Monthly Archives: September 2011

Auto Recalls 2012

According to the NHTSA, 14 people have complained about the problem, athough there have been no crashes or injuries reported. Drivers have reported that it was hard to stop the car with brakes and several of them noted they had to shut off the engine or put the car in neutral in order to stop. One driver reported having to run a red light and entered an intersection before the car could be stopped.

The agency reports that the cruise control cable may become detached and hold the throttle open. According to Ford spokesman Daniel Pierce, Ford is cooperating in the probe. He said the company was just notified of the investigation.

One driver reported in a complaint to NHTSA on Aug. 27, 2010 that his 2006 Taurus began to accelerate without any pressure on the gas pedal. He stated he pushed the brakes to the maximum, but the car ran a red light, stopping halfway in the intersection. The engine revved until the car was shut off, but it revved again when it was restarted.

2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback ES

Reviewed by Susan Frissell

Perhaps not the most attractive or eye-catching design bestows the likes of the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback, yet it’s a fun-to-drive, fairly worthy contender in this category of bring-it-back hatchbacks. Light and agile, the Sportback gets you around and with some zip and fun.

The Lancer is available in three distinct trim levels (including a FUSE design): ES, GTS and Ralliart. The ES was our daily driver for a week, with the very capable and peppy 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine. The only complaints out of our mouth were trying to get some speed going when the air conditioner was running: A tad draggy. The ES version of the Lancer Sportback starts at a competitive $17,095, while the GTS comes in at $19,895 (2.4-liter, 4-clyinder engine), and the top-of-the-line racy Ralliart at a stiff $28,095.

To increase the appeal of the Lancer sedan, Mitsubishi added the 5-door sportback version, giving it more versatility and practical application. Although we found the interior materials lacking, we found the Sportback to have competent handling, combined with strong performance. While the front legroom seemed like enough, without a telescoping steering wheel/column, we wondered how larger drivers would manage. A considerable supply of high-tech equipment gives the Lancer Sportback something to brag about, and the edgy styling helps too.

Offering mostly performance and affordability, the Lancer Sportback ES takes a drop in entry level pricing (nice move Mitsubishi) by $2,000. This effort makes the Lancer more competitive. Competing in this category are the Mazda3, Subaru’s Impreza and the VW GTI. While the Lancer’s performance is admirable, we found its “new” styling lacking; just so-so.

On the ES version one gets 16-inch steel wheels, rocker-sill bodywork extensions, Air conditioning, cruise, keyless entry, tilt-only steering wheel with audio controls, full power accessories, trip computer, 60/40 split rear seats, center armrest for the driver and four-speaker CD/MP3 stereo. Stepping up to the GTS, you can expect a more powerful engine (2.4-liter, 168-horsepower), 18-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, aero-style bodywork pieces, chrome exhaust tips, keyless ignition entry, automatic climate control, sport front seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth, FUSE, and a six-speaker stereo with USB port.

And finally, the Ralliart performer with turbo, automated dual-clutch manual transmission, shift paddles, all-wheel-drive, Satellite radio and keyless entry ignition.

Unless your trying to impress, are under the age of 25 and don’t need any extra storage space, the ES version fits most people’s needs, offering good fuel economy, a comfortable, quiet cabin, and an engine with plenty of pep for most driving.

SPECS

MSRP: $17,695; total vehicle price $18,955; destination $500; optional package Alloy wheel (16-inch alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, rear stabilizer bar, $500)

Engine: 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder, 145 ft. lbs. torque, 16-valve, 148 hp., FWD

Transmission: Automatic CVT

Wheelbase: 103.7 in.

Width: 69.4 in.

Length: 180.4 in.

Height: 59.7 in.

Cargo space: 13.8 cu.ft.

Fuel economy: 25/32 mpg.

Fuel Tank Capacity: 15.5 gal.

Tires: 205/60 R16 All-season radials

Wheels: 16-inch steel wheel covers

Warranty: 10 yrs./100,000-mile powertrain; 7 yrs./100,000-mile anti perforation corrosion; 5 yrs./60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper; 5 yrs./unlimited miles roadside assistance.

Assembled: Mizushima, Japan

2011 Kia Optima SX Turbo

Reviewed by Susan Frissell 

As one of the several Optima models offered for 2011, the SX Turbo is the top-of-the-line entry. Equipped with just the right stuff, the SX Turbo sports a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine, with an MSRP of $25,995. The Optima is the stablemate of the Hyundai Sonata, yet one wouldn’t necessarily know this tidbit by looking at them. Both have a European-look to them, probably the Optima more than the Sonata. You can’t go wrong with either choice, and we’re leaning more and more toward the Optima.

The Kia Optima offers five separate models, beginning with the LX version ($18,995), equipped with a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine. Followed by the EX ($22,495) which also has the 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine; the EX Turbo, starting at $24,495 takes on the 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder, as does the SX (although the Turbo version, $25,995), and finally, the Optima Hybrid, equipped also with Kia’s 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine and an MSRP of $26,500. The Optima can get pricey, but most drivers opting for the entry-level LX version will be plenty satisfied. The Optima generally comes well-equipped.

The EX Turbo and SX Turbo offers a powerful engine (2.0-liter), bigger brakes and a different grille design.Teamed with 274 horsepower and 269 lb.ft. of torque, this sedan moves fast and smooth. Fuel economy is a respectable 22/34 mpg.; the Hybrid version coming in at 35/40 mpg., with its 206 horsepower, 2.4-liter engine.

As expected, the redesigned Kia Optima comes equipped with all the necessary and available safety equipment, including anti-lock brakes, traction control, front seat mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front active headrests, Electronic Stability Control, Hill Assist Control, Tire Pressure Monitoring System and dual front advanced airbags. The dash is layed out well, with easy to read and reach controls. We especially liked the instrument panel with its dark background and white illuminated numbers/letters, and a picture of the Optima smack in the middle.

Power everything abounds: windows, doors, mirrors (also heated), 8-way adjustable power driver side seat with power lumbar, and auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink/Compass. Front door mood lighting is also a plus when driving at night and exiting or entering the car. Steering wheel paddle shifts add to the sportiness of the Turbo model, and if you’re so inclined, you can drive it in manual. Metal pedals and door sill plates jazz up the look, and we are getting used to the push button start/stop with Smart Key. Active ECO System is part of the works, as with many new vehicles today, so that drivers can monitor their driving/fuel economy.

The Technology Package-an option on the SX Turbo ($2,000) includes the navigation system with back-up camera and Sirius Traffic radio, along with a powerful Infinity Audio system with eight speakers. Steering wheel controls make for eas of shifting between SAT radio and just about any other mode you can think of, although it’s not one of our favorite features as we’re always hitting it by mistake.

The second option on our test Optima SX Turbo was the SX Premium Package which includes a Panoramic Sunroof, Driver seat memory, heated and cooled front seats and heated outboard rear seats and power front passenger seat, at $2,150. So you can see, the price ascends quickly when adding all the goodies on this styling 4-door sedan.

With availabilty scarce on any new Japanese models, Kia, Hyundai and the European vehicles are picking up steam. How fortunate for them. Not that the Kia’s and Hyundai models wouldn’t sell themselves. It was just a matter of getting consumers into them. Honda, as well as other Japanese manufacturers ought to be a little nervous, wondering if they’ll win those customers back that can’t wait out the delay. By the same token, Ford and GM are also benefiting.

The leather woven seating in the Optima is classy and sits well. Seats are generous, as is legroom, making this sedan a good choice for drivers of all sizes and shapes. The steering wheel is leather-wrapped, along with the shift knob and the Leatherette wrapped center fascia. It’s a great looking interior, well designed and executed. No cheap stuff here.

One place tall drivers will find a little tight is in the rear seats. Due to the Optima’s slanting shape in the rear, head room is a tad compromised, especially with the double panoramic sunroof. We couldn’t quite get that sunroof to tilt, but did enjoy the full open position which simulates a convertible.The trunk in the Optima is 15.4 cu. ft. and plenty wide to carry just about anything, from bikes to luggage.

The ride in the Optima is generally smoother and less harsh than in the Hyundai Sonata, but at times, it does bottom out. A very solid car, the Optima is quiet, smooth and more pleasing in every way than the Sonata. Kia’s 4-cylinder engines have best-in-class power.

Still a favorite on our list, the Optima is a desirable sedan.

SPECS

MSRP: $25,995; total vehicle price $30,145; destination $695

Engine: 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder Turo, 274 hp.

Transmission: 6-speed Sportmatic

Wheelbase: 110.1 in.

Height: 57.3 in.

Length: 190.7 in.

Width: 72.1 in.

Curb Weight: 3,490 lbs.

Tires: 18-inch

Wheels: 18-inch Sport Design Alloy

EPA estimated fuel economy: 22/34 mpg.

Warranty: 10 yr./100,000-mile overall; 5 yrs./60,000-mile limited powertrain; roadside assistance.

2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited

Reviewed by Susan Frissell

For several years now, this writer has been singing the praises of the “new” Hyundai vehicles. Friends and family who dared ask for recommendations when in the market to purchase a vehicle were consistently hearing the “Hyundai” name. I was a walking commercial for the Hyundai brand, impressed with all they offer, from styling to features galore.

