The Truth About Cars » Fuel Economy http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 22:29:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Fuel Economy http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com EGR-equipped Buick Regal Hits 40 MPG http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/egr-equipped-buick-regal-hits-40-mpg/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/egr-equipped-buick-regal-hits-40-mpg/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 10:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791809 EGR Buick Regal Gets 40 MPG

The current Buick Regal is an excellent car. I know, because I have one parked in my garage (it’s sweet). Still, it could be better- and the guys at the SouthWest Research Institute (SWRI) have figured out a way to enhance the mid-range Buick so that it produces fewer harmful carbon emissions and gets better fuel economy.

Can’t beat that!

Far from being pie-in-the-sky thinking, however, the motivation for building this 40 MPG ultra low-emission Buick Regal comes out of necessity. Namely the 2025 CAFE regulations that will force automobile manufacturers to achieve a 54.5 miles per gallon EPA rating across their product range. At the same time, the EPA is also expected to release new, more stringent emissions standards in a bid to improve air quality and save lives. Those two factors mean there is considerable industry focus on improving both emissions and fuel efficiency without incurring huge R&D costs- and the EGR system built into the SWRI team’s 2014 Buick Regal might play a big part in that.

EGR, for those not in the know, stands for exhaust gas recirculation. In the case of the Buick Regal tester, the 2.0 Liter engine was modified so that exhaust from one dedicated cylinder is run with a rich mixture of fuel and air to reform hydrocarbon fuel into carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The reformulated exhaust gas is then cooled and looped into a patented mixer where the exhaust gasses are mixed with fresh air before going into the engine intake. “By running one cylinder rich, the excess fuel is reformed into hydrogen and carbon monoxide,” added Chris Chadwell, manager of SWRI’s Spark Ignition Engine R&D section. “The in-cylinder reformation slightly reduces the carbon dioxide and water vapor while producing large volumes of carbon monoxide, which is a good fuel, and hydrogen, which is an outstanding fuel. That provides an octane boost and a flammability boost, and extends the EGR limit of the engine.”

It’s all pretty trick stuff, in other words- and it’s not that far away from being a production-ready piece. Let’s hope the next generation of Buick Regals- heck, let’s hope they build a new ROADMASTER!- has enough slick SWRI stuff on it to still be legal, then. In the meantime, you can check out an under hood shot of the SWRI EGR-equipped 2014 Buick Regal, below. Enjoy!

 

egr-buick_1

 

Source | Photos: SWRI; Originally published on Gas 2.

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Could The 2015 Corvette Stingray Crack 30 MPG With New 8-Speed Automatic? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/could-the-2015-corvette-stingray-crack-30-mpg-with-new-8-speed-automatic/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/could-the-2015-corvette-stingray-crack-30-mpg-with-new-8-speed-automatic/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 14:35:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=788866 2014-GM-Eight-Speed-Automatic-Transmission

GM’s upcoming 8-speed automatic, dubbed the 8L90, will be a cornerstone of their new rear-wheel drive cars – and the 2015 Corvette lineup will be among the first to get it.

Back in December, our own Ronnie Schreiber gave us a preview of the new 8-speed gearbox via a leaked SAE paper. Although it carries the same footprint as the outgoing 6L80, the 8L90 is full of improvements. First gear is shorter, for better acceleration, while fuel economy is said to be improved by 5 percent across the board. With 6-speed automatic C7 able to hit 28 mpg on the highway, a 5 percent gain translates to 29.4 mpg – but it wouldn’t be shocking if Chevy pulled out all the stops to hit the magical thirty em pee gee number, if only for marketing bragging rights.

Along with the Corvette, the 8L90 is expected to appear on other rear-drive cars, as well as trucks. The addition of the 8-speed auto will certainly be a nice boost for GM’s full-size SUVs and pickup trucks, not to mention rear-drive Cadillacs and the upcoming Camaro.

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Diesels, Refinement Key To Kiefer’s Vision Of Future GM Engine Development http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/diesels-refinement-key-to-kiefers-vision-of-future-gm-engine-development/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/diesels-refinement-key-to-kiefers-vision-of-future-gm-engine-development/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 12:30:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=776809 Steve Kiefer

General Motors head of global powertrain and former Delphi senior vice president of powertrain systems Steve Kiefer aims to steer engine development toward a brighter future, one influenced by his love for diesels, quietness and refinement.

Automotive News reports Kiefer’s vision may have begun to come to fruition this week with the debut of the new Ecotec family of engines slated to power 25 percent of GM’s global lineup by 2017. The eleven engines are based on older-though-proven technology found in the cam chains, blocks and other components, resulting in a family with lower NVH than previous engines. The new Ecotec family is a reflection of Kiefer’s method of improving existing technology to accomplish what competing engines already do — such as Ford’s EcoBoost — for little cost in development and assembly.

Speaking of Ford, both the Blue Oval and the General are collaborating on a new generation of nine- and 10-speed transmissions for their respective pickups, with the latter expected to arrive in two years. Though no word has been said on whether GM will either use diesel power or smaller gasoline engines in their fullsize trucks, Kiefer’s experience on the supply side of the industry — especially in regards to knowing what the competition is doing to be green and efficient — could prove valuable in the long run.

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GM Unveils New, Clean-Sheet Ecotec Family http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-unveils-new-clean-sheet-ecotec-family/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/gm-unveils-new-clean-sheet-ecotec-family/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 04:10:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=776425 GM Ecotec New Trinity

General Motors has unveiled a new generation of their Ecotec engine family, whose 11 three- and four-pot powerplants will find a home under the bonnets of 27 models by 2017.

Automotive News reports the new clean-sheet engines range from a turbocharged 1-liter I3, to a 1.5-liter turbo-four, feature modular design for efficient assembly, consist of aluminium heads and blocks, and include VVT, dual overhead cams with four valves per cylinder, and water-cooled exhaust manifolds among other offerings. Power in the family ranges from 75 horses/70 lb-ft of torque, to 165 horsepower and 184 lb-ft.

The first of the new engines, the aforementioned I3, is already under production, and will debut under the hood of the Opel Adam later this spring, while the 2015 Cruze will come with a turbocharged 1.4-liter and a naturally aspirated 1.5-liter for the Chinese market. No word on when the Ecotec engines will debut in North America, however, let alone which vehicles will receive them.

GM expects annual volume to reach 2.5 million units by 2017 once all five factories responsible for their production are in full swing. The factories are located in Michigan, Mexico, China, Hungary and South Korea.

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Medium, Heavy Truck Fuel Economy Standards Deadline Set For March 2016 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/medium-heavy-truck-fuel-economy-standards-deadline-set-for-march-2016/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/medium-heavy-truck-fuel-economy-standards-deadline-set-for-march-2016/#comments Wed, 19 Feb 2014 11:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=747537 International LoneStar

Before a gathering at a distribution warehouse in Maryland, United States President Barack Obama announced that his administration has set March 2016 as the deadline for the next round of fuel efficiency and emissions standards for medium and heavy trucks to meet compliance.

Bloomberg reports President Obama’s latest initiative — part of his overall strategy regarding energy security and climate change — will bring “thousands of dollars of savings every year” for truck operators while also benefiting the economy via lower costs for consumer goods and new technology development. Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the new standards by March 2015.

Industry groups in general were supportive of the announcement, which will also see manufacturers working with the federal government on bringing new trucks up to the new standards, though American Trucking Association president Bill Graves urged the Obama administration to proceed with caution by setting forth a path “that is both based on the best science and research available and economically achievable.”

Moving forward from 2016, the next set of standards to come into force by 2018 and beyond will see the industry aggressively use technology — especially in the use of aerodynamics — to meet the fuel economy standards set at that time,.

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New F-150 Prompts Aluminium Run By Competitors http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-f-150-prompts-aluminium-run-by-competitors/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/new-f-150-prompts-aluminium-run-by-competitors/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 14:30:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=740865 ford f-150_r

As Ford’s newest F-150 dons an aluminium crown in place of steel, the usurpers waiting to take the throne of Truck Mountain are running to secure their own supplies of the lightweight metal.

The Detroit News reports that every automaker not named Ford has looked at the Blue Oval’s plans for aluminium use in order to meet CAFE standards with as little effort as possible, prompting a run to any supplier to help them with their ambitions.

One such manufacturer, Novelis Inc., has seen an increase of business as a result of the F-150′s battle plan, with head Tom Boney telling the newspaper how the run is affecting his business and that of his customers:

“There’s isn’t an automotive manufacturer that makes vehicles in North America that we’re not talking to. Our customers will be making announcements fairly regularly over the next six years that will transform the automobile industry.”

In the near term, Ford has most of the automotive-grade metal locked up for their new truck, which should give both automakers and suppliers enough time to see how Ford’s strategy plays out while also working on their own plans, tooling and production capacity.

Alcoa spokesman Kevin Lowery added that aluminium is the No. 2 material in automobile production, with North American producers aiming to double their use of the metal by 2025 at the same time CAFE standards hit a new peak of 54.5 mpg; Novelis expects usage to climb from 6 percent today to 25 percent by 2020.

Though Boney remained mum on specific vehicle programs waiting to use aluminium, he noted that more trucks will likely follow the F-150′s lead, as well as SUVs. Already, both GM and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles use the metal in the hoods and chassis components for their respective trucks, while Jaguar and Range Rover already sell aluminium-bodied vehicles.

Ultimately, though, he says that customers will come out on top of this new arms race among manufacturers:

“The automobile industry in Detroit is at its best when innovation is occurring at a rapid pace. That’s the period Ford has thrust us into in a big way”

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U.S. Average Fuel Economy Increases In January http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/u-s-average-fuel-economy-increases-in-january/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/u-s-average-fuel-economy-increases-in-january/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 18:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=739449 2014 Ford Fiesta Hatchback Exterior

According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the fleetwide fuel economy in the United States increased for the second consecutive month to 24.9 mpg during the month of January 2014.

Though the average peaked at 25 mpg late last year, the current figure is up 1.2 percent over the 24.6 mpg average gained at the same time last year, while already ahead of the overall 2013 average of 24.7 mpg. The gain is in spite of falling green-car sales in the same month, where 14 percent less hybrids and EVs left the showroom floor than had done so in 2013.

The cause? The Toyota Prius, whose four variants on the same theme lost 23 percent of what was sold at the same time last year to more three- and four-pot models such as the Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Spark, whose application of fuel economy technology differs greatly from EV and hybrid offerings while also capable of pulling customers away from the truck lots.

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President Obama Promises Tougher Truck MPG Standards, More Renewables http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/president-obama-promises-tougher-truck-mpg-standards-more-renewables/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/president-obama-promises-tougher-truck-mpg-standards-more-renewables/#comments Thu, 30 Jan 2014 16:35:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=728098 CNG Pump + Truck Deluxe Combo With Fries

President Barack Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address was relevant to auto industry types for more than just the hosting of GM CEO Mary Barra, as President Obama also called fortougher fuel economy standards for heavy duty trucks, as well as increased exploration of natural gas as an alternative fuel.

President Obama believes the fuel source, if “extracted safely,” could serve as a bridge between traditional fossil fuels and alternative energy, powering the United States economy with less carbon pollution deemed responsible for climate change. His aim is to cut the traditional red tape to help states build fuel stations, in turn helping Americans into CNG vehicles while also shaking off the ball and chain of foreign oil.

Speaking of greener vehicles, Obama also focused some attention on trucks. In the next few months, the President plans to work with manufacturers and regulators to establish standards for the big rigs hauling goods across America; light trucks are already covered by the 2025 CAFE target of 54.5 mpg. Natural gas has often been cited as a breakthrough fuel for long haul trucking as well.

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Hyundai Canada Settles Class Action Fuel Economy Suit http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hyundai-canada-settles-class-action-fuel-economy-suit/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/hyundai-canada-settles-class-action-fuel-economy-suit/#comments Wed, 29 Jan 2014 17:00:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=726978 2011 Hyundai Elantra Build Sheet

Hyundai Auto Canada reached a settlement with consumers in a class action lawsuit over exaggerated fuel economy numbers among their Hyundai and Kia lineup of vehicles, paying a total of $46.65 million CAD ($41.85 million USD) in the deal, according to just-auto.

