Fun But Ultra-Responsible – A New Midsize Hybrid MPG Leader at 50 MPG.
The New MPG Leader Adds Fun To The Mix
Honda built a legacy of innovation by taking the high road when engineering automobiles that became known as the “Honda Way.” This determined focus resulted in the Civic CVCC engine, the first engine to comply with the 1975 Clean Air Act without a catalytic converter in 1974.
Several other “firsts” followed:
- The world’s first mass-produced aluminum-body automobile, the NSX sports car in 1990;
- First to develop a production-based gasoline engine certified as meeting Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) exhaust levels in 1995; and
- The Honda Insight became the first gas-electric hybrid car sold in the U.S. in 1999.
Of late, however, those who write about cars and the auto industry have suggested that over the past few years Honda has “lost the Honda way” or “lost its mojo.”
Enter the 2014 Accord Hybrid as evidence that the automaker has found its way again; its revived mojo engineered a remarkable hybrid system that delivers an EPA fuel economy rating of 50 mpg city/45 mpg highway and 47 mpg combined.
By comparison, Toyota’s Camry Hybrid, the top-selling midsize hybrid in 2013, has EPA numbers of 43 city/39 higway/41 combined for the LE model, 40 city/38 highway/40 combined for the XLE edition.
For the introduction of its new hybrid system, Honda wisely chose the Accord, a midsize sedan with an unbeatable brew of smart engineering, efficient packaging, and rewarding road manners. It also happens to be Honda’s best-selling vehicle.
Honda offers the Accord Hybrid in three levels. The base model, referred to as Hybrid, is priced at $29,945 including $790 destination charges. Next is the EX-L, $32,965 followed by the top-end Touring, $35,695.
Here are the details.
“Earth Dreams” Hybrid System
The hybrid powertrain architecture employed by the 2014 Accord Hybrid is a mirror of the Accord Plug-in system with the exception of different-sized battery packs. It falls under the umbrella of Honda’s Earth Dreams Technology, an initiative in which the efficiency of internal combustion components, including the engine and transmission as well as electric motor technology, is improved. The goal is a significant reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
Honda calls the Accord’s system: Two-Motor Hybrid Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) System. A mouthful for sure, but it is an elegant engineering design.
i-MMD combines a newly-developed engine dedicated for hybrid vehicles, an electric continuously variable transmission (CVT) coupled with two built-in motors, a lock-up clutch and a lithium-ion battery pack. The system switches between three drive modes – electric-only, hybrid and engine-only drive. The mix of power sources is managed largely by onboard sensors that combine the optimum acceleration and energy usage according to the driving situation.
Producing 141 horsepower and 122 pound-feet of torque of gasoline power, the new 2.0-liter I-VTEC four-cylinder engine incorporates an Atkinson cycle operation, a first for a Honda engine. For added efficiency, the air conditioning compressor and water pump are both powered by the electrical system, and electric power steering eliminates the traditional hydraulic power steering pump. The automaker says it is the most efficient internal combustion engine in the world.
Coupled to the engine are two built-in motors. A 124 kW propulsion motor powers the front wheels while a generator motor that is always connected to the gas engine generates electric energy to drive the propulsion motor when the vehicle is operating in the hybrid mode. Combined, the two motors have a maximum output of 166 horsepower. When they operate in conjunction with the gas engine the powertrain delivers a competitive 196 horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque.
EV Mode will operate the car on electricity only until the energy from the 1.3 kW battery pack located in the trunk is depleted – around two miles in careful city driving. But, it also will also kick in during cruising speeds on flat or downhill roadways.
In hybrid mode, the Accord Hybrid operates similar to the Chevrolet Volt. The gas engine only powers the generator motor, which delivers electrons to the propulsion motor that alone turn the front wheels. If additional energy is produced, it is directed to the battery.
Engine drive mode mechanically couples the gas engine to the drive wheels via the single-speed transmission. This occurs at highway speeds where the 2.0-liter four is most efficient.
The Accord Hybrid’s transmission operates with some of the characteristics of a continuously variable transmission but the E-CVT, as Honda calls it, isn’t actually a CVT. In fact, it’s not like what we would normally call a transmission: no pulleys or belts, no torque converter or drive clutch.
Instead, the E-CVT uses the two electric motors to control both the engine and electric motor rotation via the lock-up clutch. At highway cruising speeds, the clutch is engaged, connecting the drive motor to the generator motor to transmit engine torque directly to the drive wheels. In EV mode, when the battery-powered drive motor is used for either acceleration or regenerative braking, the clutch disengages the gasoline engine from the drivetrain.
The Honda’s standard straight-gate shifter has two selections. The D position is for normal driving, the B (Brake) position provides significantly increased regenerative braking.
Accord received a clean sheet redesign for model year 2013, breaking precedent by shrinking rather than growing in size. It may look longer and sleeker than its immediate predecessor, but the body lost 3.5 inches in
Big Where It Counts
length while interior space was increased.
This latest Accord sedan is a model of family car design. Its relatively flat roofline contributes to exceptional headroom, smart packaging creates generous rear-seat legroom, and large side windows let in lots of light.
Its exterior appearance is not the most alluring car in the class – Ford’s Fusion and the Mazda6 are top contenders for that honor – but it is not without style. An expressive, but not aggressive, grille combined with a curvaceous hood and body sides suggest that the adjective handsome applies here.
What isn’t apparent is low-drag exterior surfaces, including nearly flush windshield glass, that combine with careful underbody tailoring to contribute to fuel economy.
There is little to differentiate the 2014 Accord Hybrid from your basic, garden-variety Accord. But eagle-eyed observers will notice its hybrid badging, blue-accented grille and headlamp lenses, rear spoiler and unique wheels.
The Inside Story
Give credit to the interior designers for continuing Accord’s heritage of near-class-leading roominess. Preserved as well is high-grade passenger-compartment materials and workmanship. All automakers are struggling to cut costs and reduce weight, leading to thinner, hard plastic panels in place of more luxurious padded surfaces.
The Accord avoids this compromise. Every surface the driver and passengers are likely to contact is suitably padded with high-quality looking materials. Panels feel solid to the touch and workmanship is top drawer.
Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button
The dashboard also reflects the designer’s eye. There’s a balanced proportion to the instrument panel shape and layout, and dashboard sophistication is up a notch this year thanks to a standard 8-inch diagonal information screen mounted at its center.
However, there’s a fussiness to the controls that’s bedazzling. Buttons are everywhere, seeming to overtake the center of the dashboard. After a week of driving the Accord Hybrid, I couldn’t grasp the markings and the logic of their groupings to use them casually.
The Hybrid has its own dedicated gauge cluster. Centered is a large, round speedometer with simple numerals on a field of matte-black. To the right, battery charge and fuel level gauges are shown and on the left is a power use gauge. There’s also a power flow meter that shows where the power is coming from – engine, electric motor or both.
Efficient interior packaging delights good engineers and the Accord makes the most of a slightly shortened wheelbase to provide abundant front passenger room.
In-cabin storage space is plentiful, and while the standard Accord’s trunk is family-vacation generous, the Hybrid’s is whittled down in size to a couple’s weekend thanks to the placement of the battery pack.
Tech Feature Rich
The available features list witnesses Honda’s commitment to bringing technology front and center. Standard on the base Hybrid is Smart Entry and Start, a rearview camera system with Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot display, Bluetooth, Pandora integration, SMS text capability, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10-way power driver’s seat and a six-speaker audio system.
A step up to the EX-L model adds Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning systems, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a moonroof, premium audio and the new HondaLink that connects the car via the
Still Right To the Touch
owner’s smartphone to music and media resources such as Aha by Harman, Internet apps, roadside assistance and more.
The high-feature Touring model adds adaptive cruise control and a voice-recognition navigation system.
Standard features on all Hybrid models include Honda’s double-pane Expanded View driver’s mirror, cruise control and a tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio controls.
Behind The Steering Wheel
The 2014 Accord Hybrid is more fun than a responsible midsize hybrid family sedan has a right to be.
A characteristic of the Hybrid’s handling package is torque steer, which plagues many overpowered front-wheel-drive cars. Put your foot to the floor and the Hybrid will reward you with a slight tug to one side on the steering wheel and a chirp from the tires, which is only the churning brew of gasoline and electricity under the hood trying to assert itself.
But who thought that would ever be said about a five-passenger hybrid family car?
OK, a 0-to-60 time of 7.1 seconds isn’t sport sedan quick, but it beats the four-cylinder gasoline Accord with a CVT by a half a second. Oh, it is also quicker than those other hybrid family sedans. You know, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.
Of course rapid starts and exuberant driving takes a toll on fuel economy and isn’t what the Accord Hybrid is about. After a couple of hours and 67 miles of “having some fun,” the instrument panel readout was 37.2 mpg.
A week with the Hybrid and the odometer had added 362.3 miles. Part of our time spent was in Seattle where we logged 63 miles with its steep hills and often narrow streets. The balance of our driving included 167 miles of Interstate and two-lane highways plus, 65 miles of the typical in-town daily errands in our hometown of Olympia.
With the exception of our having-some-fun time, we engaged the Eco mode that softens the powertrain response and operates the climate controls at a conservative setting.
