The Most Ideal Economy Car win goes to the Toyota Yaris. The new Toyota Yaris is highly rated for exterior size, passenger room and cargo space. Power and acceleration are rated relatively low with respect to the total industry, but fully competitive within the Economy Car segment.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has just released their first crash ratings for Economy Compact Cars. They call them “minicars”. The IIHS often releases results like this to pressure car makers to achieve higher safety results than are required by the Federal Government (NHTSA). Being part of the insurance industry, the IIHS charter is to provide information that consumers can use to select a safer car or light truck – and hence a car that might generate lower personal injury claims in an accident.
Force Still Equals Mass X Acceleration… F=MA
The first thing you learn in Physics 101 is F=MA. Basically, this equation means that something bigger is going to win if it hits something smaller. People have historically bought Lincoln Town Cars partly because they were so big that they were guaranteed a “win” in an accident. The same thinking goes with Large Sport Utility Vehicles like the Chevrolet Suburban.
A very small car is going to lose in an accident with a much larger vehicle. There will be much more physical damage to the small car than to the big one. And all things being equal, people riding in the small car are more at risk. The IIHS and Federal Government have noted that as fuel economy goes up (through vehicles getting lighter and smaller), damage and injuries also go up. In this case, bigger and heavier is better. But with skyrocketing gas prices folks rightly want more fuel efficient cars and trucks.
With that in mind, Economy Compacts have been introduced… Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa are the three that were launched in 2006 as 2007 model year cars. Only the larger Versa aced the crash tests… Versa includes side curtain air bags as standard equipment. Yaris, where side curtain air bags are optional, fails if it is not equipped with these safety enhancements.
The IIHS press release is included below the fold if you want to read the whole thing. But just remember, when it comes to safety, and all other things are equal, the bigger vehicle will win. F will always equal MA.
Nissan Versa will be the third of the new B-Segment subcompact cars introduced in the USA by major Japanese manufacturers for the 2007 model year. The first was the Toyota Yaris, followed by the Honda Fit and the Versa hatchback in summer and sedan in fall 2006.
Intrepid Journalists get download on Versa from Nissan’s Senior Manager Orth Hedrick
had the chance to drive the Versa near Nissan’s new Nashville
, Tennessee, headquarters. As many manufacturers have done, the drive route took us from downtown Nashville to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery
in Lynchburg. Nice drive. Great roads. Since Lynchburg is a dry county, there were no samples and everyone had to drive back stone cold sober. But that did not dampen the reaction to the car.
Versa is powered by a 122HP four-cylinder engine from Nissan’s new MR family. The sample we were driving was teamed with a CVT – continuously variable transmission rather than the six-speed manual found on the base vehicle (a four-speed automatic also will be temporarily available until CVT capacity catches up with demand. Then CVT will be the only “automatic” choice.)
The Versa is big for a B-Class car. Nissan describes it as a “B-Plus.” It has a spacious interior with 60/40 fold down rear seat. Unfortunately, the Versa does not have a passenger side folding seat back that would improve the function of its otherwise well-thought-out interior.
Driving impressions were positive. The Versa rides very well over the smooth roads outside Nashville but crashes around a bit when encoutering the inevitable potholes surrounding new construction. Ride control is good through the twisties. Cruising, the Versa is superb, but seems to be let down by underachieving tires when pushed hard through a corner.
We’d Like More Punch, but for what Versa is Supposed to be, Versa is Stellar
On the “Small Car Scale” – whatever that is – the new Versa likely is a seven or eight out of ten. We’d like more power and that should come in the future possibly with an SE-R model. We’d like more aggressive tires. Probably on an SE-R. But for an around-town runabout used for commuting and errands, Versa is stellar.
Versa’s price has not yet been set, but the range should be between $12,000 and $16,000.
The question inside Nissan is going to be, “How much volume will Versa take from the more expensive only slightly larger Sentra?”
Counterpoint: 6MT Driven
For the most part, I agree with my fearless leader’s comments, though I drove a Versa equipped with the manual transmission. While wind noise was at a minimum, there seemed to be quite a bit of tire noise. And though Versa offers lots of headroom, legroom, and cargo space, it is a bit on the narrow side. The driver and front passenger seats basically touch the doors, requiring Nissan to put the manual seat adjustment pulls on the inside edge of the seat. The seats, revised from those found in Maxima, were very comfortable and the design in the cloth seats is attractive. There are lots of soft-touch materials where drivers and passengers will notice, though padding on the door armrest feels squishy. Couldn’t it be more firm and still be covered in a material pleasant to touch? The center console armrest is soft-touch as well, but not as squishy as the door armrest.
