If you’re new to it, then the world of electric and hybrid cars can be a little confusing. With a slew of different electrified options to choose from, each with its own benefits and drawbacks to weigh up, these cars are bound to confuse the unfamiliar.

More and more motorists are making the move away from traditional fuel types, but some are hesitant to go ‘fully electric’ quite yet – which makes the hybrid an attractive proposition. However, even within the world of hybrid cars, there are a few different engine types with distinct features that need considering.

Below, we’ll guide you through the different types of hybrid cars, how they’re different from each other, and their pros and cons to help you decide which you could be driving in the near future.

What is a hybrid car?

A hybrid car is one that uses two different energy sources to maximise efficiency. They do this by combining electrical energy stored in batteries, with combustion energy provided by petrol or diesel fuel. However, these systems can differ from type to type.

Some only use the combustion engine as a generator. In such cars, which are known as range-extender or series hybrids, the wheels are driven exclusively by electric motors; the internal combustion engine does not factor into the vehicle’s direct drive.

Other varieties have electric motors which work in tandem with an internal combustion engine. Further still, there are also hybrids that alternate between the two.

You’re probably familiar with the Toyota Prius in some form. The first mass-produced hybrid, it’s an innovation that has made serious in-roads into the sphere of environmentally friendly vehicles, ever since it was released in 1997. And for the most part, its central technology has remained relatively unchanged across other manufacturers, aside from a few tweaks to improve efficiency and performance.

What is a full hybrid car (FHEV)?

Also known as a parallel hybrid, full hybrids use both a combustion engine and an electric motor to drive, either at the same time or independently.

Although they’re the most common type of hybrid vehicle, their battery size means they only hold small amounts of electric charge. This means they can only drive for short distances, typically up to a mile, on electric power alone. And while this is handy for shorter urban journeys, it’s only going to get you so far.

When the combustion engine kicks in, however, full hybrids have enough power to go the distance, with the same total driving range as regular petrol or diesel vehicles. And for the motorist who’s used to putting plenty of miles on the clock, this makes full hybrids the best option for long-distance drivers.

Full hybrid cars also make use of regenerative braking to improve efficiency. Whereas a petrol or diesel car’s kinetic energy would be wasted when slowing down, regenerative braking converts a hybrid’s kinetic energy into electricity, storing it in the battery. This makes them especially fuel efficient in urban driving situations.

What are the pros of full hybrid cars?

  • If you find yourself in stop-start traffic often, then a full hybrid’s electric-only mode is perfect, allowing you to slowly move through congested areas without harming the environment
  • It’s business as usual: you fill it up with petrol or diesel just like you would a conventional car, with no need to charge overnight
  • The electric motor also helps with acceleration, so you get more miles out of every gallon of fuel
  • Generally, full hybrids are less expensive than plug-ins or electric vehicles. And since they’ve been on the market for longer, there are plenty of different models to choose from too
  • Even if the batteries are completely flat, there’s no need to worry about running out of power on long journeys

What are the cons of full hybrid cars?

  • An important note: the electricity used in full hybrids is mainly generated by burning fuel in the engine. This means that driving in electric-only mode is less efficient than when the car combines the combustion engine with electric power
  • If you tend to speed when driving, then the engine will have to work harder, so you can expect to say goodbye to the improved mile per gallon ratio we mentioned above
  • Compared to your typical petrol or diesel vehicles, full hybrids can be expensive

What are the most popular full hybrid cars?

The range of full hybrid cars is steadily growing, with most brands offering a good choice of full hybrids. However, search for some of the best hybrids and you’ll see some of the same names pop up.

The Honda Civic e:HEV brings together full hybrid performance with self-charging power and classic design. In its 11th generation, the new Civic offers three modes including EV drive mode, hybrid drive mode and engine drive, complete with regenerative braking. What’s more, it can drive up to 521 miles and achieve CO2 emissions as low as 89g/km. An ideal family car with spacious cabin, the electric Honda Civic is a strong choice if you’re looking for a full hybrid.

The Kia Niro is a hero compact SUV, offering a roomy and refined interior that’s also nice to drive. Here you have the chance to take advantage of Kia’s great value along with impactful design and an intuitive driving experience. There’s a reason Kia models are so popular, with the Niro now available in full hybrid as well as plug-in and full electric, the choice is all yours.

The Hyundai Tucson has a progressive design and offers highly evolved features. It’s a great family SUV, driving with finesse and offering ample comfort for longer trips. What’s more, you get a generous amount of standard kit included with premium levels of comfort from the base model.

Who are full hybrid cars best for?

Full hybrids make a lot of sense for those doing lower mileage, or urban drivers. Having a full hybrid means you can save on fuel without having to go full electric – or worrying about plugging it in to recharge. In this way, you get the best of both worlds to an eco-friendlier way of driving, with familiarity behind the wheel. As it charges through running the engine and regenerative braking, you don’t have to change a thing about your driving habits or style.​

What is a mild hybrid car (MHEV)? 

Like full hybrids, mild hybrids use an electric motor alongside a combustion engine. But unlike full hybrids, they can’t run on electric power alone. Instead, their small electric motor is attached directly to an engine or transmission, which gives the car a boost when accelerating.