The combination of Eco, a light foot on the accelerator that resulted in driving on battery power much of the time and careful braking, our 65 miles of in-town driving yielded 59.8 mpg. At week’s end, our combined mpg tallied 51.1 – 4 mpg better than the EPA rating.
Honda is the uncommon mainstream carmaker directed by an engineering mindset, and the engineer’s desire for mechanical parts to operate in harmony pervades the Accord Hybrid. There’s a distinct natural feel to the control effort – turn the steering wheel and response is smooth and linear. What you ask the car to do, it does, and in just the doses you request.
A new front suspension employing vertical struts communicates the tires’ interaction with the pavement to further boost confidence. But it’s really a matter of degree, because the Hybrid is not embarrassed by a twisty road.
No midsize car beats Accord’s firm but composed ride quality. A new mechanical damping system uses two pistons. One is tuned to small imperfections on smoother roads; the other tames rough roads, potholes and sudden steering or braking action.
Engineers crafted a more efficient regenerative braking system called Electro Servo Braking. It’s a hydraulic system activated by an electronic actuator, and regenerative braking begins the moment the foot is lifted from the accelerator. In addition to the payoff in efficiency, the brakes stop the car with reassuring quickness without the mushy feeling associated with regenerative brakes.
Using the electric motor as the transmission, like an all-electric car, the motor’s instantly available torque accelerates the Hybrid rapidly from stop. The E-CVT replicates the feel of a traditional set up quite well, however while accelerating at around 28 mph, engine revs wanted to catch up with actual speed much like a conventional CVT. This was a little disconcerting at first, but after a couple of days wasn’t noticed.
The overall handling and ride quality of the 2014 Accord establishes new standards for the midsize class. Add to that an interior that is pleasantly hushed with only appropriate feedback of road noise and the package is likely sending competitors back to their drawing boards.
Bottom Line – Competition/Pricing
At first glance Honda’s pricing of $29,945 for the base model 2014 Accord Hybrid is anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 more than midsize hybrid competitors. Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid is the lowest priced starting at
Fun & 50 MPG – Honda Accord Hybrid Hits It!
$26,445. It’s followed by the Kia Optima Hybrid, $26,700; Toyota Camry Hybrid, $27,140; and the Ford Fusion Hybrid, $27,990.
Take a close look and you will find that Honda doesn’t offer options ala carte. Instead, it favors a model hierarchy in which equipment multiplies as you ascend the price ladder. This can make the Accord Hybrid’s prices appear higher than those of direct competitors, but optioned similarly, bottom lines among the group aren’t usually far apart.
If you’re comparing the Hybrid with the standard Accord, the base Hybrid is equipped similarly to the Accord EX, priced at $26,470, which makes for around a $3,000 price differential compared to the standard Accord.
Once upon a time, we all figured extreme fuel efficiency would be the modern hair shirt – righteous but painful.
Honda gives lie to those dire expectations with the 2014 Accord Hybrid. With it, we have entered a new world of mainstream motoring: Look around at all the inefficient, uninspiring cars on the road. Given the option of driving the one that is ultimately efficient and surprisingly fun, who wouldn’t come up with the extra three bills?
Photos from the manufacturer
Posted Jan. 24, 2014
Other related stories you might enjoy:
My Top High-MPG Cars of 2013
Top 10 Best-Fuel Economy Cars of 2014
Honda Plug-In Accord Hits Emission Milestone
Honda Plug-In Accord Review
2015 Ford F-150 – It’s a game-changer
New Aluminum-Intensive F-150 Pickup Leads the Way.
The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) aka the Detroit Auto Show is where the best and brightest, the newest ideas in cars and trucks appear first. It’s the big stage, and the 2014 NAIAS stage had many stories, but the biggest was that of Ford’s reinventing of its best-seller, the F-150 pickup.
The significance of Ford’s announcement of its aluminum-intensive 2015 F-150 should not be underestimated. Ford presented them as a “challenge to the industry.” This truck has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S
. for 32 years and the best-selling pickup for 37. It is the cash cow of the Ford franchise, bringing in the lion’s share of profits when the company is making money and helping keep it from sinking when times are tough.
Ford’s Got a Corner on Aluminum
As Doug Scott, the Ford Truck Group Marketing Manager, said of the significance of the aluminum move: “It applies to all models, all powertrains.” The weight-loss program should result in fuel economy improvements across the board for all Ford trucks (Ford hasn’t released official EPA numbers). That, in turn, should help them competitively.
Recent ads from its main competitor, the Chevy Silverado, claimed the Chevy pickup’s V-8 turned in better fuel economy than Ford’s V-6. And Ram is introducing a light-duty diesel that should boost its fuel economy.
How Will the Market Respond?
