Green Car Journal logo
Greg Roche, Clean Energy Fuels.
Greg Roche, VP of Sustainability at Clean Energy.

Trucking companies, and the shippers that hire trucking companies, are making bold commitments to cut their carbon footprint – such as becoming net zero by 2030. Yet achieving net zero or better requires more than operational improvements. Alternative technologies are needed to move beyond even the cleanest diesel platform. Renewable natural gas (RNG) has emerged as the leading pathway for low carbon, clean air trucking. There are three compelling reasons why RNG is helping sustainable companies decarbonize their transportation today.

Lowest Carbon Transportation Fuel

RNG is derived from organic material found in green waste, food waste, landfills, sewage treatment, and livestock manure. These organic wastes naturally decompose into methane. Methane that leaked into the atmosphere is a potent short-lived climate pollutant and greenhouse gas. Rather than releasing into the atmosphere, methane can be captured and converted into a drop-in replacement fuel for conventional natural gas.

When used for vehicle fueling, RNG reduces carbon by capturing methane that would escape into the atmosphere; and by replacing high-carbon diesel fuel. The chart below shows the carbon intensity of traditional fossil fuels and low-carbon alternative fuels. RNG produced from dairy manure has carbon emissions that are up to 300 percent cleaner than diesel fuel, and has the potential to be negative carbon intensive. Replacing just 25 percent of a fleet’s diesel trucks with negative carbon intensive RNG from dairy manure can reduce a fleet’s carbon emissions by 100 percent.

RNG is lowest carbon alternative fuel.

RNG Trucks Improve the Air

Many areas of the U.S. have harmful air, and diesel trucks play an oversized role in local air pollution. The greater Southern California area, California’s Central Valley, Houston, Dallas, Salt Lake City, and other metro areas share this air pollution problem. Air pollution contributes to respiratory, cardio, and other illnesses. Studies have linked local air pollution to susceptibility to COVID-19, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Diesel trucks emit high amounts of local air pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and diesel particulate matter. Diesel particulate matter is classified as a toxic air contaminant and is composed of carcinogenic compounds.

Trucks powered by RNG have 90 percent lower NOx emissions than a new diesel truck and over 98 percent lower NOx emissions than many of the diesel trucks in use today. RNG-powered trucks have zero emissions when it comes to carcinogenic diesel particulate matter.

RNG Trucks Save Money

RNG fuel costs less than diesel fuel. Fuel savings are particularly amplified today with skyrocketing diesel prices. RNG prices are also less volatile than petroleum fuel.

RNG trucks have great economics compared to other emerging clean technologies. The cost of these emerging technologies is 200 percent to 300 percent more expensive than RNG trucks. These emerging technologies have far more expensive charging or fueling infrastructure costs than RNG fueling. An RNG truck at one-half to one-third the cost of other technologies has better carbon reduction and equivalent air quality benefits.

Leaders are Taking Action Today

Climate pollution and air pollution are problems that exist today, not far in the future. While it is noteworthy for companies to make aspirational goals to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the future, RNG trucks offer the ability to achieve net zero immediately. RNG truck technology has been proven and perfected over the past 14 years. RNG engines are mass produced by Cummins, and RNG trucks are mass produced by Freightliner, Peterbilt, Kenworth, Volvo, and Mack. RNG fueling infrastructure is available throughout North America and is rapidly expanding. Clean Energy alone has over 560 fueling locations at customer sites and at retail locations.

Companies like Amazon, UPS, Waste Management, SAIA, Estes, and TTSI are deploying thousands of RNG trucks today. What do these sustainability-leading companies know? RNG is the lowest carbon fuel available and offers an affordable alternative to diesel today that is proven and scalable.

Greg Roche is the Vice President of Sustainability at Clean Energy, the country’s largest provider of the cleanest fuel for the transportation market.

Toyota bZ4X electric car.

Behind the wheel of Toyota’s new bZ4X electric vehicle, I’m given to a bit of reflection as to why this car has come to be. After all, Toyota is a specialist in hybrid vehicles and is noted for its focus and leadership here, not battery electric cars. But these days Toyota is feeling the pressure – actually, lots of it – to bring all-electric vehicles to a wanting market.

