With gas around $4 per gallon, hybrids are hot. Before, if they looked like their regular production counterparts, they languished while the different-looking Toyota Prius prospered. Now buyers would rather have extra bucks in their pockets than make a styling statement. Other than hybrid badging, there is little that makes the Malibu Hybrid stand out. It does get better fuel economy, primarily in the traffic where the stop-start feature helps squeeze 4 mpg more out of the city cycle. Chevy has done an admirable job in making the operation seamless; just don’t expect massive boosts in fuel economy. With a light foot, you can make the Malibu start off in pure electric mode, but it will soon pop on the 4-cylinder engine, especially if you have accessories like air conditioning running.
The Toyota Camry Hybrid sedan brings the quality and reliability of the Camry together with increased fuel efficiency.
The Camry Hybrid is a front-wheel drive four-door sedan that seats five passengers. Available in two trim levels, LE and XLE, the heart of the Camry Hybrid is the Hybrid Synergy Drive, a combination electric motor/gasoline engine that produces a combined 200-hp, and efficient, electronic continuously variable transmission. The standard warranty for hybrid-related components is 8 years/100,000 miles. Stability and traction control, ten-airbags, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and tire pressure monitor are some of the standard safety equipment. Tech features include Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, garage door opener, rear camera, navigation with touch screen, HD and satellite radio, and the new Entune mobile app and services system.
For 2013, the Camry Hybrid LE is outfitted with a standard 6.1-inch touch screen audio system with Bluetooth wireless streaming.
Just in time for the start of baseball season, Infiniti is coming out swinging for the center of the luxury crossover market with the new 2013 JX35. Available in front or all-wheel-drive format, the 7-passenger JX35 is filling a noticeable niche in Infiniti’s lineup. It’s sized between the brand’s smaller and sportier FX crossover, and the large luxury-laden QX56 sport-ute. The exterior styling of the JX35 borrows more from the FX, thankfully, since the massive chrome grille and portholes of the QX56 would look pretty strange on on a smaller crossover – I’m not convinced they work on the larger QX56, to be honest.
Infiniti wants the FX35 to make a subtle styling statement, with more emphasis being placed on cabin room and comfort features, versus outlandish looks and fancy packaging. Not that the FX35 is a slouch, its all-aluminum DOHC 3.5-liter V-6 engine offers 265 bhp at 6400 rpm, along with 248 lb.-ft. of torque at 4400 rpm. Straight-line performance is smooth and steady, though not what we’d call rapid – at the time of our test drive Infiniti had not released any official 0 to 60 mph times. With more than 4200 lbs. to haul (in the slightly lighter front-wheel-drive model) the JX35 powertrain has its work cut out for it.
On the Road
Infiniti isn’t trying to reinvent the crossover segment, the Japanese luxury brand wants the JX35 to be a volume seller, and the point is driven home when you’re behind the wheel. As we’ve already noted, there is adequate power for most driving situations, the 3.5-liter V-6 is responsive and smooth, and engine noise is minimal. The ride and handling balance is tuned for everyday comfort, the independent strut arrangement up front and multilink arrangement at the rear kept the JX35 nicely controlled. Speed-sensitive steering allows for easy positioning of the JX35 at city speeds, though more feedback at higher speeds would be nice. Then again, in this market segment, Lotus-like handling isn’t a high priority.
Loaded with Features, and a Slick Second Row
Where the JX35 really excels is technology, especially when it comes to keeping you out of sticky situations – or at least free from visits to the repair shop. One of the safety items of particular note is Backup Collision Intervention, which uses a combination of sonar and radar parking sensors to detect approaching vehicles and other obstacles when reversing. One awkward moment occurred when an Infiniti rep asked if we’d used the system. Our quick confirmation that, yes, it had “really saved us” was met with wide-eyed silence. We were actually referring to the Around View rear backup cameras, which made one especially tight U-turn much easier (honest!).
The Patriot is a compact sport utility vehicle featuring classic Jeep styling in an affordable package. While it will spend most of its life on city streets, the Patriot includes components that provide it with off-road capability unparalleled by other vehicles in its class.
The Patriot shares its small-SUV platform with the Jeep Compass, but provides off-road capability that its sibling does not. The Patriot is offered in either front-wheel drive or with a four-wheel drive system that features a "lock" mode to enhance traction during inclement weather. Three trim levels are available: Sport, Latitude and Limited. The front-wheel drive Sport and Latitude trims are powered by a 158-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, while all other models use a 172-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (optional on the FWD Sport and Latitude). Available transmissions include a five-speed manual, a new six-speed PowerTech automatic, and a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with manual shift mode. Building on the Sport trim, the Latitude adds 17-inch aluminum wheels, heated front seats, fold-flat passenger seat, air conditioning and a leather steering wheel with integrated audio controls, as well as power mirrors, windows and door locks. The Limited is further equipped with a power driver's seat, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, satellite radio and a 6-disc CD/DVD player. An available Freedom Drive II Off-Road package enhances the Patriot's capabilities with a four-wheel drive off-road mode, hill descent control, all-terrain tires, skid plates, tow hooks and a brake lock differential. Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes with brake assist, electronic stability control with roll mitigation, traction control, side-curtain air bags for both rows of seating and a tire pressure monitor. New for 2014, front seat-mounted side airbags are now standard on all models.
The Jeep Patriot carries over with minimal changes for 2014. A new six-speed PowerTech automatic transmission is offered, and front seat-mounted side airbags are now standard on all models, enhancing safety.
From a company known for its sports cars comes the Cayenne, a sport-utility vehicle that emphasizes sport more than utility. Bristling with handling, ride control and comfort-enhancing devices, the Cayenne, virtually unchanged for 2010, is available in six versions ranging from the base model with its fuel-frugal V-6 to the 174-mph Cayenne Turbo S with its 550-bhp twin-turbo V-8. Sandwiched among four other V-8s, ranging from 385 to 500 bhp, are two so-called boutique models—the 405-bhp GTS Porsche Design 3 and the 405-bhp Transsyberia, which are set off by their distinctive paint schemes, body trim and special wheels. New this year: 21-in. wheels, standard on the GTS and Turbo S.