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The EV6 paints a bold picture of Kia’s take on the booming electric vehicle experience. A close cousin to the Hyundai IONIQ 5, EV6 is compact and efficient yet also aggressive, with this five-door hatch presenting a sporty fastback profile. It offers the muscular styling cues of Kia rally cars with sleek and clean lines while prioritizing a spirited driving experience. It has a long wheelbase for the car’s overall footprint that should add to both on road stability and overall ride quality.

This is the first Kia model to be built on the South Korean automaker’s dedicated Electric-Global Modular Platform. It was designed from the ground up aa a pure electric vehicle, rather than being derived from an existing internal combustion engine model. Kia is signaling a serious commitment to the electric car market with the introduction of the EV6.

While diminutive on the outside, EV6 manages a very spacious interior due to the intelligent packaging of electric drive components. In fact, interior volume compares favorably to that of a midsize to large crossover or SUV, with its roomy cabin translating into a comfortable space for five occupants. Recycled materials are used throughout the cabin. Naturally, all the latest electronic driver assist tools are front-and-center in the EV6 cockpit, along with other innovative systems like an augmented reality head-up display that projects driving info in the driver’s line of sight, plus alerts from the car’s driver assist system.

Kia will offer the EV6 with a variety of drivetrain and battery pack options, including a choice of standard 58 kWh and long-range 77.4 kWh packs. Two- and all-wheel drive versions will be available. The standard range two-wheel drive model uses a 168 hp motor powering the rear wheels or a 232 hp motor powering both front and rear wheels. The longer range variant integrates a 225 hp motor driving the rear wheels with a 320 hp motor delivering power to front and rear.

Those who desire a real performance rush will be interested in the high torque, high power EV6 GT that turns up the volume to deafening levels. Powered by dual motors producing 576 hp, this all-wheel drive EV6 accelerates from 0-60 in about 3.5 seconds, true supercar performance territory.

EV6 enables both 400 and 800 volt charging capability without the need for adaptors, delivering quick charge times and greater flexibility on the road. A high-speed charge bringing the battery from 10 to 80 percent in any EV6 variant takes just 18 minutes. Those in a hurry will find their 2WD 88.4 kWh model gaining about 60 miles of driving range in less than five minutes with a high-speed charge. EV6 features multiple drive modes to accommodate a range of driving styles, from aggressive regenerative braking with a one-foot driving experience to a sail mode that disengages the powertrain to deliver extended coasting.

Kia is planning to launch the EV6 in 2022 and round out their EV portfolio with a total of 11 electric models by 2026.

While an array of brightly-colored Fiat 500s were available, we chose red. No 'green' car for us this time.

A year of pandemic has stopped international – or really any – travel in its tracks. But the world will soon open up and maybe it’s time to plan something big. Here’s our take: Make it a trip to Rome, and amid the diversity of activities you’ll experience there, take in all things automotive, because it is different. Witness the endless sea of tiny city cars parked nose-to-tail – and sometimes backed at right angles to the curb – into impossibly small spots. See the many scooters and motorcycles passing by and the countless ones parked on sidewalks. Note the electric cars and motorcycles charging at street-side public chargers. In tourist-centric piazzas, appreciate the array of human-powered pedicabs with their lightweight, car-like bodies, perhaps the purest form of zero-emission vehicle.

My wife/photographer and I are into cars, travel, food, art, and wine. Italy is a natural since these interests are served up in abundance. In a pre-COVID trip there, we were set to view historic art in Florence, Milan, and Rome, and of course we would be documenting a variety of car-related activities. While we had a full and diverse itinerary planned, we were also looking for something distinctive in the way of a car experience to complement our Italian adventures. We’ve been to the Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati factories in Italy and also attended the Italian Grand Prix, all exciting subjects for words and images. But what’s next?

Palatine Hill, where Rome was founded.

As if fate was calling, we overheard someone talking about his recent Rome tour in a vintage Fiat 500, and how this was the best part of his Italian vacation. Out came his iPhone, and he shared photos of his group traveling in a caravan tour around Rome, in a colorful collage of vintage Fiat 500s in pink, red, yellow, blue, and white, all piloted by tourists experiencing what appeared to be enormous fun while seeing the sights and in general having a blast. That was what we were looking for, so we booked a night tour with Rome 500 Experience to cap off our upcoming Italian immersion.

When the time came for our tour, we made our way to a commercial structure just a short distance from the Colosseum where Rome 500 Experience stores its colorful array of lovingly restored Fiat 500s. Here, we met up with Alvise Di Giulio, proprietor of this unique tour. His love of this iconic car is evident, the culmination of a decades-long Fiat Cinquecento (500) passion that found him personally owning many of these once-ubiquitous city cars produced between 1957 to 1975, before he decided to make a business of it.

Our iconic Fiat 500 drew attention and a thumbs-up throughout our drive, and whenever it was parked.

Nearly four million copies of this diminutive city car were produced during its lifetime, powered by a 500 cc engine for most of its run and a 600 cc engine at the end. The Fiat 500’s small physical footprint and high fuel efficiency certainly qualifies it as vintage ‘green’ car in our book. Still, when presented with an array of colors to choose from, it was no 'green' car for us...we selected a red 500 as our ride.

We set off on our night drive knowing little of what to expect, but with a feeling this was going to be memorable. As owner of Rome 500 Experience and one of the tour’s driver-guides, Alvise is as well-versed on Rome’s history and rhythms as anyone we’ve encountered. His understanding of all there is to know about the Eternal City is impressive, as is his ability to get you around in ways that avoid the congestion inherent in any major urban area. We drove unencumbered streets in our little red Fiat 500 and, at times, were passengers while Alvise tooled around with an air of confidence and purpose that comes from having done this many, many times before, with great joy.

Driving around Rome at night in a vintage Fiat 500 is a wonderful and uncrowded way to experience the Eternal City.

Though we’ve been to Rome before, we visited places we hadn’t seen previously. Of course, important touchstones like the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and St. Peter’s Square were on the tour’s drive-by and park-and-stop itinerary. But so were many historic places that were never on our list, like the ruins at Palatine Hill where Rome was founded, Piazza Navona, the Arch of Constantine, and of course many lesser-known courtyards and fountains of historic importance. Plus, there was the Castel Sant'Angelo, built in 123 BC as Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum and later repurposed as a fortress. Many know it today as a scene of dramatic importance in Dan Brown’s film, Angels and Demons.

There were other interesting stops along the way, including a brief time at the Aventine Keyhole, located in an obscure green door at the Villa del Priorato di Malta on Aventine Hill. Peering through this keyhole, as tourists must, provided a view from our stance in Italy, through the grounds of the villa that’s the sovereign territory of Malta, and into Vatican City, the world’s smallest country. Here, we found the keyhole perfectly framing the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance. Yes, very cool!

Bocca della Verita (“Mouth of Truth”), which legend has it bites off the hands of liars.

Another off-the-beaten stop was at the Bocca della Verita (“Mouth of Truth”), a marble mask with an obscure face and open mouth located in a portico at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, also at Aventine Hill. Visitors who stick their hand in that mouth had better be confident, since legend has it that it bites off the hands of liars. Truth be told…we didn't suffer that fate. It gained notoriety in modern times as Gregory Peck took the challenge in the company of Audrey Hepburn in the 1953 film, Roman Holiday.

Finally, there was a stop at an unusual site in Rome, the Pyramid of Cestius, built from 18-12 BC as a tomb for magistrate Gaius Cestius. The pyramid was later incorporated into Rome’s Aurelian Walls that surround the city, built in 271-275 AD. Across the way from this pyramid and part of the wall is the dramatically illuminated San Paolo Gate flanked by imposing twin turrets.

