No mention of battery
life or battery cost, but what the hell?
With the release of our Tesla Model S road test, there have been many questions regarding what other models stand out. Here, we present the current class valedictorians, those cars that have faced our more than 50 tests and managed to earn an A.
Sure, the Tesla Model S may be our newly named prom queen, but there are a dozen other current cars that have scored 90 points or above on a 100-point scale. The most significant takeaway here is the diversity, where we're seeing family sedans, sports coupes, and luxury sedans stand out with impressive overall scores. It is clear, that it isn't necessary to spend $90,000, like we did on our Tesla, to get a great car. It just takes a few minutes of research and your own test drives. - Consumer Reports.
Make & model Price as tested Test score
Tesla Model S (base, 85 kWh) $89,650 99
BMW 135i $37,650 97
Infiniti G37 (sedan) $37,225 95
Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE $29,052 93
Audi A6 (3.0T) $56,295 93
Infiniti M37 $53,825 93
Lexus LS 460L $79,354 92
Chevrolet Corvette Z06 $64,890 92
Hyundai Genesis 3.8 (sedan) $39,850 92
Toyota Camry XLE (V6) $32,603 92
Audi A8 L $91,275 91
Honda Accord LX (4-cyl.) $23,270 90
Honda Accord EX-L (V6) $30,860 90
For electric cars, the road gets bumpier and bumpier.
Coda Automotive, one of what had been a promising crop of electric car startups, filed for bankruptcy protection this month, and said it would reorganise around the electric storage market.
Luxury electric car maker Fisker, which has had financial woes for months, announced it was laying off 75 percent of its workforce, raising the prospect of defaulting on US government loans.
Electric cars are still coming to market from luxury maker Tesla, and from major automakers such as General Motors, Nissan and others, but the outlook has become murkier.
Analysts are divided on the outlook, but few believe President Barack Obama's goal of getting a million electric cars on the market by 2015 will be met.
“It's not like people are clamouring for these vehicles,” said Rebecca Lindland, analyst with Rebel Three Media, and member of a committee studying barriers to electric cars for the National Academy of Sciences.
Lindland said Americans “just don't see how an electric car can fit into their lifestyle. We continue to be risk-averse in investing in new technology in our cars”.
Mike van Nieuwkuyk of research firm JD Power & Associates said more people are aware of the electric cars on the market “but there is still a low number of consumers who say they would buy one”.
A report by JD Power and its partner LMC Automotive found battery-powered vehicles' share of US auto sales was just 0.08 percent in 2012, and predicts this will reach only 0.47 percent by 2015.
Only about three percent of respondents in the survey said their next car was likely to have a battery-electric powertrain.
Van Nieuwkuyk said consumers were held back by a lack of plug-in charging stations, concerns about range and, especially, cost. At the same time, the analyst said, petrol-powered cars “are improving enough to meet the needs of the consumer,” without the price tag of electric cars.
Jason Kavanagh, engineering editor at the research firm Edmunds.com said recent surveys suggest pure electric cars are unlikely to get past one percent of the US market, even by 2040.
Lack of range and long recharging times are key factors.
“Sitting around for eight hours waiting for your Nissan Leaf to charge up is not exactly a selling point,” he said. “EVs have a sitting-on-your-ass factor that conventional cars do not.” More important, said Kavanagh, is that the US electric power system cannot support large numbers of electric vehicles that need constant charging. “The US power grid is not capable of supporting that,” he said. “You would need a multitude of small nuclear power stations to support that recharging.”
Chevrolet cut production of its Volt last year amid soft demand, and is reported to be working on a less expensive version, while Toyota and Honda have also scaled back plans for all-electric vehicles for the US market.
TAKING A LOSS
And Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne said recently the company stood to lose $10 000 (R91 400) on every battery-powered Fiat 500 it sells in California.
There are a few bright spots, however.
Tesla Motors posted its first-ever quarterly profit, of $11 million (R100 million) in the first quarter as revenues rose 83 percent from the prior quarter. Tesla is banking on its Model S, which sells for upwards of $60 000 (R550 000), by offering special financing and leasing deals with a guaranteed resale price. The car, which has an estimated range of more than 320km, was given a top rating by Consumer Reports.
Nissan has boosted sales of its all-electric Leaf to more than 5000 in the first quarter, overtaking the Chevrolet Volt, which has seen sales sputter.
