Flash Drive: 2017 Ford Fusion Energi

Flash Drive: 2017 Ford Fusion Energi

A Practical, Functional Plug-in Choice

Let’s get the disclosures up front on this. I like the Ford Fusion Energi enough that I’m putting my own money into a lease on a 2016 model already. So to say I’m predisposed positively to a look at the 2017 Ford Fusion Energi is a given. That said, I’m also aware of the shortcomings of the car from extensive experience.

2017 Ford Fusion Energi

2017 Ford Fusion Energi drips style and squeezes out fuel economy

The key question for this review is what changes the 2017 model offers compared to the previously solid offering.  The answer is—not much, which is a good thing. Ford appears to be sticking with its winning hand. Winning as in its non-plug-in hybrid version that has challenged the venerable Toyota Prius for the sales lead of hybrids during 2017. The plug-in Fusion has not had as strong of a year, though it’s still a strong third after the Toyota Prius Prime and Chevrolet Volt in the plug-in hybrid category.

The Good

The 2017 Ford Fusion Energi is, to my eye, one of the best-looking mass market sedans available. The current design was stunning when it first appeared in 2013 and still looks fresh today. It’s due for a change soon, but for now this midsize sedan can hold its own style-wise with anyone in the pack.

2017 Ford Fusion Energi

The nameplate says mainstream, but the interior swims upscale

The car delivers fuel economy as advertised, but the 2017 model bumps up the numbers from the previous year by about 10 percent. If you’ve got a short commute of about 20 miles and a place to plug in at home and work, you could run all-electric all the time. It continues to be eligible for a coveted solo HOV lane sticker in California. It also qualifies for federal tax credits and most state incentives.

The interior of the Fusion matches the upscale exterior. Leather trimmed, comfortable, but supporting seats are standard throughout the line. Technology abounds from Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system to available advanced driver assistance tools like lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection and cross traffic alert.

The Bad

The 2017 Ford Fusion Energi is not a purpose-build vehicle and all you have to do is look in the trunk to see that. What should be a spacious storage space is gobbled up by the 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery. Next generation this should be solved, but the current models have spacious interiors for five adults, but are challenged in trying to carry luggage for more than a couple passengers.

2017 Ford Fusion Energi

In back the Energi comes up short

Even at 22 miles (in the 2017 model), all-electric range is not the Energi’s strong suit. The relatively small battery can be charged in 2 ½ hours (on 240-volt, Level 2 charging), but if you travel like I do, you’ll be running in hybrid mode most of the time (still not bad at 43 mpg).  

The Ugly

Sorry, I’m coming up blank in this category for this car, except maybe pricing. The MSRP for the Energi has been stable over the years and even dropped for 2017. It starts at just above $32,000 and tops out with the Platinum model I tested at just a shade under $40,000. I’d recommend going for the high-end model because it has all of the advanced technology standard (it’s optional at the lower levels, but will then take the price up almost to the Platinum level. In addition, I’d recommend leasing rather than buying the Energi—or virtually any plug-in model. Technology is advancing so rapidly that even it is isn’t cheaper in three or four years, it will be much better for the same money.

The Real World Test

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Fusion is Ford’s best-selling car. Besides being good-looking, it’s functional (with plenty of room for passengers at least) and delivers good performance and great fuel economy.

2017 Ford Fusion Energi

Inside you could mistake this for pricier digs

After spending time in smaller all-electric or plug-in sedans, the 2017 Ford Fusion Energi feels positively spacious. You can fill it up with five full-size American adults and not feel cramped (remember my caveat if they’re bringing luggage, though).

On the road, the car drives as good as it looks. Ford continues to respect its drivers by giving them good road feel, responsive and supple handling and enough power to hold their own on the open road. The long wheelbase of the Fusion helps deliver a luxury-like ride while the low-profile 17-inch tires and aluminum wheels (upgradable to 18-inchers) allow you to tackle challenging roads without disclosing you’re driving a fuel-efficient vehicle.

The 2-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-four is augmented by an electric motor and they operate quite well together, straining only when asked to perform high-speed passing tricks. Such maneuvers point out the limitations of this size normally aspirated engine and also its continuously variable transmission.  It gets the job done, but will let you know it’s not happy.  

I plugged in the Fusion whenever I could (I don’t have a home/work charger but there is one in the neighborhood) and managed an average of 53.2 mpg for my week in the car. EPA says you’ll get an average of 42 mpg in hybrid mode and 97 MPGe counting the battery energy. That wonkish number doesn’t mean much in the real world, where you can run 22 miles on electricity and then default to hybrid mode unless you plug in. I still found when handled with a light foot, the Fusion was capable of running at freeway speeds with the air on and still delivering almost 50 mpg.

Some of the credit for good fuel economy goes to Ford’s instrument panel programmers. The readouts for fuel economy, braking, etc., are great teaching tools. The instant feedback from driving in an eco-friendly mode was good reinforcement.

Bottom Line

I’ve got to say Ford just keeps making the Fusion better. It’s not perfect, but it’s an incredibly fuel-efficient car you can live with every day. Most important is because of its internal combustion engine, it doesn’t have the limitations of most pure electrics.

2017 Ford Fusion Energi

The displays and info are a big help

Here are the price points for the three trim levels (I recommend aiming high because all of the advanced technology you want is included), including destination and delivery charges:

  • 2017 Ford Fusion Energi SE $32.180
  • 2017 Ford Fusion Energi Titanium $33,180
  • 2017 Ford Fusion Energi Platinum $40,180

A full complement of safety equipment is standard, but as mentioned earlier, some of the advanced driver assistance technology is optional on the lower trim levels. Opt for the Platinum level and the only options left are some paint and floor mat upgrades.

2017 Ford Fusion Energi

The ring tells you how charged up you are

The 2017 Ford Fusion Energi is not alone in the marketplace. Its main competitors are the Chevrolet Volt, Toyota Prius Prime and the Hyundai-Kia twins—the Optima and Sonata Plug-in Hybrids.

All are worth a look, but you’ll find the Chevy is a smaller package and a hatchback. The Toyota also is smaller, though it does bring Toyota’s solid reputation along with its badge. The midsize Optima and Sonata are the closest in size and intent. We’ve tested them both here and here, but recommend you take a look for yourself. There are no bad choices among this group—and expect more coming soon.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2017 Chevrolet Volt

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

Comparison Test: 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid & Eneergi

Road Test: 2017 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid

Comparison Test: 2016 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid & Hybrid

Disclosure:

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 publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Flash Drive: 2018 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV

Flash Drive: 2018 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV

Newest Ioniq Family Member Makes Its Debut

Members of the media were invited to Hyundai’s USA headquarters in early December to drive the all-new 2018 Ioniq PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle). This makes the third iteration of the Ioniq, joining the 2017 hybrid and battery electric models, both of which have been reviewed earlier on Clean Fleet Report.

The Ioniq PHEV is essentially the same car as its hybrid sibling, but with one very important differentiator: you can drive 29 miles on pure electricity alone . This, along with the very efficient gasoline hybrid engine makes for outstanding fuel economy.

2018 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV

Hyundai lays down another marker–and it plugs in

The parallel hybrid powertrain combines a 1.6-liter gasoline engine (104 horsepower (hp)/109 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque and an AC synchronous permanent magnet motor (60 hp/125 lb.-ft.), mated to Hyundai’s EcoShift six-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT). The result is 139 total system horsepower.

So what does this all mean? The overall fuel economy is an excellent 119 MPGe (Miles Per Gallon equivalent; MPGe is an Environmental Protection Agency measurement of how far a car can travel, electrically, on the same amount of energy as is contained in one gallon of gasoline). With a gas-only average of 52 mpg and the 11.4 gallon fuel tank, plus 29 pure electric miles, the Ioniq PHEV has an estimated 630 miles total range.