Under the terms of the settlement — affecting current and former owners and lessees of 130,000 Hyundai and Kia models made between MY2011 and MY2013 — consumers can either take a one-time payment based on type of vehicle affected, or remain in an existing reimbursement program Hyundai started in late 2012 after the automaker restated fuel economy ratings. The program covers additional fuel costs associated with the adjustment, along with a 15 percent premium in acknowledgement of the inconvenience over the issue so long as the vehicle is in the possession of the owner or lessee.

Those who take the lump sum will receive the payment minus previous reimbursements from the program. Other options available include a dealership credit of 150 percent of the lump sum, and a 200 percent credit of the cash amount towards the purchase of a new Hyundai or Kia.

Though Hyundai’s Canadian wing has its ducks in a row, their operations in the United States are still in the class action process after the Environmental Protection Agency announced fuel economy overstatements made by the automaker, as well as subsequent adjustments to the fact.

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Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion Concept Unveiled Before Detroit Debut http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/volkswagen-passat-bluemotion-concept-unveiled-before-detroit-debut/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/volkswagen-passat-bluemotion-concept-unveiled-before-detroit-debut/#comments Fri, 10 Jan 2014 12:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=695681 2015 Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion 01

Another day, another early unveiling prior to the 2014 Detroit Auto Show, this time from Volkswagen AG with their 42-mpg Passat BlueMotion Concept.

The magic behind the concept’s fuel economy lies within its turbocharged 1.4-liter gasoline four-pot; at city speeds, the engine deactivates two cylinders to boost economy, a feature already found in the automaker’s Polo and Golf sold in Europe. Other fuel-saving methods include a stop-start system, and a coasting function that decouples the engine from the transmission when the driver lifts off the accelerator; the latter is already available in the Jetta Hybrid.

The above setup — which Volkswagen aims to evaluate for the U.S. market — improves upon the current base Passat’s 34 mpg highway from its 1.8-liter turbocharged power plant, though horsepower drops from 170 to 150. The Jetta may also receive a similar package in order to improve upon its 32 mpg highway rating in an effort to catch up to more efficient offerings from Honda, Hyundai and Mazda.

2015 Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion 01 2015 Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion 02 2015 Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion 03 2015 Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion 04 2015 Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion 05 2015 Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion 06 ]]>
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New or Used? : How Much Is MPG Really Worth? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/new-or-used-how-much-is-mpg-really-worth/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/new-or-used-how-much-is-mpg-really-worth/#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 16:07:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=692090 autoguide

 

Dear Steve:

My wife and I finally bought a brand new Honda Accord.  She loves it, and I now have one less worry in my life.

With that one less worry though comes two more things, in the form of two similarly sized cars. At least one of which I no longer need.

We have a 2003 Honda Civic and a 2011 Mazda 3.  The Civic has served as my wife’s faithful commuter for the last 10 years. While the Mazda 3 has served as my own daily driver and our road trip vehicle. I love the Mazda, and it has served me to an absolute T for nearly 50,000 miles.

I just don’t know if I need it now that the Civic is available. Here’s the thing. The Civic gets far better fuel economy than the Mazda 3 which has averaged only about 24 mpg. Now that my wife has a new car that will also become our road trip vehicle, I only need my daily driver to serve as a commuter car. My round-trip commute is 47 miles a day and I just don’t see myself ripping up the asphalt with the Mazda 3 while listening to NPR. So I’m thinking the Civic may be the better long-term bet. Even though I absolutely love the hell out of that Mazda.

Another random thought came to me while adding up the resale numbers. Should I perhaps sell both vehicles and maybe, just maybe, buy a new one? The Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Forte would be a great match and if I sell both vehicles, the cost difference between a new car and a used one may only be a couple thousand bucks.

So what should I do? Sell the Civic? Sell the Mazda 3? Buy an Impreza? Or should I just keep both used cars?

 

Steve Says:

The #1 mistake I see folks do in their car buying decisions is overstate the importance of gas consumption.

Enthusiasts want fast… and they want their MPG.

Commuters want comfort… and they want their NPR… and their MPG.

Retirees want luxury… and plenty of unused horsepower, and they want their MPG.

Each one of these sub-species in the automotive buying world has to deal with two big problems related to this want.

The first is that high MPG doesn’t always equate to high personal satisfaction with the vehicle. Let’s take your two cars for example.

The 2011 Mazda 3 has an enthusiast bent to it, and your list of alternatives seem to point to the desire to have a car with great handling and solid performance.

As for the 2003 Honda Civic? My wife kept one for three years. It’s a perfectly pleasant vehicle, and like most cars given that level of mild praise, it’s definitely more aimed towards the non-enthusiast crowd. If all things were equal, the Mazda 3 would likely be your easy choice.

The second problem with putting gas consumption on that highest pedestal of want,  is that gas consumption represents a very minor cost when two vehicles of comparable size and engine displacement are pitted against each other.

Let’s say you kept these two vehicles as your commuter for the next 8 years and 120,000 miles. The Mazda 3 averages 24 mpg during that time (your average), and the Honda Civic averages 30 mpg (my wife’s average).

In that time, the Mazda will consume 5,000 gallons of gas, while the Civic consumes 4,000 gallons. If the average price of gas is $3,50 during that time, you end up with $3500 extra in overall gas cost. This equates to $437.50 a year or a little less than $1.80 a commuting day.

Still with me? Good. Because that level of difference can become a complete wash in the long run when you factor in repair costs to the older high mileage Civic. Maybe that will happen. Maybe not. Insurance, depreciation, resale value, opportunity cost may all sway this one way or the other. But the bottom line is this…

When you make this decision, the driving experience and the quality of the interior in particular should be the two biggest considerations. You will spend months of your life inside that car. So you need to raise ‘quality of life’ to the top of the list and gas consumption, far lower in the list of wants.

You love the Mazda, and like the Civic, and I’m willing to bet that the Mazda 3 hits those two quality of life check marks with a darker #2 pencil than the Civic. So sell the Civic and keep the Mazda. As for the list of new car alternatives, I don’t think any of them are worth the financial leap given that the Mazda 3 already hits your wants and needs. Good luck!

 

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Overstating MPGs May Cost Hyundai & Kia $395 Million in Proposed Settlement http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/overstating-mpgs-may-cost-hyundai-kia-395-million-in-proposed-settlement/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/overstating-mpgs-may-cost-hyundai-kia-395-million-in-proposed-settlement/#comments Tue, 24 Dec 2013 15:48:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=687418 shyster-lead

Hyundai Motor America and Kia Motors America have agreed to pay as much as $395 million to settle class action lawsuits filed after the Korean automakers overstated fuel economy ratings on about 900,000 vehicles sold in the U.S. Hyundai’s share will be as much as $210 million while Kia will have to pay up to $185 million, according to statements issued by the companies and reports by Automotive News. The settlements must still undergo court review, expected early next year.

The lawsuits were filed after the companies disclosed in November of 2012 that approximately 600,000 Hyundais and 300,000 Kias from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 model years were sold with EPA fuel economy ratings that weren’t accurate. The U.S. EPA relies on testing results provided by car companies. At the time of the announcement, Hyundai and Kia officials apologized blaming flawed internal testing procedures for the overstatements. Eight models were affected and most consumers say the combined MPG ratings of their cars fall by one or two miles per gallon.

Over 50 lawsuits have been consolidated into a single case being handled in federal court in Los Angeles and the dollar figures work out to an average lump sum payment of ~$353 to the affected Hyundai owners and ~$667 to each affected Kia consumer.

John Yoon, attorney for Kia Motors America, said in a statement: “Kia Motors is a responsible company, and the proposed settlement enhances our goal of making things right for our customers by providing new reimbursement options. Kia Motors is fully committed to taking care of its customers, and today’s settlement adds flexibility by adding lump-sum payment options to the transparent reimbursement program introduced last year.”

The actual amounts paid out will depend on how many owners choose to receive lump sum payments. The owners also have the option of continuing to participate in the existing reimbursement program Hyundai and Kia started back when their vehicles’ fuel economy ratings were restated. Current and past owners participating in the reimbursement program receive debit cards to compensate them for the extra gasoline that they’ve had to buy.

“Customers responded favorably to the original reimbursement program,” W. Gerald Flannery, general counsel for Hyundai Motor America, said in a statement. “Today’s settlement is designed to provide them with an option, again intended to make customers fully whole for Hyundai’s fuel economy ratings restatement.”

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Gasoline Power To Dominate U.S. Highways Through 2040 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/gasoline-power-to-dominate-u-s-highways-through-2040/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/gasoline-power-to-dominate-u-s-highways-through-2040/#comments Fri, 20 Dec 2013 13:30:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=684682 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

The green warriors who hoped EVs and hybrids would be the dominate force on the highways of America may need to wait a bit longer: the United States Department of Energy predicts gasoline will be the fuel of a generation until at least 2040.

In fact, the DOE’s Energy Information Administration states in a report issued earlier this week that 78 percent of all vehicles on the road in 2040 will still burn fossil fuels, though more efficiently; the EIA predicts an average of 37.2 mpg at that point in time. While 42 percent of all vehicles will use some form of advanced fuel-saving technology, plug-in hybrids and full EVs will each account for only 1 percent of sales.

As for the pump, the EIA believes a gallon of gas will rise to the equivalent of $3.90, with diesel tagged for $4.73. The agency also predicts 30 percent increase in miles traveled from 2012 through 2040, and overall fuel consumption in the nation’s transportation sector to fall by 4 percent.

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EPA Declares Mazda As Most Fuel Efficient Automaker http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/epa-declares-mazda-as-most-fuel-efficient-automaker/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/epa-declares-mazda-as-most-fuel-efficient-automaker/#comments Wed, 18 Dec 2013 10:30:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=682770 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior

Though Toyota and Nissan may be leading the charge to a hybrid plug-in future, it’s Mazda who, once again, leads the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy list for the 2013 model year with an average of 27.5 mpg.

Not only does Mazda maintain its green crown in fuel economy — in part due to its SKYACTIV diesel and gasoline engines, which the automaker expects 80 percent of their 1.7 million units sold worldwide in 2016 to possess — but also has the lowest fleetwide composite carbon dioxide emissions for the outgoing model year with 324 grams per mile. Honda and Toyota make up the rest of the podium with 27 and 25.2 mpg, respectively, though Toyota’s CO2 emissions are 23 grams per mile higher than Honda’s 329 g/mi rating.

The Germans enter the list at No. 4 with VW netting an average of 26.2 mpg, while the Americans arrive with Ford at the No.8 position, rating just 22.6 mpg. Overall, the industry earned an average of 24 mpg and 370 g/mi. Kia and Hyundai were not included in this year’s EPA rankings.

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Seventy Percent of Fords to Receive Stop-Start By 2017 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/seventy-percent-of-fords-to-receive-stop-start-by-2017/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/seventy-percent-of-fords-to-receive-stop-start-by-2017/#comments Mon, 16 Dec 2013 13:30:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=681250 2014 Ford Fiesta

For those who are adverse to hybrids, EVs and the like, yet want to do their part to be green may be in luck: Ford plans to install their Auto Stop-Start fuel-economizing technology in 70 percent of their North American lineup by 2017.

The tech, already found in the 2014 Fiesta with its 45 mpg EcoBoost 1-liter I3, and the 2014 Fusion with its 1.5-liter variant, will allow drivers to add anywhere from 3.5 to 10 percent more fuel economy when faced with stop-and-go traffic.

Aside from helping the consumer save fuel, Ford’s expansion of Auto Stop-Start is due to costs; the tech is easy to implement, and barely makes a dent in the automaker’s bottom line. No word on when other vehicles, including the C-MAX and Expedition, will see their own version of the technology.

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Los Angeles 2013: 2014 Honda Civic Gains CVT, Higher MPG http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/los-angeles-2013-2014-honda-civic-gains-cvt-higher-mpg/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/los-angeles-2013-2014-honda-civic-gains-cvt-higher-mpg/#comments Thu, 21 Nov 2013 14:44:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=659338 2014 Honda Civic Coupe 04
The current Honda Civic has experienced a refresh cycle last seen in the 1950s from the Big Three, and the 2014 model year is no exception with the introduction of the CVT in response to Toyota’s action with the new Corolla.

The result? Future Civic HF owners will see an average of 35 mpg in the city and 42 along the highway, while sedans shall see 30/39 mpg and coupes 29/38; the combined cycle for the latter two variants is 33 mpg.

Want power? The Si has 205 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque to get you to where you need to be. Other goodies to be found in the range include a seven-inch touchscreen that will function through swipes, pinches and the like in the same manner as their smartphone, push-button starting, smart entry systems, and finally, Honda’s own LaneWatch safety system transplanted from the Accord.

