Green Car Journal logo

The BMW 7-Series gets a facelift for 2020, and without a doubt its most notable styling change is a more massive twin kidney grille. Importantly, BMW’s 745e xDrive sedan gets a new and improved plug-in-hybrid powertrain to bolster its environmental credentials. This flagship BMW sedan is now powered by a six-cylinder, 3.0 liter TwinPower Turbo engine that replaces the previous version’s 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine used in its 740e predecessor. Engine output is now 286 horsepower and the electric motor is rated at 113 horsepower.

Lithium-ion battery output has also improved with battery pack capacity increased from 9.2  to 12 kWh. This provides a bit more all-electric range –16 versus the earlier version’s 14 miles. Total driving range with electric and hybrid drive is 290 miles. The high-voltage battery is positioned underneath the rear seats so luggage compartment volume is about the same as in the non-hybrid 7-series sedans. Importantly, this plug-in hybrid also delivers much better performance when running on the gasoline engine alone or when driving in hybrid mode with both the engine and electric motor supplying power.

The 745e’s electric motor is integrated in the model’s 8-speed Steptronic transmission. As xDrive implies, the 745e features BMW's xDrive intelligent all-wheel-drive. The BMW 745e xDrive is equipped with a hybrid-specific version of the eight-speed Sport Steptronic transmission that incorporates both the electric motor and an improved separating clutch that acts as the link to the engine. The extremely compact design is only about 0.6 inches longer than the Steptronic transmissions in the non-hybrid models.

Drivers are provided an array of selectable driving modes. In default Hybrid mode, the 745e runs on electric power with the combustion engine kicking in only after the car reaches 87 mph. This mode provides an optimized balance between the combustion engine and electric motor. Hybrid Eco Pro mode is biased towards reduced fuel consumption with enhanced coasting. Electric mode provides all-electric driving.

By selecting the Battery Control mode, charge state of the high-voltage battery is maintained at a level determined by the driver, enabling battery power to be used later for emissions-free driving in town, for example. Sport mode combines both engine and electric motor output to provide a total 389 horsepower for maximum performance. Adaptive mode is geared towards relevant driving styles and situations.

BMW is a pioneer in using carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) in production vehicles. The 7-series’ A, B, and C pillars, as well as the roof, are made of CFRP to reduce weight and the car’s center of gravity. The price of entry for the 745e is $95,550.

S90 T8 InscriptionVolvo's flagship model for 2018 is the plug-in hybrid S90 T8 eAWD that’s available in Momentum and Inscription trim levels. The T8 comes standard with a panoramic sunroof, power window shades, and rear seat massage. Air suspension and Bowers and Wilkins audio systems are optional.

Built in China, the S90 T8 is available in North America only in long wheelbase form that is stretched 4.7 inches compared to the S90 built in Sweden and sold in Europe. Nearly all of the additional length is tasked for increasing rear seat legroom. Altogether, the S90 T8 is not only an exceptional sedan for everyday use, it’s also well-suited for luxury-oriented executive transport.

S90 T8 InscriptionLike other Volvo plug-in hybrids, the S90 T8 uses the automaker’s Twin Engine through-the-road hybrid powertrain that provides satisfying power, efficiency, and all-wheel-drive. Front wheels are driven by a 2.0 liter, supercharged and turbocharged 4-cylinder engine connected to an 8-speed automatic transmission. A 46-horsepower, crankshaft-mounted starter-generator charges the battery, starts the combustion engine, and additionally augments internal combustion power as needed. A rear-mounted, 87-horsepower electric motor drives the rear wheels. This setup delivers a combined 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft torque.

Energy for the electric motors is provided by a 9.2 kilowatt-hour battery with 6.7 kilowatt-hour usable capacity. This provides about 28 miles of electric-only driving before the gasoline engine kicks in. The S90 T8 has a 410-mile range on gasoline and electric power, achieving a combined 71 MPGe driving on electricity and 29 mpg combined on gasoline.

