Sport Utility Vehicles – Hybrid vs. Diesel SUVs

By dancurranjr On December 28th, 2009

As more diesel and hybrid vehicles enter the market, drivers increasingly want to know which is better. This is an especially big question for sport-utility fans who feel they could easily justify owning one of the large vehicles if only it could match the fuel economy of a car.

Of the diesel and hybrid SUVs I have driven – there are only a dozen or so available — the Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited and Volkswagen Touareg TDI come closest to combining midsize-car-like fuel economy with the size and cargo capacity that make SUVs appealing. Most other models are either too small to give drivers the high-riding sense of command they seek, or don’t come close to having decent fuel economy.

The Highlander and Touareg are well matched in price, power and practicality, and are about the same size. But the $41,020 Highlander runs on hybrid technology and the $42,800 Toureg on a diesel engine. The Highlander also offers a third-row seat the Touareg lacks, but it is too small for convenient regular use.

Each has a relatively small six-cylinder engine that still manages to power a large vehicle competently. The Touareg’s engine is typical of most diesels — they are generally good at getting a vehicle moving from a stop, and have more power at low speeds than gasoline engines of similar size. Diesels don’t have as much high-speed horsepower, but their low-speed muscle, or torque, is a better fit for the way most people drive.

The Highlander’s hybrid drive system uses an electric motor to provide similar torque that assists the gasoline engine under hard acceleration. The result is that neither gives its driver that frustrating, underpowered feeling.

On paper the Highlander seems like the easy winner because its estimated fuel economy is 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway, compared with the Touareg’s 17 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway. But in typical everyday driving I found the two to be much closer in performance and fuel consumption. During long highway trips, both clawed their way to 27 miles per gallon, which is remarkable for big, heavy SUVs.

But I found that the hybrid’s urban fuel economy usually fell short of its estimate unless I drove in a slow, plodding way that makes the most of the hybrid’s electric motor. The problem is this driving style annoys other motorists, especially those caught behind you.

The Touareg diesel usually performed a bit better in the city than its estimate suggested, though it never came close to matching the hybrid in pure stop-and-go city driving. The Highlander’s ability to run on its electric motor alone at lower speeds lets it excel in the slow, choppy driving conditions at which gasoline and diesel engines are least efficient.

In everyday driving, I avoided unnecessarily fast starts and tried to drive smoothly, but did not truly strive for top fuel economy. The result: About 24 miles per gallon overall in both the Highlander and Touareg. However, when I tried a little harder to squeeze extra miles out of each vehicle by obeying speed limits, planning suburban routes to avoid stop-and-go driving and coasting whenever possible, the Highlander began to edge ahead. Both SUVs have trip computers that keep track of average fuel economy, and the Highlander’s seemed to respond more readily to small changes in driving style. If you work hard to hone your driving technique to maximize fuel economy, the Highlander seems to work with you and is therefore more rewarding to drive.

The biggest difference between these vehicles lies in their mechanical feel on the road. Other than using diesel fuel, the Touareg feels conventional. Its engine rumbles steadily and its six-speed automatic transmission shifts with a rhythm that most drivers will find familiar.

The Highlander, however, has a continuously variable transmission that smoothly varies its drive ratios in a way that lets the vehicle’s speed build without the distinct steps of a transmission with conventional gears. The feel is seamless, but less engaging. The engine often sounds like it is laboring, but “CVTs” tend to be more efficient than typical transmissions.

Drivers who are especially fond of SUVs with traditional power plants and familiar mechanical layouts may still prefer the way the Touareg feels on the road and responds more sharply to the throttle, while finding the Highlander a bit off-putting. Still, I got used to the Highlander’s transmission quickly and liked the way it smoothed out its overall ride. I also appreciated that the Highlander weighed several hundred pounds less than the Touareg despite carrying two power systems (electric and gas). Drivers who frequently tow heavy loads will almost surely pick the Volkswagen for its 7,716-pound towing capacity, compared with a rather weak 3,500 for the Toyota.

I would happily drive either vehicle every day. Both run smoothly, handle well and are comfortable for long trips. But the Highlander always felt like Toyota took more time and care in putting the car together. And then there are the numbers — the Environmental Protection Agency’s average fuel cost estimate for the Highlander is $1,542, compared with $2,100 for the Touareg diesel. While such estimates aren’t perfect, they are especially helpful when comparing vehicles. In the end, the Highlander does a better job at mixing the often incompatible elements of SUV size and space with small-car fuel economy.

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal

Mercedes-Benz To Offer Lease-Only ML 450 Hybrid SUV

By dancurranjr On December 6th, 2009

Mercedes_ML_450_hybridThe first full-hybrid Mercedes-Benz, an ML450 sport-utility vehicle, will be available to customers Monday in the United States.