In between Toyota’s hybrid offerings and its emerging focus on electric vehicles are the  automaker’s plug-in hybrids that blend characteristics of the two. The Toyota brand has a pair of these now – the RAV4 Prime offering 42 miles of electric driving and 640 miles total range, and the Prius Prime offering 25 miles on battery power with a total driving range of 600 miles. We expect other models to join in soon enough.

A Timely EV Introduction

So why the bZ4X battery electric vehicle? Because it’s time, and also because it’s a critical link to Toyota’s ‘Beyond Zero’ (bZ) future and an array of battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid Toyota models in the pipeline. The automaker is serious about this. To support its growing electrification effort, Toyota has announced massive investments in battery manufacturing for its electrified vehicles, including $3.8 billion alone for a new battery manufacturing facility in North Carolina.

Toyota has made some earlier forays into the electric vehicle field in the States, but it’s been a while. The automaker fielded its first RAV4 EVs here from 1997 to 2003 in response to California’s zero emission vehicle mandate, and then a newer generation RAV4 EV from 2012-2014, developed with Tesla. It’s been hybrids and plug-in hybrids ever since, plus of course the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle, though most don’t view that model as a battery electric vehicle competitor at this time.

Toyota bZ4X electric vehicle and night skyline.

Toyota bZ4X Design

Segue eight years ahead from Toyota’s last battery electric vehicle experience and here we are with the bZ4X. It’s been worth the wait. What we have in the bz4X is a stylishly modern intro to Toyota’s coming line of battery electric vehicles, sized similarly to a RAV4 but just a bit longer and lower. Its body design features disparate elements like a distinctly flat ‘hammerhead’ front fascia combined with sharp angles, pronounced fenders, sculpted sides, and a flowing roofline. All come together nicely as an appealing whole…a design not too conservative, and not leaning too far into the future.

Low-profile headlamps are accented by a dark contrast band that flows from the front fenders and across the front end. Matching contrasts are found at the rear fenders as well, with black accented rocker panels running from well to well. At the rear, the bZ4X innovates with a pair of aerodynamic roof extensions at either side of the upper hatch, lending the impression of a future-esque roofline spoiler. The bottom of the glass features a slight lip-of-a-spoiler with a thin fender-to-fender running light below, along with distinctive angular taillamps.

Toyota bZ4X cabin.

Familiar Cabin, With a Twist

Inside is a comfortable and modern interior featuring all the necessary elements for a satisfying driving experience, leaning a bit towards the spartan side. While much is familiar to the breed, there are design elements that align with the forward-thinking theme embodied by the car’s distinctive exterior. In particular, we’re thinking of the dashboard and instrument panel design ahead of the driver, which features an unusually long expanse between the steering wheel and MMI information display. Additional information and multimedia features are presented in a 12-inch widescreen display in the center dash position. Driver and passenger seats are comfortably bolstered for support and plenty of room is provided both front and rear, with rear legroom what one would expect in this size of vehicle. A panoramic roof is optional.

The bZ4X is well-equipped with the advanced driver assist features expected in today’s new models. It features the first use of Toyota’s latest TSS 3.0 Safety Sense suite, which includes advancements like improved pre-collision with guardrail, daytime motorcyclist, and low-light cyclist detection, and enhanced lane recognition. Other tech features include cloud-based navigation offering real-time traffic information and parking space availability, over-the-air software updates, and a digital key feature enabling drivers to lock, unlock, and start their bZ4X with their smartphone.

Rear seats in Toyota bZ4X electric car.

Single or Dual Motor Models

Drivers can choose single- or two-motor bZ4X variants. The former achieves an EPA estimated 119 combined MPGe with a 252 mile driving range, and the latter a combined 104 MPGe with a 228 mile range. Output for the single front-wheel drive model is 201 horsepower with the two-motor AWD version adding just 13 additional horsepower to the total. Energy is supplied by 71.4 and 72.8 kWh lithium-ion batteries, respectively. Both versions deliver a fun driving experience with confident ride and handling, quick torque at the ready, and plenty of power for anyone’s every day driving needs. With the dual-motor version delivering a 0-60 mph romp in the mid-seven second range, acceleration is brisk but does not approach the performance realm of some electric vehicles.