S90 T8 InscriptionA 9.3-inch Sensus Connect touchscreen infotainment system offers tablet-like swipe-and-pinch gestures and is large enough so it can be divided into four independent sections to provide quick and easy access to various controls. Apple CarPlay or Android Auto can interface into one of the four sections. Sensus Connect provides 4G/LTE connectivity and can support a wi-fi hotspot, plus it also offers its own suite of apps including Pandora, Spotify, Glympse, Local Search, Yelp, Weather, and Wiki Locations. The primary Sensus screen can interact with the S90’s 8-inch or 12.3-inch driver information displays and the optional head-up display showing navigation, infotainment, and other information.

The S90 T8 has the latest in safety technologies with much of this standard equipment. Pilot Assist combines a semi-autonomous drive system with Adaptive Cruise Control to allow following traffic flow within a lane. Pilot Assist provides gentle steering to help keep the car within lane markings and at a set speed and distance to the vehicle in front at speeds up to 80 mph.

S90 T8 InscriptionA Blind Spot Information System alerts when a vehicle enters a blind spot. Cross Traffic Alert warns of crossing traffic when backing out of a parking space.  City Safety helps avoid collisions when driving in slow-moving, stop-and-go traffic. Other technologies include Run Off Road Mitigation ,Active Bending Lights, Automatic Braking After Collision, Rear Collision Warning, Road Sign Information, Hill Start Assist, and LED Front Fog Lights with Cornering Function.

The price of entry is for the S90 T8 Momentum is $63,650, about 15 grand more than the conventionally-powered T5 S90 variant. Stepping up to the Inscription T8 variant brings a suggested retail of $68,150.

S90 T8 Inscription

2017 Honda Clarity ElectricThe battery electric variant of Honda’s Clarity electric car trilogy is now on sale at select Honda dealers in California and Oregon. Green Car Journal had the opportunity to drive the Clarity fuel cell electric version of this model in Santa Barbara, California earlier this year…impressive! The Clarity battery electric vehicle is equally visually captivating and posh by any measure.

The battery electric Clarity does come with a modest 89 mile driving range between charges, though, which these days runs counter to the industry trend of aiming at significantly greater battery electric range. The reason? Decision makers at Honda felt the added expense and subsequent higher retail price of a long range Clarity electric would erode the brand’s reputation of affordability. Instead, Honda is focused on delivering a premium interior, very sophisticated five-passenger electric sedan to meet the needs of the market.

2017 Honda Clarity ElectricSteve Center, Vice President of Honda’s Environmental Business Development Office, explains that feedback from existing Honda Fit Electric owners showed little to no concern regarding “range anxiety” due to that model’s driving range, which is also just over 80 miles. Instead, drivers were more focused on a desire for a larger interior, which the Clarity Electric delivers. This assessment is important. While Clarity Electric production numbers have not been disclosed, Center says the lion's share will most likely go to previous Fit EV lessees.

Honda financing offers a competitive lease rate of $269.00 per month plus sales tax (adjusted for an available federal tax credit), with $1730 due at signing. A generous 20,000 miles per year is allowed in the lease and 24/7 roadside assistance is included.

2017 Honda Clarity ElectricThe Clarity Electric features a 161 horsepower (120 kW) electric motor producing 221 lb-ft torque, powered by a 25.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Charging takes just over three hours at a 240 volt home or public charger. According to Honda, an 80 percent charge can be achieved in just 30 minutes when using DC fast charging with the SAE Combined Charging System. The Clarity Electric is rated at 114 combined MPGe fuel efficiency.

2017 IONIQ HEVHyundai’s long-awaited Ioniq is here and fans of the Prius should take note. Long the leader in fuel efficiency, Toyota’s ubiquitous Prius has now been unseated as fuel economy’s top dog by a better looking, more fun-to-drive hatchback from its Korean competitor. Who saw that coming?

Well, Hyundai did since it definitely had the Prius in its sights all through the Ioniq’s development process. How successful has Hyundai been? Consider the mpg figures: The Ioniq Hybrid Blue model has an EPA-estimated 58 MPG combined rating, the highest of any non-plug-in vehicle sold in the country. The Prius Eco delivers 56 combined mpg.

