Flying vs driving in South Africa — the winner is clear

It is cheaper to drive an electric, diesel-powered, or hybrid vehicle from Johannesburg to Cape Town and back than it is to fly, a MyBroadband analysis has shown.

However, motorists with petrol-powered cars will find driving alone more expensive than flying.

MyBroadband compared the cost of an electric, petrol-powered, diesel-powered, and hybrid car from Johannesburg to Cape Town and Johannesburg to Durban to the price of flights for these routes to determine which option is the cheapest.

It should be noted that flying is a lot faster, so ultimately, your decision will be influenced by what your time is worth to you.

The driving distances and approximate times for each route are as follows:

  • Johannesburg <-> Cape Town (2,796km round-trip | 15 hours and 8 minutes each way)
  • Johannesburg <-> Durban (1,134km round-trip | 6 hours 33 minutes each way)

Comparatively, flying between Johannesburg and Durban takes around an hour each way, excluding the 45 minutes to an hour you need to be at the airport before your flight and time spent collecting bags and driving to and from the airport.

Flying between Cape Town and Johannesburg takes just over two hours each way.

For the driving comparison, we selected comparable petrol-powered, diesel-powered, hybrid, and electric cars. These are:

  • Petrol — Toyota Corolla Cross 1.8 XS CVT (6.8ℓ/100km)
  • Diesel — BMW X3 xDrive18d (5.2ℓ/100km)
  • Hybrid — Toyota Corolla Cross 1.8 XS HEV (4.3ℓ/100km)
  • Electric — Volvo EX30 (16.7kWh/100km)

It should be noted that the fuel and electricity consumption figures are based on manufacturer claims.

In our experience, driving an electric car at highway speeds will significantly increase its consumption, so the figure is likely higher than 16.7kWh/100km for the Volvo EX30.

We used February fuel pricing from the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) for the petrol, diesel, and hybrid vehicles.

For petrol, we used the in-land Unleaded 95 price of R23.24 per litre; for diesel, we used the in-land 50ppm price of R21.43. We added a 15% reseller margin to AA’s figures, which brings the price to R24.65 per litre.

We used GridCars’ interactive charging map to determine the charging prices for the Volvo EX30. This came out at R7.35 per kWh.

Our driving comparison revealed that driving the hybrid Toyota Corolla Cross is the cheapest for both routes at a total cost, including tolls, of R3,233.10 between Johannesburg and Cape Town and R1,758.23 between Johannesburg and Durban.

The next most affordable option was the Volvo EX30. Driving the EV from Johannesburg to Cape Town and back will cost just under R3,900, while driving it from Johannesburg to Durban and back costs around R2,000.

The diesel option wasn’t far off the Volvo EX30 at R4,022.11 and R2,078.24, respectively.

The petrol-powered Toyota Corolla Cross was the most expensive at R4,857.57 and R2,417.08, respectively.

The table below compares the cost of driving a petrol, diesel, hybrid, and electric car on return trips between Johannesburg and Cape Town and Johannesburg and Durban.

Driving cost comparison
Route Distance Fuel costs Tolls Total
Petrol Toyota Corolla Cross 1.8 XS CVT
Johannesburg <-> Cape Town 2,796km R4,418.57 R439.00 R4,857.57
Johannesburg <-> Durban 1,134km R1,792.08 R625.00 R2,417.08
Diesel BMW X3 xDrive18d
Johannesburg <-> Cape Town 2,796km R3,583.11 R439.00 R4,022.11
Johannesburg <-> Durban 1,134km R1,453.24 R625.00 R2,078.24
Toyota Corolla Cross 1.8 XS HEV
Johannesburg <-> Cape Town 2,796km R2,794.10 R439.00 R3,233.10
Johannesburg <-> Durban 1,134km R1,133.23 R625.00 R1,758.23
Volvo EX30
Johannesburg <-> Cape Town 2,796km R3,431.95 R439.00 R3,870.95
Johannesburg <-> Durban 1,134km R1,391.93 R625.00 R2,016.93

The driving costs are reduced significantly when splitting the cost across multiple passengers.

Flying alone is cheaper than driving the petrol-powered Corolla Cross on both routes.

However, the petrol-powered car option becomes significantly cheaper when the costs are split between two people.

On a two-person road trip between Johannesburg and Cape Town, driving costs work out to R2,428.79 per person, while the trip between Johannesburg and Durban is R1,208.54 each.

The cheapest return flight to Cape Town came in at R3,732, while the cheapest flight to Durban cost R1,427.

On the Cape Town route, both the outgoing and return flights were with Airlink.

For the R1,427 return trip to Durban, passengers will depart Johannesburg with South African Airways and return on FlySafair.

Notably, flying alone on the trip to Durban and back is more affordable than driving any of the vehicle types in the comparison.

The table below summarises the cost of flying versus that of driving cars with different drivetrains. The cheapest options are marked in green, while the most expensive are in red. The table is ordered left to right from least to most expensive.

Flying versus driving
Route Corolla Cross (petrol) Cheapest flight BMW X3 xDrive18d (diesel) Volvo EX30 (electric) Corolla Cross HEV (hybrid)
Johannesburg <-> Cape Town R4,857.57 R3,732.00 R4,022.11 R3,870.95 R3,233.10
Johannesburg <-> Durban R2,417.08 R1,427.00 R2,078.24 R2,016.93 R1,758.23

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Flying vs driving in South Africa — the winner is clear