Right, why am I writing this blog when I am solely writing anything about my photographic career and my fatherhood life, because first, I actually own one, second, before I bought my car, I did a lot of research but none would give me what I am about to say so please bear with me.
This blog is somehow related to my whole theme of talktog (being a photographer and a father) and you will see in a minute.
“Being a wedding and portrait photographer, I often travel to destinations all around the country but mostly I photograph weddings within Greater London. Amid the increasing fuel costs in recent years, I always think that I need a more sensible car.” That was last year. So my quest to find a suitable solution wasn’t easy at all. First, being a Londoner, I was often bombarded with the same things that every other Londoners faced every day: High fuel costs, Ever increasing road tax, Congestion Charge (yes we need to pay to get into central London and it’s £12 a day!!!) and traffic.
I come from Hong Kong originally, a place that, in my view, has the most efficient public transport network ever. London is probably 100 years behind! I am not joking. So using public transport in London for my jobs could be a hassles and it’s not door to door. In addition, it’s expensive. So with my expensive and heavy equipment, I rather drive. Yet traveling in London is like planning your honeymoon. I need to cater for all eventualities. Fortunately that today’s GPS are much better than before with live traffic updates so I could almost avoid most delays but still, going from A to B can be a painfully slow process.
Before I had my twins, my sole vehicle was the BMW 325i, a lovely car in its own right and a beautiful drive indeed. However, it’s a coupe so it would not be suitable when my babies arrive.
So my conclusion was… I need a car that is efficient (good fuel economy), low running cost (service, depreciation and car tax), big enough (for two adults and two babies) and reliable.
I went for the Lexus CT200h in the end.
After a year of ownership, I can finally say a few things about this car and which a lot of people may find it helpful if they are considering buying a hybrid or even this little Lexus.
First, this car is lovely. A lot of people said that hybrid cars are not practical. Wrong! I’ve seen may hybrids during my test drives and found that, despite the battery, the boot is still big enough for most use. I have twins and I am able to fit my twin buggy with accessories in the boot and with space left for some small shopping. With the cover off, I can stuff more in as wished. Lexus, Prius, Peugeot, Honda.. are all the same. In the end, it’s the shape that matters. All hybrid car boots are flatter but with some practices, you can logically put stuff in to maximise the loading capacity.
Also many questioned, including myself, about the suitability for rear-facing baby seats fitting in the CT200h. The truth is, yes you can. My baby seats are Maxi Cosi Pebble. I had them with and without ISO Fix and both fit absolutely fine. I also use the foot space for extra storage during shopping too! I am 173cm and I am able to find my perfect driving position! Mind you, I don’t drive lying flat and I love upright driving position (well, not straight up, still a little incline). So no problem there. When I upgrade baby seats to toddler forward-facing seats, the situation is only going to improve.
So these two areas are what my wife’s concerns and now it’s my turn.
At least in London, hybrid makes a lot of sense. First, most models doesn’t cost a thing to tax due to its low emission. Therefore, I have no tax to pay until the government changes its policy (hopefully not!). Economy is good (which I will expand a little further later). And, at time of purchase, I don’t have to pay Congestion Charge (now you have to pay as policy changes but I still have 3 years of FREE entry to central London). Both Lexus and Toyota are known for their reliability so I have no complain there.
Now the key points to this blog. Why am I saying the truth about hybrids? Well, despite all the marketing efforts and ‘official’ reviews from motoring journals, these hybrids are not as economical as claimed by the manufacturers. The figures you see in the brochures are all done via the ‘ideal conditions’. Yes, they are totally achievable and I’ve done it once in my year of ownership. So, you need an ideal environment to get close to the claim numbers if not reaching them. So what are these ‘conditions’?
1). Temperature. Yes, you may not think that but let me explain. I am not a scientist but I do understand a few things. Any batteries will behave differently under different temperature and like everything else, there’s an optimal operating temperature. In cold weather, hybrid car battery will not hold the charge as well as in the summer. So even a fully charged cell won’t last you that long. So pure EV mode is not really an option during very cold winters. Also, if you are only doing super short journey, like popping down the road for some groceries, then your hybrid may actually use more fuel than a V6 engine car! No joke! When a hybrid car isn’t fully warmed up, the engine will be on full power trying to power the car, warm up the system and charge the battery at the same time. Though not scientifically, I am seeing less than 10 mpg from my trip computer. However, the car is very efficient so just be patient and let the car warms up for 3-5 minutes (yes, that’s all it takes) then you are ready to go at much better economy, though short journey is still not going to save you much unless you can use EV mode but like I said, you can’t really use it in the winter (unless it’s less than a mile, return). Ideal temperature is around 18-21 degree celsius.
