Battery electric or plug-in hybrid. What’s best for you?

Dunlop Sort Maxx

Some say that the car world is jumping headlong into the electric vehicle fire. So being, unsuspecting motorists will soon have some interesting decisions to make. Among them is whether to opt for a plug-in hybrid or a full electric vehicle. We took the opportunity to put one of each to the test. To choose which solution we think is best.

BMW describes the battery electric iX3 as a trailblazer for a new era of electric mobility. Now featuring fifth-generation eDrive technology for the first time, and good for a driving range of up to 460 kilometres, you can buy one now at your local BMW dealer.

This RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid is one of a small test fleet, paving the way for the introduction of Toyota’s first plug-in hybrid car in SA. Known as Prime in the US, plug-in is the second phase of Toyota SA’s New Energy Vehicle plan. It follows over 20 years of Prius pioneering a now fast growing conventional petrol-eclectic range ahead of Toyota’s future EV push.


Look twice to tell them apart

You have to look twice to tell the difference between these two cars and their combustion kin. Which is a very good thing. They don’t try to prove their differences by stupid design or clown add-ons. As we have traditionally come to accept in electric and hybrid cars until now.

The BMW has a larger, blanked off kidney grille, slimmer Adaptive LED headlights, a unique front apron, 3D LED lamps and muscular surfacing at the rear. Add an M Sport package and neat 20-inch M aerodynamic wheels. The RAV4 Plug-In also has its own persona thanks to a chrome edged grille, special garnish and neat 19-inch snowflake alloys.

The sexy and comfy iX3 has black sport seats, aluminium rhombicle trim and i Blue accents. It has clear digital dials, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto ready, Live Cockpit infotainment with cloud-based navi, and the rest. The RAV4 has a cool blue lit black GX-R spec cabin with red accents, unique EV dials, 9-speaker JBL sound, CarPlay and Auto infotainment, and the rest.


IX3’s latest generation electric drivetrain

The iX3’s 210 kW 400 Nm electric motor, transmission, and power electronics sit together in a space-saving single housing on the rear axle subframe and driving the rear wheels. It’s powered by a staunch latest cell technology 20% improved gravimetric energy 80 kWh gross energy content lithium-ion battery featuring integrated heating and cooling.

The RAV4 Plug-In gets a 136 kW 227 Nm dual VVT-i DOHC 2.5-litre petrol engine paired with an EV battery and two electric motors. One fourth generation Toyota Hybrid motor drives each axle for all wheel drive for an impressive combination of power and efficiency.

Fired by an 18.1 kW lithium-Ion battery sitting under the cabin, the Toyota’s front and rear electric motors add a respective additional 134 kW and 40 kW for an impressive 225 kW total output. Torque is also abundant thanks to an additional 270 and 121 Nm of electrical twist over and above those 227 petrol Newton-metres.


Plug-In RAV4 blends petrol and electric

Using the same electric architecture as the ‘conventional’ RAV 4 E-Four hybrid, a CVT transmission blends petrol-electric front wheel drive, aided and abetted by electric only rear drive. The car Intelligently switches between all and front drive depending on conditions. A dedicated Trail Mode increases rear axle torque split for dirt driving.

The Toyota charges up to full in between 7 and 9 hours on a regular Mode 2 cable on a 240V home socket. A separate Mode 3 cable allows fast station DC charging in 2.5 hours using a 32A, 6.6 kW charger. EV mode prioritises up to 80 km electric-only driving. A petrol engine Charging Mode will also recharge the battery pack if required. Bye-bye range anxiety!

This allows the RAV4 Plug-In to keep on driving when a conventional EV would have to stop. The Toyota has a HV mode driving range of beyond 800 km. An Auto EV/HV mode allows the system to switch between the two, based on the required acceleration level. The petrol engine only fires up on demand, before returning to electric operation as soon as possible.


What they tell you. And what they don’t.

BMW SA will fit a wall box charger to your garage and owners are entitled to free charging at any BMW charging station. They tell us that that the iX3 will fast-charge at a rate of up to 150 kW and that 10-minutes of such fast charging will add around 100 kilometres of range.
That’s in the perfect world. Sadly, ours is far from perfect.

What they don’t tell us is that there are at this stage only four 150 kW charging points around South Africa. All of them far, far away. One is on the N1 at Colesburg, another on the N2 in Mossel Bay, one more the N3 at Tugela North, and the other at Mbombela on the N4. None of those are at BMW dealers. Sorry for you, Jozi, Durbs and the Cape!

There are however now more than 350 60 kW chargers countrywide that will give you a reasonable charge in an hour or three… But be warned, charging your EV at a public station will cost you a similar amount per 100 km of range than you will pay for the equivalent distance worth of petrol or diesel in a conventional car.


Now don’t forget load shedding!

That’s if you have access to a fast charging station or your ‘complimentary’ domestic wall charger unit. Away from those luxuries, we could not get either of these cars to charge off our home socket charger at one point. They trickled a bit but stopped. The next day both worked fine. Don’t forget to add our national pastime of loadshedding to this equation!

All that said, should you happen to have a powerful solar or similar alternative energy source powering your home charger, you should just about get by with driving your iX3 for free. But that’s of course writing the cost of such a system off to your domestic account. There really is no silver bullet. You’ll ultimately pay for that power. Somehow, somewhere.

The BMW of course features Intelligent adaptive energy recuperation. The amount of regeneration depends on data from the navigation and driver assistance system in the D driving mode. Or the driver can select B via the iDrive menu for maximum regeneration.


RAV 4 Plug-In more an EV than a hybrid to drive

To be fair, the iX3 impressed in both its ability to recuperate range and its ease of one-pedal driving. It’s an acquired taste, but fun to maximise once you get the knack of it. The iX3 is also fast, smooth, and silent on the road. And it’s still very much a BMW to drive. Which is a very good thing.

There’s a quality feel to the Toyota RAV 4 Plug-In. Its more an EV than a hybrid to drive. The combination of immediate torque and flat, sturdy, and silent electric power delivery and that good old petrol feeling, is a buzz. Acceleration is impressive in EV mode at zero fuel consumption.

Talking about acceleration, there’s not much to choose from between these two very different new energy vehicles in terms performance. Both offer petrol and diesel rivalling driving envelopes with sixish second 0-100 km/h ability and the rest, in our tests. Both are limited in maximum speed. If that really matters to anyone these days.


Plug-In keeps driving when battery is flat

The Toyota’s EV only range is limited to 80 km. That’s probably more than you and I and most of our friends will ever drive in an average day. And then once the battery drops to a quarter and below minimum EV only levels, it simply switches to HV mode. For traditional Toyota petrol electric Hybrid driving.

This BMW represents another significant EV step forward. It is powerful, efficient, strong, and on a good day, will drive almost 500 km on a full charge. Its problem lies with a woeful lack of infrastructure to support its new electric needs. That’s changing. But is it changing fast enough?

In truth, who will ever drive more than 80 km on a daily commute? If you fit that metric, you will hardly ever get to use the latent petrol in the Toyota’s tank. And if you do, that bigger battery and Toyota’s proven hybrid get up has the potential to travel further than 800 km on a regular tank of gas and charged up and without range anxiety or charging challenges.


Plug-In makes so much more sense right now

A plug-in hybrid gives all the self-charging, petrol engine back-up and range benefits of a traditional hybrid vehicle, with the additional performance and the pure EV driving mode of a full battery electric vehicle. Cost wise, the Toyota also has an advantage considering its European prices versus the BMW in the various markets, at almost a quarter off.

Yes, electric driving still has a significant mountain to climb down here at the bottom end of Africa. And that’s why the RAV4 Plug-In would makes so much more sense to us, were we forced to choose.

The Toyota RAV4 Plug-In Hybrid offers the power and clean efficiency of a full EV without any range anxiety or charging worries. Even versus among the very best EV’s we have yet driven in the BMW iX3. – Michele & Giordano Lupini

Shootout: Electric Plug-In Hybrid
                  BMW iX3       Toyota RAV4 
                  M Sport       Plug-In Hybrid
Power Unit:       210 kW 400 Nm 225kW 245 227 + 121 Nm
                  Electric      2.5-litre petrol I4 
                                +2x Electric Motors
Drive:            Direct RWD    CVT/Direct AWD
Battery           80 kWh        18.1 kWh 
                  lithium-ion.  lithium-ion
0-60 km/h:        3.35 sec      2.84 sec
0-100 km/h:       6.55 sec      5.88 sec
0-120 km/h:       8.81 sec      7.86 sec
0-160 km/h:       15.17 sec     13.67 sec
400m:             14.7s @ 158   14.2s @ 162
80-120 km/h:      4.08 sec      3.76 sec
120-160 km/h:     6.36 sec      5.37 sec
VMax:             180 km/h      180 km/h
Fuel:             0 l/100 km    1.0 l/100 km
Energy:           18.7kWh/100km 16.6 kWh/100km
CO2:              0 g/km local  22 g/km
EV Range:         460 km        80 km
Total Range:      460 Km        800 km
Warranty/Service: 2y unl./5y.   100K km N/A
LIST PRICE:       R1.306M       R1.050M*
RATED:            8             9
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