The key question is… what car should I buy?

When looking at what car to buy, a number of considerations have to be taken into account, including the total cost of ownership, practical issues such as size, comfort and functionality, as well as the convenience of charging or fuelling.

The choice of what car to buy today can be a difficult decision. There is an increasing range of cars available to buy, from ‘conventional’ petrol and diesel to mild, full or plug-in hybrid and cars powered by batteries and even some fuel cell models. We’ll explore the many factors to take into account as choosing a new car depends largely on the type of user (individual, business or family), the practical use and the mileage.

The hybrid (electrified) internal combustion engine could become the preferred choice for individual mobility, with varying degrees of hybridisation enabling petrol (gasoline) and diesel engine cars to provide the benefits on emissions and driveability that many drivers are looking for.

As technology continues to improve in all areas of vehicle propulsion, petrol and diesel remain viable and compelling options for anyone looking to buy a new car. Fuel consumption is improving as new models are introduced, and consequently vehicle-specific carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are decreasing. As these vehicles now all meet the new Euro 6d-Temp or Euro 6d low emissions standards and are helping to improve local air quality, there is very little difference, if any, between the emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulates from each of the powertrain types.

Purchasing decisions can therefore be made on the basis of purchase and operation costs, comfort, practicality and personal choice. Diesel is considered a good option for long distances and heavy loads in particular, offering advantages in running costs through better fuel consumption. While petrol cars are generally cheaper than their diesel equivalents, they have a higher fuel distance specific consumption, which can make them a preferable choice if total mileage is likely to be low.

With greater attention on fuel efficiency and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions as a result of tightening EU limits, an increasing number of diesel and petrol cars are electrified in a ‘mild hybrid’ set-up, with battery technology providing fuel economy benefits of around 10-15%. A higher proportion of more sustainable and even renewable fuel will enter in the market in the future which should further reduce CO2 emissions of a car you buy today.

While they only represent a small percentage of the European car market, cars running on alternative fuels can also be a relevant option. Gaseous fuel, in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) can offer drivers lower running costs as LPG is cheaper than gasoline and diesel. These cars are often available as a ‘bi-fuel’ (gas and petrol) option, providing increased flexibility.

Full hybrid electric vehicles (FHEV), most of which use a petrol engine along with a battery that is recharged when the brakes are used, have been available in Europe for around 20 years. In an urban setting, they can be particularly energy-efficient as they mainly run on the battery. In contrast, their fuel consumption would be similar to a conventional vehicle when driving on a motorway as they would rely more on the engine itself.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) are similar to battery electric vehicles (BEVs), but with an internal combustion engine (often a petrol one) that can take over when the charge in the battery has been used. When charged, PHEV can be most efficient on short journeys, as the battery may only provide about 65 kilometres (40 miles) of driving. PHEV can be large vehicles and may therefore not be as fuel-efficient as a smaller one when running on the engine alone.

There is naturally a lot of interest in BEVs to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, particularly CO2. In towns and cities, BEVs are usually smaller secondary family cars. At the high end of the market there are large and SUV models more capable of driving further. Technology is improving and range is increasing, making BEVs suitable for longer journeys.

Yet, BEVs have relatively low performance in terms of battery range and charging time and remain more expensive than other vehicles. With plug-in vehicles, it is important to consider how and where the vehicle would be recharged – for example, at home overnight and/or at work during the day. While charging infrastructure for electric vehicles is improving, it is still under development and is not always an available and practical option, particularly for on-road parking and charging. The proportion of these cars on the roads in most European countries remains relatively low, with just a few per cent of car sales being BEVs and the vast majority being conventional vehicles. The slow uptake of BEVs suggests that the cost remains prohibitive, even with subsidies.

Therefore, careful consideration is required when thinking about buying a BEV. Another influencing factor might be the availability of subsidies to offset against the price of the regular car. Some countries offer higher subsidies, enabling BEVs to take a greater share of the market.

Ultimately, when it comes to buying a new car, the purchasing decision depends on a mix of considerations: cost, practical aspects (e.g. convenience), and, often, an emotional element. When choosing from one of the many available cars on the market, buyers should make their decision based on how and how far they’re planning on driving their new car. Today, new diesel and petrol cars are the most convenient and affordable options for long distance and urban mobility.