Road Test: 2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid)

Road Test: 2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid)

Cadillac’s Stealth Electrified Full-size Sedan

Waaaay back in 2014 Cadillac offered the short-lived, but very cool looking ELR PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle). Based on the Chevrolet Volt platform and technology, the ELR coupe was ahead of its time for the traditional Cadillac buyer, which was too bad. Fast forward to 2018, the CT6 PHEV is the electrified version of Cadillac’s full-size flagship sedan, delivering the expected Cadillac comfort and luxury, but also quick acceleration and impressive fuel economy.

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

Cadillac’s big move–big car, big MPG

When Clean Fleet Report reviewed the 2014 ELR we noted that Cadillac had created a car unto itself, as there were no other luxury, two-door, plug-in electric hybrids on the market. This time around Cadillac has put its formidable PHEV technology into a full-size sedan, which places it against some of the most recognizable big luxury cars from around the World. The challenge for Cadillac is how to create awareness and interest in an electrified car that happens to be a sedan. With sedan sales in the US declining over the past few years, and SUV and crossover models becoming the vehicles of choice, Cadillac as well as all other auto manufacturers are grappling with how to stabilize or reverse this trend.

Powerplant and Performance

The rear wheel drive 2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine and twin 100-horsepower (hp) electric motors mated to an electric variable transmission (EVT). Total system power numbers are impressive at 335 hp and 432 pounds-feet of torque. Clean Fleet Report was able to get consistent zero-to-60 runs at 5.2 seconds. The twin-motor EVT is a wonderful technology as it provides smooth acceleration and seamless ready-when-needed power at any speed.

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

Smooth power and ride along with a battery boost

The suspension is on the firm side, which is not a bad thing as Cadillacs of years past could get floaty or too soft. The ride, with 18-inch ultra-bright machined aluminum spoked wheels and all-season tires, is oh-so Cadillac smooth, with handling that borders on surprisingly agile. As a full-size sedan, it cannot and should not be compared with midsize sports sedans. Cadillac doesn’t do it, so set your expectations of it being a large sedan that has little body roll or motion, with good feel for the road through the electric-variable steering.

The size and weight of the CT6 PHEV is never a distraction as the car is well-balanced. Cadillac’s iBooster and electronic stability control system, with four-wheel ABS and disc brakes, are parts of the regenerative braking system. Other stopping aides include front pedestrian braking and forward and reverse automatic braking.

How Far and How Efficient

Combined fuel economy for the electric and gasoline propulsion system, which includes being able to drive 31 miles only on electricity, is rated at 62 MPGe. MPGe is a measurement of how far a car can travel electrically on the same amount of energy as is contained in one gallon of gasoline. Once the electric power has been depleted and operating in hybrid mode, the fuel economy is rated at 25 mpg. In 249 miles of 85-percent highway/15-percent city driving, we averaged 41.8 mpg. An impressive number for a car weighing in at 5,511 pounds.

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

The driver can control the battery regen and use

The 18.4 kWh lithium-ion (li-ion) battery is charged by plugging into a 120V (Level 1) or 240V (Level 2) outlet and through regenerative braking. To replenish the li-ion battery’s 31-mile driving range, estimate eight hours for the former and 4.5 hours for the latter. The CT6 PHEV does not come with a 480V (Level 3) option.

The regenerative charging system converts kinetic energy into electric energy when applying the brakes or coasting and stores it in the battery. This process can be viewed on a dash gauge where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and engine. The CT6 PHEV has Regen On Demand technology that is activated by pulling on the paddle shifters located on the backside of the steering wheel. Pulling on the paddle shifters applies the brakes and allows for one-pedal driving. Once you get the hang of it, this will be your go-to method of driving.

It is important to note that fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific, representing the reviewer’s driving experience in our reviewer’s city. If you live in cold weather, high in the mountains or spend time in the city or stuck in rush hour traffic, then your numbers may differ.

The CT6 PHEV has three drive modes—Tour, Sport and Hold. Tour is for everyday driving, Sport advances the throttle and tightens-up the steering, and Hold forces the car to not use any of the battery charge, therefore saving it for around town where it can deliver the most efficient driving. The transition between battery-only power and when the gasoline engine engages is seamless and only minimally noticeable.

Cadillac Style: Exterior

The exterior styling on the 2018 CT6 PHEV is clean and sophisticated. The evolution from the sharp angles of a few years back to a softer look immediately draws attention among large, luxury sedan aficionados. From the front grille with distinctive cross hatching and the proud Cadillac emblem, and the sharp-looking LED head lamps to the LED tail lamps that extend vertically over the fenders, the look is simple and pure Cadillac.

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

Large eco-luxury is here

Cadillac Style: Interior

Cadillac says the CT6 can seat five passengers, which technically is true. But anyone sitting in the center rear seat will be grumbling they pulled the short straw. Let’s just agree that the large, roomy and high-quality interior of the CT6 is better suited for four adults.

The interior materials complement each other with soft and supple leather seats and chrome, wood and carbon fiber trim pieces. About that carbon fiber trim: it really does not match well in the side-by-side placement with the wood trim.

The long list of standard equipment on the 2018 CT6 is what is to be expected on a car of this quality and price. Our CT6 had heated and ventilated driver and passenger seats. Both had 16-way power seats and 4-way power lumbar adjustments. The leather-wrapped, heated steering wheel, with power tilt and telescopic adjustments, made finding a comfortable seating position quite easy.

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

The backseat view will be more common in China

The driver’s seat has a surprise for you if you have not been forewarned: it vibrates as part of the lane departure warning system. If you did not use the turn signal when crossing into an adjoining lane on the highway, the driver’s seat will vibrate to let you know about your lane drift. I found myself changing lanes sans blinker on purpose just for the momentary rush, but after a while it became annoying, but effective, in reminding me to stay in my lane. The true safety impact of this feature is, if the driver is dozing off, the vibration, small as it may be, would wake the driver and hopefully prevent an accident.

The rear leather seats, separated by an armrest with cup holders, are best suited for two adults. On a long driving trip, luggage for four adults might be a stretch for the CT6 PHEV as the battery reduces trunk storage capacity. The power rear sunshade and manual rear side window shades are a nice touch as is heating in the outbound seats. Also worth noting are the 10-inch, pop-up color monitors located in the front seat backs. These come with wireless headphones and remotes.

The CT6 is well-equipped with true convenience features, including a panoramic power sunroof and shade, power rear deck lid, wireless phone charging, remote keyless entry with remote start, power door locks, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, keyless push button on-and-off and three years of OnStar.

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 enjoyable. This is one area where GM is the industry leader and, after the three-year service plan expires, it is well worth renewing.

The CT6 incorporates an open cockpit design with the center stack separating the front seats. Everything is nicely laid-out and within easy reach. The infotainment system on the CT6 starts with the CUE System, for information and media control, and a 10-inch full-color touchscreen display for the Bose Premium surround sound audio system with 10 speakers. Included are AM/FM HD radio with SiriusXM (90-day trial), Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio with multiple USB ports, 12V charge stations, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

In our opinion, the CT6 PHEV interior is nicer than a Tesla Model S. The CT6 PHEV is luxury, while the Tesla is premium. Go see for yourself.


2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

30+ EV miles per charge, but gas to take you as far as you need to go

The CT6 PHEV comes standard with a tire pressure monitoring system, eight airbags, rear vision camera, surround view camera, forward collision alert and lane departure warning (with the previiously mentioned vibrating driver’s seat), pedestrian safety signal (useful when at a crosswalk and someone walks in front of the car), automatic vehicle hold (nice when stopped on a hill), front and rear park assist, and blind zone alert.

Pricing and Warranties

The 2018 CT6 PHEV comes in one trim level with an MSRP of $75,095, plus the $995 destination charge. The CT6 PHEV qualifies for federal and (many) state tax credits that could reduce the final purchase price. Clean Fleet Report recommends contacting your CPA before considering a CT6 PHEV. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.

Also worth noting is that in California the CT6 PHEV qualifies for the coveted car pool lane stickers allowing solo driving in the HOV lane. This is no small thing when trying to get anywhere on a freeway in the Golden State.

The 2018 CT6 PHEV comes with these warranties:

Bumper-to-Bumper                    Four years/50,000 miles

Scheduled Maintenance             Three years/36,000 miles

Battery                                           Eight years/100,000 miles

Powertrain                                    Six years/70,000 miles

Roadside Assistance                    Six years/70,000 miles

Courtesy Transportation            Six years/70,000 miles   

Observations: 2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

The badge is discreet

The 2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV is the real deal for luxury, performance and fuel economy. Plus it stacks-up well with standard features, better fuel economy and lower price in an apple-to-apple competition with BMW, Audi and Jaguar.

Here’s the catch. The CTS PHEV probably won’t be a big seller in the United States, which Cadillac most likely isn’t fretting over. Where big sales numbers for the CTS PHEV are vital, and important, are in China, where strict restrictions on air pollution are being implemented. Built in Shanghai China, the CTS PHEV is a prime candidate for the Asian market, where executive cars that are easy on the environment are popular.

