2010 Cars Deliver Performance and Fuel Economy

2010 Cars Deliver Performance and Fuel Economy

John Addison test drives the MINI Cooper Convertible

John Addison test drives the MINI Cooper Convertible

By John Addison (4/24/09).

This is my first time to drive on a race track and I’m wondering if these are my final moments on planet earth. Here at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca I take the Andretti Hairpin and learn to accelerate in successive turns. After accelerating uphill, I enter “The Corkscrew” where I cannot see the sharp downhill turn to the left until I am in the middle of it. As I get into this sharp turn, I need to prepare for the sequence of curves that immediately follow. Yes, it’s a corkscrew.

I try to remember the coaching that I received. Hold the steering wheel with something less than a death grip. Breathe. Look ahead – but looking ahead at the top of the Corkscrew I only see blue sky. Looking ahead to my future, I only see darkness.

The 2009 BMW 335d that I am driving handles beautifully, offers more turbodiesel acceleration than I care to try, and I guarantee you that the brakes work.

After three laps, I exit the track, park the BMW, remove my helmet as I leave the car, and resist kissing the ground in front of real drivers. I have been invited to test drive new vehicles with the Western Automotive Journalists, even though I write about green cars and clean transportation. I long for yesterday.

Yesterday, I tested cars with good fuel economy on streets with posted speed limits. Drives included three cars that made the list of Top 10 Low Carbon Footprint Cars.  Yesterday, the 20 mile test drives were along the ocean in Monterey and on beautiful tree lined roads where I could easily see the next turn.

I had the most fun behind the wheel of the MINI Cooper Convertible. I couldn’t stop smiling with the top down, the sun shining, and the panoramic ocean views. The car was tight enough in handling that I had the experience of being connected with the road, rather than being insulated.

If you want to enjoy driving, consider the MINI. If you need to seat more than two adults, be aware that the backseat practically touches the front. Cargo space is minimal. If your household has two or more cars, the MINI would be a fun second car with great fuel economy. The MINI is small enough to allow city drivers parking spaces that most cars pass by. If you want more leg room and cargo, then the MINI Clubman is a better choice by being 9.5 inches longer.

The Mini Cooper and Clubman have a loyal following that enjoy good gas mileage with a combined 32 mpg. Base MSRP for the MINI Cooper is $19,200; $24,550 for the convertible.

By contrast the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid easily seats five, has plenty of trunk storage, and actually delivers better mileage than the MINI due to Ford’s impressive hybrid drive system. The new Ford midsized sedan that I drove has an EPA certified 41 mpg rating in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. The base suggested price is $27,995.

While the MINI invites you to go out and play, the Fusion Hybrid invites you to efficiently drive from point A to point B while consuming as little gasoline as possible. This car will not be popular in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or Venezuela. It may prove to be popular with anyone considering the Toyota Camry Hybrid; Ford delivers equal room, safety, and comfort with better rated mileage. Although the Fusion Hybrid has a better mileage rating than the Camry Hybrid, that advantage is not always delivered in real world driving. Edmonds Test Drive

In theory, the Ford Fusion Hybrid can travel up to 47 miles per hour in electric mode; I could only sustain the engine-off mode when gliding downhill. Even on flat roads driving 25 mph, the engine would engage.

Ford does a nice job of encouraging drivers to get better fuel economy. The SmartGage had a display section that filled with green leaves as I drove with a light touch that reduced demands on the 2.5L engine. The Ford Fusion Hybrid delivered the smoothest driving experience of any hybrid which I have driven. I did not notice the transitions from gas to electric mode. The transitions were seamless.

Even better mileage was delivered by the 2010 Honda Insight EX which I drove in Monterey. It is rated 43 mpg highway and 40 mpg city. The Insight’s combined EPA rating of 41 contrasts with the 2010 Prius expected rating of at least 50 mpg. The Honda Insight has an aerodynamic body similar to the Prius. Although the two five-door hatchbacks look similar, the Prius is a longer midsized car. In theory, the Honda Insight pricing starts at $19,800 which has pressured Toyota to offer a Prius with a base price only $2,000 higher. The 2010 Insight that I drove included upgrades such as a navigation system and six speaker audio system. The vehicle price, including pre-delivery service, was $23,770.

