TEST DRIVE REVIEW: The New Sedan Animal That Could Save the Species – The Kia Stinger

Stinger LA Auto Show blk side
The Stinger growling at those who dare, at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show.

By Michele Spencer

In the sedan world, which has been crushed by the sports utility vehicle segment in sales lately, there have been three types that roamed the plains.  The economical (Camry, Accord), the sporty (BMW, Audi), and the luxury (Mercedes, Jaguar).  In 2017, Honda introduced the all-new 2018 Accord at the same time that Toyota unleashed the all-new 2018 Camry, with new styling and features focused on what those companies are known for:  producing dependable and economical sedans.  In the midst of all of this industry-rattling mid-size sedan news, Kia burst on the scene with a brand new mid-size sedan model named the Stinger, and singlehandedly managed to shake up the segment by bringing together all three elements in one sedan.  Somehow no car maker was able to manage that before the Stinger.

The Kia Stinger is economical, sporty in looks and performance, and has high-class cabin amenities that we dare to call luxury.  It’s a bargain price for the amenities, and then there’s the industry topping warranty to control future costs of ownership.  Despite the PR efforts of Kia, somehow people are still not widely aware of this groundbreaking new sedan beast which has been overshadowed by the Accord and the Camry since late 2017, even though they started showing up in dealerships in November 2017.


Be among the enlightened.  There is no reason why the Stinger can’t do a bit of crushing of its own in sales against the mid-size sedan segment competitors.  On horsepower alone, with 365 hp and 376 feet-pounds of torque coming from the 3.3 liter twin turbo V6, and 255 hp from the 2 liter twin turbo scroll cylinder version, it’s a roaring, howling, challenging beastie.  Aggressive 19 inch wheels in a sporty design are there, as they should be.  Adding to its sport cred is the hatch for the rear trunk instead of a typical sedan lid.  Need more?  Just check out the red brake calipers – yup, Brembos.

Where does all of this sporty goodness come from?  James Bell of Kia explains it this way.  It started off as the GT4 Stinger concept in 2011, and was shown off as a four door sedan with a hatch that had 40 cubic feet of capacity with the rear seats flat.  It was engineered with a wing built into the hatch.  The chief engineer on the project, Albert Biermann,  was picked off from BMW, where he was the legendary leader of the M division for many years.  He was put to work for Kia’s parent company Hyundai as Head of Vehicle Test & High Performance Development.  Because of this move, the Stinger is  Korean, but the German influence is undeniable and palpable.

Bell says that when the company came stateside, the goal was vehicle reliability.  Once that was achieved, Kia moved in to conquering design, then to increasing fuel economy.  Now, with the advent of the Stinger, the company is hitting its goal of producing a vehicle with superb world class handling and performance.


Another sign of attention to premium detailing on the Stinger is Kia’s decision to equip it with the Harman Kardon premium sound system. All the other interior design concepts echo the notion that this is an upscale sedan, including embossed “GT” lettering on the leather seats, a gorgeous dash, heated and ventilated seats, and the heated leather wrapped and straight bottom steering wheel with a GT logo.  I appreciated that it had a power sunroof and shade that extended back into the passenger compartment, as well as the very comfortable seats with a wonderful dial-operated seat bolstering system for the seat back and cushion.

The ride is heavenly smooth, no matter what speed.  Consider yourself warned.

GT seat detail
Leather seat inscription detail

We experimented with all five drive modes.  Most interesting is Custom, which allows you to select how you want various elements to perform.  I programmed all of them to be at sport level, which I suppose made it the same as sport mode.  The car is fine in comfort mode, but it’s really clipping its wings and feels sort of wrong.  The Stinger really belongs in Sport mode.  The Eco mode is not an oversell.  I was easily able to beat the EPA rating in Eco mode.  Overall, my favorite mode was Smart, because I got a lot of power (but not at the top performance level), with decent fuel economy.

Even when equipped with every possible trim package, the price tops out at $52,000, making the Kia Stinger “the performance buy of the year,” according to U.S. auto journalist Brian Armstead.  He’s right, but I’d go a bit more specific, and say it’s the sedan buy of the year.


2018 Kia Stinger Specifications

5 trim levels – base, Premium, GT, GT1, GT2

Engine, Base and Premium trim:  2.0 liter twin turbo scroll four cylinder DOHC D-CVVT 16V

Engine, GT trim: 3.3 liter twin turbo V6 DOHC D-CVVT 24V

  • 114 in wheelbase
  • Length 190.2 inches, Width 73.6, Height 55.1
  • Passenger capacity 93.8 cubic feet
  • Cargo area capacity, rear seats up: 23.3 cubic feet
  • Cargo area capacity, rear seats down: 40.9 cubic feet

Transmission:  8 speed automatic

5 Drive Modes: Eco, Smart, Comfort, Sport, Custom

EPA Fuel Economy ratings: 19 city, 25 highway, 21 combined.  I got 24.6 highway in Sport mode and 26.2 highway in eco mode.

Other:  Engine shut off at idle for fuel economy. Front cross traffic and object detection alert, with audible signal. Head-up display that can be disabled. Tilting and telescoping steering wheel. Lane keep and departure warning system which is very sensitive.  Blind spot collision warning that isn’t sensitive enough.  Backup camera and very sensitive rear cross traffic alert. Two USB ports and two 12-volt plug in ports, one each front and back seat areas.  Made in Korea of 87% Korean parts.

Base price for GT2 V6:  $51,400, plus $900 destination charge.

TEST DRIVE REVIEW: Keeping Up With the Kias – Sorento and Optima Edition

By Michele Spencer

2017 Kia Sorento SXL AWD and Kia Optima SX LTD

In this edition of Keeping Up With the Kias, we review two gas-powered Kias: the Sorento (a 3-row midsize SUV) and the Optima (a five person midsize sedan).

Kia Sorento 2017
The 2017 Kia Sorento is a 3 row SUV that’s a great bargain.

2017 Kia Sorento SXL V6 AWD

The Sorento is a three-row midsize SUV that fits 7 people, powered by a 3.3 liter V6 engine.  The third row’s 50/50 split seats easily fold up and down with a quick pull of a strap; the second row seats fold down with the push of a button in the rear cabin sidewall. When the third row isn’t needed, the seats can be folded flat for maximum space for cargo; it’s easy to pop them back up when there are a few extra passengers.  With the seats down, the cargo area has a segment-busting 73 cubic feet of storage space, accessible with a one-push button power liftgate.

Today’s tester is the SXL, the top trim level, in Platinum Graphite paint with a chrome grille and 19 inch wheel accents that make it extremely attractive.  Inside, there is very comfortable leather seating with Nappa leather trim, heated and ventilated front seats, power seat adjustments with memory settings, and a heated leather steering wheel.   USB and 12-volt outlets are located in convenient spaces in the front and rear cabin spaces.  The UVO “eService” infotainment system is standard on all new Kias, at all trim levels, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration systems.  There are knobs for easy volume and tuning and push controls for the heating and air conditioning, to allow for safe adjustments without having to be distracted.  Other functions are on the 8 inch touch screen, including navigation. The Infinity audio is a surround sound system.

The SXL has a large sunroof and shade, which slides way back into the passenger compartment for plenty of natural lighting.

As tested, the Sorento provides state of the art technology for collision avoidance and safety.  The surround view camera display functions beautifully for parking and negotiating tight spaces.  It is a standout feature on this Kia, in addition to the right side view camera, the front camera, lane departure warning, the blind spot detection, and rear cross traffic alert.  When freeway traffic slowed suddenly, the Sorento gave an audible alert, but it wasn’t overreacting or being overly cautious.  It was spot on.  I didn’t have any conditions occur that would have caused the autonomous emergency braking to kick in, but it is a reassuring safety feature on the Sorento that helps the driver avoid the most common kind of accident, the rear-ender.

The Sorento, like all Kias, gives the owner much more than you would expect for the money.  A friend who owns a Mercedes sedan who I took to dinner in the Sorento SXL said that the Sorento was “way nicer” than her ride.  The features and styling of the Sorento are on par with much more expensive makes.

