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Could a plug-in hybrid vehicle be the best of both worlds for cottagers?

In collaboration with Mazda Canada

We cottagers crave a lot of contradictions. We want relaxing weekends at the lake, but we cope with stressful drives to get there. We value silent moments of solitude on the water, but we fill up our summer guest lists before the snow melts. And we want to protect nature, but we sure burn a lot of fuel on our cottage commutes to embrace it.

Nowhere do those conflicts of interest show up more than in the cars we choose. Many of us would love to embrace the convenience, cost savings, and environmental benefits of buying an electric vehicle (EV), but range anxiety is justified when you spend a lot of time beyond the city limits. And no one wants to spend a single minute of their too-short weekend waiting for a battery to charge. Enter the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), which boasts a host of benefits—especially for cottagers who divide their time between the city and the lake.

To better understand those strengths, I spent a week driving Mazda’s new CX-90 PHEV in both the city and the country, and I discovered that, with a PHEV, cottagers really can have the best of both worlds. Here’s what surprised me the most.

Fuel savings without range anxiety

By far, the biggest benefit of driving a PHEV is that you save on fuel costs without having to worry about when your battery will be depleted. Range anxiety might not be as much of an issue for people who never leave the city—especially if they have ample charging stations and a convenient place to plug in each night. But for us cottagers, a pure EV can be a lot less convenient when we head to the lake on weekends. So unless we want to buy two cars—an EV for the city and a conventional gas-powered car for the cottage and road trips—a PHEV gives us everything we care about in a single vehicle.

It can be used as a pure EV for many trips

As much as I love a good small-town road trip, my weekdays are spent in the city, doing typical city things: commuting to work, handling school drop-offs and pick-ups, and buying groceries. And for all of those tasks, all week long I was able to drive in pure EV mode, relying solely on the battery and never needing a drop of gas. The CX-90 gave me 42 kilometres of electric range, which was more than enough for all my city errands, as long as I remembered to plug it in each night. That EV ability gives PHEVs a leg up over typical hybrids, which blend electric and gas powertrains for every trip, rather than letting you drive a purely electric vehicle when it’s most convenient.

Plugging it in is simple

Speaking of plugging it in, most PHEVs make it as easy as charging your phone. Whereas EVs often require the installation of special chargers in a driver’s home, simply plugging the CX-90 into a standard 120V outlet at night gave me a full battery in around eleven hours, so I was good to go when I woke up each morning. That meant I didn’t need to glance at the fuel level all week long, nor did I have to stop for gas at any busy intersections. It may sound like a small thing, but I never noticed how inconvenient it was to fill my tank every few trips until I went a week without having to do it. 

The back roads are always an option

Seeing as we still can’t get a decent cellular signal at most cottages, many Ontario residents don’t have high hopes for a more robust EV-charging infrastructure anytime soon—especially in the rural areas cottagers regularly visit. And not only do we love heading into the wild, but we’ll also choose winding back roads over the congested main routes whenever possible. That means we’re not likely to encounter many charging stations on our way to our favourite farmers’ markets. But with a PHEV, you’ll never need to search for a charger—the car simply switches to its gas engine whenever the battery is depleted. And with regenerative braking, you’ll be charging the battery while braking, even in gas-powered mode. Even better, you never need to worry about waiting while charging. Any time I charged the battery, I was asleep at home, not stranded for a half hour at an En Route stop.

The driving experience opens up new possibilities

If you’ve already driven a hybrid vehicle and the experience didn’t quite wow you, you might be surprised by how different the overall feeling of driving a PHEV is. First off, the silence of driving in pure EV mode is golden. Whereas a typical hybrid uses both its gas-powered and electric motor in conjunction or switches between them based on the power needs at any given moment, the larger batteries of PHEVs mean they can be driven in pure EV mode for longer distances. That meant all of my shorter drives were blissfully quiet—even compared with hybrids I’d driven in the past. And many of the other driveability advantages of EVs applied too. So when I found myself on my favourite twisting gravel roads, the CX-90’s zippy torque made an already-fun drive even more exhilarating. And with Mazda’s Intelligent Drive Select system, I was able to choose between five driving modes (Towing, Sport, Normal, EV, and Off-Road) that optimized the use of those two engines for an even smoother drive.

After a week exploring those features behind the wheel, both in the city and on two weekend road trips to towns void of chargers, I was convinced that a PHEV just might be the perfect vehicle for cottagers who want it all.