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Lifestyle: Green Cars

Going Green: BMW 5 Active Hybrid and The Toyota Auris HD

As we resolve to save the planet, or at least leave some of it intact for future generations, so too is the motoring world abuzz with efforts to try and reduce its carbon footprint. Several technologies have been examined, but three are at the forefront, namely Hydrogen, Electric and Hybrid. South Africa too joined the race to develop its own electric vehicle, namely the Joule, but unfortunately this car lacked the funding to go into production.

In the current issue, we look at two hybrid vehicles that are currently available in South Africa. These vehicles are rather different from each other, in that one is in the premium luxury sector, while the other is aimed at the youth or as a day-to-day run-about. Both vehicles are hybrids based on popular, non-green models. These manufacturers took regular petrol vehicles and modified these to run on a combination of petrol and electric engines.

The system is extremely complicated in the way the petrol or electric motor – or both – power the wheels. This exchange between the two engines is seamless and quite amazing. The only way of telling which motor is actually driving the wheels is by looking at the LCD display.

BMW 5 Active Hybrid
The BMW 5 Active Hybrid is a 5 series with all the typical luxury equipment, and looks no different to any other 5 series, apart the rather large badge on the C pillar that spells out the entire name of the car, i.e. “5 Active Hybrid”. When I stopped to fill up, the petrol attendant seemed quite amused and somewhat baffled with the badge. After explaining the concept of the car, he laughed and thought I’d actually put on the badge myself. As I pulled away, his astonishment at the absolute silence of the electric motor was apparent, and the penny dropped.

The interior of the vehicle is typical BMW with comfy leather seats. Everything is controlled by the touch of a button – seats, windows and the iDrive that manages the entire entertainment system.

The major difference between this hybrid and the normal 5 series is the size of the boot, which is at least a third smaller due to the space required for the electric motor’s batteries. The outstanding feature of this car has to be its exceptional power, coupled with Hybrid economy.

It comes with a 210kw 3 litre straight 6 cylinder twin turbo-charged petrol engine, as in the 535i, as well as a 40kw electric engine, which together put out 250kw. Linked to the 8 speed gearbox, this Beemer is a real treat for petrol heads, as the power surge is almost instantaneous, with the electric motor not having the time lag of the regular petrol or diesel motor. This is no slow coach, with a claimed 0-100 km/h in just 5.9 seconds.

Overall, this setup works well and the hybrid helps the environment by going up to 60km/h in electric mode only. To charge the batteries, all that is required is to drive in petrol mode, with driving and braking recharging the batteries.

Manufacturer Specifications:
3l 6 Cylinder TwinTurbo

250KW Combined

450Nm Combined

5.9 Sec (Claimed)

Fuel Consumption:
Average 7l/100km

160 g/km

From R757 300,00

Car courtesy of BMW South Africa.


The Toyota Auris HD

The Toyota Auris HD is essentially a regular Auris fitted with the legendary Prius engine and drivetrain system. There is a certain degree of comfort in knowing that the upgraded version of the first commercial hybrid system is powering this vehicle.

From the outside, the only give away that this is a hybrid is the subtle blue effect on the Toyota badge and a small sign behind the front wheels indicating ‘hybrid’. Inside, the first thing you notice is the small and odd looking gear-lever that appears unattached to anything. Another difference from the regular Auris is the smaller boot space due to the batteries, but the most interesting is the air vent on the right hand side of the rear seat back which, as I was told, is used for getting cooling air to the batteries. But what if people put additional pillows on the backrest that could cover this vent?

This vehicle produces 133kw, courtesy of the 73 kw 1.6 litre petrol engine and a 60kw electric motor. Like in the BMW, this system works well but this hybrid is not the most exciting to drive. To start with, the gearbox feels like a toy car in which you only have the choice of Drive, Reverse or B. The B does not stand for battery, but for ‘brake’. This means that when you are coasting downhill, you can select B and use engine spin to charge up the batteries. Even so, the more you drive the vehicle the more enjoyable it becomes. Although it does not have the luxury or power of the BMW, it doesn’t have the price tag either. I have to admit this is a better car than the Prius in that it looks better and with improved road holding, but it does not have the perceived ‘green-ness’ cachet of the Prius.

All in all, both these cars were quite impressive in motoring technology, especially the happy mechanical and engineering marriage of electric and petrol technologies. BMW went for power and luxury with little compromise, while Toyota took the route of the trusted simplicity. Both vehicles achieve better fuel economy and lower emissions, but both are pricier than their simpler counterparts. In the 2012 total economy run, not a single hybrid was an overall class winner, with the diesel engines taking the awards. Does this mean that we should give up on hybrid technology? A resounding no from me. My view is any advance that will reduce emissions is one in the right direction.

Overall, I am not a hybrid fan, but if I had to buy one, the BMW would be my choice for its sheer fun factor and pure driving antics.
Green cars are a reality and I can’t wait to see what new technology will be launched next. ❐

Manufacturer Specifications:
1.8l 4 Cylinder

133KW Combined

349Nm Combined

11.4 Sec (Claimed)

Fuel Consumption:
Average 3.8l/100km

89 g/km

From R273 800,00

Car courtesy of
Toyota South Africa.

Fast view – NissaN Juke Tekna
• Unique looks
• High driving position
• Comfortable seats
• Sporty steer feel
• Sporty and unique
• Decent standard features
• Nice power
• Rear head room
• Smallish boot
• Fuel consumption

This newcomer from Nissan is a cross between a hatchback and an SUV, so Nissan calls it a cross-over. You will either love or hate its unusual look. I personally loved the look and the execution of this vehicle is brilliant. Inside, the radio has funky lights and controls for entertainment and engine management. The drive is a compromise between an SUV and a normal hatchback, in that you have the ride height, while losing out on a small amount of road holding. I do believe that they could have improved on rear headroom and boot space, but I guess ultimately this car is a fashion statement – which it does perfectly!

Author: Azim Omar CA(SA) is a member of SAGMJ.