It is a shame that more people may not consider the CTS PHEV over a SUV or crossover. This is a very nice car in many ways and it really needs to be promoted as such.

Clean Fleet Report suggests calling ahead to make an appointment with a Cadillac factory-trained hybrid expert. This is important as sometimes the general sales person can get the hybrid technology story wrong. Take the time to learn about and experience this fine car, and it just may end-up in your garage.

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

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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at

Road Test: 2017 Lexus ES 300h

Road Test: 2017 Lexus ES 300h

Hybrid Efficiency in a Midsize Premium Sedan

If you are looking for something a bit more premium in a midsize sedan that can seat five adults, plus a car that gets very good fuel economy, then the 2017 Lexus ES 300h should be on your shopping list. Toyota, the parent company of Lexus, builds quality cars, but when you step-up to a Lexus, your ownership experience also rises a step or two.


The front-wheel drive 2017 Lexus ES 300h, which is unchanged for 2018, is powered by a parallel hybrid drivetrain, the Lexus Hybrid Synergy Drive. In the parallel hybrid system the electric motor can power the car by itself, the gas engine can power the car by itself, or they can power the car together.

2017 Lexus ES 300h

The ES 300h takes fuel economy into the luxury realm

The Lexus Hybrid Synergy Drive system comprises a 2.5-liter, 16-valve I-4 engine, that runs on unleaded regular. The hybrid portion consists of two electric motor generators (MG1 and MG2): MG1 starts the internal combustion engine and charges the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery, while MG2 drives the wheels and regenerates during braking and coasting. Total system horsepower is 200 and torque is 156 pounds-feet.

The power gets to the front wheels via an electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT). The EPA rates the fuel economy at 40 mpg city/39 highway/40 combined. In 301 miles of 65-percent highway/35-percent city driving, Clean Fleet Report achieved an average of 39.7 mpg.

Driving Experience: On the Road

Our ES 300h weighed in at 3,682 lbs. which aided in a smooth, if not exciting, driving car. The ride was smooth on the highway and around town, with the electric-assisted power steering programmed for cruising, not performance. Clean Fleet Report’s ES 300h came with 17-inch wheels and 255/55R all-season tires. Overall the ES 300h was pleasant and easy to drive, with low wind noise and a respectable 0.27 coefficient of drag (Cd).

2017 Lexus ES 300h

4 Drive modes to choose from

There are four driver-selectable settings of EV, Eco, Normal and Sport, offering distinctly different driving opportunities.

  • Eco prioritizes fuel economy by optimizing throttle response.
  • Sport sharpens the shift points, throttle response and steering feel. Selecting Sport mode will get you 0–60 mph between eight and nine seconds.
  • Normal is a mid-point of Eco and Sport
  • EV runs solely on electricity for about a half mile at no more than 25 miles per hour

On this last point, here’s what to expect from the EV drive mode. When driving a hybrid, I like the option to select EV, especially around town, forcing the car to run solely on electric power. The ES 300h has this option, but the driving range in pure electric mode is short. Plus, when in EV mode, only the slightest accelerator pedal pressure kicked-in the gasoline engine. Being able to hold the car in electric mode for a longer distance and at higher speeds would be a nice feature and would increase overall fuel economy (though of course it would require a bigger battery). When the gasoline engine kicks-in, you hear and feel it. This was unexpected on an otherwise smooth and quiet hybrid system.

The four-wheel power-assisted anti-lock disc brakes are part of the regenerative charging system. When applying the brakes or coasting, it converts kinetic energy into electricity and stores it in the battery. The ReGen brakes were a bit grabby at first pedal push, but then evened out and provided straight and no-fade stops. Completing the stopping suite are brake assist, electronic brake distribution, vehicle stability control and smart stop technology–all standard equipment.

Driving Experience: Interior

Clean Fleet Report was driving the 2017 Lexus ES 300h with the Luxury Package, which raised the interior comfort, look and feel a few notches. It could be considered

2017 Lexus ES 300h

Tasteful touches of luxury inside

elegant with the simple dash design covered in soft materials on most surfaces. The straight-forward gauges and controls were all within easy reach of the driver and, with Clean Fleet Report being big fans of knobs for the radio controls, Lexus earned our praise. Our Luxury Package came with driver and passenger embossed leather seats that were heated, ventilated and were 10-way power adjustable with lumbar. Rear head and leg room was excellent.

The piano black and wood grained interior trim was tasteful and not over-the-top in any way. The optional power rear window sunshade offered appreciated privacy, while the power moonroof opened the skies. The trunk suffered a bit in size to accommodate the hybrid battery.