Pyramid of Cestius and the San Paolo Gate, part of Rome's Aurelian Walls.

Touring a world-class city at night is always an amazing experience. We've done this before in Paris, Washington DC, and New York, so we knew that doing this in Rome would be unforgettable. Monuments are illuminated and more dramatic, while places of interest are uncrowded. Doing a tour in a vintage Fiat 500, though, adds an extra dimension of fun. The car is iconic-cool and an important part of Italy’s automotive history, so it gets plenty of attention and thumbs-up from people you pass by on your drive.

One of the nice touches is that Alvise shares his passion for the city, its history, and his vintage cars in a most enthusiastic way. You just don’t get that from more traditional and structured tours. This is special, and Alvise – as well as all his driver-guides – ensures you see the excitement of Rome through his eyes, and his perspective.

Alvise Di Giulio, proprietor of Rome 500 Experience.

We experienced a lot during our time in Italy, and as it turned out this was clearly one of the highlights. It was also the perfect ending for our adventures before boarding our Alitalia flight back to Los Angeles the next morning and our drive back to our headquarters on California’s Central Coast, reminiscent of Italy with its moderate Mediterranean climate.

We have fond memories of this tour and motoring around Rome’s ancient streets in a vintage car of historic importance. We liked it so much, in fact, we plan to return and partake in one of the Rome 500 Experience day tours, perhaps one that includes wine touring or a strategic stop for a sumptuous Italian meal.

La dulce vita!

Toyota has ‘fully rebooted’ the second-generation Mirai fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) for an evolving automotive arena. While the first-generation Mirai was a four-passenger, front-wheel-drive sedan with a decidedly futuristic design, the new Mirai is Toyota’s flagship sedan, a premium, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger sports-luxury car in the vein of the Lexus LS, on whose GA-L platform the Mirai is now based. It’s offered in XLE and Limited trim levels, with corresponding differences in equipment and interior materials.

The new Mirai is larger in every dimension except height, more powerful, and has a longer cruising range. Its four-wheel independent multi-link suspension, replacing the previous car’s strut-type front and rear beam axle, improves the car’s handling and performance, as does the change to rear-wheel-drive and the configuration of its new fuel cell system. In combination, those latter two revisions give the Mirai a near 50/50 front/rear weight distribution.

The fuel cell stack in the new-generation Mirai, like the one in its predecessor, takes in hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity without combustion to power its rear-drive motor. Water vapor is the only emissions produced during the process. The stack is about 20 percent smaller and 50 percent lighter, and now fits under the sedan’s hood. A new power control unit and other changes to the stack result in a 12-percent power increase, boosting the Mirai’s rear-drive motor output to 182 horsepower and 221 lb-ft torque (versus the outgoing model’s 151 horsepower and 247 lb-ft).

Electricity is stored in a lithium-ion battery that’s smaller, lighter, and has greater capacity than the Mirai’s previous nickel-metal-hydride battery. The battery rides between the rear seat and the trunk. Three 10,000-psi carbon-fiber-reinforced tanks hold about 11 pounds of hydrogen, giving the Mirai 402 miles of range in XLE models, and 357 in the Limited. Toyota is continuing the practice of offering up to $15,000 of complimentary hydrogen with each Mirai.

Inside the Mirai are seats trimmed in SofTex synthetic leather. The dashboard is dominated by two digital displays, an 8-inch LCD gauge cluster in front of the driver and a 12.3-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash to operate the climate control, infotainment, and navigation systems. To bring down cabin temperatures and reduce the load on the Mirai’s air-conditioning system, Toyota engineers installed extra insulation in the roof and added UV protection in the side windows.

Both Mirai models come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.5+, a suite of active safety systems with several enhanced functions. Among them is the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, which not only registers a vehicle ahead but a bicyclist or pedestrian in front of that vehicle.

Initially the Mirai is available in California only, but Toyota says it is fully optimized for cold-weather operation, hinting that broader availability may be in the works. The Mirai XLE is priced at $49,500 with the uplevel Limited coming in at $66,000 before substantial federal and California state incentives, and potential Toyota incentives as well.

With the debut of a new high-efficiency Tradesman HFE EcoDiesel, the 2021 RAM 1500 full-size pickup can now be ordered in 11 different models and five engine options, two bed lengths, two cab configurations, and two- and four-wheel-drive powertrains. Whew! The five engines span a wide range of output and efficiency metrics, from the 6.2-liter, 702-horsepower supercharged Hemi V-8 in the newly introduced ‘Apex Predator’ TRX model to V-6 and V-8 mild-hybrid gas engines and a 3.0-liter turbodiesel.

The Italian-made EcoDiesel V-6, now in its third generation, features aluminum cylinder heads and dual overhead camshafts with four valves per cylinder. Induction is via high-pressure, direct-injection nozzles, while a water-cooled, variable-geometry turbine provides boost. The engine is rated at 260 horsepower and 480 lb-ft torque, has earned 22 city/32 highway mpg, and has a towing capacity of up to 12,560 pounds. The new Tradesman HFE EcoDiesel variant ups the ante to an unsurpassed 33 highway mpg, in a model that starts at $42,240 

The mild-hybrid eTorque versions of the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 and 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 replace the standard engine alternator with a belt-driven motor-generator. Working with a 48-volt, 430 kWh lithium-ion nickel-manganese-cobalt battery pack, the motor-generator enables the engines’ stop/start function and brake-energy regeneration, and it provides short bursts of torque under certain driving conditions. The air-cooled battery pack is mounted to the back wall of the RAM's cab.

The eTorque Pentastar V-6 produces 305 horsepower and 269 lb-ft torque and is EPA rated at 20 city/25 highway mpg. The eTorque Hemi V-8 puts out 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft torque and has earned 17 city/23 highway mpg ratings. By comparison, the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 without eTorque assist has the same output ratings but lower fuel economy: 15 city/22 highway mpg. All these engines route their power through eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmissions.

New and improved driver aids available on the 2021 RAM 1500 include a full-color head-up display that can show up to five content areas at once; a digital rearview mirror that displays real-time video from a rear-facing camera (but can revert back to a traditional reflective mirror); and trailer-reverse steering control, which allows the driver to turn a dashboard-mounted dial in the intended direction of the trailer (handing the actual steering control to the system). Adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring and pedestrian detection are also among the safety and security features available for the RAM.

The RAM 1500 remains the only light-duty full-size pickup in the segment with a coil-spring rear suspension system, which the maker says improves ride and handling while not compromising towing or hauling capacity. Buyers will find entry-level RAM 1500s starting at $32,595 and rising upward, with the high-performance TRX topping out the lineup at $70,095.

Clearly, Chrysler’s original minivans had a great run, and for good reason. All were based on the same platform featuring a low floor and an overall design that allowed the ability to park in a typical garage. Plus, they drove like cars and not trucks due to their passenger car-like construction. Offering different flavors of the minivan under the Dodge, Plymouth, and Chrysler brands – with varying levels of sophistication – was a smart move as well. But alas, change is inevitable even within notable success stories.

The company’s sixth-generation minivan broke new ground again in 2017 as the Chrysler Pacifica replaced the Town & Country. Featuring an exciting new design on an all-new platform, among its many innovations was the inclusion of the Pacifica Hybrid variant, the first and only plug-in hybrid minivan in the U.S. market to this day.

Four years later, the Pacifica Hybrid now features a redesign with deeper sculpting and sport-utility influences. It’s available in Touring, Touring L, Limited, and Pinnacle iterations, all powered by a 3.6-liter Atkinson V-6 engine mated with electric motors and a nine-speed electrically variable transmission.

