My 10 Best Clean Cars in Monterey

Once a year automotive journalists from the San Francisco Bay Area gather to test drive some of the newest models on the market. This is my selection of the Top 10 I experienced at this year’s program.

First Drive: 2014 Volkswagen Tiguan TDI Euro Spec

Let’s start with what a kick it is that Volkswagen allowed Clean Fleet Report to drive the 2014 Tiguan TDI 4Motion Euro Spec. Was it a bit of a tease? Yes. Did it accomplish what they were seeking to do: get journalist input on this crossover and our opinions on how it would fit as a U.S. model? Definitely!

Top 10 Best-Selling High-MPG Cars of 2014 (January-March)

While overall sales languished a mere 1.3 percent above the first quarter of 2013, high-mileage electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and clean diesels continued a torrid pace similar to what they were experiencing during most of last year. The only laggard in this group was gas-electric hybrids, which dropped almost 16 percent compared to last year, based heavily on declining sales of several Prius models.

Electric Car Charging Etiquette

Mixing cars that need to be plugged in with traditional vehicles has created a whole new interaction. Here are some of the rules.

Overview: 2014 Chevrolet Malibu With Start-Stop System

In a somewhat surprising move, the entry-level Malibu LS now comes standard with a start-stop system, the first midsize sedan sold in the United States that is so equipped. Combined with refinements of its base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a new six-speed automatic transmission, the LS has a significant fuel economy increase compared with the outgoing model (now 25 city; 36 highway).

Engine Downsizing Gains Ground

The global drive to reduce greenhouse gases and increase vehicle fuel efficiency is pushing automakers to reduce the size of their engines – while trying to keep all of attributes consumers expect from their cars. Engineers from GM, Porsche and VW have pushed the limits of technology to produce engines that are more efficient, meet increasingly stringent pollution standard and yet make better horsepower and torque than previous generations.

Comparison Road Test: 2014 Toyota Prius & Prius Plug-in

Whether you spend your time tooling around in-town or are venturing out on the open road, if you value paying as little as possible for each mile driven, then the Toyota Prius should be on your shopping list. Not many cars get the outstanding fuel economy of the Prius family.

Yes, you will pay a bit more for a hybrid versus a gasoline-powered car. But, if you are putting a lot of miles on your car or like the ability to cruise around town in pure electric mode like the plug-in version offers, then the additional initial expense will be worth it to you. The reliability of the Prius and being the market-leading hybrid should give you confidence that this car will be in your garage for many, many years.

Texas Dealers Stymie Tesla

Tesla Motors, seller of the much desired Tesla Model S, is no foreigner to the realm of legislative battles. Within more than a few states, including New York and North Carolina, Tesla has managed to win lawsuits and prevent blockage of their non-dealership sales technique, resulting in more of the electric luxury cars on the road than ever.

Unfortunately, Tesla seems to have hit a wall in Texas.

Tesla Battles With Dealers and State Legislatures

Tesla has set out from the beginning to challenge everything in the auto industry. Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk characterizes himself as an outsider selling a an electric car the auto industry has said it couldn’t build or sell and he set up a network of dealers and chargers all owned by his company. The vertical integration might be something a founding titan like Henry Ford might have appreciated, but it has run into problems in 21st century automotive retail business world.

The issue is state-by-state franchise laws, which set up the conditions for the retail sale of automobiles. They have a long history, rooted in protection for local businesses against potential predatory practices by the deeper pockets of a factory-owned store. Consumer protections are also a part of the franchise system, in theory guaranteeing local recourse for any issue a consumer might have with a product that could have been produced on the other side of the globe.

Tesla argues that the model, like the auto industry itself, is dated and not reflective of new world of electric cars and online ordering. In addition, Tesla says as a start-up it poses little threat to larger, established dealerships and as a purveyor of online pure electric cars, it needs factory control to ensure the educational message about this new technology is fully transmitted.

Road Test: 2014 Subaru Forester

The 2014 Subaru Forester is the first all-new model for this brand since 2009. It is slightly larger than the outgoing edition, looks only a little different but has an unexpected surprise – it’s more fuel efficient.

Toyota is “all in” on fuel cell electric vehicles

The race to provide the car of the future is heating up and it should surprise no one that one of the world’s largest car companies, Toyota, is right in the middle of chase to provide it. For Toyota, that future car is powered by a fuel cell that produces electricity on-board from hydrogen.

ROAD TEST: 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas

When looking at alternative fuel vehicles, hybrid, electric and diesel are the most common options based on sales and choice. One other fuel, compressed natural gas (CNG) doesn’t get much attention, probably because there is only one mass-produced CNG-fueled car on the market–the Honda Civic. So if Honda alone believes in this technology for passenger cars, what are they seeing that their competitors aren’t and what is the future for CNG?

Smart EV Wins Best Eco Car Award

ACEEE ranks the Top 10 environmental cars and finds smaller is better and small hybrids are best, although it found the smallest electric car sold in America as the best of the best.

Test Drive: 2013/2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 With Start-Stop

Mercedes-Benz has added start-stop technology to its compact SUV, the GLK, along with direct injection and diesel engine technology, to boost fuel economy. It’s a win-win-win with better fuel economy, more power and all of the usual Mercedes luxury.

Pickups Pick Up MPG

The definition of pickup truck utility is changing. Now fuel economy has become as important as towing capacity and the number of tie-downs in the bed. Automakers are scrambling to build trucks with better MPG and are locked in a battle to offer the best package that includes fuel efficiency as well as all-round capability.

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