On a 30-mile test drive, the Ioniq PHEV drove much like the Ioniq hybrid and EV versions. The interior was straight-forward in its design, providing comfortable seats and easy to read and reach gauges. The ride was smooth with few of the abrupt jolts that small cars can suffer from. With the batteries placed under the seats, the resulting low center of gravity makes for a stable ride and predictable cornering.

Pricing

Pricing has not been finalized, but the Ioniq PHEV is due to be in dealers starting in late December. Please visit your local dealer for a test drive.

2018 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV

Like its sister cars, the plug-in Ioniq has a classy interior

Observations: 2018 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV

Hyundai is making the most of the Ioniq brand, which will soon be known as the go-to cars for fuel efficiency. You can get an Ioniq that uses no gasoline or the option of two that use a combination of gasoline and electricity. They are affordable, with performance, handling and ride comfort above the pack.

Clean Fleet Report will have a full review on the 2018 Ioniq PHEV in the coming months.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

Comparison Test: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq EV & Hybrid

News: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Becomes Fuel Economy Leader

News: Hyundai-Kia’s Future Is Electric Powertrains

News: Will Hyundai Bring Its New EV To the US?

Disclosure:

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 publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

News: 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Arrives in March 2018

News: 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Arrives in March 2018

Better Late Than Never

Europe’s top-selling plug-in hybrid, Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV, has been coming to the U.S. for years, but has been postponed more than five times. All sorts of things were blamed like battery shortages and meeting U.S. safety standards. The real reason was financial woes which were amended last fall with a tie-up with Nissan. Now, the automaker says the plug-in SUV will arrive at U.S. dealers in March 2018. Since Mitsubishi’s U.S. website now has a dedicated page for it, we assume a sixth promise won’t be broken.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Mitsubishi previewed its coming plug-in SUV at the LA Auto Show Photo: Lex Adams

When it arrives, the Outlander PHEV will be available in two trim levels that largely match those of the gasoline Outlander. The base SEL S-AWC model will start at $34,595 plus destination charges. The Outlander PHEV GT S-AW has the same standard equipment as the gasoline Outlander GT Touring Package and will be priced at $40,295. If the federal tax credit is still in place next March, the Outlander PHEV is eligible for a $5,836 in federal tax credit according to the fueleconomy.gov website, and state programs are available in many states as well.

Mitsubishi says the all-electric range will be 22 miles for the PHEV using the EPA cycle. Total fuel economy is expected to be 25 mpg EPA rated for gasoline only operation, but this can be improved if the driver utilizes the all-electric drive function and keeps the gas engine off, boosting it to a 74 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

An affordable plug-in SUV is just over the horizon

Motivation comes via a 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine churning 117 horses and 137 pounds-feet torque that is merged with front and rear electric motors. Both electric motors provide 60 horsepower, with the front turning out 137 pounds-feet of torque while the rear has a hefty 195 pounds-feet.

The two motors offer all-wheel drive, something unique for a mainstream PHEV (the luxury plug-ins from BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and Volvo offer this as well, but at quite a premium),. The battery that supplies the electricity for the motors is a high-capacity 12 kWh lithium-ion battery pack developed specifically for the PHEV system. The battery is positioned beneath the passenger compartment subfloor between the front and rear axles with no intrusion into the passenger compartment

Similar to Other Plug-ins

Like all plug-in vehicles, regenerative braking is used to generate electricity for the battery pack. The level of regenerative braking can be selected by the driver at any time using steering wheel paddle shifters.

The Outlander PHEV can operate in all-electric mode, use the gasoline engine as a generator to power the electric motors, or use both electric and gasoline power for propulsion.

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

We’ve been waiting, but it looks like it’s almost here

Mitsubishi covers all the bases when it comes to recharging the battery pack. The company is including a CHAdeMO fast charging port which can fill the 12-kWh battery from empty to full in 20 minutes. That’s in addition to the now standard Level 2 240-volt charging that will fill the battery in 3.5 hours and Level 1 120-volt charging that juices the battery in eight hours.

A bonus for buyers is a 1,500-watt AC power inverter that draws power from the battery pack. That’s enough to run a coffee pot, TV or electric grille for a picnic or tailgate party.

