look is what we expect from a mainstream sedan, so is what’s under the hood. Our test car had the base engine, a 2.5-litre four-cylinder; the only transmission is a six-speed automatic. Ho-hum.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

3. Good on its feet
But start driving, and you discover there’s a little more to this car than meets the eye. Okay, it’s not exciting, exactly, but the steering is quite good, and the Malibu handles better than I expected it to.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

4. Self-starter
The 2.5-litre engine has an auto stop/start feature that shuts the engine off at stoplights, to save fuel. In my chilly winter test, it only worked about half the time, typical for this technology in cold weather. When it works, its operation is largely transparent, better than similar systems in some more expensive cars (right, BMW?), and contributed to a respectable fuel consumption average of 10.7 L/100 km.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

5. Touchy, touchy
Touchscreens are quickly becoming a staple of car interiors. Chevrolet’s version of this technology is called IntelliLink. This one’s better than many, but still doesn’t always respond the first time, which not handy when you’re trying to, you know, drive a car. In fact, the best thing about this touchscreen is the storage compartment hidden behind it.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

6. Never look back
Small, oddly-shaped side mirrors seem better suited to sparing you the worry of what’s behind you, rather than aiding visibility.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

7. Put some junk in this trunk
Making up for that, perhaps, is the trunk, large enough to fit (for example) a two-drawer filing cabinet and a printer stand at the same time.

2015 Chevrolet Malibu

8. Identity crisis
A few people asked if it’s fun driving “a cop car.” Nope, that’s the larger Impala, I reminded them. This sedan is good at what it was designed for, but as those cases of mistaken identity illustrate, if you want something that’ll leave a lasting impression, Malibu – the place – is a better bet.

 

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Straight Eight: 2015 Toyota Tacoma

2015 Toyota Tacoma

1. That’s near Seattle, right?
Tacoma. Colorado. Canyon. Sierra. Silverado. Dakota. Is there a rule that pickups have to be named after American places and geological formations?

2015 Toyota Tacoma

2. Don’t call me small
The Tacoma is smaller than the brand’s full-size Tundra (see what we mean about names?), but they refer to it as “mid-sized.” This is the Double Cab version; the base Access Cab model also has four doors, but the back ones are smaller and the tiny rear seats useless.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

3. A step in the wrong direction
OK, let’s get in the truck – but watch out: the side steps are too high and just get in the way, and once you’ve climbed up, you have to duck down to avoid whacking your head on the door frame.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

4. It’s raining on my groceries
For stuff you don’t want exposed to the elements, the back seats fold to create a flat load surface. You have to remove the headrests first, though, and there’s nowhere to stow them.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

5. Get into bed
For less-perishable cargo, there’s the bed. Curiously, Double Cab trucks with a manual transmission get a five-foot bed, while the automatic version I drove has one that measures a little longer than six feet. The bed was just a bit shorter than the junk I had to haul to the dump. (Of course it was.)

2015 Toyota Tacoma

6. Rough, going
Many modern trucks ride surprisingly smoothly, thanks to sophisticated suspension designs, but Tacoma’s decade-old design barely qualifies as modern, and shows its age in the poor ride quality.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

7. Small(er) truck, big thirst
My tester’s V6 moves the Tacoma well, but average fuel consumption was higher than two V8-powered Chevrolet trucks I tested earlier this year.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

8. Priced to stay put
Pricewise, at $40,000, my top-of-the-line test truck lacked many creature comforts. I’m okay with a basic truck, but similar money will buy you a V8-powered, full-size truck that will tow and haul more weight. Oh, well. Maybe if they’d called it the Seattle.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2014 in Straight Eight, Toyota, Trucks

 

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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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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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Straight Eight: 2015 Subaru WRX STI

2015 subaru sti 013

1. This one goes to 11
Subaru’s STI takes the WRX sports car and cranks everything up: there’s more power, more grip and more tech, including an adjustable centre differential. If you want a taste of what it feels like to drive a rally car, this is the one to try.

2015 subaru sti 011

2. (Not-so-) little wing
If someone you know buys an STI, here are some questions to ask them: Is the wing FAA-approved? How quickly does your laundry air-dry when hung from it? Does it improve your cell reception? (It’s standard on the pricier two of three STI models, and not included on the base model.) (Credit for the wing jokes goes to my friend Steph Willems. When you’re done here, go read his excellent blog.)

3. What’s this button do? Oh shi—
The STI gets limited-slip differentials front and rear, and a driver-controlled centre diff: you can fiddle with the latter’s various adjustments to change how the car handles when flung around corners. It all makes it easy to forget you’re driving a real car, and not in your basement playing Forza Motorsports; I prefer the relative simplicity of the standard WRX.

2015 subaru sti 010

4. Gripping story, bro
Between those differentials and a set of grippy tires, the STI drives much differently than the WRX. It was impossible to break the rear end loose on public roads, whereas the WRX seemed more willing to drift through fast corners.

2015 subaru sti 007

5. Power play
Despite its bigger engine and extra power, the STI doesn’t feel much quicker than the WRX, and you have to beat the crap out of the car to feel what difference there is in a straight line.

6. Boneshaker
The last STI that I drove was a 2008 model. Where I remember that car having a surprisingly comfortable ride, this one does not. It’s punishing, actually, and as a result, the car isn’t much fun to use for everyday driving. The new WRX is much easier to live with as a daily driver.

