Hybrid cars dominated the headlines this month. The RAV4 Hybrid topped the Aussie sales charts, the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid and Kia Sorento Hybrid are on their way, and the Maserati MC20 hybrid supercar finally lobbed.
On the back of that, now seems like a good time to share my story.
As I’ve confessed already, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic I now own a Ford C-Max – and I’m proud of it.
Our family ended up with a hybrid not because of our environmental beliefs, but because the car I wanted was only available with it.
Thanks to my desperate desire to avoid a crossover despite the need for high seating point to make loading little people easier, and the preference for a small car to minimise time wasted looking for street parking, my choices Stateside weren’t exactly overflowing.
With the Kia Rondo (too old, too frumpy), and Mazda 5 (most had around 100,000km on the clock) ruled out, I was basically left with two choices: the Toyota Prius V and Ford C-Max. Both hybrid.
The Prius V had a 1.8-litre system with a total of 100kW, the same drivetrain as the contemporary Prius. It’s barely adequate for moving the Prius V around with just one person on board, less alone a brood and all their gear.
The C-Max on the other hand had a much more adequate 140kW setup with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder. Coupled with the Ford’s more engaging dynamics, higher equipment levels, nicer interior, and lower resale values, it wasn’t a hard choice to make.
(As an aside, the fact the RAV4 Hybrid has a 160kW while the 2.0-litre makes do with 127kW surely goes a long way to explaining its current popularity.)
During the first few weeks of ownership I concentrated more on the 140kW of power rather than any fuel savings.
But hybrids reward gentle driving around town, and keeping your highway speeds in check.
So after a my initial flush of excitement at having a moderate amount of power and bundles of electric torque at my beck and call, it cametime to explore the car’s other extreme: seeing how much I could improve fuel economy, and how far I could drive in EV mode.
With glacial acceleration, excessively gentle and early braking, and hovering around 40km/h in our area, I was able to get consumption down to around 4.5L/100km during extended drives in urban environments. I even managed to drive over 1.5km — admittedly early in the morning and on a slight downhill slope — without using a drop of petrol.
While this can be fulfilling on an intellectual level — and some would say spiritual level — it’s slow, mentally taxing, tiresome for anyone caught behind you, and ultimately just a bit boring.
Clearly I’m not cut out for long-term hypermiling, but it’s a useful exercise to see just how far you can push the car, and also learn about how the drivetrain deals with gradients, engine/exhaust temperatures, throttle pressures, and air conditioning/heater use.
To get my head back into a space where I wasn’t fixated on miles per gallon, I turned off the fuel consumption meter and drivetrain monitors. Every now and then I would feel the car in slip into EV mode, and my thoughts would slip back to how I try to save some fuel.
Now with more months under my belt, I can intuit the car’s intentions better, and have a more instinctive feel for when it will switch from electric to petrol and back again.
Whenever I’m behind the wheel of a manual car, I have a heightened alertness to my surroundings and in the hybrid it feels almost the same.
Instead of picking out the optimal time to shift gears, it’s about maximising EV time and making the most of when the petrol engine is running, while also being respectful to other road users.
It’s led me to become a slower driver when there’s either no-one around, or there’s no call to drive faster than necessary.
Do I need to race away when there’s a speed hump, stop sign, red light or slow traffic just 100 metres away? No, of course not.
Am I really going to make that orange light? Probably not.
Out on the highway, I’m more than happy to belt along at 135km/h if that’s how all the lanes are flowing, even though it’s beyond the Ford’s fuel economy sweet spot, which maxes out at the federal limit of 65mph (105km/h).
That said I no longer feel annoyed when I’m stuck in traffic travelling well below a highway’s speed limit because slow but steady movement is the key to excellent fuel economy.
As a side benefit, I also feel less environmental guilt when I’m stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, or if my wife needs to breast feed the little one in the car with air-conditioning during a scorching summer day.
A changed outlook
Since settling into life as a hybrid driver, I’ve begun to doubt whether I could have a non-electrified vehicle as our daily driver. I also daydream constantly about whether we could make the step up to a plug-in hybrid or a pure electric vehicle.
Sadly, without a garage or a driveway, neither of these options seem practical.
As there’s no charging spot in our neighbourhood, any plug-in hybrid would function primarily as a normal hybrid, but with another few hundred kilograms of dead weight.
Affordable pure-electric vehicles, such as a second-hand Chevrolet Bolt or Nissan Leaf, are definitely a no-go due to the lack of charging locations within walking distance of home.
On the other hand, a Tesla could be managed as there’s a large Supercharging location about 10 minutes drive away. As it can top the car up to 80 per cent charge in 30 minutes, and it would be sufficient for most of the driving we do.
Now only if I could solve the money issue, and find an hour on a semi-regular basis to chuff off while I’m managing a six-month old and a five-year old in the middle of a pandemic.
Have you recently joined the hybrid brigade? We’d love to hear how or if your driving style has changed, and whether you’d consider going back to a regular internal combustion engine car or if you’re thinking of taking another step up in terms of electrification.