3 Types Of Electric Car Explained

There are three types of electric cars you can choose from – battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). BEVs only use electricity for energy, whereas PHEVs and HEVs have smaller battery capacities and still need fuel to power them.

All these electric cars are eco-friendly alternatives to standard petrol and diesel vehicles, but which one is right for you? Discover everything you need to know about them in this guide.

Summary of electric car types

BEVsPHEVsHEVs
Fuel type
Electric onlyPetrol or diesel fuel and electric (plug-in needed for charge)Petrol or diesel fuel and electric (small battery, no plug-in required)
Efficiency

200+ miles on a single chargeAvg. fuel equivalent of 145mpg with electric powerAvg. fuel equivalent of 64.7mpg with electric power
Emissions
Zero emissionsAvg. 88g/kmAvg. 88g/km

What are BEVs?

ev charging

Undoubtedly the most purest form of electric car on the market. A BEV relies solely on power from a battery and electric motor(s) in order for it to work.

Since 2011, the government’s plug-in scheme has allowed those with ULEVs (Ultra Low Emissions Electric Vehicles) to access a grant of £3,000 to put towards the purchase price. 

However, an increase in alternatively-fuelled vehicles has meant that only the following cars qualify for the grant:

  • Can travel at least 70 miles without producing any emissions.
  • Has less than 50g/km of CO2 emissions.
  • Must have an RRP of less than £50,000.

Charging a BEV

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For a BEV to work, you need to charge it at regular intervals, just like you would your phone, laptop or tablet. In fact, battery electric vehicles use a similar type of lithium-ion battery as the one found in these devices.

Charging can be done at home or at public charge points.

For the former, you’ll need to pay for the charger and an installation fee, which is around £449 (including a government grant of £350). However, it will cost you less per charge than a public charger would due to electricity tariffs being cheaper from home. 

Also, power from a domestic charger comes from AC (Alternating Current) electricity. This is less powerful than the DC (Direct Current) flow used in public chargers, therefore taking longer to charge.

As an example, charging the Vauxhall Corsa-e at a public rapid charger costs £12 for an 80% (156 miles) charge, taking 48 minutes*. On the other hand, it costs just £7 for a 100% (195 miles) charge, taking seven hours. While this sounds like a long time to wait, most electric car users plug in overnight or whenever they aren’t driving so that they have a full charge in the morning.

*Figures courtesy of Zap-Map’s charging calculator.

Batteries in BEVs

BEV batteries are much bigger than other electric cars and can store more energy when charged. They need to have them because this is how they derive their power, unlike hybrid models which have an ICE (internal combustion engine) to do most of the heavy lifting.

The Mercedes EQC and Audi E-tron – two of the biggest BEVs on the market – use a 95kWh battery pack – which can be charged by 80% (around 160 miles) in 30 minutes.

To put this into perspective, we can compare batteries with a similar PHEV model, such as the Mitsubishi Outlander. This vehicle has a 13.8kWh battery that supports the 2.4-litre petrol engine. Its smaller size means that it can only be charged at a maximum power of 3.7kW, and to reach 100% charge (20 miles) takes 3.5 hours.

Because the battery is a BEV’s lifeline, the average warranty for new models is 8 years/100,000 miles (whichever comes first).

Top 5 BEVs

The market for BEVs is more competitive now than it’s ever been because of the government’s decision to ban new sales of petrol, diesel and hybrid models by 2035. 

Increasing publications of research and reports into the negative environmental and health effects of greenhouse gases has also increased demand for all-electric cars.

Manufacturers have responded by creating plenty of great BEVs. Here are our top five picks.

  • Jaguar I-Pace (from £658.87pcm)
    • Range: 298 miles
    • Charge time: 13 hours using home charger (100% charge), 45 minutes using public charger (80% charge)
    • Top speed: 124.3mph
jaguar-i-pace-4049346_1920
  • Hyundai Kona Electric (from £276.50pcm)
    • Range: 278 miles
    • Charge time: 9 hours using home charger (100% charge), 30 minutes using public charger (80% charge)
    • Top speed: 104mph
hyundai-4964667_1920
  • Mini Electric (from £282.30pcm)
    • Range: 145 miles
    • Charge time: 4.5 hours using home charger (100% charge), 35 minutes using public charger (80% charge)
    • Top speed: 93mph
mini electric
  • Nissan Leaf (from £205.88pcm)
    • Range: 239 miles
    • Charge time: 6 hours using home charger (100% charge), 40 minutes using public charger (80% charge)
    • Top speed: 96mph
1280px-2018_Nissan_Leaf_Tekna_Front
  • Renault Zoe (from £214.90pcm)
    • Range: 239 miles
    • Charge time: 7 hours using home charger (100% charge), 45 minutes using public charger (80% charge)
    • Top speed: 87mph
Renault_Zoe_ZE50_White

Driving a BEV

All BEVs are built for the purpose of driving simplicity and comfort. The electric motors that power the wheels are exceptionally quiet, meaning only faint tyre roar interrupts an otherwise silent cabin experience.

