Well, we’ve had our PHEV Kia for a few months, but last week we got a chance to take it on the road for a real workout — up to Prince George and back, a distance of over 1600 km. Our last city-driving tank of gas lasted 1800 km, so the bar was set pretty high. Especially since this was the kind of driving that so many Canadians experience.
How Would the Niro Match Up?
As it turned out, not too badly. The bonus we never expected? It was fun.
You see, besides being an economical mode of travel, the modern EV gives you a lot of data on what’s actually happening under the hood. The result is that you can make changes to your driving and actually find out, real-time, whether they work.
The Niro dashboard shows two important digital figures constantly: the number of electric miles left, and the average litres/100 km for the tank of gas. It also has a dial that shows how much energy you are using or storing at any given time. The complicated (and interesting) part is that these three interact.
This is rather boring. You start the trip with 38 km in the battery, and the car uses electricity until that’s gone. Then it switches to…
Where things get more fun. You see, we have turned the responsibility for fuel economy over to the car’s little brain, and it makes decisions on what’s best at any given time. Even in Full Electric, if you mash the pedal down the gas motor comes on to give you full boost. In Hybrid, on a steep hill or an acceleration it dips into the reserve battery.
So, for example, if the road goes down into a river valley you might see an addition to the “battery km” digits. Usually from one to three extra. Going up the other side, those will get used up, and you’ll be back to the usual 37 or 38. Meanwhile the “L/100km” numbers are going up and down, usually the opposite direction.
Our benchmark Hybrid consumption was achieved on a stretch of the Island Highway where we found a steady rate of 110 km/h gave us 5.1 L/100km. Dropping down to 100 km/h boosted our economy to 4.7. So we were interested to see how we would fare on the Coquihalla Highway, a two-hour, four-lane climb-and-drop over the Coast range south of Kamloops.
Again, surprise! We averaged 4.8, and while we lost a lot of electric range going up some of the long hills, we always gained it back again coming down the other side.
The Fun of It…and the Advantage
The neat part was that we were always checking the numbers, and it affected my driving. When I saw how much gas and electricity we guzzled trying to hold 110 on the hills, I quickly decided to forget trying to hold a good average time and dropped the cruise control to 100 and sometimes even 90 if we weren’t holding up other traffic. More on speed limits later.
And the other effect was psychological. “The Coq” is a grueling drive: rather boring, with nothing special in the way of scenery, and you have to stay on your toes all the time because of the large trucks and high speeds. But Linda and I found ourselves constantly concerned with the car’s performance and our effects on the vehicles around us, and so we were much more alert and involved with the journey. We groaned if the EV needle flipped up to the “Power” level, and cheered as the electric kilometers were restored. The two hours flew by. I much preferred that leg of the trip to the next two hours down the freeway through the Fraser Valley traffic to Vancouver.
The Bottom Line
Nothing like the electric advantage of short town commutes, but a respectable 4.6 final average after we’d kicked into Electric for the last 30 km to use up our electric “money in the bank.” This car is a definite keeper. Seats are comfortable, ride is steady, weight is low. Economy is spectacular; we did one 700 km stretch for $44, a rate of 6 cents per kilometre. Put that in your ¾-ton 4 X 4 and see how far it gets you.
Sidebar: On Speed Limits
I have dealt with the concept of high speed limits in other posts, and I made some observations this time. The limit in the Coquihalla is 120 km/hr. Since the RCMP usually allow an extra 10, this means a real limit of 130, just like many European highways. But then watch how people drive.
In the 100 km/hr limit on the regular highway, a huge number of cars travel 110. I usually set my cruise control there, and often have several cars spaced out around me, rock-steady at the same speed.
Now try the Coq. Surprise, surprise. Many cars are travelling 110. You can guess by the others slowly overtaking that many of them are hitting around 120. Then you have the odd idiot screaming by at who-knows-what speed. Not statistically useful, anyway, because that type won’t obey any speed limit.
Also, slowing to 100 on the steep hills doesn’t seem to make a great change, leading me to believe many other cars do the same. Of course, a lot of the trucks do so out of necessity.
But that does bring up the most dangerous element. When some cars and all the trucks slow to 100 on the hills, and a few drivers are still hitting 130 or more, despite the third lane there are all sorts of possibilities for misunderstanding. Think of a fast truck passing a slow truck, me forced out into the fast lane to pass that truck, and a guy doing 130 zooming up behind. Not pleasant.
Just as the RCMP allow a certain degree of overage because of the general flow of the traffic, I think the speed limits should be set at a level that the vast majority of drivers are comfortable with. On a good road, that seems to be 110 km/hr, and can be achieved by an actual limit of 100 and an understanding police force. Any increase on that is simply catering to the elite who have paid a lot of money for fast cars and are looking for an excuse to prove they’re rich enough to waste fuel.
My recommendation is for the province to remove all 120 zones and allow 110 limits only on the safest, straightest sections of divided highways with no level crossings. It will save a lot of fuel, a lot of carbon emissions, and a few valuable lives. Who knows, it might help ICBC break even.