18.11.2021

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?

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 is a mild hybrid car? 

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 is a plug-in hybrid car?

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

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