Charging Into 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 electric, hybrid and plug-in vehicles to determine which is the “greenest” of them all.
The event is called Drive Revolution, and this is the sixth year NWAPA has gathered the latest vehicles in one of the most electric-vehicle-friendly regions in the country: the Pacific Northwest. Vehicles get divided into four categories: Affordable Battery-Electric Vehicle; Affordable Hybrid Car; Family-Sized Plug-In Hybrid; Luxury Green Car. Ultimately the versatile Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid earned the top honor overall as Northwest Green Vehicle of the Year.
Vehicle testing was based out of the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, WA, and took place on the streets throughout the area. Since most of these vehicles really shine in city environs, each was driven on a loop that included urban streets, stop-and-go traffic and a short highway stint. A note on vehicles tested — as one of the best-known makers of electric cars, Tesla was invited but once again declined to participate in Drive Revolution.
Northwest Affordable Battery-Electric Vehicle of the Year — 2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV
EPA Fuel Economy Rating: 128 MPGe city / 110 MPGe hwy / 119 MPGe combined
Model Tested: Chevrolet Bolt EV Premier
Price as Tested: $43,905 (before $7,500 federal tax credit and available state tax credits)
The Bolt EV was all new for 2017 and earns this title for the second year in a row. The first affordable fully electric vehicle from a domestic automaker, the Bolt boasts a driving range of 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.
Inside, the Bolt EV provides an inviting mix of friendly, high-tech features. Gauges and screens show range and energy consumption information in easy-to-read displays. A customizable home screen can display multiple information streams such as charge time, phone, audio and navigation.
Small Outside, Big Inside
The Bolt EV feels surprisingly roomy inside, given its small footprint. The car has plenty of storage between the front seats as well as in the center console, and two USB ports give occupants flexibility with their mobile devices. Since the front seatbacks are relatively thin, the Bolt EV has a decent amount of legroom for rear-seat passengers. The EV also has a flat floor, so even a middle-seat passenger won’t feel too cramped. Two centrally-located USB ports give those in the second row options for playing and charging devices as well.
Vehicle charging can be done overnight on a standard 110-volt power outlet, or with 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.
The combination of price, performance and efficiency pushed the Bolt EV to the top of the list as the 2018 Northwest Affordable Battery-Electric Vehicle of the Year .
Additional Affordable Electric Vehicles Tested
Kia Soul EV
Northwest Affordable Hybrid Car of the Year — Chevrolet Volt
EPA Fuel Economy Rating: 106 MPGe on electric / 42 mpg on gasoline
Model Tested: 2018 Chevrolet Volt LT
Price as Tested: $36,875 (before $7,500 federal tax credit and available state tax credits)
Chevrolet brought only two vehicles to this year’s Drive Revolution and — impressively — each won its class for the second year in a row. 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. Not only does this extend the range of the Volt when needed, it eliminates “range anxiety” by knowing that as long as a gas station can be located, drivers won’t be stuck on the side of the road waiting for a charge. 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 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 Affordable Hybrid Cars Tested
Ford Fusion Energi
Ford Fusion Hybrid
Toyota Prius Prime
Northwest Family-Sized Plug-In Hybrid of the Year — Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
EPA Fuel Economy Rating: 84 MPGe electric / 32 mpg gasoline
Model Tested: 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited
Price as Tested: $48,580 (before $7,500 federal tax credit and available state tax credits)
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 on the market 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-Sized Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles Tested
Kia Niro PHEV
MINI S E Countryman
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Northwest Luxury Green Vehicle of the Year— Lexus LS 500h
EPA Fuel Economy Rating: 25 MPG City / 33 MPG Hwy / 28 MPG combined
Model Tested: 2018 Lexus LS 500h
Price as Tested: $104,720
The LS is the flagship of the Lexus lineup and was completely redesigned for 2018 model year. With elegant styling inside and out, the LS is one of the most luxurious hybrid models on the market. The LS is also available as a gas-powered model, but the all-new hybrid LS 500h was our tester for this event.
Powering the LS 500h is an Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V6 engine teamed with two electric motors to deliver a total 354 horsepower. That’s enough oomph to move this large sedan to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds. The engine is teamed with a new continuously variable transmission that simulates the feel of driving with a 10-speed gearbox, eliminating the “rubber band” feel typically associated with CVTs. Acceleration is seamless, with the transition from electric model to full hybrid practically imperceptible.
Granted, the LS is attractive from the outside; inside, passengers will find the level of comfort, luxury and technology expected of a Lexus flagship. The available 28-way power front seats featuring heating, cooling and massage are so comfortable a long drive would not be an issue — which is good, since the LS 500h has a driving range of more than 600 miles.
As nice as the LS 500h is to drive, in back is really the best seat in the house. There’s plenty of legroom to stretch out, and there’s even the option of adding Shiatsu massage, reclining seats and a raised ottoman. Active noise control keeps the cabin quiet, so passengers can enjoy the 3D surround Mark Levinson audio package with in-ceiling array speakers. Clearly hybrids have come a long way from the original Toyota Prius.
Additional Luxury Green Vehicles Tested
Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e
Overall Winner: Northwest Green Vehicle of the Year — Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Even though some alt-fuel vehicles are more fuel efficient and more luxurious, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid earned top honors at this year’s Drive Revolution event. With excellent use of space for passengers and cargo, innovative entertainment options, easy-to-drive characteristics and the fuel efficiency of a much smaller vehicle, the Pacific Hybrid brings a lot to the table. Add to that the 33 miles of electric-only range and many buyers will almost never need to burn gasoline. And who knows — maybe the Pacific Hybrid could help the minivan make a comeback. Maybe . . .