News: 12 Greenest Cars Of 2018 Revealed

News: 12 Greenest Cars Of 2018 Revealed

ACEEE Says You Can’t Go Wrong With This Mix Of Green Cars

Choosing a car that meets your household’s needs is one thing, but if you are environmentally conscious your selection might go beyond comfort, cargo room and available options. If you want to reduce your environmental impact, minimize fuel costs or cut the petroleum pipelines from foreign countries, then buy the greenest vehicle that still meets your transportation needs.

To help shoppers choose a greener car, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) in Washington, D.C. compiles an annual survey of what it determines is the most environmentally friendly cars on American roads. Not surprisingly, battery-powered electric and gasoline-electric hybrids are the sole winners for 2018, the 21st year for the list.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Green Vehicle Guide only looks at traditional tailpipe pollutants, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced per mile and fuel economy. The ACEEE uses a complex formula that considers the emissions associated with a vehicle’s entire life cycle–from manufacturing to disposal impact–and the fuel it uses, whether gasoline, diesel or electricity.

The Council also analyzes automakers’ test results for fuel economy and emissions as reported to the EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB), along with other reported specifications. In addition, the group looks at lifecycle impacts of the car, taking into consideration criteria pollutants, greenhouse gas emissions, looking at upstream emissions of the vehicle’s fuel and also manufacturing and disposal impacts. Four basic data points form the core of the ratings—tailpipe emissions, fuel economy, vehicle curb weight and battery mass and composition (for the hybrid and plug-in vehicles). Finally, they factor in an environmental damage index that tallies the gram-per-mile pollutant rate multiplied by a cents-per-gram of damage costs.

If you’re ready to go shopping for an Earth-friendly new car, here’s the list of the 12 Greenest Cars Of 2018. We are noting their green scores and fuel economy, including the “MPGe” equivalent for EVs. (Beyond the list of 12 environmental winners, the ACEEE also provides car shoppers with lists of more environmentally friendly choices in all car classes at: https://aceee.org/. To add some more data to the mix, we’ve also included links to our road tests and news stories about these models.

Base prices are before any federal, state or local incentives.

  1. Hyundai Ioniq Electric

2017 Ioniq Electric Vehicle

2017 Ioniq Electric Vehicle

 

Leading the pack for the second year in a row is the midsized Hyundai Ioniq Electric. It compiled a “Green Score” of 70 out of a 100, which is the highest rating for a passenger car ever recorded by the ACEEE. The all-electric version of the Ioniq hatchback leads all comers with a class-leading fuel economy equivalent. Base Price: $29,500. EV Range: 124 miles: MPGe: 150 city/122 highway.

  1. Smart ForTwo Electric Drive

Smart Fortwo Electric Drive

Smart Fortwo Electric Drive

Slotting into the number two ranking with a Green Score of 69 is the two-seat Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. Not only is this the cheapest car built by Mercedes-Benz, it is among the greenest rides on the road. However, it is hampered by a limited driving range, a seating capacity of two and a small cargo capacity, but it offers something no other electric car does: the option to drop the top. Base Price: $23,800. EV Range: 58 miles; MPGe: 124 city/94 highway.

  1. BMW i3 BEV

BMW i3

BMW i3

A Green Score of 68 was high enough to earn the BMW i3 BEV third on the list in ACEEE’s 12 Greenest Cars Of 2018. This rating is for the odd-shaped i3’s newly available 94 amp-hour battery pack. The i3 is also offered with a small range-extender gasoline engine with fewer EV miles (97), but can travel an additional 83 miles on gasoline. Base Price: $47,650. EV Range:114 miles; MPGe: 129 city/106 highway.

4. Tesla Model 3 Long Range

 

Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3

 

While a Green Score of 67 places the Tesla Model 3 Long Range in fourth place, the wait time for this new car could take up to a year or longer, due to production delays and pre-production demand. This is for the $9,000 optional long range battery Model 3. Base Price: $44,000. EV Range: 310 miles; MPGe:136 city/123 highway.

  1. Chevrolet Bolt

 

2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Chevrolet Bolt EV

One of America’s favorite EVs, the Chevrolet Bolt’s 66 Green Score places it in the number five position. The hatchback compact car offers the latest tech and safety features along with a spacious interior, and an operating range that is sufficient for a typical week’s commute. Base Price: $36,620. EV Range: 238 miles; MPGe 128 city/110 highway.

  1. Kia Soul EV

The Hampster lovin’ Kia Soul EV tallied a 66 Green Score to tie the Chevy Bolt. The boxy Soul EV is roomy and comfortable with a nicely appointed interior. However, it is only available in California and nine other states. Base Price: $32,250. EV Range: 111 miles; MPGe: 124 city/93 highway.

