Friday, October 01, 2004

Not An Alternative Fuel Vehicle
Frequent readers may recall a posting last month discussing my search for a new car. (See September 9 posting.) The search is over and I'm driving the new car, an Acura TL. While not as exotic as some of the choices I was considering, it incorporates a number of beneficial advances over my seven-year old Audi.

Although I mentioned many new technologies that I needed to test, such as continuously variable transmissions, mild hybrids, and advanced diesels, most of them were eliminated for entirely mundane reasons. For example, the VW Passat Turbodiesel was unavailable because of the model year changeover; all the '04s had been sold, and the '05s would not arrive for some time, coming after the '05 gasoline versions. Others dropped out of the running due to price (Mercedes E320 CDI) or poor reliability reports. And the early favorite, the Mazda RX-8, was only available with rear-wheel drive, which isn't very practical in snow and ice (traction-control hype notwithstanding.)

Although the only newish powertrain technology my new Acura sports is Variable Valve Timing, which gives it class-leading power with acceptable fuel economy, the car has many other nifty features. Built-in satellite radio and a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone handsfree link may not sound earthshaking, but they reflect an attitude towards technology that I find very appealing. And of course, don't dismiss styling and fun as selling points.

Although this discussion may sound quite tedious to someone who isn't shopping for a car, I think there's an important point to be made. I began my car search with as keen and positive an attitude about new powertrain technology as you are likely to find, yet I still ended up with a "normal car." At this point, the alternatives either weren't available (months-long waiting lists for new Toyota Priuses) or didn't constitute an attractive package for me. Had there been an Acura hybrid, I'd have paid up to get one, but the closest to that is the favorably reviewed Honda Accord Hybrid, which is not due until December. So even if I'm not representative of the average buyer, carmakers still have a ways to go to deliver the kinds of advanced technology cars that consumers will consider seriously.

I still plan to test-drive a Passat diesel once they come in--solely in order to report on it here--because it's such an interesting combination of styling, features, and fuel economy at a reasonable price point.

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