Understanding hybrid car tech and why it's beneficial
With more and more people looking for an eco-friendly means of commuting, the popularity of alternative-fuel vehicles has soared in the USA. With the automotive industry under pressure to electrify or hybridize its vehicles, this market has also become significantly more accessible. But, while these specialized vehicles are becoming more prominent, some people are still asking "What is a hybrid car? How does a hybrid car work? And what are the benefits of owning a hybrid car?"
The definition of a hybrid car is a vehicle that has more than one power source, both of which operate independently. This includes plug-in and regular hybrid vehicles but is not the same as vehicles that feature mild-hybrid assistance. There are a variety of cars that fall into the category of the best hybrids in the USA, ranging from hatchbacks and sedans through to SUVs and even sportscars.
When a conventional combustion engine is augmented with at least one electric motor to propel a vehicle, it is considered a hybrid. This system includes a battery pack, which stores energy generated by the car's regenerative brakes. Basically, the electric motors alleviate some of the strain on the gasoline engine, sometimes even doing all the work, which means less fuel needs to be consumed to properly the car.
Hybrid cars can be either plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, dubbed PHEV, or standard hybrid electric vehicles, also known as HEV cars, and while the PHEV variants have the option of plugging into an external charger, it's not a requirement of standard hybrids.
There are several advantages to owning a hybrid vehicle and while a hybridized system may be complex, the vehicles they're used in are typically very modern and well-built, meaning disadvantages and problems are relatively few and far between;
The primary benefit is the improved fuel consumption, which means drivers can drive further for less. They may be a little more expensive to purchase in comparison to similar gasoline-only cars, but they prove to be more economical over time thanks to a lower running cost.
Because some propulsion comes from the electric motors, emissions from hybrids are lowered as well. This eco-friendly quality is a notable perk for many individuals and the automotive industry as a whole, considering the current policies around global warming.
The electric propulsion from the hybrid engine also delivers an upshot in torque over standard engines, benefitting acceleration responses from off-the-line and onwards. This advantage is exhibited mostly from fully-electric vehicles but the benefits can certainly be felt in hybrids, albeit to a lesser degree.
Further justifying their initially high cost is the possibility of reduced annual road tax charges - though this only applies within certain states - and the exemption of congestion charges.
There are various types of hybrid vehicles, with some differences in how these work:
In the standard configuration of gas engine with electric motors, parallel hybrids use a common transmission to manage power from either source. This is the most common setup, and is found in cars like the Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Volt. Series hybrids are slightly different: this type of hybrid car has electric power driving the wheels, while the engine functions to recharge the battery. These feel much like a pure EV, with powerful, smooth, and silent acceleration. The BMW i3 with the range extender is the best representation of a series hybrid.
Plug-Ins come equipped with a combustion engine, electric motor, and a hybrid system battery pack and can be either series or parallel hybrids. Usually, the electric motor assists with acceleration and maintains control at lower speeds. As the car increases in speed, the combustion engine will take over. In the case of the PHEV, the battery pack, which is typically larger than those in regular HEVs, can be charged via a charging station.
Like a full hybrid, mild hybrid cars are equipped with a gas engine aided by an electrical motor setup. In the full hybrid cars, the greatest benefits come in the form of improved performance and fuel economy whereas mild hybrid vehicles show only slightly improved fuel efficiency over standard gasoline power.
The difference between mild hybrid cars vs full hybrid cars is that the former make use of electric motors to support the engine during acceleration and when cruising, while the latter allows you to utilize electric power on its own. Full hybrids offer a few more benefits, including more savings on fuel consumption, and they can travel some distances on electrical power alone, depending on specification and technology used. They are, however, usually a lot more expensive. Mild-hybrid electric vehicles, abbreviated as MHEV vehicles, have made a comeback recently with the 48-volt systems already standard in some Mercedes and Audi sedans.
Choosing a hybrid vehicle will really come down to what you can afford and your everyday driving habits. In terms of the latter, a full hybrid will be ideal for city driving where the system will deliver the best performance in terms of power and efficiency. A PHEV is certainly better for having a longer all-electric driving range, and will be beneficial for those who can charge frequently. The USA's charging network is growing extensively, and automakers are beginning to electrify most of their vehicles, and many are looking to transition all of their regular gas-powered vehicles into hybrids in one form or another.
The Kia Sorento Hybrid is a good example, as an SUV that seamlessly combines the advantages of hybridization without any compromise in performance, boasting class-leading driver and passenger comfort and convenience, livability, and general practicality. If you'd prefer something other than an AWD SUV or something that offers more luxury, browse through the CarBuzz review section to find the best options. Other names that make our 'best of' list include the popular Toyota RAV4, the Volvo S60 sedan, and the Hyundai Ioniq.
With the advancement of hybrid technology, many automakers are now producing hybridized vehicles for every segment. Accessibility is high and just about anybody can get their hands on one these days. Here are just some of the most popular nameplates for sale in the US right now:
Because there has been a lot of innovation in and around this technology, most of the newer vehicles prove to be highly reliable and are even offered with extensive warranties on hybrid components.
This will really depend on the brand and type of vehicle but, typically, a full hybrid will be more expensive than a mild-hybrid version. However, lifetime costs might be lower, especially when you factor in tax rebates, other incentives, and lower fuel consumption over time.
Because hybrid vehicles are extensively covered by warranty, it wouldn't be a bad idea to opt for a used model that is around three or four years old. Remember to check the service and maintenance history and buy from a reputable dealer.
Yes, and automakers are producing even more as we move beyond 2020. In time, it's likely that there will be no purely gasoline-run vehicles available.