hybrid

There’s only one problem with solar panels on a Hyundai Sonata – and it isn’t the solar panels

INITIALLY it sounds like one of those inventions you can’t believe hadn’t been thought up earlier, like the rotary washing line or wind-resistant umbrellas – but there are few issues with Hyundai’s new solar-assisted hybrid car.

Don’t get me wrong, as the new Sonata Hybrid is still a decidedly clever bit of kit. Beneath its bonnet you’ll find a two-litre, direct injection petrol engine, which is teamed up to an electric motor to do all the crawling through traffic in a zero emissions way that’ll please the Polar bears. So far, so-so, but it’s the flotilla of solar panels on the roof that are its party piece, charging up the battery while you’re at work.

Solar panels are, of course nothing new – my parents have practically covered the roof of their house with them, as have plenty of folk up and down the land in this era of Government-backed eco-friendly energy incentives. They aren’t even especially new in the motoring world either, as Nissan have for years offered one as an optional extra on the LEAF, which allows you to keep things like the stereo in action without draining its batteries. Hyundai’s real smart thinking here is that it scrounges off the sun to charge up its batteries directly, meaning that on a bright day the big shiny thing in the sky can charge anywhere between 30 and 60 per cent of the hybrid’s batteries up over six hours. Net result? You don’t spend as much at the pumps, and Greta Thunberg won’t be asking you to commute by horse instead.

I reckon Hyundai could even go the whole hog and apply it to an all-electric car rather than a hybrid; it’s already common practice on plenty of zero emissions models to give them a quick charge that tops the batteries up to around 80 per cent of their full capacity, so the idea of having some solar panels that take care of the remainder, using a free, renewable energy source seems like a smart solution. All of it, using today’s tech, is definitely doable.

Or at least it would be if it weren’t for the Sonata Hybrid’s biggest problem – it’s not going on sale here. I’d love to crack a joke at this point about our cold, miserable summers and overcast afternoons in Aughton scuppering its chances but I can’t, because it’s not going on sale in the south of Spain, where it’s permanently 30 degrees, or in the northernmost reaches of Scandinavia – home of the midnight sun – either. That’s got nothing to do with it being a solar-assisted hybrid car and everything to do with it being a Hyundai Sonata.

So, in other words, a BMW-sized saloon with a Hyundai badge – even Hyundai knows that’s a tricky sell, which is why it dropped the Sonata from its range in 2010, with the Mondeo-rivalling i40 doing a rather more commendable job of filling the gap instead. The new Sonata will go on sale in Korea, and in America, but Hyundai, quite sensibly, concluded that given the choice we Brits would still go for an Audi A4 or Jaguar XE instead.

But the story doesn’t end there – the Sonata won’t be joining us, but the clever tech almost certainly will, because it’s looking to roll it out on other models too. 

An i800 people carrier with the entire expanse of its vast roof decked out in solar panels? Sounds like a better plan than a rotary washing line, I reckon.

Ford Fiesta – still brilliant in a high-tech Britain

THE future can hang on a minute.

I know that we’re supposed to boldly sailing – on a solar-powered catamaran, presumably – into a brave new world of lab-grown, meat-free burgers delivered by drones, but right now there’s still a McDonalds on every busy road and a JD Wetherspoon in virtually every town centre. Your whole life can be conducted on Android and yet sales of vinyl records are up year-on-year. Perhaps most pertinently, for all the talk that electric cars and automation are the future, last time I looked the decidedly analogue Ford Fiesta was still Britain’s best-selling new car.

At the moment all the muttering is about how the humble supermini is about to embrace zero-emissions motoring. Renault’s Zoe has been chipping away at this bit of the market for a while (don’t worry, the Clio’s still very much available), but Vauxhall is being brave and launching its Corsa in all-electric form first, and it’s a similar story for Peugeot’s latest 208.

But while there is a plug-in hybrid Fiesta on the way the current range depends on a blend of rather more familiar petrol and turbodiesel engines, and it feels all the better for it. It’s as bit like Liam Gallagher – yes, it’s the same old act, and yet only last weekend it was good enough to headline Glastonbury.

I know because last weekend I spent 700 miles thumping up and down the British road network in a Zetec-spec EcoBoost – and couldn’t, with the exception of three very minor moans, couldn’t knock it. With the current Fiesta, introduced 18 months ago, it feels like you sit on the seats rather than in them, it still lacks mid-range thump in one-litre form, and on the motorway the ride’s a bit more fidgety than I’d ideally like, but that’s about it. In other respect Ford’s taken what it had with the 2009-era Fiesta, revisited absolutely everything, and quietly made it better rather than reinventing the wheel.

So while the turbocharged three cylinder engine still revels in a few revs to get results, it managed to average a fairly hefty fifty to the gallon – and I wasn’t on any sort of eco run. On the motorways it was long-legged enough to make light work of a voyage to Scotland and back – and when it wasn’t it could still entertain me on the B-roads, offering just enough feedback through its chunky, three-spoke steering wheel. Even the little things won me over; plenty of superminis integrate their stereo systems into a touchscreen system these days but the Fiesta gives you old-fashioned buttons beneath it as well, so you could flick between Joy Division and The Cure without losing the sat nav.

