Article,Featured,Features,Review

One View Of The Faraday Future Reveal

4 Jan , 2017  

I wanted to write this while my impressions were still fresh because the one thing I felt that I never explicitly said during our special episode was…anger. It made me mad. I felt used. Faraday Future, from here on, FF, used me for a sucker and I had to sit there and take it. Why? Well, let’s talk about it.

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Article,EPA,Hypermiling

It’s a Game of Averages

11 Sep , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

Many times, when discussing hypermiling techniques, someone will ask about how to approach a hill, or what to do in rush-hour traffic, or when driving in bad weather can’t be avoided. The only sane answer is, “get over it.” Let’s face it: if you are going to scrutinize every single mile or every single minute, you will go insane. That is why hypermilers talk in terms of tank averages and lifetime averages.

Tank Average

This should be your smallest unit of measurement except for the rare exception. It is only over the course of an entire tank that you can take multiple factors into consideration: morning versus evening commutes, good weather versus storms, etc.

If you wish to maintain daily logs – and for various reasons, I have suggested just that – bundle them into the tank average and then throw them away. Daily logs are for analysis and review only. For example, another article suggests keeping daily logs for the sake of identifying the best daily commute. Once these logs have served their purpose, dispose of them.

The easiest way to calculate the tank average is to divide the miles driven by the amount of gasoline used to refill the tank. However, here are some factors to consider:

  • Some cars use bladders inside the gas tank to help contain vapors. Depending on the ambient temperature, the bladders might be more or less flexible in warmer and colder conditions, respectively.   For example, the second generation Prius used a gas bladder. In the summer, almost 10 gallons of gasoline could be pumped whereas in the winter as little as 8 gallons was the maximum. The Prius fuel bladder was removed starting in 2010. This is an issue because it adds a variable when attempting to accurately calculate the amount of gasoline used during the tank.
  • There is always the debate whether the on-board calculations provided by the car are accurate enough to be used. Some people choose to perform their own calculation rather than trusting the car. Anecdotally, some people have used both and shown that over a period of time, the over/under evens out and both methods arrive at the same Lifetime Average. However, for the individual tanks, which method you use is up to you.

Lifetime Average

Of course, the granddaddy of all averages is the overall Lifetime Average. This reflects your entire driving experience with the car. Lifetime averages do not need to start when the car is brand new; it is the one-number record of you and the car working together as a team, regardless of how old the car was when you two first met.

As you can imagine, calculating the lifetime average requires that you know exactly how many miles you have driven and exactly how much gasoline you have consumed. Not just for one tank or one month or even just one year. In order to calculate an accurate lifetime average, you must have been recording accurate fuel data for the entire time you have been driving the car. Trust me: this can get tedious but it is what must be done to achieve the goal.

12-Month Rolling Average

As you drive your car year-over-year, you might become curious whether you are becoming a better hypermiler. Actually, it’s great to constantly want that feedback to spur improvement. The problem is that the Tank Averages can’t be compared one-to-one and after a while the Lifetime Average barely budges.

This is where the 12-Month Rolling Average comes in. Whereas the Lifetime Average will forever be influenced by those first few crappy tanks, the Rolling Average will eventually let them go to reflect how you’re doing now. Though you can’t throw them out completely because they are part of your historical record, they are no longer an accurate representation of your current driving ability.

Calculating the 12-Month Rolling Average requires that you go back one year (sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it?). Where it can get complicated is that the number of tanks will vary. For example, if you average a refill every other week, you cannot simply take the last 26 tanks and assume that’s a year. There will be those long-distance road trips in which you consumed a full tank in only two days. So just be careful and make sure to do the math based on the dates: sometimes 28 tanks, sometimes 32.

Conclusion

If you only keep two averages, they should be the Tank Average and the Lifetime Average. These give you a real-time feel for your hypermiling abilities and an overall view of your entire driving experience. Adding the 12-Month Rolling Average provides an updated perspective, showing how you’ve done over the past year.

 

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Article,EPA,Hypermiling

Planning Trips

5 Sep , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

In another post, we discussed how to best handle your day-to-day commute by finding a mileage-friendly route, memorizing it, and documenting how well you do. This article will address how to handle those unexpected and irregular trips. For example, running errands on the weekends.

Combine Trips

This should be obvious but I’m just throwing it out there.

Quite possibly, the silliest thing you could do is to make a bunch of little errand runs throughout the day. As long as you’re out running errands, hit all your stops in one go. Seriously, there’s not much more to write about this except to make note that the order in which you combine all your trips is important. So with that…

Go to the Farthest Destination First

It seems like the easiest and best thing: go to the closest destination and progress out until you’re at the farthest destination and then head home. However, in terms of mileage, this is the worst possible way to approach the situation. Here is the underlying reason: cars get better mileage once they are warmed up. If you string together a bunch of short drives, the engine will never have an adequate chance to properly warm up. It will always be running in an inefficient warm-up mode.

By starting with the farthest destination, the engine will have that initial chance to get completely up to temperature and start running efficiently. Then, when you head to the second stop, the engine is starting from a warm condition and is more likely to return to optimal temperature before stopping again. The same goes for all subsequent stops. The point here is that you want to give your car at least one long drive to reach optimal temperature.

As with all things, there are exceptions. The above advice works great for non-perishable errands (crafts store, hardware store, library, etc.) However, if the farthest destination is the grocery store with frozen food, you might want to plan the route so you get there last before heading home. If the farthest destination is a restaurant of the theater, you’re going to want to end there.

Consider Taking a Roundabout Route

If you are out running errands, then you’re probably pretty familiar with the area within about 5 miles of your house. With this in mind, you should have a pretty good understanding of traffic fluctuations in relation to a place, time, and day of the week.

When provided the opportunity, take a more roundabout route if it means dodging traffic situations and stoplights. Keeping clear of traffic situations could mean better constant-speed driving as will dodging the stoplights and stop signs.

Did you know that UPS drivers are routed in such a way as to minimize their number of left turns?

UPS engineers found that left-hand turns were a major drag on efficiency. Turning against traffic resulted in long waits in left-hand turn lanes that wasted time and fuel, and it also led to a disproportionate number of accidents. From 2004 to 2012, the right turn rule combined with other improvements saved around 10 million gallons of gas and reduced emissions by the equivalent of taking 5,300 cars of the road for a year.

Think about that. Not only does turning right mean that you spend less time waiting for traffic to clear, it means that you do not cross lanes of traffic as much. Turning right is much safer than turning left.

One consideration that might be a bit of a stretch is that the less-than-direct route might have better roads. In other words, find a path that avoids crappy roads. No doubt you have noticed that your car rolls better and gets better overall mileage on freshly paved, smooth roads. If provided the opportunity, define your route based on traveling on the smoothest roads. Besides, driving on rough roads just plain stinks.

All these things, when put together, might provide a more fuel-efficient route than heading directly to the destinations without any forethought.

Run your Errands when it’s Warm Outside

This concept works in combination with driving to the farthest destination first. Driving when it’s warmer outside will help your engine warm because the air rushing past the engine will be warmer. In some geologies, the morning-to-afternoon temperature swing can be several degrees. You need a sweater in the morning but have stripped down to a T-shirt by mid-afternoon.

If you like to get up and out as early as possible, that’s fine; just as long as you know that you might be taking a hit to your mileage. If you can wait a few hours, when the outside temperature is higher, you will be rewarded with better mileage. In the meantime, find other things you can do perhaps around the house or whatever.

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

This is a tried-and-true mainstay of hypermiling. When we feel rushed, we tend to make bad decisions, press a little harder on the pedal, and generally compromise the hard work we’ve done so far.

So here’s what you do: as long as you’re waiting for the temperature to go up, plan your trip so that you hit the farthest destination first. Once you’re done with that, figure out how long your entire trip will take and leave on time. So you see, a bunch of these concepts fit hand-in-hand.

Conclusion

Sometimes we have to make that one-off trip to the grocery store or hardware store or whatever. But when a series of errands require that you top at multiple destinations, taking a little time to plan it all out could reward you with improved overall mileage.

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Article,EPA,Features,Hypermiling

Document, Document, Document

25 Jul , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

“That which is documented is measured.
That which is measured is improved.”

There are several attributes as to who originated that quote, whether it was ever actually spoken, or whether it’s a mash-up of multiple quotes. As important as is the origin, the impact it can have is equally so. Basically, it’s this: if you want to improve something, start documenting. However, documentation does not, in and of itself, result in improvement. That’s where the middle step comes in: the documentation must be measured and comparisons must be made. After all, sheets of detailed documentation would be meaningless if they were tucked into a binder and never reviewed.

What Do We Document?

The following is going to be a list of as many possible things as I can imagine. In no way am I saying that you must document it all or even that every item is important to you. It’s up to you, your priorities, and your gumption to decide how far you wish to take the whole thing.

Route Timing (with waypoints)

Sometimes, the speed of the drive is more important than the mileage. Or perhaps you’re interested in finding out exactly how much longer it takes to drive one route compared to another. Consider using a small notebook and a pencil to make note of when you pass certain intersections or other static waypoints.

