Retiring a vehicle, or two 50 somethings go looking for new wheels.
It's time to retire our '01 (classic) Prius. We have had it since new, 14.5 years now, a typical life for our vehicles. We buy new, and keep them to the bitter end. We don't put huge number of miles/year, but expect to hang onto them until their reliability becomes an issue, or repairs to keep them road legal are double book value.
At this point, it needs a new monolithic center exhaust pipe, the one that has two catalytic converters, a vacuum operated flap valve, and an O2 sensor that has been there since new. Parts at discount are at least $1,500. and I expect all fasteners to be liberally locktite browned (aka rusted) in place. Add an intermittent evap system code, and its going to be fun to get it past annual inspection, due next month. The paint on the hood has started to abrade away, the leading edge has bald spots. It also had two "required external assistance" events after we got back from our trip to the left coast, so Sue would rather not drive it without me along.
This is Susan's daily commuter machine. Its not our only vehicle, we have a micro van (Mazda5) that can move 6 people, and handle my hauling strange objects around duties. So we don't have to get something that will do everything we could ever think we need. It doesn't have to tow, have AWD, haul big stuff, yada yada yada... We don't need to impress anyone, cruise at triple digit speeds, hit sixty in under 6 seconds, etc. If it uses fuel, it should be regular gas, not premium, or diesel.
Things we wanted it to do/have. Be small, nimble and easy to park. Ideally no larger than the old Prius, with a comparably tight (31') turning circle. Should be quiet enough at highway speeds to hold a normal conversation. A model (or at least brand) with a fair history of being reliable enough that we keep it to our usual schedule. Reasonable handling and ride (give some sense of the road, but not every ripple, nor float like the land yachts of my parents era). Strong preference for a lower carbon footprint.
It should carry enough cargo to make a grocery run, and seat three adults without requiring one of them to be a double above the knee amputee. It should have a dark interior, and seats that adjust to accommodate Susan's 5'2" frame. She doesn't drive a manual transmission, and with my tendonitis, I shouldn't any more. We don't want leather, a sunroof, or a factory navigation system. Lane warning systems don't work well enough yet to bother. While having it associate power seat positions with specific keys would be fun, its not at all a requirement.
It has to have good, fairly fast heat. If it can be plugged in, it should be able to preheat the car on a timer, or via phone app. Since I do things like rotate my tires, I like the lower weight, and no silly hubcaps of aluminum rims.
We spend enough time in city creep traffic, that we want another hybrid, no sense in burning fuel when not moving, and a mild hybrid is not enough. I want to move without rotating the IC engine. I don't mind a CVT.
Sue's current commute is very short (about 3 miles one way) that the current Prius hasn't gotten up to temperature/lit the cat's by the time she is pulling into the parking lot, so a plug in hybrid (even the 11 miles of the Prius plug in) would mean she could make it there and back without starting the engine. I suspect that the short cycling might have sped the corrosion of the exhaust pipe it never got hot enough to blow out all the moisture..
Thanks to the CARB you now can buy pure electric vehicles from major automakers. Here in MA, we don't get all of the ones found in CA/OR but we do see more than some. If nothing else, I wanted to give the available ones a try, I think it could be a real option for us, and it would be nice to cut our carbon footprint down. (In New England, most of our base load power (late night charge) would be either hydro or nuclear sourced. They are currently converting the few remaining coal/oil plants in our area to natural gas. Not low carbon, but at least it won't be dumping mercury, sulfur, etc into the atmosphere.
If it is an electric, it should have enough range to do a 60 mile round trip and in all but the coldest weather not require a top up charge. When connected to a level two charger, it should be able to charge at 20 miles/hr (6kw charger, or a 4 hour from empty max. a plug in hybrid can get away with a 3kw). Some option for level 3 charging a plus. (yes, I know about the connector conspiracy)
In terms of gadgets, etc we would like parking aids, a rear view camera, a sound system that plays well with IOS phones, and if it has a gas engine and thus can take long trips, adaptive cruise would be nice. Bonus points for a donut spare tire instead of the can of goo, and automatic brake frontal collision avoidance. I prefer actual knobs to touch screens for things like heat and stereo controls.
Budget was mid thirty's but that wasn't cast in stone, and we would be able to make use of the full tax incentives associated with some alternate fuel vehicles. We wanted to take delivery within a week or two. So the Tesla was out of the running, too big, to long a wait, and too much $. I had hoped that the Prius would have hung on long enough that the Tesla 3 was more than just renderings and rumors.
Ok, enough with the constraints, onto the shopping...
I ruled out the Kia/Hyundai (same car, older design, size), the I-Mev, which was described as a "golf cart with pretentions" for its slow charge and heat. The Smart while cute, needed one more seat, and a faster charger. The targa top was a nice touch on that model, but we keep things long enough that it will eventually leak. They have also gone to a battery rental scheme that would not have been cost effective given our low annual mileage, and the length of time we keep our cars.
The first day we tried the products of the US and Europe.
Started with Ford. We looked at the plug-in C-max (Energi), but didn't get try it as a plug in, just in its hybrid mode. The dealer hadn't bother to charge the HV battery beyond what the engine would do so EV operation wasn't available. (this is normal behavior for a plug in hybrid, electricity from gasoline is likely a lot more expensive than getting out of an outlet, so the motor is to keep you moving, not refill the battery. No excuse on their part, its not like it loses the charge that quickly, and they had a level 2 charger to make it fast and easy)
Overall, we gave it a meh, Ride and noise were OK and should be even quieter had we managed to get EV operation., the backup camera worked well, they even warped the guide lines in response to turning the steering wheel making it even easier to use. The foot under bumper auto rear hatch was a nice touch.. The car wasn't horrid, but it didn't speak to either of us.
The UI for the various displays was not what I would want in a car. You can't operate that much by feel alone. The displays (and it had 3) were full of multi-level menus, that you have to drill down to see single values like external temp, etc.
Particularly annoying was the amount of space the battery intruded into the cargo space behind the seat. With the cargo cover down, there wasn't enough height for grocery bags. Didn't get to see if the space was any better in the hybrid only version (should be a smaller battery after all) the 12 volt battery was dead in the example they had on the lot, so we couldn't open the rear hatch. (doors did open so I guess we could have moved the cargo cover, and used the kid latch, but didn't bother. The C max hasn't had the best reliability record.
We didn't try the Fusion hybrids (like the C max, available as hybrid or plug in hybrid) they were far bigger than we wanted.
They didn't have an example of the pure electric Focus, and while ford lists one in "MA extended inventory, call your dealer to arrange a test", the dealer said they had no way to find out where it was. Don't know if that was true, or just the usual ploy to get us to buy something they had, preferably before we left. They said "3-4 months to get one from manufacturing", no matter what model we were discussing.
From what we read (but couldn't see) the batteries eat a big chunk of the cargo space, like the C-Max energi. It had a much lower price than the other pure electrics, especially with a recent $5k price cut. It, and the volt liquid cool the batteries. (Leaf and E golf are air cooled) Given how much legwork finding one to buy would be, it too was crossed off the list.
Chrysler didn't have anything for us to look at. No hybrids, and their sole pure electric, the E-Fiat, besides being a Fiat, was a CA/OR model only. I remember just how enthusiastically the older generation of Fiat's tried to return their structure to the original ore.
Chevy's pure electric the sonic, is another CA/OR only model, and likely fails the intact third adult seating test. Don't know about pack style, charge speed, etc.
My brother bought a Volt recently. We took it for a ride on Thanksgiving. Sue hated the heavy regen (which you could turn off at least), but the killer was the wimpy heat. Even with the heat cranked to range robbing levels, it was still pretty chilly inside, so she didn't even want to give it a try. The current theory among the volt tech heads is that a diverter valve that is supposed to isolate the electric heated part of the loop from the IC engine, is sticking, so when you want cabin heat, you get to warm up the engine block at the same time.
Since the '16 model is supposedly much improved, people seem to be holding off on buying the existing inventory, so they are apparently getting pretty cheap right now. (along with the usual short sightedness of the American driver, who buys a gas guzzler any time the gas prices take a breather.)
(Hanging onto vehicles a long time runs in the family. My brother got the volt, because the the hood on his 1994 Corrado sheared its forward restraints (but not the hinges) at 70mph on the pike. It made an impression on the roof. He yanked it back down, its in his driveway, with a somewhat re-shaped hood. It looks like the car is doing the Flehmen maneuver, that curled upper lip move that some animals use to improve their sense of smell)
Onto the Germans:
VW had two possibles.
We didn't try the Jetta hybrid as its only a mild hybrid (like the civic), and the double clutch transmission doesn't have the best reputation, especially as Susan would be using it in its pretend to be automatic mode. The turbo'd engine wanting a diet of premium was strike 3.
