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Hybrids: why are they so fast?

Hybrid badge on a car trunk

Hybrid badge on a trunkHybrid cars have reached a point where they can improve performance with rapid acceleration and efficiency compared to their non-hybrid counterparts. But why are hybrids fast? And we’re not just talking about hybrid supercars like the Ferrari SF90. This principle of why hybrids go fast also applies to affordable, mainstream cars and SUVs such as the hybrid variants of the Honda CR-V and Kia Sorento.

Why are hybrids fast?

Honda CR-V Hybrid 2021

Honda CR-V Hybrid 2021

A plug-in hybrid that can only run on electricity immediately delivers a lot of torque to the wheels, because the electric motor does not have to speed up like a petrol engine. For peak performance, a gas engine uses a torque curve with a sweet spot in the rev range. The torque curve for an electric motor is essentially a flat line; no revs, no shifting – just direct torque to the wheels.

Several luxury vehicles from brands such as BMW, Audi and Volvo offer plug-in hybrid options that perform as well or better than their non-hybrid counterparts. For example, every vehicle in Volvo’s Polestar Engineered performance range uses a plug-in hybrid powertrain that delivers more than 450 hp.

As for a conventional hybrid like a Toyota Prius, these typically prioritize efficiency over performance. However, some conventional hybrids also improve performance.

For example, the Honda CR-V Hybrid makes 212 horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque. It gets a combined fuel economy of 38 mpg. Meanwhile, a non-hybrid CR-V with AWD makes 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque and delivers a combined 29 mpg. The hybrid uses a larger 4-cylinder engine than the non-hybrid, and is mated to two electric motors, ultimately improving both performance and efficiency.

Another example is the recently redesigned Toyota Tundra. The i-Force Max twin-turbo V6 hybrid powertrain is the more powerful and efficient choice in its engine range. The Ford F-150 is another full-size truck with an impressive hybrid option.

Many hybrid SUVs, such as the CR-V Hybrid mentioned above, use twin electric motors, one at the front wheels and one at the rear. The twin engines provide rapid acceleration and standard four-wheel drive (AWD) is a common advantage of hybrid SUVs.

Conventional vs Plug-in Hybrid

2022 Toyota RAV4 SE Hybrid

2022 Toyota RAV4 SE HybridPlug-in hybrids generally provide better performance than conventional hybrids. A plug-in hybrid can only run on electricity. A conventional hybrid, on the other hand, almost always uses an electric motor to support the gas engine. With a plug-in hybrid, you benefit from instant torque when fully charged, often resulting in rapid acceleration.

You’ll want a plug-in if you’re looking for a hybrid for the performance benefits. For example, let’s take a look at the two hybrid variants of the Toyota RAV4. The RAV4 Hybrid is a conventional hybrid that produces 219 horsepower, and its performance is comparable to that of the non-hybrid RAV4. The RAV4 Prime is a plug-in hybrid with a total power of 302 hp. It can also travel up to 42 miles on electricity alone.

A major advantage of a conventional hybrid is that it is usually cheaper than a comparable plug-in hybrid. A conventional hybrid also has an uncomplicated fueling system. Just put gas in the tank; no plugging required.

Hybrid Supercars

The hybrid supercar phenomenon flared up about ten years ago. High-end automakers introduced a formidable trio of high-performance hybrids during this era: the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder and Ferrari La Ferrari. The McLaren and Porsche were plug-in hybrids, with 19 miles and 12 miles of electric range respectively. De La Ferrari used a KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) to provide temporary bursts of extra power.

These cars showed the world that it is possible to have a real supercar and a real hybrid without compromise. More examples since then have been the Ferrari SF90 Stradale with three electric motors mated to a twin-turbo V8, the 1,040 hp McLaren Speedtail, the 1,500 hp plug-in Koenigsegg Regera and the Lamborghini Sián FKP 37 with a hybrid V12 powertrain. There’s also the recently discontinued second-generation Acura NSX, which had its swan song in the form of the 602 horsepower Type S model.

General Availability and Occupation

You may not be in the market for a Koenigsegg or a McLaren, but that doesn’t mean a sporty hybrid with fast acceleration is out of your reach. There is a growing number of mainstream cars, trucks and SUVs with hybrid options that are both faster and more fuel efficient than their standard petrol counterpart.

Vehicles such as the Honda CR-V, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Tundra and Ford F-150 offer attractive hybrid options worth considering.

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