Hybrid cars pros and cons

Hybrids are a hot topic at the moment - learn the pros and cons of hybrids quickly

Simon Ostler
Apr 12, 2022

Caught yourself wondering about the merits of buying a hybrid car? On the face of it, they seem like a good way of reducing running costs by virtue of their improved fuel efficiency, but that isn't the bottom line. For a start there is more than one type of hybrid car, and each offers a slightly different approach to electrified driving. 

Mild hybrids work to improve the efficiency of a standard petrol or diesel engine in a relatively minor way, you won't even notice a mild hybrid car from the behind the wheel. At the other end of the spectrum, plug-in hybrids incorporate an entirely new drive set up, with large batteries that allow for generally around 20-30 miles of electric driving.

It's not just about saving fuel, the more substantial plug-in hybrids can require wholesale lifestyle changes which some drivers might find deterring. They also tend to be much more expensive than your standard petrol or diesel equivalent which has hampered their popularity in mainstream markets.

But if you're open to change, and the idea of dramatically reducing your fuel bills gets your heart rate going, then there are plenty of reasons why going hybrid might be the best move for you.

Hybrid cars fuel economy

Generally speaking, a hybrid car will deliver better fuel economy than a petrol or diesel car when it's driven as intended. A mild hybrid, for example, will slightly improve an engine's efficiency when accelerating, but that's all it's really designed to do. It's a minor addition for a minor impact, so if you're looking for major reductions in your running costs, you might be hoping for a bit more.

In which case, you're likely to be more interested in a regular hybrid, often referred to as a self-charging hybrid. These make use of a more substantial hybrid system designed to recuperate wasted energy from braking and feeding back into the power delivery under acceleration. These hybrids make use of small battery packs that can store the regenerated energy until it's required, which can help to reduce the engine's reliance on fuel and have a reasonable impact on economy. It's quite expensive tech though, so expect hybrid cars of this nature to be more expensive than a typical petrol or diesel alternative.

If you're hoping to make the most of some zero-emission driving, then plug-in hybrid cars offer an opportunity to do just that without committing to a fully electric car. Plug-in hybrids incorporate a much larger battery into the hybrid set up which can be charged up by plugging it in. The bonus here is that, if you're able to keep the battery charged, the car can run exclusively on electric power for normally around 30-40 miles. The trouble comes if you're driving much further than the electric capacity of the battery, because all of this extra tech is incredibly heavy, so the standard economy of the petrol engine will be dramatically impaired, so long-distance driving is likely to prove more costly than a normal diesel-engined car.

Hybrid cars performance

In most cases, the addition of an electric motor will augment the performance of the car's engine under acceleration.

With plug-in hybrids, when running under electric power you'll have the instant power delivery that electric cars are known for, but only from around 0-30mph. After that, the additional weight of the hybrid system will make itself known and building speed can feel cumbersome.

This additional weight can be felt around corners, too. Especially the plug-in hybrids with their heavy batteries which feel heavier from behind the wheel. Mild hybrids with their relatively small electric motors will have less of an impact on overall performance.

Hybrid cars value

As we mentioned above, hybrid tech is expensive, and that extra cost is apparent in the prices of hybrid cars. As with the impacts on fuel economy, the less influential mild hybrid setups have a smaller impact on car prices, but it's worth considering the eventual fuel economy savings against what is likely to be a few thousand pounds of additional purchase cost.

It's more difficult to gauge that balance between fuel saving and upfront cost in the case of self-charging hybrids. They are more expensive than a standard petrol or diesel equivalent, sometimes up to almost £10,000, and therefore the fuel savings will need to be equally substantial. In most cases a full hybrid car will offer improvements of around 20-30mpg compared to a petrol car, and round 10-20mpg better than a diesel car.

Plug-in hybrids are bit easier to judge. The extra costs that come with more substantial hybrid tech can be well and truly balanced out if you intend to make the most of the electric driving capabilities, as you'll be spending very little on fuel. But if you're going to be using more fuel on a regular basis then it's much more difficult to to justify a purchase. A plug-in hybrid with a neglected battery can prove to be very expensive even compared to a standard petrol car.


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