Imagine a vehicle that can carry you and six other adults from Rockville to downtown Washington and back without using a drop of gasoline — or do the trip solo in I-270's HOV lanes.
There are two vehicles that can pull off this achievement, both using electric motors and Maryland's perks to drivers of electric cars. One is the Tesla Model X, an all-electric luxury crossover with a base price of around $80,000. The other is the all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, a plug-in hybrid version of Chrysler's popular minivan.
The EPA estimates that the Pacifica Hybrid can go 33 miles on an all-electric charge and then switch over to its gas-electric operation, which manages 32 mpg. Both figures are impressive.
So is the Pacifica Hybrid's price. You may get sticker shock at first glance by seeing a base price of $41,090, but buyers can get a $7,500 federal tax credit for buying an electric vehicle. Factoring in Uncle Sam's discount, the Pacifica Hybrid actually costs $100 less than the equivalent gas-only model.
A recent weeklong test of the Pacifica Hybrid didn't quite return the EPA estimates — but the van came close. Its all-electric range was 28.6 miles in mostly highway driving and 31.6 miles in conditions that included more stop-and-go traffic, where the batteries can partially recharge themselves.
Lower-speed conditions are also friendlier to the van's gas-electric mode, which it adopts automatically once the plug-in range is gone. On the highway, the Pacifica Hybrid can't make much use of its electric components, primarily relying on the same V6 engine as the gas-powered Pacifica. But while the latter sees its mileage plummet in anything but a steady cruise, the hybrid performs best when it's able to coast to a stop and gently accelerate forward again. It averaged about 26 mpg in hybrid operation, which trails the EPA estimate but is outstanding for a big powerful van in city/suburban driving.
And as a daily-use commuter car or errand-runner, the Pacifica Hybrid will rarely even enter its hybrid mode, sticking to its all-electric capability. It charges from a drained battery to completely full in about 13 hours on a regular household outlet, but in less than three hours if you spring for a dedicated car charger.
Each full charge costs about $1.30 on Pepco's current residential rate. Assuming a 33-mile range and using Maryland's current average fuel price of $2.46 per gallon, that's the equivalent of a gas-powered car that gets more than 60 mpg.
Like the gas-powered Pacifica, the hybrid doesn't have seats that are as comfortable or as adjustable as the new Honda Odyssey. Nor does it offer all-wheel-drive like the Toyota Sienna or a crossover. The hybrid also gives up Chrysler's excellent “Stow 'n Go” middle-row seats — you have to remove them from the van for maximum space, an unpleasant task compared to folding them into the floor — and it maxes out at seven passengers instead of eight.
But overall, the Pacifica Hybrid demands few sacrifices while enjoying marvelous fuel savings.
As the coldest months approach, you're more likely to be thinking about all-wheel-drive and high ground clearance than about a low-slung convertible.
But with a mild winter in the forecast and with the region rarely enduring persistent snowfall, snapping up a Mazda MX-5 Miata isn't out of the question at any season. That's especially true with the new hardtop RF version, which adds fresh style and cold-weather insulation to the familiar Miata.
Miatas have been available with removable hardtops for more than 20 years, and the last generation offered a power-retractable option. But these hardtops were about function over fashion — basically replicating the shape of the standard fabric soft top, just made out of rigid plastic.
The new RF model is different. A rear section of roof makes it read like a legitimate coupe with the top in place, while other current and past Miatas just look like a convertible that's been temporarily covered up. You don't have to feel guilty to drive the RF with the top up.
The extra roof components do mean that the RF sacrifices the full-on convertible experience of a normal Miata. Even with the top down, there are still some pieces that remain in place. But if you like how the RF looks — and you probably shouldn't buy it if you don't — there's at least an aesthetic advantage.
Like other Miatas, the RF is a tiny car with seating for two not-too-tall adults and a little bit of cargo. It's powered by a 155-horsepower four-cylinder engine that sounds weak on paper but joyful in real life. It's the rare sports car that you can drive hard without getting arrested. It also boasts delightfully responsive handling and exceptional gas mileage — the EPA rates it at 29 mpg in mixed driving and it averaged over 40 mpg in a weeklong test, albeit on premium fuel.
The base Miata soft-top costs $25,790, which rises to $29,675 for the next-cheapest trim, Club. The RF partially retractable hardtop version is offered only on the Club and the top-of-the-line Grand Touring, where it costs about $2,000 extra. But for its distinctive looks and extra protection from sound and cold, the RF is a solid option in the exceptional MX-5 Miata lineup.