What is a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)?

  • How do PHEVs work?
  • Are they suitable for all drivers?
  • Parkers explains all

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a vehicle that plugs into the mains and uses electricity as a power source, usually alongside a conventional engine.

How does it work?

Not to be confused with a conventional hybrid, which doesn’t have a plug and uses the car’s engine and brakes to generate far less power than a plug-in hybrid can store, PHEVs usually have extremely low CO2 emissions (meaning lower tax) and use much less fuel, so they’re often very cheap to run for both private and company car drivers.

While it’s possible to plug these cars into a conventional three-pin charging socket, the majority of users will make use of a wallbox (usually installed at home for free or for a small charge) or fast-charging points that are appearing all over the country as the Government invests heavily in electric motoring.

Do I need one?

In the main, people buy plug-in hybrid cars because they’re so cheap to run. If your lifestyle means you don’t do many miles between charges, you’ll end up using next to no fossil fuel whatsoever and only paying for the electricity used to charge your PHEV, which is far more reasonable per mile than petrol or diesel – especially if you take advantage of specially designed deals from your energy company.

It makes less sense for those who do long motorway journeys because when the charge runs out they’re just as inefficient as a conventionally powered car.

However, many of these cars allow you to save charge up for when you enter a low-emissions zone (where you pay to drive based on how much fuel your car uses) such as a city centre, so you can cruise on the motorway using normal fuel and then switch to electric power when it’ll be most cost-efficient.

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Examples of popular plug-in hybrid models include: BMW i3, i8, X5 xDrive 40e and 330e, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, VW Passat GTE and Golf GTE, Audi A3 e-tron, Volvo XC90 T8 TwinEngine and V60 plug-in hybrid, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, Kia Optima PHEV, Mercedes-Benz C350e

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Looking for more jargon-busting motoring meanings? Head over to our Parkers Car Glossary page and take a look at our other definitions