Archive for the ‘Honda’ Category

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What Does $25,000 Put on the Road? And Would You Want to Drive It?

February 22, 2012


By Roger Witherspoon

            Let’s say you are looking for a compact family sedan for under $25,000.

For years, the low end cars in domestic and foreign automotive fleets were little more than basic transportation: bells and whistles cost a lot more. Still, there is nothing wrong with wishing that you could get a small family car which wasn’t boring to look at, was comfortable to sit in, had enough gadgets to keep everyone happy and, if you floored the gas pedal, actually took off.

For many motorists, that was the turf of the Honda Civic, long the entry level workhorse of the popular Honda line.  They were short on flair and long on utility, but consistently reliable, efficient, durable and, with an EPA rating of 41 miles per gallon in highway driving, easy on the pocketbook.  What they provide, however, is basic transportation: the Civic is not a balm for the ego or a rolling sculpture destined to grace the driveway.

And if you are willing to get the basic, no-frills version, you can roll out of a Honda showroom with a Civic HF for under $20,000. But the Civic is actually a family of compacts, from the no-frills, HF box to the competitive $25,000 EX  sedan.

The bare bones version of the Civic HF has plain cloth seats, but they are wide, manually adjusted. The dashboard is contoured, to give it a little character. And the dials, in blue and white, are easy on the eyes with digits easy to read. The doors had mostly hard, molded plastic with a thin layer of padding where the elbow rests and, as a result, were not very comfortable on long trips. Surprisingly, the car lacked Bluetooth communication, but it did have a single disc CD player, and connections for MP3, iPod, and USB. Its four-speaker, 160-watt sound system was adequate for the small interior, but nothing special. There is room in the rear for a couple of average sized adults, but the only cup holders are in the front. But the HF is intended to be just basic transportation.

            For about $5,000 more, the Civic can be upgraded to the EX model, which better reflects the quality of the Honda line. At that price, the cloth gives way to thick, padded leather seats which are power adjustable and heated. Overhead is a power sunroof, which gives the compact a feeling of spaciousness. And the bare bones entertainment system is replaced by a navigation system, satellite radio, and Bluetooth. At that point, the Civic is a car one can look forward to owning for several years.

Under the hood, the Civic HF has a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine producing just 140 horsepower.  Thus the small car is fine on the road, but sluggish when you take off or need to accelerate. That small engine, however, is why the Civic has an EPA rating of 29 miles per gallon in city driving and 41 MPG on the highway. And on the open road, the Civic HF handle with the assuredness expected of a Honda in any price range.

I awakened to find there were five inches of loose, powdery snow one Saturday morning, and the stuff was destined to fall intermittently all day. The main roads were kept relatively clear by municipal plows, but home owners on most of the side streets had to fend for themselves in the slippery stuff. This was no problem for the Civic.

The compact, with its all weather tires, had no trouble on hills, curves and uneven surfaces though more expensive vehicles were skidding that morning through the same slippery terrain. The Civic’s snow-oriented traction control compensated for the bad road conditions – which showed that not all safety technology is saved for the expensive players. With the Civic family, Honda is trying to get a lock on the low end of the compact sedan market.

But Honda doesn’t have the small car field all to itself.

The Zoom-Zoom guys would like a word with you about their Mazda 3.

On the outside, the 3 doesn’t room to exhibit the styling flair of Mazda’s bigger models – but it’s not a rolling box, either. It has a small, aggressive, black grill flanked by recessed intakes that give it the appearance of a miniature racer. There is a sharply sloping front hood leading to a wide expanse of glass. The sloping roof line leading to a sharply cut-off rear prevents the 3 from having the boxy look.

Underneath that hood is a 2.0-liter, four cylinder engine producing a respectable 155 horsepower – which is a lot for a light car like this one.   The small engine is also light on the gas consumption, with an EPA estimate of 28 miles per gallon in city driving, and 40 MPG on the open road. The Mazda 3 has a six-speed transmission which, in manual mode, can hope like a respectable sports sedan. The double-spoke, 16-inch wheels make the 3 look sportier than it really is.

