2017 Kia Niro FE Review

Wednesday April 19th, 2017 at 10:44 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Kia Niro FE

By David Colman

Hypes: Wins Stylistic Hybrid Trophy
Gripes: FE Feels Cheap to Touch

With introduction of the new for 2017 Niro Hybrid, Kia is targeting an underserved market segment. Until now, if you wanted a sub compact Hybrid capable of delivering 50MPG, you were limited to choosing some form of sedan – like a Toyota Prius or Chevy Volt. Although the Prius model line has been expanding exponentially of late, there’s still no crossover/station wagon/SUV variant available. Yes – you can make a hatchback Prius Prime do the crossover job, but are you willing to live with its tin toy/outer space styling?

No such worries with the new Niro. Kia stylists, who have proven extremely competent in their upper market range endeavors (like the K900), bring that same panache to the layout and design of the Niro. This is a good looking crossover, with enough SUV touches to please the nascent off-roader, enough practicality to humor the station wagon crowd, and enough efficiency (50MPG overall!) to convince the potential Prius/Volt customer that there is now an attractive crossover choice.

2017 Kia Niro FE

The Niro’s green cachet has already been celebrated by a hilarious spot (starring Melissa McCarthy) which was shown during the last Super Bowl. You’re probably going, “Oh, so that’s what that ad was about.” Right. Kia is investing major effort in this car’s launch. And after a week behind the wheel, I would have to concur that the money has been well spent. Even though the output of the Niro’s combined electric/gas propulsion system is only 139hp, this Kia is light enough to bump past slower traffic with a little advance planning on the driver’s part. That’s because the Hybrid produces an unexpected wallop of torque (195lb.-ft.) that harmonizes perfectly with the 6-speed dual clutch transmission. Even in the base model FE we tested, Kia refused to cut corners by selecting a groaning CVT.

2017 Kia Niro FE

The 1.56 kWh lithium ion polymer battery pack stores under the rear seat, low in the chassis. This location lowers the Niro’s center of gravity, which in turn promotes better handling. It also allows the rear seats to be folded flat, though they do stand a bit tall due to the battery storage location. Nonetheless, i was able to slide my mountain bike into the available 26 cubic foot cargo hold by simply flipping the front wheel around to decrease bike length. And speaking of length, the Niro’s generous 106 inch wheelbase offers plenty of rear passenger legroom. This crossover is bigger inside than it looks outside.

2017 Kia Niro FE

It also comports itself with surprising agility on twisting two lane back roads. While you won’t be chasing down any BMW sedans, you won’t need to make excuses about the Niro’s canyon performance either. The FE, as the base model in the Niro line, comes with rather puny 16 inch alloy rims which are inexplicably shod with wheel covers. These rims mount Michelin Energy radials measuring just 205 in section width (205/60R16). Despite the choice of such MPG-oriented tires, the Niro FE hangs on with surprising grip when you press it hard through tight turns. Responsible for this neutral behavior is a refined chassis featuring fully independent design front and rear. This layout produces such minimal understeer that you’d be hard pressed to know that the Niro is a front-wheel-drive design.

2017 Kia Niro FE

Although our FE version stands as Kia’s price leader at just $22,890, you must be willing to overlook its bargain basement ambiance. The interior looks like it was molded from the same shiny black plastic used to make Glad Bags. The steering wheel, with its pebbled surface for extra grip, will never be confused with anything crafted in Germany. Likewise, the levers and paddles that control seat position and rake feel chintzy and insubstantial. On the other hand, the instrument pod contains a very nifty gauge pack consisting of an eco monitor on the left and a 140mph (in your dreams) speedometer on the right. This duo is bridged by a center information panel that is driver-configurable. While you won’t find heated seats or steering wheel in the FE, Kia surprises base model buyers with a number of unexpected amenities: dual zone automatic climate control, AM/FM/MP3 with 7 inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple Car Play Smartphone integration, and Remote Keyless Entry.

2017 Kia Niro FE

This little Kia has a lot going for it. It looks way better than a Prius or Volt, matches them both for energy husbandry, and allows you to carry four adults or lots of cargo in surprisingly spacious comfort. If I were shopping for a new Niro, i would opt for the Touring version. Although it costs about $4,000 more, its fit and finish convert the interior from tolerable to luxurious – plus you get real 18 inch ally rims and tires for even better handling.

2017 Kia Niro FE

2017 Kia Niro FE

  • Engine: 1.6 liter 1.6 liter GDI 4 cylinder plus electric motor
  • Horsepower: 139hp (Combined)
  • Torque: 195lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 52MPG City/49 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $23,785
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring Review

Tuesday April 11th, 2017 at 4:44 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

By David Colman

Hypes: Frugal, Practical, Good Regenerative Brake Feel
Gripes: Bring Back the Radio Volume Knob Please

For 2017, Honda has reintroduced the Hybrid version of the Accord, a model last sold in 2015. Notable improvements over the previous version include doubling the number of electric motors. This pair now produces 181hp and 232lb.-ft. of torque. When coupled to the Hybrid’s 2.0 liter DOHC gas motor – itself good for 143hp and 129lb.-ft. of torque – the “Earth Dreams” drive system yields a combined rating of 212hp. This marks an increase of 16hp over the discontinued 2015 Hybrid Accord. More importantly, the Hybrid now returns 48MPG in the EPA test cycle for combined city/highway operation.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

