Hybrids: Remote areas, rough roads, and cold weather

Discussion in '4x4's, SUV's and P/U Trucks' started by chilcotin, Aug 16, 2009.

  1. chilcotin

    chilcotin New Member

    I would appreciate any thoughts and advice that the aficionados on this site could provide. My situation is somewhat unique but not overly so in my part of the world.

    I live in Vancouver, B.C., an urban coastal city with a climate somewhat analogous to San Francisco in the States. About 1/2 of my driving is urban but the other half is in Northern B.C. and frequently in very remote areas. For the last 10 years I have driven a 1998 six cylinder Ford Explorer AWD. I faithfully use good synthetic lubricants, low rolling resistance all terrain tires, and heavy duty shocks but still find fuel costs to be daunting.

    I frequently drive in areas that are over 160 kilometres from the nearest town - town being a place with a population over 500. The ability to operate very reliably in very low temperatures and on snow packed roads is essential. Mobile phone service is spotty at best and it can be a long time between passing vehicles if your vehicle packs it in.

    Currently fuel prices are in the $1.20 per litre range but last summer were well over $1.70 per litre. Naturally cost of fuel is a major concern.

    Most vehicles in this area of northern BC seem to be 4 wheel drive trucks and truck based SUVs. Hyundai Tucsons/Kia Sportages are also seen, in part, I suspect, because of their exceptional warranties.

    In the next week or two I plan to replace my aging Explorer. What would be a reliable alternative for remote area cold weather travel? Would a hybrid Escape/Tribute or Hylander be able to handle weeks of sub-zero (Celsius) weather on snow packed roads. Are battery based vehicles reliable in extreme weather conditions? Are there things that could be done with a V6 Hyundai Tucson/Kia Sportage to lower their fuel consumption?

    Any and all comments and/or advice would be most appreciated.
  2. msantos

    msantos Eco Accelerometrist

    Hi chilcotin... And welcome to CleanMPG !!! :D

    Either the Escape or Highlander would do very well in sub-zero temperatures without any major technical issues to worry about - at least if it does not get any colder than Manitoba (-40 and less) ;)
    By the way, we have quite a few Escape hybrids here doing taxi and City service without any issues, and most taxis here are also all Prius.

    However, of the two I believe the Escape will be the better performer fuel economy wise. It is unlikely that any other non-hybrid vehicle in the same class will better those two unless you can find a diesel option within the same price range (the VW Toureg is likely more expensive).


  3. brick

    brick Answers to "that guy."

    To add to Manuel's information, the Escape Hybrid is reported to have the better AWD system when compared to the Highlander. (No personal experience with it, just a lot of reading which included accounts of disappointment with the HiHy winter capabilities.)

    The nice thing about a hybrid in cold weather is that you have a HUGE battery to turn over the engine. My first winter with the Prius involved a few weeks of sub-0 (F) mornings in the northeastern US and it ran great. The mileage was not great in that stuff but I couldn't complain.
  4. hobbit

    hobbit He who posts articles

    If it's only packed snow and you don't need a whole lot of ground
    clearance, you may not need an SUV form-factor. I've done my share
    of dirt roads in a Prius, and it's a real champ in snow up to
    a sensible limit, i.e. when it's up to the bellypans then things
    get a little dicey. So there may be a lot of 4WD vehicles in
    your area simply because of the "I need one" myth, where real
    life may actually be a little more lenient.
    But the Escape would probably be a good choice if you *do* need
    one. And it also has a nice big battery for startup, as it works
    very similarly to the Highlander and any other planetary-based
    power-split hybrid layout.
  5. rdprice64

    rdprice64 Still Learning

    One more thing to add about this is that the Escape Hybrid is fully functional even if the battery pack is not able to perform in the extremely cold temperatures. The internal combustion engine (ICE) is able to fully power the vehicle with or without the hybrid battery pack. One very nice backup feature is that if the 12v battery under the hood is not functioning, it will use the hybrid battery pack to start the ICE and then the ICE can recharge both batteries. So you may find that an advantage in your remote location situations.

    Now from my experience in slightly warmer winter weather ( -5 C with 8-12 inches of snow on the ground), my 2wd Escape performed very well. No loss of traction and once it warmed up, then the battery could also power the vehicle at slower speeds. It has good ground clearance and was even able to move snow out of the way when I came upon drifts in the roadway. This was only for a 8 day period, so it was not as long as you are experiencing, so keep that in mind. I believe the Awd has the same ground clearance, but distributes the power to all 4 wheels instead of just 2. As mentioned in the earlier responses, the cold weather definitely reduces the mpgs. I got 31 mpg on the tank during the 8 days that I described above, definitely the worst of last winter for me.

    The Escape Hybrid also does well in the mild off road camping that we do in the summer months. I will only take it in mud/water 2-4 inches deep though, so I can't speak for "real" off roading.

    All that being said, most of my daily driving is from home to work in our downtown area and in those commutes I normally get 57-62 mpg on the way to work (12.8 miles mostly downhill), and 38-42 mpg coming home. So, there is definitely some good mpg that you can get from it in an urban setting. I did change my commute after buying it to avoid the highway and stick to streets that are 35-45 mph speed limit, because that is a good range for leveraging the strengths of this vehicle. This also shortened my commute by 4 miles, so I actually get to work at about the same time as I did before.

    So, hopefully that helps in your decision making. Would be glad to answer any other questions, if it would help you.
  6. chilcotin

    chilcotin New Member

    Thanks everyone for your assistance. Very much appreciated! I will be testing a low mileage 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid this evening.

    I have another issue that does concern me somewhat - the inherent durability of the available hybrid vehicles. The long life and track record of the Prius and Ford Escape taxi's that have been used in Vancouver, Victoria, New York, etc. would strongly suggest that the hybrid combination provides an engine/locomotion system that is very reliable in long term use.

    On the other hand, taxi use is very much confined to travel over paved roads - albeit in all weather conditions (Winnipeg comes to mind http://www.cleanmpg.com/forums/images/smilies/smile.gif). I know that we urban dwellers all consider our pot holes sufficiently large to swallow Smart cars. However, in reality there is a world of difference between gravel and pavement.

    Does anyone have any experience with running, for example, a Ford Escape Hybrid over very rough gravel roads (such as those that are common in the high Chilcotin) over an extended period of time. I know that the common belief in the Prince George area is that the only vehicles that will handle extended back country roads are trucks and truck frame based SUVs.

    Many thanks!
  7. ILAveo

    ILAveo Well-Known Member

    I don't know your exact road conditions, but conventional wisdom on rough gravel roads is that it isn't what you drive so much as how you drive it. That said, trucks usually can take more of a beating, but I've know plenty of people living away from pavement whose daily driver was a car.

    Determining the ground clearance you need might be a good thing to do before you go shopping.

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