an electric car recharging

Electric Cars vs. Hybrid Cars: Which is Better?

Perhaps you're interested in reducing your carbon footprint as much as possible. Alternatively, you could simply be a tech enthusiast who is excited about the future of the auto and electronics industries.

Or, perhaps you just want to know the difference between a hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid, and purely electric vehicle. Well, there are certain benefits and drawbacks to both types of vehicles. Here's a breakdown of all the jargon.

What is a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV)?

Traditional hybrid electric vehicles, sometimes called HEVs, have both gasoline engines and a lithium-ion battery-powered electric motor. The electric motor reduces the usage of gasoline (such as when idling) while energy-recovery mechanisms (such as regenerative braking) recharge the battery without needing to plug it into a power source.

They operate much the same way as a traditional gasoline-powered vehicle and do not drive in "electric-only" mode. You most likely won't even know when one type of engine takes over for the other. If you're wanting to take a few baby steps away from purely gas-powered vehicles, HEVs are a great place to start!

Some notable examples include the 2018 Hyundai Ioniq (MSRP $22,200) and the 2018 Toyota Prius (MSRP $23,475). The Ioniq has an EPA rating of 57 mpg in the city and 59 mpg on the highway while the Prius has an EPA rating of 58 mpg in the city and 53 mpg on the highway.

What are the pros of hybrid electric vehicles?

  • Lower Fossil Fuel Dependence
    While you do have to use gasoline in a hybrid vehicle, the battery allows you to maximize the time (and distance) between fill-ups.
  • No Range Anxiety
    Cars can only go so far before they need to be refueled or recharged. Currently, the median electric car range is about 115 miles. For gas-powered vehicles (including hybrids), the median range is around 425 miles. The Hyundai Ioniq can go nearly 700 miles before needing a refill.
  • No Lengthy Charges
    HEV batteries are used in an ancillary role so they don't have to be plugged into a power source and recharged.
  • Better City Driving
    Thanks to the energy harnessed by regenerative breaking, city gas mileage ratings are nearly always better than highway ratings in HEVs.

What are the cons of hybrid electric vehicles?

  • Still Reliant on Fossil Fuel
    While you can go further on less gas in HEVs, you're still using gasoline. And that still contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Surcharge Pricing
    Traditionally, automakers offered HEVs as separate versions of existing models, often at higher-price points. The higher price, then, made them unattractive for some consumers. Maintenance costs are also generally higher due to the complex mechanisms of dual electric and gas systems.

What is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV)?

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are similar to the hybrid electric vehicles described above, but they are capable of driving solely with their electric motor (though usually not very far). Once the electric motor runs out of range, the gasoline engine takes over from there. To recharge the battery for the electric motor back to full capacity, the owner needs to plug the vehicle into a charging source.

The best-selling example of a PHEV is Chevrolet's Volt (MSRP $33,220). It can travel 53 miles on a charged battery, more than enough for most daily commutes. If you decide to go on a road trip one weekend, don't worry. The gas engine will kick in. You can travel 420 miles on a full charge and a full tank of gas.

What are the pros of PHEVs?

  • Lower Fossil Fuel Dependence
    PHEVs are fuel sippers. Thanks to the help of the battery-powered motor, it wouldn't be uncommon for drivers to visit the gas station only once a month.
  • Capable of Emissions-Free Driving
    If you drive like the average American, it may be a while before you use your gasoline reserve. It's certainly conceivable that for prolonged periods of time, you could be using your vehicle as if it were electric only—battery motor miles during the day and recharging at night.
  • Can Still Road Trip
    Unlike fully electric vehicles, you can still take road trips without waiting on lengthy charges because the gas engine takes over once the battery motor is out of charge. PHEVs have similar ranges to their HEV and traditional gas counterparts.

What are the cons of PHEVs?

  • Low Emissions, Not Zero Emissions
    Just like in HEVs, the battery allows you to use less gasoline over the life of the vehicle. Once you deplete the battery, however, you're back to using fossil fuels.
  • High Purchase Price
    Traditionally, automakers offered HEVs as separate versions of existing models, often at higher-price points. The higher price, then, made them unattractive for some consumers. Maintenance costs are also generally higher due to the complex mechanisms of dual electric and gas systems.
  • Longer Battery Charges
    PHEV batteries aren't used in an ancillary role like in HEVs. They need to be plugged into a power source and recharged. However, PHEV batteries are often smaller than EV batteries and therefore have a shorter charging time than large EV batteries.

What is an electric car (EV)?

All-electric vehicles (EVs) are exactly what they sound like. They only have a battery and electric motor. There's no need to stop at a gas station because all you need to do is plug your vehicle in at night to recharge it. For normal daily driving, battery range shouldn't be an issue. For the vast majority of Americans (78%), daily commutes are under 40 miles round trip. That's well within the range of today's EV charges, even when including errands and shuttling the kids around.

The EVs under $50,000 with the longest ranges are the Tesla Model 3 Long Range (MSRP $44,000) at 310 miles, the Chevrolet Bolt EV ($37,495) at 238 miles, and the Nissan Leaf (MSRP $29,900) at 151 miles.

What are the pros of EVs?

  • Extremely Quiet and Quick
    Since the engine and transmission aren’t needed in an electric vehicle, there is hardly any noise. Plus, EVs are insanely quick, especially from a complete stop. All of the torque is available immediately. That's great in the stop-and-go of city traffic.
  • No Emissions
    These vehicles run on electricity rather than gas, which means they will produce zero pollution. The lack of emissions is a stark difference from vehicles that require fuel.
  • Cheap to Operate and Maintain
    Having no engine or transmission means that you will never have to get an oil change or transmission flush again. The price of electricity is also much cheaper than gasoline, mile-for-mile.

What are the cons of EVs?

  • Limited Range
    The median electric car range is about 115 miles in 2017. The amount is decreased even further when you use your AC or charge your phone. These activities will cost you drastic mileage.
  • Long Recharging Time
    Level 2 (240-volt) home chargers still need around 7 hrs to fully charge your vehicle. Public quick-charge stations give you half of a charge in 30 minutes, but that is still a significant amount of time compared to filling up with gas in five minutes or less.
  • High Up-front Cost
    Most electric cars are going to run between $30,000 and $40,000, which is equal to the cost of a luxury car or a higher-end hybrid vehicle. You'll also have at-home installation costs for Level 2 chargers.
  • Dirty Energy Grid
    While there are no emissions from EVs, there are emissions from power plants that provide electricity for your home. Unless you get your car's electricity from home solar panels, you still aren't technically fossil fuel-free (if that's your end goal).
Last Updated: September 25, 2018