New Audi A3 TFSIe and Volkswagen Golf GTE vs Mercedes A250e: costs

These plug-in hybrid family hatchbacks may be upmarket, but they promise bargain-basement running costs. Let’s see which is the best buy...

Audi A3 40 TFSIe 2021 side static

Buying and owning

Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security

To get that long electric range, the A-Class has the biggest battery, which costs the most to charge up every night. Factor in fuel economy of just 35.8mpg when the battery is flat and it has the highest combined electricity and petrol costs, with the Golf’s 37.9mpg real-world economy and smaller battery putting it second. However it’s the A3 that’s cheapest of all to fuel, thanks to a decent 41.4mpg economy figure and the same charging cost as the Golf. Naturally, if you’re able to run on electricity more – something that should be easier in warmer or urban environments – your fuel bills will be lower in all three.

Company car drivers should note that the A3 is the cheapest on monthly benefit-in-kind (BIK) payments if you go for the 17in wheels (a no-cost option on S line trim) to get the 6% rate. Stick with the standard 18in wheels and it’s in the 10% bracket, due to its slightly shorter electric range. The other two are also in the 6% bracket, but their higher list prices mean you’ll be sacrificing slightly more of your salary every month.

Mercedes A250e 2021 side static

If you’re buying privately with cash, and after you’ve factored in discounts, depreciation, servicing and other costs, it’s the A3 that will be cheapest to run over three years, followed by the A-Class, with the Golf being the priciest.

Of course, not many people buy cars outright these days, so the A-Class’s keen £450 monthly PCP finance cost compares favourably with the A3’s £486 and Golf’s £504. That’s with a £3500 deposit from you and a limit of 10,000 miles a year, spread over 36 months.

Volkswagen Golf GTE 2021 side static

In our chosen trims, it’s the Golf that’s the best equipped, coming with adaptive cruise control and separate climate controls for rear seat passengers, closely followed by the A-Class, which, like the Golf, gets keyless entry. The A3 is by no means stingily equipped, but you do miss out on a few niceties unless you buy a pricey option pack, while some luxuries – keyless entry, for example – aren’t available at all.

Both the A3 and Golf were too new to have featured in the 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey, while the A-Class finished towards the bottom of the family car class. None of these manufacturers did all that well in the brand league table, with Volkswagen ranking 20th (out of 31), Audi joint 22nd and Mercedes 26th. All of our contenders come with a three-year regular warranty as standard, though, with the A-Class offering unlimited-mileage cover to the other cars’ 60,000 miles. The big batteries are covered by separate eight-year/100,000-mile warranties on all three.

Audi A3 TFSIe and Volkswagen Golf GTE vs Mercedes A250e costs

Safety aids such as automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance are standard whichever car you choose, while the Golf adds blindspot monitoring and a system that can keep you centred in a lane.

The non-PHEV versions of all three received a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, although on the face of it the A3 has the lowest scores. That’s because it was tested under newer, more stringent rules than the other two, which perform similarly well, making it hard to compare. Unfortunately, the plug-in versions of these cars haven’t been tested.

Used alternative

BMW 530e

BMW 530e front cornering

For around £30,000 – less than the Target Price of any of our new plug-in family hatchbacks – you could have a year-old BMW 530e with just a few thousand miles on the clock. Okay, you won’t be getting the bigger battery that was introduced when the 5 Series was facelifted late last year, but you’ll still be getting a bona fide luxury car that can be cheap to run.

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