Road Test: 2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco

Road Test: 2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco

Hyundai’s Value Midsize Sedan

With consumers attracted to SUVs and crossovers in growing numbers, the family sedan is slowly being surpassed as America’s favorite car of choice. Hyundai is having none of it. It offers the midsize Sonata sedan in seven trim levels (that’s gas only, not counting the more expensive, but also more efficient hybrid and plug-in hybrid models). The 2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco is the smart value choice; it makes a compelling case for why the sedan’s obituary is premature. Clean Fleet Report took a look at the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco, with an eye out for if the word “eco” meant dollar savings or fuel savings. Turns out it is a bit of both.

Drivetrain and Performance

The Sonata Eco is powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, producing 178 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque. For the “eco,” as in “economical” tag to be realized, Hyundai chose to drive the front wheels with a seven-speed EcoShift DCT (dual-clutch) automatic transmission. The engine was smooth and the transmission seamless, both in-town and in freeway driving. There are three driver-selectable drive modes of Eco, Comfort and Sport. These are fairly self-explanatory with Eco producing the best fuel economy, Sport altering the transmission shifts, throttle programming and steering response, and Comfort falling somewhere in between the two.

2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco

An argument to keep the family sedan

EPA fuel economy estimates are 28 city/37 highway/31 combined miles per gallon. In 357 miles of freeway and city driving, we averaged 33.3 mpg, but on a 200-mile open freeway run, using cruise control set to 65 mph, we averaged an impressive 34.6 mpg. This shows that Hyundai had it about right slapping the “eco” badge on this Sonata.

It is important to note that fuel economy reported by Clean Fleet Report is non-scientific and represents the reviewer’s driving experience. 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.

In a few unscientific acceleration runs, the Sonata Eco traveled zero–to 60 in about 8.67 seconds. The time did not vary much leaving the car in automatic or opting for Shiftronic, where you can manually select gears by pushing forward to upshift and backward to downshift. During lane passes at highway speeds and climbing hills, the seven-speed automatic shifted up-and-down seamlessly and precisely.

Driving Experience: On the Road

2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco

Smooth lines; smooth ride

Weighing in at 3,247 lbs., the 2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco performed well in all driving situations, which isn’t always the case when a car is shod with 16-inch tires. The suspension was stiff enough to produce good handling while not sacrificing ride comfort. Handling was aided by stability and traction control systems, resulting in little body roll until pushed past its limits when cornering. Stopping was consistent from the four-wheel disc, ABS system with brake assist.

Driving Experience: Exterior

Redesigned for 2018, Hyundai says the Sonata is “all about making an impact…and to deliver an exciting expressive car.” Coming from Hyundai’s California Design Studio, the Sonata, aiming for an “American aesthetic,” features a clean design that will hold-up well over the years. Beginning with what Hyundai calls their front cascading grille, the projector headlights wrap far back onto the fenders. Except for the shark fin antenna set just above the rear solar control glass window, the line from the front fascia to the rear built-in deck spoiler is unobstructed. There are tasteful chrome accents around the tail lights and the logo badge, and on the single chrome exhaust tip.

Driving Experience: Interior

2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco

A dash that works

Also redesigned for 2018, the Sonata’s interior is an easy place to spend your time. Easy, as in the high mounted touchscreen is easy to read and the wide-spread radio and climate knobs are easy to reach and control. The Eco model has cloth seats with manual adjustments and comes nicely equipped with tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power windows, A/C and a 60/40 split folding rear seat back.

The steering wheel has controls for the cruise control, audio, Bluetooth streaming and hands-free telephone. The 7.0-inch full-color display is home for the AM/FM with MP3, iPod and USB ports, plus Aux-in jacks.

Rear seat head, shoulder and leg room was ample for six-foot passengers, with two being the optimum number of adults for a road trip of any length.

Pricing, Safety and Warranties

The 2018 Hyundai Sonata comes in seven models with three gasoline-only engines. It also comes as a hybrid or a hybrid plug-in. Base prices range from $19,300 to $33,100. Clean Fleet Report’s Sonata Eco, with the optional carpeted floor mats at $125, had a MSRP of $22,775. All prices do not include the $885 freight and handling charge.

Hyundai has equipped the Sonata Eco with active and passive safety features, including nine air bags, driver’s blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert and a rear-view camera. Other features are an energy absorbing steering column, automatic headlights, remote keyless entry, tire pressure monitoring system and a theft-deterrent alarm.

The 2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco has an overall 5-Star rating by the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA), and a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), both of which are their highest rankings for safety.

