Skip to main content

The U.S. Needs More Strong PHEVs And We Need Them Yesterday

What is a “strong PHEV”? Put most simply, it is a plug-in hybrid vehicle that can use electricity to solely power the vast majority of the distance it drives on a daily basis. Are there other criteria that might define a strong PHEV? Of course, and I’ll cover some of those below. How many strong PHEVs are on the market (of the 40 or so available for the current model year)? Not as many as there should be, even if we count the used ones, but I’ll cover this more below too.


Perhaps it is also valuable to define what a strong PHEV is not (I’ll call those “weak PHEVs” for ease of reference). As I explained in a previous article, weak PHEVs can be defined as those with electric ranges less than the average daily driving distance of a large auto market or region (like the U.S.), or whose all electric mode is too easily overridden. Weak as an adjective may describe the majority of PHEVs currently on sale or that have ever been on sale in the U.S. if we go only by electric range. I will do exactly that for the sake of brevity and simplicity, but will call out other features that might make a PHEV more, or less, strong regardless of range. Otherwise, only a handful can, as the Strong PHEV coalition thoroughly describes on its website, cover a minimum 40 miles of all electric range among other qualities like delivering resilience to the electric grid or provide realistic solutions for towing.

Since there are not many new, strong PHEVs available in the U.S. I am going to broaden the scope of this piece to include all that have been sold in the U.S. since model year 2019, too. Here is the list, starting with new models currently on sale (only the 3 that top the list, sadly) and including older PHEVS from model years 2019 - 2022:

  • Toyota Rav4 Prime - 42 miles of electric range in a compact SUV form factor; it may have some weak PHEV characteristics though, depending on how hard you mash the accelerator down, as the gas engine may fire up to provide additional thrust but is otherwise one of strongest PHEVs currently on the market.
  • Volvo S60 and V60 T8 AWD Recharge - 41 miles of electric range and comes in sporty sedan (S60) or athletic wagon (V60) variants.
  • Range Rover/Range Rover Sport Electric Hybrid - 51 miles of electric only range and gobs of power, but may be more difficult than others to keep in all electric mode.
  • Karma GS-6 - 61 miles of EV only range in an over $80K sports sedan that appears to be stuck on the 2022 model year, so it may be on its last legs.
  • Honda Clarity PHEV - 47 miles of electric range in sedan form, but ended production in 2021.
  • Chevy Volt - 53 miles of electric range in the 2016 - 2019 models of this iconic PHEV.
  • Polestar 1 - 52 miles of electric range, Polestar’s first car, but only made for 2021 and extremely rare.
  • BMW i3 Rex - 126 miles of electric range on the final 2021 model (and less on older ones), but it's not a PHEV, it’s a REx (Range Extended vehicle)!
  • That is the whole list of strong PHEVs no older than 2019 that I could come up with, at least for U.S. consumers. I would argue that most of these may not truly be strong PHEVs since most will too easily turn on their gas engines if you apply too much pressure on the go pedal. But I would not have much of a list if I didn’t loosen the criteria a little. In fact, if we loosen it a little more to include PHEVs that are capable of getting 40 miles of range even if they aren’t rated for it, the list would be more than twice as long. It would include Kia’s Sorento PHEV, Sportage PHEV, and Niro PHEV, as well as Hyundai’s Santa Fe PHEV and Tucson PHEV, Ford’s Escape PHEV, Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV, Volvo’s other Recharge line models, and at least a few others as well (including perhaps Mazda’s forthcoming SUV PHEVs). These all have electric ranges in the low to upper 30’s and if driven gently enough or under the right conditions can surpass 40 miles of electric range as I have often done in my Sorento PHEV. So we might call these “strong-ish PHEVs”, but in my opinion that is being generous. We need PHEVs to help move us quickly toward our emissions reduction goals. They bridge the gaps that exist in our charging networks and charging times for EVs as well as give people a means of getting comfortable with (re)charging as a new habit and make better use of a still too scarce resource (batteries). But if we aren’t selling mostly strong PHEVs, we run the risk of both diluting the impact these plug-in hybrids can make in terms of emissions reductions and of turning people off the whole notion of going electric in the first place. Automakers also need to take into account people’s driving and shopping behaviors in the design of their PHEVs, making it easier for people to minimize their use of gasoline by adhering to the principles of strong PHEVs and by supporting the growth of car charging networks (especially 7 kW and higher level 2, 240V charging which would support more usable electric range delivered to PHEVs during one or more hour stops for shopping, dining, and the like).

    What do you think? Would you prefer that automakers focus on strong PHEVs? Have I missed any U.S. market strong PHEVs? Please leave your comments or questions below.

    Image courtesy of Justin Hart.

    Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 15 years, including a first generation Nissan LEAF, second generation Chevy Volt, Tesla Model 3, an electric bicycle and most recently a Kia Sorento PHEV. He is also an avid SUP rider, poet, photographer and wine lover. He enjoys taking long EV and PHEV road trips to beautiful and serene places with the people he loves. Follow Justin on Twitter for daily KIA EV news coverage.


    Vijay (not verified)    January 8, 2023 - 8:05AM

    Having owned several BEV's and now on the hybrid Maverick (unfortunately ford doesn't have a PHEV otherwise thats my ideal vehicle) here are my thoughts
    1) BEV for people who drive > 50 miles/day
    2) PHEV for people who drive daily but < 50 miles/day
    3) Hybrids for people who drive just once a week or less.
    This is the best use of resources aka better for the environment.

    Justin Hart    January 13, 2023 - 1:58AM

    Couldn’t agree more. :) There are lots of different use cases for drivers out there. If someone drives only a few hundred miles per month (and there are plenty of people in that scenario), Why on earth would they need a vehicle with a battery made to go 300 miles on a charge? That would be quite wasteful. If only people made decisions based solely on their real needs… if only people could easily trade/swap in a longer range battery or better fuel source when they might need it (instead of buying for the exception rather than the rule). I bought a 3 row plug-in hybrid SUV because about a dozen or two times a year I need something that large. Is that worth buying the thing? Maybe, maybe not (I do drive it about 7-8k miles a year). If I could have either a 3 row EV SUV, PHEV SUV, or HEV SUV delivered to my door whenever I wanted it for a reasonable price, just for the days I might need it… I would probably never have bought one. But the cost of renting such vehicles 2 or 3 times per month typically, is greater than a car payment for such. Sure, I could rent an ICE version of such a vehicle for a reasonable price ($50 a day or so) and that would be cheaper… but not likely for a plug-in vehicle. We need better car sharing services/options.

    Frank (not verified)    February 13, 2023 - 11:17PM

    Isn’t there a long range (strong) version of he Prius? I though that for at least a period there was one that would run all electric for around 30-40 miles?

    Justin Hart    February 18, 2023 - 4:16AM

    In reply to by Frank (not verified)

    There hasn’t been so far, but the forthcoming version, based on the newly redesigned body, may actually achieve that range or better. The first generation of plug-in Prius only got around 11 miles of range (on a good day!). The outgoing Prius Prime model got about 25 miles per charge. The new Prius Prime going on sale this year (if it hasn’t;t already) should get around 38 miles of range. Cheers!