In addition, truck buyers are thought to be conservative, traditionally oriented purchasers more interested in something tried and true (like a perennial best-selling truck) than anything different from what they expect.
Ford began challenging those market assumptions in 2011 when it introduced a turbocharged direct-injection V-6 EcoBoost engine as the preferred engine for their pickup, challenging truck buyers’ tried-and-true preference for V-8s. They’ve had some success and the new version of the pickup will add a brand-new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6, scaling down things even more and doubling the EcoBoost options. Ford said they expect this graphite iron block engine to b the most popular of the four engine options since it will deliver V-8 power with better than V-6 fuel economy and also will employ Ford’s Auto Start Stop technology. But the 2015 aluminum-intensive truck is arguably an even bigger challenge to sell to truck buyers used to a steel-encased truck for their work.
Name’s the same, but not the game
Ford has done something no one else has been able to do in a mass-produced vehicle – take significant weight (up to 700 pounds, varying from model to model) out of a vehicle. That weight reduction, which comes both from the switch to aluminum in the body (450 pounds) and high-strength steel in the frame (60 pounds), enables other weight-saving moves such as being able to use smaller, lighter engines to do the same (or even more) work in a truck that probably will still weigh in at more than two tons. They have been working with aluminum since the 1970s, although this is clearly the biggest engagement with the metal they (or anyone else in the auto industry) has ever attempted, making it a central part of a vehicle so popular that one is sold every 41 seconds.
What F-150 Chief Engineer Pete Reyes said, they have learned things over the years and learned even more during the three-year development process of this truck. One thing they found is that they could upgrade the gauge of the aluminum from their original specs without compromising the weight savings, resulting in a more durable body and bed.
Like Chrysler with its minivan franchise, Ford has been leveraging its massive installed base to pull ideas for improvements to the F-150 for years. But those are the sort of changes that result in incremental improvements and tend to keep a segment leader ahead of the pack. What Ford has done here is no incremental improvement. It’s also unlikely that it came from a customer suggestion. Innovation comes from somewhere else. The 2015 F-150 shows that Ford has got the kind of moxie to keep moving a step (or more) beyond where everyone else might be. We’ll have to wait and see how the market reacts to the new truck, but the same market that has been signing on for EcoBoost engines will undoubtedly embrace the new lighter, but just as capable pickup.
Story & Photos By Michael Coates
Posted Jan. 22, 2014
We’ll watch to see if the F-150 keeps a step ahead
Ford Infuses the Fusion with Start-Stop To Boost Fuel Economy
Fusion adds start-stop in 2014
When it was redesigned for the model year 2014, the Ford Fusion struck an immediate cord with midsize sedan buyers thanks to its dashing good looks, quiet cabin, engaging road manners, excellent fuel economy and a long list of available techno gizmos that shames some luxury sedans.
Ford pushes the powertrain envelope by offering five engines, including three four-cylinder turbos from its EcoBoost engine family, a conventional iVCT (signifying intake variable cam timing, meaning more it’s efficient than its predecessors) plus a Atkinson-cycle engine augmented by an electric motor in the “traditional” gasoline-electric hybrid and the Fusion Energi, a plug-in hybrid. Hidden among those choices was an optional stop-start system called Auto Start-Stop for Fusion SE models equipped with the 1.5-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission.
To clarify for the three Fusion models:
- The base S model offers a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and three EcoBoost options of 1.5, 1.6 and 2.0-liter displacements. Auto Start-Stop comes with the 1.5-liter and its 6-speed automatic transmission.
- The Hybrid and Energi models, which feature a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle engine and CVT transmission, also feature Auto Start-Stop, as do most hybrids.
Fusion’s Stop-Start System
The Fusion’s Auto Start-Stop falls under the “light stop-start” category. The system employs an enhanced starter (read beefed up), a more powerful 12-volt lead-acid absorbed glass matt (AGM) battery and an electrically driven transmission pump that maintains internal hydraulic pressure even with the engine off.
And, to minimize launch delays after engine restart, the transmission is kept in gear even with the engine off as opposed to shifting it into neutral.
The engineering challenge to automakers is to make stop-start systems transparent to the customers. The accessories have to continue working when the engine shuts off and the vehicle can’t jerk or stutter when the engine restarts.
To that end, Ford engineers developed unique algorithms for the brains of Auto Start-Stop – the computer programs that control it – and have filed more than 25 patents for engine and transmission control software functions.
For example, blending the voltage of the alternator and battery when the Fusion is slowing down helps to ensure the driver doesn’t experience any light dimming or sudden fluctuations in ventilation fan speed.
Also, sophisticated signal monitoring for the climate control system and the temperature of the evaporator core keep tabs on the interior. If the cabin temperature begins to rise on a hot day, the stop-start system will restart the engine while stopped to keep occupants cool.
