First Drive: 2017 Mazda CX-5

First Drive: 2017 Mazda CX-5

Mazda Keeps Upping the Ante in its Most Popular Car

2017 Mazda CX-5, kodo design

Kodo design makes its point

Mazda is a little auto company, but it’s got an oversize presence among those who value driving for pleasure and appreciate engineering that backs up that pleasure. We had a chance to do a brief drive of revamped 2017 Mazda CX-5 at the Western Automotive Journalists’ 2017 Media Days program (among the several cars we experienced there).

As Mazda’s best-selling model, the CX-5 crossover has the burden of leadership. For Mazda, that means taking its Kodo design themes to new places and incorporating 250 changes for the 2017 revamp. The exterior changes are not readily apparent unless you put a 2016 model next to the new 2017, but interior upgrades and some of the under-the-skin technology mark a real change.

Brief Drive Confirms–It’s All Good

We only had a brief drive in the new CX-5, but we threw it at a 1200-foot hill known as Laureles Grade, which also included plenty of turns up and down, so we had a chance to fully experience the slightly improved horsepower of the 2.5-liter Skyactiv engine and the new G-Vectoring Control system. The 2017 Mazda CX-5 delivers what we’ve come to expect from Mazdas—good road feel, responsive steering and enough power throughout the band to give you confidence to respond to the challenge of a classic Monterey Peninsula road.

2017 Mazda CX-5

Ready for the road

Along with all of these great performance characteristics, Mazda hasn’t forgotten about fuel economy. Even with all-wheel drive, the CX-5 can produce 30 mpg+ on the highway. In our short drive we bested the 26 mpg combined rating from the EPA. The official numbers on our model were 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway/26 combined. The front-wheel drive model bumps the city number by one mpg and the highway number by two.

Mazda’s move to push the CX-5 into a more upscale mode was evident. We drove the topline Grand Touring model, which featured all the bells and whistles that are becoming more common throughout the modern automotive world. The other two levels are the base Sport and the midlevel Touring, both of which are available as either front- or all-wheel drive. Prices start at $24,045 while our fully-optioned Grand Touring topped out at $34,380 including the $940 delivery, processing and handling fee.

Three Trim Levels Available

2017 Mazda CX-5,engine

The Skyactiv engine gives good torque

All three levels get the same engine and transmission—the 2.5-liter four-cylinder Skyactiv-G that features 187 horsepower and 185 pounds-feet of torque mated to the Skyactiv six-speed automatic transmission. The result is a nice, flat torque curve that gives you responsive power throughout the drive cycle.

Similarly, you’re don’t have to upgrade to get a better suspension package—standard throughout is an independent front MacPherson strut and independent rear multi-link suspension, augmented by stabilizer bars at both ends. Also standard are power-assisted ventilated front disc and solid rear disc brakes. Add to that an anti-lock brake system with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, dynamic stability control, a traction control system, hill launch assist and the new G-Vectoring Control, part of the Skyactiv vehicle dynamics system.

The Inside Story

In the interior, the 2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring provides plenty of room for five and reasonable storage behind the rear seat for gear. Leather adorns much of the interior at this level and everything’s powered and heated. As an example of the trim options—the Sport’s four-speaker sound system adds two more speakers at the Touring level and tops out with a Bose-branded 10-speaker one in the Grand Touring model. Of course, as is the case in most cars, a full contingent of connected infotainment features are included. Mazda continues to please us by including buttons and knobs to control the key elements and also steering-wheel mounted controls on all trim levels.

2017 Mazda CX-5,interior

Mazda moves upscale but keeps the important stuff–like knobs

One feature that is optional at all levels (and was included on our tester) was the Active Driving Display, a head up display system. It was fine, except that it disappeared if you were wearing polarized sunglasses. Radar cruise control, a feature we really like, is also included on the Grand Touring (optional at the Touring level but not available on the Sport).

We’ve like the Mazda CX-5 in the past and think it matches up well with its compact crossover competition. This year Mazda has thrown down the gauntlet to those competitors to step up their style game and sharpen their driving skills. We suspect we’ll have even more kind things to say when we have the change to spend a little more time in the 2017 Mazda CX-5.

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Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid (John)

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid (Steve)

Road Test: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Kia Sportage

Road Test: 2015 Honda CR-V

Road Test: 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

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. We also feature those 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.

