// Hybrids in the mountains
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  1. #1

    Hybrids in the mountains

    I drove my 2003 HCH out to Wyoming this last fall and all I can say is I was very disappointed in how the car performed driving over mountain passes. The battery juice was used up very quickly and I was left with just the gasoline engine to get me over the pass which meant third gear and approx 50mph. This was so unnerving (try driving with a fleet of semis and cattle ranchers and you'll know what i mean) that I am now selling my hybrid and buying a diesel. Has anyone else experienced the battery drain?

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  3. #2

    Hybrids in the mountains

    Face it, little cars with little engines (with or without battery-assist) are primarily city cars, not mountain climbers. I drive my 2003 HCH from the San Francisco Bay area to Lake Tahoe over Echo Summit or occasionally Donner Summit, and I understand my car's limitations. Sure, the battery goes flat after a steady climb of more than a few thousand feet, and then I'm just another underpowered car struggling up to the crest of the pass. But the MPG numbers sure look good coasting down the other side!

    Try mountain-climbing with a kayak on the roof rack: See my August 28 and 29 report at https://www.hybridcars.com/blogs/blog...th=8&year=2005.

    But I didn't sell my car.

    If you spend most of your drive-time mountain-climbing, sure, go ahead and sell your hybrid. But if most of your drive-time is spent getting good mileage in the flatlands, why not consider renting a diesel for those rare times you need more power?

  4. #3

    Hybrids in the mountains

    Or even rent something better for the trip up to, or over, the mountains, like a 4wd Subaru or CUV. Then you get the utility of a 4wd multi-purpose vehicle, especially in the winter, but you still have your gas-sipping hybrid for the rest of your driving needs.

    I would definitely recommend against making an automobile purchase based on a handful of possible extreme uses. All the rest of the time, you are saddled with the extra weight and pollution. And often, in my experience anyway, the frequency of the need for the power, or for 4wd, is much less than expected.

  5. #4

    Hybrids in the mountains

    Or, you can get the best of both worlds with a Ford Escape Hybrid. I do alot of mountain driving and my FEH performs exceedingly well in the mountains. More power than I could have ever hoped, and gas mileage of between 27 & 33 mpg depending upon time of year!

  6. #5

    Hybrids in the mountains

    Or you can do what Nanette said and get a diesel. It's really a matter of the right tool for the job. A direct-injected turbodiesel works great in the mountains and maintains full power ability up the tallest mountain passes because of the turbo, when many gasoline cars with higher power are gasping for breath because there's no way to compensate for the thinning air, which the diesel's turbo takes care of.

    Couple that to the great low-end torque. At 65 mph a Jetta or Passat TDI is operating right at the peak of its torque band (177 lb-ft for the Jetta, 247 lb-ft for the Passat) and won't even need a downshift to maintain speed. And you will still be getting excellent mileage for the conditions, and yes, even going down the other side; coasting downhill the TDI consumes exactly 0 fuel.

    In the city, or for someone who does do a lot of city driving, a hybrid makes perfect sense. But on the flatland freeways (no regenerative braking) or in the mountains, the diesel will do very well. A hybrid, with its tiny gas engine should theoretically do OK as well on the flats but beware not to drive it overly fast as the engine will become overtaxed very quickly and consume more fuel. We have a Honda Odyssey van (the old 4-cyl model) and the fact is that it gets lousy mileage, worse than a V6 Dodge Caravan because the poor 4-cyl is underpowered for such a large car and working too hard on the freeway, especially if it's loaded. When the battery runs out of juice a 1.3 liter engine is just that, a 1.3 liter engine, which would be plenty in, say a Toyota Yaris sized car but is getting to be a bit thin for larger cars like the HCH and the Prius.

    Up to 80 mph, the diesel is loafing in it's flat torque plateau.

  7. #6

    Hybrids in the mountains

    I live in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, 5,800 feet above sea level. My most common out-of-area trip is to the Denver area, 5,300 feet above sea level, but separated from me by two mountain passes of 10,700 and 11,000 feet. My wife has been driving an 03 HCH since 2002. I have been driving an 05 HCH for nearly one year. We typically get about 46 to 50 mpg on the Denver trip in dry weather. This is actually higher than our overall average mileage, so the cars have no problem handling mountain driving from a fuel economy standpoint.

    Obviously one has to make allowances for driving a (relatively) underpowered car. If you don't downshift, and let the electric assist do its thing, you will use up the available battery capacity in less than two miles of pass climbing. If you get into a lower gear, you can actually charge the battery while going uphill, and build a little reserve juice for any necessary acceleration. The idea that high revs will seriously hurt gas mileage isn't borne out by my experience with these cars.

    If you can't bear the thought of driving less than the speed limit on mountain passes, don't buy a Prius or an HCH. If, on the other hand, you are willing to compromise that ability, during what at most would be about 5% of your driving miles, then go for it. I happen to think that driving to Denver on a little over three gallons of gas kicks ass.

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