Is a Hybrid Car Right For Me? by James Baggott, Author, Car Dealer Magazine
There are good reasons to switch from a petrol or diesel car, such as concerns over environmental impact, tax benefits for low emissions vehicles or simply to save money at the pumps.
As full-electric cars aren’t suitable for every driver, a hybrid car that merges combustion technology with electrification may be the answer.
Types of hybrid
Mild hybrids use small electric motors and battery packs exclusively to aid the engine, and never drive the wheels directly.
Traditional or parallel hybrids, popularised by the Toyota Prius in the late 90s, use a larger battery pack and electric motor and are capable of a few miles on electric power alone, with the engine cutting in over a certain speed or throttle load. All electric power is gained from brake regeneration and engine power.
Plug-in hybrids can be plugged in to a socket, have bigger battery packs and electric motors, and can usually travel at least 20 miles without using the combustion engine.
Increasingly rare are range-extending electric vehicles – essentially electric cars with a combustion engine that acts as a generator.
What’s your mileage?
High-mileage users still benefit from a diesel over a hybrid in most situations. On a motorway cruise, a hybrid car reverts to being a petrol vehicle – but with the extra weight of a battery and electric motor.
This is especially true of plug-in hybrids, which only have excellent fuel economy figures when the battery is charged.
However, a high-mileage driver would see the cost benefits of a hybrid compared to a standard petrol car.
Where do you drive?
The benefits of a hybrid system are most keenly felt around town, with the engine cutting in only when necessary.
The electric motor’s instant torque means hybrids accelerate quickly from standing, and if driven gently most will remain a full EV at city-centre speeds.
On faster roads, however, the CVT gearbox used in most mainstream hybrid cars doesn’t respond well.
Where do you live?
Being able to charge a plug-in hybrid or range-extending electric car at home is critical, as they benefit most from regular charging. Ranges of around 30 miles on battery power provide a cost-saving regular commute.
Worried about the environment?
There are a few environmental concerns surrounding hybrid vehicles – for example, battery manufacture contributes significantly to the hybrid’s environmental footprint.
The hybrid wins, however, when it comes to local emissions and air pollution. The ability to run on electricity alone at low speeds helps with particulate emissions.
Are hybrid cars reliable?
Hybrids have proven longevity and if looked after, a hybrid’s battery pack will last the vehicle’s lifetime. Regenerative braking reduces brake and tyre wear, aiding maintenance costs.
How much do you have to spend?
Adding electric motors and batteries means hybrids command a price premium so carefully consider the cost benefits and whether your mileage will be sufficient to make the most of it.