Jul 302017
 

Despite predictions to the contrary, gasoline-electric hybrids have carved a niche in the automotive industry. According to hybridcars.com, the first to market in the United States in this segment was Honda with the 1999 Insight. Since then, the Insight has come and gone, twice, but Honda continues to bring hybrids to the lineup. I spent three months in the 2017 Accord Hybrid Touring for Latino Traffic Report and the most important thing to know is that this hybrid saves gas, in fact it’s the best in the segment.

Long-term test drives beg for a car to be driven, so I did, more than 5,000 miles over Texas highways, to small towns, like Burnet and Bryan, and big cities, like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. It’s a comfy ride over the long haul and nimble enough to scoot through traffic.

While its fuel economy is stellar, the hybrid’s styling also deserves a mention. Redesigned for 2016, the Accord took on a more sculpted, angular appearance, Marking the Accord’s fortieth anniversary, Honda introduced its sibling, the hybrid that benefits from the Accord’s new look while adding enhancements under the hood.

At the heart of its fuel saving ability is its two-motor hybrid system combined with an ultra-efficient 2.0-liter i-VTEC Atkinson Cycle engine and matched to an electric continuously variable transmission. It achieves a peak-combined output of 212 horsepower, the highest of any midsize hybrid sedan.

Initially, the test model proved to be more fuel efficient in cities than on highways, which is as is should be according to its EPA estimated fuel economy rating of 49 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 47 mpg on the highway. Over time, however, fuel economy on the highway also improved, especially with cruise control engaged. I averaged about 48.5 mpg in three months—city and highway combined. When it comes to cost, I spent more than $300 on gasoline.

I engaged the Econ button that can be used at all times, as well as an EV button that operates the hybrid on electric power for small distances, to maximize efficiency. For more power, I pushed the Sport mode button that gave the hybrid better acceleration.

Displays in the instrument cluster and center stack, including a seven-inch touchscreen, helped me maintain gas saving driving habits, like coasting and accelerating smoothly from a stop. While I found them to be helpful, they also raised a little anxiety when the fuel economy slipped.

All Accord Hybrids come with Honda Sensing, a suite of safety features with advanced technology like forward collision warning, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control that allows the driver to set a distance behind a vehicle that cruise control maintains, automatically.

I never grew accustomed to Honda’s LaneWatch camera, also standard, that can be engaged with the turn signal to view the blind spot on the right. The picture wasn’t that clear, especially at night, and focusing made it distracting. A blind spot monitor, available on other Honda models, would be preferable.

Creature comforts included Ivory leather seats, with heated seats in the front and back, navigation, dual-zone climate control (Honda seems to have addressed the air conditioning system’s habit of fading at stops in previous hybrids), a moonroof, and a multi-view back-up camera. I got used to the lack of knobs for volume control and put the CD player and the MP3 USB port to good use on several road trips.

Pricing for the Accord starts at $30,480. Pricing for the as-tested 2017 Accord Hybrid was $36,790.

Sí: The Accord Hybrid Touring achieved what’s expected of a hybrid, it saved gas, but it also came in a handsome package with nice creature comforts.

No: Honda LaneWatch just doesn’t have the intuitiveness of a blind spot warning system and the lack of clarity on the screen is distracting.

Jun 252017
 

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Latino Traffic Report has learned that Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling certain 2017 Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid Electric vehicles (PHEV) for two issues.

• The affected vehicles have diodes in the Power Inverter Module (“PIM”) that may fail due to an overvoltage condition. If the diodes fail, the vehicle will not move under its own power.

• The tire placard on the affected vehicles incorrectly lists the seating capacity as six occupants rather then seven occupants, with a combined weight of 950lbs rather than 1,100lbs. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 110, “Tire Selection and Rims.”

A vehicle that suddenly cannot be driven, increases the risk of a crash and the incorrect tire label may cause customer confusion, potentially resulting in vehicle overloading, increasing the risk of a crash.

Chrysler has not yet finalized its remedy plans for the PIM recall. The recall is expected to begin on July 24, 2017. Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler’s number for this recall is T34.

Regarding the tire placard, Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace tire placard label, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin July 28, 2017. Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler’s number for this recall is T37.

Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

Jun 092017
 

Like it or not (Mr. President), the clean energy train has left the station, which means alternative fuel vehicles will continue to arrive at a dealership near you. This year Hyundai bolstered that prediction with the introduction of its all-new hybrid, the 2017 Ioniq. Latino Traffic Report recently attended the regional launch in Durham, North Carolina to drive not one, not two, but all three versions.

Rather than wait years to complete the lineup, Hyundai will build three powertrains on one dedicated platform, the Ioniq Hybrid, Electric (with a range of 124 miles), and a Plug-in Hybrid (available in 2018). All three were at the launch where they performed nicely, and like the name, a cross between “ion and unique,” the Ioniqs displayed distinctive good looks.

Ioniq Electric

I appreciated its sporty accents, like LED daytime running lights, and while the arched roofline may resemble that of other hybrids, it’s a functional necessity to maximize aerodynamics and achieve an industry-leading 0.24 coefficient of drag.

According to WardsAuto, in the United States, “Total EV sales grew to 79,915 units from 72,374 in 2015. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) sales, counted in a separate category, totaled 71,329 units, up 63 percent from 43,815 in 2015, and hybrid sales totaled 373,359 units in 2016, up from 341,792 in 2015.” Hyundai believes that millennials will energize the market further, increasing sales, according to Brandon Ramirez, senior group manager, product planning at Hyundai Motor America.

A recent addition to the segment, the Ioniq gets the benefit of bringing up the rear, improving on what the first hybrids started, like offering the best combined fuel economy in its class, 58 miles per gallon (mpg) with the Ioniq Blue trim (non-Blue trims should achieve 55 mpg combined). At the launch, I averaged 51 mpg with the Ioniq Hybrid Limited trim. A new 1.6-liter direct-injected Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine powers the Ioniq Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrids, delivering an estimated 104 horsepower and an estimated 109 lbs.–ft. of torque. On the Hybrid, it’s matched to a quick-shifting six-speed double-clutch transmission, an electric motor that delivers an estimated 43 horsepower with an estimated maximum torque of 125 lbs.–ft., and a 1.56 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery (with a lifetime warranty). With an 8.9 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery, the Plug-in Hybrid provides an all-electric range (before the gas-powered engine kicks in) of more than 27 miles while the Ioniq Electric offers an estimated driving range of 124 miles with a 28 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery . Mated to a single-speed reduction-gear transmission, the electric motor has a maximum output of 118 horsepower and 218 lbs.–ft. of torque. The Ioniq Electric has an EPA-estimated 136 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (MPGe) rating, better than any electric vehicle sold in the U.S.

Range anxiety plus the length of time needed to charge can discourage potential buyers. The Ioniq may offer some solutions. Charging the Ioniq Electric to 80 percent should take approximately 23 minutes using an SAE Combo Level-3 DC, 100 kW fast charger. An integrated In-Cable Control Box also allows drivers to charge their Ioniq using a standard household electric socket.

Enhancing the car’s fuel efficiency and dynamic driving characteristics, the driver can select either SPORT or ECO modes. On the launch, the SPORT mode did add oomph but it was the Plug-in Hybrid and Electric models that offered noticeably smoother rides.

The Ioniq reflects a deeper commitment to green from Hyundai with its use of recycled or ecologically-sensitive materials, like interior door covers made of plastic combined with powdered wood and volcanic stone.

Innovations continue on the inside with a seven-inch TFT instrument cluster that displays all gauge functions and Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system, which is standard on the Electric model for three years. Placing the battery underneath the rear seats also adds extra passenger space on the Ioniq hybrid, an estimated 122.7 cubic feet and best-in-class cargo of 26.5 cubic feet, plus it gives the Ioniq a lower center of gravity for better road hugging. Handy features, like a rearview camera are standard, but safety technology, like a blindspot warning system, remain optional, even on the more expensive Electric model.

Looking to the future, Hyundai and the all-new Ioniq will continue to attract consumers to the green car segment. Pricing for the Hybrid and Electric (pricing for the Plug-in was not available) models should start at $23,035 and $30,335 respectively, and the Electric will be eligible for government tax credits of $7,500, according to the IRS.  

