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Fuel Efficiency

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though not well-known in the U.S., Japan’s Mitsubishi, with its 2018 Outlander PHEV, bows to no automaker in the realm of technological development.

For openers, the plug-in hybrid crossover sport utility vehicle uses a gasoline engine and two electric motors to drive all four wheels. With an app, you can control vehicle climate settings and other functions like battery charging remotely from your smart phone. Communication is direct; a WiFi hot spot is not needed.

2018 Outlander PHEV Named New England Motor Press Association's

There are two standard 120-volt plugs onboard that deliver 1,500 watts of power from the drive battery, enough to run household appliances like toasters, mixers, small refrigerators, electric grills and coffee makers while tailgating.

Mitsubishi — the name means “three diamonds” — has not been a major player in the U.S. It sells a couple of cars — the Lancer and Mirage — along with two smaller crossovers, the Outlander Sport and Eclipse Cross. It also previously sold an electric car, the iMIEV. Overall sales in 2017 totaled 103,578, the first time in more than a decade that it topped 100,000. That included 35,409 Outlanders, its best seller. The new plug-in should enhance that.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

The tester was the top-of-the-line Outlander GT with S-AWC, which stands for Super All-Wheel Control — or full-time all-wheel drive. There’s also a four-wheel drive lock mode that mimics a center differential lock for off-road terrain.

The main engine is a 117-hp, 2.0-liter gasoline four-cylinder that delivers 137 lb-ft of torque. It drives the front wheels along with an 80-hp electric motor with 101 lb-ft of torque.

Driving the rear wheels is another 80-hp electric motor with 144 lb-ft of torque. There’s also a gasoline-fueled generator that boosts the electric motors and helps charge the onboard lithium-ion battery pack, which is mounted under the cabin and does not intrude on passenger space.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Because electric motors deliver their maximum torque as soon as they are switched on, there’s no need for a conventional automatic transmission. It’s described simply as single-speed automatics front and rear.

All of this works seamlessly. The only indication that this is a complicated plug-in hybrid is when you press the ignition button and a dashboard light reads “ready.” On the road, the Outlander automatically cycles among three hybrid modes. The driver also can physically switch into economy, battery-save and battery-charge modes.

The stated range primarily on electric power is 22 miles. But you’ll seldom get that unless you have a feather foot on the throttle. In conventional urban driving, the test vehicle usually delivered less than 20 miles. Overall range — gasoline and electric — is stated at 310 miles. The EPA rating is 74 MPGe, or miles per gallon equivalent in hybrid running, and 25 mpg in gasoline operation.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

It takes up to eight hours to the charge the battery pack from a standard 120-volt household outlet. If you have access to a 240-volt charger, it takes about four hours. The Outlander PHEV also is capable of handling a level 3 fast charger, which can deliver an 80% charge in 25 minutes.

The tested Outlander came with a full suite of safety equipment, including forward collision mitigation, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, multi-view rear camera with overhead view and automatic headlight high beams.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Press Launch

Other equipment included LED running lights and taillights, leather upholstery with heated front seats, motorized glass sunroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers with wiper de-icer, dual-zone climate control, power tailgate, auto-dimming inside mirror, Bluetooth connectivity, a premium Rockford Fosgate audio system, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The base price of the tester was $41,190. With a modest list of options, the suggested delivered price came to $42,185. However, it did not include a navigation system. Shortcomings included sun visors that did not slide on their support rods to adequately block sun from the side, and power front seats without lumbar adjustments.

On the road, in addition to the silent running on electricity, the Outlander PHEV exhibited a decent ride and handling for a midsize crossover. The front seats were supportive but a tad hard. Out back, the outboard seats were similar to the fronts. The seat bottoms flipped up to allow the seatbacks to fold flat to expand the cargo area’s 30 cubic feet of space to 78 cubic feet. However, the headrests must be removed to attain maximum space.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT S-AWC four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 117 hp, 137 lb-ft torque. Two electric motors: front 80 hp, 101 lb-ft torque; rear 80 hp, 144 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/30 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,178 lbs.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 lbs.
  • EPA miles per gallon equivalent: 74 MPGe; 25 mpg gasoline only.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $41,190.
  • Price as tested:$42,185.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Photos (c) Mitsubishi.

2018 Mercedes-Benz C350e: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz C350e plug-in hybrid fulfills its green role as an electrified passenger car. But it hardly seems worth the bother given its limited range on electric power.

