Now five years after the launch of the extended-range Chevy Volt, there are a dozen plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) for sale in the U.S., and this year another dozen are due.
Considering how automakers have been tepid about introducing the dual-powertrain vehicles, 12 more in one year is tantamount to a floodgate opening, a half dozen more and counting are due in 2017, and this article will highlight PHEVs launching in 2016.
But before we get to that, for those of you new to this, plug-in hybrids have been called a solution for petroleum dependence, greenhouse gas emissions, and they offer limited-distance benefits of all-electric vehicles without range anxiety – to one degree or another.
While there are a few powertrain architectures out there, in common is they run part time in electric mode, and when the battery runs out, an internal combustion engine takes over and the vehicle morphs to a regular gas-burner, usually in a hybrid mode.
Most of them – except the Volt – will also feed engine power on demand with a firm press of the accelerator and maximum performance is with gas-plus-electric power, unlike with a pure EV which is electric or nothing.
Thus, as true of all solutions, PHEVs come with trade-offs. They cost more than regular hybrid variants, though subsidies or tax credits can help offset some of this difference. Efficiency, emission, and performance benefits also are a mixed bag of pros and cons that can work for people ready to embrace these and make it work, but others will look elsewhere.
The single-most critical factor contributing to plug-in hybrids’ touted benefits is all-electric range as determined by battery capacity. The 2016 Volt with its 18.4-kilowatt-hour battery offers the most with 53 EPA-rated miles. The now-discontinued 2015 Toyota Prius PHV with a 4.4-kwh battery offered a mere 11.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has critically called all hybrids “amphibians” – a tad more jaded than “stop-gap measure” or “bridge” technology leading to all-electric cars, and another cynical view could say some powerful PHEVs can be essentially likened to legal cheats.
The biggest motivation for plug-in gas-electric development has been emission and mpg regulations. Splicing in to their product assortment PHEVs that ace emissions tests while the battery is charged helps automakers raise their total fleet average and meet tightening rules.
You’ll note the number of new European PHEV variants this year as EU mandates call for 95 g CO2 per kilometer by 2021. Even before the VW diesel scandal, a shift had been toward “electrification” but consumers should be mindful there is no free lunch. This is especially true of plug-in hybrids boasting upwards of 300, 400, and more horsepower. To serve up that “system power” means a potentially thirsty engine that can burn and emit more than a tame government test cycle indicates.
Drive the car “normally,” and all is fine. Choose to use the advertised power promised with an eat-your-cake-and-have-it-too fast and powerful PHEV, and mpg can plummet to the 20s, even teens. It can be like a Jekyll and Hyde dichotomy.
Also not helping things is some upscale power PHEVs may have within a few miles range of the 11-mile Prius PHV which caught flak for being insufficient.
That said, the idea that PHEVs when driven sedately may be outstandingly clean and fuel-efficient is the key to their appeal – to buyers and regulators.
An average commute of under 40 miles per day means PHEVs stand to reduce or eliminate gas usage, especially if intraday charging is an option to supplement PHEVs of only modest range.
Throw in renewable power, like from a solar array, and the choice really looks good. Much more could be said of these incentivized cars, it is a measured compromise that can meet benefits as advertised, and in any case it’s good to have options.
Following are PHEVs pending this year in alphabetical order. Due dates are estimated by analyst Alan Baum, and some cars may launch first states following California’s zero emission vehicle (ZEV) rules, and not be available nationwide.
Audi A3 e-tron Sportback
The wagon version of the A3 is Audi’s first plug-in hybrid.
It comes with a 150-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine merged with 102 horsepower electric motor, and the motor as well as the 8.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery are liquid cooled.
Combined hybrid system output is 204 horsepower. EPA-rated range is 16 miles, and it gets 35 mpg in hybrid mode.
MSRP starts at $37,900, the car went on sale last month with 327 sold.
BMW’s first plug-in hybrid sedan, the 330e builds on a legacy started by the company’s ActiveHybrid 3 from earlier this decade.
All of the sporting expectations associated with a 3-Series are promised but this one has a 7.6-kwh battery and a BMW-estimated 22 miles range, based on European testing.
Under EPA rules, the range may be in the middle teens but the 3,825 pound plug-in Bimmer will also scoot from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds ad top out at 140 mph.
Price starts at $44,695, and the 330e is estimated to be here by June.
BMW’s 740e xDrive borrows its 2.0-liter turbo powertrain with electric motor and eight-speed transmission from the 2016 BMW X5 xDrive 40.
That’s quite a bit smaller than a thirsty V8 or V12 the 7-Series has also been equipped with, though this four is estimated with 254 horsepower, or a potent 127 horsepower per liter.
