‘Green’ cars have come a long way in recent years and there is no better demonstration of this than the breadth of technology, shapes and sizes on display at LCV 2013, but we have picked our top ten contenders that represent the best that the market currently has to offer and the models that give a glimpse into the future of green cars.
Electric cars are still only seen in tiny numbers on UK roads, but that is going to change rapidly over the next few years as mainstream manufacturers rush to get their offerings on sale. As car lovers we can confess that the early electric cars didn’t exactly float our boat but that was due to poor execution rather than an inherent flaw with the concept. If you feel the same way then these are the five cars that you need to drive to change your mind – Telsa Model S, BMW i3, Renault ZOE, Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus Electric .
Telsa Model S
The Tesla is a game changer offering style, stunning pace, a sensible range and a remarkable interior which is an amazing achievement given it is Tesla’s first attempt at developing a car all on their own. We weren’t blown away by the handling (it felt composed but not that engaging) but in fairness to Tesla someone (not us!) had knocked a front wheel and put the steering out of alignment so we will have to wait until we get a slightly straighter ‘S’ for a bit longer to make our final judgement.
The BMW i3 offers all of the quality and fun of a conventional BMW with cutting-edge materials and futuristic styling. BMW has even got an answer for all of those armchair critics who will point out that carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) might be an incredibly strong and light material to build a car out of, but it is very energy intensive to manufacture, as the production facility in the US is powered by a hydroelectric power plant whilst BMW’s assembly plant in Germany is 100% wind powered.
The Renault ZOE is affordable, looks good, drives like a Renault which is a good thing in our book, and is nimble and just as practical as any supermini. It is also very efficient and according to Euro NCAP very safe too.
Nissan was one of the first major manufacturers to launch an electric car and thanks to this experience they are already onto the LEAF 2.0. Fettled specifically for the European market the latest LEAF is engaging to drive with the speed sensitive power steering offering useful weight at speed and enough feel to encourage you to explore the LEAF’s abilities. It is also remarkably quiet and perfectly comfortable at motorway speeds.
Ford Focus Electric
The beauty of the electric Ford Focus is that it feels exactly like a Ford Focus. Whilst BMW has made a statement with the i3, Ford has taken the stance that there is very little wrong with the conventional Focus so why not start with that. If you like the Focus you will like the electric version, particularly the hushed cruising ability and the torque that epitomises electric motoring.
There is still a place for modern, efficient petrol and diesel engines and they will continue to be the default option for many for some time to come, so it is essential that car companies continue to push the boundaries with ‘conventional’ engines.
We managed to find a performance hero and an everyday gem with a bit of shared heritage on the Caterham and Ford stands.
Ford 1-litre EcoBoost
At the sensible end of the market Ford’s 1-litre EcoBoost engine is a shining example of how the latest generation of engines benefit both efficiency and driveability. It may only have three cylinders and only displaces 1-litre but thanks to a turbocharger and a raft of cutting-edge engine technology it has lots of torque and either 99 bhp or 118 bhp depending on which unit you choose. As a result it is better to drive than the old four cylinder engines and uses substantially less fuel.
At the other end of the scale is Caterham’s latest attempt to extract even more performance from the venerable 2-litre Duratec Ford engine. Given that Caterham has ignored all of the usual tricks of resorting to turbochargers, superchargers, and direct injection, the results are stunning as this normally aspirated 2-litre engine produces 237 bhp. Even more amazingly it also meets the forthcoming and very stringent Euro 6 emissions standards and according to the official fuel consumption tests it emits 179g/km CO2. When it is strapped into the ‘7’ it will also propel you to 60 mph in any astonishing 3.4 seconds.
Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
There are now lots of hybrid cars available and there are even a few plug-in hybrids that offer limited pure electric ranges, but there are none quite like the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid. The combination of a 22 mile electric range, four seats, a 3-litre V6 petrol engine, 95 bhp electric motor and a Porsche chassis is unique and compelling.
LCV 2013 showcased lots of development vehicles but two stand out from the crowd and give car lovers confidence that the future is indeed bright.
Morgan Plus E
An electric Morgan is a strange concept but thanks to electric and motorsport specialists Zytek we got to sample what it would be like. The most intriguing element is the retention of a five-speed manual gearbox which in engineering terms is completely unnecessary in an electric car but for anybody who likes driving with gusto is an essential component. Morgan might not have any immediate plans to put it into production but it proves that an electric future isn’t incompatible with driver involvement.
Land Rover Defender Electric
Our Land Rover engineer admitted to some reservation before the start of the electric Land Rover Defender project but is now an electric convert. It turns out that apart from a limited range (this prototype will only do 50 miles on the road or around 8 hours off road) an electric drivetrain actually has several advantages over diesel off road. Firstly there is no clutch to overheat whilst negotiating really lumpy terrain, the brakes don’t get cooked going down steep descents and the system can run completely submerged under water all day long. Land Rover isn’t about to build a production version, partly because of the range issue and partly because the Defender will be replaced soon, but it has realised that electric propulsion offers up a whole new range of off-road possibilities that just aren’t possible with petrol and diesel engines.
Tesla might be proof that new manufacturers can pull off remarkable results but the reality is that it normally takes a bit more practice. A case in point is Chinese manufacturer BYD. Already an established player in advanced batteries (you could well have a BYD battery in your phone) someone at BYD asked “how hard can it be to make a car?”. The answer is slightly harder than they thought. Predictably the resulting e6 has a great battery with an excellent 186 mile real world range in what is a very spacious big crossover and a two hour recharge capability it is at the forefront of electric capability. The car however is not. It does demonstrate that when they get the car element of the package right, BYD could be pretty special.
By Andrew Leadbetter