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Posts Tagged ‘Beetle’

Consumer Reports’ 6 Popular Cars to Avoid



Our auto experts test dozens of cars every year. In addition to pushing them to their limits on our professional track, they use them for daily transportation, commuting, ferrying around kids, going on road trips, and so on. They get to know each car inside and out. And they learn which ones they’d consider buying themselves and those they’d avoid. To save you the frustration of having to find that out for yourself, here are a half-dozen to pass up.

Mercedes-Benz CLA


Price we paid: $36,500

It’s billed as an “affordable” Mercedes. But what you won’t get is Mercedes luxury for less. It’s a cramped compact with a stiff ride and poor visibility. It’s tough to get into and out of the car, and it lacks the handling finesse and refinement you might expect.

Better choices: Acura TSXBMW 320iMercedes-Benz C250


Gallery: Volkswagen BeetleGallery: Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle


Price we paid: $20,835

Yes, the retro look is cute. But this bug could end up squashing you with repair costs because reliability has been far below average. Also, the rear seat is cramped, the view to the rear is restricted, and a wide center console intrudes on front knee room.

Better choices: Mazda3Subaru ImprezaVolkswagen Golf


Gallery: Nissan VersaGallery: Nissan Versa

Nissan Versa sedan


Price we paid $15,49

It’s economical but a bummer to drive. The Versa feels slow, and the interior is noisy and looks cheap. This model scored poor in a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash test and got near-bottom scores in our owner-satisfaction survey.

Better choices: Chevrolet SonicHyundai AccentKia Rio


Honda Crosstour


Price we paid: $34,730

The Crosstour will make you cross-eyed. The sedan/SUV’s swoopy styling looks nice, but it cuts visibility and cargo space. And convoluted touch-screen controls are hard to use. Plus, handling is clumsy, and the wide turning circle makes parking a chore.

Better choices: Subaru OutbackToyota VenzaVolkswagen Jetta SportWagen


Scion tC


Price we paid: $21,130

Though the ads may rave about the great handling of this sporty-looking hatchback, we found the tC’s performance to be uninspiring. Plus, its ride is uncomfortable, too much noise creeps into the cabin, the interior feels cheap, and it’s hard to see out.

Better choices: Mazda3 hatchbackSubaru Impreza Sport


Gallery: Mitsubishi OutlanderGallery: Mitsubishi Outlander

Mitsubishi Outlander


Price we paid: $27,180

This is one of the few small SUVs that can carry up to seven people. But the Outlander handles clumsily, is slow to accelerate, assaults your ears with engine noise, and shakes your  body with a nervous ride. And the third-row seat is tiny.

Better choices: Honda CR-VMazda CX-5Subaru Forester

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The Mustang Turns 50 – A Look Back




Fifty years ago today, Ford unveiled the Mustang. It was a sleek and sporty car, named for a fighter plane and slightly European in flavor. Company brass hoped it might be something of a hit and expected to sell 100,000 of them in the first year.


They sold 22,000 on the first day.


Everyone, even people who hate cars, knows the rest of the story. Yet it would be difficult to overstate the impact the Mustang had on Ford, on the auto industry and on popular culture. It was more than a car. It was a phenomenon. Few cars are so instantly recognizable, or as widely adored, as the first-generation Mustang.


The car singlehandedly created the most American of automobiles, the pony car—relatively small, relatively light and often absurdly powerful coupes with names like Camaro and Challenger. By 1967, everyone in Detroit offered one. Many of them have come and gone and come back again, but the Mustang has endured.


Oh sure, it’s had its ups and downs—let us not look too closely at the Mustang II—yet it remains an American classic and a pop cultural icon, and not simply because Steve McQueen made driving one look like so much fun.


Work on the Mustang began in 1960, when Ford’s marketing Mad Man Lee Iacocca realized the company needed to attract young buyers. He wanted something new, something unique, something to tap into the era’s sense of national optimism. Most importantly, he wanted “something that would be sporty but not a sports car,” said Bob Casey, an automotive historian and former curator of the The Henry Ford Museum.


