CAR REVIEWS (32)
There was a lot of anticipation surrounding the all-new 2012 Ford Focus. It's been a long time in the works, and an opportunity for Ford to rejuvenate a vehicle that has seen better days.
Ford's new approach to the subcompact segment started with the launch of the Fiesta in early 2011, which was shortly followed by the Focus. Previous generations of the Focus were "North Americanized" and differed from their European counterparts, which were spoiled with a superior interior, more size, and a sleeker design. Not so this time around: the 2012 conforms to an international design, with just a few tweaks for regional preferences (such as MyFord Touch).
My tester for the week was the Focus Titanium hatchback, which came in a vibrantly yellow, blaze-metallic colour. The five-door-hatchback iteration of the Focus was last seen in 2007, but it clearly never should have been retired since the hatch adds character and appeals to the younger demographic.
When I first put eyes on the Focus Titanium hatchback, I felt like I was looking at a contestant on one of those makeover shows – I've only heard about them – where a European designer has carte blanche to go to town on middle-aged housewives that have let themselves go. The new Focus is no housewife, but it's also nothing like its predecessor. The new look, feel, and design makes this vehicle a hot commodity in the subcompact segment. Ford's emphasis was on design, and it's paid off in the Focus's sportier lines, curvaceous body, and overall appeal.
And the Focus's good looks are not just skin deep: the interior is also sensational. The two-tone front leather seats are comfortable and have power height and recline functions. A plush, soft-touch plastic surrounds the front cabin and centre console, which houses the MyFord Touch screen. The gadgets read like a laundry list, including an engine start-up button, a rear-view camera for reversing, side mirrors with blind-spot-indicator lights, heated seats, a sunroof, XM radio, and navigation. But the most interesting gadget of all has to be the Active Park Assist, which – lo and behold – allows you to manoeuvre the Focus into a parking spot at the push of a button.
The Focus has also been transformed beneath the hood, with a 2.0-litre, direct-injected, four-cylinder engine. This baby commands 160 horses, 20 more than its predecessor, and 146 lb-ft of torque. Granted, these numbers aren't exactly earth shattering, but they are a marked improvement. The Focus provides two transmission options: a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with a manual shift option, the latter of which was in the tester. In automatic mode, the Focus is a little slow out of the gate, but acceleration is smooth once you start to cruise above 40 km/h. I wasn't impressed with the manual shift option, and I'm not sure how many people will have any use for it. It took a while simply to figure out how to get into manual mode, and, once there, switching gears feels awkward on account of the shifter's being too low.
The steering is light and easy and seems to buff out the bumps on the road. The Focus may not have the upper hand on the Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf when it comes to power, but it does offset this imbalance with its fuel economy. After driving it throughout the city and on the highway for a week, the Focus averaged a combined 7.2 L/100 km, better than most of its rivals.
The Focus Titanium hatchback was in desperate need of a makeover, and it's now a real contender in the subcompact segment. It's a bit pricier than other cars in its segment, with the sedan starting at a base of $15,999 and the hatch at $19,899, but Ford has finally struck the right balance between design, gadgetry, and fuel economy to help it succeed.
In the minds of some owners and industry observers, Kia has developed a reputation as a cheap, unreliable automaker. But since 2010, the Korean manufacturer has worked hard to rehabilitate their image and become a contender, redesigning the Forte, the Sportage, and the Sorento and offering all three at an affordable price. While continuing to produce low-priced vehicles, Kia also gives buyers as much value for their investment as their competitors in each segment, and maybe more.
Another of Kia's key redesigns has been the Optima, which has been around for a decade but gone largely ignored by auto enthusiasts. I recently tested the SX version, which is the sportiest of the six Optima choices on offer (not including the hybrids). Starting at $33,695, the SX is pricey in comparison to the base LX (which starts at $21,995), but it's a bona fide thrill to drive.
Throughout my week with the tester, several people approached me to ask what I was driving, and some of them couldn't believe the answer when I told them. I didn't blame them: it's hard to believe that Kia has come so far in such a short time, but, like Hyundai, they have made every effort to tap into what consumers really want: affordability, sleek and sporty design, and fuel efficiency. It's no fluke that Kia and Hyundai vehicles are all over the 2012 AJAC awards and up for best cars of the year.
