Comparison Road Test: 2014 Mitsubishi AWD Choice: Compact Crossover or Compact Sedan

Comparison Road Test: 2014 Mitsubishi AWD Choice: Compact Crossover or Compact Sedan

Tale of Two Outliers With Outstanding MPG. The Mitsubishi AWD 30 MPG Club Members.

OK, what’s your favorite compact-vehicle flavor, crossover sport utility or four-door sedan? Mitsubishi offers both with all-wheel drive. While the EPA’s combined fuel economy estimate is 26 mpg for the Outlander Sport crossover with all-wheel drive, and 25 mpg for the Lancer SE AWC sedan, we’d like to take issue with those numbers.

mitsubishi,outlander sport,awd,cvt,mpg, fuel economy

Aggressive but manageable

We tallied a little more than 700 miles between the two vehicles, and the Outback Sport averaged 31.5 mpg while the Lancer registered 30.3 mpg. In our book, that makes them both eligible for inclusion in our Clean Fleet Report All-Wheel Drive 30 mpg Club.

There is one thing, however, that we won’t take issue with the EPA about: “Actual results (fuel economy) will vary.” Indeed, our results did vary.

Outback Sport: Great Value For The Money

Think of the Outlander Sport as an economical way to get the image of an SUV, the utility of a wagon, the all-wheel drive capability of a crossover, and the maneuverability of a small car.

mitsubishi,outlander sport,awd,mpg, fuel economy

Capable, but stay on smooth roads

As its name might suggest, the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport plays Mini Me to the “big” Mitsubishi Outlander compact sport utility, which is close in size to the Toyota RAV4. The Outlander Sport is more than a foot shorter than the Outlander in overall length and is essentially a wagon-on-stilts version of the Mitsubishi Lancer compact car.

But Mitsubishi would rather you think of it as a crossover sport utility and not a car – hence the name-association with the Outlander.

Under The Hood

Satisfied with perfectly acceptable power in low-demand driving conditions? Willing to put the gas pedal to the carpet when merging onto freeways or overtaking slower traffic? The Sport’s four-cylinder is for you.

The 2.0-liter inline four runs on regular unleaded gasoline and is rated at 148 horsepower and 145 pounds-feet of torque. While it is certainly willing, the engine’s credentials make it unreasonable to count on hefty doses of performance.

All-wheel drive models are equipped with a continuously variable transmission, a trend found on more and more vehicles. As in other applications, it offers “simulated” manual gearshifts.

Mitsubishi’s All-Wheel-Control system integrates an electronically controlled front differential. For normal driving and the best fuel economy, just leave it in 2WD. When road conditions become a little dicey, flip a rocker switch to 4WD, and the all-wheel drive mode offers improved traction in all driving conditions.

Breaking the norm for compact crossovers, there’s also a 4WD Lock mode designed for surfaces from deep snow to sand or mud. If it weren’t for the low 5.5-inch ground clearance, the 4WD setting would make the Sport a capable off roader.

Thoughtful Design, Outside And In

mitsubishi,outlander sport,awd,mpg, fuel economy,cargo

Tight but expandable space

Model-year 2013 saw a number of exterior and interior changes to the Outlander Sport that carry over to 2014. There are a few additions for this year including a new steering wheel with audio controls and a variety of upgraded touch screens and sound systems.

As for styling, the front end’s face now has a look that resembles the Lancer Evolution performance models. A pronounced crease along the side enhances the rising window line and gives the impression the Sport is moving, even at a standstill.

The interior doesn’t offer as much visual interest, but it’s pleasing to the eyes, with switchgear that feels solid and is intuitively laid out. Fit and finish appear to be quite good and material quality is acceptable.

As a compact crossover, the Sport doesn’t squander a square inch of passenger room or cargo space. It has surprising amounts of both in a body that has presence on the road without occupying

mitsubishi,outlander sport,awd,mpg,fuel economy,interior

Dated but functional

too much of it. Seating up front is comfortable, and rear passengers have a good amount of leg- and headroom and their seat backs recline, but there are no individual sliding seats. Still, the 60/40 split bench will seat two adults comfortably, and three with some liberal elbow tucking. When seatbacks are folded flat, cargo space increases from 21.7 cubic feet to 49.5.

Mitsubishi is not known for scrimping on standard features, and the entry level ES includes keyless entry, heated mirrors, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable driver seat, power locks and windows, cruise control and air conditioning. Also standard are Mitsubishi’s Fuse voice-activated interface, a four-speaker audio system with CD player, auxiliary audio input jack and USB/iPod interface.

SE models add heated front seats, automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers and a touch-screen audio display.

Behind The Steering Wheel

On the road, our Outlander Sport SE test driver felt solid and was free of squeaks and rattles. Being based on a car, it is predictably carlike to drive. Steering is a bit inert on center, but is otherwise precise. Body lean is modest in tight turns, so the Sport can be tossed around much like a small wagon.

Ride quality is well suited for American roads, absorbing most typical road imperfections without unsettling the body. Wind noise and tire thrum are low, and, though the engine makes its presence known above 4000 rpm, it’s never irritating.

We found acceleration more than adequate in most driving conditions. However, a few times, such as merging onto freeways, we would have preferred a little more power, like maybe the 168 horsepower from the 2.4-liter four in our Lancer test driver. Then again, a larger engine would deny the Outback Sport’s inclusion in our All-Wheel Drive 30 mpg Club.

As for our 31.5 mpg, Draconian driving methods weren’t required – just common sense driving: No jack rabbit starts, an easy foot on the accelerator, lifting early when approaching stops and adhering to the 60 mph to 70 mph speed limits on freeways.

