Pros and cons of each

By | March 29, 2024

Electric vs. Hybrid Cars: Pros and Cons of EachGreg Pajo/Michael Simari – car and driver

The march toward electrifying all vehicle items gives consumers many options, but makes selecting the best one for them a little more complicated. Where a buyer once chose between a smaller, more efficient engine and a large, powerful one within a model line, now there is the added consideration of batteries, charging ports and electric motors.

Two such electrified options – electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles – have a lot of overlap, but suit different applications and buyers. Understanding the differences can help you make the choice that best suits your needs.

Electric vehicles explained

While more and more models are seeing some degree of electrification, electric cars are going to the extreme, drawing their energy solely from a battery that needs to be charged to keep them moving. Also called battery electric vehicles (BEVs), they have at least one electric motor that powers the wheels to get them on the road.

The main environmental benefit of an electric car is the complete lack of smog-forming emissions in the local environment in which they operate. In almost all cases they have also dramatically reduced the amount of greenhouse gases they are responsible for, but that depends on how the electricity they use is generated, which can range from renewable hydro, wind and solar to a messier coal-fired power plant . Crucially, when such ‘stationary electricity sources’ are modernized and upgraded, each electrical downstream becomes effectively cleaner. On the technical side, an electric car has fewer moving parts compared to a car with an internal combustion engine, and delivers instant torque that results in brisk (and often addictive) acceleration. They are also quieter and smoother and therefore radiate a premium atmosphere.

That said, batteries are heavy, and a larger battery with a longer range increases the weight even further, making long-range electric vehicles and electric trucks relatively heavy on the roads (which they currently don’t support with gasoline taxes), while they can often be expensive to repair in the event of a problem with the package. This is especially a future consideration for those purchasing a used EV, as a new EV’s high-voltage battery packs are covered for a minimum of 8 years or 100,000 miles, while some manufacturers extend that to 10 years and more miles.

The environmental impact of the battery itself must also be considered, as many of the ingredients used in these large packs involve not-so-earth-friendly mining operations, but this impact is decreasing as battery technology improves.

The benefits of hybridization

Hybrids are sometimes seen as the best of both worlds when it comes to efficiency, packing an internal combustion engine with one or more electric motors that can generate electricity when coupled to the engine, regain energy through regenerative braking and the wheels can drive with or without the help of that engine. The vehicle determines which combination of power sources is best for the current conditions, so you may feel a transition from engine to engine or back again.

But the combination of a combustion engine and at least one electric motor creates a complex drivetrain. Most hybrids rely on a gas engine to drive the wheels in most circumstances, with the electric motor(s) being there to provide some electric propulsion and expand the engine by adding power or turning it on to run at a more efficient speed.

Compared to EVs, hybrids have smaller batteries that only store enough energy to support the combustion portion of the powertrain for short stints. The environmental impact of their production is therefore relatively lower, but they are still dependent on fossil fuels. There are variations on that theme, the most important of which is the plug-in hybrid (PHEV), which adds a charging port and swaps a larger battery for extended electric-only driving between gas station visits. (Read our hybrid vs. plug-in hybrid explainer to learn more about the differences.)

Choosing between an EV and a hybrid

Hybrids, especially the plug-in version, are a great transitional option for those interested in the EV life but not yet sold. With a plug-in you can enjoy great charging at home or on the go, while still taking the internal combustion safety net with you for longer trips or times when you just can’t find a place to charge. If you live in an apartment or are in the early stages of your career, a ‘traditional’ hybrid that isn’t plugged in will give you the flexibility you need, while still being cleaner and more efficient than a normal car.

If you’re ready to go electric-only, the ever-expanding range of available EVs offer efficiency-oriented and performance-oriented options, as well as some that serve double-duty. The choice may be overwhelming, but there’s something for everyone in the electrified future of the car.

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