Posts Tagged ‘Honda’

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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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