Road Test: 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

Road Test: 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

Cruising Well into the AWD 30 MPG Club

In our northwest corner of the country, motorists embraced Subarus back when quirky wasn’t hip. We thought Subarus were neat long before Paul Hogan started hauling his “barbie” around in Outbacks or Lance Armstrong cycled his way to becoming the new company spokesman.

2018 Subaru Outback

The Subaru Outback in its natural habitat (when it’s not cruising the highways)

We, along with buyers in New England and the Rocky Mountain states, knew for years that Subaru’s all-wheel drive cars and wagons offered superior traction—not just on snowy or muddy roads, but on any slippery or uneven surface. And the decision in 1994 to morph the Legacy wagon into the “world’s first sport-utility wagon” and call it Outback? Brilliant, as consumers in all three markets flocked to dealers.

Over the years Outbacks and, indeed, all Subarus, were known for just so-so fuel economy. The automaker has been working to erase that reputation. The 2014 Outback 2.5i four-cylinder, with a 30-mpg highway rating, earned inclusion in our Clean Fleet Report All-Wheel Drive 30 MPG Club. The 2018 Subaru Outback improves on that with an EPA rating of 32-mpg highway/25 city/28 combined with a standard continuous variable transmission (CVT). Plus, the 2018 Outback boasts a driving range of nearly 600 miles, thanks to a large 18.5-gallon gas tank.

For those willing to forgo some fuel economy in exchange for power, the six-cylinder 3.6R is rated at 27-mpg highway/20 city/22 combined.

While the crossover SUV craze has overshadowed the car market in the U.S., the Outback wagon is Subaru’s top selling vehicle. But it isn’t totally alone. If you are set on a wagon with all-wheel drive, there’s the all-new Buick Regal TourX, along with the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, BMW 3-Series Sports Wagons, Audi A4 Allroad and Volvo V60.

A Distinctive Look

The Outback has grown in size over the years and along the way became a nameplate of its own, losing the Legacy badge in 2000. But one thing hasn’t changed, its distinctive look.

In profile, it is still one handsome station wagon with a roofline that sweeps naturally back. Like the original, the SUV-like appearance is maintained with pronounced front and rear fender arches along with lower body cladding and signature round fog lights. Minor restyling for 2018 brings a chunkier bumper and front fascia that includes a wider and lower grille, chrome wings extending from the logo and more aggressively styled headlights. The rear has also been tweaked for a more substantial look, and the Limited trim offers a new wheel design. The 8.7 inches of ground clearance continues to set it apart from other small crossovers; it’s one of those cars that still looks classy when it’s caked in mud.

A roof rack remains standard but with a clever twist. The roof rail system has noise-reducing crossbars that swing out of the way when not in use. It also makes it easier to secure bikes, kayaks and snowboards.

Inner Space

While Subaru wanted the outside of the Outback to look tougher, it made the 2018 edition’s interior more luxurious. The center console and steering wheel have been redesigned; all grades above the base trim include new stitching on the dash. The dash, center console and door panels flow together in a contemporary manner. Materials look and feel rich, and the faux wood trim has a matte finish, not the sheeny look that so many makers prefer.

2018 Subaru Outback

The Outback retains user-friendly features while embracing tech

Unlike far too many vehicles that use tiny controls on the center console, the Outback has large, easy-to-read push selectors for climate control. And kudos to the designer who kept separate rotary audio control knobs rather than absorbing them into the navigation system.

Storage inside the Subaru’s interior is also generous and well thought out. The center console bin is massive, the door pockets have slots for water bottles and there’s a larger covered bin forward of the shifter that’s perfect for a phone or wallet. The two front cupholders are large and well-placed. There are also two rear cupholders in the fold-down armrest.

Front bucket seats are supportive with good grip, and yet are comfortable. It’s easy to arrange a just-so driving position, which is a separate issue from how good the seats themselves feel. Front

2018 Subaru Outback

The wide open space–in back of the Outback

head- and legroom are excellent. The rear cabin is a pleasing place to ride. It’s not only comfortable for adults with its reclining seatbacks, it’s a rear seat that adults can climb into without much trouble. Younger families will appreciate the easy-to-reach latch connectors in the outboard seat for easy car seat installation.

I’m still amazed by the amount of stuff you can cram into the cargo area of the Outback. There’s a generous 34.3 feet of storage space behind the rear seats, which expands to a voluminous 71.3 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded flat.

Of late, Subaru has been on top of the features-offered game. For 2018, the Outback has an updated Starlink multimedia and infotainment system that features a standard 6.5-inch screen in place of the previous 6.2-inch unit, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen is available in the Outback for the first time. Both offer Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary inputs, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The upgraded unit also has two USB ports, TomTom navigation and the ability to receive over-the-air updates using Wi-Fi. 

The automaker also bolstered the Outback’s safety arsenal with optional swiveling headlights, automatic high-beams, adaptive guidelines in the standard rearview camera, individual tire-pressure monitors, automatic locking doors and a reverse-braking system. The optional EyeSight camera and sensor package has also been upgraded with lane-keeping assist that now activates at a lower speed, around 37 mph.

