► MHEV technology very widespread
► So there’s lots of choice out there
► We pick 10 of the best
If you’re looking at the best hybrid cars as a means of dramatically improving your fuel economy and performance, you’re probably better off considering a self-charging hybrid or a plug-in hybrid electric car. For the clue about mild hybrid cars’ effectiveness is in the name: you’re looking butter chicken here, rather than tikka or madras.
A mild-hybrid electric vehicle (MHEVs) does not put the ability to run on electric power alone at the head of its list of credentials – although there are some that can now do this. Instead, this tech is about delivering a more capable stop-start system, switching the engine off sooner and restarting it more smoothly, while also recuperating lost brake energy into an additional battery, in order to provide an almost imperceptible torque boost to the combustion engine.
In other words, mild hybrids are like diet version of the self-charging hybrid principle. But before we mix any more food metaphors, know that mild-hybrid technology is also much cheaper than any other type of hybrid. So much so that it is becoming ubiquitous – almost every type of car is now available in this form. As such, we thought it might be useful to give you some guidance on the best examples – hence the UK mild hybrid top 10.
EDITOR’S PICK: Going even further than that, if you want us to choose one mild hybrid car to drive every day we’d go for the BMW M340i. Last bastion of the petrol-powered straight-six 3-Series – 330e plug-in hybrid uses a four-cylinder petrol – this a real thumper of a fast saloon that’s also available as an estate.
But if that doesn’t float your boat, don’t worry. We’ve got almost every type of car covered in the following list of the top best mild hybrid cars in the UK.
Best mild hybrids in 2023
BMW 3-series (M340i)
Everything that’s good about the 3-series with a little extra electrical assistance
PROS: two turbos, six cylinders, 369bhp, 48 volts
CONS: not as involving as you might hope
While the mild hybrid aspect of the BMW M340i might seem a little bit besides the point, if adding a 48v system is what it takes to keep the 3.0-litre straight-six twin-turbo in production we’re all for it.
Perhaps not the last word in outright involvement, but with xDrive and the option of a Touring body (read our full review), this is one superb all-weather all-rounder with a more than adequate 369bhp. Pricing from £57,625.
Read our BMW 3-series review
Range Rover Sport
Dynamics and luxury with a mild-hybrid boost
PROS: great to drive on and off road
CONS: MHEV tech is hardly going to make a dent
You can get a lot of nice Range Rovers (read our review) with a mild-hybrid engine – including the smaller Evoque and more imperious full-fat model – but our preference lies with the latest Range Rover Sport.
It combines nearly all the luxury and off-road chops of its bigger brother with added dynamism, making it a very complete car. Three of the four conventional engines have MHEV assistance. Prices start from £83,325.
Read our Range Rover Sport review
Everything that’s great about the Fiesta in a more fashionable suit
PROS: clever practicality features, almost as fun as a Fiesta
We’d have put the Ford Fiesta (read our full review) in this list, but Ford took it off sale in mid-2023 with no plans for replacement – so the related Ford Puma it is.
Based off the same chassis, this compact SUV is still fun to drive and still sports some excellent mild-hybrid engines, and if it isn’t quite as controlled in the corners, well, you do at least get the Megabox and other enhanced practicality features. Prices start from £24,920.
Read our Ford Puma review
Mercedes-Benz E-Class (E220d Estate)
MHEV diesel estate is a class act
PROS: accomplished long-distance luxury and load space
CONS: the interior is a bit chintzy in places
Pretty much every ordinary Mercedes comes as a mild hybrid now, but we’ve singled-out this particular E-Class Estate because it’s hugely practical, supremely comfortable, projects a very self-assured image and… has a diesel engine.
We’re not supposed to think this is cool anymore, but the combo of diesel torque and parsimony with EQ Boost assistance rated at 19bhp is super sweet. Prices start from £50,775.
Read our Mercedes-Benz E-Class review
Suzuki Swift Sport
Lightweight warm-hatch thrills without the thirst
PROS: light, fun, 50mpg
CONS: definitely not a hot hatch
Something of a palette-cleanser after those big bruisers, the Suzuki Swift Sport is a notable exponent of mild-hybrid technology as well.
Though far from being the most powerful supermini hot hatch – it has just 127bhp – it delights in weighing only just more than a tonne, giving it a power-to-fun ratio that punches well above that modest-seeming level. Drive it carefully and you’ll even see 50mpg. Prices start from £23,070.
