Monday, April 26, 2010

Get Ready to Pay More at the Pump

Surging wholesale gasoline prices should push pump prices to an 18-month high and put drivers in many parts of the country on the cusp of having to pay $3 per gallon for gasoline. Wholesale prices jumped 5 cents Friday and that should mean retail prices of at least $2.87 per gallon in the next couple of days, the highest level since October 2008, said Tom Kloza of Oil Price Information Service.


Not All Hybrids Are Created Equal

The "hybrid" badges found on an increasing number of vehicles carry a lovely green aura, but some are a lot greener than others, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"There may be a misconception that all hybrids are created equal," said Don Anair, a senior analyst with the organization.

Anair adds that automakers have a lot of flexibility in how to apply hybrid technology, including how much money they want to spend. Some hybrids also are much more expensive than others because the automakers load them with equipment that would otherwise be options, Anair said.

That's why the nonprofit group came up with a "hybrid scorecard" to help consumers gauge hybrids based on fuel efficiency and value at

The Web site ranks the vehicles in three categories: Environmental score, value and forced features.

Environmental score

To measure environmental impact the group looked at two factors: global warming based on fuel economy and emissions.

To determine this, it compares the hybrid with its closest non-hybrid model. For example, the Ford Escape Hybrid is compared to the standard Escape. Where there is no direct counterpart, such as the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight, "we choose a model in the manufacturer's vehicle lineup that most closely matched the hybrid in vehicle class, size and acceleration," said Anair. "For the Prius, we chose the Toyota Matrix; for the Insight, we chose the Honda Fit; and for the Lexus HS250h, we chose the IS250."

The top model for environmental score was the Prius.

"Going from a conventional Toyota Matrix to a Prius reduces global warming emissions 44 percent. That's like trading in a Hummer H3 for a Mini Cooper," the study says.

Also ranking high was the Lexus HS250h and RX450h, an all-wheel-drive sport-utility.

Anair says the SUV's performance was something of a surprise but shows the versatility of a well-designed hybrid system.

"I think the finding was that hybrid technology can be implemented in any type of vehicle and done in a way that maximizes fuel economy," he said.

At the bottom of the list of 31 vehicles were the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid and the Saturn Aura Hybrid.

The Web site says "going from a Saturn Aura to an Aura Hybrid only reduces emissions 10 percent, the equivalent of trading in the Hummer H3 for a 3.7-liter Jeep Grand Cherokee."


Hybrid value balances the fuel-economy improvement against the increased cost for the hybrid technology.

For example, "the hybrid system in the Lexus GS450h is $2,130 and reduces global warming pollution by 13 percent over a conventional model, giving it a hybrid value rating of ‘medium,' " the Web site says. "The hybrid system in the Civic Hybrid costs $3,983, but achieves a 31 percent reduction in global warming pollution, giving it a ‘high' hybrid value rating."

The HS250h and Prius and Mercedes S400 tied at the top with a "very high" rating.

The Mercury Milan Hybrid is ranked as "medium" value while its Fusion sibling gets a "high" ranking because Milan costs more — some $3,300 more according to the Mercury Web site.

A Ford spokesman insisted the Milan Hybrid only costs about $200 more than a Fusion Hybrid. However, the Mercury internet site shows the Milan Hybrid is not available without an option package that makes it about $3,300 more than the least expensive Fusion Hybrid.

Forced features

"Forced features" are basically the extra Equipment put on a hybrid.

"These are standard features on the hybrid that are otherwise optional on the conventional vehicle. On average they inflate the cost of these vehicles about $3,000," said Anair.

The best performers were the Honda Insight and Saturn Vue, which are available without any forced options.

The worst were the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid and GMC Yukon Hybrids and the Lexus LS600h L.

A General Motors spokesman said the automaker is equipping the hybrids with the packages history shows customers are likely to buy on those vehicles.

A Lexus spokeswoman points out that the automaker sees the hybrid as the brand's flagship and equips it as such.

While the automakers may dispute some of the conclusions the site is a good thing for consumers trying to figure out which kind of hybrid is best for them, said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign.


"With over two dozen hybrids to choose from, it will help" differentiate them, he said.

