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What is "wrong" with these new subcompacts?

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  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,490
    One thing that's kinda funny, is that for all the ragging the domestic industry takes for the crappy small cars it made in the 70's and beyond, many of them were actually much more advanced than the big cars they were putting out. For instance, the Vega had an aluminum OHC engine. The Pinto had OHC and rack and pinion steering.

    I don't know if I would call those "advanced" models....at least, defining "advanced" as "better".

    The Vega engine was replaced with a cast iron block engine because the aluminum block burned oil like the old Jaguars leaked oil. I still remember the local Chevy dealership having a cast iron engine on display in the showroom, attempting to persuade buyers that it was an "improved" design over the aluminum engine.

    And, the Pinto...the "exploding" pinto that burst into flames witha minor rear-end tap...All so Ford could save $12-14 per car, because it was cheaper to pay off injury claims than correct the desing issue with the gas tank placement.

    But ...the big cars were trash, too...
  • lilengineerboylilengineerboy Posts: 4,116
    The Vega engine was replaced with a cast iron block engine because the aluminum block burned oil like the old Jaguars leaked oil. I still remember the local Chevy dealership having a cast iron engine on display in the showroom, attempting to persuade buyers that it was an "improved" design over the aluminum engine.

    I thought they just put sleeves in the pistons, like they do today with aluminum engines. The Cosworth Vega of '76 was even more advanced with a 16 valve fuel injected engine.

    The Fiero is another car that comes to mind, it had the Saturn style dent resistant body panels, really innovative packaging, and could've gotten people used to smaller vehicles. Unfortunately, it seems like they sold it before they tested it or finished designing it and it got the reputation for being a POS and it killed the model. Its kind of ashame because the 1988 was a legitimate vehicle.
  • nortsr1nortsr1 Posts: 1,060
    boaz47...Yes, sliding in and out is a bid advantage from me. I have 2007 Honda CRV FWD EX that gets approx. 22 mpg city and 27 on long trips. I, also, have a 2006 PT Cruiser that I purchased for the exact same reason of getting into and out od easily (great high seat advantage). Plus the PT (with the rear seats folded down) makes my mobility scooter easily accessible,as also my CRV. I have a Pride GO Go that disassembles into four easy to lift pieces (heaviest piece is only 35 lbs.) I keep the PT down in Fla. at my home in Melbourne Beach and the for summer visits I keep the CRV in NJ.
    I actually get better gas mileage with the CRV as compared to the smaller PT Cruiser.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,026
    I thought they just put sleeves in the pistons, like they do today with aluminum engines. The Cosworth Vega of '76 was even more advanced with a 16 valve fuel injected engine.

    I had always thought that they switched over to the Pontiac Iron Duke 2.5 in later years of the Vega, but my old car book shows the 2.3 engine being used right up through the Vega's last year, 1977. That year, Pontiac did use the Iron Duke in the Astre wagon and all models of the Sunbird, with the 2.3 Vega engine still standard in the other Astre models.

    I do remember watching an episode of "Let's Make a Deal", or one of those old game show reruns, where the prize was a later Vega. In describing this glorious prize, the announcer made mention of the "new and improved engine", so they must have done something to it in its later years? Maybe that's when they sleeved the cylinder walls, perhaps?

    Interestingly, my old car book also mentions that the Chevette used OHC engines. That was a bit of a shock to me, considering how simplistic the Chevette was even when new. But it was actually based on an Opel design, so I'm guessing the engines were of German descent.
  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,490
    The Fiero is another car that comes to mind, it had the Saturn style dent resistant body panels, really innovative packaging, and could've gotten people used to smaller vehicles. Unfortunately, it seems like they sold it before they tested it or finished designing it and it got the reputation for being a POS and it killed the model. Its kind of ashame because the 1988 was a legitimate vehicle.

    If I remember correctly, the Fiero was originally designed to be much more of a mid-engine performance vehicle. However, certain factions within GM (especially Chevrolet, worried aboiut Corvette sales/stature) screamed bloody murder and had enough influence to de-tune the design, making the car an oddity, at best. It was certainly never considered a performance vehicle, and never found a niche buyer audience.
  • lilengineerboylilengineerboy Posts: 4,116
    If I remember correctly, the Fiero was originally designed to be much more of a mid-engine performance vehicle.

    Everything I've seen says it was destined to be a small commuter car designed for light weight and good mileage. Its back end was the front of a Citation turned around and the front end was originally from a Chevette, so I don't think there were too many visions of glory anywhere in there.
    Resto-mods with the little Northstar V8 are running around showing what could've happened.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,026
    Everything I've seen says it was destined to be a small commuter car designed for light weight and good mileage.

    That falls in line with everything I've heard about the Fiero, too. Basically, it was supposed to just be a sporty, economical little car, more show than go. Essentially what the original vision for the Ford Mustang had been, minus the back seat.

    Pontiac was also just about dead by 1982-83, as its more profitable bigger began to fall from grace, and the smaller, more economical cars just weren't selling. Pontiac began trading its performance image in the 70's for more of a luxury image, but then that put them into Buick/Olds territory, and those cars just did it better. The Firebird/Trans Am had been a hot seller...until the second fuel crisis nearly wiped out demand for that type of car. And the Grand Prix had been a strong seller as well, until the 1980 downturn that affected all bigger cars. A 1981 restyle, that was supposed to be 15% more aerodynamic, sold tolerably for a year and then began to fizz.

    The Fiero was probably conceived with the idea of scarce $3.00/gallon gasoline in mind. It just happened to get launched in 1984, and by that time gas was cheap again and people were returning to bigger cars in droves, and performance suddenly wasn't a dirty word anymore. As it was though, the Fiero generated a lot of buzz for Pontiac, and was the cornerstone of its 1984 turnaround. Pontiac sales simply exploded for 1984, and the Fiero, represented a major part of that.

    Unfortunately, the performance didn't match the car's looks. I think I heard 0-60 came up in about 12-13 seconds, which actually isn't bad for a 92 hp 4-cyl pushing 2500 lb or more. It probably laid waste to 4-cyl Mustangs and Camaros, and Firebirds pushing the 2.8 V-6. But then Grandma would pull up next to it in a V-8 Parisienne, wire wheels and all, and lay waste to it. :surprise:
  • lilengineerboylilengineerboy Posts: 4,116
    Unfortunately, the performance didn't match the car's looks. I think I heard 0-60 came up in about 12-13 seconds, which actually isn't bad for a 92 hp 4-cyl pushing 2500 lb or more. It probably laid waste to 4-cyl Mustangs and Camaros, and Firebirds pushing the 2.8 V-6.

    You also have to see what else was out there, even the premium stuff. So early 80s, thats like the 110 hp Audis, the BMW 318, or even a Poncho 6000 w/ the same engine, or Obama's fav, the Granada.
  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,490
    Everything I've seen says it was destined to be a small commuter car designed for light weight and good mileage. Its back end was the front of a Citation turned around and the front end was originally from a Chevette, so I don't think there were too many visions of glory anywhere in there.
    Resto-mods with the little Northstar V8 are running around showing what could've happened


    You might be correct, but I would suggest you read the Wikipedia article on the Fiero. It mentions the objections to a Corvette competitor by GM accounting folks, as well as prototypes tested with V-8 engines. I find it difficult to believe that GM did that testing just to provide the public a small commuter car.

    Of course, I guess it depends on the specific point in the life-cycle as to what the car's intention was meant to be. I do remember reading articles in car magazines touting the car's image before it went into production, and the theories about why it never fulfilled its performance capability.
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Wasn't the Iron Duke known for catching fire, so they swapped out and started using a bigger oil filter?

    I had a co-worker that had one and she could not sell it, even for peanuts, after a couple of years.

    It was a glorified secretary's car, basically.
  • texasestexases Posts: 5,616
    "Wasn't the Iron Duke known for catching fire, so they swapped out and started using a bigger oil filter? "

    From what I remember, the problem with the Iron Duke in the Fiero was they had to fit a smaller oil pan for ground clearance, cutting the capacity down to something like 3 quarts, so if someone didn't watch it, the engine starved for oil and threw a rod, or other unpleasant things :sick:
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,693
    the Fiero, the old Fiesta, the Festiva, Vega, Chevette, you name it from the 70s and 80s, that have so ruined the rep of subcompacts. They really are a whole different breed today.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,026
    Was the old late 70's German Fiesta that bad of a car, though? I don't recall hearing anything negative about them. I heard they were supposed to be fun to drive. My neighbors had one back in the 80's. Now admittedly it looked like crap and had a 2x4 for a bumper, but it also had close to 200,000 miles on it by the time they retired it for a CRX around 1990. It seemed to wear better than the similar vintage Corolla wagon they had. They also had one of those prehistoric early 80's 4runners that was essentially a pickup truck with a bunch of mix & match parts, and that really didn't seem to wear all that well, either.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,693
    I wasn't thinking so much of reliability as of the quality of the new product. Subcompacts from back then screamed cheap everywhere you looked, had ZERO equipment, were cramped and noisy inside, and were the slowest and worst riding cars on the market.