The exterior styling of the Optima SX radiates sportiness. Its black honeycomb sports grille, which is only available on the SX, and stretched headlamps seem to grin playfully and ask whether you're ready for an exciting ride. Walking around the car, you'll notice its smooth-flowing lines, lower roofline, as well as its 18" sport alloy wheels, rear lip spoiler, and LED taillights. All these sporty features help explain why the SX turns so many heads.
And the party doesn't stop with the exterior: the Optima's interior is just as exciting. Inside is a striking, soft-leather-wrapped steering wheel and bright aluminum pedals that are just begging to be pressed. The soft leather extends to the dash, creating an elegant look throughout the cockpit. The leather seats may be a little flashy for some, but their outer layer of silver mesh stitching complemented the racing-tone of the vehicle.
Under the hood, the SX has a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with direct injection that cranks out 274 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. This is a significant improvement over the EX and LX models, which are powered by a 2.0-litre generating 200 horsepower. Of course, the EX and LX numbers are solid in their own right, but the SX is really the pick of the Optima litter. For example, it's also fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for those of us who love manual.
The Optima has an impressive handling balance that really comes into play on curvy roads. The steering is a little tight but does an adequate job. The SX was a blast to drive because you can really crank it and feel the turbo action on acceleration. Cabin noise was minimal, as was any sensation of bumps along the way. In terms of fuel economy, the Optima performs well, averaging 5.8 L/100 km on the highway and 9.2 L/100 km in the city.
Kia's standard features, which include USB ports, Bluetooth, cruise control, and Sirius satellite radio, add even more value for the consumer. The SX is also outfitted with a push-button ignition, dual-zone and fully automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an eight-speaker Infinity audio system, a reversing camera, a panoramic sunroof, and touch-screen navigation.
The Optima faces a lot of tough competition in the Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, and Honda Accord, all of them veteran stalwarts. But they all should be worried about the Optima, which has taken major strides forward. The Optima is suited to young and mature drivers who desire a little added rush in their ride. Overall, the SX has everything you need: power, performance, and fuel economy. Given the price and all the fixins', the Optima SX is definitely worth a close look if you're in the market.
By the Numbers: beneath its flashy exterior the Mitsubishi RVR is a plain Jane – but it doesn’t take much fuel to see Jane runWritten by David Miller
For the past few years, gas prices have risen so steadily that, for all the outrage we may feel, we’re no longer particularly surprised by the next hike. The days of paying less than a dollar for a litre of gas are gone. But for a family to be able to travel in comfort, the roominess of an SUV or CUV is necessary, which means that, short of investing in an electric vehicle, we as consumers must demand more compact, light-weight, fuel-efficient vehicles.
A case in point: the Mitsubishi RVR, a crossover modelled on the larger Outlander, whose platform and wheelbase it shares. It’s shorter and trimmer than its cousin, with a slender, sleeker look. Mitsubishi designed the RVR (or Recreational Vehicle Runner) for the city driver who is looking for a lighter, more compact vehicle with the roominess of a typical CUV. One of its most notable accomplishments is its excellent fuel efficiency, which is sure to strike a chord with consumers sick of being gouged at the pumps.
At first glance, the RVR is a head-turner, especially in the tester’s Kingfisher blue. The trapezoid grille with the Mitsubishi badge front and center stands out the most, giving the RVR a sporty look. The front of the vehicle is nicely complemented by a sporty exterior and a beautiful panoramic sunroof.
Unfortunately, the RVR’s beauty is only skin deep. Inside the CUV, space is ample and seating plush and comfortable, but all the plastic in the dash will make you feel like you’re at a Tupperware party. I’m all for elegant simplicity of design, but the RVR’s drabness is almost oppressive. The interior of such a modern vehicle should be in keeping with the fun and excitement that its exterior conveys. Of course it’s not all bad: the steering wheel, sheathed in strong black leather that you can really grip down on, gives you the sense that you’re in complete control of the vehicle at all times. Similarly, the handling is silky smooth on turns, and overall traction and stability are excellent.
Powering the vehicle is a 148 hp, 2.0 L four-cylinder engine, with a Mitsubishi Innovative Valve-timing Electronic Control (MIVEC) system. But, these numbers notwithstanding, both the all-wheel-drive, five-speed automatic that comes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and paddle shifters and the front-wheel-drive, five-speed manual, fell short of the mark. Manual mode was better as the initial acceleration in the CVT, which is programmed to get optimal fuel economy, was a little slow. The paddle shifters helped avoid this slow giddy-up, but I doubt drivers of automatics will want to use them daily. On the flip side, a constant grunting noise can be heard in manual mode when you switch gears or speed up, but, once you get it in fifth gear, the RVR accelerates as quickly and smoothly as any other CUV in its price range.
