EV vs. HEV vs. PHEV: What Are the Types of Electric Vehicles?

Electric vehicle, or EV, is an umbrella term for multiple types of battery-powered vehicles. It can be a polarizing or politicized term, so some people feel they need to decide if they’re EV enthusiasts or anti-EV skeptics. In reality, the issue is more nuanced than that. There are three types of EVs. Some run exclusively on battery power, while others combine battery and gas power. 

The three main kinds of electric vehicles are:

  • Fully battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs, or BEVs)

  • Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs)

  • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)

Each has pros and cons in terms of fuel efficiency, cost, and driving experience. Here are the key differences between an EV, HEV, and PHEV so you can choose the right one for your needs.

What Is an Electric Vehicle?

EVs, confusingly also known as BEVs (battery electric vehicles), have no internal combustion engine to convert gasoline into propulsion power. Instead, they run solely on electricity from one or more large batteries.

EVs started as a little-known driving option for the environmentally conscious, but in the first half of 2022 they hit a tipping point in terms of mass adoption(Opens in a new window), according to Bloomberg; fully battery-powered EVs now account for 5% of new car sales in the US. While still a small fraction, this is the level of adoption where many new technologies—such as mobile phones, televisions, and the internet—start to accelerate their transition from the fringes to the mainstream.

EV charging port

(Credit: SouthWorks / Getty Images)

Fueling up an EV means plugging a charging nozzle into a port hidden by a flap on the outside of the vehicle, very similar to a traditional gas cap. Electricity can then flow into the battery. There are a variety of public and private charging options, and most manufacturers include a home charger with purchase. It fits into a standard home outlet on one end and goes into the car on the other, so you can power up overnight or whenever the car is in the garage. 

Home charging makes EVs an excellent option for driving around town or commuting, especially with workplace charging on the rise as an employee perk. Most people do the majority of their EV driving without ever going to a public charging station.

Tesla charging at home

Tesla charging at home
(Credit: Tesla)

In terms of longer trips, a full charge yields 200 to 400 miles(Opens in a new window), or several hours of driving. Longer than a few hours of driving means multiple charging stops, adding anywhere from 30 minutes to multiple hours each time, depending on the charging level of the stations you find.

An increasing number of highway rest stops have fast chargers, which will allow you to top off in 30 minutes to an hour, but they are still limited. Car manufacturers and the government are working together to expand the national fast charging network, through efforts such as gas station partnerships and the federal infrastructure bill. But until charging stations are as ubiquitous as gas stations, it’s critical to plan where you will charge along your route.

Tesla Model Y zooming on road

Tesla’s Model Y was the highest-selling electric vehicle in the first half of 2022, with 35% of the EV market share, according to Kelly Blue Book.
(Credit: Tesla)

What Is a Hybrid Electric Vehicle?

Hybrids were the first major market entrant when it comes to EVs, particularly with the Prius’ global debut (Opens in a new window)in the early 2000s. These vehicles combine an internal combustion engine with an electric-powered motor, switching between the two to improve fuel economy. 

2022 Toyota Prius Hybrid

2022 Toyota Prius
(Credit: Toyota)

For example, when a hybrid car is stopped, it is likely silently running on the electricity of the battery rather than idling with gas. When it starts up, the internal combustion engine kicks back in.

Hybrids typically claim as high as two times the miles per gallon of a gas-powered vehicle, ranging from 40 to 60mpg. The average fuel economy of a gas-powered vehicle was 25.4mpg in 2021, according to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency(Opens in a new window)

Toyota Rav4 Hybrid 2021 driving

Toyota’s Rav 4 Hybrid and Rav 4 Prime (PHEV) made up 20% of the combined HEV and PHEV market in the first half of 2022, according to Kelly Blue Book.
(Credit: Toyota)

Instead of charging through an external port like EVs or PHEVs, HEVs replenish their batteries autonomously through energy from the gas engine. They also use “regenerative breaking,” as do EVs and PHEVs. Whenever you brake, the vehicle captures energy normally lost and stores it for later use.

Without the hassle of finding charging stations and spending the extra time powering up, hybrids have a no-brainer quality to them—as long as you can afford the extra cost, that is. They are typically a few thousand dollars more than gas-powered cars but less than plug-in EVs.

For example, the 2022 gas-powered Toyota Rav 4 starts at $26,975. The hybrid version is $29,575, and the plug-in electric hybrid version is $40,300. But whenever gas prices spike, it’s easy to see how the cost evens out over time.

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What Is a Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle?

Essentially a combination of an EV and an HEV, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is built to run on both gas and battery power. The key difference is that the power comes from plug-in chargers, making them more like an EV. When the battery power runs out, PHEVs switch to gas like a hybrid, though some—like the 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe PHEV—allow you to drive with the gas engine first while preserving battery power, which you can switch to later.

Jeep 4xe charging

The Jeep Wrangler 4xe was a top-selling PHEV in the first half of 2022, according to Kelly Blue Book.
(Credit: Jeep)

Due to their bigger battery, PHEVs can go much longer than hybrids on pure electricity, giving you excellent fuel economy. On the Rav 4 example, the gas-powered version has a 27mpg (city driving), the hybrid version comes in at 41mpg, and the PHEV truly impresses with 94MPGe.

Like a hybrid, many PHEVs do a small amount of recharging while driving, mostly through regenerative braking. However, they are engineered to charge through the plug-in port. Only then will you achieve the ability to drive purely on electricity for a certain number of miles, which is a distinct advantage over hybrids, whose small battery exists primarily to complement the gas engine or perform ancillary functions such as running the air conditioning.

You can charge your PHEV at home and at public charging stations, giving you a taste of the EV life with the security of a gas tank to bring peace of mind on longer trips.

For more, see EVs 101: How Do Electric Cars Work? as well as the top EVs we’ve tested.

Which EV Would You Choose?

Tell us which type of EV you’d be most likely to buy—or which one you’ve already bought.

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