Brett Smith, analyst at the University of Michigan's Centre for Automotive Research, said he wasn’t surprised by the slow progress in the electric car market. “There was an enormous electric vehicle hype,” he said. “In a way that was good because it helped push the technology.” Smith said it was clear battery-powered cars “are not a near-term mainstream product” but still believes in the value of the technology. “There is a pretty good chance something positive will come out of this,” Smith told AFP. “Whether or not we get a cost-competitive electric vehicle in the next 10 years, the good news is there is lot of development which crosses over to other vehicles.”
Kavanagh of Edmunds.com said the beneficiary of the trend would probably be the hybrids, which use both petrol and electric power, and charge during driving. “We're going to see a big jump in hybrids, which can take advantage of the infrastructure we have,” he said. Kavanagh said he expected hybrids could become more attractive in the coming years “because they will become more capable in range and more cost-effective.” - AFP
When buying a new car, don't tick off all the options boxes.
Car ownership is expensive. Take your monthly payments and add insurance, gas and maintenance, and it's a big part of the family budget. Some features available in today's cars, though, can make the ownership experience more expensive than it needs to be. Because it's not always apparent which features might hit your wallet later, we've outlined some common ones with hidden costs — and how you can minimize those costs through smart shopping.
Oversized Wheels and Tires
It wasn't all that long ago when 20-inch — or larger — alloy wheels were rarely offered by automakers, but they've become much more common, especially in the luxury segment. They look great, but the cost of the low-profile tires they wear could come as a rude surprise when it's time for new rubber as the cost for a single replacement tire can top $400. If one of those large wheels also needs to be replaced, you can plan on paying considerably more.
Conclusion: Choosing smaller wheels (and, where offered, steel wheels over alloy) will help keep repair or replacement costs lower.
The idea of summer tires might be appealing if you're keen on extra grip for your car, but it's worthwhile to consider the different driving conditions you might encounter. That's because, despite advances in tire technology, summer tires can be abysmal in even small amounts of snow, so bad, in fact, that you will need a set of dedicated winter tires just to get out of your driveway. Summer tires tend to be more expensive to replace than all-season tires, sometimes to the tune of an extra $100 or more per tire.
Conclusion: Unless you rarely venture from warm climates, some season tires are better equipped to handle varying summer and fall road conditions and will be easier on your wallet when you need to replace them.
All wheel drive.
Rugged trucks and SUVs were once the only vehicles with four-wheel drive, but the technology has proliferated and is now offered in everything from family sedans to luxury cars to sports cars. These systems are more complex, and have more moving parts, than conventional front- or rear-wheel-drive systems, and that's a recipe for expensive repairs when something breaks. It's not unheard of for repairs to four-wheel-drive systems to cost thousands of dollars. What's more, the added weight usually exacts a fuel-economy penalty.
Conclusion: Unless you regularly drive on unplowed roads, or are a skier, on snow-covered hills or the Rubicon Trail, you probably don't need four-wheel drive.
Despite volatile gas prices, performance remains a big selling point for some car shoppers, and automakers have heartily offered up performance components. When looking at the cost, though, it's not just the performance engine's typically lower gas mileage that you need to consider. The maintenance schedule for the Dodge Dart's optional turbocharged four-cylinder engine, for instance, calls for more frequent spark plug changes than the base engine, and things like high-performance Brembo-brand brake systems require more expensive brake pads and rotors.
Conclusion: Most modern cars deliver adequate performance, so non-enthusiasts can save money by avoiding performance features. (See below for what's fun to drive)
E30: More alcohol, better lemonade? Maybe.
Faced with a crop of lemons — too much ethanol, a population of cars not tuned to burn it effectively and a driving public leery of the fuel’s properties — the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to make lemonade.
The effort to untangle itself from this sticky situation is part of a larger proposal by the federal government to make the most sweeping changes in gasoline since lead additives were banned.
Tucked inside the E.P.A.’s March announcement of a plan to cut the amount of sulphur allowed in gasoline was an audacious suggestion that sought to solve all three ethanol challenges at once. The proposal, for a fuel that is 30 percent ethanol, could reduce tailpipe emissions and improve fuel economy — and even encourage drivers to use more ethanol.
“You make the dog like the dog food,” said a senior engineer for fuels policy at Mercedes-Benz.
