The Truth About Cars » Prius http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 17 Dec 2014 16:41:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Prius http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Honda Insight Is Dead: Here’s Why http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/honda-insight-dead-heres/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/honda-insight-dead-heres/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:32:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=900858 More than two years after American Honda last produced meaningful sales volume with its first Insight, a second Insight arrived to tackle the Toyota Prius head-on. Only it didn’t, because it couldn’t. The Insight’s death was reported here at the end of last month. There was no accompanying shock, surprise or horror. Though it has […]

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2012 Honda Insight greyMore than two years after American Honda last produced meaningful sales volume with its first Insight, a second Insight arrived to tackle the Toyota Prius head-on.

Only it didn’t, because it couldn’t.

The Insight’s death was reported here at the end of last month. There was no accompanying shock, surprise or horror.

Though it has competed with a much lower base MSRP than the core Prius model, the Insight is a 42 mpg car fighting against the hybrid, a 50 mpg Prius.

Those are the numbers that mattered most to potential customers, not cargo capacity or horsepower or airbags. (The Prius, incidentally, has more cargo capacity behind the rear seats and with seats folded, more horsepower, and more airbags.)

Think of this way. The Prius was akin to the establishment candidate for the ruling party, a guy who’d led the country for years, a policy wonk with a certain charm. In comes Insight, somebody who was once known as a revolutionary politician but disappeared for a few years before returning with fewer baby kisses, less foreign affairs awareness, and no real plan for reducing the deficit.

In 2008, the Toyota Prius was America’s tenth-best-selling car. In 2009, the Insight arrived to take on this hugely popular car but brought with it significant on-paper disadvantages.

The results were as anticipated. Honda sold 20,572 Insights in 2009; Toyota sold 139,682 Prii. Prius sales rose slightly to 140,928 in 2010; Insight volume rose to 20,962 units. Insight volume plunged 26% to 15,549 in 2011; Prius volume fell 9% to 128,064. Prius volume then jumped 15% to 147,507 units in 2012 while Insight sales plunged again, falling 62% to just 5846. Insight sales fell again, 18%, to just 4802 units in 2013. Prius sales slid slightly, just 2%, to 145,172 in 2013.

Through the first seven months of 2014, Insight sales have fallen 6% to 2624 units. Prius sales have fallen 18% to 75,903 as we approach its turn into a fourth-generation iteration.

There won’t be an immediate, overlapping replacement for the Insight. It’s not that Honda needed to sell the Insight at Prius-like levels for the model to succeed. Honda doesn’t sell as many Accords as Toyota does Camrys, and there’s no one implying that the Accord ought to be killed off.

Yet during the time period in which the Insight has steadily waned, Toyota has expanded the Prius lineup. There’s a plug-in variant of the regular Prius that has sold 10,671 copies this year, quadruple the volume Honda has done with the Insight. Toyota USA has also sold 101,715 Prius C hatchbacks since February 2012 and 101,276 copies of the Prius V wagon since the fourth quarter of 2011.

Toyota is trading off the Prius’s name brand to generate genuinely high U.S. sales. There was equity in the Insight name, but by introducing an underwhelming half-measure in 2009, Honda may have extinguished that equity along with the car itself.

The Insight, of course, isn’t the company’s only hybrid. Honda has reported 8250 U.S. sales of the Accord Hybrid through the first seven months of 2014, 221 Accord Plug-Ins, 2904 Civic Hybrids, 263 Fit EVs, 306 Acura ILX Hybrids, and 2355 CR-Zs.

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Fourth-Gen Toyota Prius To Receive AWD, New Battery Packs http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/fourth-gen-toyota-prius-to-receive-awd-new-battery-packs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/fourth-gen-toyota-prius-to-receive-awd-new-battery-packs/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=866362 Though it may be a while before the fourth-generation Toyota Prius leaves the assembly line, it may be worth the wait as far as batteries and drivetrains are concerned. Automotive News reports the new hybrid will have two choices for battery power. According to senior managing officer of powertrain development Koei Saga, both a low-cost […]

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2014 Toyota Prius

Though it may be a while before the fourth-generation Toyota Prius leaves the assembly line, it may be worth the wait as far as batteries and drivetrains are concerned.

Automotive News reports the new hybrid will have two choices for battery power. According to senior managing officer of powertrain development Koei Saga, both a low-cost nickel-metal hydride unit and a larger-capacity lithium ion pack — for longer electric-only range — will help provide power. Though Saga was cagey regarding economy numbers, he claimed that the new packs’ economy would “surprise everyone.”

Meanwhile, the power won’t be directed toward just the front wheels. Saga says there’s a possibility that AWD could be in the cards for the new Prius, which will be underpinned by the company’s Toyota New Global Architecture.

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Fourth-Generation Toyota Prius Production Delayed Six Months http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/fourth-generation-toyota-prius-production-delayed-six-months/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/fourth-generation-toyota-prius-production-delayed-six-months/#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 10:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=856489 Once set for production in the spring of 2015, the fourth generation of Toyota’s Prius will instead enter production beginning in December of said year. Automotive News Europe reports the delay is due to engineers wanting to massage as much fuel economy as possible, along with adjustments to the chassis and body. The confirmation model […]

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2014 Toyota Prius

Once set for production in the spring of 2015, the fourth generation of Toyota’s Prius will instead enter production beginning in December of said year.

Automotive News Europe reports the delay is due to engineers wanting to massage as much fuel economy as possible, along with adjustments to the chassis and body. The confirmation model of the new hybrid is expected in November 2014, 12 months before production is set to begin; the plug-in variant will follow in October 2016.

Though Toyota declined to clarify the reasons behind the delay, managing officer for product planning Satoshi Ogiso said the new hybrid will serve as a test bed for the automaker’s modular Toyota New Global Architecture and a new hybrid system that will be more compact and lighter than the current system while delivering a thermal efficiency rate above 40 percent. The system will also support a wider range of engines and vehicles beyond the Prius and Camry hybrids.

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Piston Slap: Brooklyn’s Dream Machine? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-brooklyns-dream-machine/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/piston-slap-brooklyns-dream-machine/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 12:29:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=840273 Dave writes: Hi Sajeev - I live in Brooklyn and I have a 2011 Prius that I still owe about $10k on. Before mocking my choice of personal transportation, remember that driving dynamics mean next to nothing when you live in a place where it’s hard to go above 40 MPH at any given time […]

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Dave writes:
Hi Sajeev -

I live in Brooklyn and I have a 2011 Prius that I still owe about $10k on. Before mocking my choice of personal transportation, remember that driving dynamics mean next to nothing when you live in a place where it’s hard to go above 40 MPH at any given time and the roads resemble 1990’s Kosovo. That said, my best friend is the service manager at a Volvo dealership and she just received a 1993 Volvo 940 wagon on trade.

It has 124k miles on it, and it’s been garaged and meticulously maintained with new tires, new muffler, new brakes, etc. She’s having her shop give it a once-over and she can sell it to me for $3k and I’m impulsively forking over the money without giving it a second thought. I’ve always wanted to own a Volvo wagon; perhaps it’s because in 1993, our family owned a 1986 Nova and a 1991 Saturn and I was always painfully aware of the better options on the road. Psychoanalysis aside, I’ve been a ‘car guy’ my entire life but I don’t know the first thing about fixing a Volvo.

Here’s my plan: keep both the Volvo and the Prius for the summer and decide to sell one of them at the end of August. Forge a good relationship with a local, well-reviewed Volvo repair shop. Be honest with myself and realize that the Prius will likely get the boot come August.

Since I’m currently paying $300/month in car payments, I could save that much and presumably spend it on the Volvo (which I wouldn’t mind, knowing that I’d be driving my dream car). I don’t depend on my car to get to work and would put less than 10k/year on the Volvo were it to become my daily driver.

I can’t tell if this is the best or worst idea I’ve ever had and I’d love to get your thoughts.

Sajeev Answers:

Aside from parking availability, this is one of the smartest things I’ve seen in months. Here’s why.

One of my closest friends lives in Brooklyn, and I’ve spent a few days there with his family.  I kinda loved it, as so many things were within walking distance from their apartment. So I see where you’re coming from. And your assessment of the Volvo and your need to find a reputable mechanic implies you’re covering all the bases. Considering the roads and availability of public transportation in NYC, having an old Volvo as your only mode of transport isn’t a bad idea.

It’s kind of a great idea. Plus, if you fill the cargo area with crates of PBR, you’d be the coolest cat in your borough.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist making a hipster joke. 

Get the Volvo, find a good indie mechanic, register on the brickboard forums and be an active lurker, sell the Prius and live a happy life with your dream car.  Many of us will be jealous, but we’ll be happy that you are happy.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: The Straw that broke the Hybrid’s Back? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/piston-slap-the-straw-that-broke-the-hybrids-back/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/piston-slap-the-straw-that-broke-the-hybrids-back/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=805330 Marc writes: Hi, I haven’t seen this addressed anywhere. I have 2006 Lexus RX400H with 106,000 miles. The vehicle is bulletproof never having a repair, it even has it’s original brakes. I traded in a 2000 RX 300 for it. The 300 also never had a repair. My question pertains to the hybrid batteries. Multiple […]

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Marc writes:

Hi, I haven’t seen this addressed anywhere.

I have 2006 Lexus RX400H with 106,000 miles. The vehicle is bulletproof never having a repair, it even has it’s original brakes. I traded in a 2000 RX 300 for it. The 300 also never had a repair.

My question pertains to the hybrid batteries. Multiple Toyota and Lexus dealers have stated to me, that they have seen few hybrids if any needing replacement batteries yet some Prius’ have been on the road for over 10 years but there doesn’t seem to be much said about the expected life of the battery packs. My battery warranty just expired. Is it time to trade it in to avoid the eventual high battery replacement cost or am I worrying about a problem that could be many years down the road.

Sajeev asks:

Hi there. Where do you live and how many electronic items on the cat do you regularly run? (A/C, stereo, heated seat, etc.)

Marc replies:

I live in Southern California. The AC is almost always on, music always on, NAV always on.

Sajeev concludes:

The series has indeed covered hybrid battery fail, Toyotas in particular.  Your location’s warm climate shall be easy on hybrid batteries, not taxing them with a ton of power robbing heater load. Or, to a lesser extent, the A/C load of hotter parts of the country.  But your battery will fail, and there are companies willing to help.

If you want the help.

Considering the lack of needed repairs (original brakes? Impressive!) on this RX, selling it while the going is good is quite logical. If you want a new vehicle! If not, find a hybrid battery vendor, get a brake job, fluid changes, etc. that will eventually be needed.

All this work could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, yet none of it scares me like a TDI+DSG Volkswagen product that’s out of warranty.  This stuff just needs to happen.  I’d wager it’s worth it, if you like the RX and wouldn’t want to pay for a new vehicle. Which is always gonna be your call, son.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Uchiyamada: Hybrids Soon Reaching 20 Percent Of Global Sales http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/uchiyamada-hybrids-soon-reaching-20-percent-of-global-sales/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/uchiyamada-hybrids-soon-reaching-20-percent-of-global-sales/#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 15:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=769666 The father of the Prius and Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada foresees hybrid sales climbing from 13 percent of global sales today to 20 percent in the near future. Automotive News Europe reports that while hybrids make up a good part of sales in the United States and Japan, they are currently a niche market in […]

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2014 Toyota Prius v

The father of the Prius and Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada foresees hybrid sales climbing from 13 percent of global sales today to 20 percent in the near future.

Automotive News Europe reports that while hybrids make up a good part of sales in the United States and Japan, they are currently a niche market in Europe in the face of equal- or better-performing diesels with lower price tags. However, Uchiyamada believes so strongly in his forecast that he didn’t factor plug-in hybrids in to his forecast, nor give a separate outlook for plug-ins.

Speaking of plug-in hybrids, Uchiyamada believes the key to success lies in higher volumes, especially among suppliers:

Suppliers need higher volumes to slash costs of components specific to plug-in models, including batteries that should be bigger and more capable than the ones used in traditional hybrids.

Regarding the Prius, Uchiyamada said the project — known as Project G21 — was a challenge, beginning with the proposal that the future Prius would net “one and a half times better fuel economy than anything that had existed before,” only to be told by top management to double the proposed number. Then, after a successful debut at the 1995 Tokyo Auto Show, he and his team spent 49 days trying to get the proto-Prius to move, finally doing so near the end of that year, “but only for 500 meters.”

Today, with 25 hybrids between Toyota and its premium brand Lexus, as well as a global total of over 6 million hybrids sold, Uchiyamada may have aged out of the title bestowed unto him regarding the Prius:

Maybe I am the grandfather by now.

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Review: 2014 Lexus GS 450h http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/review-2014-lexus-gs-450h-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/review-2014-lexus-gs-450h-with-video/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 14:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=750313 Last time TTAC looked at the Lexus GS Hybrid, Jack and I descended upon Vegas, drank too much, shared too much and one of us got purse-slapped (it wasn’t Jack). In other news, Jack found the GS a willing partner on the track, I kept drawing comparisons to the Volvo S80 T6 and Hyundai Genesis, […]

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2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-004

Last time TTAC looked at the Lexus GS Hybrid, Jack and I descended upon Vegas, drank too much, shared too much and one of us got purse-slapped (it wasn’t Jack). In other news, Jack found the GS a willing partner on the track, I kept drawing comparisons to the Volvo S80 T6 and Hyundai Genesis, and both of us agreed the GS 450h would be the car we’d buy. Despite telling you all that we would have a full review in “a few months,” it has in fact been “a few years.” Since that pair of articles hit, the luxury hybrid landscape has changed dramatically.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-001

The GS used to be the only hybrid game in town, but times have changed and nearly everyone has joined the party. BMW has their turbocharged ActiveHybrid 5, Mercedes just launched the E400 Hybrid, Infiniti has re-badged their M Hybrid the Q70 Hybrid, Acura is finally selling the all-wheel-drive RLX Hybrid and Audi has announced the A6 hybrid will come to America “soon” . This means that the S80 T6 and Genesis are no longer on my list, because we have head-to-head competition now.

Exterior

Lexus used to be known for restrained styling but the current generation GS marked a change for the Japanese luxury brand. In addition to taking on more aggressive front end styling, the GS was the first Lexus to wear the new “spindle” grille. The schnozz that seemed so controversial three years ago seems downright demure today, especially since this form has been adapted to the enormous (and some say questionable) LX 470. Perhaps because the GS was the first to wear the corporate grille, the styling seems slightly awkward from the front 3/4 shot (seen at the top) but looks better in person. Unlike the IS, which gets some sheetmetal swooshes on the side, the GS’s profile and rump are luxury car restrained. Overall I think the Infiniti Q70 hybrid, despite being a little long in the tooth, still wins the beauty contest. The Lexus and BMW are a bit too sedate for my tastes, and the RLX and A6 suffer from decidedly front-wheel-drive proportions when compared to the rest and the Mercedes lands smack in the middle.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior

Interior

The GS’ interior is dominated by a large and tall dashboard with a strong horizontal theme highlighting a large 12.3-inch LCD. The interior arrangement is certainly dramatic, but causes the cabin to have a slightly oppressive feel in the black shades our tester was cast in. While other car makers are moving to stitched leather dashed, Lexus seems content to blend stitched pleather and injection molded parts together. The combination of textures and  “un-lacquered” bamboo (exclusive to the hybrid) make the interior look Scandinavian. The light wood is more attractive in person than pictures might indicate, and while I question the “renewable resource” marketing on a large luxury sedan, like the hybrid drivetrain, I’m sure it will make shoppers feel special.

