Ford C-MAX Test Drive of a Crossover with 600-mile Range

Ford C-MAX Test Drive of a Crossover with 600-mile Range

Ford CMAX Test Drive Addison

Before stepping inside Ford’s new crossover for an 80-mile test-drive, I can’t help admiring the looks of this 2013 Ford C-MAX.  This 5-seater rides tall like an SUV with a height of 63.8-inches. The aerodynamic swoop, LED running lights, and contoured doors give it a contemporary and impressive look.

I walk to the back and kick the air below the rear hatch, it opens hands-free. When one arm is holding grocery bags and the other your child, what could be more convenient? The 60/40-split back seat easily drops giving more cargo flexibility than a small SUV. I see why Ford calls this a multi activity vehicle (MAV).

Jim Prueter with AAA is driving the first 40 miles; I drive the second 40. At 6-foot, 6-inches, Jim fits comfortably behind the steering wheel, instead of feeling cramped in competitors to the C-MAX like the Prius v or Chevrolet Volt. The 6-way adjustable seat and the tilt/telescoping steering wheel allow any driver to get the right fit and take control.

2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid

One can USB connect an iPhone or Droid, then use Ford SYNC to voice control music and entertainment. Jim touches start and sees that we still have 620 miles of range before needing to find a gas station. 620 miles!

The C-MAX has been a big seller in mileage-conscious Europe. Now it’s selling in the U.S. looking even better and with better mileage. Here you can buy the C-MAX Hybrid starting at $25,200 and get 47-miles per gallon and 570-mile range, or you can buy the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid starting at $32,900 and get 100 mpg and 620 mile range. With the upgraded interior, the C-MAX Energi that we are test-driving costs $35,400 with a premium navigation system.

After 13 miles, the 2L gasoline engine quietly engages working with the electric motor. The C-MAX Energi is rated at 21 miles electric range. Even with 3 of us in the car and some uphill, I am surprised at quickly the 7.5 kWh lithium-battery reaches its discharge point and we automatically go into hybrid mode. Automotive journalists were driving a dozen of these new C-MAX Energi. Trading notes later, no one had reached 16 miles in EV mode.

After 45 minutes in Olema, it is time to return. The lithium battery is 40% recharged using a Level 2 charger at 3.3 kW/h, the same charge rate as plug-in hybrids like the Volt or Prius Plug-in. All electric cars like the 2013 Ford Focus Electric and 2013 Nissan LEAF charge at double that rate.

Now I enjoy being the driver. Taking advantage of downhill and not going over 45 mph, the C-MAX Energi stays in EV mode for 8 miles before the engine engages. The car handles well in the windy turns. The C-MAX breaks and accelerates smoothly. I like the higher command view in comparison to my test drives of the Chevrolet Volt, Prius Plug-in and larger Prius v. After a number of miles the vast Pacific Ocean stretches out before us on this classic fall day in California. On steep descents, I downshift to “L” and capture more regen. On the flat, the Energi briefly returns into EV mode.

We glide across the Golden Gate Bridge and return to our beginning. The C-MAX Energi delivered an impressive ride. We averaged 66-mpg in comparison to the EPA rating of 100-mpg. In hybrid mode, we achieved an impressive 43-mpg.

Forget range anxiety.

This vehicle has a 620-mile range. On one tank of gas drive from San Diego to San Francisco, Houston to Memphis, or New York to Detroit. You will not find a roomy crossover or SUV with better range and mileage.

Good looks, roomy if your 6-foot 6, better cargo flexibility than a small SUV, great mileage, what more could you want? A spare tire. Like many new hybrid and electric cars, this C-MAX only offers a repair kit, which proved worthless when my Nissan LEAF got a slash in the tire. As long as your flat is during business hours, your Ford or AAA plan will probably include a free tow to a dealer for a new tire purchase. Many auto makers have dropped the spare to make room for the advanced battery pack and to preserve trunk space.

CMAX Liftgate

Ford gives us two great choices. The C-MAX Hybrid starts at $25,200 ($25,995 with delivery) and the C-MAX Energi starts at $32,950 ($33,745 with delivery). The price difference narrows with a $3,750 federal tax deduction for the Energi, plus incentives in many states. If most of your drives between charges are less than 20 miles, you may save $1,000 in gasoline per year by getting the C-MAX Energi.

As an added encouragement, states like California make this C-MAX Energi available for the White Sticker which allows solo driving in HOV lanes – a huge plus for those stuck in commute hour gridlock.

