14.2.2018Best plug-in hybrid cars 2018
Plug-in hybrid sales show that the technology is proving increasingly popular as buyers look for the 'best-of-both-worlds' attributes that a PHEV can offer. The low running costs and zero-tailpipe emission motoring associated with pure-electric vehicles combine with a range offered by conventional petrol or diesel models. This means many trips can be undertaken on electric power, but the back-up of an engine is there for those rarer longer journeys.
Driven to their strengths, PHEVs will return a high fuel economy figure, while another financial benefit is they have a low BIK rate for company car drivers. The first year VED costs are some of the lowest available too. PHEVs might have a smaller electric range than EVs - between 20-35 miles depending on the model compared to an EV's 120-250 miles - but the attraction for most drivers is that the battery doesn't need to be recharged to continue their journey. PHEVs work best when charged as much as possible, but unlike EVs, plugging the car in is not essential.
Despite this, a PHEV's electric range is often useful, and the more the owner uses this and recharges the car's battery via a plug rather than with the engine, the greater the financial benefits. For many drivers, a large number of trips can be covered by a PHEV's electric range, including regular journeys like school runs, commuting, and driving to the shops. Typically, these scenarios fall within the scope of a PHEV's electric range, and regular charging means many owners can go for months before they need to top up the fuel tank.
Below Next Green Car has picked the best PHEVs currently available in the UK, with a wide selection of models available.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the UK's best-selling plug-in car, and much of that success comes from both its flexibility and having one of the longest electric ranges on the market. With around 35,000 sold, the Mitsubishi is certainly popular, leading the plug-in car market by some distance.
A refresh for the range saw the Outlander PHEV become far more refined inside and out, while the petrol-electric drivetrain remains one of the most effective on the market. It is able to operate in both parallel and series hybrid modes, and is helped by the ability to select different levels of brake energy recuperation. The Outlander PHEV drives well considering its off-road credentials, is competitively priced, and well equipped. Unusual is it's ability to use rapid charge points thanks to a CHAdeMO inlet. Although not able to charge at rapid speeds, it offers fast charging capabilities to Outlander PHEV drivers - a rarity in the plug-in hybrid market.
VW Golf GTE
Volkswagen's Golf GTE helps make the company's hatchback range one of the most versatile around. Pitched as a 'warm-hatch', the GTE badge links to the likes of the Golf GTD and famous Golf GTI models, and promises a fun driving experience alongside a frugal one.
Refreshed as part of a sweeping Golf update, the Golf GTE now has more kit, sharper styling, and a lower price for improved value, making it a strong competitor in the PHEV market. All the practical elements that make the Golf such a good car remain, and are combined with a petrol-electric drivetrain that offers a good balance between power and efficiency. The Golf GTE will drive round on electric power for between 20-30 miles, but when the driver wishes, they can press the GTE button and turn the Golf into a sporty family hatch. Handling is sharp but supple enough for every day use, while the instant pick-up of the electric motor is equally as useful for nipping out of junctions as it is for rushing along a B-road. The Golf, as one of the most complete cars on the market, is only made better because of its electric powertrain.
It's easy to see why the BMW 330e has quickly become one of the most popular PHEVs on sale in the UK. Featuring all the attributes that consistantly put the 3 Series towards the top of its class, BMW has added an efficient petrol-electric powertrain for a zero-tailpipe emission range of 20-25 miles.
There are PHEVs around with longer electric ranges, but the BMW 330e is able to return good real-world fuel economy figures when charged regularly. Different settings will let the driver keep the car in electric-only mode, hold the battery charge, or let the car decide which combination of powertrains to use. BMW has also added driving modes that allow the driver to vary the car's focus from sports saloon to efficient cruiser. It's real strength is as a company car, where the combination of low tax rates and high fuel economy figures - combined with the attraction of driving a 3 Series - makes for a appealing choice for many business drivers that want an excellent all-round and cheap to run executive saloon.
Mercedes Benz C 350 e
The Mercedes Benz C Class is a refined, comfortable, and excellent executive car in its own right - mixing it with models from BMW, Audi, Jaguar, and Lexus. Fitted with a petrol-electric powertrain though, the Mercedes Benz C 350 e is able to offer very low emissions and high MPG figures.
The electric only range isn't the greatest around at around 20 miles, but there are a number of clever systems to help make the most of it - including a sat-nav that will let the car decide when is the best time to use battery charge for maximum efficiency. A beautiful interior is complemented by a stylish exterior, and although the load space of the saloon is impacted upon by the battery, there is an estate available that suffers far less from this problem. All of these attributes have combined to make it the third best-selling plug-in car in the UK, despite only being on sale a relatively short amount of time.
BMW i3 REX
The BMW i3 REX is possibly the ultimate example of a PHEV since it is a range extended vehicle. This means that a small petrol engine never directly drives the wheels, but acts as an on-board generator for the car's battery. It is the electric motor that powers the car, making the BMW half EV/half PHEV.
Because of this, the i3 REX's economy figures are much closer to those of an EV than those of a petrol car - all the while offering zero-tailpipe emission miles since it can be charged externally too. A mid-life upgrade saw the addition of a larger capacity battery, which only enhances the i3's economy attributes, and drivers can expect the traditional engaging BMW driving experience too. Rapid acceleration and nimble handling make the i3 fun to drive as well as a frugal machine, though there is now a BMW i3s available for those who want a sportier experience still. A little more power - at the expense of a small amount of range - combines with a wider track to make the BMW i3s sharper to drive than ever.
Toyota Prius Plug-In
Toyota's Prius Plug-In is one of the most efficient PHEVs on the market, with an official electric-only range of 39 miles. Even using real-world range figures, the plug-in Toyota will still comfortably cover more than 30 miles on a single charge - all of which helps its fuel economy statistics too.
Driving the Toyota Prius Plug-In economically is very easy, and the ride is comfortable to discourage the sort of spirited driving that will dent efficiency figures. Only available as a four-seater, the Toyota remains a decently practical proposition thanks to a hatchback boot opening. Uniquely, the Prius Plug-In is also available with a solar panel roof, which tops up the battery while parked and not plugged-in. It might sound like a gimmick, but Toyota reckons it's worth around 400 free miles a year for UK drivers.
Kia Niro PHEV
There are two parts of the UK car market that are growing fast - electric cars and crossovers - so the Kia Niro PHEV hits something of a sweet-spot. The practical family crossover makes good use of Kia's plug-in hybrid technology, and makes up one of four different electric vehicles from the brand.
Available only as a hybrid - either the PHEV here or as a conventional hybrid too - the Niro is a good crossover in its own right. Easy to drive, practical, and stylish, the Niro PHEV also offers an excellent electric range, with official figures quoting 36 miles on a single charge. The highly usable range will cover many journeys without needing the petrol engine at all, but fuel economy figures are also some of the highest around too thanks to the efficient PHEV powertrain.
Volvo XC60 T8 TwinEngine
Volvo has one of the most extensive plug-in portfolios around, with a PHEV version of every new car launched from the XC90 onwards. The Volvo XC60 T8 pips the larger XC90 to this list though because it is more affordable, more stylish, and - because of it's more compact size - more efficient too.
The petrol-electric powertrain offers an official electric range of 28 miles, and the XC60 will prove far more economical than its rivals. Volvo's excellent design language works well inside and out, and the XC60 has all the attributes to make a compelling case for being all the family car a buyer could ever need. A good electric range will tackle most trips without using the petrol engine, and the space inside allows for seating for four adults - or two and three children - with boot space not hindered by any battery storage thanks to Volvo's clever powertrain packaging.
Hyundai IONIQ Plug-In
It might have been the last of the IONIQ electrified triumvirate to come to the party, but the wait was worth it. Reflecting the class-leading efficiency of the Electric and Hybrid models, the Hyundai IONIQ Plug-In is bettered only by Toyota's Prius Plug-In when it comes to efficiency - and then only just.
Like the Toyota, the Hyundai IONIQ Plug-In is a five-door family car, but it trumps the Prius Plug-In in the practicality stakes since it can seat five inside. An official electric-only range of 39 miles is as good as you're going to get from a conventional PHEV currently, and the IONIQ Plug-In has some of the best fuel economy figures around thanks to its electric powertrain. Easy to drive economically, the IONIQ Plug-In is a practical family car that will cost very little to run, especially if charged regularly.
Volvo V90 T8 TwinEngine
It's a tough choice between the Volvo S90 saloon and V90 estate, with the latter winning through because of its extra load capacity. There are only a handful of mid-sized executive PHEVs - with rivals BMW and Mercedes Benz competing with Volvo - but neither offers their plug-in exec as an estate.
This is where the Volvo V90 T8 shines, offering typical Volvo practicality and style with an efficient PHEV powertrain. Space is plentiful for buyers, and the driving experience is a good balance between comfort and a dynamic set-up. The Volvo is competitively priced, and has a good electric range - quoted at 28 miles on a single charge. For those that need a practical family car, there are few more efficient.
Best plug-in hybrid cars 2018
There are a large number of excellent PHEVs on the market at the moment, and we couldn't fit them all on this list, preferring instead to highlight the top 10. Different needs and preferences could well see buyers prefer an alternative PHEV from those listed above though, so we have decided to give an honourable mention to other models worthy of consideration.
Many of the manufacturers above offer multiple PHEV options, none more so than BMW. It's i3/i3s and 330e listed above are joined by the 225xe - unusual in that it's a PHEV MPV - 530e, 740e and 740Le executive saloons, X5 xDrive 40e SUV, and i8/i8 Roadster sportscar. Owned by BMW, Mini is also supporting the German giant's plug-in push with the Countryman Cooper S E, a compact PHEV SUV well worth considering.
Other manufacturers that are promoting PHEVs hard include Mercedes, VW, and Volvo. Mercedes Benz has given its E Class executive saloon the PHEV treatment in the shape of the E 350e, along with the larger S 500e, and the GLE 500e SUV. Volkswagen has used its GTE badge on the Passat range too - both saloon and estate - while as mentioned above, Volvo is rolling out electrified versions of every new model it launches. This means there is already the XC90 T8 that lost out to the XC60 T8 in our Top 10, plus the S90 T8 saloon to the also mentioned V90 estate. There is a V90 Cross Country crossover with the T8 powertrain too, while Volvo has already confirmed its XC40 will be available as a PHEV in due course.
Volvo also has the older V60 which is unusual as it's a PHEV that uses a diesel engine alongside the electric powertrain - potentially a good pick for those that often cover long trips. Audi is the only other manufacturer in the UK market offering a diesel-electric PHEV in the shape of its Q7 e-tron, but its A3 e-tron is a more conventional petrol-electric set-up. Kia's Niro PHEV is joined by the Optima and Optima Sportswagon in the company's plug-in line-up,
For those who want to see what other PHEVs are available to buy, use NGC's PHEV Search for a complete list. It's worth taking a look at our buying guide too which explains in greater detail the positives and negatives of EV ownership and what to look out for, to make sure a plug-in car is the best choice for you.