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Electric Cars

2021 Volkswagen ID.4: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Volkswagen’s all-new electric 2021 ID.4 shines competitively as a small crossover sport utility vehicle, with decent performance, range, inside space and ride comfort. But it requires a steep learning curve and a willingness to cuddle with the owner’s manual or sit through an extended class on operating it.

Perhaps it was the individual tested example. But rarely does a reviewer encounter a vehicle so confounding at first blush, some of it by design. Early puzzlements:

The start-stop button on the steering column didn’t seem to work. To get the ID.4 to the silent electric car “Ready” stage, you must twist a blob of a control behind the steering wheel to shift into “Drive,” “B” (for extra regenerative braking), or “Reverse.” 

Moving off, a view from the forward-facing camera sometimes shows up on the center screen, warning the driver to pay attention. It disappears after a few moments but it’s a distraction.

Underway, a message pops up in the instruments display, saying “Warnings and information not available. Drive with greater care.” There’s no answer to “What?” or “Why?” or how to correct the situation.

It takes a close reading of the owner’s manual to figure out the buttons to push or the digital displays to tap in order to crank up the automatic climate control. 

Trying to find the controls for the radio takes another trip to the owner’s manual and even then, it requires a flurry of fiddling to learn the SXM satellite radio doesn’t have an activated subscription. But you can get HD radio on FM.

Stop in a shopping center parking lot and touch the start-stop button to shut the ID.4 down. But the radio keeps playing — even when you open the door — and the air conditioning continues to blow cold air. Then suddenly, and for seemingly no reason, the center screen lights up and reads, “Goodbye.” Presumably that’s your cue to leave.

There’s an explanation. When you switch off the ID.4 and walk away, everything shuts down, although you might first get a message to turn the headlights off. If you don’t comply, they blink off after a few minutes.

It often seems that manufacturers of exotic or very different vehicles like electrics feel a snooty compulsion to make sure drivers are aware they are not driving a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) machine. So, some of the functions operate differently and the instruments deliver unfamiliar information. 

It’s as if the designers and engineers have never heard of the old political adage of K.I.S.S. for getting candidates elected: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Yet there are hybrids and battery electric cars out there as familiar to operate as our old gassers. Examples are the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt, and Toyota Corolla hybrid.

To be fair, complaints about the Volkswagen ID.4 may simply be traced to driver decrepitude. Likely a 17-year-old would have zero difficulty learning its eccentricities in minutes. But kids don’t buy these vehicles; adults do, and not everyone is savvy.

Gripes aside, the ID.4 (initials for “intelligent design”) is a worthy crossover utility vehicle. It handles well and cruises quietly. Five passengers can ride comfortably in 101 cubic feet of space, about the same as in a midsize sedan, though as usual the center-rear occupant gets disrespected. There’s 30 cubic feet of air for cargo behind the back seat, more than you find in a full-size sedan.

The ID.4 gets its motivation from an electric motor that delivers 201 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels. It’s plenty of power for the 4,700-pound conveyance but doesn’t provide that instant shot of power that characterizes many electric vehicles. As with any battery electric, the maximum torque — or twisting force — arrives as soon as you mash the pedal. But the ID.4’s zero-to-60-mph acceleration is in the seven-second range, respectable but not among the quickest.

Volkswagen ID.4 1ST

The ID.4, fully charged, has a range of up to 250 miles and a towing capability of 2,700 pounds. City/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent is rated by the EPA at 104/89/97 MPGe.

There are three ID.4 versions: Pro at $41,190, including the destination charge; 1st Edition, $45,190, and Pro S, $45,690. The tester’s standard equipment included two otherwise optional packages so its tested price was the same as the base price.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 First Edition four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Motor: Mid-mounted electric, 201 hp, 229 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct with rear-wheel drive.
  • Battery pack: liquid-cooled lithium-ion, 77.0 kWh.
  • Range: Up to 250 miles.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/30 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 4,700 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,700 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 104/89/97 MPGe.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,190.
  • Price as tested: $45,190.

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

Photos (c) Volkswagen

2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV follows in the tire tracks of historic automobiles like the original Volkswagen Bug and Ford’s Model T and Model A. But not in the way you might think.

In the early to mid-20th century, cars were evolving so quickly that sometimes people would buy a new car and then find out that next year it was obsolete as the manufacturer made extensive changes.

