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Does it really pay to go green? 2022 Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi Outlander and Subaru Forester's petrol and hybrid running costs compared

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid was the best-selling vehicle in Australia in August 2020.

Hybrid cars will save you a bundle of cash in running costs, make you an infrequent visitor to the service station and elevate you to the new age where mobility doesn’t necessarily have to impact on the environment.

That’s the message of proponents of electrification - hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure-electric vehicles - which invite you to follow the path of righteousness, overturn climate change and embrace the electrified saviours of mobility.

Hybrid cars work beautifully and can seamlessly interact with our personal transport needs. There’s no special skills needed to drive a hybrid car, and for everyday use, you probably wouldn’t know the difference.

But if it’s so good, what’s the catch? Well, you have to pay for it and in the case of this comparison, that extra cost can be up to $13,000.

Is it worth the big bucks and how do they compare with conventional petrol-fuelled cars?

CarsGuide has picked three popular SUVs and matched their petrol versions up against their hybrid siblings.

Cleverly, the three carmakers - Mitsubishi, Subaru and Toyota - kit out the different versions with the same safety and convenience features and, at a passing glance, they even look identical.

But looks are deceiving. Each has a more complex drivetrain with an electric motor (plural for the Outlander and RAV4) and larger batteries, so there are penalties in areas including weight and boot space. Some even lose the spare wheel.

More importantly, they are more expensive. So, is going hybrid worth the dough? Is being kinder to the planet going to be a worthwhile exercise and are you going to have the same driving and ownership experience as you did pre-electrification?

Mitsubishi Outlander

This has always been a favourite SUV among Australian families. It’s spacious - with seven seats once an option and now available across the board - and affordable, gentle on fuel and has all the mod-cons with a solid safety inventory.

The arrival of the PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) in 2014 for $47,490 (plus on-road costs) in five-seat form (because there was no room for the third row and the underfloor batteries) brought attention but not a lot of sales to the brand.

The Outlander range will be enhanced early next year in its fourth generation with a more refined PHEV that will boast a greater electric-only driving range.

For now, the PHEV can travel 54km on its batteries when charged up. This is done by plugging the SUV into a charge outlet, but the 2.4-litre petrol engine and the regeneration system (when braking or coasting) can put some energy back into depleted batteries for small distances, generally 1km or 2km.

As a buyer, you should look at the PHEV advantage as being the 54km of ‘free’ range. It can be enough for a shopping trip or as a work commute if you’re within the range. If your travel falls into this category, by plugging the car into a charger when not being used, you can effectively drive without needing petrol.

Assuming you drive an average of 12,000km a year and petrol costs $1.30 per litre, that would theoretically save you $1404. Theoretical because there’s always a longer trip or the need for more performance or to carry a load.

In comparing the standard petrol with the PHEV, we’ll use the cheapest Outlanders as examples.

The ES petrol all-wheel drive (AWD) is $34,990 plus on-road costs. It gets 7.2L/100km officially, which equates to 864L a year and an annual fuel bill of $1123.

The ES PHEV AWD is $47,990 plus on-road costs. It gets a claimed 1.9L/100km (but 9.0L/100km in ‘real world’ testing with little electric participation), which equates to 228L a year and a bill of only $296.

So, drive the PHEV and that’s a fuel saving of $827 a year.

But the PHEV costs $13,000 more than the ES petrol, which if you’d banked it and set it aside for fuel, would last 11.6 years of ‘free’ motoring.

Of note, the ES petrol costs $200 more to service over the first three years, at $1097, so that’s another consideration to make.

In terms of driving, though, the PHEV is more powerful and more fun to drive than the petrol ES. The motors give a lot of punch to the performance, especially off the mark.

Top the batteries up and the electric motors provide silent low-speed operation, which adds to the SUV’s appeal. But it’s expensive and has no spare wheel.

That’s not to say the ES petrol isn’t a good ride. The fact it can carry seven occupants (five for the PHEV) makes it more appealing to families and those needing cargo space, while the $13,000 discount and the inclusion of a spare wheel really makes it a no-brainer.

Subaru Forester

The Forester has become Australia’s SUV backbone and has an enviable record for durability and owner loyalty.

The introduction of a hybrid version in 2020 (which extended to the smaller XV SUV as well) adds ownership appeal as well as reduces running costs.

Unlike the Outlander, it is not a plug-in hybrid and cannot operate on electric power alone. The 2.0-litre petrol engine has an electric motor for additional power, to bring the performance up to similar levels of the 2.5-litre petrol Forester.

We’ll use the cheapest Foresters as examples.

The 2.5i-L petrol all-wheel-drive (all Subaru Foresters are AWD) is $38,390 (plus on-road costs). It gets 7.4L/100km officially, which equates to 888L a year (at a 12,000km average) and an annual fuel bill of $1154 (at $1.30 per litre).

The Hybrid L AWD is $41,390 plus on-road costs. It gets a claimed 6.7L/100km, which equates to 804L a year and a bill of $1045.

Drive the Hybrid and you’ll have a fuel saving of $109 a year. Not a lot.

But the Hybrid costs $3000 more than the 2.5 petrol, which if you’d banked it and set it aside for fuel, would last 2.7 years of ‘free’ motoring.

Just so you know, the range of the 2.5i-L petrol (at the claimed fuel consumption) is 851km.

The Hybrid (at the claimed fuel consumption) has a range of 716km because it has a smaller fuel tank.

Servicing-wise, the Hybrid costs just $10 more than the 2.5 petrol over the first three years, at $1288.

On the road, yhere’s not a lot separating the 2.5 petrol from the Hybrid in general driving. There is more low-end torque from the Hybrid, and this makes acceleration smoother and quicker feeling than the petrol.

The fuel economy benefits are appreciated, but the downsides include the lack of a spare wheel because the batteries take up any spare underfloor room in the boot.

Toyota RAV4

Like the Forester, the Toyota RAV4 sits out there as one of the iconic SUVs and has a strong following among families and younger couples.

Toyota has a long history with hybrids that started with the Prius and now extends to almost all models.

The combination of a new-gen RAV4 with the fuel efficiency of the hybrid technology was an instant hit and made the RAV4 Hybrid Australia’s most popular vehicle in August 2020, with 4405 sales of the model in just the one month.

Unlike the Outlander, it is not a plug-in hybrid but unlike the Forester Hybrid, it can run for short distances on battery alone. Most of the reverse manoeuvres are, for example, using the electric motor.

The petrol models have a 2.0-litre engine driving the front wheels (except the Edge with a 2.5-litre petrol), while Hybrid models have a 2.5-litre petrol engine and two electric motors up front. The AWD adds another electric motor (that’s three in total) at the rear.

We’ll use the cheapest RAV4s as examples.

The GX petrol 2WD is $32,695 (plus on-road costs). It gets 6.5L/100km officially, which equates to 780L a year (at 12,000km average) and an annual fuel bill of $1014 (at $1.30 per litre).

The Hybrid GX 2WD is $37,070. It gets a claimed 4.7L/100km, which equates to 564L a year and a bill of $733.

Drive the Hybrid and you’ll have a fuel saving of $281 a year. 

But the Hybrid costs $4375 more than the GX petrol, which if you’d banked it and set it aside for fuel, would last almost six years of ‘free’ motoring.

At the claimed fuel consumption, the range of the GX petrol is 846km. The Hybrid has the same 55-litre fuel tank and a range of 1170km. So, the Hybrid is the pick for long distances between refills.

When it comes to servicing, the GX petrol and Hybrid cost the same for the first three years, at $690.

Driving-wise, like the Outlander, the RAV4 Hybrid scores on strong performance. It is quicker off the mark, has loads more torque at low speeds, shows a quicker overtaking time and best of all, operates for small distances on electric power alone.

On top of that, the 2WD Hybrid has a full-size spare wheel. It also has significant fuel savings and though there is a decent $4375 price difference, is the one time you could be tempted to buy a hybrid.