Folks of a certain age, gearheads, and oldies fans will remember the Beach Boys singing, “She’s real fine, my 409,” referring to Chevy’s 409-cubic-inch engine from the early 1960s.
Those were the days of big engines; today is the day of the small engine. We’re living in a time when carmakers, faced with ever-increasing demand for greater fuel economy, are building more efficient gas engines to market alongside diesels, hybrids, and EVs (electric vehicles).
So will someone soon be singing the praises of Ford’s 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine?
We’ll find out when Ford brings the 2014 Fiesta to the US market. At first, it will have a 1.6-liter four-banger rated at 32 miles per gallon in combined driving.
However, soon to follow will be the 1.0-liter EcoBoost option. Actually, it’s .999 of a liter or, converting to cubic inches, 61, a little more than one-seventh the size of that 409. The little-engine-that-can produces 123 horsepower and is mated to a five-speed manual transmission.
Because fuel economy is such a key sales factor in the subcompact class, this version, with a fuel economy package, is getting some best-in-class claims as it has EPA certification for 32 miles per gallon in city driving, 45 on the highway, and 37 miles per gallon combined.
However, the performance factor usually outweighs the economy available with extreme conservative driving, so don’t be surprised if buyers give this Fiesta reviews such as, “The car is a blast to drive but I’m not getting the advertised mileage per gallon….”
Still, it’s interesting to see how manufacturers are able to squeeze hybrid-like miles per gallon figures out of gas-powered vehicles.
The Fiesta will be available as a four-door sedan and what Ford calls a five-door—the term hatchback seemingly now consigned to the same scrap heap as the station wagon.
Kia’s Ad Campaign
Some of Kia’s television commercials have been are memorable.
The Soul has the Hamsters, now reinvented in a slimmed down, take-me-anywhere form to promote that vehicle’s redesign.
And the Optima has NBA star Blake Griffin who literally leapt into You Tube fame by jumping over an Optima to win the league’s Slam Dunk contest in 2011.
Kia is staying with Griffin—and big-time international sports—in its advertising.
Griffin has teamed with comedian Jack McBrayer in a series of eight Optima commercials as “The Griffin Force.”
As a media friend once noted asked after I described a funny commercial I’d seen over the previous weekend: “But do you remember what product it was promoting?”
We’ll see if Kia can Optimize this relationship.
Fuel Cells (con’t.)
Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I can’t help yearning for the day that hydrogen-powered vehicles will cut our dependence on the gas pump the same way the cellphone has set us free from the telephone line.
In 2007, General Motors built a fuel-cell-powered Chevy Equinox as part of a 119-vehicle test fleet. That fleet has test-driven more than three million miles.
The Equinox in question started out as a fleet vehicle at Walt Disney studios in Burbank, CA. Later, it was transferred to the engineering development department where 10 different engineers drive it.
Recently, it passed the 100,000-mile mark, a benchmark for reliability.
But it’s those same engineers’ calculations that are interesting. They figure that the vehicle has saved 5,260 gallons of gasoline. Using a figure of $3.50 per gallon (cheap by California standards), that’s $18,000 in savings.
So is there a future for fuel cells?
GM has ongoing collaborations with the US Army, and Honda and is building a Fuel Cell Development Lab in Pontiac, Michigan.
Todd Goldstein, a senior project engineer for GM, routinely drives the Equinox from the LA suburb of Torrence to other facilities in Oxnard, Santa Clarita, Victorville, Palm Springs, and San Diego.
“It’s an attention-getter everywhere I go,” he says. “People are enthusiastic about the technology.”
But what of the unspoken infrastructure problem of building refueling stations?
Drivers in their mid- to late-80s have lower overall crash rates than drivers in their early 20s and only half as many as teenagers, according to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The downside of this number is that when elderly drivers do crash, they have a higher fatality rate.
“Safe driving is a function of ability, not age,” says Jake Nelson, director of traffic safety advocacy and research at AAA in Washington, DC.
Some older drivers can self-evaluate their abilities.
Many of us likely know an older driver who has stopped driving at night because of vision issues. Visual aptitude accounts for much of safe driving—some say it’s 90 percent of our ability to see signs, pedestrians, and other vehicles in low-light conditions.
But elders face other issues. Cognitive ability is important, too, being able to recognize where you are and not mistaking gas and brake pedals.
The same goes for mobility. Strength and coordination is part of safe driving as are flexibility and the ability to drive without pain.
Overlooked, however, are the many medications drivers take today—and not just elders.
AAA has a service, RoadwiseRx.com,where people can enter a list of daily medications to see whether they are risking negative drug interactions.Bill Griffith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.