In spite of the lack of government subsidies that have made hybrids significantly more affordable in more developed countries like the US, bold automakers have nonetheless bitten the bullet and begun offering hybrids in the Philippines. There are already fine examples from the likes of Lexus, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, and Honda. Yet possibly one of the most advanced and probably most practical is not from any of these four, but a relatively new player in the field: BYD.
Build Your Dreams (BYD) Auto, a Chinese automaker has been offering their own hybrid for sale as well. The Q'in (pronounced "Ch'in") is named after the first Emperor of China who successfully unified the warring states into a single kingdom. In many ways, the Qin brings together many conflicting qualities desired of a sedan into a unique package.
There's the futuristic looks that hybrids are known for, their incredibly low fuel consumption, yet there’s also the surprising power from the hybrid electric power plant, as well as high tech features, some like the remote control, aren’t offered by any other brand at all.
The Q'in certainly draws stares, from its front façade looking far more complicated than most designs in its class. Towards the side are more clean lines, with a subtle shoulder running along the windows and a character line across the door handles. Behind, tail lights that stretch across the tailgate impart the same kind of sophisticated flair as the front. Many will notice the curious hatch where the logo sits, which we will explain later.
Inside, the Qin offers an interesting interior. The panels feature glossy inserts that appear to be carbon fiber from afar but are actually a plastic with a wavy pattern on them. A fully digital instrument cluster sits in front of the driver, showing the speedo, tach, fuel and temp, as well as battery level. The center display shows the in-car entertainment and climate. On the center divider is the gear selector, flanked by a drive mode selector for Eco, Normal and Sport modes, as well as buttons for hybrid and full electric modes.
Comfort amenities abound in the form of leather power adjustable seats with memory, an electronic handbrake, cruise control, and a power moonroof. The second row may not have executive sedan legroom but its fold-down armrest dares to compete with its own set of climate and entertainment controls. The trunk is cavernous, with a space dedicated to snugly containing the plug-in charger.
The Qin is based on the F5 sedan also offered by the carmaker, powered by a 1.5-liter with a 6-speed dual clutch transmission and the unique-to-BYD remote control parking feature. Of course, the Qin takes all of this up a notch by adding a hybrid electric motor and plug-in charging ability. When both powerplants are chugging, that equates to an incredible 291 PS and 490 Nm of torque driving the front wheels.
It operates like a typical hybrid would. What's different is that the electric motor and batteries propell the car up to higher speeds of 40 km/h before the gasoline engine takes over after that to both, propel the car and charge batteries. Floor the pedal and both powerplants come to life, rocketing the car forward. Step on the brake and the batteries begin to charge again.
Unlike the other competitors, this is a plug-in hybrid. Open the small rear hatch and it reveals a power socket where the home charger can be connected to. This, in turn, connects into any regular household socket that will gladly charge the vehicle overnight. The instrument cluster even displays the charging level, allowing you to peek at the status without even opening the car.
Leave it overnight and the car should be fully charged by the morning. No need to worry about overcharging as its smart charger automatically cuts out the power when it’s full. Unplug the car, tend the cables, and pack them into the bag and you’re ready to go.
The beauty about the Qin is its hybrid system seems more in tune with third world countries and their traffic. Drive conscientiously and it’s very possible to run the first 45 minutes of your commute solely on batteries. When the need to cruise arises, the engine comes to life to provide that much needed power. This results in fuel consumption readings in the high 12 -14 km/L in the city, even in heavy traffic, provided your commute is no longer than an hour. The readings go down once the battery is low and there’s not much opportunity for it to recharge in heavy traffic.
Nonetheless, there’s no special trick to driving the Qin. It operates much like any hybrid with the gasoline engine powering on and off as needed. Simply apply the amount of throttle desired and the car does the rest. Naturally, Eco and Normal modes are a little more cautious, while Sport mode provides the full 290 hp at your disposal. The result is a Corolla-class sedan with the power of a Lancer Evolution, but with the consumption of a Wigo.
Indeed, all that tech can significantly weigh down the car, and there’s some heavy body lean in turns and during braking. Nonetheless, the four discs are up for the job. The ride is average and wasn’t a particular standout. The dual clutch is great when accelerating, but returns the occasional shift shock while slow cruising or in traffic.
Perhaps the most enjoyable bit was the remote control feature. From outside the car, slide up the fob to reveal the controls and drive it like you would an RC. The car travels a maximum of 5 km/h (not enough to cause any serious damage), and is simply fun to use to impress friends. Park it into a tight spot or use it to bring the car closer to you. It’s probably faster to do it yourself, but that’s hardly any fun. All told, the Qin is the kind of hybrid we’ve been waiting for the likes of Toyota and Honda to make. It runs on the battery more often than the engine, it looks and drives like a conventional car, yet offers all the tech you expect from a modern vehicle.
Indeed, P2,488,000 is a lot to ask. It’s rough around the edges in many aspects. Things like the cluster, more specifically, the choice and color of font used, seem like they were pulled out of Microsoft WordArt. The styling and interior touches may not be to everyone’s taste. Nonetheless, the tipping point for gasoline power to kick in is just right. It’s quite surprising to see a relatively new brand like BYD make a more practical hybrid than the corporate giants. If you’ve had doubts about the alternative means of propulsion before, this car could convince you otherwise.