The Truth About Cars » Honda The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 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 (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 » Honda Japanese Government To Push FCVs Via $20k Subsidy Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:00:56 +0000 Toyota_FCV_featured

With Toyota ready to make big moves with its 2015 FCV, the Japanese government is ready with their own big move: $20,000 USD in incentives.

Autoblog Green reports the government will offer buyers of the hydrogen-powered sedan $20,000 in subsidies, which may bring down the reported $69,000 MSRP down to $49,000; EV subsidies in Japan max out at $8,500 per vehicle for comparison.

Meanwhile, the FCV will likely sell for $50,000 in the United States when it leaves the container ships next summer, and will be joined by Honda’s own FCV — name to be determined later — sometime in 2015.

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2015 Honda CR-V Adopts CVT Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:27:54 +0000 450x299x2012-Honda-CR-V_04-550x366-450x299.jpg.pagespeed.ic.maBjGB5e2J

The last word in functional, utilitarian crossovers will now move even further towards the middle of the road, as the Honda CR-V adopts a CVT for its mid-cycle refresh.

Replacing the outdated 5-speed automatic, the CVT gearbox is, by our own EIC’s admission, a fantastic transmission. Furthermore, nobody buying the CR-V will know the difference, or care enough about it. The bland, practical formula that Honda appears to have perfected has made the CR-V the top-selling crossover for years and years. Don’t expect that to change any time soon.

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Japan Three, Others Meet With President Over Supplier Aid Pledge Mon, 14 Jul 2014 13:00:56 +0000 Barack Obama playing pool

A number of U.S. and multinational corporations met with President Barack Obama Friday to shine a light upon their pledge to pay their suppliers within 15 days as part of an initiative to help small businesses expand and bring on more employees.

Automotive News reports representatives for Nissan, Toyota and Honda, including Honda North America executive vice president Rick Schostek, were in attendance for the 90-minute meeting about the pledge, based upon a similar program with government contractors, whereupon the federal government promises to quickly pay its contractors if the latter does the same for the smaller suppliers that help them.

The original initiative affected 172,000 small businesses, bringing $1 billion for workforce investment since its launch in 2011. Friday’s meeting was to reaffirm the pledge, as well as to introduce the program to the public sector.

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Crapwagon Outtake: Honda’s Turbo Triumph Wed, 02 Jul 2014 13:20:43 +0000 download


Honda is gearing up to launch the all-new, turbocharged Civic Type-R, but they’ve actually made a boosted Civic before. And it was badged as a Triumph. The last Triumph ever, in fact.

Banovsky’s Car of the Day tells the story of the Triumph Acclaim Turbo, a badge engineering job between Honda and British Leyland that saw a fancy Civic (known as the Ballade) fitted with a turbocharged and built in a British Leyland factory. It was apparently one of the most reliable British Leyland cars ever built, but only three remain today. And it was also the last car to ever wear the Triumph badge.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite Wed, 02 Jul 2014 12:45:58 +0000 2014-honda-odyssey-touring-elite-001

The 2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite is the Nimitz-class flagship of the suburbs. Many suggest it’s the only van for enthusiasts, if there can be such a thing. It must be true, there’s even a lightning bolt zapping down the side view and all.

Is the Odyssey the way for you to buy in without selling out?


On the suburban battlefield, the Odyssey demands respect. Honda will tell you it’s the best-selling single nameplate, though that’s likely to end soon. Combine the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country numbers and the total nearly doubles what the Odyssey shifts. Chrysler is going to consolidate its two vans into a single model, and even if the new Town & Country takes a bit of a sales haircut, there’s plenty of headroom. The Odyssey is likely to lose its single-model sales leadership.

Let’s avoid getting confused with the facts, though. Everyone loves the Odyssey. Motor Trend even went so far as to say it “doesn’t drive much different than our 2013 Honda Accord Sport.” Choose an Odyssey and you’ll even get validation from people who see automobiles as little more than white goods. It’ll wind up in a conversation that also includes front-loading high-efficiency washing machines, refrigerators with snack drawers, and radiant heat in the bathroom.

In the immortal words of Orson Welles, “fellas, you’re losing your heads.” I have driven both, and unless there’s a Tuna Boat option package, The Odyssey is not like the Accord.


I expected more supple responses given the way the Odyssey has been talked up. Instead it’s choppy. The Odyssey does handle well, so if you want to slalom, go right ahead. For family-hauling, the Toyota Sienna does a better job being compliant without floating. There is that 3.5 liter, 248 hp V6; a lively engine once you get it revving. Power lags the competition, but only a little, and 250 lb-ft of torque is right in the fight. The six-speed automatic transmission is newly standard across all Odyssey models, and it stays out of the way. The snarl of the V6 is great and the Variable Cylinder Management drops back to four or three cylinders when all six aren’t needed. Thanks to careful tuning and active engine mounts, the VCM system is virtually undetectable.

While I’m not reminded of an Accord, the Odyssey definitely drives like a Honda. The power boost of the rack and pinion steering is too light for my tastes, but probably just right for the buyers. It’s a little numb, too. The brake pedal is solid, easy to modulate, and clamps down on big four-wheel discs. That’s good, because there’s more than 4,000 pounds to stop. The suspension that can be harsh lets you corner with confidence hard enough to rip that ice cream cone right out of little Suzy’s hand and splatter it on the side window. Body roll is well-checked.


You just can’t beat a van for actual usefulness. Two powered sliding doors and a powered rear hatch open up a world of possibilities with ease. Load heights are low and the third row seat can be disappeared into the floor. With the seats stowed, the surface is lumpier than the the Chryslers, and you have to heave the second-row seats out to get the maximum cargo space. Because of its seating arrangement, the Odyssey has longer front seat travel. That’s important because it lets you find a comfortable driving position.

The seating design is flexible, giving you the option of three-across in the second row, or a “wide mode” with a console in between. All three rows are comfortable, though the first and second rows are where it’s at. Pop the second row seats out, stow the third row, which is easy, and 4×8 sheets of material will fit. Who needs a pickup?


The Touring Elite is the most comfortable Odyssey there is. It had better be, because it costs luxury car money. There is no inexpensive Odyssey. The base-model Odyssey LX starts at $28,825. You can step through EX, EX-L, and Touring before you get to the Touring Elite trim level and its $44,450 MSRP. The result of that spending is basically every feature that’s optional on lesser Odyssey trims is standard for the Touring Elite.

That’s all of the things. More climate zones than your house (3), rear DVD system with remote and headphones, even a friggin’ central vacuum. The equipment list reads like a rental property, for crying out loud. Features like a cool box in the center console, power doors and hatch, parking sensors, rear-view camera, and navigation are what other moms and dads will chat you up about at soccer. They’re all fine, and they create profit for Honda. Half of the extra features are more distraction, the other half make the Odyssey easier to use. The hard ones are the controls for the infotainment, a partner in maintaining the peace when there are miles to cover with restless natives aboard.


