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Hybrid vs fully electric cars: what's right for you?

Carlton Boyce / 27 January 2016

A look at the different types of electric car and the pros and cons of each type.

Charging an electric car
With many companies providing on-site charging at work, electric vehicles are becoming more practical and accessible

I think that we can all agree that electric vehicles (or EVs) are, in the main, a good thing. 

Despite any qualms you and I might have regarding their range or their displacement of pollution from the point of use to the point of generation, there is no doubt that they will help contribute to cleaner streets and spur the development of cleaner, greener cars in the future.

But it’s a confusing market, with a plethora of jargon and marketing terms being used to describe the various types, so here’s our summary of what electric cars are available in the UK today.

Benefits of driving an electric car

Aside from the refinement that an electric car brings, the joy of oodles of instantaneous torque and bumper-car whizzability cannot be over-estimated. As a result, even a dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead will love driving an electric vehicle, even if they might miss the sound of a highly tuned petrol engine!

The benefits extend beyond the pure driving experience, though: all electric cars are exempt from the London Congestion Charge and from paying the annual road fund licence

Most also qualify for a government grant, which helps drive down the purchase price. 

Electric vehicles can also – providing their all-electric range suits your needs – be very cheap to run.

Of course, you’ll need to be able to park it near your house or place of work to be able to charge it but with many employers now providing free on-site charging at work, your running costs could shrink to nothing…

Seven things you need to know before buying a new car.

Different types of electric car

The term ‘electric vehicle’ encompasses a wide range of different technologies and what will suit one driver won’t necessarily find favour with another.

Here is an explanation of the three types:

1. Pure Electric Vehicle

The Pure EV has a battery and no fossil-fuel engine. It is charged with electricity from the mains or a dedicated charging point.

Because it has no gearbox, it can be driven by anyone, including those who do not possess a driving licence to drive a car that is fitted with a manual gearbox.

Typical range: typically up to 75 miles, although the Tesla Model S offers a range of up to 250 miles.

Disadvantages: the range can drop dramatically in cold weather, as the battery is also providing heating and lighting, in addition to propulsion.

Best suited: for those who only undertake local journeys that are well within the claimed range and are able to recharge the battery at home or work.

Examples: the Nissan LEAF and Renault Zoe.

Find out more about your rights when buying a car from a dealer.

2. Plug-In Hybrid System

This is a system whereby the battery can be charged either by the car’s engine or the mains electricity supply. 

This means that short journeys will be undertaken using battery power alone, with the petrol or diesel engine only being used to supplement the battery when more power is required or when the journey’s distance exceeds the range of the batteries.

The engine can also charge the battery on the move, especially under braking when the energy that is normally wasted as heat is converted into electricity.

Typical range: around 20-30 miles on pure electric power, plus unlimited range on petrol or diesel, providing you keep filling the fuel tank.

Disadvantages: can be a bit thirsty on long journeys as a PHEV is much heavier than a purely petrol- or diesel-powered car.

Best suited: for those who undertake lots of short trips alongside the occasional long journey.

Examples: the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and the Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid.

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3. Extended Range Electric Vehicles

Extended range vehicles, or E-REVs, are fitted with a battery or batteries, plus an on-board petrol or diesel generator that charges the batteries on the move.

This is a very different system to that of a PHEV as the generator doesn’t contribute to the car’s motion.

Typical range: around 30-50 miles on pure electric power, plus another 250 miles on the generator.

Disadvantages: they provide a halfway house between a pure EV and a PHEV, which some feel is an uncomfortable compromise.

Best suited: for those who undertake lots of short trips alongside the occasional medium-length journey.

Examples: the BMW i3 Range Extender and the Chevrolet Volt/Vauxhall Ampera.

Eight tips to drive more economically.

Do you own an EV? If so, why not tell us what you’ve got and why you decided to buy it? We’d love to hear your views.

For more useful tips and information, browse our motoring articles.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.