2010 Infiniti EX35 Journey

Friday, May 28, 2010
The 2010 Infiniti EX35 pushes the boundaries of car technology, introducing cutting-edge new features. A few years ago, the company began to show its tech chops with an excellent hard-drive-based navigation system. Then Infiniti offered a lane departure prevention system that would nudge the car back into its lane. The EX35 goes further, actually pushing back on the gas pedal if it is about to hit an object. This is a car with a sense of survival.
The car itself sits firmly in the crossover segment. In style and shape, it resembles its big brother, the Infiniti FX. But the EX is shorter in length by almost a foot and in height by 3.5 inches. That may not sound like much, but the EX reads as a much smaller vehicle in person, and could almost be called a hatchback. Whereas the FX works well in suburbia, the EX is an excellent city car.
2010 Infiniti EX35 Journey
2010 Infiniti EX35 Journey
2010 Infiniti EX35 Journey
2010 Infiniti EX35 Journey
Practically self-aware
One tech feature that particularly helps in the city is the around-view camera. Along with a rear-view, which includes trajectory and distance lines, our EX35 had side and front cameras that gave us a top-down look at the car.
Squeezing into a tight parallel parking spot, the camera view proved invaluable, letting us see the curb and the cars to the front and back, resulting in almost perfect parking. The front camera even showed trajectory lines as we eased the EX35 forward, edging up to the car in front. We could also switch the top-down view to a curb-side view, with a yellow line overlaid to help judge distance to the curb.
Infiniti calls the more radical technology in the EX35 Distance Control Assist (DCA). Using the forward-facing radar already in the car for the adaptive cruise control, DCA looks at traffic ahead, and applies the brakes and even pushes back on the gas pedal when cars ahead are stopped or slowing. For some, DCA will seem too intrusive. We used it extensively and found ourselves fighting the gas pedal pushback continually, as its idea of a safe stopping distance and ours differed in city traffic.
Still, we could see its usefulness. At times, as we looked to see if the next lane over was clear for a lane change, DCA slowed the EX35 in response to traffic ahead slowing. We also found it amusing to let it bring the EX35 to a stop as we approached traffic at a red light.
We could not, however, rely on the system to stop the car all the time. In city driving, the forward-facing radar seemed to get a fix on traffic ahead only about 50 percent of the time. We quickly learned to check the instrument cluster display for the little car icon that indicated whether it had a lock on the car ahead or not. DCA does not turn on by default; the driver must choose to turn it on by pushing a button on the steering wheel.
However, Forward Collision Warning, which also uses the car's radar, comes on automatically. This feature turns on an audible warning if it feels the EX35 is approaching stopped traffic too quickly. Less intrusive, the audible warning can be turned off.
More conventional is the adaptive cruise control, which, like systems from other automakers, matches the EX35's speed with slower traffic when the cruise control is set. We've grown to appreciate this type of cruise control, and made use of it while driving the EX35 on the freeway. Rather than fiddle with the cruise control or plan a lane change whenever we approached slower traffic in our lane, we just let the cruise control adjust our speed. If the car ahead was keeping up a reasonable pace, we settled in the lane.
Rounding out the driver aid technology is lane departure warning and prevention. Although we didn't encounter a situation in which these features would have proven useful, they can be invaluable on long road trips. When crossing a lane line without signaling, the car sounded an audible warning. If we let it continue to drift across the lane line, the EX35 nudged itself back into its lane by lightly braking the off-side wheels. When trying out this feature, it felt perfectly safe. IT never felt as though the car was about to make any violent moves.
Surprisingly, the one driver aid feature missing is one we've really liked in other cars: blind spot detection.
A time-tested engine
The 35 in the EX35 name signifies the 3.5-liter V-6 under the hood--a power plant that makes 297 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. This engine will be familiar to those who follow the Infiniti and Nissan brands, as it has seen use in a wide variety of models, and appeared on Ward's 10 Best Engines list for many years running.