This transmission incorporates two electric motors that drive the front wheels via a clutch, rather than using just one motor for propulsion and the other for regenerative braking. The one-way clutch is located on the input side of the transmission and the output shaft of the motor. This one-way clutch enables power from both ‘A’ and ‘B’ motors to act in parallel, delivering the full torque of both motors to the wheels. The system provides a combined 260 horsepower. All Pacifica Hybrid models feature front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive available on the Touring L model.

Energizing the electric drive system is a 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack comprised of six 16-cell modules. The pack is located under the second row of seats. The benefit of this battery placement is that it doesn’t infringe on interior space, so cargo-carrying capacity is not sacrificed. The battery pack provides 32 miles of battery electric range and can be recharged in two hours using a 240-volt charger. Total hybrid driving range is 520 miles.

A suite of driver assistance systems is available either as standard or optional equipment, depending on trim level. Among these are a 360° Surround View Camera, Rear View Camera, Full-Speed Forward Collision Warning with Active Braking, Pedestrian Automatic Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitor, Adaptive Cruise Control, Parallel/Perpendicular Park Assist, and Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist. 

Pacifica Hybrid’s Uconnect 4 system comes with a standard 7-inch or optional 8.4-inch touchscreen, standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and available 4G Wi-Fi. Uconnect 4 with the 8.4-inch touchscreen displays vehicle performance, power flow, driving history, and adjusts charging schedules for less expensive off-peak hours.

The conventionally-powered Pacifica minivan offers a base price of $35,045, while the Pacifica Hybrid starts at $39,995 for the Touring L model and travels upward to $50,845 for the Pinnacle edition.

The efficient plug-in hybrid variant of BMW’s third-generation X3 premium compact crossover, the X3 xDrive30e shares drivetrain components, technology, and driving characteristics with the automaker’s 330e plug-in sports sedan. Manufactured in Spartanburg  North Carolina on BMW’s refreshed cluster architecture (CLAR) platform, the X3 x30e PHEV blends the efficiency of a hybrid powertrain, super low emissions, and instantaneous low to midrange torque for a spirited drive experience.

Motivation comes from BMW’s 2.0-liter direct injected, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine paired with a 107 horsepower electric motor. The result is 288 total combined horsepower and 310 lb-ft torque that provides a zero to 60 mpg sprint in 5.9 seconds. Fuel efficiency is EPA rated at 60 MPGe while driving on battery power, with a combined city/highway rating of 24 mpg on gasoline. It features an overall driving range of 340 miles on 13.2 gallons of gas plus 18 miles on battery power.

A frame-cradled, air-cooled 12.0 kWh lithium-ion battery supplies energy to the motor. Charging is via an on-board 3.7 kWh charger. Charge time is 3.5 to 6 hours depending on source. Gear shifting is delegated to the time-tested ZF 8-speed Sport Automatic transmission featuring sport and manual shift modes, steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and launch control. All-weather traction is enabled by BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive.

The 5-passenger compact SUV features a driver-centric cockpit layout with premium materials like Sensatec upholstery, dark oak wood trim inlays, and quality hard and soft touch surfaces. Front seats feature 10-way power adjustment, with the rear offering 40/20/40 split and fold-down functionality with adjustable seat backs for passenger comfort. A 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch center information display provide information and controls, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Standard equipment includes ‘smart key’ recognition and personal settings memory, a futuristic yet comprehensive electric drive monitor, remaining electric-only range minder, and navigation-controlled chassis efficiency monitoring. The latest in driver assist and active safety technology is offered. Rounding out this very comprehensive package are voice-activated commands, integrated navigation, optional 360-degree surround camera, premium audio, and automatic three-zone climate control. A two-way power glass moonroof is optional.

All this comes at a base price of $49,600, about $6,600 more than the conventionally-powered X3 xDrive 30i.

Green Car Journal’s Green Car Awards, the annual awards program honoring the year’s most standout  new ‘green’ models, was presented at the Virtual Greenbuild Conference + Expo in November  this year. The 2021 virtual awards program was an innovation during an unusual year, amid the postponement and cancellation of international auto shows where the Green Car Awards typically take place.

Over the years, these high-profile awards have grown along with the expanding field of ‘green’ cars on the road. They now recognize not only the magazine’s signature Green Car of the Year, but also exceptional models that speak to families, city dwellers, luxury buyers, pickup enthusiasts, and those requiring the functionality of an SUV. All provide the traditional touchstones of safety, quality, value, style, and performance, plus that fun-to-drive quality important to most drivers. What they add are greater efficiency, lower carbon and tailpipe emissions, petroleum reduction or displacement, or operation on battery electric power.

GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR

This year’s candidates for 2021 Green Car of the Year reflect the auto industry’s transition toward electrification, even as it continues to make internal combustion ever-more efficient. Three of this year’s finalists, the Mustang Mach-E, MINI Cooper SE, and Volkswagen ID.4, drive exclusively on zero-emission battery power. The BMW 330e is a plug-in hybrid that drives up to 23 miles on battery power and hundreds more as a hybrid. The Hyundai Elantra is offered with either an efficient gasoline engine or a gas-electric hybrid achieving up to 50 miles per gallon.

Rising to the top of the field is Green Car Journal’s 2021 Green Car of the Year, Ford’s all-new Mustang Mach-E, a model that boasts an instantly-recognizable name and heritage, while breaking new ground as an all-electric crossover featuring up to 300 miles of range. Performance is part of the package, as is unmistakable style and all the latest advanced electronics.

The 2021 Green Car of the Year® is selected by a highly-respected jury comprised of energy and environmental leaders including Mindy Lubber, president of CERES; Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society; Dr. Alan Lloyd, president emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation and senior research fellow at the Energy Institute, University of Texas at Austin; Clay Nesler, interim president of the Alliance to Save Energy; and Matt Petersen, president and CEO of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator and advisory board chair of Climate Mayors. Rounding out the Green Car of the Year jury is celebrity auto enthusiast Jay Leno and Green Car Journal editors .

LUXURY GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR

At a more premium price point, 2021 Luxury Green Car of the Year finalists also illustrate the momentum achieved by electric drive in the new car vehicle field. Four of these premium vehicles are all-electric models – the Audi e-tron Sportback, Polestar 2, Tesla Model Y, and Volvo XC40 Recharge. The fifth, the Lincoln Corsair Grand Touring, is the plug-in hybrid variant of Lincoln’s Corsair compact crossover that combines gas-electric hybrid and all-electric driving.

Honored as this year’s Luxury Green Car of the Year is the Polestar 2, a groundbreaking model from Polestar on many levels. This all-new premium vehicle is only the second of this new auto brand’s model offerings, and the first to be all-electric. This zero-emission, two-door fastback looks to the future even as it foregoes futuristic styling, instead choosing to offer an understated yet elegant and sophisticated design, tasteful appointments, and a nearly 300 mile range on battery power.

URBAN GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR

Urban environments pose their own unique challenges – tight spaces, often crowded streets, and hard-to-find parking. Here, smaller vehicles with a compact physical footprint and easy maneuverability are always top choices. The 2021 Urban Green Car of the Year award recognizes vehicles especially well-suited for life in the city. Top choices for this year’s award are the Hyundai Venue, Kia Seltos, Kia Soul, MINI Cooper SE, and Nissan Versa. Four are conventionally-powered – three of them crossover SUVs and one a compact sedan – with the fourth, the MINI Cooper SE, an all-electric crossover.

Taking top honors for 2021 Urban Green Car of the Year is the all-electric MINI Cooper SE. Standing out as an ideal vehicle for the city, the Cooper SE is compact in stature and big on features. Its represents what this brand all about: An iconic look, great maneuverability, and driving fun wrapped in a small package. Plus, electric power means zero localized emissions and no trips venturing out to the gas station in a crowded urban environment.

