Among the many new devices promising to boost fuel economy during these times of high gas prices, the PLX Kiwi tries to improve the driver rather than the car. The PLX Kiwi is a training device that monitors driving habits and assigns the driver a rating based on how "green" it finds the driving style, with 100 being the best. For the most part, the Kiwi does just that, but issues with the way the device interfaces with the vehicle may leave some drivers scratching their heads.
Drivers interact with the Kiwi through its 2.2-inch OLED screen and a directional pad with a center select button. Made of glossy plastic with a faux chrome bezel, the Kiwi seems to generate an inordinate amount of glare, but the display is bright and easy to read, even in direct sunlight. The buttons require a firm and deliberate press to register, which can make menu navigation cumbersome.
Powered by the vehicle's OBDII port (found in the cabins of all new cars), the Kiwi doesn't require an external power cable. When the vehicle is turned off, the Kiwi goes into a standby mode that continues to draw power. If the vehicle is to be parked for an extended period (say a month or so) the Kiwi can be deactivated with a power switch on its side.
On the bottom of the Kiwi is a micro USB port that is used to upload animations, which we'll discuss later in this review.
The Kiwi boasts nine key features, each represented by a main menu option. The first option brings up your Kiwi score, a 0 to 100 rating of how economically you're driving based on four parameters: smoothness, drag, acceleration, and deceleration.
The Kiwi also lets you monitor your average and instantaneous fuel economy with the MPG meter. Additionally, by inputting the price per gallon of gas in the Setup menu, the Kiwi will also keep track of how much the current trip is costing and how much money you've saved with your thrifty driving.
A rather neat Drive Green option offers 20 training routines designed to help drivers learn to be more conscious of their driving techniques. One lesson, for example, had us maintaining a high acceleration rating for a timed period, while another had us keeping our deceleration score high through judicious use of the brakes. While the tests are good training tools for making a lead foot into a green one, we'd recommend that they're reserved for especially light traffic, as some of the tests (particularly the braking tests) can be a bit distracting.
Keeping a vehicle in good running order is an oft overlooked step in maintaining high fuel economy. With this in mind, PLX has included an engine check mode to display trouble codes when the check engine light comes on and a sensor mode for viewing the diagnostic information being output through the OBDII port. This cool feature can help motorists not only save at the pump, but also at the repair shop. However, the Kiwi only displays the code, so the motorist will have to look up the code's meaning in a shop manual.
Other features offered include logging past Kiwi scores and miles per gallon, and a "fun mode" that displays a customizable animation (uploaded through USB) of a flower that blooms as your Kiwi score rises. We didn't find the fun mode to be much fun at all. In fact, we thought it was quite useless, since it mostly just displayed a static picture of a flower at half bloom for us.