On fuel consumption, the rating is 19 MPG combined city and highway.  On two long trips in a mixture of driving conditions I got 21.1 and 24 MPG averages.  At 290 horsepower, the Sorento is capable with normal city driving but it won’t light your hair on fire.  The torque seems a bit anemic in spite of the claimed 252 pound-feet available.

Government crash test safety ratings are not available, but there’s no reason to believe that the 2018 Sorento wouldn’t meet the five-star ratings that it garnered in 2017.

There is available all wheel drive with locking center differential for poor road conditions, or off-road excursions, making the Sorento a great choice for those who go from city to backcountry or live in areas with challenging weather.

In 2017, The Sorento picked up the highest ranking for initial quality in the midsize SUV segment for two of three years in a row from J.D. Power.  The segment is ultra-competitive, so the award is very impressive.  Keep in mind that there is a 10 year, 1000,000 mile warranty backing up every Kia sold, so it’s a pretty good bet you won’t be spending much time at the dealership service center.

2017 Kia Sorento Details

  • Power: 3.3 liter V-6 direct injection engine (SXL trim, top trim); 2.4 liter (L trim)
  • Transmission: 6 speed automatic
  • All Wheel Drive with locking center differential
  • Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS
  • Wheels: 19 inch chrome alloy
  • Warranty:  10 year/100,000 mile limited powertrain and limited battery warranty; 5 year/60,000 limited basis warranty; and 5 year/60,000 mile free roadside assistance
  • Fuel economy: 17 city/23 highway/19 combined
  • Price (as tested): MSRP $46,200, plus $940 for shipping from West Point, Georgia (SXL);  $44,500 (L).
  • Interior and Infotainment (SXL): Infinity surround sound audio, Navigation with 8 inch touchscreen and rear camera, UVO eServices infotainment system, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, Sirius XM radio with 3 month subscription, Metallic Nappa leather seats, Nappa leather seat trim, power adjustable front seats, driver’s seat memory function, heated and ventilated front seats, heated leather steering wheel, power sunroof and shade.
  • Exterior (SXL): HID headlights with auto-leveling and dynamic bending, LED positioning, fog and tail lights, power-folding heated outside mirrors with turn signals, smart “hands-free” power liftgate.
  • Safety: dual front advanced airbags, dual front seat-mounted airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, anti-lock braking system, traction control system, electronic stability control, hill-start assist control, surround view monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection system, lane departure warning system, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist system.
  • HP 290; Torque 252 pound-feet (SXL); HP 185; Torque 178 pound-feet (L)
  • Cargo net for rear cargo area, optional: $50.00
Kia Optima 2017 side
2017 Kia Optima – 2 liter turbocharged at top trim levels.

2017 Kia Optima SXL

The Optima is a five-person, four-door midsize sedan which is available in conventional gasoline engine and hybrid versions. Today’s tester is a 2.0 liter turbocharged gas engine powered sedan with a 6 speed automatic transmission. The Optima comes in five trim levels.  The tester is the SXL trim, which bases at $36,090, plus $895 for shipping from West Point, Georgia.

The Optima is regarded as having state of the art features that are normally found on more expensive cars.  It should be on the short list of cars to check out when shopping for a midsize four-door sedan, as the value is amazing in this segment.

The Optima got 29.3 mpg on average in a mix of both slow traffic and open highway driving, beating the EPA estimate of 25 combined.  In mostly open highway driving, it got 31.4 mpg, making it very competitive with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Ford Fusion.

The interior is very nicely appointed, with knobs and push buttons for volume and air controls, in addition to a 7-inch touchscreen and a tilting/telescoping steering wheel.  Even the base trim model features the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system (said to be better than most of its mid-size sedan competitors), but the Optima has even more available features that kick up its competitiveness, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (upper trim levels only), standard leather-wrapped steering wheel (starting at the LX  trim level), standard multi-adjustable driver’s seat, and standard dual zone climate controls.

Kia Optima interior.

The upper trim level tester was outfitted with the Harman Kardon surround sound system and ten speakers, for an incredible sound experience, plus dual USB ports and 12 volt power outlets in the front and rear cabin areas.

The rear parking assist system (standard equipment on the tester) alerts the driver with a chime if an object is detected within 47 inches of the rear of the car at under 3 miles per hour, which is exactly what is needed when backing up out of the driveway or a parking space.

Two drive modes are available in addition to regular mode: Eco and Sport.  When in Eco, the rpms stay low and the car adopts a restrained feel, allowing the car to maximize fuel economy.  In contrast, the car completely changes its personality in Sport mode.  Acceleration feels very strong and uninhibited, perfect for passing and entering the freeway.

What I didn’t like about the “regular” (gas) Optima was the amount of road noise; the hybrid Optima was much quieter.  The inherently noisier nature of an internal combustion engine is a given, but maybe there was more of an effort made to make the hybrid a quieter ride, knowing that the customer would expect that.  I wasn’t real turned on by the way the engine sounds, either.  It’s just not a really sexy-sounding engine.  Sort of like meat grinder meets coffee maker.  Also, there was vibration in the steering wheel and in my seat that was present all the way from idle to freeway speed.  It was a minor vibration, but nonetheless annoying and surprising, since that had not occurred in the hybrid.  It could have just been the tester that I drove.

For anyone doing any test driving at a dealership, I would recommend asking for more than one tester, including the hybrid, if the noise and/or vibration issues are present in the conventional gasoline version that the dealer provides for the road test.

2017-Kia Optima-Colors

At 185 HP (LX trim) or 245 HP (SX trim), the Optima certainly gets the job done, but it’s not going to win any  quarter mile trophies at the drag strip.  This isn’t a car for those who need a very powerful engine.

There’s no compromise on safety. The Optima garnered five star ratings in every test performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the 2017 Optima a Top Safety Pick, giving it top marks in all crash tests, including a Superior rating in crash detection and mitigation (when equipped with optional crash-avoidance equipment).

Edmunds gave the Optima a 4/5 rating, and Car Connection gave it 7.3/10.

The warranties on Kias are the best in the industry:  10 years or 100,000 miles (limited powertrain) and 5 year/$60,000 (limited basic) – that’s one reason why we say smart people buy Kias.  The Optima’s features are the same ones found on much more expensive cars.  All that makes a Kia a smart buy.

2017 Kia Optima Details:

  • Power:  Varies depending on trim level.  LX – 2.4 liter DOHC 16-valve l-4; LX Turbo – 1.6 liter with turbocharger;  EX – 2.4 liter; SX –  2.0 liter; SXL – 2.0 liter with turbocharger
  • Transmission:  6 speed automatic
  • Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS
  • Wheels: 16 inch alloy (LX), 16 inch alloy with light grey finish (LX Turbo), 17 inch alloy (EX),  18 inch machined finish (SX), 18 inch alloy with chrome finish (SXL)
  • Warranty: 10 year/100,000 mile limited powertrain and limited battery; 5 year/60,000 mile free roadside assistance
  • Price: LX trim $22,500; LX Turbo $24,140; EX $25,440; SX $29,940; SXL $36,090
  • Headlamps:  LED, with auto leveling and dynamic bending
  • Power adjustable side mirrors with LED turn signal indicators
  • Solar control glass
  • Bluetooth connectivity – hands-free smartphone
  • Rear back up camera with display of vehicle footprint
  • Cruise control with steering wheel controls
  • SXL (top) trim level features:  Rear parking assist system, surround view monitor, blind spot detection system, rear cross traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning system, lane departure warning system, LED adaptive headlights with auto high beams.


TEST DRIVE REVIEW: Keeping Up With the Kias, Hybrid Edition

By Michele Spencer

2017 Kia Niro and 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

In the past ten years, Kia’s product lineup has come a very long way.  Every time I mention that I’m test driving a Kia, the response is always the same:  they are sooo much better now than they used to be.  The brand was known for its inexpensive and boring-styled econo-boxes when they first hit the US market. While Kias are still a great bargain, it’s been said that the Kias being produced now have sophistication beyond their price tags.  Let’s take a look at two of their hybrids, the Niro and the Optima.

