Plug-In Hybrid Car Guide

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Originally published on Gas2.

As their name suggests, the folks at Plugin Cars have an agenda. They like cars with plugs. Recently, they published a plug-in hybrid guide for people interested in buying or leasing a PHEV. It is so well done, I decided to share it with our readers as a primer on how to go about selecting the right plug-in hybrid for their needs. Author Brad Berman groups his suggestions into four categories. Let’s unpack each one and see what we can learn.

All-Electric Range

Berman suggests the most important factor in his plug-in hybrid guide is how far will that shiny new plug-in hybrid go on electric power alone? After all, the main reason to get a PHEV is to drive with zero tailpipe emissions as much as possible. If you commute 50 miles a day but your car only has 20 miles of range, you will be relying on an old-fashioned internal combustion engine for the majority of your journey (assuming you’re not recharging at work during the day).

The Chevy Volt is the champion today. With 53 miles of range on a full battery, it can handle most people’s daily driving needs without using a drop of gasoline. Several Gas2 readers own a Volt and confirm that the gasoline engine rarely turns on while they are driving. In fact, Chevrolet programs the engine to start automatically every few months just to slosh the oil around to all those critical spaces inside so that it will be ready for use when called on.

By comparison, the Toyota Prius Prime has an all-electric range less than half that of the Volt but lists for nearly $10,000 less. The new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is better at 30 miles — pretty good for a large family hauler. Plugin Cars has a handy guide that you can use to sort through the offerings available (not all are sold in every state) to compare prices and features at a glance. It might be a useful tool to bookmark. CleanTechnica has a similar EV guide, by the way, but with more filters and European prices as well as US ones. However, you can’t filter by pure EV vs PHEV — you can just sort by total electric range and/or filter by minimum range (100 km vs 200 km vs 300 km), which does have a similar effect.

Pick The Car That Fits Your Driving Needs

What is your typical driving day like? Yes, we all want to dream of chucking it all and driving to the West Coast if we feel like it, and yes, we may drive the kiddies to Disney World every few years, but how do you use your car on a daily basis? It might be a good idea to start a log and write down how far you drive every day for a month. That would help you analyze your actual driving needs. If you only drive 15 to 20 miles a day, that makes more plug-in cars suitable for your use without relying on a gasoline engine.

Study your charging options at work. What kind of chargers are available? How are they used? If there is only one and a colleague gets to work early and stays plugged in all day — that won’t do you much good. Does your employer allow workers to go outside during the workday to connect and disconnect from the chargers?

Are there chargers available along your route? If you shop a few days a week on your way home from work, you might be able to plug in while you’re inside and extend your range. Plug-in hybrids usually have small batteries that require less time to charge than the battery in an all-electric car. A little planning could go a long way in helping you decide which plug-in car is best suited to your needs and budget.

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How Efficient Is That Plug-in After The Engine Starts?

If your driving needs mean that you will be using the gasoline engine in your plug-in hybrid regularly, it is important to know how efficient it is once battery power is depleted. The Prius Prime gets 54 miles per gallon, making it one of the most efficient cars on the road. It is rated by the EPA at 133 MPGe. The higher the number, the better. By comparison, the Chevy Volt is rated at 42 mpg and has an MPGe rating of 106, which means it will burn more gasoline than the Prius Prime once the engine kicks in. The EPA has a very useful tool that lists the efficiency ratings of all plug-in cars. Once again, it may be worthy of a bookmark if you are in the market for a plug-in car and want to compare one to another.

There is no substitute for a test drive. Some gas-powered range-extender engines may be noisy during operation, which can be annoying after enjoying the quietness of all-electric driving. In my own experience, the engine in the Chevy Volt is almost impossible to detect when it is running.

Choose The Car That Fits Your Lifestyle

Don’t get caught up in statistics. Things like interior room, number of passengers, and how the car feels to drive are still important. Some may like higher seats or need 7 passenger versatility. A car that goes 100 miles on a single charge is no good if it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t satisfy your needs. Take into account factors like price, handling, and cargo capacity. Connectivity is becoming an increasingly important consideration for many drivers. Do you need wireless cell phone chargers, extra cup holders, or a rear-seat screen for children to watch? Are the controls laid out intelligently and do they operate intuitively?

In the end, buying a plug-in hybrid is a commitment to a lifestyle. Hopefully, this plug-in hybrid guide will be useful to you. Do your research, test drive all the cars that fit your requirements, then relax and enjoy the fact that you have made a choice that will help reduce pollution from fossil fuels. Good for  you!

Source: Plug In Cars | Photo by the author

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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