Hybrid vs. Plug

Considering a little electrification in your life? An increasing number gas-electric hybrids are also being offered as plug-in versions that give you electric-only range before turning over to normal gas-electric propulsion. Which sounds great, but they often command significantly more money than the standard versions, and have some other compromises. Here are some things to consider before ponying up the money for a plug-in.

Can you use the range?

Most plug-in hybrids have a range of less than 25 miles before the gas engine has to fire up to keep you going. If your daily commute is typically in that range, a plug-in could be very worthwhile since you'll only occasionally have to call up the gas engine and therefore use very little fuel. But if you're constantly going much more than the EV range, it's less worthwhile.

Can you charge it up?

Are you going to get a Level 2 charger in your home, or wait half a day for your car to charge at 110 volts? Or are there public chargers near you that you could use? These are all things to consider with a plug-in that you don't with a conventional hybrid.

Can you live with the practicality sacrifices?

Some versions are better than others in this regard, but a plug-in typically requires a bigger battery than a normal hybrid -- and that has to go somewhere. It's usually in the trunk where you get reduced capacity, or a raised floor or lose a folding rear seat.

Is it worth the price?

Plug-ins sometimes have more equipment than the most basic hybrids, meaning in addition to paying more for the technology, you also have to pay for some features you may or may not want. But plug-ins typically qualify for more government incentives than hybrids, so that might offset the cost depending where you live.

Do you care about the image?

These days, hybrids are nothing too special. But plugging your car in does make the neighbors ooh and ahh a little more when they see you've bought an electric vehicle.

Ultimately, it breaks down to how much you're going to use your plug-in as an EV -- where the real energy and cost savings are. If you can't really take advantage of it, or value practicality over anything else, a standard hybrid is a better way to go.

Decide on which hybrid car is for you using the CarsDirect buying guide »