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Hybrids

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though it does not compete in the luxury class of crossover sport utility vehicles, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited owns some of those attributes, notably a substantial feel and a peaceful cabin on the road.

It’s a midsize four-door with two rows of seats, powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor that together deliver 226 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard.

The new Santa Fe arrives in exceptional company. It slots between Hyundai’s acclaimed larger three-row crossover, the Palisade, and the redesigned 2022 Tucson, a compact which offers its Hybrid model with a power train that is nearly identical to the Santa Fe’s and is priced about $2,500 less comparably equipped. 

The Santa Fe also is a fraternal twin of the Kia Sorento. Hyundai and Kia are sister companies in South Korea, and share engines and transmissions, though each does its own engineering, design and tuning. A Kia Sorento EX Hybrid previously reviewed here came with a nearly identical engine/motor combination. As on the Santa Fe Hybrid, power moves through a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode operated by steering-wheel paddles. 

The main difference between the two was that the Sorento had front-wheel drive and three rows of seats compared to the Santa Fe’s all-wheel drive and two rows. Other dimensions were within inches between the two vehicles and the Kia’s price tag was about $3,000 lower, mainly because of the Hyundai’s all-wheel drive.

But if a luxury look and feel cranks your motor, the Santa Fe would fit the bill nicely. As noted, it imparts solidity and silence to the driver and passengers, with a tactile steering feel that would not seem alien to a Mercedes-Benz or BMW owner. Handling is secure and competent with little body lean on curves. 

Contributing to the placid driving experience is the Santa Fe’s hybrid drive train, which switches unobtrusively between electric and gasoline power. 

Though the Santa Fe is not the quickest sprinter off the blocks, the electric motor’s instant torque delivers a boost at low speeds, so it is not embarrassed in urban, suburban or freeway traffic. The zero-to-60-mph acceleration time is in the seven-second range, respectable but not outstanding in this era. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated by the EPA at 33/30/32 mpg.

The interior exudes stylish quality. On the test car, the upholstery had an attractive combination of black and dark brown perforated and quilted leather and other materials for the upholstery, door trim and dash. Substantial bolstering on the front seat keeps the torso tidily in place. Overhead, a panoramic glass sunroof came with an opaque power shade.

Comfort and support in the outboard rear seats is first rate. But the center seat, despite a nearly flat floor, is still an uncomfortable perch that is high and hard, though roomier than many others. Rear seatbacks recline and fold nearly flat.

The instruments included Hyundai’s signature blind spot warning system. When the turn signals are activated, camera views to the right- or left-rear so-called blind spots are displayed in the instruments. The only drawback is that heavy rain can leave drops on the camera lenses, which partially obscures the view. 

As wonderful as the system is, it is not needed if the driver uses the original blind spot warning system by properly adjusting the inside and outside rear-view mirrors to provide a wide-ranging view behind the vehicle.

The Santa Fe Limited Hybrid’s base price of $41,235 includes almost everything any buyer might want, especially full safety equipment: forward collision assist, blind-spot warning, automatic high headlight beams, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, driver attention warning, lane-keeping and lane following assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, and rear occupant alert.

Other features: Navigation system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual automatic climate control, memory driver’s seat, SXM satellite radio, premium Harman Kardon audio, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless device charging, surround view rear monitor, parking assist, and heated and ventilated front seats.

The only option on the tested Santa Fe was $155 for carpeted floor mats, bringing the as-tested price to $41,290, which now is only about $1,000 more than the average price of a new automobile in the United States.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged, 178 hp, 195 lb-ft torque; 59-hp electric motor, 195 lb-ft torque; combined system output 226 hp, 258 lb-ft torque. 
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 112/36 cubic feet. 
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • Weight: 4,245 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 33/30/32 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $41,135.
  • Price as tested: $41,290.

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

Photos (c) Hyundai

2021 BMW X5 xDrive 45e: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Luxury plug-in hybrids like the 2021 BMW X5 xDrive 45e present a puzzle that will not be solved until purely electric vehicles become the mainstream.

Manufacturers are increasingly committed to that goal, predicting that in a decade or so, many automobiles, utility vehicles, and even trucks will be 100% battery powered to reduce carbon emissions and help save the planet from premature annihilation.

Meanwhile, we already have excellent electric vehicles from General Motors, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Porsche, Volkswagen, Nissan, Volvo, Audi, Polestar, and, yes, BMW. But they are expensive and lack the convenience of current gasoline- and diesel-fueled machines. 

They will become mainstream when they achieve a similar range, recharge roughly the same time it takes to gas up an internal combustion vehicle and build charging stations in numbers rivaling today’s service stations. 

That will take a while, recalling the time when automobiles began to replace horse-drawn carriages and wagons. Then, you fed oats and hay to the horses but had to drop by the local drug store to buy gasoline.

At this juncture, the compromise is called electrification, and its leading representative is the hybrid gasoline-electric power plant. Led by Toyota’s Prius, with more than 2.4 million sales in the United States, the modern hybrids have proliferated throughout the automotive world.

They deliver outstanding fuel economy because they can run on purely electric power and partially recharge batteries from regenerative braking, with the gasoline engine automatically kicking in as needed. But the main advantage is that the driving experience is no different from that of a standard gasoline-engine car. Some hybrids are more potent than their fossil-fuel brethren, are easy to refuel, and do not have to be plugged in.

Also in the mix are the PHEVs (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles) like the subject here from BMW, its X5 xDrive 45e.

Though the X5 PHEV gets a 50-MPGe fuel economy rating from the EPA, its electric range on a full charge is advertised as 31 miles when it switches to hybrid or gasoline power. Running on gasoline only, it has a 20-mpg rating, which works out to about a 370-mile range.

There have been reports that some owners do not bother to plug in their plug-ins. They simply drive them as standard hybrids, giving up the added economy of electric driving. But if owners plug in and drive less than 31 miles a day, they can avoid gassing up.

The difficulty with plug-ins — especially those of a luxury orientation — is that they are generally more costly than fossil-fueled or hybrid vehicles.

A prime example is the tested X5 xDrive 45e. Its base sticker price of $66,395 is $4,000 more than a gasoline-engine X5 with all-wheel drive, standard on the 45e. If you forego the all-wheel drive and go with a gasoline rear-drive X5 sDrive, the difference is $6,000.

On top of that, BMW has an options list that reaches the horizon. The tested X5 45e had extras that added $15,300 and brought the bottom-line sticker price to $81,695. Of course, that includes every feature common to that luxury category.

It’s a huge nut, likely out of reach for the vast majority of prospective buyers but attractive to people who can afford it. The big item on the tester’s options list is the $5,500 M Sport package, evoking ultra-high-performance BMW models. Here it includes Sport Seats, an M

Steering wheel, unique lightweight alloy wheels and trim pieces, and a performance-tweaked eight-speed automatic transmission.       

The X5 PHEV is motivated by a silky 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine with 282 horsepower, linked to a 111-hp electric motor.  Combined, they deliver 389 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel this 5,672-pound midsize crossover to 60 mph in less than five seconds, with a top speed of 146 mph.

This SUV is a BMW after all, with all that implies: Great handling, aided by a standard air suspension system, a comfortable ride cosseted in the supportive sport seats, quiet cruising, the capability to smoke most contenders in stoplight drag races, and the quiet comfort of great design and engineering. Also, it’s American built, in the BMW plant in Spartanburg, S.C.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 BMW X5 xDrive 45e plug-in hybrid four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 3.0-liter six-cylinder gasoline, turbocharged, 282 hp; electric,111 hp; combined system 389 hp, 443 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 105/33 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 5,672 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 7,200 pounds.
  • EPA fuel-economy ratings: 50 MPGe; 20 MPG gasoline only. 
  • Base price, including destination charge: $66,395.
  • Price as tested: $81,695.

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

Photos (c) BMW

2021 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With the 2021 XLE AWD-e and other hybrid models, the Toyota Prius is coming of the age of majority. It is in its 21st year and continues as the favorite among gasoline-electric vehicles in the United States, with a total of 2.4 million sold.

When Toyota decided in the late 1990s that Americans were ready for a hybrid, the company gave automotive journalists a taste of the future by lending them right-hand drive Priuses built in Japan, where motorists drive on the left — or correct, as the British like to say — side of the road.

The 2001 Prius came with a 75-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine working in concert with a 44-hp electric motor. Together they delivered an EPA fuel economy rating of 52 miles to the gallon in the city and 48 on the highway. City numbers were higher because urban driving made more use of the electric motor.

As this column reported then, customers lined up in droves, with some waiting six months for delivery. Buyers included celebrities, environmental activists, and citizens looking for old-time virtues of cleanliness and economy.

