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.
Following the recent addition of a fuel efficient V-6 diesel option, Ford’s perennial top-selling F-150 will also now be available with a powerful and efficient hybrid powertrain for 2021 model. The hybrid delivers performance from an all-new 3.5 liter V-6 PowerBoost engine that Ford claims makes it the most powerful in the full-size, half-ton pickup class. The gas-electric combination transfers power through a ten-speed Select-Shift automatic transmission. Hybrid power makes great sense in a pickup model where the instantaneous torque from an electric motor can be put to good use.
The hybrid F-150 stores electricity in a 1.5 kilowatt lithium-ion battery that powers a 47 hp electric motor, with the battery packaged under the truck between the F-150’s fully boxed frame rails. An optional Pro Power Onboard output system allows the hybrid F-150 to function as a mobile generator at worksites or campsites, with the generator cranking out enough juice to power the equivalent of 28 average household refrigerators. Plug-in connections include in-cabin outlets, four cargo bed-mounted 120 volt/20-amp outlets, and a 240 volt/30-amp outlet.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the hybrid variant are yet to be released, though we do know the PowerBoost hybrid F-150 is expected to travel over 700 miles on a single tank of gas. Fortunately, the hybrid model won’t compromise any of the F-150’s best-in-class hauling or towing capabilities. Tow rating should exceed 12,000 pounds. An array of other engine options are offered in the F-150 line including a 3.3-liter V-6 FFV, 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6, 5.0-liter V-8, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, and 3.0-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel V-6. EPA estimated mpg ratings for the 2021 F-150 have yet to be released.
Across the model lineup, there are 11 new grille options. The F-150 is available in Regular Cab, SuperCab, SuperCrew configurations with 5.5, 6.5, and 8.0 foot cargo beds. The 2021 model continues to offer excellent towing and cargo-carrying capabilities, though 2021 model specs have yet to be released.
This is one new pickup that doesn’t skimp on technology. The F-150 offer’s Co-Pilot360 2.0 drive assist and collision avoidance tech, plus Ford’s SYNC4 with over-the-air updates of road and traffic conditions in your path. A new 12-inch center display is standard on XLT models and above.
Ford took vehicle lightweighting to a new extreme a number of years ago when it shed the F-150’s stamped steel body in favor of an all-aluminum alloy skin. Full-size pickups in general and the F150 in particular are true bread-and-butter products for Ford.
The innovative PowerBoost hybrid model should keep the F-150 top-of-mind for many amid the field’s pack of half-ton, full-size pickup contenders.
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.
There’s a race of sorts for premium and exotic brands to introduce electrified vehicles, either variants of existing models or all-new ones designed with electrification in mind. We’re seeing this from legacy brands like Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Porsche, of course, but also from new and emerging automakers as well.
Enter The 21C (‘21st Century’) hypercar from Southern California-based Czinger Vehicles and its parent company, Divergent Technologies. By any measure this is no ordinary electrified supercar.
Yes, it offers massive power with an in-house developed 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V-8 and a pair of high-output electric motors energized with lithium-titanate batteries, producing a total 1250 horsepower. It impresses with its frenetic 11,000 rpm redline, 0 to 60 mph acceleration of 1.9 seconds, and quarter-mile time of 8.1 seconds. Not impressive enough? Then let’s ponder a 0 to 185 mph sprint that’s said to consume a mere 15 seconds.
Power from the two front traction motors and combined, crank-driven starter-generator is transferred to all four wheels through a seven-speed sequential transaxle gearbox. Two versions of the gearbox are available, one a synchromesh street version for everyday shifting and the other a track variant with full race dog gears to achieve the fastest possible shift times.
Inside, the 21C features “jet-fighter” seating that’s said to address optimum vehicle weight distribution. This configuration finds the driver positioned in the middle of the 21C and the passenger behind, with this in-line seating allowing for a narrow cabin that aids the vehicle’s slippery aerodynamics. A range of cutting-edge and next-generation Alcantara materials are found throughout the cabin.
This is as beautiful a design as you could want in a supercar. But what really sets this apart from the crowd is that, for the most part, its carbon fiber and alloy construction is the result of Divergent’s advanced 3D printing and manufacturing technology. Yeah, you read that right. And it’s all created in-house at the company’s facility in Los Angeles. Czinger says only 80 copies of the 21C will be produced at a cool $1.7 million.
Sport-utility vehicles have been popular for some time, although you wouldn’t know it by reading all the hype these days about their new-found domination of the market. Yes, SUVs are trendy, they’re spacious, and their functionality can’t be overstated. But we’ve known that for years, ever since the Jeep Cherokee of the 1980s enjoyed widespread success and pretty much defined the modern SUV.
But this is a new day and SUVs have transformed. While some full-size SUVs continue to be body-on-frame models with legendary hauling, towing, and off-roading capabilities, most are not. They defer instead to the lighter and smoother-riding unibody construction common to passenger car models.
Today’s SUVs, or crossover SUVs like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Hyundai Kona Electric shown here, have become car-like in most respects. Some, like the four-wheel drive Outlander PHEV, continue to offer the off-road capabilities we’ve come to expect from SUVs over the years. Others often provide more sedate off-road capabilities if they embrace off-roading at all. The tradeoff is a comfortable ride and a highly desired car-like experience, even as they continue to offer SUV styling, functionality, and carrying capacity.