A CVT (continuously Variable Transmission) meters power to the front wheels only. Since it has no gears, the electronically controlled (hence, eCVT) shifter provides no method for transmission modulation of engine speed. There are no paddles available, so the closest you can come to operational choice here is to select the “Sport” mode which maximizes throttle sensitivity and thus provides quicker engine response. Honda also includes a “B” setting on the eCVT which favors brake regeneration on long downhills.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

The new Hybrid package is gratifyingly quick in Sport mode, with immediate throttle response prompting a sudden surge of torque from the electric motors. Thanks to the simple minded behavior of its eCVT, however, Honda’s latest Hybrid Accord misses the sports sedan mark. This 3,552lb. mid-size sedan records a power-to-weight ratio of 16.75lb/hp. Adequate, but hardly scintillating. Further complicating the fun-to-drive factor are the Hybrid’s modestly sized, rock hard Michelin Energy radials (225/50R17) mounted on busy looking alloy rims (7.5″x17″). These all-season Michelins would not be your first choice for carving apexes on back roads, since their tread width (225mm) is skimpy and their compound hard (tread wear rating of480).

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

If you order the top line Touring Group version of the Accord, Honda equips your sedan with the following features not included on lesser models: heated rear seats, LED headlights with high beam assist, and navigation. You really aren’t left wonting for much with this maxed out Touring Accord. A complete suite of safety minders is standard. Called “Honda Sensing,” these provide collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, and lane departure/ road departure warning. Such are the building blocks of the fully autonomous vehicle which can prove useful in case of an emergency. The best feature is the Accord’s very smooth and easily controlled adaptive cruise control which works flawlessly, even in heavy traffic. It allows you to set your following distance, and obediently maintains that gap to traffic without the undue jerkiness characteristic of so many similar systems. Especially informative is a rear camera which projects adjacent right side traffic on a 7 inch display screen when you activate your right hand turn signal. By depressing a button on the signal control stalk, you can play this informative display for your entire drive.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

The interior of the Accord is inviting despite its lack of luxury trim. The dash is finished with bands of simulated plastic driftwood that neither excites nor dismays you. The seats are reasonably comfortable, heated, and easy on your back thanks to standard lumbar electric adjustments. Their low side bolsters do little for cornering support, but facilitate ingress and egress. Construction quality is beyond reproach. Honda moved Hybrid build from Marysville, Ohio to Sayama, Japan this year, making this Accord a fully Japanese product.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

The Hybrid’s 1.3kWh lithium-ion battery pack is substantially smaller than the one supplied to the previous model. Hence, it occupies less trunk space. This savings has increased the trunk to 13.5 cubic feet. However, you are still faced with a raised ridge covering the battery pack that necessitates a fixed partition behind the rear seats. The Hybrid loses 2.5 cubic feet of storage compared to the gas powered Accord. However, the Hybrid’s phenomenal 48 miles to the gallon compensates nicely for such minor storage space loss.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

  • Engine: Twin Electric Motors plus 2.0 liter gasoline engine, 16 valves DOHC
  • Horsepower: 212hp
  • Torque: 232lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 49MPG City/47 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $36,790
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited Review

Tuesday March 28th, 2017 at 10:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

By David Colman

Hypes: High on the Green Scale, Comfy
Gripes: Hybrid Takes Trunk Space, Modest Cornering Ability

When I recently rode in a first generation Toyota Avalon belonging to a friend, I was astounded by its small size and lack of amenities. That pioneer Avalon was really little more than a rebadged Camry with an elevated price tag prompted by pretensions of luxury. Today’s Avalon is a very different product from that modest initial offering. Although it has retained the same “big car” dimensions for the last decade (111 in. wheelbase, 72 in. width, 197 in. length), the packaging within has transformed the Avalon from a massaged Camry into a luxurious line-topping sedan with no need to apologize for anything.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

In the case of our test vehicle, there’s no need to hedge about its green entitlement either, since this sizeable 3,590 lb. quintet mover registers a planet saving 40 MPG in overall driving thanks to inclusion of Toyota’s well integrated Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The Hybrid combines a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor good for 200lb.-ft. of torque with a sophisticated (DOHC/VVT-i/ 16 Valve) 4 cylinder 2.5 liter gas engine good for 200hp. This combined output reaches the rear wheels through a constant velocity transmission (CVT). According to the government, this drivetrain produces an average yearly fuel cost saving of $2,500 compared to the MPG rating of a comparable gas-only vehicle. The EPA also allows you to brag that your Hybrid Avalon posts a 9/10 on the “fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating scale,” and an 8/10 on the “smog rating” scale.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

