The auto industry now offers entry-level products that make their predecessors seem like they came off the same line as Conestoga wagons.
Judge Finlay checks out Nissan Versa engine technology.
Auto makers once thought people who bought low-priced cars deserved what they got.
The apparent message to the downmarket set: “You want a cheap car? We’ll give you a cheap car.”
That attitude put a lot of junk punks on the road, inferior cars with low-quality engines about as reliable as crackheads performing heart surgery.
I owned aPinto. The question wasn’t if it would break down, but when. Because of that car, I expanded my circle of acquaintances to include many mechanics.
I mentioned my horrible Pinto ownership experience to aexecutive. He replied, “That was a long time ago.”
He’s right. The surging quality and technology of today’s inexpensive compacts is striking. The auto industry now offers entry-level products that make their predecessors seem like they came off the same line as Conestoga wagons.
The advancements are evidenced by low-cost vehicles drawing praise from judges in the 2012 Ward’s 10 Best Engine competition. One such car, the ’12Accent, makes the list with its 1.6L I-4 – the little engine that could. “Heck,” says judge Jim Irwin. “It feels frisky in reverse.”
This year’s winners include engines powering the $53,700 Infiniti M35h hybrid, $49,900 Audi A6 and $48,650Z4.
But the Accent starts at $14,195, and that bargain-basement price buys some sophisticated stuff, such as direct injection and dual continuously variable valve timing.
A version of the Accent’s engine powers the Kia Soul with a stop/start system, a great feature that eliminates needless fuel consumption while the vehicle is at rest. Considered an upmarket feature, it’s significant to find this technology on a “cheap” car.
The ’12Versa’s 1.6L I-4 didn’t make the top-10 list, although several judges praise the $10,990 car for offering a new dual-injector system for a cleaner, more fuel-efficient burn. Nissan bills the Versa’s technology as “Innovation within reach.”
The Accent has an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 30/40 mpg (7.8-5.8L/100 km) city/highway. That draws attention to another inadequacy of yesteryear’s econobox engines: Fuel-efficient they were not.
Some things don’t change. Young people always will dream of owning expensive cars they can’t afford. But in the meantime, they now can buy low-priced cars with sophisticated, high-quality engines. A few years ago, no one dreamed that was possible.