Test Drive: 2013 Ford Escape

Test Drive: 2013 Ford Escape

2013,Ford,Escape,mpg

2013 Ford Escape

Ford Escape is not the first compact crossover, but it has been a best seller over the last 13 years and leapfrogged the Honda CRV for 2013 compact-crossover sales leadership.

There are a lot of reasons for its success and number one is fuel economy. The all-new 2013 Escape all-wheel drive version with a 1.6-liter EcoBoost four cylinder has an EPA rating of 22/30 mpg city/highway and 25 mpg combined city/highway. That highway rating qualifies it for membership in Clean Car Report‘s 30 mpg AWD club.

The 2013 Escape is a radical departure from its former old school boxy styling. It’s essentially an American take on Ford’s highly regarded Kuga sport utility sold in Europe. It shares the basics of its structure with a variety of Ford vehicles that include the Focus compact sedan and hatchback and the C-Max hybrid hatchbacks. This is a state-of-the-art platform boasting a well-sorted four-wheel independent suspension.

While the previous Escape carried design elements popular with the truck-based SUVs that dominated in the late 1990s, the 2013 replacement looks more like a sleek new compact station wagon with a slightly elevated ride height. That’s essentially what it is: a four-door, five-passenger utility vehicle based on the underskin platform of the Focus compact car.

The shaped-in-Europe body design features trendy air intakes that dominate a bold nose, wheel arches that are muscled-up and a raked-back windshield. The rear is highlighted by large angular taillamps, a small spoiler and dual exhaust tips.

It’s also larger inside and out, growing 3.5 inches in overall length and 2.8 inches in wheelbase. That makes the new Escape about as long overall as the compact-crossover norm. The nearly 40 inches of front and rear seat headroom is among the best in class, but there’s less rear-seat legroom than in the Honda CRV or Toyota RAV-4. Escape also trails the Honda and Toyota for cargo volume, with a so-so 34.3 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 68.1 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

The 2013 Escape’s cabin features swooping shapes and a curved dashboard of complex intersecting angles. Grained and soft-touch panels, faux aluminum trim, and sturdy-feeling switchgear are well above the norm for this class.

2013,Ford,Escape,interior

2013 Ford Escape Interior

The new dashboard incorporates a display screen for the many infotainment features. It cascades into a sloped center console that contributes to a cockpit feel. Ice blue gauges are housed in large pods that locate an LCD information screen between the speedometer and tachometer.

Escape offers a tiered lineup that includes the base S, better equipped SE and top-line Titanium models. Exterior and interior trim and appointments escalate accordingly, and even the base model comes standard with keyless entry, power locks, windows and mirrors, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable driver’s seat, cruise control, air conditioning and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, a USB/iPod interface and an auxiliary audio jack.

For model year 2014, a rearview camera and Ford’s innovative Sync system become standard. Sync provides hands-free connectivity for communications, navigation, and entertainment services.

Gee Whiz Features

The Ford Escape is the compact-crossover technology and connectivity leader – while also offering some novelties sure to impress neighbors.

Optional is the MyFord Touch with navigation. This system builds on Sync, and essentially replaces conventional dashboard buttons and knobs with touchscreen interfaces. Smart phone users quickly learn its operation, for others it can be frustrating.

Also available is the Blind Spot Information System with cross-traffic alert to warn of vehicles in the driver’s over-the-shoulder blind spot or those approaching from the sides when backing from a parking-lot space.

In the impress-the-neighbors category, the Escape offers Ford’s Active Park Assist, which can identify a suitable parallel parking space and literally take control to steer an Escape into it while the driver simply modulates the brake pedal. Similarly, the available hands-free power liftgate allows an owner carrying the keyless-entry fob in a pocket or purse to unlock and open the power rear hatch by simply waving a foot below the rear bumper.

Powertrains

A trio of four-cylinder engines – two are EcoBoost – comprise the Escape’s power lineup, and each connects to a six-speed automatic.

Ford’s EcoBoost engines use a turbocharger for an added “boost” of power. They use direct fuel injection to optimize combustion, and have variable camshaft timing for intake and exhaust efficiencies that enhance fuel economy.

Offered only on the base model is a conventional 2.5-liter 168-horsepower engine carried over from the previous Escape. Available in

2013,Ford,Escape,mpg

2013 Ford Escape

front drive only, it returns an EPA-estimated 22/31/25 mpg.