Create a table on the sheet. Down the left, list all the waypoints. Along the top, list Mon, Tue, Wed, etc. or perhaps Day1, Day2, Day3. Whatever. The waypoints should be far enough to allow a measureable amount of time but close enough that the measurements aren’t a half-hour apart. For example, when I did this, my 50-minute commute had eight waypoints, mostly represented by stoplights, four-way stops, or important turns.

Some unexpected benefits to logging when you pass certain areas include knowing when the train comes, knowing the school bus routes, knowing when businesses let their employees out, etc. Sometimes it’s possible to identify something that had always been taken for granted but can be completely bypassed by adjusting your travel time.

The key to logging the travel is to be accurate to the time displayed on the clock in your car. From day to day, you might leave at approximately the same time but perhaps not exactly the same time. Don’t worry about that. Just record the time exactly as the clock shows it. After the trip, go back and figure out the time it took to travel each segment. Do not attempt to calculate the travel time until after the trip is complete. Driving is hard enough without performing math.

Don’t expect a good average for the segments until you’ve driven the same route for a full week. By that time, you will know very precisely exactly when you will be passing specific points in your drive based on when you started the drive.

Route Congestion versus Travel Time

If you have the liberty, consider driving your regular commute at different times to see how traffic patterns vary. We’re not talking about hours apart, here. But no doubt you’ve noticed that leaving home fifteen minutes later than usual results in completely different traffic characteristics.

Why would you do this? If you are going to be working on achieving good mileage, you might want to be surrounded by fewer cars. For example, it is harder to pulse and glide when you are creeping along in bumper-to-bumper congestion. On the other hand, you will have fewer opportunities to drive at the speed you want when the few cars on the road want to drive all-out as fast as possible.

The key is to find that time when there are enough cars on the road to keep everyone at a reasonable pace but not so many that it’s a parking lot. I’m not going to tell you that such a situation exists in your area, but it might and you might not know about it.

Trip MPG

The good news is that some newer cars display the trip mileage on their own. You simply need to write it down at the end of the drive. If you have an older hybrid, however, you might need to reset the trip odometer to get the mileage for just that trip. If you have a non-hybrid, you might not be able to calculate the trip MPG at all. I say that because – unless you have another way – the only way to manually measure consumption over distance is to start with a full tank and then top off the tank when the drive is over. Since we’re talking about single-trip calculations, the amount of fuel consumed will be miniscule.

Documenting the Trip MPG is nice, but by itself, only presents a part of the story. For example, yesterday your trip MPG was much higher than today. Why? Without other variables, it might be impossible to know. Which is why you might want to also consider documenting. . .

Trip Temperature

Anyone who has driven a hybrid for more than a couple years knows that the ambient temperature really does have an impact on mileage. On the surface, it is easy to see that when the temperature is lower, the mileage is also lower. However, a little digging will reveal that the engine block cools down faster in the cold air and ran more to keep warm; the battery was cold in the morning and wasn’t running as efficient; or perhaps you were cold and ran the heater. Likewise, a hot battery pack is not a happy battery pack and you are more inclined to run the A/C when the temperature is above 90F.

And so it is that with the combination of trip MPG and temperature, the mystery of why today’s mileage is different from yesterday’s might be settled with an examination of the role played by ambient temperature.

Tank MPG

Most hybrids and some newer conventional cars maintain an average MPG that the user can reset; many users reset it when they refill their gas tank. In this way, an average for the entire tank can be recorded. Another way to record the tank average is to divide the number of miles driven (per the odometer) by the amount of gasoline physically pumped into the tank. This can confirm the car’s calculations or prove it wrong. Some hybrid drivers have proven that even if the tank-to-tank calculations don’t match, they tend to even out over time. Which is to say, the car’s calculation and your manual calculation might differ for individual tanks but over multiple tanks, both methods return a very similar calculation.

Average Tank Temperature

This one is a little controversial. I didn’t think it would be, but clearly I was mistaken. When I recorded and posted my tank-to-tank averages, I would refer to weather.com for temperature readings. Here’s what I did: in a spreadsheet, enter all the high and low temperatures for each day during that particular tank; then average all the numbers. This is the value I entered as “average temperature for the tank.” Was I actually driving at the hottest or coldest points of the day, every day? No. What about the days I worked from home and didn’t actually drive; did I include those days in my calculations? Yes. Why? I simply didn’t care enough to be that precise. The end result was, as far as I was concerned, close enough.

How Do We Document?

This one is entirely up to you. File it under “try a lot of things and go with whichever one works best for you.

Personally, I record the tank averages. There is an added convenience to this: with every fill-up the gas station gives me a receipt. On that receipt is the exact amount of gasoline I pumped to which I add the car’s reported average MPG and the odometer’s recorded distance. The amount f gasoline simply adds into the “total amount of gasoline consumed”. The tank distance is primarily used to verify the overall odometer.

A friend keeps a small notepad and pencil in his glove box. He records all the pertinent information there. He never transfers the data and refers to the notepad when he wants to look up past tanks. Since I transfer my numbers into a spreadsheet, the gasoline receipt is temporary.

How Do We Use the Measurements?

Most people keep their documents because they simply want to know their own mileage. It surprises some people have quickly a problem can be detected simply by monitoring the mileage. For example, some people have been able to determine they get better mileage with one gas station versus another. Others have been able to identify a failing 12-volt battery through a drop in mileage. Of course, if a hybrid battery is starting to fail, overall mileage could be a forbearer.

My spreadsheet started simple but became more complicated in time. I started with:

  • Date
  • Tank MPG
  • Tank Miles
  • Refill Gallons
  • Tank Ave. Temp

With these four data points, I was able to create a historical trend graphic showing tanks over time compared to the average temperature for each tank. The “Tank Miles” was only because I wanted to know how many miles I could travel on a full tank of gas.

In time, I started getting curious about other calculations such as a rolling 12-month average and the Lifetime Average MPG. With the Lifetime MPG, I can use the sum of all Refill Gallons (Total Gallons) to compare my car to any other car driven the same total distance. By using their estimated MPG, it’s easy to show how much more they spend in total fuel costs.

Here is a screen capture showing one 12-month span from August 2010 to August 2011. This format shows the raw numbers and automatically generates the chart underneath. With the temperature shaded in the background, it is amazingly easy to see the direct impact temperature has on overall mileage.

Tony Prius Mileage 2010-2011

Conclusion

Whatever your intentions, without proper documentation there cannot be proper measurement and nothing will improve. Think of it this way: if you want to tell someone you get good mileage or that you drive the quickest route, or that traffic is always bunched up this time of day, be prepared for them to say, “prove it.”

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Article,Features,Hypermiling

Pulse and Glide

17 Jul , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

In this post, I will attempt to provide a simplistic overview of a hypermiling technique known as “Pulse and Glide” (P&G). Before we get started, you need to know that the application and technique for P&G is variable based on many factors such as the car, terrain, traffic, current speed limit, etc. For all those reasons, this will be an overview and not overly detailed. My concern is that if I provided any real details: 1) you would try to apply the details where they don’t fit, and 2) someone will argue the minutia of the details.

How Do You Pulse and Glide?

Many times, I compare hypermiling to riding a bicycle. This works because almost everyone knows how to ride a bike, which makes it a universal reference. Also, you most likely remember how tired you can become if you do not ride efficiently. Though neither you nor your car will get tired, you have to focus on the amount of effort being exerted; the goal is to travel farther with less effort.

The Pulse. Just like riding a bike, the intent of the pulse is to get up to speed. When accelerating from a dead stop, use a brisk acceleration: accelerate quickly but not stomp on the gas. Once you have reached a speed that is, perhaps, a little faster than the speed limit or average traffic speed, let up on the accelerator.

The Glide. Think about riding that bike. Once you have reached a decent speed, it requires only a minimal amount of effort to maintain it. In fact, depending on the situation, you might be able to coast for a long distance before needing to pedal again. In exactly the same way, the point of the glide is to “stop pedaling”.

The first and second generation Prius were exceptionally good at gliding because they had a “dead band”. This dead band is a spot in which there would be no power coming from the engine or batteries to drive the wheels and also no regeneration from the wheels to the batteries. A practiced driver could work the accelerator into that dead band and let the car roll.

Unfortunately, this type of “free wheeling” is nearly impossible in almost all modern hybrids. And so it is with modern hybrids that the glide is an attempt to reduce the energy flow to a point as low as possible.

Pulse Again. As you can imagine, after coasting for a while, you will start to slow down. Once you’ve slowed to a speed you are no longer comfortable with, pulse again. Unlike the dead-stop pulse, this time you want to use just enough acceleration to get back up to speed. Just like riding that bike, it’s not a sprint back up to speed but rather just enough.

And then you glide again. Then pulse, then glide, repeat.

Why Does it Work?

The concept is simple: the entire intent of P&G is to glide more than you pulse. The following image provides a sort-of representation starting from a dead stop, accelerating up slightly above the desired speed, gliding, pulsing, and then gliding again. As you can imagine, the farther you can glide the better. The black line in the following image might represent the average traffic flow, the speed limit, or simply the speed you want to average. Your situations will vary.

