Filed under: New car introductions, Autos
By John Gilbert
ANN ARBOR, MI.
If the Hyundai Ioniq came out as a stylish new compact car, its sleek and aerodynamic looks, roomy interior, quick and agile performance, and smooth ride would undoubtedly make it a big hit at a base price of $22,200.
But it’s not a mainstream car. Far from it. It has all those above attributes, but it becomes a truly unique vehicle by being offered in a choice of three alternative powertrains. After a brief chance to aggressively road-test two of the Ioniq models, the impression it leaves is — in a word — electrifying.
I asked Hyundai officials if we were all going to be driving electric cars in the near future, or are hybrids a viable alternative. The consensus is that we are headed for electric-powered cars, but it will be a number of years before they take hold, which means hybrids and plug-in hybrids might make the most sense right now. Taking no chances, Hyundai is offering all three alternative powertrains in the new Ioniq.
Apprehensions from preconceived ideas can get in the way of buying a hybrid vehicle, much less a pure-electric one, and while Hyundai officials are aware of all the reasons buyers have for not buying such an alternative-energy car, they have designed the Ioniq to conquer all of them.
The Ioniq is the first car with a dedicated platform — shared with the new Elantra — designed to offer the choice of the most efficient hybrid in the industry, the most progressive plug-in hybrid in the industry, or the most environmentally sound and efficient pure-electric car in the industry.
That’s a lot of firsts, but ever since Hyundai made technical breakthroughs in engine, fuel injection, transmission efficiency, and design development nearly a decade ago, we shouldn’t be surprised by what those creative engineers in Seoul, South Korea, might come up with.
“The best thing is it looks like a regular car, and it drives like a regular car,” said Mike O’Brien, vice president of products for Hyundai Motors America.
I beg to differ. When my driving partner and I took off on the twisty and not always smooth roadways near Ann Arbor, we drove the Ioniqs harder than a normal citizen might drive. We wanted to push the Ioniq to see if it was just another alternative-energy car or truly something special. My vote was the latter.
If I there was a conventional engine under the hood, I would have been impressed that the Ioniq swept around tight, even blind, curves, always with the car following dutifully and with precision to all steering inputs. The fact that it was pure electric made it all the more impressive when it stayed level, never lurched, and handled the numerous road irregularities we flew across with nary a hint of harshness, looking high-style from every angle.
When my turn was finished, I found the passenger bucket seat supportive and comfortable in all circumstances, and it gave me a better chance to admire the smooth and high-end look and feel to the seats, dashboard and numerous features. They use wood chips and bits of volcanic rock to make the soft and supple top on the dashboard, for example. And they found a way to mix soybean oil into the paint, as another example of making the car sustainable.
The basic Ioniq Hybrid starts at a mere $23,000 including destination, its 1.6 engine helping recharge the battery pack. The plug-in Hybrid next up the scale, while the top-end, pure-electric version starts at $29,500. The EV will have no gas-engine safety net, but it will have a range of 124 miles before needing a recharge. It has a larger electric motor system, and a potent version of the LG Chem battery pack that develops 88 kW, the equivalent of 118 horsepower and 218 foot-pounds of torque, which collaborate to send the car rocketing away from a stop with startling potency.
There are other dazzling EVs newly on the market, such as the Tesla, the Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf, and BMW i3. The Bolt has a range of 238 miles, which is very impressive, and the Tesla also has excellent range. O’Brien, however, referred to industry standards for thermal efficiency, which take into account such things as the carbon footprint. Since 67 percent of our electric energy comes from fossil fuel or coal, the reality is that electric power may seem free, but nothing is free.
“Ultimately, we’re going to have to reduce our carbon footprint,” O’Brien said. “They call it an ‘MPGe’ equivalent, and by that calculation the Ioniq is the most efficient EV with a 136 MPGe, which beats the i3, the Bolt, and all other EVs on the market.”
O’Brien explained the assets of the three-pronged answer to all the alternative-energy challenges by first enumerating the challenges.