The top engine choice has been the EcoBoost 1.6-liter that puts out 178 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque and has the best fuel economy: 23/32/25 mpg with front drive and 22/30/25 with AWD. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost is the sportiest engine rated at 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque with fuel economy rated at 22/30/25 with front drive and 21/28/24 with AWD.

Escape’s AWD system is crossover-typical – normally operated in front-drive and automatically reapportioning power to the rear wheels when the fronts begin to slip, and never intended for severe off-road duty. Working in concert with Torque Vectoring Control and Curve Control, it improves handling on dry pavement, as well as wet, snowy or icy roads.

On The Road

The Escape sits low enough to allow ease of entry and exit, but high enough to give a good view of the road ahead. Steering wheel adjustments along with the height adjustable driver’s seat make it easy to find a comfortable driving position.

Up front, we were cosseted in firm, well-bolstered seats upholstered with comfortable charcoal black fabric. As a compact, controls lay easily to hand, although fussing with MyFord Touch was an irritant.

From a stop, the 1.6-liter’s spunky quartet of cylinders aided by the turbocharger delivered a very brisk send off. It took a couple of days to train the right foot’s pressure on the accelerator pedal to avoid jackrabbit starts. But the turbo’s boost of power was appreciated when merging onto the Interstate and passing on two lane highways. Cruising was basically effortless and there was surprisingly little wind or road noise.

We found the ride quality to be firm yet supple. In theory, the European suspension design should give the Escape good ability to isolate bumps without transferring harsh impacts to other wheels. In practice it works well, too – the overall ride was comfortable, and good damping meant it settled down quickly after crossing larger road rash. The suspension kept the body roll well under control on the few sharp curves encountered.

The electric power steering is reasonably well tuned, not sports car-accurate, but quick and light enough. Brakes were a tad touchy but yielded short, straight stops.

A fill-up after 179 miles of mixed driving yielded 27.7 mpg, almost 3 mpg more than the EPA’s estimated 25 mpg combined city/highway.

Bottom Line

At first glance the Ford Escape is competitively priced. The 2014 model-year base S starts at $22,700. The step-up SE has a sticker price of $25,550 for front drive, $27,300 for AWD. Competitive yes, but once you starting adding those nifty options, it becomes one of the most expensive choices in its class. And then there’s the flagship Titanium priced starting at $29,100 for front drive and topping $30K for AWD.

But what you get for you money is an uncommonly talented compact crossover. The Ford Escape offers sexy exterior styling, a top-drawer interior, more connectivity and high-tech features than any competitor and, if fun driving is important to you, it’s the benchmark for handling.

Oh, there’s also that 30 miles-per-gallon on the highway across the board.

If you liked this story, here are other related ones to explore:

2013 Honda CR-V Road Test

Top 10 4WD/AWD SUVs for MPG

AWD Cars & Trucks with the best MPG

 

 

2013 Acura ILX: Comparison Drive

2013 Acura ILX: Comparison Drive

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Acura ILX Premium

Dilemma: Green Driving or Wahoo! Driving?

At Clean Fleet Report we’re about hybrid cars, plug-in cars, pure electric cars and alternative fuel vehicles —mostly. We are also driving enthusiasts, and when the opportunity presents itself, we never say no to test driving a car that dishes out lots of Wahoos!

That’s what we did with Acura’s new 2013 ILX compact sedan. After a week with the ILX Hybrid, we swapped it for the ILX Premium—think of it as a more refined and luxurious Honda Civic Si that costs just $300 more than the Hybrid.

The ILX Premium is only available with a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission. The tight action and high rpm characteristics of the 201 horsepower 2.5-liter engine work superlatively with this gearbox.

Underway, the Premium cruises at highway speed with minimal effort. Put your foot down on the drive-by-wire throttle, and 60 arrives in a quick 6.7 seconds from stop. Throttle response is crisp and immediate. This four cylinder builds power with the strength and smoothness of a six.

The overall balance is close to rear-wheel drive cars. It’s quite nimble, with just a touch of front push on turn-in. Press it hard and the tail drifts out in a smooth, predictable manner. You can drive this car with both steering wheel and throttle.

Dancing with the LXI on curvy two lane backcountry roads elicited a Wahoo! at every turn. But the reality is, most of the time— like everyone else—we drove the car in everyday traffic on a variety of road surfaces. The suspension said no sweat to patchy roads. It swallowed the worst of them with no bouncing or tipping or jolting. The suspension’s combination of firm for the curves and comfortable on the street is exceptional.