Base hybrid models get very comfortable 10-way power front seats, but most of the GS 450h sedans I saw on the lot were equipped with 18-way seats. The high-end throne sports the same types of articulation as BMW’s excellent “sport seats” with an articulating back, inflating bolsters, adjustable thigh support, four-way lumbar and  “butterfly” headrests. Needless to say, if you have trouble finding a comfortable seating position, you’re not human. This puts the GS hybrid at a distinct advantage in front comfort over the Mercedes, Audi and Infiniti models. Out back the GS’s rear seats are spacious, comfortable and optionally heated. While the Lexus and Infiniti fail to offer a folding rear seat, the Mercedes E400 hybrid has a generous cargo pass-through behind its optional 60/40 rear thrones.

Infotainment

Wide-screen infotainment systems are all the rage, so Lexus dropped a 12.3-inch LCD in the dash. The system ditches the intuitive touchscreen interface Lexus used for the better part of a decade for the Lexus joystick (it’s officially called Lexus Remote Touch) but importantly doesn’t alter the software to adapt to the input method. I hate it. It occupies a great deal of room on the center console, and it takes far more hand-eye-brain coördination than a touchscreen. Every time I am in a Lexus I find myself glancing at the screen and fiddling with the little control pad far more than when I’m in a competitor’s luxury sedan. This increased distraction hasn’t gone unnoticed by my better half who constantly nags me about keeping my eyes on the road. Want to enter an address using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard? It’s obvious why Lexus won’t let you do that in motion.

To soften the blow Lexus throws in the same media device voice command interface as the other Lexus and premium Toyota products receive. The system is snappy, managed to figure out every command I threw at and has a more natural sounding voice than MyLincoln Touch. Helping counter the nagging LRT caused (see how that’s not my fault now), the available Mark Levinson sound system can drown out even the most shrill mother-in-laws.

Perhaps reinforcing that Lexus focuses on the “meat” of the luxury segment and not the one-percent, you won’t find the same level of gee-wizardry in the GS as some of the Euro competitors, even in this top-end hybrid model. You won’t find night vision, a full-leather dashboard, expensive ceramic knobs, massaging front seats, or LCD instrument clusters. Instead, Lexus doubles down on perfect seams, quiet cabins, a high level of standard equipment and quantities of bamboo that would Lumber Liquidators make blush.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Engine-001

Drivetrain

While the GS 350 recently got an update in the form of a new Aisin 8-speed automatic, the GS 450h continues with just a minor software update. This means under the hood you will find the same direct-injection 3.5L Atkinson-cycle V6 engine and RWD hybrid transmission that launched in 2011. Combined with a 1.9 kWh NiMH battery pack in the trunk the system is good for 338 combined horsepower, 286 of which come from the gasoline engine. This is essentially the same engine found in the Highlander and RX hybrids, but the transmission is more similar to what Lexus uses in the LS 600hL. The unit combines the two motor/generator units with a 2-speed planetary gearset to improve efficiency at high speeds (as in on the Autobahn) but without the AWD system standard in the LS 600hL. The 2014 software update improves “sportiness” in sport mode and now imitates an 8-speed automatic instead of a 6-speed. While 338 horsepower compares well with the 6-cylinder competition, the GS 450h has the unenviable task of trying to be both the most efficient GS and the performance version as well. For reasons nobody knows, the more efficient GS 300h which uses a 2.5L four-cylinder engine is not sold in America.

By design, the Lexus hybrid system is very different from the competition. The two motor/generator units and the electrical circuitry combine with a single planetary gearsest to “act” as a continuously variable transmission. This setup allows the drivetrain to act as a serial hybrid (kind of), parallel hybrid, electric generator, or a pure EV at low speeds. In contrast Mercedes, BMW and Infiniti combine a traditional transmission with a single electric motor that replaces the torque converter. Transitions between electric and gasoline drive modes in these systems aren’t as smooth as the Lexus system because of the clutch packs involved in reconnecting the engine. Meanwhile Acura combines a dual-clutch robotic manual transmission with a twin-motor pack in the rear for the only AWD hybrid luxury sedan in this category.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-002

Pricing

GS 450h pricing starts at  $60,430 which is a considerable jump from the $47,700 GS 350, but in true luxury car fashion, you may be disappointed with what $60,000 buys you. Unlike BMW and Mercedes which offer plenty of ala carte options, the GS hybrid comes in three feature levels.  Base models don’t get navigation or snazzy LED headlamps. If you want those toys plus the 18-way front seats, semi-aniline leather, steering headlamps, heated steering wheel, 3-zone climate control, black and white heads up display, blind spot monitoring and a trunk mat, be prepared to lay down $72,062. A fully loaded $76,726 example gets the buyer heated rear seats, headlamp washers, a “high intensity heater” (an electric heater that will heat the cabin faster in cold weather), a windshield de-icer, water-repellent glass, radar cruise control with pre-collision warning, lane keeping assistant, remote engine starter, glass breakage sensor and a rear spoiler.

76 large may sound like an expensive buy, but the ActiveHybrid 5 takes the cake with a starting price of $61,400 and a fully loaded price of $87,185. Acura has been cagey about RLX hybrid pricing but their presentation at the launch indicated they plan on following Lexus’s pricing structure quite closely. Meanwhile, the Mercedes E400 hybrid delivered an unexpected value proposition with a low $56,700 starting price and when fully equipped with features not available on the GS it manages to still be slightly cheaper at $76,095. The Infiniti hybrid hasn’t changed its value proposition despite the name change and the Q70’s $55,550-$67,605 is the lowest in the group. Audi hasn’t announced A6 hybrid pricing but I expect it to slot in around the E400.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-003

Drive

To put things in the right perspective, I have to go back to the GS hybrid’s conflicted mission. Since Lexus decided to kill off the V8 GS sedan in this generation, Lexus doesn’t have a direct answer to the BMW 550i, Mercedes E550, Audi S6, or even the Infiniti Q70 5.6 (formerly known as the M56). This means the GS 450h has a secondary mission as the top-end GS trim while the other hybrids (except for the RLX) are middle-tier options and this puts the GS in an odd bind. Lexus tells us that the reason the GS lacks a V8 is that only 5% of the Germans are shipped with one. While that may be true in Europe, it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case in California.

The split mission is most obvious when it comes to the performance numbers. Despite having more power than the GS 350, the GS 450h is slower to 60 than its gasoline-only stable mate and considerably slower than the BMW, Infiniti, and even the Acura with the only the Mercedes being slower to highway speed. Still, 0-60 in 6-seconds is hardly slow and the GS performs the task with the silence and serenity you expect from a luxury sedan. Although Lexus describes the transmission as an eCVT, this isn’t a belt/pulley CVT like you find in economy cars. As a result, it feels more civilized and less “rubber-bandy.” I found the CVT manners throughly appropriate for a luxury car and the smooth acceleration befits a brand built on smooth drivetrains. Unlike a “real CVT,” engaging the eight imitation speeds is quick and easy with fast shifts from one “gear” to another. Unfortunately this does little for the GS hybrid’s sport credentials and in no way helps it compete with the V8s from the German competition.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-009

Although the GS gives up plenty in the thrust-department, it really shines in the bends. The GS’s chassis is well sorted and nearly perfectly balanced. All GS hybrid models get a standard adaptive suspension system with several levels of damping, but unlike the air suspension in the Lexus LS, the GS’s adaptive suspension is based on electronically controlled struts much like the BMW system. This eliminates the “disconnected” and “floaty” feeling you get with air suspensions found on full-size luxo-barges. When pushed in the corners the GS quite simply feels better than the BMW. Yep. I said it. Today’s 5-series has a more luxurious mission in mind, so the little it gives up to the GS shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Mercedes and Infiniti feel very accurate, although heavy, and the Audi and RLX are a mixed bag. Unless Audi works some unexpected magic, the A6 hybrid will remain decidedly nose-heavy. The Acura RLX, although it has a similar weight distribution problem as the Audi, has a slick torque vectoring AWD system in the back. Not only can the RLX torque vector in power-on situations like a electronically controlled conventional rear axle, but it can torque vector in “neutral” and “power off” situations as well. Although the RLX feels by far the most “artificial” in the group on winding mountain roads, it is one of the better handling sedans and at the moment the only AWD hybrid in this category.

Of course the primary reason for buying a hybrid is to save on gas. Right? Maybe. With a 29 MPG City, 34 MPG Highway and 31 MPG combined rating there’s no doubt that the GS 450h is a fuel sipping 338 horsepower luxury sedan. However at more than $10,000 more expensive than a similarly equipped GS 350 it would take you more than 20 years to “save money.” We did average an excellent 31.5 MPG over 800 miles with the GS hybrid, a notable improvement over the Infiniti hybrid and the short time I spent in the RLX hybrid. Although we haven’t extensively tested the BMW and Mercedes hybrids yet, brief spins in both indicate they will slot in under the GS. There’s one more problem for the GS: Mercedes’ new E250 diesel. No, it’s not a speed daemon, but at 34 mpg combined it not only makes up for the higher cost of diesel with the higher fuel economy, it starts around $9,000 less than a GS 450h as well.

The GS 450h is without a doubt the best Lexus GS sedan available. It gives up little in terms of performance while delivering excellent fuel economy, a quiet and comfortable cabin and most of the gadgets and gizmos a luxury shopper could buy. Trouble is, unless the Lexus dealer is the only game in town, nearly every other alternative in this segment has a list of reasons to buy it over the GS. The RLX has a trendy AWD system despite the discount brand association, the Q70’s brand image isn’t quite as premium but it’s thousands less, the Mercedes takes the sweet spot in the middle known as “value” (how’s that for a surprise?) and the BMW offers the best performance and the biggest list of options if you can afford it. As the top end trim for the GS line the 450h also has troubles coming in just about as expensive as the competition’s V8 offerings but offering no better performance than the GS 350. The biggest problem for the GS however is the price. If the GS 450h was $5,000-$7,000 less expensive,  this would be an easy win. As it is, the GS manages to be the car I liked the most in this segment, but the one I’d be least likely to buy.

 

Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.88 Seconds

0-60: 6.01 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.49 Seconds @ 104 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 31.5 MPH over 800 miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 68 dB

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Engine 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Trunk-001 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Trunk 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-012 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-011 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-007 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-008 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-009 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-010 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-006 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-005 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-004 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-003 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-011 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-001 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-002 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-010 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-009 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-008 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-007 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-004 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-002 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Engine-001

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Piston Slap: Overhyped Hybrid Analysis Paralysis? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/725066/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/725066/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 16:02:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=725066 Mishie writes: Hi – I love your blog. Its been an invaluable resource in my efforts to purchase a car. I have a pretty long daily commute and I’m a bit of a greenie so I’m really interested in purchasing a hybrid. I’ve looked at a number of models including the new Honda Accord hybrid […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

Mishie writes:

Hi –

I love your blog. Its been an invaluable resource in my efforts to purchase a car. I have a pretty long daily commute and I’m a bit of a greenie so I’m really interested in purchasing a hybrid. I’ve looked at a number of models including the new Honda Accord hybrid but I’ve hesitated in buying the model I really wanted – the Prius – because of reports of acceleration and braking issues. Do those issues still persist?

I’m also pretty partial to the Lexus RX450 but since its a Toyota, I’m guessing its plagued with the same issues. I’ve looked at the Ford Fusion (not entirely sold on its reliability), the Honda Accord (too new and no room for a spare tire), and the Hyundai Sonata (read about their braking issues also). Is there a reliable hybrid out there? I have very little aptitude for mechanics so feel free to respond as if I’m ten. LOL!

Thanks,
Mishie

Sajeev answers:

Don’t worry, there are no stupid questions…provided they aren’t addressed to Sanjeev. But I digress…

That said, drop everything and go buy a Prius now!  Are you letting recalls and the media frenzy around unintended acceleration stopping you?  If on the remote chance this happens, put the vehicle in neutral and regain your sanity.  Because unintended acceleration can happen to anyone.  Try to kill the panic as fast as possible, and get the car under control with a flick of the shift lever. Okay?

And what of the Prius braking problems?  Done.  Over.  They certainly replaced a bad part/design and “bled” the brake lines to make sure everything works correctly. For decades now, braking systems incorporate safeguards (like multichannel brake fluid distribution) to keep this from being a life threatening problem. And they don’t call it an emergency brake for no reason!

Stop worrying about problems commonplace in the car biz, or continue to worry and take the bus. Put another way: there are NO BAD CARS. Even the Smart Car isn’t necessarily bad. And while Land Rovers are unreliable wallet killers and Corollas are perfect to the point of boredom, the differences between a “good” car and a “bad” car are nearasdamnit to statistically insignificant.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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The Case For Killing Scion And Setting Prius Free http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/the-case-for-killing-scion-and-letting-prius-live/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/the-case-for-killing-scion-and-letting-prius-live/#comments Sat, 18 Jan 2014 18:30:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=702442 As I bent down to get a better look at the FT-1’s rear three-quarter, I could see the Scion display in the background, far away and slightly out of focus-an ironic metaphor for a brand that had nothing new on display at the show. Their product line, aside from the FR-S, was aging and seemed […]

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Scion-Lead

As I bent down to get a better look at the FT-1’s rear three-quarter, I could see the Scion display in the background, far away and slightly out of focus-an ironic metaphor for a brand that had nothing new on display at the show. Their product line, aside from the FR-S, was aging and seemed to lack any of the real quirkiness the brand had when it was launched.

This got me thinking – what exactly was the point of Scion today? Toyota’s marketing of the Corolla seems targeted at the same buyer that would have traditionally considered a Scion – fun, youthful, charismatic and a bit on the odd side. (Notice, I didn’t use ‘hipster’!)

The Sales Data

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 12.16.06 PM

Scion isn’t doing well. Actually they’re doing horrible.

Sales in 2013 were down 60% from a high in 2006. But not to worry Mr. Toyoda, I have a solution!

1. (Quietly) Kill Scion.

Yes, it’s time to cut the brand loose. Sales are faltering and other than FR-S, the brand doesn’t appear to have any product that will save it.

2. Replace Scion with Prius

Prius has become synonymous with fuel-efficiency and being green. Since the brand expanded the lineup with C and V, they’ve dwarfed Scion’s best year by 60,000 models. Making Prius a standalone brand will allow Toyota to further define and hone the consumer message on efficiency and explore new product offerings.

3. Build Prius CUV, Prius FR-E (EV FR-S) and small (very) light-duty ‘van’

Now that Prius is a standalone brand it needs just a few more products. The first is a capable CUV that could be loosely based on the RAV4, but should be redesigned to maintain the Prius aerodynamics and style as best as possible.

Second, consider an EV-powered version of the FR-S. Replace the Subaru engine with a performance-oriented EV package. Allow FR-S to fall under the Toyota brand during its mid-model refresh as a medium-priced ‘fun’ car to set under whatever the FT-1 will become.

If Toyota can make a business case for a larger MPV, designed more for delivery (Postal Service, delivery, etc) explore a bare bones HFE-MPV (50MPG+) delivery vehicle.

Have you lost your mind?

No,well, maybe.  But Toyota certainly has if they think they can revive Scion to any level of relevancy. The FR-S was a valiant effort, but lets be real, it’s a niche product whose supply will soon meet demand.

Fuel economy isn’t only important for CAFE, but also for consumers. With an almost inevitable gas tax increase and some form of global conflict always on the horizon, fuel economy will always be important to those who think beyond the now. But high MPGs is just a small part of what the Prius brand could become.

In my vision, Prius would become a sustainable lifestyle brand, offering not just cars but other products and technologies in the area of transposition, sustainability and overall efficient/green living. The goodwill benefits of running a sustainable lifestyle brand would outweigh what, if any, benefits Scion could currently offer Toyota Motors Corporation.