The all-new, redesigned small sedan, the Hyundai Elantra is no exception. Having driven two of its competitors back-to-back, it is clear how the recast Elantra tops the category. This is a superb automobile, equipped with all the features a driver could want, a comfortable ride, outstanding fuel economy and quiet, satisfying performance.

Our test Elantra was the Limited edition, fully equipped and coming in at a respectable $20,830. For 2011, Hyundai is offering two models (down from three): the Base GLS (starting at $14,830 with 15-inch steel wheels/P195/65TR15 tires), and the LImited. Both versions share the 1.8-liter engine (vs. the 2.0-liter of its predecessor), but with more power (148 hp. vs. 138 hp.). There is no manual transmission on the Limited trim, just the 6-speed automatic. The standard features offered on the LImited version are also available on the GLS model, with the exception of leather.

The only available package on the Limited edition is the Limited Preimium Package which adds all of the features found on the GLS Navigation Package, plus proximity key entry with electronic push-button start and immobilizer, and GLS Manual Transmission ($2,000 more).

Hyundai offers two separate optional packages on the Elantra: The GLS Preferred Package (16-inch alloy wheels, steering wheel audio, Bluetooth, cloth inserts for doors, sliding center console armrest, illuminated vanity mirrors, illuminated ignition, $550), and the Popular Equipment Package (cruise, A/C telescopic wheels, solar glass windshield band, 16-inch steel wheels, $1,250). The Navigation Package adds a 7-inch screen and Nav system, rearview camera, 360-watt stereo with external amplifier and automatic headlamps. In order to have the Nav package, one must also opt for the Preferred Package.

Standard safety equipment on the new Elantra is plentiful and includes front seatbelt pre-tensioners, tire pressure monitoring system, daytime running lights, 4-wheel disc brakes, ABS, front side impact and side curtain airbags, Electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, and Electronic stability control with traction control.

Other handy features in the new Elantra include a trip computer, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 60/40-split folding rear seat, a sliding front armrest with handy storage box, a good size glove box, rear center armrest with cupholders and tilt and telescopic steering column. The seats are comfortable and offer enough support and room for most drivers. We took the new Elantra on the road so got a good feel for what it could do.

Cruising along I65 toward Indy, the Elantra-at 70 mph and up-managed to pull in a strong 40-41 mpg. Once the car kicked into gear and cruised for a while, the miles-per-gallon kept registering higher and higher. Suspect at first when it landed and stayed at 33-35 mpg., this writer was pleased when it really did climb up and remain at over 40 miles-per-gallon. Filling up upon our arrival in Indianapolis only yielded about 7 gallons of gas! Now that’s something to crow about.

Power windows, door locks and mirrors are all standard equipment on the Elantra Limited, as are A/C (an easy to operate system), front fog lights, side mirror-mounted turn signal indicators, remote keyless entry, iPod with USB and auxiliary input jacks, and a great sounding XM Satellite radio with AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with six speakers.

All controls are easy to operate and within reach, while driving or at stand still. The drivers seat fit this writer’s form. The ride is smooth, the 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine quiet and the idle almost imperceptible.

The only two options on our Limited Elantra were carpeted floor mats ($95) and iPod cable  ($35). There wasn’t anything this writer wanted for and found she could be more than happy adding the Elantra to her stable.

Redesigne for 2011, the Elantra much resembles its older brother the Sonata. However, we’re inclined to feel the Elantra offers a much more comfortable, less harsh ride.  A “top pick” in Consumer Reports small sedan segment, Elantra is a nimble, agile performer and we highly recommend it!

Aiming at a more for the money philosophy in a small sedan, the auto manufacturers are attempting to offer more car for the money, yet with high fuel economy and richer features. The Elantra accommodates all of the above, and more. It is clearly a favorite.

SPECS

MSRP: $19,980; total vehicle price $20,830; destination $720

Class: Midsize, 5-passenger compact sedan

Engine: 1.8-liter, 148 hp., 4-cylinder, Dual Continuous Variable Valve Timing

Transmission: 6-speed automatic with SHIFTRONIC

Wheelbase: 106.3 in.

Height: 56.5 in.

Width: 69.9 in.

Length: 178.3 in.

EPA Fuel Economy: 29/40 mpg.

Tires: P215/45R17

Wheels: 17-inch alloy

Warranty: 5 yr./60,000-mile new vehicles; 10-yr./100,000-mile powertrain; 7-yr./Unlimited-mile Anti-perforation; 5-yr./Unlimited-mile Roadside Assistance

2011 MazdaSpeed 3

Reviewed by: Susan Frissell

“Always the soul of a sports car,” is Mazda’s theme and it makes its way into all their vehicles, from the too-much-fun Mazda Miata (MX5) to the Mazda5 minivan/CUV. The MazdaSpeed 3 sportswagon is no exception and while a blast to drive with its 6-speed manual transmission, this driver is not sure she would choose it as a daily driver. Beginning at $23,700, the 2011 MazdaSpeed 3 hatchback is not inexpensive, although not expensive. Clocked at 180 mph, this little buggy can move.

