Hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and full battery electric cars explained: Learn what the difference is to help you choose the right electrification for your next car.

If you’re considering greener car options or exploring the idea of going fully electric, you’ve likely encountered various types of electric cars such as hybrid, plug-in hybrid (PHEV), and full battery electric vehicles (EVs). But what does it all mean? You’re not alone and the quick rush of new models offering these drivetrains is large. However, it is not too hard to understand the difference and pick the one that suits you – there are positives and negatives to them all. Let’s dive in…

In a nutshell

Hybrid Vehicles: A hybrid vehicle primarily relies on a petrol or diesel engine to move, supplemented by one or more electric motors and a small battery. This setup assists during acceleration or for short electric-only drives. Toyota’s numerous hybrid models are a good example of this technology.

Plug-In Hybrids (PHEVs): A plug-in hybrid combines a petrol engine with one or more electric motors and a larger battery pack. This enables the vehicle to travel extended distances, typically around 50km or more, solely on electric power before the petrol engine engages. PHEVs offer the flexibility of recharging via a power outlet for extended electric-only driving. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a good example of this, and is one of the longest-running PHEV models in Australia.

Battery Electric Vehicles (EVs): In contrast, battery electric vehicles entirely rely on electric motors for propulsion, eliminating the need for a petrol engine. They draw power from a sizable battery pack, allowing for longer driving ranges of up to 400km or more. EVs require recharging via charging stations or outlets and there is no chance of using petrol or diesel if you get stuck. These include cars like the Nissan Leaf, Teslas, and the new BYD electric range.

Different types of hybrid CARS explained

Toyota launched a rather famous hybrid called the Prius in 1997 as the spearhead of its hybrid revolution. Fast-forward almost three decades and, no surprise, Toyota offers a hybrid version in just about every model it sells.

Since then, other manufacturers have jumper on board such as Kia, Hyundai, Honda, MG, Nissan…there are heaps.

A hybrid is a vehicle that draws off two or more power sources. In the context of this article, a hybrid refers to a vehicle with a petrol engine (internal combustion) and an electric motor with a supporting battery pack. The most common type of hybrid is the full hybrid which sees a petrol engine provide 99% of the drive in 99% of the situation, with the electric motor and its low-capacity battery pack able to power the car for only a kilometre or two of travel; this is good for stop-start traffic or slipping away from home quietly in the morning. The difference here is that one or the other engine type can be used independently of the other

Next up is a parallel hybrid which sees an electric motor act as supplementary grunt for the petrol motor. Neither one or the other works in isolation; in this situation, the electric motor is generally only small and is intended to allow a smaller engine to be used to reduce fuel consumption.

And then there’s the series hybrid which sees an electric motor do all the work while a petrol engine acts purely as a generator to keep the battery topped up. Think of models like the Nissan X-Trail e-Power which has a petrol motor, but it only spins a generator around that makes electricity that is then sent to the hybrid system. Indeed, it is a little more confusing and like the other hybrids, it means you’ll have tailpipe emissions nearly all the time you are driving.

Off the back of this type is the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) which offers a larger capacity battery pack, allowing for a greater electric-only driving range. In this situation, the petrol motor can act as a generator to keep the electric batteries topped up, or the vehicle can be driven on pure petrol power alone. As the name suggests, you can also plug in this type of hybrid to charge the battery pack.

That last point is really important because it means you can use the car pretty much exclusively as an EV if you are just doing short trips like the commute to work. The bonus is having those petrol-distance kays underneath the bonnet when you need them

So a PHEV can be driven as one or the other, meaning, you can drive it as a conventional internal combustion-engined vehicle, as an electric-only vehicle, relying on the battery pack, or as an electric vehicle with the petrol engine and regenerative braking keeping the battery topped up.

Then there’s the fully electric EV, which really came into mainstream with the launch of the Tesla Model 3. Since then, many existing and new manufacturers have entered the market with fully electric cars. As the name implies, the vehicle can only run off a battery and if it runs flat, you are out of luck. You must always keep on top of your range and where the nearest charging station is (or be able to get home). Since its early days, many cars now have sophisticated algorithms to figure out how much range it has and use GPS to see what the best charger is to use.

But note, most publish chargers are much faster than what you can achieve at home, so you’ll need to wait a lot longer when plugged into a normal household socket.

How do you charge electric vehicle batteries?

