Not everyone can survive owning an smaller economy car, but can’t afford something high-end. Nor can they use an impractical sports car for the everyday slog. That doesn’t mean that this increasing group suffer by driving something drab. So here are some cars that are priced right for their markets and offer some enjoyment of driving to the owner.
2010 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ
The Fusion and MKZ brand new for 2010 to better compete with the offerings from Honda, Toyota, and Chevrolet for the Ford while the Lincoln goes after Infiniti, Lexus and Cadillac.
The Fusion is priced to compete and even undercut its rivals, with a base price of under $20,000. Most other competitors a few thousand more. The MKZ is a bit more expensive, with $34,600 buying you leather, wood and chrome accents on the exterior.
Both cars are all-new this year, riding on the new Mazda6 platform again. The Fusion retains the three-bar front grill to keep in line with the previous-gen car, but now has a more pronounced front-end and Terminator-like headlights. The rear gets more styling cues in the bumper and trunk lid while the LED taillights dip in one corner to give the rear more of an appeal.
On the other hand, the MKZ gets a bit more radical treatment to it’s front end. Essentially a shrunken copy of the upcoming MK-T, the new look follows the radical design path Lincoln seems to be applying. I applaud them for that. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s an edgy, yet sophisticated application of the new look. The sides and rear of the car are a carryover design, and unfortunately do not reflect the new styling.
Inside, there are flat, but comfortable buckets up front in the Fusion. The gauges are terrific with big numbering lighted by a soft blue glow. The center stack, however, suffers from a growing problem of over-buttoning, in which the entire center stack is awash in many small buttons. There is a good quality feel, which is following Ford’s rapid improvement in material quality.
In the MKZ, there is that much more upscale feel to it. There is a sublte touch of wood, the cleaner layout of the center stack and the optional Bridge of Weir leather upholstery greatly differentiate the Lincoln from the less expensive Fusion.
I drove the Fusion Sport, the top level with 18-inch wheels, leather, optional Sony sound system and a 3.5-liter, 263 horsepower engine sending power through all four wheels (a four-cylinder engine is available). Around the track, off the line acceleration was good, with the V6 producing good low-end torque. I would’ve liked a bit more in the higher in the rev range, but I would rather have the low-end. The six-speed gives solid shifts up into higher gears, but is reluctant to downshift.
Throwing a car designed to transport a family around a racetrack can make for some scary moments, but outside of the brakes being cooked, it was enjoyable. The steering, while light-weight (see a trend here Ford?), was easily chucked into a corner and responded eagerly. Feel was good, but could be better with the weight turned up.
The MKZ tested was done on the streets, where we could test the claim of whether the QuietCraft interior worked. It did, naturally, and the ride was incredibly supple without any wobble. It handled both choppy roads and corners just fine, but it wasn’t as enjoyable to push hard like I did in the Fusion. My major gripe was the turning circle was far too large, needing more than one back-up trying to turn around.
Ford has been able to hide from the lashing of the government and press, but it is obvious they have some good products.
2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
When the rumors starting going around about a rear-drive replacement for the Hyundai Tiburon coupe, I was skeptical. The Koreans could not possibly pull it off.
Oh how wrong was I.
The new platform from Hyundai is the basis of a serious machine. Shared with the also-new Genesis sedan, this is one one incredibly capable machine. Offered in either a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder or a 3.8-liter V6, the Genesis can offer a whole lot for under $25,000. Both engines can be had with either a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic for the 2.0T or a six-speed auto from ZF in the 3.8. Both can be optioned with a Track package offering Brembo brakes, limited slip differential and firmer suspension settings.
My choice would be the 3.8 Track with the excellent automatic. The V6 pulls so much cleaner than the 2.0T, and the ZF auto has the quickest shifts this side of a dual-clutch. And does the V6 sound incredible, with a deep baritone dual exhaust note that will make V8 guys nod in appreciation. There’s leather seating, a powerful Infinity sound system, Bluetooth hands-free phone, and interior quality right in line with Hyundai and other vehicle in the price range.
