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
GM’s Best Car for the Money;
All Electric Locally But With Range To Go Beyond.
Chevy Volt – Bargain Charger
We all know about hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars, but please don’t lump them together. Doing so muddies the picture of the benefits and limitations of each technology and may result in some consumers giving up and retreating to the tried-and-true gasoline-only engine. Nothing wrong with gasoline-powered cars, but times are changing and the alternatives are becoming more prevalent and should be on your shopping list. Case in point is the 2014 Chevrolet Volt which uses a plug-in battery and gasoline engine technology to deliver a smooth, quiet and comfortable driving experience that will most likely get you to work and back without buying any gasoline, but then can take you across the USA – all while delivering in excess of 40 mpg.
Drivetrain – Volt-Smooth Operator
The front wheel drive 2014 Volt is powered by a 111 kW electric motor backed up with a 1.4L gasoline engine. The package delivers 98 MPGe in EPA testing. The “e” is for “equivalent” which is an EPA blended mileage using gasoline and electric power. The gasoline engine alone is rated at 37 MPG combined highway and city. In my 1,160 miles, driven mostly on highways (remember, the EPA figures are based on 55 percent city driving and 45
Volt supplies power and efficiency
percent highway), I got a very impressive 40.7 MPG. The 149 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque get the Volt to 60 mph in about 9 seconds, which is perfectly acceptable when driving Southern California freeways. The Volt is a series hybrid, or in Chevrolet terms – a Range Extender. This is where the electric motor and the gasoline engine deliver all the power through the electric motor, whether directly from the battery or the 54 kW generator driven by the gasoline engine. The gasoline engine kicks in when the battery is out of charge or when the driver has selected the “Hold Drive” mode, which forces the car to not use any of the battery charge. The transition between battery-only power and when the gasoline engine turns on is quiet and seamless. Other than the center stack gauge showing the energy flow, you will not sense the change. As with the electric-only Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Spark we tested recently, the Volt’s 16.5 kWh Lithium-ion battery is charged by plugging-in, augmented by the Regenerative Charging System that converts kinetic energy into electricity when applying the brakes or coasting. The Volt has four drive modes, one of which, “Mountain,” recharges the battery at a faster rate when coasting downhill. The primary method to replenish the batteries is by plugging in: 110V 9 hours: discharged to a full charge 240V 4 hours: discharged to a full charge The Volt does not come with a 480V Quick Charge option.
Driving Experience: On The Road
The five-door hatchback Volt weighs in at a seemingly hefty 3,800 lbs, but since electric motors provide instant and maximum torque, the Volt does not suffer any performance issues. The car does not feel heavy since the weight is well distributed due to the under-seat battery placement, resulting in a low center of gravity. The electrically assisted power steering, four wheel ABS and disc brakes, GM’s StabiliTrak electronic control system and front MacPherson Struts deliver a smooth highway ride. While not a sports sedan, takes corners without body roll and with confidence. There is very little wind noise and no transmission shifts, so the ride is smooth and quiet.
Driving Experience: Interior
My wife has the honor of riding in all the cars I review. After about 10 minutes on the freeway of our 1,300 mile trip, she looked at me and said, “This is really a nice car.” I could not agree more. The 2014 Chevrolet Volt just may be GM’s best car for the money when you consider price, options and fuel economy. A marketing observation: most cars have badges on the trunk designating option levels, but GM has stayed away from this with the Volt…and I think they are smart in doing so. The Volt should be recognized for its clean lines and technology and not rely on a confusing array of letters and numbers to make it seem worthy of your attention.
Inside the Volt
The Volt incorporates a twin cockpit design with the center stack separating the bucket seats. The car is comfortable to drive with everything nicely laid out and within easy reach. The front seats have good bolstering, but
Inside – a touch of luxury
do not come with lumbar adjustment, which would be nice for a car of this price and quality. It also does not have power adjustable front seats, which is something I did not find objectionable, as I am sure the cost-to-value for Chevrolet took into consideration the weight of the seat motors in an already somewhat heavy car.