Kia Soul

Kia Soul

  1. Hyundai Ioniq Blue Hybrid

2017 IONIQ Plug-In Hybrid

Hyundai Ioniq Blue Hybrid

With a Green Score of 65, the Hyundai Ioniq Blue is the top hybrid on this year’s ACEEE’s list of greenest cars. With handsome styling inside and out, the compact Ioniq hybrid tops all hybrids with its impressive fuel economy. It’s also available in plug-in hybrid and electric models. Base Price: $22,200. MPG: 57 city/59 highway.

  1. Toyota Prius Eco

 

Toyota Prius Two Eco

Toyota Prius Two Eco

The Toyota Prius Eco slipped into second place among conventional hybrids on this year’s ACEEE’s list with a Green Score of 64.  Still America’s best-selling hybrid, the Prius Eco Two trim offers the top fuel economy in the Prius lineup. Base Price: $25,165. MPG: 58 city/53 highway. 

  1. Ford Focus Electric

 

2017 Ford Focus Electric

Ford Focus Electric

A Green Score of 64 lands the Ford Focus Electric in the number eight spot. This compact electric hatchback is affordable, thanks to the one-time $7,500 frederal tax credit and the large cash rebates from Ford. Base Price: $29,120. EV Range: 115 miles; MPGe: 118 city/96 highway.

  1. Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

 

Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

Kia’s Niro Plug-in Hybrid tops the plug-in hybrid class with a Green Score of 63. Also available as a standard hybrid (52 city/49 highway mpg), the plug-in version gains battery-only range, but is less efficient in hybrid mode. Base Price: $27,900. EV Range: 26 miles; MPGe: 105; MPG gas: 46 combined.

  1. Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

 

Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid

Honda made this year’s ACEEE list with the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid that had a Green Score of 62.  The plug-in-hybrid version joins EV and fuel-cell Clarity variants, and it’s the only version of this premium sedan that can be purchased outright. Base Price: $33,400.  EV Range 48 miles; MPGe 110; MPG gas: 42 combined.

  1. Chevrolet Volt

2018 Chevrolet Volt

Chevrolet Volt

 

Chevrolet’s Volt is among the dozen “greenest” cars for 2018 with a Green Score of 62. The Volt is equipped with a small range-extending gasoline engine that provides a virtually unlimited operting range, as long as you can find a sas station. But the first 53 miles comes solely on electricity. Base Price: $33,320. MPGe: 106; Gas: 42 highway.

The tally of the Top 12—seven electrics, three plug-in hybrids and two hybrids. Four from Hyundai-Kia, two from General Motors and one each from BMW, Daimler, Ford, Honda, Tesla and Toyota.

Road Test: 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD

Road Test: 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD

7 Seats, Best-in-Class Fuel Economy

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

Drivetrain

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

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Outstanding in its field of seven-passenger SUVs

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

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

The nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery is charged through the regenerative charging system, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. This process can be viewed on a dash gauge, where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and engine.

Driving Experience: On the Road

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

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

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Most of the Highlander chrome comes up front

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

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

When driving a hybrid, I like to select the option of EV mode, especially around town, forcing the car to run solely on electric power. The Highlander Hybrid has this option, but the driving range in pure electric mode is short. Plus, when in EV mode, only the slightest accelerator pedal pressure kicked-in the gasoline engine. Being able to hold the car in electric mode for a longer distance and at higher speeds would be a nice feature to add.

Driving Experience: Exterior

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

Driving Experience: Interior

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

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Plenty of room–and tech–in front

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

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

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

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

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

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

Convenience and Safety

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

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

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

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

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

Pricing and Warranties

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

The 2018 Highlander Hybrid comes with these warranties:

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

Observations: 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD

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

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The Highlander Hybrid continues to lead its class in fuel economy

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

Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!

In order to give you the best perspective on the many vehicles available, Clean Fleet Report has a variety of contributors. When possible, we will offer you multiple perspectives on a given vehicle. This comes under SRO-Second Road Test Opinion. We hope you’ll enjoy these diverse views–some are just below—and let us know what you think in comments below or at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—Toyota Hybrids

News: 2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Introduced

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Mirai

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

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

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

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

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Prius V

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

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid

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

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

First Drive: 2016 Toyota Prius

Road Test: 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

Comparison Test: 2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen & Alltrack

Road Test: 2016 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

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.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Tech: Engine Variable Compression Gamechanger

News: Infiniti Q Inspiration Concept  

Road Test: 2017 Infiniti QX30 AWD

Road Test: 2015 Infiniti Q50

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.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy:

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid (John’s view)

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid (Steve’s view)

Road Test: 2016 Nissan Rogue

Road Test: 2017 Honda HR-V (John’s view)

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)

Road Test: 2015 Chevrolet Trax

Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.