Plug-in hybrid car buying guide

Three years ago there was less than handful of plug-in hybrid models available in the UK. However, those numbers have been increasingly steadily and 2015 is set to follow that pattern as manufacturers make a commitment to plug-in hybrid drivetrains.

Who should buy a plug-in hybrid car?

Plug-in hybrids essentially offer most of the benefits of conventional hybrids, with the additional option of being able to operate in zero-emission, electric-only mode.

Plug-in hybrid cars therefore can be considered by most car buyers as a real option – with the one caveat being their higher purchase price. In hybrid mode, plug-in hybrids perform particularly well in urban start-stop driving conditions, with the battery recouping some of the energy that would otherwise be lost during braking. In electric-only mode, they also offer a zero-emission driving during which time the car is driven solely on electric power.

It should be noted, however, that in order to make the most out of the electric motor, you ideally need access to a garage, drive or other off-street parking area to recharge an electric car overnight. Recent research suggests that around 80% of UK car-owning households already have access to a garage or other off-street parking facility (<50% urban, 70% sub-urban, and >95% rural).

Unless proper provision is made with the permissions of your the local authority, it is not advisable to trail an electric cable across pavements or other public areas to connect a car parked on-street with your household electricity supply.

The only type of driving not particularly suited to plug-in hybrids is regular long-distance driving typical of company cars used on business. During motorway use, the plug-in hybrid power-train adds little to the efficiency of the engine at high constant power – and long distance driving will take the car beyond the electric-only range. In this situation, a fuel-efficient diesel with a particulate filter would probably be a better option.

What models are available now?

There are an increasing number of plug-in hybrids avaliable in various vehcile classes such as the Mitsubishi Outlander SUV and BMW i3 supermini.

Toyota's plug-in hybrid Prius is essentially the same as the existing Prius with a larger capacity battery and a mains charging plug; and takes the hybrid Prius one step closer to being a battery electric car.

However, as the number of conventional hybrid models continues to increase year on year, and all electric cars become more widely accepted, more plug-in hybrids will be launched for drivers who want a car that is capable of electric-only mode, but one that not limited to a 100 miles range as is the case for most electric vehicles.

While plug-in hybrids are more expensive than conventional cars, a Plug-in Car Grant is available that subsidises the purchase of qualifying cars. The grant is worth 25% of the cost of the vehicle up to a maximum of £5,000. The models that qualify for the Grant currently include at least eight plug-in hybrid cars.

To be eligible under the grant scheme, plug-in hybrids must satisfy the following:
*Only new cars are eligible; including pre-registration conversions.
*Tailpipe vehicles emissions must be 75 gCO2/km or less.
*Plug-in hybrid EVs (PHEVs) must have an electric range of at least 10 miles.
*Vehicles must be able to reach a speed of at least 60 mph.

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