Is it a wonder that crossover SUVs are being offered as plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles by a growing number of automakers? Nope. In fact, it’s entirely predictable. Vehicle manufacturers recognize the growing desire for these high-functionality vehicles combined with greater efficiency and electrification. Enter the world of plugin SUVs and crossovers that are here now in growing numbers, with a virtual wave of new plug-in SUV models coming. Here's a look at what's in the pipeline:
AUDI will be bringing a plug-in hybrid version of its Q5 crossover to the U.S. sometime in 2020, It will not carry ‘e-tron’ badging since this is reserved for Audi’s fully electric models. The Q5 PHEV will use a turbocharged direct injection engine that works together with an electric motor integrated in the transmission. A 14.1 kWh lithium-ion battery beneath the floor is estimated to provide about 25 miles of all-electric driving on the European WLTP cycle, with a lower projected range here under EPA’s tougher test cycle.
BMW will now build electrified versions of its mainstream models, not unique electrics like the i3 and i8. Thus, the iX3 will be based on BMW’s conventional X3 SUV with an electric drive system under the hood and batteries beneath the floor. The iX3 will use the company’s fifth generation electric car architecture with motors that don’t require rare-earth metals, making them cheaper and likely easier to produce. More densely constructed battery packs with increased capacity will also be used to save cost and weight. The new motor develops 270 horsepower and is powered by a 70-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, delivering a range of 249 miles on the European driving cycle that will be less when tested on the EPA cycle here. Since conventional X3s are already built in the U.S. it’s likely the iX3 will be sold here as well.
The plug-in BMW X3 xDrive30e compact SUV will arrive in the U.S. sometime in 2020 as a 2021 model. This AWD crossover combines a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a 107 horsepower electric motor, offering a total output of 293 horsepower. Also coming is the X5 xDrive45e iPerformance plug-in hybrid. It uses a 112 horsepower electric motor integrated into the car’s eight-speed automatic transmission and a 3.0-liter, 286 horsepower turbocharged inline-six engine. Its 24 kWh lithium-ion battery is expected to provide about 40 miles of electric-only range. BMW’s iNext is still in concept form so details about this electric crossover are scarce. It will also use the BMW fifth-generation battery design and a 120 kWh battery pack for more than 400 miles of range.
FISKER is planning an electric SUV for introduction in late 2021, although details are slim at this point. The effort is headed by Henrik Fisker, who designed and sold a luxury plugin sedan through the former Fisker Automotive earlier this decade. Fisker Inc. says it will offer an advanced SUV with a range of 300 miles on lithium-ion batteries. That it will offer a futuristic, elegant, and muscular look as claimed by the company is no surprise, considering Henrik Fisker previously designed such iconic cars as the Aston Martin DB9 and BMW Z8. The Fisker SUV is projected to have a base price under $40,000.
FORD will offer standard hybrid and plug-in-hybrid versions of the new 2020 Escape SUV. Both will use a 2.5- liter four-cylinder engine with two electric motors. The hybrid will use an underfloor 1.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack while the plug-in will integrate a 14.4 kWh pack, with the latter providing an electric range of 30 miles. The Escape hybrid goes on sale this year with the plug-in hybrid arriving in 2020. While Ford will be producing a 2020 Explorer PHEV, it’s for Europe only and at this point there are no plans for it to join the hybrid in the U.S. An electric crossover with styling inspired by the original Mustang is expected to appear in late 2020.
The automaker’s Lincoln luxury brand will be offering a 2020 Aviator PHEV here that’s built on the same platform as the Explorer. It will share that model’s twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 and 99 horsepower electric motor to provide a combined 450 horsepower and 620 lb-ft torque. The 2020 Lincoln Corsair, replacement for the MKC, is also offering a plug-in hybrid version at launch. Given Lincoln’s plans for electrification, there’s a decent chance that full-electric variants will be added a few model years down the road. The Corsair shares many parts with the new Escape PHEV, but its styling is unique with distinctively Lincoln DNA. Lincoln is also planning an electric crossover based on Ford’s Mustang-inspired EV.
GM’s star in the electric crossover field is it Chevy Bolt, a winner of Green Car Journal’s 2017 Green Car of the Year®. Since its introduction, the Bolt has provided an impressive 238 miles of battery range at an affordable price, with better battery chemistry now increasing the 2020 model’s range to 259 miles.
Moving forward, GM is looking to its luxury brand Cadillac to take a higher profile in the company’s upcoming electric vehicle efforts in the U.S. While the General has only provided a glimpse of its developing electric vehicle program, we know it will include a 5-passenger electric Cadillac SUV with a range greater than 300 miles. Slated to appear in Cadillac dealerships around 2022, it will be the first built on GM’s new BEV3 platform that’s adaptable to front-, rear-, and all-wheel-drive, plus vehicles of various dimensions. GM has conceptionally shown 11 possible vehicles, from seven-passenger SUVs to small crossover utilities, that could be built on the BEV3 platform.
JEEP will offer plug-in-hybrid versions of the Renegade and Compass as 2020 models. Both will use a 1.3-liter turbocharged engine and an electric motor to produce a combined 240 horsepower, offering an electric-only range of about 31 miles. The electric motor powers the rear wheels, so a driveshaft is not needed for 4WD. In addition, Jeep is likely to offer a PHEV version of the Wrangler at some point, though it’s not known if this will make it to American roads.
MERCEDES-BENZ will be introducing its new EQC, the first in a growing family of all-electric vehicles to be produced under the EQ brand. The crossover features two electric motors, one at each axle, providing the EQC an impressive 402 horsepower and 564 lb-ft torque that’s delivered to the road through 4MATIC all-wheel drive. Along with standard 240-volt Level 2 charging, the model’s 80 kWh lithium-ion battery is capable of DC Fast Charging from 10 to 80 percent state-of-charge in 40 minutes. Rated at an estimated 220 mile range, it will be sold next year as a 2020 model with an estimated price of around $70,000.
RIVIAN, a new brand on the scene, says it will begin production of its seven seat R1S electric SUV in 2020. Rivian’s ‘skateboard’ architecture locates its battery pack in the floor at the middle of the vehicle. The all-electric SUV is powered by four motors, two per axle, with each providing torque to a wheel. Three battery pack and electric motor configurations will be offered. The 180 kWh battery variant is mated to motors with a total output of 700 horsepower, delivering a claimed range of over 400 miles. A 135 kWh variant with 754 horsepower will provide a range of about 300 miles, with the base 403 horsepower, 105 kWh model delivering 250 miles. The R1S SUV is expected to start at $72,500.
TESLA already offers the Model X electric SUV and plans to supplement this with a more compact Model Y variant. It will be built on the same platform as the existing Model 3 sedan and available as a seven-seater. Standard and Long Range versions of the rear-wheel drive SUV are planned, plus a base Dual Motor model and a Performance model with all-wheel-drive. A 230-300 mile range is promised. While we’ve found Tesla to offer only higher-priced, higher content new models at launch, the company says its Standard version will cost $39,000, the Long Range $47,000, the Dual Motor AWD $51,000, and the Performance variant $60,000. Tesla says the Model Y may appear as a late 2020 or 2021 model, but since the company has a history of launching models later than promised we’ll just have to wait and see.
VW will offer a production version of its ID Crozz concept as the first of several new battery-electric vehicles to sold in the U.S. The ID Crozz is powered by a 200 horsepower electric motor located between the rear wheels with another 100 horsepower motor between the front wheels, providing all-wheel-drive. An 83 kWh lithium-ion battery pack beneath the floor is expected to provide up to 300 miles of driving range. Fast-charging with a commercial 150 kW charger will take just 30 minutes to regain 80 percent battery capacity. The model is expected to go on sale in 2020.
Of course, other automakers are fielding plug-in SUV concepts and there will surely be additional production models announced in the near future. This field is fluid and automakers are responding to plug-in SUV demand in real time, so stay tuned.
Subaru’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle, the 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid, uses the Subaru Global Platform designed for hybrid and electric powertrains. It features new Subaru StarDrive Technology that integrates two electric motors, a 2.0-liter direct-injection SUBARU BOXER engine, Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, and a new Lineartronic continuously variable transmission. With the series-parallel StarDrive Technology, one motor functions as an engine starter and as a generator powered by the engine to charge the lithium-ion hybrid battery. The second motor powers the vehicle in hybrid and electric driving modes. It also charges the hybrid battery during regenerative braking.
The plug-in SUV can reach speeds up to 65 mph in full electric mode and achieve 90 MPGe. It drives up to 17 miles exclusively on lithium-ion battery power and features a total range of 480 miles when using both gas and electric power.
The Crosstrek Hybrid features a Linerartronic CVT plus X-MODE and Hill Descent Control for enhanced performance in low-friction and off-road conditions. SI-DRIVE powertrain performance management allows tailoring throttle characteristics by choosing between Intelligent and Sport modes. Active Torque Vectoring applies light brake pressure to the inside front wheel while cornering for improved handling.
Crosstrek is well-equipped with the latest advanced driver assist technologies. Subaru EyeSight includes Pre-Collision Braking and Throttle Management, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, and Lane Keep Assist. Reverse Automatic Braking can apply the vehicle’s brakes if an obstacle is detected while reversing. Blind Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Cross Traffic Alert is standard. Pedestrian Alert provides an audible warning to pedestrians within the proximity of the vehicle while traveling below 20 mph.
The model’s STARLINK Multimedia Plus offers an 8-inch high-resolution touchscreen, Rear Vision Camera, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming connectivity, AM/FM stereo, and smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Aha, and Pandora as standard equipment. Multimedia Plus includes a single-disc CD player and voice activated controls for phone and Near Field Communication. Multimedia with Navigation adds navigation powered by TomTom, voice activated navigation, and over-the-air updates.
Remote Battery Charging Timer manages the Crosstrek Hybrid’s charging schedule and monitors its status. A STARLINK Safety and Security Plus package includes Remote Climate Control and Remote Battery Charging Timer, SOS emergency assistance, and automatic collision notification.
The 2019 Lexus UX, an urban crossover SUV with an edgy design, is available as the conventionally-powered UX 200 or the UX 250h, a series-parallel hybrid with two electric motor-generators. The UX is the first Lexus model to use the automaker’s new Global Architecture Compact platform, resulting in a lightweight yet super-rigid structure. The UX features extensive use of high-tensile steel and high-strength adhesives, a composite tailgate, and aluminum side doors, fenders, and hood.