Of course, you will pay a premium for this car’s complicated Hybrid propulsion unit. The first up-charge comes at purchase time, because choosing a Synergy Drive Avalon propels the base price to $42,550. The gas powered Avalon range starts at just $34,000, so you’re definitely tipping the high end of this model’s pay scale. However, there is that $2,500 savings in fuel costs to consider, so you should come out better than even if you keep your Hybrid Avalon for at least 3 years while driving it roughly 12,000 miles per year. But what kind of a driving experience does the Hybrid provide, aside from its proclivity for efficiency? Simply put, this Avalon will not ignite the smoldering embers in an enthusiast’s breast. The problem derives from the Hybrid’s compromised power-to-weight (P/W) ratio. With just 200hp to propel 3,590 pounds of sedan, the Hybrid posts a P/W ratio of 17.95lbs./hp. Compare that to the gas powered, 268hp, V6 Avalon’s P/W ratio of just 13.39 and you’ll understand why the Hybrid takes its time reaching freeway speed from a stop.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

The good news here is that this gives you even more time to enjoy the many amenities Toyota has baked into the latest Avalon interior. You will not be disappointed in the level of attention to detail here. Both front and rear seats are exceptionally comfortable. Since this sedan’s modestly proportioned tires (215/55R17 Michelin Primacy MXV4) and softly sprung suspension generate light side loads on curvy roads, the seats require no side bolster support. This allows very easy ingress/exit. The seat design emulates a Barca-Lounger style chair with relatively flat cushions that feel cushy and inviting. Both front seats are fitted with separate console mounted controls for heat and ventilation. For a dash design predicated on hard touch points rather than knobs or buttons, the Avalon’s layout is relatively successful. But hard touch adjustment surfaces have their drawbacks. For example, if you seek to adjust cabin temperature, you must first visually locate the HVAC slide scale for your side of the interior, then position your finger over the up (red) or down (blue) arrow, and then administer a jab. This push is acknowledged by a corresponding chirp. While this added design complexity might make cell phone addicts happy, it’s still not as rewarding to operate as a simple dial control.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

The Avalon’s JBL Audio system deserves a special note of praise. The 7 inch touchscreen on the dash operates not only the 11 speaker JBL entertainment unit, but Toyota’s Entune App suite and standard Navigation System as well. The JBL’s bass output was truly remarkable, and once we dialed in our preferences to the SXM satellite radio (3 month free trial included), we enjoyed a solid week of our favorite tunes at a dauntingly booming volume level. But that kind of enjoyment is definitely the Hybrid Avalon’s strong suit. This is a large family car designed for covering long and boring stretches of interstate while keeping you entertained, comfortable, and virtually immune from the need to stop and refill the Avalon’s 17 gallon gas tank.

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

2017 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, VVT-i, 16 Valves + Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 199lb.-ft. electric motor
  • Fuel Consumption: 40MPG City/39 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $43,639
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi Review

Wednesday March 1st, 2017 at 4:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

By David Colman

Hypes: Luscious Interior, Reams of Unexpected Standard Features
Gripes: 188hp Insufficient

For 2017, Ford offers more flavors of Fusion than Ben and Jerry makes ice cream. At the top of the long list is the all new for 2017 Sport version, with a 325hp, 2.7 liter V6 powering all four wheels. Moving down the range, Ford also offers a turbocharged 2.0 liter inline 4 making 240hp. At the bottom of the horsepower rankings – but the top of the mileage offerings – is the 2.0 liter inline 4 of the Fusion Energi we tested. This one’s gas engine makes just 188hp in consort with its electrical motor, but yields 42 MPG in combined city/highway driving. In electric-only mode, the Fusion Energi will carry you just 21 miles. But those miles produce an EPA rating of 97 MPGe. In combined electric/gas operation, this greenest of all Fusions will take you a whopping 610 miles on one tank of gasoline.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

With that kind of range, it would be nice if the Fusion Energi provided a first class interior for you to while away those extended driving hours. The Energi’s Platinum interior does just that. Taking a cue from hyper priced cars like Bentley and Maserati, Ford designers have spiced up the look of this Fusion with large swaths of diamond patterned upholstery inserts. The front and rear seat bolsters sport this material, as well as all four upper door panels. Our test example featured an inviting shade of cream leather called “Medium Soft Ceramic” that looked and felt inviting but showed a fair amount of grime after 7,000 miles of test driving. The quilted door and seat inserts are neatly set off by black piping which adds a note of elegance to the overall design. The seats themselves are supremely comfortable up front and passably accommodating in back.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

The Fusion’s 112 inch wheelbase and 73 inch width make for a spacious and airy cabin, further augmented by a standard power moonroof. A foursome of six footers front and rear will never find themselves crowded into discomfort inside a Fusion.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

The cockpit is replete with thoughtful attention to detail. For example, the vertical and horizontal adjustment for the multifunction steering wheel is electrically controlled, a nicety not often encountered on cars in the sub-$40,000 price range. Another welcome feature is a 2 slot memory system for selecting and retaining your favorite seat/mirror/steering wheel orientation. Again, most vehicles in this class do not offer this convenience. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into making the Fusion cabin habitable for long distance cruising. The front seats are both heated and ventilated, with four settings available for temperature choice in either mode. Even the steering wheel rim is heated, though it took us awhile to find the on/off switch, which is buried in the climate control Synch3 menu, rather than operated by an actual button.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