2014 Honda Civic Coupe 06 2014 Honda Civic Coupe 05 2014 Honda Civic Coupe 04 2014 Honda Civic Coupe 03 2014 Honda Civic Coupe 02 2014 Honda Civic Coupe 01 ]]>
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Replacing Clogged Air Filters Won’t Really Improve Fuel Economy On Modern Cars, Though It Will Improve Performance http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/replacing-clogged-air-filters-wont-really-improve-fuel-economy-on-modern-cars-though-it-will-improve-performance/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/replacing-clogged-air-filters-wont-really-improve-fuel-economy-on-modern-cars-though-it-will-improve-performance/#comments Mon, 11 Nov 2013 17:51:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=648306 Dirty-and-Clean-Air-Filter

The contrarian in me loves it when conventional wisdom is proven to be not so wise. For decades, even before the first oil crisis of the 1970s, motorists have been told that making sure that your air filter is clean is one of the ways that you can improve  your fuel economy. It’s intuitive to think that a clogged air filter will affect the way an engine “breathes”, how efficiently it can get gases in and out of the combustion chamber and how that might decrease fuel economy. That may have made sense decades ago, however it turns out that two different studies, one on gasoline engines and the other on diesels, performed by a team at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, show that the fuel economy of modern, digitally controlled fuel injected engines isn’t significantly affected by the state of their air cleaners’ cleanliness. What made sense in the era or carburetors may no longer be applicable today. Apparently the engines’ ECUs working to keep emissions in spec are capable of leaning out the fuel mixture to account for a dirty air filter restricting airflow into the engine, resulting in insignificant drops in fuel economy. Though dirty air filters didn’t materially affect fuel economy in the modern cars, they did experience a decrease in acceleration performance so it’s still a good idea to replace a dirty air filter.

Abstracts of the studies after the jump.

Thomas, J., West, B., Huff, S., and Norman, K., “Effect of Intake Air Filter Condition on Light-Duty Gasoline Vehicles,” SAE Technical Paper 2012-01-1717, 2012, doi:10.4271/2012-01-1717. (full study available for purchase from the SAE here):

Proper maintenance can help vehicles perform as designed, positively affecting fuel economy, emissions, and the overall drivability. This effort investigates the effect of one maintenance factor, intake air filter replacement, with primary focus on vehicle fuel economy, but also examining emissions and performance. Older studies, dealing with carbureted gasoline vehicles, have indicated that replacing a clogged or dirty air filter can improve vehicle fuel economy and conversely that a dirty air filter can be significantly detrimental to fuel economy. The effect of clogged air filters on the fuel economy, acceleration and emissions of five gasoline fueled vehicles is examined. Four of these were modern vehicles, featuring closed-loop control and ranging in model year from 2003 to 2007. Three vehicles were powered by naturally aspirated, port fuel injection (PFI) engines of differing size and cylinder configuration: an inline 4, a V6 and a V8. A turbocharged inline 4-cylinder gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine powered vehicle was the fourth modern gasoline vehicle tested. A vintage 1972 vehicle equipped with a carburetor (open-loop control) was also examined.

Results reveal insignificant fuel economy and emissions sensitivity of modern vehicles to air filter condition, but measureable effects on the 1972 vehicle. All vehicles experienced a measured acceleration performance penalty with clogged intake air filters.

John Thomas, Brian West and Shean Huff, “Effect of Air Filter Condition on Diesel Vehicle Fuel Economy”, 2013-01-0311 Published 04/08/2013, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (full text here).

Proper maintenance can help vehicles perform as designed, positively affecting fuel economy, emissions, and overall driveability. This paper addresses the issue of whether air filter replacement improves fuel economy. Described are measured results for increasing air filter pressure drop in turbocharged diesel-engine-powered vehicles, with primary focus on changes in vehicle fuel economy but also including emissions and performance. Older studies of carbureted gasoline vehicles have indicated that replacing a clogged or dirty air filter can improve vehicle fuel economy and, conversely, that a dirty air filter can be significantly detrimental to fuel economy. In contrast, a recent study showed that the fuel economy of modern gasoline vehicles is virtually unaffected by filter clogging due to the closed loop control and throttled operation of these engines. Because modern diesel engines operate without throttling (or with minimal throttling), a different result could be anticipated. The effects of clogged air filters on the fuel economy, acceleration, and emissions of three late model turbocharged diesel-powered vehicles were examined. The vehicles were powered by turbocharged diesel engines with different displacements and engine designs. The results reveal rather low sensitivity of these modern diesel vehicles to air filter condition.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If you think 3D is a plot to get you to buy yet another new TV set, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Review: 2014 Lexus IS250 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-lexus-is250-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-lexus-is250-with-video/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 20:58:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=639233 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior

After taking a sales hit due to tsunami-related production woes, Lexus has been trying to regain their mojo with a new product offensive. Things started out with the new Lexus GS sedan that Jack Baruth and I loved on and off the track, followed by a revised RX. With the redesigned IS, the bulk of their lineup has been overhauled. Initially, I was a little concerned that the Lexus IS sedan would receive nothing more than a new nose and some LED lights for 2014 but the Japanese 3-Series fighter came out swinging when we were invited to the launch event earlier in the year. I came away impressed with the IS 350′s road manners, but most buyers will be shopping for the less powerful IS 250 and it’s taken us this long to get our hands on one.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 Exterior

Instead of refreshing the IS, Lexus decided to give their smallest RWD sedan a complete overhaul for 2014. Lexus crafted a new IS platform with a 3-inch longer wheelbase that addresses a big complaint about the old car – it was too small inside for American consumers. The result is an entirely new unibody that is three inches longer than the old model riding on a three-inch longer wheelbase. In addition to the stretch the 2014 model gets a hair wider, a hair taller and ground clearance drops by half an inch.

2014 Lexus IS 250 2014 Lexus IS 350, Exteruiotr, F-Sport Front grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

In addition to the Lexus “Spindle” grille up front, the IS sports an entirely different side profile that is easily the most expressive in the small luxury segment. Although I like Cadillac’s new ATS on the outside, I think the IS provides a more balanced blend of aggressive and luxury styling cues from the angry front end, to the almost-Swedish shoulder bulges. Unfortunately I just haven’t warmed up to the Lexus daytime running lamps which are now divorced from the headlamps and have their own cut-out in the bumper cover. Lexus says they are styled after the Lexus “L” but they just look like Nike “Swooshes” to my eye. Even so, if it were my money to spend I’d be torn between the restrained but elegant BMW 328i and the aggressive but sometimes questionable IS 250. I like Cadillac’s angular lines, but I slot the design just below the BMW and Lexus in my mental tally. Add the F-Sport package to the IS 250 however and Lexus breaks the tie with a more aggressive grille. (In the picture above.)

2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Because the GS and LS share interior design cues I had expected the IS to follow suit, I was wrong. While the other Lexus models have opted for a more open and expansive interior theme, the IS feels tight and close to the driver. The feeling is amplified by a high beltline and a tall center console. If you like your car to make you “feel big,” then this is the sedan for you. Rather than the “double bump” style that seems to be popular right now, Lexus opted for a tall two-tier look with the infotainment screen positioned farther away from the driver than the gauges, and centered in the tall dashboard. Opting for the F-Sport package replaces the analog gauges with a configurable LCD cluster.

Cabin plastics in the IS lead the competition, especially those farther from the driver’s usual reach. While BMW cut a few corners with the current 3-Series by using hard plastics low in the dash, the IS maintains a quality feel no matter how low your hand wanders. As you’d expect from Lexus, one can still get acres of stained wood and soft leather. “Can” is the operative word here,since  real leather can only be found in the top two option packages in the IS, while all other models get Lexus’s faux-cow that is bonded directly to the seat foam to prevent stretching or folding as the seat ages. The imitation-hide is perfectly convincing and the only covering available in the IS 250 F-Sport.

Front seat comfort proved excellent during my week with the IS 250, easily besting the Audi A4, Mercedes C250, Cadillac ATS and the base seats in the BMW 328i – but if you want the best seats in this segment, you’ll find those in the Volvo S60 or the optional M-Sport seats in the BMW. Thanks to the wheelbase stretch, rear legroom is up by 1.6 inches over the last generation IS, while front leg room grows about an inch at the same time. The improved rear legroom is welcome as that has long been an IS shortcoming, but it’s obvious by both Lexus and Cadillac’s latest 3-Series fighter that nobody expected the 3-Series to grow as much as it did in this last generation. As a result the 328i beats the IS 250 by a whopping three inches of rear legroom. The Lexus does counter with a slightly larger trunk, but I found the overall trunk dimensions to be slightly more advantageous in the BMW balancing out the extra cube the IS offers.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

Although I couldn’t find a single example on a dealer lot, the base IS with no options is the only way you can escape the infamous Lexus Remote Touch joystick. All other models use a small controller with haptic feedback to control a software interface originally designed for use with a touchscreen LCD. Regardless of the input method, all IS models get a 7-inch color LCD positioned far away from the driver. The base model sports a noticeable low resolution screen while all other models get a high resolution screen of the same size. The distance from the driver and the large plastic bezel conspire to make the screen look much smaller than it is. The problem is further compounded by the screen being actually smaller than the competition as well.

2014 brings some mild software updates to the infotainment software including a new home screen (shown above), HD Radio support and traffic information via HD radio instead of satellite so you don’t need an XM subscription to get a color-coded traffic map. If you can get beyond the input method, the system proved reliable and moderately intuitive. Overall however I am still forced to rank this system below BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI, Infinit’s new two-screen setup, Volvo’s Sensus, and even Mercedes’ aging COMAND system. The only system to offend my inner-nerd more is with the Cadillac CUE system.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine, 2.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Operating by the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fit it” mantra, there are no significant changes under the hood for the IS 250 this year. That means we have the same 2.5L, direct-injection, 60° V6 engine as before, good for the same 204 ponies and 185 lb-ft of twist. (The IS 350 gets a 3.5L version of the same engine, making 306 HP and 277 lb-ft.) Just as before, we have a 6-speed transmission on offer (The RWD IS 350 gets a newer 8-speed), with AWD commanding $2,535 more. Should you opt for the F-Sport package, Lexus will add a sound amplifying snorkel to the intake plumbing to amplify the engine’s growl.

With everyone else moving to forced-induction four-cylinder engines, the smooth V6 engine is what sets the IS 250 apart. I know that calling a V6 “smooth” or, dare I say it, “buttery smooth” sounds like sacrilege, but since BMW no longer offers their naturally aspirated in-line 6 under the hood of the 328i, the refinement crown goes to Lexus.  There is more going on here than just the numbers however, because the small turbos not only deliver more torque, they do so across a much broader RPM range than Lexus’ 2.5L V6. Even the Mercedes 1.8L turbo in the C250 blows out more torque across a broader band than the six cylinder mill in the IS 250. For reasons known only to Lexus’ product planning team, the 220 horsepower IS 300h, which mates the same engine to Lexus’s RWD hybrid drivetrain, remains forbidden fruit on our shores.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The IS’s 2.5L V6 may be down on power compared to the Americans and Germans but it is no contest when it comes to refinement or engine note. Sadly refinement isn’t what propels you to 60, so when the light turns green you’ll have a whisper quiet view of the competition’s rear bumpers. Our tester ran to 60 in 7.02 seconds, a full 1.3 seconds slower than the 328i and 1 second slower than the ATS 2.0T.  Even the 1.8L turbo in the Mercedes C250 and the bargain-basement BMW 320i beat the IS 250 to 60 MPH by a few tenths.

The responsiveness of the IS in tight corners demonstrates how much time Lexus spent engineering the 2014 model. The old IS came across as isolated, perhaps even sloppy, while the third generation chassis is sharp and crisp. Every system in the IS feels like a team player from the numb suspension to the transmission shift logic and the revised double-wishbone front suspension. While the IS isn’t the hard-core corner carving machine the ATS 2.0T is, the IS 250 feels more harmonious and balanced on the road. Oddly enough, the BMW is the wild card. The E90 3-Series (previous generation) was precise and engaging, but the F30 (current generation) has traded handling prowess for a softer ride and a ginormous back seat. Meanwhile the Audi and Volvo plow like a John Deere when they encounter a corner and the Mercedes feels just as you would expect: heavy and soft. That’s not to say the IS is the performance winner. The Lexus is a hair heavier in the nose than the BMW, so at-limits handling is not as neutral as the ATS and because of the power deficit, the 328i is faster around the track. While the Lexus feels more precise and engaging than the BMW, the 328i’s better weight balance means it is both faster in the straightaways and holds its own in the corners. How about the Cadillac? It beats both the Lexus and the BMW hands down.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-004

Without taking price into consideration, the IS 250 makes a compelling argument for those that value smooth drivetrains, excellent steering feel and chassis dynamics. If however you value performance, luxury amenities and cabin room, the BMW is your best bet. If you’re a BMW shopper that is after the “ultimate driving machine” then you need to visit the Cadillac dealer.

