27 Brands and 52 Cars at MPG Track Day
Motor Press Guild (MPG) is the Southern California trade association for automotive journalists. MPG’s goal of bringing together writers with automotive industry representatives is best demonstrated by its annual Track Day at Willow Springs Raceway. For those of you that have never been to Willow Springs, it is guaranteed you are familiar with this track as it has appeared in hundreds of commercials. Recognizable by its twisting track with extreme elevation changes and barren landscape, Willow Springs offers a challenging test for journalists and racers alike.
Motor Press Guild hits the track at Willow Springs
In early November, journalists headed 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles to strap on a helmet and get behind the wheel of some pretty cool cars. After a safety talk, warnings and driving rules, off we went in a very orderly and polite manner to get in as many cars as we could in a seven-hour timeframe.
My first drive was the 2017 Subaru BRZ Series Yellow. This limited-edition version is designed for track use with improved performance and handling and includes a Track Mode setting. In other words, it’s ideal for a few laps on a racetrack. A quick summary is the car was an absolute blast to drive and continues the good reputation Subaru has for designing fun sports cars.
I then got into these 2017 cars that all begged to be driven fast around the track.
- Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
- BMW X3 M40i
- Dodge Durango SRT
- Fiat 124 Abarth
- Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
- VW Jetta GLI
On To the Off-Road
The auto manufacturers also brought a few SUVs and trucks for off-road driving. The off-road course is intense, with a near-sheer drop off the mountain surrounding Willow Springs Raceway. There were several to choose from, and I opted for the Land Rover Discovery turbocharged V6 diesel. You want rock climbing in luxury? Look no further!
The off-road course offers some challenges
The permanent 4WD utilizes Land Rover’s All-Terrain Progress Control technology. When engaged, the air suspension lifts for an additional 2.95-inches of ground clearance, and the speed can be set for as slow as 1.2 mph for a safe and confident feeling using the Hill Descent Control. I say safe and confident because the rutted, scree we were descending, in a near straight down pitch, required this fantastic technology to get to the bottom of the hill without scratching the roof.
Next up was a visit to Willow Springs second and smaller track, the Streets Of Willow, where three cars were staged with factory, professional drivers that would provide white-knuckle hot laps.
Did someone say fast cars? And faster drivers
I had the opportunity to ride (maybe hang on is a better description!) with Patrick Long in the Porsche Panamera Executive AWD, Joel Miller in the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Grand Touring and Adam Seaman thrashing a BMW M3. If you ever get the opportunity to have a professional driver, especially one from a factory race team, take you around a track in a high-performance car, don’t make the mistake of saying “no.” It is a blast!
The AWD Porsche Panamera Executive and the RWD BMW M3 were far more powerful cars than the RWD Mazda MX-5 Miata RF. So, while the rear end was sliding on the Porsche and BMW, the Mazda was controlled and smooth through the corners, and tracked like a MX-5 Miata is known to track.
It was fascinating to watch how each driver/car approached the corners differently, before all hitting the apex in the same place. As an automotive journalist, experiences with people that really really know how to handle a car are invaluable for my reviews.
The Real Test–Country Roads
To slow things down a bit as the day was coming to a close, I drove a few cars on the country roads surrounding Willow Springs Raceway.
- Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti
- Mini Countryman SE PHEV
- Nissan 370Z Heritage Edition
- Volvo V90
- VW Atlas
After all the excitement of driving on the tracks and off-road, it may seem a let-down to drive on regular roads, but this though could not be further from the truth. Even on a short drive, journalists can get a quick feel for a car they will later request for a longer-term loan.
We were glad to get a preview of the plug-in Mini
Clean Fleet Report tests cars from seven to ten days before we write a ‘Road Test’ review. This is the best way we know to give you, our readers, the best evaluation of a car so you can add it to your shopping consideration list. Therefore, full reviews on many of the listed cars will be posted on Clean Fleet Report in the coming months.
The auto manufacturers work hard to develop good relationships and communication with journalists. They know that without honest and objective reviews, getting out the word, to you the consumer, would be difficult at best. Clean Fleet Report thanks all the participating auto manufacturers that were part of the Motor Press Guild’s Willow Springs Track Day.
Drops Out of Le Mans’ Top Tier Program
In a not totally unexpected move, Porsche said it is exiting the FIA World Endurance Championship (WFC), which includes the storied 24 Hours of Le Mans race, at the end of this year, and will compete in the all-electric FIA Formula E championship starting in season six (2019/20). The announcement came just five days after Mercedes-Benz announced it was leaving DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) racing, where it competes mainly on European road courses against its German luxury car rivals. Mercedes will also join Formula E in 2019.
