Archive for the ‘Hyundai’ Category

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Hyundai Santa Fe: The Ambitious Crossover from Korea

January 29, 2013

MY13 Hyundai Santa Fe

By Roger Witherspoon

Those of us who grew up during the dawn of the space age heard a common aphorism from parents, teachers and radio disc jockeys: “Always shoot for the moon, ‘cause even if you miss, you’ll be among the stars.”

It’s a phrase that hadn’t come to mind in decades, until I got behind the wheel of the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport.  When the Korean car manufacturers first ventured to America, its rickety, low powered cars were the regular butt of jokes on late night television.  But instead of feeling cowed and leaving, Hyundai decided to shoot for the moon. They took aim at the most popular cars made by Toyota and Lexus, and then decided to compete in terms of style, quality, and price.

Their Sonata sedan, while not significantly denting the sales of the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, was so stylistically stunning that a year-old Sonata was worth more than a new one. Its sporty Genesis Coup takes off faster than a Porsche Panamera and its luxury liner, the Equus, comes pretty close to a fully stocked Mercedes Benz E-class. It is unlikely that folks who can casually afford a new Porsche or Benz will take a test drive in a Hyundai – even if it does mean saving $20,000. But the quality, performance, and most importantly, the price differential are important to many buyers looking to move up from the entry level, compact car class.

MY13 Hyundai Santa FeWhich brings us back to the Santa Fe. It is definitely not a Lexus RX, which is essentially a sports car in an SUV shell. But if you aren’t in the market for an SUV you can take to the drag races, then the Santa Fe is likely to earn high marks for style, comfort, and price. At $33,000, the Santa Fe costs a bit less than fully loaded sedans like the Camry, Accord or Ford Fusion.

This is a five-passenger, mid-sized SUV intended to haul adults in comfort or a sizable amount of cargo. Outside, the Santa Fe has the sleek, teardrop shape associated with upscale SUVs. Its contours are broken by the soft, wavy lines that have come to be associated with Hyundai styling – a blend of delicate Asian tracery and the wavy lines in Southern California beach sand. Under its long, sloping hood is a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine producing 264 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. The surprisingly powerful little engine won’t take you to races, but it is more than enough to keep the Santa Fe near the front of the commuting pack.

Hyundai put a lot of thought into the interior design of the Santa Fe. That’s not surprising since first they took aim at the Lexus RX series and then sought to replicate the experience at a lower price. The dash in the Santa Fe is designed in the shape of a reflex bow, with distinct, curved compartments for each front occupant and a protruding information cluster in the middle. The passenger side is wide and clean, as if it was the observation chair on a boat. The driver’s side has large, bulging instrument clusters that are easy on the eyes.

MY13 Hyundai Santa Fe

            The center section has the CD player, satellite radio, climate and Bluetooth connections. The test car had a four-inch screen which served the backup camera. There was no navigation system, but Hyundai’s satellite-based BlueLink system allows you to download turn-by-turn directions which are dictated through the car’s sound system as you travel. It is similar to the OnStar direction system in General Motors cars. But for those who like a larger screen and a real map, a more traditional navigation system is available for about $1,200.

Underneath the dash is a small storage bin which can hold a pocketbook and also houses two power outlets the USB, iPod, and MP3 ports. The Santa Fe also comes with an Apple iPhone which you can pay to fully activate, or have it for limited use of the company’s BlueLink. The phone’s Hyundai app lets you start your car, turn on the lights, heat, and radio remotely.

In this SUV, both the front and rear seats can be heated and are mobile. The front seats are powered with adjustable lumbar supports. The rear seats are manually operated, but can slide forward or back to modify the leg room or the cargo area. These can lay back for a fairly comfortable nap, and are in a three part split.

For those who do not want a minivan, Hyundai has a modified version of the Santa Fe with three rows of seating. That last row is located in the cargo area, which is a standard configuration for seven-passenger SUVs. It provides the ability to haul more people in a vehicle which handles like a car rather than a truck. With a stretch SUV you sacrifice storage capability – you can carry a lot of people, or a lot of stuff, but not both.

Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport, on the other hand, is a competitive and well laid out, crossover SUV. It is not really going to threaten Lexus in the marketplace, but it will give a lot of crossovers a run for their money.

MY13 Hyundai Santa Fe

2013 Hyundai Sante Fe Sport

 

MSRP:                                                                        $33,025

EPA Mileage:                        19 MPG City                          24 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity:                                                      3,500 Pounds

 

Performance /Safety:

 

2.0-Liter turbocharged, DOHC, 4-cylinder, aluminum engine producing 264 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual mode; All Wheel Drive; 19-inch alloy wheels; MacPherson strut, twin-tube gas damper front suspension; multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bar; ventilated front disc brakes; solid single piston rear disc brakes; traction and stability control; fog lights; backup camera; downhill brake control; front, driver’s knee, side impact and curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio; CD player; iPod, MP3, USB ports; Bluetooth; Hyundai BlueLink; rearview camera with 4.2-inch screen; powered, heated, leather front  and rear seats; fold flat rear seats with 40/20/40 split;

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Battle of the Asian Bantams: Hyundai Veloster and Nissan Juke

October 5, 2012

   

 

By Roger Witherspoon

            Let’s say you’re a car manufacturer looking to carve a niche from the crowded market for 20-somethings.

There are, of course, a host of well-made compact and sub-compact sedans and hatchbacks for under $25,000. But you don’t want to produce just another pretty metal face in a big motorized crowd. So you get a bit more selective and tell the folks with the crayons to draw something that would appeal to young men on the go, guys who want something different and fast, but still economical and suited for urban areas.

Nissan came out the box with a powerful little compact SUV called the Juke, which has the character of a Bantam rooster, but the critics at Car and Driver thought it most resembled an alligator emerging from the water. It wasn’t long before Hyundai answered with something equally formidable and reptilian, a compact SUV intended to evoke images of the fierce, prehistoric Velociraptor, and named, appropriately, Veloster.

Oh No They Didn’t! 

            There was nothing subtle about Nissan’s launch of the Juke. A fire engine red compact with an angry face roared through streets and drifted arrogantly in and around cars in a parking lot while the announcer said, smugly: “That’s right. We put a turbo in a four cylinder compact.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RdALFkwvHg )

And in a car that small, a turbo makes quite an impact. The Juke is an arrogant, independent, smugly stylish little car that draws attention whether it’s parked or zipping past all the big cars on the road. Its looks are not traditional, which accounts for the alligator label, though a bullfrog in a hurry is probably more apt. The front is wide and high, and the car slopes and thins towards the rear. The bulging headlights fit right in with the amphibian motif. But this is not a sluggish, ungainly, wobbling little critter.

But the Jukes are definitely eye catching, whether parked or on the highway. So just what do they offer for $27,000?

Under that wide, bulging front hood is a four-cylinder, inter-cooled turbocharged aluminum engine producing 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.  For comparison purposes, the turbo charged engine of the Mini Cooper S cranks out 181 horsepower. The Juke’s turbocharger lets the small car take off from 0 – 60 miles per hour in 7.3 seconds, and tops out at 137 miles per hour.  Those aren’t serious racing speeds, and the Juke won’t catch a Mini Cooper, which is nearly as small. But the Mini Cooper, a smaller cousin of BMW, costs thousands of dollars more and has a bigger engine. The Juke’s turbo power plant will let the relatively light car run rings around most of the small roadsters and pretty much every compact on the road.

It has front wheel drive and a manual transmission which slides easily between its six gears. On the road, it actually handles more like a go-kart version of its heavier, more expensive, IPL sport sedan.

For those who prefer cars which are, essentially, leather seats on top of an engine, Nissan has a racing version of this sport compact called the Juke-R.  In this case, the alligator dumps the turbocharged engine in favor of a 545 horsepower motor which toe company says has a designed top speed of 160 miles per hour (  http://bit.ly/QB0KWT   ) though it has been clocked at over 200 MPH.

Inside, there are strengths and weaknesses to the Juke.  That amphibian look, with a broad front and a sharply sloping roofline means that there is a loss of space in the rear passenger area.  The seats can fold flat in a 60/40 split to provide ample space for luggage for a week-long getaway for two. But putting four adults in the car would be rough on the rear two. One doesn’t feel claustrophobic in the Juke – that wide windshield and long, powered sunroof provide the illusion of more space than the car actually has.

Nissan didn’t scrimp on comfort, however. There is ample use of leather, from the adjustable steering wheel to the thickly padded doors and arm rests to the heated but manually operated seats. On the entertainment side, the Juke has a Rockford Fosgate sound system with an eight-inch sub-woofer and six speakers – more than enough to deafen anyone in the car. The Juke offers satellite radio, as well as iPod, MP 3 and USB connections, Bluetooth and a CD player. There is an easy to use navigation system, though the five-inch color screen is a bit small.

But screen size is a minor item for a car that is pretty unique except for its lone competitor, another bantam-weight from Asia.

A Little Korean Dinosaur 

            There is no love lost between the Koreans and Japanese. So it was not surprising that a year after the introduction of the Juke, Hyundai responded at the same $27,000 price with a compact speedster whose name, Veloster, evokes another reptile. But instead of a toothy amphibian, the muse for Hyundai’s designers was the meat eating, Velociraptor, which was known for running down its red-blooded prey.

            And to live up to its billing, the Koreans gave the Veloster a turbocharged engine cranking out 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. That is just 13 horsepower more than the Juke’s power plant, but at 2,800 pounds, the Veloster is 300 pounds lighter than its Japanese competition.  Between the two, the Veloster is faster on the takeoff, but its top speed is 130 miles per hour. As a result the Juke, which tops out at 137, will eventually dust it.

Outside, the Veloster looks every bit as aggressive as its designers intended. There is a wide, black grill which pretty much consumes the face. It has a high front tapering towards the rear, a design cue that is reminiscent of the Kia Soul, but much meaner. The design has something of the stealth fighter mode with sharp and exaggerated angles rather than soft, wavy lines like those found on the popular Hyundai Sonata.  The company will not use big-bellied, hip-hop hamsters to advertise the Veloster.

This speedster is essentially a hatchback, with a double sunroof leading right into the glass rear and effectively presenting an all glass ceiling. The expanse of glass on the sides of the car is not symmetrical. The driver’s side door is longer, and has a longer window than the opposite passenger door. But the second row window behind the driver is a small, immobile triangle while the rear window on the passenger side is larger and actually opens.

On the comfort side, the Veloster offers a 450-watt, Dimension Premium audio with 8 speakers to make it easy to become deaf. It also has iPod, USB and MP 3 ports, a CD player and Bluetooth for the phone or audio. It has a seven-inch color screen, however, for its navigation system and backup camera, and augments the standard 12-volt power outlet for cell phone chargers with a 115-volt, three-pronged outlet to plug in computers or game consoles.

