July 22, 2021

Driver’s guide to the best EVs and PHEVs

Get the pros and cons of PHEVs and EVs and find out which cars rank highest on our list.
Group of five white vehicles

What’s a plug-in hybrid? (PHEV)

Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) were made for drivers who want to drive primarily on battery power alone and have regular access to a charging station, but still want the option of a gasoline engine from time to time. They have large enough battery packs to drive at highway speeds on battery power, and they have gasoline engines that assist the electric motor or take over for it when the batteries are drained.


PHEVs began increasing in popularity in 2020. But they have been around since 2011, when Chevy began mass-producing the first PHEV Volt. It had a 35-mile all-electric range, ran only on premium unleaded fuel and had a $41,000 list price. Today’s plug in hybrids have longer ranges, don’t require premium gasoline and are available for much less. So what are the top rated plug-in hybrid cars and EVs? Our experts are here to help. If you are thinking about purchasing a plug-in hybrid car or EV, this blog post is for you.  


How do PHEVs differ from traditional hybrids and EVs?

Battery size and power

Think of the PHEV as a bridge between traditional hybrid cars (like the original Toyota Prius) and electric vehicles (like the Nissan Leaf). They have much larger batteries than a traditional hybrid car, but much smaller batteries compared to an electric vehicle. To a certain extent, PHEV batteries can charge from the gas engines or by regenerative braking (storing excess energy created as the car decelerates) just like traditional hybrids. But if you want to fully power a PHEV from its battery, you’ll have to plug into a charging station just like you would with an EV. If you do not regularly plug in a PHEV, it will have about the same fuel economy as a similarly sized traditional hybrid.


EV tax rebates

Plug in hybrids also differ from traditional hybrids and EVs in the subsidies and exemptions you can access. The federal government requires a vehicle’s battery pack be at least 16 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to receive the full $7,500 tax credit. Some PHEVs, like the Prius Prime, Honda Clarity and Chrysler Pacifica meet this requirement. Others only receive a portion of that $7,500. You can see how much tax credit every PHEV qualifies for here.


HOV access

Getting a PHEV can also give you access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes even when you’re driving alone, which not all hybrids can. For instance, in California, only EVs and PHEVs can get decals allowing them to drive in carpool lanes regardless of how many people are in the car.


Why a good charger matters when driving a PHEV

Having the right EV charging station is critical to getting the most out of a PHEV. If you don’t have consistent access to a workplace or public charger, most electric vehicle charging is going to happen at home overnight. And if you have a PHEV like the 2021 Honda Clarity, which can drive 47 miles at highway speeds on batteries alone, an entry-level charger is going to get frustrating.


These Level 1 chargers, which use a standard 120V household outlet, add only four to five miles of range per hour. If your commute fully drained your batteries, it would take 10 to 12 hours to recharge. Which may be fine if you’re home from work by 5:30pm every day, and out the door at 8:30 the next morning. But if you ever need the car in the evening, or get stuck late at work, charging becomes a headache. Level 2 chargers like the JuiceBox 40 eliminate the need to plan your life around charging your car: they charge up to nine times faster than Level 1 chargers. By using 240V outlets, they push more power into your car’s batteries faster.


The JuiceBox EV charger uses smart charging technology to identify the time period within your charging window when energy is cheapest. It will draw the most power then, helping you pay less on energy costs. And a mobile app keeps you in control of how much charge to give your car, and when.


What separate the best plug in hybrid cars and EVs from the rest

Now, there are a lot of electric vehicles on the market, with many new models sporting an accessible price tag. With so many cars on the market, how will you choose the right one? To bring you the three “best” plug in hybrid cars and EVs available now, we considered range and maintenance as well as list price to assess which cars were most affordable. Then we factored in experience—driving the car, riding in it, and keeping it well-maintained.


The 3 best plug-in hybrids cars on the market today

1. Toyota Prius Prime

Toyota has added a plug-in option to their iconic Prius, making it the best-selling PHEV since 2018. It’s the Toyota Prius Prime drivers have come to know and love, with more flexibility than ever. The Prius Prime’s shell has been specifically designed to reduce drag at every corner, helping improve overall range and giving it a much sleeker look than previous models.

  • List price: At $28,220, the Prius Prime is on the more affordable side for PHEVs, but not the cheapest. The fully-loaded limited edition can cost as much as $36,000. And that’s before the $7,500 federal tax credit and any other state and local rebates.
  • Range: It has a 25 mile all-electric range at speeds up to 84 mph, and gets 54 combined MPG in hybrid mode, a solid range for its cost bracket.
  • Maintenance: Like any PHEV, the Prius Prime costs less to maintain than a traditional gas vehicle. Edmunds estimates its five-year maintenance and repair costs to be a bit on the high side for hybrids.
  • Experience: The Prius Prime gets routine blowback for how unconventional it looks and how conventionally it drives. To be sure, if you’re looking for quick acceleration or luxury interiors, this is not your car. But that always seems a bit unfair. Toyota made the Prius to revolutionize fuel efficiency and run for hundreds of thousands of miles. And over the past two decades they’ve refined those elements masterfully. If you’re looking to save money, drive in comfort, and rarely pay for gas, the Prius Prime delivers.


2. Honda Clarity

The new 2021 Honda Clarity PHEV brings the style, reliability and comfort of Honda’s best-selling sedans while delivering an industry-leading all-electric range. The Honda Clarity offers enough battery power to get the average commuter to and from work without ever having to use gas.

