Sorry, EVs — I test drove my first PHEV and it’s the perfect blend of electric and gas power (2024)

Sorry, EVs — I test drove my first PHEV and it’s the perfect blend of electric and gas power (1)

After checking out all the electric vehicles coming this year during the New York Auto Show 2024, I was surprised that a totally different kind of vehicle caught my attention the most. It was a Toyota RAV4 Prime of all things, which is technically a PHEV. Short for plug-in hybrid vehicle, PHEVs have piqued my interest since then, mainly because of how they bridge the divide between EV (electric vehicle) and ICE (internal-combustion-engine) vehicles.

I was initially sold on all the benefits of EVs after test driving the Ford F150 Lightning, but the more I researched the pros and cons of EVs, the more I’m realizing that it might not be the right vehicle for some people. Don’t get me wrong: I hate the rising cost of gas heading into summertime. At the same time, though, I often tell car shoppers they need to answer this one question if they’re thinking about buying an EV: Do you intend to frequently drive long distances?

Now that I got to test drive the Lexus TX550H+, it’s proving more to be that PHEVs are the vehicles that most car buyers need to look at most. Here’s what I learned.

Ability to switch from gas to all-electric power

Sorry, EVs — I test drove my first PHEV and it’s the perfect blend of electric and gas power (2)

PHEVs come in all vehicle types and body styles, but the Lexus TV550H+ is a three-row SUV with seating for up to 7 passengers. Even though it may be overkill for what I need in my next vehicle, it’s a perfect example of how PHEVs offer the best of both worlds.

That’s because one press of a button allows me to switch from gas power to all-electric on the Lexus TV550H+. As I’ve made it clear, EVs are challenged most by long distance driving — often requiring longer pit stops to recharge. Since the Lexus TX550H+ is a hybrid vehicle first and foremost, it has much better fuel economy than most gas-powered SUVs with its combined 29 mpg (miles per gallon) fuel economy. In contrast, the base Lexus TX350 has a fuel economy of 23 mpg.

Sorry, EVs — I test drove my first PHEV and it’s the perfect blend of electric and gas power (3)

In its EV mode, where it drives strictly on battery power, the TX550H+ has an estimated EV range rating of 33 miles. This is great if your daily commute amounts to that, which could mean never having to pay for gasoline again. It’s feasible, so I’m most interested in this prospect.

In just the last couple of weeks alone, I’ve seen gas prices rise by 23 cents, from $3.45 to $3.68. We’re not even at the official start of summer yet and gas prices are obnoxious already.

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You’ll save on gas, but wait on charging

Sorry, EVs — I test drove my first PHEV and it’s the perfect blend of electric and gas power (4)

I’m all for anything that can minimize my need to fill up at the pump. EVs have the potential to save drivers more money in the long run because they won’t be exposed to unpredictable gas prices — which for larger vehicles could mean more out of pocket cost for the driver. While PHEVs have limited range, there’s still more savings in hand by charging it at home. In fact, most EV drivers I know do most of their charging at home, rather than at a charging station where they pay more.

Sorry, EVs — I test drove my first PHEV and it’s the perfect blend of electric and gas power (5)

If you’re able to install a Level 2 EV charger, it takes approximately 3 hours to charge the Lexus TX550H+. However, installing one would incur additional cost and a permit would be needed from your city. That’s why Level 1 EV charging exists because it allows PHEVs like the TX550H+ and all EVs to charge through a standard 120V outlet.

Similar to gas prices, the rate your electricity company charges will vary on what time in the day you consume it — which is why most EV drivers charge at night when the rate is much lower. Still, it takes a long time to charge. In fact, the TX550H+ charges in about 10 to 12 hours from 0% capacity. I know this might seem ridiculous, but I think the savings you get from charging it at home versus refilling on gas still justifies it.

Regenerative braking has minimal gains

Sorry, EVs — I test drove my first PHEV and it’s the perfect blend of electric and gas power (6)

Anyone that’s driven a hybrid or EV knows that regenerative braking takes the kinetic energy from braking and then charges the vehicle’s high voltage battery. Before I started driving, I was hoping that the regenerative braking of the Lexus TV550H+ in standard hybrid mode could somehow give back a little bit of charge to the battery — which could then be harnessed in EV (all-electric) mode. However, that turned out not to be the case.

