16th March 2017
A unique look at the hybrid cars currently on the market
Certain organisations such as local councils, charities and tourist attractions may well be increasingly seen tootling around in fully electric cars from the diddy Renault Twizy through to the medium-size e-Golf, electric vans like the Nissan e-NV200 and even the occasional Tesla Model S, but for many entities, so-called ‘range anxiety’ as well as the higher price-tags of EVs still prove infeasible.
Car manufacturers are launching new models thick and fast these days and rather like Premier League player and manager movements, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of it all; so for entrepreneurs, SMEs and larger fleets, we’ve produced this unique ‘continent of origin’-flavour tour of hybrid vehicles currently available to purchase or lease on contract hire, which, in light of the world’s sudden U-turn over diesel, may prove a canny fuel choice.
The Teutonic trio
While gaining some satisfaction from knowing that they’re driving cars less damaging to the environment and to public health, many employees will still admit frankly that the idea of looking after a leased Audi, BMW or Mercedes for a few years is still a tantalising prospect, as demonstrated by these marques perennially dominating the top five brands that leasing brokers facilitate.
Starting with Ingolstadt, Audi’s A3 Sportback e-tron, although still fairly rare on UK roads, has been around for a few years now, and has the ingredients to make it a hit as a company car, with a badge even more desirous than its sister, the Golf GTE. The A3 has recently been joined by an e-tron hybrid version of the firm’s glorious Q7 SUV, claiming an astonishing combined range of over 800 miles in theory.
Turning attention to Munich, BMW kicked off its green career with the quirky-looking i3, boasting two-tone paint, blue-coloured trinkets dotted around its exterior and interior, and glass-dominated ‘suicide’ doors with the rear handle hidden away discretely. Okay, the ‘neat’ i3 is pure electric, but the REx (meaning ‘Range Extender’) version is a hybrid as it incorporates a diddy 2-cylinder petrol engine that can be used to top up the battery which powers the wheels, giving the car a paper range of 206 miles compared to a still respectable 125-mile range from the EV version. BMW has really gone to town with hybrid development and has spawned a strong range under the iPerformance banner, from the 2 Series MPV, 330e compact executive saloon and TwinPower hybrid 5-Series saloon, to the cossetting 740e and 740Le limousines, the X5 iPerformance xDrive40e hybrid SUV and the i8 sports coupe, which Leicester City’s players were given as gifts for their Premier League win under Ranieri.
Finishing our whistle-stop tour of Germany in terms of hybrid cars available at the moment, we stop at Stuttgart to see what Mercedes, the perennial favourite brand for business leasing clients, has to offer. The most compact hybrid they sell and lease is the C-Class C 350 e saloon and estate in Sport and AMG trims, with emissions from 48g/km CO2 and economy from 134.5mpg, delivered smoothly via the 7G-TRONIC PLUS transmission. The highly regarded new E-Class saloon and estate are also available in ‘350 e’ hybrid form, whilst captains of industry can turn their attention to the hybrid S-Class in ‘500 e L’ guise, packing a V6 petrol engine mated to an 85kW electric motor, with eyebrow-raising emissions of just 65g/km CO2 from this biggie. The GLE SUV, which replaced the M-Class, is also available as a 500e hybrid, although Mercedes’ more compact GLA and GLC crossovers have yet to add hybrids to their UK line-ups despite them existing in Germany.
Japan, starting the sushi conveyor belt with Toyota
The model that propelled hybrid cars into the spotlight was the second generation Toyota Prius, which became a de rigueur accessory for many Hollywood celebrities, and Prius is still a moniker very much part of the new car market today, albeit now in its fourth generation and, in the eyes of some, looking more piscine than ever.
The newest model unsurprisingly sees a 1.8-litre petrol engine working in collaboration with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack to deliver, at least on paper, economy of upto 94.2mpg and CO2 emissions as low as 70g/km depending on the chosen trim. The Prius’ styling, outside and in, might not be to everyone’s taste and it’s not cheap with prices starting at £24,100, but the CVT transmission is now much improved and it certainly encompasses a sushi conveyor belt of clever eco’ tech.
A plugin hybrid version of the Prius will go on sale in the UK later this year offering impressive figures of upto 282.5mpg and emissions of a mere 22g/km CO2, but anyone familiar with hybrid cars will appreciate that real-world performance never matches the published figures, and the plugin Prius is a heavy car, which affects its performance. Trim levels have been purposefully reigned in to prevent the car becoming too weighty for its chassis and the £29,195 starting price may prove prohibitive. Toyota has always been at the forefront of green car development and also sells/leases hybrid variants of the Yaris, Auris including Touring Sports, C-HR, RAV4 and Prius+.
The luxury arm of Toyota has long been associated with passionately embracing hybrid technology, too. This is abundantly clear by visiting their website and filtering the marque’s new car models to show only those with hybrid versions, which simply results in only their spicy F variants disappearing but every single model in general remaining. Indeed, hybrid is available across the range, from the relatively more compact CT hatchback, IS saloon and NX SUV crossover, to the GS saloon that’s never been able to trouble the 5-Series et al, the flagship LS limousine, the larger RX SUV and Lexus’ recently launched and rather sexy coupes, the RC and LC. Naturally, the majority of Lexus company cars purchased or leased by SMEs and larger fleets will be the aforementioned smaller models, starting at £22,495 with the CT200h, which was the world’s first full hybrid luxury compact car.
The Outlander PHEV has picked up so many accolades since its launch that the poor thing would probably struggle to move if all the certificates and trophies were loaded into the capacious rear of one. PR headlines from the Japanese brand primarily synonymous with 4×4 vehicles have included ‘holiday park is switching on to Outlander PHEV’, ‘accountancy firm partner finds the sums add up with Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV’, ‘leading firm takes on fleet of magnificent seven Outlander PHEVs’ and ‘insurance firm finds nothing compares to Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV’, highlighting how this plugin hybrid has clearly been promoted heavily as a fleet solution. It has consistently accounted for 50% or more of all UK PHEV registrations and January saw Mitsubishi announce various upgrades including EV priority mode, slightly faster rapid charging allowing it to top up the battery to 80% within 25 minutes, a 1mpg and 1g/km CO2 improvement and more efficient regenerative braking. With an EV range of upto 33 miles, theoretical economy of upto 166mpg, emissions from 41g/km CO2 and a useful towing capacity of 1,500kg, it remains an interesting proposition for business fleets – and there’s even a 4Work variant available which has a greater load volume of 1,603 litres and a payload capability of 495kg.
Although it’s not a brand at the forefront of most businesspersons’ minds, it’s one determined to make inroads into the UK fleet market, as has been regularly expounded by Suzuki UK’s corporate sales manager, Andrew Wale, at recent press launches attended by our editor, Olly. Aside from competitive pricing, a key trick up their sleeve is in championing ‘mild hybrid’ technology, which AutoCar2 recently proclaimed would ‘replace small diesels by 2019’, based on comments from Volkswagen’s chief of R&D, Frank Welsch. Mild hybrid cars typically incorporate a 48V battery, an electric motor and a supercharger, electricity supplementing the petrol engine at strenuous times. Mild hybrids are also called parallel hybrids because the engine doesn’t charge the batteries or power the motor, and they can’t run on electricity alone3. They’re lighter and cheaper, though, which will appeal to some fleets, and Suzuki’s lightweight SHVS (Smart Hybrid Vehicle by Suzuki) offers emissions from 94g/km CO2 and returns upto 70.6mpg. It’s available in SZ5 versions of the excellent Baleno hatchback and new Ignis crossover, which are definitely worth exploring by fleets on a relative budget.
Korea: Hyundai and Kia
The Japanese brands’ Asian neighbours, Hyundai and Kia, have rocked up to the hybrid party fashionably late, but the Korean siblings clearly mean business, offering hybrids with distinctly attractive selling points. Admittedly not dissimilar in appearance to Honda’s now defunct Insight, the IONIQ from Hyundai comes to the market priced from a remarkably competitive £19,995, with CO2 emissions as low as 79g/km and a range of upto 700 miles from its 1.6-litre GDI petrol engine, electric motor and battery setup. Even though real-life performance is almost certain not to match these figures from the 15-inch alloy variant, it’s one heck of an impressive car, and IONIQ even comes fitted with a dual clutch DCT transmission, which works similarly to VAG’s DSG system. As well as a conventional hybrid version, IONIQ is also available as a plugin hybrid (PHEV) or an all-electric (EV) model, covering all of green motoring’s three bases.
