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Don Adair's Seat Time

Archive for October 2013

Turbo boosts Veloster performance profile

In 2011, Hyundai debuted an entry-level coupe called the Veloster. Its profile was half coupe, half hatchback and a pair of passenger-side doors gave it sedan-like utility.

Hoping to entice young buyers, Hyundai endowed the Veloster with flamboyant styling, impressive cabin tech and an affordable $18,000 price tag, 

For all the its strengths, though, the Veloster failed to deliver the performance its sheet metal promised. Under the hood, a direct-injected, variable-valve 1.6-liter four delivered a listless 138 horsepower. By-the-numbers suspension and steering systems failed to extract whatever dynamic qualities its front-drive architecture possessed. 

On the upside, the Veloster ran happily on regular unleaded and delivered EPA numbers of 29 mpg city/40 mpg highway.

This year, Hyundai elevates the Veloster’s performance profile. A new Turbo trim ($22,895) bumps horsepower to 201 and torque jumps from 123 to 195 pound-feet.

The Turbo runs on unleaded and can be paired with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.

With the manual, fuel efficiency is rated at 26 mpg city/38 mpg highway. The automatic returns 22/34.

On the outside, a gaping grille provides the engine compartment with extra cooling capacity. It’s flanked by foglights and projector headlights with LED accents. Lower side sills add ground effects styling, while chrome details accent 18-inch alloy wheels.

Though the Turbo retains the Veloster’s basic dimensions, a redesigned rear diffuser makes it look lower and wider. Round exhaust ports replace the base version’s trapezoidal tips.

​​On the inside, a seven-inch color touch-screen dominates the center stack and is surrounded by large and easy-to-use controls. Cabin design is clean and contemporary, and fit and finish is excellent. Details includes electrochromatic gauges and bolstered and Turbo-stitched front sport seats. 

Located aft of the main passenger-side door, the third door opens to a surprisingly roomy rear seating area. There’s enough head- and legroom for a pair of adults, though the seat cushions sit low to the floor.

The extra door simplifies the use of a child seat.

Underway, off-the-line acceleration is hampered by a surprisingly low first gear. When the power comes on, though, it comes in a rush. With its broad power band, the Turbo pulls hard out of corners from relatively low engine speeds.

The holes cut into the Veloster’s unibody to accommodate the large rear hatch, third door and optional sunroof reduce structural rigidity and limit fine suspension tuning. Chassis flex is noticeable during hard cornering and vibrations from the road surface can be felt through the steering column and cabin floor.   

The steering rack is quicker this year and steering calibration is tweaked for improved responsiveness and turn-in. The system lacks road feel, though, and only reluctantly returns to center. A good set of performance-oriented all-season tires would offer better grip than the standard all-season tires but might degrade ride quality.

With the Veloster Turbo, Hyundai meets enthusiasts half way. Those who want to go a step further can turn to the aftermarket — or wait for the anticipated R-spec version. For now, the newest Veloster is a solid — and modestly entertaining — small-coupe value.   

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo M/T
Vehicle base price: $17,600
Trim level base price: $22,100
As tested: $25,520
Optional equipment included panoramic sunroof, backup warning sensors, automatic headlights, navigation with rearview camera, unique paint, carpeted floor mats
EPA ratings: 24 city/35 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified
 
 
  

Acura TL: Out of the shadows

 
Obscured in the shadows cast by showier models, Acura’s midsize TL doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
 
Call it a very good outlier in the near-luxury sport-sedan segment, where BMW’s 3 Series rules. 
 
Two things set the TL apart from its rivals — its front-wheel-drive architecture (AWD is available, and more about that in a moment) and Acura’s commitment to six-cylinder engines.
 
Enthusiasts prefer the rear-drive for its superior driving dynamics. Here in the North, though, front-wheel-drive have obvious advantages. Regarding the cylinder count, Acura’s been right all along; the V-8 is disappearing before our eyes.
 