Depending on the type of hybrid EV you have will determine how they’re recharged. With a PHEV you can plug-in your vehicle and recharge the batteries. Via a normal household plug (10amp) this will take several hours, but some can use fast chargers that do just that. And depending on the time of day or night you’re charging your vehicle will mean that ‘topping up’ can be done off-peak, which is much cheaper per kW. That said, a PHEV allows you to use your petrol engine as a generator to combine with regenerative braking and feed electricity back to the batteries.

Then there’s a hybrid like that of the new Toyota Camry which has a very short electric-only range and no ability, not on Australia-delivered cars anyway, to recharge the batteries via a plug. It means the batteries rely on either the petrol motor to act as a generator or via regenerative braking to feed electricity back into the batteries. 

What’s regenerative braking?

Regenerative braking converts energy from when the brakes are applied into electricity used to recharge the batteries. This works every time you place your foot on the brakes or lift off the accelerator; it’s capturing energy that would otherwise be lost as either heat or noise (from the brakes).

How long do hybrid car batteries last?

Carmakers offering hybrid cars generally state a life-cycle of around 11 years.

Are hybrid cars actually better than normal petrol/diesel?

Like talking politics and religion at a dinner party, this is one question guaranteed to get a heated debate going. If you’re driving a non-PHEV hybrid then, yes, you will save fuel over an equivalent internal combustion-engined car, but then there are enough efficient engines around that a non-PHEV might be as useful as the proverbial appendages on a bull depending on how many kays you travel.

But, if you’re making the case that a hybrid with enough charge left in its batteries will help you sneak away from home early in the morning without waking anyone then, sure, it makes sense. But then, by the same token a PHEV makes more sense, because it’s got a practical, real-world driving range whereas a standard hybrid doesn’t.

If you’re arguing that, compared with a pure electric vehicle, there’s no range anxiety with a hybrid, then you’d be right. But, perhaps that’s kind of missing the environmental point. If you don’t want to go for a full EV, then a PHEV makes far more sense.

For myself, I still rather like the simple hybrid. It uses one of the smallest battery packs meaning it does not require a heap of precious metals to produce, and its lifecycle is not as harsh on the environment (yes, there are some battery recycling scheme starting to get up which will help for the EVs end-of-life which will be great). And a petrol motor is relatively cheap to make – plus the new small motors are very good on emissions. So the hybrid is both economic to buy and run, if you don’t want silent, electric motoring…

Cue the debate.

Get articles like this and more delivered to you without lifting a finger. Simply join our Facebook page to talk about this article and subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates (it’s free).


What is Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)?


Lotus bespoke customisation service expands luxury offering

About Author

Alex Rae

Alex Rae brings almost two decades’ experience, previously working at publications including Wheels, WhichCar, Drive/Fairfax, Carsales.com.au, AMC, Just Cars, and more.


  1. Sadly, we have very few hybrids or PHEVs available in Australia (or full Electric Vehicles (EV)). There has been very negative press in Australia as far as all 3 categories of vehicle – I’d ignored them for years listening to motoring journalists who are more likely to suggest that a Twin Cab truck would be suitable for a family car (I don’t buy that concept either).

    I have owned the present PRIUS for 18 months – there are other factors not mentioned in the article. One is, they are relatively low maintenance, as brakes, transmission will likely last the life of the car as regenerative braking does most braking duty. It has averaged 4.1 l/100km (documented, not dash readout) (that’s 70MPG in the old scale) over 18 mths. A comparable car (like Corolla, Maz3, though they’re smaller) uses between 8 and 10+ l/100.

    The other factor is that PRIUS is far cheaper than almost all PHEVs in Australia – like about ½ the price unless you want to buy a truck like an Outlander on Run-Out. I’d buy a Panamera PHEV – except my fiscal situation deems it unattainable.

    Your mention that “A plug-in hybrid, on the other hand, is one that runs a petrol motor, an electric motor …”. Not entirely correct – Volvo and AUDI at least have DIESEL motors instead of petrol.

