Honda Walking Assist devices (2009) CAR review

If you thought yesterday’s CAR test of Honda’s U3-X electric unicycle was weird, wait until you here about these two ‘walking assist’ devices. Since 1999 Honda has been researching and developing walking assist devices for people with leg problems, and CAR has just tested two such contraptions. Read on for our full review.

So what are these new Honda walking assist systems?
The first – and more simplistic – device is (to use its full name) Honda’s Walking Assist Device with Stride Management System. (Let’s call it Stride Assist.) It’s designed to help people with leg problems, mainly Japan’s OAP 65+ population – which will make up a fifth of the populace next year, and 35% by 2050 – but it can also help those rehabilitating after accidents.

There are three parts to the device. The first is a belt, with adjustable straps at the front, and a solid section at the rear that runs from one hip, around your back, to the other hip. The solid section also houses the battery pack and computer control, which nestles in the small of your back, while a small motor hangs down from the belt on either hip. And to accommodate big Westerners, and those with childbearing hips, Honda has also developed three different size belts, with either 312, 342 or 372mm of space between the motors.

Once the belt is in place, a thin frame is then clipped into the bottom of each motor. At the bottom of each frame are two pads, which hang just above your knee. One is placed on your hamstring and the other on your quad, and then they’re secured in place.

Being strapped in by Honda’s engineers makes you feel like Iron Man getting dressed, but once you’ve actually adjusted all the straps for yourself, it takes less than 10 seconds to put the Stride Assist system on. The whole thing, at least in 342mm size, weighs just 2.8kg, and with the lithium-ion batteries fully charged, there’s two hours’ charge if you walk at around 3mph.

And then?
Then you press the ‘on’ button on each motor and set off. The torque of the electric motor is sent through the thigh frames to your legs, so when you take a step forward your leg is helped from behind, and on the second part of the stride the pad on your quad pushes your leg back. Sensors on the inside of the motors detect the angle of your hips and decide how the timing and how much assistance you need.

At first you walk a little like Robocop, awkwardly stepping forward, but you soon start to adjust to the motor’s inputs. It helps you up stairs too, but not down - so you don’t fall, in theory. But the biggest difference you notice is when you take Stride Assist off and suddenly feel how heavy your legs are, and what an effort it takes to walk.

So far Honda has trialled Stride Assist in care homes, rehabilitation centres and hospitals. Honda found that when its patients (average age 78) used the device twice a week for three months it lengthened their stride and thus walking speed. And when test subjects were made to walk up hills, their heart rate was on average 20bpm lower with Stride Assist.

By Ben Pulman

Volkswagen Launches Special-Edition Jetta TDI, New Beetle Coupe, and CC

Volkswagen has announced three more special editions for the 2010 model year. All three models are available now at VW dealerships.

The first model under the knife is the slinky CC, which emerges as the CC R-Line. As with the European version, the R-Line changes are mostly cosmetic: a new body kit and front spoiler, 18-inch wheels, tinted taillights, brushed-aluminum door sills, and a couple of R-Line badges. The package can be had on CCs powered by the 2.0T engine with either manual or DSG transmissions, for a cost of $29,590.

The Jetta TDI Cup Street Edition (pictured above) is as close as the average driver can get to the cars in VW’s diesel race series. The Jetta receives the Cup car’s body kit, stiffer suspension and grabbier brakes from the Jetta GLI, and 18-inch wheels with performance tires. Sportier seats and VW’s lovable TDI engine, coupled to either a DSG or three-pedal transmission, rounds out the package. The pseudo-racer can be yours for $24,990.

Finally, there’s the New Beetle Red Rock Edition. Volkswagen will make just 750 of these bugs, decked out in Red Rock paint with a black-painted roof—a color scheme that reminds us of a ladybug, actually. You also get an all-black interior, 17-inch wheels, and “sport suspension” for $20,390.

by Jake Holmes

2012 Hyundai Veloster - Spied

Caught in the open for the first time is the upcoming Hyundai Veloster, the small, front-drive sports coupe first introduced—to much laud—as the Veloster concept at the 2007 Seoul auto show. Though most of the prototype seen here is covered in black camouflage, we can tell that in order to fulfill Hyundai’s promise of 2+2 seating, the Veloster has grown considerably compared with the eensy concept car we saw before.

The side windows, for example, now stretch past the B-pillar, and the taillamps, which previously sat atop the rear fenders, are now situated back on the rear plane. Tallish sides and a long roof mean that the fat fenders have been toned down, and with them the concept’s dramatic road stance. Darn. Here we were hoping that this would be the next Honda CRX.

But all hope for fun is not lost. The Elantra-based, front-wheel-drive Veloster will probably not be more than a few inches longer than a Mini Cooper, and indeed looks small enough that its expected 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine would get it by in a spirited way. (We expect the motor to offer somewhat more than the 138 hp and 136 lb-ft of torque that it currently produces in the Elantra.) A choice of manual and automatic transmissions is pretty much guaranteed. And if, say, the 2.0-liter motor is offered in 210-hp turbocharged form, as seen in the Genesis coupe, that might really put the “velocity” in Veloster.

When will it appear? Well, as we reported last summer, Hyundai product PR chief Miles Johnson confirmed that the Veloster will launch some time during the 24/7 2.0 program, a two-year period during which the company will launch seven new products. The Genesis coupe kicked off the introductions about a year ago, meaning the Veloster should appear within a year at the latest. Expect prices to start in the $18K range.


2011 Jaguar XKR Special Edition

Jaguar creates another special edition of an already pretty special car.

It’s hard to imagine ways to improve the sexy, speedy Jaguar XKR, but Jaguar seems to think it can. As proof, it has developed two option packages for the new 2011 XKR: the Black Pack and the Speed Pack. Check both boxes, and you get the 2011 XKR Special Edition.

The optional Speed Pack starts with a less-restrictive top-speed governor, raising terminal velocity to 174 mph from 155 (both electronically limited). No changes have been made to the direct-injection engine. Styling changes include a new front splitter, side-sill extensions, a body-color rear diffuser, a taller rear spoiler, and chrome-finished hood nostrils and window trim. Red brake calipers are visible within spokey 20-inch “Kasuga” wheels that bear a strong resemblance to those on the Bentley Continental Speed. Finally, the Speed Pack can only be ordered on cars rendered in Ultimate Black, Polaris White, Salsa Red, Liquid Silver, Lunar Grey, Kyanite Blue, or Spectrum Blue.

The Black Pack adds black 20-inch “Kalimnos” wheels; black side vents, grillework, and window surrounds; and optional “XKR” body graphics that sweep along the sides like those historically used on certain special-edition Porsches. Like the Speed Pack, the Black Pack also offers red brake calipers, which contrast nicely against the black wheels. Inside, the Black Pack comes with dark charcoal leather only, with a choice of piping and grain options, and Dark Oak, Dark Mesh Aluminum, or Piano Black trim. The color palette for the Black Pack is even more limited than that of the Speed Pack, including only Ultimate Black, Polaris White, or Salsa Red.

The 2011 XKR Special Edition is shown here in white with piano-black veneers and fitted luggage, including an accessory suitcase that fits where the spare tire might otherwise be. It makes its debut at the Geneva auto show.

But here’s the bad news: This frisky feline will not be offered in the U.S., and Jaguar is non-committal about which, if any, of the option-package features detailed above will be available here either. But Jaguar did tell us this: “Although Jaguar North America will not be taking this exact special edition model, we are looking at a North America–only, performance-oriented limited-edition Jaguar XKR in support of our 75th anniversary celebrations this year.” Sounds promising.


Mercedes E350 CDI estate

There is a refreshingly unpretentious nature to the Mercedes E-class estate. Even the name is, and always has been, simple with no marketing-driven nomenclature designed to make it seem more sporting or lifestyle oriented. And rightly so, because the E-class estate doesn’t need to be justified.

Mercedes has sold more than one million since its earliest predecessor, the S123, was introduced in 1978. It has since earned a classless status that makes it both desirable and understated. All of which leaves a lot for this new E-class estate to live up to.

It’s fair to predict that it will benefit from the same return to Mercedes’ original brand essence that has proved such a success in the saloon. After all, they are essentially the same car. With the exception of the E200 CDI engine, which doesn’t make it into the estate, they share the same powerplants as well as the same basic architecture.

But with significant differences in suspension set-up, body and ownership costs, can the E-class estate match, or even better, the ability and appeal of the saloon?

Mercedes has used the styling of the new E-class to emphasise safety and practicality, as well as to carry through the new design language.

The estate’s high waistline is intended to give an impression of added security to passengers, while horizontal lines around the rear of the car are said to enhance the sense of solidity. These are visible in the bold rear light clusters and the straight, chrome-trimmed boot handle that links them.

It’s also clear from a glance at the rear that practicality was first on the list of priorities. The tailgate is broad and almost vertical, and when opened it reveals a conveniently squared-off aperture that narrows only marginally towards the roofline and exposes a load bay floor that’s just 572mm from the road. Yet despite the emphasis on usability over style, all our testers agreed that the latest E-class estate has a cohesion to its design that the slightly awkward saloon fails to achieve.

The suspension of all E-class estate models, with the exception of the entirely air-sprung E500, consists of MacPherson struts with steel springs at the front and a multi-link rear end with self-levelling air springs. Mercedes has stiffened the dampers and torsion bar stabilisers to counteract the heavier body weight of the estate over the saloon.

We’re testing the 228bhp V6 turbodiesel E350 CDI Avantgarde model, which comes as standard with a ride height lowered by 15mm over the entry-level SE car and a seven-speed automatic gearbox that offers a choice of Sport or Comfort modes. This is one of the biggest incentives to opt for the six-cylinder engine over the four-cylinder units, which are available with only a standard six-speed manual or optional five-speed auto.

There is nothing obviously outstanding about the performance of our E350 CDI estate, but it is still a capable car. With a turbocharged 2987cc V6 diesel motor producing 228bhp at 3800rpm and 398lb ft of torque from 1600-2400rpm, it is no surprise that this is a rapid estate car in which we managed an average 0-60mph time of 6.9sec.

More relevant is the fact that this is a car which will cover huge distances effortlessly and has an accessible well of performance. Over our varied test route, which takes in town, motorway, B-road and test track, there was never a moment when it felt as if the E-class may have just misjudged a gearchange or used up its main reserve of power.

The V6 turbodiesel is flexible and free-revving, and the seven-speed auto to which it is mated enhances that ability by offering a wide range of ratios and blurring its changes to the point of being almost unnoticeable. As with the saloon, the estate suffers from a slight hesitancy to respond to throttle input when pulling away from a standstill, leaving a moment when you expect drive and don’t get any. With familiarity, this encourages a leisurely driving style rather than causing frustration, but a quicker, smoother response from standstill would be a welcome upgrade.

This six-cylinder engine has been revised for the new E-class, but it is an older engine than the all-new four-cylinder diesels now in the line-up. The changes have endowed the V6 turbodiesel with improved economy and emissions, but it still falls short of the power/economy combination on offer in the BMW 530d.

We managed 36mpg on our touring run, which is an adequate, if not exceptional figure. But in practice the E350 CDI estate offers a near-ideal combination of performance and practicality.

Not only is the E-class estate heavier than the saloon, but it also has a higher centre of gravity and must cope with carrying larger loads. To ensure that the estate maintains similarly responsive handling characteristics, Mercedes has stiffened the anti-roll bars and the dampers. Under normal driving conditions the two-stage hydromechanically self-adjusting dampers remain on their softer setting to allow a relaxed ride, but in hard cornering or braking they react by switching instantly to their firmer setting to reduce body movements. It’s not an entirely natural feeling, but quite effective.

Our E350 CDI Avantgarde test car came with optional £775 18-inch alloys (17-inch wheels are standard), as well as the 15mm lowered suspension that comes as standard on this trim level, so it is no surprise that i.

That’s not to say the E-class estate is uncomfortable. Neither has it lost the restful ability to waft down the road in a manner typical of a Mercedes.

But there is a firm, springy quality over severe disturbances in the road surface at urban speeds and occasionally a touch of wobble from the rear air springs, too. Otherwise the ride quality is suitably cosseting and is particularly well judged at higher speeds.

The suspension alterations have also been successful in that the E-class estate handles with the same fluid manoeuvrability and reassuring stability that puts the saloon at the top of its class.

The fully hydraulic, speed-sensitive steering is identical to that in the saloon and as such offers the same smooth, linear action and precise responses. It is occasionally too light on turn-in, but this is noticeable only when straying far outside the E-class estate’s required ability on track.

Braking performance was good in our tests, stopping in under 49 metres from 70mph on slightly damp asphalt and resisting fade well under hard use.


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