Iacocca and Ford product manager Donald Frey saw the country being overrun by Alfa Romeos and Austin Healys and other small European sports cars. They figured they’d have a moderately successful car if they simply combined the sex appeal of a sports car with the practicality–and price—of a small coupe.


The car, named for the legendary P-51 Mustang fighter plane of World War II, was unveiled on April 17, 1964 at the New York World’s Fair. It sold for just $2,368 (about 18 grand today), which bought you a hardtop with a straight six and a three-speed manual. But with the longest list of options Detroit had ever offered (beyond creating the pony car segment, that was the car’s other big contribution) you could get yours pretty much any way you wanted.


And people definitely wanted them. Ford sold 1 million Mustangs within 18 months, making it the company’s best-selling model since the Model T.


“Like the Beatles, it was this perfect storm,” said  Colin Comer, an automotive historian who has written extensively about Ford. “People were ready for a change and all of a sudden Ford comes out with this affordable, obtainable car. It was an aspirational car that people could afford. Very few times in history has there been a car with so much buzz and excitement that you could actually buy.”


It helped that the car was, frankly, a stunner, with a long hood, a short rear end and muscular lines. It looked great in any guise: hardtop, fastback or convertible.


“It had lightness on its wheels,” said Franz von Holzhausen, the lead designer at Tesla Motors and a guy who knows a thing or two about pretty cars. “The front end really lived above the bumper not below it. The body turned under the wheels. The rear haunches… it just had this projectile feel. “Those lightened generations really appeal to me still.”


Steve McQueen in Bullitt. TK
Steve McQueen in Bullitt, 1968.  


Carroll Shelby gave the car some racing cred with the GT350 (the first of many performance-oriented models that would include the Mach 1, the Boss 302 and others over the years), and McQueen cemented its place in pop culture when he hooned a 1968 Mustang GT through the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt.


“You have a vehicle that’s already a hit and it gets used in movies and gets even cooler,” Casey said. “You too can be like Steve McQueen! They picked it because it was a car that Steve McQueen would drive.”


The Mustang has been in dozens of films, including Goldfinger and Gone in 60 Seconds — both the 1974 and 2000 versions — and was Farrah Fawcett’s ride in Charlie’s Angels. Only a handful of cars have had a similar impact on pop culture. The Volkswagen Beetle, comes to mind, as does the original Mini.


Like those cars, the Mustang was something unexpected, something unlike anything else available at the time. And it could be easily customized to be exactly what you wanted, be it a totally sedate, reasonably luxurious coupe to a corner-carving weekend racer.


And then, the dark ages. An oil embargo, rising insurance costs and tightening emissions controls prompted Ford to radically remake the car in 1974. It was a Mustang in name only, a car based on the Pinto, of all things. It was slow, it was ugly and it was haphazardly assembled, but that didn’t stopMotor Trend from naming it the car of the year. Time, not to mention Mustang fanatics, have not been kind to the car, even if Ford did sell 1.1 million of them between 1974 and 1978.


Things improved in 1979 with the Fox body Mustang, named for the platform it shared with such illustrious machines as the Ford Fairmont and Mercury Marquis. It was bigger, yet lighter and looked sportier, even if it didn’t really act the part until the GT appeared in 1982. That car packed the venerable 5.0-liter V8 putting out a reasonably stout (for the time) 157 horsepower. You could argue it was the car that made the Mustang relevant again and reignited the Mustang vs. Camaro rivalry.


“It was fast and cheap and Ford played it up in the ads,” Comer said. “It was a real Mustang again.”


The third generation car introduced the Mustang to a new generation and became a pop cultural icon of its own, even if Vanilla Ice (who rapped about his “five-point-oh”) can’t hold a candle to McQueen.


The 5.0 had a hell of a run—15 years in all—before being replaced in 1994. The SN-95, as the car is known within Ford and among the faithful, drew styling cues from the best Mustangs of yore and was a solid performer. Ford couldn’t build them fast enough. Mustang went even further back to the future in 2005 with the car codenamed S-197. It cribbed from all the best styling elements of the 1960s in a move J Mays, Ford’s senior VP of design, called “retro-futurism.” It was, for many, the prettiest of the retro-fabulous cars Detroit built in the last decade.


Click to view in full resolution. Image: FordTo mark the Mustang’s 50th anniversary, Ford is offering a limited run of 1,964 “50th Anniversary” edition models. 

The pony car finally entered the 21st century on December 5, 2013, when Ford unveiled the sixth-gen Mustang. It is a radical step forward, not least of all because it finally ditched the solid rear axle for independent suspension. The car features a handsome mixture of classic styling and Ford’s modern design language in a package meant to broaden the car’s appeal to a global audience–which explains why the BMW M3 was among its development benchmarks.


“It picks up on the nostalgia for the old car but modernizes it in a more muscular way,” von Holzhausen said.


In some ways, it’s comforting to know the Mustang is still galloping along. The Camaro and Challenger rejoined it a few years back, and they look a lot like the classics of the 60s. You can (and probably will) argue over which of them truly was the best. But the Mustang gets credit for sheer longevity, and for the passion it incites. Ford has sold more than 9 million Mustangs since 1964, and in that time the car has become as quintessentially American as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.


“They’ve sold so many,” Comer said, “that everybody has a Mustang story.”




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10 Worst Used Cars













Quality is something we all want when it comes to cars, especially older used ones. But how do we get it?


I have been studying this question in one form or another for nearly 14 years now. I began my automotive career as a car dealer, buying and selling hundreds of vehicles a year. As time went on, I became an auto auctioneer, a remarketing manager and a part-owner of a wholesale auto auction.


I saw thousands of cars come and go through the auction block during the course of each year, and as my worked changed, so did my understanding of quality. The overwhelming majority of the time, cars and trucks considered reliable in their early days would draw the strongest bids. But it wasn’t always true; I observed some models experience costly transmission failure just as the odometer rolled past the 100,000-mile mark, while others would exhibit everything from blown head gaskets, to chronic rust issues to inoperative battery packs for hybrid vehicles.


Well-respected publications such as Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates do an outstanding job finding defect trends among new and slightly used vehicles. However, once that specific vehicle is sold by the survey participant, there’s no access to the history of the vehicle. As the average car owner over the last decade has typically kept their vehicle for approximately five to six years, a lot of data has disappeared.


Because there is no tracking service covering the problems in these vehicles, the 10-year-old vehicle that everyone assumed had great reliability will at times have terrible issues. Who knew? No one really. Consumer Reports’ database goes back 10 years, but the average car and truck is now 11.4 years old.


So I decided to test my guesses about used vehicles by using data from auto auctions and the problems dealers themselves disclose. As a frequent buyer and seller, I started my study with what I consider the key quality question for most car owners: “At what point does my car become so undesirable that I am willing to accept a wholesale used price for my vehicle?”


Trade-ins are a great measurement of that emotional question. Most consumers who trade their vehicle will get a price hundreds to thousands of dollars less than retail. Car dealers not only know the wholesale market, they know the retail market as well, and are often able to get cars repaired for a lot less than most car owners.


This isn’t always the case. Clean cars can sometimes be traded-in at a retail price, and then financed to a sub-prime car buyer for even more money. Dealers who specialize in a given car brand are usually more effective in marketing and selling that specific name, and they also get a greater share of trade-ins from the brand — along with a better selection of clean vehicles.


To remove this bias, I decided to gather data on trade-ins sent to wholesale auctions by large used-car retailers such as Carmax, J.D. Byrider, Drivetime, and other regional used-car retailers that don’t cater to a single automaker. This way there wouldn’t be an over-representation of a given brand. I also employed the help of Nick Lariviere, a statistician capable of creating visuals that would make all this real-world used car data easy to understand.


One year and nearly 300,000 vehicles later, we have developed a new quality index that you can find here. For now, we are focusing on brands and models. As the study continues to pool more vehicles, we’ll gradually introduce specific model year data, and even powertrain combinations, so that used car buyers can figure out where to find that older used vehicle that has truly earned its quality reputation.