Like most systems, the Fusion’s stop-start can be manually turned off.
Ford says its Auto Start-Stop improves fuel efficiency by about 3.5 percent overall while predominantly city drivers can save up to 10 percent. But, the improved fuel economy is not reflected in the government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated fuel economy ratings because their dictated test procedures don’t include much idling time. That will change with the upcoming 2017-25 fuel efficiency standards, which will give extra credit for “off-cycle” stop-start systems.
For now, the 2014 Ford Fusion SE with Auto Start-Stop will carry on with an EPA estimate of 23 mpg city/36 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined city/highway.
Under The Hood
Powering the Fusion SE with the stop-start option is a new 1.5-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder. Ford’s EcoBoost engines employ a turbocharger for an added jolt (boost) of power. They use direct fuel injection for optimal
Ford’s new EcoBoost engine matches up with start-stop
combustion, and have twin independent variable camshaft timing for intake and exhaust efficiencies that benefit fuel economy and power delivery.
Both of the smaller EcoBoost engines produce 178 horsepower, the 1.6-liter at 5,700 rpm, and the 1.5-liter at 6,000 rpm. Also different is torque: the 1.6’s rating is 184 pounds feet at 2,500 rpm while the 1.5-liter puts out 177 pounds feet at a much higher 4,500 rpm. This could result in a slightly increased 0 to 60 mph time from the 1.6-liter’s 8.2 seconds.
Zero to 60 mph time is an indicator of a vehicle’s ability to adequately merge onto freeways and pass on two-lane highways. The expected additional two or three tenths of second to 60 mph shouldn’t be noticed with the 1.5-liter engine.
Regardless of which engine powers the car, a 6-speed automatic transmission (or 6-speed manual with the 1.5-liter without start-stop) directs the output to the front wheels.
Fusion is a looker. It follows Ford’s “Kinetic” global-design theme also evident in the Focus and Fiesta. It’s characterized by a wide lower front air dam and a distinctive Aston-Martin-style trapezoidal grille flanked by headlights that sweep gracefully into muscular front fenders.
The long, low symmetries and raked rear window add a touch of sophistication. These attributes also contribute to the Fusion’s 0.27 coefficient of drag, a number once reserved only for concept cars.
From the driver’s seat, the surroundings are pleasant with a cabin design that is quite sporty for a mainstream sedan. Instrumentation is appealing, and white numbers on a black background are easy to read. Small screens on either side of the speedometer can display all kinds of information by manipulating buttons on the steering wheel, including navigation if so equipped.
Ford Fusion’s start-stop is a reasonable upgrade to better fuel economy
Front occupants will find excellent head-, shoulder- and legroom along with seats that offer very satisfactory support. In back, where three adults is a crowd, headroom is adequate, but legroom is squeezed.
The Fusion SE is very well equipped with standard features that include keyless entry, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power driver’s seat, air-conditioning, and cruise control. Also included is Ford’s voice-activated Sync audio and cell phone interface and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player, auxiliary jack and a USB port/iPod interface.
Fusion is the feature-laden midsize sedan with options like self-parking, self-correcting lane assist and Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with cross-traffic alert. It warns of traffic in a driver’s over-the shoulder blind spot, or oncoming traffic when backing from a driveway or parking space.
Also available is the MyFord Touch system that allows pairing a smart phone with voice recognition and optional navigation features displayed on its screen.
New options for 2014 include heated and cooled front seats and inflatable rear safety belts.
The 2014 Fusion SE has a starting price of $23,935 plus a $825 destination charge. But that’s equipped with the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an EPA estimate of 22/34/26 mpg.
The stop-start system is only available with the 1.5-liter EcoBoost engine, which is a $795 option. Then, the Auto Start-Stop feature adds $295 for a total sticker price of $25,850.
If you’ve opted to purchase a SE with the EcoBoost engine that ups fuel economy to 25/37/29 mpg, adding an additional $295 for stop-start to gain an additional 3 to 10 percent in fuel economy seems like a no brainer.
Please check out these related articles:
What Is Start-Stop in a Car?
My Top 10 High-MPG Cars From 2013 (includes Fusion Energi)
Ford Expands Energi Plug-in Lineup
BMW’s i3 – one of the fresh faces of 2014
My Hot Picks for 2014 vs. Consumer Reports Hot New Cars & Trucks.
It must be January because everyone feels compelled to present their plan for the year – their hopes and expectations. In the automotive world, that comes down to picking the cars and trucks we think will be the hot ones this year. Consumer Reports, that well-respected Bible of rational evaluation of consumer goods, has published their list, labeled the “10 Hot New Cars And Trucks for 2014.”