This engine proves more than adequate for motivating the EX35. It always felt ready to get the car off the line quickly. During a run up to freeway speeds, the engine showed no signs of lagging, continuing to give the car push up to and beyond the legal limit. During one passing run on the freeway, we looked down at the speedometer and noticed that the car was already up to 90 mph, showing how effortlessly it takes off.
Infiniti mates this engine to a five-speed automatic, which seems like an aberration in this car. The FX35, which gets the same engine and is built on the same platform, gets a seven-speed transmission. Infiniti might have chosen the five speed to save weight or to fit in a smaller space, but the result is higher engine speeds on the freeway.
Those higher engine speeds also mean worse fuel economy. The EPA rates the Infiniti EX35 with all-wheel-drive at 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. We've always found that Nissan and Infiniti cars with the 3.5-liter V-6 struggle to maintain fuel economy over 20 mpg, and the lack of a sixth gear does not help the EX35. In our testing we averaged 19.1 mpg.
The transmission has sport and manual modes, which both suited the car's performance-oriented handling. We raced the car over mountain roads to get a sense of how the transmission responded in its different modes, and found sport the most satisfying. Manual gear changes suffer from torque converter lag, but the sport mode did a good job of keeping the engine speed high for power in the turns. It is not as aggressive as some we've tested, but was well-suited to the car's ability to corner.
Like most Infiniti vehicles, the EX35 uses stabilizer bars to keep it settled in the turns. It doesn't go through the corners perfectly flat, but doesn't exhibit much roll, either. Our car's all-wheel-drive gave it an edge, as we could feel it digging in and aiding grip--especially useful to us since we were testing on wet roads.
Solid cabin tech
The power train proved to be the least high-tech aspect of the EX35, as our car came equipped with an impressive raft of cabin gadgets. Infiniti's hard-drive-based navigation system uses good-looking maps and shows some landmark buildings in 3D, although it doesn't go to quite the extreme of Audi's 3D rendering in the Q5.
This navigation system includes traffic and weather, and dynamically routes around traffic jams. We found it worked quickly, and showed very useful route guidance graphics, along with voice prompts that pronounced street names.
A combination of a touch-screen and a hardware controller made destination inputs easy. Infiniti uses one of our favorite interfaces, its knob studded with directional buttons that allows quick maneuvering around the various screens.
Infiniti reserves 9.3GB of space on the navigation hard drive for the car's Jukebox feature. We were able to rip CDs to the hard drive using the CD/DVD slot, and the car's internal Gracenote database correctly tagged the resulting MP3 files. There is also satellite radio and good iPod integration in the form of a USB port to which we plugged in an iPhone. This system also allows Bluetooth streaming.
The Bose audio system in the car uses 11 speakers, including two subwoofers and a center fill. The sound quality is very good, although not up to the level of some premium systems by THX and Mark Levinson. It produces a strong sound with solid bass, but the highs are not quite as distinct as we would like.
In sum
We were suitably blown away by the 2010 Infiniti EX35's cabin tech. The traditional features--navigation, stereo, and Bluetooth phone system--were all high quality, but the addition of the driver aid features pushes this car over the top. We love the around-view camera system, and the Distance Control Assistance was at least intriguing.
Although the power train and suspension did not push the tech envelope, they are well-engineered to make the EX35 a very enjoyable car to drive. We appreciated the compact dimensions and could see it as a comfortable multi-use vehicle. As for design, the cabin tech interface is attractive and one of the most usable we've seen. As for the exterior, the car cuts a pleasing profile, and is unmistakably an Infiniti.
Spec box
Model 2010 Infiniti EX35
Trim Journey
Powertrain 3.5-liter V-6 engine
EPA fuel economy 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 19.1 mpg
Navigation Hard drive-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player MP3 compatible single CD/DVD player
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Onboard hard drive, USB thumb drive, Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio
Audio system Bose 11 speaker system
Driver aids Rear view camera, around-view camera, side-camera, front camera, lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, adaptive cruise control, distance control
Base price $37,400
Price as tested $44,695

