► The best hybrid cars 2018
► Our pick of the best buys
► PHEVs, plug-ins and hybrids
Hybrid cars are growing in popularity and can be a clever way to bridge the gap between internal combustion engines and fully electric cars. If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge and run an electric vehicle (EV), then the chances are a hybrid or plug-in car could be just the stepping stone you need.
Everything you need to know about BMW plug-in hybrids here
Why? Because a hybrid car is an electric car, of sorts - just one that relies on an additional petrol or diesel engine to do some of the propulsion. As such, you’ll always have a get-you-home mode that sidesteps the range anxiety and high purchase price of a pure EV, yet still qualify for cheaper company car tax, annual VED bills and Congestion Charge tolls.
However, you won't get a grant anymore. The UK Government has revised the terms of the electric vehicle subsidy or 'plug-in car grant' known as PiCG - in a way that excludes some of the UK's most popular eco-friendly cars. Electric cars now have a reduced grant, and hybrid have lost any financial incentive altogether.
Essentially, the goverment's program to encourage hybrid and electric car sales has been way more popular than it expected: Figures published at the time of the last review suggest that before March 2018 the grant could have cost as much as £600 million; when announced in 2011 the initial budget was £43 million. It had already been extended twice due to slow takeup of alternative fuel vehicles early on – but now it's gone the other way.
Nevertheless, you can still save money on electric cars, and we've gathered the best ones in the article below.
Hybrid cars, PHEVs, mild hybrids: all the jargon decoded
In this article we look at the best hybrid cars of 2018 - naming the best buys for different users with varying needs, bodystyles and budgets. If you want a deeper technical explanation of the different types of hybrid cars on sale, you should read our handy explainer here:
What is a hybrid car?
In it, we describe the difference between a series and parallel hybrid, and look at the different types of electrified vehicle, from a mild to full hybrid, with everything in between, including the latest raft of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (often called PHEVs).
The best hybrid cars to buy in 2018
If you already know which type of UK hybrid you’re interested in, click on the links below to jump to our pick of the cars on sale in each sector:
Otherwise read on as we cluster different models together, naming our favourite picks in each segment. Just remember, different driving styles and environments will suit different powertrains: if you regularly do long-distance journeys, you may be better off sticking with an efficient modern diesel or downsized petrol engine; if you mostly drive around town, why not consider a pure electric car? Do the maths and work out if a hybrid is worth it before you commit.
Browse hybrid cars for sale
Best small hybrid cars
The Audi takes the familiar A3 five-door bodystyle and adds the 1.4-litre TFSI petrol engine, mated to an electric motor. By juggling the two power sources, the Germans manage to squeeze CO2 emissions down to just 38g/km (on paper!), meaning you’ll be saving money both at the pumps - and in your annual tax bills.
Read our Audi A3 E-Tron review
One of the most radically shaped hybrid cars in our list, the BMW i3 is fundamentally an electric car but was available until winter 2018 as a plug-in hybrid PHEV model (marked by its twin charging ports on the right-hand side, see above). Dubbed REX, or range-extender, it used a tiny two-cylinder petrol engine on board to charge the batteries, giving useful range and flexibility to the BMW i3 range. However, with ever-greater battery range, Munich decided this autumn to discontinue it. Snap up one of the last i3 remaining REX models if you fancy a plug-in hybrid version.
We lived with a BMW i3 REX for a year: read our long-term test diary
The Mini Countryman small crossover is available as a plug-in hybrid, meaning you can charge up at home and start every day with a full battery for around 26 miles of silent, zero-emissions progress. Yet performance is eager, too, with a punchy three-cylinder petrol engine working in tandem with the electric motor to create combined power output of 224bhp. Prices for the Mini hybrid start at around £32,000 in the UK.
