Road Test: 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Premium

Road Test: 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Premium

Camry Quality and Reliability with Increased Fuel Efficiency

What possibly could Toyota do to improve the Camry, which was the #1 selling midsize car in the U.S. in 2013 (and for several years previous)? How about offering a version with their proven hybrid technology that increases the horsepower and fuel economy? It makes sense adding the Camry to their hybrid (which they did in the 2007 model year) line-up since Toyota, led by their four-model Prius family, is the top seller of hybrid powered cars. They hold 2/3rds of the hybrid market with 11 Toyota and Lexus models 14 years after introducing the Prius here; the Camry Hybrid usually holds down the #2 sales spot among hybrids. They pretty much have hybrid technology figured out.

Drivetrain

The front-wheel drive 2014 Camry Hybrid is powered by Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system which combines a 2.5L, 16-valve double-overhead-cam (DOHC) gasoline-powered, in-line 4-cylinder engine and a 105-kW electric motor with a nickel-metal hydride battery (Ni-MH) to store electrical power. The two power sources produce a combined peak output of 200 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque through a very smooth Electronic Continuous Variable Transmission, or ECVT.

Fuel economy for the 2014 Camry Hybrid

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2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid-more power

is rated at 38 highway/40 city with a combined of 40 mpg. Running on regular unleaded, I drove 365 mostly highway miles and averaged 40 mpg but did not come close to using all 17 gallons in the tank. At my fuel consumption rate I could have traveled almost 700 miles.

To maximize fuel economy, Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive automatically switches between the electric drive mode, combined electric and gasoline engine (hybrid) mode and only engine power. The transitions are seamless and smooth and can be monitored by viewing the dash gauges.

The Camry Hybrid has an Eco mode button that improves fuel economy and an auto-stop feature that temporarily turns off the engine to save fuel when you come to a stop. Taking your foot off the brake pedal automatically restarts the engine.

The nickel-metal hydride battery is charged by the engine and through the regenerative charging system, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. This process is also viewed on a dash gauge where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and engine.

Driving Experience: On The Road

The Camry Hybrid weighs in at a solid 3,545 lbs. which is 330 lbs. more than the gasoline-powered, base model Camry L. The weight comes from options on the XLE plus the hybrid components, primarily the battery.

The CVT has one primary drive gear and for additional charging of the battery for EV driving, a “B” mode which acts like an engine

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A hybrid with real-world acceleration

brake. The Eco mode reduces horsepower but is easily over-ridden when needing to accelerate to change lanes or pass cars and trucks.

For those of you that have never driven a CVT, you should give it a try. I like them for their smooth operation–never feeling a gear shift–and increased fuel economy. As auto manufacturers constantly search for ways to boost fuel economy more will be introducing the CVT into their vehicles.

The Camry Hybrid XLE comes with 17-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, electrically power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering with front MacPherson struts and stabilizer bar, and dual-link rear MacPherson struts with a stabilizer bar. All this delivers a confident, smooth and quiet highway ride, but I would have liked more steering feel. Tight cornering produces some body roll, which is to be expected for a vehicle of this weight, particularly one that is not designed to be a sports sedan.

The Camry Hybrid ran about 9 seconds from 0 – 60, which, for a midsize sedan, is very respectable. Where the hybrid system

produces the best acceleration is at freeway speeds when passing or changing lanes. If you need to go from 65 to 75 the Camry Hybrid gets that done quickly and smoothly. The CVT finds the right powerband and off you go without feeling a gear shift.

But going fast is worthless if you can’t stop – just ask any racer which they would rather have, a few more horsepower or better brakes. The Camry Hybrid comes with power-assisted disc brakes with ABS, which are part of Toyota’s Integrated Regenerative Braking system. I found the stops to be straight and consistent, which is important to build confidence for emergency stopping. There was no brake grab which can be common on less sophisticated regenerative braking systems. When coming to a stop the combination of the regenerative braking and the hybrid motor made a considerable whine, which became annoying in city driving.

Driving Experience: Interior

Clean Fleet Report was driving the fully optioned and nicely appointed Camry Hybrid XLE. The XLE package included power eight-way adjustable, heated driver and four-way adjustable heated passenger seats, which were leather-trimmed with Ultrasuede inserts. The Ultrasuede had a nice feel and touch, but in a family car could lead to stains. Finding a comfortable seating position was not difficult and except for the high rear deck lid compromising a bit of the rear view, the sight lines were excellent.

The cockpit design is driver friendly with all the gauges in easy sight and controls within easy reach, including many on the steering

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Everything in its place, including fun features

wheel, with the audio and navigation found centered in the center stack.

Our car had the optional Convenience Package that includes everything you would expect – or want – in an entertainment system. The list is long but the cornerstone is Toyota’s Entune Premium JBL Audio with Navigation that includes a 7-inch high-resolution split-screen touch-screen display, AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, 10 JBL GreenEdge speakers, including a subwoofer and amplifier. There is an auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod 6 connectivity, music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology, SiriusXM and HD Radio. Toyota’s voice recognition and hands-free phone capability worked well with no significant learning curve. What I really enjoyed was the AM/FM radio and its ability to cache programming (keeping the last 20 minutes of programming for playback). This is a very cool feature that I wish more manufacturers would include on their top-end entertainment packages.

But what is all the comfort and convenience worth if the car isn’t safe? The Camry Hybrid is well equipped with active and passive safety features including 10 air bags, remote keyless entry, power door locks, TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), projector beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, integrated back-up camera, collision sensors, blind spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, anti-theft alarm, an energy-absorbing collapsible steering column and the previously mentioned four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, stability assist with traction control and electronic brake distribution.

Pricing

The 2014.5 Camry Hybrid XLE Clean Fleet Report was driving had a price of $34,610, including the $810 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, which other car manufacturers call the Destination Charge.

The 2014.5 Camry Hybrid comes in three models, but can be ordered with Option Packages that will affect your final price. The base MSRP for the three models, including the $810 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee:

LE          $26,330

SE Limited edition  $27,945

XLE          $28,625

Pricing for the Hybrid model represents a premium of $3,460, $4,205 and $2,815 for the three models (LE, SE, XLE, respectively). Of course the Hybrid model doesn’t have the entry-level L model the standard Camry does, which would represent another $445 discount.

The 2014.5 Camry Hybrid comes with these warranties:

• 3 year/36,000 mile –  Basic

• 5 year/60,000 mile –  Powertrain

• 15 year/150,000 –  Hybrid-related Component Coverage for: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont

• 8 year/100,000 mile –  Hybrid-related Component Coverage for all states not listed above

• 5 year/Unlimited miles –  Rust-through (corrosion perforation of sheet metal)

Observations: 2014.5 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE

Do you have a need to sit up to five adults and like the thought of getting 40+ miles per gallon while doing so? If so, the 2014.5

toyota,camry,hybrid,hybrid synergy drive,fuel economy,mpg

2014 continues Toyota’s hybrid march

Toyota Camry Hybrid, whether it is the LE, SE or XLE versions, you will be doing so in comfort, with respectable performance and a high level of safety and reliability.

The midsize sedan category is the most competitive and Toyota knows they have to continue to improve the Camry if they want to remain the sales leader, which of course is good news for consumers. Improvements in automotive technology, whether focused on fuel consumption, safety or conveniences, make driving just that much more fun.