Hyundai also has Blue Link, which is Hyundai’s version of General Motors’ successful OnStar satellite communications system. At the push of the Blue Link button located on the rear view mirror, a live person will answer who can provide directions or contact road aid or emergency assistance. Like OnStar, if the Veloster is in an accident and the airbags deploy, Blue Link will automatically locate the car and notify the nearest emergency services.

For parents, Blue Link also offers something called “Geo Fence.” If your child is out with the car and it goes past pre-set boundaries the car will call home and tell you. The Fence works for wives, too.

The Veloster and Juke make for an interesting pair of compact sport competitors. A decade ago, the Mini Cooper burst on the scene as a co-star in the action movie “The Italian Job.”  It has had the compact turbo niche pretty much to itself since then and hasn’t really changed.

The Veloster and Juke will give the Mini Cooper and all the other little speedsters – and each other – quite a spirited run.

 

 

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

 

MSRP:                                                                        $27,520

EPA Mileage:                        26 MPG City                          38 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

                                    Top Speed:                             130 MPH

                                    0 – 60 MPH                            6.9 Seconds

 

1.6-Liter, 4-cylinder, DOHC, twinscroll turbocharger, aluminum engine producing 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed manual transmission; independent MacPherson strut front suspension; V-torsion beam rear suspension; 18-inch alloy wheels;  11.8-inch ventilated front disc brakes; 10.3-inch solid rear disc brakes;  power rack and pinion steering; electronic stability and traction control; projection headlights; fog lights; backup warning signal and rear view camera; front, side impact, and side curtain airbags.

 

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio; Bluetooth; iPod, MP3, and USB ports; Hyundai BlueLink; 450-watt, Dimension Premium audio with 8 speakers; 7-inch touch screen; navigation system; leather wrapped, tilt & telescope steering wheel with fingertip cruise, audio, and phone controls; leather, power operated seats; heated front seats; 12-volt and 115-volt power outlets; panoramic sunroof; 60/40 fold flat rear seats.

 

2012 Nissan Juke

 

MSRP:                                                                                                $27,180

EPA Mileage:                        25 MPG City                          30 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   36 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

                                    Top Speed:                             137 MPH

                                    0 – 60 MPH                            7.3 Seconds

 

1.6-Liter, 4-cylinder, direct injection, DOHC, intercooled turbocharged aluminum engine producing 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque;  6-speed manual transmission; all wheel drive; 11.7-inch, vented disc front brakes; 11.5-inch solid disc rear brakes; independent strut front suspension; rear multi-link stabilizer bar suspension; traction and stability control; speed sensitive power steering; 17-inch gunmetal wheels; automatic Halogen headlights; fog lights; front seat mounted side-impact air bags; roof-mounted curtain airbags.

 

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; Bluetooth; CD player; MP3, iPod, and USB ports; Rockford Fosgate sound system with 8-inch subwoofer; navigation system with 5-inch color touch screen; backup camera; leather wrapped, tilt & telescoping steering wheel with fingertip audio, cruise, and Bluetooth; powered sunroof; 12-volt power outlet; leather, manually operated seats; heated front seats; 60/40 fold flat rear seats.

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The Toyota Camry: Still the one to Beat

August 19, 2012

By Roger Witherspoon

 

The Toyota executive was beaming.

He stood in the cavernous entrance hall at the New York Mets’ Citifield last August, in front of a glistening, redesigned, stylish Camry, the flagship of the company’s fleet and the nation’s best-selling mid-sized sedan. It had been a rough two years for Toyota and its personnel: lurid stories of runaway cars and stuck accelerators had eroded confidence in the company’s quality controls and the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami had caused thousands of deaths and seriously eroded the company’s manufacturing pipeline. Both events contributed to Toyota losing its hard fought status as the world’s biggest car company to a resurgent General Motors.

But the unveiling of the 2012 Camry was supposed to change that, to herald the start of a new, resurgent time for the Japanese car maker. With a flourish, the cover was whisked off the prototype model to appreciative nods from the automotive press.

And then, the Earth moved. Literally. And the walls shook. And the floor moved. And a panicky voice on the loudspeaker shouted: “This is an earthquake. Evacuate the building immediately!”

Toyota’s pre-launch media hoopla may have been lost in the aftermath of the major east coast earthquake which caused minor damage to buildings and major worries about the safety of American nuclear power plants. It was not the most auspicious introduction to the car that Toyota hoped would restore its luster as the one to beat in a field with strong competition from a resurgent Detroit and an upstart Korea. But as the car made its way to showrooms this year, it has proved to be as special as the company hoped it would.

“Toyota has done extraordinarily well,” said Alec Gutierrez, manager of vehicle valuation for Kelly Blue Book. “For the first seven months of this year compact car sales were flat compared to last year with an increase of just 1.4%. But mid-sized cars accounted for 18.6% market share in June, a 44% increase year over year. The surge in mid-sized car sales can largely be attributed to the strength of the redesigned Toyota Camry, which posted more than 32,000 sales in June alone.

“The mid-sized segment traditionally has been dominated by Camry and the Honda Accord. When they are redesigned there are so many people out there who will only buy from Toyota or Honda. The Camry until now was conservative in terms of styling. For 2012, they didn’t stray too far in terms of design, but it was upgraded in terms of fuel economy and is competitive with compact cars. They didn’t increase the price much and there is the Toyota brand loyalty. Anyone considering a mid-sized car is going to consider Camry. It’s the long standing reputation they built in terms of Camry’s reliability and long term desirability that keeps it in the top position.”

