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    2014 Review Wrap-Up: Subcompacts and Compacts


    • Three can be a really nice crowd; looking at the Honda Fit, Kia Soul, and Mazda3


    With 2014 coming to a close and your's truly still having a number of vehicles that need to have reviews written up, I thought it would be a good idea to finish up the year with the remaining vehicles from the 2014 model year. Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting a number of quick reviews. This will be leading up to my favorite vehicles I drove in the past year.

    Let's begin with the smallest vehicles that I reviewed: subcompacts and compacts.

    First Up: 2015 Honda Fit EX

    If there was one model that defined the current subcompact class, it would have to be the Honda Fit. When it was first introduced back in 2006, the Fit featured a clever back seat to increase the practicality of the vehicle; impressive driving dynamics, and sipping fuel like no other. Now the subcompact field has grown in terms of quantity and quality of vehicles. Honda has responded by introducing the third-generation Fit this year. How does the new Fit stand up to the new crowd?

    The Fit retains the shape it has for the past two-generations, but it gets a bit more aggressive and sleeker. The front looks like Honda’s designers watched a bit too much of Iron Man with the solid one piece grille. Other items of note on the front include larger air ducts and slimmer headlights. The side profile boasts two character lines to help give it an identity. Around back are a set of tall taillights and a set of faux vents in the bumper.

    2015 Honda Fit EX 10

    Stepping inside the Fit, Honda has reworked the dashboard layout with controls for the radio and climate control system angled towards the driver. Material quality has seen a noticeable improvement with soft-touch materials and faux aluminum trim used throughout. The touchscreen radio is easy to use and quick to respond. The big downside is Honda deciding use capacitive-touch buttons for volume and home. There were times when I had to hit the volume button more than once to get it to respond. Honda, please go back to normal buttons and knobs.

    Even though the new Fit is about 1.6 inches shorter than the previous model, Honda was able to increase passenger space by 4.9 cubic feet. This is due to a longer wheelbase and a thinner, center-mounted gas tank. Sitting in the back. I found more than enough head and legroom. Now the increase in passenger space means cargo space has dropped by about 4 cubic feet. Still, the Fit cargo’s space is impressive with 17 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 53 cubic feet with the seats down.

    The back seat is also one of the most versatile I have ever come across in a vehicle. The Fit’s ‘Magic’ seat can be set up in four different ways to provide added functionality. Those include:

    • Folding the rear seats down to create more space
    • Folding one part of rear seats (60/40 split) to make room for cargo, while retaining some seat space for a passenger
    • Folding the seat bottoms up to carry tall items
    • Folding the front seats back to create a sudo-bed

    2015 Honda Fit EX 4

    Power comes from a 1.5L EarthDreams four-cylinder with 130 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. In my tester, the engine was paired up to a CVT. The engine has to be worked to get up to speed which is normal for this type of car. What I’m not so happy with is the amount of buzzy-ness that is coming from the engine. Honda has said they have worked on trying to improve NVH levels in the Fit, though I find that hard to believe due to the amount of engine noise in the cabin. Thankfully, the powertrain does quiet down when you settle into speed. The CVT does behave nicely and doesn’t have the whine that most transmissions of this type are known for till you get higher in the revs. Fuel economy wise, the Fit with the CVT is rated by the EPA at 33 City/41 Highway/36 Combined. My week saw an overall average of 38 MPG. I should note that I did see 40 MPG when I took the Fit on a trip to Northern Michigan.

    The Fit earned a reputation for being a fun to drive subcompact, and for the most part that still holds true. It feels playful when going through the curvy bits and the chassis keeps the car grounded. The steering is a bit too light, and it doesn’t have quite the feel that the last generation model was known for. But what surprised me is how Fit did on a long drive. Being a subcompact, I thought the Fit would be uncomfortable due to its short wheelbase. But Honda has made some improvements to the suspension to make it more comfortable for long trips. This means the Fit was able to deal with bumps and imperfections without having any of the passengers feeling it. After doing a drive to Northern Michigan, I had no aches or pain when I got out of the Fit.

    The Honda Fit still stands tall in the subcompact class with its impressive versatility, fuel economy, and driving dynamics. Hopefully Honda has plans in the works for improving the NVH levels in the engine. Otherwise, the Fit is worth a look if you’re shopping for a new subcompact.

