After a five year hiatus, Toyota is bringing a totally reinvented 2021 Venza midsize crossover to the North American market. Built on the automaker’s TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform, the 5 passenger Venza arrives exclusively as an all-wheel drive hybrid. It features a wider, lower, and shorter body than the similarly-sized RAV4, delivering a refined and sport-injected crossover for those wanting a bit more citified demeanor.
Available in LE, XLE and Limited trim variants, Venza features Toyota’s latest tech and comfort innovations presented in a near-premium, roomy, and comfortable cabin. Toyota does a commendable job in mixing eye-pleasing, earth tone hard- and soft-contact surfaces with hints of burnished trims and gloss details, all within a driver-centric cockpit design. From a smart steering wheel and informative instrument cluster to a tasteful navigation/Infotainment monitor, function dictates form with features that are easily accessed and intuitive.
Available options include a 12.3-inch touchscreen display with nine JBL speakers, a 7-inch multi-information display, digital rearview mirror, a 10-inch color head-up display, and a first-for-Toyota Star Gaze fixed panoramic glass roof with electronic pushbutton auto-obscure.
All trim levels feature pressure point supportive, 8-way power adjustable driver and 4-way adjustable passenger seats that feature ample head, hip, and shoulder room in all seating positions. Passengers enjoy tilting seats in row two. Venza presents a softer, plusher ride dynamic with an emphasis on interior quietness and comfort for a sedan-like ride and crossover utility. In fact, Venza may be the logical hybrid uptick for Toyota loyalists wishing to break away from the rugged and outdoorsy RAV4 Hybrid, without venturing outside of the midsize 2-row crossover SUV segment.
Motivation comes from Toyota’s Hybrid System 2 powertrain and advanced electronic on-demand all wheel-drive as standard fare. This sophisticated hybrid system brings to bear a 2.5 liter, variable valve-controlled DOHC four-cylinder gas engine and three electric motors. Toyota increases the model’s fuel efficiency with automated intake and exhaust valve tweaks, electronic variable cooling, high-efficiency cabin climate control, and more. Toyota estimates a class-topping 40 city/37 highway fuel efficiency, with a slightly higher bump from the base LE with a combined 40 mpg.
Seamless torque transfer is on tap through a three-drive-mode, sequential shift-capable CVT (constantly variable automatic transmission) for adequate off-the-line acceleration and fuel efficiency. EV mode can be selected for short electric-only bursts.
Along with its notable fuel efficiency and exceptional all-weather driving safety, the Venza comes with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, the automaker’s latest driver assist and accident avoidance technologies. These include a Pre-Collision System with Daytime/Low-Light Vehicle and Pedestrian Detection, plus Daytime Bicycle Detection. Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beams, Lane Tracing Assist, and Road Sign Assist are also part of the package.
With an appealing design language that hints of Lexus, Toyota’s all-new midsize crossover entry is a departure from the “sameness” that too often pervades the crossover/SUV scene. There’s plenty of appeal here for those desiring a fuel efficient hybrid with welcome utility, functionality, and style.
Introduced as a completely redesigned model in 2016, the Honda Civic has been available in both sedan and coupe choices to fit varying needs. Civic fans have an additional choice in the 2017 model year, the Civic Hatchback. Honda has long sold hatchbacks in other markets where they are quite popular, but not so much with American consumers in recent times. That said, it was time for a return to the U.S. after a multi-year hiatus. The 2017 hatchback comes at a reasonable $19,700, about a grand more than the Civic sedan.
Civics are powered by a 1.5-liter, direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder engine or a 2.0-liter VTEC engine. The Sport and Sport Touring get a 180 horsepower version of the 1.5-liter engine while the others get 174 horsepower. The more powerful variants use a dual-outlet, center-mounted exhaust and are designed to benefit from premium unleaded fuel. The engine can be mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) on all trim levels. A quick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission can also be ordered on the LX and both Sport models. The thriftiest version, the LX with the CVT, is rated at 31 city and 40 highway mpg.
The styling of the new Civic Hatchback leans more toward that of a four-door sedan than the previous hatchback model. It has a more rigid and lightweight body with a sophisticated chassis design, featuring a fully independent suspension system, liquid-filled bushings, sport-tuned electronic power steering, and powerful four-channel anti-lock disc brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Hill Start Assist.
