Is an electric car right for me?
A brief explainer of electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and petrol/diesel vehicles
It’s a confusing time to be a motorist. When it comes to buying a new car, the choice of powertrain is wider than ever before. Below is a brief breakdown of each one and some important things to consider when making your choice.
Fully electric cars or BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) as they are commonly known, are powered entirely by their batteries. They produce zero local emissions, making them a clean and environmentally friendly mode of transport. However, as a relatively new technology, they can appear expensive beside their traditional combustion engine powered counterparts.
Because of this, the government offers many financial incentives including grants (off a max purchase price of €60,000) and toll discounts to try to offset the current price premiums.
They can be charged overnight from a home wall box, or from a public charger if you are travelling further afield. The range of an electric vehicle depends largely on the battery size, as do prices. The average range is improving all the time with most new BEVs capable of close to 400km. Older models may do significantly less than this but can still be a workable and budget friendly option on the used market, depending on your daily mileage needs.
We recommend working out how many kilometres you travel on an average day, and adding on 30-40 percent to find a figure you can live with comfortably and see what your budget allows within that range.
Examples of some popular BEVs include the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, Volkswagen ID.3, Kia Niro, Hyundai Kona EV and the Tesla range. Some new entrants to the market this year include the Skoda Enyaq, Hyundai Ioniq5, Kia EV6 and BMW iX.
Hybrid cars, or HEVs have a traditional combustion engine as well as an electric motor powered by a small battery pack. They do not need to be charged from an external source as the battery draws its power from the combustion engine and regenerative braking. The electric motor will power the car on start-up and at lower speeds and for general light driving tasks, while the traditional engine will kick in after some acceleration. This has a positive impact on fuel economy, particularly when it comes to stop-start city driving. However, they are still largely reliant on the combustion engine and will require regular refuelling.
It is also important to distinguish between hybrid and ‘mild hybrid’ which is a term used by many manufacturers to describe assistance from a much smaller battery that may help to power some ancillary functions, but is unlikely to have a major impact on fuel economy.
Overall, hybrid cars are a good way to reduce emissions at lower speeds and in built up areas. Fuel economy on longer motorway journeys however, is unlikely to be as impressive as a diesel engine due to the extra weight of the hybrid components.
Some popular examples of hybrid vehicles include much of the Toyota range such as the Corolla, C-HR and Prius, the Lexus ES300h, the Honda CR-V and some versions of the new Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.
A Plug-in Hybrid or PHEV is a car with both a combustion engine and an electric motor powered by a larger battery. A PHEV will allow you to travel purely on zero emissions pure electric power for much longer stretches. The battery on a PHEV does have to be charged regularly. Electric range can vary but is typically around 50km. The idea is that most of your daily driving can be done within that electric range, with the (generally petrol) engine reserved for longer trips where charging won’t be a concern. They work best when you have access to charging either at work or at home so that you can make the most of the electric range and run it like a BEV the majority of the time. One drawback is that when the battery is empty, fuel consumption may seem higher than that of a normal petrol vehicle thanks to the additional weight of the battery and hybrid components. A certain degree of charging discipline is required, but a PHEV can be a great and frugal option for the right type of driver.
Diesel vehicles are cars powered exclusively by a diesel combustion engine. They are typically more fuel efficient than petrol cars over long distances, and are especially suited to motorway cruising at higher speeds. For this reason they are still one of the most popular choices for those with longer commutes. Diesel is also typically cheaper at the pump than petrol (although less so these days) and cheaper to tax thanks to lower Co2 emissions. They can however release more harmful NOx particles into the atmosphere than a petrol car, although stringent EU regulations have led to reduction in this in most modern diesel vehicles. Diesel engines also provide more torque, which means more power for towing and carrying heavy loads. They are generally suited to larger cars for this reason. Diesels are at their most efficient once they reach a certain temperature, meaning they are not very well suited to stop/start city driving.
Some examples of popular diesel vehicles include the Volkswagen Passat, BMW 5-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Many SUVs are still very popular in their diesel form including the Skoda Kodiaq, Nissan Qashqai and Kia Sportage.
Petrol cars use a gasoline-fuelled internal combustion engine. They are generally cheaper than their diesel, hybrid and electric counterparts although not as economic to run. Petrol is generally best suited to shorter, urban journeys where fuel economy is not a major concern. Petrol is also a popular fuel choice in high performance vehicles thanks to the lively response it provides. Petrol engines produce more CO2 than diesel engines and so are more expensive to tax as a result. Smaller-engined petrols make a good choice of first car thanks to their affordability on the used market and lower insurance costs.