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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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 Cadillac CT6 PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid)

Road Test: 2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid)

Cadillac’s Stealth Electrified Full-size Sedan

Waaaay back in 2014 Cadillac offered the short-lived, but very cool looking ELR PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle). Based on the Chevrolet Volt platform and technology, the ELR coupe was ahead of its time for the traditional Cadillac buyer, which was too bad. Fast forward to 2018, the CT6 PHEV is the electrified version of Cadillac’s full-size flagship sedan, delivering the expected Cadillac comfort and luxury, but also quick acceleration and impressive fuel economy.

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

Cadillac’s big move–big car, big MPG

When Clean Fleet Report reviewed the 2014 ELR we noted that Cadillac had created a car unto itself, as there were no other luxury, two-door, plug-in electric hybrids on the market. This time around Cadillac has put its formidable PHEV technology into a full-size sedan, which places it against some of the most recognizable big luxury cars from around the World. The challenge for Cadillac is how to create awareness and interest in an electrified car that happens to be a sedan. With sedan sales in the US declining over the past few years, and SUV and crossover models becoming the vehicles of choice, Cadillac as well as all other auto manufacturers are grappling with how to stabilize or reverse this trend.

Powerplant and Performance

The rear wheel drive 2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine and twin 100-horsepower (hp) electric motors mated to an electric variable transmission (EVT). Total system power numbers are impressive at 335 hp and 432 pounds-feet of torque. Clean Fleet Report was able to get consistent zero-to-60 runs at 5.2 seconds. The twin-motor EVT is a wonderful technology as it provides smooth acceleration and seamless ready-when-needed power at any speed.

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

Smooth power and ride along with a battery boost

The suspension is on the firm side, which is not a bad thing as Cadillacs of years past could get floaty or too soft. The ride, with 18-inch ultra-bright machined aluminum spoked wheels and all-season tires, is oh-so Cadillac smooth, with handling that borders on surprisingly agile. As a full-size sedan, it cannot and should not be compared with midsize sports sedans. Cadillac doesn’t do it, so set your expectations of it being a large sedan that has little body roll or motion, with good feel for the road through the electric-variable steering.

The size and weight of the CT6 PHEV is never a distraction as the car is well-balanced. Cadillac’s iBooster and electronic stability control system, with four-wheel ABS and disc brakes, are parts of the regenerative braking system. Other stopping aides include front pedestrian braking and forward and reverse automatic braking.

How Far and How Efficient

Combined fuel economy for the electric and gasoline propulsion system, which includes being able to drive 31 miles only on electricity, is rated at 62 MPGe. MPGe is a measurement of how far a car can travel electrically on the same amount of energy as is contained in one gallon of gasoline. Once the electric power has been depleted and operating in hybrid mode, the fuel economy is rated at 25 mpg. In 249 miles of 85-percent highway/15-percent city driving, we averaged 41.8 mpg. An impressive number for a car weighing in at 5,511 pounds.

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

The driver can control the battery regen and use

The 18.4 kWh lithium-ion (li-ion) battery is charged by plugging into a 120V (Level 1) or 240V (Level 2) outlet and through regenerative braking. To replenish the li-ion battery’s 31-mile driving range, estimate eight hours for the former and 4.5 hours for the latter. The CT6 PHEV does not come with a 480V (Level 3) option.

The regenerative charging system converts kinetic energy into electric energy when applying the brakes or coasting and stores it in the battery. This process can be viewed on a dash gauge where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and engine. The CT6 PHEV has Regen On Demand technology that is activated by pulling on the paddle shifters located on the backside of the steering wheel. Pulling on the paddle shifters applies the brakes and allows for one-pedal driving. Once you get the hang of it, this will be your go-to method of driving.

It is important to note that fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific, representing the reviewer’s driving experience in our reviewer’s city. If you live in cold weather, high in the mountains or spend time in the city or stuck in rush hour traffic, then your numbers may differ.

The CT6 PHEV has three drive modes—Tour, Sport and Hold. Tour is for everyday driving, Sport advances the throttle and tightens-up the steering, and Hold forces the car to not use any of the battery charge, therefore saving it for around town where it can deliver the most efficient driving. The transition between battery-only power and when the gasoline engine engages is seamless and only minimally noticeable.

