If you’re after a new practical motor with ultra-low running costs which surpassed that offered by conventionally-run cars, then a plug-in hybrid could be just for you.
What is a plug-in hybrid car?
Plug-in hybrids, like traditional hybrids, are cars which feature a powertrain which combines an electric motor with a conventional petrol or diesel engine.
Also like the traditional hybrids, a plug-in hybrid car can come in all sorts of sizes and body styles both large and small. They can also be based on existing popular cars such as established family hatchbacks or even large 4x4s.
Differences between hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars
When compared to a standard hybrid car, the key difference with plug-in hybrids is that doesn’t rely on the engine to recharge the batteries in the electric motor. Instead, it can be recharged by plugging it to an external electric power source.
More and more people being attracted by the advantages which plug-in hybrids bring.
Offering the ability to run the conventional engine and electric motor simultaneously, or drive on electric power only, plug-in hybrid cars can deliver far greater fuel economy than any conventionally-run car. They also emit less CO2, usually comfortably undercutting the 100g/km barrier, which means free Vehicle Excise Duty for owners. Plug-in hybrids also qualify for a Government-backed plug-in car grant, which trims £5,000 off the purchase price of such cars.
Most of the plug-in hybrid cars available nowadays are also based on existing family hatchbacks and SUVs, and there’s been no compromise on their practicality while they’ve been converted into greener cars.
Something to bear in mind with current plug-in hybrids offered in Britain is that the electric only travel range they offer is actually quite a small amount.
Similar to conventional hybrids, the initial purchase price for plug-in hybrids is significantly larger if the car has a petrol or diesel-only equivalent to compare with.
Despite these points, plug-in hybrid cars have become rapidly more popular in a pretty short space of time.
Top 5 best plug-in hybrid cars
Here we’ll reveal our selection of the five best plug-in hybrid cars which you can buy now in Britain, including our top pick.
Volkswagen Golf GTE – Top pick
The standard Volkswagen Golf hatchback is a superb all-rounder, offering speed, class, practicality and efficiency. The GTE version puts extra emphasis on the latter point.
The plug-in hybrid Golf combines the 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine available on the regular Golf, with a battery-run electric motor for a total output of 201bhp. Officially it records a fuel economy figure of 166mpg. That’s about double the official figure for the BlueMotion diesel Golf.
The Golf GTE offers as many as five different driving modes to suit different driving approaches such as if you want to focus on speed or frugality.
You can run the GTE on electric power only for up to 31 miles and at speeds of up to 81mph. When pushed hard, the GTE is certainly no slouch, slotting in between the Golf GTI and GTD in terms of performance. It can cover the 0-62mph sprint in just 7.6 seconds.
Priced from just under £29,000 (after the Government’s Plug-in car grant), the GTE is one of the more expensive Golfs on sale now. However, the long-term savings made in terms of fuel costs and tax is outstanding and practicality and build quality remain top notch. This is easily one of the most likeable and user-friendly alternative-fuel cars around and is our top pick of the plug-in hybrids currently on sale.
A fast and spectacular drive in an efficient package sounds very exciting and that’s exactly what you get with the BMW i8.
The two-door coupe features a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, which drives the rear wheels. That size of engine sounds small for a sporty vehicle, but its supported by a lithium-ion battery-run electric motor which moves the front wheels. The result is a combined output of 357bhp and the possibility of four-wheel drive.
Complementing the i8’s spectacular futuristic styling is a supercar-rivalling 0-62mph sprint time of just 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. The pace and handling are a delight, especially when from the three driving modes available you pick Sport mode. There’s also Comfort and Eco Pro settings which turn the i8 into a more civilised car.
Official figures for the i8 include a fuel economy of 135mpg, while the CO2 emissions output is just 49g/km. While it’s tricky to get near that mpg figure in the real world, the i8 is still far more frugal than your average supercar.
As spectacular as this car is, the BMW i8 misses out on being our top pick because of its expense. Priced at just under £105,000, this is far more costly than the vast majority of other plug-in hybrid cars around.
The i8 is still relatively good value though when you consider how much other sports cars with similar performance figures cost to buy and run.
Toyota Prius Plug-In
The Toyota Prius hatchback is famous for being the first mass-produced hybrid car and the Plug-in version is the most efficient in the current generation’s range.
This car’s powertrain is called Hybrid Synergy Drive and features a 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol engine alongside an electric motor, delivering a combined output of 134bhp.
Not only does it officially average 134.5mpg, it can also travel on pure electric power for 15.5 miles. That means you could save a lot on your fuel bill if you’re making straightforward trips, like getting the weekly shopping for instance. It also emits just 49g/km in CO2.
The Plug-in hatchback is the most expensive Prius in the range, priced just below £28,500. However, if you’re a family motorist who regularly commutes within town or a company car driver who does a lot of short trips, then this could save you a lot of money in the long-run.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
The Outlander PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) is capable of some impressive figures for efficiency, considering the size and weight of it.
The petrol-electric powertrain delivers a combined 200bhp as well as four-wheel drive capability. The latter helps to make the Outlander PHEV one of the best plug-in hybrids for handling tougher winter conditions.
The official average mpg is 156mpg and CO2 emissions are just 42g/km. The Outlander PHEV can travel on electric power alone for 32.5 miles at speeds of up to 70mph, according to Mitsubishi.
Pricing for the Outlander PHEV, which is a little over £29k, is similar compared to the diesel-only versions of this 4x4. If you’re after an alternative, low cost version of an SUV, then the Mitsubishi Outlander is a car certainly worth considering.
Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid
The plug-in hybrid version of Volvo’s stylish and practical estate is a powerful choice of family car boasting excellent running costs.
Combining a 2.4-litre diesel engine with an electric motor, the V60 D6 Twin Engine Plug-in offers a tasty output of 345bhp and four-wheel drive. The 0-62mph sprint time is below seven seconds. It also returns an official fuel economy of 155.2mpg. The CO2 output is 48g/km, matching even the most efficient Toyota Prius. Like other Volvo V60 models, this car has a spacious, versatile cabin that’s good for seating a family of five.
After the Government’s plug-in car grant, the V60 Plug-in costs just over £45,000. That is a lot compared to other estate cars, but if you have the money to spare and plan to undertake a lot of long-distance trips then the V60 Plug-in remains an intriguing and comfortable option.