2017 Geneva Motor Show: New Heights in Efficiency

2017 Geneva Motor Show: New Heights in Efficiency

More Plug-ins Are Coming

Kia Niro PHEV, 2017 Geneva Motor Show

The new Kia Niro will get a plug-in cousin

The 87th International Geneva Motor Show (in March 2017) saw a huge variety of new cars being showcased, from concepts to upcoming production cars. Here at Clean Fleet Report, a few of the upcoming production cars caught our eye because they will offer new heights in fuel economy.

Many of you are familiar with Kia’s Niro hybrid, but this year in Geneva, Kia unveiled its new Niro plug-in hybrid.

 

Important for this model is its new 8.9-kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery, which replaces the standard hybrid model’s 1.56-kWh battery. It promises to give the Niro PHEV an electric-only range of about 25 miles. This estimated range would keep the Niro PHEV competitive with one of its main rivals, the Toyota Prius Prime.

A Lexus Hybrid Flagship

2018_Lexus LS_500h_

Lexus sets its sights on Tesla

Lexus also revealed its new 2018 LS 500h luxury hybrid sedan, which looks identical to the standard LS 500, but features a V6 gasoline engine paired with two electric motors and a small lithium-ion battery. Total power is rated at 354 horsepower which is delivered through a multi-stage hybrid transmission that acts like a 10-speed gearbox. It will replace the LS 600h, which we reviewed last year.

Expected to compete directly with Mercedes-Benz and Tesla, the LS 500h appears to be a strong step forward for the Lexus luxury brand, which has been struggling to balance style and performance in recent years. Prices for the LS 500h have not yet been announced, however prices should start around the Tesla Model S base price of $70,000, a significant drop from the previous model.

Plug-in Power from Porsche

It is not very often that a twin-turbo V8 is featured on Clean Fleet Report, but Porsche gives us the opportunity with the unveiling of its Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid. The Turbo S E-Hybrid features a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine and a 100-kilowatt electric motor mated to the gearbox via an electronic clutch. Overall power is stated as 680 horsepower with 627 pounds-feet of torque.

As a plug-in hybrid, the Turbo S E-Hybrid is able to cruise for up to 31 purely electric miles while in its “E-Power” drive mode. Power for the electric motor comes from a liquid-cooled 14.1 kWh lithium-ion battery which can be Level 2 recharged in six hours with the standard 3.6-kW onboard charger or around 2.4 hours with the optional 7.2 kW charger. Overall MPGe is rated at 81.1 when factoring in the full electric range.

2018-Porsche-Panamera

Porsche combines hybrid technology with sports car power

Ford Offers Eco Power

While not an EV or a hybrid, Ford debuted its next generation Fiesta ST which features an all-new 1.5L three-cylinder turbocharged EcoBoost engine–the first three-cylinder motor for the Ford Performance division. Power output is rated at 197 hp, and 0-62 mph acceleration is announced at 6.7 seconds.

Even with the fuel efficient nature of a three-cylinder engine, the 1.5L EcoBoost comes equipped with cylinder deactivation, which shuts off one cylinder when it is not needed, increasing efficiency and reducing emissions. The new Fiesta ST will officially launch across European markets in early 2018.

News: Honda Surprises with 80-Mile Range for Clarity EV

News: Honda Surprises with 80-Mile Range for Clarity EV

In the Middle in Size, But Low in Range

In 2003, a small startup in Silicon Valley called Tesla Motors announced to the world that it would build an electric car with more than 200 miles of range. Five years later, they proved it could be done with the right resources and the right people (and a body produced by Lotus).

Honda Clarity EV

The Clarity EV is expected to have the same profile as its fuel cell cousin

Eight years after that, Chevrolet proved that 200 miles of electric range was possible, at haft the Tesla’s $70,000 (or higher) price tag.

Over the past 10 years, both of these manufacturers showed us that long-range battery technology is no longer relegated to science fiction and visions of the future; that both luxury and economy cars could be environmentally friendly and usable every day.

So why then, you might ask, did Honda recently announce that its new Clarity EV would have an electric range of only 80 miles; one of the lowest all-electric ranges on the market.

That figure puts the Clarity EV well behind the almost all of its competitors, and directly conflicts with the manufacturer’s reputation for innovation.

Price Big Factor

According to Honda, one major factor for the low range was price. When asked about this decision, Vice President of Environmental Business Development at American Honda Motor, Steve Center, had a very clear answer.

