Hybrid, PHEV and Electric compared

It costs an absolute bomb to put an electric vehicle in your driveway. Can you justify the extra expense through lower running costs?

Electric vehicle charging station sign.

We put three efficient engine types to the test to see what one might be cheapest on your commute.

A new car might claim ultra-high efficiency, but there’s no way of telling how it performs in the real world. The Hyundai Ioniq gives us the perfect opportunity to compare as the range has a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and an electric vehicle. We took one of each out for a week’s worth of motoring to get a handle on their pros and cons.

Introducing the car

The Ioniq is your typical family hatch. There’s room for five inside, though the sloping roofline restricts the room for taller passengers in the rear. It has all the mod cons you’d expect in a new car, from phone connectivity to safety features such as lane keep assist, which warns if you wander about the lane too much. I jumped into it from my 2008 VW and quickly decided it was a much better place to be.

You have a choice of three motors. The cheapest is the Hybrid, which comes in at just under $47K. The PHEV is next cab off the rank at $54K, while the Electric is $66K. On top of motor choice, there are two levels of refinement – Entry or Elite. The premium Elite model cost an additional $6000 and gets you better safety features, leather interior, heated seats and steering wheel and other bells and whistles.

Regenerative braking

The electric motors in these cars can run in reverse and act as generators that’ll recharge the batteries. This action slows the car down and is known as regenerative braking. All three Ioniq models have this feature, which you can set to three levels of power. When operating, the car starts slowing when you lift off the throttle. It’s a bit jerky in the Hybrid and PHEV, which doesn’t help carsick passengers on the trip over the Remutaka Hill. The Electric’s system is much smoother and, once you learn to use it properly, you reach a point where you only need to touch the brakes to come to a complete stop.

Comparing engines

Engines compared infographic.

The Hybrid has a small electric motor and battery that is recharged by the petrol engine and when slowing down by regenerative braking. The electric motor is powerful enough to drive the car at low speeds, but it’ll generally run out of juice when you approach highway speeds. You don’t need to plug this one in and it works just like any other car you’ve driven.

The PHEV is the next step up. The electric motor and batteries are bigger, to the point where you can get upwards of 52km of electric-only driving. The batteries can be recharged on the fly by the petrol motor and regenerative braking, but the bulk of charging should be done by plugging it in at home each day (there’s no fast-charging capability in the PHEV).

The Electric is stuffed full of batteries and a large electric motor to drive the wheels. When fully charged, the car gave us a read-out of 250km of range. The Electric has the most powerful engine of the three, coming in at 100kW compared to the 77kW petrol motor in the other two.

The test

We put each of the Entry spec cars through a normal week’s worth of driving. This involved commuting 30km to and from the office on weekdays in the rush hour crawl, a trip to the supermarket and a weekend drive. In this case we went from Lower Hutt to the Wairarapa and back to see how each one handled the winding trip over the Remutaka Hill and some typical state highway speeds. The total distance covered ended up at just over 250km.

We measured the electricity usage with a power meter and, in the case of the PHEV and Hybrid, petrol usage was taken from the trip computer that was reset when we picked up the car. From here we calculated the running costs for a week’s worth of motoring. Electricity was priced at 0.26¢/kWh, while petrol was priced at $1.97 per litre for 91.

Home charging

I charged the PHEV and Electric at home each night as they both easily had the range to do my usual miles. If you need to charge it at a fast charger, the costs climb steeply compared to your home electricity rates.


The smaller battery was mostly recharged by the time I got to the bottom of my 3km downhill ride to the motorway to get to work. From there it’d run in electric mode at up to about 70km/h and the petrol motor would shut off every time I coasted down from higher speeds as the traffic in front slowed down.

The petrol motor is really quick to seamlessly cut in and start driving the wheels, so you’re never left short of punch. It has more than enough power for cruising through town and on the motorway. There was one major downside, the Entry Hybrid doesn’t have adaptive cruise control, which is a feature on the other Entry models. You get ruined after experiencing adaptive cruise just once (which keeps you moving at the same speed as the car in front of you) and you’ll really miss it once it’s gone.

By the end of the week, the computer told me I’d used $23.27 of petrol.


The PHEV is all about eking out the range and using as little petrol as possible. This means it spends most of its time powering you about in EV mode. It’s cheaper to run the car this way but the electric engine only puts out 44kW, which is piddly for a vehicle weighing 1.5 tonnes. That made it feel a bit sluggish when driving up steep hills or trying to hit gaps at busy roundabouts. The petrol motor does kick in when required or if you have a heavy foot.

I had the PHEV on a particularly cold week, so the heater got a hammering on the commute to and from work. The electric motor didn’t have the guts to power both the car and the air con, so the petrol motor kicked in quite a bit (when I turned off the air con the petrol motor also stopped). That affects the overall fuel economy, so it’s an important consideration if you’re thinking of buying one of these cars. The Elite model with heated seats and steering wheel would be able to drive you in EV mode and keep you warm without burning fuel at the same time – it takes very little power to heat your bum and hands compared to heating a whole cabin of air.

At the end of the week it cost $21.58, but I’d expect the petrol costs to drop in warmer conditions when the heaters weren’t required so much.


Woman charging electric vehicle.
One week of motoring cost just $12.39. The Electric is the cheapest to run by a long way.

As soon as I jumped in the Ioniq Electric I noticed a massive change – the dash and auto gearstick are replaced with a digital display and an array of buttons for gear selection. While the display is great, the buttons take some getting used to, especially when parallel parking or doing a three-point turn – rather than flicking a gear lever backwards and forwards I needed to find and press the right button.

Once under way, it was clear this is the best car of the range. It’s powerful and smooth and handles better than the others. The handling improvement comes down to extra load of batteries in the floor, which gives more heft and a lower centre of gravity.

One week of motoring cost just $12.39. So the Electric is the cheapest to run by a long way. You do have a big trade-off though, with it being the most expensive model.


You wouldn’t buy the Electric for saving money, but you would buy it because it’s easily the best car. I made savings of $9.19 a week for the Electric over the PHEV. That works out at $478 a year. Not including service costs, it’d take me 25 years before the $12,000 price difference was accounted for – easily more than the lifespan of the batteries and car themselves.

Servicing is something that also needs to be considered when you’re looking for a new vehicle. It’s cheaper to service an electric vehicle as it’s a much simpler beast than a PHEV or hybrid. The latter two have the normal servicing requirements for a petrol motor with the added complication of the electric motor and batteries. As well as this, having two drivetrains also means there are more components that can potentially go wrong down the track.

If I had the choice and the funds, I’d buy the electric version in a heartbeat. I wasn’t so sold on the PHEV – having a foot in both camps meant I had the daily plugging-in faff of an electric vehicle, but it felt underpowered and wasn’t nippy enough in town. I’d take the Hybrid over the PHEV – it’s easy, works just the way you expect a car should and uses way less petrol than anything I’ve ever owned.

Range anxiety

You can’t escape the range anxiety question, and it’s fair enough too since New Zealand is actually quite big and driving distances on road trips can be significant. I was sceptical of the EV before I had it for a week, but after a couple of days, I realised 250km is actually a really long way. In fact, it’s more than I’d typically do in a week. If you tow a caravan or boat or regularly do big roadies, an EV isn’t for you. For the rest of us, it’s the perfect vehicle.

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Chris O.
22 Apr 2021
Low public charge station use

Over the 35,000Km that we have owned our Kia Nero full electric car we have topped up at a public station just 11 times. Kia claim that this car is good for 455km on a charge, my wife can get over 500Km and I get more like 475. (She says it bring out the hoon in me. It is by FAR the peppiest car I have ever owned!) We live near Coromandel Town and can do a trip to Auckland or Hamilton, AND back, on a single charge, no worries. Then we mostly are able to charge up again on sunshine from our PV panels. So we have long given up any "range anxiety" and don't have any call for more public charge stations. This is a normal, practical car that is huge fun to drive, and lacks day to day fuel costs. Yes, it was expensive, but there are many other petrol and diesel cars in the same price range that people buy. Our experience is that an EV with a good big battery and plenty of range is just brilliant; the pluses totally outweigh the minuses. And very environmentally friendly!

