Petrol, diesel or electric — what is the right car for me?

BERLIN: The automotive world used to be much more straightforward when the bonnet of a car either contained a petrol or a diesel engine.

Performance, fuel economy, tax and various other costs all play a role when picking a motor. These days you can choose between plug-in hybrids and all-electrics along with frugal three-cylinder, downsized petrol engines and diesels with turbochargers.

On the cusp of the electric transformation, manufacturers are coming up with all sorts of new ideas. Electric propulsion is also available in all sizes too.

Everyone who isn't a diehard car buff may find the huge choice a bit unsettling but it need not be, provided you abide by a few rules.

According to German car dealer Andreas Ignaz, the old adage still applies: "If you drive short distances, a petrol car is the best choice, while a diesel is best for long journeys."

"The petrol engine warms up more quickly and is therefore the ideal short-distance engine, while the diesel only reaches operating temperature after a few kilometres," explains Thomas Schuster from the expert organisation KÜS.

However, the diesel engine, with its lower engine speed, runs more smoothly and with its higher torque, has more power when overtaking. In addition, the diesel is more durable in the long term, says Schuster with a view to the high six-figure mileages racked up by diesels.


The fact that fuel prices have risen sharply over the years does not change this rule, says dealer Ignaz, nor does the fact that a diesel is often more expensive than a petrol car. "Because the diesel consumes less, you still end up driving more cheaply. And the more you drive, the more you can save."

However, the choice actually goes far beyond the type of fuel, according to automotive expert Ferdinand Dudenhöffer

He maintains that a second car, used mainly in the city for between 5,000km and 8,000km per year, is best equipped with an entry-level combustion engine.

Once the choice between petrol and diesel has been made, you can decide on the degree of hybridisation. Three different levels are available, explains Schuster.

The so-called mild hybrid can be safely ignored, he argues. It doesn't do much more than provide a powerful electric boost when setting off and recover some energy when braking.

The full hybrid, made famous by Toyota's Prius, is more interesting as it allows a few kilometres of purely electric driving and thus reduces the consumption of a petrol car to the level of a diesel.

For Asian manufacturers in particular, it has become a viable alternative to the diesel engine, which many brands from the region have already removed from their range.

Opinions on plug-in hybrids vary widely. This setup combines a combustion engine with an electric motor, which can also be charged via a mains plug and driven in pure electric mode for longer.

Schuster considers the part-time electric vehicle to be the ideal transitional car. This is because models from some brands can now drive up to 100km in electric drive.


In the city especially, a plug-in is kind to the environment. It also allows people without guaranteed access to a charging point the opportunity to drive electrically.

Dudenhöffer, on the other hand, believes this technology is on the brink of extinction once subsidies run out and customers have to bear the full costs.

Car dealer Ignaz takes a different view: Anyone who can charge at home with solar power or free of charge at work, for example, will find the plug-in hybrid worthwhile even without a subsidy given the high price of petrol.

Everyone else should either opt for a combustion engine without a plug-in option or go electric all the way, according to the expert.

Switching to a fully electric vehicle may make less sense for those living in rural rather than urban areas because fewer public charging stations tend to be available.

And the higher the mileage, the more difficult it is to switch to an electric car. After all, if you often make use of or exceed the maximum range, you also have to top up or charge on the go.

"If you're not just looking for a second car for everyday short journeys, but need to cover all your needs with one car, you should perhaps wait a little longer before making the switch to an all-electric vehicle," says Ignaz.

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