Electric, Hybrid and Diesel – What’s the difference?

Review

Quintessential hybrid Toyota Prius is finally having its day in the sun. It made a big jump becoming the 3rd bestselling car in the world in May 2012. The question of our energy future is long from being answered but there’s no doubting the increasing interest in fuel efficiency, especially when facing higher and higher gas prices.

So what’s the actual story behind all the terms associated with fuel efficiency and economy? What do the buzzwords mean when you’re shopping for your next car? Let’s break it all down:

Electric Vehicles (EV)

Volt plug in

A Chevy Volt stands by for charging

It seems obvious that cars should be powered with electricity. There’s already a battery in your car, after all! However, batteries strong enough to power a car by themselves are expensive to build. Existing electric vehicles lack the range of their fossil-fuel powered compatriots, and there aren’t many charging stations yet. Additionally, their environmental impact isn’t necessarily zero, as creating the electricity to power them and building them in the first place may create its own “footprint.”

The day to day efficiency of these vehicles is hard to deny, however. Electrical vehicles make better use of their energy compared to gasoline powered vehicles. Additionally, they emit no pollutants and are very quiet.

Examples: Nissan LEAF, upcoming Honda Fit Electric

Hybrid and Plug-in Vehicles

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Somewhere between fully electric vehicles and fuel powered vehicles is the increasingly popular hybrid and plug-in vehicle. The most famous example might be the Toyota Prius but more and more hybrid models are manufactured every year. Hybrid engines greatly increase fuel economy in vehicles. More and more familiar models of cars, trucks and SUVs are adding hybrid and plug-in trim levels to their offerings making it easy for their long-time fans to upgrade.

In addition to a number of other ways to categorize hybrids, hybrid vehicles fall somewhere in between three types: full hybrid, mild hybrid and plug-in electric vehicle. It’s also worth noting that many individual models include some or all of these “types” in their different trim levels and included technology.

Full hybrid is a car that can be driven at low speeds by its electric motor but is still primarily moved with a gasoline powered engine. These types of vehicles do not need to be plugged in. In fact, they are installed with turbines that regenerate power when braking and use the gasoline engine to recharge the battery. In other words, driving a hybrid makes energy for the hybrid to store and use. It also does things to make driving the included gasoline engine more efficient, like turning it off when idling and giving it a boost when accelerating or climbing a hill.

Mild hybrid is a type of hybrid vehicle that relies more heavily on its gasoline powered engine. The electric machine can never fully power the vehicle, but instead assists the gasoline engine to make it more efficient. The less sophisticated electrical motor makes these vehicles more affordable than their full hybrid counterparts. It’s worth noting that there isn’t a direct division between full and mild hybrids and many vehicles combine features of both.

Plug-in vehicles combine a gasoline powered engine with a rechargeable battery. Both of these power sources can propel the vehicle. In many ways the plug-in hybrid seeks to address problems with both hybrid and electric vehicles. The plug-in hybrid can be driven further than a fully electric vehicle because it can revert to using the gasoline engine when the electric battery runs out. And unlike the full or mild hybrid vehicle, it can do more driving using purely electric power.

Examples:
2012 Chevy Volt (94 for electric driving, 34 gasoline-powered MPG), Fisker Karma (52 MPG)  2012 Toyota Prius (combined 50 MPG), 2012 Ford Escape Hybrid (31 combined MPG), 2012 Lexus CT 200h (combined 41 MPG), 2012 Honda Civic2013 Ford Fusion

Diesel Vehicles

chevysilveradodiesel

2012 Chevrolet Silverado

Banish thoughts of the smelly, noisy diesel engines of the past. Modern diesel engines are quieter and pleasanter than ever before. In addition, diesel fuel can be used by its engines more efficiently than conventional gasoline. That can greatly improve a car’s MPG. However, the savings can be countered by higher prices for diesel fuel. There are also concerns about the polluting nature of diesel fuel despite the great improvements made to the technology in recent years. Recently the World Health Organization claimed that exhaust from diesel engines is a probable cause of cancer.

While it is not a fuel-free or hybrid solution, diesel might be a good fit for drivers looking for more powerful engines and a chance to cruise in a more efficient style. Those concerned with pollution, however, might want to look elsewhere.

Examples: 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI, 2012 Volkswagen Golf2012 Chevy Silverado

 

Find out more about fuel efficient vehicles on CarReviewSoup.com with our 40+MPG tag.

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