MIDDLEBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Motor Press Association (#NEMPA) recently held its annual Winter Car of the Year program which brought approximately 25 journalist members to Middleborough, Mass., to drive contenders and vote on their choices for the best vehicles offered in several categories.
The 30 vehicles available for driving represented a cross section from subcompact sport-utility vehicles (SUV) to high-performance full-size pickup trucks competing for Winter Truck/SUV/Car of the year and EV of the Year as well as tops in several segment categories. (Winners will be announced later in the year.) Contenders were not limited to the vehicles on hand, but rather to ones which were in the review fleet during the last 13 months.
I drove a variety of vehicles during the day-long event, concentrating on electric (EV) and plug-in-hybrid electric (PHEV) vehicles and vehicles I have not already had on review. Here are thumbnail impressions of a subset of these vehicles (additional ones will be covered next week. The promised Ram Rebel G/T review will appear in two weeks.).
Kia EV6 GT
A year ago I sampled the then new Kia EV6 during the 2022 #NEMPAWINTERCAR program and followed up with a full review of the EV6 GT Wind, a rear-wheel drive, rear-motor EV based on the same platform as the award-winning Hyundai Ioniq 5.
I have been impressed by all the vehicles developed from this platform (which also includes the premium/luxury Genesis GV60) so I was excited to try the latest derivative – the Kia EV6 GT, the most powerful Kia vehicle ever produced (and the company’s most powerful electric vehicle).
The EV6 GT has a 160kW front motor and 270kW rear producing (a combined) 576 horsepower with the juice form a 77.4kWh battery. The good from this combination is super-car performance; 0-60 miles per hour in under 3.5 seconds according to auto-enthusiast magazines. The bad: a rating of just over 200 miles of range (in comparison to more than 300 miles in the Wind).
On the road the EV6 was a near silent machine, all silky power without any drama. The ride was smooth and comfortable; the seats shaped to hold driver and passenger in place during spirited motoring.
The Kia equips the EV6 with a full array of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) with alerts appearing on the comprehensive heads-up display. Speaking of displays, the 36-inches of LCD screen(s) typical of many Hyundai-family (Hyundai/Kia/Genesis) vehicles tops the dash housing the instrument cluster as well as the 12.5-inch infotainment screen.
I was not able to verify the EV6’s ability to hit 60 mph at the rate the publications could (during closed-course testing), but seat-of-the-pants testing assured me this was a very quick vehicle. And in my limited time behind the wheel, a lot of fun to drive.
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Four-Door 4XE
Jeep might have surprised much of the automotive world when it chose the iconic Wrangler as the first of its vehicles to be electrified with the 2021 introduction of the Wrangler 4XE plug-in-hybrid.
The goal for the Wrangler 4XE was maintaining its off-road capabilities while increasing its fuel economy. Wrangler four-door models with a six-cylinder gasoline-powered engine are rated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency at 20 mpg overall (18 urban, 23 highway), numbers I saw during three years of owning a Wrangler Sahara.
The 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4XE is rated at 49 MPGe overall and, considering the results I have seen when testing other PHEVs, a realistic expectation. Motive power is a combination of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and two electric motors pumping 375 hp and 470 pounds-feet of torque through an eight-speed automatic transmission and Selec-Trac part-or-full-time four-wheel drive. This makes the Wrangler 4XE the second-most powerful Wrangler behind the V8-powered 470hp Rubicon 392.
The Wrangler 4XE was quick when driven around Middleborough, moving from a full stop with alacrity, thanks to the instantaneous response produced by an electric motor. The ride was Wrangler-like: I felt road irregularities, magnified by outside noise coming into the cabin. This has never intended as a luxury vehicle.
The 4XE powertrain solves what some felt was the Wrangler’s one major flaw – mediocre fuel economy without sacrificing the go-anywhere qualities which make a Jeep a Jeep.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Mitsubishi might not be a household name in the United States, but the company is strong in many other markets and claims the Outlander PHEV is the world’s best-selling plug-in-hybrid SUV. Regardless of the claim, this is a terrific vehicle.
The engagement of Mitsubishi and Nissan occurred in 2005 and culminated in 2016 when Nissan’s investment reached 34.5 percent. Continuing the metaphor, the resulting offspring of this union was the 2021 fourth generation of the Mitsubishi Outlander, which was based on the revised, top-selling Nissan Rogue subcompact SUV.
I reviewed the 181 hp turbocharged top-of-the-range Outlander SEL last year, calling it a great value.
The PHEV is in a different class. The very-well-equipped, top-of-the-range 2023 Outlander PHEV SEL S-AWC totaled $50,880 (a model year newer than the one I had reviewed as well as better equipped and with a PHEV powertrain). Its price puts it in the competitive ballpark with other PHEVs of like size and the rest of the vehicle’s equipment, including full complement of ADAS, luxury amenities (including leather seating surfaces, infotainment system with navigation, power adjustment for everything and heated steering wheel) and competent road deportment, further adds to its ability to hold its own against the rest of the compact field.
The Outlander PHEV surprised me during my short ride with its overall positive qualities.
The rest of my sample
Next week I will discuss some of the other vehicles I was able to drive during the #NEMPAWINTERCAR program. These included the other 4XE in the Jeep line, the Grand Cherokee; the Mercedes-Benz EQS 580, its top-of-the-brand electric SUV, and from an entirely different perspective, the supercharged-V8-propelled 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R.