GREEN DRIVING: Lean, green machines
12 December 2013
Author: Jack Carfrae
Time, manpower and logistics necessitated repeating the tests with the Peugeot 508 RXH and the Vauxhall Ampera the following day, although we commenced each drive at similar times of day to replicate the traffic conditions.
The Peugeot was first to hit the road and impressed with the amount of time it spent on electric power, given that most non-plug-in hybrids have a tendency to revert to their fossil fuel at the first sign of acceleration.
Even more so than the Volvo, the 508 suffers from a fussy gearbox and a noisy diesel engine, while its busy dash can be bemusing until you're used to it. It's comfortable and roomy enough, but it's arguably the least desirable and innovative of the four cars here.
It also proved frustrating when we arrived at the Woolwich Ferry crossing on the eastern side of the South Circular. While waiting for the ferry to arrive, the car automatically shut off its engine and drivetrain (it's a bit difficult to tell when it's silently operating on electric mode).
When the barriers went up and I dropped the gear lever into drive, I was confused when, instead of moving forward, I was met with a series of bongs and messages on the screen, telling me to shift to park before I could start the ignition - which I assumed was already on.
Cue a furious bout of toggling with the gear lever and the key in a vain attempt to start the car, complemented by liberal use of horns and unpleasant gestures from other road users waiting to board the ferry, and who eventually had to bypass me.
I did get it going again, but didn't quite make the first crossing, and spent another 15 minutes at the terminal waiting for the next ferry.
Last but by no means least to be subjected to BusinessCar's real-world economy test was the Vauxhall Ampera. We're no strangers to the plug-in hybrid, as the car pictured and driven here is normally custody of editor Paul Barker and currently makes up part of our long-term test car fleet.
It's also arguably the model that has made the biggest technological strives of all four cars. Yes, the Volvo is also a plug-in hybrid, but the Ampera's sophisticated underpinnings give it a longer theoretical electric-only range, a much higher official mpg figure and lower emissions.
We're debunking official figures here, though (more on that at the results stage). In terms of its driving performance on our test, the Vauxhall proved extremely quiet when running on electricity.
It does become louder after the juice has gone and the 1.4-litre engine and drivetrain are called upon to produce some acceleration, but at sedate speeds it's still quiet, even on petrol power.
The Ampera was, however, less at home during the later motorway run. It's perfectly capable of notching up high-speed miles, but we soon noticed the electricity disappear on our 110-mile run. It also has its fair share of other issues such as a shallow boot, awkward rear doors, and little in the way of rear headroom.