“While hybrid and electric vehicles have been around for awhile, it’s still a fact that 97 percent of buyers have not bought them,” said O’Brien. “That means only 3 percent are choosing hybrids or electric vehicles. We seem to be stuck on that number. The reasons consumers give for avoiding hybrids are: cost, lack of performance, boring, maintenance worries, not sporty enough, and insufficient passenger or cargo room.
“When you look under the hood of a Camry or Accord hybrid, you see all kinds of extra space, because the platform was designed for a larger engine. With a dedicated platform, and using a small engine with the hybrid, means we didn’t need all that space. So we moved the cowl forward, reducing the size of the engine compartment, and creating a much more spacious interior. Our hybrid has a total interior volume of 122.7 cubic feet, and our plug-in hybrid and EV have 120 cubic feet.”
In addition, Hyundai worked with LG Chem, the South Korean electronics giant that designed and built the battery pack for the Chevrolet Volt, and the new Chevrolet Bolt pure-electric, as well as for Hyundai, Kia and other hybrid car-makers. The streamlined design of the battery pack, with vertical plates, and a lithium ion polymer structure, make it lighter and smaller and able to be form-fit into odd areas. And lithium-ion-polymer battery packs generate more power, hold the charge longer, and recharge more quickly.
Other hybrid car-makers fit the battery pack under the trunk, which greatly cuts down the cargo room, and, being heavy, gives most hybrids an odd weight-distribution. Hyundai engineers designed the Ioniq with the battery pack under the rear seat, leaving full trunk space, and creating a lower center of gravity and a mid-engine feel that enhances steering and contributes to good handling.
Hyundai engineers also revised their well-proven 1.6-liter Kappa 4-cylinder, a dual-overhead-camshaft gem with direct injection that can make compact cars, midsize cars, and even the Tucson compact SUV perform admirably, with a turbocharger in some cases. In the Ioniq, it is altered with Atkinson-cycle technology that keeps the intake valves closed a bit longer, and delays the opening of the exhaust valves. That allows the air-fuel mixture more time to more fully ignite, resulting in greater thermal efficiency, and extra power. With the hybrid, the engine doesn’t need extra power, because the electric motor supplements any need for power.
In the Ioniq Hybrid, the 1.6 has 104 horsepower at a high 5,700 RPMs, and 109 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 RPMs. The electric motor adds 32 kW (43 horsepower) for a 125 horsepower maximum, and its 125 maximum added torque combines for a 139 foot-pound punch.
The biggest surprise to many traditionalists is that electric motor power is more efficient than a gas engine. It has 100 percent of its torque at zero RPMs, so stepping hard on an electric car’s “gas” pedal can snap your head back by surprise. In the Ioniq Hybrid, the electric motor’s instant torque aids low-end power, and if you need extra power at high speed, the electric power can continue to supplement the 4-cylinder up to 75 miles per hour.
After being thoroughly impressed with the pure-electric Ioniq, we also drove the base-model hybrid, which also drove well, with quick acceleration, and good steering and handling. Unlike nearly all other hybrids, the Ioniq Hybrid does not use a CVT, the continuously variable transmission that uses belts and pulleys to seamlessly shift, but leaves the unsatisfying feeling of “motorboating” instead of tangible shift points.
Hyundai engineers equipped the Ioniq with their own 6-speed dual-clutch transmission that shifts swiftly and with a decisive sportiness, whether you like paddles or just switching to “sport” to hold shift points higher. The “eco” setting upshifts earlier for better economy, and the Ioniq Hybrid comes away with everyday fuel economy of 59 highway, and 58 mpg combined city-highway. That beats the Prius and all other hybrids, as does the Ioniq’s thermal efficiency that means 40 percent of all its energy goes to its wheels, which are shod with specially designed Michelin tires.
