Batteries Included


20 Sep 2014

Boris, like Churchill, is a fountain of big ideas, some good, some not so good, some plain bonkers. Banning diesel cars from London, or charging them more, is bonkers Boris. Better environmentally and for the health of Londoners to encourage newer, cleaner technologies than to penalise the old, which anyway always hits the poorer hardest. Let the richer lead the way.

Fortunately, the way ahead is already here. The enthusiastic, luxury-loving, would-be clean petrolhead should start with BMW’s latest, the i8. With its three cylinder 1.5 Mini engine powering the rear wheels and an electric motor the front, this is the advanced sports car that’s supposed to redefine the hybrid. For once the hype might be right.

Plug-in batteries in a trough between the axles, 50-50 weight distribution and aerodynamic lightweight carbon fibre bodywork make for 0–62mph in 4.4 seconds, a claimed 135mpg average mileage, a range of 310 miles and CO2 emissions of 49g/km, slotting you comfortably beneath London’s congestion charge. You get supercar appearance and performance for around £100,000, which is at the lower end of the supercar price league. In fact, the i8 looks better than most supercars because they’ve got the back right. That’s usually the most difficult bit but the i8’s roof lines sweep down to create striking floating spoilers over the rear lights. It looks properly finished, rather than simply finished off.

The interior is clear and futuristic, with a digitised dashboard colour display and little wind or road noise. There’s also little room in the rear, unfortunately — although it’s billed as a 2+2 — but the 154-litre boot will accommodate a four-piece Louis Vuitton carbon-fibre luggage set if you find an extra £12,000 rattling around in your pocket before you drive away. Whether you do or not, you’re getting something pretty special with this car. Give it a whirl.

The Mercedes S500 plug-in hybrid.
The Mercedes S500 plug-in hybrid.

No one looking for eco-luxe could ignore the palatial luxury of the £80,000-plus Mercedes S500 plug-in hybrid. Emitting 69g/km means it too is free in London. Mating a powerful three-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol unit to its 80kw electric motor, it claims a combined average of 94.2mpg, with 0–62mph in 5.5 seconds and a limited top speed of 155mph. You can recharge batteries on the move if you like, and it does it anyway on braking or coasting. Redesigned for 2014, they’ve lightened it by adding aluminium but without sacrificing the luxury of acres of stitched leather, heated massaging seats, inflatable seatbelts and even motorised buckles that present themselves when you enter and remove themselves when you leave (accounting for a few of the 100-plus electric motors and actuators). You still have to drive the thing, of course, but that’s part of the pleasure — or should be, with a car like this. If the effort’s a bit much, though, you could cough up £4,340 for the Magic Body Control which uses cameras to adapt speed and suspension to the road surface ahead. Probably a boon on England’s cratered roads.

But you can’t think ecolux without thinking Toyota. Their Prius — though no luxury car — was the first big splash, of course, and they’ve been quietly continuing ever since across a range of vehicles, notably their upmarket Lexus brand. The luxury hybrid saloon, the Lexus LS600h, is probably still the quietest and most reliable around, but it’s their big four-wheel-drive, the Lexus RX450h, that’s perhaps the most practical upmarket family option. Revised in 2012, it’s a 3.5 V6 petrol/electric hybrid producing 148g/km (still below congestion charge level) and offering 44.8mpg combined. Overall winner of the 2010 J.D. Power reliability survey and competitively priced at £44,495–£61,096, it’s comfortable, spacious and dependable and will do everything you want. All right, its Remote Touch mouse control computer and satnav is too sensitive for British roads and its foot-operated parking brake is rather dated (the Americans like them), but its LED lights and head-up display are state-of-the-art. Some find it slightly unsettled on rough surfaces, with little steering feel, but overall it’s a good and dependable package.

BMW’s i8, petrol-powered back wheels, battery-powered front.
BMW’s i8, petrol-powered back wheels, battery-powered front.

Any of the above would do very well but, for me, the ultimate in eco-luxury has to be the Jaguar C-X75. Designed by the legendary Ian Callum for Jaguar’s 75th birthday, this electric/micro gas turbine hybrid offered emissions as low as 28g/km, a range of 560 miles, 0-62mph in around three seconds and a top speed of 205mph. I never drove it but was shown over an early version by Callum himself. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Note ‘was’: they planned to build 250, selling for around £700,000, lost their nerve in 2012 after making five prototypes, kept two and auctioned three. They’re still out there, if you can find one.

Better still, persuade Jaguar to resurrect this ground-breaking beauty and sell twice the number for half the price. Life readers would help out, I’m sure.