Hyundai’s sister, Kia, sells and leases its gorgeous Optima saloon and Sportswagon in PHEV guises, providing an alternative to the ubiquitous Skoda Superb, Mazda6, Vauxhall Insignia, Toyota Avensis and Volkswagen Passat, backed by the Korean firm’s legendary 7-year manufacturer’s warranty. Of greater note, though, is the all-new Niro, which is specifically a hybrid-only model gunning for the populist vote with its chunky crossover styling and family-friendly features. Attempting to lure fleet managers in with CO2 emissions from 88g/km and economy of upto 74.3mpg, Niro certainly ticks plenty of boxes as a conventional hybrid, the unusual foot-operated parking brake quickly forgotten about after one notices the commodious boot, classy TFT cluster and a host of safety technology such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB). Kia is garnering more and more respect with each year that passes, and hopefully Niro will further help its deserved cause.
Other mainstream models
When thinking about the company car fleet sector, brands like Ford and Volkswagen typically come to mind, and in a climate where diesel is now receiving plenty of criticism from some circles, hybrid models from such mainstream manufacturers may well grow in popularity for businesses and other organisations.
Ford’s Mondeo, which became synonymous with the phrase ‘rep mobile’ over the years, is available in petrol-electric hybrid format in Titanium guise and also through the plusher Vignale spin-off. Although its CVT reliance and lacklustre 128lb ft of torque haven’t attracted much praise, some of the moniker’s renowned handling has been retained.
Volkswagen sells and leases a brace of plugin hybrid PHEVs with GTE suffixes – namely, the Golf and Passat – catering for company car drivers aspiring to be granted use of a vehicle wearing a badge with respected kudos. Dubbed ‘intelligent transport’ by VW, the Golf GTE offers an all-electric/EV range of upto 31 miles and a combined hybrid range of upto 580 miles depending on all the usual factors. The Passat GTE with its equally punchy 218PS 1.4 TSI DSG drivetrain is capable on paper of upto 156.9mpg, its theoretical 660-mile range catching the attention of employees at organisations whose accountants can stomach the £37,015 starting price.
Gallic and British diesel-electric hybrids
Although the majority of car manufacturers are producing petrol-electric hybrid solutions nowadays, some firms, predominantly French, still seem keen to pair up electric motors with fuel from the black pump. Citroen and Renault have vacated the hybrid scene of late, the latter’s strong alliance with Nissan taking them further down the electric route, but Peugeot’s Hybrid4 technology can still be chosen for its 508 SW RXH estate. Hybrid4 combines the brand’s 2-litre HDi diesel engine with a 37hp electric motor, and a highlight of the system is that drivers can select ZEV (pure electric) mode for short distances, or switch into 4WD when conditions dictate.
The other diesel-electric hybrid still knocking around is the superlative choice if pampering is what you’re after, in the form of the £108,000ish Range Rover Long Wheelbase SDV6 Hybrid Diesel, producing 354bhp, CO2 emissions of 164g/km and a top speed of 135mph, which are impressive considering that it dwarfs some houses with its bulk.
We end with European uber-hybrids
For super-successful SMEs that can afford to splash out on more glamorous cars, or indeed for larger corporations whose executives enjoy suitable company car packages, there are some super hybrids out there. Volvo’s marvellous XC90 SUV, complete with a truly beautiful interior and a raft of safety features, can be ordered in T8 Twin Engine plugin hybrid guise, an electric motor paired to the T6’s 2-litre petrol engine, to produce a combined 395bhp. It can travel a reported 25 miles on electricity only and the hybrid drive system has been cleverly tucked under the car, meaning space hasn’t been sacrificed. CO2 emissions of 49g/km and economy of upto 134.5mpg on paper from this £55,000ish SUV will make accountants and FDs stand up and take note, and the smooth 8-speed gearbox plus four-wheel drive will keep a smile on fleet drivers’ faces.
One of the best-handling cars we’ve ever driven, Porsche’s Panamera, is also available as a hybrid. The most stimulating variant is the Turbo S E-Hybrid Executive with a P11D of circa £146,000, emissions of a remarkable 66g/km CO2, an electric range of between 15 and 31 miles and economy of upto 97.4mpg. Most notably for Porsche and sports car purists, though, it has a 0-62mph acceleration time of just 3.5 seconds thanks to a combined 680bhp. Incredible? Indeed.
So, there you have it – a ‘continent of origin’-style journey through the world of hybrid cars currently available for fleets to lease or buy, including some quite quirky and ridiculous models. In the wake of all the negative talk over diesels, hybrids certainly seem to be the way to go, although it has to be pointed out that taxation is now less attractive under the new VED rules, with only purely electric cars zero-rated. The next few years in motoring will be immensely intriguing, that’s for sure.
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