Hybrid vs electric cars

Hybrid and electric cars both feature battery power, but work in very different ways. Keep reading to find out which works best for you

James Wilson
Jun 7, 2022

Whether you're looking for a car to save you money on fuel or want the lowest emission vehicle possible, hybrid and electric cars are worth considering. However, they work in different ways, so weighing up which works best for you can be confusing.

To help you decide on a winner, we have gathered together all the pros and cons for hybrid and fully electric cars - covering everything from costs to electric range. Keep reading for the reasons why you should choose a hybrid car and those supporting an electric car.

Hybrid vs electric: pros and cons

Pros and cons of hybrids

There are three main types of hybrid, which offer different amounts of electric assistance and range. For a detailed breakdown of each type, take a look at our ‘what is a hybrid car’ article. In summary, the three hybrid formats are as follows:

  • Mild hybrids These have minimal electrification and cannot drive any noticeable distance using electrons alone, with just a small amount of electric assistance for the engine.
  • Traditional or conventional hybrids These are sometimes called ‘self-charging hybrids’ or simply 'hybrids'. They are a significant step up from mild hybrids, with much larger battery packs and can drive using electricity alone, albeit usually for no more than a couple of miles. Car makers typically don’t quote ranges for traditional hybrids.
  • Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) PHEVs are the closest a hybrid car gets to being fully electric, with a larger battery pack than ordinary hybrids. They can typically travel between 25 and 45 miles from a full charge, depending on the make and model. Fail to charge a plug-in hybrid regularly, though, and it is likely to use lots of fuel - far more than the official economy figures suggest - with it relying mainly on the petrol or diesel engine and still having a heavy battery pack and motor to lug around, but with little electric assistance. 

As mild hybrids aren’t able to offer any meaningful battery-powered range, we haven't included this category in the pros and cons section below because many don’t apply to mild hybrids. It's easiest to think of these as simply ordinary petrol or diesel cars, just with slightly better fuel economy than normal.

Pros of a hybrid car

Flexibility
One of the biggest benefits of hybrid cars is that they offer the flexibility of petrol or diesel cars (in that they can travel great distances and use a huge network of reliable petrol stations to easily fill up), with some of the benefits of an electric car. Hybrid tech can reduce your car's emissions - especially in the case of PHEVs...provided they are charged regularly - as they have a longer battery-powered range. There is one major caveat to hybrids being better for the environment, which is covered in the ‘cons’ section.

Financial benefits
As hybrid cars normally come with lower official carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions they are viewed favourably by the government and local authorities when it comes to some taxes. As a result, there are a number of financial incentives, such as being exempt from low emission zones charges.

There are other savings, too. When a new car is registered for use on the road, its first tax payment is based on its CO2 emissions. Emissions are presented in grams per kilometre (g/km) terms and the associated tax ranges from £0 (for cars that emit no CO2) up to £2,245 for cars that emit more than 255g/km of driving. Hybrid cars will typically qualify for between £10 and £115 tax per year, with most being towards the lower end of that scale (especially PHEV models).

Company car drivers can also make big savings by driving a hybrid, compared to using a petrol or diesel vehicle. This is because the Benefit-in-Kind tax is calculated in part by using a car’s CO2 emissions, so switching to a hybrid should mean a lower monthly tax bill.

On the subject of savings, most petrol and diesel drivers can expect to reduce their fuel bills by swapping to a hybrid (and charging it regularly in the case of PHEVs, which we'll elaborate upon further down the page) thanks to their theoretically higher fuel economy.

Resilience to world events
This is one advantage to hybrids that has only really become apparent in recent times and that is the ability to use two different types of fuel. If, for example, there is a storm and power to your house is cut off, hybrid drivers will have fossil fuel to fall back on.

If there is a large scale conflict, meanwhile, that limits the supply of petrol and diesel to the UK, there is battery power to fall back on - although this only applies to PHEVs (not mild hybrids and standard hybrids), as they can be manually charged.

Battery size
A more common doomsday scenario for electric vehicles is the battery needing replacing. A new battery typically accounts for a very significant proportion of a car's value when new and if a used model was outside of its manufacturer warranty period and required a replacement battery, that could potentially amount to more than the car is worth.

Hybrids have significantly smaller batteries than electric cars, so should, in theory, cost much less to replace. As batteries used in hybrid and electric cars are typically covered by an eight-year warranty, this will really only apply to older used cars, though PHEV batteries are larger and likely to cost much more to replace than standard hybrid battery packs.

Well equipped
Hybrid models are generally well equipped. There are some models which come with sparse levels of equipment but as hybrids are generally more expensive than models solely powered by fossil fuels, the people driving them expect more tech and features to be included - so that's normally what they get.

One feature which has gained popularity in the move towards electrified cars, is being able to pre-heat or pre-cool the cabin before the driver gets in. The heating or cooling can even be scheduled through a smartphone app.

Affordability
Compared to a petrol or diesel equivalent, a hybrid will typically be more expensive to buy or finance but compared to electric models, hybrids are often more affordable. Traditional hybrids tend to cost less than PHEVs, thanks to having smaller batteries. Mild hybrids, meanwhile, are normally the cheapest part-electrified models.

Charge times
PHEV models can be charged using a regular domestic plug over the course of a night with no problem. Some electric cars can take up to a day to charge when plugged into a regular plug socket, but come with a longer range.

There are all manner of dedicated home chargers with higher speeds, along with public chargers, which can be much faster still, however, electric cars have larger batteries than PHEVs, so do take longer to charge.

Sound
Hybrids can be very quiet as they often operate without an engine running. This is perfect for leaving home quietly without disturbing the neighbours or sleeping kids in the back of the car.

When the engine fires up there is a little bit of engine and exhaust noise, but this tends to be fairly muted rather than anything sporty in most hybrids. However, as electric cars have no petrol or diesel engine at all, they are generally quieter still, typically remaining barely audible - even when accelerating.

Cons of a hybrid car

Complexity
The first ‘con’ is that hybrids are more complex than either traditional petrol or diesel cars and fully electric cars. This is because they have an engine, a large battery and an electric motor that all have to work together. Due to this complexity, not all garages will be properly trained to work on hybrid cars which will restrict you on where you can go for expert maintenance and repairs.

Limited range
Traditional hybrids have a very limited electric range. When driving in towns where there is lots of stopping and starting this isn’t so much of an issue as regenerative braking helps to boost how much the electric motor can be used. On longer trips, especially motorway journeys more fossil fuels will have to be burnt.

PHEV models naturally fare better here due to their longer range - provided you charge the car regularly. However, it's important to bear in mind that once PHEVs have run out of charge, they are not very efficient, since they have to lug around all the weight of an electric motor and batteries, but without much electric assistance. As a result, if you aren't able to charge regularly, or simply don't have the discipline to do so, you're likely to be better off getting a cheaper hybrid or a standard petrol or diesel model.

Less practical
Hybrids can be marginally less practical than non-hybrid versions of the same car. This is due to the battery packs having to be housed somewhere, which is often under the boot floor, which then reduces how much luggage can be carried.

Fun
In comparison to regular cars, hybrids can be less fun to drive, due to transmissions that feel less responsive - as they have to juggle between two power sources - and the fact they may not corner with the same agility as lighter petrol or diesel equivalents, as a result of the heavy battery packs and motors fitted.

Limited towing ability
If you are looking to tow heavy loads such as a caravan, horsebox or car trailer, then hybrids are probably a no-go. If you have smaller loads to pull then some hybrids will be able to cater to your needs but be sure to check the maximum towing capacity of a particular make and model before putting your order in, to ensure that it's suitable for you.

Towing capacities vary dramatically depending upon the model, but there are a number of hybrids and plug-in hybrids that are not recommended for towing at all, though this is less likely to be the case with mild hybrids. However, it's worth bearing in mind that this also applies to a large proportion of electric cars, too.

Resale values
Electrified cars are becoming more popular but there is not enough long-term information on how different makes and models will perform in terms of residual values as they get older and older.

They could perform better than traditional cars due to the promise of higher fuel economy or they could perform worse due to their higher complexity and reliability concerns - it is the unknown that is the major downside. Saying that, the future value of all cars is unknown and if you are financing or leasing a car and intending to hand it back at the end of the contract, then you shouldn't have to worry about fluctuating residual values.