Technically speaking, the regenerative braking in EV and HV modes give the battery a small charge — but nothing that would amount to any meaningful EV-only range. Even if you’re very conscious about your acceleration and braking, regenerative braking would never be enough to charge the battery to a usable level.

I’ve only been able to test drive the Lexus TX550H+ for a few days so far, but there’s still a lot more to explore with the potential of PHEVs. Not only are they cheaper than most all-electric vehicles, but it still gives drivers greater hope to save them money in the long run with fewer fill ups at the gas station.

More from Tom's Guide

  • I just spent my first year with an electric car — here’s the pros and cons
  • Ford F150 Lightning vs Tesla: 5 ways I think Ford's EV wins
  • I used an electric car to drive to my brother’s wedding — and I barely made it
Sorry, EVs — I test drove my first PHEV and it’s the perfect blend of electric and gas power (7)

John Velasco

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25 CommentsComment from the forums

  • LBos19

    So I did the same comparison 4 years ago when looking for my next car:

    Full EV vs PHEV. I looked at both the V60 T8 Recharge and Polestar 2.

    The V60 always pulled at my heart. It’s a gorgeous wagon, just what I love. The T8, I thought, was a glorious power wagon that would be able to sate my strong desire to driver greener.

    The Polestar 2 was not a wagon, but a hatch. A great looking car with more up to date infotainment setup relative to the V60. Still has the Swedish charm too. The full EV was I really wanted.

    So after test driving both, which won my dollars?

    The Polestar 2.

    The V60, while fast, was not as fast as the 2. Sure, I could floor it and stay in EV mode. But do that a couple of times and the battery was empty. Then the raspy gas engine kicks on and I’m driving the past again. When cruising on the highway on road trips, same deal.

    I thought about ownership too. With 20-40 miles range, I’d have to plug the thing in a lot if I want to avoid burning gas. Like, always. So inconvenient! And on road trips? Nope, not stopping to charge and gas. Then I thought about maintenance: still need oil changes, fluid flushes. And all those moving parts. Many many more things to break in a much more complicated package.

    An all electric car is always quiet. Always. Zipping around town. 75 mph on the highway. Silence. Instant torque. Always. Charging once per week (or less) for around town driving. Great! Don’t have to squeeze into my driveway, I can park on street most of time time. Charging on road trips was not really much of a problem, just plan the trip and stop for 30 minutes to use the restroom, eat something. NBD. And no maintenance. Like, none in 3 years of ownership. Oh, I forgot the wiper blades.

    That was then. Range is better on lots of EVs now. Charging infrastructure is getting way better (thanks Tesla and Biden!). And there are more options and prices are down. Gas engines represent the past. Still dirty. Pumping gas is nasty (you like breathing that stuff in?). And fuhgettabout random brands making even more complicated cars. Wait til those break.

    So yeah, appreciate the thoughts. But a PHEV is not a great move. If you’re ok burning gas, just waste your money on a hybrid instead. You know you’re not going to ever plug it in anyway.

    Reply

  • Alexk12

    I agree, that PHEV only is a bandaid for legacy automotive manufacturers to keep up their revenue streams.

    Also, PHEV's are ONLY 20 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO CATCH FIRE than gas cars where electric cars are 10 TIMES less likely to catch fire than gas cars.

    Unless you live in an apartment or haul something big like EVERY DAY, there is NO reason not to be driving electric unless you like to support the oil industry!

    Reply

  • Perihelion

    How is it it is best of both worlds? As an engineer I'm quite surprised by this statement. You have double of complexity in a hybrid compare to ICE or pure EV. You can't drive far on pure EV. Have to plug every day. You still have oil changes and spark plugs replacement which would cost a lot for a Lexus and you have a high voltage battery and a fuel tank that equals fire risk. No thanks.

    Another statement that puzzles me that PHEVs are for people who don't drive far. Well if you don't drive far get a cheap EV with a moderate range. Still better than charging every day. No need to carry a fuel tank and the rest of ICE parts with you.

    Just try an EV9 for a week if you fancy a 7 seater and you'll forget about PHEVs. It would drive far enough and charge fast and don't have to plug every day if you don't drive a lot daily. There are so many EVs these days for a price of PHEVs. Just doesn't make sense to me tbh

    Reply

  • j_123

    Pretty absurd title. PHEVs make sense if you cannot charge at home. Otherwise, the answer is EV. That's really all there is to it.