Before someone buys a Chevrolet Volt or Prius Plug-in, the will want to drive the new C-MAX Energi. Before some buys any crossover, including previous fuel economy champion the Prius v, they will want to drive the C-MAX Hybrid.

Much as I enjoyed driving the Prius v and having great reliability as a 7-year Prius owner, I would consider the C-MAX Hybrid over the Prius v due to better mileage and SUV height. For similar reasons, I would consider the C-MAX Energi over the Prius Plug-in Hybrid.

If you’re serious about getting a plug-in hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt is likely to deliver double the electric range of the C-MAX Energi. I like the sporty fell of the Volt, but I like the room of the C-MAX. Most Volt owners that I meet primarily fuel with electricity. With the C-MAX Energi, most of your fuel may be gasoline. As they say, “Your mileage may vary.”

Built at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., the all-new C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid is now arriving at EV Certified Ford dealers in 19 markets, followed by nationwide rollout in all 50 states in early 2013.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi Cutaway

Green Car of the Year

On November 29, Green Car Journal will announce the Green Car of the Year. The five candidates are the Ford C-MAX, Ford Fusion, Mazda CX-5 SkyACTIV, Dodge Dart Aero, and Prius c. The Ford C-MAX deserves to win with the uncompromised height, cargo flexibility, best range, and among the 5 competitors fuel economy that can only be matched by the Ford Fusion Energi that shares the same drive system. Ford is going after the hybrid and plug-in hybrid markets while letting customers choose the type of vehicle and drive system. In 2013, thousands of Ford C-MAX crossovers will be driven from dealer lots and not refueled for 600 miles. Their owners will be too busy driving and smiling.

Ford C-MAX Hybrid Challenges Prius v

Ford C-MAX Energi Review and Specifications


New Ford Electric Car and Hybrid Car Choices

New Ford Electric Car and Hybrid Car Choices

ford focus electricby John Addison


With gasoline prices over $4 per gallon in many states, Ford is rolling out a variety of exciting hybrid cars and electric cars.

In April, consumers will start buying the new Ford Focus Electric. Yesterday, I rode in this beautiful compact hatchback. I silently cruised down the streets unless you cranked on the impressive sound system. Drop the 60/40 split backseat and you could put a couple of mountain bikes in the back or a work project or home improvement tools and supplies. With the backseat up, you can seat 5 adults.

Ford is pricing the Focus Electric at $39,200, about $4,000 more than the Nissan LEAF. The 23kW Ford battery pack, with LG Chem lithium-ion cells, charges at twice the speed of the LEAF and has about 10 percent more range. By the end of the year however, the 2013 LEAF will charge at the same rate. Unlike the Focus, the LEAF includes an ECO mode, which may equalize the ranges. The LEAF also includes a DC Fast Charge port while Ford waits for a future SAE Level 3 standard.

Although you might gulp at paying $39,200, savings include a $7,500 federal tax credit, incentives in many states, and saving $1,000 or much more on gasoline. These tax breaks seem unfair to many, but keep in mind that our gasoline is half the cost of Europe due to U.S. subsidies and breaks for the oil industry.

Ford increasingly believes in customer choice. The gasoline sipping Ford Focus SE gets 40 mpg highway and is not even a hybrid. It starts at about $18,300.

Ford C-MAX Energi and Hybrids = Crossover SUVs with Great Mileage

Ford C-MaxIn the fall of 2012, Ford brings unparalleled fuel economy to the 5-seat crossover SUV segment. The C-MAX plug-in hybrid will allow you to drive the first 20 to 30 miles on a garage electric charge before engaging a fuel-efficient engine. It may rate over 100 mpg. The C-MAX lives up to its name. It maximizes the cargo and passenger space that can be fit on the popular “C” sized vehicle platform. Like the Focus, the C-MAX is a 5-seater. Drop the back seat and you have much more cargo space than the Focus. Price has not been announced. Our guess is that it will be under $40,000.

For customers that want to pay less up-front, Ford will also offer the C-MAX as a hybrid. It will be as roomy as the C-MAX Energi, but never get plugged-in. With a lithium-battery pack it will have excellent fuel-economy. The C-MAX Hybrid will compete head-on with the new Toyota Prius V, which gets 42 mpg combined and has 40 percent more cargo than the best selling Prius Liftback.

