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One of the motivations to go hybrid is the promise of significantly higher fuel efficiency. This has never been lost to us at Green Car Journal, though it did take quite a few years to catch on with car buyers in general since the very first Honda and Toyota hybrids were introduced here more than two decades ago, followed by the first gas-electric SUV, the Ford Escape Hybrid.

Today, the reasons to opt for a hybrid are more evident than ever. In the midst of historically high gas prices, we seriously appreciate that the Ford Escape Hybrid we drive every day is amazingly fuel efficient. Even though we complain like everyone else whenever we fill up now, we gripe perhaps a bit less because we know our Escape is consistently delivering its promised 41 mpg combined fuel economy. As many know quite well, EPA fuel economy estimates lend an idea, but not a promise, of what actual fuel efficiency expectations should be for any given model. In this case it’s spot on based on a lot of miles on the road.

Escape Plug-In Hybrid Delayed

We feel compelled to point out that the Escape, which Ford introduced as an all-new generation in the 2020 model year, is a bit of a tease. True, Ford made waves at its introduction by offering a pair of EcoBoost four-cylinder engines, an efficient hybrid, and promising a plug-in hybrid. But the ever-changing automotive field that’s been hugely impacted by the pandemic and a persistent silicon chip shortage upended lots of plans, including the rollout of the new Escape and in particular the Escape PHEV.

To wit: Whatever the reason – though the pandemic likely had as much to do with it as anything – the abundance of new-generation Escapes on Ford dealer lots was significant in 2020 and 2021. Loads of 2020 Escapes were still being heavily promoted and discounted well into the 2021 model year, with the same occurring with 2021 models when 2022 Escapes were on sale. That meant some pretty sweet deals for those on the hunt for a new crossover SUV.

That’s all changed now that the chip shortage has become entrenched, new car availability tightened considerably, and prices shot upward across the board. Amid this changing backdrop, the highly-anticipated 2020 Escape PHEV variant never happened. The aforementioned challenges and a battery issue delayed the planned plug-in hybrid intro here until late in the 2021 model year.

When the all-new, fourth-generation Escape debuted it did so with a lower and smoother look and a distinctively more car-like front end than earlier iterations. A bit longer and wider with a slightly lower roofline, the popular crossover features slightly more interior space with additional rear legroom and up to 37.5 cubic feet of useable stowage behind the rear seats. A Panoramic sunroof is available on specific models like the Escape Hybrid Titanium we drive daily.

High MPG Hybrid Power

Gasoline and standard hybrid variants of the Escape are offered with front- and four-wheel-drive, while the plug-in hybrid comes exclusively with front-wheel drive. Our Escape Hybrid test car’s combustion part of the power equation is a  2.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine. This engine is augmented with two electric motors that bring total combined system power to 200 horsepower. A PowerSplit electronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) transfers power to the road. The hybrid is energized with a 1.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack positioned under the floor.

Start-stop engine technology enhances efficiency, though we’ve found it to be a bit abrupt under certain conditions, like when backing out of a driveway on brief battery power and then shifting into drive. Every time, we’ve found the changeover from electric to combustion power happens within seconds of moving forward and feels more noticeable than we’d like.

Being the car enthusiasts that we are, there’s always a yearning to eke more performance from many of the most efficient vehicles we test drive. But honestly, the Escape Hybrid hits a pretty impressive sweet spot. Acceleration and overall performance are just what you need in an efficient compact SUV, with its 200 horsepower delivered confidently and seamlessly whenever needed for passing or just a bit of fun on twisty roads.

Big Features in a Smaller SUV

Inside, this compact SUV strikes a good balance of comfort and economy of space, the latter expected in a crossover in this segment and the former not always delivered in smaller SUVs. In this case, the Escape Hybrid feels like a good fit. There’s plenty of seating and elbow room up front and a good amount of space for rear seat passengers. Of course, squeezing three adults in the back is possible since this is a five-seater, but we’ll bet that most families will have at least a few younger passengers in the rear so three side-to-side adults riding along will be a rarity. Legroom in the back is reasonable though things can get cramped if tall folks are up front and seats are adjusted considerably back. Adding comfort to the rear are 60/40 split back seats offering limited recline and the ability to slide rearward to add extra legroom when needed.