If you want a variety of choices, go no farther. There are four trim levels of the 2018 Outback 2.5i wagon. Pricing begins at $25,895 for the base model with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and CVT transmission, while the top line 2.5i Touring starts at $36,490. The 3.6 R Limited model starts at $35,995.

Committed To AWD and The Boxer Engine

Subaru introduced its first all-wheel drive vehicle in 1972, the Leone Estate. Called symmetrical all-wheel drive, the system became standard on all Subarus sold in the U.S 1996. The lone exception is the rear wheel-drive BRZ sports car (which is a platform shared with Toyota). Engineers have improved the AWD technology over the years and today the system enhances traction,

2018 Subaru Outback

The Boxer continues to punch above its weight

control and balance. What hasn’t changed is its symmetry—a balanced front-to-rear and side-to-side operation.

While others have followed Subaru with AWD, the company continues to march to its own drummer with its “boxer” engine. The boxer, also used by Porsche, is laid out horizontally rather than vertically, as are conventional in-line and V-engines. The pistons are placed opposite one another. When the engine is running, it looks like a boxer throwing punches, hence the name.

This piston action allows their movement to cancel out vibration as well as reducing wear. Because it is mounted longitudinally—front-to-rear—it provides a low center of gravity, adding to the Outback’s stick-to-the-road capability.

Behind the Steering Wheel

Subaru handed us the keys to an Outback 2.5i Touring to test drive. Standard equipment included leather upholstery with heated front seats, heated mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, EyeSight, Starlink and a Harmon Kardon 400-watt audio system. Suggested retail was $36,490.

Weighing in at close to 3,400 pounds, the 175 horsepower four-cylinder is no screamer. It has to work a bit, but it is more than adequate for the tasks we ask vehicles to perform. The payoff is the fuel economy for a vehicle this weighty that totes around an all-wheel drive system.

On paved surfaces, where the Outback spends most of its time, the ride is well isolated with a suspension that’s slightly firm around town, but generally very comfortable. Highway driving has an impressive sedan-like feel, in part because of the low center of gravity.

Steering works well, staying pointed straight ahead without fussing, when that’s your intent. Cornering is easily handled without slop or drama, courtesy of well-matched tires, suspension and AWD. Brakes come on swiftly when summoned, but no one will think they are touchy.

2018 Subaru Outback

Though not a serious off-road machine, the Outback can kick up some dust

Subaru was an early adopter of the CVT transmission and the one in Outback is as good as they get. There was no annoying run up of engine rpms during heavy throttle application and, simulated gear shifts via paddle shifters resulted in smooth up and down shifts.

I first drove an Outback off-road in 1995, its first model year, when it was known as the Legacy Outback. At Subaru’s request, it was a support vehicle for the second annual “Mudfest,” an event judged by journalists to determine the Northwest Sport-Utility Vehicle of the Year.

Since then I have driven a score of Outbacks off-road. It probably can’t conquer the most rugged routes of the famed Rubicon Trail, but I’ve slogged behind numerous Jeep Wranglers and Cherokees, Chevy Trailblazers and Nissan Pathfinders on some very nasty, rutted, muddy, steep trails and emerged with nary a problem.

My off-road foray with this Outback wasn’t a real test, just a few miles on an old, neglected Forest Service road for a picnic by a scenic stream.

As for fuel economy, the Outback delivered as advertised. Driving most of the time at the legal go-with-the flow pace for 251 miles, rewarded us with a 33.1-mpg average, slightly better than the EPA combined estimate. That included nearly 35 miles of some frisky driving on a nearly deserted two-lane country road.

Bottom Line

Despite growing competition, the 2018 Subaru Outback continues to be a top choice if you’re looking for a sporty and affordable luxurious wagon with big cargo volume. The Outback is comfortable, it’s versatile, and is available with high-end safety tech and the highest safety ratings.

Join owners in the Pacific Northwest, New England and the Rocky Mountain states and, you won’t go wrong.

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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: 2019 Infiniti QX50

Flash Drive: 2019 Infiniti QX50

New Engine Tech Hits the Highway

Infiniti brought world media members to Los Angeles in mid-January to learn about and drive the all-new 2019 QX50. When Infiniti says all-new, they mean it, as there is no carry-over from the outgoing model.

2019 Infiniti QX50

New outside, but it’s what’s inside that counts

While there are many design changes on the 2019 QX50, the most important technology advancement is the all-new VC-Turbo, the world’s first variable compression engine. Automakers make all sorts of claims about being first and the best, but when Infiniti explained in detail the 20 years of engineering that went into the VC-Turbo, and then let the media drive the QX50 hard through mountain terrain, we became believers.

The 2019 QX50 midsize crossover is only offered with the VC-Turbo power plant, with “only” not being pejorative in any way. The 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine has 269 horsepower and a very useable 280 pounds-feet of torque that spools-up for max performance between 1,600-4,800 rpm. But what exactly is a Variable Compression Turbo engine, and what makes it so revolutionary?

