Used Car of the Year Awards 2023: Hybrid cars
With living costs on the rise, getting a good deal on your next car is more important than ever. That's where our Used Car Awards come in. These are our favourite hybrid cars...
Price from £18,000 Our pick 530e M Sport (Pro Pack)
We – or more specifically editor Steve Huntingford – ran a new BMW 5 Series last year without feeling at all guilty about it. Any concerns about perceived profligacy were negated by the fact that the version Steve chose was the plug-in hybrid 530e – a car that demonstrates better than any other that the trappings of luxury and a low carbon footprint can go hand in hand.
But much as we love the 530e as a new car, its £50k-plus price tag is still going to be a sticking point for some buyers. Thankfully, fundamentally the same car has been around since 2017 (albeit facelifted and given a longer electric range during that time), which means you can buy a used example of this remarkable luxury saloon for as little as £18k.
That said, we’d recommend spending a bit more (from £25k) to find a later example fitted with the optional M Sport Pro Pack, because this includes adaptive suspension, which gives the 530e a plusher ride than you get with the slightly unsettled standard set-up.
Either way, the 530e is more rewarding to drive than rivals such as the Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class, while matching the former (and beating the latter) for the quality of the materials found inside. Its official electric range is 31 miles (or up to 37 miles on later versions) – competitive with what rivals can manage and enough to cover many commutes.
Plug it in regularly and do mostly short journeys and you might get close to the official fuel economy of 166mpg, helping to keep running costs relatively low for such a large, luxurious car. And whichever power source it’s running on, the 530e is so smooth and quiet that it puts some luxury limos to shame.
By luxury car standards, it’s proving reasonably dependable, too. Although a higher percentage of 5 Series plug-in hybrids were reported with faults than petrol and diesel versions in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey, the 530e still performed creditably, ranking fourth out of 10 models in its class.
In saloon guise (there’s also a pricier Touring estate version), the 530e may not be as practical as theVolkswagen Passat GTE Estate and Volvo XC90 T8, but it’s a more complete package than either, with superior performance, handling and refinement, plus a more polished interior.
Once again, we stand in awe of the remarkable value for money that is the 530e. It’s the definition of luxury, but without the
high costs that usually come with it.
Best for practicality
Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate (2017-present)
Price from £17,000 Our pick 1.4 TSI GTE
Some plug-in hybrids lose out on boot space compared with the regular models on which they’re based – but the Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate isn’t one of them. Despite the presence of a battery in the rear of the car, the GTE’s load bay remains huge and a usefully deep, square shape; the only difference is you lose underfloor storage space.
The GTE has been around long enough that early examples are now conspicuous bargains. It’s far more practical than the smaller Mini Countryman PHEV for similar money, while being much cheaper than other large load-luggers such as the (admittedly newer) iV version of the Skoda Superb Estate.
It should be cheap to run, too, with an official electric range of 37 miles and the promise of 235mpg fuel economy if you top up the battery regularly.
BMW i8 (2014-2020)
Price from £40,000 Our pick Coupé
Some cars go up in value because they’re made for just a short time and are immediately sought after (think Porsche 911 GT3). Others can be good buys later on, because they’ve had a chance to shed value but can only go up again once people realise how special they were when they were in production.
The BMW i8 falls into the latter camp. BMW’s novel plug-in hybrid sports car went off sale in 2020, and with prices now starting at £40k (compared with more than £100k when new), now is the time to buy. Even today, there’s almost nothing like it: an exotic, scissor-doored sports car that can run near-silently on electric power around town but then unleash serious performance (0-62mph in 4.4sec) and noise courtesy of a highly tuned 1.5-litre petrol engine.
Just over 20,000 were made, so they’re not unobtainable. Perhaps the i8 isn’t everyone’s idea of a true sports car, but its place in the history books is assured.
Best for seven-seat luxury
Volvo X90 T8 (2016-present)
Price from £26,000 Our pick Momentum
This version of Volvo’s luxury SUV may no longer be the only plug-in hybrid seven-seater available, but it’s easily the cheapest when you include used examples in the mix. While newcomers such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento are north of £40k, the Volvo XC90 T8 has had a six-year head start, so a car that cost more than £60k new can now be yours for £26k.
For that money, you not only get to keep all seven seats but also find yourself in wonderfully spacious, luxurious surroundings. The quality of the materials is as impressive as that of the BMW X5 xDrive45e(which is a five-seater only),the driving position is commanding and Volvo’s safety record is second to none.
The electric range is relatively short (less than 30 miles) and the reliability record of earlier cars isn’t great (although this has since improved), but still, the XC90 is a remarkably affordable way to get both luxury and seven-seat capability.