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First Drive: 2013 Honda Fit EV

Honda plugs-in with first battery car in two decades.

by on Jul.02, 2012

The 2013 Honda Fit EV is now rated as the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the U.S.

Driving the 2013 Honda Fit EV even a couple of hundred meters easily disproves the mindless chatter, heard in some quarters, about electric vehicles being nothing more than gloried golf carts.

In fact, the light, nimble Fit EV, which is a pure battery-electric vehicle with no gasoline motor tucked away onboard for support, is a blast to drive. It’s well-balanced, handles nicely and incorporates new technology that neutralizes the relatively harsh and unnatural brake feel common in hybrids and EVs equipped with regenerative braking.

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In addition, the Fit EV, which also has an independent rears suspension as well as the new brake set, outperformed the Nissan Leaf, its nearest competitor, on a small handling course that Honda set up during a first drive of its battery subcompact. The Fit EV also is equipped with three different driving modes, sport, normal and Eco, which can be reached by pushing the appropriate button.

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Buick’s eAssist Delivers With Big Mileage Gains

Small car fuel economy, big car roominess.

by on Jul.21, 2011

Buick makes the eAssist system standard on the 2012 LaCrosse sedan.

There are plenty of small cars on the market now nudging into 40 mpg territory, but for those who want great mileage, the sacrifice is usually in the form of roominess and comfort.  Buick, with the debut of the new eAssist system – standard on the 2012 LaCrosse – aims to let buyers have their automotive cake and eat it, too.

The 2012 Buick LaCrosse with the now-standard eAssist system also demonstrates that smaller, hybridized powertrains can actually deliver a peppy, even more aggressive ride than the V-6s and V-8s Americans are used to.

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Using a variety of technology and exterior enhancements, the 2.4-liter, Ecotec 4-cylinder engine on the 2012 Buick LaCrosse with e-Assist gets an estimated 36 miles per galon on the highway and 25 mpg in the city.  That represents a 20% improvement in highway mileage and a 32% boost in city mileage over the V-6 package of prior years.

How does it get there?

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First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Volt

Is it a hybrid or electric vehicle? Does it really matter?

by on Oct.19, 2010

Call it a plug-in hybrid or extended-range electric vehicle, either way, a thumbs up for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

The formal launch of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, earlier this month, was ill-timed to occur the same day a controversy began to brew over the vehicle’s underlying technology.  Is Chevy’s long-awaited 4-seater a plug-in hybrid or, as General Motors prefers, an “extended-range electric vehicle”?  Then again, does that even matter?

As TheDetroitBureau.com set out to get its first, two-day drive of the Chevy Volt we certainly wanted to get a better understanding of the complex propulsion system GM engineers have come up with, but the real question is whether the vehicle lives up to its lofty expectations – and justifies a rather steep price premium when compared to more conventional, if otherwise similar vehicles, such as Chevy’s own new Cruze.

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Charged Up!

The simple answer to that first question is that Volt is, technically, a hybrid, but one designed to operate exclusively on battery power the vast majority of the time.  And for those green-minded buyers who might have relatively short commutes but occasionally need more range than a pure battery car could provide, the Volt is, in fact, a compelling product.

But, like the offering it’s most often being compared to, Nissan’s pure battery-electric vehicle, the 2011 Leaf, Volt does have some limitations and caveats we’ll try to address.

Chevy originally promised 40 miles battery range but now rate's Volt at 25 to 50 miles.

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First Drive: 2011 Smart Electric Drive

Betting on batteries in Brooklyn.

by on Jun.10, 2010

Will Smart find 250 customers for the battery version of its fortwo microcar -- at twice the price and with an 82-mile range?

It’s not the traffic we find ourselves watching out for, though there’s plenty of it on the busy streets of Brooklyn, but the potholes, massive gaps in the pavement that yawn wide and threaten to engulf our entire little microcar.