In spite of its drab interior, the RVR is not a car to avoid: it’s a smooth, comfortable ride that will get you reliably around town; it just didn’t overwhelm me in any way. Mitsubishi’s hope is that the RVR will be the compact, fuel-efficient CUV families have been waiting for. They’ve claimed the CVT RVR to have the best in-class fuel economy at 7.6 L/100 km, but I averaged 9.6 L/100 km with some paddle shifting.
The manual RVR I tested was the second-level SE 2WD, which starts at $21.998, but the top-of-the-line GT 4WD starts at $28,498 and comes with an array of gadgets, including Bluetooth, USB ports, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, rear privacy glass, cruise control, 18” aluminum alloy wheels, and a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate Punch premium sound system.
Overall, I appreciate what Mitsubishi has attempted to do in making the RVR a vehicle that can address consumers’ fuel-efficiency needs. It’s an economical and dependable vehicle with many standard safety features, including active stability control, traction control, seven airbags, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. But for me, the grunting noises it makes upon acceleration and the utilitarian interior design weigh heavily against it. Then again, if you’re just looking for an economical, outwardly stylish vehicle for casual city and driving and transporting the kids to and fro, you could do worse than the RVR, which at least will keep you from going to the pumps too often.
Like most auto makers, BMW is constantly pursuing new customers, but lately they seem particularly interested in going after buyers of brands they don’t ordinarily compete with. How? By making an affordable vehicle that will persuade customers to abandon the notion they can’t afford anything from a luxury maker.
The 2012 BMW X1 xDrive28i is the vehicle in question, and can be had for a starting price of $38,500. It’s a compact vehicle at a compact price, not unlike European-type SUVs that offer luxury features in a smaller package. There’s a lot of pressure on the X1, but, after putting it through its paces, I can say that it definitely fits the bill of a potential game-changer.
The X1 is difficult to pigeonhole, part SUV, part crossover, part wagon, part car, all spliced together. But inside it’s pure of heart: the 2.0 L inline four-cylinder engine boasts a twin-scroll turbocharger that churns out 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Its eight-speed automatic transmission gets the X1 up to 100 km in 6.6 seconds. The four-cylinder doesn’t give you the same grunt or as smooth a ride as the BMW inline-six does, but what you get in exchange is stellar fuel economy. The stats speak for themselves: 6.5 L/100 km on the highway, 10.2 L/100 km in the city.
In terms of driving, the X1 exhibited much the same brilliant handling that distinguishes virtually all BMW cars and that has made the phrase “German engineering” into a marketing cliché. It was moderately slower upon initial acceleration, but, once it started to rev, it quickly justified its BMW badge. At 2,500 rpm, the power is immediate and gratifying. Power delivery is so linear that you might be closing on 140 km before you know it.
The all-wheel drive system, which is called “xDrive,” includes direct stability control (DSC) and an engine-management system. What really amazed me was how the system can distribute 100% of the engine power to either the front or back axles. For any car junkie, this is an exciting tool to have, since its sensors will let you know where to move some torque if needed. The XI also features a tire-pressure monitoring system and hill-descent control, so you’ll be apprised of everything that’s going on.
The eight-speed automatic transmission is the only option for the X1, but it does come with a manual shift mode, which allows you to really see what all eight-gears provide. Gear changes up or down were seamless, but while the serpentine gear shift is cool to look at, as in most BMWs it was a little tricky to use. In order to reverse, for instance, you need to push upward as opposed to down, which could get you into trouble if someone were to borrow your car.
The interior is cozy, though it lacks the plush design one might expect in a BMW. Unfortunately, sacrifices have also been made with the dash materials, where there was plenty of plastic to go around. However, the panorama sunroof is stunning and instantly stands out, creating the impression that you’re in a more spacious vehicle. Because the vehicle is uncharacteristically compact, back-seat passengers don’t have too much leg room. On the plus side, the rear seats can be folded down almost flat for more trunk space.