Part of the appeal of cars like the Model A and the VW Bug was that they retained their essential goodness from year to year. For some buyers annoyed by obsolescence, that clinched the deal. Over the years since, the industry has subtly returned to the changes for change’s sake in a highly competitive market.

But not the Chevy Bolt. A friend of this reviewer bought a new 2017 Bolt — the first model year it was on the market — and has driven it since. So, when the 2021 model came up for a review, she agreed to drive it and share her impressions.

Except for a slightly more comfortable driver’s seat, her conclusion was that the new Bolt was the same as the 2017. That has all sorts of implications for buyers. But first, a check of the specifications, which have barely changed, bears her out.

The two four-door hatchbacks are the same length — 13 feet 8 inches — have the same passenger and cargo space — 94/17 cubic feet — and weigh within a few pounds of each other. Each has an electric motor that delivers 200 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. Because electric motors develop maximum torque from rest, there is no need for a transmission, so call it a single speed automatic. The 0-60-mph acceleration is in the six-second range, with a top speed of about 93 mph.

There is some refinement in the 2021 model. For example, its stated range is 259 miles on a full charge, where the 2017 model advertised 238. But charging times are similar: About 9.5 hours on a 240-volt charger, nearly 60 hours on standard 120-volt house current. An overnight charge of 15 hours delivers about 60 miles of driving. Figure four miles of range per hour of charging. 

However, a welcome major change on the 2021 Premier model is an added system that enables commercial DC fast charging, which can deliver up to 90 miles of range in 30 minutes. 

Even after four years, the Bolt’s prices have not changed much. In 2017, the top-line Premier had a starting price of $41,780, including the destination charge. That has increased $115 to $41,895 for the 2021 model. With options, the 2017 started at $41,780 and had a bottom-line sticker of $42,760. The bottom line for the 2021 Premier is $43,735.

Standard equipment on the Premier included lane-change alert with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, pedestrian safety signal, leather upholstery, front and rear heated seats, automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, wireless smartphone charging, remote starting, roof rack with side rails, and aluminum alloy wheels with all-season tires.

The friend said her 2017 Bolt had been utterly reliable, though she doesn’t put many miles on it — about 8,000 so far. But she said her only maintenance had been checking the tires and pumping them up when needed.

So, the implication here is if you hanker after an all-electric car and can find a clean Bolt with at least average mileage, you can save a pocket full of money and still have the nearly the same advantages of a new one. An added incentive: Early on, the Bolt qualified for a $7,500 federal tax credit, which now has expired. 

Chevrolet actually had a solid competitor that preceded the Bolt.

It was called the Volt, a plug-in hybrid that could run up to 50 miles or so on pure electric power, then switch to hybrid operation, eliminating the so-called “range anxiety” that accompanies purely electric vehicles.

It was a stylish hatchback that had a run from 2011 to 2019, when Chevrolet dropped it as sales of crossover sport utility vehicles soared and sedan sales tumbled. 

The company toyed with a hydrogen-fueled electric platform that could have underpinned any number of electric cars. Instead, it introduced the Bolt as a 2017 model, which is about as good as any of the other sparkies out there.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier four-door hatchback.
  • Motor: Electric, 200 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 94/17 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,575 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 127/108/118 MPGe.
  • Range: 259 miles.
  • Charging times: Nearly 60 hours on 120-volt household current; 9.5 hours on 240-volt charger.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $41,895.
  • Price as tested: $43,735.

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

Photos (c) Chevrolet

2021 Polestar 2 EV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer      

There’s another new sparkly from Sweden’s Volvo: the Polestar 2, a fully electric, midsize performance/luxury fastback/hatchback that can more than hold its own with many of the electrics that now are popping up like shoots in a garden.

It can compete handily with another all-new electric from Volvo, the XC40 Recharge, a small crossover SUV. That’s because they share power sources — separate electric motors for the front and rear wheels to enable all-wheel drive. 

There are minor differences. The Polestar’s motors together make 408 hp with 487 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. The XC40’s make 402 hp and 486 lb-ft of torque. But the vehicles bear little physical resemblance to each other. 

Each also claims to be the first on the market with Volvo’s new UX infotainment system, which makes use of the Android Automotive Operating System with Google Maps, Google Voice and Google Assistant. As on the previously reviewed XC40 Recharge, the system can be frustrating to use without detailed instruction and practice.

Like the XC40 Recharge, the Polestar has a small trunk of one cubic foot under the hood — a good place to store charging cables.