Hybrid vs HyFun!

After collecting our Wahoos!, we became serious about fuel economy. Just what kind of gas mileage could be wrung out of this little pocket rocket?

We clocked 251 miles on the trip odometer, 57 of which we weren’t thinking about fuel economy. The balance of the miles were dedicated to sensible driving: no jack rabbit stops, lifting off the go pedal long before coming to a

Acura,ILX,Premium, interior,6-speed

Acura ILX Premium Inteior

stop and a lot of short shifting—1st to 3rd, 3rd to 6th. We always kept pace with the flow of traffic, including some short stints on the freeways.

When we topped up with gas, divided the miles driven by the number gallons the results were 29.4 mpg. Certainly not close to the 41 mpg the Hybrid delivered the week before, but it was a significant 5 mpg increase over the EPA’s estimated 25 mpg.

If you view driving as mostly going from point A to Point B in the most fuel-efficient manner, than there is no dilemma, the ILX Hybrid fits your needs. But if you prefer taking the long way on roads less traveled that elicit Wahoos! when driving from point A to point B, then perhaps the choice becomes more difficult.

Green driving or Wahoo! driving? A dilemma that can only be solved by test driving both.

Note: A lot of Wahoos! and 29.4 mpg seems like a logical choice to me.

Other related articles:

2013 Acura ILX Hybrid Test Drive

Top 10 Hybrids That Will Really Save You Money

Top 10 Best-Selling High-MPG Cars

 

 

 

Test Drive: 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid

Test Drive: 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid

Acura,Honda,ILX Hybrid,mpg, fuel economy

2014 Acura ILX Hybrid

In a step back towards its roots, Acura, Honda’s luxury division, is once again offering a less-is-more entry luxury compact car. Slotted below the TSX, the 2013 Acura ILX is somewhat reminiscent of the 1986-2001 Integra, but outfitted with more luxury. This time around Honda’s entry-level car will come with some environmental credentials and therefore deserves a review in Clean Fleet Report.

Like the Integra before it, the ILX shares its platform with the latest generation Honda Civic. However, don’t dismiss the ILX as just a dressed up Civic with an Acura nameplate; there are noteworthy engineering changes and interior refinements. Three models are available — base, Wahoo! and green. The base ILX is priced starting at $26,900 and is equipped with a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission. For lots of Wahoos, the ILX Premium is powered by a 201 horsepower four connected to a close-ratio six speed manual shifter and is priced at $29,200.

The green version is the ILX Hybrid, Acura’s first ever hybrid offering. Ironic considering Honda was the first carmaker to introduce a hybrid, the Honda Insight in 2000. Borrowing the hybrid system from the Civic Hybrid, the ILX Hybrid has a base price of $28,900; add the Technology Package and the price jumps to $34,400.

Honda’s IMA Hybrid System

The 2013 ILX Hybrid employs Honda’s fifth generation hybrid powertrain system that the automaker calls Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). It’s a descriptive name in that an ultra-thin, 17.2-kilowatt brushless electric motor/generator is “integrated” between the engine and transmission and only “assists” the gasoline engine during acceleration, which saves gas. This compares to other hybrid systems where the electric motor can assist the gas engine plus, propel the vehicle on electric power alone. In certain instances, the ILX Hybrid engine does cut off fuel and the car operates briefly on electric power only, but the engine’s parts still move.

Like other hybrid vehicles, the ILX has an idle-stop operation, which shuts off the engine when the car comes to a stop, and then fires up again when the brake pedal is released.

Acura,Honda, ILX Hybrid, fuel economy

Acura ILX Hybrid

When the car is coasting or brakes are applied, the motor performs as a generator and charges the 20-kilowtt lithium ion battery pack located in the trunk.

The 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine features Honda’s i-VTEC intake and exhaust valve control system. The engine produces 90 horsepower and 97 pounds-feet of torque. Powered by the lithium ion battery, the electric motor makes 23 horsepower and 78 pounds-feet of torque for a combined system output of 111 horsepower and 127 pounds-feet.

Completing the IMA system is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that directs power to the front wheels. The CVT consists of a drive pulley and driven pulley that are linked by a steel belt, and operates somewhat like a 10-speed bicycle. It combines the fuel economy of a high-gear ratio manual transmission, the performance of a low-gear manual and the step-less shifting of a conventional geared automatic transmission.

Unlike the Civic, the ILX Hybrid has paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which lets the driver to manually choose seven fixed shift points for the CVT. Manual shifting can be used in either the Drive mode — ideal for most driving situations, or Sport mode — for more performance-oriented driving. For maximum fuel economy, an ECON mode provides increased battery assistance.

Surprising, and puzzling, the ILX Hybrid’s fuel economy rating is 39 mpg city/38 highway and 38 combined while the Civic Hybrid bests those numbers with 44/44/44. The IXL does weight around 100 pounds more than the Civic but…. ?

Styling, Cabin and Features

Styling won’t have you running to the closest Acura dealer; however, the ILX is quite handsome, albeit a tad conservative. Kudos to the designer who toned down Acura’s current overly large, nefarious chrome grille that certainly grabs attention, but for the wrong reasons. The new face has a slender version of the grille that is accented with thin, tapered lower air intakes and gets attention for the right reasons — it’s good design.

Distinct hood creases, pronounced side character lines and shapely rear wheel arches project a sculpted appearance that quietly says luxury. There is little to distinguish the Hybrid from the other two models, just a small rear deck lid spoiler and the now obligatory discrete hybrid badges.

The ILX cabin coddles its passengers in typical Acura fashion. That means comfortable and well equipped. The dash design follows the larger TL sedan’s curved shapes that give the interior a well-crafted appearance of

Acura,Honda,ILX Hybrid,mpg

Acura ILX Hybrid Interior

understated luxury. White on black conventional gauges are well lighted and easily readable. For a quick glance at the myriad infotainment features, a five-inch info screen is placed atop the center stack.

Front seats are supportive in the right places and a standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel makes it easy to find a comfortable driving position. The rest of the ergonomics are straightforward, the switches and controls are high quality and everything is assembled perfectly.

This is compact car so, two rear seat passengers have adequate room, but nix a third person. And, since it’s a hybrid, the battery robs trunk cargo room, reducing it to 10 cubic feet versus 12.3 for its gas-only siblings.

Following Acura’s tradition, the base ILX Hybrid is very well equipped: keyless access with push-button ignition, heated exterior mirrors, speed sensing wipers, leather steering wheel and shift knob and of course, power windows and outside mirrors as well as cruise control. There’s no need to upgrade to the Technology package for features like Bluetooth, a USB port and voice text messaging because they are standard.

Acura doesn’t offer a list of options, rather the company bundles them into packages. The Technology Package is the only upgrade available for the Hybrid model. It includes a navigation system with voice recognition, AcuraLink communication system, leather seating, driver’s eight-way power seat, heated front seats, Xenon HID headlights and rearview camera. For music aficionados with long commutes, the ELB surround sound system alone is worth the additional $5,100 price.

On The Road

With the Honda Civic’s ride and handling reputation of being among the very best in class, engineers had a leg up in tweaking the chassis to conform with Acura’s tradition of overall driving fun with a refined feel in ride and handling. Acura reworked the rear multi-link rear suspension’s geometry, revised bushings and added dampers with two-stage valving at all four corners. The ILX also has a quicker steering ratio for a crisper steering response and body tensional rigidity is increased for added control during cornering.

The upgraded suspension tuning and more rigid body provides a refined ride comfort while delivering agile and responsive handling. Steering is nicely weighted and executes sharp cornering in an effortless manner.

When accelerating rapidly from a stop or merging into fast moving traffic, the ILX doesn’t exhibit much gusto. This can remedied by using the paddle shifters — hold after downshifting two or three gear settings and acceleration quickens. In ordinary driving conditions, however, the powertrain absolves itself well enough and the car becomes a solid performer on the highway.

Around town the Hybrid has a smooth, fairly well damped ride and it’s easy-to-drive and easy-to-park. The highway ride is firm, controlled and pleasant, not harsh. Bumps and those pesky expansion joints have a negligible impact.

One thing that sets the Acura apart from the Civic that lets you know it is in the entry luxury class is the quiet ride. This is accomplished by the use of laminated glass and the audio system’s noise cancellation feature.

But, there is one thing Acura didn’t overcome. When the gas engine restarts after shutting down temporarily at stops, the car shudders as it gets up to speed, just like the Civic Hybrid and that’s a luxury demerit.

