Hybrid cars combine electric power and an internal combustion engine to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy.
Electric cars are powered solely by an electric motor and battery, meaning they have zero emissions when driven.
Both types of cars have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to consider your needs and budget when choosing the best option for you.
In the UK, hybrid cars are generally more popular than electric cars due to their lower upfront costs and concerns over charging infrastructure.
However, electric cars can provide significant long-term savings on fuel costs and maintenance, making them ideal for those with charger access.
This article covers everything you need to know about hybrid and electric cars.
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The difference between hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars
A hybrid vehicle has a small battery and an electric motor to increase efficiency. It primarily runs on petrol or diesel, but can offer up to a mile or so of pure electric range in the city.
Plug-in hybrids go a step further by using a larger battery that has up to 50 miles of electric range. This battery can be recharged with a home charge point or a public charging network.
Electric cars or Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are powered solely by a battery pack and must be plugged in for recharging when the battery is low.
When it comes to deciding whether to purchase a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric car, the decision depends on individual circumstances.
If you are looking for an alternative to a petrol or diesel car, a hybrid could be a great option, particularly if you frequently take short trips and commute in urban areas.
A plug-in hybrid is a fantastic middle ground between a hybrid and a completely electric car, while electric cars are best for those with regular access to chargers, although you can easily live with an electric car without a driveway.
What is a hybrid?
Hybrids include a few different technologies, including mild hybrid (MHEV), self-charging hybrid (HEV), and plug-in hybrid (PHEV).
Mild hybrid vehicles
A mild hybrid is a vehicle that uses a small electric motor or an integrated starter motor with a small battery to assist with acceleration and idle stop-start functionality.
Unlike a self-charging or plug-in hybrid, a mild hybrid does not have the ability to power the vehicle solely on electric power.
Instead, it is designed to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy when used in conjunction with an internal combustion engine.
Mild hybrids are becoming increasingly popular as they are cheaper and simpler than full hybrids and can provide a boost in fuel economy.
The downside to mild hybrids is they do not offer electric propulsion and the fuel savings are relatively insignificant (you usually see a 3-5mpg improvement versus cars without it).
Mild hybrids drive like conventional cars with very little indication they have a battery. The integrated starter motor (or small electric motor) starts the engine crisply and helps to fill in power gaps, making the car feel more responsive.
Mild hybrid technology provides a boost in power when needed, but it is not capable of independently powering the vehicle.
Self-charging hybrid vehicles
A self-charging hybrid is a type of hybrid car that uses a combination of electric power and an internal combustion engine to recharge its battery while in motion.
The electric power is generated from the engine and from braking energy, which is then stored in the battery and used to power the car.
Related: Electric car pros and cons.
This type of hybrid car does not need to be plugged in to recharge and is therefore more convenient for drivers who don’t have access to charging points.
The advantage of a self-charging hybrid over a mild hybrid is it has a larger battery than can usually start and propel the vehicle on full electric power at low speeds.
The downside to self-charging hybrids is the limited electric range they offer when compared to plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles.
Self-charging hybrids have a larger electric motor than MHEVs, meaning they develop more power and torque. They usually have an EV mode for all-electric driving, but maximum power and torque is provided in hybrid mode.
Hybrids don’t require any alterations to driving habits, and the batteries are much smaller and weigh less than electric car batteries, resulting in lower manufacturing and purchase costs.
Plug-in hybrid vehicles
A plug-in hybrid is a type of hybrid car that can be recharged from an external power source, such as a wall outlet or charging station.
PHEVs have an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, and can switch between the two sources of power depending on the situation.
Plug-in hybrid cars offer the benefit of reduced emissions and improved fuel economy, as well as the convenience of being able to charge the car away from home.
The advantage of a PHEV over a self-charging hybrid is it can travel much further on pure electric power, typically between 25 and 40 miles.
The downside to PHEVs is they have higher fuel consumption than standard petrol/diesel vehicles when they run out of battery. This is because they are carting around more weight, which makes the engine work harder.
Plug-in hybrids offer electric driving with a relatively modest power output due to the small electric motor. Full power and torque is supplied in hybrid mode, although that gets cut relative to the electric motor output if you run out of charge.
The PHEV’s primary benefit for drivers is the combination of low-cost and eco-friendly electric energy, without needing to entirely depend on the UK’s emerging charging infrastructure,
What is an electric car?
An electric car is a vehicle that is powered solely by an electric motor and battery.
Unlike a hybrid or plug-in hybrid car, an electric car does not have an internal combustion engine and therefore produces no emissions when driven.
An electric car works by using the electric motor to power the wheels, while the battery stores energy that is generated by regenerative braking and other sources.
The advantage electric cars have over hybrids is they have zero emissions and do not require any trips to a fuel station.
Electric cars also offer full electric performance, whereas PHEVs have limited electric performance due to their smaller electric motors.
The downside to electric cars is they cost more than other types of vehicle, with electric equivalents usually costing 10-20% more.
Electric cars have no gears to slog through and deliver maximum power and torque at any speed, although sport and performance drive modes will affect range. If you’re looking for a smooth driving experience, EVs are the winner.
MHEV, HEV, PHEV, and EV – which is best?
The type of vehicle that is best for you will depend on your needs and budget.
MHEV and HEV cars are the most cost-effective, offering improved fuel economy and reduced emissions at a lower upfront cost.
PHEV and EV cars offer greater fuel savings and emissions reductions, but their higher upfront costs make them more suitable for those with a larger budget.
Ultimately, it is important to consider your needs and budget to decide which type of vehicle is the best option for you.
Hybrids (in any form) are a useful stop-gap if you are not ready to buy a fully electric car, especially plug-in hybrids due to their higher electric range.
However, if you have the budget, EVs have several advantages.
EVs are much more efficient than PHEVs in the long run, as they have fewer moving parts and require minimal maintenance. EVs also tend to be cheaper to operate than PHEVs, benefitting from zero petrol/diesel costs.