What to look for when buying a hybrid
Just a decade ago, the petrol-diesel sales split was roughly equal in the UK and it was fairly easy to choose between them. But things are changing, and fast. Since then, an increasing number of electric options have appeared. In 2018, diesel sales dropped to just under a third and 146,000 alternative fuel vehicles (59% of which were hybrids) made up a significant 5% of the market.*
There are many flavours of hybrid, with differing ways electric propulsion complements the traditional internal combustion engine. Hybrid capabilities vary considerably too, from very modest boosts to a vehicle’s power to delivering respectable ranges on electric energy alone. Some vehicles are almost completely electric and use the smallest of engines as ‘range extenders’ to charge the battery when running low (rather than driving the wheels directly).
Different types of hybrid car will suit personal circumstances and individual driving patterns so let’s have a look at the main types and consider which might be best for you.
Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicles (MHEVs)
The mild hybrid is designed to enhance the petrol or diesel engine, often allowing small amounts of battery-only propulsion but not with any great range. Batteries are charged from the engine and regenerative braking. The electric power delivery works seamlessly with the main engine and the car’s computer manages the delivery split.
- They can improve fuel consumption.
- Electric motors generate good levels of torque - advantageous for heavier vehicles.
- It’s all done automatically via the car’s computer.
Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)
Regular hybrids offer more EV-only ability and give the driver a little more choice when it comes to using electric power alone. They can be left to manage the optimal energy source automatically but will often have a mode to conserve electricity. This then allows you to switch to electric power alone for a limited range, in order to minimise emissions in built-up areas for example. Like MHEVs, they use the engine and regenerative braking to charge while on the move.
- Hybrids make more use of EV-only, particularly on lower speed, stop-start journeys such as in town or on the commute.
- The driver has more control over the power delivery modes.
- They don’t need plugging-in so if you can take advantage even without a place to charge them.
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)
Those hybrids which provide the greatest electric-only ranges are the PHEVs, which use mains electricity to charge their batteries. They are designed to run on electric-only mode until the batteries are low to minimise use of petrol or diesel. They do require somewhere to charge the vehicle and depending on the type of charger, can take a little while to charge fully. The good news is that an increasing number of public chargers are becoming available, many of which are fast chargers.
- Offer the best ranges of the hybrids so can be driven EV-only much of the time.
- Often able to use electric power even at motorway speeds
Are there any disadvantages to hybrids?
Any vehicle with an internal combustion engine and motor(s) and batteries generally weighs more than one with a single mode of propulsion. However, manufacturers tend to beef-up the suspension on hybrids a little to compensate.
HEVs and MHEVs also tend to benefit drivers doing more stop-start driving; for high mileage motorway journeys, the fuel consumption difference over a regular petrol or diesel vehicle can be less significant.
Are there any other considerations when choosing a hybrid?
Yes, you’ll find they use automatic gearboxes for a start, which makes them easy and relaxing to drive.
Different hybrid manufacturers also provide electric propulsion in different ways. Some deliver the power in parallel with the engine via the car’s regular gearbox to the same set of driven wheels. Others drive the front wheels with a petrol or diesel engine and the rear wheels with two electric motors. This can allow all the wheels to be driven when needed for extra traction so offers genuine all-wheel-drive ability for short bursts.
*Includes commercial vehicles. Source: Department for Transport’s Vehicle Licensing Statistics 2018