Category Archives: Honda

2009 Honda Pilot (487)

Overview:
This week we’re looking at the 2009 Honda Pilot which I haven’t tested for 5 model years. Surely you would expect the price to be higher with inflation but the downward force on price increase is the technology and robotic assembly and computer aided design (CAD) that simply gets better every year and keeps the cost down. In dog years 2004 was a lifetime past. In fact I tested it in March of 2003. Consider the price then was $27-33,000 as compared with the 2009 at $28-40,000. Even if this SUV were not better, it would have improved its value to the consumer considering price alone.

Amazingly however, at the same time, it has NOT improved in fuel economy for a similarly powered engine and drive train. It is virtually the same, except for the rules of measurement that by 2004 standards today’s fuel numbers would be a bit higher. But it would not be enough to sneeze at.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I expect most would be disappointed with the improvement in mileage performance. So I would definitely look more closely at the Hybrid versions.

The recognized competition dynamics have changed in that many have evolved upward to the luxury brands so the grouping is closer together. That is the case with the Honda Pilot which has grown up and become more sophisticated. In addition 15 of those listed in Recognized Competition were not there 5 model years ago. A few others have been discontinued and all have scaled down in size, except the Suburban. It will be interesting to see what the changes are in the next 5 years. Do you think there will be any of these remaining in 5 years in this utility class? They surely will be if we find another more efficient and cheaper power source, because people obviously appreciate the large comfort of the SUV and made it part of the fabric of family life.

General Info:

Parts – US/Canadian 70%.

Assembly – Lincoln, Alabama USA

Class:  – SUV

Cars: – Accord, Accord Hybrid, Civic, Civic Hybrid, CR-V, Element, Fit, Odyssey, Pilot, Ridgeline, S2000.

Handling & Performance:

Great car to drive. Powerful. Good Crest Test through the mountain course.

Styling:

Not much change in overall appearance in the past 5 years.

Fit and Finish:

Very good.

Cost:

Cost of the automobile is relative to the cost of all goods and services. I believe the falling cost of consumer electronics and other home based features put into the automobile is a major reason for the slow climb in car prices generally. Consider those things you have in your home that you also have in your car. Radio, TV, DVD, MP/3, Heating, Air Conditioning, Comfortable easy chair type seating, Entertainment centers etc., which equates to home away from home convenience.

Features and Conveniences:

Abundantly endowed. There isn’t much left out of what could be added to make us feel right at home. The bad news is it’s not free. Just look at the range in price from model to model.

Consumer Recommendation:

Resource – www.safercar.gov

Truly there is a smorgasbord of cars so you can have pretty much what you want and if you opt for what you “Need”, the cost will be a whole lot less. But if you’re thinking what I’m thinking this class family vehicle should be tricked out completely because it will be used for the entire family where such outings demand entertainment centers to keep passengers occupied on longer trips. I say, spend it here and ratchet down the commuter car where you are alone in the vehicle.

Recognized Competition:

Honda Pilot $28-40,000, Buick Enclave $35-39,000, GMC Acadia $32-40,000, Hummer H3 $33-43,000, Saab 9-7X $43-49,000, Dodge Durango Hybrid $45,040, Subaru Tribeca $30-34,000, Saturn Outlook $30-36,000, Chevrolet Suburban $40-53,000, Mazda CX-9 $30-35,000, Chrysler Aspen $35-37,000, Jeep Grand Cherokee $30-45,000, Lexus RX 350 $38-39,000, Ford Edge $26-35,000, Ford Explorer $27-38,000, Ford Taurus X $28-33,000, Mercury Mountaineer $27-34,000, Lincoln MKX $37-39,000, Chevrolet TrailBlazer $29-39,000, Chevrolet Traverse $28-41,000, Hyundai Veracruz $ n/a, Toyota 4Runner $27-36,000, Toyota 4Runner $29-39,000, Toyota Highlander $28-35,000, Kia Borrego $26-33,000, Nissan Pathfinder $27-40,000, Dodge Durango $28-40,000.

Good News:

Lots to choose from, good value over time, abundant standard equipment.

Bad News:

Disappointing fuel economy.

Standard Equipment:

3.5 liter 250 hp V6 engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, 4-wheel drive, 4-wheel power ABS disc brakes with electronic brake distribution system, variable assist rack and pinion power steering, 100K mile tune ups, front side and side curtain air bags, stability control, tire pressure monitoring system, remote keyless entry, security and immobilizer system, child LATCH system, Navigation w/voice recognition and rear view camera, DVD rear entertainment system with 9” display and wireless headsets, Bluetooth hands free link, stereo w/6 in-dash CD, XM satellite radio, climate control, driver 8-way power seat, tilt & telescopic steering wheel, heated front seats, 60/40 split fold down 2nd & 3rd row seats, power windows and locks, cruise control, power tail gate, power moon roof, front and rear parking sensors, 17” allow wheels, auto on off headlights, fog lights, heated power mirrors and integrated class III trailer hitch.

Gas Stats:

$2.65/ Gal avg. November 5, ‘08

www.fueleconomy.gov

for more information.

16 City and 22 Highway MPG

www.safercar.gov  or   888-327-4236

Pricing:

MSRP $39,995.

2004 Honda Civic 4-door Hybrid (486)

Overview:

This week I drove the 2004 Honda Civic 4-door sedan Hybrid. With gas going “artificially” up over $2.00 at this writing, car-buying attitudes will surely begin to change. The writing is on the wall and once again the oil companies are distracting us while they separate us from our wallets. Those kinds of people used to be called “Pick Pockets”, but today they are anything but common thieves. This is high finance rip off.

Some say don’t buy Exxon or Mobil gas until there is a downward pressure on prices.

The next time someone tells you we need to stop drilling oil somewhere because it will displace spotted owls, one eyed woodpeckers or raccoons who would have to move their home a couple of miles away, pour some water on them to wake them. If people were so environmentally concerned, they wouldn’t buy gas guzzling SUV’s and more Hybrids.

Prior to 1973, Honda was a company known more for its motorcycles than for its cars, which were tiny two-cylinder 600cc runabouts.

My first experience with Honda was riding a Honda Motorcycle in the late 1960’s. Then I became acquainted with early Honda’s when “Pop” (father-in-law) bought one of the early Civics’ (see vintage Honda pictured above) way back then and that little cracker box reminded me of the Fiat 850 (also pictured above) that is so popular in Europe and specifically Poland. With the price of gas over $4 bucks a gallon there economy takes on a whole ‘nuther meaning.

Handling & Performance:   

Well of course transportation cars like the Civic serve the purpose just fine with relative comfort and enough speed for anything but drag racing or burning rubber during jackrabbit starts. That is especially true of this Civic Hybrid that sports a 1.3 liter 93 horsepower 4-cylinder engine. That is enough for some, and never enough for others. The normal Civic is powered by a 1.7 liter 4 cylinder 127 hp engine, which isn’t all that much more power, but the performance is close enough considering the fuel economy.

Hybrids are proof of the genius car companies can provide consumers when they want to invest in the future. I suspect they know more than we and are getting in position for the anticipated depletion of oil in the world.

Styling:

Clean lines like most of the competition and essentially the same as the conventionally powered Civic.

Fit and Finish:

The Japanese consistently put out well-assembled cars.

Conveniences: 

The same as in the standard Civic. In fact it’s not obvious you are in a Hybrid if it weren’t for the different gauges.

Cost:

How can cars be more affordable? Finally the Hybrids are gaining in popularity and they cost precious little more than conventional gas powered models. And you can’t appreciate the car until you realize you don’t need to stop gasoline as often. A friend says they drive from LA to San Francisco and half way back on one tank of gas in their Prius. Now that’s my kind of car. This Civic Hybrid isn’t far behind.

But when you consider the cost of these hybrids it is important to consider Honda and Toyota are subsidizing the cost of this new technology. Surely they couldn’t sell them for that price considering all the development costs. And that gives rise to a more important issue. How well will the new battery assist and regeneration equipment hold up over time?  They don’t talk about it and we won’t really know for several years. I encourage a little risk taking, however, because the product needs a boost to encourage greater production of Hybrids that will bring the prices down even further.

Consumer Recommendation:

I still can’t convince my kids to be more practical when buying a car. This generation has only known good times and has no clue of “Saving for a Rainy Day”. Their mother and I opted to take a chance in the early 1960’s when Japanese cars were first sold in the US. Yes, I was in college and we were cost of living conscious. We had to wrestle with the fear of whether parts would be available with so few dealerships. The danger or inconvenience of being stranded was very real.

If you want to drive an economical car you have to consider this Hybrid even in consideration of the risks. Their first attempt was the Insight, which is only a 2-seater. This Civic Hybrid is almost indistinguishable from a gas engine powered Civic. However, although I like the design better than the Toyota Prius, you need to drive both. I encourage you to discuss the propulsion systems of both with dealers and pay particular attention to what maintenance issues they anticipate. If they offer an extended warranty and if affordable it would be a wise choice to buy it.

The Competition:

Honda Civic $13-20,000, Toyota Prius $20,000, Honda Insight $19-21,000, but the Insight is only a two seater.     

Good News:

Outstanding fuel economy, fun to drive, Honda quality and good pricing and it only needs an 11 gallon fuel tank.

Bad News:

We won’t know how well the new technology will hold up over time.

Standard Equipment:

1.3 liter 85 hp 4-cylinder engine with integrated motor assist, CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), front disc rear drum ABS brakes, electric power assist steering, 110,000 mile tune up, dual front and side air bags, child anchors, anti theft system with remote keyless entry, climate control, stereo with CD and anti theft feature, center console, cruise control, power windows and locks and power mirrors.

Gas Stats:

47 City and 48 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $13-20,000.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com

2008 Honda Civic 4-Door EXL NAV (483)

Overview:
This week we’re looking at the new model for 2008 Honda Civic EX-L 4-door sedan. Now that’s what I’m talking about, as Richard would say. I’ve never leaned a lot to Honda but have most always given a good review. One particular Civic Hybrid comes to mind very early on. They have been at the forefront for years and are working on Hydrogen powered versions. So I’m cautiously optimistic they will be a major player in new technology arriving on the scene in the immediate future.

However I have to tell you there are other players in the fuel economy area and the one that comes immediately to mind is the Toyota Yaris that I reviewed recently. Auto engineer and friend Merkel did a lot of research for a new family car and bought a Yaris. So I tested it and agreed he had made a great decision. It may have been self defense since they own horses and his wife FJ gives riding lessons. Therefore she drives a big Ford V8 Diesel. I always remind my friends and readers that you really need to establish first the need and in some cases, contractors and others who need a truck like Merkel’s family, balance it off by buying a very fuel efficient second car. It will soon become the first car as gas prices rise. Merkel says in the real world he consistently gets 39 mpg from the Yaris. I’m impressed.

General Info:

Parts – US/Canadian 70%, Japan 30%,

Assembly – Alliston, Ontario Canada

Class:  – Subcompact

Cars: – Accord, Civic / Civic Hybrid, CR-V, Element, Fit, Odyssey, Pilot, Ridgeline and S2000.

Handling & Performance:

I tested this Civic in Oregon as we traveled the beautiful coast from Florence up to Seaside and in and around Portland. 140 horsepower doesn’t sound like a lot but I had no complaints as I passed gas stations. A tank will deliver over 400 miles.

Styling:

Very nice in class.

Fit and Finish:

Very good, as we’ve come to expect from most new products, especially Japanese cars that have been consistently out performed their competition even when put together in other parts of the world like the US, Canada and Korea.

Cost:

I like it. This car in class is one of my top 3 picks.

Features and Conveniences:

Outstanding. Nice size trunk space and generally roomy inside. Nice storage nooks and crannies and I found no negatives in the placement and provision of storage spaces and controls for a subcompact car.

Consumer Recommendation:

Resource – www.safercar.gov

Hybrids are good but if you can get the same out of conventional power plants it eliminates the concern we all have with unknown repair costs in the future for the Hybrid combination of internal combustion engines and electric motors. That means you need to look at this Honda Civic and Toyota Yaris for the economical addition to your garage.

Recognized Competition:

Honda Civic $15-25,000, Honda Civic Hybrid $23-24,000, MazdaSpeed 3 $22-24,000, Mazda 3 $14-20,000, Saturn Ion $12-20,000, Saturn Astra $16-18,000, Pontiac GS $15-20,000, Dodge Caliber $14-23,000, Chevrolet Cobalt $14-22,000, Hyundai Elantra $14-16,000, Hyundai Tiburon $17-23,000, Subaru Impreza $17-35,000, Volkswagen R32 $33,000, Volkswagen Jetta $17-24,000, Ford Focus $14-17,000, Toyota Corolla $15-20,000, Suzuki Forenza $14-15,000,  Mitsubishi Lancer $14-18,000, Mitsubishi Eclipse $20-29,000, Nissan Sentra $16-20,000, Kia Spectra $13-16,000, Acura TSX $29-32,000, Scion tC $17,000, MINI Cooper $18-25,000, MINI Clubman $20-23,000.

Good News:

Comfortable, roomy sub-compact, great fuel economy, well priced and a bunch of competition to chose from.

Bad News:

None.

Standard Equipment:

1.8 liter 140 hp 4-cylinder engine, 5-speed auto transmission, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes with brake force distribution, variable assist rack and Pinion steering, front and side and side curtain airbags, tire pressure monitoring system, daytime running lights, remote keyless system, security system with immobilizer theft deterrent system, LATCH system for child seats, Navigation system with voice recognition, leather trim and wrapped steering wheel, audio system with MP3/CD and 6 speakers and steering wheel controls, XM Satellite radio, air conditioning, 60/40 split fold down rear seat, center console and rear fold down armrest, power windows and locks, tilt and telescoping steering column, cruise control, one touch power moonroof with tilt, variable intermittent wipers, rear window defroster and heated power mirrors.

Gas Stats:

$4.01/ Gal avg. May 28, ‘08

www.fueleconomy.gov

for more information.

25 City and 36 Highway MPG

www.safercar.gov  or    888-327-4236

Pricing:

MSRP $20,710.

2004 Honda Element SUV (481)

Overview:

This week I tested the 2004 Honda Element 5-door 2-WD EX. Ugly would be a good description for many, but when you compare it to the Mercedes Benz G-Class and especially the Toyota Scion xb, it turns out to be the best of the three. What I can’t understand is what possessed the Japanese and German automakers. The G-Class is awful and not to be outdone Toyota built a hearse and inscribed Scion xb on the grave stone.

