Posts By: Megan Benoit

By on December 17, 2007

25-front.jpgThe 2008 Subaru WRX is the U.S. pistonhead's cheap thrills with no frills poster child. Meanwhile, the Impreza. Yes, I know: a Subaru without a turbo is like a Mercedes without automatic climate control, but hey, normal people drive cars too. When you move away from turbo-nutter wastegate wonderland, the word “thrills” takes on a different meaning. Or does it? Sans blower, does the new entry level Impreza have what it takes to tickle the fancy of a wider audience?

By on December 7, 2007

08accordex-l-v6_240.jpgThe Subaru Legacy GT, Infiniti G35 and Acura TSX are paid-in-full members of the practical power automotive niche. They cater to financially responsible enthusiasts who want their reliability served with a supersized side of hoon and a la carte cog-swapping. Although Honda’s new Accord V-6 packs a 268-horsepower punch, the four-door’s a pedal short in the row-your-own department. Fortunately, the Accord EX-L coupe boasts a six-speed manual transmission. So is the EX-L a category killer or just another vanilla thrilla?

By on December 6, 2007

gps-speedtrap-detector-20050712b.jpgThe Newspaper reports that the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) is using federal gas tax revenue to fund competitions to see which police departments can write the most speeding tickets. The National Law Enforcement Challenge, as it's called, rewards speeding ticket-happy police departments with federally-funded tricked-out "pursuit vehicles," like the ever popular Hemi-fied Charger. To earn maximum points, the po-po must have a zero-tolerance (i.e. no warning) anti-speeding policy in place. NHTSA argues that writing more tickets promotes safer driving, but the statistics beg to differ. Traffic fatalities in one participating state, South Carolina, are up for the year. While some departments are attempting to use positive reinforcement to reward good behavior, increased fines (and subsequent revenues) appear to be the order of the day. And the list of winners' "creative" ticketing is downright scary. 

By on November 30, 2007

070107003.jpgBusinessGreen reports that Ricardo, Land Rover, mapmaker Ordnance Survey, mobile giant Orange and the UK's Transport Research Laboratory have banded together to develop the "rCube control system." In theory, the bolt-in computer will combine the [now] familiar real time traffic data with automatic control over a hybrid's engine, batteries, throttle and brakes. Say what? "If you are approaching a junction or a traffic jam and have to stop, the control system will optimise the deceleration to limit how hard you have to break and maximise the amount of energy that is captured and used to recharge the battery," explains Tom Robinson, senior product group manager for control and electronics at Ricardo. "It means that you get a smoother ride and lower emissions." The scarily-named "Sentience project" promises a prototype rCube-equipped Ford Escape Hybrid by the summer. So… what's hybridless lame duck Land Rover got to do with any of this? And why can't they just teach people to go easy on the gas and the brakes?

By on November 13, 2007

a06_hydrogen_full.jpgSetting aside our usual "show me the infrastructure" hydrogen economy skepticism for a moment, it looks like we may have a winner! The AFP (via Yahoo News) is reporting that University of Pennsylvania researchers have discovered a way to generate hydrogen that produces more hydrogen energy than the process consumes in electrical energy. [NB: for those of you wishing to cite basic laws of thermodynamics, electrical energy is not the only source of energy in the process.] Poor efficiency rates and low yields have led many alt. energy experts to consider hydrogen an also-ran even before it technically ran. Apparently, adding aetic acid to the production process allows scientists to produce hydrogen at 99% of the theoretical maximum yield. Theoretically, that's more than enough efficiency to make hydrogen a viable energy source. Even better, aetic acid is a common byproduct of glucose fermentation, which is typically discarded. Isn't it wonderful when a plan comes together? Expect tons of complaining from flyover, er, corn land, and much rejoicing from grocery aisles as the price of beef and dairy go backdown to reasonable levels. That is, if this isn't a bunch of hot (cold?) air.

By on October 1, 2007

texpump.jpgWhat Car? [via The Daily Record] says premium petrol is a rip-off, providing neither extra power nor superior gas mileage. The UK consumer magazine paid a lab to test various premium grades against their lowly counterparts. The lab concluded that premium petrol purchasers may eke out a few more miles to the gallon, but the cost (up to 30p more per gallon) outweighs the benefit. In specific, they claim that Shell's V-Power petrol couldn't quite match the mileage provided by regular: 22.9mpg to 23mpg (which is well within the margin of error). The article fails to mention that certain car manufacturers require premium unleaded for a reason; the knock sensor will smooth things over, but you'll get pitiful gas mileage and probably damage your engine over the long run. 

By on August 31, 2007

08scion_xd_01.jpgThe Scion brand has turned to face some strange ch-ch-changes over the last model year. The bento-box-on-wheels xB was re-fashioned for American tastes, exchanging hip Nipponese style for porky gangsta chic. And now the xA, the mini-minivan-shaped thingie that somehow (unfortunately) captured the spirit of the orthopedic Toyota Echo, has been axed. In a break with ToMoCo’s tradition of maintaining model names, Scion has decided to replace the xA with the xD, a mini-CUV-shaped thingie with bad ‘tude. Go figure.

By on August 31, 2007

twingo2908_468x316.jpgSo French automaker Renault hired an ad company to help promote the new Euro-only Twingo to Dutch women. The UK's not-so-prim Daily Mail reports the result: a faux-handwritten letter from an unknown admirer who "called them 'darling', suggested meeting soon for a drink and signed themselves 'lots of love, M." Despite a reference to the Twingo– "you have a Twingo, don't you, I saw the new one and thought immediately of you"– and a color photo of the car enclosed with this missive, recipients were not well pleased. There were heated exchanges in many a huis, while some women were bummed to learn that "M" didn't exist (although you've got to take that idea with a shaker of salt considering the source). Renault has apologized and will send a letter of apology to all 30k households. Presumably it doesn't start "Dear John…"

By on August 20, 2007

delhi-traffic.jpgGet your mind out of the gutter– this is an automotive blog. And anyway, despite rumors of a plastic car (heard today on the Paul Harvey newscast no less) The Hindu Business Line reports that the new Tata will have a traditional steel body and the usual bits and pieces. The Rabbit-sized ride will sport a rear-mounted 600cc engine. While it doesn't have an official name yet, the "One Lakh Car" (100,000 rupees, or around $2,400) will be priced within reach of India's growing middle class. Considering the tiny profit margin involved (about three percent), they'll need to sticker that low to generate enough volume to turn a profit. (Ain't capitalism grand?) Currently, Indian autos are priced well out of the economic mainstream; about eight in 1000 Indians owns a car. What's that you say? Safety? Well, it can hardly be less safe than the mopeds favored by most of India's population. Perhaps it'll give us something other than China's dismal safety ratings to talk about.

By on August 15, 2007

050201_driving_cell_hmed12phmedium.jpgThe Chicago Sun Times reports that *gasp* drivers still talk on their cell phone whilst 're driving– even after laws were enacted making the practice a ticket-able offence. No surprise there. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed that a 2001 cell phone ban in New York State led to a dramatic decline in in-car cellular communications. Three years later and the percentage of drivers using cell phones from behind the wheel went right back up to pre-ban levels. Why? Lax law enforcement; in Chicago cops wrote 13,400 cell phone related tickets as compared to 2.8 million traffic tickets. The study also cites an "above the law" attitude amongst offenders. In other words, there's a large number of cell phone-wielding drivers who believe they're perfectly safe drivers, much like chronic speeders. In this, they are sadly mistaken, as anyone who talks on a cell phone while driving may be as dangerous as a drunk driver.

By on July 26, 2007

hertz.jpgThe Detroit News reports that The Big 2.8's decision to trim fleet sales is jacking-up prices down at the rental car lot. The cost of renting a car has jumped more than 20 percent in the past two years, heading for a five percent upwards jolt in '07. Manufacturers are also modding the product mix, cutting back on the dirt-cheap manual everything models the average Budget, Avis and Hertz renter has "enjoyed" in years gone by. By selling higher-priced, better featured cars, the Detroiters hope today's rental car will be tomorrow's not-so-dirt-cheap retail sale. Meanwhile, if you're not buying this explanation, if you're skeptical about car rental pricing policies, join the folks over iAfrica.com, who believe the industry is rife with "collusive and monopolistic practices."

By on July 25, 2007

clarion_drive_eye2.jpgA gaggle of gadget-related blogs are reporting that Japanese electronics stores are selling a clip-on camera for automotive sun visors. The camera's G-force detector starts the camera recording at the onset of sudden deceleration (e.g. braking to avoid smashing into someone's car or actually smashing into someone's car). The system provides up to 15 seconds of pre-accident abd five 5 seconds of post-accident footage. The camera is housed within a heavy-duty magnesium alloy casing, in the hopes that it will survive all but the worst of accidents. The clip-on cam can also record on demand, should you want to show your friends your [pre-crash?] shenanigans. At $412, a visorcam is a high price to pay to prove your innocence (depending)– but cheap compared to a lawsuit.

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