According to a national survey by KBB, the 10 best-selling mid-sized cars from January through July of this year are:

 

Camry – Sales 243,800. Up 40% over 2011

Honda accord – 183,800. Up 18%

Nissan Altima, 183,700. Up 20%

Ford Fusion – 160,200. Up 6%

Chevy Malibu – 153,800. Up 8%

Hondai Sonata – 138,400. Up 2%

Kia Optima – 86,500. Up 99%

Chrysler 200 – 78,400. Up 105%

VW Passat – 64,100. Was not available

Subaru Outback – 63,300. Up 6%

 

Gutierrez added that “Toyota has played a large role in the nation’s auto market in general, and account for 18.5% of all car sales this year, compared to only 16% last year.” The company is still in third place, however, behind General Motors and Ford, who’s revamped Fusion may threaten Nissan and Honda for the Number 2 spot on the mid-sized list.

But for the foreseeable future, the Toyota Camry is still the one to beat.

            To start understanding the allure of the 2012 Camry, take a look at the outside styling. It is still a family sedan, but now has an aggressive-looking, low-scooped, front grill similar to that of its sporty, costlier Lexis IS 350. It is a distinct departure from the sedate, conservative appearance of previous generations of Camry, with a face that is more grimace than smile.

At a glance of its side profile, the Camry’s styling is not as eye-popping as that of the drawn-in-America Hyundai Sonata. But Toyota has definitely dropped the laid-back look and opted for a more flowing, artistic design which draws the eye approvingly from that charging face, over the wide wheel rims to a flare at the rear. It is not a car that is sitting on its laurels.

Under the hood, the Camry has a 3.5-liter, V-6 engine producing 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, which is more than enough to let the Camry run with the best of the highway pack. The engine drinks regular unleaded gasoline, but is thirstier than one might expect from a Toyota. The Camry’s EPA rating is just 21 miles per gallon in city driving and 30 MPG on the highway. And if you opt for the less expensive, 178-horsepower, four-cylinder engine the Camry has an EPA rating of 25 miles per gallon in city driving and 35 MPG on the highway – which is about what you would get from a compact car like the Honda Civic.

If one is really looking to cut down on trips to the gas station, Camry has a hybrid edition carrying an EPA rating of 40 miles per gallon in the stop and go city traffic, and 38 MPG on the highway. The Camry hybrid has a 2.5-liter gasoline engine producing just 156 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque. But it is mated to a 105 kilowatt electric engine that gives the Hybrid power plant a combined rating of 200 horsepower.  The electric motor’s 199 pound-feet of torque added to that of the gas engine makes the Hybrid significantly more responsive and quick – in taking off or passing – than the standard Camry with the big gas engine.

There are, of course, tradeoffs when one buys a hybrid. The combined power plant adds about $2,000 or more to the price of the car, which can be partially offset by cutting back on the options. In addition, the hybrid’s regenerative braking system uses the heat generated by the brake pads to make more electricity. As a result, Toyota Hybrid owners avoid having a large brake repair job five or six years down the road. So it may be more productive to consider a full hybrid system such as this one as a performance enhancement with a higher upfront cost but reduced carrying costs and less stress on the average budget.

           

            Aside from the gas mileage the differences between the standard and the hybrid models are slight. The rear seats in the standard Camry can fold down, thus enlarging an already ample storage area. In the hybrid version, that middle area between the rear seat and the trunk, however, is occupied by the battery, so the trunk is a bit smaller and the seats do not fold down.

Inside, the Camry offers the type of real wood trim on the doors, center console and dash that is usually reserved for more upscale, full sized sedans. The seats are leather, power adjusted and can be heated in the regular Camry. And though one may opt for cloth covered seats in the hybrid for economic reasons, these, too, can be heated, which is a boon in cold weather climes or if you’re just plain tired.

For entertainment, the Camrys are now part of the Toyota/Lexus Entune system, which lets you set up your musical tastes and folders on your computer at home and these are instantly available in the vehicle.  They come with AM/FM and Sirius satellite HD radio for standard enjoyment over 10 JBL speakers. In addition, there is Bluetooth connectivity both for phone use and playing music. The system also has connections for iPods, MP3 players and USB drives. There is also a CD changer.

The system can be controlled via fingertip controls on the leather steering wheel or through the seven-inch, color, touch screen, which also provides navigation and a crystal clear backup camera.

The fully loaded Camry will tap your wallet for $32,500, which is packing an awful lot into a well-designed package. It is not surprising that the Camry still sets the standard for all the rest.

 

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What Does $25,000 Put on the Road? And Would You Want to Drive It?

February 22, 2012


By Roger Witherspoon

            Let’s say you are looking for a compact family sedan for under $25,000.

For years, the low end cars in domestic and foreign automotive fleets were little more than basic transportation: bells and whistles cost a lot more. Still, there is nothing wrong with wishing that you could get a small family car which wasn’t boring to look at, was comfortable to sit in, had enough gadgets to keep everyone happy and, if you floored the gas pedal, actually took off.

For many motorists, that was the turf of the Honda Civic, long the entry level workhorse of the popular Honda line.  They were short on flair and long on utility, but consistently reliable, efficient, durable and, with an EPA rating of 41 miles per gallon in highway driving, easy on the pocketbook.  What they provide, however, is basic transportation: the Civic is not a balm for the ego or a rolling sculpture destined to grace the driveway.

And if you are willing to get the basic, no-frills version, you can roll out of a Honda showroom with a Civic HF for under $20,000. But the Civic is actually a family of compacts, from the no-frills, HF box to the competitive $25,000 EX  sedan.