Ioniq Hybrid

 

Jan 302017
 

As gas prices begin to creep up, consumers needn’t worry. No matter who heads the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the current administration, California, the number-one car market in the country according to the National Automobile Dealers Association, will require carmakers to reduce emissions, which means hybrids will continue to offer fuel-saving options for years to come. While they still make up just a fraction of new car sales, hybrids have grown in availability and configurations, from compacts to luxury sport utility vehicles. Latino Traffic Report will spend the next three months with one in particular, the all-new 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring.

It arrived in December and on a first impression, the Accord Hybrid is a looker. Honda redesigned the Accord for 2016 and the all-new hybrid, introduced last year, shares its sheet metal, plus it also benefits from its reputation. The top-selling car for the last three years in the United States, the Accord was just named “10 Best” for the thirty-first time by Car and Driver, an unprecedented honor for any vehicle. But as the name implies, the model I’m driving is a hybrid and its fuel-saving powertrain is its centerpiece.

The Accord Hybrid’s two-motor hybrid system combined with an ultra-efficient 2.0-liter i-VTEC Atkinson Cycle engine is matched to an electric continuously variable transmission. It achieves a peak-combined output of 212 horsepower, the highest of any midsize hybrid sedan.

Like many hybrids, it performs better in city traffic than on the highway—it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 49 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 47 mpg on the highway. I’m averaging about 47 mpg so far—I actually gained mileage on the highway once heading north on IH35.

To maximize fuel efficiency, there’s an Econ button that can be used at all times, as well as an EV button that when engaged, operates the hybrid on electric power only for small distances. When I need more power, I push the Sport mode button to give the hybrid a noticeable amount of giddy-up.

While the fuel economy will undoubtedly be its best feature, the Accord Hybrid also sits at the top of the Accord lineup, and the Touring trim is the top-of-the-line. As such, it comes very well-equipped, starting with Honda Sensing, a suite of safety features with advanced technology like adaptive cruise control that allows the driver to set and maintain certain a distance behind a vehicle,  forward collision warning, and lane keep assist.

Multiview back-up camera

Honda’s innovative LaneWatch camera can be engaged with the turn signal for views of the blind spot when changing lanes to the right. The picture isn’t that clear, however, and focusing can make it distracting. Though currently not available, a blind spot monitor would be preferable.

Creature comforts on this model include leather seats, with heated seats in the front and back, a touch sensitive seven-inch display screen with an additional display screen on top of that, navigation, a moonroof, and a multiview back-up camera. I’m getting used to the lack of knobs for volume control and tuning and while this model should come with SiriusXM satellite radio, it isn’t activated. It does, however, include a CD player—a happy surprise. I’ve put it and the MP3 USB port to use on road trips to San Antonio, Bryan, Houston, and Dallas.

Pricing for the Accord starts at $30,480. Pricing for the as-tested 2017 Accord Hybrid is $36,790.

Stay tuned for a final review later in the year.

Dec 082016
 

What Toyota began with its first hybrid, the Prius, it has taken to a whole new level with Lexus. Considered up-level models for most segments, hybrids would seem to provide a natural incentive for luxury brands to dive into the green pool. Lexus led the way in 2005 when it introduced the RX 400h. I recently drove the 2016 ES 300h, one of a family of six Lexus hybrid models, for Latino Traffic Report. As expected, it saves gas but with added style and grace.

Refreshed for 2016, the ES 300h sports a design makeover that includes a new, bolder spindle grille, built from a one-piece version and framed by a satin chrome trim. Also fully redesigned, the front fascia puts the fog lights at the corners to accentuate the wide stance.

The signature hybrid system combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine with an electric motor to generate 200 total system horsepower. It runs on an electric motor or gas engine alone, or a combination of both, depending on the driving situation. Like most hybrids, it gives the driver a real-time view of its functionality with the Hybrid System Indicator. The display can also encourage fuel-efficient driving habits.

The electronic continuously variable transmission further enhances the hybrid’s performance with a drive mode option that allows the driver to choose among four modes: Normal, Sport, Eco and EV. The hybrid does lack oomph, however, even in Sport mode.

No review of a hybrid can ignore fuel economy. The ES 300h has EPA estimated fuel economy ratings of 40 miles per gallon in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. I achieved an average fuel economy of 36.9 mpg.