    Disclaimer: Honda Provided the Fit EX, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas

    Year: 2015

    Make: Honda

    Model: Fit

    Trim: EX

    Engine: 1.5L 16-Valve DOHC i-VTEC four-cylinder

    Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT

    Horsepower @ RPM: 130 @ 6600

    Torque @ RPM: 114 @ 4600

    Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 33/41/36

    Curb Weight: 2,630 lbs

    Location of Manufacture: Yorii, Japan

    Base Price: $17,560

    As Tested Price: $19,180 (Includes $820.00 Destination Charge)

    Options:

    N/A

    Next Page: 2014 Kia Soul ! (Exclaim)


    The automotive marketplace is known sometimes for being the arbiters of fads. Consider such models as Mazda Miata and the clones that followed soon after; or the Chrysler PT Cruiser. The most recent fad that we went through were the box cars, started by the likes of the Nissan Cube and Scion xB. These two models enjoyed some success in sales. Kia would become the third entrant in the box class, with the Soul. Like the Cube and xB, the should would become a decent seller. But in recent years, sales began to wane on the Cube and xB, while Soul continued to rise in sales. So what is it about the Soul that makes it a shining star, while its competitors dim out?

    The Soul’s overall design hasn’t gone through a major transformation. The reason for that is Kia moving 112,000 Souls last year and the thought of a dramatic change could spell doom for sales. But that doesn’t mean Kia hasn’t made any changes. The front end now features a new lower fascia with a trapezoidal grille and a set of fog lights sitting on either side. The back takes some ideas from the 2012 Soul Trackster concept with a new rear tailgate design and large, wrap-around taillights. Those sharp looking eighteen-inch wheels come as part of the Exclaim (!) model.

    2014 Kia Soul Exclaim 12

    Moving inside, the Soul underwent a massive change. The interior looks and feels more mature with improved materials and layout. My top-of-line tester came equipped with a number features such as heated and cooled seats, panoramic sunroof, a color LCD in the instrument cluster, automatic climate control, and the latest version of Kia’s UVO infotainment system which uses Google’s Android operating system. Getting myself situated in the Soul was easy enough thanks to the power adjustments on the seat and tilt-telescoping wheel. Back seat passengers might find legroom being a little bit tight, but headroom is very much in abundance thanks to the boxy shape.

    Power comes in the form of two engines. The base is a 1.6L four-cylinder, while my tester featured the 2.0L GDI four-cylinder. The 2.0L produces 164 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission choice. The 2.0L engine can be classified as being adequate as it seems to produce the same amount power as it does in noise. Stay on flat surfaces and around town duties and the engine does a fine job. But if you need to merge or tackle a steep hill, you’ll need to put the pedal to the floor and enjoy the noises coming from the engine. To be fair, the six-speed automatic does a decent job of keeping the engine right in the sweet spot of power. As fuel economy, the EPA rates the Soul Exclaim at 23 City/31 Highway/26 Combined. I got 27.3 MPG during my week of testing.

    2014 Kia Soul Exclaim 7

    On the ride and handling front, the Soul did pretty well over some of Michigan’s ‘fantastic’ roads. Bumps and imperfections were mostly ironed over. As for the curves, the Soul’s suspension mostly keeps the vehicle planted. However, the tall shape does mean some body lean appears. The Exclaim model came equipped with the flex-steer system which varies the steering weight. I really don’t like this system as the comfort and sport settings are on the extreme ends (one is really light, while the other is too heavy). I left in normal which provided a nice balance.

    Much like Kia, I can’t fully explain why the Soul is doing so well. But I have a good guess. Kia has a really impressive package in the Soul with an improved interior, good ride quality, and a funky look that makes it stand out. Whatever the reason is, Kia is doing something right with the Soul.

    Disclaimer: Kia Provided the Soul !, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas

    Year: 2014

    Make: Kia

    Model: Soul

    Trim: ! (Exclaim)

    Engine: 2.0L GDI Four-Cylinder

    Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic

    Horsepower @ RPM: 164 @ 6,200

    Torque @ RPM: 151 @ 4,000

    Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 23/31/26

    Curb Weight: 2,837 lbs

    Location of Manufacture: Gwangju, South Korea

    Base Price: $20,300

    As Tested Price: $26,195 (Includes $795.00 Destination Charge)

    Options:

    Sun & Sound Package - $2,600

    The Whole Shabang Package - $2,500

    Next Page: 2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring Hatchback


    Its hard to believe that only a couple of years ago, Mazda was beginning to roll out its Skyacitv technologies in the last-generation Mazda3. In my review of the 3, I praised the Skyactiv powertrain for being a clever way of increasing fuel economy without resorting hybrid technologies. I also wondered how the 3 would be once it received the full suite of Skyactiv technologies. Well I had my chance when a 2014 Mazda 3s Grand Touring hatchback arrived for a week-long evaluation.

    Mazda has been producing some of most distinctive vehicles on the road and the 3 is no different. Armed with the Kodo design language and lovely Soul Red color, the 3 stands out in the compact car crowd. Up front is a tall grille with a slim chrome bar running from underneath the emblem into the front headlights. The side profile reveals stylish curves for the fenders and roofline. Inside, the 3 has really stepped up in terms of design and quality. Materials are top notch, even though Mazda is sticking with the blackout theme. Some contrasting colors would be nice Mazda. Despite an increase an overall size, interior space is still small. Sitting in the back, I found myself wishing for bit more leg and headroom.

    2014 Mazda3 S Grand Touring Hatchback 11

    One big change for the 3 deals with technology. Previous Mazdas featured one of most infuriating infotainment systems I have ever come across with dated graphics, slow response times, not being able to connect phones with Bluetooth, and number of other problems. The 3 now features a new infotainment system with a seven-inch screen mounted on the dash and iDrive-like controller. This new system is easier to use and quick to respond when selecting a function. Also, it quickly connected to my phone. One other technology change deals with heads-up display. Mazda uses a screen that rises from the top of the instrument cluster and projects key information onto it. The trick is that screen is right in line of sight of the windshield which makes you think the information is being projected onto the windshield. Very clever.

    The Mazda3 comes with two different powertrains. i models get the 2.0L Skyactiv-G four-cylinder while s models come with the larger 2.5L. My 3 was equipped the latter which packed 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. This is paired up to a six-speed automatic, but you’ll be able to get a six-speed manual. The 2.5 packs quite the punch and gets the 3 moving at a quick pace. Also, Mazda deserves credit for building a four-cylinder that’s refined and smooth. The six-speed automatic is quick on shifts and provides a good pairing for the 2.5. EPA rates the Mazda 3s Grand Touring at 28 City/38 Highway/32 Combined. I saw an average of 31 MPG.

    2014 Mazda3 S Grand Touring Hatchback 6

    The Mazda’3s handling is amazing. Along a curvy stretch of road, the 3’s chassis keeps the model flat. Meanwhile, the steering has good heft and provides a sporting driver the details of the road. It may not be a sports car, but 3 sure acts like one. Now the sports car aspirations do mean the 3 is a little bit more bouncy when dealing with potholes and bumps. Road and wind noise are kept at decent levels.

    There is one concern I do have with the Mazda3. As tested, my 3s Grand Touring cost $30,415. The price includes $2,500 tech package which includes blind spot monitoring and radar cruise control. It made me wonder if Mazda was asking a bit too much for the new 3. It has value to justify it, but I wonder if someone is willing to drop that much for a Mazda3.

    So the new Mazda3 is very much improved with the full suite Skyactiv technologies that it could be considered as best in class. The price however does give me pause from fully recommend it.

    Disclaimer: Mazda Provided the 3 S Grand Touring, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas

    Year: 2014

    Make: Mazda

    Model: 3 Hatchback

    Trim: s Grand Touring

    Engine: 2.5L DOHC Skyactiv-G Four-Cylinder

    Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic

    Horsepower @ RPM: 184 @ 5700

    Torque @ RPM: 185 @ 3250

    Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 28/38/32

    Curb Weight: 3,002 lbs

    Location of Manufacture: Hofu, Japan

    Base Price: $26,495

    As Tested Price: $30,415 (Includes $795.00 Destination Charge)

    Options:

    5GT Technology Package - $2,500

    Soul Red Paint - $300

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    I think the Mazda in particular would make a nice commuting car and would be fine (and easier on the wallet!) with the smaller engine option.

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    A Mazda 3s Touring with the newly available 6spd manual is pretty appealing, though it's priced about the same as the 6 Touring. You do get slightly more luxuries in the 3, but I'd have a hard time picking it over the bigger, sexier 6. Once the '16 model is available with its gorgeous new interior (and assuming the 6 Touring keeps its 6spd manual option), it'll be even tougher. 