The bare bones version of the Civic HF has plain cloth seats, but they are wide, manually adjusted. The dashboard is contoured, to give it a little character. And the dials, in blue and white, are easy on the eyes with digits easy to read. The doors had mostly hard, molded plastic with a thin layer of padding where the elbow rests and, as a result, were not very comfortable on long trips. Surprisingly, the car lacked Bluetooth communication, but it did have a single disc CD player, and connections for MP3, iPod, and USB. Its four-speaker, 160-watt sound system was adequate for the small interior, but nothing special. There is room in the rear for a couple of average sized adults, but the only cup holders are in the front. But the HF is intended to be just basic transportation.

            For about $5,000 more, the Civic can be upgraded to the EX model, which better reflects the quality of the Honda line. At that price, the cloth gives way to thick, padded leather seats which are power adjustable and heated. Overhead is a power sunroof, which gives the compact a feeling of spaciousness. And the bare bones entertainment system is replaced by a navigation system, satellite radio, and Bluetooth. At that point, the Civic is a car one can look forward to owning for several years.

Under the hood, the Civic HF has a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine producing just 140 horsepower.  Thus the small car is fine on the road, but sluggish when you take off or need to accelerate. That small engine, however, is why the Civic has an EPA rating of 29 miles per gallon in city driving and 41 MPG on the highway. And on the open road, the Civic HF handle with the assuredness expected of a Honda in any price range.

I awakened to find there were five inches of loose, powdery snow one Saturday morning, and the stuff was destined to fall intermittently all day. The main roads were kept relatively clear by municipal plows, but home owners on most of the side streets had to fend for themselves in the slippery stuff. This was no problem for the Civic.

The compact, with its all weather tires, had no trouble on hills, curves and uneven surfaces though more expensive vehicles were skidding that morning through the same slippery terrain. The Civic’s snow-oriented traction control compensated for the bad road conditions – which showed that not all safety technology is saved for the expensive players. With the Civic family, Honda is trying to get a lock on the low end of the compact sedan market.

But Honda doesn’t have the small car field all to itself.

The Zoom-Zoom guys would like a word with you about their Mazda 3.

On the outside, the 3 doesn’t room to exhibit the styling flair of Mazda’s bigger models – but it’s not a rolling box, either. It has a small, aggressive, black grill flanked by recessed intakes that give it the appearance of a miniature racer. There is a sharply sloping front hood leading to a wide expanse of glass. The sloping roof line leading to a sharply cut-off rear prevents the 3 from having the boxy look.

Underneath that hood is a 2.0-liter, four cylinder engine producing a respectable 155 horsepower – which is a lot for a light car like this one.   The small engine is also light on the gas consumption, with an EPA estimate of 28 miles per gallon in city driving, and 40 MPG on the open road. The Mazda 3 has a six-speed transmission which, in manual mode, can hope like a respectable sports sedan. The double-spoke, 16-inch wheels make the 3 look sportier than it really is.

But while the outside is pleasant, it is far more important what Mazda put inside, where you spend your time. And here, the Zoom-Zoom crew gave a lot of thought to the interior of the 3 so that it didn’t look or feel like the low end of their automotive line.

The three spoke steering wheel is leather wrapped, tilts and telescopes, and has push button controls for every function. The seats are wide, thickly padded, and leather rather than cloth. The front seats can be heated, which is a great antidote to cold weather or sore backs. The driver’s seat is powered, while the front passenger seat is manually operated. But there is thick, faux leather padding on the doors, arm rests and dash board which makes the 3 look more expensive than it is and, functionally, is comfortable for long drives.  The dash is curved, instead of a plain, straight slab, and provides individual spaces for the front occupants. There is also soft, blue lighting under the dash and along the floor boards at night so you don’t have to fumble around in the dark.

And in case one is changing lanes in a hurry, there is a blind spot warning light in the side mirrors which lets the driver know if there is a vehicle in either blind spot. For the night vision, add bi-xenon, self-leveling headlights.         

      Most cars in this price range would not have a navigation system and color information screen. The 3, however, is different. There is a recessed, color, three-inch screen – similar to the screen on a hand held Garmin – which serves the navigation system. Depending on the strength of your glasses, it can be difficult to read the names of cross streets, but most of the information on the screen is quite legible and the system is easy to use.  It can be accessed manually from the center console or the buttons on the leather steering wheel, or run by voice.

            For entertainment, the 3 has AM/FM and XM satellite radio, a six-disc CD player, as well as iPod, MP3, and USB connections. The surround sound emanates from a 10-speaker, 265-watt, Bose system. And if you keep your music on your smart phone, the Bluetooth will access it and play through the system.

If one listens to the Republican presidential contenders, the auto makers in Detroit should have folded up shop three years ago. But they didn’t, and not only has General Motors paid back its taxpayer loans, but it reported record profits for 2011. One of the reasons for its comeback is the snappy Chevrolet Cruze. Here, Chevy borrowed a trick from Nissan, which put a turbocharger in their four-cylinder Juke, and put a turbocharger onto their equally small Cruze engine.

But the Nissan speedster sells for more than $27,000, and the Cruze is aimed at a lower end. So it has fewer amenities than the Japanese sedan, but at $20,000, is more competitive in the economy end of the auto line.

The Cruze sedan has the low, wide stance similar to that of the Camaro, but that is the only similarity. The trademark Chevy badge and wide grill on the Cruze forms more of a smile welcoming family motorists, than the dark, aggressive grimace gracing the sports car.