Toyota’s bZ4X is clearly an important introduction for this automaker that reinforces its continuing journey towards electrification. However, it does not mean that Toyota is convinced battery-powered vehicles are a proper all-inclusive strategy. The world’s largest automaker has been clear that it is not ‘all in’ with electric cars in the same way as some of its high-profile competitors, and the company has caught a lot of heat because of this. Rather, Toyota’s well-reasoned take is that multiple approaches exist to solving the interconnected issues of personal transportation and environmental sustainability.

A Balance of Electric Offerings

Electrification is a big part of this. It’s just that Toyota’s strategy does not embrace a tunnel-vision approach in which all roads lead to a plug, or a model without a gas cap. Some take form as hybrid, plug-in hybrid, hydrogen fuel cell, and yes, even battery electric vehicles. There is a balance here because one is needed since not everyone’s needs are the same.

An earlier Green Car Journal perspective shared by Toyota’s chief scientist, Dr. Gill Pratt, adds food for thought. Considering the finite resources available for worldwide battery cell production, and the carbon emitted in their production, charging, and use over time, it’s important they are used in the best way possible. Optimum use achieves a higher carbon return on investment (CROA) as cells are used closer to their full potential. EVs with large battery packs regularly making use of their range potential make sense and offer a higher return.

Toyota bZ4X charge port.

Best Use of Battery Cells

In Dr. Pratt’s illustrations, however, a fully electric vehicle with hundreds of miles of range primarily driving a short daily commute offers a poor return, since the majority of the cells are unneeded most of the time and are simply carried along as dead weight. Using this same number of cells in numerous plug-in hybrid models requiring smaller battery packs would offer a much more favorable carbon return, if these PHEVs are driven in ways that make best use of their more limited battery electric range.

This isn’t to say that plug-in hybrids are an inherently better choice than electric vehicles, or the other way around. It just means that needs vary, and pairing needs with an electrified vehicle’s capabilities makes the most environmental sense.

With hybrids and plug-in hybrids covered in the Toyota lineup, the missing link – the all-electric bZ4X – is now here to fill the need. Those seeking a crossover SUV offering expected zero-emission driving range, eye-catching style, and a comfortable and confident driving experience should look into Toyota’s new electric crossover. At a base price of $42,000, it provides what the brand promises – quality, thoughtful design, and user-friendliness, and no doubt the satisfying ownership experience the Toyota brand is known to deliver. Plus, of course, zero emission driving every mile you travel.

Lexus NX Hybrid driving on road.

With few exceptions, it’s true that gas-electric hybrids cost more than conventional internal combustion vehicles. That makes many wonder if buying one of these high efficiency vehicles is worth the extra cost and, importantly, if the difference can be offset over time – the hybrid payoff – from buying less fuel.

While plenty of generalizations have been made about this in recent years, the concept of payback for a hybrid’s incremental cost involves many variables and can only be answered on a case-by-case basis. Green Car Journal’s research shows that a realistic answer is not so simple, and boiling this down into a simple chart is misleading…so we’re not going to do that. Instead, we’re going to do this the right way and help you come up with a valid payback factor for the hybrid you may be considering. 

Hybrid Payoff a Moving Target

You need to know that crunching the numbers involves some elements that are moving targets. For example, higher gasoline prices work to shorten the number of miles and time needed for payback. At the same time, high gas prices are also finding many drivers putting fewer miles on their vehicles in order to save money. Fewer miles can lead to a longer payback. Plus, let us not forget that the retail price of hybrids – or really any cars these days – is also in play. Many dealers are tacking on a serious premium – sometimes thousands of dollars – onto the suggested retail price of any new vehicle because of today’s high demand and supply chain restraints.

