2017 Toyota Prius Four Hybrid Touring Sedan

The blue Prius Four (top of the line) was taken to Pirate Radio FM 104.7 for analysis by DJ’s George Gray and Matt Arguello:

I drove this Prius to Denver twice to attend the Denver Auto Show, and was impressed by the handling and maneuverability of this unit in congested, mid-day downtown traffic and congestion.  I can’t imagine another vehicle doing a superior job.

Blue Crush metallic – Gray Softex heated buckets – 5 passenger – 7” touchscreen – Radar cruise control – Keyless entry/blindspot monitor – Halogen headlights, Daytime running lights, LED taillights – JBL 6 speaker Greenedge sound stereo – Backup camera and navigation – 95 horsepower 1.8 liter cylinder gas and electric drive train – CVT Automatic transmission and front-wheel drive –  $34,181.00 – 54 MPG city , 52 MPG combined 50 MPG highway –  Weighs 3,080 lbs./27.4 cubic ft. of cargo space – 17” Five spoke wheels with LRR P215/45R17 tires

2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring Liftback

20161013_181426_hdrThe fancy Toyota Prius Four was taken to Pirate Radio – Greeley, CO (FM 104.7) to show off to the Morning Show guys, George Gray and Matt Arguello:

 

 When Takeshi Uchiyamada, a top Toyota manager, was presented in 1995 with the task of developing a new hybrid automobile within two years, he was shocked and in need of inspiration.  He found it by reading, among other things, the accounts of America’s landing of a man on the moon during the 1960’s – both his boss, Toyota president Hiroshi Okuda, and U.S. president John F. Kennedy, had set forth a goal and a timetable for a project for which the technology to complete it did not exist.

Both goals were met, and the Toyota Prius was born in Japan on October 14th, 1997.  In America, the time came to take Prius orders in June of 2000 with a website that immediately lit up with orders, pleasing anxious Toyota executives.  Now global sales of the Prius family of vehicles have reached 5.7 million.

The 2016 Toyota Prius is the first year of the fourth generation of Prii, and I recently tested one for a week.  Keeping up with an industry trend, Toyota has managed to effect fuel economy improvements with each successive generation of the Prius.  The original Prius’ 40 mpg combined mileage rating was increased in to 45 mpg in 2004 by installing all-electric air conditioning and in 2009 an electric water pump and larger engine were incorporated.  Each successive model featured more aerodynamic styling, reducing the drag coefficient to the 2016’s .24 Cd.  My test Prius had the larger, 1.8 liter, four cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motor/generators incorporated in the power train, bringing the total hybrid system net horsepower to 166, with a 50 mpg combined EPA mileage rating.  I was thoroughly satisfied with the driveability, performance, and economy (I observed 51 mpg) of this sedan during my time with it.

The front-wheel drive Prius is surprisingly roomy (it seats five) and comfortable, with two-tone SofTex seats, and 21.6 cubic feet of luggage space.  This Prius was base-priced at $30,005.00, and freight and technology package brought the total to $35,704.00.  That tech package provided hard-disk navigation with 6.1” screen, JBL sound system with MP3 connection, Entune (with smartphone integration), HD/satellite radio, Bluetooth, back-up camera, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, proximity keyless entry, and head-up windshield speedometer display. The exterior of the car included blue-accent car badges, rear spoiler, LED headlamps, front fog lamps, 17” alloy wheels, and P215/45R17 all-season radials.20161013_175220_hdr

I recommend the 2014 Prius sedan as a solid performer and investment.  Nonetheless, I will be looking forward to next year’s 2015, fourth generation Prius that will reportedly deliver a ten percent increase in fuel economy, to 55 mpg.  It will be completely restyled with a reduction in drag, and all-wheel drive is rumored to be an option.

