We’re the bunnymen for this unique eco test between two new green cars
The future is here now — well, in a few months, anyway. We compare and contrast an imminent EV and a new hybrid
THE future of motoring is here and it’s not as scary as you might think.
Some zero- and lowemission vehicles— think Toyota’s Prius, Tesla Roadster and Honda Insight— look futuristic and, in some cases, plain ugly.
Other manufacturers are trying to make them less ostentatious and less daunting.
An example is the Nissan Leaf electric car, which has just gone on sale. Of the coming wave of zero- and low-emission vehicles, most appear to be normal cars.
Carsguide had the first opportunity to drive two of these coming models at the GreenZone Drive free public test day on the Gold Coast.
They are BMW’s first hybrid, the ActiveHybrid 5, and Renault’s first electric car, the Fluence ZE (zero emissions).
Except for the temporary signwriting for the GreenZone Drive, they look just like a regular 5 Series or Fluence.
Even the price tag won’t scare you too much.
Of course they cost more than their comparative standard models but it’s not exorbitant as other electric and hybrids have been.
The Turkish-built French car is expected to arrive at under $40,000 (standard models are under $30,000).
The battery, however, is not included. You have to lease it and the cost will be revealed later this year.
No new 5 Series is inexpensive. BMW’s ActiveHybrid 5, which arrives in October at $122,900, is $2000 dearer than the 535d diesel and $7300 more than the 535i with similar specification. It adds four-zone airconditioning but uses almost a litre more fuel per 100km than the diesel.
Hop inside these vehicles and it’s not like entering a spaceship. It looks totally— almost disconcertingly— normal in here.
In the Fluence you even stick a key in the ignition and turn it as though it was a regular internal combustion engine. But instead of an engine starting, there are a couple of beeps as the computers log on and do their stuff, giving you a green ‘‘ go’’ light. Then you slip it into drive as usual, but do so in almost complete silence.
Indeed, so quiet is the Renault that it highlights noises normally masked by engine noise, such as tyre scrub and wind buffeting.
Apart from some new displays on the instruments, it’s all standard fare, although annoyingly the steering wheel is not adjustable for reach.
The BMW is basically a 535i with an electric motor for extra oomph and better fuel economy, so when you start it, there is the noise of an engine.
A handy feature for extreme weather is a key fob button that gives the car two minutes of airconditioning off the big battery before you get in. It also features auto stop-start as in many new cars but unlike these it doesn’t wait until you come to a complete stop.
If you are braking to stop at the lights, it will shut down well in advance and if you accelerate smoothly, it will take off in silent electric mode.
Both cars have been optimised for handling that is close to the normal models. In our short test drive, they felt like regular cars, neither nose heavy nor tail happy.
The BMW is heavier than the standard models but it is impossible to feel the extra weight through the steering or suspension.
The Renault is actually lighter than its conventional colleagues and with a light engine up front and 250kg of battery in the rear, it is close to the ideal of 50-50 weight distribution. However, the weight sits higher than in the Leaf, which has a more stable feel on rapid lane changes.
The Fluence has great pulling power in the bottom end but it feels a bit anaemic up top, while the BMW launches off the line with a gratifying growl from the straight-six turbo engine. The Beemer comes into its own in terms of top-end power thanks to the electric motor boost, although you’re hard put to notice the extra 25kW of power.
Where it does get a little confusing with the Renault is in ownership experience.
It is the first electric car in Australia with a switch-over battery. Theoretically, this allows you to go to a Better Place outlet and have your battery replaced in under three minutes. Practically, however, there is a slight problem— for now there are no outlets.
Meanwhile, motorists will have to learn to drive strategically, between charging up from home, work or some of the scant few charging outlets around the country.
That is one aspect of the future of EVs that remains all too far away.
Afirst for BMW: The ActiveHybrid 5 uses its electric motor to assist the turbo petrol engine