I started the Insight, and then touched the ECO button. Even in that mode, I had enough acceleration to get on any freeway in a hurry. The ECO mode helped me minimize demands on the 1.3L gasoline engine as I navigated the roads hugging Monterey’s dramatic coast. Like the Ford Fusion Hybrid, I was rewarded with a display of green leaves for my eco-driving behavior. Handling was smooth and a bit sporty. Similar to the Prius, the view through the rear view mirror was constrained.

The mirror is one reason that my mother prefers her Honda Civic Hybrid which also delivers slightly better mileage than the Insight. Drivers who want a conventional looking sedan will pay more for the Honda Civic Hybrid.

Driving the Honda Insight was smooth and quiet even when I went up a sustained 16 percent grade, demonstrating that its electric motor is quite effective in blending power with the 98 hp engine.

Price will definitely be a factor in buyers deciding between the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius. In some markets, such as California, another factor may be the ability to get an HOV sticker with the Insight. For my money, if I could get a larger more fuel efficient Prius for only $2,000 more, then I would get the Prius. On the other hand, if there was a $5,000 price differential at the dealer, then I would go with the Insight. All in all, both are wonderful cars.

I valued the test drive experiences. Now, I am glad to be away from the track and at the computer composing this post. Race track driving can be dangerous for the neophytes. Every now and then I do something dangerous – ski double black diamond runs at Park City, bodysurf Bonsai Pipeline when 12 foot waves are breaking on the outer coral reef, or most daring of all, argue about politics on a crowded New York subway. Perhaps the danger is induced by too much testosterone for the day, or too much caffeine, or by a longing for my lost youth. Most days, if I want an exciting ride then I get on my bicycle or the city bus or the Prius that I share with my wife.

Speaking of youthful enthusiasm for racing, if you are concerned that your teenager may drive like a racetrack driver, take a look at Ford’s MyKey. When teenagers use their personal key, the will be constrained to the maximum speeds programmed by their parents.

If you want great fuel economy, few compromises, and driving pleasure, test drive the latest hybrids from automakers like Toyota, Honda, and Ford. The intensified competition between them is bringing better performance and safety and economy.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and is the author of Save Gas, Save the Planet.

High-Speed Rail Unlocks Intermodal Potential

High-Speed Rail Unlocks Intermodal Potential

Diridon Station San Jose

Diridon Station San Jose

By John Addison (4/7/09).

Intermodal solutions allow people to effectively navigate major cities such as New York, Washington D.C., Paris, Madrid, and Tokyo. Subway and light-rail are especially effective, but expensive to build. As cities grow, change, and morph, not every potential route can be served with subway and light-rail. Bus rapid transit is a cost effective way to duplicate some of the benefits of light-rail, at a fraction of the capital expenditure. Buses, taxis, car sharing, bicycling, and walking are all parts of the solution. For many, cars are their preferred way to get around, yet if all transportation were cars then cities would be frozen in gridlock.

High-speed rail integrates all these systems together and moves people from city to city at high-speed. When the distance is only a few hundred miles, high-speed rail coupled with city transit beats airplane and car every time.

Now an 800 mile high-speed rail network is being started in California. Because it depends on local and public-private partnership funding, as well as state and federal funding, it will be built in sections. First online are likely to be areas that are currently overwhelmed with passenger vehicles crawling on freeways that should be renamed “slowways.” Likely to be among the first in service are the Orange County – Los Angeles section and the San Jose – San Francisco section.

San Jose provides an example of current transportation problems as well as the future promise of high-speed rail integrated with intermodal solutions. Currently, during rush hour, cars crawl from all directions into San Jose, the self-proclaimed capital of Silicon Valley. Vehicles overload some of the nation’s busiest highways – 680, 880, 101, 280, 87, and 17.

