Even Porsche Downsizes Its Engines
Smaller Is Better For Automakers – And Consumers Shouldn’t Notice Any Difference.
The global drive to reduce greenhouse gases and increase vehicle fuel efficiency is pushing automakers to reduce the size of their engines – while trying to keep all of attributes consumers expect from their cars. Engineers have pushed the limits of technology to produce engines that are more efficient, meet increasingly stringent pollution standard and yet make better horsepower and torque than previous generations.
Recently, three auto companies announced new engine families that epitomize this new trend:
- General Motors’ new engine family
- Porsche’s new four-cylinder engines
- VW’s new diesel engine
Let’s look at each of these to see how they plan to ease consumers into this new generation of engines.
General Motors’ New Fours
After successfully going through bankruptcy, GM is now starting to put money back into development of its hardware, with a focus on engines that can serve its models around the world. That world-emphasis means fuel efficiency is at the forefront.
The new family of small engines GM just announced will eventually include 11 powerplants that will range from a 1-liter turbo three-cylinder up to a 1.5-liter turbo four. All will have aluminum blocks and heads, which
GM Gets Small With Its Engines
should result in lighter weight to enhance any efficiency gains from the engines themselves. In addition, they have double overhead cams with four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, water-cooled exhaust manifolds, variable oil pumps to save energy and piston cooling jets.
Some engines may also feature direction fuel injection and turbocharging, depending on the market.
GM said variants of the modular engines would be able to be produced on the same assembly line in five plants around the world. Eventual volume could reach 2.5 million units, GM added. The first engine, the Ecotec 1-liter turbo three-cylinder, will be sold in Europe, but no U.S. appearance for it has been announced, but several of the engines are likely to show up in GM’s small cars and applications such as the Chevy Volt and Cadillac ELR range-extended electric cars, which currently use a 1.4-liter non-turbo engine as a generator.
The engines are designed to put GM a leg up on Ford’s EcoBoost engines with quieter operation and as good or better efficiency and power.
Porsche Goes Back To Four
Porsche has more of a challenge. This subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group doesn’t make very many cars and specializes in sports cars (even though its current best-seller is an SUV) and has an image that is key to its sales success.
Porsche Bets On a Powerful Four
Even though the company’s heritage is in small displacement engines, in the more recent past that image and sales were tarnished with some four-cylinder models concocted in partnership with VW. the 1969-76 914 was ridiculed as a VW-Porsche and was finally dropped when Porsche returned to a focus on its higher-end sports cars.
Like the engine offered in the 914 – and Porsche’s larger six-cylinder engines – the new engines will be horizontally-opposed or “flat fours” and will be produced on the same assembly lines. Compared to the offerings of the 70s they will bring considerably more technology and may produce almost 400 horsepower in some versions. The current 2.7/3.4-liter six-cylinder engines in the Boxster and Cayman production from 265 to 340 horsepower.
They should aid the Boxster and Cayman models in which they’ll be available by reducing weight and thus boosting handling and braking.
“We will continue with the downsizing strategy and develop a new four-cylinder boxer engine, which will see service in the next-generation Boxster and Cayman,” said Porsche CEO Matthias Muller, in an interview with Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport magazine. “We will not separate ourselves from efforts to reduce CO2,” he added.
Of course reduced CO2 translates into better fuel economy which, while not a major focus of Porsche buyers, is a concern for the corporation that produces them.
Diesel Also Moves Forward
Volkswagen’s build a good reputation with its small, turbocharged direct-injected gasoline and diesel engines, but its engineers are not resting on their laurels. This year VW will introduce a new four-cylinder diesel it has dubbed the EA288 in its VW and Audi models.
The engine does what diesel engines have been doing in each of several generations since being introduced almost two decades ago – increasing horsepower and torque while decreasing fuel consumption and emissions. Our experience with VW and Audi TDI models has been excellent.
Diesel Marches On
The engine will show up first in the new Golf due this year. Although it has the same displacement as the engine it replaces at 2.0-liters, the engine is all new, an Audi spokesperson told Clean Fleet Report. While keeping pace with new emissions restrictions, the diesel also is expected to push various models’ fuel economy ratings beyond their current range of 41-43 mpg. In addition, VW engineers said the new engine would be a worldwide model, ending the current practice of using different engines in Europe and the U.S.
