Road Test: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Road Test: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Third Gen’s a Charm

The Equinox compact crossover has been a big hit for Chevrolet, but the latest model is hitting new high marks for fuel economy. With nearly two million sold since its debut in 2004 as a 2005 model, the all-new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox represents a third generation after a long life for the second (2010-2017). It’s one of five Chevrolet crossovers/SUVs.

2108 Chevrolet Equinox

You’ve seen this look before, but not in a high-mpg compact crossover

If you like the look of the Chevrolet Malibu, Cruze, and Volt, you’ll appreciate the Equinox’s new design. It’s sharply drawn, but thankfully, not overdone. The latest chiseled brand face is there, as is a multi-faceted hood and a high, straight shoulder that mimics the look of big brother Suburban and Tahoe. Though all-new, the vehicle still evokes the general feeling and proportions of the old model, which is a good idea, considering its success.

New Inside

Inside, you can see the influence of the siblings as well. There’s lots of movement along the dash and doors, with black control panels and silver accents, and chrome sparkles on the vents and handles. The center of the instrument panel provides useful information straight ahead. The speedometer, common today, goes up to an unattainable 160 mph.

2108 Chevrolet Equinox

Lots to like in the Equinox interior upgrades

The fat, leather-wrapped steering wheel is GM standard, but that’s a good thing. It flaunts lots of handy buttons for controlling audio and other features, so you can keep your eyes on the road.

There are two USB ports in the front of the center console for using and charging devices. You can plug in your phone and see it projected on the 7 or 8-inch center screen, thanks to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Efficiency Boost

Part of the goal of the new Equinox, besides to look fresh, is to increase efficiency, which is why about 400 pounds was taken out of this model. It still comes in at between 3,274 and 3,682 pounds, but that’s significant nonetheless.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

The Equinox’ interior can take you long

Crossover vehicles like the Equinox are very popular today, because they combine the higher-riding, greater-hauling, cooler-looking SUV experience with a comfortable-riding car platform. The Equinox has a firmness to the ride that feels just right, and the leather buckets are comfortable for commuting. I didn’t have a chance to take this one on a long trip, but it looks well up to the job.

Many Choices

This compact hauler comes in four trims—S, LS, LT, and Premier. And there are three engine choices, too, all of which are turbocharged. The base engine is a 1.5-liter four with 170 horsepower (hp) and 203 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque. My Cajun Red Tintcoat tester was a top-level Premier, but had this base engine. You can step up to a 2.0-liter four with 252 hp and 260 lb.-ft. It may not appeal to you, but if you’re interested in a diesel, a new 1.6-liter unit is optional, with a mere 137 hp, but a hearty 240 lb.-ft. of torque. Diesel is surrounded by controversy today, after the revelations of malfeasance at VW, but it offers higher fuel efficiency and range for certain applications.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Options are many, but you’ll want to check out what you can get in the center stack

The 1.5-liter four seems up to the job in this car. It was unmemorable, but didn’t leave me feeling let down, either. The existence of the 2.0-liter option means you can get added grunt if you know you’re going to be carrying several passengers and cargo, which could affect performance significantly. The 2.0-liter engine is mated to a new nine-speed transmission, while the 1.5 gets a traditional six-speed.

My 1.5-liter-equipped tester earned EPA numbers of 24 city/30 highway/26 combined. Those are not bad stats. Green numbers are a pair of 5’s for Smog and Greenhouse Gas.

You can choose front-wheel or all-wheel drive in this crossover. The all-wheel drive system automatically disconnects from the rear axle when not needed, for greater efficiency. Having this choice means that if you live in sunny California and are not planning on skiing, you can skip AWD and save a few bucks while improving your miles-per-gallon numbers by two.

Options, There Are More Than a Few

There’s a vast set of safety features, many standard and some optional—too many to list here. See http://www.chevrolet.com/suvs/equinox-compact-suv for details.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Let’s not forget what crossovers are all about–space

Pricing starts at $24.525 for the S model. My Premier tester had the base engine, but included the Sun, Sound & Navigation package ($3,320) and charged $395 for the Cajun Red paint. The package does include a power sunroof, 19-inch wheels, MyLink Navigation and a Bose Premium seven-speaker system, so the total came to $39,040. That’s one pricey compact crossover.

The all-new Equinox is truly North American, built in Canada with a U.S-sourced engine and transmission and 40 percent Mexican parts. It’s a very important entry in the growing compact crossover segment, battling the two perennial favorites, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, as well as the popular Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, and the rest. With this introduction, Chevrolet’s fleet is looking very fresh.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—the Competition

Road Test: 2018 Honda CR-V

Road Test: 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Ford Escape

First Drive: 2017 Mazda CX-5

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.

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6

Is This Your Best Buy SUV?

Volkswagen has proven that being late to the full-sized, three-row SUV party is not such a bad thing. Despite VW’s attempts at SUVs with the Touareg and Tiguan, which were both quality SUVs, neither really captured the heart of the American SUV buyer. Volkswagen’s latest attempt, the Atlas, is poised to become a best-selling SUV because it hits all of the hot buttons the typical SUV buyer has. It doesn’t break new fuel economy ground, but it acquits itself well against a broad array of competition while delivering the goods in terms of price, utility and features. 

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

It’s a space ship in back

The new Atlas is a real full-sized three-row crossover that seats seven full-sized adults. The Atlas is just the right size at over 200 inches, and over 90 cubic feet of space in the rear with both back seat rows down, 53 cubic feet with the 3rd row down and and 21 cubic feet of space with both rows of seat up. All of this cargo space is available with a perfectly flat floor.

The Atlas is a massive box on 18-inch wheels, the interior is beautiful and spacious with tons of room in the middle and back seats. Ammenties include 17 cup holders, and all sorts of bins and storage in the doors and side areas.

Parts Bin Value

The Atlas draws from the VW part’s bin to maximize its value with the base Atlas starting at just $30,750. Yet at this price it’s no stripper, it uses VW’s tried and true two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a state of the art eight-speaker infotainment system, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control and front wheel drive. An eight-speed transmission is standard on all Atlas trim levels. And that model will deliver 26 mpg on the highway.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Inside, the Atlas has an upscale feel

The Atlas has a total of 12 levels of trim starting with the $30,750 two-wheel drive 2.0L Turbo up  to the $48,740 3.6L V6 4Motion SEL trim with a digital cockpit and panoramic sunroof.

Our test vehicle was the mid-level trim the front wheel drive V6 SE with the Technology package that has an MSRP of $38,015., Add $1,800 for 4Motion AWD.

The Technology Package

The Technology package includes a rear-view camera system, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring. The package also includes lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear traffic alert, remote engine start, keyless access, SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, VW Car-Net, front and rear USB ports and much more.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

The choice is there–we challenge you to find one that doesn’t fit

The Atlas sits on the VW MQB architecture that is also the underpinnings of the Golf and other VW vehicles. Because of that, the ride qualities of the Atlas are superb, with only a hint of body roll in some situations. It’s solid German engineering with big American roominess. The V6 has decent gas mileage for the size of the Atlas. EPA averages are 18 city/25 highway/20 combined. Our test vehicle averaged 23 mpg in mixed driving. Clean Fleet Report will be taking a look at the higher mpg versions of the Atlas soon.

With the variety of levels of trim and affordability available, there is an Atlas for every need and pocketbook. The Atlas is a home run for Volkswagen, and it should be at the top of the list for anyone considering a three-row SUV.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy: Other 3-Row SUVs

Road Test: 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Pathfinder

News: 2018 Lexus RX 450hL Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander

Top 10 Best MPG AWD SUVs/Crossovers

First Drive: Tesla Model X P100D

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.

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.

Drivetrain

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 publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2018 Lexus LC 500h

News: 2018 Lexus RX 450h Hybrid Crossover

Road Test: 2017 Lexus NX300h

News: 2018 Lexus LS 500 & 500h

News: Say Goodbye to the Lexus CT 200h

Road Test: 2018 Toyota C-HR

Road Test: 2018 Toyota C-HR

Offbeat Looks + Fun Driving

Remember Scion? The junior, fun brand in the Toyota family was supposed to be where young people made their connection with Toyota. It was born because, back in 2003, some folks at Toyota believed that the youth of America saw Toyota was too old and stodgy.

2018 Toyota CH-R

Toyota’s quirky subcompact crossover contender

In 2017, Scion is gone. The brand died when it received too little exciting new product, and, more importantly, when Toyota’s leadership figured out that young people were buying Toyotas after all.

You can acquire three former Scions rebadged as Toyotas—the Corolla iM, Mazda-sourced Yaris iA, and 86 sports coupe (formerly FR-S). Now, the car that was originally meant to be the new Scion compact crossover has become the 2018 Toyota C-HR.

Edgy Diamond Design

The design theme is called “Distinctive Diamond,” and indeed there are many edges and surfaces all over the multifaceted body, especially looking at the side profile. Numerous diamond shapes appear inside the car, too, on the dual-zone climate controls, speaker surrounds, and the black headliner. However, the overall effect of the body design is more stimulating to the eye than the more restrained interior.

2018 Toyota CH-R

Diamonds are the CH-R’s “easter eggs”

Standard features include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, electric parking brake (takes up less room), and “Sport Fabric-trimmed” bucket seats with “sport bolsters,” which are adjustable six ways.

This “urban-dwelling crossover” borrows some of the street style of the Nissan Juke, which is itself slated for an update, having spent the last several years shaking up traditional car design. C-HR stands for “Coupe-High Rider.” Make of that what you will.

Two-Tone Style

My sample vehicle sported the two-tone paint you get when you order the R-Code option. The Radiant Green color, mixed with Iceberg (white) on the roof and mirrors, keeps things lively. It’s only available as a two-tone.

My tester was the XLE model. There’s also a Premium version that gets additional safety and styling updates, along with illuminated vanity mirrors and more seat adjustment choices. You enjoy the safety of blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert, two features that are increasingly available standard on modern cars. In the Premium version the front seats are power adjustable and heated, and you get a smart key with push-button start.

The Power & the Infinite Transmission

2018 Toyota CH-R

The storage space is tight, but functional

Whichever model you pick, it’s a 3,300-pound car motivated by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels. It churns out 144 horsepower and 139 pounds-feet of torque through a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). CVTs aren’t designed for sportiness, but this one, called a CVTi-S, lets you select Sport mode and use paddle shifters to pick seven preselected “ratios.” That mitigates some of the oddness of the CVT sound, as it searches for the ideal ratio, but it may lower the efficiency. At least it’s more fun.  

2018 Toyota CH-R

Displays tell the story in the cockpit

EPA numbers are 27 city/31 highway/29 combined. I accumulated 26.3 mpg. Green scores are only a 3 for Smog and a better 6 for Greenhouse Gas.

The 2018 Toyota C-HR receives two Toyota-first features: Driver Distraction Secure Audio and Brake Hold Function. The first limits the menus you can view on the screen while moving, complying with driver distraction guidelines issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Brake Hold keeps the brakes on slightly when the car is still, even if you reduce pressure on the pedal. That keeps you from rolling inadvertently, I guess. A full-electric car can do that already.

The Inside Story

The 2018 Toyota C-HR is not big, but with a rear hatch and 36.4 cubic feet of cargo room with the split rear seats folded, you can do a lot with it.

2018 Toyota CH-R

The CH-R has “youth appeal” with style and tech

The driving experience is what you’d hope for and expect from a smaller, tauter vehicle. I wouldn’t call it memorable, but it is based on the new TNGA C platform. This fresh chassis design combines a low center of gravity with high strength and low weight, so it makes for a better handling car. In fact, Toyota tested this car on the famous Nürburgring Nordschliefe, where companies take their supercars. No information on its score, but it does give the C-HR some bragging rights.

Things like variable electronic power steering can make a difference. It changes the amount of assist depending on your speed, so you can park easily while getting more feedback out on the highway. A new double-wishbone, multi-link rear suspension isn’t the kind of thing you’d necessarily find on such an affordable car.

Pricing starts at $23,460 for the XLE and jumps to $25,310 for the Premium. My XLE tester ran $24,969 with a few options, including the two-tone paint. 

The would-be Scion C-HR is aimed at customers who want to have fun, stand out a bit in traffic, and don’t have lots of money to spend. That means the 2018 Toyota CH-R is playing its role now, regardless of the brand or the badge it wears.

Other Contenders in the Subcompact SUV/Crossover Category:

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3

Road Test: 2017 Kia Soul Exclaim

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

Road Test: 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Road Test: 2017 Jeep Renegade Altitude

Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V

Road Test: 2016 Fiat 500X

Road Test: 2015 Nissan Juke Nismo

Road Test: 2015 Buick Encore

Road Test: 2015 Chevrolet Trax

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.

Road Test: 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

Road Test: 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

Today’s Vehicle, With a Big Upside

The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) is a stylish and useful compact crossover. You can drive it much of the time on battery power and, when necessary, take a long trip using the gasoline engine.