Still, the basic equation for determining a hybrid’s breakeven point is straightforward. It begins by identifying the combined city/highway mpg number for a hybrid and that of its closest conventional counterpart. These mpg figures can be found online at fueleconomy.gov. Once armed with these numbers you can calculate each vehicle’s operating cost per mile based on current fuel prices. 

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Example

Toyota RAV4 driving on highway.

To come up with a hybrid payoff calculation, simply divide the price of fuel (such as $5.00 per gallon) by a vehicle’s combined mpg. As an illustration, a Toyota RAV4 compact SUV with a combined rating of 30 mpg would pencil out as follows, assuming the above gas cost: $5.00 ÷ 30 mpg = $0.167, (16.7 cents) per mile operating cost. If a RAV4 Hybrid with a combined average of 40 mpg is substituted, that number comes down to $0.125 (12.5 cents) per mile. So, the hybrid variant would cost $.042  (4.2 cents) less for each mile driven.

A wild card here is the type of driving you’ll be doing on a daily basis. Conventionally powered models can get considerably higher gas mileage in highway driving than in the city. On the other hand, hybrids get better city mpg than on the highway because hybrid electric power offers the biggest efficiency bump during lower speed, stop-and-go city driving. Simply, a hybrid’s electric motor and battery are doing more of the work under these driving conditions.

Highway vs. City Driving

Vehicle display showing hybrid operation.

Placing this in context, a standard RAV4 nets 27 city mpg with the hybrid coming in at 41 city mpg, a significant difference of 14 mpg. On the highway, the difference in mpg is much less. The conventional RAV4 is estimated at 35 mpg on the highway and the hybrid at 38 mpg, a mere difference of 3 mpg. Thus, if you’re doing mostly highway commuting miles then the cost differential between standard and hybrid models may not be worth the additional cost. That is, if price is your primary motivator and not environmental impact. We’ll stick with EPA’s combined city/highway mpg figures to keep things simple.

Next, determine the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for the models you’re comparing. The RAV4 has an MSRP of $26,975 while the RAV4 Hybrid is $29,575. To find the projected mileage to a breakeven point – where the increased fuel efficiency offsets the extra cost of a hybrid – start by calculating the difference in price between the hybrid model and an identical conventionally powered model.

Beyond the Basics

Hybrid payoff comes from an efficient powerplant.

If all this sounds simple, rest assured it’s not. Finding direct hybrid/gasoline model comparisons can be tricky since some features that come standard on hybrid models may only come as additional cost options on their gasoline powered counterparts. Auto manufacturers often sweeten the deal on hybrids with additional content to soften a hybrid’s higher price. These extra features cost the manufacturer much less than the added retail value they bring to the consumer, so this content serves to take some of the sting out of the additional money being paid for more expensive hybrid technology. 

The challenge in identifying a direct hybrid comparison is illustrated by the Toyota RAV4. Exploring the various engine and trim levels available for the non-hybrid model shows that none offer the exact mix of options and components as the hybrid model.

Additional Hybrid Payoff Variables

High efficiency delivers a hybrid payoff over time.

Still other factors cloud the issue. Beyond the typical daily use mentioned – mostly city driving versus highway commuting – driving habits can influence the payback equation. If you drive conservatively with fuel economy in mind, fuel efficiency can sometimes vary by as much as 5 mpg either way, regardless of whether your vehicle has a conventional or hybrid powerplant. And remember our mention of dealers currently adding premium pricing? A check at our local Toyota dealer showed $3,000 being added to the base cost of a standard RAV4 and $5,000 to the base cost of a RAV4 Hybrid. That, of course, skews the math for a payback analysis. Again, to keep things straightforward, we’re using the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for these two models without markup. That said, the hybrid payoff calculation can be easily adjusted to reflect the actual sales cost of the conventional and hybrid models you’re considering in real time.

So here’s the math: The differential between the MSRP for the conventional and hybrid RAV4 models is $2,600. At a savings of $.042 (4.2 cents) per mile, this differential cost would be recaptured in some 61,904 miles of driving the RAV4 Hybrid. How long will that take? Again, there are variables. But according to the Federal Highway Administration, figuring the national average of 14,000 miles yearly, this means the payoff would arrive in just under 4 1/2 years (61,904 miles ÷ 14,000 miles = 4.42 years).