  • What it does: The VC-Turbo engine has multi-link components and continuously adjusts the compression between 8:1 (greater power and torque) and 14:1 (greater fuel efficiency), so engine optimization is on an instantaneous need basis.
  • If the computer senses the need, the compression ratio can also adjust to 10.5:1.
  • How it does it: The VC-Turbo engine has a small electric motor mounted to the lower part of the engine. Connected to this motor is a harmonic drive with a control arm. When rotating, the control arm moves the multi-link system, which changes and adjusts the piston positions–and the corresponding compression. All this is going on seamlessly, at all speeds and all demands on the engine.

On the Road

As hard as I tried while driving (creeping) through Beverly Hills or on the Ventura Highway at 75 mph, and then through the Santa Monica Mountains with speeds varying from slow to high-speed corners, I was unable to feel the variable compression taking place, nor was I able to trick the engine into trying to find the correct compression for my driving style. The smooth turbocharger, as

2019 Infiniti QX50

The revolutionary variable compression engine offers the best of both worlds

well as the direct and port injection, played a big part in how well the VC-Turbo performed. This is a wonderful engine.

VC-Turbo fuel economy, compared to the outgoing 2018 QX50 with the V6 engine, nets a 35-percent bump in the front-wheel drive model. EPA fuel economy ratings for the FWD are 24 city/31 highway/27 combined and 24/30/26 for the AWD model, making the QX50 a candidate for Clean Fleet Report’s 30 MPG AWD Club.

2019 Infiniti QX50

Infiniti’s style team kicks it up a notch

The premium-fuel engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in both configurations. The shift-by-wire CVT allows for manual shifting and is programmed to simulate a six-speed automatic with shift points. Infiniti lets the driver choose exactly how they want their VC-Turbo and CVT to perform with four Drive Mode options–Standard, Eco, Personal and Sport.

The Eco mode is best for open highways, where the engine and transmission can maximize fuel economy. Standard is for everyday around-town driving, but Sport is where the 2019 QX50 comes to life. Selecting Sport offers the most spirited driving, adjusting the engine to deliver higher power and torque. With the optional Direct Adaptive Steering set to Dynamic+ you get the most responsive steering available. I tried all the settings and, except for long highway runs, Sport and Dynamic+ are where I wanted to be. It was good fun pushing the 3,952-pound QX50 deep into corners, feeling confidence that the AWD system would grip and keep us planted to the road. Overall, the CVT worked as well as others on the market, which for some people is not saying much. For Infiniti, the CVT helps them achieve a smooth driving experience while maximizing fuel economy. I am sure there are some cost savings in the equation too. If you are an aggressive driver who is always pushing the limit, then the QX50 is not for you. However, if you are using the QX50 for what it was designed to do, then you will find the CVT to be to your liking.

New Design: In and Out

Styling on the 2019 Infiniti QX50 is sleeker and more contemporary than the previous model. The noticeable visual detail from the side is the kink in the D pillar. Infiniti has had this on several previous SUVs with different levels of design success. On the 2019 QX50 it looks right and is a positive design feature. Moving from a V6 to an I4 engine allowed for more front-end space, with the interior benefiting.

2019 Infiniti QX50

The cockpit is what you’d expect in a luxury crossover–plus suede

Carrying the Infiniti name and reputation means the QX50 is a premium crossover. The interior gets an update with the top trim levels including quilted seats and suede trim. It all works very nicely. All the operating systems, such as infotainment and power-everything are all there, and will be described in detail when Clean Fleet Report has the all-new QX50 for a week-long test drive. Suffice it to say that, if you want something on a new car, it is to be found on the QX50.

Technology Abounds

Along with the suite of advanced driver assistance technology, new on the 2019 QX50 is ProPilot Assist, which Infiniti repeatedly stressed is NOT autopilot. This system is hands-on and, when engaged, aids the driver keeping the QX50 centered between lane lines and can even bring the car to a complete stop in an emergency. Until the day comes where cars are completely autonomous, consider systems like ProPilot Assist to be very advanced cruise control that can reduce driver stress and fatigue while in stop-and-go traffic, or on long distance drives.

Observations: 2019 Infiniti QX50

Infiniti got the 2019 QX50 right, starting with contemporary exterior styling and premium interior materials. Size-wise, it is small enough to whip around in-town, but large enough inside to carry five full-size adults. The base QX50 in FWD starts at $36,550 and the AWD version starts at $45,150. Options, tax and destination fees will be extra.

2019 Infiniti QX50

It’s got style & tech to complete in this segment

Where Infiniti really did a great job is the all-new and first-to-market VC-Turbo engine. Twenty years of engineering innovation and development has resulted in an engine with diesel-like fuel economy, coming from a relatively small 2.0L engine that has a very useable torque band. It’s encouraging to see that gasoline-powered engines are still being improved upon.

For the family, the 2019 Infiniti QX50 will be perfect for everyday needs as well as long vacations. It’s priced competitively.

Flash Drive: Clean Fleet Report “Flash Drives” are concise reviews of vehicles that include the major points and are easy and quick to read. A “Flash Drive” is often followed later by a comprehensive test drive review.

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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.

