What’s the difference between a hybrid and an electric car?

There’s a short and a long answer to this question, but we figured you’d prefer us to avoid anything too technical. Instead, we’ll focus on the fundamental differences between a hybrid and an electric car, along with the pros and cons of each.

Cutting to the chase, an electric car offers zero tailpipe emissions (a core Motoring Electric promise), while a hybrid requires a petrol or diesel engine for its primary means of propulsion. Just to confuse matters, there are two types of hybrid: standard or plug-in hybrid. A standard hybrid might also be referred to as a ‘self-charging’ hybrid, while a plug-in may be called a ‘PHEV’.

The main difference between the two is that in a hybrid, the electric motor is there to increase efficiency, improve economy and provide a very small amount of electric range. We’re talking really small, like a mile or so.

As the name suggests, a plug-in hybrid can be plugged in to provide, typically, around 30 miles of electric range. Once this range has been used up, the petrol or diesel engine takes over.

Toyota Corolla Hybrid

We like to think of a standard hybrid as a worthy alternative to a diesel car, with the likes of Toyota and Lexus offering some excellent options in this area.

Meanwhile, a plug-in hybrid is a good halfway-house between a conventional car and an electric vehicle. Depending on the length of your daily commute or the school run, it’s quite possible to complete a journey solely in electric mode, leaving the petrol or diesel engine for longer weekend trips.

However, you must recharge the batteries in order for a plug-in hybrid to make sense. If you don’t, you’re simply lugging around a heavy battery pack, which will have a negative impact on fuel economy.

The Hyundai Ioniq

Hyundai Ioniq range

Consider the Hyundai Ioniq. It’s available with a choice of three electrified powertrains: hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric. This provides the perfect opportunity to highlight the key differences between the three options.


  • Ioniq Hybrid: £24,000
  • Ioniq Plug-In: £30,000
  • Ioniq Electric: £31,000

The hybrid version is the least expensive, partly because it features the least sophisticated technology. Although it looks like the electric car is only marginally more expensive than the plug-in version, the price is skewed by the government plug-in car grant, which is available on zero emission cars.

For the time being at least, electric cars tend to be more expensive than their plug-in hybrid equivalents, but things are changing. In 2020, more affordable electric cars are hitting the market, such as the Seat Mii Electric, Vauxhall Corsa-e, MG ZS EV and Peugeot e-208.

Electric range

  • Ioniq Hybrid: 1 mile
  • Ioniq Plug-in: 32 miles
  • Ioniq Electric: 193 miles

You’ll be lucky to get a mile of pure electric range out of the hybrid, because the electric motor is there to support the 1.6-litre petrol engine. The 32 miles offered by the plug-in version looks a little miserly, but when you combine it with the petrol engine, you get a total range of 660 miles.

A range of around 200 miles is about par for the course for electric cars, but we’d expect 300 miles to become the norm within a couple of years. For example, the Kia e-Niro offers up 282 miles from a single charge.

Kia e-Niro

CO2 emissions and fuel economy

  • Ioniq Hybrid: 102g/km and 62.8mpg
  • Ioniq Plug-in: 26/gkm and 256.8mpg
  • Ioniq Electric: 0g/km and N/A

All three versions offer significant tax benefits – especially for company car drivers – but the electric car is the only one to offer zero emissions. As we mentioned earlier, if you don’t recharge the plug-in hybrid batteries, you may as well buy the cheaper hybrid version.

Performance (0-62mph / top speed)

  • Ioniq Hybrid: 10.8 sec / 115mph
  • Ioniq Plug-in: 10.6 sec / 110mph
  • Ioniq Electric: 9.9 sec / 103mph

Performance figures might be unimportant for a car like this, but it’s worth noting that electric cars offer smooth and immediate acceleration, making them great for driving in the city. Looking beyond the figures, the hybrid is the least enjoyable Ioniq to drive, but the pace of the electric car sets it apart. Some electric cars, such as the Tesla Model S and Porsche Taycan, offer performance to rival a supercar.


Electric car plugged in

These are just three of the things you’ll need to consider when deciding whether to buy a hybrid or an electric car. Perhaps a good conclusion would be to say that in a hybrid you CANNOT plug-in, in a plug-in hybrid you SHOULD plug-in, and in an electric car you MUST plug-in.

One thing’s for certain: full electric cars are getting better with every passing year. Today, they offer the range, practicality and price to make them a realistic prospect for an increasing number of people.

By browsing the pages of Motoring Electric, you can discover if an electric car is right for you.

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