The difference between a plug-in hybrid vehicle and a conventional hybrid is quite simple: The first hybrid can be connected to an outside electrical source for charging its battery, and the second hybrid cannot.
Plug-in hybrids — also known as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs — generally have a larger and more powerful battery than their plug-free hybrid counterparts, enabling them to operate entirely on electrical power like a purely electric vehicle that has no gas engine. Like an electric car, plug-in hybrid vehicles can be charged using any household 120-volt outlet for power, but charging time is much faster using a 240-volt charger either at home or the type found at some rest areas, parking garages or places of employment.
Having considerably smaller battery packs than purely electric vehicles is what allows many PHEVs to get by without 240-volt charging; they simply require less power and can charge overnight. But if you want to preheat or precool the cabin before unplugging — a recommended step to preserve your electric range — a 240-volt connection is more effective. Their added complexity and larger batteries make PHEV models more expensive than their regular hybrid counterparts, although federal tax credits can make up at least part of the difference (and state incentives might also be available, depending where you live). What’s more, the fact that plug-in hybrids can be used as purely electric vehicles at least part of the time can add to the appeal for some drivers while minimizing range anxiety with the backup of gasoline engines.
Other than their electric-only range, which typically allows for highway speeds, plug-ins are pretty similar to conventional hybrids to live with and drive. Some models, such as the Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota Prius and Prius Prime, offer the choice of either traditional hybrid or plug-in hybrid powertrains. The Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid also comes as a battery electric and a fuel-cell model. But it seems like most plug-in hybrids are versions of models sold otherwise only as regular gas-powered cars and SUVs, and there are many more to come.
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