Electric vehicle sales are on the rise in Australia, with thousands of new battery-powered cars and SUVs hitting the streets every month, and yet despite all the hype around EVs, the reality is they still make up less than 10 per cent of total sales.
The reason for this is simple - most Australians aren’t ready to make the switch to an all-electric vehicle just yet.
There are countless reasons why that’s the case, but for many it’s simply not practical to have a car with a limited driving range and restricted recharging options in a country as vast as Australia.
The reality, of course, is that the average Australian drives, on average, 32km per day, which an EV can easily manage. The catch is, many of us drive much further than that on a weekend, during the holidays or simply whenever we feel like taking a proper road trip.
Which is why the plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) is becoming an increasingly popular choice for Australian motorists - indeed why we’re just the kind of country, and demographic, where it makes sense - and why Mazda has expanded its line-up to include a practical and stylish PHEV - the CX-60.
Put simply, a PHEV is the best of both worlds, removing that range anxiety and allowing you to drive on electric power for your daily commute in the city - which is where the vast majority of Australians live and work - while also giving you the freedom to drive anywhere that a petrol-powered model can (and the freedom of knowing there are plenty of fuel stations to fill up at). It does this by combining an electric motor and battery pack with an internal-combustion engine.
In the case of the all-new CX-60, you get a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a 100kW electric motor integrated into the drivetrain to produce a total output of 241kW of power and 500Nm of torque.
Both the petrol engine and the electric motor can drive the wheels, with the petrol engine also able to effectively act as an on-board generator to feed energy into the battery pack for the motor.
And that’s not the only way the PHEV’s batteries can be replenished. The CX-60 is equipped with clever regenerative braking, just like a pure EV. This technology allows the car to capture kinetic energy as the car slows, from the moment you lift off the throttle, and redirect that to the battery pack.
Not only does this keep topping up the battery as you drive, especially if you have an urban commute, but it also reduces wear and tear on your brakes - an added PHEV bonus.
Unlike a pure electric vehicle that requires a huge, heavy and expensive battery pack to provide enough driving range, a PHEV utilises a smaller and lighter battery, because it has the support from the engine.
Even so, the CX-60 has a maximum driving range of 76km on electric power alone, which is enough for the average Australian for more than two days of driving (in reality, of course, a lot of people drive a lot less than that each day). Factor in the impressive fuel consumption, rated at just 2.1L/100km, and you have one of the most effective and economical five-seat luxury SUVs on the market today.
The batteries will never run completely out of charge because the engine will keep topping them up to a minimum state of charge, but the smaller battery pack of a PHEV also means faster charging. In the case of the CX-60 PHEV it can be fully charged in just five hours, using a normal 240V household outlet, or you can cut that to less than three hours if you have an AC charger with a Type 2 port.
What that means is, if you have a typical Australian commute of less than 32km each way, you can drive to and from your work on electric power alone, never needing to turn the petrol engine on at all. If you recharge each night, you’ll be able to avoid the petrol station for extended periods, because you can start each day with a full battery.
This is a huge step ahead of the conventional hybrids that have become popular in recent decades. These types of hybrids only ever use a combination of petrol and electric power, only using the electric motor for short bursts at a time for a boost in performance, or to help save a bit of fuel. A PHEV is a step forward, allowing you to capitalise on the electric motors and batteries when needed for extended periods.
Which leads us to another great benefit of the PHEV technology, which is that if, for some reason, you need to take a longer trip on any particular day, the petrol engine is there to allow you to drive as far and wide as a conventional combustion car.
While EVs are a great choice for those who live in an urban environment, have a consistent driving pattern or have access to a reliable charging network, Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world currently when it comes to public EV charging infrastructure. So making those longer trips into more remote areas is far more difficult and requires more planning than it would in a PHEV.
Put simply, a PHEV offers the best of both worlds - the quiet efficiency of an EV and the freedom and range of an internal-combustion engine vehicle. It’s a win-win.
Mazda Australia recently confirmed it will expand its PHEV offering with the addition of the CX-90, which uses the same powertrain as the CX-60. More details are due to be announced later in 2024.
While there is undoubtedly a place in the market for all-electric models in the future, the addition of more plug-in hybrid models in today’s market gives Australians who enjoy a longer road trip or just enjoy freedom and flexibility a fantastically efficient and capable alternative.