Powering the UX 200 is a high-efficiency, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine coupled to a 10-speed direct shift continuously variable transmission. This is expected to deliver a combined 33 mpg. This same 2.0-liter engine is used in the next-generation Lexus Hybrid Drive that powers the UX 250h, along with a pair of electric motor/generators integrated into a hybrid transaxle.
The new transaxle mounts the electric motor-generators coaxially rather than in-line to create a smaller and lighter package that reduces frictional losses by 25 percent. In addition, the second motor-generator in the new Lexus Hybrid Drive is a higher-speed motor, yielding better performance and efficiency. Lexus expects this powertrain to deliver a combined 38 mpg.
The UX 250h model offers all-wheel drive using a separate, dedicated electric motor-generator integrated into the rear differential. Power distribution between the front and rear axles is automatically optimized by the vehicle stability control system when accelerating, cornering, or driving on slippery surfaces. All-wheel drive provides stable driving on uphill slopes or snow-covered roads with lower fuel consumption than a conventional AWD system.
Inside is a comfortable and well-appointed interior featuring a sweeping instrument panel, intuitive controls, and a standard 7-inch TFT LCD display. An available Lexus Navigation system replaces this with a 10.25-inch screen. Attention to detail expected of a Lexus is evident, with such features as heated and cooled seats, leather-trimmed steering wheel, and luxurious finishes. The UX is designed to support the digital lifestyles of its drivers by enabling them to use their smartwatch to start their engine, lock or unlock doors, and even check fuel level before heading out for the day.
Predictive Eco Drive Control working with the navigation system learns driving habits, predicts the expected roadway ahead, and analyzes real-time traffic reports to optimize charging and discharging of the hybrid battery. Also operating with the navigation system, Predictive Deceleration Support uses knowledge about a driver’s behavior to predict when and where the vehicle is likely to slow down or stop, increasing regenerative braking appropriately to allow more energy to be recovered.
The Lexus UX is EPA rated at 29 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, efficient for a conventionally-powered crossover SUV. The hybrid UX 250h ups the economy ante with a 43 city mpg rating and 41 mpg in highway driving. The standard UX is priced at $32,000 with the hybrid UX 250h available at $34,000.
Toyota is no stranger to high efficiency vehicles, having successfully blazed new trails for nearly two decades with its mega-mpg in all its various forms. Rather than resting on its laurels, the automaker has continued to move the efficiency numbers of its models upward as well to appeal to a broader market.
The fifth generation Avalon Hybrid is one such example. Readily identified by its massive grille and large air intakes, the 2019 Avalon Hybrid rides on the latest Toyota New Global Architecture platform shared with the smaller Toyota Camry. Its wheelbase is nearly two inches longer and overall length three inches greater than the previous Avalon model. Avalon Hybrids come in base XLE, sporty XSE, and loaded Limited trims. The XSE has features like steering wheel paddle shifters, sunroof, black honeycomb mesh inserts in the grille. and sport-tuned suspension. The latter includes tweaks to the springs, anti-roll bars, and shocks to enhance performance.
Power is delivered by the automaker’s Toyota Hybrid System II (THS II) that integrates an updated 2.5-liter, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine, a pair of electric motors, and a 1.6 kWh nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. One motor assists the engine when maximum power is needed while both feed electrical energy back to the battery during coasting. The Dynamic Force engine is more fuel efficient, runs cleaner, and is more powerful than previous versions. The battery pack now resides beneath the rear seat rather than in the trunk like the previous version, lowering the car’s center of gravity while providing additional trunk room.
The Avalon Hybrid’s continuously variable transmission has six simulated gears that can be shifted by the gearshift, or via steering wheel paddles in the XSE. EPA rates the Avila Hybrid at 43 city and 43 highway mpg, quite impressive for the largest sedan in the Toyota lineup. The combination of the gasoline engine and twin motors produces 215 horsepower, 15 more than the previous version. The Avalon Hybrid has Sport, Normal, and Eco modes, the latter adding power from the hybrid system for improved acceleration.
Smart and connected technologies are a matter of course for the 2019 Avalon. The model comes standard with Toyota’s Entune 3.0 infotainment system using Apple CarPlay displayed on a standard 9.0-inch center screen. It can integrate devices with Alexa-enabled voice connectivity and offers a Wi-Fi hotspot. The instrument panel features a 7.0-inch driver’s display showing vehicle information, navigation instructions, safety information, and alerts.
The Avalon’s standard Toyota Safety Sense P includes a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and Automatic High Beams. Additional standard safety systems include a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Back Guide Monitor. Also available are a Panoramic View Monitor with Alert and Intelligent Clearance Sonar, which now includes a Rear Cross Traffic Braking system.
All 2019 Avalons have Toyota’s Star Safety System, which includes enhanced vehicle stability control, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, anti-lock braking, backup camera, and smart stop technology. A surround-view camera system, front and rear parking sensors, and automatic reverse braking are optional.
The price of entry for the Avalon Hybrid is $36,550, just $1,000 above the price of the standard, conventionally-powered Avalon model.
An important part of Green Car Journal’s mission is encouraging environmental progress in the auto industry through its annual Green Car Awards™ program.
