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Posts tagged: subcompact

Audi A3: Little, but all grown up

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My grandson Henry is smart, as well-read as a seven-year-old can be and fairly certain he’s right. All of the time. Also, he’s a car guy.

He wanted to know what I was driving on a recent visit. 

“It’s an Audi A3.”

“That’s not an A3; A3s are hatchbacks.”

Henry knows his A3s; his mother drives one. It’s a hatchback because, until this year, that’s all there was. Apparently, Henry hadn’t heard that Audi has booted the hatch for a four-door sedan and two-door convertible. 

The A3 ($30,795, including transportation) joins a new <em>entry premium</em> segment comprising such small, richly endowed Europeans as BMW’s 2 Series and Mercedes-Benz’s new CLA. 

The goodness is baked into these cars’ DNA, not grafted on in the form of high-profit options packages.  

Audi plans a flood of A3 variants, including a plug-in hybrid, a crossover, and a gaggle of high-performance models. For now, it’s available in a single, well-equipped trim, with a pair of major options packages; front- or all-wheel drive; and three lively and efficient four-cylinder engines, two gas and one diesel. 

The base engine is a 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter turbocharged four that returns an estimated 27 mpg combined (23 city/33 highway). An optional 2.0-liter four, also turbocharged, makes 220 hp and matches the smaller engine’s efficiency.

The 2.0-liter turbo-diesel ($33,495) makes 150 hp and 236 pound-feet of torque and is rated at
 36/31/43.

All engines are mated with a six-speed automated manual transmission.

A high-performance, 292-hp S3 sedan ($41,995) is marketed separately.

The A3 resembles a 3/4-scale A4, but cabin design strikes out in a fresh direction. Rather than cramming a busy display into a crowded dash, Audi uses a motorized screen that rises from the dash upon ignition. A quartet of circular, aircraft-inspired vents aside, the dash is uncluttered and elegantly spare. 

Materials quality and fit-and-finish are on par with the big-budget Audis. Switch-gear is flawless in feel and heft. At highway speeds, the cabin is hushed and tranquil. Meant to be driven vigorously, the A3 is nimble, balanced and responsive. Steering is light at low speeds but firms up nicely.

Standard equipment includes leather upholstery, automatic wipers, automatic xenon headlights, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a version of the MMI so fresh the A8 doesn’t have it yet. 4G LTE connectivity is available, and so is a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.

Front seats are comfortable and supportive, but properly bolstered chairs require the $550 Sport package (it also includes a three-spoke sport steering wheel, paddle shifters and Drive Select, which lets the driver adjust throttle response, shift points, and steering effort).

Rear seating is scant, though a pair of average adults will ride comfortably for short periods. The split-folding rear seatbacks fold.
Old-school “technology” includes the knob-operated passenger-seat recline mechanism. If you can’t reconcile a $30,000-plus price tag with manual seatbacks, alternatives are available; just don’t expect any of them to deliver the way the littlest Audi does.

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

2015 Audi A3 2.0T quattro S troni
Vehicle base price: $29,900
Trim level base price: $32,900
As tested: $37,195
Options included Scuba Blue Metallic paint; MMI Navigation Plus; heated front seats, exterior mirrors and windshield washer nozzles; aluminum trim; Audi music interface with iPod cable.
EPA ratings: 27 combined/24 city/33 highway
Premium unleaded fuel required

Mitsubishi Mirage: Value champ

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The 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage is the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid vehicle sold in America. With its base price of $13,790, including destination, the subcompact hatchback is also one of the country’s least expensive cars.

Only Chevy’s Spark ($12,995) and the Nissan Versa sedan ($12,800) better its price, and neither touches its sparkling EPA ratings: 37 mpg city/44 mpg highway/40 mpg combined.

“I love this car,” writes an owner at edmunds.com. “It gives me everything I need: a roof, an engine, and wheels  …  I'm able to get it up to 56 mpg if I drive it right … For the economically minded, this car can't be beat.”

Even price-aware entry-level buyers want more than a box on wheels, though, so Mirage comes well equipped. Standard equipment includes automatic climate control; electronic stability control; power side mirrors; power windows with driver's side auto-up/down; keyless entry; seven airbags, including a driver's knee bag; and 4-wheel ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.

The ES trim ($14,490) adds aluminum alloy wheels; fog lamps; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; smart-key passive entry; keyless ignition; steering wheel-mounted audio controls; cruise control and a Bluetooth® hands-free phone system.

The Mirage also can be optioned with a navigation system, rearview camera and parking sensors. 

“Getting a ‘loaded’ car, with Navi, for $17K was nice,” wrote another Edmunds commenter.

Buyers pick from eight “vibrant” colors, including Plasma Purple (pictured), a shade my Facebook friends found wildly amusing.

Mitsubishi covers Mirage with a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage.

So the Mirage is inexpensive to buy and operate. It boasts a decent array of standard content and a great warranty. Obviously, tradeoffs are involved.

They start with a cabin that, while comfortable for two, comes up short on second-row seating. With the seatbacks up, Mirage offers 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space. With the seatbacks down that number jumps to 47 cf.

Cabin furnishings are spare. Hard plastics dominate and fit-and-finish trails the competition. The steering column tilts but doesn’t telescope, but drivers of all sizes should find a comfortable driving position. 

Controls are close at hand and easy to operate.

Mirage is a light car, but its 74-horsepower, 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine labors loudly to accelerate, an effect underscored by the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT). While the standard five-speed manual transmission produces excellent EPA numbers —34/42/37, the CVT, a $1,000 option, gets the bragging rights that go with the 37/44/40 ratings. 

The Mirage joins a growing cohort of cars designed for the urban commute. It’s compact and easy to park and navigate in close quarters. However, its short wheelbase, small tires and suspension fundamentals are overmatched by rough and broken pavement. 

At speed, wind and wind noise intrude, steering is vague and the ride is unsettled. 

But let’s give the last word to satisfied owner, who wrote, “Great bargain, reliable, and feels like you spent more than you did.”

If that sounds like your car, there’s a Mitsu dealer with one in a color meant for you.

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

2014 Mitsubishi Mirage ES CVT
Vehicle base price: $12,995 
Trim level base price: $15,990
As tested: $15,990
Optional equipment: Our ES tester included no options
EPA rating: 37 city/44 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

Encore: Buickā€™s pint-size proposition

My father-in-law Jack was a proper Buick owner, a self-made businessperson with a South Hill rancher and a Century wagon in the driveway.

He worked hard to buy that car and I never saw him happier than the day he drove it home.

Like most achieving Americans of his generation, Jack lived the ethos of Large. He couldn’t have imagined what passes for full-size these days, nor could he have fathomed Buick’s new subcompact Encore crossover.

The smallest Buick ever built, the Encore is 10 inches shorter than Honda’s CR-V, and about the same size as a Kia Soul or a Scion xB.

Jack’s wagon would have outweighed it by two tons.

Since the day Jack brought home his Buick, the company has moved quietly downstream — it no longer builds wagons the size of Manhattan — and has grown increasingly global. Jack would have struggled to understand Buick’s popularity in China, whose middle class appreciates the brand’s focus on understated, affordable luxury.

With the Encore, Buick targets the same sliver of demand responsible for BMW’s X1 and Audi’s soon-to-arrive Q3. Each was built in the belief that buyers want a comfortable city-sized commuter rig. Buick’s answer is this small, affordably priced (from $25,085, including destination) crossover.

As with all modern Buicks, the Encore’s chief asset is its comfortable, well equipped and uncannily silent cabin.

Assorted sound-deadening measures, include Buick ’s first application of the Bose Active Noise Cancellation technology. Front-seat occupants enjoy broad and supportive seats and a tall seating position. I’d have preferred narrower seats and a broader center console; the existing arrangement prevents use of the handbrake when the cupholders are in use. Otherwise, four adults of average size will be comfortable in commute-length bits.

Rear-seat legroom is quite good, though hip and shoulder room is tight. Standard features highlights include A/C, cruise control, full power accessories, power driver’s seat, rearview camera, heated side mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, OnStar telematics, satellite radio, a USB/iPod interface and auxiliary audio jack. Buick's IntelliLink control interface features a 7-inch touchscreen and integrated smartphone apps.

Front-wheel-drive is standard, AWD is optional.

Power is by a 138-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter four rated at 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway/28 mpg combined (FWD) and 23/26/30 (AWD). It’s yoked to a six-speed automatic tuned to maximize efficiency, which means quick upshifts and slow (sometimes painfully so) downshifts. The Encore saunters from zero-to-60 in 9.8 seconds. Passing requires care, especially with a full load.

That said, we folded the rear seatbacks, packed the cargo hold with camping gear and headed into British Columbia’s high country. The Encore was willing, if not robust. Ride quality is good, though the Encore’s short wheelbase and 18-inch wheels can produce choppy performance over broken pavement. The electrically assisted steering is responsive and has good on-center feel, but at speed may strike some as twitchy.

Despite a handful of quibbles with interior materials — most notably, the hard-plastic surround housing the Intellilink screen — and the poorly located handbrake, the Encore succeeds quite admirably.

Jack might not have understood, but Buick wagers a new generation will.

Contact Spokane freelancer Don Adair at don@dadair.com.

2013 Buick Encore FWD Premium
Vehicle base price: $24,160
Trim level base price: $28,190
As tested: $29,735
Optional equipment: Our tester included navigation.
EPA rating: 25 city/33 highway Regular unleaded fuel specified

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