Buy a hybrid car

What are hybrid cars? Would one suit your lifestyle? Take a gander at our helpful guide

May 21, 2018

What do Hollywood A-listers and Uber drivers have in common? That's right, their love of hybrids. Hollywood's elite love them for their green credentials, and Uber drivers love the low running costs, especially around London and its Congestion Charge.

The Toyota Prius is the archetypal hybrid vehicle, but other manufacturers have caught up too. The technology is particularly favoured by Toyota's luxury division, Lexus, and now Korean manufacturers Hyundai, and Kia both have hybrids too, as do the big German three of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes.

The latest plug-in hybrids, and pure electric cars, may be stealing some of the hybrids’ thunder, but there are still a lot of reasons to buy a traditional hybrid.

What is a hybrid?

A hybrid uses a small battery and an electric motor to augment a conventional petrol or diesel engine, which is particularly good for improving fuel economy around town. During acceleration, for example, the electric motor helps the engine power the wheels, meaning a smaller, more efficient petrol engine can be used to deliver the performance drivers expect.

A hybrid can also travel a small distance just using electric power, and can recapture energy created by the brakes to give the battery a boost.


Examples of hybrid cars

Toyota Prius

List price from £24,240 2016 cars typically £19,990

When people think of hybrids, generally there's one car that springs to mind - the Toyota Prius. The Prius name first came to British shores in 2000 and was a pioneer in hybrid technology. It's quiet, comfortable, and well made. Plus, incredibly economical. You probably won't get near the car's official fuel economy of 83.1mpg - but you will get between 60-70mpg, which is still mightily impressive.

Lexus IS 300h

List price from £28,414 2016 cars typically £26,000

The IS300H is a compact executive car, along the same lines as the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes C Class. It aims to be more individual than these three by offering more divisive and interesting looks, and a hybrid option. It's also popular with company car drivers as it doesn't suffer the same three per cent tax penalty as some of its diesel rivals.

Toyota Yaris Hybrid

List price from £16,495 2017 cars typically from £14,995

Toyota's Yaris is a small and fashionable city car, which prides itself on its reliability. It's not the most exciting car on this list, or any list, but it's a safe pair of gloves. The hybrid derivative makes a lot of sense if you do a lot of city miles - as even in real world testing it can return up to 52.9mpg. It should be noted that the hybrid version is only available with a CVT automatic transmission.

Hyundai Ioniq

List price from £20,885 2017 cars typically from £18,295

Hyundai's Ioniq was released in the UK in 2016 with its crosshairs aimed squarely at the Toyota Prius. It undercut the Toyota by £3,000 - but wasn't quite as economical. Interestingly, if you're not a fan of CVT automatic gearboxes, which are often criticised for being loud and harsh, the Ioniq Hybrid has a six-speed automatic which is much nicer to use than most other hybrids' gearboxes.

Mercedes-Benz C300 Hybrid

List price from £33,854 2017 cars typically from £28,000

The Mercedes C-Class is one of the most expensive ways to buy into the compact executive lifestyle, but it's also one with (arguably) the most prestige attached to it. And while diesel may be the choice for most C-Class buyers, there is this plug-in hybrid option, which is actually more frugal and cleaner than the diesel engined cars. It's able to travel nearly 20 miles on electric power alone too. Although, it is more expensive to buy than the diesels.

Kia Niro

List price from £23,135 2017 cars typically from £19,500

The Niro is Kia's answer to the Prius, albeit, with a loftier driving position. It's only available as a hybrid, with a 1.6-litre petrol engine teamed to an electric motor. It can work in electric only and does so when setting off from a standstill, when coasting downhill, or under braking. The transition between petrol and electric is quiet and smooth and most drivers won't notice the change itself, but will hear the engine once it gathers pace.

Toyota C-HR

List price from £24,215 2017 cars typically from £22,995

The C-HR is as funky as they come, teaming hybrid power with a high-rising crossover body. It shares many components with the Toyota Prius, but unlike the Prius, it can be specified with a non-hybrid petrol engine. It's comfortable, and composed in corners, plus has a stylish interior. But watch out - those hidden door handles are high up and out of reach of some kids.


Lexus NX300h

List price from £39,959 2017 cars typically from £35,000

There are plenty of luxury family sport utility vehicles (SUVs) to choose from, however, only a few offer a hybrid. Under the sharp-creased lines of this SUV lurks a petrol engine, some batteries, and an electric motor. It's not the sportiest or most nimble SUV on offer, but it is impeccably built, and can cruise on electric power alone for a few miles.

No need to plug in

One of the inherent advantages of hybrid cars is that they don’t need to be plugged in for the batteries to be recharged. Instead power is drawn from kinetic energy created when the car is decelerating or braking, and then deployed when accelerating.

As a result the electric-only range of a conventional hybrid is considerably smaller than you’ll be able to achieve with a plug-in hybrid, usually amounting to just a mile or two, and then only if you accelerate very gently.

Even so, hybrid cars are often more efficient than their petrol or diesel equivalents, performing particularly well in laboratory-based fuel economy tests, which also keeps CO2 emissions down. A Toyota Prius, for example, achieves 94.2mpg in official EU fuel economy tests, and in the real world can easily exceed 60mpg in mixed driving, or more for mainly urban commutes.

Driving a hybrid

Part of the fundamental appeal of any hybrid is that it should fit into your life as easily as a petrol or diesel car. You just get in, switch it on and drive away, helped by the inclusion of an automatic gearbox.

In reality there are a few quirks to hybrids that make them stand out as something different. For example, they feel very responsive when you set off thanks to the instant power delivery of the electric motor. Hybrids can also run silently in traffic jams and at low speeds, although the downside is you notice the extra noise when the engine does kicks in.

A hybrid doesn’t fare so well at higher speeds, where the extra weight of the batteries blunts performance. Generally speaking hybrids also don’t ride or handle as well as the best petrol or diesel cars either, due to a combination of having to lug around the weight of the battery, as well as riding on skinny eco tyres designed to cut rolling resistance and maximise fuel economy. As a result, hybrids don’t tend to appeal to keen drivers, although there are exceptions such the Honda NSX.

Advantages of hybrids

  • No need to plug in
  • Very efficient around town
  • Lower CO2 emissions than petrol or diesel

Limitations of hybrids

  • Limited electric-only range
  • Minimal tax benefits or grants compared with fully electric or plug-in hybrid
  • Motorway fuel economy lags behind diesel

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