Our week with the Sport totaled 296 miles. About half were freeway miles, the balance split between city driving and two-lane highways.

Bottom Line

Mitsubishi says the Outlander Sport is the company’s top selling model, and it’s easy to see why, starting with price. The well-equipped AWD ES starts at $22,895, including destination charges. Our AWD SE was priced at $24,820 and added a Premium and Navigation package that brought the total to $28,370.

Beyond that, the Sport is easy to drive, can tote five passengers and a modest amount of cargo and, as we found, gets dang good gas mileage. Add, Mitsubishi’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and you have great value for the money.

Mitsubishi Lancer SE: Don’t Overlook It

Mitsubishi,lancer,awd,cvt,fuel economy,mpg

One of three AWD compacts you can afford

A lot of folks like the confidence of an all-wheel drive setup, which offers additional traction and stability in less than ideal driving conditions. While there’s a very long list of compact crossover sport utilities to choose from, it’s slim pickings if you want a small car with AWD. The selection is even less if you want one priced under $25,000 – three to be exact: Two Subarus, the Impeza and Legacy, and Mitsubishi’s Lancer SE AWD.

A Little Long In The Tooth, But ….

Unlike competitors in the crowded compact segment, Mitsubishi’s Lancer lineup has long been in need of a major update. Still, the car’s design continues to stands apart from the crowd, beginning up front. The SE has a toned-down Lancer trademark contentious shark-like grille, pointed headlamps and sculpted hood. The stance is low and lean, and in profile offers a well-proportioned

mitsubishi,lancer,awd,fuel economy,mpg,interior

Set the way-back machine

appearance. The backside is tidy with a small spoiler that adds a sporty touch.

Inside is where the Lancer lets you know that 2008 was the last time it was an all-new car. Reflective of that time, hard plastic and low-grade-looking materials dominate the cabin. That said, for 2014 Mitsubishi upgraded the seating fabric in the Lancer, and the SE receives a backup camera, a new touchscreen audio display and an upgraded audio system that includes HD radio and SiriusXM satellite radio.

The dash has a clean, uncluttered design with a hooded instrument cluster featuring white on black gauges. Controls lay easily to hand and large climate control knobs have a quality feel.

Passengers will find more than adequate leg- and headroom in both the front and rear seats. On a seven-hour round trip we found the front bucket seats to be firm and supportive with the bonus of heated bottoms and seat backs. The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope, which could be a deal breaker for those over six feet.

Trunk space is on the small side at 12.3 cubic feet and, if you opt for the Rockford-Fosgate audio system, the trunk-mounted subwoofer cuts it to 11.8 cubic feet. However, 60/40 split folding rear seats offer more generous space.

On The Road

With nearly a half a liter more displacement than the Outlander Sport’s engine, the Lancer SE’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder produces 168 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque. It delivers brisk takeoffs, is peppy, cruises without strain at 70 mph and becomes vocal only at higher rpm.

We were impressed with the continuously variable transmission (CVT), the only transmission offered. Unlike others of its type, engine rpm never raced ahead of vehicle speed, and it acted like, well, a standard automatic.

mitsubishi,lancer,awd,mpg,fuel economy

Competent on the road

Power steering is hydraulic rather than the electric system on the Sport. It is quick and accurate, and sends enough feedback through the wheel to keep the driver connected to the road. The SE employs the same All Wheel Control system as the Outlander Sport. Cornering grip is noticeably increased when flipping the switch to all-wheel drive, making the Lancer SE fun to throw around corners.

Ride and handling are a well-balanced combination for a compact size car. The all-independent suspension is quite good at compensating for road irregularities and only major potholes can shake its composure.

A weekend visit with our oldest son accounted for 312 freeway miles of our total 441 miles during our week with the Lancer. The balance was divided between in town and two-lane country roads. Again, sensible driving netted really good fuel economy – 30.3 mpg.

Bottom Line

Priced starting at $21,490, the Lancer SE AWD doesn’t offer the latest in tech, safety and comfort features, but it does come with a credible list of standard features like heated outside mirrors and front seats. Also included

mitsubishi,lancer,awd,mpg,fuel economy

Standing out in its class

are keyless entry, power windows and locks as well as cruise control and steering wheel controls for audio and Bluetooth connectivity.

Available are a navigation system and Mitsubishi’s Fuse infotainment system. Fuse is an easy-to-use touchscreen-based software that features voice command in addition to knobs and buttons that functions very well.

Sporty design, sharp handling, bountiful cabin space and a comprehensive warranty overshadow an outdated interior. If you want the security that all-wheel drive offers, the Lancer SE AWC is a sensible alternative for those who don’t want what everyone else is driving.

Photos by the manufacturer

Posted April 30, 2014

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Road Test: 2013/2014 Honda CR-Z EX

Road Test: 2013/2014 Honda CR-Z EX

Honda Puts FUN in a Hybrid.

honda,cr-z,hybrid,sports car,mpg,performance

A hybrid unlike any other

Ever heard people chatting at a party that they would consider a hybrid except they look boring. Or, maybe the one about hybrids having an image of just not being a cool car. Well, everyone, step away from the chips and dip because the 2014 Honda CR-Z is a car whose mission is to change those perceptions.

The two-door hatchback 2014 Honda CR-Z is a whole lot of fun to drive, certainly not boring and doesn’t look like any other hybrid (or anything else) on the road. Our test vehicle came in Honda’s striking Milano Red, which kept me looking in the rear view mirror for a CHP officer who assumes that red cars are being driven fast. I wonder where they ever got that idea?


