Honda preps Fit hybrid

The Fit may be getting a bit fitter.

Honda has announced plans to introduce a hybrid version of its popular Fit subcompact car at the upcoming Paris Auto Show, according to USA Today. The car, known as the Jazz in Europe, has been a hit for the automaker both in the U.S. and overseas.

One of the key advantages to the Fit, and smaller cars in general, is fuel economy. A hybrid version of the vehicle would mean even greater fuel economy than the 28 city and 35 highway miles per gallon currently attained by the base 2010 model.

Yet the news source speculates that the Fit hybrid, currently only a concept, may not see the light of day in the U.S. because of “slim profit margins” and a generally lackluster attitude among consumers toward hybrids with electric vehicles like the Leaf on the way.

Drivers shopping for a vehicle may want to consider the Fit as an agile subcompact option with great fuel economy. Though the car already starts out affordable, drivers can save even more by shopping on the used car market.

Honda Accord will see greater fuel economy in 2011

A minor facelift to the current Honda Accord model will see the car achieve a greater fuel economy in the 2011 model year, according to the company.

USA Today reports that while the Accord is still two years away from a full redesign, Honda decided to make a few minor upgrades that will give the car between one and three extra miles per gallon. While the model has yet to be rerated by the EPA, the current 2010 version gets 21 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway for a combined rating of 25.

The automaker says that low rolling-resistance tires and better aerodynamics allowed the vehicle to achieve the increase. In addition, Honda has made some minor changes to the interior and exterior, including a new grille, new taillights and the relocation of some instrument panels.

Honda also plans to introduce an “SE” package for the car that will be priced a bit higher than the base package. The Accord SE’s features have not been fully announced, but Honda says leather upholstery will be one of the options included.

The Honda Accord is a classic car with a long shelf life. Drivers should be able to find plenty of used Honda Accords on the used market at a reduced price compared to their brand new counterparts.

Fiesta delays don’t dampen enthusiasm

After massively hyping its new subcompact, the Fiesta, Ford‘s momentum was derailed somewhat after a parts issue and Hurricane Alex delayed delivery of vehicle pre-orders.

However, those who bought the car aren’t disappointed with the quality of the vehicle, according to customers interviewed by the Detroit Free Press.

“It doesn’t feel like a small car, and it drives like a sports car,” said Deborah Melvin, a teacher from North Carolina.

“It’s definitely worth the wait,” said Amy Spradlin, 19, who bought a black Fiesta hatchback with plum seats. “It’s a great college car, and it’s a great car if you are on the go.”

Ford’s heavy use of social media to promote the vehicle seems to have worked. On Facebook groups and other websites, drivers were able to join the “Fiesta Movement,” a community built around love for the car. And although many of the pre-order customers are frustrated, especially since their custom-built orders are taking longer than regular models, those who have received the car tell the others not to worry.

“I tell them just be patient. It’s worth waiting for,” said Sue Moon, of Pennsylvania, whose white Fiesta with custom graphics was delayed for months.

The Fiesta is already an economic option, but drivers may wish to wait for the car to hit the used auto market in order to take advantage of even more savings.

Nissan to begin taking Leaf orders

Nissan has announced that it will begin taking orders for its upcoming all-electric Leaf, a highly-anticipated vehicle that, along with the Chevy Volt, is expected to determine how alternative fuel is accepted by the general public.

While the company has already received 18,000 reservations at the price of a refundable $99, those do nothing more than hold a buyer’s spot for the vehicle. To actually place the order, buyers will need to go through all the options at their dealer, according to Reuters.

One of the options is a $700 “fast charger” that can reportedly bring the vehicle to 80 percent charge in 30 minutes, expected to be popular with drivers.

The Leaf will be rolled out in Arizona, Tennessee, California, Oregon and Washington before expanding to Hawaii and Texas in early 2011 and eventually the entire country by the end of next year.

Buyers who are interested in the all-electric vehicle may want to wait until it hits the used car market, as the current cost of the technology is rather expensive, but may decrease in the next few years.

Nissan to show off new models at LA Auto Show

Nissan has announced that it will debut five models, including one from its luxury Infiniti line, at the upcoming LA Auto Show.

According to Automobile Magazine, a production-spec Leaf will be unveiled for the first time. The highly-anticipated electric car has only been shown with unofficial parts that will not be in the final factory order. The car is set for a December release.

The other vehicles are all-new. The Ellure concept car is an aggressively styled four-door coupe designed to compete with upper-echelon vehicles like the Mercedes CLS-Class. Nissan will also show the Quest Minivan, which has only been glimpsed in teaser photos at this point. The last car from the Nissan line is the Murano CrossCabriolet, which Nissan says is the first all-wheel drive crossover convertible in the world, and expected to be an option on the Murano in 2011.

Infiniti meanwhile, is set to debut its M35 hybrid sedan, which the automaker has hyped by saying it will deliver “V-8 performance with four-cylinder fuel economy.”

As brands introduce new models, older ones get pushed to the used car market, where they can be found at a reduced price. Considering the number of changes planned for Nissan in the next few years, drivers may want to consider shopping for a used Nissan the next time they need a car.

Mercedes plans future vehicles

Mercedes is set to debut a slew of new vehicles over the next few years, including the first appearance of the B-Class hatchback in the U.S.

While not overhauling its entire lineup over the next few years like some automakers, Mercedes has announced a variety of new models, many of which will be options on existing models – convertibles or coupes on some sedans, for example.

According to Automobile Magazine, the heart of the new lineup will be the B-Class, a popular model in Europe and overseas. The compact hatchback is expected to come with a number of trim levels, including sedan, convertible and coupe options. Mercedes has also announced that it will bring an AMG high-performance version stateside eventually, featuring a supercharged V6 engine.

The CLS-Class, which many credit with kicking off the “four-door coupe” phenomenon among luxury automakers, will see its second generation redesign debut this September. Other models, like the next generations of the C-Class, S-Class, and CL-Class, are expected to undergo thorough redesigns by 2013.

As models are replaced, older versions hit the used car market, meaning drivers may be able to get some great deals on used Mercedes in the near future.

Back-to-school used cars

It’s back-to-school time, and while most teenagers will likely stamp around the house upon hearing the word, their temperament is likely to be tamed when Mom and Dad hand them the keys to a brand new car.

Well, maybe not brand new. Many families opt to purchase used cars for their children when the time comes, as they are less expensive than newer models and will likely only be driven for a few years at most. However, that doesn’t mean the car doesn’t have to be nice, and parents should carefully consider a student’s needs when it comes time to choose.

Kelley Blue Book, the company that sets most used car values, recently revealed their picks for back-to-school cars. While some of the picks were new, half of them were older models that parents can likely easily find at their local used car dealer or auto auction. Here’s a few that made the grade.

Coming in at number 8 was the used Ford Crown Victoria from 2006. While Kelley acknowledges that the Crown Vic isn’t the first car that comes to mind when one thinks of the youth demographic, it defends the decision, citing the Crown Vic’s utility (it is the top choice of cab drivers and police officers) and roomy interior compared to many budget compact cars. Safety, another big concern for parents, generally improves with larger cars, and the Crown Vic’s long wheelbase and wide body offer that in spades.

In the fourth spot was the 2008 Pontiac Vibe. Kelley recommended this hatchback for students involved in lots of extracurricular activities, as the extra trunk space allows students to transport sports equipment and band instruments. It also helps for students that it looks sleek and stylish. Parents should be aware that the Vibe was co-developed by Toyota and GM, and drivers will find almost the exact same features on a used Toyota Matrix.

But the top spot was reserved for a perennial best seller, a used Honda Civic from 2006. Kelley called the model “the smartest car purchase you can make,” reasoning that the Civic has everything a student wants – affordability, reliability, space for cargo and books, stylish while also being extremely easy to sell once the kid heads off to college (yet it’ll still be around to hand down to younger siblings).

Brabus tricks out “iBusiness” Mercedes

Custom parts maker Brabus, best known for its suspension systems, brakes and bodywork, has unveiled its latest creation, a custom Mercedes S600 decked out with Apple gear.

The “iBusiness” Mercedes features a slew of Apple products that have turned the backseat into a fully-functional office environment. Two iPads connected to Bluetooth keyboards are suspended from the driver’s and passenger’s seats, along with a drop down screen on the roof connected to a Mac Mini computer. Brabus has also wired the entire car to have Internet connectivity anywhere, and polishes the whole package off with touches like a 64 GB iPod integrated in the front and wireless controls for the car’s existing functions, like GPS and radio.

And because it’s Brabus and not Geek Squad behind the modifications, they couldn’t resist doing a little work under the hood: this office will scream down highways, powered by a 6.3-liter V-12 beast of an engine that cranks out 750 horses.

The company has announced that owners of new and used Mercedes S-Class vehicles can contact the company to have their car receive a similar treatment – for a price, of course.

EPA unveils new fuel economy grading system

In an attempt to make consumers more receptive to the environmentally-friendly vehicles, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new stickers for alternative energy and electric vehicles that will break down the comparison between those cars and gas-powered vehicles.

With the rise of plug-in hybrids and gas/electric mixes, fuel economy can be confusing. The new stickers assign letter grades, ranging from A+ to D, for each vehicle in addition to miles per gallon and other environmental ratings, according to CNET. Electric and alternative fuel vehicles get further information that breaks down how long it takes to charge, what the miles per gallon equivalent is, and how much a user can expect to save on average over the purchase of a similar gas vehicle.

The new labels also have a scannable barcode for use with smartphone apps. A user can point his or her phone’s camera at the image in order to be taken to the EPA website, where more information can be gathered.

Fuel economy is important, but hybrids and alternative energy vehicles can be expensive. Before making the switch, drivers may want to wish for the cars to hit the used car market in order to take advantage of increased savings.

BMW M3 Coupe vs. Ford Mustang GT

When buying a new or used car, some of the most important information lies in the vehicle’s specifications. These numbers – things like horsepower, torque and ride height, ultimately determine how well a car will perform on the road.

Of course, a driver can research all the numbers they want, but it won’t mean anything until they get the car out on the road. Often, a car performs better or worse than the numbers initially indicate. The driving experience can also be highly subjective. One driver may want a smooth ride above all else, while another likes to feel the seat vibrate as they open up the engine. Many factors contribute to the right car.

American muscle car fans will contend that nothing beats sitting behind the wheel of a Mustang. BMW purists, meanwhile, will tout the blazing speeds and smooth rides of an M3 Coupe. For years, Ford‘s signature car couldn’t compete with its European rival. But now, with a complete redesign to the Mustang line, MotorTrend felt it was time to take a 2011 Mustang GT to the track and test it against the BMW M3 Coupe.

With both equipped with V8 engines, the Mustang slightly edges out the M3. While the Coupe boasts 2 more horsepower (414 to 412,) the Mustang has a better power-to-weight ratio (8.8 “pounds per pony” to the M3’s 8.6), meaning its horses do a bit more work and make it slightly faster. Although both cars posted a 4.4 second 0-60 time, the Mustang beat the M3 in longer straight races. Yet that means nothing on an actual track, with turns involved. This battle couldn’t be settled just yet.

To keep things fair, the cars can be driven in two different styles. Inexperienced drivers will opt for electronic stability control and other assisted driving implements on, while pros will turn all those off and do things manually. So the news source had two different drivers attempt lap times at the track – the unprofessional automotive writer and a racing champ, Randy Pobst.

In the end, the cars were evenly matched. The “average” driver posted a faster time with the Mustang by about half a second, while the pro favored the M3 by .09 seconds. The M3 costs a fair bit more, but preference ultimately comes down to what a driver is looking for from a vehicle – both are mean machines capable of handling any track.

Either way, the prices on these bad boys will set drivers back a bit, so they may want to wait a few years until the models hit the used car market before making a decision. But if drivers want to get behind the wheel now, they can likely find a late-model used Ford or BMW at their local dealer today.