Crusingthrough spring

Published on Thu, Apr 8, 2004
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Crusing through spring


by Jack Kintner

With gasoline climbing past $2 a gallon even in Blaine, people are looking at ways of saving fuel costs. Here’s a look at two cars that are called hybrids because they supplement their gasoline engines with electric motors. Both offer impressive mileage, over 50 mpg, and are quiet as butterflies. You can, for once, actually hear that impressive CD player that both offer as standard equipment.

Electric motors provide their best torque from a standing start (think of a hand tool like a drill or power saw), so the motor’s superior torque is used in acceleration, making both feel peppy and eager to go. The gasoline engine gives the primary power at freeway speeds, but both are always available for varying conditions.

One advantage the electric motor’s torque offers is moving from a standing start on steep hills, a potential clutch-killer in a regular car but effortless and smooth as a fresh peach in both these hybrids.

The motors in both are powered by nickel-cadmium battery packs, re-charged by the gas engine at cruise and by having the motors work as generators when the cars are coasting.
Both are easy to drive, do not need to be plugged in at night and while not quite up to blowing the doors off you neighbor’s Porsche will go from zero to 60 in about ten seconds.

When Blaine’s Jim Anderson switched from a regular car to a hybrid for his daily 19-mile commute to Bellingham he cut his fuel costs over 70 percent. “I’d been spending just under $170 a month for gasoline,” he said, “but all last February I drove a hybrid Civic, and cut that to $48.”
Anderson knows the car well because he sells them for Northwest Honda in Bellingham. “I only had that one for a month, as a demo,” he laughed, “but I’ve been kicking and screaming ever since to get it back.” Anderson said he got used to the tomb-like quiet of the vehicle right away, especially at traffic lights, “where both the (gasoline) engine and (electric) motor are turned off.”

Shifting into gear automatically re-starts the engine but the process is so quiet that most don’t notice anything beyond what Anderson called “that deafening silence. All the driver has to do differently is be willing to save money on gas.”

Power is provided by a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine coupled with a platter-shaped electric motor that adds less than three inches to the length of the power plant. Together they provide about 93 horsepower for the car and give it a range of between six and 700 miles at an estimated mileage of 46 mpg in city driving and 51mpg on the highway. The hybrid’s sticker price is $20,140 with a stick shift and $1,000 more with an automatic.

While the Honda hides its innovative power train in a nicely-equipped but garden-variety Civic, Toyota’s stylish Prius lets you know immediately that you’re in a very different kind of car.
Rick Wilson, whose Wilson Motors is one of Bellingham’s oldest dealerships, walked up to his Prius demo which promptly unlocked itself. He climbed in and pushed a button to start the electric motor. “All you have to have is the key with you, in your pocket or purse,” he said, “and you’re good to go.”

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