2017 IONIQ HEVThe Ioniq was designed from the beginning to fit the needs of mainstream buyers with very diverse needs. Want a hybrid? Buy the model above starting at $22,200. Battery electric? That’s available as well, at a base of $29,500. And those who prefer the benefits of both electric and hybrid drive can opt for the Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid that’s coming up next, at an as-yet unannounced – but surely competitive – price.

But look, it really isn’t just about fuel economy. High mpg numbers will interest a certain segment of buyers. But there needs to be much more to attract a wide swath of consumers looking for everything from style, comfort, and connectivity to safety, value, and of course efficiency. Delivering all this becomes crucial, especially in an era where gas prices are low enough to make fuel efficiency less important on the car buyer’s checklist than, say, the availability of safety-enhancing driver assist systems or advanced connectivity features.

2017 IONIQ HEV

A recent drive in hybrid and electric Ioniq variants convinced us this new model meets those needs. Both offered a fun-to-drive nature with solid driving dynamics, a comfortable interior, and all the requisite connectivity. Drivers will appreciate the Ioniq’s Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Blue Link capabilities for integrating with their smartphones, plus handy wireless smartphone charging. A high-resolution 7-inch TFT display presents key driver information. The Ioniq’s advanced safety systems include ones helpful every day like lane departure warning, blind spot detection, and rear cross-traffic alert, plus ones you hope are never needed but are there if you do like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

Hyundai’s new do-it-all hatch offers a welcome connection with the driving experience and satisfying performance, characteristics not always adequately delivered by very high mpg vehicles. It’s not a niche car aimed at early adopters or those who want to make an environmental statement. Rather, it’s a stylish, fun to drive, and connected car for the masses that delivers environmental performance as a matter of course. Hyundai’s decision to offer hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric choices is strategic and will certainly encourage purchase consideration among a wide swath of buyers. The Ioniq will find a ready market because it is the real deal.

2017 IONIQ HEV

2016-hyundai-sonata-phev-front

The all-new, seventh-generation Hyundai Sonata that emerged in the 2015 model year proved this automaker’s ability to offer increasingly sophisticated and compelling models. It featured a more exciting design, improved road manners, and greater use of advanced on-board electronics. What it didn’t offer was a new hybrid variant.

Hyundai strategically retained its previous-generation hybrid Sonata for an additional year as it prepared to add new hybrid and plug-in hybrid models to round out the 2016 Sonata lineup. As Green Car Journal editors found during a recent 500 mile road trip in a 2016 Sonata Plug-In Hybrid Limited, the wait has been worth it. Simply, this efficient plug-in sedan is a joy to drive.

2016-hyundai-sonata-phev-enginePowering both the standard hybrid and plug-in variants is a 2.0-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder engine producing 154 horsepower and 140 lb-ft torque. This engine is augmented by a 51 horsepower electric motor in the hybrid and a more powerful 67 horsepower motor in the plug-in, with torque output the same at 151 lb-ft.

The primary difference between the two hybrid variants is the size of their lithium-polymer battery. The hybrid we’ve driven before used a 1.6 kilowatt-hour battery, while the plug-in we drove this time uses a much larger 9.8 kilowatt-hour battery pack to provide extended electric driving range of up to 27 miles in electric-only mode. Once battery power is depleted the plug-in variant operates just like the Sonata Hybrid.

2016-hyundai-sonata-phev-public-chargingAn ability to travel those electric miles does come with a bit of trade-off since the plug-in’s larger battery takes up additional space beneath the trunk floor. For comparison, the standard Sonata has 16.3 cubic feet of trunk space versus 13.3 in the hybrid and 9.9 in the plug-in. Still, there’s plenty of trunk space available in our judgment. Charging the plug-in takes about three hours with an available 220 volt Level 2 charger or nine hours with a 120-volt recharging unit that plugs into a standard household outlet.

The plug-in hybrid is distinguished from the standard Sonata with styling ques that include an aero kit, unique front fascia and rear diffuser, and model-specific aluminum wheels. Part of this sedan’s welcome fuel economy comes from enhanced aerodynamics that result in a very impressive 0.24 drag coefficient.

