Choosing a new car always difficult, especially when technology has just taken a huge leap forward. One hundred years ago, people sat about asking, “Is it about time we upgraded this horse to a car?”
And now it’s our time as we sit about and wonder if it’s time to switch from a tried-and-tested car fuel like petrol or diesel car to a fancy hybrid.
Well, while most people are agreed that hybrid and all-electric technologies are the future, it’s not so clear whether you should make the switch now or hold off until the technology matures a bit more.
In this article, I’m going to talk through several things you should think about if you’re considering making the move to hybrid cars. Let's get started.
What is a Hybrid Car?
Up first, a quick refresher on what a hybrid car actually is.
A hybrid car uses both a petrol engine and an electric motor to power a vehicle. Using two power sources allows you to drive the car more efficiently and maximise fuel efficiency.
Usually, the car will run on just the electric motor at low speed then activate the petrol engine when you need more power or when the batteries get low.
Technically, there’s another form of hybrid: the range extender.
With range extender hybrids, the petrol engine is used solely to charge the batteries and the electric motor drives the wheels. This gives you extra range compared to a fully electric car that rolls to a stop as soon as the batteries are drained.
What is a Plug-in Hybrid?
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) operate slightly differently. Instead of relying on just the petrol engine to charge the batteries, you can also plug a PHEV directly into the mains to charge the batteries.
PHEVs are one step closer to fully electric cars and can usually be driven solely on the electric motor for much longer distances compared to normal hybrids.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the best selling PHEV in the UK, taking the lion’s share of the market. However, this looks to be changing as more and more manufacturers enter the segment.
Hybrid Car Advantages
#1 — Improved Fuel Efficiency
The headline advantage of hybrids is fuel efficiency. By using the electric motor wherever possible, you’re minimising the amount of work your petrol engine is doing, which improves fuel efficiency.
In urban driving conditions, you’ll often find that hybrids only use the electric motor and save their petrol engine for faster roads.
#2 — Reduced Emissions
This point follows on from the fuel efficiency advantage. Since you’re burning less fuel, there's less of the nasty stuff coming out your exhaust pipe. Here’s a quick comparison of the Mitsibushi PHEV and a standard diesel variant.
- Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: 44 g of CO2 per km
- Mitsubishi Outlander Diesel: 153 g of CO2 per km
As you can see, the PHEV produces 71% less CO2 than the equivalent diesel. However, like all efficiency tests, it’s important to remember that these were obtained under ideal driving circumstances and that real world performance will vary.
(If you’re interested, I was comparing the Mitsubishi Outlander 2.0 PHEV GX3h 5d Auto and the Mitsubishi Outlander 2.2 DI-D GX3 5d Auto.)
#3 — Low Emission Zones
Low emission zones are popping up all over the country, targeting high pollution vehicles. London’s new Ultra Low Emission Zone, for example, sets a minimum emission standard for all vehicles.
If your car doesn’t meet the minimum standard, you have to pay hefty daily charges.
In London, the standards are:
- Euro 3: Motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles
- Euro 4: Petrol cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles
- Euro 6: Diesel cars, vans and minibuses and other specialist vehicles
- Euro VI: Lorries, buses and coaches and other specialist heavy vehicles
Again, since these standards are based on emissions, hybrid cars are much more likely to meet the standard and not attract extra charges.
Hybrid Car Disadvantages
#1 — Performance
Hybrid cars are not designed for speed, they’re designed to eek out every last mile from every litre of petrol.
While performance will improve over time, manufacturers are still trying to work out how to build a hybrid car that feels punchy without wasting too much fuel.
#2 — Price
Since hybrids use a petrol engine and an electric motor, they are way more complicated than the equivalent petrol or diesel car. And that pushes the price up.
Check out the price of a pretty fancy Volkswagen Golf compared to the hybrid version.
- Volkswagen Golf 1.4 GTE Advance: £345.88 per month
- Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TSI GTI Performance: £271.52 per month
Depending on where and how often you drive, you may make this back in fuel and low emission zone savings but this isn’t guaranteed.
#3 — Weight and Handling
Hybrid cars are almost always heavier than their petrol equivalent. That’s because hybrids needs batteries to operate and batteries are super heavy.
Again, let’s look at the Mitsubishi Outlander.
The normal diesel version weighs around 1,610 kg and the PHEV version adds 200 kg of extra kit, taking the total kerb weight to 1,810 kg.
With cars like the Outlander — cars that were designed to have petrol or diesel engines — adding in 200 kg of batteries can ruin the handling.
#4 — Infrastructure
One of the biggest hurdles to PHEVs is the lack of infrastructure. Unless you stay in a house, it can be difficult to have a charging socket installed somewhere accessible. And without a charging socket, you have to rely on public charging services, which aren’t exactly plentiful.
This will almost certainly change in the future but it's a bit of a 'chicken and egg' situation where the providers need the demand to justify the investment infrastructure and motorists need the infrastructure to justify their car purchase.
Should I buy a hybrid car?
So, we come back to the central question: Should I buy a hybrid car?
Unfortunately, I don't have a definitive answer.
If you want to cut your emissions or save some cash at the petrol pump, a hybrid could be an excellent option.
However, don’t buy a Toyota Prius expecting to take it to the Nürburgring as it will disappoint you!