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.
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.
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.
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.
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.