So you’ve read all about the electric car revolution and are intrigued — but are still nervous about jumping in with both feet. What’s to be done?
How about going halfway and dipping a cautious toe in the water with a plug-in hybrid car — known as a PHEV — and arguably getting the best of both worlds.
Our political masters have decreed that the sales of new pure petrol and diesel cars are to be outlawed by 2030.
Happy medium: A hybrid Vauxhall Grandland SUV. ‘PHEVs’ combine a conventional petrol engine with one or more electric motors whose battery you can also recharge
Between 2030 and 2035, as well as pure electric cars, manufacturers will also be allowed to sell petrol-electric hybrids (and diesel-electric hybrids where they exist) that can demonstrate a ‘significant’ range in electric-only mode.
So far ‘significant’ has yet to be defined, but realistically that will probably mean 20 or 30 miles using zero-emissions electric power.
Second-hand petrol and diesel cars will still be on the road — but there will be no more new ones to join them and they will gradually reduce in numbers.
Remarkably, hybrids go back much further than most people realise. The first was the Lohner-Porsche in 1901, which used electric motors in each wheel powered by batteries and a petrol-engine generator. But the technology did not catch on then.
It wasn’t until 1997 and the launch of the Toyota Prius — which the Japanese car firm cleverly got environmentally conscious Hollywood stars to drive — that such vehicles became widely available.
But first a few definitions — and a jargon-buster for words and unhelpful acronyms that the motor industry insists on using, despite the confusion caused to many consumers.
You will often hear car makers referring to the ‘electrification’ of their range. It is a catch-all word that covers a multitude of vehicles — from fully electric cars to different types of hybrids that mix a petrol or diesel motor with different levels of electric power.
The Vauxhall Grandland family SUV in mid-level GS Line trim combines a 1.6 litre turbo-charged petrol engine with an electric motor to develop a hefty 225 horsepower
A fully electric car or ‘EV’ charged from the mains is also referred to in motor industry jargon as a ‘BEV’ — which stands for battery-electric vehicle. It has no other form of power than the electricity used to charge its battery either at home or at a public charging point.
A general hybrid vehicle — sometimes now referred to as a ‘self-charging hybrid’ — is a sealed unit. It uses braking resistance and deceleration to recharge the battery, which cannot be recharged from the mains. The jargon-phrase used in the industry for them is ‘HEV’, standing for hybrid electric vehicle.
Then there are so-called ‘mild hybrids’. These use the least amount of electric boost to a conventional engine, generally in the form of a 48-volt supplementary motor.
Finally, ‘PHEVs’ — or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles — combine a conventional petrol engine with one or more electric motors, whose battery you can also recharge independently from the mains or a charging point.
There’s a double advantage here. First, you get to drive electric-only miles using only battery power, so can avoid burning fuel from the petrol tank.
And even when the charge is used up, the car can generate current through braking and regeneration, which in turn helps reduce the amount of petrol you need to burn.
Five of the best hybrids
Kia Niro PHEV: Priced from £33,525 to £39,025, the new Kia Niro PHEV has CO2 emissions as low as 18g/km, average fuel efficiency of up to 351mpg, and an electric-only range of 40 miles
Ford Kuga PHEV: Costing from £37,755 to £40,155, the 225 bhp Kuga plug-in hybrid has an electric range of up to 39 miles
Skoda Octavia iV Estate PHEV: This sporty estate with a big boot combines a 1.4 litre petrol engine with an electric motor to deliver 204bhp, 42 miles of electric range and 282 mpg. Prices start from £35,825
Toyota RAV4 PHEV: There’s An electric-only range of 46 miles and up to 282mpg fuel economy from the Japanese SUV, which costs from £44,140
BMW X5 PHEV: Up to 54 miles in electric-only mode with fuel economy of up to 235mpg and 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds. But it’s pricey at between £69,925 and £73,425.
Always plug in
I’ve recently been driving a plug-in hybrid version of the Vauxhall Grandland family SUV in mid-level GS Line trim.
Costing £33,820 (£34,470 with metallic paint), it combines a 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor to develop a hefty 222bhp linked to an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Some days I have never moved out of electric-only mode — significantly reducing my trips to the filling station for ever-more expensive fuel.
A few years ago, I had a Pod Point charger installed at home. A full charge takes around four hours and gives me about 39 miles of range on zero-emissions, electric-only power.
Luxury option: Bentley is going down the plug-in hybrid route ahead of going fully electric with its magnificent £168,300 Bentley Flying Spur
The secret to getting as much out of a PHEV as possible is adopting a new mindset and a regular routine, so your car is on charge when it’s not in use.
It took me a little while to get into the rhythm. But now I’m in the swing, whenever I drive a plug-in or a pure electric vehicle, I leave it charging on the driveway when I get home.
Of course, not everyone has a driveway. So it’s important to find nearby public charging points that are accessible — and in working order.
But the real beauty of the plug-in hybrid is that you do have a safety net. Because when the electric power runs out, you’ve still got a tankful of conventional fuel.
Moving on up
Even luxury limousines such as the magnificent — but somewhat expensive — Bentley Flying Spur are taking the plug-in hybrid route ahead of going fully electric.
The model I drove costs £168,300 (though with ‘extras’ that tots up to more than £200,000), and is powered by a 2.9 litre V6 petrol engine combined with an advanced electric motor to deliver a total of 536 bhp, propelling the car from rest to 60mph in 4.1 seconds and up to a top speed of 177mph.
All this and it has an electric-only range of 25 miles.
Bentley says the Flying Spur is ‘the most efficient Bentley ever’ and is capable of covering 434 miles when fully fuelled.
It is the company’s second hybrid, following on from the Bentayga Hybrid SUV.
So as the UK and the rest of Europe accelerates towards an electric-only future, plug-in hybrids are a handy halfway house.
Consumer magazine What Car? says: ‘A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle can be a great first step into the world of EVs and — depending on your driving habits — could cut your fuel bills in half.
‘If you keep the battery topped up and only do shorter journeys, your fuel bill will be at least 50 per cent lower.
‘And it’s reassuring to have the back-up of a combustion engine for longer journeys.’
Alex Ingram, of motoring magazine Auto Express, says: ‘The aim is always the same — use electric energy to reap the zero-emission benefits of a full EV on short journeys, while retaining the flexibility of being able to refuel a combustion engine whenever you need to.’
A festival that glories in the ordinary
Who needs exceptional cars when you can celebrate unexceptional classics?
A beloved 1994 Vauxhall Astra Merit 1.4, owned by 31-year-old Edinburgh driving instructor Samuel Allan, was crowned winner of the Concours de l’Ordinaire at the eighth annual Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional held at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire last Saturday.
The car has non-metallic red paint, three doors and no optional extras, with a 1.4 litre engine producing 59 bhp for a top speed of 105mph. Some 287,000 Astra Merits were made, but it is believed only four survive in the UK.
Pass with Merit: The winning 1994 Vauxhall Astra Merit 1.4 and its owner – 31-year-old Edinburgh driving instructor Samuel Allan
Allan bought the car from a neighbour in 2019 after eyeing it up for nearly a decade. ‘I’m chuffed to bits,’ he said. I tried to keep it as original as possible, and only use it on dry days now.
‘It has survived the Scottish weather remarkably well — that is a tribute to the old guy that kept it so well. I’ll never sell it.’
A runners-up award was given to Matthew Bareham for his ‘exceptionally unexceptional’ 1986 Skoda Estelle 120L bought as a wreck for £600 and rebuilt over two years during lockdown.
A special Repmobile award was won by Chris James for his 1991 Nissan Primera, which he bought last year.
‘I used to make Primera car seats in the factory in Sunderland and it’s a keeper, as I’ll never find another in that condition,’ he said.
Entrant Mateusz Strzyzewski drove his 1991 Hyundai Pony from Slovakia, leaving just after the winners were announced as he was due back at work in his home country the very next day.