These high-profile awards recognize vehicles that champion environmental achievement while remaining true to their purpose – they are fun to drive, look to our safety, provide value, and deliver the attributes most important to new car buyers Importantly, they lead the way forward in meaningful ways through lower carbon emissions, greater efficiency, and improved overall environmental compatibility.
Green Car of the Year®, the magazine’s signature award first presented at the 2005 L.A. Auto Show, enjoys worldwide attention and is widely recognized as the most prestigious environmental award in the auto industry.
Weighing the merits of this award’s finalists are jurors from highly-respected efficiency and environmental organizations including Jean-Michel Cousteau, President of Ocean Futures Society; Matt Petersen, Board Chair of Climate Mayors; Dr. Alan Lloyd, Senior Research Fellow at the Energy Institute, University of Texas at Austin; Mindy Lubber, President of CERES; and Jason Hartke, President of the Alliance to Save Energy. Celebrity auto enthusiast Jay Leno and Green Car Journal editors round out the awards jury.
Models considered for Green Car Awards™ span all vehicle classes, from economy cars to luxury cars, and from Show. In addition, all five exceptional finalists for each award earn Green Car Journal’s 2019 Green Car Product of Excellence™ distinction for their environmental achievement.
GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR® Winner: Honda Insight. Finalists: Lexus ES 300h, Nissan Altima VC-Turbo, Toyota Avalon Hybrid, Volkswagen Jetta.
GREEN TRUCK OF THE YEAR™ Winner: RAM 1500. Finalists: Chevrolet Colorado, Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Ford Ranger.
CONNECTED GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR™ Winner: Nissan LEAF. Finalists: Audi e-tron, Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, Tesla Model 3, Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.
COMMERCIAL GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR™ Winner: Ford Transit Connect. Finalists: Ford Special Service PHEV Sedan, Mercedes-Benz Metris, RAM 1500, RAM ProMaster City.
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.
The third-generation Honda Insight features an all-new design that brings the model more into the mainstream and clearly carries the Honda DNA forward. It’s a significant departure from the quirky, wheel-skirted first-generation Insight hybrid that came to our shores in the 2000 model year and quite different from the second-generation Insight hatchback that looked way too similar to Toyota’s Prius. What the new Insight does have in common with the often-benchmarked Prius is pretty phenomenal fuel economy topping out at 55 mpg, along with a very satisfying driving experience expected of the Honda brand, at an accessible price of $22,830.
Taking its place between Honda’s Accord and Civic, the new Insight looks bigger than the Civic despite sharing many elements, like many of the key suspension pieces that make the Civic so great. It rides on a 106-inch wheelbase that provides comfortable cruising manners. Alloy wheels and low friction tires provide virtually no road noise, while additional dashboard, front inner fender, and hood insulation along with a fender enclosure seal out heat and sound to make for a quiet cabin. It earns a five-start NHTSA crashworthiness rating.
The Insight features an advanced two-motor hybrid system that generates class-leading total system output of 151 horsepower and 197 lb. ft. of torque, plenty to deliver satisfying acceleration and an overall driving experience that doesn’t sacrifice performance for the sake of efficiency. Beneath the skin are technological touches like electric-servo braking and responsive, variable-ratio electric power steering. Batteries located low in the chassis avoid encroaching on trunk space and contribute to a lower center of gravity for better handling.
Inside the Insight’s comfortable and well-appointed interior, the instrument panel, climate controls, and entertainment system are dramatically improved from the previous Insight. An 8-inch center display allows ready operation of all controls, though a volume knob is retained for easy volume adjustment. A 7-inch instrument panel display is customizable to suit the driver’s data requirements. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. Drivers can select from Normal, Sport, and Econ driving modes, each delivering varying transmission shift points adjustment adjustments to improve mileage and acceleration. Steering wheel paddle shifters adjust the degree of battery regeneration to further tailor the driving experience.
Insight comes standard with Honda Sensing, a full suite of driver assist features that include Forward Collision Warning with Collision Mitigation Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Road Departure Mitigation, and Traffic Sign Recognition. Also included is Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-speed Follow, which allows a driver to set the distance between cars when in cruise control mode. In stop-and-go traffic Insight will follow without need for driver input.
Sharing drive components and integrated technology with Volvo’s XC90 T8, the latest rendition of the Swedish maker’s best-selling vehicle comes to market more powerful and smarter than ever. Volvo’s upscale 2018 XC60 T8 PHEV (plug-in-hybrid) presents a premium and rugged, yet refined, SUV where high performance meets advanced technology and comfort. It is the most powerful two-row SUV in Volvo history. The editors at Green Car Journal take a closer look.
How it works: Volvo’s XC60 T8 successfully follows in the footsteps of its larger XC90 T8 crossover sibling. Both upscale plug-in hybrids use a 313 horsepower, supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with an eight-speed automatic transaxle and two permanent-magnet AC motors.
In this through-the-road AWD hybrid system, a 46-horsepower electric motor drives the front wheels while an 87 horsepower AC motor powers the rear wheels. This results in total system output of 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft torque. There is no mechanical connection between the two axles.
A lithium-ion battery pack is positioned in the center tunnel where a driveshaft would normally be located. This 10.4 kWh pack enables the 2018 Volvo XC60 T8 to travel about 18 miles on electricity alone. Total driving range on gas and electric power is 370 miles. The battery can be recharged in as little as three hours from a 240-volt source and six hours from a standard 120-volt outlet.
Regenerative braking, stop/start capability, and a Pure EV electric-only mode contribute to a 59 MPGe rating, quite good for a vehicle with a nearly 4,600-pound curb weight. The twin electric motors and 472 lb-ft torque bring impressive acceleration for a SUV that can carry five people, propelling the vehicle from 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds.
Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription versions of the XC60 T8 are available, offering similar standard and optional equipment to non-hybrid T6 models. Optional driver assistance packages are available including a Vision package that includes blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, automatic mirror dimming, power-retractable outside mirrors, and a parking-assist function.
The XC60’s Convenience package includes adaptive cruise control with Volvo's semi-autonomous Pilot Assist, a Level 2 partial-automation system that assists with driving tasks like remaining in a lane and matching traffic speed on the highway, while still relying on a driver as the primary monitor of the driving environment. Optional Steer Assist, which is linked with Volvo’s Blind Spot Information System and Oncoming Lane Mitigation, helps the driver steer around an obstacle if a collision is likely.
A 9.3-inch Sensus Connect screen in the dashboard center stack offers tablet-like swipe-and-pinch gestures. It’s large enough that it can be divided into four independent sections to provide quick and easy access to any controls needed. Sensus Connect provides 4G/LTE connectivity and offers its own suite of apps including Pandora, Spotify, Glympse, Local Search, Yelp, Weather, and Wiki Locations. The main Sensus screen interacts with 8-inch or 12.3-inch driver information displays and the optional head-up display showing navigation, infotainment, and basic information.\
Volvo’s XC60 T8 is offered at a base price of $52,900, about 10 grand more than its conventionally-powered sibling. It’s an exceptional compact crossover providing the luxury appointments and advanced technology we’ve come to expect from Volvo. It’s also a compelling option for new car buyers looking for an upscale crossover experience with the efficiency of plug-in hybrid power.
Porsche says it plans to invest more than $7 billion (six billion euro) in electrified vehicles over the next four years. As part of this, the automaker will be devoting some $600 million toward the development of is coming Mission E electric sports car and other electrified variants. About $1.25 billion will be dedicated to hybrid and electric powertrains for existing Porsche models
“We are doubling our expenditure on electromobility from around three billion euro to more than six billion euro”, said Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG. “Alongside development of our models with combustion engines, we are setting an important course for the future with this decision.”
Porsche’s stunning battery electric Mission E sports car will boast an output of 600 horsepower and deliver quick 0-60 mph sprints in less than 3.5 seconds. Driving range is claimed to be over 300 miles between charges. It will be fast-charge capable.
In addition to its investment in electrification, Porsche will invest some $250 million on manufacturing sites and facilities plus an additional $850 million on smart mobility, charging infrastructure, and new technologies.
Lexus’ all-new flagship LS 500 series, built on the automaker’s new Global Architecture-Luxury (GA-L) platform, includes the LS 500h hybrid powered by the latest Lexus Multi Stage Hybrid System. It features a sleek, coupe-like silhouette in a package that’s longer and lower than the previous LS model, at a premium price that’s still worlds lower than the former flagship model.
The exterior is striking, a blending of aggressive yet sophisticated elements with a distinctive shoulder line, flared fenders, and a bold front fascia featuring dramatic three-projector headlamps and L-shaped LED running lights. Lexus’ signature spindle mesh grille features thousands of hand-adjusted surfaces to lend a jewel-like quality in changing light. Those who want to go even more upscale can opt for an LS 500h F-Sport variant.
n keeping with the Lexus philosophy, the LS 500h accommodates driver and passengers in a welcoming and luxurious cabin replete with the high-end features desired by premium car buyers. The dash is designed at a uniform height so a driver can comfortably access all controls without changing body posture. Nearly all surfaces are leather-wrapped, and the interior’s artisan wood is created through intricate sliced wood and laser-cutting processes.
Both driver and front passenger can enjoy available 28-way power adjustable front seats, while rear passengers also get special attention like heated seats that integrate two heaters focused on the shoulder and lower back areas, thus providing warmth in these areas rather than heating the entire body. A Shiatsu massage feature is also available. We tried that feature in the model’s optional rear reclining ‘Relaxation Seat,’ that features a raised ottoman and front passenger seat that articulates forward to provide substantial space and ideal positioning for a massage. Trust us…once you’re in that seat you won’t want to get out.
The Lexus Multi Stage Hybrid System in the LS 500h combines a naturally aspirated, Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V-6 engine with two electric motor/generators that together deliver 354 horsepower. That’s plenty of juice for serous driving sessions on twisty roads, as we can attest from our time behind the wheel in Northern California.
This system essentially incorporates a four-speed automatic transmission coupled to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A first for any Lexus hybrid is the inclusion of a selectable ‘M’ (manual) mode controlled by steering wheel paddles, which simulates driving with a 10-speed transmission and provides a more dynamic driving experience. Dual Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (Dual VVT-i) ensures ample torque across the engine's speed range.
Driver assist systems are replete in the 500h. Lexus' Integrated Safety Management safety systems include Pre-Collision, Pedestrian Alert, and Lexus CoDrive, the latter combining All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Lane Trace Assist. There’s also Front Cross Traffic Alert, Road Sign Assist, Intelligent High-beam with Adaptive Front Lighting, and Lane Departure Alert plus a continuing list of intelligent and driver assist/safety systems. Side clearance and cornering views have been added to the vehicle’s Panoramic View Monitor to provide periphery safety checks, imaged on the car’s 12.3-inch display monitor.
The fifth-generation LS flagship sedan accomplishes its mission by providing impressive design and high levels of premium content, combined with dynamic performance and a hybrid powertrain that nets estimated fuel economy up to 33 highway mpg. Slated to go on sale later this month, the LS 500h luxury hybrid delivers all this goodness at a premium price that’s yet to be announced, but is expected to be in the high $90,000 range.
BMW’s 530e, the fourth plug-in hybrid in this automaker’s growing iPerformance lineup in the U.S., combines a TwinPower Turbo engine with an electric motor to achieve desired performance and efficiency. The 180 horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and 111 horsepower electric motor feature a total output of 248 horsepower and 310 lb-ft torque. This model marks the first time a BMW iPerformance model is available with either sDrive rear-wheel-drive or xDrive all-wheel-drive.
The electric motor and combustion engine deliver power to the wheels via an 8-speed Steptronic transmission that’s optionally controlled by paddle shifters. With the electric motor in front of the transmission, all gear ratios are also available in the all-electric mode. This eliminates the need for a torque converter and helps offset the weight penalty of adding electric drive. T
Energy is supplied to the motor via a lithium-ion battery pack with a total capacity of 9.2 kilowatt-hours. This provides an all-electric range of 16 miles with a total gasoline-electric range of 370 miles. The battery pack features refrigerant cooling and is located beneath the comfortable and well-appointed cabin’s rear seat.
Drivers can select Auto eDrive, Max eDrive, and Battery Control modes to tailor the driving experience. In the default Auto eDrive mode, the engine and electric motor work optimally under all driving situations and allow all-electric driving at up to 56 mph. In Max eDrive, the 530e can run on electricity alone up to 87 mph. Battery Control mode lets the driver set charge level manually and makes it possible to conserve or even increase battery capacity while on the highway, so urban driving in the miles ahead can be entirely on electric power.
The 530e iPerformance is well-equipped with driver assistance systems, featuring Blind Spot Detection, Traffic Jam Assistant, Lane Departure Warning, and Active Lane Keeping Assistant with Side Collision Avoidance. Along with maintaining any selected speed, Dynamic Cruise Control supports energy-saving coasting by decoupling the engine from the powertrain when the driver lifts off the accelerator at higher speeds. Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go uses radar to adjust a pre-selected speed to traffic conditions. It can brake to a standstill in stop-and-go traffic and automatically sense vehicles ahead so speed can be adjusted earlier and smoother.
Further enhancing driving safety is the 530e’s Evasion Aid capability that provides evasive steering action if a quick lane change is required at speeds up to 100 mph. Dynamic Stability Control handles the faster steering and counter-steering needed during evasive maneuvers to reduce vehicle instability. Evasion Aid also uses information from the car’s sensor systems to check how much unobstructed space is available around the vehicle.
It’s notable that the 530e is offered at the same $52,650 base price as the gasoline-powered 530i, which bucks traditional pricing practices in which buyers typically pay a substantial premium for a more efficient plug-in hybrid variant. It’s a laudable move on BMW’s part that may well entice more new car buyers to step up to the ‘greener’ model.
Green Car Journal has honored winners of its highly-anticipated 2018 Green Car Awards™ at the 2018 Washington Auto Show, capping off the final awards of the magazine’s 2018 award program that also included presentations at shows in Los Angeles and San Antonio, Texas. In Washington, the Cadillac CT6 Plug-In was recognized as 2018 Connected Green Car of the Year™, while the Kia Niro was named 2018 Green SUV of the Year™ and the Karma Revero as 2018 Luxury Green Car of the Year™. These three awards speak to the increasing attention automakers are placing on environmental performance in the important luxury, connected, and crossover/SUV markets.
The Connected Green Car of the Year™ award acknowledges advanced and environmentally positive vehicles with on-board systems that connect vehicle to driver, to the world, and to the road. For a growing number of drivers, this is becoming just as important as driving with a lighter environmental impact.
Cadillac’s CT6 Plug-In rose to the top amid finalists that included the BMW i3, Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model X, and Volvo S90 T8. The luxury plug-in hybrid sedan provides up to 31 miles of battery-electric driving and an overall range of 430 miles. It excels with its connectivity, driver assist systems, and on-board electronics. Driver assist systems include Forward and Reverse Automatic Braking that respond to an impending collision and apply brakes as needed, plus Pedestrian Braking. Adaptive Cruise Control automatically accelerates and brakes to maintain a driver-selected following distance to the vehicle ahead, while Lane Keep Assist gently steers the car if the system determines a driver is unintentionally leaving a lane. A head-up display and enhanced night vision are also provided.