I may quarrel with some of the picks, after all, that’s what these lists are all about, but given my focus on advanced technology, alternative fuels and high-MPG vehicles, my first approach is to take their list and hone it down to the cars and trucks that make sense for me and Clean Fleet Report. Of course, the worst part of this kind of speculation is we can never be sure if these models will actually show up during the calendar year. Given that caveat, make this my wish list for what I would like to drive this coming year.
It’s curious and probably an indicator of the amazing age we’re living in, but I found something in almost every offering that made sense for the CFR crowd. See if you agree.
Here they are in CR’s alphabetical order.
1. Audi A3 – This is an easy one because Audi is going to present the new A3 this year in a variants to suit every taste. My first choices are the two versions that will compete for the compact luxury fuel economy crown – the TDI that will feature the latest version of Volkswagen AG’s workhorse diesel engine, a new 2.0-liter that promises better fuel economy, lower emissions and lighter weight than the efficient engine it replaces. Second on my list will be the A3 e-tron. Well, maybe first since it will be Audi’s first foray into the electric car world. The e-tron is slated to arrive as a plug-in hybrid hatchback with enough power to maintain the Audi performance image.
2. BMW 2-Series – Here I have to diverge from CR. While this new BMW will undoubtedly be a lot of fun to drive and will probably be quite efficient, my BMW target for 2014 will be the i3, which will arrive in pure electric and extended-range versions. I spent a good amount of time last year driving some of the early versions, but I look forward to living for a week or so in the production version and getting a better chance at evaluating them in the real world. Of course, if I get a chance to tool around in the exotic i8 plug-in hybrid, I won’t turn that down either.
3. Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon – These new midsize pickups are exciting for the market, bringing back a truck size that many thought was being left behind by the ever-growing and very popular full-size pickups.
Waiting for the diesel upgrade
But to me the Colorado will come alive late in the year (or maybe early 2015–sigh) when it gets an injection of diesel power from GM’s 2.8-liter V-6 engine. That should produce some great fuel economy numbers while actually boosting the performance and practicality of the truck.
4. Ford Mustang – I’ve lived through the entire history of the Mustang and, to be honest, have never been a big fan of the car. I think it’s iconic, but dated and not much in the introduction this year really changed that in my mind. However, I caught some hints from Ford execs that the original pony car might get an EcoBoost or even a diesel engine. That would put it on my driving list. In the interim, I’ll stick with my current favorite Ford, the plug-in Fusion Energi. Then again, an aluminum-intensive F-150 pickup rumored to be Ford’s centerpiece for its Detroit Auto Show program, also sounds intriguing.
5. Honda Fit – The smallest Honda has been one of my favorites since its introduction, mainly on the basis of its road-handling characteristics. This coming year a new model will be introduced that promises some upgrades in its interior as well as a new engine (something that Honda is always good at). While the standard version will probably be quite fuel efficient, there have been rumors of Honda planning to bring a hybrid version, which given the latest technology shown off in the Accord Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid, could make this hatchback even more desirable. Of course, I also haven’t spent any time in the limited edition EV version so that could be on my list as well.
6. Hyundai Genesis – Once again, I’ve got to take a different route than Consumer Reports on this one. I’m sure the Genesis is a fine model, but I don’t see it fitting the CFR profile, so I’d opt for a test of Hyundai’s fuel cell electric car, the Tucson FCEV, when it goes on sale this spring. Driving a series production fuel cell car will signal the beginning of a new era (something along the lines of driving the first Honda Insight hybrid back in 1999 (or the first generation Toyota Prius which came right after) or the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt when they were introduced. Living with the car for a week and dealing with the still-developing infrastructure will also inform me more about the issues early adopters will face with the vehicle.
7. Mini Cooper – This little combination of German and British engineering is everything an efficient car should be – fun to drive, powerful and functionally designed. The new version due this year promises to up the ante with a more fuel efficient three-cylinder engine. I’d enjoy driving it, but also would love to see them bring over a diesel version like the European one I’ve driven. It meets all of the above criteria and takes the fuel economy up a notch.
Porsche’s new small SUV
8. Porsche Macan – Although I’ve had a chance over the years to spend some time in Porsches, my environmental focus of the past decade has made it a tough vehicle choice to rationalize. But the Macan is smaller and will naturally be more efficient than its big brother, the Cayenne. So if the Cayenne delivers 16/23 City-Hwy MPG, that should put the Macan up near 30 MPG. That’s fine, but Porsche representatives made clear to me at the vehicle’s introduction that a diesel model is likely to show up soon. Even using the same engine found in the Cayenne, the lighter Macan should be able to push its MPG well into the 30s – and that’s something I would love to test in the real world.
