Jul 302017

Despite predictions to the contrary, gasoline-electric hybrids have carved a niche in the automotive industry. According to hybridcars.com, the first to market in the United States in this segment was Honda with the 1999 Insight. Since then, the Insight has come and gone, twice, but Honda continues to bring hybrids to the lineup. I spent three months in the 2017 Accord Hybrid Touring for Latino Traffic Report and the most important thing to know is that this hybrid saves gas, in fact it’s the best in the segment.

Long-term test drives beg for a car to be driven, so I did, more than 5,000 miles over Texas highways, to small towns, like Burnet and Bryan, and big cities, like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. It’s a comfy ride over the long haul and nimble enough to scoot through traffic.

While its fuel economy is stellar, the hybrid’s styling also deserves a mention. Redesigned for 2016, the Accord took on a more sculpted, angular appearance, Marking the Accord’s fortieth anniversary, Honda introduced its sibling, the hybrid that benefits from the Accord’s new look while adding enhancements under the hood.

At the heart of its fuel saving ability is its two-motor hybrid system combined with an ultra-efficient 2.0-liter i-VTEC Atkinson Cycle engine and matched to an electric continuously variable transmission. It achieves a peak-combined output of 212 horsepower, the highest of any midsize hybrid sedan.

Initially, the test model proved to be more fuel efficient in cities than on highways, which is as is should be according to its EPA estimated fuel economy rating of 49 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 47 mpg on the highway. Over time, however, fuel economy on the highway also improved, especially with cruise control engaged. I averaged about 48.5 mpg in three months—city and highway combined. When it comes to cost, I spent more than $300 on gasoline.

I engaged the Econ button that can be used at all times, as well as an EV button that operates the hybrid on electric power for small distances, to maximize efficiency. For more power, I pushed the Sport mode button that gave the hybrid better acceleration.

Displays in the instrument cluster and center stack, including a seven-inch touchscreen, helped me maintain gas saving driving habits, like coasting and accelerating smoothly from a stop. While I found them to be helpful, they also raised a little anxiety when the fuel economy slipped.

All Accord Hybrids come with Honda Sensing, a suite of safety features with advanced technology like forward collision warning, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control that allows the driver to set a distance behind a vehicle that cruise control maintains, automatically.

I never grew accustomed to Honda’s LaneWatch camera, also standard, that can be engaged with the turn signal to view the blind spot on the right. The picture wasn’t that clear, especially at night, and focusing made it distracting. A blind spot monitor, available on other Honda models, would be preferable.

Creature comforts included Ivory leather seats, with heated seats in the front and back, navigation, dual-zone climate control (Honda seems to have addressed the air conditioning system’s habit of fading at stops in previous hybrids), a moonroof, and a multi-view back-up camera. I got used to the lack of knobs for volume control and put the CD player and the MP3 USB port to good use on several road trips.

Pricing for the Accord starts at $30,480. Pricing for the as-tested 2017 Accord Hybrid was $36,790.

Sí: The Accord Hybrid Touring achieved what’s expected of a hybrid, it saved gas, but it also came in a handsome package with nice creature comforts.

No: Honda LaneWatch just doesn’t have the intuitiveness of a blind spot warning system and the lack of clarity on the screen is distracting.

Jan 302017

As gas prices begin to creep up, consumers needn’t worry. No matter who heads the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the current administration, California, the number-one car market in the country according to the National Automobile Dealers Association, will require carmakers to reduce emissions, which means hybrids will continue to offer fuel-saving options for years to come. While they still make up just a fraction of new car sales, hybrids have grown in availability and configurations, from compacts to luxury sport utility vehicles. Latino Traffic Report will spend the next three months with one in particular, the all-new 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring.

It arrived in December and on a first impression, the Accord Hybrid is a looker. Honda redesigned the Accord for 2016 and the all-new hybrid, introduced last year, shares its sheet metal, plus it also benefits from its reputation. The top-selling car for the last three years in the United States, the Accord was just named “10 Best” for the thirty-first time by Car and Driver, an unprecedented honor for any vehicle. But as the name implies, the model I’m driving is a hybrid and its fuel-saving powertrain is its centerpiece.

