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Test Drives for Ladies Only


Female automotive journalists used to be a rare breed but happily, we’ve come a long way since then.

Last month, 23 congregated in Los Angeles for a ride-and-drive arranged just for women. Organized by public relations maven Christine Overstreet, the inaugural Heels and Wheels event was a breath of fresh air, offering the journalists a respite from “the boys,” and manufacturers the chance to showcase their products, as well as their female product specialists, who also attended.

Landing in Los Angeles we drove to Palm Springs where more test drives took place the following day. The first to arrive, I had first choice among the eleven vehicles available to take me to Palm Springs. The Honda Civic was the top-selling car for Latinos in 2010, so considering the importance of the lineup in this market, I chose the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid. I was joined by Gina Jorge, assistant manager, Honda public relations.
From the moment I saw the all-new Civic Hybrid (part of the redesigned Civic lineup), and sat inside it, I recognized  subtle changes inside and out with Honda’s knack for fit and finish maintained, giving the vehicle the feel of being a step up from economy class.

Considered basic transportation, economy vehicles tend to focus on function over form, so I really appreciate any sign of creativity in this segment. My favorite feature on the Civic Hybrid, and best example of such, is the two-tiered instrument cluster, or intelligent Multi-Information Display. Unique to Honda, it flashes in three different shades to indicate fuel conservation. When coasting, it displays a green backdrop, when accelerating it fades from green to teal and when you really give it some gas, it shows bright blue. You can also earn leaves for fuel-efficient driving.

The hybrid’s estimated fuel economy is 44 miles per gallon across the board—highway, city, average—but I managed to earn 46 mpg. Sweet!

Also improved is the air conditioning, which no longer loses its cool at a stop light. Powered by a new lithium ion battery that replaces the nickel-metal hydride battery, the hybrid also uses a larger engine than before, the 1.5-liter four-cylinder. It did struggle a bit on inclines, even in power mode, but perhaps I was too focused on maximizing fuel economy to risk pushing the throttle?

The as-tested price came to $27,500.

While I spent the most time in the Civic, the urban routes we drove in Palm Springs did allow a couple more models to shine, namely, the 2011 Hyundai Tucson and the 2011 Kia Optima Hybrid.

I forgot how well-equipped the Tucson is, and how stylish and comfortable. Considering all its safety features, creature comforts, and the genius ten-year powertrain and five-year bumper-to-bumper warranty—I met the woman who thought it up, Joni Gray, at the event—and that it offers all this for under $30,000, the Tucson has become a heavy contender in this segment and understandably so.

The Civic Hybrid's competition at this event, the Optima Hybrid, also performed well, in fact, it had a bit more power. Like the Civic Hybrid, it featured a graphically pleasing display—you can even earn an Eco score—but it doesn’t match its fuel economy, which is estimated at 35 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway. On my short drive, I earned 27.3 mpg.

The as-tested price for the Optima Hybrid came to $32,750.

In conclusion, bravo to Christine for organizing such a successful event and to the manufacturers who opted in: Chevy, GMC, Dodge, Chrysler, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Kia, Hyundai, Saab, Volvo, and Honda. Hope to see the noticeably absent ones next year.