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Used test: BMW X1 vs Cupra Formentor vs Volvo XC40

These plug-in hybrid SUVs keep running costs low and, as two-year-old used buys, buying costs reasonable. Which is best? We have the answer...

BMW X1 vs Cupra Formentor vs Volvo XC40 fronts

The contenders

BMW X1 xDrive25e M Sport

List price when new £40,580
Price today £31,000
Available from 2015-2022

The oldest generation of our bunch, but this plug-in hybrid version helps keeps the X1 fresh

Cupra Formentor e-Hybrid 245 VZ2

List price when new £40,260
Price today £33,000
Available from 2020-present

Its sharp exterior hints at sporty performance, so is the Formentor the driver's choice? 

Volvo XC40 Recharge T4 R-Design

List price when new £39,445
Price today £35,000
Available from 2017-present

Safe and spacious, the XC40 looks to be a great choice for families

*Price today is based on a 2021 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

Since the pandemic, hybrid working has become the norm, with many people spending some days in an office and some at home, so they get the benefits of both. Similar thinking has inspired the current profusion of plug-in hybrid cars (PHEVs). 

PHEVs both petrol and electric power at your disposal, potentially allowing fuel economy and performance to soar to new heights. That makes them compelling propositions for many buyers – even more so when desirable SUV exteriors are draped over them. Which brings us to the three models we're testing here: the BMW X1 xDrive25e, the Cupra Formentor e-Hybrid 245 and the Volvo XC40 Recharge T4.

BMW X1 xDrive25e 2021 front

Sure, their names are a tad overcomplicated, but their purpose is quite simple: allowing you to do shorter journeys on electric power without doing without an engine altogether. What's more, we've added a feather in their caps by choosing two-year-old examples, making them used family SUVs with savings of around £4000 to £10,000 off the new car price. 

So, which of our intriguing trio should you buy? Well, that's what we're about to find out. 


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

As well as a petrol engine each, all these cars have an electric motor to help give them a spring in their step. In the Formentor and XC40, the combined efforts from both power sources are fed to the front wheels, while the X1’s electric motor drives the rear wheels to give it four-wheel drive.

Cupra Formentor e-Hybrid 245 2021 front

Four-wheel drive is a big advantage when it comes to transferring lots of power to the road from a standstill, and the X1 is able to outsprint the Formentor from 0-60mph. However, when you’re already rolling, the Formentor’s extra muscle (242bhp, versus 217bhp in the X1) starts to tell. It accelerates from 30-70mph in 5.0sec, compared with 5.7sec for the X1.

The XC40 is the slowcoach here, but these things are relative. It’s still capable of getting from 30-70mph in a very respectable 6.9sec, so motorway sliproads and caravan overtakes are no challenge, although there’s no doubt its whole demeanour is more about getting you where you’re going in comfort rather than super-quickly.

Volvo XC40 Recharge T4 2021 front

To that end, the XC40’s supple suspension does a fine job of smothering general road scars and minor imperfections. The trade-off is some gentle swaying from side to side, but all things considered, it’s the most comfortable of our trio.

Although the Formentor can’t match the XC40 for comfort, its standard adaptive suspension does allow you to soften things off for a reasonably supple ride. It’s certainly more compliant than the X1, in which you feel bumps most readily as they pass beneath the car. That said, you still wouldn’t describe it as uncomfortable.

In terms of handling, the Formentor feels a little nose-heavy and is more prone to running wide of your chosen line when cornering quickly. When you accelerate hard, the steering wheel sometimes feels as though it’s connected to the wheels with an angry snake tugging one way and the other in your hands. At other times, it’s accurate and well weighted.

BMW X1 2021 rear cornering

Don’t expect to have much fun in the XC40 when the road gets twisty. Sure, it handles tidily enough when you’re driving gently, but if you push a bit harder, there’s lots of body lean. The steering is rather numb, too.

While other versions of the X1 suffer from quite a lot of road noise, that was less noticeable in the xDrive25e. Indeed, it wasn’t much noisier than the XC40 at a 70mph cruise. The Formentor is the least peaceful cruiser, but then it is from a sporty brand. If you select the Cupra driving mode, it fakes the sound of the five-cylinder engine from an Audi RS Q3 sports SUV.

If you’re looking for something that’s vaguely good fun to drive, the X1 will suit you best. It’s the most agile and feels the most well balanced through corners, plus its steering is accurate and gives you a good sense of connection to the road.

Cupra Formentor e-Hybrid 245 2021 rear

One of the main advantages of a PHEV is its ability to cover most journeys using only battery power, so how do our rivals fare at that? Well, there's not a great deal in it for real-world electric-only range. The Formentor managing 24 miles in our test before needing to call on its engine, and the X1 and the XC40 topping out at 22 and 20 miles respectively.

The Volvo XC40 does have the weakest electric motor, though, so it struggles to get up steep inclines without the petrol engine’s assistance.

Best hybrid small SUV 2022 - Volvo XC40 rear

On the plus side, it’s the most efficient of our trio when its battery is out of juice, averaging an impressive 45.9mpg in our hands. The Cupra Formentor managed 41.5mpg and the BMW X1 a disappointing 35.4mpg.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

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