Monthly Archives: January 2015

Honda most recommended by Consumer Reports

Which automaker builds the best cars? The word “best” can be taken to mean many different things, but when it comes to predicted reliability Consumer Reports picks Honda as number one.

This said Subaru and Toyota prove worthy of your attention too, with the former earning a “Recommended” ranking for every model it sells. The news came out in the consumer advocate magazine’s 2009 Auto Issue, currently available on newsstands throughout the United States and Canada.

While Subaru and Toyota fared well, Honda excelled in predicted reliability, scoring a “Recommended” grade with all of its vehicles except for the quirky Element crossover, which came very close.

Toyota did well on reliability grades too, not unusual for the Japanese brand, while the European brands were praised for performance, comfort and safety, plus incremental improvement in overall reliability.

And what of the domestics? Ford is top dog thanks to its F-150 pickup truck and Flex family hauler achieving “Recommended” scores and most of its lineup rated above average, while General Motors got eight vehicles on the “Recommended” list, including the Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Malibu, Corvette, Pontiac G8, and all four of its Lambda-based crossovers, the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook.

Not unlike its current sales numbers Chrysler struggled with Consumer Reports too, without a single vehicle “Recommended”.

Article Information

  • Source: Canadian Auto Press
  • Author: Canadian Auto Press
  • Date Posted: March 5, 2009

Honda revives Insight to take on Prius

Honda will revive the Insight name when it introduces a hybrid concept next month at the Paris Auto Show that the company says will be the least-expensive gas-electric hybrid on the market when it reaches dealers next spring.

The original two-seat Insight was only available in North America for the 2000 to 2006 model years — but it was always the most fuel-efficient vehicle on the road, and would still be if sold today, averaging official U.S. EPA numbers as high as 70 miles/gallon, or 3.4 L/100 km in city driving.

Yet the first Insight is a textbook example of the risks of letting an engineering focus drive an automobile project: in their zealous drive to remove weight and become the most fuel-efficient mass produced car on the planet, Honda gave it a tight two-seat interior, zero cargo room, a manual-only transmission at its debut, and truly bizarre rear wheel-covering bodywork that screamed "I'd rather save fuel than worry about style."

Unfortunately for Honda, both gas prices and sales of hybrid vehicles took off soon after the Insight left the market, and now Honda is playing catch up to Toyota, and in some respects GM, for the green car crown.

Its Civic Hybrid is now the lowest-priced hybrid on the market — its $26,350 MSRP comes in slightly less than the mid-size Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid.

It's the new Insight's low price that Honda is betting will help it achieve its aggressive 100,000-unit-a-year sales goal in North America, or about half the projected 2008 sales of the market-leading Toyota Prius, which starts at $27,400 for 2009, a price that has dropped by about $2,000 since last fall.

The Honda Insight concept will showcase a much more consumer-friendly vehicle, with a five-door, five-seat hatchback body shaped very much like the Prius.

Not only will the Insight sport a lower-cost version of its Integrated Motor Assist hybrid technology, it will also offer a system to guide drivers to more fuel-efficient driving practices.

The second-generation Insight will become the Toyota Prius' only true hybrid competitor, at least until later in the summer of 2009, when Honda plans to introduce the CR-Z Hybrid as a lightweight two-door coupe.

Article Information

  • Source: Globe and Mail
  • Date Posted: September 11, 2008

Recession Proof Cars: Honda Fit and CRV

While we’re all griping about yet another handout to the least-deserving, worst-performing businesses in this country, there’s something especially galling about this one to many of us who cover the auto biz. See, while we often get accused of rooting against the domestics, that’s a downright lie. The problem isn’t that American carmakers can’t build great cars. They can. That’s just the point. They can and they do: the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, and Dodge Ram are all superior to their Japanese competition. But then look at what cars are actually selling in this economy, and you see examples like the Honda Fit. Why do we have to rely on Honda to give us a successful small car like the Fit or the Civic, although Ford can sell the Focus, the Ka, and the Fiesta in Europe—models that are so much better than the domestic versions? We’ll get fuel-efficient economy cars, if Ford lives long enough to bring them to market. Those European Fords are fine examples of management understanding how to make great cars—but not seeing how to get them to market faster than their competition.

But there are some good deals out there in this recession; cars that are worth the price and will hold their value. And in spite of our exasperation, we don’t advise buyers to to ignore the American brands. Our outlook is more nuanced than that, although unfortunately for the Wee Three’s sake, it’s still not the story they want to read. Here’s the breakdown, and the logic behind it.

Gold Standards: Brand Equity, Reliability, Resale

Gold standards are just what they sound like: Cars in high demand now and likely to be so in the future. That means that although a car is never a wise investment (unless you have the means to mothball a Ferrari for 30 years), the depreciation hit won’t be as dire as it would be with a less beloved model. Depreciation also correlates to reliability, so these are also cars seen as more reliable (according to Consumer Reports.com). There’s another factor at work; these are cars from makers that aren’t in dire straits. Face it: the residual value of a marque plummets when a carmaker dies (Daewoo anyone?).

Gold Standards: Honda Fit

For a time this summer, when gas prices nationwide crested above $4 a gallon, used Fits were as costly as new ones, which is absurd since it makes way more sense to keep spending a little bit more for gas to fill your jalopy than to eat someone else’s depreciation hit (a few grand in the first year of a Fit’s life in a normal market). Still, this car should remain popular for some time because its cabin is flexible enough to move a lot of stuff, just like with a small wagon, the gas mileage is terrific (27/33), the driver has great visibility, the ride is fun, and the trim grade is high—all attributes that are too rare in the subcompact sector. Sealing the deal are standard safety features like ABS and airbags, decent rear-seat legroom and tons of headroom.

Gold Standards: Honda CR-V

The CR-V is a standout in an increasingly competitive segment. The Saturn Vue is a great example of a new sleeper in midsize crossover category—but the Honda is just a hair better. Mostly this comes down to slightly smoother feel from the drivetrain (comparing four-cylinder engines in both), a more tidily laid out cockpit, and slightly better fuel economy. Both the Honda and Saturn are fun to drive, but the CR-V has shown more consistent reliability over the years. Then again, you can get two different hybrid versions of the Saturn—not an option with the Honda.

Article Information

  • Source: Newsweek
  • Author: Michael Frank
  • Date Posted: December 24, 0208

First Drive 2010 Honda Insight

Scottsdale, Arizona — Honda has recommissioned its Insight name for an entirely new hybrid, one intended for a group thus far shunning this mode of environmentally fashionable mobility. Gen Y folks, the mid-20s crowd, are mostly single, entry-professionals who spend $18,000–$22,000 for their new cars. They’re environmentally with it, but hitherto seemingly priced out of the hybrid market.

The production Insight officially broke cover at the Detroit Auto Show and goes on sale come Earth Day, April 22. Thus, when we drove it around ever-burgeoning Scottsdale, Arizona, in mid-December, it was too early for Honda to price it precisely. However, to make sense within the Honda lineup, this hybrid would have to cost less than the $23,650 Civic Hybrid. And I’d bet Honda’s citation of that $18–$22 range isn’t just coincidence.

Similar to the Civic Hybrid’s system, the Insight’s Integrated Motor Assist teams a 1.3-liter 88-bhp 4-cylinder engine with a 13-hp electric motor, the latter residing where you’d expect to find a conventional flywheel. These operate interactively with a Continuously Variable Transmission to propel the front-wheel-drive hatchback. Like the latest Civic, the Insight’s IMA makes it a full hybrid, in that its i-VTEC variable-valve hardware shuts down the gasoline engine through Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management. During VCM, all the valves are closed and the engine cycles in sort of a balloon mode, each piston compressing its air, the air returning the favor on the piston’s downstroke. (Contrary to my initial thoughts on the matter, this is more efficient than it sounds. In fact, for instance, the game of incorporating a separate clutch for true engine-shutdown apparently isn’t worth the candle.)

For optimizing IMA attributes, the Insight’s driver gets a really neat tripart Ecological Drive Assist: an ECON button, a real-time Guidance Function and, for the gamer in all of us, a Scoring Function.

The ECON button optimizes engine, CVT, IMA assist and regenerative braking, air conditioning and even cruise control. For instance, in ECON mode those little fuel-wasting dithers of your accelerator foot are smoothed out. IMA‘s Start/Stop feature is employed somewhat more actively. By contrast, cruise control reaches its ECON set speed somewhat less aggressively.