As was seen in GM’s new engine line, the VW diesel added detailed features to increase efficiency, including reduced in-cylinder friction, an oil pump with controlled internal airflow, a variable water pump, a new thermal management system and a roller cam. It also has an intercooler integrated into the intake manifold and adds urea exhaust aftertreatment.
VW also announced that the EA288 will be B20 (20 percent biodiesel/80 percent ultra-low sulfur diesel) compatible. After appearing in the Golf TDI, the engine will be found in other VW and Audi products, including the Jetta, Sportwagen, Passat, Beetle and Audi A3, among others.
Words and Photos By Michael Coates; Some Photos By the Manufacturers
Posted March 29, 2014
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The Hybrid Sales Leader Continues Its Market Dominance By Plugging In Its Icon.
Toyota – expanding the leading brand with a plug
In the world of automotive sales, earning the ranking of top-selling model in any category is a considerable achievement. In an internal combustion engine world, when the Toyota Prius became the best-selling vehicle line in the State of California in 2012 and then backed it up with a repeat in 2013, it was huge for a hybrid to take the prize. The Prius had a strong national presence in 2013 where it was No. 16 in sales for all cars and trucks and No. 10 among cars. To round-out the sales story, Toyota has sold 1.5 million Prius models in the last ten years, easily making it the best selling hybrid car in the United States.
The Prius four-door hatchback first went on sale in the United States in 2000 and the smaller Prius c and larger Prius V came along in 2011. They were joined by the plug-in version in 2012.
Clean Fleet Report had the opportunity to drive, in back-to-back weeks, the 2014 Prius Hatchback and the 2014 Prius Plug-in Hatchback. Here is a look at the two, where the similarities are many and the differences few.
The front-wheel-drive 2014 Prius is powered by a parallel hybrid drivetrain, which Toyota calls their Hybrid Synergy Drive. In the parallel hybrid system the electric motor can power the car by itself, the gas engine can power the car by itself or they can power the car together.
Plug-in Prius gets you to new places
The Hybrid Synergy Drive system comprises a 1.8L DOHC, four-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor producing a combined 178 horsepower (hp). It adds a 26 hp/60 kW nickel-metal-hydride (Ni-MH) battery and through the electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) delivers 51 city/48 highway for a combined 50 mpg.
The Prius Plug-in is powered by the same gasoline engine and electric motor but adds a 80 hp/60 kW lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack that can power the car solely on electricity for about 11 miles. The Prius Plug-in fuel economy is a bit different with 51 city/49 highway but the same 50 mpg combined, but the Plug-in also delivers a 95 mpge when run in EV mode. As with all plug-in hybrids, the driving style and charging regimen will determine actually mileage in the real world.
The Prius Plug-in Li-ion battery is charged by plugging in or through the regenerative charging system, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. There is a standard drive mode “D” or the “B” mode, which recharges the battery at a faster rate when coasting downhill.
In addition to the regenerative charging, the primary method to replenish the batteries is by plugging in. Here’s how much time it will take:
120V 3 hours: discharged to a full charge
240V 1.5 hours: discharged to a full charge
The Prius Plug-in does not come with a 480V Quick Charge option.
Driving Experience: On the Road
The four-door Prius Hatchback 2014 weighs in at 3,042 lbs, with the weight well distributed due to the under-seat battery placement, resulting in a low center of gravity. The electrically power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, the front MacPherson struts with stabilizer bar and rear Torsion beam suspension delivers a smooth, although not necessarily quiet, highway ride. The Prius with the 15-inch alloy wheels (17-inch ones are an upgrade) corners so-so with little body roll, but with no sense of feeling sporty. Acceleration 0 – 60 is listed by Toyota at 10 seconds, but that may be the minimum time it takes. No head snapping going on with the Prius,
The Prius models plug along
but off-the-line drag racing is not why a million and a half of these have been sold. So, expecting a performance level that Toyota never promised is unfair. But let’s get real on what is fair, fuel economy!
The Prius Plug-in (which weighs in at 3,165 lbs.) offers up-to 11 miles on pure electricity if you go no faster than 30 mph. Other than that, there is little difference in the two models. Once up to freeway speeds, both Prius models shine, delivering 50+ mpg. And if you are into hypermiling, the practice of energy-efficient driving aimed at improving fuel economy beyond the EPA ratings, you may want to see how far you can squeeze that gallon of gasoline or kilowatt of electricity. You don’t need to own a hybrid or EV to practice hypermiling, but it seems this is a hot topic among Prius owners trying to out-distance each other.
