Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: The best of both worlds
I just got ‘ICE’d’ in Switzerland! You would imagine that’s a common experience in the land of the icy Alps but it’s not what you think it is. In fact, in a courteous society like Switzerland, it’s a rare thing to happen. Not making sense? Let me explain.
Getting ICE’d means turning up at an EV charging station and finding the dedicated (for EVs) parking space occupied by an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car. Imagine arriving at a charging point in your electric car with its low battery light flashing, only to find some gas guzzling SUV that shouldn’t be there, hogging your spot. There’s not much you can do except fret and fume and waste time looking for another charging spot. It’s situations like this that makes living with an EV more of a miss than a hit.
When I rolled into the basement of the Zurich Sheraton in my Audi Q5 Sportback plug-in hybrid with the small 14.1-KwH battery completely depleted, yes, I was pretty miffed to find a Ford Explorer marked in my spot. But not panicked. Because, even with a completely discharged battery I could fall back on the Q5 Sportback’s conventional 2-litre petrol engine. That’s the beauty of a hybrid. When you run out of charge you don’t get stranded.
Living with the Q5 Sportback 55 TFSI e for a week in Switzerland opened my eyes to the world of plug-in hybrids, or rather, the best of both worlds that this technology offers. It can run in pure electric mode for around 55km noiselessly and emission-free, which is just perfect want for short runs within Zurich and to nearby destinations. On longer drives, the petrol motor takes over so you never have to worry about running out of charge.
Whilst the environmental benefits of running in pure electric mode are quite obvious, what isn’t quite obvious until you actually use a plug-in hybrid is the amount you save on fuel, especially in Switzerland.
If you think the cost of petrol has gone through the roof in India, in Switzerland prices are higher than the Alps! Petrol here is 1.8 Swiss Francs or `145 per litre! Thank God for the Audi’s hybrid tech which helped me dodge the wallet-busting fuel prices.
Charging is free at Zurich Sheraton, which meant short runs were almost free too. The plug-in hybrid system worked like a charm, seamlessly switching from petrol to electric drive depending on the conditions. On the last day, I said goodbye to the Q5 in fine style by hitting 300. Not kilometres per hour but kilometres per litre, which in today’s context of global warming is a bigger achievement. The engine was hardly used on the 40km run to the drop off point, which explains this unbelievable figure.
A driver’s paradise
Before I get too obsessed with range, battery charging and things electric, let’s get to what the Q5 Sportback is like to drive. Switzerland is a driver’s paradise because a breathtaking alpine road is never far away. This mountainous country is known for its passes and my favourite is the Susten Pass just an hour and a half from Zurich.
It was an absolute blast gunning the Q5, which obediently and smoothly surged from corner to corner. And sustenance at the top of Susten where the weather changed dramatically from sunshine to mist and rain, arrived in the form of a hot soup at one of the quaint restaurants there.
What was unbelievable was how the Q5 in this rather unique shade of military green stayed so clean after a week’s driving in occasional rain. There’s no dust, grime or muck in this pristine environment to dirty your car. Imagine how good that must be for your lungs.
The views expressed by the columnist are personal
From HT Brunch, September 5, 2021
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