What is a PHEV or Hybrid?

Russell Campbell

Written by

Russell Campbell

PHEV badge on Outlander PHEV

Hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are becoming more and more popular, helped by the drop in demand for diesels. We're seeing hybrid and PHEV sales growing steadily and their popularity will only to increase in years to come.  

But is it time for you to join the revolution? What exactly are hybrids and PHEVs? How can you charge them and how can they save you money? Keep reading for the answers to those questions and more.

Toyota Prius Front Side View

What is a hybrid?

A hybrid is a car that uses an internal combustion engine (ICE) backed up by a battery-powered electric motor – cars like the standard Toyota Prius. 

Most of the time, the Prius’ electric motor runs in parallel with the ICE – giving a slight performance boost when accelerating to help save fuel. However, at town speeds the Prius can run for short distances on electric power alone. 

Unlike in a PHEV, you can’t plug a hybrid in to recharge its battery, instead, the battery is recharged using the ICE and via the car’s regenerative brakes. 

hybrid badge

Should I buy a hybrid?

Hybrids make a lot of sense if you often drive in town. 

In stop-start city traffic, a hybrid can deliver strong fuel economy and low emissions because it spends lots of time running on electric power, plus its regenerative brakes have plenty of opportunities to recharge the battery.

Hybrids make less sense if you do most of your driving on free-flowing A and B roads, and motorways. At these faster speeds, hybrids deplete their batteries quickly so they're less efficient. 

Diesel is still king for this kind of driving, although a hybrid will get better fuel economy than most petrols. 

Peugeot 3008 PHEV

What is a PHEV and what makes it different to a hybrid?

The most obvious difference between a hybrid and a PHEV – like the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid – is that a PHEV can be plugged in to quickly recharge its battery. 

For this reason, PHEVs tend to have larger batteries than conventional hybrids allowing them to run for longer periods on battery power alone – usually around 30 miles but the figure is growing steadily with every new model that’s released. 

You tend to get two types of PHEV – parallel PHEVs or range-extender PHEVS.

The former works in the same way as a regular hybrid. Its ICE engine turns the wheels most of the time but the electric motor can take over at lower speeds or blend in power to take some of the strain off the engine. 

Range-extender PHEVs – cars like the BMW i3 – are quite different. They are essentially electric cars which have a small ICE that can be used as a generator in emergencies to top up the battery. There is no mechanical link between the wheels and the engine. 

As such, they tend to be able to run on battery power alone for longer periods than a PHEV and should be even cheaper to run. 

BMW i3 Exterior

Should I buy a PHEV?

PHEVs are an excellent choice if you have a short commute and somewhere to charge the car – their 30-mile battery range means you should be able to get to and from work on battery power alone, slashing your running costs. 

That said, PHEVs aren’t great at faster speeds on the motorway because they soon run down their batteries. When that happens, a PHEV essentially becomes a normal car that’s lugging around a heavy battery.

You’ll be better off with a diesel in this situation, but even a conventional petrol could be more economical than a PHEV on long cruises. 

Honda Power Charger

How can I charge my PHEV?

You can charge your PHEV three ways – using a three-pin plug, a home-installed wall charger or using a public charger. 

The three-pin plug might be the easiest system – your garage will likely already have a three-pin plug installed – but it will also be the slowest way to recharge your battery. You can expect it to take around seven hours to charge a PHEV battery from flat.  

A quicker home wall charger makes a lot more sense. The Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) will pay 75% (up to £350) towards the cost of having one fitted – they usually cost around £1000. They can charge your PHEV’s battery in five hours or less at a rate of up to 7kW an hour. 

Drivers hit with £130m in unpaid Congestion Charge fines in London

Are hybrids and PHEVs free to drive in London?

Vehicles that meet Euro 6 standards, emit no more than 75g/km of CO2 and have a minimum 20-mile zero-emission range qualify for the 100% CVD (Cleaner Vehicle Discount) – they're free from paying the ULEZ (Ultra Low Emissions Zone) and London Congestion Charge.

