By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
Each year members of the Northwest Automotive Press Association meet to evaluate some of the latest and greatest environmentally friendly vehicles available to U.S. consumers. This year the competition was held at the Pearson Air Museum located on the grounds of the Fort Vancouver Historic Reserve in Vancouver, Wash.
Participating journalists drove 18 different hybrid and electric cars, SUVs and a minivan to choose a vehicle to be named the 2018 Northwest Green Vehicle of the Year. In sub categories, the group also choose an Affordable Battery-Electric Vehicle of the Year, Affordable Hybrid Car of the Year, Family-Sized Plug-In Hybrid of the Year and Luxury Green Vehicle of the Year.
Each vehicle was driven from the Air Museum tarmac at the Fort Vancouver National Historic site on a 3- to 6-mile loop that include street and freeway driving conditions. Voting members were able test acceleration, braking, road undulations and get an overall feel for each vehicle.
At the end of the day, each NWAPA member submitted his or her choices in each of the four categories plus the overall winner.
When the voting was tabulated, the NWAPA members had picked the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid as the Northwest Green Vehicle of the Year.
Below are our notes on the Affordable Hybrids.
* Most vehicles are 2018 model, unless identifies otherwise.
* The EPA fuel economy ratings when listed at xx/xx/xx are city/highway/combined estimates.
* MPGe means Miles Per Gallon Equivalent – the numerical unit used for hybrids and electric vehicles.
* All prices include shipping charge.
Photos by Doug Berger
Affordable Hybrid Cars
*Northwest Affordable Hybrid Car of the Year
The Volt is different than the other affordable hybrids because it is powered by an electric motor. The gasoline engine is to charge the batteries. Most of the other hybrids are a combination of electric motor and gasoline engine propulsion with the engine driving the wheels. Chevrolet thinks that setup offers owners the best of both worlds. The second-generation Volt, which debuted as a 2016 model, has an all-electric range of 53 miles. When the battery gets low, the gasoline engine seamlessly starts and produces more electricity for the battery.
With the battery charged (at home or at a commercial charge station) the Volt has a range of about 420 miles on gasoline and electric. Chevrolet expects most owners to go up to 1,100 miles between fill-ups when the battery is recharged regularly. EPA numbers list 106 MPGe on electricity and 42 MPG on gasoline only. Obviously, the mixing of the two should get a number somewhere in the middle. The Volt is available in the LT and Premier trim levels with prices of $34,095 and $38,445 respectively, and there is the tax credit incentives.
Ford Fusion Hybrid
The Ford Fusion is nearly a brand unto itself. It’s available in a variety of gasoline powered models from basic gasoline version up through a fast twin-turbo model with all-wheel drive capable of a quick 5.3 second 0 to 60 mph acceleration run. Ford brought its two most economical Fusion model to the Drive Revolution – a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid.
We give Ford high marks for the styling, attention to detail, handling and economy of the both. We base the numbers on 2018 models because as early 2019 models’ prices and EPA estimates were not available. The 2018 Hybrid comes in three trim levels with prices ranging from $26,285 to $34,265, and we noticed big incentives available on the 2018 models on the Ford website. The 2018 EPA numbers are listed at 97 MPGe on electric and 42 mpg on gasoline only.
The Fusion Hybrid, which is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, an electric motor is not the quickest hybrid on the block, but its gets the job done nicely. One downside for us is the CVT (continuously variable transmission) which feels somewhat out of touch and is too mushy for our taste. We’d much prefer an 8 or 10 speed automatic.
Ford Fusion Energi
Making even more of an environmental commitment, the 2019 Ford Fusion Energi takes the Hybrid one step forward as a plug-in hybrid. Like the Hybrid, it’s powered by a 141-hp, four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine and an electric motor — basically it has everything the Fusion Hybrid has except you can plug it in and charge the battery, so it doesn’t rely exclusively on regenerative braking to charge. The Energi Lithium-Ion Battery is 7.6 kWh as compared to the 1.4 kWh battery in the hybrid. That gives it more electric-only range than the hybrid.
The Fusion Energi is available in three trim levels with base prices ranging from $32,295 to $40,295 the Platinum edition.
The Honda Insight was the first Hybrid sold in the U.S. in 1999 beating the Prius to showrooms by several months. A second and very different version was sold from 2009 to 2014. The third iteration of the Insight came this year as a 2019 model, and it’s a much different vehicle than the first two. It also was our favorite in the Affordable Hybrid Cars category. The design is fresh and contemporary with sweeping exterior lines resembling the popular four-door coupe look. The interior is clean, well-organized and traditional looking other than the shifter, which is the pushbutton system pioneered in the Acura a few years ago. The Insight is powered by a 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine and aided by two motors that combined produce 151 hp. They are attached to a very nice Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission that acts more like an automatic transmission than a CVT.
The EPA estimates fuel economy at 51/45/48 MPG. Early buff magazine testing lists a 0 to 60 mph time of 8 seconds. Collision Mitigation Braking, Road Departure Mitigation, Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keep Assist are all standard as part of the Honda Sensing system. The three trim levels are priced from $23,725 to $28,985 with a potential top price approaching $31,000 with all the options.
Toyota Prius Prime
With global sales of more than 6 million the Toyota Prius is the undisputed gorilla of hybrid kingdom. Now in its fourth generation the Prius has nearly evolved into a Toyota brand unto itself with a variety of vehicle sizes, shapes and models. The event vehicle, the 2018 Prime Plus plug-in hybrid, is the entry-version of the top Prius model. It’s a few inches longer and slightly wider than the regular Prius. The power is the same 1.8-liter Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine with a dual motor hybrid powertrain which combine to deliver 121-hp. It’s one of the smoothest and comfortable cars in the category, but acceleration is modest. Where the Prime excels is in what it saves – fuel. The EPA lists an electric and gasoline rating of 133 MPGe and gasoline at 54 mpg which were the best at the event. The 2018 Prius Prime is available in three trims with prices ranging from $28,195 for the Plus up to $34,195 for the model they call “Advanced”.