Road Test: 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE

Road Test: 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE

Great Versatility and Exceptional Fuel Economy

Gee, Toyota, you introduced that little thing you called RAV4 to the U.S. in 1995. It ushered in what we now call a crossover vehicle — the combining of some of the attributes of a sport-utility vehicle with the underpinnings of a passenger car. Of course, we didn’t know then it was a crossover vehicle, so we just called it a “cute ute.” The three-door version was especially cute.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Hybrid MPG and AWD=Sales

Then, four years later you brought us a not so cute, but very fuel efficient, little car called the Prius. It ushered in the gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain that, by the way, confused a lot of folks at first. Of course, people aren’t confused any more. There were more than 30 hybrid models sold in 90 world markets bearing either the Toyota or Lexus names and sales tallied more than eight million globally before you came to your senses and placed a gasoline-electric powertrain in the RAV4 in 2016.

What’s interesting is, none of those more than eight million hybrid vehicles sold had a RAV4 badge. After all, Ford sold an Escape Hybrid crossover along with its Mercury Mariner Hybrid sibling from 2005 to 2011 with some 200,000 finding driveways.

So Toyota, have you ever wondered how many RAV4 Hybrids you might have sold if you brought it out say 10, or even 5 years ago?

Green Car Buyers Love the RAV4 Hybrid

Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve is over. Now in its third year, the RAV4 Hybrid is, gasp, threating to unseat the Prius as Toyota’s best selling hybrid. Through March of this year, the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid trails the number of Prius’s sold by less than 700 units.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

The crossover appeal–open up and fill

For 2018, Toyota ushered in a more affordable trim with the introduction of the RAV4 Hybrid LE. At $28,230, including destination charges, the new Hybrid LE is just $1,325 more than an equivalent gas-powered RAV4 LE. That snuffs the argument that hybrids are priced thousands more than standard vehicles and reduces the time it will take to recoop the higher initial costs through fuel savings..

The balance of the lineup includes the XLE ($30.129), SE ($33,284) and the top end Limited ($35,129). All models come standard with all-wheel drive (AWD).

As for fuel economy, the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid receives an EPA rating of 34 mpg city/ 30 highway/32 combined for all models. That’s nearly 25 percent better than the all-wheel drive gas model’s 26 mpg combined rating. And of course, those EPA numbers earn the RAV4 Hybrid a membership in Clean Fleet Report’s All-Wheel Drive 30 mpg Club.

AAA is forecasting that the national gas price average will be as much as $2.70 per gallon this spring and summer. At that price, it will only take most drivers less than a year to make up the $1,325 difference between the RAV4 Hybrid and the gasoline-only RAV4.

Proven, Familiar Hybrid Drivetrain

The 2018 RAV4 Hybrid uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, a system similar to those in the Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV, Lexus ES 300 sedan and the Lexus NX 300h small luxury crossover. That means a 150-horsepower, 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gas engine is combined with a 141-horsepower small high-torque, permanent-magnet electric motor through the powersplit transaxle. This combination powers the front wheels.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

More model choices–one engine choice

The rear wheels are powered by a 67-horsepower electric motor that has no mechanical connection to the front wheels. This system is called AWD-i. It allows a great degree of flexibility in the front-to-rear power split. As in most such systems, the RAV4 Hybrid drives its front wheels most of the time.

This provides a pretty good jolt of performance with a combined 194 system horsepower and 206 pounds-feet of torque, which is good for a 0-to-60 mph run in 8.1 seconds—about a second quicker than gas-powered RAV4 models. The system varies power between the gas engine and electric motor, or combines both as needed, all seamlessly.

The hybrid all-wheel-drive system also allows greater regenerative braking. The system captures electrical energy through all four wheels rather than just the two driven ones as in most hybrids and recharges the nickel metal-hydride battery pack.

A 2016 Refresh

Accompanying the arrival of the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid was a refresh for the compact crossover, which carries over to 2018. The front is more angular with a redesigned grille, thinner LED headlamps and restyled bumper. New rocker panels sharpened the sides and tie in the front and rear bumpers for a more flowing profile. Available LED taillights add a nice touch to the backside. 

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

A dash you would expect in a Toyota

The RAV4 Hybrid is a visual departure from a crowded highway of look-alike small crossovers. The sheetmetal forming its wide body dips downward at the side windows, giving it a muscular, ready-for-action look. This is strenghtened by an agressively styled grille and front facia, a sloping hood and kicked-up rear quarter panels. Overall, the RAV4 Hybrid is very much an SUV-looking vehicle.

Inside changes for 2018 were minimal: revised cupholders allow for mugs with larger handles, lower center console LED lights, a new sunglass holder and a 12-volt outlet for rear passengers. A hybrid specific display within the 4.2-inch TFT gauge-cluster screen shows fuel consumption and the status of the hybrid powertrain.

The cabin is typical Toyota, with comfortable contoured front seats, well-located controls and gauges and a three-spoke sterring wheel. All-around visibility is quite good, thanks to the sloping hood, tall driving position and generously sized windows. A low step-in height makes it easy to get in and out. In real-world usage, the RAV4 Hybrid is a bit tighter in the back seat than several of its competitors, but luggage volume is decent at 36 cubic feet behind the back row and 71 cubic feet with it folded. That’s only about three cubic feet less than the non-hybrid model. And the lift over height in the rear cargo area is impressively low.

Standard in-cabin tech includes a 4.2-inch instrument panel display and an Entune Audio Plus infotainment system with a 6.1-inch touch screen. Audio is provided by a six-speaker audio system with CD/AM/FM/satellite radio, a USB port with iPod controls, an aux-in jack and Bluetooth. You will notice that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are missing. Also standard is the Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver assists that includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams.

Stepping up through the lineup you will find standard, depending on trim levels, a moonroof, a backup camera, HD radio with traffic and weather info, Siri Eyes Free voice recognition and a navigation system. There’s also blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, automatic LED headlights, a height-adjustable power lift gate, an eight-way power driver seat and heated front seats. A $2,785 Advanced Technology Package option includes a surround-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, and an 11-speaker 576-watt JBL Audio system and a slightly larger touch screen.

Not “Fun-To-Drive,” But Competent

Our Ruby Flare Pearl RAV4 Hybrid had a sticker price of $32,185. Add the Advanced Technology Package, a $90 tonneau cover, $95 for the special paint color and a $995 destination chargeand the price tag was $38,450.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

More pep than the gas-only version, but far from fun-to-drive

Around town it was easy to see why small crosovers have become a huge chunk of the U.S. vehicle market. The RAV4 Hybrid sprinted easily through urban traffic disregarding rough road surfaces and small pot holes with ease. Parking, whether parallel or angle, was as easy as it gets.

The little SUV accelerated quickly from a stop using battery power. Like any hybrid, accelerating to 35 mph using the gas engine, and then lifting slightly, brings electric power into play. I found it easy to run around on battery juice with the gas engine helping out when confronting a hill. The transition between battery power and gasoline power was almost always seamless.

The RAV4 Hybrid accelerated to highway speeds with reasonable enthusiasm. The engine felt peppy and would happily cruise at 80 mph. For a crossover that weighs nearly 4,000 pounds, the RAV4 handled decently around curves at highway speeds, but tight corners reveled ample body roll and a lack of grip from the green-minded tires. Otherwise, the RAV4 Hybrid is comfortable and capable, albeit not at all sporting.

The different drive modes, which include Sport, Eco, and EV, all functioned as advertised. Sport mode livened the Hybrid up and changed the shift logic, making it more eager to drop a few “gears” and make the most of the hybrid powertrain. Eco, which I used in town and cruising on the highway, slowed the throttle response from the normal mode and adjusted the air-conditioning settings, all in the name of improving efficiency. EV mode functions below 25 mph and was most useful in parking garages.

I give a big applause to the engineers who worked on the RAV4 Hybrid’s brakes. The transition between regenerative and mechanical braking was imperceptible. As I have noted many times in my reviews, the EPA rating system needs upgrading. We drove the RAV4 Hybrid fairly hard for 311 miles and ended up with a combined fuel economy of 35.2 mpg, two mpgs better than the EPA’s estimate.

Final Word

The 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is comfortable for car-pooling, commuting, collecting groceries and dropping kids off for soccer practice. It is also ideal for light off-road action in the backcountry, While there are plenty of competitors—Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape to name a few—none can match the RAV4 Hybrid’s fuel economy except for the Nissan Rogue Hybrid. And as mentioned, gasoline prices are heading upwards. In other words, that makes the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid’s value proposition a little more enticing.

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Disclosure:

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

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

Road test: 2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid

Road test: 2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid

A Toe in the EV Water

The Countryman is the largest of the four Mini models and is also the brand’s only all-wheel drive offering. Now, it’s also Mini’s first electrified model sold to consumers. It received major changes for its second generation, which was introduced in stages last year.

While Mini’s EV excitement is focused on the upcoming all-electric small hatchback, the 2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid offers a taste of electrification to urban folks. They’ll find what plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are known for—electric commuting during the week and unlimited travel on the weekends. That’s better than a regular hybrid, which has no plug, and combines a gasoline engine and electric motor to improve fuel mileage ratings.

