The eco-car revolution began with electric cars powered by batteries charged from the mains. Then came the hybrid, which has a petrol or diesel engine, along with a small battery and electric motor to lend a helping hand.
Now, the latest trend is plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. These offer all the low-emission benefits of battery power, combined with the practical advantages of a conventional internal combustion engine. They can be expensive to buy new, yet are currently the most popular alternatively fuelled vehicles on sale. That’s not surprising when you consider they offer excellent fuel economy, low running costs and the chance to dramatically reduce tax bills if you’re self-employed or a company car driver.
Read more: What is electric car insurance?
The biggest selling hybrid cars feature a conventional petrol engine that works in partnership with an electric motor. The batteries for this can be charged either from the petrol engine, or by plugging into the mains. One of the biggest appeals is that you can make short distance trips within 30 miles on battery power alone, and recharging is cheap. The petrol engine then does the work on longer runs, and means there is no concern about running out of battery charge.
So, if you’re considering switching to a plug-in hybrid, here are six of the best cars currently on sale…
1. The most popular: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Prices from: £31,749
Claimed economy: 156mpg
In conventional diesel guise, the Outlander is nothing special. However, as a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle it’s the UK’s best selling alternatively fuelled vehicle. It certainly ticks many of the boxes people look for in a family car; it’s practical, has a five-star safety rating, four-wheel drive when required and zero road tax courtesy of 42g/km carbon dioxide emissions.
2. The daddy: Toyota Prius Plug-in
Prices from: £33,395
Claimed economy: 134.5mpg
The Toyota Prius was the first mass-produced conventional hybrid car on the market, but few drivers are aware that it’s also available as a plug-in. Aside from one having a cable that you plug into the mains, there is very little difference between the two types. That means you get a spacious, safe, well-built car that’s also cheap to run (assuming you have regular access to charging points).
3. The style statement: BMW i3
Prices from: £32,380
Claimed economy: 470mpg
The i3 looks like nothing else on the road. But it offers more than just style over substance. As you might expect from a BMW, it’s entertaining to drive with taut handling and plenty of punch from its 168hp electric motor. Although it’s around the same size as a Ford Fiesta, it feels bigger inside thanks to its clever design. And although it’s (strictly speaking) not a hybrid, the i3 uses a two-cylinder petrol motorbike engine to recharge its batteries.
4. The all-rounder: Volkswagen Golf GTE
Prices from: £33,995
Claimed economy: 166mpg
Volkswagen is using hybrid power to make an economical fun car. The GTE has a look of the mythical Golf GTI about it - and with a combined 204hp from its petrol and electric motors, it certainly has sufficient performance to keep up with traditional hot hatches. As with all these cars, you need to take the claimed 166mpg with a pinch of salt – it’s a product of how the testing is conducted. But that aside, it’s difficult to fault the GTE.
5. The classy cruiser: Mercedes-Benz C350e
Prices from: £38,900
Claimed economy: 134.5mpg
Working together, the C350e’s petrol and electric motors are incredibly quiet but have sufficient poke to make this feel like a true performance car. For relaxed and short commutes, there are few motors that make more all-round sense than the C350e. And company car choosers will enjoy the low Benefit In Kind tax rates too, explaining why it’s the UK’s second best-selling plug-in hybrid.
6. The luxury SUV: Volvo XC90 TwinEngine
Prices from: £60,455
Claimed economy: 104.6mpg
The big Swedish car is the only seven-seat plug-in model. Although the petrol engine is ‘just’ a 2.0-litre, it combines with the electric power to give a useful 376hp. While fast, this is no sports car. It’s been conceived as a people-friendly family car. Stand-out features include the comfortable, well-built and versatile cabin, and the easy to use technology that’s designed to be as future proof as possible.