General Motors

What Is a Plug-in Hybrid?

What powers your vehicle? Gasoline and diesel are the traditional fuels, but hydrogen, natural gas, electricity, and ethanol are all powering passenger vehicles, some even work together.

Traditional hybrid cars do not require a charge via an electrical outlet. Their batteries gain power by charging while a vehicle uses its wheels, brakes, and engine. That harnessed power is then put to use via one or more electric motors, supplementing the power coming from the engine. This eases some stress on your engine, increasing fuel economy.

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a vehicle that uses battery-powered electricity and gasoline in tandem for power. Depending on the vehicle’s engine, the power that drives your vehicle can come from a battery, gasoline, or both at the same time.

What's the Difference Between a Plug-in Hybrid, a Conventional Hybrid, and an Electric Car?

This is different than an electric vehicle (EV), which only uses electrical power. An EV gains its power by charging at an outlet and can only operate while it still has a charge. Electric vehicles have electric motors instead of engines. 

Electricity charges the vehicle’s batteries via an outlet on the side or front of the vehicle. Many PHEVs have regenerative braking, which causes the car’s batteries to charge when the car brakes.

Charging via a traditional home 120-volt outlet takes longer than charging at a 240-volt outlet or at a typical charging station. Some vehicles can become fully charged in as little as 15 minutes at a public charging station; it can take approximately  seven hours to fully charge a Ford Fusion Energi using a 120-volt outlet.

Ford Motor Company

Some manufacturers sell a charging station that you can install in your home to quicken the charging process. Before you purchase one, you’ll want to ensure your home is properly wired to handle the charging station’s requirements.

While charging your car quickly seems amazing, not all vehicles can charge at every station due to charge connector style variations. Companies including EVgo and ChargePoint offer charging locations at malls, restaurants, parks, and airports. A number of mobile apps can be used to find charging stations around the country.

Charging your vehicle on the go at one of these locations often requires you to sign up for their service in advance. The companies then use your information to bill you for the amount of electricity used whenever you plug-in. Some accounts are able to be preloaded with funds and purchasing a package may save you money in the long run.

What's It Like to Drive a Plug-in Hybrid?

There are a number of factors that determine battery life. Using the air conditioning, radio, and headlamps can attribute to a faster loss of battery life. The type of road you are driving on and the terrain can affect fuel efficiency as well. For example, an EV traveling in a mountainous region can expect to lose charge faster because it takes more work to travel uphill than across a flat surface. However, judicious use of braking while traveling downhill can result in boosting that charge back up again.

PHEVs still require gasoline fill-ups, though stops at the gas station are usually fewer and further between than they are with traditional gasoline and diesel powered vehicles. Because they combine their energy sources, PHEVs have higher ranges than EVs and directly compete with traditional hybrids.

Hyundai Motor America

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average person travels 13,476 miles per year, or just over 36 miles per day. With the average PHEV achieving nearly 20 miles of range, with a charge halfway through your day, an average user should not have to use any gasoline, even without calculating in the regenerative energy harnessed while driving. That being said, many PHEVs supplement the capabilities of their engines by not running strictly on EV power unless a vehicle’s EV drive mode has been selected.

Many EVs and PHEVs have a maximum speed they can reach using only electric power. These speeds are increasing as technology evolves, and are usually close to 80-90 mph.

Most manufacturers have apps that allow PHEV owners to schedule their vehicle’s charging. This allows owners who plan on staying home overnight to charge when the cost of electricity is at its lowest. These apps also let owners monitor their vehicle’s charging progress and can let them know when charging is complete.

PHEV models vary considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer, though the same basic operating principle is the same. Before you take delivery of a PHEV, be sure to have a manufacturer representative walk you through all the ins and outs of the car’s system to ensure you’re using it to the fullest of its capabilities.

Plug-in Hybrids:



All-Electric Range (mi)

Audi A3 Sportback e-tron $37,900 16
BMW 330e $44,100 22
BMW 740e $89.100 14
BMW i3 REX $41,350 114
BMW i8 $135,700 15
BMW X5 xDrive40e $62,100 13
Chevrolet Volt $33,220 53
Ford C-Max Energi $32,950 19
Ford Fusion Energi $38,700 21
Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid $34,600 27
Mercedes C350e $45,490 20
Mercedes GLE550 $65,550 20
Mercedes S550e $95,650 20
Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid $76,400 14
Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid $99,000 16
Toyota Prius Prime $27,100 25
Volvo XC90 T8 $68,100 17