    Most of those characteristics have been wiped out of existence with the new breed of subs.

    The German Fiesta was guily of many of these faults, although it supposedly had great handling and could get out of its own way. That's just based on what I have read - I never drove one. I liked the looks.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    I remember even in the 80s when the base models of some sub-compacts had vinyl seats, 4 speed manuals, and no right-side mirror. They pinched every penny they could.

    To this day some don't have A/C standard.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,026
    I remember even in the 80s when the base models of some sub-compacts had vinyl seats, 4 speed manuals, and no right-side mirror. They pinched every penny they could.

    That was a lot of cars back then, not just subcompacts. My first car, a 1980 Malibu, came standard with a 3-speed manual, although mine had the extra-cost 3-speed automatic. No right-side mirror. And the vinyl interior was an UPGRADE over the standard cloth, if you can believe it!

    Back then though, they did have different grades of vinyl, and some of them were actually pretty nice. They'd still burn the hell out of you in the summertime, and if they had those metal buckles in the design they could brand you too, but at least they looked nicer. Similarly, they had different grades of cloth and velour, as leather was still a bit of a rarity.

    Nowadays, I think vinyl is pretty much extinct as a seating material, although I guess there's still that MB-tex or BMW's "leatherette". Actually, there's a "leatherette" option on the Chevy Aveo that is actually pretty convincing. I have to admit it had me fooled into thinking it was the same thing, until I noticed that it just didn't seem to crease just right when you sat in it. And then I saw the window sticker, and saw it was fake. Still, pretty impressive that they'd offer something like that in an entry-level car.

    These days, it seems like a luxury cloth is history, too, as the nicer trim levels usually have leather standard.
  • kyfdxkyfdx Posts: 29,371
    I test drove a Corolla around '83-'84 that had vinyl floorboards... :surprise:

    My '82 Accord hatchback had no right-side mirror... That was a dealer installed option, that I kept saying I was going to get... When I sold the car, twelve years later, it still didn't have one...

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  • thegraduatethegraduate Posts: 9,731
    My dad was always one of the buyers of the stripped-out Civics.

    Some I remember...

    1991 Civic "Standard" Hatchback. No radio, dealer installed A/C. Manual Steering. Vinyl Seating.

    1993 Civic DX Hatchback. This one had a radio! It was june-bug green and a great-looking little car.

    1995 Civic DX Coupe. Fire-engine red. A zippy little car considering it had 103hp. Manual steering mixed with a manual started giving him hand cramps as he pushed close to 40.

    All of these little cars were BASIC but got the job done!
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,026
    Wasn't dealer-installed a/c a common thing with Japanese cars in general, and Honda in particular, until fairly recently?

    How do little cars handle without a power steering assist? I drove a '68 Dodge Dart V-8 for years with a failed power steering pump, which is probably worse than manual steering because the ratio is different, and when that power stuff fails it seems to fight with you. It was definitely a tricep builder in parallel parking situations, but in most driving, it wasn't that bad. Seems to me most lightweight cars these days could forgo the power steering, but I bet the public would have a fit if they did.
  • thegraduatethegraduate Posts: 9,731
    The first car I ever "drove" was my granddad's 1987 Civic Wagon (not the AWD model) which had manual steering. He loved it since he did 90 highway miles a day; said it handled much better than any car with power steering he's ever driven.

    To this day, he liked how that car drove better than his 1999 Nissan Frontier XE 4-cyl 5MT which replaced the Civic 6 years ago; the Frontier has power steering.
  • kyfdxkyfdx Posts: 29,371
    Civics probably went well into the '90s with dealer-installed air on the cheaper models.. My '82 Accord was without A/C.. it was a dealer-only option..

    The only problem with small cars and no power steering is FWD.. My Accord had manual steering, and it was definitely a 2-handed operation in parking lots... Once under way, no problem, of course...

    I think Aveos still come without A/C..

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  • texasestexases Posts: 5,616
    Yep, both my '79 Scirocco and '83 GTI were manual steering, along with manual everything else. Parking took a little muscle, but the steering response under way was great.
  • kyfdxkyfdx Posts: 29,371
    You still had power brakes, though.. :)

    Yeah, manual windows/locks are no problem, if you can reach them all while driving... ;)

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  • texasestexases Posts: 5,616
    I forgot about the power brakes - those seem to have become standard everywhere when, 1970? :confuse:
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,026
    I think power brakes pretty much became mandatory once cars started using front disc brakes. I've driven a few cars with manual drums, and it's actually no big deal, but I've heard that disc brakes without a power assist practically require a body-builder to stop the car.

