Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Volta.......Giugiaro creates a true "Hybrid" Supercar !!
By L.Marvin & A Gardner............Photos by ITALDESIGN & L.Marvin
Jan 15, 2005, 23:59 PST
A high voltage concept & real world technology

Yes, what you see is not some distant technology for another generation. Rather the "VOLTA" is both today's current Hybrid technology from Toyota, but also Fabrizio Giugiaro's reinvention into a modern supercar performance package. Wrapped in an all carbon fiber, F-1 inspired chassis!! What makes this even more amazing is that all of the parts and power systems come straight from the Toyota-Lexus current inventory of production!! What once was a Hybrid power plant for a LX Lexus "SUV" was transplanted and reborn as the first Hybird Supercar of the "green automotive" age!!
Fabrizio Giugiaro explains the finer details to his many fans............Photo L.Marvin 2004

When the Volta was first shown in Geneva at the Auto Salon in spring of this year the Toyota people were running around pulling there hair out over being upstaged. Yet isn't that what defines greatness. The ability to spin straw in gold. The Volta carrys many styling themes seen now in the Scion line from Toyota. Yet these themes are again elevated and combined for an even clear sharper edge. While at Pebble Beach this year, Andrew Gardner and I talked with Fabrizio in depth about the many goals achieved by the Volta project. So as you will see there are many levels of achievement the are crafted in the VOLTA.

The display of expertise in engineering by Italdesign is expected by some, yet comes as a surprise to many. Italdesign is highly acclaimed internationally for its aesthetic achievements, but the great engineering capabilities of this firm are rarely brought to the light. The improvement on carbon fiber chassis construction, the integration of by-wire technology with a hybrid powertrain, and a mechanical steering system which can be moved laterally to accommodate three separate driver positions, are all stuffed into a package of 1150kg and capable of an estimated 300 kph! That's some fantastic engineering.
Success of simplicity of chassis and systems combined

Further design prowess is demonstrated inside the Volta. Fabrizio's latest creation features a 3-seat layout, and a fully customizable driving setup. Much like GM's Hy-Wire concept of 2003, the Volta has a steering unit and pedal group which can be moved from side to side to allow operation of the car from any of the three seats. Then, the steering wheel and the pedals can be moved independently to make a custom fit for drivers of most any proportion.

Fabrizio did improve on one of the Hy-Wire's greatest flaw's n its driver control setup. Where GM's concept had by-wire controls for the steering and the pedals, Mr. Giugiaro used mechanical steering controls, straight out of the upcoming Lexus LX 400h hybrid SUV, in the Volta. Fabrizio said, "I wanted there to be feedback [in the steering]." Thus, he preserved real driving feel for his hot-green-rocket concept. We would expect nothing less.
Fabrizio Giugiaro.........Photo L.Marvin 2004

Fabrizio Giugiaro is on what has to be one of the longest homerun streaks in the world of automotive design. If there is a designer who has the "Midas Touch", Giugiaro's ITALDESIGN continues to redefine the cutting edge of automotive industry. Last year's outstanding Moray Corvette. The Alfa Romeo Brera that won the award as best concept car design. One can only think of what exciting new flavors of automotive passion are possible, on such platfroms like the new Mustang convertible, or maybe a XLR Caddillac, either of which could be sold through dealerships around the world similar to a Saleen.

What strikes us most is that Fabrizio always has the ability to create a new vision of an existing automotive tradition like the Moray Corvette. Yet stay true to the root design passion that is the backbone of a automotive icon brand.
Seating for 3...No problem
What we got from this desire for electric excitement is a forward thinking design (for a hybrid); a body that is low-slung, with bold, sharp lines, yet is not too wild. It is reminiscent of 1970's Italian concepts, but yet is more fitting of our time than those earlier experimental designs. The Volta's body does not represent a large intellectual leap from current supercars, and is certainly less radical than the Enzo. It is just the first really cool looking car to have electric motors driving the wheels.

In approaching this design, the brilliant son of designer Giorgietto Giurgiaro said he wanted something traditional and Italian, yet not too aggressive. Fabrizio said, "I was thinking of the best Italian way to do it, not extreme. Using big wheels and short overhangs." Big wheels, short overhangs, an Italian-proven formula for great sports cars. But this is the first application of said philosophy to a hybrid-electric platform. Fabrizio's VOLTA has set the "standard" here, if indeed hybrids are the wave of the future.
Carroll Shelby, through his work with Giugiaro on the DeTomaso Pantera project in the 1970's, learned firsthand that Italdesign takes automotive engineering seriously. Shelby said, "I know Giugiaro will spend a million dollars [or more when carbon fiber is involved!] to develop a car." But the general automotive enthusiast world has yet to catch on.
Avant Gard use of brake lights.........Photo L.Marvin 2004

Another surprise in the Volta story is that it is practical, as in the concept car could be fairly easily realized as a production model. It's not some way-out-there one-off. As Fabrizio commented, "I wanted to make this realistic." Not only is the drivetrain borrowed from the upcoming Lexus hybrid SUV, but many of the other parts, such as door handles, have also been drawn from the Lexus parts bin.

So this is how you turn a Lexus SUV into a super(green)car. We have the new sidekick for the Green Hornet here - his politically correct ride for the new millennium. Quick, somebody tell Kevin Smith to work a good chase scene with this car into the script he's working on.