Presenting a new and affordable option for those who seek the functionality of a small crossover with impressive levels of driving efficiency, the Kia Niro was selected as 2018 Green SUV of the Year™ over finalists Chevrolet Equinox, MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4, Mazda CX-5, and Volvo XC60 T8. The Niro comes in both hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions, with the hybrid delivering up to 52 city and 49 highway mpg. Although designed to be at the affordable end of the automotive spectrum, an impressive array of standard and available features is offered including a rearview camera and 7-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus driver assist technologies like blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and automatic emergency braking.
Honored as Green Car Journal’s 2018 Luxury Green Car of the Year™, the Karma Revero achieved this distinction in an impressive field of luxury vehicles that included the BMW 530e, Cadillac CT6 Plug-In, Lexus LS 500h, and Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid. The Revero features a stunning design and the industry’s largest solar roof. The plug-in grand touring car is built on an aluminum spaceframe and powered by two high-power electric motors that deliver a combined 403 horsepower and satisfying levels of driving performance. This range extended luxury electric car drives 50 miles on battery power and 300 miles overall with electricity created on board by its engine-generator. Inside its comfortable and accommodating cabin, driver and passengers are treated to an elegant leather interior accented with reclaimed wood trim and the latest in high-tech displays and instrumentation.
These 2018 Green Car Awards™ winners and finalists reflect the expanding efforts being made by automakers worldwide to not only meet government and state mandates for more efficient and alternative fuel – in this case electrified – vehicles, but also their response to market forces that are demanding these vehicles. The result is a competitive automotive landscape that’s ‘greener’ than ever, something that bodes well for buyers seeking vehicles offering the driving performance and features they desire, with the added benefit of significantly improved environmental impact.
The Kia Niro, Green Car Journal's 2018 Green SUV of the Year™, joins an increasingly crowded compact crossover SUV market but does so with some significant accomplishments in its corner. To begin with, the Niro is comfortable, nimble, and fun to drive, all important considerations even to drivers looking for ‘green’ and efficiency. It's also offered in hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and soon-to-come battery electric versions, so drivers have some pretty compelling options within the Niro family of vehicles. The Niro is a handsome model, and while we could quibble that many might view the Niro more a highly functional five-door, five-seat wagon than an SUV, there’s enough blurring of the lines between crossovers, hatchbacks, and wagons these days to enable classifying this in the crossover SUV category.
And what about efficiency, you ask? Well, prepare to be impressed. This crossover excels in that department with the Niro FE hybrid delivering an EPA estimated 52 mpg in the city and 49 mpg on the highway. Other variants in the line also offer very impressive fuel efficiency, with the LX/EX Niro rated at 51/46 mpg and the Niro Touring achieving 45/40 mpg. The Niro Plug-In Hybrid nets a combined 46 mpg.
The automaker’s first dedicated hybrid crossover is powered by a 1.6-liter, direct-injected 16-valve DOHC engine producing 104 horsepower and 109 lb-ft torque. An aluminum block is used for lightweighting and thus additional efficiency. A 43 horsepower, permanent-magnet synchronous AC electric motor/generator is integrated between the engine and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transaxle. Maximum power output of the combined system is 139 horsepower with a total torque rating of 195 lb-ft. The engine uses the highly-efficient Atkinson combustion cycle, and with its exhaust-heat recovery system can achieve an impressive 40 percent thermal efficiency under certain circumstances. The new engine has dual cooling circuits for quickly warming up its aluminum cylinder head.
Energy for the electric motor is provided by a 1.6-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack located beneath the rear seat. Beyond the Niro’s highly efficient hybrid mode, this battery allows the vehicle to travel short distances under all-electric power at gentle speeds. Efficiency is enhanced by a Coasting Guide that helps direct a driver when to coast and when to brake.
Niro offers confident ride and handling with independent MacPherson struts and a stabilizer up front, and independent multi-link suspension at the rear. Vented solid disc brakes are used front and rear along with regenerative braking to generate electricity for the battery during braking and coast down. The Niro uses electric power-assist steering.
The Kia Niro is offered in four trim levels –base FE, mid-level LX and EX, and high-end Touring. Compared with the LX, the EX model has more interior comforts, adding standard heated front seats, rear A/C vents, upgraded trim, and an available sunroof. Touring models come with an eight-speaker Harman/Kardon system and also get power front seats and leather upholstery.
A rearview camera and 7-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are provided. Loads of safety technologies are standard or optional including blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and autonomous emergency braking. Although this is a compact crossover, plenty of gear can be hauled along with 54.5 cubic feet of space available with the rear seats folded down.
The Niro PHEV has a much larger 8.9 kWh battery pack with a portion of this pack located in the spare tire well beneath the load floor. The plug-in’s electric motor is more powerful and delivers an EPA estimated 26 miles of all-electric range before reverting back to hybrid power, for a total driving range of 560 miles. Enhancing this range is a Predictive Energy Control function that evaluates the route chosen by the optional navigation system to maximize energy conservation, picking when to recharge the battery and when to use stored energy based on the speeds and topology ahead. It can also direct the powertrain to shunt electricity to pre-charging the battery in anticipation of long uphill grades. Rounding out the line will be a Niro battery electric variant coming next year, which was unveiled as a concept at this year’s CES Show in early January.
Kia continues to impress with the sophisticated styling of its new models and an eye for what American consumers are looking for, at affordable prices. The Kia Niro continues this tradition in a very big way by delivering style, functionality, and connectivity in a handsome and compelling compact crossover package.