2). Driving style. This is the big big big one. It took me a good few months to re-educate my driving to get the most from the hybrid. Now I learn the tricks. When I first got the CT, I constantly tried to use the electric motor to start the car but the fact is, unless it’s in EV mode, the computer would let the petrol kicks in as soon as it felt the need for extra power. I thought using electric motor to start will say me fuel but my theory was wrong. I constantly drained the battery and when I stopped at the traffic lights, my engine would kicked in to recharge it. Therefore, I used more fuel. So the trick was, use short burst of power (literally flooring it) to get to the required speed then let go, then press the throttle again gently to activate the EV. This I only use little electricity to power the car forward. Don’t worry about flooring the car though, no hybrids I tested was quick enough to scare you! But you can adjust as you wish but just don’t be afraid to let the power out to get to speed.
The the next thing is try to maintain constant speed. Also read ahead of the traffic and if you see red lights further down the road then be prepared to let go of the throttle and let the car roll so the battery can be recharged. Braking also recharges the battery and hybrid cars uses less brake pads than conventional cars due to the fact that most ‘trained’ owners knows how to activate the regenerative brakes in the most efficient way. The brakes can be a little spongy but that’s the traits of all hybrids. Gently touch the brake paddles will activate the regenerative brakes without using the pads. That will slow the car down as well as charging the battery. Though heavier press will activate both and the car will stop in a more sudden fashion. Something you need to get use to.
3). Driving mode. I am uncertain about other brands but in Toyota and Lexus, hybrids have three different driving modes. Eco, Normal and Sport. Each setting is basically a preset of throttle sensitivity and engine/motor power management. Without going into details. Let me give you some suggestions when to use what mode. In normal running traffic, which is normally 80-90% of the time, just use normal. Use sport mode when you have four full size adults in the car or when you going up steep hills. Use Eco only when you stuck in traffic. To me, it’s more about power available when needed rather than outright speed, since none of the hybrid cars is fast enough to be considered as a sport car anyway. Sport mode simply give you more electrical power to supplement the petrol powered engine. Hence giving the driver a sense of torque and speed. But in reality, it’s not fast at all.
4). Traffic condition. Yes, when you are stuck in traffic, unless you switch off your engine, you will still use fuel/electricity. The longer you get stuck, the more fuel/electricity you are going to use. Also, driving under 20mph is also bad. There are 20mph zones in London now and I constantly getting around 25-30mpg because the gear in use. EV mode will kick in but since hybrid only last around a couple of miles in EV so when the battery depletes, engine kicks in. Driving in low gear means more fuel is used. Drive around 30mph, I can achieve 50mpg or more when the traffic is smooth. Also too many stopping and starting doesn’t help either so congested areas or too many traffic lights may ultimate hurt economy. Just bear that in mind.
I’ve heard people talking extreme about how to get the highest possible mpg return when switching off air conditioning, fan… etc. I am not that type of person. I am only sharing my experience in driving a hybrid. I am not a motoring journalist so I am not doing a review as such nor I know too much about dynamics.
Ultimately, I got my hybrid for reasons I mentioned. I know ultimately hybrids aren’t here to save the world in terms of CO2 emission, perhaps hydrogen fuel cells or EV cars will, but it’s a car, for the time being, to combat rising motoring running costs. Don’t get hybrids for its performance because there isn’t. I was a petrol head and still think that if you want driving dynamic and fun, get yourself a proper sports car. But do get it if you want to save a few quids. They are not expensive to buy now and for mix town and motorway use, it’s the best compromise of power, size and efficiency. Hybrids, I guess, is a transition to something bigger and better. Hybrids will be here until the next big things come after fossil fuel powered transport. Whether it is super EV or fuel cells. Happy motoring!
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