Square defines a four-sided figure, but in the mid 20th century it was slang for a person that was “out of it” or simple “not with it” and today, square is a “Nerd”. Old saying, “If the shoe fits, wear it”. These SUV’s are definitely square. Now, don’t misunderstand me I don’t cotton to overly rounded corners like the 1958 Chevrolet Impala, for example. How about the 1950’s vintage Buick Roadmaster.

Thank heaven most of today’s cars are middle ground and are decent styling for most peoples taste. So the only explanation for the above mentioned “boxes” that are being passed off as automobiles is that Toyota and Honda and Mercedes are trying to swing the pendulum to the extreme to shock our senses. Janet Jackson took a page out of their book of marketing but with the oldest of designs.

In the final analysis you have to consider a car purchasing decision is also an investment decision. What you buy, one day will have to be sold. Are you sure you want to buy into such a risky investment?

Handling & Performance:

Well, if you like to feel the road, brace yourself, you’ll feel every pebble but no real need for a kidney belt.

Styling:

My first impression in the Element was that I was slipping into a child of the H2 and Jeep Wrangler. Although I don’t care for the boxiness, it isn’t as bad as the Toyota Scion XB that looks even more like a Hearse than an SUV. And then they had to put puke green on it. Why not put some tan splotches and make it look like camouflage?

Fit and Finish:

Rugged and basic which is obviously by design. If people like it like that they are sure to change it.

Conveniences: 

Urethane utility floor that is made to look like metal for easy cleaning. Suicide doors that make accessibility entry and exit especially easy. Great for young and old and handicapped wheel chair users.

Cost:

Super competitive, but when you’re that ugly, you have to try harder, know what I mean?

Consumer Recommendation:

Well this Element was supposedly built for the young but the demographics tell another story. The age range of consumers is 42-45 years old. That is likely because it is: Inexpensive, easy to care for, easy entry and exit and finally it is a Honda that is known for quality.

The Competition:

Honda Element $16-21,000, Subaru Forester $21-27,000, Mazda Tribute $19-25,000, Hyundai Santa Fe $18-25,000, Jeep Liberty $18-25,000, Saturn VUE $17-24,000, Kia Sorento $19-25,000, Mitsubishi Outlander $18-22,000, Nissan Xterra $15-28,000, Ford Escape $19-26,000.

Good News:

Wide open access, functional and you’ll stand out in a crowd but perhaps people won’t ask you to drive- burn their gas.

Bad News:

Radical design could be a risky investment, and you’ll stand out in a crowd like Janet Jackson – naked and potentially embarrassed. People won’t invite you to drive.

Standard Equipment:

2.4 liter 4-cylinder 160 hp engine, 4-speed auto trans, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, front and rear stabilizer bars, power steering, dual air bags, child anchor system, immobilizer anti theft system, audio system with 7 speakers, air conditioning, Urethane coated utility floor, removable flip up rear seat, power windows, rear vent windows, power locks, cruise control, adjustable steering column, power mirrors and rear window wiper washer.

Gas Stats:

22 City and 26 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $19,450.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com

2003 Honda Accord EX Sedan (461)

Overview:

This weeks test vehicle was the 2003 Honda Accord EX, which is the next step up from the Civic I recently tested. The Civic was very impressive for the dough and this Accord is no exception. It occupies a top slot and a great contender with popularity that translates into being a sales leader in its class. I equate this car mostly with the Camry but Nissan has also done wonders in recent years. But that’s the rub – Nissan has launched some new looks and also improved in quality but Honda has had the rep and in the spotlight as top carmaker since the 1960’s. Those who were around in the early days of Honda cars in the USA, they were simply well built cracker box go-carts. But Honda has consistently grown to be top dog in the mid-size sedan category. That’s because Honda owners are devoted and loyal and almost like a cult. They will surely be proud of this car and the competition will shudder.

Handling & Performance:  

This Accord is fun to drive because it is still small enough to be nimble, Jack. In addition, I found myself driving much too fast because it is also very smooth in the transfer of power through the drive train. This is a sign of quality only found in more expensive cars. Steering is quick and the engine is fast except for the low end where you’ll have to get the RPM up ahead of clutch engagement.

Styling:

”Gee, looks like they’re trying to get that BMW look”, said one new car enthusiast. Yea, I guess so, but it’s BMW that should consider emulating Honda in reliability and economy. No, says BMW. We’re more interested in the money grubbing yuppies that want to impress people other than their banker.

Fit and Finish:

For a car of this price range it has put a lot of quality into the paint and detail inside and out. You’ve gotta feel good about owning one of these. You’d look cooler in a Ferrari but Honda will get you there in relative style.

Conveniences: 

Basically all the features are user friendly and are right where I’d put them too. I wish however manufacturers would install radios with a “Knob” control for channel selection. I keep bitching about it and if they’re listening they don’t give a rats ass. What do you think?

Cost:

I like it, because I could see myself driving one and still have enough to pay the rent. This and the Camry are top dogs in my book for best bang for the buck.

