• Infiniti,Q50,Hybrid,technology

My 10 Best Clean Cars in Monterey

Picking Through Some of the Best 2014 High-Mileage Offerings.

Infiniti,Q50,Hybrid,technology

Infiniti-Surprising in all the right ways

Once a year, the members of Western Automotive Journalists gather to spend a couple days driving the latest cars from automakers. Time is split between street driving and some time on the track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. This year I was limited in the time I could spend so I powered through as many of the high-mileage cars as I could on the ride-and-drive day. Here’s my Top 10 from a day of driving on the roads of Monterey, which ended up being more of a wish-list for cars I plan to revisit during the year and dive into in more detail. Of course, keep in mind this is a self-selected group. The automakers didn’t bring everything they produce and some cars such as pure electrics were left off because they couldn’t endure a day-long drive. In addition, because I only had a day, some on my list really didn’t get a drive. But it’s a diverse and robust list with something for just about everyone.

Top 10 from 2014 WAJ Media Day

1.  Infiniti Q50s Hybrid – This was a surprise–a really great surprise. I drove it and was impressed. Then did a little homework and was even more impressed. This midsize sedan had great road feel, power and responsiveness along with great fuel economy (31 MPG combined; 29/36). Then I found out it is the first production steer-by-wire system, meaning the steering wheel has no direct connection to the suspension. Somehow, Nissan has sorted out how to give superlative road feedback through a system that approximates it as well as any direct system.  Then the car layers on a raft of other technologies, such as predictive forward collision warning and automatic braking, blind spot warning This is a car to watch, a brilliant combination of technology and raw performance mitigated with efficiency as good as anything else out there.

2.  BMW 328d xDrive Sport Wagon – Why doesn’t America like wagons? Yes, your driving position is less advantageous than that of a CUV (crossover utility vehicle), but there is no sacrifice in utility and you’re driving

BMW,328d,clean diesel, wagon

Not the typical family wagon-BMW 328d

something that looks and performs like a car. A very efficient car, in this BMW’s case. BMW has gotten smart and dropped in a 2-liter diesel into the 3-Series. The result is a 35 MPG combined (31/43 City/Highway) car that delivers outstanding power and fuel economy. It’s a little pricey (starting at $42,950) but delivers on all fronts.

3.  Audi A3 sedan – I had two chances to drive this at length earlier in the month and will be writing up a full report soon, but the balance in this entry-level Audi was reinforced in my test drive here. It definitely kicks in a level of luxury that distinguishes it from other entries in the segment. In Quattro  trim with the 2-liter gas engine it offers 27 MPG combined (24/33 City/Highway in Quattro trim; you only lose 1 mpg in the city in front-wheel-drive mode with a smaller engine). The turbo-charged engine and precise suspension is a delight to drive, but we are holding out for the TDI (diesel) and etron (plug-in hybrid) models due later.

4.  Mitsubishi Mirage ES  – Here was another surprise. Billing itself as the cheapest car on the market (or the cheapest car with the best fuel economy–the marketing message is not entirely clear), the Mirage may have lowered my expectations to a sufficient level that mediocre performance would seem like a positive.  The Mirage starts under $13,000

Mitsubishi,Mirage,economy car, MPG

No Mirage, just basic transportation

with a manual transmission and under $14,000 with the CVT (continuously variable transmission) that I drove and claims up to 44 MPG (with the CVT, manual transmission delivers 34/42 City/Highway). I have no doubt that it could deliver those fuel economy numbers and provide comfortable transportation around town. However, its 1.2-liter 3-cylinder engine was buzzy at best. The car does offer quite a few features as options for an entry-level car, but still does several things to remind you that it is, after all, an entry-level car.

5.  BMW 535d xDrive – Another barn-burner from the BMW diesel stable, this one with a 3-liter turbocharged 6-cylinder engine and 8-speed automatic. This model will deliver 37 MPG on the highway, 26 around town and a combined fuel economy of 30 mpg. It also included all-wheel drive and a variety of technology. It’s probably the best combination of true luxury and fuel efficiency out there.