The Accord Hybrid’s two-motor hybrid system combined with an ultra-efficient 2.0-liter i-VTEC Atkinson Cycle engine is matched to an electric continuously variable transmission. It achieves a peak-combined output of 212 horsepower, the highest of any midsize hybrid sedan.

Like many hybrids, it performs better in city traffic than on the highway—it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 49 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 47 mpg on the highway. I’m averaging about 47 mpg so far—I actually gained mileage on the highway once heading north on IH35.

To maximize fuel efficiency, there’s an Econ button that can be used at all times, as well as an EV button that when engaged, operates the hybrid on electric power only for small distances. When I need more power, I push the Sport mode button to give the hybrid a noticeable amount of giddy-up.

While the fuel economy will undoubtedly be its best feature, the Accord Hybrid also sits at the top of the Accord lineup, and the Touring trim is the top-of-the-line. As such, it comes very well-equipped, starting with Honda Sensing, a suite of safety features with advanced technology like adaptive cruise control that allows the driver to set and maintain certain a distance behind a vehicle,  forward collision warning, and lane keep assist.

Multiview back-up camera

Honda’s innovative LaneWatch camera can be engaged with the turn signal for views of the blind spot when changing lanes to the right. The picture isn’t that clear, however, and focusing can make it distracting. Though currently not available, a blind spot monitor would be preferable.

Creature comforts on this model include leather seats, with heated seats in the front and back, a touch sensitive seven-inch display screen with an additional display screen on top of that, navigation, a moonroof, and a multiview back-up camera. I’m getting used to the lack of knobs for volume control and tuning and while this model should come with SiriusXM satellite radio, it isn’t activated. It does, however, include a CD player—a happy surprise. I’ve put it and the MP3 USB port to use on road trips to San Antonio, Bryan, Houston, and Dallas.

Pricing for the Accord starts at $30,480. Pricing for the as-tested 2017 Accord Hybrid is $36,790.

Stay tuned for a final review later in the year.

May 062016

2015-07-27 pilot

A compact and midsize sedan sales leader among Latinos, Honda also competes handily in the sport utility (SUV) segment. For 2016, its biggest SUV, the Pilot, gets new looks and improved functionality, thanks, in part, to lots of buttons. Latino Traffic Report recently spent a week driving the top-of-the-line model, the Pilot Elite.

Manufactured exclusively by Honda Manufacturing in Lincoln, Alabama, this is the third generation of Honda’s popular SUV, considered a game changer when it was first introduced in 2003 for offering three rows of seating and being built on a car- rather than truck-like platform.

For 2016, it bears many improvements, starting with the shift knob, which is gone, replaced instead with a push-button PRNDL or shift-by-wire gear selector.

2016 Honda Pilot

Drivers engage Park, Drive, Neutral, and Sport functions by pushing a button while Reverse requires them to lift up on the tab. To avoid being engaged accidentally by a wandering pet or toddler, the brake pedal must be depressed to activate them.

The button-operated Intelligent Traction Management System offers different operating modes to improve performance. For the all-wheel-drive version, drivers can choose among Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand modes while the front-wheel-drive (FWD) model offers a choice between Normal and Snow.

Panoramic sunroof on the Pilot Elite.

Panoramic sunroof on the Pilot Elite.

SUVs in this segment with this kind of ride, handling, and versatility were built to appeal to families. For starters, it’s a people carrier with seating for up to eight passengers. A small but impressive innovation, the push button release to access and exit from the third row of seats, will save many fingernails.

With five available trim levels, the all-new Elite trim replaces the second row bench with captain’s chairs for easier pass-through to the back row. It also includes several new luxury features like a glass panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, and a heated steering wheel.

This SUV can carry cargo as well as people. More than three inches of added overall vehicle length expand the cargo length on the Pilot by 1.3 inches.

A direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 engine powers the midsize SUV. It can be matched to a choice of two available new advanced transmissions, a six-speed or a nine-speed. Technology like Variable Cylinder Management, a 300-pound reduction in vehicle weight on upper trim levels, and improved aerodynamics help the Pilot achieve the most fuel-efficiency offered in the midsize SUV segment—an EPA estimated 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 27 mpg on the highway with the FWD matched to the nine-speed transmission. Equipped with the all-new intelligent variable torque management all-wheel-drive system, the test model had a city/highway estimated fuel economy of 19/26 mpg. I averaged 22.5 mpg.

