Posts Tagged ‘luxury hybrid’

h1

The Infiniti M-35 Hybrid: Sometimes a Gas Saver

February 21, 2012


By Roger Witherspoon

 

            I knew it was a hybrid. I just didn’t care.

Saving money in a hybrid is mostly a matter of with fulfillment: you want better mileage, so you drive differently than you normally would. Instead of burning rubber, you take off slowly, allowing the electric motor to accelerate the car at a rate slow enough to allow you to finish your morning cup of tea before reaching the nearest intersection.

On the highway, you avoid the passing lanes and go with the slow flow. If you have to change lanes, you wait till there is an opening rather than hitting the accelerator and jumping into a small, moving slot.  All the while, you are watching a luminous dial by the speedometer giving you a second by second reading of your gasoline miles per gallon – and you really, really like the number to be north of 50. It’s a sensible, safe, self-taught, economic way to drive – but only if you are in the mood to be sensible, safe, and economic.

Which brings this discussion back to a sunny day with a dry, nearly empty highway, and the 2012 Infiniti M-35 hybrid. At the push of a button, the eight-inch, color navigation screen  readily shows you where the power is coming from – the 302-horsepower, V-6 gasoline engine, the 67 horsepower electric motor, or both if you mash the pedal to the floor.  The latter move, of course, defeats the purpose of a gas saving hybrid.

But then, the hybrid combo can be viewed as a gasoline engine enhancer, rather than a gas saver – and the nearly 200 pound-feet of additional torque provided by the electric motor directly to the axels pushes this hybrid, family sedan into the category of a sports car.

So I floored it. The 18-inch rear wheels dug in as the M shot forward, the speedometer hitting 60 in just over five seconds and passing 100 and the quarter mile in just over 13 seconds. And then, since one can’t go too far or fast on the Northeast highways without upsetting the guys with the sirens and guns, it was time to slow down, act responsibly, and enjoy the ride.

One can actually get a speeding ticket while acting responsibly in the M-35 – its electric motor is capable of pushing the car past 60 miles per hour, about twice the norm for most hybrid electric motors. The combined system provides the power of a V-8 engine while sipping gasoline like a more sedate 4-cylinder, Audi A-4. The sedan has an EPA rating of 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 miles per gallon on the highway – but if you drive for fun the actual mileage is likely to be considerably lower and you’ll just have to grin and pay at the pump.

      There are a number of thoughtful features in the M, beginning with the notion that if you pay $65,000 for a car you want a lot of comfort and amenities in addition to speed. Buyers in this range are looking for more than mere transportation: The car, as an art form, has to have an irresistible, aesthetic appeal. With the M-35, you can start with the sculptured theme of flowing raindrops. The outer shell is wide with a hump over each front wheel, tapering towards the rear as if the car were comprised of a flattened bubble flanked by two stretched raindrops. It is a theme repeated inside, with oak wood grain flowing in gentle curves across the dashboard and around the chrome door handles.

Infiniti’s designers also gave some thought to pedestrians, who might not hear the car coming if it is in electric mode. The biggest danger to pedestrians comes when cars are slowing down to turn, and those who listen but don’t look are particularly threatened by hybrids and plug-in electrics. So the electric motor has a built-in whine which comes on when the car starts, and gets louder as the car drives, cutting off at 15 miles per hour on the assumption that pedestrians aren’t in the middle of fast moving traffic.

The central console is nine inches wide, containing a cup holder designed to securely hold two large cups or water bottles side by side, and a thickly padded arm rest over a deep storage bin. The arm rest is wide enough to be comfortably shared by the driver and passenger, and adds to the spacious feel of the interior.

The wide leather seats are power adjustable, have powered lumbar supports and as expected, the may be heated. The leather-wrapped steering wheel telescopes and tilts, contains fingertip audio, cruise and Bluetooth controls and at the touch of a button is also heated – which is really appreciated at this time of year. The leather padding on the dash and side walls are offset by generous use of wood trim made from Japanese ash.

