Plug-in hybrid vs. electric: which is best?

We weigh up the ULEV's to find out which is best...

Love them or loathe them, low emission vehicles are going to become increasingly popular in the future, and you might already be considering investing in one as your next car.

Plugin hybrids and electric vehicles are both considered ultra-low emission vehicles. This means that they emit less than 75g/km of CO2. Both types of car have their pros and cons, and they are suited to different people.
So, in this article, we’re going to compare the two on a variety of things including efficiency, cost and which one is right for you.

What is a plugin hybrid?

A plugin hybrid is different from a conventional hybrid. A conventional hybrid only uses electricity when at low speeds. As soon as a conventional hybrid gets to a certain speed, it will then switch to fuel. The electric battery is then recharged using components in the vehicle.

This is not the case with a plugin hybrid. A plugin hybrid will run on electricity until the battery gets to a certain limit. Once it reaches this pre-determined limit it will then switch to fuel. You then recharge the electric battery via a plugin point hence the name plugin hybrid.

So essentially, a plugin hybrid is an electric vehicle up to a point. It is only when it reaches that point will it switch to fuel.

What is an electric car?

An electric car is just that, it’s electric. It runs purely on electricity.

There are two types of electric cars; a standard battery electric car, and a hydrogen fuel-cell electric car.

The standard battery electric car runs on a battery that is already pre-charged before you start driving. A hydrogen fuel-cell electric car uses hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, which runs the car. There are very few hydrogen cars on the market today, the Toyota Mirai being one of the very few, so we’ll mainly be talking about standard electric cars.

The main difference between a plugin hybrid and an electric vehicle is that a plugin does run on fuel after a certain point. A fully electric car does not do this.

Electric charging point

Plugin Hybrid vs. Electric Car: Which is more efficient?

Firstly, let’s look at efficiency.

Plugin hybrids, because they run on both fuel and electricity, are automatically going to be considered more efficient than electric cars. Of course, electric cars can only go so far before they have to be charged again, and that is a lot less of a distance than a plugin hybrid.

best luxury electric cars

With a plugin hybrid, however, you do have to pay for fuel, which is something that you do not have to do with an electric car. This means that a plugin hybrid does cost more to run. Also, when you are running on fuel with a plugin hybrid, you have the extra weight of the battery, which can waste a fair bit of fuel.

But again, the average distance for an electric car before recharging is about 120-130 miles. You will then have to recharge your car either at home or via a charging point in a garage or a car park. Sometimes these public charging points are free, other times you will be charged for them.

With both plugin hybrids and electric vehicles, charging at home can cost you as little as 2p per mile.

Plugin hybrids and electric vehicles are both efficient. After all, they can travel very far for very little. However, if you are more likely to do long distance driving, then a plugin hybrid will be much more efficient for you as you will not only be running on electricity but on fuel as well. If you’re using your car to go short distances, a short commute or for popping to the supermarket, then an electric vehicle would probably be more efficient for this type of driving.

Plugin Hybrid vs. Electric; which is best for the environment?

I think we all know the answer to this question, but we will discuss it anyway.

Electric cars are the best for the environment. You can’t get any cleaner than an electric car because they emit no CO2 emissions.

However, there is the question of hydrogen cars. To create the hydrogen fuel cell requires a lot of work, and produces a lot of greenhouse gases while it’s in production. This means that the production itself of hydrogen cars could not be as environmentally friendly as using the final product. Though, this can easily be solved by ensuring that hydrogen vehicles are produced sustainably.

While electric cars are better for the environment, that’s not to say that plugin hybrids aren’t good for the environment. Plugin hybrids are ultra-low emission vehicles which means they emit less than 75g/km of CO2 which means that while it isn’t zero emissions, it still does a lot to reduce your carbon footprint.

Greenery shaped like a car - is a company car worth it?

Plugin Hybrid vs. Electric; Which is cheaper?

One of the recurring issues when it comes to plugin hybrids and electric cars is that they are expensive initially. And this is the case, we have to admit. Neither plugin hybrids or electric cars come cheap. Even the city cars like the Nissan Leaf and Renault ZOE are considerably more expensive than their petrol or diesel competitors. Even with government grants and subsidies, they are still very expensive.

However, the main counter-argument against this is that they make up for it in running costs. Which can be difficult to argue with. Both types of vehicle cost very little to run while you have them. It can cost as little as 2p per mile to charge up and with electric vehicles, there is less maintenance involved. For example, you can say goodbye to oil changes.

A plugin hybrid is slightly different. They are cheaper to purchase outright, but you do still have to pay for fuel every now and then. Plus, you will still have to pay for standard servicing because it still does have a combustion engine and therefore needs the same servicing as a standard vehicle.
Another way you save money is on things such as congestion charge and car tax. When the new car tax changes come into effect (read about that here) then you will still have to pay road tax for both types of vehicle. However, this will be a lot less than if you were to get any other type of vehicle. You will still be exempt from congestion charge, however, and you will not have to worry about London’s ultra-low emission zones, as both types of vehicles are classed as ultra-low emission vehicles.

is a company car tax efficient?

There are also changes to company car tax, that are coming into effect in April 2017. There will be new BIK bands introduced (see opposite) which means that you will end up paying more for a higher emission car. Of course, you will still have to pay company car tax with an electric car or a plugin hybrid, but it won’t be as much as if you were to get a standard fuel powered car or even a standard hybrid. You can read more about the company car tax bands here. 

So, both types of vehicle are expensive initially. However, they do make up for their costs when it comes to running them, congestion charge and the company car tax changes (should you use it as a company car). A plugin hybrid may cost you more as you will have to get it serviced and refuel it every so often, but electric cars do tend to be more expensive than plugins initially. Ultimately, it’s down to what you consider more important when it comes to cost; initial cost or running costs.

Who is a plugin hybrid suited for?

If you are more likely to be doing long distance journeys, then you might want to consider a plugin hybrid. This is because you can switch to fuel when the battery runs low, and be sure that you can get to your destination without having to stop and recharge. There is no range anxiety with a plugin hybrid.

Also, switching to a fully electric car is quite a big step. And, if you’re not 100% sure, then you might want to look at a plugin hybrid. You get pretty much the same benefits as you do with an electric car but eliminating range anxiety and any other concerns.

However, if you are looking for the most environmentally friendly or the lowest running costs, then the plugin hybrid isn’t your best option.

Who is an electric car suited for?

If range anxiety isn’t a thing for you, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go for a fully electric car.


A fully electric car is also perfect for the eco-warriors amongst us, producing no emissions at all. If that is your main concern, then an electric car is definitely for you.

It’s also good for those who want to minimise their running costs. Once purchased, an electric car costs next to nothing to run.

So, hopefully that has given you some idea on which is best on a range of things. Ultimately, it’s up to you which one you choose, but we hope that this article has made you a bit more informed. To find out more about ultra-low emission vehicles as a whole, you can read our article here.

What is an Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle?
Rachel Richardson
Latest posts by Rachel Richardson (see all)

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