Pulse and Glide Image

It works because gliding is essentially free. It’s the pulsing that costs you. Therefore, rather than paying to constantly maintain a steady speed, you allow your speed to vary. The trick comes in making sure the pulsing uses less effort than would otherwise be used maintaining a steady speed.

Situational Considerations

  • As with all hypermiling techniques, obey all posted traffic signs and do not impede the flow of traffic for your selfish desires.
  • If you have rolling hills, that is awesome. Pulse up the hill and glide down the other side. They key is being able to gauge the most efficient time to transition from pulse to glide and vice versa.
  • One hypermiler told the funny story of being pulled over because the policemen observed he was “incapable of maintaining a steady speed” and assumed he was drunk. I didn’t say it was funny for him. He said that once he explained what he was doing, the policemen didn’t bother writing a ticket.
  • If you see a stoplight up ahead, consider modifying your pulse and glide timings to either glide into the stop or pulse a little faster to ensure catching the green light.

 

 

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Article,Review

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

4 Jun , 2016  

– Tony Schaefer

Ten years ago, I never thought I could use the phrase “sexy Hyundai” with a straight face. But every time I approached the 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, I admired the styling, curves, and sporty cues provided by this sexy Hyundai. Does the beautiful design provide icing on the cake for a well-executed hybrid system or do the tactile sensations mask underlying problems? I drove the Sonata Hybrid for a week to find out.

2013-Hyundai-Sonata-Hybrid-Exterior-2

Overview

Whether they want to admit it or not, Hyundai has an uphill battle with the American car buying public. When friends and coworkers saw I had the Sonata Hybrid, many told stories of their Hyundai-owning experiences with failing parts, expensive repairs, and a general feeling of untrusting. They each conceded, however, that their stories are fifteen or twenty years old.

The 2012 Sonata Hybrid was available in a single package with multiple upgrade options. 2013 brings two trim levels: Base and Limited. Many of the upgrades from 2012 were simply incorporated into the 2013 Limited though some previous upgrades were made standard. The end result is two trim levels that provide enough options to help perspective Sonata Hybrid owners know which is right for them.

Exterior

Hyundai hasn’t changed much with the exterior of the Sonata from last year. From the side, the roofline is long and sleek extending from the hood to the trunk in a single, uninterrupted line. Rising up from the front tire along the side is the very distinguishable flair that joins the door handles and concludes just above the brake light assembly. Chrome trimming along the bottom of the doors offset the chrome detailing from the headlights to the rear. To aid with aerodynamics, the Sonata incorporates sharper rear corners. All these simple lines accentuate the length and draw the eye from front to back.

Like so many other manufacturers these days, Hyundai has adopted the wide-mouth, gaping grill. I know it’s just me but I’m simply not a fan of the look. Additionally, as a hypermiler, my first thought was how I could block that grill to keep the engine warm in the winter. Kudos, however, on the headlight assembly and fog lights. The projection headlamps are lined and wrapped in an LED accent creating a creative display when viewed from both front and side. By comparison, the fog lights are simplistic but their housing is chrome-lined and extended which create a larger look and feel. The combination of the headlights and fog lights cut a respectable presence in any rearview mirror.

2013-Hyundai-sonata-panaramic-sunroofOne of my favorite parts of the Limited package is the optional panoramic sunroof / moonroof. When closed and viewed from the outside, you can’t even tell the bulk of the roof is glass. When opened, the entire cabin is flooded with natural light and the entire roof is transformed. You can control the blinds for those particularly sunny days.

Using the keyless fob, you can unlock the driver’s door by pressing the button on the handle. The same button locks the doors so I guess you could think of it like a locking toggle. It was easy to unlock the doors this way without the need to get the fob out of my pocket. Of course, the same keyless fob allows you to start the car without inserting anything into the dash or steering column. So many manufacturers are moving towards the keyless fob approach, when I drive a car with a physical key, it just feels so last century.

Interior

The Limited package I drove was fully appointed in black leather. What’s not leather is molded plastic. In some places, the plastic seemed, well, plastic. In other applications, though, it didn’t catch my attention which, when you think about it, is a good thing.

2013-Sonata-Cockpit

Sitting and driving the Sonata Hybrid was extremely comfortable. The seats envelope the occupants with a firm, sporty feel.  It doesn’t hurt when the driver’s seat is electronically controlled in every conceivable direction including lumbar support. My wife was concerned that the dash might be too high for her if she were to drive the car. I raised the seat until I was pressed against the ceiling.

The overall cockpit is well designed. Almost all knobs and dials are reachable without much effort. Their placements all seem to make relative sense. As with all cars, you have to get accustomed to individual location. This is made easier when you realize that there was intentional placement and a logical grouping of buttons. I am not a fan of having a bright dashboard at night so I always look for a rheostat dimmer switch. The Sonata’s dimmer is a rocker switch located to the left of the steering wheel that dims or brightens the dash in prescribed increments, displayed on the dash. This is a nicer implementation, in my opinion, than a simple dial.

The dash combines analog dials with digital displays. The speedometer is analog as is an “ECO Guide” showing the amount of load you are putting on the car at the moment. Digital displays include the gas gauge and engine temp. The [EV Mode] light lets you know when the car is being powered exclusively by the battery and the [Ready] indicator lets you know the car is powered up and ready to go. All are easily seen through the steering wheel.

2013-Sonata-Dash

The ECO Guide, in my opinion, could have been better executed, however. The instructions are “blue is more eco and red is less eco.” This guide should show the point at which EV Mode will be forced to switch over to the engine due to load. Other hybrids, such as the Fusion Hybrid and the Gen3 Prius, have this feature and it allows the driver to push the pedal harder or lighter to either engage engine power or stay in EV mode.

Between the two large analog dials is the Trip Computer. I’ll try to keep it brief but I have a lot to say about the Trip Computer.

The amount of data you can glean from the Trip Computer is really quite substantial. There are nine different pieces of data you can view. Unfortunately, they are all on separate screens and you can only toggle through the screens in one direction. If you want to check the power split between the battery and the engine, you have to switch over to that screen. If you want to go back to instantaneous MPG, you have to flip all the way through all the other screens. You really just wanted to see two screens but had to flip through a total of nine. Some of them seem to have a lot of blank space while others had one piece of data (trip A, for example) accompanied by a large picture. It seems some could be combined with ease.

What is nice is that, according to the manual, the Trip Computer will display CAN-bus information. This is the type of information that illuminates a “check engine light” in other cars. The Trip Computer will display “Low Tire”, “Low Water”, Hybrid System Malfunction”, Hybrid Battery Issues”, and “Inverter Coolant Low”. I should also mention that this is where the “Door Open” and “Keys not in the vehicle” indicators appear. Additionally, if you press the (Start) button without your foot on the brake, the Trip Computer says, “Press Brake to Start Car”. So yeah, the Trip Computer really does convey a lot of information to the driver.

With all this information being displayed on the little screen, what’s left for the 7” LCD display? Primarily, Navigation and some screens about energy usage and efficiency.

The navigation seemed easy to use and the configuration screens made sense. There’s a list of previous destinations, which is nice if you find yourself going back to the same place multiple times but for some reason can’t remember where it is. One feature with the navigation I liked is that when you need to make a turn, it not only tells you to turn but also tells you the distance to and direction of your next turn. This might not seem like much to most people, but in large cities, it is common to have short distances between turns. Too many times I find myself trapped three lanes away from my turn. With this hint, you know whether an immediate lane change will be required even before you make the first turn.

Apparently, as you drive, you have the ability to earn “ECO Points” and “ECO Rewards”. I have been trying to figure out what I do with these. Can I cash them in like Skee-Ball tickets to get an oversized plastic comb? Am I supposed to post my ECO points online and compete with other HSH drivers? I drove around town, clocked a couple hundred miles, averaged 39.6mpg and earned 11 ECO Points. The weird part is that the first time I found this screen, I had 11 ECO points. Several days of climbing MPG later, I still had 11 ECO Points. What am I supposed to do to earn ECO Points? I don’t know what they are but I know I want them.

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

There are three screens in the Hybrid Technology Display: Earth, Car, and Energy Flow. The Energy Flow is a really nice representation of the energy transition from ICE to Battery and Wheels. This is the typical hybrid screen we all know and love. Then there is the Earth screen in which there is a globe that spins and you can see energy flowing from the Engine, to the globe and then to the electric motor. A series of bars give you an ECO Level of some kind. The Car screen shows a side-view of the Sonata Hybrid rolling along a road. Leafs blow past and trees grow in the background as you drive more efficiently. A series of bars give you an ECO Level. The Energy Flow screen I get; I love watching this screen to see how I’m using the ICE and battery. The other two just aren’t for me. I clearly don’t understand them and I found them to be little more than screen savers.

2013-Sonata-MyEcoScore 250One of the available screens is called the “My Eco MPG” screen. It is a rolling bar chart showing your entire drive in 2.5-mile increments. A blue horizontal line represents the EPA mpg rating so you can see how each 2.5-minute segment compares. This type of display is good and bad at the same time. The bad part is that they only show you the past after there’s nothing you can do about it. In order for it to be good and useful, you must actually use the information. If you really want to improve your mileage, you would watch the “My Eco MPG” screen making notes of the segments where you see the lowest mpg. The next day – since you most likely drive the same route to work every day – try something different to see if you can improve the mileage of that segment. Sadly, most drivers wouldn’t take the time or make such an effort. Those of us who enjoy that type of constant monitoring in order to turn our boring commutes into a video game, however, love it.

2013-Sonata-AC-Controls-250Under the 7” screen is the Air conditioning cluster. At first, I was put off by the airflow indicator, which is a representation of an occupant showing air blowing at face-level, chest-level, and/or in the foot well. It just struck me as too large in comparison to the other buttons until I realized each part of the ‘body’ was a button in itself allowing the selection of airflow. With this display, there is no mistaking where the air is blowing.

Since it was particularly cold when I was driving this car, I became pretty familiar with the air conditioner. Specifically, the heater. I kept the heater on “Auto”, set to 65° and was pleasantly surprised with how quickly the cabin came up to temperature. The automatic A/C adjusted the airflow, temperature, and direction as needed. Of course, running the heater makes the engine run more, which in turn reduces overall mileage. But seriously, when it’s 21° outside get over it. Besides, once the cabin was up to temperature, the engine was free to shut off again.

Speaking of air conditioning, I drove the Sonata Hybrid in an unseasonably cold November. With the outside temps in the 30s, the cabin heated quickly and the auto A/C maintained comfortable conditions.  Of course, some of the credit goes to the heated leather seats. Oh how I love heated seats.

Under the A/C controls is a clever little hidden cubby. Always a fan of using every square inch of space, I really liked this little nook. It’s just large enough for a pair of sun glasses or perhaps to throw in a wallet or phone if you don’t want someone to see it. The push-button opener looks like an accent detail and the door closes so flush a passerby wouldn’t even notice it.

2013-Sonata-Manual-GloveboxThe glove box is nothing worth mentioning other than that it is so small – and the owner’s manual so massive – that the glove box is actually just a holder for the manual. Seriously, the encyclopedia is comprised of the manual for the car, the manual for the navigation, tire information, and various pamphlets with warnings and advisories. The nice part is that it’s all contained in a holder pouch. The pouch also has a small pad of paper for taking notes and a ball-point pen.  Seriously: it comes with a ballpoint pen.

Driving Impressions

The first thing you notice when you start the car is that it plays a little tune and the dash animates. It plays the same tune when you shut the car off. This was very refreshing and sort of put me in a good mood from the start. The first time. And perhaps the second. By the end of the week, the song was getting a little old.

Let me say this: for not being a CVT, the gear shifting is remarkably smooth. This is from a Prius driver who has cringes anymore when I feel gears shifting. I was pleasantly impressed and actually had to look it up online to verify that the Sonata Hybrid actually has gears. Additionally, there wasn’t a lot of engine noise when the car switched from EV to engine. Of course, you hear the engine during high-rev and high-load situations. Overall, I felt that the car is very well insulated from outside noise. Very little road noise or wind noise at interstate speeds.

There is an aggressive use of the EV at low speeds. When I say “aggressive use” in reference to EV Mode, I’m referring to the car’s desire to use the battery and keep the engine off. I shuttled the car from one parking lot, onto a street, and into another parking lot, traveling a couple hundred yards and was in EV the entire time. The aggressive EV Mode shines when moving through low-speeds situation: parking lots, school zones, etc.

One of – if not the – most energy demanding situation for a vehicle is starting from a dead stop such as coming from a red light. With an aggressive EV mode, the Sonata Hybrid removes the high-throttle situation and allows the car to draw on the battery and electric motor. This seems like a good trade-off because you will have ample opportunity to replace the charge while driving.

However, this good idea still needs some refinement. There is a weird transition from dead-stop EV acceleration to engaging the engine. Work with me on this one: I’ve been thinking about this for several days and this is the only way I can think to explain what I was feeling. If you’ve ever driven a car with sluggish gear transitions, you know that there’s a brief moment between gears in which the car seems to stop accelerating. It’s not decelerating, mind you, just ever-so-briefly not accelerating. This is what I occasionally experienced with the transition from EV to engine when accelerating from a dead stop.

The acceleration through EV was acceptable. It was when EV mode disengaged and the engine took over that there was a moment of hesitation as though the engine was engaging just one second too late. It’s like the EV was handing over control to the engine but the engine wasn’t ready to take over. This was not an “every time” experience. I cannot explain whether it was my foot pressure or if it had to do with the temperature of the engine or its ability to lock into a gear on demand. But when it did happen, there was a sensation of “I’m not accelerating anymore.”

Am I making too much of this? At first I thought I was until I started reading other reviews and saw similar references. There are a few times in my regular commute where I turn left from a dead-stop waiting for a gap in the oncoming cars. When I initiate the turn and the acceleration pauses, my eyes immediately looked out the right window to see the approaching cars.

Hyundai has implemented a power strategy they call Blue Drive. Blue Drive uses a software algorithm to moderate the engine output and acceleration power curve in order to make the overall driving experience as fuel efficient as possible. By default, Blue Drive is engaged when you start the car. For high-acceleration or heavy load situations, there is a button on the steering wheel to disengage Blue Drive. When blue drive is active, the background of the trip computer is blue. When Blue Drive is inactive, the background trip computer is black.

Taking it one step further, the Sonata Hybrid has Sports Mode in which you can manually shift gears. Getting into Sports Mode is easy enough by sliding the shifter to the left into the manual shifting slots. In the same way that disengaging Blue Drive turns the dash black, sliding into Sports Mode turns the dash red. I played around with Sports Mode for a little while but quickly grew tired of having to think about shifting. I’m perfectly content not having to worry about shifting gears, thank you.

I really wanted to know how the Sonata Hybrid would perform in colder temperatures and what kinds of mileage numbers the average driver should expect. The temperatures ranged from 21° on the first day and 50° on the second-to-last day. To that end, my driving was not my regular hypermiling cautiousness. The heater was on almost the entire time and though I certainly incorporated smart driving techniques I was by no means really trying to “work” the car.

The EPA places the mileage for the Sonata Hybrid at 36c/40h with a combined 38. I was driving the Limited trim, which takes a 1-mpg hit with a combined 37mpg. Resetting the mileage statistics seemed like a chore and I was more interested in getting inside a warm building. As a result, I was keeping track of my overall, one-week rolling total. Kicking it off, at 21° I saw 36.5mpg; not bad for the very first day driving the car considering I didn’t yet know its ins and outs. Six days later, at 50°, the rolling total had moved up to 39.9mpg.

I returned it in the morning of the seventh day. I reset the mileage stats because I wanted to see how well I had come to know the car. At 36°, travelling 24 city and residential miles, I averaged 43.8mpg. This is 21% higher than the EPA city rating of 36mpg. This number was achieved purely by timing stoplights, not being aggressive, using the Blue Drive setting, and braking wisely. All basic stuff. No advanced or ‘crazy’ hypermiling techniques were involved. I was happily surprised.

Familability

The Sonata is a sedan capable of seating four adults comfortably. The front seats are very comfortable. The passenger seat can recline all the way back for napping on long trips. Additionally, I was surprised how far back the seats will slide providing a huge amount of legroom.

All the legroom comes at the expense of the backseat passenger. Though there is enough room in the back seat for a passenger to sit comfortably, they shouldn’t expect to do much with the front seats slid back. I’ve spent my share of time on airplanes and felt the front seat of the Sonata was more encroaching than the average airplane seat.

There are a total of 4 cup holders and 4 bottle holders. 2 each are located front and back. The difference between a cup holder and bottle holder is that the bottle holders are located at the bottom of each door and would most likely spill a cup. The two front cup holders are located in the center console. The rear two are contained in the pull-down arm rest.

2013-Sonata-Audio-JacksIn the center dashboard console are two cigarette-lighter style power outlets. In the 21st century, I would expect at least one actual 110v two-prong outlet. There is also a USB plug and an auxiliary audio plug. The USB is designed for phone integration. Unfortunately, my iPhone did not work with the Sonata Hybrid. This is not 2013-Sonata-MediaConnectionError 250-147
Hyundai’s fault. A quick search of the Internet revealed that Apple changed their phone integration something-or-another. Many users of iOS7 are reporting the same problems with multiple makes and models of vehicles. Many users had successful integration prior to upgrading their iPhone. My hope is that either Apple or Hyundai will be able to fix the problem with a simple software update.

The left and right side of the rear seats heat separately. Each side also has their own reading light, which does a nice job of providing light to the occupant without infringing on other passengers. Sitting in the back, there seems to be ample headroom for an adult but I question the comfort of anyone much taller than six foot or so. Built-in child seat braces are strategically located and easily accessible.

