Best hybrid cars and PHEVs 2021

Published: 04 January 2021

 The best hybrid cars on sale in 2021
 Our pick of the best part-electric buys
 PHEVs, plug-ins and 'self-charging' hybrids

After an electrified car but not sure if a full electric vehicle (EV) suits you just yet? A hybrid should be at the top of your list. Hybrid cars offer an appealing blend of efficiency, range, power and low emissions – they’re an ideal halfway house between fossil fuel vehicles and a fully electric car

The recent government announcement banning fossil fuels from 2030 has an important sub-clause that extends the life of hybrids to 2035: 'Between 2030 and 2035, new cars and vans can be sold if they have the capability to drive a significant distance with zero emissions (for example, plug-in hybrids or full hybrids), and this will be defined through consultation.'

It's an escape clause that will allow hybrid cars to continue for the next decade and a half. They're a handy stepping stone to full electrification, with much of the effciency and less of range-related concerns. There are different types of hybrid car: some (especially Toyotas) are called 'self-charging' and never need plugging in, while other, newer models are often branded as plug-in hybrids (often shortened to PHEV for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle). We've a full tech explainer here.

What they have in common is that a hybrid's electric motor will typically do a lot of the work driving the car – giving you clean and quiet running around town. Head further afield, though, and the hybrid’s petrol or diesel engine will kick in, allowing you to drive for as long as you’ve got fuel in the easily refilled tank. Neat, huh?

Hybrid cars: further reading

Best hybrid cars 2020: a buyer's guide

Hybrids are nothing new; the first petrol-electric cars arrived in the late 1990s, led by the original Toyota Prius (above) and Honda Insight. The taxman has favoured these low-emissions vehicles in the two decades since and there remain attractive financial advantages: you’ll avoid the high purchase price of a pure battery electric vehicle (BEV) and potentially benefit from less expensive company car tax, VED, ultra-low emissions zone (LEZ) charges and Congestion Charge tolls – especially if you live in London, where these taxes are being pioneered.

Sadly, the government's Plug In Car Grant is no longer applicable to hybrid cars; only full electric models now qualify for the grant, which can lop up to £3000 off the sticker price of an EV.

The best hybrid cars to buy in 2021

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 (some more popular sectors such as hybrid 4x4s have been hived off into their own separate pages):

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, rather than lugging around a heavy battery in a hybrid.

Best hybrid cars and plug-ins 2020

If you mostly drive around town, why not consider a pure electric car which now make up more than 5% of UK new car registrations? But if your typical driving falls somewhere between these extremes - as it does for many UK motorists -  a hybrid may be just the answer you're looking for.

Best PHEV plug-in hybrids

This piece of jargon is easy to debunk. Any car that can be plugged in to charge its motive batter is a plug-in, often shortened to PHEV. The big advanage here is that you can in theory start every journey with a full battery - and because the average UK journey is around 10 miles, they should be able to complete most trips on EV mode. Drive further afield, and the combustion engine takes over.

There has been unease in some quarters about how some company car drivers have chosen PHEVs and then never plug them in, using the tax advantages more than the actual electric potential of the vehicles. This is bad practice; a PHEV is heavier, costlier and more polluting driven as a pure petrol or diesel car and we would recommend they only make sense if charged up.

We list our favourite PHEVs of 2020 in the individual sections below. Plug-ins make up 3% of all new-car sales in the UK, compared with 7% of conventional hybrids.

Best hybrid family cars

1. VW Golf GTE

VW Golf GTE plug-in hybrid: the new Mk8 is here

The new Volkswagen Golf GTE is a greater introduction to the plug-in hybrid genre. It packs a bigger 13kWh lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor alongside the familiar VW Group 1.4 TSI engine for a punchy 242bhp system output. No wonder it's as quick as a Golf GTI, yet can travel up to 32 miles on silent, saintly EV power...
More on the new VW Golf GTE 
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2. BMW 330e

BMW 330e: the plug-in hybrid 3-series is here

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 now available as a dive-door Touring estate as well as the four-door saloon.
BMW 330e hybrid review
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3. Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid: one of three flavours of electric Ioniq

