GREEN DRIVING: Lean, green machines
12 December 2013
Author: Jack Carfrae
The first leg
First to go under the microscope were the BMW and the Volvo simultaneously. James Dallas, deputy editor of BusinessCar's sister publication What Van?, was drafted in to assist with driving duties. The Volvo had been fully charged prior to its arrival at our offices, so the pair of us headed to the Tesco forecourt round the corner from our office, brimmed each tank, paid and set off.
From there, our respective journeys, with me in the Volvo initially, took us a short hop up the A20 towards Lewisham, and west in the direction of Catford and Dulwich.
One of the things that first struck me about the Volvo was how straightforward a car it is. If you were none the wiser, you wouldn't necessarily know what technology is sitting underneath it. Save for a couple of extra buttons at the bottom of the centre console and a slightly different dial layout, it's exactly the same as a run-of-the-mill V60, which means that, in a nutshell, it's good looking and comfortable, with a swish cabin.
The driver and passenger areas are spacious too, but the boot loses 126 litres as a result of the batteries, so you're only left with a 304-litre load area with the rear seats in place.
It's also easy to drive. You just drop the conventional automatic gear stick into 'drive' and go, although you can specify 'Pure' mode, which uses electricity only until the supply has depleted.
The downside is that the gearbox is a little fussy and, perhaps because the car is so quiet when running on electricity, you're very aware of the diesel engine's clatter when it kicks in. The brake pedal also feels a little on the spongy side. Niggles aside, it proved a comfortable and easygoing companion to congested south and west London streets.
We stopped at a garage forecourt in Southgate, which was roughly halfway from our start point. In the pouring rain, we swapped cars and headed onwards, me in the BMW and James in the Volvo.
You might be wondering about the BMW's selection as a candidate for this test. Next to the three other cars, it's less of a spectacle because, save for the introduction of a new generation last year, it hasn't changed much.
The technology underneath is the same as it was in the previous-generation 320d Efficient Dynamics, and the latest model didn't actually move the emissions game forward any further - the current car emits 109g/km, just as its predecessor did (although you can have an automatic version with 109g/km where you couldn't before).
It's still an exceptionally clean car though, and one that is widely coveted by fleet operators and drivers alike. It's great to drive, has the badge appeal and build quality to lure in perk drivers, and simply does everything well. In short, it's still the benchmark in low-emission business cars.
Even out of its traditional motorway environment, the 3-series excelled. Being the only manual car of the four, it required more work than the other three, but if you like driving, the crisp steering and well-sorted handling are an utter delight - and there's always the automatic option for the lazy.
We met back at the office after brimming both cars' tanks at the same petrol station at which we started. The motorway runs had to wait until the following day, to give the Volvo a full charge before hitting the road again, so, the following morning, we embarked on the motorway trip, which entailed a journey south on the A20 and subsequently the M20.
We stuck to 70mph, only deviating when the interchangeable overhead speed limits dictated it. We turned off at junction 12, on the outskirts of Folkstone, headed right over the flyover and doubled back on ourselves, repeating the whole process and brimming the tanks once more at the very same petrol station.