570 Miles on a Single Tank—Benefits of a Plug-In Hybrid Car

The author bought a used car for speed and performance, but his inner-nerd discovered the joys of fuel-efficient driving. The case why everyone should pivot to hybrids and electric vehicles.

Compared to ginormous eight-passenger SUVs, the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron is the equivalent of Mini Me.

There, I said it. I drive a Mini Me car. This vehicle can likely fit within the confines of a Cadillac Escalade trunk. It’s comical when my car is sandwiched between two giant SUVs at a parking lot.

And inevitably, I find the drivers of these gigantic suburban tanks are petite and well-dressed soccer moms who eat bushels of kale and wear yoga pants. Bless their hearts, but in the age of global warming and a growing abundance of hybrid-alternative vehicles, perhaps it’s time to upgrade our method of transportation.

My initial goal had nothing to do with greenhouse gases or saving the planet; It was about speed and performance. Having owned a 20-year-old BMW 528i, one ill-equipped to drive in snow, I finally pulled the trigger and sold my old car to my wife’s cousin for a few thousand bucks. He got the deal of a lifetime.

That left us with one car in the garage, and with winter approaching and nowhere to travel, I rationalized that a new ride would represent my escape from work, my house, my family, and my pets. I love all these things dearly, but the result of job hunting and then working from home over two years leads one to feel… confined… at times.

The moment I saw the new Audi A3 e-tron hybrid at the 2015 New York Auto Show it was love at first sight.

But then I got cheap. I figured the hybrid thing can wait until a tsunami hits New York, which would represent the inflection point when I admit I have to get serious and reduce my carbon footprint.

So I shopped everywhere to find a 2013 A3, the last year Audi offered a gas-only version of this hatchback, which Audi renamed with the moniker, ‘Sportback.’ You have to love marketers who put premium-naming conventions on vehicles when the original ‘hatchback,’ back in the sixties, inspired a generation of hippies.

All I wanted was a car that could careen around corners with agility and speed, whilst blasting grunge music on a 14-speaker sound system. It’s the simple things in life that bring one joy. Having test drove a bunch of older A3’s with high mileage that echoed with notable pings, I realized I would have to buy a newer (but used) A3. However, recent models come with one notable innovation. Audi introduced a hybrid version of the A3 in 2016—there was no going back if I wanted to stay loyal.

The other challenge? Finding one that was available via dealerships on the east coast. The west, as is often the case, is one step ahead of the rest of the country. Hybrids and electric-only vehicles are selling like hotcakes in California. I finally found one for sale on Carvana.com and the company shipped it from their headquarters in Arizona direct to my drivewat. The original owner lived in Silicon Alley.

My hybrid car’s first owner comes from the land where the hippies used to roam free… figures.

The 2018 A3 I wanted had 54,000 miles, which was lower in price compared to other options, but I chose this vehicle based on one key factor: battery life. I could have picked one up with fewer miles that was older but in the end I figured the battery’s warranty trumped mileage.

That’s what was going on in my head, but my heart was keen on the car’s Bang and Olufsen 14-speaker sound system (complete with a subwoofer). Who doesn’t want Soundgarden blasting at high decibels with the windows rolled down when one drives past a soccer mom?

The driving experience was exhilarating and Carvana allows one to rack up 400 miles in a week-long test drive. Had I wanted to return it, a call to Carvana would have prompted them to pick it up and refund me 100%. So, in that first week, I had that A3 going full tilt with the accelerator pinned to the floor!

Having finalized the purchase, I calmed down and took note of not one but two fuel gauges: gas and the battery life. I noticed how, when driving in pure electric mode, the battery’s range was 13-14 miles. Another option was hybrid driving, where the combustible engine turns on for extra power or uphill driving. Then there was a third option that ran on gas exclusively and the brakes recharge the battery.

Having driven 320 miles on one tank, I experienced a psychological ‘nerd alert’ thereafter. Why not try to get 500 miles on one tank? How about 600, which was possible if I drove more efficiently using electric and hybrid driving modes.

The result was a two-month test to see how far I could go on a 14.5-gallon fuel tank, coupled with consistent battery charging.

First, take note of the plug-in mechanical elements. This equipment plugs into a regular outlet. It takes 6-8 hours to fully recharge.

Second, one has to be strategic in how he/she uses ‘fuel.’

I learned a ton in the first few weeks. I realized that the length of my journey should dictate how I consume ‘fuel.’ If I had to travel anywhere less than twelve miles, it made no sense to use gasoline. For a road trip to Cold Spring in New York State, 90 miles away, I killed the battery early in our drive while traveling north on the New York Thruway (which ascends in elevation). Had I driven on gas exclusively going northbound and on hybrid mode southbound I could have saved a gallon or two of gasoline: lesson learned.

That element popped up while driving around the hilly suburbs of northern New Jersey. Hills can quickly deplete a car’s battery. If I planned a drive to the Bear Mountain lookout point, the smart move would be to drive in gas-only mode on the way up and electric downhill.

And if you’re wondering how the two engines work together in a hybrid capacity, it’s simple. The combustible engine is triggered when you need more power or you floor it. The time it takes to switch from one to the other is less than a second, which is remarkable.

The end result, when I was down to 35 gas miles left in the tank, was 572 miles in total. If I didn’t have 20 to 30-mile trips to take in the near future I could go further with that 14-mile electric range and I could likely approach 600 miles knowing what I learned over the past two months. The net fuel economy was just shy of 65 miles per gallon, which represents the most efficient use of gasoline I’ve ever recorded.

Why would anyone opt for a gas-only car when so many plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs) are hitting the market in the near future? To make matters even better, several car manufacturers have announced their electric-only range will hit 50-plus miles. Imagine how far you will be able to go on a single tank of gasoline.

This experiment, and my shift to a plug-in hybrid car, has me thinking… how much further will my son be able to drive using electric power when he’s my age?

We have within our means to make the world a better place by making smarter purchase decisions. Opting to buy a plug-in hybrid car represents a great starting point.

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