The last question is, can people see this car as a Toyota? Does the badge fit? Well, Fabrizio managed to get the badge to stay on, but is this car believable as a product of a sedan and SUV company? Fabrizio thinks so. He sees this car as, a good expression of [Lexus] technology. Well said. I hope Toyota agrees. I fancy some seat time.
Alessandro Volta did not have global warming in his mind when he invented the battery. He would never have foreseen his invention supplying the juice for a self-propelled vehicle, especially not one that would reach 60 miles per hour from a standing start in four seconds. He would not have dreamt his name would appear stamped on something like this.

Italdesign-Giugiaro's latest masterpiece shows the potential for clean, electric-engine-propelled motoring, and it pays tribute to the man whose name means potential, as in electrical potential.

I feared years ago the extinction of the internal combustion engine and the transition of society to weird looking, slow, electric cars. But, my new hero, Fabrizio Giugiaro, has lit a bright torch to that seemingly dark automotive future.

Fabrizio shared his view saying, "hybrid and electric [cars] are boring, I wanted to do a different hybrid form, create some excitement." Leave it to the Italians to keep the thrill of driving alive. Any automotive product must be exciting in order to be a commerical success. The Volta is the first to live up to that goal, and it's price point could well be within the reach of most consumers!
Copyright 2005 by

kings of the hill

After three hours of shooting, here's my tentative take on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35:

- small, light; easy to keep in your pocket at all times
- zoom range is just about ideal for me
- reasonably priced (300 USD)
- takes decent-quality 1280x720/30fps movies
- intuitive, responsive controls never get in the way of taking a shot
- in-camera processing generally gets it right (although see below)
- lots of metal, including metal tripod socket
- continuous shooting just as fast as my Digital Rebel; plus it has a 2.5-mpix 6 fps mode, and a 0.9-mpix 30 fps mode (i.e., 720p movies)
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- Even on the Natural setting, photos have a processed look and little latitude for post-processing; raw image quality (which we have to guess at) must be mediocre at best.
- Noise reduction wipes out all low-contrast detail even at ISO 100 in good light.
- Even high-contrast detail is not anywhere near what ten megapixels should offer.
- Sound in movie mode is poor even indoors.
- Auto WB is slightly off both indoors and out.
- Auto exposure is a bit unpredictable in backlit situations.
- Extreme corners at 4.4mm are blurry. Using 3:2 aspect crops all of the badness out.

In summary, it's a great little camera with a sensor that is poor even compared to its tiny-dimensioned peers. If convenience and ease-of-use are very important to you, my first impression is that the FX35 is at least a match for the excellent Canon SD870 IS. If you care a lot about image quality, a Canon SD870 IS or Fujifilm F100fd would probably serve you better.

Unfortunately, both are about equally important to me in this class of camera, so while I doubt I'll be returning this camera, it's not clear to me that it was a better choice than the Canon SD870 IS. Time will tell whether or not the features make up for image quality.

P.S. For you geeks out there, Panasonic lists the camera's power consumption in the manual: 1.5W in recording, 0.8W in playback. Considering how much data it's processing, that's impressive.

2010 Kia Forté Koup EX

My 2002 VW New Beetle GLS TDi finally self-destructed yesterday. The odometer was at 99,000+ miles. I had hoped to turn over 100k, but fell a little short. I was actually on my way to a dealership to look at these Kias because the VW has been giving me a lot of problems lately. Then it died on the side of the road six miles from the Kia dealer. I was expected at the dealership and had to call them for a tow. Not a position of power when negotiating. Whatever.

In any case, it seems like a nice little car. I know it's kind of a starter car for kids a third my age, but it's comfortable, compact, gets good mileage and has a very long warranty. I'm happy.

I got the cheap model with the base 2 liter engine and an automatic tranny. Nothing else optional on the car. That little engine "only" puts out 156 horsepower. There's an optional 2.4 liter that puts out 173, but I liked the extra mpg of the smaller engine (as well as the cheaper sticker price of the car). Anyway, it's a 2700-pound car. I remember in 1981 I bought a Chevy Citation X-11 because Chevy was putting a 2.8 liter V6 H.O. LH7 engine in them with a cowl induction hood ("H.O. 660"). It put out a whole 135 horsepower and could pull that little 3000-pound Citation from 0-60 mph in under 9 seconds which was as fast as the '81 Turbo Trans Am. Well, this base Kia with an automatic does 0-60 mph in under 9 seconds and people call it pokey. The 2.4 liter does 0-60 in 7.5 seconds and people call it pokey, too. Even though that's as fast as a 1980 Corvette with an L-82 350.

I mean, it's cool that six-banger Toyotas are putting out 270 horses, but who drives like that? My VW only had a hundred horses and I barely ever really put my foot into it. I actually try to pay attention to what's going on so I won't have to put my foot on the floor. Once in a while I'd be merging or something and I'd mash into it, but I seldom ever needed more go-go than it had. Of course, I'm not a kid anymore. People give me a lot of ribbing about being seen driving slow on the highway while singing along with the stereo.