How Long Will It Take?

High mpg means a quicker hybrid payoff.

Keep in mind that the actual length of time to reach this payoff point may be influenced by the state in which you live, lifestyle, your work/transportation circumstances, and the proliferation of public transportation options. As an example, wide-open states like Wyoming find drivers traveling the most annual miles, at an average of just over 24,000 miles yearly. Other states like New York and Rhode Island see drivers behind the wheel far less, at about 10,000 miles annually, more or less. In the case of the former, the hybrid payoff could arrive in under 3 years. In the latter case, payoff would take just over 6 years.

A major consideration when shopping for a new hybrid is the length of time you plan to keep it. If you’re a short-term buyer, then the math to breakeven can be harder to achieve. The big variable here is the resale or residual value when you sell the car or, if a lease, when it’s time to turn it in. A hybrid may well retain much of the value of the premium you pay due to high demand, particularly if you sell it or trade it in after only a few years. That’s because of today’s significantly higher value for used cars, a reflection of the high demand/low inventory automotive market these days. This could work in your favor even if you lease a hybrid, since a high residual value often means you can buy your vehicle at end-of-lease rather than just turn it in. Then you can sell it, or trade it in, at a profit. A high value at the end of your purchase or lease term can effectively reduce the time or miles to hit breakeven. 

Battery Replacement Cost

Hybrid electric vehicle battery pack.

We’re not factoring in the eventual cost of a hybrid’s battery replacement because our focus is on acquiring a new hybrid model. Frankly, most buyers aren’t likely to keep their new hybrid long enough for battery replacement to be an issue. Manufacturers offer a federally mandated minimum 8 year/100,000 mile battery warranty for their hybrids so replacement in a new hybrid model is expected to be quite a ways down the road. Of course, the case is different for those buying a used hybrid because battery packs will eventually need to be replaced, at a likely cost of thousands of dollars, depending on model.

When will a hybrid pay for itself? We like to think the day you drive the vehicle off the lot. In hard numbers using our straightforward formula, though, you can figure it out yourself and come up with an approximation that fits your particular circumstances.

Being an adopter of environmentally positive technology, reducing oil dependency, and creating less pollution and greenhouse gas emissions has its own rewards. The substantial savings realized at the pump every time a new hybrid is filled up provides real and immediate financial gain. All things considered, the answer to those questioning whether a hybrid will pay off seems pretty clear. 

Jeep Grand Cherokee front end.

Jeep is on a roll. This enduring brand, symbolically aligned with the American persona due to its rich history here, is certainly getting it right. Long popular with those seeking on- and off-road capabilities and the rugged image that comes with that, there’s a Jeep model to fit diverse desires and needs. The Jeep Grand Cherokee, introduced in its fifth generation in 2021, is at the luxe side of the spectrum.

Beyond the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s obvious benefits for families – roominess, high functionality, desirable features, and style – this full-size SUV offers something that’s increasingly important to a great many new car buyers today: electrification. This comes in the form of the Grand Cherokee 4xe model, a plug-in hybrid offering efficient hybrid operation as well as the ability to plug in, the latter capability enabling 25 miles of zero-emission, on- and off-road driving on battery power at the flick of a switch.

Plug-in charging port in Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe.

Best-Selling PHEV

We’ve noted Jeep’s interest in electrification for some time as part of Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep electric concept vehicle explorations, most notably back in 2008. Jeep started its modern electrification push with the ever-popular Wrangler, introducing the Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid variant in the 2021 model year. By 2022, this model laid claim to being the best-selling plug-in hybrid in North America. That’s saying a lot given the wide array of PHEVs now available to consumers.

The electrified Grand Cherokee 4xe is the expected, and welcome, follow up. Sporting an appealing and sophisticated design, the Grand Cherokee 4xe features distinctive Jeep styling cues, low-silhouette headlights and taillights, a handy roof rack, and angular, metal-trimmed through-the-bumper exhaust. Blue front tow hooks are exclusive to the 4xe model, as is a chargeport found at the driver’s side front fender.