I was not impressed by the six-speed manual, which was the only drivetrain I got stick time in today. There is a satisfying feel when it settles into gear, but shifting was a bit vague and getting to the desired gear, particularly on downshift, was not as instinctive as some. On the other hand, the manual does offer short throws and avoids the rubberband feeling one could count on from entry-level cars not too long ago. The new small entry should fare well in today’s automotive landscape at the prices they are targeting.—S. Brinley
New Entry in Dealers April 2006
Honda has just announced pricing for their newest entry, the Fit. This five-door hatchback has been offered in international markets for a few years, and joins the U.S. lineup after an introduction at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2006.
According to AutoPacific, the Fit competes in the Economy Car segment, populated with several other all new or fresh entries. Fit competition includes the Toyota Yaris (all-new for 2007MY), the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent (both all-new for 2006MY), the Chevrolet Aveo (gets a major change for 2007MY), and the Scion xA. While these are all basic transportation entries, the segment itself is poised for some growth over the next few years.
Though a $12,000 base price point was expected, Honda launches the Fit with a base price of $13,850. The base price gets you the same engine as at any other price point, a 109HP 1.5L DOHC 16v I4, six standard air bags (driver and front passenger, seat-mounted side airbags, and side curtain airbags), and an anti-lock braking system. The standard car gets a five-speed manual transmission, though another $800 gets you a four-speed automatic. The uplevel model is the Sport ($15,170), and it adds a rear roof spoiler, fog lights, keyless remote entry with security, cruise control, upgraded stereo, aluminum alloy wheels, and an aero body kit. Opting for the automatic in the Sport for the same $800 also gets you steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles.
It will be interesting to see how pricing the Fit at the high end of the segment affects their 60,000-unit annual sales target. Fit slots below the Civic in Honda’s lineup, but in pricing it only $500 below the cheapest Civic, the clear space is not as distinct as it should be. It helps that the Fit is offered in a different bodystyle than Civic and therefore there is no directly comparable model. Civic is offered only in two-door coupe and four-door sedan forms and Fit provides a hatchback, but the Civic offers more standard equipment and a 140HP engine.
Chinese Manufacturer Looking to Supply U.S. Buyers with Basic Transportation
Geely is the second Chinese automaker to announce plans, however basic, to crack the North American auto market. Last year, Malcolm Bricklin of Visionary Vehicles announced aggressive, and seemingly unrealistic, plans for bringing vehicles from Chinese maker Chery to the States by January 2007 and selling 250,000 units in the first year or so. While Visionary Vehicles cannot be written off just yet, the company will not meet its initial launch targets set out at the 2005 Chicago auto show. By Bricklin’s own admission, Chery-made cars won’t begin arriving on American shores until late 2007 at the earliest.
By comparison, Geely is hoping to sell a modest 25,000 units their first year. Ambitious goals and lofty talk aside, when either company arrives and which is first remains to be seen.
According to John Harmer, COO of Geely USA, however, being first is not the objective. “We don’t care who’s first. We care that when we do [arrive], we are perceived as worthy,” he told a group of industry analysts and journalists at a meeting of the Society of Automotive Analysts in March 2006. Harmer shed a bit more light on Geely’s intentions at the meeting, where he was one of a three-member panel discussing China’s automotive future, and VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were there to hear it firsthand.
Hyundai‘s Latest Hatchback Introduced in Chicago
The latest hatchback Accent goes on sale in spring 2006, after being unveiled at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show. (The sedan went on sale in December 2005, as a 2006MY vehicle.) VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were on hand for the first look. Hyundai launched the Accent hatchback with a rap-oriented song-and-dance routine reminiscent of the ragged-edge youth marketing at Mitsubishi. The only thing missing were boom-boxes and rollerskates. But we digress.
The Accent seems dead on for the segment. These are small cars with a reputation for being the cheapest transportation around, but over the years small cars have benefited from expanding features and options available in larger cars and the Accent is no exception. There is stiff competition this year in the entry-car segment, and the all-new Accent goes up against several other freshly updated entries.
Though air conditioning is still an option on the base Accent, typical of the segment, Hyundai has ensured even its least-expensive entry gets six standard airbags. Touches that help the owner of a base car not feel like they’re in driver’s purgatory include standard intermittent wipers, rear spoiler, center console and lots of storage cubbies, 60/40-split/fold rear seats, and a rear defroster. The base price, excluding destination charges, is $10,915. Though not surprising that this price undercuts the also-new Toyota Yaris, the difference at launch is only $35.