Toyota has mastered combining the regeneration system with the four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. Both Prius models stop straight and true with no brake fade.
Driving Experience: Interior
The 2014 Prius has a spacious interior with a twin cockpit design with a “floating” center stack separating the bucket seats. I say “floating” because where most cars have solid sides to their center stack, on the Prius this area is an open tray. Once I got accustomed to fishing around for my stashed items, it was quite handy. The tilt/telescopic steering wheel has all the usual control buttons (audio, phone, cruise control, climate, Bluetooth,
Just quirky enough
etc.) including the ability to switch between fuel and battery (hybrid) gauges. Another unique design feature is that the gauges are off to the right a few degrees. Toyota makes-up for this by having a heads-up display (standard on the Four Model–Prius Liftbacks come in Two, Three, Four and Five trim levels) that appears on the windshield directly in-front of the driver. All-in-all it’s a workable system after a short learning curve.
The Prius comfortably seats four full-size adults (five in a pinch), but the front bucket seats could use more thigh bolstering. There is plenty of storage space with or without the 60/40 rear seats folded flat. The car has good sightlines once you get over the spoiler cutting horizontally midway through the rear window. One oddity is that a beeper goes off inside the cabin when shifting into reverse. Odd because as the driver you know you put the car in reverse, the Rearview Camera pops-up on the screen and the beeping is not heard outside of the car where it would be the most useful.
The 2014 Prius is well equipped for safety with remote keyless entry, power door locks, TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), projector beam halogen headlights, seven airbags, adaptive cruise control, vehicle stability and traction control and the optional intelligent parking assist and lane departure warning.
Driving Experience: Exterior
The Prius is one of the most recognizable vehicles on the road. Its wedge-shape has not changed much since redesigned in 2004 and, either you like it or you don’t. The shape is driven completely to reduce wind resistance and drag to increase fuel economy (both Prius models have an excellent .25 coefficient of drag). Rumor has it a new Prius design is a couple of years away, but it would hard to believe that Toyota would venture very far from the general overall shape of the current car.
The 2014 Prius base price is $25,010, including the $810 destination charge. The nicely optioned Prius Four I was driving is priced at $33,290 including the $810 destination charge. The Prius Plug-in, which starts at
Ready to swallow
$29,990 including the destination charge, qualifies for Federal and State tax credits that could reduce your final cost. Clean Fleet Report recommends contacting your CPA before considering a Prius Plug-in purchase so you are completely clear on the tax credits. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.
Also worth noting is that in California the Prius Plug-in qualifies for the coveted car pool stickers allowing the driver, with no passenger, to use the HOV lane. This is no small thing when trying to get anywhere on a freeway in the Golden State, but those stickers may only be available for a few months as the demand for them has been strong.
The 2014 Prius comes with these warranties:
- 3-year/36,000 Comprehensive
- 5-year/60,000 Powertrain
- 5-year/Unlimited-mileage Corrosion
- 8-year/100,000-mile Hybrid-related Component Coverage
- 15-year/150,000-mile Hybrid-related Component Coverage (applicable states are: CA, MA, NY, NJ, VT, CT, ME, NM and RI) with the exception of the hybrid battery. The hybrid battery is warraned for 10 years/150,000 miles
Observations: 2014 Toyota Prius Hatchback and Prius Plug-in Hatchback
Whether tooling around in-town or venturing out on the open road, if you value paying as little as possible for each mile driven, then the Toyota Prius should be on your shopping list. Not many cars get the outstanding fuel economy of the Prius family.
You will pay more for a hybrid versus a gasoline-powered car and you will need to calculate if the additional cost makes sense for your driving patterns. But, if you are putting a lot of miles on your car or like the ability to cruise around town in pure electric mode like the plug-in version offers, then the additional initial expense may be worth it to you.
You will also pay additional for the Prius Plug-in, with a base price of $29,900 versus the base Prius Hybrid at $24,200. Both prices do not include the $810 Destination Charge. So as you can see, a $5,700 premium for
Still leading the hybrid way
the plug-in will be a consideration at purchase time for what amounts to the ability to drive approximately eleven miles on pure electric charge and if you live in California, apply for the stickers that allow a single driver to use the car pool lanes. Hence, the conundrum.