2015 Lexus ES-300h FWD Sedan

20150615_153629On a recent long weekend I was able to test a new Lexus for a trip to Nebraska, and it was the ES series hybrid model that has been available since early 2012.  The car was painted Atomic Silver and had black leather five-passenger seating.  Inside it was black perforated “Semi-Aniline” (a dying process) leather throughout, courtesy of the Ultra Luxury package that was included on this ES.   This added $2,435.00 to the base price of the Lexus ($40,430.00) and included power memory heated/air conditioned front buckets, ambient lighting, bamboo trim, power tilt/telescope steering column, rear sunshades, and driver’s seat power cushion extender.

Additionally, the car had blind spot monitor ($500.00), lane departure alert with intelligent high-beam headlamps ($1,015.00), navigation package with 8″  screen ($1,795.00), power trunk closer ($400.00), intuitive parking assist ($500.00), rain-sensing wipers with de-icer ($155.00),  and heated leather trimmed/bamboo steering wheel ($450.00).  Thus the base price and freight of $925.00 pushed the total M.S.R.P. to $48,605.00.

My father and I bought a brand new 1965 Corsair Corsa for about $46,000.00 less than that figure in Grant, Nebraska fifty years ago.  I bring that up because my 50th class reunion in that town was the reason for the road trip in the Lexus.  I tooled around Grant in the ES300h, a sedan considerably more accomplished than the old Chevy was, and although the Lexus is more expensive, the Corvair was over $20,000.00 if adjusted for inflation.  The Lexus’ current price adjusted back to 1965 dollars comes to $6,500.00, and it may be that Bullock Chevy/Cadillac there in Grant sold a Caddy for about that amount.  I don’t really know, but I do know that Dad and I didn’t bother to look at such a car.20150615_153920

As a popular Lexus hybrid, the ES has an Atkinson-cycle, 2.5 liter, four cylinder gasoline engine at its heart, and two electric motor/generators to contribute power.  An Englishman named Atkinson obtained an American patent on the Atkinson-cycle engine over 120 years ago, but the design wasn’t favored until recently because its efficient fuel consumption aspect was more than offset by its lack of torque.  Well, electric motors provide instant torque, so in the hybrid automobile the Atkinson engine goes with an electric motor like love and marriage.  And in the ES300h, the total package provides 200 horsepower and runs that through a continuously-variable automatic transmission. Reportedly, top speed is 112 mph and zero to sixty acceleration takes 8.1 seconds.

Size-wise, this ES is a luxo-Camry with 111” wheelbase and a 16-foot overall length.  It’s heavier than a Camry, though, at 3,700 lbs. with its big battery.  That battery restricts the trunk to 12.1 cubic feet, and on this ES the lid powers up and down.  No restriction is evident in the back seat, however, with seating for three and a big armrest in the middle.  Riding anywhere in the ES300h is a pleasure, and I felt the ride was superb while motoring up through northeastern Colorado and into Perkins County, Nebraska.  Lexus ES300h styling is suitable for me and me and Ruth really liked the Atomic silver tone.  The front-end styling is fine and so is the rear with the exhaust tips concealed, hybrid-style.

EPA ratings for the ES300h are 40-city, 39-highway, and 40-combined miles per gallon – electric power allows drivers to save fuel in the city.  My average, driving around Greeley as well as the road trip to Nebraska, was 41.1 mpg.  It’s hard to say how much driving is necessary to make a hybrid Lexus pay off; there are other factors involved in the calculations.  With resale value and pride of ownership factored in, this hybrid Lexus looks like a pretty good deal to me.

2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited Sedan


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The 2015 Toyota Avalon, currently available in hybrid and non-hybrid configurations, is now in its fourth-generation iteration.  I recently was loaned one of them by Rocky Mountain Redline, and the car delivered was painted Celestial Silver metallic and featured premium black leather seating.  With all Avalon production taking place in Georgetown, Kentucky, the first unit rolled off of that assembly line eleven years ago as a 1995 model.  They are full-size, front-wheel drive sedans and represent Toyota’s biggest such offering.

