Tag Archives: ECO

2017 Nissan Rogue SL AWD HEV

Hybrid Rogue pulls up a bit short …2017 Nissan Rogue hybrid

I’m always thankful to get an early crack at a new vehicle to market, and that’s what I had with an early release 2017 Nissan Rogue SL hybrid.

Nissan has revamped the popular Rogue for 2017 with a new gloss black V-Motion grille, wider headlights and restyled taillights to freshen its look. Inside there’s a D-shaped steering wheel and now a hybrid model to put Nissan solidly in the hybrid market.2017 Nissan Rogue hybrid

Rogue along with Altima are Nissan’s top-selling vehicles and Rogue has been a fine gas-powered model for years with its 2.5-liter I4 creating 170 horses and earning a reasonable 25 mpg in the city and 32 mpg highway.

The hybrid model, which had not even had its price set when I drove it, features a 141-horse 2.0-liter I4 coupled with a 30 kW electric motor to create 176 horsepower. Nissan says its hybrid system will turn off the gasoline engine and run in electric mode even while on the highway if you keep accelerator pressure constant. With a slight increase of pressure the gas engine kicks back in.

An Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) is linked to the hybrid system aiming to further increase gas mileage. Preliminary EPA numbers put the hybrid Rogue at 31 mpg city and 34 mpg highway, right in line with a primary competitor, the Toyota RAV4 hybrid, which I drove earlier this year.

By comparison, I got 32.9 mpg in the Toyota and 27.5 mpg in the Nissan, albeit the Rogue was driven in much colder weather.2017 Nissan Rogue hybrid

Still, here’s the main difference I found. The RAV4 feels peppy and eager to go, especially in its Sport mode, while the Rogue felt lackluster upon acceleration, even using its Sport mode. Never mind both have and Eco mode, as that further weakens acceleration to the point of stirring road rage from drivers behind you at you leave a stoplight. Continue reading 2017 Nissan Rogue SL AWD HEV

2016 Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD Hybrid

Toyota RAV4 hybrid = good mpg, sporty handling2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Funny, but I enjoyed driving the new Toyota RAV4 hybrid more than its gas-powered model that I had earlier this year.

This one seemed sportier, and that’s a contradiction to all things hybrid. Power seems a bit better, and is with a combined 194 horsepower for the hybrid vs. 176 for the gas-powered model. But handling seemed much more precise and sporty too.

RAV4 is a small ute/crossover and easy to park and steer. The wheel feels moderately light and the hybrid turns into corners well and is responsive. Wheel play is minor.

And while compared to the standard model it has more ponies to power it with the electric hybrid system working well via an electronic continuously variable transmission (ECVT), it’s not exactly quick. There’s still the electric whine when you let off the brake and a slow chug up to 15-20 mph. The harder you press the accelerator the crossover will respond though and get up to highway speeds fairly effortlessly. The down side is an engine that feels and sounds as if it’s working pretty hard.

2016 Toyota RAV4 HybridLike so many vehicles, there are drive mode selection buttons, here on the bottom of the center stack somewhat hidden behind the console-mounted gear shift knob. You can go Eco to save fuel or Sport for a bit more juice to the wheels. The bump up in power is minor, but every little bit helps sometimes. Continue reading 2016 Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD Hybrid

2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo

Kia Optima, a better mid-size sedan …  kia2

When I last tested a Kia Optima I thought it among the best mid-size sedans I’d driven, plus it got 39.5 miles per gallon. Wow! But that was a hybrid model.

Well, the refreshed 2016 Optima is even more impressive. My one major hesitation with the previous model, a passenger’s seat that sat low in the car and was not adjustable, has been fixed. And the tested LX Turbo model got 37 mpg with its 1.6-liter I4 turbo. Sweet! Continue reading 2016 Kia Optima LX Turbo

2016 Toyota Avalon Touring

Stylish Toyota Avalon long on comfort at good priceavalon1

Toyota’s Avalon is a breath of fresh air, a full-size sedan with stylish lines and oodles of comfort and features at a reasonable price.

In days of yore, that would be enough to make it one of the top sellers in the marketplace, but alas, modern times belong to trucks, SUVs and crossovers.