Clean Fleet Report cannot recommend one model over the other as your lifestyle and daily driving needs are the determining factors. But, the Prius reliability and its being the market-leading hybrid should give you confidence that this car will be in your garage for many, many years.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
Words and Photos by John Faulkner
Posted on March 23, 2014
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Tesla battles to keep on the road
Direct Sales Model Seeks To Change Car-Buyer Experience.
Tesla has set out from the beginning to challenge everything in the auto industry. Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk characterizes himself as an outsider selling a an electric car the auto industry has said it couldn’t build or sell and he set up a network of dealers and chargers all owned by his company. The vertical integration might be something a founding titan like Henry Ford might have appreciated, but it has run into problems in 21st century automotive retail business world.
The issue is state-by-state franchise laws, which set up the conditions for the retail sale of automobiles. They have a long history, rooted in protection for local businesses against potential predatory practices by the deeper pockets of a factory-owned store. Consumer protections are also a part of the franchise system, in theory guaranteeing local recourse for any issue a consumer might have with a product that could have been produced on the other side of the globe.
Tesla argues that the model, like the auto industry itself, is dated and not reflective of new world of electric cars and online ordering. In addition, Tesla says as a start-up it poses little threat to larger, established dealerships and as a purveyor of online pure electric cars, it needs factory control to ensure the educational message about this new technology is fully transmitted.
As Musk told the Automotive News recently, “We’re in a tough spot because I’m not fundamentally opposed to franchising, but I think it’s really difficult for a new company with a new technology to be franchised. It’s not possible to effectively sell a new technology like electric vehicles, for a dealer to do that, without undermining the story behind gasoline cars.”
He added that once Tesla sales reached a certain threshold, said five percent of new car sales, then he would be more comfortable moving to a franchise system. To that end Tesla has supported bills in several legislatures authorizing their direct-sales model with limited success. Musk has also said he might seek national legislation that would override state laws against direct vehicle sales by the factory.
Here’s the state-by-state status of Tesla’s efforts, as compiled by Automotive News:
- In California, its home state, Colorado, Virginia and new Hampshire Tesla factory dealerships operate without trouble.
- On the other end of the spectrum, in Arizona, Texas, Maryland, Massachusetts and, most recently, New Jersey, Tesla is banned from setting up dealerships, limited its presence or sued to get it booted out.
Tesla has battles on several fronts
- In a slew of other states, Tesla’s model is being or has been challenged by legislation or regulation, including Washington, Minnesota, Ohio, New York and North Carolina.
- Tesla’s dealer status is less clear in several other states, including Oregon, Nevada, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
- The remaining states (28 in all) don’t have Tesla dealerships yet.
- Of course, even without a dealership, you can arrange for the purchase of a Tesla online.
The most recent activity was in New Jersey, where the state’s motor vehicle commission ordered Tesla’s two stores in the state to close after a new rule on dealership licensing was adopted. Tesla claimed Gov. Chris Christies administration has promised to delay the regulation, which was favored by the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers. The governor’s office responded that it had indicated its position was that Tesla and the car dealers needed to find a legislative solution to the issue.
According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, 48 states have restrictions on factory-owned dealerships. In addition, Automotive News reports that NADA has said it would oppose any national legislation on the issue.
Meanwhile, Tesla is shifting some of its focus to selling the Model S in Europe and Asia while gearing up for sales of its second model, the SUV-like Model X, in the U.S.
Check out new contributor Spencer Blohm’s in-depth look at Tesla’s debacle in Texas here.
Photos by the manufacturer
Published March 15, 2014
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Different in a good way.
When looking at alternative fuel vehicles, hybrid, electric and diesel are the most common options based on sales and choice. One other fuel, compressed natural gas (CNG) doesn’t get much attention, probably because there is only one mass-produced CNG-fueled car on the market–the 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas. So if Honda alone believes in this technology for passenger cars, what are they seeing that their competitors aren’t and what is the future for CNG?
Natural gas is the cleanest burning of all petroleum-based fuels and it is abundant. Drive by any oil drilling rig or petroleum refinery and you will see it being burned off. With recent advances in technologies for hydraulic
So much the same, but different
fracturing–more commonly referred to as fracking–and capturing of gasses from landfills and other biogas sources, the natural gas supply is solid for decades to come according to industry estimates. Its cost per an equivalent gallon of gasoline runs 30% – 40% less than gas or diesel, and a CNG-fueled internal combustion engine will have a longer service life and require less maintenance because natural gas burns so cleanly, producing almost no combustion by-products into the motor oil, spark plugs or injectors.
So if natural gas is plentiful, less expensive to purchase and burns cleaner than gasoline and diesel, does owning one make sense for your lifestyle and driving patterns?
The 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas we were driving looks pretty much like the gasoline powered Civic except for the Federally mandated (for emergency responder’s safety) blue and white diamond-shaped CNG sticker on the trunk lid. When driving the Civic CNG, it feels the same as its siblings except for less power.
The front-wheel drive, five-speed automatic Civic CNG is rated at 27 City/38 Highway with a combined 31 MPGe. The “e” is for “equivalent,” which means you are not using a gallon of liquid fuel like gasoline. The EPA has figured out how much energy is in a gallon of gas and how far it will take you–that’s MPG. So MPGe is how far you can go with the amount of CNG that has the same amount of energy as a gallon of gasoline. In CNG’s case it takes 126 cubic feet of CNG to equal the energy of a gallon of gas–and that will take you 31 miles. Add in the amount of CNG you can store in the Honda’s tank (the equivalent of 8 gallons of gasoline since it’s compressed at 3600 psi) and you end up with a range of about 190 miles. There is also an Eco button to maximize your fuel economy.
Powering the Civic CNG is a 16-valve, 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder aluminum alloy engine. It puts out 110 hp and 106 lb-ft of torque while the gasoline version brings 130 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque. Without going into performance numbers, that 30 hp and 22 lb-ft of torque can make a big difference when it is time to get up and go. But maybe the trade-off for fuel economy and cost are worth it, especially if you aren’t a hot rodder.
Strikingly Familar But Different
The Civic CNG comes with 15-inch lightweight aluminum-alloy wheels, all-season tires, electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, power-assisted front disc and rear drum ABS brakes, MacPherson strut independent front and multi-link rear suspension, with stabilizer bars at both ends. The Civic rides comfortably but could have more steering feel. You will feel freeway bumps and hear road noise, and, while the Civic CNG is not a sports sedan or to be considered an enthusiast vehicle, it handles corners well.
The Civic CNG has smooth acceleration, but as previously noted, it is not fast off the line. With patience, it cruises right along at freeway speeds.
Finding a comfortable seating position with the manual adjustable driver’s seat and tilt and telescoping steering wheel was easy. The front bucket/rear bench seats (with a flat rear floor) can accommodate four adults with good head and leg room and the glass area provided an open, airy feeling with good visibility. Standard equipment includes A/C, power door locks and windows and cruise control.
The 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas we drove came with the 5-inch LCD color touchscreen, Honda navigation system with voice recognition, rearview camera and a database of available CNG refueling stations. The four-speaker sound system has XM and Pandora, steering wheel mounted controls, Bluetooth audio and phone hands-free link, SMS test messaging, USB interface and MP3/Auxiliary input jacks.
None of the goodies are worth a thing if the car isn’t safe to drive. The 2013 Civic CNG I was driving had six airbags, ABS with front-wheel disc brakes, power door mirrors, Vehicle Stability Assist, rearview color camera,
A different hose – not too much pressure
tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and side-impact door beams with front and rear crumple zones. The Civic is rated at four stars for frontal driver and passenger front impacts and five star for front side driver and passenger and rear passenger impacts.
The trunk’s not half of what it used to be
There are two areas the CNG version compromises the long-range driving comfort and its capabilities compared to the gasoline version. To accommodate the CNG tank, the trunk has been reduced to being able to carry two small suitcases and, because of the tank, the rear seats do not fold flat nor is there a pass through for long items.
The look of the Civic CNG is contemporary and holds its own within the compact car category. Up front there is an attractive black honeycomb grill, lower air dam with a stylishly placed chrome accent piece with wrap-around clear lens headlights and cornering lights. In back the rear bumper has an upswept design with a low access for the trunk opening.
The Fueling Process
Your Honda dealer will provide a list of local CNG stations but you will be best served by going to websites such as these:
Once at the station, which will almost always be a 24/7 unmanned operation, you will swipe a major credit card and then, if it is your first time fueling, watch a short instructional video on the pump. The video will give you a three-number code and then explains how to attach the hose end to the fitting on the car and the sequence to start fueling. It is a very simple process with a full tank taking only minutes to fill. After doing it once you will be a seasoned pro.
A note about CNG fueling stations. Many of them will be located in an industrial setting and will not be freeway close. They can be buried amongst storage yards and transportation centers where you will be pulling-up alongside city buses and trash trucks. Until more CNG vehicles are offered by manufacturers the fueling locations will be more for local traffic and not road warriors traveling the freeways.
A final fueling note: compressed natural gas is more sensitive to temperatures than the gasoline or diesel we’re all used to. Experienced CNG users will tell you the fillups you get on a cool morning compared to a hot afternoon can vary significantly with the cooler temperatures resulting in a more complete fill. Similarly, fast-fill facilities that can refuel a CNG car in roughly the same time as a gas or diesel one, tend to provide a less complete fill than slow-fill operations.
Pricing & Warranties
The 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas NV I was driving was fully optioned with a MSRP of $28,755, which included a $790 Destination Charge.
For those in California, the Civic CNG automatically qualifies for the coveted HOV sticker which allows driving in the Carpool lane even with just the driver. If you haven’t heard the stories, people buy the Civic CNG just for this benefit.
The 2013 Civic CNG NV warranties include:
Done under pressure & looking like the competition
• 3 Year/36,000 miles: New-Vehicle
• 5 Year/60,000 miles: Powertrain
• 3 Year/36,000 miles: Honda Genuine Accessories
• 1 Year: Replacement Honda Genuine Parts
• 3 Year/36,000 miles: Honda Genuine Remanufactured Parts
• 5-Year/Unlimited mile: Corrosion
Observations: 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas
The Honda Civic has been part of the United States driving scene since 1973 with more than 8.8 million sold; the natural gas version joined the fray in 1998. Honda owners are famously loyal to the brand with many of them thinking owning anything other than a Honda to be unthinkable. If you are in the market for a Civic, there are several models to chose from in a fairly broad price range. Here is a quick look at three base Civic models:
Civic LX lists at $18,165 and gets 28/36/31 (City/Freeway/Combined mpg)
Civic Hybrid lists at $24,360 and gets 44/44/44
Civic CNG lists at $26,465 and gets 27/38/31
Since you can get a gasoline-powered Civic that gets comparable fuel economy for $8,000 less than the CNG version and the Hybrid for $2,000 less that gets considerably better fuel economy, why would you consider the Civic CNG?
Two big reasons: The cost of CNG is 30 – 40 percent less than unleaded gasoline, making your cost per mile driven very low. And if you live in California, the car gets you into the carpool lane with a single driver, which is no small thing in the Golden State!
So where do you fit in as a future Civic CNG owner? Since the Civic CNG has a range of under 200 miles and has limited storage space, this car should be high on your shopping list if the majority of your driving is the in-town or freeway commuting type. The result is a car that will work well for you.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
The Future of CNG Vehicles (By Michael Coates)
With natural gas pump prices cheap and everyone from T. Boone Pickens to President Obama talking up the use of American energy, you might think that CNG-powered passenger cars would be a hot topic among automakers. After all, it’s not exotic technology; many car companies have natural gas models marketed around the world. But it’s not happening in the U.S. for now and lacking any major government push (such as the current one behind electric and plug-in vehicles), it appears they will continue to be a small niche. It is unlikely, even if other automakers market models to compete with the Civic, that this segment will achieve numbers that would warrant much attention. The Civic, after all these years on the market sells only a couple thousand natural gas versions with a good number of those going to government fleets.
The number of CNG offerings for fleets have increased extensively in recent years as government incentives (for vehicle purchase and infrastructure development) and low fuel prices have pushed fleets to consider
The badge of access
natural gas pickups and vans. These work for the same reason many alternatives to gasoline or diesel do – the duty cycle or daily drive of the vehicle fits the limited fueling infrastructure and needs of the owner.
One arena where natural appears to be making some inroads is in medium- and heavy-duty trucks – the large trucks you see hauling loads in town and out on the highway. In recent years natural gas engines have increased in size and horsepower and have become a true alternative to the traditional diesel engine. But even with exponential growth, natural gas trucks still only comprise a few percentage points of the total new truck market in these sectors. All of the major truck makers offer natural gas-powered models and some specific applications, such as refuse trucks, are racking up some impressive sales numbers.
One issue that is just beginning to play out could spell the future – positively or negatively – for natural gas, and that is the ultimate environmental tally on fracking. As noted above, the technique of hydraulic fracturing has helped produce the abundant and cheap domestic natural gas. However, several environmental groups have started to raise alarms about the global warming gases emitted as part of the fracking process and have questioned the overall benefit of using natural gas in vehicles (using it to create electricity or heat homes lends itself to a different environmental conclusion). Recent government and academic studies have questioned the environmental and health impacts of fracking and found that it may be best to proceed cautiously.
The Civic CNG’s closest rivals are the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the Toyota Prius c and the Chevrolet Cruze Eco.
Words & Photos By John Faulkner
Posted March 1, 2014
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Alternative Powerplants – Diesel and Electric Muscle In On Awards
In the old days, say five years ago, the eight editors at Ward’s Auto World Magazine, a trade magazine covering the auto industry, had easy choices—four, six or eight. Those were the variations of gasoline engines offered by major manufacturers and subject to the magazine’s annual “10 Best” competition.
The competition, which is celebrating its 20th year, is well-respected in the industry. Engineers covet the recognition and winners get to add one more accolade to their resumes. Winning companies advertise their triumph in magazine and television ads. And with the winners we have had the opportunity to drive, we concur with Ward’s choices. The criteria are fairly strict. Contestants are evaluated over a two-month period on:
- Observed Fuel Economy
- Relative Competitiveness
- Noise, Vibration & Harshness
- In addition, the engines must be found in cars costing less than $60,000, eliminating exotic engines
But something has changed at the end of the past decade. As engines have become more sophisticated on the path to meet both consumer expectations and government regulations, they have also become more diverse. Gasoline engines added direct injection, turbocharging and supercharging. Diesel powerplants were added to the mix. Hybrid powertrains, employing both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, joined the fray.
An Electric Contender
Finally, stand-alone electric motors emerged as contenders. The selections for the Top 10 Engines of 2014 represent one of the most diverse groups the magazine has ever presented. Three diesel engines and an electric motor have joined six gasoline internal combustion engines.
But even those gas engines are far from what was the norm only a few years ago. One of the gas-powered finalized was the 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine found in the Ford Fiesta. Configurations from that 3-cylinder to the new Corvette Stingray V8 and even including an electric motor took home the trophies this year. The six-cylinder engines were probably the most diverse, coming as V6s, inline 6s and even a horizontally-opposed flat 6 and featuring both gas and diesel fuel.
Compact but full of features
What stands out this year is the prominence of the alternatives to gas engines. Only six diesel engines were picked to compete in the program (of a total of 44), but three were named finalists. The three were the European-sourced 2.0-liter Chevy Cruze diesel, the Italian 3.0-liter V6 diesel from Chrysler that will be found in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 and the all-new BMW inline 6 that shows up in the 535d.
Similarly, with the electric motors (technically not even engines), not many were evaluated. but one made it to the Top 10 – the 83 kW motor that powers the Fiat 500e electric car. It became only the second EV motor to win the award. Evaluators praised it as a “little guided missile” and felt it emulated the expected performance of an internal combustion engine better than any electric motor they have ever tested.
Fuel Efficiency Standouts
The fuel efficiency of all 10 of the engines is pretty spectacular – even the Corvette V8 delivers 29 mpg on the highway. One interesting side note of this test underscores the international nature of the modern auto
2013 Fiat 500e
industry. While the nameplates for the engine manufacturers looks like a cross-section of European, American and Japanese companies, the region of assembly for the engines plays out like this: 6 from Europe, 2 from the U.S. and 2 from Mexico.
Wherever they come from, this Top 10 list is a good entree to finding some of the best cars on the market when it comes to efficiency. The engine’s a great place to start when evaluating a car, particularly if you’re focused on efficiency. Here they are, in alphabetical order:
- Audi 3.0-liter TFSI DHC V6 (26 MPG Highway-gas)
- BMW 3.0-liter DOHC I6 (38 MPG Highway-diesel)
- Chrysler 3.0-liter DOHC V6 (28 MPG Highway in Ram 1500-diesel)
- Fiat 58 kW Electric (108 MPGe Highway-electric)
- Ford 1.0-liter I3 (45 MPG Highway-gas)
- General Motors 2.0-liter DOHC I4 (46 MPG Highway-diesel)
- General Motors 6.2-liter OHV V8 (29 MPG Highway-gas)
- Honda 3.5-liter SOHC V-6 (34 MPG Highway-gas)
- Porsche 2.7-liter DOHC H6 (30 MPG Highway-gas)
- Volkswagen 1.8-liter TSI DOHC I4 (36 MPG Highway-gas)
Photos by by Michael Coates and John Faulkner
Posted Feb. 6, 2014