We didn’t get to drive the plug-in hybrid, which is yet to be introduced as the third electrified system. That will move up from the Hybrid’s 32 kWh with 43 horsepower, to 45 kWh, and 60 horsepower. With more electric motor power in the mix, when fully charged it will go 27 miles on electric only, before the gas engine kicks in seamlessly to help.
Both hybrids share the 6-speed dual-clutch transmission. The plug-in Hybrid has a more powerful charger. You can connect to normal household outlets, but if you use the quick-charge system you can recover 80 percent of a full charge in 23 minutes, a fast charge that will let you cover another 99 miles.
All available safety items, including standard rear camera, and the availability of lane-change devices, are included, and the Ioniq also has all the latest in connectivity features.
I am eager for a longer test-drive, but the first impression will be hard to shake. The Ioniq beats the tests of cost, sportiness, being not boring, being not sporty, and having insufficient interior room.
If maintenance worries still exist as the last concern, how about this: Along with Hyundai’s usual 10-year, 100,000-mile engine warranty, there is a lifetime warranty on the battery pack.
I kidded O’Brien that if the Ioniq doesn’t quite meet fuel-efficiency figures, they could come out with a Type R and insert a tiny “R” between the “I” and the “O” to make it an “Ironiq.” He didn’t laugh. After driving the car, I’m more inclined to suggest they might need to insert a small “C,” because the new car could indeed become Iconiq.
Filed under: New car introductions, Autos
By John Gilbert
Volkswagen needed a large SUV much more than the marketplace needed another large SUV, and that in essence, is why the Atlas came to be designed and built as an American demands.
If you were a fan of reading Ayn Rand, you could say that VW officials in Wolfsburg, Germany, decided, “We must have a larger SUV,” and Atlas Shrugged. Sorry about that.
The point is that if a consumer family loved its succession of Volkswagen vehicles, but grew past the point where everybody could fit inside a Golf, or a Jetta, or even a Tiguan or Touareg — which will seat four comfortably and five in a squeeze — then they would have to go off and buy a Tahoe, Explorer, Honda Pilot, any of several Toyotas, or any of a couple dozen other alternatives.
Thus it made sense that as a family outgrew its VW, the Atlas would give those customers a larger VW SUV to grow into. It has three rows of seats, foldable into various configurations depending on whether you need to haul people or luggage, or major pieces of equipment.
The Atlas is the largest vehicle Volkswagen has made, and it will be built in the new Chattanooga, Tenn., plant VW built for Passat sedans. But for the first media drives, Volkswagen decided to corral us in San Antonio, from where we were driven northward to the small town of Boerne, Texas, and stationed at the Tapatio Springs Hill Country Resort.
It is a fantastic facility, with an 18-hole golf course, and enough space to hold various presentation meetings, as well as a full-scale Texas barbeque. (I like barbequed brisket, but I don’t bother with it when there are also ribs available; there were ribs available at our patio dinner, cooked as perfectly as you could want.)
After we looked over the large exterior of the Atlas, senior product manager Mark Gillies began his presentation by explaining why the company picked the vast expanse of Texas for the intro drive. “The Atlas is big, and it looks right at home with all the big SUVs down here,” he said. Other officials added that it is designed, tailored and built in the U.S. “to fit American families.”
The Atlas looks the part, but the secret of success in that hotly competitive segment is how the vehicle feels, how it drives, and how flexible its game plan is executed. The Atlas is built on VW’s MQB platform, which is versatility personified. The entire Golf family, Jetta, Passat and Tiguan all share versions of that underpinning.
It didn’t take us long to find out how the plan was executed. Having dodged some severe rainstorms and tornadoes that swept through the area on that Sunday, we arose early Monday to hit the road. And the hills.
My driving partner, whom I shall call Sebastien, is a young journalist from Toronto who was anxious to learn all he could about Texas, so we discussed everything from Waylon and Willie, to Luckenbach, to the music capital and bats of Austin, and as much as I knew of the region we were venturing into.
We swept along a ribbon of asphalt as the highway followed a winding, twisting trajectory around numerous curves and up, down and between hills that sprouted in random fashion out of the densely wooded terrain, as if intending to surprise an unsuspecting motorist.