Like most cars of this era, the M-35 uses an “intelligent” electronic key, which merely has to be inside the vehicle in order for you to start it by pushing the ignition button. But this key is a bit smarter than most. Once you have set your seat, mirrors, climate controls and turned on the audio system to your preferred sounds, the key memorizes it and makes any necessary adjustments as soon as you start the car.

For sound, the M comes with XM satellite radio, as well as a USB port and iPod connections. The Bluetooth, which is easy to set up for cell phones, also serves to provide music from a smartphone or other Bluetooth music system. It has a single disc CD player and surround sound provided by a 16-speaker Bose system. In addition, there is a 9.3 Gigabyte hard drive music box to store 1,000 or so of your favorite jams. The XM satellite system also serves to provide real-time traffic updates for the navigation system, which is both easy to use and see on an 8-inch color pop-up monitor.

The M-35 offers a lot for those interested in a comfortable, fuel efficient, luxury sedan. It also offers a lot for those who are primarily interested in performance sports sedans and consider gas mileage a secondary consideration.

Sometimes, it’s nice to have choices.

2012 Infiniti M-35 Hybrid

 

MSRP:                                                                        $65,395

EPA Mileage:                        27 MPG City                          32 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

 

            0 – 60 MPH                                                    5.2 Seconds

            ¼ Mile                                                            13.9 Seconds at 103 MPH

            Top Speed                                                      140 MPH

3.5-Liter DOHC aluminum alloy V-6 engine producing 302 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque; 50 KW electric motor producing 67 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque; hybrid net power 369 horsepower;  rear wheel drive; 7-speed automatic transmission with electronic manual shift mode; double-wishbone, independent front suspension; multi-link independent rear suspension; regenerative brake system; 4-wheel vented disc brakes; anti-lock braking system; 18-inch, 5-spoke, aluminum-alloy wheels; rear view camera; high-intensity, bi-functional Xenon headlights; traction and stability controls; side impact airbags; roof-mounted curtain side impact air bags; blind spot and lane departure warning systems; blind spot intervention.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; Bose digital audio system with 16 speakers; single disc CD player; MP3, iPod and USB ports; Bluetooth phone and audio; 9.3 GB hard drive Music Box; 8-inch video screen; backup and forward monitor; heated steering wheel and front seats; voice activated navigation system; leather, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with fingertip audio, cruise, and phone controls;  Japanese white ash wood trim; front and rear seat climate controls;  power, tinted sunroof; power rear sunshade.

Competition: BMW 5 Series; Mercedes Benz E-Class

Advertisements
h1

Irene and the Hybrid Lexus CT

September 10, 2011

By Roger Witherspoon

 

            It was the gray calm after the storm.

The torrential rains from Hurricane Irene’s slamming northern side passed through theLower Hudson Rivervalley in the early morning light, leaving an uneasy calm, a roiling river, and an unpredictable string of roads blocked by downed trees and rampaging streams. The Hudson River swallowed the wide expanse ofPeekskill’sRiversideParkand splashed against the empty Metro North station as if waiting for a train that was never going to come.

Which made it an interesting day for a drive. Normally, in an unpredictable landscape like this, one would like to be behind the wheel of a Jeep orToyota’s go-anywhere FJ Cruiser. But the car of the day was a hybrid hatchback, the Lexus CT200h, which is billed as a luxury compact for all purpose family driving.

     The beginning of the trip was auspicious enough. The Bear Mountain Extension’s narrow causeway across Annsville Creek – one  of the Hudson River’s many, small, nondescript inlets – was half flooded, with the road west towards the Bear Mountain Bridge completely under water. Eastbound, however, on Route 9 looked like a promising trip, since there were only a few meandering streams winding under the road towards theHudson.  But not today.  A mile past Annsville the eastbound lane hosted a large, horizontal, elm, and the westbound roadway had become an uninterrupted set of fast-moving rapids undermining the eastbound roadway. If there had been a shoulder, it was long gone.

I was glad the Lexus hybrid was a compact, and not a big SUV, since there was not a lot of room to turn around on what was left of the two-lane roadway. And it helped that in reverse the sharp, color cameras in the bumper take over and the map in the seven-inch, pop-up, navigation screen on the dash is replaced by a crystal clear view of the road behind the car. In a shopping center, the camera serves the safety function of helping the driver avoid backing over small children. In this case, it let me see where the road ended and the rushing water began.

