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  • First Drive: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    Plug-in hybrid technology gives minivan a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    The all-new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the first production minivan with a plug-in gasoline/electric powertrain: one of a bumper crop of family-oriented hybrids entering the market. While their first inroads were in the compact segment, hybrids make a lot of sense for busy, value-conscious families.

    The plug-in feature in the new Pacifica gives owners up to 30 miles per charge on electric power. That’s enough for the average commuter to get through a day, so owners rarely need to refill gasoline. Charging with the standard 115-volt plug takes about 14 hours, but those willing to invest in the optional 240-volt plug can fully recharge in two. A Uconnect phone app enables owners to schedule recharging during off-peak hours and remotely change charging times.

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

    While the powertrain is based on its gasoline-powered sibling, there are significant differences between the two cars. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine was modified to Atkinson cycle with a higher compression ratio for greater efficiency.

    Despite its 11.3:1 compression, the engine runs on 87 octane gasoline. Chain drive eliminates expensive timing belt replacements after the warranty expires.

    The hybrid also has a new eFlite electronically variable transmission whose single clutch design enables both of the car’s electric motors to drive the wheels. The most noticeable difference to consumers is that unlike the nine-speed transmission in the gasoline car, the eFlite has no obvious shift points.

    Engineers located the 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack under the second-row seats. While the battery doesn’t reduce interior space, it does occupy the bucket space for Chrysler’s Stow ‘n Go system, so the seats in the hybrid are removable but not stowable.

    Buyers can choose between two grades, the Premium priced from $41,995 and upscale Platinum priced from $44,995. Pricing does not include $1,095 destination. Both models quality for a federal $7500 tax credit.

    The test car is the upscale Platinum grade that comes with a 13-speaker Alpine premium sound system, navigation, hands-free sliding doors and 18-inch rims, as well as an active safety package including collision warning, adaptive cruise control, 360-degree around-view camera, lane departure warning, parallel and perpendicular park assist. The car has one option: a tri-pane panoramic sunroof. Final MSRP is $47,885. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD

    Toyota’s Recreational Activity Vehicle gets a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    Hybrid vehicles are a win/win for buyers wanting to go green without infrastructure challenges. Recently, Toyota introduced its hybrid synergy drive system that powers the Prius into the RAV4 compact crossover. Buyers can choose between three grades: the base XLE, sporty SE and upscale Limited: all standard with all-wheel drive.

    Power comes from a four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine and three electric motor generators: two driving the front and rear axles respectively and the third controlling the engine starter and recharging the Nickel Metal-Hydride battery pack.

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

    Pricing for the Limited model tested starts at $34,030 excluding destination. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, Entune premium audio system with app suites, backup camera, leather seating and steering wheel, heated front seats, reclining and folding second-row seats, 18-inch alloy rims, LED headlamps and tail lamps and a power moonroof.

    Options on the test car include a technology package that adds a bird’s eye view camera, JBL premium audio system, iPod compatibility, Siri eyes-free, HD and satellite radio. Final MSRP is $37,057. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    Plug-in hybrid builds on new Prius technology

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    When Toyota introduced the first Prius over 15 years ago, the world fell in love with a car that combined energy efficiency with practicality. The plug-in model that arrived twelve years later never enjoyed the unprecedented success of the original liftback, with buyers expressing concerns about the car’s maximum speed in EV mode as well as its EV range. So Toyota engineers went back to the drawing boards, reinventing the model as the new Prius Prime, building on technology introduced last year with the four-generation Prius liftback. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Chevrolet Volt Premier Hatchback

    Second-generation model adds style and versatility

    By Nina Russin

    Chevrolet Volt

    Chevrolet Volt

    The Chevrolet Volt is an electric car that doesn’t suffer from range anxiety, thanks to a gasoline engine that kicks in when the charge runs out. The second-generation model that debuted last year has more driving range than the original: up to 53 miles according to the manufacturer. Combined with its thrifty gasoline engine, owners can travel up to 1,000 miles without stopping to refuel.

    Engineers shaved weight off both the electric motor and battery pack to make the car more efficient. New exterior styling gives the Volt more presence on the road, while a redesigned interior is more luxurious and offers seating for up to five passengers.

    Base price for the upscale Premier model tested is $37,570 excluding the $875 delivery charge. Options on the test car add blind spot monitoring, lane departure alert, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist with automatic braking, intelligent headlamps, Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system with navigation. Final MSRP is $39,950. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Lexus CT 200h F Sport

    Hybrid hatchback has power for the open road

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus CT 200h F Sport

    Lexus CT 200h F Sport

    Although Lexus offers six hybrid models, the CT 200h is the only one available solely with a gasoline/electric powertrain. With EPA average 42 mile-per-gallon fuel economy and its versatile hatchback body style, Lexus’ compact sport model gives buyers with active lifestyles a lot to love.

    Driving enthusiasts will appreciate the addition of a F Sport package that adds 17-inch alloy rims, a unique version of the spindle grille, special badging, interior trim and sport-tuned suspension.

    Power for all models comes from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motors, carrying a 134 net horsepower rating and continuously variable automatic transmission. Base price is $31,250 excluding destination.

    For 2016 buyers can opt to add Lexus Enform Remote that enables users to control certain car functions via smart phone apps. A power moonroof is available on 2016 models.

    The test car comes with Redline exterior self-healing paint, the F Sport package including LED headlamps, navigation with backup camera, Lexus Enform services, intuitive park assist and moonroof. Final MSRP is $41,860. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XLE

    Compact crossover has a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

    2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

    This year Toyota adds a hybrid model to its RAV4 lineup, utilizing the same gasoline/electric technology found in the newest Prius liftback. The RAV4 Hybrid comes in XLE and Limited grades: both with standard all-wheel drive.

    Base price for the XLE tested is $28,370 excluding the $900 destination charge. A convenience option package on the test car adds an Entune premium audio system with navigation, larger center stack screen, Bluetooth streaming audio, iPod compatibility, HD and satellite radio. Final MSRP is $29,795. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Chevrolet Volt Hatchback

    No range anxiety here

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Chevrolet Volt

    2016 Chevrolet Volt

    The Chevrolet Volt offers buyers who want an electric car but don’t want to be limited by driving range a more practical option. The second-generation car enables drivers to travel up to 54 miles between plug-ins: enough for the average commute. A complete recharge takes about 4-1/2 hours on 220 volt current: 13 hours using 120 volt.

    If the owner fails to recharge or needs to take an extended road trip, a traditional gasoline engine that takes over when the battery runs low extends that range to about 420 miles.

    Does the Volt have any advantages over gasoline-electric hybrids that today boast 50 mile-per-gallon fuel economy’ The answer is ‘Yes’ for the average driver who uses his or her car to drive to-and-from work during the week, with longer trips on the weekend.

    2016 Chevrolet Volt

    2016 Chevrolet Volt

    While plug-in hybrids enable drivers to go limited distances without using the gasoline engines, the Volt goes further. For example, the Ford C-Max Energi’s pure electric range of 20 miles came close to the original Volt, but can’t compete with the second-generation car.

    In addition to adding about thirty percent more range in pure electric mode over the original model, the 2016 Volt offers better acceleration off the line, improved interior quiet, a new braking system with more linear performance and a smaller, simpler charging port.

    Pricing for the upscale Premier model tested begins at $37,520 excluding the $825 destination charge. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, automatic climate control, ambient interior lighting, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, Bose premium audio system, satellite radio, OnStar with navigation and a 4G LTE hotspot.

    Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring with lane departure alert, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, intelligent high beams, forward collision warning with low-speed auto stop and Chevrolet MyLink radio with navigation. Final MSRP is $39,830. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Limited

    Green car meets sport sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

    2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

    It’s rare for environmentalists and car enthusiasts to see eye-to-eye on anything. But both with find a lot to love in Hyundai’s newest Sonata Hybrid sedan: a stylish package that delivers on all fronts without compromise.

    While hybrid sedans are nothing new, the Sonata is in a league of its own. Power comes from a fuel-efficient two-liter gasoline engine and electric motor with 195 combined horsepower. The sedan can run at speeds up to 75 miles-per-hour on pure electric power. Average fuel economy for our test drive was 42 miles-per-gallon: slightly higher than the EPA 41 mpg estimate.

    A compact lithium polymer battery is positioned under the trunk, so unlike most hybrid sedans, cargo space is the same as for gasoline-powered models. Buyers can also opt for 60/40 split folding rear seats to extend the cargo floor for larger items.

    Base price for the upscale Limited model is $30,100, excluding the $825 destination charge. Options on the test car include a panoramic sunroof, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, automatic high beam assist, , adaptive cruise control, navigation, satellite radio, high-definition radio, LED interior lamps and floor mats, bringing the final MSRP to $35,765. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

    Full-size premium sedan is a Lexus in disguise

    By Nina Russin

    Toyota Avalon Hybrid

    Toyota Avalon Hybrid

    Over the past twenty years, the Toyota Avalon has evolved from a stretched-out version of the Camry into a league of its own, offering buyers similar ride and handling to more expensive Lexus models. The availability of a gasoline/electric hybrid is rather unusual in this segment that also includes the Ford Taurus and Buick LaCrosse.

    The 2015 model is basically carryover following a major redesign in 2013. Changes include an upgraded Entune multimedia system and paddle shifters on gasoline-powered cars.

    Base price for the Avalon Hybrid Limited is $41,700: on the high side for the segment. However buyers get their money’s worth with standard features that include remote keyless entry and start, tri-zone climate control, leather upholstery and steering wheel, power heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, Bluetooth interface, a rearview camera with cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and satellite radio.

    A technology package on the test car adds dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beams, Qi wireless charging, and pre-collision system with pedestrian detection. Final MSRP is $44,475. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel

    Compact sedan is big on fuel economy

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel

    2015 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel

    Twenty years ago, if somebody told me I could average 40 miles-per-gallon in a passenger car I’d have thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Thanks to new clean diesel technology, engineers are able to imbue today’s cars and trucks with fuel economy unimaginable in decades past.

    The newest member of Chevrolet’s compact Cruze sedan family is a perfect example, averaging 46 miles-per-gallon on the highway according to the EPA. During my 140-mile test drive that included surface streets as well as highways, I averaged 41.

    The Cruze was Chevrolet’s replacement for the Cobalt when it debuted in 2010. This year the automaker does a styling refresh on all models except the base LS and adds 4G LTE. Twenty-fifteen models are also pre-wired for Siri.

    Base price for the turbo-diesel car is $25,660 excluding the $825 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include remote vehicle start, leather seating, heated front seats, 60/40 split folding second-row seat, air conditioning, a driver information display in the gauge cluster, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, air conditioning, OnStar, satellite radio and Chevrolet MyLink.

    The test car is equipped with several option packages adding a power sunroof, premium audio system, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rearview camera and heated outside mirrors, bringing the final MSRP to $29,430. Read the rest of this entry »