At my age (the Beatles hit U. S. shores while I was in high school), the Avalon represented a nice car to be seen in, and drive around in, for the period of my evaluation.  The ride on its 111″ wheelbase is superb do to the MacPherson strut front suspension with offset coil springs and stabilizer bar and dual-link independent MacPherson strut rear suspension with offset coil springs and another stabilizer bar.  The room inside is ample for big, American motorists with 0ver 42″ of legroom is up front and over 39″ in the back seat area.  The same holds true for shoulder room in the car at nearly five feet of it, front and rear.  Overall length is 195.3″, six inches shorter than a Chevrolet Impala and 4.8″ longer than a Mazda 6.  The Avalon weighs 3,638 lbs., the same as the Chevy despite the fact it has a big hybrid battery on board.

The efficient power supply for the Avalon consisted of a 2.5 liter, 4 cylinder hybrid gas/electric engine with 200 hybrid system net horsepower (149 kW) and an electronically-controlled continuously variable (CVT) transmission.  The EPA estimates for the Avalon is 40 mpg – combined and city.  Highway mileage rating is 39 mpg – my experience for the week driving the car was 38.9 mpg.  The fuel tank holds 17 gallons of regular unleaded gasoline.  SAM_3763It’s impossible for the Avalon styling to offend anyone, young or old.  There exists up front the Toyota-specific big chrome mustache grill with black background, high intensity discharge (HID) quadrabeam headlights with auto on/off feature, and LED daytime running lights (DRL) with on/off feature.  The fifteen-spoke painted aluminum alloy wheels are fitted with P215/55R17 Bridgestone Turanza EL400 mud and snow radials.  No tailpipes are visible at the rear of the car (hybrid-style), but ample chrome is and a spoiler is almost molded into the trunk lid where underneath there is 14 cubic feet of cargo space available to the five passengers.

As you might expect, the inside the Avalon Hybrid Limited is sumptuous with its premium perforated leather-trimmed multi-stage heated and ventilated front seats, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support and power cushion extension, and 8-way power-adjustable front passenger seat.  On hand are premium JBL stereo, navigation system, 7″ touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, power rear window sunshade, ten airbags, tilt/telescope, pushbutton starter, backup camera, smoked chrome accents, and power mirrors/windows/locks.

M.S.R.P. of the Avalon tester came in at $44,475.00, including $825.00 for freight and $1,950.00 for the technology package which included radar cruise control, automatic high beam, pre-collision safety system, and wireless charging platform for smartphones.  It’s a considerable investment, but a sound one given the comfort, beauty, and economy that the buyer gets in the bargain.

 

 

 

2015 Toyota Camry SE Hybrid Sedan

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Toyota has been building Camrys since 1982, and the car was originally a compact sedan.  Now it has evolved into a midsize automobile, and year after year the company sells over 400,000 of them.  I drove a new 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid during the past few days, all over Northern Colorado as well as to Denver, and I found out that I like this new 2015 more than the 2014.5 that I had in the fall.  It was the styling that won me over, as this new sedan has virtually all new body parts (everything but the roof), and is quieter, roomier, and even a little sportier.  I was more of a fan of the 2007 (through 2011) Camry styling than I was of last year’s, and now this 2015 gets me back as a big booster.

The Camry Hybrid has a power train consisting of a CVT delivering power to the front wheels from its hybrid system.  I have grown pretty accustomed to the CVT transmission setup in the Camrys; that includes both this one and the 2014.5 that I tested in the fall.  CVT stands for continuously variable transmission (no shifts), and it is coupled to a gasoline 4 cylinder, 2.5 liter motor with 156 horsepower (@ 5,700 rpm) and 156 lb. ft. of torque (@4,500 rpm).  Two electric motor/generators are on board to add in 141 more horsepower and 199 lb. ft. of torque.  Combined power rating is 200 horsepower, and as I mentioned, it was pretty suitable for driving the midsize sedan.  I liked the ride and handling better than last Camry I had, and styling (as I have mentioned) is great from all angles.