In almost every way, the X1 defies categorization. It really has no peers or direct competitors, and its compact size and price tag under $40,000 are sure to appeal to many prospective buyers who might previously have never considered BMW. For someone who’s looking for a powerful and luxurious compact vehicle, the revolutionary X1 could be the perfect fit.
Over the past two years, the North American subcompact segment has heated up, with many manufacturers joining the fray. A lot of advertising dollars have been spent to boost sales, and experts are predicting that the segment will grow 30% over the next four years. Never content to watch from the sidelines, General Motors has been hard at work creating something worthwhile after repeated missteps over the years, most recently with the Aveo. With the new Chevy Sonic, they’ve finally achieved their goal.
As the Aveo’s successor, the Sonic aims to create a thunderous boom in the subcompact segment, and it already has some of the other manufacturers squirming. Using a different design team, GM completely transformed the Aveo, not merely into another affordable car with legs but into one that combines an aggressive, youthful design with turbocharged performance.
My tester, the LTZ, boasted all that the Sonic has to offer and came in a blinding inferno-orange metallic colour. The Sonic has two incarnations, a four-door sedan and a five-door hatch – my LTZ was a hatch. The LTZ is available only with a six-speed manual transmission, but it seems likely that an automatic is in the works.
The snubness of the LTZ’s snout and the distinct scowl of its headlights give it a rebellious, aggressive air that almost seems to say “I may look small, but don’t underestimate me.” Another welcome change from the Aveo is the hidden rear passenger doors, which provides the hatch with a trendy design that exudes youthfulness. The Sonic might be compact, but its small size is offset by its modern looks and cool personality.
The interior cabin is impressively laid out and, with its brightly coloured gauge cluster and some nice gadgets to boot, reflects much the same youthful spirit of the exterior, With its massive digital speedometer, the gauge cluster resembles that of a motorcycle. There may be a lot of hard plastic on the dash, but at least the upscale leather seats were roomy and comfortable. Even the back seats had ample space for at least two adults.
Of course, the true measure of a great car is in its performance, and in this regard the Sonic can go toe to toe with the Honda Fit, the Toyota Yaris, and the Hyundai Accent. It might be new to the neighbourhood, but it’s making its mark with an impressive 1.4 L Ecotec turbo engine cranking out 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. Weighing in at 2,776 pounds, the Sonic may be one of the heaviest vehicles in its segment, but it’s also the fastest in its class.
One major drawback is the clutch: not the greatest in the biz by a long shot. Although I gradually got used to it over the week, there isn’t much feel in it. With regard to acceleration, the Sonic is a little sluggish on initial take-off, and there isn’t a great deal of power in the lower revs, which doesn’t really declare itself until you get up to the sweet spot: 2,500-3,000 revs. As fast as the car is for its segment, it’s still no sports car, and it will lose some power as soon as it hits the red line.
The drive itself is smooth and quiet, especially for a compact, thanks to a stiff suspension that reduces much of the body roll. The steering wheel is light and quick, which allows this little fireball to execute turns and corners beautifully. On one of my longer drives, which combined both city and highway driving, the Sonic averaged 7.1 L / 100 km.
The base price of the Sonic sedan starts at a competitive $14,495, with the hatchback starting at $15,495, but that’s with a 1.8 L engine. The LTZ hatch tester I had starts at $20,995 and is accompanied by XM radio, heated leather seats, 17” alloy wheels, not to mention the 1.4 L turbocharged engine.
All things considered, the Sonic performed admirably and will go a long way towards righting the wrongs of past Chevy failures. It remains to be seen whether it will shake up the subcompact segment, but there’s no doubt that it will be a stronger contender.
The year 2011 has been a busy one for Hyundai. While many manufacturers have struggled with production delays and even closures, Hyundai’s been crafting sleek, reliable, and affordable vehicles for the average consumer. In Canada, Hyundai’s slowly but surely been gaining ground on the big three of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.
One of the more exciting 2011 Hyundai offerings has been the completely redesigned Sonata, in which the V6 engine has been replaced with a four-cylinder. The regular family-sedan Sonata and Sonata Hybrid are fitted with a 2.4-litre engine, but the Sonata 2.0T has a two-litre direct-injection four-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll turbocharger. Hyundai promised that the Sonata 2.0T would have more power than a V6 and better fuel economy to boot; after test-driving it, I can say that they’ve delivered the goods.
