Auto Why Your Next Car Should Be a Plug-In Hybrid

These types of vehicles have almost all the same benefits as an electric vehicle—and come without the dreaded “range anxiety.”

By Liane Yvkoff Illustration by Rebecca Zisser
PUBLISHED 01/17/2023 | 5 MINUTES

It seems each week another automaker rolls out a new line of battery-powered vehicles that eliminate the need for gasoline. But not everyone is ready—or can afford—to make the switch to all-electric drive. The good news: Plug-in hybrids (PHEV) are an often-overlooked option that can help drivers cut tailpipe emissions and trips to the gas station without drastically changing their commuting style. 

Plug-in hybrids are a cross between gas-electric hybrid cars (HEV) and full-battery electric vehicles (BEV). What makes them different from the average Prius is that in addition to an internal combustion engine (ICE), they’re equipped with a high-capacity lithium-ion battery—charged using a standard 110- or 240-volt outlet—that powers an electric motor. 

Most new PHEVs can travel between 18 and 42 miles using only stored electricity. When it runs out, the ICE kicks on, and the vehicle operates like a typical gas-powered hybrid.

It may sound complicated, but this dual-powertrain architecture is easy to use. In fact, it’s often marketed by auto manufacturers as a stepping-stone to help drivers get comfortable with the idea of plugging in rather than filling up. With a PHEV, drivers get the best of both worlds: a vehicle that can cover a large portion of daily driving needs using only electricity while also being powered by gasoline for longer trips or when charging infrastructure is scarce. In short, you get most of the fuel-saving benefits of an EV without ever experiencing “range anxiety”—the fear of running out of battery before getting to a charging station.

Buyers are catching on to the benefits of these alternative-fuel vehicles, especially as manufacturers make plug-in-able versions of their best-selling crossovers, such as the Ford Escape PHEV and the Toyota RAV4 Prime.

Despite supply chain woes that impacted the entire automotive industry, there were 183,172 new PHEV sales in 2022, which is an increase of 11.6% from 2021 and 183% more than what was sold in 2020, according to senior industry analyst Mike Austin at Guidehouse Insights.

If you’re in the market for a new car, here are even more reasons to put a PHEV on your shopping list:

  • Easy to operate. You don’t have to plug in every day—or ever. In fact, 8% of PHEV owners were “nonchargers,” according to survey results published in Environmental Research Letters, and instead operate their vehicle almost entirely as a hybrid, plugging in fewer than four times per month. 
  • Short charging times. Equipped with smaller batteries than fully electric cars, PHEVs take just a few hours instead of all day to reach full capacity using a 240-volt (Level 2) charging station. However, many PHEV owners rely on standard 110-volt outlets (Level 1) to recharge overnight. And if you forget to plug in, it’s no problem—the vehicle also runs on gasoline.
  • Lower gas bills. PHEVs are still hybrids and benefit from higher fuel economy compared to their gasoline-only equivalents and, as a result, use less gas. The U.S. government office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy estimates that gasoline-powered vehicles produced in 2021 have annual fuel costs ranging from $1,050 to $4,900, compared to $600 to $2,400 for those that can also plug in.
  • Tax benefits. Even though they still use gasoline, many new PHEVs produced today qualify for an electric vehicle federal tax credit, which is awarded based on battery size and goes up to $7,500. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 changed several requirements for a vehicle to receive a federal tax credit change, and is now awarded based on battery size, vehicle MSRP maximums, and domestic manufacturing and assembly incentives, and goes up to $7,500 for buyers who make less than the newly established income caps. These alternative-energy cars and SUVs may also benefit from state and utility incentive programs that promote EV adoption and make the technology more affordable for buyers. 
  • Less expensive to maintain. Consumer Reports estimates that owners of plug-in hybrids spend $4,600 less in maintenance costs over the lifetime of their vehicle compared to ICE-equipped counterparts, which is the same savings all-electric vehicle owners enjoy. Because they operate up to 75% of the time using only the components of the electric powertrain, the engine, transmission and ancillary parts experience less wear and last longer.  

PHEV Curious? 

These models will cost you less than $40,000 after the federal tax credit.

2023 Ford Escape PHEV

Electric range: 37 miles

MSRP: $38,500 (plus $1,495 destination fee)

Federal tax credit: $6,843

2023 Toyota RAV4 Prime

Electric range: 42 miles

MSRP: $42,340

Federal tax credit: No longer qualifies

2023 Kia Niro PHEV

Electric range: 33 miles

MSRP: : $33,840 (plus $1,325 destination fee)

Federal tax credit: No longer qualifies

2023 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid

Electric range: 17 miles

MSRP: $36,845 (plus $1,225 destination fee)

Federal tax credit: No longer qualifies

Liane Yvkoff is an automotive technology and lifestyle writer covering alternative powertrains, transportation startups and more. Her work has appeared in print and online publications like Popular Mechanics and

Millie content is licensed from Dotdash Meredith, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle, Investopedia, The Balance and more.


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