Under the hood, the Cruze sports a 1.4-liter engine cranking out just 138 horsepower. But with the turbocharger, it never feels underpowered. The engine is billed as getting 26 miles per gallon of regular gas in city driving and 37 MPG on the highway.  That seems a bit wishful: the test car got 23.7 MPG in mixed driving.

   GM was thoughtful in designing the interior, though frugal with some of the amenities. The interior has attractive, two-toned seats, but they are unheated and cloth rather than leather like the Mazda 3. The seats are manually operated and, depending on your weight, may not be the easiest to maneuver, particularly when you are trying to adjust the seat’s height. The seats are, however, are wide and comfortable.  The two-toned motif is used all around the interior, with the padding on the doors and dash matching the look of the center of the seats. The dash itself is a double curve, providing a separate space for the driver and passenger and demonstrating that a car does not have to be plain to be inexpensive.

There is enough leg and head room in the rear for two tall passengers to travel comfortably, and the rear seats fold flat for additional storage space.

For entertainment, the Cruze came with AM/FM and XM satellite radio in addition to the CD and MP3 players, and the iPod and USB connections. The six-speaker sound system, with sub woofers in the front doors, was more than ample to envelope the cabin in sound though it doesn’t quite compete with the Mazda’s Bose. And the car’s wind suppression is effective enough to allow you to easily hear every note in a soft solo even though the car is rolling down the road at triple digit speeds.

There is no navigation system in the Cruze, but the car has both Bluetooth connection for your smartphone and OnStar, GM’s satellite communications network. So one can either use an app like Google’s navigation system or push the OnStar button and get turn-by-turn directions as the system’s satellites follow you down the highway.

 In addition to the trans-Pacific competition, the Japanese auto makers are also facing challenges the Koreans, whose Hyundai Elantra seeks a share of the small car, under $25,000 market.

The Elantra, priced in the middle at just over $22,000, is not just a means of getting around. It is the latest model out of a California design studio which takes its “fluidic” styling cues from the imprint of waves along the Pacific coast sands. In January, the Elantra was voted Car of the Year by jurors at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The win partly stems from the fact that even though it’s a small car, the Elantra is individually, stylistically beautiful. It does not resemble a truncated version of a larger model like the Genesis, which won the 2011 award, or the full sized Sonata, which is so popular its resale value after a year is higher than its original sticker price.

The Elantra continues the Hyundai practice of offering a lot for less.  Under the hood is a typically small, four-cylinder engine producing just 148 horsepower. Unlike the Cruze, it is not turbocharged, and will not be mistaken for a racing car despite its sleek, flowing silhouette and 17-inch wheels.

   The Koreans put their efforts inside. The Elantra has two-tone leather seats, and both the front and rear seats can be heated. For entertainment, the Elantra has satellite radio as well as Bluetooth audio and connections for iPods, USB and MP3 players. The sound system is the largest of the bunch, with a 360-watt premium surround sound system with six speakers and rear amplifier designed for tailgate parties. The Elantra comes with a navigations system and seven-inch touch screen that is mated to the satellite radio to provide real time XM traffic and road condition updates.

All cars provide basic transportation. But aside from that function, they are generally the largest investment a family makes in utilitarian art.  In the category of the car as mobile sculpture, it is the aesthetics which determine what attracts a buyer and keeps a car owner happy for several years. If one is seeking a $25,000 art project, there are a lot to choose from.

–Roger Witherspoon writes Shifting Gears at www.RogerWitherspoon.com

2012 Mazda 3

 

MSRP:                                                                        $24,970

EPA Mileage:                        28 MPG City                          40 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

2.0-Liter, 4-cylinder engine producing 155 horsepower and 148 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual mode; stability and traction controls; anti-lock and 4-wheel disc brakes; front wheel drive; rack and pinion steering;  independent front & rear suspension; blind spot monitoring; automatic leveling, bi-xenon headlights.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; 265-watt Bose audio system with 10 speakers; iPod, MP3, and USB connections; 6-disc CD player; Bluetooth phone and audio;  powered sunroof; tilt and telescoping, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, phone, cruise and entertainment controls; leather seats; heated front seats; powered driver’s seat;  navigation system with 3-inch screen.

2012 Honda Civic HF

 

MSRP:                                                                        $20,225

EPA Mileage:                        29 MPG City                          41 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

1.8-Liter SOHC, aluminum alloy, 4- cylinder engine producing 140 horsepower and 128 pound/feet of torque; 5-speed automatic transmission; MacPherson strut front suspension;  multi-link rear suspension; front wheel drive; 15-inch alloy wheels; rack and pinion steering; stability control; driver and front passenger dual stage and side airbags; side curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM radio; 160-watt audio system with 4 speakers; CD player; MP3, USB, and iPod connection; tilt and telescope steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise controls;

2012 Chevrolet Cruze

 

MSRP:                                                                        $21,455

EPA Mileage:                        26 MPG City                          37 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   23.7 MPG Mixed

 

Performance / Safety:

 

1.4-liter, DOHC, cast aluminum, turbo-charged engine producing 138 horsepower and148 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with manual mode; traction and stability controls; independent, MacPherson strut, front suspension; torsion beam rear suspension; 17-inch wheels; 4-wheel, anti-lock brakes; driver and front passenger front, knee, side impact, and head curtain airbags; rear side impact and head curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM Satellite radio; CD and MP3 player; USB and iPod ports; 6-speaker sound system; Bluetooth and OnStar communications; tilt & telescope steering wheel; leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, Bluetooth,  and cruise controls.