Consumer Recommendation:

General feeling from this very competitively close lineup in order of preference is: Accord, Camry, Altima and then Galant.

The Competition:

Honda Accord $16-28,000, Chevrolet Impala $21-27,000, Chrysler Sebring $20-30,000, Dodge Intrepid $21-25,000, Ford Taurus $20-23,000, Hyundai Sonata $15-19,000, Kia Optima $16-19,000, Mitsubishi Galant $18-25,000, Nissan Altima $17-23,000, 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix $22-26,000, Subaru Legacy $20-25,000, Toyota Camry Solara $19-23,000, Toyota Camry $19-25,000, Volkswagen Passat $22-38,000.

Good News:

Smooth, tight feel, well priced, corners beautifully and has the power to keep you in the hunt without guzzling gas.

Bad News:

I’d be hard pressed to find negative things to say about this car so I won’t try.

Standard Equipment:

2.4-liter 160-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes with electronic distribution, power steering, dual front and side air bags, security and immobilizer anti-theft system, keyless entry, air conditioning, stereo with six disc in dash CD changer with anti-theft feature, steering wheel audio controls, power drivers seat, power windows and locks, cruise control, locking trunk pass through, tilt and tele steering column, power moon roof with tilt, 16” alloy wheels and auto headlights.

Gas Stats:

26 City and 34 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $22,060.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com

2003 Honda Civic (458)

Overview:

This week I drove the 2003 Honda Civic sedan. I’m scheduling the Hybrid version as soon as I can get it because this has to be one of the most important topics of this century. A reader tells me we only have 15 years of oil at the present burn rate. Perhaps you can shed more light on that comment. But even if it’s 30 years, I have to wonder if we have done enough to alter the problem. I have a keen sense of the obvious which becomes more evident every time I have to gas up. 2003 has seen gas prices go up almost 100%. Further, it is obvious with world gas prices double those in the US, we’ll all be more interested in what car companies are doing to improve.

In August 2003 I attended a General Motors “Tech Tour” and drove the “Hy Wire” fuel cell prototype along with currently available fuel-efficient vehicles. Hydrogen surely sounds like the answer to our problem, but its development will give OPEC heartburn. At 60 to 90 miles per gallon from cars like this Honda Civic Hybrid version would be a good first step on the road to reducing high auto cost.

It is not so surprising that Los Angeles is re-developing mass transit. The future promises to be fraught with transportation problems if we don’t recognize and plan ahead.

Remember the 6-P’s of business? Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

Handling & Performance:   

I just love driving these cars. Ok, so I love Ferrari and that whole high performance thing, but for simple transportation you can’t beat cars like this Honda Civic. The ride is smooth with adequate power even at 127 hp. The VTEC engine mirrors the growth in carmakers that employ Variable Valve Timing technology along with electronic controlled fuel injection. American cars are behind in changing its power plants. Why, I have no idea.

Styling:

Conventional. That means clean lines, no frills but no spills either. Cookie Cutter? I suppose so. But that’s not bad when you consider this is designed for getting you from point to point with the least amount of hassle.

Fit and Finish:

Very good.

Conveniences: 

You usually can expect to get what you pay for, but with cars like this Honda Civic you get more than you pay for.

Cost:

Outstanding.

Consumer Recommendation:

Plan ahead. I hope my kids read this. Look at what’s happening around the world and be prepared. Take an interest and write car companies about your willingness to drive fuel-efficient vehicles. They truly need your encouragement. If you want send your comments to me and I’ll see they get to All Car companies.

The Competition:

Honda Civic $13-21,000, Chevrolet Cavalier $14-17,000, Daewoo Nubira $12,000, Dodge Neon $13-19,000, Ford Focus $13-19,000, Hyundai Elantra $13-14,000, Kia Rio $10,000, Mazda Protege $14-20,000, Mitsubishi Mirage $12,000, Nissan Sentra $12-17,000, Suzuki Esteem $13,000, Toyota Corolla $14-15,000, Toyota Prius $20,000, Volkswagen Golf $15-19,000.

Good News:

Outstanding fuel economy, fun to drive, good pricing and for many just being a Honda Car is good news enough.
Bad News:

Lightweight if you’re concerned about all the heavy SUV’s on the road that could squash you in an accident.

Standard Equipment:

1.7 liter 127 hp 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed auto trans, front disc rear drum ABS brake system, power steering, dual air bags, child seat anchors, anti theft system, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, stereo, cruise control power windows and locks, power moonroof with tilt and shade, power mirrors.

Gas Stats:

30 City and 38 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $17,860.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com

2003 Honda Odyssey EX (444)

Overview:

This weeks test car is the Honda Odyssey EX Mini Van or Special Purpose class vehicle. Alaska Airlines north to Portland, Oregon where I picked up this very capable and convenient vehicle for the purpose intended. I would be carrying a few adults and a small child and a smaller dog. This mini van is perfect for that application.

I spend some time on a ranch in southern Oregon where I do a little business, write, cut fire wood, write, horseback ride and write more. When it’s time to pick up a ton or two of hay for the horses and longhorn cattle the Dodge Dualee is necessary. But running into town with seating for 7, this mini van is just the ticket.

Don’t you wish you could have one of everything? It’s tough to make two vehicles, most of us have, fit every need. And then there is your budget to buy and operate two vehicles. That is the primary reason why I remind folks about the economy of Mini Vans vs. SUV’s that is significant. The reason for the higher cost of owning an SUV is the heavy, energy consuming 4-wheel drive apparatus. And ironically the 4-wheel drive will be used in only 5% of the vehicles in this class.

I took the Applegate Trail south to Eugene, a short one and a half hours from Portland on I-5. The countryside is beautiful this time of year. Spring is great most places but the greenery is breathtaking and gives you a peace with nature.

Handling & Performance:   

This is a great road car and for the most part is quiet and comfortable.

Styling:

Sleek designs are common today, especially in the Mini Van class. But where vehicles like this shine, in my view, is the convenience built in. Power sliding doors neatly retract and close with very little exposure to the sliding mechanism. I also like the sloping long windshield and small snout.

Fit and Finish:

Excellent.

Conveniences:

Low slung for good cornering and ease of entry and exit. It is especially convenient for young and old alike, because it removes the struggle of getting in and out of an SUV. Honda has also designed the third row seat for easy folding down into a recess in the floor for expanded cargo carrying area.

Cost:

Not bad for all the convenience equipment included.

Consumer Recommendation:

Determine your need and if you’re a young family you’ll find the Mini Van a great option to anything out there – especially the SUV. Notice they’re just now beginning to get the bad rap they deserve. By the way, SUV’s are popular and thus the price goes up and the profit is so great even Porsche came out with one. Go figure.

The Competition:

Honda Odyssey 5DR EX $24-30,000, Chevrolet Venture $21-34,000, Chrysler Town & Country $24-37,000, Dodge Caravan $20-35,000, Ford Windstar $21-35,000, GMC Safari $22-26,000, Kia Sedona $20-22,000, Oldsmobile Silhouette $28-36,000, Pontiac Montana $24-34,000, Toyota Sienna $23-37,000, Volkswagen EuroVan $26-28,000.

Good News:

Convenience at a good price, economical to operate, great family vehicle.

Bad News:

Soft ride gets bouncy. A stiffer suspension would be better.

Standard Equipment:  

3.5 liter 240 hp V6 engine, 5-speed auto trans, 4-wheel abs disc brakes with electronic distribution, front and side airbags, traction control system, child seat anchors, security and anti theft system, remote keyless entry, DVD entertainment system including stereo, CD, Cassette, DVD players with flip down 7 inch LCD monitor, remote and wireless headphones, leather with heated front seats, drivers 8-way power seat, cruise control, adjustable steering column, power windows and door locks, power tailgate lock, homelink communication system, convertible 2nd row bucket seats, retractable 3rd row seat, folding center tray, roof rails, tinted glass, rear window wiper washer and defroster.

Gas Stats:

18 City and 25 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $29,900.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com

2002 Honda Accord Special Edition (366)

Overview:

This week we’re being economical with the 2002 Honda Accord 4-door sedan Special Edition. Honda continues to be a solid and popular car for any age. It’s pretty basic but it does it all in the midsize segment of the market.

I think it’s a nice little car and find first impressions are indeed lasting. Young and old alike gravitate to this car because it has such a good reputation over many years in this country. I appreciate the nice touches and quality attention to detail the Japanese car makers take in everything they do. I like the Burl wood accents and notice the sun visors that have slide extensions. This model had a sunroof, which I place little value on, because I find they are overrated and offer little utility or practical use.

The spacious rear seat and all the cubbyholes in the cabin and a center console do offer useful utility. I also look for a roomy trunk that is thoughtful about not having protrusions to argue with cargo you try to load. More expensive cars do a great job in this area and most Japanese cars show thoughtful design as well.

Handling & Performance:

Your first impression will be that it’s a little underpowered for a 200 hp V6 but it is adequate for normal drivers not wanting to burn the tires off at every stop. I doubt the young buyer will warm up to a sedan but it handles well in the typical Honda fashion. They are more convenient and as fun to zip around town in as the smaller coupe.

Styling:

Cookie cutter styling, which continues to be so common today. Boring is a better word to describe the unimaginative styles over the past several years, with precious few exceptions like the Prowler and PT Cruiser that offer some distinction and unique character.

Fit and Finish:

Very good. American companies are getting better but the Japanese still present a product that appears to be more conscientiously assembled, even when they are assembled in the U.S. as this Honda is. You can thank the folks in Marysville, Ohio. When the Navy seaplanes in our squadron needed to be refurbished Kobe Japan got the job. I got to know the people and learned to appreciate their extraordinary work ethic. Thus it is no surprise quality control is tops no matter where they are assembled.

Conveniences:

The list of features that come standard is good but so is the competition noted below.

Cost:

The good news for Honda is that they are priced well; the bad news is that the competition also offers a lot.

Recommendation:

You have a lot to choose from, but you know how perplexing a long restaurant menu can be. I’ve driven all and hopefully the ranking will help you determine which you want to test drive first.

The competition (Order of Preference**):

 (1)Hyundai Sonata $15,499-18,324, (2)Kia Optima $15,299-20,000, (3)Saturn LS $16,400-20,400, (4)VW Jetta $16,800-24,700, (5)Mazda 626  $18,700-22,935, (6)Chevrolet Malibu $17-19,740,(6)Nissan Altima $16,349-22,349, (7)Mitsubishi Galant $17,707-24,200, (8)Ford Taurus $18,750-23,000, (8)Mercury Sable $19,745-22,000, (9)Nissan Maxima $24,700-27,100, (10)Honda Accord $22,600, (10)Oldsmobile Intrigue $22,800-27,900, (11)Subaru Legacy $19,300-24,700, (12)Toyota Camry Solara $19,400-30,500, (13)Pontiac Grand Prix $21-25,800, (14)Dodge Intrepid $20,370-26,615, (15)Chrysler Sebring $17,700-28,795.

Good News:

Average pricing, well-equipped, good family sedan, and good mileage.

Bad News:

Cookie cutter design, unexciting.

Standard Equipment:

3.0 liter 200 hp V6 engine, 4-speed automatic trans, 4-wheel ABS power assist disc braking system with traction control, power steering, dual front and side air bags, (LATCH) Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, anti Theft system, air conditioning, Stereo with CD, driver’s 8-way power seat, power windows and locks, cruise control, fold down rear seat with pass through, power mirrors, and more.

Gas Stats:

20 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $22,600.

** – Order of Preference is based on a formula of price relationship to dimensions, standard features, best overall warranty and mileage.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com

2002 Honda CRV (365)

Overview:

This week I had a chance to test the all new 2002 Honda CR-V that is growing up. Not only is it older since its introduction in 1997, and it’s weird how 1 inch longer and 1.3 inches wider and .3 inches taller make it feel so much bigger. It’s more comfortable than I remember and seats five with decent cargo area and something I like to have – Lots of nooks and crannies.

I read a lot of auto related stuff. The auto pages and advertising continue to remind us that we are what we drive. The world view necessarily must convince us that we should spend lots of money to “look cool”. It creates the US version of a Caste system. Prior to stepping into this CR-V I was testing the squeaky clean Lexus SC 430 $60,000 sports car that seats 2 – count them, t-w-o. Cool – maybe but it’s a girls car and I felt like I should have the top down taking my poodle in for a grooming and hope I don’t get hit on by someone driving a Saab. “Really, can we talk…” as Joan Rivers would say.

Anyway, the point is that we are convinced to drive more than we can afford to be “Cool”. And when you drive the variety of cars from $9,000 to $99,000 per copy, you get a sense of how differently people treat you depending on what kind of car you’re driving. Boy we’re shallow people, eh.

Handling & Performance:

My first wonder was will it be stable and it was. Lots of power and overall it was much more impressive than I imagined. Not bad.

Styling:

In a word, “Different” is what this CR-V is albeit not a stunning beauty. In fact I’m not crazy about it’s rather “plain wrap” look. For the money I like the styling of the competition more.

Fit and Finish:

Good – as you’d expect from a Honda Car made 100% in Japan. In the coming years it will be 50% produced in a couple of other countries.

Conveniences:

I rather like the fold up / down center console. It is there when you want it or you can fold it down and out of the way when you don’t need it. I’ve gotten used to the auto up and down window feature front and back. This CR-V only had auto down on the driver side.

Stereo with cassette is standard and the CD player is optional. Many cars today are beginning to provide both as standard. Makes sense to me.

Cruise control doesn’t mean squat unless you do a lot of highway driving, which I do and in that case it is a must. Otherwise, save the dough if it doesn’t come as standard equipment.

Manual air is just fine and understandable for a basic car. Your body has climate control unless you’re menopausal – then hot and cold is out of control.

Sun visors are little thought of and it’s apparent Honda didn’t give much thought either. It bugs me when they don’t extend for use on the left side window.

Cost:

As you’d expect it is less than the full size SUV but if the CR-V size is adequate save some money and forget the snob appeal.

Recommendation:

If you’re looking for an off road SUV, this isn’t it. But for normal 4-wheel needs the CR-V is ok.

The competition (Order of Preference**):

 (1)Subaru Forester $20-24,000, (2)Suzuki Grand Vitara $18-23,000, (3)Honda CR-V $18-22,800, (4)Toyota RAV4 $16-18,000, (5)Chevrolet Tracker $15-22,000.

Good News:

Slightly roomier, well equipped, fun to drive, faster than you’d expect, I like the way the tailgate opens.

