Honda just can’t seem to catch a break these days. With the fallout from the tsunami, a profit sucking Japanese currency issue, the floods in Thailand, and the media in an uproar over the new Civic, well, Honda’s public relations team is working overtime. So, is the Civic really the worst car out of Honda in years or has the segment just gotten that good?
Only days after our return from Frankfurt auto show, where Ford of Europe introduced their latest Focus, we went to Seattle, Washington, for our first drive of the 2008 North American Focus as well as spend a little more time with Sync, Ford’s take on integrating phone, MP3 player, and voice control. (For more on Sync, check out our January story or the Ford-sponsored www.syncmyride.com; we’ll comment on this week’s Seattle experience with it soon; you can also find our first report on the Focus here.) Other than their names and the Blue Oval, these two cars are distant relations, separated by more than the ocean. Here’s our first take on the U.S. car.
Goodbye Hatchbacks and Wagon, Hello Coupe
This fall, there are fewer Focus bodystyles to choose from. Complementing the sedan is a coupe, new to the nameplate and expected to help improve Focus’s image among younger buyers. Gone are three- and five-door hatchbacks and wagon. The Focus continues with a 2.0L DOHC I4 engine, in two states of tune (one 130HP PZEV for those really picky states), putting the power to the front wheels through a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0L delivers 140HP instead of last year’s 136HP thanks to an all-new air intake and cooling systems; more power is especially nice for this segment, but this newfound 4HP doesn’t make a remarkable difference here. Better fuel economy is promised through revised gear ratios, and, at least for 2008MY, we go without the sportier ST model and its 2.3L I4.
Among the surprise reveals at the recent Frankfurt auto show was a new look for the European Ford Focus, a car related to the one we’re used to seeing on American roads in name and Blue Oval only. The Frankfurt reveal brought a look at the five-door hatchback, which goes into production later this year along with the three-door. More European bodystyles come on line early in 2008. On our return from Germany, we had the chance to drive the significantly changed North American 2008 Ford Focus.
Stylish Small Car
Changes to the European Focus bring Ford of Europe’s kinetic design theme to the C-segment car. These changes to Focus bring it closer to the fresher European S-Max and upcoming Kuga Crossover, and they wear nicely on the five-door.
Exterior changes to one of Europe’s best-selling small cars include not only front and rear fascias, but a new crease below the window line running from the front quarter panel to the rear of the vehicle and bodyside moldings are gone. Below a new and more voluptuously sculpted hood sit revised headlights, which can now be ordered with HID Bi-Xenon or adaptive front lighting systems, and more aggressive trapezoidal grilles. The smaller upper grill is capped with a chrome strip, while the larger lower grille gets a chrome strip depending on trim level. Along with revised taillights (available using LEDs) and bumpers expected come a revised tailgate and glass. The optional upper rear spoiler is also new.
AutoPacific and VehicleVoice had the opportunity to evaluate the all new 2007 Nissan Sentra on the roads East of San Francisco Bay. The all new Sentra competes with the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cobalt. For 2007, every major dimension has been expanded to meet American tastes.
For the Record
Global development effort between Nissan and Renault. Delayed by about a year after bombing in USA product clinics. Went back to the drawing board to get it right.
Built at Nissan’s Aguascalientes Plant in Mexico: Plant underwent a $800 million upgrade to accommodate all new Sentra and all new Versa. 350,000 units per year capacity.
On sale October 12, 2006.
Target Customer: Echo Boomers – Generation Y between the ages of 18 and 29. Sentra needs to serve many purposes – going out with friends, carrying a bike, taking road trips, buying furniture at IKEA.
Strives to be Compact Class Benchmark
No longer a compact car aimed at the lowest common denominator customer, the new Sentra strives to be the benchmark of its class when it goes on sale October 12, 2006. While the Sentra slots into the Nissan car lineup above the all new Versa (which actually is larger in some dimensions) and below the all new Altima, the Sentra has grown over its predecessor in wheelbase (+5.9-inches), overall length (+2.3-inches), overall width (+3.2-inches) and overall height (+4.0-inches). Now the “compact” Sentra nudges the Mainstream Mid-Size Car in basic dimensions.