Mini Countryman PHEV review
The smallest hybrid currently on UK sale is, perhaps inevitably, a Toyota. With the longest experience of developing petrol-electric cars, the Japanese have slotted everything they know about self-charging hybrid tech into the small Yaris supermini, which is priced from around £13,000. Toyota quotes up to 76mpg fuel economy and CO2 emissions stand at 84g/km.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid review
One step up in size is the VW Golf GTE, which adds electric drive to one of our favourite mid-sized hatchbacks. This is a proper PHEV, so you’ll need to charge up every day to get the most from the plug-in Golf, otherwise you’ll be lugging around heavy batteries and motors without harvesting their benefit. You have been warned. When fully charged, VW claims a highly impressive 118-mile range. Just remember that the VW Golf GTE is currently not available to order in the UK ‘due to unprecedented demand.’
CAR magazine lives with a VW Golf GTE plug-in hybrid
Best hybrid family cars
A classic of the breed, the BMW 3-series hybrid adds an 87bhp electric motor to the familiar 2.0-litre engine, bringing a theoretical 25-mile electric range and some attractive tax breaks, saving company car drivers a good couple of hundred pounds a month. It’s only available as a four-door saloon, but remember that the new 3-series has just been unveiled and we expect the new G20 generation to extend hybridisation even further across the range.
BMW 330e hybrid review
Like the 3-series hybrid, the 5-series is only available in electrified form as a four-door saloon. Blame the greater popularity of the sedan globally - and the complications of a raised boot floor, whose batteries can eat up precious cargo space required in a load-lugging estate. Regardless, the 530e iPerformance model shares the Three’s similar technology, with a mode for performance, efficiency or to charge up the battery so you can enter a city centre on whisper-quiet electric power.
We drive the BMW 530e hybrid
One of the most familiar car shapes in Britain is now available with hybrid power - and the price of entry starts at around £26,000. There’s little show-offy about the Mondeo Hybrid; it looks to all intents and purposes like a cooking or garden Mondeo, yet the electrified powertrain cuts CO2 emissions to 108g/km while claimed fuel economy stands at 59mpg.
Ford Mondeo Hybrid review
The Ioniq is that rare thing: a car that’s available in three different electrified forms - as a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid or a pure electric car. It’s a nice size; a little smaller than the Prius but roomy enough for daily life. The Ioniq Hybrid costs from around £22,000, whereas the Ioniq Plug In balloons to around £26,000, thanks to its bigger battery packs and 39-mile electric range. And when that battery depletes, the petrol engine kicks in to charge it back up - providing the best of both worlds.
Driven: the Hyundai Ioniq in Hybrid and Electric specs
The big daddy of the hybrid car scene, the Prius is the original and - some would argue - the best. Look past its wilfully divisive, Marmitey styling and you’re left with an extremely clever family car. Pick from the regular (self-charging) Prius Hybrid model or the separately badged Prius Plug-In, which is a PHEV. It’s all very Ronseal: the former doesn’t require plugging in, whereas the latter does - if you want to experience its maximum electric range around town. Toyota quotes a 235mpg fuel economy figure and just 28g/km CO2 emissions for the Plug-In.
Toyota Prius long-term test by CAR magazine
Best hybrid SUVs, crossovers and 4x4s
It’s pricey, but the £66k Q7 E-Tron packs a lot of clever plug-in hybrid gubbins into its huge footprint: there are five seats (you lose the rear-most row in favour of batteries) and it uses active engine mounts to hide its 3.0 V6 TDI diesel power. Audi quotes 0-62mph in 6.0sec and 46g/km of CO2, so it’s quick and impressively parsimonious - on paper. That big battery needs nearly three hours to charge on a fast charge - and more like eight on a three-point plug at home, so make sure you have the correct charging facilities is our advice.
Audi Q7 E-Tron review
The Kia Niro Hybrid is well placed, mixing petrol and electric power to good effect: the Koreans quote 74mpg efficiency, 86g/km CO2 emissions and a long, industry-leading seven-year/100,000-mile warranty.
Kia Niro review
The masters of hybrid tech, Lexus has spent the past two decades perfecting its petrol-electric cars and the RX is the pinnacle of the bunch. Build quality is first rate, the RX now comes as a five- or seven-seater and there’s plenty of space for bodies and bags in the roomy, well appointed interior. Prices start at around £49,000 and the RX450h is claimed to achieve 49mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle with CO2 emissions of 132g/km. A quality option - and one we'll soon be living with for an extended review. Watch this space...
We test the new Lexus RX450h hybrid
One of the most successful plug-in hybrid models ever sold in the UK, Mitsubishi cleverly identified the PHEV trend early and combined it with a popular SUV bodystyle to devastating effect. Although the marketplace has become more crowded now, the Outlander remains a smart choice, with prices from £34,000 and around 30 miles on silent EV mode.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV driven
The C-HR packs the Prius’s hybrid powertrain into a more zeitgeisty crossover bodyshell that feels like it made a break from the concept car paddock at Toyota HQ. The C-HR is far from a dull old Toyota, with interesting styling inside and out, plus the lure of 74mpg economy, 86g/km CO2 emissions and prices from around £25,000. Not for nothing was it named as 2018 Parkers New Car of the Year.
Toyota C-HR review
Best hybrid estate cars
Priced from around £22,000, you can pick up the wagon bodystyle in the Auris Hybrid to electrify your family lugging duties. Toyota claims up to 65mpg and CO2 emissions stand at 99g/km, to duck under many of the important tax and Congestion Charge thresholds. Toyota's hybrid car knowledge, specs and experience all wrapped up in a surprisingly practical bodyshell. The Auris will soon be relaunched in spring 2019 as the Corolla - and a petrol-electric version has already been confirmed.
On test: the Toyota Auris Touring Sports Hybrid
Volvo offers most of its big cars with Twin Engine hybrid spec, and one of our favourite is the big V90 estate. This is a good-looking car - and quick to boot, with a combined power output of 400bhp from the petrol and electric motors. If the V90 is too big, don’t forget you can pick any of the 90- or 60-series models with the same Twin Engine hybrid tech.
Volvo V90 hybrid on test
The familiar Volkswagen Passat Estate bodystyle lends itself well to a hybrid application. Unfortunately, like the Golf GTE plug-in, the Passat is currently delisted on VW’s UK website ‘owing to high demand.’
Volkswagen Passast GTE plug-in hybrid reviewed
Best hybrid sports cars
Most stylish, head-turning hybrid car on sale today? Possibly. The i8’s been around for a good four years or so now and BMW has perfected its plug-in hybrid sports car. The latest edition is available as a coupe or roadster, and with a combined 369bhp, it’s no slouch: 0-62mph takes just 4.6 seconds (although high-speed acceleration runs will dent the EV range of 33 miles).
Find out how we got on living with a BMW i8 plug-in
A Japanese foil to the German saber, the NSX goes about its business in a much more high-tech fashion. There’s a twin-turbo V6, three electric motors and all wheel drive - bringing a very serious indeed 565bhp, 0-62mph in three seconds and a punchy £144,000 price tag. Where do we sign?
Honda NSX hybrid supercar review
Good-looking? Check. Rare and exclusive? You betcha. The Lexus LC is available with pure V8 power, or as a hybrid - and you can’t go far wrong with the petrol-electric version. You forego a pair of cylinders, but the 3.5-litre V6 still has decent performance and Lexus quotes a 0-62mph time of less than five seconds while top speed is pegged to 155mph. Lexus quotes 44mpg, but you’ll more likely find your average starting with the digit ‘3.’
Lexus LC review
Do you agree with our choice of best hybrid cars? Are hybrids worth it? Are you running a plug-in hybrid or PHEV? Which hybrid car is the best? Do be sure to sound off in the comments below and tell us how you've got on with your petrol-electric or diesel hybrid.
Hybrid cars: further reading
Nuts and bolts: how does a hybrid car work?
How much does it cost to charge an electric car? Running costs explained
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