Hybrid cars are all about fuel economy and the ILX, like most cars, gas-only powered or hybrid, can deliver fuel economy results that are better than the EPA numbers if driven properly, and I don’t mean hypermiling techniques.

Our travels during a week with the ILX Hybrid racked up 379 miles, 187 miles on Interstates, the balance was mixed in town and some highway miles. Results? Our combined fuel economy was 41 mpg, three mpg more than the EPA’s estimate.

ILX Hybrid in the Marketplace

Acura says the target customers for the new ILX are the younger members of Generation X and members of Generation Y— successful 20- and 30-somethings moving into the luxury car ranks but looking for high-value propositions in their purchases. The automaker is counting on this group of buyers to become longtime Acura customers.

The ILX Hybrid’s only direct hybrid competitor is the Lexus CT 200h. It’s $3,150 more than the Acura but the 43-city/40 highway fuel economy bests the ILX. However, Lexus will soon be dropping the 200h from the lineup, leaving the ILX as the least expensive luxury hybrid.

Acura considers Audi’s A3 a competitor, even though it is not a hybrid. Indeed, the A3 TDI diesel offers excellent fuel economy —  30 city and 42 highway — and has a base price of $30,250, $1,350 more than the ILX.

The ILX fills a gap in Acura’s lineup that has been missing for some time and opens door for new buyers wanting to step up to a premium car without a premium price. The added bonus is there’s a premium hybrid without a premium price.

 

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Acura ILX Hybrid

Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.

More articles you might find interesting:

ILX’s Evil Twin — The Premium 6-Speed (a comparison drive)

Top 10 Hybrids That Will Really Save You Money

Microhybrids Are Big MPG Boosters

Top 10 Green Cars on ACEEE List

 

 

How to find the best price for an electric car

How to find the best price for an electric car

Electric Car Price Wars — Part 2

Chevy, Volt, plug-in hybrid

Chevy Volt Drops Its Price for 2014

Consumers interested in plug-in cars got more good news this month as the Mercedes-built Smart and Chevy Volt both joined the recent moves to drop prices on their models. The Smart dropped lease prices to $139/month, substantially below much of the competition. General Motors in turn announced the Volt’s price was being lowered by $5000. The actions follow similar moves by Nissan for the Leaf, Honda for its Fit EV and Fiat with the 500e, among others, and the announcement that the all-new BMW i3 electric car would start at $41,350 in the U.S.

That latter price was thought to be the catalyst for the Volt move, although it is very early in the electric car market to be attributing pricing countermoves to automakers. That said, the Smart price drop was clearly a reaction to the $199/month lease prices being promoted by Fiat (for the 500e), GM (for the Spark EV) and Nissan for the Leaf. In the same way the gasoline-powered two-passenger Smart is generally priced below the gasoline versions of those four-passenger competitors (or in the EV-only Leaf’s case, the Nissan Versa), it’s clear that Smart needed to drop its lease price to keep consideration of its Smart ED in the mix.

2013 smart,low price, electric car

2013 Smart Electric Drops Lease Price

The Smart ED is the third generation electric car from the Mercedes-Benz sub-brand. It’s substantially improved from earlier versions with stronger performance, but is likely to struggle as its gasoline sibling does since the market for two-passenger cars is limited. Its appeal right now is as the lowest price electric car you can buy. Since most pure electrics are urban-oriented, limited use vehicles (with Tesla’s Model S the pricey exception), the diminutive Smart could yet find a niche. Dealers are reportedly getting additional marketing incentives that could lower prices even more.

Volt Price Drop

They Chevy Volt is in a different place. Since their almost simultaneous introductions, The Volt and Leaf have battled for sales leadership in the plug-in category, though this year the Tesla Model S has been challenging them.  Nissan moved Leaf production from Japan to its Nashville, Tenn., plant this year and has started battery production there as well. The moves allowed Nissan to drop the Leaf price by $6,400 this year, which boosted sales by 2-3 times 2012’s level. Nissan also just announced that they have the capacity to increase Leaf production if sales remain strong or improve.

The Volt with its range-extending technology jumped out to an early lead over the pure-electric Leaf in sales last year, but the race has tightened this year with GM offering lease deals on the Volt to keep it competitive with the Leaf. GM claimed the price drop was possible because of manufacturing efficiencies, but it appears that market pressures may have been the prime motivator of the move. Along with the announcement of the $5,000 price drop for the 2014 model, GM also instituted a comparable $5,000 consumer rebate on 2012 and 2012 models that are still on dealer lots.

