Friday 28 October 2016

Luxury plug-in SUVs promise style, efficiency and the feel-good factor to boot

Luxury plug-in SUVs promise style, efficiency and the feel-good factor to boot, writes Geraldine Herbert

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

Pure economy: Volvo XC90 T8 Phev
Pure economy: Volvo XC90 T8 Phev
BMW X5 xDrive40e M Sport

According to a recent study, it's mums who are driving the surge in SUV sales. That comes as no surprise, I've lost count of the number of bereft mothers at the school gates, who have sought my advice in their attempts to free themselves from the shackles of an MPV and graduate to getting behind the wheel of an SUV.

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Crossovers and SUVs are here to stay; they are practical, affordable and fuel-efficient, and, what's more, we are not even close to peak.

Gone are the days when big 4x4s were the scourge of the school run and, from the super luxurious to the rugged off-roader, our love of these vehicles is no passing fad. But for those who could never quite reconcile their green conscience to consider one there now are eco-friendly off-roaders. Oxymoron it may be, but these plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) promise superior fuel economy and added power while reducing emissions.

Recent additions to our roads include the Volvo XC90 T8 and the BMW X5 xDrive40e - both powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine and an electric motor.

The BMW X5 xDrive40e is part electric and part petrol and is the first core model SUV getting the plug-in hybrid treatment.

On paper it looks good: the petrol electric hybrid has a theoretical range of 830 kilometres with a full charge and full tank and can be driven for 31km in electric mode if selected. There is also a 'Save Charge' setting if you want to avoid draining the battery but the easiest option is Auto eDrive mode which seamlessly shifts between power sources.

The combined output of both the petrol engine and the electric motor is 309bhp which is the very same as the X5 40d - so it's no slouch. It will go from 0 to 100kmh in 6.8 seconds and has top speed of 210kmh.

Fuel economy depends on how aggressively you drive, but it promises a combined fuel consumption of up to 3.4 litres per 100 or 85.6mpg, and a combined electricity consumption of 15.3kWh. CO2 emissions are just 77g/km.

Using a BMW i Wallbox reduces charging time to just under three hours for a full charge. Or you can use a standard wall socket and get a full-strength battery in about four hours, though I found this takes considerably longer.

Like all other X5s, the xDrive40e offers good on-road performance with quick acceleration and is one of the best-handling large SUVs available - but the extra weight of the hybrid system is noticeable on the road.

The launch of Volvo's XC90 in 2002 was a game-changer for the Swedish brand and transformed it from sensible and safe to an innovative premium brand. Now 14 years later, the second generation XC90 has filled its trophy case with awards and honours.

New to the range is the T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid powertrain. From the outside there is little to distinguish it from the rest of the range; it is unmistakeably Volvo with clean and purposeful styling and oversized grille.

There are three distinct driving modes in one car - Pure, Hybrid and Power. The 2.0-litre petrol engine powers the front wheels while the electric motor powers one for rear and in-between is a plug-in battery giving it a combined 407bhp and 640Nms of torque. CO2 emissions are just 49g/km and it can be driven for 43km in pure electric mode. According to Volvo, combined fuel economy is 2.1 litres per 100 or 134.5mpg.

Charging is simple and takes roughly four hours and, similar to the X5, there is also a save mode to extend battery life.

It's also heavier than its diesel equivalent and while it has more power, torque and a better all electric range than the X5, the BMW is still the more engaging drive. On-road ride comfort remains as good as any other version of the XC90 and it is beautifully hushed and refined, capable of soaking up bumps like mere air bubbles on the road. Although it feels smaller than its actual size, it is still a big car and you will notice some roll on corners and bends.

Prices for the X5 start at €66,510 but the PHEV X5 is priced from €74,050, while the Volvo XC90 range starts at €63,450. However, the Hybrid is €79,700 - so neither is a bargain buy.

Our BMW test car was priced at €80,690 and was equipped with optional extras worth €8,810, so even allowing for the €2,500 SEAI grant the total price was €87,000. Similarly, the final price of the XC90 tested, including extras and deducting the grant, was €90,662.

For some, hybrid cars are more a band-aid than a real solution and the future lies in pure-electric power but that, like autonomous driving, is not going to be a mainstream alternative overnight.

And while a diesel alternative may be more economical, that is not what PHEVs are about; it's about feeling good for protecting the environment. And let's be honest, if you are going to save the planet then I know which I prefer - for me, it's sojourning in the luxury of a large SUV rather than pedalling my bike.

Sunday Independent

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