Best plug-in hybrids 2021
The plug-in hybrid market has grown exponentially in recent years. Here are our top 10 electrified favourites.
If you're in the market for a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), you're spoiled for choice these days. An increasing number of car makers are wheeling out plug-in hybrid cars with firms such as Audi, BMW, Volvo, Porsche, Honda and Mercedes all expanding their electrified line-ups to compete alongside hybrid pioneers such as Toyota and Mitsubishi.
There are lots of reasons to make the switch from internal combustion engined cars to hybrid - whether you’re looking to lower your carbon footprint, take advantage of government incentives and lower tax rates or just prefer the drive of a plug-in hybrid car.
The sheer variety of vehicles that now offer plug-in hybrid ability means there are PHEV options to suit buyers from large to small car markets. It also means that buyers have a tougher than ever time choosing the best plug-in hybrid car for them. On this page we aim to help by explaining the market and delivering our verdicts on the best plug-in hybrids you can buy.
So which PHEVs do we recommend? With so many now on offer, we can bring you a top 10 of the best options, just scroll down to see our favourites.
Top 10 best plug-in hybrids to buy now
Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in
1. Mercedes E 300 e and E 300 de
- Price: £47,780-£54,675
- Range: 30-33 miles
- Economy and emissions: 141.3-188.3mpg/41-46g/km
- Rating: 4/5
Mercedes offer the E-Class as a plug-in hybrid with either petrol in the case of the E 300 e or diesel in the E 300 de. The latter of which is one of the very few diesel hybrids you can buy but it’s still a corker with up to 188mpg on offer. The petrol E 300 e is pretty frugal too, with up to 141mpg available on the combined cycle.
The E 300 e isn’t as well-rounded as a BMW 530e when it comes to handling, although with 316bhp and 700Nm in the revised 2020 E 300 e, there’s plenty of power. 0-62mph is dealt with in 5.7 seconds and it’ll march on to a top speed of 155mph. The upside to the slightly inert handling is supreme ride quality. Its comfortable nature suits the hushed powertrain, making the E 300 e a fine long distance cruiser.
At around £50,000 the E 300 e doesn’t come cheap, but like most other hybrids on this list - you’ll soon start recouping that extra outlay if you can plug it in regularly.
2. Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in
- Price: £30,250-£32,250
- Range: 39 miles
- Economy and emissions: 256.8mpg/26g/km
- Rating: 4/5
Hyundai’s Ioniq was aimed directly at the all-conquering Toyota Prius when it was launched and, with a new ‘Ioniq’ all-electric sub-brand coming, Hyundai’s PHEV underdog has certainly made a name for itself.
A claimed 256.8mpg will lure in lots of economy-conscious drivers but to achieve such numbers you’ll have to keep the 8.9kWh battery topped up. An all-electric range of 39 miles is five miles better than what you’ll get from a Prius and CO2 emissions stand at 26g/km, which also betters the Prius’ 29g/km.
A 443-litre boot should provide enough storage space for most families, and indeed many taxi drivers too. Unlike many hybrid cars, the Ioniq can feel sluggish due to its 139bhp powertrain. The Ioniq was clearly designed for fuel efficiency over any sort of engaging drive and to that extent it adequately fills the brief
3. Skoda Superb iV
- Price: £36,090-£41,860
- Range: 36-37 miles
- Economy and emissions: 149-217mpg/30-42g/km
- Rating: 4.5/5
In petrol or diesel form, the Skoda Superb is refined, comfortable, good to drive and incredibly spacious. That goes for the new iV plug-in too, which retains all that’s good about the car and adds the ability to drive on all-electric power for up to 37 miles. That’s thanks to its 13kWh battery, which takes around three and a half hours to charge - culminating in a 3.6kW/3h and 30minute charge speed.
Boosting flexibility, it’s available as a hatchback and an estate, the latter of which offers class-leading boot capacity. There’s plenty of tech including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and build quality is on a par with Volkswagen.
With a combined 215bhp on tap, 0-62mph takes just 7.7 seconds. However, the plug-in model’s 1.4-litre TSI engine is very quiet, and the electric motor delivers added punch to improve refinement further.
