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Petrol, diesel, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric – which is the cheapest to own?

We compare hybrid and electric models with petrol and diesel ones to find out which fuel type makes most sense...

Fuel comparison 2021

There are plenty of compelling reasons why we should park up our conventional petrol and diesel cars and get behind the wheel of a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric model instead.

Reduced CO2 and harmful exhaust emissions are major incentives for people to stop driving older, more polluting vehicles in urban areas, and cheaper running costs from using electricity are another big appeal. 

Overall ownership costs are also an important consideration. A growing number of new models are available with a choice of fuel types – from petrol through to electric – so you need to crunch the numbers for each version to find out whether picking a greener model will save money or put a hole in your finances.

The biggest expense of buying a new car is depreciation and this should be your number one concern, especially if you’re considering an expensive pure-electric model. You can save money by buying via our online New Car Buying service at or below our Target Price and we’ve based our sums on these figures rather than the cars’ list prices. 

Higher purchase prices tend to translate into pricier car insurance premiums, so this is another concern for anyone considering trading into a greener model.

Electric vehicles (EVs) should, in theory, need less maintenance than conventional cars, but there’s quite a disparity when it comes to servicing costs. Some EVs have minimal servicing bills while others can easily outstrip petrol and diesel models. If you’re on a tight monthly budget, it’s worth investigating this expense up front. 

As long as you're set up for cheap home charging or have access to a free charger at work (we’ve based our calculations on a 20p per kWh electricity cost), you’ll be quids in compared with car owners who have to make regular trips to fuel stations, where petrol and diesel prices are skyrocketing. 

It will be a combination of all these factors that determines which is the most affordable fuel option for you. Here, we’ve rounded up the data on some of our top-rated models in five popular car classes to reveal which are the cheapest to own over three years and 36,000 miles.


Family cars

As well as developing electrified models, car makers have been working on the eco-credentials of their conventional models. Mild hybrid systems that reduce emissions and improve fuel economy have been added to many petrol and diesel cars.

These variants can be pricier to buy, though, negating any savings. That's demonstrated by comparing the Volkswagen ID.3 (below) with the Golf.

Volkswagen ID.3 nose

The mild-hybrid Volkswagen Golf 1.5 eTSI petrol costs £2422 more to buy than the regular petrol version, and that makes it £2138 pricier to run for three years. The regular 1.5 petrol is the cheapest of all the Golf models to own, while the plug-in hybrid costs by far the most to buy and is the most expensive to insure and service. 

No Golf is as affordable to own as the electric-only ID.3. With the £2500 government electric car grant for sub-£35,000 EVs, the ID.3 costs about £5500 more to buy than the regular petrol Golf, but will save you more than £1000 in the long run because it holds its value well and costs far less in 'fuel' and car tax. 

FAMILY CAR: Hyundai Ioniq Electric Premium

If you’re considering a Hyundai Ioniq as your family car instead, the electric version is your best option. However, the difference between that and the hybrid model over three years is only around £360, so the hybrid still makes good sense for anyone not ready to make the leap to a full EV. The plug-in hybrid is quite a bit pricier. 

Make and model List price Target Price Depreciation Ins, servicing and VED Fuel Total 3yr cost
Volkswagen ID.3 58kWh Electric £32,255* £31,545* £12,195 £2839 £1582 £16,616
Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI £24,470 £23,467 £10,917 £2544 £4317 £17,778
Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI £25,485 £24,439 £12,364 £2533 £2990 £17,887
Volkswagen Golf 1.5 eTSI £27,000 £25,889 £12,839 £2760 £4317 £19,916
Volkswagen Golf GTE £36,700 £36,700 £18,075 £3813 £2340 £24,228
Hyundai Ioniq Electric £33,050* £31,997* £15,322 £2025 £1429 £18,776
Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid £25,945 £24,499 £12,999 £2606 £3534 £19,139
Hybudai Ioniq PHEV £30,450 £28,736 £16,561 £2555 £1775 £20,891

* Not including £2500 government grant

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