    Reply

  • conann67

    I don't understand why the PEHV'S are considered such an advancement in automotive engineering? To me the technology is going backwards! With all the power grid strains and whoas, coupled with higher electric bills-my electric is too expensive already.

    I own a 2016 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid that requires on nothing but driving to regenerate the EV battery. I average 40.2 - 50mpg combined! With a 500+ to a tank range. It runs on a 13gal fuel tank with regular unleaded gas.
    *They recently discontinued this model in 2020 and now have the Plug in Hybrid models, which get worse fuel economy (almost half). SMH... I don't have a clue why they discontinued this type of platform vs the hype on plug ins.

    Reply

  • kep55

    I recently replaced my 2014 Lincoln MKZ with a Ford Escape PHEV. Sure, I could easily get 35+ MPG at real expressway speeds, but city driving mileage was, in my opinion, poor. Downhill with a tail wind I might get 25MPG. So far, I have about 700 miles on the Escape and have only used a half tank of petrol. It's averaging 57mpg per the vehicle. Contrary to what the "experts" in the car magazines say, the interior doesn't look any cheaper than any of the Asian boxes they swoon over, and it doesn't squeak and bleak like they do. The biggest downside is the miles to empty gauge. It's about as accurate as a tobacco spitting contest in a tornado. After an overnight charge, the indicator will say I've driven up to 2 miles just driving the 1/2 mile from our house to the main drag with no stop signs in between. Three miles later, it indicates I've driven 6 miles.
    As we normally keep our vehicles for 10+ years, I thought a PHEV was far more practical than an a full BEV. And since most of my trips are under 20 miles round trip, it is ideal.

    Reply

  • EVRider

    By this logic another "perfect blend" would be a car with a horse carrier for all those times we drive into the boonies where there are no gas stations. Just push a button and the horse is lowered down to pull the car.

    The average American drives 30 miles a day. Why add the complexity of dual power trains if you don't need it? Upfront cost of hybrids is less, but long-term cost for maintenance and fuel (especially if you frequently exceed the short battery range) has been shown to be more.

    Reply

  • Alexk12

    conann67 said:

    I don't understand why the PEHV'S are considered such an advancement in automotive engineering? To me the technology is going backwards! With all the power grid strains and whoas, coupled with higher electric bills-my electric is too expensive already.

    I own a 2016 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid that requires on nothing but driving to regenerate the EV battery. I average 40.2 - 50mpg combined! With a 500+ to a tank range. It runs on a 13gal fuel tank with regular unleaded gas.
    *They recently discontinued this model in 2020 and now have the Plug in Hybrid models, which get worse fuel economy (almost half). SMH... I don't have a clue why they discontinued this type of platform vs the hype on plug ins.

    It is because those small batteries last about 8 years and are a fortune to replace.

    Reply

  • EVRider

    Alexk12 said:

    It is because those small batteries last about 8 years and are a fortune to replace.

    Please don't spread misinformation. EV batteries are expected to last 10 to 15 years, the small batteries in PHEVs aren't all that expensive, and at the current rate of EV battery cost decline, a replacement battery will cost much less than today. (https://www.google.com/search?q=ev+battery+lifetime)

    Reply

  • rocwurst

    admin said:

    I test drove the Lexus TX550H+ to see what advantages this luxury hybrid has over standard gas-powered vehicles and all-electric ones. Here's why it's the type of vehicle most people should look for with their next purchase.

    Sorry, EVs — I test drove my first PHEV and it’s the perfect blend of electric and gas power : Read more

    Toyota is desperate to convince people that their anti-EV crusade makes sense, but it doesn’t.

    The average distance driven per day in the USA is 32.7 miles meaning that with only 33 miles of battery-only range (in ideal conditions with no passengers etc), the majority of TX550H owners will end up firing up the old fossil engine every drive even if they charge every night.

    In contrast, a Battery EV with several hundred miles of range only needs to be charged once a week on the weekend using power free from the sun via rooftop panels.

    In addition to needing far more expensive servicing and maintenance to look after dual drive trains, hybrids also catch fire 137x more often than EVs and with their tiny batteries being stressed with full cycles every day, the batteries last only a fraction as long as a large EV battery which typically sees a full cycle only every week..

    Reply

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