The Toyota Camry Hybrid mid-size FWD sedan has been available for eight years, and over the winter has been available in showrooms in its third generation configuration.  My test Camry was equipped to the tune of $32,233.00, M.S.R.P.   The base price of $27,995.00 for the SE model had as additions the blue illuminated door sills ($299.00) remote start ($499.00) four season floor mat package ($325.00), premium navigation/audio package ($1,300.00), moon roof ($915), and wireless charging system ($75.00).  Freight charges came to $825.00.  The car came in “blue crush metallic” paint and the cloth seating was a light gray in color.  It’s a five passenger sedan with a decent sized rear passenger compartment and a 15.4 cubic foot trunk.  It comfortably seats five adults.  Miles-per-gallon fuel economy ratings for the car I drove were 40 City, 38 Highway, and 40 Combined.  The fuel tank holds 17 gallons of at least 87-octane regular unleaded gasoline.  SAM_0344

My test automobile was equipped as an above-average midsize sedan. On hand were such items as a good JBL stereo, 6.1″ touchscreen for nav and backup, fancier dash materials for 2015, sport cloth SofTex seating, satellite radio, 17″ alloys, and Bluetooth.  Wheelbase of the Camry is 109.3″, length is 190.9″, and weight of the SE is 3,565 lbs.

There is a reason the Camry is America’s best selling car (almost 30,000 sold in November of 2014), and I experienced it firsthand this week with the SE Hybrid.

2014.5 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

SAM_0026The Toyota Camry Hybrid mid-size FWD sedan was introduced in May of 2006 as a 2007 model.   The current unit is in its second generation iteration.  A 2014.5 Toyota Camry SE Hybrid was brought to me last week for testing, and it was equipped as such to arrive at an M.S.R.P. of $30,970.00.  The base price of $27,945.00 for the SE model had as additions the navigation system ($1,200.00) and power tilt/slide moon roof ($915.00).  The car came in “Barcelona Red” paint, which was fun to photograph, and the cloth seating was black.  It’s a five passenger sedan with a suitably sized rear passenger compartment and a 13.1 cubic foot trunk.  Curb weight was 3,545 lbs., wheelbase was 109.3”, and overall length came in at 189.2”.  IMG_0160

SAM_0063    I drove the Camry quite a bit this last week, both to Ft. Collins, Boulder and to Denver, and gradually grew pretty accustomed to the CVT transmission setup in the car.  CVT stands for continuously variable transmission (no shifts), and it is coupled to a gasoline 4 cylinder, 2.5 liter motor with 156 horsepower and 156 lb. ft. of torque.  Two electric motor/generators are on board to add in 141 more horsepower and 199 lb. ft. of torque.  Combined power rating is 200 horsepower, and as I mentioned, it was pretty acceptable for driving the somewhat big sedan.  The ride, handling, and guidance were all good, and the styling suits me, as well (particularly front and rear). IMG_0156

SAM_0017 Fuel economy for the hybrid has been improved for the last two years, and for the time I drove it the reading was 39.5 mpg.  EPA ratings for the car I drove were 40 mpg city and 38 mpg highway – 40 mpg combined.  The fuel tank held 17 gallons of regular gasoline.  The current mileage compilation for the car is displayed on a dial; not digitally.

I mentioned earlier the options on board with this Camry – it was equipped with a moderate amount of equipment, including an 8 speaker JBL stereo, 7″ touchscreen for navigation and backup view, SoftTex-trimmed seating, satellite radio, 17″ five-spoke alloys, Bridgestone Turanza EL400 P215/55R17 all- season radials, tilt/telescope, pushbutton starter, cruise control, keyless entry, power windows/locks/mirrors, and Bluetooth connectivity.SAM_0044

There is a reason the Camry is America’s best selling car, and I experienced it this week with the SE Hybrid. This model will hold up well in the hybrid sales parade, although with the recent gas prices dipping under $3.00 per gallon, it will be a walking parade, not a stampede.SAM_0081

 

 

2014 Lexus GS450h Hybrid Sedan Review

IMG_0021The Lexus GS is a mid-size luxury car sold by Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota.  Its design was originated by Italdesign Guigiaro over a quarter century ago as a simplified, European-looking offering.  The GS is the car that I was loaned to test this last week.  The car is called a GS450h, and the “h“ stands for hybrid drive train, made up of a 306 horsepower Atkinson-cycle V-6 and two electric motor/generators.  Total horsepower of the gasoline/electric package is 338, and the power is delivered through a continuously variable automatic transmission.  Although not officially designated a “sports sedan”, this 4,147 lb. car can go from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds.  Top speed is reportedly a governor-limited 136 mph.

