Hybrid car buying guide
With more than 50 hybrid models on the UK market in 2020, and ever more models being released each year, hybrids have truly taken their place alongside conventional cars. Additionally, diesel hybrids are common in many UK showrooms, joining the more established petrol hybrid option.
Who should buy a hybrid car?
Having been available for over a decade, hybrids can now be considered as a conventional technology – indeed, with plug-in hybrids starting to appear on the UK market, non-plug-in hybrids are now often referred to as 'conventional hybrids'.
Hybrid cars therefore should be considered by most car buyers as a real option. In general, hybrids improve fuel economy by around 20%-25%, and reduce all tailpipe emissions considerably as compared to an equivalent non-hybrid model.
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. Most hybrid models also offer a zero-emission mode for short distances during which time the car is driven solely in electric mode.
The only type of driving not particularly suited to hybrid cars is regular long-distance driving typical of company cars. During motorway use, at high constant power, the hybrid power-train adds little to the efficiency of the engine. In this situation, a clean diesel would probably be a better option from a fuel efficient and CO2 perspective (although NOx and particulates will still be lower for a petrol hybrid).
What models are available now?
Of the many hybrid models now available to buy, one of the most popular remains the Toyota Prius hybrid, now in its third generation. Toyota also manufactures the Auris hybrid and Yaris hybrid, which uses the same 'Hybrid Synergy Drive' technology as the Prius.
To give an idea of how Toyota views the importance of hybrid technology, the manufacturer is on record stating that it intends to hybridize its entire model range.
A number of hybrids are also available from Lexus (part of the Toyota group) and Honda. Volkswagen and Porsche have also recently joined the increasing number of manufacturers offering hybrid models. Others are likely to follow suit within the next few years following the popularity of already released hybrid models.
The latest stage of technological development in the hybrid sector is the plug-in hybrid, the first of these to become available in the UK were the Vauxhall Ampera and Toyota Plug-in Prius.
Toyota's plug-in hybrid Prius is essentially be the same as the existing Prius with a slightly larger capacity battery and a charging socket; and takes the hybrid Prius one step closer to being a battery electric car. Most recently BMW and Mitsubishi have joined the market releasing the i3 Range Extender and Outlander PHEV respectively.
The cost of buying a hybrid car
The purchase prices for most hybrid cars are around 20% higher than for their non-hybrid petrol and diesel equivalents. Typically, for new car, the additional purchase price is in the range of £2,000-£4,000 on a £15,000 model, and £3,000-£5,000 on a £20,000 model.
The additional capital cost is a reflection of the price of the hybrid drive-train which adds complexity and requires a high quality, larger battery. It should be noted that 'mild' hybrids, which can be considered as electric assist vehicles without the capacity to operate solely on electric power, tend to be less expensive than 'strong' or 'full' hybrids which can operate on a conventional engine, on electric only, or a combination of both power sources.
As more hybrids become available, and as the cost of hybrid drive-trains is reduced, the price premiums of hybrid will reduce over time. That said, recent research suggests they will remain moderately more expensive for the foreseeable future.
Hybrid car running costs
Most running costs are less for hybrids than conventional vehicles. The higher capital costs are mainly offset by lower fuel costs due to the high fuel economy of the vehicles themselves as hybrids typically use less fuel per mile. Hybrids therefore make most economic sense for high mileage drivers as the reduced fuel costs will help to recoup the higher purchase price.
Other changes in ownership costs include car tax – hybrids are charged less than their conventional equivalents for the First Year Rate, and also £10 less for their Standard Rate, thanks to lower CO2 emissions and the Alternative Fuel Discount. In the UK, many high quality hybrids have reduced depreciation (i.e. they keep their value longer) as the demand for hybrids continues to grow.
For drivers in and around London, another major running cost to consider is the London Congestion Charge – hybrids with CO2 emissions of less than or equal to 75 g/km and that meet Euro 5 emissions standards are eligible for a 100% discount under the Ultra Low Emissions Discount Scheme (although owners of hybrids will need to register with Transport for London and pay an annual £10 fee). With a standard £11.50 payable daily charge for non-discounted vehicles, this could provide a potential annual saving of over £2,000.