As it happens, the TL is in the final year of its current life span. You can tell because there’s a new, 2013 Special Edition (SE) trim.
 
Automakers often use special editions to shine one last light on a car before moving on to next year’s model. Special editions juice last-year sales by bundling desirable options into value-priced packages.
 
The TL’s SE package comprises a modest collection of convenience and cosmetic add-ons — keyless access and pushbutton start; a color-matched deck lid spoiler; 10-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels; the requisite trunk-mounted badging.
 
It amounts to $3,000 worth of premiums for a $1,500 bump, says Acura.
 
It’s worth noting that the base TL ($36,030, including destination) comes standard with power everything, a brilliant audio system, Bluetooth connectivity and — perhaps my favorite feature — world-class xenon high-intensity discharge headlights.
 
They light up my driveway like the deck of an aircraft carrier. 
 
Also standard in the TL quiver is a handsome, well-appointed cabin suitable for four full-size adults, a sport-tuned suspension and one of the most accurate and communicative electrically assisted steering systems in the business.
 
The TL is, as they say, a “driver’s car.” The suspension is tuned to reduce body roll in the corners, but is compliant enough to smooth out potholes. Sport seats cradle passengers’ backsides, holding them tight when the going gets rambunctious.
 
The SE package is only available on FWD TLs. If you want AWD, you’ll need to fork over another $3,550 for the TL SH/AWD. 
 
Acura’s Super-handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH/AWD) system popularized torque vectoring in the States. Without getting into the weeds, I’ll just say it’s the most surefooted system I’ve driven this side of a Porsche Carrera 4.
 
A 280-horsepower V-6 powers FWD TLs. It’s mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission, which can be optioned with steering-wheel paddle shifters. AWD trims get a 305-hp 3.7-liter V-6 that can be had with the automatic or a no-cost optional 6-speed manual.
 
Eight cylinders be damned. The engines are quiet, smooth and strong enough to satisfy any sensible person. The transmissions work with the usual Acura efficiency.   
 
All TLs are eligible for two options packages. TheTechnology package adds handsfree keyless entry, perforated leather, navigation with real-time traffic and weather, rearview camera and 10-speaker surround sound audio. The Advance package adds heated and ventilated front seats and a blind spot monitoring system.
 
With or without AWD, Acura’s TL is a legitimate near-luxury, sport-sedan contender. It deserves all the attention it gets. 
 
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.
 
2013 Acura TL SE
Vehicle base price: $35,905
Trim level base price: $37,405
As tested: $38,300
Optional equipment: The TL SE is a self-contained package; the test vehicle included no optional equipment.
EPA ratings: 20 city/29 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Mazda3: Fun at 40 mpg

How much fun is there to be had at 40 mpg?
 
Plenty, as I discovered out on SR 14 last week. Sitting high on the North side of the Columbia River, the sparsely traveled, two-lane road blends river-gorge scenery, winding roads and relaxing stretches of string-straight asphalt.
 
Though it makes just 155 horsepower, the four-cylinder engine powering my 2014 Mazda3 hatchback was potent enough to easily overtake slower traffic while delivering fuel efficiency numbers in the mid-30s.
 
Equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission, as my tester was, the 3 earns EPA ratings of 29 mpg city/40 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined. With the optional six-speed automatic — which, by all accounts is a very good one — city mileage improves by 1 mpg.
 
An optional 2.5-liter four makes 185 hp. It can be matched only with the automatic and is rated at 28/38/32.
 
Since the 2011 introduction its SkyActiv efficiency initiative, Mazda has been on a mission to prove that thrift and enthusiasm can coexist peacefully.
 
In the third-generation Mazda3, the dream survives reality. Available in sedan ($17,740, including destination) and five-door hatchback ($19,740) styles, the new 3 is easily the best compact Mazda has ever built, an accomplished little corner-carver with room for four, contemporary cabin tech and available class-leading safety features.
 
