Compact SUV Styling No Longer Boring
Toyota used the New York Auto show for the world introduction of its best-selling vehicle, the 2019 RAV4 crossover SUV. Hard to believe, the RAV4 became the company’s single best-selling model in the U.S. last year, surging past its long-time champion, the Camry midsize sedan. The automaker delivered more than 400,000 of the now-six-year-old RAV4, and more than 50,000 of those included our favorite, the hybrid model.
Company Listened To Its President
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 announces its arrival in style
One look at the all-new 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid confirms the company took it to heart when president Akio Toyoda gave a mandate against making boring cars. The redesigned compact crossover gets a more domineering stance, standing lower and wider with a longer wheelbase. The scrappy SUV has more-sculpted edges, shorter front and rear overhangs, with a nose that has similarities to the hefty front end of the Toyota Tacoma pickup. It also gets chunky plastic cladding and fender flares. The wheel arches are trapezoidal and angular creases abound.
For 2019, the hybrid edition also gets a new trim, the XSE Hybrid. Following a new trend in styling, the XSE comes with a two-tone paint job featuring black on the top. Setting the stage for XSE Hybrid’s sporty appeal are piano-black accents across the front end, mirror caps, fender arches, and lower rockers. Unique to RAV4 Hybrids, projector-beam LED headlamps flank each side of the grille for a brighter, sharper and ideally angled light source.
The RAV4 Hybrid XSE isn’t just about cosmetic upgrades, it has a sport-tuned suspension.
New Hybrid Powertrain
More aggressive styling, more tech and more details to come
Defying the image of hybrids as mild performers, Toyota says: “The quickest RAV4 is the hybrid.” Replacing the previous hybrid powertrain is the two-motor Toyota Hybrid System II that uses a brand-new electric motor drive, which Toyota claims uses the battery power more effectively. It’s paired with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that’s adapted to run on the ultra-efficient Atkinson cycle. A continuously-variable transmission (CVT) directs power to the wheels.
As before, all 2019 RAV4 Hybrids are all-wheel drive, using what Toyota calls All-Wheel Drive with Intelligence (AWD-i). The system eliminates the driveshaft to the rear wheels and substitutes an electric motor mounted transversely between the rear wheels to provide on-demand traction in back. For 2019, the system increases available rear-wheel torque by 30 percent more than the previous-gen AWD-i. An electronically-controlled, automated system determines how much torque to feed to the rear wheels on the RAV4 Hybrid according to driving conditions.
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid catches up with competitors inside with a modern-looking interior. The touchscreen can be either seven or eight inches and features Toyota’s EnTune 3.0, which includes Wi-Fi Connect, Amazon Alexa hands-free access, and, at last, Apple CarPlay compatibility. Two USB ports are standard and up to five can be had in total, depending on package options. Qi wireless charging is also available.
A new interior ups the ante for the already popular RAV4
The center console’s volume has been increased for more storage and technology capability, adding side-by-side cupholders (versus tandem in the previous generation) and more space on the open tray for small item storage. Both legroom and shoulder room are improved in the rear seating and 60/40 split-fold rear seats remain standard in the RAV4.
An all-new JBL audio system is available for the 2019 RAV4 Hybrid, adding 11 audio speakers on eight channels with 800 watts of power. Other options available are heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a hands-free tailgate.
Standard is Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 package. It includes a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians, dynamic cruise control, automatic high beams and a system aimed at keeping the car on the road even if it can’t detect lane markings. It also can read some road signs and alert the driver.
Toyota provided no pricing information, fuel economy estimates or specific power output for the 2019 RAV4 Hybrid. We expect that info closer to the on-sale date in early 2019, following the gas-powered RAV4’s availability sometime this winter.
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Chinese-backed Start-up Unveils Crossover EVs; Touts Technology
Silicon Valley witnessed yet another automotive coming out party last week as SF Motors unveiled an upscale crossover electric vehicle and showed off some of the company’s technology. While the car itself may be a bit of a me-too (high-power, connected, autonomous-capable in a conventional SUV coupe-like shape), the back story of the technology this well-funded formerly stealth start-up has developed tells a much more interesting story.
The story underneath
The most intriguing part of the SF Motors is the vertically integrated nature of the company. It showed off a modular home-grown electric motor (in nominal 100, 200 and 400 kW trim), proprietary battery cells and packs, gearboxes and controllers. It also announced an intent, perhaps with a little hubris, to not only put its components in its own cars, but sell them to other automakers.
