2015 Fiat 500L Trekking vs. 2015 Ford Focus C-Max


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By James Hamel (Excerpts taken from Examiner.com.)

Now we do comparison tests all the time where we declare winners in categories ranging from family sedans to minivans to compact cars to luxury sedans. But what if we decided not to declare a winner but rather point out two unique and tasty alternatives to the gold standard of the subcompact class right now and most likely for a generation—the Honda Fit. It is roomy, fuel efficient, affordable, well equipped, powerful enough, nice looking and beats the snot out of the usual suspects like the Yaris, Versa and Spark. But there must be other options surely?

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Why yes there are in the form of the Italian oddball meatball the five door 2015 Fiat 500L hatchback as well as the hybrid 2015 Ford C-Max which too many people overlook in favor of a Prius. Admittedly, both the Fiat 500L and the Ford C-Max have more than a few awkward styling cues but with all of that comes a tremendous amount of utility for families. Yes, space enough to rival even the Fit with the 500L just beating out the C-Max for cargo capacity due to the Ford hybrid’s batteries are beneath the cargo floor. A fix a flat sealant is located under the passenger seat. We’d say if you buy a C-Max and get a flat tire, call a tow truck.

But let’s check out the C-Max and 500L more closely now…

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Ford Tries to Build a Prius, out comes the C-MAX

Now you could easily construe that as a bad thing that the C-Max is really nothing like the holy and virtuous Prius as a bad thing, we actually meant it in a complementary sense because where the Toyota is a silent, serene and numb isolation chamber you actually find handling liveliness, agility and a peppier feel off the line. Or maybe we were having fun flooring it too often. The C-Max is also down on the Prius EPA fuel economy at 42 city/37 highway. Frankly the only vehicle we have ever gotten 50 miles per gallon in regularly is with VW’s TDI on the freeway.

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Now if when you hop into the 2015 Ford C-Max Hybrid and it seems familiar that’s probably because it shares much of its design and parts with the Focus. So that means you have the luxury of the razor sharp steering from the Focus in a hybrid which in and of itself should be cause for a Government holiday. What we are saying here, people, is fun to drive hybrids do exist. There is also a plug-in hybrid “Energi” variant of the C-Max but if you don’t have much access to charging stations then the regular hybrid will suit most folks just fine.

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The Italian Job—(2015 Fiat 500L)

Whereas the original and admittedly rather cramped Fiat 500 coupe and Fiat 500 Abarth are undeniably cute and/or muscularly adorable, the 2015 Fiat 500L Trekking four door multi-activity wagon can take a bit of getting used to visually. People tend to love it or not so much when they first see it but in a world where people rarely turn their head when $100,000 BMW’s go by, you can bet people will be checking out your 2015 Fiat 500L Trekking which for us after options, delivery and a nice $1,500 discount came to just over $21,000 lavishly equipped. And what’s more, with the standard six-speed manual gearbox and the 1.4 liter 160 horsepower/184 lb. feet of torque Multi-Air turbocharged 4-cylinder, this endearingly odd four door hatchback is a laugh riot to drive. But more on that in a minute.

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First off, let’s talk value. The 2015 Fiat 500L Trekking can be differentiated from its brethren thanks to some chunky body cladding, a slightly raised ride height, a unique yet truly well done interior treatment featuring a tan dash fascia and Morrone (brown) heavy duty cloth seats, Sirius XM, cruise control, power windows, locks and mirrors as well as some truly styling 17-inch alloy wheels all as standard for a starting price of $20,945. This also includes a generous 4 year/50,000 mile warranty with 3 years of free maintenance.

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As Fiat is relatively new (again) to the U.S. market, if you purchase one of the Trekking options packs you get a back-up camera with rear sensors, a 6.5-inch dash mounted U-Connect screen with integrated USB/i-Pod integration and charge function, AM/FM/CD with 6-premium speakers, navigation, Bluetooth functionality, steering wheel audio controls, heated side mirrors, leather wrapped shift knob and steering wheel and an audio/visual impact system to alert you of possible collisions at low speeds with, perhaps, a curb. Not that you have ever done that. Neither have we.15235957499_780da9b9b5_k

Our Giallo Yellow came equipped with Trekking Group 4 which also added a stylish white roof accent, rear seat armrest with large American sized cupholders, dual zone climate control, power dimming rear view mirror, a year’s subscription to Sirius/XM (standard is 3 months), power driver’s seat and various interior appearance upgrades. Our total? Just a shade over $23,000. For all those features, that’s a steal.

For the rest of this article, click here to go to my Honda and Acura Examiner page

When the Jetta Returned: 2014 1.8 Liter Turbo Version of Volkswagen’s perennial favorite


Written by James Hamel 
At a recent (well, it was recent in 2014) full line VW drive event that we here attended in Napa, we started our morning grabbing the keys to the vehicle that we expected the least from as far as thrills and surprises go. We chose to drive a manual transmission equipped 2014 VW Jetta
 in midlevel (and very affordable) SE trim with the all new VW 1.8 liter base corporate turbocharged 4-cylinder motor. But there is nothing basic at all about this new 170 horsepower/184 lb. feet of torque engine, dear readers, and no longer is the Jetta a bargain basement, built to price economy car with a faint hint of German sportiness about it.
No, the 2014 VW Jetta is born again as a value price European sport sedan with no qualifiers needed. Yes, after a couple of years with a solid rear axle, some nasty interior plastics and a boat anchor of a base engine in the form of a geriatric 2.5 liter 170 horsepower 5-cylinder base motor the Jetta has reconnected to its mojo in more than just TDI and GLI trims. The 2014 VW Jetta also boasts the return of an independent rear suspension to all models sold in the U.S.A. as well as the addition of electrical power steering that in a surprising turn actually adds to this car’s feeling of connectedness to both the driver and road.
For the rest of this review click here for a link to GAYWHEELS.COM!
 

Comparison Road Test: 2012 VW Tiguan vs. 2012 Nissan Juke


At first glance, this may seem like an odd SUV comparison to make, considering the fact that the Juke is perhaps the wildest looking vehicle of this type ever built while the 2012 VW Tiguan remains as Teutonic as ever with a restrained yet tasteful new front corporate front end easily noticeable whereas the much improved six-speed automatic now returns 2 miles per gallon more on the highway with EPA ratings of 22 city/27 highway. As the Juke was all-new last year, the vehicle needed nothing more than detail changes and our front-wheel drive manual transmission tester returned EPA figures of 25 city/31 highway. So, again, why the comparison?



This VW motor is one of the best in any vehicle at any price.

First off, both of these SUVs come standard with high revving, quick and quite addicting turbocharged 4-cylinder engines that still manage to return decent fuel economy in real life situations. Also, as Nissan and VW don’t sell these SUVs in Honda, Chevy, Ford or Toyota numbers, you won’t have to suffer the ignominy of seeing your exact same SUV always parked in the Home Depot lot every Saturday right next to you. Not that the Juke or Tiguan were meant for extreme cargo duties, although the VW has the Nissan easily licked in this department. With the Juke, you are buying a style statement to a degree so you take the small sacrifices in substance.

While both aren’t exactly overflowing with legroom in the second row, the big difference comes in how much cargo room is available in the Juke and Tiguan. The Juke, what with its cute and pert rear end design, sacrifices a cargo hold for what amounts to the inside of a teenager’s backback what with this SUV’s paltry 10.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. Fold those down and you can squeeze in about 35 cubic feet of your junk.

The Tiguan, on the other hand, gives buyers a much more useful 23.8 cubic feet behind the rear passengers growing to over 56 cubic feet when those seats fold (relatively) flat. Seriously VW, should the back seat fold with a giant lump in the middle of it because you didn’t worry about where the cupholders would go during such an occasion? Also, the Tiguan’s cargo hold feels tall and not very deep with the Jetta Sportwagen topping it as a cargo hauler for extreme duty.To read the rest click this sentence.

Daisy Mae Hamel’s 2012 Civic Sedan and Si Coupe Review as Penned by an 80-Pound Dog


Any dog who has gone to a dog park knows about the concept of piling on a weaker dog which is part of our inherent nature as pack animals. Whether or not we participate in the melee, if some dogs detect even the slightest weakness in another dog there will be more wild growling and paw bitch slaps than you would see during your average episode of “The Jerry Springer Show.” Jerry Springer? I wonder with that last name if he is related to any Springer Spaniels? Just wondering.

