Plug-in hybrid car buying guide

plug-in hybrid buying guide

In the last few years, the number of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models on the market has shot up. One of the newest drivetrain classes around, there were only two PHEVs available in the UK in 2011. Now there are a considerable number of PHEVs available as new in 2021, with more on their way as manufacturers make a long-term commitment to developing the hybrid technology.

With models from small family cars to luxury SUVs, there are a wide variety of PHEVs to choose from. This buying guide will give you an overview of the key points to consider when looking to buy a PHEV, including whether a PHEV is right for you, ownership and running costs and the range of models available to buy.

Who should buy a plug-in hybrid car?

Featuring many of the benefits of conventional hybrids and the additional option of being able to recharge directly from an electricity supply, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) can be considered by most car buyers as a real option. The electric-only mode available can provide around 15 to 40 miles of zero-emission motoring improving running costs, with their higher purchase price the only real caveat.

In hybrid mode, PHEVs perform particularly well in urban start-stop driving conditions, as the battery recoups some of the energy that would otherwise be wasted during braking. In electric-only mode they also offer zero-emission driving while, with a conventional fuel tank, there are none of the range considerations that buyers can get when looking at electric vehicles.

It should be noted, however, that in order to make the most out of the electric drive, you ideally need access to off-street parking area in order to recharge the electric motor overnight. Excellent fuel economy and emissions figures are only achievable in real-world driving with regular charging. As such, these official statistics can either be comfortably bettered - driving only in EV mode will see an 'infinite' MPG figure after all - or, with minimal charging, come in well under what would be expected.

The only type of driving not particularly suited to PHEVs is regular long-distance runs. At high constant power, the plug-in hybrid powertrain adds little to the efficiency of the engine; the car will also be used well beyond its electric-only range. A typical tipping point for fuel efficiency is around 150 miles on a single trip with a full charge to start with. Anything under this figure will often see a better fuel economy than a comparable petrol or diesel car, whilst regular trips over this milestone could se costs increase with a PHEV.

What PHEV models are available now?

Plug-in hybrid cars (PHEVs) have played a significant part in the recent surge in electric vehicle (EV) sales over the past couple of years. With greater flexibility than pure-electric vehicles, by combining an electric powertrain with a petrol or diesel engine, you can see why they are popular.

As hybrid models continue to be rolled out and pure-electric cars become more widely accepted, increasing numbers of PHEV models will be launched for drivers who want the capability of all-electric emission-free motoring, but not be restricted to a 150-350 mile range (depending on model) before needing to recharge.

Use the plug-in hybrid car search to find out what PHEVs are available to buy in the UK in 2021, or visit the electric car search tool to see battery electric alternatives.

The cost of buying a plug-in hybrid car

In general, electric vehicles are more expensive to buy than their petrol or diesel equivalents. However, the Plug-in Van Grant subsidises the purchase of eligible vans. Grant rates for the Plug-in Van Grant are £5,000 for large vans and £2,500 for small vans, with a limit of 1,000 per customer per year.

PHEVs do not receive any financial support in the shape of government grants. However, other incentives such as VED and company car tax benefits mean that PHEVs remain popular - especially the latest generation models which see real-world electric driving ranges of 30+ miles on a charge.

Search for available PHEV models

PHEV running costs

The higher capital costs are mainly offset by lower fuel costs due to the high fuel economy of the vehicles (in hybrid mode) and the ability of the cars to run on low-cost electricity. For example, the official combined fuel economy figures for the diesel-powered Mitsubishi Outlander and Outlander PHEV are 53.3 MPG and 148.7 MPG respectively. To see how much you could save in fuel bills, visit our Fuel Cost Calculator.

Three significant financial incentives significantly reduce the costs of running a plug-in car or van: Zero-rated fuel tax when charging (electricity only attracts 5% VAT for private use); the Ultra Low Emission Discount Scheme (ULED) effectively exempts EVs from paying the London Congestion Charge; and car tax is discounted for alternatively fuelled models too.

VED is lower than comparable petrol or diesel models, with the First Year Rate for PHEVs either zero or £15 (depending on CO2 emissions), thanks to the £10 Alternative Fuel Discount. This also reduces the annual Standard Rate for PHEVs to £140 from £150.

For drivers in and around London, another major running cost benefit is available as part of the Congestion Charge scheme and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). All electric cars (currently defined as vehicles that emit up to 75 g/km CO2, have a minimum electric range of 20 miles, and meet at least Euro 6 emissions standards) are eligible for the Cleaner Vehicle Discount, although vehicles need to be registered and pay an annual £10 fee.

While the ULEZ and the London Congestion Charge Zone cover the same area, their operation times differ. The ULEZ is always in operation (midnight to midnight) and incurs a cost of £12.50. The London Congestion Charge, however, operates from 7am – 10pm every day (with the exception of 25th December) and has a payable daily charge of £15. The maximum charge payable would therefore be £27.50. Taking advantage of the Cleaner Vehicle Discount could therefore provide a potential annual saving of over £10,000.

Popular as company cars, low BIK rates mean drivers can save hundreds or even thousands a year compared to a conventionally fuelled vehicle. BIK rates for FY 2021/22 start as low as 1%. Compare this with a conventional 100 g/km CO2 model, which has a BIK rate of 24% for petrol and RDE2-compliant diesels, or 28% for most diesel vehicles.

Charging your PHEV

As previously mentioned, in most cases, plug-in hybrid vehicles are most suitable for people who have reliable access to charging facilities at home or at work.

When travelling further afield, PHEV owners will either need to rely on the growing public charging network, or just run on petrol or diesel once the vehicle's electric range is exhausted.

Since few PHEVs can accept DC rapid charging rates, the models are typicaly limited to around 3.6 kW for older models, or 7.2 kW for newer vehicles. This will still allow for a good top-up when parked in a supermarket car park for example, or when staying a couple of hours at shopping centre.

For further information on all the network operators across the UK, including area of operation, costs and access arrangements visit the Zap-Map public charging guide.

Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:1st Apr 2020

Latest plug-in hybrid news