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    The only one of the cars I can see myself in is the Mazda 3. Mazda is slowly but surely becoming a quiet giant in standard performance for smaller cars. The Mazda 3 also has good size, and handles like a champ. Go Mazda!

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    A Mazda 3s Touring with the newly available 6spd manual is pretty appealing, though it's priced about the same as the 6 Touring. You do get slightly more luxuries in the 3, but I'd have a hard time picking it over the bigger, sexier 6. Once the '16 model is available with its gorgeous new interior (and assuming the 6 Touring keeps its 6spd manual option), it'll be even tougher. 

     

    Yes, if you are comparing the 3 sedan vs. 6, it would be the 6. But the utility of the 3 hatch out-triumphs the bigger sibling.

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    Great reviews.  Your assessments are pretty much spot on.  I was looking at all three of these vehicles, but I went in another direction and recently purchased something used and cheap instead.  I'll post something about it soon.

     

    As for the Fit, I find the exterior design more bland than the last generation, but the interior room is amazing, and Honda infused the car with many more features.  The Soul has a commanding driving position and is much cheaper than crossovers.  It doesn't drive like a penalty box.  The new model is much nicer than the old one.  Mazda3s get very pricey, especially with a loaded Grand Touring model like yours.  But these are also a class above competitors such as the Civic, Elantra, Cruze, and Focus.

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    despite the age and all that, I'd still look at a cruze first and a focus second when it comes to smaller cars.  

     

    I think the Mazda3 lost some of its look at me thing. Its a styling dud now.  The Fit is great but still looks like a minivan and they could put more snort under the hood.

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    despite the age and all that, I'd still look at a cruze first and a focus second when it comes to smaller cars.

    I think the Mazda3 lost some of its look at me thing. Its a styling dud now. The Fit is great but still looks like a minivan and they could put more snort under the hood.

    Really, we must be styling polar opposite. I think the 3 is easily the best looker in the group. I like the Cruze too, but not for its looks

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    I have to say I like the Kia Soul the most even though the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine do not seem to be particularly impressive. I just adore the sophisticated interior design and

    spacious cargo space. With added luxury features like the heated seats, rearview camera, sunroof and Infinity audio system, this baby is sure to be on my Christmas wish list this year.

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    A Mazda 3s Touring with the newly available 6spd manual is pretty appealing, though it's priced about the same as the 6 Touring. You do get slightly more luxuries in the 3, but I'd have a hard time picking it over the bigger, sexier 6. Once the '16 model is available with its gorgeous new interior (and assuming the 6 Touring keeps its 6spd manual option), it'll be even tougher. 

     

    Yes, if you are comparing the 3 sedan vs. 6, it would be the 6. But the utility of the 3 hatch out-triumphs the bigger sibling.

     

     

    That may be true, but if you want fun and real utility, you'd probably go with the grand-daddy of hatchbacks, the Golf. It's a full 8" shorter yet has more room for rear passengers and a nearly 3 cubic feet more cargo room. 

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    Have to agree with the price issue on the 3...that might hold some back. But otherwise my fave.....new Soul looks angry up front. Fit just looks bloated......

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    I'm not usually a huge fan of Mazda, but for this Mazda 3 I am sold, at least comparing to this Honda and Kia. Great design, got the fit just right.