There was no challenge finding a comfortable seating position with the power tilt and telescopic steering column. The heated, wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel included audio and telephone controls. Our ES 300h had the optional Navigation Package with the 15-speaker, 833-watt Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound audio system. This package includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen color display that handled navigation, backup camera, SiriusXM (three-month trial subscription) and AM/FM/HD/CD/MP3 cache radio. Connectivity includes a USB port with iPod control, aux-in jacks, Bluetooth streaming audio and hands-free telephone with Siri Eyes Free mode. The audio bundle includes a wide array of features through the Lexus Enform App Suite.

Other nice interior features are power windows and door locks, power and heated outside mirrors that are auto-dimming, dual zone automatic climate control, carpeted floor mats and an auto dimming rearview mirror with Homelink. The rain-sensing front wipers with deicers are a very handy feature.

2017 Lexus ES 300h

What the “L”?

Driving Experience: Exterior

Starting with the signature Lexus spindle grille and the L-shaped LED headlights, the 2017 Lexus ES 300h falls right in line with the current Lexus design style. The hood sweeps up-to the laid-back windshield to a smoothly-sloping roof with a shark fin antenna. It all ends on the short, one-touch power trunk lid with a built-in spoiler and LED rear tail lights. Be sure to look for the blue Lexus badging which signifies this ES 300h is electrified.

Safety and Convenience

The 2017 Lexus ES 300h has a 5 Star government safety rating, the highest they provide. Safety and convenience features include 10 air bags, remote keyless entry, theft deterrent system, tire pressure monitoring system and push button start. Standard and optional safety technology includes pre-collision braking, pedestrian detection, high-speed dynamic cruise control, blind spot monitor, intuitive parking assist, rear cross traffic alert and lane departure alert.

Pricing and Warranties

2017 ES 300h base price is $41,820. Clean Fleet Report’s test vehicle had option packages totaling $6,835, for a MSRP of $48,655. All listed prices exclude the $975 delivery processing and handling gee.

The 2017 Lexus ES 300h comes with these warranties.

  • Hybrid Components      96 months/100,000 miles
  • Basic                                 48 months/50,000 miles
  • Powertrain                      72 months/70,000 miles
  • Corrosion/Perforation  72 months/Unlimited miles

Observations: 2017 Lexus ES 300h

With the recent announcement by Lexus than the CT 200h was being discontinued after this year, the ES 300h becomes the entry level hybrid sedan in its line-up. This is not such a bad thing.

2017 Lexus ES 300h

Lexus’ ES 300h conveys luxury in its interior appointments & technology

Smart shoppers know that Lexus is the upscale division of Toyota, and that Toyota has a long-standing reputation of building quality vehicles. When you ask a Lexus owner about their experience, the conversation pretty much centers around how much they like their car. The ES 300h should not disappoint many owners either.

The midsize sedan segment is quickly being overtaken by crossovers and SUVs, meaning that if a manufacturer wants to compete successfully in this category, they had better have a strong story to tell. If the premium materials and build quality of the ES 300h are not enough, consider that 40+ mpg in a car weighing almost two tons is no small achievement. New for 2017, Lexus made the ES 300h even safer by making the Lexus Safety System+ standard This means no longer do you need to order a package or higher trim level to get safety technology such as pre-collision system, lane departure alert with steering assist, Intelligent High Beam (IHB) and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

With an attractive design, impressive interior room, safety systems and, of course, hybrid technology, there is far more to the ES 300h than mere fuel sipping.

Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!

In order to give you, the reader, the best perspective on the many vehicles available, Clean Fleet Report has a variety of contributors. When possible, we will offer you multiple perspectives on a given vehicle. This comes under SRO-Second Road Test Opinion. We hope you’ll enjoy these diverse views–some are just below—and let us know what you think in comments below or at

Road Test: 2017 Lexus ES 300h (Steve’s view)

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News: 2018 Hyundai Sonata Hybrids Bring Some Green to Chicago Auto Show

News: 2018 Hyundai Sonata Hybrids Bring Some Green to Chicago Auto Show

Eco-Friendly Sedans Show Off New Looks and Features

After refreshing the standard gasoline model last year, Hyundai took the wraps off its Sonata hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants this week at the 2018 Chicago Auto Show. While the two powertrains remain the same, the Sonata Hybrid and Sonata Plug-in Hybrid get the same refresh in exterior and interior design that was bestowed upon the non-hybrid Sonata last summer along with some new tech features.