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
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4. Mercedes-Benz C-Class C350 E Saloon and Estate

Mercedes-Benz C-Class hybrids: soon with diesel options too

Available in both four-door saloon and five-door estate bodystyles, the plug-in C-Class has a commendably low CO2 rating of just 49g/km for plenty of tax breaks. With a 6.2kWh lithium-ion battery pack, Merc quotes a 19-mile EV range and thereafter the four-cylinder petrol engine kicks in. On paper, it's a compelling mix - it just doesn't work quite so well on the open road, in our experience. But it shows the direction of travel at Mercedes-Benz, as it prepares to launch the full electric EQC.
Our Mercedes-Benz C-Class review 
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5. Toyota Prius

Best hybrid cars: the Toyota Prius

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 (just don't go expecting to achieve that in real-world conditions).
Toyota Prius review]
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6. Land Rover Defender PHEV

Land Rover Defender hybrid: rough and ready for silent e-running

We've gathered our favourite hybrid SUVs in a separate guide here, but if you're shopping for a plug-in off-roader there is now a lot of choice - and the new Land Rover Defender hybrid is among the front-runners. The new Defender P400e mixes the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with a powerful electric motor, giving a combined 398bhp system output - and enough range to drive 27 miles on electric power. Land Rover quotes CO2 emissions of just 74g/km and 85.3mpg combined economy.
Land Rover Defender review 
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Other family hybrid cars to consider include the Ford Mondeo and Kuga, the Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4 and your choice of Land Rovers, from Evoque and Discovery Sport to Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. Volvo's range of TwinEngine T8 models are well worth looking at too.

Best hybrid estate cars

1. Skoda Superb Estate iV

Skoda Superb Estate iV hybrid

The Skoda Superb has long been the go-to estate car for those wanting towering space, decent value and the slick execution that VW's 'budget' brand now promises across the board. Adding hybrid powertrain to the mix only makes it more compelling - the iV badge denotes this is the plug-in hybrid version, matching a 1.4 TSI petrol engine with a 85kW electric motor aiding the front wheels. Result? Skoda quotes CO2 emissions below 40g/km, a 7.7sec 0-62mph time and electric-only running of up to 37 miles. It's a tempting combination. 
On test: our Skoda Superb review 
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2. Toyota Corolla Touring Sports Hybrid

Toyota Corolla estate hybrid

Priced from around £28,000, you can pick up the wagon bodystyle in the Corolla Hybrid to electrify your family lugging duties. Toyota claims up to 55mpg and CO2 emissions stand at 112g/km to trim your running costs. Toyota's hybrid car knowledge, specs and experience all wrapped up in a surprisingly practical bodyshell. The icing on the cake? It's made in the United Kingdom, so you'll be doing your bit to support local manufacturing.
On test: the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports Hybrid

3. Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine

Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine 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 
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4. VW Passat Estate GTE

VW Passat Estate GTE: this hybrid is so popular, they've taken it off sale!

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
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Other decent hybrid estate cars to consider include the Audi A6 Avant, Peugeot 508, Mercedes C-Class and E-Class and Volvo V60.

Best hybrid sports cars

1. BMW i8

BMW i8 hybrid: now available as Roadster or Coupe

Most stylish, head-turning hybrid car on sale today? Possibly. The i8’s been around for a good six 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). A shame it's being axed, but you can still order a new one while stocks remain in the UK - and there could well be a replacement hybrid supercar on the way, this time from BMW's go-faster M division... 
Read our BMW i8 review here
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2. Honda NSX

Honda NSX: one of the cleverest hybrid cars we've ever driven

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
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3. Lexus LC500h

Lexus LC500h hybrid

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
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Other hybrid sports cars to consider include the Cupra Leon PHEV plug-in hot hatch, capable of zipping from 0-62mph in just 6.7sec, while the Porsche Panamera is available in various states of hybridisation.

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.

Further electric reading:

By CAR's road test team

Our reviewers: fresh perspectives for inquisitive minds