FAMILY GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR

While any model can serve family duty, those offering extra versatility and thoughtful family-friendly features are high on many shopping lists. Today, driving ‘green’ has also become a priority. Minivans have always been a solid choice, but these days three-row crossover SUVs can also do the job as family hauler. Finalists for 2021 Family Green Car of the Year are the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sorrento Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and Toyota Sienna. The Kia Sorrento Hybrid and Toyota Highlander Hybrid crossovers drive on efficient hybrid power. Honda’s Odyssey minivan features an efficient V-6 with variable cylinder management. The Toyota Sierra is exclusively a hybrid-powered minivan, while the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan also offers plug-in hybrid power.

Standing out as Family Green Car of the Year is the Toyota Sienna, a minivan that seeks to set the standard for modern family haulers. The stylish and fuel-efficient Sienna offers premium sedan-like style, admirable hybrid fuel efficiency, and a thoughtful blend of family-desired features along with driver-centric characteristics not always associated with minivans. It shows Toyota’s keen grasp of how to make a modern minivan that not only serves up family functionality, but also premium car style and appeal.

GREEN SUV OF THE YEAR

The hottest segment in the automotive field today is the SUV, either full-size or compact, traditional or crossover, two-row or three, conventional, hybrid, or plug-in. There are no shortage of choices, which makes narrowing the field to five outstanding finalists no small challenge. The top five finalists emerging this year for Green SUV of the Year are the Audi Q5 55 TFSI e, BMW X3 xDrive 30e, Jeep Wrangler 4xe, Toyota RAV4 Prime, and Toyota Venza. Four of these –from Audi, BMW, Jeep, and Toyota – are plug-in hybrids with an all-electric driving range from 18 to 42 miles, and additional hundreds of miles on hybrid power. Toyota’s Venza is an all-wheel drive, tech-rich hybrid with exceptional fuel efficiency.

Taking top honors for the 2021 Green SUV of the Year title is the Jeep Wrangler 4xe,  an SUV that’s different in many ways from others in its class. To some, it’s an SUV in the traditional sense with high functionality and loads of versatility that’s perfect for the diversity of everyday life. But to others, it’s that, plus a means of escape, heading toward the city one day and then driving the path less taken on another, a path often rough, unpaved, and pointed towards adventure.

GREEN TRUCK OF THE YEAR

This year’s Green Truck of the Year finalists embody all the workhorse capabilities expected of a modern pickup while offering passenger car-like comfort, advanced on-board electronics, and levels of fuel efficiency unheard of in pickups of just a decade ago. Pickups honored as finalists for Green Truck of the Year are the Chevrolet Colorado, Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Jeep Gladiator EcoDiesel, and RAM 1500. All offer diverse powertrain choices, from gasoline and diesel internal combustion to variations of mild- and full-hybrid power.

Powering its way to well-deserved recognition as 2021 Green Truck of the Year is the Ford F-150, a pickup long distinguished as the best-selling model in the nation and a champion of innovation. Beyond its wide array of configurations, powertrain choices, payload capacities, and towing capabilities, it now adds such innovations as an efficient PowerBoost hybrid powerplant, fold-flat ‘sleeper’ seats, and an available Pro Power Onboard output system with outlets that allow the truck to function as a mobile generator at worksites or campsites.

The Green Car Awards™ program, presented annually since 2005, is an important part of Green Car Journal's mission to showcase environmental progress in the automotive field.

The driving range of electric vehicles is becoming less of an issue as they surpass 200 miles or greater, approaching the distance between fill-ups of some internal combustion engine vehicles…or maybe the bladder capacity of their drivers. However, the time it takes to recharge an EV is still a negative attribute.

Generally, EVs charge at a fairly slow rate. A 240-volt Level 2 home or public charger will charge a Chevy Bolt from depleted to full in about 4 1/2 hours, providing a range of about 238 miles. That’s a far cry from 5 minutes to fill a gas tank. It’s significantly slower when charging a Bolt with a Level 1 charger using a household’s standard 120-volt power since this adds only about 4 miles an hour!

Of course, charging companies and automakers are working together to expand the small-but-growing network of fast chargers in key areas of the country, allowing EVs to gain up to 90 miles of charge in around 30 minutes. Tesla claims that its Supercharger stations being upgraded to Version 3 can charge a Tesla Model 3 Long Range at the rate of about 15 miles a minute, or 225 miles in just over 15 minutes under best conditions.

If current technology EVs become popular for mid- to long-range travel, gasoline stations, truck stops, and public charging stations equipped with Level 2 and even somewhat faster chargers run the very real risk of becoming parking lots.

Photo: EVgo

When it comes to charging EVs, charging times come down to kilowatts available. The best Tesla V3 charger is rated at 250 kilowatts peak charge rate. Now, much research is being done here and in other countries on what is called Extreme Fast Charging (XFC) involving charge rates of 350-400 kilowatts or more. The U.S. Department of Energy is sponsoring several projects aimed at reducing battery pack costs, increasing range, and reducing charging times.

There are several challenges for XFCs. First, when lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are fast charged, they can deteriorate and overheat. Tesla already limits the number of fast charges by its standard Superchargers because of battery degradation, and that’s only at 120-150 kilowatts. Also, when kilowatt charging rates increase voltage and/or amperage increases, which can have a detrimental effect on cables and electronics.

This begs the question: Is the current electrical infrastructure capable of supporting widespread use of EVs? Then, the larger question is whether the infrastructure is capable of handling XFC with charging rates of 350 kilowatts or more. This is most critical in urban areas with large numbers of EVs and in rural areas with limited electric infrastructure.

The answer is no. Modern grid infrastructures are not designed to supply electricity at a 350+ kilowatt rate, so costly grid upgrades would be required. Additionally, communities would be disrupted when new cables and substations have to be installed. There would be a need for costly and time-consuming environmental studies.

One approach being is XFC technology being developed by Zap&Go in the UK and Charlotte, North Carolina. The heart of Zap&Go's XFC is carbon-ion (C-Ion) energy storage cells using nanostructured carbons and ionic liquid-based electrolytes. C-Ion cells provide higher energy densities than conventional supercapacitors with charging rates 10 times faster than current superchargers. Supercapacitors and superchargers are several technologies being considered for XFCs.

According to Zap&Go, the C-Ion cells do not overheat and since they do not use lithium, cobalt, or any materials that can catch fire, there is no fire danger. Plus, they can be recycled at the end of their life, which is about 30 years. Zap&Go's business model would use its chargers to store electric energy at night and at off-peak times, so the current grid could still be used. Electrical energy would be stored in underground reservoirs similar to how gasoline and diesel fuels are now stored at filling stations. EVs would then be charged from the stored energy, not directly from the grid, in about the same time it takes to refuel with gasoline.

The fastest charging would work best if C-Ion cell batteries are installed in an EV, replacing Li-ion batteries. EVs with Li-ion batteries could also be charged, but not as quickly. Alternatively, on-board XFC cells could be charged in about five minutes, then they would charge an EV’s Li-ion batteries at a slower rate while the vehicle is driven, thereby preserving the life of the Li-ion battery. The downside is that this would add weight, consume more room, and add complexity. Zap&Go plans to set up a network of 500 ultrafast-charge charging points at filling stations across the UK.

General Motors is partnering with Delta Electronics, DOE, and others to develop XFSs using solid-state transformer technology. Providing up to 400 kilowatts of power, the system would let properly equipped electric vehicles add 180 miles of range in about 10 minutes. Since the average American drives less than 30 miles a day, a single charge could provide a week’s worth of driving.