2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid

2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid

PHEVs offer varying amounts of battery power. The Countryman’s 7.6-kWh lithium-ion battery, which hides under the rear seat, provides an EPA-rated 12 miles of all-electric range. That’s low on the list, as most other PHEVs offer EV ranges from the teens and twenties to as much as 53 miles in the Chevrolet Volt. That makes a difference on how much pure electric driving you can do.

Almost All the Way to Work

My Melting Silver Metallic test car, for example, got me about two-thirds of the way to/from work before the petrol began to flow. I dutifully plugged in at each end, and fully charged the small battery overnight on 120-volt current at home or by lunchtime on the 240-volt Level 2 ChargePoint chargers at work.

The Countryman cleverly delivers all-wheel drive by placing a 134-horsepower 1.5-liter gas engine up front, driving the front axles, and an 87-horsepower electric motor in back, driving the rear ones. The total system horsepower is 221, and 284 pounds-feet of torque, enough to send the Countryman from 0-60 in a satisfying 6.8 seconds. The system switches back and

2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid

The big center display

forth based on road conditions to provide extra traction when needed.

Naturally, how you drive determines how long your battery power will last. You can also use three different settings to configure how it’s used. In AUTO eDRIVE, you get pure electric driving up to 55 mph, and the gas engine kicks in when needed (or when the battery is depleted). In MAX eDRIVE, you can drive in pure electric mode up to 78 mph (illegally), with the engine dropping in only if you exceed that. The SAVE BATTERY mode uses the engine only, keeping the battery charged above 90 percent for use later, for example, in town after a long freeway trip, where the EV mode is most effective.

Like most PHEVs, the 2018 Mini Countryman’s instrument panel provides some feedback on energy use and regeneration. A gauge on the left has a Power section, when the energy is flowing out of the battery, and a Charge section below it for when coasting or braking is generating power. The eBoost area of the dial shows when the motor is working with the engine for maximum performance.

The Numbers Are Good

The EPA gives the 2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid ALL4 ratings of 65 MPGe for Electricity + Gasoline, and 27 mpg for when it’s using gas only. I averaged 35.5 mpg during my test week.

The Countryman is just slightly bigger than the new Clubman, making it the largest Mini ever (a Maxi?) The main differences between the two big Minis are the Countryman’s all-wheel-drive capability, and its 4.6-inch taller stance.

2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid

A wide-track Mini

The new Countryman is also larger than its predecessor. It’s 8.1 inches longer on a 2.9-inch longer wheelbase, which translates into substantially increased rear legroom. It’s 1.3 inches wider, which adds up to two inches of shoulder room. Despite these increases, the car is still relatively compact, although the efficient space utilization makes it technically a midsize car per the EPA.

Since the brand re-emerged in the US in 2002 with its all-new Cooper hardtop (hatchback), it has appealed to people looking for motoring joy with a side of quirkiness. The large central dash display now holds audio and other information rather than the speedometer, but it has colors that react to settings changes. It still features toggle switches for windows and even the ignition.

The Final Numbers

The Countryman is assembled in Born, Netherlands, and contains half German parts (thanks to its BMW parent company), including its engine. The six-speed automatic transmission is Japanese.

My test car, with several options, including the $500 paint color, came to an even $40,000, including destination charges. The base price is $36,800.

The 2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid will surely win over its traditional audience—stylish urban folks who want a slightly taller and roomier crossover vehicle with the Mini charms—and a small nod towards environmentalism. The EPA assigns the car just a 3 for Smog, but a commendable 8 for Greenhouse Gas. If you have a 10-mile commute, you could be driving the Mini as an EV all week.

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Disclosure:

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

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

Road Test: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek Premium

Road Test: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek Premium

Adventurous Spirit Packed With Value

By Lynne Hall and Larry E. Hall

Subaru has long stood by the horizontally opposed engine to power its cars. While proven to be reliable, it had a reputation for just so-so fuel economy. That changed a few years back, and the all-new 2018 Crosstrek continues in Clean Fleet Report’s All-Wheel Drive 30 MPG Club – with 33-mpg highway/27 city/29 combined when equipped with a continuous variable transmission (CVT). (Choose the manual shifter and fuel economy drops to 29 highway/23 city/25 combined.)

Introduced as a 2014 model, the Crosstrek is the result of a successful formula Subaru has used before: Take a core vehicle, alter the bones, jack up the suspension, add some body cladding and, viola, a new model. In this case, the donor car is the Impreza hatchback, which was the first Subaru model built on the company’s Global Platform, also a member of the 30 MPG AWD Club.

Impreza DNA

2018 Subaru Crosstrek

The Crosstrek is ready to go anywhere

Impreza’s DNA is apparent in the Crosstrek’s profile, but from there the car takes off in a different direction. No other Subaru has the same grille or bumpers. The front A pillars are moved forward by 7.9 inches compared with the

Impreza. This not only improves cabin space, it adds athleticism to the look.

The 2018 Crosstrek rides on a 104.9-in. wheelbase, up 1.2-in. over the first-generation Crosstrek; it’s 0.6-inches longer than the previous model and 0.9-inches wider. Of course, like (almost) all Subarus, all-wheel drive is standard.

The most notable, visual difference between the two cars is ground clearance, which has been cranked up three inches to 8.7 inches. Throw in muscular fender flares, along with dramatic 17-inch alloy wheels, and the Crosstrek becomes an open invitation to travel farther once the highway ends.

Lynne says…

In our northwest corner of the country, motorists embraced Subarus back when quirky wasn’t hip. We, along with buyers in New England and Rocky Mountain states, knew for years that Subaru’s all-wheel-drive cars and wagons offered superior traction–not just on snowy roads, but on any slippery or uneven surface.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek

Versatile space comes standard

And that 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.

Since then, Subaru has perfected the recipe for creating a new model from an existing one—and I think the Crosstrek is its best yet.

As much as I liked the Outback, I thought the lower body cladding was a little over the top, almost garish. Conversely, Crosstrek stylists used restraint and added just the right amount of muscularity with the fender flares. Also, the wider track, added length and longer wheelbase result in balanced proportions.

Compared with the small crossover SUV sales leaders–and Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Honda CR-V—the Crosstrek has the look of a sport utility that wants to get out of town. It says, “Hey, throw a couple mountain bikes or camping gear in the back and let’s get a little dirty, maybe even muddy.”

It backs up that invitation with a ground clearance of 8.7 inches that’s more generous than the Jeep Grand Cherokee. While we couldn’t find time to do some semi-serious off roading, previous Subaru test drives have shown their ability to go just about anywhere short of rock crawling.

The Inside Story

Crosstreck’s well-laid-out interior follows Impeza. The cabin is minimal, but not spartan, with durable soft-touch materials covering upper surfaces for comfort, and plastic on lower panels for easy cleaning. Switchgear arranged on the center stack and surrounding the steering column has a sturdy feel.

Seats, front and rear, fall into the comfortable category. We found the space suitable for four adults (cramped with five), even if rear passengers were squeezed a bit for foot room. In case your passengers tend to be toddlers rather than adults, it’s easy to comfortably fit two front-facing car seats in the rear.

The 20.8 cubic feet behind the rear seat was more than adequate for a week’s worth of grocery shopping, and a standard waterproof cargo tray is a thoughtful feature. Rear seats are 60/40 split and fold completely flat, providing 55.3 cubic feet of space. That’s enough room for two mountain bikes. Or, with standard roof rails, heft the bikes onto the roof.

On the Road

2018 Subaru Crosstrek

The Crosstrek interior is upscale, but not in luxury territory

In town behavior was standard Subaru—easy-to-drive, easy-to-park and easy to get in and out of. The Crosstrek doesn’t miss a beat on the pavement, either. Agile and racy are not in its dictionary, but predictable, smooth and comfortable describe its on-road behavior.

Granted, 152 horsepower doesn’t sound like much these days–and it’s not–but it is adequate to the task of motivating the 3,302-pound Crosstrek for 0-to-60 mph in a little more than nine seconds. Whenever editor/husband Larry expressed a want for a turbocharger, I gently reminded him that this little Subie was about fuel economy, not speed.

Our Premium model’s engine was hooked up to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which for 2018 now incorporates seven stepped, predetermined ratios (controllable via paddle shifters) to mimic traditional gear shifting and mitigate the rubber-band sensation. Looking at my notes, I had checked hill hold as my favorite feature—take your foot off the brake when stopped on a hill, and the Crosstrek won’t roll backwards. I’m perplexed as to why more carmakers don’t have this feature.

Larry Says…

In 2005, Subaru made a move to present its automotive assets with style and content that would attract a broader audience. The company’s goal was to elevate its image to a “premium niche brand”—not a luxury brand, but one consumers were willing to pay a higher price (for perceived quality and features like standard all-wheel drive).

The second generation 2018 Crosstrek takes a simpler approach and isn’t quite as animated as the rest of the lineup. The upside to this is the Crosstrek offers a very good value proposition.