Land Rover LR4 Makes Playing in the Dirt Classy

You can think of Land Rover as a very high-class pair of hiking boots -- expensive, luxurious, but also able to handle the rigors of the wilderness.
The 2010 Land Rover LR4 exemplifies this.
The LR4 has a 375-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 engine that offers colossal power. It is linked to a six-speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel drive system.
Don't expect great fuel economy numbers; the LR4 is rated at 12 mpg city and 17 highway according to EPA.
But what you sacrifice in fuel economy, you gain in strength -- Land Rover says the LR4 can tow up to 7,716 pounds and has a payload rating of 1,670 pounds.
The LR4 offers its driver a number of conveniences, such as front and rear parking aids and a rearview camera. Optional is a camera that gives a 360-degree view, which assists when negotiating tight spaces. It also offers a projection for which direction your trailer is heading upon backing up, to make it easier to plan such maneuvers.
If you're the adventurous sort who will occasionally go off road, you might find the electronic air suspension to your liking. It allows you to adjust ride height, yielding higher ground clearance.
And a couple of features, terrain response and hill descent control, let the driver of the LR4, which has all-wheel drive, deal with rugged or slick surfaces.
On the inside, you can't help but admire the handsome design the LR4 possesses.
The walnut-wood trim is very rich-looking, complemented by leather accents.
For your pleasure, there is a 240-watt Harman Kardon audio system with nine speakers and an auxiliary input, a touch-screen interface, rear headphones, HD and satellite radio and a DVD entertainment system.
The LR4 is priced at around $47,300.
If you're looking for an SUV that can make playing in the dirt a classy affair, the LR4 will fit the build.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Honda Ridgeline Offers Truck Features in a Smaller Package

Imagine for a moment that pickup trucks are computers.
Most of the big ones from Ford, Chevy, Ram and Toyota would be desktops.
Then, there's the Honda Ridgeline, which would be more like a laptop -- a little more portable, perhaps not quite as powerful, but very functional nonetheless.
Just as laptops are very appealing to their owners, Ridgelines can be very appealing to their drivers because of their versatility and ease of operation.
The Ridgeline is comfortable on the inside, and rather nicely styled.
Under the hood, you've got a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that makes 250 horsepower and is linked to a five-speed automatic transmission.
Honda says the Ridgeline tows up to 5,000 pounds, which isn't nearly as much as the big guys listed earlier, but certainly adequate for people who might only have a small, lightweight trailer.
Fuel economy isn't too bad, with EPA ratings of 15 mpg city, 20 highway.
Honda touts the Ridgeline's 5-foot bed, 8.5-cubic-foot lockable in-bed trunk and dual-action tailgate that assists in hauling longer pieces of cargo.
Also convenient are the eight tie-downs in the bed and the integrated trailer hitch.
The Ridgeline comes in three trim levels: RT, RTS and RTL.
The highest, RTL, features standard leather seating and navigation system with voice recognition.
The rear seats split 60/40 in all models and can lift up to haul large stuff.
Honda says the Ridgeline is among the safest in the half-ton pickup segment, with its Five-Star ratings in government crash tests for frontal and side impacts.
Standard safety features include side-impact airbags for the front seats, antilock brakes and electronic brake distribution.
The Ridgeline is priced from around $28,500 to around $34,500.
While it might not have everything big trucks have, that might be a good thing for some buyers.

Nissan Taking Orders for its LEAF

In response to strong consumer demand, Nissan North America, Inc. (NNA) will begin taking reservations for the Nissan LEAF zero-emission, all-electric vehicle on April 20. The reservation process is a first step in securing a place on the list to purchase or lease a Nissan LEAF. The Nissan LEAF begins rolling out to select markets in December, and will be widely available in 2011.

In the United States, more than 115,000 people have formalized their interest in driving a Nissan LEAF by signing up for more information on These registrants will be given priority in the reservation process. Consumers must be registered on by the end of today in order to be eligible for the early reservation process. Reservations will open to the general public on May 15.

“Early interest in the Nissan LEAF has been highly encouraging,” said Brian Carolin, senior vice president, sales & marketing, NNA. “People from across the country have raised their hands to be among the first to drive home a Nissan LEAF. Consumers are pledging broad support for the first affordable electric vehicle for the mass market.”


