When scientists and policymakers talk about the future of energy production, they often paint it in terms of diversification. The plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a personalized version of that scenario, allowing the motorist to reap the best parts of both gasoline and battery power. Both have benefits and drawbacks, but together, they foster the ultimate combination of practicality and efficiency.
Unlike the traditional hybrid, which uses onboard kinetic devices like regenerative braking to charge batteries and boost efficiency, plug-ins get a boost from the electrical grid. Theoretically, power generated at an electrical power plant is cleaner than tailpipe emissions, although that all depends upon the energy source used in your region. But if electricity rates are competitive in your area, plug-in hybrids, which feature all-electric driving capability, can help save money on gasoline.
While there are a number of PHEVs on the market, and relatively few are SUVs. Below are some of the less expensive ones (and yes, we fudged a bit by including some practical cars that are not actually SUVs).
2019 BMW i3 with Range Extender
The BMW i3 is back with an improved battery for 2019, extending its range to 153 miles. However, BMW hasn’t said yet how the new battery will impact range for the PHEV model, which adds a 2-cylinder gasoline engine and a 2.4-gallon fuel tank to the quirky EV. The 2018 range extender model had a pure-electric range of 97 miles, according to the EPA, with 180 miles of total range.
With the gasoline engine, the i3 works like a Chevrolet Volt. In other words, it operates purely on electricity, and when the battery reaches a minimum state of charge, the engine starts to extend the car’s range. Unlike the Volt, however, the BMW’s range-extending engine is designed as a back-up plan, not as part of intended vehicle operation.
Overall, the i3 is a good choice for people who like innovative styling, fun driving dynamics, and small exterior dimensions. It doesn’t have an all-wheel-drive option, but open the hatch, fold the seats, and the i3 can carry 36.9 cu.-ft. of cargo. That counts as utility, right?
Last year, the EPA’s average efficiency rating for the i3 with the Range Extender was 109 MPGe, and 35 mpg once the battery has been depleted and the car operated as a traditional hybrid. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the i3 top marks in all crash tests except for the seats and headrests, in which it received an “Acceptable” rating. The i3 has not yet been rated by the federal government for crashworthiness.
Prices start at $49,295, but that’s before you apply the $7,500 federal tax credit and any state and local rebates.
2019 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid
The Kia Niro nameplate covers a threesome of eco-friendly cars – a conventional hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, and an EV. What all three share is handsome styling over a roomy, practical 5-door hatchback vehicle that Kia insists on calling a crossover.
Kia, which has been making big strides in the North American auto market over the past decade, decided not to go for the spaceship aesthetic favored by some other EV and hybrid manufacturers. Rather, the Niro’s look is tastefully conventional, and maybe even a little sporty.
Kia backs up the car’s nice looks with good handling and solid fuel economy. The EPA’s electric and gas combined rating is 105 MPGe. Once the 26-mile all-electric range has run its course, the car gets 46 mpg in combined driving. It has an impressive overall range of 560 miles, and the Niro is an IIHS “Top Safety Pick+.”
With a starting price just over $29,000 including destination, the Niro Plug-in Hybrid is a good value, too. And that’s before you apply the $4,543 federal tax credit or any state and local rebates to the price.
2019 Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4
The Mini Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 gives people the opportunity to enjoy the fun driving experience that is characteristic of a Mini Cooper, but with the added capability of more space, all-wheel drive, and plug-in hybrid fuel efficiency. And because it actually is an SUV, its extra ground clearance makes this Countryman perfectly at home on dirt roads.
With its 12-mile pure-electric range, the S E Countryman ALL4 has a 65-MPGe EPA combined average fuel-economy rating. That’s not great, but it’s a start. Once the gasoline engine gets going, this Mini averages 27 mpg. Total range between the battery and gasoline energy sources is 270 miles.
The Countryman has not yet been rated by the IIHS or the federal government for crashworthiness. Prices start at $37,750 (including a destination charge of $850) and the Countryman plug-in hybrid is eligible for a $4,001 federal income tax credit, plus any state or local incentives.
2019 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
For a 7-passenger SUV, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a decent bargain – though the third-row seat is inhabitable only by children. Still, this is the only vehicle to offer a plug-in hybrid powertrain in a class that includes the popular Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue models, which makes it instantly appealing to people seeking a greener alternative to the status quo.
The Outlander PHEV supplies 22 miles of pure-electric range, along with a 74-MPGe EPA combined efficiency rating. Average fuel economy under gasoline power is only 25 mpg in combined driving, and total range is 310 miles.
It doesn’t appear that the IIHS has completed its full battery of crash tests on the PHEV version of the Outlander, which received top marks in crash-avoidance and -mitigation equipment. It has not been rated for crashworthiness by the federal government.
Last year, the Outlander PHEV started at $35,640, including a destination charge of $1,045. This model is eligible for a federal tax credit of $5,836.
2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
With decent cargo space, standard all-wheel drive, and remarkable ground clearance for a subcompact crossover, the Subaru Crosstrek resonates with people who are at least nominally into outdoorsy activities. Logically, then, such people might take an interest in an even more environmentally responsible version of the Crosstrek.
Enter the Crosstrek Hybrid, a new plug-in version of the spunky little crossover that uses Toyota technology to deliver an EPA average fuel-efficiency rating of 90 MPGe and a 35-mpg gasoline-only average fuel-economy rating. It has an impressive total range of 480 miles, although only 17 of them are in pure-electric mode. Cargo space does take a hit, dropping to 15.9 cu.-ft behind the rear seat and a maximum of 43.1 cu.-ft.
The IIHS and the federal government have not rated the plug-in version of the Crosstrek for crashworthiness, but the vehicle on which it is based is well known for providing outstanding protection in an accident.
Prices start at $35,970 (including $975 in destination charges), and the Crosstrek Hybrid qualifies for a $4,500 federal tax credit, according to Subaru.