Escape Hybrid offers an array of desired comfort, infotainment, and driver assist systems to enhance safety and the driving experience. Our Titanium model includes a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and center 8-inch touch screen display. Ford Co-Pilot360 features include Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go, Lane-Centering, Evasive Steering Assist, and Voice-Activated Navigation. Wi-Fi for up to 10 mobile devices is provided through FordPass Connect. We found USB connections in the front console to be handy, along with the 110-volt AC outlet located in the rear seat area below the center console’s air register. For everyday drives when the weather turns colder, we especially like the heated steering wheel and front seats, which come up to temperature surprisingly fast.

Our considerable time behind the wheel of the Escape Hybrid has found us appreciating its welcome compact SUV functionality, satisfying performance, and comfortable ride. It has proved to be an enjoyable and dependable daily ride that lends some comfort during these times of exceptionally high gas prices. An additional benefit is that the Escape Hybrid runs on less pricy regular grade gas and its combined gas-electric power provides a 550 mile driving range that means fewer fill-ups…something that’s just fine by us.

2018-toyota-camry-hybrid-driving-1Green Car Journal recently experienced driving what Toyota proudly says is its greatest Camry Hybrid achievement to date. The rather posh, redesigned Camry Hybrid approaches the combined fuel efficiency of Toyota’s Prius, with the Camry HV LE + achieving 53 highway and 51 city mpg while comfortably seating five adults. Yet, there’s much more to this efficient Camry model than initially meets the eye. Hybrid or not, this variant arguably delivers the best overall drive and ride experience in the 2018 Toyota Camry lineup.

In today’s highly scrutinized auto market, nothing is more important to the successful launch of a new car than its visual first impression, followed by a satisfying walk-around and driving experience. Toyota’s all-new 2018 Camry Hybrid accomplishes all these, presenting a very refined and well-designed package with an intuitive driver-to-car interface, enveloped in a sporty body design that rivals many European offerings. Happily, it’s also a kick to drive!

2018-toyota-camry-hybrid-cabin-1Comfortable, Refined, and Tech-Rich

During our recent test drive, the Camry was virtually silent as we exited the driveway in electric-only mode, exhibiting that quiet, electric-only drive characteristic that some modern hybrids do so well. This is one of them. As the Camry’s four-cylinder gasoline engine kicked in, we pushed the accelerator aggressively and launched onto the two-lane, finding the combined gasoline-electric horsepower and torque impressive, and the interior quiet.

The 2018 Camry Hybrid produces impressive combined torque and horsepower while sipping gasoline, thus reducing emissions. Its drivetrain technology is borrowed from the Prius and does an excellent job of presenting V-6-like torque while achieving four-cylinder fuel efficiency

2018-toyota-camry-hybrid-rear-1Featuring MacPherson struts up front with a redesigned and much-improved double wishbone suspension at the rear, this four-door, five-place sedan is quick off the line and handles with the best of the segment.

One forgets it’s a hybrid being driven within minutes of taking the wheel. In fact, having just exited the 306 horsepower Camry XLE moments earlier, Toyota’s mainstream hybrid sedan surprisingly delivers just as dynamic a driving experience as the high-output V-6 XLE.

2018-toyota-camry-hybrid-display-1Great Attention to Detail, Performance, and Price

Acceleration is seamless thanks to the Camry Hybrid’s redesigned, electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). Sequential shift mode allows for a select-shift feel, plus there’s a choice of four drive modes to tailor the driving experience. Braking and steering provide a natural feeling. We like the feel of the hybrid thanks to a lower center of gravity facilitated by positioning the Camry Hybrid’s higher density, compact battery module below the second row seat. This battery placement does not impede the function of the Camry’s 40/60 split and fold-down rear seat, affording unobstructed access to a rather spacious and well-finished trunk, a first for hybrids of this type in the auto industry.

From where we sit, Toyota borrowed a design cue or two from its upscale Lexus brethren, sized it down a tad, and injected it into the most visually-dynamic Camry offering to date. In the case of the 2018 Camry Hybrid, at a base MSRP of $27,800 you get a car that drives as good as it looks. Kudos to Toyota since that's not an easy accomplishment in the bread-and-butter mid-size car segment that’s historically driven by cost effective, price-sensitive, and fuel efficient imperatives.

2017-honda-hrv-front-1The advantage of a year-long test vehicle is that we’re better able to sample how it performs under all types of road and weather conditions, plus the sometimes challenging situations that life throws at everyone. In hilly Southeastern Ohio on the edge of the Appalachian range, our long term Honda HR-V conquered snow and ice covered roads with sure-footed traction, with its all-wheel drive system and traction control finding grip when grip was hard to find. Honda’s excellent anti-lock brake system delivered above average stopping power when the road surface was slippery. Combined with linear and positive steering response, those qualities provide for a very confidence inspiring winter driving experience.

Winter conditions can take a toll on fuel economy. The worst winter mpg we achieved was around 28 mpg and we were able to push efficiency into the mid to upper 30s with relative ease. Honda’s intuitive ECO Coaching system helps the process along with visual cues that change color with throttle position and speed.

2016 Honda HR-VThe HR-V’s interior makes longer road trips quite comfortable. With the front seats all the way aft to accommodate my 6 foot, 2 inch frame, rear seat leg room is a bit compromised, but that’s to be expected in any compact SUV. In addition to its 60/40 split seat folding design and ability to deliver a flat cargo floor, the Honda’s Magic Seat configuration allows the bottom seat cushions to fold up out of the way to handle taller cargo.

Driving any compact SUV can be an education since not all competitive models achieve the high standards SUV drivers expect in comfort, performance, functionality, and convenience. Our 10,000 mile experience with Honda’s HR-V has scored high marks in all subjects and has definitely made our Dean’s List at the end of its freshman year.

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2016-chevy-impala-bi-fuel-34-front-lead

  1. Alternative fuels have been an important focus at GM over the past 25 years. The 2016 Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel is the latest model to offer the ability to seamlessly run on compressed natural gas (CNG) or gasoline. Natural gas is the cleanest-burning of all fossil fuels and emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventionally powered vehicles. Plus, natural gas is an abundant resource in the U.S. and costs significantly less per gallon equivalent than gasoline.

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  1. Gas or CNG? Dual fuel capability solves the range anxiety that occurs with vehicles running solely on an alternative fuel. Impala drivers can choose to run on CNG or gasoline with a dashboard switch. The system seamlessly switches to gasoline once CNG is depleted. Fuel gauges are provided for both fuels.

2016-chevy-impala-bi-fuel-apple-carplay

  1. Connectivity is well looked-after in the Impala Bi-Fuel, which offers OnStar with 4G LTE connectivity and Wi-Fi hotspot plus wireless smartphone charging. Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system and Apple CarPlay integrate smartphone functions onto an eight-inch color touchscreen that allows calling up features like music and navigation apps.

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  1. Fueling convenience is provided with both the gasoline fuel inlet and CNG pressure fitting located behind a common fuel filler door. Fueling with natural gas at a CNG pump takes about the same amount of time as refueling with gasoline.

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  1. Bi-fuel operation requires the Impala’s 3.6-liter dual-fuel V-6 to be equipped with hardened valves and valve seats to enhance durability when running on CNG. Special regulators, filters, and high pressure fuel lines are also used. Driving range is an EPA estimated 119 miles on CNG and 368 miles on gasoline.

porsche-cayenne-hybrid-lead-1With its very limited edition 918 Spyder and more mainstream Panamera S E-Hybrid – not to mention the coming electric Mission E – Porsche has shown that it takes electrification seriously. The premium automaker’s next step in its electrification strategy is represented by the 2016 Cayenne S E-Hybrid, a move that has brought plug-in hybrid power to its popular SUV model.

The Cayenne S E-Hybrid uses essentially the same components as its Panamera sibling to achieve plug-in capability. There have been some changes, like upgrading this S E-Hybrid model’s lithium-ion battery pack from 9.4 to 10.8 kilowatt-hours. This battery replaces the spare tire found in conventionally powered Cayenne models and allows the Cayenne S E-Hybrid to travel about 14 miles on battery power. Electric-only driving is possible at speeds up to 78 mph before the engine starts and the vehicle operates likes a regular hybrid. E-Power is the default mode so the Cayenne S E-Hybrid always starts on electric power, given sufficient battery charge.

cayenne-plugged-inAn E-Charge mode modifies charging strategy so the electric motor becomes a generator, enabling the battery to recharge up to 80 percent while driving. This provides adequate battery power for electric-only driving once desired destinations are reached, such as urban areas where zero-emission driving may be preferred. Unlike most regenerative braking systems that are either on or off, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid’s regen system provides some modulation in the brake pedal while slowing down.

The Cayenne plug-in uses a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 mated to an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, same as the Panamera. A single 95 horsepower permanent-magnet motor located between the engine and transmission provides hybrid capability. Power is delivered to all four wheels via a limited-slip center differential. The supercharged V-6 and electric motor deliver a combined 416 horsepower.

cayenne-phev-engineAs expected from a Porsche, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid provides excellent performance, especially considering it is a 5,000-plus pound SUV that can carry 5 people and tow up to 7,716 pounds. It can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, 0 to 100 mph in 14.4 seconds, and has a top speed of 151 mph. Efficiency is a combined 22 mpg in hybrid mode and 47 miles-per-gallon equivalent (MPGe) during electric driving

All this goodness does not come cheap at a base MSRP of $78,700, but that is in line with what one would expect to shell out for a Porsche. The combination of performance, prestige, and greater efficiency combine to make this an attractive offering for Porsche fans.

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2016-lexus-rx450h-frontThe Lexus RX 450h is a completely revised model this year featuring slightly larger dimensions, updated styling, and the signature Lexus spindle grille. A sportier F Sport model is also available for those who want to move even farther upscale on the SUV ladder.

This SUV’s hybrid system uses a 3.5-liter Atkinson cycle V-6 with a 13.0:1 compression ratio to eke out 259 horsepower and 257 lb-ft torque. Augmented by a 165 horsepower electric motor, this front-drive propulsion system delivers a combined 308 horsepower. Opting for the all-wheel drive variant adds a rear transaxle with a second 67 horsepower electric motor. The front-drive RX 450h is EPA rated at 31 city and 30 highway mpg, with the AWD version earning 30/28 mpg.

2016-lexus-rx450h-cabinSofter springs, aluminum hood and door panels, and acoustic glass all combine to enhance efficiency and provide a pleasurable and quieter driving experience. An 8-inch EMV display, 12-speaker premium audio system with subwoofer, Bluetooth, HD Radio with iTunes tagging, and backup monitor are standard fare. A 12.3-inch screen is optional.

The RX 450h benefits from the growing array of advanced electronics and connected technologies being integrated in the Lexus line. Key additions this year include a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Adaptive Cruise Control. The latter maintains a safe distance from the vehicle ahead and brings the RX to a total stop if traffic comes to a halt.

2016-lexus-rx450h-action-rearThe list continues. A Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert keeps a driver aware of surrounding vehicles. Lane-Departure Assist will issue an alert to keep you on track and provide gentle steering input to bring you back into your lane if it senses you’re drifting.

While the base RX 450h is quite the looker, things heat up a bit with the optional F-Sport variant and its sportier styling, 20 inch aluminum wheels, unique grille and lower spoiler, and distinctive F-Sport badging. Inside, the F Sport gets unique gauges, aluminum pedals and trim, and exclusive F Sport seats. All this goodness comes at $3,400 above the model’s base $52,235 MSRP.

2016-lexus-rx450h-rear-seats