Like full hybrids, mild hybrids can make use of regenerative braking, using kinetic energy to allow for smoother performance when coasting, decelerating and making repeated stop-starts.

What are the pros of mild hybrid cars?

  • Mild hybrids are the cheapest hybrid option available to owners
  • Like full hybrids, you can expect improved fuel economy and lower emissions compared to non-hybrid vehicles
  • They’re proving to be a popular means of breathing more life into standard petrol and diesel engines, which is certainly an advantage in the face of stricter emission standards
  • In terms of the driving experience, mild hybrids drive no differently to non-hybrid cars, which is good news for those motorists who enjoy the feel of traditional cars

What are the cons of mild hybrid cars?

  • A mild hybrid can improve an engine’s efficiency when accelerating, but not so much in other areas. If it’s lower running costs you’re after, then another hybrid option might suit you more
  • Compared to full hybrids, the choice of mild hybrid cars is currently a little limited
  • Like full hybrids, they tend to be more expensive than non-hybrid cars
  • Since they’re the least electrified of hybrid options, mild hybrids have the smallest impact on a car’s emissions.

What are the most popular mild hybrid cars?

Mild hybrids are an interesting first foray into the world of alternative power, and there’s some great choices out there. Two of the most popular models that regularly rear their heads include the Kia Sportage and the Nissan Qashqai.

The Kia Sportage is a competent all-rounder, and winner of What Car’s Best Family SUV 2023. You’ve no doubt seen plenty of these on the road, and for good reason. They may not be the most exciting of models but it caters effortlessly for all, while delivering incredibly good value.

The car that kicked off the crossover SUV trend, the Nissan Qashqai is a sleek and fresh-looking model that offers a practical drive. Providing the ultimate mild hybrid experience, the Qashqai is available in 2 or 4 wheel drive. The original model was first introduced in 2007, and now in its third generation it is a bold and sophisticated.

Who are mild hybrid cars best for?

A mild hybrid offers a small but worthwhile step towards going electric, for those who aren’t quite ready to jump in with both feet just yet. It’s great for those who want to retain that familiarity and simplicity, but it is important to remember that there’s no EV range with a mild hybrid, so you’ll still be relying purely on fuel.

However, a mild hybrid can offer the reduction in emissions and increase in fuel economy that many drivers are starting to look more towards, resulting in a more efficient drive every time.

What is a plug-in hybrid car (PHEV)?

A plug-in hybrid is like a full hybrid evolved. With a bigger battery than their full hybrid counterparts, plug-in hybrid cars can travel much further on electric power alone – between 15 and 50 miles depending on the model.

And perhaps the plug-in hybrid’s biggest difference is that it can be charged from an external power source. What’s more, depending on the distances you drive, you may be able to eliminate the need to visit the petrol station entirely. By rarely exceeding their car’s electric-only range (which is generally around 30 miles), drivers could theoretically rely on a fully charged battery to get around.

But if not, a plug-in hybrid’s combustion engine will do the heavy lifting should its battery run out of juice while on the road. That means there’s no need to fret over “range anxiety”, something that full electric drivers can sometimes experience.

What are the pros of plug-in hybrid cars?

  • Can potentially offer zero-emission performance when kept fully charged, which in turn keeps fuel bills low
  • Plug-in hybrids’ high fuel economy figures and low official emissions figures provide low company car-tax rates
  • As emissions regulations become stricter, more and more manufacturers are introducing plug-in hybrids to their line-ups, offering greater choice than a few years ago

What are the cons of plug-in hybrid cars?

  • Due to their bigger, heavier batteries, plug-in hybrids can make building speed feel sluggish, and you’ll feel the added weight going around corners too
  • If you’re in the habit of driving further than 30 miles on a regular basis, then the added weight will also result in worse fuel economy, even compared to non-hybrid cars

What are the most popular plug-in hybrid cars?

There’s a growing rang of plug-in hybrids that are quickly becoming more popular, whether you’re looking for something at the higher end or just need an everyday run-around. Here are just a couple of the most popular plug-in hybrid cars that are worth a look at.

The Hyundai Santa Fe is one of the few plug-in hybrids that can carry 7 people, making it the ultimate plug-in family car. Its rugged appearance and smart interior is the perfect match for its efficiency and power, and it can run for 36 miles before it needs to switch to burning fuel. This model offers incredible value for money too, with a lot of equipment included as standard.

The Volvo XC60 Recharge is a classy vehicle, one that’s great for driving to and from social occasions. Its electric range sits at 47 miles before it needs to fall back on fuel, which is impressive for a mid-size SUV. Lane assist, speed limiter, fatigue detection and warning system is all included as standard, combining practicality with power.

Who are plug-in hybrid cars best for?

A plug-in hybrid car is an ideal choice if you’re not quite ready to go full electric just yet, but you want to understand a little more about how it all works. A plug-in gives you the ability to drive long distances with no need to stop for time-consuming charges, as the vehicle can fall back on its fuel reserves for the last of your journey.

Should I go hybrid or full electric?

Choosing whether to go hybrid or full electric can depend hugely on your circumstances and driving requirements, so it’s worth doing your homework! There are a number of pros to going full electric, like low running costs, savings on tax and of course helping the environment. However, some areas are still underserved when it comes to the public charging network, and there is typically a higher upfront cost for electric cars, which is something to bear in mind.

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