 

2012 Hyundai Elantra

 

MSRP:                                                                        $22,110

EPA Mileage:                        29 MPG City                          40 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

1.8-Liter DOHC aluminum engine providing 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed manual transmission; independent MacPherson front suspension; torsion axel rear suspension; rack and pinion steering; ventilated front disc brakes; solid  rear disc brakes; 17-inch alloy wheels; stability and traction control; fog lights; front, side impact, and rear curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; CD and MP3 player; iPod and USB ports; 360-watt premium sound system with 6 speakers and amplifier; Bluetooth phone and audio;  tilt and telescoping steering wheel with fingertip Bluetooth, audio, and cruise controls.

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Something New from Koreans on the Left Coast

October 26, 2010

By Roger Witherspoon

 

The man in the parking lot walked slowly around the Sonata, pausing occasionally to run his hand along the long, low, sloping front hood and arcing crease splitting the side form fender to fender.

He was tall enough to look through the open sunroof and gaze at the leather seats, the ample room in the rear for his six-and-a-half-foot frame, and the note the easy flow of the interior lines. I asked him if he would like to see how he fit in the back, and he eagerly slid inside. The seats actually sloped downward and the ceiling curved up, providing far more head room that would appear possible in the sport sedan.

He broke the silence by stating “I find it hard to believe this is a Hyundai. I thought they just made little boxes. Did they team up with Lexus or Mercedes or something?”

“No,” I replied. “They set up a west coast design shop and started turning out cars they hope Americans will like.”

“Well,” he said, “they’ve got my attention.”

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata sedan is a significant departure from the types of cars historically produced by the Korean car company, which were high on economy, competent on technology, and low on styling. The company long languished in the deep shadows of their Asian neighbors at Toyota/Lexus, who also started out with inexpensive, boxy cars but went on to become the world’s largest auto maker with a reputation for style, quality, and performance.

Hyundai, however, did not intend to wait 40 years emulating Toyota’s slow, upward climb and opened a design studio on the Left Coast with simple marching orders: compete on the showroom floor with Lexus and Mercedes.  They started with the eye-catching sports car, the Genesis Coupe, which was slick enough to win a spot as one of Jack Bauer’s chase cars in the final episode of “24.”

But then it was time to move up to family level with a car that would cost less than a Toyota Camry or Ford Fusion, but easily share a mirror with a Lexus. The mid-sized sedan is a tough market, dominated by the Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Fusion, and Chevy Malibu. The Koreans were nowhere to be seen in this niche.

Leading Hyundai’s charge into the sedan market is the Brother from the Other Coast, designer Andre Hudson, whose sketch pad produced the Sonata. The car, with a sticker price under $29,000, has its own distinct look, with wavy lines that flow the length of the car, vaguely resembling lines drawn on a sandy beach by the meandering tides.

“That’s the whole idea behind what we call fluidic sculpture,” explained Hudson. “The wind shapes the sand as you sit on a beach. And when you see sand dunes, you see a beautiful line, shifting when the wind moves. You see the same beautiful patterns in new snow drifts as the wind blows the snow around.  You get these beautiful formations with hard snow ridges and soft forms in between.

“Fluidic sculpture is our vision of that art form that is derived from nature. From that you get a lot of natural arcs and lines, which is nice to look at and has a flowing feel to it, even when still.”

Under that graceful hood is a four cylinder engine cranking out just 198 horsepower and mated to a six-speed, automatic transmission. That’s not a racing engine, the 0 – 60 miles per hour time is about eight seconds. But on a small sedan, it is more than enough power to push the car to about 150 miles per hour and give the Sonata a sporty feel, particularly in the electronic manual mode utilizing the wheel-mounted paddle shifters.  In addition, the Sonata’s power plant is more powerful than the Camry and Malibu engines with 169 horsepower, or the 175 horsepower engines in the Fusion, Accord and Altima.

The Sonata also packs a lot inside, and the Korean sedan includes a number of items usually sold as separate add-ons. The steering wheel is leather, for example, as are the seats and padding on the doors and dash. The front seats are powered and heated, and the rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 split. The entertainment system includes AM/FM and XM satellite, as well as HD broadcast radio, a single-disc CD player, and connections for iPod and MP3 players and USB drives. There is an eight gigabyte hard drive to store 1,000 or so of your favorite jams. The navigation system has an easy to use, 6.5-inch, touch screen, which also provides a wide view for the sharply focused backup camera. And there is a Bluetooth cell phone connection that is standard with all models.

Whether the Sonata, with its fluidic sculpture look is slick enough to slide into the crowded mid sized sedan market – or remains an extremely attractive also-ran – remains to be seen. But the Japanese and Detroit auto makers would do well to look over their shoulders.

2011 Hyundai Sonata Ltd.

MSRP:                                                                       $28,415

EPA Mileage:                        22 MPG City                          35 MPG Highway

Performance / Safety:

2.4-Liter, direct injection, 4-cylinder, aluminum engine producing 198 horsepower and 184 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual mode and paddle shifters; MacPherson strut front suspension; Independent multi-link rear suspension; power assisted disc brakes; electronic brake assist; stability and traction control; 17-inch alloy wheels; rear backup camera; fog lights;  front, side impact, and side curtain air bags.

 

Interior / Comfort:

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; navigation system with touch screen and XM traffic and weather; iPod, MP3 and USB port connections; single disc CD player; 400-watt Infiniti audio system with 6 speakers; 8-GB hard drive; leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, cruise and Bluetooth controls; leather, power adjusted, heated front seats; fold flat rear seats with 60/40 split.