General Motors has consistently said it doesn’t expect to make any money on its first generation of the Volt, but hopes to change that with increased volumes and reduced costs with the next generation, due in 2015.

Getting the Same Treatment

As we noted in an earlier article, plug-in cars are starting to get the same treatment in the marketplace that conventional vehicles regularly do – garnering incentives and price adjustments based on consumer response to the vehicle. The additional pressure that electric cars face is that at present none of the models on the market are creating profits for the automakers, so incentive money or price drops add to an existing deficit. As is the case with any model, that strategy cannot play out long term.

In the interim consumers have a great opportunity with little risk (particularly in lease offers). Federal and state incentives added to lowered prices and special deals have brought electric cars into the same prices range as not only hybrids, but even regular gas models, particularly when operating costs are factored in. So the bargain choices are as follows (this is for pure electrics; of course, some of the models have limited availability at present) along with some of the variety now offered (most of the initial EVs on the market are subcompact or smaller cars):

Lowest Price: Smart ED, $139/month lease

Lowest Price 4-passenger: Chevy Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Ford Focus EV, Nissan Leaf – all at $199/month lease

Convertible Electric Car: Smart ED Cabriolet

Electric SUV: Toyota RAV4 EV

If you expand your search to include plug-in hybrids such as the Volt, your choices expand significantly with wagons such as the Ford C-Max Energi, midsize cars such as the Ford Fusion Energi or Honda Accord Plug-In or a plug-in version of the best-selling hybrid, the Toyota Prius Plug-In.

And next year the market will expand even more with new plug-in cars from Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Cadillac, Porsche and Infiniti, among others.

Other similar articles you might find interesting:

Electric Car Price Wars

The Top 10 Electric Cars You Can Buy

Top 10 Best-Selling High-MPG Cars

Electric Cars Are Cleaner Today & Will Only Get Cleaner

Test Drive: 2013 Lexus RX 450h

Test Drive: 2013 Lexus RX 450h

Lexus,RX450h,SUV,hybrid

2013 Lexus RX450h continue to lead hybrid SUVs

Even though the luxury hybrid was somewhat of a novelty when Lexus introduced the RX400h in 2005 as a 2006 model, it quickly followed its gasoline counterpart and became a top-selling model. At the time it was the closest thing to a guilt-free sport-utility vehicle we’d ever seen: luxurious with an impressive assemblage of features and technologies, powerful and more fuel-efficient than its gas-powered sibling, the RX 300.

Since the beginning the RX hybrid has been in the top ten hybrid sales column and was the most popular hybrid sport utility in 2012.

In 2010 Lexus rolled out an all-new RX hybrid, the RX 450h. It not only featured a new exterior and interior design, it offered more power and significantly improved fuel economy.

For 2013 Lexus has given both the gasoline and hybrid RX models a refresh. The most obvious change is a new facelift and includes slight revisions to the backside and a modest interior makeover. Additionally for the RX hybrid, the power liftgate is now standard as is a USB interface for connection to external devices such as iPods. Also, the Sport mode is standard rather than optional for 2013.

The 2013 RX 450h is offered in a front-wheel drive (F-WD) model with a base price of $46,310, an increase of $1,075 over the 2012 model, and an all-wheel drive (A-WD) version starting at $47,710, up $885.

With an EPA combined fuel economy of 30 mpg — 32 city/28 highway — the RX 450h front drive model is the most fuel-efficient sport utility on the road. And the second best? The all-wheel drive version with a rating of 30 city/28 highway/29 combined.

Carryover Hybrid Powertrain

Pop the hood and you’ll find a repeat of the hybrid powertrain introduced in 2010. The system combines a gasoline engine with two electric motors for the front drive model and three motors for the all-wheel drive version. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) and nickel-metal hydride battery pack complete the system.

Like other Lexus hybrids, the RX 450h can operate in electric-only or gas-engine-only modes as well as a combination of both. And, the hybrid system can shut off the engine when the car is stopped, and then turn it on again when the brake pedal is released.

The gas-electric RX is outfitted with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 245 horsepower and 234 pounds-feet of torque. Like many engines used in hybrid vehicles, the RX hybrid’s runs on the Atkinson cycle rather than the conventional Otto cycle. In simple terms, the Atkinson cycle uses less energy to compress fuel and air together, and makes relatively more energy when that mixture explodes. Lexus says this contributes fuel savings of 12 to 14 percent.

