I bought a new car for the first time. My current car was purchased by my partner. Before I write about my new Lincoln MKC, I have to make a comment about a somewhat-related Ford product, the fifth generation Ford Explorer. We collectively know it as the current preferred vehicle of police departments. It’s the car of authority. But it’s also the first great Explorer since the classic second generation in the mid 1990s. It’s not that the third and fourth generations were poor vehicles. They added many safety features and motor and transmission upgrades. But the cache of the nameplate was restored with the fifth generation. This Explorer got people excited about the Explorer again, and it didn’t need a two-tone Eddie Bauer edition (although that would have been sweet, and I have this feeling we’re going to see a two-tone Explorer in generation six).
The U502 Explorer is basic, but ticks all the boxes for those who need a full-size SUV outside of big cites. It’s quiet. It has safety features and driver aids. It’s got comfortable seats and years of Ford innovation. It can tow. You can get it with a V6 or the mustang’s motor. It’s easy to own and maintain. The 6F35 transmission was reliable and stronger by the time it was put into the heavy Explorer. And it can go off-road to a fair extent, like the more expensive Range Rovers and Jeep Grand Cherokees.
It was a tale of two very different auto shows: Los Angeles in December 2018 and Detroit in January 2019. The Detroit show would be the last time the show would be held in January, and you can see why. With all German automakers except Volkswagen skipping the Detroit show, the hall was a little quiet and sad.
But I still had a blast. The L.A. show was exciting and had a different vibe from my home New York show. The food selections in L.A. were also more interesting. Some manufacturers even offered tiny test drives around Gilbert Lindsay Plaza.
These trips were follow-ups of my new car shopping at the New York show. I attend the New York International Auto Show as a member of non-credentialed media, and I usually spend both press days there (that’s about 16 hours). I have attended the press days at the New York show since 2010, less than a year after I got my first car in the city. But in 2018, I was seriously car shopping.
I want a compact SUV this time around. At the New York show, the BMW X1, Ford Escape and Volvo XC40 were looking like the front runners. But all of that changed when I went to L.A. I had ignored the Lincoln MKC. I didn’t like the push button gear selector. I didn’t think it was interesting at all. It used to have an ugly face. But now it doesn’t. And Lady Sterling really liked it. I finally gave it some attention, and I think it’s really interesting now. It’s a baby Ford Explorer. And when we went to the Detroit show, the front-runner was still the MKC. And so I am test driving the MKC next week, and if I have time, I will post a small review.
The Detroit show was not sad overall. First off, we arrived in a snowstorm (pictured above) and drove a JK Wrangler Sport to get to downtown, where we stayed at the lovely Siren Hotel. Cadillac has a great booth that featured a 1959 Eldorado Biarritz convertible that had an incredible amount of chrome. Chinese automaker GAC crashed the party and showed off its cars that have surprisingly good design and build quality. Kia finally showed-off the production version of the Telluride. I finally learned that owners can get into the lounges of most booths by showing their keyfob or some other proof of ownership. As Hyundai owners, Lady Sterling and I got into the Hyndai booth for snacks, a gift (a USB power bank), and a full 15 minute back massage. After an exhaustive 3 hours at the show, we had dinner at San Morello, the fantastic new Italian restaurant at the Shinola Hotel.
The Ford Mustang is a car that has shadowed me my whole life. As I kid, I saw first generation Mustangs all the time. The Mustang was a triumph in marketing and design when it debuted 54 years ago in Queens. It was marketed as the sports coupe for the common man. The Pontiac GTO debuted the same year, and is the granddaddy of muscle cars. But the Mustang endures as the original American compact muscle car. For decades, it has a solid axle in the back, and was designed for drag racing. Not that Ford would ever promote drag racing or street racing by its customers.
The Fox Body Mustang shadowed my teenage years. I saw it in the final two seasons of Spencer for Hire and in a Vanilla Ice video. In its fourth generation, the Mustang regained its muscle car for the common man status. And while the GTO, Challenger, Charger, Chevelle, and Camaro disappeared temporarily or forever, the Mustang has endured.