The electronic support for drivers looks comprehensive on paper. It’s like Honda figured two screens are obviously better than just the single displays the competition offers, and my Odyssey also included blind-spot monitoring and a forward collision warning system. It’s confusing to know where to look for which controls, and some features require the control knob while others are driven via touchscreen. When using the audio screen there’s no tactile feedback, the layout is cramped, and it’s hard to stab the right spot when traveling at speed. It’d still be a bad idea even if the screen were responsive, which it isn’t.

Using Chrysler’s UConnect will make an Odyssey driver fall to their knees, weeping. At least Honda’s attention to detail tries to redeem the Odyssey. The interior materials are good, and even pieces you’d expect to feel flimsy, like the little change cup that folds out of the left side of the dashboard, are solid. While I hated the electronics, I thought the basics of the Odyssey provide firm footing to stand up to the abuse a family will deliver.


Minivans are do-it-all family vehicles, there’s no denying that. There’s only so much styling you can apply to a box on wheels, though the Odyssey does its best with a kink in the side view and crisply-creased surfaces. The Odyssey is most chic van to be seen disgorging your family, and the van scene has really changed since the turn of the century. Honda and Toyota have upped their van games and Chrysler has been the only domestic manufacturer willing to try and keep up.

Still, the Odyssey wouldn’t be my pick. It’s expensive. The electronics and secondary controls are infuriating. When you’re making the ultimate family-vehicle play, it’s going to take some abuse. The Odyssey may be the diamond of the field, but from the 2015 Kia Sedona, to the Chrysler vans, to even the Nissan Quest, there’s a lot of cubic zirconia options that are going to cost less, wear well, and be easier to use.

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Question Of The Day: What Does Japan Know About Fuel Cells That We Don’t? Mon, 30 Jun 2014 16:39:28 +0000 1280px-FCX_Clarity

A new report from Reuters highlight’s the Japanese auto industry’s increasing focus on hydrogen fuel cells, a technology that has long been written off as dead by many industry observers and battery electric vehicle advocates.

Reuters reports

Japan’s government and top carmakers, including Toyota Motor Corp, are joining forces to bet big that they can speed up the arrival of the fuel cell era: a still costly and complex technology that uses hydrogen as fuel and could virtually end the problem of automotive pollution…With two of Japan’s three biggest automakers going all in on fuel cells, the country’s long-term future as an automotive powerhouse could now hinge largely on the success of what they hope will be a key technology of the next few decades.

While Nissan is a notable holdout (pursuing battery EVs like their signature Nissan Leaf), Toyota and Honda are pursuing hydrogen as the alternative fuel of the future, and they have the backing of the Japanese government.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s growth strategy… also included a call for subsidies and tax breaks for buyers of fuel-cell vehicles, relaxed curbs on hydrogen fuel stations and other steps under a road map to promote hydrogen energy.

While Honda has been promoting fuel cell technology since the 1990′s, Toyota recently abandoned their EV program in favor of focusing on hydrogen. Despite all of the criticism of hydrogen fuel cells, their cost and the lack of infrastructure, the technology is still alive in this corner of the automotive world – one that is arguably the leader in hybrid cars and alternative powertrains overall.

Industry scuttlebutt has it that Japanese OEMs are convinced that the cost of developing a hydrogen fuel station network is going to be cheaper than developing a 500 mile EV battery, but I’m still curious: what are we the public – and the hydrogen skeptics – missing out on that’s driving Japan to persist with fuel cell technology?

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Honda, Nissan, Mazda Recall 3 Million Over Defective Airbag Inflators Tue, 24 Jun 2014 10:00:29 +0000 Honda_Civic_Si_EP3

Honda, Nissan and Mazda are recalling a total of 3 million vehicles equipped with defective airbag inflators supplied by Takata, following a similar action by Toyota.

Automotive News reports 2.03 million Hondas, 755,000 Nissans and 159,807 Mazdas globally are being recalled to replace the defective units. The effort comes just after Toyota recalled 1.62 vehicles outside Japan that were recalled earlier this month for the same issue, and 655,000 vehicles in the home market that were being recalled for the first time. As of June 23, 10 million vehicles between 2009 and 2014 have been recalled due to defects in Takata’s airbag units.

June’s action follow those by the four automakers conducted in April of this year, when Takata informed the group that a number of the defective units had escaped into the supplier channels due to poor record-keeping between 2000 and 2002 at the supplier’s plants in Washington and Mexico, where the moisture-infected units were assembled and stored. Moisture degraded the airbags’ inflators, which led to the units exploding, throwing metal shrapnel throughout the cabin.

Other manufacturers who used Takata airbags — including Ford, Chrysler and BMW — are also calling back a handful of affected models, especially those in humid climates such as Florida and Puerto Rico; CEO Shigehisa Takada claimed “the high levels of absolute humidity in those states” may also cause catastrophic failure of the inflators.

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Captives Dominating Auto Financing As Banks Resort To Risky Loans Thu, 19 Jun 2014 15:27:47 +0000 logo_toyota_credit_a

OEM captive financing arms are increasing their share of new car loans, with banks resorting to underwriting riskier loans in the used car market and to less credit-worthy buyers.

Citing data from credit agency Experian, Reuters reports that the captive arms of Ford, Honda and Toyota made up half of all new car loans in Q1 of 2014, up from 37 percent in the prior year. Buoyed by low interest rates, which allow for greater incentives, captive financing arms can offer better rates and other subsidies to consumers, enabling them to get in a new car more easily, while generating stronger sales numbers for the OEM.

At the same time, low interest rates have also created an environment where fixed income yields are low, causing investors to turn towards securities backed by auto loans, which can provide greater yields than other fixed income investments. This in turn is said to be fueling the supply of available credit for auto loans.

According to the article, certain banks (Ally and US Bancorp were among the examples cited) have turned towards financing used cars and buyers with subprime credit scores as a way of competing in the lucrative auto financing market. US Bancorp now makes 15 percent of its auto loans to buyers with subprime scores, compared to zero in previous years. Although it only represents one data point regarding financial institutions, the Reuters piece also claims that captives are increasing their share of subprime loans, while offering increasingly longer loan terms – in line with previous reports regarding declining underwriting standards and lengthier loans.

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Reader Ride Review: 2000 Honda S2000 “AP1″ Thu, 12 Jun 2014 13:00:09 +0000 photo 2

There has been no shortage of words written about the Honda S2000 on the internet. In fact, when a RRR request came in from Ryan in the ATL for his new-to-him 2000 AP1 S2K, my first thought was, “Why? It’s been done to death.”

Okay, that’s a total lie. My first thought was “Hell yes. When and where?

You see, the S2K and I have a bit of history. There are a lot of pictures on the Internet of me driving various S2000s, and nearly all of them look something like this:
My good friend Marc and I campaigned an S2K in SCCA National Solo for a little over four years. I had some really good results (and some really bad ones) but most importantly, I always had fun behind the wheel. The S2K, especially in its original AP1 format (available beginning in the 2000 model year through 2003), gives even the best drivers fits. In order to get a winning run out of one, the driver must constantly be at the threshold of disaster, trusting both his car and his reflexes to the nth degree. On an autocross course, that can mean a trophy-winning day just as easily as it can mean a day with all dirty runs. High risk, high reward.