Anyway, it seems groovy. It's comfortable. The electronics are cool. The audio system sounds fairly decent (and that's lucky because it has odd-sized speakers...dunno where I'd find a replacement for a 5.8" speaker). It doesn't rattle (yet). Has 205/55R16 (nitrogen-filled) tires on 16x7 aluminum wheels and 4-wheel disc brakes. Has all the safety toys; ABS, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Brake Assist System, a Traction Control System, tire pressure monitors, active headrests, side-curtain airbags, etc. If I could have bought something like this in 1980 I'd have been in awe. Now it's nuthin' fancy.

I had this car less than a month before vandals smacked it with something heavy and left a nice big dent in the roof above the driver's door. Gotta love it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kia SOUL Concepts

Kia unveiled three Soul concept cars at the Geneva motor Show. They are: Kia SOUL Diva, Kia SOUL Burner and Kia SOUL Searcher.

The Kia SOUL Diva targets a style-conscious young-at-heart woman and comes in a combination of black, white and gold.

The Kia SOUL Burner is the bad boy between the three concepts and comes with dragon tattoos over a black satin paintwork. The front bumper of Kia SOUL Burner features L-shaped day-light LED driving lamps and at the rear it has two vertical exhaust pipes.

The Kia SOUL Searcher offering a place of tranquility within the urban jungle. Kia SOUL Searcher features a leather finish on the bonnet, the tailgate panel, the folding roof, the dashboard,
door panels, and steering wheel rim.
Press Release

KIA SOUL concepts

The concept cars – SOUL Diva, SOUL Burner and SOUL Searcher – are each designed to appeal to different consumers and clearly display the potential for personalization that the new production car will offer buyers.

“The all-new Kia production car will defy classification and encourage customers to build an emotional bond with their new car by providing a creative platform that they can customize to match their own character,” declares Gregory Guillaume, Chief Designer Kia Motors Europe.

“For Geneva, the Kia design team simultaneously developed three concepts with very different executions to hint at the ‘world of possibilities’ open to future customers. SOUL Diva, SOUL Burner and SOUL Searcher were envisaged as three equal co-stars at Geneva, members of a team going through an urban adventure together,” adds Guillaume.
Kia SOUL Diva
The Kia SOUL Diva has been created as a fashion accessory for a style-conscious young-at-heart woman who regards her car to be as important as her entire outfit. SOUL Diva is like a supermodel with an aura of glamor, a bit flashy but playful and fun!

Inside, SOUL Diva presents a black, white and gold world of leather and glitter – all beautifully and evenly lit by the full-length tinted glass panoramic roof. Turning the cabin into a stylish lounge, the seats are upholstered in glossy black imitation leather using ‘quilted’ stitching and trimmed to look like sofas. Even the cabin floor presents a tactile treat, with black long-pile ‘Pony-hide-style’ carpet that simply begs to be stroked.

Kia SOUL Burner
The Kia SOUL Burner is the ‘bad boy’ of Kia’s three new concept characters. A ‘show-off’ complete with dragon tattoos. From the outside, it is a mean, totally black beast with sparse flashes of scarlet. The tattoos are gloss black on the black satin paintwork, which shows a large dragon creeping over the bonnet. On the other side, a small dragon climbs up the C-Pillar.

The front bumper is equipped with L-shaped day-light LED driving lamps around the outer edges. At the rear, two vertical exhaust pipes are placed at the extremes of the bumper.

Inside SOUL Burner, the four individual sports seats and entire cabin trim are divided horizontally. Above the split, everything is finished in a rich matt red, below all is deep black.
Kia SOUL Searcher
The Kia SOUL Searcher is the concept that provides a haven of tranquility within the urban jungle, a comfort-zone on four wheels. It sets out to capture the spirit of Korean and Far Eastern culture with a focus on achieving personal inner peace and creating a calm cocoon for the occupants. Exuding casual confidence, the colors are muted, the textures are soft and the road presence is discreet.

An old, lived-in, leather finish is applied to the bonnet, the powered, folding roof and tailgate panel, plus the dashboard, door panels and steering wheel rim. Inside, grey-beige felt is used to cover the floor and the seats for an ambience of comforting domesticity that banishes pandemonium.


Rear seat center armrest
Front seats: bucket
Front center armrest: w/storage
Split folding rear seat
Rear seats: bench
Max seating capacity: 5


Speakers: 6
Steering wheel mounted audio controls
CD player
Wireless connectivity
MP3 decoder
AM/FM radio

2010 Mazda 3 Overview


The Mazda3 is powered by a choice of two different 4-cylinder engines, corresponding to the two quite different 3i and 3s models. Base Mazda3i models feature an economical 2.0-liter engine making 148 horsepower, while sportier Mazda3s models get a 167-hp, 2.5-liter engine. Both engines make slightly less power in California-emissions states. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard on i models, but sporty s models step up to a 6-speed manual; a 5-speed automatic is available with either engine. The 2.0-liter gets quite good fuel economy figures of 24 mpg city, 33 highway with the manual transmission, while the s model is rated just 21/29.

The Mazda3 is offered in two body styles-a 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback. The sedan is offered in 3i or 3s variants, in a full range of trims, but the hatchback is only offered in 3s form, and only in the most expensive trims.

The Mazda3 gets an even more aggressively styled front end than before, with styling cues borrowed from the RX-8 sports car and a more wedge-shaped silhouette. Yet the overall profile of the Mazda3 is more aerodynamic, with a coefficient of drag now as low as 0.29.