So what out there is truly low quality? As far as those cars with the highest defect level at trade-in time, here are the 10 worst:


10. Volkswagen New Beetle(automatic transmission issues and cheap interior components; diesel models with 5-speed manuals are by far the best powertrain option.)


9. Mazda 626 (automatic transmission issues, all models.)


8. Lincoln Aviator (a gussied-up, unpopular Ford Explorer that had unique sensor and software issues which negatively impacted the overall powertrain and electronics.)


7. Jaguar S-Type(Extensive transmission and engine issues on all V-6 and V-8 models. Along with Limited edition models with ungodly replacement costs.)


6. Lincoln LS (Same basic powertrain as the Jaguar S-Type with nearly identical results.)


5. Mazda Millenia (Engine issues, transmission issues and cheap interiors that just don’t wear well.)


4. Land Rover Discovery (Expensive parts. Expensive powertrains. Electronics that are apparently the spawn of Beelzebub.)


3. Mini Cooper(Bad transmissions that are unusually expensive to replace. Cheap interior parts. Cheap hydraulics.)


2. Land Rover Freelander(A cost-cutting exercise that went way past the bone.)


And a true shocker, the single worst used vehicle at the wholesale auctions when it comes to overall defect rate at trade-in time is….


1. Mazda CX-7 (Engine issues on these vehicles are legion with nearly a third of these vehicles sold with “Engine needs service” announcements at the auctions.)


No list can be perfect, and it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t offer at least a couple of important caveats here. There are cars out there that are worth so little money now that they go straight to the junkyards instead of the wholesale auctions: Older Chryslers with defective 2.7-liter engines, older Suzukis and Kias, and the aquatic late ’90′s Ford Tauruses sometimes fall straight into the crusher once a major problem takes hold.


Also, if the vehicle appeared to have reliability issues, but didn’t have enough of a sample size at this point (for example: Mercury Mystique, Isuzu Axiom, Suzuki Forenza), I have kept it off the list for right now.


Finally some models, like the VW New Beetle, may have a pearl of quality in a specific engine/transmission combination within the overall swamp of trouble. This is one of the reasons why we are going to delve deeper as this study continues to take shape. In the meantime, if you want to know the top ten models in terms of long-term quality, click here.


The sign may say no, but how could you resist? If I owned a rock-crawling Jeep like this one photographed by Jason Bo, I’d drive it over everything. Got a shot to share? Add it to the Motoramic …


Toyota Corolla Gets an Updated Look

The Toyota Corolla has long been the antithesis of the enthusiast car. It’s the automotive equivalent of smooth jazz — ubiquitous and innocuous but seldom loved. And like a forgettably syrupy Kenny G ballad album, it’s also enjoyed enviable success over the years; in 1997 it beat out the Volkswagen Beetle to become the best-selling car of all time, and is always near the top of the charts for its segment, selling 290,947 units in 2012 in spite of being near the end of its model cycle.


But reputation and bulletproof reliability alone hasn’t been enough to stave off competition in recent years, and it’s been sparring with the Ford Focus for bragging rights as the best-seller. Since a half-hearted makeover would likely lead to losing more market share, Toyota has unveiled a new, eleventh generation Corolla that’s sleeker and dare I say, interesting.


Surprisingly similar to the carbon fiber-trimmed Corolla Furia concept from this year’s Detroit Auto Show, the production version sheds the frumpy profile from the existing car by stretching the wheelbase and overall length by almost four inches. With chiseled lines and sculpted creases on the outside and a sportily svelte cabin within, it’s the best-looking Corolla yet. Nonetheless, the smallish tires tucked into cavernous wheel wells show it’s still an economy car at its core.


And while the fundamentals of the car won’t change much — there’s still a 1.8-liter, 132-hp engine, a four-speed automatic (in addition to a six-speed manual and CVT) and a torsion beam rear suspension — Toyota promises a more engaging drive. Steering has been slightly quickened to 3.19 turns lock-to-lock similar to the pre-refresh 2012 Honda Civic, and the electronic power steering unit touts better road feedback and accuracy. The S trim traditionally has little frills and no thrills, and for 2014 it’ll see a stiffened suspension setup as well as a 140-hp engine.



