Archive for May, 2012

May
31

2012 Toyota Prius c

Note: This report supplements Consumer Guide Automotive’s full report on the 2012 Toyota Prius c, a subcompact hybrid car that starts at $18,950.

Test car came equipped with: Alloy Wheel Package, which includes 16-inch aluminum rims (replacing base 15-inch steel wheels) as well as a power sunroof. The total MSRP including $760 destination = $25,140.

Powertrain: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine, electric motor with 0.9 kWh battery pack, and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Acceleration: As the main report notes, Toyota claims 0-60 mph acceleration of 11.5 seconds. That seems about right to me—maybe a tad optimistic. No matter. The Prius c is dreadfully slow versus conventional compact cars of comparable price, and it feels underpowered in most every situation except stop-and-go work in dense city traffic. Getting any sense of “speed” requires mashing the throttle, so there goes your fuel economy. The CVT doesn’t help, as it lags slightly behind throttle inputs. The Eco mode makes the car feel even slower, as it only dulls throttle and transmission responses. I tried using all-electric EV mode on several occasions, but most of the time the function was “temporarily not available,” even with the propulsion-battery charge at an indicated two-thirds “full.” This car will likely cause some sweaty palms in fast-moving freeway traffic, where even routine lane changes can require planning. It’s much more at home as an urban runabout, though even then it’s somewhat tedious to drive.

May
31
2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

What essentially started out as an experiment to sell small, cheap cars built in South Korea has turned into an automotive empire. In a fairly short amount of time, Hyundai has gone from a joke in the minds of consumers and pundits to a major powerhouse whose products (in most segments anyway) are not to be missed.

May
30
2012 Kia Rio 5 B-Spec Racer

2012 Kia Rio 5 B-Spec Racer

Many of us dream of being a race-car driver, but the money and time spent is often so prohibitive that most of us don’t bother. Thankfully, a new class of racing is emerging: the B-Spec class. This category is comprised of subcompact and compact cars lightly modified for racing. Even though it is an emerging segment, B-Spec racing is officially sanctioned by various motorsports associations, including World Challenge, GRAND-AM, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), and the National Auto Sport Association (NASA).

The idea behind the B-Spec series is affordable racing. Drivers can still enjoy the thrills of competition without taking out a second mortgage to pay for it. A few other manufacturers are getting on board and offering their vehicles for this type of racing. The Chevrolet Sonic, Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Mazda 2, Mini Cooper, Nissan Versa, and Toyota Yaris are also eligible to compete in this class.

May
29

Bentley Continental Flying Spur

The executives at Rolls-Royce will be pleased to know that Consumer Guide honored the 2012 Rolls-Royce Phantom Sedan as the top-rated U.S.-sold vehicle, giving it a score of 84. But they also must deal with this reality: The 2012 Bentley Continental Flying Spur tied the Phantom with an 84 score . . . and is less than half the price. While Rolls officials can boast of the brand’s prestige and that their cars are largely handmade, Bentley is no slouch. Queen Elizabeth herself has planted her royal heiny in the back seat of a Bentley. The Flying Spur’s starting price of $184,200 makes the Phantom Sedan’s $380,000 price tag seem outrageously bloated.

Consumer Guide editors give the Flying Spur perfect 10s for room/comfort front, room/comfort rear, and interior details. It scored a 9 for acceleration, which is amazing considering that the car weighs more than 5,500 pounds. Much of the vehicle’s cost goes to the turbocharged 12-cylinder engine. “How smooth can a rocket launch be?” writes Consumer Guide Publisher Tom Appel. “Pretty damn smooth, apparently. Silky shifts, profound power, awesome engine noise.”

Read more about the 2012 Bentley Continental Flying Spur.

May
28

Autoworld logo

The year 1984 wasn’t a good one for domestic automakers. That was the year that General Motors stripped Buick, Oldsmobile, and Cadillac of stand-alone status, lumping them together into a single, seemingly characterless marketing arm of the maker.

May
27
Traffic Jam
Is your commute killing you?

If you have a long commute to and from work, it could be taking a much greater toll on you than you might think.

May
26
Mercedes-Benz S550

Mercedes-Benz S550

The best car I have ever driven retails for less than half the price of a Rolls-Royce Ghost. I intend for that statement to put some perspective on the relationship between price and value, because, at about $120,000 typically equipped, the Mercedes-Benz S550 is both terribly expensive and a really strong value.

Of course, “value” in this context is very much a relative term. There isn’t really much that an S550, at over 100 grand, does that a Toyota Avalon can’t. Both cars will move five passengers around in great comfort and with reasonable class. Both cars ride well, too, but I would argue that while the Avalon rides “well,” the big Mercedes rides best—as in the best-ever-in-history-of-all-cars sense.

Ride quality is perhaps the single most subjective element of automotive evaluation. Ask my dad and he’ll tell you that his 1979 Thunderbird was the best-riding car he has ever owned—despite the fact that the car would wallow enough to bottom out after hitting a stray McDonald’s straw wrapper at more than 5 mph.

May
25
2012 Porsche Cayman R

2012 Porsche Cayman R

Note: This report supplements Consumer Guide Automotive’s full report on the 2012 Porsche Cayman, a premium sporty/performance car that starts at $51,900.

Test car was equipped with: auto-dim mirrors, PCM/navigation system, bi-xenon headlamps, Sound Package Plus, auto climate control, Sport Chrono Plus Package, satellite radio, universal audio interface, black-painted wheels. Total MSRP with $950 destination = $79,285.

Powertrain: 330-hp 3.4-liter horizontally opposed 6-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission.

Acceleration: Motor Trend quotes Porsche’s 0-60 mph Cayman R claims of 4.7 sec with 6-speed manual (as on my tester) and 4.4 with the optional 7-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic; Car and Driver timed the latter at 4.2. This test car didn’t feel quite as quick as Porsche says, but maybe my pants-seat needed recalibrating. Anyway, the Cayman R feels ferocious off the line and plenty fast in most every situation, so it deserves an “8” and maybe a “9” in this category. The engine is very revvy but not peaky—nice. Depending on road speed, the Cayman R pulls quite smoothly and with fair gusto in 3rd, 4th, and even 5th gear. Acceleration is helped by final gearing that seems on the “short” side (numerically high ratio); the tachometer shows 3000 rpm at steady 70 mph in 6th.

May
25

2012 Fiat 500

I have always been a fan of quirky and unique things, so when Chrysler announced that it would be making the Fiat 500 available to the U.S. market in 2012, I was intrigued. Although I was not quite intrigued enough to want to buy one of the little cars myself, I took comfort in knowing that such a niche car would be around to break up the monotonous traffic landscape; i.e., the rounded-off box shapes of SUVs and the rather nondescript forms of modern sedans and compacts.

May
24

2003 Alfa Romeo Spider

2003 Alfa Romeo Spider

Mazda and Fiat Auto are teaming up to develop a small rear-wheel-drive sports car that will be sold as the next-generation MX-5 Miata and as the first new Alfa Romeo Spider since the 1996-2010 model. The project was announced in late May 2012 with a joint statement by Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and Mazda Chairman Takashi Yamanouchi. The plan is to develop “two differentiated, distinctly styled, iconic, and brand-specific lightweight roadsters. . . . The Mazda and Alfa Romeo variants will each be powered by specific proprietary engines unique to each brand.”

Both versions will be based on the next-generation Miata architecture and will be built in Mazda’s hometown, Hiroshima, Japan. The Miata is expected to begin production in 2014, which could mean a 2015-model U.S. intro. Alfa says its new Spider will start rolling out in 2015 and will spearhead the brand’s long-awaited return to the U.S. market, making it a possible 2016 debut.

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