Best PHEVs: electric capability with petrol back up

The best plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) offer low running costs without compromising performance or practicality - here are our favourites

Joe Holding
Nov 4, 2021

If you are looking to cut your emissions and fuel costs but aren’t quite ready to make the switch to a fully-electric car, a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) could be a great choice - but this depends on the type of driving that you do.

Much like a standard hybrid car, a PHEV combines both a petrol or diesel engine and at least one battery-operated electric motor to ideally maximise a car’s efficiency. The difference with a plug-in model is that rather than the combustion engine charging the brakes on the move, you have to plug the vehicle into an electric car charger when the batteries need a top up.

The upside of these independently charged batteries is that your car will be able to travel a longer distance than a traditional hybrid can on pure electric power - usually a distance of around 30 miles. This is particularly useful when driving in stop-start traffic, on short-distance trips and in cities with emissions regulation such as London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) - not to mention the fuel and resulting money being saved, too.

However, all of this electric equipment adds a significant amount of weight to a car, causing greater strain on the petrol or diesel engine. This means that when you are running on normal engine power, the added weight can actually have a detrimental effect on your fuel consumption. On longer journeys that deplete the battery range, this can mean that a PHEV is less efficient than a traditional petrol or diesel.

Whether or not you’d be better off with a plug-in hybrid or an electric car is a question we’ve covered elsewhere, but if you think a PHEV could be ideal for you then the following list will give you a clearer picture of what’s out there and just how affordable a second-hand model could be, now that PHEVs have been around for a number of years.

Best plug-in hybrids

1. Kia Niro PHEV

Kia e-Niro front three quarters view

Used deals from £19,100
Monthly finance from £307*

In addition to the Kia Niro Hybrid - which can't be plugged in - Kia also makes a PHEV version of its small family SUV. It has an electric range of 30 miles, which should be enough for you to drive to the supermarket, pick up the kids from school and run a few errands without needing to use any fuel at all - provided you remember to charge it when you get home.

Standard equipment is a strong point for Kia models in general and the fact that the Niro is sold with a seven-year warranty means you shouldn’t need to worry about reliability even if you’re buying a used model. True, the Niro isn’t the most exciting machine - total power amounts to 141hp and 0-62mph takes 10.4 seconds, so it's not particularly quick - but it’s a steady performer that’s reasonably practical.

The Niro PHEV has been around for a couple of years now, with early examples available for as little as £21,000 on BuyaCar. The ‘3’ trim level is the most common: it adds leather upholstery and an eight-inch touchscreen media system to the already-present LED daytime running lights, dual-zone air-conditioning and digital radio.

KIA NIRO BUYERS’ GUIDE

2. BMW 3 Series

Used deals from £16,399
Monthly finance from £275*

The BMW 3 Series is one of the best upmarket saloon cars going, so it stands to reason that the 330e - the plug-in hybrid version - should be one of the best too. The first-generation model was sold between 2015 and 2018 and it could do 25 miles on electric power only at speeds of up to 50mph. The latest model has made significant progress, now returning 37 miles of range at speeds of up to 68mph, according to official tests. This means you can make much more use of the electric power, which should, in turn, cut your fuel bills.

While the 330e should be cheap to run, it isn’t all about saving money: the latest model produces a substantial 252hp (briefly rising to 292hp with a boost function) and combines rapid acceleration with agile handling. So if you want to save some pennies but still put a smile on your face every now and again, this is the car for you.

Most of the three-year-old examples available on BuyaCar have done at least 30,000 miles, with prices starting in the region of £19,000. Fortunately, BMWs have a reputation for being well-built, but if you’re more comfortable with a one-year-old model that’s seen less use then a budget of £37,000 should be enough.

BMW 3 SERIES BUYERS’ GUIDE

3. Volvo XC60 Recharge

Used deals from £36,995
Monthly finance from £562*

The plug-in hybrid version of the Volvo XC60 (older versions are identified by their ‘T8 Twin Engine’ name, newer ones fall under the ‘Recharge’ badge) is typical of the Swedish company’s PHEVs in that it uses the technology to deliver oodles of power and performance. The XC60 PHEV uses a 2.0-litre petrol engine that’s both turbocharged and supercharged to boost power, alongside an electric motor to produce a hefty 390hp. As a result, 0-62mph takes just 5.5 seconds; astoundingly fast for a family SUV.

An 11.6kWh battery pack gives the XC60 an electric range of up to 32 miles, and like a lot of PHEVs the charging capability is capped at a relatively low 3.7kW. This means a full top-up will take at least three-and-a-quarter hours. While this sounds quite slow, it’s plenty if you’re plugging in at work or leaving the car to charge overnight at home.

As well as performance, you can expect a sophisticated interior and lots of passenger space inside the Volvo, while ride comfort is very good. There are a number of cars that fall under the £40,000 mark on BuyaCar, but, if you’re prepared to wait, prices should drop even further over the coming months and years.

It is also worth noting that older versions are identified by their ‘T8 Twin Engine’ name, while newer ones fall under the ‘Recharge’ badge.

VOLVO XC60 BUYERS’ GUIDE

4. Skoda Superb iV

Used deals from £27,790
Monthly finance from £420*

The Skoda Superb PHEV (set apart from normal Superbs with an ‘iV’ name) is one of the best and most affordable plug-in hybrids around. Why? The Czech brand’s cars are essentially Volkswagens under the skin (VW owns Skoda), but as they’re sold with a less upmarket badge attached they’re almost always less expensive and much better value for money.

Introduced in 2020, the Superb can travel up to 37 miles on a single charge, in theory delivering low emissions of 30-42g/km and fuel economy of up to 217mpg on longer trips. Like all PHEVs you shouldn’t be misled by this figure: it assumes you’ll start every journey with a full battery, and you’ll only get close to it in the real world if you plug in regularly.

The Superb is a great all-rounder: the boot measures a large 485 litres (with a space under the floor to store charging cables), the ride is comfortable, it’s reasonably spacious, the interior has a clean design and comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (the software that links your phone to the car) as standard on all vehicles. On BuyaCar nearly-new models are already appearing for around £34,000; a sizable chunk less than if you bought one brand new. As the months go on, this relatively new model should quickly become available at much lower prices.

SKODA SUPERB BUYERS’ GUIDE

5. Mercedes C-Class

Used deals from £18,199
Monthly finance from £330*

Diesel plug-in hybrids are pretty uncommon, but on the Mercedes C-Class you have the option of either diesel or petrol power to work in tandem with the plug-in hybrid system.

The latest model clocks up to 235mpg under test conditions, and while there’s little to discern from this inflated figure - as the test format isn't particularly realistic - you’re likely to be better off with the diesel if you’re a high-mileage driver. For lower-mileage drivers, the petrol will suffice. You have a further choice to make too, as the C-Class PHEV is available as a saloon or an estate.

Whereas the BMW 3 Series - this car’s main rival - is more fun to drive, the C-Class is more comfortable and will suit you better if you drive at a relaxed pace. This is especially true in electric-only mode, where you’ll barely hear the whir of the electric motor. Newer models will manage over 30 miles of electric-only range on a full charge, although older cars from 2016 aren’t quite so capable.

MERCEDES C-CLASS BUYERS’ GUIDE

6. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Used deals from £16,199
Monthly finance from £297*

Believe it or not, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV spent a long period as Britain’s most popular plug-in hybrid, and it remains the best-selling plug-in hybrid SUV despite the manufacturer announcing its intention to leave the European market.

It’s a hefty machine at almost 2,000kg in weight, but its large proportions mean there’s easily room for five adults on a long journey. You can expect to see some 30 miles of petrol-free range from the 13.8kWh battery, which can be charged up in around four hours provided you have a dedicated charging unit installed at your home.

Most Outlander PHEVs are well-equipped too, with a heated windscreen, heated front seats, a reversing camera and cruise control included as standard on even the most basic versions.

On BuyaCar, a two-year-old Outlander PHEV will set you back around £30,000. Since the Outlander PHEV has been around for a number of years, though, you have the option here of saving even more with an older model.

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER PHEV BUYERS’ GUIDE

7. BMW i3 Range Extender

Used deals from £15,949
Monthly finance from £277*

The BMW i3 is an electric car, but for a time BMW made a 'Range Extender' (REx) version that added a small fuel tank with which to power an on-board generator that produces electricity in the event of the battery running low. Strictly speaking this isn’t a plug-in hybrid, but if you want a small car that offers electric propulsion with petrol backup, then it’s still a great pick.

You can expect to see around 120 miles of electric-only range from the i3 REx, with the back-up generator comfortably taking that figure above 200 miles. Because of its small proportions and nippy acceleration the i3 has always been fun to drive around town, and while the exterior appearance might not be for everyone, the interiors (BMW refers to its choice of designs as ‘interior worlds’) all look very futuristic.

BMW stopped offering the i3 REx in 2018, with the youngest of these now priced at around £25,000. But if you can justify an older version, BuyaCar has five-year-old REx models in the region of £15,000 (or around £275 per month). Given that you’ll be paying some 3p per mile when running on electricity, you could slash your annual fuel bills.

Just bear in mind that BMW made fully electric i3s that are more efficient - since they don't have the weight of a petrol generator to lug around - so if you can handle a range of around 80-100 miles with early models (higher figures are available with newer models), going for one of these is the wise choice. 

BMW I3 BUYERS’ GUIDE

8. Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in

Used deals from £17,490
Monthly finance from £287*

Not to be confused with the Ioniq 5, the Hyundai Ioniq comes in hybrid, PHEV and fully-electric forms. All versions make a valid case for themselves but here we will focus on the plug-in model.

The Ioniq’s pure-electric range of 39 miles is one of the highest currently available, mix this with a claimed fuel economy of over 200mpg (when the battery is charged) and it’s clear to see why this car is so popular with taxi firms. The 443-litre boot should also prove plenty for the weekly shopping trip and trips to the tip.

The Ioniq is one of the biggest competitors to the Toyota Prius, meaning it is rather sensible in design. While it won’t bring many thrills to the table, it should prove reliable and easy to live with. Hyundai’s 5-year, unlimited mileage warranty should also help bring added peace of mind to younger used models.

You can easily find a two-year-old model with under 30,000 miles for around £20,000. Go for a facelifted model from 2019 onwards and this will feature an updated grille and lights and an improved interior with a tablet-style touchscreen.

HYUNDAI IONIQ BUYERS' GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

Buyacar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

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