Motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan looks at overlooked electric car gems in the market that prospective buyers cannot ignore.
The year 2020 is of profound concern to global carmakers selling vehicles in Europe. While they are pushing legacy petrol/diesel stock on us, the buying public, the EU emissions train is now hurtling full steam ahead towards their respective front doors.
Starting from this year all new cars sold by a manufacturer in the EU must emit no more than 95g/km of CO2 across the brand’s entire range by 2021. That means their city car, super mini, crossover, hatch, executive saloon, crossover, SUV, limo and sports cars must average a target of no more than 95g/km. The fines for breeching that are severe. The consequences of ignoring this directive are draconian.
Makers found in excess of say just 1g/km across a full range will face a fine in excess of €85m. To do this, engineers are delivering PHEV, EV and mild hybrid cars to balance the ranges’ books ensuring they stay on the right side of the EU’s targets. And making sure their most polluting performance cars are allowed to stay on sale as well. The boardroom horror of profit warnings and irate shareholders are being masked with adverts of cars driving through breezy meadows with butterflies kissing roofs. We’re told it’s all about Greta when in fact it’s all about the shareholders’ dividends.
Electrification will be the key in some form for the future. #
To prove this point, here are three excellent cars that the brightest, most successful people in Ireland could very well have bought during 2019 but chose elsewhere. Each utilise some form of battery electric power – full, partial or a veneer – and each are excellent, partially hidden gems.
2020 Lexus LC500h €114,725 (4 cars sold in 2019)
Yes, only four. You’d think that in our brilliantly overheated economy the Hybrid Lexus LC500h 2+2 coupe would have found more than just four homes to affluent left-fielders in 2019. But, no. It’s a disappointing result for Lexus. A baffling one too. You’ll travel a long way to drive a €115,000 car that looks as extraordinary as this one. In a dark colour the LC500h is the sensationalist’s sensation and being a BMW 8-Series rival it faces it down by using a clever hybrid drivetrain and styling inspired from the screaming Lexus LFA.
Walk around an LC and you’ll spot shapes and angles that honestly make no sense at all. Look at that rear wheel arch. Is that ugly? Or those rear lights. Why is that surround shaped like that? There’s the windscreen line, for instance. It looks frumpy as it’s placed higher than the side window line, doesn’t it? This is a car that you cannot unsee and will get more curious attention whenever it goes.
While I was testing the LC500h I returned to find two motorcycle couriers looking at it and shaking their heads. They examined it, this bit here, that angle there for several minutes. The LC is catnip in steel to automotive fans. Globally, the LC is available in this, the LC500h multistage hybrid auto, a V6 petrol with an electric motor and the one we all want – the naturally aspirated 10-speed automatic petrol V8. Irish buyers only get the hybrid LC500h and if you find the exterior mesmerizing, the hybrid drivetrain is equally interesting.
Housing a front engined 3,456cc V6 petrol engine and a 84 volt Lithium-ion battery located behind the rear seats it reachs 0-100 k/km in 5.0 seconds (sub 5 seconds have been reported) and 250km/h to speed emitting 185g/km CO2. By adding four-speed auto onto the CVT it offers the driver 10 artificial gears to click through. I found the concept worked reasonably okay but at full acceleration the CVT gearbox wails while it is trying to find yet another virtual gear.
This is cruiser GT so a less aggressive approach to your driving is better suited to the car’s brief. The cabin is gobsmackingly great. Here you find a living monument to a team of Japanese engineers with serious OCD challenges and a determination to take the obvious and rework it entirely another way just for the sake of it. Some of the controls aren’t even placed where they should be. The screen displays and trackpack controller both take time to master. But in time you do find a compromise and the controls become a bit more familiar. The rear seats are next to useless and the 172-litre boot is very small.
The Lexus LC500h, then. Stunning, irrepressibly odd, delightful, this is a compelling hybrid electric car and roundly ignored. There’s even a stunningly beautiful convertible version on the way to make matters worse. But you’ll all probably go ahead and ignore that one as well. It’s a shame because, boy-oh-boy, those with the disposable income are missing out. Not exactly namechecked in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs the 2020 Lexus LC is a freshly compelling contradiction – a wondrous thing and a proper hidden gem.
You’ll like: Mad-boffin on meds appearance. Convincing Hybrid power. Cabin ambience. Guaranteed rarity. Lexus reliability.
You’ll grumble: Hybrid drivetrain can sound stretched. Impracticality. Price.
2020 Audi A8 50 TDI Mild Hybrid €97,500 (24 new cars sold in 2019)
The Mercedes S-Class is the best luxury limo on sale. Glad we got that clear and sorry Audi, maybe next time. That’s the narrative that has been with us for a very long time. Audi does its level best but is beaten by the BMW 7-Series and absolutely hammered by the Mercedes S-Class. Well, not exactly, not anymore.
This is 2020 and Audi’s A8 with a mild-hybrid drivetrain has, for the first time, overtaken Stuttgart. Using a standard 48-volt lithium-ion battery located near the rear axle the Belt Starter Generator has the capability of shutting down the engine for brief periods between 30 and 160km/h. Audi claims 6.9-litres I/100km consumption and CO2 of 181g/km with 286hp.
Other techo treats await like Audi’s optional AI chassis which manages to read the camber of the road independently via a centrally controlled. The result is a ride that comes close to offering the same technical leap in driving optimisation that Quattro offered in the 1980s. In a luxury limo, things like this matter.
The A8’s cabin is the best in quality too and while the infotainment is frustratingly accessed through touchscreens if you tap any part of the Audi’s cabin with your knuckles you’ll mostly hear a thud. The Mercedes S-Class disappoints by looking better much inside but subjectively feels less better constructed in many places and lags Audi’s overall depth of quality. No matter what anyone or Mercedes says the brand’s legendary build quality is still not fully back from the old days.
The A8’s boot space is generous at 505-litres. A mild hybrid it may be but the big Audi will reach 100km/h in 5.9 seconds. Then there’s the car’s other worldly ride and silence. No other diesel limo cruises as smoothly as this in any price bracket – it is simply sensational. Other A8 advantages include standard Quattro all-wheel-drive that makes the A8 slightly nose heavy and prone to understeer but it stays unstickable in the wet.
As a mild hybrid the A8 does more than simply help reduce emissions it takes the luxury challenge to Mercedes and scores a big win. Audi sold 11 fewer new A8s than Mercedes’ S-Class in 2019. A hidden gem, then? Not exactly hidden but for now the Audi A8 is the very best limo you can buy.
You’ll like: The world’s best luxury limo. Lowest cabin db. Beats rivals on cabin quality, ride. Incredible smoothness.
You’ll grumble: Rear seats not as cocooning as Merc’s S-class. Clever tech is optional. Distracting touchscreens.
2020 Jaguar I-Pace from €82,895 (39 new cars sold in 2019)
Fittingly, the winners of the World Car of The Year 2019 were grinning like a Cheshire cat. Not content in winning the big prize, Jaguar’s all-electric I-Pace also romped home with the award for Best Green Car and Best Design. No matter how cynical you delight in sneering at an all-electric car, Jaguar has delivered a bold cab-forward design. Look at the car’s proportions and the pronounced rear side tumblehome that gives way to confident rear arches.
For an EV content to make a statement the I-Pace pulls off the biggest trick of all – it looks sci-fi odd and desirable at the same time. Take note, Nissan. The I-Pace is powered by a 90kWh battery with an official 470km WLTP range that arrives ready for a fight at Tesla’s Palo Alto’s front door. Using a four-wheel-drive system with an electric motor at the front and one at the rear Jaguar claims 400PS and a 0-100km/h time of 4.8 seconds. Add that to the instant torque of an electric car and this I-Pace’s 696Nm is seriously rapid and whizzes from a standstill so relentlessly that it feels much faster. It’s airy inside I-Pace and the cabin’s clean-sheet appeal and functional layout is well conceived.
Aside from the use of sub-par materials at this price range the I-PACE’s interior feels as special inside as the Tesla. By using one of Jaguar’s own wall box’s your I-PACE can be charged overnight. Opt for a domestic outlet and you’ll charge at the rate of 11km per hour. Street charging with a typical 50kW gives a 270km range in one hour. The I-PACE gave the Tesla Model S a bloody nose, beating it in the Euro NCAP crash test for adult occupant and child protection.
As it is a Jaguar the I-PACE handles sweetly as well and has a fineness that the equivalent Tesla, though good, ultimately lacks. 39 new car sales in Ireland is very respectful at this price range and even with all the hoopla devoted to Tesla today it would be a missed opportunity to ignore Jaguar’s I-Pace if you’ve around €83,000 to spend on an all-electric vehicle.
You’ll like: Excellent range. Fine handling for tall EV. Sci-Fi concept looks. Impressive interior. Jaguar’s cool image. Blistering performance.
You’ll grumble: Not as hushed on the move as hoped. Little else, really.
Written by Mark Gallivan
Published: 24 January, 2020