Inside, the focus is on top-rate materials-like leather upholstery, French-stitched seams, and soft-touch surfaces-and more design flair than nearly every other small car. The Mazda3's cabin has a sliding armrest between the front seats, atop a center-console storage bin, along with pewter-painted trim. Seats are more aggressively bolstered than is typical among affordable small cars, but sport-seat upper bolsters are optional for those wanting even more support in cornering.
Honk Users also look at
The Mazda3 is one of the best-handling small cars, with front struts and rear monotube dampers, along with a multi-link setup in back that's configured for handling stability. s models get big 17-inch wheels with V-rated tires, and across the line the rack-and-pinion steering has speed-dependent power assist and is one of the most tight and direct in feel. Both models also get 4-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock and brake assist. Front side airbags and side-curtain airbags are on the standard-equipment list, along with active head restraints. Electronic stability control is offered on top trims but isn't available throughout the model line.

As a sedan, the Mazda3i is offered in SV, Sport, and Touring trims, and the 3s is offered as a Sport or Grand Touring. Base SV models come with power windows, tilt/telescopic steering-wheel adjustment, and a 4-speaker CD/MP3 sound system, but air conditioning isn't available. Sport models add A/C, while Touring trims add alloy wheels, Bluetooth, cruise control, and a 6-speaker sound system, plus added trim and interior appointments. Top Grand Touring bring leather heated seats, LED taillamps and an Adaptive Front Lighting System, which can swivel the lights up to 15 degrees to help illuminate around corners; the system also includes self-leveling bi-xenon lamps


2010 Toyota Prius Overview


Built on a totally new platform, the 2010 Toyota Prius is still considered a midsize car and is still a ?full' hybrid, meaning that it can run on the engine alone, battery alone or a combination of both as needed.

There are three driver-selectable drive modes for the 2010 Prius: EV, Eco and Power. All are accessible from the center console by the push of a button. EV Drive uses battery power alone at low speeds. Eco Drive is designed to give you the best possible mileage using a combination of gas and electric power. The new engine utilizes no belts under the hood, resulting in better fuel economy and less potential maintenance. The inverter, motor and transaxle are smaller and 20 percent lighter than before. Aerodynamics have been improved by reshaping the body and by putting trays underneath it to keep air pressure from backing up into the suspension components.

The 2010 Prius will be available in four different trims ? II, III, IV and V ? that will each have different standard equipment and a varying selection of exterior and interior features.

Standard exterior features on all trims include power heated side mirrors, Smart Key entry system, projector-beam headlamps with auto-off, rear window defogger with intermittent wiper, rear deck spoiler, XM Satellite Radio-ready components and High Solar Energy Absorbing glass.

Standard interior features include tilt and telescoping steering wheel controls and a state-of-the-art Multi-information Display with energy monitor, fuel consumption history, hybrid system indicator, odometer, central instrument display, digital speedometer, instant fuel consumption information, fuel gauge and shift-lever indicator. Also standard are A/C, power windows and doors, cruise control, 60/40 split rear seats and 12-volt outlets. The standard audio system is an AM/FM stereo with CD player and MP3/WMA playback capability, auxiliary audio mini-jack, six speakers and satellite capability

Standard safety equipment includes advanced driver and front passenger Supplemental Restraint System airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, driver and passenger seat-mounted side airbags, driver's knee airbags and active headrests. Antilock brakes with Brake Assist, Electronic Brake Distribution, electronic traction control and Vehicle Stability Control are all included with Toyota's standard Star Safety System. Also included are side-impact door beams, front and rear energy-absorbing crumple zones, 3-point front seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force limiters, 3-point seatbelts in all five seating positions, child protector rear door locks and adjustable front seatbelt shoulder anchors.
The 2010 Prius II is the standard base model. Prius III adds a JBL AM/FM stereo and CD changer that also features integrated XM satellite radio and MP3/WMA playback. Prius IV adds an enhanced 3-door Smart Key system, leather-trimmed interior, heated front seats with driver lumbar support, step lamp for illuminated entry and auto-dimming mirror. The Prius V includes 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps with auto-leveling washers and fog lamps.

The Navigation Package is available on Prius models III, IV and V, and includes a voice-activated touch-screen DVD navigation system as well as a backup camera. The Solar Roof Package, available only in Prius models III and IV, includes all items in the Navigation Package, plus a power tilt/slide moonroof with a solar-powered ventilation system and a remote air conditioning system. The Advanced Technology Package, available only in Prius model V, includes everything in the Navigation Package plus Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, which helps the driver stay safely within the lane, Pre-Collision System, which retracts seatbelts and applies the brakes in certain conditions when a crash is unavoidable and Intelligent Parking Assist, which features simplified settings to help guide the car into parking spaces.

Safety Connect, Toyota

2011 Honda CR-Z Road Test Review

Test Drive: 2011 Honda CR-Z

Honda's Putting the Band Back Together With Its New Two-Seater

By: Brent Romans , Senior Automotive Editor
Vehicle Tested: 2011 Honda CR-Z EX 2dr Hatchback w/Nav (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid 6M)
Pros: Nimble size and handling, quick steering, excellent fuel economy, sporty looks.
Cons: No backseat, poor rearward visibility, missing some upscale features.