The compact was not designed to bound over downed tree trunks or large branches, or ford deep, fast moving streams. But its traction and stability controls were sufficient to keep the Lexus moving straight down Route 9, even though the swollen streams were now flowing across the road, covering it with an inch or so of rushing water.

            As a go-anywhere family car, theLexus CT200h is an interesting blend, and the company seems intent on developing a new genre of vehicle – the luxury compact. As a compact car, the CT 200h has a lot to offer in terms of comfort, convenience, and performance and clearly stands out in the tiny car field. But with a price just south of $40,000, it’s going to have to compete with much larger, sportier, more comfortable, cars like the Chrysler 200 or Lexus’ corporate cousin, the Toyota Camry, as well as small, sporty, SUVs like the turbo-charged Nissan Juke.

In terms of styling, the CT 200h is low and sleek, with subtle ridges and lines giving it more character than the typical, low budget compact.  It is about the size of a Honda Civic, but has a stubby hatchback instead of a long sloping one. And though the rear window on both cars contain windshield wipers, the window on the Lexus can’t open. That can be a drawback if you try to haul long cargo which, on the Civic and some other compact vehicles, would stick out the rear window.  But with the rear seats folded down, the Lexus CT is long enough to hold a half dozen, eight-foot stakes that lay across on the arm rest and nestled against the passenger side of the center console.

There isn’t much under the hood, either. The primary power plant is a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor which, combined, provide 134 horsepower.  While compact cars are not generally known for power plants, one might expect more of a compact costing nearly $40,000 – which is about what you’d pay for a Lincoln MKZ. That hybrid power plant will take about 10 seconds to propel the CT200 from 0 to 60 miles per hour, which means you need to have a lot of space before trying to cut into traffic. It does offer a shift between a more responsive sport mode, or a more ecologically friendly normal driving mode. The most notable change in sport mode is that the instrument panel lighting changes from blue to red, and  the hybrid power indicator changes into a tachometer.

On the other hand, the Lexus can drive on just the battery power at up to 28 miles an hour, and the hybrid combination gets an EPA estimated 40 miles per gallon of gasoline on the highway, and 43 miles per gallon in city driving. And one doesn’t usually buy a compact if you are looking for a performance car.

    Inside, the Lexus luxury compact has a lot going for it. To begin with, despite being a compact, it is extremely comfortable and roomy, with enough leg room in the rear for the average six-footer. The seats are soft leather, and the front set can be heated. Only the driver’s seat is power operated, however – the front passenger has the limited manual seats.

Its navigation system is especially easy to use, featuring the company’s new “Lexus Enform.”  This is an interactive program which lets you sit at home at your computer, input up to 200 addresses or destinations you want to use, and upload them all to the car’s navigation system. The addresses can be placed into a maximum of 20 individualized folders with titles such as “Favorite Restaurants” or “relatives” or camp sites. The navigation system also ties with the satellite radio to offer XM updated traffic and weather.

The sound system utilizes 10 speakers – more than enough to envelop the small cabin in a blanket of sound. There is a six-disc CD changer, AM/FM and XM satellite radio, as well as connections for flash drives, iPods, and MP3 devices.  The car has a traditional slot in the console to hold a cell phone, or you can use a plug-in, adjustable holder to contain your cell phone or iPod.  The gadget sticks up on the console and takes some getting used to. But it does make the device convenient to see and use, and holds it firmly in place.

Whether Lexus can succeed in creating the luxury compact market, particularly in this economy, will be an interesting experiment. But Lexus put a lot of thought into the CT 200h and, if there is a market for such a category, it will set the standard for competitors.

 

2011 Lexus CT 200h

 

MSRP:                                                                                                 $38,725

EPA Mileage:                        43 MPG City                          40 MPG Highway

 

Performance / Safety:

            0 – 60 MPH                                                    9.8 Seconds

            Top Speed                                                      113 MPH

 

1.8-Liter, in-line, 4-cylinder, DOHC gasoline engine and electric motor, producing 134 horsepower and 105 pound/feet of torque; 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels; 4-wheel independent suspension; 4-wheel, power assisted, front & rear disc brakes; anti-lock brakes; stability and traction controls; front driver and passenger knee airbags; front side impact airbags, side curtain airbags; fog lamps, backup camera; rear windshield wiper.