Rancho-Guadalupe Dunes Preserve sign.

Jeep Grand Cherokee on the Road

We recently had the opportunity to take a road trip in Jeep’s electrified Grand Cherokee 4xe, which included a fascinating visit to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge on California’s Central Coast. Our time behind the wheel illustrated why this is such a popular model. The ride is comfortable and performance solid, with all the acceleration you need delivered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder engine and a pair of electric motors. Together, this package delivers an abundant 375 hp and 470 lb-ft torque that’s delivered to the road via a TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission. Energy is provided by a temperature controlled 17 kWh lithium-ion battery pack packaged beneath the vehicle’s floor and protected by skid plates.

Driving modes are selectable on a panel at the lower left of the steering column – Hybrid, Electric, and e-Save. The first enables driving in gas-electric hybrid mode using both the combustion engine and electric motors. Electric mode uses motor-battery propulsion exclusively for zero-emission driving. The e-Save function allows running without any use of battery power, allowing a driver to save maximum energy for all-electric driving in desired areas, such as on trails. The Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system features controls on the center console that allow optimizing driving characteristics with selections for Sport, Rock, Snow, Mud/Sand, and Auto. Hill Descent Control and 4WD Low are also selectable on the center console. Shifting to Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive is handled with a rotary dial.

Driving mode selections in Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe.

Trail Rated Jeep PHEV

We drove mostly in hybrid drive during our trip, though we did spend time driving exclusively in electric mode when we had the ability to charge up during our journey. Both deliver all the acceleration you really need. Overall efficiency while driving in conventional mode is pegged at a combined city/highway 23 mpg by EPA. Driving exclusively on battery power nets a 56 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) combined rating, all the while running emissions-free.

Though we didn’t do serious off-roading during our journey or tow any toys along with us, this vehicle’s capabilities in these areas are considerable. The Trail Rated Grand Cherokee 4xe features Jeep’s Quadra Trac II 4x4 system with two-speed transfer case, up to 10.9 inches of ground clearance, and is capable of towing up to 6,000 pounds. This electrified Jeep can also ford up to 24 inches of water without issue since all high-voltages electronics are sealed and waterproof.

Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe on road.

Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe Interior

During our drive, we really came to appreciate this Jeep’s accommodating interior and thoughtful appointments. The automaker’s latest Uconnect 5 infotainment system is integrated, along with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Driver information, system controls, and entertainment functions are displayed on three digital display screens. The far-right screen, which can be turned on and off with a dash-mounted switch, offers the right-seat passenger digital entertainment, co-pilot and navigation assistance, and camera viewing. Found at the front of the center console are USB and USB-C ports, a port for 12-volt DC accessories, and an HTML port.

Seats are upholstered in handsome gray leather with contrast stitching, a luxury-oriented theme carried throughout the interior with leather-trimmed door panels, center console, dashboard, and steering wheel. Sophisticated gray wood accents on the dash and door panels a stylish touch. Front seats are nicely bolstered for support and comfort.

Accommodating Third Row Seats

Seating in in the rear of this full-size SUV is quite accommodating, affording plenty of legroom and headroom. Rear seating features a center fold-down armrest with drink holders, plus 60/40 split seatback functionality to enhance rear cargo-carrying capacity. Rear side windows offer lift up sunshades, a nice touch. Back seat passengers are provided controls at the rear of the center console for their own seat heaters, a display with controls for heating and air conditioning, and registers for directing airflow as needed. Below that is a 115 volt, 150 watt AC plug for a computer or other devices that use standard household current. Also found here are USB and mini USB ports for mobile devices.

Of course, advanced driver assist systems are part of the package. The Grand Cherokee 4xe includes standard adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane departure warning with active lane keep assist, full-speed collision warning with active braking, intersection collision assist, and much more. Beyond the daily convenience afforded by a rear back-up camera, rear park assist sensors, and a 360-degree surround view camera system, there’s also parallel and perpendicular park assist to make any kind of parking situation easier.