Commuters to and from San Jose have a number of options. Many require multiple transit agencies and added time to reach their destination. Caltrain services cities from San Francisco to San Jose, at times taking only an hour, at other times being less frequent and taking much longer. Several transit agencies have special commuter shuttles including AC Transit and Santa Cruz Metro.

Major San Jose employers promote carpool and van pool commute programs. Shuttle buses run to the nearby airport. Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority’s (VTA) light-rail and buses effectively cover major parts of the city and connect to other systems. A variety of private bus, shuttle, car sharing, taxi, and other services all help. A network of bicycle trails and paths helps some enjoy their commute and stay in shape.

A central hub for VTA, Caltrain, and Amtrak is the Diridon Station in San Jose, named after Rod Diridon who provided leadership for the modern transportation system in the greater area as six-time chairperson of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and Transit Board. He has also been chair of the American Public Transit Association; he is the Executive Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and Chair Emeritus of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSR).

When I met with Rod Diridon last month he was optimistic about CAHSR breaking ground within two years, and carrying a high volume of riders on at least one segment within ten years. The reasons for success are compelling: high-speed rail is less expensive than freeway expansion, less expensive than airport expansion, secured voter approval during a severe recession, will create up to 400,000 new jobs, integrates all of California’s major transit systems, reduces petroleum use, and helps prevent increased climate change damage. Mr. Diridon feels that support is also strong, because each year of delay could add millions to the ultimate cost of the 800 mile system.

In ten years, the Diridon Station is likely to see high volumes of travelers as high-speed rail shuttles people to and from San Francisco in 30 minutes. The CAHSR system will share the corridor currently in place for Caltrain. The station will allow passengers to board Amtrak and continue on to places like Los Angeles and Sacramento. Eventually, the high-speed rail will continue to those destinations, as all right-of-way and not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) issues are resolved.

In ten years, increased VTA light-rail traffic will flow through the system as San Jose continues to grow. VTA Transportation Planner Jason Tyree described how light-rail will be supplemented with advanced bus-rapid transit that will rapidly move people with modern features such as level boarding, automated fare handling, signal prioritization, and potentially dedicated lane sections. The 60-foot buses will be hybrid diesel.

People from the East Bay area may connect to the station via an extension to BART. Feeding off BART will be AC Transit’s ultramodern buses including its expanded fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses.

The Diridon Station ten-years from now could well have zero-emission electric bus shuttles from the nearby airport or even a more advanced people-mover service. Preferred car parking at the station is likely to be for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. San Jose, home to advanced vehicle and technology companies like Tesla, is committed to an extensive city-wide vehicle charging infrastructure.

Although many electric vehicles are criticized for only having less than 100 mile in range per battery charge, such range is good for several days when combined with effective public transportation systems. Another way to cover the last miles to and from home and work is the good old bicycle. Bicycle boarding will be permitted on high-speed rail and the other public transportation systems.

As cities are connected with high-speed rail, similar multimodal systems will also be connected in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Sacramento, and other major cities in this state of 40 million people; soon to be 50 million people.

The new high-speed rail and the light-rail transit systems use electricity not petroleum. Electric rail is many times more efficient than diesel engine drive systems. In ten years, by law 33 percent of the electricity will be from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. In 20 years, especially with the benefit of California’s new cap-and-trade of greenhouse gases, renewable energy is likely to be less expensive than natural gas and nuclear, with coal already being phased out in California. In other words, the high growth part of California transportation is likely to be zero-emission providing significant relief in emissions and energy security.

Combining improved multimodal transportation with high-speed rail with renewable energy is bringing climate solutions just in time. California’s busy Highway 101, which stretches over 800 miles and which carries millions daily, will find major sections under water if the sea rises only 16 inches.

As leading delegates from 175 nations now meet to discuss climate solutions  scientist agree that global warming is accelerating and the artic ice cap is disappearing.

The multimodal transportation that serves millions of Americans is experiencing record use and provides the foundation for a more promising future.

John Addison is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet.