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First Drive: 2016 Toyota Prius

New look, new suspension - great mileage and moderate improvements to ride.

by on Nov.23, 2015

The top-line Toyota Prius Four Touring model starts at $30,000 plus delivery fees.

In an era when so many cars have a tendency to look alike, the Toyota Prius has been an unabashed, if somewhat geeky, standout. Of course, it’s what’s below the skin that really makes the difference. The Prius was the world’s first hybrid-electric vehicle when it made its debut in Japan in 1997 and, ever since, it has overwhelmingly dominated that segment worldwide.

But times have changed, and the third-generation Toyota Prius has been losing a lot of sales momentum this year. There are several reasons why, perhaps most notably the sharp slide in fuel prices that has reduced demand for all “green” vehicles. But there are other factors, among other things that geeky design and the less than thrilling ride offered by the old Prius.

Reviews You Can Trust!

And those are issues Toyota has set out to address with the fourth-generation hybrid. The 2016 Toyota Prius gets a complete, top-to-bottom makeover: new skin, a new platform, a new independent rear suspension — and an updated Hybrid Synergy Drive system that delivers as much as 10% better mileage.

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First Drive: 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In

Hyundai plugs in with updated HEV and all-new PHEV sedan.

by on May.26, 2015

Hyundai's second-generation Sonata Hybrid.

Initially slow to embrace alternative powertrain technology, Hyundai is determined to catch up with green rivals like Toyota and Honda. It was the first to market with a retail hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle and it is about to update its original Sonata Hybrid for 2016 – while also adding its first plug-in hybrid model.

The timing likely isn’t the best. With gasoline prices running about a dollar lower than a year ago, and likely to say depressed for a while, demand for battery-based vehicles has taken a dive. But based on a day’s drive of the two new Korean models, green-minded buyers looking for alternatives would be well advised to check out the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Sonata Plug-in Hybrid.

Stay Plugged In!

The plug-based model, in particular, offers the longest range of any midsize PHEV on the U.S. market and its gas-electric driveline provides one of the smoothest, most transparent rides of any plug-in we’ve so far tested.

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First Drive: Kia Optima Hybrid

Korean automaker’s fuel sipper loves the freeway, but how is it around town?

by on Apr.12, 2012

The Kia Optima Hybrid advances the state of the art for hybrids by allowing the gas engine to shut off at higher speeds.

As automakers get better at making electrified cars, the line is going to start to blur between hybrids, extended-range electric vehicles and electric cars.

Take this Kia Optima Hybrid. The early hybrids could hardly attain or maintain any speed with the gas engine shut off. Soon, hybrids were able to maintain 25 mph on electric power alone and then the mid-40s. But the goal for any hybrid is to drive longer distances with their gas engine turned off.

It just makes sense. If the gasoline engine isn’t running, the car uses less fuel.

So we were somewhat surprised to watch the EV Mode light glow – at 80 mph – for brief stretches along I-94 near Ann Arbor after returning from a concert. The engine never stayed off for long, and even the hint of a hill caused the engine to restart.

Yes, we reviewed that!

What was truly amazing was the Optima’s complete seamlessness with which it transitioned back and forth between gasoline and electric power, even at freeway speeds. There is literally no way to discern when the engine starts, other than watching the tachometer lift off 0 rpm and EV Mode light go dark.

The gasoline-electric powertrain has come a long way in just 13 years since the first Honda Insight hit the U.S. market in 1999. (more…)

Honda Says Quality Not Issue at CR-Z Hybrid Debut

Japanese maker aims to regain momentum in hybrid segment.

by on Feb.26, 2010

Honda is launching its latest dedicated hybrid, the CR-Z, and insisting it won't run into the hybrid braking problems of Toyota's Prius.

Just what impact the safety scandal at Toyota will have on the rest of the automotive market is uncertain, but the Japanese maker’s arch-rival, Honda, is working to ensure it won’t be tainted, as well.

“Product quality is extremely important to us,” asserted Honda CEO Takanobu Ito, as the maker officially debuted its latest gasoline-electric hybrid model, the CR-Z, during a Tokyo news conference.

Initial sales reports hint that Honda may be picking up Toyota buyers, especially in the U.S. market, where the safety crisis has been widely covered by the media.

But, like other makers, Ito avoided any appearance of gloating over Toyota’s ongoing woes.  If anything, he appeared to take a cautious position about growth and the potential it brings to start making mistakes.

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Compelling Journalism!

Ito spoke just days after his Toyota counterpart, CEO Akio Toyoda, was grilled by an American Congressional Committee.

But it was only a few weeks earlier that Honda had to expand the recall of products including the 2001 and 2002 Accord sedan, Civic compact and Odyssey minivan because of faulty airbags.  Since the first defect announcement, 15 months ago, the number of vehicles on the callback list has grown to 437,000.

The Japanese maker did make a point of emphasizing that the 2011 Honda CR-Z uses a different braking system from the 2010 Toyota Prius and, Honda promised, would not suffer the same problems — in which brakes can unexpectedly release when a Prius hits a bump or a slick patch of road,

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