Personal: Batting 1,000

Personal: Batting 1,000

Clean Fleet Report Hits Milestone

Something special happened this week and we just want to let you know. Clean Fleet Report published its 1,000th story. That’s quite a landmark for a start-up, but we’re just getting going. We published more than 200 stories last year as we moved into more in-depth coverage of fuel economy and advanced technology news. The 1,000th story—and the two that bracket it—are a good way of telling the Clean Fleet Report story.

2017 Toyota Mirai

2017 Toyota Mirai–a fuel cell pioneer

Story 1,000 – Toyota Mirai Hits 3,000 Sales

This news story is a good shorthand for the biggest change of this past year’s expanded coverage. In order to bring you more information on the fast-changing world of zero and near-zero emission vehicles. In 2006, when this publication started, fuel cells were essentially science experiments. They worked, but any vision of them as a day-to-day vehicle seemed like some science fiction fantasy. Fast forward to today and, in California, you have a choice of three FCEVs you can lease (or even buy in the case of the Mirai). More models are on the horizon and the fueling infrastructure continues to grow. Several of our staff have had the chance to drive and live with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (John in the Tucson and Mirai, Steve in the Mirai, me in the Clarity). We have a feeling we’ll be reporting on fuel cells more and more as we head to the end of the decade.

Story 999—Road Test of the 238-mile Range Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV–breaking through the 200-mile range barrier

The breakthrough Bolt is celebrating it’s first full year on the market, which we celebrated with our first full road test. Of course, we haven’t been ignoring Bolt news during the year as it racked up more than 23,000 sales. Beyond the test drives and news stories, Clean Fleet Report has been bringing a more personal story about this amazing car through staff Steve Schaefer, who put his own money on the line to lease a Bolt a little more than a year ago. His journey with the car illuminates more details of where the EV market is going.

Story 1,001—Road Test of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Hybrids keep expanding their reach–and capabilitie

The first story of our second millennium of stories is a good window into how far industry has come. SUVs are hot and even though gas prices are low, companies remain focused on turning out more and more efficient models. The Highlander Hybrid is one of eight in the Toyota lineup (one of which, the hot-selling Prius Prime, is a plug-in hybrid). More important, it’s one of more than a dozen SUVs available as hybrids, plug-in hybrids, full electric or fuel cell vehicles. This changing world is the one we’re here to document, offering you insight into the choices that are out there in vehicles and technologies.

In those three stories you can see a bit of the breadth of news we’ll be covering this year. We’ll add in event coverage and exclusive interviews from our experienced staff. Enjoy the ride!

We always welcome your thoughts and insights as well at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com. 

Road Test: 2017 Rogue Sport AWD

Road Test: 2017 Rogue Sport AWD

A Rear Seat Less Than the Rogue

The cravings of American car buyers for sport utilities, small and large, led Nissan to introduce an all-new model for 2017, the Rogue Sport subcompact crossover SUV. The automaker is betting that this new entry crossover will cling to the coattails of its best-selling vehicle, the larger Rogue SUV, and follow in its tire tracks. That’s a tough bet as the junior crossover lands amid a host of subcompact crossovers including the Honda HR-V, the Toyota C-HR, the Mazda CX-3 and the Chevrolet Trax.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

The best-selling Rogue gets a baby brother

While the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport is new to the U.S. market, the vehicle it is based on has been on sale in global markets as the Qashqai since 2014. The new small SUV is essentially a shrunken version of the existing Rogue, with a foot less length and a couple hundred pounds less curb weight. It earns its Sport name not for its driving characteristics—it really isn’t sporty—but instead for its positioning in the Nissan lineup below the larger Rogue and above the smaller Juke and its upcoming replacement—the Kicks.

The largest entry so far into the subcompact crossover market, Nissan offers the Rogue Sport in three trims: S ($22,395 base MSRP), SV ($23,995) and SL ($27,045). All-wheel drive (AWD) is a $1,350 option.

You can have any engine you want in the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport as long as it’s Nissan’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder that puts out 141 horsepower. It’s routed to either the front wheels or all four wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Like others of its ilk, the all-wheel-drive system on this SUV is set up for foul weather and dirt roads, not true off-roading.

EPA fuel economy ratings for our all-wheel-drive SL model are 24-mpg city/30 highway/27 combined. That earns it a membership in the Clean Fleet Report 30-MPG All-Wheel Drive Club.

Acorn Didn’t Drop Far from The Tree

Sport has a strong resemblance to big brother Rogue, from the aggressive Nissan V-Motion grill to the swoopy hatchback-like rear along with sleek LED boomerang-shaped taillights and rear spoiler. From the side, the Rogue Sport looks tidy and tightly styled, thanks to touches like the up-kick in the rear side glass, fog lights and available 19-inch wheels.

Inside, the interior is lifted almost wholesale from the updated 2017 Rogue. Gauges are simple and clear, and the dash has nice, intuitive round knobs for audio and climate control that frame the usual center stack with a touchscreen. Front and rear seats are equally comfy, well-cushioned and seem perfectly shaped for adult-size backsides.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

Inside, this nut’s similar to its sibling

With a large glovebox, a spacious center console armrest bin, and wide door pockets, the Rogue Sport offers plenty of places to stash smaller items throughout the cabin. In the cargo area there are two bins on either side and an impressively large storage bin under the cargo floor. Space for cargo is 19.9 cubic feet behind the folding seatbacks and 53.3 when they are folded.

