One of the few benefits of having been through a lockdown situation is that it’s given all of us time to reflect. If you’ve got a car then you’ve probably been reflecting on just how much it’s been costing you in tax and insurance to own four wheels that have been going nowhere fast. Plenty of folks have enjoyed a payment holiday on their car finance outgoings, mind. Oh, and petrol prices actually went down. So it's not been all bad.
The lockdown killed new cars sales stone dead though. Not surprising. So perhaps it’s time to go in search of fresh wheels now the roads are open again. There’s certainly plenty of choice. PHEVs, BEVs… anything but petrol it seems, with the government still adamant that it’s going to do away with ICE-powered cars by 2035. Best start trying to wean petrolheads off their go juice sooner rather than later then, although hybrids (and those poor stigmatised diesels) are also on the hitlist 15 years from now.
With fast and convenient charging still being something of a bugbear with fully electric cars, a hybrid actually makes a lot of sense. Chances are you’ll have given it a fond farewell long before the next 15 years is up anyway. So what’s not to like with something that delivers the best of both worlds? Could a hybrid provide us with a little bit of petrol-meets-electric paradise for the next few years?
Post lockdown, we’ve had the chance to try a couple of random variation-on-the-theme examples: the Volvo XC40 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid and the Toyota C-HR Dynamic 2.0 hybrid. These are two slightly different classes of vehicle with potentially plenty to get confused about in the technical department. But, crucially, both promise to deliver a decent mix of a conventional petrol engine action and battery power. A great primer towards going fully-electric perhaps?
The Volvo XC40 is a twin-engine plug-in hybrid, meaning it’s got a petrol engine and a battery-powered electric motor. Set off in this car and its basically silent, until the three-cylinder petrol engine fires up when you need more power. It’s an SUV too, meaning you get lots of room, a lofty position on the road and a bigger price tag (our example was over 40k). You can actually run the Volvo using the battery on its own by selecting the Pure drive mode, though you’ll only get just over 20 miles even if it’s fully charged.
The Toyota C-HR is another SUV but in the smaller crossover class and features a 2-litre petrol engine from the Corolla that works in tandem with a pair of electric motors. One of them claws back energy when you put the brakes on while the other can get you from A to B in full EV mode, though not all the time. This is the sort of tech that Toyota has been using brilliantly in its Prius (the 1.8 edition of the C-HR uses the same engine), which has been around for years now and is still going strong. The format has been nicely refined and suits the C-HR perfectly, especially with its distinctive styling on the inside as well as the outside. Our top-of-the-range model was expensive however at over £32k.
The Volvo is all new, whereas the C-HR isn’t and recently got a bit of a makeover. It’s now only available as a hybrid, so you can see where things are going. Cosmetically the changes aren’t anything to shout about, but the C-HR has got smarter with its under-the-bonnet thinking. It’s got that neat line in being able to switch between using the petrol engine and then switching into EV mode, often without you even realising it. And this doesn't just happen as you pootle around town as it does it on longer runs too.
Of course, the big difference here is that you don’t need any charging cables with the C-HR as the car does all of the work with its technical wizardry. The Volvo on the other hand can be plugged in, so open the sizeable boot and you find the plush carpet covered in a tangle of cables. You can actually drive the Volvo around and never charge it if you’re not interested in connecting it to a power point. But that rather defeats the point of owning a plug-in hybrid.
Both cars are economical, with the Toyota C-HR delivering around 55mpg, which isn’t bad for a 2-litre. The XC40 is more impressive though, with over 140 miles per gallon suggested by Volvo. The reality isn’t like that, but by using the battery and smart on-board tech you can certainly squeeze a lot of miles out of one tankful. You just need to remember to keep the battery topped up. Best of all though is the way Volvo is currently offering one year of free electricity to help you out.
These are just two examples of many on the market though. If anything, we’re all being spoilt for choice. So, does it make sense to strike a compromise and head for a hybrid? Given that convenience factor of having petrol as part of the equation makes a lot of sense. It also means you won’t have to waste any time searching for a charging point that actually works and that hasn’t been ICE’d by some bozo in one of those old-school petrol powered things.
Volvo has a fully electric XC40 in the pipeline, so that’ll doubtless be good with reports suggesting a 240-mile range. Meanwhile, the trickle of BEVs competing for your business will gradually turn into a flood. We recently tried the new Renault ZOE, which is great at the small end of the spectrum. And the also small but brilliant Honda e is fab too. Choice is hardly limited if you’re just going to head straight for the all-electric avenue, but hybrid is a great place to start transitioning.
However, all this is academic if you’ve just lost your job and you can no longer afford a car or even need one to not get to work anymore. But, if you’re one of the lucky solvent few when or if all this coronavirus nonsense is over then either one of these is as good a place to start as any.