We tried the E-golf next, and finished the drive with big smiles on our faces. It handled well, and looked like a normal golf, the wheel design (flat disks for aero) and a blue stripe across the grill, being the only thing to distinguish the two models. It was a few inches shorter than the classic Prius. The range was OK, the level 2 charger was 7.2kw, faster than all but the tesla, and it had a level 3 plug standard. (albeit a Combo SAE, the rarest sort currently) Didn't have radar braking, and only normal cruise control. It was possible to operate most things without resorting to a touch screen. It had both a backup camera, and proximity detectors on both front and rear. Cargo space was tall, and had a second small space under it. It comes with a can of goop instead of a tire, the space is where it would have lived. Price was within our limit (list is mid 30's), in fact with the various tax incentives, it was comparable in price to the similarly equipped gas only model. 0-30 acceleration like most electrics, shames the comparable gas engined models. The CG on the electric is lower than any of the IC models, and the f/r weight balance is 50/50.
They only had one trim level available, so no things like "to get the backup camera, you have to take the sunroof" The only choice was color.
We drove by the BMW dealer, but the I3 looked like it had been hit hard by the ugly stick (It wouldn't be so bad if it was a single color, but they did two tones plus an accent. and their color palate is clearly aimed one generation younger than we are). Add the yuppie pricing (mid 40's depending on options) , and a reputation for heavy (and non selectable) regen, and we didn't even bother to pull in. The technology involved sounded neat. It was some 350 kg lighter than the golf, there isn't a lot of steel in the bodywork and frame, aluminum and carbon fiber taking their place. They have an optional range extending engine. Strict series hybrid, so efficiency isn't that great, and you don't have a choice when to engage it. (it comes on at 5% usable battery, and runs enough to keep it there, no further. No option to say "hold current batteries, I am on the highway, save the batteries for when I hit the stop and go traffic.). It adds less than 50 miles to the range, as they only fitted a 7 liter (1.9 gallon) gas tank. It adds $4k to the price. (mid forties before extras)
Finished the day at Mercedes trying the B class (pure electric). Interesting, but by the time we got the gadgets we wanted on it, it was at least 10k more than the E-Golf. (and they were aggressive about lumping them into packages. It was very hard to get some of the interesting things, without getting leather, etc...) It also lacked the responsive feel of the golf, despite the tesla designed drivetrain. (and no fast charge port of any standard). It was pretty plush, with power everything, and some fairly unique things (like something that auto adjusts the intermittent wiper speed). Range was comparable to the golf (mid 80's)
Next day, we went to see the products of Japan.
Wasn't going to try the Civic hybrid (mild hybrid, and they have grown a bit since my old mid 80's SI hatchback). We couldn't find an accord plug-in closer than Troy NY. (and they are too big). The E-Fit could have been nice, its a great size, but its a CA only, and apparently discontinued. Likewise, Subaru discontinued its sole hybrid model, and doesn't currently sell a pure electric.
Morning started at Lexus, looking at the CT 200H. Most of it looked fine, but we wonder what they were smoking when they did the spindle grill. It was even more cramped feeling than the Prius, and was priced like the plug-in, for the ordinary. Didn't bother driving it.
Next came the Leaf. It wasn't bad, but the Golf was a nudge above it. There were even some incentives from Nissan that would have chopped the price some, and put it after the tax stuff about what they wanted for the high trim Prius C. ($3.5k in incentives over and above the tax credits) I liked their "around view" parking aid, and cargo space was good (better than the prius, and the fords, equal with the VW). A couple of inches longer than the classic Prius, comparable to the current full sized Prius. Their high speed charge port (level 3) isn't available on the base model, optional on the mid level, and standard on the high trim level. The base model is a 3kw level 2 charger, but there is an option to bump it to 6kw. The mid and high levels have the 6kw charger standard. Their level 3 charge port "ChaDemo" has a 3 year deployment headstart on the SAE combo port that is on the VW, BMW, and Ford pure electric. Range was comparable, in the 80's, but it gets 3.2 miles/kwh, compared to others that are closer to 4 miles/kwh.
We thought the headlights were a little odd on the Leaf (they act as air deflectors to reduce wind noise from the side mirrors), and while the styling is "distinct", it isn't that bad looking. The front mounted charge ports are a nice touch, you can get away with a shorter power cord. (all the others we saw had them mounted in the rear, in the same location as the gas filler port would be found on a normal vehicle.)