2015-07-27 pilot.displStandard convenience features on the Pilot include push button start, a multi-angle rearview camera, a 4.2-inch color display, five USB ports, and a 60/40 split third-row seat that folds flat.

The standard entertainment system begins with a five-inch (diagonal) display screen and conventional knobs and buttons to control the various functions on an AM/FM radio audio system and a USB port for other compatible devices. The system can play Pandora content from a compatible device via the USB port, or wirelessly, via Bluetooth.

The knobs disappeared on the test model entertainment system, replaced by an eight-inch capacitive touchscreen Display Audio connectivity interface. While it looked really slick, I found the constant need for tapping to tune the radio a bit distracting and the radio presets were limited to only twelve. I need at least 18 for XM satellite radio alone.

2015-07-27 20.pilotreearFamilies will appreciate the nine-inch rear entertainment system with DVD and new Blu-ray disc capability on the Elite.

Pricing for the all-new 2016 Pilot starts at $31,045. The as-tested price came to $47,300.

Sí: The Pilot’s new look is appealing as well as new innovations like the push button release for the second-row seat.

No: The entertainment system is a bit clunky and distracting without knobs.

Mar 072015

2014-12-03 HondaFit

Stretching a dollar never goes out of style, even when gasoline prices drop to new lows. Still very much married to the economy car market, Honda redesigned its popular subcompact hatchback, the Fit, for 2015.

As it did when first introduced in 2006 as a 2007 model, the new Fit continues to offer versatility and fuel economy in a cute affordable package. On a recent weeklong test drive of the Fit EX-L in Austin, the nimble subcompact slipped into the urban lifestyle like a glove.

Economy cars tend to be light on style and heavy on value but the Fit elevates its class with flair as well as function. On the outside, a roofline spoiler, slimmer headlights, LED taillights, and a segment-exclusive rearview multi-angle camera are standard on all Fits for a starting price just $100 more than the outgoing model.2014-12-03 fit-rear

Enhanced versatility begins with a larger interior that includes seating for five and 60/40 split rear seats that expand to 52.7 cubic feet of cargo room when folded flat.

A 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 130 horsepower commands all Fits. It can be matched to two new transmissions—a six-speed manual (available on LX and EX models only) or a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with G-Shift Control for improved fuel economy.

With the combination of the new engine and transmissions, the Fit has an EPA estimated fuel-economy rating of 29 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 37 mpg on the highway with the manual transmission, 33/41 mpg for the LX trim with the CVT, and 32/38 mpg for the EX and EX-L trim with the CVT. During the one-week test drive, I averaged 34.6 mpg.

Blue backlit instrument dials that turn green to signal fuel-efficient driving via the Eco-Assist System, further enhance fuel economy and the driving experience.

The new Fit also achieved its goal of winning the highest available crash-safety ratings—a five-star Overall Vehicle Score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) New Car Assessment Program.

Standard safety features include Vehicle Stability Assist with traction control, side curtain airbags with rollover sensor, and anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, and an expanded view driver’s mirror, among others.

2014-12-03 Fit-display

Seven-inch touchscreen display with next generation Honda Link

The Honda LaneWatch display, that displays a camera view of the right passing lane when the blinker is engaged, is standard on EX and above trims. It’s neat to look at, but a little distracting and not as effective as a blind spot alert system.

Standard creature comforts include air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth HandsFreeLink, a center storage console with an armrest, illuminated steering wheel controls, and an AM/FM/CD/ stereo with an MP3 auxiliary jack.

As the top-of-the-line model, the EX-L also includes the first-ever heated leather seating, a Smart Entry Push Button Start, a one-touch operated moonroof, and a seven-inch touchscreen Display Audio with next-generation HondaLink. While the touch-screen looks good, it’s not as intuitive as I would like—I still prefer knobs for volume and tuning control, which are available on the LX.

All Fits sold in the U.S. will be produced for the first time in North America at the all-new plant in Celaya, Mexico.

Pricing for the 2015 Honda Fit starts at $16,470. The as-tested price on the EX-L came to $20,5990.