Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bitch In Camaro

For my family, a pony car has never been a good fit. Their notoriously bad foul-weather handling isn't suited for New York/New England life and the tiny back seats aren't ideal for our teen, who grows two inches a month.

Still, we're dudes. And every time we see a Mustang, Camaro, or Challenger pop up as a potential rental, we get that grin. Twice in the last few years, we have found ourselves in Mustang convertibles and enjoying every minute of it. These experiences give us a good basis for comparison, as we took the keys to a red 2014 Camaro 1LT V-6 hardtop from the gentleman at Enterprise.

Though a new Mustang will debut later this year, the current generation of pony cars all came to be around the same time. Of the three, I've always considered Mustang to be the most successful execution, from a design perspective. It has a cohesive look that pleases both inside and out. Camaro is my second favorite, boasting a sexy exterior with the right mix of retro and future. The goofy dash and console, however, were a step in the wrong direction. Challenger also does a good job giving a healthy nod to exterior stylistic heritage. But the interior is like a prison cell.

Moments after exiting the lot at Enterprise, all of the things that make Camaro so sexy looking on the outside began working against us, from the inside. The high beltline and low greenhouse make for miserable lines of sight. No level of seat/wheel/mirror adjustment mitigates this. It's just something you have to get used to, along with staring at the ice-blue circus that is the driver interface. Granted, our Mustangs were convertibles, so I can't make a fair comparison in regard to outward visibility. But driving the Camaro in close traffic required extra vigilance to secure it's many blind spots.

I can make such comparisons when it comes to ride and performance. The Mustang's 3.7 V-6 made us happy when mashing the long pedal, with a blast of thrust and a surprisingly good growl (unusual for a V-6). Camaro's V-6 soundtrack is more Yoko Ono, accompanied by tepid torque and yawns of disappointment. But what really stood out about Camaro was the ride, which can be summed up in one word: unlivable. Miserably hard, when compared to Mustang, this low-end Camaro's ride makes every trip an endurance test on the backside. I'd get that if it were an upmarket performance model. But this is the vanilla version, devoid of the sporting pretensions of the marque.

I'd go into the conveniences, which are pretty standard GM fare, but why bother? I couldn't imagine having this car as a daily driver.

While we loved the looks of this Camaro, we were relieved when we handed the keys back to Enterprise. And while I hope sometime soon to be given the keys to a Challenger, I'll be more than happy to saddle-up any Mustang they have to offer, rather than to bitch in another Camaro.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Her Name is Rio

My climb up the platinum ladder of Enterprise Plus membership has had me stray from my early mission of reviewing stripped-down base models. I'm now pushed past the Mazda 2's and Chevy Sonics and into bigger (and only sometimes better) vehicles, lately.

Yet, thongless on a snowy April morning in Chicago, the only Rio I find myself in currently is a white-on-tan 2013 Kia Rio LX. Oba-oba.

Mr. Schreyer and crew did their thing to the Rio's design, thank the stars. From the outside, it's a smart contender compared to its contemporaries, like the Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta, and Toyota Yaris. Open the door and things get even better, with two-tone color scheme, satisfyingly solid switchgear, and thoughtful application of matte and chrome silver touches. Climate controls are especially good, but the base radio has some confusing and illogical buttonstuff. Funny thing is, an interior this good looking gives one a false sense of... equipment. Since Rio makes you feel like you're in a more upmarket car than you actually are, you find yourself constantly surprised at the lack of small conveniences to which you are probably accustomed. More than once I found myself looking for some basic conveniences that simply weren't there!

Yeah, yeah, they have to keep the price down (about $17,000 in case you're curious - which isn't all that low), but I have to wonder about the manufacturing cost logic at play here. Is cruise control REALLY that costly that it can't be bundled in a higher-trim, entry-level? How about Bluetooth? Lumbar, maybe? Yet Kia uses ancient, cabled trunk and fuel filler door releases which must cost more to manufacture and assemble than a manual fuel door and a trunk release button ACTUALLY ON THE TRUNK, as they are on my $38,000 car back home. Ooh. I got all mad there for a minute.

For an entry-level car, Rio is comfortable and powerful enough to keep you from fearing for your life during onramp merges. Around town, it felt as though the back end got happy over road irregularities, though I didn't notice the same when on highways. The fellas never complained about ingress/egress, or comfort from the back seat. And, as you'd expect from a small four-cylinder, fuel economy is in the thirties, highway.

But, for me, the benefit of Rio over many of its rivals is curb appeal. It looks good, inside and out, and therefore doesn't project an image of an entry level car. I myself occasionally have to look hard to distinguish it from its big brother, the Forte.

All in all, My week in Rio wasn't a memorable one. But it was better than my expectations. I'm sure that "other" Rio would deliver much more fun, thong or not.