This third generation of the Mustang brought back the GT trim line after a 15-year hiatus. Back in 1987, the 5-liter V8 in the GT was the old pushrod Windsor (originally known in the late 60s as the 302). Today, the 5.0 Mustang is powered by the third version of the Coyote V8. Same displacement (well, 307 cubic inches, up from 302). About twice the horsepower, torque, and acceleration. And that’s the first Mustang I played with, after all these years.
I did a solo trip to Central California to visit a friend and scout locations for a future Santa Cruz to San Diego road trip with Lady Sterling. I asked the good people at Sixt for a BMW 430i convertible. It’s luxurious and technologically advanced. It has BMW’s ubiquitous 2-liter turbo motor and ZF 8-speed gearbox. I saw myself getting 34 miles per gallon in that, highway coaster that I am.
But Sixt didn’t have a BMW convertible. They didn’t have a Mercedes C Class convertible either. The manager nodded at me and said “I’ll let you take a 5.0, no extra charge.” I got scared. I knew what he just said. I was getting a Mustang GT convertible for three days. So much torque. So much noise. So many ways to wreck a car in three days. I got nervous. But I let him punch in the codes. I signed the contract. And then there it was. A just-washed 2018 Mustang GT with just 636 miles on the clock. Within 30 minutes, I was in the parking lot of 4th Street Bowl, a midcentury style bowling alley with a “W” shaped canopy above the entrance. There were some sketchy men and women hanging out front, but I wanted to get settled with this beast. I put loose items away, put the top down, got my coordinates for Santa Cruz, and hit Route 17 south. It was a fitting introduction to this car. With the top down, I could hear every exhaust note, and the highway is an old 2-lane with lots of curves and elevation changes. It’s a little like the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, only with many more hills.
The first thing I noticed was how the Mustang is narrow compared to the Challenger. I drove the Challenger 10 years ago, and it remains a 75-inch wide grand touring coupe dressed at a 1970s muscle car (which is fine). The Mustang is far more nimble in its handling, with far less body roll, and far more comfort in a dense, urban setting. I’m sure the latest Camaro is an even better handler, based on lap times and journalist reviews. But the Mustang is a contemporary car now thanks to its independent rear suspension. And man does it look great, fastback or convertible.
There have been enough detailed reviews for the Mustang, so I won’t go into one now after a long introduction. I’ll just list out some things.
Here’s what I loved:
It isn’t too low. Getting into and out of the car was as comfortable as a 1990s Japanese compact sedan (the 1990 Nissan Sentra was intentionally low for its time). It’s low, but not Chevy Corvette low, and certainly not super low like a Lotus. It didn't feel much lower than my Hyundai Elantra, and I found the height to be livable. I drove from Pebble Beach to Big Sur, and I must have stopped to get out and take pictures 20 times along the route. I would have noticed it the car was too low for my taste.
The exhaust note for the 5.0 GT is impressive and somewhat old school. It doesn’t burp and pop like a Jaguar F Type. It doesn’t have the Mad Max thunder of a Chrysler Hemi V8. But in an era in which the sound of the car is a big part of the retail price, $35-$55K for a Mustang GT is a comparatively excellent value for a car that makes this much noise.
And then there’s the bigger value - the torque and acceleration. The Mustang GT can go from 0-60 in 4 seconds. That’s faster than a 1984 Audi Sport Quattro. That’s even faster than a 2010 Audi S8 V8. It’s faster than any Aston Martin from the 1990s, as well as several 1990s Ferraris. Before the Mustang GT, the most powerful and fastest cars I’ve ever driven were the 2003 Lincoln LS V8 and the 2015 Volvo S60 T5. Both had 250 horsepower. Both could do 0-60 in 6 seconds. This thing is a level of fast I’ve never experienced before, and I know full well that it doesn’t impress journalists today since they get to drive 3 and sub-3 second cars.
And that power, while more than one needs, is actually practical. Getting onto a highway was never easier. Cruising in the travel lane was never more fun. Turning left with heavy incoming traffic was incredibly stress-free. The all-season Pirellis never lost grip, except in dirt on the scenic stops I made along California Route 1.