Tony G.
22 Apr 2021
Range Anxiety - not an issue

We bought an electric tesla model3 fifteen months ago and have done over 80,000 kms in that time mainly long range trips from auckland to welly and back .. with over 400km real range per charge the model3 only needs to recharge once in taupo and this takes about 25 mins (which is just enough time for a coffee and a stretch) .. the reality is we often make more stops because we need to take a rest from driving not because we need to charge ... there is absolutely no range anxiety and i have found this road trip takes no longer than it used to in my old petrol car. i have saved about $15k in petrol and probably 3k with zero maintainance cost so far in this time (the electric motors are pretty simple) .. at this rate the car will have fully paid for its self in 5 years... I have been carefully monitoring the battery and it has degraded about 7% so I expect to get at least 10years probably much more (guarentee is 8 years)

I have also noticed that the 2nd hand resale value has remained very high .. I think your comparison calculations should take into account the reality that the depreciation of electric vehicles is far less than for ice cars. They seem to really hold their value.

Chris H.
11 Sep 2020
Nissan Leaf

We bought an imported used Nissan Leaf with an 80% 24 kWh a few years ago, and have not looked back. I have not kept tabs on exactly how much electricity has cost me, as most charging is done at home, but I have not spent anything on maintenance. Since purchasing the Leaf we have upgraded the battery twice – about a year ago to a 90% 30 kWh and recently to a 90% 40 kWh battery. This has increased our range considerably and has opened up places such as the West Coast (from Dunedin).

When the time comes to replace the Leaf, I will probably the cheapest one I can find in the 3-5 year old range and upgrade immediately to at least a 40 kWh battery, and even a 62 kWh one if possible.

Willem D.
24 Apr 2021
Battery replacement

Hi Chris. you made some interesting comments, however as far as I know you can only replace a Leaf battery with similar KW battery. Not sure that you can put a 40kw in a 30kw car, or 62kw as you mentioned and it is expensive. Around $20K I believe?

Peter and Sarah
08 Sep 2020
Torque vs Power

One thing your article didn't mention was the difference in torque between the models. Yes, the EV has a more powerful motor (100kW) but what makes EVs such fun cars to drive is the torque, which allows rapid acceleration. The EV has way more torque, and it's so easy to pass others uphill on the Remutaka road, or kick off from the lights. A lot of drivers think EVs are like upmarket golf carts, which is a long way from the truth.

Jonathan H.
05 Sep 2020
Compared to a plain petrol vehicle?

No comparison is made to a petrol vehicle. A week of travel for $23 of petrol, about 10-12 litres depending where you buy it, in a similarly sized petrol-powered car (let's say, 1.8L, 100 kW, and 7.5 L/100km) would equate to about 140 km of travel. That's less distance than one charge cycle of the EV will give you. The EV would travel 140 km for somewhere around $2 to $3, so although you do mention that the EV would take you 25 years to pay off the difference between it and the PHEV, how long would it take you to pay off a petrol-powered car, considering the thousands of dollars of petrol you're no longer buying each year? I would wager, a lot less than 25 years.

William O.
06 Sep 2020
EV comparison

Great points made. Owners tend to forget wet fuel costs, maintenance, & range comparison when doing the sums. Initial cost has to be amortised over the projected lifetime/ownership of the vehicle. If you replace them after say 6/10 years, then the sums become different in regards residual value at replacement. Personally I would never buy a brand NEw car, but a dealer demo, or a dissed car, (disappointed first owner), with low(under 10),ks. Best value for money, other than an import of a similar vehicle, but they are generally 3+ years old by then.

David C.
05 Sep 2020
The Hyundai Nexo

Given it looks like the Consumer's Institute has a good relationship with Hyundai, is there any chance you'll be able to get a look at the Nexo when it arrives here? Given it's a hydrogen fuel cell powered electric car, it really is a piece of significant, next generation vehicle technology. Alternatively, do you have any news about the other Hydrogen cars available at the moment, like the Honda Clarity or Toyota Mirai? NZ might be a very good place for them, given we can produce green Hydrogen...

Jonathan H.
05 Sep 2020
Hydrogen is not the future

Hi, Years ago I used to be a hydrogen nut. A fuel that only emits water! But now I'm not. Hydrogen is the fossil fuel industry, desperate to re-purpose their colossal infrastructure, about to be ruinously stranded over the next 20 years by the combination of exponential growth in solar, EV and battery tech. Because it is the smallest thing that can have electrons orbiting it, hydrogen escapes from all storage devices, eventually, and escapes into space. On its way there, it passes through the ozone layer, where some of it will permanently react with ozone to form water (3H₂ + O₃ → 3H₂O). This never gets mentioned anywhere, and seems to only be known to meteorologists. The most efficient, densest, and safest(!) way to store hydrogen is to bond it to carbon, which brings us back to square one, where > 90% of the world's hydrogen is split from natural gas (CH₄). Hydrogen is thus a massive waste of energy, resources, investment and time, for very little gain. I really wish it were otherwise, but H₂ cars will just carry on melting the ice caps and inundating coastal property.

David C.
22 Apr 2021
Hydrogen Fuel Cells

You might want to look at where Hydrogen storage technology is heading, as a lot of it is moving towards things like metal hydrides that have nothing to do with carbon, have very long lives, and operate at lower pressures while still getting reasonable energy density. As a local residential application: https://lavo.com.au/ and there are more portable solutions in the works, and suitable for heavy transport now.

We have the opportunity to produce green hydrogen using renewables here, while trying to stay clear of the network upgrade required for hyper-fast-charge conventional battery systems - the chargers look to be drawing up to 1MW for some of the recent technologies that will get EV batteries to 90% charge in less than 10 minutes. Not sure the network will cope with ranks of those in our towns.

Daniel M.
04 Sep 2020
Beware of RUC from Dec 2021 (if nothing changes)

If looking at these figures in terms of long-term savings it is important to take into account potential Road User Charges (RUC). Currently the RUC exemption for EV and PHEV is due to end Dec 2021. If no changes are made to the current policies, and with the current COVID-19 focus it is all rather uncertain, then EVs and PHEVs will start paying $76/1000km. For the 250 km in this trial that equates to $19. In this case this would mean that the EV weekly running costs would increase to $31.39 and be more expensive that the Hybrid which doesn't have to pay RUC (as is covered by the petrol excise duty). The PHEV would also have to pay RUC and would therefore have a total cost of $40.58 but would then be able to claim back the petrol excise tax. Several MPs are aware that it is illogical that efficient petrol cars will be taxed less than EVs, but whether anything will change is a different matter.

William O.
06 Sep 2020
RUC Taxes

Good point made about the looming tax crisis. BUT, surely if this country's governing body is serious about our environment, they will extend/alter the tax on EVs, fuels, etc, to mirror their preferences in the economy. The trouble is the way the E-Utilities are set up in NZ, they are being used to subsidise low marginal tax rates, as a user pays tax across the board,(GST, SOE dividends, etc), as is the petrol tax vs RUC rates. They would be best to set up a scale of RUCs more commensurate with cost/harm done to environment/infrastructure/tax spread in order to fairly burden each user with a share of overall costs. Can be done with todays access to computer-based costing & modelling.
And PLEASE do not include the scam of buyable/sellable pollution charges as per the current scheme. Corporates found a way to buy their way out of liability/responsibility for their pollution- full-stop !