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      The leather used for the seats feel quite supple and help fix the issue of uncomfortable seats in the SRX. Interior space has grown, thanks to a two-inch increase in the wheelbase. Rear legroom has grown 3.2 inches and it allows anyone sitting back there to stretch out. Headroom is still slightly tight thanks in part to our tester coming with the optional panoramic sunroof. But this can be alleviated by recalling the rear seat slightly. Cargo space in smack dab in the middle - 30 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 63 cubic feet when folded.
      Cadillac User Interface (CUE) has been one of our least favorite infotainment systems to use since it was introduced a few years ago. The litany of problems ranging from a touch sensitive buttons not responding to inputs to the system crashing have dragged Cadillac down. But the system has been getting a number of changes and updates over the past few years. For starters, Cadillac has removed most of the touch-sensitive buttons from the system. Being able to press an actual button to turn on the heated/ventilated seats or adjust the temperature is really nice. It is a shame Cadillac didn’t bring back an actual volume knob for CUE - the touch-sensitive strip is still there. But at least there are volume controls on the steering wheel that allow you to avoid it. The system itself has been overhauled with a faster processor and a slightly improved interface. The changes make a difference as the system is snappier and a little bit easier to understand. If you still find CUE a bit overwhelming, you’ll be happy to know that CUE now features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
      Cadillac bucks the trend in the midsize luxury crossover class by only offering one engine - a 3.6L V6 producing 310 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque (@ 5,000 rpm). This comes paired with an eight-speed automatic and the choice of front or all-wheel drive. The V6 is the weak link in the XT5. When leaving a stop, it takes a moment for the engine to realize the accelerator pedal has been pressed before it starts working. This is even worse when you’re trying to make a pass as it seems the engine was busy taking a nap before it was hastily woken up. Once the engine is awake, it takes its time to get up to speed. There is a positive to the V6 engine and that is the stop-start system. Unlike some previous systems that are slow to restart the engine or do so in a very rough fashion, Cadillac’s system is quick and smooth when you let off the brake. The eight-speed automatic seems reluctant to downshift at times. We’re guessing this transmission was calibrated for fuel economy. At least the eight-speed automatic delivers smooth shifts.
      Fuel economy figures for the 2017 Cadillac XT5 all-wheel drive stand at 18 City/26 Highway/21 Combined. Our average fuel economy for the week landed around 22.3 mpg in mostly city driving. 
      One characteristic we liked about the SRX was its comfortable ride. Yes, it flies in the face of Cadillac’s message of beating the German’s at their own handling game. But buyers loved the smoothness on offer. Sadly, the XT5 loses a bit of the smoothness. Despite our tester featuring an adaptive suspension system, the XT5 wasn’t able to fully iron out bumps. Some of this can be attributed to 20-inch wheels fitted to our tester. At least the XT5 keeps road and wind noise out of the interior. Like the SRX, the XT5 isn’t sporty. Body motions are kept in check, but the light weight and nonexistent feel from the steering puts a halt to that idea. 
      An item Cadillac has been touting on the XT5 is the Rear Camera Mirror. Available only on the top-line Platinum, the mirror can stream the view from the rear camera by flicking a switch. We found this to be really helpful when backing out of parking lots as it gave a view that isn’t hindered by the thick rear pillars. Hopefully, Cadillac spreads this feature down to other trims of the XT5. 
      In some respects, the 2017 Cadillac XT5 is a step forward. The model improves on certain parts of the SRX such as a more luxurious and spacious interior, improved CUE system, and sharper looks. But in other respects, Cadillac messed up with the XT5. The 3.6L V6 needs to be shown the door and a new engine that offers better low-end performance to take its place. The loss of the smooth ride that the SRX was known for hurts the XT5 as well. Finally, there is the price. Our XT5 Platinum tester came with an as-tested price of $69,985. It is a nice crossover. But if we’re dropping close $70,000 on a luxury crossover, we can think of a few models that would be ahead of the XT5.
      It should be noted that the Cadillac XT5 has taken the place of the SRX of being the brand’s best selling model. At the end of 2016, Cadillac moved 39,485 XT5s. But unlike the SRX which we could recommend without hesitation, the XT5 comes with a number of caveats that we cannot do the same.
      Disclaimer: Cadillac Provided the XT5, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
      Year: 2017
      Make: Cadillac
      Model: SRX
      Trim: Platinum
      Engine: 3.6L V6 VVT DI
      Driveline: Nine-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive
      Horsepower @ RPM: 310 @ 6,700
