Driving the Future
Alternative-fuel vehicles and high-tech hybrid powertrains tend to receive a lot of press as America — along with the rest of the world — contemplates the future of the automobile. And while they may represent the future, at present these vehicles make up a very small percentage of overall sales in the U.S. Although consumers like reading and talking about these advanced vehicles, they don’t tend to make the jump to driving something that might require a readjustment of driving style and routine. To showcase how these vehicles can operate efficiently in the real world, each year the Northwest Auto Press Association gathers the latest in fuel-saving and high-tech vehicles to determine which is the “greenest” of them all.
The event is called Drive Revolution, and this is the fifth year NWAPA has gathered vehicles in one of the most electric-vehicle-friendly cities in the country: Portland, Oregon. Vehicles get divided into four categories: Battery Electric and Fuel Cell; Family Green Car; Plug-In Hybrid; Alternative-Fuel Sports Car. Ultimately the new Chevrolet Bolt EV earned the top honor overall as Northwest Green Car of the Year.
Testing in Portland
Vehicle testing took place on the streets of Portland, Oregon. Since most of these vehicles really shine in city environs, each was driven on a loop that included stop-and-go traffic, urban streets and a short highway stint. A note on vehicles tested — as one of the best-known makers of electric cars, Tesla was invited but declined to participate in Drive Revolution.
Northwest Electric Vehicle of the Year — Chevrolet Bolt EV
EPA Fuel Economy Rating: 128 MPGe city / 110 MPGe hwy / 119 MPGe combined
The Bolt EV is all new for 2017 and the first domestic-branded electric car to boast a driving range of more than 200 miles — around 238 miles between charges. With a fuel rating of 128 MPGe in the city, the Bolt EV is the most efficient American car on the road.
Chevrolet’s stylish hatchback features a comfortable, roomy interior with seating for up to five and a useful cargo area. The Bolt EV has a high-tech feel with a large 10.2-inch display screen as well as a digital gauge cluster that helps the driver operate the vehicle more efficiently. Displays also show range as well as time to a full charge, depending on the type of charger.
Charging can be done overnight on a standard 110-volt power outlet, or if you have a 240-volt / 32-amp charging unit installed, the Bolt EV gains 25 miles in range for every hour charged. With DC Fast Charging, 90 miles of range can be achieved in a mere 30 minutes of juice. Prices start at $37,495, and Bolt EV is eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit.
The combination of price, performance and efficiency pushed the Bolt EV to the top of the list as the 2017 Northwest Electric Vehicle of the Year.
Additional Electric Vehicles Tested
BMW i3 with range extender
Honda Clarity Electric
Honda Clarity Fuel Cell
Hyundai Ioniq Electric
Kia Soul Electric
Northwest Family Green Car of the Year — Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
EPA Fuel Economy Rating: 84 MPGe electric / 32 mpg gasoline
It seems appropriate that the company recognized as the creator of the minivan 30 years ago would be the first to market a hybrid minivan. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is the first and only hybrid minivan today, and it features a plug-in system designed to operate seamlessly — there are no mode switches or anything operational that a driver would have to worry about, making this the ideal family car for the typical non-hybrid buyer.
Chrysler has considerable experience building minivans, so the Pacifica showcases everything the automaker has learned over the last 30 years. As one of the best people movers on the market, Pacifca Hybrid boasts a spacious interior and an array of high-tech safety and entertainment features. To keep the passengers occupied, rear seats can be equipped with Chrysler’s Uconnect Theater system, which features large 10-inch high-res touchscreens on the front seatbacks that can be folded away when not in use.
The Pacifica Hybrid will operate solely on electric power for about 33 miles with a top speed of 75 mph. Electric power comes from a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack stored under the floor. Once the battery reaches a certain threshold, the gas engine turns on as needed, combining power with the electric motors when required. Total system output is 260 horsepower — slightly lower than the 287 horses of the gas-powered Pacifica.