2015 subaru sti 008

7. Big gulp
My average fuel consumption was higher than 12 L/100 km in city driving, and barely better than 9.0 on the highway, making it a solid 20 to 30 per cent thirstier than the WRX I drove a few weeks ago.

8. No hatchbacks allowed
Subaru disappointed countless fans of the old WRX and STI (including me) by building this new one exclusively as a sedan. It’s still a perfectly practical car—just not as practical as it used to be.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2014 in Straight Eight, Subaru

 

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Straight Eight: 2014 Kia Forte5

2014 kia forte5 003

1. Five alive
This is the Kia Forte5. It’s the hatchback variant of the brand’s compact car, a competitor to the likes of the Honda Civic and Mazda3. Those 18-inch wheels fill out the fenders nicely, don’t they?

2014 kia forte5 002

2. Flower power
Wait, the wheels look like flowers. When did this turn into a review of a 1999 Volkswagen New Beetle?

2014 kia forte5 1001

3. It wants to be sporty
The car looks good, especially from the rear. The black lower bumper insert and dual exhaust tips are pretty sharp.

2014 kia forte5 001

4. It tries to be sporty
Kia says the Forte5, in my tester’s SX Luxury trim, has a sport-tuned suspension, but the soft ride doesn’t feel like it. Also, the suspension has a hard time keeping those big, heavy wheels planted on the road over rough pavement. The resulting unsettled ride really doesn’t work for me.

2014 kia forte5 2001

5. But it’s not all that sporty
Power-assisted steering is nothing new, but adjustable power-assist is. Press a button on the wheel and choose from “comfort,” “normal,” and “sport” modes. None of these settings does anything to improve the Forte’s vague steering feel.

2014 kia forte5 011

6. Turbocharged torque
All that said, the turbocharged engine is a fun little thing, even when hitched to the automatic transmission. Despite its small 1.6-litre displacement, it makes lots of torque at low revs. It deserves a better-sorted chassis than this.

2014 kia forte5 006

7. Stick to your strengths
Rear seat space approaches that of mid-size cars, and the trunk is nearly as large as that of many small crossovers. The front seats are comfortable, but the cushions are quite firm. This car’s interior is very well put together.

2014 kia forte5 008

8. The price of luxury
If you had $29,000, would you spend it on this car? Because that’s what Kia asks for the SX Luxury model I drove. It comes with a lot of nice stuff – heated steering wheel, heated rear(!) seats, HID headlights, proximity key, automatic air conditioning and a backup camera – but the Forte5 is a better deal closer to its $20,000 starting price. At that point, you don’t get the flowery wheels, but that’s okay with me.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Kia, Straight Eight

 

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Straight Eight: 2015 Subaru WRX

IMG_2449

Exterior photos by Chris Chase; Interior photos courtesy Subaru Canada

1. More than meets the eye
Subaru’s high-performance WRX is based on the compact Impreza, but the differences between them are greater than they might appear based on exterior appearance. The WRX’s turbocharged motor nearly doubles the power output of the Impreza’s, and its drivetrain is beefed up to handle all that power.

2015_SubaruWRX_061

2. Surprisingly practical
Due to its four-door sedan roots, the WRX is that rare sports car that comes with everyday practicalities such as plenty of rear-seat and trunk space. I do miss the hatchback body style of the previous-generation model, though.

3. Rally-ready
If you’re like me, you’ll forget about the lack of a hatchback once you hit the gas. It’s not a scary-fast car, but it’s pretty damned quick, and the all-wheel drive system gets the power down efficiently. Want to feel like a rally driver? Hit the gas as you power through a corner, and feel the rear wheels push the car through the curve.

2015_SubaruWRX_057

4. Transmission switch-up
My tester had the standard six-speed manual transmission. The option is a continuously variable automatic, but – no offense to those who don’t drive stick – that’s not the transmission that belongs in this car. The clutch is heavy for driving in heavy traffic, but the shifter feels deliciously precise and mechanical in its movement.

5. What’s that sound?
I’ve long complained about Subaru’s poor-sounding stereo systems. This one’s better than in the last WRX I drove (a few years ago), but it’s clear that Subaru’s focus was on making this car fun to drive, not fun to listen to.

IMG_2451

6. Efficient fun
The WRX’s fuel economy has come a long way: I averaged 8.0 L/100 km in an even mix of city and highway driving, which matches the Subaru’s highway estimate for the car. In straight highway driving, I averaged less than 7.0 L/100 km, which is pretty great for a performance car at cruising speeds close to 120 km/h.

2015_SubaruWRX_059

7. Comfortable support
Well-bolstered seats are a necessity if your plan is to drive this car in any manner close to what it was designed for. These ones are, but not so aggressively that they’re a pain to repeatedly get in and out of while running weekend errands. Plus, they’re comfortable for long drives.

IMG_2452

8. Lower price, low profile
At $30,000, the 2015 WRX costs $2,500 less than the car it replaces, which is always good. But my favourite thing about the WRX? It looks enough like its downmarket Impreza cousin to avoid attracting too much attention – especially from the cop you just sped past.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2014 in Straight Eight, Subaru

 

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