      Torque @ RPM: 271 @ 5,000
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 18/26/21
      Curb Weight: N/A
      Location of Manufacture: Spring Hill, TN
      Base Price: $62,500
      As Tested Price: $69,985 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge)
      Options:
      Driver Assist Package - $2,340.00
      20-inch Wheels - $2,095.00
      Trailering Equipment - $575.00
      Black Ice Body Side Moldings - $355.00
      Compact Spare Tire - $350.00
      Black Ice License Plate Bar - $310.00
      Black Roof Rails - $295.00
      Black Splash Guards - $170.00
    • By William Maley
      I wasn’t too keen on the redesigned Hyundai Elantra I drove last year. In the review, I said it didn’t really do enough to compete with the likes of the Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic. But maybe the model could redeem itself with the introduction of the Elantra Sport. Hyundai made some key changes such as adding a turbo engine, revised rear suspension, and slight tweaks inside and out. 
      I was really excited to check it out and spend some quality time with it. But life had other plans. The day I was supposed to get the Elantra Sport, I took a tumble down a flight of stairs, causing a fracture in my right leg. Because of this, I really didn’t get to spent a lot of time in the Sport. This is going to be more of a first impressions piece than a review. Hopefully, in the near future, I get to spend some time in the Sport again, barring any injuries.
      Hyundai only made some small changes such as a blacked out grille, side skirts, rear diffuser, and 18-inch alloy wheels for the Sport. The end result is something that stands out from other Elantra’s, but not to the point where it looks like someone went on a shopping spree in the JC Whitney catalog. The only changes the Elantra Sport gets inside are new front seats with extra side bolstering, different gauge layout, and a flat-bottom steering wheel. Otherwise, it is your standard Elantra interior which isn’t a bad thing. The simple dash layout comes paired with the use higher quality materials. Back seat space has seen a nice improvement in terms of legroom, while headroom is still slightly tight for taller folks. Under the hood is a new turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This can be paired with a six-speed manual or my tester’s seven-speed DCT. It should be noted this engine is also being used in the recently refreshed Kia Soul! (Exclaim), but it only comes with the DCT. First impressions of this powertrain were disappointing. It doesn’t feel eager to accelerate quickly as the DCT bogs down at lower speeds. Once above a certain speed, the powertrain becomes alive. Hyundai engineered the 1.6 to deliver torque evenly across the rpm band which gives the impression that you will not run out of steam anytime soon. The DCT delivers quick up and downshifts. You can remove most of the bogginess by putting the vehicle into the Sport mode which sharpens the throttle response and quickens gear changes. This makes the Elantra Sport raring to go when leaving from a stop or acerbating from a corner. Underneath the Elantra Sport’s skin, Hyundai has made some significant changes to the chassis. The big change is a new multi-link rear suspension setup that is said to improve the driving dynamics. There is also revised springs, dampers, and steering ratio. End result? This is Hyundai’s best effort in making a fun to drive vehicle. Body roll is minimized and the vehicle feels poised when going into a corner. Steering is still a mixed bag. Turn-in is quick and there is plenty of weight, but there is barely any feedback from the road. For a sporty model, it is a bit disappointing. Compared to the standard Elantra, the Sport does let a few bumps come inside. But it isn’t to a point where your back will be in pain. There’s a nice balance between handling and comfort. Pricing for the Elantra Sport starts at $21,650 for the manual and $22,750 for the DCT. The Elantra Sport seen here came with an as-tested price of $25,985 as it featured an optional premium package that adds a number of features such as an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, sunroof, blind-spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert, and upgraded audio system. Where does the Elantra Sport fit in? It is like the Nissan Sentra SR Turbo/NISMO where it is sportier than the standard model, but not a full blown sport compact like the Volkswagen Golf GTI or Ford Focus ST. Think of it a warm compact and one that is quite surprising (for the brief time I drove it). Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Elantra Sport, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
      Year: 2017
      Make: Hyundai
      Model: Elantra
      Trim: Sport
      Engine: 1.6 Turbo GDI DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder
      Driveline: Seven-speed DCT, Front-Wheel Drive
      Horsepower @ RPM: 201 @ 6000 
      Torque @ RPM: 195 @ 1500~4500
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 26/33/29
      Curb Weight: 3,131 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Montgomery, Alabama
      Base Price: $22,750
      As Tested Price: $25,985 (Includes $835.00 Destination Charge)
      Options:
      Premium Package for Sport - $2,400.00

