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Electric vs Hybrid Cars: The Complete Comparison

If you were curious about how electric and hybrid cars compare, you came to the right place. There are many misconceptions and false understandings of this comparison. We’re here to set the record straight and give you a complete comparison between electric and hybrid cars.

We’ll tell you more about each style, get into the weeds of how they work, explain how they’re similar and dissimilar, and ultimately help you decide which is right for you. Let’s get started with a quick preface.

Preface: Motor vs Engine

Before getting into the details, we want to point something out. Engines are not the same as motors. Ask an engineer and they will talk about this topic until they run out of breath. In this article, we’ll use the word “motor” to talk about an electrically driven mechanism. “Engine” will refer to gasoline-powered mechanisms. For example, a Tesla uses an electric motor while a Civic uses a combustion engine.

With that piece of confusion out of the way, let’s have some fun.

How Does an Electric Car Work?

Throw that useless engine out of your car and replace it with some batteries and a motor and you get an electric car.

An electric car doesn’t have an engine like a typical car does. It also doesn’t require any gas to be pumped in. You plug it in overnight and the electricity fills up a battery, just like your phone. The battery gives electricity to a motor that does all the work that your engine would do.

These cars use Electro-Voltaic Cells to power everything, and that’s why they’re often called EV cars. Some people also say that EV simply stands for Electric vehicles.

BMW i3 at a charging station

The Technical Answer

Plugging in an EV sends electrical power right to the onboard charger. The charger takes the incoming AC power and converts it to DC which can be used throughout the car. It puts most of the power into the traction battery pack where it will stay until it’s needed.

An electric traction motor drives the car in the same fashion that a combustion engine would.

How Does a Hybrid Car Work?

A hybrid car takes the best of both worlds. They contain an electric motor as well as a combustion engine. They teeter the line between an EV and a standard car.

As such, they have benefits and disadvantages from both columns. It’s all about finding the right hybrid that achieves what you’re looking for.

The Technical Answer

There are a few major components that help hybrids achieve their goals. One of which is an electric generator. As the wheels turn, this generator siphons off a little juice. It transfers this electricity to a traction battery pack. This pack acts as a reserve for the electric motor so you can draw energy. If the battery pack is depleted, your motor can’t do anything.

Hybrid Car Battery

You’ll also find a power electronics controller under the hood. This is the brain of the operation and converts your car between gas and electric power. It controls the performance of your motor and tells it what to do. It’s worth noting that these cars typically use an electric traction motor. The motor will directly drive the wheels.

In plug-in hybrids, you’ll find a few more components. You’ll learn more about this type in a second, but just know that they also have an onboard charger.

Comparing Their Flagship Cars

Before going further, you should get a better idea of what we’re talking about. Both of these car types have an example that you’ve probably heard about, so let’s compare the two.

Electric car: Tesla 3. $37,500, 148 MPGE, 3.1-second 0-60, and top speed of 162mph.

Tesla Model 3

Hybrid car: Toyota Prius. $24,500, 58 MPG, 9.6-second 0-60, and top speed of 112mph.

Toyota Prius Hybrid

Types of Hybrid Vehicles

If you’ve overheard conversations about hybrids, you might already know that there are three different styles. All of them are still considered hybrids, but the way that they work is dramatically different. Let’s tell you more about this.

Mild Hybrid

Example car: 2019 Audi Q8

Audi Q8

If you don’t like spicy wings, then you might order mild wings. The same is true in the world of hybrids. For people who don’t want to spend big money on a complicated hybrid, they might choose this option. It’s called a “mild hybrid”, and it’s the easiest way to turn a combustion engine into a hybrid car.

These cars can’t run on their electric motors alone. If anything, the combustion engine and electric motor are holding hands while you drive around.

The big job of the motor is to stop and start the combustion engine in no-load situations. This is when you’re coasting, rolling to a stop, or riding down a hill without applying the gas. In some cases, braking will give the electric motor some extra juice to help it run.