In addition to this, they’re automatic in the sense that they have no clutch, only an accelerator and brake pedal. However, there is no transmission that roars as it changes through the different gear ratios. This is because the majority of them are designed with a single speed ratio. 

Only performance models such as the Porsche Taycan have a second setting, which gives these cars more usable power at higher speeds.

As some of the most modern electric cars on the market, BEVs also have brilliant driver convenience features. Don’t be surprised to find features such as lane assist and traffic sign reminders on even the most basic models, including the Volkswagen e-Up.

What are PHEVs?

hybrid-428183_1920 (1)

PHEVs are some of the most fuel-efficient cars on the market and a great choice for drivers looking to reduce emissions. All while keeping the familiar experience of being propelled by a traditional petrol or diesel engine.

The average PHEV can return upwards of 60mpg and emit less than 100g/km of CO2 emissions.

The way a PHEV works is that the first part of the journey (or all of it, if it’s short) is powered by the electric motor, saving you from burning fuel. Once the battery is depleted, power switches to the ICE and will stay that way until you charge the battery.

Charging a PHEV

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Because batteries in a PHEV are larger and have more range than a standard hybrid, you’ll need to charge them when they run out. Otherwise, the added weight from the electric motor and battery will mean that the car pollutes twice as much CO2 than stated. What’s more is that fuel economy figures will be halved too, as the dual system of electric and fuel power is no longer propelling the car.

The typical PHEV battery weighs around 80kg and the electric motor is roughly half this weight. When you consider the motor provides roughly 80bhp to a PHEV’s total output, it’s understandable how this loss of efficiency can be detrimental to performance.

There are two ways you can charge a PHEV, the difference in which we will explain using the Toyota Prius as an example:

  • Fast charger (7kW max.) – 2 hours and 45 minutes for 100% charge, equivalent to 31 miles of all-electric range. Approx. £2.64 per charge.
  • Slow charger (3kW max.) – 4 hours for 100% charge, approx. £1.25 per charge.

A three-pin-to-Type-2 standard cable is supplied with a PHEV for slow charging using your home’s mains. This should be a last resort, however, as regular charging this way damages the cells of the battery.

If you have off-street parking (such as a driveway or garage), it’s worth looking at purchasing a slow 3.6kW home charger. With a government grant, this would cost you around £449 and fully charges a Prius in less than two hours.

Batteries in PHEVs

VW_e-Golf_GTE_-_Motor_(Plug-in-Hybrid)_–_CeBIT_2016_01

As we mentioned earlier, smaller batteries are used in plug-in hybrid models because the main source of power is the petrol/diesel engine.

However, advancements in technology are leading to more and more PHEVs having greater all-electric ranges. Of course, this is nowhere near the 200+ miles quoted for an average BEV, but is between 30-40 miles. Plenty for regular urban driving and for some it may even be enough for daily commutes to work.

Unfortunately, no PHEV can travel 70 miles on just electric power. Therefore you won’t be able to benefit from the government’s plug-in grant. With that being said, PHEVs are generally cheaper than BEVs due to the difference in price for the batteries.

For example, you can get a brand-new Toyota Prius for around £23,400 or the similarly-modelled Peugeot e-208 for £25,500 (inc. government grant). If you’ve decided that you want to lease, then you can get the Prius from £204.90pcm, or the e-208 from £307.18pcm.

In terms of warranties for PHEV batteries, it depends on the manufacturer of the car you choose. For example, Mitsubishi and Audi have a 8-year/10,000-mile warranty for its new plug-in hybrids. Whereas BMW and Mercedes models have a 6-year/60,000-mile warranty.

Top 5 PHEVs

If you’re not quite ready to make the jump from petrol or diesel-fuelled cars to a BEV, PHEVs are a good ‘inbetween’ choice. You still get fuel power at higher speeds but can reap the environmental and financial benefits of a more efficient car.

Here are our five favourite PHEVs.

  • Hyundai Ioniq (from £227.13pcm)
    • MPG: 62.8
    • Electric-only range: 22 miles
    • CO2 emissions: 70g/km
    • Charge time: 2 hours and 45 minutes (3.7kW charger)
800px-Hyundai_Ioniq_Plug-in_Leonberg_2019_IMG_0100
  • Toyota Prius (from £204.90pcm)
    • MPG: 83
    • Electric-only range: 25 miles
    • CO2 emissions: 54g/km
    • Charge time: 2 hours and 15 minutes (3.7kW charger)
Toyota Prius 2
  • Volvo XC90 T8 (from £543.14pcm)
    • MPG: 46
    • Electric-only range: 16 miles
    • CO2 emissions: 146g/km
    • Charge time: 3 hours and 15 minutes (3.7kW charger)
Volvo_XC90_II,_August_2014,_09
  • Mini Countryman PHEV (from £302.85pcm)
    • MPG: 76
    • Electric-only range: 16 miles
    • CO2 emissions: 87g/km
    • Charge time: 2 hours and 15 minutes (3.7kW charger)
Mini PHEV
  • Kia Niro PHEV (from £278.51pcm)
    • MPG: 78
    • Electric-only range: 22 miles
    • CO2 emissions: 85g/km
    • Charge time: 2 hours and 45 minutes (3.7kW charger)
Kia Niro PHEV 2

Driving a PHEV

PHEVs are similar to BEVs in that they’re automatic, but tend to have a dual-clutch transmission (DCT). However, this is computer operated and therefore the vehicles don’t require a clutch pedal.

The fact that a PHEV has more than one gear (but synchronised changes are done automatically) and an ICE means that higher speeds can be reached easily. On top of this, the high level of technology which goes into developing these cars makes transitioning from electric to fuel power seamless.

A standard PHEV will use electric-only power up until a top speed of around 30mph, before automatically switching to the ICE at higher speeds.

What are HEVs?

Yaris hybrid

Self-charging hybrid cars are ideal for people who want better fuel economy but don’t want to have to charge the battery.

The beauty of HEVs is that they have onboard systems which charge it as you drive. All you need to do is add fuel, be that petrol or diesel. However, the downside is that all-electric range is limited to 1-2 miles at best.

Smaller engines can be put in these cars too since they’re backed up by an electric motor. As such, these vehicles can perform like bigger cars but have the running costs of a smaller one.

Charging a HEV

When driving a HEV, charge is provided to the battery through the power of the ICE and when you’re braking. The latter is known as ‘regenerative braking’ (or ‘regen braking’) and some HEVs like the Toyota Prius allow you to determine how aggressively the car stops. The more stopping capacity you select, the quicker the battery is charged.

How quick your HEV recharges depends on how energy-efficient your driving style is. Plus, the longer you spend on the road will mean that the engine charges the battery quicker.

The trip computer inside a HEV showing driver information will show you a battery life indicator. This way you can know when to use the all-electric mode and see how much fuel you’re saving.

Batteries in HEVs

lexus ux

Unlike the other two electric cars, HEVs have the smallest batteries of the bunch. Even larger SUVs such as the Toyota CH-R only have a 1.3kWh battery pack.

Luckily, electric motor power is rarely compromised in these cars, giving them plenty of pep on the road. Such is the case in the CH-R, which has an 80kW that provides more than a third of its 182bhp. This allows for the battery to be charged much quicker through the process of regen braking.

Top 5 HEVs

Smaller batteries and the reduced electric-only range of HEVs makes them the most affordable type of electric car. Throw in affordable fuelling costs and the convenience of not having to charge the car and it’s easy to see why they’re a popular choice for drivers.

Here are some of the best HEVs currently available.

  • Toyota Corolla (from £195.52pcm)
    • MPG: 65.9
    • CO2 emissions: 76g/km
    • Electric power: 53kW (71bhp)
Corolla
  • Kia Niro (from £210.90pcm)
    • MPG: 58.9
    • CO2 emissions: 110g/km
    • Electric power: 26kW (35bhp)
2018_Kia_Niro_EX_Touring_eco-hybrid_1.6L_GDi_front_5.23.18
  • Lexus UX (from £278.88pcm)
    • MPG: 53.2
    • CO2 emissions: 94g/km
    • Electric power: 80kW (107bhp)
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  • Toyota CH-R (from £226.79pcm)
    • MPG: 55
    • CO2 emissions: 86g/km
    • Electric power: 90kW (120bhp)
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  • Hyundai Ioniq self-charging hybrid (from £227.13pcm)
    • MPG: 62.8
    • CO2 emissions: 84g/km
    • Electric power: 31kW (42bhp)
hyundai ioniq self charging hybrid

Driving a HEV

HEVs don’t have as much range in their electric-only drive modes as PHEVs do, however they’re still very smooth and quiet from the get-go.

A DCT setup in these cars means that you can always keep your hands on the steering wheel too. For most drivers, the automatic setup can be seen as a safer way of driving.

If you tend to stick to local roads and have short commutes on daily drives then the couple of miles not burning fuel in EV mode will save you plenty of fuel money. You can also take comfort in the fact that your vehicle’s battery will be charging while you’re on the move.

HEVs and PHEVs are more or less identical, besides the fact that plug-in hybrids have around ten times more electric range than self-charging models. So, if you drive 30-40 miles each day then a PHEV is probably a cheaper option for you. Although the price of the car will often be slightly more, you’re guaranteed to save money by rarely having to use fuel.

Looking for more advice on the different electric vehicles? Then head over to our electric car guides page to find out everything you need to know.

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