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Hybrids

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.

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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

2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

When Toyota unveiled the redesigned 2020 Corolla sedan to a group of automotive journalists in November 2018, the shining examples showed like compact luxury cars.

Now that this all-new Corolla has arrived, the emphasis is not on luxury but economy. Instead of top-line trim levels, the spotlight is on the 2020 Corolla Hybrid LE, which among its other attributes gets 52 miles to the gallon of regular gasoline.

Corolla_Hybrid_013_E8752A42C66E156C23136C861E7A6BAF9B59801DMoreover, it has a base price of $23,880, including the destination charge. With a few minor options, the Corolla Hybrid tested for this review had a bottom-line sticker price of $24,524. Get one each for mom and pop.

Where the gasoline-engine model has six variants over five trim levels, the Hybrid comes one way: mid-level LE with a 1.8-liter gasoline engine and a 71-hp electric motor. Together, they make 121 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque transferred to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Gasoline-engine models are the base L, LE and XLE along with the more sporting SE and XSE. The SE can be ordered with the CVT or a six-speed manual gearbox for those who like to shift for themselves.

Corolla_Hybrid_016_F877FFF1D0CC1E9E62B2B38F35CDC86320654023With more than 43 million sales world-wide, the Corolla is the best-selling nameplate in history, although it has gone through many different versions, including multiple configurations with rear-wheel drive and front-wheel drive.

Throughout, however, it has maintained a reputation as among the more durable and reliable cars available. Now with its first hybrid version, it adds stellar fuel economy to the package.

Ironically, its main competitor is Toyota’s own Prius, the best-selling hybrid in the world. Unlike the Prius, with its funky controls and instrument displays, the Corolla comes across more like a regular car with familiar surroundings. Both use the same 121-hp hybrid power package and CVT, and compete in similar price brackets.

2020_Corolla_LE_Hybrid_BlueCrushMetallic_015_5FFD7C54695C1A21AE859CADDF038ABAB6B6B57AOther competitors are the Hyundai Ioniq, Honda Insight and Chevrolet Volt, as well as a number of hybrid crossover sport utility vehicles, including the Kia Niro, Hyundai Kona, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4.

The U.S. government classifies cars by total interior volume, which includes the space for passengers and cargo. By that definition, the Prius is classified as midsize, bordering on full-size, while the Corolla is classified as a compact.

Much of that has to do with the Prius’s hatchback design, which gives it 27 cubic feet for cargo and 93 cubic feet for passengers. The Corolla is a standard sedan design with a trunk of 13 cubic feet and 89 cubic feet for passengers. If extra cargo space is needed, the split rear seatback folds 2/3 and 1/3.

2020_Corolla_LE_Hybrid_BlueCrushMetallic_037_6DFA2E153484B87955A00735E0FC37737A513E2CThe Corolla’s design delivers ample head, leg and knee room for four, though as usual in most vehicles, the center-rear passenger gets squished with limited room, a hard cushion and a big floor hump.  Seats are covered in an attractive, comfortable cloth that looks long-lasting — preferable, in this view, to leather or leatherette.

Equipment on the LE Hybrid — as noted the only trim level — covers full safety equipment, including collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, adaptive radar cruise control and automatic high headlight beams.

Other equipment: stop-start idle system, pushbutton starting, automatic climate control, hill start assist, electronic parking brake, LED headlights and taillights, and power windows and outside mirrors.

2020_Corolla_LE_Hybrid_BlueCrushMetallic_039_B5761486DC80A4597CAB1C0917650157427F8CD3An eight-inch center touch screen provides access to the audio system and infotainment functions. However, it does not include SXM satellite radio, though it is compatible with Apple Car Play and Siri Eyes Up.

Given its modest power, the Corolla Hybrid gets a good jump off the line, boosted by the electric motor. The CVT has no shift points so delivers uninterrupted acceleration with little or none of that annoying sensation of slipping or roaring that are characteristic of some CVTs.

2020_Corolla_LE_Hybrid_BlueCrushMetallic_059_0198C3BB115B28B00655AF19B368D7D5EE2AF5ADHandling is competent and secure, and the Corolla tracks true in a straight line, requiring few steering corrections. The main downside is road noise. It could use additional sound-deadening insulation, which likely is included in higher trim levels with gasoline engines.

In this era of electrification, a standard hybrid is the best bet. Plug-in hybrids are more expensive with limited electric range, and pure electrics have no backup if batteries are depleted.