Maybe you've heard the whispers. "Honda's lost its edge," the car enthusiasts say. They complain that the company's cars have gotten too big; its technological advances are matched by the competition; its cars are no longer sporty or fun enough. The mojo is gone. Or is it? The 2011 Honda CR-Z has arrived.

Small? The CR-Z is Honda's smallest car on sale in North America. Sporty? It's been specifically tuned to provide nimble handling. Technology? This one happens to be a hybrid, thank you very much. Obviously, Honda wants to demonstrate it still has game. Even the CR-Z's name is a reference to the iconic CRX, the diminutive two-seater from the late 1980s and early 1990s that crystallized the company's reputation for building fun and efficient cars.

So has Honda truly gotten some Blues Brothers inspiration and put its band back together? After testing the CR-Z, our answer is "sort of." In terms of performance, the CR-Z — at least in its present form — is handily outpaced by many hopped-up two-doors, including Honda's own Civic Si. Most likely, Honda enthusiasts will continue to grumble.

But thanks to sharper reflexes, quicker acceleration, some stylish sheet metal, a two-seat layout and a Technicolor gauge cluster, the 2011 Honda CR-Z is still a noticeable step up in excitement from its workaday Honda siblings, the Fit and Insight. True, there are some caveats. The two-seat layout isn't very practical. It's hard to see out the back. Fuel economy, though very good, might not meet your expectations for a hybrid. And, at $23,000 and change for the EX with Navigation, it's significantly more expensive than cars like the Fit and Ford Fiesta.

Usually a "pay more for less" formula isn't a great path to sales success. But we think consumers just wanting a sporty and efficient urban runabout — which was likely the vast majority of CRX buyers back in the day — will be pleased with the CR-Z. Some faith, if only fractional, has been restored in the big H.

The CR-Z looks pretty sharp in person. And yes, it kinda looks like a CRX.
(photo by: Kurt Niebuhr)

Driver-oriented controls enhance the car's sportiness.
(photo by: Kurt Niebuhr)

Its performance is only average, but the CR-Z is fun to drive.
(photo by: Kurt Niebuhr)


"Performance" isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you start up the 2011 Honda CR-Z. Turn the key and the engine starts up with nothing more than a mild "brrmmmm," evoking all the aural authority of a household Honda generator. But a generator is an apt metaphor; under the hood is Honda's familiar Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system.

The total combined output from the 1.5-liter engine and electric motor is 122 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. For our test car, which came equipped with the quick-shifting six-speed manual transmission, this was good for a 0-60-mph sprint of 8.8 seconds. Warp-speed acceleration it's not, but the CR-Z's pace is more than half-a-second quicker than a Fit's and about equal to that of a Mini Cooper.

As for fuel economy, the CR-Z checks in with an EPA-estimated 31 city/37 highway mpg and 34 mpg combined rating (35/39/37 mpg with the optional CVT). This is well off the pace set by mileage kings like the Insight and Toyota Prius, but it's still very good, and a few mpg more than any gas-powered rival. In our time with the car, we averaged 30.2 mpg.

Around town, the CR-Z feels spry and nimble, with credit going to the car's quick steering, small size and relatively light 2,635-pound curb weight. This aptitude translates well to a curvy road, too, with the car's responses making it fun to drive — up to a point.

When pushed to its limit, the 2011 Honda CR-Z reminds you why it's "sporty" with a "y." Grip from the 195/55R17 tires is modest, with the CR-Z pulling 0.83g on the skid pad and snaking through the slalom at 61.4 mph. Discouragingly, these numbers are pretty much the same as those posted by the last Fit Sport we tested. It's also worth noting that the CR-Z exhibited some oversteer (an uncommon handling trait for a front-drive car) in the slalom test with the stability control turned off. We've noticed similar dynamics, though to a lesser extent, from the Fit and Insight.


Although it only seats two people, the CR-Z does well in terms of accommodations. There's a respectable amount of legroom and headroom for the driver, which is further helped out by a standard height-adjustable driver seat and tilt-telescoping steering wheel. The seats are supportive enough for long drives, though one of our editors expressed his desire for additional legroom while seated in the passenger seat.

On the move, the CR-Z exhibits more high-speed stability and confidence than the Fit or Insight. Its firmer ride quality and average amounts of wind and road noise are acceptable given the car's sportier mission, and none of our editors complained about it being uncomfortable. However, the CR-Z can feel a little skittish when taking corners over broken pavement, which is likely an inherent result of the car's light weight, short wheelbase and economy-minded rear suspension design.


One of the more interesting features on the 2011 Honda CR-Z is its three-mode drive selector. Pushing one of the three buttons on the left side of the dash (Sport, Normal and Econ) tunes the car for the specified driving, and we found it does indeed make a difference. Sport is nice on a curvy road, as it quickens the car's throttle response and dials back the steering assist for added steering heft. We weren't particularly fond of Econ, however, as it dulls the CR-Z's responsiveness considerably in the name of better fuel economy. One of our editors quipped that he thought the throttle pedal was sending commands to the engine by postal service.