The Sentra has substantially more passenger volume than Civic, Corolla, Mazda3 and Cobalt. Similarly, it has a large cargo volume only slightly topped by Corolla and Cobalt.
Elantra Owners Helped Introduce the New Car
Hyundai’s Elantra gets a major change for the 2007MY, with sales in fall 2006 after a worldwide introduction at the 2006 New York auto show in April. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were there to get a first look at the new car. Though this reveal was not as dramatic as the fashion show that surrounded the Audi TT’s introduction or the mud-covered Jeep Wrangler unveiling, Hyundai cleverly brought in real Elantra owners to help introduce the new car and gave the presentation a real-world touch.
Wrangler and TT introductions no doubt ranked higher on enthusiasts’ interest scale in New York, but to put this into perspective, Hyundai sold about 109,900 Elantra sedans in 2005 compared with Jeep Wrangler sales of about 79,000 units and Audi TT sales of about 2,800 units (down in part as the Audi ramps up for the new model). The Elantra has been no slouch for Hyundai, and will be a strong contributor to the brand’s goal of breaking the 500,000-unit sales mark in 2006.
Hyundai owners are also satisfied enough to be repeat buyers, making the Elantra a winner by many yardsticks. Since the 2007MY change brings an improved and refined Elantra that the company wisely kept close in spirit to the outgoing product, there is no reason that the new-for-2007MY Elantra will not continue to win over more Hyundai owners.
also took the opportunity to remind us that, with Elantra sales, they will have fulfilled their promise of seven new models in twenty-four months. The promise was made in 2004, and the Elantra will be the seventh car. It follows Tucson, Sonata, Accent, Azera, Santa Fe, and Entourage.
Dodge Hornet: What if Dodge Created B-Segment Car?
Unlike the Lexus concept at this year’s Geneva auto show that took safety and driving aids into a whole other dimension, Dodge explored what form a Class B entry might take in their range. Maximizing interior space and generating a cool look were far more important to this concept.
“Class B”, “B-Class”, “B-Segment” are interchangeable terms that are used mostly in the Asian and European industry to identify very small cars designed for space and fuel efficiency. In the USA, these cars may be referred to as subcompacts.
As Dodge expands its sales internationally
, new segments are under consideration. Small cars are an important segment in Europe and one with some growth in the States, but Dodge does not currently have a suitable platform. The Dodge Hornet concept could be considered an audition. Dodge would like to have a Class B entry, but without a platform, they need a partner. What better way to audition than to show off what you can do?
The basics: Hornet is a front-wheel-drive, three-door hatchback with a 170HP 1.6L SOHC 16v four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Suspension is MacPherson strut in front and semi-independent in rear. For this aggressive-look concept, the design includes nineteen-inch wheels and tires and an estimated 6.7-second 0-to-60-mph time. Pedal-to-the-metal and sawing through the gears to max RPM.
Reflex Introduction at 2006 NAIAS
It is said around town that Ford is considering how and when they may re-enter the (very) small-car segment, which includes cars priced from around $10,000 to $15,000 or so fully equipped. This segment is expected to see substantial growth over the next several years. These cars are smaller in size than entries like the Ford Focus or Honda Civic, and most typically wear sedan or hatchback bodystyles. Chevrolet’s Aveo, Toyota’s all-new Yaris and the defunct Echo, the Scion xA, the Hyundai Accent and Kia’s Rio are among examples of vehicles in this segment.
While the 2005 Ford SynUS concept explored the possibilities a boxy urban vehicle might provide (certainly in part inspired by the Scion xB), on the 2006 auto show circuit the concept is for a sporty small car that takes into account room for small children. Enter the Reflex. Reactions by VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) analysts are very positive.