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  • 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD Advance

    NSX technology gives three-row crossover a green footprint

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    If you’re looking for a seven-passenger crossover with supercar technology and better-than-average fuel economy, the Acura MDX Sport Hybrid should be on the short list. Utilizing the same three-motor super-handling all-wheel drive system introduced on the new NSX sports car and RLX performance sedan, the MDX hybrid mates Acura’s three-liter V-6 gasoline engine to three electric motors- one up front and two in the back- to provide power to all four-wheels. Net system horsepower is 321, with 289 pound-feet of peak torque. Since electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds, the MDX Sport Hybrid launches off the line like a rocket ship.

    A dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission employs friction couplings for the feel of a manual transmission, minus the extra foot pedal. Drivers can operate the gearbox in automatic mode or manually select gears using Formula One-style shift paddles on the steering wheel. While there are quite a few cars on the market with this type of transmission, very few are hybrids. The transmission’s quick, sharp shifts are a welcome relief from continuously variable automatic transmissions that leave the driver feeling disconnected from the wheels.

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

    The test car is the upscale Advance grade, priced from $58,000. Acura loads the premium grade with active safety and convenience features, saving shoppers from wading through lists of option packages. Standard features include a surround-view camera system, keyless entry and start, second-row captain’s chairs, ventilated and heated front seats, satellite radio, ten-way power driver’s seat with memory, LED fog lamps, roof rails and AcuraWatch: an active safety system adding adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning.

    Final MSRP including destination is $58,975 Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2018 Lexus LC 500h

    GT coupe with a conscience

    By Nina Russin

    Lexus LC 500h

    Lexus LC 500h

    The LC 500h and its sibling LC 500 are Lexus’ answer to European GT coupes such as the Mercedes-Benz SL 500 and Jaguar F-Type, but with a twist: only the Lexus comes with an available hybrid powertrain, giving the coupe 30 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy. As part of his promise to infuse passion into the brand, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda (grandson of the company founder) charged Lexus with developing a new flagship that would not only deliver on his stated mission, but do so in a distinctly Lexus manner.

    Seeds for the LC date back to 2012, when Lexus introduced the LF-LC concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. After capturing the EyesOn Design Design Award for Concept Car, Lexus designers and engineers began work on a production model based on a new architecture called GA-L, Global Architecture-Luxury, that is also the basis for the all-new LS 500 luxury sedan and its hybrid counterpart.

    Lexus LC 500h

    Lexus LC 500h

    While the LC 500h’s gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain is based on Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive that powers all-of the automaker’s hybrid offerings, Lexus engineers made some significant changes to enhance the new coupe’s performance. As with other Toyota and Lexus hybrids, a gasoline engine is mated to two electric motor generators. However, the system in the LC adds a four-speed automatic transmission to the standard continuously variable automatic, to multiply power and create the effect of a traditional ten-speed step unit that the driver can control using shifter paddles on the steering wheel.

    The new hybrid system uses more electric motor assist at low speeds so the LC can operate in electric vehicle mode up to 87 miles-per-hour. It is also the first Lexus hybrid that can spin its rear wheels, eliminating understeer at high speeds.

    Base price for the LC 500h is $98,510 excluding the $995 destination charge. That’s a bundle, but at least buyers don’t have to shell out an additional thousand or so for gas guzzler tax. Options on the test car include blind spot monitoring, intuitive park assist, 21-inch wheels, heads-up display, limited slip differential, Mark Levinson premium audio system, Alcantara sport seats, floor and cargo mats, bringing the final MSRP to $108,805. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2018 Lexus LS 500 and LS 500h

    High luxury sedan becomes more personal

    By Nina Russin

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    The original LS sedan launched the Lexus brand in the US in 1989: since then the flagship has set technological and aesthetic standards for the rest of the automaker’s line-up.