Targeted at young, tech-savvy buyers, it’s surprising to find the Rouge Sport doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Plus, rear-seat passengers won’t be thrilled by the lack of USB or charging ports for their mobile devices. The choice is, juice up before heading out or, for $80, Nissan dealers can install two USB charging ports on the back of the center console.

2018 Nissan Rogue Sport

Under the hood is a four for town

Since I’m carping, there is a row of hard-to-reach buttons, like traction control and steering-wheel heat, that are located so far to the lower left of the dash that even seasoned owners will need to take their eyes off the road to find them.

Basic infotainment gear is standard in the Rogue Sport. A 5.0-inch color display in the S and SV models provides a clear readout for the audio system. The base 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport S comes standard with Bluetooth phone integration with Siri eyes-free, a rearview camera and Nissan’s clever Easy Fill Tire Alert, which honks the horn once the tire pressure has reached the correct level. You also get air conditioning, manually adjustable front cloth seats, remote keyless entry and cruise control.

The mid-level Rogue Sport SV adds larger 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, push-button start, a six-way-power driver’s seat and dual-zone climate control. The top-level SL gets 19-inch wheels, fog lights, remote start, Nissan’s Around-View Monitor bird’s-eye-view camera system, navigation, leather on the shift lever and heated steering wheel and seats. Basic safety systems are standard, but you’ll have to step up to mid-level SV trim to add forward emergency braking, and top SL if you want lane departure warning.

A Great Urban Driver

Forward visibility is great, thanks to a high seating position and relatively thin A-pillars. Glass areas are large and square, providing widescreen views from most angles. To help with the blind spots that do exist, Nissan has fitted the Rogue Sport with extra-large side-view mirrors.

2018 Nissan Rogue Sport

Something only slightly new

The bucket seat in our top-of-the-line SL model was perfectly acceptable for a three-hour drive, but the Rogue Sport shows best in urban areas, where its size is perfect for scooting around crowded cities and fitting tight parking spots. Around town, the junior crossover doesn’t lack for power and is peppy enough to squirt in and out of traffic without being a hazard.

The chassis holds up its end of the bargain, with balanced European breeding shining through. The suspension rebounds quickly, and minor bumps are absorbed with very little disturbance sent through to the cabin. Harsher impacts are felt, but they are surprisingly gentle. The light steering does at least make the Rogue Sport particularly easy to maneuver at low speeds, such as in a parking lot or driveway.

In town I was left thinking this thing is perky and light on its feet. But when I hit an on-ramp to the freeway, I was wishing for an extra 50 horsepower or so. A sluggish 0 to 60 time of 10 seconds tells the story. The slowness, to be fair, is similar to that of several other small SUVs, including the competing Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR.

Once up to speed, steering was a touch slow and on the disconnected side, but the Rogue Sport did what it was told without much fuss. Aside from the creamy ride quality, handling was competent but hardly sporty. And the vehicle was quiet inside under most circumstances on all but coarser pavement surfaces. When I pushed hard into corners, the CVT held a gear until I reached a straightaway. That action was manual via the shift lever—there are no shift paddles—but the sluggish result was essentially the same.

That said, the Rouge Sport did live up to its fuel economy rating. We returned the keys to Nissan after driving 337 miles that showed a combined fuel economy of 28.1 mpg.

The Subcompact SUV For You?

Acceleration isn’t great, and driving dynamics are focused more on comfort than excitement, but the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport makes up for these shortcomings with excellent cargo-hauling capability, a smooth ride and above-average fuel economy. As a family car, the Rogue Sport also excels with plenty of rear-seat space for a child seat and a host of available active safety features—although most of these are limited to the expensive SL model.

Whether you’re a new parent shopping for a kid-friendly crossover or an empty nester looking to downsize from a larger SUV without giving up too much utility, the Rogue Sport deserves consideration.

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Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V (Larry’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3 (Michael’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3 (Larry’s view)

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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 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Incrementally Greener

The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid adds two electric motors to the upgraded 3.5-liter V6 engine to make a powerful, roomy and slightly cleaner version of Toyota’s family crossover.

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Better fuel economy and now more affordable

For 2017, you can drive home more affordable LE and XLE versions, matching more closely with the gasoline-only lineup. Formerly the Highlander Hybrid was available only in a premium form with the Limited and Platinum models.

The Highlander is one of eight hybrids Toyota sells, cementing its reputation as the hybrid car company. The Prius family makes up half of Toyota’s hybrid stable, but there are two hybrid crossovers, including the smaller RAV4 Hybrid.

