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.
So what to do with old electric vehicle batteries? Here’s one approach: Toyota and Chubu Electric Power Co. will be constructing a large-capacity storage battery system that reuses recycled batteries from Toyota electric vehicles. This aims at addressing two key issues. It deals with ways to make use of aging EV batteries that have reached the end of their useful life for vehicle propulsion, while also enabling Chubu Electric to mitigate the effects of fluctuations in the utility’s energy supply-demand balance, a growing issue caused by the expanding use of renewable energy.
Initially, the focus will be on repurposing nickel-metal-hydride (Ni-MH) batteries since these have been used in large numbers of electric vehicles for nearly two decades. The focus will then expand to include lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries by 2030. Li-Ion batteries have generally powered the second generation of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids in more recent years, and thus will not reach their end-of-use for electric propulsion for some time still.
The energy storage capabilities of EV batteries diminish over time and after continuous charging and discharging. Eventually they become insufficient for powering electric cars but can still store adequate energy for other purposes. Even with their diminished performance, combining them in large numbers makes them useful for utilities and their efforts to manage energy supply-demand.
Based on the results of their initial work, the plan is to provide power generation capacity of some 10,000 kW by 2020. In a related effort, Toyota and Chubu Electric will be exploring ways to ultimately recycle reused batteries by collecting and reusing their rare-earth metals. The automaker has explored battery recycling in the past including at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch field campus in Yellowstone National Park. Here, 208 used Toyota Camry Hybrid battery packs are used to store renewable electricity generated by solar panel arrays.
Plug-in vehicles are on a roll. That’s not to say that battery electric or plug-in hybrids will eclipse internal combustion or hybrid vehicles in the market anytime soon. But the fact that there are 40 plug-in models available in the U.S. during calendar year 2017 speaks volumes on how seriously automakers are taking electrification.
In the market for a plug-in vehicle? Here are your options this calendar year. Prices do not take into account an available federal tax credit up to $7,500 that may apply, or state incentives that can range up to $5,000 or more. Happy hunting!
AUDI: Audi has big plans for plug-in vehicles in its lineup, although the A3 e-tron represents the solitary choice at present. That said, it’s a good one since the A3 has long been a popular and approachable model in the U.S. and represents the right starting point for Audi. Offered at a base price of $39,500, this plug-in hybrid provides 16 miles of battery electric range and an overall driving range of 380 miles. The automaker plans to have three e-tron models within the next three years and others coming after that.
BMW: This automaker is a prolific marketer of plug-in vehicles. Its sole all-electric model is presently the innovative i3, which features a base price of $42,400. It emerged with a larger battery pack in the 2017 model year. The i3 BEV is powered by a 60 AH battery that delivers an EPA rated 81 mile range, with the 94 AH battery variant providing 114 miles of all-electric driving. The i3 REx comes with an engine-generator range extender that enables 97 miles on battery power and an overall range of 180 miles with electricity generated on board. Five additional plug-in hybrids are in BMW’s stable including the sporty i8 ($143,400), 330e $44,100), 530e ($52,950), 740e ($90,700), and X5 xDrive40e ($56,600).
CADILLAC: The short-lived Cadillac ELR extended range electric car, an upscale version of the Chevrolet Volt, was a flash-in-the-pan that illustrated you couldn’t market a high-end – and high priced – plug-in hybrid based on a lower-price Chevy model and get buyers to step up. Cadillac’s answer is its all-new CT6 Plug-In, a luxury model based on its flagship CT6 sedan offering great tech and style. The CT6 plug-in hybrid delivers a 31 mile all-electric range and a 440 miles driving range overall, at a base price of $76,095.
CHEVROLET: GM has the technical prowess to create exceptional electric vehicles, as shown by the acclaimed Chevrolet Volt extended range electric sedan that’s beloved by its owners. The $34,095 Volt provides a 53 mile battery electric range before reverting to electricity created by its on-board engine-generator, for a total range of 420 miles. Chevrolet’s new Bolt EV raises the bar for battery electric cars with an all-electric range of 238 miles before requiring a charge. This all-electric compact crossover is replete with the latest on-board tech and comes in at an MSRP of $37,495.
CHRYSLER: Chrysler was serious about electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles years ago with many concepts and demonstration vehicles, but that faded away as the company focused on getting its finances and mojo back. As part of FCA Group, Chrysler is once again showing its chops with the field’s first-ever plug-in hybrid minivan, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, much to the delight of families and others who have been waiting for such a breakthrough in this vehicle class. The Pacifica Hybrid drives 33 miles on battery power and 570 miles overall, offering a base price of $41,995.