    1. I have a funny feeling you no more, !!!!!!!! than the bloke righting the article ,so much to learn about. Theses new units ,all I nead is a power. Wall battery ,$13,000 now the car $50,000 ,a small one ???? . And friendly bank ?????🤔🤔🙏🏼🙏🏼 WISH ME LUCK 😋😋

      1. Hi 1250, I’m not suggesting that hybrid cars don’t have a place. They’ve facilitated an attitude shift making room for more fuel efficient cars to flow through, but they’re not the solution. I’m driving a hybrid at the moment and in the sort of driving I’m doing the advantage of its battery and electric motor are having little effect… to the point where it’s not as efficient as my diesel car across the same journey. In town, sure, it’ll cream my diesel. But when you consider horses for courses, I believe you’re better off stumping up for a second-hand PHEV. Hybrids are just a tease. – Isaac

        1. Isaac, I TOTALLY agree. As I said in my other post, we test drove the hybrids, not even remotely impressed. Then we drove, and subsequently bought a second hand Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and absolutely love it! We often go weeks without starting the engine, but even when the battery is exhausted the fuel economy is excellent as it’s still got the benefits then of any hybrid. (One actually has to be careful to avoid the fuel getting too stale.)
          Our next new car in a few years will definitely be pure EV, more than likely a Tesla Model 3 when they eventually get here. The PHEV won’t go- other family members will draw straws over it, a few have already said they want it.

  2. We went looking for a new 2nd car earlier this year. We test drove a PriusC, a Corolla hybrid, and a full size Prius, and finally was also considering a Honda Accord hybrid, but none were available. In any event we were not in any way impressed with ANY of the hybrids. Better fuel economy? Yes, but no plug in option so we couldn’t drive anywhere effectively on full electric.
    Then we looked at a near new Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and immediately fell in love. It has tons of room in the back being a full size wagon, a real world 45klms electric range (though I have squeezed over 50 out of it with careful driving.)
    A PHEV makes so much more sense compared to a plain hybrid. I charge our PHEV in the garage on off peak power after midnight, which costs us only around $1.20 for a full charge, so as cheap as chips to run.
    My wife was a bit concerned about the high tech, but I said just drive it like an auto, (but watch the power gauge to avoid needing to start the engine. If you plant your foot, it will start the petrol engine for a power boost.) So after nine months of ownership, our fuel economy is sitting on 1.5 litres/100, and would be even better if not for the regular longer runs we do most weeks. Even when the battery is flat, the fuel economy is excellent at around 6.5litres/100 on the highway, and even better at around town speeds.

    I don’t understand why Mitsubishi hasn’t pushed the PHEV more in Oz, they’re a terrific vehicle (and have sold very well overseas.)
    Anyway, we love driving the PHEV as a pure EV while the battery lasts, and our next vehicle WILL be pure EV. You literally have to drive one to know how good they are.

    1. PS. I forgot to add, very impressed with your article Isaac. For once, a motoring journalist who has done his homework properly and not living in the past. Well written, a good balanced and thought out article, congratulations. A very pleasant change from most other journos who are so, umm, 20th century in their thinking.

  3. This is very informative. Thanks for sharing your informative article with us. Keep up the fantastic work.
    TNR e vehicles industry provides the most sensational revolution in Electric Vehicles. Tnr Vehicle industry proves great features such as No license required, No registration required facilities to give you the driving experience.

  4. Thx mob for the this beautiful informative post. However, in your analysis u completely forgot us in LDCs especially in Africa like Uganda where owning a hybrid vehicle can be a mess. No good Mechanics in such hybrid vehicles, servicing one like getting fluids or batteries in case can be a hustle. When we try to import vehicles we get them online where most times the info displayed varies from the actual performance. Incapacitated to get good mileage as such hybrid cars need some good low mileage (at least below 100,000kms ) for one to cruise it for some good few years like 5 before incurring replacements like batteries. Governments impose exorbitant taxes and fees . For example I tried to import a Toyota Prius prime c CVT transmission 2013 model , but the total investment after paying taxes and fees was about $17,000 taxes and fees alone form over $11k) This is too much for a used vehicle of 90,000 mileage. That’s why in our African countries like Uganda, hybrid vehicles don’t take any lead. Our gasoline powered vehicles are the only option. When u compute the savings on total initial cost between hybrid and nonhybrid vehicles, that saving (approx $7k) can buy fuel for gasoline vehicles for about 7 years with ease of maintenance and repairing of the vehicles.

    thx u once again for that educative post I have clearly gotten the core differences between the different hybrid models and has to be cautious before getting one , otherwise it may result into some good dollar wastage.

    kindly advise on what we can currently do

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also