Car Review: 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV

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The Nissan Versa has been on a sales bonanza, delivering big sales for their company, and with the all-new 2014 Versa Note, things can only get better. The second-generation hatchback went on sale at Nissan’s U.S. dealers in June 2013 and gives notice that in an era of changing consumer needs and expectations, Versa clearly want to be a leader of the entry-level pack. After spending a week driving this hip compact, we also found some pleasant surprises in the Versa.

EXTERIOR

The new sleek exterior of the 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV really elevates this car into new heights regarding design and appeal. The Versa Note’s sculpted modern styling accomplishes things like providing enhanced aerodynamics to help improve fuel economy and make it stand out from the crowd of entry-level competitors. Its dramatic shape and proportions provide an energetic look that reflects the active lives of its target buyers. Attention to aerodynamic detail helps the Versa Note achieve a coefficient of drag of 0.298 (CVT-equipped models) – a nine percent decrease over the 2012 Versa hatchback’s 0.31 Cd. The large front spoiler combines with a “kick up” roof shape and low aero-drag floor structure (including front and rear tire deflectors, rear suspension beam mounted flush with floor and fuel tank deflectors) to direct airflow over, under and around the body.

CVT-equipped Versa Note models include Nissan’s first-ever Active Grille Shutter, which limits the amount of air entering the engine compartment, reducing drag force by 0.01. The Active Grille Shutter is generally closed at speeds above 20 miles per hour. The iconic front grille and large multi-reflector headlights are paired with Note’s “boomerang” rear taillights, which are similar to those found on the Nissan 370Z and Nissan JUKE. The special “vented” taillight design includes special outlets and lip to help guide air away from the body for reduced air turbulence and improved rear lamp visibility in bad weather. Fog lights and heated sideview mirrors are also available. The Versa Note’s dynamic design also takes full advantage of Nissan’s global “V” platform. It features a long, 102.4-inch wheelbase that helps maximize interior roominess, while the six-inch shorter front and rear overhangs than the previous Versa hatchback help provide a sporty stance and parking maneuverability.

INTERIOR

This is where the biggest surprise hit us with much more room than expected; the rear seating alone blew us away with crazy leg room. The roomy five-passenger Versa Note interior provides a spacious total interior volume of 112.9 cubic feet and ample cargo space of 18.8 cubic feet. Cargo area liftover height has been reduced by 1.7 inches (over previous generation Versa hatchback) for easier loading and unloading of heavy or bulky objects. Also leading the conversation is Note’s front headroom of 40.8 inches and rear legroom of 38.3 inches – which is nearly 3.7 inches longer than the nearest competitor (38.3 inches versus 34.6 inches) – making the Versa Note both kid-friendly and adult comfortable.

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Car Review: 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth

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You know very quickly when you are driving something special, and the 500 Abarth is special. We drove the 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth for a week and had about as much fun as any car we tested in recent months. There is no doubt that the Fiat 500 Abarth brought world-class performance and precision, purposeful and aggressive styling, high power-to-weight ratio and limited-production volume to the small-car segment in North America.

EXTERIOR

The Abarth badging on the 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth has a tint of dare we say a Ferrari in just the slightest but most impressive way. The aggressive styling of the Fiat 500 Abarth embodies the Abarth brand tradition in full — purposeful and intentional details, all designed to improve the car’s performance, while enhancing the clean and simple design language of the Cinquecento. Our test model proudly boasted rosso (red) paint and sweet 17-inch x 7-inch forged aluminum hyper black wheels, which set the tone for this confident compact.

To improve aerodynamics and the necessary engine compartment space for the 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine, the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio feature a more pronounced front fascia. For additional air intake, the signature “Abarth” shield floats on a finned surface and a larger intake below consists of three inlets with broader openings than the standard Cinquecento models. For a more aggressive look, twin “nostrils” are precisely positioned on the front fascia to maximize airflow in and out of the two engine intercoolers (both intercoolers are visible through the “nostril” inlets).

Abarth-designed side skirts give an athletic profile, while 16-inch or optional 17-inch (as tested) lightweight forged-aluminum wheels fill the flared wheel arches and provide ventilation for the performance brake system. From the rear, an aggressively-styled, Abarth-specific, cloth top-mounted spoiler extends the roofline and improves the Abarth Cabrio’s aerodynamic behavior by creating additional downforce. Below, the two-piece Abarth-styled rear fascia accentuates the road-holding stance and optimizes airflow with its rear diffuser. Integrated behind the diffuser, the low-restriction Abarth-tuned exhaust system features concentric “double tips” and the signature Abarth-tuned sound.

INTERIOR

Quality, style and fun all come together to invigorate you in the cabin of the 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth. The interior design theme of the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio is an artistic blend of clean lines and functional performance appointments. An Abarth-designed steering wheel features a thick rim, perforated leather and flat bottom to provide the look, feel and increased roominess desired during at-the-limit driving. A large concentric instrument cluster with 160-mph speedometer, tachometer and trip computer sits behind the steering wheel and features a leather-wrapped cluster brow wrapped in Nero leather with Rosso accent stitching. To the left, an analog turbo-boost gauge has an integrated LED shift light in the center that illuminates an instant before redline to optimize gear changes. Below the instrument panel, Abarth-designed aluminum pedal covers feature Nero rubber trim for a decidedly racing look, while the Nero leather shift knob with Rosso accent stitching provides a precise feel of the shifter.

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Car Review: 2014 Fiat 500L Lounge

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Fiat has been steadily gaining back a foothold in the North American marketplace and now looks to continue that growth with the 2014 Fiat 500L Lounge. The all-new 2014 Fiat 500L expands the Cinquecento’s appeal by offering 42 percent extra interior space with comfortable seating for five. We drove a 500L Lounge for a one week test and came away with the following impressions.

EXTERIOR

According to Fiat, the 500L was designed with the active and thrill-seeking North American customer in mind, as the 2014 Fiat 500L Trekking expands the appeal and practicality of the Fiat 500L with distinct and rugged looks. We found the 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, white roof and bi-function halogen projector headlamps to be very stylish, but the overall design was not as sharp as competitors in our opinion. There is no question that the 2014 Fiat 500L Lounge has its own look, but that look can come off as somewhat quirky. A design that could build off the cool front fascia might be the way to go here!

INTERIOR

When you enter the cabin of the 500L Lounge, there is no doubt that quality materials played a big role in the finished product. Fiat went for a “loft-like interior,” which will work for some car buyers, but there is also a feeling that you’re in a miniature school bus. With that feel comes way more room that the two-door 500, but without the sporty appeal that we loved about the 500. The power sunroof was large and the Beats premium audio system with six speakers was awesome. One thing that needs to be addressed is too much engine noise making it’s way into the 500L.

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Car Review: 2014 Ford Focus Hatchback ST

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As the Ford Focus continues posting very impressive worldwide sales figures, one need not wonder what the Blue Oval will do to continue building momentum behind this Focus nameplate. Ford has at last released the long-awaited Focus ST, which absolutely takes the compact car segment to new and wonderful heights. The all-new Focus ST is Ford’s first truly global performance car, building on the heritage of previous Focus ST models in Europe and giving drivers around the world the opportunity to share the exhilarating performance, excellent handling, addictive sound and sporty design that Ford’s ST badge represents. With innovative technologies throughout, the Focus ST will be highly fuel efficient too. Yes, the 2014 Ford Focus Hatchback ST was one of our favorite reviews in recent times for numerous reasons, and we’ll let you know why below.

EXTERIOR

From the striking one-piece design interpretation of Ford’s signature trapezoidal grille at the front, through the sculpted side skirts and dynamic rear bumper with prominent diffuser-style vents in the lower fascia, Focus ST’s design adds aggression and aerodynamic stability. The highly effective roof spoiler is optimized to deliver improved high-speed stability and reduced drag, while the unique center-exit exhaust sports a tailpipe design influenced by the exclusive hexagonal mesh of the front bumper.

The well-recognized Focus ST style extends to the iconic Y-shaped alloy wheels. Wrapped around the rado grey 18-inch wheels are high-performance 235/40R-18 Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 2 tires, developed after rigorous testing on all kinds of road surfaces and in all kinds of conditions. These dynamic features together play a huge role in what Ford has accomplished her, as the 2014 Ford Focus Hatchback ST truly resembles a sports car rather than a compact. The Focus ST turned heads wherever we drove the car, and we realized quickly that the Focus ST was a superstar on the road! The performance blue paint was also a real winner that just highlighted all of the muscular curves and highpoints of the ST.

INTERIOR

When you first enter the cabin of the 2014 Ford Focus Hatchback ST, the first thing you notice are the black and blue partial leather recaro sports seats that look like they would fit nicely into a track-only racing car. These seats are not for the buyer looking for bland looks and passive seating, as these ST sports seats wrap around your body and keep you nice and snug for those tight corners. The dashboard is closing in on perfection with a well laid out instrument panel and a smart center console with armrest with storage and room for two good size cups. The leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with the ST branding was super cool and again an upgrade from just about anything you can find stock from the factory. An illuminated entry, MyFord touchscreen with Sirius, dual zone electric air temp control, navigation system and one of the top stereo systems in this price range is also included. We fit four adults somewhat comfortably in the Focus ST and felt there was ample storage in the hatch area.

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Car Review: 2014 Ford Fiesta 5-Door Hatch SE

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When one looks to the 2014 Ford Fiesta, you have to expand your thoughts on the car, because Ford smartly offers many configurations of this gem. We had the chance to test drive the 2014 Ford Fiesta 5-Door Hatch SE with a manual five-speed transmission and truly appreciated what this car had to offer. The overall design is solid but not overwhelming, and for the price range you are looking to spend on a Fiesta, most will find the packaging appealing!

EXTERIOR

The major change to the exterior is the front fascia, which incorporates Ford’s global look and resembles cars that can cost thousands of dollars more that the Fiesta. Yes, the thinner headlights with built-in LED running lights with more aggressive lower intakes, a pronounced power dome on the hood and a new trapezoidal grille transform the Fiesta into somewhat of a combative little brother to the Focus and Fusion models. We thought the 16-inch painted aluminum wheels set the tone for the Fiesta, along with auto headlamps, dual power mirrors, the 5-bar chromed grille, integrated spotter mirrors and rear spoiler.

INTERIOR

The 2014 Ford Fiesta 5-Door Hatch SE is much better car when it comes to the interior space compared to the 2013 model. The center counsel and armrest between the two front seats is a huge improvement, as you don’t get the feeling that just because it’s a compact car that it has to eliminate so many things that buyers crave, and I believe that was part of why Ford built the new Fiesta in the first place, so hat’s off on a great step forward! The seats are also very comfortable and wider than some midsize sedan seats that we’ve driven, which was a welcome surprise.

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