Yet they are both essentially Volvos, from the company that pioneered the three-point seatbelt and other safety innovations. It held up during some difficult times, including a decade when it was owned by  Ford. Now the owner is Geely Holding, a Chinese company based in Gothenburg, Sweden. 

Wisely, the owners let Volvo be Volvo, with the result that the new Polestar 2 delivers Scandinavian flavor with classy but minimalist design. Though Nappa leather upholstery is an option, everything else inside, the company says, is “sustainable, vegan materials, like a fully vegan interior with the new WeaveTech fabric and reconstructed wood.”

The test car provided for this review had the vegan interior. Though the WeaveTech cloth has previously made an appearance on Volvo cars, it continues to be cozily comfortable and supportive — superior to leather, in this view. Besides, the Nappa leather option comes with a $4,000 price tag.

Like the XC40, the Polestar 2 is something of a dragster, with a zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration time, according to the manufacturer, of 4.45 seconds and a top speed of 125. The XC40 Recharge is only marginally slower with a zero to 60 time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 112 mph.

With its powerful electric motor and a 75-kWh battery, the Polestar gets a rapid jump off the line. Because electric motors deliver maximum torque, or twisting force, as soon as they are activated, there are no shift points — and no engine roar. Silent running is the mode for acceleration and cruising. The suspension is biased toward sharp handling, which sometimes makes for a choppy ride.

The Polestar’s range is about 200 miles when fully charged. But it can be enhanced with regenerative braking. There are Low and Standard settings. Both enable one-pedal driving. When you lift off the throttle the Polestar automatically starts braking and will come to a stop without touching the brakes. It takes practice but is not difficult. 

There’s also creep mode that allows the Polestar to keep moving in slow traffic without much intervention from the driver. All of the drive modes, including another that determines steering effort, are controlled from the center touch screen.

One feature shared with the XC40 that likely will lead to lively discussion: There’s no Start button. Simply unlock the car, sit in the driver’s seat, pull the shift lever back to the Drive setting and the Polestar can go. When you leave, it all shuts down.

The Polestar seats four comfortably. There’s a fifth seatbelt for the center-rear position. But it is compromised by a large floor hump, intrusion of the center console and a high, hard seat cushion. 

Rear vision also is restricted by large headrests in back. So it’s important to get the side view mirrors properly adjusted to eliminate blind spots.

There’s a full panoramic glass moon roof that does not open and lacks a sun shade, though it has automatic light dimming. And the front sun visors do not slide on their support rods to adequately block sunlight from the sides.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Polestar 2 four-door hatchback sedan.
  • Electric motors: Two permanent-magnet synchronous AC; total system 408 hp, 487 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: direct-drive automatic with full-time all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 96/15 plus one cubic foot in front trunk. 39 plus one cubic foot with rear seatbacks folded.
  • Weight: 4,715 pounds.
  • City/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 96/88/92  MPGe.
  • Range: Up to 200 miles.
  • Charging time: Eight hours with 240-volt, level 2 charger; 22 hours with household 120-volt current; 40 minutes to 80% capacity with DC fast charger.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $60,000.
  • Price as tested: $66,200.

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

Photos (c) Polestar

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E X Premium: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The intensely-awaited 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E has crept silently into the nation’s automotive consciousness. Even without the mighty roar of a Mustang Bullitt V8, it is fast, fast, fast.

But it’s a . . . what? An electric crossover sport utility vehicle? With a hatchback? And batteries under the floorboards to keep it planted? What happened to the sport coupes and fastbacks? 

They’re still there, spewing greenhouse gases from their internal combustion engines, contributing to global warming. The Mach-E does none of that — at least by itself, though its power is generated by fossil fuels.

Ford marketed a Focus battery-electric until 2018. When the company decided to go all-in on an electric vehicle, it decided to trade on the popular Mustang to deliver a cross between a high-performance sportster and a family four-door crossover.

There are six Mach-E versions with prices starting at $43,995, including the destination charge, for the base rear-drive Select, and working up to the high-performance GT. Driven for this review was the Premium trim with a $50,800 starting price and, as tested, a bottom-line sticker of $56,400.

Part of the additional cost was the optional all-wheel drive and an extended-range battery. Two electric motors, front and rear, deliver 346 horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque. Ford and the EPA say that the Mach-E GT can travel up to 300 miles on a full charge. The tested Premium was rated at 270 miles, with a city/highway/combined mpg equivalent rating of 96/84/90 MPGe. As always, mileage can vary depending on the driver and how the vehicle is driven.