So the “sporty” grade won’t take on a Volkswagen GLI at a stoplight, but efficiency, not speed, has always been one of the key selling points of the Corolla, and Toyota is targeting 42 highway mpg for the LE Eco trim. The compact will also see more standard features across the line-up, including Bluetooth connectivity, LED-adorned headlights and eight airbags.


None of those are groundbreaking specs, but what’s game changing is Toyota’s shift towards the sporty, even with what has long been a hopelessly forgettable appliance. If the Corolla gets a competitive pricepoint and driving dynamics that don’t induce sea sickness, it may not only be a value-minded purchase for buyers, but an enjoyable one.




Used Cars to Consider — and Some to Avoid

There are a lot of things to consider when buying a used car — not the least of which is the honesty of the seller; but  the most important thing to consider when buying  a used car is the reliability record of the make and model.  To help us with that, CBS MoneyWatch looked at owner surveys, J.D. Power ratings and Consumer Report ratings in 5 car catgories to see which cars had less-than-stellar reliability records and to offer some more reliable alternatives. 


Small Car Category: 


Avoid:  The Volkswagen Beetle — Owners reported problems with the climate control system and power equipment, both of which can lead to expensive repairs. 

Alternative:   Hyundai Elantra — Owners reported no major problems; and the Elantra got the maximum rating from J.D. Power, and is ranked above-average by Consumer Reports. 


Midsize Car Category:


Avoid:  Volkswagen Passat — Consumers reported problems with the fuel, electrical and climate systems, as well as the power equipment.

Alternative:   The Ford Fusion — Fusion won the reliability award in this year’s J.D. Power survey, and Consumer Reports gives it a much-above-average used car rating.


Midsize SUV Category:


Avoid:   GMC Acadia — Owners reported  problems with the suspension and audio systems, and J.D. Power and Consumer Reports both gave it their lowest used car rating.

Alternative:   Toyota 4 Runner — the 4 Runner won J.D. Power’s top reliability award, and Consumer Reports rated it much better than average as a used car.  Owners liked its highway and off-road capability.


Large SUV Category:


Avoid:  The Ford Expedition — Owners reported problems with the transmission and audio systems, and its best gas efficiency is only 18 mpg.  J.D. Powers and Consumer Reports both gave it a low used-car rating.

Alternative:   Toyota Sequoia — While just slightly better on fuel efficiency, the Sequoia gets a high rating from both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports.  Owners liked its roomy seating and comfortable ride for long trips.


Minivan Category:


Avoid:  Chrysler Town & Country — Although very popular as a new car, owners reported problems with suspension, brakes, climate system and power equipment.   J.D. Power and Consumer Reports both rated it low as a used-car purchase.

Alternative:  Toyota Sienna — The Sienna won the reliability award for minivans from J.D Power, and it got a better-than-average rating from Consumer Reports.


In addition to the tips above, it’s often wiser to purchase a 3+ year old used car for a couple of reasons.  The biggest new-car depreciation has already taken place, and with new car prices rising sharply, buying a 1 or 2 year old used car often make worse financial sense than buying new.












Volkswagon’s New Beetle Will Appeal to Men & Younger Audiences

Volkswagon’s 2012 redesigned Beetle will hit the U.S. in September, and when it does, Volkswagon is betting that more men and younger customer will be buying it.  Until now, 65% of Beetle purchasers were women, but with its new sleek,”more masculine” appearance – including a higher beltline – plus  20 more horsepower, the 2012 model targets more of a 50/50 mix of consumers.  Volkswagon also predicts that the average age of  Beetle buyers will drop from 58 to 36.

Initially, the redesigned 2012 model will be available with a 170-hp, 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine, and a 200-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine.  The base model starts at $19,765, and the turbo will start at $24,165 — prices include shipping.

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