My tester was a veritable beast, packing 274 hp and 269 lb.-ft. of torque with a six-speed automatic transmission and manual switch option. Around town, the 2.0T accelerated smoothly with minimal throttle jerkiness; on the highway, it gathered speed evenly and steadily, which is exactly what you hope for in a well-rounded car. It was all thanks to the direct injection and the twin-scroll turbocharger, which provides the acceleration you’d expect from a V6 while ensuring better fuel economy. The estimated fuel-economy numbers tell the whole story: 9.3 L/100 km in the city, 6.0 L/100 km on the highway.
While I drove around the city, the 2.0T handled expertly. The steering was light for a family sedan, and allowed me to enjoy some smooth lane changes. One of the car’s drawbacks is that it doesn’t absorb bumps on the road especially well, but, given everything else it has to offer, this hardly tips the scales against it. For instance, the interior is comfortable and spacious, with plenty of legroom up front and in back. The control panel is framed in a soft-touch dashboard that is at once modern and curiously satisfying. To configure the air flow within the car, you have to use a digital representation of the human body displayed on the panel, pressing the area you want cooled. Granted, it’s a little weird and over the top, but then again it’s a lot easier to figure out than most of the systems I come across.
If you’re looking for a car with a sleek and modern design, the Sonata will answer beautifully. In particular, the defined creases that shape the body provide the Sonata with a fun and sporty look. On top of this, the dual exhaust shows off its turbocharged engine and rounds out its sportiness.
In the last five years, Hyundai has taken incredible strides using a simple premise: offer more for less. The Sonata 2.0T exemplifies that simple formula. It starts at $29,249 and can get up to $34,199 with its Limited edition, which includes navigation. If it’s a family sedan with some real pop under the hood that you’re after, you need look no further. When it comes to power relative to fuel economy, the Sonata 2.0T is untouchable.
When you think Buick, it’s often images of old men in knee socks peering over the steering wheel or backing out of the drive and into oncoming traffic that come to mind. The name Buick is not ordinarily associated with excitement or fun. However, slowly but surely, General Motors has been rejuvenating the marque, and there is perhaps no finer example of the new spirit than the 2011 Buick Regal. I don’t want to be as clichéd as some of the new Buick commercials, but, simply put, the Regal is a far cry from your father’s car. At first glance, it looks sporty but sophisticated, which is not exactly familiar territory for Buick.
The tester I had was the Buick Regal CXL Turbo. The brilliant chrome grille immediately catches your attention, accenting the car’s midnight-blue metallic colour beautifully and letting you know right away that you’re about to get into something special. On this particular test drive, I was heading for Baltimore, accompanied by The Driver’s camera man, for the inaugural IndyCar Baltimore Grand Prix. It’s always ideal to take a tester for a long drive, since you can put the car through its paces in a wide range of different situations. Although we were good to go from the outset, there was one little hitch: neither of us could figure out how to use the confusing array of buttons and knobs to configure the vehicle the way we wanted it. Even though we were eventually able to solve the problem with the help of the owner’s manual, a car’s console should never be this confusing. Was this Buick’s way of distinguishing the Regal from your father’s Buick? I doubt it, but the technological confusion could really alienate their established clientele.
Beyond the center console, the Regal’s interior is striking. The leather seats were plush and added a luxurious touch. The steering wheel was wrapped in leather and the front seats had metallic door-pulls that really popped. Rear-seat passengers enjoy their own air vents and enough legroom to seat two comfortably.
The drive down the QEW began without incident. Traffic was light, so we had a chance to really stretch the car’s legs and see what it could do. The Regal Turbo has a 2.0 L turbocharged four-cylinder engine that churns 220 horses and 258 lb-ft of torque. It moves at a good clip when you consider the 3,765 pounds of weight it’s carrying (it can accelerate from 0 to100 km in 8.2 seconds). The turbo engine grinds audibly, but it provides a nice juicy shot of adrenaline.
We had occasion to test the Regal’s handling even before crossing the border. Driving in the left-hand lane, I was forced to quickly bend onto the shoulder as another car entered my field of vision while heading straight for the right side of my vehicle. Thankfully I had two cups of coffee in me and was on high alert. Not that I necessarily wanted to test the Regal under true battle conditions, but its agile yet remarkable controlled handling answered without any jerkiness.
The Regal Turbo also offers Interactive Drive Control, which consists of three different suspension options: sport, touring, or standard. In sport mode, I detected faint adjustments in the required steering effort and shift patterns, but it was so subtle that “sport mode” seems like a bit of a misnomer. Ditto during touring mode. But these days, it’s fuel economy that is priority one for many buyers, and manufacturers have responded accordingly. Case in point: the Regal Turbo averages 9.8 L/100 km. We travelled close to 2,000 kilometres on this particular trip but had to fill up only three times.
Overall, the drive was peaceful and comfortable, which is about all you can ask for on a long journey. The same could not be said, however, of the Baltimore Grand Prix, which was action-packed and well worth the drive. The turn-out was astounding and the excitement of the crowds was not misplaced: Team Penske’s Will Power took the checkered flag in what was the best race of the year, surpassing even the Honda Indy Toronto. When it was all over, we packed our bags into the Regal’s kingly 402-litre trunk and pointed our bow at Toronto.
The base price for the Regal is $31,990, while the CXL Turbo starts at $34,990. My tester was fully loaded with many other options, including 19” alloy wheels, power sunroof, Harman/Kardon stereo, Xenon headlights, Satellite radio, and the aforementioned Interactive Drive Control and navigation system, which will bring the cost up to $42,675. That may be a little steep, but, truth be told, you really don’t need all the gadgets to really enjoy this car. Buick has done a great job rebranding themselves to target younger drivers. If you’re looking for a sporty luxury sedan but don’t want to pay a king’s ransom, the Regal is definitely worth a look.
The 2012 Volkswgaen Jetta GLI provides sportier performance at a great price.
In the past, I have owned a couple of Jettas, so when I was invited to the media launch of the GLI – it brought back great memories and made me eager to test drive the new “North Americanized” version. After a two-year wait, The Volkswagen Jetta GLI is back with a reinvented and redesigned sharp look and lower price tag.
The GLI is Jetta’s “sportsline” model, similar to the GTI version of the Golf. For those of you who look for cars with a sportier touch you will be excited for a starting price of $27,475 – which is $2,500 cheaper than its previous 2009 version. It’s not just the price that will get you excited, but the overall performance and look has been refined. Volkswagen listened to its complaints about their Jetta and spruced up the GLI to build it with the European touches that had made it a success.
The Jettas of the past and of today are very different as they are currently being built in Puebla, Mexico. Volkswagen’s long-term goal is to make them more affordable vehicles and in turn create more sales. This has led to a small downgrade in quality for the Jetta, but an upsurge in sales. The Jetta has become a top-ten seller in Canada and a cornerstone of Volkswagen’s success with Jetta sales up 164 percent.
At first glance, the GLI catches your attention with its sleek and sporty look. The first thing that gets a hold of you is the new honeycomb grille that places the GLI badge front and centre. When you get to the back of the vehicle, you will notice smoked tail lights and a twin exhaust. It also has bright red brake callipers, front/rear sport bumpers, side skirts, and 17” alloy wheels to give it that sports car feel.
When you sit inside you can immediately tell that the interior is designed for comfort. Most of the fixings come standard including soft-leather sports seats with red trim stitching that creates that racing feel. There’s also red stitching around the leather steering wheel, gear shift, and hand brake handle. Volkswagen dealt with numerous complaints about its prior basic and hard plastic dashboard and has rectified that with the use of soft-touch plastics. Automatic climate control, six-speed audio with touch-screen, Bluetooth connectivity, and Sirius Satellite radio rounds off the rest of the standard amenities which are very impressive.
There are a few options which can be added to enhance your driving experience. You can upgrade with a technical package that includes a built-in navigation system and a Fender premium audio system for $1,290. Furthermore, you can add a power sunroof for $1,400 and 18” alloy wheels for $975.
You don’t have to worry about many downgrades when it comes to the GLI as it’s propelled by a 200 horsepower, 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It also possesses 207 lb-ft of torque peaking at a low 1,700 rpm, which is hands-down one of the best engines on the market today. For greater stability, the GLI is proud to have a multilink rear suspension instead of the regular Jetta’s torsion-beam rear axle. The torsion-beam needed to be addressed as it raised many eyebrows of Volkswagen owners which caused them to second-guess the newly modelled Jettas.
