The launch of the second-generation XC90 marked the beginning of a new era for Volvo a couple of years ago. The XC90 is the first model to ride on the company’s all-new scalable product architecture (SPA), the first all-new platform to come from Gothenburg since Ford sold the Swedish brand to China’s Geely in 2010. After initially being available only with boosted four-cylinder engines, the XC90 is now the first regular production plug-in model Volvo is offering in America and I recently spent a week driving one.
It’s now been about a decade since BMW first announced its plans to get into the hybrid game and it was another three years before any production models with electric drive assist hit the streets. A lot has changed since BMW launched the ActiveHybrid X6 and ActiveHybrid 7 essentially as experiments in 2009. Electrification is now becoming relatively mainstream with batteries and electric motors no longer limited to super-efficient cars like the Toyota Prius. After a week with the 2016 X5 xDrive40e, there’s no doubt that the future of the ultimate driving machine includes plugs across the board.
It’s not often that a single automotive nameplate becomes virtually synonymous with a powertrain technology. Yet over the course of almost two decades, that’s exactly what has happened with the Toyota Prius. When you think hybrid electric, Prius is likely the first and probably only name that comes to mind. Late 2015 brought us an all-new fourth-generation Prius with some of the most substantial changes to date and I finally got an opportunity to drive it recently.
If you’ve been following along over the past year or so, you’ve probably noticed that I’m quite enamored with the current generation Hyundai’s midsize sedan, the Sonata. Since early 2015, I’ve driven the 1.6-liter turbocharged Eco, the 2.0-liter Hybrid and now the newest member of the lineup, the Plug-in Hybrid. The Sonata PHEV is the first Hyundai-branded model sold in North America with a plug and it’s one of only two plug-in hybrids in the midsize family sedan segment, the other being the Ford Fusion Energi.
For most of its nearly two decade history, the midsize RX crossover has been the best seller in the Lexus lineup by a fairly wide margin. Like other Lexi prior to the current generation, it also had generally inoffensive, but uninspired design. That all changed in 2015 with the debut of the fourth-generation RX including the hybrid RX450h F Sport that I recently drove. Whether you like the new design direction or not, this latest RX is at least less likely to get lost in a crowd.
A good rule of thumb when attending an auto show is that the more radical looking a concept car is, the less likely it is to ever make it to production. Virtually every major brand is guilty of producing pieces of rolling sculpture that end up doing little more than introducing a couple of new design cues that end up on more mainstream models. When we first saw BMW’s Vision EfficientDynamics concept at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, it seemed to fall squarely into this category. Nevertheless, five years later something very much like that concept emerged as the first-ever i8.
As I sit down to write these words about the 2016 Chevrolet Volt, I just realized that it has been almost exactly 10 years since Jon Lauckner and Bob Lutz sat down and sketched out the basic architecture for what they hoped would be a truly practical plug-in car. In the days and weeks that followed, Lutz and Lauckner gathered up the core of an engineering and design team that would eventually bring the first-generation Volt to production four and a half years later. A decade on from those first discussions, the second-generation Volt is now on sale and it’s vastly superior to the original in every way.
Like most things in the real world, when it comes to automotive electrification, there is a continuum of approaches rather than a binary electric or not. At the minimal end, you’ll find automatic stop-start systems while the maximal solution relies on electric motors alone for propulsion. Lying somewhere in between is the Ford C-MAX Energi, the Dearborn automaker’s first production plug-in hybrid. After three years on the market, is the C-MAX Energi a good solution for those interested in going electric without range anxiety?
Five years after launching its first hybrid electric vehicle, Hyundai is at it again with the second-generation Sonata hybrid. Hyundai went its own way with the powertrain architecture it developed in-house. Unlike the two-motor power-split systems used by Toyota, Ford and GM when it debuted in 2010, the Sonata had a single-motor system with a fairly conventional six-speed automatic. Hyundai priced the Sonata hybrid aggressively and it sold well but it wasn’t considered as refined as some of the competition. I spent a week with the 2016 Sonata Hybrid Limited to see how it compares.