Importantly, the Civic is very well-connected for such an affordably-priced car that starts at under $19,000. Available optionally on LX, EX and EX-L Navi and standard on Sport Touring is the Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver-assistive technologies. This includes Collision Mitigation Braking System, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Road Departure Mitigation, Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow, and Auto High-Beam Headlights.
Other available features include Honda Display Audio with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (standard on EX and above trims), heated seats, power driver and front-passenger seats, remote engine start, and more. The all-new Sport Touring features textured aluminum sport pedals, red-accented instrument illumination and a 540-watt 12-speaker premium audio system, the most powerful ever offered in a Civic.
The Honda Civic has long been a popular choice for those who want a feature-laden small sedan at a truly affordable price point. With the latest generation’s cutting edge style and available on-board electronics – plus the addition of a hatchback to the Civic sedan and coupe offerings – there’s even more reason for buyers to consider this fuel-efficient and popular model.
If ever a time existed that underscored there is no single approach to offering ‘greener’ personal transportation, that would be now. The 2014 Green Car of the Year® program gives the Green Car Journal staff an opportunity to step back and examine all possible vehicles that exemplify green leadership and innovation, a daunting challenge that literally involves dozens and dozens of models that must be explored, examined, and dissected to determine their ‘greenness’ and importance in raising the bar in environmental performance.
Some would assume these vehicles to be exclusively electric, or perhaps ones that achieve the highest fuel economy in a given class. These considerations are important since higher efficiency not only reduces petroleum consumption but also has a direct correlation with lower CO2 emissions. However, criteria for the Green Car of the Year® program is more expansive and involves much more than fuel economy or energy use. Important, too, is the potential for a candidate to bring about substantial change and significant environmental improvement in the real world. That element gives additional weight to a model’s sales volume.
Among many other considerations is the requirement that candidates be a 2014 model on sale by January 1 of the award year. Price and availability are important since nominees must be approachable to buyers. Some models are priced at entry levels while others are more aspirational, a reflection of the market. Vehicles being considered are more compelling if they are all-new or in the early years of their model lifecycle. Models vetted in a previous award year are only considered in a new award year if truly significant changes to that model have occurred, such as an all-new redesign, a much more efficient powerplant, or the availability of a new hybrid or alternative fuel option.
At one time this was a straightforward and relatively simple process. When the Green Car of the Year program was launched in 2005, the number of ‘green’ vehicles to consider was easily managed since this was a relatively new category for automakers. Times have changed with wide-ranging ‘green’ choices now available to consumers at new car showrooms. The process of identifying five finalists is much more challenging, but also more gratifying since this means the auto industry has made a serious commitment to developing more environmentally positive vehicles.
With painstaking effort and an eye toward recognizing the brightest and the best, Green Car Journal editors present the deserving finalists for 2014 Green Car of the Year, models that also happen to be the magazine’s Top 5 Green Cars for 2014 and recipients of the Green Car Products of Excellence distinction.
Audi’s 2014 A6 TDI blends excellent ‘green’ credentials with unexpected levels of performance in a high efficiency vehicle. Its 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder TDI clean diesel engine with tiptronic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive provides 240 horsepower and 428 lb-ft torque, achieving 0-60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. A start-stop system aids efficiency, as does a lightweight body that makes extensive use of aluminum body panels. This sedan features an EPA estimated 38 highway mpg that enables over 700 miles of highway driving range.
Featuring the first 4-cylinder BMW diesel engine in the U.S., the new 328d combines exceptionally high fuel efficiency with the performance expected of BMW models. EPA estimated 45 mpg highway fuel economy is achieved with this sedan’s 2.0-liter TwinPower clean diesel powerplant, which produces 180 horsepower and 280 lb-ft torque. Efficiency is enhanced with engine auto start-stop and brake energy regeneration. A 328d Sports Wagon is also available. The models are offered in rear wheel drive or with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system.
Honda’s popular Accord sedan aims to lead in the efficiency space with an array of efficient powerplant choices including four-cylinder, V-6, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid versions. Even the V-6, the largest engine option, nets 34 highway mpg with the four-cylinder rated at up to 36 highway mpg. The bar raises considerably with the Accord Hybrid at 50 city and 47 highway mpg, and the Accord Plug-In with its 47 city and 46 highway mpg on hybrid power. The Plug-In also offers an EPA rating of 115 MPGe, the highest of any mid-size hybrid sedan in the country.
