Hybrid vs. Electric: Which Car Is Actually Cheaper to Drive?

Opher Ganel, Ph.D.
Opher Ganel is an accomplished scientist (particle physics), instrument designer, systems engineer, instrument manager, and professional writer with over 30 years of experience in cutting-edge science and technology in collider experiments, sub-orbital projects, and satellite projects.

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Living in the suburbs, with both of us running businesses, my wife and I need two cars. Once Covid stopped shutting down everything, and given gas prices, we spent about $270 a month just on gas.

That’s over $3200 a year! Crazy!

In late 2021, I replaced my 10-year-old gas-powered Toyota Camry with a hybrid Camry. Instead of about 25 mpg, my new Camry averages about 40 mpg. Since my wife drives more than I do, that saved us a mere $20 a month, so we still spent an average of $3000 a year on gas.

Then, in late 2022 it was time to replace my wife’s gas-guzzling (21 mpg) mid-size crossover SUV. This time we decided it was time to go all-electric.


Our gas costs plummeted down to $50 a month, or an annualized rate of just $600!



Electric Vehicles Save a Lot on Gas But Increase Your Electric Bill

My wife’s electric vehicle (EV) came with a sweetheart deal – two years of free charging at any Electrify America charging station. There are also some businesses that placed free charging stations near their stores. The problem is that charging an EV doesn’t happen in the same 3-5 minutes as filling up at the gas station.

Even with the superfast charging of our new EV, it takes 18 minutes at a Level-3 charging station to go from 10% to 80%.

Going to 100% takes an extra 40 minutes or more.

If you’re going shopping and can leave your car charging for an hour, no problem. But if you’re on your way home and realize you might not make it there before your battery runs dry, (a bit of) your day just got hijacked by your EV’s needs.

That’s why we, like so many other EV owners, had a Level-2 charger installed in our garage.

It’s much slower than a Level-3 charger, but if we plug it in when arriving in the evening, it tops up the EV’s battery pack by morning.


Ummm, yes, but our electric bill jumped by about $50 a month.

Even so, with $50 a month on gas and another $50 a month on extra electricity, we save about $170 a month (over $2000 a year) compared to our old cars.

So Which Costs Less to Drive – Hybrid vs. Electric?

First off, it’s not a completely fair question to ask. The hybrid is a sedan, while the EV is a compact crossover SUV. Apples to oranges, yeah, no?

Well, fair or not, I asked myself that exact question, and with current electricity and gas prices, it turns out the answer is, “It depends!”

While my sedan’s “official” EPA combined mileage is 47 mpg, in real life, it’s 43.9 mpg. With regular unleaded in MD running $3.30/gallon, that translates to 7.5 cents per mile.

For the EV, the math is a bit more complicated. We need to consider:

  • The EV battery pack capacity
  • The charger’s efficiency (not 100% of the electricity makes it into the battery)
  • The EV’s range
  • The electricity cost per kWh (generation cost, delivery cost, and kWh-based fees and taxes)

Here’s the formula:

Cost per mile = [(Electricity cost per kWh) × (battery pack capacity in kWh)] / [(range in miles) × (charger efficiency)]

For us, that works out to about 4.9 cents per mile or about 1/3 less than the hybrid.

However, that’s in “good” driving conditions, but not always.

On a recent road trip, temperatures were in the 20s, and we drove through the more mountainous part of our state. Our EV’s range dropped by nearly 50%, bringing our cost per mile up to 9.4 cents!

That’s about 25% higher than the per-mile cost of driving our hybrid Camry.

How Does Temperature Affect MPG and What Can You Do About It?

According to the US Energy Department, hybrids lose about 20-40% of their fuel efficiency in city driving at 20°F vs. 77°F (short drives may cause up to a 45% drop).

EVs also suffer significant efficiency losses – range drops by 41% for mixed city/highway driving, though about two-thirds of the drop is due to energy used to heat the passenger compartment.

The DoE identifies a laundry list of factors causing this reduction in efficiency, including:

  • Engine and transmission friction increases
  • Cold engines are less efficient
  • Seat heaters, window defrosters, heater fans, etc. all use energy
  • If you turn the car on and wait for it to warm up, you’re using energy without going anywhere
  • Colder air increases aerodynamic drag, which has a greater impact at high speeds
  • If your tires are cold, pressure is lower, which increases rolling resistance
  • Cold temperatures make batteries and regenerative braking systems less efficient
  • If roads are slick, the reduced tire road grip reduces efficiency
  • If you slow down a lot due to weather, you may be out of your car’s efficiency sweet spot
  • Four-wheel drives are less efficient than two-wheel drives

DoE makes several common-sense recommendations to improve things:

  • If possible, park in a warmer place like a garage
  • Combine trips to keep your engine as warm as possible
  • If possible, avoid idling until your car warms up
  • Only use seat warmers and defrosters if necessary (using these while you’re plugged in will minimize range reduction, but you’ll still pay for the extra electricity)
  • For EVs, using seat warmers rather than cabin heaters is more efficient
  • If your tire pressure is low, bring it back to spec
  • Use cold-weather-recommended oil in cold climates/seasons
  • Remove roof racks, bike carriers, etc. to reduce drag

Comparing EV Sedan/Hatchback per-Mile Driving Cost

As I said above, comparing a hybrid sedan to an electric SUV isn’t very fair. So, using data from Car and Driver, I’ve compiled the following comparison for electric sedans and hatchbacks (in descending order of nominal range).

Driving cost (cents/mile) uses a current electricity cost of $0.1524/kWh and a 90% charger efficiency.

Car Starting Price Battery Capacity (kWh) Range (miles) Driving Cost (Cents/Mile)
Lucid Air Touring $109,050 112.0 425 4.46
Tesla 3 Long Range $59,440 75.0 358 3.55
Mercedes Benz EQS $105,450 107.8 350 5.22
Tesla Model S $106,440 98.0 326 5.09
Genesis GV60 $60,385 105.2 324 5.50
Hyundai Ioniq 6 Limited $54,000 77.4 310 4.23
Audi SQ8 e-tron $98,000 106.0 307* 5.85
BMW i7 $120,295 101.7 300 5.74
BMW iX $85,095 77.4 248 5.28
Porsche Taycan 4S $107,950 93.4 192 8.24

* European standard – Car and Driver estimates the EPA will lower this to 240 miles, which would bump up the cost to 7.48 cents per mile.

As the table shows, the costs range from a low of 3.55 cents per mile to a high of 8.24. If you drive the US average of 13,476 miles a year, this works out to a range between $40 and $93 a month.

If we compare these numbers to, e.g., the Toyota hybrid Camry XLE at 47 mpg and a $3.30 per gallon cost, this hybrid’s driving cost is currently about 7 cents a mile, higher for all but the Porsche (and possibly the Audi, if Car and Driver’s estimate turns out to be right).

However, the difference isn’t as massive as one might expect –just a third higher than the average of the above 10 EVs. And in cold temperatures, the difference could narrow to 10%, or even flip!

Comparing EV SUV per-Mile Driving Cost

Next, let’s see how things go for electric SUVs in this table.

                                         SUV Starting Price Battery Capacity (kWh) Range (miles) Driving Cost (Cents/Mile)
Tesla Model Y Long Range $67,440 80.5 330 4.13
Rivian R1S (Large battery pack) $86,000 128.9 316* 6.91
Cadillac Lyriq AWD $64,990 102.0 312 5.54
Kia EV6 Wind AWD $53,695 77.4 310 4.23
Audi Q8 e-tron $87,000 106.0 300 5.98
Volkswagen ID.4 Pro $42,525 77.0 280 4.66
Hyundai Ioniq 5 Limited AWD $58,795 77.4 266 4.93
Hyundai Kona Electric SEL $38,595 64.0 258 4.20
Kia Niro EV Wind $40,745 64.8 253 4.34
Chevrolet Bolt EUV Premier $32,695 65.0 247 4.46

* Car and Driver testing showed only 230 highway miles, but we’ll go with the manufacturer’s claim here.

Here, we see a much tighter range, between a low of 4.13 cents per mile and a high of 6.91. Using the above 13,476 annual mile average driving distance, this translates to about $46 to $76 a month.

To compare to a hybrid, let’s look at the Toyota Hybrid Venza Limited AWD, which at 37 mpg, costs about 8.92 cents per mile to drive, which is about 81% more than the average of the above 10 electric SUVs. In cold weather, this may shrink to about a 50% margin, still in favor of the EVs.

Important Note

Energy prices are volatile. That means the above numbers will vary over time, potentially by a lot.

When gas prices increase, EVs will pull even further ahead in their cost-per-mile advantage. When electricity prices increase, however, that advantage will diminish and may even flip, making hybrids less costly to drive.

If both become more or less expensive, the picture will change less. The figure of merit is the ratio of the average gas price to your electricity cost. The above numbers use a ratio of about 21.65 between the cost of a gallon of regular unleaded to the total cost of one kWh.

Should You Buy a Hybrid or Electric Vehicle?

Hybrids and EVs are quickly replacing gas-powered vehicles, for very good reason – lower emissions that lead to a much lower carbon footprint. Thus, if you have to own a car, getting a hybrid or EV is better for the environment.

Between the two, hybrids are more convenient because they use the vast network of gas stations already in place. As time passes, we’ll see more and more high-speed charging stations, making EVs less anxiety-provoking. Further, with improving battery technologies, we’ll likely see higher energy densities providing longer EV ranges.

Choosing which EV to buy is a complicated process, affected by price, performance, range, features, reliability, etc. The above focuses on a single factor that I’ve not seen addressed elsewhere – the average cost per mile of driving EVs.

Jorey Bernstein, Executive Director Wealth Manager and Founder of Bernstein Investment Consultants, agrees. He says, “I’m personally invested in several private companies in the Green space, so I keep up with new developments. I see companies advancing battery technologies, improving reliability and efficiency. Others are developing alternative options like hydrogen-electric hybrids.”

Choosing which EV to buy is a complicated process, affected by price, performance, range, features, reliability, etc. The above focuses on a single factor that I’ve not seen addressed elsewhere – the average cost per mile of driving EVs.

Chris Kimmet, CFP®, MBA, Founder of Steady Climb Financial Planning says, “For clients deciding between an EV and a hybrid for their next car, I typically recommend the EV as long as it doesn’t disrupt their current routine. This is especially true if the EV would be a second car, so they have another vehicle for longer trips. An EV will be cheaper than a hybrid in the long run and even more so when you factor in the reduced maintenance expenses of an EV vs. a hybrid vehicle.”

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