Consider: the base 2.0i Crosstrek starts at $22,795 plus a $915 destination charge. This least-expensive Crosstrek includes all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring, cruise control, 17-inch wheels and a rearview camera. Also standard is Subaru’s Starlink multimedia system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, AM/FM stereo, USB port with iPod control, Bluetooth audio streaming and an auxiliary jack.

Our Premium test drive model had sticker price of $23,595 including the $1,000 CVT. It added heated front seats, fog lights, a windshield wiper de-icer and heated side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a six-speaker audio system.

The top-line Crosstrek Limited starts at $28,450 and can top $30,000 with options. It includes leather interior, a CVT automatic transmission as standard, power driver’s seat, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic climate control, an 8.0-inch touch-screen infotainment system with AM/FM/HD Radio, CD player, dual USB inputs and voice-activated controls. A moonroof is optional on Premium and Limited trims, as is the EyeSight driver-assist and active-safety system with adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist package. Limited trims can also add a Harman/Kardon premium audio system, navigation, and reverse automatic braking.

Traction Options

While all-wheel drive is standard, the system differs depending on the choice of transmission. Without going into technical details, CVT models split torque 60/40 front-to-rear as the default, while the manual transmission system distributes torque 50/50. Both can direct torque to the wheels that slip to ensure traction.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek

The only engine option

Regardless of the model, the Crosstrek is available with one engine, a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed (“boxer”) four-cylinder engine. The boxer nickname comes from the way the pistons look when the engine is running—like a boxer throwing punches. The punches this boxer throws are 152 horsepower and 145 pounds-feet of torque. As for my wanting a turbocharger under the hood, that little more than nine second 0-to-60 edges on Prius territory, not what I prefer when merging into fast traffic.

Once up to speed, the 2018 Crosstrek felt solid and capable. Inside, wind noise was nearly nonexistent, and only on particularly rough concrete roads did we hear any commotion from below. Ride quality was very good, muting most small bumps, and reducing big ones to minor hiccups in the cabin.

Yes, Lynne, the Crosstrek is about fuel economy—and we did pretty good. Well, actually you did pretty good, since you were behind the wheel for most of the 215 miles during our week test drive. With about half of the miles driven on city streets, we managed to beat the EPA rating with 30.5 mpg combined.

Bottom Line

People buy Subarus for qualities other than glitz. The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek’s modest base price fetches the utility of a small wagon with a roomy cabin and cargo area that offers practicality and easy drivability. It will meet the needs of those who prioritize fuel economy over performance, contributing a small roll in saving the planet while exploring it.

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Flash Drive: 2018 Jeep Wrangler & 2019 Jeep Cherokee

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Road Test: 2018 Subaru Outback

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Road Test: 2017 Jeep Renegade

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.

Comparison Test: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium 4Motion vs. Atlas 2.0T SE

Comparison Test: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium 4Motion vs. Atlas 2.0T SE

VW’s Seven-Passenger Large SUV Siblings

Volkswagen is a latecomer with its three-row Atlas SUV. Designed for the American market, the Atlas lives up to its name–it’s big, which is a good thing if you need to seat up-to seven people. For most, this is something very few of us do on a regular basis. However, if you have a growing family and need the extra storage space for all their (and their friends’) gear, the 2018 Atlas should be on your wish list.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

VW wants to play with the big boys

VW designed the Atlas interior to be open and inviting, even for passengers venturing into the third row. You need to be a Cirque du Soleil contortionist to access or comfortably sit in the far back of many seven-passenger SUVs. Not so with the Atlas, as VW has made the access easy with fold-and-slide second row seats, and a third row bench with good thigh support and a comfortable angle for the seat back. Maybe six-footers would not want to spend a few hundred miles back there, but anyone shorter would do just fine. A nice feature is that a child car seat can remain attached to the second row when it slides forward for access to the third row. The Nissan Pathfinder has this same convenience.

The beauty of the Atlas interior is how efficient the space is. Achieved by having near squared-off sides and a tall roof, shoulder room is expansive and leg room is good for even the tallest passengers. If you do not want a second row bench seat, Captain’s Chairs are a $625 option.

Available in five trim levels, you can get into a nicely equipped base 2018 Atlas S for about $31,000. This is a compliment to VW, knowing they have to be aggressive on pricing and content to gain awareness in the crowded large SUV segment. As for discriminating consumers, they will be rewarded with a well-built vehicle that can accommodate the complete family.

2.0L Turbo or 3.6L V6/FWD or 4Motion AWD

Clean Fleet Report had the opportunity to drive two Atlases (Atlasi?)—the Atlas SE with the 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 and front-wheel drive (FWD), and the Atlas SEL Premium with the 3.6L V6 with 4Motion (VW’s term for all-wheel drive). Both models had an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Volkswagen’s 4Motion is a permanent all-wheel-drive system engineered to eliminate wheel spin under almost all conditions. It’s also designed to automatically decouple the rear wheels when the driving load and conditions don’t require the additional traction, saving fuel. It also comes with four drive modes: Highway, Off-road, Snow and Custom. So, what are the differences between the two engines and drive systems?

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Ready to take the whole gang on or off-road

Here are some stats to get started.

  • 2.0L Turbocharged I4
  • 235 horsepower (hp)
  • 258 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) torque
  • 22 mpg city/26 highway/24 combined (EPA)

 

  • 3.6L V6
  • 276 hp
  • 266 lb.-ft. torque
  • 17/23/19

It is clear from these numbers that an Atlas, with either engine, is not winning any fuel economy ribbons. Of course, the big trade-off that places an * next to the fuel economy is being able to transport up-to seven people and their gear. Had it not been for the recent diesel scandal, VW most likely would have offered the Atlas with its 3.0L TDI engine, which would have lifted the fuel economy numbers into the low 30 mpg range. The 18.6 gallon fuel tank means that, at a 25 mpg average, your family road trip could rack up more than 450 miles before refilling the tank.

The choice for performance between the two engines is a toss-up. The V6 accelerates smoothly, pulls strong and will be your primary choice if you plan on doing any towing, as it is rated up to 5,000 pounds. Both engines have Stop/Start technology that, while noticeable when the engine kicked in, it was not jarring or loud. The 2.0L Turbo gave peppy performance with good low-end torque, and a bit better fuel economy.

In what we believe afflicted only the car we were driving, Clean Fleet Report’s 2.0L Turbo suffered from stumbling upon acceleration from a stop. No matter how hard we tried, we were unable to find a pressure on the accelerator pedal that would result in a smooth launch. Was this a combination of the Stop/Start, turbo lag, the differential locking or the transmission searching for a gear? We never could figure it out. But, once off the line the 2.0L turbocharged four cylinder was a joy to drive. The turbo did exactly what turbos do by giving instant power when needed, out performing the V6 in all timed categories. We especially liked how we were able to merge onto Southern California freeway traffic with ease and confidence with both engines.

Driving Experience: On the Road

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is balanced nicely and grips the road well. However, the suspension on the 2.0L Turbo FWD was soft, at times suffering from a rolling, sloppy feel. The V6 4Motion did not have this issue, possibly because it weighed-in at 4,502 lbs., while the 2.0L came at 4,222 lbs. (280 lbs. lighter). In both vehicles there was noticeable body roll on hard corners at high speed, but it did not affect confidence because it was easy to predict. Plus taking those corners a bit slower was a good idea anyway.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

The two models are similar, but with different capabilities

Both FWD and 4Motion Atlas models have identical independent suspensions of front struts, coil springs and an anti-roll bar, while the rear has multi-link with coil springs and telescopic dampers. The 2.0L had 245/60R Continental Cross Contact all-season tires on 18-inch alloy wheels, while the 3.6L had the same tires but on 20-inch alloy wheels.

Driving Experience: Exterior

A couple of years back Volkswagen began standardizing its vehicles on the MQB (Modular Transverse Matrix) architecture. The 2018 Atlas, at 200-inches in length, is easily the largest VW to be adapted to this platform. So how to design a large SUV that did not actually look so large? VW accomplished this nicely with a classic design of pleasing proportions that should hold up for many years. The Atlas is modern with soft, clean lines, but also bold in that it holds a commanding presence on the road.

Volkswagen CrossBlue

VW showed where it was going in the CrossBlue concept SUV

First shown in 2013 as the CrossBlue concept vehicle, Volkswagen retained much of the CrossBlue design by not squaring-off the corners or adding all sorts of scoops and vents. The Atlas is refreshing, clean and simple. The very respectful 0.34 drag coefficient helped the Atlas cut quietly through the wind, even at freeway speeds.

Driving Experience: Interior

The 2018 Atlas has a neat and pleasant interior with a clean fit and finish. Nothing fancy, trendy or quirky. The usual German simplicity, with a good mix of soft and hard plastics, was complimented by tasteful wood-grained and brushed aluminum trim. The white backlighting for the dash gauges added a premium element, which went along with the overall quality materials used throughout the interior.

The center stack features VW’s Car-Net infotainment (information and entertainment) system. Our Atlas SE model had an 8.0-inch color touchscreen for the eight-speaker audio system

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

The VW interiors had an upscale feel

for the AM/FM/HD radio and CD player, with MP3 playback. Also part of the infotainment system is SiriusXM, Bluetooth for telephone and streaming music, and VW’s Media Device Interface (MDI), which includes a SD card and USB slots. Clean Fleet Report’s Atlas SEL Premium had the same screen, but with a Fender audio system and its 12 speakers and subwoofer. Clean Fleet Report is a big fan of knobs. VW makes it easy to operate the radio and the multi-zone climate control system with the turn of a few well placed knobs.

Our Atlas SE had seats covered in VW’s V-Tex Leatherette while the SEL got leather for the front and outward second row seats. Leatherette is a durable fabric technology that is comfortable to the touch and provides good air circulation. Both had heated and power adjustable front seats. There was a good choice of seat settings that, when combined with the height adjustable and telescoping steering column, made it easy to find a comfortable position for the driver. Separating the front seats is a center console offering ample storage and an USB charge-only port. A nice upgrade is the multi-function steering wheel wrapped in leather.

The 60/40 split-folding second row seats were heated on the SEL. Both models had the convenient fold-and-slide second row that made getting to the 50/50 split-folding third row an ease. Storage configurations abound, all depending on how many seats are folded. If you are looking to tote an eight-foot kayak or surfboard, the Atlas can handle it.

Interior conveniences, standard or optional, include remote start, a power tilting and sliding sunroof, remote power lift gate, power windows, keyless access, multi-function steering wheel with audio and telephone controls, power adjustable and manual folding heated exterior mirrors, multiple power ports, front and rear reading lights and carpeted floor mats.

Safety and Convenience

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas has standard or available safety features such as eight airbags, tire pressure monitoring system and an Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS). In case of an accident, the ICRS turns off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors and activates the hazard lights. But the real stand-out coming from Volkswagen is its Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, which is pretty self-explanatory. Working in conjunction with the airbag sensors in a collision, the brakes are applied automatically after an accident so your car does not continue moving where it could strike another vehicle or object.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

There’s room for big stuff in back

Additional safety features include adaptive cruise control, power-assisted anti-lock brakes, park assist, stability control, overhead view and rear view cameras, blind spot monitor, lane departure warning, rear traffic alert, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking. If you have never driven a car with these last two safety features, have your Volkswagen sales representative demonstrate them to you on the highway. Once you have used them, you will feel naked when driving a car that is not similarly equipped.

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas earned a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety and a 5 Star Overall rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These are the highest ratings by each organization.

Pricing and Warranties

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas ranges in base price from $30,750 to $48,740. Clean Fleet Report’s Atlas with the 2.0L Turbo and FWD had an MSRP of $33,590, and the 3.6L V6 with 4Motion came in at $48,490. All prices are before any options and the $925 Destination Fee.

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas comes with these warranties:

  • New Vehicle/Powertrain – 72 months/72,000 miles
  • Corrosion Perforation – 84 months/100,000 miles
  • 24 Hour Roadside Assistance – 36 months/36,000 miles         

Observations: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6 4Motion and Atlas 2.0L Turbo FWD

Volkswagen is in the same position as all auto manufactures needing to get the attention of consumers to even consider buying their cars, trucks and SUVs. In the case of the 2018 Atlas, the task for VW is even greater as several competing well-known large SUVs are already on the market . So the question looms of why an Atlas should be in your driveway?

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

A third row for adults!

To start, you won’t be disappointed owning an Atlas as the build quality on Volkswagens is second to none. Choosing either engine, front wheel or all-wheel drive, will be based on your lifestyle and where you live. Will you be going off pavement or pulling a trailer? With the Atlas, Volkswagen gives you good options when needing to transport up-to seven people.

The only way you will know is by going to your local Volkswagen dealer and take all three engine and drive models out on the open highway, around town and if necessary for your intended use, off-road. You may feel the front-wheel-drive Atlas suits your commuting and around town needs, while the Atlas 4Motion fits your adventurous lifestyle just a bit better.

Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!

Related Stories You Might Enjoy: Atlas & Other VW Road Tests

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

Flash Drive: 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

News: Volkswagen EV Onslaught to Begin in 2020

Road Test: 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf

Road Test: 2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

News: Volkswagen Introduces I.D. Crozz to EV Lineup

News: Volkswagen Microbus to Return as an Electric

Competitive Three-Row SUVs

Road Test: 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Pathfinder

News: 2018 Lexus RX 450hL Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander

Top 10 Best MPG AWD SUVs/Crossovers

First Drive: Tesla Model X P100D

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 Chevrolet Equinox

Road Test: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Third Gen’s a Charm

The Equinox compact crossover has been a big hit for Chevrolet, but the latest model is hitting new high marks for fuel economy. With nearly two million sold since its debut in 2004 as a 2005 model, the all-new 2018 Chevrolet Equinox represents a third generation after a long life for the second (2010-2017). It’s one of five Chevrolet crossovers/SUVs.

