1) Don’t believe the official mpg figures.
If you’re looking for something that will travel farthest on a set amount of fuel, then a hybrid probably isn’t the answer. While the economy figures for some models are impressive (72mpg overall is promised from a Toyota Prius, and it’s quite a big car), you’ll seldom get anywhere close to achieving them in normal, give-and-take driving. While that’s also true for other types of car, the gap between ‘official’ and ‘actual’ mpg tends to be bigger for hybrids.
For economy, one of the new generation of economy diesel cars will almost better your intended hybrid choice.
2) There are several different set-ups, all called ‘hybrid’.
‘Hybrid’ here simply means ‘combination’. All have two engines; one electric, the other petrol. But how they work together differs. The most common arrangement is to have both engines capable of delivering power directly to the road wheels. That’s how cars such as the Prius and Honda’s Insight operate.
In these, the car ‘decides’ to use either engine, or both, depending on how much charge remains in the batteries that the electric motor relies on and what the driver is asking of the car. For instance, if she or her needs to accelerate hard, both engines will cut in. Usually, the driver can also, by pushing a button, select electric-only mode, for silent emissions-free driving. This is limited to short distances at town speeds.
Others, called plug-in hybrids, make greater use of electric power. For this reason their batteries can be topped up using a charging point.
Then there are range-extenders. These are essentially electric cars, which are also fitted with a small petrol engine that is there to charge the vehicle’s batteries: it doesn’t directly supply power to move the car.
3) They make sense for Londoners.
Most hybrids enable you to drive free across central London, without having to pay the Congestion Charge. Since this, at time of writing, is £10.50-£14 per day (depending on how you pay) , driving a hybrid in central London will save you plenty. Most also qualify for ‘free’ road tax.
A few words of caution: you have to apply for, and obtain, exemption via Transport for London. It isn’t automatic. Until you receive word back from TfL you’ll need to pay up, just as other drivers do.
4) They’re different to drive.
If you have only ever driven a ‘regular’ car, hybrids take a little getting used to. In most, the moment it ‘switches’ from running on its petrol engine to electric-only power is so smooth that it is heard rather than felt. There’s no jolt or sudden increase/decrease in power; you become aware, though, that the engine note has died away and that you are running along near-silently. The hybrid system works away in the background, choosing where to take power from and requires no intervention from the driver. Most hybrids have automatic transmission but are otherwise like any other car to control.
While Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus make hybrids, most from other makes aren’t designed to be driven enthusiastically: they give of their best if, on the road, you take a relaxed approach.
5) Routine maintenance will be straightforward – if potentially expensive.
A hybrid is, necessarily, more complicated than a regular petrol or diesel vehicle. However, there is good news: even when your car its due an oil change and a check of its brakes, the electric motor in most cases will require little attention.
However, the specialised nature of some components means that, for servicing and repairs, you will probably need the knowledge available only from a franchised dealer. It’s unlikely to be a job for the little garage at the end of your street.
6) Tyre choice matters.
For any hope to achieving anything close to your hybrid’s official miles per gallon figures, you’ll need to choose wisely when renewing its tyres. Most are fitted from new with rubber chosen for its low rolling resistance. Unless you keep to the same brand, type and size – or at least a like-for-like alternative – the car’s economy may drop away.
7) If you need to sell one, they command good money.
Buy a new hybrid now and it will be worth a good price when the time comes to trade it on. All cars lose value, from the moment they first leave the showroom. Only a few years back, hybrids remained something of an unknown quantity, leaving buyers looking for a second-hand car suspicious of their perceived complexity.
However, Toyota pioneered hybrids with its Prius and today offers a bigger choice of them than any other manufacturer. Toyota also has a strong reputation for building reliable cars. Put these two things together and now, compared to other similar cars, hybrids command strong prices second-hand. As cars go, they’re not a bad investment.