2016-hyundai-sonata-phev-cabin-2Inside, the five-passenger plug-in hybrid is essentially the same as the conventional Sonata except for a modified gauge cluster with a new color LCD multi-purpose display showing operating data on the hybrid system.

Fuel efficiency is impressive, with the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid rated at an EPA estimated 40 mpg combined fuel efficiency and 99 MPGe while driving on battery power. It features a total driving range of some 600 miles, a welcome feature during our daily drives and our road trip from California’s Central Coast to Los Angeles.

2016-hyundai-sonata-phev-rear-1The Sonata Plug-In uses MacPherson strut suspension with a 24.2 mm stabilizer bar up front and an independent multi-link design with coil springs and a 17 mm stabilizer bar at the rear. High performance shocks are used at all four corners. During our drives on highways and twisty canyon roads we came to appreciate the Sonata Plug-In’s comfortable ride and handling dynamics that found us firmly planted through sweeping turns and switchbacks alike. The Sonata’s engine rpm-sensing power rack-and-pinion steering is pleasing and responsive.

While you can get a standard Sonata or Sonata Hybrid at Hyundai dealers nationwide starting at $21,750 and $26,000, respectively, the $34,600 Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is a bit more exclusive and available in just 10 California emissions states.

2016-hyundai-sonata-phev-emblem

2016-toyota-prius-nighttimeToyota’s all-new 2016 Prius promises to deliver the very attributes beloved by its legions of fans over the years with significant technology updates. Its recent reveal in Las Vegas and subsequent release of additional information shows that it clearly is an all-new generation, but one that doesn’t stray too far afield from the familiar design that’s recognizable at a glance. That’s probably a good thing for Toyota since over 3.5 million Prius models have been sold globally, with 1.8 million in the U.S. alone. So…why rock the boat?

Highlights to the 2016 Prius include a more refined exterior design, new double wishbone suspension attached to an all new vehicle platform for enhanced driving dynamics, and an expected 10 percent improvement in mpg. Conceivably, that could move the non-plug-in Prius close to the 60 mpg mark. The new design stretches the Prius 2.4 inches longer than the previous model with slight width and height expansions, all in the name of greater passenger comfort and cargo area.

2016-toyota-prius-powertrain-layoutThe 2016 Prius is based on Toyota’s New Global Architecture, which allows models to share components and platforms for manufacturing efficiencies and cost savings. This new architecture brings tangible benefits like a lower center of gravity, increased body rigidity, and a more responsive suspension package to improve overall handling and safety.

CLOSER LOOK AT NEW PRIUS TECH

The new Prius retains its 1.8-liter engine but it’s been completely re-engineered for improved performance, better fuel economy, size and weight reductions, and a maximum thermal efficiency of 40 percent. Improvement comes partly through a large-volume exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system and advancements in combustion efficiency.  A redesigned air intake port improves airflow inside the combustion chamber. Coolant passages have been redesigned to optimize internal engine temperature. Low-viscosity oil reduces friction between sliding engine components and friction created by the piston skirts, rotating parts and oil pump has been reduced.

2016-prius-li-ion-batteriesFuel efficiency gains also come from improvements to heating performance. An active grille shutter opens and closes the grille as necessary in response to outside temperatures. The exhaust heat recirculation system has also been improved and made more compact. In yet another nod to efficiency, this recycles exhaust heat from the engine to the coolant to be reused in heaters and warm the engine.

The transaxle and motor have been redesigned to reduce weight. The motor is considerably more compact with a better power-to-weight ratio and offers a 20 percent reduction in mechanical losses through friction.  The new-generation Prius will be available with either new lithium-ion or nickel-metal hydride battery packs with increased energy density. This allows the battery to be relocated beneath the rear seat, increasing cargo space.

2016-prius-tft-displayThere is also a new color head-up display that projects essential vehicle data and alerts on the lower section of the windscreen. A Smart-flow (S-FLOW) air conditioning system improves efficiency by detecting whether the front and rear passenger seats are occupied, adjusting ventilation and heating performance accordingly by minimizing air flow around empty seats.

An optional Toyota Safety Sense package, previously reserved for upscale Lexus products, is available in 2016 and may become standard equipment in 2017. The TSS package includes a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection that alerts a driver if a collision is imminent. It also brings the car to a halt if a pedestrian is detected ahead of the car while driving under 18 mph.  Full-speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control will slow or stop the vehicle to avoid collisions as well. A Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist signals a driver if it senses the car drifting from the lane and also assists with steering input when needed. Automatic High Beam control turns the high beams on and off depending on traffic to enhance nighttime driving.

Toyota’s all-new 2016 Prius is sleeker and more efficient than the current model despite the fact that a first glance delivers that familiar Prius look. For the market the Prius successfully brings into the fold, this is likely a good thing. It is clear that the new Prius, nine years in the making, will continue to be a highly recognizable signpost on the green car highway.

2016-toyota-prius-wind-tunnel

 

honda-accord-hybrid-lead-2

Long-term tests provide a great way to learn what it's like to live with a vehicle on a daily basis. Our time with a fully-loaded,  2014 Accord Hybrid Touring proved enlightening over more than a year's worth of commuting, running errands, and road trips. This 50 mpg sedan, a high-profile offering within Honda’s Accord lineup that won Green Car Journal’s 2014 Green Car of the Year® award, is sleek, stylish, and sophisticated in an unassuming way. It’s also packed with desired technology. While we won't see a plug-in hybrid back in the Honda Accord line until the 2017 model year, here are our thoughts on its predecessor. No doubt, the new generation Accord plug-in will be even better.

Unique design features distinguish this Accord Hybrid from the already-pleasingly aggressive style of the standard Accord, which was introduced as an all-new model in 2014. These include LED daytime running lights and blue-accents on front light lenses, grille, and rear LED tail lamps, plus a decklid spoiler and unique wheels. Our tester is further distinguished with a dealer-installed Honda aero package with front, rear, and aide underbody spoilers. We were amused when we first drove our stealthy-black Accord Hybrid test car to a local restaurant and drew appreciative gazes from patrons, with one asking, ‘Is that a new Mercedes?” Nope, a Honda…a really, really cool one.

honda-accord-hybrid-headlights

Power is supplied by Honda’s Two-Motor Hybrid Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) system, a mouthful-of-a-name that earns its ‘intelligent’ designation. The 196 horsepower hybrid system achieves optimum efficiency through intelligent and seamless transitions between all-electric drive, internal combustion drive, and hybrid drive depending on driving circumstances.

We’ve found the hybrid sedan to be responsive and confident on the road during our drives through the twisty canyons along California’s Central Coast. There’s always ample power at the ready, delivered through a capable electric continuously variable transmission (E-CVT). Eco mode can be selected to tone down performance a bit to enhance fuel efficiency. The Accord Hybrid’s regenerative braking system feeds electricity back to the car’s lithium-ion batteries immediately upon lifting off the accelerator, rather than starting when braking is applied.

honda-accord-hybrid-engine

All this brings a very impressive 50 mpg city fuel economy rating and 45 mpg on the highway. With the Accord’s 12.2 gallon fuel tank, filling up always shows a whopping miles-to-empty read of well over 600 miles. This considerable driving range has come in handy many times during extended road trips, including a trek from our offices on the Central Coast to San Diego and back on a single tank.

These drives are often made with the Accord’s adaptive cruise control engaged, a feature that automatically keeps a safe driving distance from the car ahead. It works seamlessly in adapting to traffic speed and flow and is actually quite amazing. Drives are smooth and comfortable both on the open road and in traffic.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

Time spent in the Accord Hybrid Touring’s accommodating cabin comes with an immersion of advanced electronics complemented by an 8-inch multi-information display and an audio touch screen compatible with smart phone features. Its electronics user interface is easy to use and driver assistive technologies invaluable, including Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, and rear view camera with LaneWatch blind spot display.