I suspect the reason the Ford Fiesta, even when every other new car is a crossover, electric car or plug-in hybrid, is still Britain’s biggest seller is because it’s ruddy good at what it does. The Suzuki Swift might match it when comes to generating grins, VW’s Polo has a more premium feel and the Fiat 500 is a lot more charming, but it’s tricky to think of a better all-rounder.

Why I want Lotus fighting our corner for the future of motoring

David is hoping for Lotus involvement in greener motoring - and more cars like the Evora

THERE were a couple of confused-looking faces in the audience as Lotus’ new boss laid out his plans.

Last weekend I was at the company’s factory in Norfolk for its 70th anniversary party – and while the place was packed with Esprits, Elises and Evoras the focus was just as much on what the new chief exec had to say about the sports car specialist’s future. Feng Qingfeng has been instilled at the top of the Lotus tree by its new Chinese owners – and they’ll be investing heavily in making sure it carried on innovating. In clever design, hybrid technology, and, er, autonomous driving.

The sports car faithful shrugged their shoulders at that last bit. Why would the company that brought us the Elan Sprint – and the Europa Twin Cam, the Esprit Sport 300 and the Evora S for that matter – be ploughing its know-how into cars that do the fun bit for you?

I scratched my head a bit too. Chucking an Elise at a corner and marvelling at how wonderfully connected its steering and suspension make you feel to the action is just about as petrolhead as you can get. The one thing that defines every Lotus is how all that clever tech makes it revel in a decent road. Which, actually, is why you’d want Lotus to stick its oar in when autonomous driving’s concerned.

We’re on the cusp of an era of electrically-powered cars that are entirely different to ones a lot of us have grown up with, but while they’re safer and cleaner than ever before they’re also heavier, bulkier and as a result more dim-witted when conditions get a bit dicey. If we aren’t careful we’ll end up sleepwalking into a world of technologically brilliant, but tremendously dull, plug-in hybrid crossovers that have engineered all the enjoyment out.

In the battle for clever, greener motoring I’d definitely want the chaps who brought us a 170mph Vauxhall Carlton fighting our corner. When Lotus weren’t racing in Formula One and building Emma Peel’s wheels of choice they were sprinkling their engineering know-how into everyday cars, and I reckon they’ve got a big part to play in making sure that tomorrow’s cars go around corners properly. So please, Mr Qingfeng, let’s get Lotus doing its bit.

Although a new Esprit would be lovely too, now that you mention it…

Toyota, thank you for making the Century so bonkers

The Toyota Century is brilliant - but unlikely to make it to the UK

THE GREATEST car you’ve never heard of has just been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. But you wouldn’t know it just by looking at it.

The Toyota Century is that awkward relative who cracks awful jokes, dances badly at weddings and dresses like Alan Partridge. It is, with its ridiculous V12 engine and gaudy ‘70s Lincoln looks, the Monkey Tennis of motoring. Which is precisely why I’ve always found Japan’s most extravagant bit of automotive engineering so weirdly endearing.

But now the awkwardly outdated wedding guest has been given some snappy new clothes and been informed that Taylor Swift is a pop starlet, not a brand of caravan. Well sort of, because while the new model’s been given an eco-conscious hybrid powerplant in favour of the old V12, Toyota’s also insisting that it has “a simple and modern aesthetic”. Which it doesn’t.

Not that I (or any of the Century’s customers, for that matter) care remotely. In a world full of me-too sports activity vehicles and drearily understated executive saloons there is something wonderfully refreshing about a brand new saloon that looks exactly like a car that Huggy Bear would drive.

It’s aimed at the sort of people who’d normally go for an S-Class or an Audi A8 but it’s also the only luxury offering that eschews leather seats (although you can still order them) in favour of wool-trimmed thrones. There’s also an LCD panel that allows the managing director to control all the interior settings – including those for the driver’s seat – while slouching in the rear seat. That’s exactly the sort of unapologetic luxury that you just wouldn’t get in a 7-Series.

Toyota has absolutely no plans to bring it to the UK, partly because it’d trod of the toes of the Lexus LS, an equally lavish saloon developed by the same manufacturer that just happens to look like it belongs in 2017. But it’s good to know that when it isn’t churning out Prius hybrids the world’s biggest car manufacturer has something genuinely a bit bonkers up its sleeve.

I really hope the new Century’s a raging success because it’ll prove that there’s a market for luxury waftmobiles that look they belong in the late 1970s. Hopefully it’ll encourage Jaguar to get on with making a new version of its Daimler Double Six Vanden Plas. Just a thought…

BMW ups the stakes for its i3

BMW says its i3 can now travel a lot further than before on electricity alone..jpgBMW has just given its electric i3 model a new battery with 50% more range than previously – despite being the same size.

The new i3 generates the equivalent of 170bhp and can travel up to 195 miles, and is available either with or without a petrol-powered range extender.

Not only can it go a lot further than the old one, but anyone daring to swap from a 3-Series won’t find it too alien either – the dash from 0-60mph only takes 7.3 seconds. While the 93mph top speed isn’t going to trouble anyone on the faster stretches of Germany’s autobahns it’ll more than do for BMW’s natural stomping ground in the UK – the outside lane of the M6.

Prices start at £27,380, once the Government’s £4500 grant for eco-friendly cars is taken into account.