From 25 October 2021, only battery-electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be exempt from the congestion charge. From 25 December 2025, the CVD will be discontinued altogether.

How much does it cost to charge a PHEV?

The cost of electricity is usually quoted in terms of kilowatt hours, or kWh. At home, your electricity bill will tell you how much you usually pay for each kWh, but it's usually around 12-13p. A Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has a 13.8kWh battery so, to charge it fully at home, you're likely to pay between £1.66 and £1.79. With an electric range of around 30 miles, that means you'll pay about 6p per mile when travelling under electric power.

Using public chargers, you'll pay different amounts to charge depending on the network. Ecotricity, which offers 300 electric charge points at motorway service stations across the UK, charges 30p per kWh. That means you'll pay £4.14 to fully charge an Outlander PHEV.  BP Chargemaster, which provides access to more than 6500 charge points, offers membership for £7.85 a month. It claims that 70% of its chargers are free to use, while others cost from 10.8p per kWh.

Whether it is better for you to get a hybrid or an electric car depends on the type of driving you’ll do. Electric cars make lots of sense if you only ever do town driving, but their limited range means they're not so good for longer drives. PHEVs, meanwhile, are cheap to drive in town but have the range of a regular car thanks to their internal combustion engine.

The difference between a PHEV and a hybrid is that a PHEV can be charged using a plug rather than recharging using its internal combustion engine. PHEVs have larger batteries than normal hybrids, allowing them to travel further on electric power and making them cheaper to run if you do lots of short town journeys. 

Whether a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid is best for you depends on the driving you do and your circumstances. A hybrid makes sense if you’re looking for an economical city car, their ability to blend petrol/diesel and electric power makes them good on fuel in town where a normal car is at its least efficient. 

If you have somewhere to charge a PHEV, their ability to run for short distances on electricity alone could save you a fortune if you have a short commute, although they’re usually more expensive to buy than a normal hybrid. 

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Quality PHEVs and Hybrids for sale

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Lexus NX

300h 2.5 5dr CVT [Premium Pack]

  • 2019
  • 12,241 miles

Manufacturer Approved

  • Steven Eagell Lexus Wolverhampton
  • West Midlands, WV22QE
PCP: £360.00/mo

Representative example: Contract Length: 36 months, 35 Monthly Payments: £360.00, Customer Deposit: £4,376.00, Total Deposit: £4,376.25, Optional Final Payment: £15,077.50, Total Charge For Credit: £2,878.75, Total Amount Payable: £32,053.75, Representative APR: 4.9%, Interest Rate (Fixed): 3.87%, Excess Mileage Charge: 12ppm, Mileage Per Annum: 10,000

Toyota Corolla

1.8 VVT-i Hybrid Excel 5dr CVT

  • 2020
  • 1,287 miles

Manufacturer Approved

  • Listers Toyota Boston
  • Lincolnshire, PE216PA
PCP: £394.46/mo

Representative example: Contract Length: 36 months, 35 Monthly Payments: £394.46, Customer Deposit: £4,047.00, Total Deposit: £4,047.75, Optional Final Payment: £12,737.00, Total Charge For Credit: £3,605.85, Total Amount Payable: £30,590.85, Representative APR: 6.9%, Interest Rate (Fixed): 6.67%, Excess Mileage Charge: 4ppm, Mileage Per Annum: 10,000

Lexus NX

300h 2.5 5dr CVT [Premium Pack]

  • 2019
  • 12,507 miles

Manufacturer Approved

  • Steven Eagell Lexus Birmingham
  • Birmingham, B249HF
PCP: £345.49/mo

Representative example: Contract Length: 36 months, 35 Monthly Payments: £345.49, Customer Deposit: £4,289.00, Total Deposit: £4,289.25, Optional Final Payment: £15,054.38, Total Charge For Credit: £2,840.78, Total Amount Payable: £31,435.78, Representative APR: 4.9%, Interest Rate (Fixed): 3.9%, Excess Mileage Charge: 12ppm, Mileage Per Annum: 10,000