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News Flash: Prius Pokes Pedestrians, Bimmers Bump Blithely, Ladies Catch A Break http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/news-flash-prius-pokes-pedestrians-bimmers-bump-blithely-ladies-catch-a-break/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/news-flash-prius-pokes-pedestrians-bimmers-bump-blithely-ladies-catch-a-break/#comments Wed, 14 Aug 2013 15:15:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=499340 You’ve always suspected that BMWs don’t respect pedestrian safety. Now there’s a survey that confirms what you already believed, making you feel very warm and fuzzy inside. The NYT is reporting some details of a study of motorist behavior and courtesy to pedestrians. It confirms much of what you’d expect: The study also found that […]

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impact

You’ve always suspected that BMWs don’t respect pedestrian safety. Now there’s a survey that confirms what you already believed, making you feel very warm and fuzzy inside.


The NYT is reporting some details of a study of motorist behavior and courtesy to pedestrians. It confirms much of what you’d expect:

The study also found that male drivers were less likely to stop for pedestrians than were women, and that drivers of both sexes were more likely to stop for a female pedestrian than a male one.

“One of the most significant trends was that fancy cars were less likely to stop,” said Mr. Piff, adding, “BMW drivers were the worst.”

Stupid fancy cars and their fancy-pantsy drivers, probably wearing ascots and whatnot as they drive their $219/month 320i Sportronic X Drives home from their soul-destroying cubicle jobs! But it turns out the narcissists behind the Roundel aren’t the only villains:

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where the hybrid gas-and-electric-powered Toyota Prius is considered a status symbol among the environmentally conscious, the researchers classified it as a premium model.

“In our higher-status vehicle category, Prius drivers had a higher tendency to commit infractions than most”

AHA! We all know why that is, right? It isn’t lack of courtesy or consideration. It a concern with regeneration. Stopping for pedestrians in a hurry necessitates wasteful use of the brakes, decreases fuel economy, and causes the planet to cry out as if a thousand BTUs were suddenly silenced or something like that. Every time you save a life near People’s Park, a polar bear winds up floating on a tiny little iceberg! And nobody wants that. I mean, you could wind up stuck on that iceberg with that polar bear. And then we all know what happens next.

Note: Listening to this video, even at home, will cost you your job. It has the F-word in it. At least twice. Don’t watch this video unless your mom says it’s okay and you are independently wealthy and have already heard the song and know what to expect. Other songs from this group, “Method of Destruction”, are offensive to people of all lifestyles and make light of the tragic incident in which Jim Gordon, the guy who wrote the piano coda to “Layla”, murdered his mother. Also there are jokes about Ethopia. I really cannot emphasize enough that you don’t want to watch this video. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

It’s also no surprise that men are more likely to both commit and receive motorist-on-pedestrian offenses, unless you really and truly believe that men and women are alike in all ways, in which case it will be a surprise. Last but not least, although the survey’s authors speak in reverent terms about the pedestrian courtesy displayed by “beaters”, I wouldn’t step out in front of anything labeled “Eurosport”, “Brougham”, or “Ghia” while within the city limits of Detroit, Michigan.

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Review: 2013 Chevrolet Volt (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2013-chevrolet-volt-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2013-chevrolet-volt-video/#comments Mon, 22 Jul 2013 13:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=495593 The Chevrolet Volt may be the most maligned and least understood car on the market. After a week of strange questions and bipolar reactions to GM’s plug-in hybrid, I came to a conclusion. GM’s marketing of the Volt stinks. By calling the Volt an “Electric Vehicle (EV) with a range extender,” a huge segment of […]

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2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Chevrolet Volt may be the most maligned and least understood car on the market. After a week of strange questions and bipolar reactions to GM’s plug-in hybrid, I came to a conclusion. GM’s marketing of the Volt stinks. By calling the Volt an “Electric Vehicle (EV) with a range extender,” a huge segment of the population can’t get past “Electric” and immediately cross the Volt off their list. There is also [strangely] a segment of the population that says, “that’s great but I want a hybrid.”  Guess what? The Volt is a hybrid.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Aerodynamics dictate the shape of modern high-efficiency cars, and as a result, the Volt has a profile very similar to the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius. Like the Japanese hybrids, the Volt is a liftback design which is more practical than your typical trunk lid for carrying large items from the home improvement store.

The Volt’s styling isn’t for everyone, but I find the overall style aggressive and attractive. There is a caveat. Since the shape is dictated by wind-tunnel testing (just like the Prius and Insight) the Volt reminds me of NASCAR cars. Why? Because they all have the same shape and teams paint / add decals to “brand” their car. The Volt/Prius/Insight reminds me of this tactic and parked next to one another in the dark you’d be hard pressed to differentiate them by silhouette.

For its first refresh since it launched as a 2011, GM decided to ditch the somewhat awkward black roof and black painted liftgate opting for a more harmonious body-matching hue. There are also subtle tweaks to the rear tail lamp modules this year.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Hybrids have long suffered cheaper looking and feeling interiors than their “normal” counterparts. That is true for the Prius, Insight and the Volt. The reason is two-fold. The first is obviously cost. Motors and batteries aren’t cheap and the Volt has 288 batteries jammed into a “T” shaped battery pack that runs the length of the car and across the back of the car behind the rear seats. With a nominal 16.5kWh capacity, this battery is about four times larger than the Prius Plug-In’s pack and nearly twice the size of Ford’s Energi. The second reason is weight. Hard plastics weigh less.

Hard plastics included, the Volt is a nicer place to spend your time than a Prius but Ford’s C-MAX takes top position in terms of interior parts feel. Style is subjective, but I would rank the Volt between the Prius’ funky interior design and the C-MAX’s mainstream interior. Part of this is because 2013 brings more sedate and mainstream choices to the Volt’s interior. Gone are the funky orange door panels with “circuit board” patterns replaced by a dark silver plastic panels on the black interior. New for 2013 is some brown love, a color combo that brings the Volt’s interior feel up a substantial notch without actually improving the quality of the plastics.

Front seat comfort slots between the Ford and Toyota alternatives up front, in the rear there is less headroom and legroom than in the Prius or C-MAX. There is also one less seat. The lack of a 5th seat seems to be a common reason given for choosing something else over the Volt, but the battery had to go somewhere so the Volt trades more cargo room with the seats in place vs the C-MAX Energi for that 5th seat. Pick your poison.

 

2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment & Gadgets

When it comes to infotainment and trendy gadgets, the Volt scores big. Sure the 7-inch LCD gauge cluster isn’t as snazzy as Land Rover’s 12-inch readout, but the Prius is stuck in a 1980s Chrysler LeBaron electrofluorescent-time-warp and one 7-inch readout trumps Ford’s twin-4.2″ display setup in my mind. That’s before I comment that the Volt’s gauges are where they belong, in front of the driver…

The Volt gets Chevy’s latest MyLink infotainment system with some slight tweaks for 2013. GM’s mid-market  entertainment operating system is one of my favorites. The graphics are slick, the display is easy to read and GM offers a touchscreen and a joystick/knob controller so you can use whatever comes naturally. Unlike MyFord Touch and Cadillac’s CUE, the Chevy is virtually crash-free and always responsive. 2013 brings improved voice commands for your USB/iDevice allowing you to command your tunes at the press of a button, and unlike Toyota’s similar system, MyLink doesn’t have a problem with large music libraries. If you opt for nav software, destination entry is quick and the map software uses high-resolution maps with satellite traffic info.

On the safety gadget front 2013 brings collision and blind spot warning systems from the Cadillac XTS. The system is camera based so you can’t get radar adaptive cruise control, a system that is offered on the Prius and the Fusion Energi but not on the C-Max Energi.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Before we dive into the Volt, it’s important to know how hybrid systems work. GM’s Belt-Alternator-Starter, Mercedes’ S400 Hybrid and Honda’s IMA hybrids are all systems where the engine is always connected and even if the car is capable of “EV” mode, the engine is spinning. Porsche, VW, Infiniti and others use a pancake motor and clutch setup to disconnect the engine from the motor and transmission allowing a “pure EV” mode. Honda’s new Accord has a 2-mode setup where the motor drives the wheels via a fixed ratio gearset, the engine drives a motor and above 45MPH a clutch engages, linking the engine and motor together at a ratio of roughly 1:1. Ford, Toyota and the Volt use a planetary gearset “power splitting” device. Yes, the Volt uses a hybrid system that although not identical, is thematically similar to Ford & Toyota’s hybrid system.

Say what? I thought GM said it was a serial hybrid? Yes, GM did at some point say that and I think that has caused more confusion than anything else about the Volt. The bankrupt Fisker Karma is only a serial hybrid. The engine drives a generator, the generator powers the battery and the motor to move the car forward. At no point can the engine provide any motive power to the wheels except via the electrical connection.

The Volt’s innovation is that it can operate like a Fisker Karma or like a Prius. It is therefore both a serial and a parallel hybrid. To do this, GM alters the power split device power flow VS the Ford/Toyota design. Then they add a clutch allowing the gasoline engine to be mechanically isolated from the wheels. And finally they add software with a whole new take on a hybrid system.

volt-tranmission, Courtesy of MotorTrend.com

The Volt has four distinct operating modes.

  1. Starting off from a stop, the Volt draws power from its 16.5kWh (10.8 usable) battery pack to power the 149HP main motor.
  2. At higher speeds, the car will connect the 72HP secondary motor/generator via the planetary gearset. This is not to increase power, but to reduce the main motor’s RPM therefore increasing efficiency. Maximum horsepower is still 149.

When the battery is low, or when “hold” or “mountain modes are engaged, the system switches to one of two hybrid modes.

  1. The system starts the 1.4L 84 HP gasoline engine and uses it to turn a 72HP motor/generator. The system feeds the power to the battery and primary motor. Maximum horsepower is still 149. When more than 72HP is being consumed, the balance is drawn from the battery.
  2. When more power is required, the system disengages the clutch pack and the system functions very much like a Ford/Toyota hybrid with the gasoline engine assisting in the propulsion both mechanically and electrically via the power split device. Maximum horsepower is still 149 BUT this mode alters the torque curve of the combined system and in this mode acceleration is slightly faster than in any other mode.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Why do I mention the four modes? Because you can easily encounter all four modes in a single trip. Which mode the Volt uses is determined by the car, it is not user-selectable. Starting off at home with a full battery, I was able to drive 32 miles in EV mode. That’s about 22 more than the Prius Plug-In and 18 more than the C-MAX Energi. How is that possible with a battery that is so much larger? Allow me to digress for a moment.

GM takes an interesting and very conservative approach to battery life. Rather than charging and discharging the battery nearly completely as Nissan and Tesla’s EVs do, the Volt will only use the “middle” 65% of the battery. This means that when the display says it is “full,” the battery is really only 85% charged. When it reads empty, the true state of charge is around 35%. Why? Because batteries degrade more rapidly when they are at high or low states of charge. By never operating the battery at these extremes and having an active thermal management system, I expect the Volt’s battery to have a longer life than other vehicles on the market with the same battery chemistry.

Back to those modes. We clocked 0-60 in 8.72 seconds when the Volt was operating as an EV (slightly faster than the C-MAX Energi and much faster than a Prius). In parallel hybrid mode, the broader torque curve dropped this to 8.4 seconds. Transitions between modes is practically seamless unless you are driving the Volt aggressively on mountain roadways. On steep inclines when you’re at a lower state of charge, the Volt will switch from serial-hybrid to parallel-hybrid modes to keep from draining the battery below the minimum threshold. Transitioning from one mode to the other causes a momentary delay in power application as the transmission disengages the clutch pack and synchronizes the speeds of the motors and engine. This transition is more pronounced than a typical gear shift in a traditional automatic.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When it comes to road holding, the porky 3,899lb C-MAX Energi is the winner thanks to its wide 225-width rubber and the chassis’ Euro origins. The Volt is a close second at 3,781lbs with the standard 215 low rolling resistance rubber. The Prius? A distant third despite being the lightest at 3,165lbs. Admittedly handling better than a Prius isn’t a terribly high bar to leap, but in the grand scheme of things the Volt handles as well as the average compact sedan. Overall wind and road noise slot (yet again) between the quieter C-MAX and the noisier Prius.

Fuel economy is the most important part of a hybrid, and this is the area where the Volt starts having problems. Starting with a full battery (at my rates, this cost $1.52) the first 32 miles were in EV mode followed by 26 miles in hybrid mode. My average economy was 90 MPG, a few better than the Prius plug-in’s 72 on the same trip and 60 for the Ford. Being unable to charge the Volt at my office due to construction, these numbers fell rapidly on my way home. On this single-charge round trip, the Prius averaged 62 MPG, the C-MAX averaged 50 and the Volt dropped to 46. What’s going on? Once under way the Volt’s four-mode hybrid system seems to be less efficient than the C-MAX. The exact reasons for this I’m not sure, but on a round-trip commute without charging, I averaged 32-33 MPG vs the 40.7 in the C-MAX Energi and 52 in the Prius Plug-In. The longer you drive your Volt without charging it, the more it will cost to run than the Ford or Toyota.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Charging Port

On the flip side if your commute is within 30-35 miles of a charging station you will almost never use the gasoline engine. (The Volt will run it now and then to make sure the gasoline doesn’t go bad in the plumbing.) Unlike the alternatives, the Volt will also stay pure electric even under full throttle acceleration giving you a driving experience that is very much like a LEAF/Tesla until you deplete the battery.

This brings us full circle to the EV vs hybrid question. What is the Volt? In my opinion it’s a plug-in hybrid. I also think this is the best marketing angle for GM because when you explain to people that there is no range anxiety in the Volt and you can use the HOV lane in California solo, they seem to “get it.” The fly in the ointment is the price, The Volt starts at $39,145 and ends just shy of 45-large. The “that’s too much to pay for an electric Cruze” is a hard rep to shake, and even GM throwing cash on the Volt’s hood isn’t helping. Factor in the $8,000 premium over the C-MAX Energi and Prius Plug-In and you start to see the rest of the problem. At the end of my week with Chevy’s car with a plug I came to the conclusion that the Volt is the most misunderstood car on the market right now. But with a high sticker price and only four seats I’m not entirely sure that understanding GM’s conflicted EV/Hybrid will help them sell.

 

 General Motors provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.285 Seconds (EV Mode)

0-60: 8.72 Seconds (EV Mode), 8.4 Seconds (hybrid mode)

1/4 Mile: 16.66 Seconds @ 84 MPH (EV Mode)

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 48MPG over 565 miles, 32-33MPG hybrid mode

 

2013 Chevrolet Volt Charging Port 2013 Chevrolet Volt Drivetrain 2013 Chevrolet Volt Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-001 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-002 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-003 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-004 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-005 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-007 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-008 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-009 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-001 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-002 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-003 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-005 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-006 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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Prius Sales To Fall Short Of Expectations http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/prius-sales-to-fall-short-of-expectations/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/prius-sales-to-fall-short-of-expectations/#comments Wed, 03 Jul 2013 14:03:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=494063 Talk about timing: On the day Toyota announced that cumulative sales of the Prius passed the 3 million mark, Reuters says Toyota may fall short of its goal to sell 250,000 of the Prius in the U.S. this year. “The 240,000 to 250,000 range is kind of where we’re settling our sights for the Prius […]

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Picture courtesy motorafondo.net

Talk about timing: On the day Toyota announced that cumulative sales of the Prius passed the 3 million mark, Reuters says Toyota may fall short of its goal to sell 250,000 of the Prius in the U.S. this year.

“The 240,000 to 250,000 range is kind of where we’re settling our sights for the Prius family,” Toyota’s U.S. sales chief Bill Fay told the wire.

U.S. sales of all Prius models fell 5.1 percent during the first six months of 2013, while Toyota’s overall U.S. sales rose 6 percent. The Prius usually gets a lift from rising gasoline prices. The reverse is also true.

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Tales From The Cooler: Disregarded Dreadful Drivers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/tales-from-the-cooler-disregarded-dreadful-drivers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/tales-from-the-cooler-disregarded-dreadful-drivers/#comments Thu, 09 May 2013 01:07:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=487855 We are bombarded with messages about the dangers of drunk driving, of the hazard of talking and texting on cell phones while driving, and the need to give a wide berth to folks driving Zipcars. We think there are many other varieties of unsafe motorists that get no attention from the media. As a public […]

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Left Lane Priuses courtesy zazzle.comWe are bombarded with messages about the dangers of drunk driving, of the hazard of talking and texting on cell phones while driving, and the need to give a wide berth to folks driving Zipcars. We think there are many other varieties of unsafe motorists that get no attention from the media. As a public service, let’s take a look five subtle, but equally scary, drivers that make the highways a real challenge.

Prius Drivers NOT Blocking The Left Lane

These drivers scare me the most: Prius pilots running 20 miles per hour under the flow of traffic while in the right lane of a freeway, eyes glued to their fuel consumption gauge. They clearly did not read their owner’s manual, which spells out they are required to hold up traffic in the left lane. They are an unpredictable lot, prone to uneven speeds and sudden braking, unlike their left-lane brethren who you know are never going to yield to faster cars and thus you can adjust accordingly.

Drivers With Cars With Too Many Bumper Stickers

Van with bumper stickers Courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

Question: When was the last time you saw a vehicle with more than two bumper stickers running quickly and unobtrusively through traffic? Answer: You never have. To these motorists, a car is not even an appliance – it is a bulletin board used to express their political views. I don’t think they realize that people cannot read their messages due to the clouds of blue smoke belching out the tailpipes of their beaters.

Driver Who Insist On Holding Fluffy In Their Lap

Dog in Car Courtesy gopetfriendlyblog.com

Your cell phone won’t poop or pee in your lap or yap at other cars. Besides distracting the driver, dogs can and do get injured or die by falling out of vehicles. The state of Hawaii has already banned motorists from holding animals while driving and three other states can ticket you under distracted driving laws. If they sport more than two bumper stickers, call the highway patrol.

Drivers Of Dump Trucks And Gravel Trucks

I hate gravel trucks courtesy ladiesofthegrove.blogspot.com

I have the greatest respect for professional truck drivers. These are not professional truck drivers. They are usually minimum wage, minimum brain and, in my neck of the woods, minimum English speaking individuals. Whether cracking your windshield – always directly in your line of sight – by shooting up an errant rock or mowing down a group of motorcyclists, these goons may be the very worst drivers on the road. And good luck going after the trucking company to replace your windshield: did you ever see a dump truck with a readable license plate?

Drivers Who Brake With Their Left Foot

Audi braking Courtesy montecarloforum.com

Anytime you spot a car with its brake lights stuck on, you can bet the driver is resting his or her left foot on the brake pedal. (I give Land Rover drivers a pass on this one, as their taillights may genuinely be stuck on permanently.)  If you are behind one and they slam on the brakes, you will have no way of knowing they are stopping and if you hit them you will be deemed responsible. Any old-time used car manager can tell you they used to judge brake wear by the scuffing on the left side of a brake pedal. I really thought these folks had all died off, as the teaching of left footed braking in driver’s education ended decades ago, but it appears to be making a comeback.

I know you can add many other obscure terrible drivers to this list…

 


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Review: 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/review-2013-ford-c-max-energi-plug-in-hybrid-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/review-2013-ford-c-max-energi-plug-in-hybrid-video/#comments Fri, 25 Jan 2013 13:48:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=474057 In 2005, ABC News Polls claimed the average daily commute in America was 16 miles, a number borne out in our own Facebook poll. If you have a commute like that and want an EV for commuting and a hybrid for road tripping, you’re the target demographic for a plug-in hybrid. Since I’m not a […]

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In 2005, ABC News Polls claimed the average daily commute in America was 16 miles, a number borne out in our own Facebook poll. If you have a commute like that and want an EV for commuting and a hybrid for road tripping, you’re the target demographic for a plug-in hybrid. Since I’m not a trust fund baby, and neither are most of TTAC’s readers, I’m going to forget about the Karma while we dive deep into Ford’s first (and interestingly spelled) Energi.

Click here to view the embedded video.

C-MAX and C-MAX Energi

“Energi” is Ford-speak for “plug-in hybrid.” On our shores, the C-MAX competes with the Prius V and to some extent the Prius, while the Energi targets the Prius Plug-in and Volt. Let’s cover the basics first. “Our” C-MAX is an Americanized version of the European C-MAX. Aside from making the requisite changes for American safety legislation and some bumper cover tweaks, the difference boils down to one major change: the American C-MAX is hybrid only while its Euro twin get a traditional gasoline/diesel mix.

The C-MAX strikes an interesting pose on American roads looking like the product of crossbreeding a Focus and a Windstar. The hatchback’s tall greenhouse, tall roof-line and crossover styling cues were no doubt penned to confuse entice the suburban set. I find the design as a whole more attractive than the Prius, but less exciting than the Volt. At 173 inches long, the C-MAX is 2 inches longer than a Focus hatchback, but 3 inches shorter than the Prius and 3.5 inches shorter than the Volt. Exterior dimensions are a tough comparison however since the Prius and Volt have a more sedan-like profile.

Interior

The Energi shares most of its dashboard with the new Escape. The only major change is a unique instrument cluster with twin LCDs like the Fusion hybrid. Since this cabin wasn’t designed with weight savings in mind, it has a more premium feel than the Prius or Volt thanks to Ford’s dedication to squishy dash bits and color matching plastics.

Perhaps due to the non-hybrid roots, you won’t find anything futuristic or weird in this cabin. There are no centrally mounted gauges, no acres of touch-buttons and no all-LCD instrument cluster. That’s not to say the Energi has a sumptuous cabin per se, but it is the only cabin in this trio that could pass muster in a “normal” $37,000 vehicle. Barely. (Our tester rang in at $37,435.) The Prius on the other hand is full of plastics and fabrics more at home in a $16,000 econo-box.

Ford offers two interior colors on the Energi: black-on-black-on-black, or a greyish tan and your choice of fabric or leather. (I recommend the lighter shade as it makes the cabin feel less claustrophobic.) Front seat comfort is good thanks to an upright crossover-like seating position, wide seats and a decent range of motion. The tilt/telescopic steering wheel extends further than I had expected and made finding a comfortable driving position easy for a variety of driver sizes. The tall cabin and upright seats didn’t fool me into thinking the Energi was a crossover, but my back and legs appreciated the seating position and it means the Energi offers considerably more headroom than the Prius or Volt.

The rear seats are a bit close to the floor for adults but are the right height for most children. Despite looking narrow, the Energi is more than 3 inches wider than the Prius and 1.5 wider than the Volt which translates into a wider cabin. Sitting three abreast is more comfortable in the Energi than the Prius and more legal than the Volt which only has belts for four. If you routinely carry adults in the rear, the Energi provides 4 inches more headroom and a 2 inches more legroom than the Volt.

When cargo schlepping, the C-MAX’s non-hybrid roots are obvious because of where the battery is located. As you can see in the photo above, the battery pack takes up the entire spare tire well and about 7 inches of the trunk floor as well (4 more than the C-MAX without the plug). The reduced hold is a few cubes smaller than the Prius Plug-in (19.2 vs 21.6) but about twice the size of the Volt’s 10.6. Keep in mind that 19.2 cu-ft is larger than most sedans, but because Ford didn’t adjust the roller-cargo-cover position, you can only put three carrry-on roller bags under the cover. Without the cover it was possible to fit four such bags (rotated 90-degrees) and still see out the rear window.

Infotainment

All Energi models come with Ford’s MyFord Touch system with SYNC voice commands. The system combines climate, entertainment, telephone and navigation chores into one integrated system that looks snazzy and responds to your every whim via voice commands. When it landed in 2010 the press (and owners) soon discovered the system had more bugs than a bag of 5-year-old flour, thankfully Ford has corrected the majority of the flaws although the system remains sluggish at times. Ford’s system used to be unique in its ability to voice command your tunes and climate control but Toyota’s Entune and Chevrolet’s MyLink systems now offer very similar features without the bugs or “laggy” graphics.

Ford’s decision to make the C-MAX look and feel like a normal car has a downside. While the “normal” displays will make hybrid virgins feel at ease, they do little to tell you what’s going on under the hood. Instead of a tachometer you’ll find a configurable kW gauge showing how much power the engine and motor are providing. You’ll also see a small battery icon that displays your state of charge and your EV range. The system provides a “braking coach” display that grades you on your ability to recover energy but it does so after the fact rather than helping you adjust your foot while braking.

Drivetrain

The heart of the C-MAX and the C-MAX Energi drivetrain is a 2.0L Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine producing 141HP and 129lb-ft of twist and a Ford designed hybrid transaxle that combines a 118HP traction motor and a smaller motor/generator. When working together, the system delivers 188 system horsepower and a TTAC estimated 200-220lb0ft of torque.This is considerably more than the Prius’ 134 system HP and the Volt’s 149HP. Like the Prius, the Ford sips regular unleaded while the Volt demands premium.

The Energi model uses a 7.6kWh battery pack (7.2 usable) which slots between the Prius Plug-in’s 4.4 (4.2 usable) kWh and the Volt’s 16.5kWh (10.8 usable) packs. If you look at those numbers you’ll notice something, the Volt has a bigger battery but uses less of it. There’s a reason. Battery life is reduced by a number of factors but one of the big ones is being at either a high or low state of charge. By using a “larger” battery and never charging it beyond 85% or discharging it below 20% GM is treats their cells with kid gloves. Because of this I believe the Volt’s battery is likely to last longer than the competition. Ford claims the Energi is good for 21 miles of EV driving while the Volt claims 38 miles and the Prius lasts only 11. In my testing, the real world numbers drop to 16 for the Energi, 29 for the Volt and 9 for the Prius.

Charging times for the Energi vary from 7 hours when plugged into a regular 120V outlet to 2.5 hours if you have access to a 240V “Level 2″ charging station. This (yet again) slots between the Prius Plug-in’s 2.5/1.5 hours (120/240V) and the Volts 16/4 hours (120/240V). As with the Prius and the Volt, you don’t have to charge the car if you don’t want to. (Although why you would spend $8,500 for the bigger battery and never use it is beyond me.)

On the road

Like the Prius Plug-in, what allows the Energi to operate as an EV has nothing to do with what’s under the hood. The battery’s discharge rate is what limits EV travel. The C-MAX’s battery tops out at 46HP while the Energi increases the discharge rate to 91HP. As with the rest of the drivetrain metrics, the Energi’s output slots between the Prius Plug-in’s 51HP and the Volt’s 149HP. Think of the Volt vs Energi in this way: In normal EV driving they operate very similarly, but while the Volt delivers 149HP with or without the engine running, the Energi offers 91 or 188 ponies depending on how far you press the go pedal.

As a result, the Energi isn’t a “Ford Volt” but it is “more EV” than the Prius Plug-in. Unlike the Volt, the Energi will also use its engine to augment cabin heating rather than relying solely on its electric heater in cold weather. While this exacts an MPG toll, defrosting is considerably faster than in the Volt. However, unlike the Prius plug-in, the Energi doesn’t need to run the engine to accelerate to highway speed or climb a mountain pass. The Energi is part of a new breed of car where locomotion blends fuel sources allowing you to trade a portion of the gasoline you pay $4.35 a gallon for in California for electricity at $0.10-$0.15 per kWh.

The C-MAX already heavy at 3,600lbs. Add 6.2kW more battery and the Energi’s 3,860lb curb weight is a cheeseburger shy of a Jaguar XJ. In comparison, the Prius Plug-in weighs a svelte 3,165lbs and even the porky 3,781lb Volt is lighter. The C-MAX’s cub weight and 225/50R17 tires define every aspect of on road performance from how it handles to how it sips fuel.

Thanks to its Focus roots, the C-MAX proved a competent handler with a well composed ride when we had it for a week in November. Thankfully the Energi doesn’t depart much from this formula, simply feeling like a C-MAX that has an extra 260lbs in the trunk. While the extra battery weight no doubt improved the weight balance, no vehicle equipped with low rolling resistance rubber is going to be a corner carver. That being said, it is more engaging than the Prius or the Volt. On the bright side, the Energi rides like a larger vehicle displaying none of the “crashy” tendencies the Prius is known for. While the electric power steering robs the hatch of 99% of its road feel, it manages to be more engaging than a Prius – admittedly not high bar to jump.

Stomp on the Energi’s go-pedal and 60MPH arrives 0.86 seconds later than the C-MAX Hybrid. If you keep your foot on the gas, the Energi recovers some composure finishing the 1/4 mile 0.6 slower. Any way you slice it, that’s considerably faster than any flavor of Prius. While we haven’t had a Volt in our garage to test, most publications seem to place it around 8.5 seconds to 60.

Hybrid systems, batteries and plugs can’t change the fact that weight and fuel economy are mortal enemies. While the C-MAX wears a decidedly optimistic 47/47/47 MPG (city/highway/combined) badge, the Energi model drops that figure down to a more believable 44/41/43 MPG. On my commute the C-MAX averaged 41.5 MPG and the Energi averaged 40.7 MPG without charging the battery. On the same commute, a regular Prius scored 50 and the Prius Plug-in scored a slightly higher 52 (thanks to its ability to recapture more energy on my mountain commute.) Meanwhile the Volt delivered a somewhat unimpressive 34 MPG in the same test.

With a full battery on either end of my 60-mile one-way commute, the numbers jump to 72 MPG for the Prius, 60 for the Energi and 45 for the Volt. The observant will note that a regular Prius delivered 50 MPG. If saving money on gasoline is your goal, consider the payback time vs a standard Prius is going to be decades.

According to my calculations, if your commute is under 25 miles total, at $0.15/kWh, the Volt is cheaper to run, but only by a few cents. According to the EPA, 25 miles would cost you $1.31 in the Volt, $1.37 in the Ford and $1.47 in the Prius. If your trip goes beyond 30-35 miles, the Prius is cheaper to operate because of its gasoline-only MPGs. The more expensive the gasoline, the greater the difference between the Prius and Volt (and to a lesser extent the Energi) thanks to the Volt’s lower fuel economy and thirst for premium gasoline.

With a price range of $32,950-$37,685 (not including $795 destination or the current $3,750 cash on the hood deal), Ford obviously has a limited market in mind. Still, if you’re shopping for a Prius Plug-in ($32,000-$40,285) or a Volt ($39,995-$43,750) you either want the latest in technology or you’re willing to spend nearly $10,000 to use the HOV lanes solo. There are tax incentives available, but they depend on your tax situation and I’m not an IRS insider. Be sure to consult a tax guru before you bet on credits to balance your books.

While it is theoretically possible to save money vs the standard C-MAX, it will take an Eterniti, serious number crunching, and low electricity rates. For instance, on my commute it would take around 300,000 miles, or 11 years. Assuming the battery and car last that long. If your commute is the national average, you’ll have to leave the car to your heirs. Maybe they will realize a savings. Still, there is that HOV lane to consider. On my route the HOV stickers would cut my commute time by 40 minutes or 14 hours a month. How much is that worth to you? If $8,700 is your answer, then Ford’s C-Max Energi will do nicely. Personally, I’d skip the plug and get a Fusion Hybrid.