2018 Hyundai Sonata Hybrids

Leading the way with a new look

Major Exterior Refresh

Carrying all the same exterior updates as the gas-only Sonata, a redesigned grille anchors the Sonata Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid’s exterior changes. The larger hexagonal grille includes more horizontal lines, a lower placement of the Hyundai logo and a more defined air dam with ailerons at its corners. A new headlight shape stretches up and back; LED headlights with Dynamic Bending Light functionality are optional. The hood, front fenders and a new shape for the fog lights gives the car a stronger presence and sleek look. The side panel below the doors and rear end are reshaped, as well.

At the back are new taillights and a new deck lid. The license plate holder is now positioned below the trunk. The hybrids get distinctive, flatter, aerodynamic16-inch and 17-inch wheel designs that help distinguish the 2018 models. All of these changes add up to a class leading 0.24 coefficient of drag.

Inside, More Changes

2018 Hyundai Sonata Hybrids

Instead of a tach you get to now your charge level

Inside, there’s a new steering wheel, and behind that a revised instrument cluster where a state-of-harge indicator occupies the gasoline model’s tachometer space. The standard seven-inch touchscreen (or eight-inch with optional navigation) is positioned slightly higher and is easier to see and reach than the previous model’s. The arrangement of buttons and controls is cleaner. Other tech improvements include wireless phone charging for navigation-equipped models and an added USB port for the rear seat.

The infotainment system is upgraded with new navigation overhead perspective features. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. Options include the aforementioned navigation and real-time HD traffic updates from mapping company Here.

Repeat Drivetrains

The engine in the hybrid powertrain for both models stays essentially the same with a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine tuned for maximum efficiency and producing 154 horsepower and 140 pounds-feet of torque. Between the engine and a six-speed automatic

2018 Hyundai Sonata Hybrids

The engine in both hybrids a a 2.0-liter four

transmission of the 2018 Sonata Hybrid is a 51-horsepower (38-kW) electric motor rated at 151 pounds-feet. Total system combined power is 193 horsepower. A 1.76-kWh lithium-ion battery pack is located under the trunk floor.

Hyundai estimates the 2018 Sonata Hybrid SE (the highest-mileage model) will be EPA-rated 39 mpg city/45 mpg highway/42 combined—an improvement on the 2017 ratings of 38 mpg city/ 43 highway and 40 combined.

The 2018 Sonata Plug-In Hybrid has a larger 9.8-kWh battery and a more powerful electric motor, at 67 horsepower (50 kW) for a total powertrain output of 202 horsepower. It will take less than three hours to charge the battery on a Level 2 charger.

Safety is a big part of this refresh: blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane change assist are now standard. Automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist are new options for these two cars.

Hyundai didn’t release details on projected electric range, fuel economy, and energy efficiency for the 2018 Sonata Plug-In; the 2017 model was rated at 27 miles of electric driving range, 39 mpg combined, and 99 MPGe.

For improved ride and handling, Hyundai makes several suspension and steering tweaks. The front roll bar has been stiffened, the steering assistance has been recalibrated, and the rear trailing arms have been fitted with new bushings.

Pricing, Availability

2018 Hyundai Sonata Hybrids

More numbers will be coming later–for now, it’s all about the looks

Pricing for the 2018 models has not been released. The 2017 Sonata Hybrid started at $26,000 before destination charges and the 2017 Sonata Plug-in Hybrid at $34,600 before destination. Sonata Plug-in Hybrid buyers are eligible for a $4,919 federal tax credit.

The standard Sonata Hybrid will be available in the first quarter this year, with the Plug-in version following in the second quarter. However, the PHEV will only be sent to dealers in selected states: California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.

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News: 2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Introduced

News: 2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Introduced

Greater Efficiency and an All-New Look Shown in Detroit

Toyota introduced its stunning all-new fifth-generation Avalon sedan yesterday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The radically redone full-size sedan retains its V6 and hybrid powertrains as it moves to the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) shared with the Camry and other newer models.

2019_Toyota_Avalon Hybrid

The 5th gen Avalon Hybrid sports a more aggressive look

The Toyota Hybrid System II (THS II) in the 2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid features many high-tech improvements for greater fuel efficiency (though Toyota execs didn’t say how much). It combines a 2.5-liter Dynamic Force four-cylinder engine with a 650-volt electric motor and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Since the current Avalon is rated at 40 mpg city and the smaller new Camry on the updated chassis gets more than 50 mpg, would it be out of line to expect a 5 mpg boost for the new Avalon? — ed) 

For 2019, the new four-cylinder Dynamic Force engine runs cleaner, is more fuel efficient and is more powerful than previous editions. Toyota’s Variable Valve Timing intelligent system with electric motor (Dual VVT-I with VVT-iE), employs an electric motor instead of using oil pressure to control variable valve timing. This aids fuel efficiency and promotes cleaner exhaust emissions, particularly in cold climates.