Blessed with an energetic personality, the MazdaSpeed 3 provides good handling, quiet interior and comfortable seating. Except for tire noise out on the road, the MazdaSpeed 3’s engine is very quiet at idle. The car is quick and agile and makes taking corners and moving in/out of traffic fun. This is indeed an enthusiast’s car, with a strong turbo performance. Reminiscent of its sibling the MX5 (Miata), the MazdaSpeed 3 feels like a solid car with a premium interior and hatchback utility.

Visibility can be somewhat compromised by the headrests of the passenger seat, and if you’re a lover of automatic transmissions, you’re out of luck. The MazdaSpeed 3 is available only in manual, as well it should be. The hatchback is the only version also, no sedan.

The MazdaSpeed 3 was redone in 2010; its rough edges honed-restyled, with an upgraded interior, the MS3 also got a retuned suspension, wider tires (225/40R18 vs 215/45-18). The 2.3-liter direct-injected turbo 4-cylinder is a carryover.With a weight increase of about 100 lbs., the MS3 has a 0-60 mph time of 6.1 seconds.

The MS3 does provide precise handling, and a little easier ride for the driver/passenger. Bumps, although still perceptible, are a little more removed than in the previous MS3. The interior is sporty, yet functional, and the seats comfortable. The MS3 feels like a sports car in many respects, even if it is a hatchback!

Standard equipment is plentiful and includes tilt and telescoping steering column, steering wheel audio/cruise/Bluetooth controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, unique combo cloth/leather seats and carpeted floor mats, dual zone auto climate control, power windows/door locks. Of course, safety features include ABS, remote keyless entry, EBD brake assist, “crashable” brake pedal, and Electronic power assisted rack and pinion steering, dynamic stability control, traction control and dual front airbags, side-impact airbags and curtains.

Seating for 5-passengers, the MS3 has sport-type F&R bumpers, hood, grille insert/trim side sills, AM/FM/CD/MP3, 6-speaker audio, two 12-volt power outlets, plenty of cupholders and handy pockets for stuff. The center console slides to/fro.

This is a fun vehicle to drive for the enthusiast, yet, still is practical with its’ hatchback utility. With all the amenities you’d need, the MS3 is a good value with a lot to offer.

Specs:

MSRP: 23,340; total vehicle price $24,520; destination $750

Engine: 2.3-lier DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder turbocharged & intercooled Direct-Injection-Spark, 280 ft-lbs.torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual, FWD

Wheelbase: 103.9 in.

Length: 177.6 in.

Width: 69.7 in.

Height: 57.5 in.

EPA Fuel Ecnomy: 18/25 mpg.

Fuel Tank Capacity: 15.9 gal.

Tires: P225/40R18 884 performance

Wheels: Alloy, 18×7.5

Warranty: 24-hour roadside assistance, 36-month/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper, 60-month/60,000-mile powertrain.

2011 Toyota Corolla S 4-door Sedan

Reviewed by Susan Frissell

It’s been some time since I’ve had the pleasure of motoring a Toyota Corolla. The 2011 Corolla is not like any other previous models. So different in shape, style and comfort, this is a daily driver worth investing in.

Our test drive Corolla S came well-equipped with just a few options, including an upgraded sound system with AM/FM/CD-player with MP3/WMA Playback capability, six speakers, XM radio, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod Connectivity, CD text Display Function, Auto sound leveling,  Hands-free phone capability and Music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology ($520); Power-tilt/slide moonroof w/sliding sunshade ($890); Cupholder ashtray ($26), and alarm ($359).

 A carryover from the 2010 update, the MS3 is available in three models: Base ($15,900), S ($17,700) and LE ($17,600). The SRS and LE trims have been dropped from the lineup.

Although options seemed excessive in price (cupholder ashtray $26??), most weren’t excessive in need. Ever since a U.S. automotive manufacturer made the ashtray an option, it seems as though a few other manufacturers have picked up on the idea. Many new vehicles, however, do not come equipped with an ashtry as even as option; assuming many buyers no longer smoke.

This car is so quiet, it causes the driver to stop and think: “Is this a Hybrid?” The engine, at idle is almost imperceptible, yet you know it’s there. The redesigned Corolla is wider, longer and much more accommodating to any driver shape, size. This writer really enjoyed driving the 2011 Corolla with its smooth feel and float over the bumps. Is it any wonder that there are so many on the road? Of course not.

