We’re the bun­ny­men for this unique eco test be­tween two new green cars

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News - MARK HINCH­LIFFE mark.hinch­liffe@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

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