But while the outside is pleasant, it is far more important what Mazda put inside, where you spend your time. And here, the Zoom-Zoom crew gave a lot of thought to the interior of the 3 so that it didn’t look or feel like the low end of their automotive line.

The three spoke steering wheel is leather wrapped, tilts and telescopes, and has push button controls for every function. The seats are wide, thickly padded, and leather rather than cloth. The front seats can be heated, which is a great antidote to cold weather or sore backs. The driver’s seat is powered, while the front passenger seat is manually operated. But there is thick, faux leather padding on the doors, arm rests and dash board which makes the 3 look more expensive than it is and, functionally, is comfortable for long drives.  The dash is curved, instead of a plain, straight slab, and provides individual spaces for the front occupants. There is also soft, blue lighting under the dash and along the floor boards at night so you don’t have to fumble around in the dark.

And in case one is changing lanes in a hurry, there is a blind spot warning light in the side mirrors which lets the driver know if there is a vehicle in either blind spot. For the night vision, add bi-xenon, self-leveling headlights.         

      Most cars in this price range would not have a navigation system and color information screen. The 3, however, is different. There is a recessed, color, three-inch screen – similar to the screen on a hand held Garmin – which serves the navigation system. Depending on the strength of your glasses, it can be difficult to read the names of cross streets, but most of the information on the screen is quite legible and the system is easy to use.  It can be accessed manually from the center console or the buttons on the leather steering wheel, or run by voice.

            For entertainment, the 3 has AM/FM and XM satellite radio, a six-disc CD player, as well as iPod, MP3, and USB connections. The surround sound emanates from a 10-speaker, 265-watt, Bose system. And if you keep your music on your smart phone, the Bluetooth will access it and play through the system.

If one listens to the Republican presidential contenders, the auto makers in Detroit should have folded up shop three years ago. But they didn’t, and not only has General Motors paid back its taxpayer loans, but it reported record profits for 2011. One of the reasons for its comeback is the snappy Chevrolet Cruze. Here, Chevy borrowed a trick from Nissan, which put a turbocharger in their four-cylinder Juke, and put a turbocharger onto their equally small Cruze engine.

But the Nissan speedster sells for more than $27,000, and the Cruze is aimed at a lower end. So it has fewer amenities than the Japanese sedan, but at $20,000, is more competitive in the economy end of the auto line.

The Cruze sedan has the low, wide stance similar to that of the Camaro, but that is the only similarity. The trademark Chevy badge and wide grill on the Cruze forms more of a smile welcoming family motorists, than the dark, aggressive grimace gracing the sports car.

Under the hood, the Cruze sports a 1.4-liter engine cranking out just 138 horsepower. But with the turbocharger, it never feels underpowered. The engine is billed as getting 26 miles per gallon of regular gas in city driving and 37 MPG on the highway.  That seems a bit wishful: the test car got 23.7 MPG in mixed driving.

   GM was thoughtful in designing the interior, though frugal with some of the amenities. The interior has attractive, two-toned seats, but they are unheated and cloth rather than leather like the Mazda 3. The seats are manually operated and, depending on your weight, may not be the easiest to maneuver, particularly when you are trying to adjust the seat’s height. The seats are, however, are wide and comfortable.  The two-toned motif is used all around the interior, with the padding on the doors and dash matching the look of the center of the seats. The dash itself is a double curve, providing a separate space for the driver and passenger and demonstrating that a car does not have to be plain to be inexpensive.

There is enough leg and head room in the rear for two tall passengers to travel comfortably, and the rear seats fold flat for additional storage space.

For entertainment, the Cruze came with AM/FM and XM satellite radio in addition to the CD and MP3 players, and the iPod and USB connections. The six-speaker sound system, with sub woofers in the front doors, was more than ample to envelope the cabin in sound though it doesn’t quite compete with the Mazda’s Bose. And the car’s wind suppression is effective enough to allow you to easily hear every note in a soft solo even though the car is rolling down the road at triple digit speeds.