6.  Chrysler 200 – The surprises just kept coming as I moved from car to car. Driving Chrysler’s (or more correctly Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s) latest salvo in the midsize car wars was a revelation. Power and handling was better than the last Toyota Camry I was in. Styling is good and as its marketing manager said, “we poured everything we had into this car,” including a chassis borrowed from Alfa Romeo (and shared with the Dodge Dart) and a 9-speed transmission. If they can get the attention of buyers in this very competitive segment, they might be able to make some headway. With the 4-cylinder Multi-Air engine the car will turn in up to 36 MPG on the highway (23 in the city and 28 combined), which puts it right near the top of the class in this group, slightly better than the Camry and Hyundai Sonata and just behind the Nissan Altima.

Chrysler,200,sedan,AWD,fuel economy

Ready to battle the midsize giants-Chrysler’s 200

The next four were on my list but I ran out of time. They all have a heritage that we here at Clean Fleet Report recognize as worthy of consideration so they will definitely be on the list of cars we’ll be looking to test drive this year.

7.  Lexus CT 200h hybrid – Combining hybrid fuel economy and sporty performance is not an easy task, but the CT 200h has that as its goal. Just refreshed last year (when I last drove it), it has a great reputation for fuel economy (43 City/40 Highway/42 Combined) and more style and handling than its Prius cousin.

8.  Subaru XV Crosstrek hybrid ­– We’ve looked at the non-hybrid version of this Subaru and liked it a lot. So what’s not to like even more about 29 MPG around town to go along with all-wheel drive and plenty of storage room. although the fuel economy on the highway is the same as the non-hybrid version.

9.  Honda Accord Hybrid Clean Fleet Report has tested this one and found it one of the more pleasurable and efficient cars out there, but I haven’t personally had enough time behind the wheel. I definitely look forward to catching up with the most efficient non-plug-in midsize car at some point during the year.

10.  Cadillac ELR – This one comes with a question mark, which is why I want to spend some time with it. While the mechanicals of its range-extended electric car owe a lot to the Chevy Volt, GM has taken pains to make sure this upscale model is worthy of the Cadillac crest. I suspect its owners, like those with Volts and other plug-ins, will be able to easily boost the 82 MPGe over the century mark.

Summary I have to admit I did not spend all of my time in vehicles that fit the Clean Fleet Report profile of environmentally friendly, high-mileage vehicles. While it was tempting to take a run with one of the Mercedes AMG cars or the Dodge Viper TA or the new Corvette, I only had one lapse in my short day of driving – the Chevy SS sedan. While this V8-powered rear drive car is not aimed at those looking for the best fuel economy, it surprised me when I checked the instant read-out – much of my drive the car turned in fuel economy in the 30 mpg range when I kept off the gas. The Australian-built car was very responsive and the smoothest of all those I drove all day, but the surprise was its apparent ability to handily built its 17 mpg combined EPA numbers. Back to the appropriate CFR cars, I also should add there were more models I was not able to get to, but hope to tackle during the coming year. To me two interesting models that are taking the gasoline internal combustion engine to new heights are Ford with its EcoBoost and Mazda with its SkyActiv technology. I look forward to trying out both of these engine and system approaches in a variety of cars and trucks. I also missed the Toyota Avalon Hybrid and the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel. And then there’s the Soul EV that’s due to show up in California and Oregon toward the end of the year. It looks like 2014 is going to be a fun year.

Words and Photos By Michael Coates

Posted April 21, 2014

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About Author: Michael Coates

is editor and publisher at Clean Fleet Report and an internationally recognized expert in the field of automotive environmental issues. He has been an automotive editor and writer for more than three decades. His media experience includes Petersen Publishing (now part of The Enthusiast Network), Green Car Journal, trade magazines, newspaper and television news reporting. He currently serves on the Board of the Western Automotive Journalists.

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