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What’s the difference and which is best?

Hybrids, EVs and PHEVs: What’s the Difference and Which Is Best?

Hybrid cars have long been considered the transitional stage between petrol vehicles and electric vehicles, but there is a lot of complication and confusion surrounding the technology and what they can achieve.

One of the most fundamental questions people have about hybrids is how they differ from PHEVs (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles), and how they differ from EVs in cost, range and environmental impact.

We answer all your hybrid and PHEV questions here.

What is a hybrid car?

A hybrid is a car that uses gasoline as the primary fuel source and electricity as the secondary fuel, with stored electricity created by regenerative braking or an internal generator. Batteries in traditional hybrids generally cannot be recharged by plugging in, with energy usually coming from the petrol engine.

Electric power in a hybrid vehicle may only come into play at low speeds, meaning the petrol engine is only used when conditions become more demanding. In theory this means that they slightly better for the environment, but they still produce emissions because they depend on fuel.

Hybrids also boast a fuel saving benefit versus gasoline-powered vehicles by producing instantaneous torque (when electric power is used at lower speeds), but again, they still rely on gasoline. They are also separated from PHEVs.

What is a PHEV car?

PHEVs, or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, are slightly better for the environment. Rather than relying primarily on gasoline, PHEVs rely more on electricity, allowing them to travel distances without using gasoline. A recent example is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which we tested.

Most PHEVs contain much smaller batteries than EVs, which can travel between 40 and 100 km of WLTP depending on the model. This is pretty standard for a daily drive and you could theoretically own a PHEV and never depend on the petrol engine, or only use the petrol for longer trips.

But again, gasoline still makes up the bulk of their practical use. Internally, PHEVs typically contain a generator that converts the gasoline into battery power. When the battery is low, the car functions as a traditional hybrid, relying on stored gasoline for standard driving.

What is the difference between a hybrid and a PHEV?

The major difference between hybrid cars and PHEVs is that hybrids cannot be plugged in and mostly rely on gasoline while PHEVs can be plugged in and driven without using any gasoline.

Both cars work the same way, but with a PHEV you get the best of both ICE vehicles (the wide range of combustion engines) and the best of EVs (the torque and electric driving on shorter journeys).

What are the main advantages and disadvantages of a hybrid car?

Hybrids and PHEVs offer a fuel-saving advantage over gasoline-powered vehicles by using electricity at lower speeds and generating instant torque without having to generate the rpm of a gasoline engine.

In addition, they offer a light environmental advantage over petrol vehicles by offering electricity as fuel, but this is more of an advantage of EVs and not much of a talking point for traditional hybrids over slower speeds.

Because of the added technology, hybrid cars and PHEVs are typically more expensive than their ICE alternatives, but less expensive than all-electric options. Depending on where you have your car serviced, they can also: more expensive to maintain.

Hybrid cars in Australia

PHEV vehicles are available from most automakers in Australia, including from Toyota, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Honda, MG, Ford and BMW. Hybrid cars are also available everywhere.

Many automakers that have hybrid cars in Australia have not yet released an all-electric EV in the country, but we will definitely see this change down the line.

Should I get a hybrid car instead of an EV?

While the cost of EVs certainly dissuades some buyers from buying them, hybrid cars and PHEVs offer an interesting prospect of electrification at a lower price without the range of an electric vehicle.

For drivers who may never take advantage of the plug-in capabilities in a PHEV, you’ll never really get the EV benefits of that car. In a standard hybrid you actually get a petrol car with some of the performance benefits of an EV.

It is a decision that depends entirely on your budget and what you need from a vehicle.

At this point, as EVs drop in price and increase in range, it will be interesting to see if hybrids maintain their value prospects.

While you’re here, check out our list of all the new electric vehicles in Australia or any electric vehicle coming to Australia.