Ford Intends to Take Midsized Market Share from Toyota

When the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid goes on sale at the end of this year, it will offer the best fuel economy of any midsized sedan. It is targeted to deliver 46 mpg highway, 44 city, and 46 combined, beating the Toyota Camry Hybrid with its famous Synergy Hybrid Drive System. I have been very impressed with test drives of both hybrids, which are roomy, quiet, and smooth as silk to drive. The Camry uses NiMH batteries; the Fusion Hybrid uses lithium-ion.

Outdoing Toyota, Ford will also offer the Fusion Energi, a plug-in version that will deliver the first 20 to 25 miles of driving on a garage charge before engaging the gasoline engine. Pricing has not been announced. Ford will also emphasize customer choice with the Fusion available with a variety of non-hybrid configurations.

Ford’s Strategy to Lower the Cost of Hybrid and Electric Cars

Ford built 2.5 million “C” platform vehicles last year with many common components. The Focus Electric and C-MAX offerings will be built with over a dozen other vehicles on the same assembly line in Wayne, Michigan. Ford controls cost with flexible manufacturing, where it can quickly adjust to market demand.

Ford’s team of more than 1,000 engineers working on hybrid and electrification programs – including Fusion Hybrid and Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid – has grown so fast that the company today is announcing the conversion of its 285,000-square-foot Advanced Engineering Center in Dearborn, Mich., to electrified vehicle development. The new jobs are part of Ford’s plans to add more than 12,000 hourly and salaried jobs by 2015 in the United States. The company also has announced it is tripling production capacity of its hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles in the U.S. next year compared with 2011.

Over 80 percent of the Fusion Hybrid and Energi components will be the same, allowing Ford to achieve more cost efficiencies. With the C-MAX, we will see that Ford powersplit hybrids and blended plug-in hybrids share about 85 percent of the same components including electric traction motor, generator, inverters, DC/DC converters, electric accessories, transmission, and engine. Both the C-MAX Energi and C-MAX Hybrid models, with a common chassis, will be built alongside the all-new 2012 Ford Focus and Focus Electric at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich.

Three years ago, lithium battery packs cost about $1,000 per kilowatt. Now the cost is closer to $500. By the end of the decade, costs may only be $250 per kilowatt. Ford makes all of its lithium-packs and works with several lithium cell manufacturers to get the best price and battery chemistries separately optimized for battery-electric, plug-in hybrid and hybrid. Ford’s pack and volume strategy will lower costs of hybrid and electric cars.

Ford will Sell 100,000 Hybrids and EVs with Lithium-Batteries

Lithium batteries are everywhere. They are in your mobile phones, iPads, notebook computers, game players, music players, and a lot more. Soon lithium batteries will be in millions of hybrid and electric cars.

As electric and hybrid car competition intensifies, Nissan, GM, Toyota, and Ford are in a race to sell the most vehicles with lithium batteries. I have driven cars from each of these automakers that use lithium batteries. The cars performed beautifully and delivered great fuel economy.

Toyota is bringing to market three vehicles with lithium batteries – The Prius PHV, the RAV4 EV, and the Scion IQ EV. These three give Toyota a shot at being the first automaker to put 100,000 vehicles on the road with lithium batteries. Toyota has over 3 million hybrids on the road with NiMH batteries. Why fight success? Toyota will be careful in switching to lithium-ion. Economics, reduced vehicle weight, and more interior room will eventually make the switch compelling.

Over 10,000 Nissan LEAFs have been delivered, putting Nissan ahead of the competition in the electric car race. Nissan will deliver up to 50,000 LEAFs globally this year. In 2013, a new plant opens in Tennessee with the ultimate capacity of 150,000 LEAFs per year plus 200,000 lithium battery packs per year.

General Motors and LG Group are jointly designing and engineering future electric vehicles, expanding a relationship built on LG’s work as the battery cell supplier for the Chevrolet Volt and Opel Ampera extended-range EVs. In 2012, GM will deliver up to 60,000 Volts and Amperas with LG Chem advanced lithium battery cells.

Ford will only use lithium batteries in all Ford hybrids starting in calendar year 2012 when it announces the new Focus using the Ford global C platform. Ford is currently second only to Toyota in global hybrid sales. Ford may be the first car maker to sell 100,000 cars annually that includes lithium batteries. When I lasted interviewed Nancy Gioia, Director Ford Global Electrification, she said that Ford has a 2020 goal of 10 to 25 percent of its vehicle sales including lithium batteries. Her best guess is that 70% would be hybrids, 20 to 25% plug-in hybrids, and 5 to 10% battery-electric. Everything from technology innovation to oil prices will affect the future mix.