The idea is that while today’s typical pump blend — E10, which is 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline — has drawbacks, a blend of 30 percent ethanol and 70 percent gasoline could take advantage of ethanol’s strengths. Unlike a flexible-fuel vehicle that can use E85 formulations but offers little financial or performance benefit, an engine tuned specifically for E30 would perform better on that fuel than on the standard E10, creating a market incentive.
The idea has widespread support among technical experts.
It also has another appealing aspect: current ethanol policy is probably unsustainable, because Congress has ordered the oil companies to use ever-larger amounts of ethanol. To comply with the mandate, ethanol levels would have to exceed 10 percent of each gallon of fuel, yet many automakers advise against using higher concentrations unless the car is equipped for it. With a declining demand for gasoline, the problem becomes more acute.
The 30 percent idea is laid out deep in the 938-page text of the proposed Tier 3 rule, which would lower the amount of sulfur in gasoline by two-thirds, to the level required in California. In the proposal, the E.P.A. asked automakers to comment on E30.
Like other efforts to introduce new fuels, it would require big investments at gas stations for blending pumps and storage tanks.
Still, there is a powerful incentive in the E.P.A. plan: offering automakers the option of having their cars certified on E30. Before a new car can be sold in the United States, the company must submit data on the vehicle’s pollution output and fuel economy to the E.P.A. Certifying with E30 would call for engines optimized to take advantage of the blend’s octane rating of 93 or perhaps higher.
Using high-octane premium-grade gas in an engine that does not require it offers no benefit. But in engines designed to squeeze the fuel-air mixture to very high pressures before igniting it with the spark plug, high-octane fuel burns predictably and can produce more horsepower. (On the other hand, burning low-octane gas in an engine tuned for premium grade can cause erratic combustion, or knocking, and result in severe engine damage.)
Ethanol contains only about two-thirds as much energy as gasoline, gallon for gallon. But if it is burned in engines designed for high cylinder pressures, it will produce competitive horsepower.
In general, the oil companies have opposed using higher concentrations of ethanol. The oil industry is trying to get Congress to change federal rules so they can use less ethanol, not more.
But various engine and fuel experts like the idea, because the E.P.A. is inviting the auto companies to take advantage of the good characteristics of ethanol, including an octane rating that is well over 100.
That’s getting smarter. The way ethanol is used now“if anybody does notice there’s any ethanol in the fuel, it’s always in a way that is negative.
The trouble with the flexible fuel vehicles on the market now, which can run at blends of up to 85 percent ethanol, is that they are still mostly optimized for gasoline, not ethanol. While there are millions of such vehicles on the road, they run mostly on E10 because that is a better bargain for the driver.
Higher concentrations are no better, and ethanol companies are struggling for acceptance of E15 with drivers, who show little enthusiasm.
E15 is the answer to the question nobody asked, It is a detriment.
But an E30 blend in an engine designed to use that fuel would be attractive to car buyers, with ridiculous power and good fuel economy and owners of those cars would seek out the fuel, unlike owners of flex-fuel cars.
In coming years, more cars are going to be engineered for high-octane fuel so they can get better fuel economy as automakers move to double economy, and high-octane fuel with 30 percent ethanol is cleaner than blends relying more heavily on gasoline.
The secret ingredient - a car that's actually fun to drive.
Fun to drive is a subjective measure—an elusive quality that can mean different things to different people.
A car can have a very powerful engine and accelerate quickly, but without handling agility, it's not much fun. Fun is a combination of factors such as handling response, sound, and the nature of the power delivery that lead to grin-inducing satisfaction.
To come up with a list of the most fun cars to drive, we took a slice according to scores for handling, steering feel, and body control. Then we looked at acceleration, but found most cars today have plenty of power. Finally, we took a secret ballot.
Below, we present our picks for the cars that are the most and least fun to drive.
Category Most fun Sports coupes Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ, BMW 135i, Ford Focus ST
Roadsters & convertibles Mazda Miata, Mini Cooper S, Porsche Boxster High performance Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Muscle cars Ford Mustang Luxury sedans Infiniti M37, Jaguar XJ, Audi A6, Cadillac CTS, Porsche Panamera Sports sedans BMW 328i, Cadillac ATS
Small & subcompact cars Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus Small SUVs Mini Cooper Countryman, Nissan Juke, Volkswagen Tiguan, BMW X1, Ford Escape Midsized SUVs Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5
Category Least fun Sports coupes Scion tC Roadsters & convertibles BMW Z4 Muscle cars Chevrolet Camaro Luxury sedans BMW 750Li, Volvo S80 3.2 Sports sedans Acura ILX
Small & subcompact cars Nissan Versa, Scion iQ, Smart ForTwo Small SUVs Jeep Compass Midsized SUVs Toyota 4Runner
Used Honda Civics: Not-so-civil.
