Sales of alternative fuel vehicles are on the rise in the UK, with recent figures showing a 23% year-on-year increase for electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models. This may not come as a surprise when you consider the cost of petrol and diesel, but there are many additional reasons for going green when you’re searching for your next car. Electricity means cleaner air for everyone as well as smaller fuel bills for you, and if you consider hybrid and PHEV models rather than purely electric models, you don’t have to worry about the miles your car can cover, or about charging it.
If you do choose all-electric, there’s a government grant of up to £4500 on the purchase of a brand-new EV – check the government’s website for a list of all eligible electric models. If you decide to have a charging outlet at home rather than relying on public charge points, you can also receive a government contribution of up to £500 towards the cost of installation.
There are around 16,000 public electric vehicle charging points in the UK, with plans under the government’s Road to Zero strategy to push for charging facilities for new homes and in workplaces, as well as funding for private owners and an improved public network of charge points.
How do they work? Hybrid cars alternate between electric and combustion engine use, with the energy from braking directed back into the small battery. The car chooses which power to use, considering acceleration, driving style and traffic conditions as well as the charge and fuel available.
Best for: Eco-friendly drivers who don’t want to have to deal with the range anxiety that comes from driving a purely electric car. Car owners who must park on the street at home or may not have ready access to a charge point.
Advantages: No need to charge, so no need for a driveway or garage. Increased mpg over a petrol or diesel version and low road tax – some are free – so it’s a cleaner and greener option than fossil fuel only. You’ll power up the small electric battery by regenerative braking.
Drawbacks: You’ll still have to fill up with good old-fashioned petrol or diesel. Hybrids can be more expensive to buy than comparative models fuelled by petrol or diesel. Not as green as other EVs and you’ll only have short spells of electric driving to enjoy the silence.
How do they work? Think of a PHEV as the opposite of a hybrid – so it’s an electric car that has a traditionally-fuelled engine to extend its range. Rather than creating the electric power solely through regenerative braking or coasting, as would happen in a hybrid, PHEVs use a greater quota of electric power so they should be plugged into an electricity supply or charger to ‘fill up’.
Best for: Those with off-street space to charge or access to a charger at work. Drivers who need the range for longer journeys but have a short commute - most fully-charged PHEVs can travel 20-30 miles solely on electric power.
Advantages: PHEVs give greater fuel economy than petrol or diesel models and also have more electric capacity than hybrids. That makes for longer, greener journeys. As a PHEV’s heavy battery is often placed low in the centre, you may find handling is more enjoyable and the car feels nicely balanced.
Drawbacks: The combustion engine that supports your electric charge is always going to sound noisy when it eventually cuts in, especially as it may be smaller than you could expect in a comparative ‘fossil fuel only’ model.
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How do they work? The car’s battery delivers 100% of its power, so there is no fall-back to a conventional engine when the charge is gone. There are zero emissions and instant power in near-silence. Driving an EV is a very relaxing experience.
Best for: Commuters with short journeys, school-run parents and those in need of a cheap-to-run second car for local trips. It’s easier to manage if you have a driveway or garage to get into the routine of charging overnight.
Advantages: Zipping around the city or motorway – the instant acceleration on EVs is impressive. No exhaust or petrol fumes, free road tax and some cities have discounted parking and exemption from congestion charges for electric vehicles. Plug straight into a normal domestic plug socket for slow/overnight charging if need be. Best of all – you’ll never have to fill up with expensive fuel ever again.
Drawbacks: You’ll have to have the space to charge and pay for a rapid charge point to be fitted if you want a speedy top-up. Long-haul road trips may be tricky as there’s a limit to the number of rapid charges some models can handle in a short time period. EVs are far more expensive than comparative petrol or diesel models, even with a government grant. Cold weather, air conditioning use and traffic conditions can affect the anticipated mileage range.