Combined with the motor, system output is 321 horsepower, and an optimistic 23 all-electric miles are estimated in Europe.
U.S. cars will come in long wheelbase versions only with al-wheel-drive.
It’s due in dealers by October.
Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Chrysler answered a longstanding request by environmentally minded buyers and by doing what Toyota and Honda were reluctant to do – introduce not just the country’s first hybrid minivan, but the first plug-in hybrid minivan.
This seven-passenger vehicle offers a substantial 30-miles range from its 16-kwh battery, says Chrysler prior to EPA certification, and the name is a departure from Town & Country.
The battery size should also make this Chrysler eligible for the maximum $7,500 federal tax credit.
Selling price however has not been announced for the vehicle expected in August.
The smartly styled inside and out C-class in plug-in hybrid form uses a 1.9-liter turbocharged inline-four that’s slightly smaller than used in the Mercedes gas-only C300 4MATIC sedan.
Its electric motor is integrated with its seven-speed automatic transmission. Combined output is 275-horsepower, enough to generate 0-to-60 mph in 5.9 seconds and top speed is 130, or 80 in all-electric mode.
Range is estimated at 18.6 miles, and the car is due next month.
As part of the redesigned E-class lineup introduced last month in Detroit, the plug-in hybrid variant is quite fetching with style cues trickled down from the S-class.
European EV range estimate is 19 miles, which will be lower for the EPA.
System power from its gas engine plus electric motor 286 horsepower, and 406 pounds-feet of torque.
Acceleration, says Mercedes, sees 0-to-62 mph in 6.2 seconds.
Price is to be announced. The car is not yet on Mercedes’ consumer website, but it is estimated to be here by May.
Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e 4MATIC
Mercedes’ all-wheel-drive C-Class SUV follows the formula of other plug-in hybrids in the growing family line.
A 211-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four plus 107-horsepower motor and 8.7-kwh battery make for 21 miles EV range under European standards, or somewhere in the teens for the EPA.
While 60g/km CO2 is touted, power is not compromised with gas-plus-electric 0-62 time of 5.9 seconds.
It’s estimated to be in dealers this April.
Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e
This potent, good-sized SUV is estimated to fold in an estimated 20 miles EV range (EU) at speeds up to 81 miles per hour in electric mode from its 8.8-kwh battery.
Said battery provides energy for the 107-horsepower motor paired with 329-horsepower twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6.
System power is 436 horsepower, 479 pounds-feet of torque, and 0-60 is estimated in the 7.0-second range.
It is estimated to be available in ZEV states next month.
Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid
If some of the vehicles shown are too rich for you, or have batteries a bit too small for their powerful engines, Kia’s sister to the Hyundai Sonata PHEV promises a more-mainstream value equation.
It shares the same 9.8-kwh battery as the Hyundai, and is to deliver 27-mile EPA-rated electric range.
Similarly powered with a 2.0-liter hybrid powertrain, and midsized, the roomy Kia will slot in well within the class of mainstream-level hybrid and plug-in hybrid sedans.
It’s estimated to be in dealers this August.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
A long-anticipated all-wheel-drive SUV with over 20-some miles range expected in the U.S., the Outlander PHEV has been a top seller in Europe where it’s rated with 32 miles EV range
Power is via a 2.0-liter gas engine plus 107-horsepower motor with battery under the trunk floor.
Though delayed several times, it is supposed to be here by August.
Volkswagen Golf GTE
The “E” stands for electric, of course, and while VW has introduced the all-electric e-Golf stateside, the plug-in hybrid version quite popular in European markets is on its way.
Electric range in Europe is 31 miles, but expect a good bit less in the U.S. under EPA rules.
Its 1.4-liter, 148-horsepower TSI turbocharged gas burner is merged with a 101-horsepower electric motor and 8.8-kwh battery. Total system horsepower routed through a six-speed DSG automatic transmission is rated at 201, and torque is 258 pounds-feet.
Zero-to-60 for the car built on the modular “MQB “ platform is in the seven-second range and top speed is 135 mph.
Estimated arrival date is November.
Volvo S90 PHEV
The S90 gets Volvo’s T8 all-wheel drive plug-in hybrid powertrain featured in the XC90 SUV.
Its 2.0-liter gasoline engine is both turbocharged and supercharged and paired with a rear-mounted 65-kilowatt electric motor to give the car optional all-wheel drive and all-electric range.
The 9.2-kilowatt-hour li-ion battery is centered in the tunnel console and in Europe estimated to give 35 miles range.
It’s estimated to be here in September.