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 both electric cars and hybrids. While these vehicles have an internal combustion engine like a gas-powered vehicle, they also employ the use of a rechargeable battery pack for electric power and an electric motor for short distances.

To charge the battery, you plug in the vehicle like you would an electric car using any 120-volt outlet in your home (or at a charging station). Once the battery is fully charged, a PHEV can run solely on battery power and has an electric driving range typically totaling no more than about 60 kilometers. 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 Gas vs. PHEV vs. EV Batteries

PHEVs still contain a gas-powered engine that kicks in when the battery runs out. However, the batteries are meant to last longer than the one you’d find in a gasoline-powered vehicle. While most gas cars have batteries with a life of about three years, many PHEV batteries will last somewhere around 10 years. EVs build on this with a life that can range up to 20 years by estimates, although most EVs haven’t been around long enough to test that theory on an actual vehicle.

The warranties on these batteries can also vary. While gas vehicles typically offer three-year warranties on batteries, PHEVs up the ante to somewhere between four and eight years depending on the model. EVs also have similar battery warranties to PHEVs, with Tesla offering a four-year warranty and the Chevy Bolt including an eight-year warranty.

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 just the same as the plug for your coffee maker or toaster. Simply plug it into the wall and let it do its thing.

If you want a faster charging option, many automakers offer a 240-volt charger. Also known as a Level 2 charger, these devices can cut down on charge time exponentially. 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. 

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 might still be the better option, especially if you want to get behind the wheel of a Tesla. Here's a quick glance at the pros and cons of PHEVs vs. EVs.

PHEV Pros

  • 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.)

PHEV Cons

  • 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 fuel (estimated electricity costs 30% of what would be spent on gas)
  • Can maximize the benefits of the carbon tax rebate
  • Even lower maintenance costs than gas and PHEV vehicles (oil changes, brakes, etc.)

EV Cons

  • Lower range than PHEV
  • Can get stranded or need a tow in more remote areas
  • Fewer model options

As you can see, both PHEVs and EVs provide some compelling arguments over which one to buy. But remember that both PHEVs and EVs provide an excellent money-saving perk over gas-powered cars: tax rebates. With up to $8,000 off the price of the vehicle (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 many different sizes and models for a variety of budgets. Many automakers are creating PHEV versions of some of their most popular (non plug-in) hybrid versions and gasoline engine vehicles. So whether you already have a favorite 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

Although the Ford F-150 and the Ram 1500 continue to lead car sales in Canada, the Toyota RAV4 isn't far behind, ranking third in total number of sales. Building upon this momentum, 2021 marks the debut of 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. The new model year 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-kilometer 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 looks like a solid option.

Best Luxury Plug-In Hybrid: BMW X5 xDrive45e

Luxury doesn't have to go by the wayside just because you want a PHEV. The BMW X5 xDrive45e 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. Featuring a best-in-class 282-horsepower, 3.0-liter TwinTurbo engine, it burns down the road. And with an all-electric range of 49 kilometers and total fuel economy of 11.5L/km, you can feel good harnessing the X5's power.

Best Fuel Economy Plug-In Hybrid: Toyota Prius Prime

The 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.

A 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine is the heart and soul of this five-seater hatchback, providing 121 horsepower. But what it lacks in power it makes up for with the best fuel economy of all PHEVs. While the electric range clocks in at 40 km, the Prius Prime offers up to 1,034 km on just a single tank of gas for a total of 4.4L/100km.

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 7-inch display screen, and the Prius Prime positions itself as a jack of all trades.

Best Plug-In Hybrid for Families: Chrysler Pacifica PHEV

Family haulers are notoriously lacking when it comes to fuel economy, but not anymore thanks to the release of the Chrysler Pacifica PHEV. With 284 horsepower, it's no slouch, and a 53-kilometer range makes trips to hockey practice or carpooling a cinch. Add in a total range of 864 kilometers, and this minivan becomes the ultimate road tripper.

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

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

You may not have $140,000 in disposable funds lying around. But if you do, that money would be well-spent on a Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid. With the most power of any plug-in hybrid (aside from the Koenigsegg Regera supercar), the Panamera dishes out 680 horsepower courtesy of a brawny 4.0-liter V-8. That's enough to sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.2 seconds on hybrid mode.

If you're worried about the range, this scorcher provides 50 kilometers of all-electric distance, as well as a top speed of 139 km/h on battery only. If only you could pop this kind of 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 all about your personal preference. Whether you want a great family-hauler like a crossover or SUV, or something more compact to navigate the city streets, you're sure to 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.