The engine runs on exceptionally free-flowing 0W-20 oil. In modern engines, lighter oils are an important fuel economy factor, with less energy lost to friction. For the RX hybrid, less friction allows an oil pump that operates on less power.

In addition, two electric motors join this powertrain. One is an engine-driven generator that operates as an engine starter and can charge the battery pack or power other electric motors as needed. The second is a 155 horsepower motor that works with the gas engine to deliver power to the front wheels. Total output of this pairing is 295 horsepower.

The CVT is charged with managing that output and directing the power to the front wheels. The CVT uses a belt-pulley system instead of a finite set of gears in conventional automatic transmissions. It continuously adjusts gear ratios through a planetary gearset that more precisely matches engine output with acceleration and fuel economy. The driver can “downshift” and “upshift” via the shifter, but these are programmed virtual shift points, not actual fixed gears.

Completing the hybrid system is a 288-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack tucked neatly under the second-row seats. When the vehicle brakes, some of the energy is captured and sent to the battery pack.

The all-wheel drive RX hybrid adds a third, rear-mounted motor-generator. Since it aspires to all-weather mobility instead of all-terrain capability, the motor simply adds more torque automatically to the rear wheels if wheelspin is detected. A dual-range transmission is not offered.

For greater emphasis on efficiency, Lexus has outfitted the RX 450h with both EV and Eco driving modes. In EV, this hybrid functions solely on electric power, but only at low speeds and short distances. The more practical Eco mode works to limit throttle response in order to promote greater fuel economy. In other words, it restrains the engine’s ability to operate at its full potential. The ideal time to use this function is during in-town driving or stop-and-go traffic.

Updated Outside And In

To call the 2013 RX 450h an all-new design is a stretch, but it gains a notable face lift. Like all Lexuses, the RX hybrid has a version of the automaker’s new distinctive grille design. Hourglass in shape — Lexus calls it a “spindle” shape — it has horizontal rather than vertical slats with a center bar in between the upper and lower sections. Headlamps are thinner, almost blade-like highlighted by beaded LED running lights underneath. The net result is a slightly more aggressive face.

Aside from these changes and tweaked taillamps, the RX hybrid continues its sleek, aerodynamic look from front to back. Its raked windshield flows effortlessly into a gently sloping roofline. In other words, it continues to look like an RX.

The no-detail-overlooked interior of the RX 450h is sumptuous with soft leather meeting fingertips at nearly every touch point. Changes for 2013 are subtle, like a redesigned steering wheel that Lexus says has a more

Lexus,450h, hybrid,SUV,fuel economy

Lexus RX450h – High Tech Insides

comfortable and relaxing grip. The glove box has new metallic accents, while a redesigned center console provides improved accessibility and more storage space.

As expected, front seating is all-day comfortable with an abundance of head, shoulder and leg room. This carries to the rear where passengers — three comfortably — will find seats that recline and move fore and aft.

There’s also generous cargo space: 40 cubic feet behind the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats that expands to 80 cubes when they’re all lowered. If you are looking for a third row seat you’ll have to look elsewhere.

While the RX 450h does offer all the high-tech gizmos that have become synonymous with luxury class vehicles, many are an extra cost. Yes, the hybrid does include standard features such as a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, ten-way power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, a nine-speaker sound system, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity and an iPod/USB audio interface.

If you want the full-meal-deal luxury experience, you’ll pay extra. Leather seating is optional as is a moonroof and roof rails that each are part of option packages.

Want a blind spot monitor, a marvelous safety feature? That’s a $500 option. It’s standard on the $23,650 Mazda3 Grand Touring.

How about a backup camera, another excellent safety device? You have to purchase the $860 Display Audio and Camera package. It’s standard on a $24,980 Honda Accord Sport sedan.

Granted, there are some very nifty options: a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, heated and cooled leather seats, dual screen rear entertainment and the superb 15 speaker Mark Levinson audio system. But it all adds up. Our all-wheel drive test vehicle was equipped with every available option with a sticker price of $63,385 plus $895 destination charges.

If you need to be connected, the $2,700 Navigation package is a must. It includes the Lexus Enform application suite. With it you can tap into Internet search engines, apps such as OpenTable, Pandora, and Yelp by pairing a smart phone via Bluetooth or a physical connection.