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

Story and Photos by John Faulkner

Related stories you might enjoy on some of Camry’s competition:

Road Test: 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid—Camry’s Big Brother

Road Test: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid—Fun But Responsible

Overview: 2014 Chevy Malibu With Start-Stop—Standard Fuel Economy

Overview: 2014 Ford Fusion With Start-Stop—Fuel Economy Boost

Ford Has Confidence In Its Aluminum Path To MPG

Ford Has Confidence In Its Aluminum Path To MPG

Ford Believes MPG Move Will Work Because Customers Have Already Tested Truck

This story was originally published on Western Automotive Journalists website–www.waj.org

Ford didn’t decide to make its revolutionary move to an aluminum body in its best-selling F-150 pickups quickly–or without undertaking its most extensive testing program ever. Eric Peterson, the F-150’s marketing manager, detailed Ford’s process with what many in the industry are calling a “game-changing truck” to Western Automotive Journalists members and guests at the June 18, 2014, meeting.

The 2015 F-150 that goes on sale in late 2014 will be up to 700 pounds lighter than its predecessor through the use of aluminum, high-strength steel and other moves such as a smaller, lighter engine, Peterson said. Because Ford knew its truck buyers were not early adopters of new technology, they knew they were taking a risk.

Aluminum F-150To mitigate that risk, Ford ended up putting two million more test miles on the 2015 model than they had on its previous generation. They also pulled a few new tricks, such as giving six prototypes to three companies without telling them they had aluminum beds. Those three companies–a mining company, an energy company and a construction company–were told to “drive them like you stole them” and “run ‘em like you want to break it.” The companies obliged and ended up feeding more information into the development cycle while fundamentally validating the viability of the new configuration.

In another unconventional test, Ford took one of the new aluminum trucks, disguised as a current model, to Mexico to compete in the Baja off-road race. In that case they were also testing the new downsized 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 that be one of the key powerplants for the new F-150.

The testing convinced Ford that it was not risking its 37 years of truck sales leadership by this bold move. It has shaken up the tradition-bound pickup market, which is being challenged because of new fuel economy standards. Ford’s chief rival, General Motors, is pursuing a strategy of introducing a midsize pickup and adding a diesel engine; cross-town rival Chrysler (or Fiat Chrysler Automotive as it is now known) has already added a diesel engine to its Ram pickup. Toyota has hinted about hybridizing its pickup although it also has the compact Tacoma to hedge its fuel economy bets. Nissan, like Chrysler, is adding a diesel engine and, like Toyota, has a smaller pickup in its lineup.

The biggest differentiator in Ford’s strategy was a point Peterson emphasized several times in his presentation and in answer to questions. The move lightweighting move Ford is making positively impacts all of its pickups, where a new engine or even a new model will only affect a portion of the fleet. The strategy is clear and Ford has done its homework with its customers; we’ll now wait to see if the market responds positively to the new truck when it hits the showrooms this fall.

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Road Test: 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium

Road Test: 2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium

Toyota’s Full-size Hybrid Sedan Leads in MPG

Toyota is the undisputed sales leader of hybrid technology vehicles, so it only makes sense they would put a hybrid in their full size car, the Avalon. What makes this competitively advantageous is that Toyota offers the only full-size non-luxury hybrid, resulting in

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Toyota Avalon – sleek looks

the Avalon being the category’s fuel economy leader by a sizeable margin.

Toyota also makes the midsize sales leader in hybrid form, the Camry. So the question becomes: Is a bit more leg room worth the higher cost of the larger Toyota hybrid?

Drivetrain

The front-wheel drive Avalon Hybridis powered by Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which combines a 2.5-liter, 16-valve double overhead cam (DOHC) gasoline-powered, in-line 4-cylinder engine and a 105-kW electric motor with a nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery for energy storage. The two power sources produce a combined peak output of 200 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque through a very smooth electronic Continuous Variable Transmission, or CVT. This is the same drivetrain offered in the mid-size Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Fuel economy for the Avalon Hybrid is rated at 39 highway/40 city with a combined of 40 mpg. Running on regular unleaded, I drove 340 mostly highway miles and averaged 38.8 mpg but did not come close to using all 17 gallons in the tank. At my fuel consumption rate I could have traveled almost 660 miles.

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Avalon – coming and going with style

To maximize fuel economy, Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive automatically switches between the electric drive mode, combined electric and gasoline engine mode and only engine power. The transitions are seamless and smooth and can be monitored by viewing the dash gauges.

The Avalon Hybrid has three drive settings: Sport, EV and Eco, with Eco being the default setting for optimal fuel economy, and an auto-stop feature that temporarily turns off the gasoline engine (and puts the car into EV mode) to save fuel when coming to a halt. Taking your foot off the brake pedal automatically and seamlessly restarts the engine.

The NiMH battery is charged by the engine and through the regenerative charging system, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. This process also can be viewed on a dash gauge where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and engine.

Driving Experience: On The Road

The Avalon Hybrid weighs in at 3,585 lbs., which is only 124 lbs. more than the gasoline-powered, base model Avalon XLE. This is a small weight difference considering the added hybrid components.

As mentioned, the Avalon Hybrid has three drive modes going through the CVT. For best fuel economy the Eco mode reduces horsepower slightly but, when needed, is easily over-ridden to accelerate to change lanes or pass cars and trucks. The EV mode is for short distances and slow speeds and is most noticeable when in parking lots or pulling away from your home, office or a stoplight.

The most responsive drive mode is Sport, where the CVT is held in a RPM range longer than in Eco. I was impressed with the consistency of how the CVT and the engine’s computer management system are so well programmed and work together. Tromp on the accelerator and whoosh…off you go to 80 in a couple of seconds.

For those of you that have never driven a CVT, you should give it a try. I like them for their smooth operation, never feeling a gear shift, and fuel economy. As auto manufacturers constantly search for ways to increase fuel economy, more will be introducing the CVT into their vehicles.

The Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium comes with 17-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, electrically power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, front independent suspension with MacPherson struts and stabilizer bar, and dual-link independent rear MacPherson struts with a stabilizer bar. All this delivers a smooth and quiet highway ride with little wind noise. The Avalon Hybrid is not designed to be a sports sedan and wouldn’t necessarily be considered fun to drive, but unexpected freeway maneuvers and tight cornering were done with confidence. For a full-size sedan the Avalon Hybrid delivers a very nice, comfortable ride.

In my unscientific testing, the Avalon Hybrid ran just under nine seconds from 0 – 60, which is respectable for a full-size sedan. Another test revealed only about one second faster acceleration in Sport versus Eco, so off-the-line isn’t where the hybrid and CVT combination shine. Where you will notice it, as previously noted, is at freeway speeds where a CVT gets that done quickly and smoothly, finding the right powerband without ever feeling a gear shift.

But going fast is worthless if you can’t stop. The Avalon Hybrid comes with Toyota’s Electronically Controlled Brake system (ECB), which includes power-assisted disc brakes with ABS, part of Toyota’s Integrated Regenerative Braking system. The stops were straight and consistent, but at low speeds the brakes were, at times, a bit touchy, which the dealer service department may be able to dial out. Also, when coming to a stop, the combination of the regenerative braking and the hybrid motor made a noticeable whine.

Driving Experience: Interior

Clean Fleet Report was driving the base model, but nicely appointed, Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium. There are two higher optioned (and priced) versions: XLE Touring and Limited. The XLE Premium package included ivory-colored, power-adjustable, leather-

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Toyota Avalon – luxury inside

trimmed eight-way heated driver (with power lumbar) and four-way heated passenger seats. After a bit of time playing with the power adjustments, a comfortable seating position was found, which included raising the seat that resulted in excellent sight lines. Features also include what are now considered to be standard equipment on many cars–power windows and door locks, 12V power outlets, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Homelink, cruise control, heated outside power mirrors, smart key system for the doors and trunk, push button start and illuminated entry.

The rear seats can hold three adults but two is more comfortable and convenient, as the center armrest folds down to reveal two cup holders. The rear seats do not fold flat as behind the rear seatback is the Li-ion battery. The trunk holds a respectable amount of luggage, but nothing longer than about three feet in length.