The range claim may be optimistic. After 19 hours of charging with a level 2, 240-volt charger, the tested Mach-E’s charging gauge showed a 100% charge with 236 miles of range. That’s about the same as the smaller 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, which advertised 238.

In its defense, the tested Mach E was a pre-production model used for testing. It will not be sold and ultimately will end up in a crusher. This tester had a couple of glitches. The most serious was a tendency to buck and pitch while highway cruising, almost as if the shock absorbers were beginning to wear. It didn’t seem to affect performance but watching the hood rise and fall was distracting.

It also had a cloth cover to hide cargo contents under the rear hatch. But it had flimsy connectors that had a tendency to disconnect when the Mach-E accelerated or was driven hard around corners. Again, the annoyance was likely to be corrected in saleable production models.

A mystery was a one-by-six inch blank instrument on top of the steering column. Ford spokeswoman Emma Bergg (sic) said it was a forward-facing camera for the company’s future hands-free driving system. It will be hooked up over-the-air later in 2021.

The Mach-E has an on-board charger which can deliver up to an 80 percent charge overnight with a 240-volt outlet. With a standard 120-volt household outlet, it can add up to 30 miles of range overnight. The Mach-E Premium also is equipped to handle a commercial DC fast charger with up to 800 volts. Ford is busy establishing what it says will be the largest network of 13,500 charging stations with 40,000 plugs in the U.S. and some areas in Canada. 

As you would find with almost any Mustang, gasoline or electric, the Mach-E is exciting to drive. Combine all that horsepower with instant electric torque and it jams the torso into the seat as it rockets away. The Prestige model is rated at 4.8 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph while the top-line GT is said to do the run in 3.8 seconds.

There are three drive modes in addition to a one-pedal drive system that dials in automatic regenerative braking, slowing the Mach-E while helping recharge the battery for extra range. With a bit of practice, a driver can go for many miles without touching the brake pedal.

The drive modes are named Whisper, Engage and Unbridled. They alter steering and pedal feel and even deliver different power sounds, though for the most part the Mach-E is commendably silent and comfortable. One-pedal driving and the other modes are selected from the iPad-like 15.5-inch center touch screen, which also controls navigation, audio and other functions.

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E X Premium crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Powertrain: Two electric motors, front and rear: Extended range, 98.8 kWh (88 usable); 346hp, 428 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • SAE/EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/29 (+5 front trunk) cubic feet (60 behind first row seats).
  • Weight: 4,838 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 96/84/90 MPGe.
  • Range: Up to 270 miles. (236 observed).
  • Base price, including destination charge: $50,800.
  • Price as tested: $56,400.

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

Photos (c) Ford

2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge P8: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

“Volvo” is Latin for “I roll,” and the Swedish manufacturer rolls into what it believes is its future with the 2021 XC40 Recharge P8, a purely electric small crossover sport utility vehicle.

But it’s more than the company’s first foray into what it calls “a new era of electrification.” There are quite a few all-electric cars already on the market from Nissan, Porsche, Hyundai, Chevrolet, Tesla, Audi, Honda, BMW, Kia, Jaguar, MINI and Volkswagen.

To Volvo, however, the new XC40 Recharge is its future. Moreover, it is more than just an economical, non-polluting conveyance like some of the others, it is a genuine high-performance luxury machine with a price tag to match. It starts at $54,985.

At the time of this writing, the XC40 Recharge had not yet been introduced. But Volvo made a few of them available for brief drives by automotive journalists who are members of the North American Car of the Year jury, including this one. There are 50 members and they drive and vote for car, utility and truck of the year awards. The Recharge was nominated for utility of the year.

From a size standpoint, the XC40 Recharge is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency, which handles fuel economy ratings, as a small SUV. Except for its electric motors, it is almost identical to the gasoline-fueled XC40, a substantial luxury crossover. However, its electric power earns it an EPA miles per gallon equivalent rating of 85/72/79 MPGe, compared to the city/highway/combined rating of 23/31/26 mpg for the gasser.

Though it doesn’t look the part, the Recharge also is a sneaky stoplight performer with the stuff to embarrass some snooty European marques. Volvo rates the zero-to-60 mph acceleration at 4.7 seconds with a top speed of 112 mph. 

With only an hour and about 35 miles of driving, there wasn’t enough time or distance to fully evaluate the XC40 electric’s bona fides. But it certainly left a solid impression.