  • Priority reservation instructions will be sent to early registrants by email between 1-6 pm EDT on April 20. The email will include an exclusive link enabling each person to start the reservation process.
  • Through the link, the customer will create an account, configure his or her vehicle, and answer questions to complete a driving profile.
  • Consumers will be asked to pay by credit card a $99 reservation fee, which is fully refundable.
  • After placing a reservation, a customer will be able to indicate a preferred dealer.
  • Consumers who reserve a Nissan LEAF will receive confirmation numbers. Nissan will provide individual updates for their reservations by June 30.
  • Reservations are limited to one per household.
  • Consumer inquiries about the reservation process can be answered at the Nissan LEAF call center, 1-877-664-2738.

April 20 also marks the date for the debut of a new website on to support the launch of the Nissan LEAF. The website will continue to serve as a resource about the most up-to-date information for the Nissan LEAF, including upcoming special events.

Including the $7,500 federal tax credit for which the Nissan LEAF will be fully eligible, the consumer’s after-tax net value of the vehicle will be $25,280. The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price *(MSRP) for the 2011 all-electric, zero-emission Nissan LEAF is $32,780. Additionally, there is an array of state and local incentives that may further defray the costs, and increase the benefits, for owning and charging a Nissan LEAF. For example, a $5,000 statewide tax rebate is offered in California; a $5,000 tax credit in Georgia; a $1,500 tax credit in Oregon; and carpool-lane access in some states, including California. The lease price for the Nissan LEAF begins at $349 per month.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chevy Equinox: No Longer a Boring Little Box

If you've got an opinion about the Chevrolet Equinox small SUV, hopefully it's been formed from the latest version, not the older version.
It's not that the older version was bad. It was just, well, kind of bland.
For the 2010 model year, Chevy has tossed the bland out of the Equinox and come up with a really cool SUV that can go toe-to-toe with the Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue.
The interior has been redesigned and gas mileage has gotten a nice little boost, but what you'll really appreciate is the more dramatic exterior lines that make the Equinox almost a head turner, instead of the nondescript little box it used to be.

It borrows design cues from its larger sibling,
Traverse, which is a wonderful crossover SUV.
Also consistent with other Chevy products are the trim designations: LS, LT and LTZ.
You can choose from a pair of engines: a 2.4-liter, 182-horsepower four-cylinder or a 3.0-liter, 264-horsepower V-6. Both are linked to a six-speed automatic transmission, but if you choose the V-6 you can get a manual.
Fuel economy is quite good by SUV standards: 22 mpg city, 32 highway with the four cylinder.
General Motors has, for the past year or two, been touting its commitment to deliver good fuel economy, and vehicles such as this keep those from being empty claims.
Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel is optional.
Chevy says the Equinox has a good collection of safety features such as four-wheel antilock brakes, StabiliTrak electronic stability control system and Proactive Roll Avoidance to cut the possibility of a rollover situation (you listening, Lexus?).
Dual front airbags are standard, as are head-curtain side-impact airbags.

Five souls can fit rather comfortably in the Equinox and there is adequate cargo space. You'll appreciate the versatility offered on the interior from the adjustable 60/40 split rear bench, which moves fore and aft to give you more storage space or more leg room, whichever you need at the time.
Chevy says the Equinox has a towing capacity of up to 3,500 pounds.
You can get a fairly modestly equipped Equinox for around $22,700. Or you can add a slew of luxury features and bump the price to as high as around $30,000. But that's still a reasonable figure for a nicely loaded SUV.
Some of the goodies available include Pioneer premium sound system, in-dash six-disc CD changer, auxiliary input jack for an iPod and a DVD entertainment system with a seven-inch flip-down monitor and wireless headphones for rear seat passengers.
For comfort, you can have heated front bucket seats with leather inserts.
The Equinox has now become one of the better choices in the small SUV market -- bye, bye Dullsville.

A Poll that You Don't Want to be Highly Ranked In

Georgia ranks No. 8 in the nation in cost of auto insurance, according to a study by Motorists pay an average cost of $1,751.42 annually in premiums, the study says, compared with a national average of $1,429.26.

The study said the most expensive auto insurance state is Louisiana, where premiums average $2,510.87. Maine is said to be cheapest at $902.85.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tough Brake, 'er Break, for Lexus

Consumer Reports has given the Lexus GX 460 SUV a rare "Don't Buy" warning, saying a problem that occurred during routine handling tests could lead to a rollover accident in real-world driving.

In the latest blow to Toyota's reputation, the magazine said that during a test of the vehicle's performance during unusual turns, the rear of the vehicle slid until it was nearly sideways before the electronic stability control system kicked in.

Consumer Reports said in real-world driving, such a scenario could cause a rollover accident. As a result, the magazine has given the seven-seat SUV a "Don't Buy: Safety Risk" label until the problem is fixed.

"In a real world situation, by that time, the car can hit the curb or the side of the road and that's the situation where, in a vehicle like that, it could cause it to roll over," said Gabriel Shenhar, senior auto test engineer at Consumer Reports, who was one of four testers to experience the problem.

Consumer Reports said the last vehicle to receive such a warning was the 2001 Mitsubishi Montero Limited. It said among the 95 SUVs in its current ratings, no other slid as far as the GX 460.

In a statement Toyota said it is concerned with Consumer Reports' findings, adding that its engineers will try to duplicate the magazine's tests to determine its next steps.

"Please keep in mind that the 2010 GX 460 meets or exceeds all federal government testing requirements," the automaker said. "We take the Consumer Reports' test results seriously."

Starting at about $52,000, the GX 460 is a small-volume vehicle for Lexus, Toyota Motor Corp.'s luxury brand. It went on sale in November and only about 5,000 have been sold since then. But the warning represents yet another blow for Toyota's tarnished reputation for safety following recalls of millions of vehicles for faulty gas pedals. The GX 460 is not covered by the pedal recalls.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Acura Deserves a Thank You for the MDX

Dear Acura: Thank you for making a wonderful midsize SUV that lets you haul the family in style yet still possesses great power and handling.

And by the way, thanks also for including a generous amount of cargo space while still maintaining plenty of room for passengers.


Car Buying Consumers

Yes, it's true, the Acura MDX has all those great qualities and more.

The 3.6-liter V-6 engine makes a glorious 300 horsepower, yet you can still get 16 mpg city, 21 highway.

The engine is linked to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Acura says the MDX has a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds -- not too shabby.

But you'll be impressed by MDX's style too, which was updated for the 2010 model year.

The grille, taillights and tailpipes and gauges have all been given a new look.

On the road, the MDX handles far better than some of its competitors. The smoothness of acceleration, the well-defined handling and the crisp braking are very similar to what you would find in a good sedan.

The MDX comes standard with all-wheel drive and 18-inch alloy wheels - 19-inchers are optional.

One of the best safety features is the optional blind-spot warning system, which lets you know when cars are approaching on either side.

But there are plenty of other good safety attributes as well, including dual-stage front airbags, side curtain airbags with a rollover sensor for all three rows of seats, vehicle stability assist with all-disc antilock brakes and electronic stability system with traction control.

There is adaptive cruise control, too, which can help prevent accidents by braking if you get too close to a vehicle ahead.

Acura says the MDX gets top government safety ratings.

Your family will also travel in style in the MDX, thanks to the great leather interior and smartly designed dashboard features.

Comfort is not a problem either; there are heated and cooled front seats and plenty of head and leg room.

But if it's gear, rather than people, you are hauling, fear not. Acura says that in the MDX with the middle and third rows of seats folded, you get more than 83 cubic feet of storage space.

The test model MDX carried a sticker price of $54,565.

It's no wonder, though, that buyers of this vehicle say it is certainly something to write home about.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tougher Fuel Economy Rules May Change Market

The Obama administration has set tougher gas mileage standards for new cars and trucks, spurring the next generation of fuel-sipping gas-electric hybrids, efficient engines and electric cars.

The heads of the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency signed final rules setting fuel efficiency standards for model years 2012-2016, with a goal of achieving by 2016 the equivalent of 35.5 miles per gallon combined for cars and trucks, an increase of nearly 10 mpg over current standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The EPA set a tailpipe emissions standard of 250 grams (8.75 ounces) of carbon dioxide per mile for vehicles sold in 2016, equal to what would be emitted by vehicles meeting the mileage standard. The EPA issued its first rules ever on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions following a 2007 Supreme Court decision.

"These historic new standards set ambitious, but achievable, fuel economy requirements for the automotive industry that will also encourage new and emerging technologies," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "We will be helping American motorists save money at the pump, while putting less pollution in the air."


Monday, April 5, 2010

Chrysler Has Electric Plans

Chrysler recently announced plans to engineer and produce a pure electric vehicle using the Fiat 500 platform. Shown earlier this year at the 2010 North American International Auto Show, the Fiat 500EV demonstrates the immediate benefits of the alliance between Chrysler Group and the Fiat Group as well as the speed at which the two companies can work together on advanced vehicle programs, Chrysler said.

“The alliance with Fiat presented new opportunities to merge Chrysler Group engineering knowledge with new platforms and the Fiat 500EV is an outstanding example of our efforts,” said Scott Kunselman, Senior Vice President Engineering—Chrysler Group LLC. “The Fiat 500 is a small, lightweight platform perfect for integrating electric-vehicle technology.”

The Fiat 500EV powertrain is comprised of three main systems; high power electric powertrain module, advance lithium ion battery, and an EV control unit to manage power flows. Beginning in 2012, Chrysler Group will manufacture the Fiat 500EV for the United States market. All powertrain engineering and vehicle development will take place at Chrysler Group headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich. Pricing will be announced closer to launch, but will be competitive with similar electric vehicles in the market.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hyundai Tucson: How'd They Do All That?

You kind of have to wonder what's going on with Hyundai these days.
They keep taking vehicles that were already good and making them better, but also not making them much more expensive.

Have you seen the new Sonata lately?

Well, the latest feat is the 2011 Hyundai Tucson.

Before, this was a nice-looking small SUV that did well on gas and was practical.

Now, however, this is a hot-looking small SUV that does very well on gas and is extremely practical.

Hyundai has done an outstanding job of giving the Tucson a more dramatic, curvy design, and getting away from the boxiness that is becoming less popular among small and mid-size SUVs.

The front features an inspired two-part grille that references luxury.

The rear seems to follow the design language of other Hyundais, most notably the Veracruz SUV.

The Tucson's new platform also gives it an enhanced driving dynamic.

Tucson now comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 176 horsepower and a six-speed automatic or manual transmission.

That engines gets a solid 23 mpg city, 31 highway with the automatic with front-wheel drive, or 21 and 28 with all-wheel drive. The manual transmission model gets 22 and 30.

Standard are 17-inch wheels, but 17- or 18-inch alloys are optional, and six airbags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control are also always present.

Cool options include a rear spoiler and, just to throw in a goody that most often is found in high-end luxury vehicles, a panoramic moonroof. That feature is great because it not only lets plenty of light into the vehicle, but it really does give it an upscale look.

If it's tons of cargo space you're looking for, you might want to look elsewhere. Hyundai says Tucson gives 25.7 cubic feat behind the rear seating and 55.8 cubic feet behind the front row.

That is certainly enough to haul groceries and luggage for a small group of folks, but if you lug around a lot of furniture or other large items, it might be a tight squeeze.

That being said, you won't feel tightly squeezed sitting in the Tucson (unless your date starts to put the moves on you).

This model is wider and longer than the previous version, with 57 inches of shoulder room, 55 inches of hip room and 41 inches of leg room.

Even tall passengers should feel pretty good in the Tucson.

The Tucson, which comes in GLS and Limited trim levels, has other conveniences that make it pleasant. For instance, you can hook up your iPod or flash drive through the iPod jack and USB port.

And Hyundai offers touch screen navigation system with XM NavTraffic and backup camera.

Pricing for the Tucson ranges from around $19,000 to close to $26,000.

The Tucson is competing in one of the most hotly contested segments right now, with formidable opponents such as the Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V and Chevrolet Equinox.
But those other brands should pay attention to what Hyundai is doing.

Recently, an executive from another automaker said that she is increasingly nervous about competing against Hyundai.

That's with good reason.

As long as this brand keeps cranking out great products at great value, its going to make a lot of competitors nervous.