The front wheel drive 2014 Honda CR-Z is certainly capable of attracting the police for more than its exterior color. It’s powered by Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist system, or IMA. The integration is achieved by combining a 1.5L, 16-valve single overhead cam (SOHC) gasoline-powered, in-line 4-cylinder engine and a 15 kW motor running off a lithium-ion (Li-Ion) battery. The two power sources produce a combined peak output of 130 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque for the six-speed manual and the same horsepower but 127 lb-ft of torque on the CVT-equipped model, which is what Clean Fleet Report was driving.

Honda,CR-Z,hybrid,mpg,fuel economy,sports car, peformance

Looking for a ticket even standing still

Fuel economy for the CR-Z is rated at 39 highway/36 city with a combined of 37 mpg. Running on regular unleaded, I drained the 10.6 gallon tank which delivered 380 miles in my mostly freeway driving. I am guessing I could have achieved more except the frequent use of the paddle shifters most likely cost me a few miles per gallon.

Also helping to improve fuel economy is Honda’s idle-stop feature that temporarily turns off the engine to save fuel when you come to a halt. You know when you are in idle-stop as a flashing green light appears on the instrument panel. Taking your foot off the brake pedal automatically and seamlessly restarts the engine.

The CR-Z Li-Ion battery is charged by the engine and through the regenerative braking system, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting.

Driving Experience: On The Road

The CR-Z EX with the CVT weighs in at 2,716 lbs, with the weight well distributed due to the under-seat battery placement, resulting in a low center of gravity. For comparison, the 2014 Honda CR-Z EX with the six-speed manual weighs 2,694 lbs.

The CR-Z with the CVT has a 3-mode drive system: Normal, Econ and my favorite, Sport. Normal is where you start out and pressing the ECON button optimizes the CR-Z’s power for best fuel economy, especially when cruising at freeway speeds.

Sport mode allows you to enjoy the performance capabilities of the CR-Z. In Sport mode, the CR-Z will use the electric motor more aggressively, providing quicker acceleration and throttle response. Sport mode also

Honda,CR-Z,hybrid,mpg,fuel economy,performance

Fun to drive and fuel efficient – a pair for two persons

provides a sharper steering feel – perfect for the twisties. The paddle shifters can be used in all three modes but are the most effective, and fun, in the Sport mode.

The electrically power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering with front MacPherson struts and stabilizer bar, and rear Torsion beam suspension delivers a confident and decently quiet, highway ride on the 16-inch alloy wheels (17-inch optional) and all-season tires. Where the CR-Z shines is on cornering where with no body roll you pretty much can point it where you want to go and that is where you end-up. When downshifting using the paddle shifters on the CVT, the engine braking combined with the power-assisted 10.3-inch ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes is what separates the CR-Z from other hybrid cars. The four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, stability assist with traction control and electronic brake distribution all play a part in how fun the 2014 Honda CR-Z is to drive.

The CR-Z is no dragster by any means, but I was able to consistently pull about 9.7 seconds from 0 – 60. Honda has a version of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) used on F1 cars that they call Plus Sport. Activated by the Sport+ button on the steering wheel, Plus Sport gives you 10 seconds of boost when the Li-Ion battery has at least 50 percent charge and you are going at least 19 mph.  It is a nice system for extra boost whether needed for passing on a hill or getting ahead of slow traffic on the freeway. The Plus Sport system is another example of racing technology being transferred to street cars to make them more efficient and safe.

Driving Experience: Interior

The 2014 Honda CR-Z EX interior has a sports car feel – low to the ground and seats that hold you nicely when cornering. The attractive bucket seats (the only seats in the car) had mesh cloth centers with high-quality vinyl-type


Sporty interior backs up the looks

material on the boosters and baseball-style contrasting stitching. The dash design is probably one of the more modern you will find with the major controls on the steering wheel and two pods found either side of the steering wheel. Only the audio and navigation are found in the center of the dash. Expected features are there, too – power windows with driver side one-touch up-and-down, door locks and mirrors, carpeted floor mats, map and visor lights and 12-volt power outlet. In other words, everything needed to take a long journey in comfort and convenience.


Not kidding around

As mentioned, the CR-Z is a two-seat car and to that point, Honda not only does not offer a rear seat but has a definitive and prominent sticker telling you that “injury or death” may be the result of sitting in the rear. Where the rear seat bottoms would be are two storage areas that when the seat back is folded flat, are hidden and there is a large area for storing luggage.

The CR-Z EX we were driving has Honda’s 360-watt premium audio system with subwoofer, 7-speaker AM/FM/CD with USB, Pandora and MP3 interface and playback capability. XM satellite radio is available as a dealer installed option. The navigation has voice recognition with a rear view camera, through a 5-inch touch-screen with hands-free phone and SMS text messaging and music streaming via Bluetooth.

The 2014 Honda CR-Z is well equipped with active and passive safety including remote keyless entry, power door locks, TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), high-intensity discharge headlights, fog lights, LED brake lights, rear wiper with washer, 6 airbags, adaptive cruise control and the previously mentioned four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, stability assist with traction control and electronic brake distribution.

Driving Experience: Exterior

I like the way the 2014 Honda CR-Z coupe looks with its wedge-like and raked windshield design and sculpted doors. The car has a sporty stance that draws attention with a honeycomb-type grill and fog lamps. The rear view is split horizontally, providing a see-through area that is nicely aligned with the rear view mirror. Even the shark fin antenna above the rear hatch adds to the coolness of the CR-Z.


