There are several kinds of electric vehicles on the market, but which one is for you?
From the June 2018 print edition
Just like their conventional, gasoline-driven counterparts, electric vehicles come in myriad types and sizes. There are compacts and large sedans, vans, buses and even pickup trucks—and there are nearly as many types of powertrains to drive them. But it’s the range of acronyms that describe alternative energy vehicles that can leave the uninitiated feeling a little bewildered. There are three main categories of EV (electric vehicle) technology: BEV, HEV, and PHEV, with FCEV a fast-rising fourth.
BEVs, or battery-electric vehicles, run entirely on the energy stored in their battery packs. This energy is used to power an electric motor, which turns the wheels. Users recharged the battery by plugging the vehicle into a charge station, or 240-volt household electrical outlet. There are several advantages to BEVs—the main one, of course, is never having to pay for gas again. With no tailpipe, there are zero emissions and less impact on the environment. Without the noise and vibration of an internal combustion engine, an all-electric vehicle is quiet—almost eerily so. But there are downsides to owning a BEV. They’re expensive to buy and it takes a few years of gas-free motoring to make up for the dollars saved at the gas pumps. However, Ontario buyers can receive up to $15,000 in rebates—including $1,000 towards installing a home charge station.
Early adopters of BEVs experienced severe range anxiety, and while current models have improved considerably, the infrastructure to support charging is still lacking should battery power run low. Depending on the size of battery and speed of the charging point, it can take as little as 30 minutes or as long as 12 hours to fully charge. BEVs are still considered a second car, or inner-city runabout for those with a short daily commute—especially given the effects of our winter climate upon battery life.
The Leaf’s range has doubled since it debuted back in 2010. It can now travel up to 241km on a single charge. The world’s best-selling electric car has an improved design, with a roomier interior and new, advanced technologies. ProPilot Assist “reduces driver workload” by keeping you within your lane, maintains a safe distance between you and the car in front, automatically brakes when traffic stops and accelerates when it begins moving again. The Leaf’s e-powertrain produces 147hp, and 236lbs-ft of torque. Charge time with Level 2 charger is 4.5 hours. The Leaf starts at $35,998 with up to a $14,000 rebate.
Ford Focus EV is a conventionally styled hatchback that seats five. A nice complement of standard features includes eight-in touchscreen with voice-activated navigation, a nine-speaker Sony sound system and a SmartGauge with EcoGuide instrument cluster that monitors driving habits and offers tips on improving efficiency. It’s powered by a 143hp electric motor and has a 185-km average range. Charge time with Level 2 charger is 5.5 hours. They start at $34,998 with up to $14,000 rebate.
PHEV—Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles
Like BEVs, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles can run solely on power stored in the onboard battery pack, and are recharged by plugging into the grid. But as a backup they’re also equipped with a gasoline internal combustion engine should the battery run low. The benefits of a PHEV are zero emissions and good fuel efficiency when operating on battery alone, elimination of range anxiety with a backup motor and they’re inexpensive if used for short commutes. Among disadvantages, they’re relatively expensive, complex to maintain, not that efficient on gas and have uncertain resale value.
The Chevrolet Volt, now in its third model year, offers 85km of EV range and a combined fuel rating of 5.7L/100km when operating on gasoline. A new Driver Confidence Package includes blind-zone monitors, rear-cross traffic alert and rear park assist. Combined power output is 149hp. Charge time with a level 2 charger is 4.5 hours. They run from $39,095 with up to $13,000 rebates in Ontario.
The Sonata PHEV boasts the largest battery capacity in the mid-size sedan class with an all-electric range of 43km, and 1,100km combined. Lane keeping assist, Driver Attention Alert, eight-in touchscreen, BlueLink and nine-speaker Infiniti sound system are standard. It charges in two-and-a-half hours with a Level 2 charger and starts at $44,923 with up to $7,000 rebate in Ontario.
The Toyota Prius Plug-in has a combined electric/gasoline range of 1,000km but only 40km of pure electric. Base models come with Toyota’s Safety Sense suite of advanced safety systems, including Pre-Collision with Pedestrian Detection, Automatic High Beams, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Eco Drive Monitor helps drivers maximize their fuel efficiency. Combined output is 121hp and can be charged in as little as two hours and ten minutes with level 2 charger—starts at $32,990 with up to $5,000 in rebates.
HEV—Hybrid electric vehicles
HEVs combine a battery, electric motor and an internal combustion motor to form the drive train. There are various configurations, some use the electric motor solely as a generator to convert energy from braking and store it in the battery, help boost the engine while starting and accelerating and the most efficient will use a smaller ICE engine, which can shut down while decelerating or when stopped. They’re very similar to a conventionally operated vehicle, but cleaner and more fuel-efficient. Disadvantages include a higher price, heavier weight and battery packs that may encroach on trunk space.
The Kia Optima Hybrid is a mid-sized sedan with 192hp combined from its four-cylinder engine and electric motor. The smaller, reengineered battery no longer takes up trunk space in the regular hybrid, but plug-in trunk is still compromised. It features standard LED running lights and taillights, keyless entry, heated steering wheel, smartphone integration, heated seats and backup camera plus plenty of available features. They start from $29,995.
FCEV—Fuel cell electric vehicles
There’s been a renewed interest in FCEV technology among automakers who embrace its efficiency and long-term sustainability. Unlike the other choices, the FCEV relies on neither grid power, nor gasoline—instead it generates energy from mixing hydrogen and oxygen in its fuel stack. The advantages are that they’re very clean to operate, since the only emission is water, don’t rely on coal to supply electricity and only take a few minutes to refuel. The main disadvantage is lack of infrastructure—there are two charge stations in Ontario and only a handful across the country.
Soon available in Canada, the Mirai is the world’s first commercially available hydrogen
fuel cell vehicle. It has an output of 151hp and 247lbs-ft of torque, and a range of more than 500km on a tank of hydrogen. There’s standard LED head and taillights, touch sensor door handles, noise-reducing glass, heated seats front and back and the full suite of Toyota’s driver’s assist safety technology. The refuel time is less than five minutes. Canadian pricing is unavailable but the US price is $57,000 with a three-year supply of hydrogen. Rebates are unconfirmed but expect it to qualify for the full $14,000.
Honda has provided only limited access to the Clarity FCEV—it’s available at only 12 dealerships in California and as a lease only with no option to purchase. Output from the electric motor is 174hp with 221lbs-ft of torque and at 589km the range is impressive. The Clarity comes with a full suite of driver safety systems, including head-up display, Honda Lane Watch, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control. There’s a comprehensive list of interior features, including a 12-speaker audio system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, eight-in touchscreen, leather upholstery. Lease rates are US$369, which includes $15,000 in hydrogen fillups.