Still, if you enjoy a smooth well-controlled ride and a roomy quiet interior that will coddle five adults on a road trip, Avalon should be atop your shopping list.

Toyota restyled Avalon a couple years ago, all to the good. It looks modern, youthful and sporty for a big sedan. Its 111-inch wheelbase gives it one of the most pleasant rides of any car, truck or ute, no matter the price.

Avalon’s strong 268-horse V6 engine delivers excellent power so the sedan will hoof it up to highway speeds like a race horse, not a plow horse like most SUVs. Amazingly its gas mileage is excellent too, rated at 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway by the EPA. I got 26.7 mpg in about 75% highway driving, including a roundtrip to Chicago with two folks aboard and light luggage.

avalon5This has three driving modes too, Normal, Eco and Sport, but I felt little difference between Normal and Sport. Eco allows the transmission to shift earlier to save fuel, so cuts power a bit. Yet the gas mileage, as stated earlier, is fine without using Eco. Continue reading 2016 Toyota Avalon Touring

2016 Honda Pilot Touring AWD

Restyled Honda Pilot roomier, improved overallhonda1

The Honda Pilot has been a reliable big box of a sport-utility vehicle for years, nothing fancy, but usual Honda quality and solid build.

For 2016 the Pilot is restyled and rounded to give it a smoother more refined look, one that might be confused with Buick’s Enclave. In fact, several folks asked me during my drive if this was a new Buick. Honda’s sales results will tell them if such confusion helps or hurts, but overall the look is an improvement.

That’s what you see on the surface, what’s inside and what’s changed makes the new Pilot more attractive both visually and functionally for large families needing space for their brood.

Overall the Pilot is 3.5 inches longer and rides on a 111-inch wheelbase that’s nearly two inches longer than the previous model. Pilot also has dropped 300 lbs.

honda2The result is a roomier interior with a third-row seat that isn’t as cramped, plus a vehicle with improved ride quality and handling ability. You wouldn’t call Pilot nimble, but the weight loss is noticeable and the steering has been tuned to feel more responsive giving the Pilot better road feel. Not much play in this wheel anymore.

Ride generally is fine, but still can be stiff over sharp road bumps of which we have plenty in southeast Wisconsin. I enjoyed my highway drives across town and the interior is extremely quiet. Continue reading 2016 Honda Pilot Touring AWD

2016 Honda HR-V 2WD EX-L w/Nav

Honda’s new HR-V just another solid little utehonda2

Honda makes many fine cars that perform well, get good gas mileage and are reliable and its new small personal-sized crossover, the HR-V fits that mold.

But Honda, like Toyota before it, seems to have neglected styling in pursuit of its other laudable attributes. So the HR-V, like its name, seems uninspired. It’s another small ute/crossover box, not cute, not edgy, not imaginative and not even a name to remember.

While Toyota has come out of its styling doldrums one can hope Honda won’t be slumbering much longer. Because at its core, as with most Hondas, the HR-V is a solid little people mover. Its economical, gets good gas mileage, has a pleasant ride and comfortable seats.

If anything Honda has put more effort into the crossover’s interior space, than anything. The cargo room under its hatch is spacious and much deeper than in last week’s much more stylish Mazda CX-3. Both rear seats fold flat in one quick easy motion. Some little utes, and mid-size ones for that matter, require you to pull the bottom seat cushion forward first before lowering the seat back. Some require you to take out the headrests first. Humbug! Continue reading 2016 Honda HR-V 2WD EX-L w/Nav

2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

lexus1First Lexus turbo turns up the juice in angular NX F Sport

If I were selecting a smallish sport-ute solely on looks Lexus’ NX would be my first choice.

I like its angular lines, its exciting sporty appearance, its 3D taillights and its front lights that appear to be large checkmarks laid sideways. I like the modern sporty look of its interior, again full of angles, and soft-touch materials used everywhere from dash to console.

The tested NX 200t F Sport was the same silver as an earlier pre-production hybrid NX I’d driven, but its interior was a sporty black and dark red leather with textured chrome dash and door inserts and satin finish chrome around the console and center stack. All the leather, seats, dash, steering wheel and door trim features red stitching. NX looks sharp, inside and out.