On the street, it can mean you’ve found yourself neatly wrapped around a tree, and the low acquisition cost of the S2K meant that younger, aggressive drivers often did. As a result, Honda made several changes to the car for the 2004 model year (AP2), including a more stable suspension, bigger wheels with wider tires, and a slightly longer stroke. The downside of this, in the eyes of many, was the lowering of the redline from just under 9K to 8K. This led to nearly endless bench racing debate on S2K forums about which model was better, a debate that was effectively squashed when Honda released the eye-violating, lightweight Club Racer edition for the 2008 model year. The CR won nearly everything it entered for the next several years, and is still the dominant car in several SCCA classes today.
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I realize that for most of you this is remedial knowledge, but ponder this for a moment: the S2000 has now been discontinued in the US for seven model years. If you’re a young man leaving college today, the S2K has never been available for you to buy as new car since you got your license. It has been gone nearly as long as it existed.

While its main competitor, the Mazda MX-5, continues its run into a highly anticipated fourth generation, the S2000 is as dead as John Cleese’s Norwegian Blue. It seems like it was born from a Honda that no longer really exists. Perhaps that is why the S2000 continues to command such exorbitant prices on the used car market. What other modern non-exotic still retains fifty percent of its original value fifteen years later?

Now, let’s meet Ryan. Ryan is a young IT professional from Atlanta. His last car was a 2014 Camaro SS that he bought when GM bought back his 2013 Camaro V6 under lemon law circumstances (heads replaced three times, followed by an entirely new motor). Unfortunately, the SS just became too expensive to own and operate in the city, so he recently set out to find another car that would satisfy his requirements of being inexpensive, small (he owned a MINI before the Zetas), fun, and big-city friendly.

Other options included the NC Miata, NB Mazdaspeed Miata, 350Z, and RX-8. Although he had an FC RX-7 in high school, he didn’t want the hassle and poor gas mileage of the Renesis. The 350Z was a bit of a tight squeeze, and the extra HP of the S2K over the Miata was just too much of a temptation to ignore.

As a result, Ryan says, “I went on a mission to find the best S2000 I could afford.” After several searches, he finally struck gold—or more appropriately, Silverstone, the gorgeous dark grey of his new ride.

“It was a one-family car. The uncle had been the original owner, and after fourteen years, he gave it to his nephew. The nephew sold it to me three months later to pay for a wedding.” Ryan had owned it for all of three weeks when he made the ill-advised decision to let me review it.

After meeting Ryan for a quick and delicious lunch at the Lazy Goat in Greenville, SC, we made our way down to the parking garage where I got my first look at Ryan’s new baby.

I couldn’t believe it. The car looked as through it had somehow been sent from 2000 to 2014 through a wormhole in the space-time continuum. 46,000 miles on the clock. Original shocks. Only one ding—a minuscule dot on the passenger door—and nary a scratch to be seen. No curbing on any of the wheels. The interior was showroom quality. My only complaint? The BF Goodrich g-Force Sport Comp 2 tires it was sporting. There are lots of great tire choices for an AP1—that isn’t one of them. “Please get a set of Star Specs or Ventu R-S 3s,” I offered kindly. “You’ll thank me later.”
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As we wound the car up around the wonderfully curvaceous roads of Greenville, the roadster came to life. The engine felt as fresh as that of any S2K I’ve ever driven, and the familiar sound of the short-stroke four cylinder rang out through the stock exhaust as I found the maximum power of the car between 7-8k on the tach.

AP1s have a few known trouble areas, and the clutch and differential are right at the top of any pre-purchase-inspection list. A telling sign of an AP1 that’s seen import racer duty is a worn second-gear synchro. No such troubles here—Ryan’s car snapped through the pattern flawlessly. I was concerned when Ryan told me that he had to replace the rear tires when he bought the car—that meant it had already burned through the original Potenzas and had now burned through a set of BFGs in the rear. However, the diff appeared to be no worse off for it. I didn’t launch his car at any point, though, and I recommended that he be gentle with it, as well.

The best gear of the AP1 is third gear. The motor was happiest here, as the worries of low-end torque disappeared and it simply sang along the road. However, the true magic of the S2K AP1 lies in the gearbox. The pedals are neatly arranged so that even your size-nine-footed author can easily heel-toe his way into a second gear downshift around the tightest of corners. Ryan mentioned that he found it difficult getting the car into first gear under any type of motion.

At the mention of this foible, I shot the car down a side street into a narrow lane with 15 MPH turns. Rev matching an S2K into the low cog takes practice—approximately four years of it, at last count, for me—but it can be done with ease once your ear becomes accustomed to the right sounds. Just getting used to the fact that 8,000 RPM is not only safe, but actually where the car is happiest, can be quite a challenge. The car did exactly what I asked it to do, rotating slightly under throttle after the downshift and correcting.

Unfortunately, my confidence to push the adhesion limits of the car was severely limited by the BFGs. The total lack of feedback from the tires made it difficult to know where the breaking point was, and I certainly wasn’t willing to find out we had passed it in another person’s car on a public road. The AP1 really needs a proper suspension and tire combination to reach its full potential as a driver. Without it, the car feels soft and unpredictable. The good news is that a set of Koni Sports, Hankooks, and a bigger front sway bar are all that’s needed to correct this issue.

And that’s the great thing about the AP1. It’s a blank canvas, but the paint by numbers sets are easy to find and readily available. All the engine tuning and suspension research has been done and done again on it, and the sticky topics are right there on the forums for you to read and duplicate. Provided you find a good early example that hasn’t been thrashed, it’s a hard deal to beat for an enthusiast. Buy a good example for $10K, put another 2-3 into it along with a good rollbar,and you’ve got a car that can run around any road course with nearly anything out there. Ryan said he hopes to get into autocrossing, and I gave him the names of some great S2K drivers in Atlanta who I know will be glad to help him get started.

Despite all the fuss made about Miatas by enthusiasts here and elsewhere, I think I’d make the same call Ryan made—the S2K simply does everything a Miata does and then some. Even at fifteen years of age, the design is a head turner. It has aged much better than other competitors that came later. For whatever reason, it appears to have been abandoned by the import racer types in favor of other cars. Their loss is your gain. Go buy one—you won’t be sorry.

Thanks to Ryan for not only supplying his car but for driving two hours to meet me. Congrats on a great buy!

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Junkyard Find: 1982 Honda Prelude Thu, 12 Jun 2014 13:00:08 +0000 11 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe first-gen Honda Prelude didn’t sell particularly well in the United States, being very small and not particularly quick for a sporty car, but it had Accord reliability and some examples managed to survive on the street for decades. In this series, we’ve seen this ’81 and this ’82— both silver cars with red interiors— and today we’ve got another ’82… in silver, with red interior.
07 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBelieve it or not, this vacuum-hose tangle got even more complex as the early 1980s became the middle 1980s. This is the relatively simple non-CVCC, 49-state version.
05 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinStill, these engines worked pretty well. Once rigorous emissions checks became standard in many states, though, it became a nightmare to get these cars to pass.
01 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWas any other color interior even available on the early Prelude?

