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Don Adair's Seat Time

Posts tagged: compact sedans

Mitsubishi Lancer: AWD on a budget

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Should you be shopping for a compact, all-wheel-drive sedan, you have a choice of two — Subaru’s Impreza and the Mitsubishi Lancer.

As the entry-level Subie, the Impreza’s bona fides are well established. But Mitsubishi is an enigma in the U.S. After partnering here with Chrysler for many years, the company went solo in 1981 and didn’t mount its first national ad campaign until 1989.

Mitsubishi currently offers seven vehicles here; the iMIEV electric vehicle, the subcompact Mirage (made over for 2014), two crossovers (Outlander and Outlander Sport), and three Lancer variants; the sedan, a five-door hatchback called the Sportback and the high-performance Evo. The Sportback and Evo are marketed as separate vehicles.

The Lancer sedan (from $17,990, including destination) is a frugal, well-built and agreeable five-passenger sedan, with crisp styling, excellent rear-seat legroom and a healthy standard-features list. Some studies call it the most reliable car sold in North America.

Today’s tester, the Lancer SE AWD, occupies the second rung of a four-trim lineup that mixes and matches powertrains and drivetrain configurations.

Below the SE ($21,490, including destination), lies the base, front-drive-only ES ($17,990); above it are the front-drive GT ($21,240) and AWD Ralliart ($29,990).

A 148-hp four-cylinder engine powers the front-drive ES, which is available with either a five-speed manual transmission or optional CVT.

The middle pair, ES and GT, share a 168-horsepower four. ES can be had only with a continuously variable transmission (CVT); GT is available with the CVT or a five-speed manual. 

The Ralliart gets a turbocharged 237-hp four and can be had only with AWD and a dual-clutch automated manual.

Fuel efficiency runs about mid-pack among compact sedans, ranging from the 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway/29 mpg combined for an automatic-equipped ES to the Ralliart’s 18/25/20.

New this year on all but the ES are a standard touchscreen audio-system interface and rearview camera. Upper trims get new upholstery and soft-touch door panels, help dress up a cabin that otherwise lacks sparkle.

Standard features on the ES include automatic headlights, keyless entry, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, front and rear center armrests, height-adjustable driver seat and steering-wheel audio controls.

Besides the larger engine and all-wheel drive, the SE adds four-wheel disc brakes (the ES runs rear drums), heated front seats and side mirrors, chrome exterior accents and the new 6.1-inch touchscreen audio interface with rearview camera and HD and satellite radio.

The Lancer, which was last made over in 2007, faces stiff new competition and is due for a refresh. Taller drivers may regret the absence of a telescoping steering wheel and the short front-seat cushions provide too little thigh support. Others in the segment feel fresher and more refined. 

Even so, its good looks, top-notch build quality and available all-wheel-drive make the Lancer a solid choice. If an AWD compact sedan is on your shopping list, this is one that must be reckoned with.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at

Kia Forte: Raising expectations

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I was prepared for a letdown the first time I drove the 2014 Kia Forte. It was not my fault. I’d been set up, first by an afternoon in the $285,000 Rolls-Royce Wraith and then a week in the Cadillac CTS ($39,990 base/$66,000 as-tested). 

Forget for a moment that Kia will launch its own $50,000 K900 luxury sedan next year; the brand is known not for mind-bending lux but for entry-level value. How could the humble Kia ($16,700) hope to measure up?

A funny thing happened, though. Perhaps it was because I knew that the Kia was the only one of the three cars I might ever own. Maybe I was relieved that I could make the navigation and infotainment systems work without effort. Or maybe it was the Forte’s lack of pretension. In any case, the Forte quickly won me over. 

Actually, the Forte surprised me — largely, I suppose, because the first-gen Forte had been a mid-pack underachiever. Nice sheet metal; otherwise just a car.

Since that car debuted in 2009, the compact class has exploded with strong new entries. Being left behind is not an option, so Kia reengineered the Forte from the ground up. It’s now longer, lower and wider. Overall interior quality is vastly improved and new insulation reduces cabin noise to unexpectedly low levels.

Cabin space is largely unchanged, but remains plenty roomy for four adults. Despite the stylish sloping roofline, there’s even decent rear-seat headroom.

Though it was a massive step down from my previous rides, nothing about the Forte seemed haphazard, cheesy or off-putting. 

The base LX trim is powered by a 148-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder that can be mated with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. The EX ($20,200) gets a 173-hp four-cylinder that can be had only with the automatic.

All the engine/transmission combos produce city mileage in the mid-20s and highway mileage in the mid-30s. Kia could likely eke out another mile or two with a continuously variable transmission, but the existing automatic is so good it would be a shame to see it go.

A sizable standard features list includes air, full power accessories, Bluetooth phone connectivity and USB/iPod/auxiliary input jack. My loaded EX tester, complete with the Premium Package (leather seats, push-button start, heated and ventilated front seats) and Technology Package (xenon headlights, navigation, electroluminescent gauges, heated rear seats) rang the bell at $25,515.

There’s nothing remotely sporty about the Forte. Its MacPherson-strut front and twist-beam rear suspension provides a decent balance ride and handling, with a bias toward comfort. The EX features a three-setting electric power-assisted steering system, but it’s essentially meaningless. 

Two new models are more likely to interest enthusiasts, one a hatchback, the other a coupe. Due at dealers any day, they will be offered with a 201-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter engine, sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch wheels.

I don’t expect that either one will let me down.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at

2014 Kia Forte EX sedan
Vehicle base price: $15,900
Trim level base price: $19,400
As tested: $25,515
Optional equipment included 17-inch allow wheels; sunroof; leather seats; driver’s seat memory; heated and ventilated front seats; heated rear seats; push-button start; heated steering wheel; auto-dimming mirror with Homelink; front-door-handle pocket lights; puddle lights; engine immobilizer; xenon HID headlights; dual-zone automatic climate control; navigation with Sirius Traffic; electroluminescent gauges; LED taillights; carpeted floor mats.
EPA ratings: 24 city/36 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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
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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