Best plug-in hybrid cars 2021
Plug-in hybrids can reduce fuel consumption to an absolute minimum, but which models are the best all-rounders and which should you avoid?...
We all want the world to be a cleaner, greener place, but when it comes to plug-in hybrids, what's good for the planet can be good for your finances too.
By combining a small petrol engine with an electric motor and a battery that can be topped up via mains electricity, there's the potential to eke out incredible fuel economy, without suffering the range anxiety that often comes with fully electric cars.
It's no good if that means putting up with something that's badly compromised in other areas, though, so here we count down the top 10 models – and reveal the plug-in hybrid that's best steer clear of.
And remember, if you decide any of the cars on our list are right for your needs, you could potentially save thousands without the hassle of haggling by using our New Car Buying service.
Top 10 plug-in hybrids
10. BMW X3 xDrive30e
The pace and range of this plug-in hybrid X3 is almost identical to that of its main rival, the Audi Q5 TFSIe. However, the X3 has a better infotainment system, it's that bit quieter in electric mode, and even when its engine does fire up, the interior remains a very peaceful place to cover miles.
The XC90 Recharge T8 hides an ace up its sleeve: it's the only plug-in hybrid SUV on sale today with seven seats. And as if that weren't enough, it's also the quickest XC90 by some margin, yet doesn't sacrifice what made the biggest Volvo appealing to begin with: its classy and family-friendly interior. The ride is firmer than you might expect, though.
8. Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate
Volkswagen recently treated the plug-in Passat to a host of updates, including a longer all-electric range. Plus, it's quiet at all speeds, has lots of passenger space and is available in an estate bodystyle that gives it a very practical boot. The batteries do take up the spare wheel well, but that's the only way in which practicality is compromised.
7. Ford Kuga PHEV
In our tests, the Kuga went almost 50% farther on electric power than similarly priced plug-in hybrid SUVs. But it also trounced them when petrol power took over, returning 52mpg. Being a large SUV, the Kuga also gives you a lofty view of the road ahead. And the supple suspension makes it very comfortable, both at speed and when trundling around town.
6. BMW 530e
The 530e is another car that can complete many journeys without needing to wake its engine at all. But even when this smooth 2.0-litre petrol unit does fire up, the car is quiet enough to put full-on limousines to shame. Specify it with adaptive suspension for the best ride, and the 530e becomes the supreme luxury package, without the price tag to match.
In iV form, the Superb combines a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine with a battery big enough for an electric-only range of 34 miles. It's essentially the same guts that you get in the Volkswagen Passat GTE , yet the Superb is even more spacious, particularly in the back.
4. Audi A3 40 TFSIe
If you’re in the market for a relatively compact plug-in hybrid with a premium badge on its nose, we’d recommend taking a look at the Audi A3 40 TFSIe. Yes, a Mercedes A250e has a slightly cheaper purchase price and a marginally better electric-only range, but it’s not as refined, it doesn’t handle as well and at times its ride is more fractious.
3. BMW X5 xDrive45e
When choosing a plug-in hybrid, it goes without saying that you want economy and cost-effectiveness, but if you don’t want to compromise on the finer things in life, the X5 xDrive45e is right up your street. It offers the same fantastic interior as any other X5, and is even more refined, yet it's also cheaper to run than rivals, not least because it can travel a whopping 54 miles on electric power.
2. BMW 330e
The thing that makes the 330e so special is that, aside from a shallower boot, it's much like any other 3 Series, meaning great fun to drive. There's simply nothing in the way it handles to suggest you're carrying around enough batteries for more than 30 miles of zero-emission motoring. What's more, every material feels suitably expensive, the infotainment system is a cinch to use and there’s a good amount of space in the back.
1. Skoda Octavia iV Estate
The iV's official 282.5mpg shows what’s possible if you do lots of short journeys, while CO2 emissions of 31g/km drop it into the exceptionally low 6% company car tax bracket. Crucially, though, this is combined with a comfortable ride, loads of standard equipment and a boot that's big enough to build a barn in.
And the plug-in hybrid to avoid...
DS 7 Crossback E-Tense
There are some versions of the DS 7 Crossback SUV that are worth considering, but sadly the E-Tense isn't one of them, because it just isn’t as polished as its plug-in hybrid rivals. Even if you overlook its sloppy handling, its ride goes from wallowy to crashy in an instant, while the integration of the motors and engine is anything but seamless.
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here