The cockpit design is driver-friendly with the gauges in easy sight and controls within easy reach, including many on the leather-wrapped steering wheel and the audio and navigation found centered in the center stack. The tri-toned front seating area included ivory on the seats, dash and door panels, a dark brown center armrest and cup holder area finished by black around the radio and

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Avalon is missing some features inside the cabin

instrument panel. Tasteful smoked chrome accents highlighted the center stack audio unit and was capped-off by a small, but prominent, area of high gloss wood-grain style trim above the glovebox. This all sounds like it could be busy, but the colors and materials work well together and compliment each other nicely. The Avalon easily is the most luxurious Toyota sedan, which is exactly where it is positioned in their lineup.

The Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium had Toyota’s Display Audio system, which included a nice base level of entertainment technology. Even though this Avalon is the base model in Toyota’s Avalon line, I was a bit surprised it did not have a higher level of standard equipment. The base Display Audio system includes a 6.1-inch touch-screen with AM/FM/CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability with eight speakers. There is an auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity, music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology and hands-free phone capability. However, SiriusXM is not included, which was confusing as even most cars we test at a much lower price always have satellite radio. This is an odd feature to leave out of Toyota’s topline car, even if it is the base model.

A note about the 6.1-inch touch-screen. Its raked angle produces a glare, whether it is from the open sunroof or by light streaming through the windows, making it difficult, at the least, to all the way impossible to read at times. Most of the touch-screens we see are not laid back at such an angle or have a hood over them, shielding the sunlight.

But what is all the comfort and convenience worth if the car isn’t safe? The Avalon Hybrid is well-equipped with active and passive safety features including 10 air bags, TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), halogen headlights, integrated back-up camera, anti-theft alarm, collision sensors that deactivate the high-voltage battery, an energy-absorbing collapsible steering column and the previously mentioned four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, stability assist with traction control and electronic brake distribution.

Pricing

The 2014 Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium Clean Fleet Report was driving had a price of $36,615, including the $810 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee, which other car manufacturers call the Destination Charge.

The 2014 Avalon Hybrid comes in three models, but can be ordered with Option Packages that will affect your final price. The base MSRP for the three models, including the $810 Delivery Processing and Handling Fee:

 

XLE Premium $36,615
XLE Touring $37,810

Limited                                               $42,460

The 2014 Toyota Avalon comes with these warranties:

• 3 year/36,000 mile – Basic

• 2 year/25,000 mile – Free Maintenance and Roadside Assistance

• 5 year/60,000 mile – Drivetrain

• 15 year/150,000 – Hybrid-related Component Coverage for: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont

• 8 year/100,000 mile – Hybrid-related Component Coverage for all states not listed above

• 5 year/Unlimited miles – Rust-through (corrosion perforation of sheet metal)

Observations: 2014 Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium

The Avalon was completely redesigned in 2013, which carries over to the 2014 model. And, what a redesign it was! The Avalon went from a boxy, completely forgettable car to a striking, cutting-edge look with a swept, coupe roofline similar to the Volkswagen CC, Mercedes-Benz CLA and Audi A7. The Avalon redesign of the interior has a luxury look and feel with refined materials, lighting and hand-stitched leather seats that add the touch of fine craftsmanship.

So, let’s go back to the question proffered in the opening: why, but for a bit more leg room would you consider a full size Toyota

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Toyota Avalon rear seat – where full-size counts

Avalon Hybrid over the best-selling midsize Toyota Camry Hybrid, especially since the price difference can be as much as $13,000 more?

The answer is simple: a high level of luxury, modern style and interior fit-and-finish at the cost of a non-luxury class vehicle.

Designed in California and built in Kentucky, the 2014 Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium is a near-luxury car bumping real close to the luxury car category. It comfortably seats up to five adults, has a combined city and highway fuel economy of 40 miles per gallon and gets you to where you want to be in comfort and style with a high level of safety and reliability.