So here’s the bottom line after 15,000 miles behind the wheel of the Accord Hybrid: Great styling, a bevy of advanced electronics, a quiet and accommodating cabin, and impressive efficiency – all wrapped in an aggressively handsome package – have made the award-winning Accord Hybrid a joy to drive and one of our favorites for quick jaunts and road trips alike.

honda-accord-hybrid-rear

2015-green-car-of-the-year-logoOver the 10 year history of Green Car Journal’s Green Car of the Year award program, there has never been a battery electric car that has been compelling enough to be recognized as the best-of-the-best in an ever-expanding field of ‘green’ cars. That has changed with the groundbreaking BMW i3, Green Car Journal’s 2015 Green Car of the Year®.

The BMW i3 came out on top of a field of finalists that included the Audi A3 TDI, Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel, Honda Fit, and VW Golf. The array of technologies and fuels represented included high efficiency gasoline, electric drive, clean diesel, and natural gas.

bmw-13-action-rightBMW’s i3 stands out as one of the most innovative vehicles ever to be introduced by any major automaker. It breaks the mold – literally – with a strong and lightweight body using materials and technology at home on the race track, and now used for the first time to construct a mainstream production car. It is a milestone, forward-thinking approach.

Meeting both near-term and far-reaching goals is no easy thing. The challenge is to design and build cars that offer meaningful environmental achievement while delivering the traditional touchstones desired by new car buyers, among them comfort, safety, convenience, connectivity, performance, and value. Also important in the world of advanced vehicles like battery electric cars is a significant commitment to the manufacturing and sale of these vehicles that goes beyond a few thousand units sold in select geographical areas. BMW’s commitment with the i3 is focused not only nationally in the U.S., but globally as well.

bmw-i3-cutawayOffering a lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) body on an aluminum space frame, BMW’s innovative i3 brings environment-conscious drivers all-electric drive with an optional internal combustion range extender. The most unique aspect of the i3 is the car’s body structure, which incorporates the first-ever use of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) to form the body and passenger cabin of a mass-production vehicle. CFRP is as strong as steel and 50 percent lighter. It is also 30 percent lighter than aluminum.

This BMW’s drive module includes an electric drivetrain, 5-link rear suspension, and an aluminum structure. Its lithium-ion battery pack is mounted mid-ship beneath the floor. Strategic placement of the 450 pound battery pack and drive components provides a very balanced 50-50 weight distribution to enhance handling and performance.

bmw-i3-dashAcceleration is crisp, with a 0-60 elapsed time of 7.2 seconds provided by an electric motor producing 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft torque. With a curb weight of just 2,700 pounds, the i3 has is sprightly even at highway speeds. Strong regenerative braking characteristics often allow the i3 to be driven with just the accelerator pedal in city driving. When a driver lets off the accelerator, regen slows the car quickly and allows it to come to a complete stop without touching the brake pedal.

Charging at home with an available 220 volt charger delivers a full charge in about three hours. Where available, public DC fast charging can bring an i3 to 80 percent state-of-charge in 20 minutes and a full charge in 30 minutes. The i3 BEV features an 81 mile EPA estimated range on batteries. The i3 REx, equipped with an internal combustion range extender that creates on-board electricity as needed to help keep batteries charged, features a 72 mile battery driving range and 150 miles total with the range extender.

bmw-i3-chargingEfficiency is a given. EPA rates the i3’s city fuel economy at 137 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) and 111 MPGe on the highway, with a combined 124 MPGe. For the REx-equipped model, EPA rates mileage at 117 MPGe combined.

The 2015 Green Car of the Year® is selected by a majority vote of an award jury comprised of Green Car Journal staff and invited jurors, including TV personality and car aficionado Jay Leno plus leaders of the nation’s most high-profile environmental and efficiency organizations. These jurors include Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society; Matt Petersen, board member of Global Green USA; Mindy Lubber, President of CERES; Kateri Callahan, President of the Alliance to Save Energy; and Dr. Alan Lloyd, President emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation.

bmw-i3-side-doorsThe diversity of new car models at showrooms today reflects an evolving and sophisticated market in which a growing number of new car buyers have decided that environmental performance must meet their needs and expectations, on their terms. As it happens, 2015 Green Car of the Year jurors have clearly decided that this year, the electric BMW i3 does it best.