It may seem obvious, but not all electric cars are the same! If you're unclear what the difference is between a hybrid vehicle, a PHEV, an EV or traditional petrol or diesel engine, you're not alone.

The array of acronyms that go with electric cars can make it difficult to work out exactly what you're buying. Here we take a look at the three different types of electric vehicle engines currently on the market. These are hybrid vehicles, PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) and EV (all-electric vehicles). We discuss the differences in technology between the options and also consider the pros and cons of each.

Hybrid Vehicles

As the name suggests, hybrid vehicles are powered using both electricity and petrol. A hybrid vehicle contains a petrol engine but also has the capacity to generate electricity.

Power can be produced from processes such as regenerative braking. Besides, energy is produced by the petrol engine during acceleration. Any power produced is stored in a battery. This is a separate battery from the conventional car battery that powers the electrics. The vehicle is designed to use the stored electricity when it's most appropriate to do so.

A hybrid car will use both petrol and electric power. It varies between the two automatically, depending on which source of energy is going to be best.

Hybrid vehicles don't require recharging - the battery automatically charges as a consequence of the car being driven. There's also no need to manually switch between the two different fuel supplies. The hybrid vehicle is designed to seamlessly switch between the two, as required.

Some drivers like the idea of an electric car, but would prefer to drive a vehicle that's almost identical to a conventional, petrol-driven option. In these circumstances, a hybrid vehicle can be a great choice.

Almost every vehicle manufacturer offers a range of hybrid models. Popular hybrids include the Toyota Rav4, Prius and Camry; the Hyundai Ioniq; and the Kia Niro. For drivers who want to start using an electric car, but who prefer the familiarity of a petrol-driven vehicle, try a hybrid! It's an environmentally responsible choice that is driven and maintained in the same way as the traditional option.

Related: Australia's Best 7 Hybrid Cars

Hybrid Vehicle Reviews

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PHEV - Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles

PHEV options are hybrid vehicles. This means they switch between petrol or electricity. The switch depends on which power source is going to be most efficient. The main difference between a hybrid and a PHEV is that a PHEV can be topped up with electricity via a plug-in.

A PHEV is plugged into a charging point. Here the battery receives power through the charging mechanism.

The addition of plug-in technology enables PHEVs to store more electricity than a hybrid. In turn, this means that a plug-in can drive a significant number of kilometres using electric power alone. On average, PHEVs can drive 50-60km using just electricity. Once the store of electricity is exhausted, the vehicle will switch to petrol power. The petrol comes from the tank in the same way as a conventional car.

For drivers who only usually drive twenty or so kilometres to work or on the school run, it's possible to recharge the vehicle at a charging point each day. This means the vehicle runs on electricity alone. There are about 3,000 public charging stations (facilities for PHEV and EV drivers to charge their vehicles) across Australia.

If you don't live or work close to a charging station, it's possible to purchase a charging station for somewhere between $1,000 and $1,500. You will then need to pay another $1,000 or so for an electrician to connect it to your power supply.

There is currently a good selection of PHEVs on the market, including the Kia Sportage, the Hyundai Tucson, the Kia Sorento and the Hyundai Santa Fe. Although the initial purchase price is greater than for the equivalent petrol model, running costs are less. PHEVs have the potential to be a very green alternative.

This is particularly true if you can adapt your driving so that the vehicle runs solely on electricity. Using a charging port as well as filling up with fuel does give a little extra work, but most drivers don't find it too onerous.

PHEV Reviews

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EVs (Electric Vehicles)

Electric vehicles take plug-in technology to the next level by removing the need for a petrol engine altogether. EVs are fitted with a battery that has significant storage capacity. An EV is charged from a charging point, in the same way as a PHEV.

The big difference is that an EV can be driven for hundreds of kilometres on electric power alone before recharging is required. The distance EVs can travel varies - the Nissan Leaf, for example, has a range of 364km. The BMWi4 series has a range of around 590km.

The most well-known EV manufacturer is Tesla. The Tesla Model S Plaid +, for example, can be driven up to 837km between charges. The Tesla Model 3 Performance can travel up to 567km between charges.

Although EVs are still quite new to the Australian market, their sales are increasing exponentially as time goes on. In 2020, for example, figures show that about 6,900 new electric vehicles were purchased. In 2021, this figure rose to around 20,665, with new EVs now accounting for almost 2% of all new vehicles purchased.

Drivers value EVs not just because they're a planet-friendly choice (particularly if powered by a home charging system that's solar-powered), but also because they're modern, well-equipped vehicles that are a joy to own and drive.

The main drawbacks of EVs are cost and the availability of public charging points. EVs are still significantly more expensive than a comparative petrol-powered model. In addition, although fuel costs are lower, maintenance costs can be higher - the battery in an EV needs replacing every few years, for example.

EVs are dependent on charging points for their power. With only 3,000 or so public charging points in the country, finding one at the right time to charge your EV can be a challenge. This can be a concern for drivers who don't want to run out of charge in the middle of a trip.

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Electric Vehicle Reviews

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Hybrids, PHEVs and EVs are all innovative options that offer a number of benefits, as well as a few drawbacks. Why not test drive an EV or PHEV and experience electric driving for yourself?

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Jordan Ballard

Jordan Ballard

Automotive Content Editor

Jordan is a car finance and automotive industry specialist at Only Cars. With over 20 years of experience with frontline and management roles in sales, finance and other areas, Jordan has an incredible understanding of the automotive industry. As Automotive Content Editor, Jordan loves sharing his passion for cars with the Only Cars audience.