Ford provided the vehicle, one tank of gas and insurance for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.1 Seconds (non-plugin: 2.9)

0-60: 7.91 Seconds (non-plugin: 7.05)

1/4 Mile: 16.15 Seconds @ 87 MPH (non-plugin: 15.55 Seconds @ 92 MPH)

Average Fuel Economy: 52 MPG over 523 miles (non-plugin: 41.5 MPG over 625 miles)

 

2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Energi badge, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Rear 3/4 View, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior,  Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Rear Seats Folded Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Rear Cargo Area Seats Folded, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Charging Connector, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid-020 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Engine, 2.0L Atkinson Plug-In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Engine, 2.0L Atkinson Plug-In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Shifter and HVAC Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Seat Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Interior, Steering Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Charging Plug, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Prius Production Heading To American Shores http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/prius-production-heading-to-american-shores/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/prius-production-heading-to-american-shores/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2013 16:29:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=474019 Toyota sold 236,659 Prii (all kinds) in the U.S. alone in 2012, all of them imported from high-yen Japan. This is a major drag on the car’s profitability. Long import routes are a hindrance, offshore production also tends to impact the granularity of options and trims. U.S. production of the Prius was expected for last […]

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Toyota sold 236,659 Prii (all kinds) in the U.S. alone in 2012, all of them imported from high-yen Japan. This is a major drag on the car’s profitability. Long import routes are a hindrance, offshore production also tends to impact the granularity of options and trims. U.S. production of the Prius was expected for last year, it did not happen. Yesterday, Shigeki Terashi, head of Toyota Motor North America Inc. came as close to announcing as possible that Toyota plans to produce the Prius in North America. He didn’t really say it, and you needed to be Japanese to hear it.

After the Nikkei [sub] asked Terashi whether he would move Prius production to N.A., he answered that Toyota intends to  “make cars where they are popular.” The Nikkei takes it that the “comment suggests the firm is looking to gain a cost edge over rivals.” This could be just for local assembly, with the powertrain coming from Japan, however, “the North American unit will also consider locally manufacturing key components for hybrids, such as batteries and motors,” Terashi told The Nikkei.

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Review: 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/review-2013-ford-c-max-hybrid-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/review-2013-ford-c-max-hybrid-video/#comments Fri, 14 Dec 2012 15:55:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=467787 Up till now there hasn’t been a “real” Prius alternative on the market. Sure Honda has the Civic and Insight, but their real-world MPGs can’t hold a candle to the green-car poster child and Honda’s IMA hybrid system is far from smooth and refined. The Volt is more of a novelty with its lofty price […]

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Up till now there hasn’t been a “real” Prius alternative on the market. Sure Honda has the Civic and Insight, but their real-world MPGs can’t hold a candle to the green-car poster child and Honda’s IMA hybrid system is far from smooth and refined. The Volt is more of a novelty with its lofty price tag and the last time we tested one we revealed a lowly 32MPG average when running gasoline only. This brings us to the blue oval. Despite Ford using essentially the same technology as Toyota for their hybrid systems, Ford resisted creating a dedicated hybrid model. Until now. Meet the 47MPG 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid. Of course we’ve all heard the news that the C-MAX doesn’t hit 47MPG, so click-through the jump to find out what we averaged and whether or not that should matter to you.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

What Ford didn’t do was create a futuristic wedge-shaped car on a dedicated platform crafted from light-weight ultra-eco-friendly materials in an attempt to create the most efficient car in America. Disappointed? Don’t be, because the benefits may just outweigh the drawbacks. Instead Ford took the existing (since 2011) Focus-based C-Max from Europe, stuffed Ford’s most powerful hybrid drivetrain under the Euro sheetmetal and slapped some wide (for a hybrid) tires on what might just be the first hybrid hot hatch.

Speaking of that sheetmetal, the C-MAX strikes an interesting pose on American roads looking like the product of crossbreeding a Focus and a Windstar. The resulting hatchback has a tall greenhouse, tall roof-line and some crossover styling cues no doubt to confuse entice the suburban set. Measuring in at 173 inches long, the C-MAX is 2 inches longer than the Focus hatchback on which it is based, but 3 inches shorter than a Prius and 8 inches shorter than a Prius V.

Of course none of this really explains the strange “C-MAX” name. Yes, that’s what it’s called in Europe, but why? Still, it’s no stranger than “Prius” and whatever you think of its name, the C-MAX is considerably more attractive than Toyota’s bulbous hybrid wagon.

Interior

The C-MAX doesn’t just look like a wannabe crossover on the outside, it does on the inside as well. There’s a reason for this. Instead of sharing heavily with the Focus hatch as you might assume, the C-MAX shares parts and interior styling with the 2013 Escape. The only major style change to the dash is a unique instrument cluster similar with twin 4.2-inch LCDs like the Fusion hybrid. Unlike the Prius, you won’t find any thin, hard, weight saving plastics in the cabin. There are no blue-tinted transparent button arrays, no shifter joystick and no center-mounted disco dash either. Instead you will find a premium cabin that would pass muster in any $30,000 vehicle and looks notably more premium than the Lexus CT 200h. The Prius on the other hand is full of plastics and fabrics more at home in a $16,000 econo-box.

The C-MAX seats can be had in your choice of charcoal or a “greyish” tan fabric or leather but regardless of your choice, the majority of the interior is black-on-black. The overly black theme is both very European (in a good way) and a bit cold (in a bad way) for my tastes. Front seat comfort is good thanks to a relatively upright seating position, wide seat cushions and a good range of motion when you get the power driver’s seat. The tilt/telescopic steering wheel made finding a comfortable driving position quick and easy. The upright seating is what allows the C-MAX to have Prius matching rear leg room, an improvement of three inches over the Focus hatchback’s more reclined thrones.

The rear seats are a bit close to the floor for adult passengers but are the right height for most children and young teens. Despite looking tall and narrow, the C-MAX is more than three inches wider than the Prius and this allows three to sit abreast in the rear in greater comfort. The rear seat backs fold completely flat with the 24.5 cubic foot cargo area. Because the C-MAX wasn’t designed as a hybrid from the start, the battery pack occupies all the spare tire space in the C-MAX as well as a few inches on the cargo area floor. The reduced cargo space is a few cubes larger than the Prius liftback but smaller than the Prius V. Despite the cargo hauling reduction vs the European gasoline-only model, the C-MAX easily swallowed four roller bags with room to spare.

Infotainment

Like the Android vs iPhone debate, “infotainment systems” spark fierce debate. No system other than iDrive has received as much bad press, fan-boy rave reviews and healthy imitation as the strangely named “MyFord Touch.” (Really, what was wrong with SYNC?) The system (optional on SE, standard on SEL trim) combines your climate, entertainment, telephone and navigation chores into one integrated system that looks snazzy and responds via voice commands to your every whim. When it landed in 2010 it became obvious the software was rushed to market complete with more bugs than a bag of 5-year-old flour. Still, the system is still unique in the market for allowing you to voice command just about everything from your destination to your temperature and what Madonna track you want to listen to from your iPod.

The C-MAX benefits from a major software update released in March of 2012 (for all Ford products) to make the system more responsive. While the system never had a melt-down during my testing (a first for MFT), the slowness the system is known for persists. Like most MFT equipped vehicles, the C-MAX teams a snazzy in-dash touchscreen with twin 4.2-inch LCDs on either side of the speedometer. Perhaps a first for a hybrid vehicle, you won’t find a single screen on the main MFT screen that displays hybrid system information. No animated screen with a battery/motor/engine scree, no wacky driving hints, no fuel economy charts. Aside from the efficiency leaves that replace the climate option on the right-side 4.2-inch LCD and the intuitive kW gauge on the left LCD, there is nothing to identify the C-MAX as a trendy gasoline/electric people mover, and I think I like the move. Despite the system’s obviously flaws, MFT is far slicker and user-friendly than the Prius or Volt’s infotainment options.

Is Ford’s transmission a Toyota transmission?

The short answer is no. Long before Ford produced a hybrid vehicle, Ford and Toyota put out plenty of prototypes and concept cars. Both companies recognized the similarities of their competing hybrid designs and geared up for lawsuits. (Both designed shared plenty of cues from a TRW system from the 1960s.) Ford and Toyota did something rare in our litigious society, they settled and cross-licensed each-others technologies but (and most importantly) NOT their specific designs. Ford continued developing the Escape Hybrid solo and Toyota went on their way with Hybrid Synergy Drive. Some confusion was caused by Ford choosing Aisin build their hybrid transaxle for the Escape and Fusion hybrids because they didn’t have the capacity or expertise internally. Fast forward to 2012. Ford decided that in order to reduce costs and drive hybrid sales (for some CAFE credits of course) they had to take the design and manufacturing of hybrid systems in-house.  This means that Ford’s hybrid system’s level of vertical integration is vastly similar to Toyota.

Drivetrain

Under the stubby hood of the C-MAX you’ll find Ford’s completely redesigned hybrid system with a downsized 2.0L Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine good for 141HP and 129lb-ft of twist. This is down slightly from the old 155HP 2.5L engine in the old Fusion and Escape hybrids, but considerably higher than the Prius’s 98HP mill. In order to achieve the 188 system horsepower (11 more than the old Ford system and 54 more than the Prius) and a TTAC estimated 200-220lb-ft of twist, Ford put a hefty 118HP motor/generator into their in-house designed HF35 hybrid transaxle. If you want to know more about how the Ford and Toyota Hybrid systems work, click here.

Beneath the cargo area in the C-MAX sits a 1.6kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The lithium battery chemistry allows the hybrid system to charge and discharge the pack at rates higher than the old nickle based battery pack (used in the Escape and the Prius). This new battery allows the C-MAX to drive electric only up to 62MPH vs the 34MPH of the Prius. In addition, the C-MAX doesn’t need you to be as gentle on the throttle as the Prius or the older Ford hybrids.

Oh that fuel economy

Fuel economy is a tricky business because your driving style and topography are the biggest factors involved. I would caution readers to never compare my numbers with other publications because the driving conditions and styles are different. The 2012 Prius, when driven gently on my commute, (120 miles round trip with a 2,200ft mountain pass) averaged 46-47MPG which is fairly close to its 51/48/50 EPA rating (City/Highway/Combined). The C-MAX on the other hand averaged 41.5 during our 568 miles of testing and the lowest one-way figure on my daily commute was 39MPG. Sound good so far? There’s a problem, even on a level freeway at 65MPH the C-MAX struggled to get better than 45MPG in 60 degree weather. The Prius in the same situation averaged 50MPG. The Prius V suffered a similar shortfall in my week of testing coming in four MPG below its EPA combined 42MPG rating. We need to put these numbers in perspective. Driving 15,0000 miles a year with gas at $4 a gallon the C-MAX would cost $144 a year more to operate than a Prius and $148 less than a Prius V.

On the road

There are a few reasons the C-MAX fails to meet Ford’s fuel economy claims. The first is the portly 3,600lb curb weight, the second is the wide 225/50R17 tires which have a 23% larger contact patch than the Prius’ 195/65R15 rubber. On the flip side, the wide low-profile rubber pays real dividends when the road bends and the heavy curb weight helps the C-MAX to feel lass “crashy” than a Prius over broken pavement. Coupled with a Focus derived suspension, the tires help the C-MAX set a new benchmark for hybrid handling easily besting the CT 200h. While the electric power steering robs the hybrid hatch of 99% of its road feel, it still manages to be more engaging than a Prius. Admittedly not a hard thing to do.

Stomp on the C-MAX’s accelerator pedal and something surprising (for a hybrid) happens: acceleration. If the road surface is right you’ll even get some one-wheel-peel. Despite weighing a whopping 600lbs more than a Prius, the C-MAX sprints to 60MPH 2 seconds faster posting a solid 7 second run to highway speeds. I’d like to compare it to the Prius V and  Lexus CT 200h, but I gave up after 9.5 seconds. This makes the C-MAX as fast as the Focus ST and faster than a Volkswagen GTI.

In addition to being more powerful, the C-MAX’s hybrid system is capable of operating in EV mode at higher speeds and in a broader range of conditions than the Prius. While it doesn’t seem to help the C-MAX hit its advertised 47/47/47 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) it is a novelty that entertained drivers and passengers alike. Thanks to a more powerful motor, faster discharging battery, and aggressive software, it’s possible to accelerate up to40 MPH in EV mode without pissing off the cars behind you. Doing so brings the C-MAX’s other selling point to light: Ford’s sound deadening measures are extensive and make the C-MAX the quietest hybrid this side of the insane LS 600hL.

Ford has wisely priced the C-MAX aggressively starting at $25,200 and there’s already a Ford $1,000 cash back offer dropping the price to the same as the 2013 Prius’ MSRP and $2,450 cheaper than a Prius V. The up-level SEL model which comes standard with leather, heated seats, rain sensing wipers, backup sensors, ambient lighting, keyless entry/go for $28,200. Should you desire some plug-in love, the Energi model will set you back $32,950. The deal gets even better when you consider the C-MAX has more standard equipment and features and options unavailable in the Prius at any price.

The week after Ford lent me the C-MAX hybrid Consumer Reports’ “bombshell” about the C-MAX’s fuel economy numbers dropped. But does it matter? Is a 41MPG C-MAX a failure? No, and here’s why. The only measurable way the Prius is better than the C-MAX is real world fuel economy where the Prius will save you a few Grants a year. In every other way the C-MAX is superior to the Prius and even the Lexus CT 200h. Does this compensate for the “lackluster” fuel economy? It does in my book. If you’re willing to spend $144 a year in higher fuel costs for a more entertaining ride, this Ford’s for you. The C-Max isn’t just a shot across Toyota’s bow, it’s the first honest-to-goodness competitor on the market. Better yet, it’s not a me-too Prius, it’s a unique and compelling alternative.

Ford provided the vehicle, one tank of gas and insurance for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.9 Seconds

0-60: 7.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.55 Seconds @ 92 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 41.5MPG over 625 Miles

 

2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, hybrid logo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Exterior, wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, cargo area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, front seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, front seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, instrument cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, instrument cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, interior, instrument cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Infotainment, MyFord Touch, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Infotainment, MyFord Touch, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Picture Coutesy of Ford Motor Company 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid Transmission Diagram, Picture Coutesy of Ford Motor Company 2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid Transmission Diagram, Picture Coutesy of Ford Motor Company Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Piston Slap: Riddle Me This about Prius’ Batteries, Panther Love http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/piston-slap-riddle-me-this-about-prius-batteries-panther-love/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/piston-slap-riddle-me-this-about-prius-batteries-panther-love/#comments Wed, 05 Sep 2012 12:19:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=458960   Lynn writes: Hi Sajeev, I enjoy your columns for their history and technology surprises of what might be wrong. Two history questions: Since I have always been a penny pinching cheapskate and introvert I have never had an interest in large cars or silly awkward pick ups that burn lots of fuel and make […]

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Lynn writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I enjoy your columns for their history and technology surprises of what might be wrong. Two history questions:

Since I have always been a penny pinching cheapskate and introvert I have never had an interest in large cars or silly awkward pick ups that burn lots of fuel and make lots of noise. Anyway, I don’t know what an auto Panther is or why several people at TTAC seem to remember it with fondness. Apparently the word has something to do with a frame built by Ford for many years but what is special about it and what is its history? Perhaps this could be worked in to one of your columns while helping someone with such a vehicle.

Many years ago I switched from Volkswagens to Toyotas and my life is now boring with no repair drama (or insults to my dignity from VW dealer staffs) and I haven’t been involved with auto repairs. A friend with a 2006 Prius with 90,000 miles asked me how long her car’s nickle metal hydride batteries would last out here in Phoenix’s hot sun. Any thoughts and history about this? Can the batteries be replaced with Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries?

Thank you,
Lynn E.

Sajeev answers:

Quite frankly, your life is boring to the point of shame.  And not because you can’t comprehend Panther Love, explained and defended here and a decent year-by-year analysis given here by yours truly. But because your life never included proper American Icon.

