Plug-in hybrids electrify the air at this year’s auto shows

2016 Chevrolet Volt
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt, as seen by customers and attendees at the Washington Auto Show

With Chevrolet Volt leading the way—and inspired by consumers who like having a choice—major manufacturers ready plug-in hybrids for 2015.

Everyone likes fewer trips to the gas station. It’s a luxury. Because, you know, standing in the freezing cold, getting snowed on while you dirty your hands and spill gas on your boots—not fun. Or, sweating and getting sunburned while you pump fumey gas into your tank: not fun, either.

Charging your car in your garage, and driving most of your miles each week on that charge, but having a gas engine to rely on for longer drives? Yes, please.

Increasingly, more car makers are following Chevrolet’s lead with a gas/electric plug-in system that lets you avoid the gas station for most of your miles: These cars have an electric battery and motor that take you a short distance on battery (typically 20-50 miles) and a gas engine for longer distance driving. Plug in at home or at a public charging station, like those at public parks, Whole Foods or the mall, and keep your battery charged.

The delightful truth about plug-in hybrids

2016 Chevrolet Volt

The 2016 Chevrolet Volt ups both the sportiness and the electric range

There’s a myth about chargers, and that is that you need special equipment to charge the car.

Nope. Not true. Most can be plugged into a standard wall outlet, just as you would a lamp or TV. However, it might be worthwhile to invest in a faster charger, which requires an equipment purchase and installation by an electrician (typically, it’s the same type of outlet you’d plug your dryer into).

Drivers of plug-in hybrids rarely have to get gas, and even at $2 a gallon, powering a car with electricity is cheaper. Add to that incentives that can take up to $7,5000 off the price of the car (in the form of tax credits, depending on your state and circumstances) and these cars can be even more wallet-friendly.

The plug-in inspiration

Chevrolet introduced the first plug-in hybrid when the car maker rolled out the Volt in 2010. The four-seat sports sedan-like car made waves, inspiring other automakers to follow suit: Ford adapted its Fusion sedan with a plug in option (called the Energi), and Toyota’s Prius and Honda’s Accord were adapted too.

This year even more plug in hybrids were showcased at the big auto shows, including Detroit, Washington DC and Los Angeles (most of the models discussed here will be on the market in late 2015 or in 2016).

Chevrolet introduced its next generation Volt. There are many important upgrades, most of them due to feedback from current Volt owners. Among them, an enhanced battery that will go 50 miles on a charge (versus 35-40 miles on earlier models); creature comforts including ‘smart’ heated seats, including the back seats, that adjust to the setting to limit the draw on the battery; a heated steering wheel, which also will help keep more power in the battery (rather than heading the cabin), seating for five (older Volts seat 4) and an engine that uses regular gas rather than premium.

The car was also designed to be sleeker and more aerodynamic, and the interior to be even more luxurious, with a streamlined look and a wireless battery charging pad stashed in a cubby underneath the center dashboard where you can also store other things like keys or change. Pricing has not yet been announced but current Volt pricing starts at $35,000.

Three rows and no stopping for gas: the sweet spot

Plug-In Hybrid

The 2016 Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrid

OK—here’s the holy grail of plug-ins: 3-row passenger seating. Swedish car maker Volvo is introducing just that in its three row, seven passenger XC90 crossover, which is expected to travel 25 miles on a charge. That means that if your daily commute in the car is to school, the grocery store and back, you can make the loop for weeks without gassing up. XC90 plug-in hybrid pricing hasn’t been announced but the current model prices start at about $50,000.

Luxury consumers are early adopters; and so, a luxury surge of plug-in hybrid models

Knowing that luxury consumers can be the first to buy into new technology, the Volt’s engine was quickly adapted by Cadillac, which rolled out the ELR two-door coupe last year to much celebration and a flurry of awards. But other luxury players will soon have plug-ins on the market, too.


Plug-In Hybrid

The 2016 Mercedes Benz S550 brings a luxury experience to the luxury of electric driving

The 2015 C350 plug-in hybrid combines the luxury of the classic sedan and up to 20 miles on a charge. The car offers a variety of drive modes so you can choose between electric only, gas/electric or charge mode, during which the gas engine charges the car’s battery. Pricing has not yet been announced but it’s expected to run about $50,000.

Plug-In Hybrid

The S550 plug-in hybrid’s interior doesn’t skimp on details

Mercedes-Benz also showcased the ultra luxury S550 in a plug-in hybrid. It also gets about 20 miles on a charge and envelops its passengers with exquisite details including Chanel-inspired upholstery. The current model price starts at $94,000, so the plug in hybrid will likely be slightly higher. Rumor has it that Mercedes is also working on a plug-in hybrid for its M-class SUVs.

Volkswagen: VW, Porsche and Audi

Plug-In Hybrid

The 2016 Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid shows off what is under the hood at the Detroit Auto Show

The German automaker’s corporate dedication to plug-in hybrid technology is seen through its three brands: VW, Porsche and Audi. VW introduced the plug-in hybrid Passat in late 2014; it is expected to get 31 miles to a charge before the gas engine kicks in, and Porsche recently introduced a plug-in Cayenne, the German automaker’s SUV. The second plug-in in its lineup, adding to the Panamera plug-in hybrid that was introduced two years ago, Porsche hasn’t yet said how far the Cayenne will go on its electric charge, but the Panamera goes about 15 miles on the electric battery. Audi, which introduced the A3 e-tron last year, is readying the 2016 model for sale. A luxury hatchback, the e-tron is expected to get 31 miles to a charge and pamper its passengers with all the luxuries for which Audi is known.


Plug-In Hybrid

The 2016 Hyundai Sonata plug-in hybrid offers a great value in both luxury and technology

The fully-redesigned Hyundai Sonata, known for providing plenty of luxury at a value price, will introduce its plug-in hybrid technology in late 2015 as it rolls out its 2016 models. The Sonata hybrid base model pricing starts at $26,000, and the plug-in hybrid model is expected to travel 22 miles on a charge.


Plug-In Hybrid

BMWi3, a fully electric car

The German automaker gets honorable mention here: The popular i3 may technically qualify as a plug-in hybrid but it’s really the reverse of the typical plug-in hybrid: this plug-in electric car, which travels 72 miles on a charge, has a small gas engine ‘range extender’ that holds 2 gallons and will drive an additional 75 miles, making sure you never get stuck without power. Priced at about $52,000.

Isn’t it nice to have a choice in how and when you power your car, and, if you want, to be able to skip the gas station?

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss