DRIVE!: Little pleasures

‘Everything’s bigger in Texas’ doesn’t have to include your gasoline bill. Try one of these fun little numbers

LOOK SMART  |  Fashionistas will swoon for the Gucci-fied Fiat 500C, above; buying the Scion iQ, below, shows off your intelligence. (Photos courtesy FIat and Scion)

LOOK SMART | Fashionistas will swoon for the Gucci-fied Fiat 500C, above; buying the Scion iQ, below, shows off your intelligence. (Photos courtesy FIat and Scion)

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

It’s not the size of your car that matters, but the pleasure you derive from it. Some of those big, bulky motor tools may look sexy, but once you get a fill of their piggish appetites, they can be a turn-off. If your dreams are set on complete satisfaction, we suggest these fun little numbers.

Chevrolet Sonic. Chevy’s latest Detroit-built sub-compact is about to hit competitors with a boom. The Aveo  it is not! Sonic is refined, stylish and loaded with fun features like a digital speedometer, Bluetooth, USB, remote start and a 138hp turbo engine. Check the sheets for heated leather seats. Expect 29/40-MPG city/hwy. A base price of $13,735 keeps GM’s smallest member from being laughed out of the locker room.
Volkswagen Beetle. VW wouldn’t be dressed without a Beetle, and with the 2012 re-design, it should attract more than mall chicks and club queens. Look close and you’ll notice a longer roof, beefier fenders, LED running lamps and optional 19-in. wheels. Gone is the sky dome, but there’s more room to stretch. Get it with a 170hp five-cylinder or 200hp Turbo that moves 22/30-MPG city/hwy. Optional Fender audio deserves a B.J. Prices start under $20k.

Toyota Yaris. Completely redesigned with lovable puggy looks — and 2.9-in. longer to boot — the Yaris offers a more solid ride. You’ll love the flat bottom steering wheel, nine airbags and comfy interior. The 106hp engine, connected to a four-speed auto or five-speed manual trans. delivers efficiency — up to 30/38-MPG city/hwy. You can still get three- and five-door hatchbacks. Given a base price just over $14,000, hordes will be zipping about.

Scion iQ. It’s always the smart ones that turn tail undercovers and become wild animals. However, with just 93hp, this tiny city car will have to impress with 11 standard airbags, standard Bluetooth and HD Radio, and “3+1” seating. Thump yourself happy with available Pioneer speakers and subwoofer. A brake override and stability control are standard, as is 37MPG fuel efficiency. Prices will start just over $15,000 when sales begin nationwide in early 2012.

Nissan Versa. Let’s just start with the name: “Versa” implies all kinds of uses, but the best one for this re-designed Nissan is getting to work or school and back — all the more pleasurable with Bluetooth, NAV, USB and large interior. The 109hp engine delivers 30/38-MPG city/hwy with an automatic. For an incredibly low starting price of $10,990, you shouldn’t expect much more than a durable transport tool. Pay more and get the good stuff.

Fiat 500C. Fiat can drop its top. The 500C is efficient, fun and revs its 101 horses through a hunky Italian five-speed to deliver 38-MPG hwy. Click the Sport button for a quick rise. Packages like Pop and Lounge, 14 exterior colors and 12-seat designs express. It’s even a Top Safety Pick. If a queen wants her 500C, she should go full handbag and get J. Lo’s Guccified edition. Prices start at $19,500 (or $27,500 for the famous green and red stripes).

CAR-NIVALE  |  At less than $14K, the Kia Rio is an affordably sporty ride. (Photo courtesy Kia)

CAR-NIVALE | At less than $14K, the Kia Rio is an affordably sporty ride. (Photo courtesy Kia)

Kia Rio 5-Door. The name hints at Brazil, but the car is from South Korea with German, Audi-inspired styling. Available UVO by Microsoft voice-activated infotainment, rear camera, LED accent lights, USB and dual chrome exhaust tips are upscale. Slid under the hood is a 138hp engine with start/stop technology that enables 30/40-MPG city/hwy with a six-speed transmission. Including a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, prices start under $14,000.

Hyundai Veloster. Three-door-plus-hatchback styling reminds a little of Saturn, but the funky-cool package and split-cowl dash are pure Hyundai. A 138hp four-cylinder with paddle-shifted automatic turns in 40-MPG hwy — better than a Honda CR-Z Hybrid. Blue Link enables voice text messaging, music selection, and a back-up camera. Expect to pay at least $17,300, including Hyundai’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and trade-in value guarantee.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Driver’s Seat: Mark Trimble, Flutist

Name: Mark Trimble, 44.

Occupation: Musician (flute) and music educator.

How might we know you: My partner Ami Sadeh and I helped create the BearDance events.

Type of car: Blue 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe.

Best car memory? Driving my Nissan 350Z the first time with my partner around town with the top down!

Funniest road trip story: I don’t know if it’s funny or sad, but I had an audition in Tennessee and a drunk driver sliced off a big chunk of metal off the side of the trunk. It was my dad’s Oldsmobile Delta 88. I had to tie that chunk of metal back on the car as it flapped all the way back to Cincinnati where I lived.

Hmmm… we vote sad. OK, buy or lease? Lately I prefer leasing. I get the itch for something new or different about every three to four years. It doesn’t hurt that you can get a bit more car for less money per month!

You play the flute, but ever in the car? I think I’ve played it in my partner’s car while he’s been driving. It’s not at all practical for the driver and it doesn’t work well in the passenger seat either. There are better places to practice. Now I will practice finger patterns for music on the steering wheel from time to time though, and that’s a great way to practice without the instrument.

What do you jam out to? NPR or BPM on satellite radio. Sometimes it’s Beethoven or Lady Gaga.

Don’t you musclebear types drive Jeeps or big trucks usually? Am I really that now? Ha! Maybe I do need to get the requisite truck!  I’m not about all my image with my car, it’s more about the driving experience for me, and I like fun-to-drive cars usually as long as they are roomy enough for me.

Since it’s hot as hell out, how’s your A/C? It is fantastic! I’m lucky to have a garage to park in at home so that it’s not all heated up when I leave the house in the summer, but even when it’s been out in the sun, it cools down very quickly.

Sounds great. So, one last thing: flootist or flautist? Well, it can be both actually.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Auto Review: Infinity EX35

Don’t be jealous of its booty

Just don’t say this wagon has junk in the trunk — all of its features are top of the line

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

Like a great drag queen, Infiniti’s EX35 wagon is all about the booty. A big round rump is attached to a body that otherwise looks much like the handsome G37 sedan. It’s not really a crossover (the FX fills that role beautifully), and you wouldn’t call it a station wagon, either — no wood sides or long rear quarters here. Instead, it is a very clever extended sedan that provides a lot of utility in its nether region. A butt man who’s also a gearhear could stare at that steel-hard bubble for hours.

EYES ON THE ROAD … AND ALL AROUND | The Infiniti EX35 features the Around View Monitor to see where you can’t and a very sensitive warning system.

What the rump attaches to is also pretty good-looking. Infiniti’s wavy chrome-grass grille puts a bright face on sucking air and eating bugs. Rounded headlamps flow right into a sweeping body that gently curves from the bumper, over the hood and arching into the short tail. If you squint just right, the car looks like a tall Porsche — a 911 crossover. Burgundy metallic paint, dual chrome exhaust tips, satin metallic roof rails, corner-following adaptive front lighting, LED taillamps and 19-in. five-spoke Enkei wheels dress the EX to a tee.

Having a delicious exterior is only an invitation to know what’s inside. A raised ride height makes sliding into the heated leather seats little effort. A leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, large analog gauges and leather-wrapped gear selector say it means business. Bose audio with USB input sounds like cherubs while concealable cupholders, fold-down rear seats and a large hatch provide plenty of room for all you plunder. Dark wood on the center console and doors adds ambience. You gotta love the cool flip-up hangar on the back of the headrests that are perfect for your purse, jacket or umbrella.

The Beautiful People — and Cars — still have to work occasionally. An advanced undercarriage gives the EX moves usually reserved for European sport sedans. Based on Nissan’s FM platform, which also underpins the Nissan Z and every Infiniti save the QX56 SUV, the EX35 comes from pedigreed breeding stock.
The body structure is solid while the four-wheel independent suspension system is tuned to be compliant on the highway, yet firm in the corners. Steering feel is spot-on, giving drivers a direct connection to the car’s every quiver and breath. Given a firm hand, the vehicle can do anything a rational person could ask and will do its best to please even the most irrational request.

There’s plenty of heart to energize the EX35’s svelte moves. Every EX35 scamps with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that generates 297 horses and 253 lb.-ft. of torque, routed to the extremities by a 5-speed automatic transmission and available all-wheel-drive. The clever transmission has a manual shift mode to provide crisp shifts at the driver’s behest. Fuel economy is rated 17/24-MPG city/hwy. Infiniti should consider putting the G Sedan’s smaller 6-cylinder engine on the options list to bump those results a few digits.

Equipped to play, the EX35 is also loaded with the latest safety tech. Front and rear ABS disc brakes with force distribution and brake assist technology ensure the car can stop as well as it goes. Electronic stability control, traction control, and full-range intelligent cruise control keep the car going where intended without hitting things unintended.

Around View Monitor with front and rear sonar, blind spot detectors and lane departure warnings can detect your girlfriend from three galaxies away. Protecting your ego, a rearview camera keeps the EX from making unintended friends.

I’m a big fan of cars that show their techno side, but too much makes a big ol’ nerd. The warning system is so sensitive that it constantly mouths off with beeps and blinky lights as anything passes in town or on the highway.

Note to Infiniti: The EX is a car, and as such, occasionally comes within a solar system of other cars. I don’t always need to be alerted to the occurrence. Try to cross a line on the highway with the system engaged and it brakes wheels to automatically nudge you back into your lane. No doubt, the systems are impressive, but at some point I would like to enjoy the superb handling without back seat nannies bantering about. Of course, I could just turn it off with the press of a button and quit complaining …

The hot thing you’re after can run with toned muscles, change course in a flash, wear the finest threads, and hover over an iPad waiting for the latest app. But, if said thing doesn’t have the perfect booty, then why bother? If you don’t like the shape of the EX35’s, try dating the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, Subaru Outback, Mini Countryman, or Acura ZDX.

Price as tested came to $48,605.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright