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Last updateTue, 14 Nov 2017 4pm

On The Road

Zero-emission vehicles with almost zero in common


courtesy of Ford
Through a combination of batteries and electric motor, the Ford Fusion Hybrid gets 42 mpg.

With California’s emphasis on air quality, automobile companies are mandated to sell a specific number of zero-emission vehicles each year, as well as meet emissions and fuel economy standards across their entire sales volume.

California also may be the most car-crazy state in the U.S., representing a significant market for cars that are simply satisfying to drive.

We recently reviewed examples of all three categories, including the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf, an all-electric automobile; the 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid, an economical gas-electric hybrid; and the 2018 Audi A5 Coupe 2.0T, an entertaining mid-range gas-engined car. We liked all three for what they are. Which one you might prefer really depends on your transportation needs and environmental sensitivities.

Volkswagen e-Golf

Let’s start with the VW e-Golf, one of the latest entries into the market for practical battery-only electric vehicles (EVs). VW has made a solid technical upgrade on the battery and drivetrain since this model was introduced two years ago. Horsepower is now rated at 134, with torque at 214 pound-feet, which makes the car responsive in traffic and highway conditions.

More significantly, the driving range is now 125 miles on a full charge, which can be done in six hours on a home-installed Level-2 240V charger. The car also can reach 80 percent of full charge on a public DC fast-charging station in an hour, making a commute to San Francisco or the East Bay possible without range anxiety. Fuel economy, if that’s even relevant in an all-electric, is rated at the equivalent of 119 mpg.

Technicalities aside, this is a pleasant, easy-to-drive and practical car, with good Golf-style cargo and passenger space. Even better, the low center of gravity and Golf-quality steering and brakes actually make the e-Golf fun to drive.

To round out the specs, our top-of-the-line e-Golf SEL Premium is stickered at $39,240, should someone want to actually buy the car. With all of the corporate, state and federal incentives factored in, we’ve heard of dealers leasing these cars for as little as $350 per month. The only sacrifice, if being noticed is part of your reason for going all-electric, is that the e-Golf’s plain-vanilla styling makes it pretty much invisible next to the all-electric competition from BMW, Chevrolet or Mitsubishi.

Ford Fusion Hybrid

If you want to balance environmental sensitivity with more flexible transportation capabilities, consider the Fusion Titanium Hybrid, stickered at $35,155.

This car uses its batteries and 118-horsepower electric motor to provide additional power when necessary, enabling the car to deliver comfortable performance with a 141-horsepower 2-liter inline-four engine. The combination produces an exceptional 42 mpg in combined driving, at the top of the class for this practical compact five-passenger hatchback. Even better, the transition from all-electric power for low-speed maneuvering to gasoline for cruising and electric-enhanced gasoline power for acceleration is smooth and seamless.

This is a well-appointed and attractive car, inside and out. Gone are the days when cars were either fuel-efficient or comfortable, we’re pleased to say. We’re also pleased to say that Ford’s newest infotainment interface is as good as they come. We certainly can say with confidence that Ford has shouldered its way into the hybrid market once dominated by Toyota and, in terms of styling, is way ahead of the pack.

Audi A5 Coupe

For those who aren’t ready to give up driving satisfaction for all-electric environmentalism or fuel-efficient economy, there is the brand-new 2018 Audi A5 Coupe 2.0T Quattro S-tronic. (Leave it to Audi to have a model designation that requires seven words.)

Also available in convertible, sportback five-door and even a four-door sedan version, the A5 has been completely redesigned for 2018, which means not only that the car gets new styling, but also that it can incorporate new safety features including low-speed collision mitigation, brake assist and advanced stabilization control.

With its 252-horsepower, 273 pound-feet of torque engine, 7-speed S-tronic transmission and inimitable Audi steering and handling, the A5 is right at the sweet spot for driving satisfaction. We just wish we could warm up to the trademark oversized Audi grille.

That aside, interior design and ergonomics are superb. Combining the comfort and support of the seats with the quiet isolation of the cabin, we imagine a drive down to Los Angeles or up to Portland would be measured more in tunes played through the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system than in miles or hours on the road.

Interior trim and styling are also exceptional, but then Audi interiors have been winning design awards for many years. In particular, controls were unobtrusive in appearance, but all seemed to be exactly where they should be for easy management with no dangers of distraction.

On the other hand, the coupe body-style may be the least practical of the A5 offerings, because the rear seat is pretty much useless for adult passengers and the lack of rear doors would make it very difficult to get children into car seats. We’d opt for the sportback instead.

Audi follows the German approach of pricing the basic car in an essentially unequipped format, and then charging for all options. With the new A5, the base price is only $42,800. But that rises to $52,950 (including destination charges) with the Premium Plus package with luxury touches; navigation package with “virtual cockpit” displays; S-Line wheels, tires and styling upgrades; and the high-end audio system.

So these three rides can’t really be compared because they have been built for drivers with three vastly different combinations of transportation needs and efficiency desires. But if you’re looking for all-electric urban transportation, combined fuel efficiency and all-around utility, or style and driving pleasure, the e-Golf, the Fusion and the A5 Coupe are good starting points for your search.

Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.

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