The real-time Guidance Function is simple but effective: an illuminated arc backing up the speedometer’s digital readout. It changes color from deep blue (fuel-guzzling) to light blue (better) to a fuel-efficient green. There’s also a somewhat less prominent but equally real-time Multi-information Display of bar graphs showing the degree of IMA boost and regen.

The Scoring Function is good fun. It tracks current driving practice, updating approximately every 2000 meters, as well as giving feedback of cumulative patterns. An Eco Guide accumulates little leaf symbols as you drive more environmentally responsibly. When you turn off the ignition, it rates your Eco Score and Lifetime results.

I asked about dual settings for driving partners, but Honda felt this might make for more marital discord than it’s worth.

Do these gizmos work? The Insight’s EPA City/Hwy numbers are 40/43 mpg, respectively. I posted 54.9 mpg on my driving stint. And, later, on a specially devised suburban tour, fully half of our journalist contingent saw results better than 60 mpg, with the best of them in the 70s. Impressive indeed.

All this, in an attractive and tidy 5-port hatchback. The Insight’s styling is a blend of Honda FCX Clarity (the front end especially), Toyota’s current Prius (its side profile shares these aero attributes) and Honda’s signature dual-glass rear. With an overall length of 172.3 in. and wheelbase of 100.4 in., it nestles neatly between the company’s Fit (161.6 in. and 98.4 in., respectively) and Civic (176.7/106.3). However, the Fit’s 60.0-in. height and boxier shape give it an edge in rear seating, where tallish sorts will find head room better and bigger sorts will find ingress/egress more graceful. The Insight’s front seating is fine, with more than ample room for head, legs and squirming.

Its target customers may be Gen Y and, secondarily, active empty nesters. But I’d say this new Insight is a rational approach for anyone desiring hybrid motoring. And certainly at its expected annual sales — 100,000 in North America, another 100,000 around the world — the Insight will make a significant contribution to sustainable mobility.

Article Information

  • Source: Road and Track
  • Author: Dennis Simanaitis
  • Date Posted: January 9, 2009

2010 Honda Insight

Honda Canada is waiting until Earth Day, April 22, to put its new 2010 Insight on sale, but back in Japan, it’s on sale and demand is soaring for the cheapest hybrid on the market. Honda received more than 5,000 orders in less than a week once the Insight began rolling into Japanese showrooms on Feb. 6.

The gas-electric Insight starts at ¥1.89-million ($24,500), but is likely to have a base price closer to $21,000 in Canada – not taking into account various provincial sales tax rebates for hybrids that can save you up to $3,000.

So the whole hybrid equation changes and that’s exactly what Honda has in mind. Honda set out to create a hybrid for the masses, not just the early-adopting ecoheads. If you are tight-fisted with your money but also concerned about the planet, Honda thinks it has a hybrid for you.

By the way, Honda is also doing an in-your-face to Toyota. The Insight launch should make a gigantic splash in hybrid-land and go head-to-head with the Toyota Prius, the world’s best-selling hybrid and arguably the iconic symbol of the Toyota brand.

2010 Honda Insight

Honda officials are convinced that it’s all about the price. And they’re not alone. Aaron Bragman, a research analyst with HIS Global Insight, expects the Insight – a dead ringer for the 2009 Prius – to have an impact on sales of the Toyota Prius, currently the world’s best-selling hybrid by far, with nearly 300,000 sold around the world just last year.

“I don’t think having a competitor that’s so close in shape and abilities, and is undercutting it by several thousands in any way helps Prius sales,” says Bragman, adding that cost of ownership is critical these days. “Right now, people are so price-sensitive for vehicles.”

It is worth noting that Toyota Canada dealers will have the all-new, third-generation 2010 Prius on their lots by June.

Honda’s price advantage flows from using much simpler technology than Toyota. Simpler, but not simple. The Insight, like all hybrids, is still a complicated machine. Aside from its gas engine, there is also the usual hybrid fare – battery pack, electric motor, sensors and so forth.

The whole package should add up to dramatic fuel economy gains and emission reductions. Here’s the fuel economy number from Honda: 4.8 L/100 km city and 4.5 highway, with a combined rating 4.7 L/100 km.

Not bad, but not as good as the “old” 2009 Prius at 4.0 city/4.2 highway, and even further away from the coming 2010 Prius, which Toyota Canada rates at a combined 3.8 L/100 km.