There is no navigation system in the Cruze, but the car has both Bluetooth connection for your smartphone and OnStar, GM’s satellite communications network. So one can either use an app like Google’s navigation system or push the OnStar button and get turn-by-turn directions as the system’s satellites follow you down the highway.

 In addition to the trans-Pacific competition, the Japanese auto makers are also facing challenges the Koreans, whose Hyundai Elantra seeks a share of the small car, under $25,000 market.

The Elantra, priced in the middle at just over $22,000, is not just a means of getting around. It is the latest model out of a California design studio which takes its “fluidic” styling cues from the imprint of waves along the Pacific coast sands. In January, the Elantra was voted Car of the Year by jurors at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The win partly stems from the fact that even though it’s a small car, the Elantra is individually, stylistically beautiful. It does not resemble a truncated version of a larger model like the Genesis, which won the 2011 award, or the full sized Sonata, which is so popular its resale value after a year is higher than its original sticker price.

The Elantra continues the Hyundai practice of offering a lot for less.  Under the hood is a typically small, four-cylinder engine producing just 148 horsepower. Unlike the Cruze, it is not turbocharged, and will not be mistaken for a racing car despite its sleek, flowing silhouette and 17-inch wheels.

   The Koreans put their efforts inside. The Elantra has two-tone leather seats, and both the front and rear seats can be heated. For entertainment, the Elantra has satellite radio as well as Bluetooth audio and connections for iPods, USB and MP3 players. The sound system is the largest of the bunch, with a 360-watt premium surround sound system with six speakers and rear amplifier designed for tailgate parties. The Elantra comes with a navigations system and seven-inch touch screen that is mated to the satellite radio to provide real time XM traffic and road condition updates.

All cars provide basic transportation. But aside from that function, they are generally the largest investment a family makes in utilitarian art.  In the category of the car as mobile sculpture, it is the aesthetics which determine what attracts a buyer and keeps a car owner happy for several years. If one is seeking a $25,000 art project, there are a lot to choose from.

–Roger Witherspoon writes Shifting Gears at www.RogerWitherspoon.com

2012 Mazda 3

 

MSRP:                                                                        $24,970

EPA Mileage:                        28 MPG City                          40 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

2.0-Liter, 4-cylinder engine producing 155 horsepower and 148 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual mode; stability and traction controls; anti-lock and 4-wheel disc brakes; front wheel drive; rack and pinion steering;  independent front & rear suspension; blind spot monitoring; automatic leveling, bi-xenon headlights.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; 265-watt Bose audio system with 10 speakers; iPod, MP3, and USB connections; 6-disc CD player; Bluetooth phone and audio;  powered sunroof; tilt and telescoping, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, phone, cruise and entertainment controls; leather seats; heated front seats; powered driver’s seat;  navigation system with 3-inch screen.

2012 Honda Civic HF

 

MSRP:                                                                        $20,225

EPA Mileage:                        29 MPG City                          41 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

1.8-Liter SOHC, aluminum alloy, 4- cylinder engine producing 140 horsepower and 128 pound/feet of torque; 5-speed automatic transmission; MacPherson strut front suspension;  multi-link rear suspension; front wheel drive; 15-inch alloy wheels; rack and pinion steering; stability control; driver and front passenger dual stage and side airbags; side curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM radio; 160-watt audio system with 4 speakers; CD player; MP3, USB, and iPod connection; tilt and telescope steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise controls;

2012 Chevrolet Cruze

 

MSRP:                                                                        $21,455

EPA Mileage:                        26 MPG City                          37 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   23.7 MPG Mixed

 

Performance / Safety:

 

1.4-liter, DOHC, cast aluminum, turbo-charged engine producing 138 horsepower and148 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission with manual mode; traction and stability controls; independent, MacPherson strut, front suspension; torsion beam rear suspension; 17-inch wheels; 4-wheel, anti-lock brakes; driver and front passenger front, knee, side impact, and head curtain airbags; rear side impact and head curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM Satellite radio; CD and MP3 player; USB and iPod ports; 6-speaker sound system; Bluetooth and OnStar communications; tilt & telescope steering wheel; leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio, Bluetooth,  and cruise controls.

 

2012 Hyundai Elantra

 

MSRP:                                                                        $22,110

EPA Mileage:                        29 MPG City                          40 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

1.8-Liter DOHC aluminum engine providing 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed manual transmission; independent MacPherson front suspension; torsion axel rear suspension; rack and pinion steering; ventilated front disc brakes; solid  rear disc brakes; 17-inch alloy wheels; stability and traction control; fog lights; front, side impact, and rear curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; CD and MP3 player; iPod and USB ports; 360-watt premium sound system with 6 speakers and amplifier; Bluetooth phone and audio;  tilt and telescoping steering wheel with fingertip Bluetooth, audio, and cruise controls.

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Road Running Investments: 4 Cars Worth More Used Than New

May 31, 2011


By Roger Witherspoon

 

            People contemplating potential financial investments are not likely to put a car on the short list of places to park their money for a year. Indeed, the standard mantra – though exaggerated – is that a new car loses half its value the moment it leaves the dealership.

But if you had bought a 2010 Toyota Prius Hatchback, a 2011 Hyundai Sonata SE, a muscular, 2011 Chevy Camaro SS, or the iconic 2011 Kia Soul, you could have made money putting it on the market after driving it around for a year. And that’s with serious driving.

The EPA considers 15,000 miles to be the average an American motorist drives the family car in the course of a year. According to Kelley Blue Book ( www.KBB.com  ), which tracks private party and Internet sales through sites such as www.Autotrader.com ,  a Prius (  http://bit.ly/lynbyq ) with 22,500 miles and an original MSRP of $22,150 is now selling on the private market for $24,705 – an increase of $2,555 over the purchase price. That’s a return of 11.5 percent, which is higher than the return Bernie Madoff gave his favored investors during the heyday of his Ponzi years.

The stylish Sonata sedan ( http://bit.ly/mtnAO4 ) with 13,500 miles on it, sells for $24,170, an increase of $855 over its purchase price of $23,315 for a respectable 3.7 percent return. The Kia Soul ( http://bit.ly/lGLbXz ) , which uses hip hop hamsters to hype its appeal to youthful buyers, held pretty steady with a resale price of $14,055 after 13,500 miles. That’s just $60 over the purchase price of $13,995, but its more than the Federal Reserve was paying on treasury notes during last year’s financial crisis.

And near the top of the investment list is an entry from Detroit, the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Coupe, which left the showroom with a sticker at $$31,000 and after 8,000 miles on the road can now be sold for $34,000 – an investment return of 9.6 percent (http://bit.ly/mdRgHg ).

“In most cases a car is not an investment,” said Alec Gutierrez, manager of vehicle evaluations for Kelley Blue Book. “Over the last several years, however, used car values have been on the rise.  Part of that is a lack of vehicles available due to the economy and a reduction in new vehicle sales.

“Cars fit the classic definition of a depreciating asset. But with supply decreasing and fuel assets increasing, their value has been really strong.”

The domestic car market, Gutierrez explained, dropped from 17 million cars per year in 2005 and 2006 to a low of 10.5 million in 2009, a decline of nearly 40 percent. So there are far fewer cars on the used car lots. “The increases depend on the segment, however,” he added. “Overall, used car values are up between 5 percent and 6 percent. But the value of fuel efficient vehicles can but up anywhere between 15 percent and 20 percent, and we attribute that to the rapid rise in gasoline prices.

“The resale value of the Prius is definitely tied to gas prices. It has always been in demand, and even prior to the earthquake in Japan Toyota had only a 10-day supply in the showrooms. But it is one of the vehicles that consumers flock to immediately as gas prices rise.  We have seen demand for the Prius shoot through the roof, with some Prius values increasing between $3,000 and $4,000. And that goes for two, three, and even four-year-old Prius.”