It carried a fairly stiff price for an economy car then of $20,855. Even at that, Toyota at first lost money on every sale. It was one of only two hybrid cars on the market. The other was the Honda Insight, a streamlined two-seater that used a different hybrid system.

Over the years, the Prius proved its mettle, toting up solid credentials for quality of construction, low maintenance, long battery life, and anvil-like reliability.

Now, for 2021, Toyota adds all-wheel drive. It’s called the Prius AWD-e Hybrid. Tested for this review was the SEL trim level, which carries a base price of $30,570, including the destination charge. With an advanced technology package that included a color head-up display, adaptive front lighting, and auto-leveling headlights, the bottom-line sticker came to $31,629.

Standard equipment includes modern safety equipment of automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping warning and assist, and adaptive cruise control.

The AWD-e still carries some of the funky styling and other touches that have always been a Prius characteristic. With its split rear window and additional busy styling, along with the rear headrests, the AWE-e has severely limited rear vision through the inside rear-view mirror. So it’s essential to adjust the outside mirrors correctly to eliminate the big blind spots.

Overall, however, the AWE-e now resembles a handsome fastback with a rear hatch that provides access to 25 cubic feet of cargo space. It also continues with the Prius signature instruments nestling in the top center of the dash, perhaps to make it easier to build this Prius with either left-hand or right-hand drive for different markets.

But most drivers would likely prefer not to have to look toward the middle of the dash while underway. On the tested SEL, the head-up display negated some of that with hybrid system information.

Despite the location, the instruments and the seven-inch center infotainment screen are easy to decipher. The tested SEL came with SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth capability, USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa compatibility.

There’s plenty of space for four passengers, though as usual, the center-rear unfortunate gets disrespected. But the AWD-e has decent ride quality, so complaints from the back seat should be pretty rare.

The power train is quintessentially Prius: a 1.8-liter gasoline engine mated to a 71-hp electric motor. Overall, the system delivers 121 hp and 120 lb-ft of torque. A separate small electric motor drives the AWE-e’s rear wheels. Toyota’s smooth continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses planetary gears instead of the more typical belts and pulleys, transmits the power.

On the highway, the tester cruised serenely, with little intrusion of mechanical, road, or wind noise. The exception was during hard acceleration, which elicited loud grating noises from the gasoline engine.

The AWD-e is no stoplight drag racer, taking nearly 10 seconds to reach 60 mph from rest. But it feels responsive in traffic and, likely because of the modest power common to most Priuses, encourages drivers to hammer their little hybrids to the limit. 

Every motorist has seen a Prius driver bolt from a stoplight, pedal to the metal, to stay ahead of traffic — and never mind the cost in fuel economy. That’s the way it goes.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e Hybrid four-door hatchback.
  • Engine/motor: 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 71 hp electric motor; total system 121 hp, 120 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 93/25 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 51/47/49 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,570.
  • Price as tested: $31,629.

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

Photos (c) Toyota

2021 Toyota Sienna XSE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Despite the ridicule it endures, the minivan still is the most practical personal passenger vehicle on the planet. Now, with the 2021 Toyota Sienna, there’s one less argument against it.

For the first time with any minivan, all Sienna models are hybrids. So with their other attributes, they deliver impressive fuel economy along with their ginormous 206 cubic feet of passenger and cargo space, about the same as in two Nissan Versa sedans together.

The EPA city/highway/combined numbers for the tested Sienna XSE with front-wheel drive are 36/36/36 mpg. It’s 1 mpg less combined with the available all-wheel drive.

The hybrid system mates a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 134-kW electric motor to deliver 245 net hp. They are linked to a capable continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that features what Toyota calls a “sequential shift mode,” meaning that it can be manually shifted with the console-mounted shift lever. There are no steering-wheel paddles. It doesn’t change much so most people are unlikely to bother shifting for themselves.

There are five versions, starting with the $35,635 LE model, followed by the $40,925 XLE, the tested sporty XSE at $43,175, Limited $47,875, and the top-line Platinum, $51,075. The prices are for front-drivers. Add bargain priced all-wheel drive for $740.

Like other minivans, the Sienna is long at 16 feet 9 inches. But with all-new styling enhanced on the XSE model with 20-inch wheels, it’s also graceful looking and less ponderous in its handling than a full-sized sport utility vehicle like a Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Expedition or Toyota’s own Sequoia.