The extreme charging time issue might be partly solved by something already available: Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). As governments around the world consider banning or restricting new gasoline vehicles in favor of electric vehicles, they should not exclude PHEVs. Perhaps PHEVs could be designed so their internal combustion engines could not operate until their batteries were depleted, or their navigation system determines where they could legally operate on electric or combustion power.

The Kona, Hyundai’s newest and smallest crossover, serves up a pleasing design and welcome functionality. It is offered with a choice two gasoline engines that net up to 33 highway mpg, and also as a battery electric vehicle.

Styling cues are a bit different on the Kona Electric, but subtle except for its distinctive closed grille. Silver side sills, unique 17-inch alloy wheels, and badging also differentiate the electric variant. Kona Electric sales are initially being focused on California and select states that have adopted California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program.

The Kona is available in three trim levels – SEL, Limited, and Ultimate. Kona SE and SEL models are powered by a 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. This combo achieves an EPA rating of 28 city/32 highway mpg. Kona Limited and Ultimate trim levels are powered by a 175-horsepower, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. Here,  EPA numbers are 27 city/33 highway mpg. Front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive an option for both powerplants.

Powering the Kona Electric is a 201 horsepower, permanent-magnet electric motor driving the front wheels. Energy is provided by a 64 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery that delivers an impressive EPA estimated 258 mile range. Offshore markets also get a base electric version with a smaller 39.2 kWh battery that’s good for about 186 miles, but that configuration is not offered in North America. The Kona Electric earns a combined EPA efficiency rating of 120 MPGe. Acceleration is quite good with a 0-60 mph sprint taking 7.6 seconds. Kona Electric’s top speed is electronically limited at 104 mph.

When connected to a fast-charge 10 kW Combined Charging System, the battery pack can be recharged from a depleted state in about 54 minutes. It takes 75 minutes to recharge with a more common 50 kW CCS fast-charge system. With more readily-available Level 2 (240-volt AC) public or home charging and the Kona’s onboard 7.2 kW charger, replenishing a depleted battery takes about 10 hours. The charge port is located in the front fascia just below the driver’s side headlight.

There are a host of driver assist features available. Hyundai SmartSense safety technologies standard on all trim levels include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, Driver Attention Warning, and Lane Keeping Assist. Optionally available are Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist, Blind Spot Collision Warning, High Beam Assist, Rear View Monitor, and Smart Cruise Control.

The gasoline-powered Kona has an MSRP of $19,990, while the Kona Electric is offered at a base price of $36,450.

Part of Honda’s Clarity triple-play – along with the hydrogen-powered Clarity Fuel Cell and more mainstream Clarity Plug-In Hybrid – the Clarity Electric is a model that clearly cuts its own path.

It does not aim to be part of the ‘200 mile club,’ the latest generation of uber-electrics that claim a battery electric driving range greater than 200 miles between charges. It also does not cultivate efficiencies through a compact form designed to eke the most from every electron. Nor is it exceptionally lightweight, another common nod to the need for making the most of the battery power carried on board. In fact, there is little about the Clarity Electric that makes us think of other all-electric vehicles…save for the fact that it runs exclusively on zero-emission battery power, of course. This mid-size, five-passenger battery electric vehicle aims to be in a league of its own.

First of all, let’s discuss driving range, which is EPA rated at 89 miles between charges while delivering a combined 114 MPGe (miles-per-gallon equivalent). Yes, that’s more limiting than that of the 200+ mile club, but there’s a reason. Honda designed the Clarity Electric with the needs of commuters in mind…those who want their daily drive to be in a highly-efficient, zero-emission electric car with a sophisticated look and premium feel. And they designed it so it was significantly more affordable than premium competitors offering higher-end electric models with features similar to those of the Clarity. Currently, the Clarity Electric is offered at a $199 monthly lease in California and Oregon where this battery-powered model is available.

Honda figures that an approach focused on commuters is a sweet spot for the Clarity Electric. Its range fits the needs of most commutes and its price is certainly justifiable for a commuter car, and a luxurious one at that, with fuel costs substantially less than conventionally-powered models. Plus, most households have two cars at their disposal, sometimes more. Having a Clarity Electric as a primary commuter car with a conventional gasoline or hybrid vehicle also in a household’s stable covers all bases.

Honda gave a lot of thought to the cabin design with welcome touches throughout. We especially like the ‘floating’ design of the center console with its array of integrated controls and flat storage tray beneath, with 12-volt and USB outlets. The dash features a handsome suede-like material and an 8-inch touchscreen display elegantly integrated into the dash. Deep cupholders feature flip-up stays for holding smaller drinks. Side door pockets are large enough to accommodate water bottles. The trunk offers plenty of room and is illuminated when the trunk lid is remotely or manually unlatched. At night this allows you to immediately note what’s inside through the trunk lid’s clear back panel before opening…something we’ve really come to appreciate over time.

Driving the Clarity Electric is a satisfying experience, with this sedan both well-mannered and responsive. Power is delivered by a 161 horsepower electric motor energized by a 25.5 kWh lithium-ion battery that can be charged in about three hours with a 240 volt charger, or in as little as 30 minutes with a public DC fast-charge system to an 80 percent state-of-charge. While its primary job may well be to handle everyday driving needs and negotiate traffic, it also delivers plenty of fun on twisty canyon roads with flat cornering and confident steering. It’s quick, like almost all electrics are because of instant torque delivered at launch, providing very satisfying acceleration.

Also appreciated is the Clarity’s handy Apple CarPlay integration and its Honda Sensing suite of driver-assist technologies. Among these are important features like adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning, and road departure mitigation.

The Clarity Electric has served us well on our daily drives over the course of Green Car Journal’s ongoing long-term test. Its use supports what Honda envisioned for this efficient electric car. It has been ideal for around-town duty, area trips within its range, and daily commutes. Its thoughtful and sophisticated – dare we say futuristic – design and very satisfying drive experience are appreciated every day we’re behind the wheel.

With the growing market acceptance of electric vehicles in the U.S. comes an unprecedented auto industry focus on delivering these vehicles to consumers. Today nearly all major auto manufacturers and a handful of boutique automakers offer a growing lineup of electrified models.

When considering the purchase of an electric vehicle, the task of home charging is second in importance only to an electric’s driving range. How long will a charge take, and how often will it be needed? The cost associated with enabling home charging is also top-of-mind since using public or workplace chargers is a plus, but nothing beats the conveniences of overnight charging at home.

There’s an affordable and easy answer to these home EV charging concerns with the AV TurboCord Dual, developed by AeroVironment and available as part of Webasto’s EV Solutions product line. TurboCord Dual presents a portable transformable solution that aims to promote convenient electric vehicle charging using the two most common electrical outlets found in homes.

AV TurboCord Dual is a portable EV charging solution enabling both 120 or significantly faster 240 volt charging as needed through a quick clip-release adapter interface. It does not require hardwired installation to facilitate dual voltage charging, but rather connects to a standard 120 volt household outlet or 240 volt outlet.

While there is much competition in the home charging segment, there’s a lot to like about the AV TurboCord for its compact size,  portability, and ease of operation. TurboCord Dual will look familiar to anyone who has used AV public charging stations in much of the U.S. Simply open the charge port on your EV of choice, look for the pulsing light on the business end of the TurboCord, and you’re charging. When the unit stops blinking, you’re done.

TurboCord  Dual delivers a great solution for battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles alike, either at home or on the road. A handy carrying case easily stores the charger, power cord, and chargeport connector. AV TurboCord is available online or from your local building center.