Pros and cons of electric cars

Electric cars do away with a petrol or diesel engine to fall back on - unlike hybrids. This can be a positive or negative thing, depending upon your viewpoint: a positive thing in terms of not requiring the weight and expense of two sets of systems - those for a conventional engine plus those needed for an electric car - or a negative thing as there's no backup if you run out of charge. Keep reading to get a feel for whether an electric car is right for you.

Pros of an electric car

Zero exhaust pipe emissions

As long as the energy used to charge an electric car is ‘green’, then the only environmental concern a driver needs to have is how clean the manufacturing process of the car was - since electric cars don't emit anything directly, unlike petrol, diesel and hybrid models. Unfortunately, it's not straightforward to gauge the environmental impact of the components that went into the production of a vehicle.

Financial incentives
As the UK government is trying to persuade drivers to choose electric cars, there has been a plug-in car grant available for a number of years. Cars must fit certain criteria to qualify and at the time of writing the maximum grant for cars is capped at £1,500, though it has been much higher in the past. This is expected to end in the 2022/23 financial year.

Company car drivers can cut their Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax bill down significantly by driving a fully electric car. Until the end of the 2023/24 financial year, the BiK rate for electric cars will not exceed 2%. For reference, even a small and low-emission petrol car, such as a Ford Fiesta would be around 27%.

Easy motoring
Electric cars are incredibly easy to live with. They all come with an automatic gearbox which means there is no need to manually change gear. Yes, hybrid and non-hybrid cars are available with automatic gearboxes but hybrids have petrol and diesel engines that can cut in and out, which detracts from the smoothness and refinement of the driving experience. Electric cars, meanwhile, are always comparatively relaxing and simple to drive.

They can be very speedy
Electric cars are typically very nippy - with instant power available - meaning zipping away from traffic lights and pulling into gaps in traffic is a doddle. Even smaller, less powerful electric cars are able to keep up with a surprising number of sportier cars, though they do limit acceleration levels at higher speeds to maximise the range. Meanwhile, bigger, more expensive electric cars can be incredibly fast.

Well equipped
Much like hybrids, electric cars are often very well equipped, with plenty of in-car tech typically, including slick media systems, which often include lots of info on the nearby charging points to simplify the process of topping up the car.

Image
Electric cars give their drivers an image of being forward-thinking, planet-saving and environmentally conscious folks.

Relatively simple
Last but not least, electric cars are simpler than petrol or diesel cars including hybrids - at least in terms of the number of moving parts. As such, they should cost less to service and maintain.

Cons of an electric car

How ‘green’ is ‘green’?
Electric cars still have an impact on the environment. Manufacturing batteries requires a lot of materials and energy. Likewise, charging an electric car requires energy. The saving grace is that if batteries are made using renewable energy and charged using renewable energy, the reduction in their environmental impact is significant.

Even if an electric car was powered by electricity generated by burning oil, some reports suggest it would still be better for the environment than an equivalent petrol-powered car.

Expensive
Although there is a government grant to slightly bring down the cost of electric cars, prices remain high compared to hybrid and non-hybrid cars. Battery and electric motor tech is likely changing faster than petrol and diesel tech, so cars with the latest electric motors and batteries will continue to be costly for years to come.

Risk of obsolescence
Even if you can afford an electric car, the rate at which the technology is developing might soon mean a car could become obsolete in a few years. It wasn’t that long ago an electric car with 300 miles of range seemed like an incredible feat but now some manufacturers are nudging very close to 450 miles from a charge, albeit with their most expensive models.

Big batteries, big risk?
One of the biggest downsides to an electric car is the battery pack. Although mainstream electric cars have been available for roughly a decade, there are only a handful of models that have been available all that time - the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe being two of them.

As a result, knowing how long a battery will likely last, how easy (and how expensive) it will be to replace and how readily it can be recycled are still relatively unknowns. Our calculations and research on the Nissan Leaf's battery life and the Renault Zoe's battery life aim to break down some of the problems that could occur later down the line.