In fact, it feels like a much smaller vehicle on the road and can even be hustled through moderate curves without getting unsettled. There are various drive modes, including Eco, EV, Normal and Sport. But the differences are minor, though the Sport setting delivers a modest tightening of the steering and suspension system. It also seems to provide slightly more deceleration regenerative braking to help recharge the battery pack.

Overall, the tested Sienna XSE was a pleasant road-going companion, quiet in operation with enough power to handle any public highway situation and a bump-soaking ride no doubt enhanced by its length. Independent tests have clocked the 0-60 mph acceleration time in the seven-second range.

The XSE’s seven-passenger cabin was a welcoming space. It comes standard with second-row captain’s chairs,  providing between-seat access to the third row, where there’s plenty of head room and ample knee room as long as the second row seats are pushed forward — they have 25 inches of travel. But if you cram three passengers into the third row they’d better be children or very skinny adults.

Soft faux leather in black and embossed white covered the seats in the tested XSE, with well-bolstered sport seats up front. Second row seats cannot be stored but can be jackknifed with the pull of a lever to provide additional space for cargo. The third-row seats, divided two-thirds and one-third, can be folded almost flat with the pull of one lever and easily brought back up with the lever and a pull strap.  

Up front, the center console features built-in non-adjustable armrests at the same height as the armrests on the doors. There’s a deep bin and four cup holders, two large and two small, and a dozen other cup holders throughout the cabin. Seven USB ports are scattered around to serve passengers. Below the dash is a narrow side-to-side shelf with a wireless smart phone charging port.

The Sienna comes with Toyota’s extensive Safety Sense, including a pre-collision system with automatic emergency braking, low light pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection; lane-departure mitigation with lane-keeping assist, road edge detection and sway warning; blind spot monitoring, and dynamic radar cruise control.

Convenience items included advanced voice recognition, hands-free phone operation, WiFi, and an intuitive nine-inch center screen that controls a navigation system, premium audio, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, SXM satellite radio and HD radio. There’s also a 1500-watt electric inverter. 

Other XSE equipment: Power side doors and rear lift gate; four-zone automatic climate control; second row side window sunshades; black roof rails, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with compass, and dual upper and lockable lower glove compartments.

To prevent Mom or Dad from getting laryngitis yelling at the kids, a Driver Easy Speak microphone amplifies the driver’s voice through the rear speakers.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Toyota Sienna XSE seven-passenger minivan.
  • Engine/motor hybrid system: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 134 kW electric motor; combined system 245 hp.
  • Transmission: Electronically controlled continuously variable automatic with sequential shift control and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 167/39 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,430 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 3,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 36/36/36 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,175.
  • Price as tested: $44,625.

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

Photos (c) Toyota, Jason Fogelson

2020 Toyota Prius is the Proto-Hybrid

by Jason Fogelson

As the automotive industry does its best to catch up, the 2020 Toyota Prius posts incremental improvements and additions. Prius has been the poster child for hybrid cars for over 20 years now, a beacon that identifies its owners as green and woke (and maybe a little self-congratulatory). Say what you will about image and perception, it’s hard to criticize the roomy, efficient Prius when it comes with an EPA rating of 52 mpg city/48 mpg highway/50 mpg combined when equipped with newly available (as of 2019) all-wheel drive.

Front 3q Left Blue

For 2020, Toyota has added more standard features to Prius, sweetening the pot. On the audio front, Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa have been added to the system’s capability. This is particularly welcome for users who find the Scout GPS app that links with Toyota’s Entune system lacking (I do), because they can now connect an Apple iPhone via a USB cable and have the Apple Maps app operate through the Prius’ infotainment screen. This works way better than Scout, in my experience, and lets you get a quick link between other information in your smartphone and your mapping program. Amazon Alexa functionality is great, too, if you’re willing to take the time to set up Alexa skills in the Alexa app. If you have iOT devices at home – smart lightbulbs, a smart thermostat, etc. – this can be very convenient and fun. These are the kind of tech upgrades that Prius should get – the kind that help integrate the vehicle into owners’ (users’) lives beyond transportation.

Front 3q Right

The other big area of upgrade to Prius for 2020 is in standard safety systems. Toyota Safety Connect is now standard (with a free three-year trial subscription) on all Prius grades, including Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Roadside Assistance and Automatic Collison Notification. Similar to the tech upgrades in the audio area, this connectivity is also a smart, appropriate addition for Prius and its connected owners.