Thankfully, all major climate and ventilation settings are instantly accessible through a series of actual buttons and switches laid out across the base of the center console. Here you will find individual temperature controls for each side of the cabin, plus fan speed and defrost buttons. For other less critical functions, Ford’s Synch3 system allows you to tailor your navigation and entertainment needs through pictographs on the 8 inch touchscreen, which oversees everything from radio choice, to apps, to navigation, to general locking protocol and language display. The steering wheel spokes control a wealth of additional information which appears on the instrument panel, next to the 120mph speedometer. You can scroll through “MyView” acceleration/braking/cruising tabulations, fuel economy readouts, two resettable trip computers, EV feedback entitled “Engage” and “Empower,” and finally, tire pressure readout. Just the thing to keep you on your toes on Interstate 5.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

If the Energi hybrid has a drawback, it’s lackadaisical performance. 188hp is simply not up to the task of hauling this sizeable 3,505 pound sedan up to passing speed with any margin of comfort. Even with gas and electrical power maxed out noisily at full throttle, the Energi is reluctant to satisfy your need for speed. The ECVT “Powersplit” automatic transmission features a new-for-2017 rotary control dial for gear selection. While this unit does save console space. its operation is difficult to master as it lacks the detents of a conventional shift mechanism.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

The other drawback of selecting a hybrid is the imprecise, non-linear pedal feel of the regenerative brakes. They react with oversensitive zeal even to slight pedal pressure. The rock hard (treadwear rating: 480) Michelin Energy radials (225/50R17) complicate the brake feedback loop with their tendency to skid. Finally, you’ll pay another energy penalty when you examine the trunk of this otherwise full size sedan. While the interior may comfortably hold four passengers, the hybridized trunk will never transport all their belongings. Associated hybrid gear and lithium ion batteries occupy much of the allotted space.

2017 Ford Fusion Platinum Energi

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4 + electric motor
  • Horsepower: 188hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 42 MPG Combined, 97 MPGe
  • Price as Tested: $39,995
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced Review

Thursday February 9th, 2017 at 4:22 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacey Design, Comfortable Cabin
Gripes: Poor Brake Feel

Toyota has been busy supplementing the Prius line with new versions dedicated to extra space (Prius V), affordability (Prius c), and now, a plug-in version first distributed in fall of 2016 as a 2017 model. This latest entry in the hybrid class, named Prius Prime, looks like a space ship compared to previous Prius designs. Climb into this capsule and you feel like you should be wearing a zero gravity outfit. The conventional dashboard in front of the driver is entirely absent. Instead, you stare at an upholstered ledge behind the steering wheel where the instruments normally reside. The monitor function has been moved to a horizontal panel located just beneath the center of the windshield. Here you will find a huge type-face digital speedometer readout, accompanied by a variety of mode operation displays which you can toggle through via a steering wheel mounted control.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

Below this information panel in the Advanced version of the Prius Prime lies a tall, centrally located vertical screen. This aluminum trimmed unit contains a very easy to read 11.6 inch HD Multimedia display panel that is particularly effective in Navigation mode. This screen also provides oversight of most HVAC settings, which are splayed across the lower segment of the panel. Climate control information can be difficult to locate while driving, because the panel contains so much other media and mapping information that the display looks like a TV tuned to CNN.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

We spent a mostly storm-fraught winter week driving the Prime in very adverse conditions. Since it was really too wet to utilize the plug-in feature safely, we expended the car’s 25 mile electric range in short order, then continued to drive it on gas power alone for the remainder of the week. Despite many trips around the Bay Area, we never managed to dislodge the fuel level needle below the 3/4 mark because even in “gasoline only” mode, the Prime racks up an incredible 54MPG. If you utilize the electric recharge feature and drive mostly in electric mode, the Prime will reward you with an astounding 133MPGe in combined electric/gas operation. Toyota estimates that a full recharge of the Prime’s battery at 240 volts will take just 2 hours of plug-in time, which makes it perfect for a fuel-free commute to work provided you can access a 240 volt plug at each end of the trip.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

While the overall interior design of the Prime will excite cell phone admirers everywhere, the same can’t be said for the driving experience of this newest Prius. That’s because the car’s handling is hobbled by the MPG-generated need to use ultra low rolling resistance tires. In this case, the Toyo Nano Energy rubber is hard to a fault. Their small size and tall sidewalls (195/65R15) exacerbate the problem. Size-wise, the Toyo fitment is more suited to a vehicle from 1970 than 2017. Our test Prius was fitted with extra cost ($899) alloy wheels which looked intriguing, with 20 spokes shining at each corner. But these optional wheels still measured a paltry 15 inches in diameter. The diminutive rollers also subvert braking performance. We experienced premature lock-up even when full pedal pressure was not applied. Since the Prime enjoys independent front suspension and sophisticated double wishbone rear suspension, all the basic ingredients are present for a fine handling package – if you decide to upgrade the wheel/tire package with aftermarket equipment.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

Toyota has lavished this top Prius with a bevy of special features that make it well worth its $33,100 base price. Standard heated seats and steering wheel do a lot to increase inclement weather comfort level. Rain-sensing wipers are a boon. Push-button start and remote entry ease your burden. Quad LED headlights and crescent shaped accent lights not only endow the nose with an unforgettable smile, but really blaze away the dark. The fluted “dual-wave” rear window, mounted in a lightweight, carbon reinforced polymer hatch, distinguishes the tail from anything else on the road. However, in heavy rain we discovered that the valley between the dual flutes accumulates water, and due to this design, a rear wiper is unavailable.

