Auto Club Puts Hybrids Through 'Real World' Tests

Automotive
(LOS ANGELES, April 23, 2008) -- As gasoline prices reach record highs this spring and consumers are looking to use less gasoline, more are considering a hybrid vehicle purchase. To assist them in making a decision, the Automobile Club of Southern California's Automotive Research Center has conducted an analysis of representative hybrid vehicles on the market.
 
To provide useful information to families searching for a new car, Automotive Research Center technicians tested the four hybrid vehicles - two sedans and two SUVs - at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, putting them through "real world" paces to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each vehicle both for drivability and family use.
"Increasingly, we get asked about the viability of hybrid vehicles," said Steve Mazor, manager of the research center. "Most people know about the high fuel economy, but don't know if the vehicles will work well for their everyday needs. We believe the tests we conducted can help them to determine that."
 
Technicians tested the Ford Escape, Honda Civic, Lexus RX 400h and the Toyota Prius on a 0-10 scale, ten being highest or best. Tests included emissions score, braking, crashworthiness, visibility, slalom handling, ride quality, fuel economy, interior noise, acceleration, ease of entry and exit, interior size, turning circle and luggage capacity.
All four vehicles scored very high on low emissions and three scored very well on fuel economy. However, the Lexus SUV earned a 2.66 for fuel economy. While it gets good fuel economy for an SUV this size and doesn't compromise on performance, it provided an EPA urban 27 MPG compared to the Prius which gets an EPA urban 48. It also received a low score, 2.24, on the slalom test due to its higher profile.
 
The Prius and Civic scored high on fuel economy but lower on acceleration. In fact, the Civic earned a 0.0 on the acceleration test because it was the slowest "green" vehicle ever tested by the Auto Club.
 
"Even with both powerplants going full tilt, acceleration is minimal, making passing a 'white knuckle' and noisy ride," noted Mazor.
 
The Prius and Civic also had low scores for luggage capacity. "These scores tell us that the Prius and Civic will make fine commuter cars, but may not be useful for a family of four with luggage or groceries," Mazor said.
 
The Ford Escape showed itself as a good overall achiever - It scored above 5.0 in ten of the 13 categories, including visibility, ride quality, braking and fuel economy. Mazor added, "If you want a compact SUV, but value being 'green,' the Escape Hybrid (and similar sister Mazda and Mercury vehicles) can meet your needs."
 
The Auto Club report includes more detailed scoring information. The following is a summary of vehicle strengths and weaknesses:
 


2008 Ford Escape Hybrid

Strengths:

-Extremely low emissions (near zero)

-High mpg and performance

-Good headroom

-Ample room for cargo



Weaknesses:

-Difficult entry due to high door sill

-Mushy feeling brake pedal

-Engine and road noise

-Rear window does not open fully

2008 Honda Civic Hybrid

Strengths:

-Extremely low emissions (near zero)

-Excellent fuel economy

-Easy to see warning lights

-Sound system features XM radio

Weaknesses:

-Noisy at high speed

-Slowest car tested

-Small sun visors

-No rear center armrest or rear cupholders

2008 Lexus RX400h

Strengths:

-Good fuel economy in SUV this size

-Powerful, good acceleration

-Roomy, comfortable interior, fit & finish

-Auto dimming mirrors, adaptive HID headlights

Weaknesses:

-Requires premium grade fuel

-Torque steer – pulls to one side

-High purchase price

-Limited rear visibility, tire & wind noise

2008 Toyota Prius

Strengths:

-Extremely low emissions (near zero)

-Excellent fuel economy

-Good handling

- High tech styling & layout

Weaknesses:

-Small sun visors

-Lacks power, especially for passing

-Unusual controls

-Rear visibility