“A pillar of the Honda brand is affordability, and if Honda came out with some obscenely priced long-range electric car, what does that do for the brand?” Center told Automotive News. “Most of our customers would not be able to acquire it.”

Price was not the only consideration, however, and Honda is confident that its new Clarity EV will follow its current Clarity Fuel Cell in filling a market gap currently uninhabited by any other brand. Honda will also field a plug-in hybrid variant of the Clarity.

The Market Metrics

Chevrolet’s Bolt is affordable and long-range, but small. Tesla’s Model S and X are large and long-range, but costly. The Tesla Model 3 will be less costly and long-range, but also small. And the second-generation Nissan Leaf is expected to be small and inexpensive, but still modest in range (though substantially longer than the Clarity).

Honda Clarity EV

A midsize interior should distinguish the Clarity EV

With these considerations, and a target category in mind, Honda didn’t really leave itself any leeway to fit a longer range battery; which would be heavier, costlier and take the Clarity EV into a different segment. So their goal is to be a midsize, inexpensive, but short-range electric car.

Prices for the Clarity EV are expected to start at around $35,000 (before tax credits or incentives), which would indeed make it somewhat cheaper than most of its competitors. Whether or not the limited range will prove to be detrimental to the sales of the Clarity EV remains to be seen.

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News: The Magic School Bus: No Longer Fiction

News: The Magic School Bus: No Longer Fiction

School Buses Are Now Green As Well As Yellow

For as long as schools have employed school buses, people have been sitting behind them breathing diesel exhaust fumes and hating their local school district. Some studies have found those fumes even affected kids inside the buses. The risk has been reduced with newer diesel engines, but two North American companies have begun the process to make an even bigger change.

Recently, the US Department of Energy (DOE) awarded Blue Bird, an American bus manufacturer, $4.4 million to develop an electric school bus with vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. V2G allows the bus to supply energy back into the electric grid when not shuttling students to and from school.

electric school bus

The magic bus is electric!

This new technology will allow school districts to save money while simultaneously creating a cleaner and healthier environment for their students. Through matching funds and funding from other groups, Blue Bird has obtained a total of almost $9 million and will build a demonstration fleet of eight buses in California by 2019.

Also jumping into the market is Canadian company Lion Bus, who unveiled their eLion electric school bus in Palo Alto recently. The eLion was developed in partnership with the government of Québec (where Lion Bus is based) and the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). Adomani, a California company that provides zero emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles to school and other fleets, signed on to become the exclusive supplier of eLion school buses in the Western U.S. (Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington),

The eLion bus claims its TM4 electric motor provides equal power to the traditional diesel equivalent, and delivers ranges of 50, 75 and 100 miles, depending on the battery configuration.

Lion Bus plans to manufacture the eLion in California as it ramps up production.

Both companies seem to be reacting to a widespread desire for cleaner and more efficient transportation. As health concerns continue to rise, the era of the diesel school bus could be coming to an end.

Road Test: 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring

Road Test: 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring

Yeah, It Really Is That Good!

If you have no interest in owning a fun-to-drive car that gets mid-thirties fuel economy, feels and drives larger than its compact classification and looks great in the process, then please stop reading. Because you will see, as did Clean Fleet Report, that the 2017 Mazda3 ranks at the top of compact sedans or hatchbacks you can buy, with prices starting under $18,000.

Still interested? Okay, let’s go!

Driving Experience: On the Road

The front-wheel drive 2017 Mazda3 is powered by a smooth and responsive 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 184 horsepower and 185 pounds-feet of torque. While a six-speed manual transmission is available, Clean Fleet Report’s Mazda3 was equipped with a six-speed Sport automatic–with paddle shifters and Sport mode. The EPA rates the Mazda3 mpg at 27 City/36 Highway/30 Combined (it goes up to 28/37/32 in its most efficient model). In 384 miles of 75-percent highway/25-percent city driving, Clean Fleet Report averaged 32.5 mpg, which means we were able to exceed the EPA numbers, especially on the highway. That means with the right powertrain combination and driving style, the Mazda3 should be able to join the 40 mpg Club.

2017 Mazda3

The Mazda3 looks ready for the road

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

Through its Skyactiv engine and vehicle design philosophy, Mazda has the highest fuel economy in the industry without having an EV or hybrid vehicle. Among its technologies used to accomplish this, Mazda utilizes slick-shifting automatic and manual transmissions, aerodynamic exteriors and, on certain models, the optional I-ELOOP brake energy regeneration system with active grille shutters.

The Mazda3 feels more like a midsize car, a size up from its compact classification. This is most noticeable from the confident and solid driving feel, especially on long stints of open highway. Starting with dynamic stability and traction control, there is nearly no body roll even on the tightest corners or high-speed freeway onramps. Both the sedan and hatchback Mazda3 have the same suspension—MacPherson struts and rack-and-pinion with electric power-assisted steering up front and an independent multi-link suspension in the rear. Coil springs and sway bars are found at both ends. Clean Fleet Report’s model had 18-inch alloy wheels and 215/45 R18 all-season tires, which are standard with the Grand Touring trim level.

To take the handling up a notch Mazda has added Skyactiv Vehicle Dynamics with G-Vectoring Control. Those are fancy words that translate into a system of integrated controls Mazda says “brings the movements of the car more in line with the driver’s intentions, reducing the need for steering corrections, including many that are made unconsciously.” Mazda calls it “Jinba Ittai – a sense of connectedness between car and driver”

Simply put, this car is a joy to drive and is close, if not on equal, to another of our compact favorites, the Volkswagen Golf.

Driving Experience: Exterior

Following its Kodo—Soul Of Motion—design language, the 2017 Mazda3 received subtle tweaks that only improved an already class-leading design and style. The small exterior changes begin with revised bumper and fascia lines that have softened the grille. So while remaining the prominent front end design feature, the grille is no longer so dominant. Clean Fleet Report’s Mazda3 had the optional Premium Package that included LED headlamps and daytime running lights that are adaptive, as in they pivot when cornering. The sweptback and sleek headlights lead into bold, sculpted fenders, giving the Mazda3 an in-motion look even when sitting still.

2017 Mazda3

Mazda’s style means motion

The sedan and hatchback share the same roofline and stance through the C-pillar, at which point the sedan roofline gently drops to a short trunk lid with an integrated spoiler. The hatchback has a spoiler over the rear window (which has a wiper). Both models share slim LED taillights and twin bright exhaust tips. Cladding and chrome are either non-existent or kept to a tasteful minimum.

Driving Experience: Interior

Noticeable immediately when sliding into the 2017 Mazda3 is how the interior has an upscale look and feel for a compact car. The driver-focused cockpit has been lightly but nicely restyled with a redesigned, heated steering wheel with a more comfortable grip. The dash is clean with very easy-to-read gauges. Switching to an electronic parking brake is a small but important change from a pull-up handle brake as it frees valuable space on the center console.

2017 Mazda3

An upscale look with an annoying knob

Mazda added noise suppression through insulation and even a retuned suspension to reduce cabin noise. As mentioned earlier, the Mazda3 rides and handles like a midsize car, which is partly due to the quiet cabin while driving on all surfaces.

Our Mazda3 Grand Touring came equipped with a power moonroof and leather-trimmed seats. The driver and front passenger had heated seats; the driver’s was six-way power adjustable. The 60/40 fold-flat rear seat, which comfortably seats two up-to-six-foot adults with good headroom, has a center armrest with two cup holders. Our 3 had a heads-up display, a clear panel that magically appears from atop the instrument cluster hood to show speed, turn-by-turn directions and other information.

The infotainment (information and entertainment) system includes an excellent nine-speaker Bose Centerpoint sound system with AM/FM/CD/MP3/AUX HD radio, USB input, SiriusXM (four-month subscription), Aha and Stitcher Internet radio integration. The seven-inch color display houses the Mazda Connect connectivity system with navigation. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has controls for Bluetooth that offers hands-free telephone and voice control. To manage the radio, Mazda has a wheel on the center console for changing channels. We found it cumbersome as it required multiple steps to control a single function and diverted the driver’s eyes from the road. Maybe in time it becomes a seamless operation, but after a week and almost 400 miles in the 3, we did not get the hang of the system.

Convenience starts with radar cruise control with traffic sign recognition, power automatic keyless door locks, power windows with one-touch up and down, rearview camera, push button on/off, keyless entry, power and heated side mirrors with turn indicators, carpeted floor mats and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Those rain-sensing windshield wipers are a nice feature. After activating the stalk, the wipers will speed-up and slow down based on the amount of water hitting the windshield. When you first notice they are operating at-will, you realize how convenient and helpful this technology really is.

Safety

The 2017 Mazda3 comes with an extensive list of standard and optional safety features including eight airbags, Homelink rearview mirror, four-wheel power disc ABS braking system, dynamic stability control, traction control, hill launch assist, tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and rear cross traffic alert.

2017 Mazda3

One of our favorites

In crash testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the 2017 Mazda3 received five stars (the highest rating) for overall crash protection, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Mazda3 its top rating of Good.

Pricing and Warranties

Clean Fleet Report’s 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring sedan, with optional equipment, had a MSRP of $27,095 excluding the $835 Destination and Handling Charge.

Base MSRP for the 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring sedan models, excluding the $835 destination and handling charge, is $23,145 with the manual transmission and $24,195 for the automatic transmission-equipped model.

The 2017 Mazda3 comes with these warranties:

Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles

Bumper-to-Bumper         – Three years/36,000 miles

Roadside Assistance – Three years/36,000 miles

Observations: 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring

2017 Mazda3

Mazda leads with style and adds fun

Mazda is known for designing cars that are fun to drive…and they are. With a well-engineered combination of handing, smooth power delivery and comfort, the attraction of Mazdas also extends to their great design. The 2017 Mazda3, especially the hatchback, is one of the best-looking compacts you can buy. The Mazda3 is versatile and practical with a long list of standard features. The hatchback offers a bit more cargo space.

It is a shame that more people are not buying Mazdas; those who do have good things to say about their cars. Clean Fleet Report has reviewed several Mazda models and is overwhelmingly impressed. Hopefully you will be too.

Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!

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First Drive: 2016 Nissan Sentra

Road Test: 2016 Volkswagen Jetta

Road Test: 2016 Volkswagen Golf

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. We also feature those 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.

Top 10 Electric Cars

Top 10 Electric Cars

 

2017 Is Here: Here Are the Top 10 Electric Car Companies

We update this list regularly because the market is changing so quickly. The new models we’ve driven have caused us to rethink the Top 10.

Picking the Top 10 electric car makers now involves making some choices as the number of vehicles available increases. Plug-ins are trending in key markets around the country, although much of the action remains focused in California and other West Coast states. By the end of 2016 the total number of plug-in vehicles (that’s pure battery electrics and plug-in hybrids) sold this year topped 150,000. It’s a year of exponential growth with the expectation this 2017 will be another just like it. We think we’ll see many more miles driven on electrons this year.

This list is subjective and weighted toward functionality with an emphasis on fun, but also factors in sales numbers. Enjoy! Let us know what you think.

  1. Our New Favorites — the Volkswagen e-Golf & Audi A3 e-tron

These little electric rocket ships have now been on the market long enough to establish a good coterie of adherents. While the Golf holds down the 5th spot in pure electric car sales for 2015, we put it at number one for several reasons.

2016,Audi,e-tron,A3,plug-in hybrid

Audi expands its plug-in options

German engineering – das electric

First, it’s a Golf, which is a great small car package. Its cousin, the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Audi A3, is a similar delight to drive and has been holding its own in that market segment.

The Volkswagen e-Golf is very maneuverable, bringing all of the good suspension work of the seventh generation Golf into an electric car. The packaging of the Golf is another plus. It’s got a decent-size interior with room for five (in a pinch, or four comfortable adults) plus storage behind the hatch in back. While the move to electric drive in an existing platform hasn’t allowed Volkswagen the opportunity to really optimize for the new powertrain, we have no complaints about the standard Golf layout. Then there’s performance: it’s fast, as most electrics are, smart with different regen levels and driving settings, and handles like all the other gas and diesel Golfs, which is to say—great! And the $33,450 e-Golf has been joined by a distant cousin, the Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid, which we recently tested and came away very pleased with what we found. VW has made it clear more plug-ins are coming. We’ve driven recent versions of the e-Golf and everything we said in 2014 still holds true. Road Test: 2014 VW e-Golf. First Drive: 2015 e-Golf. Road Test: 2016 Audi A3 e-tron.

     2.   Tesla – the 4,800-pound Gorilla

Tesla is described as disruptive technology, but in reality the company has done what auto companies have done for a little more than a century—build great cars and match them up with owners who appreciate them. The Model S is the best-selling plug-in car in the U.S. for 2016, followed by the Model X. Almost two-thirds of the battery electric cars sold in the U.S. had Tesla badges on them. We recently spent some time in a brand-new ludicrously loaded Model X P100D and can verify the appeal of the cars.

The roomy Model S luxury sedan starts at about $66,000 with four battery pack configurations, but now offers five all-wheel drive version that feature even faster acceleration, topping out with the P100D model. Production of the Roadster, the company’s initial product, ended after deliveries totaling 2,500. The Model S electric range goes from a nominal 219 miles to 331 miles per charge in its big battery configurations.

Tesla Model X

X marks the spot of Tesla’s expansion

Tesla helped former shareholder Toyota to bring back the Toyota RAV4 EV, an electric SUV and also aided its other OEM shareholder, Daimler (which also has since divested its Tesla shares), with the Smart ED and B-Class Electric.

Now known as simply Tesla (not Tesla Motors since its merger with Elon Musk’s Solar City), has booked more than 350,000 reservations for its upcoming Model 3, its affordable ($35,000) smaller model due to start production in 2017. Tesla continues to battle with auto dealers in many states as it tries to establish a direct-sales model, although founder Musk has admitted his sales plan may not work when they move to the more mass-market Model 3, which he hopes to sell in volumes of up to 500,000 per year. Tesla News, Tesla News & More Tesla News. First Drive: 2017 Tesla Model X P100D.

  1. Chevrolet Bolt/Volt – One-Two Punch in the Electric Gut

General Motors has done something remarkable, enough so that we were tempted to jump them up to the top of this chart. They have done two major things to deserve the attention they’re getting. First was to introduce the second generation Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car (which gets tossed in with plug-in hybrids even though its system really takes a different approach). It followed the new Volt with the all-electric 238-mile range Bolt this year.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt LT

Bolts jolts the market with 200+ miles of range and an affordable price

Beating Tesla to the market with the Bolt was quite a coup, particularly with a car as well-executed as this EV is. And that takes nothing away from the redesigned Volt hatchback that has 50+ miles of electric range and more than 400 miles per gasoline fill-up range in its second generation.

The Bolt is priced at $37,495 before various rebates and incentives kick in while the Volt has a starting price of about $34,490, but also is eligible for federal and state incentives. Sales of the Bolt just started in December, but we predict it will likely be the best-selling in 2017. If the Volt continues it reign atop the PHEV group that would be quite a two-fer for Chevy and GM.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in this car and think it’s a keeper. It’s won more than a few accolades. The versatility to drive around town and potentially commute as an electric car (Chevy has documented that most drivers will go more than 1,000 miles between fill-ups), coupled with the ability to take longer trips relying on the gasoline “range extender” makes it a great choice for a one-car household.

Also at GM, but phasing out are the all-electric Chevrolet Spark EV; it’s a fun city car with 80-mile range between charges. Sales are tapering off for the Cadillac ELR, which uses a plug-in hybrid drive system similar to the Volt, as it goes out of production.

With all of its Bolt/Volt news, rumors keep circulating that GM may expand its offering to include other brands. It will introduce a Cadillac CT6 PHEV in spring 2017, but more models may be in the offing.

Here are some of our road tests/news stories on GM plug-ins—First Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt; News: First Bolt Owner; Road Tests: 2017 Chevy Volt2016 Chevy Volt; News: 2017 Cadillac CT6 PHEV; 2014 Chevy Spark EVCadillac ELR.

  1. Nissan Leaf – the Standard Bearer

Nissan is the sales leader of affordable pure electric cars and is staying the course in its commitment to this technology. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn reiterated recently that his company will support electric drive while also offering plug-in hybrids and fuel cell electric cars and hybrid-electric models.

2016 Nissan Leaf

Leaf led the way and promises more changes soon

The company’s flagship car is the Leaf, a five-door, five-seat hatchback that is the right size and range for many who drive around 100 miles daily. Nissan makes the Leaf and its batteries in Tennessee for the U.S. market and bumped up the range this last year. It is promising a 200+ mile range version soon. Used Leafs are now coming off lease and onto the market, presenting another option for eco-buyers.

The Leaf was refreshed in 2016 with a larger (30 kWh) battery pack and longer range. We tested it twice and liked the extra miles. Road Test: 2016 Nissan Leaf; Test #2.

     5.  BMW – the Ultimate Electric Driving Machine?

2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e

BMW starts adding plugs throughout its lineup

BMW has charged into the electric car space with two strong contenders—the hot-selling i3 and the i8 plug-in hybrid supercar. We’ve driven both and are impressed by both, as are many others.

The i3 (which actually comes in two versions—a pure battery electric and a ranged-extended EV) is the fourth best-selling plug-in car in the U.S. in 2016, behind only the two Teslas and the Leaf.  The i8 is no slouch, either, sitting solidly in the Top 10 plug-in hybrids. Not bad for a car that lists for $136,500. The i3 starts at $42,400. Like most manufacturers, BMW has begun to launch more plug-in models, including the 2016 X5 xDrive40e that we tested, and plug-in versions of the 3-Series and 7-Series. Road Test: 2014 BMW i3. First Drive: 2015 BMW i8.

     6.  Ford – Variety Is Their Spice of Life

Ford has made a commitment to fuel efficiency that starts with their widely used EcoBoost engines (basically smaller turbocharged direct-injection engines that can replace larger non-turbo port-injection powerplants). Ford has a trio of plug-in vehicles that are the tip of the spear for its environmental efforts. They start with the full-electric Ford Focus and two plug-in hybrids, the Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi (both of which also come in a plain-Jane hybrid version).

2016 Ford Focus Electric, EV

Ford offers and expansive range of plug-ins, including the Focus Electric

Sales have been steady, but the Fusion Energi in particular had a great year and the pair were the second and third best-selling models in the PHEV sales behind the Volt. They sacrifice some trunk space for the added batteries (compared to the hybrid models), but deliver solid performance and enough for 21 miles of electric-only driving (which is being bumped up slightly in 2017). Ford is adding a hybrid version of the best-selling vehicle in the U.S., the F-150 pickup as well.

But that’s not all. Ford is also pushing strongly into the mobility space while also using its electrified vehicles like the Fusion as the test-bed for its autonomous vehicle projects. It’s recent smart mobility projects included adding a crowd-sourced shuttle service, Chariot, and an e-bike sharing program.

Road Test: 2016 Ford Focus Electric. Road Test: 2016 Ford Fusion Energi. First Drive: Ford C-Max.

  1. Toyota – Big in Hybrids; Betting on Fuel Cells & Electrics

Toyota, passing nine million hybrid sales worldwide at mid-2016, has dabbled in both plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars, but then seemed focused on fuel cell electric cars, which uses hydrogen to produce electricity on board and power the electric motors.

2017 Prius Prime

The Prius Prime becomes Toyota’s leader with a plug

Toyota’s Prius Plug-In Hybrid has been renamed the Prius Prime and is more distinguished from the standard Prius than in the past. The new model has a longer EV range than its predecessor. Toyota has had some sales success, and has noe promised a new push into electric vehicles. Clean Fleet Report tested the original model, comparing it with the better-known non-plug-in version.

Toyota also offered a limited model in California: the only all-electric SUV, the RAV4 EV, with an advertised 150-mile electric range (produced with some help from Tesla, in which Toyota was a shareholder) and earlier did a limited EV run of its minicar, the iQ. Now on the market is the Mirai, a fuel-cell sedan with a 350-mile range and a $57,000 price tag (it delivered more than 1,000 Mirais in 2016). Toyota offers 12 hybrid models (Toyota & Lexus) with similar electric motors and advanced battery packs, sometimes shared with its electric cars. We’ve tested most of those. First Drive: 2013 RAV4 EV. Road Test: Plug-In Prius and Prius Liftback.  First Drive: 2016 Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle. First Drive: Toyota iQ

 

  1. Kia/Hyundai – Coming on Strong

Don’t forget the Korean plug-ins

2017 Hyundai IONIQ Hybrid

There’s a new badge in town

Kia has its Soul EV on the market and its making its presence know. We’ve had a chance to test it. Along with its parent company Hyundai, Kia is scheduled to launch two plug-in hybrids (the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima)  and a Hyundai Ioniq sub-brand that, like the Ford Fusion, will have a hybrid and plug-in hybrid, but also will add a pure electric model. We covered the introduction. In addition, the ambitious company already has launched the Kia Niro dedicated hybrid, which impressed us as well. Hyundai has been leasing its Tucson fuel cell electric vehicles in Southern California for several years now. Road Test: 2015 Kia Soul EV; Road Test: 2017 Hyundai Sonata PHEV.

 

  1. Daimler Begins an Electric Onslaught

In America only with electric motors

Daimler is the automotive giant that owns Mercedes-Benz and Smart and also was a Tesla stockholder. While it has had two pure EVs on the market for a while, this year it added three plug-in hybrids—the C350We, GLE 550e and S550 Plug-in.

