Hybrid Driving – New Tricks, or Just Another Car?

Hybrid powered cars have been around for more than a decade now. They’re part of our daily lives, yet until recently, I’d never really spent any time with one. You can read here about the ten days I spent in France with the Lexus RX450h hybrid, but one of the things I was asked all too often was the driving techniques.

“But I bet you had to change your driving style a lot, right?”
“Well yes, of course”
“Thought so, bet is was flat as a fart, right?”
“Well no, actually. That’s not what I meant.”

Puzzled looks.

Sure, hybrids are different to drive, but only a little. You can get in one and drive it just like any other car, petrol or diesel. But if you want to get the best from one, optimising your driving to suit the car is something that makes sense. I’m not talking about creeping along with a queue of cars behind you, or cruising at 56.5 mph everywhere. You simply adapt to the car. After all, they’re all different.

In the same way that the driving line around a given corner in a front wheel drive car is different from a rear wheel drive, or even a rear engined rear wheel drive, so the characteristics of the Toyota / Lexus hybrid benefits from a change of style. If I were driving a BMW M3 with peak power at 7,000rpm, then I’d be driving it in a different way to a Turbo Diesel that peaked at 3,500 rpm.

So in normal driving, a hybrid powered car is not slower, it’s just a bit different. This has a lot to do with the way the systems switch power sources in a cunning and barely detectable way. Here are the main things I discovered when driving the Lexus RX450h for ten days. And I’m not talking about the blindly obvious stuff like blowing up tyres and not using roof racks. Pardon the pun, but your mileage may vary…

1. Use the instrumentation. Lexus are pretty silent things at the best of times. Use the ‘power’ gauge to anticipate when the petrol engine is going to come in when in urban driving. Initially, I often found that I was driving on petrol power for no good reason. A moments adjustment to the throttle and it went to electrical power with no speed loss. Glancing at the ‘Power’ meter and setting the driver’s information screen to show the graphic enables you to take glances down now and again and see what’s happening. After a few days, I no longer really needed it, I could sense it, but it helps initially.
2. Accelerate up to your speed, using petrol if needed, then momentarily lift of the throttle, then re-apply. This swaps to electrical power with no performance sacrifice. The Lexus was quite happy maintaining speeds up to 50 mph on full electric drive like this on a level surface. I undertook short journeys for take aways on full electric power for the full journey on occasion.
3. Use the slopes. And the traffic. And look ahead, for goodness sake. This one is indeed, blindingly obvious, yet I often see it. People driving up to a junction. The lights are red, or there’s traffic there. It’s pretty obvious that you’re definitely going to have to stop. Yet people are busy sending a Tweet, then realising and braking hard. This isn’t unique to hybrids, it’s just common sense. But on a Hybrid, this doesn’t just save fuel, like a normal petrol or diesel, it actually harvests power back into the battery cells, using the electric motors in reverse, just like the dynamo on your bicycle used to. Not that old? Sorry…
4. Carry speed. This was the fun part for me. Don’t go getting too preoccupied with this one, but try taking bends using the line of last resistance. Use both sides of the road if you can, it makes sense anyway, Hybrid or not.
5. Brush up on your O Level Physics. After a while, I realised that this was all about kinetic energy and potential energy. Off you go, click the links, do some homework.

So was the Lexus a pain to drive, a revelation or just another car?

Well it certainly wasn’t a pain. It carried four of us plus luggage from Yorkshire to the south coast of England, then through France to Angouleme in total comfort, cruised around the vineyards for a week, then returned plus additional cargo of wine and tins of Confit De Canard. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_confit And returned 35mpg.

Just another car? In many ways, yes. Just get in it and drive it. The technology does the heavy lifting. But tweak your driving style only a little and you get a very significant payback with no change in your progress.

A revelation? Not, that’s too strong a word. Bit for sure, I was surprised at two things. The seamlessness of it all and the distances I could drive, keeping pace with those around me, without running any petrol power.

In utter contrast, I’ve just finished a week with the Jaguar XKR-S. For that I needed a G Suit and a fighter pilot’s watch. And driving licence with nerves of steel.

About Neill Watson

Professional photographer, writer and track instructor. Loves cars, cameras, avaition and art deco buildings
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