FIAT: The Fiat 500 is a pint-sized, fun vehicle as a gas-powered model. It’s even more fun in our opinion as an electric. The Fiat 500e is cute, nimble, and delivers 84 all-electric miles of driving. No matter that Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s CEO Sergio Marchionne once said the automaker loses $15,000 on every Fiat 500e sold and wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about that. This automaker is still in the game and 500e fans are a happy bunch because of it. The Fiat 500e features a base price of $32,995.
FORD: Ford is offering the Ford Focus Electric as its sole all-electric vehicle along with two plug-in hybrids. The $29,120 Ford Focus Electric has a range of 115 miles before a recharge is needed. Ford is using its Energi PHEV technology in the CMAX, a five-door, compact multipurpose vehicle and Fusion mid-sized sedan. Energi technology includes a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, 118 horsepower electric motor, and 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery. The $24,120 CMAX Energi delivers 22 electric miles and an overall driving range of 570 miles, while the $31,120 Fusion Energi drives 22 miles on battery power with a total range of 610 miles.
HONDA: The 2017 Honda Clarity was launched first as a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle in California and is being joined by battery electric and plug-in hybrid variants this year. The Clarity Electric will drive 80 miles on batter power and initially be available in California and Oregon only, while the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid is expected to be available in all 50 states. These electrified sedans seat five, are quite spacious, and loaded with connected tech and an array of driver-assist systems. The Electric will be leased at $269 per month for 36 months, with $1,730 down (this folds the federal tax credit into the lease terms). The Clarity Plug-In is expected to deliver an electric-only range of 42 miles with an overall driving range of 330 miles. Honda has not yet announced a price for the Plug-In.
HYUNDAI: Hyundai’s all-new Ioniq comes in hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric choices. At an MSRP of $29,500, the battery electric version features a 124 mile range and an EPA estimated 136 MPGe. It will be available exclusively in California. The plug-in hybrid coming this fall is expected to provide an estimated all-electric range of about 25 miles and hybrid power will take it hundreds of miles past that, although overall range specifics and pricing have not yet been announced. Hyundai’s $34,600 Sonata Plug-in Hybrid, which delivers 27 miles of range on battery power and 590 miles overall, is sold at Hyundai dealerships in 10 states and can be custom ordered elsewhere.
KARMA: Karma Automotive, a new company owned by China’s Wanxiang Group, has revived the defunct Fisker Karma extended range electric car of five years ago and is now manufacturing it in Southern California. Now called the Karma Revero, this grand touring car retains the original’s breathtaking design with some tweaks and benefits from significant technology upgrades and luxury appointments. It’s built on a lightweight aluminum spaceframe and powered by two high-power electric motors energized by lithium-ion batteries, delivering a 0-60 mph sprint in 5.4 seconds. The car drives 50 miles on batteries alone and about 300 miles on electricity generated on board by its 2.0-liter engine-generator. The Revero’s price of entry is $130,000.
KIA: Kia’s plug-in offerings include the boxy, battery-powered Soul Electric that’s been around for a number of years and the more mainstream Optima Plug-In Hybrid sedan. The plug-in Optima variant was missing from the new-generation Optima launch in 2016 but happily arrived with new technology for 2017, at a base price of $35,210. It offers 29 electric miles of driving and 610 miles overall range. The Soul Electric features a 93 mile battery electric range. Coming is the Kia Niro plug-in hybrid, a compact SUV that will join the new Niro lineup in 2018.
MERCEDES-BENZ: Mercedes-Benz is serious about high-efficiency electrics. The automaker is planning at least 10 new plug-in hybrid models with the aim of electrifying nearly all vehicles in its model lineup. Presently available plug-ins in the U.S. market include the B250e electric five-door hatchback, which features a driving range of 87 miles and a base price of $39,900. Plug-in hybrids this year include the $46,415 C350e and $96,600 S550e sedans, plus the $66,300 GLE550e SUV. Each of these delivers 12 to 14 miles of battery electric driving and a 400 to 460 mile overall range.
MINI: For the first time ever there will be a plug-in hybrid from MINI, the MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4. All of the new Countryman variants feature a 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine. The $36,800 plug-in Countryman adds an 87 horsepower electric motor and 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery, providing an EPA estimated all-electric range of 12 miles and an overall driving range of 270 miles. The engine drives its front wheels while the electric motor delivers power to the rear axle.
MITSUBISHI: The eggplant-shaped, four-passenger Mitsubishi iMIEV that’s been knocking around since its introduction seven years ago boasts the lowest cost of entry for a mainstream battery electric car in the U.S., at $22,995. It also has the shortest electric driving range at 59 miles, which may fit the needs of some folks but certainly not all. A 66 horsepower motor provides very modest performance. On the plus side, this battery electric model achieves 112 MPGe efficiency.