In a nutshell, the Insight can’t beat the Prius on fuel economy, but it will sell for thousands less than the expected $27,000-$28,000 starter sticker for the 2010 Prius.

And just like the Prius, the 2010 Insight is a functional four-door with a hatchback at the rear. There is comfortable seating inside for four adults, a decently roomy cargo hold and, perhaps most important of all, Honda has loaded it with an array of gauges and displays for coaching drivers to be as frugal in their driving as possible.

Take the speedometer or I should say its background. The colour changes from blue to green depending on how you drive. Green, of course, means you are driving in a more environmentally responsible way. The instrument becomes your conscience, in other words.

Do well, and you are rewarded with a good “ecoscore,” signified by little leaves. The more, the better and, if you are excellent, you win a digital trophy surrounded by a wreath.

Honda also allows drivers to choose “Eco” mode. This is for the most socially conscious of us. In Eco, your wasteful tendencies are controlled by dampening the throttle response, adjusting the air conditioning and maximizing the electric assist. Over all, the Insight’s emissions are graded at an ultraclean Tier II Bin 3.

All this just so-o-o-o Honda. That is, the hallmark of a good Honda is the way engineers grind out the details. Honda has rightfully built a reputation for making vehicles that are well thought-out and faithfully executed.

The gas engine by itself makes 88 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. But it seldom runs alone. The electric motor provides up to 13 hp and 58 lb-ft of torque and, all told, the combination is good for 98 hp at 5,800 rpm and 123 lb-ft of torque from 1,000-1,500 rpm.

This is Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. It’s really simple in design, obviously trickier in execution. In a nutshell, there is the small and efficient gasoline engine, a conventional continuously variable transmission (CVT) and a thin, brushless electric motor sandwiched between the two.

Look for 0-100 km/h in about 11 seconds, which is about what you’ll get in a Honda Fit Sport, but faster than the Honda Civic Hybrid by about two seconds. The Insight has an estimated range of 640 km on a single tank of regular gas.

However unlike the Prius or, for instance, vehicles with General Motors’ Two-Mode Hybrid system, the new Insight cannot start out from a stop in all-electric mode, although it can run on electric power alone at very low speeds. Regardless, the Insight feels pokey on the road and in “Eco” mode it is even less lively.

It could be that the CVT – no manual or conventional automatic is offered – is to blame here. At times, it seems noisy and coarse, with the engine out of sync with the car’s speed. But at other times, this is not so.

Nonetheless, the Insight feels solid and steady at highway speeds and, in city driving or on country-like roads, the handling is well-mannered and predictable – like a Honda Fit hybrid.

No surprise there. The Insight borrows heavily from the strut-based Fit, and the entire chassis and suspension from the firewall forward is pure Fit. The spring and damper calibrations are specifically optimized for the Insight, of course, but the geometry and many of the hard parts are identical. And while the rear suspension isn’t a direct carryover, the twist-beam rear axle is the same.

All in all, the Insight is a very nice grocery-getter. The fuel-saving electric power steering is responsive enough and the regenerative brakes – designed to help recharge the battery – are surprisingly smooth, rather than grabby.

As an everyday driver, the Insight is practical, too. The nickel-metal-hydride battery pack and electronics unit fit neatly under the rear cargo floor, so the rear seat backs can be folded down to make room for bigger cargo. You can’t do that in the current Civic Hybrid, which shares much of its mechanical and electron wizardry with the Insight.

The exterior design is not what I’d call gorgeous, but it’s sensible. Still, there are some design issues. Back-seat users need to duck and twist to avoid whacking their heads when getting in and out and, once in there, head room is tight for grown-ups.

The steering column tilts and telescopes, but the front seats lack lumbar adjustments and they are not terribly comfortable after more than an hour.

In the end, Honda has built a clever and fuel-efficient hybrid, one priced to reset the thinking about this technology and one that is a clear shot across the bow of Toyota.

2010 HONDA INSIGHT

Type: Compact hybrid four-door hatchback

Price: $21,000 (estimated)

Engine: 1.4-litre, inline-four-cylinder, (DOHC)

Horsepower/Torque: 98 hp/123 lb-ft (combined)

Transmission: CVT

Drive: Front-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 4.8 city/4.5 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Like

  • Smart engineering that makes the most of relatively straightforward technologies
  • Incredibly affordable price for a hybrid
  • Useful city car in every way
  • Hatchback design is totally versatile
  • Very low emissions

Article Information

  • Source: Globe and Mail

2009 Honda Fit: fuel-sipper grows up

Honda is holding the 2009 Fit’s technical briefing in Graham’s loft in the hopes it will bring me a greater sense of his lifestyle and needs. Perhaps so, but it has also succeeded in driving home just how much of a packrat I am in comparison to Graham, whose tastefully decorated, uncluttered pad could easily be featured in a Better Living photo-spread.

In his 30s, Graham is an excellent representative of the Fit’s target demographic: He’s a globally successful electronic dance music DJ and producer who enjoys active pursuits like jogging, cycling and snowboarding.

Well, we’re both in our 30s – at least we have that in common. No matter – the Fit could still work well for both of us.

While this new generation is a pretty comprehensive redesign, it retains the features that defined the clever original: the centrally located fuel tank (which creates implausible amounts of rear seat and cargo space in what is actually a subcompact car), and the two-way folding rear “Magic Seat,” which allows Fit owners to easily utilize that additional volume.

This means that Graham can easily tote his wakeboard or scuba tanks, or whatever sort of young/active/lifestyle gear he wants, while I could (potentially) haul extraneous items from my house to charity drop-offs or the dump.

Increases in length (10.6 cm), width (1.3 cm) and wheelbase (5 cm) further expand on the outgoing car’s cargo-swallowing strengths, with particular attention given to improvements in the function and comfort of the rear seat, which now folds down with a single lever, without having to have its head restraints removed.

  • PRICES: (Base /as tested)$14,980/$20,480
  • ENGINE: 1.5 L I4
  • POWER/TORQUE: 117 hp/ 106 lb.-ft.
  • FUEL CONSUMPTION: Est. w/automatic city 7.1, hwy. 5.5 L/100 km
  • COMPETITION: Chevy Aveo, Kia Rio, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris
  • WHAT‘S BEST: Increased interior volume; improved fuel economy; nimble handling
  • WHAT‘S WORST: Stiff ride; considerable road noise at times; manual transmission revs too high at speed
  • WHAT‘S INTERESTING: Fit was Japan’s best-selling car last year

Improvements to the Fit’s structure, a standard phalanx of airbags, and the inclusion of the company’s ACE (Advanced Compatibility Engineering) crash structure design are expected to garner the Fit top marks in IIHS and NHTSA collision testing.

Improved outward visibility may further reduce the chances of you needing the protection.

Common to all 2009 Fits is a reworked version of the current Fit’s 1.5-litre four-cylinder motor, now equipped with Honda’s i-VTEC variable valve timing system. Producing 117 hp and 106 lb.-ft. of torque, it’s more than adequate for most driving situations.

I’m not sure how well DJ’ing or CD sales pay, but I know that I could certainly appreciate the Fit’s fuel economy, which has improved incrementally for 2009, the five-speed automatic model’s 6.4 L/100 km combined rating now slightly bettering the five-speed manual’s 6.5 L rating.

The automatic’s more relaxed fifth gear ratio may be partly responsible; the difference between the two transmissions at elevated highway speeds is considerable, the automatic turning nearly a thousand rpm less than the manual’s 3000-plus rpm hum at 120 km/h. (I still preferred the light-shifting stick.)

Article Information

  • Source: wheels.ca
  • Author: Brian Early
  • Date Posted: September 13, 2008

Honda Insight tops Japan sales

First time hybrid takes top spot

TOKYO–Honda’s Insight, billed as the cheapest gas-electric hybrid on the market, ranked as the top-selling vehicle in Japan for April – the first time a hybrid has clinched that spot.

Honda Motor Co. has pitched the Insight as an affordable hybrid though such vehicles have a bigger price tag than gasoline engine cars because they’re packed with expensive green technology.

The Insight starts at 1.89 million yen ($22,500 Canadian) in Japan, where it went on sale in February, and $23,900 in Canada., where it is starting to arrive in showrooms.

Honda sold 10,481 Insight cars in April in Japan, according to data released Monday by the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.

That marked the first time a hybrid model was Japan’s monthly best-seller, excluding minicars limited to an engine size of up to 660 cubic centimetres, Honda said.