SF Motors is affiliated with Chongqing Sokon Industry Group, one of many privately held car companies in China. Chongqing Sokon provides financial backing and a plant in China capable of producing 150,000 cars annually. Currently the company produces a variety of models in China.
T0 bolster the company’s move into electric vehicles, SF Motors has set up its headquarters in Santa Clara, California, in Silicon Valley. The company has R&D centers in China, the U.S., Germany and Japan. It acquired the old AM General plant in Indiana as a U.S. production site. The nominal annual production capacity of that plant is 50,000 vehicles. It plans to launch its cars in the U.S. market first and then migrate to China and other markets.
The First Car
SF Motors showed off two of its expected three models to press and investors last week—the SF5 midsize crossover that it plans to have on the market in 2019 and the full-size SF7 crossover that will follow. Details were sketchy on the cars, which follow the styling trend being set by the BMW X4 and X6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLE SUV coupes.
The SF5 midsize crossover will be SF Motors’ first vehicle
The cars looked good as concept cars usually do (well, maybe Faraday Future’s FF91 is the exception that proves the rule). SF Motors plans to start taking orders for the SF5 later this year. Media reports put its price at about $60,000 while the SF7 may hit $95,000. Of course, getting the 1000-horsepower version that will do 0-60 in under three seconds could be a little more. And that kind of performance may keep you under the 300-mile range the company said the cars will be capable of.
The specs released last week by Dr. Yifan Tang, SF Motors’ CTO, were that the motors would deliver 5.5 kW and 10 Newton-meters of torque per kilogram of weight, which would put it in the top end of electric motors for that metric, Tang said the battery packs would delivery 280 kWh per kilogram.
Of course, it’s not just about automobiles in Silicon Valley so SF Motors also laid down some markers for its technology. By 2020 they will be introducing “protective autonomy with connectivity,” according to Tang. The company reported it is already testing systems with computer vision, deep neural networks and Lidar.
SF Motors showed its AV tech on a Lincoln
SF Motors will also be building on existing relationships with suppliers, including Bosch, Dürr, Siemens, Samsung SDI, Infineon Technologies, LGC and AFT. The company has also purchased Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard’s battery start-up, and made Eberhard chief innovation officer of SF Motors.
In its technology display, the company also showed off its 21700 cells for a solid state cylindrical battery. The company also intends to get into the battery recycling business, creating energy storage products that would allow second use in homes and offices for batteries no longer functional for automotive use.
SF Motors is making its own battery cells
It’s an ambitious plan, but SF Motors believes it is well on its way toward becoming a producer of high-end and affordable electric cars and potentially an industry supplier. As is the case with other recent EV introductions, such as Lucid Motors and Faraday Future, the proof will be not only delivering the first or the 100,000th car to paying customers, but doing so at a profit. That’s something first-mover Tesla is still struggling with after 10 years. We’ll be keeping an eye on their progress.
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Driving Range Edges Out the Chevrolet Bolt, Tesla Model 3
When Hyundai took the cover off the Kona Electric at the Geneva Motor Show three weeks ago, it was questionable when, or even if, the electric hatchback would show up in the U.S. The questions were answered at this week’s New York Auto Show when the Korean automaker presented the U.S. production model of the 2019 Kona Electric with an estimated 250-mile driving range on EPA test cycle.
The version launched for the European market in Geneva includes a model with a smaller battery pack and lower rated range, but the U.S. will get only the model with a higher-capacity battery.
Range-Topping Electric Powertrain
The Kona may offer the most range range for the price
The Kona Electric swaps out the internal combustion engine and all the associated plumbing from the standard Kona and replaces it with a liquid-cooled 64-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and a 201 horsepower permanent-magnet electric motor producing 291 pounds-feet of torque that drive the front wheels.
The powertrain will enable the Kona EV to get an estimated driving range of 250 miles and an estimate of 117 miles-per-gallon equivalent (MPGe), greater than the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S and Model X. The 250-mile range is greater than that of the 238-mile Chevrolet Bolt as well as the 220-mile rated range of the base Tesla Model 3.
Kona EV can be fully charged at Level 2, 240-volt in a little less than 10 hours, and can be fully charged in just 54 minutes using a Level 3 charger. To make things easy, the Kona EV will come with standard DC fast-charging capability.
