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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audio and video,Featured,Features,Review,Special Episode

Special LIVE Episode – Faraday Future Live Reveal at CES

4 Jan , 2017   Video

Dr. Evan Fusco, Tony Schaefer, Mark Coughlan and Russell Frost get taken for a ride waiting for the reveal of the FF91, Faraday Future’s “first production” vehicle. Spend two hours with us being disgusted at how silly this presentation and more importantly, how clueless this vehicle is. We paid the price sitting through this so you wouldn’t have to. Watch us suffer and learn what folly really looks like, during this special What Drives Us live episode.

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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,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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audio and video,Review,What Drives Us episode

#164 I Just Got A Woman Pregnant

18 Nov , 2015   Video

This week it’s all about the fourth generation Prius and it call comes from Danny Cooper. Paul Guzyk, Tony Schaefer, Patrick Conor and Russell Frost break down the new Prius, a car which Danny just drove. See Prius Chat for the video reviews (link below)

http://priuschat.com/threads/priuschats-2016-toyota-prius-first-drive-video-review.159651/

 

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Review

2016 Toyota Mirai – Preview

6 Jun , 2015  

– by Jon B

We live in an interesting time. A time where science and technology are at the forefront and in the automotive world, the leading edge in alternative fuel technology at the moment is electric vehicles with manufacturers like Nissan, Tesla, Ford and General Motors putting out their versions of what an electric car should be. Notably absent is the Japanese giant that is Toyota with a reincarnation of its RAV4 EV with battery technology borrowed from billionaire Elon Musk. It should’ve been a raging success – the combination of Toyota quality, durability and reliability and Tesla’s battery and motor technology. Alas, Mr. Toyoda has other plans and the release of the Mirai is an example of his vision of future.

16miraiside


Mira-what?

Me-rye. It’s Japanese for “future”.  Toyota thinks that battery electric vehicles should be limited to the short distance, city driving (although Elon has proved otherwise) and suggests that fuel cell vehicles are what the public wants. Toyota suggests that those that are used to petrol-powered vehicles will warm up to fuel cell cars as the range and refuelling times are similar. Excuse me Toyoda-san, there’s the slight issue of actually having hydrogen stations where one can refuel in the first place. Nevertheless, the focus of the article is the Mirai and not a discussion of which form of fuel or energy the future should use.

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Review

2015 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0L Trendline+ Test Drive

15 Apr , 2015  

– by Jon B

It’s premium German engineering at a price engineered to get you moving”. The tagline is certainly appropriate for the Jetta, with a starting price of Cdn$14,990. Canadians certainly responded as Volkswagen Canada moved 31,042 Jettas in 2014, which accounts for nearly 50% of its total sales. One may recall that the cost of entry into the Volkswagen family started in the low $20,000s less than a decade ago, so how did Volkswagen manage to drop the price substantially?

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