Monday, May 22, 2017

At a spring fling for auto writers, you could hear the death rattle of the big gas engine

The 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell Vehicle, above, was one of the environmentally conscious cars available to drive last week at the International Motor Press Association's Spring Brake in Bear Mountain State Park.
And Toyota's luxury division brought the 2018 Lexus LC 500h, a lightning-fast gas-electric hybrid with a sticker price of $100,225, and a V-6 gasoline engine paired with an electric motor instead of the V-8 in the non-hybrid version.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

BEAR MOUNTAIN, N.Y. -- I was very happy driving only gas-electric hybrids and a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle at an annual event where other auto writers tear up park roads in far more powerful cars.

I had to laugh when I saw one of those graying lead foots hang out the back end of a 503-horsepower Mercedes-Benz AMG C63 S Cabriolet after he stomped on the accelerator in Bear Mountain State Park. 

After 2-plus years of effortless and near-silent driving in an all-electric Tesla Model S, I can't tell you how tired I am of loud cars and motorcycles, and fellow writers in their 50s, 60s and 70s who still haven't grown up.

The International Motor Press Association or IMPA calls itself the nation's oldest organization of "automotive journalists and public relations professionals."

IMPA's spring driving event, Spring Brake, is misnamed, because many members get carried away, and spend more time speeding than braking.

As an IMPA email sent out a day before the event last Thursday observed:

"Every year, several ... members contribute involuntarily to local and state treasuries. Mind the speed limits, please."






The 2017 Toyota Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid with a 25-mile range in EV mode (battery and electric motor), but as often happens at IMPA events, the car's handlers didn't plug it in to charge the battery, so I had to drive it in gas-electric mode. Still, the Prius is tight, quiet and gets 54 mpg.
A pad on the console of the Toyota Prius Prime charges your cellphone. Below, two more views of the Lexus LC 500h.




The push-button transmission controls inside the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell Vehicle, which is available for lease only. When you use the turn signal on this and other Hondas, a great safety feature shows you the lane you're merging into on the back-up camera screen.

Sound of silence

The heat (90-plus degrees) prompted me to leave the event early, but in the 4 hours or so I was there, I was able to drive only environmentally responsible cars.

I might have been able to drive all-electric cars, but Chevrolet was the only manufacturer to show up with one, the Bolt EV, which I drove in late January during the auto show in Washington, D.C.

Hyundai brought the Ionic hybrid, not the Ionic EV; Honda offered the unusually quiet hydrogen fuel-cell version of the Clarity, not the EV; Chrysler brought a hybrid version of its Pacifica minivan; and Ford offered its quiet Fusion Energi Plug-In Hybrid.

Toyota and Lexus don't have pure electric vehicles yet, but did bring hybrids both mild and wild.

Nissan and BMW didn't bother bringing their EVs.

Still, I could hear the death rattle of the big, powerful gasoline engine the industry is so fond of -- despite all the premature deaths caused every year by auto emissions.

On Thursday, the Lexus LC 500h was the first hybrid I drove, and I was taken aback when I pushed the start/stop button, and heard nothing.

Like all Toyota hybrids the word "Ready" lit up on the instrument panel, indicating I could drive off silently, using the battery and electric motor.

When I depressed the accelerator pedal, the noisy gasoline engine kicked in.



Breathtaking scenery from an overlook at Bear Mountain State Park, above and below.