Hybrid vs plug-in hybrid vs fully electric: which is best?

Which sort of electrified car make most sense? In our latest video, we're finding out...

Hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric Kia Niros on motorway

Would I be better off with a plug-in hybrid or a self-charging one? And should I buy either over a fully electric car?

We get asked these questions a lot, and there's a multitude of considerations, including the price of the car, its environmental impact, various taxes, the type of driving you do and whether or not you have off-street parking. All of those things should ultimately feed into your buying decision. But once you’ve got the car, which will cost you the least to run?

Well, to help answer that question, we lined up three examples of the Kia Niro – one of the few cars that's available in all three forms – for a back-to-back test.

Hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric Kia Niros on the motorway rears

The cheapest of the three is the regular 'self-charging' hybrid (from £28,295), with a petrol engine assisted by an electric motor to help with fuel efficiency.

Next is the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version (from £34,075). This has a much bigger battery that can be charged up by plugging it in, and it can officially take you 38 miles on pure battery power. However, it also has a petrol engine to tackle longer journeys or when you can’t find somewhere to plug in.

Last but not least is the fully electric (EV) version. This is the most expensive (from £36,795) and has a huge battery that provides an official range of up to 285 miles. However, after that distance you’ll definitely need to plug in, or you won’t be going anywhere.

You can find out which came out on top in the video below. Or to learn more about the tests we performed, scroll down.

How we tested hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars

The theory goes that electric cars and PHEVs are better suited to urban driving than slogging up and down motorways. So, to cover both scenarios, we devised two round trips that would take place on separate days.

On the first day, we left the What Car? offices in Twickenham and head for Norton Canes services, just north of Birmingham on the M6 Toll. We then turned around and headed back to Twickenham, finishing at a petrol station (with a charging point) a mile or so from where we started. The total journey was roughly 270 miles, with more than 95% of it using the motorway network.

Hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric Kia Niros in town

On day two, we reconvened at the What Car? office, only this time our destination was the London Eye near Waterloo. we then U-turned and headed back to the petrol station we’d finished at on day one. This second trip was just under 30 miles and mostly involved low-speed driving in heavy traffic.

On both days, the three cars started with brimmed fuel tanks and fully charged batteries. Their climate control systems were set to 21deg C and Normal driving mode was selected in the regular hybrid and EV versions of the Niro. The PHEV defaults to EV mode if there's enough charge in the battery, so we decided to stick with that. 

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here

Read our full Kia Niro review >>