The motor will also run electronic components in your car like your audio system or AC. It’s cheaper than the other options on this list.

Series Hybrid

Example car: Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius

Series hybrids are also called split or parallel hybrids. These names give you a good hint about how they work. This is probably the style of car that you think of when you imagine a hybrid.

These have a motor and an engine that work alongside each other. At higher speeds and larger load conditions, the combustion engine will kick on. At lower speeds and lower load conditions, you’ll run off the electric motor.

The beauty of this is that these conditions are where the respective power source really thrives. If you look at a graph, combustion engines are pretty inefficient at the lower ends of performance. You’re essentially using the electric components to bring your car into a scenario where the combustion engine thrives.

You’ll find a maximized efficiency across the board with this style. Typically, the electric motor is recharged whenever the engine is running or you’re coasting. Keep in mind, you aren’t going to plug this car into a wall ever.

Plug-In Hybrid

Example car: 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLC350e 4matic

Mercedes-Benz X253 GLC350e

The final option is the plug-in hybrid. This is the closest relative to a fully electric car. As such, it also has the highest price tag and most complex system under the hood.

They go farther, drive harder, and perform better in general than the other two options. In this option, the motor and engine can work at the same time if they want to.

The motor is not reliant on your braking or coasting to get refilled. This means that these cars can be driven harder without the fear of running out of electric range. Since the two power sources can run at the same time, you will see options in this list that are all about speed and acceleration.

They still ring in at a lower cost than electric vehicles.

Differences Between Electric and Hybrid Cars

Even though both of these car types use electricity, they are very different. In this section, we’ll highlight some of the key differences and teach you more about the respective vehicle types.

The Cost

There is a wide range of costs associated with owning and using a car, as you probably know. The problem with hybrid cars is that they have double the components. Often, you’ll shell out a lot more money maintaining a hybrid car over an electric one. You’ll also spend more money on fuel.

As far as the cost of buying the cars, you’ll find options with wide price ranges. That means that the upfront cost can be identical between the two car options.

The real difference comes later in the car’s life. As you continue to own and operate the car, you’ll find yourself spending a lot more on a hybrid than on an electric vehicle. Besides maintenance, there are also the fuel costs associated.

Electric cars use your household electricity which works out to dollars to fill up the tank. Hybrid cars still rely on gasoline, so you’ll pay whatever your local prices are.

Tesla Charging

Their Range

The difference in range between these car types is pretty dramatic. If you just look at the electric range that’s built into a hybrid car, you’d be lucky to get anything over 30 miles. They’re really reliant on using the gas engine and just converting some of the power into electricity.

In fact, a vast majority of hybrids won’t go anywhere if you run out of gas. The electric motor is just there to handle some menial tasks.

When you look at an EV, it’s a different story. Looking at battery-only ranges, you’ll find that a lot of options boast figures over 200 miles. On the high end, you have Tesla’s Model S, with a range of 520 miles.

Most drivers plug their electric car in daily, so it’s a question of how many miles you use on any day. A hybrid car might be able to get you to work and back, but an electric car can take you hours away from home.

Do You Have to Fill Them with Gas?

Electric cars don’t have to be filled with gas ever. Every type of hybrid has to be filled with gas at one point or another. This clearly factors into the total cost of operating this type of car.

Car Dealership

How Many Options are on the Market?

There are a lot more options for hybrid cars than there are for fully electric cars. This is largely due to the fact that hybrid cars have been around for longer.

It’s also easier for a manufacturer to offer a traditional combustion engine and a hybrid option for the same exact car – look at a car like the Ford Fusion, for example.

It’s a lot harder to completely strip the car and turn it into an electric vehicle. This is obviously the case since you don’t see any cars that offer a combustion engine or an electric motor option for the same car.

In 2019, 3.3 million more hybrids were sold globally than EVs.

Performance

The performance is another huge difference between these cars. That’s because an electric motor can go to 100% power almost immediately. A combustion engine takes some time to ramp up to full capacity.