The Outlander PHEV is a fairly handsome, if conservatively styled vehicle. Small changes—such as a gloss black front fascia and different wheels differentiate plug-in hybrid models from their gasoline-only siblings.

On the safety front the 2018 Outlander PHEV crosses all the Ts and dots all of the Is with blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane change assist and surround view camera. Available are adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights and forward collision mitigation.

The Outlander PHEV has been a long time in coming, but it’s better late than never.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e PHEV

Road Test: 2016 Volvo XC90 PHEV

First Drive: 2016 Volvo XC90 PHEV

Road Test: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Platinum

Road Test: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Platinum

Not Just A Hybrid, But A Plug-in Hybrid

Once the king of the road, the minivan segment has seen sales steadily fall through the late 1990s and early 2000s, but then level off. They are now steady and have been for a few years, which shows that for around 500,000 buyers per year, the minivan is still the right answer.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

The good stuff’s inside–and underneath.

Now, the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid has broken new ground with up to 33 miles of fuel-free driving, giving the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Kia Sedona some serious new competition. And that’s because the Pacifica Hybrid isn’t just a plain ol’ hybrid, it’s a plug-in hybrid. That means when the battery that provides the 33 miles of electric-only driving is depleted of energy, the Pacifica Hybrid smoothly switches to gasoline-electric hybrid driving.

In hybrid mode the new minivan gets 32 mpg combined city and highway fuel economy according to the EPA. That compares to the low- to mid-20s for those other guys. If you start out with a fully charged battery and a full a tank of gas, you can drive 560 miles before filling the fuel tank or recharging the battery. When operating in electric drive, the Pacifica Hybrid is EPA rated at 84 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe).

To get that 84 MPGe, it takes just two hours to fully charge the battery using a home charging station with a 240-volt, 30-amp circuit. Or, the battery can be filled with electrons in around nine hours with a standard 120-volt wall outlet.

But Wait, There’s More

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

The Hybrid puts everything on the dash so you can walk back if you want to.

In addition to a more stylish appearance inside and out, the Pacifica Hybrid offers a host of available convenience and safety features. Joining the party: hands-free power-sliding side doors and tailgate, a triple-pane sunroof and a rear-seat entertainment system with two 10-inch touchscreens.    

The 2017 Pacifica Hybrid is offered in two trim levels. The price tag for the Premium model starts at $41,995 plus destination charges, while the top Platinum edition starts at $44,995. When the federal tax credit of $7,500 is calculated, the cost matches the upper-trim versions of the conventional gas-powered Pacifica. In some states, additional perks and rebates will essentially eliminate the so-called hybrid or plug-in premium.

Minivan Fan—But…

Full Disclosures: First, I am a devout minivan fan. The interior space and flexibility of seating arrangements, not to speak of the sliding passenger doors, make it one of the most versatile vehicles you can buy. Second, I love plug-in hybrids. They can drive a fair amount of emissions-free miles and then switch to the fuel-saving miles of a hybrid. What’s not to like?

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

The minivan draw–so much space!

So, you can see why I was delighted when Chrysler handed me the keys of their Pacifica Hybrid to drive for a week.

Minivans will never be considered sexy. They are, after all, small school buses with sliding doors, according to my youngest son. However, Chrysler designers did a marvelous job of successfully giving the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid and its gasoline sibling an exterior style that is the most elegant minivan available.

The front end has a slim, sleek nose borrowed from the now discontinued Chrysler 200 sedan. The headlights, grille and entire front end present a distinct and handsome face of the minivan world. The side glass is trimmed in bright metal, rear pillars kick back with a relaxed style and sliding doors cover their tracks under the rear windows. The elegant styling continues on the sides, where optional 20-inch wheels give a more dramatic look. In a nod to one upsmanship, the hands free, foot wiggle opening treatment gets applied to the side sliding doors as well to the rear lift gate.

