First Drive: 2017 Mazda CX-5

First Drive: 2017 Mazda CX-5

Mazda Keeps Upping the Ante in its Most Popular Car

2017 Mazda CX-5, kodo design

Kodo design makes its point

Mazda is a little auto company, but it’s got an oversize presence among those who value driving for pleasure and appreciate engineering that backs up that pleasure. We had a chance to do a brief drive of revamped 2017 Mazda CX-5 at the Western Automotive Journalists’ 2017 Media Days program (among the several cars we experienced there).

As Mazda’s best-selling model, the CX-5 crossover has the burden of leadership. For Mazda, that means taking its Kodo design themes to new places and incorporating 250 changes for the 2017 revamp. The exterior changes are not readily apparent unless you put a 2016 model next to the new 2017, but interior upgrades and some of the under-the-skin technology mark a real change.

Brief Drive Confirms–It’s All Good

We only had a brief drive in the new CX-5, but we threw it at a 1200-foot hill known as Laureles Grade, which also included plenty of turns up and down, so we had a chance to fully experience the slightly improved horsepower of the 2.5-liter Skyactiv engine and the new G-Vectoring Control system. The 2017 Mazda CX-5 delivers what we’ve come to expect from Mazdas—good road feel, responsive steering and enough power throughout the band to give you confidence to respond to the challenge of a classic Monterey Peninsula road.

2017 Mazda CX-5

Ready for the road

Along with all of these great performance characteristics, Mazda hasn’t forgotten about fuel economy. Even with all-wheel drive, the CX-5 can produce 30 mpg+ on the highway. In our short drive we bested the 26 mpg combined rating from the EPA. The official numbers on our model were 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway/26 combined. The front-wheel drive model bumps the city number by one mpg and the highway number by two.

Mazda’s move to push the CX-5 into a more upscale mode was evident. We drove the topline Grand Touring model, which featured all the bells and whistles that are becoming more common throughout the modern automotive world. The other two levels are the base Sport and the midlevel Touring, both of which are available as either front- or all-wheel drive. Prices start at $24,045 while our fully-optioned Grand Touring topped out at $34,380 including the $940 delivery, processing and handling fee.

Three Trim Levels Available

2017 Mazda CX-5,engine

The Skyactiv engine gives good torque

All three levels get the same engine and transmission—the 2.5-liter four-cylinder Skyactiv-G that features 187 horsepower and 185 pounds-feet of torque mated to the Skyactiv six-speed automatic transmission. The result is a nice, flat torque curve that gives you responsive power throughout the drive cycle.

Similarly, you’re don’t have to upgrade to get a better suspension package—standard throughout is an independent front MacPherson strut and independent rear multi-link suspension, augmented by stabilizer bars at both ends. Also standard are power-assisted ventilated front disc and solid rear disc brakes. Add to that an anti-lock brake system with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, dynamic stability control, a traction control system, hill launch assist and the new G-Vectoring Control, part of the Skyactiv vehicle dynamics system.

The Inside Story

In the interior, the 2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring provides plenty of room for five and reasonable storage behind the rear seat for gear. Leather adorns much of the interior at this level and everything’s powered and heated. As an example of the trim options—the Sport’s four-speaker sound system adds two more speakers at the Touring level and tops out with a Bose-branded 10-speaker one in the Grand Touring model. Of course, as is the case in most cars, a full contingent of connected infotainment features are included. Mazda continues to please us by including buttons and knobs to control the key elements and also steering-wheel mounted controls on all trim levels.

2017 Mazda CX-5,interior

Mazda moves upscale but keeps the important stuff–like knobs

One feature that is optional at all levels (and was included on our tester) was the Active Driving Display, a head up display system. It was fine, except that it disappeared if you were wearing polarized sunglasses. Radar cruise control, a feature we really like, is also included on the Grand Touring (optional at the Touring level but not available on the Sport).

We’ve like the Mazda CX-5 in the past and think it matches up well with its compact crossover competition. This year Mazda has thrown down the gauntlet to those competitors to step up their style game and sharpen their driving skills. We suspect we’ll have even more kind things to say when we have the change to spend a little more time in the 2017 Mazda CX-5.

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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. We also feature those 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.

First Drive: 2016 Nissan Altima SR/SL

First Drive: 2016 Nissan Altima SR/SL

Nissan’s Biggest Seller Gets Frisky

Story by John Faulkner and Michael Coates

The midsize sedan market used to be the hot spot in the car market, only to be eclipsed by compact SUV/CUVs. It’s still on about two million persons shopping lists, led by names like Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Close on the heels of those two perennials is the Nissan Altima, which is Nissan’s best-selling vehicle.

It was due for a refresh and upgrade to keep up with the competition (or as the automotive industry calls it, a mid-cycle makeover), so the designers took extreme care not to mess too much with

2016, Nissan,Altima,2.5L,handling,sporty

A move to the sporty side

an already good thing. What did they come up with for the 2016 Altima? How about a car that offers sleek styling, class-leading (non-hybrid) fuel economy, luxury class-like quietness, a beefier suspension, a smooth engine and slick-shifting (more on that later) transmission all wrapped into a five-passenger sedan.

Driving Experience: On the Road

The front-wheel drive 2016 Nissan Altima is powered by either a 2.5-liter, DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine producing 182 hp or a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 270 hp. Both engines are mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which with a few other tricks has helped Nissan to push highway fuel economy in the Altima to 39 mpg (with the four-cylinder engine). Clean Fleet Report had the opportunity to spend the day with the SR and SL versions of the  2016 Altima 2.5L at a Nissan press event, where we drove each car through Malibu along Pacific Coast Highway and then snaked into the Santa Monica Mountains.

2016 Nissan,Altima 2.5L,sport,styling

An up-front style tweak

We gave high marks in our earlier review of the 2014 Altima for its handling, acceleration and fuel economy, which we put in our “Almost 40 MPG Club” as it was EPA rated at 38 mpg on the highway. Well, Nissan has nudged the Altima even closer to that magic number by increasing the highway mileage to 39 mpg which is best-in-class on the highway in the midsize segment. This may not seem like a big improvement, but keep in mind that this is a 3,250-lb., five-passenger sedan where squeezing out an extra mpg is commendable (especially while holding horsepower and maybe even adding a few pounds). Nissan achieved the increase by reducing the coefficient of drag to .26 CD from .29 CD through their “Energetic Flow” design language that is also seen on the 2016 Murano SUV and 2016 Maxima. The one mile per gallon increase came through the addition of active grille shutters, changes to the engine compression ratio and reduced engine friction for a 10-percent improvement in overall aerodynamics.

Clean Fleet Report will have a more extensive Road Test Review of the 2016 Altima, but our initial impressions between the two tested cars were the handling upgrades for the sportier Altima SR made it better for feeling road input while the SL version had a more traditional ride found in cars in the midsize segment, but still better than some of the competition. The SR benefited from better handling characteristics through 18-inch wheels and unique tires versus 17-inch wheels for the SL, ZF Sachs shock absorbers, larger stabilizer bars and a change in the front and rear damping force that has reduced body roll by more than 20-percent compared to the SL model.

Driving Experience: Exterior and Interior

The front and rear clips of the Nissan Altima are redesigned for the 2016 model year, with a new V-motion grille, “boomerang” headlights, daytime running lights and taillights and a reshaped hood, front and rear fenders, fascias and stylish sculpted front and rear bumpers along with a reshaped rear deck lid.

The Altima interior continues to try to balance a conservative, non-flashy approach with a techie upscale look and feel, using soft materials and surfaces presented with an attention to detail. New

2016, Nissan Altima,2.5L,interior

More info, more tech, more touchable

for 2016 is the information-centric center stack area with a horizontal console and a design theme of the “Gliding Wing” that runs from door-to-door across the dash. It all fits and works very nicely.

Nissan has spent some time on noise-reduction, looking to add that “luxury” touch to its mainstream sedan. New acoustic glass and denser sound-deadening material do the job and have created a quiet interior, unless the buzzing sound of the four-cylinder engine straining under hard acceleration intrudes.

Nissan’s front driver and passenger “zero gravity seats” – that were designed using seating and posture research conducted by NASA – stay with the 2016 Altima and are available in cloth in the SR and leather in the SL. The rear bench seat, that splits 60/40, accommodates three adults. For longer trips or commutes, two adults would be a better arrangement to guarantee a comfortable ride and take advantage of the fold down center armrest, 12V power outlet, rear heating and cooling vents and multiple cup holders.