Interior / Comfort:

AM/FM/XM satellite radio; tilt & telescope leather steering wheel with audio and cruise controls; heated front seats; 7-inch navigation screen; Lexus Enform navigation destination system; Bluetooth; 6-disc CD player; MP3, iPod, and USB connections; Lexus audio with 10 speakers.

h1

Two for the Road:The Hybrid and the Sports Sedan

May 9, 2010

 

 

By Roger Witherspoon

 

            There are some songs which seem made for road trips.

            The sun was high, the road was dry and, at 120 miles per hour, the Connecticut landscape was a kaleidoscope of spring floral prints which seemed to throb in time with the bass line of the Temptations’ Runaway Child pounding from the 15 speakers in the Harmon-Kardon sound system.

            It was warm enough to have the windows down and the panoramic sunroof fully open, yet the air flow around the sleek silhouette of the Mercedes S-550 kept enough of the wind noise out of the car that I could pretend I was a teenager again and sing loudly off key along with the storied Motown group.

            Back in the mid-60s, of course, I was driving a Nash Rambler with red bucket seats. Forty-five years later I could hardly fit into trim seats like that and, fortunately, I didn’t have to. The 2010 S-550 has the ultimate in adjustable seating. Drivers and front passenger have a choice of massage settings, heating or cooling, seat lengths, lumbar supports, and side supports, all at the touch of door-mounted buttons. In addition, every time the car goes into a turn, the side of the chair opposite the turn inflates to keep you firmly in your seat like a parent cradling a child. It is surprising at first, as if there is an unseen presence in the car reaching out to you. But you get used to it really fast.

            The passengers in the back seats don’t have all those bells and whistles. But their seats can be heated or air cooled and recline. And to make up for the lack of personal massagers, each rear passenger has a personal DVD screen built into the back of the front seats and wireless headsets and controls for personal viewing. And if it’s a really sunny day the driver, at the push of a button, rolls a sunscreen across the back windshield. Each of the rear passengers controls their own window screen.

            The S-550 is near the top of the Mercedes luxury line, offering modest speed – it tops out at 130 miles per hour – with its trademark sleek styling and handling. It looks and feels like a car costing $120,000.

            It’s propelled by a V-8 engine cranking out a respectable 382 horsepower, and is mated to a seven-speed transmission which shifts seamlessly in automatic mode or manual utilizing the paddle shifts behind the steering wheel. As you might expect, a car like this comes with a $1,000 gas guzzler tax. The EPA estimates the car gets just 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 21 MPG on the highway. The test car had a mixed average of 15 MPG – which means in mostly city driving the sedan was hanging close to single digits.

            If you want the same car with better mileage and no sacrifice in amenities or performance, Mercedes has the S-400H, its first luxury hybrid.  According to the EPA, the S-400H gets 19 city, and 26 highway miles per gallon – which is respectable for a large sedan. In addition, the hybrid costs $10,000 less than the standard model, the S-550. That is an unusual price switch which earned the S-400H plaudits from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

            The UCS (www.UCS.org)  rates hybrids from the standpoint of their greenhouse gas reductions, and their value in terms of the amount of “forced features” they may have. Don Anair, the UCS engineer who maintains the Hybrid Center Scorecard (  http://www.hybridcenter.org/  ), explained that “when you purchase a hybrid, they often come with features which are otherwise options. The value score we created looked at the cost of the hybrid system vs. the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and determined how much you are paying for a percentage in reductions.

            “The Ford Escape’s base model has three trim levels. But you only get the hybrid at the mid trim level – you’re forced to buy the features which are optional on the standard Escape.  It can run to a lot of money: on the Lexus 600 the difference was about $20,000.”

            The UCS gave Mercedes high marks putting the same amenities in both the S-400H and the standard S-550, and the price is lower because the gasoline engine on the hybrid is a V-6 producing 275 horsepower – about 100 less than in the all gasoline version.

