Earth, Wind & Power Blog is about all things environmental. Our mission is to provide content and resources to our readers to help them make informed decisions on how to transform their lives to a greener and healthier environment for all.
by Martha Hindes with contributions by Bob Plunkett and Tim Healey
Not long ago, the idea of a plug-in electric car was enough to raise lots of eyebrows. Quips circulated about a bubble-shaped car dragging an orange extension charging cord behind it like the tail of a cat, or sitting in the middle of a freeway when the AA batteries ran dry. Of course the batteries that power an electric car, or a gas-electric hybrid car for that matter, are light years beyond those that set a flashlight aglow.
But the idea behind it isn't futuristic at all. With tragedies such as Hurricane Sandy and this winter's severe snow storms in our rear view mirrors, the idea of climate change has taken on an urgency not seen in the past. And while auto companies already had gotten on the bandwagon in developing earth friendlier vehicles that could scoff at trips to the gas station or get their power from distant plants or wind farms away from urban areas, there's nothing like immediacy to get someone's attention. Look around you as you drive, and you're likely to see fuel conserving vehicles in the next lane, or down the block. To see RTM's Top 10 Picks, click here.
Ford's 2013 C-MAX Hybrid has flown sort of under the radar--we'd almost forgotten about the vehicle until we received our invitation to drive it at the company's press preview--but after spending a day driving it in Southern California, we think it might soon be getting a wee bit more press.
Built to compete with the Toyota Prius V, the C-MAX is basically a cross between a Focus and an Escape with a hybrid powertrain (a plug-in hybrid, dubbed the C-MAX Energi, is planned for the near future).
Ford invited us to Los Angeles and its surrounding environs to test out the C-MAX among the glitterati and paparazzi, and we found that this new player in the hybrid game presents some intriguing questions to hybrid buyers.
The Basics Powered by a 2.0-liter gas engine paired with an electric motor (lithium-ion batteries supply the charge, marking the first time Ford has used them in a hybrid), the C-MAX is a four-door, five-seat compact crossover that won't be available with a non-hybrid powertrain.
Available in two trims, SE and SEL, C-MAX offers features such as: Ford's MyFordTouch and Sync infotainment systems, a hands-free power liftgate, in-floor storage, dual-zone climate control, a USB port, Bluetooth, a capless fuel-filler, keyless entry, Ford's MyKey security key, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, 17-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, an EcoGuide that tells the driver how efficiently he/she is driving, satellite radio, a reverse-sensing system, ambient interior lighting, a push-button start, and a park-assist system.
Prices start at $25,500 for the SE and $28,200 for the SEL. The SE we tested, which included MyFordTouch, the power liftgate, and a reverse-sensing system, cost $27,990, including the $795 destination fee. To continue the review, click here.
Most new-car press launches are set in places that offer twisty roads and elevation changes. Even when they're set in urban environs, the automaker seeks out the curviest possible nearby roads.
Not so with the 2013 Chevrolet Spark. Chevy invited us to Chicago so we dutifully shuffled off to the West Loop (home of meat-packing plants and tastefully decorated loft condos) to sample the Spark. With Chevy's new minicar being aimed at an urban audience, perhaps it should've been no surprise when the drive route turned out to be all urban.
The Spark truly is a city car. Chevy execs said so themselves, suggesting the brand's subcompact Sonic or compact Cruze as alternatives for those who do most of their driving outside of the confines of the concrete jungle. At just 144.7 inches long (the wheelbase is 93.5 inches long), the Spark will be competing with other mighty mites like the Scion iQ, the Fiat 500, and the Smart ForTwo. It's the only five-door hatchback in the segment. Features & Prices Chevrolet is keeping it simple by offering just one engine, two transmissions, and three trim levels (base LS, midlevel 1LT, and top-trim 2LT). The cheapest Spark starts at $12,995, including $750 destination fee. A manual-transmission 1LT will start at $14,495 (again, including destination), while a fully-loaded automatic 2LT will set you back $16,720. Chevy says it's keeping a $2,000 price gap between each Spark trim and the corresponding Sonic, in order to keep sales of one car from encroaching on sales of the other. To continue the review, click here.
