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  • 2016 Scion iA

    Subcompact sedan is big on value

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Scion iA

    2016 Scion iA

    Every time I get behind the wheel of the Scion iA I have to remind myself that I’m in a subcompact car. With its substantial road feel and spacious interior, the iA feels more like a C than a B-segment sedan. On the flip side, its small footprint eases parking woes at popular trailheads where space is at a premium.

    The EPA’s estimated 35 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy is conservative. I averaged 36.5 on my test drive and I have a lead foot.

    The iA competes against the Toyota Yaris in a segment that also includes the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet Spark and Smart car. In this writer’s opinion, it’s the best of the bunch.

    Based on the same rolling chassis as the Mazda2, the iA features surprising array of standard convenience feature considering its $15,700 price tag: halogen headlamps, rearview camera, push-button start, Bluetooth and a seven-inch color touchscreen among them.

    Scion’s monospec pricing takes the hassle out of car buying. The buyer simply chooses between a manual and automatic transmission. I’d recommend opting for the manual and saving $1100. In addition to offering better value, the manual transmission enables the driver to better optimize power from the sedan’s 1.5-liter engine. Adding the $795 destination, final MSRP on the test car is $16,495. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Scion iM

    New hatchback rounds out the Scion family

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Scion iM

    2016 Scion iM

    This year, Scion introduces two new models: the four-door iA and iM hatchback. Although the iM is new to the US, it’s been on the global market for some time, called either the Toyota Auris or Corolla hatchback.

    This doesn’t make it any less valuable as an addition to the Scion lineup. The Corolla is a solid platform with a history of reliability, making it a good choice for first-time car buyers.

    The iM is available in two styles: the manual transmission car priced from $18,460 and automatic from $19,200. My recommendation is to go with the manual. Yes, it takes a bit more effort to drive in traffic, but the manual gearbox makes much better use of the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine’s available power.

    The $740 difference in price is a pretty good down payment on that new road bike you’ve had your eyes on, and you can use the sixth gear to puddle around town and save some additional money on gasoline.

    Scion utilizes monospec pricing to simplify the buying process. The idea is to pay the MSRP with no ups and no extras. In the case of the test car optional floor and cargo mats add $185 to the base price. Total MSRP including destination is $19,594. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Ford Fiesta 5-Door Hatch SE

    EcoBoost engine takes it further

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Ford Fiesta

    2015 Ford Fiesta

    If somebody had told me twenty years ago that a one-liter engine could power a car, I would have laughed. Yet that’s exactly what Ford engineers have done with the newest subcompact Fiesta, featuring the automaker’s one-liter EcoBoost engine and five-speed automatic transmission.

    The 123-horsepower engine develops up to 148 foot-pounds of torque. Mated to a five-speed manual gearbox that enables drivers to keep the revs up, it’s a peppy, fun-to-drive package with 36 mile-per-gallon fuel economy.

    One of the reasons the engine works so well is curb weight, which for the manual transmission model is a bit over 2,500 pounds. That’s about the same as an averaged equipped Mazda Miata and less than a Scion FR-S.

    The hatchback adds versatility, with a taller, roomier cargo bay than sedans in the competitive segment. Base price for the test car is $16,085, excluding the $825 destination charge. Options including the EcoBoost engine and green metallic exterior finish bring the final MSRP to $18,300. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Toyota Yaris Five-Door

    Subcompact hatchback is big on versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Toyota Yaris

    2015 Toyota Yaris

    Let’s face it: Nobody really enjoys paying for gasoline. As a runner, I’m happy to spend whatever it takes for shoes and gear that give me the ergogenic edge, but I’ll shop around for the best deals on gas. Toyota’s newest subcompact Yaris, available as a three or five-door hatchback, minimizes pinch at the pump with 32 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy according to the EPA. Priced below $20,000, the versatile, peppy Yaris offers a lot to love for active urbanites for which long commutes and limited street parking are a way of life.

    For 2015, Toyota’s European design studio in the south of France did a major restyle, giving the pint-size Yaris a youthful face and refined interior. The car is slightly longer than the outgoing model. A retuned suspension and stiffer body structure contributes to a quieter, smoother ride.

    Power comes from a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission. Base price for the five-door test car is $17,820. A cargo mat option and the delivery charge bring the final MSRP to $18,825. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Honda Fit EX-L

    Subcompact hatchback targets active urbanites

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Honda Fit

    2015 Honda Fit

    On paper the Honda Fit should be the perfect car for buyers with active lifestyles: small and fuel efficient, with a surprisingly spacious and versatile cargo area thanks to its folding magic seats and center-mounted fuel tank. The first-generation Fit seemed to hit the nail on the head, with its appealing aero exterior and peppy engine. This year, Honda introduces its successor, a slightly larger car that builds on the original formula with powertrain and connectivity enhancements.

    The test car is the upscale EX-L with navigation, priced from $20,800. Standard convenience features include leather heated front seats, leather steering wheel, HondaLink with smart phone applications, navigation, Bluetooth, satellite radio, SMS text messaging, Pandora radio, LaneWatch, air conditioning and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel. Final MSRP including the $790 destination charge is $21,590. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Hyundai Elantra GT

    Five-door hatchback for active urbanites

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Hyundai Elantra GT

    2014 Hyundai Elantra GT

    When Hyundai introduced the newest version of its compact Elantra for the 2013 model year, product planners discontinued the former Touring wagon and introduced a five-door hatchback called the GT. This year, the GT gains a more powerful two-liter engine in place of the former 1.8-liter block, giving it 25 more horsepower and 23 additional foot-pounds of torque.