Premium Inside

A Chrysler badge denotes premium vehicle, which is confirmed by stepping inside. The Pacifica Hybrid is awash in upscale looks, highlighted by the thin rim of metallic trim on the steering wheel. The sculpted and stitched dash wraps beautifully around the front passengers, details that speak to the hours of interior design attention. Dash design is simple, with a central control pod that includes Chrysler’s rotary gear shift. The deletion of the center stack below the knees is a big bonus, creating both a place to easily put large items such as purses and briefcases, but also giving the interior a more open feel. A seven-inch color information display and 8.4-inch touchscreen allow the driver to access navigation. Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity are standard and included in the infotainment system.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

A new door for minivans

In addition to the 8.4-inch UConnect touchscreen for managing things up front, there’s UConnect Theater for rear seat passengers, featuring dual 10-inch high definition touchscreens. Audio can be upgraded to a 20-speaker Harmon Kardon system, to hear the best of everything.

Front seating is well-positioned with plenty of legroom and headroom. The Pacifica has the largest total interior storage space in the minivan market, although this version of the minivan seats seven, not eight. Due to the placement of the 16 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery, the plug-in hybrid doesn’t have the second row Stow N’ Go seats that fold into the floor. Yet, the seating is highly configurable with second-row captain’s chairs. The rest of the cargo features—lots of bins, pockets, and hooks—is intact.

There are 32.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row thanks to a deep tub created when the seats are up for use. When the third row is folded down, the loading floor becomes flat with a very useful 87.5 cubic feet. With the second row removed, cargo expands to a massive 140.5 cubes.

Surround view cameras, parking assistance and various autonomous safety systems such as a blind spot monitoring system and adaptive cruise control are offered.

On The Road

With a lively zero-to-60-mph time of around 7.5 seconds, acceleration is something no one is likely to complain about. This comes courtesy of FiatChrysler’s hybrid system engineered for the Pacifica, and likely to find its way into other vehicles. It starts with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine found in the standard gas-powered Pacifica.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

The hybrid Pacifica shares its good lucks with its non-hybrid cousins

Engineers modified the six with different pistons, camshafts, and valves; bumped the compression ratio; and added Atkinson-cycle capability for maximum fuel efficiency. The engine is connected to a continuously variable planetary-gear transmission that houses two electric motor/generators that get electric power from the battery. Chrysler estimates the total output for the hybrid system at 260 horsepower that’s sent to the front wheels.

The real benefit from this system comes in fuel economy, as the Pacifica Hybrid showed me a combined average of 34 mpg for a drive of 182 miles, where the engine was on for the majority of the drive time. In town electric driving was a very excellent 109 MPGe on one occasion. Overall, after chalking up 356 miles, the readout indicated 33.2 mpg.

I am used to driving a minivan (not a Chrysler or Dodge) and I give kudos to the Pacifica for outward vision all around. And more cheers for the surround view camera when backing out of shopping center parking spaces.

The minivan was easy to navigate in urban and suburban traffic. Driving on freeways, the Pacifica Hybrid wasn’t different than piloting an equal-size crossover SUV, but sight lines were better.  Steering provided little feedback, although the people hauler always went where it was pointed. The adaptive cruise control did something cool, automatically setting the drivetrain to accelerate when I hit the turn signal when passing or changing lanes. The system, which automatically matches speeds with slower traffic ahead, also brings the Pacifica Hybrid to a complete stop when traffic stops.

The suspension wasn’t close to being sporty, but it was comfortable. There was just enough firmness to keep the Pacifica from jostling about on a curvy road. What really set the new hybrid minivan apart was its interior quiet. Making a big box like this quiet at speed isn’t easy, and Chrysler is way ahead of rivals like the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.

Turns Out, Pacifica Hybrid Is Not My Cup of Tea

For those not needing eight-passenger seating, the Pacifica Hybrid should be on their minivan shopping list, but it just doesn’t work for me. This is a plug-in hybrid, and as such should have a driving mode that holds the electric charge when driving on freeways for later use in city driving or heavy stop-and-go traffic. Chrysler says that minivan owners don’t want to have to think about maximum efficiency. Well, this minivan driver does.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

And, in the end, not Larry’s kind of minivan

Even if I could disregard the lack of an electric hold mode, I couldn’t get past the terribly uncomfortable driver’s seat. After a little more than an hour behind the steering wheel, the pain I felt in my back was nearly unbearable. And I’m not alone on this one.

A friend of mine was seriously considering the Pacifica Hybrid. I suggested he test drive one for at least two hours to check out the seat. He called me after driving about an hour and a half to tell me he was asking the sales person to take over because his back, too, was in severe pain. So, my tip is take at least a couple hour test drive.

In the Marketplace

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid doesn’t have any true competitors as it is the only hybrid minivan on the market. However, crossovers can be an alternative to minivans as a family car with passenger and cargo capacity. In that regard, there are a number of hybrid crossovers to cross-shop, such as the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Acura MDX Sport Hybrid and Lexus RX 450hL. But these tend to be five-passenger vehicles or have less than comfortable third row seats. Most also don’t offer extended electric-only 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. We hope you’ll enjoy these diverse views–some are just below—and let us know what you think in comments below or at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica (John’s view)

First Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica (Michael’s view)

News: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Minivan

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News: Lexus Introduces 3-Row Hybrid RX

Road Test: 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

First Drive: 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Road Test: 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Disclosure:

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 publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

News: 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid Introduced

News: 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid Introduced

26-Mile Electric Driving Range For New Model

At this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show automakers introduced a mixture of environmentally friendly, advanced technology vehicles along with traditional high-performance models appealing to a different market segment. At Clean Fleet Report we think there’s some high performance worth noting in the first group. This is one of several stories that will highlight the most significant news out of the show.

The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) took a bow at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Thursday, complementing the Korean automaker’s existing Optima PHEV and the Soul EV plug-in vehicles. With an estimated 26 miles of all-electric range, the Niro Plug-in is in the same league as most other plug-in hybrid models like the Toyota Prius Prime (25 miles), Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in (29 miles) and Kia’s own Optima Plug-in (29 miles).

2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

The big difference from the other Niro

When the battery is depleted, the Niro Plug-in automatically switches to gasoline-electric hybrid operation where is obtains an EPA estimated fuel economy of 48 mpg city/44 highway/46 combined, slightly less than Niro Hybrid model. The estimated mile-per-gallon-equivalent rating is 105 MPGe. With a fully charged battery and a full tank of gasoline, Kia estimates a total range of 560 miles.

This is all achieved by pairing an all-aluminum, 1.6-liter gasoline direct injection four-cylinder engine with an 8.9-kWh lithium-polymer battery pack and a 60-horsepower (hp) electric motor with a combined output of 139 hp and 195 pounds-feet of torque. That compares to the regular Niro Hybrid’s 1.56-kWh battery pack and 43-hp motor. The Niro PHEV employs the same six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission as the Niro Hybrid. Drivers can choose from several driving modes, including EV mode, Hybrid mode, Eco mode or Sport.

With a Level 2, 240-volt charger, the Niro PHEV can be fully charged in 2.5 hours. Using a Level 1, 120-volt standard home electrical outlet, charging time is around nine hours, making for effective overnight charging at home.

Looks Like the Niro Hybrid

Side by side, the new Kia Niro PHEV and Niro Hybrid are near identical twins. The Niro Plug-in can be spotted by the charging port, which is blended into the driver’s side front fender. There’s also a slight change to the grille along with some blue accents. Not noticeable, in an effort to keep weight down, Kia uses aluminum to construct the hood, hatchback, some suspension parts and the brake calipers.

2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

The plug-in keeps the interior dimensions intract

Inside, the company offers a seven-inch instrument panel display with a digital tachometer. A wide range of safety tech is standard, as is adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking. Kia continues with driver-only air conditioning, which conserves energy by only keeping the driver cool. Although the battery has a larger capacity, it is neatly tucked under the cargo floor and rear seat so the car maintains the same cargo capacity as the Niro hybrid.

When it goes on sale, the Kia Niro Plug-in will be offered in three trim levels: LX, EX and EX Premium. Pricing has not yet been announced, but Kia needs to hurry up—it is expected to roll into showrooms this month, which means any day now. 

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro FE

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid (Larry’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid (Steve’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid (John’s view)

News: Hyundai-Kia’s Future Is Electric Powertrains

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Mirai

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Mirai

Powered by Hydrogen, Electricity, and Dreams

The 2017 Toyota Mirai is a rare bird on the roadways today, but that’s not what the State of California or the Toyota Motor Company have in mind for the future. The Mirai, Toyota’s hydrogen-powered technology testbed, is a remarkably normal midsize sedan that you can drive now, at least if you live in the urban areas of California.

2017 Toyota Mirai

The key for a new technology–refueling

Electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, or Volkswagen e-Golf are commonplace in traffic these days in California. The new Chevrolet Bolt EV’s sales are accelerating. But driving a hydrogen car is way cooler than that–it makes you a real early adopter.

Ever since it introduced the first Prius 20 years ago, Toyota has been working on hydrogen fuel cells. Now, at last, you can sample their wares in a real car.

The Hydrogen Path

There is some complicated technology under the hood. You can go to Toyota’s website to learn more, but the basic story is that instead of an engine burning gasoline, there’s a fuel cell. It takes compressed hydrogen fuel, passes it through a membrane to join oxygen from the air. This molecular-level attraction creates energy, which is then fed to electric motors to power the car. It’s very quiet, and the only emission is the resulting H2O–water.

The hydrogen is stored in two high-pressure tanks under the car. To add fuel, you simply pull into the nearest station. They are scarce, but there are three within 10-15 minutes of my house. The closest, in Hayward, is on my way to work. Although the window sticker in my Celestial Black test car said it had a 312-mile range, when I filled the car, it topped out at 249 miles. You can fill up in about five minutes, just like you do with a regular gasoline car.

2017 Toyota Mirai

Under the hood hydrogen is transformed into electric energy

The tanks at the station are a bit different from a regular gas station. The filler on the car is a narrow, protruding nozzle. The dispenser is heavier than a gasoline filler. It slides over the car’s filler and latches down into place. With 10,000 psi, you need to be sure it’s secure. Then, you lift the lever on the pump and, with a whoosh, the filling begins. You’ll see some frozen condensation on the handle, because the hydrogen is cold.

Two Stations; Two Experiences

I visited two different stations. The first was the brand new one in San Ramon. The Linde company, a national supplier of gases, built this one (with state funding), and it’s a parklike beauty with large trees around it and very minimal signage. The storage tank looms behind a cement wall.

2017 Toyota Mirai

The fueling experience is still working towards normalcy

I pulled in and watched the introductory video on a screen on the tank to be sure I was following the instructions, and then started the fill up process. When the numbers were done accumulating, I’d added about 220 miles of driving range for $65.20. Whew, that’s expensive! The hydrogen fuel is measured in Kg, so it’s hard to equate it to gasoline, which is why I gave the range. (Ed note: For comparison, a 2017 Toyota Prius at $3.50/gallon for gas, would cost a little more than $7.00 to get the same range.)

I had some trouble disconnecting the fuel nozzle from my car, but the instructions told me to just wait a few minutes if that occurred, and it did work out. I also called Linde; they returned my call later and explained it a bit more. There is a special way to remedy this issue, but it sounds like there are still a few little bugs in the refueling process.

Two gentlemen, each driving brand new Honda Clarity fuel cell cars, pulled in behind me, so I wasn’t alone out there. The only other fuel cell option now is Hyundai’s Tucson fuel cell, a compact crossover that you would never identify as a fuel cell vehicle, since it looks identical to the gasoline-powered model.

My second refueling visit, at a True Zero station in Hayward, went smoothly. I knew the drill, so I didn’t watch the video, but some basic instructions walked me through the process on the screen. This station was part of a Mobil gas station, an arrangement that makes it easier to build, I assume, and may be part of the long-term plan. In this case, the bill came to $53.01 (I bought a little less), and the nozzle came off right away. I smiled.