Then there’s the matter of money. The Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees fuel economy ratings, estimates that a Corolla Hybrid owner will save $3,500 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average new vehicle.

Corolla_Hybrid_008_C12A8DE2AAB24DFD329CCCFB6A2A6CFEEBA9A403Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid LE four-door sedan.
  • Engine/motor: 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with 71 horsepower electric motor; total system 121 hp, 105 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 89/13 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,050 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 53/52/52 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,880.
  • Price as tested: $24,524.

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

Corolla_Hybrid_009_7AB3C30F7FDDA2997F5A75013AC0E9623044E8D0Photos (c) Toyota

2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With “electrification” gaining in the automobile industry, Subaru returns to the fray with its 2019 Crosstrek Plug-in Hybrid crossover sport utility vehicle.

It’s doubtful that anybody in the business seriously believes that all-electric cars will be anything more than a blip on the sales charts any time soon. But there’s a sensitivity to the growing conviction that fossil fuels eventually will go the way of the dinosaurs.

16._2019_CrosstrekSo, manufacturers are producing increasing numbers of hybrids and plug-in hybrids as the bridge to the future. Of the two, hybrids make the most sense. They operate on gasoline and electric power, working in tandem automatically. The best example is the popular Toyota Prius, which has had U.S. sales of more than 1.6 million since its introduction in 1997.

Plug-in hybrids deliver the option of running on electricity exclusively. But the range usually is short and the plug-ins are more expensive than gasoline models or hybrids.

The Crosstrek Hybrid is a prime example. It plugs in easily with a port over the left-rear wheel. On a 220-volt charger, it takes about two hours to charge the battery, which intrudes into and takes about five cubic feet out of the rear cargo area. If you plug into a standard household 110-volt outlet, it takes about five hours.

17._2019_CrosstrekEither way, you will get an honest 17 miles of electric driving. But getting that range takes a delicate foot on the throttle. Punch the pedal to pass another vehicle or get up a hill and the gasoline engine fires up automatically. It shuts down once you get back to feather-foot driving.

This is Subaru’s second foray into the hybrid world. Its first, the XV Crosstrek, was marketed from 2014 to 2016. It used a small, 13-hp electric motor integrated into the transmission to provide an assist to the gasoline engine.

The 2019 Plug-in is way more sophisticated. With Subaru’s standard offering of all-wheel drive on all of its models except the BRZ sports coupe, the Crosstrek incorporates two electric motors to augment the 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine, sometimes also called a “boxer” or “flat” engine.

34._2019_Crosstrek_PremiumBoxers, used exclusively by Subaru and in some Porsche models, have the cylinders lying flat on both sides of the crankshaft, unlike conventional engine designs with cylinders standing upright or leaning in V or W configurations.

The Crosstrek’s hybrid system makes 148 hp, slightly less than the 2018 gasoline model’s 152 hp. But with the electric motors it has 149 lb-ft of torque compared to 145 for the gasoline-only engine.

The electric motors, which produce instant torque, make the Crosstrek Plug-in feel lively and quick off the line. Of course, if you get your foot in it for maximum acceleration, the gasoline engine also gets in the game. With the lower center of gravity afforded by the boxer engine, this Crosstrek handles capably and tracks steadily in a straight line.

33._2019_Crosstrek_PremiumThe tester boasted a comfortable, quality interior, full basic safety equipment and options that included a navigation system with an eight-inch touch screen, upscale Harman Kardon audio, SXM satellite radio, motorized glass sunroof and a heated steering wheel.

Based on the top-line Limited Crosstrek, the Hybrid also came with a long list of desirable standard equipment: EyeSight technology with adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision and reverse braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert.

13._2019_Crosstrek_LimitedThe EPA rates the Crosstrek Plug-in at 35 mpg in combined city/highway driving on the gasoline engine only. In overall hybrid driving the combined rating is 90 mpgE.

But economics is factor. The tested Crosstrek Hybrid had a base price of $35,970, including the destination charge. That is $8,760 more than the 2018 gasoline Crosstrek Limited model tested here earlier. The 2019 Hybrid, with options, topped out at $38,470 compared to the 2018 gasoline model’s $30,655 — a $7,815 difference.

Assuming you could actually achieve the hybrid’s 90 mpgE you would use about 167 gallons in a year of 15,000 miles of hybrid driving. At $4 a gallon, it would take more than 11 years to recoup the additional cost of this Hybrid.

That said, there is an environmental cost to consider. Using the 35 miles to the gallon number for gasoline driving, you would burn 429 gallons over 15,000 miles, or about 4,720 gallons in 11 years. Let your conscience be your guide.

36._2019_Crosstrek_Limited_and_2019_Crosstrek_PremiumSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder gasoline; two electric motors; combined 148 hp, 149 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/16 cubic feet.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • Weight: 3,725 pounds.
  • Gasoline-only city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 35 mpg; gasoline-electric 90 mpgE.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,970.
  • Price as tested: $38,470.

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

18._2019_CrosstrekPhotos (c) Subaru

2019 Lexus UX 250h: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not inclined to be a cowboy trailing the fast-moving herd of small luxury crossover SUVs, Lexus introduces its 2019 UX with a choice of conventional or hybrid power trains.

This is not its first rodeo. Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota, marketed the CT200h, a compact hybrid hatchback with the same powertrain as the popular Toyota Prius, from 2011 to 2017.

D55_5157Now it rides into the fray with the UX against subcompact crossovers like the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Lincoln MKC, Volvo XC40, Infiniti QX30 and BMW X1. The entry-level UX slots below the compact NX and gives Lexus a full array of crossovers and SUVs. Unlike SUVs, constructed like trucks with bodies on frames, crossovers are built with unit bodies like automobiles.

Lexus crossovers now include the UX, NX and the midsize RX. At the top of the lineup are the GX and LX, both truck-based SUVs.

Lexus identifies the UX as an urban crossover, which suggests that it is not intended as a long-distance traveler. But that could be said about many small vehicles that owners customarily drive across country. The UX can certainly do the same.

DSC_0497But its personality, as Lexus describes it, is that of a “creative urban explorer,” a runabout aimed to tantalize younger buyers more attuned to cityscapes than suburban/rural areas. Like others of its ilk, the UX has four doors, carries four passengers and a fifth uncomfortably center-rear, with 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat.

There are two versions: the front-wheel drive UX 200, powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. The manufacturer estimates a zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 8.9 seconds with a top speed of 118 mph. Its EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 29/37/33 mpg on regular fuel. Starting price is $33,025, including the destination charge.

DSC_0197The other, the focus here, is the hybrid UX 250h, which comes with all-wheel drive. It is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine working with twin electric motor generators. The system delivers 181 hp on regular gasoline. All-wheel drive is automatically engaged by a small electric motor integrated into the rear differential.

An unusual apparent shortcoming: Lexus says the UX 250h’s all-wheel drive operates only up to 43 mph, after which it becomes a front-wheel drive vehicle.

According to Lexus, that’s because the UX all-wheel drive system is electronic instead of mechanical. It operates in all-wheel drive at lower speeds when needed and front-drive at higher speeds for optimal efficiency and fuel economy. But road conditions mitigated by all-wheel drive can get nasty at more than 43 mph.

DSC_0128The zero-to-60 acceleration time of 8.6 seconds is slightly better than the UX 200’s, with the top speed of 110 less than the UX 200. But the hybrid’s fuel economy rating is 41/38/39 and its starting price is $35,025, or $2,000 more than the UX 200’s.

The tested UX 250h came with options that included a navigation system, soft-touch interior trim called Washi, blind spot monitoring, a motorized sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, garage-door opener and an auto-dimming inside mirror. The options brought the as-tested price up to $38,900, and a spokesperson said a fully loaded UX250h could reach $41,000.

Both the UX 200 and the hybrid UX 250h are frisky around-town performers with acceleration that feels quicker than the numbers would indicate. They get the power to the pavement through continuously variable automatic transmissions, which sometimes can feel as if they are high-revving and slipping.

DSC_0170These do not. In the 200, the CVT uses a mechanical gear to get an initial boost off the line; in the 250h the boost comes from the electric motors. It can mimic the shift feel of a stepped 10-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. There is a noticeable loud growl under hard acceleration with the 200. The 250h hybrid is quieter and feels stronger, tighter and more planted overall.

Both UX models come standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0, which includes pre-collision warning and braking with pedestrian and bicyclist detection, adaptive radar cruse control and lane departure mitigation. Blind-spot warning is optional.

There are three trim packages: Premium, Luxury and F-Sport. The last, available on both the 200 and 250h, comes with suspension modifications and special 18-inch alloy wheels to enhance handling. The tradeoff is a stiffer though not punishing ride.

DSC_1306Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Lexus UX 250h four-door crossover SUV.
  • Engine/motors: 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline with two electric motor-generators; 181 system hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic (CVT).
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 86/17 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,605 pounds.
  • City/highway/combined fuel consumption: 41/38/39 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,025.
  • Price as tested: $37,875.

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

D55_4132Photos (c) Lexus

2019 Honda Insight: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Sometimes the 2019 Honda Insight growls like a boastful lion, but mostly it goes about its business like a stealthy cheetah, all economy of movement and efficiency.

The new Insight is the heir to the original, a small two-seat hatchback coupe which Honda brags was the first hybrid in America in 1999 and delivered 70 highway mpg. It used a hybrid system in which the gasoline engine provided the primary power, boosted by a small electric motor in the drivetrain.

In 2009, the coupe was replaced by a four-door hatchback Insight, which used the same system, regarded by many as elegant for its simplicity. But it was eclipsed by the Toyota Prius, which used a more complicated setup in which the electric motor was primary.

The 2019 Honda Insight Goes On Sale

Undeterred, and determined to pursue electrified power trains for all of its models, Honda developed hybrids for the Civic and Accord, and also produced the Clarity, which is available as a pure electric, a fuel-cell powered electric and a plug-in hybrid.

Now the Japanese manufacturer introduces the newest in the lineup: the 2019 Insight, which is about the size of the company’s compact Civic and uses Honda’s state-of-the art two-motor system with a gasoline engine.

Most notable about this system, which uses one of the electric motors to charge the battery pack and the other to work in concert with the gasoline engine, is that it does not need a conventional automatic transmission.

2019 Honda Insight

Though Honda specifications describe the transmission as an e-CVT, for electronic continuously-variable automatic transmission, it works as a direct drive from the electric motor, which delivers full torque, or twisting force, the instant the throttle is activated. Unlike earlier Insight models, the 2019 model has no manual gearbox.

The 1.5-liter gasoline engine makes 107 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque, while the electric motor delivers 129 hp and 197 lb-ft of torque. Together, the system produces 151.5 hp.

Combined with regenerative braking to help keep the battery topped up, the Insight Touring tested for this review came with a city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of 51/45/48 mpg.

The Insight is a spunky machine on the road, where the only minor annoyance is the lion-like growl under hard acceleration. It sounds like  something is slipping, though it is not, as on a poorly rendered CVT. But it cruises serenely on the highway with good straight-line tracking and little intrusion of road or wind noise.

2019 Honda Insight

Though not a fully realized sport sedan, the Insight has precise steering, a supple suspension system and capable handling on curving roads. In that respect, it is not unlike its gasoline-powered garage-mate, the Civic.

The interior space is comfortable for four people, with  supportive front seats for long-distance highway cruising. Outboard back seat occupants have generous head and knee room, though the center-rear position is compromised by a large floor hump and a high, hard cushion.

With 95 cubic feet for passengers and a trunk of 15 cubic feet, the Insight sneaks into the government’s midsize class, though it is marketed as a compact. Compacts range from a total of 100 to 109 cubic feet of interior volume; midsize from 110 to 119.

2019 Honda Insight

There are three driving modes: Normal, optimized for ease of driving and comfort; Econ, for balanced efficiency and fuel economy, and Sport, for sharper throttle response and a feel of strong acceleration. Zero to 60 mph acceleration time comes up in an estimated eight seconds in any mode if you mash the pedal, respectable enough in modern traffic.

Three trim levels start with the LX at $23,725, including the destination charge; EX at $24,955, and the tested top-line Touring, $28,985. All three come with Honda Sensing, a suite of safety equipment that includes collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise with low-speed follow, lane-keeping assist and road departure mitigation.

2019 Honda Insight

Also standard across the trims are LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights; automatic headlight high beams; audio system, and heated door mirrors. The EX and Touring add Honda’s Lane Watch, which covers the right-rear blind spot and displays it on the center screen; Apple Car Play and Android Auto; SXM satellite radio; HD radio, and remote engine starting.

The tested Touring’s features included a navigation system, motorized glass sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, premium audio system with 10 speakers, eight-way power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats and automatic windshield wipers.

2019 Honda Insight

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Honda Insight Touring four-door sedan.
  • Engine/motor: Gasoline 1.5-liter four-cylinder, 107 hp; electric 129 hp, 197 lb-ft torque. Total system: 151.5 hp.
  • Transmission: Electronic continuously-variable automatic (e-CVT) with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 95/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3078 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 51/45/48 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,985.
  • Price as tested: $28,985.

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

2019 Honda Insight

Photos (c) Honda

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