Reviews are nothing without pricing information however. The IS 250 is the cheapest car in this shootout by a long shot. The IS undercuts the BMW 328i by $3,600 (adjusting for feature content) and even manages to be $1,700 less than the BMW 320i. Option up the BMW and Lexus with navigation, sport pack and leather and the delta grows to more than $5,000. The story is the same with the Cadillac and Mercedes with the ATS ringing in $4,200 to $7,500 more and the C250 a whopping $5,500-$7,500 more. The Infiniti Q50 may seem like a natural competitor but Infiniti has yet to release a model that competes directly with the low output options in this segment.

After a week with the IS 250 and a few hours in the Cadillac ATS and 328i in the same week something dawned on me. Lexus and Cadillac have managed to do what they set out to: beat BMW at their own game. Cadillac has nearly replicated an E90 3-Series in terms of handling and chassis performance, Lexus has crafted a drivetrain and steering rack that are superior in smoothness and feel to what BMW is selling. But just when the competition caught up BMW decided to play a different game. By chasing luxury, roominess and fuel economy, BMW has shifted the focus away from driving dynamics. (Yep, I said that out loud.) And in the process BMW is laughing all the way to the bank. By chasing BMW Lexus has created the finest IS 250, yet the sales indicate what Lexus should have been chasing is the customer.  For a car guy like me, the way the IS 250′s systems seem to work in perfect harmony combined with the low sticker price make it a winner. For the average shopper however, Lexus is an 8-speed automatic and a four-cylinder turbo away from true competition.

 

Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.58 Seconds

0-60: 7.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.37 Seconds @ 89.1 MPH

Cabin Noise at 50 MPH: 66 Db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 27.5 MPG over 591 miles

2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine 2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine, 2.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-001 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-004 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-005 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-006 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-007 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-008 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-009 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-001 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-003 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-004 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-006 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-007 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-008 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-009 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-010 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-011 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Trunk ]]>
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Ford Fiesta SE 1 Liter EcoBoost EPA Rated At 45 MPG http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/ford-fiesta-se-1-liter-ecoboost-epa-rated-at-45-mpg/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/ford-fiesta-se-1-liter-ecoboost-epa-rated-at-45-mpg/#comments Wed, 30 Oct 2013 14:46:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=637353 2014-Ford-Fiesta-1-liter-EcoBoost-engine-

The U.S. EPA has released its latest fuel economy ratings and the 2014 Ford Fiesta SE with the 1 liter 3 cylinder EcoBoost engine and a 5 speed manual transmission had the highest mpg rating of any non-hybrid gasoline powered car, 45 mpg highway, 32 city and 37 mpg combined. Both three and five door models had the same rating. Interestingly, Ford will still offer the Fiesta SFE (Super Fuel Economy), which actually gets poorer gas mileage than the 1 liter EcoBoost SE, 30 city/41 highway.

In addition to being offered in the U.S. Fiesta, the 1 liter EcoBoost is available in five different European Fords. The turbocharged triple now accounts for 32% of Focus and 26% of Fiesta sales in Europe and Ford has doubled production of the Cologne, Germany assembled engine to 1,000 powerplants per day.

2013 and 2014 EPA ratings for city, highway and combined:

GASOLINE
Chevrolet Spark: 30/39/34
Ford Fiesta SFE: 32/45/37
Nissan Versa: 31/40/35
Smart Fortwo: 34/38/36
Scion iQ 36/37/37

DIESEL
BMW 328D 32/45/37
Chevrolet Cruze: 27/46/33
Mercedes-Benz E250 Bluetec: 28/45/34
Volkswagen Golf 30/42/34
Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagon: 30/42/34
Volkswagen Passat: 31/43/35

GASOLINE-ELECTRIC HYBRIDS
Ford Fusion Hybrid: 47/47/47
Honda Accord Hybrid: 50/45/47
Honda Insight: 41/44/42
Honda CR-Z: 36/39/37
Lincoln MKZ Hybrid: 45/45/45
Toyota Camry Hybrid: 43/39/41
Toyota Prius: 51/48/50
Toyota Prius V: 44/40/42
Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid: 42/48/45

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Review: 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-acura-ilx-2-4-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-acura-ilx-2-4-with-video/#comments Sat, 26 Oct 2013 13:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=629290 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Acura ILX has been derided as being nothing more than a gussied-up Honda Civic, an analogy that I too applied to the compact Acura when it first arrived. But then our own Brendan McAleer caused me to question my dismissal of the ILX. How many shoppers out there are willing to option-up a base model by 50% and don’t think twice about the fact their “limited” model looks just like the base model? All of a sudden the ILX, especially the 2.4L model we tested made sense to me. What was the revelation? Click through the jump to find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 Exterior

I know that we have a segment of readers that believe all modern cars look-alike, but I’m going to say it any way. The best thing about the ILX is that it doesn’t look like a Civic. Don’t believe me? Park a Civic and an ILX next to one another and you might even think the two cars are totally unrelated. How is this possible?  First off, no sheetmetal or glass are shared between the two and Acura decided to tweak just about every hard point other than the wheelbase for Acura duty. If you look at the picture below (which highlights how poor my Photoshop skills are) I have overlayed the ILX on the Civic for reference.

In addition to a blunter nose, lower roof and a more aggressive character line, Acura modified the structure of the car by moving the pillars around. The A pillar moves 8 inches rearward vs the Civic giving the ILX a hood that is several inches longer and a windshield that is more deeply curved. The C pillar has also been tweaked giving the ILX a more graceful silhouette and a smaller trunk lid. While they were at it they swapped in an aluminum hood for some moderate weight savings.

2013 Honda Civic EX-L SedanThe result of Acura’s nip/tuck is an attractive, albeit sedate, premium look. I think that Buick’s Verano is more exciting and the not-yet-on-sale 2015 Audi A3 looks more luxurious, but the ILX plays right to the conservative heart of the target Acura shopper. In keeping with the premium image, 17-inch wheels are standard on all ILX models except the hybrid where things drop to eco-minded 16-inch rims. The most demure Acura “beak” integrated into the front grille and hidden exhaust tips complete the design of the smallest Acura.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes
Interior

The ILX’s interior represents more of an upgrade over the Civic than I had expected. Soft injection molded plastics span the dashboard and very few parts are shared with the Honda . By my estimation. the interior parts sharing is limited to a traction control button, air vent open/close dials and the door handles. Anyone worried that the Civic’s funky two-tier dash is along for the ride will be pleased, the interior style of the ILX is very mainstream from the double-bump dashboard to the four-dial gauge cluster.

In typical Acura fashion the ILX comes well equipped in base form and options are bundled into packages helping to keep dealer inventory manageable. All ILX models get zone climate control, keyless ignition, push button start and a steering wheel wrapped in soft leather. Base hybrid models get manual cloth seats but all other ILX models get heated leather thrones coated in perforated leather with a driver’s side only 8-way power mechanism.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-012Front seat comfort is substantially similar to the Honda Civic thanks to shared seat frames and adjustment mechanisms. The ILX’s front seats get more generous seat back bolstering in keeping with its more premium and sporting image while the seat bottoms remain as flat as Kansas. Thanks to the platform changes that make the ILX more attractive on the outside, interior room is compromised slightly with headroom and legroom figures falling when you compare it to the Civic.  Compared to the Buick Verano the numbers are right in line.

The ILX’s rear seats are slightly less comfortable than the Verano, but a step above the mainstream compact segment with more thigh support for adults. Opting for the hybrid ILX forces the removal of the folding rear seat backs (the batteries have to go somewhere), while the ILX 2.0 and 2.4 sport the same 100% folding mechanism as the Civic. This means it’s not possible to carry long cargo and three or four passengers like you can in the Verano. This deficiency is made more of a problem by the ILX’s small 12.3 cubic foot trunk, notably smaller than the Verano, Lexus CT, or even the Mazda3.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

Nestled in the “double bump” instrument cluster is a standard 5-inch color LCD that does double-duty as a trip computer and infotainment display. This base system runs the same software as the Honda Civic but places the screen in a more “normal” location and uses a button bank that should be familiar to current Acura owners. The base system features standard iDevice/USB integration, Bluetooth speakerphone/streaming and Pandora smartphone app integration. The 200-watt amplifier and 7 speaker sound system are well-balanced but volume isn’t this system’s forte.

ILX 2.0 and Hybrid models with the “technology package” link the climate control system to a sun sensor and the GPS system for improved comfort and bumps the sound system up to a 10-speaker surround sound system with a 410-watt amp. Also along for the ride is the same 8-inch navigation system found in the Acura TSX and TL. The system doesn’t sport the improved high res interface in the MDX and RLX but is among the easier to use on the market as long as you don’t try to use Acura’s voice commands for browsing your iPod. Seriously, just don’t even try. Sadly 2014 hasn’t brought any major changes to the options lineup meaning that the more powerful engine and the more powerful sound system are mutually exclusive. The choice to saddle the 2.4L model we tested with the same 5-inch display and software as the Civic is the biggest flaw with the ILX so far.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Under the ILX’s long hood you’ll find an “interesting” assortment of engines. Why interesting? Let’s start at the beginning. First off, Acura uses three different engines in the various ILX models. Rumors that Acura planned to kill off the base 2.0L four-cylinder appear to be unfounded as the 2014 ILX can still be had with the 150 horsepower mill. This is the same engine found in European market Accords and other world Honda models but appears to be exclusive to the ILX in America.  Honda’s old 5-speed automatic was tapped to send the 140 lb-ft to the ground. The ILX Hybrid gets the Civic’s 111 horsepower, 127 lb-ft hybrid system without modification. While the 1.5L engine seemed adequate in the Civic, I found the small engine and traditional belt/pulley CVT vexing in a near-luxury sedan.

On to what we’re here to talk about: the 2.4L Civic Si engine. Yes, Acura decided ILX shoppers should get a little sport-love and snatched the Si’s 201 horsepower engine for premium duty. In typical Honda fashion, the 2.4L engine screams like a banshee on its way to its 7,000 RPM redline and matching 7,000 RPM power peak. 170 lb-ft come into play at 4,400 RPM and the engine is mated exclusively to a 6-speed manual. Yes, you heard that right, Acura is trying to get a larger share of the premium compact market with a high-revving engine four-cylinder and a slick shifting stick. Although the manual-only policy is an obvious impediment to sales success, if you have outgrown your Civic Si, or if you think the Honda looks a little too “boy racer”, you can get a classier, leather coated version at the Acura dealer.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Once out on the road the ILX’s powertrain deficiencies become obvious. The base 2.0L engine may be smoother and more refined than the 1.8 in the Civic, but compared to Buick’s modern 2.4L direct injection mill, it is rough around the edges and anemic. How about the 111 horsepower ILX hybrid? It is quite possibly the only car that can make Lexus’s underpowered CT 200h seem quick. But we’re not here to talk about those ILX models, this is TTAC and we’re interested in MOAR POWARR.

The 2.4L four-cylinder is an entirely different animal. With 33% more power than the base model our 0-60 run clocked in at a respectable 7.29 seconds. That slots the ILX between the regular Verano and the Verano Turbo that accomplished the same task in 6.5 (Verano Turbo with the 6-speed manual). The time was closer than I thought it would be considering the 90 lb-ft of torque that separate the two but the driving experience couldn’t be more different. The Verano’s turbo engine provides an extremely broad torque curve which negates the need for frequent downshifting on winging mountain roads while the ILX’s engine needs to scream like a leaf blower to deliver the maximum thrust. While I found the Verano’s power delivery more liveable, the ILX at 7,000 RPM made me giggle. (Yes, I said that out loud.) As you would expect from the “luxury Civic Si,” the ILX’s shifter action is precise, clutch engagement is nearly perfect and the shifts are short. In contrast, the Verano’s clutch is rubbery, vague and the shift throw is lengthy.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-006

Instead of lifting the Civic Si’s suspension as is, Acura decided to tweak the design with dual-valve damper technology lifted from the RLX and MDX. The two valves allow the damping to be firm and body roll to be well controlled under most conditions while soaking up large road imperfections like a sedan with a softer suspension. The system retains most of the Civic Si’s road holding ability while delivering a ride that more composed than the Verano. Similarly the lightly revised steering setup is a little less direct than the Si but yields better feel than the baby Buick. Despite incorporating laminated glass and an active noise cancellation system, the ILX manages to be several decibels louder than the eerily quiet cabin of the Verano.

At $29,200, our ILX was about $6,500 more than a Civic Si. When you factor in the additional equipment you find in the ILX and the expanded warranty coverage, the difference between the Honda and the Acura drops to about $2,000. When you look at the ILX in this light, the sales proposition makes perfect sense. While the Civic Si is a great compact car, it looks just like a regular Civic. The ILX on the other hand nets you a better brand name, longer warranty, an improved ride and car that won’t make your boss question your maturity. Like the Integra of yesteryear, this is the sort of “gateway” product Acura needs.

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-009

There are just a few problems however. The ILX’s option list and spec sheet is a mess. Despite getting better fuel economy than the Verano in every trim, Acura needs to drop their 6-speed tranny into their base model for spec-sheet-shoppers to give it a second look. Likewise the 2.4L engine needs a 6-speed auto and some infotainment love, the 2.0L engine needs more grunt and the hybrid needs to be euthanized. Without changes like these the Acura ILX will remain a sensible Civic upgrade but as a competitor to Buick’s new-found mojo, Acura has some catching up to do. The ILX’s driving dynamics may be superior, but taken as a package the only reason to avoid buying the Verano is if you still associate Buicks with the blue-haired set.

 

Acura provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.55 Seconds

0-60: 7.29 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.6 Seconds @ 89.9 MPG

Interior sound level: 74db @ 50 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 26 MPG over 345 miles

 

2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-010 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-009 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-011 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-010 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine-001 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-009 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-008 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Engine 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-005 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-008 . 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-004 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-015 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-014 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-003 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-006 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-005 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-002 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-012 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior-002 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-001 2014 Acura ILX 2.4 Interior-011 ]]>
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The 1973 Oil Crisis: 40 Years Later http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/the-1973-oil-crisis-40-years-later/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/the-1973-oil-crisis-40-years-later/#comments Mon, 21 Oct 2013 16:00:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=630010 Landscape

Forty years ago this month, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (consisting of OPEC’s Arab members plus Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) began an oil embargo that would last through March of 1974.

The cause of the embargo: Intervention. During the Yom Kippur War between Egypt and Syria versus Israel, other Arab nations had lent their support to their brothers in northern Africa (as well as the Soviet Union, who supplied weapons). In turn, the United States helped their ally (who had gone on full nuclear alert) by supplying arms and other goods through President Richard Nixon’s authorization of Operation Nickle Grass. This prompted OAPEC to respond by beginning an oil embargo whose effects still linger to this day.

In the United States — the main target of the embargo –this led to long lines at the pumps during the weekdays (after a suggestion by Nixon that gas station owners voluntarily not sell fuel on Saturday night and Sunday; 90 percent complied with the suggestion), odd-even fuel rationing, three-color flag systems denoting availability (or lack thereof) of any fuel, and the passing of the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, better known as the act that would set the national speed limit at 55 mph for the next two decades.

Though the first oil crisis would end when OAPEC accepted the promise of a settlement negotiated between Syria and Israel through the United States, the effects of the five-month-long embargo would linger for the rest of the decade and beyond.

Prior to the embargo, the most popular cars sold were large and in charge with big V8s to pull them along the highway. After the shock, however, most motorists sought out smaller, more fuel efficient offerings from Europe and Japan. The shock also gave birth to compact trucks, such as the Chevrolet LUV and Toyota Hilux, and prompted the Big Three to offer their own import fighters prior to downsizing their entire lineup of cars by the end of the 1970s, and the switch to front-wheel drive that would come to dominate the 1980s.

The shock also affected motorsports, with the cancellation of both the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1974, and NASCAR reducing all race distances by 10 percent.

And of course, the 1973 oil crisis set off the movement to find as many energy sources as possible (and ways to conserve said energy) to reduce if not outright eliminate dependence on foreign oil, as any Albertan or North Dakotan could explain in detail today to anyone who will listen.

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First Drive Review: 2014 Mazda3 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-mazda3-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-mazda3-with-video/#comments Sat, 19 Oct 2013 16:17:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=582817 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The mainstream compact car segment is the perfect example of the infamous “driving appliance.” The Corolla and Civic sell in enormous volume because they are the middle-of-the-road “white bread” option, not in-spite of the vanilla. Unlike many in the automotive press, I don’t find anything wrong with that. In fact, I love me some Wonder Bread. But sometimes you feel like a pumpernickel, and that’s where the 2014 Mazda3 comes in. Mazda was so excited about their new loaf that they invited me to spend the day with them in San Diego. Want to know if you should spend 5+ years with one? Click through the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior
Accounting for 30% of Mazda’s worldwide volume, calling the Mazda3 their most important product would be putting things lightly. As a result 2014 brings a complete overhaul to every aspect of the 3 and the compact sedan now rides on a platform derived from the larger 6. The “Kodo” design language of the larger sedan has also been brought down to its smaller stablemate to astonishing effect. While the old Mazda3 was all smiles and bubbles, the new 3 is all grown up and aggressive with Mazda’s incredibly attractive grille. Before the 3′s release I was quite torn about who was the fairest of them all but now there is no contest.

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The 2014 dimensions play a huge role in the way the 3 looks on the road. Mazda moved the A-pillar 3.5 inches to the rear making the hood longer, lengthened the wheelbase by 2.5 inches, dropped the height by 6/10ths and made the whole car 1.6 inches wider. So far so good, but somehow Mazda managed to slash the front overhang and increase the wheel-to-front-door distance to an almost RWD like proportion. That would probably have been enough in a segment dominated by slab sides, but Mazda puts two distinctive character lines to separate the 3 from the pack. Out back we have tail lamps that mimic the front styling and your choice of a hatch or a trunk. Opting for the hatch gives the Mazda3 a side profile reminiscent of BMW’s X1, not a bad thing to be reminded of.

Interior
The problem with pumpernickel is that people’s tastes are different. The same thing can be said of the new interior. Rather than scaling down the Mazda6′s dashboard, the engineers went for something slimmer without a “double bump” for the infotainment screen. Taking a page out of BMW’s playbook, Mazda sets the 7-inch touchscreen inside a thin housing perched on the dashboard. Think of an iPad mounted to the dash. The look turned off some but I find the style appealing because it maintains a high screen position while reducing dashboard bulk. Mazda’s new “fighter jet inspired” heads up display is similarly perched on the dash, however, instead of being fixed, it folds itself flat when you turn the feature off. The display is as functional as any other heads-up display I’ve seen but the pop-up trick stuck me as being more gimmick than feature. Mazda tells us the reason for not projecting on the windshield which makes sense if you check out how much HUD compatible windshields go for.

2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda

Mazda says they benchmarked the BMW 3-Series interior which, given that BMW’s 3 went downmarket in some ways makes the comparison valid in  a way that it would have been laughable in 2006. Except for a segment average headliner, the plastics and materials choices in the cabin are all top of the class. (A logical finding since it is the newest as well.) Seat comfort proved excellent with well positioned controls and more side bolstering than you would find in the competition’s non-performance models. Rear seat room was a problem for the last generation Mazda3 and, despite the stretch, this continues to be an area where it lags the competition. For the biggest back seats and the largest trunk, look to the Corolla. Toyota’s 2014 offering has more leg room than the mid-sized Mazda6.

Despite a long list of optional features and gadgets, real leather seating surfaces happen only in the sGrand Touring model with mid-range models sporting faux-cow and lower end 3s wearing fabric.  Some comment has been made in the press about the 3′s 1990s era headliner, but it failed to offend me and here’s why: This segment is all about value and value is about cutting corners. Want snazzy dash plastics and metal trim bits-and-bobs? That headliner is the toll you have to pay and it’s one I’m OK with.

MY2014 Mazda 3
Infotainment and gadgets
If you recall my review of the Mazda 6 a few months ago, you’ll know I reserved my harshest criticism for the infotainment and navigation system. Forget everything I said because Mazda has taken customer feedback to heart. The Mazda3 is the first vehicle to receive MazdaConnect. The system combines a bright 7-inch touchscreen with an iDrive/MMI-like controller knob and button array in the center console. Similar to Infiniti’s systems, you can navigate with either the controller, or the touchscreen, or both depending on what is easier at the moment.

The system is as intuitive and snappy as the Mazda6′s is slow and painful. High resolution graphics, a completely redesigned interface and vastly improved voice commands join to create a system that rivals uConnect, iDrive and MyFord Touch for best in the industry. In that comparison the only things MazdaConnect lacks is smartphone app integration and some form of crash-notifying telematics system. If you want to dive into the details, check out the video.

MY2014 Mazda 3

The minimum point of entry for Mazda Connect is $23,340 because you cab only get it in the iTouring model with a $1,600 option package. Ouch. All models that directly compete with the white-loaf get something that looks like a clock radio molded into the dashboard (see the picture above). The logic was to keep the controls high and in the line of sight for the driver to reduce distraction and it does work as intended even though it looks a little odd. If you’re a high roller Mazda offers a high level of tech for this segment with everything from blind spot monitoring and backup cams available to surround sound, radar cruise control, collision prevention systems that will stop the car below 19 MPH (just like Volvo’s City Safety system), parking sensors and automatic high beams.

2014 also brings Mazda’s new “it’s-so-mild-that’s-not-called-a-mild-hybrid” system to the 3. i-Eloop’s is a mild energy recovery system that uses a large capacitor, variable voltage alternator and a DC-DC converter to recover energy when decelerating. The goal of the system is to limit the parasitic loss of the alternator by charging the capacity when you’re braking so that the car can disengage the alternator and use that power while accelerating or cruising. The system can’t help drive the car, which is why Mazda doesn’t call it a hybrid system, but the claim is that it can give you around one extra MPG in certain city driving cycles. Why so little? Because the alternator consumes less engine power than your air conditioning. The system is only available as part of a technology package and only on the top-end sGrand Touring model.

2014 Mazda3 Drivetrain

Drivetrain
Late in life, the old Mazda3 received a partial SkyActiv drivetrain. The reason it didn’t get fully implemented is obvious when you look at the Medusa below. That bundle of snakes is the Mazda “4-2-1″ exhaust manifold which is designed to prevent the start of cylinder 3′s exhaust stroke from interfering with the end of cylinder 1′s exhaust stroke. The convoluted pipes are there so that the catalytic converter, which is no longer “closely coupled” as is all the rage, heats quickly and less heat is lost on the way to the cat. This enormous contraption simply wouldn’t fit in the old 3 because of the shape of the engine bay and the firewall. To make the 4-2-1 manifold fit in the 2014 Mazda3, it was necessary to form an enormous bulge into the car’s firewall and chassis design, something only possible in a complete redesign process.

2014 Mazda3 exhaust manifold

With the final piece of the SkyActiv puzzle in place, Mazda cranked up the compression ratio on their new 2.0 and 2.5L engines to 13:1. Why not the 14:1 that Mazda advertises in Europe? Because in the USA all engines must operate “safely” on regular 87 octane gasoline by law. The boffins tell us that this results in a 5% loss of efficiency vs the higher compression EU engines that will grenade themselves on lower octane fuel.

The base engine for 2014 is a 2.0L 155 horse four-cylinder that’s good for 150 lb-ft of twist and 30/41/34 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) with the 6-speed automatic. If you have the cash you can upgrade to the 2.5L engine (shared with the CX-5 and Mazda6) which bumps these numbers up to 184 horses and 185 lb-ft while dropping fuel economy to 28/39/32.