Fun or lack of
The last drawback to electric cars is how much fun they are to drive. Yes, in a straight line they can be incredibly fast and how easy they are to drive will be a great selling point to some drivers, but others may find them unengaging to drive and miss the more analogue and agile feel of many petrol and diesel cars.

Why should you choose a hybrid car?

Below we have outlined some example types of people or situations that particularly suit hybrids. So, you should consider a hybrid car if you…

  • Live in or regularly travel into a city. Being able to avoid additional taxes and lowering your fuel bills will soon pay for the premium hybrid cars often demand. For example, those in London won’t need to pay for driving in the Ultra Low Emission Zone (the ULEZ) with a petrol hybrid (some very early diesel hybrids may not be exempt from this). Other cities such as Manchester are also working on clean air zones. If plugging in and charging is an issue, then traditional hybrids are a better option than PHEVs for you.
  • Are looking for a way to reduce the carbon footprint of your transport but aren’t able to - or don’t want to - move to a fully electric car. Provided a PHEV is charged regularly - and preferably using renewable energy - or you have a traditional hybrid and do lots of urban driving, hybrids should reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Are a company car driver. This is mostly for the reduction in Benefit-in-Kind tax (especially in the case of PHEVs). In addition to this, some companies pay fuel or mileage rates on hybrid cars assuming they are fully petrol or diesel. As it is significantly cheaper to travel using electricity - or with some electric assistance - this means that company car drivers can make a small gain every journey with a hybrid. There is no rule against claiming for a hybrid as an ordinary petrol or diesel car, as it is not possible to know exactly what split of electricity to fossil-fuel driving a person has done. If you are doing upwards of 15,000 miles per year these small gains soon add up.
  • Are looking for a way to reduce your fuel bills. Depending on how often you fill your car and how much battery-powered driving you can do, the savings could be in the hundreds of pounds per year if not thousands.
  • Are a doomsday prepper, in which case PHEVs, which have an engine and battery pack, should in theory provide a backup if the supply of electricity or petrol/diesel is restricted
  • Are on a budget that won’t quite stretch to a fully electric car, or live in a place where installing a charging point is not feasible.
  • Are waking up loved ones when you leave in the morning. A silent hybrid start sounds like a solution to this. With traditional hybrids you will have to set off slowly so as not to make the engine turn on, but with a little practice this can soon be mastered.
  • Can charge regularly. This is specific to PHEV models. If you can charge regularly, do lots of short journeys - which you can cover mostly on electric power - and need to be able to cover long journeys, too, PHEVs can be brilliant. However, if you won't charge the car or do only short journeys (in which case a petrol or electric car makes more sense) or only do long journeys (in which case a diesel makes more sense), a PHEV isn't a wise choice.

Why should you choose an electric car?

You should choose an electric car if you…

  • Want to drive and emit zero exhaust pipe emissions. Charge your car using renewable energy only and your overall emissions should be very low, too.
  • Are a company car driver. Electric cars are a no-brainer for company car drivers who can manage with the range available. Compared to something like a diesel Audi or BMW, the Benefit-in-Kind savings could be like a pay rise.
  • Are looking to cut down your fuel bills. Although electric cars are generally more expensive than petrol or diesel models they definitely cost less to fuel - especially if you mostly charge at home. Take the BMW iX3 SUV - a relatively large car. A full charge using a 30p/kWh energy tariff will cost £24, and this drops to £6 with an 7.5p/kWh supply. Assuming an achievable 255-mile range for the iX3, the same distance would cost £43 in a diesel BMW X3. This is assuming diesel costs £1.52 per litre and 41mpg fuel economy.
  • Like the sound of a smooth and relaxing drive. If a quiet cabin and automatic gearbox are what you're after then an electric car is hard to beat. Additionally, features such as one-pedal driving take relaxed motoring to new heights. One-pedal driving works with the car losing speed quickly when the driver lifts their foot up from the throttle pedal. With a bit of planning the car can safely come to a complete stop this way and hence be driven using just one pedal.
  • Enjoy short, sharp bursts of acceleration when pulling away from a standstill. If this is how you like to drive then an electric car could be perfect for you.
  • Like a car with all the bells and whistles. Electric cars are seen as the pinnacle of car tech at present and as such are a hotbed for the latest technology.

 

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