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Tim and Layton currently drive a Mercedes-AMG GLC 43.

Courtesy of manufacturer

Our current lease will be up in less than 18 months, and we’ve become pretty committed to the notion of going fully electric next time. We live in downtown Toronto and both commute on foot. We (me, my husband and our 10 lb. dog) primarily use our car for weekend trips to our Muskoka cottage (215 kilometres away) and occasional urban errands. With battery-electric vehicles now achieving 400 km+ in maximum rated range, we feel that, even in winter, we’d be okay to make the trip. Our current vehicle is a (truly fantastic) Mercedes-AMG GLC 43. I LOVE this car (husband less so for the way I tend to drive it … though I have no idea what he’s talking about!). I’d not be unhappy to keep it past the end date of the lease. But should we?

A BEV greatly reduces our usage emissions. But it means we are part of the demand cycle that drives the manufacture of a new vehicle. If we keep our current SUV, we don’t cause a new vehicle to be manufactured, but we don’t go zero-emissions. However, turning our current vehicle in means it will be taken over by a new owner, and at the end of that chain, presumably, a much older and dirtier vehicle will be removed from service. So what to do?

Layton and Tim

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Richardson: These are excellent questions. The advantages and disadvantages of completely electric vehicles aren’t so clearly defined as many people think.

Gentile: Not only that, but the decision is very individual, based on your own driving needs, where you live and the nearby infrastructure. Having a BEV might be great, but if you live in a condo, for example, you might not have the infrastructure or charging station to plug it in.

Richardson: A friend of mine who lives in downtown Toronto just asked if I could recommend the all-electric Tesla Model 3 as a shared car for him and his mom. They both live in condos, and neither has a dedicated charger available, so I warned him away from it.

Gentile: Exactly my point. Most of us want to do the right thing for the environment, but a car is expensive; it’s usually the second biggest purchase of your lifetime, next to your home. You need to make sure it fits with your lifestyle and living arrangements.

Richardson: So let’s think first about Layton and Tim keeping their current Mercedes. Yes, this is the cleanest and best option, especially since they love it. The GLC 43 will still have the same life cycle of probably 12 years or so, and it doesn’t really matter how long they keep it for themselves.

Gentile: And it’s an ideal vehicle for their 200-plus kilometre trek to cottage country on the weekends. Many BEVs, such as the Hyundai Kona or Jaguar I-Pace, may boast of around 400 kms of range, but realistically, when you factor in the air conditioning, radio, speed, etc., that range can quickly drop.

Richardson: Range can be cut in half in the depth of winter or heat of summer. They’ll have enough range to make it if they recharge at Barrie, say, then at the cottage, then again at Barrie on the way home. It shouldn’t be a big deal. Which all assumes they can charge easily at home, and I’m not sure they can. They should keep the Mercedes if they love it!

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Gentile: I’d stick with the Mercedes, too. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Besides, do they really want to add to their long drive by stopping in Barrie to charge a BEV? Sure, there are some supercharging stations that can recharge a car fairly quickly (up to 80-per-cent charge in less than 30 minutes), but it’s a major inconvenience to stop and plug in compared to filling up a gas tank in a few short minutes.

Richardson: So we’re agreed – keep the Benz if you’re happy with it. And a fully electric vehicle still has its recharging challenges. But let’s say the Benz is stolen tomorrow, and Tim and Layton are forced into a replacement. What do you think then? A PHEV, or just a frugal gas-powered car? Or another GLC 43?

Gentile: I’d avoid another GLC 43 and go for a more fuel-efficient PHEV, which combines a hybrid powertrain with a gas engine. There are many new ones coming to the market, such as the Audi Q5 plug-in hybrid and the Toyota RAV4 Prime. So keep an eye on the growing competition.

The upcoming Toyota RAV4 Hybrid shows promise as a powerful, fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid SUV.

David McNew/Getty Images

Richardson: But PHEVs – plug-in hybrid electric vehicles – are still an environmental balancing act in the long term. Yes, they’re more fuel-efficient, but like conventional hybrids that don’t plug in, they use more materials in their construction than just a basic gas-powered vehicle. They have that same gas engine, but they also have a larger, separate battery and a large electric motor.

Gentile: So what are you saying, Mark? You’d skip the PHEV in favour of a gas-powered vehicle?

Richardson: I’m saying it’s a balancing act. A conventional gas-powered car uses less materials in its construction than a PHEV, so it creates less of an impact in its creation. But in the longer term, the PHEV will use less fuel. If Layton and Tim use their vehicle primarily for longer trips, the PHEV only uses electricity for short parts of those trips, maybe 60 km at the most, so they should stick with gas. If it’s primarily for urban errands, they may use nothing but electricity.

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Gentile: It’s not a simple solution, is it?

Richardson: No, there are many variables, each unique to different drivers.

Gentile: But like I said earlier, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in is definitely a vehicle to watch. With 300 hp, it will be the fastest, most powerful and most fuel-efficient RAV4 ever built. And it also has one of the longest EV ranges for a PHEV SUV – about 60 kms on battery power alone. I’d wait for it to hit dealerships later this year. Until then, keep the Benz.

The 2020 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid is particularly fun to drive.

MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Richardson: Neither of us have driven the RAV4 Prime, so we can’t recommend it, but I’d want to wait for it before committing to another PHEV. If Layton and Tim had to get a PHEV right now, I’d be suggesting the Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid for its fun drive and equivalency to the GLC 43, though it’s a size up.

Gentile: The Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid is definitely a blast to drive and would meet all of Layton and Tim’s needs. But for now, I say stick with the GLC.

What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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