When you opt for the Navigation system you get the Lexus Remote Touch system, a mouse-like controller that allows moving among a variety of icons on the large dash-mounted screen. It takes a little practice to get the hang of it, but from then on it’s a breeze to operate.

Behind The Steering Wheel

We spent the long President’s Day weekend in Phoenix, where we quickly remembered why people become snowbirds — sunshine, endless blue skies and 75 degrees in February is difficult to beat.

On the top of our to-do list was to revisit Sedona and its red rocks, about 120 miles north of Phoenix. A few minutes after 8:00 a.m. as we loaded a few things in the Stargazer Black RX, the temperature was already nudging 60 degrees. We headed east on I-10 and then north on I-17 through greater Phoenix’s western sprawl, into the city itself, and then up the entire length of the ever growing northern sprawl.

Once suburbia gave way to saguaro, the speed limit increased to 75 mph, which was mainly ignored. So, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Tackling on-road duties is the RX hybrid’s forte. On the highway it acts much like the vaunted ES 300 sedan, just with a higher ride height. The interior remains quiet at speed and the vehicle is stable on the road, regardless of how broken the pavement.

There’s a bit of body lean in turns that lets you know this is taller than a sedan. But it grips the road like a well-designed automobile.

While the RX hybrid may mimic the ES 300, it doesn’t have the same suspension. It has longer travel that soaks up the big bumps particularly well and virtually preventing the small impacts. The ride isn’t quite firm enough to put the “sport” into sport-utility, but it’s plenty comfortable to firmly plant the RX 450h into the realm of luxury vehicles.

The famous red to orange-colored sandstone “Red Rocks of Sedona” seem to appear from nowhere as we round a curve. Choose an adjective —spectacular, astounding, wondrous, incredible, etc., etc.  None seem adequate to describe their splendor. Sedona’s elevation is around 4,500 feet, with some rock formation ascending to more than a mile-high.

The red rocks aren’t the only attraction that draws more than four million visitors annually to Sedona (half of which seemed to be there on the day of our visit). The town is a major arts center with art galleries lining Sedona’s two main thoroughfares.

Slowly scouring the streets in search of a parking space, the hybrid powertrain performed its role as an electric vehicle flawlessly. Light-footed driving saw the RX deliver its power in a smooth, virtually noiseless manner and, of course, no nasty exhaust emissions.

Our previous experiences with the Lexus RX hybrid have yielded fuel economy that was at or exceeded the EPA estimates. However, keeping up with the flow of traffic in the far left lane on I-17 took its toll. A fill up after 312 miles of travel resulted in 25.3 mpg, nearly 4 mpg less than the EPA’s combined average. But, that was somewhat consoling when I thought about the fuel mileage of the full-size SUVs and pickups that whisked past us when our speedo was planted at 85 mph.

Economics

The 2013 RX 450h is pricey, $6,650 more than its non-hybrid sibling, the RX 350. The question is, is the fuel efficiency boost of 14 mpg city and only 3 mpg highway worth the additional dollars? With the current price of gas at $3.75 per gallon according to AAA, if most of your driving is city or urban, the hybrid is a pretty good choice. If you do more highway driving than city, the gas-powered RX may be a better choice.

Lexus pioneered the luxury hybrid SUV segment, but there are a couple of other hybrid choices.

Audi’s 2013 Q5 Hybrid is a tad smaller inside than the RX and its 30 mpg highway fuel economy equals the Lexus. However, city driving can only muster 24 mpg in town. The starting price of $50,900 is $4,590 more than the RX but it comes standard with all-wheel drive, leather interior, navigation and a sunroof.

If performance and handling trump fuel economy, then Porsche’s Cayenne S Hybrid with a price starting at $69,850 shouldn’t be overlooked. And if you need an SUV that can seat seven or even eight passengers and can tow up to 5,800 pounds, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is your only choice. It starts at a hefty $74,425, but bear in mind that it has a truck-based chassis platform and won’t provide the smoother ride quality as the Lexus.

Bottom line: In general, the 2013 Lexus RX 450h is the perfect all-purpose vehicle as an everyday hauler of full-size people and their stuff. It’s at its best around town, picking up people and delivering people and doing so in all kinds of weather. Plus, it delivers the best fuel economy of any sport utility.

Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing

Some related articles of competitive vehicles you might find interesting:

2013 Honda CR-V Road Test

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV First Drive

Top 10 AWD/4WDs with the best MPG