The 2.0L engine comes standard with a slick shifting 6-speed transmission that is one of the best manuals in the ever shrinking compact segment. Engagement is precise, throws are moderate and the clutch engagement is linear and well-balanced in relation to the motion of the other two pedals. Sadly this transmission can’t be had with the more powerful 2.5L engine. Don’t shoot the messenger. Most Mazda3s rolling off the lot will use Mazda’s 6-speed automatic transaxle which chases efficiency and a direct feel by engaging the torque converter lockup clutch in every gear, as soon as possible, and as long as possible. While Mazda tells us this is unique to the compact segment, ZF’s 8-speed RWD transmission plays the same trick in the name of efficiency. Manual lovers and speed freaks should know that Mazda is cagey about a MazdaSpeed3 only saying that there would not be one “at launch.” Read between the lines if you like.

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004

Drive

Being the mechanical geek that I am, one more thing caught my interest: the caster angle. That’s the angle that the steering mechanism acts upon the front wheel. Think of this like a clock with vertical being right at 12:00. Most cars out there have a slight caster angle of maybe 12:03 while the 2014 Mazda3 winds it up to 12:06. Why does it matter? Because we have electric power steering (EPAS). EPAS is the modern equalizer and has made all steering dull and lifeless. By dialing up the caster, you dial up the forces that come back up the steering column from the tires. This means that by the time EPAS dulls everything down there’s the hint of something left. I’d like to say it turns the Mazda3 into a Mazda Miata but I’d be lying. Instead what you get is a hint of feedback in corners and a tiny touch of road feel at other times. Because we’ve been living in a feedback-desert, the taste has overly excited some. No it isn’t your 2007 Mazdaspeed3, but it is livelier than the Focus or Civic.

Zoom-Zoom is more about handling than 0-60 times, made obvious by our 7.6 second run to 60 in a hatchback with the 2.5L engine. If you want more speed in the “non-hot hatch segment”, wait for Kia’s turbo Forte  I didn’t get a chance to test the 2.0L model during the event but my “butt-dyno” tells me it should be about 2 seconds slower and right in line with the competition. It’s when the road starts to curve that the difference is obvious. This 3 can dance. The Mazda is quite simply the best handling and best feeling compact car in stock form. Yes, the Civic Si is a hair more fun but it’s not a main stream car, doesn’t have an automatic and still doesn’t feel as connected as the Mazda. With road manners like these, I’m looking forward to a Mazdaspeed3 vs Focus ST shootout, I suspect the 3 might dethrone Ford’s hot hatch.

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009

What about daily driving? It’s all well and good to be the best handling compact, but in order to be a sales success you have to be able to sway some white bread buyers. Sound levels at 50MPH rang in a 73db, below the Corolla but above the Civic. No worries there. The sedan’s ride is on the stiffer side of the segment but quite similar to the Focus, that might be a problem for the average Corolla shopper. The big selling point for most cross-shoppers will be the fuel economy. The sedan with the 2.0L engine and automatic is the volume model and snags 30/41/34 MPG (City/Highway/Combined). That’s one MPG better than Sentra, two better than Civic or Corolla and three better than Focus.  While that doesn’t translate into much cash saved on an annual basis, it is one of the largest purchase factors shoppers site in this segment. I should mention however that the last time we had the Sentra it scored better than it’s EPA rating while the Mazda3 was fairly close to the EPA score. My big take away from this is that Mazda managed to beat the CVT equipped competition’s fuel economy with a more traditional feeling automatic. White bread buyers won’t care about the feel, but the numbers might cause them to take a second look.

With pricing that ranges from $16,945 (sedan) to a hair under $30,000 (loaded hatch) if you check all the option boxes on a Mazda3 hatch, it’s obvious the Mazda spans the price spectrum from white bread in a bag to a paper-wrapped organic artisan cheesy sourdough. Like the Ford Focus, this large price span means the $19,495 iSport and $20,645 iTouring compete with the bulk of Corolla/Civic shoppers while the upper level trims compete with the Ford Focus, Acura ILX, Lexus CT200h, Buick Verano, and the few that shopped Volvo’s defunct C30.

Compared to the Civic and Corolla, the Mazda3 delivers superior dynamics and more premium dash materials in exchange for less tech and no touchscreen infotainment. This is a dangerous trade in a segment known for placing features before fun. On the flip side, the Mazda3 has everything it needs to compete with the Focus, ILX, Verano and CT200h. Mazda’s chassis tuning makes the Mazda the most fun to drive (even considering the ILX 2.4′s Civic Si roots), the infotainment system is entry-level luxury worthy and 2014 brings all full-speed range radar cruise control and ever gadget the Buick and Lexus shopper could want. So is the Mazda3 the perfect pumpernickel for Wonder Bread prices? As good as. Civirolla shoppers who can be convinced to cross-shop will be pleased with Mazda’s sexy exterior, comfortable seats and road manners, but those after large seats and large trunks will return to the white bread alternative. I suspect the near luxury shoppers are the ones that will miss out the most however thinking that nothing this tasty could come in a package with a Mazda logo on it. Their loss.

Mazda flew me to San Diego, put me up in a hotel and fed me stuffed mushrooms.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 4 Seconds

0-60: 7.6 Seconds

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 73 db

 

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-007 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-010 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-001 MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-002 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-003 2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-006 ]]>
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First Drive Review: 2014 Toyota Corolla (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-toyota-corolla-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-toyota-corolla-with-video/#comments Mon, 14 Oct 2013 13:00:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=607433 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Calling the Corolla “Toyota’s most important car” would be an understatement. This single model accounts for 38 percent of all Toyotas ever sold in the USA and they expect to shift 330,000 next year alone. If the sheer quantity wasn’t amazing enough, ponder this reality: 75% of sales will be split between just four different configurations. If you’re in a 2014 Corolla, the odds are about one in five that the Corolla next to you is identical save for paint color. Often derided by the automotive press as a “driving appliance,” is there more to the 2014 Corolla or is it just a toaster with wheels? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

When you plan on selling 330,000 of anything, mainstream styling is essential. When many of those shoppers are repeat Toyota and repeat Corolla buyers, it’s also essential to avoid anything that could be described as “adventurous.” The result is the attractive but plain sheetmetal. You won’t find any Mazda-esque swooshes, any Ford/Aston inspired grilles and you certainly won’t find anything “aggressive.” And that’s how Corolla shoppers like it. Corolla shoppers apparently also like getting bigger cars with every re-design, so this 11th generation model has grown by 3.9 inches. Why don’t they shop up the ladder to a Camry? Who knows.

2014_Toyota_Corolla_S, Picture Courtesy of Toyota

Plenty of reviewers have found fault in the way the 11th gen Corolla looks, most of them complain vehemently in private and say little in public. I however, am not afraid to say what I think in public: the Corolla is pedestrian but far from offensive. I also find the Corolla S (pictured above) to be the more attractive of the bunch although neither nose is any more or less exciting than the Sentra, Civic or Elantra. The biggest problem with the way the Corolla looks has nothing to do with the Corolla and everything to do with timing. I drove the 2014 Corolla two days before sampling Mazda’s hot new Mazda3. If looks matter to you, the Corolla is unlikely to be on your short list. Adding a little visual flair to the front, Toyota made LED headlamps standard on every Corolla. Yep, even the $16,800 stripper model. The other thing that’s standard is an oddly tall ride height resulting in a larger than average distance between the top of the tire and the wheel-well making the Corolla look “off road ready.” Make of that what you will.

2014 Toyota Corolla Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

After a week in the RAV4′s discordant interior, I was concerned what Toyota would do with the volume leader. Thankfully my concerns were unwarranted and I found the Corolla’s interior surprisingly elegant. Yes, I said that out loud, I found the design elegant. (Notice I didn’t say exciting.) There are a few caveats however. While the dashboard styling reminded me a great deal of the Mazda6, parts quality still lags behind the Focus, top-level Forte and, in some ways, even the Chevy Cruze. The picture above is of the more attractive (in my opinion) two-tone interior. You’ll only find this on the LE, LE Plus, LE ECO and LE ECO Plus model as everything else is black on black and looks a hair cheaper. 2014 brings soft touch points to most of the Corolla’s cabin and a new fabric headliner in most models. The exterior may be plain my bottom line on the interior is that I could live with it long term without a problem.

Front seat comfort proved average for the segment but I found the lack of adjustable lumbar support to be a problem for my back. Stepping up to the “Premium” trim LE or S gets you an 8-way power seat but still very little back support. The big change for 2014 is out back, the stretch allowed Toyota to add 5.1 inches to the back seat, ballooning to 41.4 inches total, just 2/10ths less than a Camry. More legroom meant more room for the seats themselves and allowed the rear bench to be lengthened for more thigh support. Putting that in perspective, that’s 5 inches more than most compacts, four inches more than the Sentra’s cavernous back seat and a whopping 8.2 inches more than the Focus. Sadly even the Corolla hasn’t been able to escape the low-roof trend limiting headroom for taller folks in the back. 2014 brings some trunk love, bumping the cube carrying to 13, respectable for the class but below the Sentra’s large booty. If bag carrying is your thing, you should know that the Sentra can swallow four 24-inch roller bags in a vertical orientation, and four more horizontally. I can’t even think of a modern full-sized sedan that can do that.

2014_Corolla_S_017

Infotainment and Gadgets

The new Corolla gets Toyota’s latest infotainment software package and this represents a new direction. Previously there were two separate navigation/infotainment operating systems, a low cost unit found in cars like the Prius C, and the totally different (and expensive) one found as an option in vehicles like the Avalon and the Lexus line. Toyota shifting to common software running on different hardware depending on the model. Cheaper cars get smaller screens, Toyotas stick to touchscreens while Lexuses (Lexi?) get the joystick.

Representing the Corolla’s place at the bottom of the Toyota food chain, you’ll find an 6.1 inch touchscreen standard on all models except for the L. (The L is expected to represent less than 10% of sales.) While I find this software one of the worst in the luxury class, my negative impression is entirely down to the Lexus joystick. In the Corolla the system is fast and responsive and the graphics are all perfectly suited to the 6.1 inch touchscreen. Toyota tosses in weather and traffic updates on certain models without having to add navigation which is a handy feature. USB and iDevice integration is excellent and easily the equal of Ford’s SYNC in terms of voice control and tops the segment in touch-screen ease of use. The standard Bluetooth speakerphone worked well and had excellent sound quality. Depending on the trim you can also add smartphone app integration to Pandora, OpenTable, etc. Like the rest of the Corolla, the Entune system doesn’t break any new ground, but it is easy to live with.

On the gadget front the Corolla covers all the basics with those LED headlamps, a standard cabin air filter, air conditioning and power door locks and windows. LE and higher models (again, 90% of sales) gain  automatic climate control, six speakers, a backup camera, cruise control and keyless entry. If you want any whiz-bang features like self parking, heads up displays, blind spot monitoring, power folding whatnots or dynamic cruise control, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

2014_Toyota_Corolla_LE_ECO_013

Drivetrain

The engine under the hood of 90% of Corollas is carried over from last year. The 1.8L four-cylinder engine is good for a class middling 132 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. A new six-speed manual replaces the old 5-speed as the base transmission and delivers 28/37 MPG (city/highway) when so equipped. If you’re one of the incredibly few that plan on getting an L with an automatic, be warned that this is the same old four-speed automatic as last year’s Corolla.

All other Corollas, even the supposedly “sport” S model, get Toyota’s new continuously variable transmission. I can already hear the groans, but if you’re groaning about finding a CVT under the hood, then I’m going to generalize and say you’re not the target demographic. For the rest of you, you should know this CVT is one of the best I’ve ever driven and is a close second to the Honda CVT in the new Accord. Somehow Toyota and Honda have managed to exorcise the rubber band demon from the CVT in a way that Nissan has been unable. Ratio changes are quick and fuel economy is an impressive 29/38 MPG. S models get paddle shifters and all models will imitate a  seven-speed automatic when floored. The impersonation is passable, but I fail to see the point.

If you want to break the 40 MPG barrier, than the 30/42 MPG LE ECO model is the one to get. In order to get there, Toyota swaps new heads onto the 1.8L engine which incorporates their new ValveMatic variable valve lift, timing and duration system. Like BMW’s Valvetronic and Fiat’s MultiAir, this system acts as the throttle body under most circumstances to increase efficiency. When so equipped, power rises to 140 HP and torque drops to 126 lb-ft. It was hard to tell if the system delivered any real-world benefit because of the limited time I had in the Corolla but I can tell you that the extra 8HP didn’t make the ECO model any faster to 60.