Cadillac Style: Exterior

The exterior styling on the 2018 CT6 PHEV is clean and sophisticated. The evolution from the sharp angles of a few years back to a softer look immediately draws attention among large, luxury sedan aficionados. From the front grille with distinctive cross hatching and the proud Cadillac emblem, and the sharp-looking LED head lamps to the LED tail lamps that extend vertically over the fenders, the look is simple and pure Cadillac.

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

Large eco-luxury is here

Cadillac Style: Interior

Cadillac says the CT6 can seat five passengers, which technically is true. But anyone sitting in the center rear seat will be grumbling they pulled the short straw. Let’s just agree that the large, roomy and high-quality interior of the CT6 is better suited for four adults.

The interior materials complement each other with soft and supple leather seats and chrome, wood and carbon fiber trim pieces. About that carbon fiber trim: it really does not match well in the side-by-side placement with the wood trim.

The long list of standard equipment on the 2018 CT6 is what is to be expected on a car of this quality and price. Our CT6 had heated and ventilated driver and passenger seats. Both had 16-way power seats and 4-way power lumbar adjustments. The leather-wrapped, heated steering wheel, with power tilt and telescopic adjustments, made finding a comfortable seating position quite easy.

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

The backseat view will be more common in China

The driver’s seat has a surprise for you if you have not been forewarned: it vibrates as part of the lane departure warning system. If you did not use the turn signal when crossing into an adjoining lane on the highway, the driver’s seat will vibrate to let you know about your lane drift. I found myself changing lanes sans blinker on purpose just for the momentary rush, but after a while it became annoying, but effective, in reminding me to stay in my lane. The true safety impact of this feature is, if the driver is dozing off, the vibration, small as it may be, would wake the driver and hopefully prevent an accident.

The rear leather seats, separated by an armrest with cup holders, are best suited for two adults. On a long driving trip, luggage for four adults might be a stretch for the CT6 PHEV as the battery reduces trunk storage capacity. The power rear sunshade and manual rear side window shades are a nice touch as is heating in the outbound seats. Also worth noting are the 10-inch, pop-up color monitors located in the front seat backs. These come with wireless headphones and remotes.

The CT6 is well-equipped with true convenience features, including a panoramic power sunroof and shade, power rear deck lid, wireless phone charging, remote keyless entry with remote start, power door locks, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, keyless push button on-and-off and three years of OnStar.

A note regarding OnStar: a simple push of a button connects you with a friendly General Motors representative to handle emergencies, directions and general assistance to make your driving experience safer and more enjoyable. This is one area where GM is the industry leader and, after the three-year service plan expires, it is well worth renewing.

The CT6 incorporates an open cockpit design with the center stack separating the front seats. Everything is nicely laid-out and within easy reach. The infotainment system on the CT6 starts with the CUE System, for information and media control, and a 10-inch full-color touchscreen display for the Bose Premium surround sound audio system with 10 speakers. Included are AM/FM HD radio with SiriusXM (90-day trial), Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio with multiple USB ports, 12V charge stations, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

In our opinion, the CT6 PHEV interior is nicer than a Tesla Model S. The CT6 PHEV is luxury, while the Tesla is premium. Go see for yourself.

Safety

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

30+ EV miles per charge, but gas to take you as far as you need to go

The CT6 PHEV comes standard with a tire pressure monitoring system, eight airbags, rear vision camera, surround view camera, forward collision alert and lane departure warning (with the previiously mentioned vibrating driver’s seat), pedestrian safety signal (useful when at a crosswalk and someone walks in front of the car), automatic vehicle hold (nice when stopped on a hill), front and rear park assist, and blind zone alert.

Pricing and Warranties

The 2018 CT6 PHEV comes in one trim level with an MSRP of $75,095, plus the $995 destination charge. The CT6 PHEV qualifies for federal and (many) state tax credits that could reduce the final purchase price. Clean Fleet Report recommends contacting your CPA before considering a CT6 PHEV. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.

Also worth noting is that in California the CT6 PHEV qualifies for the coveted car pool lane stickers allowing solo driving in the HOV lane. This is no small thing when trying to get anywhere on a freeway in the Golden State.

The 2018 CT6 PHEV comes with these warranties:

Bumper-to-Bumper                    Four years/50,000 miles

Scheduled Maintenance             Three years/36,000 miles

Battery                                           Eight years/100,000 miles

Powertrain                                    Six years/70,000 miles

Roadside Assistance                    Six years/70,000 miles

Courtesy Transportation            Six years/70,000 miles   

Observations: 2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV

The badge is discreet

The 2018 Cadillac CT6 PHEV is the real deal for luxury, performance and fuel economy. Plus it stacks-up well with standard features, better fuel economy and lower price in an apple-to-apple competition with BMW, Audi and Jaguar.

Here’s the catch. The CTS PHEV probably won’t be a big seller in the United States, which Cadillac most likely isn’t fretting over. Where big sales numbers for the CTS PHEV are vital, and important, are in China, where strict restrictions on air pollution are being implemented. Built in Shanghai China, the CTS PHEV is a prime candidate for the Asian market, where executive cars that are easy on the environment are popular.

It is a shame that more people may not consider the CTS PHEV over a SUV or crossover. This is a very nice car in many ways and it really needs to be promoted as such.

Clean Fleet Report suggests calling ahead to make an appointment with a Cadillac factory-trained hybrid expert. This is important as sometimes the general sales person can get the hybrid technology story wrong. Take the time to learn about and experience this fine car, and it just may end-up in your garage.

Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!

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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.

News: 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Enters New York—New Looks, More Power

News: 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Enters New York—New Looks, More Power

Compact SUV Styling No Longer Boring

Toyota used the New York Auto show for the world introduction of its best-selling vehicle, the 2019 RAV4 crossover SUV. Hard to believe, the RAV4 became the company’s single best-selling model in the U.S. last year, surging past its long-time champion, the Camry midsize sedan. The automaker delivered more than 400,000 of the now-six-year-old RAV4, and more than 50,000 of those included our favorite, the hybrid model.

Company Listened To Its President

2019 Toyota RAV4

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 announces its arrival in style

One look at the all-new 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid confirms the company took it to heart when president Akio Toyoda gave a mandate against making boring cars. The redesigned compact crossover gets a more domineering stance, standing lower and wider with a longer wheelbase. The scrappy SUV has more-sculpted edges, shorter front and rear overhangs, with a nose that has similarities to the hefty front end of the Toyota Tacoma pickup. It also gets chunky plastic cladding and fender flares. The wheel arches are trapezoidal and angular creases abound.

For 2019, the hybrid edition also gets a new trim, the XSE Hybrid. Following a new trend in styling, the XSE comes with a two-tone paint job featuring black on the top. Setting the stage for XSE Hybrid’s sporty appeal are piano-black accents across the front end, mirror caps, fender arches, and lower rockers. Unique to RAV4 Hybrids, projector-beam LED headlamps flank each side of the grille for a brighter, sharper and ideally angled light source.

The RAV4 Hybrid XSE isn’t just about cosmetic upgrades, it has a sport-tuned suspension.

New Hybrid Powertrain

2019 Toyota RAV4

More aggressive styling, more tech and more details to come

Defying the image of hybrids as mild performers, Toyota says: “The quickest RAV4 is the hybrid.” Replacing the previous hybrid powertrain is the two-motor Toyota Hybrid System II that uses a brand-new electric motor drive, which Toyota claims uses the battery power more effectively. It’s paired with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that’s adapted to run on the ultra-efficient Atkinson cycle. A continuously-variable transmission (CVT) directs power to the wheels.

As before, all 2019 RAV4 Hybrids are all-wheel drive, using what Toyota calls All-Wheel Drive with Intelligence (AWD-i). The system eliminates the driveshaft to the rear wheels and substitutes an electric motor mounted transversely between the rear wheels to provide on-demand traction in back. For 2019, the system increases available rear-wheel torque by 30 percent more than the previous-gen AWD-i. An electronically-controlled, automated system determines how much torque to feed to the rear wheels on the RAV4 Hybrid according to driving conditions.