The CR-Z's general layout is similar to the Insight's, with an easy-to-reach and compact automatic climate control layout to the right of the steering wheel, and either an audio head unit or integrated navigation system centrally located in the dash. Our EX test car had the navigation system. It's the same one found in the Civic, Fit and Insight, and includes voice-command functionality and the ability to program addresses while on the move. Unfortunately, the unchanged graphical display and font looks dated for an all-new car. The CR-Z is also missing some desirable upscale features, including leather/heated seats and a sunroof.

Also missing is a backseat. In other worldwide markets, Honda will sell the CR-Z with four-passenger capacity, but here Honda wanted to capitalize on the heritage provided by the two-seat CRX. It is a curious choice on Honda's part, as practicality drops considerably. Instead of a backseat there's a two-bin parcel shelf that can hold bags and other small items.

A rear cargo divider can be easily flipped down to cover the parcel shelf as well as create a flat cargo area. The rear cargo shade can also be placed in a different position on the floor to create a separate divided section. The CR-Z's double-paned hatchback, however, does impede the driver's rear visibility, as do the very thick rear hindquarters. Backing out of parking spaces can be tricky.

Design/Fit and Finish

The CR-Z's sheet metal commanded its share of positive attention. Most of our editors commented favorably about the car's styling, and in general the car stands out as being both distinctive and stylish.

The cabin is similarly distinctive, thanks to the colorful and futuristic gauge cluster. As with the Insight, graphical displays and a variable-hue background help the driver adjust his driving style for better fuel economy. The 3-D-effect digital speedometer display is also neat. Interior fit and finish is solid, but the significant use of hard plastic is indicative of the CR-Z's economy-car roots.

Who Should Consider This Vehicle

Like Rush Limbaugh and Barbara Boxer, "fuel-efficient" and "sporty" aren't a typical combination, so from that sense, there's definite appeal to the 2011 Honda CR-Z. But shoppers should be aware of the car's distinct limitations and make sure to take a look at other available spunky cars that offer more practicality, similar fuel economy and price tags that are, in some cases, lower.

Others To Consider:
Ford Fiesta, Mini Cooper, Volkswagen Golf TDI.


Test Drive: 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Special Edition

Vehicle Tested: 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Special Edition 4dr Hatchback AWD (2.5L 4cyl Turbo 6M)
Pros: Thrilling acceleration, comfortable ride, roomy cabin.
Cons: Chassis deserves even stickier tires, sport seats too wide for some, controversial styling, subpar audio system.

The Subaru Impreza WRX STI has a strong — one might say rather rabid — following. On the order of Celtics and Lakers fans. We have a colleague here who regularly flies the Subaru flag via his WRX T-shirts and baseball caps. And why not? The Subie is a hoot to drive, with plenty of speed and attitude to go 'round.

Still, we've had a long-standing gripe with the STI: When driven hard, it feels rather soft in terms of steering response and body control compared to its archrival, the razor-sharp Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The upside is that the STI is a better daily driver due to its more compliant ride. That's a considerable advantage for those who live in neighborhoods where road maintenance is about as common as Ron Artest making both free throws.

With the 2010 Subaru WRX STI Special Edition, the company attempts to appease us (OK, not just us) with a unique STI that sports the JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) "Spec C" suspension calibrations and wheel fitments. That translates into crisper response and handling as the SE responds with more immediacy and less body roll when you're slicing up a curvy road. So now the STI handles like it should, right?

Well...almost. Whereas before, the STI ran out of suspension before it ran out of tire grip, now with the Special Edition it's the other way around. But that's nothing that replacing the tires (after you've suitably worn them out) can't fix. Overall, it's an agreeable setup and we'd like to see Subaru put this suspension on the standard STI, and put the standard STI's suspension on the standard WRX.

Another bonus is that this slightly beefed-up but also slightly decontented STI (halogen headlights versus HIDs, a four-speaker/single-CD player versus 10-speaker/CD changer audio system and manual versus automatic climate control) stickers for $2 grand less than the standard STI. That said, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR still has the edge in terms of sharpness and communication, though its ride is notably stiffer. And if blistering acceleration and all-wheel drive are not mandatory, you could save big money by considering the feisty.

Our STI Special Edition is one of just 125 available in Aspen White paint. Lack of foglights is a visual clue to the SE.
(photo by: Scott Jacobs)

Sporty steering wheel looks — with the exception of the hokey plastic disc in the center — and works great with its perfectly sized rim and well-placed spokes.
(photo by: Scott Jacobs)

Another giveaway that this is the Special Edition is the unique JDM double-spoke alloy wheels.
(photo by: Scott Jacobs)

Under the STI SE's scooped hood lies the STI's familiar 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that cranks out 305 horsepower. Though it makes decent power down low, it doesn't hit its stride until about 3,500 rpm, when the turbo really kicks in. The thrust is accompanied by the meaty, somewhat gruff sound of the Subaru's boxer (horizontally opposed piston layout) engine, which brings some welcome character in a world of buzzy inline-4s.

During instrumented testing, this Subie sprinted to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and ran down the quarter-mile in 13.6 seconds. Respectable times, to be sure, but we've gotten sub-5s out of previously tested STIs. We're guessing the culprit was a stickier track surface this time around that didn't allow any wheelspin off the line (which allows the engine to get up into its power band quicker). The quickness will cost you, as the EPA ratings for this hot rod stand at 17 city/23 highway mpg and 19 mpg combined. We averaged 17.7 mpg in mixed driving.