Display screen in Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe.

Electric Drive is Handy

High levels of comfort, expansive connectivity, and confident driving are delivered in good measure by the Grand Cherokee 4xe. The fact that this is also a plug-in hybrid with 25 all-electric miles at the ready for our usual daily drives is a resounding plus.

We have many years of experience living with different plug-in hybrid models, and have found that our trips to gas stations are infrequent and our around-town driving handled almost exclusively on battery power. That is, until another road trip beckons and we head off with confidence knowing will be driving largely on hybrid power, with no charging stops needed unless they are convenient and fit into our schedule. This was our experience with the Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe and we just wish it were staying longer in our care.

Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe second row seating.

Rear of an Audi e-tron S Sportback.

We’ve driven a great many Audi models over the years, and to a one they have met and often far exceeded our expectations. That’s saying a lot since Audi is a premium brand and those expectations are set pretty high. Thus was our mindset as we did an initial walk-around of our Audi e-tron S Sportback test car before heading out on the road.

Stylish in its Navarra Blue metallic finish, this e-tron sports a subtly aggressive crossover profile that flows rearward in a sleek sportback design. This softens the expected SUV roofline while lending the influences of a coupe, with the rear finishing into an integrated spoiler. Up front is a stylized closed grille as one might expect of an electric vehicle, flanked by air ducts on either side and an aggressive headlamp design with distinctive running lights. Nicely sculpted sides with pronounced rocker panels complete the package. Charge ports are provided on either side of the car below the e-tron badging on the front fenders. An electronic pushbutton releases the panel, which swings down.

Audi e-tron S Sportback cabin.

A Well-Appointed Cabin

Inside the e-tron S Sportback is a well-designed and comfortable interior featuring grey Valcona leather with contrast stitching, nicely bolstered front seats, and elegant instrument panel accents. Driver information is presented in a fully-digital LCD instrument cluster featuring selectable Classic, Sport, and e-tron modes. A pair of flush, center-mounted touchscreens feature infotainment functions and controls. Below the lower screen is the start button and a cleverly-designed gear selector with a grip and thumb control.

This midsize SUV features plenty of interior space with welcome legroom and headroom, plus comfortable seating for rear passengers. Among the many conveniences afforded those in the rear are air conditioning and heating registers, plus a digital display at the rear of the center console that allows setting the desired temperature. Controls are also provided for rear seat heaters. Other niceties include pull-up window shades at each rear door window, a pair of rear map lights, and the functionality of 60/40 split folding rear seat backs for expanding cargo capacity.

Audi e-tron S Sportback rear seat.

Driving the Audi E-tron S Sportback

Driving the stylish and well-appointed electric e-tron S Sportback is satisfying and fun, with its three electric motors delivering great acceleration and bursts of speed on demand. These motors produce a combined 429 horsepower and 596 lb-ft torque, with a greater 496 horsepower and 718 lb-ft torque on tap during an available 8 second boost mode. This ups the ante considerably from the standard but still compelling two-motor e-tron Sportback, which features 402 horsepower/490 lb-ft torque in boost mode.

The e-tron’s ride is smooth and cornering responsive, with the car feeling well-planted as we powered through the curves on canyon roads. The cabin is quiet and well isolated from the road. If you’re inclined, as we were, you can adjust the degree of regenerative braking with paddles at either side of the steering wheel. This enables introducing greater levels of drag during coast-down while the motors generate increased electricity to feed back to the batteries. We appreciated the car’s head-up display that presents speed and posted speed limit information so eyes can remain on the road ahead. The e-tron S Sportback lends additional driving confidence since it’s also equipped with an array of the latest advanced safety and driver-assist systems.

Front detail of an Audi e-tron S Sportback electric car.

This Audi e-tron S is Fast

Performance is impressive. The e-tron S Sportback rockets to 60 mph from a standstill in a quick 4.3 seconds with boost mode selected. Its 95 kWh lithium-ion battery delivers an estimated 212 mile driving range, with EPA fuel efficiency estimates rating this electric car at 75 MPGe (miles-per-gallon equivalent). A full charge is achieved with a 240-volt Level 2 charger in about 10 hours, while charging from 0 to 80 percent capacity takes just 30 minutes when charging at a public 150 kW DC fast charger.

