Best plug-in hybrid (PHEV) cars 2021

A petrol engine for long journeys and an electric motor for short ones if you charge the car: these are the best plug-in hybrids

BuyaCar team
May 20, 2021

Want to move towards an electric car but not ready to say goodbye to the security of petrol or diesel power just yet? You're not the only one. While it's true a car with a small petrol engine is much kinder to the environment than it used to be, switching to a hybrid or even a fully-electric car will undoubtedly reduce your carbon footprint further still.

Plug-in hybrid technology is becomingly increasingly common across the board, with a majority of manufacturers producing plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variants of current models, or even introducing all new ranges dedicated to hybrid and electric tech.

A plug-in hybrid car saves fuel by making use of a large battery and an electric motor. In most cases plug-in hybrids can travel up to around 30 miles on electric power alone before the petrol engine takes over and runs just like a normal car. This means plug-in hybrids are best suited to a very specific set of needs.

If you're rarely travel more than 30 miles in a day, and you have the capacity to charge the car's battery overnight, you would be able to rely entirely on electric power and your fuel tank would be redundant. Likewise, if you regularly need to drive into central London, the ability to switch to electric power means you will be exempt from the ULEZ charge, at least until October 2021.

However, if you're typically travelling much further than those 30 miles, chances are a plug-in hybrid isn't for you. The fact you're also carrying around a large and heavy battery pack has a massive impact on fuel efficiency, and you'll very quickly find that you're actually spending more on fuel than you would driving a standard petrol car. 

Our explainer articles will help you decide which type of hybrid car is best for you, but if you're set on a plug-in hybrid, these options below are the best that are currently on offer.

Best used PHEVs

1. Hyundai Ioniq

Best plug-in hybrid for value

Used deals Limited stock
Fuel economy
257mpg
CO2 26g/km

The Hyundai Ioniq's strength is that it's just a normal car. The 341-litre boot is close to the size of an average family hatchback; adults will be comfortable in the back seats; and the design doesn't scream "eco-warrior".

It has an all-electric range of around 32 miles but the engine usually kicks in under acceleration and up hills, no matter how much the battery is charged, as the car's software calculates the most efficient way to provide swift performance and smooth performance. Just make sure you don't get confused between the plug-in Ioniq and the similar-looking standard hybrid and electric versions.

HYUNDAI IONIQ BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Toyota Prius Plug-in

Best plug-in hybrid for fuel economy

Used deals from £16,499
Monthly finance from £228*
Fuel economy
 235mpg
CO2 28g/km

For ultimate fuel economy from a plug-in hybrid car, it's hard to beat the Toyota Prius Plug-in, which is ultra-frugal in town and surprisingly economical on longer journeys, when electric assistance is limited: 70mpg from a motorway journey is not unusual.

It's extremely quiet and comfortable and its electric range is similar to the Ioniq but the Prius Plug-in is let down by its small 191-litre boot. This could, however, save you money - by limiting the amount that you can buy on shopping trips!

TOYOTA PRIUS BUYERS' GUIDE

3. BMW i3 REx

Best plug in hybrid for impressing the neighbours

Used deals from £11,985
Monthly finance from £226*
Fuel economy
 471mpg
CO2 19g/km

New BMW i3s are only available as fully electric cars, but until recently, the company also offered a range extender (REx) version, which included a small petrol engine.

It works a little differently to most other hybrids because the 650cc motorbike engine is primarily used to charge up the battery when it gets low. This means that the car runs on electric power for around 90 miles, at which point you'll hear the thrum of the motor starting up. The extra charge provided can keo you going for another 90 miles-or so, at which point you either need to recharge the battery or fill up the small fuel tank. This means only the electric motor drives the wheels - the petrol motor doesn't, instead it charges the battery, like an in-car generator.

Fortunately, the engine doesn't affect the i3's spacious and airy interior, which maximises the benefits of the compact underpinnings of an electric car.

BMW i3 BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Kia Niro PHEV

Best plug in hybrid for frugal crossover driving

Used deals from £19,000
Monthly finance from £300*
Fuel economy
 202mpg
CO2 31g/km

The Kia Niro hits the bullseye for many business users: it's in the lowest company tax bracket and new prices start at just under £30,000, reducing tax to less than £1,000 per year for lower-rate taxpayers.

It's also a popular shape, as it's a crossover car: a Ford Focus-sized hatchback that's raised up, and comes with leather seats, a JBL sound system, and front and rear parking sensors as standard.

The car's height has forced engineers to make the ride firmer than the Hyundai Ioniq or Toyota Prius Plug-in at the top of the list, so you can expect less settled journeys on bumpy roads. 

KIA NIRO BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Mini Countryman PHEV

Best plug in hybrid for nimble practicality

Used deals from £21,495
Monthly finance from £340*
Fuel economy
 157mpg
CO2 40g/km

The Mini Countryman promises the image and driving appeal of the brand's smaller cars, with the practicality of a larger car, for families who need more room. On the whole it's a success, even though you'll have to accept a few jolts over potholes, as a firm ride helps to create the sporty and responsive feel in corners.

This "grown-up" Mini should appeal to the head, with an efficient plug-in hybrid system, and a 26-mile electric-only range does make sense for many users.

Be aware that earlier models were slightly less efficient, meaning they may fall into more expensive tax brackets, particularly for company car drivers.

MINI COUNTRYMAN BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Volvo XC90 T8

Best plug-in hybrid for seven seats

Used deals from £38,480
Monthly finance from £655*
Fuel economy
 101mpg
CO2 63g/km

The XC90 is the largest car in the Volvo range, and comes in seven seat configuration with all of the latest safety tech and semi-autonomous driving technology.

It also uses three driving modes that allow you to switch between electric, petrol, or a combination of the two. It won’t go far in pure electric mode (around 17 miles) but using both sources of power it can either be economical or punchy. The latest models, tested to new emissions standards, don't quite make it into the lowest tax bracket, though.

VOLVO XC90 BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate

Best plug in hybrid for practicality

Used deals Limited stock
Official fuel economy
 235mpg
CO2 27g/km

The Volkswagen Passat GTE competes against the diesels in a similar manner to the BMW 330e. It’s a busy market, and it’s up against very economical cars.

And the Passat GTE handles it with aplomb. It’s as well-sorted and as dependable as the regular Passat, but it boasts low CO2 figures of 27/km. In estate form, the boot is 483-litres big, which is sizeable. However, the batteries do steal some boot space, as regular non-hybrid Passat Estates boots are 650 litres by comparison. The latest model uses the efficient 1.5 TSI EVO petrol engine, while older models used a similarly powered 1.4-litre unit.

VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Range Rover P400e

Best plug-in hybrid for luxury

Used deals from £76,498
Monthly finance from £1,005*
Fuel economy
 85mpg
CO2 75g/km

There’s not much out there this side of a Rolls-Royce that will out-luxury a Range Rover - and now it’s available with a plug-in hybrid variation too.

It’s powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine making 300hp, which is used in conjunction with a 141hp electric motor. This certainly makes it powerful enough to haul the Range Rover’s plushly upholstered interior around, and it’ll get from 0-62mph in 6.4s. There’s a theoretical electric-only range of 25 miles too - certainly enough to get from Chelsea to wherever else in central London someone in a Range Rover might want to go.

RANGE ROVER BUYERS' GUIDE

9. Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid

Best plug in hybrid for speed

Used deals from £64,990
Monthly finance from £945*
Fuel economy
 105mpg
CO2 61g/km

The Panamera is built for crossing continents in comfort, but that doesn't mean it's not fast. There are a range of hybrid options in the Panamera range, the fastest of which can race to 62mph in 3.2 seconds, and on to a top speed of 196mph where allowed.

Under the bonnet is a 571hp 4.0-litre V8 engine and a 136hp electric motor, which by itself can reach speeds of up to 87mph and travel up to 31 miles without digging into the power reserves of the petrol engine.

Other models of the plug-in Panamera come with more efficient, but still rapid, 3.0-litre V6 engines.

PORSCHE PANAMERA BUYERS' GUIDE

10. Audi A3 40 TFSIe

Best plug in hybrid for grown up interiors

Used deals from £13,995
Monthly finance from £251*
Fuel economy 
283mpg
CO2 30g/km

The Audi A3 Sportback 40 TFSIe offers the low-running costs associated with hybrids, but it still delivers the usual refinements you’d expect from an Audi.

It's capable of covering up to 41 miles on electric power alone, which will be enough for many who rarely commute outside of their local area. Perhaps the strongest aspect of the A3 TFSIe in the eyes of many drivers is the fact you'll find very few differences between it and a petrol or diesel powered A3. Where a Toyota Prius or BMW i3 can feel a bit alien, the A3 feels like home from the moment you sit down for the first time.

It’s powered by an electric motor and a 1.4-litre petrol engine, and it has a six-speed automatic gearbox too. The A3 TFSIe and Volkswagen Golf TSI eHybrid share many of the same mechanical parts, however the Golf promises slightly better figures of 306mpg and 21g/km. There is currently no Audi equivalent to the fast-paced Golf GTE.

AUDI A3 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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