The interior is not as slick as a BMW, but it’s so well put together. Form follows function. The audio system has two big dials that move with a satisfying notchy feel. The interior is ergonomic, comfortable, and is an updated version of the Mustang interior that has been with the car since its inception. The inside of the Mustang has never been better. I could drive for hors and hours in that bolstered seat. The continued availabilty of My Color, used to customize guage and interior ambient light color is a great bonus.
The visibility with the top down rivals almost any non-convertible aside from a Jeep Wrangler with the top down. And surprisingly, visibility with the top up was as good as a compact crossover, like a Jeep Renegade. You don’t ride as high, but you see everything. Having wide-angle blind spot mirrors set inside each side view mirror helped out a great deal. Thank you, Ford.
Suprisingly comfortable. Even with 19-inch wheels, the Mustng didn’t feel like my Elantra Touring with low profile tires. Of course, being in a state with mostly smooth roads helped out a lot. This was not Manhattan. But when driving slow, the ride was classic Ford. It was like a lower Ford Taurus at slow speed. Smooth and comfortable. And at speed, I got almost the ideal amount of road feedback. The Miata and Audi TT are more connected to the road. But this was still very good. The ride was never harsh.
The base brakes are outstanding. A lot of owners would look to Brembo or Stop Tech upgrades. But the brakes out of the factory are fine in the GT. The stopping power was big, like the motor.
The Wet/Snow mode does its job at reducing torque (at least that’s what I think it does). Grip comes down to tires, of course, but for a rear wheel drive muscle car, this is a great feature.
All the exterior lights are LED. Love them.
I fit in the back seat just fine. I am 6’3” 200 pounds.
The trunk is about 4’ x 3’ and fits two rolling bags plus 1-2 carry-on bags just fine. For traveling couples, the Mustang convertible can securely carry your luggage. Nothing remians in the car to blow around when the top is down.
I am very surprised that I got over 21 miles per gallon in nearly 600 miles of driving. And I didn’t go easy on the throttle, like I normally do. I had some fun, and once unintentionally clocked 85 on the highway.
The Ford/GM 10-speed automatic transmission is super smooth and responsive. Like any contemporary gearbox, it is quick to upshift and hold high gears in order to conserve fuel. I caught it going into 10th gear at under 50MPH regularly. But it does not annoy. For someone who will never drive stick, it was great to have a responsive transmission that got the most out of what I wanted from the motor (which was simple, I drive slow).
And here’s what I didn’t like as much:
The volume controls on the steering wheel are too narrow.. You can find them by feel but they are tiny. I need an extra quarter of a second to find the center of each button with what I think are average-sized thumbs.
Android Auto sometimes cut out and returned me to the standard SYNC3 interface. I blamed my extra long, braided USB cable and not the car. But I had no shorter cable to use.
Collission warning and adaptive cruise control were not on my car, but I could have used them in my first hour. There was stop and go traffic leaving San Jose, and I would have appreciated a more active driver aid system. Consumer Reports argues that every new car should have these systems, despite adding at least $500 to the sticker price.
There is no sunroof option, unlike the Dodge Challenger. I take it that the Camaro has no sunroof option either. If you want sunshine, opt for the convertible.
And so far, that’s all I have found that I do not like. This raises a question for me, personally. I am currently shopping for a compact crossover. A Jeep Renegade is my ideal-sized vehicle for New York City. But could the Mustang be the car I am seeking? Probably not, as there is still the Northeast road quality issue. The potholes would still annoy me in a low-riding car. But in every other aspect I can think of, a Mustang would work. It’s the right size. With the 300 horsepower EcoBoost motor, I’d get closer to 30MPG. My wife could sit in the back when driving hose guests to and from the airport. There would be a need to switch to snow tires in November and all-season tires in April. But there are ways to make that work, even without a garage.
What I learned in my four days with the Mustang GT is that it deserves a place in the most iconic American vehicles made today. The Jeep Wrangler, Chevy Corvette, Chevy Camaro, Ford F-150 and Ford Mustang are living icons of the US auto industry. And of those, the Wrangler, Corvette and Mustang are the most iconic. I drove an icon. And now I want one. That’s why it’s easy to rent a Mustang convertible. They help sell Mustangs. I really want a mustang. A red one, with a red exterior, EcoBoost motor and a ragtop.
Customers would start their car ownership years with a Chevy. Or they could start with an Opel or Saturn back when they were available. Then they could move up to a flagship Chevy (Tahoe, Camaro, or Corvette for example). Or, if they preferred, they could move to an Oldsmobile (Grand touring brand), Pontiac (Muscle car brand) or Buick (quasi luxury for Geezers, now Opels for for the Chinese). They could also switch to a GMC (luxury truck brand). And if they reach the top of the GM pyramid, Cadillac awaited them.
That paradigm seems to be under threat, at least temporarily until every automaker has an entry-level electric car.
Ford has announced that it is going to stop selling four cars in the US and Canada: The Fiesta, Focus, Fusion and Taurus. They are doubling down on crossovers and trucks, where the higher profit margins are. Ford had only recently given the Fusion a makeover, with a new 8-speed transmission, which is coming to the next Focus and Escape.
Gasoline prices will surely rise again. And when they do, Ford will lose market share to GM, Toyota, and Hyundai/Kia. But they have laid out their strategy of profit margins over market share. The Mustang, F-150, Bronco, baby Bronco. EcoSport, Escape, Edge, Explorer and Expedition will drive Ford sales in the US and Canada for the next few years. Plus their commercial vehicles like the Transit can and F-250 truck will continue to sell very well. By the time the Bronco and baby Bronco are released, we'll know if this was a smart strategy.
Perhaps I should go easy on the third generation Ford Focus. It might not be as family friendly as the fourth generation Subaru Impreza. With its tiny back seat and swooping, mobile phone like center stack, it is the sporitiest Focus yet.
But I should back up a bit. What do I mean by "rally car?" There are a few requirements that separate a genteel, front wheel drive hatchback from one that shares its chassis with race cars. So here goes.
First of all, rally cars are based on road cars, not the other way around. Rally cars are a stroke of worldwide marketing genius. Take a car -a small hatchback that might be the first car of a young couple- strengthen the chassis, lighten the car, increase the power and ground clearance, and go racing in dangerous environments -on asphalt, gravel, and dirt. Under the contemporary rally car standards, there are minimal requirements for a car that can be converted into a rally racer. It must have a four cyllinder engine. It should weigh under 3,000 pounds before modification. Ideally, it should have a wide stance, with a low center of gravity. And also ideally, it should have rear wheels pushed as close to the corners as possible.
The car that successfully linked the sport of rally racing, manufacturers, and automobile marketing was the 1968 Ford Escort Mk I, which won what becme the WRC in 1970. It was a rear wheel drive car with a V6, but that would change as both the sport and the industry changed. Just 14 years later, the Escort driven worldwide would be front wheel drive, and would set a long standing record as the best selling car worldwide for several years. It would be accompanied by cars such as the Audi Quattro, Peugeot 200 series, Toyota Corolla and Celica, Subaru Impreza, Citroen models, and the Mitsubishi Lancer.
In 1998, the Escort was repaced by the Focus, and Ford kicked things into high gear. Customers had more choices of body styles and engines. But there was a catch. Like the Escort before it, there was an international version, and a slightly less agile and exciting North American version. A combination of customer demand and economic conditions prompted Ford to synchonize and globalize most of their products. Ford sent the US market a few international products over the years, notably the Freestyle crossover wagon. Ford fans will remember that some things would never be globalized, such as the muscle cars for the Australian market, the Falcon coupe and sedan. But Fors has been able to globalize its most popular products: the subcompact Fiesta, the compact Focus, the midsize Mondeo (Fusion), and soon, the C-Max minivan, and next generation Kuga (Escape). That's five global models under the "One Ford" banner.
Ford has not only embraced the economic practicality of global platform integration and manufacturing, but it has also embraced the reality of peak oil. If Ford keeps its promises, over half of its new cars sold will be fully electric in 20 years. A way off, but if that holds it will be a significant shift. And Ford is putting its money where its mouth is, with plans to offer EV versions of the Fiesta and Focus in North America over the next few months.
The electric Focus. Please make it available, Ford.
