AN LA CAR COLUMN FOR YOUR PUBLICATION
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Mon, Feb 28, 2011
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Let’s face it, when it comes to being behind the wheel, the bulk of our driving is spent in rush-hour traffic. Like most people in Pasadena, I commute from one community to work in another. As consolation, I do get the opportunity to commute in vehicles favorably reviewed by the car buff magazines. The cars are great fun on the weekends, but not always the greatest cars for driving in rush-hour traffic. None of the magazine tests address the car's comfort in rush-hour traffic. Indeed, the cars reviewed are often equipped with manual transmissions. Never mind that 95 percent of drivers in the USA own and prefer vehicles with automatic transmissions. After having driven numerous vehicles this year and last, we’ve formed some definite opinions about the best and worst cars to drive while being stuck during the peak hours of traffic on the Pasadena Freeway. AUDI A8—Sporty luxury sedans have a lot to offer in rush hour traffic. They tend to be smooth, quiet, powerful, and equipped with first-class sound systems—all great attributes when being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. However, luxury sedans tend to be large, making lane changes a bit of a handful. What makes the new A8 special is its all-around visibility. The sporty controls of the new A8 make it feel like a smaller, more nimble car, which adds confidence in lane change maneuvers. CHEVROLET VOLT—It’s not a pure electric vehicle—and it won’t qualify for single-occupant HOV lane access stickers until 2012. But the 2011 Volt promises full-time electric drive for 25-50 miles (depending how you drive) before the back-up gas motor smoothly kicks in (wherein it starts acting like a hybrid). That’s far more than any hybrid gas-electric vehicle on the market today. FORD ESCAPE HYBRID —You may be wondering why there aren’t more SUVs on this list, and reason is because most have serious visibility issues—particularly in the right, rearward area. Some handle and accelerate very well, but the large size of the vehicles are handicaps during lane changes. The Ford Escape is an exception—and Ford makes a pure hybrid version that runs in full electric mode at low speeds. This pure hybrid is every bit as serene as the more popular hybrids, but with the height advantage many SUV owners seek and better visibility that most. HONDA FCX CLARITY—If you’re one of the fortunate few that have been approved by Honda to lease this production fuel cell-charged electric car, you have the best vehicle on four wheels for rush hour traffic. Paramount among the reasons for this ranking is its pure electric operation. During its remarkably smooth acceleration, all you hear is a faint electric whirring sound, kind of like when George Jetson is tooling around in his space mobile. With the FCX Clarity, however, you get an electric car that has the room and comfort of a near-full size sedan. HONDA ODYSSEY—Minivans and large SUVs are not the best vehicles for maneuvering lane changes in high density traffic. However, there are moments when families need such vehicles, and there is none better for rush hour traffic than the new 2011 Honda Odyssey. Besides the fact that it drives like a dream, the newest-generation Odyssey incorporates a reverse hockey stick design into its rearmost window pillar, allowing for unusually good visibility in the right rear section of the vehicle. MINI COOPER S WITH 6-SPEED STEPTRONIC TRANSMISSION—The tiny MINI Cooper is one of the best cars you can drive in rush hour traffic. It’s 360 degree panoramic glass provides fantastic visibility all around. Because of its short body, lane-changing opportunities are significantly more plentiful in this car. Add the turbocharged motor in the Cooper S and match it to the 6-speed BMW-spec Steptronic automatic transmission with sequential paddle shifters, and you’ve got a car (particularly in Sport mode) that can perform maneuvers on the highway that you wouldn’t dare do with larger, less agile, and more visibility-challenged vehicles. NISSAN CUBE—Compact, upright, and good visibility mark Nissan’s interpretation of the box car. Most noteworthy: The Cube has wrap-around glasswork around the right rear corner. While not pillarless in that region, it still has good visibility where most upright vehicles (e.g., SUVs) have the poorest visibility. The Cube is no rocket when it comes to acceleration, but Nissan’s CVT (continuously variable transmission) works better than expected. NISSAN LEAF—For 2011, Nissan brought out the Leaf—a pure electric vehicle with a range of around 73 miles (EPA rated). With an overnight charge from the comfort of your garage, it’s just enough for most commuter trips. As a zero emissions vehicle (ZEV), the Leaf will qualify for single-occupant HOV lane access stickers in California. With the silent operation of pure electric drive, the Leaf is one of the most serene drives on the market. VOLKSWAGEN GTI WITH DSG TRANSMISSION—The GTI is every bit as agile as the Cooper, but less noisy and a tad more luxurious—attributes that bode well for rush hour traffic. The all-around visibility is not quite up to the Cooper, but the short hatchback design still makes it one of the best for changing lanes in rush hour traffic. The ultra-quick DSG automatic transmission is even more responsive than the BMW Steptronic, and this direct-injection turbo-charged pocket rocket comes complete with some great paddle shifters. VOLVO C30 WITH GEARTRONIC TRANSMISSION—The littlest Volvo has one outstanding quality that catapults it onto this list: The best all-around visibility of any fixed roof automobile sold in this country. The visibility is even better than in a MINI Cooper. The C30 has a side rear window that seems to wrap around to the rear, virtually eliminating the dreaded right rear blind spot. The rear window is even more impressive, as it goes well below the belt line. Volvo makes a very good 2,5-liter five-cylinder engine, and both the T5 and R-Design come with the turbocharged version. The Geartronic automatic is the one to have for maneuvering in and out of rush traffic. THE BEST OF THE BEST: THE GOLDLINE—We reserved the best for last: Pasadena’s Goldline light rail beat the pants off of anything on this list. The commute may end up being longer, but the time goes by quickly—particularly if you use the time to read, nap, or work on your laptop (yes, this article was completed, courtesy of the commuter trains). If you daily commute runs anywhere close to these fine alternatives, you should give these seriously consideration as your main means of commuting to and from the office. - Roy Nakano ABOUT LA CAR LA CAR is an online magazine that started as an e-zine about the LA car culture, and has evolved into an automotive review service. While it remains deeply rooted in this West Coast motor city, LA CAR’s reports, reviews, and essays appear in newspapers, radio and television shows, and online publications that reach an audience far beyond Southern California. LA CAR’s body of work includes automotive product reviews, directories, consumer tips, information on car laws, and articles on car design, car performance, automotive history, the new hot rod culture, and other items of interest to the car enthusiast. LA CAR is located at lacar.com and on Facebook at facebook.com/lacar.com