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Here’s the thing about plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs): You get the benefits of a battery electric vehicle for driving a certain number of zero-emission miles, with the versatility of a gas-electric hybrid without range limitations. There’s no secret to it, and it’s that simple. But PHEV ownership does take some thought, and some effort.

The thought part is straightforward. If you’re in the market for a PHEV and your intent is to drive electric as much as possible, then part of the decision making is choosing a new plug-in hybrid model offering a battery electric range that fits your driving patterns. Some plug-in hybrids offer battery electric range as low as 14 to 19 miles, with a great many featuring electric range in the low to high 20s. Some raise that number up to 42 or 48 miles of battery electric driving, like the Toyota Prius Prime and Honda Clarity PHEV, before requiring a charge or the addition of  combustion power. Many families find the electric range of Chrysler’s Pacifica Hybrid to be entirely workable at 32 miles, with its total 520 miles of driving range reassuring for any driving need.

The effort in owning a PHEV is that you need to install a 240-volt home wall charger and commit to using it to gain maximum benefit. Really, that’s no different than an all-electric vehicle, with the exception that an electric vehicle must be charged to function, while a PHEV will continue operating with the aid of combustion power once batteries are depleted. Both can be charged with a 120-volt convenience charger plugged into a standard household outlet, but that’s rarely a good option since the charging time at 120 volts is so long, while charging at 240 volts is comparatively short. The goal in achieving maximum benefit, of course, is to keep a PHEV charged in any event so you’re operating on battery power whenever possible.

What range do you really need? If your daily driving or commute is about 20 miles – as is the case for so many – then choose a PHEV with a battery electric range offering that capability, or more. Drivers with longer average daily drives should choose a PHEV with greater all-electric range. If you charge every night and wake up with a fully-charged battery ready for your day’s regular activities, you’ll likely find trips to the gas station unnecessary until longer drives are needed. In those cases, there’s nothing to think about because the transition from battery to combustion power happens seamlessly behind the scenes, with no driver action required. Yes, you’ll want to keep gas in the tank for those eventualities, but if your daily use fits within your rated electric range then fill-ups will be infrequent.

From my perspective, the ability to drive electric most of the time with the ability to motor on for hundreds of additional miles without thought is a win-win. I’ve been doing this for years with a variety of PHEV test cars, and more than a year-and-a-half now over 30,000 miles in a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. As much as possible, my driving is electric with zero localized emissions, as long as I’m consistent about plugging in at night and my charger isn’t required for another test car. I’m driven to do that not only because driving with zero emissions is the right thing to do, but also because electricity offers a cheaper cost-per-mile driving experience. If you’re on a utility’s electric vehicle rate plan and charge at off-peak hours, there’s even more money to be saved. And let’s not forget the blissful and effortless convenience of charging at home, right?

Any claim that PHEVs won’t deliver their desired environmental benefit is based on assumptions that drivers won’t plug in. That isn’t likely, given that PHEV drivers have paid, sometimes significantly, for the privilege of having a plug-in capability. The notion may have its roots in an unrelated alternative fuel story years ago, when we witnessed the phenomena of motorists driving flexible-fuel E85 ethanol/gasoline vehicles without ever fueling up with E85 alternative fuel. That occurred because of a loophole that allowed automakers to gain significant fuel economy credits by offering flexible-fuel vehicles without any consideration whether drivers would ever fuel up with E85 ethanol. Those vehicles were sold at no premium by the millions, with most drivers unaware their vehicle had an alternative fuel capability or whether E85 fueling stations were nearby.

But this is different. While you have the option to use public charging stations, and that’s a nice benefit enjoyed by many EV and PHEV owners, if you do this right there will be a plug in your garage that requires no effort at all to keep your PHEV charged up. Consider, too, that if a buyer spends the extra money for the plug-in hybrid variant of a popular model, there’s clearly an incentive to plug in most of the time to make the most of one’s PHEV investment.

PHEVs will be with us a long while because they are a sensible solution for many who wish to drive electric, and when used as intended they represent a logical pathway for the all-electric future many envision. There’s no doubt that the increasing number of plug-in hybrids coming now, and in the years ahead, will aim at greater electric driving range than the models that came before them. More choices and greater range will provide an even more compelling reason to step up to a plug-in hybrid for the daily drive.

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.

Kia’s compact SUV entered its fourth generation in 2021 with a complete exterior makeover, increased legroom and cargo space, and a raft of driver-assistance systems that have been made standard equipment. Four engine choices are offered in the all-new Sorrento, including a new turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder hybrid. A plug-in hybrid version of the turbocharged four is being introduced in Europe but there’s no confirmation if this will be coming here to the U.S.

The 2021 Sorento is built on Kia’s third-generation N3 platform, which is lighter but also stronger than the outgoing version. This increases the SUV’s wheelbase by nearly 1.4 inches, improves noise/vibration/harshness characteristics, and driving dynamics. It’s also versatile enough to accommodate the Sorento’s electrified drivetrain. 

Conventional Sorento powertrains utilize Kia’s 2.5-liter GDI four-cylinder engines. In naturally aspirated form the 2.5 GDI produces 191 horsepower, while a new turbocharged 2.5 GDI makes 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft torque. The hybrid pairs a 1.6-liter version of the GDI turbo with a 60 horsepower electric motor fed by a 1.5 kWh lithium-ion-polymer battery. The engine/motor combination produces a total of 227 horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque, which is routed through a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. EPA fuel economy estimates rate the Sorento turbo hybrid’s efficiency at 39 city and 35 highway mpg, and 37 mpg combined.