            But its ecological improvement was just marginal because the S-400H has what is called a “mild” rather than full hybrid. “You can’t drive on the electric motor alone,” Anair said. “You get a 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but you benefit from the idle-off feature which shuts down the gasoline engine whenever you stop.

            “Mercedes has talked about developing a full hybrid, and we hope they move in that direction.  What you get with the S-400H is beneficial but not powerful enough to propel the vehicle.”

            The major cost difference between the S-550 and its hybrid sibling stems from the larger engine and a $6,000 facelift. The all gasoline model has a sleeker silhouette and 19-inch, five-spoke AMG sport wheels.

            Inside they are the same. Both vehicles feature six-disc CD players, XM satellite radio, Bluetooth cell phone interface and iPod and USB port connections. There is also a 40-gigabyte hard drive to store your own tunes or movies. Whatever your musical tastes, the 15-speaker Harman/Kardon LOGIC-7 system bathes you in smooth waves of sound without overwhelming and battering you with noise.

            If there is a downside to the technology in these luxury liners, it’s that the computerized command system is not user friendly and there is a steep learning curve for functions which should be intuitive, such as the radio or navigation system. One should not have to read a manual to locate the FM radio. But once learned, the technological innovations can be impressive.

            On the safety side the cars are equipped with a small camera on the dashboard facing the driver and connecting to the side radar used in monitoring lane control and the adaptive cruise command. During the first 20 minutes of driving above 35 miles per hour, the camera records eye motions and the safety system’s computer monitors how the driver responds to lane changes and sudden swerves and turns. Using that as a baseline, the system then monitors the driver’s attention span.

            If you are drifting outside your lane or the camera’s computer notices what appears to be inattention and your eyes closing, a warning sound is produced and a message pops up in the midst of the speedometer asking is it “time for a  rest?” accompanied by the image of a steaming coffee cup. It is not quite the computer system governing the automated, interactive Audi driven by Will Smith in I Robot – but it’s heading in that direction

            The driver monitoring system is augmented with an infrared night vision camera which pops a thermal image of the road ahead in the middle of the dash in place of the speedometer – which becomes a digital readout at the bottom of the screen. The infrared screen can see images 500 feet in front of the car and pedestrians are bracketed to make sure the driver notices them. The ability to detect body heat is a serious advantage in places like upstate New York, where Bambi and her cousins run into more than 1,200 cars each week. And while Mercedes doesn’t advertise this, the infrared beam can spot the heated engine of a police car waiting behind bushes with its lights out long before the car is in range of a radar gun.

            Slowing down, staying awake and avoiding tickets are very good things.

 

 

 

2010 Mercedes Benz S-550

MSRP:                                                                       $116,995

EPA Mileage:                        14 MPG City                          21 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   15 MPG Mixed

Performance / Safety:       

            0 – 60 MPH                                                    5.4 Seconds

            Top Speed:                                                     130 MPH

5.5-Liter, 32-valve, aluminum V-8 engine producing 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque; 7-speed transmission with automatic and  manual mode with paddle shift; all wheel drive; electronic traction control;  rack-and-pinion steering;  air suspension; internally ventilated disc brakes; 19-inch AMG 5-spoke wheels; dual chrome exhausts; active bi-xenon headlights and cornering lights; driver safety system; night vision;  dual stage front airbags;  front and rear side airbags; head curtain airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

AM/FM/XM satellite and HD radio; 6-disc CD player; iPod and USB port; 40-gigabyte hard drive; 15-speaker Harman/Kardon Logic-7 surround sound; power sunroof; power sunscreens; leather, adjustable seats with massager; wood trim; rear DVD players.

2010 Mercedes Benz S-400H

 MSRP:                                                                       $105,230

EPA Mileage:                        19 MPG City                          26 MPG Highway

As Tested Mileage:                                                   21 MPG Mixed

Performance / Safety: 

            0 – 60 MPH                                                    7.2 Seconds

            Top Speed:                                                     130 MPH

 3.5-Liter, 24-valve, aluminum V-6 gasoline engine producing 295 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque; 3-phase, mild hybrid, 120-volt electric motor producing 20 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque.

%d bloggers like this: