Autovolt Magazine

Update 3: The hybrid economy

If you’re in the market for a new hybrid SUV, truth be told your choices are relatively limited. Extend that to plug-in hybrids and the list of choices grows enormously with the likes of the new BMW X3 xDrive30e but you’ll also end up attaching several thousand pounds to your budget. And if you’re a hybrid naysayer and think that electric-only is the way to go, then your only really comparable option for the likes of the CR-V is a +£80k Tesla Model X. And yes, you could look at second hand cars to lower that initial purchase price, but even the least expensive Model X is still around £50k.

In the hybrid realm and at this size of car, your options are primarily restricted to either the Honda CR-V Hybrid or the Toyota RAV4; the latter of which is hybrid only. And it’s tough to choose between the two.

So there’s a place for hybrids at the moment and their economical credentials do genuinely fit in well with today’s infrastructure of fuel pumps. Roughly speaking, petrol powered hybrids offer equivalent or slightly reduced fuel economy compared to an equivalent diesel – but with diesel costing more at the pump in the UK, they roughly work out as similar in terms of running costs. Tax, however, tends to be cheaper due to low CO2 output and without the lack of that characteristic diesel growl instead replaced by a slick occasional electric silence, hybrids tend to offer a more refined driving experience too.

In terms of the Honda and Toyota, on-paper specifications will inform you that they’re pretty similar. Neither has the fabled rubber-band CVT and instead they operate direct drive which disconnects the engine and motor from the wheels using a series of clutches. The Honda’s system uses a far more powerful electric motor than the petrol engine it is also equipped with, and so consequently when the engine does rev into life, it’s generally in order to provide power to the electric motor for propulsion. The system makes for a relatively predictable, refined and quiet drive – unless you really step on the throttle which results in a cacophony of noise that’s oddly disconnected from the acceleration. It’s not a bad thing, but more of a feature.

It’s brisk too, with 0-62mph taking less than nine seconds in the CR-V Hybrid. I’ll return to a head-to-head between the CR-V and RAV4 in another update, but to address the elephant in the room…

Do hybrids self-charge? No. They (and by “they”, I’m referring to both the RAV4 and the CR-V Hybrid) use petrol power instead of a battery. The relatively small battery that is installed in hybrids acts as a buffer between the petrol engine and electric motor, to offer around 1.2 miles electric range (in the CR-V Hybrid). There is an element of regenerative braking too, but this isn’t “free energy” it is instead recovery of energy already spent. “Regen” also isn’t overly powerful (no single-pedal driving here) and so the vast majority of the time the car uses petrol to ‘fuel’ the electric motor, battery and/or wheels. And petrol certainly does not “self charge”. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Hybrid systems can operate for lengths of time in full electric mode and consequently over an average journey contribute to relatively large percentages of electrically-driven miles. This is where they enhance efficiency, as electric motors are +90% efficient at converting electrical energy into motion, whereas a petrol engine is about 60% good at heating the cabin (the other 40% goes into wasted energy through the exhaust and ultimately a small proportion is used to rotate the car’s wheels). So even though they’re powered by petrol, a hybrid car can benefit from the efficiency of an electric motor.

Finally, the CR-V is also available with a non-hybrid petrol turbo engine. It isn’t difficult to do the maths though and the hybrid version is a bit of a no-brainer with it easily offsetting its cost premium with much lower running costs that should pay for themselves within two years at most. The only obvious benefit of the petrol version is the reclamation of a bit of boot space that allows the Honda to be the first CR-V offered with seven seats. This isn’t available on the CR-V Hybrid model, because there’s a battery under the boot floor taking up some space. But if you really need seven seats, then a hybrid’s economy isn’t necessarily the most important sort of economising you might need to think about.