Is a plug-in hybrid better than a fully electric car?

The fact you’ve arrived here means you could be deciding between a plug-in hybrid and a fully electric car. The good news is you’ve come to the right place. The bad news is we don’t have a definitive answer.

There will come a time when an electric car is the right choice for the majority of the population. Indeed, the clock is ticking until the government bans the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars.

Until then, you have a choice, and whether you should opt for a plug-in hybrid or a pure electric vehicle depends on your circumstances. Allow us to explain.

What is a plug-in hybrid?

Volkswagen Touareg plug-in hybrid

In simple terms, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) uses batteries to power an electric motor, and either petrol or diesel fuel to power an engine. Its batteries can be charged in the same way as a pure electric car, using a wallbox, a charging station or regenerative braking.

Typically, a modern plug-in hybrid will deliver between 20 and 35 miles of electric range, depending on the make and model. Once this has gone, the car will switch to petrol or diesel power (petrol is more common) to deliver a total range of anything up to 600 miles.

What is an electric car?

Vauxhall Corsa-e

In an electric car, the engine is replaced by an electric motor. Power is sourced from a large battery pack which must be recharged at home, at work or at a public charging station.

You can expect to achieve anything between 100 and 350 miles of driving range, depending on the type of car and how you drive. 

The benefits of a plug-in hybrid

Kia Niro plug-in hybrid

Here are the primary benefits associated with running a plug-in hybrid rather an electric car:

  • Usually cheaper to buy. For example, the Kia Niro plug-in hybrid is around £5,000 cheaper than the electric e-Niro.
  • There are no range anxiety issues. When you’re out of electric charge, the engine takes over.
  • Manages the daily commute using electric power. The average car journey is around 21 miles.
  • Longer driving range. Anything up to 600 miles is achievable by the two powertrains.
  • Low CO2 emissions. Although plug-in hybrids cannot match electric cars, their emissions are among the lowest in the industry.
  • Provides an opportunity to test living with an electric car. If you can run one without needing regular fill-ups, perhaps your next car should be electric?

The benefits of a fully electric car

Peugeot e-208

When viewed in the context of a plug-in hybrid, these are the benefits of going 100 percent electric:

  • The government provides a grant of up to £3,000 towards the cost of a new electric car.
  • Zero tailpipe emissions.
  • Electric cars are exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty (VED).
  • Exempt from city centre congestion charges. Electric cars are also welcome in low emission zones.
  • Silent running. The only sounds you’ll hear are wind, tyre and road noise.
  • Terrific acceleration. Electric cars are great fun to drive in the city.
  • Lower running costs. The higher purchase price is offset by significantly reduced running costs.
  • Reduced servicing costs. Without a petrol or diesel engine to maintain, servicing bills will be lower.
  • Electric cars tend to be well-equipped. Manufacturers load their flagship models with the latest kit.

Which one is better?

Volvo XC40 T5 plug-in hybrid

Is a plug-in hybrid a better bet than a fully electric car? Possibly not, but you have to decide which one is best for you.

Say, for example, you’re after an SUV. Right now, the choice of fully electric SUVs is rather limited – and many of the options are at the premium end of the market. It’s also fair to say that plug-in hybrids are cheaper than electric cars – even taking into account the government grant.

If you live in a rural area, where access to public chargers is limited, you might like the reassurance of a petrol engine to get you home. The charger network is growing, but there’s a strong bias towards major towns and cities.

We’d also suggest owning a plug-in hybrid if you’re able to complete your daily commute on electric power, but need something a little more long-legged at the weekend. Just make sure you recharge the batteries, otherwise a standard hybrid might be a more sensible option.

Beyond that, it’s getting increasingly difficult to mount a case against buying an electric car. Prices start from less than £20,000, while range estimates of 200+ miles are becoming the norm.

Check out the pages of Motoring Electric and decide for yourself. Let us know what you decide to do.

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