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January 04, 2012

2012 Green Car Buyer's Guide

Road & Travel Magazine presents its 2012 Green Car Buyer's Guide written by Martha Hindes

by Martha Hindes
Road & Travel Magazine Names Chevy Volt
Most Earth-Friendly Car of the Month

Deciding to drive green isn't an easy task. We can't simply go to a "green store" to swap out yesterday's wasteful wheels for an environmentally correct auto to replace it, since there's more than one remedy. In the past few years, hybrid vehicles that combine a small gasoline engine with a small electric motor have been gaining popularity as one earth-friendly solution. But it's not alone. How about clean diesels now just coming online that no longer belch dark clouds of sooty, smelly grit out of tail pipes? Or plug-in electrics on the horizon that never go near a gas pump and are just beginning to make a buzz.

Flexible fuel vehicles that can scarf down liquified plants or even moonshine to power them have been around for a decade or two. And research is continuing on other futuristic technologies such as fuel cells most people haven't yet heard about.

What's a buyer to do? To help answer that question, RTM has put together its 2012 Green Car Buyer's Guide with some of the various ecologically sensitive, fuel efficient vehicles you can buy today without mortgaging one's future in the process.

We choose the Chevy Volt from today's stable of contenders as our favorite for many reasons -- fuel economy, driving agility, security, interior space and style among them. And besides, it's so hot that dealers and buyers alike are falling all over themselves to get one. Full Guide - click here.


December 02, 2011

7 Automakers Collaborate to Standardize EV Charging

Automakers Unite on Harmonzied EV Fast Charging Solution

  • Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Porsche and Volkswagen agreed to support a harmonized single-port fast charging approach for use on electric vehicles in Europe and the United States

  • The system is a combined charging approach that integrates all charging scenarios into one vehicle inlet/charging connector and uses identical ways for the vehicle to communicate with the charging station

  • The seven auto manufacturers also agreed to use HomePlug GreenPHY as the communication protocol. This approach will facilitate integration of the electric vehicle into future smart grid applications 

  • Agreeing upon a single, harmonized DC fast charging system, we believe will help infrastructure planning, reduce vehicle complexity and improve the ownership experience for electric vehicle customers. Full story.

November 10, 2011

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Road Test Review

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Road Test Review - Road & Travel Magazine's 2012 Green Car Buyer's Guide

by Martha Hindes

It could remind one of its German-engineered Audi cousin with its haughty, European good looks. It cruises with authority at hyper highway speeds. It has elbow room to spare both in front and rear seating. And yet it falls into the earth-friendly, fuel-saving category thanks to its "clean diesel" technology. Score a big one for the 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI.

My one-day driving encounter with the new, clean diesel VW Passat was briefer than I hoped for, but sufficiently long to recognize this was attention-getting technology at its best. A tour around metro Detroit's "Motown" country served as backdrop for some express road, country road and city street driving in Germanic style.

Style-wise the Passat isn't in-your-face. And unless you hear the muffled diesel purr that barely signals its underpinnings, you'd probably never realize it's an environmentally-responsible version of an iconoclastic Euro road cruiser, but designed for U.S. consumption.

The six-speed automatic on my test vehicle had manual mode when spontaneous upticks were desired. The overall feel of the drive was typical VW style, a bit weightier than one would expect from a compact, but not surprising considering the Passat's overall dimensions. Size wise, it gains a shade in passenger room for 2012. This is a true midsize auto, not the compact of electrified competitors. Full Review

November 09, 2011

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Road Test Review

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

In a landscape of automotive cacophony, sometimes it's the simple things that stand out most such as a steering wheel not over-laden with gadgets. Or, a cluster of instruments that say enough, but not too much. Putting the 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid in that category clarifies what seems a rather fundamental, but well-determined strategy: Keep the driving experience what you'd expect from a handsome, easy-handling, well-appointed family sedan for five and let the high-tech core quietly do its job.

It isn't that Hyundai ignores this is a combined electric-gasoline powered auto that, during express cruising, can toggle into electric-only mode for spurts -- even at speeds of 74 mph. It just doesn't scream at you in the process. You get the hint of its advanced underpinnings when you hit the Start button on the uncluttered dash and a small cluster of leaves in the driver's center gauge peeks back, and then disappears. If you have a taste for technological toys and don't have the navi version, you can choose to display a real time energy score or a small scale diagram showing the power source (40-hp electric motor or 166-hp engine) flowing to the wheels.

