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Monthly Archive:: May 2011

Family Vacations in the Family Truckster

Here’s the first installment of our “long term” updates of the 2011 Honda Odyssey.  For our first trip, we ventured from Chicago to Louisville, KY, with a stop in Urbana, Illinois, for the Memorial Day weekend.  We got to eat at my favorite college restaurant in Urbana, the Courier Cafe.  Dagwood sandwich (no may0) and a Green River phosphate for me!  In Louisville, we visited with my mom, my sister and her family (and their cats) and mostly lounged by the pool.  We also had a night out with the adults at Eddie Merlot’s on Fourth Street in Louisville and got to take in some of the Abbey Road on the River concert from our 24th story hotel room at the Galt House.  The kids had fun and the Odyssey made the drive a breeze.

 

The wireless headphones are very handy.  You can select from various sources, audio CD, DVD, radio, XM, bluetooth audio, AUX input, etc.  Each headset can have its own source as can the cabin.  Very nice indeed!  We’ll play with the split screen video next time.  I love the blind spot indicator, as you can see in the video below.  I also made good use of the parking sensors and backup camera quite a bit this first weekend.  On the way back we had 3 adults and 3 kids, having removed the 8th seat for an aisle before we left Chicago.  Only one carseat was in use, a Britax Frontier 85 SICT for my 6-year old.  Overall, it’s hard to imagine a nicer vehicle for a road trip with kids.

Fuel economy was roughly 25 mpg on the trip there.  It was 23mpg on the trip back.  A bit lower than I expected and also lower than my 2006 Odyssey that averaged 25-26mpg on the highway.  Of course, it was only one trip and not really enough data until we take some more road trips this summer.  The only issues I had were some errors about “low battery” whenever I turned the car on or off, but those went away after a day.  I’m told the van had been sitting for a while and that probably caused it.  Also, the coolbox didn’t seem to cool all that well.  I assumed you just hit the button to turn it on but even after over a few hours of driving it didn’t seem to have cooled much.  I’ll have to read the manual!

 I previewed the 2011 Honda Odyssey here and here and Kecia had a full review here.

Upcoming Reviews and Honda Odyssey Q&A

We’ve got a lot of things in our queue for the next month or two.  Please stay tuned for carseat reviews of the Britax B-Safe, Bubble Bum, Cybex Aton, Graco Snugride 30, Safety 1st Comfy Carry Elite Plus, Safety 1st Go Hybrid and updates on the Britax Frontier 85 SICT.  We also hope to have auto reviews of the Acura MDX, Volvo XC60 and long term updates of the 2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite.

Speaking of the Odyssey, I’ll also soon have a Q&A thread at Car-Seat.Org forums where I will try to help answer compatibility and seating questions over the summer in advance of the 2012 models.  It’s no secret we really like the Odyssey for it’s top notch safety and family seating flexibility.  I previewed it here and here and Kecia had a full review here.  Over the summer, I’ll also be doing short blog updates every couple weeks or so with videos and comments from our road trips and everyday use.

The Joy of Hybrids: Part II

Continued from Part I

No, you don’t need a fancy new super-high-mileage car to protect the planet for your kids and grandkids.  You don’t even need a new car at all.  Like I said in Part I, just accelerating very gradually and coasting when possible, especially as you approach a stop, can do a lot.  There are other things you can do, too.  Keep your car tuned up; use fuel efficient oil grades if allowed by the manufacturer and replace dirty air filters.  Keep the tires inflated to at least the recommended pressure.  Drive at a reasonable speed; above 60 or 65mph, you lose a lot of fuel just fighting the air the faster you go.  Don’t keep unnecessary cargo in the vehicle.  Not only can it be a flying hazard in a crash, but heavy objects cost you fuel as well.  These things alone can easily save you 10% in fuel, probably more.  That may not sound like a lot, but if everyone would just do these inexpensive and simple steps, we could cut oil use and emissions by staggering amounts on a national level.  The EPA has more tips here.

When you are buying a car, buy the smallest and most fuel efficient model that meets your needs.  Yes, that’s a big shift in how we think about cars and associate them with freedom, but it really is the biggest thing we can do to fight high fuel prices, dependence on foreign oil and to cut pollution and carbon emissions.  When selecting that car, the truth is, most of us won’t ever tow.  Many of those that do need to tow simply don’t need the towing capacities of 10,000 or even 7,500 pounds offered by the big, inefficient engines found in pickup trucks and large SUVs.  Despite powerful marketing, most of us don’t actually need AWD or 4WD.  In many urban and suburban areas without a lot of hills, people just don’t get stuck in the snow or ice, and the ones that do are usually the idiots in AWD or 4WD vehicles who forgot that their mighty truck doesn’t stop any better than anything else.  I’ve never once been stuck in the 2WD cars I’ve driven around the Chicago area for 25 years.  A good set of winter tires is a lot more useful for most people than AWD and they help with stopping, something AWD can’t do.    Most of us also don’t need to do 0-60 in 7 seconds, or even 8 seconds.  That base level trim of that new vehicle that does 0-60 in 9.5 seconds, tows 2,500 pounds and doesn’t have AWD gets 20% higher fuel economy around town than the rugged trim level you want, but don’t actually need.  For many buyers who absolutely must have the room of a full-size SUV, a top-rated minivan can get almost 30% more fuel economy, has better crash test results and actually has just as much practical cargo space and seating flexibility, if not more.

That long commute you do every day?  There’s a simple way you can cut your fuel use and emissions in half, at the very least.  Use public transportation.  Or carpool.  Sure, there are excuses.  It can cost you a few minutes for extra stops.  You might have to make small talk.  Maybe you enjoy breathing smog?  But the fuel savings and ease on traffic congestion would be considerable if people actually did carpool.  Instead, those of us in hybrids, clean diesels, electrics and high-fuel-economy sub-compacts give a smug shrug when we see all those gas guzzlers not even getting 15mpg, sitting in stopped traffic with everyone else.  Even the Highlander Hybrid, the most fuel efficient 3-row SUV and recently top rated by a leading consumer magazine, could do better in terms of fuel economy.  Why don’t they offer a less expensive version with a smaller engine and 2WD?  Someday, when we start choosing to save gas as a nation, consumer preferences will start forcing auto makers to stop increasing the “power” specs each year, and start increasing fuel economy, instead.

Smaller, lighter vehicles not only tend to be more fuel efficient, but less mass on the road means less energy in crashes.  Plenty of small cars are getting top crash safety ratings today, too.  Combined with driving safer to maximize fuel economy and minimize harmful emissions, that leaves all of us safer.    There’s one final joy.  When you drive any fuel efficient vehicle, you earn something that owners of gas guzzlers only receive through hypocrisy.  The right to sincerely complain about gasoline prices, air pollution, global warming and foreign policy regarding oil-rich nations.  You can not only complain, but you will know that you are less a part of the problem and more a part of the solution.  That alone can be worth the entry price, which for a new car, can be under 14k for a safe and efficient non-hybrid model like the slick new Ford Fiesta (29 city, 38 highway), or under 17K if you opt for one with the Super Fuel Economy package that adds a couple more mpg!

Bubble Bum Unwrapping

Sitting on my doorstep this morning was a bright shiny purple package. The cable guy actually pointed it out to me and I said, “Oh! It must be my Bubble Bum!” and he laughed and said, “Yep,” looking at me like the crazy woman just out of the shower that I was (OK, when was the last time *you* ever had a cable guy come to your house early?). Here’s the preview :).

The Joy of Hybrids: Part I

I’ve been driving a minivan for about a decade.  I’ve eyed those sports and luxury cars at auto shows or as they whiz past me on the road.  I’d love to have a Dodge Challenger R/T, an Audi A4 Quattro or perhaps a BMW 650i convertible.  With limitations due to kids and budget, they just didn’t quite ever work into the picture.  Instead, lesser-auto-equipped guys like me have to compensate with stupid driving.

For most, that means aggressive driving.  Jackrabbit starts in suburbia at one stoplight.  Speed up to 60mph in a 45mph zone for half a mile, then stop at the next light.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Swerving around one driver doing ‘only’ 5-10 mph over the limit, only to be blocked a few moments later by the next one.  Frequent changes to the other lane that is moving faster, only to have it slow down, prompting a switch back.   Tailgating within a few feet of someone’s bumper, to let the driver ahead know that they should be going even faster, then once they move out of the way, doing the same to the next car, and so on.  Frequent horn use, to make sure everyone knows how their driving didn’t meet your expectations.  Constant gear changes, even with an automatic, for no other reason than it’s there.  Road Rage.  All dangerous stuff, to be sure, and while guys may be the usual suspects, the same behaviors affect both genders.  For what?  To shave literally just a couple minutes off of a 45 minute commute.

A step down from that are passive-aggressive drivers, whose efforts are mostly to annoy other drivers on the road.  I qualify as a subset of that group, something I might call “passive anti-aggressive” drivers.