We are being pulled this way and that about what we should have powering our next new car.
What is the best for your pocket? (Let’s be honest: most people put the money first, the environment comes second).
So today we take the main power points – full electric, diesel, petrol, hybrid and plug-in – and try to distil basic reasons for buying or not buying them.
We’re doing so because it is easy to lose sight of the obvious amidst all the hoopla.
The single most important thing is that you factor in what you need and what your next car can give you.
We all have to adapt to changing individual circumstances but that doesn’t mean radically altering lives, lifestyles or transport requirements just to suit the sort of fuel powering your new car.
So here goes with reminders of some pertinent elements.
* Pros: Range is no longer the negative issue it was (but you still have to be aware of limitations).
Battery technology is improving all the time and will further extend range and power.
An improving new charging infrastructure (some of which we now pay for) should ease worry and ownership.
Most people charge their EV at home anyway and use public stations for top-ups.
It will still cost a lot less to drive an EV than a petrol or diesel: full EV charge-at-home can cost as little as €2.
Leaving aside major considerations such as the emissions generated in manufacture and in some cases power generation, EVs spew out no harmful gases.
And we’re going full electric anyway, so you might as well get on board now as later.
There was a tightening of purse strings in the Budget making it a bit more difficult in some cases to get VRT rebate (hybrids especially) or SEAI grants. Now is a good time before those strings are pulled tighter to avail of all or some of the following: €10,000 off a new car (VRT refund, SEAI grant), low road tax, no BIK for most owners etc.
Choice of model is growing and will do so at an accelerating pace. That’s a pro and a con, really isn’t it?
* Cons: Don’t rush to buy unless you can cope with the change or ‘usership’ an EV can impose. No point in being environmentally friendly if you have to rearrange your life from a large diesel saloon to a small-battery electric.
Incentives currently subsidise price – for now – but there is an argument to be made for waiting until more suitable and affordable models come on stream.
It’s not as cheap as it was to run an EV – you’ll have to pay to use a fast charger now and later for an ordinary charger. And insurance can cost more.
* Pros: We can keep this short: If you cover large distances on a regular basis there is still nothing to beat a diesel.
New engines are now far cleaner than before while harmful NOx emissions have been radically reduced.
Diesels fared well in the Budget – considering. Everyone thought they’d be hit hard. Maybe next time? Maybe a good reason to buy new in 2020?
* Pros: The initial cost is lower than the alternatives. Our rule of thumb has always been that you get 30,000km free motoring when you buy a petrol rather than a similarly specced diesel.
Thanks to modern engineering, the traditional longevity gap between petrol and diesel cars is no longer an issue. And petrols are still more comfortable with longer service intervals than diesels.
CO2 emissions are higher than diesels, but the more harmful nitrogen emissions are lower.
Residual values. The backlash against diesel has made the petrol car more attractive.
* Cons: Petrol is a fossil fuel; its use is contributing to the climate-change crisis. Petrol is more expensive than diesel.
But that’s marginal, and peculiar to this country though new taxes raise the price of diesel.
You don’t go as far on a litre of petrol than you would on a diesel.
On a petrol manual, you’ll likely have to use the gearshift more, especially on twisty roads as it often doesn’t have as much low-rev pulling power.
* Pros: Toyota first pushed the concept; now hybrids are being made by most major carmakers.
Hybrids are quiet, the acoustics of petrol engines meshing well with the silent seamless electric mode.
Improvements in the systems have substantially increased the proportion of time that the car drives in EV mode.
Hybrids are fuel efficient. Particularly where there is significant urban traffic use.
So-called self-charging of the hybrid battery by the engine is augmented by recharging on over-run and braking.
In those urban situations, the high level of EV driving is good for the local environment.
Lower CO2 and NOx emissions are good for the climate and our health.
By their nature, hybrids drive as automatics. That makes travelling less stressful, especially in towns and cities.
Against pure electric cars, there’s no range anxiety. No need to plug in.
* Cons: You’re still burning fossil fuels, albeit in lower quantities.
They’re expensive, arguably as much as a diesel, though with no particulates and lower amounts of other nasty stuff.
You can balance the cost of an autobox against that extra cost.
In general, they are not as efficient on the long runs.
On motorways you’re essentially driving a petrol car, at speeds which tend to burn more fuel. If most of your driving is highway, you may still want to consider diesel.
* Pros: Plug-in hybrids are tagged as the best of both worlds. Maybe.
A bigger battery can be topped up overnight, and you can drive up to 50km without the engine ever kicking in.
Great if you have an urban commute within that range. It means you’re effectively driving an electric car.
But with the engine always available, you’re never going to fall short of distance if you have to travel beyond that 50kms.
In a number of versions, you can switch the system to keep that battery charged on the highway drive, so that you have EV available where it’s best, in the town traffic.
* Cons: Plug-ins can be expensive. Significantly more expensive than a ‘self-charging’ hybrid in many instances.
You need to weigh that cost against your driving habits; see if you’ll ever recoup it.
You may also get lazy and not bother to plug it in regularly. That’s a shame.
On the other hand, if you drive clever, and your journeys are appropriate, you can save a lot of fuel stops.
And do something to help the climate in the process.