2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Why does the Corolla sell so well? It has more to do with brand loyalty and a reputation for reliability than road manners. Everything about driving the Corolla can be summed up in one word: average. From steering feel to suspension dynamics and road holding the Corolla is neither class leading nor class trailing. After a day and 140 miles, it reminded me of my flight to Seattle to see the Corolla in the first place. I flew in one of Southwest’s new 737-900 planes and the experience was entirely ordinary. The plane got me from point A to point B, it was as comfortable as I expected and the looks didn’t offend.

This middle-of-the-road mentality explains why Toyota jammed their new CVT into the Corolla. They aren’t the first to the CVT party and they won’t be the last. The CVT lags a hair behind Honda’s new Earth Dreams CVT but is more refined than Nissan’s Sentra. The combination of 132 ponies and a CVT make mountain climbing easier in the Corolla than the Civic with ye olde 5-speed, but not as nice as the large engine equipped Forte or Mazda3. Repeat Corolla buyers will find the Corolla peppier than before thanks to the CVT, since the old 4-speed automatic seemed to never have the right ratio for the situation.

2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cabin noise measured in higher than average at 74 db at 50 MPH. 74db is a bit disappointing since even Honda made the latest Civic considerably quieter. Fuel economy was, yet again, middle of the road at 29 MPG over all after a day of city driving and stop-and-go traffic.

Even the Corolla’s recent “marginal” IIHS small offset crash score is class middling with the Civic snatching “good,” the Focus and Elantra “acceptable” and the Forte and Sentra slotting in below the Corolla at “poor.” While I can think of good reasons to buy something other than the Corolla, I honestly have troubles finding any reason to not buy one. When I tallied up my personal score card I was shocked to find I had ranked the Corolla 3rd behind the new Mazda3 and the Kia Forte. That ranking is based on the easy to use infotainment system, enormous back seat, large trunk, attractive interior and (of course) the reliability reputation the Corolla has maintained over the years. Yes, even I can be tempted (at least a little bit) by the logic of the driving appliance.

Perhaps that is what the bulk of the automotive press finds so vexing: The Corolla is probably the only car on the market that is deliberately designed to be average and Toyota nailed it.When I talked to a few Corolla owners about their purchase, none of them considered another model or brand before signing on the dotted line.

 

 Toyota provided airfare, accommodations and meals for this event.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.93 Seconds

0-60: 9.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.61 Seconds @ 81.8 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 29 MPG

Cabin Noise at 50 MPH: 74db

2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-001 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-002 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-003 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-004 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-005 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-006 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-007 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-008 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-009 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-001 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-002 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-004 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-005 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-006 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-007 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-008 2014 Toyota Corolla Interior-009 2014_Toyota_Corolla_LE_ECO_013 2014_Toyota_Corolla_S, Picture Courtesy of Toyota 2014 Toyota Corolla Exterior-003 ]]>
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First Drive Review: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/#comments Wed, 09 Oct 2013 10:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=612689 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007

As of October, the most fuel-efficient mid-sized sedan in America is the Honda Accord. Or so Honda says. After all, Ford has been trumpeting a matching 47 MPG combined from their Fusion. Who is right? And more importantly, can the Accord get Honda back into the hybrid game after having lost the initial hybrid battles with their maligned Integrated Motor Assist system? Honda invited us to sample the 2014 Accord Hybrid as well as a smorgasbord of competitive products to find out.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

I have always been a fan of “elegant and restrained” styling which explains my love for the first generation Lexus LS. That describes the 2014 Accord to a tee. Like the regular Accord, the hybrid is devoid of sharp creases, dramatic swooshes, edgy grilles or anything controversial. This is a slightly different take than the Accord Plug-in which swaps the standard Accord bumper for a bumper with a slightly awkward gaping maw. In fact, the only thing to show that something green this way comes are some  blue grille inserts and  LED headlamps on the top-level Touring model.

This means the Accord and the Mercedes E-Class are about the only sedans left that sport a low beltline and large greenhouse. Opinions on this style decision range from boring to practical and I fall on the latter. I think the Ford Fusion is more attractive but the Hyundai Sonata’s dramatic style hasn’t aged as well as its Kia cousin’s more angular duds. The Camry failed to move my soul when it was new and it hasn’t changed much over the years. This places the Accord tying with the Optima for second place.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Despite sporting an all-new interior in 2013, you’d be hard pressed to identify what changed over the last generation Accord unless you owned one. Instead of radical design buyers will find incremental improvements and high quality plastics. The dash is still dominated by a double-bump style dashboard with the second binnacle housing a standard 8-inch infotainment display. With manufacturers moving toward slimmer dash designs the Accord’s remains tall and large. For hybrid duty Honda swiped the Plug-in’s tweaked instrument cluster with a large analogue speedometer, no tachometer, LED gauges for battery, fuel and a power meter. Everything else is displayed via a full-color circular LCD set inside the speedometer.

Front seat comfort is excellent in the accord with thickly padded ergonomically designed front seats. There isn’t much bolstering (as you would expect from a family hauler) so larger drivers and passengers shouldn’t have a problem finding a comfortable seating position. The product planners wisely fitted adjustable lumbar support and a 10-way power seats to all trims.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Speaking of trim levels, in most ways (with the exception of that driver’s seat), the Accord EX serves as the “feature content” base for the hybrid. This means you’ll find dual-zone climate control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, standard Bluetooth, a backup camera, keyless entry/go and active noise cancellation.

Thanks to a wheelbase stretch in 2013, the Accord hybrid sports 1.3 inches more legroom than the last Accord and is finally class competitive with essentially the same amount of room as the Fusion and Camry and a few inches more than the Koreans. The Accord’s upright profile means getting in and out of those rear seats is easier than the low-roofline competition and it also allows the seating position to be more upright. Honda’s sales pitch about the low beltline is that it improves visibility for kids riding in the back, I’m inclined to believe them. As with most hybrids, there’s a trunk penalty to be paid but thanks to energy dense Lithium-ion cells the Accord only drops 3 cubic feet to 12.7 and I had no problem jamming six 24-inch roller bags in the trunk.  Honda nixed the folding rear seats, a feature that the competition has managed to preserve.

2014_Accord_Hybrid_Touring_043, Picture Courtesy of Honda

Infotainment, Gadgets and Pricing

Base Accords use physical buttons to control the standard 8-inch infotainment system and sport 6 speakers with 160 watts behind them.  Honda wouldn’t comment on the expected model split of the Accord, but I suspect that most shoppers will opt for the mid-level EX-L which adds a subwoofer, 360 watt amp, and adds a touchscreen for audio system controls. The dual-screen design struck me as half-baked when I first sampled it in the regular 2013 Accord and although I have warmed up to it a bit, I think it could still use a few minutes in the oven if you opt for the navigation equipped Touring model.

Honda’s concept was to move all the audio functions to the touchscreen thereby freeing the upper screen for some other use like the trip computer or navigation screen. The trouble is the lower screen simply selects sources and provides track forward/backward buttons meaning you still have to use the upper screen to change playlists or search for tracks. That minor complaint aside, the system is very intuitive and responsive. Honda’s improved iDevice and USB integration is standard fare on all models and easily ties with the best in this segment.

2014_Accord_Hybrid_EX-L_ Picture Courtesy of Honda

Starting at $29,155, the base Accord Hybrid is the most expensive mid-sized hybrid sedan by a decent margin especially when you look at the $25,650 starting price on the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. However, the Accord Hybrid delivers a high level of standard equipment including standard Pandora smartphone app integration and Honda’s Lane Watch system. Lane watch still strikes me as a little gimmicky since the Accord has such small blind spots and the best outward visibility in the segment already. Instead of stand alone options Honda offers just three trim levels. The next step is the $31,905 EX-L model which adds leather seats, a leather steering wheel, upgraded audio system with two LCD screens, memory driver’s seat, power passenger seat, moonroof, a camera based collision warning system and lane departure warning. While the base model is a little more expensive than cross-shops, the EX-L becomes a decent value compared to comparably equipped competitive hybrids.

Working your way up to the top-of-the-line $34,905 Touring model the Accord is no longer the most expensive in the class, that award goes to the $37,200 loaded fusion. At this price the Accord is less of a bargain compared to the competition, although you do get full LED headlamps and an adaptive cruise control system. In comparison the Camry spans from $26,140 to $32,015, the Sonata from $25,650 to $32,395, Optima from  $25,900 to $31,950 and the Fusion from $27,200 to $37,200. How about the Prius? Glad you asked. The Prius that is most comparable to the base Accord Hybrid is $26,970 and comparably equipped to the Accord Touring is $35,135.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Being the drivetrain geek that I am, what’s under the hood of the Accord hybrid is more exciting than the Corvette Stingray. Seriously. Why? Because this car doesn’t have a transmission in the traditional sense. Say what? Let’s start at the beginning. The last time Honda tried selling an Accord hybrid, they jammed a 16 HP motor between a V6 and a 5-speed automatic. The result was 25MPG combined. The 2014 hybrid system shares absolutely nothing with the old system. No parts. No design themes. Nothing.

Things start out with the same 2.0L four-cylinder engine used in the Accord plug-in. The small engine is 10% more efficient than Honda’s “normal” 2.0L engine thanks to a modified Atkinson cycle, an electric water pump, cooled exhaust gas return system, and electric valve timing with a variable cam profile. The engine produces 141 horsepower on its own at 6,200 RPM and, thanks to the fancy valvetrain, 122 lb-ft from 3,500-6,000 RPM.

The engine is connected directly to a motor/generator that is capable of generating approximately 141 horsepower. (Honda won’t release details on certain drivetrain internals so that’s an educated guess.) Next we have a 166 horsepower, 226 lb-ft motor that is connected to the front wheels via a fixed gear ratio. Under 44 miles per hour, this is all you need to know about the system. The 166 horsepower motor powers the car alone, drawing power from either a 1.3 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, or the first motor/generator. Over 44 miles per hour, the system chooses one of two modes depending on what is most efficient at the time. The system can engage a clutch pack to directly connect the two motor/generator units together allowing engine power to flow directly to the wheels via that fixed gear ratio. (Check out the diagram below.)

Front Wheel Drive Biased

Pay careful attention to that. I said fixed gear ratio. When the Accord Hybrid engages the clutch to allow the engine to power the wheels directly (mechanically), power is flowing via a single fixed ratio gear set. The fixed gear improves efficiency at highway speeds, reduces weight vs a multi-speed unit and is the reason the system must use in serial hybrid mode below 44 mph. There is another side effect at play here as well: below 44 MPH, the system’s maximum power output is 166 horsepower. The 196 combined ponies don’t start prancing until that clutch engages.

So why does Honda call it an eCVT? Because that fits on a sales sheet bullet point and the full explanation doesn’t. Also, a serial hybrid can be thought of as a CVT because there is an infinite and non-linear relationship between the engine input and the motor output in the transaxle.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Let’s start off with the most important number first: fuel economy. With a 50/45/47 EPA score (City/Highway/Combined), the Accord essentially ties with the Fusion on paper and, although Honda deliberately avoided this comparison, is only 3MPG away from the Prius-shaped elephant in the room. In the real world however the Accord was more Prius than Fusion, averaging 45-46 mpg in our highway-heavy (and lead-footed) 120 mile route and easily scoring 60-65 mpg in city driving if you drive if like there’s an egg between your foot and the pedal of choice. Those numbers are shockingly close to the standard Prius in our tests (47-48 MPG average) and well ahead of the 40.5 MPG we averaged in the Fusion, 35.6 in the Hyundai/Kia cousins and 40.5 in the Camry. Why isn’t Honda dropping the Prius gauntlet? Your guess is as good as mine.

Due to the design of the hybrid system, I had expected there to be a noticeable engagement of the clutch pack, especially under hard acceleration when the system needs to couple the engine to the drive wheels to deliver all 196 combined ponies. Thankfully, system transitions are easily the smoothest in this segment besting Ford’s buttery smooth Fusion and night and day better than the Camry or Prius. Acceleration does take a slight toll because of the system design with 60 MPH arriving in 7.9 seconds, about a half second slower than the Fusion or Camry but half a second faster than the Optima or Sonata and several hours ahead of the Prius.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

At 69 measured decibels at 50 MPH, the Accord hybrid is one of the quietest mid-sized sedans I have tested scoring just below the Fusion’s hushed cabin. This is something of a revelation for the Accord which had traditionally scored among the loudest at speed. When driving in EV mode (possible at a wide variety of highway speeds) things dropped to 68 db at 50 MPH.