So the US has finally gotten the global model of the Focus 5-door hatchback. How is it? Well, without having driven it, I can report that the Focus is closer to the concept of a four door sports car than it has ever been before. With a tight, swooping cockpit, soft touch materials in the dash and center stack, layers of technology, and very firm, Volvo-like leather seats available, the Focus feels like a premium car from the driver's or passenger's position. Less so for the rear passengers. The back seat is smaller this time around for the Focus. A six foot passenger like me would be very cramped. Rear passenger room was sacrificed for style, as the roofline drops beautifully into an egg-like rear section, with speared tailights and an available rear spoiler. Audio system is by Sony. The user interface is what Ford brands as MyTouch. It includes the latest generation of Microsoft Sync, now with video playback support and the ability to stream Pandora internet radio. Everything is fed through an 8 inch touchscreen that supports Sync, bluetooth phone piggybacking, navigation, a driver's log, car information center, and all in-car entertainment. Instrument illumination appears to be LED, and a digital display climate control is available. Very nice all around.
Engine wise, gone is the very good aluminum block EcoTech engine, which generated 140 horses. In is a new 2.0 liter, direct injection engine generating 155 horses, which consumes less fuel per mile. And coming soon is a 1.6L EcoBoost turbocharged power plant, which will produce 200HP in a future, rally inspired ST model. I like the Japanese philospohy of a front wheel drive car not generating more than 170HP, but 200HP, if balanced and throttled correctly, might be a blast in the Focus ST.
Suspension is the expected MacPherson in the front and multilink in the rear, with a stiff stabilizer bar and firm springs. Much like my Hyundai Elantra Touring, the Focus has fuel saving electric power steering. But unlike my Touring, the Focus gets a six speed automatic, dual clutch transmission, making it even more fuel efficient. A Focus Platinum (the primium model right now), with all the electronics options, leather heated seats, sunroof, and the standard 2.0L engine and six speed automatic, should get about 24MPG in the city and 34MPG on the highway. If the customer drops an extra $2,000 for the SFE powertrain, then 38-40MPG on the highway is obtainable. But we should focus on the non SFE models (pun intended), since those are the models that will sell the most.
So comparing the new Focus to my 2009 Elantra Touring, I would say that it has no advantage in terms of steering and suspension. Both are identical and fun to throw into turns. But the Focus is lighter, has 17 more horses, and probably squeezes one or two extra miles per gallon. The Elantra beats the Focus for interior comfort, as it has a longer wheelbase, a smoother ride, and about double the amount of rear legroom. And the Elantra Touring qualifies as a rally car, since it has wheels pushed to the corners, and the turbodiesel verion has been driven in the Targa Tasmania rally down under the past two years.
If the Focus chassis is anything like its Peugeot and Citroen competitors, then it should be a thrilling ride. Hopefully, I can drive one soon and give a driving impressions review.
Now onto another four door sports car that might be in danger of losing that title, the fourth generation Subaru Impreza hatchback.
I would argue that the Impreza and BMW 3 series are the two greatest four door sports cars ever sold in the US (Audi A4, Mitsubishi Lancer, BMW 5 series, Porsche Panamera and Maserati Quadraporte fans will certainly disagree). Consider that the Impreza never became a midsize car. It did grow from subcompact to compact size, like the BMW 3 series. But the Impreza's basic formula never changed. It always was a lightweight, 4 or 5 door car with all wheel drive, independent suspension, a very low center of gravity, and a flat four (boxer) engine - not too dissimilar to what used to power early BMWs or Porsches.
From its introduction in 1992, the Impreza has been a contender on the rally circuits and the streets. It's a favorite of the tuner crowd in cities, as well as left of center folks in New England. It's a rare automobile that somehow took the place of the Saab 900 as the ultimate "Liberal's" car (perhaps the Forester is even more so). Driving an Impreza was and is an act of rebellion. It's a cult car. And it's a car that, again, like the BMW 3 series, has demonstrated the evolution and refinement of a successful automobile platform.
Here are some of the Impreza's greatest hits.
The 1992 US TV commercial staring a young, adorable Jeremy Davies:
A fully tuned, second generation Impreza WRX STi beating a Lamborghini in a European urban drag race:
The infamous crash of Alec Osenbach behind the wheel of a tuned, 350HP Impreza WRX at over 140MPH at the first annual Subifest in 2006. Amazingly, his injuries were minor:
US rally car driver Ken Block successfully jumps an Impreza rally car 170 feet.
Subaru introduces the third generation Impreza (2007-2012) with a jab at Volkswagen:
And the crowning stunt for the third generation Impreza, Travis Pastrana successfully jumps a rally spec car 269 feet in Long Beach, CA:
I like the third generation Impreza. I like the LED taillights and the four wheel wishbone suspension (unheard of in a car of that size and price). The STi Spec C is a triumph. I love the 2.5L boxer engine, the most successful engine in Subaru's history.
However, the enthusiasts and auto press was very clear about this Impreza - it's chassis had fallen behind to the Mitsubishi Lancer in terms of handling, character, and weight distribution. The stock Impreza 2.5i weighed in at 3,100 pounds. Also, the DVD navigation offered in the current car, from what I understand, is sub optimal. Subaru reliability and safety has never been better. But something had to change.
And so, Subaru, which ran the two previous Impreza generations for six years each, had to cut the third generation short in its fifth year of sales. Call it an intervention.
At the 2011 New York International Auto Show almost prcisely four years after the debut of the third generation Impreza, Subaru unveiled the fourth generation sedan and hatchback. The new car can be summed up in one phrase: do over. Instead of making the car bigger, Subaru only lengthened the wheelbase and added crucial rear seat legroom. Instead of modifying the venerable 2.5L boxer engine, Subaru has given the next Impreza the smaller, more fuel efficient 2.0L boxer already being used in the European Forester. And it is an all new platform, weighing 200 pounds lighter, at 2,900 pounds. If there's anything enthusiasts want more, it's a stock Impreza that weighs less than 3,000 pounds.
The first thing most Impreza fans will notice is the sub-A pillar on the front doors. This was added to increase visibility in turns and to lengthen the front doors. It's a feature we have seen on a few new cars lately, namely the Honda Fit, Honda Civic, and second and third generation Toyota Prius. When I see that triangle of glass, I immidatey think 'family car.' But now that I've had over a week to admire the new Impreza, it is actually growing on me. It helps the car look longer than it actually is. And the front fascia is one of the best Subaru has designed in a long time (the best since the Dr. Zapatnas facelift, I think).
From the rear, the new Impreza has a bit of a Toyota Matrix look [photo], with a big rear bumper piece that adds utility, and can also be swapped out for a different design in the future should Subaru desire it. The rear doors have a sub-C pillar that complement the front door design. The fender flares are muscular and modern. And the car combines nice angles and seams in an attractive egg-like shape. I'm liking this new design.
So while there won't be any driving reviews published for a while, we do know a few appealing aspects. It's lighter. It has a smaller boxer engine, that finally features a timing chain instead of a timing belt. It gets 30% better fuel economy, while retaining a wonderful part-time all wheel drive system. Tall adults can now fit into the back seat. And Subaru has partnered with Harmon Kardon to improve the audio system and (hopefully) factory navigation system. The guages are still trademark Impreza orange-red. And the car is winterized, as always, with wiper deicers, heated side mirrors, and heated seats, all of which should be standard on the 2.0i Premium model. And the price will be about $50 more. So this 5-door, with navigation, bluetooth, and satelitte radio, should come delivered around the $23K mark.
Subaru knows that it can't keep the Impreza a cult car forever. Subaru was the only auto brand in the USA besides Ford and Hyundai to see a record sales increase in 2010. The Impreza has to compete against the Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus. I'll return to this car later with a review of whether or not it delivers the classic Impreza feel and fun factor to a potentially larger market. Subie owners really love their cars. Subaru wants millions more to join their club.