Volts shows you everything that’s going on
The rear split seats, separated by an armrest with cup holders, are comfortable for two adults. The Volt should not be considered for four passengers on long driving trips as there is limited luggage storage in the hatch. With the rear 40/40 seats folded flat, there is ample luggage space for two adults to take long trips, and that would include golf bags. The base model Volt is well-equipped for convenience and safety including remote keyless entry with remote start, power door locks, TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), eight airbags, three years of OnStar, three months of XM Radio, a USB port, Bluetooth, a 7-inch color screen and heated and power adjustable outside mirrors. Also available are a premium trim package and two safety package options, as well as upgrades for paint, audio system with navigation, polished aluminum wheels and the Bose 6-speaker system. The Volt I was driving came with all packages and options, which included driver and front passenger heated seats, leather-appointed seats, rear vision camera, 7-inch color touch screen, rear and front parking assist, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and the aforementioned paint, wheel, audio and speaker options. A note regarding OnStar: a simple push of a button connects you with a friendly GM 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 2014 Volt base price is $34,185, including the $810 destination charge. That represents a $5,000 drop from last year’s price, putting the car almost into the realm of an average-priced car. The fully optioned Volt I was driving is priced at $40,540 including the destination charge. GM has also been offering special lease deals on the car as well. The Volt qualifies for federal and state tax credits and incentives that could reduce the final
The plug is the key to maximum efficiency
cost more than $10,000. Clean Fleet Report recommends contacting your CPA before considering a Volt purchase so you are completely clear on the tax credits and incentives and how they will impact your individual situation. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best. Also worth noting is that in California the Volt qualifies for the coveted car pool stickers allowing the driver, without passenger, to use the HOV lane. This is no small thing when trying to get anywhere on a freeway in the Golden State. In other states there is a patchwork of financial and other incentives worth checking out. The 2014 Volt comes with these warranties: Basic: 3 years/36,000 miles (Bumper-to-Bumper) Volt Moves Away Smoothly Scheduled Maintenance: 2 years/24,000 miles Battery: 8 years/100,000 miles Drivetrain: 5 years/100,000 miles Roadside Assistance: 5 years/100,000 miles
Observations: 2014 Chevrolet Volt
The Volt should be on your consideration list when shopping sedans or hatchbacks, especially if you value comfort, fuel economy and a superior ride experience. The Volt’s build quality should have it competing against cars a class up and more expensive, and certainly ones that do not get as good of fuel economy. Give it a look next time you are checking-out cars and I am sure you will be impressed. Enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
Related Stories You Might Enjoy:
Top 10 Fuel Economy Cars for 2014
Car & Technology of the Future
GM & Toyota Go Opposite Directions Pricing Their Plug-ins
Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Save Gas, Save the Planet: John Addison’s book about hybrid and electric cars, pathways to low carbon driving, and the future of sustainable transportation. © 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.
Millions of hybrids are now on the road, saving fuel and making driving more pleasant. Most cars are only powered by an internal combustion engine fueled with gasoline. Electric vehicles are powered by electric motors that are often three times more efficient than a gasoline engine. A hybrid vehicle uses both an electric motor, or motors, and a smaller engine that is typically fueled with gasoline. Rather than being a pure electric vehicle, it is a hybrid-electric vehicle. That is why these vehicles are called “hybrid.” Because the engine is smaller and assisted by the electric motor, less fuel is used.
Hybrids also store braking energy, downhill energy, and engine-generated energy in advanced batteries and then supply the energy to an efficient electric motor(s). In effect, the engine is sometimes used as a generator. Capturing braking energy in batteries and then reusing the energy for power is called regenerative braking.
Since 2002, my wife Marci and I have enjoyed driving a hybrid Toyota Prius. In real driving it has averaged 42 miles per gallon, including times when we drove on highways with bicycles on the roof and through snow with skis on the roof. Some drivers of new hybrids achieve over 50 mpg.
The hybrid provides a quiet ride. In stop-and-go traffic the car only uses the electric motor and automatically shuts off the engine. When I accelerate past a slow speed, the engine is immediately engaged and away we go. The vehicle smoothly accelerates when entering highways. We can easily travel with up to four people and a full trunk. Hill climbing is a breeze.
Although Toyota leads in hybrid sales, a number of automakers have introduced appealing hybrids. My mother is delighted with her Honda Civic Hybrid. The new Honda Insight four-door sedan with an Ecological Drive Assist System may deliver better mileage, a lower price, and a smaller carbon footprint than the 2008 Prius. Toyota will respond to the competition, creating better choices for all of us.
Hybrid technology is improving the fuel economy of some SUVs. The Ford Escape Hybrid, for example, offers over 30 miles per gallon.