沃尔沃全新XC40外观Volvo’s smallest crossover features an aggressive design that’s a bit of a departure for the automaker, even as it retains the fundamental styling cues that say ‘Volvo.’ The first model built on the automaker’s Compact Modular Architecture, the new XC40 is offered as either a T4 front-wheel drive or T5 all-wheel drive and in three trim levels. The XC40 looks deceptively small but has plenty of cargo and passenger capacity for longer trips. A plug-in hybrid and possibly an all-electric model are likely in the future.

Inside, the stylish cabin aims for an uncluttered look while still providing all the amenities SUV buyers desire. Functionality is a top priority, which the XC40 provides in intelligent ways with features like spacious door bins that accommodate a laptop or tablet, easily accessible under-seat drawers for stashing wallets or other necessities, and even a trash bin for cleaning up clutter. The front storage compartment holds a wireless charge pad for smartphones. Other welcome features include a standard 9-inch Sensus Connect touchscreen and an available panoramic sunroof that provides loads of available light.

New Volvo XC40 - interiorAll XC40s are powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder Drive-E engine. In the T4 this engine is rated at 187 horsepower and 221 lb-ft torque. Engine output increases to 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque in the all-wheel drive T5. Both connect to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Manual gear shifts are possible with the Volvo’s shift lever or, alternatively, via steering wheel shift paddles on the R-Design model.

Standard on all XC40s are Automated Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Forward-Collision Warning, Lane-Keeping Assist with Lane-Departure Warning, Automatic High-Beam Headlamps, Driver-Attention Monitor, and Traffic-Sign Detection.  A self-parking feature, front and rear parking sensors, and Blind-Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert can be added as part of the Vision package.

New Volvo XC40 - 360 cameraVolvo offers Pilot Assist as a part of a Premium package. This is essentially adaptive cruise control with a semi-autonomous driving mode. It keeps the XC40 within its own lane and maintains a set speed and distance behind the vehicle ahead. Unlike some other near-self-driving systems, Pilot Assist requires the driver to keep his hands on the steering wheel at all times…perhaps not a surprise considering Volvo’s longstanding focus on safety.

The 2019 XC40 serves up 23 city and 33 highway mpg, at a starting cost of $33,700. Another option is Care by Volvo, an innovative subscription service that includes use of a new XC40 Momentum ($600 per month) or R-Design ($700 per month) for a maximum of 15,000 miles per year. Insurance, maintenance, and road-hazard protection are included, plus the opportunity for the lessee to upgrade to a new XC40 each year for the same all-inclusive monthly payment. A subscription lasts for 24 months.

沃尔沃全新XC40外观

MY19 Nissan Altima

Nissan's all-new, sixth-generation Altima has been extensively redesigned with greater refinement and efficiency, along with a more aerodynamic body boasting an impressive 0.26 drag coefficient. Distinctive styling cues include a more aggressive front facia with a V-motion grille and streamlined boomerang lights.

Inside there is a standard 7-inch driver display and a NASA-inspired zero gravity seat that enhances comfort and fights fatigue. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard. Every 2019 Altima also comes equipped with a standard 8-inch multi-touch color display, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, streaming audio via Bluetooth, hands-free text messaging assistant, and Siri eyes free voice recognition. Some remote features are also accessible through NissanConnect Services’ Amazon Alexa Skill and Google Assistant Action.

MY19 Nissan Altima

Power is provided by a naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 188 horsepower. There’s also an all-new, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 248 horsepower on tap. The world’s first production variable compression engine, this 2.0-liter powerplant enables compression ratio to adjust from 8:1 to 14:1  by continuously raising or lowering piston reach for performance or greater efficiency. Both engines connect to an Xtronic continuously variable transmission. Paddle shifters are available with the SR grade.

Every 2.5-liter Altima is now available with Intelligent All-Wheel Drive with a 50:50 torque split in most situations, a first for a Nissan sedan and something that remains a relative rarity in this segment. Front-wheel drive 2.5-liter models are rated at 28 city/39 highway mpg.

2019 Nissan Altima

Unique in the class, Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist helps drivers stay centered in the lane, navigate stop-and-go traffic, maintain a set vehicle speed, and maintain a set distance to the vehicle ahead.  To activate the system, a driver simply pushes the blue ProPILOT Assist ON button, then sets the Intelligent Cruise Control when the desired speed is reached, similar to a conventional advanced cruise control system. It uses a forward-facing camera, forward-facing radar, sensors, and an electronic control module.

Along with ProPILOT Assist, also new for 2019 is Rear Automatic Braking that helps a driver by detecting and warning of objects while backing up, and if necessary applying brakes to help avoid a collision. Other safety and convenience features include standard Automatic Emergency Braking, Intelligent Forward Collision Warning, and Intelligent Driver Alertness 3 on all grades.

Intelligent Around View Monitor is standard on the Altima Platinum. Safety Shield 360 includes Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Rear Automatic Braking, Lane Departure Warning, radar-based Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and High Beam Assist (HBA). A new Traffic Sign Recognition system provides the most recent speed limit information.

The 2019 Nissan Altima offers a base cost of $23,900, a point of entry approachable for a great many buyers seeking a fun-do-drive, stylish vehicle offering laudable fuel efficiency and some of the most advanced technology available in its class.

Our drive of the 2019 Lexus ES 300h, the hybrid variant of this automaker’s all-new, seventh-generation ES sedan, was accommodating as expected from this luxury brand with welcome performance. During our drives we found turn-in sharp and precise. Considering front-to-rear weight distribution is heavy over the front wheels, the suspension compensates well and the car feels well-balanced.

Built on Lexus’ new Global Architecture-K platform, the ES enjoys a 2.6-inch increase in length, 1.8-inch increase in width, and wider front and rear tracks compared to the model it replaces. It also offers a two-inch longer wheelbase at 113 inches and a more spacious rear compartment.

The luxury sedan’s most striking angle is its profile that shows low hood and roof lines. From the front it’s the automaker’s unmistakable spindle grill that dominates, enhanced by slim L-shaped LED projector headlights.

The ES 300h layout is front engine, front wheel drive with power derived from a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, plus an electric motor mated to an all new hybrid transaxle. This delivers 215 total system horsepower. A six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters is electronically controlled and continuously variable.

Powering the electric motor is a nickel-metal-hydride battery that's more power dense and compact than its predecessor, allowing it to be relocated from the trunk to beneath the rear seat, thus adding welcome trunk space. This fourth-generation Hybrid Drive System enables accelerating from 0-60 mph in 8.1 seconds and provides a nearly 600-mile driving range, plus excellent combined 44 mpg fuel economy.

Inside is a well-appointed cabin that’s tranquil and free of exterior noise. New suction-type ventilated cooling seats kept us as comfortable and entertained as any in the new movie theaters. There are lots of choices for interior personalization with three color schemes available, four trims, and three material options for the seats. The car’s standard audio has 10 speakers, and to please audiophiles there’s the optional Mark Levinson audio with 1800 watts and 17 speakers.

Of course, the ES 300h offers all the latest driver assistance systems plus an array of convenience features like Apple CarPlay, and it will be Amazon Alexa-enabled for Android phones and iPhones. Outstanding fuel consumption, a striking design, and first-class amenities make the new Lexus ES 300h a real contender for today’s premium car buyers. 

The price of entry for the conventionally powered 2019 Lexus ES is $39,500, with the ES 300h hybrid just $1,810 more at $41,310. 

nissan-leaf-straight-on-2First off, this is not the LEAF we’ve grown accustomed to seeing on the road since the model’s introduction in 2010. Our drive of the new generation 2018 Nissan LEAF quickly reinforced this is a whole-new animal, a new generation of the venerable electric car intended to capture the imagination and, not coincidentally, market share in the increasingly competitive electric vehicle field.