      View full article
    • By William Maley
      I wasn’t too keen on the redesigned Hyundai Elantra I drove last year. In the review, I said it didn’t really do enough to compete with the likes of the Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic. But maybe the model could redeem itself with the introduction of the Elantra Sport. Hyundai made some key changes such as adding a turbo engine, revised rear suspension, and slight tweaks inside and out. 
      I was really excited to check it out and spend some quality time with it. But life had other plans. The day I was supposed to get the Elantra Sport, I took a tumble down a flight of stairs, causing a fracture in my right leg. Because of this, I really didn’t get to spent a lot of time in the Sport. This is going to be more of a first impressions piece than a review. Hopefully, in the near future, I get to spend some time in the Sport again, barring any injuries.
      Hyundai only made some small changes such as a blacked out grille, side skirts, rear diffuser, and 18-inch alloy wheels for the Sport. The end result is something that stands out from other Elantra’s, but not to the point where it looks like someone went on a shopping spree in the JC Whitney catalog. The only changes the Elantra Sport gets inside are new front seats with extra side bolstering, different gauge layout, and a flat-bottom steering wheel. Otherwise, it is your standard Elantra interior which isn’t a bad thing. The simple dash layout comes paired with the use higher quality materials. Back seat space has seen a nice improvement in terms of legroom, while headroom is still slightly tight for taller folks. Under the hood is a new turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This can be paired with a six-speed manual or my tester’s seven-speed DCT. It should be noted this engine is also being used in the recently refreshed Kia Soul! (Exclaim), but it only comes with the DCT. First impressions of this powertrain were disappointing. It doesn’t feel eager to accelerate quickly as the DCT bogs down at lower speeds. Once above a certain speed, the powertrain becomes alive. Hyundai engineered the 1.6 to deliver torque evenly across the rpm band which gives the impression that you will not run out of steam anytime soon. The DCT delivers quick up and downshifts. You can remove most of the bogginess by putting the vehicle into the Sport mode which sharpens the throttle response and quickens gear changes. This makes the Elantra Sport raring to go when leaving from a stop or acerbating from a corner. Underneath the Elantra Sport’s skin, Hyundai has made some significant changes to the chassis. The big change is a new multi-link rear suspension setup that is said to improve the driving dynamics. There is also revised springs, dampers, and steering ratio. End result? This is Hyundai’s best effort in making a fun to drive vehicle. Body roll is minimized and the vehicle feels poised when going into a corner. Steering is still a mixed bag. Turn-in is quick and there is plenty of weight, but there is barely any feedback from the road. For a sporty model, it is a bit disappointing. Compared to the standard Elantra, the Sport does let a few bumps come inside. But it isn’t to a point where your back will be in pain. There’s a nice balance between handling and comfort. Pricing for the Elantra Sport starts at $21,650 for the manual and $22,750 for the DCT. The Elantra Sport seen here came with an as-tested price of $25,985 as it featured an optional premium package that adds a number of features such as an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, sunroof, blind-spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert, and upgraded audio system. Where does the Elantra Sport fit in? It is like the Nissan Sentra SR Turbo/NISMO where it is sportier than the standard model, but not a full blown sport compact like the Volkswagen Golf GTI or Ford Focus ST. Think of it a warm compact and one that is quite surprising (for the brief time I drove it). Disclaimer: Hyundai Provided the Elantra Sport, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
      Year: 2017
      Make: Hyundai
      Model: Elantra
      Trim: Sport
      Engine: 1.6 Turbo GDI DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder
      Driveline: Seven-speed DCT, Front-Wheel Drive
      Horsepower @ RPM: 201 @ 6000 
      Torque @ RPM: 195 @ 1500~4500
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 26/33/29
      Curb Weight: 3,131 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Montgomery, Alabama
      Base Price: $22,750
      As Tested Price: $25,985 (Includes $835.00 Destination Charge)
      Options:
      Premium Package for Sport - $2,400.00
    • By William Maley
      There is one vehicle that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has to get right the first time - the minivan. The company is credited for creating this vehicle segment back in the eighties with the introduction of the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. Each subsequent version brought forth some new improvement or feature that put it ahead of the pack. But due to the bankruptcy in 2009 and subsequent merger with Fiat, plans for the next-generation Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan were pushed back. This left the old model struggling against some fresh competition in the form of the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. 
      But last year, Chrysler surprised everyone with a new minivan. Wearing the Pacifica nameplate, the van was unlike anything that had come before. It featured a sleek design, handsome interior, and the option of a plug-in hybrid powertrain. The bigger surprise was that Chrysler would be the only brand getting the new van. The Dodge Caravan would continue in its current incarnation for a few years to provide a low-cost option for those shoppers. Has Chrysler pulled a rabbit out its hat or has the unthinkable happened and the Pacifica trails the competition?