The direct injection four-stroke gasoline engine combines higher-pressure direct fuel injection and lower-pressure port fuel injection, applying each method based on specific driving parameters. New multi-hole nozzle direct injectors, with six holes per injector, further improve fuel efficiency.

The THS II uses two electric motors. One supplements the charging of the nickel-metal hydride battery, while the other assists the engine. The new battery pack moves from the trunk to under the rear passenger seat, thanks to the TNGA platform.

More Efficiencies

Efficiencies abound. The new power control unit (PCU) is lighter and smaller, and is located above the transaxle, which lowers mass for better handling. The new PCU has 20 percent less energy loss for conversion efficiency for the transaxle and electric motor. The cooling system’s energy loss drops 10 percent. The PCU’s DC-DC converter output filter is smaller, lighter, and quieter as well.

2019_Toyota_Avalon Hybrid

Inside the Avalon pushes into luxury territory

For greater fuel saving, Auto Glide Control (AGC) automatically calculates efficient coasting. Normally, the car uses engine braking to slow down when the driver lifts off the accelerator. AGC limits loss of vehicle speed while coasting to a stoplight. 

The 2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid has some driver-oriented features, too, including Sport drive mode and Sequential Shiftmatic technology. The Sport drive mode applies power from the hybrid system for improved acceleration. Drivers can “shift” through the CVT’s six simulated gears using steering-wheel mounted paddles or the gearshift.

Regardless of drivetrain, the new Avalon is longer, lower, and wider, thanks to the move to the new platform. The large grill, slim, high-tech lighting, sharply defined side panels and sleek tail help to bring the co-efficiency of drag to a new low of .27.

The all-new Avalon was designed and engineered in the U.S., and is assembled in Georgetown Kentucky, its home for more than 20 years. It continues to be the only full-size hybrid in its segment.  It goes on sale in late Spring.

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Road Test: 2017 Lexus ES 300h

Road Test: 2017 Lexus ES 300h

Smooth and Clean Hybrid Luxury

The Lexus ES sedan has been the brand’s entry point for a quarter century. Now, you can get your luxury blended with efficiency in hybrid form.

2017 Lexus ES 300h

The entry point for Lexus’ version of hybrid luxury

It’s well known that hybrids combine a gas engine with an electric motor, and the 2017 Lexus ES 300h gets its 200 horsepower that way. The 2.5-liter Atkinson-Cycle four-cylinder engine is mated to a high-output permanent magnet electric drive motor. With 156 pounds-feet of torque, the smooth, quiet system pulls the 3,682-pound midsize sedan from zero to 60 mph in a refreshing 8.1 seconds. You won’t beat a Corvette off the line at a stoplight, but this car is no slug, either. And, it gives you 40 miles per gallon combined (40 city/39 highway) per the EPA while doing it. I averaged 33.1 mpg during my test week.

The 2017 Lexus ES 300h is not a plug-in vehicle, so you don’t have to do anything to benefit from the blended powertrain. The battery charges up as you slow down and brake, regenerating electricity. The fuel savings come from the engine working less.

Few Exterior Clues

The hybrid ES shows little on the outside to distinguish it from the regular model. You’ll note a subtle trunk lip spoiler and blue hybrid badges. One thing you won’t see is the exhaust. The car uses gasoline, but Lexus hid the pipe. Sneaky?

2017 Lexus ES 300h

The only clue

As a hybrid, the car earns high EPA environmental ratings, with an 8 for Smog and 9 for Greenhouse Gas. Its powertrain emits 223 grams of CO2 per mile–about half that of a normal car.

As a Lexus, the ES provides a cushier experience than the more utilitarian Prius, and exceeds the new Camry Hybrid, itself a posher entry now. The car comes in one well-equipped form, but you can add option packages, such as the Premium Package my Atomic Silver test car had. For $730, you’ll enjoy memory for the driver’s power seat, outside mirrors and steering wheel; lovely wood interior trim and remote keyless memory. There are also the Luxury and Ultra Luxury packages, both worth exploring.

The Best Option

The nicest option in my tester, though, was the Mark Levinson Premium Audio system with navigation ($2,590). With 15 speakers and 835 watts of power, you’ll be tempted to just keep driving around, or park and not leave the car when you arrive at your destination. That’s definitely a commute enhancer.

