Going hybrid

The petrol and diesel cars with electric appeal

Buying a new car used to be a straightforward choice between a petrol or diesel engine. While these two still remain the default options, soaring fuel prices and environmental concerns have increased the availability of other options – including the hybrid car.

First introduced to mainstream motoring over 10 years ago, hybrids are now appealing to a wider audience – the cars' mileages are increasing, and new releases often boast luxurious interiors with the latest gadgets.

Considering going hybrid? Take a look at our quick guide below.

What’s a hybrid car?

Hybrid cars have two power sources – a conventional petrol or diesel combustion engine combined with an electric motor.

They don’t need as much fuel to run, as they’re partly powered by the electric motor – and the batteries can be charged in part by absorbing and recovering energy that would otherwise be lost when you brake.

How does it work?

Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive technology

There are several types of hybrid cars available, that work in slightly different ways – depending on whether the power sources drive the car separately and independently, or work together.

  • Series hybrids: the electric motor powers the car, with the combustion engine used only to recharge the battery pack. For longer trips – beyond 50 miles or so – the combustion engine kicks in to power the car instead
  • Parallel hybrids: these hybrids can be powered by the electric motor or combustion alone – or they can work in tandem, depending on speed and load
  • Mild and full hybrids: these terms indicate the extent of the electric motor’s role – from providing booster support to the combustion engine only, to being able to propel the car at full speed by itself
  • Plug-in hybrids: these hybrids can be plugged in and recharged at an external source, as well as being charged on the move by the combustion engine

What are the advantages of going hybrid?

Hybrid cars come into their own in stop-and-go city driving – they use no fuel when stationary, and produce zero emissions when running in pure electric mode.

However, when cruising at higher speeds – on a motorway, for example – fuel economy is likely to be similar to the equivalent petrol or diesel car.

Citroen Hybrid

Advantages:

  • Fuel efficiency: hybrid cars use less fuel than conventional, non-hybrid cars
  • They emit less CO2: although urban use is decidedly greener than motorway driving
  • Low running costs: drivers of hybrids cars enjoy lower rates of vehicle and company car tax – and some hybrids are exempt from London’s congestion charge
  • Good overall practicality: hybrid cars are easy to drive – and you don't need to adjust your driving habits

Disadvantages:

  • Weight: hybrid cars have to house an electric motor and battery pack – which makes them heavier, and reduces interior space
  • Purchase price: build costs for hybrids are high, and the technology is still relatively new – meaning that on-the-road prices are higher than conventional cars
  • Fuel economy lessens on motorway driving: reduced CO2 emissions and fuel efficiency are not as marked over continuous high-speed driving

(22 November 2013)