One New Engine, Two New Motors

The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid blends a new, more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine with a set of electric motors, positioned in the front and rear axles. That placement lets them do different jobs. The larger motor in front, with 167 horsepower (hp) and 247 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque, shares front axle driving chores with the engine. The smaller rear motor, with 68 hp and 103 lb.-ft. of torque, helps drive the rear wheels as part of the standard Electric On-

The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid adds two electric motors to the upgraded 3.5-liter V6 engine to make a powerful, roomy and slightly cleaner version of Toyota’s family crossover.

A familiar grill leads off the Highlander Hybrid

Demand all-wheel-drive system. This is a different process from the all-wheel-drive system in gasoline-only Highlanders.

The goal of a hybrid vehicle is to use electric motors so you can run the gasoline engine less, reducing fuel consumption. The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid ends up being more powerful than the gasoline version, since it uses the same engine, but adds the electric motors. Total system horsepower is 306, through the odd math you get when combining output from engines and motors.

My Celestial Silver Metallic XLE test car earns fuel economy EPA ratings of 29 mpg city/27 highway/28 combined. Compare that with 20 mpg city and 27 highway for the gasoline version, and you can see that the improvement happens in town. A Start and Stop function turns the engine off when stopped, which helps reduce consumption.  

I averaged 25.0 miles per gallon over a week of mixed driving—a bit below the EPA’s estimates. The EPA Green figures, 8 for Smog and 6 for Greenhouse Gas, are better than average.

A Big, Comfortable Machine

The Highlander, now well into its third generation, provides a comfortable ride for a family of up to eight in the lower models, and seven in the higher models, which swap the middle bench for two comfy captain’s chairs. The 4,464-pound crossover excels at mass transit, with easy-to-slide second-row seats for convenient third-row access.

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Even full of passengers, the Highlander Hybrid still has luggage room

The second and third row seats fold down to open up a big, long load floor. Even with the third row up, you still have 13.8 cubic feet of space behind it. Drop the 60/40 split second row and you’ve got a commodious 42.3 cubic feet.

The body is a little bit updated front and rear for 2017, but Highlander design remains standard Toyota truck fare, with a large, double-stack grill and slim, pulled-back headlamp pods up front. Bold cutouts along the lower doors and fender accents convey the right “macho” feel while still making the Highlander look right at the Opera.

Inside, this SUV has some chunky truck aesthetics, with its dash shelf under sections of black and silver that flow into different masses. The traditional two-gauge instrument panel is flanked by a large rectangular air vent on the left, and on the right the 4.2-inch info screen sits between two tall vents. Below lives a set of traditional climate controls. 

Mobile Broadcasting

My tester had a drop-down glasses holder in the ceiling that doubled as a wide-angle mirror for checking out the second- and third-row seat activity. The Driver Easy Speak feature uses a microphone up front to broadcast parental instruction to the rear speakers. This is the first I’ve ever heard of such a thing. There are five USB ports, assuming everybody need a charge or a connection. 

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The badge can now be found on Eight Toyotas

The Highlander starts with a well-equipped LE base model and adds some worthwhile upgrades to each level. On the outside, selected LE highlights include LED taillights and stoplights, heated power outside mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels and privacy glass. The XLE adds more stuff, including blind-spot warning indicators to the mirrors, a power moonroof, a wheel upgrade, roof rails and a handy rear hatch window.

The upper models bump the wheel size to 19 inches and add projector-beam headlamps and puddle lamps on the Limited and a panoramic moonroof and rain-sensing wipers on the Platinum.

Inside, the XLE upgrades from the LE with three-zone automatic climate control, an overhead console, second-row window shades, leather seats and steering wheel, and more. The Limited adds a backup camera, ventilation for the front seats, and auto up and down on the power windows. The Platinum brings in a Bird’s Eye View camera, and even more configurable power seats and steering wheel controls. The complete list is much too long to display here.

Prices and Bottom Lines

Prices start at $37,210 for the LE model. My XLE base-priced at $42,270. The Limited checks in at $45,700, with the Limited Platinum topping out at $48,820. All prices include the $940 destination charge. My car had an optional Rear Seat BluRay DVD entertainment system ($1,810), so it listed for $44,080.

The Highlander fills a popular spot in the Toyota lineup. The Hybrid powertrain increases fuel economy numbers for this commodious family hauler to figures that used to be expected from compact sedans.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—Toyota Hybrids

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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.

Road Test: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier

Road Test: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier

The First Mainstream Electric Car that Can Go the Distance

Ever get the feeling Chevrolet is daring you not to buy an all-electric Bolt? With the average purchase price of a new car in 2017 being about $31,000, you can get into a Bolt with all tax credits and incentives (Federal and State) included, in the high-$20,000 range for the base model. Oh, and of course you will not spend a penny on gasoline or oil, nor will you have the regular maintenance associated with a gasoline-powered car. Sounds pretty good? So what’s not to like? Could it be an unfounded perception that an EV keeps you from going where you want to go? Or maybe it is not accepting the fact that a pure electric car will satisfy 90-percent of your driving needs and lifestyle. If you are like most people and drive solo or with one passenger, under 50 miles daily, the reasons to own a gasoline-powered car are decreasing daily. This is Range Anxiety debunked.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

The Bolt goes further

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV is fun-to-drive and quiet, but why shouldn’t it be? With no internal combustion engine (ICE) or transmission gears, the all-electric Bolt simply whooshes along with smooth efficiency at any speed.

238-Mile Range Technology

It is hard to believe that General Motors, known for big trucks and SUVs, would be the first full-line auto manufacturer to come out with an all-electric car that can travel 238 miles on a single charge. The EPA arrived at this number as the Bolt gets 110 MPGe on the highway and 128 MPGe in the city. MPGe is an EPA measurement of how far a car can travel, electrically, on the same amount of energy as is contained in one gallon of gasoline.

Charging and Stopping

The 60-kWh lithium-ion battery is charged by the 7.2-kW onboard charger. A plug-in port offers three charging speeds. The batteries, going from discharged to a full charge, the approximate times would be:

2017 Chevrolet Bolt

Charging three ways

  • 120V (Level 1)            20 hours
  • 240V (Level 2)           10 hours                 
  • 480V DC Fast Charging 90 miles of range in 30 minutes

Additional charging is through the regenerative braking system that converts braking or coasting into electricity that is stored in the battery. Driving around town, stuck in stop-and-go rush hour freeway traffic or coasting down hills will recharge the battery. The battery charge and mileage range are metered instantly by dash gauges.

The Driving Experience: On the Road

Powered by a 150-kW electric motor driving the front wheels, the 200 horsepower and 266 pounds-feet of torque zips the Bolt around with great fun. Chevrolet claims a 6.8-second 0-60 time and 91 mph top speed. We matched the former but didn’t even attempt to get anywhere near the latter. At 3,560 pounds, the 2017 Bolt is quiet and smooth. The batteries located under the seats made for a sure-footed driving experience that truly shines in city maneuvers and around tight corners. Considering it comes with all-season, Michelin Energy Saver 17-inch tires that are designed for low rolling-resistance, Chevrolet designed the Bolt with a very good road feel. The electric power steering was not too light, and body roll, even when pushed above recommended corner speed limits, was predictable and minor. Highway 65+ mph cruising was solid and confident.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt

The batteries create road-hugging weight

There is a choice of driving modes that affects the regenerative braking. Selecting the Drive mode, the brake pedal is used as normal for slowing and stopping. But using the Low mode, you can control braking with your fingertips, which is a very cool and useful technology. Found on the left side behind the steering wheel is a paddle “shifter” that, when blipped, initiates regenerative braking. What is cool about this is, once you get the hang of it, driving around without using the brake pedal—even coming to a complete stop. This technique, called “one-pedal driving,” lends itself to getting the most electricity from regenerated braking, as fingertips are far more sensitive than a foot tromping on the brake pedal. It is an especially fun technique to master when driving on curvy roads as it gives the ability to slow with your fingers and accelerate with your foot.

A good handling car is nothing without good brakes. The Bolt comes standard with an anti-lock braking system, power-assisted front vented and rear solid discs. Handling and driving confidence was aided by dynamic rear brake proportioning and electronic stability control.

Driving Experience: Exterior

Chevrolet likes to say the Bolt is a small crossover. The EPA (which classifies all vehicles into categories) says the Bolt is a small wagon. Does the difference matter? To Chevrolet it does, as crossovers are hot sellers and wagons not so much. But if Chevrolet really wanted the Bolt to be a true crossover size, why didn’t they design it as such and eliminate any confusion?

2017 Chevrolet Bolt

Non-stand-out styling

The Bolt has a very common hatchback design, a sloping roof-to-windshield-to-bumper profile, that has slim LED projector headlamps wrapping onto the fender, with LED daytime running lights in the lower fascia. The roof, with rack and side rails, never finds a flat surface as it gently arcs to an integrated spoiler over the rear hatch window. Large LED tail lamps wrap onto the fenders. From the side view, the window design is eye-catching and unique, with blacked-out B-pillars and just the lightest touch of a chrome accent strip. The Bolt is clean and looks smaller than it is, partly because of the visual perception from the wide-set wheel placement and the roof height.

Driving Experience: Interior

The Bolt interior gives a feeling of spaciousness, with four full-size adults fitting comfortably, or two adults upfront and three children in the rear. The big issue with the Bolt interior is the materials. There is an abundance of hard plastics and surfaces that should be soft, like the armrests and seats, which were, well, to be kind–hard. Recaro racing seats are firm: Bolt seats are hard. We even noticed the “leather appointed seats” were covered in a leather we had never seen before. For a $43,000 car (the top-of-the-line Bolt Premier model tested by Clean Fleet Report), the interior fit and finish was a disappointment. Also, the seven-shape shifting pattern of the console-mounted gear shifter made getting into reverse a stop-and-think-about-it process.