Third-gen suspension updates and a longer wheelbase smooth out rough patches and lend the new 3 a mature, large-car composure. Out in the eastern reaches of the gorge, where the road unkinks and speeds escalate, we flew through fast sweepers with minimal body lean and a reassuring feel of connectedness. 
 
The 3’s front seats are revised this year for greater thigh and lower-back support. Bolsters kept me in place when the g forces grew. Assorted seat-height and steering-column controls allowed me to tweak my driving position as the mood struck.
 
Sight lines are very good in all directions, no small feat in a small hatchback.
 
The newly revised electrically assisted steering system felt settled and responsive under hand, with no hint of twitchiness. On-center feel is very good, but little road feel makes its way to the driver’s hands.
 
The 3’s all-new chassis makes liberal use of high-strength steel to cut weight by an average of 100 pounds per model and increase body rigidity by 30 percent.
 
With its long hood, upright A pillars and setback cabin, the hatchback’s proportions recall BMW’s turn-of-the-century Z m coupe, but with better lines. Overall length is down a bit on both body styles, but new seats and better packaging boost livability. Four six-footers can seat themselves comfortably.
 
The redesigned cabin is dressed up in high-quality materials and the driver-centric dashboard puts controls within easy reach. A new generation of lightweight insulation cuts cabin noise substantially.
 
With its redundant controls, Mazda’s Connect infotainment/navigation system is one of the easiest of its kind to operate. The dash-mounted 7-inch display sits high, where it’s easily seen at a glance. 
 
As a practical matter, probing the 3’s deep reserves makes a fiction of its EPA ratings fiction. Still, the fun remains affordable.
 
Contact Don Adair at don@dadair.com.
 
2014 Mazda3 5-door Grand Touring
Vehicle base price: 
Trim level base price: $23,245
As tested: $24,635
Optional equipment included Soul Red metallic paint; rear bumper guard; scuff plates/door sill trim plates.
EPA ratings: 29 city/40 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

2014 Forester a mainstream move

 
Subaru appears to be at the crossroads. Among executives, one faction wants to drive the company into the mainstream, with a more conventional lineup. Another believes Subaru’s niche-player status works in its favor.
 
Subaru’s commitment to standard all-wheel-drive and to an unorthodox engine architecture does, indeed, give the company an outsider’s standing.
 
Not that that’s a bad thing. Subaru was one of three automakers whose U.S. sales grew during the recession. Since early 2012, its profits have tripled and its stock value has grown fivefold, says Bloomberg. 
 
In August, Subaru set a new U.S. sales record. Simultaneously, the redesigned, 2014 Forester crossover overtook the Outback wagon as the company’s sales leader, with year-to-date sales up an astonishing 46 percent. 
 
It’s hard to know what to credit for the surge, but efficiency — both space and fuel — is probably the right place to start.  
 
For 2014, wheelbase and overall length grow modestly — 0.9 inches and 1.4 inches, respectably — but rear-seat legroom is up a massive 3.7 inches and cargo room grows as well.
 
Forester’s base engine is a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter four that, when paired with a new continuously variable transmission (CVT), yields EPA numbers of 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway/27 mpg combined. 
 
Equipped with the six-speed manual that’s standard on 2.5i and 2.5i Premium trims, Forester is rated at 22/29/24.
 
An available, 250-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four powers up-level trims and earns ratings of 23/28/25.
 
For Subaru, which has always struggled with fuel efficiency, these gains are huge.
 
Forester’s content-list grows this year, as well. All but the base 2.5i trim now include a standard rearview camera and color multifunction display. New options include keyless access and ignition, a power liftgate and the EyeSight driver assist system.
 
EyeSight was previously introduced on the Legacy and Outback and was key to their Superior ranking in the new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Front Crash Prevention (FCP) test. EyeSight integrates adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and pre-collision braking. When danger is detected ahead, it can bring the Forester to a complete stop, without driver intervention, from speeds of up to 25 mph.
 