Hyundai America CEO, John Krafcik, deserves a ton of credit. He's leading the company in bringing a new generation of Hyundai vehicles to the US (some of which will be built in the US). They are more reliable, more fuel efficient, and more stylish than anything Hyundai has sold in the US before. And while econoboxes are not usually things to get excited about, each new Hyundai model introduced since January 2009 has outsold its class competition, especially the midsize Sonata sedan, and now the compact Elantra sedan. The Chevy Malibu, Chevy Cruze, and even the Toyota Corolla have been left in the dust.
And Krafcik is boldly playing with the house money. He has had to bring global models to the US as part of Hyundai's new strategy launched in 2007. But he has not shied away from including the very European looking hatchback and wagon versions of those cars. In 2001, Hyundai had two global cars in the US lineup. They were the Tiburon (called the Coupe worldwide) and the Elantra GT hatchback (whch looked a lot like a retro Saab 900 hatchback, had a very Saab-like dash, and was powered by Hyundai's first trustworthy engine, the iron block Beta II). Now it is 2011, and Hyundai has six global models sold in the USA: the Genesis Coupe, Elantra Touring (i30cw), Sonata (i40), Tuscon (i35x), and now the Veloster, and Accent (i20).
Sales are way up. Hyundai's reputation has been born again awesome. And the only other car company currently on a winning streak is Ford, which not coincidentally, is rolling out outstanding global models to all their markets. The days of Australia and Europe getting all the cool Fords is over.
And so the Hyundai Elantra Touring, the i30cw in all other contienents, has a direct relative alongside it in the North American Hyundai lineup, the all new Accent (known as the i20 worldwide). The Accent is a breakthrough in the subcompact class. It's the first subcompact with a GDI (gasoline direct injection) engine. It is also the first subcompact to include a six-speed transmission (and it's standard). Together, that translates into 30MPG in the city and 40MPG on the highway, for a estimated 33-34MPG combined on regular 87 octaine gasoline.
Unlike the Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta, which have crude torsion beam rear suspensions, the Accent has a small multilink rear suspension setup, like its big brother the Elantra Touring. That translates into a stickier and firmer ride. And the new Accent's 1.6GDI engine generates as much horsepower as the Elantra Touring's old Beta II engine - 138HP. So the Accent isn't underpowered at all. In fact it has more standard horsepower than all of its competitors, including the Chevy Sonic, Nissan Versa, Ford Fiesta, and Honda Fit. Only the Dodge Caliber has an option for a more powerful engine.
We can expect the all new Accent to be a major sales hit for Hyundai. But I will be watching the hatchback version closely. With it's tall, European style taillights and tinyC pillars, I am curious to see if the hatch will catch on with American buyers. We know the Elantra Touring has become a sales hit in Canada. Will the Accent hatch also be popular with the Canucks only? Or will it continue to revive hatchbacks in the USA (like the Honda Fit and Volkswagen Golf have done).
Hyundai is doing today what Honda did in the US 40 years ago. It is winning new customers to the brand, and giving them the option of hatchbacks, a very un-American body style, until recently. Volkswagen, Subaru, and Honda have been consistant in offering hatchbacks in the USA over the last 35 years. Now Ford and Hyundai seem to be firmly on board (with BMW soon to follow). Perhaps the scales have been tipped. Perhaps with the price of gasoline never to dip below $3.00 again, Americans have finally embraced the practical, spacious, stylish hatchback. We will be watching the Accent 5-door closely. It should outsell the Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta, and might even help chase the Smart Car out of the US market.
The Federal CARS program ('cash for clunkers') has led to a lot of 1990s domestic SUVs taken off the roads. According to Jalopnik, 6 of the top 10 vehicles being removed from American roads are Ford Explorer models. Here's the list:
1. 1998 Ford Explorer 2. 1997 Ford Explorer 3. 1996 Ford Explorer 4. 1999 Ford Explorer 5. Jeep Grand Cherokee 6. Jeep Cherokee 7. 1995 Ford Explorer 8. 1994 Ford Explorer 9. 1997 Ford Windstar 10. 1999 Dodge Caravan
The Ford Explorer was one of the best-selling vehicles of the 1990s. It is still offered in the iconic two-tone Eddie Bauer edition. And somehow, when I think of that 1990s Explorer, I remember it being mentioned in the first verse of Ice Cube's song, 'Down For Whatever' (1993).