The 2014 CR-Z comes in six models. Add the $790 Destination Charge to these MSRP for:

CR-Z                                      6-Speed Manual          $19,995

CR-Z                                      CVT                            $20,645

CR-Z EX                                 6-Speed Manual          $21,840

CR-Z EX                                 CVT                            $22,490

CR-Z EX w/ Navigation             6-Speed Manual          $23,340

CR-Z EX w/ Navigation             CVT                            $23,990

The CR-Z comes with these warranties:

  • 3-year/36,000-mile     Vehicle
  • 5-year/60,000-mile     Powertrain
  • 5-year/unlimited miles  Corrosion
  • 15 year/150,000-mile PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle) warranty on many of the IMA components, including the IMA battery: CA, CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NJ, NY, RI and VT. All other states: 8-year/100,000-mile.

Observations: 2013/2014 Honda CR-Z EX

If you look at the fuel economy and performance numbers for the CR-Z you will see you can top them with other hybrids or even some gasoline-powered cars. But that isn’t the point with what Honda is doing with this car.

honda,cr-z,hybrid,peformance,fuel econmy,mpg

A presence on the road

Honda has built the only true sporty, two-seat hybrid for those who want high fuel economy in a very clean-burning vehicle that is fun to drive. It is not expected to compete with full-on sports coupes, but will appeal to commuters who want something different or singles/couples venturing out on the open road. If you do not need a larger hybrid, why buy it? You now have an option that brings many miles of driving smiles.

Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!

Story and Photos by John Faulkner

Posted April 28, 2014

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Overview: 2014 Ram 1500 HFE With Start-Stop System

Overview: 2014 Ram 1500 HFE With Start-Stop System

Pickup Trucks Battle for Fuel Economy Leadership.

Ram,HFE,fuel economy,MPG,efficiency

Squeezing out one more MPG

(Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series about vehicles with start-stop systems.)

Bragging rights and one-upmanship have long been a part of pickup truck marketing: Who has the most horsepower, the most stump-pulling torque, the biggest payload capacity and the most towing grunt.

But a new pickup bragging rights category has emerged – fuel economy.

It began in 2009 with General Motors’ two-mode hybrid system for the Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid and its twin toolbox, the GMC Sierra Hybrid (both now discontinued). Their EPA ratings of 21 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined made them the pickup fuel economy kings.

Two years later Ford bragged that its F-150 pickup, with a new V-6 twin turbocharged 3.7-liter V-6 engine, delivered an EPA 23 mpg highway rating. Ford’s marketing, however, overlooked the F-150’s 17 mpg city and 19 mpg combined ratings.

For the 2013-model year, an all-new Ram 1500 pickup leapfrogged Ford and claimed fuel economy bragging rights with its all-new model. Powered by Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine, the new half-ton truck came through with a 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway rating – numbers that were unthinkable just five years ago.

Ram,HFE,fuel economy, mpg,pickup

El Hefe for fuel economy

Ram added icing on the cake with the  HFE (high fuel efficiency) model. With a stop-start function, the HFE bumps city fuel economy to 18 mpg.

The 2014 Ram 1500 will continue with the styling and mechanical changes unveiled on the 2013 edition, Ram’s first sheet metal re-do since model year 2009. New for 2014 is a 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 diesel that Ram says “is noticeably more efficient than all V-6 gasoline engines in the half-ton category.” (Ed. note: we’ll be testing the EcoDiesel as soon as one shows up in the test fleet, but we previewed this and other MPG moves recently.)

Ram’s Stop-Start System

An industry first for a non-hybrid full-size pickup, the Ram 1500’s start-stop is considered a “light start-stop” system. Ram says the system improves fuel economy by up to 3.3 percent, or an increase of about one mpg during city driving.

Stop-start operates automatically and doesn’t require any input from the driver. Electronics such as the radio, gauges and climate controls remain on, and the engine restarts automatically when the driver releases the brake.

System voltage is continually monitored through a battery sensor. If the battery’s charge is reduced, the truck will discontinue start-stop until the battery is recharged to an acceptable level.

The system monitors the brake-pedal position and vehicle speed over time to determine the appropriate situations to shut off the engine to avoid constant on/off cycling in heavy stop-and-go traffic. And a system-disable switch on the dash lets drivers turn off the feature should they desire.

Electrical System Upgrades

Due to additional high-use and electrical load demands placed on the starter, alternator and battery, these components have been upgraded for heavy-duty operation.

This includes a high-durability starter housed in a stronger case, heavy-duty flywheel teeth and a more robust starter solenoid.

Ram, pickup,HFE,mpg, fuel economy

Leading in mpg–at least for the moment

Ram says the new starter was subjected to durability testing cycles more than 2.5 times that of a non-start-stop equipped unit – more than 300,000 on/off cycles.

The new battery features 800 amps with absorbed glass mat (AGM) technology. An upgraded 220-amp alternator also is included in the charging system.

When asked if start-stop was a move towards the electrification of vehicles, Ram spokesman Nick Cappa said, “Not entirely. We see it as a dedicated fuel saving technology. More interesting will be how truck customers will react.”

Under The Aluminum Hood

Start-stop is only a small part of the 2014 Ram 1500 HFE’s fuel economy story. Another Ram fuel-economy enabler is weight reduction, including an aluminum hood, which weighs 26 pounds less than the previous model. Combine that with a new, lighter frame, aluminum suspension pieces, revised bumper and lighter powertrain components, and the new Ram shed 143 pounds. Not what Ford managed with its new aluminum-intensive F-150, but still impressive.