 

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Doodling Sports Cars: The Art of Andre Hudson

August 13, 2010

By Roger Witherspoon

From the perspective of a Denver middle school teacher, grading papers from Andre Hudson was a chore.

“Like a lot of kids,” the 33-year-old designer recalled, “I was always doodling on assignments and the teachers were not quite happy when I turned papers in with sketches of people and cars and boats on them. I never really imagined that you could make a career doing something like that.

“Then somebody gave me an automobile magazine since I had always loved cars. There was a sidebar story on Chrysler design and a story about a designer that had worked on the Dodge Viper concept. I was blown away. Somebody’s job is to go in and draw and design cars! I had never thought about it. Wow! This could be an amazing thing to do! That’s why I consider it a blessing to be able to do what I do for a living.”

Whether or not Black artists could do that for a living is a question the young Hudson didn’t ask. His middle school guidance counselors had no idea what it took to get involved in automotive design, or where to go for practical guidance. So Hudson went home and composed a letter to Bob Lutz, then at Chrysler Design, saying he was about to enter high school and wanted to know what it took to be a car designer.

“I would love to work for your guys at some point,” Hudson wrote. “I loved aircraft and cars and could you please enlighten me as to what I need to do to pursue a career?”

Three months later, young Hudson got home from school and found a letter from J.E. Hurlitz, then vice president of product design, stating the company was “thrilled with your excitement and willingness to work with us.”  If Hudson attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and earned a degree in industrial design he could join the Chrysler design team.    Three years later, Hudson graduated from high school, packed up, and headed for Detroit, unaware of the downward spiral of the Motor City.

“Imagine the shock of this Colorado kid packing up his dodge shadow and rising out of I-94 corridor into downtown Detroit thinking where have I come to?” Hudson recalled.  “That neighborhood was abandoned and there were barrels with fires burning in them. It looks like I have landed on the set of Robocop.”

But College was a different world. This was the study of utilitarian art in motion. To designers, a car is a form of performance art and those who appreciate your work buy replicas to take home.

“Cars are a very emotional product,” he explained, “and as a designer of cars, they are extensions of you. Trains and aircraft and other types of transportation are more engineering than design driven and, therefore, the attachment is not quite that emotional.

“There is much more freedom of expression in vehicle design, and it’s what made the connection with me as an artist.”

In his junior year, he received a summer internship with Chrysler. But his work brought him to the attention of Ed Welburn, a design executive at General Motors, who hired him when he graduated.

Welburn, who would eventually become vice president of global design at GM, mentored Hudson, steering him through several projects as he grew as a design professional.  “I worked on several concept cars,” he said. “Your dream is to do that because you can get those dreams out on the turntable at shows.  But as you mature you realize the importance of not only getting the cover of a magazine for a month or two, but working on a product that you can see in your neighbor’s garage or your parents’ garage.

“It’s been a quest to hone my skills and put out products that my friends and family can drive.”

His seven-year journey through GM’s design system had the young Hudson working on big SUVs including the Chevy SSR and Hummer H3, as well as the slick, Saturn Sky roadster. He had a three month assignment in GM’s design shop in Coventry, England, which stretched to three years.

Hudson was eager to see the world, and looked forward to working in other GM design studios. But then, the Koreans came calling.

“I was intrigued with Hyundai,” he said. “They were on this mission to become much more – perception wise – than the staid company they had been. I was intrigued with the idea of becoming part of a company going through that growth process.

“Hyundai was up and coming and moving quickly. I felt it was time for something new for me.”

Hudson left GM to become the senior designer at Hyundai’s new studio in Irvine, California where he was to come up with a model for a new sports car. He came up with a head turner called the Genesis Coupe which, he said, “was a first for the new Hyundai.     “The company said we know we are building cars that are competent and highly rated in safety. But we are not stepping gout aesthetically to establish who we are. The Genesis was to say we are not copying or mimicking anyone. We are standing alone. We are ready for this.”

The Genesis was striking enough to earn a television debut as the high speed escape vehicle of Jack Bauer in the last episode of the adventure series “24.”           (  https://rwshiftinggears.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/rolling-with-the-road-runners/ )

In his five years with Hyundai, he said, “the biggest culture shock was the speed at which this company moves. I have worked on twice as many projects at Hyundai as I would have worked on at GM.”

Cars resulting from Hudson’s professional doodling which may now be found in neighborhood garages include the Elantra and Azera sedans, and the 2011 Sonata, now hitting Hyundai show rooms.

“The last generation Sonata was very conservative,” said Hudson. “It would blend into a parking lot if you went to a mall and tried to find your car. With this car we sought to establish ourselves as design leaders. We looked at what it was going to take to make an attractive and competitive design with its own distinct language. We didn’t want people saying we were making knock-offs of Toyota or BMW.

“The romance of many cars in the last decade or two has been lost to a very architectural, tectonic, product-like feel.  With the Sonata, you notice it has a three dimensional feel. Just as Ed (Welburn) use to say a car is the largest piece of sculpture working people will buy – that is true of the Sonata. You can follow a single line from the bottom of the grill through the hood, up the rail, across the roof and down the tail end. There is a beautiful inter weaving of details on the car. We call it fluidic sculpture.”

Whether the new Sonata catches on with upscale motorists remains to be seen. In the meantime Hudson, with his dream job and colored pencils, continues doodling.

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