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HomeEV & BatteryConsumer Reports Says That Plug-In Hybrids Might Be Good, Actually

Consumer Reports Says That Plug-In Hybrids Might Be Good, Actually

Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) sometimes have a bad reputation amongst electric vehicle advocates and traditional internal combustion car buyers. For the EV buyer, these cars have overcomplicated the electric experience, adding an oft unused heavy and polluting gas engine that theoretically hurts efficiency. For ICE drivers, it’s not always clear why anyone should pay more money for a car that has such a limited electric range and a perceived marginal effect on fuel economy. But now, Consumer Reports insists otherwise.

The stalwart product testing publication tested 13 PHEV models to understand the costs and performance of each model. And CR’s findings stress how important hybrids are becoming to the broader car landscape even as it marches toward full electric power: this year’s 10 Top Picks list is an extremely hybrid and PHEV-heavy group.

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PHEVs are becoming more popular

Despite unfounded concerns about a shrinking EV market, consumers are still interested in electrified transportation. PHEVs and hybrid models are growing in popularity, leading some manufacturers to scramble to get new PHEV models to market. 

As of fairly recently, PHEVs are a fast-growing market; according to CR’s analysis of market sales and trends, automakers sold 60% more PHEVs in 2023 than in 2022 last year. Our own sales data analysis at InsideEVs bears that out as well.

Thus, CR needed to adapt, reconfiguring how it tests PHEV models. For starters, testing experts told us, fuel economy scores are now calculated when the vehicle’s EV range is depleted. The EV range itself is added in as added as a bonus.

Also, the outlet added a new scoring criterion: PHEV Usability. This category will rate other experiences like how easy or difficult the car is to use in EV mode, as well as rating the charging experience or associated charging apps included with the vehicle. It’s a direct port from how the CR tests EVs. 

From the new testing and analysis of the numbers and economics, Consumer Reports found that PHEVs are generally a positive step forward for electrified driving. To its editors and testers, these PHEV models were more comfortable, quicker, and better to drive than their standard ICE or even non-PHEV hybrid counterparts. There’s a reason why the Toyota Prius Prime, Toyota RAV4 Prime, and BMW X5 PHEV are new entrants to CR’s Top Picks list. 

A vehicle’s driving dynamics are only one aspect of the experience, though. According to Jake Fisher, the Senior Director of Auto Testing, some PHEVs might come out ahead of EV or hybrid choices when it comes to running costs.

“We’ve noticed that PHEVs essentially allow you to pick whichever fuel source is cheapest,” said Fisher, explaining that a PHEV owner can choose to fill up or plug in, whereas a hybrid or EV owner can only do one or the other. This adds nuance to the electrified transportation debate because for some, an EV might not make all that much sense until charging becomes far more widespread.

In areas where gas is cheap, but electricity is expensive, a PHEV or EV may lose to a regular hybrid car. In areas where electricity is cheap, the more a PHEV is driven on electricity, the more money a driver could save. Likewise, some PHEVs are eligible for tax credits and local incentives that hybrids aren’t, further defraying the elevated costs.

This knowledge doesn’t exactly settle the PHEV vs. EV vs. hybrid debate. The benefits of a PHEV are only reaped when the car is plugged in, and there are plenty of studies that show PHEV drivers haven’t been all that diligent in the past about charging their vehicles. But Fisher believes that the larger range of modern PHEVs means that consumers will likely be more inclined to use them as they’re designed.

For older PHEV models, like the original Prius Prime (which could only do 11 miles on EV power), some consumers didn’t really see the point of charging the vehicle at all. A longer range means that consumers will likely feel the economic benefits of charging. 

These are great insights from Consumer Reports, but they’re not as useful if automakers don’t have PHEV models for buyers to choose from. Consumer Reports says the sales of PHEVs are up, but some manufacturers, like Hyundai, have reduced the amount of PHEV models on offer. We know General Motors is making a play to do more PHEV trucks as its full EV transition requires a bit of a do-over. 

Whether or not automakers themselves will embrace the PHEV boom remains to be seen. 

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