The base model comes with a six-speed manual transmission, but if you would prefer the six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) with Triptronic paddle shifters it will only cost you an extra $1,400. I must say after testing different triptronic/dual-clutch systems, Volkswagen’s DSG is the best in the business. The smooth transitions within gear changes are astonishing as there is absolutely no interruption in driving power. There are two-modes that you can drive in – the regular and sport mode. In its regular driving mode, the shifting is quicker for better fuel efficiency; while sport mode stretches out the gear shifts to get the most out of the engine in each gear.
We really got to test the sportiness of the GLI around Mosport International Raceway just north of Bowmanville, Ontario. To top off this fun-filled racing venture, Volkswagen brought in Canadian racing legend Richard Spenard to provide some helpful tips. The one thing I can safely say is that the stability control was working to perfection as I pushed down on those aluminium pedals and swung the GLI around each corner. You can steer with ease into and out of each corner with complete control. It was truly a joy to fully test what it’s capable of doing which you just cannot do driving throughout the streets of Toronto. The GLI compared well with the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart I recently tested, which is one of the top-sporty cars in its segment.
Volkswagen has done their homework on what their old customers like, as well as adding a lot of new customers by lowering their prices. The new GLI has been crafted with the European-spirit that Volkswagen is famous for. If you are looking for a sporty car with a lot of bite – the GLI looks like the best bang for your buck.
Quebec City, QC - Given the current economic outlook, it’s more important now than ever to make sure that you’re getting bang for your buck, which is why the new 2012 Nissan Versa Sedan may be an ideal choice for those in search of a new set of wheels. I happened to be present at the Versa’s Canadian media launch, which started in downtown Quebec City and through the beautiful Île d’Orléans, as picturesque a venue as any for a test drive. Compact and sporty, the Versa blended in well with the locals as it weaved through narrow streets lined with bakeries, wineries, and chocolatiers.
Ever since the Versa first appeared on the horizon in 2007, Nissan has been riding its momentum. The subcompact has ingratiated itself with many purchasers, not merely holding its own in a fiercely contested field with over ten solid competitors (not least among them the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, and Honda Fit), but also emerging as the second-favourite choice in that segment for 2010-11. At least part of this success is attributable to its price tag: the Versa has the lowest retail price among subcompacts in Canada.
The 2012 Versa Sedan rides on a newly constructed global “V” platform (“V” as in versatile). It will be the first of many Nissan vehicles to use this new platform, which is 68 kg (150 lbs) lighter than the platform it’s replacing. In keeping with this new weight-loss regimen, the 2012 is 30 mm lower and 15 mm shorter than its stockier predecessors. It’s also the first Nissan car to showcase the marque’s new signature grille, which shines brilliantly with its chrome trim. None of these changes is especially conspicuous in itself, but, when viewed as a whole, they make for a far more stylish exterior design than was typical previously.
According to Judy Wheeler, who heads up marketing at Nissan Canada, the new Versa sedan “stands out as the only expensive-looking car in the segment,” boasting what she describes as “a lot of eye power.” Most of the cuts were made to the front of the interior, but the rear and trunk space have also grown. The Versa now has 419 litres of trunk space, making it more practical for real-world use. Considering its overall size, the interior is extremely roomy, especially when it comes to the rear-seat leg room, which was clearly built to accommodate some serious gams.
The charcoal-grey dashboard is a little primitive, which is scarcely surprising given the car’s price, but the radio, heating, and assorted other knobs are all logically situated. My tester was a Versa SL-CVT that came equipped with navigation, XM Radio, Bluetooth, and USB/iPod connectivity, and that topped out at $16,298.
The standard 5-speed manual Versa (known as the “S”) might be the model featured in most TV and print ads because of its low MSRP of $11,789, but Nissan is expecting most consumers to spring for the next-level “SV.” With its old-school roll-up windows, baseline two-speaker audio system, and lack of A/C, the S is really a Versa lite. The SV still starts at the reasonably low price of $13,798, and comes with air conditioning, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, upgraded seat cloth, chrome trim around the grille and exterior door handles, and a 60:40 rear-seat split-fold.
Whatever you might make of its price, there’s no doubt that the Versa Sedan is a pleasure to drive. It runs on a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque. The engine uses two injectors per cylinder, which allows for a wider injection of fuel. The fuel economy is reported at 6.7 L/100 km in the city, 5.2 L/100 km on the highway, and a class-leading 6.0 L/100 km combined with the CVT (continuously variable automatic transmission), which is available in the SV and standard in the SL.
