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  • 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport

    Half-ton pickup appeals to buyers with active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport

    Honda was the first automaker to conceive of vehicles as rolling toolboxes. The funky Element quickly won favor among triathletes because of its versatile interior which could be configured to hold multiple bicycles.

    When Honda introduced the Ridgeline half-ton pickup truck in 2005 for the 2006 model year, designers used a similar strategy. Since chief engineer, Gary Flint, was a recreational mountain biker, it made sense that the Ridgeline’s interior should be roomy enough to provide secure storage for his gear.

    By making the second-row of the crew cab more spacious than its competitors and designing the seats to flip up and out of the way, the cab could hold a mountain bike with the front wheel removed.

    Its versatile interior is just one of the features which buyers with active lifestyles will love about the Ridgeline. A dual-action tailgate is hinged to both the bottom and side for better cargo bed access. Four cargo lights illuminate the bed at night, making the Ridgeline the ideal choice for a weekend camping trip. A hidden storage area under the cargo bed floor keeps gear which can’t fit in the passenger compartment safe and dry.

    The Ridgeline tows up to 5000 pounds and has an 1100-pound payload rating. Honda accessories configure the cargo bed to hold motorcycles and ATVs.

    A new Sport grade gives the Ridgeline a more stylish exterior, with a blacked-out grille, black headlamp and brake light housings and black 18-inch alloy wheels. Inside the Sport features a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, rubber floor mats, auxiliary jack and tinted rear glass.

    Base price is $29,995. An $810 destination charge brings the MSRP to $30,805. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Honda CR-V EX-L Nav

    Honda remakes its best-selling crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Honda CR-V EX-L AWD

    Honda was one of the first automakers to break into the compact crossover segment in the 1990s with the CR-V. Buyers who wanted to stick with a brand they had come to know for reliability and good gas mileage could do so, and still meet the needs of their active lifestyles.

    Over time, Honda’s compact recreational vehicle has grown in size, responding to a general market trend as well as buyers who wanted more space for growing families. This continues with the newest CR-V, which Honda unveiled at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show.

    Product planners sought to give buyers access to new infotainment features and updated engine technology without seriously impacting the car’s sticker price. The top-of-the-line EX with leather upholstery, all-wheel drive and navigation costs less than $30,000.

    The most obvious compromise was using a five-speed automatic transmission in lieu of a six speed box with larger overdrive gears. I was able to get 29 miles-per-gallon on my 300-mile test drive, which included a road trip between Phoenix and Tucson. That number is significantly better than the EPA estimated average of 25 miles-per-gallon for combined city and highway driving.

    Part of the difference was due to the fact that most miles during the test drive were on the highway. I also used the “econ” setting, and a monitor in the gauge cluster which turns green when the driver is optimizing gas mileage. In these days of rising fuel costs, the energy monitor is a useful tool for containing cost of ownership. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Honda Civic Si

    High-performance coupe stays true to its roots

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe

    It’s curious that Honda, a fundamentally conservative automaker, has become the marque of choice among millennial car enthusiasts. The compact Civic’s performance variant, the Si, is not a radical car by most measures. However, the OEM package, with its high-revving iVTEC engine, close ratio gearbox and compact sport-tuned suspension is the perfect palette for customization. It also offers superb ride and handling out of the box.

    Honda introduced the ninth-generation of Civics for the 2012 model year, including an all-new Si. An aluminum 2.4-liter block replaces the 2-liter engine on the former model. Engineers made both peak horsepower and torque available at lower engine speeds to enhance the everyday driving experience.

    As with its predecessors, the newest Si coupe is extremely light, and remarkably well balanced for a front-wheel drive car. Its performance adds a new dimension to everyday driving, without sacrificing versatility or fuel economy.

    Average highway fuel economy is 31 miles-per-gallon, according to the EPA. Because of the engine’s high compression ratio, the Civic Si requires 91 octane premium unleaded fuel.

    Base price for the Si coupe is $22,205, excluding the $770 delivery charge. The Si coupe comes standard with the 2.4-liter engine, six-speed close ratio gearbox, limited slip differential and 17-inch alloy wheels with all-season V-rated tires. A standard stainless steel exhaust will appeal to buyers in areas which experience severe winters.

    Standard comfort and convenience features include remote keyless entry, air conditioning, Bluetooth interface, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with redundant controls, aluminum pedals, adjustable sport seats, a 360-watt audio system with MP3 and USB interface and speed-sensitive volume. Buyers can add a navigation system with XM satellite radio. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite

    Minivan offers 8-passenger seating and great fuel economy

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite

    Sitting behind the wheel of the all-new Honda Odyssey, I’m reminded of the movie, “Get Shorty.”  John Travolta’s character, Chili Palmer, proves that minivans can be cool, assuming the driver has the right attitude.

    Unfortunately, buyers tend to write off minivans as being stodgy and unsexy. In fact, minivans are among the best active lifestyle vehicles on the market.

    To paraphrase a line from the movie, the Odyssey is the Honda of minivans: it epitomizes the automaker’s talent for thoughtful design and clever engineering. The 2011 models improve on features such as variable cylinder management and the third row magic seat, and add some appealing new technologies.

    The 3.5-liter iVTEC engine is more powerful than the block it replaces, while a six-speed automatic transmission on the Touring grade extends gas mileage. The Touring grade rides on 18-inch alloy wheels, with four-wheel disc brakes.

    A three-mode design for the second row enables parents to move the center seat forward for better access to a small child, expand the distance between the three seats, or convert the center seat into an armrest with a work surface and cupholders.

    Although the new Odyssey is wider and longer than the vehicle it replaces, it’s also lighter. The Touring model weighs about 100 pounds less than the equivalent 2010 model.

    The Touring Elite is the most upscale of five available models. Base price is $43,250, not including a $780 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include leather upholstery, navigation with real-time traffic updates, a DVD rear entertainment system, XM satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, tri-zone climate control, a ten-way power driver’s seat with two-position memory, heated front seats, a 115-volt power outlet, power tailgate, and auto-leveling high-intensity discharge headlamps. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Honda CR-Z EX

    Hybrid sport coupe is red hot and raging green

    By Nina Russin

    Konig Wheels 2011 Honda CR-Z

    Honda has a talent for engineering small, fuel efficient cars which are a hoot to drive. In no case is this more apparent than the CR-Z: a two-seat sport coupe with a hybrid powertrain. Average fuel economy is 37 miles-per-gallon, according to EPA estimates. Fuel economy for my 100-mile test drive was slightly higher, despite my attempts to bury the speedometer.

    Power comes from Honda’s 113-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a 13-horsepower electric motor. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual and continuously-variable automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

    Three modes of operation allow the driver to economize when power demands are low, and enjoy exceptional power off the line in Sport mode. A Normal mode compromises between the Eco and Sport modes for a combination of fuel economy and performance.

    Base price for the upscale EX model with navigation is $23,210, not including the $750 delivery charge. A base grade with the manual transmission starts under $20,000, meeting the criteria for our urban category. Honda includes the safety, comfort and convenience features most buyers want in the MSRP, sparing them the confusion of wading through option packages.

    Convenience features on the test car include the hard-drive navigation system with voice recognition, 360-watt audio system, auxiliary and USB ports, leather wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth interface, automatic climate control, a digital information display and cruise control. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2010 Honda Element EX 4WD

    Dog-friendly accessories makes travel safer for man’s best friend

    By Nina Russin

    Dog-Friendly Honda Element

    Dog-Friendly Honda Element

    The Element is Honda’s toolbox on wheels for active lifestyles. Last fall, product planners added a “dog-friendly” edition for the upscale EX grade. The idea is to make travel more comfortable for dogs, with a rear kennel that keeps animals safe in the event of a collision.

    A fan in back keeps the animals cool, while a ramp that stows under the kennel eases access and egress for older dogs who suffer from hip dysplasia. Washable covers on the rear seats and rubber floor mats make it easy to hose down the interior. It’s a great feature for buyers who load mountain bikes into the car, or runners who carry a little dirt from the trailhead with them. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2010 Honda Crosstour EX-L

    Accord with a twist

    By Nina Russin

    2010 Honda Crosstour

    2010 Honda Crosstour

    Contrary to its conservative image, Honda is a risk taker. The first-generation Insight, Element, Ridgeline and FCX Clarity are all examples of what I mean. In each case, Honda reached outside the box to create a new type of vehicle, with a very specific buyer in mind.

    Think about how many box-shaped crossovers rolled out on the heels of the Element. The Insight and FCX Clarity are alternative fuel vehicles whose cutting edge technology can live in the real world. The Ridgeline is the first pickup truck with a trunk.

    The Honda Crosstour is a similar endeavor: a crossover vehicle based on the Accord that doesn’t look or act like anything else on the road. Designed for buyers with active lifestyles, the Crosstour comes with cylinder deactivation for enhanced fuel economy, available four-wheel drive, and a versatile cargo area with under-floor storage.

    A removable cargo tray fits into the under-floor storage bay. Made of easy-to-clean plastic, it’s ideal for carrying dirty trail shoes or wet suits.

    The Crosstour’s aerodynamic profile contributes to overall fuel economy, minimizes wind turbulence around the cabin, and enhances down-force for better high-speed performance.

    Base price for the EX-L (tested) is $36,220: a bit higher than what one might expect for a five-door hatchback. The upscale grade comes fully loaded with comfort and convenience features, including navigation, Bluetooth interface, heated seats, satellite radio, dual-zone climate control, and a 360-watt audio system. Buyers who don’t want leather trim might prefer the base EX, which has similar features, but is not available with navigation, four-wheel drive or the backup camera. Read the rest of this entry »

  • New Honda Personal Mobility Device

    U3-X provides free movement in all directions

    Honda U3-X

    Honda U3-X

    Honda has conducted robotics research since the mid-1980s, to develop technology that mimics walking. The U3-X is a single-wheel device that fits between the rider’s legs. The U3-X mimics walking, in that it can move in all directions: forward, side-to-side and diagonally. The rider controls the direction by shifting his body weight.

    An incline sensor detects the incline of the device based on the rider’s weight shift. It uses this information to determine the rider’s intention in terms of direction and speed.

    Multiple small-diameter motor-controlled wheels are connected in-line to form one large-diameter wheel. The large diameter wheel moves the device forward and backward. Moving the small-diameter wheels causes the device to move side-to-side. By combining the movements the device moves diagonally.

    The U3-X’s lightweight monocoque body stows a foldable seat, footrests and body cover. The device weighs about 22 pounds.

    Honda will showcase the U3-X at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show at the end of October. The U3-X runs on a lithium ion battery: it will run for one hour when fully charged.

  • 2010 Honda Insight EX

    Affordable hybrid averages over 40 mpg

    By Nina Russin

    2010 Honda Insight

    2010 Honda Insight

    The original Honda Insight was an uber-cool  hatchback with a small, but loyal cult following. It was cool because it had incredible fuel economy (70 mpg) and went like spit. The problem was that it only held two passengers, and had very limited cargo space.

    The all-new Insight promises to have wider appeal. It’s bigger, holding up to five passengers, and has enough room behind the rear seats to store luggage or groceries. Best of all, the Insight is priced within reach of the average buyer: the base LX model starts at $19,800.

    Having been a huge fan of the original Insight, I was excited about getting behind the wheel of the 2010 model. The test car is the EX grade that starts at $21,300. Unlike the base model, the EX includes Eco Assist: the speedometer background changes color to reflect driving efficiency. The background is green when the driver is maximizing fuel economy; blue when he’s not. I must admit, I was most often in the blue.

    Despite that, I averaged 42 miles-per-gallon: a slight improvement over the EPA estimate. While the continuously variable transmission doesn’t produce the spitball performance of the original Insight, the new model is still a fun car to drive.

    The Eco Assist feature is fun to play with: perhaps too much fun because I found myself focusing on that rather than the road. Honda has done a great job on interior ergonomics, from the Insight’s right-size steering wheel to its intuitive center stack. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Honda Debuts Walking Assist Device

    Two new devices help mobilize people with weakened leg muscles

    Stride Management Assist

    Stride Management Assist

    As the daughter of a polio victim, I’m always excited to see new technology that enhances personal mobility. Two new devices from Honda do just that, by helping individuals with weakened leg muscles walk and do other weight-bearing activities.

    Honda has been researching personal mobility since 1999, using a humanoid robot called ASIMO. The company will debut its prototypes in the US at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress, which takes place in Detroit next week.

    The first device, called Stride Management Assist is designed for people with weakened leg muscles who can still walk on their own. It obtains information about the user’s gait from hip angle sensors. The device can increase stride length and maintain a normal cadence, making it easier to walk.

    The Bodyweight Support Assist reduces the load on leg muscles and joints while going up and down stairs and standing in a semi-crouched position. The device consists of a seat, frame and shoes. The user puts it on by wearing the shoes and lifting the seat into position.

    Honda is currently testing its mobility devices in real-world conditions, for use by the elderly and other individuals with weakened leg muscles. The company has applied for over 130 patents for the devices.