“The all-new Insight has been very well received by a wide range of customers due to its excellent environmental performance, easy-to-use packaging, light and comfortable driving and affordable pricing,” the Tokyo-based maker of the Accord sedan and Odyssey minivan said.

But Honda will face tough competition from a revamped version of the world’s top-selling hybrid, the Prius, from Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp.

The revamped Prius is set to be introduced next week and Toyota executives have made clear they are aware of the challenge from the Insight.

Toyota is expected to be aggressive with its pricing, although the Prius is a bigger car than the Insight and would be expected to carry a higher price tag.

Japan has been no exception in seeing its domestic auto market languish because of the global slowdown and credit crunch.

But interest in ecological cars is growing because of government incentives for green technology as part of efforts to stimulate spending amid a recession.

Article Information

  • Source: The Associated press
  • Author: Yuri Kageyama
  • Date Posted: May 11, 2009

Vehicle Comparison: The 2011 Honda Odyssey vs. the 2011 Toyota Sienna

Classic minivan duel shows Odyssey coming out on top.

Talk about a grudge match. The Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna minivans are both all-new for 2011, upping the ante in a battle for supremacy that has been going on for years. Both are superb family vehicles with cavernous interiors and oodles of flexibility, but only one introduces innovations that are impossible to ignore, as well as efficiency that’s difficult to surpass. That van is the 2011 Honda Odyssey.

Both vans offer a lot of style, but the 2011 Honda Odyssey (MSRP starting at US $27,800) has a unique look that delivers more than just style points. The van’s “lightning bolt” window line is not only a unique identifier, the dip in the glass lets more light into the third-row seats, lending a feeling of airiness to an area that can feel claustrophobic in other minivans. The second benefit is that the tracks and motors for the power sliding doors are mounted lower in the bodywork, which results in increased shoulder room for the third-row passengers.

Honda offers a 3.5-liter V6 making 248 hp and 250 lb/ft of torque across the board in the 2011 Odyssey. With the exception of the Odyssey Touring Elite, all trims get a five-speed automatic transmission. (The Elite gets a six-speed.) Toyota offers both a 187-hp 2.7-liter four-cylinder and a 265-hp 3.5-liter V6 in the 2011 Sienna. Both are paired with a six-speed automatic.

Although the Toyota Sienna’s V6 may look better on paper, the Honda engine comes out a winner because it’s essentially its equal in terms of horsepower and actually offers more torque than the Sienna’s V6. It’s more fuel-efficient than either the four- or six-cylinder in the Toyota. Odysseys with the five-speed automatic are rated at 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway. The Odyssey Touring Elite, with its six-speed, fares even better: 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway. In contrast, the two Sienna engines are rated at up to 24 mpg highway.

Inside, the 2011 Odyssey boasts a list of specs and features that are sure to win over any family. Cargo storage? You’ll find 38.4 cubic feet of space behind the breathtakingly simple One-Motion 60/40-split third-row Magic Seat®. When stowed (the Magic Seat folds flat into the floor almost effortlessly), cargo volume expands to 93.1 cubic feet. When you need to do some serious hauling, removing the second-row seats opens up 148.5 cubic feet of space – enough for, well, a whole lot of stuff.

The innovation continues in the second row of the bestselling Odyssey where Honda offers a new three-mode seat. Families with small children will be especially interested, as Honda had them specifically in mind when they designed it. The three-mode seat is standard in Odyssey EX and higher trim levels, and consists of a pair of captains’ chairs, plus a removable center seat that can slide forward independently of the other two. All three positions have LATCH anchors (five sets total, more than any other minivan on the road today), and this is where the three-mode seat’s flexibility becomes apparent.

First, a child seat can be mounted in the center, and the seat’s sliding feature means it can be moved closer to the parents in front for easy tending to the child. In other vehicles, installing three child seats across the second row can be tricky, given how wide they can be. Not so in the Odyssey. One of the 2011 innovations is a Wide Mode feature; the two outside second-row seats can be moved outboard by an additional one and a half inches apiece. Doing so creates a second row that is wide enough to take three child seats across with ease. Even if you’re not transporting kids, the three-mode second row shows off its utility. The center seat can be removed completely, or flipped down to create a substantial center armrest with cupholders. Odyssey offers more front-, second- and third-row legroom and more overall passenger volume as well.

The 2011 Sienna offers comfortable second-row seating – either a traditional bench in lower trim levels, or a pair of captains’ chairs in upper trims. Neither setup boasts the level of innovation on display in the Honda, however. Toyota’s leather-clad captains’ chairs in its high-end models have a recline feature, complete with footrests that extend out to support the passenger’s legs. Impressive-looking, to be sure, but kids in child or booster seats are completely unable to take advantage of it, and professional reviewers have been quick to point out that even average-sized adults will find that the recliners come up short on comfort, as they’re best suited to people with shorter legs. The Toyota seats do slide fore and aft, but so do the Odyssey’s and, as noted earlier, the Odyssey’s slide outboard as well. The Honda’s seating configurations are simply more flexible.

Another new feature introduced in the 2011 Odyssey is the Honda Ultrawide Rear Entertainment System in the Touring Elite model. This, combined with the Elite’s 650-watt, 12-speaker, 5.1-channel surround-sound audio system, effectively transforms the rear seats into a home theater away from home. A 16.2-inch screen flips down from the roof, and, thanks to supplemental inputs, can show up to two video sources side-by-side (one source is the van’s DVD player), or display a single source on the widescreen. The system’s auxiliary inputs include an HDMI jack, so that a high-definition source can be used while underway such as a Blu-ray disc player or gaming system. A pair of wireless headphones is included, and the third row has jacks for traditional wired headphones as well. The 2011 Toyota Sienna also has an available widescreen entertainment system, but there’s no high-def connectivity, a shortcoming when you consider how many devices now natively support HDMI.

At the bottom of the ergonomically rearranged instrument panel in every new Honda Odyssey is another feature that will be greatly appreciated by every passenger: aA cool box that’s tied in directly to the A/C system, so that cool air is pumped in regardless of the climate control settings that are heating or cooling the cabin. The cool box can hold up to four 20-ounce bottles or six 12-ounce cans. Load up some cold drinks, hit the power button and the cool box will help keep them cold. This is also great for keeping that impulse-buy candy bar you grabbed at the gas station from getting all melted and messy. The Toyota Sienna offers a well-organized instrument panel, but there’s no cooled compartment like the Odyssey offers, and parents know how important it can be to have a chilled drink on standby during a long road trip.

The Odyssey’s list of standard or available features goes on forever. It includes a Song By Voice feature in nav-equipped Odysseys that lets you pull up songs from your iPod or the available Hard Disk Drive simply by uttering their names. Oh, and that available Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System can suggest scenic routes and tap into the Zagat Survey restaurant guide to give you additional details on the eateries in the points-of-interest database.

Naturally, features like Bluetooth hands-free telephone, XM Satellite Radio and a comprehensive set of active and passive safety features are also on tap. In Odysseys equipped with the removable front center console, there’s a deep storage bin and even a flip-up trash bag ring that lets you quickly attach a bag to collect all the juice boxes, food wrappers and other garbage that can accumulate.

Both the Odyssey and Sienna provide safety for occupants, however, only Odyssey offers Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering™ (ACE™) body structure, which enhances passenger protection in the event of an accident.

The short of it is that while the 2011 Toyota Sienna boasts a number of improvements over its predecessor, it simply doesn’t match the number of innovative new features Honda engineers worked into the 2011 Odyssey. At the end of this minivan battle royale, the Odyssey scores a knockout. It is, once again, the best minivan in the business

Please note that there may be some model variations between the US models and the Canadian models

Article Information

  • Date Posted: April 17, 2011

Honda Fit, purely functional and completely affordable

It is possible — no, I should say “easy” — to carry an adult bicycle in the 2009 Honda Fit. Between the front and back seats.

No big deal, you say?

Think about it. I said between the seats, not behind in the cargo area.

All you need to do is take off the bike’s front wheel, flip up the bottoms of the Fit’s rear seats (this can be done with one hand, while you hold the bike in your other) and slide that upright bike in through the back door. That’s the same back door people use to get into the back seat.

The Fit’s exterior design is a bit goofy, but this car is sensible and fun to drive. (HONDA)

Get the idea? The Fit ($14,980 base price) is a smart and versatile econobox that redefines the segment.

Here’s more of why.

The front seatbacks recline almost completely flat. Sure, sleep there if you like.

Or fold down the backs of the rear seats — this happens in a 60/40 pattern — and you have yourself 1,186 litres of rectangular and astonishingly usable cargo space. That is more than the cargo hold of a Honda CR-V with its back seat up.

Oh, you can fold down the rear seats without having to remove the headrests, all at the flick of a latch, too.

Yes, the Fit’s exterior design is a bit goofy and the standard 15-inch wheels on the base model are barely bigger than skateboard wheels. And that stretched overhang past the front tires is not a work of stylistic genius, though it surely helps with the Fit’s best-possible five-star crash test rating.

But eye-catching, perfect design proportions are not what the Fit is all about. Someone out there is shouting, “What about the new, larger headlamps and the larger mirrors now mounted on the door? They help the car’s look.”

Sure. But let’s face it. The Fit is purely functional and completely affordable urban transportation.

This is a hit with buyers, who continue to snap up Fits even though Honda offers nothing in the way of discounts — in a marketplace full of them.

No need. Honda does not juice sales with rebates because Honda doesn’t have to. Honda does not boost sales by shipping fleets of cars to daily rental companies, either. If you want a Fit, and just about any other Honda short of the Pilot, you’re paying full price or something close to it.

Price? Toyota offers the comparable Yaris four-door hatchback for less at $14,360. The Yaris is not as fun to drive as the Fit and less versatile, but it is a reliable little runabout, so this Toyota is a player.

Kia has the Rio5 four-door hatchback and it sells for $13,995 — less if you look hard for discounts. Definitely worth a look now that Kia is steadily moving up among the big boys in the latest quality research. The Fit is still more functional and more entertaining to drive, though.

Nissan has the Versa four-door hatchback. It is a bit more powerful than the Fit (122 horsepower versus the Fit’s 117) and fuel economy is close, too — 7.2 litres/100 km in the city, 5.7/100 km highway for the Fit, and 7.9/6.3 for the Versa, with both using regular gas.

The Versa feels more solid than the Fit; however, its four-star crash test rating is not as good and the Versa’s interior is not nearly as novel and appealing as the Honda’s. Still, with the back seat flat, the Versa has the most cargo room of all these.

The truth is, on balance I’d argue the ’09 Fit is the best subcompact on the market. Sure, the exterior design is a bit homely, but it grows on you.

What matters most is how reliable and utterly clever this car is. Almost as important is the 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine.

While not overpowering, the four-banger is a high-fuel-economy affair that starts every time with a twist of the key. Let me warn you that the power plant works best with the basic five-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic with paddle shifts is available for $1,200, but it makes the Fit feel less powerful and responsive.

You might be surprised to hear that the Fit is fun to drive in town. It’s quick to make a turn, so dodging traffic, zipping in and out and through whatever the commuter grind throws at you, is entertaining. The electric power assist rack-and-pinion steering is not only responsive, it helps with fuel economy, too.

Truth be told, the Fit could use more juice for passing on the highway and you’ll need to plan high-speed merges in advance. If you catch the engine in a low-rev dead spot, it feels sluggish. So work it.

What is tough to criticize, given the price, is the cabin. All that glass area — the “greenhouse” in car business lingo — opens up what could be a cramped little cockpit.

Honda has dressed things up with little surprises, such as a blue-lit instrument cluster and three asymmetrical knobs that make it easy for the driver to manage the climate controls even in winter, wearing gloves.

At each end of the dash are deep pockets that Honda says can carry bottle holders or other largish items. The sharply angled windshield has allowed Honda — out of necessity, no doubt — to create a dashboard with a shelf on top. There is also an under-seat compartment, cubbyholes on the dash, a back-row cup holder, a double glove box and even a map pocket on the passenger’s seat that the driver can easily reach.

In addition, the steering wheel tilts and telescopes; front, side and curtain airbags are standard; and even the least expensive Fit comes with a two-speaker, MP3-capable stereo with CD player. Power windows are also standard.

Honda has nailed the grocery-getter formula with the Fit and that’s high praise. It is incredibly tough to build a small car that makes sense, that people want, that does not break and makes a profit. Honda has done it.

So as far as I am concerned, the Fit should be among the finalists for 2009 car of the year.

Article Information

  • Source: Globe Auto
  • Author: Jeremy Cato
  • Date Posted: November 14, 2008
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