That aluminum hood hides the biggest contributors to fuel efficiency, Chrysler’s Pentastar V-6 engine connected to a super-thrifty eight-speed automatic transmission, another pickup industry first.

Featuring variable-valve timing (VVT), the 3.6-liter naturally aspirated engine offers a hefty 305 horsepower and 269 pounds-feet of torque, while delivering 20 percent better fuel economy when compared to the previous 3.7-liter V-6 powertrain.

The eight-speed has widely spaced ratios with a super-low 4.71 first gear ratio for quick starts and two tall overdrive ratios on the top end. This range of gears translates to a good gear for highway fuel economy without sacrificing a low first gear for power.

Wringing out this kind of fuel economy improvement requires big and small changes. Just to name a few: A new electric power-assist steering reduces engine drag; thermal management quickly gets the engine and transmission to optimum temperatures; pulse-width modulation technology runs the fuel pump and cooling fan only as needed; low-rolling resistance tires; active grille shutters reduce drag as does a lower front valance.

Design Elements

In profile, the new Ram doesn’t look any different than the 2009-2012 generation. Up front, however, the “I wanna-be-a-big-rig” grille is larger and taller with crosshair bars that are now flush at the top and bottom of the grille surround.

Subtle changes include restyled headlights and LED turn signals/taillights.

Improved aerodynamics was a key goal in the Ram’s 2013 revamp. Ram says the truck has best-in-class aerodynamics, coefficient of drag (Cd) at 0.360. And that’s before adding a standard tonneau cover to the HFE model.

Inside, the Ram’s interior – already considered one of the best – even the lower trim levels including the HFE have upgraded materials and boast an attractive design. The 40/20/40 split folding bench seat is firm and comfortable, the steering wheel is appropriately thick and there are plenty of cup holders and storage cubbies.

Ram,pickup,HFE,fuel economy, mpg

Knobs not levers do the shifting

A new gauge cluster includes a 3.5-inch vehicle-information screen and the gauges are clearly legible day or night.

The eight-speed automatic transmission uses a rotary dial in place of a floor or steering-column-mounted shift lever, not unlike that found on a Jaguar. Located on the dashboard above the driver’s right knee, the knob is well sized with groves for operating with thick gloves.

This new shifting device rotates easily through the traditional, Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive settings. Manual-type gear control is available via small steering-wheel buttons.

While amenities such as remote power everything, leather seating and touch-screen multimedia aren’t available for the HFE, the list of standard equipment covers most of the wants for buyers. These include power windows and door locks, cruise control, air conditioning, variable intermittent wipers and a six-speaker AM/FM stereo with USB/iPod connectivity.

Safety features include all the biggies: four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, stability control, hill-start assist, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags.


The 2014 Ram 1500’s HFE model has a sticker price of $30,090, including $1,195 destination charges. It is available only in a Regular Cab (two-door) 4×2 configuration with a short bed, the smallest full-size Ram 1500 pickup in the lineup. Four-wheel drive is not available on the HFE, nor is any other cab configuration or box length. Also, it has one of the smallest payload ratings at 1,430 pounds and one of the lowest maximum tow ratings, just 4,750 pounds.

If you’re looking for a basic half-ton regular cab pickup with no frills, the base Tradesman model can be had for $4,500 less and it offers identical highway fuel economy of 25 mpg and one mpg less in the city.

But if you want some creature comforts, the HFE is actually $215 less than the SLT version, which is the next step up from the Tradesman and is similarly equipped to the HFE.

Ram,HFE,pickup,mpg,fuel economy

Luxury moves into a pickup workspace

Ram’s spokesman Cappa said it will be interesting to see how truck customers will react to the HFE. While it’s obviously not a heavy-duty work truck, fleet buyers such as municipalities would benefit from the HFE’s urban start-stop fuel economy and maybe even better the EPA rating. The same would apply to construction trades who work primarily in urban areas and don’t haul heavy loads or tow equipment.

And then there’s the consumer who just wants a pickup to throw some camping gear or bikes in the bed for weekend recreation and for trips to Home Depot so they can check off items on the “honey-do” list.

Whoever the buyer is, they’ll have a comfortable riding, fairly well equipped pickup with excellent fuel economy for a reasonable price.

[Ed. note: Why does one MPG matter? I’m sure many readers might think a one mpg improvement is barely worth mentioning in the world of 50 mpg hybrids and 100+ mpg plug-in hybrids. Well, it does matter in bigger vehicles like pickups and SUVs – more than you might think. It’s about fuel savings more than the mpg, which points up the shortcomings of measuring fuel efficiency in miles per gallon rather than the way the scientific world measures such things, i.e., in gallons per mile or even more telling, gallons per 100 miles. A Washington Post writer summed it up quite well last year, joining a chorus of those we really know how to measure things. Look at the one mpg gain through this lens – in an low-average annual use of 10,000 that one mpg turns into 33 gallons, which at the current local cost of $4+ is $130 saved. But more important is the non-linear relationship of mpg to gpm on relatively low mpg vehicles. A two or three-mpg improvement like the one offered with some of the new pickups, which again doesn’t seem like much, provides a significant bump since it represents a major improvement on a percentage basis. And given the work use of many pickups, the cost savings from increased fuel economy go right to the bottom line.]

Photos by the manufacturer

Posted April 26, 2014

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My 10 Best Clean Cars in Monterey

Picking Through Some of the Best 2014 High-Mileage Offerings.


