Which is the best hybrid car?
With so many hybrid systems on the market today, things can get confusing. Tom Wiltshire rounds up the three most common options.
Shopping for your new car used to be as simple as choosing between a petrol or a diesel. Now though, there are hybrids to consider - and not just hybrids, but all the different types available.
Series hybrids, plug-in hybrids, range-extending hybrids, parallel hybrids, mild hybrids... it's all coming up hybrids!
So where do you start?
We took three of the most common powertrain options out for a spin, to help demonstrate the differences between the three most common hybrid options. These are the contenders... First, representing the mild hybrid, we have the Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi 48V. This uses a 2.0-litre diesel engine in conjunction with a 48-volt mild hybrid system to provide a degree of electrification.
Next up, the traditional hybrid, represented by the Lexus RX L. Toyota and Lexus are the most prolific hybrid builders on the market - especially Lexus, which took an industry-leading approach to totally phase out diesel in favour of petrol hybrid powertrains.
The RX L uses a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine in combination with an electric motor.
Finally, the plug-in hybrid, represented by the best-selling example on the market - the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Capable of around 30 miles on electric power alone, the Outlander has a 2.4-litre petrol engine paired to electric motors and a large battery pack with a charging facility.
First, the question of all-electric range. The Outlander is the only car here which qualifies as an ultra-low emissions car, as it's capable of 30 miles on electric power alone. That should keep it on the right side of forthcoming emissions regulations in big cities, and if you have a short commute, it's possible that you may be able to complete the whole distance on electric power alone.
Plug-in hybrids are the only such vehicles on the market with enough range to be a usable EV, but traditional hybrids are capable of a few miles on electric power alone. The Lexus RX L can run for a couple of miles in stately, silent electric mode, but the battery pack doesn't have the capacity to keep it up for much longer than that.
In addition, the RX L uses a smaller, less powerful electric motor, meaning performance on electric power alone is limited - head above 37mph and the petrol engine will cut in.
Finally, there's the Sportage. As with most mild hybrid systems, were it not for the badging, you'd be hard pressed to tell there was any electrification at all. There's no capacity for pure electric driving - the diesel engine remains running at all times, and the electric motor is there more to assist.
This factor means the Kia is the most 'ordinary' to drive - not necessarily a bad thing, if you're a traditionalist. With a powerful 2.0-litre diesel engine and automatic gearbox, the combination's limited to topspec Sportages, but mild hybrid systems are becoming available on more and more cars - from tiny Suzukis to huge Mercedes.
The Lexus is more of a sacrifice: The gains you make in some areas are reduced in others. For example, the best efficiency gains are to be felt in short journeys around town, where the RX L's regenerative braking and electric set-off make progress easy and fuel economy impressive. But on the motorway, the electric additions are of little help, and the Lexus isn't as efficient as the equivalent diesel from other manufacturers.
If you're actively looking to electrify your life, you should be opting for the Mitsubishi, or a similar plug-in hybrid. These vehicles are the only ones short of a full EV - that offer genuine all-electric range, and so should remain on the correct side of future legislation.
Of course, these three vehicles aren't the only ones on the market - nor are they truly comparable, with prices ranging from under €40,000 to over €68,500. The powertrains, however, represent the three main choices most buyers will face on top of the usual options of petrol, diesel and pure electric.