Detroit Bureau on Twitter

Posts Tagged ‘driving test’

Driving the Toyota Camry Hybrid

Delivering 36 mpg with high technology, but not without quirks.

by on Aug.09, 2010

If you are looking for fuel economy and comfort, the Camry Hybrid is an excellent choice.

There’s no question that the Camry hybrid is a technological triumph that produces stunning increases in fuel economy, particularly during urban and suburban driving that many of us face. However to achieve this Camry hybrid employs a number of sophisticated systems that affect the performance and feel of the popular family car.

These systems result in driving aspects that differ from those of any non-hybrid car you’ve ever driven, starting with the continuously variable transmission, the start/stop engine and regenerative braking. As Toyota’s mainstream entry in the U.S. family car market, this might present a customer satisfaction challenge as sales volumes increase and the driving audience widens on this extremely competent car.

Unlike the hugely successful Prius with its large following of hybrid technology geeks – and I mean that as a complement – Camry is a car that has been accepted largely because drivers can ignore it. Buy a Camry, change the oil once in a while, and keep driving it. Camry is the perfect automotive appliance.

Real World MPG!

However, there’s no ignoring the operation of the Camry hybrid system, if only because the pictorial energy monitors adjacent to the speedometer and on the navigation screen constantly tell you what’s going on and how efficiently you are driving. Annoying at first, the meters soon challenged me to increase my driving efficiency, which I did by following the monitors. Studies have shown that such efficiency “video games” do produce real world fuel economy improvements.


Driving the 2011 Hyundai Sonata

Excellent room, styling and fuel economy ambush competitors.

by on Jun.15, 2010

Len Katz Photography

Maintaining momentum with a strong redesign. Len Katz Photo.

Funny thing about incremental gains in automobiles, they eventually add to something big.

Last year was something big for Hyundai Motor America as it picked up more than one percentage point of U.S. market share during the worst business climate since the Great Depression.

Over the previous decade, the Korean maker edged slowly along, picking up a tenth of a point each year. However, taxpayer financed “Cash for Clunkers,” coupled with years of product refinement, reasonable pricing, along with some deft marketing of an extended warranty made for what was a ten-fold increase in the rate of gain.

The momentum has not stopped. This May marked the seventeenth consecutive month of year-over-year share gains for Hyundai. Year to date, Hyundai sales are up 23% to 205,000 vehicles compared with 2009.

The volume car at the heart of the lineup is the completely redesigned for 2011 Sonata sedan that is just appearing. So far, this sixth generation version has been well received. To find out why, I spent a week testing a pearl white Limited model – $26,315 delivered. There are leases advertised starting at under $200/month for less well-equipped models.

What emerged after several hundred miles of testing was a comfortable, fuel efficient (26 mpg average) and generally pleasant car. This bodes well for Hyundai, but not for competitors, since Sonata is, arguably, the most important launch thus far for the upstart Korean maker.

Critical Reviews!

If there is a problem here, it is caused by the companion company Kia with its Optima derived from the same corporate parts bin. However, that is a nit, and a longer-term marketing separation issue for the parent company as each brand grows.  Kia sales through May at 138,000 are up 15%. The overall market is up 17%, but that number is heavily influenced by Detroit Three fleet sales, which have doubled compared to the year before, and are running at 30% of units wholesaled. (more…)

Test Finds 38 Million U.S. Drivers Unfit for Roads

They wouldn’t pass a written test if taken today.

by on May.27, 2010

Only one in five would flunk the test?

Nearly one in five licensed drivers – or about 38 million Americans – would not pass a written drivers test if taken today, according to a new survey from GMAC Insurance.

Some might question why it isn’t more.

The sixth annual survey polled 5,202 licensed Americans from 50 states and the District of Columbia, gauging driver knowledge by administering 20 questions taken from state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) exams. Additional questions explored distracting habits such as texting while driving.

Overall, findings indicate a number of licensed Americans continue to lack knowledge of basic rules of the road. The national average score decreased to 76.2% from 76.6 % in 2009. Eighty-five percent could not identify the correct action to take when approaching a steady yellow traffic light and many remained confused by safe following distances.

Kansas drivers ranked first in the nation (82.3% average score); New York drivers ranked last (70% average score). Full results can be found at


Driving the 2010 Honda Accord

Interior, drivetrain and dynamics make a formidable family car.

by on May.26, 2010

Accord is challenging the Toyota Camry for the top seller title in the segment.

The Honda versus Toyota question goes back for decades, not as long as the Yankees versus the Red Sox, but with almost the same intensity among fans as the ongoing diamond debate.

The latest version of the Accord, introduced in 2008, is more aggressively styled, has a larger interior and better driving dynamics than the long-time best seller in the class, the Toyota Camry. In short, the Accord, originally introduced in 1976 as a 3-door hatchback with a wheelbase of the current Honda Fit b-car has grown as its buyers aged.

The tradeoff for “more fun to drive” traits in the current car is that Accord is also little harsher and nosier than the “mostly invisible during operation” Camry. Year to date, Honda has already sold more than 100,000 Accords. Camry total sales are close to 97,000, meaning that Honda is threatening Camry’s, eight-year best-selling streak. Both Accord and Camry leases start in the $200/month range right now, and well equipped models are offered at under $300.

The 2010 Accord four-door model EX tested here – $25,380 MSRP – has its origins in a complete redesign for the 2008 model year. At that time, Honda increased Accord’s dimensions to provide for a larger interior (+3.3 cubic feet compared to 2007), attaining an EPA full-size designation at 120 cubic feet of interior and trunk space. The Accord sedan’s overall length of 194.1 inches is 3 inches longer than the 2007 model, width of 72.7 inches is 1.1 inches wider, and the height of 58.1 inches is 0.9 inches taller.

Even though the size is larger in every dimension, the Accord’s torsional rigidity  increased by 20%, Honda claims, as a result of a body structure that uses 48% high-tensile steel by volume, the most of any Accord to date. Unfortunately, weight is up 5%.

In following the American tradition of bigger is better, an optional 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 engine is offered. The V6 produces 268 horsepower – the most ever for any Accord. The V6 also debuted a new generation of fuel-saving variable cylinder management technology and achieved a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) rating – a sop to Accord buyers who think of Honda as a green company with smaller cars and engines.

The cylinder shutoff system operates in 6-cylinder mode for power, and 4- and 3-cylinder modes for efficiency, resulting in EPA fuel economy ratings of 19 city and 29 miles per gallon (Accord sedan V6 with the 5-speed automatic transaxle).

The V6 is not really needed, though. The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine has more than enough oomph with its 190 horsepower to launch and merge the large car into traffic. Better still, it is rated at 21 city, 31 highway. In mixed suburban driving, I obtained just under the EP combined rating of 25 mpg, and loved every minute of it. The Accord is a slick drive.


Driving the 2010 Toyota Camry

Large, quiet and luxurious, so much so it is really a Lexus.

by on May.19, 2010

Camry is the benchmark for the class because of its long standing sales leadership.

The family sedan has gone soft during the past few years, as every entry in the segment has gotten larger, plusher, heavier and more expensive.

However, the addition of six or more airbags, vehicle stability control and elaborate electronic navigation and sound systems, among a growing list of features  – all added weight and have worked against drivers by causing more frequent visits to the pump.

Increasing amounts of sophisticated technology, such as variable timing for engine valves, six-speed automatic transmissions and direct fuel injection have helped to keep the cars reasonably fuel efficient and – for the moment – out of gas guzzler tax range, but a balancing act is underway at competing makers.

The latest iteration of the Toyota Camry, introduced in 1997, is no exception. This sixth generation Camry is classified by the EPA as a midsize car with more than 116 cubic feet of passenger and trunk volume. (Camry was introduced in 1982 as a compact replacement for the Corona, and has been a growing car in the midsize class since 1992.) As the best-selling passenger car in the U.S. for eight years running, 12 of the past 13 years, Camry is the benchmark for the class. Through the end of April, Camry total sales are at 96,509, up 5.4% percent over this time last year.

Camry’s current prices range from $19,395 for the sedan with a new six-speed manual transmission to $29,245 for the XLE with a six-speed automatic transmission. The high mileage, low emissions Camry Hybrid carries a price of $26,400. (Add $750 for delivery.)

Reviews You Can Trust!

The top of the line XLE tested, totaled $31,475, although a shopper can likely do better than that – minus 5% to 10%, maybe more – given Toyota’s current use of incentives to regain momentum lost in the marketplace caused by the unintended acceleration recalls. This massive setback to Toyota’s heretofore good image has also caused Consumer Reports to suspend its long standing “recommended buy” on all Camry models, except for the hybrid, which is not affected. (more…)