Hybrid Electric Cars

There is lots of excitement about both electric cars and hybrids. The hybrid has a petrol engine and an electric motor, which is basically to extend the range of the car since only a few electric cars have a useful range, unless used as a second car for local journeys only.

Within the world of hybrid, there are two main types. The cheaper standard hybrid like mine and the more expensive plug-in type which is only available on certain models. The basic difference is that to make use of cheaper and cleaner plugin energy, the car needs more batteries to store the energy which makes the car more expensive. I'm sure there are also design issues with fitting these extra batteries in. The non-plugin models like mine simply reclaim energy from braking or active deceleration (the same effect as taking your foot off of the petrol engine accelerator pedal), which is a much smaller amount and therefore needs only a handful of batteries.

So what it is like? Is it amazing? Is the fuel economy fantastic?

The simple answer is no. It's OK but it's not great and here's why.

What's bad?

Firstly, the MPG figures (or KPL) are vastly overstated as they are for many cars. Quite simply, and to the shame of the industry, the MPG factory tests are completely useless for any real-world usage and in the case of the hybrid, obviously the tests are not done over a long enough period to remove the effect of the stored energy in the battery, which is equivalent to extra petrol that is not being counted by the test. The book figures? 75MPG urban and extra-urban. The real figures? No more than 55MPG, and this drops in the winter to about 45 and I think this is partly due to some configuration that would be nice to fix!

The active deceleration - where the electric motor slows the car - seems way too weak compared to a petrol car. I don't know why they can't increase this. The problem is that it requires more braking when slowing down, which leads to the danger of bringing in the brake pads when the motor could be capturing the spare energy instead.

You will find it harder to get it maintained or fixed. Even my local Quik Fit wouldn't look at the exhaust because, "the only stuff we can do on Hybrids is tyres and wipers". This basically means main dealer for everything, which is potentially expensive (I do have a warranty which might or might not cover some of it) but also, their wait time is currently 3 weeks for a booking.

Another setting which seems strange is the setting which keeps the battery topped up really high (about 80/90% on the indicator), which means that sometimes, when you are for instance coasting down a long hill, the battery quickly charges right up to the maximum and then what happens? Any more energy that could be captured by the car is lost. This happens reasonably easily, especially in the hilly areas near where I live. It would make more sense to either keep the battery more empty or to do something cleverer, which perhaps switches modes on a longer journey to assume that long hills are more likely than needing the battery as full as possible for the next day. It could even have a button to stop charging it before a hill.

What's good?

Well a petrol car with 55MPG is not bad, although other cars can match this and some diesels can beat it soundly (but who wants a diesel?). This is to be expected since most of the time, the car is running on its petrol engine - the batteries could only power the car for about a mile. There is no reason why the petrol engine would be amazing so its a normal engine with the benefit of some reclaimed energy.

In the UK, the tax is free for electrics and hybrids, so that saves about £160 per year.

My insurance is cheap but I don't believe that this is because of the hybrid car. Most quotes were in the same ballpark as my last car, which was a Toyota Avensis petrol.

It drives smoothly, being an automatic, and the power mode is very pokey when needing some quick energy, although it can take a few seconds to kick in so don't rely on it for emergencies!

You can also switch to EV mode to run pure electric for short distances - useful if you know you are not travelling far, and if the battery gets too low or you put your foot down, the engine will cut in and it will switch back to eco mode automatically.

It's a generally nice car - in as much as it has a nice trim level, auto wipers and lights, nice seats etc. but none of that is because it is a hybrid.