Kia Niro Hybrid2

2017 Kia Niro

Sure, Kia says it’s a Sport Utility Vehicle, but it’s really a pretty cool station wagon. There are those of us who think station wagons are overdue for a comeback in a big way, but the powers that be in the automotive world don’t agree, and so there aren’t too many mass-produced today.  In the meantime, Kia makes a perfect station wagon that’s being peddled to the masses as an SUV.  Whatever, Kia! If it’s 60 inches high, it’s a station wagon!  For reference, the widely-accepted-as-a-station wagon Volvo V60 and V90 models are both 61 inches high, and the Subaru Outback, also considered a station wagon, is 66 inches high.  Neener, neener, neenerI win this round, Kia.

Now that we have that out of the way, here’s the take-home message: Do you need to have that “sitting high” feeling?  If you do, look elsewhere, because a Niro is not going to work for you. And while we’re at it, if you need a luxury or refined interior, another station wagon or SUV is going to work a lot better for you. If you are looking for a no-frills people mover with high MPG, then the Kia Niro should be on your short list.

In my week of testing, the Niro got rock star gas mileage. I took two road trips from Orange County to San Diego.  On both trips, there was a blend of lousy stop and go traffic and free-flow highway driving. The Niro got 51-52 mpg on one trip and 53-54 mpg on the other.

A word on how the power system works:  It’s a gas/electric hybrid, but it doesn’t exhaust the battery first and then switch to gas, as you might think.  Rather, the Niro electronically decides which way to most efficiently send power to the wheels.  The driver can monitor in real time on the display exactly what is happening and where things stand with the range, the remaining battery power, and the amount of gas in the tank.  There’s absolutely no reason to worry about running out of battery.  (Range anxiety, what’s that?!?)

In general, the Niro chose to use gas power when traveling at higher and consistent rates of speed and electric power in stop and go and slow traffic conditions.

The Niro comes in five trim levels: Base, LX, EX, Touring Launch, and Touring.  The base version MSRP is $22,890.00. For that you get a no-frills interior (although the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system is included, so at least you’ll have that for the base price), 139 horses and 195 pound-feet of torque. This is not a car for speed demons and powerholics.  The available power works just fine for the everyday driver looking for a hybrid that is wallet-friendly, basic transportation.

The back seat passenger space is very roomy, at 97.1 SAE and 102 EPA.  The cargo area is a decent 19.4 cubic feet, and 54.5 cubic feet with the rear seats down.

The upper trim levels have all the extras, including a sunroof, Harman Kardon sound, heated steering, leather interior, and heated and ventilated seats, as well as technology extras like blind spot detection, lane departure warning, and a wireless smartphone charging pad.

Even without all the bells and whistles, it’s easy to understand why the Niro was chosen as one of the “Best Cars of 2017” by US News & World Report and was scored 4/5 by Car & Driver.

Kia Niro hybrid
Kia Niro is marketed as a small crossover sport utility vehicle.

2017 Kia Niro Details

  • Power: 1.5 liter 4 cylinder engine with 43 hop electric motor; 1.56 kwh lithium-ion polymer battery
  • Transmission: 6 speed dual clutch, automatic
  • Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS; and Regenerative braking system
  • Idle stop and go system
  • Wheels: 16 inch alloy (FE, basic trim); 18 inch (Touring Launch trim)
  • Warranty: 10 year/100K limited powertrain and limited battery; 5 year/60K limited basic; 5 year/60K mile free roadside assistance
  • Fuel economy, FE trim (best of all trim levels): 52 city MPG, 49 hwy, 50 combined. Touring Launch trim level: 46/40/43 MPG.
  • Price (as tested, FE trim): MRSP $22,890.  LX trim: $23,200.  EX trim: $25,700. Touring Launch trim: $28,000. Touring trim: $29,650. Add $895.00 for shipping from Korea.
  • Interior and Infotainment (FE trim): Cloth seats, UVO Infotainment and Connectivity platform, dual zone climate control, power windows, door locks, and outside windows, 7-inch touchscreen, back-up camera, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth, USB jack, 12 volt outlet, 60/40 folding rear seats.
  • Available on upper trim levels: leather seats, Harman Kardon sound with 8 speakers, sunroof, sunshade, leather seat trim, heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, 18 inch wheels, push button start/stop, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, wireless smartphone charging pad, driver seat position memory, power adjustable driver’s seat, smart key, parking assist.


Kia optima-hybrid_2017_snowy white pearl
Optima Hybrid in Snow White Pearl


2017 Kia Optima Hybrid

The Optima is a five-person, four door midsize sedan which is available in conventional gasoline engine and hybrid versions. The tester was a regular hybrid (as opposed to a Plug-In). The Optima Hybrid comes in two trim levels, Premium and EX. This week’s tester was the Premium (base) trim level, with the Hybrid Convenience Package of additional features (listed below) added in.

The Premium trim level got 44.9 mpg on average in a mix of both slow traffic and open highway driving, beating the EPA estimate of 42 combined.  (In comparison, the Accord Hybrid’s combined EPA rating is 49 MPG – but the MSRP starts at $29,605.)

The interior is nicely appointed, with knobs and push buttons for volume and air controls, in addition to a 7-inch touchscreen and a tilting/telescoping steering wheel.  Like the Niro, the base trim model features the excellent UVO Infotainment and Connectivity system (said to be better than most of its mid-size sedan competitors), but the Optima has even more standard features that kick up its competitiveness, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, standard leather-wrapped steering wheel, standard multi-adjustable driver’s seat, and standard dual zone climate controls.

The rear parking assist system (a Hybrid Convenience Package item on tester) alerts the driver with a chime if an object is detected within 47 inches of the rear of the car at under 3 miles per hour, which is exactly what is needed when backing up out of the driveway or a parking space.

Two drive modes are available, Eco and Sport.  While eco is the default, and allows the car to maximize fuel economy, the car really picks up power in Sport mode.

At 192 horse power, the Optima certainly gets the job done as far as keeping up with traffic on the freeway, but it’s not going to win you a trophy at the drag strip.  Like the Niro, this isn’t a car for those who need a powerful engine.  It’s for a different customer, a smart one.

As far as some objective analysis of the Optima Hybrid, US News & World Report gave it a score of 8.3/10; and Kelley Blue Book rated it at 9/10.

Smart people buy Kias. Really smart people buy Kia hybrids.

Kia Optima Hybrid side
Optima Hybrid in Gravity Blue
Kia Optima Hybrid side2
Optima Hybrid in Aluminum Silver

2017 Kia Optima Hybrid details:

  • Power: 2.0 liter 4 cylinder hybrid engine, 270 volt lithium polymer battery, 1.62 kwh
  • DOHC 16 valve engine, CVVT; Interior-Permanent Magnet Synchronous Electric motor
  • Transmission: 6 speed automatic
  • Brakes: 4 wheel disc with ABS – Anti-lock braking system
  • Trim Levels: Premium (base trim) and EX.
  • Safety: Dual front airbags, front seat side airbags, driver’s knee airbag, and side curtain airbags; 5 star government safety ratings (out of 5 stars)
  • Wheels: 16 inch alloy
  • Optional “Hybrid Convenience Package” on tester: Laminated front door windows, heated power outside mirrors, power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, driver’s seat memory, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking assist, and rear center console USB and 12 volt outlet. (Add $1,795 to MSRP.)
  • Trunk space: 4 cubic feet
  • Available options at higher trim level (EX): Panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, wireless smartphone charging pad, surround view monitoring camera
  • Warranty: 10 year/100K limited powertrain and limited battery; 5 year/60K limited basic; 5 year/60K mile free roadside assistance
  • Fuel economy, Premium trim: 39 city MPG, 46 highway, 42 combined.
  • Price (as tested, base trim): MSRP $25,995. EX trim: $30,990. Add $895.00 for shipping from Korea.
  • Interior and Infotainment: Dual-zone climate controls, 7-inch touchscreen, UVO Infotainment and Connectivity System, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM radio, Bluetooth, front seat area USB port and 12 volt outlet, cloth seat trim, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, leather wrapped steering wheel, supervision meter cluster with LCD display.





TEST DRIVE REVIEW: 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid – While Tesla 3s Are “On The Way,” The Clarity Is In Showrooms Now, For a Lot Less Cash

By Michele Spencer

Honda is following up on its 2016 hydrogen fuel cell Clarity and its 2017 all-electric Clarity with a third variation, the plug-in hybrid (PHEV).   Honda is a proven car manufacturer with extensive experience at mass production of quality vehicles.

