Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) fill the gap between battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV).
BEVs remain the most expensive tier of electric vehicle (EV), and remain limited by infrastructure and charging station availability – even as driving ranges have increased. HEVs present affordable alternatives but are essentially conventional fuel-drinking vehicles in disguise. Station stops may be fewer, but there is no plug-in capability as electrified systems are generally for start-up and acceleration, allowing the vehicle to run on electric-only power for no more than a couple of miles.
Offering both battery-only and fuel-powered driving, depending on one’s commute, a PHEV could make visiting the pump a pastime, road trips notwithstanding. Charging times will vary based on power source – either a 120-volt (Level 1) or 240-volt (Level 2) charger. DC Fast Charging (Level 3) does not apply to PHEVs, being reserved for BEVs that can handle the larger, quicker jolts of power.
Savings beyond the station
Unlike traditional hybrids, a federal income tax credit may still apply for BEVs and PHEVs. Calculated based on the vehicle’s battery capacity, EVs purchased after 2010 qualify for up to $7,500. It’s a limited-time offer, however. After a car company sells 200,000 BEV and PHEV vehicles, the credit phases out during the year-long period following that milestone.
State and/or local municipalities may also offer additional rebates and incentives. Keep in mind that credits apply to new-vehicle purchases only. Alternatively, if a vehicle is leased, the leasing company may claim the tax credit rather than pass it to the lessee in order to help defray costs and keep monthly payments low.
With more PHEV models on the market than BEVs, and with PHEVs providing better overall mileage than HEVs, a plug-in may prove to be the “green” car sweet spot in terms of fueling flexibility, lowered emissions, purchase price, and cost of ownership.
Below are the 10 best PHEVs that start at less than $40,000, listed in alphabetical order.
2019 Chevrolet Volt
The 2019 Chevrolet Volt starts at $34,395 (including the $875 destination fee) and qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit. Styling is simple for the compact car, which will appease those not looking to scream “Fuel efficiency!” every time they’re behind the wheel. The front-wheel-drive Volt is available in LT and Premier trim levels.
Its electric-only range is 53 miles with a calculated 420 miles of total driving. The Volt offers an EPA-estimated 106 MPGe while the gasoline engine is rated at 42 mpg in combined mpg. Featuring an 18.4-kWh lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack and 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, the Volt offers 149 horsepower and 294 lb.-ft. of torque. Approximate charging times are as little as 2.25 hours (Level 2) or up to 13 hours (Level 1).
Note that Chevrolet recently announced it would discontinue production of the Volt in March 2019. Apparently, people don’t want one of the best commuter cars money can buy.
2019 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (it’s actually a PHEV) was introduced alongside its gas-powered sibling at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show. The first and only plug-in hybrid minivan in production, its appeal extends beyond large families but also to businesses (think food delivery, landscapers, maintenance service) that do multiple short-range and/or intracity driving.
The Pacifica Hybrid features a 3.6-liter V6 engine paired with a 16-kWh Li-ion battery. Delivering 82 MPGe (or a gas-only 30 mpg in combined driving), the electrified minivan can travel up to 32 miles on a full electric charge or 520 hybrid miles.
The total powertrain output is an estimated 260 hp. Pricing starts at $41,390 (including a $1,395 destination fee) before you apply the $7,500 federal tax credit.
2019 Ford Fusion Energi
A midsize sedan, the Ford Fusion Energi qualifies for up to $4,609 in federal tax credits at the start of 2019. Available only in the top-of-the-line Titanium trim, the Fusion Energi starts at $35,590 (including the $995 destination fee and excluding applicable taxes and incentives).
Equipped with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and 9-kWh Li-ion battery, the Fusion Energi produces 188 total system horsepower. Its EV range is 26 miles, with a total vehicle range of 610 miles. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 103 MPGe or 42 mpg in combined driving. Charging time takes up to 7 hours or 2.5 hours, respectively, when using Level 1 or Level 2 outlets.
2019 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid
Clarity refers to Honda’s family of alternative-energy vehicles, which currently includes a hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV), BEV, and PHEV. Eligible for the full federal tax break, the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid features a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and 17-kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
The Clarity PHEV offers up to 48 electric-only miles and a total range of 340 miles. The EPA assigns an efficiency rating of 110 MPGe, and this car gets 42 mpg in combined driving when operates solely as a hybrid vehicle.
Available in base and Touring trim levels, pricing for the 5-passenger sedan (which is dimensionally similar to the midsize Accord) starts at $34,320 (including the $920 destination fee but not including the tax credit or incentives).
2019 Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid
Derived from ion and unique, the Hyundai loniq refers to a lineup of EV variants. Debuting in 2016, the hybrid vehicle was launched first, followed by the electric and plug-in hybrid models.
Available in two trim levels, the Ioniq Plug-in starts at $26,235 (including the $885 destination fee) and features an 8.9-kWh Li-ion battery pack coupled with a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. Total gasoline-electric output is 139 hp. At the start of 2019, the federal credit is $4,543.
EPA estimates are 29 miles of electric driving range with 630 miles of total range. Combined mileage ratings are impressive, at 119 MPGe and 52 mpg. A full charge will take up to 8.5 hours with a Level 1 charger or 2.25 hours when using a Level 2 power source.
2019 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid
A long-standing nameplate from Hyundai, the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid entered the EV market in 2015 as a 2016 model and was refreshed for 2018. The midsize sedan is currently available only in California and the handful of states that follow Cali’s zero-emissions vehicle requirements.
In all-electric mode, the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid can travel up to 28 miles and is EPA-estimated to provide 600 miles of total driving range. In combined driving, efficiency is rated at 99 MPGe and 39 mpg.
Equipped with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 9.8-kWh battery, the Sonata Plug-in Hybrid receives a federal tax break of $4,919. Available in two all-inclusive trims (i.e., no additional option packages), the base model retails for $34,135 and the Limited for $39,735. Both prices include a destination fee of $885.
2019 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid
Like many of the models on this list, the Kia Niro is offered with multiple powertrains. Classified as a compact crossover SUV, it is available in gasoline, electric, and plug-in hybrid versions. The PHEV is equipped with a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and 8.9-kWh battery. Its system produces a combined 139 hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque.
In EV mode, the Niro PHEV can travel 26 miles, or up to 560 miles total with the gas engine helping to propel the vehicle. EPA-estimated combined-driving efficiency ratings are 105 MPGe and 46 mpg. The battery will be fully charged in 9 (Level 1) or 2.5 (Level 2) hours, according to Kia.
Starting at $29,140 (including the $940 destination fee) for the LX trim, the Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid qualifies for a $4,543 federal tax credit.
2019 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid
Kia’s top-selling midsize sedan has been available as a hybrid for nearly a decade, and only recently added a plug-in hybrid variant. When completely redesigned in 2017, the Kia Optima debuted a PHEV. Its 9.8-kWh Li-ion battery is paired with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. Total system performance is 202 hp and 276 lb.-ft. of torque.
The Optima Plug-in Hybrid offers 29 miles of all-electric range. Total driving range after the gas engine fires up is EPA-estimated at 610 miles. Efficiency ratings are 103 MPGe in combined driving, and a gas-only rating of 40 mpg. Level 1 power will take up to 9 hours to fully charge the battery, or you can do it in 3 hours with a Level 2 outlet.
Offered only as a high-optioned EX model, the Optima Plug-in Hybrid starts at $36,210 (including the $920 destination fee) with a handful of additional packages available. The federal incentive provides a $4,919 tax break.
2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
Although a compact crossover SUV, the Subaru Crosstrek does have car-based Impreza underpinnings. The plug-in hybrid is considered the high-end model and pairs the standard 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with an 8.8-kWh Li-ion battery pack. The only vehicle on this list to feature AWD (standard on all Subaru vehicles), the Crosstrek Hybrid has an EPA-estimated total driving range of 480 miles, 17 of which are all-electric.
Combined gasoline-electric mileage is 90 MPGe. Run it solely on gasoline, and it will get 35 mpg, according to the EPA. Starting at $35,970 (including a $975 destination fee), this PHEV qualifies for $4,502 in federal tax credits as well as high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) permits in several states, including California, Maryland, and New York.
Charge times are approximately 5 hours on Level 1 power and 2 hours on Level 2, Subaru says.
2018 Toyota Prius Prime
Last but never least is the Toyota Prius Prime. Having been around for more than two decades, the Prius name is synonymous with hybrids and fuel efficiency. The Prius Prime further adds to that legacy.
The Prime’s powertrain consists of a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine matched with an 8.8-kWh Li-ion battery, which allows the compact hatchback to serve up 640 miles of total range – 25 of those miles covered in battery-electric mode. The Prius Prime has an EPA rating of 133 MPGe and 54 mpg combined, which are top marks for PHEV cars.
Available in Plus, Premium, and Advanced trims, the Prius Prime starts at $28,230 (including a $930 destination fee). The federal tax incentive at the start of 2019 is $4,502. Charging times are 5.5 and 2.25 hours for Level 1 and Level 2, respectively.