    But while other models such as the GS, IS and most recently the new LC became sportier, more emotive cars, the LS remained conservative, appealing to owners who purchased those vehicles as chauffer cars as well as those who drove them. The new LS 500 and LS 500h that roll out later this year are sportier, more personal sedans.

    Taking their cue from Akio Toyoda’s promise to reinstall passion in the brand, engineers focused on two new V-6 engines as part of a new global luxury platform. The twin-turbo V-6 that replaces the naturally-aspirated V-8 on the gasoline powered model develops 416 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, while the hybrid shares the same new direct injection V-6 as the new LC 500h.

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    2018 Lexus LS 500

    Engineers moved the front wheels forward and engine back to create a front-mid-ship layout for better front-to-rear weight balance. An all-new ten-speed automatic transmission enhances fuel economy with large overdrive gears for steady-state cruising.

    The sedan body has a slightly longer wheelbase, adding rear hip and legroom, but also sits lower to the ground for better high-speed performance.

    The F-Sport model is available with a performance package that adds bigger brakes and enhanced steering dynamics.

    Although Lexus has yet to announce pricing, it expects the base model to start at about $75,000, with the average transaction price for the LS 500 averaging $80,000 or less. Read the rest of this entry »

  • First Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    EV boasts extended range, versatility and connectivity features

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

    Chevrolet has entered the EV world with both feet in, following up on the success of the second-generation Volt extended-range vehicle with the Bolt: a pure electric small crossover with 238-mile driving range according-to the manufacturer.

    The Bolt doesn’t have quite the interior space or driving range of the larger Volt since there is no gasoline engine in reserve, but its well-configured interior, enhanced connectivity and fun-to-drive character should hold lots of appeal for buyers who have been considering an electric car, but were deterred by pricier competitors, or vehicles with significantly less range.

    EVs by their nature are rocket ships off the line, since electric motors develop peak power at very low speeds. The Bolt has the distinction of offering the most powerful electric motor in the segment: 150kW, making the car capable of sub-seven second zero-to-sixty acceleration.

    Pricing for the base LT model starts at $37,495 before the federal rebate while the upscale Premier model starts at $41,780. The car becomes available in 48 states this August. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Lexus RX 450h AWD F Sport

    Hybrid SUV gets enhanced active safety features

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Lexus 450h

    2017 Lexus 450h

    The 450h is the hybrid sibling to Lexus’ RX 350 midsize sport-utility vehicle. Although engineers employ electric motors to enhance fuel economy, they also boost power, giving the RX the performance of a V-8.

    A 3.5-liter V-6 engine works in concert with two electric motors- one on each axle- delivering exceptional acceleration off the line as well as 30 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy. The F-Sport edition tested adds a sport-tuned suspension, special exterior trim, 20-inch alloy wheels and unique interior.

    Base price for the RX 450h F Sport AWD is $56,495 excluding the $975 delivery charge. Options on the test car include a panoramic view monitor, touch-free rear door, triple-beam LED headlamps, Mark Levinson audio and navigation system, cargo net and carpeted cargo mat. Final MSRP is $61,804. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Kia Niro Touring

    New hybrid crossover melds versatility and value

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Kia Niro

    2017 Kia Niro

    To compare the new Kia Niro gasoline/electric hybrid to the Toyota Prius is apples and oranges. In terms of fuel economy, the Prius beats the Niro hands down. But buyers wanting a more conventional crossover with the versatility for active lifestyles and excellent gas mileage will find a lot to love in the Niro.

    Kia continues to offer exceptional value throughout the product lineup, including convenience features such as Harman Kardon audio system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth interface, leather seating and keyless start in a vehicle priced below $30,000. Pricing for the base model starts at the $22,890 while the upscale Touring model tested starts at $29,650. Pricing excludes an $895 delivery charge.

    Available active safety features include autonomous braking, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control lane departure warning. Final MSRP on the Touring model, including the aforementioned-safety features is $32,840. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Prius Prime Advanced

    Plug-in hybrid gets more range and better handling

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    The Prime is the plug-in version of Toyota’s popular gasoline-electric hybrid lift-back. Unlike the first Prius plug-in, the second-generation car gets its own name and some unique styling, most noticeably the same dual wave window as Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell car.

    The Prime boasts some engineering advances over the model it replaces: better EV range at higher speeds, more active safety features, enhanced infotainment and better ride and handling. The newest Prius platform features a double wishbone rear suspension replacing the torsion beam on earlier models. Since the suspension supports the battery pack, the new arrangement eliminates the clunking sound that occurred when the prior model rode over bumps.

    There is also a night-and-day difference in on-center steering response, something the engineers are justifiably proud of. Drivers can make quick lane changes and emergency evasive maneuvers with much more confidence.

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    2017 Toyota Prius Prime

    Pricing for the upscale Advanced model starts at $33,100 excluding the $865 destination charge. Among the comfort and convenience features are an 11.6-inch high-definition center stack screen, rain-sensing wipers, LED headlamps, heated power outside mirrors, JBL premium audio system with navigation and Toyota Entune, heads-up display, SofTex heated front seats, split-folding rear seat, push-button start, Qi wireless charging, and a Smart-Flow climate control system with electronic air conditioning compressor. The electronic compressor is important, because it continues to run when the gasoline engine turns off at idle.

    Options on the test car include illuminated door sills, a tabled holder, 15-inch alloy wheels and wheel locks, paint protection film and a glass breakage sensor, bringing the final MSRP to $36,081. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid

    Eco-friendly sedan for the daily commute

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid

    2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid

    Drivers who want a hybrid vehicle but don’t like the extreme aero styling of the Toyota Prius should take a careful look at the Ford Fusion. Based on the automaker’s popular midsize sedan, the Fusion adds an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack to boost fuel-efficiency. For 2017 the Fusion gets a mild exterior redesign with new front and rear fascia, additional USB ports and some important active safety technology, including autonomous braking with pedestrian detection and active park assist that automatically performs parallel and perpendicular parking maneuvers.

    Base price for the SE grade test car is $26,480 excluding the $875 destination charge. Optional active safety features include active park assist ($995), adaptive cruise control ($1190), lane keeping assist and blind spot monitoring ($1,575). A hybrid luxury package adds heated front seats ($2995). Two option package discounts bring the final MSRP to $34,510. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring

    Upgraded drivetrain boosts power and efficiency

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

    2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

    Longevity has its benefits. Years before Hyundai, Kia, Ford, Chevrolet and Volkswagen entered the hybrid market, there was only one: the original Honda Insight. The Insight arrived in the US in 1999, a year ahead of the Toyota Prius. Since then Honda enhanced technology, in exclusive hybrid models such as the Insight as well as gasoline/electric versions of its popular sedans.

    For Honda, hybrids aren’t a marketing gimmick or a way to comply with increasingly strict fuel economy standards. The company’s green focus is authentic, as evidenced by its leadership in the development of other alternative fuel technologies including fuel cells.

    2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

    2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

    For 2017, Honda introduces a new hybrid version of the current Accord that is, in a sense, the automaker’s green car flagship. The powertrain couples a two-liter Atkinson cycle iVTEC engine with two electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack. One electric motor drives the wheels while the second generator motor produces electricity. The system produces 212 net horsepower and 232 pound-feet of peak torque available at very low speeds.

    Buyers can choose from three grades, of which the Touring model is the most upscale. Base price is $35,955 excluding the $835 destination charge. Rather than packaging options, Honda sells the Touring model fully loaded, with convenience features including keyless entry and start, power leather seats with seat heaters, a seven-inch touchscreen with multi-view rearview camera, Bluetooth, Pandora, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SMS text messaging, USB interface, dual-zone automatic climate control, tilt-and-telescoping steering column, premium audio system and Honda Sensing active safety features. Final MSRP is $36,790. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 »