VWs and Toyotas are fine, but there’s more to automotive life. Especially in the American South, where we pride ourselves on our proper American rides, even if they are swanga’d customizations of some of the worst machines in General Motor’s history. But the Panther is an amalgamation of the best of Americana, it’s the right sauce for many people’s palette.

Put seriously, these cars have merit even if they will never be mainstream.  So if you don’t get it, don’t sweat it.  It’s all good.

About the friend’s Prius: because Hybrids have a temperature control system for their battery packs, Arizona’s heat isn’t as big of a deal compared to a normal battery under the hood of a steaming hot engine. I expect for Arizona heat to tax the system more than other regions, but this article does a good job putting it into context. Maybe one of the fixes and preventative maintenance suggestions in that article will significantly extend battery life. Or–as we used to say around here–not.

So let’s wrap it up: Toyota warranties these systems for 8 years or 100,000 miles.  Much like Hyundai’s insane warranties, I have little reason to doubt that Toyota did their homework.  Car companies don’t usually gamble with their cash flow in such a dangerous place. With any luck, your friend has a few years of life left…fingers crossed on that.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Review: 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/review-2012-toyota-prius-plug-in-hybrid/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/review-2012-toyota-prius-plug-in-hybrid/#comments Sun, 02 Sep 2012 13:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=457237 Public beta tests are common in the computer world where a group of fanatics pound your beta to death and help you find the problems. In the automotive world this activity is not only rare, it runs contrary to the cash spent on dressing future cars in swirly vinyl. The Prius plug-in is different. Toyota […]

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Public beta tests are common in the computer world where a group of fanatics pound your beta to death and help you find the problems. In the automotive world this activity is not only rare, it runs contrary to the cash spent on dressing future cars in swirly vinyl. The Prius plug-in is different. Toyota built 600 demonstrators and sent them to large corporations, Zipcar fleets and, of course the press. Even TTAC was allowed to drive one for a week. What does that have to do with the final product? And how does it stack up against the Volt, Plug-in Fusion and the 2013 Accord Plug-in? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

There is little to distinguish the Plug-in from the “normal” Prius save the charging door on the right rear quarter panel and (if you’re in California) and the green HOV access stickers. The lack of distinctiveness is either a benefit or a drawback depending on how loud you want to proclaim your “greenness.” The lack of differentiation made financial sense for Toyota as the Prius is rumored to be redesigned for the 2015 model year. Compared to the beta car, Toyota relocated the charging port to the rear meaning I had to back into parking spots to use some public charging stations. Ever wondered why the LEAF’s port is in the nose? Now you know.

Because the Prius’ chassis was designed for a large battery, no changes to the passenger compartment were required. The cargo area is a different story. The regular Prius operates in EV mode up to 42MPH with a range of two miles if you are extremely gentle on the throttle. The plug-in’s range is 11-15 miles thanks to a bigger battery. Toyota achieved the capacity increase by using denser lithium-ion batteries (instead of nickel hydride) and converting the spare tire area into a battery compartment. The result is an increase in capacity from 1.3kWh to 4.4kWh at the cost of the spare and the jack. The beta car used a 5.2kWh battery pack that was segmented into one 1.2kWh pack and two 2kWh packs. The reason for the change was the three pack arrangement wasn’t as efficient and the beta testers complained there was no way to regenerate power back into the dual 2kWh packs once they were exhausted.

A 3.1kWh jump doesn’t sound like much until you understand how the Prius uses the battery. To preserve the life of the battery, a regular Prius will never fully discharge or charge the battery (batteries “wear” faster when their charge state is at either extreme), reducing the usable capacity to around 0.6kWh. For plug-in duty, Toyota expanded this usable capacity to somewhere around 4.2kWh. In comparison, the Volt’s usable capacity is around 12.9kWh and the 2013 Accord plug-in is 6kWh.

Under the hood you will find the same 1.8L, 98HP engine and “power splitting device” as a regular Prius. The engine and electric motors even put out the same combined 134HP. I know what Prius owners are thinking: Hang on, if it’s the same drivetrain, why is my Prius limited to 42MPH in EV mode? You won’t find the answer under the hood, it’s the battery and the software. The Prius’ traction motor (MG2) is the motor connected to the wheels and depending on how you look at the way the transaxle works (great link for tech-heads at eahart.com), MG2 is doing most of the work when you’re moving forward. That’s why MG2 is an 81HP motor. The “problem” with the regular Prius is the discharge rate. The 1.4kWh NiMH battery can deliver only 36HP peak and 27HP of continuous power. The plug-in’s larger batter on the other hand is capable of delivering 51HP of continuous power. If your power demands exceed the neighborhood of 51HP, then the engine turns on to make up the difference up to 134. This new battery pack has another benefit: greater regeneration capacity. On my daily commute I go over a 2,200ft mountain pass, a regular Prius’ battery would be full around 1,700ft. Because the plug-in was able to regenerate all the way down, I gained 7 miles of EV range to make up for the extra gas it took to get me up the hill in the first place.

The Prius isn’t an EV, and it’s not trying to be a “Toyota Volt” either. Yet, it’s more than just a CARB compliance car as well. Unlike the Volt, Fisker, or even the new Accord Hybrid, the Prius can’t live without its engine. Even for short drives. If you floor the car, the engine comes on, and while the beta car had a slick heat-pump to heat the cabin, the production car uses engine heat like a regular Prius. Instead, the Prius plug-in is a new type of car where locomotion blends two different fuel sources trading a portion of the gasoline you pay $4.35 a gallon for in California for electricity at $0.10-$0.15 per kWh. The coming Ford plug-in hybrids operate in essentially the same way.

Let’s look at these numbers in terms of a commute. I drive 106 miles a day, and my commute involves city, highway and rural mountain roads. Starting with fuel economy without charging: the Volt averaged 33MPG, the Prius averaged 50 and the Prius plug-in averaged 52. (Credit the greater ability to regenerate for the improved figure.) With charging on both ends of my commute, the Volt averaged 40MPG, and the Prius plug-in averaged 72MPG.

According to our calculations, if your commute is under 27 miles total, or 27 miles each way with charging on either end at $0.15/kWh, the Volt is the cheaper vehicle to run. The more expensive the electricity, the better the Prius’s proposition. Even at $4.35 a gallon gasoline. My average rate at home is $0.27/kWh due to my agricultural rate which bumps the operational cost of the Volt higher than the Prius plug-in at anything over a 1-mile distance. Check your rates before you plug-in.

On the road, the plug-in behaves just like a regular Prius thanks to gaining only 150lbs. As you would expect, the low rolling resistance tires deliver moderate road noise and precious little grip. The steering is numb a bit over-boosted, body roll is average and acceleration is leisurely. Is that a problem? Not in my mind. The Prius’ mission is efficiency and not driving pleasure.

When in EV mode, exceeding 3/4 throttle will cause the engine to start, something I still think is a pity. Still, the plug-in is perfectly capable of tacking mountainous terrain in pure EV mode. At speeds above about 50MPH you have to be more gentle on the throttle in order to prevent the engine from kicking in and at 62 the engine starts no matter how ginger you are. If it’s a cold day outside and you’re using the cabin heater, the Prius’ engine will turn on immediately and run to keep the cabin warm. Unlike a regular Prius , if you are in EV mode,  the engine will be essentially idling and generating a small amount of power as long as you keep your speed under 62.

Although the battery and motor are likely capable of speeds greater than 62MPH, the system’s design requires the engine to be spinning. This means that in “EV mode” above 62MPH, the EV battery provides the majority of the energy while the engine essentially idles. In this operation, we were easily getting 180 MPG while on a level freeway traveling 70MPH for 9-10 miles.

With a starting price of $32,000, or $40,285 if you prefer your hybrid fully-loaded, the Prius plug-in has a limited market in mind. You either need to want the latest in Prius tech, or be willing to pay $8,000 to use the HOV lanes for a few years. While I do believe it would be possible to eventually save money vs a regular Prius, it will take an eternity and some serious number crunching. On my commute it would take 300,000 miles for the plug-in to break even with a $24,000 Prius. If your commute is 24 miles a day, then the break even drops to 130,000 miles. But at 24 miles a day, it would take you 20 years. Still, there is that HOV lane to consider. On my route the HOV stickers would cut my daily travel by 30 minutes or  11 hours a month. How much is that worth to you? If your answer isn’t: $8,000, then click on over to our Prius C review. While the Prius plug-in may make sense for a select few, the Toyota’s beta program still succeeded in several ways. Toyota implemented some major changes to the battery systems as a result of the feedback and gained a non-stop flow of reviews in the process. If only Bentley could do the same.

 

Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance and fuel for this review.

Fuel economy average over 583miles: 65

Percent of time in EV mode: 20%

Performance statistics as tested:

0-30: 3.4 seconds

0-60: 10.0 seconds

¼ Mile: 17sec @ 79 MPH

 

2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, rear seats,  Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, charging door, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hedonist vs Frugalist: 2012 Nissan Quest LE http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/hedonist-vs-frugalist-2012-nissan-quest-le/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/hedonist-vs-frugalist-2012-nissan-quest-le/#comments Thu, 26 Jul 2012 15:45:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=454304   Minivans are indeed fewer in number. Supposedly they should to able to hold six or seven. But the truth is the buyers of these vehicles rarely have room for three these days. See, I have dealt with hundreds of minivan buyers over the years as a small town car dealer and a writer here […]

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Minivans are indeed fewer in number.

Supposedly they should to able to hold six or seven.

But the truth is the buyers of these vehicles rarely have room for three these days.

See, I have dealt with hundreds of minivan buyers over the years as a small town car dealer and a writer here at TTAC. Nearly everyone I deal with considers no more than three minivans. To be frank, the majority won’t even consider two which is why Chrysler, Toyota and Honda minivans now control more than 88% of the North American minivan market.

What chance does the Nissan Quest have? Even after 20 years in the public eye?

Jacque Hedonist: Minivan designs have always struck me as different forms of breadboxes. Honda Odysseys and Mazda 5’s have nice little waves in their side profiles. While the Chrysler minivans and Kia Sedonas are the traditional upright breadboxes.

The Quest is a combination of the two. The front fascia is upright and traditional with plenty of chrome staring right back at you as you get ready for parenting duties. However the entire side is one curvaceous swoop with a flattish roof that seems to compress and slim down the portly proportions of a minivan.

Stefan Frugalist:  Looks always take a back seat to function when it comes to minivans. A seven passenger people mover like the Quest is no exception. However today’s minivan buyers will be in for a pleasant surprise if they decide to ever consider a top of the line LE model.

 

The inside is just plain opulent.

The leather seats are thick and supremely comfortable in all three rows. The materials used are top notch; especially compared to the cost contained plastics that are widely used by the competition.  If you are willing to look beyond the names, you’ll find that the Quest in LE trim offers the most comfortable interior in the entire segment.

Hedonist: The luxury focus continues with dashboard features that seem to come straight out of a fully loaded Infiniti. You name the convenience, it’s there for your enjoyment. A Bose 13 speaker stereo system with exceptional sound quality. An 11 inch big screen for the second and third rows with headphones that offer the blissful quiet that rarely will come with rambunctious tikes. Dual sunroofs. Push button conveniences for nearly everything that needs to be folded or closed.  Even the 8 inch front screen offers front seat video pleasures when the vehicle is parked.

The Nissan Quest LE provides all of the comfort, safety and entertainment of a high end SUV, like an Infiniti QX56, for nearly half the price.

Minivan sales may have flagged over the last twelve years. But the value quotient is still as strong as ever if you compare them to similar sized SUV’s.

Frugalist: That value quotient to me depends entirely on the market segments you’re willing to consider. If you want space, plenty of power (260 hp. and 240 lb. of torque), smooth shifts with the CVT, and pure luxury for the family, then the Nissan Quest may be a good buy.

That is if all that mass is required for your commuting and travels.

But let us throw two nasty monkey wrenches into that equation.

Hedonist: The first is need. No, the two of us are not pondering the usual need vs. want equation. This Quest is far more competitive than most consumers will ever realize.

The issue I see is priorities. If you have three kids or fewer, a Toyota Prius V may represent a better alternative. The Quest only averaged 21 mpg with a fuel economy rating of 18 city and 24 highway.

The Prius V, rated at 44 city and 40 highway, averaged 49 mpg for us in mostly city driving. It essentially doubled the Quest in fuel economy while offering a surprisingly large seating space for three in the middle and plenty of room in the back. I showed both of the models to all of my wife’s friends. Even the ones who have already purchased minivans (who were the majority), said they would have opted for the Prius V had it been available at the time.

Frugalist: We don’t necessarily think that hybrid wagons will do to minivans, what minivans did to the Prius V’s large and bulbous ancestors. But SUV’s and CUV’s have already taken a huge chunk out of the minivan market over the past decade.

There may be a minor period of market adjustment. Still, we can easily see many potential buyers of minivans who have memories of being shepherded around in vans and larger SUV’s, moving even further into the world of hybrids and wagons as the ‘family vehicle'; especially if buyers can save $10,000 in the purchase price and another $10,000 in operating costs.

Hedonist: The second issue for us is the purchase price. At $43,000, a loaded LE model represents a heavy duty debt load. This is also true for the higher end models of the competition, and Nissan is offering substantial rebates, incentives and financing at this point.  As we mentioned before, if you’re looking for a minivan, and especially if you haul six or seven people, the Quest is definitely worth your consideration.

However, the overall value equation of a minivan is simply not there anymore if you have three or fewer kids and don’t haul huge masses of items on a frequent basis. Wagons, lower end CUV’s and compact SUV’s can all be had, well equipped, at $35,000 or less.

Frugalist: There is a reason why vehicles like the Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape and Honda CR-V are outselling all their minivan brethren. If you add all the models mentioned and couple the Equinox with its GMC Terrain sibling, you’ll find that not even the once 500,000+ strong Chrysler minivans can match the modern day sales numbers of any of these models.

As for the 2012 Nissan Quest, it has less than half the sales in the first six months of this year than the Prius V.

The Quest remains at or near the top of its class if you are looking at a minivan as a pure luxury vehicle.

The question is, “What will the consumer be looking for?” The times they are a-changin’ folks.

Note: Nissan provided gas, insurance and a full week of driving time. 

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Your Tax Dollars At Stake: Battery Maker A123 Running Out Of Runway http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/your-tax-dollars-at-stake-battery-maker-a123-running-out-of-runway/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/your-tax-dollars-at-stake-battery-maker-a123-running-out-of-runway/#comments Sat, 07 Jul 2012 14:03:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451657   The irrational electrification exuberance  claims another victim: Battery maker A123 Systems Inc is running out of money. A lot of it is your money. Says Reuters: “The company, which received a $249 million grant from the Obama administration as part of a program to develop advanced lithium-ion batteries, said in documents filed with U.S. […]

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The irrational electrification exuberance  claims another victim: Battery maker A123 Systems Inc is running out of money. A lot of it is your money. Says Reuters:

The company, which received a $249 million grant from the Obama administration as part of a program to develop advanced lithium-ion batteries, said in documents filed with U.S. regulators that it “expects to have approximately four to five months of cash to support its ongoing operations” based on its recent monthly spending average.”

Reuters views A123’s issues as “a reminder of the struggles for a U.S. electric-vehicle industry still in its infancy and dealing with lower-than-projected demand.”

The wire service calls President Barack Obama’s goal of getting 1 million battery-powered vehicles on the road by 2015 “a target that is looking increasingly unrealistic.”

America’s best-selling plug-ins, the Volt, the plug-in Prius and the Nissan Leaf jointly sold 2,990 units in June. They were out-sold by a small sports car targeted at drifters, the Toyobaru hachi-roku, which sold 3,502 units in June.

 

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Tales From The Cooler: Prius Dethrones Cadillac. In The Left Lane http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/tales-from-the-cooler-prius-dethrones-cadillac-in-the-left-lane/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/tales-from-the-cooler-prius-dethrones-cadillac-in-the-left-lane/#comments Mon, 18 Jun 2012 08:21:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=449349 Please say a friendly hello to TTAC’s newest author, Virgil Hilts. Brock Yates called them “members of the Anti-Destination League.” You and I have our own pet names for the folks who dawdle along in the fast lane, oblivious to those around them. I have recently deduced that the auto-demographics of Left Lane Blockers has […]

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Please say a friendly hello to TTAC’s newest author, Virgil Hilts.

Brock Yates called them “members of the Anti-Destination League.” You and I have our own pet names for the folks who dawdle along in the fast lane, oblivious to those around them.

I have recently deduced that the auto-demographics of Left Lane Blockers has shifted. Over the past 30 years, no automobile has come close to the most common clogger: the Cadillac. Was the traditional Caddy owner taught to drive in the left lane as teen? Does owning the “Standard of the World” give you some entitlement to annoy your fellow man? Whatever the reason, I am here to announce that the Cadillac’s reign is over. All hail the new King of the Left Lane Realm:

The Toyota Prius.

Here in Los Angeles, smug little liberal Prius owners fly in formation below the speed limit in the fast lane, as the rest of us zoom around them on the right. I don’t even know what a driver’s door looks like on a Prius. Some of them have forgotten that – in a rare moment of sanity by the California DMV – that their Hybrid/ HOV lane privileges were canceled last year. Yet there they are, still glued to the left guardrail, waiting for the car pool lane 22 miles ahead. Ultimately I think their behavior is motivated by their mindset: “I own a Prius and I drive slow to save the planet and, by God, so should you.”

There is no more joyous occasion than to see a LLB get a flat tire and pull onto the median in heavy traffic and be stuck there until help arrives. I have seen many a Caddy in this fix and look forward to my first such Prius sighting. I plan to pull over in my 14-mpg SUV and when they walk up to thank me for stopping, I will zoom off yelling, “Sorry, the wife called. There’s a desert tortoise in the backyard, and them’s some good eatin!”

I realize there may be some geographical variances to the Prius phenomenon.  In Phoenix, the beige Buick Le Sabre is a strong contender. I have been blocked by hubcapless Subarus in Colorado. But Toyota’s answer to the Nash Rambler rocks the left lane everywhere. My fellow Southern Californians may argue that the rash of 1990s tiny Toyota pickups piloted by illegal aliens holds the crown, but this measurement is for American Drivers only, my contest, my rules.

Here is my new ranking of the Top 5 Left Lane Blockers:

1. Toyota Priuses
2. Cadillacs
3. Volvo Wagons (the more bumper stickers, the slower they drive)
4. 1980s Customized Vans
5. 1990s Kia/Hyundai/Daewoo crapmobiles

So which cars are blocking the fast lane on your highways?

The man behind “Virgil Hilts” has been working “in the industry” for most of his life. He still does.

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Reverse The Charge: Car Powers House, Japan Style http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/reverse-the-charge-car-powers-house-japan-style/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/reverse-the-charge-car-powers-house-japan-style/#comments Thu, 31 May 2012 13:35:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=446976 In the days and weeks after March 11 2011, when a giant fist wiped out large swaths of Japan’s northeastern coast, and sent the power grid into a near-coma from which the Japanese patient has yet to recover, electric and hybrid vehicles were pressed into a new mission as emergency power supplies. People in the […]

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In the days and weeks after March 11 2011, when a giant fist wiped out large swaths of Japan’s northeastern coast, and sent the power grid into a near-coma from which the Japanese patient has yet to recover, electric and hybrid vehicles were pressed into a new mission as emergency power supplies. People in the stricken areas used the batteries of their Toyota Estima hybrid minivan, or the much bigger battery of the Nissan Leaf, as a power source for cell phones and laptops when the regular power was out.  Ever since, Japanese became infatuated with the idea of rigging a car to a house – to power the house, if needed. One year later, houses are ready to take charge from a car.

Yesterday, Nissan showed an air conditioner-sized charging station for the Leaf that allows to also send the electricity stored in the Leaf’s battery back to the home when needed. The system does not need special rigging, simply insert the CHAdeMO plug in the car and you can go both ways. Normally, the system functions as an intelligent DC charger that can fully charge a Leaf in as little as four hours, approximately half the time required by a normal charger.  When disaster strikes, the Leaf’s lithium-ion batteries can supply an average Japanese household for about two days.

Today, at a Smart Grid Expo in Tokyo, Toyota showed-off its solution. Instead of a $4,200 (installed) Nissan/ Nichicon charger, Toyota will sell you a whole house. Toyota is in the prefab house business and is promoting its “Asuie” smart house.  It comes with a solar roof and brains that allow homeowners to store free or low-priced electricity for use during peak times. The house has a charger for electric vehicles or plug-in hybrid vehicles. Instead of using the smallish battery of a plug-in-hybrid, the house comes with its own dedicated battery. A charge-back function (car to house) does not seem to be ready for prime-time, but is “feasible” as we were told today. During prolonged outages, a Prius would have more stamina than a Leaf. Whereas a Leaf’s battery would be flat after two days of home use, a plug-in hybrid Prius with a full tank of gas could keep the lights on at home for 10 days, we had learned last year when a prototype of the house was shown. Either that, or drive away after 5 days of roughing it.

The fledgling home charging industry already spawned its own accessory market. A few booths away from Toyota, Japanese Technos company shows metal armor that protects the charging cord from the machetes used by what must be suicidal criminals.

Also nearby, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan shows a Chevy Volt. Not being connected to any houses or even a fake charging station, the car is being ignored by the public.

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Review: 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/review-2012-honda-civic-hybrid/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/review-2012-honda-civic-hybrid/#comments Sat, 19 May 2012 13:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=442547 More than just a mere model, the Honda Civic is an institution. With 9 million examples sold on American shores, and nearly 20 million worldwide, calling it “Honda’s most important car” doesn’t express the importance of getting the 2012 redesign right. Michael got his hands on the EX model last May, but today we’re looking […]

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More than just a mere model, the Honda Civic is an institution. With 9 million examples sold on American shores, and nearly 20 million worldwide, calling it “Honda’s most important car” doesn’t express the importance of getting the 2012 redesign right. Michael got his hands on the EX model last May, but today we’re looking at the green poster child of the Honda line-up.  Visit TTAC next week as we get gaseous with the Civic CNG.

Click here to view the embedded video.

If the Civic were a brand, it’s volume would rank above the likes of BMW, Mazda, Mercedes and Chrysler. As you would expect from a volume player, Honda played it safe with the sheetmetal. While overall proportions are exactly the same as the 2011 Civic, the 2012 sports a 1.2-inch shorter wheelbase. The hybrid’s new nose sports a grille with horizontal bars, chrome bling and blue trim to show that the planet is being saved. The overall look is evolutionary and elegant, a logical move for the Civic as the hybrid model can cost more than $27,000 after destination charges. Aside from the subtle blue band up front, a hybrid logo and LED brake lamps out back, there are no visual clues to the Civic’s powertrain.

Exterior

If you thought the Civic was small , then you haven’t been inside one recently. Interior volume is up by four cubic feet and rear leg room has grown by nearly two inches. Four average sized Americans will have no problem spending time in the Civic, but 5 is still a tight squeeze. Honda’s redesigned battery means trunk room has grown slightly from 10.4 cubic feet to 10.7, but still a notable reduction from the non-hybrid’s 12.5 cubic foot trunk. The battery is still located  behind the rear seat meaning the seat backs can’t fold for longer cargo.

The Civic’s interior continues to feature Honda’s “two-tier dash” which places a digital-style speedometer, MPG and fuel gauge high on the dash. Next to the them is a high-resolution 5-inch LCD “Multi-Information Display” (i-MID) which displays hybrid system, audio, trip and fuel-economy information. The lower tier has the tachometer and warning lights and is behind the steering wheel. The cockpit continues to be driver-oriented with the HVAC and radio controls angled towards the driver.

Interior

As the Hybrid shares its interior with the Civic Coupe (starting at $15,755), plastics are hard and the texturing does little to disguise it. In truth, most of the competition isn’t any better, but that’s not to say we can totally excuse some items. Our tester’s passenger-side airbag color was a distinctly different shade than the surrounding dash, a problem we also noted on the Civic Natural Gas tester. Front seat comfort is excellent for long trips, but as Honda continues to put fairly exaggerated fixed lumbar support in the Civic ‘s front seats, (something I personally prefer) you might want to spend some time sitting in the seats before you buy. Rear seat cushions continue to be positioned low in the Civic making longer journeys tiresome for your long-legged friends, but your kids will be happier with seats that start lower to the floor.

Infotainment

Since the Civic Hybrid is essentially the flagship Civic, all models come standard with Honda’s 6-speaker, 160-watt sound system independent of the head unit. Base models come with an MP3 CD player that and basic a USB/iPod interface. The optional navigation system adds a large screen for navigating your “iDevices” as well as XM Satelite Radio with XM Nav Traffic. The system’s interface is logical and well laid out, but the graphics are not as nice as Toyota’s or Ford’s systems. Although you cannot voice command specific tracks from your iPod like you can in Acura or Ford products, practically every other command in the system is “voice commandable.” The $1,300 premium to step up to the nav system is a tough pill to swallow when after market systems deliver a more pleasing interface for less.

Drivetrain/Tech

With little fanfare Honda has significantly updated the “Integrated Motor Assist,” or IMA hybrid system. At the heart of the fifth-generation system is a larger 1.5L engine.Although larger than last year’s 1.3L unit, the displacement increase doesn’t improve power, which falls by 3HP. The biggest change is a revised torque curve for more efficient driving. As before, the electric motor is sandwiched between the engine and a traditional CVT. The new motor is not only more powerful, bringing 23HP and 78lb-ft to the party, but it’s also smaller and lighter than before. With Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive you can’t add “engine+motor” to get total system figures, but with IMA you can. Because the torque and HP curves of the motor and engine differ, the maximum output is where the two lines intersect: 110HP at 5,500RPM and 127lb-ft of torque from 1,000-3,500RPM. (Thank the electric motor for that flat torque curve). Also new to this system is a dual-scroll A/C compressor, first seen in the defunct Accord Hybrid. The new compressor is a huge improvement for the Civic because the A/C can now run with the engine off, improving city MPGs.

Powering the electric motor is an all-new lithium-ion battery and new control circuitry that is 35% more efficient than before. Although the battery’s capacity has gone down (from 5.5Ah to 4.7Ah), lithium batteries can charge and discharge  more quickly, allowing the 2012 Civic Hybrid to recapture more energy from regenerative braking as well as roll around in EV-only mode. Yep, this Civic can now cruise around solely with electric power – for short periods of time. Since Honda doesn’t use a clutch to disconnect the engine from the motor (ala Infiniti’s M35h or Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid), the engine is always turning. Even during 100% electric mode. If you are driving around town, on a flat road, under moderate throttle and speeds under 40MPH, the Civic Hybrid will close the engine’s valves, cut off the gasoline and the 23HP provides all the power to spin the wheels, and the engine. Since the tachometer is still reading motion, the only way you know you’re in EV mode is by looking at the i-MID screen.

Drive

Since the motor delivers all of its 78lb-ft at low RPMs, off the line shove is better than the numbers might suggest. Not all is perfect with the latest IMA system however as transitions between regenerative and regular braking are considerably less polished than in Toyota’s hybrid products, especially when the battery reaches capacity. On the bright side, the CVT and the broad torque curve also turn the Civic Hybrid into a fairly effective hill climber. The Civic Si is incredibly satisfying on a windy mountain road and I would like to say the same could be said of the Hybrid, but I would be lying. When the going gets twisty, the low rolling resistance tires howl and give up early and extend braking distances significantly. Still, road holding isn’t what hybrids are about. Fuel economy is the name of this game.

As I am sure you’ve all heard, the previous generations of Civic Hybrid have had some bad press over fuel economy. Honda obviously took their recent legal woes to heart and not only improved the EPA numbers on the Civic Hybrid, but seemingly the real world mileage as well. EPA economy is up from 40/43 to 44/44 and in our week with the car we averaged a respectable 42.8MPG over 889 miles. Before you comment on the difference between EPA and observed economy however, this was not a typical commute week for me. Instead of my blend of mountain/city/highway driving, the Civic spent the majority of the week going up and down a 2,200ft mountain pass with little highway time. Still, this included the 2012 Hybrid scored better than the 2011 I tested previously, which averaged 36MPG.

How much does Honda’s compact fuel sipper cost?Pricing is easy, and there are only four ways to buy your Civic Hybrid. $24,200 buys the base model with cloth seats, $25,700 adds navigation, $25,400 gets you the base Hybrid with leather and our tester was the $26,900 model with navigation and leather. That’s about $3,500 more than a comparably equipped Civic EX, not to mention pricier than the Insight. For those paying attention, that’s just about the same as a Prius when you adjust for the extra features in a Prius “Four.” If your goal is simply to burn less gasoline, then the Prius is the green car for you. If however you’re looking for something more traditional that is “green enough,” the Civic Hybrid fits the bill perfectly. Of course, there’s still the question of the Insight. Although leather isn’t available, the most expensive Insight (EX with navigation) is $510 less than the Civic. Although the Civic Hybrid is slightly faster and handles slightly better than the Insight, it’s easy to see why the Civic Hybrid has remained, and is destined to remain a slow seller in America.

 

Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.95 Seconds

0-60: 10.2 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 17.6 @ 79.5 MPH

Average fuel economy: 42.8MPG over 889 Miles

 

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, trunk, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, trunk, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, front grille, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, hybrid logo, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, rear 3/4 , Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, side , Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, 3/4 , Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, 3/4 , Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, 3/4 , Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, wheels, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, engine bay, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Engine, Integrated Motor Assist, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, engine, 1.5L, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, hybrid display, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, tachometer, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, speedometer, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, gauges, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, i-MID, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, HVAC controls, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, front, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, aux jacks, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, speakers, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Photography Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/review-2012-toyota-camry-hybrid-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/review-2012-toyota-camry-hybrid-2/#comments Wed, 25 Apr 2012 12:55:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=438740 The last time TTAC took a look at the Camry Hybrid was back in 2006. For 2012 Toyota has completely redesigned the Camry from the “sporty” SE model to the refrigerator-white base model Michael Karesh took for a spin. The base model’s  low price appeals to dealers while the SE allows Toyota to believe the […]

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The last time TTAC took a look at the Camry Hybrid was back in 2006. For 2012 Toyota has completely redesigned the Camry from the “sporty” SE model to the refrigerator-white base model Michael Karesh took for a spin. The base model’s  low price appeals to dealers while the SE allows Toyota to believe the Camry is something other than basic transportation. So what about the hybrid? The gasoline/electric Camry is aimed squarely at shoppers that want more green cred than a regular Camry can deliver and Prius shoppers looking for something more powerful and more traditional. One out of every seven Camrys sold in 2011 was a hybrid, with those numbers expected to grow it is imperative Toyota gets their baby-boomer hybrid just right.

Despite looking like a mid-cycle refresh, the 2012 Camry is almost entirely new from the sheetmetal to the seat frames. Only Toyota and Volvo seem to get away with completely redesigning a product that looks exactly like the old one. But Toyota remembers a high-selling mid-size sedan that went for a dramatic new look and flopped – yes bubble-Taurus, I’m lookin’ at you. Still, boring usually ages better than “exciting.” Case in point, the curvaceous Hyundai Sonata which is stunning now, but in danger of being horribly dated in a decade?

Click here to view the embedded video.