Finally the toyota dealer.
So we went to try the new versions, to discover that the plug-in is currently unavailable as new around here (Boston). Yes, the toyota web site listed one in inventory at our local dealer, but it was apparently another case of "Extended inventory". Ford told us this, but toyota didn't, we expected to find one there. So we wound up not testing an actual plug in hybrid from any vendor in actual EV mode this time. Price was in the 30's, and the tax incentives are much smaller than on pure electrics. We didn't bother to track down the dealer that actually had the plug in in stock.
Next, the regular Prius. Its a bit longer than the original, and is rated to get better mileage, despite the increases in size, weight, and engine size, along with a smaller battery than the classic.
Neither of us liked the current generation, Sue couldn't stand the spoiler in the rear view. and the nearly horizontal rear window above the spoiler is impossible to keep clear enough in the rain, so you wind up looking thru the fairly short vertical window below the spoiler bar.
I found the flying buttress center console intrusive (but not as bad as the one on the CT 200H. If we had been able to get a plug in, we could get used to the view and room, as the 11 mile range of the battery would mean 80% of our trips were covered at least one way, and her work commute would be entirely EV.
The leaf and our mazda dealt with the "texture" on Washington St, Newton a bit better, but it wasn't bad. Storage was pretty good, and I think there was a doughnut spare to be found under the carpeting out back. They did add in a backup camera as standard, but they have a pile of trim levels, and lots of things are in bundles, so getting the adaptive cruise, without getting a sunroof or leather might not be possible.
We didn't drive the Prius V, that is the same sort of vehicle (more cargo focused) as the Mazda, and it it a full foot longer than the old Prius, but nothing like the Camry or Avalon. (which also got nixed for size despite the hybrid option). The cabin lacked the buttress console and poor rear window view of the standard Prius, so it was a lot better feeling to sit in, but can't comment on how it was to drive, or equip.
We could have wound up in one of the low trim versions of the Prius, for something in the low 20's.
We tried the Prius C. Its clearly an attempt to have something to compete with the stripped out conventional models from other vendors. Its clearly built to a price, with NVH somewhere south of third place on the priority list. Its basically a Yaris, with an engine swap. It uses the same 1.5 liter engine as the classic did, with about half the battery pack. Without the flying buttress console, the cabin didn't have the same cramped/isolated feel of the standard, and lexus models.
Size: the thing was noticeably shorter than the classic, not sure how the turning circle compared (everything else we tried wasn't as nimble as the classic prius). It was boxier (the classic is a sedan, not a hatchback) but that doesn't bother me, most things we looked at could be called boxy.
As I said, handling and noise were way down on the list. On Washington St, it bounced around a lot, and the driveline didn't like it when I ran it up to 65 MPH on the pike. Since its (I assume) the same engine, with a different battery and controls as our '01, its frenetic noises are a real contrast and a surprise when compared to the '01. I can't imagine a 450 mile day in the C (the poor hamsters), but its the standard visit the sister-in-law for Christmas that the '01 has done almost every year of its existence, with no signs of distress even when climbing the 70mph hills on I-80 in PA..
Packaging was OK, getting 4 adults into it would be possible (but luggage would be tight) The rear storage wasn't bad given its overall size, but they then proceed to throw away a bunch of space above the donut spare. Instead of a rigid carpeted lid over the void, they have a pair of styrofoam blocks, custom cast to fit, and give them a level floor in the cabin at the right level. Its likely two cubic feet of cargo space gone.
Equipping it was a bit odd. You couldn't get the C with a backup camera, even as an option. This was particularly surprising, as the radio had a large LCD screen, that was just used to display what was playing. Its brightness (by this point, it was close to dusk) was so annoying, we turned the screen off. I truly expect that the radio did include all the provisions for doing a backup camera, but they didn't bother hooking it up. And to get a dark interior, we had to get the top level of trim in the C, put it $2k above the larger and better equipped model. (with my proclivity for things mechanical, getting a light colored interior, is asking for stains everywhere). The base C is something like $18K, and the only two things that were on the higher trim models that we wanted were the aluminum wheels, and the black interior.
We debated a bit, spent some time with the Plugshare maps, and I sent the VW dealer a "Get us one with a black interior, and we will take it" email... We should pick it up in a few days (there is a story there as well)#EV