We found that the six-speed's shifter made it easy to grab gears despite a somewhat notchy feel, and the clutch was a little on the heavy side for a few staffers. But braking was hard to fault, with a firm, progressive pedal and an impressive 106-foot stopping distance from 60 mph.

Taking on a curving canyon road brings out what's most special about the Special Edition. Though a few of us felt that the steering was too light, the rack was precise and its response noticeably crisper compared to a standard STI. Reduced body roll also contributes to the SE's eager feel in the turns. As you'd expect, the ride is firmer, though not uncomfortably so (it's still smoother than an Evo's).

At the track, the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX STI whipped through the slalom at nearly 70 mph (68.8 to be exact) and pulled 0.93g running 'round the skid pad — both respectable performances. Pushed very hard, the tires will slide, albeit in a linear, controlled fashion that's easy to rein in. Though those Dunlop SP Sport 600 high-performance summer tires should be enough for most folks, hard-core enthusiasts may want to consider switching to stickier performance rubber after they wear out the Sport 600s.


With its efficient three-spoke layout, thick rim and well-placed thumb detents, the steering wheel feels great and its tilt-and-telescoping feature allows drivers of all sizes to find an ideal position at the helm. But despite the front seats' aggressive bolsters, most folks will find that they're too wide to provide that reassuringly snug fit when powering through the turns. The seats are generally comfortable on long cruises, as they provide firm back support; still, a few of us felt that under-thigh support could be beefed up a bit.

In back, ample room and support are provided for two passengers; even 6-footers are comfortably accommodated, thanks to the high roof line. As expected, squeezing in a third could cause grumbling on anything other than a very short trip.

As stated before, the Special Edition's firmer suspension calibrations don't exact much in the way of a ride penalty; the suspension remains supple enough to take the bumps and ruts of pockmarked streets in stride.


The SE's instruments are large and clear, and the primary controls are where you'd expect and intuitive to use. There's the familiar and proven three-knob setup for the climate control, and once you've memorized their locations, the steering-wheel-mounted audio controls allow "no-look" operation of your tunes. There is no dedicated iPod input/interface; however, you can play one through the standard auxiliary jack. Sound quality was so-so at best. When cranked up, it lacked the clarity and punch that we'd expect in a $30,000 car.

There's no denying the versatility of this little hatchback. With the split rear seatbacks up, there's 19 cubic feet available for your stuff — that's nearly as much capacity as a Lincoln Town Car's trunk. If you need more, flipping those seatbacks down opens up 44.4 cubic feet. Stowing a couple of golf bags or a large suitcase back there is a breeze. And thanks to the roomy cabin and tall greenhouse, putting Junior's rear-facing child seat in the backseat won't test your flexibility or your back muscles.

Design/Fit and Finish

Now entering its third year, this generation of the WRX STI has drawn some barbs for its styling. But it's a Subaru, and it's supposed to be quirky, right? The Special Edition has a few features that differentiate it from the standard STI, including a cleaner front fascia (no foglights) and multispoke alloy wheels (borrowed from the "Spec C" variant sold in the homeland).

Inside, it's standard STI fare, with the exception of a few controls (manual climate control instead of automatic). Unfortunately, that also means a few substandard materials, such as the fuzzy headliner. Overall build quality on our test car was very good, with tight panel gaps and no squeaks or rattles noted.

Who Should Consider This Vehicle

The 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Special Edition is ideal for serious driving enthusiasts who are disappointed by the somewhat soft nature of the standard STI but put off by the unyielding underpinnings of the Lancer Evo. By neatly splitting the difference between these two, the SE offers an agreeable compromise between track-tuned performance and daily-driver livability.


Monday, July 19, 2010

MDI Air Car

Compressed air offers consumers and protectors of the environment plenty to be excited about, and we’d like to see MDI succeed with this one.
photo from MDI

by Ross Bonander
MDI Air Car Specifications

* Propulsion system
: Air Engine, 800cc moto-compressor, 4 flat-lying cylinders
* Top Speed: 68 mph
* Zero-to-60: NA
* Vehicle range: 120 miles
* Fuel(s): Compressed Air
* Tailpipe emissions: None

The Manufacturer Says...

“MDI has developed a high performance compressed air technology. When it is compared to traditional gasoline powered engines, MDI´s engine is far superior in terms of energy used and thermodynamics.”
The Critics Say...

“The Air Car should be surprisingly practical.” —

“By all accounts, this is no pie-in-the-sky dream invention.” —

The Air Car is the wider name for a number of models planned for production by MDI, including a 3-seat MiniCat due for 2008 and a 5-seat CityCat, among others. Their engines will either be dedicated compressed air engines—which release compressed air to activate the pistons—or dual fuel engines, using both compressed air and conventional gasoline. Either way, it’s hard to argue with compressed air as a clean, abundant, and inexpensive fuel source.
What We Like

The price. Depending on the model, these will retail for about $12,500 up to $16,000

The performance. The MiniCat, running only on a compressed air engine, has a top speed of 68 mph and a range of as many as 120 miles.

The recharge. Overnight at home, it will require about 4 hours. At a proposed recharging station, as a few as 4 minutes

The oil needs. A liter of vegetable oil can last the vehicle about 31,000 miles.

The emissions. At the tailpipe, emissions are zero. However, air compression—whether done at a station or at home—requires electricity, which is typically generated using fossil fuels.
What We Don’t Like

The construction. These all-fiberglass cars are glued together, meaning they have little hope of finding their way to America, where additional sales could mean a huge boost to alternative fuel vehicles.

The design. This may seem like nit-picking or like asking too much, but the proposed model designs bear a lot in common with the ugly functionality of Neighborhood Electric Vehicles.

When push comes to shove, the importance of the technology here far outweighs any other consideration regarding the vehicle. Compressed air offers consumers and protectors of the environment plenty to be excited about, and we’d like to see MDI succeed with this one.
Dive Deeper
Related Resources

* Wikipedia: MDI Air Car
* MDI Air Car
* MDI Air Car

Related Articles

* Air Cars
* Clean Fuel
* Milner Aircar


* Blog: MDI Air Car

Flowair by Zero Pollution Motors

You certainly can't accuse MDI/ZPM of lacking ambition. With such a well-developed line of products in the works and a PR department working overtime, the FlowAIR brand is angling to hit the French and US markets and hit them hard. The proposed costs are more than reasonable, especially if the specs stack up or even come close to doing so.
photo courtesy of Zero Pollution Motors
by Ross Bonander

* Type: Compressed air vehicle (CAV)
* Manufacturer: Moteur Development International / Zero Pollution Motors
* Propulsion system: 6 cyl. 75 hp engine that electronically injects compressed air
* Top Speed: 96 mph (154 km/h)
* Vehicle range: 848 miles
* Fuel(s): Compressed air (3200 ft3 @ 4500 psi)
* Fuel efficiency: 106 mpg (on an 8 gallon tank)
* On-board charger: 5.5 kwh 110/220 v compressor generating 812 ft3 /hr
* Tailpipe emissions: No

The manufacturer says

"The compressed air vehicle is a new generation of vehicle that finally solves the motorist’s dilemma: how to drive and not pollute at a cost that is affordable!"

France-based Moteur Development International and New York-based Zero Pollution Motors (MDI/ZPM) originally launched their line of compressed air vehicles under different names than the ones used today. They have undergone substantial changes, including a general rebranding of the entire vehicle line under one name, the FlowAIR.

The FlowAIR brand features five models that vary widely. I'll look at four of them (I'm omitting the MultiFlowAIR, designed for mass transportation). All models are center-driven (meaning the driver is positioned in the middle of the vehicle) and will be made available directly from the factory, without dealer mark-ups or other associated costs.
One FlowAIR

The One FlowAIR was formally known as the OneCat. This vehicle can be configured to seat 3 or 5 people and production is alleged to have already begun on it.
Estimated cost: €3500 ($4,500) or €5300 ($7000) with added features.
City FlowAIR

The City FlowAIR was formally known as the CityCat. A family-size, 4-door vehicle that seats 6, MDI/ZPM intends to enter the City FlowAIR in the mainstream class of the Progressive Automotive X-Prize. The detailed specs listed above apply to this model.
Estimated cost: €13000 ($17,000)
Mini FlowAIR

The 2-door, 3-seat Mini FlowAIR was formally known as the MiniCat. This is the company's economy model; it will be available as a convertible, and it was recently on display at the New York Auto Show. MDI/ZPM intends to enter the Mini FlowAIR in the alternative class of the Progressive Automotive X-Prize.
Estimated cost: €9200 ($12,000)

Finally, there's the AIRPod Urban Transporter. I know, it's hard to look at it seriously, but it does have some merit. It can seat four people (provided one is a child), and get this: Like the TWIKE, you control the AIRPod with a joystick. MDI is pitching the AIRPod as a vehicle with municipal applications (i.e. for use at airports).
As a fleet vehicle, estimated costs aren't published, but the AIRPod has a range of 136 miles (220 km), a top speed of 43 mph (70 km/h), and it takes just 90 seconds to recharge the air tank.
The Compressed Air Engine (CAE)

The FlowAIR is made possible by one key technology: the Compressed Air Engine (CAE). This is proprietary technology developed by Formula One race car engineer Guy Negre. His background in Formula One racing is what led him to create the CAE, as those engines rely on a blast of compressed air to start.

The CAE functions in four modes of increasing complexity:

* At under 35 mph, it expands compressed air stored in a tank to drive the piston.
* Above 35 mph, it heats the compressed air prior to expansion. This increases the volume and increases efficiency.
* A third mode ignores air compressed in a tank and uses an intake valve, then heats that air prior to expansion.
* A fourth mode does double duty, using an intake to both refill the air tank and heat the incoming air to drive the piston.

ZPM's website has some animation of the engine in action; check it out here.

You certainly can't accuse MDI/ZPM of lacking ambition. With such a well-developed line of products in the works and a PR department working overtime, the FlowAIR brand is angling to hit the French and US markets and hit them hard. The proposed costs are more than reasonable, especially if the specs stack up or even come close to doing so.

Everything hinges on the viability of Negre's Compressed Air Engine and its acceptance among the general public. I think it's reasonable to assume that many people will be suspicious of a car running on compressed air; but clear that hurdle and MDI/ZPM might emerge as one of the biggest and most successful alternative car companies we've yet seen.


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