    The result is a stylish, fun-to-drive car with a small footprint that is ideal for active urbanites. Since the car weighs less than 3,000 pounds, it has a positive power-to-weight ratio, resulting in 28 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy and surprisingly peppy performance.

    Hyundai has built its reputation by offering buyers exceptional value. Base price for the Elantra GT is $18,750 excluding the $810 destination charge. Standard convenience features include air conditioning, power heated outside mirrors, satellite radio with Bluetooth interface, iPod and MP3 compatibility, remote keyless entry, cruise control, heated front seats and 60/40 split-folding rear seats that extend the cargo floor.

    A convenience package on the test car adds 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, power driver’s seat, aluminum pedals, a sport-tuned suspension, LED headlamps, under-floor storage in the cargo area and Hyundai Blue Link telematics. A tech package adds navigation, automatic headlamps, dual-zone climate control and a panoramic sunroof, bringing the final MSRP to $25,485. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Toyota Corolla Sport Premium

    Compact sedan gets a makeover for 2014

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Toyota Corolla S

    2014 Toyota Corolla S

    No car in the Toyota lineup speaks more to the brand’s heritage and its success in the United States than the compact Corolla. While the Corolla is no longer Toyota’s best selling model, it was the first car to capture the hearts and more important, the trust of American motorists when the compact sedan arrived stateside in 1968: two years after it debuted in Japan.

    The Corolla wasn’t the first car Toyota imported to the United States: that honor goes to the Toyopet Crown that had arrived eleven years earlier when the brand opened its first US headquarters in Hollywood, California. But unlike the Crown, the Corolla filled an imminent need for good small cars in the wake of fuel shortages throughout the 1970s. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Toyota Prius c

    Urban-oriented hybrid hatchback

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Toyota Prius c

    2013 Toyota Prius c

    The Prius c, based on the Yaris platform, is the smallest member of Toyota’s pure-hybrid family. The idea is to offer young urbanites an affordable alternative to the original liftback that’s versatile, yet easy to park on the street. Pricing starts under $20,000 for the base model. The subcompact Prius c has a 100.4-inch wheelbase: about six inches shorter than the midsized liftback.

    Its 2500-pound curb weight makes the ‘city’ Prius over 500 pounds lighter than the liftback, contributing to its 50 mile-per-gallon fuel economy rating. Power comes from an Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine and electric motor yielding 99 net horsepower, mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission.

    There are four available trim levels. The test car is the upscale Four, priced from $23,360. Options include fifteen-inch alloy wheels with a sunroof, a security system and carpeted floor mats. Final MSRP, including the $795 destination charge is $25,589. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Ford Explorer Sport 4WD

    A performance and styling boost for the midsize SUV

    By Bob Golfen 

    The Ford Explorer Sport gets 365 turbocharged horsepower. (Ford)

    The Ford Explorer Sport boasts 365 turbocharged horsepower. (Ford)

    Ford Explorer gets a powerful dose of style and performance for 2014 with the Explorer Sport, a new take on an old name that does for the midsize SUV what the SHO did for the Taurus sedan.

    A turbocharged 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 provides the motivation for this more-aggressive Explorer, doling out 365 horsepower and adding vital spark to the workaday people hauler. Along with that comes all-wheel drive, a six-speed automatic with manual paddle shifters, stiffer suspension, quicker steering, meatier brakes and fat performance tires on 20-inch rims.

    Despite all that, the Explorer Sport turns out to be more about fast refinement than quick maneuverability. The size and weight are still formidable, and while the engine power succeeds in bringing this crossover up to speed, there is still an underlying cushiness that discourages back-road romps. Its core mission remains roomy, comfortable transportation, only now with some fun dialed in.

    Pricing starts at around $41,000, which gets you a well-equipped SUV with all that extra Sport equipment. The test vehicle included the full boat of electronic, power and safety gear including navigation and rear seatbelts equipped with airbags, bringing the bottom line to $47,390. That’s not bad considering the high level of performance and features. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Kia Soul Plus

    Compact crossover gains in style and performance

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Kia Soul

    2014 Kia Soul

    This year, Kia introduces the second-generation Soul compact crossover: the first major redesign since the car was introduced in 2009. The original Soul was one of several box-shaped vehicles aimed towards young urbanites needing interior versatility.

    The new Soul builds on the original theme, with a slightly larger interior, more nuanced styling and upgraded powertrains. Kia expects the midlevel Plus trim to be the volume leader, priced from $18,200.

    The Soul’s spacious interior and fold-flat second-row seats make it a good option for buyers with active lifestyles. The 2014 model won our Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year award in the urban category.

    An audio package on the test car adds navigation, automatic climate control, and an Infinity sound system with speaker lights ($1400). Other options include a premium package with a panoramic sunroof, push button start, leather seating, power driver’s seat, heated and ventilated front seats ($3000), UVO infotainment system with rearview camera display ($500) and carpeted floor mats ($115). Together with the $795 destination charge, final MSRP is $24,010. Read the rest of this entry »