The plug-in hybrid version of the Clarity is a five-person mid-size sedan with a luxury interior.  It has eye-catching exterior design elements in the front and rear; its body is low and wide, lending a dignified flair.  Several air ducts are smartly designed, including the rear tire cover, which features a propeller-style cap that directs airflow to the wheels.

In showrooms since December 1, 2017, the PHEV Clarity provides another option to the environmentally-conscious customer who is looking for a spacious, lounge-feel, comfortable ride and Honda’s reputation for value and reliability.   While Honda offers hybrid Accords and Civics, the Clarity is the upscale member of the Honda EV family.

The flagship color on the PHEV is a gorgeous dark aqua green called Moonlit Forest Pearl.   There are two trim levels, Base and Touring.  The Touring interior features a new material developed for the vehicle, a bio-derived Ultrasuede, is in the door panels and dash, along with perforated leather seats.  The base trim features synthetic leather and a biofabric called Prime Smooth.  Both trim levels feature rosewood accents in the cabin, in black or brown, for a luxury effect.   Everything in the interior is designed for the occupants’ comfort.

25 - 2018 Honda Clarity rear
Grapes and Green.

The PHEV tester was equipped with an automatic transmission, accessed by push buttons in the center console, along with a push/pull button for the electronic brake.   There are separate dial indicators for fuel level and battery charge level.  Power flow is shown in real time on the 8-inch display screen, together with remaining range.

At low speeds, the Clarity primarily functions in EV or hybrid drive mode.  At freeway / steady speeds, it switches to engine drive mode.  The tester consumed gas when at freeway speeds.  Otherwise, the needle didn’t move.  When tested in a combination of stop and go traffic and moderate freeway driving, the average consumption was 44.9 miles per gallon, without trying to be conservative on the pedal.
The EV-only range of the new PHEV is 47 miles (better than other plug-in hybrids), but the full range is 320-340 miles, thanks to the pairing with a gasoline engine.  Its 47 mile range puts the Clarity PHEV at the top of its class for plug-in sedans, making it more than suitable as a daily commuter.

The PHEV Clarity has 212 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque, also better than the Prius Prime (121 HP), and the Chevy Volt (149 HP).

As far as price, the Base trim MSRP is $33,400 (plus destination fee of $890), higher than Ford Fusion and Prius Prime, but less than the Chevy Volt; the Clarity is easily half the price of a Model 3 Tesla.

The Honda safety feature package called Honda Sensing is standard on all three of the Clarity models, even in base trim, while the Volt and the Fusion do not offer the same types of safety features without an upgrade on trim level or as a custom add-on that can cost up to $2,510.00, according to Honda’s studies.  All trims include a multi-view rear camera, straight driving assist, and LaneWatch, which provides the driver with a display view of the right (blind) side when the right turn signal is activated.  LaneWatch is Honda-exclusive safety technology.

As far as the drive experience, because it is a hybrid of electric and gasoline power, there may be a question as to how quiet it is compared to the all-EV Clarity.  The PHEV was road-tested for two hours in various conditions on the country roads of Calistoga, California. Its cabin remained whisper quiet, even at highway speeds.  The hydrogen fuel cell Clarity was also road tested.  Its engine makes a bit of noise, but it is not obtrusive.

The PHEV’s windshield and door glass panels were developed with sound insulation function.  There is extensive insulation in the dashboard, hood, inner front fender, and motor undercover.  The carpet was designed for sound absorption and insulation.

Sport mode in the PHEV is instantaneous, with the push of a button, and the engine responds with palpable force but the transition is seamless, with no kick or interruption in acceleration.

All three of the Clarity vehicles are smooth, quiet and comfortable to drive due to a low center of gravity.  The plug-in Clarity’s new rear multi link suspension supports the next-generation straight structure frame and insures a smooth ride, even on bumpy roads.

Regenerative braking paddles on the steering wheel are easy to learn to use, and cause the battery to recharge instantly, with maximum benefit seen in stop and go traffic or cruising down a hill.

Kiyoshi Shimizu, Honda’s Development Lead, said that in developing the Clarity, Honda listened to the needs of its customers, who said that they wanted a stylish and comfortable PHEV.  The Clarity PHEV delivers, as an amazing bargain for a green vehicle for the buyer who wants Honda quality with a luxury feel.

2018 Honda Clarity PHEV Details:

  • Powertrain:  1.5 liter Atkinson cycle DOHC-I-VTEC engine
  • Battery:  Lithium-Ion
  • EV range:  47 miles
  • Hybrid fuel economy:  42 MPGe
  • EPA MPGe rating: 110
  • Power:  181 HP; 232 pound-feet torque
  • Basic Trim MSRP: $33,400
  • Touring Trim MSRP: $36,600

[Note:  Clarity is offered only on a lease basis.  Lease terms, basic trim: $2000 down payment, $269.00/month. ]

[Add to both trim levels destination fee of $890.00]

  • Rebates:  $2500 CA rebate is available.  The Federal $7500 rebate is built into the lease.
  • Body construction:  Super high tensile steel, aluminum, resin, and composite material-applied parts
  • Wheels:  18 inch hybrid aero wheel, two tone design;  Michelin Energy Saver tires
  • Exterior Colors:  Moonlit Forest Pearl, Platinum White Pearl, Solar Silver Metallic, Modern Steel Metallic, Crystal Black Pearl, Crimson Pearl [No extra charge for any color]
  • Options: 18 inch alloy wheels, lower chrome door trim, deck lid spoiler, back-up sensors, body side molding, ash tray



LA AUTO SHOW – Reveal of the 2018 Mazda 6 Sedan (and other Mazda news)

By Michele Spencer


November 29, 2017 – Mazda proudly unveiled its refreshed and redesigned Mazda 6 at the Los  Angeles Auto Show, running now through December 10, with its brand new turbocharged engine, a first for the mid-size sedan at the top of the Mazda sedan lineup.  250 horsepower and 310 feet-pounds of torque are powered by the 2.5 liter Skyactiv-G engine, which Mazda previously offered only in its CX-9 SUV.

The “dynamic pressure turbo” mechanism in the engine is specially designed with a compression device, which allows air to push out from the turbo much harder.

It was a wise move by Mazda to expand the 2.5 liter turbo engine into its flagship sedan, which needed more power to challenge the European sedans in the segment.

Available in Spring 2018, the new Mazda 6 refresh includes a fully redesigned upscale interior.   Materials such as Sen Wood (used in traditional Japanese furniture and musical instruments like taiko drums) and fine nappa leather grace the cabin, to show that the Mazda 6 has evolved with “mature elegance.”

The front seats have been completely redesigned in order to be more ergonomic, with wider seats built from high density urethane for improved body support.  Seats are also available with cooling and heating functions, a first for the brand.

New tech goodies include a 360 degree view monitor, 8-inch display, and windshield projected head-up active driving display.


Its exterior has a new headlamp system and a new front grille to complement its aggressive and sporty design elements.

Pricing was not announced at the auto show.

The Mazda 6 stays true to the Mazda philosophy that the experience of driving is of primary importance.  This guides the development of each Mazda vehicle.  Mazda sees cars as much, much more than just driving devices.  This dedication has allowed the Mazda lineup to earn awards for driving experience.

Moving forward, Mazda’s goal is to create a lifetime bond with its customers, by crafting affordably-priced vehicles that provide a quality driving experience.  Look for Mazda to expand beyond its Mazda 6 with features that are found in more costly marques.

As part of the introduction of the 2018 Mazda 6, top executives stated their company was committed to the internal combustion engine.  Mazda will develop alternative power but will primarily focus on refining the capabilities of the traditional gas engine, while minimizing the effects on the environment.

[Fun Fact:  Mazda is the only manufacturer whose entire lineup complies with the United States’ federal emissions (CAFE) standards.]

Also revealed along with the 2018 Mazda 6 were the VISION concept coupe and the 2018 IMSA series race car, of course in red, and bearing the traditional number 55.  Mazda-Vision-Coupe-concept-rear

Mazda’s racing season in 2018 will be a partnership with Team Joest.  Six drivers will be at the wheel throughout the racing season.