01 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1982 Honda Prelude Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 67
QOTD: Bring Back the Unibody Pickup? Thu, 05 Jun 2014 13:35:55 +0000 1024px-SubaruBaja

For decades, the formula for a successful pickup design in America has been pretty much the same. Design a simple ladder-frame chassis, drop in the biggest engine you can find, give it a front-engine rear-drive layout with an optional transfer case, and start raking in the money. From time to time, however, manufacturers have tried to swim against the current.

The last true unibody pickup (one without any type of traditional ladder frame) sold in the United States was the Subaru Baja, which ended production in 2006. A derivative of the Legacy/Outback platform, the Baja was Subaru’s attempt to cash in on the mid-2000s vogue for “sport utility trucks:” part-SUV hybrids like the Ford Explorer Sport Trac and the Chevrolet Avalanche. While those more successful models were selling well over 50,000 a year at their peak, the Subie barely managed to shift 30,000 examples in a four year run. With its funky body cladding, exposed rollbars, and limited utility compared to those other truck-based SUTs with traditional ladder-frame chassis, the Baja never managed to become anything but a niche product. Even so, it followed in a long lineage of experiments with unibody construction for pickups.

The golden age of the unibody pickup was the 60s, when every major manufacturer offered at least one. Ford had the Falcon-derived Ranchero, as well as a pickup based on the Econoline van. (The 1961-63 full-size F100 is often cited as an example of a unibody pickup design, but as Mike Levine explains here, this is technically incorrect. The ‘61-63 still had a ladder frame underneath its single-piece body.) Chevrolet had a similar offering in the Corvair Greenbrier pickup, although the more popular El Camino utilized a ladder frame. Dodge got in the unibody game with the pickup version of its A100 van. The pickup version of the Type 2 Volkswagen Transporter was increasingly popular in the burgeoning small truck segment before it became a target of the infamous Chicken Tax. That tariff also kept out the Japanese, who might otherwise have attempted to sell car-based pickups such as the Toyota Corona PU. The most popular of all these unibody pickups was the Falcon Ranchero. It offered meaningful size and economy advantages over the full-size trucks of the time, and was available with a greater number of creature comforts.

Many of these unibody pickups disappeared in the 70s, as compact, conventionally engineered Japanese pickups became more widely available. Many of these were captive imports sold by the Big 3, who utilized tricks like importing cab-chassis units separately to avoid the Chicken Tax. Unibody pickups didn’t reappear again until the 1980s. The Subaru BRAT was the first of these, followed by the Rabbit-based Volkswagen Pick-Up. The Volkswagen PU was an attempt to squeeze more volume out of the disappointingly slow-selling Rabbit; the Dodge Rampage and Plymouth Scamp were similar attempts to expand the use of Chrysler’s L Platform. Neither of those was particularly successful, with both the Volkswagen and Rampage/Scamp cancelled after only three years. The BRAT was reasonably popular, lasting in the US market until 1987. The Jeep Comanche was based on the unibody XJ Cherokee, but used a ladder frame to strengthen the superstructure. Around 190,000 units were produced before new Jeep owner Chrysler called it quits in 1992; the company didn’t want the Comanche cannibalizing Dodge’s truck offerings. After that, there were no more unibody trucks in the United States until the introduction of the Baja. Cheap gas and a slew of competitive ladder-frame pickups meant that the incentive to develop a unibody pickup was limited.

Like Subaru, Honda tried to cash in on the SUT trend with the Ridgeline. Although based off the unibody Odyssey minivan, the Ridgeline utilizes a hybrid chassis setup that incorporates a box frame. Sales have been disappointing, with the model scheduled to go out of production this month, although a sequel has been promised by Honda. The Ridgeline is often cited by midsize truck pessimists as emblematic of the reasons the segment has gone into decline. The truck offers no serious fuel economy advantage over a full-sizer. It also has a smaller bed, a lower tow rating, and less power, all in a footprint not much smaller than that of a full-size. Attempting to straddle segments was the Ridgeline’s doom. Buyers who wanted power, room, towing and hauling capability, and who didn’t care about mileage bought Avalanches, Sport Tracs, and full-sizers. Economy-minded individuals went for the cheaper, more utilitarian options like the Frontier and Tacoma. None of these alternatives were particularly great on gas, but neither was the Ridgeline; and they all offered price and/or capability advantages that the Ridgeline didn’t have. That doesn’t mean, however, that the unibody truck should necessarily go the way of the dodo.

The greatest argument against a renaissance in the small-to-midsize truck segment is profitability. Small trucks often have thin margins, and it’s hard to justify separate development programs for unique platforms. That’s ultimately what killed the Ranger in the United States, as well as the Dakota. GM is spreading out the development cost of the new Colorado/Canyon by making it a world market vehicle, but it remains to be seen if this strategy will work. Only the Tacoma has proven to be a consistent winner in the US market, and it also has the advantage of being globally sold; the same is true of the new Frontier. A US-only compact truck platform is a mistake. Repealing the Chicken Tax might open up the market to more imports, but ideally a compact truck would be developed from a platform already in use in the US. This would lower the cost of federalization, while at the same time increasing the margin derived from already existing platforms. That’s where unibody design comes in.

America is awash in unibody CUVs, whose platforms could be utilized to make compact and midsize trucks. The Chevrolet Montana/Tornado has been mentioned by small-truck aficionados as a possible import, but the cost of certifying it for American sale would probably be prohibitive. Instead, it would make more sense for GM to develop a small truck from either the Theta or Epsilon architectures, both of which have already been adapted for the American market. A small truck based on the Equinox, for example, might be profitably produced for the American market. If a small truck can offer significant price or fuel economy advantages over full-sizers, it can justify its existence against highly competitive full-size offerings. Even so, doubts remain about the segment’s overall viability. FCA chairman Sergio Marchionne recently alluded to this when discussing possible plans for a future compact pickup in the United States. Could a unibody truck be the savior of the compact truck segment?

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Review: 2014 Honda Civic Coupe Wed, 04 Jun 2014 13:46:46 +0000 2014-Honda-Civic-Coupe-12-of-29-550x366

Once upon a time, the Honda Civic was like McDonalds: its wide-ranging menu had something to offer for everyone, in an easily-digestible and economical format. There was even a time when the Japanese compact was offered as a sedan, coupe, and a hatchback (and for a brief spell, it even offered some British go-fast goodness!).

The Civic used to be a fantastic thing.

Unfortunately, the ninth-generation Civic was a bad hamburger. When Honda served it up in 2012, they were treated to numerous complaints about the cheap interior, inexcusable road noise, and incompetent suspension. The outcry was so loud that Honda did something they’d never done before.

“Let us reheat that for you,” they said.

I’ll make one thing clear from the get-go: I didn’t get a chance to drive the Honda Civic Coupe in ’12 or ’13. Not that I’m overly sad about it. From the multitude of reviews available, it looks like I didn’t miss much.

