The most advanced cars in the world are plug-ins – either fully electric cars or plug-in hybrids. This is clearly true for supercars like the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder, Mercedes SLS AMG Electric, BMW i8, Lamborghini Asterion, and LaFerrari.
However, it is just as true for mass production cars, with the latest and most advanced cars from each major manufacturer being plug-ins, for example the BMW i3, the Volkswagen Golf GTE, the Renault ZOE, the Mercedes B Series Electric, the Audi A3 e-tron, the Volvo XC90 and the Porsche Cayenne SE.
The fastest accelerating four-door car in the world is, of course, the fully electric Tesla Model S. The simple reason is that electric drivetrains combine high performance (maximum torque at all speeds) with unparalleled economy.
Of the various manufacturers, BMW is perhaps furthest in the lead in terms of technology having introduced carbon-fibre body shells and aluminium chassis on the i3 and i8. Over the next few years BMW will be making available plug-in versions of all its conventional models, beginning with the 3 Series. Longer term, however, it is looking to phase out combustion engines entirely.
Plug-ins are usually the top of the range of each model made by a manufacturer. This means that they typically come fitted as standard with advanced equipment that is often optional on other models. For example, plug-ins generally come with satellite navigation, cruise control, keyless entry, electric windows and mirrors, large-screen media systems with bluetooth, air conditioning and so on.
In addition, plug-ins typically have the following advanced extras:
- Regenerative braking – when you brake the energy normally lost as heat is harvested and used to recharge the battery. This increases range, and saves on brake wear.
- The car is connected to the mobile network and its status (battery charge, range, etc.) can be monitored from your smartphone.
- The satnav includes facilities for finding charging points nearby or along your route. Some are advanced enough to give guidance on completing a journey (e.g. into central London) using public transport or on foot.
- The media system uses the mobile network to provide advanced ‘connected’ facilities including email, Facebook, Twitter, games, videos, and so on. As Top Gear’s James May says of the i3: ‘being a car is just one of its apps.’
- A heat pump is used to heat the cabin. Since this doesn’t require an engine to operate (there is no engine) this means:
- Climate control can be on whenever required, even while parked.
- The cabin heating/defrosting can be operated from the key fob.
- The cabin heating can be operated from your smartphone and brought to your ideal temperature for when you return to the car.
- If plugged in overnight, using the car’s timer the cabin can be preheated and defrosted ready for when you leave every morning. This can even be done safely in a garage.
- You can choose how you power your car – from standard or Economy 7 grid electricity, from your own solar panels or from a renewable energy supply (typically wind).
The following options are also often available:
- Intelligent cruise control (keeps a set distance from the car in front).
- Lane departure warning.
Driving a plug-in means getting access to the most advanced automotive technology available (and getting it on lease means being able to upgrade to the newest model at the end of the contract).