2017 Toyota Prius Price Advanced

Clearly, the Prius Prime prioritizes efficiency of operation over any other ownership consideration. It provides a comfortable, safe, extravagantly presented tableau for environmentalists who prize, above all else, this vehicle’s EPA rating of 10 on a 1-10 scale for “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating.”

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Advanced

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4 cylinder + electric motor
  • Horsepower: 121hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 54MPG gasoline/133MPGe gasoline+ electric
  • Price as Tested: $36,305
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Acura RLX Hybrid Review

Friday December 9th, 2016 at 9:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

By David Colman

Hypes: Surprising Road Burner in Sport Mode
Gripes: Non-intuitive Transmission Controls

Ever since the Acura division of Honda moved away from using memorable names like Legend and Integra in favor of meaningless letter designations like RLX and TLX, the buying public has become confused about which letter designations stood for which products. Case in point: would you rather say you were driving a an Acura Legend or an RLX? I know that my father, who bought a first generation Legend coupe, would have had trouble coming to terms with the designation RLX. he had enough trouble with the name Acura, which he persisted in calling “Acoora.”

All that being said, I can make the case for RLX serving as an acronym for “Relax,” since this substantial 4-door sedan is quiet enough, comfortable enough, and fast enough to function as a relaxation center on wheels. By the way, those ally wheels measure 19″ x 8″ and come shod with Michelin Green X rubber (245/40R19). You can have your suspension two ways in this Acura. When you press the Start Button on the dash, the system automatically defers to a comfort setting that makes our pot-holed roads tolerable. But if you insist on dialing up improved road holding, there’s a “Sport” switch located on the center console that tightens steering response, increases muffler volume, and blips the throttle on downshifts. While all these sporting affectations may seem incongruous for a two-ton heavy cruiser, the RLX – when configured for Sport – acquits itself with honor on twisty back roads. While you won’t be confusing its performance with that of a 5 Series BMW, the RLX does provide an unexpected dimension of sporting performance.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

That the handling can be dialed into the performance realm is a solid positive, because the excellent Hybrid powertrain requires maximum adhesion from the all-season Michelin tires. Power and torque output are substantial: 377hp and 341lb.-ft. of torque, courtesy of one 3.5 liter SOHC V6, supplemented by no less than 3 electric motors. This compendium of motive power drives all 4 wheels, a dispersed allocation of power Acura dubs “Super Handling AWD.” Indeed, the vehicle’s traction is predictable and impressive. Also notable is the linear brake response. In so many Hybrids, regenerative braking diminishes brake feedback, resulting in a jerky, unpredictable pedal for deceleration. In the RLX, what Acura wordily terms “Agile Handling Assist Dynamic Brake System” gets the job done without the usual Hybrid drama.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

However, we did encounter a measure of drama when the big sedan refused to re-fire after a fill-up at the local Valero station. When the Start Button was depressed, a message appeared stating “Hold Keyfob Near Start Button.” We repeated this maneuver to no avail. The keyfob seemed dead, so I pressed the lock button which seemed to activate the door locks. But pressing the unlock button did not unlock the doors, so there we were, locked in our RLX which still refused to start. When I opened the locked door, the theft alarm started blaring, and the remote failed to deactivate it. The Valero attendant came over and gave us a look. Our four star clown show at the pump island continued until the Start Button- for no apparent reason – did what it was supposed to do. Finally, we were off and running, alarm bugle silenced at long last. This was not a confidence inspiring episode.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

Part of the problem might stem from the RLX’ overly complicated computer-dependent operation system. For example, even the simplest commands, such as fan speed, require you to press a small fan pictograph button on the display screen. This in turn brings up a fan speed screen, which then requires you to identify and press the appropriate up/down fan speed pictograph. The whole process is overly complicated and distracts you from the job of driving. Likewise, for the paddle-shift enabled 7-Speed dual clutch transmission, Acura has eliminated conventional gear shift controls in favor of a series of small buttons mounted on the console tunnel. These consist of a narrow push button for Park, a small, hidden backward slider for Reverse, and a circular Petri dish for Drive. After a solid week of driving the RLX, this system continued to defy intuition and foster annoyance.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

The RLX offers the best mileage for a large luxury sedan in this category. You will average a stupendous 30MPG regardless of city or freeway use. The RLX is quiet, spacious and well tailored. But unless you are a technology addict, the car/driver interface can present daunting problems that could be solved by a needed simplification of controls.