Looks Like Gas-Powered Kona
Hyundai didn’t make sweeping changes to the look of the standard Kona in its conversion into an electric vehicle. From the front, the closed grille is what most distinguishes the Electric from the rest of the small hatchback’s lineup. The helmet-shaped grille of the standard car gives way to a more aerodynamically efficient design with a light cross-hatch design. The door covering the charging port is also housed in the grille.
The interior mimics the gas Kona
The front view is flanked by aero-tuned flared fenders that enhance its road presence. It’s further differentiated by a separated-headlight design signature, with LED daytime running lights above and high-efficiency LED headlights below. Taillights are also unique.
Just as with other Konas, the Electric is being offered in a palette of extroverted colors, and a contrasting black, gray, or white roof is available for models without the sunroof. It doesn’t scream “electric vehicle” like the Toyota Prius, but differs sufficiently from the gas-powered Kona to make it easy to spot on the road.
Like All Hyundais, Lots of Features
The interior hasn’t changed in any discernable way from the gas-powered Kona. That means the Kona Electric’s 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and offers HD and satellite radio as well as BlueLink data connectivity. A step-up system with an 8.0-inch screen adds navigation, traffic data, an eight-speaker Infinity audio system, and the next-generation BlueLink suite of features, which in this case includes some EV-exclusive helpers such as app-based remote charge management and charge scheduling. Other available features include a flip-up head-up display and wireless inductive charging for personal electronics.
The Kona will have fast-charging capability standard
A full suite of active and passive safety systems come standard as part of the Hyundai Smart Sense package, including forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, blind-spot warning, and lane-keeping assist.
The Kona Electric will start reaching dealerships in California by the end of the year. Hyundai plans to make it available somewhat later in the other states that adopt California’s ZEV mandate. No word from Hyundai yet on pricing, but we’d expect it to be competitive with other budget-EVs, starting in the mid-30,000-dollar range, before any tax incentives.
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New Tech, Styling, More Range Added to the World-Leading EV
The Nissan Leaf is the first and most successful mass market all-electric car, with more than 300,000 sold worldwide. Introduced in 2010 as a 2011 model, it was a pioneer, won the 2011 World Green Car award, and just repeated that feat for 2018. However, with much more competition today, it needed a major update. The 2018 model is the result, as validated by the World Green Car award and our early drive.
A Pair of Aces
I sampled two models of the new Leaf at the recent Western Automotive Journalists Media Days event. I grabbed it for the first drive of the day, 23+ miles that included some freeway, some in-town, and some open road travel, including the climbing the winding Laureles Grade in Monterey County.
The car is all new, but contains some remnants of the old model, including its hatchback shape. However, all the rounded shapes of the original Leaf are tightened up and the nose wears a much more conventional grill and headlamps, in Nissan’s corporate V shape. The rear pillar is partially blacked out to give the impression of a floating roof panel, just like the competing BMW i3 and Chevrolet Bolt EV (and several other models like the Lexus RX).
New Inside & Out
The new interior, like the outside, is more restrained than the exuberantly flowing original. The steering wheel looks very traditional and the instruments ahead are clear and easy to understand. The rectangular center panel gives you access to the entertainment, information, apps and provides knobs for volume and tuning. The shapes are gently curved, but overall sensible and familiar. Nearly all surfaces are at least slightly padded, creating a comfortable and slightly more upscale feel.
The room inside the Leaf is great
I dropped into the seat and was pleased at how comfortable it felt. The Chevrolet Bolt EV, a leader in the category now, has firm, narrow chairs that work for me, but have generated complaints from some drivers.
On the road, the Leaf starts out smartly, with a 147-horsepower motor pulling smoothly and silently. While no rocket, it feels completely, well, normal. Handling is predictable and pleasant. The ride is firm, but not harsh.
The new Leaf offers e-Pedal, which provides stronger regenerative braking. Much like the L setting in a Bolt EV or the default setting in a Tesla, this means you can use one-pedal driving, pressing your right foot down to move forward and lifting it to slow down. Like the Bolt EV, the Leaf can come to a complete stop without touching the brake pedal (the Tesla cuts the regen at a few mph). You can drive the Leaf like a regular car by turning e-Pedal off.
The New Tech
The new ProPilot Assist feature allows you to choose one of three following distances and set a speed on the highway. Your Leaf will follow the car in front at the set distance, and brake and accelerate to retain that distance—as you’d expect with adaptive cruise control. But it also gently stations you in the center of the lane. You must keep your hands on the wheel—this is low-level autonomy—but it is more relaxing when traveling on the freeway and busy roads. It worked perfectly when I tested it on Monterey County highways in the second Leaf.
The gauge support is there to tell you what’s happening
The new Leaf has significantly improved battery range. It’s up to 150 miles now, much better than the 2017 model’s 107, but still well below the Chevy Bolt EV’s 238 miles. Nissan says a 200+ mile range battery is coming, but for now, is 150 miles enough for most drivers’ needs?
Why did Nissan go with the 40-kWh lithium-ion battery instead of a 60 kWh one like the Bolt EV uses? It’s about value, says Paul Minahan, Jr., Sr. Manager, Electric Vehicle Fleet Operations. Leaf customers wanted a lower price—and batteries are still expensive. The new Leaf starts at $29,999 for the S model, before federal and state rebates and tax breaks. The SV and SL add more to the price, but also to the features list. I tested the better-equipped SV and SL. The SL’s price of $36,200 still undercuts the $37,500 base price of the Bolt LT, while offering more features, including leather seats. Other EVs, such as the Tesla Model 3 and BMW i3, are simply more expensive.
Nissan has a huge base of existing customers; some will trade up for this significantly better car. More people may be willing to consider the new Leaf with its less controversial styling and overall improvement in everything it is and does.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nissan Targets 1 Million Electrified Vehicle Annual Sales By 2022
With more than 300,000 global sales, the Nissan Leaf is the bestselling electric car in history. The 2018 Nissan Leaf has launched with an EPA-rated 151-mile driving range. A second version for 2019 is coming with more than 200 miles of range. The big question now is, where will Nissan go from here?
One of the missing pieces of the electric car portfolio is the crossover. Most current EVs are sedans with Tesla’s Model X and Jaguar’s I-Pace the only electric crossovers available, although others are coming from luxury automakers Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
Given the popularity of crossover SUVs, an electric crossover utility based on the IMx concept shown at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2017 will be added in 2020, according to an interview published last week in the British magazine Autocar. It will stay true to the striking concept.
Stylish and More Than an EV
“Of course, we have the new Leaf, but I think the [production version of the] IMx concept will become a breakthrough model,” Mamoru Aoki, Nissan’s European design chief told Autocar.
Nissan previews future EV design in the IMx
Aoki told Autocar that the exterior of the IMx is a clear indication of Nissan’s next-generation design language and the intention is to be closer to the company’s Japanese roots. He said the IMx “does not have a masculine look or a heavy appearance” of the type that is now common for mainstream combustion-engine CUVs. “It has a light feel and sheer surfaces,” he said. “The exterior is very Japanese in its details–expressive, but with purity and an expensive feeling.”
Aoki added: “The interior is notably bigger than with a conventional vehicle and there’s much more usable space, thanks to the totally flat floor allowed by the [underfloor] battery pack. The dashboard is also pushed right back [towards the windscreen] because the HVAC [heating, ventilation and air-con] unit is under the bonnet.”
The overall cabin concept reflects Japanese architecture and interior design, he said, because traditional Japanese houses are tiny, and some rooms have to be multi-purpose in their use.
Aoki was also keen to point out the unusual interior trim in the IMx, which is an alternating laminate of wood and translucent plastic that can be illuminated from behind—a hint, perhaps, that the finish is heading for production.
The IMx Concept offers a sleek crossover utility shape and a pair of motors, one per axle, to provide all-wheel drive. Combined power of the two drive motors is quoted at 430 horsepower and a substantial 516 pounds-feet of torque. Its quoted battery range on the Japanese test cycle was more than 370 miles, although we’d expect that to be closer to 250 miles in U.S. EPA testing.
But there’s more! The IMx is the “future of mobility,” according to Nissan. It features a future version of ProPilot, Nissan’s autonomous car technology. When engaged, it will retract the steering wheel, recline the seats and take over control of the car. The featureless (no knobs or switches) dash is designed to respond to gestures, eye movement and spoken commands. Whether this advanced ProPilot will appear in the 2020 production car is at the moment questionable.
