For those looking to optimize the environmental sustainability of their new SUV purchase without giving up on gas altogether, plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) seem to offer the perfect compromise. These cars combine a standard gas tank with a battery, meaning that you can run on electricity for short trips without worrying about finding a charging station.
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In other words, PHEVs make it possible to take advantage of the efficiency of an electric motor without sacrificing your ability to fill up the fuel tank for longer drives. Best of all, these cars often have a lighter impact on the environment than standard choices and many are eligible for the federal electric vehicle tax credit.
Why consider a plug-in hybrid SUV?
Why would you purchase a plug-in hybrid SUV over a standard hybrid? After all, both vehicles include gasoline engines paired with electric motors. You’ll also have more selection when shopping for a hybrid, and they tend to offer excellent fuel economy and lots of interior space.
The primary reason to consider a PHEV is that it gives you the flexibility to charge your car at home so you can take short trips without using any fuel whatsoever. Running the car’s engine will charge the battery, and regenerative braking (lifting off the accelerator or pushing the brakes) also sends energy into the battery.
City dwellers can take advantage of public electric chargers at work or on day trips, which might make it possible to drive without ever needing a gas refill. Most owners will also plug their car in once they are home for the day, thus ensuring it’s fully charged by the morning.
With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, it is also likely that a select few PHEVs will qualify for the EV tax credit.
Today, a range of plug-in hybrid SUVs are available from popular brands, including Subaru, Kia, Toyota, and more. Comparing their stats to find which one will get you further can be confusing, so we broke down the decision process here.
How we ranked plug-in hybrid SUVs
When it comes to choosing your PHEV, the numbers you need to pay attention to are the following:
- Electric Vehicle (EV) Range: the average distance your vehicle can travel without gas on a full charge.
- Miles Per Gallon (MPG): your average gas efficiency, usually accounting for both city and highway driving.
- Miles Per Gallon of Gasoline Equivalent (MPGe): your car’s estimated efficiency when driving on both electric and gas power, calculated to show what the MPG would be if you were running on gas alone. (Learn more about MPGe here).
The most efficient cars will rank high in each category, meaning that they can travel far on just electricity while also efficiently burning gasoline when the battery gets depleted.
Now, let’s look at how some of the most popular plug-in hybrid SUVs compare to each other from an efficiency standpoint.
|Model||Electric Vehicle Range||Miles Per Gallon||Miles Per Gallon Equivalency|
|2023 Toyota Rav4 Prime||42 mi||38 mpg||94 MPGe|
|2023 Kia Niro Hybrid||33 mi||48 mpg||108 MPGe|
|2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV||38 mi||25 mpg||64 MPGe|
|2023 Ford Escape SE PHEV||37 mi||41 mpg||105 MPGe|
|2023 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid||17 mi||35 mpg||90 MPGe|
|2023 Mini Cooper Countryman SE AII4||12 mi||29 mpg||65 MPGe|
2023 Toyota Rav4 Prime (Overall Winner)
Highlights: The Rav4 Prime travels an industry-topping 42 miles on electricity alone, and it compares favorably to the rest of the Rav4 line.
Stats: 42 mi EV range, 38 mpg, 94 MPGe
Price: Starts at $42,340
*We believe the RAV4 Prime is no longer eligible for the federal tax credit because it is built in Japan.
As a notable member of the popular RAV line, the RAV4 Prime is Toyota’s first foray into the plug-in hybrid SUV market. At 42 miles a charge, it offers the highest EV range of any plug-in SUV and also includes one of the most powerful electric motors—beating the much-praised 2023 Toyota Prius by two electric miles per charge. Combine that with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine for a total output of up to 302 horsepower. This means the Prime can travel at speeds up to 84 miles per hour on electric power alone.
Not only does this car deliver as a PHEV, but it’s also arguably the best RAV on the market, with bolder styling and quieter running than the standard version. Many people will appreciate that the 18.1 kWh lithium-ion battery is mounted under the floor—meaning there’s no loss of interior space for passengers.
This PHEV is well suited for long trips, as it contains a 14.5-gallon gas tank. This means you can travel up to 600 miles between stops. However, charging will take slightly longer than for its competitors. Plan on 12 hours for a 120-volt plug, or 4.5 hours with 240-volts.
For those who want a plug-in electric vehicle with near-identical functionality to a traditional SUV, the Rav4 Prime should top your list. Though the Niro and Escape offer slightly better fuel efficiency, the Prime wins points for its fast response time and roomy interior.
The 2023 RAV4 Prime differs little from previous models, although it now includes the Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 suite and a new multimedia system.
2023 Kia Niro Hybrid
Highlights: A low price and exceptional fuel efficiency put the Kia Niro in a league of its own as a PHEV, though it suffers from slow pickup speeds.
Stats: 33 mi EV Range, 48 MPG, 108 MPGe
Price: Starts at $33,840
*The 2023 Kia Niro likely does not qualify for the federal tax credit because it is manufactured outside North America.
Kia has long been considered an economical car brand, and at under $30k, the Kia Niro is no exception. This compact crossover SUV first entered the market in 2018 and runs with a four-cylinder engine paired with an electric motor. Together, they provide 139 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque.
This budget-friendly car has the highest fuel efficiency on our list, boasting an impressive 108 MPGe while still delivering a respectable 33 miles of electric-only traveling per charge. Plan to charge the 11.1 kWh battery with a 120-volt household outlet (nine hours to full charge) or a 240-volt charge source (three hours to charge). You can rely on the 11.9-gallon gas tank for backup on longer trips, which provides an estimated 510 miles of driving time between fuel-ups.
Though classified as an SUV, the Niro doesn’t offer all-wheel drive. You’ll also get less cargo space than traditional SUVs, and it’s slow to pick up speed unless the gas engine is engaged. Even so, its low center of gravity ensures you get great handling for a responsive driving experience.
The car’s interior has been updated for 2023, with sloping door panels and two 10.3-inch digital displays. You also get an impressive amount of rear cargo space with an adjustable load floor that provides a flat surface when you fold the back seats.
Nonetheless, this vehicle is both the most affordable and most fuel-efficient PHEV on our list, which makes it a winner for your wallet and the environment. Just don’t expect it to perform many tricky maneuvers on the highway.
2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Highlights: The Outlander wins our “most improved” award for 2023 by adding 14 miles to the electric-only range. Its high cost alone puts it behind the Kia in our rankings.
Stats: 38 mi EV range, 25 mpg, 64 MPGe
Price: Starts at $39,845
Mitsubishi’s PHEV is visually indiscernible from its standard Outlander, though there are some significant differences under the hood.
The 2023 model comes with a standard 2.4L 4-cylinder engine and twin motor Super All-Wheel Control technology to ensure you have stellar traction in all weather conditions. The two 60 kW electric motors offer a combined 249 horsepower and 137 lb-ft of torque. It’s powered on a 20-kWh battery in the cabin floor that lets the car travel 38 miles on electricity alone—14 miles further than prior years’ models.
The 11.3-gallon fuel tank expands your travel distance to 420 miles between stops. This averages out to a middling fuel economy of 64 MPGe. The battery will charge in 13 hours at 120-volts, and 3.5 hours with 240-volts.
You’ll get up to 420 miles in total range, with the ability to recharge up to 80% in 38 minutes using a DC fast charger.
In many ways, there’s not a compelling reason to spend more for this PHEV compared to the standard Outlander. While you get more cargo space than the regular Outlander, this comes at the cost of an entire row of seats (the car will fit five people total). Both vehicles also have the same 1,500-lb towing capacity.
While the 2023 model looks nearly identical to the cars that came before it, the car boasts larger 20-inch wheels this time, giving it an extra inch of clearance.
2023 Ford Escape SE PHEV
Highlights: Ford offers all-around value with the Escape SE PHEV, making it an efficient plug-in car that still lets you travel far when you need to rely on gas.
Stats: 37 EV Range, 41 mpg, 105 MPGe
Price: Starts at $38,50
*The 2023 Ford Escape PHEV remains eligible for a federal tax credit because its final assembly takes place in America.
Ford offers a highly efficient plug-in hybrid vehicle with the 2023 Ford Escape. It includes a 2.5-liter iVCT Atkinson-Cycle 1-4 engine that generates 210 horsepower and 209 lb-ft of torque. But where it really stands out is with the electric driving range, which averages 37 miles a charge. This SUV also includes an 11.1-gallon gas tank that lets it travel around 500 miles between fuel stops.
When you plan to charge the 14.4 kWh battery, expect it to take ten hours with a 110-volt charger, and 3.5 hours with a 240-volt charger.
The SUV comes with a power liftgate that makes it possible to access cargo with the touch of a button—no straining required. Also new on the 2023 model is a refreshed exterior with updated hood and headlamps, as well as 13.2-inch infotainment touchscreen within.
For those with a relatively short daily commute, the Escape is a hard PHEV to beat. However, it offers some limited functionality compared to traditional SUVs. For example, it will only tow 1,500 pounds (2,000 less than the standard Escape), and it only comes with front-wheel drive.
2023 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
Highlights: While the Crosstrek Hybrid offers all-wheel drive, its mediocre electric-only travel distance makes it fall in our rankings.
Stats: 17 mi EV rating, 35 mpg, 90 MPGe
Price: Starts at $36,845
*The 2023 Subaru likely qualifies for a federal tax credit because final assembly takes place in North America.
Subaru’s popular Crosstrek finds a new market with its plug-in option that barely looks different from the standard gas models. This SUV differentiates itself from the PHEV competition with high-grade features and options for all-wheel drive. However, it suffers from a speed and fuel efficiency standpoint. You also won’t need to worry about refueling often, as it has an estimated maximum range of 480 miles.