Many hybrid sedans are forced to trade trunk space for battery size. The Sonata Hybrid sports a decent sized truck. The floor size is 45 inches wide, 25 inches deep and 21 inches high. I was able to fit nine paper shopping bags with no problems. There was room on top for those high items. The rear lip of the trunk is low enough that not only is it easy to get the bags into the trunk, getting them out is just as easy without having to worry about throwing out your back.

2013-Sonata-Trunk-Bags

One of the more curious items is the trunk pass-through. Though the opening is larger, the battery creates an obstruction throttling it down to 7 inches wide 2013-Sonata-Trunk-PassThroughand six inches tall. This is not much. Additionally, the opening is half-way up the side of the trunk. Short things could be rested on the shelf created by the battery but if the item were that small you wouldn’t need to pass it through. This means any item long and thin enough to pass through will be dangling in the middle of the trunk. There reaches a point where having the pass-through is just more hassle than it’s worth. Unless, of course, the parts are the same for the non-hybrid version and there’s an efficiency of scale.

Overall Conclusion

I honestly enjoyed driving the Sonata Hybrid. Of course, I had the Limited trim package so we should take that into consideration. I like the styling of the exterior and feel that it reflects Hyundai’s desire to have the Sonata taken seriously as an introductory luxury sedan. I had no problem parking the Sonata Hybrid in front of my house or driving it around town.

Once inside, the cabin welcomes you in as it closes out the exterior noises. The cockpit seems very well thought-out and almost everything on the center console is easy to reach while driving without extending or getting distracted. The optional panoramic roof becomes less optional once you experience it in person. I was pleased with the speed at which the cabin heats cold weather. The leather seats are comfortable and heating them helps cut through the chill.

I understand why Hyundai keeps the car in EV mode during dead-stop acceleration but feel the transition from battery to engine could be much smoother. Beyond that nuance, the overall driving experience was pleasurable and seemed very refined. Average driving seemed capable of meeting or exceeding the EPA ratings for MPG. Even introductory hypermiling techniques – simple smart driving – allows for easy hypermiling status. There are more than enough digital screens to help the driver maximize mileage. Perhaps too many.

My cold-weather mileage experience pleasantly surprised me. My mileage met the EPA estimate on my coldest day and substantially passed it as the weather turned warmer. I’m looking forward to driving this car again in the summer to test its capabilities in better conditions.

The Sonata Hybrid is a capable family car with plenty of room for a family of four. The seats are ample for the kids to have their own space. The trunk is nicely sized and should prove sufficient for carrying the family’s things or a shopping trip.

In the end, I truly enjoyed my time with the Sonata Hybrid. Hyundai might have some old-standing opinions to change but with more vehicles like this one, I think they just might win them over.

 

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Article,EPA,Hypermiling

Know Your Route

28 May , 2016  

-Tony Schaefer

So many times, when it comes to achieving higher mileage, people focus on their car and how they drive. Most times, they just assume the commute is an unavoidable variable. A predefined route that some days has good traffic while other days has bad traffic. This article will explain why the route you take and how you drive it plays as much a role as all other variables. When it comes to improving, never consider anything to be predetermined. The goal is to scrutinize everything.

Find a Mileage Friendly Route

If you happen to live in a large city, there’s a very good chance there are multiple options when it comes to the daily commute. Personally, I have three choices that I will call “Fastest”, “Easiest”, and “Hypermiling”.

“Fastest”: I have the opportunity to hop on an interstate for about ¾ of my commute. Doing so would save about ten minutes and is an attractive option when time matters. The downside is that the interstate maintains a relatively constant 70 – 80 MPH except when it comes to a screeching halt for no particular reason before slamming back up to 70 MPH. In other words, exactly the opposite of hypermiling.

“Easiest”: There is a state highway that runs is literally a straight shot from town to town. Albeit, one with multiple stoplights. Like the interstate, traffic is either racing along (though closer to 50 MPH), stopping for the red light, or accelerating Grand Prix style at the green light. It’s a multi-lane stop-and-go early-morning ball of stress. In no way do I look forward to starting or ending my day on this drive.

“Hypermiling”: This drive is 5 miles and 9 minutes (on average) longer than the “Easiest” route. This drive has longer stretches without stoplights and some stoplights are timed. It passes two schools and one nature preserve. The highest speed limit sign is 45 MPH. It is on this route that I see joggers, walkers, and the occasional wildlife. On nice days, I drive this route with my windows down enjoying the sights and sounds. All the while, the speed is conducive to attentive hypermiling and plays into the capabilities of my car.

By selecting a different route, I can not only achieve better mileage, I can choose how my day starts and ends. If you find that you arrive at work already stressed and you return home mentally ragged, do yourself a favor and seek out a more casual and hypermile-friendly route.

Memorize Your Route

Here is an analogy parents can appreciate. Let’s say your son goes to the first day of school and is presented with a difficult, lengthy exam. How would you expect him to score on that exam? Probably not very good. On the second day, he is presented with the exact same exam. Should he do better than the day before? Perhaps. Let’s pretend your son is presented with the exact same exam every day for the entire 180-day school year. You would expect him to be acing that exam with absolutely no effort, wouldn’t you?

Now what about people working an average 250 days per year? Most of them drive the exact same route every day, to AND from work. Even after all this repetition, it has been my experience that people drive their daily commutes as though it’s their very first time. Every time.

You are a human (I hope). You are preprogrammed to identify and memorize patterns. It’s what we do.

  • Does your commute have a string of fast food joints all next to each other? If so, every evening there’s a strong chance a hungry driver will stop and turn without signaling. Expect it.
  • Do you cross railroad tracks? Make a mental note of when the commuter train comes through. Don’t forget to consider school busses stopping at the tracks during the school year.
  • Timed stoplights? If you didn’t make it from one light to another yesterday, or last week, or last year then you’re not going to make it today. Stop accelerating full-bore as though you have a chance. On the other side of that coin, memorize the speed at which the light will change from red to green as you approach.
  • I have a round-about. I know exactly at what speed I can make that round-about without braking (on a clear day and dry pavement). Coupling this with how far back I let up on the accelerator allows me to coast to the round-about, pray for no cars, and roll through without once touching my brakes.

If you drive a hybrid, consider basing battery usage on drive segments. Pick up some charge during the fast segments in order to run farther on battery during the slow segments. Or vice versa: consider going deep into the battery pack if you know an upcoming faster segment will allow you to recharge. Recharging will impact the instantaneous mileage. Ignore that; it’s the average that matters.

It’s all about driving the same route every day, figuring out what works best, and repeating it.

Summary

If you have the opportunity, drive a route that returns the highest mileage. If it turns out to also be least stressful, then it’s a double-win. The only way to know which route is the most fuel-efficient is to document each pass in order to develop an average and recognize patterns. Once the best route is identified, memorize how to handle each segment with the intent of getting better with each day.

 

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Article,EPA,Hypermiling

Follow Large Vehicles (at a safe distance)

9 May , 2016  

-Tony Schaefer

First of all, I want to make it clear that this is not an article about drafting. To prove that point, let me explain what drafting is and why it’s dangerous, illegal in some places, and a really, truly, and seriously bad idea.

In auto racing, drafting is also referred to as “slipstreaming” because the goal is to ride in the slipstream of the car in front. In order to do this, the trailing car must be close enough to the leading car to stop the air from collapsing around its back. By doing this, the airflow moves around both cars as though they were one single vehicle. Since much of the effort of propelling any object goes into wind resistance, the trailing car is able to travel much more efficiently. This is shown in the following image, stolen from efluids.com.

Drafting

Drafting is most beneficial at high speeds where wind resistance is great. This is why racecars draft and some people draft behind semi trailers on interstates. Drafting is rude because the trailing car is much too close to the leading car. It is also extremely dangerous because driving can be unpredictable and drafting leaves virtually no room for sudden movements or braking. To reiterate: don’t do it.

So What’s the Difference

Driving behind a large vehicle at a safe distance is similar to drafting only in that the vehicle in front takes the brunt of the air resistance. Unlike drafting, the trailing vehicle is following at a safe distance. The benefit to the trailing vehicle is that the lead vehicle has disturbed the air in such a way that it does not represent as much resistance to the trailing vehicle.

Notice in the illustration above that the air flow lines are drawn parallel to each other in what’s called “Laminar Flow”. Air is illustrated as strata – or sheets – of air that don’t interact with each other. This does a great job of showing that air is moving around the car, but this is not how air really flows. The goal of most automobile manufacturers is to perturb the air as little possible in order to make their car more efficient.

However, there are many not-so-efficient vehicles on the road such as delivery vehicles, semi tractor-trailers, etc. These vehicles have large flat backs and leave huge eddies of air as they travel. Anyone who has ever been standing on the side of the road when a semi tractor-trailer rolled by understand just how strong their wind currents can be. Depending on the aerodynamics of the truck and their speed, their wake can extend hundreds of feet. This is illustrated in the following image.

Semi Aerodynamics

This image is probably the best to illustrate the difference between following at a safe distance and versus drafting. Someone drafting would want to be in front of the red, disturbed air, between the truck and the first marker line. Notice how the dark blue actually curls up and towards the back of the truck? This will literally pull the trailing vehicle towards the truck’s bumper. Following at a safe distance has the trailing car behind the disturbed air, in the light blue area, almost two truck-lengths away. Even at that distance, there is benefit thanks to the disrupted air.