2016 Mercedes-Benz B250e

Daimler leads with a B250e, but promises many more electrics

The two-seat Smart ED has been selling in small numbers (many to the company’s Car2Go car-sharing subsidiary). The Smart ED minicar went through three generations and we’ve driven the latest version, but only with the gas engine. Mercedes has two versions of its subcompact B-Class, a pure electric with 87 miles of range that we recently had a chance to drive and a fuel cell electric vehicle with a more than 300 miles of range, the only versions of that car available in the U.S. The electric B-Class and Smart ED are at the bottom of the sales list for 2016, selling less than 1,300 units between the two models. The company has announced a massive investment in electric drive vehicles so the expectation is that every year more plug-ins will be coming to the market. The next generation fuel cell car also should surface soon. First Drive: First Drive: 2016 Mercedes-Benz B250e; Smart Fortwo ED.

  1. Fiat – Small, But a Mighty Fine, Fun EV

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is selling the Fiat 500e somewhat reluctantly, but don’t let that turn you away. Even though FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne famously claims the company

2016 Fiat 500e, safety

The Fiat 500e is full of fun

loses $14,000 on every $32,780 500e it sells, they do need to sell quite a few of them to meet California’s ZEV (zero emission vehicle) mandate so take advantage while you can.

It’s a fun all-electric city car. We thought it was the most fun car of the EV bunch until the e-Golf came out and trumped it both in functionality and fun.  Very affordable (sub-$100/month) lease deals have been available for this spunky EV in California (its main market). It manages to carry through the Italian charm and personality found in its gas models. The major drawback, which could be an advantage in an urban location, is the small size of the vehicle. As a two-door with a small back seat, its capability of carrying four adults is limited. Road Test: Fiat 500e.

The Rest

That’s the Top 10, but the good news is there are even more models on the market and some have come and gone already. Coda Automotive, with its warmed-over Chinese sedan, has departed, but Fisker (now Karma) Automotive has revived its high-end plug-in hybrid under new Chinese ownership.

Honda sold a limited number of its Fit EVs and similarly stopped selling the Accord Plug-in Hybrid. Like Toyota and Hyundai, it is focusing on Clarity fuel cell electrics as its main EV strategy going forward, but could return to a pure EV and PHEV depending on market trends.  It continues to promote ideas like an integrated car and home energy system that would depend on a plug-in car.

Volvo has just started selling its plug-in hybrid version of the XC90 SUV, though numbers are expected to remain low. We tested it recently and came away very impressed. Volvo has indicated more plug-in models will follow.

Mitsubishi still offers the i (formerly i-MiEV), though the company skipped the 2015 model year, but the 2016 we tested wasn’t much different than earlier models. The i fits into tight parking spaces and tight electric car buyer budgets, starting at about $29,000. It’s a very Japanese model five-door, four-passenger hatchback. The i has an electric range of 62 miles (EPA adjusted) with a 16kWh lithium battery. Although it’s been modified for the US market it still feels very much like the Japanese-market original, which is to say, less substantial than many of its competitors. Mitsubishi also reiterated its intent to bring a plug-in version of its popular Outlander SUV to the U.S. this coming year (as has been promised for several years).

Then there’s Porsche (another VW affiliate) with its plug-in Panamera sedan, Cayenne SUV and 918 sports car also in the market. Other companies have teased plug-ins, but we’ll wait until we see hardware before

A plug-in Porsche

adding them to any list.

California and seven other states reaffirmed their goal to have 3.3 million electric cars (including plug-in hybrids and fuel cells) on the road by 2025. The numbers are basically accounted for in the ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) mandate that the states have in place, but rely on a steep ramp up of sales after 2020. Based on sales reports, more than 500,000 plug-in vehicles have been sold in the U.S. since the Tesla roadster was introduced in 2008. More than half of them were in California.

There is a lot of innovation from around the world that did not make this Top 10 List, which focuses on the current U.S. market. Please bookmark this Top 10 List and check back as we update. Exciting new electric cars are being driven on the U.S. streets and freeways. Nissan is an early mover with battery-electric cars, now eclipsed by Tesla and General Motors has led the way with plug-in hybrids, but competition is heating up and new models due during the next year or two could dramatically alter the field. The winner will be the customer.

Related stories you might enjoy:

How Long Will It Take To Convert The U.S. Fleet To Electric?

Road Test: 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf

First Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt

Road Test: 2014 Chevy Volt

Road Test: 2016 Nissan Leaf

Road Test: 2016 Fiat 500e

The Top 10 Electric Cars You Can Buy

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. We also feature those 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.