We have history with the LEAF. Green Car Journal first experienced the original LEAF’s capabilities in a technology demonstrator designed to share what Nissan had in mind for its groundbreaking, soon-to-come production electric vehicle. At Nissan’s behest, we tested the automaker’s LEAF-destined electric drivetrain in its EV-12 test mule back in 2009 at Nissan’s global headquarters in Yokohama, Japan. We later witnessed the LEAF’s unveiling, clearly showing Nissan’s willingness to push the envelope for electric cars with an edgy design.

nissan-ev-12-test-muleWe were impressed. So much so, in fact, that Green Car Journal honored the LEAF with the magazine’s 2010 Green Car Vision Award™ in Washington DC, ahead of its introduction to the market. Nissan’s insight into what electric vehicle buyers desired has indeed proved visionary over the years. Testament to this is the LEAF’s standing as the world’s leading affordable, mass production EV since its launch.

The all-new generation Nissan LEAF aims to expand on this success with new styling and a 50-percent increase in driving range. It also features a full suite of Nissan Intelligent Mobility technologies. This all-electric model is more attractive with excellent aerodynamics that result in a low 0.28 drag coefficient. Improved aerodynamics not only means a quieter ride but also contributes to greater range. That’s an important consideration in electric cars with near-silent drivetrains that don’t mask outside noise.

nissan-leaf-rearThe new Leaf features a 150-mile driving range between charges compared to the previous generation’s 100 miles. This is an important milestone that serves to overcome potential ‘range anxiety.’ Why 150 miles rather than shooting for the 200+ mile range like the Chevy Bolt EV and Tesla Model 3? It’s all about balancing price with functionality. Simply, Nissan aimed at providing an affordable price point under $30,000 for the LEAF. That meant delivering the range it figured would fit the driving needs of most drivers while keeping battery costs within reason. It’s a sound strategy.

A more powerful 40 kWh lithium-ion battery pack features improvements and revised chemistry that bring a 67 percent increase in energy density. Nissan designers have located the low-slung battery pack and other heavy components to the middle of the chassis to enhance the car’s center of gravity and handling. Fun fact: Using vehicle-to-home systems, the LEAF’s battery can store a home’s surplus solar energy while parked during the daytime and use it to help power a home in the evening.

nissan-leaf-underhoodLEAF’s electric powertrain features a 147-horsepower electric motor that’s well-suited to the model. It provides 38 percent more horsepower than the previous version with 26 greater torque for improved acceleration. Acceleration is crisp with more than enough power at the ready for all the driving situations we encountered on twisty roads and Interstates. Intelligent Ride Control delivers more precise motor torque control during cornering. This also reduces vibration while improving ride quality and steering control. Electric power steering software has been tweaked for improved steering feel. The LEAF’s steering torsion bar is also stiffer for better feedback and more linear response to steering inputs.

Nissan’s e-Pedal slows down the car via regenerative and friction braking when a driver’s foot lifts off the accelerator. This delivers electricity to the battery while essentially providing braking force without using the car’s brake pedal. It even brings the car to a complete stop. We found that driving with e-Pedal kept our LEAF tester in place while stopped on a steep hill without requiring a foot on the brake pedal. Notably, e-Pedal allows drivers to go without using the brake pedal 90 percent of the time.

nissan-leaf-interiorLEAF’s ProPILOT cruise control conveniently maintains a constant distance to the vehicle ahead.  If that vehicle stops, ProPILOT automatically applies brakes to also bring the LEAF to a full stop. It remains stopped even with your foot off the brake. Driving resumes when ProPILOT is activated with the touch of a switch or light pressure on the accelerator. The system also helps keep the LEAF centered in its lane at speeds between 19 and 62 mph. Other LEAF driver-assist technologies include Intelligent Lane Intervention, Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Intelligent Around View Monitor with moving object detection.

The new LEAF’s interior has a more luxurious and high-end look. Its dashboard is dominated by a seven-inch display for infotainment and the navigation system, if so equipped, plus Nissan's Safety Shield state-of-charge and power gauge. Another seven-inch screen faces the driver in place of conventional dials. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included on LEAFs with the higher-spec infotainment/navigation system.

nissan-leaf-chargingToday’s electric car market is different than that of the past. There are more choices in a growing number of vehicle classes and this makes it tougher for automakers to compete. Nissan aims to not only compete in the electric car field but dominate globally as it has in recent years.

The LEAF’s status as a true world car is underscored by widespread availability like the previous-generation LEAF. It’s also reinforced by Nissan’s global manufacturing capabilities with assembly plants in Japan, England, and in Smyrna, Tennessee. Offering the all-new LEAF at a base price of $29,990 here in the U.S. is a strategy that should bode well for Nissan in today’s increasingly competitive electric vehicle market.

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vw-allroad-side-1Volkswagen added its 4MOTION all-wheel drive and a few other tweaks to the Golf SportWagen to create the Golf Alltrack, a five-seat hatchback with off-road capability. Available in S, SE, and SEL trim levels, it features a full suite of connectivity and driver assistance systems, either as standard or optional equipment.

Like the Golf SportWagen, the Golf Alltrack is powered by VW's 1.8 liter DOHC four-cylinder TSI engine. This turbocharged and intercooled, 16-valve direct fuel-injected powerplant is rated at 170 horsepower and 199 lb-ft torque. A six-speed manual is standard on the S and SE, with a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shifting mode and available steering wheel paddle shifters optional, but standard on the top SEL model.  EPA rates the Alltrack at 22 city/32 highway mpg, a few mpg less than the SportWagen that comes with 4MOTION.

vw-allroad-underhood-1VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system normally delivers power to the front wheels and can also sends torque to the rear wheels when needed, with the system automatically adapting to varying road conditions for additional traction. Drivers can select between Normal, Sport, Custom, and Off-Road modes. All-wheel-drive also works in conjunction with other active stability systems like Electronic Differential Lock (EDL). Hill Descent Control actively helps control brake application when descending steep inclines, a feature that’s especially helpful in slippery conditions to maintain a constant, controlled speed. An available three-gauge Off-Road Monitor provides information about altitude, steering wheel angle, compass heading, and more.

The Alltrack is 2.1 inches taller than the SportWagen with an increased ground clearance of 6.9 inches. It also features rugged bumpers for tough conditions. Bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights are available on the SEL. The model’s optional adaptive front-lighting system turns the headlights slightly with steering at certain speeds. A power tilting/sliding panoramic sunroof is available along with roof rails that work with VW accessories for carrying outdoor equipment.

vw-allroad-front-with-kayak-1Car-Net App-Connect allows the use of select apps from a compatible smartphone on the dash, providing information, support, and assistance to make this the center of a driver’s mobile universe. The system’s Guide & Inform features handy items like enhanced navigation with traffic updates, sports scores, weather information, and more. VW Car-Net Security & Service allows a smartphone to locate the car’s last parked location, check to see if doors are locked, or call for help in an emergency.

VW provides desired driver assistance systems that include a rearview camera system and much more. Front Assist, which includes Forward Collision Warning with front sensors, helps monitor traffic and warn of a potential collision. If a collision is imminent, Front Assist’s autonomous emergency braking helps brake the car. Adaptive Cruise Control helps maintain a preset distance from the car in front. If the car in front speeds up or slows down, sensors detect the change and respond by slowing or stopping the Alltrack automatically. Lane Departure Warning senses when an Alltrack driver is drifting into another lane without a turn signal activated and provides steering input to keep the car in its correct lane.

ron-driving-vw-alltrackPark Distance Control uses sensors that help a driver drive into or back out of a parking spot. Audible signals and an optical parking system function in the display indicate how much space is available behind or in front while parking. An alert sounds as a warning if you get too close. The display provides additional support for a driver by showing the position of obstacles. Park Assist determines if a parking spot is big enough, then helps steer the vehicle into the space while a driver operates the accelerator, brake, and shifter.

Those looking to get into a handsome and versatile wagon with off-road capabilities should give the VW Alltrack a close look. It features VW’s expected attention to detail and quality while delivering a fun-to-drive nature and capabilities that allow heading for roads less traveled, at a reasonable MSRP of $25,850 that fits a lot of budgets.

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vw-beetle-dune-leadIn the late 1960s, many VW Beetle sedans and convertibles were converted into Baja Bugs for desert or beach duty, or just to look cool. Like the iconic dune buggies conceived by Bruce Meyers, the Baja Bug originated in Southern California. Unlike dune buggies that had completely new fiberglass bodies on a shortened Beetle chassis like the Meyers Manx, Baja Bugs retained most of the Beetle's sheetmetal and chassis modifications were not required. Conversions were often done by individual owners. There was a shortened fiberglass front and an abbreviated rear that left the engine mostly exposed, plus tubular steel cage-type front and rear bumpers and shorter fiberglass front and rear fenders.

For 2017, the Beetle Dune Convertible joins the Dune Coupe that first appeared as a 2016 VW model following its debut as a concept car at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show. Though much more sophisticated, VW says the Dune was inspired by the original Baja. While based on the third-generation New Beetle, the bolder Dunes gets a raised ride height of 0.4 inches and a 0.6-inch wider track for a more rugged appearing stance.

vw-beetle-dune-34-frontFront and rear facias of the VW Dune Convertible are more aggressive looking than the standard model and feature black 0.6 inch wheel arch extensions that flow into the bumper. The front bumper integrates a large central air intake with a black honeycomb screen and aluminum-looking surround that morphs into the front skid plate. Foglights are located on either side of the intake in two black honeycomb vents. An available Lighting Package adds Bi-Xenon headlights with LED Daytime Running Lights and LED rear license plate lighting.

The sides of the Dune are characterized by the contrast between polished aluminum sills black trim strips that remind you of the running boards on the original Beetle. At the rear is a large spoiler on both coupe and convertible variants, standard LED taillights, and a rear bumper design with matte black and aluminum elements that mimic the front facia. The rear diffuser also acts as a skid plate. Dune rides on 18-inch Canyon aluminum-alloy wheels fitted with 235/45 all-season tires.

vw-beetle-dune-tsi-engineLike other Beetle 1.8T models, the Dune is powered by a 1.8-liter, direct-injected and turbocharged TSI four-cylinder engine that delivers 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft torque. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. EPA fuel economy numbers are 24 mpg city/31 mpg for both Dune models. During our drives on backroads and interstates we found the Beetle Dune

The top on the Dune Convertible is operated by a header-mounted switch and can be opened in 9.5 seconds. Closing takes 11 seconds, and both can be done at speeds up to 31 mph…just in case a up/down decision comes just before a traffic light turns green. The Dune’s 50/50 rear seat accommodates two. Its trunk can hold 7.0 cubic feet of cargo regardless of the top’s position.

vw-beetle-dune-cabinBeetle Dunes are available in three exterior colors include Sandstorm Yellow, Pure White, or Deep Black Pearl. Sandstorm Yellow cars have an interior that features body-color upper door trims and dash pads, with the Pure White and Black Pearl cars featuring black door and dash pad trim.

While original Bajas were very spartan with few creature comforts, the Dune presents quite a departure. It’s filled with the latest technologies like a standard MIB II infotainment system ready for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink smartphone platforms via Volkswagen’s Car-Net system. Its 6.3-inch touchscreen has a capacitive touch sensor like smartphones and tablets for gesture controls like swiping and pinch-zooming. MIB II also features a proximity sensor that detects when a hand is nearby and automatically switches its display to allow an array of features. A rearview camera and Park Distance Control are standard. A Technology package is available that adds dual-zone automatic climate control, a premium audio system, KESSY keyless access with push-button start, and a tilt-and-slide sunroof.

vw-beetle-dune-rear-airfoilJust like the rest of the Beetle line-up, Dunes are fitted with the automaker’s Automatic Post-Collision Braking System. This takes into account that a collision is rarely a single, instantaneous action, but a series of events that follow the initial impact – the most significant of which can cause additional collisions. The system helps address this by applying brakes when a primary collision is detected by the airbag sensors, thus helping reduce residual kinetic energy and the chance of additional damage.

The VW Beetle Dune coupe is available at an approachable $23,995 with the convertible upping the ante to $29,395. Cool-looking with a bit of nostalgia built in, the techie Dune is fun, eye-catching, and efficient…a great combination for fans of the iconic Beetle.

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Green Car Journal has named the all-electric 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV its 2017 Green Car of the Year® during AutoMobility LA at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The Bolt EV emerged the winner over fellow finalists BMW 330e iPerformance, Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Optima, and Toyota Prius Prime. Widely recognized as the auto industry’s most prestigious environmental honor, the award was presented by Green Car Journal editor and publisher Ron Cogan and accepted by Chevrolet Cars & Crossovers marketing director Steve Majoros.

The Green Car of the Year jury selected the 2017 Bolt EV for its milestone 238 mile battery electric driving range, stylish design, pleasing driving dynamics, and welcome suite of advanced and connected technologies. Along with its distinction as the first production battery electric vehicle to achieve a 200-plus mile driving range, the 2017 Bolt EV offers an array of features that provide a unique and catered ride to the driver.

ron-cogan-and-steve-majoros-at-gcoy-stageEditors and jurors note that Chevrolet’s all-new 2017 Bolt EV is a breakthrough vehicle in every sense, sending a clear signal that an electric car’s environmental achievement is well-suited to the mass market. From the time modern electric vehicles emerged in the 1990s, limited driving range has presented a core challenge to the commercialization of electric cars affordable to everyday drivers. Bolt EV overcomes this with its 238-mile battery electric driving range and approachable price, the first production electric car to achieve this milestone.

Each year, an expanding number of environmentally positive vehicle models are considered for the Green Car of the Year® program, an illustration that the auto industry is continuing to expand its efforts in offering new vehicles with higher efficiency and improved environmental impact. The Green Car of the Year® is selected through a majority vote by a jury that includes celebrity auto enthusiast Jay Leno, as well as leaders of noted environmental and efficiency organizations including Jean-Michel Cousteau, President of Ocean Futures Society; Matt Petersen, Board Member of Global Green USA; Dr. Alan Lloyd, President Emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation; Mindy Lubber, President of CERES; and Kateri Callahan, President of the Alliance to Save Energy.

2017-green-car-of-the-year-stage-1Staff jurors include Cam Benty, Ron Cogan, Drew Hardin, Jeff Karr, Todd Kaho, and Dr. Bill Siuru, all veteran auto writers and editors with decades-long careers in the auto industry. Their deep understanding of the importance and nuances of vehicles includes their time spent as editors of such noted legacy auto publications as Motor Trend, Hot Rod, Car Craft, Truck Trends, Popular Hot Rodding, and others.

During the award’s vetting process, Green Car Journal editors consider all vehicles, fuels and technologies as an expansive field of potential candidates is narrowed down to the final five.  Finalists are selected for their achievements in raising the bar in environmental performance. Many factors are considered including efficiency, performance characteristics, ‘newness,’ affordability and overall environmental achievement. Availability to the mass market is important to ensure honored models have the potential to make a real difference in environmental impact, and finalists must be available for sale by January 1 of the award year.

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