Plug-in Hybrid vs Hybrid vs Electric Cars - Which Is Right For Me?

Rowan Harris 7 minutes Published: 20/10/2021

Whether you’re looking to cut down on your carbon footprint, or simply cut down on your commuting costs, there’s a lot to be said for sticking a big ol’ battery in the underbelly of your car. 

But are you an electric-powered puritan or still a petrolhead deep down? More to the point, does it matter? 

In this article we discuss the pros and cons of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars to help you decide which one is for you.

Overview Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
Mild Hybrid/Hybrid 1) Cheaper to purchase than other electrified alternatives 2) No need to plug in and wait for hours on end 3) Better fuel economy and lower emissions than ICEs 1) Less economical on the motorway 2) Attracts less financial incentives than PHEVs and EVs
Plug-in Hybrid 1) ‘Range anxiety’ is not an issue! 2) Suits urban driving with occasional longer drives 3) Can be zero emissions 1) Needs charging facilities to take full advantage 2) Less efficient than ICE if not charged
Electric 1) Incredibly low running costs 2) No tailpipe emissions 3) Great tax incentives 1) Must be plugged in to charge fully 2) Charging can take a while

Difference In Function

There are 4 different types of cars to go over here: mild hybrid (MHEV), full hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV), and electric (BEV).

Firstly, what is a hybrid car? A hybrid uses a combination of electricity from its battery and an internal combustion engine as a means of propulsion.

Mild hybrids have a much smaller battery (48V) than HEV or PHEVs, but bigger than the 12V in a standard petrol/diesel car. It has an integrated starter which allows the engine to switch off when coasting or braking. When the car is accelerating, it will be able to assist the engine. Regenerative braking keeps the battery topped up.

A full hybrid has a larger battery and can be run entirely on electricity or combustible fuel only, or a combo of the two.

PHEVs are the same, though they can be charged using a three pin plug, wallbox, or public charging station. They also use regenerative braking to recharge, but manual charging is better. You can learn more about how a plug in hybrid works.

An electric car, obviously, only runs on electricity. It can be recharged in the same way as a PHEV.

Purchase Costs

Mild hybrids and hybrid models are closest in price to traditional ICE cars.

Although mild hybrids don’t have the flashy looks of some EVs, you’ve probably seen these unassuming eco-warriors on the streets in the form of the Suzuki Swift, Ford Puma and the Kia Rio.

Well known hybrid models include the Toyota Prius and Lexus UX.

PHEVs are a bit more expensive and are no longer eligible for UK Government subsidies.

Electric cars are the most expensive of the lot and it’s all down to the battery. Thankfully, the cost of batteries is coming down. For the time being, there are several Government grants for electric cars to take the sting out of the high purchase price. 

The Government Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG) will take £2,500 off the RRP, provided the EV has a list price of less than £35,000. The Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS) will also cut the cost of installing a charging point by £350. 

Look beyond the purchase price and there’s a whole host of savings to be made with EVs.

Refueling Costs

Mild hybrids, hybrids, and PHEVs are cheaper to run than traditional ICE cars because you can take advantage of the electric power generated through regenerative braking. Charging a PHEV manually is also cheaper than using petrol or diesel.

Recharging an electric car is by far the cheapest, especially if you charge your EV at home. Tie yourself into an EV tariff and you’ll be eligible for rates as low as 4.5p/kWh overnight with EDF Go Electric.

To put that into perspective, if you took out a lease on a Tesla Model 3 Long Range with a claimed range of 360 miles and a 75kWh battery, you’d be paying less than 1p per mile if you charged only during the cheapest hours. 

Better still, this is made incredibly easy with the latest smart wallboxes, which allow you to programme when the vehicle should accept charge. This means you won’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to plug and unplug. 

Range and Convenience of Refuelling

Mild hybrids have the least electrical range. Since you rely primarily on petrol or diesel, you can quickly and easily top up at your nearest petrol station. You don’t need any extra planning.

Full hybrids are next most convenient if you don’t mind running on fossil fuels. The classic example of a full hybrid is the Toyota Prius, which has an electric range of 25 miles.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles typically have an electric-only range of between 20-50 miles, depending on the car. The BMW X5 xDrive45e offers one of the most impressive electric-only ranges of 54 miles. 

With a solid electric-only range you can easily manage an entirely emissions-free drive around town if you are able to plug in at home. At the same time, if you plan to take the occasional longer trip, you won’t need to worry about stopping at a service station for 40 minutes plus just to get back on the road. 

However, if you don’t recharge your PHEV regularly, then you’ll effectively be lugging around a dead weight. Not only will this ruin your miles-per-gallon figure, but it will make your emissions as bad, if not worse than your bog-standard ICE. 

Electric cars are the most inconvenient to refuel but with planning and access to the right equipment, you’re golden. If you want to charge your car at home with no driveway, it’s very difficult if you haven’t any on-street residential charge points installed. You can charge at work if there are facilities, or in a public place.

Luckily, most electric cars have at least 150 miles of electric range, with some even offering almost 500 miles. Your average electric car like the Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe, offers somewhere between 200 and 300 miles.

Tax

Mild hybrids and hybrids produce emissions of similar levels to ICE cars so they are not taxed favourably.

With a PHEV, you’ll be eligible for some of the lower (though not the lowest) company electric car tax bands (BiK) thanks to your reduced emissions output, for example.

You hit the jackpot with an electric car. Road tax is currently non-existent, and BiK tax bands are as low as 1% this year, rising to 2% next year. 

You’ll also get a VIP pass through London’s congestion charge zone. As of 25th October 2021, only battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are eligible for the 100% cleaner vehicles discount (due to last until 25th of December 2025). 

Environment

While the battery of a mild hybrid or hybrid isn’t big enough to power the car by itself, it can help to cut down CO2 emissions when idling and save some brake wear and tear by slowing the car down using the motor first. 

PHEVs produce far less CO2. How much they produce depends on your driving habits - if you are on top of keeping it charged, the emissions will decrease, but if you keep defaulting to petrol or diesel, it won’t be as good for the environment.

And of course, electric cars are better for the environment, too.  By entirely eliminating tailpipe emissions, the emissions from producing and transporting petrol and diesel are eliminated too. While the UK’s energy mix may not be 100% renewable just yet, the benefits of owning an EV will only increase as the UK becomes greener. 

Ongoing Maintenance Costs

ICE cars have over 200 moving parts, so servicing regularly is a must, and you can expect your fair share of repairs over the years.

With an electric car, you can have as little as around 17 moving parts - this means that servicing an EV is easier and there is much less to go wrong. An electric vehicle can save you money with its simpler drivetrain. In most cases, EVs don’t have gears, and electric cars don’t need oil changes either. 

A PHEV is actually more difficult than an ICE and an electric car, since it uses both propulsion systems.

Which one is for me?

Hopefully, our pros and cons lists have given you some food for thought. However, it can be a lot to get your head around, so we’ll try to summarise. 

If you’re looking for a cheap electric-assisted car with improved fuel economy and reduced emissions compared to an ICE, with the added bonus of not having to plug in at night, then a mild or full hybrid may be the best choice for you. 

If you would like to switch to emissions free city-driving but can’t afford an electric car, or you’re not sure whether you want to rely on the UK’s current public charging infrastructure when you want to make a bigger excursion, a plug-in hybrid can offer you the best of both worlds. 

Just be mindful that you charge as much as possible, as using a PHEV with petrol or diesel only can work out more expensive and polluting in the long-run. 

Finally, if you want to have the biggest environmental impact and you don’t mind the high purchase price (have you considered leasing?) then you should seriously consider an electric car. 

If you like to rack up the miles, drive in the city, and have a driveway for home charging facilities, an EV may even save you money in the long-run.

If you still haven’t made up your mind, check out our plug-in hybrid vs hybrid car and electric cars vs petrol cars posts.