Not ready to go fully electric? Do you want something with a bit more versatility? The answer could lie in a plug-in hybrid. Featuring a hybrid powertrain that offers a gas and electric combo for long distances and a 100% electric mode for short drives and errands, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) have the perfect mix of convenience and fuel economy.

In this guide, you'll learn how plug-in vehicles work, the type of infrastructure you need to own a plug-in hybrid, and the pros and cons of choosing a plug-in over a fully electric vehicle. You'll also get a rundown of the top PHEV models in the Canadian market.


Plug for hybrid vehicle

How Do Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles Work?

Plug-in hybrid vehicles, also known as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles or PHEVs, are similar in function to electric cars and hybrids. While these vehicles have an internal combustion engine (ICE) like a gas-powered vehicle, they also use a rechargeable battery pack for electric power and an electric motor to travel short distances on electricity alone.

To charge the battery, plug in the vehicle like an electric car using any 120- or 220-volt outlet in your home (or at a charging station). A PHEV can run solely on battery power and has an electric driving range typically totalling no more than 60 kilometres on a full charge. Once the battery is depleted, the car switches over to the gas engine. At this point, it functions as a regular hybrid, using regenerative braking to recharge the battery that couples with the gasoline engine to power the vehicle.

A Quick Comparison of Hybrid, PHEV, and EV Batteries

PHEVs still contain a gas-powered engine that kicks in when the battery runs out. The average capacity of a PHEV battery is 13.5 kWh.

Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) rely solely on electricity and have higher-capacity batteries. The average EV battery capacity is 40 kWh, but they can go as high as 100 kWh and continue to grow as technology expands.

Conventional hybrid models have the lowest battery capacity, ranging from 1 to 10 kWh. Most hybrids have no all-electric driving range, though some offer a short electric-only range at slow speeds. For example, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid will travel in EV mode for about 1 km at about 40 km/h or less.

What Type of Infrastructure Do I Need for a Plug-In Hybrid?

​Before you buy a PHEV, you might have some questions on the more technical side of the equation. Fortunately, the infrastructure needed for a PHEV is relatively straightforward. All PHEVs come with a 120-volt charger that works like the plug for your coffee maker or toaster. Simply plug it into the wall and let it do its thing. It generally takes about 5 or 6 hours to recharge a PHEV battery on a 120-volt plug.

Many automakers and third-party companies offer a 240-volt charger if you want a faster charging option. Also known as a Level 2 charger, these devices can exponentially reduce charge time. However, you'll have to pay a premium for the privilege. Level 2 chargers cost anywhere from $600-$1,200 for the parts and about $600 to have a licensed electrician install it. Also, if you're out and about and want to switch to full-electric mode, remember that all PHEVs conveniently plug into public charging stations. Charging a PHEV on a Level 2 charger takes about one to two hours.

You can also purchase a 220-volt charging cable and have an electrician install a matching 220-volt plug in your garage or near your PHEV park. This is a cheaper option than the Level 2 charger in most cases and charges the vehicle nearly as fast. Plus, you can use this outlet to power other 220-volt electronics when the car isn’t plugged into it. The charging speed will vary with the amperage you use, but it will fall somewhere in the three- to four-hour range.

Green car at electric car charging station

Plug-In Hybrid vs. EV: What's the Better Option?

Slotted between regular hybrids and electric vehicles, PHEVs offer the best of both worlds. But in some cases, an EV is still the better option, especially if you want to get behind the wheel of a Tesla. Here's a glance at the pros and cons of PHEVs vs. EVs.


  • Lower emissions
  • Overall lower fuel cost
  • Electric-only mode with the convenience of a hybrid engine for a longer range
  • Excellent option for stay-at-home parents or commuters with short driving distances
  • Superb fuel economy
  • Lower maintenance costs than gas vehicles (oil changes, brakes, etc.)
  • Come with federal and some provincial incentives


  • Higher upfront cost than gasoline-powered vehicles and regular hybrid vehicles
  • May have higher repair costs due to a more complex powertrain

EV Pros

  • Zero emissions
  • Lower overall repair bills
  • No costs for gasoline (estimated electricity costs 30% of what would be spent on gas)
  • Typically have higher federal and some provincial incentives
  • Even lower maintenance costs than gas and PHEV vehicles (oil changes, brakes, etc.)

EV Cons

  • Range anxiety due to limited charging stations
  • Can get stranded or need a tow in more remote areas
  • Fewer model options

As you can see, PHEVs and EVs provide compelling arguments for buying one. But remember that PHEVs and EVs provide an excellent money-saving perk over gas-powered cars: rebates. With up to $5,000 off the price of the vehicle with federal rebates and up to another $8,000 on the provincial level (depending on the province), you save money just by signing on the dotted line.

Red truck at electric charging station

The Best Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles in Canada

Like electric and gas-powered vehicles, PHEVs come in various sizes and models for various budgets. Many automakers are creating PHEV versions of some of their most popular (non-plug-in) hybrid and gasoline engine vehicles. So whether you already have a favourite car that now has a PHEV equivalent or you're just researching for a new car, here are some of the best options available in the PHEV marketplace.

Best Crossover Plug-In Hybrid: Toyota RAV4 Prime

Source: MotorTrend

Although the Ford F-150 and the Ram 1500 continue to lead car sales in Canada, the Toyota RAV4 is just a little behind, ranking third in total number of sales. Building upon this momentum is the Toyota RAV4 Prime. More than just a PHEV, it's also the most powerful and fuel-efficient RAV4 model ever.