More Stations Coming

The State of California, through the California Fuel Cell Partnership (www.cafcp.org), is working to build an infrastructure of 100 stations in the state. There are 31 open now. This scarcity could be an issue if you wanted to travel widely with your hydrogen car. Visit their website for a load of great information, including an interactive map showing the nearest hydrogen stations and information about them (such as whether they’re operational, which could make a big difference).

2017 Toyota Mirai

Information central for the Mirai

There are two other issues that make hydrogen cars something of an adventure for the few. The price for my test car, a single model with no options, came to $58,335, including shipping. But that’s not the way you want to get yours. Currently, you can put $2,499 down and pay $349 a month for a lease. And Toyota will throw in $15,000 worth of free fuel. So, with no maintenance or fuel costs, you’ve got a pretty sweet deal.

The other issue isn’t a practical or financial one, but an environmental one. Hydrogen isn’t found unmixed with other atoms. You have to make hydrogen fuel, and it takes a lot of energy to do it. Many methods are being investigated, but if it’s not made with methane from trash or with solar or wind power, it’s not that clean yet. Although water is the only byproduct from the car itself, the entire system has a way to go. Finally, the fuel must be delivered to the stations, adding further fuel consumption to the process. None of the delivery trucks are hydrogen powered yet.

Back To the Car

What’s the car like? Well, it’s about the size of Toyota’s popular midsize Camry sedan on the outside, but about 15 cubic feet smaller inside, so it’s actually a subcompact per the EPA. It feels comfortable up front, but there is room for only two passengers in back, with less legroom than the Camry. The trunk is only 12.8 cubic feet versus 15.1 for the Camry, thanks to some space taken for the battery and hydrogen storage tanks.

2017 Toyota Mirai

Extreme, but getting more familiar

Styling is a bit extreme, but it’s part of the design language used by all new Toyotas, so it looks more conventional now than when it debuted a couple of years ago. The sweeps along the sides, large air collectors in the lower corners of the front, and drooping taillamps no longer jar the eye. Inside, the dash and doors swoop across, with the three layers of controls displayed on flat, glossy black panels. Just the edge of futuristic.

The driving experience is pretty normal, too, with adequate, but not ferocious acceleration. With 151 horsepower and 247 pounds-feet of torque from the electric motor, it’ll go from zero to sixty in nine seconds. The car outweighs the Camry by about 700 pounds, so it feels less light on its feet. The seats, in SofTek, approximate leather without killing any cows.

The Mirai employs the fuel cell and a battery, so, as in Toyota’s Prius and other hybrids, you can view on a screen where the energy comes from and where it’s going. You may be driving in town on just battery power, or moving down the freeway only on the fuel cell itself. Or it could be both. The Mirai’s computer switches back and forth as the need arises. The electricity in the battery is regenerated when you’re braking, slowing down or rolling downhill, as in other electric vehicles. There’s no plug.

You can also learn about how ecologically you’re driving, based on the Mirai’s rating system. It assesses how well you accelerate, cruise and brake and assigns a score, divided by 100—essentially a percentage. My best was 58/100. I was driving as well as I could, so I’m not sure what would make me better.

2017 Toyota Mirai

Challenging numbers

The EPA gives the Mirai ratings of 67 MPGe city/highway/combined. MPGe is an equivalent, so you can compare it with other electric vehicles. I averaged 60.1 MPGe over the test week. The EPA green scores are perfect 10s, of course.  

So, to sum up, the Mirai is pleasant, easy to live with, and with Toyota’s fuel and service deal, fairly inexpensive to drive for three years. You can be part of the latest wave of high tech while blending into traffic. Are you up for a new automotive adventure? Time will tell if there will be enough adoption of this technology to make it successful in the long run.

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. We hope you’ll enjoy these diverse views–some are just below—and let us know what you think in comments below or at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Mirai

First Drive: 2016 Toyota Mirai

News: Toyota Mirai Seeks To Be Prius of Fuel Cell Vehicles

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News: GM Show Autonomous Fuel Cell Platform

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First Drive: 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

Disclosure:

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 publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.