A late summer test in the predecessor of the 2012 model hinted at what to expect during extended daily driving, with a stint on express roads and some inner city stop-and-go traffic. Road feel was solid and serene, only hinting at its hybrid foundation when coasting quietly on electricity alone, without the subtle purr of the 4-cylinder engine. Visually and mechanically, it gains from last year's major Sonata redesign, with fluid side sculpting and aggressive stance, and remains unchanged for 2012. "Blue Link" advanced telematics is standard, however. Full Review

November 07, 2011

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid Road Test Review

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid Sedan Road Test Review - Road & Travel Magazine's 2012 Green Car Buyer's Guide

by Martha Hindes

Toyota's mainstay midsize Camry auto has about the same impact as some recent ubiquitous Macy's department store ads reminding us that just about everyone shops there. And if they haven't, they probably want to. Well, who hasn't heard of America's best selling Toyota Camry, even if the 2012 hybrid model promos haven't achieved quite the same saturation level?

The 2012 Camry Hybrid, like its earlier brethren, is based on Toyota's bread-and-butter family sedan in what's probably the hottest auto arena on the planet. That kind of competition means putting your best face forward. And Camry got some less-than-radical surgery in the design and hybrid engine technology categories for 2012 to keep it a bride instead of a bridesmaid as more hybrid competitors knock at the door.

While some fuel-stingy sedans have tightened the reins on size to cut weight and eke out a shred more mileage, Camry hasn't. Its midsize-for-five is comfortably so. And rear seat passengers can lounge during long drives without feeling crunched. Ditto that for usable trunk space, an improvement thanks to a shuffling of inner components below.

Dressing for the occasion also has won attention, with interior renovations enhancing the luxury feel, including brushed aluminum trim. A requisite power-flow display coaxes conservative driving. The upmarket XLE gets chrome touches, 17-inch rather than 16-inch wheels, and heated sideview mirrors, plus 24 additional pounds of curb weight that skims a shade off fuel economy. Options include blind spot warning, navi and Entune multimedia system. But the base LE is no slouch, with standard push button start, dual zone climate control and enhanced passive safety systems among amenities. Full Story

November 03, 2011

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid Sedan Road Test Review

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid Sedan Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

If there's safety in numbers, Honda's compact Civic auto must certainly represent the feeling. Case in point: One Midwestern apartment complex recently had no fewer than five in various neutral shades lined up in a row in the parking lot. Add to that Honda's redone 2012 Civic Hybrid sedan, and the chances of that row of autos expanding grows exponentially.

Many of those parking lot Civics were owned by health care workers, one group that Honda cites as gravitating to the Civic for its reputation for dependability, economy and long-term value. Others include business professionals, educators, environmentalists and -- yes -- driving enthusiasts. Think fun, not funky. For despite its sometimes vilified understated demeanor, the Civic Hybrid hides a wealth of technical prowess under its skin.

As originator of the Insight, the first -- now exiting -- and highly recognizable, jellybean-shaped production hybrid to hit U.S. roadways in the 1990s in numbers great enough to count, Honda knows something about building a combined gasoline-electric powered auto. Transition to 2012 and the newest, refreshed Civic hybrid gains some significant technical advances, including a switch to a lighter weight lithion-ion battery pack and improved powertrain. Full Story

November 02, 2011

2012 Infiniti M35h Road Test Review

2012 Infiniti M35h Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

Until recently, the idea of driving a hybrid vehicle left only a few choices. Choose one and don't expect to be coddled, or forget the idea. That was before Infiniti decided "hybrid" shouldn't condemn someone to living primarily basic to be planet friendly. And before the 2012 Infiniti M35h hybrid made its debut.

What a novel idea. Take a luxury car, add on all the bells and whistles, kick out the old internal combustion engine and replace it with your own advanced technology system to boost one's driving miles by hundreds between fill-ups without losing the punch of driving fun. And wait for the disenfranchised sporty luxury car buyers to discover it's there.

Infiniti was in an ideal position to sidestep the ruts of average and move to something special. Infiniti's parent Nissan already had the plug-in electric, four-door Leaf in the wings designed for popular consumption. Nissan probably didn't need the existing midsize Altima hybrid sedan, built on borrowed technology, that wasn't gaining widespread recognition anyway so was quietly dumped this year. And while some other hybrids have upscale adds including navigation systems, high tech audio with plugins, and leather trimming for style, they mostly weren't from luxury car providers aiming to break the brass ring barrier with enough visual flash, driving dash and pampering excess -- depending on options -- to make waves.

The M35h definitely is a hybrid contender, but it's doubtful it will ever eke the most energy out of a single drop of premium fuel. We don't see it as a hybrid that forces the driver to balance every tap on the accelerator against an electronic flow chart that raps one's knuckles for falling below an arbitrary best mileage bar. Full review.

November 01, 2011

2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco Road Test Review

2012 Chevrolet Eco Cruze Road Test

by Martha Hindes

If "electric" is the latest green car buzzword and "hybrid" its current category staple, whatever happened to yesterday's internal combustion engine? Past history, right? Well, no. Rather than being a fuel economy pariah, Chevrolet's 2012 Cruze Eco sedan is showing the energy elite just how it should be done.

Wearing the self-anointed crown as the "most fuel-efficient gas-powered/non-hybrid vehicle in America" in GM-speak is one thing. Living up to it is quite another. After time behind the wheel of a cheery cherry red Cruze Eco, I think that might be an understatement.

OK, so I didn't get the promised 42 highway miles to a gallon of regular. Fault the driver not the vehicle. I mean you wouldn't expect to punch the accelerator and get a "gee whiz" kind of seatback thrust if the car you're driving was designed to leave barely a shred of environmental impact. And without using an electric motor somewhere as part of its propulsion package.

I put the key in the ignition, shoved the overdrive-spiced six-speed manual tranny into gear, and expected a mild mannered response as it inched into traffic. Boy was I wrong. The Cruze just spun forward with an aggressive "own-the-road" attitude, catching me by surprise. Where did that come from? Was this a tread lightly reject in earth-tuned disguise? Full review here.


October 31, 2011

2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid Road Test Review

2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

Wishing never gets you anywhere, right? You'd really like to drive a hybrid car and breeze past those filling stations that rule the road when you're nearing empty. But you don't want to give up that kick-back reaction when you feel like tromping the accelerator. Or sufficient stretch room for five to relax and play with sophisticated, on-board electronics. And it would be really neat to drive all the way to work without making a sound. Not possible? Maybe you haven't met the 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid.

The midsize gasoline/electric-powered, front-drive sedan from Ford isn't a newbie, by the way. It's been around since 2009 and now resides as a second generation pro, with tweaks here and tucks there for 2012 to give it more polish and panache. This isn't your mother's reject that's grown long-in-the-tooth after years of looking rather oddly off-beat as it ambles through a planet-tending restriction on fun. It's an honest-to-goodness handsome sedan that should look fitting in any executive parking spot. Full review.



October 27, 2011

2012 Toyota Prius v Hybrid Road Test Review

2012 Toyota Prius v Hatchback Road Test Review

All-New 2012 Model Morphs to Hatchback by Bob Plunkett

It only takes the blink of an eye to observe that Toyota's new fourth-generation design for the 2012 Prius hybrid electric vehicle differs from the previous version -- it's larger in a streamlined package that fashions the hood and windshield into a racked-back plane which resembles a rakish two-door GT coupe while flanks reveal the four-door configuration of a practical sedan as the roofline hikes high toward the tail to accommodate a hatchback-style rear cargo door.

This new design earns an aerodynamic rating of merely 0.29 cD (coefficient of Drag), which makes the 2012 Prius one of the slickest set of wheels on the road.

It's still pegged in the mid-size class of sedans, but the wheelbase grows 3.1 inches longer and the overall tip-to-tail measurement increases by 6.1 inches to 181.7 inches.

The passenger compartment -- long and broad and tall, thanks to the mid-size front-wheel-drive platform with wheelbase drawn to 109.4 inches -- provides ample room for five passengers on comfortable seats with a pair of buckets in front of a bench for three and room at the rear for cargo due to the hatchback roofline.

Name badge of this version acquires the alphabet letter "v" tacked on -- Prius v -- with v denoting versatility with the hatchback design.

Then numerical figures follow the v on the nameplate to describe three trim grades:  Prius v Two, Prius v Three and Prius v Five. (There's no explaining the absence of Prius v One and Prius v Four editions.) Read full review here.