Dash

Beyond those upgrades, the 2020 Prius is pretty much a carryover model, very similar to the 2019 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e model that I reviewed last year for Forbes. This year’s test car had an optional feature that I very much appreciated: the $800 Advanced Technology Package that included a Head-Up Display (HUD). This bright, color projection above the steering wheel solved the slight unease that I feel with the Prius’ center-mounted instrument panel. With the HUD, I was able to keep my head straight, my eyes on the road, and still have visual access to my car’s speed and the activity of the hybrid system. I’m a big fan of a well-executed HUD in the first place, and on Prius I would consider it an essential feature, not an extra.

Engine

My test vehicle, a 2020 Toyota Prius XLE AWD-e, came with a base price of $29,250. With options, including the HUD, $259 Carpeted Floor Mats, $299 Illuminated Door Sills, $125 Door Edge Guards, $69 Rear Bumper Applique, and $955 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, the as-tested price was $31,757. Bracketed in the Toyota lineup by the new 2020 Corolla Hybrid (starting at $23,100) and 2020 Camry Hybrid (starting at $28,430), it’s not the only smart choice in the Toyota lineup – just the most visible.

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

Rear 3q Right

Photos (c) Toyota

Avalon Hybrid Generates Grins

by Jason Fogelson

Through five generations of production since the 1995 model year, Avalon has been the flagship of the Toyota lineup in the United States. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has been given a lot of respect or attention on the sales floor. Though it shares a platform, TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture), with sibling Camry, Avalon sales in 2019 were one-tenth the number of Camry sales. Looking at Avalon Hybrid sales versus Camry Hybrid sales reveals a different balance. In 2019, Toyota sold 26,043 Camry Hybrid sedans, while selling 6,552 Avalon Hybrid sedans, about a 4:1 ratio – much closer than the overall numbers. What’s going on here?

Front 3q Left

I decided to take the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid for a week-long test drive to see if I could figure it out.

My test vehicle was a Limited trim level with a list price of $43,150. With options ($1,150 Advanced Safety Package; $259 Carpet Mat Package) and a $950 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, my Parisian Night Pearl Avalon Hybrid carried an as-tested price of $45,489.

Front

Avalon spent its first four generations cloaked in blandness, but the new generation, which launched with the 2019 model year, is much more interesting and attractive. Sharper lines, a bolder snout, and, dare I say, sportiness to the exterior have livened up the big sedan. Still on the conservative end of the spectrum, but much better than before.

Inside, Avalon manages to achieve Lexus levels of luxury, but with a flair that matches Avalon’s newly spruced exterior design. I particularly like the way that the center stack is set off from the dashboard, putting the standard nine-inch touchscreen display at the top. My Limited model also included a 10-inch head-up display, which beamed information into my line of sight in the driver’s windshield – a very desirable safety feature, well-executed.

Dash

Avalon is roomy and comfortable, notably so in the second row. The flexible TNGA platform has allowed engineers and designers to stretch the wheelbase by two inches over Camry, and to put that additional space to use in the second row of the Avalon, almost to executive sedan level.

Under the hood, Avalon Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine (176 hp/163 lb-ft of torque) and a pair of electric motors. One motor operates as a generator, engine starter and hybrid battery charger, while the other drives the front wheels and captures braking energy during regeneration. The drive motor has a maximum output of 118 hp. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) directs power to the front wheels, with a net system horsepower rating of 215. The hybrid battery pack is a sealed Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) type with a nominal voltage of 244.8. Systems that are designed to deliver extensive EV-only range have mostly switched over to Lithium Ion battery packs, which are more energy-dense (and more expensive) than Ni-MH. Avalon Hybrid is engineered for overall fuel efficiency, not pure electric range or operation – Toyota doesn’t even provide information on EV range, though there is an EV button on the center console. In practice, I found that it was nearly impossible to keep the Avalon Hybrid in EV mode, as the faintest push on the accelerator pedal kicked the car back into hybrid operation. In any event, Avalon Hybrid Limited is rated to achieve 43 mpg city/43 mpg highway/43 mpg combined – very impressive for a roomy five-passenger sedan with a 16.09 cubic-foot trunk and a 3,715-lb curb weight.

