5 Eclectic Autos That Defy Categorization
While millions of people buy mainstream cars that fit neatly into well-defined categories, there's a burgeoning market for spicier alternatives like these irreverent five.
Automakers are realizing that even though millions buy mainstream cars like the Toyota Corolla and Chevy Malibu, there's a burgeoning market for spicier alternatives. But unlike the well-defined segments such as midsize sedans where all the players are closely matched in size, basic shape, and even engine power, the "not sedans" follow a much looser formula. And so we have a growing group of cars that defy categorization.
The Nissan Juke resembles a mini SUV, while the new Hyundai Veloster has a coupe-like profile but three doors. We matched those two with three other cars from outside the mainstream — the Mini Cooper, the Scion tC, and the newly restyled VW Beetle. The only links among the five are a base price around 20 grand, quirky styling, over 30 highway mpg, and the promise that when the road curves, they won't simply be ready, they'll be willing.
We took these cars on a three-day romp from Detroit to the curvy back roads of southeast Ohio, and we think they may represent an automotive sweet spot. These rides are economical yet spunky — eliciting grins as if they were high-dollar sports cars. Since they're all so varied, we didn't rank them from best to worst. Instead, we've included the usual test measurements and subjective opinions, then highlighted the strengths of these five funsters.
An outlier among oddballs. It's the only one available with all-wheel drive.
Base Price: $21,010
As Tested: $22,490
Powertrain: 188 hp/177 lb-ft 1.6-liter turbo I-4/6M
EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 24/31
PM Fuel Economy (mixed/hwy): 27.75/32.41
In this bunch of irreverent cars, the Juke is like Lady Gaga — a little crazier-looking than anything else, but packing serious talent too. Based on the tiny Nissan Cube platform, the Juke feels tauter than most crossovers and handles nimbly, like it was built expressly for tight urban confines. It's fun to hustle, mostly because of the incredibly linear and potent turbocharged engine mated to the slick six-speed manual transmission. It sprinted to 60 mph in just 7.8 seconds. The Juke's tall center of gravity, however, and relatively soft suspension meant that when the road turned curvy, it couldn't keep up with the sportier cars. Still, the Juke absorbed road jostles and jolts better than anything else. Inside, the proximity of the controls to the driver makes the cockpit feel intimate and purposeful. And there's a measure of practicality with four real doors and a waist-high, flat load floor once the rear seats are down. Although this raised platform doesn't accommodate taller items that fit in the Scion and Hyundai, you do get a handy rubberized under-floor storage bin for stashing your cordless drill, muddy work boots, or a couple of jugs of moonshine.
Suspension (front/rear): Strut, coil springs/torsion beam, coil springs
Wheelbase (in.): 99.6
Length (in.): 162.4
Width (in.): 69.9
Track (front/rear): 60.0/60.0
Axle Ratio: 4.21:1
Brakes (front/rear): 11.7-in. disc/ 11.5-in. disc, ABS, ESC
Curb Weight (lb): 2935
Power to Weight (lb/hp): 15.61
Tires (front/rear): 215/55R-17
0 — 30 mph: 2.77
0 — 60 mph: 7.88
0 — 100 mph: 20.26
40 — 70 mph: 5.71
Quarter-mile (sec/mph): 15.68 @ 88.89
30 — 0 mph: 30.01
60 — 0 mph: 121.11
Sound levels (dBA)
Full Throttle: 80.6
60 mph: 73.9
Lane Change (mph): 57.2
Skidpad (g's): 0.82
Has the right ingredients, but was cooked by an indifferent chef.
Base Price: $18,995
As Tested: $18,995
Powertrain: 180 hp/173 lb-ft 2.5-liter I-4/6M
EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 23/31
PM Fuel Economy (mixed/hwy): 26.37/31.26
Compared with these other machines, the Scion tC is a brutish mallet of a muscle car. You sit low, surrounded by high doorsills, and peer over a tall dash — just like you would in a '69 Mustang Boss. Unfortunately, the rest of the interior seems equally dated. "Is that an aftermarket radio?" asked one tester. Nope, it just looks like one from the '80s. As for the engine, there's a 2.5-liter four pulled from a Toyota Camry, but in this bunch, it's like a torque-rich V-8. In the hilly countryside, the Scion could effortlessly reel in the other cars with its meaty powerband. And the raspy exhaust is a wonderfully encouraging soundtrack. The transmission is more crude than sporty, though, with longish, truck-like throws. The steering wheel has a nice fat rim, but on challenging curves, the tC couldn't hang with the Mini or the Veloster, and the tires run out of grip too soon. On the highway, the tC soaked up road blemishes that thumped our rumps in other cars. In terms of practicality, the tC clobbers the competition with the roomiest back seat. When you fold down that seat and use the tC as a college kid would — moving junk around — it's as close as one can get in this group to a pickup.
Suspension (front/rear): Strut, coil springs/multilink, coil springs
Wheelbase (in.): 106.3
Length (in.): 174.0
Width (in.): 70.7
Track (front/rear): 60.6/61.4
Axle Ratio: 4.06:1
Brakes (front/rear): 11.7-in. disc/ 11.0-in. disc, ABS, ESC
Curb Weight (lb): 3131
Power to Weight (lb/hp): 17.39
Tires (front/rear): 225/46R-18
0 — 30 mph: 2.79
0 — 60 mph: 8.11
0 — 100 mph: 21.61
40 — 70 mph: 6.23
Quarter-mile (sec/mph): 15.88 @ 87.61
30 — 0 mph: 29.5
60 — 0 mph: 120.84
Sound levels (dBA)
Full Throttle: 81.7
60 mph: 75.4
Lane Change (mph): 60.02
Skidpad (g's): 0.80
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MSN get out of auto reviews please. I don't need you to show me how to think.
The only car worth its salt is the Mini and that is accepting the fact it is a slow car without a lot of room and NOT a sports car and NOT that economical.
The others suck duck!!!
28 mpg is not that great of deal when you consider the costs of repair later!!!!!