Toyota and Honda moving on

2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid cropped for webThe Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is a spacious compact crossover that offers fuel-sipping rush hour commutes. COURTESY PHOTO  When the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid hit the market as a 2016 model, it was a remarkably multitalented vehicle. The gas-electric version of Toyota's popular compact crossover, the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid combined a spacious, comfortable interior with outstanding fuel efficiency.
One of the few drawbacks was that you couldn't get a gas-saving hybrid version of the base LE model, meaning that buyers had to step up to the XLE or Limited even if they didn't want the extra features. But now, even that complaint has been resolved. For just $1,350 more than the base LE with its optional all-wheel-drive, Toyota will sell you the hybrid that's not only rated for an extra seven mpg over the gas-only version but is also more powerful.
The hybrid's advantage grows stronger still in lower-speed driving. Normal gasoline-powered vehicles are least efficient in the stop-and-go drag that is I-270 during rush hour or stoplight-clogged Rockville Pike during much of the day. But that's when the RAV4 Hybrid can make the best use of its electric motor. The driver can select EV Mode (standing for "electric vehicle") to lock in moderately peppy all-electric acceleration at speeds up to about 27 mph. After that point, gentle use of the throttle can keep the RAV4's gasoline engine off up to about 47 mph.
EPA ratings for the RAV4 are a whopping 34 miles per gallon in the city, along with a more middling 30 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg overall. A recent weeklong test returned 35.1 mpg, consistent with a 2016 model tested last year.

The RAV4 Hybrid's electric battery recharges itself while the engine runs during normal use, and the engine can also switch itself on if the battery has otherwise gotten too low.
It's worth noting, though, that the RAV4 Hybrid's fuel-saving benefits essentially evaporate on the freeway. Most of today's leading non-hybrid crossovers reach or exceed 30 mpg in the EPA's highway testing. And as noted, unlike most of today's hybrids, the RAV4 can't operate in all-electric mode at highway speeds. If you're looking for a fuel-saver for long-distance road trips, look first to the newly introduced 2018 Chevrolet Equinox's available diesel engine, which is rated for up to 39 mpg on the highway.
Note, too, that if you're looking for the cheapest possible RAV4, the base LE with front-wheel-drive starts at just $25,405 compared to $28,130 for the hybrid. Toyota forces you to get all-wheel-drive on the hybrid because it's electric motor powers only the rear wheels.
The RAV4's formidable competitors, most notably the exceptional Honda CR-V, also beat the Toyota's driving dynamics and in-dash infotainment technology. But for extraordinary low-speed fuel savings in a package that's quite pleasant and highly functional, the RAV4 Hybrid is now more appealing than ever.
2018 Honda Accord EX cropped for webThe redesigned 2018 Honda Accord is an impressive midsize sedan even in this mid-level EX trim. COURTESY PHOTO  When car companies provide test cars to automotive journalists, they often choose versions loaded up with the biggest engine and all the best features.
Such was the case at a recent media preview drive of the redesigned 2018 Honda Accord midsize sedan. On hand was the Touring 2.0T, priced at $36,690. It was delightful – a brilliant mix of performance, comfort, and everyday functionality. But what about the lower-range models that most Accord buyers will choose?
To find out, we visited Sport Honda in Silver Spring to try out an EX 1.5T model. It has cloth upholstery instead of leather, features a 1.5-liter engine instead of a 2.0-liter, and lacks the Touring model's adjustable suspension, but the omissions allow it to be sold at a comparatively affordable $28,360.
Not surprisingly, a smaller engine and less sophisticated suspension made the EX 1.5T less of a brilliant sports sedan than the top-of-the-line Touring 2.0T. But even this humbler model – which is mechanically identical to the base $24,460 LX – retained more of a spark than the average midsize family sedan. Steering remained agreeably responsive, handling was still composed, and the 192-horsepower engine was decently peppy. A 1.5-liter Accord isn't the car you buy because you want to have fun, but it's still a one that you can enjoy driving.
The rest of the package also continues to impress. The interior is super-spacious; some folks will wish for the seats to be higher, but there's stretch-out legroom all around. The well-constructed cabin is built with fine materials, though at this price point it would have been nice if Honda had included a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Controls are more user-friendly than the old Accord's, and there are handy Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. Meanwhile, gas mileage with the 1.5-liter engine is best-in-class at 33 mpg in mixed driving – better than many economy cars.
The Accord Touring is good enough to compete with luxury-branded sport sedans. But if you want to stay under $30,000, Honda’s mid-sized sedan remains an outstanding family car.




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