For 2012 there are two different trims for the Camry Hybrid; LE and XLE. The LE model enables a low $25,900 MSRP (a reduction of $1,159 vs the 2011 base pricing) and includes standard niceties like: keyless entry/go, dual-zone climate control, and USB/iPod/Bluetooth connectivity. The XLE starts at $27,400 and adds: a power driver’s seat, touch-screen infotainment and some 17-inch alloy wheels. Of course, my personal mantra is “base priced be damned!” As such, our tester crawled up the luxury ladder with an eye-popping $6,320 options including $500 blind spot monitoring, $695 backup camera and alarm system, $450 Toyota Safety Connect system with 1 year subscription (ala GM’s OnStar), $1,160 leather and faux-suede seats, $915 moonroof and a whopping $2,600 for the premium JBL navigation system with surround sound, subwoofer, XM satellite radio and access to the premium XM services like weather, traffic and fuel prices. The result was an as-tested price of $34,817 after a $760 destination fee. While 35-large for a Camry sounds bad, the competition “options up” to the same ballpark with a comparably equipped Sonata Hybrid hitting $32,125 and the Fusion Hybrid reaching $33,665.

Features mean nothing if they are wrapped in nasty plastic, and let’s be honest, the previous Camry suffered from some questionable materials. 2012 brings the Camry’s interior game up a few notches with brushed-metal trim and a new dashboard that is injection molded, then stitched to create the latest in automotive interiors crazes; the faux-stitched dash. While GM may not like to have the LaCrosse compared to the Camry, the dash reminded me of Buick’s stitched improvements. Compared to the Sonata and Fusion, the Camry may be setting a new bar for luxuriously squishy dash bits.

Evolution rather than revolution has been the key to Camry design changes over the years, and the 2012’s interior is no exception. Available in muted shades of grey and tan, the only surprising feature is the busy gauge cluster. The cluster integrates four needles, three LCDs, a plethora of status lights, and an LED bar that displays your instant MPG. You might be thinking the needle showing 45MPG (above) is an instant figure, but it’s actually the average MPG gauge. Instant economy is shown by an arc of green LEDs to the right of the gauge. Yes, all the same MPG info can simultaneously be displayed on the LCD in the center of the speedo, as well as in the infotainment system. Doing so will let ensure that everyone in the car knows how green you are. While the gauges are extraordinary “blingy,” I found them preferable to the electrofluroescent displays the Prii use.

When the Camry Hybrid debuted in 2006, people bought them because they were discreetly styled, had a useable trunk and provided more rear leg room than a Prius. The cost of the traditional packaging was the Camry’s 30-odd MPG score. If the “low” fuel economy wasn’t a problem, the battery pack in the trunk robbed precious cargo room. For 2012, Toyota uses a slimmer battery pack allowing the trunk to grow to 13.1 cubic feet. This is larger than the competition, but unfortunately continues to eschew a real trunk pass-through. Instead you get a 60% folding rear seat back which reveals a small, oddly shaped portal. While you might be able to get a pair of skis in the car, other long objects are thwarted by a front passenger seat doesn’t fold.

Like the rest of the Camry line, the Hybrid sports one “sound only” system and three different touch screen navigation/infotainment systems. First up is the base AM/FM/CD audio system with 6 speakers and iPod/USB and Bluetooth integration (the only unit available in the “LE”  model.) The XLE starts with the same speakers but for $1,745 adds a 6.1inch LCD “display audio with navigation” (the bundle also includes the keyless-go “smartkey”). This “base” nav system is one of Toyota’s best, as the voice commands for destinations are logical and easy to use. The system also offers smartphone integrated apps and data services meaning you don’t need an XM subscription to make the whiz-bang features work. Shoppers can also bundle this system with the 7.1 channel JBL “green” speaker and amp system which gives the Camry one of the better audio systems in the segment. If you feel spendy, you can upgrade to the 7-inch system (pictured below) which uses a totally different software interface. The up-level interface is hard-drive based and has a few more POIs built-in, allows side-by-side map displays and uses XM as the data service and not your smartphone. While the two systems offer similar features, the 6.1-inch system doesn’t need an XM subscription to do traffic so it would be my choice unless you plan on living with a dumbphone forever. To see the 6.1-inch system in action, check out TTAC’s Prius c video.

When Toyota scaled-up their Hybrid Synergy Drive system to handle the weight of the Camry (and in a desire to retain a standard of acceleration that mid-size shoppers would accept), the enlargement resulted in EPA scores of 33 city/34 highway, well below the Ford and Hyundai competition that soon followed. In addition, the Camry Hybrid wasn’t terribly swift. To solve those complaints, Toyota ditched the old hybrid drivetrain for an all-new system incorporating a larger 2.5L, 156HP Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine and more powerful motors. The new system is good for a combined 200HP (and around 200lb-ft of torque). Largely thanks to the  199lb-feet of torque the motor delivers from 0-1500RPM, acceleration is considerably better than the Prius twisting out a 6.9 second run to 60. While the system still uses Nickle based batteries instead of the trendier Lithium batteries in the Sonata, the refinements to the system lifted the Camry’s economy to 43 city, 39 highway and 41 combined. In the old Camry, I had difficulty achieving the advertised 34MPG highway numbers, but over 730 miles of mixed driving, photo shoots, stop-and-go commute traffic and a weekend out-of-town the Camry Hybrid averaged an impressive 43MPG. While our numbers were notably above the EPA ratings, as with all cars, your mileage will vary.

At 3400lbs, the Camry Hybrid is 245lbs heavier than the non-hybrid Camry and the weight gain impacts handling to some degree, however the low-rolling resistance rubber causes more of a problem with windy mountain roads. Then again, none of the Camry models are corner carvers, and although the steering is just as numb  as the rest of the lineup, it is fairly average for the class which focuses more on ride than handling. The Camry is a willing and capable commuter car, providing a quiet, compliant ride and delivering an average of 44MPG on my daily commute.

For some reason, car shoppers in America buy vehicles for their “peak”  load rather than their average load. In light of this the Camry Hybrid (like it’s mid-size hybrid competition) may just be the ideal vehicle for the average American delivering a solid 40MPG, seating for five and few compromises. While the Camry Hybrid may be boring, I am a “white bread and smooth peanut butter” kind of guy, and judging by the Camry’s sales numbers, so are a large number of mid size shoppers. With a 41MPG combined EPA score and 0-60 times under 7-seconds, the Camry Hybrid might just be the prefect Camry.

 

Toyota provided the vehicle insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.7 Seconds

0-60: ran between 6.7 and 7.2 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.16 @ 92.7 MPH

Average fuel economy:  40.9MPG over 837  miles

 

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Review: 2012 Toyota Prius c http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/review-2012-toyota-prius-c/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/review-2012-toyota-prius-c/#comments Mon, 23 Apr 2012 20:25:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=438839 In the geek world we have “Moore’s law” which states the number of transistors in ICs will double every two years. In the automotive world we have the bloat law. Every generation of a vehicle will get more powerful, heavier and physically larger than its predecessor, ultimately requiring the manufacturer to design an entirely new, […]

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In the geek world we have “Moore’s law” which states the number of transistors in ICs will double every two years. In the automotive world we have the bloat law. Every generation of a vehicle will get more powerful, heavier and physically larger than its predecessor, ultimately requiring the manufacturer to design an entirely new, smaller car to fill the void left by the original.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Back in 2001, the original Prius cost $19,995, weighed 2,765lbs and delivered 52/45MPG. Three generations later it costs $24,000, tips the scales at 3,050lbs, yields 51/48MPG and is far more practical for a family of four. Listing for $1,000 less than the original Prius and weighing a svelte 2,500lbs, the baby Prius delivers 53/46MPG of hatchback hybrid love. More important than the weight loss routine is the fact that this new Prius is “only” $4,835 more expensive than the Toyota’s Yaris (the cheapest 5-door economy car in their US lineup.) That might sound like a big chunk of change, but back in 2001, the Prius was $6,591 dearer. We can thank this price difference to Toyota’s continuing efforts to downsize their hybrid system’s footprint and price tag. Speaking of that footprint, the Prius c manages to weigh only 185lbs more than the 5-door Yaris L while the original Prius was 700lbs heavier than the Echo of the era. For once downsizing is progress.

Interior

If you’ve been inside a Prius, the interior will be “déjà vu all over again.” While the shapes look familiar,  few parts are actually shared as the Prii models share the same style sheet but share few major interior trim parts. Personally, I found the traditional shifter and the high-resolution LCD in the dash a significant step-up from the Prius liftback’s low-rent display and awkward joystick. Strangely enough, the Prius c also shares little with the Yaris on which it is based, aside from a passion for hard plastics. Shoppers should know that while all Yaris models have token soft touch bits on the dash, only the top-end Prius c “four” gets some pleather dash yumminess. While some may complain about the hardness of the  surfaces, the fit and finish is above average in the segment (if you exclude the Germans) and the style is less controversial than the Prius liftback.

Infotainment

Being positioned for younger and greener buyers, Toyota offers three different audio systems all with standard Bluetooth phone integration/music streaming and iPod/USB connectivity. The Prius c “one” gets a basic head unit with a small display and four speakers while the Prius c “two” uses the same radio but adds two tweeters up front. As you would expect, browsing an iPhone/iPod with 4,000+ songs on it was a royal pain. Stepping up to the Prius c “three” buys you Toyota’s 6.1-inch unit which Toyota confusingly calls “Display Audio with Navigation and Entune.” Long names aside, the Entune navigation system is an interesting blend of a decent audio head unit and integrated flash-based navigation system with smartphone data and smartphone app integration. While systems like MyFord Touch, or even Toyota’s own higher end nav systems use Sirius or XM satellite radio to deliver data content, the base Entune system pulls this data right off your smartphone using your own data plan. As a result, there’s no need for an XM or Sirius subscription like in other systems. The downside? You can’t access these services without a smartphone, so if you haven’t joined the 21st century and are still using a Motorola StarTac, you won’t be able Bing or OpenTable while you roll.

Drivetrain

Harkening back to the Prius origins isn’t just something I wax poetic about, Toyota did as well resurrecting the original 1.5L engine from the first generation Prius. While the engine is essentially the same it now produces 73HP and 82b-ft of torque, up 3HP due mostly to the removal of all the belt driven accessories including the water pump. Rather than lifting the old Hybrid Synergy Drive from the first gen Prius or borrowing the liftback’s larger transaxle, Toyota designed an all-new unit with smaller motors and considerably smaller packaging. Total system horsepower is rated at 99HP and around 125lb-ft of torque. Thanks to the Prius c’s low curb weight, the power reduction compared to the liftback isn’t obvious, with the Prius c scooting to 60 in just under 11 seconds.

Economy

If you have a Jaguar XFR, you end up flooring the car all the time to listen to the engine snarl. If you have a Prius, you hypermile. Why? Because the whole reason for the Prius’ existence is outstanding fuel economy. On my 53-mile one-way commute, my best observed fuel economy was 66MPG. This was achieved by limiting myself to 62MPH, being gentle with the pedals and keeping my road rage in check. While I may have annoyed myself at the beginning, a courteous driver keeping to just below the speed limit is unlikely to offend anyone else.

Driving the Prius c like a “normal” car (speeds up to 73MPH on the highway, keeping up with traffic and occasionally passing) made my commute average fall to a still respectable 52MPG. Over a full week and  831 miles, my 51MPG average came in just a hair above the EPA’s combined 50MPG score.

While 51MPG may sound “old hat,” the impressive thing the the Prius c maintained this high average while commuting over a 2,200ft mountain pass daily. Your mileage will obviously vary depending on your commute, your driving style and how much you use the A/C. Numbers are worthless without comparison, so here we go. The Prius c delivered 5-10 more MPGs than the Prius liftback on the same commute despite having essentially the same EPA scores (Prius 51/48MPG, Prius c 53/46MPG).

Pricing

Like the Prius, the c comes in numbered packages. “One” is obviously the price leader at $18,950, achieved by “decontetning” niceties like cruise control, cargo area lights, adjustable front headrests, the center armrest and tonneau cover. The $19,900 “Two” adds extra speakers, variable intermittent wipers, 60/40 folding rear seat, cruise control, center armrest and an engine immobilizer-style key. “Three” lists for $21,635 and adds Toyota’s Entune Navigation radio with 6.1-inch touchscreen , XM and HD radio, and “Entune App” capability (Pandora, Bing, etc), keyless entry and keyless go and a telescoping steering wheel. The top-of-the-line “Four” brings 15 inch 8-spoke alloys to the party, “Softex” seats, heated front seats, fog lamps and turn signals in the side mirrors for $23,230. The “Four” can also be equipped with the $850 moonroof and an optional 16-inch alloy wheel and sport steering package for $300 (or $1150 when combined with the sunroof) topping the Prius c out at $24,380 or about the same as a base Prius liftback.

Drive/Handling

The Prius c’s road manners are almost entirely defined by weight and dimensions. To put these factors in perspective, the Prius c is 8 inches shorter than a VW Golf and 235lbs lighter than a Mini coupe (or the same as a soft-top Mazda Miata.) The Prius c’s suspension provides a solid ride that that approaches, but thankfully misses, “bouncy” – unless you buy the optional larger wheels. Unless you plan on being the only person to Autocross your hybrid, steer clear of the 16-inch wheels, as they destroy the ride and significantly enlarge the car’s turning circle from a tight 31.4, to a Buick-like 37.4 feet. With low rolling resistance tires on hand the Prius c isn’t exactly a corner carver, but thanks to the low curb weight it easily holds its own against the 40MPG compacts. Unlike those other compacts however, the Prius c continues to deliver around 30MPG when working the hybrid system hard on mountain roads. The c’s road manners under braking are improved over the liftback, as is pedal feel. While there is still a different feel to the braking versus a non-hybrid vehicle, the system is by far the most natural of Toyota’s fuel sippers. With weight reduction being king, sound isolation was a secondary concern. The Prius c’s cabin isn’t quite as noisy as the Honda Insight or Civic Hybrid, but it isn’t as quiet as some of the non-hybrid competition.

Competition

Toyota is the first to create a five-door hybrid hatchback and as a result competition is somewhat indirect. The Nissan Versa, Ford Fiesta SFE, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent, and Chevrolet Sonic are the main fuel efficient hatchback competition for the baby Prius.  In a more traditional shape, but similar price point, is the Honda Insight. Because fuel efficiency is the Prius’ game let’s look at the cost of purchase and gasoline (at California prices of $4.20/gallon) over 5 years. In this light, the Hyundai Accent is barely the cheapest to own at $26,095. The Yaris comes in second at $26,100, just $50 less than the Prius c two. How about the others? The Versa would be $2,840 more expensive, the Sonic $3,355 more, and the Insight narrows the gap to $1,500 more over 5 years. (These numbers are based on EPA 2008 scores and a mixture of 45% city driving, 55% highway driving, 15,000 annual miles a year and $4.20/gallon gasoline.) 

The Prius c may be the smallest and cheapest member of the Prius family, but it may also be the best. It preserves the funkiness of the center mount cluster while giving up some quirkiness to convention. Not to mention, excellent fuel economy is addictive. While I may not be willing to get out of my SUV for 30 or 40MPG, 50+ MPG makes the trade something else entirely. It also makes the Yaris redundant. I can’t honestly think of a single reason to get the Yaris over the Prius c, considering that the difference in cost would be made up over the car’s life.  I am frequently asked what my favorite car is, and I don’t know if I have one – but the Prius c, for its reasonable price and high fuel economy, is certainly on the very short list of cars that I would buy myself.

 Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

Battery charged

0-30: 3.5 Seconds

0-60: 10.78 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 18 Seconds @ 75MPH

Battery discharged

0-30: 4.05 Seconds

0-60: 13.02 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 19.05 @ 72MPH

Average fuel economy: 51.6 over 831 miles

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