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What are hybrid cars? Everything you need to know for 2024

What's the difference between a mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid and self-charging hybrid? And which hybrids are the best?

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What is a hybrid car?

If you're looking to take a first step toward the world of electric vehicles, a hybrid could be the perfect next car for you.

With part-electric and part-engine power, hybrid cars can save fuel and reduce emissions, while some can even operate on pure electric power for shorter trips.

Hybrids are a great first step into the world of electrified motoring – but how do you know which type to go for?

We're here to guide you through the different types of hybrids on the market, so you can decide which one will best suit your needs.

What types of hybrid cars are on the market?

Mild hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV)

As the name suggests, mild hybrid cars (MHEVs) are the first step on the electrified ladder. 

They typically operate in an identical way to traditional engine-powered cars, but they come with a small electric motor to improve fuel economy and trim emissions.

In some cases, the electric motor can even move the car away from a standing start, before the petrol or diesel engine then starts to keep you going.

This is especially useful in traffic, when you’re typically only moving at low speeds.

Self-charging hybrid

A self-charging hybrid car is one step up from mild-hybrid because it uses a bigger electric motor that's powered by a small battery pack to work alongside the engine.

Proper hybrids like this can pull away under electric-only power like certain MHEVs, but they can get to a higher speed before the engine starts up.

Self-charging hybrids can – as the name suggests – also recuperate energy when you brake and feed it back into the battery, so you never need to plug them in.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV)

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) take the next step by using a bigger electric motor alongside an engine, as well as a more substantial battery to power it.

As the name suggests, the battery needs to be plugged in and charged like that of a fully electric car.

The big benefit of that is power and range, because the electric motor can handle normal driving alone – in some cases up to and beyond 70mph – and for extended distances.

Some PHEVs today can do more than 40 miles without waking their engines. That might be enough to get you to and from work each day, or to handle the shopping trip.

The beauty of a PHEV is that you still have an engine there to keep you going if you need to drive further.

The best used hybrid cars on the market for 2024

Best MHEV cars for sale:

A blue Ford Fiesta EcoBoost.

Ford Fiesta

The Ford Fiesta EcoBoost mHEV packs a punch. It's excellent to drive, has a smart interior plus it's well-equipped.

With Ford’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost engine working in tandem with a little electric motor, the mHEV (yep, Ford likes a lowercase M) is nippy with a 0-62mph time of 9.4 seconds, while on a steady motorway run it can average over 50mpg.

It’s great value, too, with used Ford mHEV cars on our site starting from well under £20k at the time of writing.

A Fiat 500 Hybrid driving on an empty road with hills in the background.

Fiat 500

Don’t let the name fool you, the Fiat 500 hybrid is an MHEV model, but it carries all of the charm of the original car with an added hint of the future under its bonnet.

As a mild-hybrid, this little used Fiat uses a 12-volt battery pack under the passenger seat to power an electric motor, which supports the 1.0-litre engine. This helps to save fuel – more than 50mpg is possible – and cut emissions.

This is a great-value choice, considering you can get your hands on a 2020 model and cinch it for just £10,680.

A red Suzuki Swift driving on a road with trees in the background.

Suzuki Swift

This is another affordable MHEV that's surprisingly capable despite its dinky size.

Mixing a 1.2-litre engine with a small electric motor enables a claimed 55mpg, to go with the Suzuki Swift’s sporty handling and styling.

Thanks to its upright windscreen, the Suzuki Swift offers occupants great outside visibility, which is enhanced with kit like a reversing camera and parking sensors.

Best of all, the Swift MHEV is excellent value, costing less than £15k, even with low miles on the clock.

Best self-charging hybrid cars for sale:

A silver Hyundai Ioniq driving next to a black and white road sign.

Hyundai IONIQ

If you're in the market for a self-charging hybrid, you can't go wrong with a Hyundai IONIQ.

It’s a top-seller in its segment for a reason – the half 1.6-litre petrol, half electric setup delivers a smooth drive that doesn’t require you to do any thinking beyond pressing go and stop.

If you want a subtle and practical car, this used Hyundai is the one for you.

It comes with plenty of cool tech, with keyless entry, rear parking sensors, heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto plus a 10.25-inch infotainment display available.

You can access cars for less than £15k on cinch!

A black Ford Mondeo driving in an urban area.

Ford Mondeo

The Ford Mondeo has been with us for donkey’s years, but it has only recently (relatively speaking) been electrified with a hybrid model.

On the outside, it looks like any other Mondeo, other than a subtle 'hybrid' badge on the back.

Under the bonnet, however, is a 2.0-litre engine that works with an electric motor, powered by a battery.

Together, they’ve enough muscle to whisk you to 62mph in nine seconds.

You're also treated to heated seats, a sleek digital dashboard and no shortage of driver-assist features.

Oh, and prices start at just over £16k on cinch at the time of writing.

A silver Toyota Corolla driving on a quiet road surrounded by trees.

Toyota Corolla

The hybrid Toyota Corolla is another model that’s been around for a long while, but in recent years has been transformed by the introduction of the hybrid model.

Cabbies love ‘em, and for good reason: hybrid tech really helps to trim fuel usage, while the practicality of a used Toyota Corolla remains excellent.

You get all the essential mod-cons for a modern car, like sat-nav, cruise control and lane keep assistance, and under the bonnet is a 1.8-litre engine with electric assistance.

Better yet, Corollas are considered to be very reliable – and at under £25k, cinch’s selection of fresh options looks rather lovely.

Best PHEV cars for sale: 

A dark-coloured Lexus NX parked on a stone pathway.

Lexus NX

This modern, space-age-looking Lexus SUV is certainly one of the most eye-catching plug-in hybrids out there. Actually, it’s one of the most eye-catching cars, full stop.

The Lexus NX is a premium SUV that mixes a 2.5-litre engine with a proper battery and electric motor, which combine to offer power and efficiency – more than 30 miles per gallon is claimed – despite this car’s big size.

If you’re light-footed, you can theoretically get more than 50 miles of electric-only running, leaving the engine off. Very handy.

A blue Audi A3 driving on a road surrounded by fields.

Audi A3

If you're looking for a natural progression into the hybrid world, this Audi A3 may be just the ticket.

The addition of the electric motor hasn't taken anything away from the best of the Audi A3 hatchback.

It looks, sounds and even steers the same, but with 'e-tron' technology, it can average more than 60mpg if you’re sensible.

If you use the electric-only mode that can travel up to 37 miles, you needn’t wake the engine.

Plus, choosing a used Audi model can help you save money compared to purchasing brand-new.

A silver-coloured Mercedes-Benz A Class.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class

This Mercedes-Benz E-Class is our luxury choice on the list. As plug-in hybrids go, it’s properly high-end.

To go with all the comfort and high-tech features of the E-Class, the 2.0-litre engine under the bonnet has a strong electric motor and battery to assist it.

Work it out and get the E-Class from 0-62mph in just 6.2 seconds – or let it work more efficiently and you’ll have around 30 miles of electric range.

It’s capable, posh and very lovely – don’t get us started on the interior’s soft leathers and ambient lighting – yet the E-Class costs little more than £20k on cinch. Happy, electrified days. 

Find the best hybrid car for you

There is a huge range of hybrid cars available to buy right now, and they're a brilliant first step towards fully electric driving.

Whether you're looking for a hybrid family car, something for the city, or a real luxury number, we've got a huge range of used hybrid models at great prices.

Learn more about electric cars: