As the motoring world continues to move towards electrification because of political and environmental pressures, hybrids of every kind are gaining traction across all sections of the market. With technology moving on at pace, what was once a strange concept is now a must-have for a large proportion of buyers.
It’s not hard to see the appeal. Conventional hybrids do a great job of improving the efficiency of mid-sized, petrol-engined family cars and SUVs, while reducing CO2 emissions and often allowing for a few miles of pure-electric travel if you’re careful with your right foot at town speeds. They also make a lot of sense for lower-mileage or urban-based private buyers, as well as for those at the mercy of company car tax rates.
Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) take the recipe and run with it, generally adding more power, better fuel economy and – most importantly – genuinely useable all-electric range into the mix. These vehicles need to be regularly plugged in to deliver their best but few can argue with the results.
With manufacturers achieving an ever-improving balance between performance and efficiency, PHEVs play a vital role in bridging the gap between the internal-combustion age and the rapidly approaching electrified future.
How to choose the best hybrid car to buy
Choosing a hybrid car of any kind rather than a conventionally powered alternative needn’t be the big step that many might fear.
First of all, it’s sensible to assess your annual mileage, and to consider what you’ll use your car for. If you’re a lower-mileage driver, the running costs of a conventional hybrid could make it a sound alternative to a petrol or diesel car, but if you plan to rack up motorway miles, a regular diesel may make more financial sense.
The choice is easier for company car users, however; the lower CO2 emissions of hybrids mean they qualify for much more palatable Benefit-in-Kind rates than most non-electrified models.
It’s easy to make a case for plug-in hybrids (PHEV), however. These tend to be more expensive than self-charging models but you could well recoup the extra if you regularly travel shorter distances purely on electric power, thanks to their bigger batteries. If your budget allows, a PHEV makes a lot of sense as a zero-emissions, zero-fuel commuter, all the while offering the option for covering longer distances with acceptable fuel economy once the engine has kicked in.
Current industry trends mean that SUV buyers are spoilt for choice, but those after other forms of hybrid transport have a little less to choose from. Our list covers most bases but you won’t find many PHEV city cars or sports cars, for example.
As hybridisation spreads through more car makers’ ranges, it’s likely that choice will expand exponentially. But for now, if you’re buying your next family car and want to take a step towards a lower carbon footprint, or just lower running costs, there’s a lot to get excited about.
Top 10 best hybrid cars 2020
- Mercedes E 300 de
- Toyota Corolla
- Toyota Prius
- Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in
- BMW 330e
- Volvo XC60 T8
- Kia Niro Hybrid
- Audi Q5 TFSI e
- Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid
- Range Rover P400e
1. Mercedes E 300 de
Prices: £47,780–54,675Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl diesel-electric plug-in hybridTrims: SE, AMG Line, AMG Line PremiumEconomy: 176.6-217.3mpgCO2: 39–42g/km0-62mph: 5.9–6.0 seconds
Our choice: Mercedes E 300 de AMG line
If ever there were proof that diesel engines still have a place in the modern car market, the clever E 300 de is it. Mercedes’ diesel-electric hybrid is powered by the 191bhp diesel engine from the E 220 d but with the addition of a 13.5kWh battery that feeds a 121bhp electric motor.
The result is an executive saloon (or estate) with a maximum combined output of 302bhp and 700Nm of torque. As a result, its performance is strong, with the 0-62mph sprint completed in 5.9 seconds and effortless overtaking made easy. Although it’s not the most exciting car to drive, it is hugely comfortable and refined.
Unlike more traditional petrol-electric PHEVs, the E 300 de allows for real long-distance ability too, thanks to its economical diesel engine. All-electric drive is available for around 34 miles, but once the battery’s charge has depleted, there’s still an efficient diesel engine to pick up the slack. The motor’s fuel economy can be bolstered further by a fully charged battery.
If you often switch between short-distance commuting and long-distance motorway runs, few PHEVs will better suit your needs.
2. Toyota Corolla
Prices: £24,140-£29,955Engines: 1.8-litre petrol-electric hybrid, 2.0-litre petrol-electric hybridTrims: Icon, Icon Tech, Design, Excel, GR SportEconomy: 50.5-62.8mpgCO2: 76-89g/km0-62mph: 7.9-11.1 seconds
Our choice: Toyota Corolla 1.8 Petrol Hybrid Automatic Design
Toyota offers 1.8 and 2.0-litre models, both of which automatically shuffle between their two power sources and use the car’s petrol engine to charge the battery. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) takes the place of a traditional automatic gearbox, and this helps to make the most of the drivetrain’s power.
Unlike the Prius, the Corolla is available as a hatch, saloon or Sports Tourer estate, so there’s flexibility in the range to suit most family buyers, as well as business users.
The Corolla hybrid has been designed to do battle in the highly competitive family car market – it has to look good and be fun to drive while ticking all the practicality boxes – and Toyota has done a great job of making sure the car measures up. It’s miles ahead of the old Auris and is a genuine rival for established favourites like the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus.
Those craving a little more punch can pick the top 2.0-litre hybrid model. With 177bhp on tap, 0-62mph takes just 7.9 seconds in the hatch; fuel economy and emissions take a slight hit, but this model still offers a great balance of performance and low running costs.
3. Toyota Prius
Prices: £24,245–£28,970Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl petrol-electric hybridTrims: Active, Business Edition, Business Edition Plus, Excel, AWDEconomy: 58.7–68.4mpgCO2: 78–85g/km0-62mph: 10.6–10.9 seconds
Our choice: Toyota Prius Business Edition
Toyota’s Prius is closely related to the Corolla, having the same Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) underpinnings and powertrain. The Prius helped kick off the hybrid revolution, and stands apart as an even more efficiency-conscious choice for family buyers, company car users and taxi drivers alike.
The Prius still boasts its trademark aerodynamically efficient silhouette – a shape that’s been adopted by rivals for its great combination of interior space and low drag. This might not be the best-looking hybrid on sale but it’s certainly one of the most focused. And while it’s not quite as fun to drive as its Corolla sibling, the Prius counters this with comfort; few cars this side of an executive saloon ride as nicely.
The Prius charges its own battery though a combination of engine power and regenerative braking – essentially the electric motor running backwards to top up the battery when the car slows. You can’t travel solely on electric power for very long (the Prius Plug-in will do that) but the braking system can be ramped up to charge the batteries more quickly.
Fuel economy of 68mpg is achievable, making the Prius one of the most efficient conventional hybrids around. Even opting for the four-wheel-drive version doesn’t dent its eco credentials too much.
4. Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in
Prices: £29,950–£31,950Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl petrol-electric plug-in hybridTrims: Premium, Premium SEEconomy: 256.8mpgCO2: 26g/km0-62mph: 10.6 seconds
Our choice: Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Premium
The Ioniq Plug-in is Hyundai’s answer to the PHEV version of Toyota’s ubiquitous Prius. The Korean car was recently updated with fresh styling, improved infotainment, revised pricing and lower running costs.
The Ioniq is similar to the Prius not just in size and shape, but also in its powertrain. It uses a 104bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine and a 60bhp electric motor, which combine to produce a maximum of 139bhp, while a fully charged battery will give you an all-electric range of around 30 miles.
You’ll need to keep the Ioniq’s battery topped up all the time if you want to get anywhere near the car’s official fuel economy figures, but as ever with PHEVs, you get the opportunity to avoid using fuel altogether on shorter journeys.
Aside from its focus on economy, the Ioniq serves as practical transport. It’s well made, comfortable and relaxing to drive, while the boot is a good size and shape, despite the intrusion of the batteries.
The Ioniq Plug-in stacks up as an ownership proposition too; Hyundai’s five-year unlimited-mileage warranty is among the best in the business, while reasonable insurance, low BiK rates for company car users and, if you live in the capital, exemption from the Congestion Charge are all plus points. Plus it’s cheaper to buy than its Prius Plug-in rival.
5. BMW 330e
Prices: £37,885–£44,191Engine: 2.0-litre petrol-electric plug-in hybridTrims: SE, Sport, M Sport, M Sport Plus EditionEconomy: 176.6–201.8mpgCO2: 37–38g/km0-62mph: 5.9 seconds
Our choice: BMW 330e M Sport
The BMW 3 Series is one of the UK’s most complete cars: a high-quality, well built and practical saloon that’s great to drive, comfortable, packed with top tech and – in 330e guise – doesn’t cost the earth to run, yet boasts great performance.
While its badging may suggest a six-cylinder engine, the 330e has a 2.0-litre petrol engine and an electric motor. Power is 249bhp – boosted temporarily to 288bhp in Sport mode – with 420Nm of torque, all fed through BMW’s superb eight-speed automatic gearbox.
A 12.0kWh battery supplies the motor and gives an all-electric range of around 35 miles; it’s a no-brainer for buyers and business users whose everyday motoring takes them over shorter distances or in an urban area.
The car’s punchy internal combustion engine is ably assisted by the motor for the rest of the time, producing a good compromise between performance and efficiency on longer runs.
6. Volvo XC60 T8
Prices: £55,005–£64,545Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol-electric plug-in hybridTrims: R-Design, R-Design Pro, Inscription, Inscription Pro, Polestar EngineeredEconomy: 94.2–122.8mpgCO2: 47–52g/km0-62mph: 5.4-5.5 seconds
Our choice: Volvo XC60 T8 Twin Engine R-Design
Fitting into the current trend of practical-yet-fast plug-in hybrids, the T8 Twin Engine sits at the top of the XC60 line-up. It pairs a 299bhp 2.0-litre turbo and supercharged petrol engine with an 86bhp electric motor, giving an output of 385bhp and a 0-62mph time of just 5.5 seconds, or even less if you go for the Polestar Engineered version. It’s certainly a fast car, and while it’s not the sportiest, the XC60 handles well and feels planted and comfortable – especially with the optional air suspension.
Volvo claims that the T8 can travel up to 34 miles on electric power alone – more or less par for the course. In our tests, real-world economy was around 58mpg. That’s better than a diesel model and you get the option of all-electric running around town.
The XC60 T8 also has a luxurious interior that, while not quite as well put together as some rivals, is a very relaxing place. Excellent infotainment and a range of (expensive) options help add even more appeal, and in keeping with Volvo’s reputation, it’s practical too. The boot is only slightly smaller than that of conventionally powered models and there’s plenty of room in the back for adults.
7. Kia Niro Hybrid
Prices: £24,590–£29,270Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl petrol-electric hybridTrims: 2, 3, 4Economy: 54.3–58.9mpgCO2: 86-99g/km0-62mph: 11.1 seconds
Our choice: Kia Niro Hybrid 2
Kia’s Niro SUV is available in impressive all-electric and plug-in hybrid versions but the standard, ‘self-charging’ model is still one of the best cars of its kind on sale. It has the same powertrain as its Hyundai Kona relative, and the car was designed from the outset for electrification; it’s cleverly packaged to maximise interior space, both for passengers and in its useful 427-litre boot.
It shines in its role as a family SUV, giving a plush ride and plenty of refinement at higher speeds. Plus the build quality inside and out should stand the tests of time and small children alike. Even entry-level 2 trim gets a great level of equipment, while Kia’s famous seven-year warranty further enhances the value on offer. It’s a shame that you miss out on the new and improved 10.25-inch infotainment system, but the eight-inch unit on 2 spec is still modern, responsive and comes with plenty of tech.
Power is provided by a 1.6-litre petrol engine and an electric motor which together produce a fairly modest 139bhp. The car will be plenty fast enough for most, however, and thanks to the decent dual-clutch automatic gearbox, it’s easy to make the most of what’s there. The Niro may not be the most fun to drive, but what really matters are the fuel economy and emissions; for a car of this type, both are very respectable.
8. Audi Q5 TFSI e
Prices: £49,735–£66,415Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol-electric plug-in hybrid (294bhp, 362bhp)Trims: Sport, S line, Black Edition, Vorsprung, S line Competition, Vorsprung CompetitionEconomy: 117.7–128.4mpgCO2: 49-54g/km0-62mph: 5.3-6.1 seconds
Our choice: Audi Q5 TFSI e S line
Audi arrived late to the mid-sized plug-in hybrid SUV party, but the Q5 TFSI e was worth waiting for. Its combination of qualities is similar to the Volvo XC60 T8’s; and while it’s not huge fun to drive, it handles neatly, boasts plentyof traction and has more than enough power.
Both the 50 and 55 TFSI e variants are powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine and a 141bhp electric motor; the power of the petrol engine is the only difference between the two.
In EV mode the Q5 will travel up to 26 miles and, in Hybrid mode, the TFSI e returns over 40mpg. Plus, like any Q5, it’s practical, comfortable, impeccably built and boasts the security of Audi’s four-wheel drive system. It should make any PHEV SUV buyer’s shortlist.
9. Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid
Prices: From £68,423Engine: 3.0-litre V6 petrol-electric plug-in hybridTrims: N/AEconomy: 72mpgCO2: 90g/km0-62mph: 5.0 seconds
Our choice: Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid
The Cayenne is one of the sportiest cars here, with abilities that belie its near-2.5-tonne weight. It’s not a full-blown sports car, but its grip and traction are impressive, the steering is accurate, and the optional air suspension strikes a great balance between body control and suppleness.
Once you’ve finished having fun, the Cayenne is capable of cruising calmly on electric power alone for up to 22 miles; some rivals do much better in this regard but it’s nice to have the option in such a powerful SUV.
The Cayenne E-Hybrid is a multi-talented car: effortlessly fast, yet capable of decent economy if driven sensibly. It’s a great option for those who are after a large family SUV that doesn’t skimp on entertainment.
10. Range Rover P400e
Prices: £89,300–£170,525Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol-electric plug-in hybridTrims: Vogue, Vogue SE, Autobiography; SWB, LWBEconomy: 75.7–85.1mpgCO2: 72–75g/km0-62mph: 6.8–6.9 seconds
Our choice: Range Rover P400e Vogue SWB
The Range Rover is one of the ultimate expressions of luxury motoring. It’s on offer with a range of more powerful engines but makes a lot of sense as a plug-in hybrid.
Badged P400e, the PHEV Range Rover uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine and an electric motor. Together they produce 399bhp, while 0-62mph takes just 6.8 seconds, despite the Range Rover’s considerable size and weight.
Be restrained with your right foot and the P400e should prove efficient, too. Official economy of up to 85mpg and emissions as low as 72g/km mean – with a fully charged battery – relatively cut-price running costs and very reasonable BiK rates for company car users. The P400e travels up to 25 miles on electric power alone – great for shorter trips.
That also further improves one of the car’s biggest strengths: refinement. The inherent luxury is only enhanced by near-silent electric running. If you want the ultimate in PHEV luxury, this is it.
Do you own a hybrid car? Tell us what you think of it in the comments section below….
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