What is a plug-in hybrid and should you buy one?

These models can be a great first step into the world of electrified cars and have the potential to save you a lot of money in fuel – but only if they fit into your lifestyle...

Kia Sportage Plug-in Hybrid charging 2022

Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) can be a good option for anyone who's not ready to go fully electric, because they provide many of the fuel and emissions benefits of electric cars on short drives but have the flexibility of a petrol or diesel engine for longer runs.

According to official figures, 114,554 plug-in hybrid cars were sold in this country in 2021 – that's one in six of every new car registered. 

This proportion is only likely to grow in the coming years, as we count down to 2030, when sales of conventional petrol and diesel new cars will be banned

What is a plug-in hybrid car and how does it work?

Skoda Superb Estate iV plug-in hybrid long-term plugging in.

A PHEV is exactly what its name suggests: it’s a hybrid car with a battery pack that can be plugged in to charge it up. Like conventional hybrid models, PHEVs have both a petrol or diesel combustion engine and an electric motor. However, the battery pack that powers a PHEV’s motor is larger than that of a standard hybrid, and this means the car run for longer on pure electric power alone. 

Ranges are typically 20 to 30 miles, but some PHEVs have an official pure electric range of more than 50 miles. This means they can complete many urban journeys on electric power, emitting zero tailpipe emissions en route. But you don’t need to worry about topping the batteries up if you need to go farther, because the conventional engine automatically kicks in and takes over when the batteries are depleted. 

The hybrid system's batteries are heavy, so, when running on the combustion engine, a PHEV's fuel economy might not be as good as that of a non plug-in alternative. To aid weight savings, some car makers choose to fit a smaller than usual fuel tank to their PHEVs, so you might find yourself having to fill up more frequently than you would in a non plug-in model.

How do I charge a plug-in hybrid car?

Hyundai Kona owner review charging

You can charge a PHEV with a conventional, household three-pin plug, a wall charger or a public charging point. Using a 3kW household plug is the slowest option; a full charge is likely to take five or six hours, depending on the size of your car’s battery pack. A 7.4kW wall charger of the type commonly installed in homes or workplace car parks will complete a charge around three hours. 

Alternatively, you may be able to get a faster energy fix at a rapid public charging point if your PHEV is able to charge at a higher speed. There are more than 35,000 public charge points at 13,000 locations around the UK, and a growing number of them offer very high rates of charging. 

Ecotricity's ageing motorway service station charging network is being replaced by Gridserve, and this company's 350kW ultra-rapid chargers can provide a 10% to 80% charge for a compatible electric car in just 20 minutes. This is great for anyone who wants a quick top-up, but it costs around five times as much as charging up at home.

What are the advantages of plug-in hybrid cars?

congestion zone

The main advantage of running any PHEV is that it will have better fuel economy (and lower CO2 emissions) than a conventional combustion-engined car. The benefits will be most keenly felt if you are able to make shorter journeys using all or mostly electric power, and as long as you remember to charge up the car’s batteries in-between every trip. On average it costs 12p per mile to drive a petrol-engined car, this drops to just 5p per mile for trips made on electric power if you charge up at home at a rate of 14p per kilowatt hour.   

Another advantage of both conventional hybrids and PHEVs is that they do away with the ‘range anxiety’ associated with electric vehicles: because there’s also a combustion engine, you won’t suddenly run out of range.

What are the disadvantages of plug-in hybrid cars?

The main downside of owning a PHEV is that it’s likely to have poorer fuel economy than a conventionally-powered alternative when it’s driven using the engine rather than the electric motor. This is because you’re lugging around the additional weight of its electric battery pack. 

Add this to the fact that PHEVs tend to cost more to buy than petrol or diesel rivals, and this could mean your motoring costs are higher than they could be. 

Nissan LEAF charging

So if most of your journeys are longer than your PHEV’s pure electric range, or if you’re not able to charge up the batteries frequently and end up doing the majority of your driving using the engine, then a plug-in may not be the best option for you. 

If most of your journeys are longer motorway drives, a pure electric car with a long range could be suitable as long as you’re able to replenish its batteries after each long drive. If you’re not able to charge up cheaply and easily, a diesel-engined model is likely to be the most cost-effective option. 

Do PHEVs make good company cars? 