It can travel an estimated 20 miles on its 6.4 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery when fully charged. But in a week of driving in a variety of traffic, the tested C350e never managed more than single-digit electric miles. The best range shown on the instruments after a full charge was 19 but it only managed eight miles before the gasoline engine fired up. With a 240-volt charger, the 350e charges in less than two hours.

Overall, however, the C350e does get a 51 miles per gallon equivalent rating on combined gasoline and electric power (MPGe) and, on gasoline only, delivers a city/highway/combined rating of 35/40/30 miles to the gallon.

15A224-1200x800The C350e plug-in hybrid four-door sedan, with a $48,895 base price, comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine linked to a 60 kW-h electric motor. Total system horsepower is 275, with 443 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is a seven-speed automatic with a manual shift mode,

A standard C300 sedan comes with a base price of $41,245, or $7,440 less. Its 241-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and nine-speed automatic transmission get a city/highway/combined EPA rating of 24/33/27 mpg.

Of course, any Mercedes-Benz gets more expensive once you start tacking on optional equipment. The tested 350e came with $16,350 worth, sending the bottom-line price to $65,235.

15C274_425-1200x800Standard equipment included an air suspension system, regenerative braking, keyless pushbutton starting, leather upholstery, linden wood trim, a seven-inch color display screen, Bluetooth connectivity, a motorized glass sunroof, power folding side mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, adaptive braking with brake assist, rear-view camera, automatic headlights, pedestrian warning, and LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights.

Individual options included blue metallic paint ($720), heated and ventilated front seats ($1,030), panoramic sunroof ($1,000), head-up display ($990), Burmester surround-sound audio ($850), interior LED ambient lighting ($310), air balance system ($350), hands-free trunk access ($250), active lighting with high-beam assist ($800), and parking assist with a surround-view camera ($1,090).

The test car also arrived with options packages: Nappa leather upholstery, the company’s “designo” interior trim and triple memory settings for the powered front passenger seat ($3,800); navigation and multimedia infotainment system with SXM satellite weather and traffic information ($2,200), and a driver assistance package that included adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, lane keeping and cross traffic assist, and pre-safe braking ($2,250). It’s a load but not unusual among German luxury cars.

15C274_428-1200x800The exterior styling could be described as Mercedes Modern Family, making the compact C350e look much like a smaller version of its S-Class flagship sedan.

On the road, all is as expected. This Mercedes is solid and quiet with that heavy and accurate steering feel characteristic of many of its siblings and cousins over the years. Comfort, with well-bolstered front seats, is first-class. The back seats, with less head and knee room, don’t quite measure up and the panoramic sunroof shade is made of a flimsy fabric that admits too much sunshine.

The 350e is surprisingly sprightly, more than you expect from a hybrid, which given the short electric-only range is likely the way most owners will treat it. Instead of plugging it in to get those few miles, most owners likely will skip the plug-in part.

15C274_423-1200x800There are four driving modes:

  • E-mode. All-electric driving until the battery runs down.
  • Gasoline operation alone with boosts of electric power.
  • E-save. Mainly gasoline with little or no help from the electric motor to preserve battery energy for later use.

*Charge. The gasoline engine is running but some of its energy transfers to the battery pack to extend electric range.

Whatever. Mercedes rates the 350e’s zero-to-60 mph acceleration time at 5.8 seconds, which is not in drag race territory but better than most vehicles an owner will encounter. However, hybrid owners do not have much of a reputation for stoplight sprinting.

15C274_405-1200x800Given current pump prices, it’s not likely that many luxury-car buyers would be swayed by the 350e’s decent fuel economy. But it also has good performance and road manners and is a marker on the way to widespread use of electrified vehicles.

Still, the preference here would be for a non-plug-in, standard hybrid to get this performance for fewer dollars.

15C274_616-1200x800Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Mercedes-Benz C350e Plug-in Hybrid four-door sedan.
  • Engine/motor:0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline; 60 kW-h electric motor; combined 275 hp, 443 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 91/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,924 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined gasoline fuel consumption: 35/40/30; 51 MPGe combined on gasoline/electric.
  • Electric range: 20 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $48,895.
  • Price as tested: $65,235.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

15C274_002-1200x800Photos (c) Mercedes-Benz.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel sedan, General Motors places a long-odds bet that oil-burning passenger vehicles have not met their end of days in the U.S. marketplace.