The Sonata’s appeal, he said, has come from he termed its “phenomenal” new design (http://bit.ly/mzwk2z ).  “Even as it becomes used,” he said, “There is a lot of interest and it stays close to the MSRP. We see that from time to time when the design is great. The new Camaro has done well because of the redesign.

”The standard 2011 Camaro is selling $200 to $500 above sticker price and the convertible is really hot.”

            Hyundai spokesman James Trainer said that in addition to the design, the Sonata is offered as a standard sedan, or a hybrid or a turbo, and the hybrid gets 40 miles per gallon and the standard and turbo get 35 MPG. The Sonata is the only car in the mid-sized sedan segment that does not offer a V-6 engine.

“The competition – Camry and Honda Accord – have to be engineered to carry the weight of that bigger engine.  But our turbo-charged four cylinder engine, with 274 horsepower, gets better horsepower than any of the 6’s do.”

The resale value is also helped by Hyundai’s 100,000 mile warranty.

The Kia Soul, said Gutierrez, has benefitted from rising gas prices “and it’s a fun design. Nissan has tried to jump into that market with its Cube. That car is performing well, but the 2010 model is just about $1,000 below its MSRP. The Kia Soul is just more in demand.”

The reception of the boxy Soul comes as something of a surprise, particularly with its pants-sagging, hoody-wearing, hip hop hamsters comparing this odd-shaped Kial to standard boxes and toasters (  http://bit.ly/mCKQx3 ). “The car was targeted equally at male and female Gen Y consumers in their mid-20s who are looking for their first car,” said Michael Sprague, Kia’s vice president of marketing.

“We positioned the Soul to break out from the ordinary and offer a new way to roll.  Our creative agency, David and Goliath, came up with the concept of hamsters who were on the wheel and broke out of that cycle. We thought it was great imagery to convey that you don’t have to buy the traditional little compact car out there. You can have this really cool car instead of one of the other boxy cars.

“A lot of parents are putting the money down and buying it for their children, with the children making the ongoing installment payments.”

Kia has also found that a large portion of their sales are to senior citizens, who are still active and like its price, interior spaciousness and the fact that it is easy to get into and out of.

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A Taste of Green Sports: The Hybrid Honda CR-Z

February 18, 2011

 

By Roger Witherspoon

 

A car doesn’t have to be ugly to be fuel efficient.

Nor does a car have to sacrifice pizzazz to save the planet.

Starting with those dictates, the challenge to the guys with the crayons at Honda was to come up with a low end, compact sports car, which had hybrid technology and better gas mileage than the little, Plain Jane, Honda Fit or its stalwart workhorse, the Honda Civic.  So the designers threw out the old templates, melted their crayons drawing something that oozed a sense of hot and, since they couldn’t think of a clever name for it, settled on the CR-Z.

Outside, the CR-Z is a stunning little sports car with a tapered front and aggressive little grill, sliding to a flared rear end. From its profile, the CR-Z resembles a jet engine waiting to be ignited. It is the kind of car that easily passes the whiplash test – it fairly screams for a second glance. And there is nothing about it that says, well, Honda.

That part’s the good news. The rest of the car needs some work.

Under that sloping hood is a two-part power system: the gasoline engine, and the electric motor. The primary power comes from  a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder gas engine producing just 122 horsepower, followed by an electric motor feeding off a 100-volt, nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The combination is mated to a six-speed manual transmission that, in typical Honda fashion, is quick and responsive. The car is not as fast as it looks, however, and the handling is, well, ordinary.

This is not, however, a full hybrid in that you can’t drive on just the electric motor. Rather, the motor serves as an augmenting system for the gasoline engine, shutting it off when you are idling or stopped.  That boosts fuel efficiency to an EPA estimated 37 mpg. That is still good  fuel mileage, and places the CR-Z fifth among all cars behind the 50-mile per gallon Toyota Prius, 42 MPG Honda Civic Hybrid, 41 MPG  Honda Insight, and the 39 MPG  Ford Fusion.

The power system in the CR-Z differs from other hybrids in another manner: it is not automatically activated when you turn the car on. While the electric motor does shut the gasoline engine off when you are in gear, if you turn on the car to warm it up, the gasoline engine just keeps chugging away. The car is also noisy at higher speeds, something that comes as a surprise given its svelte shape and the fact that Honda’s are generally quiet cars.

Unlike the Honda Civic which has four seats – even though the ones in the rear have very little leg room – the CR-Z is not designed for rear passengers. There is no second row of seats, just two bins on a shelf, or you can lay the trunk lid down and extend the rear cargo area. There are usable storage areas for cell phones and other items, including a small pop up bin on top of the dash.

The test car had a navigating system and a 6.5-inch screen and voice recognition. Surprisingly, however, the CR-Z only offered AM/FM radio and a single-disc, CD player but no satellite radio system or capability.  Lack of satellite radio is surprising for a $23,000 car, but the navigation system is a good one. And the backup camera is crystal clear.  The sound, from a 360-watt system with seven speakers, was more than enough to envelope the small passenger compartment.

The car does have Bluetooth for easy cell phone pairing, and the layout of the dash was eye catching, with back-lit blue dials surrounded by a pulsing red line which let you know how fuel efficient you were. You can make up for the absence of satellite radio by bringing along your iPod, MP3 player or USB drive and plugging into the car’s sound system.

If there is a major problem it is that the sight lines are atrocious.

The rear side windows are small triangles, which means you can’t really see traffic out of them and you have to depend on the small side mirrors to see if any cars are approaching. That makes changing lanes something of a rolling guess. The rear roof tapers and then is cut off in a four-inch square back. That little window slit is not enough to see what is behind the car, particularly at night.

There are always tradeoffs when you have a roadster. But Honda needs to rethink that one. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution initially had a wide spoiler across the center of its back window which pretty much blocked out everything except oncoming Mack Trucks. They dropped that spoiler in the 2011 edition of the Evolution because it blocked too much of the rear view. Instead, they mounted a spoiler at the end of the trunk, where it is functional, attractive, and not a road hazard.  The hatchback design of the CR-Z doesn’t lend itself to that solution, but the current system leaves a lot to be desired and is not up to Honda’s usual thoughtful standards or the promise of such a good looking car.

But nearly all new iterations of a car have design pains. And if one is in the market for an attractive, fuel efficient roadster, the CR-Z isn’t a bad place to start.

 

2011 Honda CR-Z

MSRP:                                                                       $23,310

EPA Mileage:                        31 MPG City                          37 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   34 MPG Mixed

Performance / Safety:

1.5-Liter, SOHC, 4-cylinder engine producing 122 horsepower and 128 pound/feet of torque; 100.8 volt electric motor; 6-speed manual transmission; power assisted Rack & Pinion steering; anti-lock brakes;  vehicle stability assist; daytime running lights; 16-inch alloy wheels; fog lights; high density headlights; dual stage front and side airbags; side curtain airbags.

 

Interior / Comfort:

AM/FM radio; 360-watt, 7-speaker sound system; CD and MP3 player; iPod and USB port; tilt & telescope steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise controls; navigation system with voice activation; Bluetooth.

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Style, Snow and the Honda Accord

January 23, 2011


By Roger Witherspoon

 

There was more than a foot of snow on the ground and the stuff was still falling fast.

It was a fine, light, white powder, the kind my SkiDoc sister flies to Colorado and Montreal to zip through for a week. But skiing isn’t my passion, I had errands to run, the street was a compacted, white blanket and the pending car trip looked less and less inviting. The two foot tall barrier mound of dirty snow left by the town’s snow plows did not make things any better.

So what would your average Honda Accord, with 18-inch wheels, standard Michelin all-season radial tires, make of this mess?

The Honda’s V-6 engine had been running, and while its 271 horsepower were just in reserve at the moment, the heaters under the front seats, the front and back windshields, and the side mirrors meant I could easily see where I wanted to go or where the ice slid me. This was a two-door, six-speed manual coupe, the sporty model of the popular Honda sedan, and it was designed more for drag racing than snow plodding.

But errands could not wait. I slid the chrome and leather gear shift into first, popped Sly Stone’s Hot Fun in the Summertime into the six-disc CD player and eased down the unshoveled driveway to the snow hurdle at the curb. There was a slight wiggle in the rear of the car as the Honda’s traction control figured out the parameters to the snowy surface. Then it treated the snow as any other pavement, and the Honda went straight down the driveway and over the snow mound as if it were just another traffic speed bump.

Over the next few miles there were more than a few occasions for the front-wheel drive Accord to swerve around stalled or sliding cars. But none of these conditions seemed to trouble the car’s traction and stability controls. While part of that was due to the tread pattern on the Michelin radials, a good portion of the credit goes to Honda. With many vehicles, it is necessary to disconnect the traction control in ice or snow conditions because the skidding crashes their computer system. With Honda,  you might as well pop in and enjoy your favorite half dozen CDs, or run through 1,000 or so jams from your iPod or USB because the car will treat the worst snow day as, well, just another day on the road.

The 2011 Honda Accord is an updated version of one of the most popular cars on the road and packs a lot into a $33,000 package. On the minus side, the car is missing a backup camera, which is a safety item you expect to find in well made cars priced over $25,000. In addition, the driver’s seat is power driven but the front passenger seat is only manually operated.

But as far as complaints go, that’s it.

The Honda Accord has stayed a top selling car because it is thoughtfully designed, reliable, appealing outside and comfortable inside. All things considered, the 2011 Coupe doesn’t stray from that formula. It can’t afford to.  Ford never forgave Honda from stealing the title of best selling sedan from its stylish Taurus two decades ago. The new, revitalized Ford Motor Company is roaring back and is tied in JD Power’s 2010 assessment for the highest quality among mass market brands with its Ford Fusion.

Outside, the new two-door Accord Coupe has a wide, sloping hood and a more aggressive grill holding its trademark, lopsided H. The company has never made a gas-guzzling V-8 engine, though its V-6 power plant gets only moderate fuel economy with an EPA rating of 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 MPG on the highway. The test car averaged 19 miles per gallon in mixed driving, though some of that fuel was burned while warming up the car on frigid mornings. The six-speed manual transmission takes some getting used to because the transition between gears can be abrupt and, if unprepared, you can find the car jerking to a halt. But once you have adapted to the rhythm of the car, it is both smooth, aggressive, and has more in common with a BMW 335 diesel than with the Ford Fusion or its Japanese competitors, the Toyota Camry or Nissan Altima.


Inside, the Accord has surprising room for a coupe. The seats are soft, supple leather, and passengers who live north of six feet can ride comfortably in the rear seats. The rear seats also fold flat to enlarge the already ample trunk. The front seats can be heated which is appreciated in snow country.

In terms of gadgets, the Accord comes with a navigation system tied to its XM radio, providing traffic and weather updates if they affect a planned route. For entertainment, the coupe does have a 270-watt premium sound system with seven speakers, to amplify jams from your iPod, MP3 player, or USB drive.  Its Bluetooth system is easy to use and, once set, automatically reconnects with the cell phone whenever it is in range.

Honda is in the automotive equivalent of a dogfight these days, but has stayed competitive with style and performance at a reasonable price. The company is not likely to lose ground with the new Accord Coupe.

2011 Honda Accord Coupe EX-L

MSRP:                                                                       $32,480

EPA Mileage:                        17 MPG City                          26 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   19 MPG Mixed

Performance / Safety:

3.5-Liter, aluminum alloy, SOHC V-6 engine producing 271 horsepower and  254 pound/feet of torque; 6-speed manual transmission; 4-wheel disc brakes; front wheel drive; rack and pinion steering; double wishbone front suspension;  18-inch, aluminum wheels; fog lights; heated side mirrors; stability and traction control; driver’s and front passenger’s front and side airbags; side curtain airbags.

 

Interior / Comfort:

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; 270-watt audio system with 7 speakers; MP3, iPod, and USB connections; navigation system with traffic and weather updates; Bluetooth; leather wrapped, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls; leather seats, heated in front, fold flat in rear; power sunroof..

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