The all-new third generation Mazda3, this automaker’s best-selling model worldwide, is lighter, more efficient, and packed with advanced electronics. The 2014 Mazda3 features an appealing new design and has been built from the ground-up with Mazda’s award-winning SKYACTIV technology. The 2.0-liter powered Mazda3 four-door sedan offers best-in-class 41 mpg highway fuel economy, with the five-door hatch coming in at up to 40 mpg. A more powerful 2.5-liter engine with an i-ELOOP capacitor-based regenerative engine braking system gets 38 mpg.
The Toyota Corolla has long been a best-seller due to its blend of efficiency and affordability. With the all-new 2014 Corolla, Toyota adds visual excitement, improved driving dynamics, and even greater efficiency to its popular compact sedan, achieving up to 42 highway mpg delivered by the model’s Eco version. This level of efficiency is achieved with a 1.8-liter, 140 horsepower engine featuring the first use of Toyota’s Valvematic technology in this country. A driver selectable ECO function moderates acceleration and optimizes on-board systems to enhance mpg.
Green Car of the Year jurors include leaders of the nation’s major environmental organizations including Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society; Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club; and Matt Petersen, board member of Global Green USA, plus auto enthusiast and Tonight Show host Jay Leno. Green Car Journal editors round out the 2014 Green Car of the Year jury.
The Green Car of the Year will be announced during media days at the L.A. Auto Show, so stay tuned.
Mazda’s innovative and award-winning SKYACTIV suite of technologies continues to expand, this time in the 2014 Mazda6. Powered by a 2.5 liter SkyACTIVE-G gasoline engine, this fun and sophisticated mid-size sedan now features an available i-ELOOP regenerative braking system that adds to the car’s impressive fuel efficiency, boosting its official EPA ratings to an estimated 40 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg in the city, for a combined 32 mpg.
Those are pretty good numbers for non-hybrid small cars, but exceptional for a conventionally-powered mid-size model. This efficiency enables up to 650 miles on a single tank of gas. If you drive the average 15,000 miles each year, that means your visits to a gas station could be limited to every two weeks or so, depending on your driving habits.
Mazda’s i-ELOOP – for Intelligent Energy Loop –is not a hybrid system since recovered braking energy is not used for acceleration assist or electric-only operation. It’s also different because, unlike other regen systems that store recouped electrical energy in batteries, i-ELOOP uses a supercapacitor. The system’s double-layer capacitor can be discharged and recharged many more times than batteries with far less deterioration and will likely last the life of the car.
When a driver lifts off the accelerator pedal, i-ELOOP recovers kinetic energy as the vehicle decelerates. A variable voltage alternator generates electricity up to 25 volts for maximum efficiency before sending it to the supercapacitor. A DC/DC converter steps down the supercapacitor's output from 25 volts to 12 volts for use in the car’s exterior lighting, climate control, audio system, and other electrical components. This reduces the need for a normal engine-driven alternator to generate the electricity required to run these systems, a real benefit since a conventional belt-driven alternator’s parasitic load on an engine decreases fuel efficiency.
In urban driving with frequent acceleration and deceleration, i-ELOOP can provide nearly all of the electricity these systems require. Headlamps and other exterior lighting, heating/air conditioning, wipers, and the audio system account for about a 40 amp draw, within the capabilities of the DC/DC converter’s maximum throughput of 50 amps. On a cold day, particularly right after starting, it’s possible the defogger and optional seat heaters may exceed the DC/DC converter's capacity, in which case the electrical system reverts to conventional alternator-powered operation and bypasses the capacitor system completely.
At times when available e-ILOOP-generated electricity exceeds the electrical load, electrical energy charges the car’s 12 volt battery. When no regenerative braking energy is available, the alternator charges the battery but now through the DC/DC converter. Battery capacity is unchanged since it must still start a cold engine when the supercapacitor is not charged.
Supercapacitors accept and release charge very rapidly and only store electricity temporarily, so they must be topped off before each stop. However, it takes just a few seconds to fully charge the capacitor. The Mazda unit can accept a full charge in just 8 to 10 seconds. Although it can discharge in as quickly as 40 seconds, discharge may take up to 113 seconds at minimum load.
Mounted beneath the hood, the cylindrical supercapacitor is 13.8 inches tall, 4.72 inches in diameter, and weighs just 13.2 pounds, with its required heavier wiring harness weighing in at 3.3 pounds. Mazda says that the e-ILOOP system brings an approximate 5 percent fuel efficiency improvement under real-world driving conditions, which contributes to the Mazda6 achieving its best-in-class EPA fuel economy rating.