Using two-mode technology developed with General Motors and BMW, the ML450 Hybrid combines a 3.5-liter, 275-horsepower V-6 gasoline engine with two electric motors for a total power output of 335 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque.

The all-wheel-drive SUV will not be available for purchase. Customers will be allowed to lease the vehicle for $659 a month for 36 months, or for $549 a month for 60 months. Mercedes officials did not say what would be done with the vehicles once the lease period is over.
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The German manufacturer says the hybrid system will provide fuel economy of 21 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. That’s an improvement of 46 percent over a comparable V-8 powered ML 550 SUV.

The ML 450 hybrid can operate on electric power alone up to 34 miles per hour. During parking and low-speed maneuvers it also operates exclusively on electric power.

The gasoline engine and electric motors team up seamlessly when maximum acceleration is required.

The two electric motors are housed within the modified automatic transmission.

One motor, on the transmission output shaft, is used when pulling away from a stop. It generates 80 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque.

The second motor, located closer to the gasoline engine, assists primarily with acceleration. It produces 83 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque.

The electric motors get their power from a liquid-cooled, 288-volt nickel-metal hydride battery that is housed under the cargo floor. It does not diminish passenger or cargo space.

As is the case with other hybrids, the electric motors act as generators during coasting and braking to replenish the battery. The ML 450 Hybrid also has an automatic stop-start function that turns the gasoline engine off during stops at traffic signals and then automatically restarts it when the driver’s foot moves from the brake to the accelerator.

The ML 450 Hybrid follows the S400 mild hybrid sedan into Mercedes-Benz showrooms.


Ford Hybrids Get Points for Green SUVs

By dancurranjr On June 4th, 2009

Mercury Mariner Hybrid 'Presidential Edition'Billed by Ford Motor Co. as the world’s most fuel-efficient sport-utility vehicles, the Ford Escape Hybrid and Mercury Mariner Hybrid offer a way to “drive green” and save gas without giving up interior space and versatility, says a representative of a local dealership.

“The Mariner and Escape hybrids have all the advantages people expect of SUVs — a high driving position, excellent outward visibility, plenty of cargo room — but their fuel economy is better than you get with many smaller vehicles,” said Barry Almonrode, sales consultant at Bill McCoy Ford Lincoln Mercury of Muncie.

While most cars achieve their best gas mileage on the highway, the Escape and Mariner hybrids get their best economy in the city, so they are most beneficial to those who run many errands in town or commute in traffic, he said.

“Even if you drive a small car, your fuel economy can drop to the low 20s if most of your trips are in stop-and-go conditions,” Almonrode explained. “In comparison, the Mariner and Escape hybrids are rated at 34 miles per gallon in the city.”

While Ford’s hybrid SUVs include several technologies not used on conventional vehicles, such as two-mode, gas/electric powertrains and regenerative brakes, these hybrid functions are controlled automatically, so there’s nothing special the driver needs to do, the company says.

“Orchestrating many of the functions is the job of the Vehicle System Controller,” Ford says on its Web site. “Among other things, it shuts the engine down during coasting and at stoplights to save fuel, converts the electric motor to a generator during braking to help recharge the battery pack, and helps manage powertrain-related functions.”

To test the ability of its hybrid SUVs to save gas and perform reliably under severe conditions, Ford has supplied Escape Hybrids to several New York City taxicab operators.

“With hundreds of thousands of miles accumulated over the past two years in New York City, there has been an estimated fuel savings of $250,000 for the initial fleet of 18 Escape Hybrid taxis,” the company said in a news release. “Now there are 288 Escape Hybrids in taxi service throughout the city, and drivers are reporting that the hybrids are delivering on the durability requirements and fuel-saving advantages that make them a great choice for taxi use.”

The Mariner and Escape hybrids both have 153-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines, 94-horsepower electric motors, 330-volt batteries and electronically controlled, continuously variable transmissions.

Other standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control, Sirius satellite radio and Ford’s “SYNC” system, which provides for hands-free control of the audio system and a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone.

Many people who buy an Escape Hybrid or Mariner Hybrid on or before September 30, 2009, will qualify for a $1,500 federal tax credit, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site (

Because the tax credit is scheduled to phase out as manufacturers sell more of each hybrid model, the credit on the Escape and Mariner hybrids will drop to $750 on October 1, 2009, the agency reports.

SOURCE: Star Press

Ford Escape Embodies the True Spirit of Hybrid Technology

By dancurranjr On June 2nd, 2009

ford-escape-hybridThe color green used to be solely reserved for St. Patricks Day, jealousy and grass stains.

Now, however, it is the color of a movement. Green means energy-saving, environmentally friendly and getting back to nature. It seems that everybody and everything is “going green.”

Perhaps that is why the Ford company put a little green leaf on the hybrid label of its 2009 Escape.

