Nov. 28, 2008 -- Sure, gas prices are down for now. But like the heart attack survivor who stocks his shelves with oat bran after a near-death experience, many of us may have weathered the most recent hikes at the gas pumps with a greater appreciation for how our cars consume fuel.
That's where the Kiwi comes in. Think of this gizmo from PLX Devices as a calorie-counter for your car. While it does nothing to directly affect your auto's consumption of fuel, it shows you exactly how many miles you're getting out of your gallons. Built-in programs use this information to take you through a series of three-minute driving lessons to "teach" you to drive in a way that saves more fuel.
I had the opportunity to take the Kiwi on a weekend test drive. I drive a Mazda 3 with a 2.3L engine -- no gas guzzler by any means. But the EPA stats on the sales sticker said I could expect 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, so this was my chance to test this figure.
Don't expect to be impressed when you open the box. The Kiwi's plastic shell feels cheap and flimsy, and the metallic green and chrome color combination do little to suggest that this is a piece of equipment that has just lightened your wallet by nearly three hundred bucks ($289.99 to be exact, if you get it from ThinkGeek.com).
Sure, appearances aren't everything. But bear in mind that in this age of the GPS, windshield appeal does matter ... and the Kiwi could leave passers-by wondering why you've stuck a kid's handheld video game you picked up at the dollar store next to your slick-looking Garmin on the dash.
That being said, when it comes to nailing down where your gas is going, the Kiwi did not disappoint. Kiwi not only teaches you how to save more gas, but its MPG mode gives you real-time feedback as you drive. While accelerating uphill turns is sheer agony -- your gas efficiency plummets into the single digits, coasting downhill is a special treat, if only for a few seconds (when else can you get 176 miles to the gallon? Beat that, Prius...)
The Kiwi also keeps track of your overall gas mileage for as long as you keep it plugged in, and it saves you the trouble of calculating how much money you've saved at the pump by doing the math for you.
Personally, I found out that if I really make an effort, I can squeeze up to 36 miles out of a gallon of gas -- and that's city travel.
I'm also driving like my own grandmother, and that type of behavior in my home city of Boston will get you honks, dirty looks and a few middle fingers. It turns out that when it comes to fuel efficient behavior, it's lonely at the top.