Plug-in hybrids are among the most affordable models to run as company cars because the rates of benefit in kind (BiK) tax payable on them are significantly lower than for petrol and diesel alternatives. 

The company car tax rate for a car with up to 50g/km CO2 emissions and a pure electric range of 40 to 69 miles is just 8% and for cars with a shorter range (30-39 miles) it’s 12%. In contrast, the rate for petrol cars with 95-99g/km CO2 is 24%, and most diesels face a 4% surcharge on top of this.  

Find out more about the best company cars

How many plug-in hybrid cars are there?

Many of the UK’s 35 mainstream car manufacturers offer PHEVs as part of their line-up, and many more also offer some form of hybrid or electric vehicle.

Ford Kuga PHEV

There are some great models available, including the BMW 330e, which we voted our 2022 Executive Car of the Year, and the Ford Kuga, which is a great, affordable long-distance PHEV. That's thanks to its pure electric range of 31 miles, combined with excellent fuel efficiency; in our tests, it achieved an impressive 52mpg running on its petrol engine.  

Below is a full list of every plug-in hybrid car available right now - click on the car names to read our reviews of these models.

Audi A3 TFSI e
Audi A6 TFSI e
Audi A7 TFSI e
Audi A8 TFSI e 
Audi Q3 TFSI e 
Audi Q5 TFSI e 
Audi Q7 TFSI e 
Audi Q8 TFSI e 
BMW 2 Series Active Tourer 225e and 230e 
BMW 3 Series 330e
BMW 5 Series 530e
BMW 7 Series 745e and 750e 
BMW X2 xDrive25e
BMW X3 xDrive30e 
BMW X5 xDrive45e 
Citroen C5 Aircross Hybrid
Cupra Formentor e-Hybrid 
Cupra Leon e-Hybrid 
DS 4 Crossback E-Tense 
DS 7 Crossback E-Tense
DS 9 Crossback E-Tense
Ford Kuga PHEV
Jaguar E-Pace P300e
Jaguar F-Pace P300e
Hyundai Tucson PHEV 
Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV 
Jeep Renegade 4xe
Kia Niro PHEV
Kia Sportage PHEV 
Kia Sorento PHEV
Kia Xceed PHEV
Land Rover Defender P400e 
Land Rover Discovery Sport P300e
Mazda CX-60 PHEV 
Mercedes A-Class A250e 
Mercedes B-Class B250e 
Mercedes C-Class C300e
Mercedes CLA C250e
Mercedes E-Class E300e
Mercedes GLA 250e
Mercedes GLC 300de 
Mercedes GLE 350de 
Mercedes S-Class S580e 
Mini Countryman PHEV
Peugeot 308 PHEV 
Peugeot 3008 Hybrid
Peugeot 508 SW Hybrid
Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid 
Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid
Range Rover Evoque P300e
Range Rover P440e and P510e
Range Rover Sport P440e and P510e
Range Rover Velar P400e
Renault Captur E-Tech
Seat Leon e-Hybrid
Skoda Octavia Estate iV
Skoda Superb iV
Vauxhall Astra Hybrid-e 
Vauxhall Grandland Hybrid-e 
Volkswagen Arteon eHybrid
Volkswagen Golf GTE
Volkswagen Passat GTE 
Volkswagen Tiguan eHybrid 
Volkswagen Touareg eHybrid 
Volvo S60 Recharge
Volvo S90 Recharge
Volvo V60 T8
Volvo V90 T6 Recharge 
Volvo XC40 Recharge 
Volvo XC60 T6 Recharge
Volvo XC90 Recharge 

How much do plug-in hybrid cars cost?

Hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars do generally cost more than their combustion-engined equivalents. However, the gap is shrinking and there are some great value propositions, such as our favourite value PHEV, the Audi A3 40 TFSI e, which costs from £33,945 with our Target Price discount applied. 

It’s also worth remembering the potential savings you should be able to make on fuel when buying.

Should I buy a plug-in hybrid car?

There are plenty of advantages of running a PHEV. It may be pricier to buy than a conventionally powered alternative, but if you keep its batteries topped up and only make shorter journeys, it’ll cost at least 50% less on fuel. It’s also reassuring to know you have the back-up of a combustion engine for longer journeys.

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Read more: The best and worst plug-in hybrid cars >>

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