It’s not a job but an adventure, at times, taking tomorrow’s cars out for a ride, though few draw as many glances – some admiring, others just agape — as the 2011 Smart fortwo Electric Drive.  Call it the ED, for short, a battery-powered version of the French-German microcar.

The auto industry, as a whole, is increasingly coming to embrace the concept of electrification, with plug-in hybrids, like the Chevrolet Volt, and pure battery-electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf.  Even Mercedes-Benz is exploring its options, all the way up to a battery-powered version of its SLS supercar.

But the German maker’s sibling brand, Smart, seems especially well-suited to enter the electric field, delivering a battery version of its nimble little two-seater that was already targeted to the urban market.

Smart will launch sales of 250 EDs in the U.S., late this year, complimenting the fleet of more than 1,500 it will put on the road in Europe.  Plans call for launching full retail sales in 2012 as a 2013 model.  But the maker hopes to learn a lot, by then, as the original crop of guinea pigs, er, buyers put their EDs through the rigors of daily motoring.

(Click Here to see how Smart is betting on the ED to revive the brand.)

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To get a sense of what they’re likely to discover, I headed to Brooklyn, earlier this week, where I squeezed into a fully-charged microcar alongside my colleague from TheDetroitBureau.com, Joe Szczesny.

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Can a Battery Car Recharge Smart?

Automaker launching test fleet of new electric vehicles.

by on Jun.10, 2010

Can a battery car version of the Smart fortwo help the brand keep its cool?

Few automotive brands have scored such a rapid rise – and suffered such an equally fast fall – as Smart, the microcar division of Daimler AG.  Desperately hoping to halt its ongoing slide, Smart executives are counting on an infusion of new products, including the brand’s first battery-electric vehicle.

About 250 Smart fortwo Electric Drive, or ED, models will be leased to U.S. customers over the coming months, with higher-volume sales set to begin in late 2012.  Though the Smart ED won’t do much to reverse slumping sales, it should put a halo around the brand until Smart can roll out new, conventionally-powered models closer to mid-decade.

“We are on the forefront of a revolution,” proclaimed Mark Langenbrinck, managing director of the Smart brand, during a media preview of the ED, in New York, this week.

(Click Here for the First Drive of the Smart Electric Drive.)

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Looking out over the crowded metropolis, Langenbrinck noted that a century ago half the cars on New York roads were powered by batteries.  Some experts believe that for urban applications, clean electric powertrains could again come to dominate in the years ahead.  The technology does have some advantages in a city setting, where motorists are likely to clock far fewer miles than their suburban and rural counterparts.

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First Drive: 2010 Lexus HS250h

World’s first dedicated luxury hybrid.

by on May.26, 2009

The 2010 Lexus HS250h is the world's first dedicated luxury hybrid.

The 2010 Lexus HS250h is the world's first dedicated luxury hybrid.

The Toyota Prius is the world’s most popular hybrid-electric vehicle.  It’s also the most distinctive.  Indeed, it may be one of the easiest cars on the road to recognize, a factor that’s definitely played well to folks who like to make their “green” leanings as obvious as possible.

So it should come as no surprise that Toyota decided to use the same strategy when it began working up the design for the fourth hybrid offering from its luxury division, Lexus.  The 2010 Lexus HS250h is also the brand’s first HEV-only model.  Unlike the RX400h, LS600h and GS450h, the new HS is being offered with only a battery-electric powertrain.

To get a better feel for the 2010 Lexus HS250h, we headed out West to drive the sedan along the environmentally-friendly, in sentiment anyway, Los Angeles coast.  The new sedan isn’t quite as distinctive as the love-it-or-hate-it Prius design, though it’s decidedly different from anything else in the Lexus line-up, inside and out.

Despite some earlier reports, the HS250h isn’t a rebadged Prius. In fact, it shares much of its underlying platform with Toyota’s midsize Avensis – essentially a European version of the Camry. So, while it’s designed to slot into the Lexus line-up alongside the IS sedan, the HS is actually a wee bit longer, and a fair bit taller.

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