As for the future, engineers at Mazda have the Skyactiv-X engine ready to be put into new vehicles in the next two years.  This next-generation technology will be a 2 liter engine with compression ignition.  It will have better fuel economy, use less fuel, and increase power/performance.  Look for it in late 2018 in the Mazda 3.

Click below for a three minute video explanation of how the compression technology works.

Next Generation Gasoline Engine SKYACTIV-X: SPCCI / 次世代 …

Video for mazda spcci skyactiv x video


Electric, Hybrid and Hydrogen Vehicles

By Michele Spencer


EV market notes:  Studies show that potential buyers are still turned off to EVs and Hybrids.  Lack of options, high prices, limited range, and perceptions about limited charging station infrastructure are real issues for the industry to overcome in order to gain acceptance and market share.  Federal rebates ($7500) are still in play.  CA rebates ($2500) are in danger of going away if the Legislature does not act to save them, but for the moment, they remain available. Manufacturers are not penetrating the market: Less than 1% of car sales are electric vehicles nationwide. Foreign governments are doing a lot more to encourage electric, especially China,  which has a mandate that by 2020, 8 percent of all new vehicles sold must be electric and is currently prohibiting travel in certain cities unless the vehicle is an EV.  Norway is going all EV by 2025, France and the UK by 2040, and along with that, these countries will be prohibiting sales of new combustion engine vehicles. Japan’s government is embracing hydrogen as its power of choice for automobiles and already has extensive infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles. The movement towards zero emissions standards in China in particular is credited for motivating the manufacturers so they can capture that market and not get left behind.

Federal Rebate News:  The $7500 rebate for electric vehicles will start phasing out for Tesla buyers ONLY at the end of 2018 because the company has delivered its 200,000th vehicle in the US.  (Tesla is the first automaker to meet this landmark.) After December 31, the Federal rebate will be $3,750 for Tesla deliveries between January and July 2019, and half that for deliveries between July and December 2019.  Tesla buyers will no longer get any Federal rebates after December 31, 2019.  Chevrolet is close behind Tesla in EV sales. It will meet the 200,000 sale landmark in 2019.

This is my list of currently-available EVs, anticipated EVs to be sold, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, currently-available hybrids, and anticipated hybrids, for sale in the US, with notes from press releases and news sources.  Prices are MSRPs.

Pure Electric vehicles (EVs) Currently Available

  • Audi A3 e-tron (hatchback) from $38,900
  • BMW i3 (crossover) – from $44,450
  •  BMW plans to launch 25 electrified vehicles by 2025, including 12 that are fully electric.
  • BMW i8 (sportscar) – from $143,000
  • Chevy Bolt EV (hatchback) – from $37,495. 238 mile range, Motor Trend Car of the Year 2017
  • Fiat 500e (subcompact) – from $32,995. 84 mile range.
  • Ford Focus EV (hatchback) – from $29,120. 115 mile range.
  • Honda Clarity EV (sedan) – 89 mile range, Lease only available, $199/month.
  • Hyundai Ioniq (sedan) – Base trim from $29,500; Limited trim from $32,500) – Now has 124 mile range for 2018 model year. Available only to California residents.
  • Kia Soul EV (crossover) – from $33,950. 111 mile range.
  • Mercedes Benz – B Class ED (sedan) – from $39,900. 87 mile range.
  • Mitsubishi IMIev (crossover) – from $22,995
  • Nissan Leaf (hatchback) – Nissan had to put out a new model to catch up to the others on range. The 2016 model had only 106 mile range. For 2018, the second generation Leaf has 150 mile range. From $29,900.  An “e plus” Leaf will be introduced in 2019, which will have 225 mile range.
  • Smart ForTwo (subcompact) – from $23,800.  58 mile range. Parent company Daimler AG announced closing of 2/3 of the US Smart car dealerships (Automotive News). Only 27 dealers in the US will be selling these by 2018. Penske Automotive Group will continue to sell them in San Diego.  All will be EV. Gas models will be dropped from production in 2017, but may still be in stock at dealerships.
  • Tesla Model S (luxury sedan) – from $74,500. 259 mile range “and up.”
  • Tesla Model 3 (sedan) – from $49,000, 310 mile range.
  • Tesla Model X (luxury SUV) – from 79,500, 237 mile range.
  • Volkswagen e-Golf (hatchback) – from $30,345, 125 mile range.


Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles Currently Available

  • Honda Clarity (sedan) – Lease only, from $59K. Launched 2016
  • Hyundai Tuscon ix35 FCEV (SUV) – from $50,875. Launched 2013
  • Toyota Mirai (compact) – from $57,500.  Launched 2014
Tesla Model 3 LA Auto Show 2017.jpg
Tesla Model 3 at the Los Angeles Auto Show 2017

EVs Not Yet Available + Projected Production Year  + Notes

  • Audi e-tron (midsize luxury crossover) available 2019.  Will have 311 mile range. A sportback will be launched later in 2019 (fastback that will sit lower than an SUV but offers a more elevated seating position than a standard hatchback.)  Audi’s third EV will be a compact, based on VW Group’s new MEF platform for EVs.  It will debut in 2020, after VW debuts its ID compact hatchback.
  • Aston Martin  Rapid E – 2019. Will transition entire lineup to all EV and hybrid by 2030.
  • BMW “iVision Dynamics” (coupe style sedan) – Concept revealed at 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show.  Production version slated for launch in 2021.
  • Bollinger Motors B1 (all wheel drive 4×4) – Hopes to start production in 2019. 10,000 people are claimed to be on the waiting list.  Pricing to be announced.
  • Byton (Crossover SUV) – Concept revealed at Consumer Electronics Show in January 2018. Will initially be sold only in China. U.S. sales “to begin later.”  Reservations are being taken.  Pricing:  Starts at $45K. Entry trim level will have 250 mile range; upper trim level will have 325 mile range.
  • Detroit Electric Motors – To be announced
  • Dyson – 2019 target for launch of its first EV, from the vacuum company.
  • Faraday Future FF 91 (luxury SUV) Release date is unknown – Scrapped its plans to build North Las Vegas factory, instead is refurbishing a former Pirelli tire factory near Silicon Valley; many rumors of financial issues with its Chinese investor.
  • Fisker Inc. EMotion (sport sedan) – 2020 – 400 mile range, can charge in 9 minutes
  • Ford “Model E” (crossover) – 2019 – 300 mile range.
  • Genesis “premium long distance” sedan – 2021 – 310 mile range
  • Honda “Urban” EV (concept) Revealed at 2017 Frankfurt Auto Show – Production will be for Europe only. Looks like a 1st gen Civic meets Mini Cooper; tiny, with retro styling.
  • Hybrid Kinetic Group H600 (luxury sedan) – Chinese startup, plans to launch H600 in US in 2019-2020.  Designed by Pininfarina.  804 HP.
  • Hyundai Kona (small SUV) – second half 2018 – 242 mile range
  • Jaguar I-Pace (5 seat crossover)  – Jaguar’s first fully electric/battery powered vehicle, 2019 model year. Built on a unique aluminum-intensive platform by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria. 240 mile range. 400 HP from twin electric motors. Jaguar/Land Rover says it will go all EV and hybrid by 2020.  Price range $70,495 to $86,895.
  • Kia Niro EV –  Concept revealed at the 2018 Consumer Electrics Show in Las Vegas; will likely be the first of 16 advanced powertrain vehicles Kia aims to introduce by 2025. Plans include a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle also.
  • Lucid Air (luxury sedan) – Release date unknown – Production starting in the 2020s. 200 mph, luxury interior.  Its plan to build a $7 million factory in Casa Grande, AZ has been on hold pending financing.
  • Mazda – Recently announced a platform partnership with Toyota to produce its first EV.  It will come out with a “pure EV in 2019” but did not say what model or type of vehicle.  Will come out with a plug in hybrid after that.
  • Mercedes – Parent company Daimler says it will bring 10 new EVs to market by 2022; it is expected that some or all will be under the subbrand named “EQ.” The first vehicle released will be the EQC (compact crossover) in 2019, with 300 miles of range claimed.
  • Mini E – Due in late  2019 – No details released.  BMW announced in July 2018 that it signed a deal to make EV Minis in China in a partnership with Great Wall Motor Co. No dates for groundbreaking or production released.
  • Morgan EV3  (3 wheel roadster) – EV version of the Morgan 3.  120 mile range. 56 HP. Production to begin late 2018.
  • NIO ES8 (luxury SUV) – Chinese startup revealed concept in 2017; first deliveries expected in US in 2020.  “Tesla-type vehicle for China” that seats 7.  Sold only in China for now. “Our goal is to built a robot that looks like a car.”  Will have swappable batteries to help combat charging station anxiety.
  • Pagani – EV coming. details TBA.
  • Porsche Taycan (formerly “Mission E”)- (sporty 4 door coupe) – Looks like cross of a Panamera and 911.  Available in late 2019 – early 2020. 310 mile range is goal.  Price is $85K. No final specs. Goal to charge 80% in 15 minutes; 60 mph in less than 3.5 seconds; top speed 155+.  Three AWD models to be produced with HP of 402, 536, and 670. No hybrid 911 coming – Porsche killed the project because of battery size issues; may be resurrected if they can engineer a lighter battery.  Porsche says it will add PHEVs and electric variants to its lineup.
  • Renault Zoe EV – Available late 2018 – early 2019.
  • SF Motors – To be announced
  • Subaru – Crosstrek PHEW (small crossover SUV), production 2019, followed by a full EV (unnamed model) in 2021.  Subaru has joined the EV Common Architecture Spirit Co. formed in September 2017 with Mazda, supplier Denso, minicar specialist Daihatsu, and truck manufacturer Hino to develop its EVs.
  • Tesla Long Haul Semi Truck – Prototype unveiled November 26.  “In a couple years” is the production goal.  Will have 200-300 mile range. Will be testing in Nevada, which allows robo-truck prototype testing.  $15k deposit.
  • Tesla Model Y (small crossover) – Production to begin in 2019 at factory yet to be built in China.
  • Tesla “Roadster” (four place convertible) – Production slated for 2020.  Will cost $200k.  $50k deposit.
  • Tesla Pickup Truck – Production will begin after the Model Y at factory in China.
  • Volkswagen – ID Buzz (microbus) – Range of 270 expected. 2022 is target.
  • Volkswagen –  ID Crozz (crossover) – 2022 – 302 HP, 311 mile range.
  • Volkswagen -ID platform Beetle (four door coupe or convertible – not a typo re the number of doors BTW) – Available at the earliest in 2020, but probably later than that in reality.  No details on range or pricing.
  • Volvo – All models will be EVs or hybrids by 2019.  It has plans to introduce three EVs between 2019 and 2021.  Its Polestar subbrand will release two EVs between 2019 and 2021.  The Polestar vehicles are expected to be similar to BMW’s M and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG badges.

Alliance 2022 – Collaboration between Renault, Nissan & Mitsubishi plans to roll out 12 EVs. “With the emissions rules coming in, it’s the end of gas” per Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Alliance. EVs are the future not because of consumer demand, but due to regulations on emissions.  By 2040 we will be done with diesel and gasoline car sales.  Common platforms (4) will be used; no details on any concepts.


Hybrids Currently Available

  • Audi A3 e-tron (hatchback) – Plug-in hybrid. From $40,475. 16 electric mile range, 400 total range.
  • Chevy Volt (hatchback) – Plug-in hybrid. From $33,220. 53 electric mile range, 420 miles total.
  • BMW i3 REX (crossover) – Plug-in hybrid. From $48,300 – 97 electric miles, 180 total range
  • BMW i8 (sportscar) – Plug-in hybrid. From $147,500 – 15 electric miles, 330 total range.
  • BMW 330e (sporty sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From 44,100. 14 electric range, 350 total.
  • BMW 530e (luxury sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From $52,400. 16 mile range electric, 370 total range.
  • BMW 740e (luxury sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From 90,700. 14 electric miles, 340 total.
  • Cadillac CT6 (sedan) – Plug-in hybrid.  From $75,095. 31 electric miles, 440 total
  • Chrysler Pacifica (van) – Hybrid and Plug-In hybrid versions. From $39,995.  84 mpge and 566 total range.
  • Fiat 500e (subcompact) – From $32,995. 84 mile range.
  • Ford C-Max Energi (hatchback) – Hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions.  From $32,950.  22 mile electric range, 500 total range.
  • Ford Fusion Energi (sedan) – Plug-in hybrid.  From $33,400. 21 electric mile range, 610 total range.
  • Honda Accord Hybrid (midsize sedan) – from $29,605
  • Honda Clarity Plug-in hybrid (midsize sedan) – from $34,400.  21 electric mile range, 610 total range.
  • Honda Civic hybrid (compact sedan) – from about $27,000
  • Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid (sedan) – Blue (base trim) from $23,035; SEL trim from $24,950.  29 electric miles, 630 total range
  • Hyundai Sonata (midsize sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From $34,600. 27 electric miles range, 590 total.
  • Karma Revero hybrid (four door sports sedan) – 51 mpge, 300 total range, 403 HP, 21 kwh battery capacity. From $130,000.
  • Kia Niro hybrid (compact crossover) – from $23,240.
  • Kia Niro (compact crossover) – Plug-in hybrid. From $22,900. 26 electric mile range, 560 total miles.
  • Kia Optima Hybrid (midsize sedan) – from $25,995.  Plug-in hybrid from $35,210. 29 electric mile range, 610 total
  • Mercedes-Benz C 350e (small luxury sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From $46,400
  • Mercedes-Benz S 550e (full size luxury sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From $96,600. 14 electric miles, 450 total range.
  • Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e (large SUV) – Plug-in hybrid. From 65,550. 12 electric mile range, 460 total range.
  • Mini Cooper SE Countryman All4 Plug-In hybrid (hatchback) – from $37,650 – Only 12 miles of electric range.
  • Mitsubishi Outlander (SUV) – Plug-in hybrid – from $34,595. 22 miles electric range, 310 total range.
  • Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid (SUV) – Plug-In hybrid.  From $79,900. 14 electric mile range, 480 total range.
  • Porsche 918 Spyder (sports car) – Plug-in hybrid. From $847,000.
  • Porsche Panamera 4-E Hybrid (sports sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From $99,600. 16 electric mile range, 560 total.
  • Toyota Prius Two Eco (sedan) – Base model from $26,050 and Prius Prime – Base model from $27,100.  25 mile electric range, 615 total range.
  • Toyota RAV-4 Hybrid (crossover) – 194 HP.  3 trim levels.  Base model from $27,235.
  • Volvo XC60 T8 (SUV) – Plug-in hybrid. From $52,900. 18 electric mile range, 370 total range.
  • Volvo S90 T8 (sedan) – Plug-in hybrid. From 63,650. 21 electric mile range, 410 total.
  • Volvo XC90 T8 (large luxury SUV) – Plug-in hybrid. From $64,950. 19 electric mile range, 380 total.

Hybrids Not Yet Available

  • Bentley Bentayga Plug-In Hybrid (ultraluxury crossover) – Second half of 2018. Bentley plans to introduce plug-in hybrid versions of all models.
  • Bentley Continental GT Plug-In Hybrid – After debut of Bentayga.
  • Bentley Flying Spur and Mulsanne (sedans) – Unknown debut date, after GT.
  • BMW i-8 Spyder hybrid (roadster) – On sale in 2018 for the 2019 model year.  BMW not releasing any details. Expected to come out with a fully electric version in 2022.
  • Ford Expedition – Late 2019
  • Ford F-150 – 2020
  • Ford Mustang – 2020
  • Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid – 2019
  • Honda CR-V Hybrid (crossover) –  prototype at 2017 Shanghai Auto Show.
  • Honda Insight (compact to mid-size sedan) – 2019
  • Infiniti Emerg-E – concept revealed in 2012, no announcement on final design, production date, or range/mpge.
  • Jaguar F-Type (sport sedan) – The F Type will have “an electrified powertrain,” no details announced.  Available approximately 2020.
  • Lamborghini Urus (sports car) Plug-In Hybrid – Available 2019.
  • Lexus 500h Hybrid – 2018
  • Lincoln MKC Plug-in Hybrid (SUV) – 2019.
  • Mazda Plug-in Hybrid – After 2019.
  • Mercedes CLS Hybrid (four door coupe) – Debuted at 2017 LA Auto Show. Expected to be available in 2018.
  • Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid – From $185,450.  Available early 2018.
  • Volvo XC60 T8 Plug-in Hybrid (midsize luxury SUV) – Late 2017 or early 2018. Debut at OC International Auto Show (9/2017) 400 HP.  From $52,900.
  • Volvo S 90 Plug-in Hybrid (sedan) – Available 2018.

Chevy Volts and Bolts Century City Boltaversary

Updated 8/12/2018   

For additional information on the low emission vehicles listed, we recommend https://www.greencarreports.com/ 

For additional information on “green” vehicle ownership, we recommend pluginamerica.org.

Updated 1/1/2019


TEST DRIVE REVIEW – 2017 Hyundai Ioniq – Nice Car, If You Can Get One

By Michele Spencer
Hyundai Ioniq side
2017 Ioniq Electric Blue Metallic test vehicle, shown in Limited Trim.

Hyundai’s entry into the electric vehicle market is the Ioniq.  Its chief competitor is the Chevrolet Bolt EV, which is the top seller in the segment.  The Bolt EV’s MSRP is just under $30,000 after factoring in the federal and state tax rebates, and has a range of 238 miles.

Another competitor in the practical EV segment, the Honda Clarity EV, was recently put into dealerships, in Fall 2017 .  It is available on a lease-only basis, with a range of 89 miles.  While the 2016 Nissan Leaf had a range of 106 miles, the 2018 Nissan Leaf will have a range of 150 miles, with a starting price of $30,875.

It isn’t really fair to compare the Ioniq with a luxury all-electric vehicle such as the Tesla Model S, as it has a much higher MSRP and a completely different reason for its existence.

Comparison with the Model 3, which is supposed to have a $35,000 price tag, is impossible, as it has not rolled out of Fremont and into customers’ driveways yet.  In other words, people wanting to buy an EV today cannot get their hands on a Model 3, and probably won’t until at least mid 2018.  In addition, word on the street is that $35,000 will not get the Model 3 buyer very much, and the more realistic price will be $45,000.

In the meantime, the Ioniq’s starting / base trim level MSRP is $29,500.  Today’s tester, the Ioniq Limited, has an MSRP of $32,500, before federal and state rebates are applied, and a range of 124.  And it’s available.  Sort of.

During the test week with the Ioniq, the sales staff at a local dealership in Southern California told me they have about 2 deliveries per month and that Hyundai dealerships cannot keep them on the lot.  Adding to the problem is that only certain select Hyundai dealers are given Ioniqs to sell.  Once they hit the dealership, they are sold.  So if you want one, be prepared to locate a dealer and sit on a waiting list; Ioniqs are a hot commodity.

Hyundai’s EV comes with a lifetime electric battery warranty and the industry-leading powertrain warranty of 10 years/100,000 miles.  The Ioniq edges out the Bolt EV, the Clarity and the Leaf in the warranty department.

Hyundai Ioniq charging
The Ioniq charges for free at a hotel on its fast charge station.

The EPA-rated range is 124, but it can fully charge up to 136.  The city miles are 150, while highway is 122.  Electric vehicles (not just the Ioniq) normally get significantly less range at higher speeds, so they do better in slow speed driving conditions versus highway.   As such, the Ioniq Electric is recommended for those who drive less than 120 miles a day and have parking near an electrical outlet for overnight or at the workplace.

(Fun fact: People who work at the Hyundai corporate headquarters in Southern California have over 100 free charging stations available in the parking lot and are given employee discount pricing on their vehicles, to encourage daily hybrid and EV vehicle use.)

The tester came with the Ultimate Package ($3,500), which included a sunroof, automatic emergency braking, smart cruise control, lane departure warning, HID headlights with dynamic bending light function, navigation system with 8-inch touchscreen display, Infinity premium audio with 8 speakers, a wireless smartphone charging pad, and LED interior lighting.  The package is well worth it, especially because of the lane departure warning and upgraded headlights.

Both trim levels have brake regeneration, which is controlled through two paddles behind the steering wheel.  It takes a bit of practice, but it’s easy to learn the sequences to raise and lower the braking through three levels.  Regenerative braking uses the electric motor when decelerating or braking to transform vehicle motion (kinetic engery) into electrical energy to charge the high voltage batteries.

The Ioniq’s looks are very similar to its gas-engine brother, the Elantra.  The Ioniq is a four door sedan with a hatchback.   Available paint colors are Ceramic White, Symphony Air Silver, Black Noir Pearl, and Electric Blue Metallic (as tested).   The 40-60 split rear seats fold down for added room in the back compartment.

The ride is very quiet and comfortable and handling is very good.  The rear suspension is a coupled torsion beam axle.  Although only making 118 horsepower, the Ioniq does not lag when power is needed and comfortably rides at freeway speeds.  It moves nimbly from lane to lane.  As with the Bolt EV, there is no issue with drive performance whatsoever.

Vehicle Stability Management with traction control is included as standard equipment on both trims.

As tested, the brakes on the Ioniq felt much stronger than those on the Bolt EV.  In testing the Bolt EV, I needed a long braking range to come to a full stop, which was below expectations for any type of vehicle, whether electric, hybrid, or combustion engine.

Standard safety features include front, front side impact, side curtain and driver knee airbags, rear view camera, blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert and lane change assist, and tire pressure monitoring.

In the cabin, the driver’s seat is very comfortable. Drive modes are handled by push buttons situated in the center console.  The easy to use electronic parking brake is standard.   USB ports and a 12 volt plug in are well-located in the cabin, but no USB ports were found in the back seat area.  The Equinox has knobs available for the two major essential functions of air and audio controls, instead of touch screen management.

In comparison, all Tesla vehicles require the driver to divert attention away from the road for these and any other functions by using the touchscreen, making them inherently less safe.  (See the Consumer Reports study which came out this week.  Seems I’m not the only one who thinks scrolling through a screen to change the station or turn off the navigation system is a built-in distraction that is unacceptable.)

Charging can be done at a fast charging station or in the garage on either a 120 or 240 volt outlet, using the power cord that comes with the vehicle at no extra charge.  According to the Ioniq Owner’s Manual, it takes about 24 hours at room temperature to “trickle charge” to 100% on a 120 volt outlet and 4 hours 25 minutes to fully charge on a 240 volt outlet.

The Ioniq beats its segment competitors on price, battery warranty, and powertrain warranty.  For model year 2018, Hyundai will not make any changes.  In 2018, it will introduce a plug-in hybrid Ioniq that will have 27 miles of all-electric range and up to 650 miles with gasoline.

Hyundai’s practical EV has a lower price as the Bolt and could easily be a sales challenger if Hyundai had more Ioniqs in showrooms.  One thing’s for certain:  sign up on a wait list with Hyundai and you’ll have your Ioniq before your neighbor gets his Model 3 from Fremont.