2108 Chevrolet Equinox

You’ve seen this look before, but not in a high-mpg compact crossover

If you like the look of the Chevrolet Malibu, Cruze, and Volt, you’ll appreciate the Equinox’s new design. It’s sharply drawn, but thankfully, not overdone. The latest chiseled brand face is there, as is a multi-faceted hood and a high, straight shoulder that mimics the look of big brother Suburban and Tahoe. Though all-new, the vehicle still evokes the general feeling and proportions of the old model, which is a good idea, considering its success.

New Inside

Inside, you can see the influence of the siblings as well. There’s lots of movement along the dash and doors, with black control panels and silver accents, and chrome sparkles on the vents and handles. The center of the instrument panel provides useful information straight ahead. The speedometer, common today, goes up to an unattainable 160 mph.

2108 Chevrolet Equinox

Lots to like in the Equinox interior upgrades

The fat, leather-wrapped steering wheel is GM standard, but that’s a good thing. It flaunts lots of handy buttons for controlling audio and other features, so you can keep your eyes on the road.

There are two USB ports in the front of the center console for using and charging devices. You can plug in your phone and see it projected on the 7 or 8-inch center screen, thanks to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Efficiency Boost

Part of the goal of the new Equinox, besides to look fresh, is to increase efficiency, which is why about 400 pounds was taken out of this model. It still comes in at between 3,274 and 3,682 pounds, but that’s significant nonetheless.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

The Equinox’ interior can take you long

Crossover vehicles like the Equinox are very popular today, because they combine the higher-riding, greater-hauling, cooler-looking SUV experience with a comfortable-riding car platform. The Equinox has a firmness to the ride that feels just right, and the leather buckets are comfortable for commuting. I didn’t have a chance to take this one on a long trip, but it looks well up to the job.

Many Choices

This compact hauler comes in four trims—S, LS, LT, and Premier. And there are three engine choices, too, all of which are turbocharged. The base engine is a 1.5-liter four with 170 horsepower (hp) and 203 pounds-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque. My Cajun Red Tintcoat tester was a top-level Premier, but had this base engine. You can step up to a 2.0-liter four with 252 hp and 260 lb.-ft. It may not appeal to you, but if you’re interested in a diesel, a new 1.6-liter unit is optional, with a mere 137 hp, but a hearty 240 lb.-ft. of torque. Diesel is surrounded by controversy today, after the revelations of malfeasance at VW, but it offers higher fuel efficiency and range for certain applications.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Options are many, but you’ll want to check out what you can get in the center stack

The 1.5-liter four seems up to the job in this car. It was unmemorable, but didn’t leave me feeling let down, either. The existence of the 2.0-liter option means you can get added grunt if you know you’re going to be carrying several passengers and cargo, which could affect performance significantly. The 2.0-liter engine is mated to a new nine-speed transmission, while the 1.5 gets a traditional six-speed.

My 1.5-liter-equipped tester earned EPA numbers of 24 city/30 highway/26 combined. Those are not bad stats. Green numbers are a pair of 5’s for Smog and Greenhouse Gas.

You can choose front-wheel or all-wheel drive in this crossover. The all-wheel drive system automatically disconnects from the rear axle when not needed, for greater efficiency. Having this choice means that if you live in sunny California and are not planning on skiing, you can skip AWD and save a few bucks while improving your miles-per-gallon numbers by two.

Options, There Are More Than a Few

There’s a vast set of safety features, many standard and some optional—too many to list here. See http://www.chevrolet.com/suvs/equinox-compact-suv for details.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Let’s not forget what crossovers are all about–space

Pricing starts at $24.525 for the S model. My Premier tester had the base engine, but included the Sun, Sound & Navigation package ($3,320) and charged $395 for the Cajun Red paint. The package does include a power sunroof, 19-inch wheels, MyLink Navigation and a Bose Premium seven-speaker system, so the total came to $39,040. That’s one pricey compact crossover.

The all-new Equinox is truly North American, built in Canada with a U.S-sourced engine and transmission and 40 percent Mexican parts. It’s a very important entry in the growing compact crossover segment, battling the two perennial favorites, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, as well as the popular Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, and the rest. With this introduction, Chevrolet’s fleet is looking very fresh.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—the Competition

Road Test: 2018 Honda CR-V

Road Test: 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Ford Escape

First Drive: 2017 Mazda CX-5

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.