Behind a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine and a lithium-ion battery pack, the RAV4 Prime boasts a whopping 302 net horsepower and 1,134 kg of towing power. It also comes with standard all-wheel-drive (AWD), advanced safety features, and loads of connectivity options for your smartphone. And if you want fuel efficiency, a 68-kilometre electric range and 5.7L/100km (city) and 6.4L/100km (highway) are some of the best in the industry. If this is your first foray into the PHEV world, the RAV4 Prime is a solid option.

Some other options to consider include:

  • Ford Escape PHEV: 5.6 L/100km (city), 6.3 L/100 km (highway), and a 60-km range
  • Kia Niro PHEV: 4.6 L/100km (city), 4.9 L/100 km (highway), and a 55-km range
  • Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-In Hybrid: 7.1 L/100km (city), 7.3 L/100 km (highway), and a 50-km range

Best Luxury Plug-In Hybrid: BMW X5 xDrive45e

Source: Edmunds

Luxury doesn't have to go by the wayside just because you want a PHEV. The BMW X5 xDrive50e is proof of that. Featuring all the opulence that's made BMW a luxury car powerhouse plus a PHEV charger, the X5 provides extras like Sensatec upholstery (non-animal-based vinyl), wood trim, Apple CarPlay compatibility, 2.5-zone climate control, and a panoramic moonroof.

But even with these features, it doesn't skimp on power at up to 483 horsepower. And with an all-electric range of 64 kilometres, you’ve got plenty of range to get you where you’re going.

Other luxury PHEVs to consider include:

  • Lincoln Corsair Grand Touring: 6.9 L/100km (city), 7.4 L/100 km (highway), and a 43-km range
  • Lexus NX 450h+ AWD: 6.2 L/100km (city), 7.0 L/100 km (highway), and a 61-km range
  • Volvo S60 T8 AWD Recharge: 8 L/100km (city), 7.2 L/100 km (highway), and a 64-km range

Best Fuel Economy Plug-In Hybrid: Toyota Prius Prime

Source: Toyota

The Toyota Prius was the OG of the hybrid car world. But its formidable hybrid powertrain has now been extended to the PHEV world with the Toyota Prius Prime.

The Prius Prime, which will receive a dramatic redesign in 2023, features a 2.0-litre four-cylinder hybrid powertrain that is the heart and soul of this five-seater hatchback, providing 194 horsepower with front-wheel drive or 196 horsepower with optional all-wheel drive.

This powertrain will deliver a zippy 6.8-second 0-to-100 km/h sprint and solid fuel economy numbers. The estimated electric range will be at least 60 km, but the fuel consumption equivalent and total range numbers aren’t available yet, but we’re confident it will end up at the top of the heap again.

Yet its stellar offerings don't end there. Throw in a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, Toyota SafetySense 2.0, and a 12.3-inch display screen, and the Prius Prime positions itself as a jack of all trades.

Other high-efficiency PHEVs to consider include:

  • Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid: 4.6 L/100km (city), 4.9 L/100 km (highway), and a 55-km range
  • Ford Escape PHEV: 5.6 L/100km (city), 6.3 L/100 km (highway), and a 60-km range
  • Kia Sportage Plug-In Hybrid: 6.6 L/100km (city), 6.7 L/100 km (highway), and a 45-km range

Best Plug-In Hybrid for Families: Chrysler Pacifica PHEV

Source: J.D. Power

Family haulers are notoriously lacking in fuel economy, but not anymore thanks to the release of the Chrysler Pacifica PHEV. With 287 horsepower, it's no slouch, and a 51-kilometre range makes trips to hockey practice or carpooling a cinch. Add in a total range of 784 kilometres, and this minivan becomes the ultimate road tripper.

As a parent, however, you're also concerned about having those little extras to make parenting much easier. The Pacifica PHEV obliges. Dual-sliding doors and an automatic liftgate provide easy access, and the optional Uconnect rear theatre will keep the kids entertained. Plus, with seating for seven and convenient Stow 'n Go seating, you're always ready for the curveballs life will throw your way.

Other family-ready PHEVs to consider include:

  • Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe: 10.3 L/100km (city), 9.7 L/100 km (highway), and a 42-km range
  • Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring: 10.9 L/100km (city), 9.6 L/100 km (highway), and a 34-km range

Most Powerful Plug-In Hybrid: Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid

Source: Car and Driver

Technically, the 1,500-horsepower Koenigsegg Regera is the most powerful plug-in hybrid, but with a $1.9 million price tag, it’s far from realistic for 99.99999% of the world.

The Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid and its relatively affordable $227,000 price tag will take this spot. If you have that much disposable cash, that money would be well-spent on this incredible performance car. With the most power of any plug-in hybrid (aside from the Koenigsegg Regera supercar), the Panamera dishes out 690 horsepower courtesy of a brawny 4.0-litre V-8. That's enough to sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.2 seconds in hybrid mode.

If you're worried about the range, this scorcher provides 27 kilometres of all-electric distance and a top speed of 140 km/h on battery only. If only you could pop this power into the Pacifica PHEV, you'd have the ultimate family cruiser.

Browse cars at Clutch

Ready to Try a Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle?

With so many highly-rated options, finding a great plug-in hybrid vehicle is about your preference. Whether you want a great family hauler like a crossover or SUV, or something more compact to navigate the city streets, you will surely find something that suits your tastes, needs, and wants.

That's where Clutch comes in. With secure financing, an extended warranty protection plan, a 210-point inspection, and a 90-day money-back warranty, you can feel secure that your new plug-in hybrid is the right choice for you. Plus, with lower emissions and two driving modes to get to your destination, you'll have a dual-purpose vehicle that gets you where you need to go while making the planet a bit less polluted.