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What is a Hybrid Car?
Want to enjoy the longstanding benefits of a fossil fuel-powered car and the eco-friendly credentials of an EV? This guide spotlights hybrid cars and their ever-growing presence on British roads. We’ll cover everything you need to know about hybrid vehicles, including the different types of hybrid technologies available and some of the most popular models currently sold in the UK.
A short definition of hybrid cars
Before we get started, let’s take a moment to define exactly what a hybrid car is. As the name suggests, hybrid vehicles use two different power sources to propel the car – an internal combustion engine and an electric motor.
Depending on driving conditions, the two power sources can work together or independently. The goal is to improve fuel efficiency, reduce emissions and offer motorists more flexibility when it comes to range.
Here’s a closer look at what we’ll cover in this article:
Types of hybrid
Hybrid is an umbrella term for a new generation of vehicles that combines dual power sources – a combustion engine and an electric motor.
What is a plug-in hybrid?
A popular type of hybrid and closest to electric cars are the Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs).
- Powered by a combustion engine and an electric motor
- Equipped with a large battery pack that can be recharged on the go or using an electrical outlet
- Can operate in all-electric mode for shorter trips
- Switches to combustion engine when electric battery is depleted
- Typical range of around 40 miles
How does a plug-in hybrid work?
Plug-in hybrids set a new standard when it comes to flexibility. As well as a traditional combustion engine, PHEVs feature large battery packs. Like standard hybrid vehicles, PHEV batteries generate charge while braking and as the internal combustion engine runs. They can also be plugged into electrical outlets for a complete recharge.
If the car is used only for short trips, drivers can rely mostly on the electric motor. However, the addition of the combustion engine offers peace of mind that the wheels will keep turning even when the battery is depleted. This flexibility makes plug-in hybrids a great option for both short and long-distance trips.
What is a mild hybrid?
Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicles (MHEVs) are the least common type of hybrid vehicle in the UK. While not as popular as HEVs and PHEVs, they come with unique benefits.
- Feature both a combustion engine and an electric motor
- Electric motor and battery are significantly smaller than HEVs and PHEVs
- Don’t operate in all-electric mode
- The electric motor assists the combustion engine
How does a mild hybrid work?
The ‘mild’ prefix sets MHEVs apart from other hybrid technologies like HEVs and PHEVs. While mild hybrids still feature a dual power source, the electric motor and battery are significantly smaller. Instead of powering the car, the electric motor works alongside the combustion engine. The goal is to improve fuel efficiency and boost power when accelerating.
MHEVs don’t generally offer an all-electric mode as the motor isn’t powerful enough to propel the car independently. Mild hybrids don’t need to be plugged in. Instead, the small battery is recharged with energy generated by the combustion engine while braking.
What is a full hybrid?
Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) are the most popular type of hybrid cars seen on British roads.
- They feature a full-sized internal combustion engine as well as a powerful electric motor
- Sit between PHEZs and MHEVs powering the car at low speeds
- No need to charge separately
How does a full hybrid work?
HEVs sit somewhere between PHEVs and MHEVs. The electric motor is a decent size and large enough to propel the car independently at low speeds. However, it’s not powerful enough to bring the car up to full speed or deliver power for more than a few miles.
Instead, the main role of the electric motor is to assist the combustion engine. The benefits kick in when accelerating or driving at low speeds. Full hybrids don’t need to be plugged in to recharge the battery. They use regenerative braking and power generated by the internal combustion engine (ICE) to recharge the battery.
Do hybrid cars need to be charged?
Most hybrid cars, including full hybrids and mild hybrids, don’t need to be charged via a socket. Batteries are relatively small and topped up via regenerative braking and using power generated by the combustion engine.
Plug-in hybrids are an exception. As the name suggests, these vehicles can be plugged into an electric power source to recharge the battery. Here are a few key points to know about charging PHEVs:
- Plug-in hybrids in the UK can be charged using a standard electrical outlet, also known as a "Type 2" or "Mode 3" charging cable
- PHEVs can also be charged using dedicated at-home charging points called Electric Vehicle Service Equipment (EVSE), as well as public charging stations
What is the range of a hybrid car?
The range of hybrid cars varies depending on the type of technology used and the specific make and model of the vehicle. Here’s an overview of how PHEVs, HEVs and MHEVs shape up.
Plug-in hybrid range
PHEVs have the largest battery packs of all the hybrid car types. The all-electric range varies between models though it typically falls between 20 and 40 miles on a single charge.
Full hybrid range
HEVs are equipped with an electric engine however it isn’t powerful enough to propel the car for more than a few miles at low speed. HEV manufacturers don’t generally advertise a guaranteed all-electric range as the motor isn’t designed to run independently. Instead, it delivers short bursts of electric power to the combustion engine to improve fuel efficiency.
Mild hybrid range
Like HEVs, the small motors of MHEVs aren’t designed to run independently. Their all-electric range is negligible.
The benefits of hybrid cars
- Can be charged using a standard electrical outlet
- Offer impressive all-electric range
- Reduce fuel consumption and emissions when running combustion engine
- The electric motor is self-charging
- Improves fuel efficiency
- Reduces emissions
- Boosts torque and acceleration
- Can improve fuel efficiency and increase MPG
- A great choice for eco-conscious motorists
The disadvantages of hybrid cars
- Lower all-electric range than all-electric vehicles
- No all-electric range
- No all-electric range
Are hybrid or electric cars better for me?
Whether you prefer a hybrid or electric car will ultimately depend on your personal preferences, as well as your driving style and habits. Each has pros and cons which will vary depending on the driver.
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