More and more cars are now being fitted with ‘mild hybrid’ technology, and the clue to the term’s meaning is all in the name. Put simply, a mild hybrid car simply doesn’t gain as much electrical help from battery power as a full hybrid. Here’s our introduction to how mild hybrids work, what their point is and whether they’re worth choosing when the time comes to pick your next car.
A full hybrid (for example, Toyota’s Prius that’s been around since 1997) uses its petrol engine and electric motors to drive the car. These can work simultaneously or independently. The batteries of full hybrids only hold small amounts of charge. Because of this, their driving range on electric power alone is limited compared to full-electric or plug-in hybrid electric cars (PHEVs) charged from wall boxes or public charge points. On the other hand, mild hybrid electric vehicles (MHEVs) are very similar to self-charging hybrids. Popular cars with mild hybrid as standard or as an option include the all-new Renault Arkana, Kia’s Sportage and Ford’s Puma.
The main difference between these and self-charging (or full) hybrids is that the mild version has a much smaller battery. In fact, on mild hybrids, the battery is only there to help the internal combustion engine run more economically. The electrical parts of the power train simply can’t drive the wheels; the car can’t move on battery power alone. As for conventional petrol or diesel powered cars, the engine still does all the work.
Different manufacturers have developed different mild hybrid set ups. The result though is always similar. It’s how ‘mild’ status is delivered that differs.
For instance, at the top-end of mild hybrids, many Audi and Volkswagen models feature a proprietary system called mHEV. At its heart is a sophisticated 48-volt electrical system (belt-drive starter generator, or BSG). This allows the engine to be turned off while coasting, before restarting during acceleration. It’s also integrated with the car’s adaptive cruise control, which allows energy recovery through regenerative braking. It’s clever stuff, but at a price! According to the manufacturer, the technology delivers much better fuel economy savings compared to earlier stop-start cars that switch off while stationary in traffic.
On the other hand, at the lower-cost end of the market, Suzuki’s mild hybrids incorporate ‘starter generators’ and tiny 0.37kWh batteries. When the driver needs strong acceleration, a built in electric motor helps the engine, while the system’s belt-drive also provides smoother stop-starting in traffic. The result? The car’s engine gets help and operating efficiency is enhanced. It’s the way this help is delivered, and the sophistication of the technology, that differs.
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According to a recent article by What Car, ‘On average, a car with mild hybrid technology is said to be up to 15% more efficient than its conventional counterpart. Improved torque (pulling power) also means the engine doesn’t need to work so hard under normal loads. In turn, this means that economy can be boosted by nearly 10 per cent. Equally, when strong acceleration is needed, perhaps during overtaking, the mild hybrid boosts the car’s performance. The effect on motoring isn’t unlike that experienced with turbochargers, with valuable improvements in fuel economy and performance just when they’re needed. For drivers not yet ready to transition to full-blown hybrids or EVs, this transitional step is worthy of consideration.
However, the downside of mild hybrids is that they aren’t as environmentally friendly as many other hybrids. This may be important if you regularly travel in Low Emission Zones (LEZs), which are areas where the higher polluting vehicles are regulated and often have to pay to enter.
Take a look at the websites of leading car brands and you’ll find much being made of the advantages of mild hybrids. The benefits include lower emissions, lower initial and long-term running costs (improved fuel economy lowers running costs) and a more relaxing drive. The latter is one of the top claims made by Kia who say, ‘The assistance from the electric motor means the engine doesn’t have to work as hard and that makes for a quieter journey. The added torque also means effortless acceleration for a more relaxing driving experience.’
Because they’re less complex than other hybrids, mild hybrids are often cheaper to buy. Besides, they may prove easier to live with because you don’t need to plug them in regularly to get the maximum available benefit. Is a plug-in hybrid or EV beyond your budget at the moment? You don’t have ready-access to a home charging point? If so, choosing a mild hybrid offers a much cleaner option compared a conventional petrol or diesel car. Again, this could be the perfect first step towards a more environmentally friendly motoring life.
Will you choose the entry-level mild hybrid technology in a car such as the Suzuki Vitara? Perhaps the Vorsprung durch Technik appeal of an Audi mild hybrid is calling you?
Whichever brand and model you choose, mild hybrids offer an intelligent choice for anyone wanting a gradual first step into electric and hybrid cars. What’s more, if you aren’t yet ready for the full hybrid or EV driving experience, the fact that mild hybrids drive just like a traditional petrol or diesel car may also appeal. You pay your money and you make your hybrid choice. Whatever you settle on, you can be sure you’re doing your bit for the environment.
Today there’s more hybrid cars available to lease through the Motability Scheme than ever before, and with a great range of mild hybrids, full hybrids, and plug-in hybrids to choose from, it's often difficult for many drivers to narrow down their options. Here we've picked out a few of the best hybrid cars available today, plus you can also use our search to browse everything that's currently on offer.