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Category Archives: What I Think

What I think: 2018 Kia Rio

One of the most significant trends in the new-car market over the last couple of decades is the way upscale features have trickled down from luxury cars to more affordable models. The Kia Rio is a case in point, as the least expensive model from a brand known for catering to budget-oriented buyers, whose top-level EX Tech trim includes niceties like navigation, heated seats and steering wheel, leather seating, and automatic climate control.

That’s the car Kia gave us to test, and looking at the specifications before picking it up, we wondered how much we would have to temper our expectations of this handsome, not-quite-$24,000 car. It’s easy to think some of the Rio’s slick looks and upscale specs would rub off on the way it drives.

Initial impressions were good: The 1.6L engine idles so quietly, my wife asked if the car was a hybrid. It is not, however, and that notion was quickly dispelled when we put the motor’s 130 hp to work. It’s eager enough, but makes a lot of noise even in moderate acceleration, and the engine isn’t much to listen to.

Also noisy is the car’s suspension, which transmits a lot of clunking and clomping sounds into the cabin over rough pavement. We’d say that’s to be expected in a subcompact, but others in this class are better at isolating driver and passengers from the worst of that soundtrack. That said, this new Rio’s suspension did better at keeping our test car’s big and heavy 17-inch wheels planted on the road; versions of the last-generation Rio fitted with wheels like this tended to feel unsettled when driving on broken asphalt.

There’s more headroom in the Rio’s front seats than in many larger cars we’ve driven recently, a nice surprise in a small hatchback. Those riding in back will find vertical space is also good there, but legroom is predictably snug.

Upscale aspirations or not, fuel economy is still a major consideration in small cars, and our tester lived up to that with an average of 8.4 L/100 km in a week of city driving, just squeaking in under Kia’s estimate of 8.5.

We appreciate Kia’s efforts to keep the Rio’s secondary controls simple. The single-zone automatic climate controls are very tidy, located below the 7.0-inch touchscreen that houses the car’s straightforward UVO infotainment system and sporting a few redundant hard buttons to make its basic functions easier to use while the car is moving. UVO also supports the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integrated platforms as standard (these are still optional in some much more expensive cars).

Rio pricing starts at $14,795 for the sedan, and the hatchback comes in at $200 more. Our fully loaded EX Tech test vehicle carries an MSRP of $23,745, which includes the six-speed automatic transmission that comes in all trims save for the two least expensive.

That fully-loaded model is also the only way to get the Rio’s sole active safety feature, an automatic emergency-braking system that reacts to an obstruction in front of the car if the driver doesn’t. Despite the Rio’s upscale pretensions, the Honda Fit comes with a more comprehensive set of driver aids for just over $20,000, including lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist. Even the aging Toyota Yaris boasts more driver aids in a $16,000 base model that comes standard with automatic braking, lane-departure alert and automatic high-beam headlights.

About $21,000 will buy you a Rio EX, in which you have to go without automatic braking, but you get the same infotainment and climate controls, a sunroof, heated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.

Kia clearly feels the Rio is finally good enough to compete simply as a nicely made car, rather than having to load it with the most features for the least money. That old approach may have been a good way to get people to give the Rio a chance, but the company’s new philosophy will work better to keep those buyers coming back.

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Posted by on September 13, 2018 in Kia, What I Think

 

What I think: 2015 Chevrolet Traverse

2015 chevrolet traverse CHASE 003

It’s not difficult to make a big crossover interesting: what’s difficult is making something that’s interesting and still appeals to the mass-market consumers who buy these family-friendly vehicles. The Traverse does some things well, and others not-so-well, but does them all with a distinct lack of personality. 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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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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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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Does Land Rover’s new Discovery Sport have Nordic roots?

Land Rover just revealed its 2015 Discovery Sport, a sharp-looking compact crossover/SUV powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

2015 Land Rover Discovery

2015 Land Rover Discovery

But I can’t be the only one to see more than a passing resemblance to a couple of Saab models developed just before the Swedish company was dissolved. Check out the 9-4x, a crossover that barely made into production before Saab shut its doors.

Edit: No, I’m not alone! Sniff Petrol thinks so, too!

Saab 9-4x

The new Disco Sport isn’t a carbon copy, and its styling does fit well with Land Rover’s current styling language, but it does look a bit Nordic, no?

03_Side_profile_D

And now, compare that rear-three-quarter shot of the Discovery Sport with this image of the 9-5 SportCombi, another Saab that never made it past the auto show circuit:

Saab 9-5 SportCombi

Finally, here’s a Land Rover promo video for the Disco Sport—made to show a vehicle apparently well-suited for life in Iceland. Or does it highlight the Nordic influence in the car’s styling? You decide.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in Design, Land Rover, What I Think

 

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