And if you’re worried about its power numbers, don’t be: on this rainy day in Quebec, my Versa pushed easily (and almost noiselessly) past many other vehicles along the highway.
Granted, the Versa is not going to appeal to all demographics, particularly to those accustomed to a more luxurious and powerful car. But Nissan understands that, and the price of the 2012 clearly reflects what Nissan believes the market will bear. The new Versa, which is ideal for the commuting university or college student, also seems to be aimed more broadly at drivers who want to steer clear of buying another used car and who want the comfort and technological perks of a new one. Ultimately, Nissan has done a fine job distinguishing itself from the pack by creating an affordable car built comfortably for 4 to 5 adult passengers that represents excellent value with its assorted gadgetry.
I recently had the good fortune to test-drive two similar vehicles in the Honda Accord Crosstour and the Acura ZDX in back-to-back weeks. Both are very similar, futuristic-looking crossovers cars, but their prices differ substantially: the Crosstour starts at $34,900 and its upscale cousin, the ZDX, at $54,990. At first glance, the Crosstour looks part wagon, part hatchback, and part crossover, but in my mind it’s first and foremost a good-looking wagon. It seems to be geared to someone who likes an increased elevation over a sedan, yet not quite to the level of an SUV. It has a sleek, sporty, and very curvy exterior design, which makes it look cool, but a lone wolf in its class.
The tester was an EX-L 4WD version, which runs for $38,900. It’s an extremely powerful car in its class, with a 3.5-litre, 271-horsepower V-6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. The interior design has been adapted from the Accord sedan and boasts many impressive luxuries, including leather upholstery, heated mirrors, eight-way-driver and four-way-passenger power-adjustable heated front seats, a rear-view camera, XM radio, and a navigation system. The whole design of the Crossover revolves around maximum comfort: I slid easily into my seat and was always relaxed while driving. The legroom is especially generous in both the front and back seats.
As for the driving, the Crosstour’s handling was solid, not exceptional but not poor. The noise reduction system is exceptional, so ambient road noise is held to an absolute minimum. With eight inches of ground clearance, the Crosstour looks like a vehicle that would also thrive off road, but it’s ideally suited for the open highway. It handles well on curvy roads, but it downshifts sluggishly when cornering and is also somewhat slow to switch gears when accelerating. However, it does very well in terms of fuel economy, with an estimated 11.5 L/100 km in the city and 7.2 L/100 km on the highway in front-wheel drive.
With respect to the Acura ZDX, it may have a similar exterior design and share the funky rear hatch of the Honda Crosstour, but it has a totally different feel. Acura says that it’s a cross between a coupe and an SUV. It’s all well and good to admire a car from the outside, but it’s always more exciting to get in and see what the car and is really made of. This is where the problems with the ZDX start: manoeuvring into the driver’s seat is awkward given the car’s strange, sloping, wave-like design from the roofline to the windshield and its low elevation. Getting into the back was even worse because of the small rear-door openings.
Nevertheless, once you manage to make it into the car, it’s extremely comfortable. It comes equipped with all manner of gadgets and is absolutely beautiful inside with soft leather seating and accented stitching. It also has a leather panel and centre console, a multi-view rear camera, XM radio, a panoramic glass roof with a power sunshade, and 10-way power adjustable seating with two memory positions.
The ZDX is based on Acura’s MDX, which is a more conventional-looking SUV powered by the same 300 horsepower, 3.7-litre V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. As those numbers suggest, the ZDX has plenty of power and doesn’t hold back. It’s exciting to drive, upshifts and downshifts with ease, and corners expertly with exceptional handling courtesy of Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system. It also does fairly well in fuel economy, with 12.7 L/100 km in the city and 8.8 L/100 km on the highway. Compared to the other vehicles in its class, the ZDX is not the most practical crossover on the market today: the small cargo space, limited back-seat legroom, and awkward entry are all significant defects. And if none of the issues are deal-breakers, unfortunately the price tag might be. Still, at the end of the day, the ZDX is a powerful, sporty ride whose unorthodox styling is sure to turn a few heads.
Ultimately, both crossovers are slightly eccentric in their respective fields, which will likely cause some shoppers to think twice. They aren’t the most practical cars, but the Honda Crossover may catch on if the price comes down. As for the Acura ZDX, it simply suffers from too many design flaws to be fit enough to survive.