2016 Nissan,Altima 2.5L,ADAS,technology

The stepping stones to autonomous driving

The infotainment system has a near endless list of features that are almost becoming expected on a well-equipped car, with the showcase being their  NissanConnect with Mobile Apps system. Offering a wide choice of convenience features that include being able to, with the punch of a button and a voice command, connect driver and passenger to a live operator for directions and other assistance; think of it as Nissan’s version of GM’s Onstar. One short-fall is the lack of Apple Car Play or Android Auto, something the midsize competitors have jumped on quickly. Nissan says “they’re coming.”

Safety and Convenience

The 2016 Altima shows the continuing down-market movement of advanced safety technologies, the building blocks of the autonomous car that Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn says is coming in 2020. The Altima has an extensive list of safety and convenience features, which Nissan calls its “Safety Shield” technologies, that have been joined in 2016 by predictive forward collision warning (PFCW), which they claim is a segment exclusive, which will warn the driver of risks not only from the car in front of you, but two cars ahead. The PFCW is joining with forward emergency braking (FEB), which will apply the brakes to avoid or mitigate a collision; intelligent cruise control (ICC), which also can stop a vehicle in traffic; and rear cross traffic alert (RCTA), an assistant for blind spots while backing.

Pricing and Warranties

Base pricing for the seven 2016 Nissan Altima models:

2.5              $22,500

2.5 S           $22,900

2.5 SR         $24,470

2016,Nissan Altima,2.5L,CVT,style,handling

Nissan fields a car that likes to be on the road

2.5 SV         $25,460

2.5 SL         $28,570

3.5 SR         $27,390

3.5 SL         $32,090

All prices are MSRP and do not include the $825 Destination and Handling Charge.

The 2016 Nissan Altima comes with these warranties:

  • Basic – Three-year/36,000-mile
  • Powertrain – Five-year/60,000-mile
  • Corrosion – Five-year/Unlimited-mileage

Observations: 2016 Nissan Altima 2.5 SR and 2.5 SL

With Altima representing one-fourth of their sales, Nissan has a lot riding on keeping the 2016 Altima ahead of its competitors in a very crowded segment of solid midsize sedans. Our initial take in this First Drive is that the 2016 Altima is much improved over the 2015 version, in many ways that will be noticeable to current owners and those driving Nissan’s automotive competitors.

2016 Nissan,Altima,2.5L,performance,handling

Looking for drivers

We suggest driving the SR version on some twisty roads just to get the sense for what Nissan has accomplished in taking the Altima closer to being a true driver’s car. One thing they added as an accommodation to enthusiast drivers is shift points. That might make sense until you realize the car’s transmission is a CVT that does not have shift points. The artificial “shifts” were added for a more traditional feel to acceleration. For what it’s worth, it bothers me less than adding paddle shifters to a transmission that has no gears to shift. Left to its own devices, the CVT works well and rarely do you feel the lack of “gears.” The better fuel economy is the benefit of all this advanced technology. Almost 40 mpg fuel economy, solid styling and road-gripping handling in an almost entry-level-priced midsize sedan means Nissan has thrown down a gauntlet that says it is after more of this big market segment.

Whatever you buy, 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, which does not 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, during which 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 or are among the top mpg vehicles on the market. 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.

 

First Drive: 2015 Jeep Renegade

First Drive: 2015 Jeep Renegade

The New Little Jeep

Let’s tackle the big thing first—is the 2015 Jeep Renegade really a Jeep? It’s got the seven-slot grille and little Jeep “Easter eggs” all over the place and even carries a “Trail-rated” badge on some

2015,Jeep Renegade,Trailhawk,4x4, 4WD,fuel economy

A real Jeep–whatever that means

models. But it’s made in Italy by Fiat and comes in a two-wheel drive model. We’ve been down this road before, going back as far as the Willys-Overland Jeepster and continuing through square-headlight Wrangers and the current Compass/Patriot models, so let’s set it aside and get to what this brand-new subcompact crossover offers. If Jeep wants to call it a Jeep, then it’s a Jeep.

This is a fun, capable little machine. I had a chance to drive it off-road (the Trail-rated Trailhawk version, which definitely deserves its Jeep label). It not only felt competent, it felt solid and ready to tackle everything the course (laid out by the Land Rover folks, so it was not a cakewalk) could throw its way. The six-speed manual might have been more fun and given even more control, but the nine-speed automatic has a manual-shifting mode that worked quite well. The short wheelbase and overhangs make the Renegade a natural out on the trail.

Jeep,Jeepster,2WD,4WD

Jeeps been down this road before

In spite of its Italian manufacturing origins, the Jeep designers clearly had their input into the vehicle, resulting in those short overhangs, a simple interior that harkens back to the CJ hose-it-out aesthetic. They sweated the little details and it shows in things like the “X” accents borrowed from the Jerry cans (spare gas cans) carried by Jeeps in days of yore. Inside, the easy-to-manipulate dials for HVAC and media control are a nod to practicality that is the hallmark of the Jeep brand.

Tech is available

Since this is 2015 (and not 1945) the Jeep also has a healthy dose of technology things like Rear Cross Path Detection; ParkView Rear Back Up Camera (automatic when in reverse); forward

2015 Jeep,Renegade, Trailhawk, interior

Some bells & whistles are standard; some optional

collision warning-plus (when approaching too rapidly, it will adjust speed); and blind sport monitoring. Power windows, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and hill-start assist (which I found very handy on the off-road course) are standard. Since it’s a hatchback with fold-down rear seats (and front passenger seat as well), the utility in sport utility comes through loud and clear.

Of course much of the tech is optional since at its core the Renegade is a do-it-yourself project. With a variety of cool colors (like the vibrant orange on our tester), a variety of interior materials and a long list of options, you can pretty much dial-up the Jeep that you want.

2015,Jeep Renegade,Trailhawk,pricing,mpg

DIY motif in play

So you start with the basic package—a five-passenger (or four-passenger for normal American males), four-door hatchback crossover. The front-wheel drive version starts at $17,995; four-wheel drive adds $2,000 to the sticker. All models have a $995 destination charge. Those base Sport models come with 16-inch steel wheels, a 1.4L MultiAir four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission along with a basic AM/FM/MP3 audio system. The turbocharged and intercooled engine delivers 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, which can be very helpful off-road.

Moving up through the ranks are the Latitude model at $21,295 ($23,295 for 4WD); Limited at $24,795 ($26,795 for 4WD) and the 4WD-only Trailhawk at $25,995. The Limited bumps up to 18-inch aluminum wheels and the bigger 2.4L Tigershark engine (which offers 180 horsepower) and a nine-speed automatic transmission along with upgraded interior tech like the Uconnect system.

 

Fuel economy is standard

With most of the engine, transmission and 2WD/4WD choices, the 2015 Jeep Renegade can deliver up to 31 mpg highway, about what you might expect from this size vehicle. Of course, when the

2015 Jeep,Renegade Trailhawk,4x4,4WD,fuel economy

The gateway Jeep has arrived

add in the off-road capability of the Selec-Terrain traction control and its dial-in-your terrain challenge system, those fuel economy numbers look even more special. It’s not often you can squeeze out good fuel efficiency and this kind of go-anywhere capability. The Renegade also carries a 2,000-pound towing capacity.

Bottom line with the 2015 Jeep Renegade—it’s a great size both on and off-road, has got a load of fun tech and genuine ability packed into a compact frame. If you really plan to explore off-road, the Trailhawk version is worth a look. If you’ll stick mostly to pavement, check out some of the lower-level models. We predict Jeep is going to have another hit on its hands.

Some “Easter eggs” we found:

2015,Jeep Renegade,easter eggs

“Easter eggs” are everywhere (speakers)

2015 Jeep,Renegade,easter eggs,

Right below the vents

 

 

 

 

 

2015 ,Jeep,Renegade,easter eggs,

In the headlights

2015 Jeep,Renegade Trailhawk,easter eggs,design

Taillight 2fer–easter egg & jerry can reference

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Drive: 2016 Honda HR-V

First Drive: 2016 Honda HR-V

The Most Popular Compact Crossover Gets a Baby Brother

Gas may be relatively cheap in mid-2015, but many of the polls show car buyers still remember the recent days when gasoline looked like it would top $5/gallon and keep on climbing. Meanwhile,

2016 Honda, HR-V,subcompact crossover

Charging into a new segment

the automakers have vehicles coming into the market that were planned during those days of streaking gas prices. The result is a pleasant convergence of smart-size, 30+ mpg fuel-efficient vehicles like the 2016 Honda HR-V, which Clean Fleet Report recently had the opportunity to drive for a short test.

The HR-V is one of a cluster of new vehicles that have entered the market blazed by the Nissan Juke. Joining the HR-V this year are the Chevy Trax, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and Mazda CX-3. We’ve got First Drives or Road Tests on the first two coming up soon. Combined with the bigger brothers—the compact crossovers—this category of vehicle has been ramping up sales and are set to become the most popular market segment, passing up midsize sedans.

Right Sizing

In the business world that word—right-sizing—had all kinds of negative connections. It was a code word for pruning older employees and marginal assets from a corporation. I’d like to reclaim the word and apply it to the 2016 Honda HR-V. It’s got all the attributes of a vehicle that’s designed around people rather than just for people. That starts with a small footprint, based on the Honda Fit subcompact, but also includes an interior with cargo capacity on par with its compact big brothers.

2016 Honda, HR-V crossover

Honda gets small

In addition, though this looks like an entry-level vehicle based on its size, the list of standard features and optional equipment is substantial.  The list includes

2106 Honda, HR-V, back seat

A multi-functional back seat

safety equipment like Vehicle Stability Assist with Traction Control, an anti-lock braking system, electronic brake distribution, Brake Assist, a tire pressure monitoring system, daytime running lights and a multi-angle rearview camera. It goes on with a half-dozen airbags, halogen headlights, LED brake lights and steering wheel-mounted multimedia controls on all models. What is controlled varies depending on the model with the base model featuring a 160-watt AM/FM/CD with four speakers and a five-inch color display while the upscale models have a 180-watt system with six speakers and a seven-inch display with high-resolution WVGA.

Space Truck

The 2016 Honda HR-V has a big hook for this part of the market—it’s small on the outside but big on the inside. It’s interior cargo space is almost as big as its “big brother” CR-V at almost 60 cubic feet with the back seat down. That’s only a bit more than 10 cubic feet less than the CR-V, still enough for a good Costco run.

Honda’s hope is that this becomes the new gateway vehicle for the brand, augmenting or replacing the Fit and Civic sedans by offering more functionality at a price in the same ballpark. The

2016, Honda HR-V,crossover, cargo space

Big space in a small vehicle

Honda representative at a recent Western Automotive Journalists event said the company hopes to sell 70,000 units the first year with half of those purchases representing new customers to the brand.

Power Specs

Honda has always been a believer in “less is more,” a philosophy they’ve embodied in using their strong engineering foundation to crank out four-cylinder engines that not only were more fuel efficient than their six-cylinder options, but rivaled them in power. Honda have executives have long-argued that engines like Detroit’s old favorite V-8s were dinosaurs from another era and the HR-V reinforces that stance. It’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder SOHC iVTEC engine delivers 141 horsepower near its 6700 rpm redline while promising 35 mpg highway in the two-wheel-drive version with the CVT (continuously variable transmission) transmission. The least fuel economy the HR-V will give you is 32 mpg highway in the all-wheel-drive model with the CVT. Finally, kudos to Honda for continuing to offer a six-speed manual option in the two-wheel-drive models.

Marketing

The 2016 Honda HR-V is going to be marketed aggressively by Honda, starting under $20,000 ($19,115 to be exact) and topping out in the mid-$20,000s with all of the bells and whistles Honda

2016,Honda, HR-V, interior

More than you would expect in an entry-level SUV

has to offer, including a navigation system and all of the technology Honda can load into this subcompact crossover.

Based on the initial market response we’ve seen (6,000 sales in the first month), Honda appears to have hit on a winning formula.

First Impressions

We only had a brief time to check out the HR-V on some local roads in Monterey, CA, but that gave us a chance to push the car up some substantial hills and around some challenging corners. We did notice that the Eco-mode did change the throttle response noticeably. That might not bother you in around-town driving, but on a critical passing situation or attempting a hill climb, it can hamper your safety or sense of control in the situation.

2016, Honda HR-V,

Expected to charge to the front of the pack

Our most significant impression for the 2016 Honda HR-V is that of space an functionality. While it’s got a functional back seat, when you need hauling capacity that seat disappears and a spacious cargo hauling capacity is revealed.

We liked the steering wheel controls, which are standard, since they are well-placed and simple to use. They’re a great bonus for a vehicle in this class.

No one is going to mistake the HR-V as the replacement for the long-lamented loss of the S2000, even with its paddle shifters. It’s a crossover designed to deliver enough power to tackle the challenges of suburban living while delivering superior fuel economy. Like most Hondas we’ve driven in recent years, the road feel was superior to some of its competitors in this class. There was no sloppiness in the steering and every maneuver in our short drive found the HR-V delivering as-expected precise inputs to the driver. The electric power-assisting rack-and-pinion steering and MacPherson strut front and torsion-bar rear suspension, mated to 17-inch wheels, never gave a hint of instability or lack of control.

Even with the proliferation of models in the new sub-compact crossover class, the completion has to be concerned when Honda jumps into the fray. With the best-seller in the slightly larger segment (CR-V) already solidly ensconced in the showroom, the HR-V should give Honda a potent weapon in what is shaping up as the hot portion of the new car market.

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First Drive: 2015 Kia Soul EV

First Drive: 2015 Kia Soul EV

Good, Clean Fun

Kia dipped its toe into the green car world a few years ago with the Optima Hybrid and now digs into the Crayon box for even a deeper shade of green with the all-new 2015 Soul EV. This fun, zip-around-town car is a kick to drive and, of course, you won’t spend a dime on gas and oil.

Drivetrain

The front-wheel drive 2015 Soul EV is powered by an 81kW electric motor good for 109 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque with an EPA range estimate of 93 miles. This range is better than EV competitors Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Spark EV and Fiat 500e. Only the Tesla Model S, which costs three times as much as the Soul EV, can go further on a charge.

2015,Kia,Soul EV,test drive

Ready to quietly roll

Available in two models, Base and Plus, the Soul EV gets you to 60 mph in about 12 seconds with an electronically limited top speed of 90 mph.

The Soul EV is currently (October 2014) only available in California so be warned there is little dealer support outside of the Golden State. The Soul, which also comes in a gasoline version, is a small car, sometimes also classified as a city, urban or sub-compact. Similar diminutive cars are the Scion iQ, Nissan Versa, Toyota Prius c and Mitsubishi Mirage, to name a few.

A Lithium-Ion battery (Li-Ion for short) packs the power for the Soul EV with charging accomplished through a regenerative braking system and two plug-in ports offering three charging levels (based on a fully discharged battery):

• 120V (Level 1)    24 hours               To a full charge

• 240V (Level 2)    5 hours                 To a full charge

• 480V (Level 3)    33 minutes            To an 80% charge

The regenerative braking system converts braking or coasting into electricity, charging the battery. The charge and mileage range is shown by dashboard gauges. It is quite common to start an in-town journey of stop-and-go driving, to return with more or only a few miles depleted from the beginning range. However, where the regenerative braking system does not offer any help in charging the battery or adding to the driving range is on the freeway. Cruising along at 55 – 65mph over an extended period will result in the battery charge and driving range depleting right before your eyes.

Initially, at least 17 Kia dealers in California will have Level 2 chargers available for free quick charge, which brings the total number of public Level 2 chargers in California to 215 (as of November 2014).

A safety net in California, if you are a AAA member, is a limited area program where you can get an emergency charge from one of their service trucks. Just like if you ran out of gasoline and AAA dumped a five-gallon can in your tank,

2015, Kia, Soul EV,test drive

Road worthy–for a distance

select AAA trucks are equipped with a 480V generator that will give you about 20 miles of driving range to get you to a dealer or charge station. But do not rely on AAA to get you to your destination, just plan better.

Driving Experience: On the Road

The Soul EV weighs in at 3,289 lbs. which is evenly distributed as the Li-On batteries are located low (under the seats). This balance helps with good handling, even though the 16-inch aluminum wheels and super low rolling resistance tires aren’t the best combination for spirited corning. To help get around the corners you have an electric motor-driven steering system coupled to front independent MacPherson struts and coil springs, along with a rear torsion beam suspension. Overall, the car felt sprightly and was fun to drive.

Stopping comes from front and rear active hydraulic boost-assisted, vented disc brakes, with ABS, which are part of Kia’s regenerative braking system. The stops were straight and consistent and, as can be common with regenerative braking systems, the brakes were not touchy nor did they produce an unpleasant whine.

Driving Experience: Exterior

The Soul EV has the same body design as the gasoline-powered version with a few tweaks differentiating the two. Changes include two-toned paint schemes with the roof carrying a different color than the body, unique wheel covers, “eco

2015,Kia,Soul EV, badge

Badged with pride

electric” fender badging, LED head and taillights and a different front fascia that includes the charge port door centered in the grill. Overall, the Soul EV has an identifiable shape that is unique among hatchbacks.