When the road starts winding, the Accord Hybrid handles surprisingly well. Why surprisingly? Well, the hybrid system bumps the curb weight by almost 300 lbs to 3,550 (vs the Accord EX) and swaps in low-rolling resistance tires for better fuel economy. However, unlike the Camry and Korean competition, the Accord uses wide 225 width tires. Considering the regular Accord models use 215s, this makes the Accord’s fuel economy numbers all the more impressive. The Fusion is 150 lbs heavier and rides on either 225 or 235 (Titanium only) width tires which also explains why the hybrid Fusion Titanium gets worse mileage than the base Hybrid SE model. I wouldn’t call the Accord Hybrid the equal of the gas-only Accord EX on the road, but the difference is smaller than you might think.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Helping the Accord out on the road are “amplitude reactive dampers” or “two mode shocks” as some people call them. These fancy struts have worked their way down from the Acura line and use two different valves inside the damper to improve low and high-speed damping performance. The difference is noticeable with the Hybrid having a more compliant ride, and thanks to thicker anti-roll bars the hybrid is more stable in corners. Still, for me, the Accord gives up a hair of performance feel to the Fusion hybrid out on the road. It’s just a hair less precise, not as fast to 60 and lacks the sharp turn-in and bite you get in the Fusion Titanium with its wider and lower profile tires. However, keep in mind that Fusion Titanium takes a 1-2MPG toll on average economy in our tests dropping the Fusion from 40.5 to 38-39 MPG.

The Accord may not be the best looking hybrid on sale, (for me that’s still the Ford Fusion) but the Accord’s simple lines and unexpectedly high fuel economy make the Honda a solid option. Being the gadget hound I am, I think I would still buy the Fusion, but only in the more expensive Titanium trim. If you’re not looking that high up the food chain, the Accord Hybrid is quite simply the best fuel sipping mid-size anything. Prius included.

 

Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and gas at a launch event.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.2 Seconds

0-60: 7.9 Seconds

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69 db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 45.9 MPG over 129 miles.

 

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Trunk ]]>
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Pre-Production Review: 2014 Toyota Tundra (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/pre-production-review-2014-toyota-tundra-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/pre-production-review-2014-toyota-tundra-with-video/#comments Wed, 11 Sep 2013 20:02:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=514913 2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior-002

We don’t just love pickup trucks in America, we practically worship them. The half ton pickup truck is an American icon embedded into our music, our entertainment and almost the core of our culture. If you haven’t owned or wanted to own a pickup truck, you’re probably a communist infiltrating American society and should be stopped. Despite inroads from the Japanese competition, the full-size truck market is a solidly American segment that isn’t just led by the big three, it’s dominated by them. In August, RAM took third place with 33,009 pickups sold in the US of A, more than three times the number four player: this week’s Toyota Tundra. Why is this gap so large when Toyota crushes the big three in so many other segments? Let’s explore that while we look at Toyota’s refreshed 2014 Tundra.

Click here to view the embedded video.

When it comes to trucks, we’re talking half-ton cargo haulers, not the compact truck market where Toyota arguably leads. The full-size truck market is about image and brand as much as it is about capability. Aside from men’s razors, no other product in America is marketed in such a completely-divorced-from-reality fashion. We buy trucks both because they haul and because they make us look cool. (Come on, you can admit it.) Truck advertising tells us that real Americans buy trucks, have cattle ranches, sing in country groups and get all the blonde babes. Real Americans also go muddin’, drink Bud and (most importantly) buy American. It is therefore no surprise that Toyota’s biggest market is California. (Make of that what you will.) It’s also no surprise the folks at the launch event were trying hard to sell the Tie-o-ter as the most American pickup on the market. With the highest percentage of American content, plus assembly in San Antonio, there is some truth to their assertions.

Exterior

I think that part of Toyota’s tuck sales problem was the old T100 from 1993-1998. That truck was a half-step between the American mid-size and full-size trucks leading people to consider the T100 more of a mid-size competitor. Then came the 1999-2006 Tundra which grew but failed to keep up with the Americans in terms of styling and dimensions. In 2007 we got the all-new Tundra which yet again grew a half size and was finally competitive with the big three featuring two V8 engines and part-time 4WD. Sales were less than stellar. Why? Toyota believes styling was to blame and I’m inclined to agree. The “bubbly” theme of the old Tundra was fairly emasculating when you parked next to the “rugged” F-150 or RAM 1500.

2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

For 2014 Toyota has addressed this problem with an enormous new grille that comes in three flavors (you can see two of them in the gallery) and features a prominent Toyota logo and very upright styling. It’s so upright the front bumper hardly protrudes from the grille at all. The larger and “chromier” grill is flanked by new headlamps that pay homage to the daring big-rig style of the 1994 RAM. The new nose makes the Tundra look bigger and meaner even though the dimensions have barely changed at all. Mainstream looks? Check.

2014 maintains the Tundra’s three cab, two bed, two wheelbase product mix. Things start out with the three-seat, two-door SR and stretch up to the six-seat four-door SR5. In a nod to the large number of truck shoppers that buy for image, not payload, Toyota offers three premium trim levels: Limited, Platinum and 1794. 1794 is named after the ranch that used to operate on the property the Tundra factory was built on. Mainstream product portfolio? Check.

2014 Toyota Tundra Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Truck makers have finally read the memo that truck shoppers expect passenger car quality interiors. Toyota listened in 2007 but didn’t catch the all important detail “car quality interiors” not “car-like interiors.” Thankfully the 2014 refresh banishes the awkward Camry-esque of the old model for a more masculine design language. Like the competition there is plenty of hard plastic in this cabin, more fake tree than a 1970s suburban tri-level and plenty of bling. I can finally say with a straight face that the Tundra’s interior looks like a truck.

Unfortunately for Toyota, 2014 also brings a raft of refreshed, redesigned and tweaked trucks from the big boys. Compared back to back with the 2014 Silverado and the 2013 RAM, the Tundra’s interior looks a little too “try hard” with shapes that are discordant and not harmonious and parts quality that is a notch below the pack. The F-150 is getting a little old with a 2015 redesign widely expected, but I still find the Ford’s interior to be a better place to spend my time than the Tundra. Mainstream interior? Check.

2014 Toyota Tundra Interior, entune, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

2014 brings a few changes to the Tundra’s infotainment head unit. The major change is that all Tundra models will come with Toyota’s 6.1-inch Entune system only. The 7-inch system that ran the high-end software shared with the Lexus brand is not available in any model of Tundra. Consider me pleased. Toyota’s low-end system still seems to suffer from a dim LCD but the software itself is slick, speedy and easy to use. As before navigation is optional as is smartphone app integration. If you want the detailed look, check out the video. Mainstream tunes? Check.

2014 Tundra 5.7L V8, Picture Courtesy of Toyota

Powertrain

Delivering a new truck with an old drivetrain isn’t new, Ford’s been doing that for years. Unfortunately Ford is known for refreshing the under-hood-bits the next year while Toyota is known for  maintaining the status quo until a redesign. Unless Toyota breaks from tradition, this puts the Tundra at a serious competitive disadvantage. The base engine is ye olde 4.0L V6 mated to Toyota’s tried-and-true (but also tired and behind the times) 5-speed automatic. The rated 270 ponies and 278 twists are competitive with RAM’s 3.6L V6 and Ford’s 3.7L V6 on paper where torque is more important than horsepower for towing, but in the real world Ford’s 6-speed automatic makes better use of the power and 2014 brings ZF’s 8-speed to the RAM 1500 giving Chrysler’s 3.6L engine three more 60% more gears to play with. Toyota claims the V6 exists for a low entry price and as a result doesn’t even list a rated towing capacity for the V6 SR model. (Toyota says it’s 4,400 lbs.) I think that’s a serious mistake when we take two things into account. First, many truck buyers, especially those in California where Toyota is making headway, have no idea what a trailer even looks like. Second, Detroit is changing their tune on the V6 models changing them from entry engines to fuel efficient options that can haul some serious loads. RAM’s 2014 V6 model will tow 7,450lbs. Toyota was quick to say that they are the only ones with SAE verified towing numbers but I’m here to tell you the Chrysler 3.6L V6 and ZF 8-speed transmission are a weekend warrior’s towing wet dream.

Because the V6 is the milquetoast discount engine, Toyota offers two different V8s to fill out the product portfolio. Because Toyota only offers the V6 on the base SR model with the regular cab, most buyers will have a V8 under the hood. Both V8s are closely related to the engines found in modern Lexus models and as such are buttery smooth with a rich V8 burble and a torque curve that’s higher and “peakier” than the American competition. The 4.6L V8 is good for 310 horsepower and 327 lb-ft of torque, only slightly higher than GM’s 4.3L V6 and well behind Ford’s fire-breathing Ecoboost 3.5L V6. Still, this is not going to be the most popular engine because most Tundras will have Toyota’s 381HP 5.7L V8 capable of cranking out 401 lb-ft. Both V8s are mated to a mode modern 6-speed automatic which is on par with GM and Ford but notably shy of the RAM’s new ZF 8-speed for 2014. If you need more power TRD will be selling the same supercharger kit as before (as a TRD accessory it is covered by the Toyota factory warranty) which bumps the 5.7 to a class blowing 504HP and 550 lb-ft.

2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Driving and hauling

If you are one of the few that tow with their pickup truck, you may be happy to know that Toyota is the only company that follows the SAE standard completely when determining tow ratings.  Or, like me, you may look at the situation more skeptically and say “OK, so Dodge, Ford and Chrysler fiddle with their numbers” but does that matter? Not to me. The big three’s 1500 series trucks all slot in around 10,000 lbs with Chevy currently claiming king of the hill. Big deal. How the vehicles behave while towing is more important to me than the numbers and with that in mind there is one clear winner: the 2014 Ram 1500. Why? It’s all about ZF’s 8-speed automatic. The octo-swapper is two gears ahead of the competition and as a result can better keep the engine in its respective power band. Towing with Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 and 8-speed automatic is an eye opening experience and even though Chrysler’s 5.7L V8 lacks the power of the larger GM and Ford V8s the extra gears make a huge difference. Still, most half ton truck owners in suburbia have a truck because they bought a Ski-Doo and can’t imagine towing a 500-pound jetski behind a crossover with a meager 5,000 pound tow rating. (Seriously, I know some of these people.) With that in mind we can just say everyone in this segment can tow more than you need.

Out on the road the Tundra drives just like a pickup truck. If you had hoped that Toyota’s badge on the nose would turn the full-size cargo hauler into a FR-S on stilts you will be disappointed. The Tundra tips/dives and leans just like a Chevy, RAM or Ford and like the competition the horizontal grip varies depending on the cab, bed and rubber you choose. Steering is accurate but numb amd cabin noise is well controlled for a pickup truck.

2014 Toyota Tundra Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

With limited time behind the wheel of the pre-production models I must draw my V6 experience from a dealer provided 2013 model. The V6 is slow and thirsty, with the 5-speed automatic always a step behind what’s required. The 4.7L V8 is thirstier than the V6 but doesn’t drink anymore than the competition. Power delivery is smooth and  the 6-speed automatic shifts firmly with a relative eagerness to downshift when towing. The 5.7L V8 drinks like a college co-ed on spring break and has a somewhat high (3,600 RPM) torque peak which makes it feel out of sorts when towing compared to GM’s 6.2L monster.

After a day tossing the Tundra around Washington state and towing trailers with unknown weights inside (seriously, nobody seemed to know how much weight was in the demo trailer) I came to the conclusion that the Tundra is finally a solid middle of the pack contender. With the exception of ye olde 5-speed on the V6, there’s nothing about the Tundra that’s smaller, weaker, less masculine or less capable than the popular configurations of the Detroit trucks.

Everything about the Tundra is quintessentially middle of the pack, but does that make it the Goldilocks of the 1/2 ton truck market? Yes and no. In the pursuit of mainstream, Toyota has abandoned the attempt to be class leading. As a result, there is nothing extraordinary about the Tundra in a positive or negative way except, possibly, Toyota’s reputation for reliability. In a segment where brand is practically more important than payload and towing (just ask the Chevy vs Ford guys), that’s a problem for Toyota as it gives shoppers little reason to try something new. The 2014 Tundra is the best pickup truck Toyota has ever made and it’s a solid alternative to any of the American pickup trucks.  But, unless Toyota breaks out of their shell and does something radical, the Tundra isn’t likely to sway many shoppers in the heartland.

 

Tundra flew me to Seattle to sample the Tundra refresh.

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