Pretend you’re looking at your rev counter on your dash. If you’re in a gas car and stomp the gas pedal, you’ll see the arm of the rev counter slowly make its way to the upper limit. If you do the same thing with an electric car, you’ll see a nearly immediate jump to the redline of your rev counter.

As long as you can ignore the fact that an electric motor doesn’t have a gearbox, this analogy makes perfect sense.

Tesla Chassis and Battery

Difference in Parts

It might seem obvious at this point, but you’ll find different parts within these different styles of cars. As we keep mentioning, a hybrid car has a combustion engine. That means that all the resources that go into driving a car with a gas engine have to be present. On top of that, the components that allow electrical power also have to be there.

All-electric cars only rely on electrical pieces. This means stripping away an engine and some power conversion components. At the same time, you’re also gaining a whole bed of batteries that sit on the underside of your car.

The Weight

Batteries are a lot heavier than you might think. The battery pack alone in a Tesla weighs upwards of 1,200 pounds. Hybrids can squeak away with a much smaller and lighter-weight option. The battery in a Prius plug-in hybrid only weighs 180 pounds. We discussed how weight and performance play together when we talked about horsepower [ERNEST LINK HERE].

The short answer is this: The heavier the car, the worse it will perform. In this case, there are many more factors at play so that answer isn’t really true, but the typical electric car is heavier than a hybrid (Tesla 3 is up to 4,250 lbs while a Prius is 3,200 lbs).

Nissan Leaf Battery

How Quick You Can Get Back on the Road

If you have an electric vehicle, you’re at the mercy of how fast your battery can recharge. For many, this takes hours and can’t be expedited.

Even Tesla’s Supercharging stations take nearly an hour to bring you up to 80%. A hybrid (like a combustion engine car) just needs a little gas to get you back on your way. Smile and wave at the Tesla driver as you pass them parked at the charging station.

Similarities Between Electric and Hybrid Cars

These car types aren’t sworn enemies – they actually have a lot in common. You can probably expect that since they’re often talked about in the same breath. In this section, we’ll talk about some commonalities between these styles of car.

Their Low(er) Carbon Footprint

Whichever type of car you go with, you can rest knowing that you’re doing your part to help the Earth. Sure, neither option is completely “green”, but they both have a lower carbon footprint than a standard car.

Manufacturing these cars still takes up a lot of fossil fuels. Your impact is lessened over time and you use less and less gas since electricity is cleaner energy. This is why so many people are switching to electrically operated cars.

eco-friendly

Fuel Savings

A hybrid car has significantly higher EPA-estimated miles per gallon than a gas-powered car. An EV doesn’t even have a “miles per gallon” rating since they don’t use a gallon of gas.

Over time, you’ll save a lot of money on fuel costs. You’ll be “fueling up” your electric car with household electricity. The government estimates that fuel costs about 3 cents per mile for a Tesla 3.

Instant Power Delivery

We talked about this earlier, but electric motors have the ability to deliver power instantly. This means no turbo lag, no waiting for your car to rev up – just pure power.

This is why you’ll see such impressive 0-60 numbers across the board. Even cars that aren’t designed around fast acceleration will move quicker than a comparable car with a combustion engine.

Better Overall Performance

Manufacturers can fit more horsepower into the same package when they use electric motors. If you look at the top-performing cars across the world, many of them are either hybrids or full-electric cars.

A big reason is because of the instant power delivery discussed in the previous section.

Federal Rebates and Incentives

Who doesn’t love free money? The government is using this to incentivize people to go green and pick up a hybrid or electric car. It’s not rare to get a credit of over $1,000 simply for purchasing a hybrid or electric car.

Federal Tax Credit

Quieter Operations

Since the Prius came out, there are a lot of sitcoms and comedy scenes that feature a hybrid car running into someone since they had no indication the car was coming. However you cut it, hybrids and electric cars are much quieter than a standard car.