2017 IONIQ ELECTRIC LIMITED Specifications

  • Type:  Electric vehicle, five door, hatchback
  • Final Assembly: Korea
  • Power: 88 kw Electric Powertrain; 28.0 kwh , 360 v Lithium Ion Polymer Battery
  • Single-speed automatic with push button drive mode selector
  • Horsepower: 118
  • Fuel Economy EPA Rating:  136 MPGe, 150 city, 122 highway.
  • Driving Range, EPA: 124 miles
  • Base and Limited Trim Colors:  Electric Blue Metallic, Ceramic White, Symphony Air Silver, and Black Noir Pearl
  • Interior, both trims:  Black
  • Driver and Passenger seat warmer function
  • Electronic Stability Control (Vehicle Stability Management, with traction control)
  • Braking:  ABS with Electronic Brake Force Distribution; Electronic Parking Brake; Regenerative Brake Level Control Paddles
  • Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Detection, Rear view back up camera
  • Warranties: 5 year/60,000 new vehicle warranty, 10 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty, Lifetime electric battery warranty, 7 year/unlimited mile anti-perforation warranty, 5 year/unlimited mile roadside assistance, plus dealer limited warranties
  • Airbags:  Front, Front side, Side curtain, and Driver Knee
  • Exterior:  16 inch eco-spoke wheels
  • LED headlights, LED tail lights, LED daytime running lights
  • Power-folding side mirrors
  • 7-inch LCD instrument cluster display, 4.2 inch LCD trip computer, and 7 inch color touchscreen audio display
  • AM/FM, MP3, Sirius XM, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth Phone System, Hyundai BlueLink Telematics System, BlueLink Connected Care
  • Flat Repair Kit in lieu of spare tire
  • MSRP – Limited Trim:  $32,500; Federal and CA rebates available

Added Features of Tester – “Ultimate Package” ($3,500)

  • Power tilt and slide sunroof
  • Automatic Emergency Braking
  • Smart Cruise Control with stop – start
  • Lane Departure Warning
  • HID Headlights with Dynamic Bending Light Function
  • Navigation System with 8-inch Touchscreen Display
  • Infinity Premium Audio with Clari-Fi Music Restoration Technology; 8 speakers
  • Wireless Charging Pad for smart phones
  • LED interior lighting


TEST DRIVE REVIEW: You Owe it To Your Family and Yourself to Check out the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox Crossover – It’s The Most Fun You’ll Have Being Practical

By Michele Spencer

The Equinox earns the top spot on the list of family sport utility vehicles because it has everything that a busy family needs in a transporter/grocery getter/road tripper, and has a strong and powerful engine with nice handling to keep the driver very happy, at a very competitive price.

One of the features that sets the Equinox apart from other SUVs is one simple tech feature:  If you opened a back passenger door during the outing, you will be reminded by a message on the driver’s display screen to check the back seat once the car is turned off.  This feature needs to be standard on all vehicles, considering the stories in the news about kids and animals being left behind.

The Equinox is a two row compact SUV which seats five.  The size of the Equinox is about the same as a Honda CR-V, a Ford Escape and a Mazda CX-5.  There’s 30 cubic feet of rear cargo space.  The cabin is quiet, comfortable and roomy, with standard heated, leather-trimmed seats, 10-way driver’s seat adjustments, and a telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel.  There are lots of places to stow items in the console.  The panoramic sunroof (fully retractable) and glass roof let in as much light as desired with one-touch switch controls.

There are excellent cameras and displays for safe backing up, moving forward toward an object, and for those crucial side views.  When the (as tested) Equinox senses that it is too close to an object in front, the driver’s seat will vibrate lightly to alert them of the situation.

In order to increase MPG, the engine shuts off at common stops.  Once the foot is lifted off the brake, the engine restarts automatically.

Volume and temperature controls are by knob and button, instead of by screen touch, which is exactly how they should be so that the driver isn’t distracted performing common correction tasks on the road.

The Equinox was very close to the 25 MPG combined fuel economy rating (22 city and 29 highway) with a lot of stop and go Los Angeles traffic and a bit of open highway.  The engine is responsive and there are no issues with getting quick speed when necessary.  The turning radius is acceptable for the crossover segment.

As a tow vehicle, the tester could haul up to 3505 pounds.  The 1.5 liter gasoline and 1.6 liter diesel versions could haul 1500 pounds.

Chevy has improved the Equinox with this model year.  The tech and safety features on the 2018 Equinox combined with its handling and good MPG make it a no-contest champion over the top-selling compact crossover in the US, the Honda CR-V.  Its closest competition would be the Mazda CX-3 and CX-5.   The Equinox has gone from so-so to highly recommended.

The Equinox base price is $33,585.00, plus the destination charge of $895 for shipping from Canada, making it competitive in its segment as a sensible family vehicle with enough zip to make the driver a happy camper.


2018 Chevrolet Equinox FWD Premier 2.0 Liter Turbo

Engine:  2.0 liter turbocharged gasoline engine (as tested);  Also available in 1.6 liter turbo diesel engine and 1.5 liter gasoline engine, either AWD or FWD.

Transmission:  5 speed automatic

Wheels:  19 inch

Lights:  LED headlamps and tail lamps, daytime running lights

Trailering equipment:  standard, all models

Remote vehicle start, at press of button on remote key

Heated seats:  Driver and front passenger

Rear split-folding seats

Audio:  6 speaker system

Connectivity: MyLink audio, 8 inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, OnStar, 4G LTE wi-fi hotspot.

Packages on vehicle as tested:  “Confidence and Convenience II”  Package :  Power adjustments on front passenger seat, ventilated driver and passenger seats, heated steering wheel, low speed forward automatic braking, forward collision alert, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, following distance indicator, safety alert seat, surround vision, intellibeam auto high beam control, and roof rack cross rails. ($1895.00)  “Sun, Sound and Navigation” Package: Power sunroof, Chevrolet MyLink navigation, 7 speaker Bose sound system, HD radio.  ($2620.00)








TEST DRIVE REVIEW: There’s a queen of the road, and her name is Cascada.

Buick Cascada 2017 Rear

Review of the 2017 Buick Cascada 
By Michele Spencer

Take Cascada in as you approach.  Her resplendent red body and clean lines are easy on the eyes.  You wish her top was down. Fifteen seconds later it is, and instantly her true beauty is revealed.  Open her door.  It swings out towards you, wider than expected, inviting you in.  Glide in to the cockpit, and you’re comfortable right away.  Turn her key and listen to her turbo enhanced 1.6 liter 4-cylinder engine come to life with a healthy purr.  Taking you down the road, her shift points are seamless, never jerky or sudden.  Surely, there must be a fault, but there isn’t one…she hugs the road on the turns, and she gives you power right when you demand it.  She’s a genteel lady, not a woman in a hurry.  Before you know it, you’re in love.  That’s the Cascada effect.

Buick introduced the Cascada in 2016 with very little fanfare, so little that most people don’t even know that this model exists.  Queen Cascada turns heads everywhere, even driving around town in car-jaded Southern California.   20-inch black gloss finished wheels look stunning against the Sport Red paint and black ragtop.

Just like a woman you should fall in love with and take home to mother, the exterior is just part of the Cascada charm.  Interior appointments are refined, with plenty of leather.   The tester had red leather stitching on the steering wheel, dash, doors, and seats, taking it to luxury level, as part of the no-charge option package.   Cascada in the Sport Touring model comes standard with heated and heat-reflective front and rear leather seats and heated steering wheel.   The infotainment system is run through a 7-inch touchscreen, with 7 speakers for optimum listening to XM radio, CD, or MP3.  Wind noise is minimal with the top up, which is yet another pleasant surprise.

She’s practical, too.

At night, Cascada’s articulating headlamps turn with you, showing you the road.  OnStar is standard and costs nothing for the first five years.  It comes with a built in 4G LTE wi-fi.  If there’s a disaster, or traveling with work is life, then Cascada’s got you covered – your computer and devices are seamlessly powered and connected.   The overall safety rating by NHTSA:  five stars, of course.

Fuel economy according to the sticker is 20 city and 27 highway.  In my week of combined city and highway driving, I averaged 23.1 mpg.

The Cascada has an “I’ve arrived” attitude, but in an understated way.  There’s no ridiculous makeup or big hairdo on this lady, but she is getting noticed by every guy in the place for her simple beauty and charm.  With an MSRP of $37,065.00 (plus destination fee of $925.00), you may find yourself free-falling hard.

Buick Cascada 2017 side


Specifications – 2017 Buick Cascada Sport Touring

Vehicle Type:  Two door, 4 passenger convertible (mid-size sedan)

Engine:  1.6 liter turbo 4-cylinder internal combustion

Drivetrain:  6 speed automatic

Suspension:  Sport Tuned

HP/Torque:  200 hp / 207 lb-ft

Wheels (Sport Touring, Dark Effects Package): 20” black gloss finish

Convertible top:  Folding, acoustically and thermally insulated

MPG:  20/27/23 (city/highway/combined)

‘Dark Effects’ Option Package (no charge) includes front grille with black gloss finish, body color fog lamp accents, 20” black gloss finish wheels, mirror caps with black gloss finish, sport red exterior paint, body color rear accent molding, and red accent stitching on interior panels and seats