Buy a hybrid car

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

BuyaCar team
Jun 16, 2021

Take a trip to London and you'll likely see hundreds of Toyota Prius taxis, and there's a good reason for this. With cheaper running costs and a reduced environmental impact, hybrids are becoming a viable alternative to their petrol and diesel counterparts.

There are other benefits, too: cheaper company car tax and fewer restrictions within clean air and low emission zones. 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 car uses a small battery and an electric motor to improve 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 and more efficient petrol engine can be used without losing any of the performance.

Hybrid cars can also travel small distances under purely electric power, using recycled energy created by the brakes to keep the battery charged. It may only be a mile or so, but city drivers will recognise the benefit of a hybrid's low-emission driving in stop-start traffic.

Examples of hybrid cars

1. Toyota Prius

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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, well made, and incredibly economical. You probably won't get near the car's official fuel economy figure of 83.1mpg - but you will get between 60-70mpg, which is still mightily impressive.


2. Toyota Corolla

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While the Prius screams about its eco-credentials, the Toyota Corolla is tamer. It faces competition from the likes of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, but unlike those primarily petrol-powered alternatives the Corolla is only available in hybrid form. There's a 122hp version that uses the Prius' 1.8-litre petrol engine, and a 2.0-litre model with 184hp. It's also available in Touring Sports estate form, as well as a saloon (the latter makes do without the 2.0-litre hybrid setup). 


3. Toyota Yaris Hybrid

Toyota Yaris Hybrid front three quarters view

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Another Toyota joins the list in the form of the Yaris supermini. Hybrid rivals include the Honda Jazz and Renault Clio E-Tech. The Yaris has been available in hybrid form for many years, and those looking for a bargain can opt for the previous generation. The 116hp comes courtesy of a 1.5-litre petrol engine - smaller than what you find in its bigger brothers.

4. Hyundai Ioniq

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The Hyundai 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 dual-clutch automatic which is much nicer to use than most other hybrids' gearboxes. The Ioniq comes in two other flavours: plug-in hybrid and electric.


5. Kia Niro

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The Niro is Kia's answer to the Prius, but it offers a loftier driving position This is all in an attempt to tease drivers away from petrol- and diesel-powered crossovers like the Volkswagen T-Roc, Nissan Juke and Audi Q2. Like the Ioniq, the Niro also comes in plug-in hybrid and electric forms, or the standard hybrid which Kia calls self-charging - a term that can be a little misleading. 


6. Lexus RX450h

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Not all hybrids are super-efficient and aerodynamically gifted. The RX is Lexus' answer to the Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLE. You can have it in five- or seven-seat forms, and power comes from a 313hp 3.0-litre V6 petrol-electric setup. The only high figures are its CO2 emissions, unfortunately - you can expect around 35mpg. It is an interesting altertnative to the vast number diesel SUVs still available as that fuel begins to decline in popularity, and what you lose in efficiency you make up for in acceleration and comfort. Expect swathes of leather and other plush materials. If you're looking for something smaller, or more sensible, consider the smaller NX or the baby UX.


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.

However, the lack of a larger battery means 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 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.

While a mile may not sound like a lot, in reality, a hybrid car can shut down the engine under light acceleration such as on the approach to a roundabout, before regenerating that lost energy while the driver slows down at the last minute. Stop-start traffic is a hybrid's favourite place to be, and because all modern hybrids use automatic gearboxes, they're also far easier to drive than manual cars.

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 kick in.

A hybrid doesn’t fare so well at higher speeds, where the extra weight of the batteries blunts performance in terms of acceleration and also reduces fuel economy. 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 drivers keen for thrills, although there are exceptions to this rule such as the Honda NSX.

Due to the low placement of the batteries underneath the car, drivers may notice a slight improvement in cornering larger cars like SUVs and MPVs. This is because the centre of gravity is drastically shifted downward.

Drivers looking for a 20 to 40-mile electric range should consider plug-in hybrid options, of which there are many to choose from.

Why you would buy a hybrid car

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

Why you wouldn't buy a hybrid car

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

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

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