However, I did own one of the last sporty-ish, mildly-hot Civics sold on our shores.

My 2000 Honda Civic Coupe, in Canadian Si trim (EX to you Yanks), was certainly no sports car. Yet, with a real trunk, upon which rested a fairly sharp spoiler, and a sleek-yet-subdued body, my silver Civic at least looked the part without being pretentious or trying too hard. Its SOHC VTEC-equipped 1.6-litre D-series four-cylinder gave a somewhat exciting growl above 6,000 revs. The shifter, too, felt very mechanical, providing a certain notchiness when throwing the lever into each gate.

Most of all, I felt connected with my old coupe. It got me back and forth to work each day before doing double-duty as an evening pizza delivery car. We spent a lot of time together and shared many great memories.

Unfortunately for me, and maybe Honda as well, I crawled into the new ninth-generation coupe with some possibly misplaced nostalgia.

2014 Honda Civic Coupe (15 of 29)

My tester was a mid-level EX trimmed coupe with only a single option – the continuously variable transmission, which is new for this year and replaces Honda’s venerable 5-speed automatic transmission. The gearless transmission, along with a big, green ECON button to the left of the steering wheel, dashed all hopes of connecting with the latest Civic.

2014 Honda Civic Coupe (11 of 29)

Powered by a 1.8-litre SOHC i-VTEC four-cylinder engine, the Civic is still motivated by aspirations of driving something faster on your way to the dragstrip. The engine has been slightly improved and now produces 143 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque (up from 140 hp and 128 lb-ft the year before), but you can still do better in the compact coupe segment. The Hyundai Elantra Coupe and Kia Forte Koup, equipped with identical 2.0-litre mills, get 173 hp and 154 lb-ft. If you desire more power, you may want to look across the street.

2014 Honda Civic Coupe (28 of 29)

The new fangled continuously variable transmission may keep engine revs at the peak of the power band, but it’s far from exciting, especially with ECON mode engaged. Fuel economy was the main reason for introducing the CVT, though a real-world average of 29 MPG is far from the official mixed EPA rating of 33 MPG. The difference means you’d pay an extra $184 per year at today’s US average regular gas price of $3.67 per gallon if you drive 12,000 miles per year.

Fuel economy aside, the CVT’s paddle shifters provide some entertainment for the Gran Turismo set, and even some fairly quick ‘shifts’, but those of us familiar with clutch pedals or traditional automatic paddles will be disappointed.


In fact, the only connection made between myself and the Civic Coupe was with the headliner and my skull each time I sat in the car. The EX model tester came equipped with a power sunroof that takes away a serious amount of headroom for a 6’1″ human being. Even with the driver’s seat height adjustment all the way to the floor, my head made frequent contact with the Civic’s ceiling. My only way out of this situation was to go into “gangsta lean” mode, which, now that I think about it, explains the driving position of so many Civic Coupe drivers.

Elsewhere inside, the two-door did provide acceptable ergonomics. Materials were, again, acceptable, but the design did nothing for me in comparison to the knockout interiors in the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. Infotainment wise, Honda is still well behind the curve, and that applies to more than just the Civic. Even the Acura MDX, lauded in some circles, has a horribly designed headunit.

2014 Honda Civic Coupe (23 of 29)

It wasn’t all bad, however, as the Civc did provide a good balance between ride and handling. Not all cars need to be sprung like race cars (I’m looking at you Hyundai and Kia) and, gladly, none of my head-on-ceiling contact in the Civic was suspension induced. Steering was slightly vague, though not bad by any margin.

Outside, the Civic Coupe still isn’t going to win any awards for earth-shattering design. While the emergency refresh available this year is certainly an improvement over the launch model, it’s still too close to the eighth-generation model to really be considered all-new. The painted pocket 16-inch wheels are a try-hard move to catch up to the Koreans, while the the overall shape screams “I’m mildly edgy!”

2014 Honda Civic Coupe (14 of 29)

Overall, it seems like Honda is now fully content with resting on their laurels, bringing in repeat customers who’ll never cross shop. Considering this version of the Civic is built solely for North America, maybe Honda just doesn’t want to drop a ton of money into a vehicle with limited marketability. Hell, the Civic isn’t even sold in Japan anymore; Europe gets their own version that’s actually appealing with a nice selection of engines.

However, back on our shores, the 2014 Honda Civic Coupe is a bad hamburger, slightly warmed over.

Mark Stevenson is a freelance automotive journalist based in Nova Scotia, Canada with a certain penchant for dead brands, on both two and four wheels. He’s a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), former member of Texas Automotive Writers Association (NAMBLA), and the human pet of two dogs – Nismo and Maloo

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Reuters Claims 74 Fatalities Linked To GM Recall Through FARS Research Tue, 03 Jun 2014 23:55:26 +0000 GM RenCen Storm Clouds

Reuters reports the original fatality figure of 13 allegedly linked to the out-of-spec ignition switch that spurred a recall of 2.6 million General Motors vehicles this February may now actually be as high as 74.

The news agency researched the Fatality Analysis Reporting System database for “single-car frontal collisions where no front air bags deployed and the driver or front-seat passenger was killed,” then compared its findings between two of the vehicles under the spotlight of the recall — the Saturn Ion and Chevrolet Cobalt — and their competitors of the three most popular small vehicles: Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. The final analysis discovered the Ion held 5.9 fatal accidents per 100,000 units sold, followed by the Cobalt at 4.1, Focus at 2.9, Civic at 1.6 and Corolla at 1.0.

As for whether the findings held a link to the switch, the researchers weren’t able to confirm as FARS doesn’t include such data for the most part, leaving open other possibilities as to why the air bags failed to deploy in the affected vehicles.

Reuters presented their work to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and the automakers researched. Though GM remained silent on the findings, it stressed that its focus was on “doing the right thing” by their customer base. Toyota and Honda also remained silent, while Ford took issue with the agency’s methodology.

Among the two safety groups, NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman stated that while the final death toll wasn’t known by his agency, “it’s likely that more than 13 lives were lost” as a result of the defective part. IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer David Zuby noted the research may have overstated the number of deaths linked to non-deployment of air bags, as well as suggest that both the Ion and Cobalt were “less crashworthy” than the rest of the compacts compared. The FARS database itself also didn’t report information on five of the 13 deaths acknowledged by GM, and only has data through 2012.

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Junkyard Find: 2001 Honda Insight Tue, 03 Jun 2014 13:00:17 +0000 09 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSince we started out this week with a relatively late-model Junkyard Find, I’m going to jump into the 21st century and share the first Honda Insight I’ve ever found in a high-inventory-turnover, self-service wrecking yard. I’ve seen a few thoroughly stripped early Priuses and didn’t think they were worth photographing, but the tiny two-seater first-gen Insight made the Prius look like a fuel-swilling pig and that makes it a much more interesting car to me. 61 highway miles per gallon, all sorts of advanced aluminum components, and a coefficient of drag of just 0.25… and yet this one couldn’t stay clear of The Crusher.

The Insight has started to catch on with the top-speed guys at Speed Week at Bonneville, but the fastest one of all wrecked in spectacular fashion at El Mirage last November (the driver survived, thanks to a serious roll cage). We’ll be sure to see more such LSR Insights in the future, which might push up the value of the handful of Insights that get scrapped.
03 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one has been picked over pretty well. The battery packs in these cars have become old enough to need replacing in many cases, and that’s not a cheap repair.
01 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis Denver yard gets a lot of its merchandise from local police auctions, and it’s possible that this car was a DUI or unpaid-parking-tickets impound.
05 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYou can pick up a running first-gen Insight in decent condition for $4000-$7000 these days, and we can expect that price to drop as fewer Americans become willing to drive a cramped, goofy-looking two-seater in the name of extreme fuel economy.

Here’s a JDM promotional film for the ’99 Insight.

Teach those polluting hippies with their ill-adjusted valves and 25-mpg VW Transporters a thing or two about saving the planet! Walk the walk, longhair!

01 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2001 Honda Insight Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 32
Honda Selected To Power Upcoming Formula Lites Series Mon, 19 May 2014 10:00:43 +0000 Honda K24 engine

Honda’s Honda Performance Development announced this week that it will provide the power for the upcoming Formula Lites series, an open-wheel series sanctioned by SCCA Pro Racing with the goal of developing young professional drivers on their way up the competitive ladder.

Autoblog reports the power will come in the form the K24 2.4-liter four-cylinder, which will be mated to the FIA Formula 3-spec Crawford FL15 chassis and delivering an unknown amount of power to the rear set of Pirellis all of the cars will be wearing around the track.

The Formula Lites series, designed to keep costs down while providing a reliable competition platform for those who wish to someday run at Indy or Monaco, will run at select events this year before running a full schedule in 2015

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There’s A New Queen Of California Thu, 15 May 2014 14:17:29 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Oh, California, the trend-setting coastal paradise that once sparked a revolution in the American car market. Fully half of cars sold in the Golden State are from Japanese brands, and for a couple of years, the top dog was the Toyota Prius – about as opposite as could be from the rest of the country, where the Ford F-Series reigns supreme. But there’s a new leader in the sales charts, and it’s a bit more mainstream (or “normcore” as the kids are saying these days).

In the first few months of 2014, the Honda Accord has managed to displace the Toyota Prius as California’s best-selling car. The Los Angeles Times reports that 15,611 Accords have been sold, giving it a lead of roughly 300 units over the Prius. The Honda Civic, Toyota Camry and Toyota Corolla rounded out the top five.

That’s not to say that the race is wrapped up already: the Prius, or any of the other cars mentioned, could snatch the crown – no other nameplates have sold more than 10,000 units so far.

At 1.8 million units, California’s car market is bigger than Canada’s, and import brands make up nearly three quarters of all sales. But Chrysler saw a big gain in 2014, with Jeep sales up 57 percent, Ram trucks up 49 percent and Fiat up 78 percent. The big losers in California included Tesla, which saw a 36 percent drop in sales. Perhaps the novelty of being an “early adopter” is wearing off, at least until the Model X arrives next year.


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Honda S660 To Enter Production In 2015 At Former Beat Factory Wed, 07 May 2014 11:00:37 +0000 Honda-S660-Concept-Live-Shot-05

Over two decades ago during the early years of Japan’s Lost Decade (or Lost 20 Years for those who believe the nation’s economy has yet to improve since the boom of the 1980s), Soichiro Honda’s final car before his passing — the Honda Beat kei roadster — left the Yachiyo Industry Company-owned factory at Yokkaichi to take on the likes of the Suzuki Cappuccino and Autozam AZ-1.

History could come back around, however, when the factory gears up to build the production-version of the Honda S660 in 2015.

Autoblog reports the Yokkaichi factory — which currently builds the N, Life and Vamos for Honda under-contract — had been slated for expansion a few years ago before the automaker moved the majority of its kei-car production to its own factory in Suzuka.

No word on how many of the new roadsters will be built, nor how much they will be priced; it also remains to be seen if American Honda CEO Tetsuo Iwamura can bring the S660 — or S1000, should more power be needed than the 660cc turbocharged engine mounted mid-ship can provide — to the United States sometime after Japan gets theirs.

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Zipcar Announces Car2Go Competitor ONE>WAY Mon, 05 May 2014 04:00:37 +0000 Zipcar ONE>WAY service featuring the Honda Fit

Late last week Zipcar announced their ONE>WAY service, a point-to-point rental product and a clear challenge to Daimler’s successful Car2Go program.

As droves of pesky Millennial descend on the world’s urban centers, the market for on-demand fast access individual transport is swelling. The Avis Budget Group seems to be wasting little time diversifying their (relatively) newly acquired asset, Zipcar. The already popular short-term rental service has announced a new product: ONE>WAY, a point-to-point product in the vein of Daimler’s successful Car2Go operation.

Dubious use of mathematical symbols aside, the product is a no-brainer. Zipcar has significantly better brand recognition than  competitor Car2Go. The latter’s service is offered in only ten American cities – Zipcar is available in a whole bunch of locations. Better still, Zipcar is trumping the Germans in practicality. An agreement with Honda means ONE>WAY users will have access to the 2015 Fit exclusively – a clear win for the Japanese automaker, who will undoubtedly gain massive amounts of exposure in a segment that may not otherwise experience their products.

To be fair, the Smart Fortwo wins in the crucial parking category, as its 73.5 inch wheelbase is tough to beat. But which would you rather take to Ikea?

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Hammer Time : Pick Your Stick! Sat, 03 May 2014 18:00:31 +0000 stick1

5 cars – 5 sticks = 0 Customer Demand

I hate looking at that equation. But these days, it’s about as true for the car business as Georgia is hot. An older stickshift vehicle that isn’t an all out sports car will sit at a retail lot for months on end.

Nobody knows how to drive them except for those folks who are either too middle-aged, too arthritic, or too affluent to buy an older car with a manual transmission.

Don’t believe me? Well, here’s five vehicles that have become the equivalent of heavyweight paperweights at my humble abode. The funny thing is I like driving them all… I just wish I wasn’t two stickshifts away from driving a different handshaker every day of the week.

They are….


2007 Toyota Corolla CE – Wholesale 4k, Retail 5k

I gave this Corolla brand new tires, an interior detail, and a new antenna. It has returned the favor with 29 dealer records and… well… have I mentioned the fuel economy yet?

When you buy the premium vehicles in this business, you always get three options;  good, fast, and cheap.

You can pick any two of the three.



A car with good demand will sell fast, but you can’t buy it cheap.


A cheap car can sell fast, but you don’t always get a chance to buy them in good condition and chances are if it is, it’s not a popular car.

This Corolla has officially served as my decoy car. The one that everyone thinks they want to buy until they find something with more options (it’s a base CE), more miles (145k), or, inevitably, an automatic.

I don’t care. With all the in-town driving I do, and with the honor of having 4 police precints within a 5 mile radius of my workplace, I need a car that will keep me out of trouble while having at least some fun until the points on my license go down. This one does the job and yes, I would have rather sold it by now.