The Other Reason to Follow Other Vehicles

Deserved or not, hybrid drivers have a stereotype of being slow drivers. Sadly, I have seen some cases in which this reputation is strongly earned. Having said that, there are times when I am on a multilane road and I just don’t feel like driving like a bat out of Hell, acting as though commuting is a competitive sport with a trophy handed out if you get to work faster. Perhaps I only want to drive a few MPH above the speed limit and have no concern with keeping up with the general flow of traffic.

Sometimes, I come upon a delivery vehicle or lawn care truck that is driving close to the speed I prefer. In this situation, I will maintain a safe following distance and stay there. There is a very good chance – like many of my phobias – that it’s all in my head, but I like to think that rather than me being the slow car now it looks as though I’m the poor car stuck behind the slow vehicle. But I don’t care because in the end I get to drive at my desired speed. This might sound like a stretch, but I was a little relieved to see a post on an online forum in which someone asked if they were the only ones to apply this technique. Multiple people admitting to it.

At a slower speed, any benefit from perturbed air is minimal if there is any at all. The primary point in following a large slow vehicle is the benefit of not feeling as though you are being pressured to driver faster than you would prefer.

Summary

Drafting is a really stupid idea and extremely dangerous. Following large vehicles at a safe distance can reap aerodynamic benefits without risking your life. Sometimes following slower vehicles gives you the opportunity to get out of the roadway racetrack and drive at a more comfortable speed.

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Article,EPA,Features,Hypermiling,Review

2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

16 Apr , 2016  

-Tony Schaefer

Special Note: The Avalon Hybrid I drove was on loan from Wayne Mitchell, a dear friend and great guy. This review would not be possible if not for his generosity. Thanks, Wayne!

The Avalon is an established car. Like all established cars, it has its own set of stereotypes and demographics. It’s Toyota’s largest, most nicely appointed, and highest priced car. These are the very things that cause most people to assume the target demographic is aged somewhere between 65 and dead. Toyota is aware of this stigma and reimagined the current generation of Avalon in order to attract younger buyers. Someone in their 50s, perhaps.

Another interesting facet of the Avalon story is that it’s the car people buy when they don’t want to buy a Lexus. For multiple reasons, some people would rather have the Toyota nameplate than Lexus: perhaps they don’t want others to think they are trying to put on airs, perhaps they are concerned a Lexus would be a target for vandals, or maybe they just don’t like the overall feel of Lexus cars. Add to those personal factors the very tangible fact that the Avalon costs less than its ES Hybrid brother.

 

Exterior

First of all, I am not a large vehicle driver. When I first sat in the driver’s seat, I felt like a kid trying to wear his father’s shoes. The Avalon is a 195.3 inches long. That’s more than 16 feet! The free-throw line on a basketball court is 15 feet. Yes, I admit it: my own inexperience with large vehicles is what caused me so much uncertainty with the length of the Avalon. Let me say this, though: after a few days, I got accustomed to it and the overall size of the car never crossed my mind again.

The side view of the Avalon is a study in elegant lines. Nothing too fancy or elaborate. Mostly straight lines extending from the front of the car to the rear. The slope of the roof backwards from its highest point is subtle and continuous creating a stubby truck door but also creating a huge rear window. Both of these provide excellent rear visibility.

The front fascia is where Toyota added some excitement. Toyota has updated the grill with their now-standard large grill and vertical fog lights. The Toyota emblem is high in front, on a horizontal accent between the LED projection headlamps.   This does two things: simplifies the front for a cleaner appearance and provides a more aggressive – dare I say manly – presence in a rearview mirror. Certainly, it might not be for everyone but it does show that Toyota wants younger buyers.

Avalon uses Smart Key technology allowing the driver to keep the keys in their pocket or purse and interact with the car. One feature that is much appreciated is that the interior lights come on when the fob approaches. The nicest touch is that the lights do not blink on instantly but rather ramp up over the course of a couple seconds as the fob approaches and slowly dim when the fob moves away. It’s a subtle difference that makes a world of difference.

Smart Key also allows the driver to unlock the doors by grasping the handle and lock the car by swiping the door handle from the outside. After using smart key to unlock the doors, owners will find it confusing when other cars don’t work the same way.

I previously mentioned that the Avalon Hybrid was the brother of the Lexus ES300 Hybrid. Here is a breakdown of the numbers, just in case you aren’t convinced.

(all in inches)           Avalon             ES300

Wheelbase:             110.0                   110.0

Length:                     195.3                   193.3

Width:                       72.2                     71.1

Height:                      57.5                     57.1

The inch or two differences can easily be explained away with sheet metal bending, grill styling, etc.

Toyota badges their hybrids high behind the front wheel. Lexus badges their hybrids low in front of the rear tire. The Avalon Hybrid, which is part Toyota and part Lexus, wears its hybrid badge low behind the front tire. It’s closest to the front tire like other Toyotas but low like Lexus. There is no way that is a coincidence.

Interior

Avalon Seat Programming

Avalon Seat Programming

Many car enthusiasts will talk endlessly about how much they love their cars; the Avalon Hybrid is a car that takes the relationship to the next level and will love you back. The big comfy seats are a sheer joy to sit in. With six different seat control settings, if you can’t find a comfortable arrangement it’s not the car’s fault. Once that perfect seat position is identified, you can program it into the seat memory system. Not only will pressing the memory button return the seat to the preferred settings, the memory system can be linked to each of the two fobs so a couple can share the car in comfort.

When climbing into the Avalon, the driver seat is back and low. This provides relatively unhindered access for the driver. When the car is started or the seat belt clicked, the seat adjusts automatically (either the last memory button pressed or the fob used). On the one hand, the way the seat assumes your perfect contour in a controlled glide is like being hugged. On the other hand, it is triggered by clicking the seatbelt, which means the belt tightens as you slide forward. Though the belt is allowed to extend with you, there were a few times when I felt it was necessary to readjust the belt after the seat stopped moving. It’s pretty trivial and after a while, I adjusted my routine to power on the car, let the seat adjust, and then fasten the seatbelt. No biggie.

It should come as no surprise that the Avalon has dual front climate zones. With a touch of a button, you can sync the passenger to whatever the driver has set. Or the passenger has temperature controls to create their own climate zone. Additionally, the rear seats have an adjustable climate zone. The controls and vents are located in the back of the front armrest along with on/off controls for the heated rear seats. Seeing all this rear climate control reminded of the numerous times my mom would ask, “are you getting air back there?”

Avalon Rear Heating

Avalon Rear Heating

About the overall climate control, in my opinion, the best thing the driver can do is set it to AUTO and leave it alone. The Avalon never seemed to struggle when it came to maintaining temperature. This led me to believe that it was efficiently using the air conditioning system and being stingy with energy. Even when it was cold outside, the cabin warmed quickly.

Avalon Seat Warmers

Seat Temp Controls

Adding to the cold day comfort are front heated seats. The driver and passenger have rheostat knobs with three stops to the right for heating and three to the left for cooling. If someone buys the Avalon hybrid over the conventional hybrid because they are concerned about fuel consumption, the heated seats certainly help in that area. By directly heating the body, there is less need to waste energy heating the cabin.

The hybrid Avalon borrows parts from the conventional version, including the driver’s central dashboard setup of a digital information display planked by two analog dials.

Avalon Dash

Avalon Dash

The most notable difference is that the tachometer of the conventional Avalon is replaced with a Power Meter dynamically indicating the flow of energy. The dial starts at what would be the 9:00 position on a clock. As the dial moves clockwise, the driver can gauge how hard to press the accelerator to remain in battery-only mode before the gasoline engine engages. If the driver exceeds the 12:00 position, the car is officially in “Power” mode. It’s when the dial is pointing between 8:00 and 9:00 that the driver knows energy from the tires or brakes is being recaptured and used to regenerate the hybrid battery.

The message center, in the center of the dash, is a beautiful full-color display of system information and driver messages. Though the screen is relatively smallish, the graphics are well designed and rendered very nicely. Seriously. Above the message center is one of my hybrid annoyances: The [READY] light. That light is there to let the driver know that even if the engine is not running, the car is ready to be driven. I get that. However, once the driver has shifted into gear and started moving, why doesn’t the light go off? When on the interstate, I was continuously reminded – at 70 MPH – that they car was ready to drive. Really?

Pop quiz: how many times have you looked all around the inside of a car trying to find the button that opens the trunk? Some manufacturers seem to enjoy a certain level of thrill in hiding the trunk button. The Avalon takes a completely different approach; the trunk button is clearly marked and easily within reach to the left of the steering wheel. That is a simple example of the little things Avalon gets right; there are no hidden buttons. Everything is easy to find.

The steering wheel uses a simple design but packs a whole lot of functionality. Typical for Toyota vehicles, audio volume is controlled with the left thumb. Additionally, the left thumb controls the message center. The message center has multiple screens to flip through; a few provide the opportunity for interaction. With a 4-directional outer rocker and a central push-button, the Avalon allows the driver to quickly find the desired screen and perform any desired configuration. Once the driver gets the hang of the screens and buttons, it’s very intuitive.