Our test Corolla S model came equipped with such standard equipment as electric power steering, AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA player with six speakers and auxiliary USB posts. 4-way adjustable passenger seat, six-way adjustable driver seat and sport fabric (easy to care for), as well as tire pressure monitor and anti-theft system with engine immobilizer.

Safety features are plentiful and include VSC, trac, ABS, EBD, Brake assist and Smart Stop Technology, dr/front passenger front advanced airbag system, mounted side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, among others.

An excellent value among compact cars, the 2011 Toyota Corolla competes with the Ford Focus ($16,640), Mazda3 ($15,800), and the Hyundai Elantra ($14,495).  It’s easy to understand how the Corolla leads the pack among competitors, given its smooth ride, ease of handling and quiet interior. It is a reliable, comfortable and easy to drive car. The controls are straight-forward and the seating is comfortable.

With the 2011 restyle, the Corolla is a little more pleasing in looks. Just a plain, econobox in years past, the new Corolla benefits by a new tweak, here and there. For 2011, the styling is freshened, with a new grille. bumpers, taillamps and trunk lid. The interior features new fabrics (easier to care for and live with), updated metallic trim on some models, and an all-weather package that includes heavy-duty heater with rear vents, as well as additional standard equipment.

The Corolla S comes equipped with the 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic, and adds sport front seats, color-matched spoilers, sport side sills, fog lamps, sport tilt/telescoping steering wheel and 16-inch alloy wheels.

Although immediately, recognizable as “Toyota,” the Corolla is one nice sedan. This writer could get used to driving it on a daily basis with its ease of parking, turning, and just all-around handling. It feels like a larger vehicle. The cabin is quiet which makes for a comfortable, non-interferring, long distance ride.

Specs:

MSRP: $18,500; total vehicle price $20,855; destination $760

Engine: 1.8-liter, DOHC16-valve, 4-cylinder Dual VVT 4, 132 hp., 128 lb. ft. torque

Transmission: 4-speed automatic (5-speed manual standard), FWD

Wheelbase: 102.4 in.

Length: 179.3 in.

Width: 69.4 in.

Height: 57.7 in.

EPA fuel economy: 28/35 mpg.

Wheels: 16″ 5-spoke alloy

Tires: P205/55R 16

Curb weight: 2,769 lbs.

2011 Kia Optima EX

Reviewed by Susan Frissell

The all-new 2011 Kia Optima, now redesigned and re-engineered, is one of the best looking vehicles on the road. Also one of the best bargains. Our test Optima EX trim version starting at $22,495 came equipped with a long list of starndard features, including several safety airbags: Dual front advanced airbags, front seat mounted side airbags, and full-length side curtain airbags. The driver and passengers are literally surrounded with airbags. A good thing? We’re not sure. Nevertheless, added to the new Kia’s safety features are active headrests, ABS, Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control System and Downhill brake/hill start Assist Control, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

As with other midsized sedans in this category, headroom isn’t especially plentiful, but the Optima has a tad more than its cousin, the Hyundai Sonata. If you’re inclined to have your seat pumped up for better visibility, you’ll notice yourself ducking when entering the vehicle.

The redesigned 2011 Kia Optima has a longer wheelbase with a more spacious cabin, and the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is more powerful. The car is wider and a little lower than its predecesor, and its styling a lot more bolder and attractive.

The 2011 Optima is available in several trim levels: LX ($18,995), EX ($22,495), EX Turbo ($24,495 with 2.0-liter), and SX ($25,995).

The Optima and Hyundai Sonata share some mechanics, as well as the same platform, but the Optima seems larger. Ride and handling in the new Optima are sound and the turning radius is wide, making for easier parking and turns. As with many four-cylinder engines, there is some noise upon acceleration, but the power seems to be adequate for most driving conditions. At first we weren’t sure if the Optima was equipped with a turbocharged engine. And in fact, the uplevel engine is a turbocharged version of the 2.4–liter four-cylinder (at 274 hp.). Leaving lights and giving it just a little gas at times seemed as though we had punched the accelerator, causing the vehicle to react with a  a start and very responsively. When first driving the Optima, the pedal felt a little sensitive.

Kia plans to later introduce a hybrid version of the Optima.

There is some road noise when traveling on city roads, but it takes the bumps fairly well. Highway driving is comfortable and smooth and power seems adequate. As expected, a sedan in this category comes equipped with plenty: Bluetooth wireless technology, cruise, USB and auxiliary input jacks, SIRIUS Satellite radio (complimentary 3-months of service), AM/FM/CD/MP3 Audio with 6 speakers, and dual-zone automatic temperature control with rear vents, heated seats and push-button start/stop.

The Kia Optima offers goodies you won’t find (as standard) on others in this category, namely, GM products. I recently made the rounds of several dealerships-and-brands-with a friend who was in the process of buying a new car. And it must be mentioned here that all three KIA dealerships we visited, were teaming with customers, taking test drives, talking with salespeople and buying vehicles. The good old days of auto buying appeared to be back.

Optima’s cabin is roomy, yet cozy. The features-radio, temperature controls are all easy to reach and operate. Eye-catching inside and out, the new Optima has very comfortable and supportive seating, and a fair amount of leg room in the rear seat area.

Although Gen-X and Gen-Y buyers are always in mind when designing and equipping today’s vehicles, everyone benefits by all the thoughtful features, such as several cupholders (bottle holders) and extra storage space.

Our test Optima came equipped with just two options, although expensive ones: The Technology Package (navigation system with back-up camera and SIRIUS Traffic, Infinity audio system with 8 speakers, $2,000), and the EX Premium Package (Panoramic sunroof, power front passenger seat, driver seat memory, heated/cooled front seats, heated outboard rear seatsw, heated steering wheel, $2,250). Neither one was really necessary, although, of course, nice to have. It did bring the total vehicle price closer to $30,000 though.

My friend did end up with a KIA product: The 2011 Sportage CUV. If you can believe the results ofwww.TruceCar.com’s study, women do buy KIAs! My sister also bought a one: A 2010 Soul. Her first “import.”

 SPECS

MSRP: $22,495; total vehicle price $27,440; destination $695

Engine: 2.4-liter Gas Direct Injection, 4-cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed Sportronic

Wheelbase: 110.0 in.

Height: 52.3 in.

Weight: 3.223 lbs.

Width:  72.0 in.

Length: 190.7 in.

EPA Fuel Ecnomy: 24/34 mpg.

Wheels: 17×6.5-inch, steel spare wheel

Tire: P215/55$17 93V tires, all season

Inside mounted spare tire, temporary spare

Warranty: 10-years/100,000-mile Limited Powertrain; 5-year/60,000-mile Limited Basic; 5- year/60,000-mile Roadside Assistance; 5-year/100,000-mile rust.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ

Reviewed by Susan Frissell

The all-new Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan is a more than worthy replacement for the aging Cobalt, which replaced the ever-popular yet dated Cavalier. Based on the Delta 2 platform, the Cruze’s primary engineering and development comes from GMDAT, GM’s Korean partner. The Cruze, introduced in September 2010 is night and day from what the Cavalier and Cobalt offered. It is a compact that can take on any car in its category. With good looks, a comfortable ride and quiet interior, the new Cruze is a serious contender. All one has to do is drive it back-to-back with others in its category. The Cruze will most likely leave an impression.

Our test vehicle was the top-of-the-line LTZ verison, equipped with the Rally Sport (R/S) package (also available on the 1LT, 2LT), which includes rocker mouldings, unique front/rear fascias, front fog lamps and rear spoiler. Not enough extra gingerbread to be noticeable, but enough to make the Cruze a little sportier. Although the new Cruze comes fairly well equipped, GM still can’t match the standard equipment available on some of the competitors; namely, the Hyundai Elantra.

Compact and entry-level sedans aren’t bare bones anymore. One can expect many standard features, as well as comfort, for the most part, and a decent vehicle for what is now a “reasonable” price: $20,000. WIth the average price of a vehicle hovering over $28,000 these days, coming in at $20,000 seems like a bargain.

Our test Cruze LTZ came equipped with just three options: The RS Package ($695), Pioneer premium audio system ($445), and a compact spare tire ($100). Yes, you read that right: GM vehicles are now equipped with tire sealant and inflator kit. No donut, no full-size spare; for that you have to pay. Rather, you need to brush up on how to use the inflator kit in the event you get a flat. It’s all about saving weight and upping the fuel economy.

The Cruze LTZ came equipped with GM’s 1.4-liter Ecotec engine, with 4-cylinder turbo. Not that it was all that noticeable. The 4-cylinder is enough power for most driving, but the turbocharger did not add a huge boost. In fact, it was a little slow in pickup. Two engines are available in the Cruze: the 1.4-liter Turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, both offered with a six-speed automatic and manual transmission.

The new Cruze offers a vastly improved interior, a lot less plastic, a simple but attractive IP and comfortable seats. Standard safety features on the Cruze include 10 airbags, Stabilitrak-stability control with traction control, 4-wheel ABS, daytime running lamps, theft alarm, tire pressure monitor and 6 months OnStar directions and connections with automatic crash response and turn-by-turn navigation.

Also available as standard on the Cruze LTZ compact is remote vehicle start, oil life monitor system, tinted solar ray light glass, power seat six-way adjuster, automatic climate control,  auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth, and steering wheel controls, among other goodies.

The Cruze is available in several trim levels: LS, 1LT, 2LT, LTZ and Eco. The standard engine on these models is GM’s 1.4-liter (1.8-liter 4-cylinder ECOTEC on the LS). The LS, 1LT and 2LT come equipped with sixteen-inch wheels, and the LTZ with 18-inch spoke alloy wheels. The Eco version sports a 17-inch tire with a 15-inch forged polished aluminum wheels. Starting price for the Cruze LS (manual) is $17,275, automatic $18,200; 1LT (AT), $19,175; Eco (manual), $19,175, Eco (AT), $20,625. The 2LT at $21,625 and LTZ, $22,975.

Were there a few not-so-great things about the Cruze? Sure, The seatbelts are difficult to clasp and sit low in the seat, and the locks are noisy. Nothing really annoying. On the other hand, the ride is very smooth and Cruze takes the bumps well.

Key competitors include Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra. A much more substantial and refined sedan, the Cruze gets a commendable 26 mpg.. Nicely finished and roomy, the new Cruze is a well-handling little sedan.

I hated to give it up!

SPECS

MSRP: $21,975; total vehicle price $23,935; destination $720

Engine: 1.4-liter Ectotec WT DOHC 4-cylinder Turbo, 138 hp., 148 ft. lb. torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 105.7 in

Height: 58.1 in.

Length: 181.0 in.

Width: 70.7 in.

EPA Fuel Economy: 24/36 mpg.

Wheels: 18-inch alloy

Warranty: 5 yr./100,000-mile powertrain limited. 

Curb Weight: 3160-3200 lbs.

Towing capacity: 1,000 lbs.

2011 Kia Sportage EX FWD

Reviewed by Susan Frissell 

Looking back several years at previous Sportage models, it’s hard to believe the 2011 Sportage is the same car. Well, it isn’t really. It’s all-new. inside and out and in its evolving has become one of the greatest CUV’s on the market. Debuted at this year’s New York International Auto Show, the 2011 Sportage will most definately be flying out the dealership doors.

Our test 2011 Kia Sportage was the EX version, the top-of-the-line of three: Base, EX, LX. Wanting for little, our EX came well-equipped with a long list of standard features and two options, including the Navigation w/SIRIUS Traffic and camera display and Premium Audio with extra amp and subwoofer ($1,500), and the Premium Package with Leather (Leather seat trim, Heated front seats, Air-cooled drivers seat, Push button start with Smart key, Panoramic sunroof, Rear Sonar, Auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink, Heated outside mirrors and cargo cover, $3,000). Without these options, the EX’s MSRP was $23,295.

Drawing from the Kia Kue Concept of auto shows past, the all-new Kia Sportage is the “new face” of Kia. The front end and signature grille tell us its a new version and look for the car company, and with sweptback headlamps and pronounced taillights this little CUV is a looker. Longer, wider and lower, the Sportage is just the right size; easy to park, maneuver, yet, big enough inside to haul around all your “stuff.”

If one opts for the EX version of the new 2011 Sportage you’ll get an added few things: 18-inch alloy wheels, 235/55R18 Silica tires, roof rails, rear spoiler, Chrome bodytrim and door handles. If you step down one to the LX model, you’ll add LED turn signal indicators and keyless entry, with tinted glass, 16-inch alloy wheels, 215/70R16 Silica low-rolling resistance tires, body-color door handles and side power mirrors. The Base Kia Sportage starts at $18,295; the LX at $24,795; and the EX at $23,295. While all within reason to begin with, the total vehicle price can easily rise, as in the case with our test vehicle, topping out at $28,490.

Standard features abound on the new 2011 Kia Sportage and include the latest in safety technology with dual front airbags, front seat mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, ABS, Traction control system, Electronic Stability Control, downhill brake/hill-start assist control, rollover protection system, front active headrests, side-door impact beams and lower anchors/tethers for children.

Inside the 2011 Sportage is an attractive dash with all the goodies: dual-zone auto temp control, power locks, windows, electrically adjustable outside mirrors, keyless entry/panic alarm, AM/FM/CD/MP3Audio with 6 speakers, SIRIUS Satellite radio (first 3 months complimentary), USB and Auxillary audio inputs, multi-adjustable power front seats with lumbar, 60/40 split folding rear seats, cooling glove box, cruise control/trip computer, tilt steering wheel, steering audio controls, BlueTooth, 12-volt power outlet, intermittent windshield wipers (front/rear), front and second row cupholders, leather wrapped steering wheel and sunvisor extendor. This is a well-equipped compact SUV.

Chrome adorning the door handles and accents, along with fog lamps, rear spoiler and roof rails make this little cruiser appear ready to take on not only the urban streets, but the less-threatening backroads.

Other desirable features include the Halogen headlamps with projection beam lenses, low tire pressure indicator, front reading lights, Tach, and voice-activated system for the phone.

As with all vehicles that insist on having the audio controls (and now phone controls) on the steering wheel, it’s a pet peeve of ours. Sorry, all you techies who must have all the modern conveniences at your fingertips, but it never fails that we hit those unwanted buttons time after time, either flipping the station or turning on/off the voice-activated device. Just one more annoying thing to deal with.

You can’t help but love this little CUV and I suspect it will appeal greatly to the female driver. It’s just so manageable, comfortable to drive and maneuver, those bigger SUV’s will feel like driving a truck. Ladies, heads-u: This new 2011 Kia Sportage is the car that can aid in your driving skills.

SPECS:

MSRP: $23,295; total vehicle price $28,490; destination $695

Engine: 2.4-liter 16-valve DOHC I4, 176 hp., 168 lb. ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission

Wheelbase: 103.9 in.

Length: 174.8 in.

Width: 73.0 in.

Height: 64.4 in.

EPA Fuel Economy: 22/31 mpg

Fuel Tank Capacity: 14.5 gal. 

Tires: P235/55R18

Wheels: Alloy 

Warranty: 10 yrs/100,000-miles; 5 yrs/60,000-miles limited powertrain; 24-hour roadside assistance

2011 Mazda MX-5 PHRT Special Edition

Reviewed by Susan Frissell

There still isn’t much more fun you can have than driving the Miata (or MX-5 as it is now referred to). It brings a smile to my face everytime I’m in one, manuevering corners with ease, pumping up the music and feeling spirted. The 2011 MX-5 is a noticeably more solid car for 2011: Operative word here is “Car.” I just sold my 1999 Miata, the 10-year anniversary year model. While a great little roadster, as a daily driver it had a ways to go. Climbing in and out on a daily basis was a stretch. Not so with the 2011 MX-5. A lot more substantial, this redesigned roadster, with its retractable hardtop is a different car.

The PHRT (power hardtop retractable top) was first introduced in 2007, costing less than the separate hardtop. With the PHRT version is added security, improved cold-weather comfort, and reduced interior noise, among other improvements. The design adds only 79 pounds to the MX-5’s weight and, does not reduce trunk space. Optioned up, the PHRT edition comes with a unique paint color, unique leather seating, and a different front fascia with a more muscular appearance. Oversized fender flares and sculpted hood also distinguish the PHRT edition, of which there were only 750 produced.

The MX-5 is equipped with Xenon headlights and heated glass rear window. We found that visibility was better than expected with the hardtop up. The view is a tad wider than with the cloth top, leaving us feeling less handicapped when in busy traffic and trying to change lanes.

The MX-5’s retractable top integrates well with the car’s liner. The interior, much upgraded, is roomier and pleasing. Appointed well, the interior is a big improvement from the Miata’s of years past. Bottle/cup holders are mounted in the doors, as well as a versatile holder in the center console. The instrument panel is sporty and easier to read than in previous generation Miata’s; the redline has been bumped up to 7,200 rpm’s, from 6,700.

Climate control is automatic and there is more storage than one would expect, with behind the seat bins and an additional glove-type box at the back of the center console. The glove box is good size and can hold wallets, the manual and other goodies. Some reviewers weren’t excited about the “new face” of the Mx-5: A “Happy Face.” This new grille is wider and longer and does somewhat resemble a smile. Frankly, this writer didn’t notice it at first.

The sound system in the MX-5 is certainly an improvement over older versions, although may not win any awards for the best in audio equipment. We found we needed to dial in the Bass and Treble to higher levels than usual. Optional equipment on our test PRHT included Sirius Satellite radio and pre-delivery inspection, both at no charge.

You cannot beat the fun factor that Miata MX-5 offers. No other roadster out there takes the twisy roads as well, or as assuredly. Everytime I drive an MX-5, I’m encouraged Mazda still makes them. I suspect I’ll have to have another one someday.

Competition for the Mazda MX-5 Miata includes the Nissan 350Z and the Audi TT; both quite a bit pricier.

SPECS

MSRP: $30,920; destination $760

Engine: 4-cylinder, 167 horsepower, 140 ft. lb. torque, RWD

Transmission: Six-speed, manual

Wheelbase: 91.7 in.

Height: 49.4 in.

Length: 157.3 in.

Width: 67.7 in.

Tires: 17×7.0

Wheels: Aluminum, 17-inch

Curb Weight: 2,593 lbs.

EPA Fuel Economy: 21/28 mpg.

Fuel Tank Capacity: 12.7 gal.

Warranty: 3 yrs./36,000-miles basic; 5 yrs./60,000-miles drivetrain; 3 yrs./36,000-miles Roadside Assistance