Kia has sold an all-electric Soul for several years. It also offers hybrid and PHEV versions of its Optima midsize sedan, but the Niro is meant to be the brand’s green warrior. A hybrid Niro preceded the plug-in; when I tested one, I recorded 43.8 mpg. An all-electric version just debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and is due in a year or so, with a reported range of 238 miles. That just happens to be the same as the Chevrolet Bolt EV, which currently is the most affordable way to go 200+ miles between charges. There is no gasoline-only Niro.

2018 Niro Plug-In Hybrid

The right size and shape for a plug-in?

The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid is blessed with appealing, nicely balanced lines and proportions, without any extreme styling excesses. It wears Kia’s now familiar “tiger mouth” grill with the pinch in the middle. It looks good from every angle.

Inside Class As Well

The interior design is complementary, with cleanly rendered panels that blend smoothly and surprisingly rich-looking textures wearing matte finishes. What might be taken for hard plastic on the door and dash panels is slightly padded, giving the car a more upscale feel. The switchgear feels durable and moves with precision. An asymmetrical center console sweeps down from the dash, implying some sportiness.

Both the inside and outside classiness owe their dignity to former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, who has led Kia and Hyundai design for a decade, transforming both brands’ design language and image.

As a hybrid, the Niro combines a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 60-horsepower electric motor, which in PHEV form is fed by an 8.9-kWh battery. This energy source weighs 258 pounds versus the much smaller and lighter battery in the standard Niro Hybrid, which only gathers electrons by regenerative braking. The engine’s 104 horsepower and 109 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque mixes with the motor, with its robust 125 lb.-ft. of torque, giving a total of 139 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque combined.

2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

The commuting numbers turned out very nice

A stop-and-go system turns the engine off when the car is stationary, further saving gasoline. The drivetrain flows through a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The car is no rocket, with an 8.8-second zero-to-sixty time. When you press the pedal down hard, you’ll hear the sound of downshifting and an engine working hard to contribute its part to moving the 3,450-pound crossover forward. I noticed this mainly on the uphill climb to my house, but it was otherwise not a big deal.

The Mileage Numbers

The 2018 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid earns 110 MPGe city/99 highway/105 Combined on the EPA’s tests, and a still decent 48 mpg city/44 highway/46 combined on gasoline only. The official battery range is 26 miles, although my test car’s display always read 24 when it was full. That, luckily, was enough for me to commute all week on electricity alone, leading to an exemplary 81.3 mpg for the week. If you rarely go more than 24 miles on a trip, you may find your gas lasts for months. Kia claims an impressive gas + electric range of 560 miles.

EPA Green Scores are 7 for Smog and a perfect 10 for Greenhouse Gas.

Three Flavors

The 2018 Kia Niro PHEV comes in three trims—LX, EX, and EX Premium. My Platinum Graphite tester was an

2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

The Niro interior stays classy

EX Premium with a soothing light gray interior. The price-leader FE model hybrid isn’t sold as a plug-in.

The LX offers a decent sound system, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, a smart key with pushbutton start, and more. The EX adds safety features, including blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert. You also get “hybrid” cloth and leather seats, heated front seats and outside mirrors, 10-way driver seat adjustment with lumbar support and more. The EX Premium steps it up with leather seat trim, three-level heated and ventilated seats, a larger 8-inch touch screen on the dash and a voice-command navigation system.

With an 8.9-kWh battery, you can easily fill the battery at a Level 2 240-volt charger in a couple of hours from empty, or fill it overnight at home on 120-volt household current. When I charged at work after my 18-mile commute, I received a bill for less than a dollar! The charge door includes a small light—a thoughtful touch.

You can use the console button to set the car to EV or HEV mode. In the default EV mode, the Niro uses pure electricity until its big battery is depleted, and then runs as a hybrid. In HEV mode, you can select hybrid driving right away and retain the power for later. That’s great for cruising on the freeway in hybrid mode and preserving the electric power for local driving when you reach your destination. I did notice the engine kick in sometimes in the morning when I started up, even when I thought was EV mode.

The Long & the Short of It

At just 171.5 inches long on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, the car is tidy for nipping around town, but can carry 54.5 cubic feet of gear when you flip down the rear seats.

2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

A small badge and a big plug separate this from the straight hybrid

Pricing starts at $28,840 for the LX and moves up to $32,440 for the EX and $35,440 for the EX Premium. All prices include shipping. My car’s only option was $135 worth of carpeted floor mats.

As a crossover, the 2018 Kia Niro PHEV is sitting pretty, right in the middle of today’s most rapidly growing vehicle segment. I found it just right for family and musical instrument hauling.

The Niro PHEV just won Green Car Journal’s Green SUV of the Year Award, so I expect to see lots of them on the road soon. Plug-in hybrids provide local electric-only clean driving with zero range anxiety when you range farther afield. Until EV batteries are all high-range and quick charge, and the charging network is built out more, it’s the ideal choice for many people.

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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)

Road Test: 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD

Road Test: 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD

7 Seats, Best-in-Class Fuel Economy

A few years ago, Clean Fleet Report reviewed the 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid and reported it received the EPA’s best-in-class fuel economy rating for a seven-passenger SUV. Interestingly, even though the fuel economy numbers between the 2014 and 2018 Highlander Hybrid have not changed much, it retains the crown for being the most fuel-sipping of this large breed of family haulers.

Drivetrain

The all-wheel-drive (AWD) Toyota Highlander Hybrid is powered by Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, consisting of a 3.5-liter, 24-valve double overhead cam (DOHC) gasoline-powered V6 engine combined with the front 123-kW and rear 50-kW electric motors. There is a total system 306 horsepower running through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Outstanding in its field of seven-passenger SUVs

The Dynamic Torque Control AWD system electronically adjusts from the normal front-wheel drive mode to all-wheel drive. This activates the rear wheels when there is heavy acceleration or tire slippage is detected, as in driving on ice and snow. Through multiple sensors, it actively measures speed, steering angle and other factors to govern the torque distribution to the rear wheels. When the steering wheel is turned and when accelerating, the Highlander Hybrid automatically shifts into AWD to prevent wheel slippage. I tried under rainy conditions to feel the transition from front-wheel drive to all-wheel drive, but it was far too seamless.

To maximize fuel economy, Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive automatically switches between the electric drive mode, combined electric motor and gasoline engine, and gasoline-only engine power. The transitions are smooth and can be monitored by viewing the dash gauges. Fuel economy for the 2018 Highlander Hybrid is rated at 29-mpg city/27 highway/28 combined. Running on regular unleaded, I drove 255 mostly highway miles and averaged 27.1 mpg. With the 17.1 gallon tank my driving distance could have been 460 miles.

The nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery is charged 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 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 Highlander Hybrid is easy to drive, with a smooth ride that was unaffected by Southern California’s grooved concrete freeways. In our 2014 Highlander Hybrid review we noted at times on the highway it would begin to float when the road undulations and rhythm were just right. This was not the case with the 2018 version, so it appears Toyota’s engineers have been busy.

The steering was a bit on the light side. If it were stiffer, it would not compromise any of the ride attributes and would lead to more road feedback and feel. The Highlander Hybrid accelerates smoothly, with some good oomph thanks to the combination of the V6 and twin electric motors.

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Most of the Highlander chrome comes up front

The Limited Platinum AWD trim level comes standard with 19-inch Chromtec wheels. These very attractive wheels had a machine-cafe alloy gunmetal grey finish and were mounted with 245/55R all-season tires. Traction was good, but hard or spirited cornering revealed understeer and body lean. Not having any low gears, the Highlander Hybrid is not considered a true off-road SUV. However, it does have eight inches of ground clearance with hill start assist just in case you get stuck off the pavement.

Stopping comes from Toyota’s Electronically Controlled Brake System (ECB) that incorporates regenerative control and power-assisted, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD). The stops were straight and consistent, but the brakes at first were touchy and grabby, and I could feel the regenerative system strongly, so it took some experimentation to get used to the brakes.

When driving a hybrid, I like to select the option of EV mode, especially around town, forcing the car to run solely on electric power. The Highlander Hybrid 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 to add.

Driving Experience: Exterior

The Highlander Hybrid features smooth surfaces with soft lines and edges. The curved nose includes wrap-around LED projector-beam headlights. The smoked-chrome accents around the headlights are a nice touch. The roofline, which is near-flat, has chrome rails and had a panoramic power moonroof. It ends with a spoiler over the rear hatch window, which flips up. There are very few chrome bits and pieces; what is there is found on the large front grille, accenting the side windows and on the rear lower fascia. Be sure to look for the blue on the front and rear Toyota logo badges, which signifies this Highlander is electrified.

Driving Experience: Interior

Clean Fleet Report was driving the Limited Platinum trim level, which nicely lived up to its name. If you can imagine an interior feature or treatment that should be on a car, then it is there. The Highlander Hybrid has seven seats, (the non-hybrid models can seat eight). The power 12-way adjustable driver seat, with memory and lumbar, was heated and ventilated. The front heated and ventilated passenger seat is four-way adjustable. The second row are Captain’s Chairs (no second row bench seat is available in the hybrid) and the third row is a 60/40 folding and reclining bench seat. The second row passengers also get integrated side window shades, climate controls and folding armrests with cup holders.