Chevrolet Volt and Opel Ampera voted European Car of the Year 2012

Chevrolet Volt and Opel Ampera voted European Car of the Year 2012

Volt and Ampera Car of YearBy John Addison (3/6/12)


The Opel Ampera and the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid cars won the European Car of the Year 2012 award voted by a panel of 59 judges from 23 European nations. The Ampera/Volt 330 points against the Volkswagen Up with 281 and Ford Focus with 256. The Volt and Ampera share the same drive system. The Ampera is tailored to the European market. The plug-in hybrids outscored pure battery-electric cars and fuel-efficient turbo diesels.

The award comes as GM and Peugoeot form an alliance targeting 2016 to build common vehicle platforms, components, and global purchasing JV that could save GM $2 billion annually. The alliance and GM electric vehicle leadership could help GM defend its number one global market leadership over Toyota and VW.

Pictured, Opel/Vauxhall CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke and Chevrolet President and Managing Director for Europe Susan Docherty received the award from Car of the Year panel Hakan Matson at the Geneva International Motor Show.

The Ampera and the Volt emerged as the joint overall winner in a field of seven finalists. Initially, 35 recently launched vehicles entered the contest. The selection criteria applied by the judges were based on attributes such as design, comfort, performance, innovative technologies, and efficiency.

Chevy VOLTThe Volt and the Ampera have won many international awards including the “World Green Car of the Year 2011” and the “North American Car of the Year 2011” award. Volt and Ampera also received the maximum 5-star Euro NCAP award.

The Ampera and the Volt can go anywhere anytime. A 16 kWh lithium ion battery powers the 111kW/150 hp electric motor. Depending on the style of driving and road conditions, distance of between 40 and 80 kilometers can be covered in the purely battery-operated mode, completely free of emissions. The wheels of the car are always powered electrically. In extended-range mode, which activates whenever the battery has reached its minimum state of charge, the gasoline engine drives a generator that supplies the electric drive unit. The range extender enables an operating radius of 500 kilometers.

General Motors to Make 65,000 Electric Cars in 2012

The success of the Volt and Ampera has encouraged GM to target making 65,000 electric vehicles in 2012, also including the Cadillac ELR and Chevrolet Spark EV. Originally, most production was scheduled for the U.S. But Volt sales have been below target in the U.S. where subsidized petroleum puts gas prices at half of many European countries. Most GM electric car sales may be to other countries.

Cadillac ELRThe new Cadillac ELR will combine electric car driving with elegant styling and a luxury interior.  The Cadillac ELR will use the electric drive system of the popular Chevrolet Volt. Cadillac drivers will now be able to drive 40 miles on an electric charge from home, work, or charge stations, then go hundreds of added miles when the gasoline engine is engaged. Like the Volt, the Cadillac ELR is a plug-in hybrid with an efficient gasoline engine that normally acts as an electric generator, but at some speeds blends power with the electric motor.

When I took the Volt on a long drive down California’s Pacific Coast Highway, the handling was smooth. The Volt hugged the road through sharp turns. In the hills, the 150-hp electric motor easily climbed steep grades. The existing Volt electric motor and 1.4L gasoline engine could handle the added weight expected for the Cadillac ELR, but GM may decide on a slightly larger engine and/or motor.


GM also admits to working on 32 different vehicles with electric drive systems.  Not all will be commercialized. Some models will be selected over others. GM will build on the success of the Volt and Ampera, which share its Voltec drive system and lithium batteries.

The Volt and Ampera use GM battery packs containing the LG Chem manganese spinel li-polymer prismatic battery cells. The Cadillac ELR, however, may use A123 nanophosphate lithium ion cells in a new pack. A123 is supplying the batteries for the late-to-market Fisker plug-in hybrids. A123’s finances are vulnerable with Fisker delays.

Next year, you may get the chance to test drive the Cadillac of electric cars. Many won’t wait. The Volt is stylish, well appointed, and has the best OnStar app ever offered. The new Tesla Model S will offer luxury electric car buyers beautiful styling, roomy interior, and up to 300 miles of electric range. The Cadillac ELR is likely to gain the enthusiastic following now enjoyed by the Volt and build on GM’s proven electric car success.