According to the EPA, fuel economy for the Pacifica Hybrid in electric mode is rated at 84 MPGe. The official EPA figure for driving in hybrid mode is 32 mpg combined, with a total range of 566 miles. The Pacifica Hybrid’s battery pack can be fully charged on a 240-volt Level II system in about two hours; however, the time jumps to 14 hours when using a standard 110-volt outlet.
Additional Family Cars Tested
Acura MDX Sport Hybrid
Kia Niro Hybrid
Nissan Rogue Hybrid
Northwest Plug-In Hybrid of the Year — Chevrolet Volt
EPA Fuel Economy Rating: 106 MPGe on electric / 42 mpg on gasoline
Chevrolet brought two vehicles to this year’s Drive Revolution and — impressively — each won its class. A unique style of plug-in hybrid, the Volt’s gas engine is designed to operate as a generator rather than as another form of propulsion. The Volt operates as an electric car, and when the batteries are depleted the generator starts up to recharge the batteries, which in turn power the electric motor.
Generator On Board
Updated for 2017, the new Chevy Volt can travel more than 50 miles on electricity alone. If you must travel farther than 50 miles, an onboard gas-powered generator keeps the batteries charged and the electric motor moving, for a total range of more than 400 miles. The Volt is rated at 106 MPGe when operating on electricity alone, and 42 mpg when the generator is running.
Although the Chevrolet Volt is technically a hybrid, many buyers will be able to charge it at work and at home, running as a full electric car for most situations. The Volt has a stylish interior with an intuitive display that keeps the driver fully informed regarding the state of the batteries, range on electric-only power, as well as total range.
Performance on the road is quite good — the Volt accelerates easily to freeway speeds, and is just as comfortable cruising at high speed as it is managing city life. For those looking at getting into an electric car, the Volt is a great way to go, offering a healthy range of electric-only driving without the range anxiety often associated with a fully electric car.
Additional Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles Tested
Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid
Kia Optima PHEV
Toyota Prius Prime
Northwest Alternative-Fuel Sports Car — BMW i8
EPA Fuel Economy Rating: 76 MPGe electric / 28 mpg gasoline
The BMW i8 has been around since 2014 but it still looks and feels like driving the future. With its sleek silhouette, big wheels, narrow grille and crazy aerodynamic angles at the rear, the i8 looks more like a concept car than an actual production automobile. Anyone looking at the i8 knows it’s something special, even if they’re not into cars. And that’s before opening the doors, described by BMW as “scissor door design with lifting and turning function upward toward the front.”
Where most hybrids on the road are designed around fuel efficiency, the i8 is more about performance. This all-wheel-drive sport coupe features a 228-horsepower 3-cylinder turbo engine that drives the rear wheels, while the front wheels get motivation from a 129-horsepower electric motor. Combined output of 357 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque moves the AWD i8 to 60 mph in around 4 seconds. And BMW has somehow made this 3-cylinder engine sound like a V8.
Fun and Efficient
The electric motor provides reasonable acceleration and, if you’re careful with the throttle, highway speeds are possible in electric-only mode. A full charge provides 15 miles of electric-only driving, and the i8 can travel up to 330 miles before needing to refuel. Full throttle will trim both of those numbers, but it certainly ups the fun factor.
Proper Sports Car
With its sleek design and wide stance, the i8 features light yet responsive steering. Even though it has two motors working in tandem, throttle response is predictable and quick. High-speed cornering puts a smile on your face — the i8 stays flat and has excellent grip, due in part to its all-wheel-drive system. A perfect blend of style, performance and fuel efficiency, the i8 easily earns its spot as the best alternative-fuel sports car in the Northwest.
Additional Alternative-Fuel Sports Car tested
Lexus LC 500h
Overall Winner: Northwest Green Car of the Year — Chevrolet Bolt EV
The Bolt EV has had a busy year, now adding Northwest Green Car of the Year to a trophy case that already contains such prestigious awards as the North American Car of the Year and Motor Trend Car of the Year. For many years import brands have owned the fuel-efficient and hybrid market, so it is nice to see American brands stepping up to the plate with quality offerings in this small but competitive marketplace.