Clearly Efficient

By Derek Price
Honda has spent years working on two science-experiment versions of the Clarity: a fuel-cell car that runs on hydrogen, and an electric car designed to compete with Tesla.
The one you’re more likely to see on the road, though — and the one that makes practical sense for more people — is this flavor, the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid.
Unlike the fuel-cell and battery versions of the Clarity, which have limited consumer appeal thanks to their shorter range and unusual power sources, the hybrid version comes with a traditional gasoline engine that drives its electric powertrain. That means you can fuel it up at gas stations across America just like a “regular” car.
It’s built differently from most gas-powered cars though, starting with its aggressive hybrid drivetrain. Like the Toyota Prius Prime and Chevrolet Volt, the Clarity can run entirely on electric power for a limited amount of time — up to 48 miles in the Clarity’s case.

The Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid has 48 miles of electric range, one of the best in its class, along with a gasoline engine to keep it going up to 340 miles total.

After that point, it can continue to drive using gasoline, giving it a total range of 340 miles between fill-ups. The federal government has blessed it with a rating of 110 MPGe, or miles per gallon equivalent, in combined city and highway driving.
For efficiency that extraordinary, the Clarity looks and drives mundane, a compliment in a class known for its occasional oddball styling and flimsy, lightweight-to-a-fault construction.
From a design standpoint, the Clarity mixes a hint of futurism — harsh angles and sweeping curves — with Honda’s more conservative visual language. The result is a car that catches your eye but doesn’t scream “hybrid” like a Prius does.
This hybrid is much more about performance than appearance.
Because it was engineered to be an electric car from the start, its design maximizes space while minimizing weight. Its body structure is 15% lighter than conventional vehicles, Honda claims, thanks to ultra-high-strength steel, aluminum and glass fiber reinforced plastic in the front and rear.
Acceleration is always adequate, whether merging onto a freeway or pulling away from stoplights. Power delivery feels seamless even as it shifts between its three distinct ways of moving — under purely electric power, with the engine and motors at the same time, and in engine-drive mode at medium to high speeds. You can see the power routing through a digital display in the car, but you can’t necessarily feel the difference as you’re driving along.
The one exception is engine noise. At high RPMs, the engine can sound loud and grating, but fortunately it only persists for short periods when pressing the throttle to the floor. Cruising at highway speeds, the Clarity nicely insulates the cabin from road, wind and engine sounds.

The Clarity’s cabin is impressively spacious and comfortable thanks to its smooth ride and Accord-like dimensions.

In fact, the biggest surprise during my week behind the wheel was this car’s comfort level for highway driving. With around 193 inches in length and a wheelbase of roughly 103 inches, the Clarity is surprisingly close to the spacious Accord’s dimensions.
The Clarity is available with today’s typical safety features, including automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping steering and adaptive cruise control.
Instead of blind-spot sensors, the Clarity comes with the Honda LaneWatch camera that gives a wide angle view from the passenger side of the car. Personally, I wish this camera came in addition to the blind-spot sensors, not as a replacement for them.
Pricing starts at $33,400 for the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid. The Touring trim, which comes with leather, navigation and the ability to pre-condition the cabin by remote control, starts at $36,600.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid Touring ($36,600). Options: None. Price as tested (including $895 destination charge): $37,495
Wheelbase: 108.3 in.
Length: 192.7 in.
Width: 73.9 in.
Height: 58.2 in.
Powertrain: 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and 181-horsepower electric motor
Transmission: Direct drive
Fuel economy: 110 MPGe combined city/highway

Style: 9
Performance: 6
Price: 7
Handling: 8
Ride: 7
Comfort: 7
Quality: 8
Overall: 8

Why buy it? 
It runs on electric power for up to 48 miles, but a gasoline engine eliminates the range-anxiety worries of an electric car by extending its total range to 340 miles between fill-ups.

Posted in Honda

EcoSport Packs Tech

By Derek Price

The Ford EcoSport feels like a vehicle designed by a big-name tech company.
Its features list is virtually a NASDAQ ticker tape. It can come with Apple CarPlay for people with iPhones, Android Auto for people with Google-powered smartphones, along with Waze, Alexa and other popular apps. They’re all available in this compact crossover vehicle that seemingly is designed as much for connecting to your smartphone as it is for driving you from Point A to Point B.
In fact, the first time I drove an EcoSport I struggled to understand its appeal within the metrics of my old-style brain. In terms of horsepower, handling and cabin materials, it felt mediocre, not something that stands out within its hotly competitive, fast-growing class of competitors.
Even its gas mileage of 27 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway isn’t that impressive for its compact size.
After driving it for a week, though, I came to a realization: this vehicle isn’t designed for people like me. It’s built for a new generation of buyers who care less about those old-fashioned metrics and more about whether they can get Waze to work on the 8-inch touchscreen.

Vehicles with an upright stance and SUV-style cargo area like this, the Ford EcoSport, are rapidly replacing compact sedans and hatchbacks.

Granted, even a 37-year-old pseudo-geezer like me can appreciate the glorious beauty of Waze’s intelligent navigation and “police reported ahead” warnings that help you avoid tickets through the car’s screen and sound system. I also like knowing you can use the powerful Amazon Alexa services while on the road to do your shopping, control smart devices at home and much more.
Both those services are connected through Ford’s SYNC 3 AppLink, which lets you control a short list of compatible smartphone apps through the vehicle’s touchscreen instead of your phone itself. AccuWeather, iHeartRadio, Pandora and more are compatible with it.
SYNC Connect with FordPass adds more capability, including the ability to start, unlock and find your vehicle remotely using a smartphone app.

An optional 8-inch touchscreen dominates the dash of Ford’s new EcoSport compact crossover vehicle.

Power in most trim levels comes from a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder engine that makes 123 horsepower. The SES trim comes with all-wheel drive and is powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 166-horse engine.
Aside from the tech features, the EcoSport’s main selling point is its market positioning in the hottest part of the car world. It’s sized and priced like a compact car, making it easy for maneuvering in urban areas and affordable for young buyers.
Unlike compact sedans or hatchbacks, though, it’s styled more like an SUV or truck. It has an upright stance, good visibility and impressive cargo capacity when the back seats are folded flat, all reasons this class of vehicle is so trendy in 2018.
Pricing starts at $19,995 for the base S trim and ranges up to $26,880 for the more powerful and sporty SES.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 Ford EcoSport Titanium ($25,880). Options: White platinum paint ($595). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $27,470
Wheelbase: 99.2 in.
Length: 161.3 in.
Width: 81 in.
Height: 65.1 in.
Engine: 1.0-liter three cylinder (123 hp, 125 ft-lbs)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 27 city, 29 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 9
Price: 5
Handling: 6
Ride: 10
Comfort: 10
Quality: 9
Overall: 9
Why buy it?
At a time when smartphone connectivity is more important than ever, the EcoSport offers an impressive feature set and stylish crossover look at an affordable price.

Posted in Ford

i3 Adds Sport Variant

By Derek Price

BMWs have long been known for their distinctive driving feel, and now a new version of the i3 electric car aims to deliver more of that performance DNA.
Called the i3s, this electric vehicle is tuned to make extra power and respond more aggressively to driver input, especially when you put it in “sport” mode. That tightens the steering and changes the throttle mapping to make it feel more engaging.
Its electric motor makes 184 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque, giving it a performance improvement of around 40 percent at the extreme limits of its RPM range, BMW claims, compared to the regular i3.
It also comes with unique styling, a wider track, and a suspension designed for sportier driving. It comes with revised springs, dampers and anti-roll bars along with a 10-millimeter lower ride height.
The i3s can reach 60 mph in an estimated 6.8 seconds and hits a top speed of 100 mph — both numbers more similar to gasoline cars than many zero-emission electric vehicles.

The BMW i3 electric car has a striking, unusual look that emphasizes its futuristic, sustainable design goals.

When fully charged, the i3 has a range up to 114 miles, or up to 180 miles if you opt for the range extender: a two-cylinder gasoline engine that adds $3,850 to the price.
Considering a basic i3 starts at $44,450, it’s priced for premium buyers who could afford a very nice gasoline-powered car for the same money, even after you apply government tax credits that drive the cost down.
That begs a question: Why buy an electric car in the first place?
I think the answer, especially as a luxury purchase, is for the statement it sends.
The i3 is dramatically different from the vast majority of vehicles sold today, starting with the way it drives. It accelerates smoothly and silently to highway speed, offering an instant burst of torque any time you need it. The feeling is almost surreal — ample power with hardly a hint of noise.
More than that, though, is the way it’s designed.
The i3 uses carbon fiber reinforced plastic, a material claimed to be lighter and stronger than steel, to create its body panels and some interior pieces. It’s also built in a more sustainable way than most cars, BMW says, thanks to its materials and eco-conscious factory in Leipzig, Germany, that runs entirely on renewable energy.
The i3 feels light, and not just in terms of weight. Its cabin seems open and spacious for a compact vehicle. It doesn’t need a transmission tunnel under the floorboard, for example, and there is no “B” pillar like in most traditional cars where the rear doors attach. In the i3, the rear doors swing backward, and the entire structure can be open to the air like a Roman arch.

Open-pore, sustainably grown eucalyptus wood and innovative materials give the i3’s interior a look that’s as distinctive as its body.

Finally, the look is distinctive inside and out. I wouldn’t call it pretty, but I would call it contemporary and striking. It certainly turns heads with its unusual shape and functional styling, and the cabin is one of the most innovative I’ve seen in years. Sustainably grown, open-pore eucalyptus wood and innovative materials made from natural fibers give the interior an earthy and forward-thinking vibe.
As a whole, I see the i3 as more about making a statement of values than about providing transportation. It does a fine job of getting you around town on short trips — including a premium driving experience and some of the best connectivity of any vehicle for sale today — but if “point A to point B” is your mission, a basic Chevy economy car could do the job just as well.
Instead, the i3 is aimed at buyers who could and perhaps do own fine, roomy, powerful luxury cars. They choose to buy something that does right by Mother Earth for everyday trips instead.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2018 BMW i3s with Range Extender ($51,500). Options: Red metallic paint ($550), GigaWorld ($1,800), Tech + Driving Assist Package ($2,500), blue seatbelt strap ($300), park distance control ($750), Apple CarPlay ($300). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $58,695
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Length: 158.1 in.
Width: 70.5 in.
Height: 62.6 in.
Electric motor: 184 hp, 199 ft-lbs
Transmission: Single-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 109 MPG equivalent

Style: 9
Performance: 8
Price: 4
Handling: 8
Ride: 6
Comfort: 6
Quality: 8
Overall: 8

Why buy it?
It makes a statement about sustainable transportation, both looking and feeling like something from an oil-free future. A new sport model adds to its appeal and better fits BMW’s traditional fun-to-drive mission.

Posted in BMW