2009 Civic - Bye bye engine problem, hello crap suspension.
It starts with a few drips of antifreeze on the pavement.
Then the coolant starts running more freely, burning on the hot engine and smoking with a distinct odour. The driver notices the temperature gauge rising out of the normal range, often very quickly. Some barely make it to a service centre.
Canada’s favourite car has an endemic problem: a number of Honda Civic 1.8 L four cylinder engines were cast so poorly, the aluminum engine blocks can crack near the exhaust manifold, turning the motor into an effective boat anchor.
It’s a heartbreaker for devoted Honda owners who thought nothing could tarnish the automaker’s good name.
The surprising thing is the reception owners get when they bring their wounded cars to dealers. The engines are replaced with no questions asked in many instances, under technical service bulletin 10-048. A hidden warranty covers the blocks for eight years.
Consider the brand possibly polished.
The front-wheel-drive Civic was rebooted for 2006 with Jetsons-inspired styling, more punch and stouter, safer construction. While larger outside, it was smaller in some dimensions inside compared to the outgoing model; rear legroom shrank by 4 cm, but at least the floor was as level as a regressive flat tax.
The unibody sedan and coupe benefited from a 35 per cent increase in torsional rigidity. The suspension consisted of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link control-arm rear setup. To democratize safety, front, side and head-protecting curtain airbags were standard on all models.
Inside was a two-tiered instrument panel with an analog tachometer behind the steering wheel and a digital speedometer near the windshield to help keep the driver’s eyes focused on distance. The rear bench was deeply contoured for two sitting a little too close to the floor.
The chain-driven SOHC 1.8 L I-VTEC four cylinder was good for 140 hp and 128 lb.-ft. of torque, matched with either a manual or automatic transmission, both with five gears. The Si borrowed the Acura RSX’s DOHC 2.0 L I-VTEC four making 197 hp and 139 lb.-ft. of torque, tied to a six-speed manual tranny.
Nothing much changed until 2009, when the Civic earned a slight nose job and revised rear fascia, new wheel designs and high-tech enhancements, including available Bluetooth. Surprisingly, the same engines soldiered on unchanged.
ON THE ROAD
Despite gaining 80 kg during its redesign, the eighth-generation Civic remained a fleet-footed grocery getter, taking just 7.7 seconds to reach 96 km/h (the automatic added almost a second).
With its well-sorted chassis the Civic was an accomplished road car, generating 0.81 g of lateral acceleration (grip). Braking was undistinguished, taking 58 metres to scrub off 112 km/h. Unfortunately, the Civic’s less-than-kind ride quality tested some drivers.
“The rear struts are basically non-existent if I have two adults in the back seat. The car bottoms out on small bumps,” reads a post.
The single-most common grievance described the tiresome din that accompanies long trips: “Lots of road noise intruding into the cabin at highway speed,”
Fuel economy is mostly good, although there are Civic owners who have complained the diminutive motor sips more gas than advertised.
WHAT OWNERS REPORTED
The Canadian- and U.S.-built Civic is immensely popular for reasons your neighbour will gladly recite to you over the fence, so let’s look at the lesser-known weaknesses of this bestseller.
Beyond the unknown batch of porous engine blocks affecting model years 2006 to 2008, there’s online chatter about uneven rear tire wear due to poor suspension geometry caused by faulty upper control arms. Honda has issued a technical service bulletin (TSB 08-001), but not all owners have had the revised arms installed.
Another common complaint identifies premature brake wear. Other maladies include short-lived a/c condensers — dealers blame “road debris” and won’t repair under warranty — as well as broken sun visors, clear coat delamination, lousy rear wheel bearings and abundant interior rattles.
The 2009 and newer Civics aren’t afflicted by leaky engines and bad control arms, making them the recommended buy.
WHAT’S BEST: Refined drivetrains, tossable demeanour, gas sipper
WHAT’S WORST: Highway buzzbomb, cracked blocks, suspension eats tires
TYPICAL PRICES: 2006 — $8,000; 2011 — $15,000