What are the different types of hybrid vehicle, and how do they work?

The popularity of low-emissions vehicles just keeps growing.

With more brands focusing on the electrification of their models – we dare you to name a brand without at least one hybrid or fully electric model on the books – there’s never been a better time to consider switching to a hybrid car lease.

Hybrid vehicles represent a more environmentally friendly alternative to driving traditional petrol or diesel cars, without committing to a 100% electric model. 

Running partially on an electric motor and using energy stored in batteries for their power, hybrids are pretty simple.


Well, mostly. But there are some differences between the various types of hybrid vehicle available. We’ve broken them down so you can make the right choice for you, your lifestyle and your budget. 

Plug-in Hybrid Charging

The different types of hybrid vehicles

Full hybrid 

Best for: short journeys

A full hybrid electric vehicle (FHEV), also known as a self-charging hybrid, can run on electricity alone for a short period, but is best when used at the same time as the combustion engine.

When the two are used at the same time, the electric motor in full hybrid vehicles will cut in and out automatically. Essentially, this means that the car uses less petrol to go the same distance, reducing air pollution and emissions.

And it keeps your fuel bill down.

This type of hybrid doesn’t need charging – unlike a plug-in hybrid – because it relies on regenerative braking to recharge its small battery on the go.

Models with full hybrid options include:

Plug-in hybrid 

Best for: the daily commute and quick weekend trips

Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), combine the combustion engine with an electric motor and a larger battery pack than a full hybrid.

PHEVs need charging from an external supply (like a domestic 3-pin plug, at-home EV charger or public charger), and function much like a full hybrid car, but able to go much further on electric power alone.

The engine will fire using electric power initially, but you can switch between fuel types.

If the battery isn’t properly charged or you’re travelling further than the WLTP range of the battery, the car will revert to using its combustion engine alone. If you aim to keep fuel consumption and emissions down, you’ll want to make the most of the electric motor and keep the battery charged as much as possible.

When fully charged, a plug-in hybrid can travel up to fifty miles (model dependent) on electric power alone. Depending on your lifestyle and what you’re using the car for, you could run your PHEV solely on the electric motor and not need the combustion engine.

As well as mains charging, a plug-in hybrid uses regenerative braking to convert some of the energy lost during braking into usable energy stored in the battery.

Models with plug-in hybrid options include:

Volvo XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid badge

Mild hybrid

Best for: steady speed driving and those who want better fuel economy

Mild hybrids (MHEV) use their electric motor to assist their combustion engine – but because the battery is smaller, you can’t drive on electric power alone.

Instead, the electric input permanently aids driving, and is charged naturally without needing to be plugged in. The mild hybrid offers performance enhancements, improves efficiency by around 15% and is generally cheaper than a full hybrid.

Mild hybrids are the hybrid for you if you don’t want to worry about charging your car, but you’re still keen to reduce your carbon footprint and improve your fuel efficiency. 

Models with mild hybrid options include:

What are the differences between mild hybrid, full hybrid, and plug-in hybrid vehicles?

When it comes to recharging, full and mild hybrids don’t need to be plugged in to recharge, but – like it says on the tin – plug-in hybrids do. 

Mild hybrids are the only variant of hybrid available with a manual gearbox, but also the only one that can’t run on electric power alone. Both full and plug-in hybrids can, though PHEVs can go much further on the battery pack than FHEVs. 

Plug-in hybrids have the biggest battery pack (hence the need to plug in and charge), and the biggest electric range.

Jaguar I-Pace Electric Vehicle Range

Electric vehicles

Best for: maximum environmental benefits with permanent electric driving performance

We couldn’t talk about hybrid vehicles without mentioning the final boss – the fully electric vehicle.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are 100% electric, which means no fuel tank, no exhaust pipe and no engine oil. They run solely off electric power and need to be recharged at an external outlet (which takes longer than a PHEV because of the size of the battery).

The driving range per ‘tank’ can be less than that of a hybrid because there’s no fuel back up. But with electric technology improving all the time, there are many models on the market now with claimed ranges of over 300 miles.

But the biggest benefit of making the switch to electric? The fact that their ongoing environmental impact is minimal and running costs can be massively reduced.

Electric vehicles can be more expensive upfront than a hybrid vehicle – but an electric car lease is an excellent way to spread the cost without the commitment.

Some of our favourite EVs include:

In a nutshell

If you’re not quite ready to make the leap into fully electric driving, a hybrid car lease is the best way to dip your toe in and benefit from the reduced emissions that these vehicles can offer.

A mild hybrid lease is a great starting point because there is functionally no difference between a MHEV and a full combustion engine car – and these tend to be the cheapest. 

At the other end of the scale, a plug-in hybrid lease is great if you’re not frequently driving great distances and can do most of your journeys on the electric motor alone.

Finally, a full hybrid lease is the ideal inbetween. They can cost a little more than a MHEV, but with the ability to drive on the electric motor alone,  they’re very good at reducing emissions and helping to keep your fuel costs down.

Ready to get your hybrid leasing journey on the road?

Sarah Hunt

Sarah Hunt

Sarah is the Head of Marketing and she's tasked with keeping the fantastic marketing team in line. She's probably the reason you've heard of us, and her wealth of marketing experience means that no challenge is too big.