Bad News:

Not real exciting styling.

Standard Equipment:

2.0 liter 146 hp inline 4 cylinder engine, 4-wheel drive, dual air bags, child safety locks, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, tilt wheel, cruise control, AM/FM radio with cassette.

Gas Stats:

 22 City and 25 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $18-22,800.

** – Order of Preference is based on a formula of price relationship to dimensions, standard features and the best overall warranty.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is movello@earthlink.net.

2001 Honda Civic EX (345)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the very changed Honda Civic, from the one introduced in 1973. This is the 4-door sedan and relative to the original Honda economy model it has lots of space.

I gave this car a good workout from California’s coastal Salinas valley, up through the central valley and the Capitol in Sacramento, on up to Oregon and back to the Golden Gate in San Francisco. That little trip included breakfast, lunch, dinner and then a snack on Southwest Airlines back to Los Angeles. You know what I mean, a soft drink and peanuts. What a guy won’t do to fulfill his love to drive. The flights were faster but not as enjoyable.

My jaunt included highways, byways, freeways and even dirt roads. Sometime you just have to get out of traffic and march to the beat of a different drummer. Well, this was a working vacation and you gotta know I love my work and my hobby.

Remember when Civics looked and felt like a shoebox? Grandpa Mac had one and I felt like we should see how many people could be crammed into it, like they used to do with phone booths and V-Dubs. The bug is still with us, but phone booths are a dwindling part of history.

Handling & Performance:

Some complain the 1.7 engine is too small. Not so in my book. It was great in all venues. But lets be serious, this is a Civic after all. If you want more, get another model. Go to the Accord with a V6, for example, but gas performance will go down – not a good trade off. I have always liked how this car handles, for the dough, and it is flat fun to drive.

Well, if you’ve been through the central valley of California, you know it can get a little breezy. Well, this week there were high winds, and if we were at sea it would surely have been classified a “Gale”. That makes for exciting sailing and driving as well. You get a little tired from fighting the strong winds, but the Civic was surprisingly stable. The only negative thought I noted is that there was a whistling sound emanating from the windshield somewhere as the wind whipped across the car. No big deal.

Performance of the 1.7-liter engine was adequate in my opinion. I know others feel it should have more horsepower, but I don’t agree. The great mileage from the Civic speaks volumes in these days of escalating gas prices. We’ll have to talk about that sometime and how it’s a concocted crock.

Styling:

I like it; contrary to some critics who think it is dull and bland. It even has the similar look to the BMW’s styling, which, naturally, I also like.

Fit and Finish:

Ok, you tell me, why does Honda have such a great following? I suspect it has a lot to do with the quality over the years and the low operating cost. Aside from all the backslapping, however, you need to keep this in context. This is a compact economy car and you’re not going to get the spit and polish of more expensive cars. In fact, I must admit I found myself wiggle uncomfortably in under stuffed seats. But not to worry, I would simply buy some sheepskin covers.

Conveniences:

Gadgets are getting cheaper as time goes by, so you’d expect lots of creature comforts. This has most everything you need for long or short trips – now all they have to do is add some padding to the seats.

Cost:

You can get more for your money with some of the competition, and part of the increased cost is what you pay for the Honda nametag.

Recommendation:

If you’re as worried, as most people are, about where gas prices are going, you’ll dump that SUV and downsize your car and upsize your wallet. I’ve driven all of the competition except Ford’s Focus, which I have scheduled for this summer. Honda fits well at the top, so if you’re looking for economy alone there are better options.

The competition:

Chevrolet Cavalier $13,260-16,465, Daewoo Nubira $11,699-15,199, Dodge Neon $12,715, Ford Focus $12,315-15,440, Hyundai Elantra $12,499-13,999, Kia Sephia $10,845-12,445, Kia Spectra $11,245-13,445, Mazda Protégé $12,765-18,020, Mitsubishi Mirage $11,877-14,717, Nissan Sentra $11,649-14899, Plymouth Neon $12,715, Saturn SC $12,680-15,790, Saturn SL $10,570-13,040, Subaru Impreza $18,995-23,995, Suzuki Esteem $13,199-15,799, Toyota Corolla $12,568-13,383, VW Golf $14,900-17,900, VW Jetta $16,700-24,300, VW Beetle $15,900-21,175.

Good News:

Roomy for a Civic, nice controls, fun to drive, good size, good handling, tons of competition.

Bad News:

Arguably bland styling, no anti-lock brakes on some models, marginal horsepower for today’s demands, average ride, uncomfortable seats for long drives.

Standard Equipment:

1.7 liter 127 hp inline 4-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual trans, front disc, rear drum ABS brakes, power steering, 100,000 miles between tune-ups, dual air bags and front side airbags, anti-theft system, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, am/fm/cd stereo, cruise control, power windows and door locks, fold down rear seatback, power moon roof with tilt,

Gas Stats:

32 City and 37 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $17,600.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com