    In fact, just to show how little effort it took for drum brakes, I once had a 1967 Chrysler Newport, with a 383-2bbl. Probably weighed about two tons. Manual drum brakes. I never thought it took much effort to stop, but even more telling, the previous owner was a little old lady who had been driving the thing since 1971! If a petite little old lady can stop a two-ton, manual drum brake car, anybody could!
  • lilengineerboylilengineerboy Posts: 4,116
    How do little cars handle without a power steering assist?

    Absolutely fine thankyouverymuch. If the wheel is hard to turn, its because the tires were low on air. I think it was a great feature that when someone would whine about the wheel being hard to turn, their tires were 5-10 psi low.
  • thegraduatethegraduate Posts: 9,731
    Civics probably went well into the '90s with dealer-installed air on the cheaper models.. My '82 Accord was without A/C.. it was a dealer-only option..

    The only problem with small cars and no power steering is FWD.. My Accord had manual steering, and it was definitely a 2-handed operation in parking lots... Once under way, no problem, of course...

    I think Aveos still come without A/C..


    It STILL is on Civic DX models. A/C isn't factory until stepping up to the LX. It has power windows, tilt/telescope wheel, and ABS w/EBD.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,693
    Civics had factory air available by 1990. Also, dealer-installed A/C isn't the horrible aftermarket kit it was in the 70s, at least not at the Honda dealer.

    I had a '75 Corolla with aftermarket A/C, because in those days it wasn't available from the factory. The aftermarket air quit after only about 3 years, if memory serves.

    Today, A/C is standard on Fit and Yaris, as well as Aveo sedans. Apparently, there is a "special value" Aveo 5-door that does not have standard air, but it IS standard on the LS. There is also one trim of three of the Accent that does not have standard air.

    I only WISH you could still get a car without power steering. I would. The last model I know of was the Echo coupe, which could be had for $9995 without p/s, through 2005.

    2013 Civic SI, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (stick)

  • boaz47boaz47 Posts: 2,750
    I only WISH you could still get a car without power steering. I would. The last model I know of was the Echo coupe, which could be had for $9995 without p/s, through 2005.

    Why in the world would you not get power steering? Do you remember how many turns lock to lock manual steering was? In fact with the electronic power steering I don't see what the downside would be. With todays cars power steering, Power windows, and air seem pretty much standard. With the exception of some of the sub compacts mentioned.

    It seems that cars were designed as a tool for transportation. Through the years our tools are supposed to be easier to use and in most cases that is what has happened with cars. I can't remember the last time I saw a new car without power windows or a radio and CD player. Even in a small car without power windows the back windows are simply out of your reach as are the rear door locks if you have rear doors.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,026
    Why in the world would you not get power steering? Do you remember how many turns lock to lock manual steering was? In fact with the electronic power steering I don't see what the downside would be.

    Road feel, I'd imagine, would be the major bonus of nonpower steering. Heck, I remember when the pump failed on my '68 Dart, the feedback just seemed SOOOO much better, and I swear that car felt a lot more responsive. Okay, so it sucked on the occasion that I had to parallel park it, and if I worked my triceps really hard that the gym, I'd feel the pain driving home. :P

    As for electronic power steering, isn't that even worse? I've driven a few cars with it, and I swear my '79 5th Ave has better road feel! And that's from an era where they tried their damndest to isolate the driver from any feel whatsoever!

    As for power windows, I guess on a smaller car where you can reach across, they're not that critical. Just going from personal experience, I'd say the maximum might be '57-58 inches of shoulder room. My '76 LeMans coupe has around 60" up front, and I'm thankful it has power windows, because that would be quite a stretch. The only reason I can reach across my DeSoto's roughly 62" is because it doesn't have seatbelts, so I can slide over a bit if I have to. :surprise: My Catalina is like 62.5, and I can't reach over there if I'm belted in. My truck is an almost sofa-like 65", and thankfully, it has power windows. Now my Dart's only about 56", my Monte and Cutlass were maybe 56.5", and my Malibu was around 57.5. And they were all reachable.

    One issue though, is the cranks themselves. On the few cars that still have them, they're fragile, tiny little plastic things mounted very awkwardly, so they're just not that easy to grasp. And the lift mechanisms aren't as sturdy as they used to be, so they compensate by making you have to crank the window more times to get it up or down. More turns of the crank equates to less force on the lift.

    One of my friends used to have a 1998 Tracker with crank windows, and I think it took like 7-8 cranks to get it all the way down. In contrast, my Dart was more like 2 1/2, although to be fair, it also had smaller windows.
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