The Escape definitely saves energy — specifically gas. The self-proclaimed “most fuel-efficient SUV on the planet” pairs a traditional gas engine with a Nickel-metal-hydride battery-powered electric engine. This merger means that the vehicle doesn’t use any fuel when stopped in traffic or up to 40 miles per gallon when in full electric mode. This allows the Ford SUV to get an amazing 34 mpg in stop-and-go traffic, while still offering V6-like acceleration.

Environmentally friendly? This technology, obviously, means that the Escape has much lower emissions. In fact, the hybrid SUV meets strict Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV II) and Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) standards. Want more environmentally pleasing features? The cloth seat fabric is made from postindustrial materials — polyester fibers that would have ended up in landfills otherwise. And the cushions use a bio-based polyurethane foam derived from the oils of soybeans. More than simply “green,” the durable, comfortable and stylish nature of the material also makes it a perfect fit for the Escape Hybrid.

What really makes the 2009 Ford Escape a hybrid to remember, however, is its 4WD capabilities. Need to get back to nature? No problem in the Escape. The vehicle handles steep dirt inclines, muddy stream beds and other rugged driving with relative ease. As with many conventional SUVs, the Escape comfortably seats five adults and offers plenty of cargo space to boot.

The technology doesn’t stop with the engine. Ford offers a SYNC communications and entertainment system, powered by Microsoft, that comes standard on the 2009 Escape Hybrid. This state-of-the-art, voice-activated system fully integrates many Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and digital media players. Additionally, the Escape offers an optional voice-activated navigation system that includes a detailed freeway exit, turn and ramp transition lane guidance; street name announcement, etc. The system comes with a 10MB drive for photo storage, burning CDs and managing music. Also, when the vehicle is stopped, DVD movies can be watched in the viewfinder.

Those who need additional incentive to check out the Ford Escape hybrid should take a look at the federal tax credit. For the FWD model, buyers may be eligible for up to $3,000 in tax credit (not deductions). For the 4WD model, typical tax credits come to $1,950.

One major drawback, for many, when discussing the practicality of a hybrid vehicle such as the Ford Escape, is finding local garages that can service that type of engine at a reasonable price. Doing some undercover work, I called a dozen random local garages fro the phonebook and asked those who answered the phone if they did any work on a Ford Escape hybrid engine. Out of the 12 I called, all 12 said they did not work on the hybrid electrical part of the engine. One mechanic admitted that he hadn’t “monkeyed around” with that sort of engine yet.

Which, of course can mean after the vehicle’s 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty is up, you will have to pay a little more cash out of your wallet.

Sort of fitting that the ultimate “green” vehicle can also cost you a little extra green at times. Of course, the question is — will the Ford Escape Hybrid save you more in the long haul?

SOURCE: The Daily Item

Future Toyota Hybrids Offer Plug In Solutions For Ultimate Fuel Economy

By dancurranjr On May 26th, 2009

plug-in-hybrid-car-phevThe era of the gasoline engine appears to be coming to an end, as automakers including Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc, are delivering some new ideas and future car concepts. Some of the electric vehicles are good enough to appear in science-fiction movies, but are here today as future concepts. We review the Hybrid X and the Toyota A-BAT.

The Hybrid X changes the model rule book for hybrid models with alternative creative solutions that could become the standard for future hybrid designs. A key element is Vibrant Clarity, which includes primary design principles. This offers sustainable mobility for modern families, the environmentally advanced technology is another step closer to Toyota’s vision of a zero smog-forming emission future.

The futuristic exterior shape of the Hybrid X offers an original and clear visionary insight to the interior. Inside the car, the driver sets the mood using an internal interface that controls lighting, music and even smell via a perfume diffuser. Technological innovations in interactive navigation, driving information and comfort control allow perfect driver control at the touch of a screen.

Complementary with the ecological technology at the core of the automaker’s vision of the future, Hybrid X offers not only an environmentally advanced driving experience, but a completely innovative way of providing comfort.

The A-BAT is similar to the Hybrid X but offers customers more versatility including the ability to haul a standard 4×8 sheet of plywood, then taking a family on a camping trip. It features a four-foot bed with more versatility than the standard pickup truck. The translucent roof panel slides open to allow for tall cargo in the cab; and the bed extends two feet when the pass-through mid gate is folded down into the cab.

The rugged exterior of the A-BAT is contrasted by the four-passenger modern interior. The door trim, shoulder, armrest and instrument panel pads and seat cushions are made of a tough, lightweight and comfortable material that can be selected for personalization. In addition, the colors are harmonized to enhance the sleek interior environment.

Inside, the A-BAT includes a retractable portable navigation unit with a seven-inch diagonal screen and Wi-Fi Internet. Other advanced features include a port for portable device assistant synchronization and a hard drive for digital music. The solar panels on the dash recapture energy from the sun to assist in the charging of the navigation unit, portable power pack and backlit information displays.