More Than Just the Prius: Hybrids Defined

When most people think about hybrid cars — which we’ll define here as any type of vehicle that’s powered by two different sources — the first thing that comes to mind is the Toyota Prius. After all, it was the world’s first mass-produced hybrid vehicle.

But nowadays, the hybrid market is significantly more diverse than it was when the Prius burst onto the scene a decade ago. Not only are a number of different manufacturers releasing their own hybrid models, a number of different types of hybrids have emerged.

Below, you’ll find a brief description of two kinds of hybrids that provide a similar experience to that of vehicles driven by internal combustion. In Part Two of this series, we’ll explore two types of hybrids that are closer to full electrics. Read on:

Mild hybrids

Mild hybrids are separated from full hybrids by the fact that they can’t actually be fully powered by the electric motor. For this reason, they’re generally considered a closer relative to the internal combustion-driven vehicle than an electric vehicle.

Rather than having an electric motor actually power the vehicle, mild hybrids turn off the internal combustion engine when the vehicle is stopping, coasting, or idling, and use an electric motor to quickly turn it on again when needed. They may use regenerative braking to some degree, but generally not as efficiently as full hybrids do.

Full hybrids

A full hybrid — also called a parallel hybrid — is the vehicle most people think of when we talk about hybrids. (The classic Toyota Prius, for example, is considered a full hybrid.) While they still rely on a gasoline engine, an electric drivetrain allows them to be powered by only electricity some of the time — thus using far less gas and producing fewer emissions than a traditional combustion engine.

When a full hybrid is traveling at extremely low speeds, it can be powered by the electric motor alone. It’s also capable of being powered by both the electric motor and the gasoline engine — and at higher speeds, by only the gasoline engine. It uses energy siphoning and regenerative braking to charge the battery as it drives.

The main advantage of a full hybrid is it provides fuel savings, reduced emissions, and efficiency without having to be plugged in to charge. And, while the savings and eco-friendliness aren’t as great as with full electrics, drivers of full hybrids don’t have to experience the “range anxiety” — fear of running out of power with nowhere to charge — associated with vehicles that rely more heavily on the electric motor.