The Eco comes with these warranties:

  • Powertrain                    10 years/100,000 miles
  • New vehicle                  Five years/60,000 miles
  • Roadside Assistance    Five years/Unlimited miles
  • Anti-Perforation            Seven years/Unlimited miles

Observations: 2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco

2018 Hyundai Sonata Eco

Eco-nomical Hyundai

Hyundai has a lot riding on the success of the Sonata. With so many trim levels and engine options, the company is making a statement in the midsize sedan market. Even with the shift to SUVs, it remains one of the biggest segments. The Sonata should be taken seriously; Clean Fleet Report takes the Sonata seriously, and you should too.

Starting with the price point, the Sonata line-up has a compelling story to tell. When you consider the design, interior roominess, standard equipment and fuel economy, the most you will pay for a 2018 Sonata is somewhere around $33,000, and this is only if you opt for the plug-in hybrid. But for the top of the line gasoline-powered Sonata 2.0T Limited, the price is about $29,700. With the average sales price of a car hovering right around $35,000, driving home in a fully optioned midsize sedan for less than the average is saying something.

How a sedan fits your lifestyle will be the key question. If your driving pattern is around town or freeway commuting, and then the occasional vacation, then the Sonata would work just fine. For a family of four, your needs would easily be met.

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. 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 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE

Road Test: 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE

Great Versatility and Exceptional Fuel Economy

Gee, Toyota, you introduced that little thing you called RAV4 to the U.S. in 1995. It ushered in what we now call a crossover vehicle — the combining of some of the attributes of a sport-utility vehicle with the underpinnings of a passenger car. Of course, we didn’t know then it was a crossover vehicle, so we just called it a “cute ute.” The three-door version was especially cute.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Hybrid MPG and AWD=Sales

Then, four years later you brought us a not so cute, but very fuel efficient, little car called the Prius. It ushered in the gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain that, by the way, confused a lot of folks at first. Of course, people aren’t confused any more. There were more than 30 hybrid models sold in 90 world markets bearing either the Toyota or Lexus names and sales tallied more than eight million globally before you came to your senses and placed a gasoline-electric powertrain in the RAV4 in 2016.

What’s interesting is, none of those more than eight million hybrid vehicles sold had a RAV4 badge. After all, Ford sold an Escape Hybrid crossover along with its Mercury Mariner Hybrid sibling from 2005 to 2011 with some 200,000 finding driveways.

So Toyota, have you ever wondered how many RAV4 Hybrids you might have sold if you brought it out say 10, or even 5 years ago?

Green Car Buyers Love the RAV4 Hybrid

Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve is over. Now in its third year, the RAV4 Hybrid is, gasp, threating to unseat the Prius as Toyota’s best selling hybrid. Through March of this year, the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid trails the number of Prius’s sold by less than 700 units.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

The crossover appeal–open up and fill

For 2018, Toyota ushered in a more affordable trim with the introduction of the RAV4 Hybrid LE. At $28,230, including destination charges, the new Hybrid LE is just $1,325 more than an equivalent gas-powered RAV4 LE. That snuffs the argument that hybrids are priced thousands more than standard vehicles and reduces the time it will take to recoop the higher initial costs through fuel savings..

The balance of the lineup includes the XLE ($30.129), SE ($33,284) and the top end Limited ($35,129). All models come standard with all-wheel drive (AWD).

As for fuel economy, the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid receives an EPA rating of 34 mpg city/ 30 highway/32 combined for all models. That’s nearly 25 percent better than the all-wheel drive gas model’s 26 mpg combined rating. And of course, those EPA numbers earn the RAV4 Hybrid a membership in Clean Fleet Report’s All-Wheel Drive 30 mpg Club.

AAA is forecasting that the national gas price average will be as much as $2.70 per gallon this spring and summer. At that price, it will only take most drivers less than a year to make up the $1,325 difference between the RAV4 Hybrid and the gasoline-only RAV4.

Proven, Familiar Hybrid Drivetrain

The 2018 RAV4 Hybrid uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, a system similar to those in the Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV, Lexus ES 300 sedan and the Lexus NX 300h small luxury crossover. That means a 150-horsepower, 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gas engine is combined with a 141-horsepower small high-torque, permanent-magnet electric motor through the powersplit transaxle. This combination powers the front wheels.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

More model choices–one engine choice

The rear wheels are powered by a 67-horsepower electric motor that has no mechanical connection to the front wheels. This system is called AWD-i. It allows a great degree of flexibility in the front-to-rear power split. As in most such systems, the RAV4 Hybrid drives its front wheels most of the time.

This provides a pretty good jolt of performance with a combined 194 system horsepower and 206 pounds-feet of torque, which is good for a 0-to-60 mph run in 8.1 seconds—about a second quicker than gas-powered RAV4 models. The system varies power between the gas engine and electric motor, or combines both as needed, all seamlessly.

The hybrid all-wheel-drive system also allows greater regenerative braking. The system captures electrical energy through all four wheels rather than just the two driven ones as in most hybrids and recharges the nickel metal-hydride battery pack.

A 2016 Refresh

Accompanying the arrival of the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid was a refresh for the compact crossover, which carries over to 2018. The front is more angular with a redesigned grille, thinner LED headlamps and restyled bumper. New rocker panels sharpened the sides and tie in the front and rear bumpers for a more flowing profile. Available LED taillights add a nice touch to the backside. 

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

A dash you would expect in a Toyota

The RAV4 Hybrid is a visual departure from a crowded highway of look-alike small crossovers. The sheetmetal forming its wide body dips downward at the side windows, giving it a muscular, ready-for-action look. This is strenghtened by an agressively styled grille and front facia, a sloping hood and kicked-up rear quarter panels. Overall, the RAV4 Hybrid is very much an SUV-looking vehicle.

Inside changes for 2018 were minimal: revised cupholders allow for mugs with larger handles, lower center console LED lights, a new sunglass holder and a 12-volt outlet for rear passengers. A hybrid specific display within the 4.2-inch TFT gauge-cluster screen shows fuel consumption and the status of the hybrid powertrain.

The cabin is typical Toyota, with comfortable contoured front seats, well-located controls and gauges and a three-spoke sterring wheel. All-around visibility is quite good, thanks to the sloping hood, tall driving position and generously sized windows. A low step-in height makes it easy to get in and out. In real-world usage, the RAV4 Hybrid is a bit tighter in the back seat than several of its competitors, but luggage volume is decent at 36 cubic feet behind the back row and 71 cubic feet with it folded. That’s only about three cubic feet less than the non-hybrid model. And the lift over height in the rear cargo area is impressively low.

Standard in-cabin tech includes a 4.2-inch instrument panel display and an Entune Audio Plus infotainment system with a 6.1-inch touch screen. Audio is provided by a six-speaker audio system with CD/AM/FM/satellite radio, a USB port with iPod controls, an aux-in jack and Bluetooth. You will notice that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are missing. Also standard is the Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver assists that includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams.

Stepping up through the lineup you will find standard, depending on trim levels, a moonroof, a backup camera, HD radio with traffic and weather info, Siri Eyes Free voice recognition and a navigation system. There’s also blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, automatic LED headlights, a height-adjustable power lift gate, an eight-way power driver seat and heated front seats. A $2,785 Advanced Technology Package option includes a surround-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, and an 11-speaker 576-watt JBL Audio system and a slightly larger touch screen.

Not “Fun-To-Drive,” But Competent

Our Ruby Flare Pearl RAV4 Hybrid had a sticker price of $32,185. Add the Advanced Technology Package, a $90 tonneau cover, $95 for the special paint color and a $995 destination chargeand the price tag was $38,450.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

More pep than the gas-only version, but far from fun-to-drive

Around town it was easy to see why small crosovers have become a huge chunk of the U.S. vehicle market. The RAV4 Hybrid sprinted easily through urban traffic disregarding rough road surfaces and small pot holes with ease. Parking, whether parallel or angle, was as easy as it gets.

The little SUV accelerated quickly from a stop using battery power. Like any hybrid, accelerating to 35 mph using the gas engine, and then lifting slightly, brings electric power into play. I found it easy to run around on battery juice with the gas engine helping out when confronting a hill. The transition between battery power and gasoline power was almost always seamless.

The RAV4 Hybrid accelerated to highway speeds with reasonable enthusiasm. The engine felt peppy and would happily cruise at 80 mph. For a crossover that weighs nearly 4,000 pounds, the RAV4 handled decently around curves at highway speeds, but tight corners reveled ample body roll and a lack of grip from the green-minded tires. Otherwise, the RAV4 Hybrid is comfortable and capable, albeit not at all sporting.

The different drive modes, which include Sport, Eco, and EV, all functioned as advertised. Sport mode livened the Hybrid up and changed the shift logic, making it more eager to drop a few “gears” and make the most of the hybrid powertrain. Eco, which I used in town and cruising on the highway, slowed the throttle response from the normal mode and adjusted the air-conditioning settings, all in the name of improving efficiency. EV mode functions below 25 mph and was most useful in parking garages.

I give a big applause to the engineers who worked on the RAV4 Hybrid’s brakes. The transition between regenerative and mechanical braking was imperceptible. As I have noted many times in my reviews, the EPA rating system needs upgrading. We drove the RAV4 Hybrid fairly hard for 311 miles and ended up with a combined fuel economy of 35.2 mpg, two mpgs better than the EPA’s estimate.

Final Word

The 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is comfortable for car-pooling, commuting, collecting groceries and dropping kids off for soccer practice. It is also ideal for light off-road action in the backcountry, While there are plenty of competitors—Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape to name a few—none can match the RAV4 Hybrid’s fuel economy except for the Nissan Rogue Hybrid. And as mentioned, gasoline prices are heading upwards. In other words, that makes the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid’s value proposition a little more enticing.

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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 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid

Road test: 2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid

A Toe in the EV Water

The Countryman is the largest of the four Mini models and is also the brand’s only all-wheel drive offering. Now, it’s also Mini’s first electrified model sold to consumers. It received major changes for its second generation, which was introduced in stages last year.

While Mini’s EV excitement is focused on the upcoming all-electric small hatchback, the 2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid offers a taste of electrification to urban folks. They’ll find what plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are known for—electric commuting during the week and unlimited travel on the weekends. That’s better than a regular hybrid, which has no plug, and combines a gasoline engine and electric motor to improve fuel mileage ratings.

2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid

2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid

PHEVs offer varying amounts of battery power. The Countryman’s 7.6-kWh lithium-ion battery, which hides under the rear seat, provides an EPA-rated 12 miles of all-electric range. That’s low on the list, as most other PHEVs offer EV ranges from the teens and twenties to as much as 53 miles in the Chevrolet Volt. That makes a difference on how much pure electric driving you can do.

Almost All the Way to Work

My Melting Silver Metallic test car, for example, got me about two-thirds of the way to/from work before the petrol began to flow. I dutifully plugged in at each end, and fully charged the small battery overnight on 120-volt current at home or by lunchtime on the 240-volt Level 2 ChargePoint chargers at work.

The Countryman cleverly delivers all-wheel drive by placing a 134-horsepower 1.5-liter gas engine up front, driving the front axles, and an 87-horsepower electric motor in back, driving the rear ones. The total system horsepower is 221, and 284 pounds-feet of torque, enough to send the Countryman from 0-60 in a satisfying 6.8 seconds. The system switches back and

2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid

The big center display

forth based on road conditions to provide extra traction when needed.

Naturally, how you drive determines how long your battery power will last. You can also use three different settings to configure how it’s used. In AUTO eDRIVE, you get pure electric driving up to 55 mph, and the gas engine kicks in when needed (or when the battery is depleted). In MAX eDRIVE, you can drive in pure electric mode up to 78 mph (illegally), with the engine dropping in only if you exceed that. The SAVE BATTERY mode uses the engine only, keeping the battery charged above 90 percent for use later, for example, in town after a long freeway trip, where the EV mode is most effective.

Like most PHEVs, the 2018 Mini Countryman’s instrument panel provides some feedback on energy use and regeneration. A gauge on the left has a Power section, when the energy is flowing out of the battery, and a Charge section below it for when coasting or braking is generating power. The eBoost area of the dial shows when the motor is working with the engine for maximum performance.

The Numbers Are Good

The EPA gives the 2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid ALL4 ratings of 65 MPGe for Electricity + Gasoline, and 27 mpg for when it’s using gas only. I averaged 35.5 mpg during my test week.

The Countryman is just slightly bigger than the new Clubman, making it the largest Mini ever (a Maxi?) The main differences between the two big Minis are the Countryman’s all-wheel-drive capability, and its 4.6-inch taller stance.

2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid

A wide-track Mini

The new Countryman is also larger than its predecessor. It’s 8.1 inches longer on a 2.9-inch longer wheelbase, which translates into substantially increased rear legroom. It’s 1.3 inches wider, which adds up to two inches of shoulder room. Despite these increases, the car is still relatively compact, although the efficient space utilization makes it technically a midsize car per the EPA.

Since the brand re-emerged in the US in 2002 with its all-new Cooper hardtop (hatchback), it has appealed to people looking for motoring joy with a side of quirkiness. The large central dash display now holds audio and other information rather than the speedometer, but it has colors that react to settings changes. It still features toggle switches for windows and even the ignition.

The Final Numbers

The Countryman is assembled in Born, Netherlands, and contains half German parts (thanks to its BMW parent company), including its engine. The six-speed automatic transmission is Japanese.

My test car, with several options, including the $500 paint color, came to an even $40,000, including destination charges. The base price is $36,800.

The 2018 Mini Countryman Plug-in Hybrid will surely win over its traditional audience—stylish urban folks who want a slightly taller and roomier crossover vehicle with the Mini charms—and a small nod towards environmentalism. The EPA assigns the car just a 3 for Smog, but a commendable 8 for Greenhouse Gas. If you have a 10-mile commute, you could be driving the Mini as an EV all week.

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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.