Center StackThe TNGA platform reaps big benefits for Avalon Hybrid when it comes to handling. While Avalon Hybrid isn’t exactly sporty, it is a sharp-handling, connected car that responds precisely to inputs, turns in sharply, and delivers a comfortable, controlled ride. Past generations of Avalon have been correctly criticized for being a little too floaty and cushioned, but those are voices of the past. While enthusiastic drivers will wish for quicker acceleration (get the gas-only V6 for that), few will complain at Avalon’s overall competence and comfort.

The big reveal for the Avalon Hybrid, and maybe its secret weapon, is the fact that choosing the Hybrid over the gasoline-only Avalon only adds $1,000 to the suggested retail price.

Second Row

The competition for a vehicle this size with a hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain is thin in this price range, from $37,000 for Avalon Hybrid XLE to $39,500 for Avalon Hybrid XSE to $43,300 for the 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited.

I’d be very comfortable recommending the Avalon Hybrid to anyone who is looking for an efficient, luxurious, pleasant to drive and relatively affordable five-passenger sedan.

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

Rear 3q Left

Photos (c) Toyota

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Honda CR-V has had an enviable run for nearly a quarter of a century as a premier crossover sport utility vehicle. But the 2020 CR-V Hybrid, the first time it has arrived with gasoline-electric power, contends as the best ever.

Though it has slipped over the last three years in its annual sales battle with the Toyota RAV4, also a compact crossover SUV, Honda has sold more than five million CR-Vs in the US since its introduction in 1997. Toyota had a head start in 1996, but through 2019 the RAV 4 came up short of the CR-V with 4.2 million sales.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

The RAV4 also started with a hybrid power train in 2015, which boosted sales considerably. Now, with electrification the buzz word everywhere in the vehicle industry, the CR-V should get a boost as well.

With all-wheel drive, the CR-V Hybrid uses a hybrid system similar to that on the front-drive Honda Accord. It consists of a 2.0-liter gasoline engine that delivers 143 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque connected to an electric motor. Another electric motor connects to the rear differential. Combined, the three power sources make 212 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Though the primary reason for a hybrid is fuel economy, this Honda system also gives solid performance — more than any other model in the CR-V lineup. The zero-to-60-mph acceleration time is in the seven-second range, but it feels faster.

It is an amiable companion in any driving situation. With good insulation and noise-canceling technology, it’s quiet on the highway, with the substantial road feel of a more expensive performance SUV. It is responsive to steering inputs and tracks capably on curving roads.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

There are three selectable drive modes: Sport, Econ and EV. The last, pure electric drive, is not often available — and then only for a few miles when the battery pack gets fully charged by the gasoline engine. Mostly, the hybrid system switches so seamlessly among the power sources that you’re barely aware that you’re driving a hybrid.

Sport mode is the most engaging. It tightens the suspension system and steering, giving up some ride quality but better overall feel. Econ slows things down but you can defeat some of that by simply flooring the brash pedal.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

The downside of the hybrid power train is its battery location under the rear cargo floor. Though it doesn’t wipe out any cargo space, it eliminates space for the spare wheel and tire. Honda substitutes a so-called tire repair kit and roadside service. The kit might help with a leak but is useless for a blowout.

There are four hybrid trim levels, starting with the LX, priced at $28,870, and followed by the EX at $31,380, EX-L which adds leather upholstery and a power tailgate. The top-of-the-line Touring tested here had a sticker price of $37,070. Prices include the destination charge.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

All versions come equipped with Honda Sensing, a suite of active driver aids. They include collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind spot warning and traffic-sign recognition.

The Touring CR-V Hybrid, in keeping with Honda’s tradition of avoiding long lists of options, comes as fully equipped as any buyer might want. Among the features: Dual-zone automatic climate control with air filtration, automatic walk-away locking, power tail gate, navigation system with voice recognition, premium audio with SXM satellite and HD radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, multi-view rear camera, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless smart phone charging, heated front seats and steering wheel, and motorized glass sunroof, among others.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Though classified as a compact crossover, the CR-V Hybrid has the interior space of a large sedan — a total of 136 cubic feet, or 16 more than the government’s definition of a large car at 120 cubic feet. Passenger space rivals that of a midsize car while the 33 cubic feet for cargo is way above any sedan.

There’s plenty of  elbow and knee room inside for five passengers, although as usual the poor soul in the center-rear space gets disrespected with a high perch and a hard cushion. Front seats and outboard rear seats, upholstered on the tested Touring in perforated leather, are well bolstered and supportive for long-distance drives.

