It is difficult to pigeon-hole hybrid technology in «watertight» boxes. Take the recent example of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV for example. Its generous lithium-ion battery enables a 100% electric mode typical of a conventional rechargeable hybrid. Then, if you are happy with «normal» use, the combustion engine is used merely for its generators, to supply the two electric motors (one per axle) with energy. Hence it feels like being at the wheel of a range extender electric vehicle. But if the need for a boost in power makes itself felt, its combustion engine can also drive the front wheels directly at any time, in addition to the electric motors. The sensation is then more akin to being at the wheel of a more conventional full hybrid vehicle.
On the road Does driving a range extender car prove convincing in practice? During the first few kilometres driving in 100% electric mode, it seems so. The driving experience is pleasant, thanks to the lack of noise and vibration and the instant response from the torque. Furthermore, unlike hybrid vehicles that can only drive at low speeds in electric mode, the combustion engine is not called on for assistance when the accelerator pedal is fully depressed (so you can slip between the lorries on the sliproad onto the motorway, for example).
You are driving a purely electric car as long as the batteries permit or the battery saving mode is not engaged (if you need to end your journey in a town centre, for example). Things start getting exciting when the combustion engine awakes from its slumber on its own account to start generating electricity. That’s when you notice a feeling that is somewhat disconcerting at first: as it is not directly providing propulsion, the combustion engine does not change speed in direct relation to the position of the accelerator pedal. Rather, it changes in stages, remain-
ing at a given speed for a few seconds to compensate for a surplus in electric consumption during the previous acceleration, for example. Hence, when you come to a stop at a red light, the combustion engine is running at a speed higher than usual for slowing down; and, when approaching a bend, it gives the impression of continuing to accelerate, even though you have already depressed the brake pedal. It is quite a surprising experience at first. But one you get used to quite quickly. ■ Jean-François Christiaens
Published on Jan 24, 2014