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Here, we’ll give you the low-down.
First of all, though, it’s important to note that there are several different types of hybrid vehicle.
The first is ‘full hybrid’ which includes a battery and electric motor alongside a petrol engine, with the aim of increasing fuel economy - particularly in an urban environment. The car automatically selects whether to run on electric or petrol. Models of this kind include the Toyota Prius.
Second is the plug-in hybrid, such as the Mitsubishi Outlander or the Prius Plug-In. With these vehicles, the batteries are larger again and, as their name suggests, you can plug them in to charge their batteries. With the battery charged, plug-in hybrids allow you to push a button and drive purely on electricity, usually for around 15-30 miles. More than enough for a quick run around town.
Finally, there are what’s known as extended range electric vehicles or series hybrids. These are electric vehicles (EVs) with a generator on board to charge the battery as you go, and so achieve more mileage. There’s more on these type of vehicles in our guide to EVs
You may also have seen vehicles described as ‘mild’ or ‘micro’ hybrids. Don’t be confused. These names are occasionally given to conventional petrol or diesel vehicles with an automatic stop/start system. These vehicles sometimes also have an electric motor to help move the car off from standstill, but are otherwise not capable of being driven purely using electricity. These systems are being routinely built into conventional petrol or diesel vehicles.
Hybrids are ideal for people who want miles per gallon with some electric vehicle benefits, but are perhaps not ready to go full EV. They are far less polluting than diesel on the roads of towns and cities, and can quell any ‘range anxiety’ that might come from an EV.
There are also some ‘soft’ benefits to going hybrid. When setting off from a stop, the vehicle quietly glides and continues into a quiet drive while using the battery.
A perhaps lesser known – but hardly green-minded – benefit of hybrids is that they can provide better performance and speed. Formula 1 has been using hybrid technology since 2014, and the designers behind commercial models such as those in the BMW iPerformance range and the VW GTE certainly have one eye on combining rather than replacing the power of an internal combustion engine with an electric motor.
At the moment, vehicle ranges available become narrower as you get closer to full electric.
Toyota has not rested on its laurels since introducing its pioneering Prius, with the latest model developed significantly from where things were in ‘97. Sister company Lexus also has a range of petrol hybrid cars and SUVs, which are also available from manufacturers including Hyundai and Ford.
Plug-in hybrids are also available in a variety of styles but, with the need to house a larger battery alongside a conventional engine, and achieve emissions compliance, they are becoming increasingly common amongst larger vehicle types. Notable larger plug-in models include the Audi Q7 e-tron and Mitsubishi Outlander SUVs.
Ultimately, plug-in hybrids give you options. It’s greener than a hybrid, which is powered solely by its petrol or diesel engine, and more flexible than an EV. For a quick run to the shops, a plug-in hybrid can give you all the benefits of an EV, whilst being ready for a blast down the motorway if needed. It provides a good option until an affordable EV becomes available which can meet your driving range requirements.
There are price variations to consider, however. Some companies, such as Hyundai with its Ioniq, offer a model across the range of ‘mild’ hybrid, to plug-in, to full EV. This gives a good indication of pricing, with the hybrid version costly just under £21,000, the plug-in hybrid and the pure electric just under £25,000, both including the appropriate plug-in car grant.
These prices are of course for new cars, but more and more hybrids and EVs are coming onto the second hand market. We will be covering this in a forthcoming blog.
Equally, as you move from hybrid, through plug-in hybrid and to electric, vehicle fuel costs become cheaper, as long as you always plug your PHEV in, due to using less fossil fuel and more electricity in everyday driving.
An overarching point worth making is that whatever technology you choose you can affect its efficiency by the way you drive.
If you drive a pure EV at high speeds, you’ll reduce its range considerably; if you press your foot to the floor at traffic lights in a hybrid, you’re unlikely to achieve great fuel economy. And if you don’t charge a plug-in hybrid, you’re clearly not going to realise the potential of the vehicle’s electric-only driving capability.
A modern diesel car driven smartly and used for the right type of driving, such as long motorway journeys, can still be a convenient and cost effective choice, without contributing extensively to urban air pollution. A reminder that behaviour often matters as much as personal investment in innovation, on the roads as well as at home.