      The first thing to take in about the new Pacifica is how good-looking it is. The design comes courtesy of the 700C that debuted quietly a few years back at the Detroit Auto Show. The rounded front end is reminiscent of the recently departed 200 with a narrow grille and headlights, chrome trim along the edges of the grilles, and a sculpted hood. The side profile shows off two character lines; one running from the front fender to the chrome trim for the windows and another running through the door handles and curving into the rear fender. We would only make one slight change to the Pacifica. Our Touring L tester featured 17-inch wheels that looked a bit small for a vehicle this size. We would go for the larger 18-inch wheels that fill in the wheel wells much better.
      Anyone who has been in the last-generation Chrysler Town and Country or Dodge Caravan knows the interior was well past its sell-by date. When pitted against competitors, the two vans came up very short in terms of design, materials, space for cargo and passengers; and infotainment. Step inside the Pacifica and it is clear that Chrysler has done its homework. The design is much more modern with flowing lines and contrasting colors. It also feels more spacious than the outgoing vans thanks to some smart decisions such as the removal of the center console to allow for an open floor between driver and passenger, and the use of a knob for the transmission. Material quality has also seen a noticeable improvement with many surfaces now boasting soft-touch plastics. It wouldn’t be crazy to say the Chrysler Pacifica is ahead of everyone when it comes to the interior.
      Depending on the trim, you can order the Pacifica with seating for seven or eight people. Our Touring L featured the eight-seat layout with a removable middle seat for the third row. It will take you a few moments to figure out how to remove the seat, but once you do, it is quite easy to remove and install the seat. The rest of the seats feature Chrysler’s Stow ’n Go folding system where the seats can fold into compartments in the floor to provide a flat load area. Cargo area is in line with the current crop of minivans with 32.3 cubic feet behind the third row, 87.5 cubic feet behind the second row, and 140.5 cubic feet with both rows folded. As for passengers, both rows of rear seats provide an excellent amount of head and legroom. Getting into the third row is much easier thanks to second-row seats offering a tilt function.
      FCA has equipped the Pacifica with the newest version of their UConnect system. The interface may look similar to the older UConnect system, but there are a number of changes that help catapult this new version towards the top of the infotainment system list. First, the new system is much sharper thanks to the new fonts and an updated screen that provides improved brightness levels. FCA has also improved the overall performance of the system, meaning no slow downs when going between various functions. One item we cannot comment on is navigation as our test Pacifica didn’t come with it.
      Power for the Pacifica comes from the 3.6L Pentastar V6 with 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission that routes power to the front-wheels only. It might not be the fastest van on the road (that honor falls to the Toyota Sienna), but Pacifica comes very close. Power comes on a smooth and steady rate. You’ll find yourself not wanting more power when merging onto a freeway or trying to make a pass. FCA has seemed to get its act together with the nine-speed automatic transmission. Issues with clunky shifts and gear hunting have been mostly ironed out. The transmission now features smooth and quick upshifts. The only item we would want FCA to work on is the transmission’s hesitation to downshift in certain situations such as making a pass.
      EPA fuel economy for the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is rated at 18 City/28 Highway/22 Combined. Our week mostly spent in the city returned 23.2 mpg.
      The primary concern when it comes to a van’s ride and handling characteristics is providing maximum comfort and the Pacifica delivers. The suspension delivers a smooth ride even on some of the rough roads on offer from Metro Detroit area. An added bonus is how well the Pacifica isolates road and wind noise from coming inside. At highway speeds, only a whisper of wind noise makes it inside. But the Pacifica becomes a bit of a surprise when it comes to handling. Despite its large size, FCA’s engineers made the Pacifica feel quite nimble. The steering might not give that impression as it feels somewhat light when turning. But go around a corner and the van feels more like a midsize sedan than a van. 
      It has been a long time coming for a new minivan from FCA and the good news is that they haven’t dropped the ball. The Pacifica may not have ripped up the rulebook when it comes to minivans, but it sure has expanded or rewritten bits of it. From a surprising balance of ride and handling characteristics to the best interior in the class, it is clear that FCA wants to reclaim the crown of the best minivan. But there one thing that we need to address and that is FCA’s poor reliability history. No matter which survey or study look at, more often than not, FCA’s core brands are towards the bottom. What does this mean for the Pacifica? We can’t say for right now, but this could be the one thing that makes or breaks Chrysler’s new van.
      For right now, the Pacifica is at the top of the class.
      Disclaimer: Chrysler Provided the Pacifica, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
      Year: 2017
      Make: Chrysler
      Model: Pacifica
      Trim: Touring L
      Engine: 3.6L 24-Valve VVT V6
      Driveline: Nine-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive
      Horsepower @ RPM: 287 @ 6,400
      Torque @ RPM: 262 @ 4,000
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 18/28/22
      Curb Weight: 4,330 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Windsor, Ontario
      Base Price: $34,495
      As Tested Price: $36,880 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge)
      Options:
      Premium Audio Group - $895.00
      8 Passenger Seating - $495.00

      View full article
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