15.8.2016Top 5 reasons to buy a PHEV
You're interested in plug-in hybrids but have heard a number of contrasting points of view - some for and some against. Next Green Car has drawn up a simple guide to explain the benefits of owning and running a PHEV, so that you can judge for yourself whether plug-in car ownership is right for you.
Convenient green motoring
All PHEVs - by definition - are able to run for a period of time purely on electric power. This gives the sector the potential for zero-tailpipe emission motoring, usually for between 15 and 30 miles depending on model. This electric-only potential dramatically reduces CO2 figures and improves the car's fuel economy, reducing both your environmental impact and running costs.
With issues over air quality increasingly in the headlines, the ability for a PHEV to drive with zero-tailpipe emissions is an important attribute for many. More electric cars being driven in and around urban areas instead of conventional petrol and diesel models will improve the air quality in towns and villages, with PHEVs a potentially important vehicle in combating air pollution.
There are financial benefits from having a plug-in vehicle too. Zero VED road tax, low BIK rates for company car drivers, and fewer trips to the petrol station make for a cheaper way run your car - despite the slightly higher initial purchase price that PHEVs tend to carry over their conventionally powered stablemates.
Money saving measures appeal to everyone but it is a PHEV's convenience that is its greatest strength. A driver of a pure EV is often credited with having 'range anxiety' on longer trips, but that's not the case for PHEV drivers. Alongside the car's battery sits a conventional engine and fuel tank, providing a quick and familiar way to top-up your car when you get low on fuel. It's not quite a case of having your cake and eating it when it comes to long distance, low emission motoring - but it is as close as you are going to get currently.
As for exactly how green PHEVs are is difficult to determine, with an accurate figure greatly depending on a number of different circumstances. Electricity generation is the most obvious with huge differences in emissions between electricity sourced from renewable sources, to that from coal or gas power stations. What is clear is that, no matter where the electricity comes from, a PHEVs CO2 emissions are much lower than fossil-fuel burning machines even factoring in power station emissions, and it has a significantly smaller impact on surrounding air quality when running in either pure-electric or hybrid mode. With increasing amounts of the National Grid's electricity being sourced from renewable sources, the PHEV's 'green' rating is only going to improve from good to exceptional.
Refined and rechargeable
Refinement is a bit of a catch-all term but encompasses a number of desirable attributes that buyers look for in their cars. Manufacturers term refinement as NVH - Noise, Vibration, and Harshness - and in all aspects a PHEV tends to beat its petrol or diesel rivals. With electric power comes instant and smooth acceleration, with near silent running. Low rolling resistance tyres don't only help extend fuel economy figures but also generate less road noise, while PHEVs tend to be more streamlined than normal too, reducing wind noise.
The only criticism that does come a PHEV's way in terms of refinement is usually that the engine is noisy when running, compared to typical petrol or diesel cars. There are two reasons for this though. The first is that the engine is likely to be smaller than would typically found in that particular model since it can normally rely on support from the electric motor. This means it has to work harder to get the weight shifting. The other reason - and one that is of greater significance - is that people get used to the near silent running of electric power, which makes any noise more jarring and noticeable than it would normally be.
Since efficiency is also usually a watchword, a PHEV's handling is often set-up to be comfortable rather than sporty, to encourage relaxed and economical driving. Finally, many PHEVs come well equipped to help justify the higher price tag, meaning drivers and passengers get a number of goodies to play with and be cossetted by.
Miserly motoring costs
Electricity is cheaper than petrol and diesel by a long way so, should you keep your PHEV topped-up with electricity, you will be making big savings on fuel costs. Charge your PHEV at home and it will cost around £1 per session depending on tariff, model and usage. This will make an impact on your household fuel bills of course, but you can easily offset that by spending less at the pump.
Say for the sake of convenience that to charge a PHEV at home costs £1 each time and that you charge it seven days a week. This means that you will add around £30 to your monthly fuel bill, however you will also be getting a conservatively calculated 600 miles of range - 30 days at 20 miles per day. Even the most fuel efficient cars will struggle to go 600 miles on £30, and you would be driving everywhere as though the accelerator was red-hot and you were afraid to put your foot on it.
Most PHEVs will achieve between 15 and 30 miles of electric range so the above example will vary depending on circumstances but is a reasonable guide. Likewise, although the majority of EV charging is done at home, a decent amount is carried out on the road or parked at work - which further saves drivers money. Some PHEV drivers are able to charge their car at work for example getting even more of their fuel costs covered.
High tech, high spec
Like EVs, a large number of PHEVs use advanced systems that aren't normally found on conventionally-powered models. For example, being able to control a number of vehicle features such as charging times, pre-conditioning the car's temperature, locking & unlocking the vehicle, and accessing driving information are commonplace for PHEV drivers - but not for conventional car owners. It's not just remote access that is available either.
Then there are the more driving specific functions that help make the most of your range. Variable strength brake energy recuperation that harvests energy that would normally be lost under braking, and 'Eco' modes that limit auxiliary power drain and deaden throttle response for more economical driving both help with range. Electrically heated seats and steering wheel are features that are normally seen on more prestigious cars, but they are included on PHEVs because it is much more efficient to heat up contact areas than a large volume of air.
Almost all PHEVs have the ability to set predetermined charge start and stop times, with the option to charge vehicles up to a certain time limit or battery percentage. They also have the ability to store this information so drivers don't have to keep inputting it, with the vast majority able to set up a few different profiles - weekday, weekend, early start etc. - to make things easier still.
Double the motors, double the fun
Most of the time, the case for PHEVs use the foundations of economy, convenience, and the environment as the basis for the arguments for them. However, PHEVs can be fun to drive too. VW's PHEV range - the Golf and Passat - are labeled GTE to link the to the sporty GTI and GTD ranges.
The natural characteristics of an electric motor mean that pick-up is extremely fast, and short sprints completed in less time than many petrol and diesel cars. There is also the fact that, with brake energy recuperation, you are effectively braking as soon as you start lifting off the throttle - giving PHEV drivers a kind of cheat's left foot braking technique, like that used by racing drivers.
It's not just the quick flashes of speed though that make PHEVs fun. Because the heavy batteries are usually placed at the bottom of a car's chassis, its centre of gravity is low which helps with handling. It even means that the handling is typically more balanced because the engineers can create a softer set-up for normal driving experiences without compromising grip. There are very few drivers that will climb out of a PHEV after a test drive without a smile on their face.