Plug-in Hybrid Reforms a Lead Foot

Kate Helm, Zondits guest, 10/3/2023

Not quite ready to take the plunge into electric vehicle (EV) ownership? Neither was I, truthfully, and I have worked my entire career in the environmental consulting and energy efficiency spaces. Whether it’s range anxiety or the unknowns of installing a charger at your home (owned or rented), there are many of us who are excited and curious about them, ethically or morally driven to be less impactful on our environment, and want to own an EV at some point…but may not be ready just yet.

So recently when the time came for me to update my vehicle, I began considering an EV. It raised many questions: Can I afford a Tesla? They’re nice, but what other options are out there? Do I qualify for a rebate if I buy a used EV? How much would it cost to install a charger at my house? (I recall reading somewhere that it may cost a couple thousand dollars! Ouch!) While I own my house, I plan to move in a year and would need to install another charger at my new house. Do I want to pay for two charger installations? I really love my midsize sport utility, but they haven’t made an EV for my model yet. What other EV sport utility options are out there? The list goes on.

Then one day while researching vehicles, I became aware of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) version of my current car. Until then, I had no idea they made one! With excitement, I began researching this model, reading all the consumer reviews I could find. Ultimately, I purchased a 2021 PHEV sport utility, and I am beyond thrilled with it. Not only did it check all the boxes for me, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of the unintended benefits of ownership.

Before diving into that, I’d like to explain why I chose the PHEV over an EV. First, it was the convenience of charging. There is no need to plan out stops for charging while away from home. It conveniently charges overnight at my home which eliminates the range anxiety factor. When away, if I’m near a public charging station I can always plug in for a Level 2 quick charge with the adapter, but it’s optional which gives peace of mind. (Conveniently, the charging cable includes adapters for both Level 1 and Level 2 chargers.)

Second, there is no need to install a Level 2 charging station at my home. The Level 1 charger uses standard 120V electrical outlets in your home or garage. It takes longer to fully charge, 7-8 hours compared to Level 2 chargers which take 2-3 hours, but this doesn’t bother me. I work remotely and drive less than the annual average, so I find it convenient to charge overnight at home.

The third reason is versatility. I get the all-electric experience by driving in “pure” EV mode for short distances. And it is quite the experience…smooth, quiet, and zero-emission. It feels fantastic, I must say. And while it’s a somewhat limited range compared to longer-range EVs, it’s sufficient for daily, around-town errands. Once the battery is drained, the engine automatically switches into “hybrid” mode. The best feature is “hybrid battery” or “B” mode, my preferred driving mode, which harnesses energy to recharge the battery while coasting, especially downhill.

Finally, I love the environmental benefits of driving a PHEV: 1) its emissions are less than 50% of the gasoline model; 2) it significantly decreases my usage and reliance on fossil fuels, again by more than 50%; and 3) 57 combined MPGe fuel efficiency (as advertised). I can personally attest to that, as I’m approaching 56.8 MPGe and climbing!

I’ve been a happy PHEV driver for almost three months now. What is the most surprising insight for me? Quite frankly, it has changed the way I drive. I have always had a “lead foot” in the past, but now thanks to the beautiful driver performance dashboard with real-time analytics, I can see the impact of my lead foot and change my behavior in real time. The needle on the gauge jumps from battery mode to gasoline mode to power that extra acceleration. The visualization of my driving habits has made me ask myself, “Do I really need to accelerate so quickly up this hill?” Most often now, I power up the hill slow and steady to keep it in battery mode. It’s nice to know I have 300+ horsepower if I need it, but I rarely use it. I’m now in competition with myself to improve my average MPG-e, use less gasoline, and lessen my environmental impact. Perhaps my next vehicle will be an EV, but for now, I’m beyond thrilled with the versatility and performance of my PHEV!