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What’s the difference between hybrid, mild-hybrid and self-charging hybrid cars?

If the world of electric and hybrid power is new to you, you may find it confusing because there are lots of different types

Two happy adults sat in the front of a car, with a child in the back

There are so many options available when it comes to switching to electric power. Not only is there the well-known all-electric power but there are also hybrid, mild-hybrid and self-charging hybrid options too.

Hybrid power is really attractive because it offers the best of both worlds in terms of fuel efficiency and electric power.

When it comes to hybrid cars, there are three main types: plug-in hybrid (PHEV); mild hybrid (MHEV); and a full/self-charging hybrid (HEV).

Here’s what each hybrid setup does and why you should think about getting one.

What is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV)?

A plug-in hybrid car is essentially a car that can run on either engine or electric motor power.

There’s a clue in the name as to how it’s charged – you plug it in. You can’t drive very far on electric power alone, with the average being between 30-50 miles at the time of writing.

What makes these so great is that when the electric motor runs out of juice from the onboard battery pack, the car automatically switches to the petrol or diesel engine so you’re not left stranded on the roadside.

What are the pros of a plug-in hybrid car?

  • It’s easy to switch between electric and engine power

  • You can use electric power in the city but engine power in the countryside or on longer journeys

  • There’s no range anxiety because the engine is always there as a backup

  • You get zero-emissions commuting if you can drive to work and back on EV-only mode

What are the cons of a plug-in hybrid car?

  • You’ll need to charge up the battery to make it worthwhile

  • The extra weight from the battery means you’re lugging around more weight, reducing your fuel efficiency

  • Smaller engines mean less grunt when the electric power runs out

What is a mild hybrid (MHEV)?

Many people often assume a mild hybrid is just the same as a standard hybrid car, but this isn’t the case. The main difference is that while a normal hybrid car can run on electric power alone, a mild hybrid cannot.

The mild hybrid system just works alongside the petrol engine to provide a boost of performance and economy.

What are the pros of a mild hybrid car?

  • Mild hybrids offer lower emissions than full-fat hybrid cars

  • You don’t need to plug mild hybrids in to charge

  • They offer more grunt on acceleration

What are the cons of a mild hybrid car?

  • These cars produce more pollutants than a normal hybrid because there’s rarely an EV-only mode

  • The engine is always in use to drive the car

  • They’re not as fuel efficient as plug-in hybrids

What is a self-charging/full hybrid (HEV)?

The most common choice when it comes to buying a hybrid electric vehicle is the simple yet very effective full hybrid/self-charging hybrid, and in this system the engine and the electric motor work together.

In a usual driving instance, you’d set off in electric-only power, and then when you reach a certain speed (15mph for the Toyota Prius), the car switches to engine and electric power.

What are the pros of a full hybrid car?

  • They’re great for town and city driving – which is why so many Ubers and taxis are hybrids

  • They’re more economical and fuel-efficient than non-hybrid cars

  • You don’t need to faff about with plugging it in to charge

What are the cons of a full hybrid car?

  • They’re not as economical on longer motorway journeys

  • They have a higher purchase price than non-hybrid cars

  • Battery replacement isn’t cheap

Should I buy a hybrid car?

If you’re someone who tends to do more city/town driving and general short trips, then we would recommend opting for any of the hybrids above.

However, if you’re someone who does longer journeys on the motorway or across the country, we’d say a hybrid may not be for you. If you really wanted to invest in hybrid technology, however, we’d recommend a mild hybrid.

Learn more about hybrid cars: