hybrid:

Mid-Size Powertrain Wars – Ford Fusion

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“I can’t underestimate how important the Fusion is to Ford,” — Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas, to workers at Flat Rock, Michigan assembly plant.

The mid-size car segment is filled with able competitors and most are either new or recently updated. The oldest, Hyundai Sonata, is a 2011 model and each new model is being launched with a wider range of features than ever before. Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Chevrolet Malibu and next year’s Mazda6 represent the best collection of mid-size cars ever available in the United Sates.

What makes this competition interesting is the different approach that each manufacturer is taking. The Nissan Altima enters the race with a cost conscious four-cylinder engine with no turbo or direction injection. Despite this, the Altima has superior fuel economy and excellent power. Add in attractive styling cues from the Maxima, and you get a pretty compelling offering at a great price.

The Ford Fusion takes a different tack with six powertrains, including two hybrids. We got a chance to drive four of them in Santa Monica this week. Our impressions are positive, but we wonder a bit about the complexity of all these offerings.

2.5-liter inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed auto: This might be the best combination of price and attributes of the four we drove. While not as powerful as the EcoBoost options, it works well for a vehicle in a segment where dynamics are less important than price.

1.6-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed manual: While Ford won’t sell a lot of manual transmission Fusions, this vehicle clearly has a European feel and would be our choice for fun. You clearly feel the small size of the 1.6, but pushing it hard and gliding through the gears with the smooth shifter makes this a fun ride.

2.0-liter EcoBoost inline four-cylinder with a 6-speed auto: More fun than the 2.5 liter four, but will buyers in this segment buy-in? Ours had the stand-alone start-stop feature, which worked better than other executions we’ve seen. It’s a good glimpse into the positive future of start-stop fuel saving technology.

2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle inline four-cylinder with an electric motor: As fun to drive as a hybrid! The hybrid version has received an EPA certified 47 miles per gallon for both city and highway driving, giving the vehicle the highest fuel-efficiency of any hybrid in its class. Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry Hybrid LE gets 43 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway, according to Toyota.

Building a hybrid can get you to about $38,000. A Titanium All Wheel Drive can get to you to $39,000. Start saving now.


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2013 Ford C-Max Trounces Prius V

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2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid

During a brief drive from Hollywood to Malibu and back through the Hollywood Hills to Sunset Boulevard, the 2013 Ford C-Max showed what a small hybrid-powered people mover could be.  Ford, of course, touted the clear advantages of the C-Max over its designated competitor the Prius V.  C-Max has 50 more horsepower.  C-Max has 7-miles per gallon better fuel economy through its third generation hybrid powertrain.  And, C-Max is priced $1,300 lower than the Prius V.  While earlier Ford hybrids had used a similar hybrid system as Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, Ford was clear to state that the C-Max lithium-ion batteries are an in-house development as is the all new CVT (continuously variable transmission).


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2011 Cadillac Escalade: What Makes for an Award Winner?

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AutoPacific, as a well-respected automotive research firm, uses the voice of real consumers like you, the VehicleVoice panel member, to help automakers make the best possible cars and trucks.  The data that we collect also helps identify what vehicles are most satisfying to their owners, as well as being the closest to their owners’ ideals.  Hence, each year we publish our annual list of AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award (VSA) winners (most satisfying vehicles in their segments, as rated by owners) and AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) winners (closest to their owners’ ideals).  These awards highlight what the best vehicles are doing right as reported by their owners, and can serve as a tool to you as the consumer in finding a vehicle that you will be extremely happy with for many years.  Despite the vitriolic rants of the angry and ill-informed, we simply report on what you as the consumer tell us.


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Analysis: Ford & Toyota’s New “Hybrid Synergy”

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If you think back, GM developed the 2 Mode Hybrid system in collaboration with BMW and Daimler-Chrysler.  Chrysler had about a two month run of Durango and Aspen hybrids.  If you see one on the road you might consider it to be an exotic due to how rare it is.  BMW has a hybrid system in their X6, but it is for performance more than fuel economy.  Daimler has a RWD hybrid system in the Mercedes-Benz S Class, but the fuel economy hasn’t been anything to make headlines with.  While not being much of a success for any party involved in that collaboration, one GM engineer described the 2 Mode hybrid system to me as a “very expensive science project”.  What Ford and Toyota teamed up to do today looks to be more than a science experiment.


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Volt Wins Among Today’s Hybrids and EVs

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Two new, completely different high efficiency cars entered the American car market earlier this year – the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt – and AutoPacific set out to find out how different the owners of those cars were from owners of hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight.  We also are looking at how satisfied buyers are with the cars and what they would like changed.

Think of these four cars as being purpose-built for their technology.  They did not simply adapt their new powertrain technology to an existing vehicle such as the Ford Fusion Hybrid or the Toyota Highlander Hybrid.  The Chevrolet Volt is an Extended Range Electric Vehicle.  The Nissan Leaf is a pure Battery Electric Vehicle.  And the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight are pure Hybrids.

Based on AutoPacific’s annual New Vehicle Satisfaction Survey which has a total of almost 73,000 new car and light truck owner responses to a comprehensive questionnaire about the car buying and ownership experience, the comparison finds some interesting and insightful results.

Leaf and Volt Owners are Dramatically Different from Prius and Insight Owners: Volt owners paid $43,000 for their new car.  Leaf owners paid $34,500.  Prius and Insight owners paid $25,000 and $21,000 respectively.  Given the price points, Volt and Leaf owners are the most affluent with incomes of $150,000.  Prius owners have an income of $100,000 and Insight owners have an income of $80,000.

Leaf and Volt owners are much more likely to be male and much more into the technology of their new car.  They are very similar to early buyers of hybrids who were enamored with the new innovative technology of their vehicle.  The Leaf and Insight owners are the youngest of the group at 53 and 54 years of age respectively.  Owners of the much more expensive Volt are 58 as are owners of the Prius.

Leaf owners have the highest level of education.  About 90% have a college education.  About 70% of Volt, Insight and Prius owners have a college education.  Leaf owners are much more likely to be retired (almost 50%).  Only 17% of Insight owners are retired.  About a third of Leaf owners are in a technical profession as are 20% of Volt owners.

Leaf owners are most likely (24%) to have owned a hybrid before.  Prius owners are almost as likely to have owned a hybrid (23%) as Leaf owners.  Volt (8%) and Insight (8%) owners are newcomers to the world of alternative fuel vehicles.  Volt owners are most likely to have previously driven a compact car (18%) or mid-size car (14%), Insight owners were most likely to have previously driven a compact car (23%) or a mid-size car (23%).

Satisfaction – Volt Wins: About 86% of Volt owners are very satisfied with their vehicles compared with 80% of Leaf owners, 70% of Prius owners and 54% of Insight owners.  Among these four cars, Volt owners are most satisfied by a substantial margin.  Leaf and Prius owners are about equally satisfied.  Insight owners are the least satisfied among the four cars.  Out of 48 satisfaction categories in the research,  Volt owners are the most satisfied in 38 of the categories… an overwhelming win.


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2011 Chevrolet Volt: No Fear of the B.S.O.D. with this Tech-Laden Halo

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In November of 2010, General Motors delivered on a promise they made to start producing the Chevrolet Volt.  Just after production started I had the opportunity to spend a day with a Volt.  While it was a very interesting car to drive for a day, I wasn’t sure what it would be like to drive a vehicle that had the ability to be plugged in, so Chevrolet let me drive one for a week earlier this year.


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2012 Buick Lacrosse eAssist: A Premium Sedan with a Boost in Fuel Economy

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While the upcoming Buick Lacrosse failed to induce any excitement within the automotive enthusiast in me, I was more than a bit impressed by its new fuel-saving powertrain technology: eAssist. Recently, I had a chance to try out the new 2012 LaCrosse with eAssist through various terrains near San Francisco, both city and winding country roads, in order to witness eAssist in action.


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2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7: Putting Performance Into Perspective

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The 2011 BMW 750Li ActiveHybrid is an intriguing vehicle and I’m about to make a claim that may surprise just about anyone.  The ActiveHybrid 7  is the best bang for your buck 7 Series.  Slotted above this hybrid is the ALPINA B7 and the 760Li V12.  On paper, both of these vehicles look like they would eat anything with a hybrid badge for lunch.  Hit the jump to see what I mean.


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Autopacific Announces 2010 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards

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AutoPacVSAlogo10.jpgNational Survey Reveals Cadillac as Top Premium Brand, Buick as Top Popular Brand, Ford Motor Company Has Most Awards with Seven, Suzuki Kizashi as Top Car and Lincoln MKT as Top Truck
TUSTIN, Calif. (May 20, 2010) — AutoPacific today announced its 14th Annual Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSA) to help consumers make informed vehicle purchase decisions.
“While the auto industry is showing signs of improvement, more than ever before, manufacturers need to be able to differentiate themselves. Proof of satisfied customers is as good as gold,” says George Peterson, president of AutoPacific. “We’ve found that more than 25% of new car buyers are positively influenced by owner-based awards like the VSA when deciding on a new car or truck.”
AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award is an industry benchmark for measuring how satisfied an owner is with his/her new car or light truck. This study by the Southern California-based automotive research firm summarizes the results of over 42,000 new vehicle owners.
“Vehicles that score highest in the Vehicle Satisfaction Awards are delivering value and satisfaction across a wide range of attributes,” says Peterson. “The winners perform well in 48 separate categories that objectively measure the ownership experience.”


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On the Road: 2010 Lexus HS 250h Misses the Mark

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On sale since August 2009, the Lexus HS 250h was the brand’s first dedicated hybrid model. A second, the CT 200h, launches later in 2010 in the compact car space. Being a luxury marque and with a conventional sedan shape prepped to play in the very heart of the car market (mid-size sedans), the HS 250h evolved a 187HP hybrid system from the Camry Hybrid and its 2.4L I4 rather than using that of the smaller Toyota Prius (136HP, 1.8L).
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What that means for the HS 250h is a few more ponies under the hood (187HP net power versus 134HP of the Prius), and fuel economy a little less impressive than Pruis’s 51/48 city/highway mpg. The HS 250h boasts 35/34 city/highway, though the extra HP is welcome.
Until the 2011 CT 200h arrives, the $36,000 HS 250h is the least expensive Lexus hybrid. No doubt a well-thought-out piece of engineering, the HS 250h incorporates lessons learned from prior Lexus and Toyota hybrids. One example is the exhaust heat recovery system of the RX 450h, which keeps the engine and cabin warmer and allowing for more “stop” time at low speeds. The HS 250h’s fuel economy stacks up reasonably well against other conventionally motivated sedans of its size, but not against some current and upcoming hybrid sedans.
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