2016 Acura RLX Hybrid

  • Engine: 3.5 liter SOHC V^ VTEC plus 3 Electric Motors
  • Horsepower: 377hp
  • Torque: 341lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28MPG City/32MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $66,870
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD Review

Wednesday August 24th, 2016 at 12:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

By David Colman

Hypes: Phenomenal Range, Cosseting Cockpit
Gripes: Insufficient Thrust

If you’re interested in saving 10 percent off the top, consider a Toyota Avalon instead of a Lexus ES300. Both four door luxury sedans derive from the same platform. Select the Hybrid model Avalon, and you’ll pay a base price of $41,950. The same Hybrid in the Lexus line will set you back an extra $4,000. Aside from name plate differentiation, the 2 sedans are virtually identical. Our test Avalon, with $500 extra for a “Safety Sense Package” (Pre-Collision Warning, Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control) still posted a bottom line of just $43,285 (including $835 for Delivery). According to the EPA, the Hybrid Avalon will save you $3,500 in fuel costs over 5 years compared to the average new vehicle. This savings accrues from the Hybrid’s exceptional fuel consumption, which posts a combined driving mileage figure of 40 MPG. That is quite an accomplishment for a sedan weighing 3,555 pounds and capable of transporting four adults in well-furnished luxury.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

However, if I were about to purchase an Avalon, I would not opt for the Hybrid, but rather select the available 3.5 liter V6, which makes 268hp compared to the Hybrid’s 200hp. Even though the electric motor of the Hybrid contributes a side order of torque, the 200hp inline four-cylinder gas engine feels anemic when you crush the throttle. Eventually, the electric boost kicks in, but even so the added thrust is late to the game and never all that strong. The Hybrid requires careful planning for passing maneuvers. To its credit, though, our test Avalon still showed a Range to Empty of 340 miles after a complete week of road testing. With a full 17-gallon fuel tank, you can expect a cruising range close to 680 miles if you run right into the reserve. When we first climbed aboard the Hybrid, the Range to Empty prediction showed 580 miles. Either way, this Avalon will cover a lot of road without much gas.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

There’s little to carp about concerning the cockpit amenities of the Avalon. Both front and rear seats are fitted with perforated leather which breathes well and looks great. The front seats feature heat and ventilation devices, while the rears offer heat only. There’s a nice console for rear seat occupants that contains heating and AC controls, plus a utility socket for plugging in portable devices. There’s even a retractable rear window sun screen that confers instant dignitary status on rear seat occupants when erect.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

Up front, vision is excellent in all directions thanks to tall side windows. A small sunroof is standard fitment, and thankfully, Toyota has provided large, easily grasped knobs for radio volume and station choice. The included 11 speaker JBL system provides Toyota’s “Entune” app suite as well as a navigation program. There are plenty of oddment storage compartments, which help keep the cockpit neat. At the front end of the center console lies a stealthy looking retractable door covering a “utility box” containing an SD card slot, another plug in receptacle, and a wireless charging pad for your phone. The pad is monitored by green and amber lights which keep you informed of usability status. The dash above this utility box contains a smallish 7-inch touch screen which proved difficult to read when flooded with daylight. The finger touch slide for the fan is easy to use, but like the digital right and left controls for temperature, each change of position generates an irritating beep of confirmation.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

Over the years, Toyota has run the gamut on the suspension calibration of the Avalon. The original sedan handled like a tuna boat in heavy seas. When they reissued the model as a pukka sporting sedan last year, the general consensus was that the platform was too stiff and unyielding. The 2016 version covers all the handling and performance bases, with 3 settings available from buttons on the center console reading “EV Mode, Eco Mode and Sport.” According to the Owner’s Manual, the Sport setting “assists acceleration response” and is to be used “when precise handling is desirable.” We left the setting in Sport for our week with the Avalon, although we never felt particularly sporty driving this large sedan. That’s partially attributable to the meager grip afforded by the undersized (215/55R17) Michelin MXV4 Primacy tires. But if you’re in the market for a Hybrid Avalon, you’re probably not comparing it to a BMW. Rather you’re looking for an economic and comfortable family car. This one gives you the attributes of a Lexus at the price of a Toyota.

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid LTD

  • Engine: 2.5-liter inline 4 plus electric motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 40 MPG CITY/39 MPG HIGHWAY
  • Price as Tested: $43,285
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid Review

Wednesday August 10th, 2016 at 11:88 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

By David Colman

Hypes: Spacious, Handsome, Fuel Efficient
Gripes: Small Trunk, Strange Dash Cladding