NISSAN: Nissan’s LEAF is not only the best-selling electric car in the country, but also in the world with some 250,000 examples on the road. Featuring a unique and highly-recognizable design, it delivers a 107 mile driving range and is EPA rated at 112 MPGe. Power is provided by a 107 horsepower electric motor and 30 kWh battery pack located beneath the floor. An ‘eco route’ feature analyzes available battery power and displays charging stations within range.
PORSCHE: When Porsche offers a plug-in hybrid, you know it’s going to be fast. So it is with the automaker’s new Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, which boasts a total system output of 680 horsepower that brings 0 to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 192 mph. All-electric range is 11 miles with an overall range of 480 miles. Porsche also offers the Cayenne S E-Hybrid that's powered by a 333 horsepower V-6 and 95 horsepower electric motor, a combination that delivers 14 miles of electric driving and an overall 480 mile range.
SMART: The Smart fortwo Electric Drive is an interesting proposition. In general, the Smart has not flourished in the U.S. because the big deal about the Smart is its diminutive physical footprint, a plus in space-impacted European cities but not so much in the wide-open USA. That said, electric drive gives the Smart an environmental edge. It’s powered by a 74 horsepower motor and updated lithium-ion battery pack that reportedly increases electric driving range to 80 miles, up from the previous generation’s 68 mile range. The Smart fortwo Electric Drive comes at a base price of $24,550 with a convertible variant priced at $28,750.
TESLA: Tesla’s Model S luxury sedan, which starts at a base of $69,500 and goes up to $140,000 depending on powertrain and battery, is the longest range battery electric vehicle around. Its base powerplant delivers an electric driving range of 249 miles. The all-wheel drive Tesla Model X SUV starts at $82,500 and delivers 237 electric miles, topping out at $145,000. Powertrain options bring additional range. Tesla’s Model 3, which begins production this month and will be on sale shortly, aims to be the automaker’s first affordable electric at a base cost of $35,000. However, with the Model 3’s large number of preorders it’s expected that Tesla will first deliver highly optioned – and more expensive – Model 3 orders well above the $35,000 base cost.
TOYOTA: The Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid can run on its gas engine or motor alone, or a combination of both. This $27,100 plug-in hybrid features a dual-mode generator drive system enabling both the primary drive motor and motor-generator to provide power when maximum acceleration is demanded. An 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack provides 25 miles of all-electric range, while overall range on electric and hybrid power is 640 miles. It achieves an EPA estimated 54 mpg and 133 MPGe while running on battery power. Prius Prime automatically relies more on electric capability in situations where it is more efficient than running the engine.
VOLKSWAGEN: VW has updated its e-Golf electric hatchback with an improved battery, greater range, and additional on-board electronics. It also benefits from styling updates to give it a crisper look. The latest electrified version of VW’s popular hatch offers a more powerful motor that delivers greater horsepower and torque, plus 50 percent greater electric range at 125 miles per charge. That’s a significant improvement in a world where electric range has become an increasingly important market differentiator. Additional updates include VW’s digital and interactive Digital Cockpit with information presented on a 12.3- inch color screen. The e-Golf has a base price of $29,815.
VOLVO: Volvo’s seven passenger, $67,800 XC90 T8 luxury SUV uses a twin engine plug-in hybrid powertrain for power and increased efficiency. It features the automaker’s 316 horsepower, turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder Drive-E engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The T8 uses an 82 horsepower electric motor on the rear axle and a lithium-ion battery pack that delivers 14 electric miles, with a total hybrid range of 350 miles. Volvo has other plug-in models in the works including its new S90 luxury sedan.
The Toyota RAV4 that emerged an all-new generation SUV in 2013 features a stylish refresh this year with a bolder front fascia, restyled bumpers, and sharper rocker panels. That’s not the big news for 2016, though, because the RAV4 now features an important new addition – the first-ever hybrid powertrain in the RAV4.
While an all-electric RAV4 variant developed with Tesla had previously been offered in limited numbers and markets beginning in 2012 and an earlier generation RAV4 EV was offered in small numbers in the late 1990s, this is a very different scenario. Toyota has priced the RAV4 Hybrid base price aggressively at $28,370 and expects it to represent about 10 to 15 percent of all 2016 RAV4 models sold.
Toyota's two-motor Hybrid Synergy Drive system is used in the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid, the same as in the Lexus NX 300h hybrid crossover. In this application the RAV4 Hybrid comes with Electronic On-Demand AWD-I, making all-wheel-drive standard in the model. Fuel efficiency is rated at 34 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. Driving range is just over 480 miles.
The RAV4 Hybrid integrates a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder gasoline engine and 141 horsepower electric motor to drive the front wheels. A 67 horsepower electric motor provides torque to the rear wheels when the vehicle’s control system senses power is needed. Electrical energy is provided by a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. An electronically controlled continuously variable transmission is used. Several operating modes are provided. ECO mode favors fuel economy by optimizing throttle response and air conditioning output. EV mode allows the RAV4 Hybrid to run solely on battery power for about a half-mile while traveling below 25 mph.
Inside, more premium features are used this year including soft-touch materials on the dash and door panels and a leather steering wheel. A 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display is included in a revised gauge cluster. The five passenger crossover offers ample room for five adults plus 38.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the rear seats, expanding to 73.4 cubic feet with the 60/40 split rear seats folded. Rear-passenger knee room is enhanced with front seats that feature a slim seat back. The rear seatbacks also recline several degrees for added passenger comfort.
The RAV4 Hybrid is one of the first U.S. models to offer Toyota Safety Sense (TSS), a new multi-feature safety system that includes forward collision warning and automatic pre-collision braking. There is also lane-departure alert, radar-based adaptive cruise control, pedestrian pre-collision warning, and automatic high beams. A new Bird's Eye View Monitor with Perimeter Scan provides a live rotating 360-degree view of the surroundings on a 7-inch touchscreen using four cameras mounted on the front, side mirrors, and rear of the car. Limited models include blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts as well.
Subaru is somewhat late to the game when it comes to hybrids, with its first entry – the XV Crosstrek Hybrid – making its appearance in dealer showrooms in recent months. It is based on the automaker’s conventional XV Crosstrek crossover model that debuted late last year.
Like all Subaru models except for the rear-drive BRZ sports car, the XV Crosstrek Hybrid features all-wheel drive, in this case the Active Torque Split version of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive like that used in the non-hybrid XV Crosstrek. The system sends torque to the four wheels all the time and adjusts torque distribution in response to acceleration, cornering, and road conditions.
Likewise, the same 2.0-liter, four-cylinder BOXER engine is installed. The engine is rated at 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft torque. For its in-house-developed parallel hybrid, Subaru adds an electric motor that’s integrated with the automaker’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission. The motor supplies an additional 13.4 horsepower and 48 lb-ft torque, mainly to augment power for acceleration and hill climbing. It can also provide a brief period of all-electric driving.
Surprisingly, the Subaru hybrid uses a nickel-metal hydride battery pack rather than the more advanced (and costlier) lithium-ion batteries favored by many of the latest competitive hybrid models. The battery is kept charged via regenerative braking and fuel economy is helped by a stop-start system. This adds up to an estimated 28 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. This is an improvement of 5 mpg city and 4 mpg highway fuel economy compared to the standard XV Crosstrek.
The XV Crosstrek Hybrid retains the all-terrain capability expected in a Subaru. This includes 8.7-inches of ground clearance, four-wheel independent suspension, and special chassis tuning for more agile handling. The NiMH battery is located beneath the rear seats where it only slightly reduces passenger and cargo capacity.
Subaru’s standard XV Crosstrek Hybrid is available at an MSRP of $25,995. It features a 4.3-inch multi-function color display, exclusive to the XV Crosstrek Hybrid, that shows energy flow according to driving conditions. By switching screens, it displays driving information, entertainment content, and images from its standard rear vision camera. A Touring version is priced at $29,295 that comes with a touch-screen navigation system, leather-trimmed seating, power moon roof, and other upscale features.
Batteries remain the electric car’s most pervasive challenge. After decades of research and development plus billions of dollars of investment, an energy-dense and affordable electric car battery remains elusive. Automakers are acutely aware of this as high battery costs can mean significant losses on every unit sold.
Ford is aiming to meet the challenge head-on with a new $8 million battery lab that’s now operating at the University of Michigan. The goal is to develop smaller and lighter batteries that are also less expensive to produce, resulting in more efficient and affordable battery electric vehicles with greater driving range.
The automaker’s existing battery labs focus on testing and validating production-ready batteries. This new effort will address batteries earlier in the development process, serving as a stepping-stone between the research lab and the production environment. The new lab includes a battery manufacturing facility supporting pilot projects, testing, and state-of-the-art manufacturing to make test batteries that replicates the performance of full-scale batteries.
Battery development is in its infancy and this kind of research is critical, says Ford, as is the need for new chemistries to be assessed in small-scale battery cells that can be tested in place of full-scale production batteries, without compromising test results. The automaker points out that in the span of 15 years, the industry has gone from lead-acid to nickel-metal-hydride to lithium-ion batteries, and it’s too early in the battery race to commit to one type of battery chemistry.