Porsche looks to electric car racing to build the breed
Audi, which, like Porsche, is part of the Volkswagen Group, announced last October that it was quitting the WEC and Le Mans to shift resources to Formula E. Other manufacturers already involved in the electric series, whose third season ended this weekend in Montreal, Canada, include German rivals BMW as well as Renault, Jaguar, Citroen and India’s Mahindra.
The announcements by Porsche and Mercedes reflect the growing promotional importance of Formula E to automakers and for their future electric cars. Porsche’s first production electric model will be based on the Mission E concept car shown in 2015, but what Porsche learns from its factory Formula E team will likely influence all of its future electric cars.
Development & Racing
Like almost all of the other road car manufacturers who have entered the Formula E championship, Porsche will enter the pure electric race series with the interest of furthering its electric car development.
“Entering Formula E and achieving success in this category are the logical outcomes of our Mission E. The growing freedom for in-house technology developments makes Formula E attractive to us,” said Michael Steiner, board member for R&D at Porsche.
At the moment, the arrival of Porsche and Mercedes in the series for season six, will take to 12 the number of Formula E teams, but that could increase. Both Ferrari and Volvo have shown interest in the electric race series. And some of the smaller companies may not have the financial resources to continue.
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The Wheels You Need with the Fuel Economy You Crave
So the scientists announced this last week (ed note: we originally wrote this three years ago–and updated it since–but the climate change news has not gotten any brighter in the intervening years) that the world has hit another milestone. The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has hit a concentration not seen for millions of years. While many in the environmental community might see this as the point at which personal transportation should be curtailed–starting with SUVs or Crossovers–it is clear the automotive market is not going to make such a quick shift.
Sport utility vehicles and crossovers (crossovers being sport utility vehicles based on a car rather than truck chassis) are more popular than ever in 2017, even as the general trend toward higher MPG vehicles moves forward. The reason is simple: they are functional. One trip to Costco is enough to convince many families that a Prius won’t cut it. Regular trips up to the mountains in the winter to ski could similarly motivate a car buyer to look for an all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicle rather than the front-wheel drive found on most high-mileage hybrids. Cars don’t always cut it.
Winging it…on electricity
All of which leaves the environmentally conscious consumer with some tough choices. If your lifestyle points you toward an SUV or crossover, you still want to do what you can to minimize your contribution to further CO2 in the atmosphere. The first electric SUV has appeared (after one short-lived version, the RAV4 EV was on the market for a brief time), but the Tesla Model X is out of most buyers’ price range. Plug-in hybrids are just hitting the market this year and more are promised, but again most are luxury first and SUV second. A few hybrid and clean diesel models are out there, so the key is to check out the most fuel efficient models that fit your needs. Since one of those needs with this class of vehicles usually entails a good amount of distance travel, we’re use the highway fuel economy as the benchmark for our Top 10 list.
While cars, especially smaller ones, appear to be able to top the 40 mpg mark without much difficulty and are pushing even higher with plug-in models, AWD and 4WD models, with extra hardware and usually a larger size, have historically found 30 mpg on the highway a tough mark. No more. We’ve got an EV and several plug-ins that boast sophisticated technology that offers welcome progress on the MPG front. The downside is all this new hardware comes at a serious premium. But not far down the list are gasoline-powered models delivering mid-30s fuel economy.
The numbers are based on the federal fuel economy tests, so of course your mileage will vary. We’ve updated this list and pruned out some of the two-wheel-drive interlopers. We expect this list to keep growing, offering mpg-conscious car buyers even more options.
The Top 10 SUVs/Crossovers
1. 95 MPGe – Tesla Model X EV – So how does almost 100 mpg sound for an SUV? Is that worth $70 or $80,000? Tesla’s foray into the SUV space is an all-wheel-drive, all-electric crossover with seating for seven adults and their luggage. It is based off of Tesla’s Model S sedan (which it now outsells) and features two electric motors (of varying sizes depending on the model) and a variety battery pack sizes and performance levels. Oh, and it also has gull-wing (falcon in Tesla parlance) doors. And loads of tech features, including fairly sophisticated self-driving capability. The car will deliver about 250 miles of range in the high-end model; 220 in the “entry-level” model. When we did a brief test drive, we were impressed. The Toyota RAV4 EV was the first SUV with a plug, but in two iterations it only had a brief run and totaled about 3,000 vehicles. Tesla passed that mark in its first year on the market and continues crank them out of its Fremont plant.
Tesla Model X
2. 56 MPGe BMW X5 xDrive40e PHEV – BMW took its most popular SUV and added a plug. It seems simple, but the process entailed added technology. Thankfully, BMW has not subtracted any of the positive attributes of its all-wheel-drive SUV. Forget to plug in and you’re back to mid-20s fuel economy. It has 14 miles of all-electric range augmented by more than 300 horsepower of gasoline-fueled power, which is helpful if you’ve carrying a full three rows of passengers. We have a review of this model.