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Plenty of room–and tech–in front

The Highlander Hybrid infotainment comes through Toyota’s Entune system with its App Suite, which includes voice command navigation through an 8.0-inch high resolution touch-screen. Excellent sound comes from the premium JBL audio system with 12 speakers to deliver SiriusXM/FM/CD/HDAM with MP3 playback capability. The AM/FM is a cache radio, which is a nice feature, and the SiriusXM service is included for the first 90 days. There is an auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity, music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology and hands-free phone capability.

The cockpit design is driver friendly, except for one big concern. When I was comfortably sitting in the driver seat I was unable, at 5’ 9”, to reach the channel knob on the far right side of the radio, without leaning forward and to the right. I had a 6’ 1” friend try it and had the same result. This obviously is a design issue that Toyota should remedy as anytime the driver does not have both hands on the steering wheel is a bad thing. To compound this, is not being able to change one radio

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Maybe too much room–reaching the center stack controls is an issue

station at a time using the steering wheel mounted controls. The way it is now, toggling the switch gets the next, up or down the dial, preset station. You can hold the switch down firmly, which takes you through the channels one at a time, but at a fast speed. So fast that it pretty much eliminates going from Sirius 18 (The Beatles) to 19 (Elvis) without having to reach for the channel knob and taking your hand off the steering wheel. Toyota is smart, they will figure this out.

Otherwise, the gauges, including the hybrid management system, are in easy sight and the controls are in easy reach, including those for the tri-zone automatic temperature system. The heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel contains audio telephone and voice controls. The roll-top center console has a lower area that is huge and can swallow-up pretty much anything you want to store away to be out of sight for security reasons.

Convenience and Safety

Convenience and safety features on our Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum included an adjustable power lift gate with a rear wiper, cargo-area cargo tie-down hooks, a very handy in-dash shelf that had an opening for charging cables to pass through, reading lights front and rear, power windows with front auto up and down, power door locks, five USB ports, two 12V power outlets, folding heated power side mirrors with puddle lamps, multiple cup holders and an auto-dimming Homelink equipped rearview mirror.

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The middle seats in the Hybrid continue the luxury & tech theme

Another very unique and handy feature was activated by a dash-mounted button, left of the steering wheel—the Bird’s Eye View camera with Perimeter Scan. By pushing the button, the scan gives a top down 360º look at anything that may be in the Highlander’s surrounding area. You will come to rely on this nifty feature.

The Highlander Hybrid is well-equipped with active and passive safety features including eight air bags, a tire pressure monitoring system, collapsible steering column, anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer, rear view camera, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, and the previously mentioned four-wheel disc brakes with ABS.

Pricing and Warranties

The 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD has a MSRP of $48,280. Clean Fleet Report’s total price, including the $224 carpet floor and cargo mats came to $48,504. Pricing excludes the $995 delivery and fee.

The 2018 Highlander Hybrid comes with these warranties:

  • Powertrain Five years/60,000 miles
  • Comprehensive Three years/36,000 miles
  • Corrosion Perforation Five years/Unlimited miles
  • Complimentary Maintenance Two years/25,000 miles
  • Hybrid-related Component Coverage Eight years/100,000 miles

Observations: 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD

The 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the most fuel efficient of the seven-passenger SUVs. With a redesign that took place in 2017 and carries-over to 2018, the Highlander is more contemporary and in line with the fierce SUV competition. The interior is very comfortable, especially for long trips and outings. The carrying capacity makes for ease of luggage hauling on those long trips.

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The Highlander Hybrid continues to lead its class in fuel economy

If your family has grown to the point where a vehicle of this size your needs, then by all means visit your Toyota dealership and have them walk you through all the features and options. Make sure to ask for a Toyota factory-trained specialist, who will explain the hybrid technology in detail.

Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!

In order to give you 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 publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid (Steve’s view)

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—Toyota Hybrids

News: 2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Introduced

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Mirai

Road Test: 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid (Steve’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid (John’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime (Steve’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime (Larry’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius V

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime (John’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Road Test: 2016 Toyota Prius (Steve’s view)

Road Test: 2016 Toyota Prius (Steve’s view)

First Drive: 2016 Toyota Prius

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.