  • List price: The Clarity’s $33,400 starting price tag isn’t out of reach for many buyers, especially with the $7,500+ in tax credits and rebates available. But it is on the high-end for its class of PHEVs.
  • Range: Honda has far outdone Toyota’s all-electric range with the Clarity, and the price-tag shows it. The Clarity goes 47 miles on batteries alone. But outside that, it gets just 42 MPG in hybrid mode. To get the best out of the Clarity, it needs to be fully charged nightly.
  • Maintenance: CarEdge calculates the Clarity’s five-year expected maintenance to be about 23% higher than the Prius Prime’s, which is already a bit high for the industry average. Still, expect to run into less maintenance than with a gas-powered car, especially brake maintenance.
  • Experience: The Clarity boasts a well-equipped cabin and offers an incredibly smooth ride, as long as there’s juice in the batteries. When it’s running on gas alone, the Clarity is notoriously noisy.


3. Chrysler Pacifica

The most popular hybrid minivan, the Chrysler Pacifica takes a classic Chrysler family car and makes it even more economical. What was previously a trade-off of comfort for fuel economy gets erased by the Chrysler Pacifica’s impressive all-electric range.

  • List price: The $39,995 base price is about $8,000 higher than Honda’s new Odyssey, a price difference which is erased by the federal tax credit available when you buy. And given the gas savings, especially for a vehicle class known for low MPG, the Pacifica is less costly than most of its peers.
  • Range: With comfortable seating for seven, its 32- mile electric driving range is an incredible achievement. When the batteries are drained and it's operating like a traditional hybrid, it averages just 30 MPG, making an efficient and reliable smart charger vital.
  • Maintenance: Edmunds estimates the five-year maintenance and repair bill for the Pacifica to be 16% lower than the Prius Prime’s, outstanding for a car of its size and the least expensive of our top three.
  • Experience: The cabin is surprisingly beautiful, with 10-inch display monitors in the front and behind both driver and passenger seats, heated leather seats and a panoramic sunroof. It has a 20-speaker Harmon/Kardon sound system and a “fam cam” feature that allows the driver to see what’s happening in the second and third rows of the van. All told the Pacifica is an incredibly spacious and comfortable way to move the family around town.


The 3 best EVs on the market today

1. Tesla Model 3

The Tesla Model 3 is a contentious choice for Top 3 electric vehicles. On one hand, Tesla is without a doubt the most beloved electric car manufacturer in the world. And it shows: the most affordable Tesla made to-date is on back-order across the country. On the other hand, Teslas, including the Model 3, have struggled far more with reliability issues than other EVs. Still, the Model 3’s driving experience alone sets it apart from its peers.

  • List price: The entry-level Model 3 has a 263- mile range, but their Long Range edition (which costs $48,990) has a chart-topping 353 mile range.
  • Range: It has a 25 mile all-electric range at speeds up to 84 mph, and gets 54 combined MPG in hybrid mode, a solid range for its cost bracket.
  • Maintenance: There are a plethora of Model 3 maintenance cost speculations out there, all of which fall below $2,000 for the first five years, less than half the maintenance costs of our top PHEV picks.
  • Experience: The Model 3 tops out at 160mph, and goes 0-60 in 3.1 seconds. It has a slew of incredible features, from driverless assist to “summon” (the vehicle exiting its parking spot and navigating through a parking lot to where you’re standing) to hospital-grade air filtration. Tesla is always pushing new features directly to the vehicle through software. While its known to have paint and noise issues, this car is an absolute dream to drive.


2. Chevrolet Bolt EV

Chevy’s first mass-market EV has sold well since it debuted in 2017. It’s smaller and slower than the Tesla, but offers a similar range and reliable ride. Despite the relative lack of hype around it, the Chevy Bolt is an excellent car and a game-changer for anyone moving from a gas-powered car to all electric.

  • List price: The Bolt starts at $36,500, which isn’t far off from the Tesla Model 3. But unlike the Model 3, that entry level price gets you about everything the Bolt has to offer. Maxing out on rebates, the Bolt can cost well-under $30,000.
  • Range: At 259 miles, its range is almost identical to the Model 3’s. More importantly, it uses electricity more efficiently than the Model 3, so every kWh you pump into it will get you farther.
  • Maintenance: InsideEVs calculates the Bolt’s maintenance costs to be astonishingly low, nearly 10x lower than the Model 3’s. While their figures are speculative, suffice it to say that the Bolt requires extremely little to maintain.
  • Experience: The Bolt is a compact commuter car that optimizes for smoothness and efficiency. With heated leather seats, a surprising amount of legroom, and high-res camera system surrounding the car, it’s a comfortable, low-key ride for short or long trips.


3. Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf offers the least expensive entry-point for EVs. With a shorter range and slower acceleration than most of its peers (0-60MPH in 8.3 seconds), it’s a relaxed drive with solid driver assistance features.

  • List price: The newest Leaf starts at around $31,670, but because the Leaf has been in production since 2011, there’s a host of used Nissan Leaf models available for as little as $10,000.
  • Range: At 149 miles, the Nissan Leaf’s range doesn’t stack up to the Bolt and Model 3The range can be boosted to 226 miles, but that will set you back an extra $6,500.
  • Maintenance: Edmunds clocks the Leaf’s five-year maintenance costs as negligibly higher than the Chevy Bolt’s. The bottom line with any EV is that maintenance costs are going to be extremely low relative to gas-powered cars and even hybrids.
  • Experience: The Leaf’s semi-autonomous driving technology is impressive and comes standard. While nothing like the driverless technology soon to come, the car can hold its own well on highways and relatively straight roads, giving you a nice chance to relax, especially on longer drives.

Ready to find the right charger for your new EV or plug-in hybrid?

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