Infiniti-Surprising in all the right ways

Once a year, the members of Western Automotive Journalists gather to spend a couple days driving the latest cars from automakers. Time is split between street driving and some time on the track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. This year I was limited in the time I could spend so I powered through as many of the high-mileage cars as I could on the ride-and-drive day. Here’s my Top 10 from a day of driving on the roads of Monterey, which ended up being more of a wish-list for cars I plan to revisit during the year and dive into in more detail. Of course, keep in mind this is a self-selected group. The automakers didn’t bring everything they produce and some cars such as pure electrics were left off because they couldn’t endure a day-long drive. In addition, because I only had a day, some on my list really didn’t get a drive. But it’s a diverse and robust list with something for just about everyone.

Top 10 from 2014 WAJ Media Day

1.  Infiniti Q50s Hybrid – This was a surprise–a really great surprise. I drove it and was impressed. Then did a little homework and was even more impressed. This midsize sedan had great road feel, power and responsiveness along with great fuel economy (31 MPG combined; 29/36). Then I found out it is the first production steer-by-wire system, meaning the steering wheel has no direct connection to the suspension. Somehow, Nissan has sorted out how to give superlative road feedback through a system that approximates it as well as any direct system.  Then the car layers on a raft of other technologies, such as predictive forward collision warning and automatic braking, blind spot warning This is a car to watch, a brilliant combination of technology and raw performance mitigated with efficiency as good as anything else out there.

2.  BMW 328d xDrive Sport Wagon – Why doesn’t America like wagons? Yes, your driving position is less advantageous than that of a CUV (crossover utility vehicle), but there is no sacrifice in utility and you’re driving

BMW,328d,clean diesel, wagon

Not the typical family wagon-BMW 328d

something that looks and performs like a car. A very efficient car, in this BMW’s case. BMW has gotten smart and dropped in a 2-liter diesel into the 3-Series. The result is a 35 MPG combined (31/43 City/Highway) car that delivers outstanding power and fuel economy. It’s a little pricey (starting at $42,950) but delivers on all fronts.

3.  Audi A3 sedan – I had two chances to drive this at length earlier in the month and will be writing up a full report soon, but the balance in this entry-level Audi was reinforced in my test drive here. It definitely kicks in a level of luxury that distinguishes it from other entries in the segment. In Quattro  trim with the 2-liter gas engine it offers 27 MPG combined (24/33 City/Highway in Quattro trim; you only lose 1 mpg in the city in front-wheel-drive mode with a smaller engine). The turbo-charged engine and precise suspension is a delight to drive, but we are holding out for the TDI (diesel) and etron (plug-in hybrid) models due later.

4.  Mitsubishi Mirage ES  – Here was another surprise. Billing itself as the cheapest car on the market (or the cheapest car with the best fuel economy–the marketing message is not entirely clear), the Mirage may have lowered my expectations to a sufficient level that mediocre performance would seem like a positive.  The Mirage starts under $13,000

Mitsubishi,Mirage,economy car, MPG

No Mirage, just basic transportation

with a manual transmission and under $14,000 with the CVT (continuously variable transmission) that I drove and claims up to 44 MPG (with the CVT, manual transmission delivers 34/42 City/Highway). I have no doubt that it could deliver those fuel economy numbers and provide comfortable transportation around town. However, its 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine was buzzy at best. The car does offer quite a few features as options for an entry-level car, but still does several things to remind you that it is, after all, an entry-level car.

5.  BMW 535d xDrive – Another barn-burner from the BMW diesel stable, this one with a 3-liter turbocharged 6-cylinder engine and 8-speed automatic. This model will deliver 37 MPG on the highway, 26 around town and a combined fuel economy of 30 mpg. It also included all-wheel drive and a variety of technology. It’s probably the best combination of true luxury and fuel efficiency out there.

6.  Chrysler 200 – The surprises just kept coming as I moved from car to car. Driving Chrysler’s (or more correctly Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s) latest salvo in the midsize car wars was a revelation. Power and handling was better than the last Toyota Camry I was in. Styling is good and as its marketing manager said, “we poured everything we had into this car,” including a chassis borrowed from Alfa Romeo (and shared with the Dodge Dart) and a 9-speed transmission. If they can get the attention of buyers in this very competitive segment, they might be able to make some headway. With the 4-cylinder Multi-Air engine the car will turn in up to 36 MPG on the highway (23 in the city and 28 combined), which puts it right near the top of the class in this group, slightly better than the Camry and Hyundai Sonata and just behind the Nissan Altima.

Chrysler,200,sedan,AWD,fuel economy

Ready to battle the midsize giants-Chrysler’s 200

The next four were on my list but I ran out of time. They all have a heritage that we here at Clean Fleet Report recognize as worthy of consideration so they will definitely be on the list of cars we’ll be looking to test drive this year.

7.  Lexus CT 200h hybrid – Combining hybrid fuel economy and sporty performance is not an easy task, but the CT 200h has that as its goal. Just refreshed last year (when I last drove it), it has a great reputation for fuel economy (43 City/40 Highway/42 Combined) and more style and handling than its Prius cousin.

8.  Subaru XV Crosstrek hybrid ­– We’ve looked at the non-hybrid version of this Subaru and liked it a lot. So what’s not to like even more about 29 MPG around town to go along with all-wheel drive and plenty of storage room. although the fuel economy on the highway is the same as the non-hybrid version.

9.  Honda Accord Hybrid Clean Fleet Report has tested this one and found it one of the more pleasurable and efficient cars out there, but I haven’t personally had enough time behind the wheel. I definitely look forward to catching up with the most efficient non-plug-in midsize car at some point during the year.