The test model came well-equipped with safety features, but at a price. Most of the them were optional, starting with the Lexus Safety System+ Package ($1,015) that included the Pre-Collision System, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Intelligent High Beam, and High-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

The Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert is a stand alone option and well worth the extra $500. Still, at this price point, it would be nice if more of these features were included as standard equipment. Apparently, Lexus thought so too and for 2017, the Lexus Safety System+ will be standard.

Happily Lexus Enform Safety Connect, is standard on all 2016 Lexus vehicles, with access to Lexus Enform response centers 24/7/365.

Standard creature features included a ten-way adjustable power front seat, automatic dual-zone climate control, NuLuxe perforated upholstery, a power tilt-and-slide moonroof, Smart Access door unlock with push button start, a premium audio system with a CD player, Bluetooth, and Siri Eyes-free Mode. Added options included a heated wood and leather steering wheel ($450), Intuitive Parking Assist ($500), and the nifty one touch power trunk ($400), similar to a power liftgate.

The optional navigation system ($2,650) also added an eight-inch display audio screen as well as the Lexus Enform App Suite that uses voice-enabled apps to search the Internet.

Pricing for the 2017 Lexus ES 300h starts at $42,795. The as-tested price came to 49,410.

 

Sí: The ES 300h brings Lexus premium appeal to the hybrid driving experience.

No: While offering some safety features as stand alone options makes them a little more accessible, some of them should be standard on a premium vehicle.

Sep 122016
 

2016-04-19-prius-fr

Some redesigns amount to a mere nip and tuck, but others achieve a true about face. The first Toyota Prius was made famous because of what it did, not how it looked. During a test drive for Latino Traffic Report of the 2016 redesigned version, I was immediately impressed with it’s new look, plus fuel efficiency and cargo room also improve.

The “Triangle Silhouette” that defined the Prius is gone, and now longer, lower, and wider than its predecessors, the new Prius bears more of a sedan silhouette, although it’s still technically a liftback.2016-04-19-17-37-07

Both the Bi-LED headlamps with automatic headlamp leveling and tail lights expand on the flame motif that the outgoing Prius hinted at. The hybrid’s new form also has a function, increasing aerodynamics that also improves fuel economy.

The new powertrain engages a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and two motor/generators through an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT). A new lithium-ion hybrid battery replaces the nickel-metal hydride battery in most models. Smaller and flatter, the new battery’s size allows it to fit under the rear seat, expanding cargo volume to 27.4 cu. ft., an increase from the previous space of 21.6 cu. ft.

2016-04-19-17-39-53New innovations under the hood also stretch gasoline. All of this technology combine to give the Prius Four Touring that I tested an estimated fuel economy of 54 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 50 mpg on the highway. That’s an increase from the city/highway estimated mileage of 51/48 mpg for the previous model. I averaged 50.9 mpg on the test drive.

On the inside a new instrument panel features a dual 4.2-inch full-color TFT (Thin Film Transistor) multi-information displays that can be configured using steering wheel controls. The driver can also enhance performance with Normal and Power driving modes option that also add ambience. The Power mode produces a red background display while Normal emits blue.2016-04-19-17-43-06

Safety advances include a standard rear backup camera and Hill Start Assist on all six trim levels. The two up-level Prius Four models, however, come with a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert and Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS –(P)) with Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Auto High Beams and Full-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. TSS-(P) is available on Prius Three and Four trims but not, unfortunately, on the base models.

Standard creature comforts included heated Softex front seats, Entune Premium Audio with Integrated Navigation and App Suite visible on a seven-inch-high resolution touch-screen with split screen display, AM/FM CD player, auxiliary audio jack, USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity and control, advanced voice recognition, Bluetooth wireless technology), and Siri Eyes Free, among other features.

The test model added the Premium Convenience Package ($1705) with Safety Connect that includes Emergency Assistance, a stolen vehicle locator, one-year complimentary subscription to roadside assistance and automatic collision notification, among other features.2016-04-19-prius-rear

Pricing for the 2016 Prius starts at $25,035. The as-tested pricing came to $32,540.

: The all-new Toyota Prius gets a redesign that moves the segment forward with a provocative new look.

No: Safety features like a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert should be offered on lower trim levels.