3. 53 MPGe – Volvo XC90 AWD PHEV – The first plug-in Volvo has arrived. We saw it some time ago and are pleased that it has been delivered intact with great fuel economy along with all of the usual Volvo safety equipment and great wagon space. Without plugging in the fuel economy drops to the mid-20s. It’s all-electric range is about 14 miles. A week in the wagon reinforced out initial impression.
4. 50 MPGe – Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e – The latest addition to the plug-in SUV crowd comes from Mercedes-Benz. This five-passenger SUV can shut down its 400+ horsepower V-6 biturbo engine and move on electric power to maximize fuel economy. Its default mode is a hybrid drive that will shift from gas to electric power.
5. 47 MPGe – Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid PHEV – To offset some performance models with less-than-stellar fuel economy, Porsche is leading the way by offering plug-in versions that promise enhanced MPG. The company’s SUV adds an electric motor than can give 16 miles of EV range. On gas alone the car is in the low 20s MPG.
2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid
6. Tie 34 MPG – Nissan Rogue Hybrid/Toyota RAV4 Hybrid – In case there was any question about the competitive nature of the automotive market, these two models should settle the debate. Locked into a battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of the hot compact class of crossover, both companies have added hybrid systems to their hot-selling small SUVs. Its working as both effortlessly deliver stellar fuel economy a the no-fuss hybrid system that makes most of the decisions for the driver. The market loves them, too, (in hybrid and non-hybrid mode) as in early 2017 both models are among the top-selling models in the U.S. We tested both here, here and here.
8. Tie 33 MPG – Lexus NX 300h – A new entry takes a top spot as Toyota fields a hybrid version of the RAV4 with a Lexus badge. The fuel economy numbers are for city driving. As is typical of hybrids, it gives you more MPG around town than out on the highway (31 highway and 33 combined). These numbers are for the two-wheel-drive version; moving all four wheels knocks off one or two MPG. We tested it when it first came out and found it a competent machine.
Lexus NX 300h
8. Tie 33 MPG – Honda CR-V – Honda’s best-selling crossover tops 30 MPG with all-wheel-drive on board. We’ve driven this compact utility several times and find it a real winner in its class, coming in only a shade below hybridized versions of its competition. Since it isn’t a hybrid or plug-in hybrid, it also has an edge in affortability.
8. Tie 33 MPG – Jaguar F-Pace – It’s highly unusual for a Jaguar to show up on the best-MPG list, but the F-Pace is something a little different. Jaguar added an efficient clean diesel engine to bump its fuel economy into the range of usually more efficient but smaller crossovers. We’ve experienced the engine in a sedan and believe it should deliver some solid performance for this new entry.
8. Tie 33 MPG – Subaru XV Crosstrek – Subaru continues to test the market with vehicles that depart from its typical cars. The Crosstrek has a 2-liter version of the traditional (for Subaru) horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine producing 148 horsepower when paired with the CVT automatic. It bumps up the MPG of the popular Crosstrek.
Just missing the Top 10 mpg mark are a half-dozen models
Not that long ago 30 mpg for an all-wheel-drive vehicles was unheard of. As you can see above, it is quickly becoming the ticket of entry in this class of vehicles. The variety of models is astounding and the range of features runs the gamut from affordable small crossovers to SUVs capable of carrying more than a family of four and taking the group well off the highway.
We used the federal fuel economy numbers from the EPA at to rank these models. Lurking just below the Top 10 (which of course is actually 11 models) are a variety of vary capable cars, all of which come in 4WD with a variety of engine options. Ones to check out are the Mazda CX-3, Lexus RX 450h Hybrid, Honda HR-V, Nissan Murano Hybrid, Buick Encore, Subaru Forester, Mercedes-Benz GLA250, Infiniti QX30, Subaru Outback, Audi Q5 Hybrid, Chevrolet Trax, BMW X1 xDrive, Jeep Renegade and Toyota Highlander Hybrid for some other 30+ MPG cars. The variety has never been greater.
And coming soon:
The onslaught of new models focused on fuel efficiency will continue as automakers strive to reach fuel economy and greenhouse gas targets set by governments around the world. Models announced, but not yet introduced include plug-in versions of several more BMW and Mercedes SUVs. We’ve also been waiting for the U.S. introduction of the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid, which is already on the market in Japan and Europe. It’s expected to have 20-25 miles of all-electric range and could turn in mpge (mileage factoring in the electric range) well above 50.
Other similar stories you might enjoy:
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Road Test: 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e
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Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid
Road Test: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Road Test: 2015 Lexus NX 300h
Road Test: 2016 Honda CR-V
Road Test: 2013 Subaru Crosstrek
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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