Bottom line, there’s little question that this fully developed and sophisticated crossover enhances the CR-V’s already recognized reputation.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motors: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 143 hp, 129 lb-ft torque; two electric motors; combined 212 hp, 232 lb-ft torque. 1.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Transmission: Single-speed direct with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 103/33 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,763 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 40/35/38 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,070.
  • Price as tested: $37,070.

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

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Photos (c) Honda

2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

So the 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid runs on sunshine as well as batteries and a gasoline engine. So what?

Call it groundbreaking, or unique, or perhaps a benchmark for the future. As technology advances, we’re likely to witness increasingly efficient ways of making clean power for motor vehicles.

Large-40183-2020SonataHybridIt’s not a breakthrough — yet. Solar panels have popped up all over the world as a way to reliably generate renewable clean energy. On the Sonata Hybrid, an array of solar-powered photovoltaic panels are installed on the roof under glass, right where you might find a panoramic sunroof on another car.

Electrons in the panels’ silicon cells are activated by photons of light from the sun, generating electricity. So far it doesn’t contribute a great deal to fuel economy. Hyundai of South Korea says the system can deliver 1,300 kilometers of extra electric range in a year, or about 808 miles.

That’s if you drive about six hours a day. Though the system can keep the batteries topped up, it won’t recharge them completely. Hyundai says it can recharge 30% to 60% of the batteries in a day. Juice goes into the lithium hybrid batteries as well as the 12-volt system for accessories.

Large-40154-2020SonataHybridThe Sonata Hybrid combines a 150-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 139 lb-ft of torque with a 51-hp electric motor that delivers 151 lb-ft of torque. The combined hybrid system generates 192 hp and, with the slight boost from the Solar Roof, has an EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 45/51/47 mpg.

That’s certainly not shabby for a roomy sedan that, based on its overall interior volume, sneaks into the large car category as defined by the government. Its passenger volume is 104.4 cubic feet and the trunk another 16 cubic feet, for a total of 120.4. Any car with more than 120 cubic feet of interior space is classified as large.

It drives large, too, with some of the heft and steering feel of big luxury cars. There are four driver-selectable drive modes: Custom, Sport. Eco and Smart that adjust shift points, steering feel and handling. Unlike other hybrids that use continuously variable automatic transmissions with their absence of shift points, the Sonata Hybrid uses a six-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel mounted paddles for manual shifting.

Large-40164-2020SonataHybridLike other hybrids, the Sonata also features idle stop-start technology to enhance fuel economy. But there’s no hesitation off the line. With some other systems, especially those installed on gasoline-engine vehicles, there’s a hiccup on setting off as the engine re-starts. But on the Sonata Hybrid, the electric motor is poised to get things going with instant torque, or twisting force.

Select the Sport mode on the Sonata Hybrid Limited, punch the loud pedal and feel your torso slam into the seatback. It feels powerful and fast. Then settle down to a quiet, fuss-free ride on the freeway as the fuel gauge needle barely moves.

Though the handling on twisting roads can get a bit darting in some of the drive modes because of a somewhat irregular lane-keeping assist, there’s a solid feel and informative steering feedback in the Sport mode.

Large-40162-2020SonataHybridThere are three versions of the Sonata Hybrid: Blue, SEL and Limited. The base Blue, which is estimated to start somewhere south of $30,000, gets the best city/highway/combined fuel economy: 50/54/52 mpg. However, it does not come with the Solar Roof, which is reserved for the upper trim levels.

The tested Limited was loaded with full safety and convenience equipment: automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, driver drowsiness detector and a blind-spot monitor that displays photos in the instrument cluster of the right- and left-rear areas. Though informative in an emergency, the system is no substitute for proper adjustment of the outside mirrors.

Large-40163-2020SonataHybridAfter the national press introduction was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, a top-line Limited model was made available as a test vehicle delivered through a third-party vendor.

Price information was not immediately available, awaiting the date when Sonata Hybrids arrive at dealerships. An educated estimate, based on the prices of the gasoline-engine Sonatas and leavened by the fact that hybrids cost more to manufacture, placed the tested Limited model with a base price of about $37,500 and, with one modest option, an as-tested price of $37,635.

Large-40138-2020SonataHybridSpecifications

  • Model: 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited four-door sedan.
  • Engine/motor: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 150 hp, 139 lb-ft torque; 39 kW electric motor, 51 hp, 151 lb-ft torque; with 270-volt lithium battery and hybrid starter-generator. Combined hybrid system 192 horsepower.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/trunk volume: 104/16 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,530 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 45/51/47 mpg.
  • Estimated base price, including destination charge: $37,500.
  • Estimated price as tested: $37,635.

