Hybrids & Plug-in Hybrid Cars (all you need to know)

By: Lisa Harper

Once the reserve of the eco-conscious or those looking to avoid the London congestion charge, hybrids and plug-in hybrids are now everywhere. With the government committed to banning the sale of diesel and petrol cars from 2040, the car industry is already taking note. With this trend set to continue find out all you need to know about hybrid technology and cars.

What is a Hybrid car?

A hybrid car combines a conventional combustion engine with an electric motor and a battery. A plug-in hybrid can be plugged in to charge the battery and usually has a longer battery only range.

Kia Optima plug in hybrid charging point
There are 3 types of hybrid engines:

Series Hybrids

Series hybrids use a conventional engine and a battery to provide energy to an electric motor which drives the wheels. Electrical monitoring systems determine how much of the power comes from the battery or the engine. Series hybrids cannot utilise the conventional engine or battery to directly drive the wheels. As a result series hybrids have small conventional engines and a fairly large powerful battery and perform best in start/stop conditions.

Parallel Hybrids

Parallel hybrids use the combustion engine and electric motor in tandem to generate the power that drives the wheels. Most parallel hybrids have a smaller battery than series hybrids. As the engine in parallel hybrids is connected directly to the wheels, they are more efficient than series parallels at constant speeds. Parallel hybrids can also utilise the motor as a generator to recharge when the power demands are low (like an alternator in conventional cars).

Series/ Parallel Hybrids

The most common hybrid cars currently on the market are series/parallel hybrids which combine the benefits of both series and parallel systems. The wheels can be directly powered by the conventional engine or via the battery-powered electric drive-train or both together. The power input of series/parallels hybrids will alter depending on conditions:

Travelling at low speeds - the charged high voltage battery powers the electric motor.
Accelerating - conventional engine & electric motor work together to improve acceleration & minimise fuel consumption.
Constant Speed – power is provided by the most efficient means possible (conventional engine, electric motor or both together).
Decelerating – regenerative braking systems store energy produced during braking in the battery.
Hyundai Ioniq hybrid side view

Regenerative Braking

Regenerative braking is the conversion of the vehicle’s kinetic energy from braking into chemical energy which can be stored in the cars battery. For some hybrids this is the main way of charging the battery however for many plug-in-hybrids (with a longer battery-only range) this is a supplementary charging system. Regenerative braking can reduce overall fuel consumption by around 20%.

Running Costs of a Hybrid?

Hybrids improve fuel economy by around 20-25% and reduce tailpipe emissions, which means you get lower car tax as well as lower fuel costs.

Hybrid cars registered from April 2017 are eligible for a £10 alternative fuel discount to the first year and then the standard rate in following years. Whilst cars that were registered between March 2001-2017 benefit even more as the tax is based on CO2 emissions.

For London dwellers there’s further good news as Hybrids with CO2 less than 75g/km are eligible for 100% discount of the London Congestion Charge.

Cost of Hybrids

Hybrids can cost up to 20% more than a conventional model. The extra cost of most hybrids reflects the complexity of the additional components.  There are still some government grants available to make buying a Hybrid more affordable and some manufacturers are offering generous deposit contributions too. The other thing to consider is that Hybrids currently offer reduced depreciation compared to conventional vehicles.

Driving a Hybrid Car

Driving a hybrid car is similar to driving a conventional car. The road handling and acceleration is broadly comparable. Most Hybrid cars are often similar in appearance to their ‘conventional engine’ counterpart too. The interior is where you will notice most of the difference, as the dashboard has additional information showing how the car is performing.

Hybrid plug-in dashboard display

Will a Hybrid Suit Your Lifestyle?

Hybrids and plug-in hybrids are a great option if you regularly travel on short journeys, but need the flexibility to travel on longer journeys from time to time.

If you only do a short commute daily from and to one place of work then an electric car might be a better option.

However, if you regularly need to travel long distances on motorways, then a conventional diesel is possibly still the best option.

Our favourite Hybrids

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