10.  Cadillac ELR – This one comes with a question mark, which is why I want to spend some time with it. While the mechanicals of its range-extended electric car owe a lot to the Chevy Volt, GM has taken pains to make sure this upscale model is worthy of the Cadillac crest. I suspect its owners, like those with Volts and other plug-ins, will be able to easily boost the 82 MPGe over the century mark.

Summary I have to admit I did not spend all of my time in vehicles that fit the Clean Fleet Report profile of environmentally friendly, high-mileage vehicles. While it was tempting to take a run with one of the Mercedes AMG cars or the Dodge Viper TA or the new Corvette, I only had one lapse in my short day of driving – the Chevy SS sedan. While this V8-powered rear drive car is not aimed at those looking for the best fuel economy, it surprised me when I checked the instant read-out – much of my drive the car turned in fuel economy in the 30 mpg range when I kept off the gas. The Australian-built car was very responsive and the smoothest of all those I drove all day, but the surprise was its apparent ability to handily built its 17 mpg combined EPA numbers. Back to the appropriate CFR cars, I also should add there were more models I was not able to get to, but hope to tackle during the coming year. To me two interesting models that are taking the gasoline internal combustion engine to new heights are Ford with its EcoBoost and Mazda with its SkyActiv technology. I look forward to trying out both of these engine and system approaches in a variety of cars and trucks. I also missed the Toyota Avalon Hybrid and the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel. And then there’s the Soul EV that’s due to show up in California and Oregon toward the end of the year. It looks like 2014 is going to be a fun year.

Words and Photos By Michael Coates

Posted April 21, 2014

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My Top 10 Cars and Trucks for 2014

The Top 10 Best Fuel Economy Cars of 2014

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First Drive: 2014 Volkswagen Tiguan TDI Euro Spec

First Drive: 2014 Volkswagen Tiguan TDI Euro Spec

VW Is Such A Tease!


Looks like it fits right in

Frequently we see photos of cars in Europe and wonder why we don’t get them in the United States. Sometimes these are car brands not even sold here such as Skoda, SEAT, Peugeot, Alfa Romeo and Renault. Then there are the cars sold in Europe that we don’t get here such the one Volkswagen just teased us here at Clean Fleet Report–a very cool 2014 Tiguan TDI Euro Spec.

The gasoline-powered Tiguan is currently sold in the USA with the 2.0L, 16 valve DOHC 4-cylinder intercooled, turbocharged engine puts out 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. The engine runs on premium fuel and gets 21 mph city / 26 mph highway with a combined of 23 mpg. These numbers are with the 6-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic paddle shifters. Mileage numbers with the 6-speed manual transmission are 18/26/21. The gasoline version is widely recognized as being peppy, built solidly and fun to drive.

The 2014 VW Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Sport: A Sporty Compact Crossover

Let’s set the ground rules when driving a Euro Spec vehicle: at no point should we expect the exact version will hit our shores in the United States. With this disclaimer duly noted, let’s get onto how the Tiguan TDI should be imported and how much fun it was to drive.


The test 2014 VW Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec we drove is powered by a European version of the engine currently available in the U.S. Jetta, Passat and Beetle models: a 2.0L, 16-valve direct injection, turbocharged 4-cylinder which is rated at around 30 City / 42 Highway in those passenger cars, with a combined average of 34 mpg, delivering 600+ miles on a tank of clean diesel. If this engine were in a U.S. version of the Tiguan a 42 mpg


Moving through bad weather in LA

highway rating would be the best in the Small Crossover class. (And we think this is feasible since the Passat TDI and gas Tiguan have identical curb weights.) The turbodiesel produces 174 hp but delivers 280 lb-ft of torque. In Europe our Tiguan comes standard with a 6-speed manual and has an option of a 6 or 7-speed automatic with Tiptronic. Our test Tiguan had the 7-speed (with paddle shifters) mated to the optional 4Motion permanent all-wheel drive.

The big question (other than if VW will bring a diesel Tiguan to the US market at all) is what engine will be in it? VW has developed a new World diesel engine for the 2015 Tiguan TDI. It will appear in the U.S. first in the 2015 Golf TDI, which hits US VW dealerships mid-year 2014, will have this new, World-standard engine.

The Driving Experience: On The Road

The 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic with Tiptronic has a Drive and Sport mode, with the ability to manually go through the gears with the paddle shifters while in either setting. The suspension is strut front and multi-link rear with an optional European feature–Adaptive Chassis Control, DCC. It has three settings–Normal, Comfort and Sport–that are selected by a button on the lower center stack near the gear shift lever.

I had the opportunity to drive the 2014 VW Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec in the heaviest rain storm Southern California has experienced in several years. Selecting the Sport setting on the transmission and suspension delivered an unexpected driving experience. The transmission shifts in Sport automatic were smooth and in the right place for the rpms and driving conditions. The steering in Sport DCC was tight and precise with little body roll and, even in driving rain, the small crossover felt secure and confident. This excellent driving experience in Sport DCC is the result of the dampers being firmed-up, the steering assistance reduced and the throttle response sharpened. The Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec easily handled better than many passenger cars and probably as good as some sports sedans.

The 280 lb-ft of torque is a blast when in the Sport DCC mode or using the paddle shifters where the rpms can be stretched. The engine really shines when kicking-in around 25 mph and staying on it to 70+ mph (freeway of course); the payback is a big grin!