2002 Volkswagen Beetle TDI  Wholesale $2500, Retail $3500

Right engine. Right leather seats.

The wrong transmission for everyone’s teenage daughter.


I flipped a 2002 Jetta not too long ago. Ergonomically, the Jetta was about three parsecs ahead of this Beetle. The dashboard on this thing seems to go on forever, or at least three feet of forever. The interior is as cheap as it is kitschy and, well, parts of that interior are the same lime green as the outside.

I should have known better then to buy a lime green Bug. But about a year ago I struck gold with a zonker yellow Beetle. So I thought that a green one could be an acceptable weird color alternative.  It’s not!

Everything works (miracle!), but this one just sits and ponder that decades old VW question,  “To break? Or not to break?”


1999 Toyota Solara – Wholesale $2250, Retail $3000

Now this one hit all of my buttons for my highway travels. Plenty of space. Comfortable for long trips. A V6 / 5-speed combination that effortlessly cruises down the interstate at an 80 mph clip while barely breaking a sweat. It only has one itty-bitty problem. After I took it down to Florida to see family, and up to Detroit to see the auto show, someone hit it. Figures!

The good news was that this  beige on beige Solara wasn’t badly hurt  at all. A tow square from an SUV pierced the plasticized bumper at a red light. The driver had almost blown through the red in front of a cop, and then decided to back up without looking. An act of stupidity that was hopelessly compounded by the cell phone attached to his head.


It actually worked out to my benefit.  The old bumper had  already been scuffed up hard thanks to the errant parking escapades of the prior owner. 1990′s coupes always wind up with those scuff marks on the bumper because the paint was put on wafer thin back then  and never held up.

It’s also an SE model, which in 1990′s Toyota-speak means that it has a cassette player only… no roof… and plastic wheel covers. SE really meant “Subtraction Edition” back in the day.


1997 Honda Civic EX – Wholesale $2000, Retail $3000 130k.

One owner. Sunroof. These Civics were incredibly popular up to a few years ago.

These days they still are here in the ex-urbs of Atlanta, but only the automatic versions. This particular one has the usual cosmetic issues. Some paint wear on the hood, flaking,  and a crack on the front bumper.



It’s also owned by my brother-in-law. So if I tell you any more negatives, I’ll quickly find myself outside the “Circle Of Trust”. It’s a good car. Really! Oh, and the battery’s dead.


1994 Mazda Protege – 60k original miles  - bought for $775 two years ago.

This is a bad, bad car. A terrible car. It’s like an ancient venereal disease. A horrific ride of almost Roger Smith-ian proportions.


But I absolutely love it. Why? Because it was the cockroach of compacts.

I had financed it and got it back. Twice. After it came back to me in an almost Kevorkian state, I fixed it up again and retailed it.  I only had a thousand in it and got over $4500 after two years of tough owners. So naturally, I love this one the most.

But what about you? If you were to handshake your way into the penurious plenitude of older stickshift vehicles, which one would you chose?

Note: The Beetle and Protege sold earlier this week, and I have to confess that my only exposure for these vehicles has been drive-by traffic until recently. I wanted to finance them (well, all but the Protege), but thankfully, I am buying a lot more late model vehicles these days instead of older stuff. If this keeps up I’ll probably continue to chronicle these older rides, but I will be back to my old focus of retailing newer ones.)

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TTAC Goes Way Back: The Dawn Of Import Drag Racing Tue, 29 Apr 2014 14:01:46 +0000

Before Fast and Furious was even a glimmer in the eye of a Hollywood producer, import car enthusiasts were paying nearly twenty-five hundred dollars for a lousy intake manifold – hard to believe, right?

Well, if you lived in Toronto in the mid-1990′s, not really. The Canadian dollar was in the toilet, internet shopping did not exist, and buying from a local vendor at inflated prices was your only option. This documentary, which debuted on A&E sometime in that era, was the talk of the town when it came out. I remember getting a “taped” copy (back when you could record things on VHS, not TiVo or DVR) and being amazed that somebody went out and purchased a laptop computer just to tune their car.

My, how things have changed. Still, it’s nice to take a look back to the days when a B-Series Honda EG hatch running 12 second times was a huge deal. And how about the Miata and FD RX-7, two cars that we may not normally think of as street drag contenders, being abused mercilessly in pursuit of bragging rights?

Less than a decade after this documentary, Ontario imposed draconian anti-speeding laws, whereby getting caught at 31 mph over the limit meant an instant impounding of your vehicle, a 10 day driving ban and a fine of up to $10,000. While these laws killed off the street racing scene, they also made Ontario one of the worst places to drive.

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Junkyard Find: 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagovan Mon, 28 Apr 2014 13:00:04 +0000 17 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBefore Subaru finally nailed down the sales-clinching formula for a car that had four-wheel-drive but didn’t seem too truck-like, all the major Japanese car manufacturers took at shot at building little sedans and wagons with power going to all the wheels. Since I live in Colorado, I get to see examples of each of those 1980s efforts, most of which didn’t result in much showroom action but are still pretty interesting today. In this series, we’ve seen a Camry All-Trac, quite a few Corolla All-Tracs, lots of Tercel 4WD wagons, countless elderly Subarus, and so on. The Honda Shuttle aka Civic Wagovan shows up in Denver wrecking yards as well, and I don’t bother to photograph most of them. This late Wagovan with the futuristic “Real-Time” four-wheel-drive system, however, is a rare find even in Colorado.
26 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinReal-Time 4WD didn’t require the driver to throw a lever or push a button when snow or mud threatened, and thus you didn’t have to worry about leaving the car in four-wheel-drive on dry asphalt and tearing up the tires (or worse). Of course, there was a fuel-economy penalty for using a center differential and driving all four wheels all the time, but Subaru proved that this doesn’t hurt sales.
22 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThere are emblems boasting of this technology all over the car.
03 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe ’88 4WD Wagovan also got a super-low (I assume that’s what the “SL” stands for) first-gear, which was probably great for climbing steep driveways and busting CV joints.
12 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinUnder the hood, the pretty-potent-for-1988 106-horse D16A6.
02 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNearly 180,000 miles. No rust on the body, interior not too bad, so my guess is that a blown head gasket doomed this car.

I couldn’t find any Japanese-market ads with the screeching tires and macho voiceovers that the Civic Shuttle deserved.

At least they still appreciate the 4WD Wagovan in Sweden.

01 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 25 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 26 - 1988 Honda Civic 4WD Wagon Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 51
FCA, Daimler Buy Greenhouse Credits To Meet EPA Emission Limits Mon, 28 Apr 2014 11:30:15 +0000 Ferrari_458_Speciale

The Environmental Protection Agency said Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Chrysler and Ferrari divisions, as well as Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz unit, bought greenhouse gas (GHG) credits to remain in compliance with the agency’s 2025 twin goals of 54.5 mpg and halved greenhouse gas emissions.