2017 Lexus ES 300h

Flaunting the wood and leather

As a luxury vehicle, my car flaunted a beautiful leather and wood steering wheel. I discovered that it was a $450 option, and well worth having. Your hands are on the wheel pretty much all the time, so it’s a high-use benefit. Other extras on my car included blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert ($500), a boon for helping prevent accidents. I also enjoyed having the power rear sunshade ($210); rear seat riders would be the beneficiaries, though.

The 2017 Lexus ES 300h offers touch-sensitive reading lamps, a feature you may not notice, but which evokes the feeling of luxury.

Four Ways to Drive

Lexus gives you four driving modes, accessed through a dial. Normal balances the hybrid to blend the engine and motor for pleasant driving. Sport leans towards performance, with later upshifts–and a red instrument panel. Eco is the opposite, designed for best achieving maximum efficiency. The EV setting lets you lock in electric-only driving for a short distance, under certain conditions.

2017 Lexus ES 300h

Four ways to go

I tested the EV setting during a slow section of my commute and it worked fine. However, when I moved past 25 mph, it automatically shut off. Later, I tried it again and got a “Hybrid Battery Low” message. Like so many electronically controlled devices, the car knows best for normal driving, but having these options gives you a little more sense of control.

The 2017 Lexus ES 300h drives like a traditional sedan, isolated and smooth. It’s packed with the modern electronics we all need for entertainment, connection, and safety.

Safety & Price

You’ll be safe in the 2017 Lexus ES 300h. The Lexus Safety System+ helps prevent accidents with High-Speed Dynamic Radar cruise control, which tracks the car in front of you and adjusts your speed automatically, preventing collisions. The pre-collision system with pedestrian detection uses radar and a camera to warn you of a possible collision and even brake automatically if needed.

2017 Lexus ES 300h

It’s real luxury that delivers fuel economy, too

Pricing is straightforward, starting at $42,795, but you can easily push it upward with packages. My tester came to $48,415, but the nearly $6,000 worth of extras made it feel like a more luxurious and special ride.

Hybrids are a good step towards the future, and Toyota/Lexus knows how to make them. Until all-electric vehicles take over, it’s the best way to “have your cake and eat it too” in the world of cars. The 2017 Lexus ES 300h offers traditional luxury and performance with a vast assortment of electronic safety, performance, environmental, and safety features.


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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at

Flash Drive: 2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door Automatic

Flash Drive: 2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door Automatic

Still Cheap, Now Chic

When Kia introduced the little 96-horsepower Kia Rio sedan in 2000, it was at the bottom of the food chain and sold largely on its used-car price of $9,045—the lowest new car priced car in America. Since then, the Rio has worked its way upward, shrugging off questionable quality and dowdy looks, replacing them with high marks for reliability and visual appeal. The one thing the Rio hasn’t changed is—it is still one of the least-expensive cars sold in the U.S.

2018 Kia Rio 5-Door

Still cheap, but not looking like it is anymore

For 2018 Kia has a new Rio. It is longer, lower, and wider than its predecessor. Once again, it’s available as a four-door sedan or hatchback. Like Toyota in the 1990s, Kia believes the Rio is a stepping-stone, hoping that buyers will like its little car so much that they’ll trade up as their needs and families grow. The 2018 Rio makes a strong argument for this stance.

In addition to three regular trim levels—LX, S, and EX—the new Rio also can be had as a loaded Launch Edition that will be available through the 2018 model year. All Rio trims are available in both sedan or hatchback body styles, with the LX sedan starting at $13,990 and the LX hatch at $14,290, both with manual transmissions, making it one of the least-expensive cars available today. Choosing the six-speed automatic adds $1,000.

Step up to the S, and the auto transmission is standard for the front-wheel drive cars, the sticker price jumps to a

2018 Kia Rio 5-Door

Not many horses, but enough

modest $16,000. The top-line EX trim is priced at $18,000, also with the six-speed automatic. The EX Launch Edition Package adds $500.

The new Rio is powered by a naturally aspirated 1.6-liter gasoline direct-injected four-cylinder engine pumping out 130 horsepower and 119 pounds-feet of torque. And with EPA fuel economy figures of 28 mpg city/37 highway/32 combined for the automatic hatchback and sedan, the new Rio is a fuel-sipper without resorting to expensive hybrid technology. As you’ll hear later, it looks like it can join our 40 MPG Club based on real-world numbers.

New Styling

I have never beeen able to understand America’s peculiar preference for sedans. With the Rio, the new styling has more proportional fashion sense on the hatchback than on the sedan, not to mention the increased cargo space of the hatch. The wheels have been pushed out toward the corners of the car, and Kia invested a lot of time into making the front and rear ends of the car appear wider and more planted.

Hints of the new Optima grace the lines of the sheet metal, with the signature Kia “tiger nose” grill flows nicely across the front and seamlessly into the cat’s-eye headlights. Borrowed from the Niro crossover, the grill is taller and more upright now. The hatchback carries a character line around back with a crease across the back window.

Premium-Feeling Interior

For a pint-sized car, the 2018 Kia Rio’s relatively roomy interior looks more upscale than you would expect in this size and price category. The cabin uses plenty of soft-touch plastics and a modern infotainment system. A new, well-sculpted dash design looks expensive and entertaining at the same time. Kia’s UVO3 infotainment system offers voice recognition and smartphone integration for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with five-inch and seven-inch

2018 Kia Rio 5-Door

More premium than you’d expect at this price point

screen sizes, depending on trim. There’s also an upgraded 3.5-inch display tucked into the instrument panel, which will remind your teenage drivers that it’s time to come home, thanks to a programmable curfew alert. Controls to adjust temperature and the stereo are logically placed and within easy reach. Steering-wheel-mounted controls are standard.

Ample front seats and an airy cabin offer enough space for people sized just on the small side of football linemen. However, reasonably comfortable rear seat bottoms and seatbacks are best suited to children and small adults given the dearth of legroom. For utility, the Rio hatch offers 17.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats in their upright and locked positions; that grows to 32.5 feet with the seats folded down.

No Options

In favor of cost efficiencies, the 2018 Kia Rio is devoid of options. Without the ability to add features, Rio shoppers will want to choose their trim level wisely. The LX retains some proper cheap-car features like black door handles, manually adjustable side mirrors and manual windows—that’s how you keep the price low. But even the lower trims come equipped with some pretty solid features. SiriusXM satellite radio is in every single trim, but Bluetooth doesn’t pop up until S. A backup camera is standard on the S and EX. Every trim receives a USB port, with the S and EX getting a second port for the rear seats.

2018 Kia Rio 5-Door

Hatch attack

You will need CarPlay and Android Auto in this car, though, because that’s the only way to get navigation. Kia deliberately did not include an embedded navigation option, preferring instead to keep costs down by relying on drivers’ or passengers’ phones.

The Kia Rio is one of the least expensive cars to offer Autonomous Emergency Braking. There’s also a long list of safety features that are standard across the board including six airbags, hill-start assist and vehicle-stability.

Behind the Steering Wheel

Our test drive car was an EX with Launch Edition Package that featured red accented leather seats and trim. The sticker price that included carpeted floor mats and $895 destination charges totaled $20,225.

The rear glass filled the mirror, the rear-pillar blind spots were small and the front-pillars proved relatively thin, too. Combined with a low-slung hood and dashboard, forward visibility was as good as it gets. There was a splash of red trim along the dashboard, extending into the door panels. Our EX had optional leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and they felt great.

2018 Kia Rio 5-Door

The bottom line with the Rio–not the bottom feeder any more

The Rio used every ounce of the engine’s 130 horsepower, and did fine accelerating onto the freeway. There wasn’t a ton of power, but the benefit was better fuel economy as evidenced in 40.3-mpg after driving 237 miles. At idle, the engine was nearly silent. It was a little buzzy as the revs climbed, but was no better or worse than competitors’ engines. On the highway, wind and tire noise were present, but in very manageable amounts. The six-speed automatic transmission was well-matched to the engine, making the most of the available power at any given time.

In spirited driving, the suspension setup—struts up front with a torsion beam at the rear—was right on. It was firm and supple, with no hint of sogginess. The small hatch rolled over concrete and asphalt without much audio drama, and did a good job of absorbing bumps and potholes. Steering was linear and the Rio didn’t protest when aimed down a twisty back road. Surprising was how well the Rio kept body roll in check.

In the Marketplace

Although the small-car market has slowed with gas remaining cheap and the mass migration to crossover/SUVs, the 2018 Kia Rio is in a fiercely competitive segment. It faces rivals such as the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Mitsubishi Mirage and Toyota Yaris. The new Rio is ready to take them on, bolstered by modern styling, an attractive and quiet interior, a comfortable ride and an expansive array of safety features. Even with its minimal equipment, the base Rio LX strikes me as highly likely to draw buyers looking for an inexpensive small car.

And then there’s the bonus feature–Rio’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. With that, Kia has created a car that will serve buyers who will step up the Kia lineup as their families grow.

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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at