Read our Suzuki Swift Sport review
Just a really good large SUV with mild-hybrid tech throughout
PROS: Every standard model has MHEV tech, spacious, well built
CONS: A bit bland
After a big decent SUV that looks slightly less like it should be stood in the middle of a field? Then the Audi Q7 could be for you.
The entire standard engine range has 48v mild-hybrid assistance these days (there are a couple of Q7 plug-in hybrids as well, while the high-performance SQ7 (read our full review) sadly ditched the MHEV tech when it switched from diesel to petrol power) and the whole car feels as solid as ever. It costs from £58,685.
Read our Audi Q7 review
Land Rover Defender
Best MHEV for that off-road lifestyle
PROS: design and capability
CONS: you’ll have to accept the image
Distinctive style, go-anywhere capability and an impressive degree of customisation define the modern Land Rover Defender. Meaning it’s now unquestionably the kind of car that’s welcome, well, everywhere.
It’s not a cheap vehicle, nor really a utilitarian one anymore, but it compensates with an assured driving experience and mild-hybrid engines to combat the bluff, unaerodynamic shape. Probably pick something else if you really want to be green. Prices start at £60,705.
Read our Land Rover Defender review
Ford Transit Custom
Best mild hybrid… van
PROS: Comprehensively excellent medium-sized van with MHEV tech as standard
CONS: It probably won’t fit in your garage
Yes, yes, a van. But Ford was the first van maker to properly embrace mild-hybrid technology – to the extent that every version of the Transit Custom now comes with an MHEV engine (previously it was an optional upgrade).
You can get these with lots of seats, a limited slip diff on the front and up to 168bhp. Plus you’ll be pleasantly surprised about how good they are to drive. Prices start at £38,860.
Read our Ford Transit Custom review
Great value family SUV
PROS: competent all-rounder
CONS: not a thriller
The Kia Sportage isn’t super exciting but it caters for everyone. You can buy a mild-hybrid, a regular hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and an entry-level variant with no hybrid assistance at all – although we happen to think that version is rather miserable and you probably shouldn’t.
Regardless of exact amount of electrical assistance, this is another practical family SUV that does most things well. It’s good value too; it costs from £32,700.
Read our Kia Sportage review
Crossover inception device is still a class leader
PROS: experience counts – this is solid family transport
CONS: not the best statement for everybody
This is the third-generation version of the car that kicked off the entire crossover trend. But if you’re not keen on everyone buying SUVs try not to hold a grudge, as with practice comes if not perfection then certainly some very well-rounded family transport.
The Nissan Qashqai is spacious, practical and – whisper it – quite good to drive. Both 1.3-litre petrol engines have mild-hybrid assistance. Prices start from £26,405.
Read our Nissan Qashqai review
Mild hybrids to avoid
For the most part this technology is pretty seamless, but Fiat hasn’t quite got its electric ducks in a row and if you’ve got a choice we wouldn’t go for an MHEV variant of any of its models (especially the Tipo).
Meanwhile, the Alfa Romeo Tonale (read our full review) has plenty of other things going for it, but the mild-hybrid engine is a muddle. This can – very unusually – actually move the Tonale on electric power alone for very brief moments. Neat. Much of the rest of the time, however, it feels like you’re the victim of a long-standing argument going on under bonnet between the petrol and electric components.
What is a mild hybrid anyway?
A mild-hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV) is not to be confused with a full self-charging hybrid or a plug-in hybrid – in that they are not typically intended to run on electric power alone for any length of time.
Unlike plug-in hybrid technology, which is about giving otherwise conventional cars an extended electric-only driving range, mild-hybrid technology focuses on making the conventional engine it’s attached to more efficient. To this end, it usually comprises of a fancy ‘starter-generator’ in place of a traditional alternator, and a small extra battery.
The starter-generator allows the stop-start system to operate through a wider range – switching off the engine as you coast to a halt rather than waiting for you to be at a standstill, for example – and has greater brake-energy recuperation. As such, it can also offer a small amount of torque assistance to the engine pulling on the juice stored in that additional battery.
This all brings minimal efficiency gains – compared with a full hybrid – but more detectably, a smoother driving experience. Generally speaking. Not so much a stepping stone as a tiny tiptoe towards a battery electric car.