Hybrid and Diesel Alternatives to Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles

In the State of the Union address in 2011, U.S. President Barrack Obama declared that there would be one million EVs on the roads by 2015. That ambitious goal did not come to fruition, though. As long as the average price of regular gas remains under $2, electric vehicles will never pose a threat to the domination of the petrol- and diesel-fueled cars.
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Ford C-Max Energi Plug-In HybridFord C-Max Energi Plug-In HybridFord C-Max Energi Plug-In HybridFord C-Max Energi Plug-In HybridFord C-Max Energi Plug-In HybridToyota Prius VToyota Prius VToyota Prius VToyota Prius VToyota Prius VBMW 330eBMW 330eBMW 330eBMW 330eBMW 330eBMW 328dBMW 328dBMW 328dBMW 328dBMW 328dHyundai Sonata Plug-In HybridHyundai Sonata Plug-In HybridHyundai Sonata Plug-In HybridHyundai Sonata Plug-In HybridHyundai Sonata Plug-In HybridFord Fusion HybridFord Fusion HybridFord Fusion HybridFord Fusion HybridFord Fusion HybridCadillac CT6 PHEVCadillac CT6 PHEVCadillac CT6 PHEVCadillac CT6 PHEVCadillac CT6 PHEVLexus GS 450hLexus GS 450hLexus GS 450hLexus GS 450hLexus GS 450hBMW X5 xDrive40eBMW X5 xDrive40eBMW X5 xDrive40eBMW X5 xDrive40eBMW X5 xDrive40eLexus RX 450hLexus RX 450hLexus RX 450hLexus RX 450hLexus RX 450h
Other issues such as overpricing, the limited range, cold weather effects on the battery pack, and the inadequate charging infrastructure turn prospective buyers off from spending their hard-earned bucks on electric vehicles. Given the circumstances, hybrids and plug-in hybrids represent the middle ground to those who want to try something else.

The thing is, there are fine differences between hybrid vehicles and PHEVs, differences that newbies should take into consideration before choosing between the two. To some extent, those who care more about mileage rather than being friendly to the environment are those interested in diesel power. Depending on an individual’s needs and wants, minute details account for a purchase you won’t regret or a purchase you wish you never made in your quest for being different.

17.5 million new cars and light trucks were bought in calendar year 2015. 498,425 were hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles. Of the latter, EVs sold noticeably better than PHEVs. But then again, hybrids surpassed EVs and PHEVs combined (384,404 versus 114,022). This discrepancy is best explained by the pricing advantage and usability of hybrids over the other two categories.

Sales numbers for diesel cars and light trucks are not available for the 2015 calendar year, but the December 2015 NADA market report informs that diesel cars account for 2 percent of total sales, while hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicles account for 2.4 percent of the market (1.9, 0.2, and 0.3 percent, respectively). It’s obvious that Satan’s favorite fuel isn’t going anywhere soon, even though the Dieselgate scandal took its toll on the image of this fuel.

In accordance with the way the new car market evolves in the United States, autoevolution put together a list of five alternatives to five plug-in hybrid vehicles. And yes, we had to feature one diesel-fueled model in the list because, in some instances, diesel returns more bang for the buck compared to a plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Ford C-Max Energi Plug-In Hybrid ≠ Toyota Prius V

Excluding destination, title, and registration, the MSRP for the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid is $31,770. The compact MPV has been around since the 2011 model year and the best it can do is an EPA-rated 38 mpg (6.2 liters/100 km) combined. That’s fine and everything, but then again, the C-Max Energi has always been a sweetheart of the NHTSA in terms of powertrain-related recalls. The boxy body shell doesn’t help either.

The alternative to this plug-in hybrid is the Toyota Prius V, a hybrid which has also been recalled over a problem with two of its ECUs. Look beyond these issues and its $26,675 starting price is what makes it an attractive choice in this segment.

Better still, the EPA-rated fuel economy for the Prius V is 42 mpg (5.6 liters/100 km) combined. Thanks to the slight difference in powertrain technologies, the Prius V hybrid is a featherweight at 3,340 lbs (1,515 kg) compared to the 3,340 lbs (1,768 kg) of the boxlike C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid.

Make no mistake about it - both cars are good in their own rights. But the Toyota Prius V’s edge on pricing, mileage, and weight makes this a win for the hybrid powertrain and a loss for the plug-in hybrid.

BMW 330e ≠ BMW 328d

In the compact executive sedan segment, things get trickier. In the blue corner, we have the BMW 330e, a four-door sedan that uses technology inspired by the BMW i8 supercar. The plug-in hybrid Bavarian churns out 248 horsepower from an electric motor-gasoline engine combo. Priced at $43,700 sans delivery and other charges, the 330e accelerates to 60 mph (96 km/h) in 5.9 seconds, 0.1 seconds slower than a 328i.