The reason I mention this is that the 2012 Honda Civic line has been the victim of a lot of dog park-like media piling on thanks to a variety of factors. There was, of course, the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan that cut off parts supplies just when production was set to ramp up in large numbers. Also, people complained that the 2012 Civic’s redesign wasn’t as revolutionary as it should have been which wouldn’t have been an issue if radically improved offerings like the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze (used to be the Cobalt) were released around the same time.

To read the rest of Daisy Mae’s insightful review of the new Civic, click here for a link to her reviews on BarkBuckleUp.com. Or Check out James Hamel’s in depth weeklong road tests of this vehicle on Autobytel.com.

Consumer Road Test: 2012 Hyundai Tucson GLS


Nowadays it would be very easy to say that Hyundai, as a car manufacturer, is on a very serious and very long roll when it comes to introducing very successful new models. Not only have these new vehicles been competitive but many have been called the best in their respective classes. A Hyundai? Surely this can’t be the same company that brought us the Hyundai Excel compact which is best remembered as being “not quite as bad” as the Yugo hatch that came to market around the same time.

The Value Equation

As is still always the case with most every Hyundai product, the 2012 Tucson is a terrific value for money. And just because our GLS tester was relatively inexpensive at $22,295, it definitely didn’t lack for features. Spend a few grand more for a Limited model and you can even add leather, cooler looking alloys, navigation and an upgraded premium audio system. But to our way of thinking the GLS is the smartest buy in the Tucson lineup and even the standard 6-speaker audio system does a terrific job in its attempts to sound “premium.”

Standard features on the 2012 Hyundai Tucson GLS includes power windows, door locks and mirrors, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD 6-speaker audio system, USB/iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, a 2.0 liter 176 horsepower/168 lb. feet of torque 4 cylinder, a 6-speed automatic, tinted glass, alloy wheels, keyless entry and a whole lot more. It is, in short all of the compact family SUV that most people really need.

To find out more about how we really felt about the 2012 H:yundai Tucson you can go to Yahoo! Automotive Voices by clicking here;

Consumer Road Test: 2012 Kia Soul


Now, you might think that the new 2012 Kia Soul got us so excited, what with its “Alien/Kermit the Frog Green” exterior, that we’d decide to punctuate every sentence like a peppy cheerleader. No one can be that excitable and nice all of the time, however, not even cheer happy sorority girls.
But when you are driving the 2012 Kia Soul you find yourself smiling to yourself a little bit more than usual. Not many cars can pull off this exterior paint scheme and even fewer can pull off the odd splashes of color that Kia throws seemingly willy-nilly across the otherwise staid and straightforward cabin. On Sport models, a bright red plastic and cloth/leather motif is the order of the day and makes the inside of the Soul look like a bordello run by vampires. You know, after dinner.

We preferred the Soul ! with its offbeat “houndstooth” (sort of a gray/white interlocking pattern) mixed with beige trim on the seats which in our tester came equipped with very well finished leather seats that really help dress up the interior of this delightfully odd boxy hatchback. But the Soul avoids the wacky appearance of the Nissan Cube or the soullessness offered by the current Scion xB all the while still offering cargo carrying capacity of 23.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 53.4 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat.

Our test Soul ! model also came equipped with a pricey but well appreciated Premium Package (new for 2012) which adds the aforementioned leather, heated front seats, push button start with a smart key, automatic climate control and an in-dash navigation system. The total for all this? Just $22,850 including destination charges meaning Kia really hasn’t lost touch with its value for money roots with the 2012 Soul. Standard goodies include 18-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, an excellent Infinity AM/FM/CD/USB/MP3 audio system, a back-up camera, steering wheel mounted audio controls, a sunroof and tinted windows.

Click Here for the Rest of this Review on Yahoo! Voices

Road Test: 2012 Honda Civic vs. 2012 Hyundai Elantra vs. 2012 Toyota Corolla S


Who would have ever thought that just in one year’s time the Hyuandai Elantra would be a big name player challenging the likes of industry stalwarts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla S. Recently we were able to road test two fully loaded Civic and Elantra automatic models and compare it with the surprisingly delightful 2012 Toyota Corolla S with a five-speed manual transmission. All we can say is that when you equip a Corolla with a stick shift, you truly set its spirit free. Yes, it actually has one.

Although I did discover one very shocking and disappointing truth about the 2011 Elantra during my one week road test, overall I found it to be truly fun to drive, refined, and powerful, thanks to its new 1.8-liter, 148-horsepower/131 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder engine that is Hyundai’s best in-house design yet.

The 2012 Honda Civic comes equipped with a carryover 1.8-liter, 140 horsepower 4-cylinder engine that seemed to be perfectly sufficient a year ago but now is apparently terribly outdated. In reality, this Honda engine is as eager to rev and punchy as ever so take a lot of the media bashing it has received of late with a grain of salt. It’s still a Civic.

We had very low expectations for the 2012 Toyota Corolla S but over the course of a week it truly charmed us thanks to its no nonsense style, easy to understand interior layout, supreme interior comfort and lastly we loved the rev-happy 1.8 liter 132 horsepower/128 lb. feet of torque 4-cyiinder that when connected to that sweet manual transmission made every around town errand a delight. It also returned 32 miles per gallon without any real attempts to be frugal.

For more, check out my Honda and Acura Examiner page by clicking here.
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Ten Things You Should Know about the 2012 Honda CR-V | Autobytel.com


Ten Things You Should Know about the 2012 Honda CR-V Autobytel.com

A great overall look at the 2012 Honda CR-V written by me for Autobytel. Click here or above to read it!

The Truth About the 2012 Ford Focus vs. the 2012 Honda Civic


Introductions taken from Autobytel.com and links to both separate reviews are below. I suggest you read them before you do any car shopping. Or believe the media.

Ford Focus Titanium Sedan Road Test

It is a not very well-kept secret in the auto industry that Ford Motor Company used to suffer from “quality glitches” with its new models as a routine matter of course during their first year on sale. But given how consistently innovative and successful it has been in recent years at maintaining Toyota and Honda levels of vehicle quality in surveys, it came as a bit of a shock to see its customer satisfaction ratings plummet dramatically in just the last few months.

Given our experience with the 2012 Ford Focus it’s clear that a lot of the blame lies in a few teething problems with their most recently launched models. To say our test car had “issues” would be to understate the matter quite a bit. Still, the Fusion, Flex, F-150, Taurus, Mustang and many of the Blue Oval’s best sellers, do continue to maintain excellent quality rankings.

So what’s the problem with the 2012 Ford Focus? We are sure that time and little bit of engineering hard work, Ford can fix every wrong thing we experienced. But given the number of problems our 2012 tester suffered from it is very hard to recommend that anyone buy this model at least until Ford gets these quality control issues ironed out.

There were small niggles like a trunk that routinely liked to pop open as you crossed speed bumps and it definitely didn’t help matters that the standard six-speed dual-clutch automatic hesitated for at least five seconds when going from park to reverse and then would only do so with a jarring clunk. This gearbox also routinely shook the car with such abrupt judders through the entire body during various downshifts that it made you wonder if in fact you were piloting the Titanic and had hit an iceberg. No transmission with only 4,500 miles on the odometer should behave that way.

To read on….click here.

2012 Honda Civic EX-L Review

As far a new car launches go, the 2012 Honda Civic’s introduction to the North American market couldn’t have been any bumpier or more badly timed. First off, soon after the Civic’s press introduction in Washington, D.C., Japan was devastated by the most costly natural disaster the world has ever seen when an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown put the country into chaos. Honda, unfortunately, has its headquarters in Tochigi, Japan which means it was the closest Japanese automaker to all of the devastation.

Although most Civics are manufactured at plants in North America and only 20 percent of their parts are sourced from Japan (the rest are purchased locally), the company found itself with assembly lines full of partially assembled vehicles that should have already been on dealer lots. Thankfully, things have been steadily improving and Honda tells us that production has returned to near normal levels so if you want a Civic you should be able to find the trim level, body style and color you want at your local dealer.

As if that wasn’t enough, for some reason many in the automotive media decided that Honda’s misfortune was the perfect opportunity to begin relentless and rather misguided attacks on the Civic which has dominated American compact sedan buyer’s hearts for decades. So what, exactly, is wrong with the 2012 Honda Civic? Has Honda, as so many headlines have proclaimed, lost its way with the Civic?

Before we look into that we’ll just make one thing very clear. To paraphrase a sentiment uttered by the similarly iconic author Mark Twain, “rumors of the Honda Civic’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.”
To check out this or any of our awesome reviews on Autobytel just click here