Looking to the future, this cookie doesn’t even have an ignition keyhole or a pushbutton to get underway. The pressure of the driver’s tush on the seat and a touch of the loud pedal switches the motors on. There’s no feel to it; just a notation on the instruments that it’s ready. But it is disconcerting; the guess here is that most drivers will want the  sensation of touching a button to start.

After that, a push on the pedal activates two electric motors—one for each axle — the XC40 Recharge has all-wheel drive. The motors deliver 402 hp and 486 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. There’s no need for a conventional automatic transmission because electric motors deliver maximum torque as soon as they are activated.        

On the road, the Recharge conjures a comparison to the celebrated Muhammad Ali, a heavyweight and one of the greatest boxing champions of all time. The steering feel is heavy, as befits a luxury car, but this XC40 is light on its tires and changes direction with a twitch of the steering wheel. Its suspension system also soaks up road irregularities without upsetting forward motion.

Like any electric, it cruises quietly, abetted by extra insulation for the compartment where the battery lives low in the chassis to enhance handling. It delivers 78 kilowatt hours of power, 75 of which is rated as usable. Unusually, the front electric motor leaves some space for a tiny trunk of about one cubic foot under the hood — a good place to stash valuables. Behind the rear seat, there’s cargo space of 16 cubic feet, expandable to 47 cubic feet if you fold the rear seatbacks.

The range on a fully charged battery is advertised as 208 miles, not in the high range for electric cars. It could have been better but for the high performance orientation. Fully recharging from empty takes about eight hours with a 240-volt charger. On a commercial so-called fast charger, the XC40 Recharge can top up to 80% in about 40 minutes.

On the center screen resides Volvo’s new UX infotainment system, which makes use of an Android Automotive operating system with Google Maps and Google Assistant. As with other luxury cars, this one takes more than a bit of casual learning, especially figuring out how to pre-set radio stations and fine-tune climate controls. 

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge P8 four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Motors: Electric, on front and rear axles; 402 hp, 486 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 4 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 95/17 cubic feet. (one cubic foot in front trunk). 
  • Weight: 4,824 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • Range: 208 miles.
  • Charging time (240-volt charger): 8 hours.
  • Miles per gallon equivalent: 85/72/79 MPGe.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $54,985.
  • Price as tested: N/A.

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

Photos (c) Volvo

2020 Nissan Leaf SV Plus: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although Tesla gets most of the attention and expensive newcomers like the Porsche Taycan and Audi e-Tron get the praise, the almost-venerable 2020 Nissan Leaf continues as a decent, relatively inexpensive, alternative for anyone who wants an electric car.

We can give it the venerable title because the Leaf was the first modern mass-market electric car from a major vehicle manufacturer. Introduced in the United States in December, 2010, it was the best seller until recently, when the Tesla Model 3 passed it.

Front 3q Left

But best-selling as an electric doesn’t compare with the resurgence of small-displacement fossil-fuel engines, which now dominate the market, mostly in crossover SUVs.

In 2019, electric cars  accounted for 1.9% of the U.S. sales of cars and light trucks. If you skip trucks and you’re just talking cars, it’s about 6%. So, motorist acceptance likely will not arrive for some years to come as manufacturers scramble for battery and charging breakthroughs.

But electric cars possess a great deal of innate appeal: They don’t pollute, they’re fuel efficient, have low maintenance costs, are quiet and relaxing to drive, never have to visit a service station and, best of all for people who enjoy driving, are natural great performers.

Front 3q Right Action

The excitement common to all electrics comes from the nature of the electric motor, which produces maximum torque, or twisting force, immediately when they are switched on. That’s unlike gasoline or diesel engines, which deliver their maximum torque when they reach a certain revolutions per minute (rpm).

With the Nissan Leaf electric, you sit quietly at a stoplight as if the motor is switched off, though it’s still connected. The light changes and you punch the throttle pedal. Wham! You have full torque, enough with the nearly two-ton Leaf SV Plus to nail 60 mph in about seven seconds.

Profile Left

You don’t even need a transmission to multiply the torque. The “force be with you” for acceleration and passing exists because of the motor itself. That’s why most electric cars list the transmission as “single speed automatic.”

Drive the around all day, even take a short trip — the advertised range is 215 miles with its 62 kilowatt-hour battery — then plug it into a 240-volt home or commercial charger overnight and it will be ready to boogie again the next day.