Luxury hybrids that would be a step up in style and features but cost tens of thousands more than the Avalon Hybrid are the Toyota-brand Lexus GS450h and LS600h, the Acura RLX and BMW 7 Series. None of these come close to the Avalon’s fuel economy; for that you’d need to look at a different approach, Audi’s A8 TDI diesel, or the ultimate, the pure electric Tesla Model S.

It all comes down to what makes you feel good, fits your lifestyle and gets you in the mood to tackle city streets and rush-hour traffic jams, then hit the open road for that long awaited and deserved vacation, saving money with each mile. The 2014 Avalon Hybrid will sooth those mood-challengers and swift you away to that vacation.

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

Story and Photos by John Faulkner

Related stories you might want to check out:

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Battle of the Esses: S-Class Mercedes vs. Tesla Model S

Test Drive: Infiniti M35h Hybrid

Bbaby Brother Road Test: Toyota Camry Hybrid

 

Ford Restates MPG on 6 Cars

Ford Restates MPG on 6 Cars

Matching Up Fuel Economy To The Real World

Ford,Fusion,start-stop,

Fusion moves up in sales in 2014, but now where?

Today Ford announced what most of the motoring world already knew – the claimed fuel economy on several of its gasoline, hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars are pretty tough to reach in the real world. In a deal with the EPA, Ford restates the mpg on the following vehicles:

  • Ford Fiesta
  • Ford Fusion
  • Ford Fusion Hybrid
  • Ford Fusion Energi
  • Ford C-Max Hybrid
  • Ford C-Max Energi
  • Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

The MKZ Hybrid took the biggest hit of seven mpg, dropping it to 31 mpg combined from its previous 38. Ford self-reported this correction to the EPA, saying they used an incorrect factor when calculating fuel economy based on the dynamometer testing that is part of what is reported to figure out the fuel economy numbers. Ford been claiming the higher numbers for at least the last two years and plans to send checks to customers who have bought the vehicles paying for the difference in the window sticker and newly calculated fuel economy numbers. Ford estimated that it had about 200,000 of the affected cars on the road.

This is the second time Ford restated mpg and dropped its fuel economy numbers on some of the vehicles. Last August it dropped the C-Max Hybrid fuel economy numbers by seven mpg after consumer complaints.

Among other manufacturers, Hyundai/Kia also did a customer mea culpa when it was revealed during EPA investigations that several of its vehicles had overstated their fuel economy by one mpg or more. That company also sent checks to those who had purchased the vehicle and the general consensus was that the company suffered little damage in the marketplace. It remains to be seen how this will impact Ford, which has been placing a great emphasis on its pursuit of higher fuel economy for vehicles across the board. The company has led the way in the pickup market this year with the introduction of the 2015 aluminum-intensive F-150 pickup.

Related articles you might enjoy:

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Road Test: 2014 Honda CR-V

Road Test: 2014 Honda CR-V

Honda’s SUV Is Back On Top In Sales

It’s not easy to be the top dog of a vehicle category. Just ask Honda.

The company’s CR-V compact crossover vehicle has been battling the Ford Escape for years, and the two have traded places as the number-one seller in their category several times. CR-V won the top spot in 2012 and 2013, but slid to second place during the first quarter of 2014.

Now it’s back on top. With a strong April 2014, the CR-V claimed the title for the first time this year, and having done so, also

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Hondas CR-V doesnt exactly run away from the pack

surpassed the Escape as the year-to-date sales leader.

Among the CR-V’s assets is fuel economy. It earns inclusion in our All-Wheel Drive 30 MPG Club with an EPA estimated 30 mpg highway/22 mpg city and a combined rating of 25 mpg.

Honda also makes the CR-V easy to buy. There is only one engine, a choice of two- or all-wheel drive and three trim levels. There are only two options, navigation and rear seat entertainment, available on the top trim.

What Makes The CR-V A Crossover SUV?

The CR-V merits crossover status because it shares its platform with the Civic compact sedan. A crossover combines an SUV body style with a car-type understructure. Their one-piece construction, called “unibody,” contrasts with old-school sport utilities that are based on trucks, which attach the body to a separate frame. The body on frame construction provides the ability to tow heavy trailers and haul big loads, but typically sacrifices fuel economy.

A unibody design isn’t as suited to heavy-duty towing or hauling but its lighter weight benefits ride, handling, and fuel economy. The 2014 CR-V is rated to tow trailers weighing up to 1,500 pounds, about average for a four-cylinder compact crossover.

Standing Pat On The 2012 Redesign

The 2014 CR-V styling and interior are unchanged coming off a complete redesign for model year 2012. It is handsomely aerodynamic and rightly proportioned, if less flamboyant than the shaped-in-Europe Escape and the been-to-the-gym Toyota RAV4 (another compact crossover big seller.

Some commentators say the exterior styling is bland. I disagree. Large wheels and bold fender wells combined with sculpted side body panels give a pseudo-aggressive look. In profile, the sweeping roofline has an almost coupe-like appearance.

Plus, I like the now signature vertical taillights. Larger than the previous model, the base extends into the rear body panels in a hockey stick style, and at night you know there’s a CR-V ahead of you.

Interior room is one of the CR-V’s biggest draws, while comfort on supportive seats front and rear are another selling point. Up front, the driver has a high seating position without sacrificing headroom, and in the rear is an abundance of legroom and plenty of space for two child seats. The 60/40 split rear seats recline, but don’t move fore and aft like some competitors.

Cargo volume is vacation-worthy with 37.2 cubic feet of space behind the second row. That’s three cubes more than the Escape and

Honda CR-V interior space is big

Honda CR-V interior space is big

about even with the RAV4.

Need more room to haul stuff? A clever mechanism folds the rear seat even with the rear load floor at the pull of a single lever or strap, expanding cargo volume to 70.9 cubic feet — more space than you’ll find in most affordable compact SUVs.

The CR-V’s dashboard is well laid-out and well organized with upper and lower display screens that show settings for Bluetooth mobile phone linking and the image from the rearview backup camera — both of which are standard. The transmission shift lever is located just right of the steering wheel, making room for a large center console between the front seats. Add eight cupholders and an ample number of storage bins, and the CR-V is a crossover that validates the “utility” in “SUV.”

Honda has fashioned an efficiently sized exterior enveloping a smartly packaged interior, but falls short on interior materials compared to the Escape and RAV4, as well as other small crossovers. Fitment is quite good with no panel gaps, however hard plastics that cover the dash and door panels may be durable, but they border on cheap looking.  Plus, there is a lack of soft-touch materials in places like arm rests.

Efficient Engine But Just Adequate Oomph

The 2014 CR-V soldiers on with a dual-overhead cam 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that features Honda’s i-VTEC “intelligent” valve control system. Its 185 horsepower is among the highest among competitors, but torque of 185 pounds feet is below the mean. Torque is the force that gets the vehicle moving and is more important to the feel of acceleration than horsepower, which is the energy that keeps the vehicle moving.

Also off the pace with rivals is CR-V’s five-speed automatic – its only transmission. Most top competitive models have an automatic with at least six speeds; the Jeep Cherokee tops others with a nine-speed automatic. In transmissions, more gears provide improved, efficient acceleration and fuel economy. On the plus side, a dashboard “Econ” button configures the CR-V’s transmission to favor fuel economy over acceleration.

What isn’t outdated is Honda’s Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control System. It is more fuel efficient than the CR-V’s previous mechanical AWD, and is quicker to reapportion power from the front wheels to the rears. That benefits traction upon acceleration on snowy, wet or dry surfaces. While not suited for serious off-road use, it is quite capable on gravel and dirt trails.

Short On Gee-Whiz Features

Honda did bring this latest CR-V closer to the class leaders for basic infotainment. It finally installed as standard on every model such modern necessities as Bluetooth hands-free phone and music streaming, Pandora interface, SMS text messaging and a USB iPod interface.

Honda,CR-V,SUV,MPG, fuel economy,

CR-V interior: better, not best

However, the little runabout lacks the gee-whiz features than a lot of buyers are attracted to and are offered by adversaries.

For example, you’ll find pushbutton ignition on the Escape and RAV4, but not on the CR-V. Same for a power liftgate, which the Escape ratchets up a notch with a hands-free operation via a kicking motion under the rear bumper. And the Escape has a competitive advantage with its Active Park Assist that automatically parallel parks the vehicle. As for an infotainment touchscreen interface, yes on the Ford and Toyota, no on the Honda.

Like others in the class, available is leather upholstery, an upgraded audio system and a navigation system. Unusual for small sport utilities, the CR-V offers a rear DVD entertainment system. However, it is not available if you want the navigation system.

Driving Impressions

The CR-V’s four is fairly lively, but a tad coarse-voiced at times. It has adequate oomph on hand to dash through traffic and, when up to speed, cruise along with fast-moving traffic. The automatic shifts crisply and is well matched to the engine, keeping it in the revs where it needs to be for good vigor or good mileage, depending on the driver’s right foot.

But it’s difficult at times not to pine for additional power, at little sacrifice in fuel economy, when you have a full passenger load, are driving in hilly topography or passing on a two-lane or merging onto a fast-moving freeway.

Steering has a surprisingly natural feel for an electric system. It’s steady on-center, quick to respond to the driver’s input and the wheel feels connected to the road.

Toe the brake pedal and the CR-V slows right now. Not touchy and no slop.

Mazda’s CX-5 and the Ford Escape are the class leaders for sprightly road manners, but the CR-V is notably pleasant to drive and to ride in. It’s confident in changes of direction and heads into a turn with eagerness. The suspension resists wallowing and floating when encountering road dips and swells. And it soaks up rough pavement with little disruption to occupant comfort.

Fuel Economy

During our week with the top-of-the-line AWD EX-L Navi (L for leather) we racked up 263 miles. A round trip from Olympia to Bellingham, WA, to visit our oldest son tallied 165 miles of freeway driving. The 33.3 mpg was most likely the result of my setting the cruise control at 67 mph, a rarity for me. Our combined fuel mileage of 27.1 mpg was 2.1 mpg better than the EPA’s estimate of 25 probably because of my conservative freeway driving.

The Compact Crossover SUV For You?

There are a myriad of small crossovers to choose from. They range in price from under $20,000 for bare bones front-drive models, to more than $40,000 for luxury editions.

If you start the buying process by looking at pricing, 2014 CR-V prices will likely appear steep relative to the base prices of

Honda,CR-V,AWD,SUV,MPG,fuel economy

A leading badge of honor?

competitors. That’s mostly due to Honda’s practice against stand-alone options. Instead, the automaker equips each trim level with a fixed set of features that expands as you climb the price ladder. In the end, price differences shrink when competitors are optioned to compete with comparably equipped CR-Vs.

The CR-V starts at $23,775, including $830 destination charges, for the base LX front drive, $25,025 for the LX AWD version. Front drive models can top off at $30,025, our AWD EX-L Navi had a sticker of $31,275.

On a daily basis the Honda CR-V will perform its driving duties admirably, offering affordable commuting as well as providing space for kids, gear and pets.  If you prefer a small SUV that’s good at everything to one that’s good at just one thing, and if your four-wheel drive needs aren’t demanding, the all-wheel drive CR-V is outstanding. And that’s why it’s back on top.

Words by Larry E. Hall; photos by the manufacturer

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Road Test: 2013 Ford Escape SUV

Comparison Road Test: Mitsubishi’s AWD Choice: Compact Crossover or Compact Sedan