Sounds like a tempting choice, innit? Hold on a second, though, because there’s something about the 330e that bothers us. More specifically, the 112 to 114 mpg (just over 2 liters/100 km) fuel economy on the European cycle. It’s needless to point this out, buy you’ll never ever get near that in real-world driving situations, especially if you happen to forget to charge your 330e’s battery overnight. Instead of spending your cash on a lie, the frugal BMW 328d sedan in rear-wheel-drive form is the way to go.

Don’t mind the fact that it’s more than 400 lbs (181 kilograms) lighter than the plug-in hybrid and don’t mind the fact that it’s just about $4,000 cheaper. The selling point of the 328d is that it’s the perfect commuting machine, one that won’t bore you do death with its clatter thanks to generous soundproofing and one that will return 37 mpg (6.3 liters/100 km) combined. The BMW 328d won’t make you popular with the ladies or among your petrolhead buddies, but it does make sense to the commonsensible and cost-conscious consumer.

Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid ≠ Ford Fusion Hybrid

For $34,600, Hyundai Motor America will sell you the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid. There are two main problems with it. First is the 5-hour charge time on a 120-volt outlet, which is too much for a 9.8 kWh battery. Then there’s the problem of it being sold only in the California-emissions states. Both of these niggles disappear if you change your mind and go for the Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan.

Other than it being considerably cheaper ($25,185), the Fusion Hybrid’s EPA-rated fuel economy trumps that of the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid.
For those who commute to work and back tens of miles if not hundreds on a daily basis, 42 mpg (5.6 liters/100 km) combined are always better than 40 mpg (approximately 5.9 l/100 km) combined.

Then there’s the aspect of family hauling. The name of the game here is rear leg room and the Ford has the Hyundai left for dead on this one as well. 2.7 inches (6.85 cm) of extra leg room in the rear can make a big difference if you have a small child that needs to be fastened in a child or booster seat. All around, the Fusion Hybrid is the winner here.

Cadillac CT6 Plug-In Hybrid ≠ Lexus GS 450h

Did you know that Cadillac will import the CT6 Plug-In Hybrid from China? The reason why General Motors will do this is the fact that demand for the PHEV is expected to be insignificant. In spite of its Chinese provenance, the CT6 PHEV is an interesting luxobarge with a combined output of 335 horsepower from a 2-liter engine and two electric motors.

Pricing, fuel economy, and other important data for would-be buyers isn’t available at the moment. Then again, who would spend top dollar on a full-size sedan with a 2-liter four-banger under the hood? That’s plain silly. No wonder the PHEV is made in China while regular CT6 models are made in the U.S.

The CT6 PHEV isn’t the eco-friendly luxury machine to go for. This leaves the door fully open to the Mercedes-Benz S500e Plug-In Hybrid and the Lexus LS 600h. The thing is, these two are extremely expensive even by full-size luxobarge standards, so they’re not viable options. The solution, however, comes in the guise of another Lexus.

The Lexus GS 450h may not be a full-size sedan, but this eco-friendly automobile is luxurious. Perforated leather everywhere, real wood trim, genuine metal on the dashboard, and a cabin design that pleases even the most demanding customers is what the GS 450h is all about. Regarding the “h” in its name, the hybrid system combines the smoothness of an electric motor with a 3.5-liter six-cylinder mill.

Miles per gallon are irrelevant in this segment, but one thing is certain - the Lexus GS hybrid is a quicker car than the Cadillac CT6 PHEV. Best of all? It's the type of luxury hybrid that the owner drives, not the kind you’re chauffeured in as old, boring businessman are.

BMW X5 xDrive40e ≠ Lexus RX 450h

Nearly 300 units of the X5 xDrive40e were sold in the first two months since the plug-in hybrid SUV went on sale in North America. That’s impressive, but the green behemoth is just as impressive. There’s proper seating for five, loads of space in the trunk, and it reaches 60 mph (96 km/h) in 6.5 seconds. On the downside, the xDrive40e is $62,100, money that buys you a four-banger turbo.

Something about the X5 xDrive40e that’s worse than the number of cylinders comes in the form of 5,080 lbs (2,304 kg). And that’s too much for a mid-size luxury crossover SUV. On the other hand, Lexus did a better job at hybridizing the RX. Starting at $52,325, the RX 450h undercuts the Bimmer by almost $10,000 and comes with an Atkinson-cycle V6 instead of a four-cylinder mill. Now that’s more like it.

It may have two extra cylinders, but the much lighter RX 450h is capable of returning 30 mpg (7.8 l/100 km) combined.
Another thing that makes the hybrid RX our choice over the plug-in hybrid X5 is the way this Japanese crossover SUV looks on the outside and inside.

Minus the annoying touchpad interface of the infotainment system, the Lexus RX 450h is a supremely comfortable proposition, one that is able to waft you from point A to point B in complete silence. The BMW X5 xDrive40e, however, will sing you the song of four hard-working cylinders every time you overtake someone on the freeway.
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About the author: Mircea Panait
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After a 1:43 scale model of a Ferrari 250 GTO sparked Mircea's interest for cars when he was a kid, an early internship at Top Gear sealed his career path. He's most interested in muscle cars and American trucks, but he takes a passing interest in quirky kei cars as well.
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