The heavy rain of the previous night turned most of the dried-up creekbeds into raging, near-flash-flood attitudes. I started behind the wheel of the new Volkswagen Atlas SL Premium, with 4Motion all-wheel drive and the VR6.
The very neat navigation system had been programmed with our route, and the Nav Lady kept us aware of or next turns. The lack of any shoulders on the narrow two-lane roadways offered good reason to stay alert as we cruised through what they call the “Hill Country” of central-west Texas, a little bit north of San Antonio and a little bit southwest of Austin.
The Atlas comes in base S ($30,500 to $33,700), S Launch ($33,500-$35,300), SE $34,990-$36,790), SE With Technology ($35,690-$38,890), SEL ($39,160-$42,690), and SEL Premium ($48,490), with features and equipment rising along with the sticker prices.
Engine options include the long-standing 2.0-liter turbocharged 4 with 235 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque, running through an 8-speed automatic, and with 4Motion optional. The engine upgrade is the also-familiar narrow-angle 3.6-liter VR6 with 276 horsepower and 266 foot-pounds, and the AWD versions include the VR6.
It seems that VW made different packages for increasing feature content, with all sorts of driving aids and enhanced safety and connectivity, as well as fancier interior amenities that lead up to Atlas models loaded to the sunroof with options.
Latching onto the dark red SEL Premium gave us the larger 20-inch wheels, and as the top of the line Atlas, it felt solid and substantial without the hugeness that is part of a lot of large SUVs.
We should anticipate by now that any vehicle made by Volkswagen will trace curves with a flat attitude at any speed, and the Atlas did that, as I placed the outside front tire near the edge of the roadway and held precise lines toward the next hill and curve.
That worked on freeways and 4-lanes, and was even more critical in Hill Country, where the 2-lane highways had only a little grass to serve as shoulders, and a lot of nasty looking underbrush not far off the roadway. No problem.
Driving other models with the standard 18-inch wheels and fewer features, such as the SE model, was evidence that any Atlas will do for most “needs,” but the more loaded models are aimed at “wants” of SUV buyers.
We got to our lunch stop, at the delightful little town of Fredericksburg, a bit early. And as I was telling Sebastien about stopping in Luckenbach several years ago, he plugged it into the nav system and suggested we had time to make a quick side-trip there, right then.
We did that, and found expansion of the ancient cowboy town, but the main store, post office and back room where a bearded fellow would play the late Waylon Jennings classic “Luckenbach, Texas,” with only a minimum of urging.
The build quality of the Atlas is definitely vault-like, and the superb driving attitude only adds to the feeling of driving security. At a length of 198.3 inches, and with a 117.3-inch wheelbase, the Atlas looks taller than its 70 inch height. The towing capacity is only 2,000 pounds with any added hitch, while the factory hitch offers 5,000 pounds with enhanced oil and transmission coolers and beefed-up structure.
Perhaps more important statistics are the 20.6 cubic foot cargo capacity behind the upright third-row seat, which expands to a spacious 55.5 cubic feet with the third row folded down, and 96.8 with both the second and third rows folded clear.
With the lengthy standard equipment, which includes LED headlights, start-stop technology, rearview camera, smartphone connectivity with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink, it’s remarkable that the option list goes on forever. LED taillights, a huge sunroof, power tailgate that opens with a wave of your foot under the rear bumper, a digital cockpit, ambient lighting, remote start, second-row captain’s chairs that slide nearly 8 inches, and can be heated.
Officials stressed that the third row is designed for adult comfort, not just kids. Safety factors are also available, such as brake assist and autonomous braking with pedestrian monitoring, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, lane assist, park distance control and maneuver parking, for parallel or perpendicular assist.
Other refinements that will appeal to buyers are things like 12 liters of storage in the console between the front buckets, a customizable instrument panel with a 12-inch display, and a sound system that is among the best in the industry — a dedicated Panasonic Fender surround system. It has 480 watts blowing through 12 channels to 12 speakers.