The Detroit News reports Honda and Tesla sold 90,000 and 35,580 greenhouse credits — each one measured in 1 metric ton of emissions, or megagram — to Ferrari and Mercedes respectively for the 2010 model year, while Chrysler bought 500,000 such credits from Nissan for 2011. In addition, Mercedes purchased 250,000 credits from Nissan and 177,941 credits from Tesla for 2012; the EPA does not disclose how much the automakers paid for the compliance credits.

As for what the three divisions are doing to come into compliance with EPA and CAFE standards outside of the credit market, Ferrari — which FCA petitioned the agency to classify as an independent automaker, allowing the brand to enjoy the same conditional exemptions as Aston Martin, Lotus and McLaren due to its low production output — “is working to boost fuel efficiency while improving performance,” while Mercedes is looking into stop-start and other fuel-saving technology. Chrysler, for its part, is experimenting with flex fuels and using turbocharged four-cylinders in some of its offerings.

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Honda’s Next Innovation In Driverless Cars Has Two Legs, Not Four Wheels Fri, 25 Apr 2014 16:27:10 +0000 photo (23)

Last week’s New York Auto Show saw Honda make a robot – and not a car – the centerpiece of its press conference. Even though it had a very important new product to introduce, Honda instead chose to have ASIMO do a song and dance number, and then promptly depart in the middle, due to (an admittedly adorable) case of “stage fright”.

For years, many thought that ASIMO was a foray into the world of robotics for Honda. Japan’s demographic profile means that an unprecedented number of elderly people will populate the country by 2050, with an equal lack of young people to care for them. The need for innovations in elderly care is significant, and humanoid robots like ASIMO were envisioned as a possible solution. Aside from performing necessary tasks, the level of artificial intelligence is high enough that ASIMO can interact with a human –  according to Bloomberg, things like tracking multiple conversations are already part of ASIMO’s capabilities, and engineers are teaching the robot to distinguish between someone passing by, and someone who wants to stop and chat. These technologies might have automotive applications too

“Made of magnesium alloy covered with white plastic resin, Asimo is fitted with eight microphones, 14 power sensors that read the direction and amount of force, sonic-wave sensors that detect obstacles as far as three meters (almost 10 feet) away, and two stereo cameras that can sweep 120 degrees.

That information is processed by software that lets the robot negotiate obstacles and interpret postures, gestures and faces. Honda researchers are fine-tuning Asimo’s ability to distinguish between a person walking past and one who wants to stop and chat, said Kawagishi.

That’s the sort of judgment capability that can be applied to cars: Asimo’s image-processing technology can recognize whether a pedestrian is leaning forward to cross a street. Artificial intelligence software can judge quickly enough to react, said Yoshiharu Yamamoto, the president of Honda R&D.”

Stereo cameras, like Subaru’s EyeSight, are already in certain production cars, while Honda has experimented with them on autonomous vehicle prototypes. As Bloomberg notes, adapting these capabilities to the higher speeds of automobiles will be a challenge for Honda’s engineers. More interesting is the use of ASIMO’s stability systems (such as self-centering to prevent the robot from falling) on future motorcycles. But that’s a discussion best left for those acquainted with two wheels as well as two legs…

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New Or Used? : The Most Reliable Car In The USA Is A …. Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:42:56 +0000  


Hi Steve,

What would be the most reliable car I can purchase for about $7000-8000? And what would be the upper limit on mileage that I would even consider?

Steve writes:

I grew up in the food import business. So to me, the answer to this question is a lot like asking my Dad, “What is the best cake I can get for $70?”

He would probably tell you that it depends on your ingredients, your cooking methods, your recipe, and what parts of the ingredients matter to you the most.

The ingredients when it comes to a used car is… the prior owner.

Like a pitcher in baseball who has an overwhelming influence over the outcome of the game, the prior owner’s maintenance habits and driving style has the greatest impact on the longevity of the vehicle when you’re shopping at this lower price range.

The cooking methods are… your own driving style and maintenance regimen. The way you cook those ingredients once you get them determines a lot of that long-term reliability.

My father’s Lincolns were rarely driven hard, and he took fantastic care of his cars. My mom was a rolling hurricane who routinely beat her cars to an inch of their metallic being. Some cars can easily handle the obscenity that is a person shifting from reverse to drive while in motion (Crown Vics come to mind), while other cars would likely be recycled into Chinese washing machines within five years (Chevy Aveo).

You need to be honest about the type of driver you are, the type of driving you do, and the types of wear you have commonly seen in your past vehicles. A diesel is often better for mountainous highways than an older hybrid, and a Lincoln Town Car will likely be a better fit for potholed streets than a Mitsubishi Lancer.

The recipe is usually… the manufacturer.  The ways you get to enjoy it depends on the way they built it.

Cars have their own unique manufacturing tolerances and varying quality levels built into their 180,000+ parts. Honda makes wonderful manual transmissions. Toyota is a world-class manufacturer of hybrids. GM and Ford make highly reliable full-sized trucks and SUVs, and BMW along with Porsche have offered sports cars that were truly the best in the business. The manufacturer that offers the best match for your automotive tastes will impact your reliability because, you will likely be willing to invest in the best parts if that car offers what you consider to be the optimal driving experience.

Does it sound like I’m evading your questions? Well, let me toss around the ingredients that matter to you the most then and give you a solid answer.

If cars to you are like water… no taste is the best taste… and you drive about 50 to 60 miles per hour on flat, boring, mundane roads, then find yourself a 2007 Toyota Corolla. Get a low mileage version with a 5-speed that was driven by a prior owner who knew how to handle a stick. 07′ was the last year of that particular generation and historically, vehicles that are later in their model runs tend to have fewer issues.

If cars are a matter of sport and passion, I have an incredibly weak spot in my heart for second generation Miatas. A low mileage version owned by a Miata enthusiast is a helluva deal. Here in the southern US, an 03 or 04 with around 60k miles would sell for around $7000. I also like the Honda S2000 and the BMW Z4. Those will have higher miles than the Miata, and the Z4 in particular may not match the Miata for reliability alone. But those two models may offer certain ingredients that are more appealing to you.

Finally, if you’re looking for that same automotive luxury and richness as a five layer coconut cake filled with Godiva chocolate flakes, and coconut that was flown directly from the Polynesian Island of Tofoa, the sad news is there are no reliable $7000 Rolls-Royces or Bentleys. However a 2001 Infiniti Q45 is a frequently overlooked luxury model that I would keep a keen eye on if I had $7000 to spend on a ‘rich’ car. One with less than 100k miles, if you can find it, would be a fantastic deal.

Oh well, gotta go and exercise. My morning cake came from an article I wrote a couple of days ago and I now have to remove all the calories that are stuck in my big fat head.


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Beijing 2014: Honda Concept B Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:37:08 +0000 honda-concept-b


This China-only concept, which previews a new small car that Honda will build just for that market, is the kind of product that Honda enthusiasts have been clamoring for.

The Concept B looks like Honda’s take on the Hyundai Veloster. No powertrain details were announced, but perhaps Honda will be kind enough to forgo the hybrid system that they saddled the CR-Z with – and bring it to North America as well.

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