Best plug-in hybrid cars
When it comes to reducing the cost of driving, the technology offered by plug-in hybrid (PHEV) cars really is at the cutting edge.
By combining a petrol or diesel engine with a battery-powered electric motor, plug-in hybrids are capable of the kind of low running costs typically associated with pure-electric cars, but with none of the range anxiety.
The way they work is very simple: you plug in your car and charge up the battery, using which you can cover short distances on electric power alone. Depending on the model, you could commute to work, do the school run and pop to shops, spending only pennies in the process.
But should you need to cover a longer distance, the petrol or diesel engine simply kicks in and performs as it would in a normal car, meaning you don’t have to worry about where and when you next need to charge up.
But which model should you choose? There are dozens of PHEVs on sale already, and over the next couple of years we’re going to see countless more introduced by manufacturers.
To get you started, here are 10 of the best plug-in hybrid models on sale right now.
10. BMW 225xe iPerformance
The BMW 225xe iPerformance Active Tourer was the first plug-in hybrid MPV to reach the market, but even now it has very few direct rivals. 25 miles of electric only range is par for the course in the PHEV sector these days, though the drivetrain has pedigree: it’s basically the same as the one found in the i8 supercar, albeit in a detuned state producing 221bhp. The 400-litre boot is adequate and there’s plenty of room inside, however there’s no seven-seat version available for larger families.
9. BMW 530e iPerformance
At over £45,000, the BMW 530e certainly isn’t cheap. However, the running costs are low once you’ve met the purchase price, and the low CO2 emissions figure translates into a very reasonable Benefit-in-Kind rate for company-car tax payers. The 530e’s 2.0-litre petrol engine produces 182bhp, while the electric motor is capable of 94bhp: working together, they’ll deliver a maximum of 248bhp. The battery will give you 29 miles of electric range, and charging takes less than five hours using a household plug.
8. Range Rover Sport P400e
The Range Rover Sport P400e is one of the most desirable plug-in hybrids on sale, thanks to its typical Range Rover approach to luxury and driver comfort. A price tag of well over £70,000 is certainly exclusive, but the battery is good for 31 miles of electric range, which should slash running costs for some drivers. Be careful though: the turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine – capable of 297bhp without the help of the electric motor – is thirsty once the battery has depleted.
7. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the most popular plug-in hybrid in the UK today thanks to a combination of affordability, practicality, low running costs and a low company-car tax rate. The SUV body makes the Outlander PHEV ideal for families, and the latest model houses a 13.8kWh battery capable of around 25 miles on a single charge. It’s by no means exciting to drive, but that'll pale into insignificance if you can ferry your family around for peanuts.
6. Kia Niro PHEV
At 36 miles, the Kia Niro PHEV offers one of the most competitive electric-only ranges of any PHEV currently on sale. In our experience, you’ll get a little bit less than this in the real world, but nonetheless the Niro may wriggle its way into people’s thinking where a less capable plug-in hybrid would not. Officially, the Niro PHEV will return 200mpg (albeit over a short distance) and emissions of just 29g/km of CO2 make it an attractive company-car prospect. It’s spacious and well-equipped, too.
5. Toyota Prius Plug-In
The Toyota Prius Plug-In – now in its second generation – was one of the first cars to recognise the benefits of a hybrid system. Nowadays it’s been caught by rivals and even surpassed by some, but it still offers an attractive, low-cost package. The 1.8-litre engine is supported by an electric motor for a total output of 120bhp, making the Prius Plug-In feel swift around town. It’ll do 39 miles on electric power alone, and with official fuel economy of 235mpg, it’s remarkably cheap to run. Build quality inside is good, although the infotainment system isn’t perfect.
4. Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In
The Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In is the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid’s main rival, and at the moment the Ioniq has the upper hand. It delivers the same electric-only range at 39 miles, but produces marginally less CO2 and is cheaper than Toyota’s offering. And that’s not all: the Ioniq is a five-seater (the Prius only seats four), the boot measures a handy 341 litres (compared to the Prius’s 191), and it’s lighter than the Prius, making it better to drive.
3. Audi Q7 e-tron
The Audi Q7 e-tron carries a hefty price tag, but like the Range Rover Sport P400e, it maxes out on luxury and performance. The 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine and 94kW electric motor combine for 368bhp, which translates into a sprightly 0-62mph figure of 6.2 seconds. The battery – which can be charged in two and a half hours via a wallbox charger – provides 34 miles of electric range and 70mpg is realistic in the long run. Inside, there’s lots of head and legroom, and passengers will enjoy the sublime comfort the Q7 e-tron delivers.
2. MINI Countryman Cooper S E All4 Hybrid
Plug-in hybrid cars aren’t usually very exciting to drive, because the combined weight of a petrol or diesel engine, electric motors and a battery to run them usually dulls performance. Not so with the MINI Countryman Cooper S E All4 Hybrid: 0-62mph takes 6.9 seconds, and when the petrol engine works together with the electric motor, it feels genuinely quick around town. All-wheel-drive means the Countryman feels assured when cornering, too. The ride is a little firm, but it offers 25 miles of electric range and there’s a very handy 405 litres of boot space at your disposal.
1. Volvo XC60 T8 Twin Engine
The Volvo XC60 T8 Twin Engine ticks many boxes, promising all the practicality of many of its SUV rivals with a slightly more upmarket approach. 28 miles of electric range is by no means class-leading, but 385bhp and 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds is right up there with the fastest plug-in hybrids currently on sale. A choice of R-Design and Inscription trim levels provides a high-quality interior finish and plenty of technology as well. Meanwhile, the ride is comfortable, head and legroom are plentiful throughout and the XC60 T8 Twin Engine also undercuts the Audi Q7 e-tron massively on price. A seriously good all-rounder.