One Million Electrified Vehicles Annually by Fiscal Year 2022
Nissan pledged to maintain its leadership in electric vehicles as the automaker outlined plans to launch eight new EVs and hit annual sales of 1 million electrified vehicles by March 31, 2023. The eight new EVs will come on top of Nissan’s current offerings, the Leaf and eNV200 van. One will be the all-electric crossover based on the iMx concept, while four of the new EVs will be directed to China.
The automaker’s sales goal of one million EVs, includes pure electrics and plug-in hybrids. The tally will get a boost from the introduction of Nissan’s new e-Power setup, a range-extender hybrid system it is already selling in Japan and will bring to other markets. Sales of vehicles equipped with e-Power will account for more than half the total.
The components of Nissan’s goals were presented last Friday at the company’s global headquarters, offering details of the M.O.V.E to 2022 midterm plan unveiled by CEO Hiroto Saikawa last fall for six years running through the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023.
Nissan’s luxury arm, Infiniti, won’t be left in the dark, either. All Infiniti models will be electrified starting in 2021. Chief Planning Officer Philippe Klein said, “This electrification trend will be deeper and quicker for Infiniti. Our objective is to position Infiniti as the No. 1 challenger brand in the premium segment.”
“We have more EV customers than any other automaker,” Klein said. “You can count on us to defend our EV leadership.”
A Nip and Tuck Face Lift Is Added To EV Boost & Tech
Ford apparently had ants in its pants earlier this week. The 2019 Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid midsize sedan will make its public debut at next week’s New York Auto Show, but the Detroit automaker just couldn’t wait—the company revealed details about the car on Wednesday, a week before the New York show’s media days. Here’s what we know.
Nearly 20 Percent More Electric Only Driving Range
The 2019 Ford Fusion Energi doesn’t receive any mehcanical updates, but the plug-in hybrid gets a battery capacity boost that gives it a longer electric-only driving range of a projected EPA rating of 25 miles. That’s up from the 21 miles of electric driving of the outgoing 2018 model, or a nearly 20 percent improvement. That’s not a huge boost, but it’s enough to get the Fusion Energi up to the same 25-mile range rating as the 2018 Toyota Prius Prime, the best-selling plug-in hybrid in the U.S. so far this year.
EV Boost and grill tweak for 2019
How did Ford engineers accomplish that while maintaining the same size of the existing battery pack? Specifically, they came up with a new chemistry for the 84 individual lithium-ion cells that’s slightly more energy dense. The capacity of the air-cooled battery pack has risen from 7.6 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to 9.0 kWh.
Ford said data generated from existing plug-in hybrid owners shows the 2019 Fusion Energi should have sufficient range for up to 80 percent of owners’ daily commutes, with the support of both home and workplace charging, assuming the vehicle is fully charged daily at home and at work. Even without workplace charging, the automaker estimates approximately 48 percent of plug-in hybrid customers could potentially get to and from their jobs on electric power alone.
Ford did not yet have a projection for the 2019 Fusion Energi’s combined gasoline and electric range; this year’s figure is 610 miles. Regardless of that EPA rating, the plug-in 2019 Fusion Energi still qualifies for a $4,600 federal income-tax credit for buyers.
A Horde Of New Safety Tech
The 2019 Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, along with the hybrid and gasoline models, will be Ford’s first model to get its Co-Pilot 360 Protect safety systems, just announced a week earlier at the Ford Uncovered sneak peek. Standard on all Fusion models, Co-Pilot 360 Protect includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot information system, lane keeping system, a rear backup camera and auto high-beam lighting.
New safety tech puts Fusion Energi in front of other Fords
Beyond the standard Ford Co-Pilot 360 Protect is a more advanced bundle of optional driver-assist technologies called Co-Pilot 360 Assist. It adds adaptive cruise control with stop and go, which automatically accelerates and brakes to a full stop when traffic halts, while maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. It also includes voice-activated navigation, along with SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link. Fusion SE trims and above get SYNC 3 with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, in addition to an embedded 4G LTE modem with WiFi hotspot support for up to 10 devices.
A Mild Refresh
The Fusion Energi has always been a Clean Fleet Report favorite when it comes to styling. For 2019, the Fusion Energi receives a new chrome mesh grille, while other models keep five horizontal bars. There’s also a new lower front and rear fascia, and a new LED taillamp design with a distinctive new horizontal chrome garnish across most of the rear deck, just above the lamps. There are no significant changes to the interior.
We’ll have more details and pricing information on the 2019 For Fusion Energi closer to its launch in late summer.
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