The i-ELOOP system in the Mazda6 is part of an available GT Technology Package that also includes Mazda radar cruise control with forward obstruction warning, lane departure warning, high beam control, and active grille shutters. All this extra goodness comes at a cost of $2,080, bringing additional SKYACTIV technology to the road that helps deliver impressive fuel efficiency while attending to the performance and fun-to-drive nature expected of the brand. Want to know more? Watch the video here.
There’s more to come. Soon, the 2014 Mazda6 will also offer a 2.2 liter SkyACTIVE-D clean diesel engine, Mazda's first diesel in the North American market. Plus, the Mazda i-Stop stop/start system that’s available in markets outside the U.S. is in the pipeline for the States. Mazda reportedly will introduce this system here in the Mazda6 in 2016.
Forty-five years after its introduction of the innovative Wankel rotary engine in the Cosmo 110S sports car, Mazda continues breaking tradition and doing things its own way. A prime example is Mazda’s integration of its SKYACTIV suite of fuel saving and performance technologies in its all-new models. Essentially, the SKYACTIV philosophy embraces the notion that you needn’t sacrifice performance to achieve great fuel economy. It’s a systemic design philosophy that encompasses nearly every part of a vehicle from engines and transmissions to body and chassis design, and aerodynamics to lightweight technologies.
Mazda is prepared to go big time with its SkyACTIV technology because of growing consumer demand. In fact, its momentum is assured with the automaker's recent decision to double the production capacity of its Hiroshima engine plant that produces SkyACTIV-G gasoline and SkyACTIV-D diesel engines, with volume increasing from 400,000 to 800,000 units annually starting this October.
The first appearance of SKYACTIV technology was in the updated Mazda3 SKYACTIV that debuted in the 2012 model year. Since the full suite of these high-efficiency technologies is intended to be part of new Mazda models from the very beginning of the design process – and the 2012 model was a mid-generation freshening and not a complete redesign – most, but not all, SKYACTIV technologies have been incorporated in this latest Mazda3. We spent time behind the wheel of this sprightly package and came away impressed.
The Mazda3 SKYACTIV is powered by a high-compression 2.0-liter dual overhead cam four-cylinder engine. With a 12:1 compression ratio and gasoline direct injection, the engine produces 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 148 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm. Pumping losses are minimized by dual sequential valve timing for greater efficiency. Both six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions are available.
We generally prefer a manual in a sporty car like the Mazda3, but have to admit the automatic proved surprisingly positive and fun to drive. Fitted with the SKYACTIV-G (Gasoline) engine and six-speed automatic transmission, the 2012 Mazda3 offers EPA estimates of 28 mpg city and 40 mpg on the highway. During our week with the car, we observed a combined average in the mid-30 mpg range. On the highway with just a few frugal driving techniques, we found it possible to keep with the flow of traffic and push mileage well into the mid-40 mpg range. That’s hybrid territory. In sixth gear with a light touch on the accelerator, the 2.0-liter simply isn’t working very hard. The Mazda3 has a generous 14.5 gallon fuel tank so cross-country missions won’t require many fuel stops.
True, 40 mpg choices are growing each year, but few can deliver the Mazda3’s smiles-per-gallon when the road throws more than a few curves your way. The twisty two-lane rural roads on our usual Southeastern Ohio test routes proved to be a blast in the Mazda3. It only takes a few apexes to forget you’re behind the wheel of an ‘economy’ car. The 3’s steering response is precise and confidence inspiring, and there is considerable road feel through the well-tuned chassis and suspension.
The ride is a bit on the firm side, but any highway harshness is soon forgotten when the road ahead gets interesting. Acceleration is satisfying, too. We recorded a 0-60 mph time of 7.7 seconds with the automatic transmission. Importantly, the SKYACTIV-G delivers solid low and mid-range torque, so you don’t need to rev it much during normal acceleration to maximize fuel economy.
Affordability is part of the equation. The Mazda3 iTouring with the SKYACTIV-G engine and manual transmission is available at $18,450, or $19,300 if you prefer the six-speed automatic. The 2012 Mazda3 SKYACTIV embodies efficiency and fun, a true 40+ mpg car that delivers a heavy dose of ‘Zoom-Zoom.’