Ok, let’s immediately deal with the elephant in the room. The Toyota Prius Prime is not an attractive vehicle. In fact, to my eyes, it’s quite homely. Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll leave the aesthetic judgements to your own tastes and move on to how Toyota’s sophomore effort at a plug-in version of its icon works. While the first-generation Prius PHV was a bit of a swing and a miss, the functionality this time is in most respects a home run.
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.
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?
The new era of Volvo picked up some steam today with the reveal of the all-new S90 sedan which finally replaces the long-in-the-tooth S80. Based on the same scalable platform architecture as the big XC90 crossover that debuted earlier this year, the S90 adopts a similar design language with a broad-shouldered look and the “Thor’s Hammer” signature lighting in the headlamp clusters.
Of course the S90 wouldn’t be a real Volvo without lots of safety technology and the sedan builds on what already debuted in the XC90 including Pilot Assist. The first version of the semi-autonomous Pilot Assist combined lane centering functionality with automatic speed control for driving in stop and go traffic at speeds up to 30 mph. The XC90 would automatically track the vehicle ahead using the same radar sensor used for adaptive cruise control while a camera monitored the lane markings.
For the second-generation Pilot Assist, the maximum speed has been increased to about 80 mph and there no longer needs to be another vehicle to follow. That means the S90 can more or less drive itself on the highway although the driver must keep a hand on the wheel or the system will disengage. Hopefully, the camera system for detecting lane markings is more robust now, because it definitely had a hard time with detection on the XC90.
Another new feature to the S90 is large animal detection which uses the combination of radar and camera to detect creatures like moose and deer crossing in front of the car. If an animal is detected, the driver is alerted and brake pressure is boosted when the driver applies the pedal.
Under the hood, the S90 will offer three powertrain options all based around the company’s new 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that debuted in the XC90. The base T5 engine gets a turbocharger while the T6 uses an exhaust-driven turbo plus a mechanically driven supercharger to generate 316-horsepower. The top-end T8 Twin Engine adds electric drive and a lithium ion battery for a plug-in hybrid powertrain with more than 400 hp.
The new Volvo S90 will get its first public showing next month at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Since Sunday’s announcement in Shanghai of the Cadillac CT6 plug-in hybrid, there has been some interesting discussion and speculation about how far the car will go on a full charge of its battery and what sort of energy efficiency it will achieve. Cadillac and GM officials have declined to get specific about technical details beyond the limited information in the U.S. press release. However, the release on GM’s Chinese media site lists 37 miles. Let’s take a look at where the EPA estimate will likely end up.
As we saw so clearly at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, any brand that wants to stay competitive in the premium vehicle segments needs to aggressively adopt electrified powertrains. At the Shanghai Motor Show today, Cadillac joined the crowd that already includes Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. GM’s top brand already revealed the full-size CT6 luxury sedan with conventional gasoline powertrains a few weeks ago at its new hometown show in New York. In China, Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen is highlighting a new plug-in hybrid powertrain that will in all likelihood find a home throughout most of the brand’s lineup.
Back in 2006 when I first started writing professionally about cars, plug-in cars were just starting to make a comeback to the marketplace with the reveal of the Tesla Roadster. At the time, a number of fans of the second-generation Toyota Prius wanted in on the action and started adding bigger battery packs to turn them into plug-in hybrids. A combination of wanting to grease that squeaky wheel and plug-in vehicle mandates from the state of California eventually led Toyota to produce a plug-in variant of the third-gen Prius and I recently got to spend a week driving one.