Kia offers the 2021 Sorento in five trim levels, though the hybrid is available in the mid-range S and EX trims only. Many of the Sorento’s standard features are shared between the two, but the EX has a higher level of content, with equipment that includes LED fog lights, a panoramic sunroof, and wireless phone charger. Both the S and EX models are fitted with standard 17-inch alloy wheels and P235 tires.

There are a total of 16 standard and optional ‘Drive Wise’ advanced driver-assistance systems available for the Sorento. Standard ADAS systems on the hybrid model include blind-spot and rear-traffic collision avoidance, parking distance warning (rear-facing only on S, front and rear on EX), intelligent speed limit assist, forward collision-avoidance assist, driver attention warning, and lane-keep and lane-departure-warning systems.

The cost of entry for the new Sorrento is $29,390. Pricing starts at $33,590 for the Sorrento Hybrid S, with the uplevel Hybrid EX variant commanding three grand more at $36,590.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toyota presents a reimagined, bullet train-inspired minivan in its all-new 2021 Sienna. The fourth-generation Sienna family hauler boasts greatly improved drive dynamics, interior comfort, and a Toyota estimated 33 combined mpg, an impressive efficiency number thanks to its standard gas/electric hybrid powertrain. An all-wheel drive option is available in all trim offerings. 

Taking design cues from the Toyota Avalon, Sienna’s dynamic bodyline lends an aerodynamic elegance generally reserved for premium sedans. Longer, wider, and visually lower to the pavement, in any trim level Sienna gives the competition a run for the consumer dollar. This is especially true since a standard hybrid drivetrain means Toyota effectively broadens Sienna’s market appeal.

Built on Toyota’s TNGA-K world car platform, the 2021 Sienna blends the latest technology with much-improved ride comfort in five available trim levels. Toyota Safety Sense is standard, offering a comprehensive active safety suite that includes Automatic High Beams, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Lane Trace Assist, Pre-Collision with Pedestrian Detection/Low Light Detection, and Road Sign Assist. Additional active safety and driver assist technologies are available throughout the trim walk.

Innovations for the new Sienna include kick-open and closing sliding side doors and rear gate, a four-zone climate control system, optional heated captain’s chairs with ottomans and a super-long adjustment range in the second row, plus an onboard vacuum and refrigerator. The Sienna LE and some XLE models come equipped with eight seat configurations overall. Some XLE models, as well as the XSE, Limited, and Platinum, afford comfortable seating for up to seven and feature  the Super Long Slide second-row captain’s chairs, with the Limited and Platinum FWD models further equipped with ottomans.

Sienna offers a segment-first power tilt and telescoping steering column with a heated steering wheel, along with a digital rearview mirror, 10-inch color heads-up display, and a 12-speaker JBL Premium Audio system. Minivan buyers wishing for more of an all-weather SUV utility experience will appreciate that the 2021 Sienna is available as an all-wheel-drive variant with a stated towing capacity of 3500 lbs.

For the adventurous, 2021 Sienna comes to market with a full line of dealer-available accessories designed and manufactured by Yakima, including a rooftop carrier, cross bars, bike rack, and more. Also offered is an available tow hitch and factory optional, 1500-watt inverter with 120-volt AC outlets to power camping equipment.

The fourth-generation 2021 Toyota Sienna is a milestone for Toyota. It blends minivan utility with SUV all-weather capabilities and premium sedan ride and drive comfort. Plus, its standard hybrid power provides for a fuel-efficient minivan ownership experience, further representing Toyota’s commitment toward fleet-wide electrification to reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact.

Hyundai has unveiled a major refresh of its best-selling Elantra compact sedan this year, bucking the industry’s trend of dropping cars in favor of crossovers and SUVs. It’s not that sport-utilities aren’t important to this automaker. In fact, Hyundai has half-a-dozen crossover SUVs in it stable. It’s just that with 3.4 million Elantras sold in the U.S. since the model’s introduction and its continuing popularity, there’s every reason for Hyundai to go all in with this compact sedan.

An extended hood and low roofline present a lower, wider, and more aggressive stance compared to the previous 6th generation Elantra. Design cues include a hard chiseled wind deflecting hood, a wide cascading grill, integrated turn signals, projector beam LED auto dim headlighting, and full width tail lights. Looking to Elantra’s grillwork, one is reminded of Hyundai Genesis design, quite intentionally. Gloss black and chrome body accents add nice touches. Elantra offers 15, 16 and 17 inch alloy wheel options to accentuate its appealing look.

Inside, Elantra buyers discover a driver-centric design delivering a much improved cockpit experience, with everything in easy reach and eyeshot. Among its features are an available side-by-side 10.2 inch digital instrument cluster, IMID display, and a 10.2 inch center dash navigation monitor. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability is standard. Smart steering wheel controls are intuitive. For audiophiles, Elantra is optioned with a Bose premium audio upgrade.

Hyundai’s comprehensive SmartSense active safety and driver assist technologies are standard equipment across the trim walk. An enhanced natural-language voice recognition system – a Hyundai first – features Speech-to-Meaning and Deep Meaning Understanding technologies. Buyers will discover yet another first for the segment, Hyundai Digital Key. With this feature the Elantra can be unlocked and started from a compatible smartphone or key-card, no key required. The electronic key application is shareable to other smartphone users.

The gasoline model is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft torque. Elantra Hybrid’s motivation comes straight from its Ionic cousin. It pairs a direct-injected 1.6-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine with a 43 horsepower motor and lithium ion battery, delivering a combined 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft torque. Power is transferred to the front wheels via Hyundai’s 6-speed Shiftronic transmission with select drive modes. It features electric assist power steering, 4-wheel disk brakes, Macpherson struts up front, and multi-link rear suspension

Hyundai Elantra and Elantra Hybrid prices will be announced closer to when the models go on sale later in 2020. EPA fuel efficiency ratings have yet to be disclosed.

Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV, the world's best-selling plug-in-hybrid SUV, features innovative technology to provide welcome performance and family-friendly, fuel efficient all-wheel-drive capability. The combination of a gasoline engine and two electric motors, lithium-ion battery, and plug-in capability allows the Outlander PHEV to travel 310 miles on hybrid power and 22 all-electric miles on  a completely charged battery. The Outlander PHEV has an EPA rating of 25 city/highway combined mpg when operating on gasoline and 74 MPGe (miles-per-gallon equivalent) when operating on battery power.

The Mitsubishi Plug-in Hybrid EV System features three modes to achieve its unique series-parallel operation. Plus, there’s the ability to select up to six levels of regenerative braking to tailor the driving experience.

An integral part of the vehicle’s plug-in hybrid drivetrain is a Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control (MIVEC) engine that combines maximum power output, low fuel consumption, and a high level of clean performance. This 2.0-liter, 16-valve DOHC engine produces 117 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 137 lb-ft torque at 4,500 rpm. It drives an electric generator that supplies electricity to the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery or directly to the electric motors. Each of its two AC synchronous permanent magnetic motors are rated at 80 horsepower (60 kW). A maximum combined 197 horsepower is available. The lack of  a driveshaft or transfer case means response and control much faster than a  traditional 4WD setup.

A 12 kilowatt-hour, high-energy density, lithium-ion battery is located beneath the floor where it contributes to a low center of gravity and stable driving performance. This battery can be charged in 10 hours with a household Level 1, 110-volt source or four hours with a Level 2, 240-volt charger. Using DC Fast Charging that’s available at commercial charging facilities, the Outlander PHEV will charge up to 80 percent capacity in as little as 25 minutes. The Outlander PHEV holds the distinction as being the first PHEV capable of DC Fast Charging capability.

The  Outlander PHEV’s parallel-series hybrid features three operating modes that are automatically selected for maximum efficiency, according to the driving conditions. These modes are EV Drive, Series Hybrid, and Parallel-Series.

In the EV Drive mode the Outlander is powered exclusively by the electric motors, with no battery charging except from regenerative braking. EV Drive is used for medium- to low-speeds during city driving. The two electric motors power the Outlander when operating in Series Hybrid mode, except when battery power is low or quick acceleration or hill climbing is needed. Then, the gasoline engine automatically starts to drive the generator and provide electric power for the electric motors to augment battery power. The engine-generator also charges the battery.

In Parallel Hybrid mode the gasoline engine supplies power to the front wheels with the two electric motors adding additional power as needed. The engine also charges the battery pack in Parallel Hybrid mode under certain driving conditions. At high speeds, the Parallel Hybrid mode is more efficient since internal combustion engines operate with greater efficiency than  electric motors at high rpms.

A driver can also choose Charge Mode so the generator charges the lithium-ion battery at any time. Save Mode conserves the battery charge for later use. EV Priority Mode, which can be used at any time, ensures the gasoline engine only runs when maximum power is required. Mitsubishi’s Twin Motor  S-AWC integrated control system delivers optimal power and control by managing Active Yaw Control (AYC), an Anti-lock braking system (ABS), and Active Stability Control (ASC) with Traction Control (TCL).

No matter the hybrid mode, whenever the Outlander PHEV decelerates regenerative braking charges the battery to augment electric driving range. There are six levels of regenerative braking –B1 to B5 plus a B0 coast  mode – that are conveniently selected by a pair of paddles behind the steering wheel. Regenerative braking strength can also be selected by console-mounted controls. Automatic Stop and Go (AS&G) automatically stops and restarts the engine when the vehicle stops, further conserving fuel.     

The Outlander PHEV benefits from Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control system (MIVEC) technology that controls valve timing and amount of lift to achieve optimum power output, low fuel consumption, and low exhaust emissions. MIVEC adjusts intake air volume by varying intake valve lift stroke and throttle valves, reducing pumping losses and thus improving fuel efficiency. The MIVEC engine improves fuel consumption through other strategies, including improvement of combustion stability through optimization of the combustion chamber and reduction of friction through optimization of the piston structure.

We’ve spent plenty of time now behind the wheel of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT as part of our long-term test of this highly functional vehicle. We can tell you this: It’s obvious to the Green Car Journal staff why the Outlander PHEV was named the magazine’s 2019 Green SUV of the Year™ and now the 2020 Family Green Car of the Year™.

First of all, it’s a joy to drive. The Outlander PHEV is spacious, well-appointed with an upscale leather interior, and reasonably priced for a plug-in hybrid crossover in today’s market, at $36,295 for the SEL S-AWC and $41,695 for the GT S-AWC. It’s rated at 74 MPGe on electricity and 25 combined mpg on gas, so it’s quite thrifty when driven as intended – as an electric vehicle for around-town driving and as an intelligent hybrid when the need calls for longer distance travels.

This is what we do on a daily basis. We plug in at night with a 240-volt wall charger, top off the batteries while parked, and start the day off with a full charge. Most of our driving, which is likely a reflection of what most folks will experience, is daily use for commuting and running errands within this vehicle’s EPA rated 22 miles of battery-powered driving range. That means if we’re diligent about charging every night – happily, at our utility’s discounted electric vehicle rate – we won’t be visiting a gas station anytime soon.

Of course, if circumstances dictate a daily commute that’s longer than the Outlander PHEV’s rated range and there is on-site charging available at the workplace, it’s possible to effectively double all-electric range by plugging in at work for the drive home. Four hours at 240-volt Level 2 charging at work or at a public charger brings the Outlander PHEV’s pack back to a full charge from a depleted state. If a rapid charger is available, then the battery can be energized to 80 percent capacity in just 25 minutes.

The importance of plug-in hybrid power is that regardless of battery state-of-charge, there’s never anxiety about range. While this Mitsubishi crossover’s battery range is suitable for zero-emission motoring around-town, the Outlander PHEV itself is geared for any transportation needs required. It offers a 310 mile overall driving range that we’ve found very workable and convenient for longer drives and road trips when we do travel beyond those 22 electric miles.

Beyond its electric capability, we’ve found many reasons to appreciate our time in the Outlander PHEV. It’s right-sized for a family of five and it’s comfortable, with loads of room up front and plenty of room afforded by the rear seats. The rear seats three, but with only two in the back there’s a handy pull-down center console and armrest to deploy with cupholders and storage. A 120-volt AC outlet is located at the back of the center console for plugging in a laptop or other device that requires household power. USB power is also available front and rear.

We also appreciate the driving experience. Acceleration is brisk and handling confident, with excellent steering input. The Outlander PHEV offers a smooth ride and is well isolated from road noise. Its series-parallel hybrid drivetrain intelligently balances power from its 2.0-liter engine and twin electric motors under most driving circumstances, providing optimum performance and efficiency. Transitions between electric and combustion power are seamless and virtually unnoticeable, even if you’re looking for them. An EV Drive mode is also driver selectable via a console-mounted switch to allow traveling exclusively in electric mode, with the engine kicking in only when additional acceleration is needed. Steering wheel paddles can be used to control the vehicle’s level of regenerative braking force.

As is the case with most drivers today, we’ve come to appreciate the many sophisticated on-board systems working behind the scene to ensure our safety, and the safety of others. We fortunately haven’t had the need for forward collision mitigation, but we know the system is there in the background. The Outlander PHEV’s many driver assist systems – from adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams to rear cross traffic alert and lane departure warning – inspire that extra level of driving confidence. Particularly helpful every day is the center display’s birds-eye view of the vehicle’s surroundings as we’re backing up.

It's not lost on us that we enjoy a measure of exclusivity while driving this long-term tester. While the Outlander PHEV has been sold worldwide for years – achieving the distinction as the world’s best-selling plug-in hybrid – it has only been here in the U.S. since the 2018 model year. Plus, the Mitsubishi brand’s presence in the U.S. market is significantly smaller than competitors like Honda and Toyota, so you won’t see as many Outlanders on the road as you will CR-Vs or RAV4s. But that’s a good thing if you’re looking to drive something that stands apart from the crowd…which our stylish, PHEV-badged Outlander PHEV GT certainly does.

Lincoln’s new Aviator comes in two versions, the conventionally-powered Aviator and the Aviator Grand Touring plug-in-hybrid. Both luxury SUVs feature a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 engine, which in the Aviator is rated at 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft torque. The Grand Touring adds a 101 horsepower electric motor and a 13.6 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Adding the electric motor to the V-6 increases output to a combined 494 horsepower and 630 lb-ft torque.

That kind of power means the Aviator Grand Touring has V-8 big block-like performance, with acceleration coming on strong courtesy of an electric motor that deliver loads of torque from zero rpm. Hybrid power also means better fuel economy than a conventionally powered model, with the Grand Touring variant offering an EPA combined fuel economy rating of 23 mpg, compared to 20 mpg for the all-wheel-drive version of the conventional Aviator. The Aviator Grand Touring comes only with AWD while the conventional model has the option of rear-wheel drive.

The Aviator Grand Touring uses Ford's innovative new modular hybrid transmission that’s also used in the Ford Explorer Limited Hybrid and Ford Police Interceptor Utility Hybrid  It was created by essentially inserting an electric motor and disconnect clutch between the engine and torque converter on Ford's 10-speed SelectShift automatic transmission. The MHT shares about 90 percent of its components with Ford’s conventional 10-speed automatic.

Drivers are afforded 21 miles of all-electric driving in the plug-in hybrid for typical around-town needs. The Aviator Touring’s 13.6 kWh battery pack features under-floor packaging that does not infringe on interior space, so this 7 passenger SUV’s cargo-carrying capacity is not compromised when the third row seating is folded flat. Charging a depleted battery takes three-to-four hours using a 240-volt Level 2 charger.

All Aviators have five Lincoln Drive Modes that change the suspension settings, steering, shift points, and ride height with the optional Air Glide Suspension. The  Aviator Grand Touring has two additional modes – Pure EV for all-electric driving and Preserve EV to save stored electrical energy for later use. The Aviator can tow 6,700 pounds while the Aviator Grand Touring can tow 5,600 pounds.

Lincoln's all-new Aviator offers a point of entry at $51,100 for the base rear-drive model, with the Grand Touring plug-in hybrid variant coming in at $68,900.

First making its appearance in 1966, the Corolla has proved to be a serious mainstay for the Toyota brand. To date it has sold over 46 million copies worldwide, along the way becoming the best-selling nameplate in the world. Its sales have far surpassing that of the original Volkswagen Beetle, the ubiquitous everyman’s car that was seemingly everywhere for years on end, but in actuality sold less than half the number achieved by the Corolla. Unlike the Beetle that remained true to its unmistakably simple form over its lifetime, Corollas have seen many major redesigns over the years and this year’s 2020 Corolla sedan features the model’s most compelling redesign in decades.

As with previous models, the 2020 Corolla’s strengths are its affordability, reliability, and notably high fuel economy. Now, it can add style to that list of strengths…along with the title 2020 Green Car of the Year®.

The latest Corollas use Toyota's New Global Architecture (TNGA). This brings a stiffer platform with an independent multilink rear suspension that replaces the previous torsion beam setup. The standard base engine on lower-end L, LE, and XLE trims is the long-used and dependable 1.8 liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 139 horsepower. Stepping up to SE and XSE trims bring a 169 horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder powerplant to bear. Both are quite fuel efficient, with the 1.8-liter delivering 30 city/38 highway mpg and the 2.0-liter 31 city/40 highway mpg.

Power is delivered to the road through a 6-speed manual on the SE and an electronically controlled, continuously variable transmission on lower end models. Upper trims get a continuously variable transmission with intelligence. Shift Mode starts out with an actual first gear and then shifts to a CVT operation. Paddle shifters allow selection of 10 simulated gear ratios.

For optimum fuel economy there’s the new Corolla Hybrid LE model that features a 121 horsepower, 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four cylinder and a pair of electric motors. This highly efficient hybrid system achieves an impressive, Prius-like EPA estimated 52 combined mpg. Energy is provided by a 1.3 kWh nickel-metal hydride battery pack positioned under the rear seats, so trunk capacity is not compromised. Importantly, the Corolla Hybrid LE is priced at just $23,100, about $3,500 more than the base gasoline-powered model. Its high fuel efficiency, affordability to the masses, and huge worldwide sales means this model has an outsized impact on decreasing gasoline use and carbon emissions reductions.

In addition, this affordably-priced car offers a a full complement of driver assist systems that rivals those found in much more expensive vehicles. All versions have Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 as standard equipment. This package  includes Toyota’s Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Road Edge Detection and Sway Warning, Automatic High Beams, Lane Tracing Assist, and Road Sign Assist. Full-Speed Range Dynamic Cruise Control and Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist are also part of the package.

Our time behind the wheel of a Corolla Hybrid LE proved this vehicle to be a great daily driver. It’s roomier than you would expect, quite comfortable, and delivers a satisfying driving experience while achieving its pretty amazing fuel efficiency. Acceleration is decent though not particularly quick, but then, buyers of the Corolla nameplate in its many forms are not shopping for high performance. They are shopping for value, durability, connectivity, safety, and efficiency, and with the 2020 Corolla they get all this in abundance.

Plus, of course, they now get an all-new Corolla with surprisingly attractive styling. While that might not have been the tipping point for buyers looking for top value and efficiency over the years, it’s sure an important addition that will draw even more interest in this enduring nameplate. And let’s not forget that with today’s greater interest in environmental performance – including significantly lower carbon emissions – the Corolla Hybrid becomes even more compelling as a champion for the cause, all the while sporting more mainstream appeal than many hybrids that came before it.

The third-generation Nissan Versa is 2.3 inches lower, 1.8 inches wider, and 1.6 inches longer than the Versa it replaces and styling is definitely more handsome. It is available in S, SV and SR levels. With prices starting at $14,730 and fully loaded SRs coming in under $20,000, the Nissan Versa represents great value.

All Nissan Versas continue to be powered by the same 1.6-liter, four-cylinder DOHC engine with Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System (CVTCS) as used in the outgoing model. However, it is a bit more powerful this year with 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft torque. A five-speed manual continues to be the standard transmission for the S grade, while the SV and SR trims only come with an Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). The CVT is optional on the base S trim. Manual gearbox-equipped 2020 Versas get 27 city/40 highway mpg while CVT versions net 32 city/40 highway mpg.

The S, SV, and SR each offer a slightly difference appearance beyond their 15-, 16- and 17-inch wheels, respectively, with the upper two alloys. Headlights on the S and SV are halogen, while the SR has LEDS. Interiors also get better as you go up in trim levels. SV and SR trims feature a 7-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. These trims also get a 7-inch instrument cluster. S trims get a 7-inch display, but without the Nissan Connect infotainment system or Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. All trims have three USB ports, pushbutton start, and Bluetooth for calls and audio streaming. 

Even at these budget prices, the Versa has many driver-assist aides. All trims get standard Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Rear Automatic Braking, and Lane Departure Warning. SV and SR trims add Blind Spot Warning, Intelligent Driver Alertness, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Cruise control is standard on all trims. However, Intelligent Cruise Control that maintains a set distance to the vehicle ahead is only optional on the top SR trim. All trims get auto on/off headlights and high-beam assist.

Nissan strives to ensure a driver never leaves a child in a Versa SV or SR with the model’s standard Rear Seat Alert system, which reminds drivers to check the back seat when exiting by sounding the Versa’s horn.

The ever-popular Mazda 3 is available as both a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback to fit differing tastes. Completely redesigned last year and built on an all-new platform, the sedan and hatchback have distinctly different rear side profiles and rear styling.

The Hatchback is available in Standard, Preferred, and Premium packages, with the sedan adding a Select package at the lower end. Both variants feature a prominent grille accented by slim LED headlights and daytime running lights. Adaptive headlights are offered on the top Premium package. All models are available with either two-wheel- or four-wheel-drive.

Power is delivered by an efficient 2.5-liter, 186 horsepower SKYACTIV-G2 engine featuring dual overhead valves, variable valve timing, and cylinder deactivation. This four-cylinder engine connects to a SKYACTIV-Drive 6-speed automatic transmission with sport mode. A 6-speed manual is available only on the hatchback with the Premium package. All-wheel-drive models use Mazda's i-ACTIV AWD all-wheel drive system. The model also offers the automaker’s latest-generation G-Vectoring Control Plus system that slightly reduces engine torque to sharpen steering feel.

Mazda's long-awaited SKYACTIV-X spark-controlled compression ignition (SPCCI) engine is now available in Mazda3 models Europe and expected to be offered here later in the model year. This innovative engine combines the best features of spark-ignition (gasoline) and combustion-ignition (diesel) engines without either of their disadvantages, while offering greater horsepower, torque, and fuel efficiency.

All 2020 Mazda trim levels now come standard with i-ACTIVSENSE driver-assist features that were previously standard only on higher trim levels. These include Lane Departure Warning, Lane-Keep Assist, Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Driver Attention Alert, Blind-spot Monitoring, and Automatic Emergency Braking.

The Mazda3’s driver-focused cockpit includes a 7.0-inch instrument cluster screen and an 8.8-inch infotainment screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A head-up display is optional. The Mazda3 offers an entry price of $21,500 for the sedan and $23,700 for the hatchback variant.

The Toyota Highlander family-size, three row SUV is a new, fourth generation model based on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA-K). It's available in both gasoline and hybrid versions. The highly-efficient hybrid edition is available in front- or all-wheel-drive and in LE, XLE, Limited, and Platinum trim levels.

Highlander Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder DOHC engine and a pair of electric motors to deliver a total system output of 240 horsepower. The rear-mounted electric motor distributes torque to the rear wheels when slip is detected, while the all-wheel version uses this same motor to drive the rear axle. Normal, Sport, and Eco drive modes can be selected.

A sequential shifting switch controls regenerative braking to allow ‘downshifting’ in steps to maximize regen efficiency. Information from the navigation system anticipate traffic conditions ahead, enabling the Highlander Hybrid to coast longer distances when the driver’s foot is off the throttle.

New computer integration and a smaller, lighter power stack installed directly above the transaxle reduces energy transmission losses. The battery pack is installed under the rear seats without compromising cargo or passenger space. Highlander Hybrid's Predictive Efficient Drive system analyzes a driver’s habits, routes, and road conditions, then uses this data to charge and discharge the battery most efficiently.

Toyota expects the Highlander Hybrid to deliver a combined EPA fuel efficiency rating in the mid-30s, a significant efficiency bump up from the 29 combined mpg rating for the previous generation’s AWD version.

The Highlander Hybrid's standard Safety Sense 2.0 suite of active safety systems includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high-beams, and pre-collision with pedestrian detection. Two new features are lane-tracing assist and road sign assist.  Lane-tracing assist recognizes lane strips to keep the SUV centered in its lane, while road sign assist recognizes road signs and notifies the driver to pay attention via visual or audible alerts. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and automated parking with brake assistance are available depending on the trim level.

All trim levels get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Alexa, along with Waze, Wi-Fi, and Sirius XM. Infotainment is controlled on a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen, while the Platinum trim has a 12.3-inch screen. Starting price for the Highlander Hybrid is just over $38,000.

Ford’s popular Escape has been completely redesigned for 2020 with a lower and more car-like look, offering compact crossover buyers plenty of options with gasoline, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid versions. The gasoline and standard hybrid are available with front- and four-wheel-drive, while the plug-in hybrid is available exclusively with front-wheel drive. Gasoline versions come in S, SE, SEL and Titanium trim, while the hybrids offer SE and Titanium trim choices.

Although the new Escape's dramatic restyling may make it appear smaller than the previous generation, it is actually a bit longer and wider with a slightly lower roofline. Interior space has increased with additional rear legroom and up to 37.5 cubic feet of useable space behind the rear seats. A Panoramic sunroof is available on specific models.

Escape is available with either a 1.5 liter, three-cylinder EcoBoost engine producing 180 horsepower, or a 2.0 liter EcoBoost four-cylinder delivering 250 horsepower. Both come with start-stop engine technology to enhance efficiency. The 1.5-liter engine is standard on S, SE, and SEL models with the 2.0-liter standard on the Titanium and optional on the SEL.

The 1.5-liter engine has cylinder deactivation that shuts down one of the cylinders under low-load conditions, allowing it to operate as a two-cylinder engine for improved fuel economy. Both engines connect to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0-liter engine adds SelectShift with paddle controls. The three-cylinder EcoBoost powerplant is available with standard front- or optional all-wheel drive, while the four-cylinder comes only with all-wheel drive. Tow rating for the three-cylinder Escape is 2000 pounds with the four-cylinder capable of towing 3500 pounds.

Both hybrids use an Atkinson cycle, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with two electric motors. The hybrid offers a combined 198 horsepower, while the plug-in offers a slightly higher 209 horsepower rating. A PowerSplit electronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) transfers power to the road. The hybrid uses a 1.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, while the plug-in hybrid has more powerful 14.4 kWh pack that provides an estimated all-electric range of 30 miles. Both battery packs fit under the floor.

The Escape PHEV has a Level 1/Level 2 AC charging port. Using a household outlet and the 110-volt Level 1 charger requires about 10 to 11 hours for a full charge. Charge time is a much quicker 3.5 hours using a home or public 240-volt Level 2 charger.

Ford's CoPilot360 driver assistance features are standard on all models. These include Cross Traffic Alert, Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking, Auto High-Beam Headlamps, Lane-Keeping Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, and Rear View Camera.  Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go and lane centering plus Park Assist are optional on Titanium models. A voice activated navigation system is available.

The Escape’s 8-inch touchscreen, standard on all but the base S trim, comes with Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system that’s compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In addition, 4G LTE Wi-Fi is standard on all versions. A 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster is optional on all but the base S model. An optional head-up display projects images on a six-inch screen rather than on the windshield.

The gas models and the hybrid will go on sale in fall 2019 with the plug-in-hybrid Escape will arrive in spring 2020. Prices and fuel economy data have yet to be announced.

Hyundai’s new 2020 Venue 5-door SUV is aimed at city dwellers. With an overall length of about 13 feet, it is the smallest vehicle in the Hyundai lineup. It can seat four, or five in a pinch. In addition to a 60/40 split, flat-folding rear seat, the Venue offers a convenient dual-level cargo floor. The Venue will be available in SE and SEL trim levels.

Power comes from a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 130 horsepower. A six-speed manual is available on the SE while the SEL comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is not available. EPA estimated fuel economy numbers are not out yet, but it’s expected the Venue will deliver somewhere in the range of 33 combined mpg.

For a very affordable vehicle, the Hyundai comes with a host of driver assist systems either as standard or optional equipment.  These include Blind-Spot Collision Warning, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Rear Collision Cross-Traffic Warning, Active Lane Control, Automatic Emergency Braking, and Auto Headlight Control. In addition, Standard Driver Attention Warning detects driver fatigue or carelessness.

A standard 8-inch touchscreen located in the center of the dashboard provides infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Bluetooth connectivity is also provided along with a USB port. Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system also features integration with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

 Most remote features, including remote car start, are also available via an optional Hyundai’s Blue Link mobile app and Navigation with real-time traffic is optional.

Arriving at dealer showrooms in the fourth quarter of 2019, we expect it to offer a very attractive price-of-entry between $17,000 to $18,000.         

There are countless reasons to visit California’s picturesque Monterey Peninsula, home of historic Monterey with its Cannery Row of Steinbeck lore, Fisherman’s Wharf, and charming Carmel-by-the-Sea. We’ve taken road trips to this storied destination many times over the years on holidays, to take in races at Laguna Seca Raceway (now Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca), and attend automotive events of one stripe or another.

The drive from Los Angeles to Monterey is one of contrasts. Heading north on California’s Highway 101 from Southern California, you’re treated to diverse scenery ranging from crowded cityscapes to rolling hills and wide-open spaces. It’s when you reach Ventura that things begin to markedly change. This is where, for a time, your vista to the west gives way to brilliant blue Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands, signaling a welcome transition that finds you leaving city life behind for the more relaxed lifestyle of the Central Coast.

The next 275 miles are quite scenic with such jewels as Santa Barbara, the Riviera of the Pacific; San Luis Obispo, a wonderful mission town with its circa-1772 Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa; and the bucolic Paso Robles, a short drive after cresting the Cuesta Grade.

Our latest road trip to the area began in San Luis Obispo behind the wheel of a 2019 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, one of this automaker’s high-profile answers to driving ‘green.’ Our drive this time was via US 101 to Salinas and then SR 68 to Monterey, an easy 2 1/2-hour trip. Along the way you pass through a landscape of rolling hills, farmlands, and wide-open spaces dotted with fruit and vegetable stands, small towns, and a few modest cities that are worth a quick visit if you have the time.

A spectacular alternative is negotiating winding Highway 1 from San Luis Obispo to Monterey, the most awe-inspiring section of California’s historic El Camino Real (Spanish for “The King’s Highway”). El Camino Real is the heart of the historic Mission Trail that connects the state’s 21 Spanish missions established between 1769 to 1833, running from San Diego to Santa Cruz . From Cambria to Monterey, this section of El Camino Real hugs the coastline and goes through Big Sur, providing truly breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean along the way. Be prepared for at least a 4 hour or longer drive on this more leisurely route, hence the reason we take US 101 more often than not. Still, we drive Highway 1 every few years as a reminder of just what an unhurried and sensory fulfilling road trip can be for the soul.

As the miles roll by, it isn’t lost on us how the Sonata Hybrid is a stylish and accommodating vehicle for our road trip. The hybrid variant of Hyundai’s popular Sonata sedan is quite fuel efficient at a rated 46 mpg on the highway and 40 mpg in city driving, which goes a long way toward mitigating carbon emissions. It’s also ideal for road trips with a driving range up to 668 miles on a tank of fuel.

While the Sonata Hybrid has the overall bold and distinctive look of its conventionally powered counterpart, there are some distinguishing features. These include a slightly different front and rear fascia and aerodynamic wheels that help achieve a low drag coefficient of 0.24. It’s powered by a 2.0-liter GDI Atkinson cycle, 4-cylinder engine with a Blue Drive parallel hybrid system. Engine output is 154 horsepower with 140 lb-ft torque to provide spirited and confident driving.

Like all Sonatas, the hybrid offers standard Bluetooth with audio streaming and a 7.0-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Standard safety tech includes blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert. New standard features on the Limited trim include automatic emergency braking, smart cruise control with start/stop, and lane keeping assist. Importantly the Sonata comes with a hefty 5-year or 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, or 10 years and 100,000 miles of coverage for the powertrain.

As we arrive in Monterey, we’re reminded of the very special nature of this place. Views here are among the awe-inspiring in the world. If you ever have reason to question that, just take a leisurely journey along the area’s famed 17 Mile Drive from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach as the route hugs the Pacific coastline.

Stop along the way at such scenic vistas as Spanish Bay, Bird Rock, Stillwater Cove, and Point Joe, where converging currents create a mesmerizing and constantly restless sea. Take time to appreciate The Lone Cypress, which has majestically withstood the elements for over 250 years. Take in the stately Lodge at Pebble Beach and appreciate the Pebble Beach Golf Links, considered one of the finest golf courses in the world, then get a bite at one of the resort’s excellent restaurants.

Beyond its grandeur, there are other compelling reasons to head to the Monterey Peninsula. One of the highlights is the annual spectacle of Monterey Car Week each August, a celebration of classic and modern vehicles with a 10-day series of events capped by The Quail – A Motorsports Gathering at Quail Lodge & Golf Club, and the renowned Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance that’s taken place at this famed golf resort for the past 60 years.

We recently attended both along with other elements of Monterey Car Week, including Exotics on Cannery Row and classic car auctions with some of the most amazing and historic automotive iron on the planet. In recent years, these events have seen a major showing by automakers at exhibits and pavilions as they display their current vehicles, along with concepts, pre-production, and electrified models. Examples of advanced and electrified vehicles on hand included the electric Polestar 1, Porsche Mission E, Karma Revero, Mercedes-AMG Project One, and Byton K-Byte.

Beyond the visceral thrill imparted by all manner of automotive history on display, one of our most memorable moments was during an afternoon at the Mecum Auction. Here, we witnessed a vintage Porsche 550 Spyder (think James Dean) bid up to $925,000…without selling because it failed to meet the seller’s reserve price.

More often than not, our sojourns to the area have included stays at the seaside Monterey Plaza and Clement Monterey hotels, or the Portola Hotel at Monterey Bay adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf. The Carmel Valley Ranch Resort, where you can appreciate an inevitable greeting by deer and perhaps even wild turkeys, is also a favorite. All are located within easy reach of such memorable Monterey attractions as Fisherman’s Wharf, the historic Carmel Mission, the Maritime Museum of Monterey, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the historic Carmel Mission that was founded in 1771 by the Franciscan friars.

Heading home with the sights and sounds of Monterey behind us, we can only say that this is one road trip that everyone should take at some time in their life, if it’s in the cards. Doing so in the month of August when Monterey Car Week is happening, of course, makes it all the better.

Photography by Sheree Gardner Cogan

Internal combustion engines power the vast majority of the cars and trucks on the road today. That’s not by any means a bad thing. While electrification of our cars dominates most of today’s headlines and resources, the internal combustion engine is still what moves most of us from one place to another.

These tried-and-true powerplants have evolved to meet modern requirements in ways that lend flexibility to current and future needs. A primary advantage to internal combustion is that engines can be powered by multiple fuel sources including gasoline, diesel, and an array of alternative fuels. That flexibility provides options moving forward.

Hybrid cars and trucks, in all their configurations, are a gateway to pure electric vehicle acceptance. Gasoline-electric hybrids rely on an efficient internal combustion engine to function. The hybrid envelope has expanded in recent times to include plugin models that can travel varying distances on pure electric power as well.

Automatic start-stop function is an important technology that makes internal combustion vehicles more city-friendly by shutting an engine off when stopped at a traffic light for more than a few seconds, eliminating unnecessary idling emissions. The engine remains off as long as a driver’s foot is on the brake pedal and the vehicle is not in motion. When the light changes, lifting off the brake immediately restarts the engine and you drive away.

Fuel economy improvements, lower carbon emissions, and overall emissions reductions are also being accomplished by other strategies. Among the most prominent is engine downsizing, which allows the use of smaller displacement engines boosted with power-adding technologies like turbocharging. The old adage, ‘there’s no replacement for displacement,’ is being successfully circumvented by smart engine downsizing.

Some elegant solutions are presenting themselves. One example is Nissan’s VC-Turbo, the world’s first variable compression production engine. Modifying engine compression ratio through sophisticated computer control allows adjusting compression in real time, optimizing efficiency and performance depending on driving conditions.

Another example is the introduction of Chevrolet’s next-generation Dynamic Fuel Management in Silverado 5.3-liter and 6.2-liter V-8 engines. This advanced technology optimizes power and fuel efficiency through cylinder deactivation, determining 80 times-per-second how many cylinders are actually needed for real-time driving needs, with the engine running on as little as a single cylinder to save fuel and decrease carbon emissions.

Gasoline engines have traditionally required a spark plug to ignite the fuel-air mixture in an engine’s combustion chamber to drive a piston. More thermally efficient diesel engines create ignition as a piston compresses the fuel-air mixture at high pressure, without a plug. So, what if you could combine the best of both worlds and make a gasoline engine work more like an efficient diesel? 

It now appears the technology is ready for prime time and production. Mazda’s new SKYACTIV-X is set to become the world’s first production engine to use compression ignition in a commercially available gasoline engine. The automaker’s proprietary Spark Controlled Compression Ignition design provides considerable torque during acceleration, along with sharp engine response, improved fuel efficiency, and lower emissions. 

The worldwide push toward electric vehicles has yielded some surprising consequences. One is an all-out effort to make combustion vehicles better and more competitive with the advancement and sharing of technologies across all platforms.

Is the internal combustion engine dead? Hardly. It just keeps getting better, more efficient, and technologically advanced as the years roll by.

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.