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Ask AutoGuide No. 40
We’re thinking small on this week’s installment of Ask AutoGuide, where value reigns supreme. Are cheap and cheerful mutually exclusive traits or can they really coexist in an automobile? We aim to find out and help one faithful reader in the process.
It’s Friday and another work week is slowly… drawing… to… a… close. Like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic musical CATS, this string of five days feels like it’s never going to end. At least people aren’t prancing around the AutoGuide offices in leotards and leg warmers. Meow!
Chevrolet has announced that its turbocharged Ecotec 1.4 liter engine equipped Sonic subcompact will now be available with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The quickest of its class, the 6-speed manual turbocharged Ecotec 1.4 liter engine propels the Sonic from 0-to-60 mph in 7.8 seconds, faster than the comparable 2012 Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, or Hyundai Accent. Although initial offerings only came with a 6-speed manual, the addition of an automatic transmission makes the Sonic more accessible to more consumers.
According to vehicle line director and chief engineer for North American small cars Jim Danahy, “Providing the option of a turbocharged engine to our non-stick driving Chevy customers allows us to offer everyone the thrill and power of a fuel-efficient Ecotec 1.4L powerplant. Both in the Sonic and Cruze, the engine enables better fuel economy without sacrificing power or performance. It’s really a winning combination.”
The added convenience of an automatic transmission comes at a cost, as 0-to-60 mph acceleration clocks at a slower 8 seconds and will earn an EPA-estimated 27 mpg city and 37 highway, while the manual transmission is capable of 29 in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. What’s more, adding the automatic transmission will take on an additional $440 to the price of a Sonic LT sedan or hatchback, or an additional $630 to the price of a Sonic LTZ sedan or hatchback.
GALLERY: Chevy Sonic
When you’ve got a concept car and one that makes it’s world premiere at a European motor show, it’s sometimes difficult to gauge whether or not, A, a production version will materialize and B, if it will make it to other markets, like the US.
In North America, Nissan recently revamped the Versa sedan for 2012 into a car that, let’s be serious, is built to a price and considered by many to be a retrograde step compared with its predecessor. The Versa hatchback, however, continues on totally unchanged, leaving many to question what comes next for the 5-door.
And although there’s been no official word so far, during informal discussions with Nissan insiders, AutoGuide has learned that the idea of a subcompact hatchback for our market, a car that’s perhaps sportier and better equipped than the Versa sedan, is very much on the table. The question remains however, exactly what form it will take.
Nissan’s Invitation Concept, unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show today could lead to that car, though as Andy Palmer, Nissan Executive Vice President stated, the Invitation was conceived very much with Europe in mind and will be built at the automaker’s facility in Sunderland, UK.
Nissan is in a somewhat unique position among Japanese automakers in Europe, as it is currently the most popular Asian brand and heavily invested in the region, with assembly plants and R&D facilities in Britain, Spain and Russia. The Invitation sports an interior that was designed to be “comfortable and practical,” featuring the first application of an Around View Monitoring System in a B-segment car, plus Nissan’s Safety Shield, to ensure the driver has a complete peripheral vision of what’s going on around the vehicle.
As for powertrains, not much information is being released at the moment, Nissan simply stating that the production version of the Invitation, which will be launched in 2013, will sport “class-leading levels of fuel efficiency and emissions.” Figure small displacement direct-injection gasoline and diesel engines to make the cut, along with a manual gearbox and CVT. Given Nissan’s current push toward zero emissions, don’t rule out the possibility of a Hybrid or even EV variant down the road either.
GALLERY: Nissan Invitation Concept
Gallery: Nissan Invitation Concept
Chinese-built cars are arriving in North America, but before you reach for the keypad, we’re not talking about hordes of BYD, Chery, Geely or Brilliance models washing up on our shores, rather the fact that Honda is now importing Chinese assembled examples of its Fit subcompact for consumers in Canada.
This forms part of a decision by Honda and other Japanese automakers to reduce dependence on vehicle production in the Home Islands due to the current high value of the yen against other major world currencies, which is severely eating into profit margins.
In Honda’s case it also helps squeeze more money out of its small cars, which are relatively popular with buyers in Canada, yet traditionally far less profitable than larger models.
In terms of quality (often a subject that’s brought up regarding Chinese consumer goods), Honda says it shouldn’t be an issue, it’s Canadian executive vice president Jerry Cherkin stating, “we are fully confident that these vehicles meet all Honda standards.”
Honda has been exporting Chinese built Fits for some time, particularly to European countries (where it’s sold as the Jazz) with few issues, thus in many regards adding Canada to the roster of export markets seems a logical step.
However, despite these Fits showing up on dealer lots north of the border, so far, there are no plans to sell such cars in the United States.
Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with Edmunds.com believes American consumers are more resistant to the idea of buying Chinese products, especially cars, thus the concept of doing so at this point, given that the US is still a major source of both profit and prestige for Japanese automakers, would probably not work in Honda’s favor.
[Source: NY Times]