We hit “Outlaw” on the satellite audio system, and let that Fender system blast out “Bob Wills Is Still the King,” and, of course, “Luckenbach,” for all of Hill Country to hear.
Filed under: New car introductions, Autos
By John Gilbert
PORTLAND, Maine — Driving a powerful muscle car on a curving icy roadway can become a sudden thrill when it breaks traction and starts skidding as if it intends to broadslide into the snowbank on the right shoulder.
“Oops!” just doesn’t quite cover it.
But the instincts gained while driving up and down the hills od Duluth, Minnesota, paid rich dividends. I didn’t yank the steering wheel into the direction of the skid, and I didn’t abruptly hit the brakes. Instead, I eased off the gas slightly while steering in an attitude that let the vehicle’s traction-control straighten us out and continue on our intended path as I eased back into the middle of our lane.
“Good job,” said my co-driver, who had good reason to be less poised than I was as we sailed through the woods just outside Portland, Maine. We were cheating, though, because the red Challenger we were in was a pre-production GT model with all-wheel drive.
It’s not as though we don’t get enough winter weather in Northern Minnesota, but there was no way to pass up this opportunity. Dodge invited a group of auto journalists to visit the rock-bound coast of Maine at the end of January for the first chance to drive the new Challenger GT, which, for 2017, can be bought with all-wheel drive. As such, I felt obligated to push it toward its limits.
The Challenger is a vehicle that is always fun to drive, joining the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro among the three “ponycar” throwbacks — I call them “future retro” — because they recreate the Trans-Am road-racing heyday of the late 1960s and early 1970s in North America. Dodge calls them “Muscle Coupes,” which is OK, too.
The three were ferocious rivals in road-racing, and among the joys of my sports and auto writing career was to be able to cover that Trans-Am series at places such as Donnybrooke Speedway (now BIR, for Brainerd International Raceway), Elkhart Lake, Bridgehampton and all points where road-racing circuits existed. They were a diversion from the hot-rod sedans of the late 1960s and the spider-like open-wheeled formula cars, with 2 doors and a specific silhouette of long-hood, short rear deck.
The Mustang continued on while the Camaro and Challenger were discontinued along with the Pontiac Trans-Am, Plymouth Barracuda, American Motors Javelin and a few others. But about the time Ford decided to redo the Mustang in a style that recaptured the attitude and demeanor of the 1970 model, Camaro came back out and did the same thing, and so did Challenger.
Dodge’s great-looking Challenger was created by dropping the coupe body on the platform for the larger Charger 4-door sedan, and the shortcut produced a very competitive vehicle. In some ways, it has an edge.
Some say the Challenger looks most like the 1970 car, but in any event it has a larger trunk and a more spacious interior, which can actually house a couple of adults in something approaching comfort. But in all cases, the Challenger, Mustang and Camaro are summertime cars, with front-engine, rear-drive that makes for enormous fun in the summer, spring and fall, but virtually need to be parked in the winter if you live in snowy weather. No traction control system can conquer the glare ice of winter with a rear-driver.
The Dodge Charger added a model a few years ago with an all-wheel-drive system underneath. While the arsenal of Hemi V8s make both the Charger and Challenger fly, the very strong 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is more than capable in the Charger and Challenger, and works well enough in the AWD version of the Charger that many police departments deploy it to chase — and catch — the bad guys in bad weather.
We should have anticipated this move, then. Dodge has refined that all-wheel-drive system for the smaller Challenger coupe. “We were able to take the all-wheel-drive system from the Charger and use it in the Challenger,” said chief engineer Allison Rahm. “It’s not exactly the same, because we had to refine it in a few ways. We took the Charger Pursuit sedan, used by some police departments, and adapted the suspension, stabilizer bars, springs and steering calibration, and gave it its own vehicle dynamic control that uses the same front-axle disconnect.
