Best plug-in hybrid cars 2020

A petrol engine for long journeys and an electric motor for short ones if you charge the car: these are the best plug-in hybrids

BuyaCar team
Aug 18, 2020

Want to move towards an electric car but not ready to say goodbye to the security of petrol or diesel power for good? You're not the only one, and while there is a still a solid argument to suggest small petrol engines are much kinder to the environment than they once were, switching to a hybrid, or even a fully-electric car could reduce your carbon footprint.

The technology is increasingly used today. Hybrid cars recover energy that's usually lost under braking, then use it to power the car entirely at slower speeds and to assist the engine during acceleration, when cars are at their least efficient. 

The fuel savings can be significant, but plug-in hybrid cars take the technology quite a bit further. They have larger batteries that can be charged up by plugging them in, bringing greater fuel savings. Plug-in hybrids can typically drive for 20 miles or more on electric power alone before having to rely on their engine, combining the low emissions of an electric car with the long range of a conventional one.

Fail to charge a plug-in hybrid, however, and the car has to lug all the weight of the larger battery pack around, with little economy benefit, so plug-in hybrids only make sense for those who do lots of short trips and think they'll remember to plug in regularly. If that's not you, potentially a fully electric car could make more sense, with many models already offering 200 miles of range per charge - or more in many cases. Read our story to find the longest range electric cars

Many drivers with short commutes, however, will find that the petrol or diesel engine is rarely used with a plug-in hybrid - as long as the car is kept charged - so these cars are attractive to company car drivers who occasionally need to rack up trips of many hundreds of miles. The extremely low carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions recorded in official tests keeps company car tax low.

Best used plug-in hybrid cars

1. Hyundai Ioniq

Best plug-in hybrid for value

Latest Hyundai Ioniq PHEV deals from £18,950
Monthly finance from £263
Fuel economy
248mpg
CO2 26g/km

The Hyundai Ioniq strength is that it's just a normal car. The 341-litre boot is close to the size of an average family hatchback; adults will be comfortable in the back seats; and the design doesn't scream "eco-warrior".

it has an all-electric range of around 26 miles but the engine usually kicks in under acceleration and up hills, no matter how much the battery is charged, as the car's software calculates the most efficient way to provide swift performance and smooth performance. Just make sure you don't get confused between the plug-in Ioniq and the similar-looking standard hybrid and electric versions.

HYUNDAI IONIQ BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Toyota Prius Plug-in

Best plug-in hybrid for fuel economy

Latest Toyota Prius PHEV deals from £13,700
Monthly finance from £173
Fuel economy 235mpg
CO2 28g/km

For ultimate fuel economy from a plug-in hybrid car, it's hard to beat the Toyota Prius Plug-in, which is ultra-frugal in town and surprisingly economical on longer journeys, when electric assistance is limited: 70mpg from a motorway journey is not unusual

It's extremely quiet and comfortable and its electric range is similar to the Ioniq but the Prius Plug-in is let down by its small 191-litre boot. This could, however, save you money - by limiting the amount that you can buy on shopping trips.

TOYOTA PRIUS BUYERS' GUIDE

3. BMW i3 REx

Best plug in hybrid for impressing the neighbours

Latest BMW i3 deals from £12,890
Monthly finance from £238
Fuel economy 471mpg
CO2 19g/kg

New BMW i3s are only available as fully electric cars, but until recently, the company also offered a range extender (REx) version, which included a small petrol engine.

It works a little differently to most other hybrids because the 650cc motorbike engine is primarily used to charge up the battery when it gets low. This means that the car runs on electric power for around 90 miles, at which point you'll hear the thrum of the motor starting up. The extra charge provided can keo you going for another 90 miles-or so, at which point you either need to recharge the battery or fill up the small fuel tank.

Fortunately, the engine doesn't affect the i3's spacious and airy interior, which maximises the benefits of the compact underpinnings of an electric car.

BMW i3 BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Kia Niro PHEV

Best plug in hybrid for frugal crossover driving

Latest Kia Niro PHEV deals from £18,499
Monthly finance from £255
Fuel economy 217.3mpg
CO2 29g/km

Kia's Niro hits the bullseye for many business users: it's in the lowest company tax bracket and new prices start at just over £30,000, reducing tax to less than £1,000 per year for lower-rate taxpayers.

It's also the popular shape, as it's a crossover car: a Ford Focus-sized hatchback that's raised up, and comes with leather seats, a JBL sound system, and front and rear parking sensors as standard.

The car's height has forced engineers to make the ride firmer than the Hyundai Ioniq or Prius Plug-in at the top of the list, so you can expect less settled journeys on bumpy roads. 

KIA NIRO BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Mini Countryman PHEV

Best plug in hybrid for nimble practicality

Latest Mini Countryman PHEV deals from £19,598
Monthly finance from £304
Fuel economy
 91.1mpg
CO2 56g/kg

The Mini Countryman promises the image and driving appeal of the brand's smaller cars, with the practicality of a larger car, for families who need more room. On the whole it's a success, even though you'll have to accept a few jolts over potholes, as a firm ride helps to create the sporty and responsive feel in corners.

This "grown-up" Mini should appeal to the head, with an efficient plug-in hybrid system, and a 20 mile electric-only range does make sense for many users.

However, business users may take a different view. Early models had CO2 emissions just putting them into the lowest company car tax bracket. However, the current version of the car - subject to the latest emissions tests - has had an official CO2 figure of 56g/km since 2018. This puts it one bracket higher, increasing your tax bill if you're a business user. Used models are still classed in the lowest category, though.

MINI COUNTRYMAN BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Volvo XC90 T8

Best plug-in hybrid for seven seats

Latest Volvo XC90 T8 deals from £32,667
Monthly finance from £467
Fuel economy 134.5mpg
CO2 56g/km

The XC90 is the largest car in the Volvo range, and comes in seven seat configuration with all of the latest safety tech and semi-autonomous driving technology.

It also uses three driving modes that allow you to switch between electric, petrol, or a combination of the two. It won’t go far in pure electric mode (around 12-24 miles) but using both sources of power it can either be economical or punchy. The latest models, tested to new emissions standards, don't quite make it into the lowest tax bracket, though.

VOLVO XC90 BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate

Best plug in hybrid for practicality

Latest Volkswagen Passat GTE deals from £17,750
Monthly finance from £253
Official fuel economy 156mpg
CO2 39g/km

The Volkswagen Passat GTE competes against the diesels in a similar manner to the 330e above. It’s a busy market, and it’s up against very economical cars.

And the Passat GTE handles it with aplomb. It’s as well-sorted and as dependable as the regular Passat, but it boasts low CO2 figures of 39g/km. In estate form, the boot is 483-litres big, which is sizeable. However, the batteries do steal some boot space, as regular non-hybrid Passat Estates boots are 650 litres by comparison.

VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Range Rover PHEV

Best plug-in hybrid for luxury

Latest Range Rover PHEV deals from £68,990
Monthly finance from £1,036
Fuel economy 85.1mpg
CO2 72g/km

There’s not much out there this side of a Rolls-Royce that will out-luxury a Range Rover - and now it’s available with a plug-in hybrid variation too.

It’s powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine making 300hp, which is used in conjunction with a 116hp electric motor. This certainly makes it powerful enough to haul the Range Rover’s plushly upholstered interior around, and it’ll get from 0-60mph in 6.4second. There’s a theoretical electric-only range of 31 miles too - certainly enough to get from Chelsea to wherever else in central London someone in a Range Rover might want to go.

RANGE ROVER BUYERS' GUIDE

9. BMW i8

Best plug in hybrid for speed

Latest BMW i8 deals from £70,289
Monthly finance from £966
Fuel economy 134.5mpg
CO2 49g/km

It’s definitely striking. And it causes as much hubbub on a high street as a spaceship. It also looks, and sounds a bit like one. But it’s a proper hybrid plug-in too.

It claims to do 134.5mpg (but expect more like 40mpg) plus low CO2 levels of 49g/km. It’ll even do around 34 miles on pure electricity if you’re light-footed enough. At more than £110k, it’s not the cheapest on this list, but it is the fastest. A three cylinder turbo petrol engine makes 228hp, which is then combined with a 141hp of electric motor, which propels the i8 to 62mph in 4.4 seconds.

BMW i8 BUYERS' GUIDE

10. Audi A3 e-Tron

Best plug in hybrid for grown up interiors

Latest Audi A3 e-Tron deals from £14,799
Monthly finance from £228
Fuel economy 166mpg
CO2 38g/kg

The Audi A3 Sportback e-Tron offers low-running costs associated with hybrids with the usual refinements you’d expect from an Audi.

You’ll get up to 29 miles on electric power alone, which will be enough for quite a lot of business users' commute. This car is mostly aimed at the business user - and they will find lots to like. Or most importantly, they’ll struggle to find anything different in here at all when compared to a petrol or diesel powered A3. There aren’t any huge show-off pieces alerting others to the fact you drive a hybrid - something many will appreciate. It’s powered by electric motors and a 1.4-litre petrol engine, and it has a six-speed automatic gearbox too. Very Audi indeed.

AUDI A3 BUYERS' GUIDE

 

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