In 2015, the Malibu placed 6th out of 6 like sized sedans in a Motor Trend magazine comparison test. Clearly, the old Malibu had outlived its useful product life cycle, and Chevy duly replaced it with a whole new car this year. Not a freshening, not a remodel, but a completely new vehicle designed specifically for comfortable long distance travel by plus sized humans. Specifically, the magazine review dinged the previous Malibu for its lackluster engine, cheap interior plastics and cramped rear bench seat. Chevy has admirably addressed all those complaints with the Hybrid we drove. Under the hood lies a very energetic powertrain consisting of a 1.8 liter double overhead cam, inline 4 cylinder gas engine augmented by twin electric motors. Although the combo is only rated at 182hp, the vibrant manner in which the electric propulsion augments the gas motor means you will never be lacking for acceleration. This Hybrid Malibu is really quick in a straight line, with instant spool up quick enough to see you through any passing or merging maneuver.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Inside the cabin, the 2016 Malibu has lost the former model’s bargain basement array of plastics and fabrics. While it’s not quite up to Ritz standards, the Malibu interior is several cuts above Best Western. Check out the steering wheel, for example. If you opt for the $895 “Technology and Convenience Package,” Chevy gives you a nice fat leather capped rim to grip. Every possible seam and contour has enough thread or hide to eliminate all sharp edges. The same cannot be said for many cars costing twice as much as the Malibu. The only item of questionable taste is the strange quilted fabric covering the lower sections of the dash. This 3D material looks odd, as if Chevy was trying to replicate a carbon fiber look with cloth. It does not promise to wear well.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Quibbles about the old Malibu’s lack of interior room have been eliminated thanks to a 4.2 inch wheelbase extension, a whopping 11 inch width extension, and just a half inch height rise. Indeed, the new Malibu provides a spacious and airy ride, with limousine like leg room both front and rear. Yet it manages to give you a much bigger cabin while still saving nearly 300 pounds of curb weight over its predecessor. This lightened load partially accounts for the Hybrid’s excellent fuel economy, with a highway figure of 47 MPG augmenting a city rating of 46 MPG. The only real downside to the Hybrid driveline is the storage space sacrifice you will need to make to accommodate the battery pack beneath the trunk. Gas only versions of this sedan provide 15.8 cubic feet while the Hybrid makes do with just 11.6.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Since self driving cars have yet to arrive, it was a bit off putting to discover that this Malibu has been implanted with self driving notions of its own by Chevrolet. If you pay $1,195 extra for the “Driver Confidence Package” you’ll discover that your Malibu has a mind of its own. This propensity for automated decision making first revealed itself when I sprinted onto an empty stretch of freeway and immediately made for the number 1 (fast) lane. Each time I crossed a lane boundary – and there were 3 of them – the Hybrid resisted my steering direction to the left and instead corrected the front wheels back to the right. As I was later to discover, Chevrolet programmed this obnoxious behavior into the Malibu’s optional package under the rubric of “Lane Keep Assist” ( LKA). Each time you fail to signal a lane change, the steering wheel will jerk itself back in the opposite direction of your intended path of travel. Thankfully, we discovered a delete button for LKA near the hub of the steering wheel’s left spoke, and from then on eliminated the nuisance. But be forewarned, the invasion of the mind snatchers is on the way.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

All in all, Chevy has done a very workmanlike job in their remake of the aging Malibu. the new sedan looks really good, especially when given the optional $395 Crystal Red Tintcoat of our test sample. Clearly, draftsmen in what used to be called the Art and Color department of GM have refined the exterior surfaces of the Malibu to conduct wind without disturbance. This is a remarkably quiet and aerodynamically clean product that will remind you of its air management efficiency by endearingly infrequent visits to the gas pump.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

  • Engine: 1.8 liter DOHC inline 4 with twin electric motors
  • Horsepower: 182hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 46 MPG City/47 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,130
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan Review

Wednesday July 20th, 2016 at 11:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

By David Colman

Hypes: The Gas Gauge Never Moves Off Full
Gripes: Limp Tire Choice, Unpredictable Regenerative Brakes

As the first half of 2016 fast approaches, Toyota’s Camry remains the sales leader in the USA in the crowded mid-size sedan marketplace. What does it take for this unassuming four-door to beat such heavy hitters as Honda’s Accord, Nissan’s Altima, Hyundai’s Sonata, Ford’s Fusion and VW’s Passat? If our week in the Hybrid version of the Camry is any indication, it takes excellent fuel mileage combined with reputable dependability to persuade Americans to buy more Camrys than any other mid-size product.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

Of all the models in the Camry line, from the 173hp entry-level 2.5 liter LE to the 268hp 3.5 liter XLE, only one garners top honors in the fuel efficiency sweepstakes. That would be the Hybrid XLE we drove. In a solid week of testing, including numerous short hops and long distance cruises, the fuel level never once dipped below the 3/4 full mark because the Hybrid scores 38 MPG on the highway and an even better 40 MPG around town. This is truly amazing for a fully appointed four door that weighs more than a ton and a half. This Hybrid rates 9 out of 10 on the EPA’s “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating” and it does so without the inconvenience of a plug-in receptacle. You can hold your green head high with this vehicle and never once suffer the range inhibition so common to owners of fully electric vehicles.

The acceleration of the Hybrid is surprisingly strong with good torque immediately on tap as the CVT transmission shuffles belts to maximize output from a standstill. The Hybrid uses a 2.5 liter inline four cylinder petrol engine good for 178hp. This unit combines with an electric motor to boost total output to 200hp. The additive value of the electric motor thus adds 22hp to the 2.5 liter gas-only Camry. In practice, that 22 extra hp transforms the sedan’s performance from boring to rewarding. There was never an occasion when the Hybrid was wonting for pop.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

This year Toyota offers a sports handling package for the Camry called “XSE.” From all reports, it doesn’t do much for your driving enjoyment but actively diminishes ride comfort. Our Hybrid was equipped instead with the XLE trim level, which adds the following niceties: Entune infotainment with 7 inch touchscreen, navigation, auto on/off LED headlights, moonroof, dual-zone climate control, Qi wireless phone charging, heated front seats and leather upholstery. In addition, Toyota fitted our test sedan with a Homelink transceiver ($345), and a premium JBL audio system ($1,330). Also upping the price by $750 was an “Advanced Technology Package” which adds Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert, and a Pre-Collision System that tightens the seat belts in advance of contact.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