X-Mode, an enhancement to Forester’s AWD system available on upper trims, tweaks engine response, transmission shift points, stability control system intervention and the AWD system to improve traction in slippery conditions. 
 
Hill descent control is broadly available and, at 8.7 inches, ground clearance is exemplary.
 
The new Forester receives mild sheet metal and cabin updates. Cabin materials are improved but the design remains dated. Cartoonish graphics and impaired ease of use relegate Subaru’s navigation and infotainment systems to second-tier status.
 
Aside from noticeable lean in the corners, the Forester handles as well as can be expected from an affordable people-and-cargo hauler. Its sophisticate AWD system and higher-than-average ground clearance provide better-than-average off-road chops.
 
CVT-equipped models incorporate an continuously variable transfer clutch that distributes power to the wheels with traction.
 
A fair distance separates Subaru from the mainstream. The new Forester helps bridge that gulf while underscoring the company’s strengths. With more successes like this, Subaru will escape its niche role without breaking a sweat.
 
2014 Subaru Forester 2.5 Si Touring
Vehicle base price: $21,995
Trim level base price: $29,995
As tested: $33,220
Optional equipment included keyless entry and ignition; EyeSight; high-intensity discharge low-beam headlights.
EPA ratings: 24 city/32 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Kia Soul matures, stays funky

As of this week, the 2014 Kia Soul has arrived at West Coast ports and is making its way to dealerships across the country.
 
For the faithful — and their numbers are legion — this amounts to high drama. In its short lifespan — it was released in 2009 for the 2010 model year — the funky little hatch has become a surprise sensation. Last year, in its fourth year of production, when sales could reasonably be expected to fall off, an astonishing 115,788 Souls found new homes.
 
At the outset, Kia would have been happy with annual sales of 30,000.
 
Kia will campaign the new Soul under the banner Totally Transformed, though a casual observer will be hard pressed to see it. Mild sheet metal revisions — including a more muscular front end and unique, body-colored “floating” lift gate panel — leave the Soul’s unmistakable profile intact.  
 
Likewise, power trains carry over from last year, though they’re tweaked for improved responsiveness at low speeds and on city streets, where Soul proliferates.  
 
Inside, where hard plastics once reigned, new and attractive soft-touch surfaces prevail. Materials quality improves dramatically, reflecting Kia’s willingness to invest in its new superstar. Fit and finish are unassailable.
 
A new circular design motif underscores what Kia says is the typical Soul owner’s affinity with music. It’s the idea of the “sonic ring” — the way sound flows concentrically from its source, like ripples in a pond — Kia execs said at the car’s national press launch in Minneapolis this week.
 
It’s only when the Soul is underway that its real transformation comes into focus. A lightweight new unibody and sweeping suspension revisions give the Soul a grown-up composure absent from the first edition.
 
Road surfaces in central Minnesota and neighboring Wisconsin are good enough to turn Inland Northwest drivers green with envy. Still, expansion joints and the occasional foray onto secondary roads gave the new suspension a chance to shine. 
 
The second-generation Soul shrugs off road-surface flaws that would have sent shock waves through the old car’s cabin. Body roll is well controlled during high-speed cornering, though nothing about the Soul encourages aggressive driving.
 
A new one-piece steering assembly improves steering responsiveness and feel at all speeds. On-center feel is excellent and, despite the Soul’s upright stance, crosswinds don’t upset its composure.
 
Unfortunately, the electrically assisted system refuses to communicate road-surface information to the driver.
 
To reduce cabin noise, Kia added new subframe bushings, relocated the steering box and front stabilizer bar, reconfigured the rear shocks and used a new type of foam insulation.
 
Very little road noise makes its way into the cabin, even at freeway speeds, and wind noise off the upright A pillars is noticeable only in crosswinds.
 
Two engines are offered, a 1.6-liter four that makes 130 horsepower (24 mpg city/30 mpg highway) and a 2.0-liter four rated at 160 hp (23/31). 
 