Honestly, I liked this one better than the hybrid because there was power when I pressed the accelerator. The 2.0-liter I4 is pumped up with a turbocharger, Lexus’ first, and includes dual variable valve timing to create a fairly efficient power source that delivers 235 horsepower and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque. If you need to scoot, the NX with turbo will scoot.

That puts something rare, sport, into a small sport-ute.

lexus3How small? Continue reading 2015 Lexus NX 200t F Sport

2015 BMW M235i xDrive

BMW1Ultimately, BMW’s M235i a great drive

BMW made its mark in the U.S. market years ago with the likes of the BMW 2002, a compact sporty handling car that could run circles, or ovals, or whatever shape you wanted, around most other cars. It was quick and lithe and fun to drive.

But as all cars, BMWs included, have grown in dimensions, especially weight and length, many Bimmer fans have bemoaned the Bavarian firm’s stray from the small coupe market. Some of us also wish there were still an “Ultimate Driving Machine” that a few more of us could afford.

Well, BMW nails, or should we say re-nails, the lithe fun sports coupe with its 2 Series. A base 228i with 240-horsepower and a manual transmission now comes in at $33,050 including delivery, so in line with an average car’s cost. I’d love to drive one in that trim. Yet this week I was granted an audience with the M235i xDrive, which takes the 2 Series to its raciest extreme. The M with xDrive drops a 320-horse twin-turbo I6 into the smallest BMW coupe with terrific results.

That twin-turbo pumps out a delicious 330 ft.lbs. of torque and turns the 2 Series into a street legal racer. Slap down the throttle and the M235i pushes you back in the seat and you hold on to the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel praying there are lot of winding roads just over the horizon. The car’s steering is moderately heavy, but extremely precise, exactly what you’d expect from a BMW. Yet the coupe doesn’t feel heavy, tipping the scales at just 3,695 lbs.

Ride is good, not as comfortable as the marvelous 428i that I drove last year, but then it rides on a 110.6-inch wheelbase compared with 105.9 inches in the 2 Series. Five inches goes a long way to smoothing rough roads. Still, as in the 4 Series, the M235i mates the superbly designed suspension with BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control system that adjusts the chassis and modulates the engine’s power curve too. Continue reading 2015 BMW M235i xDrive

2015 BMW X4 xDrive 35i

BMW X4 blends car, SUV and gets it about half right X4-3

When is a car not a car, or an SUV an SUV?

When it is an X4, BMW’s new blended vehicle. From the front it looks like a BMW sedan, it even has four doors, but a decidedly taller profile that unfortunately looks bloated and bulbous, especially from the rear. Think Honda Crosstour, but with a better nose.

Plainly this is a vehicle meant to appeal across several market segments and it succeeds in several ways, but mainly as a car.

Continue reading 2015 BMW X4 xDrive 35i

2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic

C300 helps Mercedes moves back toward top

            Mercedes-Benz has rejoined the top-tier of luxury automakers after a decade, or more, of struggling with design and execution while other luxo-makes were raising the bar.MB2

Nearly two years ago I praised the GLK350, a small luxury ute that hit on all cylinders for luxury, equipment and performance. Now Mercedes goes deep again with its C300 sedan, one of its bread and butter offerings, a compact to mid-size sedan along the dimensions of a Lexus IS or, for us less monied folks, a Mazda6.

The C Class rides on a smoothing 111.8-inch wheelbase and weighs a middling 3,583 lbs. The car feels delicious.

How so? It’s a scrumptious blend of sporty power, an eager 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 with 241 horses, and comfort. All that starts with a silky 7-speed automatic transmission that easily harnesses the turbo’s 273 ft-lbs. of torque, and cushions the ride with independent suspension at all four corners.

Ride is absolutely stellar, controlled and easy on the occupants, but still responsive enough to lend the car a sporty edge. Cornering is smooth with minimal body lean and as precise as you want it to be.

MB5That’s courtesy of the test car’s Agility Select system that allows the driver to toggle through four settings, from Eco, to Comfort to Sport to Sport+. Moving up from Eco, each setting adds a few hundred engine revs and slightly firms the steering and ride. Eco naturally provides lackadaisical acceleration and a soft steering effort, but Comfort is close to right on for city driving. The C300 still has good power and handling is forgiving. Continue reading 2015 Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic