What is a plug-in hybrid car?

Hybrids provide low emission motoring for the masses. But what is a plug-in hybrid car?

BuyaCar team
Nov 23, 2018

A plug-in hybrid car is the next logical step for many people looking at reducing their carbon footprint.

After all, electric cars might not be for everyone, diesel cars are being demonised, and petrol power might seem a bit passé.

Emissions regulations are becoming stricter and stricter too, and adding plug-in hybrid cars to their lineup has greatly helped car makers reduce their emissions.

Plug-ins act as a halfway house between a pure electric car and a hybrid. They can travel further on electricity than regular hybrids, but also come with the back-up of a petrol or diesel engine for longer journeys.

Keep scrolling to learn more, or, see what plug-in hybrid cars are on the market.

What is a plug-in-hybrid car?

With a battery and motor like electric cars, plus a petrol or diesel engine, plug-in hybrids should offer the best of both worlds. Fully charged, they’ll drive for 20-30 miles on electric power before the engine takes over. Fuel economy is exceptional on short journeys; less impressive on long trips.

Plug-in hybrid cars: the good

✔ Electric range of more than 20 miles
✔ Cheap to run assuming you plug it in
Low company car tax

Mild hybrid cars: the not-so-good

Needs to be charged frequently
Fuel economy not as good as a diesel on long runs
Reduced luggage space


How plug-in hybrid cars work

In many respects, a plug-in hybrid works in a similar way to a regular hybrid. For propulsion, it has a petrol or diesel engine, and an electric motor. The electric motor is powered by a battery pack.

Regular hybrids charge their batteries on the move via the petrol engine, and regenerative braking.

Plug-in hybrids have larger, more powerful batteries. This is good for electric range, but they do need to be charged independently. In other words, they need to be plugged in.

Do plug-in hybrid cars improve fuel economy?

Yes and no. If you regularly charge your plug-in, and only use the engine as a last resort, you’ll see very good combined figures. Toyota’s Prius has an official fuel consumption of 283mpg. Most people probably won’t even get close to this, but, most people will achieve 95-100mpg if they charge regularly and do a lot of town driving.

If you don’t regularly charge the battery, expect mpg to be much, much worse. This is because you’re lugging around another 100kg worth of batteries which will act as a dead weight.

Incidentally, electric power performs much better around town than on the motorway. The Toyota Prius plug-in will cover around 30 miles around town on electric power, but only 20 miles at motorway speeds.

What plug-in hybrid cars are available to buy?

From new, there are currently 24 plug-in models for sale. These include:

Audi A3 e-tron
Audi Q7 e-tron
BMW i3
BMW i8 
BMW 2 Series Active Tourer 225xe
BMW 3 Series 330e
BMW 5 Series 530e
BMW 7 Series 740Le
Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In
Kia Niro PHEV
Kia Optima PHEV
Mercedes C-Class 350e
Mercedes E-Class 350e
Mercedes S-Class S500e
Mini Countryman PHEV
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid
Toyota Prius Plug-In
VW Passat GTE
Volvo S90 T8
Volvo V90 T8
Volvo XC60 T8
Volvo XC90 T8


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