Driving Experience: Interior

The Soul EV is very nicely equipped as a base model with the Plus version Clean Fleet Report drove having just the right finishing touches.

Standard equipment includes a six-speaker SiriusXM/FM/CD/AMHD with MP3 playback capability, two-toned cloth seats (the Plus has leather) with accent piping and stitching, voice-command navigation with an 8-inch screen, rear

2015,Kia,Soul,EV, interior

Very nice, as Borat would say

back-up camera, Bluetooth for hands-free telephone operation and music streaming, power windows, outside mirrors and driver seat, heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel with cruise control and audio/telephone controls, push button start/stop, automatic climate control, tilt and telescopic steering column and Kia’s UVO infotainment system.

2015,Kia,Soul EV,rear seat

Room for more than hamsters

Our Plus model had two-toned heated and ventilated leather seats for the driver and passenger with the driver’s being power six-way adjustable. The rear outboard seats are heated and split 60/40. Cup holders abound and soft-touch dash and upper door panels had a good feel and look.

The cockpit design is driver friendly with the gauges in easy sight and the controls within easy reach; all are easy to understand. A unique feature aiming to reduce energy use is the button that isolates the ventilation only to the driver, therefore eliminating running the climate system for the full interior when it is not needed.

Kia has equipped the 2015 Soul EV with active and passive safety features including six air bags, TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), Hill Start Assist Control (HAC), Pedestrian Warning System, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) and the aforementioned four-wheel disc with ABS and push button start/stop.

Pricing

Depending on your taxable income, you could potentially reduce your final purchase cost by as much as $10,000 through Federal and California State programs. It is recommended contacting your CPA before considering a Soul EV 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.

2015 Soul EV pricing before any Federal or State tax programs, but including the Destination Charge of $800 is:

Base           $34,500

Plus             $36,500

In California the Soul EV automatically qualifies for the coveted HOV sticker, which allows driving in the Carpool lane even with only the driver. If you haven’t heard the stories, people buy electric vehicles just for this benefit. Also expect some competitive lease deals to help move these cars.

The 2015 Soul EV comes with these warranties:

• 10 year/100,000 mile   Powertrain

• 5 year/60,000 mile       Basic

• 10 year/100,000 mile   Electric Vehicle System

• 5 year/60,000 mile       Roadside Assistance

• 3 year/36,000 mile       Non-impact paint repairs (fading, cracking, chipping or flaking)

• 5 year/100,000 miles   Anti-Perforation

Observations: 2015 Kia Soul EV

The biggest electric vehicle purchase considerations are how far you drive daily and if, when you get to your destination, you can recharge the battery. It doesn’t sound like much, but these factors are no small thing when owning a fully electric car.

Before starting the Soul EV, you need to do some simple math. Your days of leaving the house with a 1/4 tank of gas knowing you can fill up at dozens of stations in mere minutes are over. If you run out of electricity in the Soul EV you will

2015, Kia, Soul EV,electric car

Blue is the new green

need to find a charging station and wait until the car has sufficient battery charge to get you to your destination. So, is this enough to scare you away from considering owning a Soul EV? Let’s talk about the car and what to consider before pushing the Start button, then we will come back to if a Soul EV should be in your garage.

If you are not familiar with electric vehicle technology, let’s lay down some basics:

• There is no engine (gasoline, diesel, natural gas) so there are no    tune-ups, filters and belts to change, oil to check or add, etc.

• There are no transmission fluids or filters to service

• You will never, ever buy any type of petroleum product to make    your car go down the street

The gasoline use part of an EV purchase is significant, especially if you are currently spending $200 – $500 monthly on gasoline for your work commute and around town driving. If 90-percent of your driving is within 60 miles of your house, a Soul EV could be right for you as you would never need to buy gasoline again. Ever. But what about a longer trip where the Soul EV range can’t get you there and back? In this case, the Soul EV is probably your second car or you would rent a car for the day, weekend or week.

Before visiting your local Kia dealer, call ahead and make an appointment with one of their certified EV sales representatives. Do not speak with anyone at any dealership, regardless of brand, who has not gone through the factory training and education programs of what makes an electric vehicle unique, which includes its benefits and limitations. Once at the dealership, make sure to take a lengthy test drive, which replicates your longest and most common trip, as this is the only way to truly see if the 2015 Soul EV is right for your lifestyle.

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

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