In the case of an EV, you might not even know your car is running when you first start it, since it’s so silent.

Less Overall Maintenance

Even though a hybrid car also has a combustion engine, you can still enjoy fewer trips to the mechanic overall.

Both cars still have routine maintenance like taking care of your tires and fluids. Even so, the big-ticket items won’t be as expensive as a gas-powered car.

Durable and Reliable Operation

A third-party study took a look at Tesla and predicted the batteries can last up to half a million miles. Hybrids are in the same boat – these types of cars simply last longer than gas-powered cars. There’s less that can go wrong with an electric motor than a combustion engine, anyway.

Tesla On The Road

Which Type is Right for You?

At this point, you are probably wondering which style of car is right for you. It really depends on a few features that you’re looking for. There are considerations to make before writing a big check.

Do You Have Access to a Parking Spot with an Electrical Outlet?

Remember, an electric car needs to be plugged in overnight if you want to drive to work the next day. If you live in an apartment complex, you might have a hard time getting your car charged.

The best-case scenario for owning an electric car is to have a private garage with an outlet on the wall. If you have to use public parking overnight, then stick with hybrids.

Electric Car Battery Status

How Long is Your Commute?

If you have a long commute and want to cut back on your gas consumption, an electric vehicle is the only option. If your hybrid can run on its battery pack alone, you might only get 10 or 20 miles altogether. If your commute is any longer than that, you’ll be depending on the restorative systems to charge your batteries along the ride.

Do You Travel Often?

Apart from your daily commute, you’ll have to consider other trips you take. Your annual road trip will be cut short if you’re trying to do it in an electric car.

The beauty of a hybrid is that you can quickly pull over, fuel up, and be on your way. You’re otherwise going to have to Google the nearest car charging station near you and post up with your family for an hour or so.

This is also the case for people who travel for work a lot or take frequent trips for leisure. An electric car will most likely slow you down and change your plans in the long run. We suggest a hybrid for people like these.

Are You Picky About Your Car?

Are you one of those people that has to take a week of deep thought after a test drive? If a misplaced AC dial is a dealbreaker for you, there’s nothing wrong with that. All it means is that an electric car probably isn’t right for you.

If you’re looking for specific traits and you’re really picky about the car that you’ll own, you probably want a car category that has plenty of options. There are many more hybrid cars available on the market for you to cruise through.

Dealership Showroom

In the world of electric cars, there is a decent enough pool to choose from, but there is only a handful worth owning. If you have a grievance with any of them, you’ll have to wait a few years for more cars to become available.

It’s also worth noting that there are plenty of “completely normal” hybrid cars. Tons of manufacturers release their compact cars with a gas-powered engine or an optional hybrid drivetrain.

Are You Going to Resell the Car?

The jury is still out about the resale value of electric cars, but it’s looking promising. We haven’t had enough time with the resale market to know how viable it is but even used Tesla’s are selling for a lot. The belief is that the degradation of the electric motor and batteries is a lot more minimal than a combustion engine.

As you probably know, the resale value of a gas-powered car can be pretty terrible as the years’ march on. Hybrids typically resell for a lower percentage than electric cars do. So, if you’re looking to sell your car in a few years, we’d suggest going electric.

Any Noise in the Car is Unacceptable

Some people like to hear the roar of a massive, naturally aspirated V12 as they drive. Others prefer to have a normal conversation with their partner and allow their kid to calmly fall asleep as they drive.

If you’re lumped in the second group, either of these options is good. If you take this to the extreme and you refuse to deal with any noise in your car, then an electric car is the right choice. Hybrids still have a combustion engine that will fire on from time to time and disrupt your peace.

Conclusion

You just learned everything about how electric and hybrid cars compared. We explained both styles of cars, showed you how they’re similar and dissimilar, and helped you make a decision about which is right for you. Whichever you choose, make sure you have the right tools and accessories to keep you moving.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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