What You Should Know Before Buying Hybrid Vehicles
It’s been almost twenty years since Toyota first introduced the production Prius to its home market. Brought to the U.S. for the 2000 model year, Toyota’s hybrid may not have represented a revolution in the U.S. marketplace, but it certainly constituted a reset of the U.S. marketplace. With a battery pack and integrated electric motor providing an assist, a Prius was an immediately available option to those wanting to reduce their environmental imprint and/or impact. Several generations later, the Prius has prompted a number of other imitators, but none have achieved the success of the original. Going forward, with EV range on the cusp of cresting 200 miles, hybrids will need to create a more compelling reason – beyond efficiency – to be considered. With that, their business model is helped by the dodgy visual provided by Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal; the purchase of a diesel was regarded as a viable alternative to hybrids until VW cheated on its diesel emissions. And suddenly, the diesel alternative was no longer a viable alternative.
Exterior – In a manner not unlike their EV counterparts, hybrid designs are offered in distinctive, ‘this-is-a-hybrid’ architectures, as well as conventional models to which a hybrid drivetrain is added. Toyota’s Prius, whose entry established the segment, remains unconventional in design when compared to its Corolla or Camry cousins, while Toyota’s RAV4 hybrid differs from the conventional RAV4 minimally. A revised front fascia and different wheels are the only visual clues to the crossover’s hybrid drivetrain.
Interior – Once again, product teams approach the design of a hybrid’s interior with two trains of thought. In one, you provide an interior that the consumer won’t confuse with anything other than a hybrid, offering a lot of tech – both functional and visual – within the instrument panel environment. The second approach, most often seen on production platforms modified for hybrid application, is a minimal number of changes within the cockpit and cabin. If opting for maximum utility, know some hybrid battery packs can and will impede on inside storage.
Powertrains – The hybrid premise is simple: increased efficiency by augmenting internal combustion with an electric motor and rechargeable battery. In stop-and-go driving hybrid drivetrains, where the electric assist is more applicable, hybrids excel, often delivering upwards of 50 miles per gallon. On the highway the argument is less compelling, but most hybrids will still offer better efficiency than their more conventional counterparts. And that efficiency is maximized when the hybrid offers a plug-in (PHEV) option. Audi’s new A3 Sportback e-tron combines a 1.4 liter 4-cylinder with a 102 horsepower electric motor to develop 204 combined horsepower, delivering a 0-60 time of well under eight seconds, along with a track top speed of 130 and – not incidentally – 17 miles of all-electric range. For many consumers, doing a school drop-off or with a short commute to work, this would be all the electric capability they either want or need.
Safety - Given that today’s hybrid is among the newest designs in an automaker’s portfolio, its safety envelope would be as advanced and complete as is possible with contemporary design and manufacturing. And with what is often a family audience, a full array of designed-in safety is complemented by those electronic assists which can be easily added. The only deterrent to electronically-augmented safety features is the competing needs of electronic assists and a battery’s range. The more features a hybrid or plug-in hybrid platform supports, the shorter its viable all-electric range. Of course, there’s also the embedded safety that comes with innovative construction. In almost all instances battery packs are located low in the vehicle’s structure, contributing to a low center of gravity and enhanced stability.
Technology – Today’s hybrid automobile is, almost by definition, at the forefront of today’s technology. Of course, technology can take many forms, including those intended to improve efficiency, connectivity or entertainment. With its Tech of the Year Award in 2016, Autoblog recognized Apple CarPlay for its user-friendliness and “overall impact on bringing our connected lives into the car.” If you’re an iPhone user, the control of apps is done via a familiar interface on an infotainment screen while adding features that weren’t originally installed at the factory. Android Auto was second in the voting, delivering to the user essentially the same capabilities via Google’s phone OS.
With automotive technology’s trickle down, you can expect in-car WiFi to enjoy greater availability, and its integration into a ‘media hub’ increasingly common.
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