We have all been following the press accounts of Toyota becoming the top producing vehicle manufacturer in the world in 2006 and we have heard statements by Toyota management that Toyota is going to become more aggressive in the future. Historically, Toyota has taken a relatively humble and mild stance to its growing presence worldwide and in the USA particularly, but in 2003 the gloves came off with Toyota Motor Sales USA taking a higher profile. Their pace of advance will quicken substantially in 2006.
VehicleVoice contributor and AutoPacific‘s President George Peterson takes a quick look at Toyota’s 2006 plans.
Toyota Has Guns Blazing in 2006
It looks like the 2007 model year is going to be the year when Toyota really comes in with all guns blazing. I guess that we can’t include the all new RAV4, now moving upmarket and sporting a 3.5L V6 engine as part of the onslaught. It was launched in late 2005 as a 2006 model. The new RAV4 is outstanding and is reported to be the fastest vehicle carrying a Toyota badge today.
During 2006, the 2007 models will be introduced starting with the all new Yaris, major change for the Camry, launch of an all new hybrid Toyota Camry, launch of the all new FJ Cruiser, launch of a truly competitive full size pickup, launch of a new Lexus ES330 and new Lexus LS460.
AutoExtremist Peter DeLorenzo sums it up well in his observations of Toyota, “We’re not only going to tell you what play we’re going to run, we’re going to ram the ball down your throats knowing that there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop us. What can you say about Toyota other than that they continue in their relentless pursuit of world domination, and there appears to be no one capable of standing in their way?”
Lets touch on each of these in order of launch…
New Entry Car Joins Honda’s Lineup
If you’re in the market for an economy car, this might be one of the better model years to buy. Not only does the Honda Fit arrive in dealers in April 2006, Toyota’s Yaris and Chevrolet’s updated Aveo will arrive shortly afterward. And don’t forget the Nissan Versa coming later in the year. Honda chose the North American International Auto Show to unveil their new Fit while Toyota launched the Yaris at the Los Angeles Auto Show , with Vehicle Voice and AutoPacific correspondents on hand. Elsewhere in the segment, Kia’s Rio and Hyundai’s Accent were all-new for the 2006MY. The oldest product in the segment is actually the Scion xA, and that model launched nationally for the 2004MY.
What are the keys to this segment? As much interior room as can be carved out of such a small footprint, some type of sporty-look model to offer the ability to not look as though you’re driving the least expensive car in the lineup, and the ability for buyers to customize or accessorize their car. Toyota is writing the book on this with Scion, and Honda is learning a few tricks.
Final pricing has not been determined for the Honda Fit, but a $12,000 price point is reasonable. Though pricing for either Fit or the new Toyota Yaris has not been announced, the Fit offers more standard features and is likely to carry a slightly higher base price as a result. Honda does have concerns about the new entry cannibalizing some Civic sales, but Honda is not creating a sub-brand for this segment, as Toyota has done for its Scion products. The Fit is built in Japan and imported, though if the small car found strong enough demand, Honda could add U.S. production.
Introducing the Toyota Yaris
Toyota has long offered an economy car, at least as far back as the 1981 Starlet. For the 2007 model year, Toyota comes back with the Yaris. After the ungainly looking Echo, the Yaris at least has the benefit of a stronger presence on the road. The Yaris, which will be offered in sedan and three-door hatchback versions beginning in spring 2006, is a development of the Echo, despite its new-to-the-U.S. name. Though we knew it as the Echo, the previous generation had several names worldwide as well as more available bodystyles. With this latest iteration, Toyota has decided to call all versions outside the home market by the Yaris name.
Though substantially revised, the suspension and brakes carryover. The Yaris continues to offer the very familiar 1.5L DOHC 16v four-cylinder engine, mated to standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmissions. A brief drive of both Yaris sedan and hatchback models reveals, as can be expected, a familiar driving experience, but in a quieter package with improved interior and dramatically improved exterior styling. And though familiar, the Yaris is competitive for its segment. This competes with entry-price and entry-level cars that are focused on solid, dependable transportation rather than speed and sport. In this arena, Yaris is as entertaining as it gets.
While the Echo looked ungainly and poorly proportioned, the Yaris sedan has a much better balanced look. The Echo never looked quite right, reflected in its poor sales, but the Yaris sedan has a purposeful, proud stance. The hatchback has a lively and entertaining look, and promises that you’ll keep a smile on your face driving down the road. While neither version offers a particularly exciting driving experience, they crisp and confident.
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.