Except for heavy-duty trucks and long-distance 18-wheelers, Americans have never fully embraced diesels, remembering the days in the latter half of the 20th century when most diesels were smelly, slow and often wouldn’t start in cold weather.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel

Those negatives have gone away. Modern diesels, especially in luxury cars, behave unobtrusively and most drivers would be hard put to distinguish them from gasoline-engine automobiles.

Yet the old prejudices continue, now augmented by the scandal in which Volkswagen faked emissions tests for nearly 11 million diesel-engine vehicles world-wide, including about 500,000 in the U.S.

About half of the passenger vehicles in Europe use cheaper diesel fuel and get about a 30% improvement in mileage over comparable gas burners. They also get high marks for durability. But it is becoming increasingly expensive to scrub the foul emissions. The CEO of Sweden’s Volvo said recently that the company likely would not develop a new-generation diesel engine.

The 2017 Cruze Hatch offers the design, engineering and technological advancements of the 2016 Cruze sedan in a functional, sporty package with added cargo space.

Moreover, the mayors of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have announced that they planned to ban diesel cars and vans from the centers of their cities by 2025 to reduce air pollution.

Cities in the U.S. have an easier clean-air pathway because only about 5.3 million of the 264 million passenger cars and light trucks on the road nation-wide are diesel-powered. In 2016, less than 1% of the total 17.5 million light vehicles sold were diesels.

It was a poor diesel sales year partly because of the Volkswagen scandal, which now has caused the German manufacturer to eschew diesels entirely in the U.S. That opens the way for Chevrolet and a few others to fill the gap for the remaining diesel enthusiasts, who might account for several hundred thousand annual sales.

cq5dam.web.1280.1280-2The Cruze is an ideal candidate for diesel power. It is a sedan (or hatchback) that resides in the compact class, just a few cubic feet shy of the interior space that would get it a midsize classification. Unlike its predecessors, the forgettable Cobalt and Cavalier, it was so carefully designed and engineered that it won one of the “10 Top Picks” in the Consumer Reports 2017 Annual Auto Issue.

Most impressive, according to CR, was that its testers managed 47 mpg in highway driving, though the EPA gave the Cruze a 42-mpg rating. That was with the standard 153-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine with 177 lb-ft of torque.

The EPA rated the city/highway/combined mileage of the diesel Cruze tested here at 31/47/37 mpg. It is powered by a 137-hp 1.6-cylinder diesel (also turbocharged) that develops 240 lb-ft of torque.

The 2017 Cruze Hatch offers 47.2 cubic feet of rear cargo room with the back seats flipped down.

That number is what gives this Cruze a sense of performance in acceleration off the line because the torque, or twisting force, makes itself felt at lower engine revolutions than with the gasoline engine. A new nine-speed automatic transmission efficiently sends the power to the front wheels. (A more engaging six-speed manual gearbox costs $1,600 less).

But it’s no drag racer and it is encumbered somewhat by a mileage enhancing stop-start system, which builds in a bit of hesitation moving away from a stoplight. Unfortunately, it cannot be turned off but can be defeated by simply lifting a foot slightly off the brake pedal.

The first ever Cruze Hatch blends sporty design with the versatility of a hatch making it adaptable for urban to outdoor adventures.

There are other minor downsides to the Cruze diesel. Its engine noises are raucous—more so under hard acceleration. Its equipment is similar to the midlevel LT trim, which means it does not have automatic climate control or sun visors that slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the side. That omission adds a couple of bucks to the profit margin, but why? Curiously, previous Cruze models did have a sliding sun visor—only on the driver’s side.

Other than that, the tester had a high level of equipment for its base price of $26,270. It included full safety equipment, pushbutton starting, air conditioning, a Wi-Fi hotspot, SXM satellite radio, navigation, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Options added lane departure and blind-spot warning, a motorized glass sunroof and leather upholstery for a $29,655 sticker.

Given the outstanding fuel economy of the gasoline Cruze, the question is whether buyers will spend the extra $2,795 for the diesel-engine model. But it’s there for those diesel devotees and others who might want one.

The first ever Cruze Hatch blends sporty design with the versatility of a hatch making it adaptable for urban to outdoor adventures.

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel four-door sedan.
  • Engine:6-liter four-cylinder diesel, turbocharged, 137 hp, 240 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,172 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 31/47/37 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $26,270.
  • Price as tested: $29,655.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

cq5dam.web.1280.1280Photos (c) Chevrolet.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As alternative power trains proliferate, South Korea’s biggest carmaker goes all in on a trifecta: the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and dedicated electric models.

Depending on the consumer response and government fuel economy requirements, the payoff could be substantial. Whatever; the choices deliver a win for the motoring public.

The Ioniq is an all-new four-door hatchback from the South Korean manufacturer. Its name comes from ion, an electrically charged particle, and unique, or one of a kind.

2017 IONIQ HEV

By itself, the Ioniq doesn’t qualify as unique. But a manufacturer that develops three different motive forces for a single car certainly qualifies as special. Honda has done something similar with its new Clarity, which comes as a pure electric, plug-in hybrid and as a fuel cell electric that uses hydrogen fuel.

Because the three variants are being phased in separately, the emphasis at the Ioniq introduction was on the electric and hybrid models. The plug-in hybrid differs from a standard hybrid because, with a fully charged battery pack, it can be driven up to 27 miles on electric power alone. A standard hybrid runs on electricity and gasoline, with only short bursts of pure electric power.

For owners whose daily driving consists mainly of short trips, it would be possible to avoid many stops for gasoline, as long as the plug-in was plugged in regularly. Range anxiety, however, is not a problem; once the battery pack is discharged, the Ioniq plug-in runs on its gasoline engine.

2017 IONIQ HEV

The Ioniq electric has a range of 124 miles, which the EPA works out to 136 miles per gallon equivalent of a gasoline-engine car. It delivers instant power off the line, cruises silently except for some road noise, and has capable handling and good road feel.

Its disadvantage is that an owner who wants to take a trip must plan the route to take advantage of charging stations—or at least places to stay where the Ioniq electric can be recharged overnight.

The electric and plug-in models come with a dual port for charging from a standard 110-volt outlet or a fast-charging 240-volt charger. Full charging time with the fast charger is two hours, 30 minutes for the plug-in and four hours 25 minutes for the electric.

The hybrid is likely to be the big seller. It incorporates a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 32-kilowatt electric motor. Combined, they deliver 139 horsepower. Driven for this review was the Limited model.

2017 IONIQ HEV

Unlike some other hybrids that use continuously variable automatic transmissions, which have no shift points, the Ioniq comes equipped with a six-speed dual clutch automated manual transmission, which provides rapid shifts up or down and delivers city/highway/combined fuel economy of 55/54/55 miles per gallon.

There’s a driver-selectable sport mode, which enhances performance by shifting the transmission at higher engine revolutions. It also delivers a heftier feel to the steering. Of course, increased performance comes with reduced fuel economy.

Hyundai claims that the base Ioniq model, called the Blue, is the most fuel-efficient hybrid on the market. Its city/highway/combined rating is 57/59/58 miles to the gallon.

2017 IONIQ HEV

The hybrid also consolidates a standard 12-volt battery, used for lights and accessories, into the hybrid battery pack. If it dies, you simply touch the “12-volt battery reset” button and you’re on your way. No calling for a jump start.

Depending on the model, the Ioniq comes with advanced safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert. Also offered are Blue Link connectivity, Apple Car Play, Android Auto and wireless smart phone charging.

The Ioniq is being marketed as a compact, though generous cargo space of 27 cubic feet under the hatchback bump its interior volume into the large car class. Its total volume is 123 cubic feet; any car with more than 120 cubic feet is classified by the EPA as large.

But the Ioniq belies that classification and, at four inches shy of 15 feet, looks and feels more like a compact. There’s plenty of elbow and headroom up front, but the outboard back seats are tight on head and knee room. The center rear position, as on most cars these days, is an uncomfortable perch and a small hump intrudes on foot space.

Prices range from $23,035 to $31,335 for the hybrid and $30,855 to $36,835 for the electric, including the destination charge. The electric qualifies for federal and state tax incentives.

2017 IONIQ HEV

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Limited four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Power:6-liter four-cylinder gasoline with 32kW electric motor; 139 combined hp.
  • Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch automated manual.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 96/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,172 pounds
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 55/54/55 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,335.
  • Price as tested: $28,335.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2017 IONIQ HEV

Photos (c) Hyundai

2017 Chevrolet Bolt: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It is fair to conclude that the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt constitutes an electric automobile revolution.

There already are many electric cars. But usually they have drawbacks of one kind or another: too expensive, don’t travel far enough, take too long to re-charge or are cheaply built.

Chevrolet, however, has produced an honest, popular priced, entertaining electric that looks and feels like a real automobile with few shortcomings—except for sun visors without sliders to adequately block sunlight from the sides. The Bolt resembles a four-door hatchback, less than 14-feet long yet with the interior space of a midsize car. Chevrolet argues that it is tall enough to be a crossover SUV, though it has front-drive and no all-wheel drive. The feds classify it as a small wagon.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Never mind. It carries five passengers with plenty of room for four big adults and a fifth in the center rear, although that person suffers with a hard cushion and intrusion from the front console.

Cargo space under the rear hatch totals 17 cubic feet. For extra space, the rear seatbacks fold flat and expand the cargo area to nearly 57 cubic feet.

The Bolt’s strength lies in its powertrain. It uses an electric motor that delivers 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. It is fed by a 60-kWh battery pack that nestles under the front and rear seats and is an integral part of the body structure.

The combination enables the 3,563-pound Bolt to travel an average of 238 miles when fully charged. Some drivers will do better, some worse. A display tells how the driver is doing. For this review, a varied run of about 50 miles produced 3.9 miles per kWh, which worked out to 234 miles of driving.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

The EPA rates the Bolt at the city/highway/combined fuel consumption equivalent of 128/110/119 mpg-e.

That doesn’t tell the entire performance story. Electric motors deliver maximum torque, or twisting force, the instant they are switched on, eliminating the need for a conventional automatic transmission. On the Bolt, the electronic shifter signals the electric motor on how to behave.

The Bolt bolts to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, according to Chevrolet. Top speed is 92 mpg, though the tester bettered that slightly at 93.

Straight-line highway cruising is quiet and effortless as the Bolt tracks true without many steering corrections. It handles smartly, with barely any body lean, on twisting mountain roads. Throttle response is instant.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

The Bolt also is set up for single-pedal driving. It has a regenerative system that, on deceleration, sends power to the battery pack. That happens constantly.

But if the driver chooses, the regenerative braking can be enhanced in two ways: Shift into Low and the braking becomes stronger. Also, depress a paddle on the left side of the steering wheel, which makes the regenerative braking even stronger.

Because the regeneration switches off when you mash the brake pedal, the system is designed to let the driver use the Low range or the paddle, or both together, to bring the Bolt to a stop without touching the brake pedal. It takes a bit of practice but maximizes the range.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Full recharging with an optional 240-volt charger takes about 9.5 hours. With a standard household 120-volt outlet, a full charge takes 59.5 hours, or four miles per hour. An overnight charge of 15 hours delivers 60 miles of range. The battery carries an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

There are two Bolt versions: the tested LT, with sturdy and comfortable cloth upholstery, has a base price of $37,495. The tester had options packages with such items as heated seats and steering wheel, and auto-dimming headlights, which brought the tested price to $38,640.

Top of the line is the Premier, with a base price of $41,780, including the destination charge. With its two options packages, it comes to $42,760.

However, Chevrolet points out that the Bolt qualifies for a $7,500 U.S. tax credit, plus whatever incentives are available from state and local governments. However, a tax credit is something that is part of an individual’s tax return. It is not money refunded at the point of sale.

Some might argue that an extended range electric or plug-in hybrid with an onboard gasoline engine—like Chevrolet’s own Volt—makes more sense. But if a pure electric is your preference, the Bolt is the way to roll.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt LT four-door small wagon.
  • Motor: Electric with gear-set, 200 hp, 266 lb-ft torque with 60 kWh battery pack.
  • Transmission: Motor controlled by electronic shifter.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,563 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined equivalent fuel consumption: 128/110/119 mpg-e.
  • Average range: 238 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,495.
  • Price as tested: $38,640.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) General Motors.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Minivans are the most useful vehicles on the planet, all about moving families and cargo in comfort. But the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid takes a tack toward convenience and frugality.

This new entry – the first of its kind in the minivan category – is a bit less useful than its standard gasoline engine counterpart, owing mainly to the requirements of building a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).

That’s correct. The new Pacifica Hybrid is of the plug-in variety with a 16-kilowatt-hour battery that enables the nearly 5,000-pound minivan to travel up to 30 miles on pure electric power and recharge in as little as two hours.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica HybridThat’s with a 240-volt charger, which the owner would have buy separately, although the Pacifica has the built-in hardware to use it. Most standard 120-volt household outlets also work, but it takes 14 hours for a full charge from “empty.”

EPA fuel economy numbers will not be available until closer to the on-sale date, which is expected early in 2017. Chrysler estimates it will earn an 80-mpg equivalent in city driving.

To enhance the all-electric range, the Pacifica incorporates regenerative braking, which sends electric energy back into the battery pack.

Because it’s a plug-in hybrid, the new Pacifica eliminates range anxiety. On a trip, as soon as the battery is depleted, the system switches seamlessly to the gasoline engine. That results in an estimated 530-mile range. The operation is similar to that of the Chevrolet Volt, an extended range electric.

“It’s all about making your life simpler,” according to Matt McAlear, Chrysler’s senior product manager. He said that if family members kept their travel to less than 30 miles in a day, they never would have to stop at a service station to refuel. Simply plug it in overnight.

However, the engineers have thoughtfully included sensors that detect when gasoline in the tank is more than 90 days old, in which case the gasoline engine runs automatically to use up the possibly tainted fuel.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid cutawayThe 350-pound battery is stored under the second row of seats. It eliminates Chrysler’s famed stow ‘n’ go feature, which allows the second-row seats to be easily stashed under the floor.

To ease the loss, the Hybrid comes with plush captain’s chairs that have more padding than the thin stow ‘n’ go seats. But the downside is that they must be physically wrestled out of the minivan if there’s a need to maximize the cargo area. Also, the Hybrid is not available as an eight-passenger minivan with a second-row bench seat.

The Pacifica’s hybrid system uses a V6 gasoline engine in concert with two electric motors integrated into the gear-driven continuously variable automatic transmission. Some other hybrids use one electric motor as a generator while the other sends power to the wheels. On the Pacifica, a one-way clutch allows the second motor to also send power to the wheels as needed.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

The gasoline-electric system delivers a total of 260 horsepower. Chrysler officials were reticent on questions of how much torque the system delivers. Torque is a measure of twisting force that translates into a strong surge of power.

Because electric motors produce maximum torque instantly when the throttle is pressed, the Pacifica Hybrid has robust acceleration off the line. It feels a bit less after the gasoline engine kicks in.

Except for instrumentation needed to communicate what’s going on with the hybrid system, the new Pacifica Hybrid has all of the same features that made the original, introduced earlier this year, the new benchmark for minivans.

Among them: First minivan with hands-free power sliding side doors. Very convenient. Simply touch a button on the outside door handle and the door slides open. Touch it again and the door closes. No jerking of handles. The side doors are made of aluminum, also used in the hood and tailgate for reduced weight and better fuel economy.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Other minivan “firsts” include an electric parking brake, unique 20-inch alloy wheels, rotary shift knob (eliminates shift levers), 10-inch touch screens for second row passengers, and wireless connectivity for devices.

The new Pacifica Hybrid doesn’t come cheap. But Chrysler emphasizes that it qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit. There are two models: Premium at $43,090 and Platinum at $46,090, including the destination charge. An optional three-pane panoramic sunroof costs $1,795.

Potential buyers will have to weigh that and the loss of the stow ‘n’ go seats against the Hybrid’s considerable advantages.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Platinum four-door minivan.
  • Engines:6-liter V6 with dual transmission-mounted electric drive motors; total system 260 hp. Torque rating not disclosed.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable gear-driven automatic.
  • Overall length: 17 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 165/32 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,943 pounds.
  • Estimated EPA fuel consumption: combined 80 mpg equivalent.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $46,090.
  • Price as tested: $47,885.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) FCA.

 

Why Fuel Efficiency Hasn’t Changed Much…

by Tod Mesirow

Most people think about their car’s mileage only when they get to the gas station, and realize they have to spend money for the privilege of sitting in traffic on the highway or in one of our clogged cities. Unless you’re a hypermiler, that rare denizen of driving with one purpose in mind: To squeeze the maximum mileage out of every sip in every tank of gas. If you’re not –like most of us aren’t — you may still wonder why we don’t have a car that gets 100 miles per gallon.

Hear Tod’s story on KCRW.

Photo (c) Toyota

2016 Toyota Avalon Limited Hybrid: A DriveWays Review

by Frank A. Aukofer

If you’re a fan of a big sedan for its room and comfortable ride, you likely have resigned yourself to owning, if not a gas guzzler, at least something that takes away mileage bragging rights. But there’s an answer: the 2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid.

On a trip in Wisconsin with two persons and their luggage, mostly on freeways at speeds moderately over the limit, with some city driving, the first stop for gasoline came at the 500-mile mark. The tested Avalon Limited Hybrid delivered 36.5 mpg.

That’s shy of the government’s rating for the hybrid version of Toyota’s flagship car, which comes with a city/highway/combined rating of 40/39/40 mpg. But those numbers come from instrumented tests in ideal conditions, not real world driving. So that 36.5 mpg is more than respectable.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid01_50621A303F07E0EC5E9000DAB7B17E541C461C50The Avalon is the Japanese company’s luxury sedan, more akin to Lexus than its Toyota siblings. Though classified as a midsize because its interior is a few cubic feet shy of the government’s definition of a large sedan, it is marketed as a full-size car against such competitors as the Ford Taurus, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Charger and Kia Cadenza.

Toyota has been expanding its world leading hybrid technology throughout its lineup, including its Lexus luxury vehicles. Among popular priced full-size cars, the Avalon is the only hybrid.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid25_D222CB5981E6D9A4F5F5F204336B9F9300025916But you barely sense it. The system, which combines a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor and a nickel metal-hydride battery pack, delivers an unobtrusive 200 hp to the front wheels through a gear driven continuously variable automatic transmission.

When you sit behind the wheel and press the pushbutton starter, the only indication of anything happening is a green light that announces, “ready.” Step lightly on the accelerator pedal and you can drive a few miles on purely electric power. But that’s not what it’s all about.

Very soon, the gasoline engine fires up. But the transition is so seamless that you barely feel it. The only sensation is that of the additional power available. Basically, you drive the Avalon Hybrid as if it were a conventional gasoline engine car.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid05_1323C346DD6BB1DBBEF926BE6C36143573408BA4Though it’s a capable around-town transporter, the Hybrid’s forte is quiet and relaxed highway cruising. It tracks steadily in a straight line, takes curves with aplomb (as long as you don’t push it too hard), and it has a suspension system that is biased toward a comfortable ride.

That became starkly apparent on a washboard stretch of Interstate Highway 43 north of Port Washington, Wisconsin. For many miles, harsh bumps in the concrete pavement hammer the tires, springs and shock absorbers so hard you conclude that something would break loose and fall off almost any car or truck.

That’s not the case with the suspension system on the Avalon Hybrid, which absorbs almost all of the nasty vibrations before they reach the driver and passengers.

On smoother surfaces, the Avalon Hybrid is a dream rider, quiet with little intrusion of road, wind or mechanical sounds. The comfort is augmented by big, supportive, heated and cooled front seats with lumbar adjustments.

In back, the heated outboard seats are nearly as comfortable. Even the center-rear seat, despite a hard cushion, has enough headroom for an average-sized adult. Unlike earlier Avalons, which had a flat floor, the 2016 model has a modest floor hump that somewhat compromises legroom. One glaring drawback: the back seats have no cup holders.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid23_secondrowDespite its great attributes, the Avalon Hybrid also has a few other negatives. The battery pack is stashed beneath the trunk floor, robbing the trunk of two cubic feet of space. The Hybrid has a trunk of 14 cubic feet versus 16 cubic feet in non-hybrid Avalons.

The Hybrid Limited test car carries a $1,500 price premium over the non-hybrid Limited. But its $42,785 price tag covers every available feature, including a full suite of safety equipment, as well as a long list of luxury features, including Toyota’s Entune integrated audio, apps and navigation; Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio; leather upholstery, motorized sunroof, power rear sunshade and tri-zone automatic climate control.

Overall, the Toyota Avalon Hybrid not only rivals its luxury Lexus cousins, it outshines some other luxury cars that sell for thousands of dollars more. Though big sedans once ruled the highways but have been falling out of favor, this combination of luxury, performance and economy can hold its own anywhere.

2016_Toyota_Avalon_Hybrid03_BFB303DC316A1463224745A9D05F749E02BDB017Specifications

  • Model: 2016 Toyota Avalon Limited Hybrid four door sedan.
  • Engine: Gasoline 2.5-liter four cylinder, 156 hp, 156 lb-ft torque; electric permanent magnet synchronous motor, 141 hp, 199 lb-ft torque; combined 200 hp; 1.6 kWh nickel metal-hydride battery pack.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 102/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,635 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 40/39/40 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,785.
  • Price as tested: $42,785.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Toyota

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