The Crosstrek Hybrid comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine and an 8.8 kWh battery for a total system output of 148 horsepower and 134-lb-ft of torque. That’s less than half of the power of the Rav4 Prime, putting it more on pace with the Kia Niro. Compared to the 2020 model, the 2023 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid includes a 2.5-liter direct-injection BOXER engine that delivers more torque and boosts the output to 182 horsepower.
This vehicle is also middle of the road regarding its electrical efficiency. You’ll go fewer than 20 miles on all-electric power, and its 13.2-gallon gas tank gives it a maximum drive range of just 500 miles. However, a smaller battery does lead to quicker charging times, as it takes only five hours to get a full charge on a 120-volt outlet, and two hours on a 240-volt.
One reason you might not see many Subaru hybrids on the road—this vehicle is only sold in California, Oregon, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Maine.
You’ll also sacrifice some cargo capacity with this car compared to the standard Crosstrek, and it comes with a maximum towing capacity of just 1,000 lbs. Even so, this car’s branding as an adventure vehicle and its all-wheel-drive functionality make it a worthy contender for those who make short daily trips but also want the flexibility to venture into rugged terrain.
Note: this vehicle will be discontinued after 2023.
2023 Mini Cooper Countryman SE ALL4
Highlights: Though a greener update on this quirky vehicle, the Mini Cooper Countryman underperforms compared to the other PHEVs in its class.
Stats: 12 mi EV range, 29 mpg, 73 MPGe
Price: Starts at $36,900
*The Mini Cooper Countryman SE ALL4 likely will not qualify for federal tax credits because it is assembled outside North America.
A battery-operated Mini Cooper may come off as a surprise, but the Countryman SE ALL4 can hold its own—so long as you’re okay with poor electric performance. This car offers only 17 miles of all-electric range, which means you’ll be relying on gas more than you might have anticipated. Combined with the gas engine, you’ll travel just approximately 270 miles between fill-ups. This car is also slow to accelerate, going from 0-60 MPH in 6.7 seconds.
On the positive side, the Countryman PHEV includes both a 7.7 kWh battery and a 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine for an impressive combined 221 horsepower and 284 lb-ft of torque. Unlike many other plug-in SUVs, this Cooper includes all-wheel drive functionality for a relatively responsive ride.
You also won’t spend long waiting for the battery to charge, as a standard 120-volt outlet will fill it up within five hours (and under three for 240-volts). This battery can also re-charge up to 90% while you’re driving if you put it in the ‘Save Battery’ mode.
And, despite the car’s relatively high starting price, you’re not getting much in the way of a powerful engine or even cargo space, especially compared to its competitors.
Mini Cooper lovers who don’t mind spending more to have a car that’s more green than standard models should consider the Countryman SE ALL4. But everyone else? You’ll likely do better shopping around for a more efficient plug-in SUV.
The final word: is a PHEV an eco-friendly choice?
When car shopping, it’s easy to assume that electric cars are always more environmentally friendly than their gas-guzzling counterparts. The truth is far more nuanced.
To start, a 2011 German study from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Heidelberg, found that electric and standard vehicles have a similar carbon footprint. That’s due in part to the complexity of construction for an electric car, the large portion of rare earth minerals contained within their batteries (and their recycling difficulties), and the varying efficiency in how people are charging them.
One of the best ways to improve the environmental impact of your PHEV is to invest in an eco-friendly charger. Check out our rankings of the best electric vehicle chargers, so you can maximize energy efficiency for your car.
Finally, consider distancing yourself from the grid altogether by investing in solar panels paired with a lithium-ion battery for storing electricity. This lets you power your car from energy harvested from the sun, which makes a massive impact on how much you pollute on every road trip.
Great article, Lydia. I bought a used BMW X5 e40i, which is a plug in hybrid SUV, and have been really disappointed with the pure electric range. BMW markets their plugins as having 17 pure electric miles, but mine can get 8 if I am lucky. The lack of electric range makes it very difficult to run around town using only the battery, which was the reason I bought the car in the first place.
We just purchased a Kia NIRO and have traveled approximately 200 miles between hwy and town… we have used about 2 gallons of gas! Coming from an older Expedition, I’m enjoying my time away from the gas pump!!!! It’s peppy when you out in sport mode, making a hill easy peasy ! Plug it in at night and we make the round trip to town 10 free, we have solar! I love this car
I Have 2018 Mitsubishi PHEV and I love it I get 25 miles on a charge I have 12000 miles on it. I took it on a 1500 mile trip to TX From MN 70 miles per hr on Interstate It performed well. Around town i can go on electric only but the gas will get old so have to run it on gas once every 3 mo. to turn it over. I love the EV range.