Face it, America has become a nation of excess. Too much is not enough. We won't settle for anything less than the best, and no matter how much we have, we want more, more, more.
That's all true, but sometimes we really do need more. Such is the case with the power numbers on Hyundai's Veloster. The odd little three-door hatchback provided plenty of sporty handling when it hit the road in the fall of 2011, but its 138 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque doomed it to some disdain from the motoring press. Consider these quotes from this very Website, the one that you're reading right now, published just days prior to last Christmas: "Of course, spirit is in more than the eye of the beholder. A car that looks fast may not actually be fast, and that is sadly the case with the Veloster," and, "Even when mated to a six-speed manual transmission, the Veloster feels just a wee bit short of breath. Get it rolling and get rowing with the gears, and the Veloster is fun. Trouble is, getting it going takes a fair bit of patience, and the off-the-line jump isn’t quite enough." We also said this: "Hyundai has promised a turbo, and that may cure the Veloster’s ills." This all from the same review in which we compared the car to Charlie Sheen, for whatever that's worth.
Hyundai did make good on the turbo promise, and hence we found ourselves somewhere near San Diego in the driver's seat of the 2013 Veloster Turbo. With 201 ponies now under hood and 195 lb-ft of torque twisting the front wheels, we were hopeful that all the Veloster's "ills" (which were admittedly relatively few) would be cured. To coninue the review, click here.
Streaking along serpentine Skyline Drive, the ridge route high above Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, a powerful MKS EcoBoost -- elegant flagship sedan for the 2013 fleet of Lincoln -- tracks in a predictable line through so many chicanes.
MKS's all-aluminum 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine sends turbo-charged muscle to all four of the 20-inch 245/45R20 V-rated tires with big treads clawing for traction on blacktop around every bend.
Rumples in the erosive pavement don't upset this car's smooth suspension due to new Continuously Controlled Damping, a sophisticated device which regulates actions for the shock absorber at every wheel through electronic damping. It changes as much as 20 times every second, switching from soft to hard to soft again in an effort to isolates the movement of each tire for less bounce, vibration and noise, and producing more controlled handling with a smoother ride quality.
The 2013 issues of MKS score multiple enhancements including styling revisions to the body and cabin, upgrades to suspension and powertrain, plus improvements in fuel economy figures.
Lincoln's flagship sedan looks elegant and classy in a bold design for the body which focuses on a double-wing grille that's a contemporary homage to the classic 1941 Lincoln Continental. For 2013 issues the grille tips rearward in a sleeker pose as the prow adds horizontal louvers in a new fascia to underscore the grille with piercing optics of projector-type HID (high-intensity discharge) headlamps wrapping around front corners. To continue the review, click here.
We're cinched firm against the leather seat of Buick's 2013 Verano Turbo compact luxury sedan with hands locked on the heated steering wheel, feet dancing across sport pedals on the floor but eyes fixed squarely on the next bend of Oklahoma 1, squiggly blacktop draped over the pine-studded Ouachita Mountains.
Actually, we're romping along this ridgeback road, which follows contours of the slopes on undulating asphalt with whoop-de-do dips and rises and incessant sharp esses and broad sweepers.
And the newest Buick, projecting a coupe-like silhouette with glitzy waterfall grille crowning the prow, reveals stunning performance from a decidedly sporty vehicle that maneuvers around curlicue mountain traces with the dexterity of a mechanical athlete.
Cast on a rigid unibody structure with pliable independent suspension components pinned above each wheel, the test car carries a goosy turbochargedengine which translates all of its considerable torque through a malleable but definitely un-Buick-like six-speed manual shifter and sends it to the two front wheels which also steer in a predictable and controllable front-engine/front-wheel-drive arrangement. To continue thereview, click here.
I’ve never fancied myself much of a sedan girl. More like a speedy sports car siren or a mother trucker… the latter of which was my first priority for many years when rearing rugrats and camping out by babbling brooks in the back woods of New England. But this week, priorities changed when the new 2013 Kia Optima SX sedan was delivered as our test car. What a looker!
“Is that the new Jaguar,” one man shouted from across the parking lot. “No, it’s the new 2013 Kia Optima,” I yelled back. “Wow, woulda' never guessed,” he said shaking his head with surprise.
And that’s the reaction the Snow White Pearl Optima received all week long. Driving this car was like having a new puppy. Everyone wanted to stop and pet it, stoop down and take a closer look, inspiring miles of smiles and constant curiosity. I found one woman peering into the windows with her hands cupped around her eyes to get a better look inside. Approaching the car, I asked, “What do you think of it?” Startled and somewhat embarrassed she was caught, she replied, “Oh, so sorry, I wasn’t being nosy but this car is just so gorgeous. I had to get a closer look. I can’t believe this is a Kia!” To continue the review, click here.
The Cadillac ATS is being touted as the luxury brand's best chance at making serious inroads in the performance luxury market currently dominated by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. It also represents the latest evolution in Cadillac's "Art and Science" design philosophy, part of General Motor's strategy to bring the brand—which has a seemingly unshakeable reputation as a stuffy, old person's brand—into the 21st Century.
In both of these aspects, Cadillac is setting the bar very high. So high that it becomes tempting to praise is asking for the ATS to be judged against some very stiff competition, that's the standard against which it must be evaluated.
On the Road In terms of performance, the ATS is definitely good enough to take on all comers. A look at the numbers confirms that the ATS is the equal of the BMW 3-Series, the Mercedes C350, and the Audi A4 in terms of horsepower, torque, 0-60 speed, and price. And behind the wheel of this rear-drive powerhouse, the car definitely feels Autobahn-worthy. Steering, handling, and cornering are as precise and confident as any Bavarian or German wündercar. The ATS's suspension settings allow the driver to enjoy their ride smooth or sporty, but the growl from the performance package's dual exhaust is fairly harsh—a muscle car yawp sounds ridiculous from inside a luxury car's cabin, especially one that is otherwise so nicely insulated against road noise. To continue the review, click here.
A corkscrew road ripping over Appalachian foothills in Pennsylvania works like a Formula One course to challenge both driver and car in tests we devised to sample the aggressive character of a sporty new sedan by Acura, the line of performance and luxury vehicles derived from Honda of Japan.
A trunk tag labels the new car as the ILX and Acura describes it as a new gateway vehicle to the brand offering sporty handling traits plus premium features and value on a luxury scale.
Cast on a rigid chassis with a four-cylinder engine directing all torque to the two front wheels which also steer, the ILX stocks all of the hardware components to make a responsive sports sedan.
Apply a tape measure to the ILX and the numbers reveal a package size fitting in the compact class with a wheelbase of 105.1 inches and wheel track width of 59.4 inches front and 60.3 inches rear, the car body stretching to 179.1 inches long, a body width of 70.6 inches and the roofline rising to 55.6 inches.
Acura offers only one style for the ILX package -- a shapely 4-door notchback sedan -- but delivers three powertrain choices including the brand's first high-mileage gasoline-electric hybrid. To continue the review, click here.
These are adjectives often lobbied Lexus’ way, and the company has tried to deflect them with cars like the IS and GS series, and more recently, the IS F.
While the IS and GS have certainly added some fun quotient to the lineup, they’ve been perceived as disappointing by the enthusiast crowd, and they haven’t quite hit the balance of sport and luxury that Lexus is looking for. Not to mention that they’ve been tight on interior space.
Lexus is looking to change things up with the next GS line, which launched in February as a 2013 model. While the V-6 carries over (more on that later) and the styling seems more evolutionary than revolutionary—although it’s still quite different—this new GS 350 is indeed a different ride than what it replaces.
Let’s start with said V-6. It only gains a handful of ponies—up three to 306—and torque similarly rises by three on the 3.5-liter unit to 277 lb-ft. There’s no V-8 (at least for now. Maybe Lexus will release a GS-F at some point in the future. Pretty please?) but those who hunger for more power will like the 338-horsepower GS 450h. The hybrid gets a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) while the 350 has a six-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available on the 350 (rear-wheel drive is standard) while the hybrid is rear-drive only. To continue the review,click here.