A note about the other suspension and transmission setting options. The Tiguan TDI 4Motion is designed to deliver high fuel economy, so the Drive DCC mode resulted in some high gearing at low speeds. I felt it did not shift to keep the powerband where it was needed for city driving, therefore I opted for the Sport DSC mode which kept it in each gear just a bit longer and down shifted at the right place. Regarding the suspension settings: You can noticeably feel the difference between Normal, Comfort and Sport. Again, I opted to leave it in Sport which provided the best feel for the road with crisp handling but no loss of comfort.

The 2014 VW Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec came with Start/Stop technology, which is common in Europe but not on U.S. VW diesel models. It is set to turn-off the engine within 2 – 3 seconds of coming to a full stop and then kicking in again when your foot is released from the brake pedal. I like this feature and believe it will become more prevalent in the United States. But before it does, VW needs to tweak it just a bit for two reasons:

• When the engine starts back up it does so with a noticeable jerk and rumble. This may be acceptable in Europe but not to drivers in the United States as we like our cars smooth and quiet.

• When at a red traffic light with the engine off and your foot on the brake, when the light turns green the immediate action is to step on the accelerator pedal. With Start/Stop and the slight turbo lag (a common turbo reality) this results in a momentary acceleration delay. Again, maybe this is acceptable in Europe but it will not be in the USA. It is a minor issue and, once I drove the Tiguan TDI for many miles, I adjusted to it. My guess is this is something that VW will fine-tune when the Tiguan TDI comes to the USA.

As mentioned earlier, the Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec feels solid and confident on the road with responsive handling due to all-wheel drive, 18-inch alloy wheels and four-wheel vented power-assisted disc brakes and ABS. While not a sports car, the Tiguan lives up to VW’s claim of it having “Track & Style.”

Driving Experience: Interior

The interior appointments are where I can’t get too specific as the Tiguan TDI 4Motion model that comes to the United States will likely not be configured the same as the Euro Spec. While doing fact-checking with the Volkswagen media representative, I asked if the excellent two-toned cloth seats will be standard or an option for the US model. I was told this fabric would not make its way across the ocean, which is a shame as it gripped your body on tight turns and was very comfortable. Who knows, maybe it will.



Classic European Class

The interior has a fit and finish that are German tight with just the right amount of black brushed aluminum trim on the dashboard, center console, doors and steering wheel. I would

VW ,Tiguan, TDI

Europeans ride in style

assume the U.S. Tiguan TDI 4Motion will come in the R-Line, which will have a very high-end luxury look and feel. The Tiguan TDI 4Motion was quiet on even the bumpiest of roads and was very enjoyable to drive.

There is a good mix of soft and hard plastics with no unnecessary fake woods or plastic chrome pieces. The heated front seats were very comfortable, including a power driver’s seat that was height adjustable and a telescoping steering column. The 60/40 rear seat (with folding arm rest with cup holders) is comfortable for three adults with ample foot room. A cool feature are the airliner-style flip-up trays mounted on the back of the front driver and passenger seats. Along with a 12V and European-style 110V plug (expect this to be the U.S. plug), the back seat is good for long trips in comfort and convenience.

The sound system was good but this version will most likely not be offered in the United States. Specific to this car since it was European Spec, the voice activation included a German language option, a German radio band with no operating Bluetooth or Navigation. Fun and quirky to say the least was the Owner’s Manual, which was printed in German.

If you are interested in learning about the U.S. Tiguan models currently at your local dealer, more information can be found here: 

Driving Experience: Exterior

Tiguan TDI 4Motion has clean, Germanic lines with no unnecessary cladding or body panels. The front headlights had the helpful feature of the side markers lighting when turning corners. The headlights would dim automatically when approaching oncoming cars. There were roof rack rails designed to support cross members, rear wiper, dual chrome exhaust tips and the distinctive “2.0 TDI 4Motion” badge.


There is no way to estimate the price of the 2015 Tiguan TDI 4Motion, especially since VW will not commit to it even being on sale in the United States. However, U.S. spec 2014 Tiguans range in price from $23,305 to $32,995 so it is anyone’s guess where a 2015 Tiguan TDI 4Motion would fall. In Europe the TDI models start about $1,000 more than the gas versions, but the variety of engines available over there make comparisons difficult. In the U.S. VW has been pricing its diesel models at about $4 to $5,000 more than the cheapest gas model, but they are not always comparably equipped so apple-to-apple comparisons are difficult.

Observations: 2014 VW Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec

Let’s start with what a kick it is that Volkswagen allowed Clean Fleet Report to drive the 2014 Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec. Was it a bit of a tease? Yes. Did it accomplish what they were seeking to do: get journalist input on this crossover and our opinions on how it would fit as a U.S. model? Definitely!

The small crossover market is very competitive with a wide array of brands and models from which to choose. Volkswagen knows that if they bring the 2015 Tiguan TDI 4Motion to the United States that its sales need to


Flying Lufthansa style

warrant this decision.

In 2013, 24 percent of Volkswagen’s USA overall sales were clean diesel models. Adding the 2015 Tiguan TDI 4Motion to their line-up (the 2013 Tiguan was fourth in VW sales behind Jetta, Passat and Beetle) Volkswagen would have the fuel economy leader, best handling and highest performance entry in the small crossover category.

I told the VW rep as much and suggested they would have a winner on their hands.

We’ll see, of course, but I am sure they have heard this from other journalists; we’ll have to wait to see what kind of influence we have at Volkswagen HQ in Germany and the United States.

Words and Photos by John Faulkner

Posted April 17, 2014

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