Plug, petrol or both? Which is best for you?

Ginny Buckley


Choosing a car can be a bit of a minefield. You have to navigate cost, practicality, insurance… and that’s even before you start wondering what colour you want, or what style of wheels or trim. You’re constantly trying to balance what you want, versus what you actually need.

Just as you start to get your head around all of terms, along come electrified vehicles, with new acronyms and terms which sound like words that wouldn’t be allowed in Scrabble. 

But we are here to clear the air and help you make the right choice for you and the way you drive. So we’ll start on how do you choose between a BEV, a PHEV and an HEV.

These are three different ways of powering a car, with varying levels of electricness. Handily for us, there is a model which is offered with the all three types, allowing us to neatly show the differences. That is the Hyundai Ioniq; it’s a BEV, a PHEV or a HEV. Exactly the same car, with three different forms of motivation. 

Hybrid Electric Vehicle

Let’s start with a HEV. Otherwise known as a hybrid electric vehicle. That means it has a traditional petrol engine, an electric motor and a small battery pack, which work together. When you press the brakes to slow down, the energy is recovered by turning the motor into a generator to top up the battery. Then the power is used by an electric motor to boost the petrol engine when you are moving away from a stop or wanting a bit of extra acceleration.

Generally, a good hybrid will use 20% less fuel than an internal combustion engine. But this is not an electric car in the traditional sense as it never uses power from a plug - it’s a petrol or diesel car which has been made more efficient.

A hybrid like the Ioniq has a petrol engine, an electric motor which work together to save fuel

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle

A PHEV - or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle - has a larger battery than you’ll find in the HEV and it can be plugged into the grid to charge. That substitutes some of the miles you’d usually be using petrol with electric running, which makes it cheaper to run as electricity costs less than fuel. 

In the case of the Ioniq it means you can run for 32 miles on pure electric. Most of us drive less than 20 miles a day, so that means you could do the bulk of your journeys in EV mode. And if you’re doing a longer trip then the car automatically switches to its petrol engine. But you have to plug them in to make the best use of the technology. 

Ioniq PHEV can run for 32 miles on pure electric, saving more fuel

Battery Electric Vehicle

BEV isn’t just that nice lady in accounts who brings in cakes every Friday. It stands for battery electric vehicle, which means there is no traditional engine at all. Instead it has a big battery pack and electric motor, so you never have to fill up with fuel again. 

Instead, you plug it into a charging point at home or use a public charger. It produces no localised emissions, is almost silent and is cheap as chips to run. The Hyundai Ioniq Electric will do about 36 miles on a Pound’s worth of electricity. That’s about a quarter of the cost of running a petrol or diesel.

BEV - not just the nice cake lady from accounts

Which suits you? 

There are pros and cons for each. The one which is best for you will depend on the type of journeys you do most often and if you have access to charge easily. You will also need to check if you can get incentives to go electric, such as company car tax benefits, access to restricted zones in cities and free parking.  

A hybrid is what we’re used to, except more efficient. And that’s pretty much it. You use it like a petrol or diesel car, can use a normal fuel station and never have to worry about charging, or range anxiety. If you do lots of long journeys to towns across the country, then a hybrid might work for you. 

A PHEV is more expensive than a straight hybrid, but it can run for much greater distances on electric-only power. If you’re a business user, a PHEV can attract some serious Benefit-in-kind advantages, without ever having the practical issues of a pure electric car. It’s also as convenient as a hybrid, because if you can’t charge or are doing longer journeys, it just uses the engine. In a lot of ways, it’s the best of both worlds. 

A pure electric car is quiet, calm, and quick. If you are on a long journey the charging takes longer than visiting a petrol station, but if you have home charging, you wake up every morning to a full “tank”. Bear this in mind if you think a pure electric car won’t work for you because you do a long trip a few times a year – the inconvenience of needing to stop for 30 minutes to rapid charge the battery is actually outweighed by the convenience of never having to visit a fuel station for the rest of the year. 

And pure electric gets ALL of the tax incentives. You don’t pay congestion charges, there’s no road tax, and a grant against the initial cost. And company car drivers will pay nothing in benefit in kind tax, which could save thousands every year.

Do your sums to work out which suits you best

What about the cost?

One of the biggest issues with pure electric vehicles is that batteries are expensive, so pure electric cars and even the PHEV will be more costly than their more traditional equivalents and the HEV. But you’ll claw a lot of that back with the lower running costs. 

This hybrid has a 625-mile range and does up to 62.8mpg - which is better than most small hatchbacks. If you do longer journeys all the time, it also means you won’t need to stop for a charge.

The PHEV is a good compromise, combining the convenience of a traditional car with some of the capability of a pure electric. If you plug one in regularly, you can seriously improve your efficiency without compromising convenience. 

But as charging gets both faster and more convenient - and charging stations are popping up everywhere now - a pure EV is better to drive and for the environment as a whole. 

Which means it is ultimately up to you. There is no definitive conclusion on which is best, so do the sums, analyse the driving you do and decide. 

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