Citroen DS3 DSport THP150 (2010)

Thursday, May 27, 2010
The French philosopher Roland Barthes wrote when the original Citroen DS was launched in 1955 that the car was now the “exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.” Believe me: nobody’s going to write that about the new Citroen DS3.
Of all the great French cars, the 2CV might be the Frenchest, for its simplicity and affordability, but the original DS was unquestionably the greatest for its extraordinary styling and technological advancement. And now it’s back. Or the name is, anyway. The Peugeot-Citroen group, rightly if belatedly recognizing that there’s money to be made in premium cars, and danger in the way the premium brands are moving in on its small-car customers, is developing a DS ‘line’; each a premium version of an existing model.
So what is the new Citroen DS3?

Citroen DS3 DSport THP150 (2010)
Citroen DS3 DSport THP150 (2010)
Citroen DS3 DSport THP150 (2010)
Citroen DS3 DSport THP150 (2010)
Citroen DS3 DSport THP150 (2010)
This DS3, based on the new C3, is the first; a DS4 and DS5 will follow. Citroen has also rightly recognized that much of the success of the Mini and the Fiat 500 is down to a strong sense of national identity and a link to a cool small car of the past. Unfortunately, the best small French cars were admirable and accessible but seldom aspirational: a new 2CV wouldn’t appeal much to a buyer tempted by an Audi A1.
One CAR colleague says it’s sacrilege. I don’t agree. Citroen owns the DS name and can do what it likes with it; as a means of communicating Frenchness it’s better than a tricolore on the roof and a horn that play La Marseillaise. I’d just question the marketing wisdom of inviting comparisons.
But let’s leave the row over the name aside and examine the car. The DS3 is a three-door, five-seat hatch with a decent-sized boot, Citroen calling attention to the Mini and 500’s failings in these regards. It offers 90 and 110bhp diesels and 95, 120 and 150bhp petrols with five and six-speed manuals, and an auto with the 120. We’ll come back to the tech later, as it’s by far the least interesting aspect of this car.
Is it cheap?
It’s going to cost you between £11,700 and £15,900 before options, and close to nineteen grand with them all – for a car derived from a Citroen C3, remember. Options are the most interesting aspect of this car, Citroen having – again rightly if belatedly – recognized that personalization is another key to the success of the Mini and the 500. So you can have the roof in black, white, a purplish-red or baby blue, the wheels and wheel centres in a ‘near-infinite’ range of colours, chrome or colour for the wing mirrors and sills, and a choice of eight dash colours, seven gearknob designs and umpteen fabrics and leathers.
Orange County Choppers offers its customers less choice. It’s going to create a nightmare in the factory, but the carmakers know that in an age of chronic congestion, spiraling oil prices and likely GPS-enforced speed limits we’re not going to get our motoring kicks from actually driving any more. So the DS3 offers to extend the delicious agony of specifying your car, and delight you every day with the knowledge that your car is entirely your own creation and probably unique.
There’s a flip side, of course; the possibility of mild disappointment, or indeed complete horror, when the car arrives and you realize that design is best left to designers and there’s a reason your Mum still picks your clothes, or the moment three years hence when you realize that the used-car trade doesn’t love that brown-blue-pink combo as much as you do, and that you’ve irredeemably kippered your residual value.
Our test car looked very of-the-moment in white with white wheels, and blue roof and wheel centres, but we wonder how good it will look when the moment has passed. It does draw attention to the DS3’s better features, like the ‘floating’ roof, the ‘shark’s fin’ body-coloured B-pillar, and the long rows of LED running lights in the chin that emphasize the car’s broad and low (for a hatchback) stance.
I liked the way it looks, as did most of Paris from the extraordinary attention it garnered, but you’ll decide for yourself. Inside, I liked the way it worked, but found the looks unremarkable. The seat support and position were fine, there’s masses of storage including a vast glovebox, decent visibility and relatively logical switchgear, most of it lifted straight from the standard C3. The attempts at premium-ness are admirable – lots of extra leather with the leather trim option, and a glossy lacquer finish to the entire dash – but are let down by some traditional Citroen wobbliness in places. You interact with this stuff every day; nothing’s going to annoy you, but nor will it deliver the constant tactile delight of an Audi.
We could only try the 150-badged petrol (actually 154bhp) with the six-speed box. Developed with BMW and made at Douvrin, this is a non-intercooled version of the 1598cc turbo unit that makes 175bhp in the Mini Cooper S and is used in varying states of tune elsewhere in the Peugeot, Citroen and Mini ranges. It’s torquey, flexible, refined and very linear, and the shift quality of the six-speed ‘box fair, though a little long and imprecise. Don’t confuse even this top engine option with a hot hatch though, especially one of Renaultsport’s current efforts. There’s enough power to entertain but not thrill, and any more would expose the chassis’ shortcomings.
As it is, engine and chassis are well-balanced. The ride is remarkably good given the top-spec 17-inch rims, with only the worst Parisian potholes sending much noise or shock to the cabin. Refinement is impressive; the engine is as well-isolated as the road, and the quick, fluid, fully electric steering is free of kickback but also free of feel. Good secondary ride on city streets translates into decent body control on open roads; push the motor harder and the chassis will start to roll and understeer earlier than a Mini, but the point of dynamic disintegration arrives much later than you’d think. You’ll enjoy driving this car briskly, but it doesn’t do fast.
If this praise sounds faint, it’s because the DS3’s general competence is compromised by the fact that it just doesn’t do anything new; its marketing is lifted straight from the Mini and its engineering from the C3 it’s based on. It won’t be as disastrous as the French car industry’s other recent attempts to do a ‘different’ small car – think 1007 or Pluriel – but only because it’s a much safer play. Frenchness alone can’t make it interesting, and we’d feel the same way even if it didn’t bear that storied name.

Toyota and Tesla strike $50m electric car deal

Toyota and Tesla strike $50m electric car dealToyota today agreed to buy a $50 million stake in Tesla Motors, the Californian electric car start-up. The two companies plan to cooperate on electric vehicles, batteries and other EV technology.
But Tesla's tiny! Why would giant Toyota want to buy into a minnow?
Seems that Tesla really does have ideas and practices that is interesting the major players. It already has a deal in place with Daimler, but Toyota plans to introduce pure EVs by 2012 and is now keen to tap into Tesla's knowledge.
Toyota has already sold around 2.5m hybrids since 1997. Tesla operates on a slightly smaller scale: it's sold just over 1000 Roadsters in North America, Europe and Asia since launch.
Toyota-Tesla deal: the bosses speak
'I sensed the great potential of Tesla's technology and was impressed by its dedication to monozukuri [Toyota's approach to manufacturing],' said Toyota president Akio Toyoda. 'Through this partnership, by working together with a venture business such as Tesla, Toyota would like to learn from the challenging spirit, quick decision-making, and flexibility that Tesla has. Decades ago, Toyota was also born as a venture business. By partnering with Tesla, my hope is that all Toyota employees will recall that venture business spirit, and take on the challenges of the future.'
Tesla founder Elon Musk said: 'Toyota is a company founded on innovation, quality, and commitment to sustainable mobility. It is an honour and a powerful endorsement of our technology that Toyota would choose to invest in and partner with Tesla. We look forward to learning and benefiting from Toyota's legendary engineering, manufacturing, and production expertise.'

2010 Honda Civic EX-L

Sunday, May 23, 2010
An absolute stalwart in the Honda line-up, the Civic maintains its popularity as a practical and quality economy car even after almost 40 years on the market. But, as the latest 2010 Honda Civic shows, popularity comes at a price. Offensive to none, the Civic is a perfectly average little car to which only the most particular person would turn up their nose.