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

Large-40182-2020SonataHybridPhotos (c) Hyundai

2020 Ford Escape AWD Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Though not faring badly in the crossover sport utility wars, the 2020 Ford Escape enhances its chances with new weapons that include two hybrid versions — one standard and the other a plug-in.

In 2019, the compact Escape, a Ford mainstay since the 2001 model year, settled into fourth place among compact crossovers behind the best-selling Toyota RAV4, the second-place Honda CR-V and the third place Chevrolet Equinox. Escape sales bested those of the other prominent competitors: Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Volkswagen Tiguan, GMC Terrain and Kia Sportage.

2020 Ford Escape

Ford, using a hybrid system similar to that of the best-selling Toyota Prius, was the first to introduce the fuel-saving technology into a crossover in 2005, then let it slide away.

Now it returns with the two hybrids. Front-drive Escape models are available as standard hybrids and plug-ins. The company says the latter can travel up to 30 miles on electric power alone. It has a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 44/37/41 mpg.

If you order the Escape with all-wheel drive, the plug-is not available. But its standard hybrid power train, with a stingy 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine combined with an electric motor integrated into the transmission, delivers a combined 200 hp. The EPA fuel economy rating is 43/37/40 mpg, enough to give it an estimated range of 568 miles.

2020 Ford Escape

The all-wheel drive Titanium model, tested here, came to the market before the plug-in. Though expensive for a vehicle in this category, it exhibits characteristics that rival some near-luxury and luxury crossovers.

It has classy exterior styling, borrowing cues from the Ford Mustang, the new electric Mustang Mach-E and Ford’s GT super car. The last has a price tag of nearly half a million dollars. Elements transfer to the Escape, which presents clean, fuss-free lines.

Inside, the driver and passengers are cosseted in soft leather seats, surrounded by trim, materials and workmanship that would not be out of place in a Lincoln or Cadillac. No surprise, then, that the tested Titanium trim had a $35,995 price including the destination charge and, with options, topped out at $37,990. As an American Motors executive said years ago, “Americans want fuel economy, and they’ll pay anything to get it.”

2020 Ford Escape

It could be argued that this Ford Escape represents the epitome of what U.S. buyers currently are seeking in a compact crossover SUV. At 15 feet 1 inch in length and passenger space of 104 cubic feet with 35 cubic feet for cargo behind the second row, it exceeds the EPA’s definition of a large sedan like the Bentley Flying Spur.

Of course, it comes up short of the Lincoln Aviator from Ford’s luxury division, a three-row crossover that has 150 cubic feet of passenger space and 18 cubic feet for cargo, or 42 cubic feet if you fold the third row, which cuts the passenger room to 126.

2020 Ford Escape

Nevertheless, the Escape can carry up to five passengers and most of their stuff on a beach or ski vacation, assuming the snowboards and skis are tied down somewhere on the roof.

As with most modern hybrids, the only clue that this is not a standard gasoline-engine vehicle is the silence that results when you punch the start button. It simply announces that everything is “ready.” Then you drive it as you would any automobile.

Except for some tiny lag off the line, the Escape accelerates smartly and holds its own in any stoplight sprint or freeway on-ramp. There’s no hint of a transition between electric and gasoline power; they simply work in concert. Plus as a conventional hybrid, you never have to plug it in.

2020 Ford Escape

To help boost the fuel economy, the hybrid Escape boasts four hybrid settings: Auto EV, in which the onboard computer decides the mix of gasoline and electric power; EV Now, which delivers all-electric driving; EV Later, which switches to full gasoline-fueled driving to conserve electric power for later use, and an all-new EV Charge mode in which the battery charges continually for eventual use.

All Escape models, including the hybrids, also are equipped with five driver-selectable settings that adjust transmission shifting and other  functions to enhance fuel economy and performance under different conditions. They are labeled Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Snow/Sand driving.

And, by the way for duffers, Ford brags that the Escape can carry a foursome and their golf bags.

2020 Ford Escape

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Ford Escape Titanium AWD hybrid four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 14.4 kw electric motor; combined 200 hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 104/35 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,706 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 43/37/40 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,995.
  • Price as tested: $37,990.

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

2020 Ford Escape

Photos (c) Ford

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