“We have developed the perspective on a test area we use in Northern Michigan, where they have huge snow-pack fields. We learned we can push the car and stay in control, so it’s fun, cool, and you can drive it very confidently. It goes back to rear-wheel drive when you don’t need it, but in snowy conditions, or when it senses wheelspin, its sensors can send up to 100 percent of the torque to the front.”
How the car is being driven also activates AWD, and the unit only adds 200 pounds to the overall weight of the Challenger, which sits low and doesn’t betray the fact that all four wheels can pull the car.
Ben Lyon showed us an interesting map of the U.S. with a horizontal line across the middle, from northern California to the East Coast. Market research indicates all-wheel-drive models of the Charger and such SUVs as the Durango are up 12 percent year-over-year in sales from last year. On the Charger, AWD makes up 17 percent of purchases altogether, and in the 17 states north of that horizontal line across the nation, the take rate is over 50 percent all-wheel drive on vehicle purchases.
“We also surveyed buyers who looked at the Challenger but didn’t buy,” said Lyon, the Challenger brand manager. “One-third said all-wheel drive was important, and when they stopped considering the Challenger, half of them then bought something with all-wheel drive.”
We had our choice of colors and I took red, instead of orange. Both were stunning. Powering the Challenger is that Pentastar V6, a 3.6-liter unit with 305 horsepower at 6,350 RPMs, and 268 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 RPMs. More than 90 percent of the peak torque is provided from 1,800 to 6,400 revs which gives you pretty constant power anywhere in the tach’s range.
The only thing that rivals that power is the audio system, which barks through a 506-watt amplifier. A surprisingly large trunk and fold-down rear seat allow you to haul long things, even skis. Specific GT leather bucket seats and trim on the dash and console set the car apart as well.
Naturally, all the goodies boost the price. Our test car started at $33,395 and as-tested it was $40,555.
Stability control and all the assumed connectivity features of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be brought to life. Also, the performance information from the Hellcat Trac Pak with readouts on the 8.4-inch center screen let you monitor 0-60 times, G-forces and a launch-control device.
For driving performance, the power is harnessed by the 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters, and if you switch into Sport mode, or drive aggressively, you are immediately in all-wheel drive. Otherwise, your driving style will summon AWD instantly and seamlessly by assessing road conditions.
We found driving the Challenger GT smooth and precise, with the possible exception of my little unscheduled side-skid that threatened the shoulder. So we were ready for the test track, even as the temperature climbed to a less-than-challenging 45 degrees. We would have prefered the harshness of the “Nor’easter” that hit the area one day earlier.
I had the chance to be first out on the well-groomed test track at a road-racing course Dodge had contracted, with a circular stability track, a straight line acceleration stretch, and a small autocross-like circuit that could challenge us for our driving response and the car’s capability.
The stylish 19-inch wheels were shod with some high-performance all-season Michelin tires, and they proved pretty good — but not exceptional to a winter-driving veteran. Michelin might be the best at building tires for long wear and high speed, but to do that, the tread compound is firm enough that it becomes hard — and slick — in severe cold. Such as winter.
The production Michelins worked well to test the car around the circular skid course, where you could jockey the car back and forth and even provoke a bit of skidding, just for fun. After several laps around that, in 6-inch deep snow, we moved over to the auto-cross like course.
The groomer had done a great job smoothing out the trail, and my instructor informed me that I could be confident staying on the power if we got off into the deeper snow. I got off a little, putting the left-side tires into the fringe area, and when I stayed on the power, it went a bit farther off, until it got hung up.
I know enough to stay on the power in moderate snow, and I did that, right until it hung itself up, What fooled us was that the groomer had groomed a bit wider than the outer groove, so when I thought I was still on the track, the left side tires already were off the surface. No problem. Four guys tried to push me out, but we had to summon the groomer, which hooked up to the rear and pulled us out of the snow.
That may have helped set the stage for the rest of . I suggested to Ms. Rahm, the chief engineer, that the Michelins were probably excellent for 90 percent of the all-weather driving Dodge might anticipate for the car’s use, but I would suggest a set of Nokian all-season or snow tires.
I’m guessing that won’t happen, because no automaker builds a car with tires aimed specifically at snow-country. And that’s OK. All-wheel drive already gives the Challenger GT AWD a large jump on Mustangs and Camaros — and virtually all other muscle cars — on snow and ice. With the right winter tires, it could could make hardy drivers park their SUVs.
Filed under: New car introductions, Features, Autos
By John Gilbert
DETROIT, MI. — Self-driving vehicles, continued electrification of our global driving future, and an endless stream of sport-utility vehicles of all shapes and sizes are the indelible story of the 2017 North American International Auto Show, which consumed early January, 2017.
High-performcance and luxury vehicles were present also, of course, but nearly all manufacturers were either proclaiming or hinting about electric or autonomous (self-driving) cars.
Those of us who love to drive, to push a car to its limits with skill and dexterity — both yours and your car’s — may recoil at the thought of computer gremlins taking over the operation of our future cars, but that’s where we’re headed and everybody wants to be leading the pack.
For that reason, a highlight of the Detroit show for me was the showing of the I.D. Buzz. Strange name indeed, but it’s just the nickname of a Volkswagen concept vehicle that could well be the long-awaited emergence of the modernized Microbus, that hippie-happy minivan of the 1960s.
The Buzz is an eye-catcher, to be sure, and it’s obviously a concept vehicle because it’s hard to imagine it coming to life in production. But it ties together all of the ingredients for success on the auto show circuit of 2017 — an inventive and retro-flair people-hauler with an interior that could pass as a high-tech den, plus all-electric power with a range of 270 miles on a charge, and autonomous operation.
Filed under: New car introductions, Autos
By John Gilbert
SANTA MONICA, CA.
Car-buyers left minivanS for SUVs a decade ago, with about the same disdain they had previously abandoned station wagons for minivans. Enough folks stayed with minivans, however, simply by knowing they were the most efficient way to convey seven occupants for less expense.
And the latest trend seems to indicate a fair number of buyers are now migrating back from three-row SUVs to minivans, which themselves have risen to a surprising level of luxury and efficiency. With that in mind, Chrysler introduced its new Pacifica last summer — a minivan so thoroughly renovated that Fiat-Chrysler decided the old names Caravan and Town & Country simply wouldn’t do. The intention was to reaffirm the company’s superiority in a segment it already dominates with a 37-percent hold.
New looks, new refinement, new features, and the latest technology from top to bottom were impressive, but FCA was holding back the potential knockout blow. It has now been delivered — the surprising Pacifica Hybrid.
We seem to know it’s inevitable we’ll all be driving electric-powered vehicles or hybrids in the not-too-distant future. And maybe sooner than later. Electric cars need to be plugged in to function, while the best hybrids can benefit by being plugged in, but also can run off regenerated power from an internal combustion engine and simple braking.
Keeping all of the assets of the Pacifica on board, the company renovated its impressive 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 with new camshafts, new pistons, new valves and Atkinson-cycle injection geometry, then hooked it up to a pair of electric motors, operated off a 16 kilowatt hour battery pack from LG Life, a cutting-edge South Korean technology outfit that has recreated itself in various other plants around the world, including the Detroit area.
It stretched the imagination to realize that you can be piloting one of these moving living rooms in a swift and agile manner, with seven occupants on board, and getting 30 miles of dedicated electric silent running, or the equivalent of 80 miles per gallon during hard usage, or a total range of 530 miles using both gas and electric before you need to refuel with gasoline.
Matt McAlear, Chrysler brand marketing manager, was discussing how his life has changed since working with the Pacifica Hybrid in the last year. He said he drives to work, using part of the 30 miles of electric-only range, then he plugs it in during the day, and then he drives home, again on all electric.
“I was driving past a gas station the other day,” McAlear said, “and I realized that I don’t go to gas stations any more.” Read more