'On The Road' from the rearview mirror

By Nate Owen

With the 2011 calendar year drawing to a close, let's take a look back at some highlights of On The Road. There certainly were plenty of noteworthy stories this year.  And to think, we're not even a full year old yet. That will come in February, but in the meantime, here are some of the highlights of the last 10 months.

Fuel economy has been all over the news in the last year. Between saving money and going green, drivers are making every gallon of gas count.

In that respect, On The Road looked at several eco-friendly rides - from the much-anticipated Chevrolet Volt to the "Affluent Environmentalist," otherwise known as the Mercedes S400.

Where to start with the Volt? How about 93 mpg?

The Volt has no equal for those who want to own a zero-emissions electric-powered car for shorter trips, yet also require a fuel-efficient gasoline-powered model that will suffice for longer outings, which is something that a pure electric car simply can’t deliver.

Connecticut was one of the first states where the Volt was introduced, but for those looking for a more posh yet still fuel-friendly ride, then the Mercedes S400 might be for you. This "mild hybrid" not only gets the best gas mileage of any large luxury car, it serves as a model for how some cars will meet stricter federal fuel economy standards.

But while technology is helping make our rides more fuel efficient, it's also distracting the most important element of driving: the driver. Driving while using a cell phone has sparked a lot of debate over the past year, as research proves that texting or talking on the phone is virtually the same as driving drunk.

Still, an Allstate Foundation study found that although 49 percent of teens admit to be extremely distracted by driving while instant messaging, 82 percent said they still use their phones when they are behind the wheel.

It's getting to the point that earlier this month the National Transportation Safety Board recommended a ban on any cell phone use while behind the wheel.

"No call, no text, no update, is worth a human life," says NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman.

However, technology isn’t all bad. We launched our website, ctnow.com/ontheroad, which features up-to-date information from Cars.com, along with clips from our TV show, a blog, and content uploaded from the print edition. If you haven’t stopped by already, be sure to check it out.

The Internet is also great place to research that next car you‘re looking at buying. But what about getting it sent straight to your house without ever setting foot inside the dealer?

"Customers can order and apply for financing online, come into the dealership and do some paperwork, and then leave with their plates," says A.J. Maida, director of digital marketing at Papa’s Dodge Chrysler Jeep in New Britain.

Maida says 80 percent of all car buyers nationwide start their search online, arming themselves with a prices, models and options before they step foot inside the dealership.

While some consumers have bought a car without ever stepping foot inside the dealer, this process is far from an everyday occurrence.

 "It’s not like buying a book from Amazon or a shirt from Paul Frederick," he says.

And finally, let’s not forget about the big 7-0 for one of the most rugged vehicles in America.

Jeep turned 70 this year, It’s gone from a rugged and reliable fighting vehicle for GI’s to the off-roader of choice for many drivers.

It’s the idea that a car can go anywhere a driver wants it to go that attracts buyers to Jeep, says Jim Morrison, head of Jeep Brand product marketing in Detroit.

"We know that 100 percent of Jeep customers take their vehicles off-road, but most do it only in their minds," Morrison says.

"Not all of our customers will take a $30,000 or $40,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee off-road, but it’s important for them to know they won’t get stuck in their driveway in the snow," Morrison adds.

 

-Nate Owen is the copy-editor for On The Road. You can email him at ontheroad@courant.com.

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