Those in the market for Audi’s more performance-oriented e-tron S Sportback will find it coming in at an MSRP of $87,400, a $18,700 premium over the standard e-tron Sportback.

VW ID.4 electric car at charger.

Manufactured in Tennessee on Volkswagen’s MEB modular world electric car platform, the 2021 VW ID.4 presents a new and compelling all-electric SUV that enters a segment presently dominated by Tesla, Chevrolet, and a select few others. What ID.4 brings to the battery electric SUV segment that Tesla doesn’t is price, coming in at a base cost of $39,995, some $10,000 less than Tesla’s Model Y.

For this, electric vehicle buyers get SUV hatchback utility, three-foot legroom in all seating positions, and ample luggage capacity for 5 adults. VW estimates ID.4 driving range at 250 mile on a full charge, and additionally points out that an additional 60 miles of range is attainable in just 10 minutes from a public DC quick-charge station.

Powertrain and Battery Module

Sporting a stature similar to that of Honda’s CR-V, the Volkswagen ID.4 rides on a steel-framed architecture featuring strut-like front suspension and multi-link suspension with coil-over shocks at the rear. This, combined with a long wheelbase and short overhangs, promises a smooth ride dynamic. Braking is handled by front disk and rear drum brakes.

A single permanent magnet, synchronous electric motor directs power to the rear wheels. The ID.4 produces 201 horsepower and 228 lb-ft torque that’s expected to deliver a 60 mph sprint in about 8 seconds. Electricity to power the motor is provided by an air-cooled, frame-integrated 82 KWh lithium-ion modular cell battery. An onboard 11KW charger enables three charge modes via standard 110-volt household power, 220-volt Level 2 charging, or DC fast charging. Typical charging with a home wall charger or public Level 2 charger will bring a full charge in 6 to 7 hours.

Volkswagen ID.4 interior.

ID.4 Controls and Features

A minimalistic yet futuresque cabin with segment leading cabin volume rounds out ID.4’s architecture. Features include a driver-centric, touch sensitive steering wheel and a view-forward 5.3-inch ID information center that replaces conventional gauges. Vehicle operation is through steering wheel-mounted switches, with infotainment, climate control, device connectivity, navigation, and travel information accessed through a 10.3 inch touchscreen monitor. A 12 inch monitor is available with the model’s Statement Package.

Topping the list of features is expanded voice command and a communicative dash-integrated ID light bar. ‘Intuitive Start’ driver key fob recognition enables pre-start cabin conditioning capability. Base model upholstery is ballistic cloth with leatherette seat surfaces optional.

Volkswagen’s IQ Drive driver assist and active safety suite features travel assist, lane assist, adaptive cruise control, front and rear sensors, emergency assist, blinds spot monitoring, rear traffic watch and more. All this comes standard along with Pro Navigation, a heated steering wheel and front seats, wireless phone charging, and app connectivity for compatible devices. 

Two ID.4 Trim Levels Offered

The ID.4 EV is available in six colors and two trim levels, Gradient and Statement, for personalization. The optional Gradient package features a black roof, silver roof trim, silver accents, and silver roof rails along with 20-inch wheels to complete the upscale look. Looking forward, while rear-wheel drive is the choice today, Volkswagen is already talking up an all-wheel drive variant for early 2021 along with a lower-priced base model. 

As the world’s largest automotive group, Volkswagen has the capacity to change the ever-expanding electric-car landscape. Looking at the style and utility of VW’s all-new ID.4, you can sense the renewed “people’s car” direction of the brand that accompanies the automaker’s commitment to electrification. VW says it’s aiming at selling 20 million electric cars based on the MEB electric car platform by model year 2029. Certainly, the potential for selling in truly significant numbers is reinforced by ID.4 pre-orders selling-out in just weeks, it’s safe to say.