2010 Honda Civic EX-L
2010 Honda Civic EX-L
2010 Honda Civic EX-L
2010 Honda Civic EX-L
The Civic received its last major update for the 2006 model year, acquiring smooth sides and hovercraft like overhangs. Honda did get a little radical with the instrument cluster, using a bilevel arrangement with the tachometer in the usual place, and a digital speedometer just below the windshield.
Nav needs update
Minor updates for the Civic EX-L model with navigation that we reviewed include the addition of a Bluetooth cell phone system and iPod integration. But the navigation system in particular highlights the aching need for Honda's next generation Civic, due to arrive as a 2012 model. Not only are the maps low resolution, with jaggy graphics, but the route guidance is poor and response time is slow.
This navigation system was introduced with the 2006 model, so don't expect external data sources with traffic and weather information, even though the car comes with satellite radio. The maps show in 2D only, on a touch-screen that also displays audio information.
We had no difficulty entering addresses into this navigation system, although there was a slight delay after each button push. Trying to follow its route guidance through dense urban streets proved frustrating, with insufficient graphics and voice prompts that seem to come only at every fifth turn.
Honda includes its excellent voice command system in the car, but its response time was also slow. Further, with the addition of the voice-operated Bluetooth phone system, the car gets two sets of voice command buttons, something we have previously complained about in models from Acura before the cabin tech was streamlined.
Using the Bluetooth phone system with a paired iPhone, the only feedback on the car's LCD is an informational graphic showing the location of the voice command buttons. You have to use voice command to enter digits, and the system does not import a phone's contact list.
Bluetooth was one add-on to this generation of Civic, as was iPod integration, which relies on a pigtail USB port in the console. Again, the system showed quite a bit of sluggishness as we selected albums or artists from the iPod library menu. The USB port will also work with USB mass storage devices.
As with the 2006 model, the only way to access the CD slot is to open up the LCD screen, which motors down. That single CD player also handles MP3 CDs. A more esoteric option sits near the CD slot in the form of a PC Card slot. With either a flash memory PC Card or an adaptor for an SD card you can play MP3s through the stereo
Bolstering the Civic's average nature, the EX-L trim version gets a six-speaker audio system. Not particularly loud, this system reproduced music well enough that we didn't mind listening to it, but neither did we look forward to cruising around in the car listening to music.
Sprightly engine
For power, the Civic EX-L uses a sprightly little 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, mated to either a five-speed manual or automatic, as in our car. We liked the way the Civic felt ready to leap forward as soon as we put it in drive. That eagerness almost made it difficult to control as we maneuvered our way out of a crowded parking lot.
Honda squeezes 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque out of this engine using its i-VTEC variable-valve-timing technology. Techwise, the power train is far from cutting edge, another average component of the Civic. Other automakers are trotting out turbocharged and direct injection engines, whereas five speeds on the gearbox seems primitive.
The Civic drives well enough; it is easy to shoot around town and reasonably comfortable at speed on the freeway. When we mashed the gas pedal for passing power, the transmission dropped down a gear and the engine made a tortured grinding sound as the revs climbed. The Civic is one of those cars with good acceleration up to about 30 mph, but it quickly loses wind.
Its handling is responsive, but not particularly sporty. Honda offers the Civic Si for that. The Civic displays the kind of understeer we would expect, and the body is prone to leaning in turns when pushed, despite the firm suspension.
The EPA puts the Civic fuel economy at 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. By contrast, we easily got over 40 mpg with the Honda Insight hybrid, which, similarly equipped, can be had for about $2,000 less than the Civic. Going by the numbers, the Insight seems a no-brainer compared with the Civic.
In sum
Reiterating the point, the 2010 Honda Civic EX-L is a fine but purely average car. It has some of the cabin tech features we look for in cars, but the performance is not all that good, and the aesthetics are definitely lacking. The Civic also faces very tough competition in its segment from cars such as the new Kia Forte, which offers a better Bluetooth phone system and iPod integration, although not navigation.
The Civic's 1.8-liter four-cylinder and five-speed automatic is also pretty average in the current car market. Fuel economy is good, but not great, with the company's own Insight hybrid besting it without sacrificing much in the way of power.
Spec box
Model 2010 Honda Civic
Trim EX-L with navigation
Powertrain 1.8-liter four cylinder engine
EPA fuel economy 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy Not recorded
Navigation DVD-based
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player MP3 compatible single CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio USB drive, PC Card, satellite radio
Audio system 160 watt six speaker system
Driver aids None
Base price $23,805
Price as tested $24,555

Honda's new mobility device is about people, not cars

Monday, May 17, 2010

For those with weakened leg muscles who don't need or want to use wheelchairs, there's a strange-looking new mobility device on the market, and Honda is its maker. As the Japanese multinational corporation (and the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles) writes on its Bodyweight Support Assist product page, "Most people think of Honda as an automobile company. But our main focus is and always has been human mobility."
Potential users can be assured that what Honda didn't spend on a catchy name campaign it did invest in the design. The Bodyweight Support Assist device reduces the load on leg muscles and joints by having users semi-crouch on a seat (that appears to serve the additional function of a jockstrap) with a small frame and shoes. The assisting force that comes from the user's own legs is directed toward that user's center of gravity, resulting in near-effortless balance in all sorts of positions and during all sorts of activities.
When the device first appeared on YouTube in November 2008, replete with a soft porn track in the background presumably intended to simultaneously relax and excite viewers, the general reaction was that the thing might just be too weird to ever be able to catch on. (And really, you do have to see it to believe it.)
But after testing its device, Honda has decided to go for it, and showcases the Bodyweight Support Assist in the National Design Triennial "Why Design Now?" exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York from May 2010 through January 2011.
Only time will tell if this thing ever takes off. But we can all rest assured that, in the beginning at least, seeing this thing in action will be its own reward.

Renault Zoë ZE electric car 'to cost £13,000' in UK

Friday, May 14, 2010
Renault Zoë ZE electric car 'to cost £13,000' in UK
Renault's new electric cars may turn out to be cheaper than we expected. We had been looking to a price comparable to modern turbodiesels, but a senior executive has told us that the new 2012 Zoë ZE city car will be priced from just €15,000.
'The Zoe will cost around €15,000, or £13,000 in sterling,' said global vice president of sales and marketing, Stephen Norman. 'And that will include the subsidy.'
Renault Zoë ZE electric car 'to cost £13,000' in UK
The UK Government has already pledged £5000 off full zero emissions vehicles. However, customers will have to lease the batteries and that cost is set to be between £85-£90 a month.
'The overnight charge will cost just a few pennies,' vowed Norman. 'These cars are serious – and they will be cheaper than an internal combustion engine vehicle.'
Electric cars, blah blah. They're not that clean if they're powered by coal, are they?
True, but Norman and his team of spinmeisters are one step ahead. 'We calculate that emissions would average 30g/km of CO2 – even with electricity production in the UK.'
The Zoë ZE is one of three electric cars being launched by Renault, as it and partner firm Nissan spearhead the charge into EVs.
Remind me of the madly named electric Renault line-up in full...
Based on the 2009 Frankfurt concepts, there will be three Renault battery cars at launch in 2011: the Fluence ZE four-door family car; the Twizy ZE slightly crazy small city car; and the Kangoo Van ZE commercial vehicle. The 4m-long Zoë ZE supermini Norman is talking about follows in 2012.
Renault Zoë ZE electric car 'to cost £13,000' in UK
Expect the electric architecture of cars like the Zoë to be available on the next batch of traditional small Renaults, too. The new rear-wheel drive Twingo coming in 2013 will offer EV ability from launch and the new Clio due in 2012 will offer battery power. Each will be denoted by the ZE badge, for zero emissions.
Renault Zoë ZE electric car 'to cost £13,000' in UK
The new 2012 Clio should be quite a car. It will also usher in the new Renault design direction, overseen by ex-Mazda styling chief Laurens van den Acker. It's said to be quite a departure from Patrick le Quément's preferred look in latter days. It'll have percolated across the entire range by 2014.