Hybrid technology has been around since the 1990s, but you’re not alone if you’ve not driven one. For most people, the term hybrid is wrapped in mystery and that’s because other than Toyota with its Prius models, hybrids hadn’t made much of an impact until very recently. But everyone’s shouting about them now, and it seems every manufacturer is offering an ever-expanding line-up of hybrids for sale.
There are significant benefits to choosing a hybrid as your next new car and momentum is building, but just because they’re the flavour of the month doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re right for you. On a website like parkers.co.uk, you can find out all about hybrids, what benefits there are for drivers, and how they compare with diesel-powered alternatives.
How do hybrid cars work?
If you’re looking for the low CO2 emissions found in electric cars but don’t want to be restricted on how many miles you can travel, hybrid technology offers the best of both worlds. Hybrid cars combine an electric motor with a combustion engine. Conventional hybrid cars, like the Prius, use the electric motor to supplement the engine for improved acceleration, while regenerative braking helps charge the batteries. Although offering lower running costs and emissions than most diesels, conventional hybrids can only be driven for a short amount of time on electric power alone.
What’s a plug-in hybrid?
Plug-in hybrids are a little different. They have a larger battery pack that can be charged at the mains and have an indicated range where the car can be driven on electric power alone. This distance is significantly longer than the conventional hybrids, up to 40 miles or so for the best models. Examples of plug-in hybrids include the Volkswagen Golf GTE and Mercedes-Benz A-Class PHEVv.
How much do hybrid cars cost to buy?
A hybrid is almost always going to cost more than a comparable diesel – some as much as 20% more – so you’ll need to travel a lot of miles and run your hybrid for a number of years to recoup the extra cost. To help combat the higher purchase price the government is currently offering up to 35 percent or a maximum of £3,000 off certain hybrid cars.
What’s the VED car tax on hybrid cars?
Hybrids offer both lower tax and running cost improvements. Legislation is only going to get tighter, and increasingly favour low-emissions vehicles. Only cars that emit zero emissions (electric cars) are tax-free. If you live in London, some hybrid cars will qualify to be exempt from the congestion charge. The congestion charge currently costs £15.00 per day, and the ULEZ – Ultra Low Emission Zone – and requires drivers of cars not meeting the emissions standards to pay an additional £12.50 per day.
There’s also the fuel savings – which could cost you pennies if you only use battery power. One of the perks to driving on electric power is that there’s instant reaction when you push the accelerator from rest. There’s also very little noise, making the experience far more refined.
Hybrid cars – the pros
- Minimal tax bills
- Most are congestion charge free
- No fuel costs if driven on electric power
Hybrid cars – the cons
- Expensive price tag
- Charging times
- Limited electric range
Could I get a diesel car instead of a hybrid?
Today’s diesel engines are refined and economical. One of the big draws to diesel engines is the fuel economy they offer and although not as impressive as hybrid on paper, if you’re planning on driving mainly long motorway journeys, diesel will in most cases be the more economical choice.
In comparison to hybrids, diesels are almost always the cheaper choice to buy too – but there’s fuel to consider and higher tax bills to factor into your costs. It’s also commonly accepted that diesel cars aren’t normally as quiet to drive as petrol or hybrid cars.
Diesel cars – the pros
- Cheaper to buy than hybrids
- Known residual values
- Refuelling takes minutes instead of hours recharging batteries
Diesel cars – the cons
- Fuel costs
- Higher tax bills
- May not be as nice to drive
What’s the takeaway?
Hybrids are at their best when being driven in urban settings. Plug-ins especially suit city life as they have a lot more capability to be driven solely on electric power. When the speed climbs above a certain level or the battery begins to run out of energy, the car automatically switches to the conventional engine to power the wheels and charge the batteries.
It’s important to make sure a hybrid fits into your lifestyle. If most of your journeys are on the motorway, it’s unlikely you’ll see the cost advantages mentioned above. If you buy a plug-in, remember that you’ll need to allow a fair few hours for charging each day if you’re planning on making the most of the battery power.