Modern Interior

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid catches up with competitors inside with a modern-looking interior. The touchscreen can be either seven or eight inches and features Toyota’s EnTune 3.0, which includes Wi-Fi Connect, Amazon Alexa hands-free access, and, at last, Apple CarPlay compatibility. Two USB ports are standard and up to five can be had in total, depending on package options. Qi wireless charging is also available.

2019 Toyota RAV4

A new interior ups the ante for the already popular RAV4

The center console’s volume has been increased for more storage and technology capability, adding side-by-side cupholders (versus tandem in the previous generation) and more space on the open tray for small item storage. Both legroom and shoulder room are improved in the rear seating and 60/40 split-fold rear seats remain standard in the RAV4.

An all-new JBL audio system is available for the 2019 RAV4 Hybrid, adding 11 audio speakers on eight channels with 800 watts of power. Other options available are heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a hands-free tailgate.

Standard is Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 package. It includes a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians, dynamic cruise control, automatic high beams and a system aimed at keeping the car on the road even if it can’t detect lane markings. It also can read some road signs and alert the driver.

Toyota provided no pricing information, fuel economy estimates or specific power output for the 2019 RAV4 Hybrid. We expect that info closer to the on-sale date in early 2019, following the gas-powered RAV4’s availability sometime this winter.

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News: SF Motors Enters Electric Car Market

News: SF Motors Enters Electric Car Market

Chinese-backed Start-up Unveils Crossover EVs; Touts Technology

Silicon Valley witnessed yet another automotive coming out party last week as SF Motors unveiled an upscale crossover electric vehicle and showed off some of the company’s technology. While the car itself may be a bit of a me-too (high-power, connected, autonomous-capable in a conventional SUV coupe-like shape), the back story of the technology this well-funded formerly stealth start-up has developed tells a much more interesting story.

SF Motors

The story underneath

The most intriguing part of the SF Motors is the vertically integrated nature of the company. It showed off a modular home-grown electric motor (in nominal 100, 200 and 400 kW trim), proprietary battery cells and packs, gearboxes and controllers. It also announced an intent, perhaps with a little hubris, to not only put its components in its own cars, but sell them to other automakers.

SF Motors is affiliated with Chongqing Sokon Industry Group, one of many privately held car companies in China. Chongqing Sokon provides financial backing and a plant in China capable of producing 150,000 cars annually. Currently the company produces a variety of models in China.

T0 bolster the company’s move into electric vehicles, SF Motors has set up its headquarters in Santa Clara, California, in Silicon Valley. The company has R&D centers in China, the U.S., Germany and Japan. It acquired the old AM General plant in Indiana as a U.S. production site. The nominal annual production capacity of that plant is 50,000 vehicles. It plans to launch its cars in the U.S. market first and then migrate to China and other markets. 

The First Car

SF Motors showed off two of its expected three models to press and investors last week—the SF5 midsize crossover that it plans to have on the market in 2019 and the full-size SF7 crossover that will follow. Details were sketchy on the cars, which follow the styling trend being set by the BMW X4 and X6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLE SUV coupes.

SF Motors

The SF5 midsize crossover will be SF Motors’ first vehicle

The cars looked good as concept cars usually do (well, maybe Faraday Future’s FF91 is the exception that proves the rule). SF Motors plans to start taking orders for the SF5 later this year. Media reports put its price at about $60,000 while the SF7 may hit $95,000. Of course, getting the 1000-horsepower version that will do 0-60 in under three seconds could be a little more. And that kind of performance may keep you under the 300-mile range the company said the cars will be capable of. 

The specs released last week by Dr. Yifan Tang, SF Motors’ CTO, were that the motors would deliver 5.5 kW and 10 Newton-meters of torque per kilogram of weight, which would put it in the top end of electric motors for that metric, Tang said the battery packs would delivery 280 kWh per kilogram.

Future Tech

Of course, it’s not just about automobiles in Silicon Valley so SF Motors also laid down some markers for its technology. By 2020 they will be introducing “protective autonomy with connectivity,” according to Tang. The company reported it is already testing systems with computer vision, deep neural networks and Lidar.

SF Motors

SF Motors showed its AV tech on a Lincoln

SF Motors will also be building on existing relationships with suppliers, including Bosch, Dürr, Siemens, Samsung SDI, Infineon Technologies, LGC and AFT. The company has also purchased Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard’s battery start-up, and made Eberhard chief innovation officer of SF Motors.  

In its technology display, the company also showed off its 21700 cells for a solid state cylindrical battery. The company also intends to get into the battery recycling business, creating energy storage products that would allow second use in homes and offices for batteries no longer functional for automotive use.

SF Motors

SF Motors is making its own battery cells

It’s an ambitious plan, but SF Motors believes it is well on its way toward becoming a producer of high-end and affordable electric cars and potentially an industry supplier. As is the case with other recent EV introductions, such as Lucid Motors and Faraday Future, the proof will be not only delivering the first or the 100,000th car to paying customers, but doing so at a profit. That’s something first-mover Tesla is still struggling with after 10 years. We’ll be keeping an eye on their progress.

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Driving Range Edges Out the Chevrolet Bolt, Tesla Model 3

When Hyundai took the cover off the Kona Electric at the Geneva Motor Show three weeks ago, it was questionable when, or even if, the electric hatchback would show up in the U.S.  The questions were answered at this week’s New York Auto Show when the Korean automaker presented the U.S. production model of the 2019 Kona Electric with an estimated 250-mile driving range on EPA test cycle.

The version launched for the European market in Geneva includes a model with a smaller battery pack and lower rated range, but the U.S. will get only the model with a higher-capacity battery.

 Range-Topping Electric Powertrain

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

The Kona may offer the most range range for the price

The Kona Electric swaps out the internal combustion engine and all the associated plumbing from the standard Kona and replaces it with a liquid-cooled 64-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and a 201 horsepower permanent-magnet electric motor producing 291 pounds-feet of torque that drive the front wheels.

The powertrain will enable the Kona EV to get an estimated driving range of 250 miles and an estimate of 117 miles-per-gallon equivalent (MPGe), greater than the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S and Model X. The 250-mile range is greater than that of the 238-mile Chevrolet Bolt as well as the 220-mile rated range of the base Tesla Model 3.

Kona EV can be fully charged at Level 2, 240-volt in a little less than 10 hours, and can be fully charged in just 54 minutes using a Level 3 charger. To make things easy, the Kona EV will come with standard DC fast-charging capability.

Looks Like Gas-Powered Kona

Hyundai didn’t make sweeping changes to the look of the standard Kona in its conversion into an electric vehicle. From the front, the closed grille is what most distinguishes the Electric from the rest of the small hatchback’s lineup. The helmet-shaped grille of the standard car gives way to a more aerodynamically efficient design with a light cross-hatch design. The door covering the charging port is also housed in the grille.

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

The interior mimics the gas Kona

The front view is flanked by aero-tuned flared fenders that enhance its road presence. It’s further differentiated by a separated-headlight design signature, with LED daytime running lights above and high-efficiency LED headlights below. Taillights are also unique.

Just as with other Konas, the Electric is being offered in a palette of extroverted colors, and a contrasting black, gray, or white roof is available for models without the sunroof. It doesn’t scream “electric vehicle” like the Toyota Prius, but differs sufficiently from the gas-powered Kona to make it easy to spot on the road.

Like All Hyundais, Lots of Features

The interior hasn’t changed in any discernable way from the gas-powered Kona. That means the Kona Electric’s 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and offers HD and satellite radio as well as BlueLink data connectivity. A step-up system with an 8.0-inch screen adds navigation, traffic data, an eight-speaker Infinity audio system, and the next-generation BlueLink suite of features, which in this case includes some EV-exclusive helpers such as app-based remote charge management and charge scheduling. Other available features include a flip-up head-up display and wireless inductive charging for personal electronics.

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

The Kona will have fast-charging capability standard

A full suite of active and passive safety systems come standard as part of the Hyundai Smart Sense package, including forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, blind-spot warning, and lane-keeping assist.

The Kona Electric will start reaching dealerships in California by the end of the year. Hyundai plans to make it available somewhat later in the other states that adopt California’s ZEV mandate. No word from Hyundai yet on pricing, but we’d expect it to be competitive with other budget-EVs, starting in the mid-30,000-dollar range, before any tax incentives.  

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