The Lexus GS series of cars has been around since 1993, and is now in its fourth generation configuration for 2014.  Lexus, headquartered in Nagoya, Japan, sent as its first automobile to America the big LS series in 1989.  The company currently manufactures Japan’s top-selling make of luxury automobiles.  The GS models come in a V-6 sports sedan, a high-performance F Sport sedan, and the hybrid (h) model that I tested.

Highway manners of the GS450h are excellent, with an assist from the blind spot monitor to keep the driver out of trouble.  Ride on the Dunlop 235/45R18 SP Sport S100 all-season radials (on 18”, eighteen split-spoke alloys) is silent and responsive, and the driver can select from four drive modes – Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport+.  In winter the driver can select “snow”, and there is an “EV” (all-electric) selection to made, too.  Lots of options, and lots of performance in the Sport+ mode, especially so for a hybrid vehicle.  While in Sport+, the car provides more shock damping, tighter steering, and improved throttle response.  And all these handling and power characteristics are present in a car that delivered right at 30 mpg for me all week.  Official ratings are 29/city and 34/highway (31 combined).SAM_3587

SAM_3564The M.S.R.P. of the GS450h is $59,600.00 (base), and options include a luxury package for $5,695.00, blind spot monitor for $700.00, premium Mark Levinson stereo for $1,380.00,  hard-disk navigation setup for $1,735.00, power trunk for $400.00, and intuitive park assist for $500.00.  Total list price with $910.00 for freight comes to $70,920.00.  That luxury package includes heated and cooled, 18-way power front semi-aniline leather seats, heated bamboo and leather steering wheel, LED headlamps, and rear-door manual sunshades (an electric sunshade is present in the back window).  The 330 watt stereo includes 17 speakers with 7.1 surround sound architecture.  The screen for the navigation is gigantic, at 12.3”, with split-screen capability, and controlling its applications is done with a mouse on the console.

The GS450h came with Riviera Red paint and the interior was black.  The paint seemed to be two feet thick, and the styling excelled, mostly up front.  No tailpipe finishers were present at the rear, in somewhat of a curious styling move (hybrid?).  But the car is an eye catcher, for sure.

The Lexus GS450h was a treat to test all week, providing this reviewer
with an extra “measure of pleasure’, and the car deserves a good look from the luxury car-buying public.

 

2014 Tesla Model S

 

_DSC3098Computer and internet whiz Elon Musk joined Tesla Motors in 2004, a year after Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded the company.  He is generally considered a co-founder of Tesla, as he is of PayPal, Space-X, and Zip2.  The South African-born Musk is an American citizen and holds the position of CEO and Chief Product Architect at Tesla, based in Palo Alto, California.  Tesla designs and manufactures premium electric vehicles.

I was recently in San Francisco and made arrangements to go by Tesla’s nearby headquarters to pick up a 2014 Model S for testing.  Communications specialist Alexis Georgeson was there to meet me and turn over the keys to the solid black four-door sedan with black leather seating.  I was pleased to discover the “P85+” badging on the trunk of my test car, emblematic of Tesla’s biggest battery installation and a high performance drive inverter.  The 85 kWh battery/motor combination puts 416 horsepower to the rear wheels at between 5,000 and 8,600 rpm.  Peak torque on this automobile is 443 lb. ft. at any rpm between zero and 5,100.

Range of the performance Tesla Model S is estimated by the manufacturer to be 300 miles at 55 mph.  EPA 5-cycle certified testing results are 265 miles, and such testing is at higher speeds and with operating electric accessories.  I drove 214 miles, but stopped at a Tesla Supercharger to top off the battery midway through the test.  I wanted to experience the stop at their facility, where a 30 minute charge brought my battery up to 262 miles of range.  The procedure was simple, located in Fremont, and a suitable lounge was on hand for motorists, some of which were monitoring charging progress on their smartphones.  The company provides the battery charging at no cost to Tesla performance S owners at the facilities, which number 85 in North America and 14 in Europe.  Of course, the Tesla can be charged pretty much at any location with 110 or 240 volt AC power, including at home.SAM_2919

I familiarized myself with the test car before heading north on U.S. Highway 101 toward the Inn at the Opera in San Francisco, where Ruth and I were staying.  The prodigious power of the Tesla is confidence-inspiring on the freeway, assuring the driver that he can jump into the next lane, merge, or pass with instantaneous response.  The car is all-electric, and has no gas tank or gas engine, with a battery that is under the passenger compartment, about 5’ by 8’, and shaped like a graham cracker.  Tesla batteries, in two incidents, have been pierced by road debris, causing fires without fatalities.  The company has recently added shielding under the Model S to prevent further incidents and is retrofitting owned Teslas upon request at service intervals.  The NHTSA looked into the fires, and recently closed its investigation without pushing for a recall.

On the second day with the Tesla Model S, my wife and I drove to Alice’s Restaurant on Skyline Boulevard in Woodside, California.  At Alice’s, “you can get anything you want”, according to Arlo Guthrie, and I chose French toast.  As I understand it, residents of Woodside can get almost anything they want, with median family income of nearly $200,000.00.  So it was no surprise that the locals in the diner were accustomed to cars such as the Tesla Model S making an appearance at Alice’s. SAM_2924

The drive to Woodside is through tall redwoods on a serpentine two-lane road where the Tesla flexed its muscles with a remarkably low center of gravity, Michelin staggered Pilot Sport PS2, Z-rated tires, front double-wishbone/rear multi-link suspension and near 50/50 weight distribution.  I had never driven a car with 35-aspect tires, and I was surprised at the acceptable ride of the Tesla – the handling was not a surprise.

Inside the cabin of the Model S resides a 17” touchscreen navigation/stereo system, panoramic moon roof, supple leather buckets, and a console tray perfect for the wife’s purse.  The navigation display is replicated on the dash just ahead of the driver, and I liked that for getting through California traffic.  Some options are absent on the Tesla such as blind spot monitor and adaptive radar cruise control.  The rear camera, however, can be turned on at any time, not just while in reverse.

_DSC3094   No gas mileage ratings (no gas) are published for the Tesla Model S, but to drive 25,000 miles, the Tesla will require $778.00 worth of electricity (.11 per kilowatt/hour).  So at $3.80 per gallon, a gas-powered vehicle would have to get 122 mpg to go that far for that much money.  A Tesla owner could sneak in a few Supercharger refills and lower the cost-per-mile even further.  Cost of the car, on the other hand, is high, with a base price of $89,900.00.  My test car was loaded with options – seven passenger seating, alcantara headliner, 21” alloy wheels, tech package, high fidelity sound system, et al, and thus the total M.S.R.P. was $127,020.00.  Federal and in some cases state tax credits can help mitigate the investment in a Tesla.

By the end of 2014, Tesla will be introducing an SUV called the Model X.  It will share a lot of the Model S technology, but offer all-wheel drive with electric motors both front and rear.  Falcon doors that swing up and above the vehicle will be a feature of the Model X.  Another Tesla, the model E, will be a smaller sedan reportedly available in 2016 and is to be priced under $50,000.00.

I came back from California thoroughly impressed with the Tesla Model S, had a good time driving it, and thought the people at the company were very accommodating to this journalist.  It’s hard to bet against this company as they try to bring electric vehicles into the American automotive mainstream.