Now, onto what is good about the interior. The front seating position is higher than would be expected for what looks like a compact car. Sight lines are excellent. This is how Chevrolet came to the conclusion that the Bolt is a crossover, as all vehicles in this class raise the front seats to a road-commanding view height.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

An interior not quite up to its price range

All controls are within easy reach of the driver, including the 8.0-inch instrument cluster, viewed through the steering wheel, with a white background on the gauges making them easy to read. The 10.2-inch color touchscreen housed Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system (information and entertainment) that featured navigation and a Bose, six speaker AM/FM/HD radio and CD player, with USB slots. Also part of the infotainment system is SiriusXM (90-day trial included), Bluetooth for telephone and streaming music and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto from Google. Other nice features are wireless device charging, assuming your device has this ability, rear charge-only USB ports, and a front storage area that can swallow a tablet or laptop.

The heated front seats are manually adjustable for height, sliding and lumbar. When combined with the height adjustable and telescoping steering column, a comfortable driver position could be found. Especially noticeable was how far back the driver’s seat slides: no circus contorting for the six-foot plus crowd. The rear seats are heated in the outboard positions. Exterior road and wind noise were very low.

Storage space with the rear seat up, accessed through the rear hatch, is ample, but not as much as others in this class of EVs such as the Hyundai Ioniq, Volkswagen e-Golf and Toyota Prius Prime. If the driver and front-seat passenger are on a long weekender, the rear seat back splits 60/40 and lays flat, providing 56.6 cu. ft. of cargo capacity – large enough for a full-size bicycle. Additional storage comes in the guise of a false floor, that when removed, allows for the hauling taller objects.

Other features are a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel with radio and telephone controls, power windows with one-touch operation down/driver one-touch up, remote start, power adjustable and manual folding exterior mirrors with turn signals, and a multi-function car analytics and trip computer display.

Safety and Convenience

The Bolt Premier is well equipped with convenience features including power door locks, adaptive cruise control, automatic HVAC, heated outboard rear seats, wireless charging, 4G LTE Wi-Fi Hotspot with a three-month trial subscription, tire pressure monitoring system, keyless push button on/off and OnStar. A unique safety feature is the Rearview camera mirror that replaces the regular image with an 80-degree image applied over the inside rearview mirror.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Maybe not sport, but utility

Hotspot with a three-month trial subscription, tire pressure monitoring system, keyless push button on/off and OnStar. A unique safety feature is the Rearview camera mirror that replaces the regular image with an 80-degree image applied over the inside rearview mirror.

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 one-year service plan expires it is well worth renewing.

The Bolt EV has 10 airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system, forward collision alert, front automatic braking, lane assist, blind spot monitoring and park assist and rear parking distance control sensors.

Pricing, Warranties and Safety

There are two 2017 Chevrolet Bolt models.

  • LT                   $37,495
  • Premier         $41,780

Clean Fleet Report tested a Bolt Premier with option packages of DC Fast Charging, Driver Confidence II and Infotainment. That added $1,730. The MSRP of our test Bolt Premier was $42,635. All prices do not include the $875 destination charge.

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt has not been rated by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The 2017 Bolt comes with these warranties:

  • Complete Care – Two years/24,000 miles
  • Bumper-to-Bumper – Three years/36,000 miles
  • Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles
  • Electric Propulsion Components – Eight years/100,000 miles    

Observations: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt Premier

New in 2017 and with few changes for the 2018 model year, Chevrolet says the Bolt EV is “every reason to drive electric.”  Clean Fleet Report agrees.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Leader of the pack

The Bolt has made it possible to go 238 miles on a single charge in a car costing about $30,000 after incentives are applied. Before December 2016, when the Bolt debuted, you would need to spend at least twice that amount for a vehicle with comparable range.

The Bolt is a comfortable and well-designed car, with good handling in a spirited all-electric driving experience. It is also practical in many ways, starting with the ability to handle a full week’s worth of 40-mile per day commuting without recharging. Notice we didn’t say using any gasoline? Well, that also drives home another practical point that zero dollars will ever be spent on gasoline or the usual maintenance that comes with an internal combustion engine.

Other mass market, five seat all-electric compacts that sell against the Chevrolet Bolt are the Volkswagen e-Golf and Nissan Leaf, with only the Leaf joining the Bolt as a car that can be purchased in all 50 states. The Fiat 500e says it can seat five adults, but we have tried and it is more like four. The Tesla Model 3 can also seat five, but it will cost more than $50,000 when optioned equally to the Bolt Premier—and is still trying to deliver vehicles promised to those on the waiting list who have put down deposits.

With our only negatives on the Bolt being the interior, we are confident you can easily overlook these quirks to enjoy miles and miles of silent running, non-polluting electric driving.

All major auto manufacturers are announcing plans for electrifying their models, with an impressive number being released before the year 2025. In eight short years it will be nearly impossible to find a mainstream manufacturer that does not have a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, EV or hydrogen fuel cell. So, getting a Bolt EV now will set you up for that next generation of electrified cars that will cost around $35,000, but go 400+ miles on a charge. It is an exciting time to be a car buyer.

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

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Personal: My First Year with the Chevrolet Bolt

New: Chevrolet Bolt: Your Price May Vary

Road Test: 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf Premium

News: First Tesla Model 3 Deliveries

Flash Drive: 2018 Nissan Leaf

Road Test: 2017 Fiat 500e

Buyer’s Guide: Tesla Model 3, Chevrolet Bolt or other EV?

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.