Of course, the downside of the Leaf and other pure electrics is the time required to recharge the battery. With a 240-volt charger, it takes about 11 hours, OK overnight. If you have access only to household current, figure on a couple of days. So long trips, unless meticulously planned  for charging stops and stays at rural motels, are likely out of the question.

Dash

That likely will change as battery technology and charging equipment improve. Until then, most people will stick with their gassers, which can be refueled in minutes at an Interstate truck stop.

All of that said, the tested Nissan Leaf SV Plus is a nifty, even endearing choice. First, it’s a standard four-door hatchback with midsize room for five (though the center-rear passenger is dissed as usual) and plenty of space in a deep cargo area.

Front

The surroundings are familiar. There’s a simple knob on the console for shifting into forward, reverse and park. It’s different but not goofy. Instruments, controls and infotainment are all intuitive and mostly easy to figure out. If not, consult the owner’s manual.

It’s all set up for careful drivers who want to extend their range—and it works. First, there’s a B setting to augment the D for drive. Simply shift the knob a second time. It switches from a coasting mode on deceleration to one that more aggressively slows the Leaf. The regenerative braking helps recharge the battery while you’re driving.

Center Console

There’s also a so-called e-Pedal mode, activated by a switch on the console, that delivers even more aggressive regenerative braking that allows what is called “one pedal driving.” If you learn how to use it, you can re-charge the battery even more and never use the brake pedal.

The Leaf comes in five trim levels, with a starting price for the S version of $32,525, including the destination charge. Tested for this review was the SV Plus, which had a suggested price with options of $42,670. Others are the SV, S Plus and SL Plus

The tested Leaf posted an EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent fuel economy of 114/94/104 MPGe.

Motor

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Leaf SV Plus four-door hatchback.
  • Motor: AC Synchronous Electric; 214 hp, 250 lb-ft torque; 62 kWh lithium-ion battery.
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,909 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined miles per gallon equivalent: 114/94/104 MPGe.
  • Range: Up to 215 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,675.
  • Price as tested: $42,670.

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

Rear

Photos (c) Nissan

2020 Hyundai Kona EV Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As electric vehicles go in 2020, the Hyundai Kona motors at or near the front of the pack.

The Kona EV is a small crossover sport utility vehicle, similar in many respects to the Kia Niro, no surprise because Hyundai owns almost one-third of Kia and the South Korean sister companies share engines and transmissions, though they do their own styling, other engineering and tuning.

Large-37051-2020KonaElectric

The Hyundai engineers have squeezed about as much power and range as possible from the Kona’s electric motor, which makes 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque, sent directly to the front wheels. There’s no need for the torque multiplication of a conventional automatic transmission because electric motors deliver maximum torque the instant they are switched on.

Unlike Kona gasoline-engine models, the EV comes only with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is not available. Still, independent tests have demonstrated that the EV is slightly quicker off the line than the Kona with the 175-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine.

Large-37020-2020KonaElectric

With a base curb weight of 3,750 lbs, that amount of power enables the Kona to scamper to 60 mph in the six-second range — not bad for what is described as a subcompact sport ute that has interior space of 111 cubic feet. That’s as much as a midsize sedan, though the back seat has a shortage of knee room.

Moreover, it is stingy with natural resources. With no fossil fuels directly involved — the electricity comes off the same grid as the juice that feeds your TV set and kitchen range — the Kona EV is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency as equivalent to 132 mpg fuel economy. And that’s around town. On the highway, the so-called MPGe is 108 and overall the happy owner gets 120 MPGe.

Large-37031-2020KonaElectric

Better yet, this little scooter is a joy to drive. The 64 kW hour battery pack, which enables an advertised range of 258 miles on a charge, is located under the floor. The lower center of gravity makes for a more stable set around curves, though the weight and suspension tuning makes for a choppy ride on rough surfaces. Of course, the Kona is blissfully silent at any speed.

Part of the reason for the decent range is an aggressive regenerative braking system. When the driver lifts off the throttle, the Kona immediately slows down, feeling as if the brakes had been applied. The energy produced goes right into the battery pack.

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The driver can control the system’s regeneration with paddles on the steering wheel, to the point where so-called one-pedal driving is possible. Much like the BMW i3, the Kona can be carefully driven without ever using the brake pedal.

There are three selectable drive modes: normal, sport and eco. Normal enhances the regenerative braking and eco shuts down some systems like the heating and air conditioning to extend battery life. Sport puts more power on tap, similar to higher engine revs on a gasoline-engine vehicle.

Large-36989-2020KonaElectric

Though there’s an onboard charger and a cord to plug into a standard 110-volt household outlet, it’s not anybody’s first choice because it would take a couple of days to get a full charge from a depleted battery pack. Better to use a 240-volt Level 2 charger at home, which can do the trick in about 9.5 hours overnight. If you have access to a commercial Level 3 DC charger, you can top up the Kona’s battery pack in about an hour.
Kona EV prices start at $38,310, including the destination charge, for the SEL trim level. Others are the Limited, at $42,920 and the top-line Ultimate, tested here, at $46,520. All versions get automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist.

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The Ultimate also came with blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic collision alert, DC fast charging capability, navigation system, SXM satellite and HD radio, head-up display, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, motorized glass sunroof, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, LED lighting and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

In the current panoply of electric sedans and crossovers, the Kona EV stands out in a group that includes the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt and, of course, its garage-mate Kia Niro. But it also looks capable against  such higher-priced machines as the Jaguar E-Pace, Audi E-Tron and even the Tesla Model 3.

Large-36979-2020KonaElectric

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Kona Electric Ultimate four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Motor: 356-volt electric; 201 hp, 291 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct drive automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 13 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 92/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,750 lbs.
  • EPA Miles Per Gallon Equivalent city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 132/108/120 MPGe.
  • Advertised range: 258 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $46,295.
  • Price as tested: $46,430.

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

Large-36981-2020KonaElectricPhotos (c) Hyundai

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E: A DriveWays Preview…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Hawthorne, CA — With an event that would have done justice to a herd of stampeding wild horses, the Ford Motor Co. unveiled its newest and most radical Mustang, an all-electric crossover SUV named the Mach-E.

More than 600 witnesses, including automotive journalists from around the world and  a host of Ford supporters, engineers and designers, gathered Sunday evening, November 17, in an airport hanger in this suburb southwest of Los Angeles. Presiding was none other than William Clay Ford Jr., the great-grandson of founder Henry Ford and Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Co.

Mustang Mach-E 15Mr. Ford has a reputation as an environmentalist, and pronounced this new machine as “a new Ford for a new age,” a non-polluting vehicle that, as some naysayers might point out, gets its electric power from a variety of sources, including fossil fuels.

The event was both a gamble and a bold leap into the future for the storied automobile manufacturer, which made a calculated decision to trade on the name of its original and still popular pony car, the Mustang, which was introduced in 1964 with a small six-cylinder engine and a three-speed floor-mounted stick shift, and without air conditioning.

Mustang Mach-E 05Contrast that with the 2021 electric Mustang Mach-E, which goes into production next year with a choice of all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive and powered by one or two electric motors that in the top performance model can hit 60 mph in three seconds, faster than the current top performing Mustang Shelby GT500 — and without any of the ear-splitting exhaust sounds.

More realistically for consumers, Ford says the Mach-E, depending on the model, will deliver 225 to 332 hp and 306 to 417 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels or all four wheels. It will have a range of 210 to 230 miles in rear-drive or all-wheel drive trim. The former will deliver a zero-to-60 mph acceleration time in the low six-second range; the latter in the mid-five second  range.

Mustang Family PhotoMost important, from the company’s view, is the presence. The Mach-E, for all of its four-door crossover utility, looks like a Mustang from the outside with a comfortable and accommodating interior that, with its infotainment functions, vaguely resembles a Tesla, with a giant center screen.

At 15 feet 6 inches long and 5 feet 3 inches tall, the Mach-E slots into the heart of the crossover SUV category, somewhere between a compact and midsize. It has adequate space inside for four, and even the fifth center-rear passenger can plant his or her feet on a flat floor. Cargo space behind the rear seats totals 29 cubic feet and more than doubles to 60 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

Mustang Mach-E 26With production not scheduled until sometime in 2020, the Mach-E for now is something of a dream. It is Ford’s first foray into an all-electric vehicle. To the company’s credit, it could have introduced a battery-electric power train into an existing vehicle like the Escape compact crossover but chose instead to make a bold leap.

At this stage of the betting on the future, there were no specific prices announced for the Mach-E. Unofficially, the word at the debut was that the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E would start at around $45,000 for the base rear-wheel drive model and climb to around $65,000 for the ultimate performance all-wheel drive version. Under current law, it would be eligible for a federal tax credit of $7,500, as well as other state and local credits.

Mustang Mach-E 27To inject a note of celebrity into the occasion, the company brought a rousing performance by the Detroit Youth Choir of TV’s “America’s Got Talent,” along with Idris Elba, the English actor, producer, writer, musician and rapper, who recalled that he had worked for Ford in Dagenham, England, and said he still felt like a member of the Ford family.

If Ford gets its way, the Mach-E could considerably expand that family.

Mustang Mach-E 14Disclaimer: This preview was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Mustang Mach-E 04 GTPhotos (c) Ford

2019 Kia Niro EV: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Although it sometimes seems as if Elon Musk’s Tesla gets all the publicity, an increasing number of fine electric vehicles are rolling into the market. An intriguing new one is the 2019 Kia Niro EV.

It is an engaging small crossover sport utility vehicle that also comes as a gasoline-electric hybrid or a plug-in hybrid. The EV competes against half a dozen other electrics in the sub-$40,000 category, including the Chevrolet Bolt, Kia Soul and Nissan Leaf hatchbacks; the Hyundai Kona subcompact crossover, and the Tesla Model 3 sedan.

2019 Niro EV

Because South Korea’s Hyundai owns about 38% of Kia, the Niro EV shares its power train with the Hyundai Kona, though with slightly different tuning. Kia and Hyundai gasoline and hybrid models also share engines and transmissions but do their own designs, styling and other components.

The Niro EV uses a 356-volt electric motor that delivers 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque. Power makes its way directly to the front wheels because electric motors deliver maximum torque immediately so there’s no need for a conventional automatic transmission.

Though Kia lists the zero to 60 mph acceleration time at 7.8 seconds, independent tests put it in the 6-second range. Top speed is 104 mph and the government rates the electric equivalent city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 123/102/112 mpgE.

2019 Niro EV

Among the current purely electric powered vehicles, the Kona EV delivers a respectable advertised range of 239 miles on a full charge, less than the Kona’s 258 miles. However, the Niro is heavier, five inches longer than the Kona and more expensive. Also, you are likely to get fewer miles in real-world driving.

You can enhance the range two ways: Select the Eco drive mode instead of Normal or Sport, which increases motor drag to regenerate the battery pack. You also can use the steering-wheel mounted paddles to accomplish the same thing, even in Sport mode. However, the owner’s manual does not tell you how the paddles work.

If you opt for the Niro EV, with all its virtues, make sure to invest in a Level 2 240-volt charger, which will recharge your Niro in nine hours and 35 minutes, easily overnight. If you stick with your standard 110-volt household outlet, figure on a weekend. That charging time is 59 hours. If you have access to a 100-KWh DC fast charger, you can top up your Niro’s battery to 80% in an hour. All numbers come from Kia.

2019 Niro EV

The Niro’s base price is $37,995, including the destination charge. But because it is new it qualifies for the federal government’s $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicle purchases. The credit has phased out for the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Unfortunately, for now the Niro is available in only 12 of the 50 states: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.

Tested for this review was the top-line Niro EV EX Premium, which had a starting price of $44,995. It includes full basic safety equipment plus forward collision avoidance, lane keeping and following assist, driver attention warning, blind spot collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert, and stop-and-go adaptive cruise control.

2019 Niro EV

In addition, the tested EX Premium came with automatic climate control, heated and ventilated leather-upholstered front seats, navigation system, motorized sunroof, Harman Kardon premium audio, SXM satellite radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, wireless smart phone charging, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, power driver’s seat, and LED headlights and taillights.

On the road, the Niro EV is a sprightly performer. With the electric motor’s instant torque, it gets a quick jump off the line while other automobiles and trucks are just getting revved up.

2019 Niro EV

The steering has a hefty feel, not unlike that of some European luxury cars. It validates the old adage that a small car should drive like a big car, and vice versa. Small bumps and potholes do not upset the suspension system, which easily soaks them up.

However, the Niro EV’s short wheelbase — the 8 feet 10 inches distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels — results in some fore-and-aft pitching on undulating surfaces.

Overall, the handling is competent and secure, partly due to the Niro’s low center of gravity. The battery pack is housed under the floor. Front seats are well bolstered and the outboard back seats deliver space and comfort.

2019 Niro EV

Specifications    

  • Model: 2019 Kia Niro EV EX Premium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 356-volt permanent magnet synchronous electric motor; 201 hp, 291 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct drive automatic; front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,854 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined mpgE: 123/102/112.
  • Advertised range: 239 miles.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,995.
  • Price as tested: $47,155.

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

2019 Niro EV

Photos (c) Kia

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