When we tested the Superb iV against the Peugeot 508 Hybrid, the Skoda came out on top thanks to its practicality, impressive tech and blend of comfort, handling and performance. There was little to split them in terms of running costs with the Superb returning 44.5mpg and 30g/km of CO2 to the Peugeot’s 45.8mpg and 29/gkm.
4. BMW 330e
- Price: £37,875-£48,700
- Range: 34-36 miles
- Economy and emissions: 166.2-201.8mpg/31-38g/km
- Rating: 4.5/5
Since the BMW 3 Series is already a top choice among families and company car drivers, a plug-in hybrid version was always going to be a logical step. BMW intended to launch the current-generation car as a plug-in from the start, so the car’s platform was developed with the powertrain in mind.
As a result, there’s little impact on passenger space, although boot capacity does shrink to 375 litres compared to the standard saloon’s 480 litres. If you need more space, it’s worth noting that, unlike the previous generation, the 330e is now also available in Touring estate guise for the first time.
Key to the BMW’s appeal is its excellent chassis. Sure, the PHEV powertrain adds extra weight, but the 3 Series still handles well and the ride is supple.
Company car buyers will enjoy low running costs, thanks to 37g/km emissions, while BMW claims 36 miles is possible on electricity alone, so we’d expect you’d see 40-45mpg overall. It takes five and a half hours to charge from a three-pin socket.
5. Volvo XC60 Recharge
- Price: £50,570-£63,145
- Range: 28-32 miles
- Economy and emissions: 85.6-113.0mpg/59-73g/km
- Rating: 4/5
If you want a premium SUV that can get you to work and back on EV power alone, then the XC60 Recharge is a fine choice. There are three versions available, R-Design, Inscription and Polestar Engineered.
The XC60 uses an 11.6kWh battery and has a charge speed of 3hrs 15mins at 3.7kW. It feeds an electric motor that drives the rear wheels, while the petrol engine drives the fronts. But as with all of the best PHEVs, there’s no noticeable transition as the power shifts around. The sporty 400bhp Polestar Engineered model will crack 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds thanks to a mix of a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and electric motor.
The gearbox is smooth, keeping refinement at the heart of what makes the XC60 great. This is boosted by the luxurious and upmarket interior that’s very nearly as good as that of the much more expensive XC90, with all the tech to match.
Its 468-litre boot means practicality is a plus point and with all new Volvos, the plug-ins are limited to 112mph for safety reasons, complimenting the excellent safety tech available in this family SUV.
6. BMW 530e
- Price: £46,820-£52,120
- Range: 27-29 miles
- Economy and emissions: 134.5-201.8mpg/32-48g/km
- Rating: 4.5/5
The BMW 5 Series has just been facelifted, but it’ll be a few months before the refreshed model hits UK showrooms. A new six-cylinder PHEV is on the way, which will also be offered in Touring estate form, but until then the existing four-cylinder 530e is the sole plug-in hybrid.
It’s based on the same platform as the regular 5 Series, so has similar balance and handling, despite the extra weight of the 12kWh battery. But one of the executive saloon’s real highlights is its level of refinement, which is improved even further in the 530e thanks to its ability to travel on electric power alone at speeds of up to 87mph. When the engine does kick in, it’s smooth and quiet, although the eight-speed automatic gearbox isn’t quite as smooth with its shifts as in the petrol or diesel models.
7. Ford Kuga PHEV
- Price: £33,095-£37,795
- Range: 29 miles
- Economy and emissions: 201.8mpg/29g/km
- Rating: 3.5/5
The Kuga is a big seller for Ford, so it seemed appropriate that when the third-generation SUV arrived in 2019 that it should be the first model from the firm to benefit from a new plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Unlike some rivals, which use plug-in technology to add four-wheel drive, the Kuga PHEV is front-drive only. Thankfully, adding the system hasn’t affected versatility, because the plug-in retains the standard Kuga’s strong practicality and boot space. Run in electric mode and the Kuga is quiet and refined, but ask for a squirt of acceleration and the engine revs away, and remains there until you reach your desired speed.
Ford claims that 29 miles of electric-only running is possible, and the battery can be charged in three and a half hours from a 7kW wallbox. A Type 2 cable will cost an additional £195, though.
8. BMW X5 xDrive45e
- Price: £63,165-£66,665
- Range: 50-54 miles
- Economy and emissions: 201.8-235.4mpg/27-32g/km
- Rating: 3/5
BMW’s large premium plug-in SUV is one of the most comfortable cars of its type. The supple suspension allows enough movement to keep it relaxed no matter what kind of road you’re on. Despite being a large SUV, body roll is not really an issue. A great driving position and comfy seats both help, so along with the PHEV’s ultra-quiet running at low speeds it’s a very luxurious and refined car.
The X5 xDrive45e delivers its brief just as well as other X5s, if not better – and the other ace up its sleeve is its 54-mile claimed all-electric range. This makes it one of the most versatile PHEVs on sale, because in the real world it’ll still reliably be able to cover 30 miles on EV power, even in the depths of winter. In the summer months it should be possible to eke out 50 miles.
The 24kWh battery and electric motor are well integrated with the 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine. Performance is brisk with a 0-62mph time of 5.6 seconds, but it’s the comfort, range and refinement, plus the practicality here, that are so appealing.
9. Audi Q5 TFSI e
- Price: £49,005-£65,670
- Range: 26 miles
- Economy and emissions: 109mpg/49g/km
- Rating: 4/5
The Q5 TFSI e is perhaps the most well-rounded of them all, combining a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a 14.1kW electric motor. The base-spec ‘50’ model (starting from just over £49,000) pumps out a combined 295bhp and the more expensive ‘55’ version has 362bhp.
Refinement is a big plus point to the Audi Q5 PHEV, the electric motor means its impressively quiet and the interior feels luxurious and well put together. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is among the best infotainment systems in the business and still looks up to date a few years on from its introduction.
10. Peugeot 508 Hybrid 225
- Price: £34,930-£46,540
- Range: 33-39 miles
- Economy and emissions:166.2–235.4mpg/29–38g/km
- Rating: 3.5/5
With a relatively low Benefit-in-Kind tax rate of 10 per cent, the Peugeot 508 Hybrid will appeal to company car users - but the 508’s talents extend much further than its cheap tax rate.
When we tested the 508 Hybrid against another plug-in hybrid favourite, the Skoda Superb iV, the Peugeot bested it in many areas. We recorded an impressive test mpg of 45.8mpg for the Peugeot and found it had two litres more boot space than the Skoda.
A 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder coupled to an electric motor produces 222bhp - which should be more than enough for most drivers. Like most plug-in hybrids, handling is somewhat compromised by the extra weight of the hybrid system but the ride is relatively absorbent overall.
Should you buy a plug-in hybrid?
Plug-in hybrids are proving popular for a number of reasons. As technology improves and more car makers join the fray, the price you pay for a plug-in vehicle is gradually coming down. Then there are the tax implications, with many plug-ins offering far lower VED road tax and benefit-in-kind rates for company car users thanks to their low emissions.
A close second to the low running costs is the fact that this hybrid kit doesn't require you to compromise on the way you use your car. The key is to remember to plug the car into a charging point wherever possible to maximise the amount of electric running you do but if you can’t charge the car just reverts to its internal combustion engine. If you think of your car like a smartphone, and get into the habit of plugging it in overnight to charge, then you'll soon see the lower costs that electric driving can bring.
Since then, we've had plug-in hybrids as diverse as the futuristic BMW i3 supermini, to conventional family models like the Mercedes A 250 e, vans like the Ford Transit Custom PHEV and even supercars like the Ferrari SF90 Stradale.
Today, there are a number of SUVs and family cars with plug-in ability, and some even keep their 7 seat interior layouts. So there should be a plug-in hybrid to suit all needs while also delivering low running costs - as long as you charge them up, of course.
Next, read our list of the best small hybrid cars to buy
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