Avalon Steering Wheel

Avalon Steering Wheel

On the right side of the steering wheel are the phone controls: pick up an incoming call or hang up the current call. Additionally, the driver can invoke voice-activated commands with the press of the button. On the bottom of the right side is the button to enable/disable the dynamic radar cruise control, which will be covered later.

The infotainment center features a 6.1-inch multi-functional display. This screen is used to view navigation, control music, make phone calls, and display how the car is managing energy. If equipped, this screen also provides real-time weather and traffic.

Toyota continues to promote its Entune suite of applications, including Bing Internet search, iHeartRAdio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, and Pandora. When enabled and connected to the Internet, the map screen provides real-time traffic information. Though the Avalon Hybrid doesn’t need fuel as often as the conventional version, when the time comes, it is surprisingly easy to look up nearby gas prices and station locations. When the best one is located, a single touch will provide navigation information straight to it.

It has to be said: the volume and tuning knobs are HUGE! The only possible explanation is that after laying out all the buttons, there was a lot of extra space so they beefed up the knobs just to fill the space. They are ridiculously oversized considering they each do only one thing: change volume and change tuning. The tuning knob is not only very large, it is on the passenger side of the screen. At first, you might think this is no big deal; but it is an established –albeit undocumented – rule of the road that the passenger is not allowed to mess with the radio. Placing a tuning knob of gargantuan proportions closest to the passenger is just begging for a fight. #CarFoul

Avalon Infotainment Center

Avalon Infotainment Center

For my money, one of the best technologies introduced applied to a car’s central console is the capacitance button. I simply love the clean, smooth look of buttons that both are and aren’t there. Avalon‘s use of capacitance buttons creates a clean and smooth central console. The matching widths of the multi-function screen, CD slot, the climate screen, and the buttons below create a level of geometric symmetry that is so precise yet subtle that most people probably won’t even notice it.

One of the hot tech additions to cars these days is the Qi charger, which will wirelessly charge Qi-compatible smartphones. By the way, it’s pronounced like “Chee”. In the Avalon, the Qi charger has a secret: it slides up to reveal a secret compartment. It’s not huge, mind you, but it’s got a USB port, cigarette charger, and the power button to the Qi charger. It’s large enough to hide a wallet and a few other little things that might be best left out of sight. Notice, in the following image, that there’s a slot in the bottom of the shelf; this way, even if your phone requires a cable to charge, you can feed it through and keep the cable mess tucked away. I love efficient uses of space and this little gem made me giddy.

Avalon Qi Charging and Cubby

Avalon Qi Charging and Cubby

Drivability

The Avalon Hybrid gets is power form a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine capable of producing 156 horsepower. It is coupled with a 105 kW electric motor. Combined, these two components can get the Avalon from 0 to 60 in about 8 seconds. Not too shabby for a car of such heft and comfort as the Avalon. The way Toyota has tuned the acceleration makes for the smoothest 0 – 60 acceleration I’ve ever experienced.

It did not take long to figure out why the Avalon has blind spot monitoring. It’s because I literally could not see anything behind me to the right. Until I made the seat almost as tall as possible, I literally could not see anything. At 5-foot 9 inches, I felt tiny. When considering the entirety of driving the Avalon, that was the only negative I encountered. But when considering road safety, it’s a big one. The blind spot monitor became my best friend.

Avalon Power Modes

Avalon Power Modes

The Avalon Hybrid has three different driving modes. These modes are used to adjust the ratio between pedal pressure and motor response. In Normal mode, there is a 1-to-1 ratio in that the car responds in concert with the amount of pressure applied to the pedal. When Eco mode is engaged, the dash takes a green hue and the amount of response to pedal pressure is reduced. In Power mode, the display is red and the response is increased. When in Power mode, the amount of “gitty up” is startling. For a large vehicle, it really has some spring in its step.

In addition to these three modes, there is also EV mode, which forces the gas-powered engine to stay off and power the car exclusively from the hybrid battery. This mode is intended only for short distances such as shuffling cars in a driveway and should not be used as an attempt to improve overall fuel efficiency.

Allow me to rant a little bit. If the driver moves the shifter all the way to the bottom, the car is in drive. Move the shifter to the left and now the driver has gear control and can shift up or down manually. To be clear, the Avalon Hybrid uses an electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (eCVT). It uses software programming to continuously and instantly find the most efficient gear ratio for the situation. With a flip of the wrist, the driver can override that. Rather than write several paragraphs about how silly it is to electronically introduce fake gear settings to a CVT so the driver can play make-believe sports car driver, I’m just going to make it clear that I’m not a fan.

I had to drive the car from Chicagoland to the North side of Milwaukee. It’s entirely interstate and this is where the Avalon really shines as a large, comfortable, cruising vehicle. As though the seats weren’t comfortable enough, as though the highway mileage was high enough, the icing on the cake was dynamic radar cruise control (DRCC). If you are unfamiliar, here’s a quick explanation: You know that 2-second gap you are supposed to leave between you and the car in front? At the press of a button, Avalon will use radar to dynamically maintain that gap for you.

There are a few things to keep in mind, though. For one, there are really two things going on here. You set the speed you want to travel, say 70MPH. And you also set the distance from the car in front. Avalon will adjust to whichever is the slower of the two. This means if the car in font slows down then you slow down also but if the car speeds up to 75MPH you will not follow because Avalon will top out at 70MPH, where you set it. This way, you can set the upper speed limit you are comfortable with and know Avalon will never exceed it.

One interesting twist is that if the car in front slows more than desired, just changed lanes. As soon as the Avalon realizes there is no longer a car in front, it will accelerate to the set speed. You will pass the slow car and continue on until catching another car and the DRCC kicks in, maintaining a safe distance.

Familability

The Avalon is a top-notch family car. After so many iterations of the car, Toyota has nailed it down. The front seats are as comfortable as you will find in a sedan and the rear seats are equally as nice. Though you technically could seat three in the back, it would seem as though that’s not really the intent. Two very comfortable people can enjoy the back seat with an armrest between them.

There is ample headroom all around, even in the rear, which is typically where cars fall short. To further increase the comfort of the back passengers, the Avalon has a rear window sunshade. With the press of a button, the driver can raise the sunshade. Showing that Toyota has thought of everything, when the car is shift into reverse, the sunshade automatically drops for rear visibility and raises up again when the cars shifts out of reverse.

The trunk is an ample 14 cubic feet. This is a sizable trunk considering most manufacturers sacrifice trunk space for the hybrid battery. For example, the Honda Accord Hybrid’s trunk is 12.7 cubic feet and the Ford Fusion Hybrid is 12.0 cubic feet. That 14 cubic feet is large and spacious compared to the Fusion Hybrid trunk, which has odd shaped walls as they bends around the battery.

Hybridability

Avalon Trip Summary

Avalon Trip Summary

It should be assumed that the purchaser of an Avalon Hybrid is interested in mileage. To facilitate this, when the car is turned off, the Message Center in front of the driver displays fuel economy information about the trip. In doing this, it allows the driver to compare today’s commute to yesterday’s, for example. The only downside with this display is that it seems to come and go much too quickly. The driver must be actively looking for it, and even then, a blink will miss it.

Once the engine was warmed (which didn’t take long), the transmission transitioned from gasoline engine to electric motor seamlessly. Drivers of early hybrids reported rough shut-downs in which the engine would shudder or even kick when shutting down. This was never the case with the Avalon. Whether sitting at a stoplight or rolling down the street, the switch was always easy to miss.

The EPA rating for the Avalon is 40 city / 39 highway / 40 combined. With a 17 gallon tank, around 680 miles per tank should be expected. I had the car for only 479.5 miles, not long enough to completely deplete the tank. The bulk of my driving was my regular workday commute; there was one day of interstate driving. When I gave the car back, it reported that there were 212 miles remaining to empty, which equates to 691.

The Avalon reported my overall mileage at a respectable 43.5 MPG. This is a respectable 8.75% above the EPA estimate. However, Wayne filled the tank to his satisfaction and when he did the math by hand it calculated only 40.5 MPG. This is almost exactly at the EPA estimate. I cannot account for the variance other than to speculate that the onboard mileage calculator skews the results upward. In fact, searches online reveal this is not uncommon for cars that report their own mileage. At the end of the day, the hybrid’s 40 MPG is substantially better than the conventional Avalon’s meek 24 MPG.

Overall Conclusion

The Avalon Hybrid has two primary actual ‘competitors’: the conventional Avalon and the Lexus ES Hybrid. Nearly doubling the Avalon’s fuel economy and priced $5,000 less than the Lexus are two very strong selling points.

The Avalon does not fall into the “family sedan” true sense of the phrase in that no owner in their right mind would risk damaging the gorgeous leather with car seats and kids prone to throwing things best left outside the car. It’s not really a car you would see hauling kids to and from a muddy soccer field. The Avalon is a grown-ups’ car that adults will respect and enjoy, whether riding in the front or the back. The only kids riding in the back of an Avalon are home visiting from college.

But the true question is: can the Avalon’s new styling, Sport mode, and advanced technology capture a younger crowd than its predecessors? That’s a tough sell. Given the overall size of the vehicle, it still feels like an older person’s large barge. Toyota will struggle to get younger buyers into actually trying the car to find out just how nice it is. This is a shame because it truly is a really nice car.

 

 

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Article,EPA,Hypermiling

Why we Hypermile

2 Apr , 2016  

-Tony Schaefer

Introduction

There are many reasons to hypermile.  A while back,  some friends and I came up with about five different and distinct reasons. I’ll try to recap them (assuming I can remember them). The point is not that there is one specific reason to hypermile. Nor is it to argue that any one reason is better than the others. The point is this: any reason to improve your car’s mileage is a good reason.

Save Money

This one is pretty easy.  The less gasoline you consume, the more money you save.  The problem is perception and association.  When people go to the gas station, they complain about the cost of gasoline.  But when they are driving, they act as though gasoline is free.  The problem is that people only feel the pain of purchasing gasoline when they are actually at the station.  After that point, they quickly forget. They fail to associate the pain of buying gas with the way they drive.

Perhaps it would help if we replace gasoline with something else.  If gasoline is $2.00 per gallon and you have a 15 gallon tank, that’s $30 for a fill-up.  If you took that same $30 and purchased several gallons of milk, you might think of it a little differently.  Let’s say your child poured a large glass of milk and only drank half of it before pouring the rest down the sink. There’s a very high probability you’d get upset.  Why?  Are you concerned that the world is running out of milk cows?  Nope.  Are you worried that milk might clog the pipes?  Probably not.  What really gets you riled up is the realization that you paid real money for that milk and your kid is wasting it.

Replace “milk” with gasoline and “kid” with you. Then you will realize it is no different than when you buy a full tank of gasoline and drive in such a way as to waste much of it.  Why is wasting gasoline perfectly justifiable when wasting milk pisses you off?  There is no difference between wasting money spent on gasoline and wasting money spent on other things.  People just need to see it.

FuelEconomy.gov provides a simple calculator. You can enter your current average MPG as “Car 1” and speculate a 5% MPG improvement as “Car 2”. This puts hard numbers right in front of you. https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/savemoney.shtml

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, burning one gallon of pure gasoline produces 19.64 pounds of Carbon Dioxide emissions. Burning one gallon of pure diesel produces 22.38 pounds.

I have to admit that I see “pounds of CO2” and have no idea what that means. Thank you, Google! The Natural Resources Defense Council does the best job, in my opinion, of making this rather abstract concept tangible. In short, filling a balloon with one pound of CO2 would swell the balloon to about two and a half feet across. That’s about 8.2 cubic feet. Compare that to a basketball, which is 9.5 inches with a volume of 0.26 cubic feet. This means burning one gallon of pure gasoline releases the equivalent of 31 basketballs of pure Carbon Dioxide.

This is why running your gasoline car in a closed garage will kill you. And quick. Here’s the rub: we all live in one giant garage. So far, its enormous size has been working in our favor. But everything (yes, everything) has its limit. Every day the average American fills up about 57 of those Carbon Dioxide balloons, emitting 467 cubic feet of CO2. You know those 10-foot moving trucks? That’s about four and a half of those. And that’s just you on just one day.

Considering all the gasoline burned in cars in the US and all over the world would create a staggeringly large number, no doubt. So let’s add to it. Large amounts of oil distilled to produce gasoline are shipped across the oceans in large tankers running huge diesel engines, they add to the total. Then there are the gasoline trucks that make deliveries to the gas stations; they add to the total.

What does all this Carbon Dioxide have to do with greenhouse gas? In case you haven’t heard, CO2 is a heat-trapping gas. When it’s in the atmosphere, it becomes the glass ceiling of a greenhouse, trapping heat in the atmosphere. Everyone knows what it feels like to walk into a greenhouse and that’s essentially what we’re doing as we pump increasing amounts of Carbon Dioxide into the air. As though that’s not bad enough, CO2 is the longest-lasting greenhouse gas, which means your great-grandkids will be affected by your tailpipe emissions.

So it’s not enough to just consider your driving habits and calculate your contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. You have to consider everyone else and all the shipping and transporting that goes into making and moving your gasoline. But if we can find a way to consume less gasoline, fewer tankers would need to traverse the oceans and fewer trucks would be needed for deliveries. In the end, fewer emissions would be emitted all around.

Less Consumption and Fewer Imports (excuse my rant)

No matter who you talk to, they will all agree that it’s a good idea to reduce the amount of foreign oil we import.  The United States imports a lot of oil from countries run by regimes who use our money to fund the fighters who kill American service men and women.  The regimes themselves engage in atrocities we would never condone within our own borders.  Even though we don’t like them, considering we disagree with much of what they do, and ignoring that they fund the people who are willing to die in their quest to kill us, we continue to willingly send them more and more of our hard-earned money.

If we cannot convince Americans how to connect the dots between our gasoline addiction and our dying soldiers, then we are doomed as a country.  As long as we continue to fund both sides of the war, it will never end.

In this election year, there has been a lot of rhetoric about the need to secure our borders. A need to be more self-reliant and beholden to no one.  These people stand around pounding their chests, declaring their undying love for the United States, waving Chinese-manufactured American flags as they pledge allegiance to this once-great republic.  When they have finished their empty promises to protect the U.S. with their last dying breath, they climb into their unnecessary gas guzzling megatruck because a commercial was all it took to convince them that they aren’t manly unless they have best-in-class towing wrapped in military-grade construction, whatever that means.

So let’s set the record straight and expose the truth:

Like any drug dealer, many of the OPEC countries supplying so much of our oil have exactly one viable commodity.  Their entire livelihood relies on others continuously purchasing it.  Without the addicts purchasing their product, they would quickly go broke.  If Americans truly cared about gaining independence, if they actually wanted to undermine those who wish to cause us harm, they would realize that their addiction funds their own destruction.

Here is a page at Energy.gov discussing Energy and National Security: http://energy.gov/public-services/national-security-safety

If these chest-thumping Americans were truly serious about securing our borders, they would prove their commitment by being more concerned with how wasteful they are than how manly they appear.  If they truly wanted to undermine those who wish to destroy us, they would realize that by saving fuel, we could starve our enemies into submission.  Unfortunately, they are too brainwashed to see it and too addicted to care.

Less wear and tear on your vehicle

A huge majority of the hypermiling techniques hinge around driving in such a way that is easy on your vehicle.  For example, rather than accelerating as hard as possible, hypermiling teaches an acceleration method that doesn’t overwork the engine.  Once you have reached an acceptable cruising speed, you should let off on the accelerator to allow the engine to find its own sweet spot.  These two methods will extend the life of your engine.

Rather than racing to a stoplight, hypermiling teaches to allow coasting to naturally slow you down, or to use regenerative braking to decelerate.  People who use these techniques can see their brake pads last for many years.

Anecdotally, driving more efficiently will extend the life of your car and all its parts. This is evidenced by Prius owners who replace their brake pads after more than 100,000 miles. It’s hard – if not completely impossible – to find hard-fast evidence that efficient driving will absolutely extend the life of your car. There are simply way too many variables at play. However, there are too many people telling too many stories to disregard it.

Cleaner Air

No one with any grasp of reality would expect to be able to burn something without releasing gaseous emissions. I’ve already addressed greenhouse gas emissions, but there are other gases released. These typically stay lower in the atmosphere and form a brownish haze called smog (Smoke fog). To be clear, this has nothing to do with a gold-loving dragon in Middle Earth, but that would be awesome.

Some of the primary contributors to smog are nitrogen oxide, non-methane organic gases, carbon monoxide, various particulate matter, and formaldehyde. These are things you would never ever intentionally breathe if you had a choice. And yet, we drive vehicles that put them in our air, where we breathe them. So, I suppose, since we are the ones polluting the air we breathe, we are intentionally breathing them. It all works out.

Visually, smog makes clean air dirty. It looks bad to have a brown – or gray – haze lingering around your city. Health-wise, smog can make it difficult to breath. People who already have difficulties breathing can die from smog. Even those who are healthy should avoid smog because the gases in the air get into lungs and can coat the tiny air sacks. And just like that, people who were healthy before now fall into the “difficulty breathing” category.

Improvements in vehicle efficiencies have made great strides in reducing the emissions of smog-forming chemicals. But every little bit helps. If everyone did a little something, then together we could make a huge impact. In addition to driving more efficiently, start looking for the “Smog Rating” that is now required on all new car stickers.

Conclusion

Though many people tend to focus on a singular reason to drive more efficiently, there are many reasons. Regardless of anyone’s personal interest, it is in their interest to drive more efficient vehicles more efficiently.

If you find yourself trying to defend fuel-efficient driving to different people, you might want to re-read this article several times. It will give you a good starting point from which you can bring a person into the discussion and potentially help them see why fuel efficiency matters.

Table of Contents

 

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