Chevrolet Volt owners love their new cars. Jackson Browne told me that he has only used 8 gallons of gasoline during the 2,000 miles that he has driven his Chevrolet Volt. Jackson is famous as a singer, songwriter, and inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I’ve interviewed many Chevrolet Volt owners who love their electric cars.

Mitsubishi PX-MiEV Plug-in Hybrid AWD SUV

Mitsubishi PX-MiEV Plug-in Hybrid AWD SUV

Mitsubishi PX-MiEVBy John Addison (updated 1/25/12; original 11/23/11)

All-wheel drivers may soon get record fuel economy. Mitsubishi is showing a crossover SUV with AWD in Tokyo which is likely to go on sale U.S. in 2012 or 2013. The MITSUBISHI PX-MiEVⅡ is a midsized plug-in hybrid (PHEV) with a 500-mile cruising range. The PX-MiEV is a 5-door, 7-passenger SUV with all-wheel drive.

Mitsubishi is the third biggest seller of electric cars after Nissan and General Motors. In Japan, over 5,000 drive its popular city car the MiEV. Now U.S. buyers are ordering the slightly larger Mitsubishi i that impressed me when doing a Mitsubishi versus Nissan LEAF test-drive comparison.

The Mitsubishi i with a starting price of $29,125 will appeal to many city drivers. Others however want a range of hundreds of miles not 62. Many want a car with more passenger and cargo space, leading Mitsubishi to start showing a new concept car in Tokyo which is likely to come to the U.S. in the future as a commercial EV.

The MITSUBISHI PX-MiEV Ⅱ is a small crossover SUV plug-in hybrid (PHEV) with a 500-mile cruising range. The PX-MiEVⅡ contains a powerful electric drivetrain derived from the popular MiEV that delivers the performance and quiet ride inherent to an EV. The PX-MiEV is a 5-door, 7-passenger SUV with all-wheel drive for better handling on wet and snowy roads. The Concept PX-MiEV uses a newly developed twin-motor four-wheel-drive system mated to Mitsubishi’s S-AWC (Super-All Wheel Control) advanced traction control system.

SUV that gets 141 Miles per Gallon and 500 Mile Range

This unique plug-in hybrid fuses EV technology derived from the i-MiEV with a small conventional engine to deliver a combined fuel efficiency (3) of more than 141 miles per gallon (60km per liter) and a range of about 500 miles between gasoline fill-ups.

This new concept SUV has a 30 mile all-electric mode range, meeting most daily needs of U.S. drivers without using any gasoline, just a garage electric charge. Depending on power consumption and remaining battery charge the system will start the engine automatically as a generator, and the engine can also be used to help drive the wheels as necessary. In addition, with the push of a button, the driver has the freedom to select Battery Drive Mode when he/she wishes to drive quietly in residential areas using pure EV power. At the same time, the driver can also switch to Battery Charge Mode while on the move, controlling use of battery power and using the engine as a generator to charge the batteries.

This electric SUV has a socket so that contractors can run power tools using energy stored in the PX-MiEV’s lithium battery pack or to run auxiliaries when camping. In addition, the quick-charge port is vehicle-to-home (V2H) compatible.

We look forward to the Mitsubishi PX-MiEV coming to America with its 500-mile range, SUV room inside, cargo flexibility, AWD safety, and power the auxiliaries we use in work and play.

Top 10 All-Wheel Drive Cars with Best Mileage

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MITSUBISHI Concept PX-MiEVⅡspecifications

  • Overall length  4660 mm
  • Overall width 1830 mm
  • Overall height 1680 mm
  • Occupants 7
  • 2 Electric Motors  (front and rear)
    • Type   Permanent magnet synchronous
    • Max. Output   60kW each
  • Engine  2.0L MIVEC 4-cylinder
  •             Generating capacity  70kW
  • Target motor-only driving range    > 30 miles (50 km)
  • Target combined cruising range     > 500 miles (800 km)
  • Target combined fuel efficiency      > 141 mpg (60 km/L)
  • Electric Drivetrain      Twin-motor 4WD with S-AWC
  • Tires   235/55R18
Toyota Prius Plug-in – Two Weeks of Test Driving

Toyota Prius Plug-in – Two Weeks of Test Driving

Toyota Prius PHVBy Tom Bartley (3/24/11)

My two weeks were up yesterday and I had to pass the car to the next Clean Fuels Coalition board member. I liked the experience and it saved me money. This dual fuel (electricity and gasoline) Prius is all about having a nice ride and being energy efficient. The car I drove was a Toyota factory prototype that was essentially a 2010 basic Prius modified to accommodate a 5kW Lithium ion battery that could be charged through a power cord from an external 110 VAC standard 20 amp circuit.

I liked the car. If you are not a numbers person, skip to the Nice Ride section.

When I plugged the charging cable into my external 110 VAC house socket it tested out ok, but after 5 minutes of charging it tripped the GFI breaker and it wouldn’t reset without tripping.  I tried a different circuit and everything was fine. I have not yet diagnosed the problem. The current draw was 12 amps leading to 3 hours for a full charge (3.96 kWh). This is less than the full battery 5 kW capacity and is probably part of the battery management strategy that stays away from the top and bottom SoC (State of Charge) to assure a long battery life before replacement. The dash board display indicated 14 miles as an estimated average full usable charge EV range. (The 14 mile EV range estimate could vary significantly depending on elevation change, speed, and driver style.) This works out to 3.54 miles/kWh or 283 Wh/mile. The larger battery capacity in the Plug-in Prius makes the normal hybrid mode even more efficient by providing more storage to recycle deceleration energy while going down grades or slowing from high speed driving.

This compares to manufacturer estimates of 240 Wh/mile for the Nissan Leaf and 400 Wh/mile for the Chevy Volt. While the larger capacity battery packs in the Leaf and the Volt qualify for a $7500 federal tax credit, this Prius is projected to have a $3000 tax credit.  I estimate the price of the Plug-in to be somewhere in the $33,000 price range to compete nicely with the Volt.

Energy Efficiency

I managed to drive 423.1 miles on the 6.762 gallons of 87 octane E10 that I pumped into the gasoline tank. With the current high prices, I paid a total of $26.67. So, here are the petroleum numbers:

  • 67.52 mpg
  • 6.3 ¢/mile

The electric numbers will only show up integrated into my overall utility bill at a cost of 15.5 ¢/kWh. I estimate the efficiency of the car, including the battery losses, at an average 300 Wh/mile leading to an electric cost of 4.65 ¢/mile. How does this add to my total cost/mile? Most of my trips were less than 15 miles. I had one long roundtrip over 75 miles of mostly high speed freeway driving. I can only estimate that 20% of my miles were electric. The onboard display indicated that 12% of the previously driven 12,000 miles were driven in EV mode. Adding (20% of 423.1 miles) 84.62 miles @ 4.65 ¢/mile results in $3.93 for electricity yielding a total cost of $30.60 for 423.1 miles or 7.2 ¢/mile. In comparison, my Toyota Sequoia SUV at about 29 ¢/mile ($4.00/gal / 13.6 mpg). That makes for a whopping $92.00 fuel savings over two weeks! That’s some nice extra pocket money. True, this is not the whole picture and did not include purchase price and maintenance costs, like the cost of the batteries, but the immediate impact is significant. Also, knowing that my cost was less I drove more miles than I otherwise would have.

Side Note: I found the fuel economy displayed and calculated by the on-board computer for each car was optimistically overstated as 77.7 mpg for the Prius and 15.6 mpg for the Sequoia. One mitigating factor is that I may not have received a full tank of gas with the Prius. The odometer should be accurate because, according to the owner’s manual, the Prius automatically calibrates the odometer (using the GPS navigation system?) to compensate for tire wear.

Nice Ride

Overall, I liked the Plug-in Prius and didn’t want to give it back and I love the power of my 2004 Toyota Sequoia Limited and a 1970 classic big block Chevy Corvette, both with their high power V8s and plenty of “go-power” torque throughout the driving speed range. The Prius Plug-in compares favorably with my many ride-n-drives in electric vehicles, hybrids, and high priced hydrogen fuel cell hybrids.

For the driver’s pleasure the Prius has push button selection of three different driving modes, ECOnomy, normal, and PoWeR. At first these different settings seemed to be scaling the accelerator pedal movement to better match the drive style, i.e., more push to get smaller acceleration in ECO, and less push to get greater acceleration in PWR. However, the actual driving experience felt like the PWR mode actually allowed the drive system to put more torque into the drive wheels to the point of spinning the tires with engine and electric motor combined. Knowing that electric motors produce max torque right from the “get go”, I expected more performance of the line without much push on the accelerator, but, because I wanted to stay in EV mode without starting the engine, I didn’t ask for more start up acceleration by jamming the pedal to the floor.

The PWR mode was fun to drive in urban traffic congestion at all speeds. The normal mode was comfortable in almost all driving environments easily keeping pace with other standard 4 cylinder and 6 cylinder gasoline engine cars, especially in the 25 to 50 mph speed range.  I wouldn’t recommend the ECO mode in heavy traffic. The ECO mode was there to sooth my energy conservation conscience when I was sharing the road with only a few other drivers. Cruise control is available to make it even easier.

This car has a sports car feel and it’s easy to parallel park. The ride is smooth, the suspension is tight, and the steering is responsive.  Braking is very responsive.

The gear shift lever has a D for normal forward movement and a B to select more coasting drag. I think the B should be the default position because it felt like I was able to capture more of the deceleration and braking energy into the batteries for recycling. I also liked the B more positive control feel of the car before I had to use the brake pedal.

Rather than a “gear shift” lever it is really a joy stick that always returns to a fixed center position. The position of R and D was a safety problem for me. The position of R at the top or forward and D at the bottom or back is traditional for many transmissions’ gear selection. However, because the control lever is on a raised center console deck and almost horizontal it felt more like a joy stick where DRIVE would be forward and REVERSE would be back. Several times I selected the wrong direction while backing out or parking. Fortunately, it was at low speed and the annoying repetitive beep of reverse provided a helpful alert

Driver Displays and Steering Wheel Button Controls

The main display panel looks like it is digital and programmed for the subject matter information. It is sunk into the middle of the dash for, what looks like, the best viewing of all the vehicle occupants, not just the driver. I had two problems with that positioning. With everything offset to the right side of the driver’s view, the separation between the left and right turn signal indicators is too small to see clearly without taking my eyes of the road to look at the actual arrow. Also, one of the information displays gives immediate feedback to the driver about the torque demands and the EV and hybrid modes of charging and discharging the batteries. Again, the information was not easily seen, down and off to the right, without taking my eyes off the road. Placement in front of the driver would be a nice improvement and a heads up display would be superb.

The standard parts of the driver display included gasoline fuel level, digital speed (analog and digital would be even better), turn signal indicators, odometer, real time mpg, and various mode indicator lights. Being somewhat of a techie, I would have liked to see the engine rpm and temperature; and the electric motor rpm and some appropriate critical temperature. Battery SoC in addition to the estimated EV miles would have been nice too. The display has five selections stepped through by one of the steering wheel buttons:

1. Battery level and number of EV miles, and horizontal bar graph showing real time torque demanded by the accelerator pedal. This display was useful in raising my awareness of the energy effects of changing elevations up and down hils, and the effects of air drag at higher highway speeds.

2. A graphic of the car showing the real time energy flow between the engine, electric motor and battery.

3. Longer term averages of fuel economy

4. Percentage of miles driven in EV mode.

5. Settings that could be cycled through and changed with the same steering wheel display button.

Additionally, when I put my finger on one of the steering wheel buttons there are two cool looking pop up displays that illuminate the button functions. However, if I have to take my eyes off the road to see the pop ups, I can just as easily look at the steering wheel. The left hand steering wheel button was like my Sequoia, operating the radio modes, presets, and volume. The right hand steering wheel button operated the display selection, trip odometers and resets, temp up and down for heating and A/C, and recirculate control for ventilation. I found the temp and recirculation controls redundant to the other same controls close by on the dashboard.

Lights, Wipers, Mirrors, and Visibility

I am spoiled by the light sensing automatic turn-on head light control in the Sequoia. This basic Prius did not have them and several times I had to return to the car to turn off the lights. As in many other cars, these controls were located on the turn signal lever. The emergency 4-way flasher control was a nice big button on the console.

The interior lighting was superior with several different automatic modes that anticipated the entry and exit of the vehicle. It took a while to discover, but just pushing on the light lens is a nice switch feature. Also a nice touch is an indirect beam of light out of the ceiling that illuminates the console while driving at night.

One place that could use a light is the electric charging compartment to illuminate the socket and cover. It would have made it easier when I was trying to insert the charging plug at night in the dark.

I had one wiper and lights problem that turned out to be pilot error. California law requires the headlights to be on any time the windshield wipers are on. While driving in the rain one day I did this only to have the driver display go dim and unreadable. The automatic dimming control expects a reduced ambient light level if the head lights are turned on. The manual dimming control is a thumbwheel on the left side of the dash. If the thumbwheel is advanced into the maximum brightness détente, the display will stay bright even if the headlights are turned on.

The electric positioning left and right external mirrors are the same as my Sequoia, but the control was located on the left side lower dash panel next to the display brightness thumbwheel instead of the center console. From my best position setting of the outside rear view mirror without repositioning the mirror I couldn’t see the curb position when parallel parking. Ok, it is a little picky.

The visibility out the rear window from looking at the inside rear view mirror has an irritation shared by almost all Prius drivers. The rear spoiler required for that nice low aerodynamic drag coefficient puts a horizontal bar across the rear vision.  For the extra mileage at highway speeds it was acceptable, but I never got used to it. I heard that some late model Prius’ may be offered with a camera and a screen that I hope eliminates the bar in the view. My recent experience driving a Volt exposed a similar bar. Adding additional irritation to me was the manual lever for day/night viewing of the mirror. The automatic transitioning of my Sequoia mirror is another nice thing to have.

Driver visibility is good except for two blind spots at the rear corners. I solved this problem on the Sequoia with the addition of small round stick-on wide-angle mirrors to the standard outside mirrors. I elevated the driver’s seat to its highest level for my best outside viewing angle.

Navigation and Entertainment

Your children and grandchildren will love the screen and controls. I liked the large navigation screen, which automatically shifted from a light background to a dark background when the headlights were turned on. After reading the navigation manual for over an hour I decided that I was not going to become a proficient operator during the time I had the car. To prevent driver distraction, several of the functions were not available while the car was moving.

The angle of display has a cute little shift control to help minimize glare reflections. The whole display tilts forward to expose the CD insertion slot. It looked like only a single CD at a time. I prefer the 6-CD changer I have in the Sequoia. The sound system was great when using the radio.

Other Amenities and Comments

Keyless entry, locking, and start-up were new and enjoyable for me. I now look at my other keys as archaic. Three people could fit in the back seat with reasonable comfort, but only two could be there to have the cup holders that were in the center pull down armrest.

The center console cover had a latch that slid back to expose a cup holder in addition to the one with it’s own cover door in front of it. More pulling on the latch exposed a compartment with a tray and a 12 VDC 120 W power socket and an aux port for and iPod. What at first confused me was that the latch had to be depressed again to slide the cover forward for complete closure. I forgot and left my Bluetooth wireless phone earpiece in the tray because it was not completely visible.

In front of the console under the joystick platform is an open tray that has another 12 VDC socket along with switches for the heated seats.  I found the switch placement inconvenient for the driver but ok for the front passenger. The heated seats get hot fast! While more pleasing for the leather seats in the Sequoia, the seat heaters may not really be necessary for the soft cloth seats in the Prius.

Normally, the car was ready to go in total EV mode after putting my foot on the brake and pressing the START button. However, I found that leaving the front defroster selected from prior driving caused the engine to start after pushing the START button.

There are upper and lower glove boxes for added flexibility.

All four side windows have automatic up and down modes. I quickly closed the windows after trying them down during highway driving. The car body aerodynamic airflow is sensitive to window position and my ear drums were taking a beating.

The steering wheel has a “scope” adjustment in and out for comfortable arm positioning.

Fortunately, I had my Sequoia experience to understand the Toyota HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) control strategy. The only difference was that the Sequoia has a knob for setting the desired temperature rather than the up and down buttons of the Prius.

Best Electric Car or Hybrid Car

In 2012 there will be several plug-in car models to choose from, each slightly different to match the driver’s needs and wallet. From the ones I have driven, going from low to high purchase cost:

  • Mitsubishi iMiEV – All electric (no petroleum) short range no frills basic gets the job done, smallest, lowest weight and most efficient. Low cost because of credits and grants.
  • Nissan Leaf – All electric (no petroleum) medium range, excellent feel and performance, virtually no service required, perfect for urban commutes and short trips, some longer trip options. Lower cost because of credits and grants.
  • Toyota Prius – The standard with great mpg and long range, but doesn’t utilize grid energy
  • Toyota Prius Plug-in – Better mpg and hybrid efficiency, long range and short EV range
  • Chevrolet Volt – High end luxury quality feel, performance, and features, serial hybrid design has lower efficiency and mpg.

Top 10 Electric Cars including Plug-in Hybird