The Camry will never qualify as a sports sedan, no matter how much Toyota stiffens the suspension with the XSE option. But you could definitely improve its handling by replacing its mediocre Bridgestone Turanza EL400 tires (215/55R17) with the 18 inch rims and higher performance rubber which Toyota makes available on the XSE model. Also available at your dealer are the splendid looking 10 spoke, 18 inch rims which Toyota bolted to the limited production (only 12,000 examples) 2016 Camry Special Edition (SE). In any event, the Camry is a workhorse, not a racehorse. But its styling update, administered in 2015, still looks fresh enough to entice more buyers into Toyota showrooms than any other manufacturer. One of the explanations for this continuing phenomenon is reliability. Consumer Reports slaps a “Recommended” check mark on the Camry model range in large measure because this sedan scores a “Much better than average” rating in the all important “New Car Prediction” category.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

If you’re on blood thinning medication, you’ll be relieved to know that the Camry Hybrid will never threaten to raise your blood pressure. While it won’t unduly excite you, it will also never unexpectedly disappoint you. The odds of getting stuck due to a mechanical malfunction are so remote that you can let your AAA membership lapse without so much as a pang of anxiety.

2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Sedan

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 Valves with VVT-i plus Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 40 MPG City/38 MPG HIGHWAY
  • Price as Tested: $35,800
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Tuesday August 11th, 2015 at 12:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

By David Colman

Hypes: 500 miles to the 11.8 Gallon Tank!
Gripes: Spongy Brakes

May 2015 was a happy month at VW. U.S. sales soared by 8 percent to 34,758. Compare that to Fiat/Chrysler’s rise of 4 percent, GM’s 3 percent growth, flat sales for Nissan and Toyota, and Ford’s 1 percent loss, and there’s finally a reason for optimism at VW’s beleaguered North American outpost. If the 2015 Jetta Hybrid we recently tested is indicative of the company’s newfound attention to detail and quality, then VW has reason to be optimistic about May’s sales portending a sustained trend here. Unlike most hybrids, which require performance sacrifices to compensate for fuel savings, the Jetta Hybrid lets you have it all. Not only is it satisfyingly fast in acceleration, but it is also the exceptional at conserving fuel. This Jetta posts an astonishing 45 MPG overall rating, with 42 MPG available in city driving and 48 MPG on the highway. Given the Jetta’s fuel tank capacity of 11.8 gallons, your range between gas station pencils out at 531 miles. In view of the Hybrid’s moderate base price of $31,120, this VW offers affordability at purchase reinforced by economy throughout the ownership cycle. It’s no wonder that EPA/DOT’s “Fuel Economy & Greenhouse Gas Rating” confers a perfect score of 10 out of 10 on this Hybrid.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

But unlike so many other Hybrids with their dodgy steering, tiny rock hard tires, and futuristic interiors, this Jetta is no Jetson. Rather, it behaves like any other VW product engineered in Wolfsburg, Germany. The seats, dashboard layout, instrumentation, and shift mechanism will all look familiar to longtime VW owners. The super supportive front seats are exceptionally comfortable and nicely finished. The back bench seat works well for medium sized adults, with a useful drop down armrest available between the two outboard positions. Those taller than 5’8″ might find foot room restricted when the front seats are positioned at their mid-track position. Although the Hybrid unit necessitates a rather large hump intruding into trunk storage, you can partially overcome the problem by folding both rear seats flat to gain more space. That armrest between the back seats contain a handy knockout panel which allows you to carry elongated cargo like skis while still leaving the seat backs in their upright position. All in all, a typically useful VW smorgasbord of carriage options.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Whereas most Hybrids inflict jerky power transitions in the switchover from electric to gas operation, this Jetta makes the switch quietly and unobtrusively. The only time you really notice the amalgamation of power sources is when you tromp the accelerator. That’s when the sudden infusion of turbo boost and electric motor thrust enables the Jetta to spring forward decisively. In fact, the seat of your pants will quickly inform you that this Jetta’s 177hp is more than enough to cope with any power need you may encounter. The first time I pulled out to pass a slower car on a 2 lane highway, I was gratified to complete the maneuver with a huge safety margin I frankly did not expect. You can drive this Jetta over challenging terrain, safe in the knowledge that it will handle crisply. The surfeit of adhesion is due in part to the Hybrid’s stable platform, precise electro-mechanical speed sensitive power steering, 17 inch standard alloy rims, and sportingly serviceable Continental Conti Pro Contact rubber (205/50R17).

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

From a performance standpoint, the one area where the Hybrid is deficient is braking feel. Like so many others of its ilk which depend on regenerative braking to recycle brake heat into energy, this one too suffers from a somewhat spongy and unpredictable pedal. When the same amount of braking force does not always produce the same stopping result, it leads to the inescapable conclusion that pedal feel is a crap shoot that varies from stop to stop. But in the big picture, it’s a relatively minor irritation that can be avoided by always braking earlier than you normally would.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Aside from that caveat, the 2015 Jetta is a thumbs-up proposition all around. VW has done a minor facelift of the grill, and added Bi-Xenon adaptive headlights to the SEL Premium package, along with a new dash center stack, and upgraded interior materials. All in all, the Hybrid Jetta garners best-n-class honors by offering scintillating performance combined with stupendous fuel economy.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4, turbocharged & Electric Motor with battery Pack
  • Horsepower: 177hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 42MPG City/48 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,490
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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