The Choice Between Hybrid, Plug-In Hybrid, and Electric

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By Nauman Farooq

It used to be, that if you were looking at getting a car, as far as propulsion was concerned, you only had two choices; gasoline (petrol) or diesel engined vehicles.

Depending on where you live, your choice could expand to include vehicles running on compressed natural gas, propane, or very rarely, hydrogen.

However, most people looking to go further on a single tank of fuel, or those looking to save the environment, look at hybrid vehicles. But, the choices in hybrid-electric vehicles are expanding; so this week, we will look at three different examples, to see which is best!

2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: The very first hybrid vehicles the world saw, had a system very similar to the one found in the new Toyota Highlander Hybrid. These vehicles give hybrid-electric assist, to help you save on fuel. They charge their battery pack while the vehicle is braking, or by sending a small amount of current to the battery pack when the vehicle is cruising on its 3.5L V6 motor (combined system output is 306 hp). While most such vehicles can propel a car under only electric power, the range is extremely small – the Highlander Hybrid barely moved half a kilometer under only electric propulsion. So, such a hybrid vehicle will only marginally improve your fuel economy, and works better in the city than on the highway. During my test week, I recorded an average fuel economy score of 10.4 L/100 km – Toyota claims this model can achieve 8.3 L/100 km. While I don’t have personal test figures of the non-hybrid version of the Highlander, I do have figures from the test I did of the Infiniti QX60, which is a similar sized vehicle to the Highlander. The QX60 averaged 11.4 L/100 km, so while the Highlander Hybrid did better, a 1.0 L/100 km advantage is nothing to boast about.

So, the Highlander Hybrid is perhaps not the best example of a conventional hybrid vehicle, but Toyota does have models, like the Prius, which make really good use out of their hybrid systems.

As a vehicle, the new Highlander Hybrid is spacious, comfortable, well equipped, and competitively priced – yours from $50,950. But, if you want to go further on electric energy, perhaps the next option will be of more interest to you!

2018 Honda Clarity: The newly introduced, Honda Clarity, is a plug-in hybrid vehicle. The advantage this setup has over the conventional hybrid vehicles, is that it has a much bigger battery pack, which can be charged up by plugging the vehicle to a wall socket – or better, charge it through a dedicated level-two charger, which reduces charge times. So, as an example, if you plug in your Clarity to a 110-volt level-one charger, it would take you 12 hours to fully charge it up. By using a level-two charger, it took just 2.5 hours to charge the vehicle fully. What does that get you?

According to Honda and the MTO, the Clarity can cover 77 km on electric energy alone – if you need to go further, a 1.5L four-cylinder motor will take you the rest of the way. Total system output is rated at 212 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque.

During my test week, on a full charge, the Clarity would show a range of 54 km, and give in return about 48 km of real world driving. Why was the range far less than what’s being advertised? Well, temperature had a lot to do with it, and in the cold, when the car needs to run the heater as well, driving range is hence greatly reduced.

However, for my daily running around, the Clarity proved to offer far more electric range than I actually needed. As a result, by charging it every day, I barely ever had the combustion engine come on, during my test week. Furthermore, in my first 100 km of driving, I achieved a score of 2.8 L/100 km. My usual, 300 km test cycle gave me a score of just 3.5 L/100 km, which is also very impressive.

The rest of the Clarity is equally impressive, too. It is a smart looking vehicle, and offers lots of interior space, and an impressive list of features. Thanks to drive modes such as “Eco” or “Sport” – the Clarity offers more thrills than you would expect from such a vehicle.

The 2018 Honda Clarity has a starting price of $39,900. For buying such an efficient vehicle, the Ontario government will give you a cheque for $13,000 – which is a great incentive.

If you want to go even further using electricity, then you need to look at the next vehicle!

2018 Tesla Model X 75D: If you want maximum electric drive, than a fully electric vehicle is the only way to go. While there are a few electric offerings currently in the market, nothing has grabbed the attention quite like Tesla. This relatively new, California-based, company has been capturing headlines for about a decade now, and is showing no signs of slowing down!

The Model X is the company’s CUV offering, and not only can it be ordered in five, six, or seven seat configuration, it also has those ‘cool’ gullwing rear doors.

But, fancy doors and interior features -such as the largest infotainment screen in the business- are all gimmicks compared to its main feature, its electric drive performance. The Tesla Model X 75D has two electric motors -one in the front, and one in the rear- and combined they produce 259 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers don’t sound too exciting, but trust me, put your foot in, and the Model X just catapults forward like its been shot out of a cannon. This is a rare case of a vehicle feeling faster than its horsepower numbers would suggest. According to Tesla, the Model X 75D can sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in just 6.2 seconds, and top out at 210 km/h – that is plenty quick!

However, the number most Tesla owners -or would be owners- are interested in, is range. The 75D has a driving range of 381 km, which is very impressive. Both the range, and the performance can be upgraded – they do offer a 100D model, but the 75D is the volume seller, and would serve most of your needs.

However, it is a pricey vehicle, well out of the reach of the masses, as the Model X 75D has a base price of $102,300. The vehicle I drove, had an as-tested price of $122,750. Given that a Tesla Model X is considered a luxury vehicle, it does not get any rebates from the Ontario government.

Verdict: We should all do our part in conserving the environment, so buying an efficient vehicles makes sense. However, the limitations of a fully electric vehicle are that even the fastest charge times -which on the Tesla Model X 75D took about 40 minutes from their supercharging system, which is a level three charger- are not as fast as pulling up to a gas station and filling up your car. The old style hybrids -such as the Toyota Highlander Hybrid- don’t make sense either, because they give no real electric driving range, and you just end up with a vehicle that is heavier than it should be, and the fuel savings are only marginal.

So, for now, the best option are plug-in hybrid vehicles. They allow you to run through most of your day using electricity, but if you suddenly need to go out of town, no worries, their on-board gas engine would take you the rest of the way.

Hence, the winner among this trio, is the Honda Clarity.