For 2014, the base, manual-transmission Soul gains $530 worth of new content and a price bump of $300 to $14,700. Automatic-transmission trims receive $705 of new gear and a $500 bump. Shipping adds $795.
 
At the launch, Kia announced plans for an electric Soul. To be released in 2014, it will be available only in limited markets.
 
With the new Soul, Kia proves what many already knew. Maturity does not extinguish the fun.
 
Contact Don Adair at don@dadair.com.

2013 Nissan Sentra covers the bases

In a perfect world, compact sedans would hit 40 mpg on the highway, accommodate four adults in comfort, embrace the latest technology and be as spirited as an MX-5 Miata.  
 
As a week in the 2013 Nissan Sentra proves, though, three out of four ain’t bad. 
 
The new Sentra ($16,780, with destination) offers best-in-class economy and a truly adult-worthy back seat. Up front, the available NissanConnect system adds handsfree text assistance, Bluetooth streaming audio and assorted Google mapping functions.
 
Economy, comfort and tech. Bases covered. 
 
Performance not so much. In most cases, the Sentra’s 1.8-liter, 130-horsepower engine is paired with a thrifty continuously variable transmission (CVT) and returns EPA numbers of 30 city/39 highway.
 
FE+, A high-mileage options package available on lower trims, adds wind-cheating spoilers, low-rolling-resistance tires and under-body air splitters. Mileage gets a mild — but marketable — bump to 30/40/34.
 
Acceleration is predictably casual. 
 
The new Sentra’s exterior borrows liberally from the midsize Altima. Nissan’s new signature design elements — the trapezoid grill, wraparound headlights and LED headlight accents — are present and accounted for. Such touches as chrome door handles and optional heated mirrors with integrated turn signals project a professionalism sought by upwardly mobile owners, says Nissan.
 
Inside, the updated cabin features new soft-touch materials and a generally upscale atmosphere. The Sentra’s new, lower beltline increases window size and lends the cabin an open feel. A chrome-trimmed waterfall console houses a well-organized instrument panel and flows into an abbreviated center console.
 
The Sentra’s oversized glove compartment remains, but additional cabin storage is scant.
 
Most drivers will enjoy sufficient leg- and headroom, though the optional moonroof reduces headroom. Rear seating is generous for the class, although here, too, headroom is limited. The trunk is as big as those typically found in the midsize segment. The 60/40-split rear seatbacks fold for additional cargo space.
 
Standard equipment on the modestly equipped S trim includes air conditioning, power windows and locks, keyless entry, and a four-speaker audio system. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on the S. The CVT can be had for another $1,270.
 
Nissan committed itself to the CVT a while back and builds some of the best in the business. Hints persist of the elastic, rubber-band feel common to CTVs, but few drivers will notice or care. 
 
Assorted options packages available on upper trims add amenities like keyless entry and ignition, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and satellite radio. New this year is the Smart Auto Headlights system. After four sweeps of the windshield wipers, the headlights turn on automatically.
 
The cabin redesign is mostly effective, though our tester’s gray-and-dun color scheme lacked vitality and the surface textures had a mix-and-match feel. Seat comfort is good at all four positions.
 
Sentra’s ride-and-handling package favors comfort at the expense of performance. Expect a relaxed highway drive and body lean in the corners. 
 
The perfect car doesn’t exist, especially at this price point. But the Sentra hits the right marks in the compact-sedan canon. Three out of four ain’t bad. Not bad, at all.
 
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com
 
2013 Nissan Sentra SV
Vehicle base price: $15,990
Trim level base price: $17,970
As tested: $20,635
Optional equipment included keyless entry and ignition; Smart Auto headlights; Bluetooth phone and audio streaming; satellite radio; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; Tire Pressure Monitoring system; voice-activated navigation; NavTraffic and NavWeather; handsfree text messaging assistant; rearview monitor.
EPA ratings: 30 city/39 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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