Handling was equally impressive, with flat cornering and loads of grip. The Genesis coupe felt very balanced coming through the corners and the Brembos were strong. It did have a tendency to understeer in the tight corners of Road America, but backing off quickly reigned it back in.
My issues are few, but far too hard to overlook. I was not impressed by the 2.0T at all. It was unwilling to rev, it sounded muddy and held onto revs far too long. The manual transmissions in both were very rubbery and transmitted far too much of the engine’s harshness into the cabin. And its looks are those that only a blind mother could love
For their first attempt at something of this magnitude, the Hyundai will have a smash hit on their hands.
2009 Mitsubish Lancer Ralliart
Mistubishi needed a vehicle to fill the middle ground left open by the pedestrian Lancer and the hot-rod EvoX to help the brand compete directly with Subaru, its arch WRC nemesis.
Priced at $27,000 and using a detuned 2.0-liter out of the Evo, the Ralliart produces 237 horses and sends it to the pavement via an older version of the Evo’s all-wheel drive system. In theory, this could work. A cheaper version of an Evo that will keep up with the fanboys in their WRXs. However, there are many problems with this car.
First, there is the engine. Sure, it’s got the power to boot you down the road, but there is far too much lag. And once the single-scroll turbo builds boost, it slaps you across the face when you are not expecting it. It’s very hard to accelerate smoothly.
Second, the transmission choice, or lack there of. Buyers are relegated to Mitsu’s six-speed Twin Clutch Sportronic Shift. I tried the more advanced version of this transmission in an EvoX MR on the track (which will be covered in another article) and it performed very well, with quick shifts and smart technology to put you in the right gear for turns. On the street, however, it is terrible. Even in Normal mode, the transmission hesitates too long, and then slams into the next gear.
Then there is the ride, which is equivalent to riding an hydraulic bull in your favorite watering hole. The Ralliart bucks at every heave and you feel every since imperfection on your backside. The ultra-bolstered, but rock-hard Recaro buckets didn’t help much either.
There are positive to this mid-range Lancer. It’s got untold amounts of grip and the steering is razor sharp, with the all-wheel drive’s front helical and rear limited-slip working nicely to keep you planted. The brakes are quite strong as well. The Ralliart is also incredibly roomy for its size and I like the look of the exterior.
This car promised to deliver as a good alternative to the Subaru, but it needs a lot more work before it can be considered worthy.
2009 Subaru WRX Premium
Since its arrival in the States in 2002, the Subaru WRX has quickly become a cult favorite for it’s reliable, 227 horsepower Boxer engines, excellent Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, and reasonable prices. It was joined in 2006 by the 300 horsepower WRX STI.
Subaru made some tweaks to the refreshed WRX in 2007. It gave it a new, fresher look as well as adding the option of a five-door hatch. Inside, there’s a completely new interior using softer, better quality materials. Subaru went further to correct customer complaints, namely a weak engine and soft suspension compared to its competition.
For 2009, the WRX gets a mid-range model, called the Premium, as well as receiving a 38 horsepower increase and retuned suspension. Do the changes work?
Once the turbo builds boost on the 2.5-liter engine, the WRX flies. It’s not a light switch either, where the car slowly pulls away and then your slammed into your seat. It is a strong, linear pull all the way to redline.
In the corners on the track, you can tell the suspension has been button up quite a bit, but there is still too much body roll happening, especially in the tighter corners. But the steering feels sharper and more precise. And the embroidered seats are wonderfully bolstered and covered in a grippy material to keep you planted.
A few other complaints. One is the shifter. The five-speed felt positive, but felt rubbery going into third. Also, the clutch was very unforgiving and it had the characteristics of a rubber band. Then there are the looks. It honestly looks like a Toyota Corolla with better looking wheels.
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