9. Subaru WRX – I’m not going to argue that the WRX is a fun and still functional car, but it’s not something I’d put in the CFR test fleet, even with a new model. Keeping with Subaru, though, I’d go for the XV Crosstrek Hybrid, which I haven’t had a chance to test. But if you ask for my wish list, I know Subaru’s got a boxer diesel running in Europe that would boost any of its models up into the 30 MPG territory without sacrificing any of their AWD versatility.
10. Volkswagen Golf – A new Golf is always an event for VW and the seventh generation signals some significant changes, including using a new architecture. I’ve got my eye on two versions based on my experience with both – the latest TDI and the new e-Golf. The TDI should get the new world diesel engine VW is working on (see A3 notes above although the Golf may get a different iteration of that engine) and the e-Golf (I’ve driven prototypes and enjoyed my time in all of them) should be a blast. VW appears to be dedicated to maintaining the Golf’s basic fun-to-drive quotient and I expect this new EV to be one that will challenge the current
Maybe an EV Golf this year
fun leaders in the segment, the Fiat 500e and Chevy Spark EV.
So, there you have it. The 10 or more cars and trucks I’m looking forward to spending some time with in 2014. I hope they all make, but I probably should also have saved a spot or two on the list for some surprises. In 2013 we had a few of those and I’m expecting more in 2014. That’s what keeps us on our toes.
Let me know what you are looking forward to in 2014 and maybe we can compare lists.
Words & Photos By Michael Coates
Posted Jan. 8, 2014
Other articles related to this topic:
Top 10 Best Fuel Economy Cars of 2014
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Cars Go On Sale in 2014
Top 10 2014/2013 AWD & 4WD SUVs/Crossovers With Best MPG
GM’s High-MPG King
Chevrolet Cruze Diesel: General Motor’s High Mileage King.
The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel is rated at 46 Highway/27 City with an average of 33 MPG. Sounds pretty good, but it can get even better because, if you have a light foot on the accelerator, you might even get closer to 50 MPG on the highway. So, what’s not to like about GM’s Mileage King?
The Cruze Diesel, when at idle or slow, city or parking lot speeds, is loud and you can feel the engine vibration inside the passenger compartment. Once at speed, where the Cruse Diesel really shines, the noise is not noticeable due to ambient road noise and the radio. So what’s the big deal with a little noise? If the Cruze Diesel was the only compact sedan on the market, then there would be no issue, but it isn’t. The recently reviewed Volkswagen Jetta TDI sells directly against the Cruze Diesel and it is smooth and quiet at low speeds. Not as quiet as a gasoline engine, but not leaning towards the noise of the Cruze Diesel. So, should this affect your consideration of buying a Cruze Diesel? Let’s dig a bit deeper and see.
Smooth driving, once you get moving
The five-door hatchback Cruze Diesel is powered by a 2.0-liter, DOHC, direct injection, turbocharged diesel inline 4-cylinder, with 151 hp and 264 lb-ft of torque. There is a unique “boost” feature offering about 10 seconds of 280 lb-ft of torque, which is welcome when passing cars or entering a highway. The excellent fuel economy and a fuel tank of 15.6 gallons gets you down the road for more than 700 miles. The Cruze Diesel comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission with no manual option.
General Motors has designed the Cruze Diesel to run on ultra-low sulfur (petroleum) diesel and it’s B20 compatible. B20 is 20 percent biodiesel (80 percent petroleum diesel), which can come from refined oil seeds (usually soy in the U.S.), cooking grease or animal fats. According to the EPA, biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 57-86 percent compared to petroleum diesel. Biodiesel also can reduce tailpipe pollutants and is a renewable fuel.
There is approximately a $2,000 premium for the clean diesel engine over the 1.8L, 110 hp/125 lb-ft I-4 gasoline engine. However, if you are a road warrior into driving long, long miles, then the diesel is the way to go.
The Cruze LT model I was driving came with the navigation, enhanced safety, premium Pioneer audio and the driver convenience option packages. The front leather and heated seats were separated by a center stack with just the right amount of silver paint on the trim and instrument gauges. I liked the knobs with rubber edges that made gripping easy and the two-toned dash, which had good fit and finish. The driver seat was 6-way power adjustable and the front passenger seat was 6-way manually adjustable. I was able to find a comfortable driving position thanks to the height and lumbar adjustments.
The only external indicator
All controls were easily accessible, either on the steering wheel for audio and telephone functions or the center stack. The heating and A/C systems were intuitive and it was not difficult to find a proper setting.
Driver comfort can only be as good as driver confidence in the vehicle’s safety equipment. The Cruze Diesel LT with the enhanced safety package comes with eight airbags, cruise control, remote start, outside power and heated mirrors, rear vision camera, rear parking and cross traffic assist and side blind zone alert along with the power disc brakes, ABS and Stabilitrak system.
The 60/40 folding rear seat can accommodate three adults, but is best for short trips only. Foot access for the rear seat was a bit tight and was indicated by tell-tale scuff marks on the lower door panel. Compact sedans are not intended to haul adults very far and the Cruze was no better or worse than others in this segment.
The 6-speaker Pioneer Premium sound system (with SiriusXM, CD, MP3 and USB ports) sounded good. This was part of the MyLink infotainment system that included OnStar, Bluetooth with hands-free smartphone integration with voice recognition, Pandora, Stitcher and audio streaming. The complete system became easier to use the longer I spent with it, but it has a learning curve to be able to use it without diverting attention from the road.
A note regarding OnStar: a simple push of a button connects you with a friendly General Motors representative to handle emergencies, directions and general assistance to make your driving experience safer and more
Power you can hear on the road
enjoyable. This is one area where GM is the industry leader and is well worth renewing after the initial six month service plan expires.
The Cruze exterior styling has been around for a few years and is holding-up well. Nothing fancy or head turning, but solid with a long hood and swooping roofline leading to a short trunk lid. The Diesel comes with the aero performance package consisting of lower front grille air shutter, mid-body aero panels, front fascia air dam and a nicely integrated trunk lid spoiler. It’s all tastily done, adding to the look and function of the vehicle. For even a sportier look you can order the RS appearance package.
The Driving Experience: On The Road
Not much to look at, but it moves you
The first thing you will notice is the 264 lb-ft of torque. It is strong off the line and stays that way through the powerband. And don’t forget the boost feature mentioned earlier, which delivers 280 lb-ft of torque for 10 seconds to get you past that slow poke 18-wheeler or get you up to highway speeds.
The Cruze Diesel is smooth on the road and handles confidently, but suffers from a momentary and annoying slight delay, or lag, in off-the-line acceleration. At 3,475 lbs, the Cruze Diesel is carrying an additional 400 lbs over its 1.8L gasoline sibling (probably from the heavier diesel engine), therefore making it more of a highway cruiser than a zippy handler. But with the excellent highway mileage, you most likely will be spending most of your time on the open road rather than hunting down twisties.
The Cruze Diesel LT model I was driving came with 17-inch alloy wheels, all-season tires, four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes with ABS and GM’s Stabilitrak system with stability and traction control, all delivering straight and true stops.
Back to the noise levels. Once on the highway, the diesel engine rattling is not noticeable or an issue, but it is when idling or at slow speeds. Maybe this is the norm in Europe where this diesel engine has been in service for many years powering Opel vehicles. But not in the USA. I have to figure GM is working on a more refined, smoother and quieter engine right now.
The 2014 Cruze is offered in four trim levels and three engine and transmission options. The Diesel LT I drove was priced at $28,105, including the $810 destination charge. Starting price for the Cruze diesel is $25,695.
The 2014 Cruze comes with these warranties:
Basic: 3 year/36,000 miles
Powertrain: 5 year/100,000 miles
Scheduled Maintenance: 2 year/24,000 miles
Drivetrain: 5 year/100,000 miles
Roadside Assistance: 5 year/100,000 miles
Rust: 6 year/100,000 miles
Observations: 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel LT
Clean diesel powered cars and trucks will are becoming a more common sight on the roads and driveways in the U.S. Currently the diesel car market is dominated by German manufacturers Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. It won’t be long before the other domestic (and Asian) manufacturers get into this space and General Motors is off to a good start with the Cruze Diesel.
However, if you are looking to buy an American-built diesel compact sedan, then right now the Cruze is your only option. But before making your purchase decision on country of origin (the Cruze is built in Lordstown,
Compact but full of features
Ohio) you need to know the Cruze gets its engine from Germany, transmission from Japan and many of its parts from Mexico and Canada (not unlike many of the other models out there). This makes the Cruze Diesel a truly world car, with its engine and transmission tested and proven on hundreds-of-thousands of cars driving the roads in Europe and Australia.
The Cruze Diesel is economical to drive, getting close to 50 mpg on the highway in the real world, has good acceleration and build quality. Go take a test drive at your Chevy dealer, but also take a look at the Volkswagen Jetta TDI for a comparison between the two clean diesel cars available in this segment.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
Cruze Diesel Competitors
VW Jetta TDI – fuel economy (city/highway/combined) 30/42/34
VW Passat TDI – 31/43/35
BMW 328d – 32/45/37
Story & Photos by John Faulkner
Posted January 6, 2014
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My Top 10 High-MPG Cars of 2013
Top 10 Best Fuel Economy Cars for 2014